Tag Archives: Billy Bremner

New Album! The Refreshments

It’s gotta be both rock and roll…

The Refreshments have released another gem. Led by Joakim Arnell and piano master Johan Blohm, the Swedish rockers are in fine form – as usual – with another platter of boogie-woogie rock and roll destined for heavy airplay at my house. While American radio continues to shun the natural descendants of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, Sweden is among the many other lands who honor one our lands greatest exports – rock’n’roll. Sure, these unassuming middle-aged guys don’t look like rockers, but looks deceive. Check this out…

Video: A 40-minute set from Antone’s!

Of course, the band that will immediately spring to mind is Rockpile, and it was Billy Bremner who first sought out the band and even joined in for a couple of albums. Albert Lee also took a turn, and there was even a great tour with Bremner and Dave Edmunds (released as the latter’s A Pile Of Rock) immortalized on this DVD, which I just have to get my hands on. Like Rockpile, the music is infections and relentless, the sound of blues/pub/boogie performed with love…and incredible skill.

Video: JB Boogie

On this new one, the band delivers piano-pumping, horn-drenched rock in droves, but covers all the bases – rockabilly (“Go Baby Bird“), Everly Brothers pop (“By Your Side“), country roadhouse (“Old Hopes Brand New“) and Tex-Mex (“Negative Nancy“). It doesn’t matter what they tackle, they do it well, and it’s astounding that a melting pot of American roots music has been percolating for a quarter century halfway across the world without making a ripple in the States. Then again…why would that surprise me?

One could say that the band has never grown in their career; I say they’ve never regressed. Yes, you could probably buy the albums in any order and enjoy them just as much; they’re all fruit from the same tree. If you have the cash, you could catch up in one fell swoop with this 8-CD collection. I hope you have had the pleasure of enjoying this band, but when I can turn someone on to a great group like this, I must admit a selfish feeling of great satisfaction.

The Refreshments official website

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The Rock And Roll 500

The windowless white van rumbled eastward on Route 90, soon to take a dogleg right and hook up with its brother highway, The Mass Pike. A six-hour trek that normally would clog at one end or another, but on the two interior days of a four-day holiday, traffic was pretty much non-existent. Most people were already where they wanted to be. I was just going back and forth, as usual.

When I was her age, I moved a few times, and always with the help of friends. Someone always had a truck. Everyone would focus on the beer and pizza at the end of the run, and were it not for my abnormal amount of vinyl albums, we could probably have been in and done in a couple of hours. But I forgot what it’s like to live in a major city where public transportation is the norm, where not only do you not have a car, but no one you know does, either. And besides, isn’t this what Dads do?

The rental van was reasonably priced but came with its limitations. No power locks, so each of the five doors had to be constantly checked. No power windows, either – do they really still make hand cranks? And much to my horror, just a radio. No CD player, not even a cassette, and certainly no input for a digital device to be plugged in. Nope, the front end of the trip would be a hollow metal can bouncing down the road (what, you expected soundproofing?) and me alone with my thoughts, unless I could find something decent on the radio. I had given up trying to do that years ago.

But it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so rock stations across the country are broadcasting their own version of the Rock And Roll 500, a countdown of the five hundred greatest rock songs ever made. And although I constantly have to hit the scanner, as signals fade and ebb between markets or on each side of a mountain pass, sooner or later it’s there. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Cream, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, The Who, The Police, The Ramones…song after song that I know like the back of my hand, whether I like them or not. It’s a bit 60s and 70s heavy, but rightfully so, because that’s when the apex took place.

I remember selling my Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin albums in a used record store, not so much because I needed the money but because radio had played “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven” so often that I couldn’t bear to hear either band again. This egregious life choice was eventually recanted, of course, even though those two particular songs have long worn out their welcome. But the punk ethic of the time was to burn the past, and somehow I got caught up in the moment. I mean, really – I have never disliked the first four Led Zeppelin albums, they are incredible…but there they went across the counter.

