GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (20)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, starting with number 20, here’s the first in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(20) WINGS: WINGS OVER AMERICA

(CAPITOL RECORDS; 1976)

wings over america

To say that the original release of WINGS OVER AMERICA was a behemoth may be overstating things… but, just barely! It was a beautiful thing to look at and – in a time before gargantuan box sets were an industry norm – the three record set (enclosed in a true masterpiece of design by Hipgnosis) was one of the biggest (and, at nearly two hours, one of the longest) releases ever.

WINGS OVER AMERICA inner gatefold painting by JEFF CUMMINS

WINGS OVER AMERICA inner gatefold painting by JEFF CUMMINS

The band (drummer Joe English, guitarists/bassists Jimmy McCulloch and Denny Laine, keyboardist Linda McCartney and her husband… I think his name might have been Lester, but I’m not sure… wonder whatever happened to him?) comes out of the box rocking hard with a medley of “Venus and Mars,” “Rock Show” and “Jet.” Despite the many comments regarding Linda’s musical and vocal abilities, she was – in my humble estimation – just as integral a part of the group as Laine, McCulloch or English… heck, I even like the songs she sang lead on! Anyway, with the aid of a four man horn section, Wings proved from the get-go that they were there to play. Following a great take on “Jet” is another track from BAND ON THE RUN, the bluesy “Let Me Roll It.” Then it’s back to the VENUS AND MARS material with “Spirit of Ancient Egypt” and McCulloch’s “Medicine Jar,” a pair of tunes that had me reevaluating the merits of said album. Side two opens with a stunningly effective version of McCartney’s solo song, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” featuring some awesome, tasty guitar from McCulloch. Another slow blues – and another tune from VENUS AND MARS – follows. “Call Me Back Again” features more solid guitar work and a nice horn chart. When Paul announced this jaunt (as part of the Wings Over the World tour and his first live dates in the States since 1966), the burning question was, “Will he play any of those old songs?” The rabid fans got their answer very early in the set, as a pair of lesser (by comparison) Beatles tunes – “Lady Madonna” and the dreamy “Long and Winding Road” – were given the Wings treatment. The hyper-kinetic theme to 1973’s James Bond flick, LIVE AND LET DIE closes out the second side of the set, with McCartney pulling every cliché from every musical genre he could access at the time he wrote the song.

Wings: Linda and Paul McCartney (photo credit: BOB ELLIS)

Wings: Linda and Paul McCartney (photo credit: BOB ELLIS)

The second album (side three, by the way things were figured way back then) starts off slow, melody wise, with one of the gentler tunes from BAND ON THE RUN, the French dancehall vibe of “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me),” coupled here with a nice, lilting cover of Paul Simon’s “Richard Cory,” itself an adaptation of a late nineteenth century poem about a suicide. Vocalist Denny Laine changes the last line of the first chorus to “I wish I could be… John Denver.” The acoustic set continues with another song from BAND… , “Bluebird” before dipping into Paul’s back catalog once more, with a trio of classics: the country-tinged “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” a rather funky “Blackbird,” and what may just be the perfect ballad, “Yesterday.” A record flip (yes, kiddies, to get from side three to side four, you actually had to physically turn the thing over!) and it’s back to the electric stuff and another dose of VENUS AND MARS music, with the ragtimey “You Gave Me the Answer,” which is followed by McCartney’s paean to a few of Marvel Comics’ oddest villains in “Magneto and Titanium Man.” Denny is back on lead vocals reprising his hit with the Moody Blues, “Go Now.” It’s a nice, bluesy number enhanced by the horn section. It’s rather unfortunate that the best song on the RED ROSE SPEEDWAY album was “My Love.” It’s even more unfortunate that McCartney deemed the slow schmaltz worthy enough to perform live. Side four closes out with the rollicking “Listen To What the Man Said,” highlighted by Thadeus Richard’s clarinet.

