Tag Archives: Ron Wood

Blast From The Past: Let It Bleed

It might be their greatest album, and that’s saying something.

Took a drive through the country Sunday afternoon and slapped this puppy in the player. My god, it sounds as fresh and vital as it did in 1969, and as many Stones albums were during their apex, there’s not a duff track in the lot. Many people focus on the legendary tracks – “Midnight Rambler”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Gimme Shelter” – and those three are certainly landmark tracks of the rock’n’roll era. But it’s the deeper dive that makes this album more rewarding.

Keith’s “You Got The Silver” is among his finest performances, and a perfect example of the “front porch” sound that he gleaned from his relationship with Gram Parsons. Hell, “Country Honk” could have been a Flying Burrito Brothers track. I remember being stunned that the band did not put “Honky Tonk Women” on the album; it was a massive hit single and leaving it off almost seemed counterproductive to the promotion of the album. But as a Stones fan, I was thrilled to have such a different take.

The title track is joyful (and sordid); impossible not to sing along to and timelessly infectious. Speaking of sordid, “Live With Me” is one of their raunchiest, featuring a killer bass line and a nasty sax solo. “Love In Vain” is a prime example of how the blues roots of the band flowered over time; what started as simple expositions of the form started to flower into inventive arrangements.

Charlie Watts is a monster, as always, but the underrated Bill Wyman has some great moments as well. And as much as I love Brian Jones, Mick Taylor was the greatest guitarist the Stones ever had (Ron Wood is a great player, but he has been wasted as a Rolling Stone). The band also pulled out all the stops with horn sections, gospel choirs and majestic arrangements; the sound of this album was phenomenal considering the year it was made.

This album came out as big cultural changes were occurring in the industry and for fans. AM radio was still pretty cool but FM was rearing its head. Singles were still huge (and selling) but albums started to become definitive statements rather than a collection of hit and failed singles. Let It Bleed was proving that these English boys not only understood Delta and Chicago blues, but country music and roadhouse rock as well. Hearing it made me feel cooler than I was. It gave me a window to what could (and would) be.

Listen to clips here…oh just buy the damned thing, willya?

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Happy Birthday, Ronnie Wood!

Happy Birthday, Ronnie Wood!

One of my favorite rock’n’roll characters of all time, Ron Wood has enjoyed a solid solo career as well as being a fixture in two of the best bands of all time, The Faces and The Rolling Stones. In the mid-60s he was the guitarist and principal songwriter for The Birds (not to be confused with these guys) and briefly joined The Creation in their waning days before joining The Jeff Beck Group as bassist. While with Beck (along with Rod Stewart and drummer Micky Waller) they recorded two classic albums, Truth and Beck-Ola, before he and Stewart joined the remaining members of The Small Faces after Steve Marriott’s departure.

With Stewart, he rejuvenated the band in a more arena rock direction, and their four studio albums released in the early 70s remain stone cold classics. Although they only had one hit in the United States (“Stay With Me”), their shows were booze-drenched wonders, sloppy yet inspired, brilliant yet imperfect. In other words, everything a great rock band should be. Too many great songs to pick favorites, but with four strong and prolific songwriters in the band, it looked like they would be around forever.

The Faces also acted as Rod’s supporting musicians for the albums he released as a solo act during the same time. When Stewart started hoarding much of his material for himself and his solo success eclipsed the band’s, Ronnie Lane left and one album later it was over…and there was Woody standing at the altar.

Then he had his own album to do.

Perhaps (along with Ian McLagan’s album Bump In The Night) the best Faces album never made, Wood’s solo debut is as fresh and vital today as it was upon first release. Featuring mates from both the Stones and Faces helping out and a first-rate rhythm section of Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark, I Have My Own Album To Do is easily as good or better than anything the Stones or Rod Stewart has put out since.

Live Video: I Can Feel The Fire

His follow-up album Now Look was more r&b oriented thanks to a collaboration with Bobby Womack, one of Woody’s favorite artists. The pace slowed after that, but Wood has released six studio albums (plus Mahoney’s Last Stand recorded with Ronnie Lane); there are also several live and compilation albums available.

It’s odd to think that Wood has been a Rolling Stone for thirty-five years; a tenure as lead guitarist that dwarfs the combined span of Brian Jones (1962-69) and Mick Taylor (1969-1974). In Wood, Keith Richards finally found the perfect mate for his preferred style of guitar weaving; onstage they play like a two-headed, four-armed man. He also found a drinking and carousing buddy, and Wood moved right from the Faces’ pub lifestyle to a new global level of decadence. Despite their years of friendship and Wood’s proven status, he remained a salaried employee for over twenty years before finally becoming an official partner in financial affairs.

