Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Jam

Active during the late 70s through the mid 80s, and armed with the fast tempos and angry expressions of the era's punk movement, a British band known as The Jam distinguished  themselves from their punk rock brethren by wearing matching tailored suits instead of ripped jeans and t-shirts, and incorporating  60s mainstream pop and RnB influences rather than rejecting them, thus placing them at the forefront of the Mod revival movement that exploded out of the U.K. during that time.
Formed in Woking-Surrey,England in 1972, the band initially consisted of Paul Weller on bass guitar and a changing membership of various schoolmates with which he attended Sheerwater Secondary School. By the mid-70s the line-up solidified with Bruce Foxton and Steve Brookes on guitars and drummer Rich Buckler. Early on their sets consisted of cover tunes by American rock and rollers such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. In time, Weller discovered The Who's "My Generation" and became fascinated with Mod music and lifestyle. This prompted the band to start playing Motown and Stax soul music of the period and to begin writing original music. Shortly after, Brookes left the band not to be replaced thus leaving them a trio. Weller persuaded Foxton to switch to bass while Weller took over guitar duties developing a rhythm-lead style influenced by Pete Townshend and Dr. Feelgood's Wilko Johnson.

This line-up remained the same for the remainder of The Jam's existence, and they were managed by Weller's father, John Weller until his death in 2009. They built up a steadily growing following and were known for their energetic stage presence, high volume, fast tempos and particularly in the case of Weller, Rickenbacker guitars. In early 1977 they were signed by Steve Parry to Polydor Records. The band's single, "In The City" from the debut album of the same name, reached the top 40 in the U.K.

Also quite prevalent were the openly political lyrical content in the band's songs, which tended to be pro-empire and crown-idealistic which along with their overt displays of the Union Jack caused them to be thought of as conservative in their political stance. This was a contrast to peer bands such as the Clash and the Sex Pistols whose lyrics called for social change or outright overthrow. Musically however, they continued to display strong influences of Motown, The Beatles and particularly The Who, as in their follow-up single, This Is The Modern World".

Weller emerged as the band's principal songwriter, but it was Foxton's bass lines that provided the drive in the band's overall sound. While not an overly complex player, his note placement, tone and unbreakable lock with Buckler's drumming combine to lend undeniable power to songs such as "Start", a song that plainly displays Weller's self-admitted influence of the Beatles' Revolver album, in this case "Taxman".

From the band's debut in 1977 to their break-up in 1982, with 18 consecutive U.K. top 40 singles, 6 studio albums and one live album, The Jam has produced a stunning mixture of 60s beat music,soul, psychedelic pop, punk and new wave all the way up to their final LP, The Gift which went to #1 in the U.K. and featured one of the finest songs ever written, the Motown-flavored "A Town Called Malice".

In addition to having four #1 hits during their career, 15 of the band's singles were re-issued  after their break-up and all went to the top 40 again. It's hard to say why this band seemed to go completely over the heads of American audiences, but one thing is clear...The Jam were among the best world-wide.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tammi Terrell's version of a great song

The first thing I noticed was The Funk Bothers tearing the roof off on this rocking arrangement of Tammi Terrell's version of  "This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)". Released in January of 1969, it was part of the only solo album made by this troubled Motown star, who just over a year later would pass away due to a malignant brain tumor in March of 1970.  The Isley Brothers had a hit with a still lively, but  more genteel and commercially viable rendition in 1966. This, however remains my favorite take on a great Holland,Dozier,Holland and Moy composition.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Creation

It was the mid-sixties, and this British band was quite popular with the era's Mods, decked out in the latest Carnaby Street pop art clothing styles. Their music featured a big powerful rhythm guitar, inventive drumming and commanding bass with a vocalist possessed of a middling voice but great stage presence. Their repertoire mixed              original songs with covers by American soul and blues artists. You'd be forgiven for thinking I'd just described The Who...but you'd be wrong. It was The Creation that utilized this well known formula, if only in relative obscurity. They are nonetheless worthy of attention.
Formed in 1966 from the remnants of a band called The Mark Four with members Kenny Pickett on lead vocals, Eddie Phillips on guitar, bassist Bob Garner and drummer Jack Jones. They signed a management deal that same year with well-known manager Tony Stratton-Smith who suggested the boys lose the name The Mark Four. It was Pickett who came up with The Creation based on a reference he found in a book of Russian poetry. The band's stylistic similarity to the early records by The Who is not surprising, being as they were produced by Shel Talmy whose work with The Who, The Yardbirds and others is well-documented. Their first single, the Talmy-produced "Making Time" was a Pickett-Phillips song released on Talmy's own label Planet Records and went to #49 on the U.K. chart.

The follow-up single would prove to be their most successful. It featured Phillips playing his guitar with a cello bow, a technique used in later years by Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page to much greater acclaim. Live performances of this song took The band's pop art experimentation to a new level when Pickett would spray and brush paint a canvas onstage during the song. Thesong was entitled "Painter Man", and it went to #36 in the U.K. and was a top 10 song in Germany.

"Painter Man" was the group's last single to chart in the U.K. Line-up changes occurred, as with most bands. In 1967 Pickett left the band and bassist Bob Garner assumed lead vocal duties, bringing in new bassist Kim Gardner. At different times The Kinks drummer Mick Avory and Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood were members of the band. In spite of the band's strong stagecraft and well above average writing, the band could not crack the U.S. market, having released four singles in The States, none of which managed to chart. The band broke up in February of 1968.

Pickett and Phillips continued to collaborate as songwriters having most notably written "Teacher,Teacher" in 1980 for the band Rockpile.
The band's original line-up reformed in 1994 and recorded an album Power Surge that was released in England in 1996.
Kenny Pickett passed away in 1997.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sam And Dave

One of the biggest live acts of the '60s, Sam and Dave are mostly identified with the Memphis rhythm and blues scene and Stax/Volt Records with whom they made their biggest hits. The duo consisted of  tenor Samuel David Moore and baritone David Prater. Moore (real surname Hicks) was from Winchester,Georgia and Prater was from Ocilla,Georgia. They performed together from 1961 to 1981.

Their biggest hit-making years were 1965 to 1968 with 10 consecutive top 10 singles and three consecutive top 10 albums. Hits included I Thank You, You Don't Know like I Know, Hold On I'm Coming and their signature tune,Soul Man. During that period no soul act had more consistent success outside of Aretha Franklin.

Sam And Dave had great crossover appealand "Soul Man" was one of the first top 10 songs to mention the word "soul"  helping to pave the way for wider acceptance by white audiences. Another huge hit was their only ballad single, When Something Is Wrong With My Baby. Their earlier songs were collaborations with Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper, then later the young writing duo Isaac Hayes and David Porter were hired and proceeded to write nearly all of their big hits.

The duo broke up in 1970, both to pursue solo careers. Neither was a success, and they reunited the following year. They split for good in 1981.

