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The Zombies’ Biloxi Performance Produces Magical Moments

10 Mar

Zombies

“The Zombies Live” — a bit of an oxymoron, right? Or maybe a title of an upcoming horror film? I’ll tell you what I call it: A damn good time! These guys (leaders Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, by name) have been at it since 1961. Their first charting hit came along in 1964.  And you know what? They still sound great. Sure the lads have aged a bit. And maybe picked up a pound or two since the dashing portrait above was snapped. Some called them nerdy — some called them art school geeks — I have always dug them. They were always thinking a step ahead of their musical peers and that did not always translate into commercial success.

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The Hard Rock Casino – Biloxi is where it all went down

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Our tickets to this Thursday night Zombies show at the Hard Rock Casino were just $25 each plus tax — and the seats were superb. Probably about 10 rows back and just a tad left of center stage. I didn’t really want to be much closer. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, it can get a little loud up there sometimes.

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The average Joe might be hard pressed to name a single song by The Zombies. Time of the Season could come to mind … as it should. That recording, in my world, ranks right up there with The Beatles best work. The casual music fan of a certain vintage probably remembers tracks like Tell Her No and She’s Not There — and most likely Argent’s big solo smash Hold Your Head Up. The more hardcore vinyl junkie like your’s truly can go much deeper into The Zombies’ highly underappreciated catalog. I, for one, would be hard pressed to stop at 20 or so songs. They were indeed that special. Especially when further incorporating Rod’s time with Argent and vocalist Colin Blunstone’s solo recordings (check out his breathy Caroline Goodbye for starters) and stellar session work with the Alan Parsons Project (see Old and Wise for beginners).    

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The view from our seats (above) at Hard Rock – a steal at $25 + tax

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A signed CD was my souvenir for the evening

The Zombies masterpiece (often discussed in the same hushed tones as Sgt. Pepper’s, Pet Sounds, and Love’s Forever Changes) is their Odessey and Oracle album. It may have only included one chart hit (the soaring Time of the Season) but it is laden with innovative, quirky, and ultimately unforgettable tunes. The themes can be somber (A Rose for Emily) and downright bizarre (Care of Cell 44). This is an album that grows on you — and then stays with you forever. I can’t recommend it enough if you consider yourself a fan of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Moody Blues, The Kinks, or Pink Floyd. I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it. Critics rave about it and it is often cited as one of the Top 100 LPs of all time. Rolling Stone ranked it #80 in their Top 500. How ’bout them apples???

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If you ever get a chance to see The Zombies in concert, don’t miss them. Rod and Colin work incredible magic together. Argent can still bang on the keyboards like nobody’s business and Blunstone remains, to my ear, one of rock’s great voices. They play a great mix of the old and the new — and both founding members get plenty of time to bask in the spotlight. When they broke into Time of the Season (easily one of my all-time favorite songs), my wife Eileen and I were grinning from ear to ear. By the time the song reached its crescendo, I could have sworn our feet were floating about a foot or two off the ground. It was the same magical feeling I experienced when I first heard Booker T and the MGs perform Green Onions in person. Or the time I saw Tony Joe White singing Polk Salad Annie. Or the time I experienced the great Roy Orbison bring the crowd to its collective feet with a live take on Running Scared. It was indeed one for the ages.

Thank you, Rod and Colin. LONG LIVE THE ZOMBIES!!!

And just in case you boys ever wonder if all the bad meals, hotels, and travel are worth it, it is. Trust me … it really is.

You are making the world a brighter, more joyful place.

And what could be more rewarding than that?

“The Gulf” Adds Some Needed Juice to the Orange Beach, Alabama Dining Scene

12 Jan

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The structural design is striking, for sure. It is a beautiful space and it flows nicely with its surroundings. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the creation of The Gulf, an exciting new restaurant concept in sun-drenched Orange Beach, AL. The colors blend nicely. The logo (featuring Neptune’s trident) is hip and attractive. GM Johnny Fisher, a former baseball pitcher at the University of South Alabama, tells me the logo was designed by Big Communications in Birmingham, AL. They are the same folks who created the successful Alabama Gulf Seafood campaign. Sounds like they have a nice little niche going.  

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Fisher, who is obviously passionate about this exciting new venture, explained that this original concept was something of a Food Truck 2.0. Clever … and true. The enclosed kitchen structure is not large and the menu is short but sweet. All of the seating is outside — including the bar and the upstairs “balconies.” You can sit upstairs for the best panoramic views. Or you can sit on the wooden deck. Or on the grass — yes, real grass. It’s almost like a putting green. Or you can sit in a chair or comfy couch on the white sands of Perdido Pass. Talk about options! I really like the tiered approach for the outdoor “dining room.”

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OK, time to talk more about the menu board. Here it is (above). It gets tweaked from time to time, but the burger and grouper sandwich have become staples — and why not? Music by the 70’s R&B band WAR was spinning on the house turntable when I stepped up to place my order. Vinyl??? You bet. I heard Dave Mason, War,and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass during my first visit. This feature scores major points with this longtime vinyl junkie and thrift shop denizen. Getting back to the food, the Gulf Burger is just $6 and made with Meyer Ranch (based in Colorado) Natural Angus Beef. None of the cheap stuff here. The Grouper sandwich is $12 and always fresh. Grab an order of fresh cut french fries ($4) as a side or take my lead and skip right ahead to dessert. More on that later.

