Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bob Dylan - July 27, 2011 - Pensacola

A couple of months ago Carol told me Bob Dylan was going to play a show in Pensacola.  She asked me “wanna go”?  I didn’t expect that from her since she’s not a fan of his singing.  She knew I’d jump at the chance, so naturally I said “yes!”  Then she told me she wanted to see him when she was 19 or 20, years before I met her.  But her dad wouldn’t let her go, even though the show was in Fort Collins.  She must have gotten in trouble or something, so she never got to go.  So here we are, more than 30 years later, and Carol finally got to see Bob Dylan.

Here’s the deal with Dylan.  Some of his songs are now over 50 years old.  The most popular songs in his catalog are almost as old.  If you were a working musician and had to play those songs night after night for that that long, you’d get sick of them.  You wouldn’t want to play them anymore.  So if you want to keep it fresh, you change things up a bit.  That’s what real musicians do.  What you hear on the record is the version that Dylan liked at that time, but times change, and minds change along with the times.  In Dylan’s case, he changes his songs a lot.  The lyrics don’t change, but the arrangements do.  If you want to hear Dylan’s songs exactly the way they sounded when they were released, save your money, stay at home and listen to the albums.  For me, it’s a fun challenge to play “Name That Tune” when it comes to hearing Dylan play live.  That’s my expectation when I go see him in concert.  If a song sounds like it did on the original album, then I’m disappointed.  That’s the appeal of his Bootleg Series, especially Volumes 7 & 8.  You get to hear different versions of songs you thought couldn’t be heard in any other way.  Case in point:  the song Mississippi from “Love And Theft.”  I have three recorded versions of that song in my collection, and what I heard live didn’t sound like any of them.  It took me awhile before the light bulb came on and I realized “hey, that’s Mississippi.”

How was the show?  Fabulous!  Dylan looked he was having fun, and he knew he had his audience in the palm of his hand.  So enamored were some of his fans that if he blew a harp solo with his ass instead of his lips, they would have loved it.  Of course, I would have laugh hysterically because I got the joke.  Dylan opened his past few shows with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, he’s opened others with Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.  I was hoping for the latter, and my wish was granted.  Little did I know that he’d play some of my other favorites as well [Tangled Up In Blue, Things Have Changed, High Water [For Charley Patton], Highway 61 Revisited, Ballad of a Thin Man].  Dylan has an excellent band.  Such is the nature of Dylan’s changing music that all band members’ eyes were on him for cues.  But they navigated all the twists and turns of the music effortlessly.  At least they made it look easy.  These guys are very, very good.

There were 11 rows of seats between us and Dylan.  Yes, we had good seats.  No backup dancers were harmed in the presentation of this show [because there WEREN’T any!].  But there were quite a few Grateful Dead twirler wannabees in the crowd who nearly killed themselves because they were too trashed to stay on their feet.  One of them almost passed out on Carol’s lap [no, it wasn’t me…].  But luckily she left her seat before the show ended.  We did see her and her significant other in the lobby as we were leaving.  They both looked pretty rough.  After all these years, I still don’t get why people go out of their way to get so blotto at a concert they can barely stand.  I want to remember the shows I attend, especially at $65 a pop.

Band Members
Bob Dylan – guitar (G), keyboard (K), harp (H)
Tony Garnier - bass
George Recile - drums
Stu Kimball - rhythm guitar
Charlie Sexton - lead guitar
Donnie Herron - violin, banjo, electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel

The setlist:
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (K) / It Ain’t Me, Babe (K) / Things Have Changed (H) / Tangled Up In Blue (H) / Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ (G) / Mississippi (K) / High Water [For Charley Patton] (H) / Simple Twist of Fate (G) / Highway 61 Revisited (K) / Forgetful Heart (H) / Thunder on the Mountain (K) / Ballad of a Thin Man (H)

Like a Rolling Stone (K)
All Along the Watchtower (K)

2nd Encore:
Blowin’ in the Wind (K)

The opening act was Leon Russell.  Dylan gave him 45 minutes, and it was an enjoyable 45 minutes.  These days Leon is looking like an older version of Dusty Hill from ZZ Top [long white hair, long white pointed beard, big black shades and a white Stetson hat], and he’s singing like Willie Nelson.  But his playing is still spot-on, and he has a solid band traveling with him.  I recognized most of the songs [Delta Lady, Sweet Little Angel, Hummingbird, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Wild Horses].  Sorry Leon fans – no Jumpin’ Jack Flash.  There were only a couple of songs I didn’t know, but that’s ok.  Leon still plays a good show.

