Monthly Archives: August 2009

Blast From The Past: Humble Pie

Road Warriors of Rock'n'Roll

Road Warriors of Rock'n'Roll

I remember playing cuts from Rock On and Rockin’ The Fillmore as a college radio DJ, and the several Humble Pie shows I was blessed to witness are seared into my brain. And witness is an operative verb here; while the early shows were piledriver blues/boogie rock’n’roll, in his later years Steve Marriott was part rocker, part white soul singer, part rock evangelist. At the time it was probably the closest thing to having a gospel preached at me and to me since the I stumbled into a Baptist church.

But back in the early Pie days, when Peter Frampton played and sang alongside Steve, they were a bit more straight-ahead. Determined to break and break big, they toured incessantly in the States and lit arena after arena on fire. For a couple of years in the early 70s, it was far more likely you’d hear Humble Pie blasting out of dorm windows than the latest Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin cut. America loves their meat and potatoes, and Humble Pie was meaty.

Looking back at BBC tracks from famous 70s bands is always fascinating and Humble Pie is no exception. While not a purely focused disc – leave it to Fuel 2000 to license rather than create – there is some great music within. Here’s what I wrote about Natural Born Boogie release for PopMatters back in 2000:

Steve Marriott Boy Howdy

Like the blues players he idolized, Steve Marriott may finally be getting his due after he’s no longer here to reap the rewards. Bands like The Black Crowes openly admit his influence, while a waft of inferior vocalists trying to emulate him prove that his talents are sorely missed. Marriott had the fortune to shine in two majestic bands early in his career, and both The Small Faces and Humble Pie are enjoying a new wave of popularity as classic radio vaults open wider.

Although Rockin’ The Fillmore will stand as their definitive concert recording, Humble Pie did cut several solid sessions for BBC One between 1969 and 1971. “Natural Born Boogie“, the band’s Chuck Berry-flavored hit, finds Marriott in great vocal tone, while “The Ballad Of Shakey Jake” boasts some guitar noodling that would bring a smile to the face of any Deadhead. Fluid and creative, Peter Frampton, still years away from his megastar status, is the perfect axe partner for Marriott’s more bar-blues approach. Ex-Spooky Tooth bassist Greg Ridley and (then) teenage drum whiz Jerry Shirley flow from folk to rock as easily as their more famous counterparts. Consider their take on the Buddy Holly chestnut “Heartbeat”; heavier and blusier than the original, but not so cool that they couldn’t slap some handclaps in there too. And in “Desperation” we see the worm turning as Mod Steve starts to establish his soul roots with the band.

The later sessions (1970-71) are probably closer to the Humble Pie most people are familiar with. “Big Black Dog” is as close to “Walkin’ The Dog” in structure as it is in name, and “Four Day Creep” (perhaps the highlight here) is close to the album cut. “Rolling Stone” is an abbreviated version of the one on Rockin’ The Fillmore (thankfully), while “The Light” lets Frampton get a parting shot in before leaving. The final two tracks are from the Old Gray Whistle Test, and while “Black Coffee” (complete with The Blackberries on vocals) sounds great, “I Don’t Need No Doctor” is horrible.

In fairness, the CD cover contains a disclaimer that the sound quality on the tenth cut is very poor, but even with those expectations it sounds like a fifteenth generation bootleg tape. Recorded underwater. Left on the dashboard in the summer with the windows rolled up tight. Chewed on by the dog. Am I making this clear enough? Sure, the band smokes the tune, but are you telling me there was no other version, or other cut — of ANYTHING — available? Considering that “Doctor” was the cornerstone of Rockin’ The Fillmore, there is no reason under the sun that this should have been included here. Did the songwriters really need the royalties that badly?

And sure, the liner notes could have been more expansive, and some proofreader should have known the difference between Brian Jones and Mick Jones, but you can’t have everything. Since Steve isn’t around to thrill us with new music, having treasures like these get cleaned up and sent our way is something we should be thankful about. Well, nine out of ten times, anyway.

Humble Pie old

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Too Fat To Fish

Boats everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.

Boats everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.

Summer reading – uncomplicated, light fare, books you can doze off in the middle of and pick up again on the wrong page and nobody cares. Perfect time for most books about musicians and actors and comics, because with few exceptions you can blow through them in a sitting. Depends on how interesting the subject is. Also depends on how talented the ghostwriter or co-writer is. Artie Lange seemed to fit the bill, especially since the #1 bestseller from last Fall was now available in paperback. Too Fat To Fish is a decent read, breezy enough to enjoy and written conversationally so even his most challenged zealot can grasp the gist of it.

