Happy Earth Day. Be good to the big blue marble today.
Edgar Winter’s White Trash had it right: “Save The Planet”
I’ve been a fan of Rick Derringer‘s music as long as he’s been making it. I played The McCoys singles to death, devoured every album he made with Edgar and Johnny Winter, defended every solo album against a horde of haters, and air-guitared to every axe duel he had with Danny Johnson on those Derringer albums. Now 62, he’s spent the better part of the last two decades recording blues and smooth jazz records and being a vocal supporter of Christian and Conservative issues, although he still tours and cranks out the classics (albeit sometimes with slightly altered lyrics).
His omission from the hallowed halls in Cleveland is an injustice; his body of work as a recording artist and producer and performer is proof positive of an amazing legacy. Iconic songs like “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo“, “Still Alive And Well” and “Hang On Sloopy” will continue to make kides jump out of seats long after he’s gone. And while I would love for him to crank out one more great rock’n’roll album, I’d happily settle for that country album he said he would make not long after All American Boy was released…
I thought of him today for two reasons; I was playing the album whose review you will find below, and I saw that he will be a featured player in Ringo Starr‘s 2010 All Starr Band, which should do wonders to remind people that he is still out there playing with spirit and fire. Ringo has always been generous with the spotlight, and I’m sure those three songs mentioned above will ring out from summertime stages.
Here’s a link to the tour dates from Rick’s site.
Bear in mind that the review below was written ten years ago (almost to the day) for Consumable Online. A lot has changed since then – that great new label folded, Live In Cleveland did get released, and it’s now been an astonishing forty-five years that Rick Derringer has been rocking the world. Take a bow, Mr. Derringer.
He may not be in Cleveland’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but Rick Derringer was enshrined in mine years ago. From teen idol to third Winter Brother to guitar god to pop guy to blues man, Derringer has strapped on that guitar, hit the stage and kicked ass. Unfortunately, previous concert documents have not effectively captured what live audiences have enjoyed for so long. Derringer Live was good but spotty, and the King Biscuit release featured his last, weakest band lineup and too many guest stars. Only the radio promo Live In Cleveland (there’s irony for you!) came close, but if the legitimate release has never made it to CD, don’t hold your breath for the promotional disc. A travesty.
Now that’s changed, thanks to Phoenix Media Group. With thousands of hours of live music tapes and radio broadcasts at their disposal, the Phoenix Gems imprint will be used to get some classic (and in some cases, unheard) concerts out to the public. The first four releases feature The Tubes, Omar And The Howlers, Spirit, and this Derringer concert from late 1998 in Boston. Live At The Paradise Theater was the same show (and perhaps the same master tape) that was supposed to be released in 1998 under the Archive Alive label, but was shelved when the King Biscuit disc hit the market two months before. The sound quality is phenomenal, and if all Phoenix Media‘s shows are this crisp and clear, the market for live concerts just changed dramatically.
The first Derringer band, with axe whiz Danny Johnson, was more riff and jam oriented. After Johnson left, Derringer kept bassist Kenny Aaronson and brought in drummer Myron Grombacher. Recording as a trio (with some help from old pal Dan Hartman), If I Weren’t So Romantic, I’d Shoot You found Rick steering his band towards shorter, single oriented material. Needing a second guitarist for the road, he selected Neil Geraldo (who, with Grombacher, would anchor Pat Benatar‘s band for years afterwards). Although the band was only together briefly, Geraldo plays some great barrelhouse piano and trades leads on guitar, Grombacher is tireless, and Aaronson is an inventive, fluid anchor on bass. Sure, there’s the requisite speed-noodling on “Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo” and “Beyond The Universe,” and this talented group kept up with Derringer step for step.
What makes this disc really special are the moments when they absolutely rip through Derringer’s best mid-career songs. “Teenage Love Affair,” “Let Me In” (always Derringer’s best vocal) and the Chinn-Chapman hit “It Ain’t Funny” are on fire, while the finale of “Roll With Me,” “Back In The U.S.A.” and “Long Tall Sally” contain Derringer’s best work since the Roadwork album with Edgar Winter. The band was hot that night. Rick Derringer shows no signs of slowing down after over 35 years of rocking the world. Let this CD hold you over until he rocks your town again.
Some clips from the 2008 Derringer reunion tour.
When you consider all the auspicious starts to legendary recording careers, it’s tough to top a pair of albino brothers playing blues in a black club in Texas.
John Dawson Winter turned 66 today, and thankfully he’s still around to celebrate the moment. There have been several times during his career when I didn’t think he’d last the week, but although a bit frail, he’s still out there delivering his unique style of blues and rock.
My first encounter was the legendary Johnny Winter And concert where he and Rick Derringer squared off like it was a (friendly) duel to the death. I’ve waxed poetic about that concert tour and the live album that captures it; still one of the five best live albums in rock history.
His tone and slide technique is strong and powerful. Combined with his trademark growling vocals, his versions of Rolling Stones songs were arguably better than the originals. “Silver Train” became his the minute he recorded it, and you’re not likely to find a more incendiary version of “Jumping Jack Flash” than Winter’s.
