Tag Archives: Bill Wyman

Blast From The Past: Let It Bleed

It might be their greatest album, and that’s saying something.

Took a drive through the country Sunday afternoon and slapped this puppy in the player. My god, it sounds as fresh and vital as it did in 1969, and as many Stones albums were during their apex, there’s not a duff track in the lot. Many people focus on the legendary tracks – “Midnight Rambler”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Gimme Shelter” – and those three are certainly landmark tracks of the rock’n’roll era. But it’s the deeper dive that makes this album more rewarding.

Keith’s “You Got The Silver” is among his finest performances, and a perfect example of the “front porch” sound that he gleaned from his relationship with Gram Parsons. Hell, “Country Honk” could have been a Flying Burrito Brothers track. I remember being stunned that the band did not put “Honky Tonk Women” on the album; it was a massive hit single and leaving it off almost seemed counterproductive to the promotion of the album. But as a Stones fan, I was thrilled to have such a different take.

The title track is joyful (and sordid); impossible not to sing along to and timelessly infectious. Speaking of sordid, “Live With Me” is one of their raunchiest, featuring a killer bass line and a nasty sax solo. “Love In Vain” is a prime example of how the blues roots of the band flowered over time; what started as simple expositions of the form started to flower into inventive arrangements.

Charlie Watts is a monster, as always, but the underrated Bill Wyman has some great moments as well. And as much as I love Brian Jones, Mick Taylor was the greatest guitarist the Stones ever had (Ron Wood is a great player, but he has been wasted as a Rolling Stone). The band also pulled out all the stops with horn sections, gospel choirs and majestic arrangements; the sound of this album was phenomenal considering the year it was made.

This album came out as big cultural changes were occurring in the industry and for fans. AM radio was still pretty cool but FM was rearing its head. Singles were still huge (and selling) but albums started to become definitive statements rather than a collection of hit and failed singles. Let It Bleed was proving that these English boys not only understood Delta and Chicago blues, but country music and roadhouse rock as well. Hearing it made me feel cooler than I was. It gave me a window to what could (and would) be.

Listen to clips here…oh just buy the damned thing, willya?

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Rock’s Darkest Day?

July 3rd is the anniversary of the deaths of both Brian Jones and Jim Morrison. Ask rockers about Morrison and you’ll get a highly divided camp; some revere his poetic lyrics and unique artistic expression with The Doors, while others see him as a bloated, self-indulgent hipster who yammered nonsense and called it art. 

I was a Doors fan and still enjoy their music – there are a series of great singles and many of the deeper tracks on the album were pretty fascinating. I thought L.A. Woman was a tremendous album and am saddened that they never got to continue that journey. But the drunken escapades, the supposed incidents of exposure, the pretentiousness of it all…yeah, I could understand someone resisting their work because they can’t get past that. 

But I’ll wrestle you to the mat about Jones

Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones. Without him, there wouldn’t be a band, let alone a Sticky Fingers or an Exile on Main Street or a Let It Bleed. Because it was Jones the blues purist who set the course, charted the direction and marketed the band in the earliest days when everyone else was ready to fold the tent and quit

Mick Jagger would have graduated from the London School of Economics and been a prissy accountant. Charlie Watts would probably have joined a jazz band and would be famous to a whole other audience. Bill Wyman might have lived the suburban life he seemed to be drifting towards, playing in r&b bands on the weekend and still pulling birds half his age. 

And Keith Richards? He probably would have done the same damned thing – overindulge in life’s pleasures and play some of the most timeless riffs man has ever wrangled from an electric guitar. 

I remember being crushed when Jones died. I was just a kid – other iconic deaths like Buddy Holly either predated my awareness or (like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding) involved people I liked but was not fully invested in. But The Rolling Stones were my lifeblood, and this was like losing a brother.

You have to realize that at the time, lines were drawn between Beatles fans and Stones fans; peer pressure said you had to be one or the other, and you’d better choose. All the cute girls chose The Beatles, of course…and that was reason enough for me to side with the Stones

He was the first rock star in my world; looked (at the time) like a golden god, played any instrument you put into his hands, added flavor to Stones singles that other bands would later copy and seemed like the coolest guy on the planet. When I saw the Stones on Ed Sullivan I looked right past Jagger and was mesmerized by him. And I wasn’t the only one…five hundred miles north of my New York City house, Andy and Greg of The Chesterfield Kings were watching the same program and getting their minds blown as well. 

And then he died – murdered, I still believe – and what had been this picture perfect vision of music and peace and utopia started to crumble. Soon it would be Jimi, and Janis and Jimoddly connected…and finally the nail in the coffin,  Altamont

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Mick Taylor era of the band, and although he’s been underutilized in his tenure, Ronnie Wood is one of my all time favorite guitar players. But the London singles the early Stones cut? Pure magic

Listen to the magic!

Had the Stones broken up after Exile, they would have that same unfinished legacy that Buddy Holly, The Beatles and James Dean have – a permanent snapshot of genius in its prime.  No chance to stumble and fall, or go ages between artistic releases, or climb on stage long past their prime and sing about want and boredom and being unsatisfied…right before pocketing millions per gig and taking a private plane home. 

What would Brian Jones have done after he got over the heartbreak of being squeezed out of his own band? I can only wonder. But I can also revel in what he left behind, which is a brilliant anthology of classic music that is as powerful to me now as it was as the impressionable boy with a transistor radio and a dream. 

What a drag...it is getting old.

And Happy Birthday to (among others) Kurtwood Smith, Fontella Bass, Franz Kafka, George Sanders, Dave Barry, and the late, great Ken Ober.

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God Save The Kinks

Still four, still fab.

…and perhaps Ray and Dave have decided to save them also. 

