Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2017

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*image from the Kansas City Star

It was a bit of a rough May… First we lost Chris Cornell and then we lost Gregg Allman. I was beginning to feel that numb sense of despair I’d felt for much of 2016. But then I remembered on Friday, June 2nd, I had tickets to see Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on their 40th Anniversary tour. And as a bonus, former James Gang/Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh was slated to open. While I love Tom Petty, and concerts in general, I was having a bit of trouble getting up for this show. It’s just that I’ve seen Petty so many times, I was fearful it would the same old set, the same old show. As usual, I was wrong…

As Petty is reflecting on his 40th anniversary, I couldn’t help but think back to my history with Tom. I can still remember my first Petty show. I had been a huge fan of his since their debut album came out when I was in junior high school, but I didn’t get to see him live until I was in college on the Pack Up The Plantation tour in support of the flawed but still enjoyable album, ‘Southern Accents.’ That show was ok, but the Heartbreakers were augmented with a horn section and back up singers. Sadly they also chose to hang a giant Confederate flag behind them, a choice Petty now regrets.

It wasn’t until I saw them on the ‘Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough’ tour that I got the real, genuine rockin’ Tom Petty experience. That album was very Stonesy, for lack of a better word, and the show was more full on rocking. Sure, I’d seen them behind Bob Dylan, but they were better on their own. It was at the ‘Let Me Up…’ show in Boston that I realized what great musicians these guys are. Stan Lynch was still manning the drum kit and he was a monster. It was Mike Campbell’s guitar that really caught my attention. The man should be on the list of every “Greatest Guitarists” everywhere. I can’t say enough about Benmont Tench’s abilities on keyboards. He sits on a stool surrounded by every type of keyboard imaginable and seemingly plays all of them at the same time… it’s like the guy has 4 arms.

After that experience, I made a point to see Petty on every tour. I remember my buddy Stormin and I drinking with a group of friends of ours who were going down to old Kemper Arena in Kansas City to see Petty on the ‘Full Moon Fever’ tour. Stormin and I were broke and I was unemployed. Neither of us had bought tickets. Our friends talked us into going down to scalp, something I rarely do. Some guy walked up to us and asked us what we thought his tickets were worth. They were 5th row on the floor. “Uh, face value?” He just smiled and said, “Give me $20 each and we’ll call it even.” We ended up with better seats than our friends. That was such a great show for me, when you’re that close it changes the experience. I can remember, looking up to a darkened entry way, behind the stage, and a couple I could only see in silhouette were dancing to the music… it was like they were the perfect stage decoration. I envied them their joy.

It was my old friend Stormin who called to alert me that Petty was on tour for his 40th Anniversary. I hesitated a bit, only because at our last Petty show my wife, the Rock Chick said, “He plays the same 10 songs every time we see him… I may be done with Petty.” But knowing this was his 40th anniversary show, and likely the Heartbreakers last big tour, I did some research. Petty claimed they were going to mix up the setlist. I was in. I can only say, thank God for my over 30 year friendship with Stormin, because I would have hated to miss this beautiful Anniversary celebration.

Petty strolled out on the stage last night in a purple jacket. He’s so charismatic and lets face it, purple is just a regal color. I knew this was going to be a different night when they opened with the first song from their first album, “Rockin’ Around With You.” It’s got a Bo Diddley beat and was just a nice burst of rock to start the show. He followed up with a blistering version of “Last Dance With Mary Jane” which ended in a guitar dual between Petty and Mike Campbell… You just know Campbell is going to win all of those. He put on a guitar clinic all night. Everyone really needs to see this show just to hear Campbell play.

While Petty did mix up the setlist last night, what does it say about his catalog that when he plays a song like “You Got Lucky” which was a big hit, that it’s his change of pace material he rarely plays. That would be a must-play for any other artist. Last night was the first time I’d ever heard it live, and it was fantastic. I was thrilled he played some of his newer material… he really accessed all of his catalog and the newer song “Forgotten Man” is more relevant today than it was a few years ago. Playing these unfamiliar tracks put new life into “Won’t Back Down” and even “Free Fallin'” that Petty always plays.

The thing that really electrified last night’s performance was the enthusiasm of the crowd. They sang along on almost every song. I hadn’t seen a crowd that jacked up since the Stones a couple of years ago. The place was full and everybody was in full voice. I even caught the Rock Chick singing along loudly. It was just that kind of night. Petty announced the obscure soundtrack tune “Walls” as a song that had been requested… by him it turns out and the crowd even sang along for that one.

The middle of the set turns acoustic as he turns his focus on a subset of songs from his brilliant ‘Wildflowers’ LP. “It’s Good To Be King” was the usual extended jam. Then he went into “Crawling Back To You,” which has the great quote, “most things I worry about don’t happen anyway,” which could be my theme song. The acoustic strummer, “Wildflowers,” was simply transcendent. He kept things rolling with the rarely played “Yer So Bad” from ‘Full Moon Fever.” Wow!

Petty and the Heartbreakers brought it back up for “Should Have Known Better” which verged on punk rock last night. It was killer. After that, he even played “Refugee” which is a tune I’ve only heard him do once, maybe. The encore was one of my all time favorite songs “You Wreck Me” followed by “American Girl” which would have felt obligatory had the Heartbreakers not brought so much energy to it. When the lights came up, I was ecstatic. Even the Rock Chick turned to me and said, “That was a great, great show.”

