Artist Lookback: Black Sabbath, 1980-1981, The Superb Dio Era

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A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about Ozzy Osbourne’s albums with Randy Rhoads. It was one of Ozzy’s greatest eras. I think, in the interest of “equal time,” that it’s only fair to take a look at what his old band mates were up to while Ozzy was launching his solo career. Fed up with Ozzy’s erratic addict behavior and diminishing album sales, Tony Iommi and the gang decided it was time to make a change. Ozzy was sacked. The choice for replacement was none other than former Elf and Rainbow lead singer Ronnie James Dio. It was an inspired choice.

Other than a brief flirtation with the ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ album when my mom’s friend brought her children’s records over for me to tape on cassette, I really didn’t know anything about pre-Dio Sabbath. That LP frankly, scared me at the time. I had to wonder what was going on at my mom’s friend’s house. Sure, I knew the song “Paranoid” but I’m not even sure I connected that with Ozzy. I was into bluesier rock like The Stones, ZZTop, Foghat, not heavy metal. Looking back, one has to wonder why Dio would quit Rainbow, who seemed to be on the upswing, and join Sabbath who were sinking under the weight of their own addictions and commercial failures. Coming off two absolute clunkers, “Technical Ecstasy” and “Never Say Die,” Sabbath was in need of a shot in the arm. “Never Say Die” seems like a joke now, considering they blew up the band by firing Ozzy right after that LP.

I remember the first time I heard the first “single” if you an call it that, from ‘H&H,’ “Neon Nights” on KY102, the local radio station in Kansas City. With it’s galloping pace and heavy guitar, and that voice, who was that singing I wondered, it was the type of tune you’d put on before riding into battle. Perhaps I’d been wrong and there were non-blues-based music out there I needed to check out. This was my inauguration into heavy metal. Oh, and I was hooked!

The two 80’s albums Sabbath did with Ronnie James Dio are absolutely essential to not only heavy metal fans, but fans of rock and roll of any stripe. While it was only a brief period lasting a little over 2 years and only two albums, it was one of Sabbath’s most fruitful periods. Let’s look at both LPs.

‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980)

When I saw the album cover of ‘Heaven and Hell’, with the group of angels smoking cigarettes and gambling, I thought, “Oh, yes, I’m in the right place.” This was going to be a special listening event. I went downstairs to use my parents considerably better and more powerful stereo. I put the headphones in the jack and dropped the needle. Unfortunately, my parents stereo had a knob that had to be turned to “auxiliary output” before it would divert the music to the headphones, so while I thought I was privately enjoying “Neon Nights” it was actually blasting out of the speakers overhead sending my mother into a gasping, screaming fit of rage as she ran from the kitchen all the way to the living room to throw her body on the stereo. In her defense, I had it turned up to “11.” Sorry, mom.

Side one of the original vinyl LP of ‘Heaven And Hell’ is as good as any in the Sabbath pantheon. Not only does it kick off with “Neon Nights,” but side one had “Lady Evil,” just a great, spooky tune with a furious bass line and the title track, “Heaven And Hell.” “Heaven And Hell” ranks amongst the greatest tracks of all time. “Children of the Sea” rounds out side one and is another stand-out tune. For me the key track on side two is “Die Young” a hard rocking basher that could be argued was the template for Dio’s whole career. There’s a quiet bridge in the middle of “Die Young” with an acoustic guitar and Dio singing that’ll stop your heart. “Wishing Well” is another great, heavy track on side 2. They end with two very strong tracks, “Walk Away” swings and “Lonely Is The Word” is an epic Sabbath tune. This album is a must have. There isn’t a bad note from start to finish. This album equals anything Ozzy was doing on ‘Blizzard of Oz’ at the time. This was a lot heavier than anything Ozzy was doing, certainly. Bringing in Dio completely rejuvenated the creative process in Sabbath. In short, this tour de force is a triumph.

‘Mob Rules’ (1981)

The follow up to ‘Heaven And Hell,’ ‘Mob Rules’ came out so quickly afterward I didn’t even realize it had come out. Actually the follow up to ‘Heaven’ was a quick and dirty live LP where Dio sang a number of Ozzy-Sabbath tunes. They probably did that to piss Ozzy off, which I’m sure it did. My future college roommate Matthew and I were driving up to Kansas State to check out the campus one weekend when he slid a cassette tape of ‘Mob Rules’ into his super-powered, Subaru stereo. Sabbath was back with another great album. I went to the vinyl store Sunday afternoon right after we got back home to buy the album, post haste. Once again, the album art was terrific. When my mom saw this album, for the first time ever, she started to question what I was doing up in my room with the headphones on. I could see it in her eyes, “was my son in a Satanic cult?” No mom, I’m just a metal fan.

