HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES: HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES

(JOHN VARVATOS RECORDS/REPUBLIC RECORDS/UNIVERSAL MUSIC ENTERPRISES; 2015)

Though I am an avid connoisseur of all things Alice Cooper, as well as a fan of the Joe Perry Project (and the guy’s other, lesser known band, Aerosmith), I have had a falling out with Johnny Depp over the past 13 years or so (I suppose I can forgive him for DARK SHADOWS, but… THE LONE RANGER? No my friend… that is a step too far… a step too far, I say!) As you can imagine, I was trapped betwixt the proverbial rock and an unyielding hard spot. My hard-headedness nearly cost me the chance to hear what turned out to be a really cool record but, thanks to a dear friend and her Christmas spirit, I was soon the proud owner of HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES… on magnificent black vinyl, no less. At first blush, this would appear to be the covers album that the Coop has been touting for the last few years… with a couple of tasty originals bookending the nostalgic trip down Alice’s drunken memory lane; apparently, though, that one’s still in the works. Oh… the record also features a butt-ton of special guests and old friends. Did I forget to mention that?

HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES (Joe Perry, Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp) (publicity photo)

While HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES is essentially a covers record dedicated to Alice’s “dead, drunk friends,” those delectable morsels are indeed bookended by a pair of originals… well, three, actually, with “The Last Vampire” acting as an introduction to the album, as well as to “Raise the Dead.” The short piece features Sir Christopher Lee reciting a vampiric lament from Bram Stoker’s DRACULA over a soundscape created by producer Bob Ezrin and Depp (with a little help from Justin Cortelyou). This may actually be Sir Christopher’s – forever Count Dracula to me – last performance before his death. “Raise the Dead” itself is the kind of song that Alice Cooper (the band) could have come up with. In fact, it’s so good that I’m a bit miffed that Depp had a hand in writing it and plays some pretty good guitar, to boot. One of Alice’s regular guitarists, Tommy Henriksen, also makes an appearance, evoking the memory of Glen Buxton and his psychedelic freak-outs. Current Alice Cooper drummer, Glen Sobel (who I thought was just mailing it in of late, particularly on the RAISE THE DEAD – LIVE FROM WACKEN release), also makes his first (recorded) Vampires appearance and, though he lacks Neal Smith’s percussive finesse, powers the tune along quite nicely. Along with bassist Bruce Witkin (who also gets a co-writing credit), he delivers a magnificently sludgy Zombie-like rhythm bed for the others to play over. Don’t you just love redemption stories? This early into the game, I’m already wondering what a full album of Vampires originals would sound like. So, now, it’s on to the covers. First up is “My Generation,” a song that the Coop has done off-and-on as an encore for a couple of decades with his tongue firmly set in his cheek. This salute to fellow Vampire (the drinking variety) Keith Moon is kind of a stripped down version for this group, with only bass, two guitars (again, Depp and Henriksen) and drums from the Who’s longtime skin basher, Zak Starkey (who I think is related to Paul McCartney or one of those other Beatle-type guys), who adds an extra bit of thunder to the proceedings. Zak sticks around to represent another of Alice’s departed drummer friends, John “Bonzo” Bonham, on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” The intro to the song is absolutely mesmerizing, with Alice’s harmonica and slow burn vocals bolstered by some awesome Kip Winger bass playing and Joe Walsh’s slide guitar before the song kicks in full force. AC/DC’s Brian Johnson joins in on vocals, singing some serious ear-damaging high parts (I initially thought that it may have been Ann Wilson singing) and hot-shot guitarist Orianthi (again from Alice’s band) adds a wicked solo. Holy crap, boys and girls… this one may actually be better than the original!

Walsh sticks around for a rousing version of the Spirit classic, “I Got a Line On You,” as does Winger on bass. Perry Farrell (of Jane’s Addiction fame, for you kids who don’t listen to the “new” music) joins Alice on vocals and longtime session drummer, Abe Laboriel Junior, shows us exactly why Paul McCartney keeps him on his payroll. This is a far better version than the hair metal version that the Coop did for the TOP GUN II soundtrack. Cooper, Depp, Henriksen, Witkin and Laboriel deliver fairly faithful versions of two songs from the Doors, “Five To One” and “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” with Alice channeling Jim Morrison’s Lizard King persona. Charlie Judge makes an appearance as Ray Manzarek while the legendary Robby Krieger (yeah… THAT Robby Krieger) absolutely tears it up on lead guitar. A nearly forgotten member of the original Hollywood Vampires, songwriter par excellence Harry Nilsson, is represented by a pair of his most well-known pieces: “One,” which Three Dog Night rode to the top of the charts (well… number 5, actually) in 1969 and “Jump Into the Fire,” from Harry’s 1971 masterpiece, NILSSON SCHMILSSON. Perry Farrell is back and Krieger continues to shred on the solos. Foo Fighters front-man Dave Grohl joins the festivities on drums… I guess old habits die hard.

HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES (Abe Laboriel Junior, Johnny Depp, Paul McCartney, Brian Johnson, Alice Cooper, Joe Perry) (photo credit: KYLER CLARK/UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP)

If you’ve ever wondered what a duet featuring Sir Paul McCartney and Alice Cooper would sound like, wonder no more. Abe Laboriel Junior’s boss lends a few of his many talents to the song that launched Badfinger’s career, “Come and Get It,” playing piano and bass, as well as singing. Joe Perry finally makes an appearance, joining the guitar frenzy alongside Johnny Depp. Alice, Tommy, Glen and Bruce get a bit funky with Marc Bolan on “Jeepster,” from the T Rex album ELECTRIC WARRIOR. Joe and Johnny add some glamorous guitar, as is only fitting. The same group also delivers a very heavy version of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey,” with Perry soloing nicely. The heaviness adds – if you’ll pardon an unintended pun – weight to Lennon’s lyrics. While there may be better Lennon songs for the boys to cover, this is a really cool version of this one. “Manic Depression” sees the return of Joe Walsh and Zak Starkey to the studio. Though Jimi Hendrix was well-known for his guitar histrionics, this tune was more in line with the Rhythm and Blues he loved, with the fiery soloing replaced with a more riff-based sound that allowed Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell a lot of free space to kinda go wild. Here, the Vampires do the same thing, keeping things simple over the top while Witkin’s bass rumbles and Starkey’s drums steamroll through the understated guitar work of Depp, Walsh and Henriksen. While it’s hard to beat the original ARE YOU EXPERIENCED version, this is one of the better cover versions out there.

HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES (Joe Perry, Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper) (photo credit: ROSS HAFLIN)

Alice goes mod with the psychedelic pop of the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park,” a weird sort of song for this band to try to tackle. But, you know what? They pull it off, with a wink and a nod to the whole “Peace and Love Through Altered States” late ‘60s mentality (and Alice’s – as well as Johnny’s – own well-documented bouts of altered states), especially near the end, when the music is brought to an abrupt, record-scratching end and Alice asks, “Uh… because I’m HIGH?” before the background singers bring us back around to the tune. Musically, Tommy does most of the heavy-lifting on guitar, though Depp proves himself a stand-out guitarist, as well. For quite awhile now, Alice’s solo shows have featured the no-brainer coupling of “School’s Out” with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In the Wall, Part Two.” The track bristles with electricity, as Brian Johnson returns to hit some high notes to counter balance the Coop’s growl and Slash and Joe Perry join Depp and Henriksen (oh… and Bruce Witkin, too) for some wicked soloing and a little slash-and-burn riffing along the way. And, of course, what better rhythm section to have behind this magnificent mayhem than two-fifths of the original band, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith? In an album of highlights, this may very well be my favorite, as the basic “School’s Out” groove weaves it way in and out of both songs. “My Dead Drunk Friends” is a tune that Alice has played for a couple of years now. It certainly puts a fitting exclamation point to the first Hollywood Vampires album, with the group pared down to the five songwriters (Cooper, Depp, Henriksen, Witkin and producer Bob Ezrin) and drummer Glen Sobel. The tune is a swinging waltz with a bluesy kinda sway and a Depp (I’m guessing) solo to match. It features a particularly snotty vocal from Alice as he toasts the carnage that drink and drug wrought on the original Vampires. The zombie-fied (or, should that be “zombie-fried?”) chorus and the wind-down fade, with Ezrin’s just slightly off-kilter tack piano, definitely add to the faux drunken feel of the song, highlighting the spirit – if not the reality – of those bygone days of stupefied revelry.

HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES (Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, Joe Perry onstage) (uncredited photo)

There is a “deluxe version” of HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES out there, with three extra tracks: The Who’s “I’m a Boy” (seems a natural for Alice to sing), “Seven and Seven Is” by Love’s Arthur Lee (a song that Alice recorded back in 1981 for his SPECIAL FORCES album) and an original called “As Bad As I Am.” If, like most of us, you are digitally tuned-in, you can buy this digital album and pick up these tunes as a bonus. While much of the music I receive nowadays is of the digital variety, there is still something very special to me about holding an actual record in my hand and watching as the needle drops on that first track, especially with this release.