It was a mistake I would not repeat; the day my senses came back to me and I repurchased them was also the day I realized that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I like what I like, period. I don’t owe you an apology for that just because you disagree.

I thought of that a lot during the six-hour drive as I beat rhythms on the dashboard and heard my voice echo through the empty metal canister (reverb!), singing along as a large part of my childhood was played out for me one track at  a time. I remembered the boxes of 45s that I meticulously catalogued, the first albums I listened to over headphones, juggling prog and pop and glam and blues in college. Even the glee with which Roger and I would pore through the new punk singles arriving at Record Theatre – usually one scooped up by him and one by me, leaving none to be placed in the racks for sale. There was always an insatiable taste for great songs, and there was always the bedrock of what had come before.

I thought of the music I wasn’t hearing on the trip; were there really no J. Geils Band songs, even on the Boston station? And Tom Petty, who quietly went from ignored to elder statesman just by never stopping – would I hear “American Girl“? I already knew that The Dictators, Billy Bremner, Dwight Twilley, John Hiatt, and other lifelong favorites would probably not be heard from, but how was I not hearing a Kinks song?

Heading westward was a different story; the stations seemed less numerous and the song selections started to get downright odd. Even Eli turned to me at one point with her face scrunched up as a Candlebox song came in at number 168. I was incredulous. “The entire Kinks catalogue is better than that song“, I told her, and as “Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic” followed at #167 I imagined Sting sighing, relieved that when the great books were tabulated, someone gave the nod to his fine effort to move ahead – just ahead – of the mighty Candlebox.

Eli and I talked about many things on the way back, and the conversation turned to Lady Gaga. I don’t really care for him/her in the same way that I was never a Madonna fan – I’m much more centered on the music than the spectacle. Eli grew up listening to her own music but also getting the aural second-hand smoke of mine. My rule was and is that the driver picks the music, not the passengers. “I don’t think it’s great music per se“, she said, “but when I feel like dancing in a club it’s really fun and gets everyone going. It’s great for what it is, and I like it for that.” No guilt, just pleasure. A chip off the old block.

The sun had long set and we still had a couple of hours to go when “Going To Califormia” came on the radio, and I let it wash over me. I wasn’t going anywhere but home, but I must have channeled a dozen road trip memories in my mind. Had Eli turned to her left she would wonder why I had a shit-eating grin on my face after the long day, but someday she’ll do that herself. If there’s a better song to hear when you’re in a pensive mood on a long car trip, I can’t think of one right now.

And to think I once sold that album for a dollar. What fools these mortals be.

Led Zeppelin: “Going To California

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T.G.I.F. – Back To Schooldays

I don’t have to anymore, thankfully…

But September, and especially this weekend, brings the official end to summer and the start of the school year. (Feel free to substitute the word “football season” if you are a childless male past the age of eighteen.)

Music has always captured the essence of every emotion and occurence in our lives, and there certainly are many anthems that document the drudgery and celebrate the rebellion and pinpoint the pain. Many of these are obvious, although “School’s Out” will have to wait for June! And I didn’t want to go to hardcore teenage angst like Big Star‘s “Thirteen” and Ultimate Fakebook‘s “A Million Hearts” (an under-known classic!).

So as you hopefully are preparing for a safe and happy holiday, here are Ten Tunes to take you Back To Schooldays!

01 – “Schooldays” (The Kinks)

02 – “Be True To Your School” (The Beach Boys)

03 – “Back To Schooldays” (Graham Parker)

04 – “Hot For Teacher” (Van Halen)

05 – “My Old School” (Steely Dan)

06 – “School Days” (Chuck Berry)

07 – “School Days” (The Good Rats)

08 – “Teacher Teacher” (Rockpile)

09 – “High School Confidential” (Jerry Lee Lewis)

10 – “Rock and Roll High School” (The Ramones)

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Mixtape: Vinyl Devotion

I put this mixtape together many many years ago for a tape tree on the Audities mailing list. I look at mixtapes as something to be taken in one sitting, ideally something slapped in for a car trip where the flow of the music is the center of attention, like I’ve got one shot to program an hour on the radio to win you over. So I started going through my vinyl alphabetically; just vinyl albums – no singles, CDs, or cassettes.