Would I go see Bob Dylan again?  Damn right I would!  Thanks for the great idea, honey!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

We're Soundgarden - and We're Back!

Carol and I hadn’t been to a concert since our son Mark was born in 1999. Then one day I saw that Soundgarden was going to play a show at Red Rocks in July. I hadn’t been on a vacation in over three years, there was some downtime on my job, so it was time. I asked the wife “wanna see Soundgarden?” She didn’t say no, especially after I added the bit about the show being at Red Rocks in her home state.  We were way overdue to see a live show.

We got to Red Rocks about an hour and a half before showtime. After we parked the car and started walking toward the amphitheatre, we both realized we’ve been “flatlanders” for too long. So then we climbed these long steps up to the amphitheatre [and that was just to get in the place]. We both thought we needed oxygen by this time. Then we encountered the next set of steps to get to our seats. If you’ve ever seen Eisenstein’s silent movie Battleship Potempkin, you’ll recall there’s a hill with lots of steps that seems to go up forever. That’s what Red Rocks looked like to us, but we finally made it to our seats about 2/3 of the way up. Any seat in the house is good, and this show was no different.

The opening band was The Mars Volta. I’m not sure if I can say anything nice about what I heard from them. If you like them, more power to you. They did nothing for me. I’ve seen a lot of crappy bands open for bands I’ve paid to see. The Mars Volta is now one of them. Granted, I’m not a fan of theirs, I couldn’t name a single song of theirs. They just sounded terrible. The vocalist sounded like a cross-between of Perry Ferrell and 1970s-era Geddy Lee, and that’s not a compliment. Their forty-five minute set felt like it went on twice as long.

After The Mars Volta left the stage, an older woman with her 41-year old son showed up and sat next to us. She asked how the opening band was, and we told her what we thought. She said she was glad not to be sitting next to some 17-year old. I promised her we wouldn’t blow any pot smoke in her face because we don’t do that sort of thing. She asked us if we liked Soundgarden, we told her we did. She asked if it was ‘heavy metal’ and Carol told her ‘not really but it’ll probably sound that way to you.’ She was a great sport about it. I’m not sure I could sit through a two-hour show of a band whose music I never heard. One funny thing about her – there was a guy who was probably a little younger than us who was hitting on her. She was a bit creeped out, but he didn’t persist, especially after her son came back with some water.

A lot of people at the show did light up, and a lot more people got trashed on alcohol. There was a girl behind us who passed out about three songs into Soundgarden’s set, but she recovered to watch the rest of the show. I was just glad that we didn’t get high from all the second-hand smoke from everyone around us. Chris Cornell even made mention of the smoke from the stage. He said something about there being a contest the band has to see which tour stop has the most potent pot, but that the altitude at the Rocks and its lack of oxygen might make it seem stronger. He also advised the crowd to smoke what they’ve got so they wouldn’t get busted with it later. Everybody laughed at that.  He commented on Red Rocks awesome scenery:  "We played here before, and maybe a little bit was lost on us," he said. "It's f---ing amazing."  Indeed it is.  

Being back at Red Rocks to see a show 26 years after the last time [Eric Clapton – July 1985] was a wonderful experience. We arrived in daylight and were captivated by all that surrounded us. We never tire of seeing the beautiful scenery around the park. We were seated far enough above the stage where you can see the lights of Denver. There are a whole lot more now than there were 26 years ago. It also helped that the weather cooperated. I felt a grand total of three rain drops. I’ve been rained on at the Rocks before, but not so tonight so all was well with the universe. One thing that Carol noticed was that as the show progressed, everyone who had an iPod updated their playlists so they could listen to the show all over again on the ride home. Such is the time we live in. The last time we went to a concert [January 1999], the iPod was not even a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eyes.