I must also mention, the opening act, Joe Walsh. Joe is such a consummate showman. The things he did to his guitar could be classified as abuse. It was fantastic. “The Bomber” was a guitar workout like I haven’t seen in a while. The middle section of “The Bomber” where Joe sounds like he’s playing classical music on electric guitar was even better live. As my friend drummer Blake would say, he’s a very tasty guitarist. People take these amazing guitarists for granted… nobody can play like Joe (and later Mike Campbell) did. Cherish these guitarists people, they’re a dying breed. When Joe said, “I know there are a lot of millennials here, and most of these songs were done before you were born. Let me just say, welcome! This next song, however, is going to make your parents really happy…” and then launched into “Funk 49,” I almost wept with joy. In the words of my friend Stormin who saw the show two nights earlier at Red Rocks, “Joe Walsh is crushing it right now.” And, I’d be remiss, if I didn’t mention the beautiful gesture of Joe dedicating his cover of “Take It To the Limit” to his “brother and bandmate,” Glenn Frey. Class move, Joe, class move!

Last night was a celebration of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40 years as a rock band. But it was more than that, it was a celebration of rock and roll and live music. It was a celebration of the communal aspects of concerts. Different people from all over coming together in unison to drink a little, sing a little and enjoy a whole lot of great music. The temptation to skip seeing that favorite band can sometimes be strong. Many times you think “I’ll catch them next time…” I’m telling you people, get out and see live music… there will come a time when these bands will disappear and you’ll wish you had…

Simply put, a magnificent show last night. Kudos to the crowd! And of course, Happy Anniversary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

P.S. Joe Walsh for President!

Gregg Allman,The Blues/Rock Legend, RIP: The Midnight Ride Is Sadly Over

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

Man, has it been a tough couple of weeks. It started it off well enough. I saw Soundgarden two weeks ago today and they were spectacular. I left hopeful to hear a new album from those guys sometime this year. Then things took a dark turn. Chris Cornell passed away after a show in Detroit. Then a few days later some idiot in Manchester attacks a teeny-bopper concert full of young girls, the height of cowardice. And now, in the midst of Memorial Day weekend, I got the news blues/rock legend Gregg Allman has passed away. I have to admit, my “Spidey-Senses were tingling” about Gregg for a while. He’d been hospitalized and had cancelled some tour dates. He was only 69.

The Allman Brothers Band, which bore Gregg and his brother Duane’s name, is to guitar playing what the SEC is to college football. They have all the championships. My nickname for the Allman Brothers was always “Guitar University.” Whether it was Duane Allman/Dickey Betts, or in the later years Warren Haynes/Derek Trucks, manning the guitars, you were certain to hear virtuoso guitar performances. Even surrounded by all those guitars the bedrock of the Allman’s sound was Gregg’s Hammond B-3 organ which was the melodic platform from which those guitars launched and soared. The heartbeat, and for me the key component to the Allman Brothers’ sound, was Gregg’s vocal. Even in his younger days he sang with a depth and knowing despair usually reserved for men three times his age. Who else could write, in their 20’s, “Just one more mornin’ I had to wake up with the blues…” “Dreams” indeed…

When he was a very young child his father, an Army sergeant, was shot and killed by a drinking buddy. You have to wonder if that early tragedy informed Gregg’s soulful, sad voice. Gregg Allman didn’t just sing the blues – with all the tragedy (his father, his brother’s untimely death), the women, Cher, the divorces (6), the drugs, the booze, and all the legal problems divorces, booze and drugs bring – Gregg Allman lived the blues.

I’ve read quite a bit on line about Gregg Allman the last twenty-four hours. Almost unanimously they refer to Allman as a “southern rock” pioneer. I do know that Gregg considered the term southern rock redundant. If it’s southern music, it rocks, baby! When I think about the Allman’s music, I don’t think of it as southern rock. Yes, they built the template of the multi-lead guitar, bluesy, touch of country, rock and roll. To me they were just a great blues band with a jazz ethos. The solo’ing and the playing off each other was so much more akin to Miles Davis than well, Marshall Tucker. I don’t really like jam bands, like say, The Grateful Dead, but you could easily call the Allman Brothers Band a jam band. In my opinion they played more forcefully than all that Grateful Dead noodling. These guys were taking the blues places it hadn’t been.

My introduction to the Allman Brothers Band was an odd one. When I was in college my musical taste and my album collection was exploding in all different directions. I had musical ADD. I’d buy a Stones album, then maybe a Beatles album, then back over to the Faces. I had the good fortune to have a roommate, Drew, who had a singular focus when it came to music. When he got into an artist he went straight through the catalog until he had it all. We were both musical completists. Drew came home one day with “I’m No Angel,” Gregg’s great ’86 solo album. Yes, the production is a little dated, but it was the strongest thing he’d done since “Laid Back.” This was my introduction to Gregg Allman and my gateway into the Allman Brothers Band. You have to remember, when I came of record-buying age, Allman was married to Cher and had just put out “Allman And Woman.” Not my bailiwick. Up to the point Drew brought home “I’m No Angel” I was aware of the Allmans but hadn’t paid any attention to them.