Remember mixtapes? Remember vinyl?

As the people I was trading with have pretty deep roots, I avoided the obvious (ie Beatles, Big Star, Cheap Trick, etc) and went for other songs that stir my stewpot. By the time I got through the “D”s, I easily had twice as much as I needed, and that wasn’t even taking into account the 3-400 albums that were in the “to be filed” pile.

But I came up with a beauty filled with great bands and great songs. I’ve included the original track-by-track annotations that I used for Vinyl Devotion’s liner notes, and since this was in the mid 90s, some of the references will be out of date. But the music is timeless – not a tune that doesn’t stand up today.  Mixtapes were a labor of love; even the needle dropping at the start of side A was intentional.

Side A

01 THE BOYS – “First Time Out”
Since you need something to get you out of the driveway, why not something young, loud and snotty? This was quintessential New Wave pop punk. Billy Joe of Green Day probably has a Boys lunchbox. (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

02 THE ATLANTICS – “One Last Night”
If INXS were cool and they grew up on 50’s and 60’s American radio, they’d sound like this. But they weren’t, andthey didn’t, and they don’t. Singer’s a bit of a crooner, but it’s a cool song nevertheless.

03 DANCING HOODS – “She May Call You Up Tonight”
Yep, the Left Banke song. I think this version is better. I loved this band but Relativity sank like a stone and these guys with them. The singer, Bob Bortnick, is now in A&R and Mark Linkous is in Sparklehorse. Too bad.

04 THE dBs – “Working For Somebody Else”
So why does everyone hate THE SOUND OF MUSIC? I think the Holsapple era is great. This is almost Chilton-ish rock – the harmonica solo, ringing phone, and the great way Peter pronounces the word “car-REEEP”.

05 THE BEAT FARMERS – “Ridin”
God Bless the late Country Dick Montana,who was Keith Richards in chaps. The BEAT FARMERS were the best bar band ever and always kicked your ass from wall to wall. This Joey Harris tune is a nice taste. R.I.P. fellas! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

06 THE ACCELERATORS – “Two Girls In Love”
Another great band no one knows, what is it about that water in North Carolina? This band rules, but they only put out a record every five years; tho I heard they just re-formed. I love the drum sound on this song.

07 BEAT RODEO – “Just Friends”
Slowing it down, this Don Dixon/Mitch Easter production is anything but twee. Despite the cow name it’s just pure pop after all. Saw these guys live and they were absolutely wonderful. I miss songs like this.

08 DON DIXON – “Your Sister Told Me”
I’m convinced that if Motown were in North Carolina, Dixon would be Holland, Dozier and Holland. One of the many on my “how can this guy/band not be friggin’ HUGE?” list. And my hat tip to The Woods, his roots. (LINK TO A STUDIO VERSION)

09 BILLY BREMNER – “When These Shoes Were New”
The true M.V.P. of Rockpile. From the lp BASH which only his parents and I bought. Will Birch co-wrote and produced most of the songs, and it’s wall-to-wall great. I want to play piano like the guy on this track.

10 ANY TROUBLE – “The Trouble With Love”
Clive Gregson just didn’t fit in that New Wave movement, but his band put out five killer records with great songs like this. You may know his records and gigs with Christine Collister and their gigs with Richard Thompson

11 THE A’s – “Heart Of America”
From Philly, natch – is this one of the ten best rock and roll songs ever made? Mott The Hoople meets Elvis Costello and drop the gloves. Killer guitars, horn section, and the one of the most unusual solos in rock history.

12 THE CRETONES – “Real Love”
When Linda Ronstadt “went punk” that year she butchered “Alison” and two of this band’s songs; “Mad Love” is the other. This is pretty mainstream, but fun when you realize there isn’t a female voice on the record.