Soundgarden’s set was outstanding – it was everything I hoped it would be. After the opening two numbers [Searching With My Good Eye Closed and Spoonman] Chris Cornell declared "We're Soundgarden, and we're back." Then he commented about Red Rocks’ legendary acoustics - "This big rock over here and this one over there," he said, referencing the two giant stones that flank the seating area, "it acts like a speaker, funnels down to my head. It's trippy." Then they launched into Let Me Drown. When I heard Chris Cornell do the same scream in the middle of the song that he did on the original recording, I knew that it was “game on.” This band was definitely “on.” I have a copy of their Live on I-5 album, and they sounded better during this show than they did on the album. I don’t say that just because I was there – Chris had trouble hitting the notes on the album. He had no such difficulty this time. I don’t know how he does it night after night, or how he even has a voice after a two-hour show. Chris Cornell’s voice is a freak of nature, but in a good way. After Let Me Drown Matt Cameron began the familiar drums of Jesus Christ Pose, which surprised me because I thought they would save it for the encore. But no matter – it was spellbinding, especially when you see 9,400 people striking the same “Jesus Christ Pose” as Chris Cornell. The crowd [and the band] got a chance to catch their breaths as the band went into Blow Up the Outside World. The cool thing about the song – the whole crowd [including yours truly] did the long “Blow up the Outside” fade for Chris. I don’t usually go for singalongs, but this was pretty cool. The biggest surprise of the evening: Mailman. I totally did not expect that one. Another surprise:  hearing Chris sing bits of Zeppelin's In My Time of Dying during Slaves & Bulldozers.  They played nine of Superunknown’s thirteen songs, six songs from Badmotorfinger, and they also went all the way back with Nothing to Say from their first EP for Sub Pop. Beyond the Wheel was otherworldly.

As for the rest of the band, they were simply amazing. Matt Cameron is a drumming machine, and I mean that in a good way. The man drums like he’s got eight arms instead of two, and he’s perfect. Pearl Jam needs to be careful. If Soundgarden decides they want to step up their pace of recording and touring, they’ll want him back full-time. There were times I thought Ben Shepard’s bass would cause an avalanche. And what can I say about Kim Thayil? If you took a rhino and fed it through stacks of Marshall amps, I think you might get the idea of Kim’s sound. It was quite the audio onslaught. The attack on our senses was complete when, at the end of the final encore song [Slaves & Bulldozers] both Ben and Kim faces their amps and unleashed a humungous torrent of feedback that lasted about five minutes.

The setlist:

Searching With My Good Eye Closed / Spoonman / Let Me Drown / Jesus Christ Pose / Blow Up the Outside World / The Day I Tried to Live / My Wave / Fell On Black Days / Ugly Truth / Big Dumb Sex / Outshined / Nothing To Say / Rusty Cage / Black Hole Sun / Burden In My Hand / Pretty Noose / Superunknown / 4th of July / Beyond the Wheel Encore: Hunted Down / Face Pollution / Mailman / Slaves & Bulldozers

As far as setlists go, I thought it was perfect. I heard everything I wanted to hear. That doesn’t happen too often. How loud was it? I saw The Who in 1982 and Deep Purple in 1985. The Soundgarden show was louder. The winner [and still heavyweight champ] is Dio’s version of Black Sabbath. We saw them in 1992 at Constitution Hall in Washington DC and we heard crickets for three days. Soundgarden wasn’t that loud, but it was close. I think I lost some hearing, but it was worth it. With the passing of Ronnie James Dio, Chris Cornell is now my favorite living hard rock/metal/grunge vocalist. As for Soundgarden, I now have a band I would walk barefoot on broken glass to see again. If you have the opportunity, this show is a must see. Oh, and don’t forget your earplugs – you’ll need them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Allman Brothers Band - Hittin' the Note

After Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the Allman Brothers to concentrate full-time on Gov’t Mule, things got confused for the Allman Brothers.  They got Jack Pearson to replace Warren and Otiel Burbridge to replace Allen Woody.  This line-up lasted for a couple of years, and then Jack Pearson had to bow out.  He was replaced by Derek Trucks, Butch’s nephew who is a slide guitar savant who channels Duane Allman.  Then things got vey confused.  After a tour in the spring of 2000, Gregg, Butch and Jaimoe informed Dickey that his services would not be required for touring that summer.  Dickey drank a lot, his playing got sloppy, and he was not easy to get along with.  They told Dickey to take some time off to get help for his addictions and he could rejoin them when he got better.  Dickey didn’t see it that way, and the temporary separation became a divorce when Dickey sued the other three.  With Dickey gone, the Brothers got Jimmy Herring to take his place.  Jimmy toured with the Brothers that summer, but when the Brothers offered him a permanent slot in the band, Jimmy declined.

