Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fossils: Blue Oyster Cult's Some Enchanted Evening (1978)

Blue Oyster Cult's Some Enchanted Evening
(click to embiggen)
Blue Oyster Cult – Some Enchanted Evening

The decade of the 1970s was the era of the live rock ‘n’ roll album, with just about any old band of road warriors slapping a hastily-recorded show on vinyl and laughing all the way to the bank after picking their fans’ wallets. The best-known of these concert trinkets was, perhaps, former Humble Pie guitarist Peter Frampton’s 1976 set Frampton Comes Alive! When the obscure fretburner’s budget-priced twofer hit the top of the charts, the race was on among major label A&R reps to break their pet band in a similar manner. Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent, and Led Zeppelin were among those to flog live sets in the wake of Frampton’s chart-busting breakthrough.

Blue Oyster Cult was ahead of the curve, though, the band releasing its first live set, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, in 1975 – only three albums into its short career. The band’s electrifying live chops obviously entertained the iron lung set, and fans put aside their bongs long enough to drive the LP to #22 on the charts, representing BOC’s best-selling flapjack to date. By the time of the release of Some Enchanted Evening in 1978, Blue Oyster Cult had racked up a pair of red-hot hitters in 1976’s Agents of Fortune (#29) and the following year’s Spectres (#43). The two albums vaulted BOC to the top of the arena-rock ranks, so the band was ripe for the release of another live set.

Some Enchanted Evening was a curiously unsatisfying curio, the album’s too-brief set list featuring the two latest band hits in “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Godzilla,” accompanied by odd covers of the MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” and the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.” No mind, though, ‘cause the band’s blockheaded fans (myself included) bought this thing by the truckload, driving it to #44 on the charts.

The label’s ad campaign for the album didn’t really help anything…featuring the album cover’s very cool depiction of the Reaper, the best concept the art department could come up with was “don’t fear the Blue Oyster Cult,” a play on the title of the band’s best-known ditty. Any half dozen of the band’s fans could have come up with something better, provided they were sober enough and not just sitting, staring at the album cover and saying “whoooaaa” after inhaling too much ganja. 

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Live In Denver 1979

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - Denver 1979
There have been a few live Rainbow albums trickle out from the archives over the past few years, almost all of ‘em showcasing the ground-breaking, earth-shaking Ronnie James Dio era of the band when guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s influential outfit Rainbow trotted across the musical landscape like a proud T-Rex. After Ritchie and Ronnie James went their separate directions, however – Dio moving on to a superb solo career – Rainbow regrouped with one of the best line-ups of the band's lengthy run. Fronted by the leather-lunged Graham Bonnet and including bassist Roger Glover (Blackmore’s former Deep Purple bandmate), keyboardist Don Airey (from Coliseum II), and journeyman drummer Cozy Powell.

This is the group that would record the band’s breakthrough LP, 1979’s Down To Earth, which yielded a minor hit in its energetic cover of Russ Ballard’s “Since You Been Gone.” Bonnet was a different sort of beast than Dio, his vocals leaning more towards a lean hard rock sound whereas Dio favored a soaring, symphonic approach to the material. With the new band members finding an easy chemistry, this era of Rainbow delivered a hard-rockin’, proto-metal sound that was FM radio-friendly and arena ready. The tour in support of Down To Earth was legendary, pulling material from all four of the band’s albums as well as featuring a massive, awe-inspiring light show.

The Down To Earth era of Rainbow has been severely underrepresented by live material, however, an oversight partially remedied by Cleopatra Records and the May 26th, 2015 release of Denver 1979 on glorious colored vinyl. The full-length, double-disc set will be available in your choice of three different colors of wax – red, green, or blue – and packaged in an eye-popping holographic foil gatefold jacket. There are only seven songs, but they’re long ones, with plenty of room for the band to stretch out and jam, and Denver 1979 includes performances of several of the band’s most popular tunes, including “All Night Long” and “Since You Been Gone” from Down To Earth as well as “Man On The Silver Mountain” and “Long Live Rock N Roll.”

On August 21st, 2015 Cleopatra will revisit the Bonnet era of Rainbow with the release of Down To Earth Tour 1979, a deluxe three-CD box set that features full-length concert recordings from Denver, Long Island, and Chicago, taken from radio broadcasts and each packaged in an individual sleeve. Aside from a helluva lot of great music, the box also includes a bunch of goodies that will have the hardcore Rainbow fan salivating, including a 1” color button, an embroidered fabric patch, a Ritchie Blackmore signature guitar pick, and a combo bottle opener/keychain, all packaged in a red-velvet lined box. Mighty swanky swag, but it’s the music that’s going to sell this one, with longtime fans finally able to get a taste of Rainbow’s 1979 tour on disc.