Wings: Jimmy McCulloch and Paul McCartney (uncredited photo)

Wings: Jimmy McCulloch and Paul McCartney (uncredited photo)

Side five introduces the new album, WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, starting with the goofy pop of “Let ’em In,” one of two big hits from the record. Laine’s sinuous “Time To Hide” kicks up the rock ‘n’ roll again before the other big hit, “Silly Love Songs,” gets an early airing. I know that a lot of people cite this song, in particular, as proof that McCartney’s post-Beatles work was schmaltzy pop crap, but I’ve always liked it. So sue me, ’cause I think this version is pretty darn fun! Rocker Paul returns on “Beware My Love,” one of his more muscular forays into the realm of hard rock. Throughout WINGS OVER AMERICA, Paul, Jimmy and Denny had been switching back and forth between guitar and bass (and, occasionally, piano) but, the imaginative bass work (and the tone) on this side is all Paul and, for that reason alone, is the highlight of the set. Paul continues on bass on the final side with “Letting Go” another VENUS AND MARS rocker. “Letting Go” is followed by what is probably McCartney’s most well-known post-Beatles tune, “Band On the Run.” The bass (McCartney again) is quite prominent and the guitars, drums and Linda’s synthesizer cut through at times, but the song sounds thin somehow. It’s still a great rocker. The encores, “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “Soily,” sound better. The guitar interaction between McCulloch and Laine is possibly the strongest of the entire album, with McCulloch on slide and Laine playing a double neck. Paul McCartney wanted to prove that this wasn’t just his Wings, but a cohesive unit of five very talented musicians. I’d have to say that they definitely proved his point with the Wings Over the World tour and the WINGS OVER AMERICA album, which is why it’s one of the 20 best live albums ever.

The most recent release of WINGS OVER AMERICA came in 2013, with standard two CD and three LP versions, a Best Buy version with an extra CD of eight songs recorded at San Francisco’s famed Cow Palace and a sprawling box set featuring all three CDs, as well as a DVD of a television special called WINGS OVER THE WORLD and four books.


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.


BLACK OAK ARKANSAS: BACK THAR ‘N’ OVER YONDER

(ATCO RECORDS/ATLANTIC RECORDS/WARNER MUSIC GROUP; 2013)

2013_Back_Thar_n_Over_Yonder

Those wild men from the hills of Arkansas are back. Well… sorta! Half of the original Black Oak Arkansas have reunited (with a few old friends and more current members) to record five new tracks for BACK THAR ‘N’ OVER YONDER. The album also features 10 unreleased tracks, produced by the legendary Tom Dowd and recorded during the band’s hey-day of 1972-1974. That means that the most successful and well-known incarnation of the group (with Harvey Jett playing guitar and Tommy Aldridge on drums) is featured prominently in the final two-thirds of the disc. Of course, what would BOA be without the vocal stylings of Jim “Dandy” Mangrum? I gotta tell ya, boys and girls, the man can still deliver that distinctive gutteral growl, nearly 45 years after the band’s debut album!

Black Oak Arkansas (uncredited photo)

Black Oak Arkansas on stage in 2013 (uncredited photo)

The new tracks are rather reminiscent of the group’s three MCA albums (the awesome X-RATED and better-than-average 10 YEAR OVERNIGHT SUCCESS and BALLS OF FIRE), eschewing the raunchier sounds for a more balanced, more streamlined sound. Think “Strong Enough To Be Gentle” (the band’s last single to chart, in 1975) or “Fistful of Love” (a duet with Ruby Starr, featuring members of BOA, as well as Starr’s Grey Ghost, including the dominating – some would say “over-bearing” – keyboards of Marius Penczner). If all you know of Black Oak Arkansas is HIGH ON THE HOG and RAUNCH ‘N’ ROLL LIVE, this newer, gentler version may take some getting used to, but the band’s MCA output ranks among my all-time favorite albums and are well worth checking out. But… you’re not here to read about the distant past (except for the unreleased early ’70s material featured on this new release). So… back to those new songs, huh?

Black Oak Arkansas, 2013 (George Hughen, Johnnie Bolin, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Hal McCormack) (uncredited photo)

Black Oak Arkansas, 2013 (George Hughen, Johnnie Bolin, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Hal McCormack) (uncredited photo)

Plugged In and Wired” is reminiscent of and references one of the band’s best tunes, “When Electricity Came To Arkansas.” Track two, “Sweet Delta Water,” is one of those swampy ballads that Mangrum and co-founding guitarist Rickie Lee Reynolds do so well. “15 Million Light Years Away” is in the same vein, but kicks up the tempo a bit. The band (original members Mangrum, Reynolds, and bassist Pat Daugherty alongside longstanding guitarist Jimmy Henderson and current members, former Grey Ghost bassist George Hughen, drummer Johnnie Bolin, and guitarists Buddy Church and Hal McCormack) mashes the raucous and melodic styles together to fine effect on “I Ain’t Poor.” The “reunion” closes (a deluxe downloadable version of the album features one more new tune, the rather disposable instrumental, “G Wiz”) with a nice cover of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” It should be noted that original guitarist Stanley “Goober” Knight was planning to be a part of the reunion, but died before the recording sessions began.

