Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Strat Pack: Live in Concert

Last night I saw the 50th anniversary salute to the Fender Stratocaster. It was filmed in 2004 at London’s Wembley Arena. Lots of my favorite guitar players play Strats – David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton. Jimi Hendrix played and destroyed many. George Harrison played one. His solo on “Nowhere Man” was done with a ’65 Strat. I own a Strat. So without knowing who all was going to be on this show [I know, it says so on the box, but this was on TV...], I decided to watch. The following is my stream-of-consciousness commentary on what I saw.

The first act – the Crickets. Yup, those Crickets of Buddy Holly fame. They’re accompanied by Albert Lee and Brian May. They’re playing a few of Buddy Holly’s hits. Good Stuff!

Next – Theresa Anderson. I have no idea who this is, but at least Albert Lee is her guitar player [at least for tonight…].

Hank Marvin – The Rise And Fall Of Flingel Bunt – Sleepwalk - Apache! A very cool song. I see why guys like Peter Frampton and Jeff Beck cite this guy as a major influence.

Paul Carrack – huh? He’s a keyboard player. Plays four songs – his own “How Long,” the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and Genesis’ “I Can’t Dance.” Mike Rutherford from Genesis on guitar. Yawn…

Gary Moore – Irish guitarist extraordinaire – usually plays a Gibson Les Paul, but switches to a Strat from time to time. He started out as a hard rocker, played with Thin Lizzy for awhile before he went solo. He switched to playing the blues in the 1990s. A very fast guitar player, sometimes he overplays. Too many notes, but after hearing Paul Carrack’s snoozer of a set, it’s more than welcome to generate some excitement. He plays one song – Hendrix’s “Red House.” Excellent choice – doesn’t disappoint.

Jaime Cullum – who is this guy, and why is he boring me with a keyboard rendition of Hendrix’s “Angel”? Apparently he didn't get the memo this was a guitar show. Mercifully it’s the only song he plays.

Amy Winehouse – she looked great for this show, way before the drugs kicked in. She played a beautiful Red Strat. Did I mention how great she looked? She sounded pretty good too. What happened, Amy? Her guitarist played a pretty metallic blue Strat. She played three songs. I couldn’t name a single one of them, but that didn’t matter.

Paul Rodgers – voice of Free and Bad Company. Sings three songs and plays his own black Strat. First song – “Muddy Water Blues.” Very nice. Then he’s joined by his son and daughter. They play one of her original songs. Then there’s Free’s “All Right Now.” He dedicates this to Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, who ironically was a Les Paul player. He’s accompanied by Brian May, who reverts back to his Red Special. Last song – Bad Company’s “Can’t Get Enough.” Joe Walsh joins with black Strat in hand. It’s always good to hear a great singer, but too many singalongs.

Joe Walsh – Starts with the James Gang’s “Funk #49,” then goes into “Life’s Been Good,” a song Joe once described as “an industrial love song.” Joe looks good, healthy and sober, and he’s playing great. Third song – “Life in the Fast Lane.” It’s kinda weird not hearing Don Henley’s whiney vocals, but that’s ok. Last up – “Rocky Mountain Way.” He’s really working the slide and the talk-box. Well done Joe – welcome back to the land of the living. So far this is the best set of the night.

Phil Manzanera – Roxy Music guitarist, David Gilmour’s newest musical partner in crime. He plays a very good instrumental, then introduces David Gilmour.

David Gilmour [NOW we’re talking…] – First song – “Marooned” from Pink Floyd’s “The Division Bell.” He owns a Strat with the serial number 0001. Probably not the first one ever made, but I’m sure it’s damn close – a collector’s item to be sure. Second song is another one from “The Division Bell” – “Coming Back to Life.” Third song is “Sorrow” from Pink Floyd’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason.”

Ron Wood – he’s not playing a Strat, but this big acoustic guitar. He’s singing – he should stick to playing guitar.

Finale – everybody. The big finish with the Faces’ “Stay With Me.” The show’s over.