Before he went back to the blues he released some killer rock albums for Columbia in the 70’s including a covers project with brother Edgar, I have many fond memories of blasting those sides over and over. Unfortunately, his abuse issues resurfaced, and I soon witnessed an attempted performance so bad that it has gone down in local history as “the bottle throwing show”. I truly believed that night if the crowd didn’t kill him – and they would have, if they caught him – the needle would.
But he survived that night and his addiction. He soon came back to his roots, recording many acclaimed blues albums into the 80’s and 90’s, avoiding the cape-and-fanfare rock’n’roll that brought him to a wide audience. One got the feeling he was almost being penitent, putting aside less important music for something deeper and more spiritual. Recently Winter has released a well-received series of authorized live bootlegs, and last year’s Live Through The 70’s (a DVD of early performances) is an absolute treasure. Now we finally have the long lost Woodstock recordings as well. What a career!
He’s frail enough that he must sit while playing, but he’s playing. If you have never seen this masterful guitarist, you must. Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Winter…there’s just something special about Texas blues. Happy Birthday, Johnny.
Discography at the All Music Guide
And a cake for you too, Captain America.
I don’t know why I even bother getting agitated anymore.
I don’t take it seriously, and it’s been a long time since I have gone out of my way to look for the list of nominees, let alone actually root for someone to make it in. It’s a sham, a political clusterfuck of a process, and certainly bears no resemblance to a recognition of the truly worthy. But the other day an email hit my mailbox listing some of the nominees, and well…here we go again.
Some of the finalists this year include The Stooges (again), and KISS (finally), two bands that have obviously made an impact on rock’n’roll, albeit in very different ways. Even The Hollies surfaced after being eligible for over two decades.
But Donna Summer? Disco-thumping, heavy-breathing Donna Summer? Are you kidding me? Sure, she sold a lot of records in the 70s, but so did Cheap Trick and Deep Purple. She might get in before them? They haven’t even hit the finalists list yet! Hall and Oates were way bigger than Donna Summer could ever dream of, with a long string of hit singles that dominated the charts, but I don’t see their name.
And L.L.Cool J? Why- because he stars in a new CSI spin-off show? I like the guy, but not only does his music have nothing to do with rock, there are tons of deserving artists with longer careers who sold more records – what’s the criteria here? And how are rap artists more rock than progressive rock veterans like Yes and King Crimson? Where are The Moody Blues and Procol Harum?
And before you start tossing the race card at me, I’m not rushing to send Laura Nyro in there, either. At least she has been an influence on a number of rock artists, but until the day Carole King walks through that door, don’t talk to me about great female songwriter/performers. (I wouldn’t have voted Bonnie Raitt in that quickly – yes, she’s had a lengthy and brilliant career, but she’s far from a household name. John Hiatt is a far better songwriter and he’s not in; and if you want to talk underappreciated musical geniuses, where’s Rory Gallagher’s name on that wall?)
And I’m still appalled that bands like R.E.M. – worthy eventually – are in while earlier artists aren’t. No J. Geils Band, Humble Pie or Johnny and Edgar Winter? All those record sales and The Guess Who, The Turtles and Tommy James are waiting? No Small Faces? Where the hell is Lou Reed?
Some of the elections are artists who also have success as producers, but Todd Rundgren and Rick Derringer have done both – where are their names on the ballot? And if the anything-but-rock Madonna is in because of cultural impact and huge record sales, why not The Monkees?
No idea who the final five will be, but since it’s the 25th Anniversary you can be sure that fanfare will trump honest voting (just ask The Dave Clark Five about that one) because they gotta sell those dinner tickets. Predictability? You’ll see a female artist or female fronted band, a disco or rap artist, a blast-from-the-early-days, a hugely famous artist/band, and one crapshoot. That’s how they roll in Cleveland…well, actually New York, where Jann Wenner and his cronies run the floating crap game. They need to uproot the damned thing and move it to Detroit where it belongs.
The absurdity can be summed up in five words: Alice Cooper isn’t in it.
Here’s a list of the current inductees. For a list of the truly worthy artists and a real Hall of Fame, do what I do – look at your record collection.
If not, enjoy your Eminem and Beyonce inductions. Maybe you can hang on until 2034 when Chickenfoot is eligible.
Before Edgar Winter had his massive commercial success that began with the instrumental “Frankenstein”, he put together an amazing array of musical talent called White Trash. Blending gospel, soul, blues, funk, r&b and rock and roll, Winter’s hard-charging combo offered blazing guitar (Rick Derringer and the amazing but little-known Floyd Radford), a killer horn section and a majestic in-your-face sound that could raise the dead.
The first studio album was a classic and the reunion record enjoyable, but the live album Roadwork is one of the best concert discs ever made. Jerry LaCroix and Edgar Winter handle most of the vocals, and you’re unlikely to find two better throaty shouters . The song selection includes classic like “Tobacco Road” and “I Can’t Turn You Loose” in addition to material from Rick Derringer and the Winter brothers.
