Thursday, March 15, 2012

Muddy Waters The Mojo Man - Sandra B. Tooze

As everyone knows, Muddy is one of the main men of the blues and the gentleman mostly responsible for what is known as the Chicago blues sound. His group brought the Mississippi Delta sound to the North, electrified it, and changed the course of  musical history forever!

Waters had a long (but not long enough!) career with many of the usual - and many unusual - ups & downs. From his start living and working on a plantation through playing in local juke joints to his move up north, subsequent stardom and many accolades - Grammys, an appearance at the White House, and much more - Muddy was a man dedicated to the blues. In this book, all of the people who have worked with him have nothing but good to say about him (so much so that you wonder if it is somewhat one-sided - or, at least, that no one wanted to speak badly about the dead) and the music that he left behind, of course, speaks for itself.

This book details his band line-ups, with short histories of everyone who worked with him and tales of where they moved on to after their times with the man. Many other careers were created by this legend and most, if not all, rock'n'rollers owe a huge debt to him - especially groups like the Rolling Stones, who took their name from one of his songs, and guitar superstars like Johnny Winter and Eric Clapton, to name a few.

A very comprehensive account of Muddy's career with a nice discography and tons of interviews with many of his sidemen and stars who were influenced by him. A great job!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Betty Davis - They Say I'm Different

On this, her second release, Davis continues in the vein first explored on her debut, but with even more creative input. Here she produced the proceedings as well as picked the musicians on top of writing and singing all of the tunes. And a fine job she does, as well! While the first album was a bit of a start-studded adventure, the (somewhat less well-known) talent is still highly evident here and her songs are still top-notch, filled with energetic grooves and sexuality. Her subject matter was certainly controversial for the times and some people (re: men) were so overwhelmed by her frank lyrics and provocative stage mannerisms that they disparaged her. Of course, sane men would have loved to have women who were unafraid to be erotic and would have enjoyed the scene and the show - especially considering the quality of the music involved! But, being an ahead-of-your-time innovator can have its drawbacks and Davis never enjoyed the popularity that many women who came later (Madonna, Lady Gaga, etc.) did. This caused her to eventually drop out of music altogether, which is our loss, as this is some damn fine funk!

Again, this release comes in a beautiful package with bonus tracks and another extensive booklet filled with more info on her career and photos from her live act. Another essential purchase!

The MC5 - Live '72 Kick Copenhagen

Yet another MC5 boot in my collection is from the tail end of the band’s career. Here, guitarists Kramer and Smith attempted to fulfill some contractual obligations despite the fact that Davis, Thompson AND Tyner had all quit the band! This is known as the MC2 Tour, though bookers cancelled most of the shows when they discovered that 3/5 of the group were not appearing.

All that said, this is not all that bad. True, the guys didn’t know the words to most of their own songs so they rely heavily on covers, but as a cover band – not as the MC5 – they were still pretty rockin’! They open, naturally enough, the the 5’s normal opener, “Ramblin’ Rose”, which always featured Wayne on lead vocals. This drags a bit and I’m assuming that the rhythm section didn’t have much time to learn the tunes, but they soldier through and it is a respectable enough beginning.

From there, they blast into the Stones’ “Empty Heart” with some real passion and K&S doing a call & response on both vocals & guitars, which shows that they still had some fire burning in them. “Bo Diddley” doesn’t work quite as well, mainly because there’s not any real guitar interplay, though they do smash out the power chords here. Fred takes over lead chores for Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” and they do indeed! Not quite as manic as their take on “Back in the USA”, but pretty damn good.

John Lee Hooker’s “Motor City is Burnin’” does miss Tyner’s soulful vocals, but the guys let loose with some fine blues riffage to make up for it. They prove that they were not afraid of the most obvious of covers as they do both “Gloria” & “Louie Louie” here, harkening back to their days as a 60’s garage band. Nothing highly original with these, but they do burst with some real energy and even some fun. I’ve seen some videos where they look like they are disgusted with the whole episode, but here it actually all sounds enjoyable. Of course, they had to do “Kick Out the Jams” and they infuse it with some real spunk and venom with everyone putting in 110%.

It’s sad that they greatest American rock’n’roll band just kinda fizzled and faded away, but this shows that Kramer & Smith wanted to go out kickin’ & screamin’ (literally), even though hardly anyone knew about it. This is a cool historical document, but really only for completists or for those, like me, who were interested in finding out what these two guitar greats could do on their own. 

The Jackets - Way Out

The Jackets are a modern, Swiss garage combo comprised of Jackie Brutsche on guitar & vocals (and Alice Cooper makeup), Samuel Schmidiger on bass/vocals and my old LA pal (and ex-member of the Foot Foot Three as well as the Get Lost and many more), Chris Rosales on drums/vocals. They have a cool, distinctive look with simple matching outfits (and Jackie’s sexy/spooky style) and a rockin’ fuzz-driven sound. Jackie’s vocals range from sultry to screaming and her guitar uses different effects and riffs to form a retro tone with nods to many of the major 60’s groups (everyone from the Count V to the Sonics to Richard & the Young Lions to the Wailers, whose “Hang Up” they cover here). Chris & Samuel give a solid, hard-hitting backing with hip harmonies and the three work as a solid and powerful unit.

Jackie is masculinely aggressive is her sound & manner (she even goes by Jack Torera at times) and she gives any male garage rockers more than a run for their money – slashing chords, wild fuzz licks, well-written tunes, growls a-plenty and a unique onstage persona.

This is a terrific slab of retro garage that could easily have fit in with the best of the 80’s groups – if that is your thang, the Jackets are your band! Get it!

See their excellent video for "Freak Out" here!