During all this time, Gov’t Mule was doing fairly well.  They made three studio records [Gov’t Mule, Dose, Life Before Insanity], two live albums [Live at the Roseland Ballroom, Live…With a Little Help From Out Friends], and toured a lot.  Warren Haynes teamed up with Jimmy Herring and toured a lot with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh in the group Phil Lesh & Friends.  Then tragedy struck – Allen Woody died in a New York hotel in August 2000.  The cause of death was never released.  Gov’t Mule were without a bass player.  The Allman Brothers were down a guitar player.  Guess who Butch called?  Yup – Warren Haynes.  Warren rejoined the band to play the Beacon run as a guest to see how things were since he left in 1997.  He liked what he saw and rejoined permanently.  Warren and Gregg wrote a bunch of new songs and hit the road.  These new songs, with a few older songs, became the album we now know as Hittin’ the Note.  The title comes from Berry Oakley.  It was his description of how the band played in the old days when they were all “on.”  This is the first album to feature both Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, and also the first without Dickey Betts.

Worried Down With the Blues – A dry-run for Hittin’ the Note written by Allen Woody and Warren Haynes, this song was in Allman Brothers setlists as far back as 1996.  On The Deep End Volume 1 [2001], Warren gives us a preview of what the Allman Brothers sounds like with Derek Trucks.  Derek, Otiel Burbridge (bass) and Gregg Allman (Hammond B-3, vocals) all guest on this cut, with Gregg taking the vocals on the second verse.  Gregg steals the show.  The Allman Brothers later added this song to their canon by recording it for the live One Way Out album.   

And now for Hittin’ the Note

Firing Line –The opening salvo on Hittin’ the Note, the band bursts out of the gate with all guns blazing.  Warren and Derek both play slide.   Gregg is in fine vocal form.  Gregg Allman, of all people, advises a younger person to clean up his act.  Gregg’s been clean and sober since 1996.  Change your life’s direction, get off the firing line… 

High Cost of Low Living – this one continues the theme from Firing LineYou been chasing each dream with whiskey, from here to Tokyo, using up all your real friends with places left to go…  Given the band’s nasty divorce from Dickey Betts, is Gregg singing to his former partner in crime here?  The high cost of low living is bound to put you six feet in the ground… Great interplay between Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes.

Desdemona – a nine-minute minor chord blues that has shades of Gregg’s Queen of Hearts with the ¾ time signature.  This is blues with a jazz twist.  Warren and Derek make a great guitar tandem.  Tempo changes in mid-song just like in the old days.  Gregg shows why he’s one of the finest blues singers of this or any other time.  I make my livin’ pouring out my pain, tryin’ to make it through another day…My soul’s is empty as the sky…

Woman Across the River – a cover of a Freddie King song sung by Warren.  I can take it or leave it, but it’s ok.

Old Before My Time – this is the most emotionally intense song, both lyrically and musically, on Hittin’ the Note.  This is the Gregg Allman story told in five minutes, and told very well.  Warren’s slide solo almost sounds like his guitar is crying. Given that Gregg didn’t like Dickey Betts’ country leanings, its ironic this song sounds almost country-ish.  This is the best song on the album, and with all the high quality songs on Hittin’ the Note, that’s an accomplishment!  On par with Melissa from Eat a Peach – that’s how good Old Before My Time is.

Who to Believe – this is sort of an update to Whipping Post, only Gregg doesn’t feel like dying.  The usual themes of “are you cheating or not?”

Maydell – the shortest song on Hittin’ the Note at 4:35, this one is a Warren Haynes/Johnny Neel leftover from Seven Turns. Not bad, but not essential either.

