Saturday, January 30, 2016

Glenn Frey - RIP

This one was hard to write.  I am conflicted.  I don’t care for The Eagles.  The biggest reason for my antipathy is because they remind me of someone I would prefer to forget.  Another reason is Don Henley, the smug, sanctimonious holier-than-thou drummer-turned-frontman.  I dislike everything about him, most especially his vocals.  They are nails on a chalkboard to me.  A long time ago Mojo Nixon did a song about him called Don Henley Must Die.  He hit the nail on the proverbial head.  But to give the Devil his due, Henley actually had the balls to get up onstage at a Mojo Nixon concert in Austin and sang the song with him.  But enough about Don Henley…

But I come not to slam Don Henley [much], but to praise his musical partner, Glenn Frey. This is the source of the conflict - while I don’t care for most of the Eagles’ music, I have always liked Glenn Frey.  He had the best voice in the Eagles.  He didn’t sing lead very often.  He should have – the Eagles’ songs that I do like were sung by him.  He wasn’t a powerhouse singer – for the most part he sang the country-ish ballads.  He was an adept vocal arranger.  According to Henley, “we gave Glenn a nickname, the Lone Arranger.  He had a vision about how our voices could blend and how to arrange the vocals, and, in many cases, the tracks. He also had a knack for remembering and choosing good songs.”   Here I must give credit where it is due – The Last Resort, the last song on Hotel California, is a masterpiece.  Even though Henley sings it, it’s probably the best thing the Eagles ever did.  It was an epic story lamenting man’s ability to destroy his own environment.  Henley had the lyrics and basic chord progressions, and Frey filled in the rest, including the theme of the song and the arrangement.  Frey’s piano and Don Felder’s steel guitar are magical touches.

Showtime did a documentary about the Eagles – History of the Eagles.  When it came out a couple of years ago I wouldn’t watch it.  But last week was an encore presentation.  So I did something I thought I wouldn’t do – I watched it…and I didn’t puke.  I rediscovered what I liked about them when they got a lot of airplay in my house when I was a teenager.

What are those Eagles songs that I like?
Tequila Sunrise [Desperado, 1973] – This is one of the first songs I learned to play. 

Desperado [Desperado, 1973] – Original lead vocals by Don Henley.  This is the first song Henley and Frey wrote together.  Frey should have sung it on the album.  Frey did this one on his Glenn Frey Live album from 1993.

Ol’ 55 [On The Border, 1974] – Written by Tom Waits.  This duet with Henley is perfect for Frey’s voice.  That’s Al Perkins from Stephen Stills’ Manassas on steel guitar.

Lyin’ Eyes [One of These Nights, 1975] – What is understood need not be discussed.  The vocals are perfect.

Outlaw Man [Desperado, 1973] – Lead vocals by Glenn Frey.  Lead guitar and electric piano also by Glenn Frey.  With guitarists like Bernie Leadon, Joe Walsh and Don Felder in the band, Glenn Frey was the invisible guitarist.  Here he shows he can play a pretty solid lead guitar.

After the Thrill Is Gone [One of These Nights, 1975] – This is a Frey/Henley duet.  It’s a good song – shut up!

Heartache Tonight [The Long Run, 1979] – There’s nothing deep here.  Joe Walsh’s slide guitar is perfection. 

New Kid in Town [Hotel California, 1976] – see my comments about Lyin’ Eyes.

King of Hollywood [The Long Run, 1979] – Henley and Frey are singing the lead.  This tale of the decadence of Hollywood bosses is as dark as the Eagles would get.   Each of the three guitarists [Frey, Don Felder, Joe Walsh] gets a solo.

The Last Resort [Hotel California, 1976] – See my comments above.

What about those solo years?
If the Eagles years were an exercise in “country rock,” then Glenn Frey’s solo years had a more R&B/soul flavor.  No Fun Aloud [1982] was his first post-Eagles album.  Some of the songs sounded like they would be at home on the Eagles’ The Long Run.  The songs vary in styles.  All Those Lies and That Girl were recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and it sounds like it – this is a good thing.  She Can’t Let Go has a Spanish feel to it [GF even plays the guitarron].  But the two singles, I Found Somebody and The One You Love, are a departure in soul territory.  Instead of the guitar, the saxophone is the lead instrument.  Both of these songs point the direction that’s to come.  If you can find the album, get it.  The Allnighter came next [1984].  It sounds like a mid-1980s production, for better or worse.  The hits were Sexy Girl and Smuggler’s BluesSexy Girl comes dangerously close to Hall & Oates territory.  But Smuggler’s Blues heads back to rock and roll territory.  There was a pretty good video that came with it.  Miami Vice was very good to Glenn Frey.  Smuggler’s Blues inspired an entire episode.  You Belong to the City appeared on the soundtrack.  The sax was the hook, but the vocals are some of the best he’s done.  It’s a damn fine song.  Soul Searchin’ came in 1988.  While Don Henley was going for cheesy synthesizers and drum machines on Building the Perfect Beast, Glenn Frey went the other way with real horns and female soul singers.  Soul Searchin’ boasts some good songs [Soul Searchin’, True Love, Some Kind of Blue], but the production sounds extremely dated [those dreaded 1980s again].  Strange Weather [1992] didn’t chart, which is odd because it’s better than the two albums that came before it.  The songs were better, the production was better, Glenn Frey’s singing was till top-notch.  This one’s another one I recommend.  After Hours [2012] was a recording of American standards with one original song [the title track].  I can’t comment on it because I haven’t heard it.