13 THE DUROCS – “Saving It All Up For Larry”
Try this: Brian Wilson goes sandbox, but instead of Stamos and Johnston the Beach Boys sign up Flo, Eddie, Zappa and Todd. Actually it’s Nagle and Matthews, right around the time they produced John Hiatt. Great, great record! (LINK TO VIDEO VERSION)

Side B

01 JOHN CALE – “Guts”
From the album that even Cale-haters like. Uses the words “parrot shit” and “hyperbole” in the same verse. Top that, Lou Reed! This record is known for a suicide-inducing drone version of “Heartbreak Hotel”

02 THE CRUZADOS – “Motorcycle Girl”
Tito and the boys cooking up East L.A. spunk in the days before they hooked up for gigs as Bob Dylan’s band. Bassist Tony Marsico is now with Matthew Sweet.

03 HERMAN BROOD – “Sleepin’ Bird”
My favorite Dutch ex-junkie porn star rock god, and the best rock and roll band in the world. He’s a famous painter now. Had an American hit with “Saturday Night” in 1978 but put out several searing records in Holland. Yowza! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

04 THE DRONGOS – “Overnight Bag”
Life before Crowded House in New Zealand. What a great guitar player! I wouldn’t try to make love to this song; it’s better suited for popping popcorn! Went to see them one night only to find out they broke up that afternoon.

05 THE DIRTY ANGELS – “Call My Name”
Remember in 1979/80 when everybody got signed and dressed in pastels on album covers? Well, DA had nude mannequins with missing appendages. Ah, so what. But I know the name David Hull from elsewhere.

06 THE DICTATORS – “Heartache”
Scott “Top Ten” Kempner and Andy Shernoff both could write big hooks, but the underwater production buried them. Too bad. When you got past Ross The Boss’ guitar god act, these guys had some great songs!

07 CITY BOY – “I’ve Been Spun”
Jellyfish, eat your heart out. These guys could really rock, too, but were known for the unbelievable vocal harmonies. The guitar player, Mike Slamer, makes me grab the air guitar frequently over six records.

08 BLUEBELLS – “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”
No, not the Dean Martin song. You may remember “Cath” or “Syracuse University”, but I always liked this the best. One of those “why isn’t this on CD” records, but frankly most people can’t even find the vinyl!

09 THE DAVE CLARK FIVE – “Because”
Because after 33 years it’s still great. Because Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin played it at my wedding and people were breaking out in tears. Because it’s my tape. Because.

10 ARTFUL DODGER – “She’s Just My Baby”
Even Artful Dodger fans gave up by this record. While earlier records were like a poppier Rod Stewart; I hear a perfect blend of Dwight Twilley and The Records. Why was this band not a major, major hit? (LINK TO THE PROMO VIDEO)

11 MARSHALL CRENSHAW – “Rave On”
Live cut done at the drop of a hat in a Chicago station. Unbelievable how great he and the guitar sound just by themselves! So far he’s played Lennon in Beatlemania, Holly on film, and made one of the best debut records ever.

12 GARY CHARLSON BAND – “Hey Deanie” & “Go Back”
Another live in the studio gig from an incredible pop guy, these are two of my faves. Bought this based on Bruce Brodeen‘s adjectives (it’s an OLD record). So where is he now? And who the hell was this incredible drummer? (LINK TO A GARY CHARLSON MEDLEY)

13 SHAUN CASSIDY – “So Sad About Us”
Yeah, go ahead and snicker. The backup band is Todd and Utopia, and the whole album could have been called Faithful – Part Two! Messed up Shaun so badly he didn’t resurface for years, and then showed up with “American Gothic”!

 

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Wishes for 2010 Comebacks

 

Happy New Year! Many of us look upon January 1st as a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new plan. For others, it’s an opportunity and a challenge to make a mark in life, to have a sense of purpose and accomplish a goal. And for pop culture freaks, it’s a chance to wonder what the year ahead has in store, as every year brings us some wonderful surprises, whether a great album or a new TV show. Who will occupy our thoughts in 2010? Certainly there will be some new breakout artists, but as always, some blasts from the past will knock us for a loop as well. 

