Monday, September 27, 2010

The Pixes – The Joint at the Hard Rock, Las Vegas 9-25-10

While I have never been a Pixies fan, Melanie has been for decades, and so was very excited to see the band come to Vegas, especially since they cancelled the last time they were supposed to play here. She hadn’t seen them since the late 80’s/early 90’s, when they played at the acoustically abysmal Hollywood Palladium, so she was looking forward to actually hearing the band this time!

At the Joint the opening act was an unnamed techno duo who bored the majority of the audience (everywhere I looked there were yawns a-plenty) while hunched over their drum machines and tape loops. All there was to the “music” was a beat, some minimalist chords and ambient noise – I’m sure this goes over well at a rave, but hardly as an opening act for a rock show. Practically non-existent music and no visuals at all = painfully dull. Everyone was supremely relieved when they finally finished their set.

The Pixies are not a highly visual band either (to say the least – dowdy dressers who do not move at all), but they had a terrific multi-media presentation on the screen behind them while they mostly remained in the dark. The sound was great for the band, as well, and they did not disappoint their many rabid fans. They played their Doolittle album and a number of extra cuts, as well, including most, if not all, of the tunes that Melanie was hoping for!

I’m always wary of bands on their reunion tours, but the Pixies are solid, they have a good show, and by all accounts are better than ever!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are You Experienced? The Inside Story of the Jimi Hendrix Experience by Noel Redding and Carol Appleby

Noel Redding joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience after a few years of dues-paying with bands that never did very much, so being a young, inexperienced (so to speak!) musician, he was not really ready to cope with the strangeness of the incredible rise to super-stardom. Redding was originally a guitarist and he was also never happy with being relegated to bass, though he was quite good on the instrument, and he was also frustrated with the lack of exposure for his own songs (only two were ever released in the Experience). These and other concerns made him decide to leave the biggest rock band of the time after a couple of years in order to get back to his roots and try his hand at his own music again.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until he left that he realized what many 60’s musicians did – that the managers and lawyers shafted him in his contracts. For the rest of his life he was involved in legal battles with the Hendrix estate, the managers, record companies and whoever else he could find, in an attempt to recoup the money that truly was due to him.

He became a sad and bitter man, completely embroiled in legal actions that drained what little money he did have and contributed to his alcohol abuse (he says he refrained from drugs within a couple of years of leaving the Experience) which in turn contributed to his eventual death in 2003. He did attempt to make music, but never found the right band members and nothing clicked long enough to even give it a serious go. Apparently, he was too proud to try to find a “real” job, so he lived in near poverty while working on lawsuits and his occasional forays into music.

Carol Appleby was his companion through the lean years (17 of them!) and helped him to write this book, only to pass away herself just as it was being published. This must have been a truly crushing blow to Redding, who Appleby stayed with despite his many problems and moodiness. Luckily for Noel, he did find another love and apparently spent his last years in relative sanity, with some minor luck in music, though he continued with his lawsuits until the day he died.

This is certainly not a fun, fan book. More than half of the book is taken up by his legal battles, which is not all that surprising considering he spent decades fighting these fights while he only spent between 2 and 3 years in the Experience. Even his other bands and famous friends are only given footnotes to the lawsuits. A good lesson for aspiring musicians, but definitely not a book that will get you excited about music.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Otis Rush – Live and In Concert From San Francisco

Otis Rush is another of the early Chicago blues masters whose “I Can’t Quit You Baby” (written by Willie Dixon) was famously covered by Led Zeppelin and his own composition “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” was one of the highlights of Eric Clapton’s work with the Bluesbreakers.

This 2006 CD of a 1999 live show includes those two monsters, of course, as well as a selection of others, both original and covers, including a jumpin’ version of “Got My Mojo Working” which is guaranteed to get you movin’!

