Tag Archives: Cream

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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New Album! Rory Gallagher

After Elvis Presley died, there was such a flood of posthumous album releases and collections that even loyal devotees who cried at Graceland that weekend began to wonder if he wasn’t cranking them out from a studio behind that Dunkin Donuts in Minneapolis. The Who aren’t literally dead (although their career might be), but their catalog over the past couple of decades has consisted mostly of repackaging similar groups of hits, a trick The Rolling Stones only exceeded by actually recording them live.

Maybe it takes the artist’s family to intervene and bring sanity. Although the Jimi Hendrix releases aren’t culling a bottomless well of new material, at least love and care are shaping some definitive packages for posterity. And while Gail Zappa might have a wee bit too much stranglehold control on her husband’s name and likeness, every year there’s an intriguing new Frank Zappa release that meets the highest standards; an album that Frank himself would be proud to stand behind.

Donal Gallagher has taken a similar approach when it comes to the legacy of his brother. Rory Gallagher was one of the best guitarists ever to walk this planet (I’ll save you the fawning here as I’ve done it enough over the years). Those who knew him were mesmerized by his performances, but despite a history of heavy touring he still slid under the radar of too many listeners. Recent DVD releases have made great strides to right that wrong, especially Live At Cork and the unbelievably rich Rockpalast Collection (a three DVD set featuring hours of amazing footage). Sure, there have been a couple of “best of” titles over the last twenty years, but gems like the acoustic Wheels Upon Wheels album have been the focus.

The latest releases feature Rory’s live work for Radio Bremen that were broadcast on the German music show Beat Club. Featuring what I feel was his strongest band – the trio with Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilger Campbell on drums – The Beat Club Sessions is another sizzling testimony to his genius. The CD features many of his best tracks (“Laundromat”, “In Your Town”, “Messin’ With The Kid”) and demonstrates why people are still buzzing about his talent fifteen years after his death. Gallagher was able to play ferociously or delicately with equal skill; a premiere blues soloist and slide guitar player, he also made the mandolin a weapon of choice.

Video: “Goin’ To My Hometown

The twelve cuts (culled from sixteen on the Ghost Blues DVD) feature stomping rockers (“Sinnerboy”), blues workouts (“I Could Have Had Religion“) and acoustic treats (“Just The Smile“). As a  contemporary of Cream and asked to replace Clapton in that lineup after his departure – one wonders why his songs  “Used To Be” never found the acclaim that “I’m So Glad” did, let alone his great interpretations. (His is the definitive version of “Messin’ With The Kid“, and “Toredown” is simply amazing)

I’m expecting my copy of the Ghost Blues documentary any day now and will be certain to have more on that in the near future. And Donal and family are working to secure the full BBC archives as well as work from Rory’s prior band Taste. Eagle Vision is now the official distributor of Rory Gallagher’s work, and if this is any indication of what’s to come, I am thrilled. This is magic stuff.

The Official Rory Gallagher Website

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New Album! Mondo Topless

Named after the 1966 Russ Meyer film, Mondo Topless has released five albums of garage punk surf music over the past eighteen years. Influences range from such primal American bands as The Sonics, Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Stooges to the British Invasion flash of The Animals and The Kinks.

Freaking Out is their first album in four years; a twelve-track collection of psychedelic chestnuts primed for the dance floor. Featuring the ever-present Vox organ and fuzz guitar riding the lockstep snap of bass and drums, it’s impossible not to get your frug on. Gotta love their sense of humor; credits say “All songs by Mondo Topless except…” and then list all twelve tracks on the album.

Yep, this time around the band decided to go the all-cover route. The most recognizable track is probably Cream’s “SWLABR”, which gets a superior workout here. But Freaking Out rocks from start to finish; standouts being the Who-like  “Left In The Dark” and “Mystery Girl”, which sounds like a grittier version of The Smithereens. Even the closing “Little Clown” radiates the same simplicity and essence that great bands slip onto a b-side of a cool single.

Much like fellow tastemakers The Detroit Cobras, when they cover other people’s songs, they truly put the their own stamp on them. It’s a tribute to the band that they can forge an identity through such widespread material, but they’ve been living and breathing garage soul for a long time. Although they went through band members like tissue paper in the early days, the current lineup is stable, with drummer Steve Thrash the newest addition. Lead singer and Voxmaster Sam Steinig has been on board for the entire ride while guitarist Kris Alutius and bassist  Scott Rodgers have logged over a decade apiece.

