Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Panther Burns – Behind the Magnolia Curtain

I pulled out this record after hearing of the tragic demise of Alex Chilton. His production and guitar playing on Behind the Magnolia Curtain helped to highlight this band and push their name into national prominence among the underground hipsters.

Tav Falco had his own unique vision and visage. Looking like a demented Charlie Chaplin (down to the little mustache), he created his own brand of psychobilly (heavy on the “psycho”) mixing chaos and noise with his 50’s-styled numbers to come up with something that was new to the genre. Coming from a visual arts background, he understood the importance of image and style and he combined this with a love of beat poetry, theater, blues, cacophony and even the tango!

Relying more on interpretation rather than song-writing, this album is comprised entirely (or almost entirely – it’s hard to tell as some of the tunes are extremely obscure) of covers of songs taken from numerous sources. But they are all given the Panther Burns trashed-out, trumped-up treatment and come across as their own.

Sounding like an even more twisted take on the Cramps version of “Tear It Up”, “Come On Little Mama” shows the Burns in all of their sloppy glory. Barely holding it together rhythmically, with plenty of shrieks and wails and a mad, off-kilter quality that makes you feel unbalanced just listening to it! Truly wild and it sets the tone for the rest of the record.

The much-covered “She’s The One That’s Got It” follows and churns away in a rockin’ fashion and almost falls apart during the solo but they catch themselves and soldier on. I’d go crazy trying to play with these cats but it’s a transcendent listening experience! “Hey High School Baby” starts as almost a crooning tune but builds and ebbs with the band’s unique dynamics and again they pull themselves out of a nose dive just in time to keep everything together.

A very different type of tune is the old romantic ballad “Brazil”, though it is almost buried under layers of distortion and Falco’s a-rhythmic vocals add a surreal dimension to it (Terry Gilliam should have used this version in his movie!). They move into a (comparatively) traditional blues number with “You’re Undecided”, though the band seems to wonder at times where Tav is going and whether they are continuing the song or not! Hiccupping through the rockabilly of “Ooee Baby”, the group is downright tight here!

It’s tango time with their take on “St. Louis Blues”, which adds yet another level to this bizarre amalgamation of influences! The North Mississippi Fife and Drums Corps starts off the instrumental “Snake Drive” with a cool, bouncy groove and maintaining a coherence behind the guitar freak-outs. Tav returns on vocals for “Blind Man”, which sounds like the Drums Corps are still backing them up and keeping them in time, giving it a marching feel.

Even country music gets mangled with “Where the Rio De Rossa Flows”, though it’s given a rockabilly makeover. The band conjured up a funky r’n’b groove for “Snatch it Back” and gives it a lively interpretation. Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues” travels through the swamp lands and is drenched in fuzz and blues licks and among Tav’s screams he incorporates the beginning of Ginsberg’s “Howl”. Another very Cramps-y tune is the wacked-out rockabilly of “Moving On Down the Line” in which it sounds like the Drums Corps are valiantly trying to keep everyone together and not completely succeeding, but still giving it a fun mayhem.
If you like you music slick and sweet, this is definitely not for you! But if you love swampy, noisy madness, find this one – it is my favorite by these reprobates!

Monday, March 29, 2010

c'mon, seriously, is there a person on the planet who didn't know this?

Ricky Martin announces online he is gay
Boy, his publicist sure earned his money by making this a "news story"!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced

The JHE’s first record is another of the new expanded CD/DVD sets that includes their other two official studio albums as well as the new Valleys of Neptune album. This is arguably one of the better deals out of the set as it includes all of the songs from the British as well as American releases to give a total of 17 songs! When the fabulous DVD is included in the deal, you just can’t pass this up (even if, like me, you already had the CD release of this album).

