UPCOMING: 20TH ANNUAL TRIBUTE TO STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN

(24 November, 2018; THE PAGEANT, Saint Louis MO)

It’s hard to believe that Stevie Ray Vaughan has been gone for nearly thirty years. Vaughan, who reached legendary status in the 1980s for his fluid, fiery guitar playing with his own band, Double Trouble, and on David Bowie’s LET’S DANCE album, was killed in a helicopter crash near Aspen, Colorado in 1990. The man who was at the forefront of a serious Electric Blues revival in the United States was a little over a month shy of his thirty-sixth birthday. His importance and his influence are still felt in the music played by artists across the country and, in fact, the world.

STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN (photo credit: EBET ROBERTS/GETTY IMAGES)

That influence is particularly abundant in Saint Louis, as guitarists like Steve Pecaro and Tony Campanella seemingly work overtime to keep the music alive in a city that is known for the Blues. In fact, Pecaro and his band have hosted an annual STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN TRIBUTE show for two decades; the 20th anniversary show, sponsored by Pecaro’s Guitar Shop and radio station KSHE-95, will be happening on Saturday, November 24 at the Pageant. I know that a lot of so-called “tribute” bands are currently cleaning up in a market that seems perpetually stagnant. However, this show is not what most of us have come to think of as a “Tribute” show. Not even close! This is a celebration of the life and music of one of the greatest rockin’ Blues players of all time. With Pecaro, Campanella’s band and another Saint Louis mainstay, Mike Zito, are also scheduled to appear, along with special guests. If the below video is any indication, the Pageant will be packed and rockin’ all night long. Tickets remain for the all ages event, available in advance at the usual outlets for twenty bucks or $22.50 on day-of-show at the venue’s box office, with 21 and up balcony seats available for $25. The doors open at 7:00 PM, with Mike Zito taking the stage around 8:00.


CLUTCH/SEVENDUST/TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN

(18 October, 2018; POP’S NIGHTCLUB, Sauget IL)

Needless to say, as soon as I heard that they were coming back to Pop’s, I was pumped to have the chance to see Sevendust again! Then, I found out that Clutch was going to headline. What!?! Clutch AND Sevendust on the same night? Hell, yes! I was definitely gonna be in that pit!

TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN (Tyler Bryant) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

Opening the show was Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown from Nashville, Tennessee. Since their start in 2009, Bryant and the band have released several singles and EPs, including 2015’s THE WAYSIDE, as well as their first full length album, WILD CHILDREN, in 2013, and the recently released self-titled follow-up. Onstage, they definitely perform very well, feeding off the energy of the crowd; their influences, likewise, play a vital part in the Shakedown’s sound: Kinda like a mix of Blues riffs combined with a good, solid rock base that I strongly believe places them in a musical genre all their own! Their unique blend of musical styles and strong onstage presence has led to the band touring with and opening for such acts as Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, AC/DC, BB King and Jeff Beck and has garnered them an opening slot on several dates of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ NOT IN THIS LIFETIME tour, which wraps up on December 8 in Honolulu. If you do get the chance to see them live, you definitely shouldn’t miss it!

SEVENDUST (Lajon Witherspoon, Morgan Rose) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

The second act of the night, much anticipated by myself and all of their fans, was Sevendust from Atlanta. The band is a personal favorite and much of the crowd was cheering for them to come onstage. The group formed in 1994 and are currently promoting their 12th album, ALL I SEE IS WAR, which was released in May. They still deliver that unique Nu-Metal sound as only they can and always have from the first time I saw them live, promoting their very first album. The tradition continues with the latest release, highlighted by the hardcore vocals of Lajon Witherspoon, Morgan Rose’s blistering drum fills, and insane guitar riffs from Clint Lowery and John Connolly. The sound, the intensity and the level of professionalism definitely leaves you wanting more! The vibe you get seeing them perform live is just surreal! After a rocky start and multiple name changes, Sevendust has seen much success, with three consecutive RIAA gold certified albums, a Grammy nomination and millions of albums sold world-wide. Their fan base is huge and fiercely loyal. If you get the chance to attend one of their shows, you will soon see the love and respect people have for Sevendust, with the members of the band giving it all right back to their audience like I have never seen with any other live act! Much respect to the members of Sevendust for keeping excellent rock alive!

CLUTCH (Neil Fallon) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

Closing out the night was Clutch, touring in support of their just-released album, BOOK OF BAD DECISIONS. Since forming in 1991, Clutch have released 12 studio albums, as well as several rarities and live albums. As always, these guys have never failed to deliver a superb show. Even with a set weighted primarily with songs from the new record (11 of the 15 found on …BAD DECISIONS), the energy you feel by the second song is just unreal because the vocalist, Neil Fallon, is so pumped up, so quick to belt out that new material, interact with fans and dip into a back catalog filled with fan favorites. Fallon’s infectious energy keeps both old school Clutch fans and newer fans of the latest releases rocking hard. With 27 years on the front-lines of the metal scene, Clutch easily achieves their goal of rocking the venue down to the foundation!


4U: A SYMPHONIC CELEBRATION OF PRINCE

(October 14, 2018; THE FOX THEATRE, Saint Louis MO)

Celebrity deaths are not new and I tend to ponder such passings for only a short time before moving on. Exceptions, of course, do happen. The first that really – make that REALLY – affected me was the plane crash that took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s entourage. Groucho Marx, a couple of months earlier, was big but… the deaths and the devastation to the entire Skynyrd band shook me. Others – Glen Buxton, Rick Nelson, Johnnie Johnson, Johnny Cash, David Bowie – all had profound affects on me, as did the untimely deaths of three musicians I had considered friends: God Lives Underwater vocalist David Reilly, and drummers Dustin Hengst and John “Beatz” Holohan of Damone and Bayside, respectively. With all of these (and a few others), my personal feeling of loss was palpable. All of them pale, however, to the majestic hole left by the departure of Prince Rogers Nelson in April, 2016. He always seemed to be so relatable. Not just to me or his legions of fans, but to those outside of his music’s scope, as well. Heck, even my Dad sat through and liked PURPLE RAIN. So, this was an evening that I knew I must be a part of. I was not disappointed!

4U: A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO PRINCE (JAMES OLMSTEAD) (photo courtesy: JEN GRAY/ReviesSTL)

The show was delivered in two parts, as the project’s curator, the Roots’ Questlove, announced (via a recorded introduction). The first would highlight “deep cuts,” while the second half would feature the hits. The deep cuts came mostly from the movie UNDER THE CHERRY MOON. While the material – “Christopher Tracy’s Parade,” “I Wonder U,” “New Position,” among them – are fairly unknown to me, as I wasn’t a big fan of the movie, but having been arranged and orchestrated by Clare Fischer, they, seemingly, were no-brainers for this show. In a brilliant move, Quest had approached Fischer’s son, Brent, as he had worked with his father on several Prince projects. The first half also featured fairly different takes on songs like “Controversy” and the 1999 album cuts “Automatic” and “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute).” Complete surprises were the unreleased compositions “It Ain’t Over ‘til the Fat Lady Sings” and “All My Dreams,” leftovers from the UNDER THE CHERRY MOON sessions. More than twenty minutes into the show, “Nothing Compares To U” was the first song that I really recognized straight off. I certainly don’t mean to slight the talented band accompanying the orchestra; however, “Nothing Compares To U” was the first time that one of the group stepped forward for any type of sustained exposure as electric violinist Ginny Luke delivered a brilliant solo. For the first time, “1999” got some folks on their feet, shaking off the staid, almost sterile orchestra feel of the evening. Miss Luke, likewise, was on her feet, delivering the first minimal vocals of the evening, as well as a bit of booty shakin’ of her own. Bassist CJ Alexander, drummer Skeeter, electronic percussionist Titus Johnson and a still unidentified guitarist, steadfast all night long, seemed energized by the crowd, pushing into new heights of rocking funkiness. If this first half dealt us a somewhat laid-back take on the Prince legacy until the end, that ending certainly did bode well for part two.

4U: A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO PRINCE (CJ ALEXANDER) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

4U: A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO PRINCE (THE UNKNOWN GUITARIST) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Totally eschewing that “stay in your seat, this is an orchestra” stuff, as “Let’s Go Crazy” kicked off part two and the front of the stage was crashed by a slew of hearty revellers. A Prince-worthy solo by Luke ended the number. “When Doves Cry” turned into a massive sing-along, with the Fabulous Fox crowd raising their voices as one. It was, for me, the first truly moving moment of the evening, though certain ly not the last. As Ginny Luke became more involved with the crowd, I mentally noted that she had turned into quite the show-stopper. “Little Red Corvette” sounded like it was made to be played in this orchestrated fashion. Mister Alexander delivered an absolutely amazing bass solo and the guitarist (does ANYBODY know this guy’s name?) definitely proved his funky mettle. The inherent funkiness of His Royal Purpleness continued on a cool version of “Kiss.” Though an odd choice (in my opinion) of “Starfish and Coffee” kinda slowed things down at just the right time before spilling into a majestic “Take Me With U.” A snippet of “Irresistible Bitch” followed before morphing into “Raspberry Beret.” The symphony took over for an incredible interlude that led into… the Revolution doing “Purple Rain?” Yes, at this point, the live band sat out and let the legendary moment from PURPLE RAIN speak for itself. Though we had being seeing images and visual cues of Prince all night, his voice literally (and, yes, I have used that word properly) sent a chill down my spine, put a lump in my throat and brought a tear to my eye. In fact, there were several audience members wiping away the tears during this one. The orchestra continued to accompany as Prince’s solo hit. It is, without any doubt in my head, one of the greatest, most soulful guitar workouts in the history of rock, funk, soul or any other genre of music. As the live band joined in, the already overwhelming emotions merely intensified. It was a brilliant finish to an absolutely stunning show! But, wait… after most of the musicians had quit the stage, the video screens came alive again, with the Man himself delivering those familiar words: “I ain’t done yet. Chalk one up for the Kid!” As Prince and the Revolution launched into “Baby I’m a Star” before the band and orchestra joined in amidst an insane light show. While the tune and the presentation was cool, it almost seemed anti-climactic after the stirring “Purple Rain.” My thanks go to Questlove and the Prince Trust for bringing this vision to life and for the band, conductor James Olmstead and the local musicians of the orchestra for an unforgettable evening celebrating the one, the only Prince.

