B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?

0

“This is no social crisis, this is you having fun…” The Who, “Another Tricky Day”

We’ve all made mistakes in our lives and we’ve all had to learn to live with those bad decisions… Here it is, only day 2 of the enforced “Stay At Home” order and I suddenly feel the need to unburden myself of all my sins. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t left my house since nine days ago and the only sins being confessed to here are musical in nature. All other sins… well, those records are sealed until 25 years after I’m gone and forgotten. While I was always someone who people confided in, I must say this confessional mood seems to be catching. I’m hearing all sorts of sordid things. I just had a friend admit to me that he saw the Little River Band in concert. Everybody loves the Little River Band but no one will ever admit to it. Ironically, I happen to have an almost sentimental attachment to their song “Reminiscing.” There, now I’m on record as an LRB fan…more confessions. The Rock Chick admitted to me this morning, for the first time in our marriage, that she saw Molly Hatchet in concert but doesn’t remember much of it… We’ve all been there (The 10 Concerts I Should Have Skipped). I’m still trying to wrap my head around her being at a Molly Hatchet concert but that’s my issue to contend with.

We’ve all made those musical mistakes. You’re standing in the record store and you have Pat Benetar’s Precious Time in your left hand and Beggars Banquet in your right hand and you end up leaving the store with the Benetar “saving” the Stones’ classic for another day. That is sadly based on a true story. Sigh. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pat Benetar but I didn’t buy Beggars Banquet until I was in college, years later (and I’m the Stones freak?).  We all have albums that we’re perhaps embarrassed about now. Maybe the album is “of its time” so to speak. I actually had a Bryan Adams record (Reckless) for a long time that I bought in the 80s. Or perhaps a relationship or friendship led you to a bad choice. I had a TLC’s CrazySexyCool for a while based on the recommendation of an adamant squeeze I had back in the day. Not every woman I dated had the Rock Chick’s impeccable taste in music.

For the most part, as a “serious” collector I’ve culled through my collection and weeded out the outliers. I try to keep everything, vinyl or CD, that I’ve ever owned but being married has forced me to thin the herd. Every time we move I find myself selling at the Used Record store vs buying… although I’m usually a sucker for that “store credit” gambit. I sell off a certain number of albums and come home with a few new ones… it’s just the circle of life. Being cooped up at home these last few nights has sent me looking through my vinyl collection yet again. I discovered a few albums that, I must confess, I just love but have less than stellar reputations. Either the critics were “meh,” or fans didn’t buy the albums but I did. Since I only write about stuff I like – God knows there’s enough negative bullshit in the world – I am often accused of being a tad “over positive” about certain artists and albums. I have to tell you, I’ve really enjoyed listening to these albums over the last few nights. These just might be albums that need a reappraisal. I asked the Rock Chick if she had any albums she loved and no one else did and she said, “I love Oasis and let’s face it nobody but me and (her friend) Rich likes them.” Rich is the one who always asks me at parties I throw to “put on some Oasis.” Although oddly, on those occasions I’ve been at his house, he never seems to play Oasis.

While only one of these albums is truly embarrassing, the rest are solid if not spectacular as some of the entries in the respective artists’ catalogs. Not every album can be Every Picture Tells A Story or Who’s Next. If you’re a career type of artist – one worthy of following an entire catalog – there will be ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. Since nobody is really going anywhere for a while, put one of these on and dig a little deeper into the catalogs of these great artists. We all have guilty pleasures… these are mine.

