Wednesday, February 29, 2012

well damn...

Monkees star Davy Jones dies at age 66
The Monkees were a big part of my youth and Jones was way too young to go. This is really sad...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The MC 5 – Live Detroit 68/69

Continuing in my series of MC5 comes Live Detroit 68/69, which essentially speaks for itself! Once again, the quality is none-too-great, but the content is pretty superb! The majority of this comes from a show (I assume that most of this is a single show) from ’68 – about the time of the recording of Kick Out The Jams. Brother Jesse Crawford introduces them and they start out screaming with a blistering “Come Together” with Tyner bellowing his throat out! The distorted recording and totally out of whack balance between vocals and instruments detracts from the experience, but you can tell that the group is going for it at 2000%. “I Want You Right Now” sounds more vicious than sexy here as again Rob is shrieking as if his life depended on it! Showing their soul roots, they mangle (in a good way) Ray Charles’ “I Believe” with heavy guitars and more wails.

This is another bootleg that I have on vinyl, so side two starts with yet another “Black To Comm”, here titled “Come On Down”. They are joined by an unnamed saxophone player for a very avant-garde jazz jam – pure, crazed, anarchic noize! This ends suddenly (actually sounds like the tape ran out) and is followed by their cover of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and “Looking at You” that were also included in the Teenage Lust boot, and I believe is from that show instead of the show that the rest of the songs here are from (which I guess this is titled 68/69 - to indicate two shows). Odd, though great versions, so it can be forgiven. I assume the label just wanted to pad out this release as it would have been a bit short otherwise.

Again, the sound quality is pretty poor here, but the performances are extraordinary, so essential for fans but only for true fans.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The MC5 – Starship - Live at the Sturgis Armory 6-27-68

The recent, tragic passing of Michael Davis reminded me of my quest to write about the many MC5 boots that I have in my collection, of varying quality. This one is one of the better ones that I have found. The sound is decent – not excellent, but pretty good for what I assume is an audience recording from 1968. This seems to be a pretty accurate representation of their set at the time. They open with the ubiquitous (and fabulous) “Kick Out the Jams” and move into the sex-personified “Come Together” before showing their love for James Brown (which they did on many occasions) with a medley of “Cold Sweat”/”I Can’t Stand Myself”/”There Was a Time”, which is pretty damn good for a bunch of white boys! Tyner was always mighty soulful and the boys back him up in fine style – bassist Davis is highlighted here, in fact. Side one of the vinyl ends with a powerful rendition of the terrific “Borderline”.

Side two shows off the band’s jazzier side. I heard rumors that they were hoping that the Kick Out the Jams record would be a double album which would explore this part of their repertoire a bit more and I’m assuming that this is what would have been included. The begin with a hard-rockin’ – and great - version of Pharoh Sander’s “Upper Egypt” and then they include their interpretation of Sun Ra’s “Starship”, made famous from the KOTJ album. This is somewhat slower than the “official” version, but pretty damn close to it, considering that it was mostly a jam! Their infamous “Black To Comm” ends the set and I think this is one of the better – and noisier! – takes that I’ve heard! This tune remained with them throughout their career and it’s a shame that it was never “officially” recorded, but maybe that keeps it legendary. In any case, a phenomenal closer!

Again, not for the casual listener, as the sound quality is good for a bootleg, but not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But fans should own this one!

Raisin’ Cain – the Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter by Mary Lou Sullivan

This book is a well documented chronicle of Johnny Winter's life, loves, bands, records and career. Sullivan spent many years on this project and was stymied several times by uncooperative managers who were afraid that she was getting to close to Winter and that her friendship (and probably the information she was digging up) would compromise the manager's position.

His early years are told in detail, with listings of his many groups and line-ups and independent records that he released. I understand that early unscrupulous managers/bookers/what-have-you have reissued many (if not all) of these tracks under various record titles, with Johnny being none-too-pleased and not receiving anything for them. Unfortunately, unscrupulous managers seem to have plagued him throughout a majority of his career.

Johnny learned to love drugs at an early age and this escalated to heroin use just as his career was hitting its peak with the gold record Johnny Winter And...Live! (surprisingly, his only gold record). He stopped playing in order to clean up, which he finally did with methadone, which ironically, he ended up using for decades and which almost ended his career when he mixed it other prescribed drugs. The lowest point in his career was when he was under a prescription drug haze and his playing and singing were strongly affected. He has cleaned up and, according to the author, seems stronger than before and now has a manager who is truly looking out for Winter and not just working for himself.