This record shows all the moods and mastery and majesty of Hendrix and the Experience – from the hard-edged acid rock of “Purple Haze”, “Manic Depression”, “Foxey Lady” and “Fire” to the pure psycedelia of "Are You Experienced?", “Love or Confusion”, “I Don’t Live Today” and “3rd Stone from the Sun” to the blues of “Hey Joe” and “Red House”, to his quiter moments like "The Wind Cries Mary". Some of his lesser known tunes appear as well, such as the sweet ballad “May This Be Love”, “Remember”, "Stone Free", "Highway Chile" and the fantastically under-rated “51st Anniversary”.

Jimi’s playing is sweet, raucous, mind-blowing and incredibly unique and ground-breaking. I’ve said it a million times, but the electric guitar changed forever after this album and every electric guitarist in the world owes a debt to this genius.

Engineer Eddie Kramer deserves many accolades for his work on this, as well, from initially being able to constrain and capture the truly wild sounds emanating from Jimi’s amp to his re-mastering of the original tapes for these CDs. This was a ground-breaking work of engineering and production as well as playing.

Another absolutely essential piece of r’n’r history in a terrific package complete with full color booklet, tons of new photos and the superb DVD.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

aw man...

Influential guitarist, singer Alex Chilton dies in New Orleans
We are losing far too many, far too young...
This is another sad day for music...
Besides his excellent work in the Box Tops and Big Star, he will always be remembered for his cool production work for the Cramps and the Panther Burns.

And this is wacky:
Big Star Singer Alex Chilton: Memorialized in House of Representitives Floor Speech?
(Village Voice)
More from Crooks and Liars:
C&L's Late Nite Music Club - Alex Chilton 1950-2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold as Love

Without a doubt, this is my favorite Jimi Hendrix album, despite the many highlights from all of his other releases. This combines some of his best playing and songwriting in a consistent package. I have always loved the cover art, as well – a wonderful addition to the psychedelia held within!

This CD is another of the new remastered packages, with excellent sound, great booklet and ultra-cool DVD of the making of the album. I got this for under $10, so it is an amazing value for some of the best music you will ever hear in your lifetime!

This opens with a patented Jimi sound experiment in “EXP” as he replicates a UFO taking off, which then moves into the social commentary of “Up From the Skies”. This is a tale of aliens coming back to see what we’ve done with our species as we have “evolved” and not being highly impressed at the results. Here he shows how he can use wah-wah pedal as a rhythm tool and not simply as an addition to his solos.

“Spanish Castle Magic”, named for a club in his home town of Seattle, is a pounding explosion of chords that becomes a phenomenal tune, showing his strength as a composer. Of course, the soloing is beyond comparison here, also. His story-telling is highlighted on “Wait Until Tomorrow”, a tale of a jilted lover who becomes a victim of his lover’s father. Truly clever arrangements here and fine interaction between Jimi and Mitch.

More uncompromised energy in “Ain’t No Telling”, with cool changes from heavy rhythm to guitar/bass licks and more fine lyrics. Of course, the perfect piece from this record is the sublime “Little Wing”. Unbelievable melodic playing from Jimi – he truly revolutionalized the way that every guitarist played after he burst onto the scene – and one of the most beautiful songs of all time. This could not be better.

The anthem for long hairs everywhere became “If 6 was 9”, with its call to let your “freak flag fly” and not be brought down by the rudeness of the squares. Plenty of mind-blowing sounds phase back and forth through the speakers here, just for those who were stoned with head phones on! Truly spooky when he utters the unforgettable line “I’m the one who has to die when it’s time for me to die”!

The backwards guitar freak-outs continue in “You Got Me Floating”, another wild piece of high-energy psychedelia. Jimi weaves some more modern-age fables in “Castles Made of Sand” with three separate, clear-cut stories with the moral being that things can change from good to bad (or vice versa) in a moment, so we just have to live our lives. He truly mastered the reverse playing techniques on this album, and applies them again in this tune.