‘Mob Rules’ kicks off with “Turn Up The Night” which almost feels funky. Is there such a thing as disco metal? Geezer Butler’s bass almost makes you want to dance. The epic “Sign Of The Southern Cross” is the centerpiece of side one of this album. It leads into an atmospheric instrumental “E5150” that bleeds into the fast and hard title track, “Mob Rules.” “When you listen to fools, the mob rules…” was something I would quote to my parents when they’d take me to church, which may have been the proof my mother needed that I was indeed in a Satanic cult. Side two starts with “Country Girl” which is an OK tune, but not my favorite. I’ll admit I like they were branching out on subject matter. Side 2 immediately picks up with “Slipping Away,” the fantastic “Falling Off The Edge Of the World,” (which has my all time favorite Sabbath quote, “I’ve seen some visions of Hell that are horribly strange”) and finally the dramatic “Over And Over” to end things. This is top shelf heavy metal and while perhaps not as mind altering as ‘Heaven And Hell’ it’s certainly still a stunning album. I would label ‘Mob Rules’ as another must-have, essential LP for any rock and roll fan.

Sadly, as quickly as it had begun, and as fruitful as it proved to be, the Dio Era in Sabbath ended. There was a sudden announcement that Dio had left for a solo career (which was great on its own) and that former Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan had joined Black Sabbath. In my mind Sabbath didn’t really do anything I liked again until ’13’ the Rick Rubin-produced reunion album with Ozzy. They even reunited with Dio briefly in 1992 for the lackluster LP ‘Dehumanizer.’ Alas, the magic was gone. When you find lightning in a bottle folks, hold on tight.

I recommend immediate purchase of both these records. If you can find them on vinyl, all the better. Turn that stereo up to 11 and Rawk! Oh, and make sure you have that “auxiliary output” thing taken care of… we wouldn’t want to scare mom again.

Humor: My In-Laws And My Wedding Reception

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As I’ve chronicled multiple times over the course of B&V, I was single until my late 30s. I’d share more of those stories but those records are sealed until 25 years after everyone I’ve ever known is dead. I was slowly getting my act together and turning away from my life as a “rounder” when I met the Rock Chick. She had a daughter and was cautious around me or any other newcomer at first, so things developed slowly. Eventually she realized I was harmless and things began to progress a little more quickly. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s another story.

As I got to know her, I realized the Rock Chick had a much different childhood than I did. I was the product of a solid, Catholic marriage. My parents are together to this day and seem to like each other. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City in what I now refer to as “the bubble” of Johnson County, Kansas. While I would never describe my childhood as idyllic (the struggle is real, folks), from the outside looking in, it wasn’t exactly a difficult upbringing.

My wife grew up in the country, on a farm, in a very small town. I think describing her childhood home as a “town” is actually generous. It was more of a wide stretch in the road. She grew up in the shadow of Kansas City but was far enough away it must have seemed light years away from civilization. At least she could pick up the local radio stations and got a good grounding in rock and roll music. Her parents for many reasons, alas, didn’t stay together. She is, what is now called, a product of divorce.

After the split, as is common, the two warring parties never seemed to get along. The Rock Chick’s mother Rose rarely had anything nice to say about her father Bud and Bud rarely said anything at all about Rose. After the Rock Chick moved to Kansas City her parents never spoke again. Child support was the only thing they spoke about anyway. Soon Rose decided to move out West with her son, my wife’s half brother, to live amongst the Grand Tetons. We rarely see my mother-in-law. On one of her brief visits to Kansas City, for a family reunion, I found myself chatting with Rose. I was hitting the vodka lemonades pretty hard, but I still remember the conversation. We were looking at a wall of family photographs from the past, and she commented, out of nowhere, “I always wanted to be a movie star.” I smiled and responded, “That’s cool… were you in drama, were you interested in acting?” Her response was in my mind, telling, “Oh, no, I just wanted to be a movie star.” Hmmm… Rose was apparently Kim Kardashian before there was a Kim Kardashian.

As a side note, this was the last family reunion my wife subjected me to. I don’t even attend my own family’s reunions, thus is my disdain for the entire institution. At one point, I was talking to her uncle who it seems was trying to win a Wild Bill Hickok look alike contest. He had the hat, matted hair, big mustache and looked frankly, dirty. The Rock Chick, sensing I was miserable, ran up and asked if I’d like another drink, a curious strategy as I was already half in the bag. Her uncle said to me, “I wish I had a pretty woman bringing me drinks…” I smiled and said, in a low, serious tone, “If you really want that, may I suggest a shower, shaving off that mustache and perhaps a wardrobe re-do…” Needless to say, we haven’t been invited back but I digress.