Sam And Dave are members of The Rock And Roll and Grammy Halls Of Fame, as well as multiple Grammy Award winners. The song , Hold On I'm Coming was used in Barack Obama's presidenial campaign until Sam Moore requested that they stop.  Eleven months later Moore performed the song at one of Obama's inaugural parties with Sting and Elvis Costello.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beat Club

In terms of pop music television series, Beat Club deserves to be included in All Things Rockin' despite its relative obscurity compared to other 60s-era shows of the type. Broadcast from Bremen,Germany on Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen, the national public tv channel of ARD (Germany's version of The BBC), it ran from September of 1965 to December of 1972. It holds the distinction of being the first German tv show to feature pop music, and can be described as a mash-up of Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. It had the cheesy, flashy production values of TOTP combined with the eclectic, charts-ignoring diversity of acts found on OGWT. Here's a promo trailer for the show.

The show was co-created by Gerhard Augustin and Mike Leckebusch. Augustin and Uschi Nerke were the initial hosts and after eight episodes Augustin stepped down and was replaced by British disc jockey Dave Lee Travis. Earlier episodes featured live performances with a plain brick wall as a backdrop. In 1967 a more professional look was adopted with large cards appearing in the background displaying the names of the performers. Also around this time a troupe of female dancers billed as "The Go-Go Girls" (no sense overthinking things, right?) who would dance to recordings on those occasions that the act was unable to appear in person.

In early 1969, Travis was replaced by Dave Dee of the band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. On New Year's Eve of that year the show went to from black and white to colour broadcasts and again featured exclusively live performances. In 1970 Dee left the show leaving Nerke as the sole host.
Tuning in to the show one could catch  the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, Stevie Wonder, Rory Gallagher and pretty much anyone you could think of performing live for your pleasure. While not ground -breaking, as other shows in Europe and The United States got to it before them, Beat Club definitely delivered in terms of content.

The former television series is now a weekly radio programme on Radio Bremen 1 and on a web channel offered by the station. It is still hosted by Uschi Nerke. When the tv show's run ended it was replaced by another pop music series called Musikladen.
To follow for your consideration are several reasons Beat Club was such an important part of All Things Rockin'.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Zombies

This particular article is dedicated to my grandson Jai,who is a big fan of books, movies, television shows and any other media that relates to...zombies. Now my young "Walking Dead" fanatic can know that there was a rock band long, long ago who called themselves The Zombies.
Formed in 1961 in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England, they were schoolmates Rod Argent on keyboards, lead vocalist Colin Blunstone, guitarist Paul Atkinson, bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy. As a result of winning a battle-of-the-bands type contest sponsored by The London Daily News, they were signed to Decca Records and recorded their first single, a minor keyed jazz-tinged song, that along with an electric piano solo and Blunstone's breathy vocals, sounded like no British rock song ever heard up to this point. It would prove to be their only U.K. top 40 hit, peaking at #12, and due to radio exposure started by New York station WINS disc jockey Stan Burns, climbed to #2 on the Billboard charts by December of 1964. The song was titled "She's Not There".

Things could have turned out quite differently for the group if they had their way. It turned out that the band wanted to release another song as their first single rather than "She's Not There". Indicative of The Zombies' deep jazz influences, they wanted to release their version of George Gershwin's "Summertime". It was only at the insistence of producer Ken Jones that "She's Not There" became their recorded debut. This goes to show that an extra pair of ears can come in handy, and in this case, saved the life of this band. "Summertime", while of course one of the greatest songs ever written, this performance unlike say, the bombastic version done by RnB singer Billy Stewart, had none of the qualities of a hit pop song. You be the judge.

The band's second single, "Leave Me Be", was a nice enough tune but had little impact on the charts. The band's label, Decca Records, known to be rather tight-fisted even with their bigger acts, rushed The Zombies through the recording of their third single, "Tell Her No" with the intention of letting them go shortly after its release. Though the single was only a minor hit in the U.K., the all-important American market drove the song into the Top 10. Decca was forced to not only keep the boys on, but to send them on a tour of the United States A.S.A.P.
Decca had a large roster of British Beat acts to package the Zombies with, and as a result the band got to experience huge halls and stadiums, screaming audiences, radio promotions and all that British Invasion-y type hysteria all due to the surprise success of "Tell Her No".

In 1967, the band signed to Columbia Records where they recorded the album Odessey And Oracle (the misspelling of the word "odyssey" was a mistake made by the album cover designers). By the time it was released the band had actually broken up. The album sold poorly in the U.K. and it was due to the advocacy of respected American musician Al Kooper, himself a Columbia artist who recognized the album's merits and convinced the company to release it in the U.S. One track, the Rod Argent composition "Time Of The Season" was released and became a nationwide hit, peaking at #3 on Billboard's Top 100. Columbia wanted the band to re-unite for a tour, but the band declined as by this time Chris White was into a career as a free-lance song writer, Colin Blunstone was working as a solo artist and Rod Argent had commitments with his own band Argent.
Blunstone and Argent ( the man, not the band ) re-formed The Zombies at various times after 1997 and still tour sporadically under that name.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The O'Jays

Hailing from Canton,Ohio and formed in 1958, The O'Jays were originally a quintet consisting of Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles. The five high school friends at first called themselves The Triumphs and later The Mascots. Their recording debut was a minor regional hit entitled "Miracles" in 1961. They took on the name The O'Jays as a tribute to popular Cleveland disc jockey Eddie O'Jay in 1963 and released their first chart song, "Lonely Drifter" which peaked at #93 on the Billboard Top 100. The group continued to chart with minor hits throughout the 60s with songs such as "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow", "One Night Affair" and "Look Over Your Shoulder"

In spite of ( or due to ) their middling success as a touring act and on the RnB charts, the group considered leaving the music business. In 1972 Bobby Massey and Bill Isles did just that, leaving the O'Jays as a trio. The remaining members' perserverence was rewarded when Kenny Gamble  and Leon Huff signed them to Philadelphia International Records from which they released their first million-seller "Back Stabbers" from an album of the same name.

This same album also produced a huge crossover hit that went to #1 . This was much-covered RnB staple "Love Train".

During the remainder of the 70s, The O'Jays were consistently scoring high on the charts with songs like "I Love Music", "Darlin' Darlin' Baby" and "For The Love Of Money" which featured one of pop music's most memorable bass lines. Tragedy struck, however when original member William Powell died of cancer in 1977 at the age of 35.

A former member of Little Anthony And The Imperials, Sammy Strain joined the group and the O'Jays continued to record, but with considerably less success. They did however, do well in the U.K. market with nine hit singles all told. While they continued placing songs in the charts through the 80s into the 90s, 1978's "She Used To Be My Girl" would be the group's last Top 5 hit.

Sammy Strain left the group in 1992 to return to The Imperials. In his place came Nathaniel Best, who was later replaced by Eric Grant. The group did little in the way of recording since, although they remained a popular live act.
The O'Jays were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2005. Original members Levert, Williams, Bobby Massey and William Powell were inducted along with Sammy Strain, who became one of The Hall's few double-inductees, having been inducted with The Imperials in 2009. Curiously, original member Bill Isles was not inducted. The group were recipients of BET's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Guitarist Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell were in a British midland-based band called The Vendors around 1964. At about the same time vocalist/guitarist Noddy Holder was in another band, Steve Brett And The Mavericks. Both bands were regulars on the club circuit with respectable followings, offering up repertoires heavy on covers of American RnB and blues-rock. After changing their name to The 'N Betweens, the former Vendors approached Holder to join their band. Holder declined, but Hill and Powell were persistent, and after recruiting bassist Jim Lea, Holder finally threw in his lot with the boys. This new line-up of The 'N Betweens recorded a handful of singles that had some regional success but not much else, despite their continuing popularity as a live act.
Local promoter Roger Allen caught one of the band's shows and alerted Fontana Records A&R man Jack Baverstock. Baverstock was impressed enough to offer the band a deal with Fontana if they changed their name and got a London-based manager.The band agreed and settled on the name Ambrose Slade. At the time the band sported a skinhead-type image, buzzcuts, boots and the like.

