Friday, January 19, 2018

Short Rounds: Ethiopian & His All Stars, Gladiators, Moloch & Phil Seymour (2018)

Ethiopian & His All Stars' The Return of Jack Sparrow
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Ethiopian & His All Stars – The Return of Jack Sparrow (Omnivore Recordings)
Singer Leonard Dillon (“Jack Sparrow”) was frontman of 1960s-era reggae group the Ethiopians, which experienced some success in Jamaica. By the late ‘70s, tho’, Dillon was a solo artist then known as the Ethiopian and 1987’s The Return of Jack Sparrow (the title a callback to his original nickname) was recorded with the cream of the island’s instrumentalists, but never released when the label ran out of cash. Omnivore Recordings recently grabbed up the Nighthawk Records catalog and promptly released the LP for the first time. A hearty blend of traditional reggae, ska, and dub remixes – including remakes of several Ethiopian tracks –Dillon’s voice is in fine form here, whether revisiting his foot-shuffling hit “Train To Skaville” or trying out new material like the mesmerizing “Straight On Rastafari” or the R&B-tinged “Slender Thread.” The intermittent dub versions of songs provide a welcome shot of adrenaline to a pleasingly laid-back collection. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Gladiators' Full Time
Gladiators – Full Time (Omnivore Recordings)
As part of their restoration of the Nighthawk Records catalog, Omnivore has rescued the Gladiators’ 1995 Full Time LP from obscurity and making it available to a larger audience. A compilation of sorts culled from the band’s trio of ‘80s-era albums for the defunct reggae label, Full Time is nevertheless a solid collection of mesmerizing, dub-tinged reggae. Fronted by singer/guitarist Albert Griffiths, whose pipes remind of Peter Tosh from that other reggae outfit, Gladiators’ performances often feature vocal harmonies provided by bassist Clinton Fearon and guitarist Gallimore Sutherland. With Clinton Rufus providing subtle albeit innovative lead guitar and with a solid rhythm section, Gladiators prove with tunes like “Ship Without A Captain,” the transcendent “One Love,” or the gorgeous “I’m Not Crying” that they were a self-contained, creative, cutting-edge reggae harmony band on par with the Mighty Diamonds or the pre-stardom Wailers.  Grade: A   BUY IT!

Moloch's Moloch
Moloch – Moloch (Stax Records)
Like Motown attempted with their Rare Earth imprint, so too did Memphis soul giants Stax Records try to grab some of that sweet rock ‘n’ roll cash with recordings from Big Star and UK progsters Skin Alley released on their Enterprise subsidiary. Local lads Moloch, featuring phenomenal guitarist Lee Baker, released a single self-titled 1969 album for Enterprise that went nowhere, disappearing until this über-cool 2016 vinyl reissue. A hard-rockin’ blues band, Moloch transcended the Clapton/Cream blueprint by incorporating Fred Nicholson’s uranium-weight keyboards into songs years before Deep Purple or Uriah Heep. Baker cranks molten riffs while singer Gene Wilkins does his best Jack Bruce impersonation on a rock-solid collection of bluesy jams penned by producer Don Nix, a Memphis legend. Moloch’s performance of Nix’s “Going Down” offers an incendiary, exotic reading that stands proud among a thousand covers. Period blues-rock fans will dig this overlooked relic of the era. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Phil Seymour's Prince of Power Pop
Phil Seymour – Prince of Power Pop (Big Beat Records)
Phil Seymour was an integral part of power-pop legends the Dwight Twilley Band, singing and co-writing with longtime friend Twilley. Breaking up after Shelter Records crashed and burned after just two albums, Seymour launched a modestly successful solo career mining much the same ‘60s-influenced pop-rock musical territory as his former band. Seymour scored a Top 30 hit with the lovely “Precious To Me” from his 1980 solo debut, faring less well when his 1982 sophomore effort fell victim to Boardwalk Records falling apart. Prince of Power Pop is a fine tho’ incomplete career retrospective that includes just six songs from Seymour’s debut and only two from his second LP. The selling point here is eleven previously-unreleased tracks recorded in 1980 with Seymour’s touring band, all of ‘em red-hot and ready to rock; covers of Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance” and Twilley’s “Looking For The Magic” should-have-been monster radio hits. Grade: B+   BUY IT!

Previously on That Devil Music:
Short Rounds, December 2017 - Flat Duo Jets, Focus, The Original Blues Brothers Band, Uriah Heep & John Wetton
Short Rounds, November 2017 - Tommy Castro, NRBQ, Radio Moscow & the Replacements
Short Rounds, October 2017 - Action Skulls, Arthur Adams, the Nighthawks & UFO 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Bootleg Rodeo: The Byrds, Midnight Oil & Poco

The Byrds' Pretty Boy Floyd
#5 – January 2018

Thanks to the vagaries created by loopholes in international copyright law, it seems that live music from the 1970s – particularly FM radio broadcasts – are fair game for release on CD by dodgy European labels. The situation is a godsend for rock ‘n’ roll fans, who now have access to budget recordings by their favorite artists that were only previously available as higher-priced bootleg titles.

Not all of these so-called “copyright gap” releases are worth your time and money, however, which is where That Devil Music’s “Bootleg Rodeo” comes into play. This monthly (give or take) column aims to separate the wheat from the chaff and let you know which of these recordings deserve a place in your collection and which should have been left to collect dust in a closet somewhere. Get ‘em while you can, kiddies, ‘cause one never knows when copyright treaties will be revised and the availability of these albums disappears.

For this month’s “Bootleg Rodeo” column, the first in a couple of months, the Reverend reviews recent releases by the Byrds, Midnight Oil, and Poco with links to buy ‘em (or not) from

The Byrds – Pretty Boy Floyd (Digital Legends)
Now the Reverend realizes as much as any home taper/tape trader that the further back you go in rock ‘n’ roll history, available recordings are harder to listen to due to primitive technology that resulted in shabby recordings. It seems that the basically anonymous Digital Legends label is vying with Laser Media to see who can sell the crappiest-sounding concert discs to rabid fans, and this unsourced 1971 performance by the trailblazing Byrds is one of the worse CDs, sonically, that these poor ears have ever heard (and I used to review bootleg CDs for Live! Music Review zine back in the day). Credited only to “Radio Broadcast, N.Y. 1971,” the Byrds’ Pretty Boy Floyd sounds like a poor audience taping mastered from old vinyl than anything that (presumably) WLIR-FM would have broadcast.