Unlike many later work by some of the original bluesmen, this shows that Rush was still a giant and an incredible player and his band worked with taste and style to enhance the songs, not detract from them. Yes, on occasion, the horn section is a little overpowering – just a little – but it still works within the framework. This does give the songs a bit more of a B.B.King feel to them than they originally had, but the guitar is still front and center - and excellent!

I’ve been captivated by Rush since I first discovered him (which, I’m embarrassed to say, was only a few years ago) and this live set is smokin’ and shows that he was still deserving of all of his accolades. I see from Wikipedia that he has tragically since suffered a stroke that has kept him from playing. Hopefully, he will recover soon as he is still young enough to do more fine work. Get this for some superbly rockin’ blues guitar!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

40 years ago we lost the greatest electric guitarist ever

And while he has had countless imitators, no one has come close to his innovativeness and uniqueness.

A truly sad day for rock'n'roll. Who knows what he might have accomplished.... He is still terribly missed...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

ya gotta learn to live with criticism if you're gonna be a musician

Wis. police: Street musician hit man with guitar

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin police say a street musician apparently upset by criticism of his music bashed a man over the head with his guitar, slammed another person into a wall and wrestled with an officer before being arrested.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain tells The Capital Times that 31-year-old Brandin Hochstrasser, known as "Bongo Jesus," was performing Thursday when a 54-year-old man knocked his music. DeSpain says the two argued and police were called when Hochstrasser began hitting his critic with his guitar.

DeSpain says Hochstrasser then charged the man, knocking him down. An officer used a stun gun to subdue and arrest Hochstrasser.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Goin' Back to Memphis - A Century of Blues, Rock'n'Roll and Glorious Soul - James Dickerson

This book gives a short (just over 250 pages) history of the music scene in the city of Memphis and I learned just how much I did not know about this town.

Dickerson starts at the beginning of the century (the last one) with W.C. Handy and this discovery and popularization of the blues. This place can truly lay claim to the home of the blues! From here we move on to the other early blues artists, to Lil Hardin, who helped start her husband, Louis Armstrong's career, to Memphis Slim, Memphis Minnie onto Sonny Boy Williamson, BB King and many more.

Of course, Sam Phillips and Sun Studios revolutionized the 50's, from their recordings of blues greats like Howlin' Wolf through the rockabilly revolution of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others. Of course, Dickerson can't go into great detail here, but he tells some cool stories that at least I had never heard before.

In the 60's, the sounds moves more to soul, with the Stax entourage and the incredible work of people like Booker T & the MGs, Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and white boys like the Gentrys and the Box Tops. When the 70's rolled around, Al Green and Issac Hayes ruled the roost locally and giants like Albert King recorded some of his most influential music here.

After that, the local scene started a downward spiral from which it never recovered. Of course, bands and solo artists still came to the town to record, but local talent was being ignored (as it was throughout the country) and in-fighting and financial troubles took out most of the industry.

Dickerson intertwines the political and cultural aspects of the times with the music that was happening to give as complete a story as he can in the space allotted. There has been as much sex, drugs, corruption and violence in the city's history as there has been music, making it a wild and woolly town. This is the place to go for an overview of the country's musical heart and soul!

The Best of ? and the Mysterians Cameo Parkway 1966-1967

Another exciting recent find is this Question Mark greatest hits CD. Of course, I've had their music on vinyl forever, but this is a great comp and nice to have everything in one clean, compact (so to speak) place.

This opens up with their garage blues "I Need Somebody". This has all of the elements that made their later hits, but for some reason it didn't click with a big audience. Maybe it was the fact that the band didn't take it very seriously - they throw "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in the middle! - but it's still great. They try their hand at the blues with "Stormy Monday" and are fine, but are certainly not that soulful.

There's a Tex-Mex feel to "You're Telling Me Lies", with its very evident Sir Douglas Quartet influences. "Ten O'Clock" is a cool, upbeat garage rocker that is followed by a boogie-woogie blues number, "Set Aside", which showcases Frank Rodriguez on piano, instead of his traditional keyboard (according to the liner notes, the organ is a Thomas, not a Farfisa, when he does play it). This sounds like it was simply a jam, but its good stuff.

