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.


BE BOP DELUXE: POSTCARDS FROM THE FUTURE… INTRODUCING BE BOP DELUXE

(EMI RECORDS/CAPITOL RECORDS; 2004) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS

So, it’s somewhere around the middle part of 1977 and I’m in the “I’ll buy virtually anything that ain’t disco or Country and Western music” mode that typified my life for several regrettable years (with wisdom and age, I’ve repented/recovered from that dark period, except for the disco… that’ll always suck!). While deciding on which 8 to 10 albums to buy on this particular day, I came across a two record set (one full-length album, one 12″ EP) with a striking black and white cover – a still from the classic silent German flick, METROPOLIS. The price was right, so I was soon the proud owner of LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE by something called Be Bop Deluxe. I’d seen a couple of studio albums by the group, of course, but I just could not get behind that name (or the inexplicably hideous cover art or… perhaps it was a deep-seeded fear of Jazz music, another of my quirky phobias of that bygone era)! But, great googley-moogley, chil’uns! When I dropped the needle on side one, track one (“Life In the Air Age”), my brain nearly exploded! This was great stuff… incredible stuff. “Adventures In a Yorkshire Landscape.” “Fair Exchange.” “Piece of Mine.” “Maid In Heaven.” These were absolutely magnificent slabs of sonic beauty, propelled by the lush, orchestral guitar style of Bill Nelson, the mad genius behind the quartet’s sound.

It was a VERY long time before I came into contact with another Be Bop Deluxe record (though I did purchase a couple of great imports by the then-solo Bill Nelson) – in fact, the band only managed one more album, DRASTIC PLASTIC, before packing it in. Now, a band of which Nelson says, “I don’t think about Be Bop Deluxe as often as fans of the band might presume,” is given its due with this 18-track “Best of… ” package alongside re-issues of the original five studio albums and LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE (all with bonus tracks, naturally). Does it sound dated? Not as much as you’d think! In fact, I could think of a few current artists who would be regarded as the next big thing if they had recorded this stuff in the past couple of years.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1974 (Nicholas Chatterton-Dew, Ian Parkin, Bill Nelson, Robert Bryan) (photo credit: MICK ROCK)

This 18 track collection starts with the title song of the very first Be Bop Deluxe album. “Axe Victim” is rather a lost gem, full of the lyrical wryness and imagery that became a main-stay of not only this band, but of all of Bill Nelson’s subsequent projects (solo or with the group Red Noise). Of course, the benchmarks of Be Bop Deluxe were always Nelson’s guitar work and the solid interplay between the four men (on AXE VICTIM, Nelson was joined by guitarist/organist Ian Parkin, drummer Nicholas Chatterton-Dew, and bassist/vocalist Robert Bryan). The second track, also from that debut, “Adventures In a Yorkshire Landscape,” is fueled by Nelson’s ingenious arrangement (and a smoking guitar solo). The tune would later be retooled for the second version of the band, turning it into an almost orchestral live masterpiece.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1975 (Simon Fox, Bill Nelson, Charlie Tumahia) (uncredited photo)

The band’s second album, 1975’s FUTURAMA, introduces drummer Simon Andrew David Fox and bassist Charlie Tumahai, with Nelson exerting his dominance on all fronts: all lead vocals, guitars, and keyboards are performed by him; all songwriting and arrangements are by him. FUTURAMA is the most well-represented release on POSTCARDS… , with four tracks (“Stage Whispers,” “Sister Seagull,” “Jean Cocteau,” and the wickedly cool “Maid In Heaven”). The wisdom of adding Tumahai and Fox is evident from the first notes of the charging train wreck that is “Stage Whispers.” The funky calypso break merely adds to the insanity, and – if I haven’t mentioned it yet, Bill Nelson can play that guitar thing! “Maid In Heaven” follows. Like “Adventures In a Yorkshire Landscape” and the song that follows, “Sister Seagull,” this tune became a live staple, taking on a new feel with the addition of Simon “Andy” Clark on keys. Speaking of “Sister Seagull,” again the guitars and the arrangement sets Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe apart from most acts of that time (or, for that matter, most acts that have followed in the 30 years since its release). The final track from FUTURAMA is a jazzy homage to “Jean Cocteau.” The song is a major departure for the group, but the trio show that they are more than capable of pulling off such a change of pace.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1976 (Charlie Tumahia, Andrew Clark, Bill Nelson, Simon Fox) (photo credit: JOHN THORNTON)