‘Tis a shame, too, ‘cause if the date of the performance is to be believed, the 1971 concert documented by Pretty Boy Floyd probably falls somewhere between 1970’s wonderful Untitled LP and 1971’s underrated Byrdmaniax album. The band line-up at the time included singer/guitarist Roger McGuinn, the enormously talented multi-instrumentalist Clarence White, bassist Skip Battin, and drummer Gene Parsons. The track list here draws heavily from Untitled, including gems like “Lover of the Bayou,” “Truck Stop Girl,” and the sublime “Chestnut Mare.” Only a single track is from Byrdmaniax – a lovely cover of Jackson Browne’s “Jamaica Say You Will” – and there are the expected performances of “My Back Pages” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” as well as an “Eight Miles High Jam.”

The band’s performance is spirited and quite entertaining, but the cavernous sound buries the vox and instrumentation in the depths of the mix, and there’s little definition provided White’s charming fretwork and the Byrds’ trademark vocal harmonies. You’d be much better off buying a copy of Sundazed’s Live At The Royal Albert Hall 1971, which features the same band line-up, it sounds better, and the CD offers a total of 19 songs instead of the dozen songs on Pretty Boy Floyd. The Rev’s recommendation: forget about it!

Midnight Oil – Live On Air (Laser Media)
I’ve frequently slagged Laser Media for the crappy sound of their concert CDs and, to be honest, Live On Air isn’t much different in sonic quality than the dreck typically released by the label. The sound is marginally better than previous Laser Media releases I’ve heard, or maybe Midnight Oil simply transcend the shabby source tape and lazy mixing endemic to many live discs of dodgy provenance. Midnight Oil’s Live On Air captures a truly electrifying performance by the Australian band; claiming to be an “official radio broadcast” from 1984, that would place the concert preserved by Live On Air sometime after the release of 1982’s highly-rocking 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and before 1984’s Red Sails In the Sunset album.

Eight of the twelve tracks here are from the 1982 LP, and while I’m not sure whether this CD is sourced from an Australian radio broadcast or some sort of label showcase aired on American FM (Midnight Oil was barely known in the U.S. in 1984 even if they were signed to Columbia Records), the CD’s sound is a notch below horrible, but at least frontman Peter Garrett’s vocals jump out at from the sonic muck while the guitars of Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey slice through the fog with all the ferocity of the hungry rockers they were at the time. There were a lot of great songs on 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 including “Power and the Passion” and the politically-charged “Short Memory,” both of which received significant college radio airplay back in the day. Tunes like “Scream In Blue,” “Outside World,” and “No Time For Games” ain’t chopped liver, though, and earlier band material like “Written In The Heart” (from the 1981 LP Place Without A Postcard), with its jagged, angular guitar licks or the chaotic rocker “Stand In Line” (from 1979’s Head Injuries) both display a different facet of the band’s talents.

I was lucky enough to see Midnight Oil perform in Nashville at the notorious Cannery venue. The band was touring in support of their 1990 album Blue Sky Mining and was still riding high on the strength of their Platinum™-selling 1987 U.S. breakthrough LP Diesel and Dust. The club was packed and the temperature well over 100 degrees – hotter than the Outback said Peter Garrett – but the band kicked out the jams nonetheless. The sound quality of Live On Air sucks a wallaby’s bum, but the band’s performance is pure dynamite and the CD offers Midnight Oil during a little-documented period of their career. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

Poco's Live at Columbia Studios, Hollywood
Poco – Live at Columbia Studios, Hollywood 30/9/71 (Retroworld Records)
Unlike the aforementioned Laser Media and Digital Legends labels, Retroworld is a bona fide legit operation and although they’ve released a few questionable titles over the past couple of years, the consumer is fairly well assured of getting a consistent sonic product. For Poco’s Live at Columbia Studios, Hollywood 30/9/71 the label licensed the masters directly from the band’s longtime label home, Epic Records. This live-in-the-studio performance dates to September 1971, which puts it around the time when the band’s third studio album, From The Inside, was released. The first album to feature guitarist Paul Cotton in the wake of original band member Jim Messina’s departure (to form the uber-successful Loggins & Messina), the band at the time also included frontman Richie Furay, pedal steel wizard Rusty Young (who keeps the band going today), bassist Timothy B. Schmit, and drummer George Grantham.

An underrated period of a rich decade that saw Poco release ten critically-acclaimed albums to mixed commercial success (only 1973’s Crazy Eyes would chart Top 40), Live at Columbia Studios features a half-dozen tracks off From The Inside, including the spry “Hoe Down”; Paul Cotton’s lovely, intricate “Bad Weather” and the rockin’ “Railroad Days”; and the album’s ill-fated lone single “Just For Me and You,” a gorgeous mid-tempo ballad that only climbed as high as #110 on the charts. The classic “Pickin’ Up The Pieces” is woven into a charming medley with “Hard Luck” and Buffalo Springfield’s “Child’s Claim To Fame,” the band sounding a lot like Crosby, Stills & Nash, while “C’mon,” the closest thing that Poco had to a hit single at the time, is provided a lengthy and electrifying instrumental jam.

Professionally-recorded, sound quality on Poco’s Live at Columbia Studios is befitting what is essentially a major label archive release, and despite the CD’s import status, fans can pick up a copy for a reasonable price online. Displaying the sort of pioneering country-rock sound with pop undertones that was Poco’s trademark, Live at Columbia Studios is a worthy addition to the band’s extensive catalog. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

Previous Columns:
Bootleg Rodeo #1 - Tom Petty, Carlos Santana/John Lee Hooker, George Thorogood & the Destroyers 

Bootleg Rodeo #2 - Tom Petty, Stephen Stills & Manasass, Neil Young
Bootleg Rodeo #3 - Bob Seger
Bootleg Rodeo #4 - The Marshall Tucker Band, Steely Dan & Joe Walsh 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Beat Legend Allen Ginsberg’s Howl on Vinyl!

Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems vinyl box set

Legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg is known for his classic 1956 debut Howl and Other Poems, a thin but influential collection of innovative poetry that would inspire a generation of artists, including Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Joe Strummer of the Clash. The collected poems rail against U.S. conformity and commercialism with an unprecedented creative voice and raw language that would turn the literary world on its collective head. Published by the forward-thinking City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, Howl would be banned for obscenity and City Lights publisher (and fellow poet) Lawrence Ferlinghetti and bookstore manager Shig Murao were both jailed for selling the book. The collection represented one of the first important battles for free speech, a fight that raged well into the 1960s and ‘70s, with a judge finally lifting the ban and declaring the poem “Howl” to possess sufficient artistic value to qualify for First Amendment protection.

