Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps - Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps

I've probably mentioned that my mom and her interest in the teenage Rock N' Roll of the fifties have always had a big influence on me, but if I haven't then let me take this opportunity.  Mom has told me the story of her cutting school and driving to another town along the lake where she grew up, and listening to Chuck Berry's Maybelline all day.  That sounds like a pretty perfect day to me, and it pretty much always has.  Mom loved Buddy Holly and Elvis, too.  I'll bet you she really didn't know this version of Gene Vincent, because I don't think he really hit it big until he mellowed out and dropped The Blue Caps.  I don't think the American kids were as interested in Gene Vincent as the British kids were (and when I say British kids, I mean the ones that were in bands).

So i really didn't know much about Gene Vincent's earlier Rockabilly stuff until I was older.  I know I bought this on cd long before I bought it on a record.  But look at that cover!  You know this record is gonna really kill it just looking at it.  These guys might have been the tightest little group on the circuit back then.  The best thing bout these guys is they knew they were killing it, and they were just having fun.  The off mike whoops and hollering on a song like Pink Thunderbird are the kind of visceral shot that pretty much always piques my interest, and the whole sound of this record in general just shines the tiniest light on the fact that even in 1957 there was Rock N' Roll that was nothing but fun, and still there wasn't quite enough room for it in most people's collections.

Now, I'm not saying that Gene Vincent was some underground darling like say, The Hold Steady or something, but in a time when big chart impact every time meant a lot towards getting another shot at making another single, let alone a whole album.  Gene and the Blue Caps must have done something right though, because Capitol has had his thing in print in one form or another for a lot of years.  I don't think there's a lot of the under 30 crowd ordering these (hell, I'm just over 50 and this is twenty years before my time), but I think the people that hear this record immediately think, "Holy shit!  These guys were great!"  I think that's a really cool thing.  To leave something behind from an era defined by the true original Rock N' Roll heavyweights and have some dude with a barely noticed blog on the internet say something like, "Hey - didya ever hear Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps?  If not, you really should fix that!"  I think that's cool.

Like I said before, I've got this on cd (with bonus tracks), but I usually listen to my Capitol Records reissue.  It's flat and sounds mostly pretty good considering the era.  Capitol is pretty cool about not adding dumb things like bar codes to the cover, too.  I mean, this looks a lot like the ones you would have bought in 1957 (if you had the bread to buy an lp!).  I think it's really cool that Capitol chose to rerelease this.  I'm sure they didn't sell 100,000 of these, so my hat's really off to them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band - Live Bullet

OK, so these days Bob Seger is to "Dad Rock" what Neil Young is to Grunge.  So the kids don't seem to think he's all that cool, but I'm here to tell you that up to and including this album, Bob Seger was hitting all the right buttons when it came to knowing what kids in the Midwest wanted.  Ya know what we wanted?  We wanted to get a little funky, but we wanted to Rock, and Rock with a capital "R."  We wanted thumping drums and we wanted a dude with balls to stand up and sing his tales of the awesomeness of The Road and just getting the hell out of here and having fun (believe it or not, Bruce Springsteen wasn't the first person that wanted to get out of town and have fun).  Now to me, living near Cleveland in 1976 when this came out, I was familiar with some of the songs, like Ramblin' Gamblin' Man and Get Out of Denver.  I honestly thought these were huge, national hit records.  I also thought all the songs on Nuggets were big hits too, but I was wrong on both counts, so I was really surprised to talk to someone not from here when I was 16 and hear him say that he really hardly knew who Bob Seger was.  I was floored.  I thought the guy had been a big deal forever!

I think I first got this from Columbia House with 13 other favorites that I never paid for (don't look at me like that - everyone did it and they eventually got me to order one or two things from them).  What I think I used to take for real depth and wisdom in Bob's lyrics has turned out to be a knack for waxing nostalgic that may be unparalleled in the Rock world.  Hey, I was 14, and two years earlier seemed like a thousand years ago to me.  I was smoking cigarettes and getting girlfriends and stealing beer and stuff.  Bob Seger seemed like he really knew the score lyrically, and I can remember staying up all night listening to Live Bullet.  I'll tell you what, we also never, ever called it Live Bullet.  We always called it Double Live Bullet, because it was too excellent (yes, that was added to everything good when I was a kid - like awesome seems to be today) to fit on one record.  I think I also thought that when Bob played a show it might be like this, but he probably played a bunch of different songs every night (like I said, I was 14).  The thing I was trying to say is that I think Bob's habit of being nostalgic was easy to take as someone passing along wisdom they had learned, when all they were really doing was thinking about old times.  Hey, I was 14.  I thought it was deep.  Oh, and here I am, half the time I'm here putting down what I remember happening around an old record I'm listening to!  Yeah, I know that whole Pot/Kettle thing.  Get off my ass.