Heart of Stone – the Allman Brothers cover the Rolling Stones.  This was in their setlists during the spring tour in 1995.  Very bluesy.  Mick and Keith would be proud.

Rockin’ Horse – this is the same song that didn’t make it onto Where It All Begins and done by Gov’t Mule on their eponymous debut.  Here it’s given the Allman Brothers treatment with one organ, two guitarists, and three drummers.   It’s about twice as long as the Gov’t Mule original.

Instrumental Illness – this is the first instrumental to appear on an Allman Brothers album not written by Dickey Betts.  Co-written by Warren and bassist Otiel Burbridge, this twelve-minute excursion is very jazzy in the same vein as Kind of Bird from Shades of Two Worlds.

Old Friend – I first heard this song when Chris Anderson opened for the Allman Brothers at the Classic Amphitheatre in Richmond, VA.  Matt Abts [Gov’t Mule] was his drummer, and Warren joined him on-stage to play this song.  Co-written with Warren, this appeared on Anderson’s Old Friend album, on which Warren also played.  On Hittin’ the Note, Warren and Derek play it as an old-time acoustic blues.  This is the only Allman Brothers song to not feature an original member.

To date, Hittin’ the Note has been the last studio album from the Allman Brothers.  Will they make another one?  They are not signed to any record label.  Warren has Gov’t Mule and is touring this year behind a soul album recorded under his own name [Man in Motion].  Derek Trucks has a new band with his wife, Susan Tedeschi.  They have a new album out titled Revelator.  Gregg Allman is touring behind his first solo album in 14 years [Low Country Blues].  Right now the Allman Brothers Band is the side project for these guys.  As of now they are content to play shows every summer, all of which they record and release to the public.  I hope they record something new, but I don’t see it happening.

What do I think of Hittin’ the Note?  It’s their best album since Brothers and Sisters [1973].  Given that the three albums they recorded for Epic [Seven Turns, Shades of Two Worlds, Where It All Begins] were all of high quality, that’s a bold statement, but the music backs up that statement.  If this is to be their last album, it’s the best way to call it a career.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Manuel Galbán - RIP

Manuel Galbán passed away last week at the age of 80, the victim of a heart attack.  Who was this guy?  He was an outstanding guitar player from Cuba.  His first claim to fame was as the musical director of the Cuban vocal group Los Zafiros, which combined traditional filín movement with other music styles such as bolero, doo-wop, calypso music, bossa nova and rock.  He had a distinctive, twangy style that made him sound at times like Duane Eddy.  One writer from No Depression described Galbán as “a big man with thick hands who uses guitar strings heavy enough to tether a boat in a storm.” He learned to play on the traditional, three-stringed tres [that unique-sounding instrument Jorge Calderón plays on Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart], and you can hear that in his bright, rhythmic runs on the electric guitar.  His axe of choice was the Fender Telecaster.  

Not only did he play guitar, but he was a pretty good pianist too.  But most people associate Manuel Galbán with the Buena Vista Social Club.   Many obituaries claimed he was part of the Buena Vista Social Club, but he was not [I have their album – he’s not on it].  However, he did play with many of the musicians who did participate in that project, and recorded with two of the vocalists, Ibrahim Ferrer [Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer, Buenos Hermanos, Mi Sueño] and Omara Portuondo [Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo].  In 1998, Galbán toured and recorded with the traditional Cuban group Vieja Trova Santiaguera [note to self – must get that CD].  He can also be heard on solo albums by Buena Vista's virtuoso bass player Orlando “Cachaíto” Lopez [Cachaíto , 2001], and the trumpeter Manuel "Guajiro" Mirabel [Buena Vista Social Club Presents, 2004].

Ry Cooder produced Buena Vista Social Club [1997], and while working with the aforementioned vocalists he decided he had to include Manuel Galbán. In an interview with Cuba’s Granma newspaper, he said:

“My arrival in Buena Vista Social Club is owed to Ry Cooder’s surprise at the way I play guitar, very similar to the legendary guitarist Duane Eddy. So Ry said, "Find Galbán," he called me the "guitar wizard," gave me a Fender guitar and asked me to do a recording with him.”