  1. The Who, Face Dances -I will always be fond of this, my first Who album. “You Better You Bet” was huge on radio and I bought this record on the spot. With Kenny Jones (formerly of the Faces) on drums and Townsend’s guitar seemingly missing this doesn’t really sound like anything that came before it but I still love this album. “Another Tricky Day” is the perfect antidote for today. “Daily Records” is the nicest statement of purpose in all of rock and roll. “How Can You Do It Alone” about masturbating is funny. The Entwistle songs, “You” and “The Quiet One” both rock with that Who grit. There’s a lot to like here.
  2. Fleetwood Mac, Mirage – Sure, this was a pretty good seller, but after the epic success of Rumours and wild experimentation of Tusk this album seems like a retreat. I am drawn to the melodies and harmonies on this record. Stevie Nicks’ tracks are the gold, from the hit “Gypsy” to the country-rock of “That’s Alright” to the shimmery, sexy track “Straight Back” she could do no wrong. While none of the Buckingham tracks were “hits” I really like a lot of what he’s doing here on tracks like “Empire State,” and “Oh, Diane.” It’s a quiet little pleasure.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Black And Blue – This is basically a recording of the auditions being held for Mick Taylor’s replacement. While many guitarists tried out for the Stones – Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck amongst others – they finally settled on Ronnie Wood. This album is criticized for being a bunch of jams and reggae stuff but that’s what I like about it. The two ballads, the only tracks that required them to actually write a song, are two of my favorite Stones’ deep tracks – “Fool To Cry” and especially “Memory Motel.” In college a friend asked me if this album was any good and I said, no. I would amend that answer to yes, if your expectations for another Exile On Main Street are properly leveled. This is a fun record and “Hand of Fate” is an awesome rock song I’d love to hear live.
  4. Rush, Caress of Steel – I don’t know why this album doesn’t get more love. It’s really the precursor of 2112. All of side 2 is one track, “The Fountain of Lamneth.” It’s a fabulous epic. My all time favorite Rush deep track ends side one, “The Necromancer.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted that song…”weakening the body and saddening the mind.” The playing is impeccable. “Bastille Day” became a mainstay of their live act. This is a great Rush album that the critics savaged.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door – It had been almost three years since Zeppelin had put out Presence and in that time my rock and roll awakening had occurred. I already owned Led Zeppelin II and IV (or Runes) and was eager to hear new, contemporary Zeppelin. The record industry was pinning its hopes on this album and Tusk to bolster lackluster sales. I think a lot of people were disappointed in this record but I wasn’t. Presence was such a heavy album – really shepherded by Bonham and Page – but both of those guys were in the serious throes of addiction by the time they recorded In Through the Out Door that Plant and Jones took over. The result was a mellower, more synth/keyboard oriented album. “In The Evening” is one of my all time Zep favorites. “Fool In The Rain” showcases Bonham’s still formidable drumming. I love the bluesy last track, “I’m Gonna Crawl.” God knows where they could have gone from this… alas.
  6. Rod Stewart, Blondes Have More Fun – Ok, I’m embarrassed I still like this album. I actually sold the vinyl, thus was my shame. But then I bought it again on CD. It’s a truly guilty, guilty pleasure. It’s Rod’s disco album, the record that burned the bridges with his old fanbase. I didn’t buy it for the disco camp of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” I liked “Ain’t Love a Bitch,” I was always a sucker for ballads. “Dirty Weekend” and the title track are Chuck Berry/Rolling Stone riff rockers. I dig Rod. This is my big confession today.
  7. Jackson Browne, Lives In The Balance – After the failure of Lawyers In Love, Browne decided to get deadly serious about politics. Set that aside, these are great songs. “For America” remains a favorite of mine. The title track, “Soldiers of Plenty,” and “Lawless Avenues” all sound like dispatches from the nightly news set to guitar. The one intimate love song, “In The Shape of a Heart” is one of Browne’s most endearing songs. This isn’t for everyone, it kind of depends on your political feelings…
  8. Eric Clapton, Behind The Sun – People will shudder when I say Phil Collins produced this album. Well, he did the initial sessions but the record company rejected it. They brought in some songwriters and Ted Templeman to shore it up. That troubled history sounds like a disaster, but I dug this record. “Forever Man” remains a huge favorite. “Tangled In Love” is a great rock tune. “Same Old Blues” is an epic at over 8 minutes long. I even like the cover of “Knock On Wood.” Blasphemy? Perhaps.
  9. Neil Young & The Bluenotes, This Note’s For You – The 80s were terrible for Neil Young. He first showed signs of creative life on 1987’s Life with Crazy Horse. Then he did a 180 and put out a horn driven blues album. The blues has always been a great showcase for guitar and I love Neil’s playing on this album. I even bought the live album of this tour, put out 30 year later (Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live)). “One Thing” is the ultimate breakup song. “Married Man” is a funny upbeat track. Whether he’s playing a mellow, sad blues or a horn-drive rave up, this is a fun record. The blues will always win out for me.
  10. Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S. – My college roommate Drew and I may be the only two people in the world who bought this album. I really dug the title track. Clapton plays guitar on this album and joined the tour as well. If you ignore the bizarre narrative, you can really get into songs like, my favorite, “Who Needs Information,” or “Home.”
  11. Queen, A Kind Of Magic – My college roomies and I were big fans of the Sci-Fi thriller, ‘Highlander.’ This is basically the soundtrack to that film with the addition of “One Vision” which I think was from anther movie. Queen was on the downturn in America, but this is a bunch of great music. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is a great ballad. The production is very much “of its time” but this was the first sign Queen would come back from Hot Space. 
  12. CSNY, American Dream – Neil Young committed to CSN that he’d record another album with them, the first since the live album Four Way Street, if Crosby could get clean. After the much publicized police chase and incarceration, Crosby emerged clean. The bill came due for Neil. People’s expectations were for Deja Vu 2.0 and yes, this album disappoints from that perspective. I loved the title track and bought the album. Crosby’s “Compass” is a wonderful, confessional track. I love Stills and Young working together and have since the Buffalo Springfield. They spark up a little guitar battle in “Drivin’ Thunder.” Stills shines for me on “Glad That You Got It Made.” Graham Nash’s “Never Say Goodbye” is a tune that used to make me mist up. It’s gorgeous.