Mitch Mitchell starts off Noel Redding’s contribution to this record, “She’s So Fine”, with cool, repeating rolls and Hendrix provides some superb guitar lines to this pop number. More beauty is evident on “One Rainy Wish” – truly lovely guitar lines interweaving with the vocal melody before taking off into a hard rock riffer and then returning to the softer side. Back to the rock for “Little Miss Lover”, a simple (for him!) rhythmic r’n’r ode to the fairer sex.

The title track finishes this one with an epic tale of love and conquest with an amazing arrangement of impeccable guitar lines which he throws off seemingly effortlessly and a nice balance of soft to loud. It closes with the lead guitar taking off and blasting into the stratosphere. Magical!

Absolutely one of my top 5 albums of all time and I cannot imagine it ever being knocked off of that list! Essential to anyone who loves r’n’r and the electric guitar.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland

I was astonished to notice how little I have written about the biggest influence on my musical life and the greatest electric guitarist in history, but I suppose I was waiting until I acquired the remastered (from the original tapes) CD reissues of his fabulous albums. Well, I have finally done so and couldn’t be happier!

First off, the packaging is spectacular for all of these reissues, with full color, informative booklets, original cover artwork and best of all, bonus DVDs on the making of the albums with original engineer, Eddie Kramer. Kramer still speaks in awe and reverence to Jimi and his immense genius. Eddie was an integral part of the sound of the records and it is a pleasure to see him talk about the sessions. My only complaint is that these are far too short at about 15 minutes or so each. I could hear about these sessions for hours!

Sci-fi sonic washes start this record and you know you are in for some new form of psychedelia from the master of this genre. “…And the Gods Made Love” melds into “Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland)”, one of Jimi’s sweeter and more delicate vocal performances. He was no stranger to ballads in the past, but this one is quite light and damned pretty.

From here we move to the power blast of “Crosstown Traffic”, which, according to the accompanying DVD was almost an excerpt from Axis Bold As Love and one of the few songs that was really produced by Chas Chandler. This is a high-energy rocker, but still in the 3 minute-ish pop single mode. It also, oddly, includes a kazoo solo!

A loose jam became one of the most well-known songs from the album when Jimi pulled Steve Winwood and Jack Casady from a local club/hangout and got them to play on “Voodoo Chile”. The story goes that they really thought they were purely jamming and it wasn’t until Hendrix started the song several times that they realized that the tapes were rolling! This is a magnificent piece, though, with wonderful interaction between Jimi and Steve. Kramer says that Jimi wanted to start a band with Winwood, but they never had the chance – that could have really been something!

Noel Redding gets his composition, “Little Miss Strange” included on this record and it is a nice piece of pop in the “She’s So Fine” (from Axis) vein, but nothing extraordinary. Unfortunately, the same is true of “Long Hot Summer Night” – just not one of Jimi’s better numbers. Not bad, of course, but not special. I do dig their version of Earl King’s early rocker “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” – Hendrix always put a nice twist on these 50’s numbers.

“Gypsy Eyes” is a good, up-tempo riff-rocker, which shows off the strong interaction between Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell. The two of them would often record tracks without Noel, and I could see how this would work as they definitely play off of each other and work together brilliantly. More experimentation is evident in “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” with its harpsichord backing mixed with Jimi’s wah-wah playing and choruses of voices and effects. One of his more under-rated songs.

Another cool jam is “Rainy Day, Dream Away”, a song about getting stoned and digging the rain. This one is aided and abetted by Freddie Smith on sax (lots of cool interplay with Jimi) and Mike Finnigan on organ (ditto), as well as Larry Faucette on congas and Buddy Miles (later of the Band of Gypsys) on drums. While obviously starting its life as a loose jam, there is real structure here and it turns into a great tune.

“1983…(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” is another Hendrix epic sci-fi exploration, with plenty of trippy effects and lyrics detailing the re-birth of mankind as sea creatures. This becomes a lengthy studio aural experience that segues into the instrumental “Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently, Gently Away” with more of the same psychedelic effects.

