ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RENAISSANCE MAN: THE GREG KIHN INTERVIEW

Greg Kihn is a man of many talents, as you’ll see as you read this interview. For nearly an hour, Mister Kihn reminisced on his life, his family, his music career, his radio career, his writing career, his new book – RUBBER SOUL, the Beatles, Bret Michaels’ sex appeal, Sammy Hagar’s sexual prowess and Willie Nelson’s appendage. So, strap in, boys and girls… this is Greg Kihn uncut and unfiltered. The conversation took place over the phone on August 29, 2013, a few days before the release of RUBBER SOUL. My apologies to Greg for the delay in posting this but, computer glitches have been kicking my butt for the past several weeks. To paraphrase some dead guy named Bill… “Read on, McDuff!”

Greg Kihn (publicity photo)

Greg Kihn (publicity photo)

THE MULE: First of all, RUBBER SOUL. Awesome book. It’s really intriguing and it’s actually a really nice, fun read. How did you come up with the idea… obviously, a coming of age story. But there’s also murder, foreign intrigue and… the Beatles.

GREG: You know, it all came to me after I had interviewed Ringo. It was back when he was on tour with his All-Starr Band. So I had the privilege of Interviewing Ringo and I asked him, “Where did the Beatles get their records?” You know, in the early days, you couldn’t buy this stuff in Liverpool. They didn’t have import shops and so forth. He said, “You know, we got ’em from Merchant Marines that were traveling back and forth from the States to Liverpool.” Liverpool’s is a big port town, obviously. And these guys would come back and bring all the latest records from the States with ’em and you had to know a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy so that you could get your hands on these rare American 45s. They normally wouldn’t come out for six to twelve months over there… if they came out at all. A lot of ’em never made it out. So, that gave me the idea for this character, Dust Bin Bob, who’s a young guy… a young and penniless guy just like the Beatles when they started. He’s got a booth at the flea market in Penny Lane and he’s getting these American 45s from Merchant Marines and he’s selling them at his small stall at the flea market. One day the young Beatles walk by… this is years before they made it and they see these records and they flip out. They become life-long friends with Dust Bin Bob because he furnishes them with music for their whole career; suggesting songs, turning them on to things. Of course, that became their early repertoire and, really, the backbone of their sound.

RUBBER SOUL cover

RUBBER SOUL cover

You know, it was… that was really interesting because I didn’t expect that answer. But it gave me the idea for Dust Bin Bob. “Dust bin,” by the way, is English for “trash can.” So… kinda like “Trash Can” Bob because he’s got a stall at the flea market, he’s rummaging through trash cans. Obviously, they’re all poor; this is years before they made it. And it just gave me the idea for a story. You know… “How do you become life long friends with the Beatles?” Well, obviously, you gotta be their age and start out with them before they become famous and help ’em out by giving them the records. So, they become life long friends, all through Beatlemania and it climaxes in the Philippines with the assassination attempt by the Marcos regime on the Beatles.

Now, a lot of this stuff was based on interviews. I got to interview Pete Best, the original drummer for the Beatles. He told me all about the Hamburg days. I got to talk to Ringo. I even got to talk to Paul and I got to talk to their driver, Alf Bicknell, who really had some hair-raising stuff to say about what happened to the Beatles when they got to Manila. It was just nuts. But, I don’t wanna give to much away! You gotta read the book, man!

THE MULE: Oh, absolutely!

GREG: It’s unlike anything that you’re probably going to read in years. I know it’s unlike any other Beatles book because it’s Beatles fiction.

THE MULE: Exactly. So, the character of Dust Bin Bob is, basically, a composite of… I would guess… the Beatles’ persona as well as the people that provided the music to them early on.

GREG: That’s correct. You know, it was a composite character, which is always fun when you do a guy like that. What I was able to do – once I created the character – I was able to fit my story over actual events in the Beatles’ lives. There’s lots of juicy tidbits in there about the Hamburg days, the early days at the Cavern, and you see it through their eyes, through the eyes of Dust Bin Bob. And, really, it’s a unique… I’ll tell you, it came to me after the Ringo interview and once I got this far, I asked everybody where they got their records and, you know what? They all had the same thing to say: Merchant Marines coming back from the States. So, I thought, well that just helps me bolster my character of Dust Bin Bob. And, I’m telling you, everybody that’s read the book so far has loved it! It’s just completely unique and different. You don’t really have to be a Beatles fan because it’s a murder mystery, too.

THE MULE: Exactly! And, that’s the one thing… you say that a book is a page turner and this one, literally, is. It keeps you engaged and intrigued from the first sentence to that final sentence. So, kudos to you, my friend.

GREG: Hey, that’s why… You know what? I really appreciate it because when you read it, it’s as much fun for the reader… I had so much fun writing it! Though it was fun, I didn’t really do that much research. I know… All this stuff was already inside my brain and based on a couple of interviews. Some things write themselves. I couldn’t wait to get home every day to work on the book. It seemed like it was just writing itself. The story was just bigger… It seemed like I was just channeling the story. Every day, I’d get home from the radio station and I’d just write for two or three hours and the thing was just writing itself. It was like I had a ghostwriter in my brain! It may have been the ghost of Stuart Sutcliffe. I don’t know.

THE MULE: Could be. Or was it John and George, also, you know? Who knows?

Greg Kihn (publicity photo)

Greg Kihn (publicity photo)

GREG: Oh, I agree. I gotta tell you, Darren, I’ve been really… I don’t know if you know my story but, back around last September, I got fired from KFOX, where I’d been for 17 years, doing the morning show. Of course, that’s devastating when you’ve been doing something that long. But, that was a good kick in the pants! I’m really glad that happened now, because I really made good use of my time. In the last six months, I wrote and published RUBBER SOUL; I’ve got a brand new internet radio show that’s up and going, which you can find it at gregkihn.com. It’s really good. We put out a show every day; of course, I’ve got the Kihncert coming up… a big bash that we do out here in California. This year we’ve got Bret Michaels for our headliner and then the Greg Kihn Band and the Tubes. It’s gonna be a fun, fun concert.

But, you know, the cool thing is Bret Michaels draws beautiful women. Women love this guy! When you go and look out into the audience, you are going to see nothing but hot looking women. You’re gonna see a lot of leg, you’re gonna see a lot of leather, you’re gonna see a lot… probably a lot of tattoos. I’m really looking forward to it this year. He really does… I really haven’t known guys that drew women before. When we were… We did a tour with Rick Springfield. That guy drew incredible, beautiful women to every gig. In fact, it was 99% women at every gig! I’m kind of expecting that this year at the Kihncert. Of course, all that information can be found, for anybody that would want to travel… it’s gonna be a hell of a party! It’s all at gregkihn.com. It’s one stop shopping there, Darren.

THE MULE: Yeah. You’ve also… to spread a little bit more info here, you have re-released all of the Bezerkley albums? Is that true?

GREG: Yeah. You know, I got ’em back, man. It took me years and years. I’ve been working on this for, like, the last 15 years and one by one, I got every album back. Believe it or not. Some I bought… you know, I paid for; some I had to sue… I had to sue Universal to get a couple of the albums back; some of ’em were just outright released to me. So, we’ve putting together all of the albums. And, I’m one of the few musicians… I know Todd Rundgren’s the other one… who owns all of his own stuff. So, that means that I can put out my own greatest hits packages. And, what we’ve done, we’ve released the entire catalog over the last 12 months or so… every album, in order. You can go to iTunes, download all that stuff. Then we put together a BEST OF BEZERKLEY package, which I think is one of my favorite albums of all time because I hand picked every song. There’s, like, one song from every album and it’s got all our greatest hits on it. The nice thing about that was, I got to do liner notes and I include in a little booklet with lots of pictures of the old days and how the band looked and little stories about each song and how we recorded it.

Greg Kihn Band: THE BEST OF BERZERKLEY cover

Greg Kihn Band: THE BEST OF BERZERKLEY cover

You know, I’m older than dirt. My first album came out in ’76. I’ve had a hell of career, man! Eighteen albums all total, in 18 years; I had a bunch of hits, with “Jeopardy” and “The Breakup Song.” Then, I got into radio and did that for 17 years straight. Held down the number one spot in the morning, so you know that’s a toughy! No less than San Francisco, which is a major market… the whole Bay Area there. Definitely, the odds are a jillion-to-one that I could have done that.