I get that many of these might not be your cup of tea. You never know… you might discover something you like in this pile of records. If there are “guilty pleasure” albums for you out there, let me know what they are in the comments as I may want to check those out. I’m open to anything during this time of social distancing!

Stay safe and healthy out there! And remember, as the Who sang, “this (really) is no social crisis…this is you having fun” listening to music.

 

B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs

Unknown

As a kid growing up, my parents didn’t even have basic cable. All the TVs at the house had the old rabbit-ear type antenna. When there were multiple football games being broadcast on New Year’s Day, my dad would bring three TVs down to the living room and watch all three major networks (yes, only three) to catch every game. If one of the TV’s screens was out of wack, I’d often have to stand in the corner, one hand on the TV set, one hand in the air, just to make the picture clear. I was the Human Antenna. Thankfully in those days I wasn’t facing the New Year’s Day hangover… that didn’t come until later.

Eventually, shamed by other parents, my parents got basic cable so we kiddos could watch Sesame Street to build our young minds. We had the most bare-bones cable package you could get. My father, who closely modulated the thermostat to save cash, wasn’t about to “piss away money” on cable TV. There was no HBO or Showtime at the house. If I wanted to see any R-rated stuff, I had to do it the old fashion way, sneak into a theater (thank you Bo Derek for 10). The neighbors had HBO and on a sleepover I once saw Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, in a biker movie and she was topless. It was like “discovering plutonium” as they say on Seinfeld. I couldn’t help but think, at that tender age, “fuck yes, I’m getting HBO when I’m on my own…I’ll never leave the house.”

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered there was something called MTV, short for Music Television. My buddy Matthew and I went up to Kansas State to visit some older friends of ours who were already up at University. As I was wandering around the labyrinth of the dorm filled with hallways and separate rooms (it was like walking in a human-sized ant farm), I came upon a room with like 5 guys crammed around a TV. They invited me in and lo and behold, they were watching MTV. Back then MTV was like radio with videos, one after another… Mostly the videos were crude concert footage with low grade effects, but I thought it was really cool.

Eventually, much to everyone’s surprise I graduated from high school and was accepted to a state university. Where I lived, they had the opposite philosophy as my father and bought the most expensive cable package available. We had every channel on the planet, save for pornography, on the TV in the common room. Invariably, late at night on weekends, I’d end up in the basement in front of the TV with a few of the other drunken, lonely heart’s club types and we’d watch MTV videos until the sun came up. The crowd down there got thicker during finals week… we all needed something mindless after exams so after drinking we’d end up watching countless videos. Of course, there were great videos and then crappy, pop music type videos. I can always remember thinking, “Ok, if the next video sucks, I’m going to bed…” Invariably one more decent video would come on and I’d be stuck for another thirty minutes. It was so relaxing it could be described as mind erasing.