On February 23rd, 2018 Craft Recordings – the catalog division of Concord Music – will release a deluxe vinyl box set celebrating Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. Pressed on translucent red vinyl, the LP reproduces the original 1959 album of Ginsberg reading his poems and the set includes a copy of the book as well as other ephemera like a photo of Ginsberg from the 1950s and a booklet that includes new liner notes by Beat scholar Ann Charters and notes by poet Ann Waldman. To celebrate the album’s release, San Francisco’s legendary City Lights Booksellers will host a reception on February 22nd at 7:00 PM. The event, which will be open to the public, will feature readings and statements by Ann Charters, San Francisco’s Poet Laureate Kim Shuck, poet and author Neeli Cherkovski, City Lights’ Poetry Editor Garrett Caples, and box set producer Bill Belmont.

Buy the vinyl from Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems

Friday, January 12, 2018

Archive Review: The Yardbirds' Ultimate!

The Yardbirds' Ultimate!
One of the truly legendary bands in rock music, it's nevertheless been very difficult for the average music fan to assemble any sort of coherent Yardbirds' collection. Back in the '60s heyday of the band, the original British versions of their albums were sliced and diced, mixed and matched, and then re-titled for release stateside. Cut-out during the '70s, collectors paid premium prices for rare copies of the Yardbirds' vinyl. During the CD era, albums disappeared and reappeared with unpredictable reliability and "greatest hits" collections, often slapped together by unscrupulous fly-by-night labels, proliferated. A lot of great music got misplaced, until the recent release of Ultimate! by Rhino Records.

For younger music fans that want to know what all the brouhaha over the Yardbirds is about, look no further than Ultimate! The two-CD, 52-track boxed collection includes an enormous booklet filled with rare photos, song credits and comprehensive liner notes and history provided by late musician/collector/authority Cub Koda. It's the music that does the talking on Ultimate!, however, the Yardbirds kicking out an original and groundbreaking mix of blues and riff-oriented blues-rock during their five-year lifespan. The band was blessed during its brief existence with not one but three – count 'em – three superstar six-string talents. Eric Clapton contributed guitar duties for one of the earliest incarnations of the band, leaving after a year and a half to be replaced by Jeff Beck. Jimmy Page joined the band as a bass player; later moving to guitar in a twin-guitar version of the band before taking over solo duties upon Beck's departure.

The Yardbirds' Ultimate!

Ultimate! pieces together a chronological history of the Yardbirds, beginning with early Clapton-led singles and other material recorded under the direction of original manager/producer Giorgio Gomelsky. The Gomelsky "era" stretches across the first disc and includes some of Clapton's legendary original contributions to the band. Highlights include covers of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" and the Ernie K-Doe hit "A Certain Girl" as well as live tracks taken from the band's debut album Five Live Yardbirds. The classic hit single "For Your Love" proved to be Clapton's swansong, the guitarist leaving the band in a huff over the song's commercial sound.

When Clapton departed to pursue a purer shade of blue with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Jeff Beck was recruited and joined the Yardbirds as his replacement. It proved to be a match made in heaven – Beck's improvisational six-string wizardry found a perfect chemistry with frontman Keith Relf's passionate vocals and inspired harp playing. This would be the most successful period of the band's career, as they cranked out chart-topping hits like "Heart Full of Soul," "Shapes of Things," and "Over Under Sideways Down." There were plenty of other great tunes, though, such as the rollicking B-side instrumental "Jeff's Boogie" or a raucous cover of "The Train Kept A Rollin'" recorded at Sam Phillip's Recording Service in Memphis. Beck's maniacal use of feedback, distortion, echo and fuzz created a trademark sound for the band and paved the way for a thousand-and-one late '60s garage bands to delve into psychedelica, heavy metal and endless instrumental jams.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor

Bassist and "musical director" Paul Samwell-Smith left the Yardbirds in 1966 to pursue a successful career as a producer, working with talents like Cat Stevens and Jethro Tull. Jimmy Page was brought in to play bass, taking over six-string duties on tour during a Beck absence. The Beck/Page line-up only recorded a couple of singles, most notably "Stroll On" from the movie Blow-Up and the single "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," which also featured future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul.

The Page-led Yardbirds kicked out some interesting tuneage, working with new manager Peter Grant and superstar Britpop producer Mickey Most, moving into a less bluesy and more complex psychedelic-influenced era. Page's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor" was a fascinating slice of pop-rock while the acoustic-instrumental "White Summer" was an energetic artistic predecessor to Led Zeppelin's experimentation with British folk and Middle Eastern melodies. The Harry Nilsson composition "Ten Little Indians" is a chaotic delight while "Drinking Muddy Water" sounds like the Chicago blues as filtered through London's Marquee Club. Ultimate! also adds three solo recordings from Yardbirds' vocalist Keith Relf.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

Over the course of seven albums, the Yardbirds earned a legacy as one of the true seminal bands in rock 'n' roll history. Their musical contributions to the genre still sound alive and vibrant thirty-five years after the fact. The band also served as an important predecessor to the formation of Led Zeppelin, arguably the most important and successful rock band of the '70s.

If I had one complaint with this set, it is in the lack of material from the band's collaboration with blues giant Sonny Boy Williamson, an inspired album that predated the superstar-laden London Sessions albums by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf by a decade. Ultimate! nonetheless provides a fine history of the band, an important collection that should please both hardcore collectors and new listeners alike. (Rhino Records, released July 31, 2001)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™

Monday, January 8, 2018

CD Review: Alex Chilton's A Man Called Destruction (2017)

Alex Chilton's A Man Called Destruction
By the time that he returned to Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee during the summer of 1994, Alex Chilton had already enjoyed a tumultuous and storied career. Joining blue-eyed soul band the Box Tops at the young age of 16, Chilton experienced the highs of the record biz as the band scored late ‘60s hits with classic songs like “The Letter,” “Soul Deep,” and “Cry Like A Baby.” After a brief foray exploring the possibilities of solo work, Chilton formed power-pop legends Big Star with like-minded musicians Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens. Big Star would deliver a pair of critically-acclaimed albums in 1972’s #1 Record and 1974’s Radio City (a third Big Star album would be released in 1978, years after the band’s break-up), but when commercial success seemed out of reach, Chilton re-started his solo career.

To say that Alex Chilton’s solo career was “checkered” is in no way an exaggeration. As Big Star’s posthumous influence and reputation grew and inspired bands like the Posies, the Replacements, and R.E.M., among many others, expectations soared whenever Chilton sojourned into the recording studio. For every acclaimed effort like 1985’s Feudalist Tarts there would be a sloppy, undisciplined work such as 1979’s Like Flies On Sherbet, Chilton often recording doomed, anarchistic and anachronistic albums for European labels charmed by his legend. Chilton even took a brief hiatus from music in the early ‘80s, washing dishes in a New Orleans restaurant, returning only to subsume his identity as a (mostly) anonymous member of Tav Falco’s Panther Burns. Chilton had largely beaten his personal demons by the time he went home and recorded A Man Called Destruction, and the long out-of-print gem has finally been restored to the Chilton catalog.