Drew also played me “Live At the Fillmore East” for the first time. That’s when I was hooked, my musical life changed that day. It wasn’t until I moved to Arkansas that I crashed through the entire early Allman’s catalog. I mean, if you live in the south you better own some Allman Brother’s albums… I consider “The Allman Brothers Band,” “Idlewild South,” “Fillmore East,” “Eat A Peach” and “Brothers And Sisters” all ESSENTIAL rock music listening. It’s an amazing catalog of work. They defined jam rock, southern rock, blues rock, just plain rock! Through losing Duane Allman, founder/leader/legendary guitarist and founding bassist Barry Oakley they continued to put out fantastic music. While it’s easy to focus on those early records, when the Allman Brothers regrouped in 1990 for the great reunion/comeback album ‘Seven Turns’ it led to a string of really great albums. I would highly recommend ‘Where It All Begins,’ but I also loved the last Allman album, without Dickey Betts, ‘Hittin’ The Note.” There’s some great playing on that record especially on the long track, “Desdemona.” They also cover the Stones’ “Heart of Stone,” which I’m rather partial to.

While the Allman Brothers’ legend is cemented, I don’t hear nearly enough about Gregg’s great solo work. One of the unique things about Gregg’s solo work is on almost every solo album he’d go back and rework one of the Allman’s early songs. His first solo album, “Laid Back” is his masterpiece and his reimagining of “Midnight Rider” is so differently orchestrated than the original you almost forget there are 2 versions of that track. “Laid Back” is a must have. His cover of Jackson Browne’s oft-covered “These Days” is definitive. His follow-up, the live “The Gregg Allman Tour” is, like “Fillmore East,” one of the great double live albums of the 70s. Gregg always brought more of an R&B feel to his solo records vs the bluesy muscle of Allman Brothers. The other 70s solo Gregg album that everyone should own is ‘Playing Up A Storm.’ You won’t recognize any of the tunes, I don’t think there are any “hits” per se, but it’s almost the same high quality as “Laid Back.” Choice listening!

Gregg’s last solo album, ‘Low Country Blues’ was produced by T Bone Burnett and featured Gregg doing almost exclusively old blues covers. The opening track, “Floating Bridge” will stop you in your tracks. He tackles Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and matches the Stones version for sheer blues awesomeness. My only complaint about ‘Low Country’ was there wasn’t enough of Gregg’s seminal organ playing, but it’s a nit of a complaint.

Another album that didn’t get a lot of attention, but everyone should check out is Gregg’s 1997 solo album, “Searching For Simplicity.” He does a great, acoustic re-work of “Whippin’ Post.” There is a great, great version of John Hiatt’s “Memphis In The Meantime.” For me, “Rendezvous With The Blues” is the highpoint. Gregg’s bluesy growl is let loose on that one. It’s a solid, bluesy record and well worth checking out.

Today I am sad, because we have lost another legend. I’m starting to get that bad 2016 feeling again… We’re starting to lose people in bunches again. Thankfully we have an amazing back catalog to console us through our grief. And, I was pleased to hear that Gregg had completed his long-awaited follow up to ‘Low Country Blues,’ and that album should be out in September.

Make no mistake people, a giant of the blues, of rock and roll, of music has passed this weekend. The world is better off for knowing Gregg Allman’s artistry.

Cheers!

B&V iPod Playlist: Chris Cornell

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I don’t know about you, but here at BourbonAndVinyl we’re still pretty shell-shocked over the news about Chris Cornell’s passing. I don’t know why this one has hit me so hard. Perhaps it’s because I had just seen the man perform with Soundgarden three nights prior. Perhaps it’s because his music has always meant so much to me. Maybe it’s the mysterious way in which he passed.

I read recently that Cornell’s mother-in-law has been railing on social media (where else would someone rail these days) at Eddie Vedder for not making any public comment or reaching out to Chris’ widow. Vedder is launching a solo European tour in Amsterdam that starts tomorrow and apparently won’t be at Cornell’s memorial/funeral today in Los Angeles. We all grieve in our own way, folks. When my friend Larry committed suicide, I did not travel to Dallas to the funeral, which raised some eyebrows. When Hillel Slovak passed away Anthony Kiedis famously didn’t attend his funeral either. Anthony had to get away and tend to his grief in private, down in Mexico. It’s difficult to process things when a friend passes away, especially under strange and shocking circumstances.

Here at the house, we mourn the old fashion way – with bourbon and music. After a couple of stiff Woodford Reserves and some rumination last Saturday, I put together a playlist that attempted to encompass all of Chris Cornell’s career. I wanted to celebrate the man, the singer. It’s long at almost three hours and vast, but so was Chris Cornell’s career. I picked songs that were familiar and (as usual for me) some deep tracks. I also picked a few tracks that just have significant meaning to me. I’ll admit off the bat, Soundgarden’s pre-‘Batmotorfinger’ work is significantly under represented here.

I spent last Sunday on my patio, with the Rock Chick, listening to that wonderful voice, in all it’s forms. From hard rock to acoustic strummers the man could sing anything. The rock and roll world is a much dimmer place now… I would have included Cornell’s wonderful version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” on this list, but you can only stream that on YouTube… These songs are in no particular order, I went where the whiskey took me. I’m going to try and put this out on Spotify if I can ever figure it out… Here then, without further rambling, is my tribute to Mr. Chris Cornell, singer extraordinaire.

