Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pirate Radio (movie)

This movie tells a fictionalized story of the Pirate Radio movement in England in the mid-60’s. The government-run, mainstream radio stations would not play r’n’r on a regular basis, so “pirates” took it upon themselves to broadcast from boats docked in international waters, away from the laws of the land.

While the plot is fairly minimal – a young man joins the crew at the behest of his mother, who is known to everyone for a reason that is never explained (apart from apparently being quite the slut in the late 40’s), and government officials on land try to shut down the pirates – the acting is fun and funny, the costuming is terrific and pretty damn authentic and the music, of course, is stellar. Really not a bad song on the entire soundtrack, despite the fact that there was plenty of drek on the mainstream radio at this time. There are a couple of background tunes that are not from the time, but I believe that everything that the DJs are supposed to be playing are correct.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman puts in a enthusiastic performance as the token American DJ on board and Bill Nighy (the singer from the reunited band in Still Crazy) makes a good captain. The rest of the DJs and crew are individual characters and all are appropriately stylish and/or goofy, as is required in a good comedy.

This isn’t deep by any means and certainly isn’t meant as a documentary, but for those, like me, who love rock’n’roll, this is a great depiction of this intense love and dedication.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Guitarist for Janis Joplin's Big Brother band dies

LOS ANGELES – James Gurley, the innovative guitarist who helped shape psychedelic rock's multilayered, sometimes thundering sounds as a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, the band that propelled Janis Joplin to fame, has died of a heart attack. He was 69.

Gurley was pronounced dead Sunday at a Palm Springs hospital, two days before his 70th birthday, the band announced on its Web site.

One of many prominent guitarists to emerge from San Francisco's psychedelic music scene in the mid-1960s — others included the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, Jefferson Airplane's Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish — Gurley was hailed by many as the original innovator of the sound.

"I would say all of my guitar-playing contemporaries strived to have their own sound, but I think James was a huge influence on all of us because he wasn't afraid to break the boundaries of conventional music," Melton said Thursday. "What one thinks of that genre of music is that place that it takes you to where the beat is just assumed and the whole thing is transported to another place, and James is the guy who started that."

Doing things like using an electric vibrator as a slide on his guitar, and picking up amplifiers and shaking them during performances, Gurley created a loud, esoteric sound that was the driving force behind Joplin's voice on such classic songs as "Ball and Chain," "Piece of My Heart" and "Summertime."

"Some of the innovations were the result of the fact he came from kind of a progressive bluegrass school of music where weirdness was encouraged," said Peter Albin, the group's bass player.

One of the few rock guitarists to use finger picks rather than a flat pick, Gurley had taught himself to play by listening to old Lightnin' Hopkins blues records as a teenager.

He was playing acoustic guitar in a coffee house in San Francisco in 1965 when legendary counterculture figure Chet Helms, founder of the Family Dog commune, introduced him to the other band members.

Although Joplin would become the public face of the band when she joined in 1966, Albin recalled Gurley as being the true force of nature who introduced the other members to alternative lifestyles, psychedelic drugs and musical innovation.

"He was very influential to the whole band early on, and even later, just by being a guy who had strange tastes and played guitar in a very bizarre manner," Albin told The Associated Press.

When he first met Gurley, Albin said, the guitarist was living in a walk-in closet with his wife and young son and told him that before that he'd lived in a cardboard house along the California coast and with indigenous people in the mountains of Mexico, where he had taken part in hallucinogenic religious ceremonies.

After Joplin left Big Brother in 1968, the group disbanded but has since reformed and continues to perform to this day. Gurley, however, left for good in the late 1990s after a falling out with the other members.

Born in Detroit in 1939, Gurley was the son of a stunt-car driver and, according to the band's Web site, would sometimes perform as a "human hood ornament" when his father drove a car through a flaming plywood wall.

After leaving Big Brother, he lived quietly in Palm Desert, occasionally working on solo projects. He released the album "Pipe Dreams" in 2000.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and sons Hongo and Django.

Band members plan to hold a memorial sometime next month in San Francisco.


An abbreviated, but great, version of "Summertime" here and a TV performance from the Smothers Brothers here.

Another huge, huge influence on me gone...Painfully sad...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Steppenwolf - Monster

This is another of Steppenwolf’s records that a number of songs were culled from for their Gold (greatest hits) CD but I love to hear the tunes in their original setting, with the lesser known songs in between. A solid outing through and through and probably their most solidly political record.