Alex Chilton’s A Man Called Destruction

A Man Called Destruction is every bit as eclectic as the artist that recorded it, Chilton mixing up the rockin’ style of R&B that he’d perfected with the Box Tops with Big Star-styled power-pop and elements of blues, soul, gospel, and country music. Featuring original material as well as covers from Chilton’s big book of favorites, A Man Called Destruction was recorded with old friends like bassist Ron Easley and drummer Ron Garrison as well as a brace of local Memphis studio pros like keyboardists Al Gamble and Charlie Hodges and saxophonist Jim Spake. The result was an engaging, if often-confusing collection of sounds, none of them anywhere close to resembling “contemporary” in 1995, a year during which hip-hop and alt-rock ruled the charts.

For instance, Chilton’s cover of the Fats Domino hit “Sick and Tired” (originally written and recorded by Louisiana native Chris Kenner) skews towards a New Orleans big band sound, with a jazz-flecked rhythm track providing locomotion behind Chilton’s spirited Mardi Gras vocals. The original “Devil Girl” got plenty of college radio airplay back in the day, the song’s low-slung groove, sultry lyrics, and smoky vocal delivery matched with syncopated rhythms and Chilton’s skronky, chaotic fretwork. I never cared much for the loopy “What’s Your Sign Girl,” Chilton’s fatback guitarplay outshining his goofy vocals, but a cover of his pal Keith Keller’s “Lies” is a muscular rocker with explosive percussion and blistering six-string work.


Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have To Go” is provided a reverent, bluesy reading with Chilton’s surprisingly skillful harp playing. The instrumental “Boplexity” is a wild, swinging affair, with Charlie Hodges’ excited keyboard-pounding and Chilton’s mighty fine chicken-pickin’ reminding these ears of Booker T & the M.G.’s trailblazing mix of blues, jazz, and R&B whereas a cover of the Jan & Dean B-side “New Girl In School” is appropriately whimsical, Chilton delivering his best Brian Wilson vocal impersonation while an extended guitar solo moves the surf-pop ditty dangerously close to leather-clad garage-rock turf. “Don’t Know Anymore” is a jazzy, late-night dirge with more than a little blues in the grooves, sparking some flashy guitar licks and accompanied by icy blasts of horn.

The album-ending “Don’t Stop” is the kind of power-pop creation that Chilton defined with Big Star – melodic, but with ramshackle guitar and the sort of joyous sonic construction that would inspire a hundred bands in the 1980s and ‘90s. The Omnivore Recordings reissue of A Man Called Destruction tacks seven previously-unreleased bonus songs onto the original track list, including an outtake of “Devil Girl” with double-tracked vocals that heighten the song’s surrealistic malevolence. Chilton’s original “You’re My Favorite” is a rockabilly-tinged romper-stomper with exhilarating guitar riffs and propulsive rhythms while “Please Pass Me My Walkin’ Shoes” is a similarly-flavored 1950s throwback with a Carl Perkins heart and a Chicago blues soul that features raucous fretwork and an overall reckless vibe. A mash-up of the flighty “Why Should I Care” – a jazzy pastiche of British dancehall rhythms – with the somber, dark-hued “It’s Your Funeral” is not as odd a pairing as one might think at first, two sides of the same coin as it were.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

One of Alex Chilton’s final studio albums, A Man Called Destruction can also easily be considered one of his best recordings overall. Chilton’s joyful performances at Ardent Studios provide insight into his love of music of all stripes while spotlighting his vastly underrated guitar skills. The cult rocker seldom sounded as happy, inspired, and motivated as he does playing on these tracks, Chilton willing to discard the mythology that had grown up around him like so much kudzu vine to simply play what his heart desired, and the results speak for themselves. Eclectic it may be, but A Man Called Destruction displays Chilton’s immense if often-unused talents like few albums in the artist’s catalog, bolstering his status as the man who launched a musical revolution with the sound of his guitar and expressive vocals. Grade: A (Omnivore Recordings, released August 24, 2017)

Buy the CD from Alex Chilton’s A Man Called Destruction

Also on That Devil
Big Star’s Nothing Can Hurt Me movie review
Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos CD review

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Book Review: Greg Prevost and Andy Babiuk's Rolling Stones Gear (2014)

Greg Prevost and Andy Babiuk's Rolling Stones Gear
Greg Prevost and Andy Babiuk spent better than three decades together in the legendary “psychedelic blues” outfit the Chesterfield Kings. During this time, the band recorded almost a dozen albums and spent several thousand nights on the road, but their best performance to date may be the creation of Rolling Stones Gear. A massive, oversized, thick 672-page, profusely-illustrated hardback book, Rolling Stones Gear is pricey ($60 list, $45 retail online) but essential for any Stones fan or music gearhead, delivering more than its cover price in history and information.

Aside from their hands-on experience playing in one of the most underrated American rock ‘n’ roll bands of the 1980s and ‘90s, these two writers are eminently qualified to pen Rolling Stones Gear. A few years ago, Babiuk published Beatles Gear, a similarly massive tome that offered insight into “All the Fab Four’s Gear From Stage to Studio,” the book becoming a surprise best-seller. Babiuk is also a world-renowned authority on vintage guitars and the owner of Andy Babiuk’s Fab Gear, a boutique guitar store located near Rochester, New York.

Greg Prevost and Andy Babiuk’s Rolling Stones Gear

Greg Prevost, of course, should need no introduction – we reviewed his Universal Vagrant album a couple years ago. Aside from Prevost’s lengthy stint at the front of the Chesterfield Kings, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist is a well-respected music journalist, with material published in dozens of magazines and music fanzines worldwide, including Shindig! (U.K.) and Ugly Things. Prevost is considered an authority on 1960s and ‘70s era rock and blues music, and is well-known as a rabid Rolling Stones fan.

Together, Prevost and Babiuk have put together a truly beautiful book, Rolling Stones Gear offering more than just a mere overview of the band’s instruments through the years. The book provides a lengthy and insightful history of the Stones’ half-century of making rock ‘n’ roll, from in-depth writing on the band’s formation in 1962 and background on all the Stones’ individual members to early musical influences and supporters like Alexis Korner, arguably the founding father of the British blues-rock scene.