When I first met Bud, my father in law, I was a tad intimidated. He asked me two questions in order to determine whether I was ok or not. Did I like beer, which I passed with flying colors, yes of course. Secondly, was I a Republican? I think I failed that one. Regardless, he seemed to like me almost instantly. He was one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met. We would sit around his cluttered kitchen table for hours, consuming more beer than I should have with an hour drive home ahead of me and talked about subjects grand and small. Eventually I got to the point where I’d go down to see him by myself. It was on one of those trips I asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “Well now, she’s the apple of my eye. If you ever hurt her, I’m a marksman and I can kill you and you wouldn’t even hear the bullet coming…” With that he shook my hand and the deal was done.

A while later, I actually went through with it and married the Rock Chick. It was a destination wedding so we had a reception two weeks after that back home. It was a wonderful evening. I can still remember dancing with my new bride for the first time to Rod Stewart’s version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.” There were many people who believed I didn’t even want to be happy, so actually being happy was quite a surprise to everyone involved.

There was some tension at the reception however. Both of my wife’s parents were slated to be there. They hadn’t been in the same room in decades. We sat Rose and her half brother on one side of us, on the Rock Chick’s side. And, to be safe we sat Bud and his date (the man got the ladies) on my side. This may have been a tactical error as he had me running to the bar all night to refresh his beer… wait a minute whose wedding reception is this? The tension we’d felt at the beginning of the evening quickly dissipated as the Rock Chick’s parents never so much as spoke. As far as I could tell they didn’t even look at each other.

The next day, as is her usual pattern, Rose said, out loud, “Well, I’m not sure what happened to your father. He’s clearly daft. He looked right at me, and it was as if he didn’t even know who I was. It’s like he didn’t even recognize me, We were married for over ten years. I really think he’s losing it.” Well, obviously this didn’t set well with me. I am clearly on Team Bud. I cut her off in mid rant. “You can say whatever you want about me, but that’s ridiculous. He’s a good man, and he’s not daft.” I was angry and indignant. This pattern of her bad mouthing him was ending on my watch. I went full on Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” mode in defense of Bud. I had hoped to put this feud to rest.

About a month later, I drove down on my own to see Bud and drink some beer. Soon the subject of the reception came up. I had been ready for him to bring it up and had promised myself if he maligned his ex-wife, I would defend her as well. It was only fair. He leaned over the cluttered kitchen table and got a serious look on his face. “I tell you what, man, at that reception of yours, I must be daft. I looked right at Rose and didn’t know who it was. I didn’t even recognize her. We were married a long time…but I didn’t figure out it was her until I was on my way home.”

Well, shit.

So much for my spirited defense of my father-in-law. What have we learned… sometimes people who have known each other a long time, know each other better than I think. Oh, and never jump in the middle of a feud, ever. And last but not least, maybe these two belonged together after all…

Review: Paul McCartney’s LP ‘Flowers In The Dirt: Special Edition’

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Paul McCartney has been on such a great roll since 1997’s superb LP ‘Flaming Pie,’ all the way through 2013’s ‘New’ really, it’s sometimes easy to forget what a bad decade the 1980’s were for the former Beatle. I am a big Paul fan, but having purchased the abysmal 1986 LP, ‘Press To Play’ even I lost faith. I still shudder when I think about his ill conceived movie project ‘Give My Regards To Broadstreet.’

The decade had started for McCartney with such promise. His 1982 LP, ‘Tug of War’ which was partially a response to the senseless murder of John Lennon was such an amazing record. The title track remains one of my favorite McCartney tracks. “Here Today” was one of the most touching of the many, many tribute songs for John Lennon by any artist. I will admit the two Stevie Wonder collaborations on the album were utter cheeseball, especially the song “Ebony And Ivory,” which still makes me jump to the fast forward button when it comes on the stereo.

His follow up to ‘Tug of War,’ 1983’s ‘Pipes of Peace’ has aged better than we received it back in 1983. It was almost a carbon copy of the formula that had produced ‘Tug of War’ and I think it sold reasonably well. I wasn’t a big fan of that record, nor was anybody I knew. That LP seemed to signal the beginning of a downturn for Paul. After that, man, McCartney hit the skids. He released some awful records. Looking at it from a macro view, 1983 to really, 1997 was an awful patch for McCartney. I will admit there were some exceptions, I loved his ‘Unplugged’ album.

It’s hard to understand what went wrong with McCartney. One has to wonder if he was more deeply affected by the lost of his old comrade and later frenemy, John Lennon. In the second half of the 70s Lennon had withdrawn to self imposed exile to become a house husband/father. In that void, McCartney recorded some of his best, and best selling records. It’s always been my theory, as an armchair bourbon psychologist, if subconsciously McCartney was recording for the broader audience on one level in the late 70s, but down deep was really trying to impress Lennon. Maybe Lennon was a psychological governor in his head, preventing bad ideas and choking off some of Paul’s “cheesier” instincts. With Lennon gone, maybe McCartney became a tad unmoored from a creative standpoint.