FROM LIVERPOOL TO MEMPHIS: THE JOEY MOLLAND INTERVIEW

PART ONE: INTRODUCTION

Joey Molland , circa 2013 (uncredited photo)

Joey Molland , circa 2013 (uncredited photo)

Joey Molland has known the highs and lows that comes from a life in music. He’s experienced those same highs and lows in his personal life, as well. Born in 1947, by the early 1960s, a teenage Molland was performing in bands around his hometown of Liverpool. Playing with the Assassins and the Profiles led to Joey joining a group called the Masterminds in 1965. Members of the Rolling Stones and their manager/producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, heard the group play at a club. Oldham was impressed enough to produce and release a single on his Immediate label. From the Masterminds, Joey became part of a backing band for the Merseys (Tony Crane and Bill Kinsley, formerly of the Merseybeats) called the Fruit Eating Bears. A stint in the Cryin’ Shames led to an opportunity for Molland to show off his songwriting abilities with Gary Wilson and the Rain.

When the Rain washed away, he was offered a spot with a group called the Iveys. The band had been recording music for a movie soundtrack, to be released on the Beatles’ Apple Records. Before the album MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC was released, the Iveys became Badfinger and, though Joey’s name appears in the album credits, he didn’t appear on any of the tracks. The band, including Molland, however, had already begun working on the follow-up, a more proper album from Badfinger. Guitarist/singer Pete Ham, bassist Tome Evans and Joey played on various sessions for solo Beatles projects aside from their work in Badfinger. However, the guitarist/songwriter’s time in Badfinger was, to say the least, tumultuous. Things finally came to head in 1974 when, after the release of WISH YOU WERE HERE, their third album in 12 months, Joey walked away from the band. The decision was based on problems with management. These problems continued and were a factor in Pete Ham’s suicide in April, 1975.

Natural Gas (Mark Clarke, Joey Molland, Peter Wood and Jerry Shirley) (publicity photo)

Natural Gas (Mark Clarke, Joey Molland, Peter Wood and Jerry Shirley) (publicity photo)

After an album and successful tours with his new band, Natural Gas, Joey reconnected with bassist Tom Evans in 1979 for a couple of albums under the Badfinger banner (AIRWAVES and the hugely under-rated SAY NO MORE). That relationship fell apart, leading to both musicians touring their own versions of Badfinger. Evans, unable to shake the lingering effects of the gross mismanagement of the band’s early ’70s career, hung himself in September 1983. Drummer Mike Gibbins died in October, 2005, leaving Molland as the only surviving member of the once promising Badfinger. Though he still tours with a version of the band, called Joey Molland’s Badfinger, his recorded output since 1981’s SAY NO MORE have been released under his own name. The Molland discography is short: Before the release of RETURN TO MEMPHIS, Joey released his debut solo outing, AFTER THE PEARL, in 1983 with THE PILGRIM following hot on the heels… in 1993. THIS WAY UP, released in 2001, has been called “one of the best solo discs that ex-members of the Beatles never made.” An album of demos called BASIL was offered on Joey’s web-site in 1999.

Joey Molland onstage with Tom Evans, 1979 (uncredited photo)

Joey Molland onstage with Tom Evans, 1979 (uncredited photo)

PART TWO: RETURN TO MEMPHIS

Joey Molland Return To Memphis

On the new RETURN TO MEMPHIS (released on GONZO MULTIMEDIA), Joey’s voice has grown into a pleasant Mark Knopfler laid-back delivery, with just a hint of the young Zimmerman. Continuing the Beatles comparisons, I would liken the album to the John Lennon comeback, DOUBLE FANTASY, simply because – after an extended lay-off between releases – every song and each performance is so strong that it’s impossible to imagine that he’d ever been away.

Walk Out In the Rain” is a heartfelt, world-weary mid-tempo track enhanced by the female vocal backing and a Memphis style, Sunday-go-to-meeting organ. “A Ship To Mars” recalls Badfinger’s gentler moments, featuring a nice bass line and some excellent guitar work. More great guitar work highlights “Only When It Rains,” while “Got a Feeling” takes you back to those early Memphis rhythm and blues/rockabilly sides by Elvis Presley… one of the best songs here. Not the Paul McCartney song, “Yesterday” may be the most “modern” sounding tune here, delving into a kinda Gothic shoe-gazing vibe before heading off into more direct pop sound, sprinkled with a little Middle Eastern flavor. “All I Ever Dreamed” offers a more prominent Knopfler vocal resemblance and features some really tasty guitar work from Joey. The song, again, benefits from strong backing vocals, bass and organ. The laconic Knopfler sound is on display once more on the lyrical masterpiece, “Hero.” :All I Need Is Love” is a funky response to the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” maybe taking a little bit of the wind out of the whole hippie love-fest of the late ’60s. The song is another back to the roots Memphis soul track, with some great, pounding piano. One of the things that gave Badfinger such a unique sound was Molland’s slide work. That slide work is elegantly displayed on “Is It Any Wonder,” another favorite of yours truly. The final track, “Still I Love You” is a hypnotic, Cajun voodoo kinda thing, with some awesome, fuzzed out guitar. Whether you were ever a fan of Badfinger or any of Joey’s other work (or were even aware of it), this album is a fantastic introduction to the man and his music.