As mentioned above, Rolling Stones Gear includes hundreds of B&W and color photos – many rare, many previously unpublished – of various instruments, album and magazine covers, band performance shots, and other flotsam and jetsam from one of the most notorious careers in rock music. With detailed documentation of the gear used by the band on every song they recorded (including demo recordings and out-takes), as well as their frequent high-profile (and lucrative tours), Rolling Stones Gear outlines the storied history of the band with enthusiasm and energy.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Featuring brilliant printing and reproduction of its lush photos, Rolling Stones Gear is simply gorgeous, a look befitting the love and labor that went into the creation of the prose that accompanies the intriguing and often informative graphics. Rolling Stones Gear is a hall of fame worthy collection, a fine document of the classic band’s story that would appeal to both the casual fan and any aficionado of vintage musical instruments. As for the hardcore Stones fan, it goes without saying...they’re going to want this book! (Backbeat Books, released January 1, 2014)

Review originally published in slightly different form by Blues

Buy the book from Greg Prevost and Andy Babiuk’s Rolling Stones Gear

Ben Vaughn’s Instrumental Stylings coming on Vinyl!

Ben Vaughn’s Instrumental Stylings
Instrumental Stylings is an often-overlooked gem in the catalog of rocker Ben Vaughan, the 1995 collection of original material spanning the breadth of Vaughan’s talents as a songwriter and musician. The album provided Vaughan’s entry into the world of TV and film scoring, and he would become the Music Supervisor for the award-winning comedy Third Rock From The Sun, penning the show’s quirky theme song, and would later work on the hit That 70s Show, which opened the door to a number of scoring opportunities. Vaughn also worked as a producer, working on albums by rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers and R&B giant Arthur Alexander as well as his collaboration with Big Star’s Alex Chilton and Suicide’s Alan Vega, Cubist Blues.

On January 26th, 2018, Bar/None Records will reissue Vaughn’s Instrumental Stylings for the first time on glorious ebony vinyl. The new release includes a download card with the complete album as well as four bonus tracks, including one featuring singer Dean Ween. The critically-acclaimed album has received numerous glowing reviews through the years, perhaps none better than that published by All Music Guide. AMG critic Stanton Swihart writes “Instrumental Stylings is not a soundtrack album, but it certainly tackles its fair share of instrumental touchstones. Vaughn shies away from no genre: bone-crunching surf, spaghetti western, drag-strip stompers, country-blues boogie, Italian soundtrack, breezy bossa nova, Tex-Mex cowboy ballads, noir Indian music, and numerous mix-and-match hybrids thereof.”

In the past 20+ years, Ben Vaughan has continued his career as a musician, producer, and composer, providing music for TV shows like Men Behaving Badly and Grounded For Life and films like Psycho Beach Party and The Independent. Vaughan has also produced albums by his friends Ween, Los Straitjackets, Mark Olson (The Jayhawks), and Nancy Sinatra as well as the soundtrack to the film Swingers. He has also released a number of albums since Instrumental Stylings, the most recent being 2016’s Piece De Resistance. Vaughan also hosts his own syndicated radio show, The Many Moods of Ben Vaughan when he’s not on the road touring. You can check Vaughan’s website to find a station airing his program. In the meantime, pick up a vinyl copy of Instrumental Stylings from

Friday, January 5, 2018

Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest box set

Craft Recordings – the catalog division of Concord Music – has announced the upcoming release of Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest. The whopping six-CD box will be available on February 9th, 2018 and will feature a wealth of long-gotten single B-sides and other rarities exploring the legendary record label’s explorations in rock, pop, blues, soul, and gospel music from 1960-1975.

Offering recordings from the catalogs of both Craft and Rhino Records, who jointly control Stax’s masters, Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest features four new in-depth essays by music journalist Lee Hildebrand, writer and music historian Alec Palao, and box set co-producers Bill Belmont and Rob Bowman, who is also the author of the excellent Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records. This fourth volume of material from the Stax vaults follows box sets released in 1991, 1994, and 1994 and takes a look beyond the label’s R&B chart hits to dig into the crates and resurrect singles from Stax subsidiaries like Ardent and Hip (rock); Chalice and Gospel Truth (gospel); and Enterprise (country) as well as instrumental and blues tracks from the pre-Stax Satellite Records imprint.

Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest collects singles from over 60 diverse artists including the Staple Singers, Big Star, the Bar-Kays, Don Nix, Rufus and Carla Thomas, the Cobras, Mable John, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, the Mad Lads, Sid Selvidge, Bobby Whitlock, Billy Lee Riley, Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers, and many others. The new box set caps off a year-long celebration of Stax Records’ 60th anniversary by a unique industry partnership between Craft and Rhino that included over fifteen vinyl reissues of R&B classics like Rufus Thomas’s Walking the Dog, Sam & Dave’s Soul Men, Carla Thomas’s Carla, and Otis Redding’s Live In Europe, an exclusive Record Store Day ‘Black Friday’ release pressed on red vinyl.

Buy the box on Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest

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Sam & Dave - Stax Classics CD review

Monday, January 1, 2018

In Memoriam 2017: John Abercrombie to Dennis Dragon

The same year that saw an orange-colored buffoon elevated to the highest position in the land also saw another 365 days of loss and tragedy. Last year was absolutely brutal in terms of musician deaths, and while 2017 tried its best to beat the Reaper, we still lost far too many talents from the ranks of the visionary. Our “In Memoriam” feature is so large again this year that I’ve broken it down into three parts, with each artist's age at death in parentheses. To follow is in tribute to the artists that have made the music we love…

Part Two: Roger Ferguson to Paul O'Neill
Part Three: Scott Putesky to Jessi Zazu

John Abercrombie photo by Filip Drabek
John Abercrombie photo by Filip Drabek

John Abercrombie (72)
Abercrombie was a revered and influential jazz guitarist, composer, and bandleader who worked in, and helped define free jazz, jazz fusion, and avant-garde genres. Abercrombie graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to New York City in 1969. With his unparalleled six-string skills, Abercrombie soon became an in-demand session player, recording with artists like Gato Barbieri and Gil Evans. He later joined jazz-rock fusion outfit Dreams with drummer Billy Cobham and the Brecker Brothers; Abercrombie also appeared on several of Cobham’s solo albums, including critically-acclaimed releases like 1974’s Total Eclipse and 1975’s Shabazz.