And ah, yes, that wonderful moment when Edgar introduces the surprise guest, brother Johnny – out of rehab and back on the stage with a vengeance. I wish I had been there; I imagine there were tears flowing down the faces of those wildly applauding. Derringer, too, was amazing – he has rarely sounded better than he is here ripping through Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” – listen to that tone!
The original album was a two-disc set in a gatefold sleeve, so that frightening photo of Edgar on the cover was even larger than it is now on CD. (Hey, it was the 70s!). If you can find the LP, do so, because this is an example of what people mean by the “warmth of vinyl”. But get it however you can and play it loud.
(If you aren’t going to plunk down the seven dollars on good faith, then listen to more clips here.)
The rock music industry is a young person’s game, and when you get older you get relegated to revival tours because the audience you’ll draw wants to relive their youth through you. If you’re not a giant (Dylan, Neil, Springsteen) who can continue to command attention and create new music, you’re either getting by on reputation (Stones) or you’re off the radar. If you’re lucky, you’ve developed a strong core audience that can help sustain your career. But most of the time, fate isn’t that kind. Not all the greats get the accolades they deserve, and although they may continue to create magic, they do so in relative obscurity while far lesser talents get propped up as the cash cows of the moment.
That’s why I’m here today to remind you about Jim McCarty and John Badanjek, two bonafide living legends of rock’n’roll who have been knocking me out for forty years. And I am absolutely geeked that they are playing together once again, lighting Detroit on fire as The Hell Drivers, and hopefully cutting an album. Yes, I know that every generation swears by the music they grew up with, usually at the expense of most of what came before and after. I’m no exception to my own Wonder Years, although I probably have a wider bandwidth of tolerance than most people I know, and I still voraciously seek out new music every day. I’ve learned to go backwards and appreciate the geniuses who predated my birth, and many of the bands kicking my ass today are young pups with their best days ahead of them.
But I did grow up in a dynamic time, when Britpop and Motown and psychedlia and garage and folk and rock’n’roll all burst out of the speakers and raced up the charts together. The greatest musicians and pop songwriting geniuses of the later twentieth century all seemed to be peaking at once and the result was a few years of the most amazing creativity in music history. If you wanted to stand out during the late 60s, you really had to bring it. And for me, the best rock and roll song from that era is “Devil With A Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. That song doesn’t just rock, it explodes – the drums and guitar solo bursting from the speakers to stand toe-to-toe with Ryder’s supercharged vocal. Forty years later the track still sends chills up my spine and makes me drop whatever I’m doing to split time between air guitar and drumming madly on whatever is within arm’s reach.
The Detroit Wheels were composed of the best Detroit musicians at the time, including drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek and a guitar whiz named Jim McCarty. Even more amazing, both were teenagers when the band topped the charts! It would be the first of several professional collaborations over the years, and their friendship remains intact to this day.
Jim McCarty is one of the most underrated guitar players in rock’n’roll history and has the lineage to back that up. At the beginning of his career he was good enough to hang out at Electric Ladyland in NYC trading licks with Jimi Hendrix. He smoked the strings with Buddy Miles, ripped it up with Bob Seger on his Seven album, but really busted out with Cactus. McCarty made the guitar wail, weep and blister for three albums, but when Rusty Day was booted Jim left also, surfacing a few years later in The Rockets along with Johnny Bee. After their nice run, very little was heard from Jim; he started playing in blues bands like Mystery Train in clubs around Detroit. Then, amazingly, Cactus reformed for some gigs and a new album in 2005, and he proved that thirty-plus years later, that brilliant signature tone hadn’t lost a thing.
Johnny Bee moved along with Ryder to form Detroit – talk about your legendary killer rock albums – then later saddled up with The Rockets, where his songwriting skills also got a chance to shine; the band had several hits across five albums. But Bee’s calendar has always been jampacked; the legendary drummer has also played with Alice Cooper, Edgar Winter, Nils Lofgren, Ronnie Montrose and many others. He reuinted with Mitch on a few of the latter’s more recent solo albums and lately has been working most often with The Howling Diablos. He still plays drums like his pants are on fire and propels any band he plays with to greater heights.
Now it looks like Jimmy Mac and Johnny Bee are joining forces once again in The Hell Drivers, covering their own past hits from Mitch Ryder, The Rockets and Cactus along with other Detroit legends like Scott Morgan, The Rationals, Iggy and the Stooges, The Romantics. With Marvin Conrad on bass and Jim Edwards on vocals, it’s true Detroit rock royalty.
The Hell Drivers with the Detroit arrangement of Lou’s “Rock’N’Roll“.
The Hell Drivers breathing new life into “Desire” by The Rockets.
The Hell Drivers tackle The Torpedoes “No Pills” – take that, Sex Pistols!
And Mitch Ryder? He’s been making great records in Germany for the last thirty years. He can still rock it and he can still sing sweet soul music. I cannot wait to hear The Promise – the record he’s making with Don Was – but ‘ll be writing a full piece on the man and his career another day.
Live cut of Mitch performing “Devil With A Blue Dress” from a while back featuring that classic Johnny Bee drum break.