  1. Soundgarden, “Superunknown” – The title track from Soundgarden’s penultimate LP.
  2. Soundgarden, “Rusty Cage” – This song is so good Johnny Cash covered it.
  3. Audioslave, “Revelations”
  4. Audioslave, “Original Fire”
  5. Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” – A great song on Cornell’s wrongly maligned second solo LP.
  6. Temple Of The Dog, “Say Hello 2 Heaven” – Written for Andrew Wood, sadly now a fitting song for our current situation.
  7. Chris Cornell, “Higher Truth” – The title track from Cornell’s awesome final solo album. Check this record out.
  8. Chris Cornell, “The Keeper” – This beautiful acoustic ballad is toward the end of Cornell’s great live LP, “Songbook.” It’s a live LP, but this sounds like it was cut in a studio.
  9. Soundgarden, “Live To Rise” – This is a great lost Soundgarden track that was on a soundtrack of some movie. I just really liked it.
  10. Slash, “Promise (featuring Chris Cornell)” – Cornell’s track from Slash’s great solo LP where he paired himself with a bunch of different singers. I always thought this was one of the strongest tracks on the record.
  11. Audioslave, “Dandelion” – Possibly the Rock Chick’s favorite Audioslave tune. When it popped up on the speakers last Sunday, she asked if I’d put it on the list just for her. “No dear, it’s simply an awesome song, it belongs on this list.”
  12. Audioslave, “I Am The Highway” – This is the good stuff…
  13. Soundgarden, “Waiting For the Sun” – You can find this one on the great “odds & sods” collection, ‘Echo of Miles.’ The first time I saw Soundgarden, at Lollapalooza in Kansas City (back when it was still a traveling festival), opening for Metallica no less, Soundgarden opened with this song. It’s one of my favorite Doors’ tunes and Soundgarden does it in a wonderful heavy fashion.
  14. Temple of the Dog, “Hunger Strike” – Eddie Vedder and Cornell vocally shredding.
  15. Soundgarden, “Burden In My Hand” – This song has been running through my head for over a week now.
  16. Chris Cornell, “Billie Jean” – Cornell was savaged when he covered this tune, but I love it. He completely changes the song in the way he does it. He could grab an acoustic guitar and cover any song by any artist and make it new and unique. This is the perfect example of his abilities.
  17. Temple of the Dog, “Call Me A Dog” – Great ballad toward the end of the first half of the LP.
  18. Chris Cornell, “Dead Wishes” – Another beauty from ‘Higher Truth.’
  19. Chris Cornell, “Imagine” – Beautiful John Lennon cover from ‘Songbook.’
  20. Audioslave, “Doesn’t Remind Me” – This might have been a single, regardless, it’s a great tune.
  21. Soundgarden, “Pretty Noose”
  22. Soundgarden, “Spoonman” – Well, you knew this one was going to be on the list.
  23. Soundgarden, “Outshined” – A tune my good friend Steve turned me on to many, many moons ago.
  24. Audioslave, “Like A Stone” – The breakthrough hit for Audioslave.
  25. Chris Cornell, “Sunshower” – This is the first solo track Cornell ever did, to my knowledge, after Soundgarden broke up. It was another soundtrack tune.
  26. Audioslave, “Cochise” – On a side note, I’m thrilled the Kansas City Chiefs play this song right before the team takes the field on home Sundays.
  27. Soundgarden, “My Wave” – There are so many great songs on ‘Superunknown’ it’s easy to overlook this gem.
  28. Audioslave, “Sound of a Gun” – The riff on here is monstrous, the singing is even more so.
  29. Chris Cornell, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” – The single from ‘Higher Truth.’
  30. Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun” – Heavy metal, psychedelia.
  31. Chris Cornell, “Finally Forever” – A beautiful song Cornell wrote for his wife. Why this song isn’t played at every wedding is a mystery I don’t have time to solve. This is another song off of Cornell’s 2nd solo album.
  32. Chris Cornell, “Thank You” – I think Chris Cornell was born to cover Led Zeppelin.
  33. Chris Cornell, “Can’t Change Me” – The single from Cornell’s first proper solo album.
  34. Soundgarden, “Fell On Black Days” – The middle 90s were a tough time for me. This song helped pull me through those very “black days.” I wish it could have done the same for Cornell.
  35. Soundgarden, “Been Away Too Long” – The single from Soundgarden’s reunion album. It’s sad to think they were working on a follow up when Cornell passed.
  36. Audioslave, “Be Yourself” – “it’s all that you can do…”
  37. Chris Cornell, “Seasons” – I just love this beautiful song from the ‘Singles’ soundtrack.

I hope this selection of music helps you get through this horrible loss. It seems to be helping the Rock Chick and I. It’s a dark ride folks, take care of each other out there.

I Awoke To The Devastating News: Chris Cornell Has Passed Away, RIP

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*Picture taken by the Rock Chick, Sunday, May 14th, 2017

“I heard the news today, oh boy…” –The Beatles

I believe it was Robbie Robertson, guitarist of the Band who famously said, “The road has taken a lot of the great ones…” Sadly, we have one more name to add to that list.

I was awakened this morning by my wife, the Rock Chick, which usually doesn’t happen unless there is a task at hand, like “we forgot to put the recycling out.” I’m easily startled so nobody really likes waking me up before the alarm. She teared up as she gave me the devastating news that singer, guitarist, songwriter, father, husband, Rock Star Chris Cornell had passed away from an apparent suicide over night. I couldn’t believe it… surely there had to be a mistake here? My heart and thoughts go out to his family, his wife and two kids. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.