By the time of the band’s third record, SUNBURST FINISH, Clark was well ensconced on keyboards. His impact is immediately felt on another live staple (and quite possibly the one song that you may have heard on the radio at some point), “Fair Exchange.” The interplay between guitarist and keyboardist on this track is a good example of the direction that the band was headed. Plus, it’s just a darn good song! “Ships In the Night” builds on the slightly Caribbean feel that was first explored during the break in “Stage Whispers.” The keyboards are, by turns, grandiose and whimsical… not an easy feat in the same song! “Blazing Apostles” re-introduces us to Bill Nelson, guitar hero. During the four-and-a-half minutes of the song, Nelson goes from metal crunch to jazzy runs to strident funk to fleet-fingered progressive solos.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1976 (Andrew Clark, Bill Nelson, Charlie Tumahia, Simon Fox) (publicity photo)

The group’s second release of 1976 (and fourth, over-all), MODERN MUSIC, finds the revitalized quartet performing as a more cohesive unit, though it is still quite obvious that Nelson is pulling all of the strings. “Kiss of Light” could have (should have) been a big hit back then; it would probably be a big hit if it were to be released today, with its rather staccato vocal delivery, especially on the chorus. The title track is as laid-back as Be Bop Deluxe ever got, with a lilting, slightly bluesy sound. “Twilight Capers” continues the orchestral approach that was adopted on the previous record, with guitars and keyboards ebbing and swelling throughout, leading to a short Jazz-inflected guitar solo at the outro. This is the band and the musical vision that Nelson took on the road, with the tour that eventually produced the amazing LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE.

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1975 (Charlie Tumahia, Bill Nelson, Simon Fox) (uncredited photo)

And this is where the continuity of this release comes into question: The single tune from the live album, “Life In the Air Age,” the title track, if you will, does not follow “Twilight Capers.” Three songs from the group’s final release, DRASTIC PLASTIC, is wedged between the MODERN MUSIC and LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE tracks. The tunes – “Electrical Language,” “Possession,” and “Islands of the Dead” – are fine songs, but it is very obvious that Nelson was tiring of Be Bop Deluxe and guitar-driven rock music. “Electrical Language” is powered more by the vocal performances than by guitar (or keyboards), while “Islands of the Dead” is a rather thoughtful, mostly acoustic piece. “Possession,” of the three, is the closest to what fans had come to expect from Be Bop Deluxe’s grand wizard of the nicely turned phrase (of both word and fretboard).

BE BOP DELUXE, circa 1975 (Simon Fox, Charlie Tumahia, Bill Nelson, Andrew Clark) (photo ourtesy: GAB ARCHIVES/REDFERNS)

“Life In the Air Age,” a track from SUNBURST FINISH, bears witness to just how great this group was as a live unit. The song itself is a progressive pop masterpiece and the band certainly prove their mettle in bringing it to life on stage. As good as they were in the studio, the fact that they were able to improve on those studio versions is a testament to the combined talents of the four musicians, and the arranging acumen of Bill Nelson, in particular. The final two tracks of the package brings it full circle (another continuity issue), with both the A and B sides of the first Be Bop Deluxe single, the independently produced and released “Teenage Archangel” and an early version of “Jets At Dawn,” a tune re-recorded for AXE VICTIM. The A side is, actually, a fairly standard sounding teenage-angst pop song. The B side, however, clocks in at nearly seven minutes and features some of the most exquisite guitar on this package. I just wish that the single tracks would have been sequenced as the lead tracks on this package, even though they were tack-on, bonus cuts for this version of POSTCARDS FROM THE FUTURE. Ah, well… you can’t have everything, but you can have a fairly comprehensive Be Bop Deluxe primer to hold you over until the proposed box set that Bill Nelson is reportedly working on.

BE BOP DELUXE (Bill Nelson, on stage November 1976) (uncredited photo)

UPDATE: Bill Nelson’s eight-disc box set, THE PRACTICE OF EVERY DAY LIFE: CELEBRATING 40 YEARS OF RECORDINGS was finally released in 2011, featuring 34 choice cuts from the Be Bop Deluxe era. Aside form various compilations and reissues, Nelson continues to set a furious pace, releasing no less than four albums of new music this year alone. The last,DYNAMOS AND TREMOLOS is half synth-pop, half guitar rock, all instrumental.