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These cool T-shirts at The Gulf are moving fast

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My beach view as the food was being prepared

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Even the seats & indoor/outdoor carpeting are cool

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I’m pretty sure the open air bar will prove to be a smashing success

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The space heaters are here — if they are needed

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The Gulf Burger arrived looking all hot and tasty. It was. I was impressed with the attention to the little details. The brioche bun was soft and delicious. The tomato slices fresh and juicy. The lettuce is chopped fresh daily. The house aioli delivers a nice lemon, garlic tang. Even the kosher dill pickle was impressive. This was no sliver, people — this was one half of a big, fat dill. I take notice of this stuff, don’t you? All the food is served on brown paper trays, which only further reinforces The Gulf’s casual vibe and food truck mentality. Place your order at the window, grab a seat overlooking the water, dig the tunes, and prepare thyself for a solid meal. It is on the way, baby.

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The grilled brioche bun made the burger even more memorable

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As for the previously mentioned dessert, the Meyer Lemon Pound Cake (above) was sublime. It’s basically a lemon cupcake topped with a stunningly sweet, tart Meyer Lemon icing. Plenty of it too. You can even see the lemon zest in the generous blob of icing on each piece of citrusy cake. It was a sunny January day when I visited and the heat of the sun’s rays slowly melted my icing into a soft, warm consistency. My entire meal including the juicy, flavorful burger and tangy pound cake came in at under $10. Pretty hard to beat that. And the views were worth a million bucks — especially in the heart of the winter here along the Alabama Gulf Coast.

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Talk about your table with a view? Incredible!

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Cool day on the beach. Grab yourself a Hot Buttered Rum and chill.

Let me put a bow on this thing by saying that I am thrilled that The Gulf has arrived in our little nook of the world. This place is very hip, the people really care about the food, and the beach views and casual, sandy vibe are second to none. And did I tell you they spin vinyl??? Oh yeah, guess I did. Got any old, neglected vinyl laying around? Take it to Johnny — he’ll give it a good home. And speaking of home, I have found a new one at The Gulf. I’ll be a regular in the Summer months. And I’ll visit when I can in the chillier months too.  Can’t think of a better way to wash away the Winter blues — short of another trip to Hawaii.

Great job, Johnny Fisher and crew. We love your new place. Thank you for giving us this little piece of paradise. Like Neptune’s trident, The Gulf is quite sharp — and “on point” too! 

The Gulf  – 27500 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach, AL

(251) 424-1800; http://www.facebook.com/#!/thegulfal?fref=ts 

Concord Re-Issues “Here’s Little Richard” with Bonus Tracks/Features

7 Apr

Little Richard was an electrifying talent — that we can all agree upon. But where exactly does he stand among contemporaries like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry? Richard, like the other performers mentioned, was an early inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But his legacy has not aged as well as many of his fellow rock giants. Richard did not always have access to the best material. His career quickly stalled out when he announced he would no longer sing “the devil’s music.” Yet, at the top of his game, the man born Richard Penniman could really stir up a room.

Top notch songs like Tutti Frutti, Ready Teddy, Long Tall Sally, Slippin and Slidin, and Rip It Up have surely stood the test of time. Penniman’s producer Art Rupe deserves a great deal of credit — as does the marvelous crew of backing musicians that can be heard on Richard’s New Orleans and Los Angeles recording sessions. These often overlooked studio cats included names like Lee Allen on tenor sax, Huey Smith on piano, Alvin “Red” Tyler on baritone sax, and the legendary Earl Palmer on drums.

Most of the highlights of Little Richard’s early rock n’ roll career can be found on “Here’s Little Richard.” Of special note is the bonus audio interview  with Rupe, Richard’s two original demo recordings, and included videos of Penniman’s 1956 Hollywood screen tests. The videos show Little Richard powering his way thru Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally. These songs heavily influenced acts like The Beatles and still maintain their energy and excitement more than 50 years after first being transferred to vinyl. The packaging also comes with a tastefully done booklet, some very cool B&W photography, and a fold-out poster of the original album cover. How’s that for extras???

Collectors and longtime fans will really dig the extra features and enhanced sound quality. If you don’t have any Little Richard in your collection, this is a wonderful place to start. Pop it into your CD player and you’ll be “ripping it up” in no time flat. Little Richard had that effect on people — and he still does today.

Rock ’n’ roll may date back to Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” in 1951 and perhaps further to blues/swing hybrids of the 1940s. But many would contend that Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans in September 1955, was the first great rock ’n’ roll record. “Tutti Frutti” kicks off Here’s Little Richard, Concord Music Group’s expanded reissue of the original Specialty Records album from 1957. Street date is April 17, 2012.
In addition to the original recordings of Little Richard’s best known hits — “Long Tall Sally,” “Ready Teddy,” “Jenny Jenny,” “Rip It Up,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’” and more — the Concord remastered reissue features two bonus tracks (Specialty demo recordings of “Baby” and “All Night Long”) and two videos (screen tests of “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally”).