In a word, I’m devastated. This is made much worse for me as I just saw Chris and the rest of Soundgarden here in Kansas City on Sunday night at Starlight Theater and they were fantastic. When I was young, and I first started going to concerts, I realized that when you see a really great show there is a post-concert bliss or buzz, call it what you want, that can last for days. That Soundgarden post-concert high hadn’t even worn off for me yet. And now Chris is gone.

He prowled the stage like a prize fighter last Sunday. His voice was perfect. He sang all up and down the scale. His vocal was as strong as anything I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard everybody. He played more guitar than I thought he would and actually had some chops. The man was truly a Rock Star, with a capital R and S. He told a wonderful story about his grandparents, who he said lived in KC. His grandfather built Rolls Royce engines here, apparently. He said coming over the river and seeing Kansas City, the few times he visited, always made him feel good. It was a lovely moment in the show. I felt he’d really connected with the adoring audience. My God, he was only three months younger than I am.

I was a big Soundgarden fan. The first thing I connected with was Cornell’s voice. “Fell On Black Days” is a song that means so much to me, I don’t feel I can share it in these pages. I also bought the Temple of the Dog LP, a tribute to Chris’ fallen friend Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” from ‘Temple of the Dog’ is another of those songs that take me back to a very specific time in a very moving way. After Soundgarden broke up I bought his first solo LP, ‘Euphoria Morning’ which I didn’t connect with, although “Can’t Change Me” from that album is still in high rotation here at the house (I play it for my wife). I really loved his work with Audioslave. I have all three of those great albums. When he returned to his solo career I was back on the bandwagon when he released the live acoustic ‘Songbook’ album and the fantastic acoustic based studio LP, ‘Higher Truth,’ reviewed on B&V. I can truly say I was a fan of most, if not all, of this guy’s work. ‘Higher Truth’ will be playing in my house all day.

I was happy a couple of years ago when Chris got back together with his mates in Soundgarden and they put out ‘King Animal,’ and was thrilled to see them Sunday night. I wanted to see him when he got back together with Temple of The Dog for a brief tour and I pray someone taped those shows. He even played with Audioslave at a benefit a couple of months ago… It seems he’d reunited and made peace with everybody. That is some comfort, I guess.

My friend, drummer Blake, said via text, “Only Eddie Vedder is left from the big 4 Grunge bands of the 90s…” It hadn’t occurred to me we’ve lost Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Layne Staley (AIC), and now Chris Cornell. Soundgarden was purportedly working on a new album that I think we all were looking forward to…

This is just a fucking tragedy. I am distraught. If you’re out there, and you’re having a hard time, reach out to somebody. Don’t let it get to this point.

I had a dear friend commit suicide back in the early 90s. It left a mark on me that remains to this day. I can’t help but feel this particular artist, going out in this particular way is going to leave a similar mark on a lot of people.

It’s a dark ride folks, take care of each other. RIP Chris Cornell, Rock Star.

LP Review: John Mellencamp, “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies,” Featuring Carlene Carter

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When I was in high school I dated a girl whose parents both worked, which was rare in my neighborhood. After school we’d go over to her house for those two hours before her parents got home and drink beer and listen to music. I remember listening to one of the few albums she actually owned, ‘American Fool’ by a guy then named John Cougar. Sure, those were fun afternoons, but I never really got into that album. If middling music was the cover charge to hang out unsupervised in the afternoons with a young girl and beer, I was willing to pay it. Despite having to hear “Jack And Diane” every day, those are still fond memories.

By ’83, I was done with high school, that girl was done with me, and John Cougar was done with the last name “Cougar,” which had been given to him by his first manager. He was now John Mellencamp and he put out an ‘Exile On Mainstreet’ sloppy rocker of an album named ‘Uh-Huh.’ I was on the band wagon. I loved that album, especially the song, “Play Guitar.” Mellencamp was always described as a poor man’s Seger and Seger was described as a poor man’s Springsteen. I guess that makes Mellencamp a cut-rate Springsteen. That math was always too hard for me.

Mellencamp followed up ‘Uh-Huh’ with his two masterpieces ‘Scarecrow,’ and ‘The Lonesome Jubilee,’ that latter of which was a stylistic left turn with fiddles and acoustic guitars. Sometimes when an artist breaks with his past work and pushes himself, marvelous things result. For Mellencamp that marvelous thing was ‘The Lonesome Jubilee,’ his career highlight. Since that time, he’s bounced back and forth between his two styles, the ‘Jubilee’ type acoustic/rootsy stuff and his earlier rockier style. For every ‘Big Daddy’ he’d veer back to the electric guitar noise of ‘Whenever We Wanted.’ I stuck with him through a lot of that journey. Another positive development for Mellencamp was his shift from the typical rock lyrics to a more geopolitical view of the world, lyrically speaking. I’ve always liked lyrics that mean something…

His first album for Columbia, entitled ‘John Mellencamp’ was one of the first LPs that the Rock Chick and I found we loved in common. That was a true late career masterpiece and I urge everyone who hasn’t to check that one out. Self-titled LPs released late in an artist’s career typically signal a rebirth of sorts and ‘John Mellencamp’ is no exception. After that things got a little dicier for me with Mellencamp. ‘Rough Harvest’ was an album that sounded like acoustic demos that was recorded to get out of a recording contract, never a good artistic premise for a record. ‘Cuttin Heads’ left me cold. I liked his bluesy (more like rootsy) ‘Trouble No More,’ and even ‘Freedom’s Road’ had a lot of redeeming songs but after that I got off the bandwagon. The music just all started to sound grim. I bought ‘No Better Than This’ based on the hype of Mellencamp working with T. Bone Burnett but despite all the love of the critics it did nothing for me…maybe it was the fact they recorded it in mono. Sigh.