There have been many ups and downs throughout his life from his early rise to stardom (and the many people who he helped and who helped him, from his brother Edgar to Rick Derringer to his many sidemen/friends) to drugs almost ending it, to his resurgence with Still Alive and Well and his Grammy-winning work with Muddy Waters, through bad management deals and health issues. Luckily, we still have this major talent with us and with luck, we will for years to come.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

ah man, another hero gone - 3/5 of the 5 have left us

RIP Michael Davis

The Darkness, Foxy Shazam, Crown Jewel Defense at House of Blues Las Vegas, Friday Feb 17, 2012

After the runaway success of their debut, Permission to Land, the Darkness' rising star seemed to skyrocket. Their initial US tour was phenomenal (of course, they skipped Vegas - we had to see them in LA), singer Justin Hawkins performed with Queen, the press loved them and they seemed unstoppable. Unfortunately, the next record, One Way Ticket to Hell and Back, while having some moments, was overall pretty mediocre and, plagued with drug problems, the band faded away. We had literally just been wondering whatever happened to these guys the same day that we saw that they were playing at the House of Blues! To avoid our curse of bands canceling whenever we buy tickets in advance, we waited and bought them at the door (they didn't sell out in advance as they did in LA this tour) and we were rewarded with a terrific show!

We got to the HOB at the scheduled time to discover that a third band had been added to the bill. I still can't remember their entire silly name, but it was Crown Jewels something or another (Crown Jewel Defense) and they were pretty forgettable. They appeared to be some kind of parody band, but without a funny punchline or memorably tunes. The lead singer/guitarist, while quite animated, seemed to be emulating an 80's hair metal band, the 2nd guitarist was sorta punk'n'roll styled (with skin tight pants that somehow kept falling down around his ass - I have no idea how he managed that), the bassist looked like he was trying to be in the Back Street Boys or something (complete with backwards baseball cap, which I didn't think that anyone did anymore, as it was incredibly stupid style to begin with) and the drummer, who played to backing tracks, could have been in the Grateful Dead. The music was just bad metal - nothing that stuck in your head at all. They tried, but just didn't connect with us. Of course, it didn't help that they all - even the bass player - changed guitars between every song, destroying any momentum they might have been able to build otherwise.

Oh the other hand, the next act, Foxy Shazam, were highly entertaining. I had heard the name, but didn't know anything about them at all, so when they dashed on stage, their maniacal presence certainly made an impression! The drummer, bassist and guitarist all were stylishly rock'n'roll, their keyboardist looked something like an Islamic terrorist, the trumpet player (yes!) was quite dapper and their lead singer was a super-skinny Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band) look-alike, who took many of his moves from him, but sang like Russel Mael from Sparks1 The music was very Sparks influenced, as well, though the stage show was non-stop action. The singer somersaults continually while doing James Brown mic moves (which he probably also got from Peter Wolf), the keyboardist plays while standing on his keys as often as not and the trumpet player, who also sang great background vocals, did more with his horn than most guitar players do with their instrument! I'm not certain how this would translate on record, but live, they were unstoppable! See them if ya can!

The Darkness took an inexplicably and extraordinarily long time to appear, but when they did, they hit hard with "Black Shuck". It did take some time for the sound man to get over the dreaded bass-and-kick-drum-as-lead-instrument syndrome, but once the guitars were audible, the group took over! The audience was behind them the whole time, even kids were were probably pre-pubescent when the Darkness released their debut but who still knew all the words to all of the songs. After rockin' the title song of their last record, Justin mentioned that they were hardly playing any songs from that album on this tour until a fan asked them to play more, which they unfortunately did. This was the low point of the show as that record is the low point of their career  even the band seemed to not care as much during these numbers. But they came back with some of the best songs and everyone was in fine form tonight - Justin is singing better than ever and the group looked and played amazingly. They closed with, of course, "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" and came back with an AC/DC-esque instrumental and then ended the night with "Love on the Rocks (With No Ice)" with Justin solo-ing while being carried through the audience on the shoulders of a roadie.

It doesn't appear that their hiatus hurt them in any way - the Darkness are stronger than ever and a force to be reckoned with! Their brand of goofy, funny, and damn catchy pop-metal seems to be bigger than ever - long may they wave!

(Photo by Melanie Coffee)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Muddy Waters - All Night Long

This live CD was cut from shows throughout the 60’s and 70’s and features some legendary players, including Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Muddy’s voice is in terrific shape for all of these shows and he plays some piercing slide work. Most of his finest works are included, from “Baby Please Don’t Go”, “Hoothcie Coochie Man”, “Tiger in Your Tank” to “Rock Me Baby”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin”” and finishing with a rave up on “Got My Mojo Working”.