The band released a single, "The Shape Of Things To Come", which was cover of a top-selling song from the soundtrack of the film Wild In The Streets. It was a fine rendition of one of the better rock movie songs to come down the pike. Despite this along with a performance of the song on Top Of The Pops, it failed to chart at all.
As it turned out, ex-Animal and Jimi Hendrix manager Chas Chandler spotted the band and offered to manage them provided they lose the skinhead look and start writing their own material. As the band started growing their hair out and putting pen to paper, Chandler got them signed to Polydor Records. Around this time the band shortened their name to simply Slade. Their first album for the label, Play It Loud was released in 1970 and sold poorly. After two years and little commercial impact, Chandler suggested they record ,interestingly enough, a cover version of the Little Richard classic "Get Down And Get With It"

Released in 1971, "Get Down And Get With It" entered the U.K. Top 20, peaking at #16. By this time Slade were well into their more-familiar glam-rock image. Chandler at this point insisted the follow-up single be an original song, prompting Holder and Lea to write a song that would begin both a career-long collaboration and deliberately misspelled titles. This song was "Coz I Luv You"

The band's subsequent appearance on Top Of The Pops helped push the song to #1 in the U.K. charts and gave them their first entry into the U.S Billboard charts. From this point on the band would dominate the U.K. charts for much of the 1970s with its heavy rock sound,glam style and Holder's rough-hewn voice. This formula was put to good use on their second and third #1 hits, "Take Me Bak 'Ome" and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now".

The American market was proving to be a tough nut to crack. "Gudbuy T' Jane",released at the end of 1972, peaked at #2 in the U.K. and was a solid hit worldwide, but only got as high as #68 on the U.S. charts. In the early part of 1973, the band accomplished what no other act had since The Beatles with "Get Back" in 1969, when they released a single that went to #1 immediately upon its release. That song was "Cum On Feel The Noize".

Slade relocated to the United States in the mid-70s in an attempt to crack the U.S. market, but were for the most part unsuccessful. After years of futility, their career was revived when they were asked to play the 1980 Reading Festival when Ozzy Osbourne pulled out at the last minute. This raised the band's profile considerably, and by 1984 the band had U.S. hits with "My Oh My" and "Run,Run Away". These new successes were short-lived, however and despite being a large influence on latter-day hard rock bands, ( yes, I'm looking at you,Quiet Riot ) by 1992 the band had split up for good.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Let There Be Horns !

In the realm of all things rockin' there is little point in arguing that the guitar is king. This is both obvious and etched in stone. Period.  What is also just as obvious is that the story doesn't end there...where would we be without drums, bass and yes, keyboards. There is yet another group of instruments that has played a vital part in shaping the genre over the years, and that of course is brass. Trumpets, trombones, the almighty saxophone and others have created some of the most memorable riffs and melodies ever to cause a listener to hum along to a favorite tune. To follow is a short list of five of my favorite horn-driven rockers in no particular order. Feel free to share your own fave horn songs...Here are some of mine.

"Sussudio" by Phil Collins

"Questions 67 and 68" by Chicago

"You Can't Get What you Want(Till You Know What You Want)" by Joe Jackson

"What Is Hip" by Tower Of Power

"Open Sesame" by Kool And The Gang"

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Smithereens

How do bands like this slip through the cracks so often? This band is so incredibly underrated, it simply makes no sense. In terms of songwriting and musicianship, The Smithereens have very few peers, yet a cult band they have always been and remain to this day, when by all rights they should be superstars. A rock band from Carteret, New Jersey, guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros, drummer Dennis Diken and vocalist/guitarist Pat DiNizio got together in 1980 armed with a sound and style that took all the best qualities of sixties-era British Invasion and American roots rock and roll and power pop and modernized the lot into an irresistable hard rock sound owed to the fiendishly clever writing and vocal delivery of frontman DiNizio. Add  Babjak's brilliant Rickenbacker-fueled guitar work and the bricks-and -mortar rhythm section of Mesaros and Diken and you have a sonic juggernaut that puts many better-known acts to shame.

While never acheiving the rarified heights of fame they deserved, The Smithereens maintained a loyal cult following. They also found appreciation and respect from other more celebrated rockers such as the Kinks and Graham Parker with whom they collaborated onstage, and Suzanne Vega and The Go Gos singer Belinda Carlisle whom they worked in the studio, as in the case of  "Blue Period" from their third album, 11.

The band were always up front and proud of their influences, of which owed much to the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, while at the same time channeling the spirit of 60s-era Mod acts, notably The Who, John's Children and The Move. Added to this was their Marshall amp-driven wall of sound that had distinctly heavy metal overtones. All of these are prominently on display with a song that was their highest-charting effort at  #38 on the Billboard charts, "A Girl Like You".

The band is still actively touring and has held the same line-up until 2006, when bassist Mike Mesaros left the band to be replaced by Servero Jornacion. Anyone who is a fan of all things rockin' could do much worse than to explore their back catalog and more importantly, catch them live. This is a truly worthy rock band.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Great Performances # 5

This may seem to be a bit of a departure for this blog, at least in the case of our first performance by of all people, Sammy Davis, Jr., this being the place for all things rockin'.  Despite being a pop music legend and arguably the most talented member of the Rat Pack ( he could hold his own vocally with Sinatra and Martin, comedically with Joey Bishop, had better acting chops than Peter Lawford and unlike any of them, he was a dancer), he would seem out of place in a discussion on rock music. I have him here for two reasons, firstly he is taking a great pop/rock song and making it greater, in this instance Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr Bojangles" (#77, Billboard Top 100, 1969). Secondly , in this performance you can see what an influence he was on "The King Of Pop", the late great Michael Jackson. This performance done in 1985, just four years before all those cigarettes robbed him of his voice and ultimately his life, allows one to imagine Mr. Jackson watching this and immediately going out to buy a hat. It is a performance that never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
The second Great Performance is by Bob Marley doing "Redemption Song". It is an example of the power and emotion he so effortlessly called forth. This version is simply the man, his voice and his acoustic guitar surrounded by The Wailers, who can only sit and take in the devastating passion he evokes in this performance, one that also moves this listener to tears. I hope you enjoy this unlikely pairing who while they lived, shared in common the ability to touch people's souls.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Living Colour