Back to the organ dominated garage with "Up Side", with a rave-up ending, and then the terrific ""8" Teen", a guitar-riff-rocker which easily sounds like something the Sonics might have done! They must have been listening to a lot of Yardbirds at this time - or at least the Count V - cuz here's another rave-up ending! Back to Tex-Mex stylings with "Don't Tease Me", though the pulsating bass line is almost identical to "96 Tears", which makes it groove along nicely. I had never really thought before how much these cats took from Sir Douglas, but "Don't Break My Heart" is again in their mold.

"Why Me" is downright poppy but is still driven by a moving bass, which continues in the r'n'b-ish "Midnight Hour" - their own number, not the Wilson Pickett tune. Finally, their smash "96 Tears"! It's pretty much impossible for anyone to not have heard this classic - the quasiessential keyboard garage song - but I love the fact that the guys were juvenile enough to initially want to call this "69 Tears", but thought the better of if for radio programming.

From here, they move into heavier territory with the high-energy, evil-sounding rocker "Girl (You Captivate Me)", in which Question Mark clearly rhymes "girl, you masterbate me", disregarding their earlier concerns and ensuring that this song will never get played on any radio station ever. Still, truly fantastic!

"Can't Get Enough of You" is a pure "96 Tears" steal, but still a good tune. The boys create another hypnotic groove for "Got To", which really draws you in with its neat, syncopated organ rhythms. Neat stuff. Pure pop for garage people is the best label for "I'll Be Back" - this would have been wimpy in any other hands and walks a fine line here, but it works. Back to r'n'b with the ubiquitous "Shout" before more keyboard riffs on "Hanging on a String", which isn't an original but they still make it sound like their hit!

They power through a high-energy "Smokes" before moving into "It's Not Easy", an r'n'b feel that sounds like a mix between Booker T & the MGs and the Monks - at least to my demented ears! "Don't Hold it Against Me" is another pop cover and "Just Like a Rose" sounds like someone tried to make a r'n'b/pop number out of "Chopsticks"! The guys do a two chord work-out jam ("Do You Feel It") before the superb bubblegum pop of "Do Something to Me", which is almost identical to the Tommy James hit version that came a year later - certainly can't be a coincidence! "Love Me Baby" is another cool pop tune, with a little different feel than most of their tracks. This set ends with stereo versions of "Midnight Hour" and "96 Tears", which are also different takes.

If you ever wondered just how amazing it would be if Detroit Mexicans played snotty, organ dominated garage rock, then this is your answer! Get It!

Joe Perry - Have Guitar, Will Travel

Have Guitar, Will Travel is Joe Perry's fifth solo album, but I can't imagine what the hell he was thinking in this 2009 release. I know that this man is a fantastic rocker and an excellent hard rock guitarist, but nothing on this record would give you any indication of that. The sound is atrocious, Perry drenches songs in synthesizer, programming and sound effects and overall the guitars are buried under the rubble. The writing is not there and there is really not much to redeem anything that is happening here. Even a take on the oft-covered Earl Vince and the Valiants' "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight" (actually original Fleetwood Mac under a pseudonym) sounds flat and wimpy.

Joe finally gets it together for the last two numbers, "Scare the Cat" and "Freedom", where the group actually rocks and the guitars are up front where they should be, but by then, it is too little, too late. I'm sure lots of fans never even get to the end of the record since the rest is so mediocre.

Perry is a talented guitarist who is capable of great rock'n'roll and amazing heavy guitar licks, but you won't find them here. It's a shame since he can do so much better than this.

PS - Interesting trivia - Boston music legend Willie "Loco" Alexander plays piano on this record!

Aerosmith - Honkin' on Bobo

This 2004 release - the band's 14th studio album - was a return to their rockin' blues roots (the title is a reference to the harmonica that Tyler uses through much of the record) and is one of their finest efforts ever - certainly since the 70's! They even brought back Jack Douglas, the master of 70's hard rock production, who worked on their classic albums.