4U: A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO PRINCE (PRINCE) (uncredited photo)


NEIL YOUNG/JOHN HAMMOND

(June 28, 2018; FOX THEATRE, Saint Louis MO)

A chance to see Neil Young solo is rare indeed, and Saint Louis fans have not had that opportunity for many years. As a lifelong fan, there was no way I would pass up such an opportunity. I’ve seen Neil with Crazy Horse, with CSNY, with the International Harvesters, with the Stray Gators and more, but the solo acoustic concerts have certainly been among the most memorable. When I flew to San Francisco in 1978 to see Neil at the tiny Boarding House nightclub, that may well have been the most stunning concert I’ve ever seen. So, to say I was stoked for this rare Saint Louis solo show would be an understatement. John Hammond, a grizzled old blues rocker, opened the show despite not being billed. Favoring a bottleneck guitar and looking as craggy as an old oak tree, Hammond was amiable and interesting, but there was some restlessness getting through his set. And it was at least 45 minutes after he finished before Neil finally came out. Dressed all in black, a la Johnny Cash, Neil looked around, waved to the crowd, and finally took his seat. He opened with the nostalgic and totally appropriate Buffalo Springfield-era classic “On the Way Home.” This song speaks volumes to die-hard Rusties, and Neil delivered it with focus and clarity. In fact, it was quickly apparent he was in great voice tonight. At his age, it’s a wonder he can still reach most of those high notes. “Homefires” was next, the first of many surprises. That song was intended for the unreleased HARVEST follow-up, HOMEGROWN, and I couldn’t help but think it was kind of a comment on Neil’s changed love life in the last two years. “I’m free to give my love/But you’re not the one I’m thinking of/So for me, the wheels keep turning/Got to keep those homefires burning.” His ex-wife Pegi might have been the one Young was NOT thinking of. He is certainly thinking about new gal Darryl Hannah, and plenty.

NEIL YOUNG (photo credit: THRASHER)

“Love is a Rose” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ came next, and the latter was a special treat for me. I could not remember hearing that one at a Neil show before, and it was charming. Neil told little anecdotes about many things during the show. He pointed to several guitars and with a couple of them said, “I got that one from Steve Stills. He’s a great guy.” In fact, it soon became apparent that Neil was in an especially chatty mood. This is not typical for him at all. “I feel like I’m talking too much up here,” he remarked at one point. “Like I’m doin’ a job interview or something.” “You’re HIRED!” someone bellowed from the audience, and it was a memorable moment. Young fiddled with his harmonicas, telling his assistant he needed a “C harp.” But when he started the song, he quickly stopped and said, “No, I need a B flat harp!” That song was “Mellow My Mind,” one of three he performed from TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT. He told the story of how he and his band had all drunk alot of tequila and gotten into a certain mood, so they could pay tribute to Bruce Berry and others who had died around that time. Neil played great, ringing piano on that song and “Speakin’ Out,” another tune I had never heard him do. The audience went nuts when he talked about a time in his career when he changed the type of songs he was writing, and how the Kent State massacre drove him to write about a new ill wind blowing in. He then performed “Ohio” on solo electric guitar, a truly compelling and unexpected moment, one the sold-out throng reveled in. His only hint about the times we’re living in came when he talked about school shootings and all the “anger” out there, leading to the fiery song “Angry World.” Some of us thought he might bring up our current president, but that did not happen. It was clear that Neil was NOT speaking from a script; spontaneity was the rule of the night.

NEIL YOUNG (uncredited photo)

For me, after Neil talked about where two of his pianos came from (one had fire damage and he was still able to play it), I was thrilled to hear “There’s a World,” possibly one of his most underrated songs. It’s a dreamlike ode to looking both inward and outward, and Neil played it with great delicacy. That was one of about five songs he played from his most popular album, HARVEST. “Are You Ready For the Country,” a note perfect “Out On the Weekend” and “Heart of Gold” were others. “Love In Mind,” a tender ode from the “ditch-trilogy” live album TIME FADES AWAY, also got an airing… wonderfully evocative. But for hardcore Neil-ites and “Rusties,” the one-two punch of “Love and War” and “Peaceful Valley Boulevard,” from the not often heralded LENOISE album, were the emotional peak of the show. Both these songs touch on violence, things being out of control, and environmental apocalypse, with love being seen as the one necessity for all of us, the ultimate way to peace. The guitar Neil played on that latter song allows for a certain rich, atmospheric resonance in the simple strumming of a powerful chord. The edgy sound, which potently rang through the entire theatre, accented Neil’s existential lyrics perfectly. “A polar bear was drifting on an ice floe/Sun beating down from the sky/Politicians gathered for a summit/And came away with nothing to decide… Who’ll be the one to lead this world/Who’ll be the beacon in the night?” Most in the audience sat in hushed awe.

Unfortunately, that did NOT include a chowderheaded idiot across the aisle from me, who simply could not shut up. He drew a few complaints with that, but when he stood directly in front of the people behind him and blocked their view, that’s when it got serious. The addle-brained druggie (I was sure he had to be; no one could be that rude just naturally, could they?) earned two visits from ushers, but even that didn’t do it. When he continued to jabber, the guy behind him had enough and probably called him a name. The two men stood up, and I was about to witness a fight, I thought. Right here during Neil’s apt song “Love and War”! The good guy’s girlfriend intervened to stop the violence, instead opting to go for security. They did, and the troublemaker was unceremoniously removed by Security. Maybe it’s just me, but if I paid $100 for a Neil Young ticket (or even more), I would not get so fucked up that I would lose all sense of decorum and risk getting escorted out of the show prematurely. Takes all kinds, I guess.

NEIL YOUNG (uncredited photo)

Neil appeared to not be phased by shouted requests or various fan comments. “What d’ya mean?” he said wryly, when someone shouted “Old Man!” And he remarked “It doesn’t even register” after another comment. It was striking to see this iconic, charismatic legend stalking the stage, walking this way and that way, looking as if he was making it up on the fly. “I would do something if I could remember what I was just thinking,” I believe he said near the end. The show barely grazed the 90-minute mark. He closed with “Needle and the Damage Done” and “Heart of Gold,” and was coaxed out for a single encore, “Tumbleweed,” which he played on ukelele. The tender song was clearly directed at Darryl Hannah, a sweet ode to her positive influence on him (it appears on the soundtrack to their new movie, PARADOX). Always leave ’em wanting more, it is said. Mister Young did just that; the fans were yelling until the lights went on. Altogether an eccentric, often dramatic and mostly moving performance by a performer who is seldom less than mesmerizing. I counted in my head, and with all the configurations I’ve seen him in, I think this was Neil show number 25 for me. Many moments from this one will stay with me. That’s how it tends to be with Neil Young shows.


TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA

(9 May, 2018; Peabody Opera House, Saint Louis, MO)

From the Nazz through his various solo outings, masterful production work and, particularly the ten albums released under the Utopia banner, I have been a fan of Todd Rundgren for a very long time. Sure, my previous experience with the live Rundgren had left a bitter taste in my mouth, but… this was Utopia! I knew that I must see the reunited progressive pop quartet that was responsible for the final eight Utopia albums, including ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA and OOPS! WRONG PLANET; Todd would be reuniting with Kasim Sulton, John “Willie” Wilcox and the keyboardist from the initial Todd Rundgren’s Utopia records, Ralph Schuckett, supplanting Roger Powell, who had to step away from playing in 2009 because of his health. When Ralph was forced to recuse himself due to health concerns of his own, Rundgren’s son suggested they check out a guy named Gil Assayas, who stepped into the very large shoes left by Schucket and Powell. Though Sulton and Todd had continued working together since the band’s unofficial dissolution, Utopia had not played together on North American soil for over three decades. Let’s just say that I was more than mildly stoked when I received confirmation that I would be granted access to this show. Before delving into specifics, might I also say that I was not disappointed!

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The guys very wisely split the show into two very different sets: The first half featured the longer, more progressively-attuned material (primarily from the first offering, TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA and the concept album, RA) with a couple of covers tossed in for good measure; the second half of the show concentrated more on the skewed pop asthetics of later records like UTOPIA and SWING TO THE RIGHT. The stage configuration for the first set featured Rundgren center-stage (was there any doubt about that?), Kasim holding down stage right with Wilcox on a riser behind him and Assayas on a riser stage left… a very prog rock look, fitting perfectly with the music. And, what music! Opening the evening’s festivities was a medley of classic Utopia tunes – “Utopia,” “The Ikon” and “Another Life” – which Todd affectionately dubbed “the Storm” after the tempest had subsided. “As you may have surmised, there’s a thing going around and I got it!,” the Runt declared before, apparently, hocking up a lung and ripping into a killer version of the Move’s “Do Ya.” The sound was virtually immaculate other than the occasional over-modulation of Todd’s mic. “Freedom Fighters,” one of my favorite tunes from my favorite Utopia album, is up next and Gil Assayas’ keyboards are on-point with that record’s version.

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Todd Rundgren) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Kasim Sulton) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The high notes were not coming off too well, as Todd’s affliction seemed to get the better of him on “The Wheel.” Later in the tune, Rundgren’s solo falsetto voice sounded stronger, if a bit strained. A very nice version. Kasim Sulton took the lead on “Back On the Street.” The number has a thumping groove and Todd looked absolutely hyped to be working in a true band environment again. Leonard Bernstein’s kitschy-cool Broadway show tune, “Something’s Coming,” from WEST SIDE STORY, comes off sounding very much like a kitschy-cool Broadway show tune, a great detour from the progressive pop that is this bands bread and butter. Kasim was back on lead vocals for “Monument,” a rather lightweight attempt at a hit single from Utopia’s last official studio release, 1985’s POV. The song’s break, however, does feature a really nice solo from Rundgren and a cool short blast from Assayas. A very cool visual backdrop adds to the atmosphere and the power of Willie Wilcox and Assayas’ introduction for “Overture: Mountaintop and Sunrise.” Sulton and Rundgren join in before a fist-pumping take of “Communion With the Sun,” highlighting the strength of an often-overlooked classic of the progressive era, RA. The coupling was absolutely great, with some nice vocal harmonies and all four players hitting on all cylinders. “Last of the New Wave Riders,” one of the stellar tracks from the group’s 1980 record, ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA, brought the first half of the show to a rousing conclusion. As the curtain closed, Todd tells the crowd, “We’ll see you in twenty.”

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Todd Rundgren, Willie Wilcox) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Willie Wilcox) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As the curtain opened for the second set to a recorded intro to “Road To Utopia,” a more traditional stage set-up was revealed, with Willie’s drums now sitting center-stage back, with Gil’s keyboard rig in basically the same spot it occupied before the break; both musicians were now situated on a level with Todd and Kasim, the previous set’s risers having been removed. A quick look at the time as the quartet took the stage again – playing a spirited version of one of my favorite numbers from Utopia’s “pop period” – indicated that they were gone for nearly forty minutes. The additional rest seemed to work wonders for Rundgren’s voice, so I cannot be upset over a break that was nearly twice as long as promised. This second set proved to be punchier than the first, with shorter, more melodic songs emphasizing a true band dynamic. The point is driven home by Kasim Sulton’s lead vocals on the next two tunes, POV’s “Play This Game” and the jazz-tinged “Swing To the Right.” “Trapped” featured a patented Rundgren guitar freakout and, though Todd continued to take a few vocal turns (mostly choruses and harmony parts), it seemed at this point that Kasim was doing most of the leads after the group’s return to the stage. I thought that it may have been Rundgren’s illness forcing a readjustment of the set list but, after checking set-lists from previous nights, it would appear that Sulton’s songs were bunched together like this since the beginning of the tour. “Set Me Free” gave way to a very nice version of “Love In Action,” with Todd once again taking the lead vocal. “Hammer In My Heart” seemed to indicate that the Wizard was saving his voice for the “radio/MTV hits.” Though obviously ailing, Rundgren continued to push through with some quite animated and very spirited guitar histrionics.