The Eagles Reunion.  Hell indeed froze over when the band decided to get back together in 1994.  The one new song that Glenn Frey sang [The Girl From Yesterday] is a straight up country tune.  As for The Long Road Out of Eden [2007], I have three songs, all sung by Glenn Frey which I checked out after his death.  How Long is a J.D. Souther song they often played live in the early 1970s.  It was a hit on country radio.  No More Cloudy Days is hard to classify.  I think it has the dreaded “adult contemporary” tag.  The most interesting one is the last song on the album – It’s Your World Now.  This one is definitely a country song that has a mariachi feel.  This valedictory is the keeper.

Glenn Frey has been called a lot of things – driven, a perfectionist, a hard worker, corporate, a jerk.  They may have all been true, but in the end it’s the work by which he’ll be judged.  I was reviewing something a wrote about Joe Walsh about four years ago.  When it was time for the Eagles to reunite in 1994, Glenn Frey decreed that if anyone was going to be in the band, they had to be sober.  It was Frey’s kick in the ass that got Joe Walsh sober.  The music listening public can be forever grateful for that.  I may not like the Eagles as a band, but I do like the songs Glenn Frey sang in that band.  Maybe as I age more my feelings toward that particular band may mellow and I’ll appreciate the entire body of work.  For now I’ll content myself with those songs he sang.  This new year has been hell on music legends.  First Lemmy Kilmister, then David Bowie, and now Glenn Frey.  Frey’s passing is the most surprising as I didn’t know he was sick like the other two.  I saw a film clip of an interview with Don Henley not too long ago.  When asked when it would be time for the Eagles to hang it up, he said he would defer that decision to Glenn Frey.  Perhaps his death has made that decision.  I can’t imagine the Eagles without him.

A perfect day, the sun is sinkin' low
As evening falls, the gentle breezes blow
The time we shared went by so fast
Just like a dream, we knew it couldn't last
But I'd do it all again
If I could, somehow
But I must be leavin' soon
It's your world now

It's your world now

My race is run
I'm moving on
Like the setting sun
No sad goodbyes
No tears allowed
You'll be alright
It's your world now

Even when we are apart

You'll always be in my heart
When dark clouds appear in the sky
Remember true love never dies

But first a kiss, one glass of wine

Just one more dance while there's still time
My one last wish: someday, you'll see
How hard I tried and how much you meant to me

It's your world now

Use well the time
Be part of something good
Leave something good behind
The curtain falls
I take my bow
That's how it's meant to be
It's your world now
It's your world now
It's your world now

RIP Glenn Frey.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie - RIP

He was The Man Who Sold the World.  He was Ziggy Stardust.  He was The Thin White Duke.  He was The Man Who Fell to Earth.  For a while he was also The Elephant Man.  In what is the ultimate career move for any entertainer, now he is David Bowie [Deceased].  David Bowie sure was a lot of different guys.  No matter what the character, there was music, and lots of it.  Some of it was great and some of it was not-so-great, but it was rarely boring.  I remember the first time I heard a David Bowie song – it was at my friend Brian’s house.  I was 12 years old, we were listening to a radio station in Springfield, Ohio [WNCI].  The song was Fame.  I’ve been a fan ever since. 