“Still Raining, Still Dreaming” is, naturally, part 2 of “Rainy Day…” with the same personnel. Jimi’s wah-wahed guitar screams out of the speakers for this one and it is an excellent bit of playing all around. More fantastic guitar starts off “House Burning Down”, another terrific tune, this time with a bit of social commentary regarding the inner city riots of the era. He coached this in his own lyrical way, making it not overly obvious and also not overly preachy.

The double album set ended on a double dose of extreme high notes - first with his classic take on Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, which I dare say many more people know from this version than Dylan’s, and second, the incredible reprise “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”. From the muted “chunka-chunka” guitar into to the fantastic riff to the mind-boggling solo-ing, this is a true masterpiece. More structured than the “original” “Voodoo Chile”, this is the Experience at its finest, with everyone at the top of their game on one of the best blues-rock songs of all time! Just perfect!

This record meanders more than the previous two JME releases, but it is a true vision of what Jimi wanted to achieve in the studio. He loved the aural hallucinations that he could create and the tricks that he could play on your mind and he goes all out here. Not a finely organized set of tunes, but a concept album, which should be taken as such. Truly sad that he never got the chance to release another true studio album. He was taken far too soon.

about time!

The Stooges gain entry into Rock Hall — finally
Considering some of the drek that has been inducted, it's about time that one of the most influencial r'n'r bands of all time gets in!
Wow - they are inducted along with Genesis and ABBA! Yeah, that's rock'n'roll! Yeesh!

Damned - Damned Damned Damned

The Damned became the first British punk band to release any vinyl when their single “New Rose”/”Help” (the Beatles song at hyper-speed) hit the streets in late 1976. Of course, the Ramones and other NYC bands had already produced several slabs of vinyl by this time, but the fledgling British scene was a bit behind the Americans. The Damned also managed to have the first British punk full length with this album. Considering that this was done in 1977 and they are still playing shows 33 years later, they have shown a longevity that is unequaled, as far as I know.

This record is one of my faves of the British first wave of punk. Obviously influenced by the Detroit proto-punk bands (even doing the Stooges “1970”, re-titled as “I Feel Alright”) as well as the Ramones and horror movies, these cats had a sound and practically a virtuosity compared with some of the other punk acts. Rat Scabies was a phenomenal drummer in a Keith Moon style and Brian James tossed off manic power-riffs with plenty of flash and panache. Captain Sensible held down the bass fort solidly (he later surprised me by becoming a terrific lead guitarist for the group – I didn’t know he had it in him!) and singer Dave Vanian had style to spare. A great congregation of players and characters.

While I’m sure I’ve heard the original singles at some point, I don’t own them so I can’t compare them to the album versions, though I’m pretty certain that they are different. But the full length kicks off with a viciously maniacal “Neat Neat Neat”, showing the band at their best – fast, loud and crazed, but with real lyrics and good sense of dynamics and just damned good!

They’re a bit moodier on the minor-key homage to their audience in “Fan Club”, a song with truly clever chord changes and riffs. Blasting through the good, but not super memorable, “I Fall”, then their classic “Born to Kill”, that has even more nasty energy before continuing in this violent vein with “Stab Your Back”, a super short explosion of power and speed.

Slowing it down for the gloomy, pre-goth sounds of “Feel the Pain” (yes, James seems to have been obsessed with violence), they retain their strength and give another great performance, not dissimilar to the Dead Boys’ “Not Anymore”. Up next is their pounding second single, “New Rose”, a much-covered masterpiece of the punk era. The speed doesn’t let up for the misogynist paean “Fish” or the wild “See Her Tonight”, but the guys manage to maintain melodies and interesting arrangements, even if they flash by almost before you can process them. Reducing the speed minimally for “1 of the 2”, it remains maddenly crazed with super-sonic riffs and wild drums. All these characteristics continue for “So Messed Up”, which increases its pace to “blinding” and includes a clever false ending.

