Monday, August 10, 2015

James Gang - Live in Concert

I suppose I'm a dyed in the wool homer.  I like Cleveland and I like Ohio.  I think musically we really kill it, and some of the evidence of that is Cleveland's own James Gang. I know people that have actually never heard any of this stuff, which is where Joe Walsh proved that he was a certifiable Rock Guitar God.  Not with any disclaimers tossed in, either.  No one that's ever seen and heard Joe tear it up says he's a great guitar player, he's like toss your favorite in here but not quite as good.  You just don't say that about the guy.  When you see Joe play you can't imagine how utterly effortless his playing appears, like he was just born with a guitar.  He can pull out an acoustic guitar and play as pretty as anyone, and then just plug in and peel your face right off.

Live the James Gang stuff is mostly the peel your face off variety of Joe's playing.  That's my favorite stuff anyway, and Dale Peters and Jim Fox keep the bottom end hard and heavy so Joe can do his thing.  The beginning of side one always seemed kind of like one big song to me, but it's actually three.  These were what caught all of our attention when we were teenagers, hanging out in this one guy's room who had a sister that was a decidedly harder rocker than most people I knew.  These days the stuff she liked the best can be dismissed as Blooze Rawk or just lunkheaded stupidity.  I really don't care where the cool kids have decided this stuff falls when they plot out what is and isn't worthy.  I like plenty of critical favorites, but if you've never ripped a bong to Tend My Garden or Walk Away, then maybe you just haven't figured out what this Rock N' Roll stuff is all about.

Because Joe Walsh has always been fun, and he's always been smarter than he lets on.  He's written some stuff that's just kind of throwaway novelty things, but he's the guy that wrote Walk Away, and while it gives him plenty of room to play a big, fat riff it's also nothing he should be lyrically ashamed of, either.  I think it's kind of funny that of the biggest songs James Gang had, Walk Away is far and away the most popular that made it on to this record.  They left Funk 49 off.  They left The Bomber off.  you can kind of think, "What the hell!" but trust me, the closer on this record is killer.

The closer is the Yardbirds classic, Lost Woman.  You gotta have some confidence in your guitar playing when you decide to not only cover a song Jeff Beck unleashed on the world when he was a true rock god, but then to just annihilate your guitar for fifteen minutes on Jeff's song, well that takes real chutzpah.  Joe kills it, too.  Dale peters gets to do a bass thing for a bit and while it's not Chris Squire, it's certainly not the kind of thing that whatever the guy with the real long name at AllMusic  seems to feel Joe had grown out of.

I mean, this is a great 1970's live album, and yes, it has a goddamned drum solo on it.  But at least it's pretty furious and doesn't last too long.  The acapella part is kind of weird but it doesn't last long, either and at least it's kind of funny.  I never got to see the James Gang, and I really wish I had been old enough to see them.  I'm fine with who I am and how old I am and I don't really regret not seeing them, because I did see Joe solo when he was running for president, and he played a long time and killed it.

I don't know how long I've had this.  It's in really good shape and it sounds terrific.  All in all, definitely one I'll never be getting rid of.

Dire Straits - Dire Straits

Ya know, the late 70's were an interesting time to be a teenager.  Mostly because it wasn't horribly hard to hear new music.  You had to work at it to hear anything underground or local, but you could turn on one of the Rock radio stations and sandwiched in between the Zeppelin and Stones were plenty of new bands like Dire Straits or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  It didn't mean that all those new bands were good, or even worthwhile but at least when you turned on the radio you didn't hear the same shit your dad grew up with 24/7.  It's like people demanded to hear new things alongside of their old favorites and then one day those people all said, "Fuck it," and radio decided to just play what used to work and quit trying to expand their audience, or even try to stay interesting ot the kids that made Rock radio important in the first place.

That's a damned shame, too.  There's obviously a shitload of people interested in Rock music.  They're so interested in it that modern Country has appropriated the whole damned thing, power chords and all.  They're so interested in it that professional sports blasts those old songs out ad nauseam.  The interest is there, but the major labels have bought all the radio stations and they only play their own tried and true surefire moneymakers.  Heaven forbid some PD at a station in Akron, OH play a song that isn't thoroughly tested and proven to make .006 cents per listener per minute for three fucking minutes.  Someone might turn off the radio and miss the next nine minutes of tampon ads.

In 1978 Dire Straits were one of those bands that were untested, and they were kind of quirky and slow and mostly moody, but for some reason someone around somewhere decided to keep pushing them a little at a time and by mid 1979 Sultans of Swing was our new "classic" rock staple.  That song was everywhere.  Every station played it, to the point where I always figured I'd just be sick of these guys until the day I died.  Something happened, though.  I just never really get tired of these guys.  I have to be in the mood for them, but give me a nice summer night and a cold beer and a little peace and quiet and I can listen to some Dire Straits.

I think a lot of it is that while I don't think they have any truly great, monumental songs, they also don't have any truly shitty songs.  At least not on the couple of albums I have, like this first one.  It never sounded particularly fresh and new when it came out, but the music on this album has a remarkable quality of never sounding old and stale, either.  I guess this album is kind of like a good pair of jeans.  They fit pretty good but you've got better ones, and they just never seem to wear out.  that's how Dire Straits seem to me.

That's okay, too.  Everything doesn't have to be the absolute greatest thing that ever happened.  When did people quit appreciating talent and craftsmanship and demanding nothing but a handful of songs that most everyone agrees are the definitive statements of their era, not to mention deciding that one era was more or less deserving of any other?  I mean, I love home made ice cream, but I can appreciate and enjoy Dairy Queen, too.  There's so much stuff in the world that's so much better than average and people ignore these things because they aren't the "best."  Man, that's really stupid.

That's where Dire Straits is for me.  At least this album and another one.  They're better than most things.  The playing is terrific, and Mark Knopfler is certainly deserving of all the credit he gets for his playing (and probably more).  Sultans of Swing was a big hit, deservedly so, but Wild West End, Down to the Waterline and Six Blade Knife are maybe not Top Ten material, but there's a lot of meat on those bones and these are the kinds of songs that make for a solid, strong album.  The kind of thing that deserved the accolades it got at the time, and the kind of thing that was more than worthwhile for some PD to take a chance on.  I know those days are gone, but while everything people took chances on back then didn't work, when they did they paid off and paid off for years.  it's too bad people aren't like that anymore.

So I like this record.  I don't love it, but I like it a lot.  Mine is a Columbia House version, and it sounds terrific.  Super flat, super clean, super quiet and just as good as a record gets.  I think it was a quarter and I can't imagine that I've spent many quarters on many other things that are this good.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - The Good Earth

I remember this one was one of those records that I loved, but never seemed to own until I was an adult.  I think the first time I bought it was on CD, and that was at least twenty some years removed from days of sitting in my best friend's older sister's room and listening to The Good Earth on her floor, pretty much surrounded by pink.  I can't remember if this was a thing that was okay or not.  I seem to think it was okay because her friends seemed to like us, and she was actually pretty nice to us (usually - she was an older sister and she could apply amazing amounts of bitch when she felt it necessary).  I can remember very distinctly when we were out doing something stupid and it was night, probably pretty late because his parents were cool with us going on "Midnight Bike Rides."  These rides often meant rolling houses and creating general mischief like Double Scares and Flaming Fudge Bags.  We came back one night and the girls had just got dropped off and they seemed pretty hammered.  One of her friends, whom I thought was just beautiful, and not only way out of my league, but like three years older than me (which made a big difference then), sees me and says, "There he is!  The cute one!."  I probably had the dumbest look on my face because I thought that was so cool, but then she walked up to me while I was still just straddling my bicycle, grabbed my head and pretty much shoved her tongue down my throat!  Luckily, I actually had kissed a girl already and I knew what to do for the most part.  I kissed her back, and I tried to make it last as long as I could.  She tasted like sweet liquor and I thought this was the greatest thing to ever happen to me.  When she was done she kind of slapped my face and told my friend's sister, "Yeah, he's cute, but he's gonna be trouble."  Then they went off to that pink bedroom and played music and laughed until the sun came up.  Much as I'd have liked it, we didn't even ask to come in and hang out.  I think we went to the school playground and smoked cigarettes and talked about how unbelievably lucky I was until the sun started coming up.