So, I started writing books in there somewhere and now, I’ve got this new book out and I’m thinking this could be a best seller. It’s certainly got all the earmarks. And all of the reviews have been great. So far everybody’s loving it. Wouldn’t it be cool… I mean, I’m not gonna make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I’m gonna definitely make a whole bunch of little Hall of Fames. I’m in the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame. I got fired the same week I was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame. I’d already won the ratings war but, you know how it is, man… it’s all the bottom line and you work for these companies… you know… you take your chances. I’m not bitter about it. In fact, I think we had a great run. I’m very happy to have 17 years on the air and what it did was set me up really comfortably. I’m workin’ for myself and it’s a lot of fun.

THE MULE: Plus, you have the time to do all this other stuff.

GREG: Yeah. That was the key. When you’re doing a morning show, you’re getting up at four, you’re going to bed at nine… you don’t have time to do anything else. Really, you don’t have time for anything. What time you do have, you’re pooped… you’re ready to take a nap. So, you know, suddenly I had all that time and I really fell right into writing the book. In fact, I’m about one third of the way through the sequel to RUBBER SOUL right now and that should be coming out next year around this time.

THE MULE: Really? That sounds awesome. Is this going to be another book… Is it gonna be just Dust Bin Bob or is it gonna continue the Beatles theme?

GREG: Yep. It’s going to be the continuing adventures of Dust Bin Bob. I don’t wanna let the cat out of the bag but, it’s, like, the next chapter in Dust Bin Bob’s life. It’s real exciting. Once again, he’s involved in a murder mystery. It’s a lot of fun. You know, I gotta tell ya, life’s been pretty good to me so far. It’s just a little complacent being on the radio and, now, it’s nice to be out there doing stuff… You know what we’re going to do next? The audio book to RUBBER SOUL. We’re going to follow this up… because the book comes out on September 3, which is Tuesday. That’s the actual street date for the book. So, I’ll be doing a bunch of book signings and promotions all around California. But, then I’m going to start working on that audio book here in my own little studio. I have no idea how long that’s gonna take. You know what I did? Dig this, Darren… I got a guy to help me, ’cause I’m reading this and there are a lot of parts that require Liverpool accents. I got this vocal coach. This guy does a great Liverpool accent and he’s going to coach me on all the Liverpool parts so, when I do it, it’s an authentic Liverpool accent. So, all of that stuff’s here and I wouldn’t be doing any of this… It looks like I’m going to continue to enjoy life. I really love being footloose and fancy free and working on what I wanna work on.

THE MULE: So, let’s stay with the books for a little bit. This is not the first book that you’ve written.

GREG: That’s correct. This is actually my fifth, right? Yeah… it’s my fifth. My first book was HORROR SHOW, which came out in ’96. That was my first novel. And, that was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for best first novel. I was very flattered. We’re trying to get… Here’s another thing that I’m going to be doing in the next year. We’re trying to get funding to make a movie of HORROR SHOW. I wrote a script for it and it’s just a really crazy horror movie. I just think it would be a lot of fun. So, that may be something that we’ll be doing a year from now.

But, HORROR SHOW… the second one was BIG ROCK BEAT. No… I’m sorry. The second was SHADE OF PALE. BIG ROCK BEAT was the third one and that was the sequel to HORROR SHOW. And then, MOJO HAND was the fourth one, which was the sequel to BIG ROCK BEAT. So, I tend to do things in sequels. I mean, once I get some characters, I like to transform through their lives to see what’s going on. So, I’ve done that multiple times and that’s going to be fun doing it with Dust Bin Bob because this guy leads an incredible life.

THE MULE: Oh, yeah! The adventures in RUBBER SOUL are really phenomenal and, you know, you start reading a book like this and you think, “Aw, man! That’s pretty impossible!” But, I think, maybe by you introducing real people into the story and into the plot, I find it pretty plausible. I mean, some fairly weird things happened to the Beatles.

GREG: Oh, yeah. Well, they certainly lived an exciting life.

Greg Kihn Band, circa 1977 (Steve Wright, Dave Carpender, Greg, Larry Lynch) (publicity photo)

Greg Kihn Band, circa 1977 (Steve Wright, Dave Carpender, Greg, Larry Lynch) (publicity photo)

THE MULE: Yeah, there’s no doubt about that! Also, let’s talk a little about the music again. The Greg Kihn Band now features your son, is that correct?

GREG: Yep. My son, Ry, plays lead guitar in the band and he’s phenomenal. He started off as a student of Joe Satriani when he was in the band. He’s got a little touch of Joe in him. That kid can play. He’s graduating with a guitar master from Cal Arts and he went to the Berkley School of Music in Boston so, he’s… Actually, unlike his old man, he can read music and he’s legit. The kid can play any style. Now, having him in the band ’cause he grew up watching all the great guitar players we’ve had in the band… we had Joe Satriani, Jimmy Lyon, Greg Douglass, Dave Carpender… we’ve had great guitar players and he grew up watching these guys! So, he knows how everybody played each solo and he’s been in the band now for awhile so, he’s real comfortable. I tell ya, I’m very proud. When I’m onstage, It’s an extra kick for me to look over there and I see my son. I’m really proud of the way that kid plays. You know, he gets a lot of standing ovations for a lot of his solos. It’s fun! I gotta tell you… I’m a proud papa!

Also… here’s another thing: I’m a grandfather now. My daughter had got two sons. They’re four and one-and-a-half. Now, these kids are both lovin’ the guitar! They love to play with grandpa on the guitar. We got them all kinds of toys… you know, various musical instruments. I’m tellin’ you, give us about 15 more years and we’ll have three generations of kin in the Greg Kihn Band. Wouldn’t that be a kick? We’d probably teach Nate how to play keyboards, we’ll teach the other one how to play bass and we’ll have a great time!

THE MULE: It’ll be like the Partridge Family, almost.

GREG: Yeah! There you go. Life is good. You know, I think part of it is, you just gotta kick back, enjoy life and not work so hard and grind your face into the wall. You know what I mean? You just gotta enjoy life and take things as they come. You gotta have… as a guy once said, “You gotta have rubber soul.” The title of RUBBER SOUL comes from a conversation that John Lennon is having with Dust Bin Bob. And, he says, “What do you think the human soul is?” I think the measure of a man is how you bounce back from adversity. You know? ‘Cause everybody feels good when they’re doing good but, when you’re bouncing back from adversity, and there’s a lot going on, you’ve got to have a rubber soul to bounce back. And, John goes, “That’s brilliant!” and writes it down. Of course, they used it for that album title years later.

THE MULE: There’s a lot of stuff that you put into the book that is really – you know – like I said, it’s very, very believable. Even though, upfront, you’re telling us Dust Bin Bob is a fictional character, this whole thing is fictional… you know, some of this stuff with the Beatles really happened but these are fictional accounts. But… reading something like that, you think, “You know what? That is a conversation that John Lennon could have had with anybody. That topic could have come up and, it’s very believable. So, “What are we gonna call the album?” “Oh. How about RUBBER SOUL?” It works!

GREG: Yeah. Exactly. And a lot of the stuff, little things like that… Like, did you know that, originally, they were called Long John and the Silver Beetles? And that they changed their names to Paul Ramone and George was… Well, they all had different names.

THE MULE: Yeah. His was Carl Harrison, right? After Carl Perkins.

GREG: Yeah, that’s right… Carl Harrison. By the end of the first year, they got back to their old names and they changed the group to the Beatles with the B-E-A and Dust Bin Bob goes, “That’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard. You guys’ll never make it with a name like that!”

THE MULE: Yeah. I mean… it really is just – like I said before – it’s a fun read! It’s a good read. It’s a page-turner, because it is exciting and, you know, it feature’s some people that just about everybody on the face of the planet has a feeling about.

GREG: I agree. And, it was really fun working with them because they are so famous, we know so much about John and George and Paul and Ringo. We know these guys. They’ve been part of our lives for so long and, I don’t… This book, like I said before, wrote itself, man. It was real easy.

THE MULE: Obviously, you’ve already told us that Dust Bin Bob will make a… will have a sequel. Do you look forward, maybe, to any other books featuring different musical artists?

GREG: Well… As a matter of fact, I do. I’ve been making notes for probably two or three books down the line. I have always been fascinated with the life of Hank Williams – Hank Williams, Senior… the original Hank Williams – and I’ve got some notes on an idea for a book called THE DEVIL AND HANK WILLIAMS that I think will be a hell of a good read. All about Hank makin’ a deal with, you know, the Prince of Darkness and then trying to get out of it for the rest of his life. Of course, he died on his way to a gig in 1953. A lot of people thought, “Hey, the Devil came to reclaim ol’ Hank,” ’cause he had a hell of a career. He was only, like, 27 when he died. It’s ridiculous.

