Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jerry Lee Lewis Greatest Live Performances of the 50s, 60s and 70s

Reading Joe Bonomo's book reminded me of the footage of Jerry Lee that I have in a much-duplicated video tape of a TV show in which rabid fans are practically burying the Killer as he sweats and stomps through some of his best tunes. I wondered if this was available on DVD and, lo and behold, found this!

Great music abounds here, starting with the iconoclastic appearance on the Steve Allen Show where Allen was so possessed by "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" that when Jerry pushed back the wooden chair (no idea why he didn't have an actual piano bench here) that he was sitting on, Allen grabbed it and threw it back across the stage!

I assume that Dewey Phillips' Pop Shop was a local show and here we see "You Win Again" and "Great Balls of Fire" before Lewis' fabulous "Breathless" on The Dick Clark Show.

The afore-mentioned show from the 60's was a British TV special named "A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", with Lewis backed by a local group, the Flintstones (after an argument with the Nashville Teens, who would then back him on the rest of the tour and the Live at the Star Club album recorded during this same European jaunt). Jerry is just a few years older, but a bit puffier, a bit worse for the wear after his scandal and subsequent decline of his career and even looking a little more square, but he manages to put on a fierce performance.

The set is terrific - "Great Balls of Fire", "You Win Again", "High School Confidential", "I'm On Fire (his then-new single), "Your Cheatin' Heart" and the show-stopping closer, "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On". From the initial entrance from the ceiling via a hydraulic stage to the climatic ending, Jerry gives it his all and the kids respond in kind. They are dancing, jumping, surrounding the man and pounding their heads and their fists on the piano. It is almost bedlam - but just barely controlled! Apparently, the producers went into a panic when Lewis started the final number because they needed more time so the man puts on a show - drawing out verses, taking off his jacket and tie, doing solo after solo and ending up bellowing out the finale and dancing on top of his piano! Utterly fantastic!

The 70's numbers are from Pop Goes the Country, with a much more subdued Jerry Lee and a somewhat generic backing band, but he does a cool medley with his country star cousin Mickey Gilley (who I know nothing about) and while the cousin was apparently the bigger star at the time, Lewis takes over the show and lets no one forget who he is and what he is all about!

A great collection that can be found at a very reasonable price - get it, you won't regret it!

Jerry Lee Lewis Lost and Found - Joe Bonomo

Joe Bonomo did a great job in his book on legendary garage rockers, the Fleshtones, so when I discovered that he tried his hand on the Killer, as well, I had to take a look.

Of course, I've been a fan of Jerry Lee Lewis ever since he came onto my radar with his over-the-top personality and high-energy pioneering rock'n'roll. Despite his status as one of the first waves of rock'n'rollers, he was robbed of his stardom due to the provincial attitudes of many (though I must agree that marrying his 13 year old - 14 the next day! - second cousin was a bit much) and he never quite recovered from that, despite a lucrative country career a decade or so later.

Because so much has been written about this bigger than life character, Bonomo focuses on Lewis' musical resurrections in the form of his Live at the Star Club record from the mid-Sixties and his country records from the late 60's/early 70's. Joe's passion for the music is readily apparent in his writing and he has certainly made me want to search out some of this music - particularly the Star Club album with the pre-"Tobacco Road" Nashville Teens backing him.

I've never been a big country music fan, though I have grown to appreciate more of the real stuff, but I am interested in hearing some of Lewis' work now. Jerry also did a Gospel album which I am dying to hear, though it is currently out of print, so it looks like I'll have to do some searching!

Once again, Bonomo does a great job with his subject and though Lewis declined to be involved with this project, he should be grateful that a fan is doing his best to spread the word of the Killer!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Modern Lovers – Precise Modern Lovers Order – Live in Berkley and Boston

Modern Lovers’ bassist Ernie Brooks worked with record label Rounder to compile this much-anticipated live set by the Lovers. Brooks includes the liner notes, which explains that he thinks that these cuts, while energetic and enthusiastic, are from shows plagued with technical difficulties and so are far from the band at its peak. But this is still a terrific find for fans of this group whose output is so small.

This set opens with “Someone I Care About”, from the studio album, and has reasonably good sound and plenty of passion – I especially love the group chanting towards the end of the tune. Richman interacts with the audience in between songs and this sometimes seamlessly segues into the beginnings of the next number. “Dance with Me” is a new one, and starts – and remains - extremely quietly (unusual for so early in the set), with sparse chords from Jonathan and keyboardist Jerry Harrison.