If you’re a fab of bands like The Lyres, The Cynics, The Love Me Nots…you should be all over this. Grab a copy and play it loud.

Mondo Topless on MySpace

Get Hip Records

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High Roads, Haiti and Grande Ballrooms

Class act, class exit.

Conan O’Brien proved last night that it is possible to walk away from an ugly situation by taking the high road. His last show was filled with fun, pranks, great music and a heartfelt message to his fans.  

Watch here.  

And in case NBC takes down the video, here’s a transcript of his comments, plus clips from his fellow talk-show hosts.  

I could write fifty pages on why people love Conan O’Brien and not touch that four minute speech.  

***  

If you’re the type of person who likes to contribute to worthwhile projects, here are a couple of opportunities on wildly different scales.  

  

I’ll Stand By You  

Hope For Haiti Now conducted a very successful telethon last night where millions of dollars were raised for the cause. I’m as skeptical as the next person about charity scams and how some organizations skim large percentages off the top for administration costs with little of the money actually going to the charity. But this project was set up with public transparency and a guarantee that one hundred percent of the donations will go to a handful of specific organizations who are on the ground in Haiti.  

Please beware of scam sites. This is the official one.  

Of course, you might be donating through work (with an employer match) or directly to an established organization you trust (i.e. The American Red Cross). Nothing wrong with that – charity comes from the heart, and whatever you do is greatly needed and surely appreciated. It could even be non-monetary, like volunteerism or prayer. But know that despite what some religious nutjobs and political wingnuts are saying, this is not reparation but a natural disaster that has flattened a helpless people.  

We take much for granted. There but for geography and fate go I.  

***  

Where rock'n'roll met its match in Detroit

On a whole different level, documentarian Tony D’Annunzio is completing a film project about the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The Grande was as critical to the development of the Detroit rock music scene as the Fillmore West was to San Francisco and the Fillmore East to New York. This is where every band from Detroit aspired to play, and where every band from out of town had to walk the gauntlet and prove themselves worthy.  

Check out this amazing trailer featuring several legendary musicians who fondly recall the place where magic happened.  

Here’s the official blurb from the project website:  

LOUDER THAN LOVE is the story of the Grande Ballroom in Detroit Michigan. The Grande Ballroom was the birthplace of the Detroit Rock Music Scene. Bands like MC5,Iggy & The Stooges,Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes,Alice Cooper and many more got their start here. The Grande not only influenced local Detroit musicians but inspired bands from all over the US & from Europe. Legendary acts like Led Zeppelin, Cream, BB King, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and The Who graced the stage at the Grande on a regular basis. While the west coast was groovin’ to the sounds of the “Summer of Love” in 1967, Detroit was pumping out a hard driving,gritty and raw sound that was LOUDER THAN LOVE.  

Sounds like a worthy project and a great tribute to a landmark. Contact Tony D’Annunizio through that webpage if you need more information.  

Just don’t accidentally contact this guy.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten from 1969

"Set the Wayback Machine for 1969, Sherman..."

If the concept of how quickly time passes hadn’t already stunned me three days ago – realizing that it’s been almost thirty years since John Lennon was killed – an email from my friend Siege would have packed a bigger wallop. But looking at his list of albums that were released in 1969 made me think (1) “holy shit, that was forty years ago” and (2) “wow…that was a great year for music”. 

It was another transitional year for me – less AM and more FM, less singles and more albums, Woodstock, etc. Several artists’ debuts made an immediate impact – CSN and The Allman Brothers along with some on my list below. Some 60’s artists were soon to depart but left great statements like Abbey Road and Turtle Soup. Credence released three albums that year, and The Monkees were already up to Instant Replay. Others like Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye and The Kinks were shifting their priorities from singles to more thematic works. Bob Dylan released Nashville Skyline

Some artists who would become lifelong favorites were just getting started – Alice Cooper and Pretties For You, Fleetwood Mac with Then Play On, debuts from Yes and Warren Zevon and Mott the Hoople (which would soon see serious turntable time over the next couple of years from this soon-to-be disc jockey). The Moody Blues released two classics; supergroups were forming…I own or owned seventy-two titles on that list, and there are very few that I wouldn’t pull out and play right now. 