THE MULE: Yeah. Was he even that old? I was thinking he was even younger, but I… you know, I could be wrong. I mean, I’ve been wrong before.

GREG: Yeah, I’d have to check that. But, there’s so much about Hank and I thought, “You know, here’s a guy… “ and I was gonna draw a parallel to Paganini, go all the way back to the FAUST thing. And, it really is a retelling of the FAUST story. But, back in the 1800s, people thought that the great violinist Paganini had sold his soul to the Devil. Another claim… People claimed that in concerts, they could see the Devil over his shoulder, guiding his fingers; that he played these insane things that only he could play. And, I thought, “You Know, that’s kinda like Hank Williams.” The Devil was looking over Hank’s shoulder the whole time and the poor guy suffered his whole life. I think there’s a great novel in that so, I’ll probably be working on that next year.

THE MULE: Sounds good. I’m in, man! Whatever you write, I will read!

GREG: (Laughs) That’s what I love to hear!

THE MULE: You write it, I’ll read it.

GREG: I’m trying to start this new genre. You know how Tom Clancy writes techno-thrillers and John Grisham writes the legal thrillers… I’m trying to write music thrillers, trying to spark a new genre here. And, I like the fact that I use historical… you know, it’s like historical fiction. It’s like you’re writing about… Abraham Lincoln, or something. You can write about these historical characters because, really, all you’re doing is taking facts and adding your story to them.

THE MULE: Yeah… exactly. You know, a lot of people were kind of upset about ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER or whatever the heck the name of it was…

GREG: Exactly. You know, here’s another thing… Another thing, I’d like to say this because I think it’s important. I’ve always treated the Beatles with respect. I mean, I love them, they are a part of my life, they’re talented, creative people. I think that a certain amount of respect… that was the trouble with …VAMPIRE HUNTER. Really… that’s so disrespectful of, you know, Abe Lincoln. The whole thing, I find it repugnant. I always try to treat my guys with respect. All I can say is… I think what goes around, comes around and a lot of it is just having good karma.

THE MULE: Yeah. Anything new on the music side of things? Are you still writing…

Greg Kihn onstage (photo credit: BR COHN)

Greg Kihn onstage (photo credit: BR COHN)

GREG: Well, we have the Kihncert coming up and we’re starting to rehearse. Yeah, I’m starting to write songs again after years of not writing hardly anything. And, we may going back into the studio maybe this winter. Right now, I’ve got so much on my plate, I’m not gonna have time. But, we just leased a beautiful warehouse in Martinez, California… which is where I’m talking to you from now. We’ve got one room set up like a radio station and we’re doing the internet show from there. We’ve got the other huge studio room with 20 foot ceilings there. We’re going to change that to a recording studio and, we’re going to have the band rehearsing in there. Then, as we get… as we come up with the material, we’ll cut it right here. You know, there’s a lot on my plate and there’s going to be a lot on my plate as time goes by but, I tell you, man… I’d rather be working than not working, you know?

THE MULE: Yeah. You know, it sounds like you’ve got some things mapped out there and you are definitely keeping busy!

GREG: (laughs) You’ve got to, man! It’s what… It keeps you young, it keeps you moving, man! I’ve got to wrap it up here in a second. Let me just end this with a little story that happened to me a couple of months ago. I was at a big charity gig at a winery out here in Napa. Sammy Hagar and Joe Satriani were there and the Doobie Brothers were there. We were all backstage, yakkin’ away… talkin’ and I was bragging to Sammy. And, you know, you don’t brag to Sammy! First of all, the guy could buy and sell all of us… twenty times over! He’s got more money than God. He told me he’s got more money than he can spend from his tequila thing. So, anyway, I’m sitting there, kinda bragging to Sammy: “Hey, Sammy, you know, I’m a Grandpa now! Got two kids, got two grandsons! Two grandsons, four and one-and-a-half!” And, he looks at me and he goes, “Hey, man, we’ve got children younger than my grandchildren!” And… I’m thinking, “Wait a minute, that means that you’ve boned your wife in the last… twelve months?” I thought to myself, “Wow! That’s impressive!” His own kids are younger than his grandkids! That’s insane! It shut me right up. Sobered me right up! You can’t brag to a guy like that. He’s still got bullets left in the chamber… I was blown away!

I just read on the air yesterday a funny poem by… you should look this up on the internet… it’s a funny poem by Willie Nelson and it’s called, “I’ve Outlived My Pecker.” He’d just turned 75 and it’s this poem about how it used to get him trouble and he was proud of it and now it’s just hangin’ there. It’s really funny but, you know, in a way, it’s kinda true. I mean, when Sammy told me that, I didn’t know what to say except, “Well, Sam, you got me beat, buddy!” I don’t think I could go out there and have babies at my age, at this point in time. Not that I’d want to but, apparently, he’s still bumpin’ ’em out and he’s older than me and you! Anyway, that guy is amazing!

So, I’ve got to wrap it up, Darren. Anything else you want to ask me in closing?

THE MULE: No… We’re just talking about www.gregkihn.com. You’ve have the radio show that’s on there. RUBBER SOUL is coming out on September 3. That’s next Tuesday. You have all of the Bezerkley albums that have been released over the last few months, actually. The Kihncert… when is that again?

GREG: October 12 in Morgan Hill, California and it’s gonna have me and Bret Michaels and the Tubes.

THE MULE: Sounds awesome! Thanks for the time.

GREG: Hey, thank, Darren! Great interview, too.

THE MULE:Take care, Greg. Thanks.

So, there you have it. Again, my apologies to Greg for the delay but, I guess – as the old adage goes – better late than never, huh? Greg’s a great guy and a real character. It was an extreme pleasure to just let the tape roll and see where his stream-of-consciousness, kamikaze approach to an interview would lead next. If you haven’t done so yet, go to Greg’s site (or any of the usual places) and pick up a copy of the coming-of-age, murder and espionage thriller, RUBBER SOUL, starring the Beatles. You will not be disappointed! It really is as good and as fun as I said. Obviously, the Beatles, their likenesses and their voices are so familiar to most of us who are of a certain age and I was really having fun reading the book, imagining the voices of John, Paul, George and Ringo actually saying their lines. All right, Greg, I’m ready for that sequel!


WHEN PIGS FLY – SONGS YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU’D HEAR

(A2X RECORDS/XEMU RECORDS/AORTA RECORDS; 2002) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT (UPDATE BELOW)

 

When Pigs Fly

“Hey… let’s make a record!” “Yeah! Awright! Let’s get some really cool songs to put on it! How about Peter Gabriel’s ‘Shock the Monkey?’ That song rocks!” “But… we can’t afford to stick a Peter Gabriel song on there with our budget. Unless… ” “Okay. I hear what you’re saying. Don Ho rocks!”

“Huh? Run that one past me again? Don Ho… ‘Shock the Monkey’… I don’t get the connection, dude,” you say. Well, Slappy, give a listen to this hipper-than-hip collection and get yourself a clue. WHEN PIGS FLY… takes a bunch of really cool tunes and a bunch of really strange performers, dumps ’em all into a blender and gets… well, some strangely cool covers! They ain’t all masterpieces and, truthfully, a lot of ’em aren’t even that big a stretch to imagine the couplings. A lot of people may be upset to find that, though the collection was done with a nod and a wink, these versions are – for the most part – dead serious artistic restylings.

Ani DiFranco (publicity photo)

Ani DiFranco (publicity photo)

On the first track, “Unforgettable,” the unlikely duo of Ani DiFranco and Jackie Chan (yup… THAT Jackie Chan) displays chops that will surprise more than a few folk. Now, seriously, we all knew that Ani is in possession of an ample set of pipes, but her vocals on this American standard are amazing! And… who knew that Jackie could croon? Well, apparently the vast majority of his homeland, as he is one of Hong Kong’s biggest musical stars. He will probably never be confused for Nat “King” Cole, but he can certainly hold his own. We’re only one tune into this eclectic array of singers and songs and the pigs have definitely left the runway!

Devo (uncredited photo)

Devo (uncredited photo)

Devo deconstructs Neil Young’s “Ohio” next. Here’s one of those tunes that really isn’t a huge stretch: The guys of Devo are Ohians (from Akron, of course) and, if memory serves, a couple of them may actually have been enrolled at Kent State in 1970. This version belches, whistles, and throbs, in typical Devo style. Though Mark, Jerry, and the others never step out of character, the tune’s original vehemence and anti-war sentiment still comes through. “Call Me,” by the Box Tops is… different. Blondie’s huge electro-dance hit is turned into… well… a Box Tops song, with funky Memphis horns and a patently dispassionate Alex Chilton vocal. What can be said about the Connells’ version of Cypress Hill’s “Insane In the Brain,” especially while I’m rolling on the floor in hysterics? First of all… Holy crap! I hate this song! However (and you knew that there was gonna be a “however,” didn’t you?), these North Carolinians make the song palatable, in a repugnant sort of way… i.e.: Like a train wreck or a gruesome accident, you just can’t turn away. I guess that’s what Cypress Hill’s all about, anyway. And the Connells capture that perfectly.