In my rave of the Gold CD
, I went on at length about the near-perfect medley of “Monster/Suicide/America”, which still, unfortunately, rings true, even more than two years since I last wrote about it.

Another highly political song is “Draft Resister” (funnily titled “Draft Register” on my copy of the CD!), with excellent and topical lyrics and still great riffs and a catchy number. “Power Play” follows with a Howlin’ Wolf-esque guitar riff, creating a cool, bluesy tune that again is still all too relevant and maybe prescient today ("Remember if you plan to stay, those who give can take away, don’t bite the hand that feeds you”). Nice rave-up ending to this one, too.

More politics in “Move Over” while still rockin’ pretty furiously. I think that this record must have come out just before their recording of their Live album, as many of these songs were highlighted on that, which sounded like a political rally set to music and was recorded at the same time as a big marijuana protest in Washington, D.C.

The extremely un-PC titled “Fag” (no idea where that came from for this tune) is basically a throw away instrumental jam and not particularly interesting, unfortunately. More successful is the funky groove in their cover of “What Would You Do (If I Did That To You)” (I can’t find out who did the original) that is energetic and ultra-groovy.

The closer is another fave of mine (yes, I have many for this band!), “From Here to There Eventually”, with more anti-establishment words about sex and growing up and realizing that you can’t always believe everything that you were taught. Very cool female vocals alternating with Kay here to great effect on top of the rockin’ guitars.

Probably only a major fan necessarily “needs” this record on top of the Gold CD, but this truly is a “Monster” all the way through!

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band – Doc at the Radar Station

Although I was a huge fan of Frank Zappa since the late 60’s/early 70’s (whenever it was that I first heard We’re Only In It for the Money – still my favorite Zappa record), and though I think I saw Beefheart with Zappa once (though my memories of that era are often dimmed with time and abuses), I never really discovered the Captain until my “noise phase” in the early 80’s. This was probably one of the first records of his that I heard and that surely has something to do with the fact that it is also one of my favorites.

Starting off with an off-time guitar riff, “Hot Head” is actually a sing-along tune in a demented way. The Magic Band’s interplay in this and throughout the entire record is difficult to wrap your head around as it all sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, but it somehow does. They manage to keep the tempo moving so that it practically rocks, despite the dissonance and a-rhythmic qualities. But, I have always loved those who traverse the edge and this easily sounds like it could collapse into complete chaos at any moment, yet never completely does.

More of the same in “Ashtray Heart” – catchy yet crazy and somehow relatable – “she used me like an ash tray heart”. While no one might have previously thought of it in those terms, you know immediately exactly what he means. This does break down a bit more than “Hot Head”, which seems fitting considering the subject matter!

“A Carrot is as close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond” is still a little disjointed, but is a downright pretty interlude before “Run Paint Run Run” with another infectious rhythm and group vocals propelling it along. Driven by a noisy slide guitar and no percussion, “Sue Egypt” remains bouncy and memorable with its balance of cacophony and pretty embellishments that fight for supremacy.

“Brickbats” is a free-form jazz odyssey that shows off the tightness of the band, and continues to highlight Beefheart's bizarre lyrical content. The crazy interaction of the band is again prominent in “Dirty Blue Gene” which is almost impossible to follow as individual instruments, so you have no choice but to take it as a maddening whole. I love the line “she’s not bad, she’s just genetically mean”.

This is followed by “Best Batch Yet”, which is one of the less distinct numbers on the record, though maybe that might be due to the fact that it has some of the more standard rhythms here, though that is definitely subjective! A couple more short interludes are “Telephone” and “Flavor Bud Living”, which don’t really have time to gel, but are interesting, nonetheless.

There is some terrific guitar interplay and riffs in “Sheriff of Hong Kong” and the song churns along with cool energy and electric power. Much more of a spoken piece (though still accompanied by the band) is “Making Love to a Vampire With a Monkey on My Knee”, with Don’s insane wordplay.

This record is a wild mix of jazz, punk and avant noise ala the early Velvet Underground and as I love all of those elements, I totally dig this, but some might find it a little hard to take.

A friend of mine told me a story of seeing the Magic Band at the Troubadour in Los Angeles early on and while he didn’t really care for them, something made him stick around for the second show (by hiding under the stage, as I remember the story!) and after seeing them again, he was hooked and a loyal fan! I can totally understand this – they are kinda jarring, but something makes you wanna hear it again and again.