These days I still have a copy of this album.  It looks great, but it's got a couple of spots where my old stylus had troubles, but the Nagaoka I have now seems to stay locked into the groove and just kind of pops a little.  So I was always thinking maybe I'd look for another copy of this, but they're usually pretty beat up around here so I think I'll just keep mine.  Otherwise, it sounds and looks like a brand new record.  So it's pretty obvious that it's not the one I had when I was a kid, staying up all night and thinking I was listening to the kind of records college kids listened to.  Who knows, maybe they did back then, but Bob seems to be a little more blue collar, and I tend to feel a kinship with that crowd more than most other crowds.  My dad's side of the family is definitely blue collar (mostly) and I ran big machines that made magazines for a long, long time.

I still love hearing Get Out of Denver and Ramblin' Gamblin' Man.  I think those are what Rock N' Roll is all about.  I also remember someone laughing when I told them Bob did Nutbush City Limits, and they said, "That's a Tina Turner song.  No way the guy can even come close to doing it justice."  I had no idea because I didn't know anything about Tina Turner when I was in high school, other than that she did a version of Proud Mary I didn't care for.  So I asked a friend's brother that had like 1500 albums back then (all in plastic sleeves and loaded into a room full of Peaches record crates stacked on their side) if he had Tina Turner's version.  He did, and said I could come over and check it out.  I remember really looking forward to that, and when the day finally came I was completely let down.  Bob Seger did it waay better!  Then the guy tells me that it's about the town Tina Turner came from, and I'm thinking, "I think Bob Seger seems more like he's from there than she does!"  So I learned that you never know what goodies a cover song can deliver.

I can also remember that around the time I was a senior in high school I was at a party and a friend of mine brought his brother, who had been out of school two years and was driving a truck.  Maybe it was three years, I don't know if you have to be 21 to drive a truck, but this was a long time ago.  So we're hanging out by the keg, near the stereo and as was the norm around here for something like twenty-five years, someone put on Live Bullet and that means that eventually Turn the Page comes on.  Now I think this is a pretty great song, and I can empathize with it totally, but I've certainly never been "out there in the spotlight a million miles away" from anything.  My friend's brother however, as soon as the song comes on, holds a lighter to the sky and declares loudly, "This song is my life!"  Now, riding 16 hours when you're driving the truck doesn't leave you with "nothing left to do."  I didn't bother to say anything, but to this day I think that was stupid and the next time this guy tries to convert me to Jesus I swear I'm gonna tell him to just shove it up his ass.  I think he misses the point of things all the time.

My records look great and seem to play really nicely except for a couple spots that aren't visible that click.  Which reminds me, you people that "like" clicks and pops on records are crazy.  Sure, there's some noise inherent in them.  Even the newest, best pressing can have a moment of static or a pop or two.  But these don't make things "better."  It's nicer to have a quiet record that sounds like a million bucks.  People struggled to get there until they came up with cd's, and that worked so well a lot of people are just turning to records.  When you have a beater copy of a record, you try to find a nicer one in the used bins for a good price.  Trust me, it's worth it unless that beater record you put ever extraneous sound on.  But then you still find a better copy to listen to except when it's late at night and you're drunk and thinking, "What would Bob Seger be thinking about if he were here?"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic

The Exploding Hearts are one of the truly tragic stories in Rock N' Roll.  Shortly after this album was released, the band was coming home from a show and their van crashed and almost all of the band died.  You can read about it on the internet, so I won't go into it here.  I'll just talk about how I found out about them and wound up getting this album.

Guitar Romantic came out in 2003.  I don't think I found it until probably late 2003, but I'm thinking 2004 because I thought 2004 was one of the truly great years in Rock history.  Considering that hardly anyone knows who they were now, I'm pretty confident in saying that for a Midwestern middle aged dad, I was a pretty early adopter of this band from the West Coast.  It's a truly amazing story, too.  I was in a Cleveland area record store called My Mind's Eye.   Now, I don't go here all that often, because I like Music Saves more.  But that doesn't mean I only go to one store, because I learned long ago when My Generation closed (possibly the greatest CD store that ever existed, anywhere) that you need to at least show your face around some of the other stores because you never know what's going to happen.  Anyways, around 2003 - 2004 my old Bang and Olufsen needed a new cartridge.  They were not readily available at reasonable prices, so I kind of started leaning towards CD's for about five years or so.

