Tag Archives: Black Sabbath

Not Even Almost Famous

I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the past two days about the Todd Snider piece, some from long time fans glad to high-five another, some from people who hadn’t heard anything of his later stuff and were thankful for the kick in the ass (you’re welcome!).

Emails like that always put a smile on my face. Although I’ve been writing for years I’m not delusional enough to think that my words set off beacons across the globe. I’m not even almost famous. But I do know that a lot of people are followers and loyal readers; some comment publicly while others drop a private message. And I do it not for the money or the fame, but because this is just another format in which I get to discuss music and film and comedy that I like, just like I’ve done all my life with my friends.

And it’s a passion I will most likely take to my grave. I still participate in mixtape swaps and share tips about new discoveries. Emailing a link to a great video in 2011 is almost as much fun as showing up at Brian’s house with the first Black Sabbath album, or the day Phil, Larry and I sat around the living room at Bristol Place getting our minds blown by My Aim Is True.

I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of artists over the years, and with the better ones – the ones who have conversations, not just talk to plug product – the subject often turns to collecting music and favorite artists that are underappreciated. I’ve found that in almost every case, that spirit of discovery still looms large in their heart, and the child-like enthusiasm for sharing the passion has never left them.

I thought this exchange from a 2002 interview with Peter Wolf captures it about as well as it can be. Despite worldwide game, Pete still loves to have friends over and spin records in an effort to turn someone on to a new song or artist. He lives for it. Me too.

Peter: The thing is, I don’t consider myself a historian or a record collector. I just consider myself a fan. There are people who will expound on this or that, but I just consider myself a fan. I still go see bands do this or that, grab the new Beck record, keeping up and seeing what’s coming down the pike, be it The White Stripes or The Hives, or going to see James Cotton. I’m interested in all of it.

Me: Well, that’s like why I started writing. I had this need…it wasn’t so much that “I know more about music than you do and I’m going to write about it to prove it.” More that I dig music so much and I love to write about it in hopes that someone reads it and gets the charge that I’m getting. Maybe they’ve never heard of who I’m writing about but the way I describe it gets them interested, and they play a record that they wouldn’t have played, and they get that same…bolt that I did when I first heard it. And then they turn somebody else onto it, and it goes on from there. That’s the big thing. I don’t get that immediate feedback that an artist gets through applause, or the validation that might be measured in sales, sometimes it’s just out there in the void. Did anyone read that? Did anyone give a shit? Or did somebody’s life change because they picked up a John Hiatt record or a Del Lords record after I wrote about it and say “Oh my God…

Peter: Did you like the movie Almost Famous?

Me: I thought that was about my life.

Peter: Yeah, yeah…I was surprised that it wasn’t more popular than it was. I thought it really kind of focused in, for somebody who would be fifteen now, on a mythic era. Or for someone who’d be thirty-five now, or fifty-five! I thought it really captured…it was a sort of valentine to the whole love of music and the records and the sacredness of it, and the innocence of it. And the exploitation of it! I thought it was a really well put-together movie.

There’s a lot of people who bitch about the current state of music and how there aren’t any good bands anymore. I don’t think that’s true, but I do agree that the shifts in popular culture mean that many bands don’t have the outlet that they once did. There are probably some great bands trying to get a foothold, and the radio doesn’t care about them nor does the record industry. But somewhere, a bunch of people are groovin’ to them every Friday night.

So you have two choices. Bitch about the past and do nothing about it…and sound like your parents when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came out. Or follow Peter Wolf’s example, and share your knowledge and your passion and your information as much as you can. Have an old school record party. Write a blog. Make some mixtapes.

Pay it forward.

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R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio

R.I.P. heavy metal god Ronnie James Dio, dead at 67.

Dio had an amazing run in hard rock and heavy metal, both as a solo artist and during stints in Rainbow and Black Sabbath. Amazingly, even at this late age he was fronting the star-studded Heaven and Hell with Sabs Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler.

Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer last year and although chemotherapy was helping stall and reduce the aggression, it recently escalated and he finally lost the battle Sunday morning.