Don Ho (photo: BEN MARGOT-ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Don Ho (photo credit: BEN MARGOT-ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The centerpiece of this collection is Don Ho. As mentioned above, the Hawaiian of indeterminate age covers the improbable “Shock the Monkey.” You wanna laugh… I know you do. And that’s alright, but I’m betting that once you hear the track, you won’t be laughing anymore. The man who brought us “Tiny Bubbles” delivers a dead-on version of the classic Peter Gabriel tune. His voice is surprisingly strong, rich, and raspy, with just enough creepiness to sell the song. Maybe it’s time for a Rick Rubins career makeover for Mister Ho. I’m not suggesting that Rubins could recreate the success that he experienced with Johnny Cash or Donovan, but I would certainly like to hear what he could do with Ho. Though 75% of these tracks are homespun creations, the brainchild of executive producer Cevin Soling, the next track is more than a decade old. The criminally over-looked Roy Clark turns in an amazing vocal performance on a song made famous by the one and only “Satchmo,” Louis Armstrong. While no one can possibly hope to come close to Armstrong’s funky growl, Clark’s smooth-as-silk voice lends a sense of pathos to “What a Wonderful World.”

Oak Ridge Boys (publicity photo)

Oak Ridge Boys (publicity photo)

Billy Preston approaches Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film” like he approaches anything he does: He attacks it and makes it his own. The thumping bass and funky guitar and drums probably has the guys in Duran Duran saying, “See… that’s what we wanted it to sound like!” Preston’s pumping organ and throaty vocals add to the vibe, stamping the tune with the “Official Cool People’s Seal of Approval.” Cy Curnin delivers a creepy, David Bowie like vocal on the Fixx’s version of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” The song, originally performed by Nancy Sinatra, is about empowerment; this version turns it into a misogynistic song about control. One of my favorites from the collection. Another one of those pairings that really isn’t that far of a stretch is the Oak Ridge Boys covering Kansas’ mega-hit, “Carry On My Wayward Son.” The religious overtones of the tune plays well with the Boys’ gospel roots, and the harmonies are so tight that you can totally forgive lead singer Duane Allen for his shortcomings (minimal, though they are) in delivering a rocker like this.

T Rex gets the garage treatment with the Neanderthal Spongecake’s version of “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” The Spongecake is fronted by our erstwhile leader, Cevin Soling and their deliciously trashy version is the best since the Power Station covered the thing somewhere in the final quarter of the last century. I’ve done a little checking and, as far as I can tell, these guys had a full-length release in 1996 (or there-abouts) and have been quiet on the recording front until this solitary track. Hey, Cevin… we all love Spongecake, dude! How ’bout some more? And, now, we’re 11 tracks into a 12 track collection and we finally run into a duffer. Herman’s Hermits take a whack at Billy Idol, offering a rather tepid version of the former Gen-Xer’s “White Wedding.” Now, I have nothing against Peter Noone and, in fact, his vocals actually hold up fairly well. However, having said that, I’m not real sure who the other Hermits are, but I’m guessing that they’re a group of studio musicians… and it sounds like it. The music is as sterile and lifeless as anything that Toto (a group of professional studio musicians, in case you didn’t know) ever recorded.

Lesley Gore (publicity photo)

Lesley Gore (publicity photo)

If Don Ho didn’t shock you (no pun intended), then the final track will. Like most music lovers, I know that you’ve lain awake at night, wondering whatever happened to pop princess Lesley Gore. Well, sleep well tonight, my friends… she’s been laying low, waiting for just the right song for her comeback. And that song is… “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” That’s right… Lesley takes one of AC/DC’s most infamous tunes and, adding her own special touches, turns it into a rollicking pop ditty, complete with horns, handclaps, pumping organ, dirty piano, and a slutty “girl group” chorus. This is, without a doubt, the coolest AC/DC cover I’ve ever heard (yeah… I know there aren’t that many, but even if every album ever released featured an AC/DC cover, this would probably still be at the top of the heap)! If you wake up screaming and in a cold sweat remembering Celine Dion’s horrendous version of “You Shook Me All Night Long,” this one will cure the night terrors… at least until that evil Canuck opens her trap and yodels again!

UPDATE: WHEN PIGS FLY… is still available at all the usual download places, like iTunes and, if you’re looking for a physical copy, the original web-site, www.pigsflycd.com is still up and running. You can also listen to individual tracks there.


IAN ANDERSON

(14 July, 2013; PEABODY OPERA HOUSE, Saint Louis, MO)

THICK AS A BRICK 2 (band photo by MARTIN WEBB)

THICK AS A BRICK 2 band (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Three fifths of the (very likely) final incarnation of Jethro Tull descended upon the beautiful Peabody Opera House (formerly the Kiel Opera House, lo those many years ago) on this hot mid-July evening. Ian Anderson, whose latest solo outing is THICK AS A BRICK 2: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GERALD BOSTOCK, is in full TAAB mode on the current US tour, performing the seminal Tull album in full, followed (after a short intermission) by a complete reading of the sequel. This is a move that a lot of “classic” acts have taken up quite recently and, while – more often than not – they don’t live up to the hype (or the album they’re trying to replicate), Ian and his five henchmen delivered everything that this enthusiastic crowd could have hoped for and more! For the record: It ain’t Tull, but it ain’t bad.

Ian Anderson and Ryan O'Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Ryan O’Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian’s band wandered onto the stage a few minutes late, dressed as a cleaning crew. They proceeded to sweep, dust and clean just about every surface on the stage before approaching their instruments and, looking over their shoulders to make sure the boss wasn’t watching, began to play “Thick As a Brick.” We’re not talking about that little edit that was released as a single in a few countries; we’re talking about the entire album-long song. They eventually got rid of the work smocks (or, maybe, they were “dirty Macs,” a la the “Thick As a Brick” single sleeve) as Mister Anderson appeared, stage left, strumming his acoustic and singing the opening lines of the nearly hour-long tune. Anderson’s vocal parts are now split with actor/singer/circus performer Ryan O’Donnell, giving Ian more time (and breath) to focus on his flute playing, which is as flawless as ever. O’Donnell’s voice is a softer, subtler version of Ian Anderson and is no less expressive. In theory, I suppose, Ryan is performing in the role of Gerald Bostock, the character created as part of the original THICK AS A BRICK album cover. This is a man who knows his way around a stage, a great performer and a lot of fun to watch.

Scott Hammond live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Scott Hammond live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

The rhythm section of drummer Scott Hammond and former Tull bassist David Goodier bring a nice jazz vibe to the proceedings, while still maintaining the heavy rock underpinning of the original work. Hammond’s not-overly-long solo was imaginative and as impressive as any I’ve seen in a while. The other Tull expatriate, keyboardist John O’Hara, is as eye-catchingly expressive and verbose as Ryan O’Donnell. His parts seem to be the glue that holds the entire performance together. Guitarist Florian Opahle is a scary kind of flashy, kinda like Ian’s longtime band mate, Martin Barre. He just stands there and rips these amazing leads and solos, acting like the least likely guitar-hero of all time. For some odd reason, Florian’s stage presence reminds me of a younger Gary Rossington. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. The ensemble is “completed” via the video inclusion of violinist Anna Phoebe – who is busy at home recording a new album and raising a young daughter – during an instrumental break that happens in what would be “Side One” of the original album. The end of “Side One” has a cool fade, just like it did on the album, and leads into a serio-comic public service announcement warning men of a certain age to have regular medical check-ups to keep the plumbing clean. Though the message was entirely serious, it was a fun diversion that offered a much needed break for the musicians onstage. It also helped us geezers in the crowd (and we were legion!) put a mental stamp on where we were within the intricacies of the THICK AS A BRICK album.

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Having considered the plumbing, Ian and his lads were back to rocking with “Side Two.” Since we’re still talking about the same song, it would be easy to say that the rest of the first set was very much like the first part. That, however, isn’t exactly true. The intensity of Opahle’s and O’Hara’s solos picked up, as did the theatrical aspects of the stage presentation. The pure musicianship and artistry of this band is an amazing thing to witness. Bringing the first album to a close, Ian announced a 15-minute break. The rapt crowd was on their feet, still reeling from the stunning performance we’d just experienced and abuzz with anticipation for THICK AS A BRICK 2.