I know that Trout Mask Replica is supposed to be the ultimate Captain Beefheart record, but to me, this is one of his best.

(The good Captain is also an acclaimed artist and his painting adorns the cover of this record.)

Sly and the Family Stone – Dance to the Music

This 1967 sophomore effort by the Family Stone may not be as completely consistent as some of their later works, but this is still an extremely strong album showing their unique and eclectic mix of funk, pop, rock, psychedelia and many, many other wonderful musical styles.

The sheer exuberance of the title track alone would be enough to solidify Sly’s r’n’r legacy even if he had never recorded the many incredible tracks that came after this. There is no way to sit still or to not have a smile on your face while you listen to this masterpiece of high energy funk. Infectious and supremely fun, this was a perfect summer hit and appears here in its original album version and the hit single take, as well.

“Higher” is the template for the future smash “I Want to Take You Higher” and is gloriously gospel influenced though it is still lacking the special magic of the later tune. As a possible homage to both Frank Zappa and Santana, Sly writes his own “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real)”. Throughout the record there is an immense amalgamation of influences, which is logical considering that the band grew out of the San Francisco scene, with bands as diverse as the aforementioned Santana, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane dominating the city. Not to mention the fact that Sly had already produced hit singles for such pop bands as the Beau Brummels and the Mojo Men.

“Dance to the Medley” will be known to anyone who ever saw the Woodstock movie, as the “Music Lover” segment was featured to great effect in Sly’s spectacular sequence in that flick.

The rest of the tunes show the band’s versatility and originality in fashioning Sly’s songs into creative and danceable stories that just about everyone in the nation (and the world) could relate to. I can't say enough good about the players here, from the guitar that easily moves from funk to acid rock, to the magnificent rhythm section to the cool horn accents.There are many clever self-referencing pieces throughout the record, but it almost makes this a concept record, in a weird way.

The bonus tracks are stellar, from the “Dance to the Music” steals in “Soul Clappin’” to the sublime “We Love All” (which I had never heard before and yet is certainly one of their best tracks ever) to their very different, and amazing, almost frenetic doo-wop/scat version of Redding’s “ I Can’t Turn You Loose”.

The uninitiated should probably start with the fabulous greatest hits 2 CD set that I raved about before, but this is an excellent record, through and through.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Stooges join the R'n'R Hall of Fame

Rock Hall takes a chance on ABBA, Genesis, Stooges

CLEVELAND – ABBA is dancing its way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Genesis, Jimmy Cliff, The Hollies and The Stooges.

The list of the next class of inductees was released Tuesday by the Cleveland hall. ABBA and The Stooges made it in this time after being nominated previously but not making the cut.


Yeah, you would think that after changing the course of music forever, the Stooges would get a little respect...

But Genesis? Sheesh! Even ABBA? Is that just because of Mama Mia?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tom Waits – Heartattack and Vine

According to stories that I’ve heard, this album title came from an instance when Tom was drinking in a Hollywood Blvd. bar (I’m thinking it was the Frolic Room) when a patron started to have a heart attack and the bar tender told him to take it outside! The heartlessness kinda threw Waits for a loop but inspired him to make a great record!

This is by far Tom’s bluesiest album, opening with the swingin’, almost trashy sounding title track, which became one of my fave Waits’ tunes the moment I first heard it! This has a very prominent, noisy guitar that propels the number while Tom jives his way through. Just excellent!

This is followed by a Booker T & the MG’s styled blues, “In Shades”, which conjures up visions of beats snapping their fingers in time while diggin’ the sounds. “Saving All My Love For You” is a traditional Waits piano ballad, harkening back to his earlier records, complete with strings. Not quite as memorable as some of the previous tunes, but still Tom.

Back to the swinging blues in “Downtown”, with its groovy organ sound and terrifically simple but supremely catchy chorus. You can’t help but move while listening to this one! Another ballad is “Jersey Girl”, though this time it is guitar-based with strings make another appearance. This is practically a cross between Closing Time-era Waits and Bruce Springsteen! Hopefully that description won’t scare off anyone as it is a strong number and very cinematic – if it hasn’t already been used in a movie, it should be!

“’Til the Money Runs Out” is an upbeat, danceable shuffle with more Booker T Hammond organ. Balancing out the blues is another piano/orchestra ballad about being down & out in downtown LA on 5th Street, or as Tom would say, “On the Nickel”.