I’m not a regular Howard Stern listener, but I’m familiar with a lot of Artie’s  other work and he can be a funny guy. He’s got the John Belushi schlub thing down pat when he wants to, and anyone who can make a film like Beer League is okay by me. The proof is out there – MAD TV, Dirty Work, It’s The Whisky Talkin’, even bit parts on shows like Rescue Me. Artie Lange has charisma, although often it’s train wreck charisma – but either way he’s not slipping off your radar once he’s on.

Artie’s book skips through events in his life, starting in his childhood and his determination to make it as a ballplayer or a comic. A tragic accident paralyzed his Dad, whom Artie worshipped, and he ties a lot of his recklessness and problems to the aftermath of his father’s death, although ultimately the same event made him rededicate himself to making a mark in the entertainment world. He succeeded quickly as one of the charter cast members of MAD TV but was in over his head from the start, although castmates Orlando Jones and David Herman (later the hilarious Michael Bolton in Office Space) bailed him out repeatedly, first saving his job and later his life.

Those looking for stories of excess and debauchery will fins plenty here, from the “pig story” and rampant dug and alcohol binges to the networks throwing development money around like Johnny Appleseed with little or no hope of valuable return. Lange is pretty honest about how many times his screw ups affected dozens of people, and the frequency of public apologies to those he is no longer in touch with are both heartfelt and sad. As each chapter unfolds you’re certain that this, finally, is the redemption coming along, but all it does is blow up yet another bridge. Few have gone through Lange’s orbit unscathed, and Artie doesn’t deflect the blame.

Mostly Artie comes off like a guy who got too much too soon, blew it, miraculously got it back. He was emotional recalling the honor of performing for the troops. His family is still on a pedastel, including his late father whom he still reveres. He sounds truly grateful to those still willing to give him yet another chance, and I imagine there are days when he gets up in the morning and wants to pull a Dave Chappelle for his own sanity. Maybe catch a ballgame and share a private thought with his Dad. Maybe hang out with some of the legends he truly reveres – Don Rickles, Shelley Berman – and just soak it up a little. Maybe grow up a little.

But then he hits the studio where magic happens, where the most dynamic voice in the last quarter century of radio (no, idiot, it’s not you) welcomes him like family. Where the phones light up with armies of zealots. Zealots who will fill theatres and arenas and generate more money than ninety percent of his comedian peers will generate. Where he is surrounded by legions of fans who worship the very behavior that ran him into the tree the last time around. (Just be outrageous, Artie – drink, eat, curse, belch…be that derelict we love so much! Dance, monkey…dance!)

Fishing? Fuck fishing. Who needs fishing?

Hang in there, Artie. I hope those you ask for forgiveness do so. I hope those who you ask to come back to your life do so. And I hope the second time around you pay attention to the Norm MacDonalds and Howard Sterns and Dave Attells and learn how to walk that line between caricature and character. You’re still a pup, Artie – I hope we haven’t seen your best yet. I hope you don’t take the easy road down and out.

P.S. – Artie…park that car, ok? You can afford a driver by now.

Artie Lange’s world.

Artie wiki.

Artie’s MySpace site

MAD TV, R.I.P.

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Under The Radar: The Reefermen

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Recorded live at Fifth Avenue Billiards in Royal Oak, Michigan – a stone’s throw from Detroit – this disc captures a superlative group of musicians jamming on some classic rock, funk and blues in majestic fashion. The Reefermen are essentially a power trio plus a harp-wailing front man, and although the material on this live CD are not originals, the songs are “reeferized” for your pleasure. A further blessing is that the tunes are across the board, from B.B.King to The Count Five to Sly Stone to The Doors.

Drummer Jeff Fowlkes and bass player Phil “Greasy” Carlisi create such a thick stew of a bottom end that guitar monster Bobby East is able to fly untethered; when singer James Wallin rips in with harp and percussion it really takes off. East is at once tasty and forceful, equally adept at classic blues, funk and rip-roaring rock. And rock’n’roll doesn’t exist without the roll, kids – and these guys flat out groove.

The band members are all Detroit area veterans with a wealth of experience and are legendary for their lengthy expositions on classic material – Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath medleys are just some of the epic shows heads are still spinning about. (Short excerpts below)

A Night At The Fifth offers ten recognizable blasts from anyone’s past, and while I seem to be getting giddy over a cover band here, consider the pedigree of the players. Carlisi is no longer in the fold, but with Mike B on bass the band still knocks them out in the Michigan clubs and theatres. By all means check them out live, but if you can find this great live document do not hesitate to pick it up.

Reefermen MySpace page.

Reefermen Zep medley February 2009

Reefermen Black Sabbath medley.