I suppose that has pretty much nothing to do with Manfred Mann's Earth Band's The Good Earth, but I always think about that when I play this record.  At least for a minute or two.  I still remember her name and I'll keep that to myself, but I like that when I pull this record out that's usually about the first thing I think of.  The record itself is completely different.  It's a nerdy affair, if you ask me.  We were really into Yes and Manfred Mann, but none of our friends listened to this overblown stuff that we eventually found out was called Progressive Rock.  My favorite Earth Band album was (and still is) Solar Fire but there are some great things about The Good Earth.  It doesn't quite hold up like Solar Fire for me because it has a couple of tracks that are kind of weenie anthems.  Not many, but just enough that where I thought the softer, prettier parts of Solar Fire would set up some screaming guitar solo, synth blast or bashing drums would kind of just keep being soft and pretty instead of leading the way to the big payoff.

The record kicks off with a rooster crowing and then they kick into the title track, which is a Gary Wright song.  That should give you a good idea that this album tends to sound very 70's.  It's a long song, over eight minutes, with great interplay between Manfred Mann's keyboards and Mick Rogers' guitar.   Some of the nature effects are unnecessary, but there's plenty of big moments and Chris Slade's drumming is top notch and I love the way he's recorded.  His drums sound real, like they're right there in the room with you.  I suppose people would say they're dry, but that's what real drums really sound like.

Launching Place is total Prog Rock, but it's really good.  There's about forty keyboards going on here, but Mann's got good taste and knows that you can actually go too far, so he walks the fine line between engaging and interesting on one side to overblown and stupid on the other.  He reins it in and goes back to just one before too long and it makes the song better instead of making it just more.  Side one ends with a song I've heard a million times, and pretty much instantly forget.  It's called I'll Be Gone.  It's not bad, but it's just not memorable at all.  It mostly plods along.  It's about having money someday and then going away.  Never really says where or why, but I never felt it was anything I needed to worry about.

Side two definitely gets a little of the Solar Fire mojo back.  Both albums were recorded at the same place so they have a similar sound, but the way side one peters out always kind of left me looking through my record box for something else.  The side kicks off and ends with Earth Hymn and Earth Hymn Part 2.  These are the kinds of things I always liked about these guys.  Big riffs, great guitar and keyboard interplay and really cool drums   I should probably mention Colin Pattenden on bass because people say a good bass player doesn't so much need to be heard, and he's never the focus of the music, but there's always plenty of bottom end on Earth Band albums, so the dude deserves some credit for being where he's supposed to be.

Sky High is the centerpiece of the whole record.  It's a medium length instrumental with a cool wobbly guitar, weird time changes, Pattenden channeling Chris Squire and it's just the kind of song that seems like the band is having a good time playing with and for each other.  It's definitely Prog Rock of the highest order and isn't for everyone, but I love it.  Kind of reminds me of South Side of the Sky for some reason, and I think that's a good thing.

Then the record bogs down.  Solar Fire never bogs down, but Be Not Too Hard is more memorable than I'll Be Gone, but this is damning with very faint praise.  This is weenie rock of the highest order, just like Todd Rundgren's Just One Victory.  The only way it could be worse is if it were a Styx song.

It closes out with Earth Hymn Part 2 so we get redemption.  This is kind of riffing on the original idea, with cool, swirling keyboards and a lot of focus on Manfred Mann's playing.  There's no prog rock dudes in capes that can pull this stuff off any better and I always liked the fact that Manfred could keep the bombast down a little, but wasn't afraid to go ahead and show why the band bears his name once in awhile.  If they just had two different songs, one for each side, they'd have had another Solar Fire, maybe even something more than Solar Fire.

Mine's in okay shape.  I've got the CD so if I think I need to hear a more quiet version, I can listen to that.  I think the CD is missing the rooster at the beginning, but I haven't played it in awhile.  The cover has sticker spots from other people or stores, but the record is actually pretty decent.  I'd buy a really nice one if I ever found one, but I never see any.  Maybe everyone only wanted it for the chance to own 1 square foot of the good earth with the coupon included with the record.  If you sent it in, they put your name on a registry of some land somewhere in England.  It was probably a swamp, but it was supposedly real.  I wonder if it's still there or if someone sold it and put condo's on it?

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Move - Split Ends

Boy, I've been really busy and haven't had any time for these kind of things.  I've had time to buy records and listen to music, but just no time to get in the mood to write anything down.  Plus, sometimes when I'm in the mood to write something, I decide to listen to a bunch of things I've already written about.  So I'd have to either rewrite something, or add to it.  Both are easy enough to do, but I like the fact that these are all just what I was thinking about while I was listening to an album and I don't want them to get dumped and overwritten.

I wasn't a big fan of The Move when I was younger, and I'm probably still not a real big fan.  I think it's Jeff Lynne.  When I was a teenager I found him to be interesting as hell with ELO, but the older I got the less I like his wall of sound production.  Then I keep getting older and reading about music and people I think generally like decent music seem to say, "Yeah, I like The Move.  Lynne was a good complement to Roy Wood."  Now, I hear that Roy Wood is a bonafide weirdo, so I'm intrigued.  I go out and buy some albums by The Move.  I really only have two and they're both some kinds of compilations and ya know what?  I don't think there's any overlap of songs one them.  So that's kind of a nod to their strangeness, I suppose.

I like this one.  It's not as big and busy as an ELO album, and I was already familiar with Do Ya.  I think I mentioned liking it on Utopia's Another Live, and in the liner notes on that album Todd Rundgren mentions that the song is by The Move, not ELO.  I don't dislike the version by ELO, but it just doesn't have any charm.  It's just a big slap in the ears.  The Move does the song with plenty of production values, but it just has a sense of fun that's missing from the later ELO version.  I think Utopia actually lives up to the spirit of the original better.

I think that's important.  I understand that sincerity and integrity are two words that almost have no place in Rock music writing, but every song isn't trying to sit at the top of the charts and every song isn't trying to be high art.  Some songs just need to get out and fall in between high art and chart success.  Some songs just get a better break from another band's point of view or promotional machine.  Kind of like Hanging on the Telephone by The Nerves.  It's not high art, and it's just a little too raw to sit at the top of the charts.  Blondie came along and didn't pretty it up much, but just enough, and they had the promotional machine to make it successful.  I don't think any integrity or sincerity is lost in either version, because I don't think either group was trying to make a statement for the ages.

That's what I think about The Move.  They could have probably competed with the Pink Floyd's and King Crimson's of the word if they wanted to, but I think they weren't interested in pushing whatever envelopes those bands were busy pushing at.  A song like Down on the Bay has a weird kind of choogle like CCR, and some swell Chuck Berry riffs to carry it all along and get things going.  It's the kind of thing that if they had played it straight, it might have made the charts.  As it is, it doesn't really sound anything like either CCR or Chuck Berry, but they're in there. The Move seems more interested in seeing if they can make it more interesting and screw the charts.

California Man is probably better known to most of us as a Cheap Trick song.  Those guys strip the song to its elements.  The elements Cheap Trick strips out would be the artistic choices, and all they're left with is the hit potential.  The charm of the song is gone.  I think Outkast managed to pretty much steal big chunks of The Move's version of California Man for their song Hey Ya, which means Roy Wood was like forty years ahead of his time, and if he didn't get a check from Outkast, he should consider asking for one, because there's no way they didn't steal parts of it.  I have no idea if this is a known thing or if I'm just not familiar enough with Outkast (guess what - I'm not going to try to get familiar with them, either!), but that's what it sounds like to me.