In that same interview, Galbán described his playing:
I combine fast passages with arpeggios, while making appropriate use of the bass strings, in that way I give the sensation that more than one musician is playing. I set about synchronizing and fading the strings with the other hand, a trick that I learned backing Kike’s singing in Los Zafiros.
After recording with Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Fortuondo and Vieja Trova Santiaguera, he recorded a duo album with Ry Cooder, titled Mambo Sinuendo.  How does one tell the difference between the tones of Manuel Galbán and Ry Cooder?  Galbán’s tone sounds like “Cuban surf music.”  It’s an excellent album. The Grammy® folks liked it too.  Mambo Sinuendo earned the award for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2004. I picked it up shortly after I bought Ry Cooder’s Chávez Ravine.   According to Ry Cooder when asked about the making of Mambo Sinuendo:
Galbán and I felt that there was a sound that had not been explored a Cuban electric-guitar band that could re-interpret the atmosphere of the 1950s with beauty, agility, and simplicity. We decided on two electrics, two drum sets, congas and bass: a sexteto that could swing like a big band and penetrate the mysteries of the classic tunes. This music is powerful, lyrical, and funny; what more could you ask? Mambo Sinuendo is Cuban soul and high-performance.
Both Cooder and Galbán created a sound that evokes old-tech, pre-Castro Cuba of the 1950s.  One of the songs [Los Twangueros] is a tip of the hat to Galbán’s twangy sound.  Galbán's guitar duets with Cooder were matched against two drum sets, congas and bass from Lopez, and even a burst of trumpet from Herb Alpert.   The leadoff track [Drume Negrita] is the one I like best.  The last is a delicate electric guitar duet on the Doris Day song Secret Love.  It’s all good – get it!

What a shame people my age didn’t get to hear Galbán’s work earlier.  RIP.

Drume Negrita

Los Twangueros

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tony's Picks - Lynyrd Skynyrd

I’ve been listening to the original band quite a bit lately. The challenge – create a Lynyrd Skynyrd CD that doesn’t have the songs Freebird or Sweet Home Alabama. Yes – I still do CDs. My car is “old” and doesn’t have an auxiliary jack to plug in my iPod. So if I want to hear music I like without having to wade through and suffer the copious amounts of crap that is on today’s radio, I make my own CDs. While I still like Freebird every now and then, radio killed it. I listen to it every now and then, but then it goes back into the archives to wait a long time before I want to hear it again. Not only did radio kill Sweet Home Alabama, so too did KFC. I can go the rest of my life, never hear that song again and be happy. A good song yes, but it’s dead to me. When Warren Zevon makes fun of it [Sweet Home Alabama, play that dead band’s song, turn those speakers up full blast, play it all night long…], it’s time for it to retire. 

I’m partial to Skynyrd’s songs that came after the Second Helping album, but there are some exceptions. So you won’t find Curtis Leow or Workin’ for MCA on this list, as fine as those songs are.

T for Texas [Blue Yodel No. 1] [One More From the Road, 1976] – Live Skynyrd at its best on this old Jimmie Rodgers song. Listen closely and you’ll hear bassist Leon Wilkeson play the same bass lines note-for-note that Berry Oakley played on the Allman Brothers’ take on One Way Out from Eat a Peach. Guitarists Gary Rossington and Steve Gaines are in fine form. Blistering!

That Smell [Street Survivors, 1977] – classic rock radio has tried its best to kill this song. Allen Collins and Gary Rossington kept drinking too much, doing too many drugs, and getting behind the wheel of a car, so Ronnie Van Zant wrote this song. This was not the first time RVZ wrote about drugs.

Saturday Night Special [Nuthin’ Fancy, 1975] – who knew Ronnie Van Zant was an advocate of gun control?

Gimme Back My Bullets [Gimme Back My Bullets, 1976] – the title song from an unfairly-maligned album. It’s not about guns as the title might suggest.

Roll Gypsy Roll [Gimme Back My Bullets, 1976] – unique in the Lynyrd Skynyrd canon because it is the only time you hear a twelve-string acoustic guitar [courtesy of Allen Collins] on a record from the original band. This is one of many “road” songs from RVZ.

