Sunday, February 28, 2016

Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty Documentary Film Coming!

Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty DVD
By the time of his death in July 2014, beloved blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter had forged a career of nearly a half-century that included some three-dozen live and studio albums, and thousands of performances. A Grammy™ Award winner and the first non-African-American to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, Winter was responsible for Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters’ late 1970s career resurgence, the guitarist producing a handful of albums for Waters, including two of his best in 1977’s Hard Again and the following year’s I’m Ready.

In spite of his many career highs, Winter also experienced more than his share of lows, including drug addiction, bad management, and growing up as a thin albino in rough ‘n’ tumble east Texas. Winter’s life and career – warts and all – has been captured by Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty, a feature-length documentary film by Greg Olliver, the acclaimed co-director and producer of Lemmy, a biographical documentary of the late Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister. The film will be released worldwide on March 4th, 2016 on DVD and iTunes by Megaforce, and will feature never-before-seen photos and bonus footage, including Winter’s final studio performance, a haunting solo version of bluesman Son House’s classic “Death Letter,” performed on resonator guitar.

Johnny Winter's It's My Life BabyJohnny Winter: Down & Dirty was produced independently through Secret Weapon Films in NYC, Olliver traveling with Winter during the last two years of his life and capturing the making of the guitarist’s Grammy™-winning Step Back album. The film provides an intimate portrait of the legendary bluesman, Winter speaking frankly about his childhood, friendship with Muddy Waters, and his career-threatening addictions to heroin and methadone. Fellow musicians like James Cotton, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry share their memories of Johnny in filmed interviews, as do his brother Edgar, former bandmate Tommy Shannon, and former Columbia Records exec Clive Davis, who signed Winter to the label in 1968.

Johnny Winter was an once-in-a-lifetime talent whose contributions to blues and rock music cannot be overstated, Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty a welcome glimpse into the life and career of a legendary American musician.

Bonus content from the film:

Blues-Rock Guitarist Walter Trout Announces U.S. Tour

Walter Trout's Battle Scars
Blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout has announced an upcoming tour of the United States that launches on March 10th, 2016 in Las Vegas and runs through the end of June. Aside from headline dates across the country, Trout will perform several festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Tampa Bay Blues Festival, and the Beale Street Music Fest in Memphis, Tennessee. The guitarist will also appear at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville for the Leadbelly Fest, and will perform a live HD broadcast on Music City Roots. After the U.S. tour, Trout will return to Europe for a festival tour, so if you don’t catch him this time around, maybe he’ll do another North American tour in the fall.

Touring in support of his excellent new studio album, Battle Scars, the U.S. tour is a triumphant homecoming, of sorts, for the beleaguered guitarist, who returned to the stage in June 2015 after a life-threatening illness and subsequent liver transplant. The album reflects Trout’s near-death experience and is a stunning, masterful set of songs; in my review for Blues Music magazine, I wrote that “Battle Scars is Trout’s Inferno, a tale of redemption and rebirth that doesn’t shy away from reality but rings loudly with hope…it’s also the best album, in all facets, that Trout has ever recorded.”  

“I’m thrilled about this album, about my life and about my music,” says Trout in a press release for the tour. “I feel that I’m reborn as a songwriter, a singer, a guitarist and a human being. I have a new chance at being the best musician and the best man that I can be. And I’m incredibly happy and grateful.” Trout looks forward to playing the songs from his recent release for his US fans. “The songs come out a little bit different each night, as I feed off inspiration from the audience. It is still a therapeutic experience for me to play these songs about my journey to death’s door and back, and each time I share them with a live audience, I heal a little bit more.”

Trout’s blues bona fides can’t be argued with – the guitarist made his bones touring with legends like John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Lowell Fulsom, and Percy Mayfield during the 1970s – and later became a member of two hard-touring bands, Canned Heat and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Trout went solo and formed his own band in 1989, releasing his debut album Life In The Jungle in Europe, and making his U.S. debut with his self-titled 1998 album. In the 27 years since launching his solo career, Trout has earned multiple awards and nominations, including being named the “Overseas Artist of the Year” three times by the British Blues Awards.

