Tag Archives: Jimi Hendrix

The 27 Club Gets Another One

Amy Winehouse, dead at 27.

Not exactly a surprise, considering her lifestyle. Even the Vegas books took her off the board in “Dead Pools” more than once. But it’s yet another tragic end to what could have been a dynamic career, and unlike most of her 27 Club predecessors, the culture of the times says she should have known better.

But she didn’t want to go to rehab.

(Hey, I wouldn’t want to room with Lindsay Lohan, either.)

From my perspective, as talented as she was, her legacy is too slim to rate alongside club peers like Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix and Jones. But she had friends, and she had family, and she had a boatload of fans. And for them it’s as difficult a day as it was for a young Stones fan when that body was found floating in Winnie The Pooh’s pool.

Who’ll be the next in line?

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Elvis (Costello) Is King

As I walk through
this wicked world
searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
is all hope gone?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny about peace love and understanding?

Nick Lowe wrote it, and in the 1970s, to boot. But it’s Elvis’ song. And it should be our goddamned National Anthem.

My friend Bill has seen Elvis Costello live about twenty times over the years. After witnessing his three-hour performance at Rochester’s Jazz Festival (yes, I know…) earlier this month, he proclaimed it the finest show he had ever seen Elvis perform…ever. I do not take comments like that from Bill lightly; he’s not prone to hyperbole.

I missed that show; by the time I was available to get seats there were a few nosebleeders left for $95 (plus Ticketbastard charges), and $250 seemed a bit steep. Fortunately I discovered that two short weeks later he was performing in a beautiful outdoor setting at the Buffalo Harbor…for ten dollars. That’s like time-travel prices, folks! It’s also a magnificent place to see a show; I saw Crowded House there last summer.

There were two openers as the sun set over the water. A game Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers did their best and sported some catchy songs, albeit monitor troubles were likely the cause of some flat vocals. Then Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers came on – great band instrumentally, great concept and even very entertaining on occasion…like when lead singer Shilpa didn’t howl like a banshee impaled on a fiery pole.

With curfew, I knew Elvis now had only two hours, not three. But damned if he didn’t hit the stage en fuegofive straight classics without a breath between them – and wrung every second of time for all it was worth without so much as a momentary lapse of energy. I wish every young band who think they are the shit could watch and learn how to create, sustain and leverage momentum. This was a master class.

The band was phenomenal. Consider that had Bruce Thomas not left the fold for personal reasons, this was the same quartet that changed lives thirty-five years ago. But Davey Faragher – veteran of Cracker, John Hiatt and others – has been the perfect foil for Elvis both musically and vocally for years. And while the other two might not sit atop people’s lists of best drummer and best keyboard player, I cannot think of anyone else manning those chairs better.

Pete Thomas is still a dynamo of hands and feet, as steadily adept and pulsating as he was when The Attractions were at their peak. Unassuming but rock solid, he and Faragher are telepathic.

And Steve Nieve – is that the greatest rock’n’roll name ever? Not only was his mad scientist act on banks of keyboards as good as ever, but I have never seen anyone play a theremin with such impeccable pitch and control.

Elvis is no spring chicken, but someone forgot to tell him. His vocals were superb, whether artfully crooning “Shipbuilding” or spitting out the fast paced venom of “Mystery Dance” and “Radio Radio“. He paced the stage restlessly, played guitar god whenever the Gibsons were strapped around his neck, and damned if he didn’t do a little dancing, too.

The set list tilted heavily to the early years, but some of the obvious crowd-pleasers (“Oliver’s Army”, “No Action“) were skipped in favor of deeper dives like “Green Shirt” and “Clubland“. He even threw in spirited covers of  “Heart Of The City” and “Substitute” pleasing the old guard among us.

He did finally pull out “Alison“, and as couples hugged and swayed and the crowd sang along I couldn’t help wondering if he felt compelled to play it just because it was such a touchstone. But as he headed for the home stretch, the band’s volume ebbed and flowed as he stepped to the microphone and started to weave in other artist’s lyrics as if they were simply bonus verses. Hank Williams. Jimi Hendrix. Smokey Robinson. Not covering the songs, mind you – weaving them into his own melody and chord changes, and each fit like hand in glove. With dignity and subtlety the man was giving a goddamned rock history lesson from the pulpit, and we were renewed in our faith.

And as he wailed about infidelity to draw the song to its conclusion, and thousands of people already on their feet tried to stand even taller in appreciation, he lit off the cherrybomb that has become his signature song, and we were all one explosive beacon in one of rock’s finest moments.

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony, sweet harmony?

Right here, Elvis. Forever and always.

Elvis Costello

The Buffalo set list will eventually be here.

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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. – Ten for Jim McCarty

What’s the difference between Detroit and Upstate New York?

On any given Friday night I can hit a bar and find a bunch of middle-aged guys playing covers. In Detroit, my buddy Sue can do the same thing, except the guitar player is Jim McCarty.

McCarty blazed on axe for Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. Jammed at Electric Ladyland with Hendrix. Played toe to toe with Buddy Miles. Took Cactus into the stratosphere. Kicked ass all over again in The Rockets. Recently rocking again in The Detroit Revue, The Hell Drivers and finally, the 2010+ reincarnation of The Rockets.