The set contains liner notes by R&B musicologist Lee Hildebrand, as well as the notes from the original LP. Although Little Richard recorded for RCA Victor in 1951 and Peacock Records in 1953, his Specialty years — the 25-month period between September 1955 and October 1957 — proved monumental. As annotator Hildebrand writes, “They are quite possibly the most exciting and incendiary recordings in the annals of popular music and constitute a body of work upon which Richard’s reputation as one of the primary architects of rock ’n’ roll is measured.” Richard approached Specialty Records at the suggestion of R&B legend Lloyd Price, best known for the 1952 R&B hit “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”

Richard and his band, the Upsetters, recorded a demo of two blues songs at Macon radio station WMBL-AM. The first, “Baby,” was a blues shuffle, the second a slow blues titled “All Night Long” that featured B.B. King-style guitar by Thomas Hartwell. In fact Specialty owner Art Rupe happened to be looking for a singer like B.B. King, although staff producer Bumps Blackwell recalls Rupe as seeking the next Ray Charles. The demos didn’t overwhelm Rupe, but he signed Little Richard anyway.

Blackwell was assigned to record Richard in New Orleans, and the resulting session featuring pianist Huey Smith and saxophonist Lee Diamond begat eight standard-issue blues/R&B songs. Then, during a break on the second day while Smith was out, the producer heard Richard sing “Tutti Frutti,” accompanying himself on the piano. With only 15 minutes of studio time remaining, and the original lyrics cleaned up by songwriter and studio habitué Dorothy LaBostrie, there was no time for Smith to learn the piano part, so Richard played it himself.

According to Hildebrand, “Richard attacked the piano with incessant even-eight-note patters which was decidedly different from the shuffle rhythm drummer Earl Palmer was laying down behind him. Swing and shuffle beats had been the primary pulse of rhythm & blues until Richard introduced even eights that would come to drive most R&B and rock music and still do today.”

 
The song shot to #2 on Billboard’s R&B charts and a creditable #17 pop. Rolling Stone rated it at #43 on its list of Greatest 500 Songs of All Time. Subsequent Little Richard Specialty hits dented Top 10 R&B and Top 20 pop. All the songs on Here’s Little Richard were recorded in New Orleans with the exception of “True, Fine Mama” and “She’s Got It,” both made in Los Angeles, Specialty’s home.


Since abruptly giving up show business for God in October 1957, Richard’s life has vacillated between religion and rock ’n’ roll. Today at age 78, he lives in Nashville. Despite being wheelchair-bound, on July 3, 2011, he performed “Tutti Frutti” and other hits on the nationally televised all-star “A Capitol Fourth” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Mitch Ryder is BACK? Well, Sock It To Me, Baby!

4 Feb

MITCH RYDER TO RELEASE HIS FIRST NEW ALBUM IN 30 YEARS, THE PROMISE

Produced by fellow Detroit native Don Was, Ryder returns to his Motor City rock and soul roots.

DETROIT, Mich. — Before Jack White, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger or Iggy Pop, Detroit’s number one rock export was Mitch Ryder. Fronting the Detroit Wheels, Ryder spun out a string of rock ’n’ soul hits — “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Devil With a Blue Dress On / Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Sock It to Me, Baby” — in the mid-’60s that landed in the charts alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Ryder’s new album, The Promise (his first U.S. release in nearly 30 years), due out February 13, 2012 on his own Michigan Broadcasting Corporation label, finds him in prime form. The disc’s dozen tracks feature eleven full-bodied originals plus a live cover for the Motown classic “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” Ryder teamed up with acclaimed producer Don Was (a fellow Detroit native) to create a record that’s full of soul yet grounded in rock: music that acknowledges the past while looking forward. Ryder says he writes all of his songs from personal experiences. “When I am in the writing mode, I don’t listen to other music. I just shut down and draw on what my mind and my soul tell me to do.”

The Promise starts off capturing a particularly personal moment with “Thank You Mama.” This Motown-esque rocker serves as a eulogy to his parents. Ryder wasn’t able to attend either his mother or father’s funerals for various reasons (including a promoter who threatened to sue him if he went to this dad’s funeral) and he wrote this song, he reveals, “because I needed to get it out of my system. I never got to tell them thank you.”

The title track is a deeply soulful number — both through the music and the message. Combining a slow-burning rhythm with incendiary social commentary, this powerful ballad offers an unflinching portrait of a working-class American who is struggling to make ends meet yet holding on to “the promise” of a better tomorrow, when “my child will have doctors and my child will have good schools.” The song’s gritty quality, with its rock-edged funkiness, also fuels tunes like “One Hair,” “The Way We Were” and “Junky Love.”

However, it’s not a Mitch Ryder album without some party music too. The Latin-flavored “Let’s Keep Dancing” shakes up the disc’s tempo with a tango. Similarly, the piano-based ballad “Crazy Beautiful” gives Ryder an opportunity to show his vocal range extends beyond that of a belter. This song also provided him a chance to perform with one of his heroes, keyboardist Patrick Leonard. Leonard led the ’90s band Toy Matinee, whose sole album, Ryder says, stands as “one of the best pieces of American music I’ve ever heard.” When Was said that Leonard was working in the same studio where they were recording, Ryder went over to meet him. “I was brought to tears during the conversation,” Ryder admits. “That’s how powerful an impact he had on me.”