Formed in New York City in 1984 by guitarist extraordinaire Vernon Reid, Living Colour is known above all else, as the highest profile rock band to have all black members. This does an injustice to the band in my opinion, something of a back-handed compliment if you will, for two main reasons. Firstly, if you consider the beginnings of rock and roll as we know it today, certain names come into sharp focus. Names like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Fats Domino for a start. Look a bit further back and you will see Louis Jordan, Chuck Berry's main influence. Look a bit further ahead and you'll see a gentleman named Jimi Hendrix. Rock pioneers all. Black men every one. Therefore logically speaking, a black rock band should raise no eyebrows or give anyone a bit of pause. Secondly, while these guys rock quite hard, their music was and is a fusion of hard rock, jazz, funk and even hip-hop. They are considerably more than a "rock" band, black or otherwise. Lyrically, they go personal, political and everything in between.
Coming from the The Black Rock Coalition, a non-profit organization founded by Reid and others for musicians of color interested in rock and alternative music, Reid formed several incarnations of Living Colour with varying members and musical styles. It was the final stable line-up of Reid, bassist Muzz Skillings, drummer Will Calhoun and vocalist Corey Glover that would release the album Vivid in 1988. With the help of MTV exposure and consistently impressive live appearances the album went to #6 on the Billboard chart, followed by a tour with  The Rolling Stones and an appearance on Saturday Night Live performing what would become their signature song, the massive rocker "Cult Of Personality"
1990 brought the band's second full-length LP, Time's Up, a diverse collection showcasing their many musical influences. Delta blues, funk, heavy metal and hip-hop were all represented with cameos by Little Richard, Maceo Parker, Queen Latifah and Doug E. Fresh. This album earned them a Grammy Award that year for Best Hard Rock Album. In 1991 the band joined the first Lollapalooza Tour and released a collection of out-takes called Biscuits which featured a metal-ized cover of James Brown's classic "Talkin' Loud And Sayin' Nothin'".

Bassist Skillings left the band in 1992 due to musical differences and was replaced by Doug Wimbish. This new line-up released the band's subsequent album, Stain which was not as successful as previous efforts, reaching #26, representing a steady decline in sales from their debut. The band's fan base remained strong but it wasn't enough to prevent the band's break-up in 1995, being unable to reach a concensus on the musical direction of their next album.

Which brings me to another point. I believe Living Colour was in a strange way a victim of their own musical diversity. Unfortunately, the music business needs labels. Whether or not you agree with this (and I do not) it is imperative from a commercial standpoint to be able to market your product to a particular demographic. Record companies need to know if they are selling a rock band to rock fans, a funk band to funk fans, and so on. Living Colour, along with groups like 24-7 Spyz and Bad Brains effortlessly swing from genre to genre, usually on a single album, or for that matter, a single song. While this is a testament to the band's sheer brilliance, it also makes them a difficult sell to the average listener. Focus is what makes most successful rock bands achieve the all-important magic word: accessability. Thus, beyond the hit "Cult Of Personality", Living Colour find themselves with a stong and loyal following, but never the super-stardom they so richly deserve.

The group reformed on December 21 ,2000 at CBGB's This was followed by their fourth studio album, Collideoscope in 2003, their first album to not chart at all, though it was critically acclaimed. In 2006 vocalist Cory Glover took on the role of Judas Escariot in a national tour of  Jesus Christ, Superstar. King's X bassist/vocalist Dug Pinnick took over for him in Living Colour until the musical's tour ended in 2008 when Glover rejoined the band.
Chair In The Doorway, the band's latest LP, was released on Megaforce Records in 2009 and sold approximately 2,800 copies its first week and landed at #159 on Billboard's Top 200. The band embarked on a world tour in support of the album. Still active, the band plans to release another album.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Z Z Top

Blues, Boogie and beards! If you are a true connoisseur of all things rockin', then these three words are all you need to know that we're talking about that little old band from Texas...ZZ Top! They came together in Houston, Texas in 1969 with the original line-up of guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons, bassist Anthony Barajas and drummer Peter Perez. After several more personell changes that same year, Gibbons was joined by bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, who surname notwithstanding, happens to be the only member without a beard. this line-up has remained unchanged to this day. The band's music is firmly rooted in the blues with an irresistable blend of boogie and hard rock, absorbing modern influences through the years without losing one iota of the down-home boogie that lies at their core. All this is topped off with songs that celebrate the joys of the road, whiskey, good women and bad behaviour with a lyrical cleverness and sense of humour. As to the band's name, Gibbons states in his autobiography, Rock And Roll Gearhead , the "ZZ" came from Bluesman Z.Z. Hill and the "Top" from blues great B.B. King, whom Gibbons considered to be at the "top" of his list of blues artists.

The band's manager Bill Ham, after molding the band into a professional act got them signed to London Records. They played their first show on February 10, 1970 in Beaumont, Texas and their debut album titled ZZ Top's First Album (clever, that) was released in 1971. Short on polish but long on attitude, the single from that LP "(Somebody Else Been) Shakin' Your Tree" peaked at #50 on the Billboard Top 100. The second album, 1972's Rio Grande Mud was greeted by good reviews but got very little airplay and as a result charted at #104 on the Billboard Top 200. The third time proved to be the charm with 1973's Tres Hombres. The band's gritty punch and Gibbons' yet-to-be -duplicated guitar tone along with quality songs like their ode to a small-town Texas whorehouse "La Grange" earned them their fist trip to the Top 10 and made them stars in the process.

It was on the subsequent tour to promote Tres Hombres that the band recorded the live tracks for the next album Fandango. This would be a half-live, half-studio collection which would also enter the top 10 while the single from the LP, "Tush" would peak at #20 on the Billboard chart. This solidified their status as one of the elite touring and recording acts.
1976 saw
the release of Tejas which was not as big a success as the previous two albums. The band continued their world tour and all told they had been touring for the last seven years. At the end of the tour the band split up for what was intended to be a 90-day break. The 90 days extended to two years, during which Gibbons and Hill grew their famous chest-length beards. Beard however, remained beardless. In 1979 the band signed to Warner Brothers Records and released the album Deguello. While going platinum, it only went as high as #24 on the U.S. chart. Two singles came from that album, a cover of the Sam And Dave hit "I Thank You" and the group's own "Cheap Sunglasses".

Next came El Loco, followed by what was probably their biggest album to date, 1983's Eliminator. A critical and commercial success, it sold more than 10 million copies and contained four mainstream rock hits, "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "You Got Me Under Pressure", "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man". The videos to those songs got heavy play on MTV, and the band won two MTV Video Music Awards for "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man".

Eliminator was a bit of a departure from the band's previous outings. Synthesizers and drum machines were used. In addition to this, research was obtained by the band that indicated the tempo of 120 beats per minute was the most popular tempo in rock at the time, which resulted in most of the tracks being recorded at that tempo. All too often such concessions to current trends caused a band to lose some of their music's soul and integrity. Not so here, these changes only served to add more punch to an already hard-as-nails approach. This formula was repeated on 1985's Afterburner, resulting in the band's highest charting album to date, with all of the singles from it reaching the top 40,two of which going to #1. The album sold 5 million units. The video for the single "Velcro Fly" was choreographed by Paula Abdul.

ZZ Top's last album for Warner Brothers was Recycler, which marked a return to the earlier, simpler guitar driven sound. With less synthesizer and pop influence, the album was not so well received by the fan base they built up with the previous two albums, which was huge. Fortunately the band had already had a large following from earlier in their career which offset this to a degree. While never matching the sales of Eliminator and Afterburner, Recycler did go platinum nonetheless on the strength of hits like "Give It Up" and "Burger Man".