Ok, it wasn’t a bad show, but it had such promise.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

John Paul Jones

One guy’s music of whom I’ve been listening a lot lately is that of John Paul Jones. Of the three survivors of Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones is the one who has been more inclined to lend his talents to others rather than put out his own work. The list of acts he has worked with since Led Zeppelin’s demise is pretty eclectic, to wit: R.E.M.[Automatic for the People], Peter Gabriel [Us], Heart [The Road Home], The Mission [Children], Foo Fighters [In Your Honor], Butthole Surfers [Independent Worm Saloon] , Uncle Earl [Waterloo, Tennessee], and Brian Eno [Music for Films III] just to name a few. He’s even played live with the likes of Gov’t Mule and Ben Harper. In 1994 he collaborated with avant-garde performer Diamanda Galás on The Sporting Life, for which he received equal billing. Other than the Scream for Help movie soundtrack in 1985, Jonesy didn’t put out an album under his own name until 1999 with Zooma. He followed Zooma in 2001 with The Thunderthief. Both albums show off Jonesy’s talents as a composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist. As one peruses over the credits on these two albums one will find he plays the following: bass [4-, 8-, 10- and 12-string], guitar, mandolin, mandola, koto, lap steel guitars, autoharp, ukulele, sitar, cello, Hammond organ, piano, and other keyboard instruments. Zooma is all-instrumental, where The Thunderthief has some vocals, but both show off the skills he brought to Led Zeppelin. It isn’t for nothing that he was often referred to as “Led Zeppelin’s secret weapon.” He is, after all, the guy who came up with Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, No Quarter, Trampled Under Foot, and most of Zep’s In Through the Out Door album.

Many of the compositions on the Zooma and Thunderthief albums can be described in one word – thunderous. JPJ often uses the 10- and 12-string basses as lead instruments, often playing the main riff while using lap steels to solo over the top. Leafy Meadows [with guest Robert Fripp soloing over JPJ’s thunder], Grind, Nosumi Blues, B. Fingers and Shibuya Bop are just such numbers. There are some pretty mind-bending listening experiences contained in the two albums. For example, there is Hoediddle from The Thunderthief. It starts off as a sort-of classic rock jam but then switches gears and turns into an Irish jig played at Warp Factor Eight [?!?]. Snake Eyes from Zooma is the showcase for JPJ the composer, multi-instrumentalist, and arranger. It starts off with JPJ playing a slow, swampy blues thing on the lap steel, which then yields to a spaced-out Hammond organ solo that would make Jon Lord of Deep Purple proud. Behind the soloing is the London Symphony Orchestra playing counterpoint. The Hammond then yields to the LSO, leaving them to finish the song in grand fashion. Snake Eyes is quite an epic piece of work. Another fine piece of work is The Smile of Your Shadow from Zooma. Taken at a slow pace, The Smile of Your Shadow starts with a single mandola playing a riff with a lap steel adding some color behind it. Then the drums kick in, accompanied an eight-string bass with the lap steel taking the lead while the mandola bobs and weaves all around what is being played. All comes to a crescendo, and then we’re left with just the mandola with a mandolin playing underneath. Just when you think you’ve heard it all from JPJ, then comes Ice Fishing at Night, a quiet piano piece from The Thunderthief on which JPJ sings. Taken all together, the work from both Zooma and The Thunderthief are astonishingly inventive and original.

What is JPJ up to now? He has a new band with Dave Grohl [Foo Fighters] and Josh Homme [Queens of the Stone Age]. Their name? Them Crooked Vultures. They have an album titled, oddly enough, Them Crooked Vultures. Josh Homme is the front man and guitar player. Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones hold down the rhythm section. They make a very solid rhythm section. Since Josh Homme is the front man and plays the lead instrument, TCV sounds a lot like Queens of the Stone Age. However, John Paul Jones plays the same “secret weapon” role in TCV that he did in Led Zeppelin. On the song Scumbag Blues, while Josh Homme does his best Jack Bruce impersonation, one can hear the clavinet like what JPJ played on Zep’s Trampled Under Foot from Physical Graffiti. Caligulove has JPJ playing some kind of wigged-out Arabic-sounding keyboard between the verses. You can also hear him play mandolin during the psychedelic drum break. He plays classical piano on Spinning on Daffodils, and slide guitar for Reptiles. The time changes in Elephants have John Paul Jones written all over it. The whole album sounds like it was a helluva lot of fun to make. It’s definitely fun to listen to. One of the things I like about these guys is that they’re fearless. Before they recorded their first album, they toured and played nothing but songs from their album – no Zep, no Foo Fighters, no Nirvana, no Queens of the Stone Age. Not many people have the balls to play to a paying audience 80 minutes of music that nobody has ever heard before. Zeppelin used to do that… I really like these guys. The good news – they’re going to do another one this year. It will be mine.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bad Company & Paul Rodgers