One of the exceptions from this fallow period for McCartney was 1989’s decade ending, ‘Flowers In the Dirt.’ It was a good McCartney album, although I’d say not a great McCartney album. It was certainly seen as somewhat of a comeback at the time, although not the big comeback that was hoped for. “My Brave Face” was the first single, which was ok. If you delve into the album a little deeper there are some great deep tracks on this album. “Figure of Eight,” “Rough Ride,” “Put It There” and “This One” are all really strong tracks.

What the LP was also noted for, besides being a bit of a “return to form” for McCartney, was it marked a collaboration with Elvis Costello. The two wrote a number of songs together that ended up on both McCartney’s records and others on Costello’s albums. I have to admit, it was an inspired pairing. Elvis was another guy from Liverpool, who was kind of prickly, who seemed to click musically with McCartney and even wore glasses… remind you of anybody? I don’t know if Costello pushed McCartney or vice versa but it was a great musical collaboration. The song “Veronica” the two wrote together was even a hit for Costello. And, naturally, some of the better tracks the two wrote together ended up on ‘Flowers In The Dirt.’ One highlight was the great duet, “You Want Her Too.” “That Day Is Done” and “Don’t Be Careless Love” were also great collaborations by the duo.

Fast forward to now, and McCartney has given “Flowers In The Dirt” the deluxe/special edition treatment. I was sort of “meh” about the whole thing until I recently put the bonus tracks on. Typically bonus tracks can be a mixed bag. Sometimes their great songs that just didn’t fit on an album. At their worst they’re “remixes” which I loath. A lot of times bonus tracks are just the tossed off, rough demo’s and aren’t worth listening to.

Not so here! On “Flowers In The Dirt” there are nine demos of just McCartney and Costello working through songs with a piano, acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. I have to tell you, I like these demos better than the actual album that was released. Costello wasn’t likely trying to imitate John Lennon but his vocals paired with McCartney have that same vibe if not the same magical harmonies. These demos, half of which were released in more produced/polished, finished versions on the album, half of which were not, are a revelation. It’s great to hear McCartney singing so passionately. It’s like hearing a couple of guys get up in a bar and bash out a quick acoustic set. I had the same feeling I had when I listened to the Beatles ‘Anthology’ discs when I listened to these demos.

I have to wonder what happens to a McCartney song between it’s rough hewn inception, like we hear on these demos, and the actual produced, released product. The guy is one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time, he might take a cue from these demos and stop polishing off these great rough edges.

Is ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ worth purchasing, or repurchasing just for these bonus tracks? Well, if you don’t have ‘Flowers’ in your collection I’d say definitely. If you already own the record, I’ll leave it up to you as to whether it’s worth a re-buy, but these demos are awfully sweet. Paul and Elvis might want to consider collaborating again… it’s that good.

Cheers!

Vegas, Old Friends, Britain and Rod Stewart at Caesar’s Palace 3/22/17

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*photo taken by your intrepid blogger

Despite the ethos of BourbonAndVinyl celebrating fine, strong drink and rock and roll, and my general sympathies to all seven of the deadly sins, I’ve never been a fan of Las Vegas, aka Sin City. I do love the song “Sin City” by AC/DC, but that’s another matter. However, my Corporate Overlords require me to travel to LV twice a year for “conferences.” It’s like being trapped in Biosphere… I enter the casino/hotel I’m staying at and I usually never see the sun or sky again for a week. Thus was my fate last week. Even inside the casino, the air is so dry in the desert the skin on my hands makes it feels like I’m wearing tiny gloves the entire time I’m there…

There are few things that get me motivated to actually leave my conference hotel and walk up and down the strip to another casino or to a bar or restaurant on the main drag. The one thing that can get me out of my barricaded hotel room is the presence of an old friend. In this case, it was the intrepid Arkansas Joel who lured me out of my room. I met Joel during my exile years, right after graduating college, when I lived in Ft Smith, Arkansas and later Fayetteville. Ah, those heady Arkansas days. Joel was married with an infant child and I was an enfant terrible, something that hasn’t really changed. We were full of youth, piss and vinegar, the young lions come to conquer the world.

I still remember the first time I met Joel, when I was staying at a Ft Smith hotel, the Five Seasons, which is an odd name if you think about it, where they had a free breakfast buffet for anybody who was staying there. They also had a Happy Hour with free beer at end of the day. Joel had dropped by the Five Seasons at the orders of our nefarious manager to, “meet the new guy.” Joel was wearing the same corporate uniform I was: dark suit, white shirt, red tie. With his thin frame and my then beer bloated body, we looked like Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues. Joel, who has been a breakfast enthusiast since I met him (“may I have some more plain, white toast please”), enthused, “this is a great little happy hour buffet thing.” All I heard was “happy hour” and responded, “Yeah man, free beer for two hours tonight!” Joel smiled knowingly and just nodded his head. He’s been taking care of me, pretty much ever since. Our friendship, which has lasted 30 years, is the only good thing that ever came out of my Arkansas days.