Upon hearing about Bowie’s death I compiled a rather lengthy playlist.  If you want to take an afternoon and listen to all-Bowie all the time, here are my recommendations.  You can find quite a bit of this list on either Best of Bowie [2002] or Nothing Has Changed [2014], but there are plenty of album deep tracks I really like that.  One quarter of this list comes from the last fourteen years of his career, beginning with the album Heathen [2002] and ending with Blackstar [2016], released just two days before his death.  Another sizeable chunk comes from the 1975-80 period, which included his “Berlin” period.
  1. Slow Burn [Heathen – 2002] - This is my favorite Bowie song.  That’s Pete Townshend playing the flamethrower guitar.
  2. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) [Let’s Dance – 1983] – This is the song where I discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan.  The first version was done for the Cat People movie.
  3. Fame [Young Americans – 1975] – Bowie’s first #1 single.  He wrote it with a guy named John Lennon. 
  4. “Heroes” [“Heroes” – 1977] – That’s Robert Fripp playing the guitar.  This became a featured song in a movie I like called The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
  5. Rebel Rebel [Diamond Dogs – 1974] – Believe it or not, that’s Bowie himself playing that guitar riff.  And a great, instantly-recognizable riff it is.
  6. Under Pressure (with Queen) [single – 1981] – a great, great single
  7. This Is Not America (with The Pat Metheny Group) [The Falcon and The Snowman soundtrack – 1985] – Bowie was in the middle of his Let’s Dance/Tonight pop phase when he did this with Pat Metheny.  It sounds nothing like what he did on those two albums.
  8. Criminal World [Let’s Dance – 1983] – More SRV.
  9. Loving the Alien [Tonight – 1984]
  10. Sunday [Heathen – 2002]
  11. Heathen (The Rays) [Heathen – 2002]
  12. Lazarus [Blackstar – 2016]
  13. V-2 Schneider [“Heroes” – 1977]
  14. Neuköln [“Heroes” – 1977]
  15. Station to Station [Station to Station – 1976] – If you were paying attention, this is foreshadowing of things to come with the “Berlin Trilogy”.
  16. Warszawa [Low – 1977]
  17. Art Decade [Low – 1977]
  18. TVC15 [Station to Station – 1976]
  19. Sound and Vision [Low – 1977]
  20. Stay [Station to Station – 1976]
  21. Pablo Picasso [Reality – 2003]
  22. Hallo Spaceboy [1. Outside – 1995]
  23. Seven Years in Tibet [Earthling – 1997]
  24. Under The God [Tin Machine – 1989]
  25. I’m Afraid of Americans [Earthling – 1997]
  26. The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell [‘Hours…’ – 1999]
  27. China Girl [Let’s Dance – 1983]
  28. Neighborhood Threat [Tonight – 1984]
  29. Blue Jean [Tonight – 1984]
  30. Dancing With the Big Boys [Tonight – 1984]
  31. Modern Love [Let’s Dance – 1983]
  32. The Next Day [The Next Day – 2013]
  33. Dirty Boys [The Next Day – 2013]
  34. Reality [Reality – 2003]
  35. Outside [1. Outside – 1995]
  36. Strangers When We Meet [1. Outside – 1995]
  37. Because You’re Young [Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) – 1980] - Pete Townshend plays guitar here, too.
  38. Ashes To Ashes [Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) – 1980] – Bowie catches up with Major Tom, who is now a junkie.
  39. Sense of Doubt [“Heroes” – 1977]
  40. Never Get Old [Reality – 2003]
  41. Looking For Water [Reality – 2003]
  42. The Heart’s Filthy Lesson [1. Outside – 1995]
  43. Seven [‘Hours…’ – 1999]
  44. Dead Man Walking [Earthling – 1997]
  45. Joe The Lion [“Heroes” – 1977]
  46. Blackout [“Heroes” – 1977]
  47. The Secret Life of Arabia [“Heroes” – 1977]
  48. Look Back in Anger [Lodger – 1979]
  49. Boys Keep Swinging [Lodger – 1979]
  50. I Can’t Give Everything Away [Blackstar – 2016]
  51. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) [The Next Day – 2013]
  52. I'd Rather Be High [The Next Day – 2013]
  53. (You Will) Set The World On Fire [The Next Day – 2013]
  54. Love Is Lost [The Next Day – 2013]
  55. Blackstar [Blackstar -2016]
  56. Panic In Detroit [Alladin Sane – 1973] – Is that a Bo Diddley riff?
  57. The Jean Genie [Alladin Sane – 1973]
  58. Life On Mars [Hunky Dory – 1971]
  59. Moonage Daydream [The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – 1972]
  60. The Man Who Sold the World [The Man Who Sold the World – 1970]
  61. Starman [The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – 1972]
  62. Space Oddity [David Bowie – 1969] 

David Bowie was not normal.  He allowed others to revel in their uniqueness.  I suspect that is what kept him from being boring.  He was one of those few who kept everybody guessing from album to album.  What was he going to do next?  He explored and he took us along for the ride.  Until the very end he was still capable of springing surprises.  Only a select few people knew that Blackstar was going to be his last album, and it’s only in hindsight that we can see that he was leaving clues that he wasn’t long for this world.