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Kasim Sulton, Todd Rundgren) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Gil Assayas) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Willie Wilcox got his “Ringo moment,” as he took the lead on “Princess of the Universe,” a very Nazz-like pop thing from 1982’s UTOPIA before Sulton again sings lead on “I Will Wait” from OBLIVION. A Philadelphian at heart, Todd always pushed a bit of the Philly Soul sound into his music. “Rock Love” was his “James Brown moment,” setting aside his guitar, exhorting the crowd and his bandmates like a Baptist preacher on a Sunday morning, to ever greater heights of ecstasy. Kasim, on guitar, played a nifty solo. With Sulton back on bass, Rundgren delivered a powerful, if strained (and guitar-less) “Love Is the Answer” as, finally, the audience rose to its feet for a sing-along, clap-along ending. With the Runt looking a little the worse for wear, he nonetheless strapped on the guitar for the final number of the show proper, “One World.” After a short break, the band returned for one final song, a cover of sorts – an emotional, Gospel-tinged “Just One Victory” from Todd’s 1973 solo release, A WIZARD, A TRUE STAR. The evening was everything I could have hoped for (well, I wouldn’t have minded if they did “Itch In My Brain” but, that’s a minor infraction) and, I gotta say, that even though he wasn’t feeling too well, Mister Rundgren looked pretty good for a guy that’s (mumble-mumble) years old.


DOING MY BEST TO BE BRUCE: THE BRUCE KULICK INTERVIEW

BRUCE KULICK (publicity photo)

Bruce Kulick plays guitar. He has played with everyone from Michael Bolton to Billy Squier to Meat Loaf and, of course, a couple of little bands called Kiss and Grand Funk Railroad, Bruce has shared the stage with some of the best known artists in the world and jammed with some fairly unique bands… just because he likes to challenge himself. He spent twelve years touring and recording as a member of Kiss and just completed seventeen years as a member of Grand Funk Railroad, alongside original members bassist Mel Schacher and drummer Don Brewer and two other “new guys,” singer Max Carl and keyboard player Tim Cashion. Most recently, he has recorded two singles with his wife, Lisa (the original “If I Could Show You” and the classic holiday song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), and is looking forward to further exploring that creative avenue in the still-new year.

In an interview recorded on January 10, in anticipation of an upcoming Grand Funk show in – virtually my own backyard – Effingham, Illinois (at the beautiful Effingham Performance Center), Bruce discussed playing with Kiss members Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Eric Singer over the previous weekend, at the launch party for THE GENE SIMMONS VAULT EXPERIENCE; a few memorable road experiences with his brother, Bob, and Meat Loaf; the music industry and taxes; and, of course, that l’il old American Band, Grand Funk Railroad. We had penciled in a 15 to 20 minute time slot for this talk; after a few generalities about logistics and such, I realized we had been going at it for 45 minutes. Thanks for the time, Bruce.

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD (Mel Schacher, Bruce Kulick, Max Carl, Don Brewer, Tim Cashion) (publicity photo)

THE MULE: So, obviously, you’ve been a member of Grand Funk for eighteen, nineteen years…

BRUCE: Technically, we just finished seventeen and we’re starting our eighteenth year.

THE MULE: Okay. How did you get the gig?

BRUCE: Well, I was contacted by Don Brewer back in ‘99. It was the middle of the year, I believe. He reached out to me via e-mail and at first I thought it was maybe somebody pranking me, even though I had met him in the past, but I didn’t know him well. He reached out and… I was in New York, actually, helping my parents move to California, but said I’d get in touch next week when I came back. Then, we finally… I thought it would be best to have an actual phone conversation and we chatted about what was actually happening, which was the fact that Mel and Don were going to move forward and they already had a terrific singer, Max Carl, and they were looking for a guitar player and would I be willing to come up to Michigan to do some rehearsal to see what it all kinda felt like, if it would work.

So, I did and, it went rather well. I was pretty nervous because it’s another iconic band that suddenly need a guitarist. But, I really did like Mel and Don and I thought Max was a terrific singer. And, then, from that point, the next time I got together, they had the keyboard player who we’ve had, as well. for all these years, Tim Cashion. And that was Grand Funk Railroad. By the end of ‘99, after us getting together, to rehearse enough, we started to perform. I think we only did one gig in ‘99. Technically, 2000 was our first real year of playing. It’s amazing, it’s been seventeen years, now going into the eighteenth and the same guys. We’re really all getting along very well and we love playing this music. There are some new songs, but generally it’s a lot of the hits from Grand Funk.

THE MULE: I was gonna ask if you’d known Don and Mel before, but you kinda answered in that, so…

BRUCE: Well, I would want to qualify it just by saying that, Mel I never met before meeting him in Michigan. But, Don Brewer… we had a very interesting kind of crossing paths by… I was working with Michael Bolton and we did a tour that opened up for Bob Seger. For many, many tours, Don Brewer’s been the drummer for Bob Seger and, this was 1983. Don had a big beard, I remember. I remembered meeting him and we were on tour, I think, almost three weeks with the guys, so we all got to k now each other a little bit and hang out. And, actually from that tour, Don Brewer wound up meeting his… the woman that he’s married to, because she was actually someone that we were friends with, Michael Bolton and I.

It was really interesting that… There’s even a little modern connection to that, in the fact that, this past year, we opened, one of the few dates that Seger did before he had that injury, you know, with his back, which he, I believe, is having surgery for and he’ll be back out on the road. But, Grand Funk opened for Bob Seger in Indianapolis. It was very exciting because I know some of the people in that band, as well, for years and, of course, Don’s wife, Sunny came and knows those guys from all the tours. (Laughs) I remember saying to Sunny backstage, in front of Don, “This is really weird!,” because here we are, on Bob Seger’s stage. and this is how we all kinda met each other, in a sense, and here we are all together so many years later and there’s 24,000 people out there. And, of course, the gig was huge success for us and that’s all great. So, that’s one of the wonderful things in the music industry, is that, kinda how you meet someone way in the past and you don’t realize how that… You know, if I met Don in ‘83, it wasn’t ‘til ‘99 that I had the opportunity to actually play a guitar with him. That’s a long time and, then here we are, it’s 2018 and I’m still playing guitar with the guy. It’s really kinda cool, you know? And, in a sense, it’s similar to me jamming with Ace and Gene over the weekend. Which was very surreal, too. But, I love that about the music industry. That’s why it’s always great to keep your connections. You never know.

THE MULE: I remember reading that Grand Funk was kind of an influence when you were just getting into the business. So, what is the favorite part about being in this band?

BRUCE: Well, I always saw Grand Funk, when I was young, as kind of like the American version of the British rock trio, like a Cream but, they were just a little more… hence, the “Funk” word. They were a little more funky. It wasn’t as… They definitely weren’t trying to emulate anything British, they were more R and B, in a way. Hence, hits like “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Locomotion” and stuff like that. But, I did love the rhythm section. Don and Mel… Oh, my God! I mean, Mel was like… he had the original name “God of Thunder,” which was kinda ironic, of course, from my Kiss years with that song. And, Don being just a powerhouse on the drums. The well respected drummer who had the flamboyant drum solo back in the ‘70s.

So, for me, they were really unique because they were American and they weren’t trying to copy anything British but, there they were with all that energy. I think that’s how they were able to sell out Shea Stadium, you know, when they did that gig and broke records at certain times of their big years. So, I was pretty… I remember my first call after Don and I had the chat was to speak to the manager that Kiss was using for some of the years I was in the band, Larry Mazer. I said, “Grand Funk, Don Brewer just called me about being in the band. What do you think?” “Oh, that’s awesome. You gotta do it. That’s great.” I mean, I already knew it was great but, I did want to bounce it off of a business guy. I was always, you know, aware of the band, a fan of the band and quite flattered to asked to be… to have the opportunity to be in the band. It was really quite flattering for me.

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD (Mal Schacher, Max Carl, Don Brewer, Bruce Kulick, Tim Cashion) (publicity phot)

THE MULE: Next year… ‘69. The band’s gonna celebrate fifty years. Are there any plans afoot for a major tour?

BRUCE: That’s a good question. It’s kinda funny that I hadn’t thought of that yet. Obviously, Don and Mel being the original guys and everything, I’m sure they’re very aware of that but, whether or not they have something planned or are trying to coordinate something with the record company or agent, I’m not sure. But, it could make for an interesting story or a great marketing… that’s for sure.

THE MULE: You played with a lot of… I’m gonna call ‘em “over-the-top” personalities throughout your career.

BRUCE: (Laughs) Okay. The music industry lends itself to that.

THE MULE: Are there any that stick out in your mind as, “I can’t believe this.” or, you know, maybe crazy tour stories or anything that you’d care to share?

BRUCE AND BOB KULICK (publicity photo)

BRUCE: Well, I mean, one of the first… I would have to say the first REALLY major artist that I toured with, even though I had some touring experience with some people that had some hits prior to the band I’m going to mention – or the name of the artist I’m going to mention – was Meat Loaf. And, Bob and I, my brother and I played guitar for Meat Loaf. That was for the original BAT OUT OF HELL tour. So, the album was already done. Todd Rundgren and those two guys did the record, Jim Steinman’s songs brilliantly put together with Todd Rundgren. I mean, this thing was quite an ambitious record. It was unique. It wasn’t a real band, it was Meat Loaf and Steinman writing the songs and, yet, you have nine people on stage. Okay. With Meat Loaf, you know, he had to have been over three-hundred pounds and he’s in a tuxedo. You get the picture. And you’re performing on stage with a full rock band of eight other people behind you… two keyboard players, two guitarists, background singers, drums, bass and, you know, it was kind of like a crazy rock opera gone mad and he was very physical. But, I have to say, there were many moments with the Meat Loaf tour where his actions, which were over-the-top theatrical musical art, in a sense, were pretty… In some ways, they certainly were disturbing and in other ways, I realized they’re brilliant. You know what I mean? So, I gotta say Meat Loaf really has always stood out as being someone that was quite… quite special as a performer. I mean, when I joined Kiss it was like “How do I keep up with Gene and Paul onstage?” These guys are incredible showmen on stage. Then I realized I can’t play and even try to move like these guys. I can’t do both and I think the important thing was to play the guitar. But, they were quite outrageous and it was quite exciting, of course, to have these two iconic players be some of the best showmen in rock. So, yeah, I’ve gotta admit, I’ve been blessed with some interesting gigs.

And, even on a band that wasn’t that famous, the Good Rats. Some people know of them, but not everybody. You got the lead singer, Peppi Marcello, he’s performing in shorts and basically looking like someone that would hang out at the ballpark and, you know, he’s holding a baseball bat. He’s running around the stage with that, singing very well songs that he mostly wrote all himself. So, I’ve always kind of… I would say performed with some flamboyant, in very unique ways, each of those artists having their own style of that.

THE MULE: Yeah. Uh… you did mention that you played with Gene and Ace and, Eric was a part of that, as well. Gene once told me that, once a member of the Kiss family, always a member of the Kiss family. That was kind of borne out in you and Eric playing with those two. If Paul and Gene were to make that call, would Bruce answer?