Abercrombie recorded his solo debut, 1974’s Timeless, with keyboardist Jan Hammer and drummer Jack DeJohnette for ECM Records. In 1975, Abercrombie formed the band Gateway with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland, the trio releasing two albums in the 1970s and another pair of albums after reuniting in the early ‘90s. Abercrombie continued to record and tour until his death, releasing better than three dozen albums over a career that spanned five decades as well as lending his talents to artists like Ralph Towner, Michael Brecker, Paul Bley, Lonnie Smith, and many others.     

Martin Eric Ain (50)
Born ‘Martin Stricker’ in the U.S. but holding dual citizenship with Switzerland, Ain is best known as the longtime bassist for Swiss metal band Celtic Frost and its precursor, Hellhammer. Ain contributed to classic ‘80s-era Celtic Frost albums like To Mega Therion and Into The Pandemonium, his distinctive, rumbling bass style influencing bands like Sepultura and Opeth, among others. Ain’s collaborative work with guitarist Tom Warrior in Celtic Frost had a major impact on heavy metal and its evolution.
Pat Albert (52)
Pat Albert was a pioneer of the early Nashville rock scene that I wrote about in my 2012 book The Other Side of Nashville. Albert was a member of the trailblazing punk outfit CPS (Committee for Public Safety) before joining former Dead Boys’ member Cheetah Chrome’s band when the legendary punk rocker moved to the Music City. Albert was later a member of the 1990s-era Nashville punk outfit Trauma Team. The Nashville Scene wrote a nice obituary on Albert and his career.
Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman (69)
Gregg Allman – a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee with the Allman Brothers Band and a successful solo artist – passed away on May 27th at 69 years old due to complications from liver cancer. [read full obituary]

Joey Alves (63)
Alves joined the San Francisco hard rock/heavy metal trailblazers Y&T in 1974 as their guitarist and played and recorded with the band until 1989, performing on albums like Yesterday and Today, Earthshaker, and In Rock We Trust. Alves last appeared on Y&T’s 1987 album Contagious but reunited with the band in 2004 and toured with them in 2016.

Walter Becker (67)
Rolling Stone magazine and other outlets have reported the death of Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker at the age of 67 years after an undisclosed illness. The talented musician and songwriter will forever be yoked to Steely Dan and his longtime creative partner, Donald Fagen, the pair creating a back catalog of innovative music that was meager in numbers but over-sized in influence and creativity. [read full obituary]

Chester Bennington photo by Stefan Brending
Chester Bennington photo by Stefan Brending
Chester Bennington (41)
Best-known as the lead singer of rap-metal band Linkin Park, Chester Bennington also spent time as frontman for Stone Temple Pilots and Dead by Sunrise. Bennington came to prominence after the 2000 release of Linkin Park’s Platinum™-selling debut album Hybrid Theory. The band became a popular concert d
raw on the strength of a dynamic stage show and multi-Platinum™ albums like 2003’s Meteora (7+ million copies sold) and 2007’s Minutes to Midnight (4+ million copies sold), and is credited with selling better than 65 million records worldwide.

Bennington’s musical side-project, Dead by Sunrise, released a single Top 20 charting album, Out of Ashes, in 2009 and the singer recorded with Stone Temple Pilots for their 2013 EP High Rise. Bennington also dabbled in acting, appearing in cameos in films like Crank, Crank: High Voltage, and Saw 3D.

Chuck Berry (90)
Chuck Berry, inarguably one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, passed away at the age of 90 on March 18th, 2017. As reported by Rolling Stone magazine and elsewhere, St. Charles County Missouri police responded to a medical emergency at Berry’s home Saturday after where they found the rock legend unresponsive. First responders applied lifesaving techniques but were unable to revive Berry, who had recently battled pneumonia. [read full obituary

Chuck Berry photo courtesy Universal Music
Chuck Berry photo courtesy Universal Music
John Blackwell, Jr. (43)
Blackwell was a master percussionist who performed with Prince for 15 years. Known for his unique style of drumming, Blackwell was a graduate of the Berklee College of Music before joining Prince’s New Power Generation band in 2000; Blackwell also performed with artists like Cameo, Patti Labelle, and Justin Timberlake, among others.

Charles Bradley (68)
American soul singer Charles Bradley enjoyed a modicum of late career success after being discovered by Daptone Records in the early 2000s. Up until that time, Bradley worked various odd jobs across the country while performing under stage names like The Screaming Eagle of Soul, Black Velvet, and James Brown, Jr. Bradley moved to Brooklyn during the mid-‘90s and, after signing with Daptone, released a number of singles circa 2002-2010 before recording his debut album, No Time For Dreaming, in 2011. Bradley released two more albums for Daptone – 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes – while becoming a popular live performer and touring extensively. In 2012, Bradley’s career was documented by the film Soul of America, directed by Poull Brien, which included performance footage from festivals around the world. 

Blues legend Lonnie Brooks
Lonnie Brooks photo courtesy Alligator Records
Lonnie Brooks (83)
The blues world lost a bona fide legend on April 1st, 2017 with the passing of the great Lonnie Brooks, who was 83 years old at the time of his death. A brilliant guitarist and underrated, soulful vocalist, Brooks was a dynamic live performer who toured the world to no little acclaim. [read full obituary]

Paul Buckmaster (71)
An accomplished cellist who graduated from the Royal Academy of Music at the young age of 21, Paul Buckmaster is best known as a skilled orchestral arranger that provided strings and things to hits by David Bowie (“Space Oddity”), the Bee Gees (“Odessa”), Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”), and Harry Nilsson (“Without You”). Buckmaster also worked with artists as diverse as Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen, and the Grateful Dead and served as Elton John’s musical director on albums like Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across the Water.

Glen Campbell 1967 photo by Capitol Records
Glen Campbell 1967/Capitol Records
Glen Campbell (81)
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor Glen Campbell was a beloved American musician and personality. Best known for his string of 1960s and ‘70s-era hits like “Gentle On My Mind,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” among others, Campbell was also the host of a music and comedy variety show on CBS called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Over a career that spanned 50 years, Campbell released 70 albums, selling better than 45 million records worldwide, and placing 80 different songs on the charts. Campbell also dabbled in acting, earning a Golden Globe nomination for his supporting role alongside John Wayne in the 1969 film True Grit.

Born in Arkansas, Campbell moved to Los Angeles in 1960 to become a session musician, hooking up with local L.A. band the Champs while also writing songs and recording demos for American Music, a publishing company. Campbell’s skills with guitar, mandolin, and banjo led to his becoming a member of the loose-knit group of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, performing on recordings by artists like Ricky Nelson, the Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, Phil Spector, and Elvis Presley, among others. He was signed as a solo artist by Capitol Records in 1962, releasing a series of unsuccessful singles and albums before scoring a hit with his 1965 cover of the Buffy Sainte-Marie song “Universal Soldier.” Campbell was a touring member of the Beach Boys during the mid-‘60s, and also toured as part of Ricky Nelson’s band before finally breaking through with the Top 20 country hit “Burning Bridges.”