Many of the performances are a bit subdued, though still powerful – just not as flat-out rockin’ as some of the shows that I have heard. As always, I would recommend his early studio work for any novices (especially the amazing The Definitive Collection), but this is a superior selection of live tracks and show just want this legend could do in a live setting!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thee Pigasus at the Motor City Cafe, Las Vegas, Feb 11, 2012

Thee Pigasus is a band that I have been meaning to see for many a moon, so thankfully, the chance finally presented itself at the Motor City Cafe! Including local heroes and husband and wife team Jesse & Roxie (from Cowtown Guitars and the Loud Pipes), as well as well as Jack Colwell on 2nd Les Paul goldtop, Danny Wiedenbeck on drums, Richard Wright III on vocals and Ainjil Bragg-Chipp on keyboards, these cats and kittens play high-energy, Detroit-styled r'n'r (including a cover of "Kick Out the James") and do it up right! The 3 Les Pauls (even Roxie's bass is a goldtop Les Paul!) are loud and aggressive and Wright can really sing and shout on top of the mayhem - one of the better voices we've heard in Vegas, in fact! For those who like their r'n'r fast, furious, stylish and cool, be sure to check out Thee Pigasus!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Love Me Nots - The Demon and the Devotee

Since I first discovered the Love Me Nots back in 2007 after being blown away by seeing them live and picking up their debut disc, they are apparently up to disc number 4 and I somehow have not gotten any between their initial blast and this, their latest. I will have to rectify that!

The Demon and the Devotee is a bit slicker and more modern than In Black and White, but still retaining their organ-driven garage roots. Nicole continues to be sultry and snarly and guitarist Michael Johnny Walker has only gotten better with his fuzz licks. Monster drummer Jay Lien left for a while but is back with a vengeance and while this disc has Kyle Stokes on bass, she has already been replaced by Sophie O. So, obviously, the mainstays here are husband and wife couple Nicole & Michael.

Openers “The End of the Line” & “I’m Gonna Be Your Girl” are as garage as they come, with the latter even reminding me a little of LA’s fabulous Untold Fables (with female vocals, of course). “Demons”, though, takes on a whole different style, sounding much more 80’s new-wave than garage, with the keys taking on an almost synth quality (though I’m certain it is Nicole’s Farfisa). This still has 60’s elements, of course, and is a rockin’ tune, just an unusual production for this group.

Continuing (sorta/kinda) in this vein is “She’s Nothing Like Me”, an almost dreamy ballad, at least in comparison to the rest of the set. But, the guitars come back with a vengeance in the sassy and vicious “I’m Not Okay”, that moves into “Cheap Knockoff”, sounding like an odd mix of the Doors and Gary Newman! It does somehow work, but is a bit bizarre. “Make Up Your Mind” backs up right back into the garage, though – groovin’, drivin’ keys, cool, trashy (in the best sense of the word) guitar lines and catchy chorus – very hip!

This is followed by a stompin’ “He Doesn’t Share Well”, which stands up to the group’s best. “Trouble” is a psychedelic ballad with a trumpet (!!) solo that gives it a weird Mariachi feel for a minute and “Stay” combines a bit of a ska beat in the verses with a super-strong, shout-along chorus and a biting guitar solo. “Let’s Get Wrecked” is a great theme and moves along at a steady pace, but doesn’t quite have the abandon that some of their tunes do. The closer is “The Girl Lights Up”, a folky pop number led by a neat 12-string (or reasonable facsimile) guitar lick.

The Love Me Nots are unmistakenly attempting to expand their sound and work in different styles, for which they should be applauded – no band should stagnate. Everything works on this record, but the changes do mean that The Demon and the Devotee is not as explosive as their debut. But, still a solid effort and I will look into their other releases and see what they have been exploring over the years. And, regardless, they are still a phenomenal live experience!

The MC5 - Phun City, UK

This bootleg was recorded at the Phun City Festival in Worthing, UK in 1970. By all reports, the Five slayed at this show and showed the Limeys how it was done in Detroit! Unfortunately, being a boot from 1970 means that the sound quality is pretty spotty, as best. Very muddy, but you are still able to hear all of the instruments (though not with the best mix, by any stretch of the imagination), though the audience is almost inaudible, which means that it doesn’t sound quite as exciting as it might have.