THE GENE SIMMONS VAULT EXPERIENCE LAUNCH PARTY, 2018 (Gene Simmons, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer, Ace Frehley) (photo credit: ALEX KLUFT/ULTIMATE CLASSIC ROCK)

BRUCE: Well, obviously, what happened over the weekend when Gene presented his VAULT, it was the first of many of his opportunities in the fans’ hands that paid for it. That was really organic, how all that happened because, it was very well received, obviously. I know my social media is blowing up from me posting stuff about it. I know that fans love that kind of stuff, so now, it kinda poses that question. In the future, you know… ‘cause everyone’s always wondering when there’ll be the final big hurrah, of which I have no idea of when and if that’s going to happen. But, if it does, I finally… Things feel much more aware that they’re aware that the fans love it! Okay? I was aware that Ace was going to be there that day. I found out earlier in the day, actually. Eric actually told me and I already had a plan with Gene to show up later in the afternoon but, you know, not to be a part of anything other than to say “Hi,” you know. My wife’s never been to Capitol Records, which I’ve only been probably once or maybe twice and that’s such an iconic studio in LA. So, you know, support Gene, show up, say “Hi,” meet the fans. I knew it wasn’t going to be 1,000 people, it was only gonna be a hundred people but, knowing Ace went, I went, “oh, that’s kind of cool. I wonder what’s going on.” I remember texting my friend who bought the VAULT, who got there free, “What’s going on there?” He goes, “Ace and Gene are jamming and telling stories for the past 45 minutes,” or something. I was like, “Wow! That’s unbelievable!”

Then, of course, by the time I got there around six and took some photos with Gene and we talked about the VAULT and all and I said “Hi” to Ace, which was great he was still hanging around. Then Gene asked… Then Eric showed up, because he was rehearsing with Paul, I believe, that day, for this Japan tour. Then, the next thing I know, Gene goes, “Stick around. If you’d like to, you’re here, you should come on up.” (Laughs) It was like that. I was like, “Come up and do WHAT?” You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know if there was more than one guitar in the building, okay? So, when I use the word “ORGANIC,” I mean it… with all capitals. Because I did not go there expecting to ever hold a guitar, did not go there expecting to be on a stage, of course, to sit up on stage to discuss the album and to greet the fans and talk about why he put it out and stuff like that. So, at that portion of the day, which happened later in the day… I believe Gene’s afternoon was supposed to be all meet and greet with people that bought it. But, with Ace showing up, it became… they took an hour break and wound up on stage chatting with each other and playing. In fact, I was just this morning, watching one of the things that I missed because I came later. But, that whole element of us all coming together was just really organic but, what I love about it the most, even though I… it, of course, it was a big thrill for me, was that I’m very aware that… Gene even got ahold of me the next morning, thanked me for coming down and everything. What my brother and I did on the cruise, everybody loved. I think it’s really evident to the Kiss guys that what you started with, “Once a member of the Kiss family, always a member of the family,” especially if you’re available and functioning in a healthy attitude. Obviously, anger, animosity and lawsuits means you don’t get invited to a party, right? That’s not the way the world works.

So, look, what will happen, I have no idea but, I do know that what happened on Saturday night was something that was very clearly in the right direction of showing the fans that in this case, certainly, that Gene gets along with Ace better than anyone may have thought for feared that he didn’t because there’s been times when they all say things about each other and I’ve always been on great terms with Gene but, I haven’t had many opportunities to be on stage with him. So, Eric and I have done things ourselves but, not with an Ace Frehley, except for UNPLUGGED and that’s why my reaction onstage was pretty funny. I said, “Wow, this is like UNPLUGGED, except 2018.” Of course, we were missing Paul but, still, just the elements of Eric, myself and Ace and Gene was just… I realized that it was like… completely not prepared, not planned, nothing. Maybe that made it more charming, made it more unique. I’m certain, though, it presents a new sense within Gene and Ace that fans want to see this. So, I can only hope that it could happen in the future.

THE MULE: Yeah. That would be awesome, actually, to see you take one more bow with ‘em.

BRUCE: Exactly.

THE MULE: Speaking of which, I just gotta say… no questions or anything but, REVENGE has gotta be my all time favorite Kiss album.

KISS, circa 1992 (Eric Singer, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Bruce Kulick) (REVENGE publicity photo)

BRUCE: Well, thanks. I know, I get asked that question sometimes, “What’s your favorite one?” and, believe me, there’s many I love, all the ones that I was involved with, there’s huge highlights on each album but, I usually just gravitate to REVENGE and, a lot of time when I’m doing my meet and greets, I’m meeting fans, I may sign more ASYLUM or more CRAZY NIGHTS than REVENGE but, either way, I’m very proud of that album, for sure.

THE MULE: Speaking of which, I did meet you quite a while back. You were playing with Union and you signed a Blackjack album for me.

BRUCE: There ya go. I mentioned Michael Bolton before.

THE MULE: Yeah, yeah. It’s all cyclical, I guess. I wanna get into a couple more Grand Funk things but, I also gotta know, what other projects are you working currently on, like on your time off from Grand Funk between tours?

BRUCE: That’s a great question. I generally keep myself busy with whatever seems to come up, so, I know I was really very, very pleased that I was able to actually do a few sessions in December. You know, people reach out to me and say “Could we hire you to play guitar on my project?” Or my song. Or my band. Everything’s a little unique and I never say yes or get any further until I listen to see if they have some talent, what they’re about and what they’re hoping for me to play on. So, those things come out – and they came up often enough in 2017 – that I enjoy. I especially like it when there’s a real challenge to some of the stuff, not exactly what you’d think…

There’s one particularly interesting artist from Sweden who’s part of a band and they do theaters and sell out all the time in that part of the world. But, they’re doing “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” as a four man group and, one of the main singers, Robert Haglund, does his own smooth lounge rock, classic rock kind of thing and I just did a song for him. He actually covered a Peter Criss solo album track. I played guitars on it. But, he did it very unique. I loved… I like the Peter song. I wasn’t really familiar with it ‘til he shared it with me but, then, once I heard how he did it and made it his own, I was like, “This rocks!” You know, because it’s a good blend of Smooth Jazz and a rock song. You know what I’m sayin’?

THE MULE: Yeah, yeah. Kinda like, I guess, that character that Bill Murray played… the lounge lizard kinda guy that Bill Murray played on SNL.

BRUCE AND LISA LANE KULICK (uncredited photo)

BRUCE: Yeah. This is interesting, this guy. But, while things come up like that all the time, I still want to explore more things with my wife, Lisa. We put out a song last April. We actually have footage, a duet video and the two of us… I’ve had, I mean, I’m already looking at taxes for 2017. It’s the time of the year when it’s not too crazy and I get a chance to put things together and I realized that I had a really incredibly busy 2017. I’m very proud of it. And, I know that’s part of the reason I didn’t get to everything I wanted to but, we were able to put out a single and, of course, over the Christmas holiday because we kind of promised each other. We were actually hoping to put out a Christmas EP. Last year, the beginning of the year, we talked about it but, I was too busy with traveling and things like the cruise, the Kiss Kruise, and stuff like that prevented it. Grand Funk had more dates than the usual year, which was very exciting for us. So, I want to explore some more stuff with my wife, Lisa, on a few levels, musically and everything. The Christmas song we did got a great reaction on Facebook, of course.

What else? You know, I put out an interesting product this past 2017, where I did a mini-guitar of one of the guitars that were known from my Kiss years and then actually ordered a very small number of faux guitar from the guitar company and sold them myself. They sold out really quickly and I want to do more things like that in the future, all on a very limited basis. I’m not trying to become a mass-merchandise man, okay? Because I’d like to manage it… I’ve had a few people in the industry tell me, “I guess when you say limited, it really is limited.” I know a certain artist that I collect and I go, “Oh, it says limited. How many that I really make that was limited?” It’ll start out at 500, then it turns into fifteen hundred and you get number fourteen hundred. What happened here? Anyway, there’s a lot of that I wanna look at. But, there’s always stuff going on.

The band that I hired at my wedding, which is another band that’s very, very like Rat Pack but, they do… They’re called Nutty and they do also, like, Jazz versions of classic rock songs by mashing up things. Early last year, late ‘16, we put out… They did “Detroit Rock City” and I sat in with them at a local supper club place here in California and that thing just blew up on the internet. It was great. In fact, I’m going to go see them play tomorrow night and I know I wanna get together with them and try to do a little more experiments, jam with them a few more times over the course of 2018, in some clever way. I haven’t figured them out yet. I probably want to really have a good discussion with them. I really love, you know, just doing other things.

I’m sometimes too busy to do ROCK AND ROLL FANTASY CAMP, which I’ve been a counselor for… God, I’ve been working with David Fishof, who is the promoter of that, and I’ve been doing that since 2005 or ‘06 so, it’s been a long time. Sometimes, since I can’t always do the camps, I’ll wind up… But, I’ll get called up to do one the corporate gigs that David did before. The whole thing, which ALWAYS goes really well. What a thrill! One was this huge accounting company, who obviously have a very successful team that they’re willing to do a big convention and then have us entertain them one day and be a part of their team-building. I got jam with Nancy Wilson from Heart and I was the guitarist. We did “Barracuda” and “Crazy On You” and “Magic Man” and, man, what a thrill that was, along with some other very talented people that you would know their names, like Ian Paice and Tony Franklin, Teddy Andreadis.

So, you know what I mean. It just seems like I go from a Grand Funk gig to, I could jump into a session that week or that month. I’m off to do a corporate gig when I can and, then I’m thinking of merchandise to market that I feel the fans would really love, because if I was a fan of me, I’d love it. (Laughs) You know,,, I always put myself in that position, “What would I think if I was into me.” Because, I’ll always try to get, with anything with my name attached to it, I want really, really high quality stuff. I look forward to 2018 being really exciting and branching out and continuing with this kind of success that the last year proved to me. Very excited about it.

THE MULE: You know, the weird thing, I guess, about… thinking about this current incarnation of Grand Funk, it has been together longer than the original band and that’s including the time with Craig.

BRUCE: Right. That is pretty interesting, for sure. And, you know, it’s kinda like one of those statistics like where Eric Singer has been, of course, the drummer longer than Peter Criss ever was, i you accumulate all of the years. And, he’s probably the third in line with Gene and Paul. Fun facts.

THE MULE: Yeah, that is just wild.

BRUCE KULICK (photo credit: NANCY DAGATA)

BRUCE: The one point I want to make about Grand Funk. The one thing I always regretted is that they actually did kind of stop at times. You know what I mean? They weren’t always moving forward in one form or another, there were periods where they just completely stopped. Which makes our seventeen year milestone, I guess, pretty easy. You know what I mean?

THE MULE: Yeah. Yeah, kinda but, it’s still something to celebrate and look back on. What got me… Grand Funk, loved them since the beginning and, SURVIVAL may be my all-time favorite Grand Funk album but, after BORN TO DIE, they split. They were having arguments and everything during that album and Frank Zappa, of all people, called them up and said, “Hey, would you get back together and make an album with me?” So, that kinda says something about the power of that band.