Ryder was also thrilled to have Was onboard. The two met when the famed producer worked in the studio where Ryder was making his 1980 release Naked But Not Dead. Although they’ve worked together over the years (“Brokenhearted” comes from one of Was’ annual “Concert of Colors” in Detroit), this was the first time they collaborated on an entire album. Ryder reveals that Was didn’t ask to see his lyrics before recording the songs and told Ryder that the only other artist similarly treated was Bob Dylan, which Ryder found a high compliment. Ryder also raved how Was was “able to bring the real exact sound of my voice as it exists today without using any gimmicks.”

Recording in Los Angeles’ historic Henson Studios (formerly A&M Records and originally Charles Chaplin’s studios), Was used his team of talented players (keyboardist Jamie Mahuberac, bassist Reggie McBride, guitarist Randy Jacobs and drummer James Gadsen) to give Ryder all that needed — whether it was an explosive guitar solo or a soulful groove. Ryder re-did one of his older songs, “My Heart Belongs To Me,” because he realized correctly that this band could give it the proper Stax sound that he wanted.

Born William Levise Jr., Ryder grew up in working class Detroit and started working as a singer while still a teen. He performed in a black soul club and fronted the Peps, a black vocal trio. As Billy Lee, he led a popular local band, the Rivieras. After Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe was blown away by one of their live performances, the group re-located to New York; however, they had to change their name due to the Rivieras of “California Sun” fame. Ryder, as the story goes, found his new stage name while flipping through the Manhattan phonebook — and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were born.

With Crewe at the helm, Ryder and the Wheels quickly developed a potent music style that infused R&B with high-octane rock ’n’ roll. Their biggest success came with the “Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” medley, which hit #4 on the charts and was famously re-done by Bruce Springsteen. Ryder says the band’s magic came from wanting “our records to sound live,” adding that “listeners responded to the energy.”

However, the success came with a price. Although they wrote their own material before, that changed when Crewe took control of the band. Ryder states, “We were told in no uncertain terms that we would be doing songs that Mr. Crewe presented to us and all he was doing when he wasn’t writing originals was throwing us covers. It was screwed up.”

By 1967, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels had splintered. Ryder later went to Memphis to do an album with Booker T. and the MGs before returning home to front a band called Detroit. Their one release included such a powerful rendition of Lou Reed’s “Rock N’ Roll” that Reed nabbed guitarist Steve Hunter for his own band.

While The Promise is Ryder’s first American-released record since his 1983 John Mellencamp–produced Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, he has been a busy musician over the years. He has a very devoted European following, especially in Germany, where a 1978 TV performance catapulted him to stardom. He has released 14 CDs in Germany and regularly puts on 2½ hour concerts. “I don’t have to do any of my American hits. They don’t care,” Ryder states. “It really makes me happy to have that alternative career.”

The Promise is just one of Ryder’s several current projects. His just published memoir, Devils & Blue Dresses: My Wild Ride as a Rock and Roll Legend chronicles his colorful career — and how he suffered through addiction, bankruptcy and more — and survived to talk about it all. In addition to the new book and album, Ryder is working on stage musical that he describes as “intensely emotional” and like “a Russian novel.”

An energetic 66-year-old, Ryder doesn’t think “time is an issue that should be treated so seriously.” He just strives to be productive and continue to grow as an artist. “I don’t feel old,” he proclaims, “I feel great about what I am trying to accomplish.”

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For more information about Mitch Ryder, please contact Conqueroo:
Cary Baker • (323) 656-1600 • cary@conqueroo.com

Lauterbach’s Chitlin’ Circuit History Deserves Great Praise & a Wider Audience

28 Aug

Preston Lauterbach is a friend of mine — going back to my days in Memphis. Great guy, he is. And he knows a thing or two about music — and good eats. I was pretty impressed when he first mentioned that he was undertaking this project. It’s a big topic. But also a topic that has not been well documented in the recent past.

All that being said, I am even more impressed by the finished project. This is a well-researched and entertaining story. Preston has a way with words. His method is hip and engaging. He educates without sounding like a professor. I buzzed through this book in no time flat. I had long thought that I was well versed when it came to this shadowy corner of rock n’ roll history. Boy, was I wrong. So many wonderful nuggets of knowledge to be found — and savored.

This is a tasty pot of musical stew – and one I would suggest you dig into.

A definitive account of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in black America, this book establishes the Chitlin’ Circuit as a major force in American musical history. Combining terrific firsthand reporting with deep historical research, Preston Lauterbach uncovers characters like Chicago Defender columnist Walter Barnes, who pioneered the circuit in the 1930s, and larger-than-life promoters such as Denver Ferguson, the Indianapolis gambling chieftain who consolidated it in the 1940s. Charging from Memphis to Houston and now-obscure points in between, The Chitlin’ Circuit brings us into the sweaty back rooms where such stars as James Brown, B. B. King, and Little Richard got their start.

With his unforgettable portraits of unsung heroes including King Kolax, Sax Kari, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Lauterbach writes of a world of clubs and con men that has managed to avoid much examination despite its wealth of brash characters, intriguing plotlines, and vulgar glory, and gives us an excavation of an underground musical America. 34 black-and-white illustrations

http://www.amazon.com/Chitlin-Circuit-Road-Rock-Roll/dp/0393076520

New Stuff from Marty, Neil and Harry

29 Sep

Marty Stuart continues to crank out classic country in the honky tonk tradition.

Neil Young is aging, but he still likes his music LOUD! Just ask Daniel Lanois.

Harry Nilsson is finally getting his due with his very own documentary.