I was fortunate enough to have first encountered Dio in my college days as part of the band Elf from Cortland, New York, just south of Syracuse. If you have never heard the band, you need to get the self-titled album right away and marvel at the guitar work of Dave Feinstein (Dio’s cousin) and especially the piano of Mickey Lee Soule.

Listen to clips from ELF.

Elf’s album caught the attention of Deep Purple and they opened many shows for DP in the early 70s. Purple has many connections to the band; Roger Glover and Ian Paice produced the record and Ritchie Blackmore used the nucleus of the group for the first Rainbow album. As recently as last year Dio was talking about an Elf reunion tour and new album; sadly that will now never happen.

Condolences to his family and friends; fans all over the world feel your loss.

Ronnie James Dio website.

Wendy Dio asks that you leave your thoughts on Facebook

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Birthdays

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been thirty years since Bon Scott died. For a man who used to mark time based upon how long ago the Kennedy Assassination occurred, imagine how old I felt this morning when I realized that AC/DC has had a new singer for three decades.

So let’s accentuate the positive, shall we? I don’t know what it is about Memorial Day that causes such a spike in famous conceptions – maybe the exuberance of getting out of school – but February 19th has given us a boatload of charismatic, talented artists over the years. Here are ten people born today who bring me great joy, chronologically by birth year:

Louis Calhern, 1895 – You might not recognize his name if you aren’t a film buff, but Calhern was a solid and versatile actor that kept popping up in some of my favorite movies, from James Cagney flicks to Marx Brothers romps (Duck Soup) to classic film noir like his sleazy lawyer crime boss in The Asphalt Jungle.

Lee Marvin, 1924 – A tough guy’s tough guy and one of the best actors of his time. Far too many great movies to list – my favorite remains the lesser rated version of The Killers – but unforgettable in The Dirty Dozen, Cat Ballou and The Professionals as well as hundreds of TV appearances, including his own classic police series M Squad.

* The finale of The Killers – including the greatest last line ever.

John Frankenheimer, 1930 – One of my favorite film makers and one of the best action movie directors (Grand Prix, Ronin) who got his start filming over a hundred live television dramas. Some of his classics include The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz and the political thriller Seven Days in May.

Sam Myers, 1936 – Sam grew up in Chicago and sat in with the cream of the blues legends from Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James; he was an incredible drummer and harp player and vocalist. Perhaps better known more recently as a key member of Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, one of the best live blues bands around. Sam passed away in 2006.

* Video: Sam Myers

Smokey Robinson, 1940 – The word genius gets passed around far too freely, but Smokey Robinson is a genius. Equally adept as a songwriter and as a sweet soul singer, he helped put Motown (and several of its groups) on the map in the 60’s, and his catalogue of great music is simply staggering. Check out his entry at the All Music Guide where the list of covers of his material is forty-six pages long.

Lou Christie, 1943 – Christie’s trademark was singing the verses in his normal voice and then rocketing to a powerful falsetto voice for the dramatic chorus, and although “Two Faces Have I” was the first hit, it was “Lightning Strikes” that jumped out of that transistor radio for me. He only had  two more hits ( “Rhapsody in the Rain” and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine”) but he remains a favorite of mine to this day.

Tony Iommi, 1948 – Hearing the first Black Sabbath album upon its release was a revelation, and Iommi’s signature guitar sound was the key ingredient in that mix;  some credit him with inventing heavy metal guitar. I was never a big fan of the post-Ozzy group (or Ozzy post-Sabbath, for that matter) but the first four albums were incredible.

Mark Andes, 1948 – Not a household name by any stretch, but any music fan knows Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne and Firefall and Heart; not a bad track record for a wandering bass player. Most recently a member of Ian McLagan’s Bump Band, his first solo album was released last year.

* Listen to “Run Run Run” by Jo Jo Gunne

Ray Winstone, 1957 – For his own generation, a combination of the aforementioned James Cagney and Lee Marvin. Long revered by his homeland, roles in Sexy Beast and The Departed might be more familiar, plus he steals Mel Gibson‘s new film out from under him.