I think the songs on this album kind of seem like either Jeff Lynne songs or Roy Wood songs.  Lynne's are easy to spot, we're all familiar with what he does and you either like him or you don't.  He may be a little reined in here and that may be what kept The Move from being huge.  Then again maybe Roy Wood was a little reined in, and that's why the Pink Floyd/King Crimson adulation never came.  As my friend's mom used to say (sort of in this case), "Shit or get off the pot!"  The Move does kind of seem stuck like a cat that can't decide whether to go out or stay in,

I kind of wish I had known these guys when I was 14, because I think I'd have liked them back when I only had ten or fifteen albums and the ones I had I knew pretty much like my own skin.  There's a lot to listen to here.  Not all of it is good, but none of it is bad.  It's almost all at least a little weird.  Not like weird Prog Rock time signatures, but you can hear the influence of the fifties, the influence of a modern studio and maybe the influence of drugs.  Lynne never made me think he was wasted very often, he seems like a pretty driven guy to me, and I don't think he has the time to be wasted.  Wood seems more like he would find altered mind states more useful, but I really think a guy like that would have had a hard time working with Lynne, and from things I've read it seems like Wood thought Lynne's ELO idea was a great one, even if he wasn't a part of it, and that Lynne should certainly pursue it.  If I'm understanding that right, then I'd think the guy was a pretty damned good friend and wasted people don't usually make the best friends when it comes to making decisions that may affect them adversely.

So here's a band I kind of wish I had caught on to sooner.  They may have been the kind of band that changed the way I think about music if I had spent a lifetime with them.  As it is, I didn't do that.  I like them.  I don't love them.  I think The Move is the kind of band that starts to set a person's record collection apart from other people.  Most of us have our favorites, and a lot of those overlap with other people we meet.  A lot of people today just steal music or stream absolutely anything they want any time they want, and I'm not saying those people aren't discerning listeners (maybe I am a little), but when you start getting to the records people have that they don't often play, but have no plans of ever getting rid of, that's where you find the real common ground.  You don't even have to like these kinds of records in someone else' record collection, because they let you know that this person listens to music.  They don't play music because they want to paint the bathroom, they play music to keep themselves happy and sane.  So these are the kinds of records where we may not share that common ground, but our little islands are close enough together that we can see that there's someone on our side.  Someone that gets it, even if what they get isn't the same thing as us.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rainbow - Rising

I still listen to college radio sometimes and it's funny that something that I once considered to essentially be it when it came to musical knowledge and coolness isn't quite what I used to think it was.  It's probably always been that way, but just over the last week I heard two DJ's get something wrong that I thought was such common knowledge that I actually remember the things they said.  That's saying something, too.  I often can't remember the name of the song they were playing when I thought, "I gotta get that album!"  They probably didn't make any bigger mistakes than kids have been making for their entire lives, but for some reason it just stuck in my mind this week.

The first was a show where the guy plays primarily 70's guitar boogie and blues rawk and that kind of over bloated guitar wankery that a lot of people can't stand these days.  I still like a lot of it, but I'm weird like that.  This guy just played a song by Chicken Shack, and I couldn't remember who the band was, but I knew the song.  So he starts talking about finding this Chicken Shack album somewhere and he says he likes it so far, but that he didn't know anyone in the band and didn't think any of them went on to any fame.  I'm thinking, "Dude...Stan Webb.  Stan Webb is Chicken Shack and that's where Christine McVie came from."  This is all old shit nowadays, though.  I'm okay with the guy not knowing about Christine, but Stan Webb was one of those B-list guitar players from the 70's that everyone had a friend that thought that he was the shit and had all of the guy's albums.  Like Frank Marino or Robin Trower.

The other one was just today when the woman that was a DJ was talking about the songs she had played and saying what albums they came from (a couple were Greatest Hits albums, so I thought she could have pulled up the Google there), and she said she had played a song by Blondie, and referred to Blondie as "she."  I'm so old I remember ads where they said Blondie is a Group.  I mean, most people don't know that Debbie Harry's name isn't Blondie I suppose, but there was a time when a college DJ wouldn't have been wrong on that one.

I don't want to act like kids these days are stupid, because I don't think they are.  I do think that they have had so much available to them for nothing for so long now, that they never had the record box with just a dozen records and a whole Saturday night to just sit and listen to those same twelve records over and over and read the covers and learn about all there was to learn there.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing or a good thing, but I think it is a thing.  One of the odd things here is that these two DJ's are both doing what are considered oldies shows now, so I'm cutting them some slack there just for being interested in the music that had scenes even though they weren't quite underground and they weren't quite the dominant A listers, either.  That's the stuff that really falls through the cracks, ya know?  Stuff that was kind of popular.

Which is what got me to pull out Rainbow Rising.  Hey, we all knew who Ritchie Blackmore was because he was in Deep Purple.  We knew Cozy Powell played with Jeff BeckRonnie James Dio was less known, but man, the dude can really sing this kind of stuff.  I pretty much think this is the best Rainbow album, and I always have.  Side two has the longer tunes, Stargazer and A Light in the Black and those are kind of like a modern take on Blackmore's old band, Deep Purple.  I've always felt that when the drums and bass get a real chance to lay down a fast, hard beat that Blackmore is pretty hard to beat as a guitar player. he can riff with the best of them and his solo's all kind of sound the same, but it's just a really great solo, ya know?  The first side has shorter songs, of which the best one is probably Starstruck, and I think that's mostly because of what Dio puts into it.

I saw Rainbow once and Blackmore broke a string during the first or second song and stormed off to pout for the rest of the show while his guitar tech stood in the shadows and played all Blackmore's parts and I gotta tell ya, I didn't miss him at all.  Dio carried off the whole thing anyway.  He didn't even seem to need Ritchie (and a few years later he pretty much owned the world of heavy metal) and I really liked the show.

My record is in nice shape.  I don't remember where it's from, and I've had it for decades but I don't think it's a 1976 pressing.  It's in a plastic inner sleeve and there's a barcode sticker on the back corner, which could just mean I bought it used from a place that did that, but I kind of doubt it.  It's nice and flat and plays nice.  It's not the kind of thing I listen to all the time, because it's a little overblown for me, but when I do listen to it, I really enjoy it.  Rainbow certainly lost a lot when Dio left, even though I think they sold a lot of records later on.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mink DeVille - Cabretta

I remember when this record came out.  Pretty much no one bothered with it.  At least no one I knew bothered with it.  I thought Willy DeVille was a pretty cool looking guy and I heard Cadillac Walk once or twice on WMMS, so I figured these guys were just around the corner from getting big.  Apparently that corner is a lot harder to get around than I ever seem to think, because I was talking to someone the other day about great dollar records, and I mentioned that I got the first Mink DeVille album for a dollar at a Record X back when they were trying to make their records just go away.  I wonder if Record X would put three or four dollars on a Mink DeVille album these days, or if it would still just be a dollar?  I have a feeling they wouldn't even take it in trade because i don't think anyone really remembers them.

Which is kind of a shame, because I thought these guys were really cool.  They had what I kind of considered a sophisticated garage sound.  Which meant that they could kill it with a song like Cadillac Walk, but they could also bring it all down a couple of notches and make a pretty song like Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl really work.  These guys were on Capitol, so you'd think they might have had some publicity behind them, but like I said, I was talking to a guy about dollar records and he said he'd never heard of Mink DeVille and didn't know if it would be worth it to take a chance on them.

In this day and age how can you  not be willing to spend ONE DOLLAR on a record someone tells you is good?  I'd even consider pretty much any record, even if it was recommended by a friend that listens to Kiss, Nickelback and Def Leppard.  I mean, if the record is clean, and it's ONE DOLLAR then where's the risk?  I was telling him about how I thought Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl was kind of like The Stones' Beast of Burden in that it was slower and kind of pretty, but not at all smarmy or gross.  Then there's songs like the rocking Gunslinger, and a great cover of Moon Martin's Cadillac Walk.  Ya know, for a dollar if you can find a record with two songs that good on it, you really need to go out and buy the damned thing!