SUPERJOINT: CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS OF APPLICATION

(HOUSECORE RECORDS; 2016)

Superjoint (formerly Superjoint Ritual) is a hardcore/extreme metal/punk supergroup, formed in the early ‘90s by Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower (Eyehategod, Crowbar) and Joe Fazzio. Their latest effort, CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS OF APPLICATION, opens with what I can only describe as controlled chaos, in a way that only Anselmo and company can deliver. It’s a pretty relentless romp into dark themes and heavy grooves. There are some glimpses of their previous sound throughout, but all in all, this is a fresh sound with new ideas for the band.

SUPERJOINT (Kevin Bond, Jose Manuel Gonzalez, Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower, Stephen Taylor) (photo credit: DANIN DRAHOS)

The first half of the album is a sonic explosion, with Phil roaring nasty vocals in over-expertly crafted starts and stops in a way that exudes extreme deliberation, and you can tell that serious time was put in to writing the music. Despite the obvious age in his voice, Anselmo still has a vocal style unique to only himself. The opener, “Today and Tomorrow,” is a pretty good indication of what you’re getting into when you sit to listen to the album as a whole. “Burning the Blanket” is the gem of the first half, having extreme groove, and Phil screeching filthy highs over the latter half of the song.

The record really picks up during the second half, with “Clickbait,” which, in my opinion is the best song on the album and the best representation of the band’s new sound. The album closes up with “Receiving No Answer To the Knock,” which is a solid song and just goes to show you that although the record is over, Superjoint intends to kick your ass until the last second of it; the use of a dark, descending melody on guitar coupled with Anselmo’s best performance on the album let you know that they are not going anywhere anytime soon. Overall, CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS… is an incredibly solid album and, if you have the time, you should really listen to the whole thing, as I think the totality of its eleven tunes plays better than any single track.


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)


CINEMATIK: CINEMATIK; ONE FULL MOON AWAY

(KACHINA RECORDS; 2001; 2004) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS

CINEMATIK (Neal Smith, Peter Catucci, Robert Mitchell) (photo credit: TONY LOEW)

Famed Alice Cooper percussionist Neal Smith has lent his name to many projects since the demise of that storied outfit some four-and-a-half decades ago – from the sublime (Billion Dollar Babies, Bouchard Dunaway and Smith) to the ridiculous (the big noise, hair metal of Ded Ringer) to the ridiculously sublime (Plasmatics and his own 1975 solo album, PLATINUM GOD). I’m not exactly sure where this project falls; it’s kind of a “musician’s project,” with textures generally unexplored in any of Neal’s other work. There are hints of the old Cooper sound, particularly a descending riff that spirals through “Temple Mental,” a tune from Cinematik’s eponymous debut. Much of Neal’s work on the trio’s two albums involves African and tribal percussion instruments rather than the standard “rock guy” drum kit that most of us associate with the “platinum God.”

Though there are touches of the old Neal Smith sound, much of the music is very… uh… cinematic. Neal’s bandmates, bassist/vocalist Peter Catucci and guitarist/vocalist Robert Mitchell, create an almost orchestral feel, allowing the understated percussion to flow through the (mostly) instrumental material of CINEMATIK and ONE FULL MOON AWAY, rather than drive the tunes forward. Occasionally, subtlety and power mean the same thing. That is never more evident than on the beautiful instrumental, “Awake,” a song from the first album. With Peter’s minimal use of the didgeridoo and his quietly throbbing bass and Neal’s less-is-more approach (on what sounds like either a tom-tom or a small hand drum and a tambourine) on the evocative Native American percussion, Robert weaves an elegant, slightly jazz-flavored guitar over, under, and through the tune leaving you spellbound. Peter’s didgeridoo comes to the fore a little more forcefully on the rather loopy, jazzy hip-hop of “Reckon Eyes.” Other high points of the first disc are “Nude Ellie,” the somehow transcendent “African Clay,” and the doom-heavy “Even In Sleep.” Peter Hickey guests on keyboards on “Nude Ellie” and “African Clay,” the latter of which also features a vocal performance by Maximillian Catucci; Grace Loew adds cello to the tune “Grace Beach.” I know that somebody somewhere is going to call the music of CINEMATIK “New Age.” If they do (or even if it looks like they’re thinking it), smack ’em! They deserve it (plus… they won’t hit ya back cuz they’re all peaceful and at one with self and universe… or some mumbo-jumbo crap like that)!