I bought Blackstar yesterday morning, not because Bowie suddenly up and died, but because it was on my list of things to get.  His death just hastened my decision to pull the trigger on the purchase.  Later that afternoon, I checked Amazon just for grins to see what bits of his catalog were available.  In short, nothing was available.  Every album was sold out.  Last night I was surfing through the cable TV guide and I found Iron Maiden: Flight 666 on Palladia.  But instead of seeing Iron Maiden, there was his installment of VH1 Storytellers.  Imagine my surprise when I found that every one of his stories was funny.  A lot of adjectives describe David Bowie, but I didn’t think “funny” was one of them until last night.  But given all the stories written about him these past two days, I think that is how I will prefer to remember him – the serious guy who had a hidden funny streak.  But now he’s stepped through the door, and the stars look very different today.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tony's Guitarist Picks - Lindsey Buckingham

When one hears the phrase “guitar hero” many names instantly come to mind – Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, Page, Gilmour, Duane Allman, Peter Green, etc.  One guy who is especially underrated is Lindsey Buckingham.  Yup, the guy who plays pop songs in Fleetwood Mac.   Maybe he’s a guitar “anti-hero” because he’s not a household name.  Fleetwood Mac was originally a blues band and had a great blues guitarist, Peter Green.  If you’re a purist, perhaps you don’t like the pop band that Fleetwood Mac has become, and that’s ok.  I like the blues incarnation, and I like the arena rock/pop edition as well.  As the guitar player in a pop band, he’s like George Harrison in that he has a keen sense of melody that enables him to provide the right thing for the songs of Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks.  That doesn’t give him a lot of room to solo, but every now and then he can let rip a good solo – see Go Your Own Way or Sisters of the Moon.  But being the producer in addition to being the guitar player, he can pick and choose where he can make songs by the other songwriters sound the way he wants them to.

Guitars.  Before he joined Fleetwood Mac, LB’s guitar of choice was a Fender Stratocaster.  After he joined the band he needed a fatter guitar sound, so he switched to a Les Paul.  He met a luthier who worked for Alembic named Rick Turner.  He asked Turner to make a guitar that’s a cross-between a Stratocaster and a Les Paul.  The result was the Turner #1 model [see below].  That is his main electric guitar, but sometimes he’ll go back to the Stratocaster or even a Telecaster.  For some acoustic work he’ll use a Gibson Chet Atkins.  For the rest he plays various Taylor acoustics.

Style.  He never took guitar lessons and he doesn’t read music.  Most of the guitar players I like are grounded in the blues.  When he was a kid, his first guitar idol was Scotty Moore.  After the first wave of rock and roll faded [Elvis got drafted, Chuck Berry went to jail, Buddy Holly died] The Kingston Trio became his big influence.  And like The Kingston Trio, LB plays without a pick.  He combines the power of a rock guitarist with the precision of a classical nylon-string player.  To hear the former, look no further then Peter Green’s Oh Well, Part I [Fleetwood Mac Live – 1980].  Here LB wails with the best of them.  The one time LB usually gets to stretch out during a Fleetwood Mac show is on his own I’m So Afraid, where he gets to solo to his heart’s content.  On the acoustic side, there’s stuff like Landslide and Never Going Back Again.  

Colors.   What does the song need?  LB’s dobro gives Gold Dust Woman an exotic sound.  The volume swells on Dreams are ethereal.  The National Steel Guitar on The Chain is a sound not often heard on a pop song.  Within the confines of Fleetwood Mac [what he calls “the big machine”] he can’t get too carried away with his guitar sounds.  But in his more-esoteric solo work [“the little machine”] he can indulge himself.  The center of the songs of McVie and Nicks are the vocal melody around which guitar parts are arranged.  His own songs are centered around the guitar.  Sometimes one gets the feeling that his songs are really lots of guitar parts with vocal melodies thrown in as an afterthought, but I like them anyway.  His technique is best described as “dazzling.” 

Two Guitarists Replaced Him.  After the band finished Tango in the Night LB bolted from Fleetwood Mac in 1987, the band replaced him with two guitarists to do the work of one – Rick Vito and Billy Burnette.  Both were hired to play the parts LB played by himself.  Since LB also produced the records, they had to find someone to fill that role as well.  You can do the blind taste test between Tango in the Night and Behind the Mask and judge the results yourself.  

Come [Fleetwood Mac – Say You Will] / Down On Rodeo [LB – Under The Skin].  I like to listen to these two songs as a “twofer”.  Although the songs are from two different albums, they’re from the same song cycle.  For me, these two songs best represent the two sides of LB’s musical personality.  Come is a manic electric freakout, while Down On Rodeo is a calm acoustic “after the storm” piece.

Come - 2003

Down On Rodeo - 2006

Big Love.  This song opened Tango in the Night, but since he didn’t tour with Fleetwood Mac after that album’s release, the first time he played it live with that band was for 1997's The Dance.  While the studio version of the song is a full band arrangement, from this point forward he played it solo.  Had I not seen the performance for myself, I wouldn’t have thought what I heard was played on one guitar.
Big Love - 1997

I don’t have a clever conclusion for this.  If you like Fleetwood Mac’s music, you know what I’m talking about.  If you don’t then none of this will change your mind.