I'm not sure what ever made it so these guys didn't get noticed by anyone.  Looking on the internet, it looks like Spanish Stroll actually cracked the Top 20 over in England.  I like that song, but I don't remember ever hearing it anywhere.  It sort of reminds me of what Lou Reed was up to in the latter part of the 70's, with a touch of the Barrio thrown in for good measure.  I really wish I had been one of the kids that bought this back in 1977.  I think if I had I'd have forced my friends to sit and listen to it all the time.  As it is, I pretty much listen to it myself quite a bit these days, because it really has a kind of timeless quality to it.  I can hear the touchstones from the 50's and 60's and the record was produced by Jack Nitzsche (yeah, that Jack Nitzsche) so the sound is very natural and not the kind of thing that gets dated easily.  What a really great album.  It's hard to believe I've had it for like twenty years and even though I've had it for so long I still feel like I really missed the boat on Mink DeVille.

My copy is nice and flat, the cover shows some ringwear and there's a click on it here and there, but like the big sticker says, it was ONE DOLLAR.  It's definitely one of the best dollars I ever spent.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Johnny Winter - Second Winter

Ya know, I know I've mentioned a lot how it's kind of funny that a lot of my friends had older sisters and that's where I found out about a lot of music when I was a kid.  Johnny Winter is not on that list of "Music I Learned About From Girls."  Johnny is on the list of "Music I Learned About Hanging Around With Guys That Are Older Than Me."  By the time I was in high school, I had expanded my circle of friends to where I was all of a sudden hanging around with a couple of guys that were definitely the babies of the family.  In age, not attitude.  I had really good friends, and I actually still see a lot of them quite regularly (I know, that's kind of weird).

Johnny Winter was the kind of guy that you'd hear hanging around in a garage, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes while taking turns trying to burn an exhaust system off an old car.  Cars in Ohio see rough winters and a lot of salt, and in a few years, those muffler clamps turn into rusty blobs and wrenches are worthless.  So we'd get under the car and bust knuckles and swear in turns and get that stuff off of there.  It was kind of fun, but I don't miss working on cars.  I kind of miss listening to things like Johnny Winter over some Frankenstereo with an old pair of Panasonic Thrusters or Zenith Allegro speakers screwed into the rafters of a detached garage with five other guys.  Those guys weren't listening to Elvis Costello or The Cars.  Those guys wanted to hear some wailing on guitars, and Johnny Winter was one of the kings of that.

You'd hear all kinds of stuff in a garage.  Too much Led Zeppelin, for sure.  That's where I heard stuff like Les Dudek and Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush for the first time.  Hanging in a garage with guys was kind of fun back then.  We got to work on some really cool cars, too.  I had a friend with a 56 Chevy 2 door, a 62 Mercury Monterey S-55, a 67 Cougar with a 390 - that list goes on and on.  You could get those cars so cheap back then.  I'm not much of a car guy, but I just don't get what they're doing when they aren't working.  I'm a wonderful assistant, though!

I loved hearing Johnny Winter on a nice summer evening with a cold beer and a cool car up on jack stands, or with the hood up and guys figuring out how to get an old water pump off, or get valves to quit ticking.  It was a lot of fun, and hearing something like Johnny Winter giving a serious set of balls to Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited.  I know, I heard it in the garage more than once; Dylan's version has plenty of balls of its own, but like I said then, "Not like Johnny's does.  That's some serious badass shit, right there."  I still say that.  Johnny's voice just matches his muscular guitar tone so well, that he can make a song his own.  Dylan shouldn't feel bad, because Johnny takes Johnny B. Goode and makes that his, too.  I love the originals of both of those songs, but Johnny just puts them into his Texas Tornado of Sound and they come out so, so great.

I think those visits in garages are what makes me still so enamored of what so many upper middle aged mid western men think is what "Rock" should be all about.  I can listen to a lot of those kinds of guitar slinger records and I just get it.  I love the wailing.  I dig the big drums and thumpin' bass.  I know it's out of style and it was pretty much out of style the day it came out, but I just get it, man.  I think it's cool and I never cared when old girlfriends didn't want to hear a guy like Johnny play six hundred notes when three might have done.  There's something to be said for excess, but you have to do it right, or you just become a stupid wanker.  I'm not exactly sure where that line is, but Johnny Winter knows  exactly where it is, and he goes right up to that line and steps back just in time, every time.  I think he's the guy Stevie Ray Vaughan really, truly aspired to be, but I think Stevie crossed that line now and then.  He couldn't pull back consistently enough.

So my copy of Second Winter isn't one of the original 1969 copies.  If I had to guess, I think I'd guess late 70's.  It's in nice shape, a couple clicks here and there, but I think this one was played and loved, the same way I'd have played and loved it if I had owned it for its entire life.  It's a gatefold cover with a cool inside picture and side four is blank.  I always liked that they did that, because they didn't try to squeeze out one song and then squish everything onto a single lp.  It's nice because it sounds really good and you don't need to crank it way up to make it sound that way.  I think Second Winter is really, truly one of the great guitar albums of the 70's.  Yes, I'm aware it came out in 69 but believe me, this was a staple in almost every group of guys that hung out throughout the 70's, and no one considered it an old 60's album.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Tubes - Remote Control

Ya know, I never know what blogs I write that people will actually read.  I think that if I do something by The Stones or Neil Young, people will find it and maybe read it.  Then I do something like The Slickee Boys or Jacobites, and I get a ton of hits from all over the world.  I really don't get it.  Then again, even when I have a blog entry more read than another one it still means almost no one on the planet has read it.  So I think I'll just keep doing it the way I have been and if I have time, and I'm thinking about a record all day, I'll write about that one.

With The Tubes - Remote Control album I wasn't so much thinking about this album all day, but how odd I always thought it was that I knew people that liked The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, but couldn't stand The Tubes.  I really kind of don't get that.  I always thought that if I had the chance to see both of those bands in like a co-headlining thing I'd have paid pretty much anything they asked.  I saw The Tubes and I never saw Alex, and I'll tell you some time how much I liked seeing them.  For now, I'm gonna stick with what I was thinking all day.

The Tubes should have been bigger.  I don't know why they weren't.  My friends and I loved them.  I went to a school where they were really popular.  I mean, everyone knew who they were.  Even this album, Remote Control, was a constant at parties all over town.  I liked that after some stupid fucking Ted Nugent album was over I could put on something like this and everyone liked it.  So where was the rest of the country?  Why weren't these guys huge?

By the time they got to Remote Control, they had Todd Rundgren producing, and I think he went a long way to making sure that Remote Control sounded like a modern, major label release.  They always sounded pretty good, but Todd is good at making a big sound huge.  If there was anything The Tubes needed it was the hugeness of their live show to translate onto vinyl.  I think they succeeded here.  It gets some Todd signature backing vocals here and there, but the record still sounds like The Tubes.

In 1979 when this came out, I was pretty sure that TV was evil, and that bands like The Tubes that were pointing out just how really horrible TV really is would maybe be able to help change things for the better.  Here's one of those bands that I thought was going to change the way things were, but all it did is eventually show my idealistic young self that as much as it seemed like it was changing my life, Rock N' Roll was never going to change the world and make it better.  It was just going to be another way for rich people to print money.  Man, that sucked when I really finally understood that.

I have a friend who had an old Nova he bought from the old lady across the street.  It was a blue 4 door, early 70's.  It was rotted from the bottom of the door panels about a quarter of the way up the doors and fenders.  It looked like someone dipped it in acid or something.  We couldn't put any speakers in the doors because they'd get wet, but we got a decent sounding stereo in there in spite of the challenges.  The damned thing only had like 25.000 miles on it, but man, was it rusty!

We used to drive around and listen to Remote Control all the time.  I think we listened to side one most of the time, because everyone really liked the title track, and Prime Time, which is kind of a derivative of Don't Touch Me There, their first brush with chart success.  The one two punch of opener Remote Control going into TV Is King was a pretty strong way to kick off an album, and it was hard to argue when someone wanted to hear that side of the album again.