Walter Trout’s current band includes bassist Johnny Griparic, keyboardist Sammy Avila, and drummer Michael Leasure, with special appearances by his son Jon. Elated to be back on the stage, Trout delivers an electrifying and dynamic performance each and every night and, with Battle Scars, he has an emotionally-charged buffet of blues songs from which to choose. “I don’t take this lightly,” Trout declares. “My wife, Marie says that all of the people who donated to our fundraiser for my medical expenses bought stock in me and my liver. When I play for them now, I have a responsibility to give back and offer the very best that I have.”

Walter Trout U.S. Tour Dates:
3/10 @ Boulder Station Casino, Las Vegas NV
3/11 @ Rhythm Room, Phoenix AZ
3/30 @ Taos Mesa Brewing, Taos NM
4/01 @ Dosey Doe - The Big Barn, Woodlands TX
4/02 @ Scoot Inn, Austin TX
4/04 @ The Kessler Theater, Dallas TX
4/07 @ Mojo Kitchen, Jacksonville FL
4/08 @ Funky Biscuit, Boca Raton FL
4/09 @ Terra Fermata, Stuart FL
4/10 @ Tampa Bay Blues Festival, St. Petersburg FL
4/13 @ BB King's Blues Club, New York NY
4/14 @ Daryl's House, Pawling NY
4/15 @ Narrows Center For The Arts, Fall River MA
4/16 @ Infinity Music Hall, Norfolk CT
4/19 @ Smith's Olde Bar, Atlanta GA
4/20 @ Music City Roots, Franklin TN (Live HD Webcast)
4/22 @ New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans LA
4/25 @ Howard Theatre, Washington DC
4/26 @ River City Ale Works, Wheeling WV
4/27 @ Woodlands Tavern, Columbus OH
4/30 @ Old Rock House, St. Louis MO
5/04 @ Shank Hall, Milwaukee WI
5/05 @ Famous Dave's, Minneapolis MN
5/06 @ Surf Ballroom, Clearlake IA
5/07 @ Knucklehead's Saloon, Kansas City MO

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Archive Review: Gary U.S. Bond's Dedication/On The Line (1981/82)

Gary U.S. Bonds' Dedication & On The Line
The story goes like this: during the late 1950s, young Gary Anderson was singing in church and playing clubs in and around Norfolk, Virginia, trying to get a foothold in the music biz. The young soul singer’s expressive tenor voice brought him to the attention of local producer Frank Guida, who signed him to his independent Legrand Records label. New Orleans, Anderson’s first single for the label in 1960, was stamped with “Buy U.S. Bonds” on the sleeve, Guida hoping that deejays would mistakenly play the single thinking that it was a public service announcement.

The promotional ploy worked, as the rabble-rousing rock/R&B hybrid song became the newly-christened Gary "U.S." Bonds’ first hit single, topping out at number six on the Billboard charts. A string of national hits would follow circa 1960-63, including Bonds’ lone #1 hit, "Quarter To Three," as well as songs like "School Is Out" (#5) and "Dear Lady Twist" (#9). During a 1963 tour of Europe, Bonds headlined above a young band about to break out that went by the name “The Beatles.”

By 1980, however, Gary U.S. Bonds was a name remembered by only a few faithful collectors of early 1960s soul and a handful of diehard fans. Although Bonds frequented the oldies circuit with other ‘60s-era road warriors, he hadn’t released an album since 1962. A chance meeting with two young fans – Bruce Springsteen and “Miami” Steve Van Zandt – would lead to friendship with the two musicians and later lay the groundwork for a Bonds comeback. Armed with a fair degree of industry juice after the success of his 1980 album The River and its breakthrough single "Hungry Heart," Springsteen used his newly-minted influence to get Bonds signed and in the studio to record an album.