During an interview promoting an upcoming master class series he will be participating in, longtime drummer Mick Avory spilled some rather interesting beans. Not only are he and Ray “baking” some old unreleased Kinks tracks in the studio (there are reportedly eight ready to go!), but the efforts finally seem in place to record some new Kinks material. Those of us pining for the long-awaited Julien Temple Kinks film are now also hopeful that the recent Kinks box set will become outdated as a result, and for all the right reasons: 

New. Kinks. Music. 

Ray has always been the one to squelch rumors about any Kinks projects, citing the unwillingness to just reunite without new music. That hasn’t stopped him from taking the old chestnuts on the road or creating new projects around them, from Storytellers to The Kinks Choral Collection to a new studio effort re-recording Kinks Klassics with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and The Killers, among others. He’s currently hitting the road as an acoustic two-piece presenting forty years of Kinks songs (with The 88, an excellent band, opening the shows). 

Dave’s issues have been more cut and dried – since suffering a stroke in 2004, he has struggled to regain his strength and chops, although he did start playing some dates again. And as to his slagging Ray for “performing karaoke Kinks shows” for the past fifteen years, Ray wryly observed that Dave’s sarcasm was a good sign that he is getting back to normal. 

Of course, these reunion rumors have been going on forever. But to Mick’s point, Ray seems to have turned the corner regarding new music. In a November 2009 interview Ray spoke about missing The Kinks and the desire to make a new album with Avory, Ian Gibbons and others, but the key was if Dave was willing. That could be the very thing that gets Dave to bury the hatchet…and not in Ray’s head

To quote a line from one of my favorite movies, “we wait with bated breath“. 

Ray Davies - Prince of the Punnnnks

And speaking of the Legends Master Class series, check out the website. If you hit the main page you might be put off by the offer to rehearse and write in the same room used by Lady Gaga or…um… master where Robbie Williams did (hand sanitizer not included). But forge ahead to the 2010 schedule where the teachers include respected icons like Avory, Chris Difford, Glen Matlock and the great Ian McLagan. Plus any event that winds up at Bill Wyman‘s pub for lunch is alright by me. The fun starts in April, so plenty of time to sign on; sounds a lot better than Rock&Roll Fantasy Camp to me. 

The only fan site you need: KindaKinks.net 

A Kollection of Kinks Klips

Do It Again

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Nankering (Again) with the Rolling Stones

 

"Toilet seat down, eh lads? Uhh...wot? No seat at all?"

"Toilet seat down, eh lads? Uhh...wot? No seat at all?"

I’ll admit it. I read a lot of rock books, most of which suck. There are exceptions, of course;  Jacob Slichter of Semisonic wrote a beauty, one of the most well-written books about a band being chewed up by the machinery, and Ian McLagan’s is a fascinating peek into the world of two of my favorite bands and a scene I wish I could have been a part of. Even Johnny Rotten has penned a fascinating tome. But there are far too many that just suck out loud. Putrid. Filthy. Worthless. Disgusting.

Which brings me to the topic of James Phelge and his brilliant book about the early years of The Rolling Stones.

I wrote about this book eight years ago when I first read it. Tonight, by a strange coincidence, I happened to get an email from Old Nanker himself. Kismet? Serendipity? Deadline? Pick your reason, but I think you need to hear about this book, after which I hope you run right out and buy it.

jones-nankering

James Phelge roomed – in absolute squalor – with Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards for over a year starting in 1963. He’s also the “Phelge” from “Nanker- Phelge“, the pseudonym you’ll find credited with writing several of the early Stones songs. When you consider that “nankering” meant making a disgusting face by upturning your nostrils and pulling your eyelids down while making inhuman noises, it makes sense that it is aligned with Phelge, whom Keith calls “absolutely the most disgusting human being you ever met.” Not much of a sales pitch, is it?

But Nankering is one of the most honest, well-written glimpses behind the rock curtain I’ve ever read, and it’s not just because the author was truly an insider to the subject. Phelge is a great storyteller, but wisely never tries to make himself the center of attention, even when the anecdote focuses upon around him. Unlike most hack rock books, Phelge never tries to psychoanalyze others’ unspoken thoughts, recount transcripts of events he was not privy to, or repaint the past using future events. Instead, his unselfish style places you into the scene as a fly on the wall – as disgusting as the floor in this flat – and allows you to savor the moment as an unbiased observer.

You learn that Bill Wyman was never an early favorite, sense when Mick started to make his moves against Brian, and pity Ian Stewart’s ouster from the band, all calculated moves made by young men who wanted success at any cost. Phelge never really takes sides, preferring to let the events speak for themselves; they speak volumes. So do his vivid descriptions of their surroundings, from the dilapidated chip shops and tiny diners to the scum-filled sinks and hallways of their abysmal flat. It’s difficult to put the book down once you start reading it.

Although the book covers only a short period of time, it’s a critical juncture in the band’s history, tracing their leanest years. The Beatles transform from contemporaries to idols and then back to contemporaries as the Stones find their earliest success. The stories about practical jokes played on the other housemates are hilarious, but Phelge also manages to communicate the quiet desperation of the band who skirted with implosion so many times. After sifting through so many horrible tomes written by chauffeurs, drug dealers and security guards trying to stretch their fifteen minutes of association into a tell-all novel, what a refreshing change it is to see a writer not try to make himself the star of the book.

Phelge’s foreword says it all: “If your name is John Grisham or Robert Ludlum, this is what writing is all about, not that tacky crap about lawyers and spies that you two turn out. So eat shit.”

I’d love to hang out with James Phelge. I just wouldn’t want him as my roommate.

 

(The article above was originally published in Cosmik Debris)

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