This set opens with their usual Wayne Kramer-falsetto-led “Rambling Rose”, with crude lines such as “the more you suck it, the more it grows” – yes they were cocky (literally!) at this show! Up next is the fabulous “Tonight”, from Back in the USA and an all-too-long pause with some non-sequitor-ish (without the visuals) stage patter before moving into “Rama Lama (Fa Fa Fa)”. The guitars are not quite as fierce as on Kick Out the Jams, so this version is a bit tamer, though still strong and with a good audience interplay and dynamic section in the middle.

The group loses their momentum with the inclusion of Kramer’s ballad, “Miss X”, which was the weakest song off of their then latest album, High Times, but regain their footing with a high-energy “Looking At You”. The highlight of the set, for me, is the feedback-drenched “I Want You”, starting with literally minutes of nothing but noise. Dennis Thompson shows why he got the nickname “Machine Gun” as he barrels into the tune and the guitars are quite powerful and over-driven here. The middle section has more guitar interplay between Smith & Kramer than on their debut and there is much more dynamic work, with a number of builds and releases (appropriate for a song about sex) and a whole new jam portion, making this almost a whole new tune. Pretty damn superb!

“Sister Anne” is also strong, though they seem to be blowing out the recording mic at this point, which mars the sound quite badly, and the solo seems a little off, as well. An incredible song, but a pretty awful recording. They close with their usual “Kick Out the Jams”/”Black to Comm”, which is always anything but “usual”. "KOTJ" is rockin’ as ever – this is the pure definition of high-energy r’n’r – and while BTC sounds like it was probably amazing in person, here the tape starts flipping out and speeding up and slowing down, so it is hardly a faithful document. In fact, it sounds something like a vacuum cleaner in being used while you are trying to listen to the song.

All in all, this would only be recommended to purist fans, as the sound quality is pretty dreadful. But, it is a good document of the group just before it was about to split up.

Johnny Winter - The Progressive Blues Experiment

I had hesitated to buy this record at first due to its title – I was afraid that this would be some sort or fusion/blues something-or-another, but once I heard a cut from it, I knew that it was a must-have from this man! It turns out that this was recorded just before Winter signed with Columbia Records and was to be used as a demo or, at best, a release on a small Texas label. This was all done on location at a club that his band frequented, though this is not live in front of an audience. As it was meant to be released, the quality is good, but not amazing, since it was not a “real” studio. But, the quality is pretty much perfect for the material! This is all pure blues, with Winter blasting through the tunes at break-neck speed, without sacrificing any quality. There are cuts with Johnny on acoustic, harmonica (which he was also damn good at!) and even mandolin and he displays his virtuosity with the slide as well as his blazing leads while he fills out the sound in this 3 piece configuration. This band must have been jaw-dropping to see at this time! I would say that this is a must for anyone who loves their blues with a hard-rock edge – this is the template that so many drew from and capitalized on!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The MC5 - '66 Breakout!

Another boot, this time released by a Bomp subsidiary, this was culled from Kramer’s personal tapes, so I guess the designation of “bootleg” depends on your definition. Regardless, this is a very fun look at the early years of this incredible r’n’r band.

Apparently, the numbers here actually run the gamut of a few year period, but none-the-less they are all mid-60’s garage tunes. Opening with a jam on their amazing original “Looking At You”, this shows an early incarnation that is slow and sexy, with some different words and plenty of cool harp work from Tyner. Very different and very hip. Their legendary “Black To Comm” follows, which is another song that spanned their entire career; shows that even early on, they were not afraid to experiment with noize and feedback and power!

“I Just Don’t Know” (their feedback drenched take on “In The Mood” that Kramer amusingly calls an original in the liner notes) is from their A-Square single and was also featured in all of its glory in the phenomenal comp, Babes in Arms. There’s a few seconds of the group goofing on Sam the Sham’s “Little Red Riding Hood”, then one of their early attempts (and a worthy one it is!) at James Brown in “I Don’t Mind” (via the Who, I’m sure) before the side closes with “Break Time”, from their days playing at Polish weddings!

Side two begins with the other side of their amazing single, “One of the Guys”, which again had appeared on Babes in Arms. More white-boy r’n’b influences show up in “Look What You’ve Done”, “Baby Please Don’t Go” (which sounds like they hadn’t quite learned it yet – or were a little overly enthusiastic while playing it) and their version of the Yardbirds version of “I’m a Man”. The record closes with their amazingly vicious “I Can Only Give You Everything” – a song they did only because the Shadows of Knight beat them to the punch on “Gloria”!

Unsurprisingly, the sound quality varies and none of it is great, but the music within is pretty damn fantastic! A must for fans who want to discover the band’s early development and see where they were coming from!