ONE FULL MOON AWAY pretty much picks up right where CINEMATIK left off, but tends to rock a bit more (maybe due to an unsolicited “New Age” tag-line haunting the guys from the first album). “Incognito” borders on rock and roll more than just about anything else on either release, with a “JAMES BOND” kinda vibe and the trio expanding their sound to include – among other things – a sax (provided by Klyph Johnson). Robert adds a little bit of Frippertronics-style guitar sound washes through-out the disc, all to good effect. This album also features more vocal tracks and more harmony and backing vocals than the first. Plus – inadvertent or homage – there are tracks that virtually scream “Alice Cooper!” The hypnotic “Million To One” is very reminiscent of “Halo of Flies.” In a slightly less chaotic fashion, of course. With Robert and Peter splitting lead vocal duties, I’m never quite sure who’s singing what, but I must say that one of the guys has definitely picked up a stylish Joe Walsh kind of phrasing, put to good use on “Unfrozen,” among others. The Native American percussion is back on a track called “Amorak,” but the over-all sound of the track is very spooky… a kind of swirling eddy of darkness. “Euriffodes” (sound it out and you’ll get the little inside joke) is an excuse for Neal to play a standard (if smaller than usual) drum-kit and for Robert to… ROCK OUT! The track is, possibly, the guys showing everybody that Steve Howe and Yes aren’t the only people who can pull off a song like this. Other high spots include the trippy “Murder In the Moon” and the percussion heavy Middle-Eastern fusion of the final track, “Simplas Childernz.” Peter adds the violin, clay flute, and berimbau to his instrumental onslaught, while guest players help to flesh out the sound: Grace Loew returns on cello, Rob Fraboni adds shaker to the goofy “Wolfman’s Holiday,” and Klyph Johnson is all over the place with his already noted sax work, as well as the occasional bassoon.

NEAL SMITH (photo credit: JIM SIATRAS)

Listening to the albums back-to-back, I’d have to give the nod to CINEMATIK on atmosphere alone, though the more up-tempo ONE FULL MOON AWAY definitely is worth obtaining, as well. It has been a while since these albums were released (they are copyrighted 2001 and 2002), and the three members have all gone on to other projects (most notably, Neal’s return to the rock arena with Joe Bouchard and Dennis Dunaway and Peter’s work on the Garrison Project album). However, the music that these three men make together is truly amazing. I, for one, am hoping for a third release from Cinematik.


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.


ADRIAN AARDVARK: DYING OPTIMISTICALLY

(EPIFO MUSIC; 2018)

Upon first seeing the name, Adrian Aardvark seemed to me a devouring angel, an agent of the bleakest of Black Metals. Nah… just kidding. In fact, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this album but, I gotta say, it isn’t at all like anything else I’ve heard before… not even close! I mean, it looks and smells like a rock and roll record, spliced with a fair amount of Americana and not a little bit of angst. Even so, my initial thoughts were leaning toward “Ah! Someone’s rich father has bought studio time for his son and his friends to record an album. Kinda like the Shags, woefully untalented but determined to become a band.” After a couple of songs, however, I began to warm up to, even appreciate, what this motley crew were attempting to convey. Oddly enough, while researching the band for this piece, I was amazed to discover that DYING OPTIMISTICALLY is the group’s seventh release since 2008 (and the first since BONES POSITIVE, an EP released in 2014)! I cannot honestly conceive of how I could have missed anything for the last ten years called Adrian Aardvark, though I am now old enough that such things do escape me upon occasion. Anyway, on to the review…

ADRIAN AARDVARK (Daz Bird, Shannon Stott-Rigsbee, Catherine Harrison-Wurster, Christopher Stott-Rigsbee) (photo credit: JERRY CADIEUX)

