Tag Archives: Lynyrd Skynyrd

Not A Good Rock Birthday…

You can search just about every day on the calendar and find a plethora of musicians and actors who share a birthday. On occasion I’ll run a column blogging about a few when some noteworthy ones share the day. And when looking over the lists last night, I discovered something.

July 15th is cursed.

If you’re going to light a candle for these birthdays, they are probably in church rather than a cake. Johnny Thunders was born in 1952 and left us back in 1991; his last recordings possibly were the sessions he did right in my town along with The Chesterfield Kings.

Ian Curtis, the poster boy for depression, was born four years later and left Joy Division behind in 1908. Even Artimus Pyle, born in 1958 and still alive, went down in flames with Lynyrd Skynrd and survived only to be tossed out of the band afterwards.

So maybe before anyone else born on July 15th sings “hope I die before I get old” they might want to think twice.

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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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Blast From The Past: 38 Special

There are at least two great things about this album…

I’ve always been skeptical about second generation version of rock bands, although I do like powerpop, and with few exceptions the entire movement has eaten its own tail for forty plus years. But crawling from the (literal) ashes of Lynyrd Skynyrd is another story altogether – even for original survivors of that band.

So initially I looked at 38 Special like I look at light beer – technically in the same ballpark but little substance and no staying power. But I was wrong about the latter, and even I must admit that they did have a way with a lighthearted hook on occasion. And yeah, there are a couple/three/four songs that bring a smile to my face today, even though I’ve never been a big fan.

When I saw the disc in the rack this morning, I thought I remembered writing it up, and sure enough…eleven years ago, I did.

Short of Steppenwolf’s anthem, what better opening line could you have for Biker Week in South Dakota than “Cruisin’ down the motorway…”? Live from the Buffalo Chip Fairgrounds it’s “Rockin’ Into The Night,” and that’s just what these classic rock radio survivors did in front of a huge throng of worshippers. Always more commercially viable than their predecessors Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special had quite a run of hits; you might be surprised when you realize just how many. And before you cock an eyebrow at the mention of their name, give this disc a spin. Many of their contemporaries have fizzled out and lost it big time; these guys sound fresh. Well, apart from the cheesy synthesizer. Too “Kansas,” man…

Don Barnes and Donnie VanZant sound exactly the same as they did the first time around, which is to say strong lead vocals and able-bodied harmony. Guitarist Danny Chauncey adds some ripping lead guitar to several tracks, as they roll through the classic catalogue along with a few newer numbers. And only the close-minded among us toss that “yee-hah rock” bandana on their work. “Hold On Loosely,” “Back Where You Belong” and especially “Caught Up In You” are pure pop songs rolled in southern-fried bread crumbs.

Sure, there ‘s a touching tribute to Ronnie VanZant (“Rebel To Rebel“) that ends with a little “Free Bird” riff, and yes, Donnie pays props by tossing in a whistle in place of a vocal growl (a Ronnie trademark), and the crowd eats it up. And frankly, when a band paves the career road for you and featured your late brother, it would be hedonistic not to tip the hat to the icon.

And to prove that all the chips weren’t cashed in fifteen years ago, a new studio track (“Just One Girl“) is tacked on at the end. The song has a nice low-key push and gets its bounce from some great organ playing. But if an album full of hits and a catchy new tune isn’t enough for you, there is that biker chick on the cover…

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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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Paying Tribute! The Kinks

Another in a series of Kinks tribute albums, Unkovered features a mostly lesser-known roster of artists who produce mixed results. About half the songs are from the classic late 60s period, but I was glad to see the usual targets like “You Really Got Me” skipped over and tracks like “Dandy” and “Who’ll Be The Next In Line” get covered.

Some of the artists offer little more than straight cover versions. Ghosts of Electricity handles “Sunny Afternoon” about as well as you’d expect a bar band to play it, and James O’Malley’s odd pauses in “Celluloid Heroes” gives it an odd Harry Chapin flavor but neither track sticks in your head.  On the other hand, while Maura Kennedy’s cover of “Autumn Almanac” doesn’t vary much from the original arrangement, her lilting voice perfectly suits the song, and she inhabits it with spirit and heart.

A couple of my favorite tracks have been given a country flavor, and why not? Muswell Hillbillies, Percy and Village Green Preservation Society did nothing if not celebrate family, hearth and home from the English perspective. The Corduroy Sky’s take on “Holloway Jail” morphs from simple acoustic riffs to a lightweight version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Caroline Doctorow’s beautiful “Oklahoma USA” (with Maura and Pete Kennedy backing up) is the standout cut on the album along with The Blaggards’ “Last of the Steam Powered Trains”.

