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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Humor: The Helena, AR Town Hall Meeting & Playlist: The B&V Favorite Dylan Covers

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 A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I let myself be talked into moving to Arkansas. I was just out of college and the economy was kind of crappy… let’s just say not much was “trickling down” my way. Upon graduating I took a job for a large corporation in Fort Smith, Arkansas – sight unseen. They offered me the chance to go down and check it out before moving there but I just blindly said, “yes, I’ll take the job.” If I had gone down to check the place out, there is no way in Hell I would have moved there (Sorry, Arkansas). There wasn’t a single woman in the tri-county area. I consider that time, “My Time In Exile.” Not that Kansas City is Rome or Florence, but Fort Smith tested the limits of my endurance… I felt like Dante.

Finally, my corporate overlords at the time realized the huge mistake they’d made in putting me in that awful, desolate outpost, removed from humanity and the opposite sex and transferred me to Fayetteville, Arkansas. This was much better as the University of Arkansas is located there. While I didn’t have much more success with the co-eds than I did with the lone woman in Fort Smith, at least I could buy U of A baseball season tickets. The problem with Arkansas for me was that everybody knows everybody. If they don’t know a person, they know somebody who does know that person. I was from Kansas City and likely considered a “carpet-bagger.” With my lack of an accent I was eyed with great suspicion. In my sullen celibacy I began to joke that I couldn’t get laid in Arkansas because I didn’t have any relatives who lived down there. That never got the laugh I thought it would. I treated my time in Arkansas the way Dylan did when he sang, “Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m just passin’ through…”

This was all brought into intense clarity for me one night, when my buddy Arkansas Joel (name changed to protect the guilty) drove up from Ft. Smith to do some drinking in Fayetteville, down on Dixon Street where the hippies and the coeds mingle in intoxicated bliss. I had met Arkansas Joel who was also exiled to Ft Smith when I moved there, and frankly my friendship with him, that has lasted to this day and is something I cherish, is the only good thing to come out of those horrid three years. It was Arkansas Joel who turned me onto U2… I mean, I liked them, but he made me understand them.

Arkansas Joel and I decided to hit the “hot spot” in Fayetteville, down on the town square (which I might add is a cool thing about southern small towns, they all have a town square), named The Post Office. It was so named because in years past, it was actually the post office. Oh, the irony. I think the last time I was in Fayetteville, the building is now a flower shop but I digress. We walked into the ol’ P.O. and it turns out Arkansas Joel knows everyone in the bar. They’re all from his home town, Helena, Arkansas, on the east side of the state by Memphis. Helena was the home of the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show when I was a kid, giving Arkansas Joel even that much more musical credibility. Mind you, I’d been walking into bars, well, let’s admit it, every night I lived in Arkansas, and I never knew a soul. I couldn’t get arrested in that state, although I certainly tried. Yet, we walk into the Post Office on a Tuesday and suddenly  Arkansas Joel is the fucking Mayor of the Post Office. It was the Helena Town Hall Meeting. People were sending us drinks. I realized, I gotta get out this state.

I mostly stood off to the side that night, while Arkansas Joel regaled his fellow Helena citizens with stories of high school and people named Scooter and Skeeter… At least that’s how I remember it. I was pretty bored… Sensing my boredom and an impending tantrum, Arkansas Joel drew me into a conversation with a guy from his high school, Tim or Todd (name changed to protect B&V), I don’t recall. We got on the subject of music because, well, it was me and that’s all I talk about. This guy was pontificating about who was good and who was bad when the subject of Bob Dylan came up. I’m a huge Dylan fan and pretty much have been since my ol’ roomy Drew turned me onto him in college. This guy, Tim or Todd, said, and Arkansas Joel and I quote this to this day, “Dylan, he’s a poet man. A real poet, but he can’t sing for shit.” I don’t remember swinging at the guy or even threatening to do so, but I remember Arkansas Joel getting between us when he saw that crazy look in my eye, and the next thing I knew, we were in another bar. I seem to remember mumbling, “stupid fucker,” a couple of times…

Ah, youth. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that many people would actually agree with Helena, Arkansas’ foremost purveyor of rock culture, drunk blowhard Tim. The Rock Chick especially despises the sound of Dylan’s voice, much to my chagrin. It didn’t help that when I took her to see him in concert his vocals could most generously be described as “wheezingly inaudible.” And, all these years later, the Nobel Committee apparently agrees with Helena Blowhard Tim, Dylan’s lyrics are actually poetry. I have played versions of Dylan’s songs covered by other artists that have received the Rock Chick seal of approval and then turned around and played the Dylan version only to get a blank stare. This was taken to the next level when Amnesty International released “Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan” with dozens of groups covering Dylan with varying degrees of success. My favorites from that collection are Jackson Browne’s “Love Minus Zero,” and Miley Cyrus, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” Yes B&V fans, you read that right, Miley Cyrus. Put the crazy aside, the woman can sing… and she’s easy on the eyes. Ahem…