When I moved into exile in Arkansas, there was literally no rock and roll radio. MTV, who had begun to schedule some regular broadcast shows into their programming was still predominantly playing videos. Nowadays you’re more likely to see a music video n the weather channel… MTV got me through the tough years down there. MTV is where I discovered Guns N Roses, the Black Crowes and many other bands. They certainly weren’t playing that music on the radio in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It was around that time, I believe in 1989, that MTV began what may be their greatest legacy, the ‘Unplugged’ series. I’d always heard they were inspired by a video awards show where Jon Bon Jovi, looking coke-addled (he always looked that way to me) and Richie Sambora got on stage with only two acoustic guitars and played “Wanted, Dead Or Alive.” That was cool, lets do a show like that… The concept was simple, put a band on stage, give them acoustic guitars and let them play stripped-down versions of their tunes.

They started the series with some minor to semi-big bands. I think Squeeze was on once. But it wasn’t until 1991 when Paul McCartney performed on ‘Unplugged’ that the show took on some “next-level” kind of rock and roll credibility. McCartney took the next step and actually released his performance as an album (well, as a CD), the first artist to do so. It was a limited edition of only 500,000 copies and I had one in my hand in a record store in Warrensburg, Mo but didn’t have the cash and passed up buying it, which I obviously regret to this day. After that it was Katie-bar-the-door. Everybody was on ‘MTV Unplugged’ after that. Strangely though, not all the artists released the results on an album/CD.

There were all manner of performances on ‘MTV Unplugged’ from the sublime to the questionable. It got to the point where ‘MTV Unplugged’ became “appointment television” for me and my friends. If there was a band we really loved, we’d make sure we were together, beer iced down, in front of the television ready to watch. I remember I was flying back from St. Thomas the night Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did their Unledded episode of the show but I got stuck in a hotel in Atlanta and missed the show. I was in the only hotel on the planet without MTV. I was pissed.

Thinking about those ‘Unplugged’ shows I decided to compile a list of the B&V favorite ‘Unplugged’ albums. This is not a list of the best performances from the show – many acts chose not to release an album after being on ‘Unplugged.’ But, for the ones who did, and there were many, these are the 10 albums I find myself going back to after all this time. Again, we’re only talking about actual LPs here, not performances on MTV. Yeah, they’re a little mellow, but who cares, a good acoustic evening is just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Honorable Mention

  1. Pearl Jam – Eddie Vedder was simply unhinged on this performance. He writes “Pro-Life” on his arm in magic marker while teetering on a very unstable bar stool. They put a blu-ray disc of the performance in the rerelease of Ten, but have yet to release it as an album. I wish they would.
  2. Aerosmith – I have a bootleg of this performance and it’s awesome. They were still bluesy and sounding like the old 70s Aerosmith at this point. Huge mistake not to release this one.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Stripped – The Stones never deigned to be on MTV’s ‘Unplugged,’ but they went ahead and recorded their own, predominantly acoustic album and it’s one of their better live documents.