Other artists took chances; Smile Pretty Misery treats “Set Me Free” like a dark confessional, while The Lone Sharks threw “Willesden Green” through an Elvis Presley filter. Johnny Cuomo’s ragged voice makes Rod Stewart sound silky, but at least he infuses some emotion into “Dead End Street”, much like Patrick Costello’s wailing guitars save “Give The People What They Want”. There are disappointments – I found Tara Eberle’s “Do It Again” and Claudia Jacobs’ “Loony Balloon” pretty tepid – but for a regional label (Long Island, NY) it’s a pretty decent tribute disc.

Die-hard Kinks fans collect everything related to their heroes; hopefully they will find a few favorites on Unkovered to listen to alongside This is Where I Belong, Shangri-La, Give The People What We Want and the other loving tips of the cap.

Listen to clips from Unkovered at Amazon.

Unkovered is released on Paradiddle Records.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rousing Rockers

It’s involuntary, almost Pavlovian.

You’re somewhere – anywhere – and that song comes on. You find yourself smiling no matter what the discussion is about…the hips start to shake a little bit…the air guitar is sitting there in the case ready to go. And sure enough, whether you’re bellowing out your car window or softly singing the words under your breath in the store, you’re all in. If you’re in a lively pub, you join in with several other people you don’t even know, as all inhibitions disappear and you bond in the most common language this planet has…music.

I thought about this the other day when I was howling out the car window with Warren Zevon as “Werewolves of London” was blasting out of the speakers. Some songs just…resonate. They don’t have to be very lyrical (“Hang On Sloopy” isn’t exactly Shakespeare); in fact you might not even understand a word you’re saying (“Louie Louie“). But the best ones are usually a song that was massively popular but also resonates with some feeling of angst – lost love, alienation, rebellion.

Lots of people sing along with the final chorus  of “Hey Jude“, but not with as much passion as they will when”What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love And Understanding” or  “Rockin In The Free World” comes on the jukebox (at least not where I hang out!)…and if the song was a monster when you were in your prime bar-trolling years, so much the better.

So here are Ten Rousing Rockers will release your inner teenager and break the ice in any social situation as you raise your glass, throw your arm around a stranger and share a moment. And since it’s Friday, why not start right this minute? Life’s too short to wait for five o’clock.

01)Brown Sugar” (The Rolling Stones) I said yeah..yeah..yeah…whooooo!

02)Born To Run” (Bruce Springsteen) Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.

03)Love Shack” (The B-52s). I got me a car as big as a whale!

04)Rock and Roll All Night” (KISS) And party every day!

05)Maggie May” (Rod Stewart) Maggie, I wish I never seen your face!

06)You Shook Me All Night Long” (AC/DC) She was a fast machine, she kept…what clean?

07)Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd) Southern Man don’t need you around anyhow.

08)We Gotta Get Outta This Place” (The Animals) If it’s the last thing we ever do!

09)Love Stinks” (J. Geils Band) And so it goes ’til the day you die.

10)Wild Thing” (The Troggs) You make everything…groovy.

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Under The Radar: Taildragger

I am not skeptical - this rocks!

I am not skeptical - this rocks!

I’ll admit that you can grab my attention with a witty band name or album title, and Taildragger hit both bulls-eyes with Skeptictank. Even better news? The band flat out smokes.

Taildragger the band (not to be confused with Taildragger the Chicago bluesman or Spokane’s fabulous Too Slim and the Taildraggers ) is a blues rock trio led by guitarist/drummer/vocalist Jon McGee. McGee is also a member of The Mighty Jeremiahs as is Taildragger bassist Mark Hendricks. On this album Rob Hulsman splits drum chores with McGee, and I believe Jon’s sister Sherri even whacks skins with them on occasion. Greg Martin smokes the axe on several tracks as well.

Skeptictank is a tour-de-force of swampy blues, stinging rock and even some countrified soul (think  the fringes of the Flying Burrito Brothers and Byrds, especially on “Mary Virginia” and “Believe”). But the bands that popped into my head most frequently were southern rockers Gov’t Mule and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Texas blues rockers like Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top and even Jo Jo Gunne and Irish legends Thin Lizzy. The latter comparison is likely due to the fluid bass playing (the band has the chops and the stones to cover John Entwistle’s “My Wife”!). I’d be remiss by not complimenting keyboard player Kevin McKendree, whose organ really adds a ton to the sound.

If you like classic 70’s boogie, greasy slide shuffles or high-charged power trio rock, you’ll find a lot to love here. I could drop a million more names from vets like The Rolling Stones to contemporaries like The Muggs, but it’s really this simple – classic American rock and roll played by grade-A musicians. I don’t know how I missed out on Taildragger for four years, but it’s discoveries like this that make me keep digging. I suggest you dive into this Kentucky magic  right away.

Taildragger’s MySpace page.

Hear clips from Skeptictank at CD BABY.

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