Working with producer Al De Lory, Campbell broke through to the mainstream with the 1967 hit “Gentle On My Mind,” which was followed by a string of single releases that would earn Campbell four Grammy® Awards. Although Campbell’s career cooled off in the ‘80s, he would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and continued to tour and record in spite of his 2010 diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell released his final album, 2017’s Adiós, just two months before his death.

Wayne Cochran (78)
The prototypical “blue-eyed” soul man, Wayne Cochran provided the blueprint by which a generation of white soul singers (Van Morrison, Frankie Miller, Boz Scaggs, Daryl Hall, et al) would build their careers. Best known as the songwriter behind the classic song “Last Kiss” – a hit for J. Frank Wilson in 1964 and again later for Pearl Jam in 1999 – Cochran also wrote such gems as “Goin’ Back To Miami” and “Sleepless Nights” while his version of the old Ma Rainey song “C.C. Rider” set the standard for rock ‘n’ roll as well as providing Cochran with the name of his longtime band. Cochran never scored the monster hit that would have secured his legacy, and today’s he’s best known for his flamboyant stage presence and larger-than-life pompadour-styled stark white hair. Still, Cochran and the C.C. Riders toured from the late ‘50s until the mid-‘70s and recorded albums for the Chess Records, King Records, and Epic Records labels before retiring from music to become a minister.

Dead Moon's Destination X
Fred Cole (69)
Singer and guitarist Fred Cole was an influential artist on the American D.I.Y. scene, his garage-rock band Dead Moon releasing several indie albums throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, influencing bands like the Wipers, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. Cole started his career at 15 years old and by the age of 18 he was fronting Pacific Northwest rockers the Weeds. The band changed its name to the Lollipop Shoppe and released a single classic psychedelic album, Just Colour, on UNI Records, garnering comparisons to bands like Love and the Seeds.

When the Lollipop Shoppe broke up, Cole formed a number of various bands such as Zipper, King Bee, and the Rats that explored hard rock and punk. Dead Moon was formed by Cole and his wife Toody in 1987 and would release better than a dozen albums on their own labels, with Cole mastering the records himself on a vintage lathe that had been used on the Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie.” Dead Moon’s mix of psychedelic, garage, and punk rock earned the band a small but avid following in the U.S. and European underground. Cole broke up Dead Moon in 2006 after nearly three decades, forming a new band, Pierced Arrows. Our buddy Fred Mills at Blurt magazine has a more thorough remembrance of Cole on the zine’s website.

Chris Cornell photo by Gordon Correll/GDCGraphics
Chris Cornell photo by Gordon Correll
Chris Cornell (52)
One of the leading lights of the ‘90s-era Seattle scene, Chris Cornell was found dead in the bathroom of his room at the MGM Grand in Detroit, Michigan after performing a show with Soundgarden at the Fox Theatre. Cornell’s cause of death was ruled to be suicide by hanging; he was only 52 years old. [read full obituary]

James Cotton (81)
We’re immensely saddened to report on the death of blues legend James Cotton, who passed away on March 16th, 2017 of pneumonia at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. Cotton was 81 years old. The powerful sound of Cotton’s harmonica helped define the evolution of the blues during the 1970s onward, and he was a constant presence on the stage, touring worldwide for better than 60 years. [read full obituary]

Holger Czukay (79)
German multi-instrumentalist Holger Czukay is best-known as the co-founder of progressive rock pioneers Can. Czukay studied music under Karlheinz Stockhausen during the early ‘60s, and worked for a short while as a music teacher. Czukay was not interested in rock ‘n’ roll until a student played him the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus,” which opened his mind to the experimental potential of rock music. He formed Can in 1968 with fellow Stockhausen student Irmin Schmidt on keyboards, adding guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. The foursome explored the possibilities of minimalist, electronic, and world music into their avant-garde vision of psychedelic rock, serving as trailblazers on the fledgling German ‘krautrock’ scene.

Czukay recorded nine albums with Can between Monster Movie, their 1969 debut, and 1977’s Saw Delight, including acclaimed classics like 1971’s Tago Mago and 1973’s Future Days. Leaving the band to pursue a solo career, Czukay pioneered the use of sampling on his records, cutting and splicing tapes of shortwave radio sounds and incorporating them into his music. On his 1991 album Radio Wave Surfer, he used the shortwave radio as a live, interactive musical instrument, a method of composition he called “radio painting.” Czukay also collaborated with a number of like-minded and adventuresome musicians through the years, including Brian Eno, Jah Wobble, David Sylvain, and the Eurythmics, among others. Sadly, Czukay’s Can bandmate, drummer Jaki Liebezeit, also passed away in 2017. 

Robert Dahlqvist (40)
Robert Dahlqvist was the longtime guitarist for Swedish garage-rock cult favorites the Hellacopters from 1999 until 2007, recording four studio albums and four EPs with the critically-acclaimed band. During this time, the Hellacopters also collaborated with artists like the Flaming Sideburns, Gluecifer, the Backyard Babies, and Detroit rock legend Scott Morgan (The Rationals, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band). During his tenure with the Hellacopters, Dahlqvist had launched a side project called Thunder Express, named after a MC5 song in tribute to the Motor City rockers.

Thunder Express released a pair of albums – We Play For Pleasure in 2004 and Republic Disgrace in 2007 – before changing their name to Dundertåget, literally the Swedish translation of ‘Thunder Express.’ The band released two more albums under its new name before breaking up in 2011. Dahlqvist was a recurring member of Stefan Sundström’s backing band Sundström during the early 2000s, and toured with his former Hellacopters bandmate Anders Lindström’s band the Diamond Dogs in 2004. Dahlqvist also contributed to former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer’s 2003 album Adult World and to Communicate, the first studio album by the Solution, a collaboration between Scott Morgan and the Hellacopters’ Nicke Royale. Dahlqvist released an April 2016 single under the band name Strängen, one of the guitarist’s nicknames, and announced plans to record a solo album after a five-year hiatus from music. The album was reportedly near completion at the time of his death.