Any year in music is a pretty easy topic to research, and certainly the few years on either side of 1969 would also reveal a robust list of favorites and classics. But I took a trip through Siege’s tally and picked out ten that had particular impact on me then and still resonate now. I could easily shift the list on another day – great music being a subjective decision, after all – and your mileage may vary as well. 

But you’re here, so indulge me. Break one or more of these out and savor them; maybe you will relive some great moments of your own. And if you’re young enough to not have experienced these albums, take a plunge. Hell, I gave Death Cab For Cutie a shot, you owe me

So in no particular order… 

40 Years old and still kicking ass

In The Court of the Crimson King (King Crimson) — Still kicking today although they’ve been three or four totally different groups over the years. The album cover was only a mild tipoff compared to the psychedelic prog within; I’ve long argued that Ian McDonald was the MVP of this version of the band. An aural acid trip, an album truly worthy of adjectives like majestic and classic

Blind Faith  (Blind Faith) — Two thirds of Cream adds the bass player from Family and secret weapon Steve Winwood for a one-shot effort. Short and incomplete, its high points are timeless; great songwriting from Winwood and Eric Clapton, especially “Presence of the Lord” and “Can’t Find My Way Home”. 

Let It Bleed (Rolling Stones) — As the Stones weaned their way from Brian Jones and their blues based gameplan, as drugs and Jagger’s control-freak antics started to splinter a band into The Glimmer Twins and the other guys, as the music industry tripped headlong from pop singles into stranger days, the Stones might have fired their best shot across the bow. The bookend tracks (“Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) are career-defining moments, and they didn’t even put their hit single (“Honky Tonk Women”) on it. 

Odessa (Bee Gees) — In which a pop band – already firmly established with a few hit singles – decides to experiment and challenge themselves to move on to the next step. Oh, how I wish they would have stayed this course instead of donning those ice cream suits a few years later. I expound in detail here

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Neil Young) — Consider this a club sandwich, with the opening, closing and middle tracks – three stone cold classics – the bread supporting the tasty filling. Hot on the heels of his debut, this first dalliance with Crazy Horse still resonates, soon to be followed up by After The Gold Rush to form one of the best opening trifectas any artist ever managed. Name another song where a one-note guitar solo (“Cinnamon Girl”) is even half as thrilling. 

Dusty in Memphis (Dusty Springfield) — I’ll admit it, I would have been perfectly satisfied with “Son of a Preacher Man” had I not read a review that piqued my interest and sent me in search of the album. Oozing soul (and yes, sex) this was a great marriage of voice, performers and material. (That English bird? Really? Yep.) 

Hot Rats (Frank Zappa) — Little did I know at the time that my initial Frank Zappa fascination would be even stronger forty years later and sixteen years (!) past his death. Because I was a fan of The Mothers of Invention, I was willing to open my eyes to the jazz and fusion I experienced here, although I can’t imagine anyone not loving “Peaches en Regalia”. Timeless majesty. 

The Stooges (The Stooges) — I’ll credit one of my older friends – as well as Creem Magazine, most likely – for making me give this more than one listen. Stereos were getting more sophisticated and progressive rock bands were flaunting daredevil instrumental virtuosity, but the Stooges were salmon swimming upstream. The Stooges first seemed like demonic sludge; the sound made when someone opened the gates of Hell and gave them a broken megaphone to broadcast with. Of course, after the initial shock, I was converted…and remain so. 

Tommy (The Who) — An opera about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball player. Sure Pete – have another toke. But although others (The Kinks, The Pretty Things) already had done it, The Who get credit for creating the first rock opera. Forget the semantics; this remains an incredible musical statement, from hit singles (“Pinball Wizard”) to underrated killers (“Sensation”); even the instrumental breaks and transitions are glorious. Skip the theatre and film musicals and slap on a pair of headphones for the original “Amazing Journey” 

Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin) — I know now that they ripped off old blues riffs and repurposed them; I know now that the band was really just the last version of The Yardbirds with Jimmy Page taking control, and I know that a few years later they would get so self-indulgent that I would sell the vinyl at a used store out of anger. (Ah, the folly of youth). But this first record was a kick in the nuts – this band really hit the ground running and killed on every track. (Rock perfection:  the percussive instrumental “Black Mountain Side” lulling you into a trance and then “Communication Breakdown” interrupting the haze and ripping your jugular apart. Plant’s scream before Page’s solo still makes the hair stand up on every pore in my body.) 