Last night I got to watch one of my favorite bands from the Seventies on Palladia. It was the original Bad Company, minus bassist Boz Burrell [who passed away in 2006] – Paul Rodgers [vocals/piano/guitar], Mick Ralphs [guitar], and Simon Kirke [drums]. The remaining three were joined by bassist Lynn Sorensen and guitarist Howard Leese, both from Paul Rodgers’ solo band. This was a “one off” show performed at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida on August 8, 2008. According to Paul Rodgers they did so to "protect the legacy they have built and cement the rights to the trademark Bad Company for touring.” The show was exactly what I hoped for and expected – no frills, well-played music, very professionally done. As for Paul Rodgers’ voice, the man [who was 57 at the time of this recording] sounded as good as he did in his 20s. The man must have a Dorian Gray-type painting in his attic or something, because he looks very fit for a guy who is closer to 60 than 50. During the broadcast I they played Sweet Lil’ Sister from Run With the Pack, but it’s not listed on the CD or DVD. At any rate, it will be mine.

The set list:
Bad Company
Honey Child
Burnin' Sky
Gone, Gone, Gone
Run With The Pack
Live For The Music
Feel Like Makin' Love
Movin' On
Simple Man
Rock Steady
Shooting Star
Can't Get Enough
Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy

Ready For Love
Good Lovin' Gone Bad

Here’s a taste of what the show was like:

As hinted at in 2008, thes guys toured in 2009 and will do a 10-date run in the UK next month [lucky bastards!]. I’m also on the lookout for the CD/DVD Paul Rodgers did with his own band in 2006, Live in Glasgow. Included are songs he recorded solo, with The Firm [in the mid-80s with Jimmy Page], Free, and of course Bad Company.

The set list:
I'll Be Creepin'
The Stealer
Ride on a Pony
Be My Friend
Warboys (a Prayer for Peace)
Feel Like Makin' Love
Bad Company
I Just Want to See You Smile
Louisiana Blues
Fire & Water
Wishing Well
All Right Now
I'm a Mover
The Hunter
Can't Get Enough

Here’s my favorite Free song from their last album, Heartbreaker. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beatles Covers That Shine

I’ve been a hardcore Beatlemaniac almost my entire life [I’m 47]. The music of The Beatles is part of my DNA. The arrangements of their music are so ingrained into my psyche that whenever I hear someone else try one of their songs, I usually find the results to be lacking. My feeling is that those songs are the way they were supposed to be done, that they cannot be improved upon. However, every now and then I am pleasantly surprised. When I’m surprised, I take notice. Here are some Beatles covers that do not make me wince when I hear them. To wit, they are very good. Without further delay, here are some examples of how to cover a Beatles song the right way…

1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Peter Frampton [2003 – Now]. Exceptional. Peter Frampton played [uncredited] on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. After George’s passing in 2001, PF wanted to do some sort of tribute to his friend. It’s not a note-for-note copy, and PF gets to do what he does best – stretch out and play guitar. Originally from The White Album.

2. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – Elton John [1974 – single]. Originally from Sgt Pepper. Of all the covers I’ve heard of Beatles songs, this one is far and away the best one of the lot. As a bonus, it features the reggae guitars of one Dr. Winston O’Boogie, a favorite pseudonym of the song’s creator, John Lennon. John liked this version better than his own. Who am I to argue?

3. She Said She Said – Gov’t Mule [1998 – Dose]. The Mule’s original bass player, Allen Woody [RIP] loved the Beatles. The Mule started playing a She Said She Said and Tomorrow Never Knows [both from Revolver] as a medley during their shows. After both Woody and Warren Haynes left the Allman Brothers Band in 1997 to pursue Gov’t Mule full time, they recorded Dose, their second studio album. It’s about 7 minutes long, with some jamming coming after the song. I like it – I think you would too.

4. Tomorrow Never Knows – Phil Collins [1981 – Face Value]. Speaking of Tomorrow Never Knows, this is the final song from Phil Collins’ debut album as a solo artist. Almost all the songs contained in Face Value deal with the breakup of his first marriage. There’s only one song on the album that is not a Phil Collins original – this one. It comes at the tail end of the album. With an album that has lots of heartbreaking ballads, this cover of the wacked-out Lennon original from Revolver lightens things up a bit so the album doesn’t end on a down note.