Four Live Recordings from the Jefferson Airplane Coming in Late October

20 Sep

LIVE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE TO BE RELEASED OCTOBER 26 ON COLLECTORS’ CHOICE MUSIC LIVE

Four albums include Grace Slick’s first show at the Fillmore in 1966

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The argument rages on, but for many music fans in the ’60s, the best live band from the Bay Area was Jefferson Airplane. Formed during the summer of 1965 in San Francisco, the group triumphed in 1967 with Surrealistic Pillow, one of the key recordings of the Summer of Love, containing the hits “Somebody to Love,” “White Rabbit” and “Today.” The Airplane featured three master instrumentalists (Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady and Spencer Dryden) and three vocalists: Grace Slick (replacing original singer Signe Anderson in 1966), Marty Balin and Paul Kantner. The Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees made a total of eight studio albums and released a smattering of live albums including 1969’s Bless Its Pointed Little Head.

But what most fans don’t know is that there are vast reserves of never-released live material by Jefferson Airplane capturing key moments in their history. On October 26, 2010, Collectors’ Choice Music Live will release four previously unreleased live albums: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66 Late Show — Signe’s Farewell, Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66 Early & Late Shows — Grace’s Debut, Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66 — We Have Ignition, and Return to the Matrix 2/1/68.

The first three releases document the astonishing growth of the band, and follow the near-seamless absorption of Grace Slick’s voice and material into the Airplane’s sound just as they were entering the studio to record Surrealistic Pillow. The fourth release captures the group triumphantly returning to their home turf at Marty Balin’s club The Matrix for a relaxed, exploratory set in an intimate setting, performing material from their first four albums, including Crown of Creation, seven months before its release. Taken together, the four releases confirm that at its best, when Jorma was soaring, Jack rumbling and the three voices joining in ecstatic melisma, no other band could ascend to the heights attained by the Airplane. Hand-picked by a team of devotees, annotated by frequent Airplane flyer Craig Fenton (author of the book Take Me To A Circus Tent: The Jefferson Airplane Flight Manual), and featuring rare photos inside handsome digi-packs, these concerts distill and express the dream and promise of the Haight-Ashbury scene.

• Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66 Late Show — Signe’s Farewell:
The Grace Slick era of the Airplane has understandably received most of the attention paid the band over the years. But they had released a good album (Jefferson Airplane Takes Off) and were already a powerful live outfit before Slick came aboard. The 10/15/66 release not only marks the first appearance on CD of a live recording featuring Signe Anderson with the band, but also her very last show. Both Marty Balin and the Fillmore’s Bill Graham give her shout-outs. Songs include “3/5ths of a Mile in Ten Seconds,” “Tobacco Road,” “Midnight Hour,” “High Flyin’ Bird” and “Chauffeur Blues” (which Grace never performed out of respect for Signe, who’d made the old blues tune her own). It was the end of an era. But a new one was about to begin the very next day, and is the subject of the 10/16/66 release.

• Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66 Early & Late Shows — Grace’s Debut: The 10/16/66 volume chronicles the first set of concerts featuring Grace Slick as a member of the Airplane, a mere day after Signe Anderson officially left the band. The band has yet to add the material Slick brought to the band (“Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit) to the set list, but Grace’s harmony work with Marty and Paul is impressive, and you can literally hear her confidence growing from the first set to the second. The album contains “The Other Side of This Life,” “Let Me In,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Run Around” and “High Flying Bird,” plus versions of “3/5ths of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Tobacco Road” with the new line-up, and Leiber & Stoller’s “Kansas City,” which has never appeared on any Airplane studio or live album. Surrealistic Pillow photographer Herbie Greene contributes photos. Things would never be the same for the band or for ’60s rock.

• Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66 — We Have Ignition: CCM Live subtitled these shows “We Have Ignition” as they believe this is when the Airplane transformed from a high-flying bird into a psychedelic spaceship (but not yet a Starship.) It’s difficult to believe, when comparing these November shows with Grace’s live debut on 10/16/66, that only six weeks have elapsed. Not only has the band (particularly guitarist Jorma Kaukonen) progressed as musicians, but the infusion of Surrealistic Pillow material some four months before the album hit the stores shifts the focus of this folk-rock band to rock. Included are “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “High Flyin’ Bird,” “Bringing Me Down,” “ D.C.B.A-25,” “My Best Friend,” “Go to Her,” “She Has Funny Cars,” “3/5ths of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” “Skip Spence’s “J.P.P. McStep B Blues,” “White Rabbit,” “Today” and more. Two rarities are a mind blowing, 9:45-minute version of “The Other Side of Life” (performed for a photo session) that neither its author, the folk singer-songwriter Fred Neil, nor the band could ever have anticipated, and the only known recording of an instrumental known in some quarters as “My Grandfather’s Clock.” This is the Airplane at its early apex.

• Return to the Matrix 2/1/68: The Airplane returned to the first club they ever played, the Matrix, in 1968 for a 103-minute show at the height of their commercial prowess. They band premiered two songs from the Crown of Creation album (which was months away from being released): “Share a Little Joke” and an instrumental version of “Ice Cream Phoenix.” They also performed “Blues From an Airplane,” a song from its first (pre-Slick) album. Also here: “Somebody to Love,” “Young Girl Sunday Blues,” “She Has Funny Cars,” “Two Heads,” “Martha,” “Kansas City,” “Other Side of this Life,” “Today,” “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon,” “It’s No Secret,” “Watch Her Ride,” “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” “White Rabbit,” “Fat Angel” and “3/5ths of a Mile in 10 Seconds.”