BRUCE: I know. Look, I’ll run into some of the guys from Van Halen… I remember running into Michael Anthony and Eddie’s brother, Alex, at the Admiral’s Club in Dallas, for American Airlines. You know, I’ve met them through the years, mostly from my Kiss years. “Hey, what are ya doin’?” and I’d see they were on tour and, “Oh, I’m just coming back from a Grand Funk gig,” and, “Oh, my God! Grand Funk! My favorite band! Oh, my God!” I mean, it’s stuff like that that blows my mind, of course. And, look, I’m one of the very fortunate musicians to be able to say that if I meet a stranger and they didn’t recognize me or know anything and say, “Oh, you play guitar?” and, if that came up, “Well, who’ve you played with?” And, I can say, “Grand Funk and I used to play with Kiss. You know, I always get a huge reaction from one of those bands. It’s funny that the Grand Funk one… I actually can say that it’s almost 50/50. Obviously, more people know Kiss but, if they know of those bands and they know music, it’s real interesting how many people react to Grand Funk but won’t react to Kiss or know… Of course, if they used to be a Kiss fan, they probably don’t have to ask me who I’ve played with if they’re a Kiss fan.

THE MULE: With this long history with Grand Funk, I know that Don and Mel are both incredibly creative people and so are you and the other guys in the band, Tim and Max. Will there ever be an album of new material with this current line-up?

BRUCE: You know, it’s interesting. Obviously, kind of longer ago, closer to when we were first getting together, we did put some new things in the set that we still do, because Max is a great songwriter and, of course, Don can write, all of us can write but, we also know that the gigs that we do, it’s… The majority of the reason why we’re booked is the name and the hits that the band had. What was kind of funny was, probably fifteen years ago, even a few years into me playing with them, the record industry was still in flux but, there was still a very healthy record business and, of course, fast forward to now and how everything’s going to streaming and people… Many, many iconic bands don’t bother putting out new records, you know, and that’s why that equation keeps getting challenged as to, even if Don and Mel had the desire to, would they feel, in a business sense, that it was something viable, that they want to do. I mean, I can speak for myself, not them but, my last record was put out in 2010 and I’ve been really hesitant about moving forward with a brand new record, with new material. It’s easy… I can put out a single with my wife. Can I put out a single for myself? That would be a lot easier than a full record.

So, your question is even bigger than just “Can Grand Funk do a new record and put it out?,” it’s just what’s going on in the music industry. I think it’s where Don and Mel before might have been, “Well, we do a few new things in the set and we just wanna be this touring band” and, it’s not about trying to put out a new product or whatever their kind of desires are about where they see the Grand Funk brand going. But, it’s kinda funny, at the time, in the years when it was probably a lot easier, they really didn’t choose that route and, now, I think it’s even more, kinda like, most people do the PledgeMusic to sell their music, if they have the desire to do that. I don’t know. I gotta read this article I saw. Something about “Music Industry Is In Trouble” by Paul McCartney. I wanna read what that’s about because it;s gonna be really interesting. Beause I think Paul McCartney has put out some really good full records in the past fifteen years and I doubt if any of them are gold and… Could you have a more famous person? I doubt if Ringo sells very, very, very well. I mean, he’s the most iconic drummer in the music business and a Beatle.

But, I don’t know what to tell you when it comes to, “Will you put something out?” I get posed the same question about me, too. It’s always really, kind of a frustrating thing to an artist to kind of wrap their heads around it. Wow… we’ll see what happens. Touring, thank God, is healthy because people like to see live music and, when I’m onstage, I am thrilled to be performing. The travel part, I don’t love. You know, I love to go to different places and meet the people. But, it’s always, “Thank God people still have the desire to see live music!” Of course, with their cell phone in their hand (Laughs), recording every moment of it!

THE MULE: So, what can… the people and their cell phones expect in Effingham on the 27th? What kind of show are you going to give ‘em?

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD (Bruce Kulick, Mel Schacher, Don Brewer, Max Carl, Tim Cashion) (publicity photo)

BRUCE: Well, it’s going to be interesting, because actually, in 2017, we started to tinker around with the set and bring out a couple of things we hadn’t played in a while. We did a New Year’s date, which went very well, in Minneapolis at a casino up there but, it’s kind of exciting now that I never know… Are we including the new ones, are we only doing one, do we do both? We only did one at that show but, I don’t know. And, maybe Don has some ideas about some others, too, that we might be looking at. I think, in that way, I’m giving you kind of a little… What I’m saying is that Grand Funk always puts on a very entertaining show with many hits that everybody knows. It’s really interesting how we’ve created some sets and, even though we adjust the set from time to time, that there’s not really a… It really builds excitement throughout the evening and, no matter what condition people are from the first song, we know they;re going crazy by the encore and, generally, more likely going crazy much, much sooner, like in the middle of the show. It’s gonna be a lot of really, in a way I can call it good time rock ‘n’ roll.

And, the vocals that these guys pull off are incredible. Max is the perfect lead singer and, then you’ve got Don and, Tim sings like a bird. So, the three of those guys, it’s incredible what the vocals are. I’m always so blessed to listen to that. Then, there I am playing with that rhythm section of Mel and Don, who are top-notch and admired by many of the musicians that cane after them. I’m doing my best to be Bruce, who wants to put a little bit of whatever the Grand Funk sound was attached to who I am, which is, I’m brought up on good ol’ classic rock guitar, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and all of that… and, Jimmy Page. I just rock out. I do rock a little harder, I would say, than what Mark Farner did but, always with a lot of respect for Mark’s riffs and how Mark helped craft those songs. It’s quite a show. I mean, people really, really, really enjoy it. I can’t believe how many of my Kiss fans that, high in mind, maybe knew the name but, they didn’t realize… “That’s a Grand Funk song? I didn’t know that!” I always get that reaction from the people that I know were at the show, they either write me or email me after the show or something.

So, the band’s terrific, something I’ve been very proud of all these years. So, if you’re anywhere near there and, I know that’s a good venue because I know a lot of bands, I’ve heard from the guys that have performed there. I’m really hoping for the people to get the opportunity to come see us because, it’s memorable.

THE MULE: It is a great room. Really, I mean… it’s awesome!

BRUCE: It’s a little far from everything (Laughs) but, we’ll make due.

THE MULE: The staff there, they are so accommodating. It’s just amazing. You’re gonna love it.

For more information about the Effingham show, check out the Grand Funk tour page and, for all things Bruce Kulick, go here or here.


FRANK ZAPPA: QUAUDIOPHILIAC

(BARKING PUMPKIN RECORDS/ZAPPA FAMILY TRUST/DTS ENTERTAINMENT; Audio DVD, 2004)

To say that Frank Zappa was ahead of the musical curve – WAY ahead of the curve! – is, quite possibly, the understatement of this very young millennium. Recently, FZ’s eldest male offspring (the one titled “Dweezil”) discovered an old tape box, dated March 1, 1970, bearing his name (that would be “Dweezil.” We just went through this – in an earlier parenthetical aside – at the beginning of this impossibly rambling and circumlocutious sentence). The box contained a very early, unimaginably expansive recording of what would eventually become “Chunga’s Revenge,” recorded in an unto then unheard of separation/mix called “quadraphonic”; this recording, in fact, preceded the whole quadraphonic rage (“rage” may not be the best way to describe it, though… the process never really caught on with anyone other than audio geeks of the highest form) by several years and today’s hip new sound, Digital 5.1 Surround Sound by nearly three-and-a-half decades! That recording (in the guise of “Chunga Basement”) is now released in all of its four-channel glory, alongside nine other such experiments recorded by FZ and his various groups (Zappa, the Mothers, and… Dweezil, the proposed name of the new group with which Frank recorded this version of “Chunga… “). Dweezil (the son, not the band), after inquiring as to the existence of other like-minded recordings, has sequenced the ten tracks culled from the vaults of the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, not chronologically, but with an eye (an ear?) toward maximum listenability. So, how’d the kid do? Let’s examine, shall we?

Frank and Dweezil Zappa (uncredited photo)

QUAUDIOPHILIAC begins with two of Zappa’s orchestral pieces, the first (“Naval Aviation In Art?”) comes from the much-contested LATHER (an historic four-album set that was whittled up and edited into five separate albums – STUDIO TAN, SLEEP DIRT, the two-record set LIVE IN NEW YORK, and ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES, the latter being the place that this tune eventually saw release); the second is a re-worked, unreleased “Lumpy Gravy” from the same session that spawned the former. The two tracks combined clock in at a robust 2:39. The third track comes from the same source, but features – for the first time here – a signature FZ guitar solo. The previously unreleased “Rollo” is everything that made you fall in love with Zappa’s music (except without the pee-pee and fart jokes): Intriguing time-changes, adventurous arrangements, squiggly guitar leads. This, friends and neighbors, is truly the stuff of which FZ’s legend was made!

Aynsley Dunbar, Frank Zappa (uncredited photo)

A previously unheard version of “Watermelon In Easter Hay,” retitled “Drooling Midrange Accountants On Easter Hay” by Dweezil, is next. The new name comes from an FZ quote in which he discusses the record business in – as you can tell – his usual glowing terms; this spot-on diatribe is now edited over an alternate arrangement of the tune. The next two songs – SHEIK YERBOUTI’s “Wild Love” and SHUT UP ‘N’ PLAY YER GUITAR SOME MORE’s “Ship Ahoy” – feature several musicians who cut their teeth in Zappa’s late ’70s bands: bassists Roy Estrada and Patrick O’Hearn, guitarist Adrian Belew, vocalist Napolean Murphey Brock, and uber-percussionist Terry Bozzio. Though the songs are familiar, the four-channel mixes bring out the hidden intricacies inherent in all of FZ’s music. The much bally-hooed (just how much? Well, check out the first paragraph of this here critically-motivated piece) “Dweezil” tape rears its magnificent head next. Apparently, Dweezil would have been a kind of Mothers super-group in a standard four-piece rock setting: FZ on guitar (and, presumably, vocals), Ian Underwood on keyboards, Aynsley Dunbar on drums, and Max Bennett on bass. As far as I know, Zappa’s reasons for retiring Dweezil after this single recording session has never been revealed. Obviously, Frank decided to reconvene the Mothers in a newer, harder-edged version and to maintain his steadily growing solo career, as well. “Chunga’s Basement,” now, is merely a glimpse of what could have been.

Frank Zappa (photo credit: FRANK LEONHARDT/ASSOCIATED PRESS IMAGES)

The next two tracks are the oldest of these recordings, aside form the Dweezil tape. An unreleased live recording from 1974, “Venusian Time Bandits,” features three more impressive Mothers: George Duke, Chester Thompson, and Tom Fowler. While FZ usually went large – as on the WAKA/JAWAKA title track which follows – it is in the stripped down arrangements for four-piece combos that his own virtuosity is featured in its best light; there is no doubt as to the genius he displayed as a composer, a conductor, an arranger, a band leader. The thing that these smaller groups shows is that Zappa was an unselfish (though demanding) player. He was more than willing to stand aside and allow his bandmates to shine, but was able to play rings around just about anybody you could name when he chose. “Waka/Jawaka” is a prime example of FZ standing aside, allowing his compositional and arranging skills to dictate how the other musicians move the music along. “Basement Music #2,” a piece culled from the soundtrack to the BABY SNAKES movie, finishes the set off in fine fashion. Chil’uns, if the newly discovered mixes don’t sell you on this one, then the unreleased stuff is surely enough to convince each of you to become a QUAUDIOPHILIAC! Dude, this just reminds me how much I miss FZ… hopefully there’s more to come.