Rock me baby.

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Blast From The Past: Traffic

Light up or leave them alone

Light up or leave them alone

Having recently been wowed by the latest collaboration between Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, my thoughts naturally travelled back to their catalogue of work over the past forty years. Blind Faith, of course, was among the first bands to earn the moniker supergroup, but they were one and done as far as releases go. Clapton’s work with The Yardbirds is fine, but it’s his work in Cream that shines brightest in hindsight. Around the same time Cream was peaking, the amazing vocals of a sixteen year old Brit knocked me sideways; The Spencer Davis Group’s single Gimme Some Lovin’ is still a jukebox favorite. But when Steve Winwood moved on to form Traffic…ahh, that’s where the magic really happened for me.

Traffic was an apt name for a band that dabbled in so many sonic areas, from folk to blues to psychedelia and jazz, often in the space of the same song, let alone the same album. Before Dave Mason left for the second time, the band juggled his pop sensibilities with the more avant-garde efforts from Winwood and Jim Capaldi; Chris Wood playing the Brian Jones role by dressing up the tracks with inventive instrumentation. Winwood was only eighteen when Traffic was formed (he just turned 61 in May) and the others only a couple of years older. It’s stunning to hear the depth and resonance in their catalogue when you consider their tender ages.

As with most great bands, I recommend you revisit the entire catalogue, as a “best-of” can never really capture the majesty of a long-tenured favorite. Smiling Phases, the out-of-print anthology, contained more cuts (although some argue that even the expanded selection is incomplete) but the audio is inferior to later releases. As single-CD collections go, Feelin’ Alright isn’t a bad one at all.

Here’s the review I wrote for PopMatters several years ago…

Traffic Feelin Alright

The thought of distilling the career of Traffic into a single disc must have been a mind-numbing task. First conceived as a psychedelic English rock group, the band morphed into a soulful blues group, then sailed through a jazz-influenced folk period and dabbled in reggae and American rhythm and blues. Dave Mason was on board for the initial ride, while the latter period drew players like Clapton and the Muscle Shoals studio rhythm section. Each period had its landmark successes, from Dear Mr. Fantasy to John Barleycorn Must Die to Shootout At The Fantasy Factory. In short, how do you boil down a twenty-five year organism to seventy-five minutes?

Well, you can’t, but this collection of “hits” and recognizable album cuts does as good a job as possible. Cutting off after The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (the full 11:42 track among the inclusions), this disc gathers fifteen songs skewed towards the band’s first two incarnations. The informative liner notes detail how producer Jimmy Miller helped launch the original quartet, inventive and talented players in the right place at the right time. “Paper Sun” and “Heaven Is In Your Mind” find the band in full flowery psych mode, along with Dave Mason’s more single-oriented “Feelin’ Alright” and “You Can All Join In”. Although Mason’s “Hole In My Shoe” is one of the era’s trippiest headphone numbers, leader Steve Winwood sought a denser, more experimental direction for the band, which fellow members Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood also desired. The bluesy “Pearly Queen” and the more daring “Forty Thousand Headmen” found success with audiences as well. Goodbye Dave.

Steve Winwood’s soulful voice is the centerpiece of most of Traffic’s catalogue, and his transitional work with “Shanghai Noodle Factory” set the stage for the trio’s masterpiece, John Barleycorn Must Die. The four tracks included here could be from four separate worlds, yet in context sound seamless (“Glad” remains one of the best rock instrumentals ever recorded). The final two tracks, from Low Spark, feature the first of the expanded lineups the group would use for the remainder of its career. In the studio, each member of the trio played several instruments; with the larger band the complex music they composed could now be recreated on stage.

After Traffic broke up again, Winwood, like Mason (and at a quieter level, Capaldi) enjoyed a successful solo career. Chris Wood died in 1983, but a stripped down incarnation of the band (Winwood, Capaldi and bass player Rosko Gee) reunited in 1994 for Far From Home. While the concept of Traffic now seems to be an open forum for future collaborations, Feelin’ Alright is a solid testament to earlier genius.

(Note: The review was writtem in 2000. With Capaldi’s death in 2005, it’s safe to say that Traffic is now a closed book.)

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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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