But all the way through, he kept playing the blues, often on a Friday night in a Detroit bar, with friends.

I’ve been listening to this guy for over forty-five years and two things always come to mind – (1) holy shit, is he great, and (2) why is he not mentioned in the same breath as Blackmore, Page, Clapton, Beck, Gallagher and other consensus giants? He can blow your doors off or lay it bare. He can play anything, anytime, anywhere. I’m not going to argue with you.

I’m going to prove it to you.

Here are Ten Titanic Jim McCarty Tunes for this week’s TGIF.

(01) “No Need To Worry” / “Parchman Farm” (live at the Atlanta Pop Festival, 1970)

(02) “Taking It Back” (The Hell Drivers, live in Detroit 2009)

(03) “Hoochie Coochie Man” (live with Mystery Train and Willie D Warren!)

(04) “See See Rider” (live with the Detroit Rock Revue)

(05) “Oh Well” (sitting in with The Reefermen!)

(06) “Turn Up The Radio” (The Rockets, 1979)

(07) “Evil” (Cactus, live in Buffalo, 1971)

(08) “Goin’ Down” (live with Smokin’ Moses, 2008)

(09) “Let Me Swim / Long Tall Sally” (Cactus reunion, NYC, 2010)

(10) “Rock and Roll” (The Hell Drivers, 2009)

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #6

The words “country blues” get thrown around a lot; I do it myself when describing music from Steve Earle to the apex of the Rolling Stones catalogue (Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, Beggars Banquet, Sticky  Fingers). But my god, when the form gets attacked by a band featuring a singer with the pipes of Teal Collins and a guitarist with the amazing chops of Josh Zee, the phrase redefines itself. This is flat-out goosebump material. I don’t recall witnessing Janis Joplin jamming with Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but I imagine it might have gone down something like this:

Video: “Love Me Like A Man

The Mother Truckers are an incendiary band from Austin who just keep getting better and better. Last year “Dynamite” was my favorite song of the year, and there were three or four on Van Tour that could have made my top ten this year (if I didn’t concede the whole thing to Ce Lo Green). I mean, listen to this guy shred and this girl wail!

Video: “Dynamite

Van Tour, their fourth release, is a concept album of sorts; on the surface there are surreal songs about aliens and invasions, but it’s just a framework for honky tonk cowpunk, roots rock stompers and a master class in getting your jaw to drop. The Mother Truckers ferociously blend Americana, Patsy Cline and classic fingerpicking roadhouse hoedown with the force of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Rolling Stones. But when Collins wants to get all sweet’n’low, she can simmer a ballad or blues song as well as just about anyone (listen to “Keep It Simple” – it  made my spine sweat!) And if Zee didn’t just launch himself onto your short list of great guitar players, well…

This is first-rate chops-meets-attitude. Van Tour might be their best yet.

Listen to clips on Amazon

Video: “Alien Girl” from Van Tour

The Mother Truckers on MySpace

Zep-KISSing “Hot Legs” and making it sound legit.

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Stand Up Wit…The 100 Best?

When I first posted this blog almost two years ago, I added the bulk of the content on the tabbed sections, which are more static than the main page. No need to update my essay on comedy that often, for example. It’s a pretty straightforward piece about how I got interested in stand-up, some of the classics who knocked my socks off and where my tendencies and loyalties lie. The main thrust of the piece is that most people take comedy for granted and settle for the lowest common denominator, largely because they are not exposed to the more unique and daring comedians unless they make an effort to seek them out. And not many people look for things they don’t know exist.

Part of that essay was a link to Comedy Central’s list of the Top 100 Stand-Up Comedians of all time, a 2004 ranking that like most lists is jammed with hits and misses. Hard to argue with a top three of Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Lenny Bruce, but when Louis CK is sitting at #98 and Ricky Gervais doesn’t even make the list, it’s time for an update. The report was assembled by Comedy Central staff and management polling a group of comedians, although some accused the network of goosing up the ratings of some comics who had product on the label and/or specials on the network. (That logic fails to explain Freddie Prinze at a lofty #49, though.)

Across the Big Pond, of course, things are a bit different – many of their great comics are complete unknowns over here, and there are several panel shows that provide them an opportunity to become more familiar to the audience. And the UK list was voted upon by the public, so it tends to skew way younger and more mainstream, although even the general public proves they appreciated Bill Hicks more than we did. (I thought  we learned that lesson with Jimi Hendrix…) Here’s the new top ten:

1 BILLY CONNOLLY
2 RICHARD PRYOR
3 RICKY GERVAIS
4 BILL HICKS
5 EDDIE IZZARD
6 PETER KAY
7 BILL BAILEY
8 CHRIS ROCK
9 MICHAEL MCINTYRE
10 VICTORIA WOOD

In a word…wow.

 There were a lot of changes between the 2007 and 2010 lists and some of them are completely laughable. I can understand the increase in popularity for people like Sean Lock and especially Stewart Lee, but Lee Mack and Alan Carr just blew by too many people for my taste. And Michael McIntrye goes from nowhere to the 9th greatest standup in history? But George Burns falls off the list? Some veterans made upward moves, although still vastly underrated (Bill Cosby, George Carlin) while others (Joan Rivers, Lenny Bruce) took a serious tumble. Ah, those silly gits.

Here’s the updated 2010 list. Happy grumbling!



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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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