For those who loved Wood’s tone and solos with The Faces, however, the Stones years have been a disappointing experience where his songwriting is not welcomed by Mick and all musical direction comes from Keith. Why buy a hot sports car and leave it up on blocks in your garage? Likewise, despite his financial and popular success,  Rod Stewart never again hit the creative heights he did when Wood was his writing partner.

Imagine if the material from Stewart’s solo career from 1971-1974 had been combined with the work The Faces produced – how huge they could have been! But rather than household names and multi-millionaires, their legacy lives on through the hundreds of bands that used them as a step-stool and a model. It is one of the biggest injustices in rock history.

Personally, I look back upon the Stewart-Wood years as pure bliss. Like Jagger-Richard, it’s a partnership that draws the best out of the two halves and a system of checks and balances that helps push the creative work to its peak. I can’t imagine Wood signing off on any of the schlock Stewart released during his latter career, and Stewart’s commercial sense probably would have sharpened Wood’s songwriting.

Watching them reunite for Stewart’s Unplugged special in 1993 briefly recaptured the magic, but in recent years not even their personal bond can overcome the demands that Rod (or his management) continue to throw up as roadblocks to a Faces reunion and tour (a tactic the band may finally have tired of).

I’m not certain what the man himself thinks of the past three decades, but I can assure you that if you want to hear Woody having fun, listen to the New Barbarians albums, where he and Keef are free of Rod and Mick.

Years of booze and smoke wore down a voice that was always rough and ragged to begin with. Perhaps this was never more clear than when Wood covered Bob Dylan’s “Seven Days” and the realization set in that Dylan sounded almost sweet by comparison. But like Dylan, you could look past the imperfection of the technique to reap the emotion and the soul of the performance. Woody always had heart and soul.

Wood is also an accomplished artist and painter whose portraits and sketches are collector’s items; many of his albums include samples of his work.

Sadly, in recent years Wood has been in and out of rehab and has suffered through some serious some family issues as a result. Here’s hoping that body and mind recover fully and we have many, many more songs and paintings and quips from one of the last true rock stars of his generation.

New to Woody? The Essential Crossexxion isn’t a bad place to start.

Ron Wood website – art and music!

Ron Wood discography and wiki page

***

June 1st also marks the 30th anniversary of CNN’s first broadcast as well as the birthday of Pat Boone, Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe, Morgan Freeman, Jonathan Pryce, Brian Cox and Cleavon Little; it’s also the anniversary of the deaths of David Ruffin and Sonny Boy Williamson.

And a belated R.I.P. to counterculture icon Dennis Hopper. I was traveling when I heard the news of his death (and the completion of the trifecta of Gary Coleman and Art Linkletter). I’ll pay tribute by spotlighting ten classic Hopper performances in this Friday’s TGIF.

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New Album! The Pantones


Infectious and accessible, the Pantones juggle several influences with sleight of sound.

An impressive blend of great ingredients, The Pantones at various times tap the DNA of The Jayhawks, Ben Folds, The Byrds, R.E.M., Wilco, The Beach Boys and—perhaps most impressively—guitar licks that Ron Wood tossed out like confetti in the ‘70s.

Video: “Circus Freaks

Read my review of Inside the Sun’s Wild Flame at PopMatters.

Hear some clips at Amazon.

Visit The Pantones website.

Warm up to The Pantones.

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Under The Radar: Northey Valenzuela

 

Yeah, I go on mental tangents. 

The Olympics are on television, and the games are being held in Vancouver, which is where The Odds hail from. So out come the Odds albums, almost subliminally, and as I play them loud and long, I remember again what a great band they are and how criminal it is that the U.S. market just hasn’t caught up to them yet. 

But if the Odds albums are below their radar, imagine how stealth this 2005 pairing of Craig Northey and Jesse Valenzuela was. Any fan of the Odds and Gin Blossoms didn’t need to hear a note in advance. But even with the success of the Gin Blossoms in the States, radio programmers remained a tough sell for this type of music. 

But as usual, their loss, not ours. Northey is one of the best songwriters around, and Valenzuela is no slouch either. Their collaboration followed the premise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts;  it played to their strengths and beyond. Meaning that while they brought the best out in each other, they pushed themselves as well. 

Northey Valenzuela is a joyous album chock full of hooks, melodies and charm with strong lyrics and inspired vocals and harmonies. If you haven’t grabbed this little chestnut, I implore you to do so immediately

Here’s my original review from Cosmik Debris

 

Northey, the soul of Canada’s Odds, and Valenzuela, the heart of the Gin Blossoms, combine for a pop platter that meets both players on common ground. Backed by criminally under-known musicians like axeman Colin James, bassist Doug Elliott and drummer Pat Seward (the latter two the formidable rhythm section of those late great Odds), Craig and Jesse make knocking out catchy songs seem effortless. Both musicians endured the demise of strong bands in an unforgiving industry, then spent time collaborating and touring with others before quietly releasing solo projects. Apparently they share a mutual love for Booker T & The MGs and blue eyed soul, for this new project is dripping with aural honey.  