The band signed a $35 million deal with RCA Records in 1994 and released the million-selling album Antenna. Subsequent releases Rythmeen and XXX sold well but not at the level of any of their previous output. The band's tours however maintained sell-out levels. Their final RCA album was the particularly guitar-heavy Mescalero.They performed at the half time show of Super Bowl XXXI in 1997, and made many guest appearances at sports events and television specials.
The band was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2004. They announced in 2008 plans to record a new album with producer Rick Rubin that will be a return to their pre-80s sound.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Swing Out Sister

The band's name was chosen because it was the only one they all agreed that they all hated it! Named for a 1945 film starring the late Arthur Treacher (yes,he started the fish and chips franchise, and yes again he was an actor.) Swing Out Sister, currently a duo, began as a trio made up of keyboardist Andy Connell, drummer Martin Jackson and vocalist Corinne Drewery. While Connell and Jackson were career musicians, Drewery was a fashion designer and model who happened to possess a remarkable alto voice. Along with producer Paul Stavely O'Duffy, the band signed with Mercury Records and released a single, "Blue Mood" in 1985 which failed to chart. Their next single, 1986's "Breakout" was a different story altogether, as the aptly named release went to #4 in the U.K. and to #6 on the U.S. Billboard charts. To follow is a performance of the song at the 1989 Prince's Trust Concert with the added attraction of Level 42's mighty Mark King on bass guitar.

When they released their debut LP, It's Better To Travel in 1987, It found its way to #1 on the U.K. album charts. This was due in no small part to the collection's blend of jazz and pop influences, real instruments combined with tasteful synthesizer effects and the smoky seduction of Drewery's voice. The bubbly "Breakout" was followed by the brooding "Surrender" and the jazzy "Twilight World".

Two Grammy nominations were earned by the group for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Group Or Duo both for "Breakout" in 1988.
Significant changes accompanied the 1989 release of their second album Kaleidoscope World. Original member Jackson left the group during the album's production to pursue other projects, among them work with Frank Zappa. He was thanked in the liner notes for his contributions and his writing credits were plainly noted. This left Drewery and Connell as the core group from then on. Soundwise, the incorporation of an orchestra provided a much fuller sound overall and a perfect compliment to Drewery's voice. The album, with its easy-listening pop influences was rightly received well by critics as well as hitting the U.K. top 10.  Less synthesizer and more sophistication was the order of the day as evidenced by the album's lead-off single, the exquisite "You On My Mind".

More change was evident with the release of the group's next album, 1992's Get In Touch With Yourself. Visually speaking, Drewery grew out her trademark page boy hairstyle. I, for one missed that distinctive look and was glad when she brought it back, but musically this was made up for with this collection's 60s and 70s RnB influences. This offering was shot through with breezy danceable songs, not the least of which was a nicely executed cover of Barbara Acklin's classic "Am I The Same Girl ?". This was released as a single and became a crossover hit, enjoying heavy airplay on smooth jazz and adult contemporary radio. It went to #1 in the U.S. and would prove to be their last big  U.S. success chartwise.

The Living Return followed with more of the same, including a cover of the Delfonics' hit "La La Means I Love You", also rendered respectfully and confidently. The song was included on the soundtrack for the film Four Weddings And A Funeral.

Many albums followed, and while nothing ever matched their chart success in the Western countries, they became a huge success in Japan and other Eastern countries. The group's live tours remain popular to this day, with the group performing in a variety of formats, sometime as a small jazz combo, and other times as a big band and yet other occasions with a full orchestra. All the while they have been a smooth jazz radio staple. The year 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the group's first album, It's Better To Travel.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Great Performances # 4

Definitely one of the Great Performances in All Things Rockin', we see here two enormous talents now gone from us and sorely missed...the late greats Phil Lynott and Gary Moore. This performance, on the steps of The Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia from 1978, Is a stunning example of a truly great rock unit led by an uncommonly charismatic front man. The first part is "Cowboy Song", one of Thin Lizzy's underappreciated gems. As to the second part, "The Boys Are Back In Town" is Lizzy's signature song. Highly regarded author of some of the best books about rock music ever written, David Thompson said in his book I Hate New Music that "The Boys Are Back In Town" is the last great rock song of the 70s which makes it the last great rock song ever. Hyperbole? Perhaps... but close enough to the truth for me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Billy Preston

Although Billy Preston is one of a very few people to ever be referred to as "The Fifth Beatle", His career and accomplishments began well before his affiliation with The Fab Four. Born September 2, 1946 in Houston, Texas, Preston at the age of ten was playing organ backing up such gospel greats as Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland and Andrea Crouch. At the age of 12 he appeared in the W.C. Handy film biography which starred Nat "King " Cole ,where he portrayed Handy as a youngster. A year before that, he appeared on Cole's variety show performing a duet with Cole of Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill". By 1962 he had joined Little Richard's band on organ and it was while on tour in Hamburg, Germany that he first met The Beatles.

Preston, in addition to his service with Little Richard's band, had made quite a name for himself as a session musician, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Barbara Streisand, Sly And The Family Stone and of course, The Beatles are part of a long list of session credits to his name. He also played and sang as a member of the house band for the 60s-era rock and roll weekly series Shindig, playing alongside such future greats as Leon Russell, James Burton, Delaney Bramlett and Glen Campbell.

His meeting with The Beatles led to the group asking him to contribute to their recordings of Get Back and Abbey Road. At one point during the Get Back sessions John Lennon proposed having him join the band officially, which as time has shown never was carried through. He is, however the only musician besides Tony Sheridan to be share billing with the band as the single "Get Back" was credited to "The Beatles With Billy Preston". He also portrayed Sgt. Pepper in the Robert Stigwood film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a film loosely based on The Beatles' album of the same name.

After signing with The Beatles' Apple Records in 1969 and the subsequent break-up of the band, he released a solo album, That's The Way God Planned It. Preston maintained a close working relationship with George Harrison, appearing on the Harrison single "My Sweet Lord" and making major contributions in both The Concert For Bangladesh album and film. He also worked on albums by John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Soon after, Preston left Apple and signed with A&M Records where his solo career became quite successful, beginning with the 1972 single "Outta Space", which went to #2 on the pop charts and #1 on the RnB charts. It was awarded a gold record and a Grammy Award that year for best pop instrumental.

Preston kept it going by following up in the next two years with the singles "Nothing From Nothing" and  "Will It Go Round In Circles", both  #1 hits. A third hit, "Space Race" topped at #4  and was so liked by Dick Clark that he used it for his show American Bandstand's mid-show bumper music for the remainder of the show's run. All three of these singles sold in excess of  a million copies. On the anecdotal side, Stephen Stills heard Preston use a particular  phrase several times while in his company. Stills liked the phrase so much he asked Preston if he could use it in a song he was writing. The phrase, "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" found its way to the top of the charts as the chorus and title of Stills' hit solo song.