The 1981 album Dedication was the result of this musical collaboration between the middle-aged R&B shouter Bonds and the under-30 rock stars Springsteen and Van Zandt. For fans of Bonds’ earlier work, Dedication was a reminder of the singer’s enormous talent, the songs not so much a throwback to the era as an updating of the trademark Bonds’ style. Springsteen wrote three new songs for the collection and Van Zandt added another, and the two talents also sang and performed and co-produced the set. Other material for Dedication was pulled from the enormously rich Beatles and Dylan song catalogs, along with other covers and a Bonds’ original.

Make no mistake, however, that Dedication is anything but Bonds’ album. His rock star sponsorship notwithstanding, it is Bonds that stands firmly in the spotlight. With Dedication featuring ten songs, mostly recorded with Springsteen’s E Street Band behind him, Bonds takes the material in his hands and quickly claims the territory as his own, his voice in fine form across the entire collection of flashback rockers and stylish soul rave-ups.

The album opens with the spry rocker "Jole Blon," a duet of sorts between Bonds and Springsteen that puts both singers’ voices to good use. Written by ‘40s-era hillbilly star Moon Mullican, the song is an odd bird, a French Quarter-tinged ‘50s style roller that Mullican wrote almost a decade before the rock & roll revolution. The album’s big hit single was "This Little Girl," an R&B revue styled knockout penned by The Boss in his best old school style. With a fair amount of vocal gymnastics by Bonds and featuring a killer King Curtis sax solo by the "Big Man," Clarence Clemons, the song’s infectious melody and soulful swagger still resonates after a quarter-century of play. 

The rest of Dedication follows suite, Bonds working his magic on a handful of Springsteen and Van Zandt tunes written specifically for his use along with a few well-chosen yet surprising covers of tunes by Lennon/McCartney (the aching heartbreaking "It’s Only Love"), Bob Dylan (a bluesy take on "From A Buick 6" with honky-tonk piano) and Jackson Browne (a magnificently naïve reading of "The Pretender"). Springsteen’s "Your Love" could pass for a Southside Johnny tune, with big delicious horns supporting Bonds’ emotional crawl. The title cut is no-frills party rocker, a hard-boppin’ stroll down the Asbury Park boardwalk underlined by Clemons’ honkin’ sax and a raucous instrumental undercurrent while Bonds’ original "Way Back When" is a nostalgic look back at an era of simple love songs and brightly-colored lyrics with an early 1960s big band soundtrack.

Dedication came out of left field, standing out from the early 1980s glut of arena rockers, hardcore punks, and new wave pop stars to grab its own little piece of turf on the charts, "This Little Girl" climbing to #11 on the Billboard charts and the album itself peaking at #27. With a Top Thirty hit album under Bonds’ belt, a sequel to Dedication was a given, so Springsteen got back to work and whipped up seven new songs and, with Van Zandt once again helping out on the board, and with the E Street Band backing him in the studio, the gang crafted the wonderful On The Line with Bonds at the forefront.

More than a mere sound-alike sequel to Dedication, the songs (and the performances) found on On The Line are grittier, harder-edged and even more soulful than on Bonds’ comeback album. Released in mid-1982 with the Reagan recession in full-bloom, Springsteen’s mind was on the working man and On The Line shows it. A finely-tuned collection of blue collar anthems, Bonds was the perfect choice to belt out these songs, his vocals across the album an inspired mix of dirty rock & roll and emotional soul.

The album opener, "Hold On (To What You Got)" is an anthemic blend of blind romanticism and spirited defiance, with a rocking guitar solo and shotgun-blast vocals by Bonds. The album’s lone Top Thirty hit single, "Out Of Work," is also On The Line’s defining moment. Another Springsteen composition, the song’s vintage sound and bouncy instrumentation is complimented by pitch-perfect Bonds vocals, appropriately joyous and yet world-weary. "Club Soul City" goes the other direction entirely, with sparse instrumentation shadowing Bonds’ soulful wail, his vocals overwhelming the young pups (Springsteen and Van Zandt) with his incredible control and emotion; Springsteen’s lyrics are literally drenched in pathos.