Warrel Dane (56)
Vocalist Warrel Dane (born Warrel Baker) was lead singer for the heavy metal bands Sanctuary and Nevermore. Trained as an opera singer and possessing a wide vocal range, Dane brought his soaring vocals to two influential major label albums by Sanctuary – 1988’s Refuge Denied and 1990’s Into the Mirror Black – but when Epic Records tried to remake the band from thrash-metal into ‘grunge,’ Sanctuary broke up. Dane formed the prog-metal outfit Nevermore with former Sanctuary bassist Jim Sheppard and guitarist Jeff Loomis; released by notable metal imprint Century Media, the band’s self-titled 1995 debut album found an appreciative audience among metal fans. Nevermore would release a total of seven studio albums and a live disc before going on hiatus in 2011. Dane released a solo album, Praises to the War Machine, in 2008 and would reform his old band Sanctuary in 2014, releasing The Year the Sun Died that year. At the time of his death, Dane had completed a new Sanctuary album, Dead Again, which will be released posthumously, and had been working on a second solo album. 

Cedell Davis's Even The Devil Gets The Blues
CeDell Davis (91)
Bluesman CeDell Davis began playing guitar as a young child, but a bout of polio when he was ten years old left him with little control over is left hand and restricted use of his right. Davis adapted by using a butter knife in his fretting hand to approximate a sort of slide-guitar sound which became his signature. The Arkansas native began playing clubs and juke-joints throughout Mississippi and in 1953 he began a decade of playing with blues legend Robert Nighthawk. A police raid on a club in 1957 led to a stampede that broke both of Davis’s legs, and he used a wheelchair from then until his death. A life of hardship and obscurity was expressed in his lyrics, and Davis would come to the attention of Mississippi’s Fat Possum Records, which released Davis’s Robert Palmer-produced 1994 debut Feel Like Doin’ Something Wrong.

Capricorn Records released The Best of CeDell Davis a year later, the bluesman backed by Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. The Horror of It All was released by Fat Possum in 1998, followed by 2002’s When Lightnin’ Struck the Pine, which included contributions by REM’s Peter Buck and the Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey and Alex Veley. Davis continued to perform and record until his death, his last album – 2016’s Even the Devil Gets the Blues – featuring guests and admirers like producer/drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), and McCaughey. 

The Smithereens
The Smithereens
Pat DiNizio (62)
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Pat DiNizio formed the Smithereens in New Jersey in 1980 with guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros, and drummer Dennis Diken. The four friends enjoyed a string of minor hits during the late 1980s and early ‘90s like “Only A Memory,” “A Girl Like You,” and “Too Much Passion,” but it was albums like Especially For You (1986), Green Thoughts (1988), and 11 (1989) that earned the band a loyal following that stuck with them through the lean years and a handful of albums for various labels, culminating in 2011, the band’s swansong, released in 2011 by eOne Music.

DiNizio also pursued a career as a solo artist, releasing four critically-acclaimed solo efforts beginning with 1997’s Songs and Sounds. DiNizio dabbled in acting, appearing in a bit role in the hit 1992 film Singles as well as on TV shows like Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket, garnering 19,312 votes and polling fourth; the campaign was later documented in the 2001 documentary film Mr. Smithereen Goes to Washington. An early supporter of satellite radio, DiNizio became the host and program director of XM Radio’s Unsigned program in 2001, and he was the focus of 7th Inning Stretch, an ESPN2 reality special, in 2006. DiNizio released an audio book, Confessions of A Rock Star, in 2009 and continued to perform solo acoustic shows, and with the Smithereens, until his death. 

Fat Domino's Here Comes Fats
Fats Domino (89)
American pianist, singer, and songwriter Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. was one of a handful of pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll music. Between 1955 and 1960, Domino had eleven Top 10 charting hits and the singer would sell more than 65 million records in a career that spanned six decades. Born in New Orleans, Domino incorporated the city’s jazz-influenced R&B sound into the creation of his own unique style, and his million-selling debut single, 1949’s “The Fat Man,” is widely considered by many historians to be the first rock ‘n’ roll record.

As one of the best-selling African-American rockers of the ‘50s, Domino racked up the hits, timeless songs like “Goin’ Home,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” “I’m In Love Again,” “Blue Monday,” and his signature song, “Blueberry Hill.” The hits dried up in the ‘70s, but Domino was beloved in his hometown, and appeared annually at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Domino was among the first class of inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was awarded the Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. Although his commercial accomplishments are unassailable, Domino’s groundbreaking music is often overshadowed by the critical acclaim heaped on contemporaries like James Booker and Professor Longhair. Domino’s influence on the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll is undeniable, however, his music inspiring artists from Elvis Presley and the Beatles to Cheap Trick and Willie Nelson. Domino’s innate sense of radio-friendly rhythm also influenced many of Jamaica’s ska and reggae artists. 

The Tragically Hip
The Tragically Hip photo courtesy MCA Records

Gordon Downie (53)
Long considered a Canadian musical treasure, singer/songwriter Gordon “Gord” Downie was the beloved frontman and lyricist for rockers Tragically Hip from the band’s beginning in 1984 until his 2017 death. Downie recorded 13 studio albums and a live set with Tragically Hip, the band becoming superstars in Canada but achieving only modest cult band status in the U.S. where their albums barely charted. Downie also released a half-dozen acclaimed solo albums in Canada, beginning with 2001’s Coke Machine Glow, with the posthumously-released 2017 LP Introduce Yerself topping the Canadian music charts. Downie was as famous in his homeland for his offstage efforts as he was for his rock stardom, the singer using his celebrity to champion the rights of Canada’s indigenous people.

Downie was also involved in a number of environmental causes, especially the issue of water rights, and he became a board member of the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper group and was part of the Swim Drink Fish Music club which united artists and environmentalists to raise money for Waterkeeper groups across the country. Downie was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in early 2016 and although the glioblastoma responded to radiation and chemotherapy, it was nevertheless incurable. Downie launched a “farewell tour” of the U.S. and Canada with Tragically Hip during the summer of 2016 in support of the band’s album Man Machine Poem. The tour’s final performance in Kingston, Ontario was broadcast live by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and watched by an estimated 11.7 million people. In June 2017, Downie and Tragically Hip were appointed as Members of The Order of Canada for their “contribution to Canadian music and for their support of various social and environmental causes.”   

Dennis Dragon (70?)
Drummer Dennis Dragon is best-known for his 1980s-era band the Surf Punks, who recorded several albums for Epic Records during the decade. Dragon’s musical pedigree was much deeper, however, the child prodigy playing professionally at the age of 12 after he’d mastered drums and piano. During the late ‘60s and throughout the ‘70s he performed and recorded with folks like the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Rick Springfield, Neil Young, and the Captain & Tennille (his brother Daryl was ‘The Captain’). Dragon would also get involved in video production and sound engineering, working on albums by artists like Johnny Rivers, Carole King, and Cheech & Chong.

>>> In Memoriam 2017, Part Two