5. A Day in the Life – Jeff Beck [2008 - Performing This Week: Live at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club]. Performed as an instrumental, Jeff Beck liked this Sgt Pepper classic so much he did it twice. The first time was for the George Martin album In My Life, the second for the live album at Ronnie Scott’s. Jeff Beck gets sounds out of a Stratocaster that can best be described us “unworldly.” Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top once described Jeff Beck as a “true Martian.” Apparently I’m not the only who likes this. Jeff Beck won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 2010. Very impressive indeed.

6. Rain – Gregg Allman
[1989 – Dreams]. Sometimes you find gems like this in the most unlikely of places. After the Allman Brothers Band broke up the second time in 1982, Gregg Allman was without a recording contract. So, he and his guitar player Dan Toler cut a demo of this song from the Revolver era. Included in his demo was this song, complete with piano, acoustic guitar, Hammond organ, and a gospel choir. Who knew a John Lennon song could be performed as a gospel hymn? It blew my mind the first time I heard it. Apparently this demo did the trick as Gregg Allman got a recording contract with Epic. Gregg Allman still performs this song live today.

7. I Am the Walrus – Styx
[2004 – single]. Originally from Magical Mystery Tour. When one thinks of Styx, the first thing that comes to mind is Mr. Roboto or sappy ballads like Babe. Not so here. One day while watching TV [the exact program escapes me through the mists of time], Styx came on live and played this song. When Carol told me about it, I was skeptical to say the least, since this is one of my favorite Lennon tracks. But I sat down, watched it and was very impressed.

8. Taxman – Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble [1995 – Greatest Hits]. This cover of the George Harrison song from Revolver came straight out of left field. Many years ago, Michael Jackson, who at the time held the rights to most of the Beatles songs, decided he wanted to make a movie using Beatles songs. SRV cut this song but the movie never got made. Done as a blues shuffle. Posthumously released [SRV died in 1990 – I still miss him].

9. With a Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker
[1969 – With a Little Help From My Friends]. No list of Beatles covers is complete without this gem from Joe Cocker. He played it at Woodstock, it featured as the opening song to the show The Wonder Years. Jimmy Page plays guitar. Joe Cocker’s version is both in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Originally from Sgt Pepper. Priceless!

10. She Came in Through the Bathroom Window – Joe Cocker [1970 – single]. Hmmm – he’s on this list twice. Part of the Side 2 medley from Abbey Road, Joe Cocker did this Paul McCartney tune almost as well as he did With a Little Help From My Friends. It made it to Number 30 on the Billboard singles chart in 1970.

11. McLemore Avenue – Booker T. and The MGs [1970]. Not content to record just one song from Abbey Road, the Stax house band upped the ante and recorded an instrumental version of Abbey Road [well, most if it anyway]. This album was named after the road on which the Stax studios were located in Memphis. Complete with a picture of the group crossing McLemore Ave., just like The Beatles did for Abbey Road. John Lennon had once said he wanted to compose an instrumental song for the group, and in a roundabout way, he did.

12. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away – Eddie Vedder [2001 – soundtrack for I Am Sam]. This particular gem caught my ear when I saw the Sean Penn movie I Am Sam. The movie has lots of Beatles songs in it, but this is the one I remember. I just might have to get the soundtrack album. Another John Lennon song, this one from Help!

13. Across the Universe – Fiona Apple [1998 – Pleasantville soundtrack]. Another John Lennon song from another movie. This particular version was playing over the ending credits. Fiona Apple catches the essence very well. Joe Satriani once said this was one of his favorite songs because of this – when the clown says something serious, you take notice. Joe Satriani noticed. From Let It Be.

There may be other cover versions of Beatles songs out there in the cosmos, but I haven’t heard them. I have heard these – perhaps someday you will too. Enjoy and thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Whip It!

Ok, I love Ellen Page. I’ve seen her in four movies and I liked every one of them. The most recent one I saw was a couple of weeks ago. It’s called Whip It! In this movie, she is Bliss Calendar, a 17-year old misfit in the small town of Bodeen, Texas [for those who are checking, Bodeen is a fictitious place]. She works at the local diner called The Oink Joint [complete with a giant pig on the roof]. Her best friend is Pash, who has dreams of getting out of the soul-stomping hellhole that is Bodeen by going to an Ivy League college. Her mom Brooke [Marcia Gay Harden] thinks Bliss’ ticket to a better way of life is to enter and win beauty pageants. Bliss isn’t too crazy about beauty pageants. She doesn’t know what to do with her life, but she knows she wants to get out of Bodeen in the worst way, and for her beauty pageants in definitely NOT the answer. In the opening scene we see Bliss dyeing her hair blue at one of these pageants. When she is introduced to the judges, she walks on-stage with blue hair, shocking the judges and horrifying her mother. Yes, it’s that kind of movie…