The R&B classic "Soul Deep" is provided a decent, albeit rough-hewn vocal performance by Bonds, with the E Street boys backing him up, while another Springsteen composition, the heart-breaking "Love’s On The Line," is supported by lush instrumentation, fine vocals and a highly-textured sax solo courtesy of you-know-who. "Turn The Music Down" is a Bonds original done up like his early '60s hits, a rollicking parents-versus-kids defense of rock music that typically translates better on stage than on record. "Rendezvous," one of Bruce’s better B-sides, is handed off here to Bonds, and the singer takes it to the goal line. Although Bonds’ vocals aren’t as transcendent as Springsteen’s on his original version, they’re nevertheless sweeter and loftier, with an innocent edge.   

Although On The Line didn’t make nearly the commercial splash of its predecessor, the collection did yield a hit single in the aforementioned "Out Of Work," and the album worked its way up the crowded charts to a respectable #52 position. Sadly, this American Beat reissue that pairs Dedication with On The Line drops the otherwise robust Van Zandt song "Last Time" from the CD. Although they might have been able to shoehorn the song in…I hate incomplete albums…this “twofer” CD is nonetheless a fine representation of Bonds’ Springsteen-sponsored “comeback” era, the singer finding a new audience with bold new material instead of relying on his old hits for applause.

Bonds would record one more album during his “comeback” phase, the often overlooked Standing In The Line Of Fire, working with Van Zandt for the title track and with his touring band in the studio for the 1984 release. The album, although a worthy successor to the two Springsteen-fueled discs, largely fell on deaf ears and sold poorly. As the decade wore on, Bonds receded once again to the background, touring sporadically and seldom recording (nothing but low-budget live discs during this period), before re-emerging two decades later with the tongue-in-cheek titled Back In 20 album in 2004.

A fresh reminder of Gary "U.S." Bond’s immense talents, Back In 20 is a fine bookend to the often-overlooked singer’s incredible work on Dedication and On The Line. (Trademark of Quality blog, 2007)

Buy the CD from Gary "U.S." Bonds' Dedication/On the Line

Fossils: Felix Pappalardi & Creation (1976)

Felix Pappalardi & Creation
[click to embiggen]
It could easily be argued that musician, songwriter, and producer Felix Pappalardi was one of the architects of hard rock and heavy metal music. Although he originally honed his production chops working on folk and folk-rock records by artists like Tim Hardin, the Youngbloods, and Joan Baez, among others, he hooked up with Eric Clapton and Cream for their second album, producing Disraeli Gears and later becoming known as the band’s fourth member. He went on to produce Cream’s Wheels of Fire (1968) and Goodbye (1969) albums, as well as Cream bassist Jack Bruce’s 1969 solo debut, Songs For A Tailor.

Pappalardi, a classically-trained musician, would become best-known for his role as bass player and producer of one of the heaviest dinosaur-rock outfits that would stomp across the planet in Mountain. Pappalardi had previously worked in the studio with guitarist Leslie West’s band the Vagrants, and when Cream broke up, ol’ Felix saw an opportunity for a like-minded power trio. Enlisting the larger-than-life guitarist and vocalist to front Mountain, the band’s first two albums would go Gold™ in the U.S. and result in a classic rock radio staple in the song “Mississippi Queen.” When Mountain broke-up, Pappalardi semi-retired from touring due to rock ‘n’ roll-induced partial deafness; he later returned to the studio to produce records by the Flock, Hot Tuna, and even punk rock legends the Dead Boys.