PART THREE: THE INTERVIEW

THE MULE: Joey, you’re solo output is small but quite impressive. Is the length between releases by design or is it dictated by your creative process? How much does your practice/touring schedule with Joey Molland’s Badfinger have to do with your release schedule?

Joey Molland, 2013 (uncredited photo)

Joey Molland, 2013 (uncredited photo)

JOEY: My experience with Badfinger left me a little jaded and pretty broke. Our name, even though we had some success, was never a strong draw in the live concert world, so it has never been easy to make a regular living as a performer. I’ve always written what came to mind, commercial or not. Making records costs money, so I’ve had to wait for opportunities to present themselves.

THE MULE: I really enjoyed RETURN TO MEMPHIS. The album stands well as a cohesive whole, but seems to fall into two distinct styles. There’s plenty of old Memphis/Stax soul groove, while other tracks have a definite Badfinger feel. Are all of the compositions new or are some of the more “rocking” tunes older things that may not have fit (either due to time constraints or stylistic differences) on earlier projects? How did your love for Memphis soul play into the music you’ve created in the past 40 plus years?

JOEY: I always have plenty of material to use. When I was going to Memphis to make the record, I sent Carl Wise, the producer, 30 songs, written over the past 5 or 6 years. If some of them sound Badfingery, it’s probably because I wrote and sang over half the songs we – Badfinger – recorded and I played guitar on all of them. I think my songs all have a certain rhythmic element and I think that’s the Memphis/soul element. At the same time, I’ve never tried to sing like I was from Memphis, but I could never hide the influence.

THE MULE: All of these questions, obviously, lead up to this: Can you give us a bit of insight into the creative process – writing and recording – that led to the album, RETURN TO MEMPHIS? Who played on the album? Do you plan to tour in support of this release or to incorporate any of the tunes into Badfinger’s live sets?

JOEY: A long while ago some friends of mine in Minneapolis, the Echo Boys, told me they had access to a studio in town on Tuesday nights and, if I would bring a song to do, we could record it on those nights for free. Well, I said, “OK, great,” and we started. I think “Hero” was the first, but I’m not really sure. Anyway, we recorded every week and soon, come Friday or Saturday night, I’d get an idea and we’d work it the next Tuesday night and, voila, out of nowhere, a tune would come. All sorts of tunes. So, most of the …MEMPHIS CD came out of those nights with the Echo Boys.

The Memphis players were Lester Snells (piano, B3, Wurlitzer and Rhodes), Steve Potts (drums and percussion) and Dave Smith (bass) – all full grown musos. Carl and I recorded 12 demos, some acoustic and some from the Echo Boys sessions and gave them to Lester. He wrote charts as guides for everybody – all of us – and we went into Royal Studios and recorded the tracks. I played acoustic on all the basics. When we had the tracks done, I overdubbed my electric bits, did my vocals and was finished. I should say, of course, Carl directed the whole thing. He got what he needed and sent me home. He’s great to work with and understood what I was doing there. That’s why the CD sounds so natural. It was scary at first, but when I heard those girls, I lost my fear. It was a great experience for me and I’ll never forget it. It would be great to do some roadwork with them all. I do a couple of the tunes onstage now, in both my acoustic “storyteller” type shows and in the Joey Molland’s Badfinger concerts.

THE MULE: Backtracking, historically, you joined the Iveys (the band that was re-named Badfinger) after the recording of MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC, a piecemeal offering that featured a few new “Badfinger” songs, including “Come and Get It.” What memories do you have of coming in under that situation… basically learning and playing those songs live, songs that you had no input, creatively?