The BourbonAndVinyl Top 10 ‘Unplugged’ Albums

  1. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged In New York – This is simply the best MTV Unplugged ever. This was a sublime performance. Stripped of the sturm und drang, Cobain’s brilliance as a songwriter and dare I say, writer of melodies rises to the fore. This is not only a great acoustic concert it’s just a great concert. Bittersweet as it was released after Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.
  2. Alice In Chains, MTV Unplugged – I love AIC when they’re heavy, like on “Man In A Box” but I always loved the acoustic based Jar of Flies. This performance was a perfect extension of that. While I’m the first to admit nobody probably needed an acoustic version of “Frogs” there are some great versions of “Killer Is Me,” and “Over Now” just to name a few. It would be Layne Staley’s last concert.
  3. Paul McCartney, Unplugged – I love McCartney in this stripped down show. Like his recently released Amoeba Gig (Live) album (LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?), playing in front of a small audience brings out the best of him. Beatles tunes, solo hits, and rare covers make this a special performance.
  4. R.E.M., Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions – This album only got released in 2014 and I’m hoping it serves as an example to all those bands who held back on releasing their performances. R.E.M. was a very strumming/acoustic based band to start with… They’re perfect for the ‘Unplugged’ setting. I probably lean more toward the 1991 session, which was when they were touring for Out of Time. However, the 2001 set, when they were touring behind Reveal has some beautiful and melancholy moments that are irresistible. Obviously, I’d play one disc at a time.
  5. Rod Stewart, Unplugged…And Seated – Rod has always had that perfect melding of acoustic and electric, folky and rocker. The thing I love about this album is he brings back Ronnie Wood, his erstwhile band mate in the Faces and they return to Rod’s best period, when he was on the Mercury label, and tear it up! I believe there was a lot of drink involved.
  6. Eric Clapton, Unplugged – McCartney may have given ‘Unplugged’ it’s credibility, but Clapton showed that these albums could be a commercial juggernaut. This thing sold a ka-jillion copies. At the time we all loved the acoustic version of “Layla,” done here as a shuffle… It kind of got worn out. I like the older blues covers he throws in here. Chuck Leavell who plays with the Stones now is on piano and he has a fabulous solo in the song, “Old Love.”
  7. Page/Plant, No Quarter (aka Unledded) – These guys turned the whole concept of ‘Unplugged’ on its head. Some tracks are live, electric versions of their old Zeppelin tunes. Some are straight up acoustic and some are just great experiments, fucking with their sound, i.e. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The spirt of experimentation ran through three new tracks released on this album, the first Page/Plant collaborations since Zeppelin broke up. It would have been nice to see John Paul Jones here too, but that’d have upped the pressure.
  8. Eagles, Hell Freezes Over – I may be fudging a little here… this started off as an ‘Unplugged,’ but there is really only one acoustic take on a classic, on a sublime version of “Hotel California.” This was the first time in 14 years the Eagles got together, if they want to plug the electric guitars in and go for it, why not… It’s certainly what Springsteen did on his ‘Unplugged’ with much less spectacular results.
  9. Bob Dylan, MTV Unplugged – People will scoff at this entry. Dylan was coming off two great, unappreciated folk/acoustic records when he did this ‘Unplugged.’ He’s engaged and playing faithful versions of classics here. It was, for me, the beginning of his recording come back. It seemed like he cared for the first time in a long time. There are great versions of “Shooting Star” and “Dignity” on this record too.
  10. 10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged – I’m like most guys from this era. I don’t have any 10,000 Maniacs, I never liked the 10,000 Maniacs, I never bought their albums. However, almost every woman I dated, and there were a few, had this or some of their other albums. After  hearing a few times… because I was a bit of a man about town in those days, I realized Natalie Merchant’s vocal performance makes this the only 10,000 Manaics album you need. I love the cover of “Because the Night” written by Springsteen but made famous by Patti Smith.

Cheers!

 

Artist Lookback: The (Original) Jeff Beck Group – Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood

Jeff-Beck-Group-1968-resize-800x751

Image of the Jeff Beck Group (Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood, Mickey Waller & Rod Stewart) taken from the internet and likely copyrighted. Credited to Past Daily

I saw the other day that Rod Stewart’s new album, Blood Red Roses hit number one in the UK. Congrats Rod… While I found his new album mostly un-listenable, I’m still a huge Rod fan. I’ve been on Stewart’s bandwagon since his early Mercury Records days and Truth be told, even before that. I’m still holding out for a Faces reunion and two of them are gone. For years I hoped Rod would start writing original music again and no one was happier than I was when he finally did so on his 2013 album, Time. He followed that up with 2015’s Another Country (Review: Rod Stewart “Another Country” – We Should All Be This Happy) before releasing this new disc last month. Alas, each album has been a case of diminishing returns. I will say it’s all still better than those awful American Songbook albums. Those records should have been entitled, Songs for Soccer Moms. His new record follows a disturbing trend for Rod… he seems to just turn over his stuff to whoever the producer is and lets them do what they want with the music in an attempt to sound modern. Strip away the gloss and there might be something decent there.