Although Preston is often referred to as "the fifth Beatle", in terms of sheer man-hours he should more accurately be thought of as 'the sixth Rolling Stone". He appears on the Stones' albums Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goat's Head Soup, It's Only Rock And Roll, and Black And Blue. As Mr. Carson stated in the preceding video, he supported The Stones on their 1973 European Tour. After taking a break to compose Joe Cocker's hit "You Are So Beautiful" , and along with Janis Ian being a musical guest on the premiere episode of  Saturday Night Live, he toured again with The Stones in 1976, this time playing with the band. They featured two of Preston's songs in the middle of each show. He played on solo records by the Stones and appeared on 1981's Tattoo You and 1997's Bridges To Babylon.

 Time will have its way no matter how gifted or successful one can be. In 1976 Preston's solo career started the decline that happens to all things sooner or later. After many years with A&M he left the label and signed with Motown Records. On that label he had a top 10 duet with Syreeta Wright, a song and performance of uncommon beauty titled "When I'm With You I'm Born Again". Unfortunately, Preston was unable to repeat that success and he left Motown to spend the rest of his career in session work.

Legal problems? Health issues? Rumours? Yes to all three, this is rock and roll after all. Preston's brushes with the law included no-contest pleas for seperate cocaine and sexual assault charges. Not to mention insurance fraud for setting his house on fire. Community service and house arrest followed. These complications prevented him from accepting an invitation to become a member of The Band after the death of their keyboardist Stan Szelest. Also, even though Keith Richards saw fit to state in his autobiography Life that Preston was an openly gay man, given that Preston himself never made a statement on the subject, I'm satified to consider this Billy's business and not Keith's, unassailably reliable source that he may be. (Where's the sarcasm button on this thing?)
What IS true is that Preston went on to tour with The Funk Brothers, Stevie Winwood and Eric Clapton. He was also on albums by Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Norah Jones, Neil Diamond and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. He has also appeared on American Idol. Jazz legend Miles Davis was heavily influenced by Preston and his 1974 album Get Up With It includes a song titled "Billy Preston" in his honor.
Having battled kidney disease in his later years, William Everett Preston left this earth on June 6, 2006 due to kidney failure...but only after having in his 59 years a musical career anyone would be proud of.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Paul Revere And The Raiders

Now to my mind, these gentlemen aside from the Revolutionary War gimmick, struck me as America's answer to The Dave Clark Five. Both bands played a rough-hewn, proto-hard rock with the occasional ballad, both had a rough-voiced lead singer, they even had among their ranks a guy named Mike Smith. not to mention a saxophonist in each band. I could easily imagine either band blasting out "Glad All Over" and "Kicks" with an equal amount of comfort. Fact of the matter is Paul Revere And The Raiders choice of costume and comedic antics tended to obscure the fact that they were underneath it all purveyors of no-nonsense straight up 60s-era rock and roll with quality songs to boot.
They began as an instrumental group called The Downbeats based in Boise, Idaho led by organist Paul Revere Dick, a name he early on, thankfully, shortened to simply Paul Revere. An owner of several area restaurants, Revere met up with vocalist Mark Lindsay, who worked at a bakery that supplied Revere's eateries. Lindsay joined Revere's  band and just prior to their first release for Gardena Records changed their name to Paul Revere And The Raiders. Their first hit was  a song entitled "Like Long Hair" which went to #38 on the Billboard charts in 1961.

When Revere was drafted soon after, he claimed conscientious objector status and performed deferred duty as a cook. On the strength of their top 40 hit Lindsay and the band toured the U.S. that summer with replacement Leon Russell ( yes, THAT Leon Russell !)  on keyboards. By the summer of 1962 Revere was back with Lindsay in a band that included Mike "Smitty" Smith on drums, guitarist Drake Levin and bassist Mike "Doc" Holliday. A series of events got them noticed by KISN disc jockey Roger Hart who booked the band for one of his teen dance events.Hart subsequently became the band's manager and suggested they record "Louie,Louie". The question of whether or not The Kingsmen recorded the song first is a matter of some argument, but what is known is that both groups recorded the song at the same studio and that Paul Revere And The Raiders' version got the attention of Columbia Records who signed the band. By this time bassist Holliday was replaced by Phil "Fang" Volk. (yes, these fellas liked their nicknames,it seemed) Now with Columbia, the hits began. Garage-rock classics such as their second hit "Just Like Me" whch featured one of the earliest double-tracked guitar solos (by Levin) and "Kicks", which went to #4. Columbia in-house producer Terry Melcher, son of actress Doris Day, was instrumental in honing the band's signature recorded sound.

"Kicks" became the band's best -known song, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil containing an anti-drug message and originally intended to be given to Eric Burdon And The Animals to record. guitarist Levin left the band at this point to be replaced by Jim "Harpo" Valley, his nickname referred to a perceived facial resemblance to the silent Marx brother. Another band trademark was choreography performed during songs, a gimmick that lasted throughout the band's heyday up until the 70s when it was gradually phased out. The band made many television appearances, most notably the Dick Clark-produced Where The Action Is, where they were regulars, and as the hosts of two later Clark-produced shows, Happening 68 and It's Happening. In between, they visited various TV variety shows. Despite the
band's success, Volk, Valley and Smith decided to leave the band. Drake Levin returned to finish the current tour and ther obigations which included an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Revere, however was angered at the trio for quitting and blamed Levin for influencing the others' departure. Without telling anyone, Revere hired a new guitarist, one Freddy Weller, to perform on the show. Gentleman that he was, Levin stepped aside and even showed Weller the chords to the songs. He was then forced to watch from backstage while the band, including Volk and Smith, made their only appearance on Ed Sullivan's stage. It was the only time this line-up was ever seen together, as immediately after Volk and Smith were replaced by drummer Joe Correro and bassist Charlie Coe.

The band scored a couple of commercial deals during its lifetime, one was as endorsers of Vox Musical Instruments with Revere's use of the company's Continental organ and Volk's Phantom basses, while the band used Vox Super Beatle amplifiers. Another was the recording of a TV ad for Pontiac's Judge Gto muscle car with a band-performed theme song, a re-working of the 1969 band track "Time After Time" with changed lyrics.

As the 70s approached, audiences tastes changed and the band's schtick and style required reworking, The Revolutionary War drag gave way to simply matching clothes and finally no uniforms at all. The choreography went away and with Lindsay's increasing control of the band, more emphasis was put on harder rocking pop with a nod toward their RnB roots. The last major line-up change was the departure of Charlie Coe who was replaced by Paul McCartney lookalike Keith Allison. In an effort to change the band's image and direction. the band's name was shortened to simply The Raiders in 1971. this was followed by the release of the band's biggest hit, "Indian Reservation" which peaked at #1 in July of that year. Its success was mostly due to the band's self-promotion, as Columbia was beginning to put more money into newer acts such as Blue Oyster Cult and Aerosmith.
 After a few more personell changes, the Raiders' fortunes dwindled an they were forced to play lounges and state fairs as a nostalgia act. While this suited Revere just fine, the same could not be said for Lindsay who quit to begin a solo career that in addition to recording, included film and commercial scoring and A&R (artists and repetoire) work. You can still catch Revere on the road with an all new band of Raiders.