Joel happened to be attending the same conference that I was in Vegas last week. We grabbed a burger and talked about the old times, while we drank a few beers. It’s fun to get together and think that we’re still the young lions we once were. Although the reminiscing quickly turned to more current concerns. As usual with Joel, the conversation turned philosophical and utterly fascinating. We talked about how our perspectives have changed over the years since we met each other. Joel was always a solid family man, I was always a gypsy. It was truly a great conversation but after one post-dinner drink, I knew I was done. I had to go barricade myself in my room. Joel headed off into the night to meet some other folks. So much for being the young lion any more, at least on my end. But it’s weird, just seeing Joel, my old friend, and hanging out for as briefly as I did, made me feel that way. There will always be a positive buzz I get when I see him. I just sort of feel better spending the evening with him.

Unfortunately, the gears of work caught hold and I was off and running with customers and employees the rest of my time in Vegas and I didn’t see Joel again. I was running around the casino, from customer lunch or dinner to internal meeting and back again. I was pretty fried by Wednesday night. At the conference, Wednesday night is typically concert night. Last week’s show was the Zac Brown Band. I don’t know a lot about the Zac Brown Band, they’ve got some descent tunes. Although, I have to say, what little I’ve heard, they seem to combine “new country” with a jam band/Dave Matthews ethos, which to me is combining all the worst elements of music in one sound experience. After a dinner with customers, where I begged off on the show, I decided to get some fresh air and walk back from New York New York to the Bellagio, where I was staying.

It was out on the streets, amongst the meandering crowd (you never walk anywhere quickly in Vegas) when I saw the giant Caesar’s Palace sign up in the distance. And, under that sign, I saw the bright neon advert for none other than Rod Stewart. When I was in college there were 5 of us who lived in a tiny house just off campus. Rod’s ‘Never A Dull Moment’ and all of the Faces LPs were in high rotation in that tiny house. Talk about the young lions…those were some of the greatest days of my life and Rod’s music was the soundtrack. I thought… why not… I only had an hour til showtime, and I couldn’t get a cab. If I could make the walk in time, I’d give ol’ Rod a shot. I got to the box office with 3 minutes to spare. When you walk up that late, they’ll cut you a deal on tickets so instead of nosebleeds, I was right up near the front, where I took the pic above. The place was packed to the rafters.

When the curtain came up, after the warm up music, Rod comes out and sings “Love Train” the old O’Jays tune and I thought, “Fuck, Rod has gone all Vegas, this sucks.” I was justified in thinking this, as he had a baker’s dozen of backing musicians on stage with him. There were three ladies singing back up and three other whose reason for being on stage was unclear at first. I thought, well I won’t stick around… but then suddenly the band launched into “Some Guys Have All the Luck” and I realized, Rod is really singing the shit out of this tune. He was all over the stage. This was no Elvis, roll you out on a dolly after the buffet to sing the same set every night, Rod was fully invested. When they launched into “Young Turks” from Rod’s New Wave period, I was thrilled. The three gals on my end of the stage ended up each being multi instrumentalists – violins, harps, banjos, mandolins… talented women indeed. By “Forever Young,” where Rod walked out through the crowd and right by yours truly, the crowd was going bonkers.

Rod announced that he plays the hits but he also likes to mix up the set list every night and slip in a few tunes that are more obscure. He then launched into “Love Is” a great mid tempo, gaelic flavored tune from his last LP, ‘Another Country,’ and said, “It was a fantastic album by the way…” I found myself smiling. He dedicated the song, “Rhythm of My Heart” to all the policemen and military out in the world and acknowledged the horrendous attacks in Britain, which had only just reached me in Biosphere, I’d been that cut off. It was a nice moment. My heart, like Rod’s goes out to my British brethren.

A true highlight for me was when he brought the band to the lip of the stage for an acoustic set. They did, “Downtown Train,” “You’re in My Heart” and two real highlights for me – “Oo La La” from the Faces which he dedicated to Ronnie Lane, a “beautiful spirit,” and “The Killing of Georgie Pt 1 and 2,” which was pretty amazing. He said “Georgie” was banned by the BBC, “but they play it now…” He had promised that he would play songs that were particularly popular in Britain to honor the fallen in his home town, London. It was a special evening. The only moment I wished the Rock Chick was with me was during “Have I Told You Lately,” our song for the first dance from the wedding reception.