After that I completely disconnected from Mellencamp. I’d heard he was doing theatrical stuff for the stage and movies but I turned a deaf ear. The Rock Chick came home one day and purchased a tune she said reminded her of me, “Troubled Man” from the album ‘Plain Spoken,’ which is never a song you want somebody to associate you with. I was going through some hard times at work. I actually heard good buzz around ‘Plain Spoken’ but for reasons unclear I didn’t check it out. “Troubled Man” is a great Mellencamp tune…

I read somewhere on line that Mellencamp had a new LP coming out in late April, entitled ‘Sad Clowns & Hillbillies’ on which he was going country. “Well, fuck, consider him dead,” was my first thought. He was duetting with a woman named Carlene Carter (who I had never heard of) and also everybody’s go to country duet partner, Martina McBride. I was disappointed to think an artist the stature of Mellencamp would go the Bon Jovi country route to sell some records. Of course Mellencamp likely has a lot of alimony to pay so, maybe that was the motivation. Even the title had me horrified, ‘Sad Clowns’? ‘Hillbillies’? Really?

Despite the awful title, I was curious. I was driving around and on my satellite radio I heard a song from the new album, “Battle of Angels” and damned if it wasn’t a great song. I’ve spent some time with this LP and I’ve realized something I’d forgotten, something that is fundamental to all good music: NEVER underestimate the strength of great songwriting. You can argue with the instrumentation and even with Mellencamp’s voice, ravaged by cigarettes, but if you listen to his melodies and his lyrics, these are indeed really good if not great songs.

This is not so much of a country album as Mellencamp doing his ‘Lonesome Jubilee’ style roots music, so don’t be fooled by the “going country” stuff you read. There are some more country-ish elements here but this is not all in country. Carlene Carter, it ends up, is the daughter of country royalty, June Carter Cash and damn if she doesn’t sound exactly like her mother. It’s truly uncanny. Now, full disclosure, I love Johnny Cash and I own a duets album of he and June Carter and I’ve always loved her voice. So I immediately became attached to Carlene’s vocals. She only duets on a handful of these tunes. Martina McBride is here, but only on one song. This is not a duet’s album. Its more of a harmony vocals kind of thing with a few duets. The female voices do a nice job of off-setting Mellencamp’s sandpaper vocals.

“Mobile Blue” is a cover that I really liked, despite Mellencamp’s Louis Armstrong vocals. “Battle of Angels” is the LPs high point for me. If you check out nothing else, check that tune out. “Grandview” boasts an awesome electric guitar from none other than Izzy Stradlin of Guns N Roses fame. There are a number of strong tunes here, including “All Night Talk Radio,” which if driven by electric guitars instead of a fine Miriam Strum violin, would have been a rock anthem as big as “Little Pink Houses.” “What Kind of Man Am I” is a song that could only be written by Mellencamp, all regrets and sadness.

Don’t get me wrong, there are stumbles here. “Sugar Hill Mountain” is a tune I can do without. The album jumps off the rails on the back end which was disappointing after the strong beginning 5 or 6 tracks. “Sad Clowns” is a full on country waltz that grates on me.  “Easy Target” is sung in a vocal that sounds like a garbage truck that threw a rod. On the second half of the album, the only tune that resonates with me is the great tune, “My Soul’s Got Wings,” which boasts great harmonizing from Mellencamp and Carter.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this album. Even though Mellencamp will never likely climb the heights he once saw in the 80s and 90s, he’s still making complicated, intricate music. This is compelling and interesting despite it’s title. However, I can not recommend this record as a purchase. I’d check out the tunes on the front half of the album, selectively. If you have a streaming service it’s worth a listen or two. These are the kind of records that generally get over looked by, well, almost everybody. However, these are also precisely the type of albums, done by artists who’ve honed their craft and skills, that you’re likely to find a hidden gem or two.

Musical spelunking always brings rewards, folks.

iPod Playlist: B&V Murder And Mayhem Songs, Inspired By the Rock Chick

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As those of you who are familiar with BourbonAndVinyl know, I’m always looking for an excuse to cull through my vast musical collection and put together a playlist. My dear, dear, late friend Nancy once brought over a book of playlist ideas and we poured over it for hours while drinking martinis. I miss that woman dearly. That book is what gave me the idea for thematic playlists. I used to make my own “greatest hits” tapes for certain artists. Even as far back as my earliest vinyl and cassette days I was always putting together the dreaded mix tapes. Arkansas Joel, who always had a great car stereo but no records, used to request tapes of my music but that was a long time ago. My wife, the Rock Chick, can put together the best playlists, either by an artist or just tunes that go well together. She has a great Van Halen mix, all Roth of course. I’m not as skilled as she is in the art of the playlist.

However, as with most things I write or do, the Rock Chick is my muse. She inspires me in ways I didn’t know were possible. Lately, I’ve been a little worried about her. My Corporate Overlords have me traveling so much it’s been exhausting. When the road finally bends back towards home, I usually return to find the Rock Chick watching the Investigation Discovery Channel. She seems addicted to shows about what I’ve nicknamed, “murder and mayhem.” She loves to recount the countless stories of people who have committed murder. I think she missed her calling and should have looked into a career in forensic science. Vanity Fair Confidential, Dateline (with that pretentious Keith Morrison) and 20/20 reruns on OWN are in high rotation on our TV. She recounts these murder stories with great enthusiasm… almost too much enthusiasm. Luckily we have a cat that I use as a food taster just in case the Rock Chick gets any ideas about antifreeze cocktails.