Rod’s other big problem is his choice of collaborators. He’s writing songs again, but he’s chosen to write them with a keyboardist, Kevin Savigar. I have nothing against Mr. Savigar, but Rod always writes better stuff when he’s collaborating with someone on guitar. Whether he’s going folky with an acoustic or bluesy with an electric, the guitar just seems to bring out the best in Rod, like a shot of adrenaline. He wrote most of his best stuff with Ronnie Wood during those aforementioned Faces and Mercury days. Even in the 80s he had guitarists like Jim Cregan or Gary Grainger to write songs with. Of course, Rod’s other great guitar partner was the man who broke Stewart’s career wide open, none other than Mr. Jeff Beck. Before The Jeff Beck Group Stewart was a traveling troubadour, bouncing from band to band in groups like Steampacket.

I posted once about John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the trio of great guitarists that came out of that band, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967. To find a band, outside of the Allman Brothers Band, with that much guitar star power, one has only to look to the Yardbirds. The Yardbirds started with Eric Clapton on guitar, only he was such a “blues purist,” he split the band when they moved to what he deemed a more “pop” sound. Clapton went on to soar to greater heights, first with John Mayall, then Cream, and as a solo artist. The Yardbirds ended their run with none other than Jimmy Page on lead guitar. Obviously, Page went on to “King of the World” status in Led Zeppelin. When the Yardbirds broke up, Page even ended up with the legal rights to the name. Zeppelin was almost called the New Yardbirds. In between Clapton and Page, the bridge between if you will, was a guy who never reached the commercial heights of the other Yardbirds’ guitar gods, Jeff Beck. The guy can flat out play. Sadly, as he said at the Yardbirds’ Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction, “They fired me, I don’t even know why I’m here?”

I’ve never understood why Beck wasn’t more commercially successful. His guitar prowess was such that Jimi Hendrix was a fan. High praise, indeed. In the 70s, having finally given up on vocalists, he recorded two instrumental, jazz fusion-y albums, Blow By Blow and Wired that both eventually went platinum. Both albums had George Martin in the producer’s chair. Stevie Wonder wrote “Superstition” for inclusion on Blow By Blow. I know that Beck can be… let’s call it “mercurial.” His temper and foul moods may be what kept him out of the limelight. He and Rod were trying to collaborate on an album four or five years ago but they couldn’t come to terms, which is a shame. Jeff Beck not only sort of discovered Rod, he resurrected his flagging career in the 80s when the two cut “People Get Ready.” The popularity of that track shook Stewart out of his pop slumber. When they were trying to collaborate Beck complained that Rod only wanted to sing the blues, and I’m thinking, “fuck yes!” Jeff didn’t want to play the blues, but oh, what an album that might have been. So last year, of course, Beck guested on Van Morrison’s Roll With The Punches album which was basically a blues record (LP Review: Van Morrison, ‘Roll With The Punches,’ A Laid-Back Blues Party). I guess Jeff can still play the blues but only when wants to.

Having been terminated by the Yardbirds, in early 1967 Jeff Beck formed the original Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, future Faces and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on rhythm guitar and a revolving door of bassists and drummers. Eventually Ronnie Wood would move to bass and Rod would recruit his buddy from Steampacket Mickey Waller to play drums. That was as close as they’d come to a stable line up. Waller was eventually replaced by Tony Newman. I think even drummer Aynsley Dunbar was in this band at one point because lets face it, Aynsley was in every 60s band and several 70s bands. Beck had signed on with manager Mickie Most who was only focused on Jeff Beck as a solo artist. As the guitarist once remarked, “I understand why Rod left, he was being treated like the hired help.” Alas, that’s how Most and Beck himself treated the rest of the band. Wood was fired and rehired several times. In the end keyboardist Nicky Hopkins passed on the chance to join Zeppelin and joined The Jeff Beck Group as a full time member.