The volume is back with vehemence for “She Cracked”, one of Richman’s hardest rockers, with a wonderful, somewhat extended staccato, dissonant chord stomper in the solo before blasting into the final chorus. Subdued again for “Hospital” (with an odd spoken intro about “the Jewish princess concept”), but with the powerful repeating bridge (reminiscent of the Stooges’ “1969”), Jonathan sounds particularly vulnerable here. Also previously unrecorded is “Womanhood”, a simple, short, pop ditty, not unlike his later solo work.

Wrestling at times with depression, but still realizing that suicide is not the answer, he wants us all to live to be “Dignified and Old”. Again, fairly faithful to the recorded version is “Girlfriend”, with its hilariously misspelled chorus and nice, melodic guitar solo which blends into a duet with the keys to great effect. Showing his love for the Velvet Underground, the group takes on their “Foggy Notion”, which highlights the similarities between the two bands. An extension of “Roadrunner” is “Ride On Down the Highway” – a little poppier, but thematically the same (even lyrically, at times) and musically not unlike the better known number.

“Pablo Picasso” is a bit more dissonant and caustic, but pretty close to what we’ve heard before, though with a bit more extended guitar lead. Another unknown is Richman’s romantic (despite him telling the girl to “just shut up” and that he “doesn’t want to hear about her stupid cats”) “A Plea for Tenderness”, a slowish number that would not have sounded out of place on VU’s Loaded. It has a truly cool vocal build-up before breaking down again and changing once more – this time reminiscent of “The Ocean” – and ending. Neat arrangement!

The real joy of this release is the wealth of unheard tunes and “Walk Up the Street” is another, though it sounds like a less frenetic “She Cracked” – still very cool. More unique is “Fly Into the Mystery”, another slow-to-mid tempo tune that, unfortunately, does not really stand out. A long monologue begins an early, more vicious “I’m Straight” that is nowhere near as conciliatory as the studio take and still has “Hippy Ernie” as the character that Jonathan rails against, before he changed the name to Johnny so that people would not think he was talking about his bassist. This is powerful, emotional and excellent.

Showing again that the Velvets were not his only influence, he takes the chord riff from the Stooges’ “Loose” for “The Mixer”. With clean guitars and a bit bouncier bass line, this has a more groovy, 60’s vibe, as Richman harangues men & women who play relationship games. “Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste” gives a musical nod to “Girlfriend” and a lyrical nod to “Dignified and Old” – he didn’t mind revisiting themes. The record closes with Richman telling the audience that the band will overcome its technical obstacles and get back to “precise Modern Lovers order”, which never quite happens, but they do give an intense (though slow) “Roadrunner”, with verbal mania ending the tune.

Obviously, anyone who has not heard the MLs before should first get their studio album, but once you have that, you will want more, and this is a fun collection. I still can’t imagine what Boston crowds (most likely more familiar with Aerosmith, the J. Geils band and hard rock cover groups) thought in the early 70’s when these cats hit the stage!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Loons – Red Dissolving Rays of Light

After catching San Diego’s Loons at the LV Shakedown recently, and being knocked out (once again) by their unique take on garage /psyche /rock’n’roll, I had to pick up their latest CD. I believe that I have missed a record since their debut, Love’s Dead Leaves, but the band is now a tight, rockin’ combo with more garage than psyche elements.

Opening with “Between Grey Slates” and its simple, catchy fuzz riff, you know right away what you’re getting in for. But then they take it even farther with the feedback & fuzz drenched “I Wanna Get You”, moving at sonic speed, not unlike a super-charged take on the Litter’s “Action Woman”, with interweaving lead guitars as an extra added bonus!.

Not to be pigeon-holed, the group then adds 12-string (courtesy of Marc Schoeder) and tremeloed guitars (Chris Marsteller), fine harmonies by bassist Anja Dixson, some pounding drums (Mike Kamoo) and more fuzz onto “La Mesa Boulevard” – these cats are far from one-dimensional! “Orphan Wing” starts out with some moody guitar chords, harmonies and a mid-paced groove that harkens back to some of the band’s tunes from their first release.

They continue to mix it up with “Summer’s End” – a stomping beat with 12 string guitar and highly melodic vocal lines along with a cool, fuzzed-out solo. The title cut has a superb, sustained, feedback-ridden guitar line moving throughout the melody to create a terrific number – Chris (I assume) really out-does himself here. I can see why they named the record after this!