(Fun facts: Rainbow opened for Blue Oyster Cult during the first leg of their 1979 U.S. tour, headlining the second half of the tour with opening acts like John Cougar (!), Gamma, Scorpions and, in the Detroit area, the mighty Cub Koda!)

Buy the vinyl from Rainbow's Denver 1979

Friday, May 15, 2015

Blues Legend B.B. King, R.I.P.

There will never be another like him…blues legend Riley “B.B.” King, one of the greatest American musicians and performers in any genre, passed away on Thursday, May 14th, 2015 after a brief illness. King was 89 years old.

Born in 1925 on a plantation near Itta Bena, King considered nearby Indianola his hometown, and that’s where The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, a museum dedicated to the bluesman, is located. The son of sharecroppers, as a youth B.B. picked cotton and sang in the church. Depending on who’s telling the story, King either bought or was gifted his first guitar by his cousin Bukka White, a blues legend in his own right.

Beale Street Blues Boy

B.B. King's Singin' The Blues
In 1946, King moved to Memphis, but he returned to Mississippi for a couple of years, moving to West Memphis, Arkansas in 1948. The young musician performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM in West Memphis, developing an audience that he took with him when he began a program of his own on Memphis radio station WDIA. King was so popular that he became a station DJ under the name “Beale Street Blues Boy,” which was later shortened to “Blues Boy” before he just became “B.B.”

King recorded his first sides for Nashville’s Bullet Records in 1949 before signing with the Bahari Brothers’ RPM Records label in Los Angeles. King’s career began to flourish while with RPM, the guitarist scoring his first R&B chart hit in 1952 with “Three O’Clock Blues.” From there, King was off to the races, reeling off a string of hits throughout the 1950s including songs like “Woke Up This Morning,” “Sweet Little Angel,” “You Know I Love You,” “Every Day I Have The Blues,” and many others. King toured constantly, racking up in excess of 300 dates a year, a grueling schedule that he’d pursue for decades.

A Legacy of Quality

When the popularity of blues music began to wane with African-American audiences in the 1960s, King found newfound fame with young white rock fans, and he was the opening act for the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour. He signed with ABC-Paramount Records in 1962, which would later be bought out by MCA Records, which later became Geffen Records…King essentially recorded with the same company for better than 60 years. Although King had released a number of albums while with RPM/Modern Records during the early 1960s, some of which were compilations of singles, the guitarist hit his stride for ABC-Paramount later in the decade, establishing a legacy of quality that would characterize King’s career until the end.

B.B. King's Live In Cook County Jail
Beginning with 1965’s classic Live At The Regal and running well into the 1970s, King created a run of classic albums, many of them live recordings, that stand as some of the best blues albums, ever – 1969’s Live & Well and Completely Well; 1970’s Indianola Mississippi Seeds (which included Joe Walsh and Leon Russell); 1971’s Live In Cook County Jail and B.B. King In London (with Ringo Starr, Peter Green, and members of Humble Pie and Spooky Tooth); 1972's L.A. Midnight and Guess Who, and many others – King was nothing if not prolific. In 1974, King recorded the first of two albums with his former valet, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Together For The First Time…Live hitting #2 on the Billboard magazine R&B chart and #43 on the mainstream albums chart. A sequel of sorts was released two years later, Bobby Bland and B.B. King Together Again…Live performing nearly as well on the charts.

Late Career Triumphs

As the decade of the 1970s rolled to a close, King’s prolific recording output began to slow down. He released but five albums during the 1980s (compared with nine the previous decade), and six albums during the ‘90s, but recordings like Deuces Wild and Blues on The Bayou kept his popularity high, and he continued to tour better than nine months each year. King performed and recorded with a number of other artists though the years – U2, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Cyndi Lauper, and many others, and he also made guest appearances on a number of TV shows, including The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Sesame Street, Married…With Children, and Touched By An Angel. He also appeared in films like Blues Brothers 2000 and Spies Like Us.