50 SUMMERS OF LOVE

(October 13, 2017; THE FAMILY ARENA, Saint Charles MO)

When this show was announced, I was excited at the prospect of seeing two of my favorite performers – the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz and Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders fame – doing some of my favorite songs in solo sets, a la the HAPPY TOGETHER packages of the past. After speaking to Lindsay about the show, I was even more excited, as I learned that this was a full-on production that features both vocalists onstage together, sharing songs, stories and memories. I previously likened the concept to the early live work of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; meanwhile, in a recent interview with the Mule’s Kevin Renick, Dolenz said, “It’s a little bit like a Rat Pack thing.” And, I suppose – if you suspend all disbelief and squint your eyes just right – a case could also be made for the Bonos (circa THE SONNY AND CHER COMEDY HOUR). However you look at it, the “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” aspect of a show starring Mark Lindsay and Micky Dolenz is a dream come true for any child of the 1960s.

THE FAB FOUR (Ron McNeil as John Lennon) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Opening the show was the Fab Four, hailed as “the Ultimate Tribute,” performing to perfection a set of Beatles tunes that the lads never performed live. Decked out in the Beatles’ SERGEANT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND attire, the Four looked and sounded like the originals as they played and quipped their way through a packed 40-minute set. Led by founder Ron McNeil as John Lennon, the group – quite naturally – focused on material from the groundbreaking 1967 album, including (of course) the title track, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” (the non-album single from the same recording sessions, as well as its equally brilliant B-side, “Penny Lane”) and the heady, atmospheric “A Day In the Life.” All of George Martin”s studio trickery and embellishments, by the way, were performed live by the quartet, via the keyboard work of McNeil and Doug Couture’s George Harrison… no mean trick, that. The group also visited REVOLVER for “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and the brilliantly dreary “Eleanor Rigby,” one of my all-time favorite Beatles tunes. Nestled in the middle of all of this amazing music was “Yellow Submarine,” along with another of my personal favorites (but then, aren’t they all?), “Day Tripper.” What a great way to kick off the night!

Micky Dolenz and Mark Lindsay (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

After a short intermission, the Fab Four were back onstage… this time in Raiders costumes. McNeil introduced the headlining duo, Mark Lindsay first, then Micky Dolenz, as the band launched into “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” a song recorded by both the Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Mark told Micky, “I recorded it first,” to which Micky replied “I had the hit.” The hits came fast and furious from there, with the duo performing their own songs, as well as each other’s. The Raiders tune “Steppin’ Out” gave way to the Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville,” a tune that had the revved-up crowd up and dancing. The Raiders’ first “woulda, coulda, shoulda” non-hit, “Louie, Louie” (the Kingsmen recorded the song around the same time they did and rode their version to the top of the charts) followed hot on the heels of that one.

Micky Dolenz (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

While the sound was generally solid, it was not without problems; some of the between-song banter (mostly Lindsay’s) was lost to the cavernous rafters of the Family Arena; as the sound tech worked out the kinks, their were sudden over-modulations of bass or guitar. But, those minor issues aside, the group of musicians onstage (including Micky’s sister, Coco on vocals and his “personal” guitarist, Wayne Avers) sounded phenomenal. Coco’s vocals, in particular, caught my attention, as she added that one extra layer that pushed the proceedings from a solid recreation of the songs we all know and love to a “Holy crap! This sounds just like the record.” level. From a rocker’s standpoint, the backing band had a harder edge. And, that’s not a bad thing… these songs are fifty years old and the relative youth of the Fab Four has infused both the songs and the singers with a new vitality. Tunes like “Hungry,” “Good Thing” and Mike Nesmith’s “Mary Mary” crackled and ignited under the pure weight of the Rock ‘n’ Roll offered up by the players, pushing Micky and Mark to ever greater heights.

Mark Lindsay (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As we knew they must, the reflections soon turned to this dynamic duo’s time on the small screen, with Lindsay ribbing Micky about “hanging out behind a circus tent with Cheetah and Tarzan,” in reference to Dolenz’ childhood role as CIRCUS BOY in 1956. After a little back and forth, the band launched into the theme song from WHERE THE ACTION IS, the Dick Clark vehicle that propelled Lindsay and the Raiders to superstardom, followed by the theme to THE MONKEES, which ended with a sort of modified “Monkees walk” by the pair. An outrageously bizarre video from WHERE THE ACTION IS featured Dolenz and fellow Monkee, Davy Jones, disrupting and dismantling a performance by Paul Revere and the Raiders. Laughing, Micky said, “I really don’t remember that… at all!” Of course, I think we all knew that someone would eventually broach the subject of opening acts. There was mention made of the Rolling Stones in regards to Paul Revere and the Raiders before Lindsay asked Micky about a certain short-lived opening act on the Monkees’ first major tour. “Yeah,” quipped Dolenz, “this is what Jimi Hendrix sounded like opening for the Monkees… ” as the group pushed into the opening of “Purple Haze.” Two lines into the vocals, Micky began screaming, “We want the Monkees! Where’s Davy? Where are the Monkees?” As the saying goes, “mistakes were made, people were blamed.” Somewhere along the way, Mark noticed that there was something off about the Fab Four’s Raiders’ outfits and produced a feather-adorned tri-corner Colonial hat for the only “Raider” not wearing one, Ron McNeil as Paul Revere; with his back to the band, Lindsay continued his spiel, as Micky quietly replaced Doug Couture’s (not absolutely positive, but relatively sure of the name) hat with a green wool cap, a la Mike Nesmith. A small thing, to be sure, but it definitely registered with the gleeful crowd.

Doug Couture and Wayne Avers (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

How can you qualify the sheer quantity of great music that came out of the mid-to-late ‘60s, many by the two legendary figures onstage tonight? I mean, “Kicks,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Him Or Me – What’s It Gonna Be,” “I’m a Believer.” Toss in the lesser-known (though no less impressive) “She,” “Randy Scouse Git” and the psychedelic Blues work-out of “For Pete’s Sake” and you have not only an incredible set list for this show, but along with the Fab Four’s set, you have the soundtrack to the lives of many a baby boomer. Highlight upon highlight drove the performers and the audience to give a little bit more as the evening progressed. Things bordered on transcendent for me when Lindsay and Dolenz discussed their heritage, leading into the spine-shivering intro to “Indian Reservation.” I say again that both vocalists were in top form throughout the show, but it just seemed to me that Mark kicked things up a notch for what was Paul Revere and the Raiders’ biggest hit… a protest, an anthem, a song for the ages.

Micky Dolenz (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After a final, brilliant turn by Micky Dolenz on “I’m a Believer,” it was over. Well, not really… I mean, you know how these things work, right? After a very short break, the band returned, with McNeil introducing Mark and Micky back to the stage for the encore, which included one of the Monkees’ most beloved tunes, “Daydream Believer.” The night ended with a rousing “Twist and Shout,” an early hit for the Beatles, with Dolenz delivering the first couple of lines before turning vocal duties over to “John.” As the lights came up, the buzz in the air wasn’t from the amplifiers; it came from the excited, appreciative crowd. And, why not? They had just witnessed two of the greatest performers and purest voices of the Rock era put on the show of their lives.


MICKY DOLENZ: CHATTING UP MY FAVORITE MONKEE AT LONG LAST

KEVIN RENICK is one check closer to completing his bucket list.

Micky Dolenz (photo credit: KAY TUOHY)

Micky Dolenz (photo credit: KAY TUOHY)

Micky Dolenz was always my favorite Monkee. They all had their charm, of course, but Micky seemed to me to be the most knowing, the most IN on the joke and the most determined to have as much fun with it as possible. The initial “joke,” of course, was that this quartet of Beatlemania-aping youngsters – three Americans and one Brit – would produce a madcap TV show in the mid-’60s that would hopefully yield a non-stop string of radio hits penned by the likes of Carole King, Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart and many others. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider definitely seemed to view the whole thing through the lens of satire, and hired hand music producer Don Kirshner felt it was his job to feed the music through the hit machine he was in charge of, and to NOT let the boys get too cocky or assertive. Let’s have FUN, kooky visuals but slick, well-constructed pop tunes for the ears… that seemed to be the mandate. And Micky was the singer on a majority of the band’s hits… “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and many more. He wasn’t the “cute one,” that distinction went to Davy Jones. And Mike Nesmith was the group’s quirky intellectual, the one who had a discernibly broader agenda and undeniable charisma. Peter Tork was arguably the group’s most polished musician. But Micky Dolenz embodied the spirit of the Monkees thing better than anyone – he delivered his lines with the most sass, he had nonstop energy (throughout the many reunions as well), and, frankly, he had the best voice, one which has probably been underrated through the years. Micky can SING. And his natural ability to be a professional showman, an audience pleaser, has probably been the most anchoring element of this group in its different incarnations. It’s impossible to imagine the later Monkees successes – the ’86 comeback on MTV, the later trio tours, the wildly successful 50th reunion album and tour – without Micky’s boundless energy. You really HAVE to thank him for the band’s durability all these years later; he’s a gamer, plain and simple. And by the way, that “joke” I mentioned above? Well, the real joke – and triumph – was that the Monkees were damn good. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame be damned – these guys showed a staying power that no one could have predicted, thanks to fabulously catchy songs, the early determination to prove they could actually PLAY their instruments (and even write songs!), and a gift for both re-invention AND nostalgia stoking, which meant that every time they “came back” from seeming oblivion, a huge audience was waiting. One that included the rabid older fans and ever curious NEW fans. Hey hey, they’re the Monkees! But they didn’t monkey around when it came to delivering what fans wanted, time after time.

The Monkees (Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones) (screen shot)

The Monkees (Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones) (screen shot)

I realized a long time ago that if you give the audience what they want, which is those hits they like, you can just about do anything else you want,” said Dolenz during a long-awaited phone interview recently. “And in my case, every time I do a show, I liken it to someone throwing me a birthday party. The audience is so excited to hear those songs. It feeds you! It feeds the fire.”

Dolenz was responding to my question about how an artist mostly associated with an “oldies” type act, can keep singing the same songs over and over, and still be engaged. How do you keep the experience fresh for yourself?

I can only speak for myself. I can’t speak for Mike or Peter or David,” he said. “After the Monkees, I sort of bailed out on that part of the business for a while. I moved to England, and for about 15 years I was directing and producing television shows. I did no Monkee business. And when I came back in 1986 for that reunion, it all felt very new to me again! I never really made a major attempt after the Monkees to have a solo career. Not as an artist or writer. I don’t write that much, you know… I had done a couple of little things here and there, but I was never really a writer or anything.”

So for Dolenz, performing those eternally popular songs was not a problem. “Pleasant Valley Sunday?”

Oh, that is definitely one of my favorites. I always favored Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s stuff.”

The concert favorite “Goin’ Down?” “Yeah, that’s a great one.” More on “Goin’ Down” in a moment, but the point is that Dolenz was perfectly happy fulfilling audience expectations.

I wasn’t trying to do all new material,” he said. “I’m not one of those performers who says ‘I’m not gonna do any of my old hits.’ But again, I can only speak for myself.”

I mention that nostalgia is actually a good thing in music, it provides added resonance for listeners who grew up with a certain kind of music. People WANT to relive great moments from their youth, and what’s wrong with that?