The band really picks some of the best of the best of the blues and rocks them up in 70's Aerosmith style. Opening with Steven's circus introduction, they blast into a raw, raucous and heavy take of Bo Diddley's "Road Runner", making this much-covered tune their own. I'm not familiar with Smiley Lewis' "Shame, Shame, Shame", but here it is a boogie-woogie rocker, similar to their version of "Big Ten Inch Record". Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind" is more traditional than many people's version and is a terrific blues with some cool harp.

Another song covered by most of the civilized world is "Baby, Please Don't Go", but they still imbue it with high energy and great guitar interaction reminiscent of their work on things like "Train Kept a-Rollin'" - this could be my new fave version of this amazing song. A surprise is a re-working of Aretha Franklin's "Never Loved a Man" (gender changed to "girl" for Steven). This keeps the soulfullness of the original but with more of a blues edge and the heavy rhythm section (Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton are in top form) make it great.

The group slows things down for a moody, gospel-blues approach on the blues with "Back Back Train", a Mississippi Fred MacDowell song. Excellent vocal work from Tracy Bonham, whose gospel stylings are magnificent and spine-tingling and add a new dimension to the sound. The boys add one of their own here, "The Grind", which fits right in as a super heavy, guitar dominated blues stomper.

Drenched in feedback and adding new riffs, wah-wah, slide and who knows what else, Muddy Waters' "I'm Ready" is given an entirely new treatment, making it even more menacing than the original. I'm a big fan of Little Walter, but am not familiar with "Temperature", which these cats do as a swinging, grinding, harp and piano driven number. Peter Green, of the original Fleetwood Mac, wrote "Stop Messin' Around", adding to the number of original FM tunes this band has covered. Another cool, uptempo blues, with Green's traditional steals and more rockin' leads.

Closing out the set is the drone-y, acoustic slide, gospel influenced "Jesus is on the Main Line", again featuring Bonham to superb effect. I love this style of group vocals with minimalistic backings. Fantastic!

Absolutely their best and most consistent album since "Rocks", with perfect sound and excellent playing from everyone. If the boys did more like this, they would still be heralded as stars of heavy, hard rock.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Hubert Sumlin – About Them Shoes

Hubert Sumlin is best known for his guitar work on some of Howlin’ Wolf’s most famous numbers, but he also worked with Muddy Waters and was a mainstay of the Chicago blues scene for most of his life. This 2003 release is his answer to Hooker’s Mr. Lucky – plenty of guest stars and an over-all terrific band.

Sumlin pays his respect to the fantastic Muddy Waters with a number of tunes here, as in the opener, Water’s “I’m Ready”, with special guest Eric Clapton trading leads with Hubert. The band is strong throughout with the likes of Levon Helm (The Band) on drums and harp playing by someone I’m not familiar with, Paul Oscher, who is amazing. (The magic internet tells me that he worked with Muddy in he late 60’s/early 70’s band.)

Having lived and played with the greats over the years means that Hubert has the feel as well as the knowledge and he plays leads on all of the tracks here and interacts with the guest singers and the band with taste and skill.
In more of a John Lee Hooker feel, Keith Richards adds some guitar to “Still a Fool”, with great results. James Cotton joins the group for some sweet harp playing on “She’s Into Something” and then “Iodine in my Coffee” is highlighted by some superb Elmore James-ish slide work, though I’m not sure if that is from Sumlin or band guitarist Bob Margolin. Hubert works it out with the band on several fine, varied blues numbers before returning with Clapton on vocals and guitar on another Waters’ tune, “Long Distance Call”. More fine interplay between the guitars and harp and the back up band.