Ryan O'Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ryan O’Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Well… most of us, anyway. To be quite honest, I was a little – uh – underwhelmed by TAAB2 upon first listen. My one hope was that this band would be able to bring it to life onstage… instill it with the sense of fun that was exhibited in the first half of the evening’s show. What can I say? They did! Even the spoken word pieces (which I think gave me the most problems on the album) were good, given the inherent theatricality of Anderson’s stage persona and voice. O’Donnell’s vocals were more forceful here, due – I would guess – from the fact that he was now portraying a grown-up and more confident Gerald Bostock. The musicians were again turned loose, imbuing the sometimes pastoral tunes with a more vivid sonic life than they have on disc. The main difference, I believe, between the two albums (outside the obvious) is that TAAB2 is “songs” whereas the original is a single “song.” While there are technically no stops between the numbers, there is a certain sense of separation. This even minute respite offered the audience a nice give and take with the band that we didn’t have with the first set.

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Nearly two-and-a-half hours after the “cleaners” took the stage, good-nights, thank yous and introductions were said and made. My friend, Bill, asked me if I thought there’d be an encore. Just about the time I was saying, “I don’t think so,” John O’Hara came out and began playing the introduction to “Locomotive Breath.” He was soon joined onstage by Scott Hammond, followed by the rest of the band. The crowd erupted as Florian played one of the most revered riffs in rock history and as Ian led the band through one of the most beloved songs in the Jethro Tull canon. I dare say that even the people in the $95 seats left feeling that they’d gotten their money’s worth. I know I did! Bill commented on the way out that he knew Ian couldn’t get away without doing a Tull song. I reminded him that he’d just done an entire Tull album, front to back. “Well, you got me there!” he said as we exited the lobby and headed for home.


BLACKMORE’S NIGHT: DANCER AND THE MOON

(FRONTIER RECORDS; 2013)

blackmoresnight_album_cover

Ritchie Blackmore is a rocker. Starting in the early 1960s with Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages and the Outlaws, Blackmore rocked. Through two stints in both Deep Purple and Rainbow, Blackmore rocked. He tried really hard not to rock with Blackmore’s Night but, as may have been mentioned somewhere else, Ritchie Blackmore is a rocker. Thus, the duo’s (that would be Blackmore and his wife, Candice Night… see the nifty wordplay involved there?) latest, DANCER AND THE MOON, rocks harder than any of their previous releases… in a very Renaissance Fayre sort of way.

The album starts with a kind of slow burn on Randy Newman’s classic, “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” before the percussion kicks in followed, in short order, by a classic Blackmore fill and a solo that, while understated for Ritchie, reminds the listener just who we’re talking about here. Candice’s beautiful, lilting voice adds a certain “classical” sound to the tune that makes this one of my favorite versions of the song. The next couple of songs, “Troika” and “The Last Leaf,” revert to form for what this group has become best known for: Old European Folk Music. The latter definitely sounds like something that you would expect to hear from a minstrel in the Courts of Camelot, while the former is very reminiscent of a Russian or Eastern European gypsy song.

Blackmore's Night (MICHAEL KEEL)

Blackmore’s Night (photo credit: MICHAEL KEEL)

A very atmospheric take on one of Uriah Heep’s best known songs, “Lady In Black.” is next, with Candice’s woodwinds adding a great touch and Blackmore doing what he does best… shredding. Yes, I said shredding! The only thing that could have possibly improved this version of the song would have been inviting Ken Hensley to add a little heft with that awesome Hammond B3 that he’s so well known for. “Lady In Black” is followed by a nifty little madrigal performed by Ritchie on acoustic guitar. “Minstrels In the Hall” is short and certainly sweet.

Temple of the King” is the last of the “covers” on DANCER AND THE MOON, a tribute to Ritchie’s friend and Rainbow vocalist/lyricist, the late Ronnie James Dio. I’m sure that Ronnie would have approved of this arrangement, replacing the bluesy hard rock vibe with a more medieval sound. Blackmore once more steps out of the wandering minstrel boots to offer a fiery electric lead and another great solo. The title track has a very Celtic sound that, once again, returns to the core concept of Blackmore’s Night. Coming, as it does, after “Temple of the King,” it’s easy to imagine “Dancer and the Moon” as something that Blackmore and Dio would have written for LONG LIVE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.

Blackmore's Night (publicity photo)

Blackmore’s Night (publicity photo)

Galliard” and the traditional tune, “The Ashgrove,” continue in the vein, with Night’s voice taking front and center and Blackmore chiming in with some understated acoustic instrumentation before adding what can only be described as an “elegant” solo on the next track, “Somewhere Over the Sea (The Moon Is Shining).” Completely eschewing the medieval and folky arrangements and instrumentation, the band reworks the previous song as “The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over the Sea).” With modern keyboard textures, the use of electronic drums, and some very haunting lead guitar work from Ritchie, I could see this one getting some airplay on some Classic Rock stations around the country. Think Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow on this one.

Saying that Candice Night is Ritchie Blackmore’s muse may be a little over the top, but how can you listen to something like “The Spinner’s Tale” and at least not think it? Ritchie is here just to offer atmosphere, as it’s really Candice’s vocals and penny-whistle that carries the tune. The final track of the album is another instrumental, another tribute. “Carry On… Jon” is a slow blues riff with great guitar and an organ solo (compliments of Bard David of Larchmont, also called David Baranowski) that’s very reminiscent of Blackmore’s Deep Purple cohort and best friend, Jon Lord. Ritchie mentions that he had the song ready to record and once the tape started rolling (so to speak), it took on a rather melancholy feel. Like “Temple of the King,” it is a fitting tribute to a colleague so closely associated with Blackmore’s career. DANCER AND THE MOON offers more of the guitar histrionics that we’ve come to love and expect from Ritchie Blackmore, the rocker, but it also offers a glimpse at a softer, more nostalgic side of the man in black and somehow manages to maintain the stated aesthetic of Blackmore’s Night: To present an updated version of Renaissance and medieval style folk music. The album succeeds on all counts!


DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS: IN EXTREMIS

(SELF-RELEASED; 2013)

Days Between Stations In Extrimis

IN EXTREMIS (a Latin phrase that means “at the point of death”) features some of the final recorded work of legendary Yes and Flash guitarist, Peter Banks. Given Banks’ resume, it isn’t in the least bit surprising to note that the music of the California-based duo of keyboardist Oscar Fuentes Bills and guitarist Sepand Samzadeh (performing under the odd moniker Days Between Stations, after the novel by Steve Erikson) is what could be classified as “neo-progressive.” There are eight tracks on the self-released IN EXTREMIS, with fully half of them clocking in at more than 10 minutes each. The title track, presented as a suite with six separate movements, is over 21 and a half minutes long. “In Extremis” features Peter Banks on lead and rhythm guitar, as well as “guitar textures.” He also features on the 12 minute “Eggshsell Man.”

Add to the mix uber-bass and stick man Tony Levin, drummer/vocalist Billy Sherwood, keyboard guru Rick Wakeman and XTC bassist/vocalist Colin Moulding and you’ve just turned an impressive progressive concept album into a formidable piece of progressive hero-worship. So, let’s look at this work track by track to learn why this is most certainly an album that you will want to add to your collection.

Days Between Stations: Oscar Fuentes Bills and Sepand Samzadeh (uncredited photo)

Days Between Stations: Oscar Fuentes Bills and Sepand Samzadeh (uncredited photo)

No Cause For Alarm (Overture),” led by Oscar Fuentes Bills’ militaristic piano and the very marshal-sounding drums of Billy Sherwood, leads into “In Utero,” which is more of a soundscape. It features some very ethereal keyboard and guitar washes by Bills and Sepand Samzadeh, as well as a cool, tinkling guitar effect and a nice Samzadeh solo. Chris Tedesco provides a long trumpet solo, adding to the Crimson-esque atmosphere of the piece.

Visionary” builds on the emotional feel of “In Utero” with more nice guitar work from Sepand. This is the first of the vocal tracks, with Sherwood’s voice reminding me of Trevor Horn’s work on DRAMA, his only album with Yes; they’re kinda hard to understand, but the power of this vocal stands more in the melody and feel. Sherwood’s drumming is rather subdued but features some very nice fills. Bills once again offers some great piano to the instrumental section. He is joined by Matt Bradford on dobro and, together, they offer one of the more emotionally charged pieces of the entire album. “Blackfoot” is a tasty piece of jazz-tinged progressive rock, especially the slower middle section. A nightmarish piano line repeats to start the song, then an equally nightmare-inducing guitar solo is added. There is a definite Mothers of Invention vibe to this song, with guitar parts that are very much Zappa influenced and drums that remind me of Chester Thompson or Ralph Humphrey and their work with the Mothers. “Blackfoot” ends with some quite nice Floydian guitar freak-outs, definitely reminiscent of the swirling, calamitous sounds of a cinematic death scene.

