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.