Tag Archives: Johnny Winter

R.I.P. Steve Popovich

In the 70s and 8os, when record companies warred against each other like lumbering dinosaurs, there were some real unsavory characters in the business. I’ve met and worked with quite a few of them, and to say I counted my fingers after a handshake is putting it mildly.

But among the stories of the ridiculously rich and powerful were the occasional feel-good stories of when David beat Goliath. Of course these days, that happens daily – the major label stranglehold on music is all but dead.

But when little Cleveland International Records started up, they could have never imagined that they would stumble across one of the most monumental albums of the rock era, especially after most of the supposedly smarter majors passed on it.

Steve Popovich had the career I thought I wanted a the time, a VP of a major label in his twenties with the ability to sign artists and help share them with the world. Any of us who are fans of music have our truckload of underappreciated musicians and writers and singers who would surely be megastars if only given the break. Working under Clive Davis at Columbia Records and then A&R with Ron Alexexburg at their sister label Epic, he was able to help launch or maximize the careers of artists like Cheap Trick, Brice Springsteen, Mott The Hoople, Johnny Winter, Southside Johnny and many of my favorites.

When he struck out to form Cleveland International Records, he used his old school local promotion skills to work an odd and obtuse album called Bat Out Of Hell month after month, slowly building an expanding regional base until radio finally fanned the spark into a flame. I was working in a record store at the time, and I remember how often labels would get all excited about a new record only to ignore it three months later if it didn’t catch on. Popovich believed in the record, believed in Meat Loaf, believed in Jim Steinman. He followed his gut instincts, and the rest is history.

He also gave us Ellen Foley’s majestic Night Out, and when Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson wanted assistance post-Mott, it was Steve they turned to for direction. He had the reputation as a man who would invest in the artist in ways far beyond financial.

Steve Popovich passed away today at the age of 69.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers

Since it’s Rocktober, I thought I’d revisit the charts.

When I was growing up in New York City, the local stations made a big deal about their weekly countdowns, and every week music fanatics (like me) were glued to the radio, ready to jot them down as they were played and guess which songs finished where. Forget Dick Clark and Casey Kasem, in NYC it was all about WABC and WMCA. At the end of the year they’d do their annual countdown and even mail you the final list if you sent in an envelope. Somewhere in a dusty attic box, I still have a few that I treasured as a kid.

I guarantee that when pop culture historians look at the tail end of the 1960s, they will rate that period as important to music history as the Industrial Revolution was to Western Civilization. Living through it was amazing. But even looking back on how the charts morphed over a decade, it’s obvious that a seismic shift had occurred.

So this week I give you Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers – the Number One hits from the first week of October. It’s only going to get stranger each Friday.

1963) Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton) – The early 60s was crooner heaven, as well as a haven for single-named teen idols. Four lads from Liverpool changed all that the year prior, but you don’t build Rome in a day. I can’t listen to this song anymore without picturing Dennis Hopper.

1964) Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison) – I still can’t believe that voice came out of that head. Orbison’s growl on the bridge just made a cool song even cooler – even Van Halen couldn’t ruin this gem.

1965) Hang On Sloopy (The McCoys) – The Ohio State National Anthem, this garage rock chestnut featured a teenage Rick Derringer and still sounds great. A very underappreciated band who cut some great pop sides and then morphed into Johnny Winter’s best band. (This rare version has the extra verse)

1966) Cherish (The Association) – Not quite rock, I know, but you must have that slow grind song for the prom, and this was it – plus it covered the pain of unrequited love! And if you want to punish this great vocal group for being wimpy, you have to give them props for “Along Came Mary”.

1967) The Letter (The Box Tops) – Teenage Alex Chilton hooked up with Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and cut one of the gruffest, blusiest vocals ever recorded. Absolute killer stuff, in and out in under two minutes and always sounds fresh when you hear it.

1968) Hey Jude (The Beatles) – Beginning its nine week run atop the charts, an instant sing-along classic and one of the longest tracks in chart history. Whatever happened to those guys?

1969) Sugar Sugar (The Archies) – If he could make a gazillion dollars with four actors, how much could Don Kirschner make from four cartoon characters who wouldn’t insist on playing their own instruments? This was the song that dethroned “Honky Tonk Women”…I am not making that up.

1970) Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Diana Ross) – Motown ruled the charts in the 60s but this version pales in comparison to the 1967 version by the great Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – a hit three years earlier.

1971) Maggie May (Rod Stewart) – Single and album simultaneously blew up and made rooster head a star. For a couple of years he and The Faces made the best music on Earth and then Rod followed the money, which he is still doing forty years later.

1972) Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me (Mac Davis) – And you wonder why people said “rock is dead”? Other 1972 chart toppers included “Candy Man” from Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson’s turgid “Ben” and Melanie’s screeching “Brand New Key”. The year was so lame that Gilbert O’Sullivan’s nasal “Alone Again Naturally” spent four weeks at the top, lost its place and then floated up again like a dead fish for two more.

Thankfully, album rock was there to save the day.