Searching [Gimme Back My Bullets, 1976] – RVZ seeks wisdom from a wise man.

Travelin’ Man [One More From the Road, 1976] – Leon Wilkeson came up with a cool bass riff, and RVZ wrote a song around it.

Whiskey Rock-A Roller [One More From the Road, 1976] – the studio version is originally from Nuthin’ Fancy. RVZ said “Had a old stupid writer on time ask me, said ‘what are you man?’ said ‘what are you really, you know?’ So I decided to write a song, really, this is what I am…” I like this version better.

Double Trouble [Gimme Back My Bullets, 1976] – RVZ spinning about the number of times he’s been to jail. During one such night in jail, he and Gary Rossington compared notes on how many times each had been thrown in jail for whatever reason. RVZ had been to jail twice as many times as Gary, hence the title. RVZ got busted again after the album’s release, and he called producer Tom Dowd in a panic to tell him that Double Trouble was outdated because he’d been busted again.

On the Hunt [Nuthin’ Fancy, 1975] – RVZ looking for women, he’s “on the hunt.”

Cheatin’ Woman [Nuthin’ Fancy, 1975] – BB King once asked the musical question “how blue can you get?” This song, the subject of which is pretty obvious, shows Skynyrd how blue they can get. Check out Ed King on slide guitar.

The Needle and the Spoon [Second Helping, 1974] – this is the song that hooked me on Lynyrd Skynyrd. This cautionary tale about drug abuse predates That Smell by three years.

Simple Man [Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd, 1973] – a mother’s advice to her son. A great song – check out Ed King on bass. The Scorpions made a song years later called Always Somewhere [Lovedrive, 1979] that sounds a lot like Simple Man.
Simple Man [Lynyrd Skynyrd]
Always Somewhere [The Scorpions]

Comin’ Home [Skynyrd’s First…and Last, 1978] – this one is from sessions the band did in the early 1970s with producer Jimmy Johnson in Muscle Shoals. Billy Powell plays it pretty. Guitar overdubs from Ed King came years after the original recording.

One More Time [Street Survivors, 1977] – though this appeared on Street Survivors, this song has the same vintage as Comin’ Home. The only Street Survivors cut to feature Ed King.

I Know a Little [Street Survivors, 1977] – Steve Gaines makes his presence know in a big way on this song.  Billy Powell does, too. :-)

Georgia Peaches [Street Survivors Deluxe Edition, 2008] – this one is an outtake from the original Street Survivors sessions. It’s RVZ’s appreciation of the ladies of Atlanta, Georgia.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bruce Dickinson - The Chemical Wedding