A neat acoustic guitar opens up “A Last Goodbye”, giving it a bit of a Soundtrack of Your Lives feel (like the Ebbot-produced debut album), and a nice groove and catchy melody propels it along. A welcome breather after the last tune and a great song. “Stowaway” has a cool back-and-forth from super clean guitars (sounds like Chris is using his Fender Mustang on the licks here) on the verses and fuzzing-up the choruses.

Another real stand-out is the pounding, staccato-chords and memorable chorus of “Diamonds, Garbage & Gold”, which is sure to have you bouncing around while singing along! More 12-string psyche combining with noise-drenched fuzz (love the tone he’s getting here!) in “Heyday”, which could be about any number of people!

The band pulls most everything together for the finale – “Losers Win”. Soaring harmonies, cool beat, 12 string working with the 6 string to create a full sound, fine melody and, I swear, even a nod to the Sweet, though that might be my imagination!

The Loons continue their growth as a band with many influences, so don’t expect a pure garage/r’n’b experience, but do expect fine, well-written songs and fantastic musicianship! Another highly recommended outing from these cats!

The Rats – The Rise & Fall of Bernie Gripplestone and the Rats from Hull

I became a fan of Mick Ronson due to his work in the Spiders of Mars, of course, but never had a chance to hear his work before joining up with Bowie. This CD gives an overview of his band, the Rats, career (I haven’t had a chance to read the extensive booklet yet, so may augment this review later with more information) and shows how early Ronson’s talent developed.

The first few tunes are somewhat typical – though still quite good – British r’n’b, which certainly shows Mick’s roots – he was always the rocker to Bowie’s conceptual artist, which was a winning combination for them! Interestingly, the group does an organ-dominated take on a traditional number called “New Orleans”, one can assume as a response to the Animals “House of the Rising Sun” and with the hopes of riding on the success of that tune.

But next up is a dramatic change and a multi-layered, psychedelic production for “The Rise & Fall of Bernie Gripplestone” (apparently, later the influence for the similarly titled Bowie album), with backwards guitars, trippy melody and cool changes. They kinda throw the kitchen sink at this one, but it works, in a late 60’s kinda way. Very enjoyable!

Not quite as over-the-top is the poppy, Creation-esque “Stop Get A Hold of Myself” that has some nice fuzz licks from Mick. Then, showcasing Ronson’s Jeff Beck fixation are the great “Guitar Boogie” and “Morning Dew” – highly rockin’ and you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that these were Jeff Beck Group outtakes. Continuing in this vein is “Early in Spring”, a cool riff-rocker followed by the more traditional blues of “Telephone Blues”.

Again showing his later influence over Bowie, the Rats covered “It Ain’t Easy” before it was added to the Ziggy Stardust album. This live take is heavier and much more of a Ronson work-out – even showing his slide technique. Same with the other live cut – a version of Cream’s “ I Feel Free”, with enough originality to maybe not make it their own completely, but to make you understand that these cats are not pure copyists.

In a sadly ironic twist, the untimely death of Ronson was the catalyst for a Rats reunion and the remaining members played a tribute show and then recorded 3 new numbers – the bonus tracks for this CD. All are nice, blues rock tunes, including a take on Free’s version of “The Hunter” and all show that they were worthy musicians even without Mick.

All said, I dig this a lot, but objectively, this is probably more for Ronson fans than anyone else. This does give a good overview of the British rock scene in the 60’s and early 70’s though!

Isaiah Owens – You Without Sin Cast the First Stone

I discovered Mr. Owens through the phenomenal gospel collection Fire In my Bones (more on this later) and was immediately struck by his crazed, disjointed and, frankly, somewhat psychotic, take on gospel blues. I thought that this was some insane 50’s genius, but upon reading the liner notes, realized that the cut included (the title of this CD), was from 1998! When I then found out that Isaiah had a full CD of these recordings available, I ordered it right away!

The entire record continues in the same vein – Owens singing and mangling a dissonant, slightly out-of-tune guitar, with gospel fever and passion, in a manner, as the liner notes say, of a “sanctified Hasil Adkins”! Hasil and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy were exactly what came to mind when I first heard him, though, naturally, with more gospel and blues influences.

This is not music for the faint-of-heart or those who like clean, easily definable tunes. But for those who love passionate madness and enthusiasm over proficiency, then get this – you will not regret it!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Flamin' Groovies, Las Vegas Shakedown, Oct 15, 2011 LV Country Saloon

We don't have the stamina to endure entire weekenders any more, but this Saturday night show seemed like the best of the weekend anyway, so we made it a point to get out of the house after an afternoon nap!