The album closes with their Stooges tribute, though I don’t know whether the name change was in order to avoid paying royalties or simply because they didn’t want to back-date the album. Nonetheless, it is a monstrous verson and a hip reference point for those of us who loved the roots of this “new” punk rock. The wonderfully chaotic collapse of an ending is a perfect closing for the record, as well!

An absolutely essential punk record that ranks right up there with the best of the time. I’m told that they are still wild and fun in concert, as well!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

who needs a reason?

Tommy Hilfiger: I Hit Axl Rose 'Before He Could Hit Me'
(Huffington Post)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Magic Carpet Ride – John Kay & John Einarson

After reading a couple of very short biographies, John Kay’s book seems far more detailed, though still not daunting at all, at just over 350 pages.

Starting with his childhood in East Prussia, John has a dramatic tale to tell of escaping from the Communist controlled East to West Germany, literally under a hail of bullets. This story is also recounted in his harrowing song, “Renegade”. Eventually, his mother and step-father (his biological father died in the war before he was born and Kay seems to idolize him) emigrated to Toronto, Canada, where he grows into a r’n’r obsessed teen.

Funnily, his descriptions of his high school days in the late 50’s/early 60’s exactly mirror mine from the late 60’s/early 70’s. He rebels against the clean-cuts jocks, squares and cheerleaders who are the majority and who are trying painfully to fit in. John was a misfit in many ways – he was just learning English, he was legally blind (as I am without corrective lens) and his music was his life, instead of sports or other, more respectable, passions.

Of course, music gave him a place to fit in and find new friends. He played folk music by himself and sat in with band projects as he moved from Toronto to Buffalo to LA and back to Toronto where he joined The Sparrow(s), the nucleus for Steppenwolf. After several near-misses with record contracts, the band splintered and was re-born with a couple of new members as Steppenwolf.

Kay talks of the recordings, the highs and the lows, the personnel changes, the fights, the marriage troubles and everything else that goes into the life of a r’n’r star. It sounds like it was a terrifically exciting time, but, as always, stressful to try to keep record companies, families, audiences and band members happy all at the same time.

Of course, it eventually fell apart, people went on their own solo careers, there were reunions and unlawful uses of the Steppenwolf name and all the usual accusations and recriminations. A couple of ex-members started using the name in the 80’s, which pissed off Kay and he went out with his own completely new congregation and played club dates until he drove the usurpers out of business. Ironically, after viciously railing against his ex-members using the band name, he credits his next level of success due to a tour with a group calling itself the Guess Who, which consisted only of the bassist from the actual band!

Defying all of the odds, Kay is still a reasonably successful touring artist and continues to record, as well. He is happily married to the woman he met before his Steppenwolf success and has a good home and family. While he may no longer be a “bad boy” of rock, he has maintained a career through 6 decades (!) and remains rightfully proud of his achievements. As he said in “Tighten Up Your Wig”, “may he play forever more”.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Rod Stewart and the Faces - Live Coast to Coast

In the 70’s, Rod & the Faces were among my favorite bands and Ron Wood had one of the best raunchy guitar tones around – in fact in my first ever recording session, the engineer asked what I wanted my guitar to sound like and I said Ron Wood, but we failed miserably! In any case, after “Stay With Me” blasted out of the radio, I was hooked on their brand of lecherous, drunken, r’n’r revelry.

The group was notorious for their inebriated excess on stage (where they toured with an actual full bar, complete with bartender, sharing the spotlight with them) and off and for their exuberant live shows. But for someone who had grown up in the age of virtuosos and expecting every band to be note-perfect in front of their audiences, I was sometimes turned off when songs were not re-created faithfully (back in the 70;s), and the Faces were never ones to do that! Comparisons to the Stones were more than fair due to their musical styles as well as their tendency to simply dissolve at the end of a tune instead of ending all at the same time!