Black Oak Arkansas, circa 1976 (Stanley Knight, Pat Duagherty, Tommy Aldridge, Jim "Dandt Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson) (publicity photo)

Black Oak Arkansas, circa 1976 (Stanley Knight, Pat Duagherty, Tommy Aldridge, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson) (publicity photo)

As cool as the new material is, it’s the archival stuff that will most excite die-hard BOA fans. Here’s how these lost tracks found their way out of the void: Upon the death of producer Tom Dowd in October of 2002, his daughter came across what amounted to a holy grail of unreleased material. These 10 tracks (13 on the deluxe edition) were part of that stash. So, in no particular order (other than chronologically), let’s look at what coulda been. For me, studio recordings of three of the group’s most-loved live tunes make BACK THAR… a must have. “Gigolo” is the first and is every bit as loud and snotty as the well-known RAUNCH ‘N’ ROLL version. Later on, we have “Hot Rod” and, like “Gigolo,” it sounds as good as the live version. The final piece of this triumvirate is “Up, Up, Up,” which somehow has gained a couple of “Up”s since 1972. Again, the studio version rivals the live version, even to the point of featuring a three minute plus Tommy Aldridge drum solo. I know it’s been done before, but an in-studio solo by the guy at the back of the stage is a pretty ballsy move! The fact that it’s interesting and listenable is certainly a testament to the talents of both Aldridge and Dowd.

Black Oak Arkansas, 1976 (Pat Daugherty, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson, Jim "Danady" Mangrum, Stanley Knight, Tommy Aldridge) (publicity photo)

Black Oak Arkansas, 1976 (Pat Daugherty, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Stanley Knight, Tommy Aldridge) (publicity photo)

Jim Dandy and the boys were never afraid of a challenge and prove it by covering one of the Glimmer Twins most well-known songs, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” It ain’t Devo, but it is an enjoyable romp through a classic (as it was, even in 1972). The last of the five 1972 recordings is a song called “Evil Lady,” a tune that has a bizarre bubble gum kinda vibe. When the harpsichord starts a-pumpin’ at the beginning (provided by Harvey Jett?), all I can think of is “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies. It ain’t bad, though… just a little weird coming from the Black Oak guys, especially Mangrum.

Black Oak Arkansas with Ruby Starr, 1976 (screen capture from THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL)

Black Oak Arkansas with Ruby Starr, 1976 (screen capture from THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL)

Well, the band must not have found the sound too weird for them, because one of the two holdovers from 1973, “Dance To the Music” has the same type of groove going, with some really cool backing vocals and a nifty slide guitar featuring throughout. This is a song that Reynolds really wanted to use back then and was excited to be able to add it here. I fully understand his excitement; the song isn’t standard BOA fare (at least, it wasn’t for that era), but it shows a promise of things to come, as well as highlighting the fact that the guys were not the lunkheads that most members of the press made them out to be. As much of a genius as Tom Dowd was, I can’t believe that he didn’t push for the inclusion of this song on HIGH ON THE HOG or STREET PARTY. It had “hit single” written all over it. The song that did become the band’s biggest hit, the LaVern Baker cover, “Jim Dandy,” has been re-mastered to isolate the vocals of Mangrum and Ruby Starr at the beginning. It’s a cool concept, but the vocals sound compressed and Ruby’s voice is way down in the mix. The full band kicks in after a minute or so and the vocals seem to even out. Had Atco Records followed this one up with “Dance To the Music,” the band’s career may have taken an entirely different trajectory.

Black Oak Arkansas and Ruby Starr, 1976 (Tommy Aldridge, Pat Daugherty, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, Marius Penczner, Ruby Starr, Jimmy Henderson, Stanley Knight) (publicity photo)

Black Oak Arkansas and Ruby Starr, 1976 (Tommy Aldridge, Pat Daugherty, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Marius Penczner, Ruby Starr, Jimmy Henderson, Stanley Knight) (publicity photo)