I started musing on all this murder and mayhem the other night. I realized there are some great classic rock tunes about killing and murder and what not. Using the Rock Chick’s musical taste as my guide, I narrowed my playlist idea down to the following twenty-five songs. Sure, there are other tunes that would fit… Lou Reed has a great song called “The Gun” that nobody but me has heard but unfortunately the Rock Chick agrees with my friend Doug who says, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is a dick.” And yes, I could have just filled up my playlist with Tupac and Biggy songs where they threaten each other, but this is a blog dedicated to the joys of classic rock and roll, not hip hop.

I must admit, post Kentucky Derby Day, I almost wish someone would kill me. The curse of bourbon is upon me.  Perhaps a little hair of the dog and these fine 25 rock tunes about murder might cure what ails me… By the way, I will admit I was as surprised as anyone that Green Day had so many murder and mayhem tunes.

  1. Rage Against The Macine, “Killing In The Name” – Yes, this song has broader, geopolitical ramifications but killing is killing.
  2. The Power Station, “Murderess” – Great, deep track from Robert Palmer, drummer Tony Thompson and a couple of dudes from Duran Duran. I’m hoping my wife never becomes the title character.
  3. The Kills, “Doing It To Death” – Not a bad way to go…
  4. The White Stripes, “Death Letter” – Jack White owns this old blues tune for me. Mellencamp did a pretty good version of this one too.
  5. Green Day, “Murder City” – “Desperate but not hopeless.”
  6. AC/DC, “Night Prowler” – Was anyone in rock and roll more menacing as a singer than Bon Scott when he turned nasty?
  7. Duran Duran, “View To a Kill” – I’m not a huge Duran fan, but I always liked this one and it’s a Rock Chick favorite. I think I like it so much because it was used in that James Bond film… I love James Bond films, but who doesn’t?
  8. The Clash, “Somebody Got Murdered” – Ph D courses could be taught about the Clash’s brilliant but flawed album ‘Sandinista!’
  9. Motley Crue, “Looks That Kill” – This song certainly describes the Rock Chick…
  10. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” – Is it that he’s singing in French that makes it creepy or is David Byrne just creepy by definition?
  11. The Police, “Murder By Numbers” – Not a Rock Chick favorite, but I had to have this song on the list.
  12. Queen, “Killer Queen” – The loss of Freddie Mercury is still felt, people.
  13. Echo And The Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon” – What I’ve gathered from all of these murder shows is that jealousy and spouses and murder are all tied up together. This is a great song about jealousy.
  14. The Rolling Stones, “Midnight Rambler” – The Rock Chick didn’t realize this was about a murderer. Killer slide guitar by Mick Taylor who had just joined the band.
  15. Audioslave, “Sound of a Gun” – “Running from the sound of a gun, til I’m weary.”
  16. Green Day, “Bang Bang” – Harrowing story told from the viewpoint of a mass shooter. Green Day is as relevant as ever.
  17. Mick Jagger, “Gun” – Jagger’s solo work always gets slagged but ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ was a killer record and this is a great cut. “Why don’t you just get a gun and shoot it through this heart of mine…” I should have entitled this playlist “Murder, Mayhem and Marriage.”
  18. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – A great U2 track that I believe was used in a Batman film. Don’t hold that against it.
  19. Green Day, “Kill the DJ” – Who doesn’t want to kill the DJ? Live music, not DJ’s, make the world go around.
  20. Alice In Chains, “Killer Is Me” – I prefer the live version on the unplugged LP because you hear Layne Staley say at the end, “I could hug you all, but I won’t.” Layne probably could have used a hug. Tragic story, or in the vernacular of today, #Sad.
  21. Depeche Mode, “Barrel of a Gun” – You knew these dark bastards would have to be on here. I can’t wait to see them on tour this year.
  22. Social Distortion, “Machine Gun Blues” – Mike Ness reimagining Social Distortion as Pretty Boy Floyd’s old time-y gangsters on a shooting spree. Lots of bullets fly.
  23. Bruce Springsteen, “Murder Incorporated” – One of Springsteen’s most rocking tunes with a fabulous guitar solo and naturally a great Clarence Clemons sax solo. All Hail the mighty Big Man!
  24. AC/DC, “Big Gun” – If you’re going to kill someone, bring a big gun. Not as menacing as Bon Scott’s tune, but a great rock tune none the less.
  25. Rage Against the Machine, “How I Could Just Kill A Man” – We leave where we came in, with Rage. Tom Morello uses his guitar like a machine gun. What’s not to love on this great tune.

If you come home and your spouse/significant other is watching shows about murder, turn them toward the stereo. There’s nothing good on TV…

Roger Waters: The New Single “Smell The Roses,” Uncle Cranky Returns

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In the 70’s and well into the 80’s the true Titans of Rock were Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. You didn’t get much cooler street cred than listening to those 2 bands. Potential friendships could be dashed by the wrong answer to, “Do you own ‘Dark Side of the Moon’?” I was in high school when ‘In Through The Out Door’ from Zeppelin came out. I remember older guys from my high school trying to scrape together enough money to rent a bus to get to Chicago, Zeppelin’s closest concert geographically from Kansas City. Sadly, John Bonham succumbed to alcoholism and died the way all rock stars really ought to, choking on his own vomit, before those concerts ever happened. It was only a year or so later when ‘The Wall’ from Pink Floyd came out. Man, were we obsessed with that album. I always thought the line, “you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat” was actually, “you can’t have any pussy if you don’t beat your meat” which was really good news for a high school kid, if you know what I mean.