Mike "Smitty" Smith passed away of natural causes in Hawaii on March 6, 2001 three weeks before his 59th birthday
Drake Levin died at his home in San Francisco after a long battle with cancer on July 4, 2009 at age 62.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One Hit Wonders - Ace

Today's One Hit Wonder is a band from England who enjoyed moderate success in the 70s. The band, at the time this song was released was comprised of  guitarists Alan "Bam" King and Phil Harris, Steve Witherington on drums, bassist Terry "Tex" Comer and keyboardist/lead vocalist Paul Carrack. The song is a mid-tempo ballad entitled "How Long" that is well constructed and nicely executed, topped off with a laid-back soulful lead vocal by Carrack. The song is about a former bandmate and his departure from the band. The band was formed in 1972 in Sheffield as Ace Flash And The Dynamos, later shortened to simply Ace. They were a popular working pub band with a pop/RnB influence. In 1974 they released their debut album Five Aside which contained "How Long". The song, released as a single, was a significant hit, going top 20 in the U.K. and reaching #3 in the U.S. Carrack had gone on to work with Eric Clapton and Roger Waters and was a member of Roxy Music, Squeeze and Mike And The Mechanics. The song became a U.K top 40 hit again in 1996 by Carrack as a solo artist.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

K.C. And The Sunshine Band

It's guilty pleasure time, my friends. There are certain acts that many of us who consider ourselves serious fans of "good music" with "discriminating tastes" feel are beneath us. We turn our nose up at acts like Abba, Kiss, The Bay City Rollers and others because they lack substance, are too gimmicky or simply make unworthy music. Therefore, we can't be bothered with such as least not in public. Behind closed doors however, or in the privacy of our earbuds we rock to these guys hard with the rest of the world none the wiser. Well I'm here to tell you I like K.C. And The Sunshine Band and frankly don't care who knows it.
There's actually a lot to be said for this band, formed as it was in 1973 by part-time Miami, Florida record store employee Harry Wayne Casey (K.C.), the songs, though remarkably similar to one another, carry an undeniably infectious groove that tended to lean more to the funk side than most of the disco music of the period. He was introduced to bassist Richard Finch while at his other part-time job at Miami local  record company TK Records . They became the core of the group early on.

While working on demos for the band, they created a song called "Rock Your Baby" for singer George McCrea which became a #1 hit in 51 countries. The band's first songs, "Sound Your Funky Horn" and "Blow Your Whistle" were not overly successful but did well enough for TK to want more product from the band, which now included guitarist Jerome Smith and drummer Robert Johnson. The group's second self-titled album release yielded two #1 singles, "Get Down Tonight" and "That's The Way (I Like It)" and went triple platinum in 1975.

Maybe it was Finch's relentless bass lines. Possibly it was Casey's perpetual seizure-like hopping about. For me personally, it was the drummer's unspeakably cool hat. Factor in the horn section's perfect-for-the-job horn lines and choreography and you have what is called a winning formula. They rode that formula right into the following 1976 album follow-up Part Three containing two more #1 singles, "I'm Your Boogie Man" and (Shake,Shake,Shake) Shake Your Booty".  Another single from the album, "Keep It Comin' Love", a slight departure composition-wise, peaked at #2             

Their success lasted for five albums up to their last hit single "Please Don't Go" which hit #1 in January 1980, coincidentally making it the first #1 single of the 80s decade. New wave music exploded as disco's popularity waned, and the band explored other musical styles without much success. The band signed with Epic Records in 1980 after TK records went bankrupt.

In 1981 Casey and Finch parted ways acrimoniously. The band released two more pop-oriented albums with little success. The following album, All In A Day's Work did however, produce a single that did well in the U.K. entitled "Give It Up" .Despite this, Epic did not release the single in the U.S. because of the group's recent poor showing in the U.S. prior to this. Casey formed his own label, Meca Records, and released the single himself. While doing fairly well, the single nonetheless failed to perform up to expectations.

Casey retired in 1985, then with the revival of interest in disco music, returned to performing with a new band. Compilation albums were released along with 2001's I'll Be There For You which was received well by the critics but did not do well commercially. K.C. And The Sunshine Band's music appeared in the movies Blow and The In-Laws, as well on several video games. Casey perfomed "Get Down Tonight" on American Idol in 2009 and still works in the business as a producer. The band also, I'm not the least bit ashamed to say, performs quite regularly on my I-Pod.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Elvis Costello

Though born as he was, at St. Mary's Hospital in London, Declan Patrick McManus,if you can't tell by the name, is as Irish as can be. The son of musician/bandleader Ross McManus and his wife Lillian ,he first drew breath on August 25,1954 to later become one of rock's most prolific and influentual individuals as a critical ,commercial and social icon. From his first recorded performance as background vocalist on a lemonade commercial gig written and sung by his father, he went on to follow the usual path of musical aspirations, forming a band in high school called Flip City performing pub rock from 1974 to 1976. Around this time he adopted the stage name D.P. Costello as a tribute to his father who worked under the name Day Costello. While supporting himself on a number of office jobs (most notably Elizabeth Arden Cosmetics, the "vanity factory" he later referred to in his song "I'm Not Angry"), he wrote songs and made demo tapes actively seeking a solo record deal. This finally paid off when he signed with Stiff Records. His manager at Stiff, Jake Rivera suggested a change in stage name to Elvis Costello, combining of course Elvis Presley's first name with his father's stage surname. In march of 1977 Stiff released his first single, "Less Than Zero" and two months later his debut LP, My Aim Is True. A moderate success, it went to  #14 in the U.K. and later top 40 in the U.S. The album's cover was graced with a photo of Costello in what would become his trademark oversized eyeglasses, giving him a rather Buddy Holly-ish look. On this album the stand-out track ,in my humble opinion was the hauntingly beautiful ballad "Alison"

Costello left Stiff Records and signed with Columbia late in 1977. His final single for Stiff was the utterly wicked "Watching The Detectives".
After this album Costello's own assembled band performed. Where Less Than Zero and My Aim Is True featured the American band Clover, the band from that point on would be Costello, keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas (no relation). The first album with this band, dubbed The Attactions was the harder rocking This Year's Model . It was a bigger hit, going to #4 in the U.K. and to #30 in the U.S. this was followed by Armed Forces, more ambitious and diverse, did even better going to #2 in the U.K. and cracking the U.S. top 10.  Though none of the album's singles charted in the U.S., they had a #2 U.K. single with the track "Oliver's Army". The U.S. releases of Armed Forces contained the Nick Lowe - penned "What's So Funny('Bout Peace,Love And Understanding)" which did not appear on the U.K. version.

Costelo's reputation in the U.S. took a hit in March of 1979 when he became involved in a drunken argument he and manager Jake Rivera had with Stephen Stills and members of his entourage which included Bonnie Bramlett. Although all parties were quite intoxicated and negative comments flowed both ways about American and British musicians, Costello's unfortunate and racially insensitive comments about James Brown and Ray Charles were the only comments to make the papers. He quickly called a press conference to apologize for his remarks, being involved in the Rock Against Racism campaign before and after the incident. Ray Charles himself exhibited a great deal forgiveness by stating "drunken talk isn't meant to be printed in the paper" Costello's actions throughout his career showed time and again that he was hardly a racist.