B.B. King & Eric Clapton's Riding With The King
King reached the pinnacle of his career in 2000 with the release of Riding With The King. Recorded with friend and guitarist Eric Clapton, the album earned King one of his many Grammy™ Awards. Certified Double Platinum™ for over two million sold, the album was also his highest-charting, peaking at number three. King released his 42nd and final studio album, One Kind Favor, in 2008. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, it was considered a late career triumph, and it earned King both a Grammy™ and a Blues Music Award. He continued to tour heavily (100+ nights annually) until illness forced him off the road in late 2014.

B.B. King’s Accolades

The list of accolades and honors provided King is too lengthy to recount here. The guitarist was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. King won his first Grammy™ Award in 1970 for his classic song “The Thrill Is Gone,” and would go on to earn 15 more Grammys. He won so many W.C. Handy/Blues Music Awards through the years (15 in all from 39 nominations) that The Blues Foundation’s “Blues Entertainer of the Year” award was renamed the “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” award. In 2012, King had the opportunity to perform at the White House for President Obama.
B.B. King's One Kind Favor
While King’s death was not totally unexpected – he’d been hospitalized for dehydration and fatigue in October, and had battled diabetes and high blood pressure for decades – it still comes as a great loss for the blues community. One thing that stands out as people share their memories of King on social media – is his warmth, kindness, and geniality – which are as legendary as his music. B.B. King inspired a legion of rock and blues musicians and he thrilled several generations of fans. King was the greatest ambassador for the blues that the music has ever enjoyed. King’s legacy is as large as any artist of the 20th century, and his influence will continue to be felt for years.   

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Omnivore Revisits Carla Olson & the Textones

The Textones circa 1984
The Textones circa 1984, photo by Gary Nichamin
The decade of the 1980s is littered with bands that worked in the Americana mines, artists inspired by the Byrds and the Burritos but bloodied by clashes with ignorant label execs and largely indifferent audiences beholden to punk-rock and nerf-metal. The roster of the fallen is a talented list of names, indeed – Jason & the Scorchers, Walk The West, the Cruzados, the Long Ryders, Green On Red, the Beat Farmers, Stealin’ Horses, Webb Wilder & the Beatnecks, et al – but perhaps none were slighted more egregiously than the wonderful Carla Olson and her band the Textones. History gives the band another chance on May 26th, 2015 when Omnivore Recordings revisits the Textones’ catalog with reissues of the band’s two lone studio albums, Midnight Mission and Cedar Creek.

Formed in 1978 when singer, songwriter, and guitarist Olson moved from her Austin, Texas hometown to Los Angeles, the Textones ran through a handful of line-ups (including one with future Go-Gos member Kathy Valentine) before landing on the perfect chemistry of Olson, guitarist George Callins, multi-instrumentalist Tom Junior Morgan, bassist Joe Read, and drummer Phil Seymour, former Dwight Twilley Band member. It’s this version of the Textones that signed with Danny Goldberg’s A&M Records-distributed Gold Mountain label to record their debut album, Midnight Mission.

The Textones' Midnight Mission

A brilliant collection of rock, blues, and twang with just enough pop undertones to appeal to the great unwashed masses, Midnight Mission was produced by former Electric Flag keyboardist Barry Goldberg, a veteran roots ‘n’ bluesman who had spent some time with the godfathers of the genre like Gram Parsons. The album featured contributions from former Byrds guitarist Gene Clark (with whom Olson would later record a wonderful album), Ry Cooder (Rising Sons), and the Eagles’ Don Henley.  

Midnight Mission is a collection of largely-original songs written by Olson or band member Callins, the lone exception being the unreleased Bob Dylan song “Clean Cut Kid,” which the Scribe offered to Olson after she appeared in Dylan’s “Sweetheart Like You” music video. Dylan being an obvious musical touchstone, the song slides right in alongside the Textones’ originals, the album an entertaining and influential work of early Americana.

Midnight Mission would inch onto the Billboard magazine Top 200 Albums chart at #176, but songs like the title track, “Number One Is To Survive,” and “Standing In The Line” would receive airplay on both commercial and college radio and MTV. The Omnivore reissue of Midnight Mission features five additional bonus tracks, including three songs recorded for the soundtrack of the 1985 film Sylvester, as well as two previously unreleased live performances from Rock of the 80’s that were recorded at The Palace in Hollywood in 1984.