Where Valenzuela’s songs tend to be familiar sounding (“See Through Heart” and “Hurting On The Outside” are both reminiscent of Tom Petty, for example), Northey is more likely to challenge with minor keys and introspective lyrics. “Something Good” (a nicer take than the Colin James version) is beautifully soulful, as is “Let It Go” – major kudos to Simon Kendall’s supportive organ playing on both. But they complement each other well vocally and musically. 

They’re funky – “Halfway To Happy” sounds like a kissing cousin to John Hiatt’s “Riding With The King”. And they can rock, churning up “Slow Goodbye” and exhuming the 70s era Ron Wood on the fiery “Borrowing Trouble”.  And if you are a fellow Odds fan, you’ll have a big smile on your face. “Not A Lot Goin’ On” sounds like the great lost outtake; everything from the intelligent lyrics to the counterpoint background vocals (think “Someone Who’s Cool”) is right on the mark. 

Northey Valenzuela has cut a great record that needs a wider audience. Gee, how about US distribution for starters?  

The Odd Blossoms

There has been plenty of activity since this collaboration came out, of course. The Odds reformed with a new guitarist to replace Steven Drake and released the excellent Cheerleader while Northey has been involved with television projects like Corner Gas and the brand new Kids In The Hall series. Valenzuela and The Gin Blossoms have reformed, released a live album in 2009 and have a new studio album slated for release this year. 

Sometimes opportunity produces magic. Here’s proof.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Righteous Rockers

jukebox

Ten reasons why rock’n’roll will never die at my house...

 True BlueRon Wood and Rod Stewart from the good old days – always better together than apart.

Generation Upstart – The Diamond Dogs, the closest thing we have to The Faces these days.

Mona Lisa SmiledThe Quireboys are no slouches either. Spike rules!

Natural Born BoogiePeter Frampton and Steve Marriott were great together in Humble Pie.

White Lies – I’m glad that Jason and the Scorchers are still rocking!

Big TimeWebb Wilder covers the Ian Hunter song.

All The Way From Memphis – …and from Queen and Def Leppard as well, Ian!

Pretty Vacant – Sex Pistols, with Glen Matlock and on television! Something is wrong here.

Radio RadioElvis Costello and The Beastie Boys re-enact one of the best moments in rock television history.

Under My Thumb – In the early days, Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones

Party on, Garth!

Party on, Garth!

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Under The Radar: Cover You

Pretty hip, even for Hip-O.

Pretty hip, even for Hip-O.

Under the radar and a blast from the past…and playing at my house today. Not much to add to my original take (below) and although I can’t rate it alongside deliberate tribute albums, it’s well worth a listen.

Hip-O’s tribute collections gather previously recorded versions of an artist’s work rather than commission current bands to take a whack at the catalogue. So where the latter project might have the benefit of one-upmanship as bands try to come out on top of the pile, the older versions were done individually as true tips of the cap, especially when you consider the caliber of the artists involved. Like Meet The Covers and Chuck B. Covered, this gathering is as eclectic as Hip-O’s Beatles and Chuck Berry discs.

While many have heard Linda Ronstadt‘s tepid version of “Tumbling Dice”, few will have heard Sugar Blue‘s jazzy harp-laden “Miss You” (he played harmonica on the original cut). Ditto a nice collaboration between two of the better guitarists on Earth, Charlie Sexton and Ron Wood. And while I miss Devo‘s unique attack of “Satisfaction”, soul legend Otis Redding sounds a lot more like a man in need than Jagger did. White soul shouter Mitch Ryder issued one of the most intense rock albums of the era with Detroit; the inclusion of his growling “Gimme Shelter” is the best thing on the record. Dueling soul Queens Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner are here also, with Ike and Tina ironically offering “Under My Thumb”!

Country blues is the bastard father of rock and roll, and while Jason & The Scorchers rip it up with “19th Nervous Breakdown”, Johnny Cash‘s 1978 version of “No Expectations” sounds like “Folsom Prison Blues” with different words. Steve Earle and Johnny Winter (with Rick Derringer blazing alongside him every step of the way) close out the disc with live versions of “Dead Flowers” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, respectively.

There are fourteen songs, and besides the Ronstadt cut, the only mistake that Hip-O made was in the liner notes which begin: “Mick Jagger and Keith Richards may not be thought of as one of the great songwriting teams of the modern era…” Maybe not on your planet! As a die hard, long time, watched-them-on-Sullivan-as-a-kid fan, I’ve known better all my life. Even during that period of the 1960’s when the unwritten rule said you had to choose between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (couldn’t – gasp – like both!), I knew which side my rock was buttered on. So does Hip-O.

Album now out of print but cheap used copies available.

Also check out the Chuck Berry and Beatles tributes referenced above.

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