Anyway, since the days of the Helena Town Hall Meeting in the Post Office Bar in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I’ve always kept a running list of my favorite Bob Dylan cover songs. I even have a playlist that collects my favorites. This is by no means an exhaustive list of his covers, they number in the thousands and I can’t type a list that long… this isn’t Wikipedia for God’s sake. Here are what I consider to be the best of his cover songs… One caveat, there are typically multiple versions of each of these tunes, I went with one version for each tune selected. I’ll try and call out other notable versions where possible. I’ll be the first to admit there is a preponderance of Rod Stewart here, what can I say, the man knows good lyrics when he sees them…

  1. Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi owns this song. It all starts here in terms of Dylan covers. This is the high water mark.
  2. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” – No one was more surprised than me when I first heard this.
  3. Pearl Jam, “Masters of War” – This one is hard to find, it’s on the all acoustic live LP, ‘Live at Benaroya Hall.’ Eddie Vedder doing one of Dylan’s most intense protest songs, sign me up.
  4. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Everything Is Broken” – The blues wunderkind does a nice job on this late period Dylan gem.
  5. Rod Stewart, “Mama You Been On My Mind” – One of many Rod covers of Dylan. Rod could release an album of strictly Dylan covers.
  6. The Band, “Blind Willie McTell” – I won’t go so far as to call the Band’s version definitive, but it’s close.
  7. Ronnie Wood, “Seven Days” – Ronnie happened to be there when Dylan offered the song to Clapton and he declined… Ronnie jumped in. Ah, timing.
  8. Mike Ness, “Don’t Think Twice” – This one from Ness’ wonderful solo album “Cheating At Solitaire.”
  9. Beck, “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat” – It’s like Dylan on a slip and slide, turned upside down. Great track from the genius that is Beck.
  10. Bruce Springsteen, “Chimes of Freedom (Live)” – There’s a long preamble speech about Amnesty International but once you get past that, this is a great take on a great Dylan tune.
  11. Mick McCauley & Winifred Horan, “To Make You Feel My Love” – Billy Joel does a great version of this song, but my daughter who knows how much I love Dylan and this song used Shazam to identify this song in a Home Depot and then text me. I love this version for that story alone.
  12. The Band, “This Wheel’s On Fire” – The Band who backed him best doing the definitive version of this song.
  13. Norah Jones, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – If only that were true…heh, heh..ahem. This is a bonus track on her debut album.
  14. Warren Zevon, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – Many people have covered this song, from Clapton to GnR, but Warren did it on his farewell album, “The Wind” and I found it very touching.
  15. Rod Stewart, “The Groom’s Still Waiting At the Altar” – One of Dylan’s great, mid-period, blues stompers.
  16. Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” – From the sensational album “Going Back Home.” If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and pick that LP up.
  17. The Rolling Stones, “Like A Rolling Stone” – I think it was inevitable the Stones would do this song… Hendrix does a great version, live, on the LP ‘Winterland.’
  18. The Faces, “Wicked Messenger” – The Faces nail the ominous tone of this song.
  19. Sheryl Crow, “Mississippi” – Sheryl does a great version of this late period gem. Dylan recorded a number of versions of this tune himself…
  20. Rod Stewart, “Girl From the North Country” – One of the best tunes from the much maligned ‘Smiler’ LP.
  21. Robert Plant, “One More Cup of Coffee” – This was also covered wonderfully by the White Stripes on their debut LP, but I love Plant’s voice matched with the exotic nature of this tune.
  22. Super Sessions (Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills), “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” – I think Stills is playing lead on this one, not Bloomfield who had played with Dylan when he went electric.
  23. Cowboy Junkies, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” – “…or else you gotta stay all night…” Great turn on this song with the female lead vocals.
  24. George Harrison, “If Not For You” – George covering his pal Dylan expertly.
  25. Rod Stewart, “Sweetheart Like You” – One of my all time favorite Dylan songs. I like the Dylan version better, but then I almost fought a guy in Arkansas over Dylan’s voice once…

There are an infinite number of Dylan songs covered by an infinite number of artists. I’ve probably missed some of the key ones or one of your favorites. Feel free to add to my list in the comments! Enjoy!

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!

Artist Lookback: The Runaways, A Guilty Rocking Pleasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

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

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year and Cheers!