These days, I love this crazy edge that they teetered on, but still, this is not one of their best releases and I have seen shows (via video) that I think were, overall, better than this one. Nonetheless, this is a fun documentation of these cats, even though it was towards the end of their career (with Japanese bassist Rabbit sitting in place of Ronnie Lane).

A majority of this release is made up of covers, from their Stones-y take on “It’s All Over Now” to the Eddie Cochran cover “Cut Across Shorty” to the fine blues of “I Wish It Would Rain” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” (a couple of the highlights) to their great versions of Hendrix’s “Angel” and Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. “Every Picture Tells a Story” is (extremely) abbreviated in a jammy-medley with “Too Bad”, “Stay With Me” is a sloppy drunk-fest and the high-energy “Borstal Boys” rocks out until it meanders for a while with Wood noodling on his slide guitar, interspersing “Amazing Grace” before concluding the song.

I don’t want to be too hard on this record, as it is cool fun – I just think it probably worked a lot better face-to-face (so to speak!) instead of transferred to vinyl. Still, it is a blast a fine rock’n’roll!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Early Steppenwolf

This album was recorded at a 1967 show without the band’s knowledge while playing as The Sparrow. Not exactly Steppenwolf, but it had Kay, drummer Jerry Edmonton, keyboardist McJohn, songwriter/guitarist Mars Bonfire (then Dennis Edmonton) and eventual Steppenwolf bassist Nick St. Nicholas. So, not much of a stretch to call it “early Steppenwolf”.

Obviously not a documentation of a full set by the band, but it opens with what would become a band staple, “Power Play”, which never went through many changes, other than a later addition of a rockin’ ending section. This is followed by a fairly traditional (and cool) take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Baby”. It shows some good interaction within the group due to playing several sets a night on a regular basis and Bonfire plays some great and creative lead guitar throughout.

Another tune that was not resurrected is John Lee Hooker’s “Goin’ Upstairs”, a blues growler with a terrifically wild fuzz guitar solo, fine harp playing and a Yardbirds/”Psychotic Reaction” styled rave up ending. “Corina, Corina” is very close to the version on the official Live album, possibly because they needed to round out that record and looked to this as filler that, according to Kay, was recorded in the studio with applause added to it. The guys sound like they are on very good “diet pills” during “Tighten Up Your Wig” (also added to the Live album) as it is probably twice as fast as the subsequent take on it, but it is still very hip.

As this show took place in the Bay Area in 1967, where the Sparrow were stationed for a while checking out the scene, the influences of the experimentalism in the San Francisco scene are apparent. This is highlighted in the very psychedelic (and somewhat rambling) intro to “The Pusher”, where the band simply makes noise (they were into avant garde composers at the time, as well) for about 15 minutes before kicking into the tune. Not bad – I like noise more than most people, I think – but certainly not the punchy power-house that the Wolf became. The actual song itself, though, is not wildly different, other than Bonfire’s leads and the missing distinctive guitar nose-dive at the end of the chorus.

I bought this vinyl while Steppenwolf were still in action and I loved it right away. Though it is not as solid as the hit albums, it is fun to see where their ideas were coming from and the different interpretations. Again, not for the casual listener, but excellent for fans!

Blind Willie Johnson - Dark Was the Night

Blind Willie Johnson was a gospel-inspired blues singer and slide player from the 20’s whose work has been covered by everyone from Peter, Paul & Mary to Led Zeppelin along with many, many more! His slide work has been eulogized by no less than slide masters Ry Cooder and Eric Clapton as some of the best playing ever. His agonizing voice is certainly not pretty in any conceivable way, but is highly emotional and filled with the spirit of the tunes.

I am not overly familiar with his output, but this collection has some of his best known numbers, from “Dark is the Night” to “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”. This is not for the faint of heart or for those looking for slick, city-fied blues, but for those who dig rough & raw spirituals, done in a bluesy style with plenty of great slide playing, this is a fine recording.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Steppenwolf - For Ladies Only

It might seem odd that this is one of my favorite Steppenwolf records, but I do think that this concept album, based on feminism and romance (Kay was very close to his mother and dedicated to his wife, who he met well before he became famous), is one of their most consistent. This was their current record when I was in high school, so I probably bought it as it came out, rather than later researching older releases.