One of my favorite Muddy tunes is “The Same Thing” and the surprise guest on Sumlin’s version is the NY Dolls’ David Johansen on vocals! He does a terrific job and the band cooks behind him on this sex-drenched number. “Don’t Go No Father” is another one from the pen of Willie Dixon and another excellent tune, Keith returns on “I Love the Life I Live”, Johansen comes back for “Walkin’ Thru the Park” and the CD finishes with Keith again in the appropriately titled “This is the End, Little Girl”.

Unlike many “come back” albums, especially from blues artists in their later years, this one is powerful from start to finish and the guests add to the flavor without changing what Sumlin is all about – just great, down-home, Chicago-styled blues! This is a good one!

John Lee Hooker – Mr. Lucky

This 1992 release was one of the jump-starters of Hooker’s ump-teenth career revival. This release is jam-packed with guest stars and has some great music.

Opening with Johnnie Johnson pounding the piano as only he can, “I Want to Hug You” is a super boogie-woogie and a fine beginning. I know almost nothing about Robert Cray, other than that he was another one of the new breed of blues players in the 80's, but his band backs up John Lee on the title track, a solid blues rocker, though nothing outstanding.

Albert Collins, on the other hand, bursts out with some incendiary licks on “Backstabbers”, a slow blues burner with some nice interplay between guitar, keys and sax and John’s passionate vocals. Albert really slays here! None other than Nick Lowe provides the groovy bass foundation for the swinging “This is Hip”, while Ry Cooder slips his slide riffs throughout. “I Cover the Waterfront” is a quiet blues ballad with the indomitable Booker T. on organ and Van Morrison on guitar and while this is a strong, emotional tune, neither guest really gets a chance to shine.

Following this is another low-key blue ballad, “Highway 13”, with John Hammond adding some sweet slide work around Hooker’s own unique licks. Very neat in a “Serves You Right to Suffer” vein. As much as I like Carlos Santana’s work in the 60’s and 70’s, I really don’t care for his new polished sound or for the smooth jazz of “Stripped Me Naked” – not a good song, not a good performance and frankly, a bit boring.

Johnny Winter is still a charge of electrical lighting when his guitar slices the speakers and “Susie” is propelled by his wild, imaginative ideas. This is really a showcase for him – Hooker is over-shadowed but does his best to keep up. Reprising his masterwork “Crawlin’ Kingsnake” with Keith Richards, they both show they still have it in them as they trade riffs and keep a fabulous groove going and pay homage and do justice to the stellar original. John Hammond returns to end the record with another patented Hooker boogie – this time done acoustically – with “Father Was a Jockey”, where JLH really belts out the lyrics. A terrific closer!

Not really in league with his older work, but the man was still capable of some fine boogie. I certainly wouldn’t start with this, but it’s a cool record that shows that the Hook still had it in him even in his later years.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Dave Clark Five – The Hits

My biggest thrill during my latest visit to our local library in search of new music was the discovery of this Dave Clark Five CD! Having been a huge DC5 fan since their hey-day and seeing as my vinyl is thoroughly trashed, I have been looking for any CDs of theirs for quite a while. Apparently Dave is holding up any releases for the right contract, but somehow this one got past him a while back, though it is now out of print. I’m sure glad that the library somehow got ahold of it, cuz I’ve been trying for ages!

As with most “hits” compilations, this has its share of turkeys, but all of the greats are here! The fantastic percussion-driven stompers include “Glad All Over’, “Bits and Pieces” (covered by Joan Jett), “Don’t You See That She’s Mine”, “Any Way You Want It” (covered by Kiss, among others), “Wild Weekend”, "Catch Us If You Can", “Try Too Hard” and tons more. The later tunes are the clunkers, though, including a maudlin "Everybody Knows", “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”, “Everybody Get Together” and the dreadful “Universal Love”, billed as a “new unreleased bonus track”.

The superb rockers far surpass the drek, though, so any fan of 60’s rock’n’roll should own this slice of powerful pop!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – The Live Anthology

When the first two Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers albums came out in the late 70’s, I was a big fan of the band’s version of 60’s influenced pop. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to them since then, really, though I have respected Petty’s songwriting – unlike many bands in the 80’s and 90’s, I wouldn’t turn off the TV or radio if one of his songs came on - and his many musical accomplishments.