The three remaining tunes are from 1974 sessions for, I would assume, the STREET PARTY album. “The Snake” has a swampy, creepy-crawly Jim Stafford thing happening. This is classic Jim Dandy, all snide innuendo and tongue-in-cheek wordplay. “Legal ID” is a tune that could well be the precursor to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “What’s Your Name,” though it’s subject matter has been written about by more artists than you can shake an angry parental fist at, including Uriah Heep, Jim Croce, Sam Cooke, Aerosmith, Angel and the Police, to name a few. “Summer Swing” is a gentle little number that really does evoke the images that the title implies. Over all, there are far more hits than misses on BACK THAR ‘N’ OVER YONDER, and not just for all of us nostalgic old farts with fond memories of DON KIRSHNER’S ROCK CONCERT, THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and AMERICAN BANDSTAND. The music presented here – both old and new – is every bit as good as much of what the latest batch of rockers has to offer. I’d go for the standard version, though, as the four “bonus” tracks really don’t add anything necessary to the album (although the eight minutes of insanely politically incorrect studio banter-cum-embryonic song “Arby’s (I Want a Woman With) Big Titties” did have me giggling like a 12 year old).


DUST: HARD ATTACK/DUST

(LEGACY/KAMA SUTRA/BUDDAH/SONY; 2013)

Hard_Attack__Dus_512f0ab80fb49

Oh, how I loved Dust the first time I heard the awesomely epic (or was it “epicly awesome?”) “From a Dry Camel” on the radio in the early ’70s! Unfortunately, I only had two choices when it came to actual record purchases (I’ve always loved the serenity of a small rural community, but I sometimes had to give up certain things – like a vast sea of vinyl for my music fix): the local Radio Shack (which didn’t do too bad supplying some of the more obtuse music that I craved) and a Woolworth’s in a town 20 miles away (I was occasionally surprised by some of the things found in the bins there). So, it was somewhere around 1978 when I actually found and bought myself a copy of the band’s self-titled debut album and their second offering, HARD ATTACK (for 99 cents each, in a cut-out bin!). Ah, the memories that those pristine slabs of sound brought me! Now, through the graces of the fine folk at Legacy, those memories are rushing back, with the reissue of both albums on one CD.

Oddly, HARD ATTACK features first here, followed by DUST. I guess it makes a certain amount of sense as, in my opinion, the first album was the stronger set. It rocked a little harder, while HARD ATTACK was a more refined collection, with better production values, softer song structures and melodies that bordered on Rundgrenesque pop. Now, don’t misunderstand me here. Both albums are good, but DUST is just a cut above.

HARD ATTACK (original album cover with FRANK FRAZETTA artwork)

HARD ATTACK (original album cover with FRANK FRAZETTA artwork)

The “Pull Away”/”So Many Times” doublet opens HARD ATTACK and the difference between this album and the first is immediately obvious: this is a band who, through becoming more familiar with the studio process and more adept at the art of the song, are stretching limits beyond the sludgy confines of the psychedelically meandering “From a Dry Camel.” Marc Bell (who, if you didn’t know, would grow up to become Marky Ramone a few years later) propels the song(s) forward at near breakneck speed while vocalist/guitarist Richie Wise (who was well on the way to becoming the Richie Wise half of the famed Kenney Kerner/Richie Wise production team who helmed the first two KISS records) found a nice Nazzy pop groove to play over Marc and the thundering bass of Kenny Aaronson (who has played with just about everyone, though the time he spent in the band Derringer may be my favorite), stepping out of that pocket to offer a couple of sonic-speed solos. “Walk In the Soft Rain” is more of the same style of melodic pop played at rocket-like velocity and, actually, is a better tune than the first pair. “Thusly Spoken” is the band’s attempt at a hippie ballad with spiritual imagery that falls well short of the mark. The melody and the playing are fine, but the lyrical content make it rather laughable by today’s standards (well, by any standards actually, though it must have sounded awesome to the drug-addled brains of high school and college aged kids back in 1972).

Dust (Richie Wise, Kenny Aaronson, Marc Bell) (publicity photo)

Dust (Richie Wise, Kenny Aaronson, Marc Bell) (publicity photo)