Colin Moulding appears on “The Man Who Died Two Times,” a song whose title sounds quite a bit like something that he would do within the confines of his band, XTC. The tune seems to be a song about revived hope – a very poppy, happy sounding song. Moulding’s voice adds just the right touch, as “The Man Who Died Two Times” is very much in the vein of mid-period XTC or early Genesis with Peter Gabriel.

Peter Banks (uncredited photo)

Peter Banks (photo credit: GLEN DICROCCO)

The Angel City String Quartet performs the short, quiet piece, “Waltz In E Minor,” which is dedicated to Peter Banks. A very fitting requiem for a major influence on the art form known as “progressive rock music.” “Eggshell Man” is a very folky sounding tune. The vocal melodies and phrasing remind one of Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding’s XTC bandmate, though they are provided by Billy Sherwood. They add just the right emotional air to the tune, as a man once drawn from the brink of death has been walking on metaphoric eggshells and realizes that he is once again at death’s door. As the song progresses, Ali Nouri solos on the tar (a Central Asian stringed instrument), Rick Wakeman offers a mini-moog solo and Peter Banks adds great atmospheric guitar “textures,” all of which give the song a very Middle Eastern sound. “Eggshell Man,” along with “The Man Who Died Two Times,” are my favorites on an album of great tracks.

Finally, “In Extremis,” is Days Between Stations’ magnum opus, the centerpiece to a highly enjoyable album. The first movement is called “Mass” and, as should be expected, is an atmospheric mass for the dead. “On the Ground,” the second movement, is very much “funeral music,” with lyrics evoking either a life wasted or a life well-lived and much missed by those who loved the deceased. This section features great guitar and keyboard work and interaction by the core duo of Samzadeh and Bills, alongside Banks. The third movement, called “A Requiem,” is exactly that, with very dark lyrics set against an almost claustrophobic musical backing. Along with the instrumental fourth and fifth movements (called “Writing On Water” and “Overland”), “A Requiem” borders on schizophrenia, perhaps hinting at the soul’s departure from the mortal coil as a battle rages between Heaven and Hell to determine its eternal resting place. “It Never Ends,” the final movement, revisits lyrical themes from the entire album, offering, at times, a gloomy overview of life, but also a pastoral, restful triumph that ultimately comes with the end of life. Overall, “In Extremis” is a song cycle that leads you through just about every emotion that you would feel knowing that your birth certificate does, indeed, come with an expiration date.

IN EXTREMIS is an album that has a little something for everybody. Whether your musical tastes tend to run to progressive or classic rock; classical music; Gothic lyrics and motifs; or just darn good music, this is the record for you!


RICK DERRINGER: RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR

(ANGEL AIR RECORDS; 2009) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS

Rick Derringer

Alternately called LIVE AT THE RITZ, NEW YORK – 1982, this album features Rick Derringer and his then-current band performing some of his best tracks and being joined by several guest artists to play a couple of their’s. The sound has been called “raw” and that works as well as anything to describe a nearly 30 year old show remastered from a video source. It has its faults but, that’s part of the charm.

Rick Derringer (uncredited photo)

Rick Derringer (uncredited photo)

Things kick off in fine fashion, with one of my favorite Derringer (the band) songs, “EZ Action” from IF I WEREN’T SO ROMANTIC, I’D SHOOT YOU. Rick and the boys in the band (Alan Merrill, sharing guitar licks with Derringer; Donnie Kisselbach on bass; Jimmy Wilcox on drums; Benjy King on keyboards) are obviously having fun. This thing ain’t called RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR for nothin’, though, as Karla DeVito (you know… the girl who wasn’t on BAT OUT OF HELL but appeared in all of the accompanying video material and toured with the Loaf for several years) joins the band for “Cool World,” from Karla’s album, IS THIS A COOL WORLD OR WHAT. The song is one of those B-52’s/Cyndi Lauper kinda new wave pop things that sounds a little quirky played by a solid-state rock ‘n’ roll band, but they pull it off. Nothing, however, can save “Just Like You,” a ballad from the same album. I guess every album or show has to have one cringe-worthy moment and this fits the bill perfectly!

Karla DeVito, Southside Johnny (video stills)

Karla DeVito, Southside Johnny (video stills)

Next up is Southside Johnny Lyon, who brought his harmonica but left his Asbury Jukes behind. Southside Johnny may be the only musician from Asbury Park, NJ who is worth even a second look. Check out the voice and harmonica on Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush” (it’s called “Honey Rush” in the artwork) and the Eddie Boyd blues workout “Five Long Years” if you doubt the veracity of that comment. Probably the most well-known (one might say “infamous”) of all of Rick Derringer’s songs is “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo,” first recorded on the JOHNNY WINTER AND record in 1970. It has one of the coolest riffs in rock history and I’m not certain if Derringer can ever play live without at least referencing that riff (I’m fairly certain that his family Christian group won’t touch those lyrics with a 10… make that a 50 foot pole!). The version here is… serviceable. I don’t know what the deal is with those backing vocals, but they sound like they borrowed the guys from Spinal Tap to faux heavy them up.

Carmine Appice, Tim Bogert (video stills)

Carmine Appice, Tim Bogert (video stills)

For two glorious studio albums (and one live release), the band Derringer featured Vinny Appice (pronounced Ap-puh-see) on drums. So, of course, what would this show be without a little Appice? Carmine Appice (pronounced A-piece), Vinny’s big brother, brings his former Cactus and Beck, Bogert and Appice bass-playing partner, Tim Bogert, along to do “Have You Heard,” a riff-loaded track from Carmine’s then-new ROCKERS album. With Derringer (and, one would assume, Alan Merrill) supplanting Jeff Beck on the guitar parts, they rip into “Lady” from BBA’s one and only studio album. Probably one of the coolest thing about Carmine is the fact that he can utterly beat the crap out of his kit AND sing lead. Before “Lady” he mentions that instead of Jeff Beck, the song’s going to be played by “Derringer, Bogert and Appice,” a band that actually came to official fruition nearly 20 years later.

Ted Nugent (video still)

Ted Nugent (video still)

As is Carmine’s wont, he tends to take things into his own hands. So, rather than Rick announcing the next guest, Carmine does the honors. As Appice mentions, he had just finished a tour with Ted Nugent (in support of the NUGENT album, which featured Carmine on drums) and the Motor City Madman – alongside Derringer, Appice and Bogert – rips into an impressive, if a little ragged, version of “Cat Scratch Fever.” That group sticks around for a funny-car-fueled take on the Chuck Berry classic, “Oh, Carol,” with Ted on lead vocals.

Alan Merrill (uncredited photo)

Alan Merrill (uncredited photo)

It’s back to the Rick Derringer band for the yet-to-be-released “Party At the Hotel” from Rick’s upcoming album, GOOD DIRTY FUN. To be perfectly honest, the guest performers were fun and the interaction with Derringer was nice to hear but, the three songs with just Rick, Alan, Benjy, Jimmy and Donnie are just a notch or two above in energy, excitement and delivery. The big “let’s bring everybody back out” number to finish the set is – next to “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” – the other number for which Rick Derringer will forever be remembered: “Hang On Sloopy,” a song that a 17-year old Rick Zehringer took to the top of the charts with the McCoys in 1965. Even with the “everybody solo” feel, this is one time that everything (and everyone) was hitting on all cylinders. A good way to end the evening and this disc. Are there rough spots along the way? Certainly. Do they detract from the music and the vibe of the performance? Not really. Is RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR worth owning? Absolutely!


CAPTAIN BEYOND: LIVE IN TEXAS – OCTOBER 6, 1973

(PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS/CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

Captain Beyond LIVE IN TEXAS

Okay, since you asked, here’s my Captain Beyond story: When I was a youngster, I took the word “consumer” to (my father would say) stupid new heights as regards music. There was very little at this stage of my life that I would not buy, if given a chance. Well, I mean… country was obviously uncool! Disco had yet to rear its ugly, simplistic head… we were okay there! So… other than the obvious, what would cause me NOT to purchase an album? In the case of Captain Beyond, there were two reasons: first, I absolutely hated that name (although I thought that Captain Caveman was pretty cool, but that’s another story) and second, I thought that they had – quite possibly, the crappiest cover art I had yet beheld on an album. Be it known that I also consumed many a crappy album because I loved the cover art but, again, that’s another story. Anyway, I could not be swayed! I didn’t care that Rod Evans, the original voice of Deep Purple was in the band (personally, I was an Ian Gillan man). Didn’t make a bit of difference to me that a pair of refugees from Iron Butterfly filled the guitar and bass spots (wasn’t a huge Butterfly fan back then). And, even though I really liked the Edgar Winter Group, are you kiddin’ me? JOHNNY Winter? I think not!