In 1976, Pappalardi hooked up with Japanese hard rockers Creation, who had opened for Mountain during the band’s earlier tour of Japan, for a one-off record titled Felix Pappalardi & Creation. They benefited from a high-profile tour, opening for Bob Seger and Kiss, but lacking the charismatic presence of the larger-than-life West, the album went nowhere fast. The label’s ad for Felix Pappalardi & Creation was certainly grand enough, the bass player standing front and center with a rising sun behind him, his head haloed by rays of light. It plays up his impressive bona fides, but it may have been too little, too late. Pappalardi would make his proper solo debut with 1979’s Don’t Worry, Ma collection of covers. Tragically, a Mountain reunion would later occur without the accomplished bassist, as Pappalardi was shot to death in 1983 by his songwriter wife Gail Collins.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Surfing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with Martin Popoff

Martin Popoff’s Wheels of Steel
Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles magazine co-founder and former editor, and the author of half a hundred books on bands like Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, and Deep Purple (among many others), Martin Popoff is, without a doubt, rock music’s most prolific scribe. Popoff’s knowledge of hard rock and heavy metal from the 1970s through the present day is unassailable, and his books are no mere commercial knock-offs designed to exploit current trends, but rather well thought out and researched tomes based on hundreds (thousands?) of artist interviews that Popoff has conducted over the nearly 25 years he’s spent in rock ‘n’ roll’s critical trenches.

Martin is also a friend of mine, and I’m happy to say that I have a bookshelf overflowing with his books, almost all of which I’ve parted with serious coin to purchase. A Popoff library is essential for hardcore music collectors, each book providing valuable insight into a band’s albums and career. A lot of Popoff’s work is strictly a labor of love, ‘cause you just don’t write books about obscure bands like Max Webster or Riot and expect to get rich…all of which makes my buddy Martin the perfect patsy, er…music historian to take on the Herculean task of putting the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” into proper perspective. Popoff has recently penned a trilogy on the NWOBHM – Wheels of Steel, This Means War, and Smokin’ Valves – the first two of which are oral histories of the genre, the last being a buyer’s guide to NWOBHM records.

Martin Popoff’s Wheels of Steel

For those unfamiliar, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was an influential, albeit short-lived musical phenomenon that exploded like a supernova in the United Kingdom during the late ‘70s, burning brightly until roughly the mid-1980s when nerf metal bands from L.A. began dominating hard rock. Just as punk rock emerged in the U.K. as a response to the self-indulgent state of mainstream music at the time, so too did the NWOBHM develop in parallel as an underground alternative to the pop charts for disaffected, working class white youth suffering from widespread unemployment and social inequality in the U.K. The term itself is credited to music journalist Geoff Barton, who first used the NWOBHM phrase in the British music magazine Sounds to describe the growing trend of homegrown heavy metal bands.

Popoff’s Wheels of Steel: The Explosive Early Years of the NWOBHM establishes the groundwork for the NWOBHM via timeline, interspersing quotes by artists, writers, critics, and DJs with important dates and occurrences to form a linear narrative, an intuitive manner of tackling such a heady chore. The early, informative years of the 1970s are tackled in the first chapter, and one could argue that the roots of the NWOBHM began in 1975 when the genre’s earliest bands – Motörhead and Iron Maiden – first formed, and DJ Neal Kay (an integral figure in the story) established a beachhead for hard rock at The Soundhouse, a club within a London pub where he would spin records by such NWOBHM musical influences as Thin Lizzy, Rush, Deep Purple, and Judas Priest. Popoff quotes liberally here from Kay and Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, both of whom stood firmly in the eye of the developing NWOBHM hurricane and have plenty of memories to share.

Martin Popoff’s This Means War
From 1976 on, Wheels of Steel outlines the growth and development of the NWOBHM phenomena through the end of the decade, Popoff exploring the story with his usual keen eye for detail and respect for the music’s history. It’s a saga of hungry bands with a penchant for loud guitars that used heavy metal as a means to express themselves musically. Popoff fills the book with plenty of artistic insight, quoting from numerous interviews with members of NWOBHM bands like the aforementioned Iron Maiden and Motörhead, Tygers of Pan Tang, Saxon, Quartz, Diamond Head, Girlschool, Gillan, and others as well as music journalists, and even the odd punk rocker like the Damned’s Rat Scabies. Wheels of Steel does a great job in capturing the blood, sweat, and tears of the ‘70s decade as those artists who created the NWOBHM share memories of their hopes, dreams, and even some lingering bitterness over the era.