Reefermen Beatles medley.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Timetripping Tunes

Quality won’t be HDTV, folks, but I’m just thanking the higher power that these clips are available at all. These were staples of my teenage diet; I watched these puppies spin around at 45 RPM more often that I can remember, and I still get excited when I hear them. Forty years later, my inner dashboard drummer (a/k/a “Tappy Joe“) will still abandon the steering wheel in a heartbeat to recreate the drum fills that start at 1:38 in “Psychotic Reaction“. (And why not? It’s great stuff!)

So whether this is a blast-from-the-past jukebox or you are popping your timetripping cherry with me into unchartered waters, trust me that you’ll enjoy this half-ish hour of fun.

(And don’t look at me all weird because it’s mostly black and white – do you really think Rod Serling did his best work in color?)

musicnotes

The Count Five: “Psychotic Reaction

The Left Banke: “Walk Away Renee

The Blues Magoos: “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet

The Zombies: “She’s Not There

Status Quo: “Pictures of Matchstick Men

The Knickerbockers: “Lies

The Outsiders: “Time Won’t Let Me

The Box Tops: “The Letter

Paul Revere and the Raiders: “Kicks

and, of course

The Easybeats: “Friday On My Mind

Dime? Quarter? This one if free, my friends! Keep rocking and enjoy the weekend.

Dime? Quarter? This one if free, my friends! Keep rocking...

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Blast From The Past: TPOH

And not necessarily in that order

And not necessarily in that order

Wow…it’s been almost ten years since this greatest hits collection, which gives you an idea how long it’s been since The Pursuit Of Happiness was first climbing the ladder to success. Almost out of the box their classic “I’m An Adult Now” became a smash on college radio (and a cult hit here in the States), and although they never attained that level of commercial appeal again, their body of work is deep and impressive.

Why is it so hard for Canadian bands to impact US radio? (Don’t answer – that’s a rhetorical question). Along with The Odds, TPOH was an intregal part of my musical pleasure in the 90s and their albums are still favorites today. Yet sections of their catalogue remain unreleased here, and as for their name recognition…well, I could have easily made this column an Under The Radar entry.

Video for I’m An Adult Now.

Just below is the review of Sex and Food that I wrote almost a decade ago. Please at least start there, but if you trust this good Doctor, you’ll start picking each original release up one by one. Because I know you don’t want any more crappy teen-oriented music from Fergie or the latest fabricated American Idol…you’re an adult now.

 TPOH band

Not with a bang, but with a whimper…how sad that one of the best bands of the past ten years, and one of the best songwriters of the rock era, period, are hanging it up. There’s no room on Boy Band Radio for intelligently crafted pop songs that deal with unrequited love, blind lust, temporary bliss and just plain bad timing. How ironic, then, that their epitaph may boil down to their one certifiable mark on American airwaves, “I’m An Adult Now”.

That’s not their fault. “She’s So Young”, “Two Girls In One”, “Pressing Lips”, “Young And In Love” and “What You Did To My Girl” should have given them a killer single from each record, to be followed up by another two or three. But the last two records (Where’s The Bone and The Wonderful World Of) didn’t even get released in America. The first three are hard-to-find cut outs. Radio ignored them. Ah, shit…a classic case of woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Moe Berg’s self-depreciating but subtly brilliant lyrics, sung in his inimitable style, were always framed on the chorus by the trademark two-part female harmony vocals that the band picked up during sessions with Todd Rundgren. Kris Abbott’s guitar playing was every bit as good as her stunning looks, and Dave Gilby and Johnny Sinclair supplied a bottom end strong enough to float a battleship upon. They rocked like a metal band but could spin pop chestnuts with anyone. In short, they were too damned good to survive.

This collection leans heavily on the first three records and also includes some treats like a live version of “Food” , a demo (“Wake Up And Smell Kathy”), a B-side (“Let My People Go”), an outtake from Love Junk (“Take You With Me”) and a live version of the concert favorite, “Edmonton Block Heater”. Which means when you eventually get all five records – and you will – there are enough rarities to warrant having this one also.

Lots of bands break up and get back together for the money, but I don’t even think there was money on the table for these guys the first time around. In his funny liner notes, Moe bids a fond farewell to the band, but I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of him. With Moe Berg the artist feeling disrespected, unwanted and the sting of failure, Moe Berg the songwriter is in his natural element.

Incompletely Conspicuous – the amazing TPOH site.

IC’s breakdown on the track list of Sex And Food.

Amazon link to this CD as well as a live DVD

Video for the subtly disturbing Young And In Love.

Even AllMusic barely recognizes them.

TPOH wiki

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