Alas, ‘The Wall’ was the last great record Pink Floyd put out. Shortly after that record, they fired founding-member, keyboardist Richard Wright. Their final album, which didn’t come out until I was in college, aptly named ‘The Final Cut,’ was a somewhat underwhelming album. In retrospect it was a patch work of ideas. It was really a Roger Waters’ solo album as played by the remaining guys in Pink Floyd. Although not many people liked that album, I always loved the great tune, “The Gunner’s Dying Dream.” The problem with ‘The Final Cut’ is the musical chemistry had been knocked out of whack by Wright’s departure and Waters’ totalitarianism within the band. Waters was the lyrical genius but he needed Wright and especially Gilmour for the melodic sensibility they brought to Pink Floyd. They were the yang to his yin, if you will. Joe Strummer was right when he said, “never underestimate the chemistry of the right four guys in a room…”

I wondered back then what the members of Pink Floyd were going to sound like solo. David Gilmour made “About Face,” which I didn’t like. Roger Waters came out with “The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking,” which was loosely based on a morning’s dream cycle. It’s always gotta be some weird concept with Roger. I remember my college roommate Drew coming home with “Pros and Cons,” and despite boasting Eric Clapton on lead guitar, the album left me cold. I know Drew dug it and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve listened to it, so maybe it deserves another spin. Drew always has a great ear for music… Shortly after that Gilmour, Wright and drummer Nick Mason reformed Pink Floyd and had the smash hit “Momentary Lapse of Reason” which resulted in years of bitter acrimony and law suits.

While the now Waters-less Pink Floyd soared, Roger’s solo career sputtered. I bought both ‘Momentary Lapse…’ and Roger’s second LP, ‘Radio KAOS’ which was another weird concept album. I really liked ‘Radio KAOS’ but I think I stand alone in doing so. I remember debating both albums with some stoner kid from California I ran into in a train station in Paris way back when. He was pro-Floyd, I was pro-Waters. The problem with Waters’ solo work is he always sounds like he’s singing through clinched teeth, like when my dad caught me sneaking out of the house to meet a girl. His vocals are already nasal-y, add that angry dynamic and it can be off-putting. I saw Waters in concert many years ago and for the encore, he asked for silence – at a time in a show when most musicians are trying to get the crowd to a state of hysteria – he wanted a quiet moment. He was so pissy, he actually folded his arms, stared at the ground and said, “I can wait…” Try the de-caff Rog… That was when I started calling him Uncle Cranky.

I must admit, despite all that crankiness, I was a little surprised when I realized it’d been around 25 years since Waters’ last solo LP, “Amused To Death.” I remember buying that album, it’s long since disappeared, and it had multiple versions of the song, “What God Wants.” While I agree religion can be somewhat maddening, I think I’m safe in saying, what God wants is maybe some different lyrical ideas, Roger. That album wasn’t successful and around the same time Pink Floyd returned with ‘The Division Bell’ and another record setting tour. Those had to be tough times for Roger. I’m still unclear why he chose to disappear for a quarter century. Of course, he really didn’t disappear, he did an opera and has toured almost constantly, often staging ‘The Wall,’ his magnum opus. Even Gilmour showed up for a performance of “Comfortably Numb” in London a few years ago. Nice to see the lads getting along. Now that Wright is gone, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a reunion, however. Some grudges can’t be let go.

Over the weekend I finally heard Uncle Cranky, er, Roger’s new solo tune, “Smell The Roses” from the upcoming LP ‘Is This The Life We Really Want,’ which is a pretty ponderous title for an LP. I couldn’t stop humming the melody. I’ve been traveling for work a lot lately, and I couldn’t wait to get home to listen to this song again. Obviously if you’ve read B&V before, you’ve likely guessed I share a lot of Roger’s political sensibilities so lyrically you know he’d have me, but this is a great TUNE. It boasts some funky keyboards and a great guitar solo. There’s even a break for the sound effect of dogs barking harkening back to ‘Animals’… the guy sure stays true to his vision. But oddly, it all works.  Roger finally put together a great song to go with his great lyrics.

And what lyrics they are… “wake up and smell the roses, close your eyes and pray this wind don’t change.” Set to all the great music these lyrics are full of deep foreboding. This is a rock and roll Cassandra, standing on a hill warning society, whose likely fate is not to be heard or worse, not to be believed. “Wake up and smell the phosphorous, this is the room where we keep the human heir…” I wonder if that was just a pun, decrying fascists elements in world politics today. He works in climate change, “nothing but gold in the chimney smoke, come on honey, it’s real money,” which also harkens back to Pink Floyd’s most recognized song. He even invokes the Doors’ “Light My Fire” when he sings, “throw a photo on the funeral pyre, yeah now we can forget the threat she poses, girl you know we couldn’t get much higher.” Mind blown!

I have no idea what the whole album will hold. Will Roger be able to keep up the musical excellence of this tune over a whole album? Hard to know, but this is a great first single for an album I can now say I am hotly anticipating. Keep your ears on this space!