In the early 1990s [around 1992], Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson was having a crisis. He had much success as Maiden’s singer, but in his heart he wasn’t sure if he really deserved the success. The only way he would know for sure was to leave Iron Maiden. This he did after one last concert with the band in August 1993. He recorded an album with producer Keith Olsen but was unsatisfied with the results. He heard a band from Los Angeles called the Tribe of Gypsies, whose lead guitarist and producer was a guy named Roy Z. Having heard these guys play, Bruce loved what he heard and wanted to work with them, especially Roy Z. So with Roy Z, Bruce started anew on more material. The result was the album Balls to Picasso. Some people like it, some didn’t [I’m one of those who did]. When it came time to do another album, the Tribe of Gypsies had moved on with their own career, so Bruce decided he would form a his own band. He called this band Skunkworks. The idea was submerge his identity within a band, much like David Bowie had with Tin Machine. According to Bruce, the Skunkworks idea worked as well as Tin Machine, which is to say it didn’t work very well. He liked the album they created together [also titled Skunkworks], but he was in a small minority.
By this time Roy Z and the Tribe of Gypsies were released from their record deal, free to make music with whomever they chose. Roy Z asked Bruce if he wanted to make a heavy metal record. Bruce wasn’t sure if anyone was interested in anything he did anymore, but once he heard one of Roy Z’s backing tracks over the phone, Bruce made up his mind. Not only did Bruce make an album with Roy Z, he asked Adrian Smith [who left Iron Maiden himself in 1990] to come along for the ride. Expecting this to be the last record he would make, Accident of Death turned out to be an astonishing return to form for Bruce Dickinson. It was Bruce Dickinson doing what he did best – sing heavy metal with a heavy metal band. This brings us to the follow-up, and the subject of this blog – The Chemical Wedding.
Bruce wanted a loose concept for The Chemical Wedding, and he came up with subject matter one wouldn’t expect from a heavy metal album – occult science, alchemy and the art and poetry of William Blake. The cover of The Chemical Wedding is Blake’s painting The Ghost of a Flea. In between some of the songs, Arthur Brown reads excerpts of Blake’s poetry. Some of the songs from this album can be traced back to Blake’s work – The Book of Thel, The Gates of Urizen, and Jerusalem. Satan figures prominently in couple of songs [King in Crimson, Killing Floor]. The alchemy bit comes in with the title song and The Alchemist. My personal choice from this album would be The Tower. Blake was an advocate of free love during his time. I suspect this song was influenced by that somewhat. One of the bonus tracks [Confeos] sounds like Deep Purple. Bruce once described the vocals of another bonus track [Real World] as sounding like someone bit down on one of his nuts because the vocals were vari-sped too high. I think it’s a cool guitar track with pretty good vocals. The sounds on this album are pretty dark and gloomy, thanks to Adrian Smith and Roy Z re-stringing their guitars with bass strings [I bet their fingers hurt a lot!]. They make a formidable guitar tandem. Until I bought Bruce’s solo albums, Roy Z had been an unknown quantity to me. But now that I’ve heard him play, he reminds me a lot of Michael Schenker. Adrian Smith was always my favorite guitarist in Iron Maiden, and his playing here reinforces that sentiment. He still plays lots of rhythm but he gets to do his fair share of shredding. The rhythm section of bassist Eddie Casillas and drummer David Ingraham are rock solid. Bruce returns to his “human air raid siren” voice that he abandoned on the last two albums he made with Iron Maiden, No Rest for the Dying and Fear of the Dark. But ultimately, this albums rock very hard. Bruce once said the following:
“I have a simple rule. I ask myself ‘does it rock?’ And if it does, who gives a shit what it’s about? All the information’s there if people choose to dig for it. And if they don’t then it doesn’t matter, as long as they enjoy it. The point is – this album rocks like a bastard.”
Indeed it does. In my feeble mind, I think the concept of The Chemical Wedding, and Accident of Birth before it, is a very simple one. The concept as I see it – “out-Maiden” Iron Maiden. When Bruce left Iron Maiden, Steve Harris was quoted as saying that Bruce would put out a country & western album if he thought it would sell. So I believe Bruce was inspired to one-up Steve Harris. I have the two albums Iron Maiden made with Bruce’s replacement Blaze Bayley, The X Factor and Virtual XI. Maiden’s performances on those albums sound subdued, lackluster. There’s nothing about either album that is memorable. Some of the songs are very repetitive and, dare I say, boring. If you compare Accident of Birth and The Chemical Wedding with The X Factor and Virtual XI, Bruce’s albums are superior in every way – musically, lyrically, songwriting, energy, singing and production. Bruce blows Maiden out of the water.
With these two albums, Bruce Dickinson earned the success he was seeking that prompted him to leave Iron Maiden. It was somewhat surprising to learn in 1999 that both he and Adrian Smith would permanently rejoin Iron Maiden. But in retrospect, in looking at what Bruce did immediately prior to his rejoining Maiden, I think Bruce proved a point that he could be successful with or without Maiden, and that he was in a pretty good position to have greater input as a songwriter into Iron Maiden’s future work. That may not have been explicitly said, but in looking at what has come from Maiden since the reformation [Brave New World, Dance of Death, A Matter of Life and Death, The Final Frontier], Steve Harris’ stranglehold on songwriting has been somewhat relaxed. All the band members have more input to the music. I think The Chemical Wedding may have had some effect on that state of affairs, and that’s a good thing. I don’t have any proof one way or another – it’s just one pinhead’s point of view. One thing is certain - The Chemical Wedding is an outstanding album. Whether or not you’re an Iron Maiden fan, this album is well worth having. It is a great metal album.
The Tower
The Book of Thel
Gates of Urizen
Real World [Bonus Track]