Martin Popoff’s This Means War

The second volume of Popoff’s trilogy is This Means War: The Sunset Years of the NWOBHM, which picks up the story in 1981, by which time the NWOBHM is in full bloom, creatively and commercially. Popoff uses 1984 as a cutting off point for the NWOBHM, appropriate enough for our purposes as the genre had largely run out of steam by then, the heavy metal flag captured by a greasy bunch of whiskey-swilling gutter rats from the City of Angels, U.S.A. Popoff uses the same narrative technique here as he did with Wheels of Steel, i.e. lots of artist interviews from musicians and others who had a bird’s-eye view from within the NWOBHM combined with a timeline of relevant dates and occurrences.

Where This Means War differs from Wheels of Steel is in the artists’ perspective. Whereas the early days of the NWOBHM provided a portrait of youthful enthusiasm, by 1981 the phenomenon had begun going mainstream and you had record labels, band managers, and other empty suits getting involved with, and often clashing with the young dreamers in the bands. As Hunter S. Thompson famously stated, “the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” In reality, the music biz is a like an industrial shredder, grinding and gnashing good musicians and ruining careers more often than nurturing creativity.

Some of the artists quoted in This Means War are justifiably (still) angry over what they see as mismanagement or malfeasance in the way their careers developed, while others have left their bitterness in the past. Popoff greatly expands the roster of artists he interviewed for This Means War, with holdovers from the first book like Jess Cox of Tygers of Pan Tang, noted NWOBHM producer Chris Tsangarides, Diamond Head’s Brian Tatler, John McCoy of Gillan, and Eddie Clarke of Motörhead, among others, joined by such articulate NWOBHM players as Algy Ward of Tank, John Gallagher of Raven, Bernie Shaw of Grand Prix, and Kevin Riddles of Angel Witch as well as members of bands like Venom, Grim Reaper, and Def Leppard. In doing so, Popoff also expands the narrative, and it seems like This Means War offers more in the way of oral history that its predecessor, documenting the artistic apex and subsequent decline of the NWOBHM as a creative force.

Martin Popoff’s Smokin’ Valves

Martin Popoff’s Smokin’ Valves
The actual first book in Popoff’s NWOBHM trilogy is the last – but not least – that we’ll discuss here. Smokin’ Valves: A Headbanger’s Guide To 900 NWOBHM Records offers exactly what the title promises, roughly 230 pages of one- and two-paragraph reviews covering hundreds of NWOBHM records. Popoff had previously penned the long out-of-print The New Wave of British Heavy Metal Singles, and he expands upon that effort with Smokin’ Valves by including NWOBHM albums as part of the mix. Popoff also draws upon the hundreds of album reviews he wrote for the 1970s and ‘80s-era volumes of his exhaustive The Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal series, updating and revamping all of the reviews for this new guide.

If Popoff defined the lifespan of the NWOBHM as 1980 through ’84, with Smokin’ Valves he colors outside the lines a bit by including early, proto-NWOBHM recordings from 1978 and ’79 as part of the discussion, laying it all out for the reader in alphabetical order, and bolding the text of album reviews to differentiate them from reviews of singles and EPs. Much like its kissing cousin – British punk circa 1976-79 – the NWOBHM was very much a singles-oriented art form and, as former Jersey Beat zine publisher Jim Testa once said (or something like this), “not every band can record a great album, but almost every band can record a couple of great songs.”