We got to the Las Vegas Country Saloon in time to catch most of the set of Boston's Muck and the Mires doing their garagey power-pop. They've got a cool sound, great harmonies (they do a spot-on version of the Knickerbockers "Lies"), a neat look (matching black outfits with Beatle boots) and a rockin' female drummer, though, in general, I like my garage a little less slick. Still, a fun combo.

Up next was San Diego's fabulous Loons, featuring Mike Stax (ex of many bands, including the Tell Tale Hearts and Crawdaddies) and his lovely wife Anja (ex of the Diaboliks). They've gone through some changes over the years, but I've got to say that they are better than ever. Mike is in constant motion on stage, and his voice just keeps getting stronger, the rhythm section (Anja and Mike Kamoo) is tight and powerful and the twin guitar team of Marc Schroeder and Chris Marsteller gives the band many sonic options (from 12 string to slide to clean sounds to heavy distortion). While the songs are still multi-faceted, the group is a little more garagey and less psychedelic and a ton of fun on stage! Definitely see 'em if ya can and pick up the great new CD, Red Dissolving Rays of Light.

LA's Hangmen seemed slightly out of place on this night of mostly garage-oriented bands, but the crowd (sparse as it was - unfortunately, the Shakedown is not bringing in as many people as it once did) certainly did not mind as Brian and his crew (including ex-Supersuckers Ron Heathman) pounded their way through their own brand of sleazy Hollywood r'n'r. Brian has some excellent new songs, but still fits in old crowd pleasers like "Downtown". They looked terrific, sounded terrific and tore the place up!

Before the Untamed Youth took the stage, Deke informed the crowd that the bands were not getting paid that night, which was kind of a downer and seems like a death knell for any further Shakedowns. But, the band was determined to entertain and blasted out their wild'n'crazy beer-soaked frat rock to much audience adoration! Apparently, they reformed just for this show, but you would never know it as they were a strong, r'n'r unit!

Closing the night and starting well after 2:00am (I don't know why LV shows go on so late - nobody likes this custom - not the audience and certainly not the bands) were the Flamin' Groovies, staring Cyril Jordan and the incomparable Roy Loney! I never heard for sure (and I can't find anything online) but I think that other members were from the original band, as well. In any case, they only did Loney-era tunes - which is the stuff that I love (Flamingo and Teenage Head are a couple of my all time favorite albums) - with the exception of the set closer, "Shake Some Action". I didn't write down the song titles, but I don't think that anyone could argue with the song choices - all fantastic material. Unfortunately, the band was a bit sloppy - I assume that they have not played together in a long time - but they had spirit and seemed to be having a good time and Loney was in excellent voice. Roy has gained a number of pounds over the years and is nowhere near as spry on stage as he once was, but still has a cool presence and had no problem rolling around on stage (as he did in the encore, "Slow Death"). After hearing that the band wasn't getting paid, the audience (which grew considerably for their set, coming from the other Shakedown locations to see this historic event) showered the band with cash during their set to show their support and appreciation!

A fun night of cool rock'n'roll in Las Vegas! Whoo-hoo!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Agile, Mobile, Hostile - A Year With Andre Williams

I probably first became consciously aware of Andre Williams when the Cramps covered his great "Bacon Fat", but of course, was aware of his tunes, such as "Twine Time" and "Shake a Tail Feather". Many people have done versions of his songs, from Stevie Wonder to Ike & Tina Turner to the J. Geils Band and innumerable others.

This 2007 documentary shows a year in the life of Williams during his current trials and tribulations and club tours. He has various (comparatively) young white boy semi-punk backing bands that he uses in different locations and the film follows him through the States and Europe.

Unfortunately, his career has been derailed many times in his life due to his addictions - drugs and alcohol. He has been homeless at times and he is caught on film repeatedly in an incoherent state and even goes to jail during the filming.

This is a man who has had many hits, has worked at Motown and Chess and is still in demand, and yet is an unhealthy, fairly sad, old man, who can sometimes barely perform (which he obviously still loves to do) because of his addictions.

I got to see him with the fabulous Flash Express a few years back and he seemed in relatively good shape (he certainly had no problem hitting on my wife!) but this film shows how rough his life has been.

Certainly not joyous, but a good overview of this eccentric mad genius' life.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

photographer for Beatles' "butcher cover" and lots more, dead at 71

Robert Whitaker Dead: Beatles Photographer Dies At 71