The MC5 - Do It!

I’ve pulled out some of my MC5 boots after reading the Sonically Speaking book and this is one of the better ones, despite some rumors that it is not the full band. Rob Tyner is positively singing on this but since two of the songs – “Rock’n’Roll People” (oddly credited as “Rock’n’Roll Pips” on the cover) and the fantastically rockin’ “Unknown Rock” (credited as “Unknowed Rock” – this was put out by a French label!) – are tunes that Tyner used during his solo career, there might be credence to the rumor of other musicians.

Regardless, the band is quite rockin’ and the riffs fly fast and furious between the guitarists in a manner befitting Kramer & Smith. They roar through “Back in the USA”, the aforementioned “Rock’n’Roll People” (kinda mid-tempo, but heavy and catchy), a take on “Looking at You” that builds nicely in intensity – this song survived the group’s entire career and went through so many interesting changes that I think an entire album could be dedicated to this number alone – and side one closes with the great “Unknown Rock”. This has a superb riff, flashy licks and is a true later gem from this group, in whatever incarnation.

Side two consists of a smoldering “Motor City Is Burning”, “Tutti Frutti” (drawn out a bit from the ultra-short LP version), the obligatory (and fabulous) “Kick Out the Jams” and a super heavy “19th Nervous Breakdown”. I always loved to hear the 5’s covers, cuz they always brought something cool to the table and this is no exception.

Whether or not this is the full Five (which the cover does claim to be and Dennis Thompson supposedly compiled this, so you would think that it was), this is a terrific boot with a decent sound quality (not great, of course – this was an audience recording from the 70’s) and even considering the short running time, I would highly recommend this. Hell, just the unrecorded tunes are worth the price of admission!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

MC5 Sonically Speaking - a Tale of Revolution and Rock'n'Roll by Brett Callwood

Anyone who knows me knows that I consider the MC5 to be the ultimate in what a rock'n'roll band should be - loud guitars, flashy clothes, phenomenal stage performance that often teetered on the edge of collapse (and sometimes fell over that edge), wonderful songs and true talent. They made more than their share of mistakes, and others may be more virtuosic, but at their best, no one has ever surpassed them as the spirit of r'n'r.

This book attempts to tell the full tale of the MC5, from its beginnings as a local, Detroit garage band through the members solo works and the eventually reforming by the 3 surviving members as DKT/MC5 (Davis, Kramer, Thompson/MC5). Unfortunately, it doesn't really succeed as a high-energy biography. I'm sure that part of the issue is that the author is a Brit who had never heard of the band until 1990 (!) and that was via a collaboration of Bad Brain & Henry Rollins covering "Kick Out the Jams"! High props to the young man for hearing the majesty within that (I've never heard the version he is referring to, but just the concept sounds horrific to me) and searching out the originators of this masterpiece, but that does show how far removed he is from the place of time that created this fantastic rock'n'roll.

That said, he is obviously a true fan who did his best and did manage to interview Kramer, Davis and Thompson (Tyner & Smith passed away before Callwood became aware of the band) and many people associated with the guys, from members of the White Panther party to fans to musicians who have worked with these cats throughout the years. This book is definitely Kramer-centric and was written as Kramer pursued a lawsuit against Future/Now Films and their amazing documentary (that he fully endorsed as it was being made), The MC5 - A True Testimonial, in order to get money from this labor of love movie. Fortunately, Kramer lost but I am not sure if the movie ever got a proper release (I have a copy, but I'm not sure how "legit" it is), which is a shame but it really is an inspiring tale of the band. The author does rave on several occasions about the terrible rip-off DVD simply titled Kick out the Jams that, while making some money for the Sinclairs, was a travesty - but Kramer's company, Muscletone, was involved with it, which shows that Callwood was certainly siding with Wayne.

The book does include numerous anecdotes from all of the interviewees and does look into some of the reasons for the group's initial disintegration and collapse - mostly from their own actions. He does his best to detail the members solo works and goes on at length about the recent reunion of the DKT.

Far from a comprehensive story of this phenomenal group and its times and influence on the world of music (which the author does not claim to be), and filled with typos and errors, it is not a bad book, but is not what it could have been. A True Testimonial is a more exciting and well rounded tale (of course, being a audio & visual medium, it can actually show the band in all of its glory) but this book does its best and is a good effort, but not great.

PS - the cover in the image above is completely different than the one on the book that I received - much nicer, too, I think!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

very sad - RIP Don Cornelius

'Soul Train' host Don Cornelius found dead