All too often we take our cultural heroes for granted, expecting them to continually churn out yet another book or album or screenplay at the same pinnacle of quality. If they hibernate or quit, we pine that they walked away too early. Yet if they start to slip, we pounce upon them for overstaying their welcome and selling out. But our culture seems preoccupied with success and redemption, so we seem to be especially cognizant of those who recapture some past glory, especially if the road since then was paved with difficulty. 

I used to be among the camp that wanted to leave well enough alone – don’t tarnish a reputation with a comeback, but walk off on top and disappear into legend. With very few exceptions, no one does that voluntarily; it’s usually an untimely death that cements a legend. James Dean might have made as many horrible film choices as Robert DeNiro had he lived into his sixties. Had Elvis died while in the service, he’d still be larger than life, only not literally. But instead we usually witness a fall from grace – Willie Mays playing center for the Mets, Dick Clark still counting down New Year’s Eve. 

But after seeing Mott The Hoople reform in 2009, after watching Jim McCarty and Johnny Badanjek rocking like they were teenagers again, after having Dana Gould and Steven Wright release hilarious new albums years after I thought they were done with it all, I’ve jumped ship. Life is short – give me all I can handle. Not everyone will succeed, but I can swallow the moments of ineptitude for a calculated risk that there will be moments of pure magic that otherwise never would have happened. 

So with that caveat in mind, here are ten reunions, revivals and/or comebacks I’d like to see this year…a few of which might actually happen! 

Risk and Reward

The Faces – A test run happened late this year where Ian McLagan, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones finally gave up on Rod Stewart‘s false promises and played a gig without him. If only they would have done this while Ronnie Lane was still alive, but throw in Glen Matlock on bass and someone like Sulo of The Diamond Dogs on vocals and this could be magic. 

Arrested Development – Maybe line-for-line the funniest television comedy ever, and it’s a crime that something that great couldn’t find a strong audience let alone a network exec with a spine who would have kept it on the air for the sake of art. (Yeah, right) Rumors about a movie continue to swirl – please get it done before it’s too late! 

RockpileBilly Bremner is playing music in Europe, Nick Lowe is still great but sedate, and…well, where the hell is Dave Edmunds, anyway? Technically they only made one album although all those Lowe and Edmunds records were really Rockpile albums in disguise. Seconds of Pleasure turns thirty this year – how about a sequel? 

Eric RobertsMickey Rourke was right – if someone would just give Eric Roberts a chance, I think he’d knock the ball out of the park. After all these years tolerating his sister’s horrible movies, I think Hollywood owes me a film where Roberts has a great role to sink his teeth into. Tarantino, you listening? 

The Kinks – Come on, guys, even The Zombies have managed to get back together. Dave is recovering but back out on the stage, and Ray’s work over the past couple of years has been among his best. There’s an entire generation who hasn’t seen the band live on stage. Please guys…one for the road

Mel Brooks – I know he’s having great success reviving old hits on Broadway, and I know he’s in his eighties. But he’s still one of the quickest, sharpest wits around and perhaps five years after losing the great Anne Bancroft he will dig deep for one more devastating comedy film. 

The J. Geils Band – Peter Wolf still has the chops, and lord knows we need a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. A kickass band with a guy who knew what being a front man was all about, their party atmosphere the antithesis to indie shoegazing. 

David Simon – The man gave us two of the finest television shows in history – Homicide and The Wire. Both scripted dramas were far more real than any of that reality TV crap that we drown in today. Save us, David. 

Tonio K. – I think I wish this every year. Not sure if he’s flying well under my radar or just involved in other projects (like assembling a blues compilation) but it’s been over a decade since Gadfly Records released his reissues and almost twenty since an album of new material. America needs all the cynics it can get.

Robert KleinGeorge Carlin might have been the one to make the most of the opportunity, but it was Robert Klein who helped put HBO on the map with his comedy specials. Whip-smart and multi-talented, I can’t believe that the events of the past several years haven’t inspired him to create a new hour of material. We need you, sir. 

"You start something this time, we all get a half-life, go figure it out on your own..."

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