Drunken swing returns in “Mr. Siegal” with its barrelhouse piano and devilish lyrics, making it another highlight of the record and also a highlight of his Used Songs compilation. Keeping with the theme of alternating the blues with the ballads is another orchestra number, the closer, “Ruby’s Arms”.

Personally, I don’t think that the slower numbers on this record are some of his best, but the swingin’ blues can’t be beat and rate as high as anything else that he has done, making this a superb album that I waited far too long to get!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Angus Kahn at the Double Down Saloon, Las Vegas, December 11, 2009

Angus Kahn is an LA-underground “super group” of sorts, featuring singer Derek and drummer Andy from the sadly defunct, fantastic B-Movie Rats, guitarist Frank and bassist Dino from the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs and guitarist Bruce Duff, from an infinite number of bands.

This creation seems to be going for an American version of TurboNegro, minus the gay jokes. They are plenty of huge riffs, silly lyrics (“Call Me Motherfucker” with its line “that’s Mr. Motherfucker to you” and the AC/DC derivative, single-entendre “Big Balls”) and lots of great playing by these scene stalwarts.

The miniscule Double Down Saloon hosted their larger-than-life Vegas debut on Friday. Derek Christensen literally rode into town on a chopper, despite the 20 degree, wet weather, looking the part of a greasy biker, and jumped on stage to wail with one of the best rock’n’roll voices on the west coast (at least)! The rest of the cats all dress up in stylish rocker clothing, from Frank’s “Sgt. Rock” outfit to Dino’s “silent movie star gone punk” to Bruce’s glam/flash drapings (drummer Andy was practical – for a drummer – and rocked shirtless).

The group provided their own lighting (good, since the DD has practically none), including boxes on either side of the stage that light up when someone would stand on them, and also smoke and bubble effects for a cool, over-the-top show!

The songs are all solid, high-energy, played with finesse and with all-around great vocals from the entire band. The show is a blast and the guys are definitely having a kick and the only way the audience couldn’t do so as well is if they didn’t have a sense of humor at all.

This band regularly plays LA, so if you’re in that town, definitely see ‘em and otherwise, hopefully they will be trekking to the outlands. Also, check out their rockin’ debut CD, Black Leather Soul!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

oh Ronnie, what did you do?

Rocker Ronnie Wood arrested for possible assault

LONDON – Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones was released on bail Thursday after being arrested for possible assault in southern England, police and his spokesman said.

Police in Surrey said a 62-year-old man from the town of Esher was arrested Wednesday night on suspicion of assault in connection with a domestic incident on Claygate High Street, south of London.

Police said he was bailed out on Thursday and he will face further inquiries in January. They did not release any details about the incident.

"I can confirm that there was an incident last night and that Ronnie Wood was arrested," said David Rigg,

Wood's spokesman. "He has since been released on police bail."

Wood's private life has been in turmoil for more than a year since he started a relationship with Russian Ekaterina Ivanova. That led to his divorce last month by Jo Wood, his wife of 24 years, on the grounds of adultery. He and Wood have two children together.

Wood has been a guitar stalwart of the Rolling Stones, one of the world's longest-running and most popular rock bands.

In recent years he has also found some success as an artist, selling his paintings in numerous galleries.

His romantic troubles have provided ample fodder for Britain's tabloids, who frequently print photographs of the craggy, aging rocker cavorting with his young Russian girlfriend.

Ah, anything to keep the Rolling Stones name in the press, eh? And to keep their image as "bad boys"...
Hopefully, this isn't anything too serious or sordid...

Well, it's sounding worse and worse:
Rolling Stone Ronnie's a nightmare says girlfriend's granny

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The grandmother of a Russian cocktail waitress who is dating Rolling Stone guitarist Ronnie Wood has told him to leave her granddaughter alone after he was arrested on suspicion of assault.

Liudmila Ivanova, 76, scolded Wood in a video posted on Russian news site, clutching two photos of her granddaughter Ekaterina.

"That Ronnie -- what a nightmare!," she said, threatening to "get even" with him if he hurt Ekaterina.

"She is climbing her way to hell," Liudmila said.

The 62-year-old rocker was arrested in Surrey in southern England on suspected assault in a "domestic" incident, British police said on Wednesday.

Wood divorced his wife of 24 years, Jo, last month on the grounds of his admitted adultery. His relationship with Ivanova, 21, has kept British tabloids enthralled.