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T.G.I.F. – Rock Me Out Of This

It’s been a really shitty week.

Letdowns. Oral surgery. Roy Oswalt traded to the Phillies.

I need some great songs to break me out of this. I need loud guitars, sing-along choruses, air guitar opportunities. I need to rock my way out of this funk.

So from one of the greatest hits-that-never-was (“Understanding Jane”) to classic guitar wanking (Leslie West) to the Johnny Winter Experience (yes, you read that right), here are Ten Terrific Tracks sure to wipe that glum off your puss

(01) The Sex Pistols  –  “Anarchy In The U.K.”

(02) The Icicle Works  –  “Understanding Jane

(03) The Kinks  – “Rats

(05) The Johnny Winter Experience  –  “Bonie Maronie

(05) Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds  –  “Train Tracks

(06) Mountain  –  “Mississippi Queen

(07) Archie Powell and the Exports  –  “Enough About Me

(08) Iggy and the Stooges  –  “Raw Power

(09) The Wildhearts  –  “Battleship Chains

(10) The Faces  –  “Pool Hall Richard

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rockin’ Recollections

I can’t really listen to the radio anymore.

Stations today pretty much suck. Much like chain store record department employees, most on-air people are out of their depth. They don’t have a good grasp of what they’re trying to sell or present. They aren’t lifers. They don’t live and breathe the music. Perhaps that has a lot to do with the fact that they’re not choosing what to play (or in the case of the chain store clerk, they are not there by choice but promoted from the small appliances department).

Oldies radio recycles the same few hits by the same few bands and never play the chestnuts. Hell, most of these stations are farmed in from a few central syndicates anyway, so the concept of a revisiting a regional classic is pretty much gone. Some consultant somewhere is choosing titles from a list of what their contractual rights enable them to play without paying additional royalties. It’s dull, lifeless, repetitive.

Oh, I know there are exceptions. There are a couple of guys in my town who have an occasional 3-4 hour slot that can be very entertaining, but the airtime doesn’t line up with my schedule. And maybe satellite radio would cure me of this low opinion; one listen to someone like Little Steven and you see what a world of difference it makes when the creator of the show is deeply invested in every song and detail. Like a great mixtape, each song brings a nod and a smile; it’s great when you’re on that wavelength.

But I don’t need radio anymore. It hasn’t been able to teach me anything in years…decades, perhaps. But I have a lifetime of music to draw upon, and a continuing pipeline of great music that real artists continue to make regardless of apathy, challenges and obstacles. Bless you, fellow zealots.

S0 this week I present you with ten rockin’ recollections, ten songs that I thought of while daydreaming this morning. There’s no logical sequence, it isn’t a mix, and although the thrust of it hovers in the 70s, it wasn’t by design. Just ten great songs that you’ll probably never hear on the radio, but they put a smile on my face and I hope they put a smile on yours.

Enjoy the weekend!

Graham Parker: “Temporary Beauty“. Nice live version from a guy who has been making one brilliant album after another for thirty-five years; he doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves.

Santana: “Soul Sacrifice“. Michael Shrieve is mindblowing on drums; Santana wowed everybody at WoodstockShrieve, at twenty, looked like Sid Vicious!

The Cruzados: “Bed Of Lies“. Vastly underrated band who had a couple of excellent records in the 80s; even Dylan is a fan. This and “Motorcycle Girl” were my faves.

John Hiatt and Matthew Sweet): “Girlfriend“. From Vh-1 Duets. You know, back when music stations actually programmed music content? They also covered “I Wanna Be Sedated” that night!

? and the Mysterians: “Do Something To Me“. Garage gods! This song wasn’t a hit for them although Tommy James had success with it. They still sound great today.

Edgar Winter Group: “Queen of My DreamsDan Hartman goes all Led Zeppelin on us. He was the soul of this group and an incredible talent.

Montrose: “Bad Motor Scooter“. Still smokes 36 years later. Sammy had poodle hair, Ronnie Montrose left Edgar Winter after “Frankenstein”.

J. Geils Band: “Lookin’ For a Love“. Best. Party. Band. Ever. Saw a clip of them from a recent reunion and Peter Wolf can still work that stage like a scarecrow jacked up on coke.

Van Duren: “Grow Yourself Up“. Underknown pop giant who was part of the Memphis scene circa Big Star and came up to Connecticut to record at Big Sound Records. New album in 2010.

Johnny Winter: “Jumping Jack Flash“. With Floyd Radford and Randy Jo Hobbs, although they’re just hanging on for dear life. Johnny owns this song!

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Blast From The Past: Rick Derringer

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…

Cheap Tequila

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.

Ricky wiki

Some clips from the 2008 Derringer reunion tour.

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Happy Birthday, Johnny Winter

 

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. 

Have Cape, Will Sling.

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. 