Side two has strong tracks, too.  Where my friends liked the opening songs on side one, and the hit single, I still to this day think my two favorite songs are Only the Strong Survive and Telecide.  I especially love Telecide.  It's one of my all time favorite Tubes songs.  It starts off really fast and it's got a wailing guitar solo.  I guess there's just not that much more that I need to make me happy!

I bought this a couple years ago. I think I got it at a record show.  It's in really nice shape, with a nice, clean cover and the record is nice and flat.  It was probably only two or three dollars and I can't think of  a better thing to spend the price of a coke and a bag of chips on.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Record Store Clerk - Friend or Foe?

I think lately people have been posting things about record store clerks on some of the vinyl collector groups I read, so this subject has been rattling about in my head for a few days.  It's funny to read how so many people seem to actually like the fact that they can just sit in their house and order a record so easily these days.  Not really just a record, but any record.  I get that.  it's nothing new, really.  Goldmine and Record Collector have provided that service for as long as I've been collecting records, but I think a whole lot of it seems that people are intimidated by the store clerk.  Like this person behind the counter knows everything and thinks you buy shitty music and might sneer at you.  I mostly just don't get this.  Maybe I've always kind of bought records at stores that carried the kinds of things I liked anyways, but I've never had anyone in a record store be anything other than at the least courteous, if not downright friendly.

Yeah, I've seen High Fidelity and the people in that movie really only wished they actually worked in a record store.  I mean, if a guy comes in looking for any record that store stocks and is met with any shit whatsoever, what record store owner isn't going to can the guy and give the customer a discount on that record?  Yeah, I thought Jack Black's character was pretty funny mostly, too.  Where could he really exist except as a story?

Here in Cleveland we had one huge chain record store called Peaches.  I bought a crate for records there, but I could always get the records they had that I wanted cheaper at stores I liked more.  yeah, they had a ton of records in there, but when one section is Classical, one section is Country, one section is Jazz and Blues and one section is Rock, then you've just got a shitload of records I'll never even flip through.  I've always had better luck at a smaller, independent store that catered more specifically to a Rock crowd, and maybe carried a few of the "cool with the Rockers" artists like Johnny Cash or Miles Davis.  It's no big deal for me to skip and artists section and move on.  I mean, I'm going to ignore Led Zeppelin, too.  Skipping a handful of records is one thing, but I don't get all excited because a store has 20,000 records, because I'm probably only interested in a portion of them anyway.

So if I'm dealing with a person in a big chain store, I figure the odds they even know what I'm getting are slim.  There's a chain of smaller stores around here that are franchises and they're called The Exchange.  Each one is actually kind of different.  The Lakewood store is supposed to be the "cool" one, where the Rock Snobs like myself can find odd things.  I think it's a hit or miss kind of place, but I got Big Star's Nothing Can Hurt Me on orange vinyl there on Record Store Day.  It was late in the day, and when i took it up, the clerk was visibly annoyed that I got it and he didn't even know they got any copies.  I know this, because he said so.  He wasn't rude, though.  He was just kind of upset because he said he was a Real Big Fan, and the manager didn't mind if they found something they liked and bought it themselves.  He just thought they didn't get a copy.  In fact, he asked if there was another one, and my son told him that someone had moved this one out of the Record Store Day rack and mixed it in with something else, and he just happened to find it for me.  the guy was real cool about it, though.  I told him I hoped it would get a wider release so he could get one and he seemed pretty good about it.  He asked about a Dr. John album I bought and I told him it was my first Dr. John album, and that I hoped I'd like it.  I liked the kid a lot.

I've been to other cities to buy records, and I've never met this scary clerk in those, either.  I went to Goner in Memphis, and I had a hard time finding much that I was interested in.  I thought that was odd, because people I think I have a lot in common with said it would be a good store for me.  I found a Pagans album and a Dead Boys album.  The guy there said, "Hey, ya know both of those bands were from Cleveland?"  I said, "So am I.  I'm here on vacation and these are actually long gone up there."  We talked about stuff to do in Memphis and I told him I was a big Reigning Sound fan.  We talked about them and while I didn't find a lot there, I'll be back.

I've been to Jerry's in Pittsburgh.  Jerry is really nice, and we talked about how great Dr. Feelgood was.  We talked about David Werner and Norm Nardini.  He gave me a good chunk of money off the records I bought.  I've bought records from his employees and they were super nice, too.  I loved talking to the guy at Angry Mom in Ithaca.  My wife came down when I was checking out and I told her I needed more money because I got such great records there.  She said something like, "Are you really gonna play the ones you have here?"  Mr. Angry Mom said, "He'll play those.  He picked the really great kinds of records you never get tired of."

What a great guy!

I mean, the first record store clerk I really dealt with was at the long defunct Daisy Music.  I was about 11 and I stopped there and just looked at records all the time, and when I would actually buy one, I'd just ask, "What's the best Yes album?"  I asked that because when you're that young, you think everything can be quantified like that.  He would tell me that the earliest albums were very different from the newer ones, and some people liked the new stuff and hated the old stuff and vice versa.  I told him I loved Roundabout, and he helped me get started on my first favorite band in the world.  I knew the girl that ran the record section at The Shoppe, and she was invaluable in helping me figure out some of the New Wave bands of the early and mid 80's.  I never saw her be anything more than helpful, even when handling a return.  Even from the guy that was returning a record that he claimed made constant noises that shouldn't be there, and when she played it, I confirmed that I couldn't hear it, either.  She told me he returned half of what he bought, and she always made him get the same record, and if it was out of stock she ordered it for him, no matter how much he complained that he wanted something else.  She just put his perfectly good records in the used bin and they'd sell real fast because he just bought new, popular stuff.

These days around Cleveland every owner I've seen is terrific.  Melanie at Music Saves is  my favorite, but she stocks the kind of music I like and makes my special orders easy.  She seems genuinely happy when I say, "Hey that last album I bought here is fantastic and I love it!"  The people there have turned me on to new bands, and I enjoy driving across town, past other record stores so that I can shop there.  I can stop in and say, "Hi."  I can talk about another store I went to.  I can ask about shows around town that people there went to see.  I always walk out with a smile on my face.

I've had to order some things from the internet, but let's face it, Amazon doesn't know me at all.  Their suggestions are often stupid as hell, and if I can order a record locally, I do.  Even if it costs more.  I'm sure the people that work for Amazon are nice enough, but I like talking to real people and I've found that if you go into a record store and say, "Hi!" almost every single person behind that counter is great.  If they're really actually a jerk, then leave.  Don't even poke around.

I think if I actually did run into this mythical Record Store Snob, I'd put my purchases on the counter, excited like I always am, and if they said something condescending or rude, I'd be twice as rude back to them.  I try to be polite, but I don't have any problem being a giant asshole.   What's wrong with just saying, "What the fuck do you know about what I like?"

Look, you're collecting records.  The big selling points are things like, "The tangible product makes me feel more connected to the artist.  Records make me feel more connected to the community."  So get connected to the community.  Meet the 99% of people in record stores that are really great.  Talk to people like you.  People that love records.  Your computer and your credit card may not judge you, but they also provide the same excitement as making your car payment.  You deserve better than that when it comes to your hobby.  Ask the people that live hours away from any record stores.  They don't miss driving to the store.  They miss flipping through the records, which were laid out by a person that made decisions about where to the bins, what order the display bins go, what's on sale and what records go on the walls.  The person that does that is there for the love of it, not because they're making tons of money.  Go meet a real person in a real record store! 

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Reigning Sound - Time Bomb High School

I saw a post on a message board the other day where someone was asking if any really great music had been released in this brave new century.  I'm not sure what exactly they mean by really great, but to me that's music that I'll listen to the rest of my life and I'll feel lucky to have been on the planet when a person could go find that music.  Granted, that's going to be pretty much everything for future generations, but it's getting so hard to find something new to listen to for most people.  Mostly because most people don't want to read about music, talk about music, daydream about music and think about getting home so they can listen to music on their stereo, with a little volume behind it so that it sounds real good and hits them in the gut when it's supposed to.  For the people like me that think about listening to music all day, trying to decide what new records to buy isn't a chore, it's fun.  Buying new music and going home to listen to it is the most fun in the world sometimes.