One day Bliss and Pash go on a shopping to the Austin for some retail therapy. While there they run into a bunch of women who belong to the local roller derby league. For Bliss, this is a revelation. She decides she wants to go check it out. Bliss and Pash go back to Austin to watch roller derby under the pretense of going to a football game. Bliss’ dad Earl [Daniel Stern] is cool with it. He’s a big college football fan. I think he wears a Texas Longhorns shirt in every scene he’s in, which makes sense because he seems to spend every waking moment of his life watching football on TV to get away from his overbearing wife. After seeing roller derby up close and personal, Bliss decides that roller derby is what she wants to do, even if it’s just for now. She lies about her age [needed to be 21], tries out for the “Hurl Scouts,” finds she’s the fastest skater and makes the team. She adopts the name Babe Ruthless. She fits right in with Maggie Mayhem [Kristen Wiig], Smashley Simpson [Drew Barrymore], Rosa Sparks [Eve], and Eva Destruction [Ari Graynor]. Iron Maven [Juliette Lewis] is the über-competitve leader of another team. All of these women love kicking the crap out of one another.

Roller derby is every Thursday night. In order to get out of the house, she tells her parents she enrolled in a SAT tutoring class to prepare for the exam. She doesn’t have a car, so she rides a senior citizen bus to Austin every week. She improves her game, falls for a guy in a band, learns life lessons and bonds with her new “family” of rollergirls. All the while the “Hurl Scouts” [who wear Girl Scout uniforms when they play] find out that they want to actually start winning their games. They aren’t satisfied with just kicking ass every Thursday night. They have a coach named Blaze who actually came up with a roller derby playbook. When the Hurl Scouts start running Blaze’s plays, they start winning. All is good until Pash is busted for under-age drinking at the roller derby. Pash’s parents find out, they call Bliss’ parents about it, and Bliss is busted. They aren’t quite sure if they’re more pissed because Bliss is doing the roller derby thing or because she lied to them about the SAT class. At any rate, there is a definite difference in opinion. Bliss doesn’t want her mother to cram her “1950s vision of womanhood” down her throat.

There is the inevitable championship game, which happens to be on the same day as another beauty pageant which Bliss said she’d do to get her mom off her back. Earl is sympathetic, maybe because all of his neighbors post signs of their football-playing sons in their front yards [Earl doesn’t have any sons]. Bliss’ mom is disappointed when Bliss chooses the roller derby over the beauty pageant, but she ends up going to watch Bliss at the roller derby championship anyway. Bliss redeems herself when she gives the pageant gown her mother had been slaving over to another contestant that didn’t have as pretty a gown [she ends up winning the pageant]. At the end of the movie, Earl posts a sign of his own in his yard because now his girl is a roller derby legend.

This is Drew Barrymore’s debut as a director. Ellen Page proves that her highly-acclaimed-performance in Juno was no fluke. This is a fun film to watch.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Neil Young - "Bobfest"

Way back in October 1992, a day or two before I went to Korea for a year, I saw a broadcast that celebrated Bob Dylan's 30 years as a recording artist. Everybody was invited, and everybody came. By far my favorite performance of the entire show was Neil Young's two-song set. To put this in context, he was the next act on-stage after Sinead O'Connor got booed off the Madison Square Garden stage. She ripped up a poster of the Pope on Saturday Night Live not too long before this show, and the folks in New York were still pretty bent about the whole Sinead thing. They let her know in no uncertain terms what they thought about her.

The first song NY played was Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. As always, very ragged and very Neil. Before he went into the next song, he introduced it by saying "this song's for you Bob - thanks for having Bobfest." With that, he and Booker T. & the MGs kicked off All Along the Watchtower. Only Neil Young could make the MGs sound like Crazy Horse. As usual, compared to most of the acts on the bill, Neil blew the roof off MSG. If you ever wonder what Stephen Stills meant by describing Neil's playing as the "spear in the back dance," you'll see plenty of evidence here. As one can surmise, I can never get too much Neil. Eric Clapton soon followed with a fiery rendition of Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, but it wasn't nearly as intense as Neil's performance.