Having just seen a big special on him on VH1, I picked up this 4 CD (!) set at our local library. I guess when you have a career spanning more than 30 years you have lots of songs to choose from to put on a live compilation!

Of course, this set includes all – or at least most – of the hits but the highlight for me is the cool and varied cover songs that the band does. I can imagine these cars doing some of these in their bar band days (I’m assuming they were a cover band before getting signed) as the time period for the tunes is about right and they really know how to play ‘em!

The covers are as diverse as the Yardbirds’ version of “I’m a Man”, Muddy Waters’ version of “I Just Want To Make Love to You”, Booker T’s “Green Onions”, the theme song to “Goldfinger”, the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil”, Them’s “Mystic Eyes” (though they change this one around enough that it loses the magic of the original – probably the only one of the covers that I don’t care for), Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” and more. Of course, there is also their stellar take on Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” from their greatest hits record. All are very impressive in their musicianship and coolness factor for the choices.

The originals are all well done, as well, of course, and are all good, though the hip covers really jump out when they come on. Overall, well worth the $20.00-ish that they are charging for the set, whether you are a big Petty fan or not.

weirdest music headline of the week

Giant hay bale kills former ELO cellist
What a bizarre way to die!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Chicago Blues, Portraits and Stories - David Whiteis

This book has a different take on Chicago blues than most - David Whiteis showcases the modern age city and highlights stories of almost unknown current (or reasonably current) blues and blues influenced artists. He also talks of particular clubs and areas that are important to the scene and tries to show the continuing evolution of Chicago blues and its proponents.

While Whiteis eventually spent decades in the blues scene and came to know the players personally, he admits to being spectacularly naive about the music and musicians in general when he first arrived in Chicago. One if his first tales is shudderingly condescending - he meets Jr. Wells in a club - though he doesn't specify the time, it appears to be in the 80's - and expects him to be impressed and flattered that a young white man knows who he is! As if he were one of the first at this late date and time! He later meets some local artists and is surprised to find out that blues musicians would like to make money playing music! Apparently, he had never met a musician in his life before this. I don't think there is a serious musician alive that doesn't want to make a living playing the music they love. His descriptions of the dive bars that the bands play in also seem to show that he was never involved in an independent music scene in any city, as these sound like places that any punk band would play in.

Once you get past his naivety and some music critic excesses, it does seem like his heart is in the right place and, according to his stories, he became close to many of the local musicians and people on the scene and wants to document their lives and struggles. He finds interesting characters and gives you a real feel for the people, their families, their music and the pitfalls they stumble into.

Again showing the similarities of the local blues scene with any other independent scene is the participants' argument that if they got more radio airplay, the music would be more popular. This is true enough, but no one should expect the ultra conservative radio and record industries to open themselves up to anything new. It is always a shock when they do and the truth of this theory has been proved on a number of occasions - Nirvana, Green Day, hell, even the Black Crowes - but that doesn't make it any more likely to happen again.

His wrap-up gives the pros and cons for the current state of the blues and essentially says that if music wasn't put into such strict genres these days, then more sounds would be thought of as the blues. True enough, as the blues has influenced most American music that has come after it, but if you take that to an extreme, you could call punk rock blues music, which is silly. Modern r'n'b and hip-hop can certainly be compared to blues and shares some characteristics, but it would be a stretch for them all to share the same label. And, of course, some people are crossing and mashing up genres, which is good and healthy, but doesn't necessarily say anything about the state of the blues, as the genre is generally understood, in today's society.

I'm being overly critical here myself as overall, the book is interesting and informative for those interested in the scene in Chicago long past its hey-day. Don't come looking for tales of the big stars that came from Chi-town, but if you want a feel for the trials and tribulations of local musicians, this is a good read.