So I stopped in to My Mind's Eye and was just shopping and saw the cd release of this.  I picked it up and looked at the cover and figured with all the pink, yellow and black that these guys either had to be the real deal, or they'd be the biggest poseurs on earth.  I kept carrying it around, and then putting it back when I found something "better" (my usual shopping method).  But I kept thinking That looks cool as shit.  I should buy it.  I might never see it again.  So I finally just put it in my stack and bought it.  I paid Charles at the counter and he held up a Dirt Bike Annie cd I was buying and said, "where do you find out about all these bands with funny names?"  I told him I had no idea who they were but I liked their name, and I thought the cover of this was cool as hell.  He said, "That one's real good.  You'll be surprised."

That piqued my interest, so I put it in the cd player as soon as I could.  The very first song is Modern Kicks, and it just sticks in your head instantly.  I think I restarted it three times before I even let it play to the next song!  But then I let the second song play, I'm a Pretender and now I'm so completely blown away and thinking that even I could dance to a song this good, with it's Punky Motown pedigree.  These guys sounded cocky, they certainly looked cocky and they delivered the goods.  Hell, this record is so good it should cost twice as much as all the other records because it's worth it.

Now, I could tell you all about every song and write hear for days.  But let me tell ya this - when an Exploding Hearts song comes on my mp3 player on random, I always hit repeat.  To this day.  It doesn't even matter which song on the album it is, I hit repeat.  If it just so happens to be the leadoff song on side 2 of the vinyl record, Rumours in Town, I might play it three or four times.  It's just got the coolest guitars ever and it does everything Rock N' Roll is supposed to do - it makes you feel great!  If you're asking me for a recommendation for something kick ass, fun and catchy then Guitar Romantic has been my first suggestion since about the day I got it.  So if you don't have it, you're really just screwing up.  Go get it.

I still have that cd, but Dirtnap rereleased the lp on vinyl a few years back.  It's just black vinyl, and there were only  1000 pressed, so there should really only be 2000 of these on the whole planet.  I'd guess you could still order it somewhere, and I'm sure it's not going to be expensive.  But it's a nice package with a cool cover, a decent black and white insert and the label is nice, too.  My record is nice and flat and real quiet, too.  It's a little thin sounding, but the record is a little more full than the cd.  If you like guitars, those cut through the way they're supposed to.  Toss in the occasional keyboard....Man, like I said, you should just get this.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk

I figure it's about time I get out of all the oldies I've been writing about lately.  Ladyhawk's first album isn't exactly new (it came out in 2006), but this is their first album and they have since released some more, including one late last year (2012).  So these guys are still relatively new.  I first found out about them when I was shopping at Music Saves one day.  They know me pretty well and know that when push comes to shove, I kinda like a couple of loud electric guitars, some bashing drums and a guy to yell over top of it all.  So one of the owners says, "Hey!  Have you heard Ladyhawk?"

"Uh, no.  I don't think so.  Should I?" says I.

Kevin already has a copy in his hand and says, "Yeah, I think you need this.  These guys are obviously big fans of their parents' Classic Rock albums, and they just mix their own Indie thing into it.  I think you'll really love it."

So I just bought it, and I don't remember what else I bought that day.  But I'll tell ya what - the Internet will never know you as well as your favorite record store.  If you don't have one, GET ONE.  Get one and even if it's far, or they charge a dollar or two a record more than the Internet, buy your records from them.  I drive past some great stores (that I also stop in from time to time)  to get to Music Saves, and I keep going back because they special order things for me, and they carry a lot of things I like.  They carry a lot of things I don't like, too.  Because a record store that carried only what I like would go out of business real fast.  Whatever I paid over the cheapest Internet sites in 2006 at Music Saves was worth every cent because they told me who Ladyhawk was.  These guys are easily one of my favorite bands ever.  I wouldn't have ever heard them if I didn't shop at Music Saves.

I like these guys because they're kind of ramshackle, and like The Replacements, the lyrics aren't a constant revelation, but there's some good lines here and there.  The Dugout is lyrically probably the best as a complete song, but I really like the way Duffy Dreidiger sings the line, I saw your dark eyes shine like a city skyline, then I just sat there alone till I waked up and walked home.  I know, it's pretty teenage stuff, but it presses buttons that need to get pressed or you get real old, real fast.  I like that they're singing about getting too hammered, being insecure and singing to ashtrays and empty bottles.  I love the line in Came in Brave where Duffy sings, I know this song is about you, and I'd say it to your face but I got no guts.  That's one that you don't have to be a teenager to understand.

I got to see these guys.  I think it was one of the shows of the last ten years I was most excited to see, and they were really great, but there were only a handful of people there.  You should start liking them and buy their records and go to their shows.