Sure. And another reason I have no problem with it is, I have done other things in my life. I’ve done musical theater (his credits include AIDA, PIPPIN and a London stage production of HAIRSPRAY in 2010). I’ve gotten great reviews, and I’ve played great characters. So if I go out and do a Monkees concert or a Mickey Dolenz concert, it’s not the only arrow in my quiver. It’s not the only thing I’ve done. But it’s certainly the thing I’m most remembered for.”

Micky Dolenz and Joyce DeWitt in a 2014 production of COMEDY IS HARD! (uncredited photo)

Micky Dolenz and Joyce DeWitt in a 2014 production of COMEDY IS HARD! (uncredited photo)

Any baby boomer can recite favorite moments from the first phase of Monkee mania: that inescapable theme song from the TV show, the irresistibly catchy early hits like “ …Steppin’ Stone,” “I’m a Believer,” “She” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” the frenzied energy of the show, a pioneering experiment in the concept of music video. Some people may even remember the unlikely, limited tour that featured Jimi Hendrix as an opening act, something I did NOT have a chance to ask Dolenz about. I was more interested in talking about their music, and though I didn’t get to bring up all my favorite songs, I DID ask about “Goin’ Down,” easily one of Dolenz’s finest hours as a vocalist. Over a jazz-laced romping arrangement that expanded the group’s sonic palette rather significantly, Dolenz sings a rapidfire, tempo-challenging lyric that would be far beyond the ability of most vocalists. The case for Dolenz as one of the finest pop singers of the era was made right then and there, and that was way back in 1967. I tell him how extraordinary the track is.

The story is, there was a song that Mose Allison, a jazz singer, had done – it was called ‘Parchman Farm,’” Dolenz begins. “It was an old bluesy/jazzy kind of thing. I don’t even know if he wrote it (Kevin’s note: he didn’t). It was only three chords. And I always wanted to do it. Peter had done it in the Village when he was coming up, he liked it also. So Mike and I and Peter and Davy laid down a track… it had no melody, just basically this three-chord progression. And when we finished, it was so hot, but then Mike said, and rightly so, ‘I love Mose Allison, and I love that song… but why would the Monkees cover Mose Allison? It’s just a three chord progression! Let’s have someone write some WORDS for our track.’ So we gave it to Diane Hildebrand. And she came back with the song… and the first time that I routined it with her, we played the track. And I had the lyrics in front of me. So I sang it, (Dolenz sings a few lines of the song to me first at the familiar rapid tempo, then at the sluggish tempo he employed when first rehearsing it.) And Diane goes ‘No, No, it should be TWICE that fast!’ (he laughs) And I said ‘What?’ So I rehearsed it, obviously, and then laid the vocal down. Yeah, it’s a big one.”

I tell Micky my poignant story about “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” which in a nutshell, is simply that my good friend and musical colleague, Rick Haegg, whom I had a lot of music plans with, died before we could get ourselves on video significantly. The performance of us doing the Monkees song live at Lindberg’s, in Springfield, MO, is destined to be the only YouTube clip of us out there. Micky used my mom’s expression “Oh, wow” in response to this story. But what I had LONG wanted to ask Dolenz about was, of course, Neil Young. Dolenz did a gentle cover of Young’s “Sugar Mountain” on his 1991 collection of pop lullabyes, MICKY DOLENZ PUTS YOU TO SLEEP. But more significant is the fact that it’s still not widely known among casual fans that Neil played on three or four Monkees songs, including “You and I” and the gorgeous “As We Go Along,” from the legendary HEAD soundtrack.

Micky Dolenz, soundchecking on the Monkees' 2014 tour (uncredited photo)

Micky Dolenz, soundchecking on the Monkees’ 2014 tour (uncredited photo)

Oh, God,” Dolenz exclaims at the mention of that song. “Absolutely one of my favorites.” The shimmering acoustic guitars of the track and another stellar Carole King lyric (in collaboration with Toni Stern) propel Dolenz to what might be his most romantic vocal ever. “Give up your secrets/Let down your hair/And sit with me here by the firelight… Why think about/Who’s gonna win out?/We’ll make up our story as we go along.” Those are beautifully evocative lines that, when combined with the exquisite tune and a sweeping performance by Dolenz, can induce genuine chills. And yes, Neil Young plays guitar on it. But just HOW did ol’ Neil get involved?

Well, he was just around, like everybody was at that time,” Dolenz replied. “I think he had a close relationship with Carole King, and so that’s why he might have been on that one. But everybody was around. Stephen Stills, Buddy Miles, Carole. It was a pretty small community. Everybody sort of hung around at everybody else’s house. Neil was around all the time. It could’ve been the producer, Jack (Nicholson, a co-producer of the soundtrack). Or Ry Cooder, he was the other guitar player on that. It’s also well known that not only us, but everyone was using the Wrecking Crew. Have you seen that documentary?”

Dolenz was referring to an acclaimed 2008 documentary about the legendary group of studio musicians who played on countless major recordings in the ‘60s. I felt guilty that I hadn’t seen it and told him I’d make an effort to do so.

You should watch it. Yeah, the Wrecking Crew… it was Tommy Tedesco, Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye, Leon Russell. Glen Campbell. Lots of others. They played on everybody’s stuff. A lot of the Beach Boys stuff. In fact, the story goes that there isn’t one Beach Boy on ‘Good Vibrations’ except for the singing, of course. They played on a lot of early Byrds recordings… the Association… Mamas and Papas. In those days, that’s what you did. Lots of stuff. I’m so glad they are finally getting recognition.”

I asked about Glen Campbell, since he’d died quite recently. What did Micky most remember about him?

Oh, I have lots of memories. We became really good friends. He was in the Wrecking Crew. We kind of just hit it off. We both had families at the same time… in fact, our families hung out. We had barbecues together. One day Glen said, ‘Do you remember your first recording session? Before the Monkees?’ I vaguely remembered it. I was singing around LA at the time. I didn’t know much about recording at all. There were four or five musicians there at the session. I was maybe 19 or 20. So we did the recording, and then the Monkees thing happened. And Glen Campbell said ‘Well, I was your guitar player.’ It was the Wrecking Crew! The song was called ‘Don’t Do It.’ Glen played on it. And Joe Osborn on bass. We did another one called ‘Huff Puff.’ Yeah, Glen was just a great guy.”

Dolenz had also been friends with another legendary songwriter, Harry Nilsson. For the 50th Anniversary of the Monkees, a remarkable set of circumstances came together to spark a new Monkees record, GOOD TIMES, in 2016. It’s a fantastic and surprising recording, which got some help from the discovery of some half-finished Monkees tunes in the vaults, one of which featured Nilsson.

The Monkees (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith) (publicity photo)

The Monkees (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith) (publicity photo)

It all came together pretty quickly when we were discussing what we were gonna do for the 50th anniversary,” Dolenz explained. “We had some unfinished tracks from the ‘60s, songs written by Carole King, Neil Diamond and Harry Nilsson. And there were vocals on some, like ‘Good Times,’ the one that Harry wrote. That was obviously gonna be for me to sing on eventually. Harry had put down a pretty hot vocal as a guide vocal. And I thought, Wow, I could do a duet with my old friend Harry Nilsson! So we ended up calling the album GOOD TIMES, that was my idea. And that was the title track.”

Then all sorts of famous songwriters came out of nowhere to be part of this project, right? You discovered that the Monkees had fans in high places!

What happened was that the record label and producers reached out on their rolodex, and all of a sudden we get songs submitted by Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge (from XTC). Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller. Ben Gibbard. It just exploded and took off. I am very grateful and flattered and proud of the album. We got great reviews, too. Even ROLLING STONE gave us a good review, and they were never so into the Monkees before!”

I mention how unprecedented it is for a band to have a top 20 album 50 years after the fact. Compilations or hits collections might make the charts later in an artist’s career, but for that to happen with a NEW album? Truly remarkable!

Yeah, it occurred to me,” Dolenz began with a laugh. “The equivalent in 1966, back when the Beatles, Stones and the Monkees were around, would have been for an act from 1916 to now have a top 20 album. It would have been something by Al Jolson or Enrico Caruso!” We both laughed loudly.

Micky Dolenz, 2014 Monkees tour (uncredited photo)

Micky Dolenz, 2014 Monkees tour (uncredited photo)

But there was something truly remarkable in the strength of the songs on GOOD TIMES. Mike Nesmith sings “Me and Magdalena” with a delicacy that truly elevates the gorgeous melody to a transcendent level (Dolenz provides harmonies). Peter Tork is at his very strongest on “Little Girl” and “Wasn’t Born To Follow.” And no one could have anticipated the luscious psychedelia and beautiful joint vocal performance of Nesmith and Dolenz on the Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller co-write, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster.” Such musical surprises led ULTIMATE CLASSIC ROCK to declare that “the fact that there is a new Monkees album in 2016 is miraculous enough, but that said album, GOOD TIMES!, is nothing short of a masterpiece is astounding.” Fans like yours truly were genuinely amazed.

It’s obviously very gratifying,” said Dolenz. “It took the three of us… well, actually the four of us, because even Davy has a song on there (“Love To Love”). But everything just came together… It had a lot to do with the producer, Adam Schlesinger, who really was enthusiastic. We just kind of caught lightning in a bottle.”

Is there any chance of another Monkees record happening in the future? After all, Micky said that even the notoriously reluctant Mike Nesmith loved making this record.

Well, nothing is in the works right now. We are still riding the crest of the wave off GOOD TIMES. It did pretty well. In my solo show, I even do three songs off that album. The general consensus was that we didn’t want to try to follow that up right away with GOOD TIMES 2. But down the road, you never know.”

Speaking of “the road,” Dolenz performed no less than 60-plus concerts last year, which took him and Peter Tork to four countries. And this summer, he’s been doing the 50 SUMMERS OF LOVE tour with Mark Lindsey (from Paul Revere and the Raiders) and the Beatles tribute band, the Fab Four. Solo, duo or the odd theatre gig, Dolenz seems to never rest. How does he keep up the stamina for so many shows?

To answer your question, I DON’T,” he laughs. “I get beat up pretty hard. There’s a saying we have, ‘You don’t get paid to sing, you get paid to travel.’ The singing is FREE. I don’t travel very well, it’s hard on me. Probably the hardest thing about doing this.”

Micky Dolenz performing at the Davy Jones Memorial show, 2012 (photo credit: CINDY ORD/GETTY IMAGES)

Micky Dolenz performing at the Davy Jones Memorial show, 2012 (photo credit: CINDY ORD/GETTY IMAGES)

Nonetheless, Dolenz is having a good time doing the 50 SUMMERS OF LOVE tour, and I asked him what it’s like performing with his old chum, Lindsey, whose parent band was big around the same time as the Monkees. This show features them performing together.

Yeah, this is not like a typical compilation show, where one act comes out and does 20 minutes, then the next act comes out,” he said. “The unique thing is that we do the whole show together. We’re both on stage the whole time. He sings on some of my songs and I sing on some of his. We talk in between and do some schtick. We open with ‘ …Steppin’ Stone,’ and we talk about it. He recorded the song, and he’ll say, ‘You know, I did it first.’ But I’ll say ‘Yeah, but I had the hit!’ It’s quite interesting. The set list is based on the SONGS, not who is singing them. It’s a little bit like a Rat Pack thing.”