Joey Molland onstage, circa 1971 (uncredited photo)

Joey Molland onstage, circa 1971 (uncredited photo)

JOEY: When I joined the band, they had already recorded “Come and Get It” and the three other songs for the movie and were looking for a new name. They fired the bass player and, because Tommy Evans took over on bass, they started looking for a new guitar player and I came along. They gave me the job and changed their name to Badfinger. I’d been playing cover songs all my life, although I’d written some songs in 1968 for the Gary Walker and the Rain album, so it was no big deal to learn and play those songs. The ones we played were “Come and Get It,” “Crimson Ship,” “Carry On ’til Tomorrow” and “Rock of All Ages.”

THE MULE: With the live appearances behind you and the chance to gel with the other three guys, were things easier for you going into writing and recording the next album? Obviously, with the group now featuring four strong songwriters, the decision process to decide which songs actually made it to the final cut must have been fairly difficult. What was that process like?

JOEY: We started recording before we went on the road. The process was simple: we played the ideas we had and worked them for a while; we may have demoed them, but usually we’d never heard the songs before. It would become obvious which songs would work and we’d develop those into what became our records. There was no formula. That’s clear from the different styles of songs we recorded – Folk, Rock, Pop, R and B. As long as we liked the idea, we did the song. Of course, the producers put their two cents in, too.

Badfinger, STRAIGHT UP photo shoot (Tom Evans, Pete Ham, Mike Gibbins and Joey Molland) (photo credit: Richard DiLello)

Badfinger, STRAIGHT UP photo shoot (Tom Evans, Pete Ham, Mike Gibbins and Joey Molland) (photo credit: Richard DiLello)

THE MULE: I know that you’re probably sick of being asked questions like this, but I know a lot of our readers will be interested. Please indulge us for just a couple of questions about your relationship with the Beatles. First, while the Beatles were all a few years older than you, did you ever run into any of the guys growing up in Liverpool?

JOEY: I never met the Beatles in Liverpool. I still haven’t met Paul… probably never will.

THE MULE: In Greg Kihn’s novel, RUBBER SOUL, the main character traded certain “services” to sailors coming in to port at Liverpool from the United States for American 45s. You’ve mentioned that, at an early age, you were learning Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley tunes on guitar. How did you get those American singles to learn from? If they were available at all, they must have been very expensive as imports.

JOEY: I’ve never read the book. I got most of my records from my older brother, Chris, and learned on his guitar. I was 11 at the time. Later, I would go and search the used 45s in the Liverpool stores. Friends had records, too, so one way or another, I heard the stuff. Musn’t forget Radio Luxembourg.

THE MULE: When Badfinger came to the States, I know that most journalists seemed more interested in your relationship with the Beatles and Apple Records. In retrospect, do you feel that the group’s connection to the biggest band in the world and being on their record label helped or hindered your artistic development? Did you ever get the feeling that there was a backlash against Badfinger that the band was “riding the coattails” of the Beatles? How difficult was it to handle a press rabid for information about another act?

JOEY: I’ve been thinking about this Beatles/Badfinger relationship thing a bit lately and the way it affected Badfinger’s reputation and the band’s career. Initially, we didn’t think too much about it. We were aware of people’s attitudes about the comparison to the Beatles and after “Come and Get It” was such a big hit and the teeny bop image was in cement, it made us very paranoid about our music. We knew nobody would believe we weren’t copying them, singing like them and even dressing like them. It got worse after the big rock papers said we were more together and our songs were just as good and maybe we weren’t quite as teeny bop as they first thought. We couldn’t get any gigs in the UK or America at first. Actually, in the UK, that’s never changed, Some people expected George or Paul to be with us. We took ourselves seriously but, of course, we started to doubt ourselves and each other. Why couldn’t we get gigs? Why didn’t the record label put more singles out? Were the songs too crappy, too stupid or something? We had no idea so we just stopped thinking about it and blamed ourselves: we must be crap on stage and the songs couldn’t have been that good after all. In the end, it wasn’t a band anymore – just four blokes doing what they’d always done and, when people asked us about what it’s like being compared to the Beatles, we’d laugh it off. You know, we all thought we were very lucky. There were loads of bands like us, weren’t there? Good singers and players who wrote songs, had ideas… so, we were lucky, weren’t we? From our perspective, the press and music business weren’t interested in us; they had the real Beatles, we supposed.

THE MULE: Finally, Joey, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Before we finish, can you let us know what’s next for Joey Molland?

Joey Molland, circa 2013 (uncredited photo)

Joey Molland, circa 2013 (uncredited photo)

JOEY: The next thing I’m planning is a book about our managers, agents, roadies and friends, but the best laid plans… I keep getting ideas for songs, so I guess I’ll keep making music. Still don’t know where the ideas come from. Maybe they’re the ones the big guys throw back.