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Stan Ridgeway Still Shines on “Neon Mirage”

25 Jul

I have always loved and promoted the music of Stan Ridgeway — from his IRS years with Wall of Voodoo to his countless solo and soundtrack recordings. It’s pretty hard to believe it’s been about 30 years since “Mexican Radio” first hit the airwaves. And judging from his latest CD “Neon Mirage,” Stan still has the knack for strong storytelling framed by atmospheric sonic imagery.

“Big Green Tree” opens this effort in winning fashion. Strumming acoustic guitars and a haunting blues harp are followed by a wistful Ridgeway vocal. It’s tone is vaguely reminiscent of a big screen Western. All in all a fine opening track.

“This Town Called Fate” is more familiar ground for Stan. It offers up a chugging “Camouflage” beat accented by big Marlboro man guitars. “Desert of Dreams” sports a soft Bossa Nova sound that would make Stan Getz proud. “Turn a Blind Eye” is a bit darker — almost Tom Waits’ dark. Good though … really good. It’s one of the CD’s highlights, thanks in large part to the precise interplay between a wispy flute and a honking tenor sax.     

“Flag Up on a Pole” is another standout cut. I really dig the funky reggae beat and scratchy guitar riff that pervades this track. It is further accented by a light, Doors-like organ and Ridgeway’s bold, echo-enriched blowing. “Scavenger Blues” sounds like a pure Chicago blues. Tasty rhumba drum notes and a searing electric Otis Rush-style guitar solo dig deep with truly satisfying results.

The CD closes with an instrumental (title track “Neon Mirage”) that could easily be claimed by both surf guitar and spy soundtrack afficianados. It’s a fitting way to wrap up another fine effort from an unheralded master of his craft. Let’s just hope that Stan Ridgeway continues to “do that voodoo that he do so well.”      

Former Wall of Voodoo frontman is flanked by Dave Alvin,
Pietra Wexstun, Ralph Carney, Rick King and the late Amy Farris

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — “You never really have a choice about the tone and subject matter of the records you make,” confides veteran L.A. singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway about his new album, Neon Mirage. “At least I don’t. They’re obsessions, really. Things happen, good and bad. And for most people, the passing of a parent or a close friend has an impact. It’s really about the music, and how it heals the mind. The records I grew up with still inform me, and the best were like an inner journey — mixing up blues, jazz, pop and country to make something fresh and, in the end, positive. But you can’t ignore the darker side of things, either.”

Stan Ridgway’s Neon Mirage, due for August 24, 2010 release, is arguably the most emotionally revealing, musically far-ranging — dare we say mature? — album of the L.A. singer-songwriter’s accomplished career. Yet it’s also a project whose troubled circumstances might tempt Stan to paraphrase John Lennon’s familiar wisdom: Life is what happens when you’re busy making another album.

Indeed, in many ways Neon Mirage can’t help but feel like an elegy to the colleague and family Stan lost in the midst of writing and recording its dozen, typically eclectic songs: gifted Texas-born violinist/session player Amy Farris; a beloved uncle; and the man who helped forge the very foundations of Ridgway’s unique outlook on life and music, his own father. “Events like that can’t help but have an impact on the music you’re making at the time,” Stan admits. “You’d be lying to yourself — and your listeners — if you thought otherwise.”

Ridgway quickly sets the album’s tone with a warm, accomplished recasting of “Big Green Tree” from Black Diamond (his forceful 1996 debut as an independent) produced by Dave Alvin. The L.A. roots rock legend reinvents it here in a gentler, more hopeful ethos around Ridgway and his longtime keyboardist/collaborator Pietra Wexstun, with Brett Simmons on upright bass and Amy Farris, then a member of Alvin’s own Guilty Women ensemble, on violin. Alvin had heard Stan perform the song solo at a special show for mutual friend and fellow songwriting legend Peter Case, and early sessions also yielded Neon Mirage’s memorable, Alvin-produced cover of Bob Dylan’s elegy to his own fallen hero, “Lenny Bruce.”

Ridgeway’s biggest hit with Wall of Voodoo was “Mexican Radio”

It’s an album in which Ridgway’s familiar wise-guy wit and cinematic lyricism are further tempered by an ever-inquisitive mindset that ranges from the haunting, candid introspection of “Behind the Mask” to an effusive, wistful tribute to lost friends and the Nashville of record producer Owen Bradley, “Wandering Star.” Elsewhere, Neon Mirage centers around more impressionistic takes on the toll patriotism extracts from its warriors (“Flag Up On a Pole”), the reality of being closer to the end of life’s rich pageant than its beginning (“Halfway There”) and the human propensity for myopia in the face of looming catastrophe (“Turn a Blind a Eye”).