Now, here we are 40 odd years (and you have absolutely no idea how odd!) later and I’m reviewing a (kinda) new release from the band with the unpurchasable moniker and album art. I say “(kinda) new” because this one has been around for a little while as a bootleg. Purple Pyramid (Cleopatra’s “old hippie music” label) has reissued the band’s first two albums, CAPTAIN BEYOND and SUFFICIENTLY BREATHLESS (the album for which this tour was in support) and has added a spruced up version of this live show to the pile. It definitely has a “bootleg” vibe to it, but I honestly think that’s because the master tapes are almost 40 years old. Despite the unwieldy (and totally generic) title, LIVE IN TEXAS is far from unlistenable; in fact, it sounds pretty good to me! There… I said it! Forget the name, forget the artwork; I totally missed the mark on Captain Beyond all those years ago. My only complaint this time is, “was the person responsible for coming up with album titles on vacation or what?” How about calling it DANCING MADLY ACROSS TEXAS or something equally pithy (heck, even a simple LIVE is better the long winded LIVE IN TEXAS – OCTOBER 6, 1973)? Ah… but, I digress (or is that regress?)! You wanna know about the tunage, right? Well…

Bobby Caldwell (uncredited photo)

Bobby Caldwell (uncredited photo)

From the first note of “Distant Sun,” the band (the aforementioned Rod Evans, drummer Bobby Caldwell, bass player Lee Dorman and guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt) is on, pounding their way through a solid, trippy (what else would you expect from a band called Captain Beyond?) set before ending with a nice version of the Hendrix gem, “Stone Free.” Along the way, there’s almost seven minutes of Rhino solo and another nearly 13 of Bobby Caldwell solo. It has been said that drum solos on a record are not only superfluous, but an egregious crime against humanity. I don’t agree. I happen to like a well done drum solo and Caldwell’s is among the best I’ve heard on record. Rod Evans’ voice is simply magnificent! Not in an Ian Gillan “Pictures of Home” kind of way. Or even a Rod Evans “Kentucky Woman” kind of way. The knock on Evans when he left Purple was that he couldn’t handle the new, harder style that the band was headed toward. This live performance, at least, shows that he was every bit as capable (if not as distinctive) as Gillan or Ian’s successors, David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes.

Rod Evans and Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt (uncredited photo)

Rod Evans and Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt (uncredited photo)

Evans retired from music after this tour and does not appear on the band’s 1977 album, DAWN EXPLOSION. He came out of retirement to hook up with a bogus Deep Purple in 1980. That lasted a few months before Ritchie Blackmore and the rest sued. Rod has gone underground and hasn’t performed or recorded since. A shame really, as he did have a great voice. Just listen to “Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)” or “Myopic Void” if you doubt that statement. Of course, both Lee Dorman and Larry Reinhardt have left this mortal coil behind, Rhino in January and Lee in December of 2012. They were, as witnessed here, musical forces to be reckoned with, as was Bobby Caldwell, who continues to play with his group, the Boulder County Conspiracy and has recently appeared on the new JD Blackfoot album, THE LEGEND OF TEXAS RED.

So now, the obvious question is, “If you knew then what you know now about the music of Captain Beyond, would you have consumed or would you have been hard-headed and (still) missed out on some great music simply because of a so-so name and bad cover art?” You know, I’d really like to think that, had I actually heard the music first, I’d have bought the records no matter what but… I was a knuckle-headed kid back then and I probably still would have passed. I’m a lot older and a little smarter now, which means I’ve got some catching up to do! LIVE IN TEXAS is a good place to start.


SCORPIONS: COMEBLACK

(LEGACY/SONY; 2012)

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At the tail-end of a 40-plus year career, German rockers Scorpions offer COMEBLACK, a cover album. Kinda. Seven of the 13 tracks are actually re-hashes of some of the band’s best known tunes, including ”Wind of Change,” one of the top five worst songs ever written – if not THE worst! I guess, now that there are two versions (not counting live) of this suck-fest on record, it officially drops “Born In the USA” out of the top five. No… wait. That’s really not fair, is it? Actually, it is a top five non-Springsteen turd. So, figure up how many songs your Boss (he ain’t mine… if he were, he owes me a heck of a lot of back pay!) has written and THEN you start counting from there. Which means that this second version of “Wind of Change” has, in reality, knocked Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” out of the top five non-Bruce stinkers. Of course, “Wind of Change” has competition right here on this album with “Still Loving You” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” although neither stoops to the levels of heiniousity that particular ditty reaches. But, I guess hammering these things out on a nightly basis during the endless “farewell tour” has kept James Kottak gainfully employed for the last four or five years.

Scorpions (Marc Theis)

Scorpions (photo credit: MARC THEIS)

Alright, having gotten that off my chest, I must say that I used to really like Scorpions, at least ’til MTV found them. Two of my favorite Scorps songs, “The Zoo” and “Blackout” are both here, as well. So, it ain’t all bad! Plus, the other six songs are pretty okay. The cover of Soft Cell’s cover of Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love” is a fun, if rather odd, choice. But it works. There are also covers of Marc Bolan’s T Rex track, “Children of the Revolution” and “Across the Universe” by the Beatles. Steve Mariott’s Small Faces get play with “Tin Soldier.” “All Day and All of the Night” by the Kinks and the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” finish the set. These Teutonic takes on some of the most well-known songs of the rock era don’t add anything special to the originals, but then, I don’t think they were intended to. Like so many other bands who’ve been in the game for a good long while, Klaus Meine, Rudolf Schenker and the rest just wanted to say “thanks” to some people who inspired and enabled them to do what they love. I guess that’s one of the most confounding things about COMEBLACK: If you wanted to do a covers album, why revisit your own career (the originals are on several hits packages and feature prominently on a few live albums) for over half of the album? I would have liked to hear the guys cover the Who, the Doors and, for some reason, I think that they would have tore things up with a version of the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey To the Center of the Mind.” And, hey… “Dancing Queen” by ABBA! That would have been AWESOME!

If you just have to own versions of the seven “original covers” by the current band of Scorps and want a fun second half’s worth of “inspirational covers,” then, by all means, COMEBLACK is for you. I just wanted (and expected) a little bit more.


GREG LAKE: SONGS OF A LIFETIME

(ESOTERIC ANTENNA/MANTICORE/CHERRY RED; 2013)

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I’m not sure how I feel about this album. I mean, this is the guy that sang one of the all-time great metal anthems (though, I’m sure Robert Fripp will shortly have a price out on my head for saying that), “21st Century Schizoid Man!” This is the “L” in not one, but two, ELPs! This is the man who replaced John Wetton in Asia for a six-show tour of… uh… Asia! Greg Lake is a musician of some considerable skill, on both acoustic and electric guitar, as well as his chosen instrument, the bass guitar. He also possesses one of the silkiest voices in rock, with a rich, resonant baritone that is as forceful as it is smooth. So, you say, “Alright! Enough already! We get it… Greg Lake is good! You like Greg Lake! Now, what about SONGS OF A LIFETIME?”

SONGS OF A LIFETIME, prompted by work on his biography, was recorded during Lake’s 2012 solo tour of the same name. When I say “solo tour,” I mean “solo,” as in on his own. No one else on stage with him. At this point, you might be wondering how such bombast as “Karn Evil 9, First Impression, Part Two,” the above-mentioned “21st Century Schizoid Man,” and “Touch and Go” sound with just a voice and an acoustic guitar (after all, that is the way most of these “solo” things are done, right?). Well… surprisingly full! Mister Lake wanted an intimate evening without the hindrance of a band onstage while he reminisced. He also wanted to give the listener a full concert experience. C’mon… we are talking about the Greg Lake from King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (and, briefly, Powell). Even the soft, acoustic stuff from those groups was noisy! So, what to do? Why, take certain elements from the songs he would be performing, add new parts to make it sound close to the original, then flesh it out with his vocals performed live along with either the bass, electric or acoustic guitar and – if I’m not mistaken – piano on at least one tune. Don’t get me wrong! The sound and the performance are top-notch. It just leaves me feeling a slight bit cheated. While this type of show with these kinds of playback are nothing new, they don’t lend themselves to any spontaneity or interaction between musicians. They are almost too precise. In fact, for a little bit, I thought that I was listening to new studio recordings of some of Greg’s greatest hits.