The last part of the set started with “Maggie May,” with Rod saying, “Now the party starts…” He then did his second Faces track, “Stay With Me.” I was in heaven. Rod then said, “We never play this song in America, because nobody fucking knows it, but this is for Britain,” and launched into the beautiful ballad, “Sailing.” I think “Sailing” was actually the official song of the Royal Navy for a time. It was a moving moment. The show ended with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and the encore was some Guy Lombardo cover that I scooted out during…

As I walked away, I couldn’t help but think what a great evening it had been. Yes, there are aspects of the show that were very Vegas, especially the costume changes and the encore. But over all, Rod was very engaged and still rocks. He certainly has a lot of infectious fun during the show, laughing and racing around the stage. He still kicks soccer balls into the crowd and can still reach the upper balcony. His band was competent if not stunning. Rod, like myself, may not be the young lion he used to be, but I couldn’t help think as I escaped into the night… I just sort of felt better spending the evening with him, like I felt when I left my old friend Joel. I’ll never know Rod Stewart, but he feels like one of my old drinking mates from the old days. God knows, his music was always present when I was partying in those days… There will always be a positive buzz I feel when I see Rod Stewart…

If you’re stuck in Vegas and want to kill a great rocking hour and 45 minutes… you could do worse…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Chuck! You are already missed!

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

Cheers!

Humor – The Song Stuck In My Head From Vacation: “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”

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This may be my weirdest post yet…but I have to exorcise a demon…

While I like to consider myself a “man of leisure,” it has occurred to me over the years I’m not a “vacation guy.” I like going on vacation. If it were up to me I’d be on vacation all the time but the Rock Chick says we have bills to pay. After a two year time lapse, the Rock Chick made it clear we were overdue for a real vacation. Not the, “take Friday off for a long weekend, run up to Chicago” type of vacation, but a vacation involving sandy beaches and sunscreen. Like most married dudes, I acquiesced immediately. The next thing I knew through the grace of a smoking deal on travel, I was in the beautiful Dominican Republic…sandy beaches, beautiful people, and unfortunately on a couple of days… rain.

On a beach vacation, as I’ve posted before, I like to lay on my lounge and listen to my Summer/Sun Playlist. Listening to music is one of the best parts of the entire vacation for me… well, one of my favorite things I can actually write about (heh, heh, ahem). I slip on the headphones and float away. If I’m lucky, I nap. Every day should be like this. But unfortunately the rain made that impossible on one of my vacation days. We quickly decamped to the open air lobby of the resort and found a small table in the corner of the bar. Luckily the Rock Chick had brought a deck of cards and with a dark rum and Sprite with a lime in hand (a drink I had formerly been unfamiliar with and now love) I was having my ass completely kicked in a game of Crazy-8’s. Yes, Crazy-8… that’s as heavy as the Rock Chick and I get into cards… I’m no gambler. Getting out of bed every day is enough of a gamble for me.

It was this rainy afternoon, that I discovered the resort held what I dubbed, “The Sad Saxophone Hour” every day. This dude showed up with a saxophone and a drum machine and some pre recorded keyboards and played sad songs for an hour or two. The prior days of my vacation I’d been passed out on the beach or in my room and had missed “sad sax” hour. At one point the Rock Chick pointed out he was playing the theme from ‘Titanic.’ The horror, the horror. First rain, then losing at cards, then Celine Dion… my worst nightmare.

I had pretty much tuned him out, but toward the end of the performance, I realized he was playing something I recognized… I knew that I knew the song, but it took  me a while to place the melody. Towards the end of the song, I realized he was playing the old Motown chestnut, “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.” I don’t know why, perhaps it was the exercise of trying to identify the song, but once I’d figured out what it was, the song lodged in my brain and has remained there ever since. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of Motown. I’m a hard rock/blues rock kind of person. I like classic rock. When I was in the mood for great soulful music, I was always more of a Sam Cooke man… Sure, I dug some of the later things Marvin Gaye did. Martha and the Vandelas had a few great moments, “No Where To Run To” springs to mind. But overall Motown doesn’t do a lot for me and other than the Supremes I can’t think of an act I like less than Smokey Robinson and the Miracles who wrote and originally performed “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.”

But as this song lodged in my brain for a few days, I began to realize what a great tune it really is. As I thought about it, the obsessive way I think about music, it occurred to me that there are a lot of different versions of this song. Everybody has covered this thing from The Jackson 5 (Michael on lead vocals, naturally) and Diana Ross to Phil Collins and Rod Stewart (gasp, sadly in the “Songbook” period of his career). Like “Yesterday” it seems that almost everybody has taken a crack at this song… Some versions are much better than others. In my opinion, there are only three versions of this song that matter… or that I can listen to. And so, in an effort to get this song to leave my brain, I shall list the three essential versions of “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” here on the pages of B&V in the hopes that I can then move on with my life. Like I said, this may be my weirdest post yet…