Benicio del Toro, 1967 – Quietly building an incredible resume of performances – although maybe not that quietly based on the award hardware he’s racked up. First saw him as Kevin Spacey‘s assistant in Swimming With Sharks, and he’s made great choices including Traffic, Sin City and The Pledge. Hell, he’s going to play Moe Howard in the upcoming Three Stooges movie! But I’ll always think of him as marble-mouthed Fred Fenster in that perfect film The Usual Suspects. (Check out this amazing Fenster montage someone put up at YouTube).

No slight to Seal, Jon Fishman, Justine Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Merle Oberon, Carson McCullers or even Copernicus, but ten is ten.

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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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Blast From The Past: Masters of Reality

Bunnytime, a decade before Donnie Darko

Bunnytime, a decade before Donnie Darko

Although often described as stoner-rock (that was an redundant statement back in the day), Masters of Reality have proven to be an inventive, morphing amoeba of cool over the years. But yeah, they’re trippy, bluesy, psychedelic, fragile and rocking. Sometimes all on the same record.

The original Masters of Reality, a powerhouse band from Syracuse, NY, had an acrimonious split which led to Chris Goss and bassist Googe keeping the moniker while guitar wizard Tim Harrington and drummer Vinnie Ludovico formed The Bogeymen. I remember that Goss took a lot of shots that the Masters were just aping Cream, so he probably figured “fine…why not“?

You could drop the figurative needle on this album in a room full of blindfolded people, and by the tenth second of  “She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On)” I guarantee you anyone with a brain would recognize that Ginger Baker is pounding the skins. (The rest of them will probably incorrectly yell out “Radar Love“!!).  That slide-step, that tom-thump, that goddamned swing that so few drummers posess these days is Baker incarnate, and he levitates this band to great heights throughout Sufferbus. He even reanimates the oddball Cream track  “Pressed Rat and Warthog” with “T.U.S.A.”, a lament that Americans can’t follow the simplest instructions to make his daily brew (“pour boiling water/over the tea/how simple and clear/can instructions be?”)

But it’s a democratic effort –  Goss’s vocals are stellar, whether rocking out on “Tilt-A-Whirl” or chanelling Ram-era Paul McCartney on “Jody Sings” and the brief but hilarious “Madonna”. He and Googe easily lock into a groove with Baker, with hybrid jazz rock (“Ants In The Kitchen”), trippy musings (“J.B.Witchdance”, “Rabbit One”) or the self-described “blues acrobatics” of “Gimme Water” and the Black Sabbath-sounding “V.H.V.”.  And much like The Bogeymen saved their best moment for last with “Damn The Safety Nets“, the Masters saved “Moon In Your Pocket” for last to put the bow on the package.

The album title reportedly comes from Goss and Baker’s insomnia on the tour bus, although the cover art seems to predate Donnie Darko by a decade. (Or…did…Donnie…time-travel?). But whatever the inspiration, it was lightning in a bottle, at least with this band configuration; Baker moved on after this. Both their careers are definitely worth tracking before and since, but this crossroads produced a real gem of an album.

New album Pine/Dover due from Chris and the Masters this August, so bide your time until then with Sufferbus. It’s sixteen years old and still sounds as fresh as a morning muffin (and nothing like gnat’s pee).

Masters of Reality website, MySpace and Wikipedia.

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Under The Radar: Time Again

time-again

Time Again: Darker Days

HellCat Records
Darker Days is thirty minutes of non-stop adreneline, with Oren Soffer’s machine-gun basslines making you feel like you’re hearing Black Sabbath records played at the wrong speed. How drummer Ryan Purucker and guitarist Elijah Reyes don’t burst into flames trying to keep up is a mystery. With barely a breath between songs, Time Again rips through a mosh-pit platter of anthems like the Clash lighting the Pogues catalogue on fire.

Daniel Dart’s raspy, shouting vocals aren’t any different than you’ll find in most decent street punk bands, but much like Social Distortion and the Dropkick Murphys, the magic is in the attitude – Dart compels you to listen. Although red-hot anger is one way of making a point, (“You’re Going Down”), Time Again is much more effective when they drape their anthems with a big hook and chant-along chorus. “Soon It Will Be”, “One Way Or Another”, “Outcast” and “TvStatic” are very impressive tracks, considering this album that was completed start-to-finish in six days. And on the seventh day, I doubt these guys rested.

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