You don't get that with a download.  I think what you generally get with a download is buyer's remorse.  Like maybe you picked the wrong file to download.  That kind of sucks.  Especially because there really is great new music to find and listen to, but it just isn't out there where we all hear it and even those of us that don't daydream about music all day can ask our music geek friend "who sings that really cool new song?"  That's a shame.

It's a shame because right now I'm listening to what I consider to a great record.  Really though, how many great records are there?  Exile on Main St. and then there's everything else.  In the everything else category there's a lot of things that are more than worth your time, but that's a lot of records to sift through!  I'm really glad I managed to find The Reigning Sound's Time Bomb High School, though.  I'd have loved this album in 1975.  I'd love this album in 2025.  It doesn't matter when something comes out to me when the songs are as good as the songs on here are.  I always hate when I read that The Reigning Sound is some "Garage Rock" band, like they're trying to compete with high school bands of the 60's.  They couldn't be more different.  The Reigning Sound has kind of morphed into Greg Cartwright and whoever he wants to work with, but the band on Time Bomb High School is top notch.  High school kids can't pull off pretty songs like Dressy or I Don't Believe without coming across as schmaltz.  Few bands have the dexterity and skill to keep slow songs interesting enough to make side one of an album pretty much the "Slow Side."  It's usually a good idea to make side one the "Fast Side" if you're so inclined to split the sides up like that.  Then to close the side with a Rolling Stones song like I'd Much Rather Be With the Boys is probably generally considered crazy.  It's an unheralded song from an overlooked and frowned upon album, but The Reigning Sound makes it as good as I think it's ever going to get.

Flip the record over and things speed up a little.  Stormy Weather is a great side opener, with big guitars and great backing vocals. Maybe the songs on this side are pretty much a bunch of three chord rockers, but since when did that become something that shouldn't be celebrated?  My dad used to hate this kind of stuff (or so he said) but the song Time Bomb High School is exactly why they made Rock N' Roll in the first place!  This is the shit, goddammit!  This is why you bought your fucking record player!  Then to get hit in the face with Reptile Style right after?  Holy shit.  If they made a 45 of Time Bomb High School b/w Reptile Style they'd pretty much have made the greatest single ever.

It doesn't let up, it blasts through all the way until the end.  I think it's really something that these guys made a record like this.  this could have easily been my Friday night go to album every weekend in high school.  If I couldn't find a ride or anyone to hang with and it was one of those stuck at home on a Friday nights, side one would have been the greatest thing in the world to listen to while I drowned my sorrows.  If I was waiting for my ride so I could go out and party my ass off, side two would have revved me up like I had a lawnmower pull cord sticking out of my back.  This is just the kind of record that is plugged right in to wherever Chuck Berry and The Stones were plugged into when they made their best music.  It's a shame that everyone doesn't listen to this, because it's a great album.  Not just really good, but I'm writing this almost thirteen years after the release and I'm still as excited to hear it as I was the first time I heard it so long ago.  I'm not kidding.  I absolutely love this record.  Every single song.

I bought this one new, so mine's pretty perfect.  It could be a little quieter in spots, but I really don't have any complaints.  I love the way it sounds, and the songs are just so good I'd probably listen to them over a tin can and string system and still get enough of the Rock N' Roll out of it to make it a favorite of mine.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Cretones - Thin Red Line

I talked about Linda Ronstadt's Mad Love album awhile back (it was pretty brief, use the label column on the right if you want to read it) and I mentioned that on that album Linda did three songs by a pretty unknown band called The Cretones.  Well, I was at My Mind's Eye the other day and I found a promo copy of it for two bucks!  How often do you find an album with three songs that Linda Ronstadt saw fit to include on an album for two bucks?  Not very often is the correct answer.

So The Cretones - Thin Red Line came out in 1980.  So did Linda's Mad Love.  You would think this might be a real boon to The Cretones' career, but I think what happened was that these became Linda Ronstadt songs in the ears of the public, and I think the record labels were suitably impressed enough to let the band record another album, but they were a little late for the flash-in-the-pan that was late 70's Power Pop.  Then again I think everyone besides The Knack managed to miss that boat.  Cretones' guitarist Mark Goldenburg played on Linda's Mad Love and then went on to play with Jackson Browne, and had some hits for other people.  Unfortunately, The Cretones kind of remain a footnote in Rock history.

I suppose being a footnote is what most of my favorite bands end up doing.  I don't get it, to be truthful.  I don't go out of my way to find weird music that no one has heard, but then again I certainly don't go out of my way to buy music I can hear anywhere, anytime.  Sure, I have some super big selling records and have written about some of them here.  I'm always surprised when something that I think is fantastic, the kind of thing I couldn't live without and no one reads that blog entry.  There's not a ton of stuff about The Cretones online (and lord knows someone coming here for solid information is gonna leave sorely disappointed!), so I'll actually be easy to find with a search engine.  No one will see it, though.  Because unfortunately, I seem to listen to things no one else gives a shit about.  Toss in the fact that I'm a lousy writer and it's a double whammy of shitty writing and obscure music.  In 1500 years someone will look back and say, "Hey this guy and the music he liked was brilliant!" but for now, well I think it's more likely that in 1500 years this stuff will all have just been forgotten and overlooked for 1500 years, perched on the precipice of remaining forgotten for another 1500 years.  I mean, I'm barely a footnote of the blogging world, and I'm doing my best be be less relevant every day!

I'm going to sit and listen to my Cretones album again anyway.  When I listen to them, I think about the things I really loved in 1979 and 1980, like The Doors, Bowie, Sex Pistols and The Tubes.  The Cretones really don't fit in that group.  I still loved Yes and The Cretones don't fit in with them, either.  I think they fit in with my love of things like Artful Dodger, though.  The keyboards sound pretty dated these days, but I guess back then they sounded really new.  The guitar sound is generally good, like on Everybody's Mad at Katherine, but there's still some kind of weenie-ish keyboards in there.  I'm good with it, though.  It's there, and it's not going away and I like the song anyway.  It's mid January and there's plenty of grey skies and snow here and while I listen to this the first thing I think is that I'd like to go drive around on a sunny day with the windows down.  That's pretty cool.

Linda Ronstadt must have really like the end of side one and beginning of side two, though.  That's the run on the album of Justine, Mad Love and Cost of Love.  Those are the three songs she put on Mad Love, and I see what she liked about them.  She really didn't change much, and The Cretones don't sound like amateurs or like they did this on a shoestring budget.  Linda used a crack band (as usual) and while they aren't the whole difference, Linda liked these songs, and it shows.  She's ten times the singer Mark Goldenburg is (pretty astute of me, eh?) and here on The Cretones Thin Red Line these songs just lack a little of the punch Linda was able to get out of them.  Then again, Linda uses Rosemary Butler for backing vocals, and that takes real confidence.  The Cretones versions of these songs are really good, though.  They're the best three songs on the album, but the thing is, the rest of the album is good.  So I'm conflicted as to whether Linda ends up ultimately helping or hurting The Cretones.  Could these songs have pushed through without Linda?  It's hard to say.

I think a song like Thin Red Line would have done pretty well on a college station that was playing new music but not concerned with pushing the envelope.  We have one of those around here, and I like them now and then.  Everything doesn't have to be so out there different and shock me, or sound like nothing I've ever heard before.  I've got room in my record collection for craftsmen, and that's what The Cretones were.  Maybe they weren't Rock Stars, but they were good at writing catchy songs that made Saturday afternoon a little better.