Smokey Robinson And The Miracles – I have to chock my love of this version of the tune to my musical theory that every band has one good song. I never liked “Tears of a Clown” or any other Smokey tune. His voice is great, he’s an amazing writer and producer but I just never dug Smokey. But I have to admit, his impassioned vocal on this song, and the great piano figure that drives it just sinks into your brain. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here. It reached me all the way down in the Dominican Republic and won’t leave me…

The Beatles – The Beatles covered this song expertly on ‘With The Beatles.’ John Lennon takes the lead vocal and I have to say he kills it. He brings even more urgency than Smokey did on the original. You can tell Lennon is really pushing himself vocally, it sounds like his voice almost breaks down midway through the song. The rest of the Fab Four harmonize beautifully on the background vocals. Toward the end it almost feels bluesy. Fabulous lamentations by the Beatles. They even nail the piano figure at the end. It’s a great cover by the Beatles but what song didn’t they make better?

Eddie Money – Yes, Eddie Money. Inexplicably Eddie Money covered this song on his debut album and while this will be considered blasphemy and blow any musical credibility I have established in these pages, this is my favorite version. There’s no background harmonizing. Eddie ditches the piano for guitars to drive the tune. He completely reimagines the song. It’s a laid back, baby “you do me wrong” kind of song. Eddie even plays a fantastic sax solo in the middle of the track. “Sad Sax” guy could learn a thing or two from Eddie… I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think Eddie owns this tune for me… over Smokey and The Beatles? I know, it sounds crazy. When I think of this song, this is the version I think of. Eddie just seems to feel it more.

Thank God, after all these years, I can finally get this off my chest and confess my love of the Eddie Money version of the tune. I just feel better now. It’s not very often I can say I dig the Money Man… but there it is. I’m hopeful now that I’m home and surrounded by the myriad of LPs here at the house that I can drowned out this song in my head…but you never know. This might be permanent… I could end up walking around singing, “I wanna quit, but I just can’t split” like an urban hipster for the rest of my life…

Thank you for reading and allowing this catharsis. Cheers! (ps – try a dark rum/sprite with a squeeze of lime, it’ll put you in that summer mood…)

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!

Classic Album Sunday: A Great Way For A Music Fan to Spend Sunday Afternoon

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The older I get, the less social I’ve become. If it weren’t for the Rock Chick, I might never leave the house… If only the HOA would let me build that moat I pitched at the last meeting… If it were up to me, I’d sit in my home office and listen to tunes all night long. Thankfully my wife lures me downstairs for meals and the occasional shower… Her social network seems to continually grow as my circle shrinks as all my friends disappear into the fog of parenthood. Luckily, my dearest old pal Doug, from junior high school no less, still lives in KC. Like the Rock Chick, Doug is one of the few people who can coax me out of my tower and across my metaphorical moat and out into the world. I always chuckle as both my daughter and his daughters always reacted the same way when they heard Doug and I were venturing out on the town… “Oh, you’re going out to drink beer…” Little teapots have big handles as my mom used to say.

Doug had approached me a couple of weeks ago, while my hapless Chiefs were still “alive” in the NFL playoffs… I think we all knew where that would end, but I digress… (the wounds never heal). Anyway, Doug approached me about something called “Classic Album Sundays.” The Classic Album on this particular Sunday was to be, and this is awesome, “Houses of the Holy,” Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece fifth album. I was intrigued but didn’t want to commit until the Chiefs were out of the playoffs…sigh. It was being billed as a group of rock n’roll music fans, gathering in cities across the world to listen to the same classic rock album on a Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t sure what to think about all of this but I decided early on this would be worth checking out. I investigated the website, and found that there are Classic Album Sundays across the planet. From London to Oslo to New York and Chicago to Kansas City to Los Angeles… This started to look more and more interesting. I would urge any of you with an interest to check out their website, posted here:

http://classicalbumsundays.com

When the time came, I must admit, I was a little nervous. This was something that was so outside my current comfort zone. I finally took a deep breath and decided, “no expectations.” It was time to venture out of my cave. I swung by and picked up my buddy Doug, and we headed down to Waldo Pizza, the gracious host establishment for Classic Album Sundays. I walked in and quite to my surprise, the place was full. There had to be between 40 and 50 people in there. The room was bustling with tables full of beer drinking, pizza eating, music lovers of all ages, albeit the demographic probably skewed more toward older er, classic folks. They were packed in there like early Christians, strangers sitting together, elbow to elbow, true believers. The local host, who was wearing a t-shirt with a vinyl album on it, couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming. I could tell I was in the presence of someone who really knew his music. Most importantly, the first thing I spotted was a stack of vinyl albums. I knew this was going to be a great time.