The opening title track is a multi-part tune, but keeps the listener’s attention through the changes and continues to have interesting sections and a fine melody throughout. I really think that this matches any of their other material. “I’m Asking” (co-written by drummer Jerry Edmunton, who I’m guessing also sang it, as John certainly did not) is a strong, pop song, fairly reminiscent of the better Top Forty songs of the day, though this did not chart at all. Kay’s “Shackles and Chains” is also a bit poppier than normal for the group, with touches of both blues and country (and a funky keyboard solo – Goldy McJohn steps out a lot more than before on this album), making a fine offering.

Mars Bonfire returns as a songwriter on several songs on this release, including the nice ballad “Tenderness” and co-writing the up-beat rocker “The Night Time’s For You”. One of my faves from this record, though, is drummer Edmonton’s “Jaded Strumpet”, a homage to a working lady and a fabulous r’n’r number with cool slide guitar work and sung by Jerry. “Sparkle Eyes” is a mid-tempo rock/pop number composed by Kay and new bassist George Biondo with a number of variations throughout and then McJohn and new guitarist Kent Henry put together a cool, moody, jazzy instrumental “Black Pit”.

One of the highlights is certainly Bonfire’s “Ride With Me”, the single which only reached #52 despite being an energetic slice of biker swagger that is as good as just about any of their other singles. Mars could definitely write a great tune when he put his mind to it!

Instead of ending on a high note, they finish with a fairly sappy ballad by Biondo called “In Hopes of a Garden” and no, it is no better than that title. At least it’s short!

This was their last album before disbanding for the first time. There were several reunions of some sort and Kay still has the Steppenwolf name, but they were never to regain their former glory. Still, they can rest assured that they lef ton a high note!

(I'm currently reading the John Kay autobiography - more on that when I finish - and funnily enough, he thinks that 7 was their last great album - and he thinks it is one of their best - and he dimisses this one almost completely. Personally, I think this one is much more memorable, but that just goes to show that the artist can't predict the audience's reaction. He also thinks that Goldy wasn't pulling his weight here and I think that he is stepping out more than ever on this record - I believe that had to do with personal issues of the time rather than reality.)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Steppenwolf Live

This live effort was recorded in 1969 during shows promoting their album, Monster, hence the record has many songs from that outing. This means that it is very politically oriented, which was logical as they were playing anti-war gigs and ones supporting legalization of marijuana. Luckily, this was some of their best material, as well.

As befitting a live album, the songs are rougher and rawer than the studio versions but otherwise, not a lot of changes or even extensive jamming, overall. The previously unreleased material on here includes their take on the old blues number “Corina, Corina”, which is my favorite version, “Twisted”, a John Kay blues tune stolen from the same place as “Tighten Up Your Wig” (with a bizarre effect on the lead guitar – possibly a talk box - and a fine harmonica solo by Kay) and the first release of their hit “Hey Lawdy Mama” (which I never really noticed was the studio recording – I thought that they were simply being true to the original! Of course, the fact that it sounds as if it is segueing into “Magic Carpet Ride” helped to throw me off).

One of the exceptions to the “jamming” that I mentioned is the end of “From Here to There Eventually”, which is given a powerful guitar punch in an extended ending. The afore-mentioned “Magic Carpet Ride” has a different lead break (it would have been very difficult to re-create the studio solo in a live setting) and a bit of an addition at the end, as well. “The Pusher” remains intense as ever, though, again, the guitars have changed a bit from the effects used in the studio. The finale is, of course, “Born To Be Wild”, which is appropriately raucous and includes some variations and a rave up to finish it off.

This record (along with their hits collection, Gold) was a big part of my teen years and still holds a place near & dear to my heart. A great band that must have been a blast to see live.