Now, the thing that most sets The Cretones apart is the song Hey Mrs. Peel.  My dad got me to start watching The Avengers, and I am a huge fan of Diana Rigg in general and Mrs. Emma Peel in particular.  So anyone else here in the good old USA that liked that show is automatically Okay By Me.  Once again, we're looking at a good song.  A great subject, but how do you write about Mrs. Peel without either creeping or being a geeky fanboy?  You have to do it like The Cretones did.  With a little panache.

Thin Red Line is a good album.  It's not some undiscovered unique take on Rock N' Roll that is going to change your life.  If you find it in a used bin for two bucks, you should get it, though.  Because it's good and you should have room for good records.  Mine is a promo copy; the cover is a little bent in spots but the record looks and sounds like it was hardly played, if at all.  I won't look for a better copy, but I also won't be getting rid of this one anytime soon, either.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Roxy Music - Manifesto

I realize that it seems to be the consensus that this is not a good Roxy Music album.  I totally disagree with that.  I think this is a terrific Roxy album, and I always have.  Maybe because they hadn't really released a new album since I started liking them.  maybe because my first Roxy album was Viva! and it had been three years since they released a new record, which back in the 70's made you wonder if maybe they hadn't just broken up.  So when this came out, I was excited and I bought it before I ever heard a single song.

I know that it's popular today to call that "blind buying," but man, that's just a stupid way to look at buying records if you ask me.  I knew who they were, and I had liked every record they had made so far, and I was sure that this one wouldn't be any different.  I mean no different in my appeal, but I knew it would push their sound to another direction (fortunately for me, it wasn't Avalon, which is a real snoozer).  I remember putting this on my turntable and loving how the sides were split up as East Side and West Side, instead of Side One and Side Two.  I mean, how artistic of them!

The sparse, slow opening to Manifesto that just slowly adds instruments to the slow, funky jam hooked me immediately.  This was the kind of stuff my friends that complained I listened to too much "harder, faster" could mellow out to, and I wouldn't fall asleep.  It's interesting to me that the opening song of the side, and the closing song, Stronger Through the Years, both have a slow, jammy instrumental feel to them.  Brian Ferry certainly has plenty to sing in both of them, but I just loved the fact that it seemed like the side opened and closed with extended instrumental parts.  They're actually shorter parts than I remember, but then a record is only twenty minutes a side or so!

I think Angel Eyes was a single in the US, and I think that they used a different version on the cd releases.  I like the record much better.  I think Trash is a suitably punkish bit of weirdness and I can remember playing this side while I got dressed in the morning before school.  At least i was getting dressed to get ready to go somewhere.  I think in 1979 we had something like 186 school days and I missed over 150.  I didn't like going there.  I had better things to do.  this caused me to eventually have to go back after my friends all left, but I had a job anyway and that was a big chunk of my school that last year.  Plus, I met my wife then, so things worked out really well for me (my undying gratitude goes out to Ron Schuff and Tom Madzy for seeing past my teenaged assholiness and finding a way for me to get a diploma).  What a great side, though!  I think back then for awhile I even wanted to live on the East Side of Cleveland because I thought it would be cooler than the West Side (wrong!).

The West Side of the album is a little more danceable, and I can remember that I used to have a portable radio/cassette player and I taped this record and played it on that little boombox in the first car my wife and I owned.  There wasn't a radio in it, and I bought it from a friend for 75 bucks out of two paychecks.  It was a real piece of shit 1970 Torino, but it had a 351 Cleveland and a Posi rear end and would just light 'em up if I wanted it to.  We'd put the radio in the back seat and blast Ain't That So (which was kind of like the songs on the East Side), and I know my wife really liked Dance Away, which was a real, blatant attempt at American Top 40, but I don't think it really made it that far up the charts.  In fact, outside of me playing my cassette or the record at home, I hardly remember hearing this album at all.  I played it a lot though, and I'll bet that my friends think it was a bigger hit that it was because I played it so much!

We used to play softball every weekend.  We'd have total coed games, and no one ever kept score.  We'd get a keg or just cases and cases of beer and go out and play for hours.  A lot of the people actually were on "serious" softball teams and played in leagues, but Sunday's were for fun.  I remember people liked my little boombox, a Panasonic mono thing with like an eight inch woofer and a one in tweeter on it.  You could heat that thing all over the field, and the batteries lasted forever in it.  It just worked better than those big, bulky things that were icons of break dancers of the late 70's, early 80's.  That big woofer just whomped out the sound!  I think I probably played this pretty constantly from 1979 right through about 1982.  It was just the kind of record I could listen to all the time, and listening to it now reminds me that I should probably play it a little more often.

I've had mine since 1979, so it's made a few moves, but I think it always got played at least on my old Dual so it seems to be in pretty great shape.  Maybe partly because of that old cassette?  I don't know, it's in real good shape though.  Nice and flat and plays nice and quiet.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dr. Feelgood - Down by the Jetty

So a recent post on one of Crabby's blogs got me thinking I should say something about Dr. Feelgood's first album.  I suppose I have albums that there's no way I could really live without, and i think I'd put Down by the Jetty up there with any of my absolute favorites.  This came out in 1975, so I was thirteen.  My friend Dave's sister is the one that owned this, I think.  I can't see where Dave or I could have possibly heard of Dr. Feelgood back then.  I'm sure she had this, played it and we just lost it over this.  I can remember that Dave and his sister lived in a house where the upstairs was sort of an attic, but they were all finished in that neighborhood, and Dave's sister had the part over the garage and kitchen, and Dave had the part over the bedrooms and living room.  I think we had to go through the house to get in to Dave's room, but his sister could use those steps, or she could access her room through the garage steps, too.  So I think she chose that section of the attic because while it was smaller, it was easy to get in and out unnoticed any hour of the day.

I can remember sitting up in Dave's room smoking Kool's and listening to Dr. Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods and thinking we were just about the coolest kids on the face of the earth.  It felt like we were the only ones that knew how great Wilko Johnson was, and I can remember some weird teenage game where we talked shit and acted like this guy that had no idea who The Big Figure was had to be some kind of loser square (in case you're a loser square, The Big Figure is Dr. Feelgood's drummer).  Man, that's mostly embarrassing to think about how we could act, but I think talking shit you don't really know about is part of growing up.  Well, it is if you're an asshole like me, anyway.

So Down by the Jetty kicks off with this brutal guitar track called She Does It Right, and it really took me a few years to understand that Wilko Johnson could make it sound like he was playing rhythm and lead guitar at the same time.  I wish I could have seen a video of them back then.  I've seen some on YouTube that show Wilko and John Sparks, the bass player, flanking singer Lee Brilleaux on either side, pacing back and forth to the rhythm of the song in a menacing fashion, while Brilleaux sings and plays harp in a suit that looks like he's on a three day bender that's resulted in more than one bad decision,maybe some fights, and at least one night sleeping outside.  On the cover they look like they could be in Cleveland up by the lake in late fall. It looks cold and windy and it doesn't look like they come from a pretty place, even though they have the water right there.  Maybe that's part of their appeal to me; they look like they come from a place where I fit in.

You might think this kind of revved up blues really wouldn't be the kind of thing a thirteen year old would like, but man, I still can't get enough of Wilko's guitar sound on songs like Roxette or Keep It Out of Sight.  It's just really aggressive, and I was never a really aggressive person or anything, but this was the kind of music I could see my mom liking, if it wasn't so aggressive.  So I think Dr. Feelgood was one of the first bands that I had wanted to play for her so that I could see her not really like it, but maybe not quite know why (I was a real smartass and shocking mom was always okay by me back then).  The thing is, I never owned a copy of this.

I don't think I ever owned it until the mid 90's, maybe even early 2000's.  I found it on cd and if that's how you find this, then buy it.  It's an excellent sounding cd and it's every bit as great as it ever was.  It's in mono but that just seems to add to the menace.  I know right when I got it that I was really excited and hoped I'd think it was half as good as I remembered when I thought back to Dave's old room.  I think Cheque Book might have even made it onto this cassette tape we made once.  it was called Rick and Dave's Raving Faves.  We used his sister's cassette deck because she had a real stereo.  Probably something like Pioneer or Akai back then, and we probably should have found an 8 track recorder because we didn't know anyone with a cassette deck until we were sixteen and I installed a Pioneer Super Tuner underdash FM/cassette player in my friend's first car.  I don't know how that fell to me.  I don't know much about cars, but I bought stereo magazines and wanted a nice stereo real bad, so I guess I probably said, "How hard could it be?"  I know it took all day, but it actually looked pretty good!