Doug and I quickly squeezed into a picnic style table and introduced ourselves to the welcoming rock fans around the table. Any anxiety I had before I sat down was gone immediately. Of course that may have been the hourglass of Boulevard Tank 7 ale I was drinking… The host stood up and outlined the gear he had set up to play the vinyl albums with. Oh my God: Klipsch speakers, Ankoru Amps, TT2 Turntable… The amps had old style tubes! I’m no stereo gear guy but I could tell we were in for a magnificent soundscape. I wasn’t wrong.

The best part, aside from the great communal music-fan vibe and the great stereo gear, was the wonderful, careful curation of the musical afternoon. You don’t just show up and they play the album. The host had carefully selected a slate of music that told the story and set the back drop for the album. It was a really brilliant ramp up for the main event. He started off by setting the historical backdrop of Led Zeppelin’s blues influences. He played songs from B.B. King, Robert Johnson (“Traveling Riverside Blues” later covered by Led Zeppelin), Jimmy Reed and Little Milton. From there he took us through the British Blues rock scene with tunes from John Mayall, Cream, and the Yardbirds. During intermissions between songs he explained where Zeppelin fit in, what the background of forming the band was, all with this great music as a backdrop. I was surprised and thrilled when he played a James Brown song, which was a huge influence on the “Houses” song “The Crunge” and some Bob Marley, whose influence is felt on the album’s “D’yer Maker.”

Once the host set up the back drop, he moved to playing songs from 1973, when “Houses of the Holy” was released to help compare and contrast what the then current music scene was like when Zeppelin released the album. We heard Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd (“Time,” which was great), Queen (“Keep Yourself Alive” from their debut), Aerosmith (“Dream On” from their debut), and David Bowie (“Let’s Spend The Night Together” his Stones cover from ‘Aladin Sane,’ an inspired choice). It really gave you a feel of where Zeppelin fit in on the contemporary music scene – and it helped you feel the huge influence of the mighty Led Zeppelin (esp on Queen and Aerosmith). On the equipment this guy had set up, all of this music sounded spectacular. For a second I thought Pink Floyd was actually at the front of the room, playing live, thus was the clarity of the sound.

The host did take one small break from the musical story of “Houses of the Holy” for what apparently is the monthly ‘In Memoriam’ section of the program. He played, and this was to a Zeppelin crowd, a George Michael song, “Faith.” I have to admit, that took some balls. He held up a copy of Wham’s album, and lamented that he couldn’t play a song from the LP as it was still in the original factory seal. Someone yelled, “and better off keeping it sealed…” Ah, Zep fans. I do think it’s great they would take a moment to honor a fallen musician, even if their style didn’t fit the program. He also said if he’d had the vinyl version of “Singing In the Rain” he’d have played a Debbie Reynolds’ song. I think honoring the music of all genres is perfectly within the spirit of the afternoon. Well played, sir, well played.

He then took us through some Zeppelin, to catch us up on what music they had released prior to “Houses of the Holy.” He did a great selection from each of the first four Zeppelin records, not always the most popular tunes: “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” “Communication Breakdown,” “Whole Lotta Love,” the Rock Chick’s favorite “Tangerine,” “The Immigrant Song,” and finally “Black Dog.” It really showed you how they’d developed from a blues cover band (essentially) to a hard rock juggernaut.

Finally, it was time for the main event, the album of the afternoon, “Houses of the Holy.” There had been some chatting and chatter during the earlier songs, but when the host dropped the needle on “Houses” the room was a hushed silence. It felt like rock n’ roll church in there. The monster riff of “The Song Remains The Same” burst out of the speakers like a clarion call… I couldn’t help but glance around the room. Many people had their head down, eyes closed, listening with intense focus. There was an older guy, a table away from me who was dancing in his chair… he was bouncing around, nodding his head. The host was on the side of the room, head bopping to the music. I couldn’t help but think, these are my people. By the time “The Rain Song” was over the room was all rapt attention. It was really a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The host even played a second version of “The Ocean,” the last song on the album, from the first pressing of the album, because every other pressing has changed the sound… which was news to me, so even I can learn something new about Led Zeppelin.

I think Classic Album Sundays is a must for any classic rock fan who is lucky enough to have a local chapter in their city. We’re fortunate here in Kansas City to have Waldo Pizza as a host location, because the sound in that room is perfect. The next album up for February is “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. I’m not a jazz-bo but I gotta tell you, I’m already trying to figure out how to buy tickets (at only $5/each it’s quite a bargain). I feel like I’d learn something by attending. In KC they have a great slate of albums picked for 2017: “Sgt Peppers,” “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Dr Dre’s “The Chronic,” (which I love how they span genre’s from jazz to rock to R&B and rap), Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” “The Velvet Underground and Nico” and Steely Dan’s “Aja.” I may not hit every single one of these, but I’m going to make more than I miss. Again, it’s a great afternoon of food, booze and learning about rock n roll classic albums.

Check it out! 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!