Greg Lake (Lee Millward-GRTR)

Greg Lake (photo credit: LEE MILLWARD-GRTR)

Also, while I found his stories entertaining and somewhat enlightening as to the inner workings of a 50 year veteran of the music industry and a man who was a part of two of the most well respected rock bands of the past 45 years, I also found them rather strained, a little forced and more than a tad over-rehearsed. You just wanna say, “Geez, Greg! Lighten up, huh?” Okay… enough of the negatives, huh? While I did find them initially off-putting, they really did not hinder my enjoyment of the whole package. Lake was in fine voice for these recordings, sounding more like the 30 year-old version of himself than the well-traveled 64-year old version (his age when these shows were recorded). Also, while I would have liked to have seen (or, more precisely, heard) a few different tunes, especially from his Emerson, Lake and Palmer days (“Benny the Bouncer” from BRAIN SALAD SURGERY immediately comes to mind), the four Crimson tracks are solid enough and there’s enough good ELPalmer (the already-alluded-to “Karn Evil 9” piece, “Still… You Turn Me On” from the same excellent album, and the ubiquitous “Lucky Man” among them) and ELPowell (“Touch and Go”) to keep me happy. The fact that Greg also tosses in a nice grouping of songs that influenced his music and his career amounts to icing on a very tasty cake! As, apparently, every musician who ever picked up an instrument after 1956 or so is influenced by Elvis Presley, we are presented with a story and a song – “Heartbreak Hotel.” More understandable – to me anyway – is the influential aspects of the Beatles. Lake’s version “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” is spot-on and fairly awesome. The final “cover” is a little less immediately obvious for a progressive rock icon: the beautiful and oft-covered Curtis Mayfield tune,“People Get Ready.”

Okay, then… bottom line time, right? Can I recommend that you go out and procure (by any LEGAL means) Greg Lake’s SONGS OF A LIFETIME, considering some of my early qualms? Absolutely! Taken as a whole and considering the obvious thought and work that went into constructing this musical biography, the pluses far outweigh a couple of relatively minor minuses (that wasn’t a double negative there, was it?). This album is well worth adding to your collection.


JUDAS PRIEST: SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE (SPECIAL 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION)

(LEGACY/SONY; 2012)

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Until quite recently, I owned very few Judas Priest albums: SAD WINGS OF DESTINY and SIN AFTER SIN epitomizes the Priest for me… both are excellent; the unfortunate debut, ROCKA ROLLA, which was given to me as a gift; the killer live album, UNLEASHED IN THE EAST. Somewhere along the way I picked up PRIEST… LIVE, which was a little bit of okay. Then… nothing until 1997’s JUGULATOR, which introduced the world to Rob Halford’s replacement, Tim “Ripper” Owens… not a bad album, really, though it got the short shrift from Priest fans. The “Ripper” era band also produced a live set called ’98 LIVE MELTDOWN.

Now, of course, with Halford back and with the record labels reissuing just about anything, a couple of 30th Anniversary editions have cropped up, BRITISH STEEL and, more recently, this album, SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE. I think Priest fell out of favor for me with the album HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (or KILLING MACHINE, everywhere but in the States). Didn’t like the cover (either one, actually) and didn’t like the song “Hell Bent For Leather.” I did, as mentioned, come back for the UNLEASHED IN THE EAST album, but, by then, the band had veered further into the realms of MTV pop for me (yeah… I know… sacrilege! The very same crap that made Priest superstars made me wanna puke!). But I digress… kinda. I will get to the point of this review, which is the double disc SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE reissue (a CD with extra live tracks and a DVD of a live set from the ensuing tour), somewhere around the next paragraph.

Judas Priest (uncredited photo)

Judas Priest (uncredited photo)

And, so… here we are, 30 years later with an album that is beloved by every metal-head on the planet… except me. But, I have done my due diligence and listened to the thing again so I could be objective. And, you know what? It ain’t as bad as I thought back then. It ain’t no SAD WINGS… and definitely ain’t on a par with SIN AFTER SIN, but I can listen to most of it today without becoming nauseous. Tracks like “Bloodstone,” “Pain and Pleasure,” “Devil’s Child” and the title song hold up fairly well after 30 years, while the big hit, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” still sounds like New Kids On the Block to me. The “ballads,” “(Take These) Chains,” “Fever,” and the aforementioned “Pain and Pleasure,” are exactly what you’d expect from a heavy metal band during the early ’80s. Actually, under the steady hands of the Priest, they’re a tick or two above the generic “power ballads” of the day.

Halford’s vocal acrobatics hadn’t lost their edge (still haven’t today, as far as I can tell); the riffage and dual leads of guitarists KK Downing and Glenn Tipton are sharp throughout and the rhythm section of drummer Dave Holland and bassist Ian Hill – while not spectacular – are rock solid. The production, by Tom Allom, is crisp and very much of the time: a big drum sound and everything shined to perfection. Of course, even my favorite mid-’70s Priest albums were very well produced, eschewing the muddied sound that befell many metal records of that time, so the above statement isn’t a negative, just a fact.

Judas Priest (publicity photo)

Judas Priest (publicity photo)

Of course, what would an “Anniversary Edition” be without extras? Why… certainly nothing special (although there are some instances where even WITH the bonus material, the product is still nothing special). To fill out the original album’s less than 40 minute length, the CD has been expanded by six tracks, 5 live and 1 that I can only assume was recorded for use on the album or for a single B-side (I can’t find any information about that one anywhere!). The five live songs are SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE tunes that really add nothing to the originals, per se. I guess, from my perspective, the really cool thing about them is that they were recorded on September 10, 1982 (which happened to be my 24th birthday) at the San Antonio Civic Center (which just happens to be my home address… oops! That’s not right! What I meant to say is, “which just happens to be nowhere near where I was on that day”). The final cut is a ballady thing called “Prisoner of Your Eyes.” It’s kinda okay, but if it is an outtake, I can understand why: nothing spectacular or even particularly special. If it had turned up as a B-side somewhere, I don’t think people would have burned their copy of the record, but it may not have been played as often as some other minor Priest songs.

The second disc (aw, c’mon… you knew there’d be a second disc, right? I mean… there’s always a second disc!) is a DVD of the band’s full appearance at the Us Festival on May 29,1983. You remember the Us Fests, don’t you? Two holiday weekends of peace, love and drunken revelry that was supposed to bring the world together for a big ol’ bear-hug and a sloppy wet kiss to say, “I love ya, man!” So… anyway, the things were filmed by people who had no idea how to film a rock show. Throughout this performance, we get shots of Ian Hill’s back as Glenn Tipton shreds an awesome solo; then it’s off to a picture of Tipton’s guitar neck while KK Downing is soloing like a madman on the other end of the stage. And let’s not forget shots with the security guards blotting out everyone on stage or the crazy panning while they try to locate Halford as he comes onstage. Shouldn’t they have had production notes about such things? As far as the boys, themselves, there’s enough shiny spandex and studded leather to make Vince Neil and a whole herd of cows envious!

Rob Halford and Friend, Us Festival 1983 (uncredited photo)

Rob Halford and Friend, Us Festival 1983 (uncredited photo)

But enough about dubious wardrobe choices and the amateur-in-training visual aspects of the thing, how does it sound? Hmm… not perfect, but not bad. Not bad, at all. Halford proves early on that he owns one of the greatest voices in music (pick a genre, any genre) and, as mentioned regarding the studio recordings, Downing and Tipton play together and off each other superbly. Hill and Dave Holland may be boring to watch – especially the latter – but they keep the rest of the boys moving with a solid bottom-end. Set-wise, we understandably get a hefty dose of the then-current SCREAMING… album, a couple of my favorite Priest tunes (“Victim of Changes” and “Metal Gods”), two of the best covers I’ve ever heard (“Diamonds and Rust” and “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)”) and all of their NKOTB tracks (“Heading Out To the Highway,” “Breaking the Law,” “Living After Midnight” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”). In a curious occurrence (maybe just to cement my New Kids digs), Rob Halford actually morphs into Madonna during “ …Another Thing… “ as he strikes one ridiculous pose after another. Even with all of the little (or medium-big) complaints, I did fairly enjoy watching one of the biggest metal bands of any era at the height of their popularity and, arguably, at the top of their game. If you’ve gotta own one CD version of SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE, make it this one!