Yet, as the foreboding and darkly loping guitar lines of “This Town Called Fate” and the album’s infectious instrumental title track attest, Ridgway’s new songs are also graced by the inventive musicality and unique viewpoint his fans have become well acquainted with since his early days as the driving force behind L.A.’s favorite ’80s experimentalists, Wall of Voodoo. But while the album’s expressive baritone and deft harmonica flourishes are instantly familiar, Stan employs them here on an ever-restless musical odyssey. Ridgway expands an already impressive musical palette via Wexstun’s always intriguing keyboard melodies and textures, the masterful sax, flute and woodwind work of Ralph Carney, the deft acoustic and electric guitar lines of longtime band mate Rick King and the rich symphonic string orchestrations of Amy Farris.

“I’ve probably confused people with my music, my choices, the albums and the changes in direction from year to year,” Ridgway admits. “But I can’t help it. That term ‘eclectic’ fits me perfectly and there are just too many musical styles and songwriters and singers I enjoy to just involve myself in only one type of music. I try to bring all the things I love into the sound. There’s a weird old American jukebox in my head and it still plays everything that’s ever got under my skin.”

Stan is quick to note where his often-mischievous musical curiosity came from: “Your parents’ record collection can be a big influence growing up. Something you thought was corny has a way of hangin’ on if it’s good to begin with. My dad was a big fan of country & western music, comedy records, hi-fi playboy stereo lounge stuff. Hank Williams, Dean Martin, Ernest Tubb, Sinatra, Johnny Cash of course, Allan Sherman, Charlie Rich, Patsy Cline, and Marty Robbins — all of the great originals. I learned to love the singing, the stories, and even when my tastes in music grew far too weird for my dad, we could still come together on those old records we loved and listened to together. The old western myths of heroes and villains and storytelling of Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs was an important one. And I never would have thought of covering ‘Ring of Fire’ with Wall of Voodoo without my dad’s influence in the beginning.”

Ridgway also credits his father with informing much of the wry personal/musical viewpoint that’s always been central to his songwriting. “A sense of humor is important in handling the disappointments in life,” Stan notes. “My father taught me that, too. Along with a strong work ethic. A certain type of ‘black humor’ helps put a light on the darker realities of living and let’s you get above them by making a joke about it. But it wasn’t a cynic’s view, more of a frustrated romantic’s perspective over a developed sarcasm about the way things really are and not how they seem to appear.”

Stan explains: “In the last few years in his 80s, he always knew my mother and all of us right up until the end. But memory could sometimes be sketchy for Dad. Even so, he never lost who he was or his love, loyalty and dedication to family and working hard in life to achieve results. Or the hard won values of his generation and what they’d sacrificed to achieve for a greater good. All the great adventures he’d had, the global travel and work, the grand victories he’d experienced along the way were never lost to him. And he recalled them all in great detail with pride and a singular sense of humor. And us there with him.” Ridgway’s father passed in December 2009.

But while Ridgway had long girded himself for his father’s passing, he admits the suicidal death of brilliant violinist Amy Farris in the midst of Neon Mirage’s sessions felt “abrupt and brutal.” When Amy phoned him to cancel an upcoming appearance with his band because she wasn’t feeling well, Ridgway assured her it was no problem, saying, “‘health is everything.’ But that weekend she took her life,” he recalls sadly. “Possibly even the night we were on stage at McCabe’s. Dave (Alvin) called me Monday morning with the news and I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. But mental illness and depression are like any other illness, and Amy struggled from childhood with them.”

“Drive, She Said” was perhaps Stan’s biggest solo hit

Despite the troubled times it was recorded in, Ridgway insists Neon Mirage represents something even more personal than the sum of its songs to him. “It’s as much a journey as a destination,” Stan says of his music. “If I don’t try and create something of my own, I just feel that I’m hangin’ on a corner waiting for someone to tell me what to think and do. It’s a mad society. But the best therapy for me is always creativity and invention. And a dedication to the people and things you love. Most people live their lives upside down and backwards, only jumping in when the consensus says it’s safe. That’s just human nature — who doesn’t want to be safe? But is that really possible?”

“Camouflage” is another memorable cut from Ridgeway

www.stanridgeway.com

Hoodoo Gurus Unveil Rockin’ 9th Recording

21 Mar

Wake up all you aging rockers! We are totally psyched out of our minds to see this one finally come to fruition. I have already tracked the CD three times and I’m happy to report that there is not a weak track on the entire disc. Standouts include  the blistering “Crackin’ Up,” a horn-laden “Only in America,” the jangly “Evening Shade,” and closer “The Stars Look Down.” Gurus vocalist Dave Faulkner even channels his own inner Billy Idol swagger with the shouter, “Why So Sad?” To cite the one and only Huey Lewis … “The Heart of Rock n’ Roll is Still Beating!”  

“PURITY OF ESSENCE” COMING MAY 11TH

“Crackin Up” came to frontman Dave Faulkner as a dream

 
SYDNEY, Australia – The Hoodoo Gurus, known for high energy, hook-laden rock ‘n’ roll, have completed their ninth album, Purity of Essence, which will be released May 11, 2010 on their own label in the United States via Virtual Label/ADA. Formed in 1981, the band is described by AllMusic.com as “(channeling) their inspiration from the vast entirety of the American pop cultural landscape, drawing on such disparate sources as B-movies, bad sitcoms, and junk food in tandem with the usual suspects like garage rock, power pop, and surf to create a distinctly kitschy and catchy sound. . . .and if you don’t like the Hoodoo Gurus, I suspect you don’t like rock & roll very much.”