With all that turmoil and mismanagement the group did suffer. Jeff famously decided not to play Woodstock, something he has always said he regretted. I can’t imagine what an appearance at the iconic festival would have done for these guys. They toured constantly which led to their other great problem – they didn’t take any time off from the road to actually write original material. In the liner notes of their second and final album, Beck-ola Beck even cops to it, when he says “It’s hard to come up with anything truly original.” While the band wasn’t meant to last, they were hugely influential. Jimmy Page was watching what Beck did, pairing a strong guitarist who would bring the lads into the concerts with a charismatic lead singer who would bring the ladies in. He quietly recruited Robert Plant to recreate the model, to much greater success. The original Jeff Beck Group was the real blueprint for many of the 4-piece heavy blues/blues rock bands to follow. They left behind, in their brief time together, two great albums that every rock fan should own…

Truth (1968)

This is one of the truly seminal albums of the blues rock movement. It’s influence can be felt to this day in bands like Greta Van Fleet. The album opens with an old Yardbirds’ track, “Shapes of Things” and Beck’s guitar playing makes this version the definitive one. There are two towering blues covers on this record, “Ain’t Superstitious,” the old Howlin Wolf track, (and its as epic as the format ever got) and Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me.” Jimmy Page, in a bit of cheek, had Zeppelin on their first album cover “You Shook Me,” which reportedly made Beck weep when he first heard it. Competition is good for the soul. Of the originals on this album, “Blues Deluxe” is probably my favorite. It lives up to the title and is the best blues song Rod ever sang. “Rock My Plimsoul” was a reworking of a B.B. King song but is another great bluesy rave up. It sounds like Beck is torturing his guitar here and I mean that in a good way. Mixed with Rod’s vocals, and Woody/Waller’s solid bottom, this album is perfect. So racked for material were these guys, they covered “Old Man River” with Keith Moon (unnamed) on timpani. This was basically the band’s live set, recorded in the studio. I wish somebody had recorded these guys live in concert…but I digress. When I re-purchased this album on CD, I found the great bonus track, the bluesy, “I’ve Been Drinking Again,” which obviously, we love here at B&V loved.

Beck-Ola (1969)

The wheels were already starting to come off. The constant touring, illness and band infighting was taking it’s toll. If they’d just slowed down a bit from the road and taken more time to write original stuff. This album gets overlooked and criticized for that very reason, not enough new stuff, but it’s still a great blues rock album. There are two (and probably 1 too many) Elvis covers here, the opener “All Shook Up,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” While that shows the lack of newly written stuff, they’re still kick ass songs. Beck correctly described Rod as being on “vocals extraordinaire.” Keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, now a full time member, brought the beautiful, piano driven “Girl From Mill Valley.” “Spanish Boots” another original, is a rocker. Rod sings over Hopkins insistent piano line, while Beck’s guitar dive bombs through. The solo is mind blowing. “Plynth (Water Down the Drain) which Ronnie and Rod would steal later for their first record with the Faces, is as heavy as anything these guys recorded. It’s almost heavy metal. Stewart’s vocal verges on unhinged. The time changes Beck goes through thrill me even now. “Hangman’s Blues” is heavy blues goodness. The album times in at just over thirty minutes and I was puzzled when I bought this album (again) on CD, to find some great bonus stuff that could have been easily added to side two. The two bonus tracks, “Sweet Little Angel,” a great B.B. King cover and “Throw Down A Line” by Hank Marvin were both purportedly recorded during a jam. If this is the sound of a band jamming, they should have jammed more. While not as towering as Truth, this is still a must have.

Sadly, after ditching Woodstock, Beck, who was as fond as Rod was of fast cars, was injured when he wrecked his sports car. While Jeff was recovering, Rod recorded his folk-rock debut, The Rod Stewart Album (or in the UK, An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down) with Ronnie Wood on guitar and Mickey Waller on drums. It wasn’t long before Rod had joined Ronnie in the Faces. Beck formed a second version of the Jeff Beck Group but for me at least, he never recaptured the magic of this original line-up. Pour something strong and give these two records a listen.

 

 

 

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

image1

*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…