Johnny Winter website and wiki

Discography at the All Music Guide 

 

** 

And a cake for you too, Captain America.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Sixties Singles Acts

45 RPM record player

I lived my life at 45 RPM

I’m in the middle of a two-part feature concerning three of the best groups of the ’60s (Herman’s Hermits, The Young Rascals and The Turtles) and figured I’d make this week’s theme about ten bands whose 45’s were a staple of my collection. For those born later, AM radio was king, and WMCA and WABC in New York City were among the kingmakers. After an era of crooner pop and teen idol mania, the charts were invaded by surf rock, Motown soul, garage/psych sides and that multi-wave British Invasion. Radio would never be the same.

Many artists have gotten their due critically and financially, from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to The Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel. Many have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although several are either awaiting nomination or seemingly have no shot despite making a huge impact in a short and magical time.

I’m going to use today’s list to tout ten worthy artists who I feel are very under-appreciated. They’re enshrined in my Hall of Fame and I still enjoy hearing their music today. Not all have decent video clips, so I’m linking to a site where you can at least hear some audio samples and hopefully pick up a greatest hits collection, if not a few of their catalogue albums or a larger anthology.

If you’re a powerpop or garage fan, there are probably no surprises here. But if you only know these bands from a hit or two on oldies radio, I promise you there is more worth digging for.

jukebox

Tommy James and the Shondells: A pretty fascinating story of how a guy accidentally becomes a bubblegum idol, hates it, and then becomes one of the more interesting purveyors of commercial psychedelic pop. How can a guy who strung together that many hits not be more highly respected? One of the era’s better producers as well.  Wiki.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys: Even the involvement of Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell couldn’t overcome the fact that Gary was the son of Jerry Lewis, so how could you take this stuff seriously. But Gary was no Dino, Desi and Billy; the band kicked out seven Top Ten hits in two years (!) and this new collection reveals how much great stuff you never got to hear. Wiki.

The McCoys: The band that spawned Rick Derringer had an immediate hit with the iconic “Hang On Sloopy” and never hit #1 again, but their singles included covers of “Fever”, “Come On Let’s Go” and the underrated “Don’t Worry Mother”. Great stuff on the albums, too; “Mr. Summer” is an unknown wonder. The core of the band would up backing Johnny Winter during his transition from Texas bluesman to arena rocker.  Wiki.

The Buckinghams: Another band whose hits came fast and furious and then they were gone. Catchy songs that added horns and time changes resulting in songs more progressive than most. Sometimes it didn’t work out (the middle section in the expanded version of  “Susan” doesn’t age well) but Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears leveraged some of these tricks in their arrangements. Still  kicking today. Wiki.

The Grass Roots: Not certain why they never get included in the discussion of great groups of the era. Like The Turtles, they recorded the work of great songwriters (P.F. Sloan was even an original member) and had a string of radio hits that extended into the 70s. The songs were not only ear candy but many were socially observant, and they featured a great lead singer in Rob Grill. And yes, that’s Creed Bratton from The Office on guitar.  Wiki.

Paul Revere and the Raiders: Started as a raucous garage band in the Pacific Northwest, launched into America’s living room on an iconic television program and parlayed the opportunity into a string of hit singles, yet those costumes they became famous for led many to dismiss them as cartoonish wannabees. Wrong! Mark Lindsay’s looks got them onto teen magazines but singles like “Kicks”, “Hungry”, “Just Like Me” and the dynamic “Him or Me” cemented their legend. Wiki.

The Box Tops: I’m still amazed how powerful “The Letter” is forty years later, especially for a song that didn’t even hit the two minute mark. And while “Cry Like a Baby” was their only other Top Ten, that only scratched the surface of this great band. “Neon Rainbow”, “Soul Deep”, “Sweet Cream Ladies”…Alex Chilton would reinvent himself with Big Star and time has proven just how valuable Dan Penn, Wayne Thompson, Spooner Oldham and Chips Moman were to have around. Soul Deep was not only a great song, but a perfect description of the band.  Wiki.

The Troggs: Another band often mistakenly dismissed as a one or two hit wonder, they had several great sides. And as anthemic as “Wild Thing” might be, “With a Girl Like You”, “Love is All Around”, “All of the Time” and “I Can’t Control Myself” are superior songs. A great blend of garage band and druggy music with Reg Presley’s nasal sneer the icing on the cake. (Also famous, of course, for  the legendary taped argument where one member suggests that a track needs a little more fairy dust on it). Wiki 

Mitch Ryder: Mitch and The Detroit Wheels burned like a comet and recorded arguably the hottest rock’n’roll single of all time in “Devil With a Blue Dress / Good Golly Miss Molly”. Bad management and naive decisions broke the band up within a couple of years, but they had a few great singles and recorded a treasure trove of killer rave-ups. Most don’t know that Ryder continued to make great albums over the next forty years because he gets no airplay. (Hell, even his Wikipedia page isn’t up to date). Wiki.

The 1910 Fruitgum Company: Yeah, I know it’s a bubblegum group, but I will unashamedly put “Indian Giver” out there as one of the best singles of the late ’60s. “Simon Says”, “1-2-3 Red Light” and “Special Delivery” all got serious spin time at my house and remain irresistable hooks. Listen – if Joan Jett covers your song, you’ve passed the cool test. Wiki.

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