Dolenz talks about how both he and Lindsey were on the ‘60s TV show WHERE THE ACTION IS, which I tell him I remembered watching. We also talk about enthusiasm for the Monkees’ music in England, Australia and Japan. And the participation of his sister Coco in the latest touring Monkees show (vocals and percussion), and how his daughter, Georgia, just graduated from the Groundlings improve comedy school, and how she and her pop run a furniture business together, called Dolenz and Daughters Fine Furniture. It seems there are constant surprises in Micky Dolenz’s career, and nary a dull moment. It’s plenty of work, and not much “monkeying around.” He knows he’s a beloved pop legend, though, and is grateful for his unlikely and diverse career. I had a zillion more questions I would have liked to ask him, and felt like I had barely scratched the surface in our short chat. But he’s a super busy guy, and was nice enough to give me some time despite an illness in his family. I try to express a level of admiration that would cover how I grew up with him, found myself astonished by the many Monkees reunions through the years and by that amazing new album, and how he’d been on my bucket list of desired interviews. I couldn’t say it all. Micky Dolenz! Wow! But even though I am hardly the first to tell him I’m a devoted Monkees fan and that he is truly one of the most underrated singers ever, I am happy to say it to him personally, anyway.

Micky Dolenz in his Dolenz and Daughters workshop, 2014 (uncredited photo)

Micky Dolenz in his Dolenz and Daughters workshop, 2014 (uncredited photo)

Thank you very much,” is his modest reply. And then I went along, with a HEAD full of impressions…


ASIA: SYMFONIA – LIVE IN BULGARIA 2013 WITH THE PLOVDIV OPERA ORCHESTRA

(FRONTIERS MUSIC; 2017)

Ain’t gonna lie… Asia’s self-titled debut album was one of my favorite – if not my absolute favorite – and most listened-to releases of 1982. Why? This type of supergroup progressive pomposity was well out of favor by the time of its release. Well, first and, perhaps, foremost was the fact that I would buy anything… make that ANYTHING that featured John Wetton on bass and vocals; the former Mogul Thrash, Family, King Crimson, Uriah Heep, UK and Wishbone Ash player was and remains one of my all-time favorite singers and bass players. Mister Wetton did not disappoint with this record! Next, Carl Palmer (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster and Emerson, Lake and Powell… er… Emerson, Lake and Palmer) was much more than a drummer… he was a percussionist who could pound out a beat like John Bonham or lay down a swinging Jazz groove, a la Bill Ward or any number of his early influences like Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich, plus… BRAIN SALAD SURGERY and “Karn Evil 9.” Need I say more? The final pieces to the puzzle were 40 percent of the band that recorded my favorite Yes album, 1980’s DRAMA: Steve Howe, an innovative and virtuoso level guitarist and Geoff Downes, keyboard genius and former Buggle. I was in Prog Nerd Heaven even though I had been listening to tons of Punk Rock back then, including the Damned, XTC and the Jam (though those bands had taken their music down a more inventive, progressive path by that time). So, anyway… I was hooked from that very first power chord to “Heat of the Moment.” These guys were the real deal and I was more than ready to snatch up their next offering, ALPHA, released the following year. Yeah… it suffered from what many call “the (dreaded) sophomore slump” and the discouraging reception to the album led to the exit (temporary, though it was) of Wetton. John was back in time to record the next set, ASTRA, though Steve Howe had headed out the back door as the bassist was reentering through the front; Wetton’s return and Howe’s replacement, Mandy Meyer, couldn’t salvage the sinking ship and Asia became a distant memory as everyone moved on to other projects. The original four (Downes, Howe, Palmer, Wetton) reformed in 2006, releasing three albums of new material before Howe left once again in early 2013 (citing the wear and tear of juggling touring and recording schedules with both Asia and Yes). Which brings us to this album, featuring current guitarist Sam Coulson on what was his first tour with the band; released, unfortunately, six weeks after John Wetton lost his years-long fight with cancer, the quartet is in fine form – even if the set list is a bit spotty, which may have to do with the involvement of the Plovdiv Opera Orchestra during the second half more than anything else.

ASIA (Carl Palmer, John Wetton, Geoff Downes) (publicity still)

The album is broken up into two distinct parts: Asia performing as a standard four-piece rock band (Disc 1 of the 2 CD set) and accompanied by the orchestra on a somewhat more sedate set (Disc 2). The first set gets off to a rousing start with “Sole Survivor,” a track from the debut album. The core members of the group – Wetton, Palmer and Downes – are in fine fettle here. John’s voice is strong; Geoff’s keyboard work enters into (Jon) Lordian realms, heavy and intense; Carl’s drumming borders on hyperactive, with thunderous fills and a slightly quicker tempo than I remember from the original. Sam Coulson’s guitar parts offer a bit more heft than did Howe’s original which, alongside Palmer’s jackhammer delivery, gives a certain urgency to this updated arrangement. “Time Again” is a propulsive proto-metal behemoth, somehow reminiscent of Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The guitar is more in line with the original and the backing vocals are on point, as well. It’s another great version of one of the prime cuts from the first record. Truth be told, when I first heard the lead track to 2012’s XXX album, “Face On the Bridge,” I did not like it. At all! It sounded like a sappy, sentimental “time has passed me by” ballad from a band whose time had, indeed, come and gone. Brother, was I wrong! How could I have missed on this one so badly? Here, the song bristles with a vigor that belies that inevitable passing of time. Compared to the original, though the song was barely a year old (release wise), in this setting, Wetton’s voice sounds even stronger, Downes delivers some inspired live flourishes and Coulson’s guitar adds a little somethin’-somethin’ that even the legendary Steve Howe couldn’t bring to the original. “My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want),” from the group’s second record, is very much a product of its time. ALPHA saw the band move further into the realm of schmaltzy MTV/Journey balladry, leading to divisions within and an eventual split. This particular song isn’t really too bad, just not what Asia’s fans were expecting after that monster debut; now, thirty years later, the tune seems to take on a new relevance, especially with Wetton fighting various major illnesses. I’m sure the other three men on stage felt the emotional power that their singer put behind these lyrics during this tour.

ASIA (Carl Palmer) (publicity still)

Holy War,” a song from the OMEGA record, is a heavy prog ballad propelled forward, primarily, by Carl Palmer’s ferocious percussion and Geoff Downes’ keyboard artistry. Wetton seems to be loosening up by this point as his vocals become a bit more aggressive with a raspy sort of growl that fits perfectly within the context of the tune. An overblown symphonic intro from Geoff leads into the overblown progressive balladry of “An Extraordinary Life.” The lyrics are this number’s saving grace. John delivers his words with conviction, though – in the hands of lesser singers – such fare could well have been expressed in an overly dramatic, overwrought fashion. Finally… going all the way back to THEN AND NOW, the 1990 compilation of new and old, comes a power ballad that actually works! “Days Like These” is a great example of how well the Palmer/Wetton rhythm section complimented each other. This version also features a simple organ part from Downes and a spot on solo from Sam Coulson. It’s very nice to hear this one in a live setting. With “Open Your Eyes,” a weird vocoder intro turns into a very nice mid-tempo rocker featuring Wetton’s newly-positive and uplifting lyrics. Carl is particularly… uh… restrained here, showing us that, yes, he can be a true team player. There are more vocoder shenanigans during the middle break, which is a very operatic, chorusy thing that simmers just below John’s improvised vocals. Sam’s guitar fits quite comfortably within the confines of the song, shining especially bright on some very tasty solos and, his interplay with Downes’ organ to end the number is just awesome.

ASIA (Sam Coulson) (publicity still)

As the album’s name implies, Asia is joined for the second set by the Plovdiv Opera Orchestra. The first song with the orchestra, “Only Time Will Tell,” one of the many favorites from the group’s stunning debut, still sounds as fresh and vibrant as it did the first time I heard it, with Sam Coulson echoing that amazing Steve Howe riff, while adding a bit of his own flair to the tune. At this point, I’m not certain how the addition of the orchestra is going to work, as everything in this arrangement sounds exactly like Downes’ original keyboard embellishments. Even with the inevitable intermission between the band set and the introduction of the orchestra factored in, it seems strange to bookend the progressive power of “Only Time Will Tell” with a pair of the group’s more sedate numbers, “Open Your Eyes” and ALPHA’s “Don’t Cry.” With a slightly quicker tempo and Downes pretty much sticking to piano on the latter, the orchestra definitely adds to the overall sound of the piece. I’ve already praised John Wetton’s vocal performance but, really haven’t mentioned his bass work; as always, it is superb (in my estimation, Wetton was one of the best ever) and especially so on this song. Palmer again proves to be a master craftsman, playing deep in the pocket and offering a tasteful fill only when required. Next up is “Heroine.” Uh… okay… not a fan of this one. At all. Wetton’s voice is okay, Downes’ piano and the orchestra sound fine but, “Heroine” is just… BAD! It’s a sappy ballad that simply cannot escape its own sappiness.

ASIA (John Wetton) (publicity still)

I’m not too sure what this says about Asia’s recorded output but, with five songs from their stellar debut and another four from the artistically disappointing follow-up, ALPHA, it certainly seems that, as of 2013, the group was content to bask in the glory of those two records. “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes,” the fourth tune from that sophomore release, starts slow and features the epic build inherent in all early ‘80s power ballads, though with a bit of an edge due to Carl driving the band and orchestra with an accelerated tempo that is not unappealing for an all but forgotten thirty year old single from a mostly forgettable album. The final two numbers come from the formidable ASIA album. “Wildest Dreams” somehow seems more relevant today than it did 35 years ago. I’m not even sure how they even managed to pull this off (unless the Plovdiv Opera Orchestra also brought along a hefty chorus) but, the massive background vocals sound… if not over the top, at least completely out of place. Regardless, this is the quartet hitting on all cylinders, with an aggressive arrangement that highlights a cool duel between Sam and Geoff. The first song on the first side of that first record, “Heat of the Moment” may sound somewhat dated lyrically (featuring one of the most well-known couplets in Prog Rock history, “And now you find yourself in ‘82/The disco hotspots hold no charm for you”), but the power of the music and the conviction in Wetton’s voice still make it a crowd-pleasing sing-along… even in Bulgaria. The sheer firepower that the combined talents of John Wetton, Geoff Downes, Carl Palmer and then-newcomer Sam Coulson bring to bear on this version delivers a fantastic finish to a rather uneven show that may very well have suffered due to the limitations of playing with an orchestra.

I fully understand that this is a very different band than the one that recorded that 1982 debut offering… they are far more thoughtful and introspective, particularly after the health scares faced by their frontman throughout the latter part of their history and, well… let’s face it, apart from Coulson, they aren’t exactly young men. Even when considering the phenomenal accomplishments of Palmer, Wetton and Downes before and after ASIA, it must have been a hard pill to swallow realizing that the group was at their creative peak on their first album; it couldn’t have been easy trying to equal or outshine a record that could quite easily be released under the title ASIA’S GREATEST HITS with no additional material needed to bolster the original nine-track sequencing. However, having said that, shortcomings aside, this album does work as a fitting memorial to John Wetton, one of the true legends of Progressive Rock. I should point out here that I was privy only to the music tracks that make up just a part of the SYMFONIA package, which also contains a DVD (or Blu-Ray) of the concert; there is also a double vinyl set available, without the additional video media.