Things are back on track with the riff-heavy “Learning To Die,” the only song from the sophomore release not to feature a Kenny Kerner/Richie Wise songwriting credit (Kerner shared credits with Kenny Aaronson). This one song probably had as much influence on up-and-coming metal bands of the mid-to-late ’70s (I think of Judas Priest, in particular) as anything by Black Sabbath or Budgie. “All In All” continues the pummeling, though the lyrical content isn’t as dark. “I Been Thinkin’” is the second attempt at a ballad on HARD ATTACK, this time with considerably better success. Aaronson’s pedal steel and dobro work coupled with the laid-back vibe of the (unfortunately) short piece gives it a nice country feel that should feel out of place, but doesn’t. Wise’s everyman vocal delivery adds the cohesive thread that ties the tune to the more aggressive sound that Dust was best known for. Richie has stated that the only reason he ended up singing was because the other guys couldn’t sing at all. Now, nearly 45 years after DUST was released, I can’t imagine another voice on these tunes. The instrumental, “Ivory,” follows and – in a glimpse of things to come – features a very Ramones-like drum intro. The tune allows each musician to shine. Aaronson underpins everything with a solid, heavy bass sound while Wise punctuaties the proceedings with a beefy rhythm track and some wicked soloing; “Ivory,” however, belongs to Bell. If it wasn’t, this should have been the song that the band used to showcase Marc’s abilities in a live setting. I mean, it’s almost a drum solo as it is.

How Many Horses” mixes early rock ‘n’ roll piano (courtesy of guest Fred Singer), some folky guitar playing and singing and Aaronson’s dobro and slide guitar to create another rather country sounding tune. It’s kinda like the country-tinged stuff that the Stones were doing about the same time (with considerably less polish and sounding all the better for it). The crushing, heavy vibe returns on the next track, “Suicide.” The song is, basically, a rough draft suicide note to a former lover, in which the author lays forth several options for his self-inflicted demise. After hanging and poison are discarded, he tries, “Electrocution I thought would make me a star/I stood in the rain with my electric guitar.” You may be disturbed by the subject matter, but you gotta admit that the lyrics are pretty awesome. Kenny Aaronson offers up a nice little bass solo about half way through. “Suicide,” for me, is the high mark on HARD ATTACK. “Entrance” closes out the second album (and the first half of this collection), a 26 second classical guitar solo that I wouldn’t have minded seeing expanded and further explored as a full-blown Dust tune. Ah, what could have been!

DUST (original album cover)

DUST (original album cover)

DUST, the band’s 1971 debut, kicks off with “Stone Woman,” a fine, rocking tune to start a career with. Kenny Aaronson immediately makes it known that he is a musical force to be reckoned with, supplying not only bass but slide guitar to the proceedings. “Chasin’ Ladies” is one of the few times on either album that Richie Wise truly shines. I want everyone to understand that while Richie was a fine singer and a more than competent guitar player, he was never a flashy frontman, allowing Aaronson and Marc Bell to take the accolades. So, the chugging guitar leads, crisp solo and multi-tracked vocal performance really highlight the (intentionally) downplayed talents of the reluctant Wise. Richie chose instead to focus on his songwriting abilities and to hone his production skills, both of which would serve him rather nicely in the years following the HARD ATTACK album. “Goin’ Easy” offers a standard blues riff, with more flawless bass, slide and dobro work from Aaronson. The song leads right into the charging “Love Me Hard,” with Marc and Kenny pushing each other into near punk rock speeds, even during the slower, acoustic guitar break. That thrashy melodic middle section leads into a manic instrumental breakdown, with cymbals crashing, drums and bass thundering and a guitar solo that can only be described as “belligerent.”

Marky Ramone (Marc Bell) with the Misfits on the 2001 VAN'S WARPED TOUR (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Marky Ramone (Marc Bell) with the Misfits on the 2001 VAN’S WARPED TOUR (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

A gong signals the start of the classic “From a Dry Camel.” The track is highlighted by the sonorous bass of Kenny Aaronson and the unique guitar tone used by Richie throughout much of the track’s nearly ten minutes. Bell’s drumming is, for the most part, understated and subdued, as befits the near-dirge like tempo of the song. There is no denying his powerhouse approach, however, especially on the long instrumental passages. If you’re looking for a comparison, I’d have to say that the song “Black Sabbath” (do I really need to tell you who performs that one?) was probably a starting point for the sound of “From a Dry Camel.” The subject matter, lyrically, may be worlds apart, but the musical vibe is as close as you can get. “Often Shadows Felt,” with its languorous pedal steel, lilting bass lines and shimmering guitar, is the sole ballad from DUST. It definitely shows a maturity in songwriting from the Kerner/Wise tandem (who wrote all of this first album except the final track), which would become more evident on later projects. The final track is a Kenny Aaronson-penned instrumental called “Loose Goose.” It’s highlighted by an instantly recognizable bass riff and could very well have been the template for “Flying Turkey Trot” from REO Speedwagon. As “Loose Goose” charges to its end, it is evident that DUST remains one of the true masterpieces of American hard rock and, coupled as it is with HARD ATTACK, is well worth adding to any collection.


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!