Dave and I talked about that tape last year when I saw him.  He said it's possible that he still has it in a box in his attic or maybe even at his sister's.  I'd love to see what songs we had on there!  I know we thought that if we could play that over the air that we'd be the biggest radio station in the world.  But ya know what?  I still think Dr. Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods are truly great bands.  I think they're why I was so ready for Punk when that hit and a teenager in Cleveland, Ohio might be able to hear them.  I think Dr. Feelgood did a whole lot to shape how I listen to music and how I try to find music.  I thought that the kids that were just happy with Elton John or their brother's Beatles records were just working on finding their way to their own music, and I didn't realize for a long, long time that most people aren't going to put any effort into finding anything other than the most popular music.  Hey, I know that if you're actually reading this blog, then that's not you (in fact, you're really on the outskirts of things if you're reading this - you've possibly just given up!), you obviously dig around hard to find something new.  I applaud you for that, and I hope you buy records because you like the cover or someone told you they thought you'd  like it for whatever reason, be it because they think you listen to weird music or they listen to weird music and think you should join them.

I'm really getting off track here.  Down by the Jetty was reissued on vinyl last year, so I got one of those.  It's a very basic package, just like the original.  No download card, no lyric sheet.  The record could be a little quieter but it's still fine.  In fact, if you want the best sound on this, you probably should look for the cd.  The thing is, you don't need the best sound here.  Wilko's guitar cuts through.  Brilleaux's decadence rises to the top and The Big Figure and John Sparks hold this all down like seasoned pro's.  Down by the Jetty is truly one of my favorite albums.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wussy - Left for Dead

I generally seem to have a New Favorite Band all the time.  The Stones are just my favorite band, but I have other people come in and out and as Mick Jagger put it, "steal my heart away," at least for a few months at a time.  There's a bunch of them and some of them are still active today, and others are now defunct.  These bands give me every bit as much pleasure and enjoyment as Bowie, Steely Dan or The Yardbirds, it's just that hardly anyone ever bothers to check them out.  I could go on a rant about radio consolidation (someone disagreed with me on the state of music/radio and said it was shitty music, not smaller playlists and only playing the same old hits that killed that goose), but I'm not gonna get on about that.  I'm just going to talk about my current New Favorite Band, Wussy.

First off, ya know what's cool? Wussy is from Ohio. There are a stunning amount of great musicians and bands in this state, I'll tell ya.  We may have some lousy sports teams, but you never lose with good music, and we have that in spades.  Wussy is from the other end of the state, down in Cincinnati and while I'm not thrilled with a lot of the southern part of my state for the most part, they hold up their end of the musical deal really well.  I'll talk about some other bands I love from around there eventually, but for today, let's talk about how I started listening to Wussy.

Over at Rock Town Hall there's plenty of people that don't just lament that guys like Roger Daltrey or David Gilmour are old enough to be retired if they hadn't already not lived a life of leisure.  The average Townsperson (what someone who participates there becomes) is well versed in the Classic Rock canon, the Punk/New Wave movement and most manage to continue to give a shit about what they can hear today from people they've never heard before.  We don't always see that in internet forums these days, and that's why I like that blog.  Anyway, one of the Townspeople that goes by Oats has mentioned Wussy a few times, and people have linked to Robert Christgau wearing a Wussy T shirt.  Christgau has pretty uniformly loved all of Wussy's albums but even with a Townsperson and "The Dean of Rock (or whatever Christgau calls himself)" telling me that I need to check out Wussy, I pretty much figured I have a long enough wish list of things and besides, I can be funny about how I get around to listening to the recommendations of others.

I don't know why, but sometimes people will tell me to check something out, and I just won't.  I go about finding music the ways I usually do, or I ignore one person and listen to another.  I think maybe sometimes I may check something out that wasn't a specific recommendation, and if I'm not head over heels in love with it, I kind of hedge my bets.  I'm not saying that's what happened here.  I think Oats has generally pretty compatible tastes with me in a lot of areas, so I'd take his suggestions pretty readily.  We disagree on some stuff, but I think it's more he doesn't like some of the noisier racket I like instead of me not liking things he likes.  So why didn't I check out Wussy?

Maybe because I hate their name.  Maybe I thought Chuck Cleaver didn't look Rock N' Roll enough?  I don't know.  Like I said, sometimes I'm just funny about how I decide what new things I'm going to listen to.I can be like a toddler, I guess.  what I mean is if you've ever known a two year old, then you've heard, "No!  I do it myself!"  I suppose I should work on that.

I first saw Left for Dead at Music Saves after a Record Store Day.  They had a few of them left over.  The album cover is a robin's egg blue, and the artwork just looks kind of girly to me.  Now, girly is fine with me, because there's a woman in the band and why shouldn't they recognize that?  I like a lot of women musicians, but there are some that just don't resonate with me, like Kate Bush or Sarah McLachlan.  There's people that I think have otherwise good taste in music that can get all caught up in that stuff, and with the cover of this album looking the way it does, I was leery.  Sure, you can ask "Why don't you just YouTube them?"  I don't because I just don't want to, that's why.  So after a month or two past Record Store Day I'm noticing that the copies of Left for Dead have dwindled to exactly one.  So if I want it on vinyl, I'm thinking it's time to get it or forget it.  So I bought it.

When I got home and put it on, by the end of Killer Trees, I'm kicking myself for not having done this at least a year or two ago.  These guys are right up my alley, the kind of thing i can listen to all day.  When they're slow, like on the Chuck Cleaver opener Trail of Sadness, it takes me some time to appreciate it.  I'm totally okay with that, because usually if I love a song right off the bat, I end up getting tired of it.  When I need to spend time with something before it really clicks with me is when that song really gets under my skin.  Most of Chuck's slow songs are like that to me, so he must really be doing something right.  Trail of Sadness really lives up to its title, too.  It's a really sad song and reminds me of a friend from a long time ago.

The whole thing isn't just a downer, though.  I mean, Wussy can get pretty melancholy and really doesn't trade in happiness and bubblegum for the most part, but they aren't a bunch of depressing hacks, either.  It takes until the second side, on Sun Giant Says Hey for a "stupid happy song" (as Jawbreaker might have put it).  This song has everything that Wussy does well in it, though.  Distorted guitars, Chuck Cleaver's wobbly voice and Lisa Walker's voice an unlikely seeming, but perfect sounding counterpoint.  I'll tell ya, if you want to get me to like something, have two singers each singing something different at the same time.  It confuses me, but I just think it's a great trick that always works on me.

This isn't just the Chuck Cleaver show.  Lisa Walker actually probably sings more of the songs than Chuck on this record, and man, did she bring her "A" game.  Rigor Mortis is great, and Lisa's phrasing is really cool.  Jonah is a pretty great song about a couple "getting to know each other, in the back seat of your van" and I'm not sure if it's autobiographical or not, but it's the kind of memory that anyone should be able to share.  My favorite two songs are Killer Trees and Melody Ranch.  Both are a little more uptempo, with plenty of distorted guitars and weird lyrics by Lisa.  I think when I got this album I played it every day for a month.

So, my record is in great shape as I bought it new.  It's on baby blue vinyl and the record goes really nicely with the cover.  Not everyone thinks of things like that, ya know?  So often you get something like an orange album cover with a dark blue and yellow splatter vinyl, like they just said, "whatever color, just make it a color other than black."  I like when people think about the whole thing.  Mine would be even nicer if I hadn't dropped the cover when I was cleaning it in the kitchen and crumpled a corner.  Oh well, it's still a really great record!