A jam session at a Sydney rehearsal studio earlier this year produced eight songs and set the template for their ninth studio record. All four band members were pole-axed by the lightning bolt moments that brought singer and songwriter Dave Faulkner’s songs to life from his demos.

Even the songwriter himself says there must have been some rock ‘n’ roll magic at work when “Crackin’ Up,” the album’s first single, arrived almost fully formed in a dream.

“It’s only ever happened before once in my life where I have actually dreamed a song. I woke up and had the melody, all the chords and the title, walked out of my room and told the friends who were staying with me not to talk to me while I found my little cassette recorder and put the song down,” Faulkner says.

The serendipity continued when the frontman brought the song to the band.

“During that day, there were so many songs and sounds coming out that we’d never done before,” he observes. “They had the classic Gurus feel but it was different even though we weren’t pushing ourselves to do something different. But on this particular magic day, it all happened. It was the most memorable day in the rehearsal room that the band has ever had.”

The resulting inspiration resulted in more good songs than they could reasonably fit onto one CD. But, as Faulkner says, “Dammit, let’s just put ‘em all on. The good news is that there is such a diversity of styles – from punk ˆ la the Ramones to dare-I-say pretty songs and some guilty pleasures – that it doesn’t get repetitive.”

Speaking of the Ramones, the Gurus reunited with old friend Ed Stasium (and former Ramones producer) to mix Purity of Essence. The album was co-produced by the band with Charles Fisher, producer of two classic Hoodoo Gurus albums, Mars Needs Guitars and Blue Cave. The album was mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound with the exception of “Crackin’ Up”, which was mastered by Don Bartley. The album cover is a large-scale painting by Doug Bartlett.

Immediately upon completing the album, the Hoodoo Gurus set upon shooting a number of videos and “webisodes”, including a “mockumentary” about the making of the album. These videos may be seen on YouTube, and the “Crackin’ Up” video may be seen here.

For two and a half decades the Hoodoo Gurus have consistently been one of the most inventive, lyrically smart and exciting rock ‘n’ roll bands Australia has ever produced. And they’ve done it with style, panache and a wicked sense of humor. Already a seasoned live outfit from endless Australian touring, the Gurus found themselves in 1983 signed to A&M Records in the U.S.; their first release, Stoneage Romeos, hit #1 on the American college radio charts. On the strength of this they embarked on the first of countless tours of the U.S. and many other countries.

In fact the Gurus have toured internationally dozens of times, including repeated sell-outs at 10,000 capacity venues in Brazil. The band was consistently cited as one of the highlights at the 2007 SXSW Music Festival in Austin. The SXSW performances were part of an extended run of North America and Canadian dates that were greatly anticipated by a new generation of fans who thought they’d never have the opportunity to see the much-mythologized Australian band perform live.

The Hoodoo Gurus remain as relevant and impassioned about their distinctive brand of rock ‘n’ roll as at any time in their twenty-five year career.

Let the essence flow!

New Collection Spotlights Paul Revere & The Raiders

13 Feb

Often forgotten by critics discussing mid-60’s American rock, Paul Revere and The Raiders had an impressive string of ten or so hits that few groups of the era could match. Positioned somewhere between the zany showmanship of The Monkees and the grit of the early Beatles, lead singer Mark Lindsey and the band started out as a popular garage band in the Pacific Northwest. The boys could write a little bit and play their own instruments, something it took the Monkees several years to develop.

Like The Monkees,  The Raiders were aided by consistent TV exposure, skillful production (by Doris Day’s son, Terry Melcher), and the support of some superior song writers and West Coast session players (master drummer Hal Blaine, to name just one). Mark Lindsey was also one of the best leather-throated shouters of the period. This thorough collection includes all the hits, misses, and oddities. It’s a must have for longtime fans and curiosity seekers alike. Pay special attention and reverance to rockers like “Ups and Downs,” “Kicks,” “Good Thing,” “Hungry,” “Just Like Me,” and “Steppin’ Out.”     

Here’s the product description from Collector’s Choice …

Having done complete singles collections on such great 60s singles bands as Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis & the Playboys and Jay & the Americans to rapturous applause from the collector community, we knew which group they were hungry for next it had to be Paul Revere & the Raiders! And, with all due respect to those previous collections, we think this one might the best set yet!

Once again, Ed Osborne is your annotator and curator for this triple-disc collection, which features all 62 commercially-released A and B sides the band recorded for Columbia in its various incarnations (as Paul Revere & the Raiders, Paul Revere & the Raiders Featuring Mark Lindsay, the Raiders, etc.), plus their two Special Products tracks Corvair Baby and SS396 and two bonus tracks, commercial jingles for Mattell s Swingy Doll and the Pontiac Judge GTO Breakaway Commercial for GM.

As with our previous collections, all singles appear in their original mono taken from original tapes (on the first two discs) and original stereo from original tapes (on the last disc), with invaluable assistance provided by Columbia vault-meister and engineer extaordinaire Bob Irwin. Copious liner notes featuring new, exclusive interviews with Raiders Paul Revere, Mark Lindsay, Phil Fang Volk, Keith Allison, Jim Harpo Valley and manager Roger Hart accompany, festooned with rare photos. It’s the definitive collection from one of the great early American rock n’ roll bands, and remember – many of these original single versions have never appeared on CD! 66 tracks!

Get your copy now at http://www.ccmusic.com/item.cfm?itemid=CCM20882

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