The Textones' Cedar Creek

The Textones' Cedar Creek
After a tumultuous three years that saw Seymour replaced by new drummer Rick Hemmert, the Textones signed with Enigma Records to record the band’s long-anticipated follow-up to Midnight Mission. The resulting album, 1987’s Cedar Creek, was produced by Michael Stone, who had worked previously with bands like America and Firefall. Musically, the album offered up more of the same sort of high-octane roots ‘n’ blues that fueled its predecessor, nine original songs including one written by Olson and Kathy Valentine.

Guest appearances by future Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees Ian McLagan (The Faces) and Howie Epstein (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) rounded out the album’s roots-rock sound, and while the band’s musical growth was incremental, Olson’s passionate vocals and expressive songwriting raised the Textones above the glut of MTV-ready late-decade rock bands. Cedar Creek failed to chart, however, and the band would call it quits soon after its release. The Omnivore reissue of Cedar Creek includes bonus tracks in the form of eight live performances recorded live at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California in November 1987.

In a press release for the new reissues, Olson says “we were ahead of our time or just didn’t get the breaks needed? An artist never knows. What I do know is that when the Textones played together, we created a musical fabric never far from our many influences and diverse backgrounds, and that the connection we felt between us was one of the joy of entertaining and the hopefulness of our music. We are glad the music is being made available again especially with the live set that we've added to Cedar Creek. We were one hell of a rock ’n’ roll band.”

Carla Olson is still making great music, going on to record albums with Gene Clark and Mick Taylor in the ‘90s, as well as creating a significant catalog of solo albums. She has also worked in production, working with artists like Paul Jones, Joe Louis Walker, Charlie Musselwhite, and many others. For a few years in the 1980s, however, the Textones were the cream of the L.A. crop, making great Americana music before it even had a name. Midnight Mission and Cedar Creek represent the band’s legacy, and kudos to Omnivore for these long overdue reissues.

Buy the CDs from
Midnight Mission
Cedar Creek   

Midnight Mission track listing:
1. Standing in the Line
2. Hands of the Working Man
3. No Love in You
4. Running
5. Number One Is to Survive
6. Midnight Mission
7. Upset Me
8. Luck Don’t Last Forever
9. Clean Cut Kid
10. See the Light
11. It’s Okay
12. Just a Matter of Time
13. Number One Is to Survive [alternate version]
14. Running [live]
15. No Love In You [live]

Cedar Creek track listing:
1. Not Afraid
2. Every Angel in Heaven
3. Another Soul Searcher
4. One Love
5. Austin 
6. Gotta Get Back Home
7. You Can Run
8. Cedar Creek
9. We Can Laugh About It
10. Gotta Get Back Home [live]
11. Not Afraid [live]
12. No Love in You [live]
13. You Can Run [live]
14. Austin [live]
15. Upset Me [live]
16. Every Angel in Heaven [live]
17. Standing in the Line [live]

Fossils: Bad Company's Straight Shooter (1975)

Bad Company's Straight Shooter
(click to embiggen)
Bad Company – Straight Shooter

British blues-rock outfit Bad Company already had a heady track record before the release of its 1974 self-titled debut album. Paul Rodgers, the voice of the band, put together Bad Company after the break-up of Free, his legendary 1960s-era outfit. Rodgers brought drummer Simon Kirke from that previous band along for the ride, joining guitarist Mick Ralphs from Mott the Hoople and bassist Boz Burrell from King Crimson to form Bad Company. The debut album’s first hit single, “Can’t Get Enough,” hit #5 on the chart, pushing the album itself to number one.

A year later, Bad Company released Straight Shooter, more of the same hard rock and boogie blues that characterized the band’s first LP – no surprise, really, as many of the songs had been written in ‘73 around the time of the debut (and may have been leftovers from those first sessions). The ad campaign for Straight Shooter showcases the band (and friends) gambling at a craps table (in keeping with the two dice theme on the album’s cover, the dice showing a “natural” eleven), portraying Bad Company taking risks and living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

Sadly, Straight Shooter displayed little of the risk the ad was clearly trying to picture, the band following the same formula as the debut, and one that they more or less chased throughout the remainder of the 1970s (or until Rodgers left the band). Straight Shooter was only slightly less successful than the debut, hitting #3 on the album chart on the strength of the hit single “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” which itself rose to #10, followed by “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad,” which was also a Top 40 hit single.

Still, the “sophomore slump” for Bad Company was quite obvious, and the band would experience diminishing commercial returns with their recordings as the years wore on, even if Rodgers' enormous voice and charisma, coupled with Mick Ralphs' slashing fretwork, would keep them headlining arenas for the rest of the decade.