The first thing that you notice on “Just Us” is alluded to in rather veiled terms up above: Everything (wait… make that EVERYTHING) seems woefully out of tune, with the singer, Christopher Stott-Rigsbee, sounding alarmingly like a drunken karaoke enthusiast. Somewhere around the two minute mark, things almost come together, as a fuzzy bass (or, is it a cello?), insistent drumming and the scraping of a violin keep the thing from totally going over the cliff. Bonus points for – unlike the short prelude/introduction/tune-up that starts the song off – everything ending together. “If Only” definitely sounds like a drunken lament to a litany of “what if’s” in a relationship gone very wrong. Stott-Rigsbee lists his transgressions before admitting, “Yes, I am ashamed of my insecurities/Yes, I am ashamed of my stupid feelings.” Here, the music kinda sounds more in tune and of one mind, occupying a certain feedback/drone frequency that is not unappealing. In fact, the discordant buzz of the whole mess is really starting to grow on me. The cello takes a more prominent spot on “Peace In a Loving Way,” with Shannon Stott-Rigsbee droning away masterfully. The lyrics seem as though they are wedged into a melody that is simply too small to adequately contain them; try, for instance, to fit the first verse into any standard rock format without breaking your tongue: “Through updates, versions and brand new postages/The letters inside remain the same as they travel to/You through signals unseen, speaking words/Floating like waves whisper your way.” It ain’t easy. Even so, at less than two-and-a-half minutes, it feels like you’re in and out almost before you realize that the sound – and, in fact, the entire record – is actually becoming, not only palatable but, begrudgingly enjoyable, as well. The bizarrely-titled “Young Pharaohs and Horses” comes with an equally bizarre video… as it should! Drummer Daz Bard adds a bit of trombone to the proceedings, with Shannon chiming in with a scratchy (whinnying?) violin part; the weird, out-of-place gang vocals, like just about everything else on this album, are no doubt added to merely muddle the lyrical issue. Four songs in and Christopher is starting to come across as more of a true musical genius, as opposed to the offspring of a wealthy Daddy Warbucks type bankrolling his kid’s musical aspirations. “I Don’t Wanna Love No More” is a step back for me. It isn’t necessarily that the sentiments aren’t spot-on in a society of individuals struggling to find their place but, the acapella (aside from three drum rolls somewhere in the middle) delivery – impassioned as it is – just doesn’t do it for me. “Little Girl,” however, is a completely different beast. Despite some rather questionable lyrics: “I am a little girl in a big big world/My dress so clean and my hair is curled” and “Don’t you want to ride with me/Don’t you want to sleep with me” (allusions to Christopher Stott-Rigsbee’s… uh… fluid sexual identity, I know, but… still… ), this is the most fully realized, hardest rocking and most in-tune song so far. A throbbing bass line (Catherine Harrison-Wurster… on the upright, no less) and a frantic vocal performance from Christopher highlight the number.

Creaky Wooden Floor” opens the second half – continuing the strong showing from “Little Girl” – with more weird metaphorical (metaphysical?) lyrics about beets and elephants. The song is pretty nifty, in a New Country kind of way and is delivered, like the previous four tracks, in a short, punk rock fashion. On “Get Gotten,” a chunky guitar riff rides along for a spell before being joined by a very nice violin part; the unmelodic, unnerving howls of Stott-Rigsbee deliver quite an impressive effect. Somewhere about two minutes in, the whole thing shifts gears amidst a beautifully shambolic break before completely collapsing in upon itself at the end. I may have just crowned a new favorite track! There is an insistent hint of didgeridoo (a masterfully understated performance by Christopher) throughout “Horny Wildebeast,” which seems perfectly natural given the song’s title. After a rather rambunctious start, the final four minutes or so seem to settle into a nice mid-tempo with – dare I say? – quietly elegant violin and cello dancing over the top. “Oo Ra Ra” and “The Sun” form a sort of intermingled couplet, with melody, choruses and chanting kinda running through the two-as-one pieces (or, piece, as the case may be). The former is a surprisingly melodic bit of falderol with lyrics somehow befitting the proceedings, such as “Put down the knife, we don’t have to fight/We can make love till morning’s light.” The number eventually devolves into the type of musical chants that the “natives” in all of those old Johnny Weissmuller movies are so fond of. “The Sun” blasts forth from that, a forceful, blistering piece of noise of the type I find so appealing. The lyrics here tend to lean toward a rather cogent warning from everybody’s favorite ball of light: “Feel my heat/Feel the cancer/You can’t be given life/Without being given death.” Oh, Sun, you’re such a kidder! A cool, unexpected blast of the Blues, filtered through various other styles of what has generally become known as “Americana” may, at a mere five-and-a-quarter minutes, prove “Misery Shaker” to be Adrian Aardvark’s magnum opus. Time changes and style shifts glide together seamlessly, held together by the superior percussive efforts of Daz Bird.

ADRIAN AARDVARK (Christopher Stott-Rigsbee, Catherine Harrison-Wurster, Daz Bird, Shannon Stott-Rigsbee) (uncredited photo)

As mentioned at the outset, I was totally unprepared for the musical onslaught of Adrian Aardvark and was, initially, taken aback by the complete atonality of the first track but… I must say that I have been richly rewarded by sticking with the program, seeing it through to its brilliant climax. Heck, I may just have to revisit the group’s Bandcamp page and listen to their other releases… after I’ve rested up a bit from this DYING OPTIMISTICALLY experience.


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.