1980's Get Happy was Costello's first and perhaps best executed foray into genres other than the pub-rock he'd become known for, along with 1986's King Of America.
The single "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" was an old Sam And Dave song sped up and nicely rendered. Trust was released in 1981 amid opeaking tensions within the band, mostly with Bruce and Pete Thomas. "From A Whisper To A Scream", a duet with Squeeze's Glen Tilbrook was the first Costello single to completely fail to chart at all. Anothe single, "Clubland", a quality song like most of the album's tracks somehow only barely scraped the lower chart positions.

Next to come was Almost Blue, a collection of country and western covers of the type Costello was so fond of growing up. A hit single was produced in his rendition of George Jones' "Good Year For The Roses" which went to #6 in the U.K. 1982's Imperial Bedroom, while one of Costello's most critically acclaimed efforts, produced no hits. It was 1983's Punch The Clock that would contain an international hit single, "Every Day I Write The Book", Costello's first top 40 hit in the U.S. This LP featured the female backup vocal duo Afrodiziak and the four piece horn section TKO along with the Attractions.

As tensions between Costello and Bruce Thomas reached the boiling point, Costello announced his retirement and the break-up of the band just before the 1984 release of the album Goodbye,Cruel World, of which Costello said was gotten "as wrong as you can in terms of execution". The album was poorly received upon its initial release.
Costello's retirement was short-lived with 1985 finding him appearing at the British Live Aid Concert as a solo artist.

Costello's exploration into different genres continued throughout the rest of his career with collaborations such as with The Brodsky Quartet and classical music on 1993's The Juliet Letters, a collaboration with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory, in 1998, and with his current wife Diana Krall on her album The Girl In The Other Room in 2003. Also of note is his long-standing writing partnership with Paul McCartney which produced a number of songs appearing on the albums of both artists.
He did, however regularly return to the pub-rock new wave style he was best known for as evidenced in albums such as Blood And Chocolate and Momofuku, the latter in which the band was billed as Elvis Costello And The Imposters, essentially The Attractions with Bruce Thomas replaced by ex- Cracker bassist Davey Faragher.

In addition to Costello's work with Rock Against Racism, he sits on the board of directors of The Jazz Foundation Of America, an organization that gives aid to elderly jazz and blues musicians, including survivors of Hurricane Katrina. He performs regularly at the organization's annual fund raiser A Great Night In Harlem.
Possibly of special interest to my grandson, Costello has appeared with one of his favorite bands, Green Day...a worthy team-up in my humble opinion.

Elvis Costello has been the recipient of several awards including a Grammy and multiple Brit Award nominations. He was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003. To this day he is a hugely influential figure and consummate maker of music.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Great Performances # 3

He ruled his band with an iron hand. More words at this point are simply not needed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


There was once a Toronto-based group of music makers who called themselves The Sparrows. This was a fairly cool name for a group...a fifties-era doo wop group, that is. Problem was, this was the mid to late sixties and vocalist John Kay, guitarist Michael Monarch, keyboardist Goldy McJohn, bassist John Rushton Moreve and drummer Jerry Edmonton happened to be a hard rock band. To put not too fine a point on it, this group would be hard pressed to go the distance with a name like The Sparrows. I'm just sayin'...Nonetheless, The Sparrows carried on from their formation in 1967 until around 1968 when producer Gabriel Mekler gave the boys a fighting chance by suggesting they change their name to Steppenwolf, inspired by the Herman Hesse novel of the same name. The band liked the idea and with that obstacle removed, off they went. With the exception of Moreve that is, who was reluctant to relocate to California. He was replaced by Nick St. Nicholas. The band's first album, titled simply Steppenwolf, was released in 1968 on ABC Record's Dunhill label. Two singles were released from that LP, "A Girl I Knew" and a song written by Don Covay and Steve Cropper and performed on a 1965 single by Covay, "Sookie, Sookie".

Those two singles didn't make much of an impression on the charts or otherwise. It was the third time that proved to be the charm with a song written by drummer Jerry Edmonton's brother Dennis using the way coolest pen name in the world, Mars Bonfire. It was played during the opening credits of the legendary cult film Easy Rider as the screen showed actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper speeding down the road on their modified Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The lyrics introduced to the music world the term "heavy metal", but as a reference not to music but to motorcycles. The song would in fact, become closely associated with bikes and biker culture up until this very day. That song was "Born To Be Wild"

By August of 1968 "Born To Be Wild" had already gone to #2 on the Billboard charts, sold a million copies and was awarded a gold disc. Another song prominently featured in Easy Rider was "The Pusher", a song written by country music singer Hoyt Axton. These songs literally propelled the band to stardom world wide. There was more to come, as their second album Steppenwolf The Second yielded the band's second biggest hit, "Magic Carpet Ride", which went to #3. Their third LP release, At Your Birthday Party, contained another hit, "Rock Me" peaking at #10. Both singles sold in excess of a million units.  The band's subsequent albums, Monster and Steppenwolf  7 were notable for the amount of political commentary lyric-wise as compared to their previous work. They also released one of the best double live albums to come down the pike, Steppenwolf Live.  Highly recommended.
Besides the departure of Moreve, the band went through other personnel changes during their peak years.  Guitarist Michael Monarch quit the group in 1969 due to disagreements with John Kay. He was replaced by Larry Byrom, an old bandmate of St. Nicholas'. St.Nicholas himself was fired after a series odd and disruptive behaviours which culminated in his appearance at a gig wearing a bunny costume and playing loudly and out of tune. His replacement was George Biondo. Kent Henry replaced Larry Byrom in 1971, and in 1972 Steppenwolf disbanded completely.

Kay began a solo career that was inconsistent at best. In the later part of 1972 he went on tour as The John  Kay Band and had Steppenwolf as the supporting act, performing as lead singer for both acts. A novel approach, indeed. The band reunited in 1974, most likely because it had to be less work than Kay's previous arrangement. The line-up was McJohn, Edmonton, Biondo and new guitarist Bobby Cochran, a nephew of rock legend Eddie Cochran. Slow Flux was their first reunion album containing the top 40 hit "Straight Shootin' Woman. Two more albums followed without much fanfare, and the band broke up again in 1976.

Several incarnations of Steppenwolf hit the road at different times with different combinations of members old and new. Much legal wrangling followed, and at the end of it Kay was allowed to carry on with all new members as John Kay And Steppenwolf, still active today. At least no one had to go back to calling themselves The Sparrows.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sixties Soul Instrumentals - Five Of The Best

Make no mistake, all things rockin' definitely includes dancing. When we have exhausted all the ways we can express our appreciation for the music we love vocally, it  becomes time to move one's body. This is the way it always has been from the twist, to the cha-cha, to the hustle, to stage diving, our music is body music. The instrumental works great in that regard, no lyrics to listen to, only music to feel. To follow are five randomly chosen instrumentals of the RnB genre from the 60s and 70s. A small and incomplete list to be sure, but perhaps enough to hold you until the next one. And now, for your pleasure...

Booker T. And The MGs - Green Onions

The Bar Kays - Soul Finger

Cliff Nobles & Co. - The Horse

Barry White & The Love Unlimited Orchestra - Love's Theme

The Meters - Cissy Strut