While not all of them got to record a full-length LP, many NWOBHM bands got their first bite of the apple via 7” vinyl, creating a dizzying discography of bands and records that Popoff puts into proper context with his reviews in Smokin’ Valves. Many, if not virtually all of the singles and EPs listed here are highly-collectible slabs o’ wax that fetch premium prices from fanatical collectors with deep pockets, but many are also easily found on YouTube for those who just want a taste of the music. Albums and singles alike are awarded a numerical grade of zero to ten, similar to Popoff’s previous guides, and he includes appendixes to Smokin’ Valves that list those esteemed albums and singles receiving grades of eight or higher for those fans who wish to begin their collection with the best.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Of the hundreds of NWOBHM bands that littered the landscape circa 1980-84, only three found a significant amount of commercial success and/or notoriety – Def Leppard, who would shed their NWOBHM roots with a series of multi-Platinum™ glam-metal albums through the ‘80s; Iron Maiden, which has steadfastly retained its unique musical identity throughout the decades; and Motörhead, the stubborn-as-hell hard rock outlier driven by the vision of the late, beloved Lemmy K. The relative lack of world-beating chart-toppers in NWOBHM does nothing to diminish the music’s influence and importance, however, as bands like Metallica, King’s X, and Pantera, among many others, would find inspiration in the NWOBHM.

As for NWOBHM “also rans,” bands like Angel Witch, Demon, Grim Reaper, Diamond Head, Quartz, Samson, Tank, Witchfinder General, and Raven, among all the other dreamers and schemers of the NWOBHM, their music lives on as part of the evolution of heavy metal, the records they made 35+ years again still impacting rock ‘n’ roll music to this day. As a chronicler of hard rock and heavy metal, Martin Popoff has done an excellent and thankless job in documenting the history of NWOBHM with these three volumes, providing a voice for these (mostly) obscure artists who brought energy and vitality back to rock music at a time when it was sorely needed.

If pressed, I’d give the edge to Wheels of Steel (Grade: A+) if only for the hope displayed in its pages, but one can’t experience the true breadth of the NWOBHM without also reading This Means War (Grade: A), with Smokin’ Valves (Grade: A-) complimenting both titles by focusing on the recordings of the bands featured in the other books. All three volumes are profusely illustrated – the oral histories by scores of rare and obscure label ads for albums, live show adverts, and other graphics while the “headbanger’s guide” offers dozens of photos of album covers and rarer-than-rare picture sleeves. If you’re a fan/collector of hard rock and/or heavy metal, Popoff’s trilogy is a “must have” for your music library. With these three deeply-researched and well-written books, Popoff has provided as complete and comprehensive a history of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal as anybody is likely to ever write. (Power Chord Press, 2015)

Get all three books, and many more, from Martin Popoff's website!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Light In The Attic Reissues Third Power LP for Record Store Day!

Third Power's Believe
Record Store Day is still 63 days away as of this writing, and little has been revealed about what sort of vinyl labels – large and small – will be releasing for the holiday. Light In The Attic Records has announced a few items for RSD, though, including a Shaggs’ 7” single, but hard rock collectors will be salivating over the first release on vinyl in 45+ years of the Third Power’s Believe album.

Third Power was formed by guitarist Drew Abbott, bassist/singer Jem Targal, and drummer Jim Craig in 1965 in Detroit, but they didn’t get their act together to perform live until 1968, at which time they joined a thriving and competitive Motor City rock scene that boasted of future legends like MC5, Bob Seger, the Stooges, SRC, and Dick Wagner’s Frost. Third Power’s growing reputation as a live band performing at rough ‘n’ tumble clubs like Detroit’s legendary Grande Ballroom got them signed to Vanguard Records, also Frost’s label.

Working with Samuel Charters, who had produced albums by both Frost and Country Joe & the Fish, Third Power recorded their only album, Believe, which was released by Vanguard in 1970. Believe barely scraped its way onto the Billboard Top 200 albums chart (#194) and Third Power was subsequently dropped by the label, the band breaking up shortly thereafter. Abbott went on to become an integral part of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band during the late 1970s and early ‘80s, and Targal released a single solo album before disappearing from the scene.

Over the years, Third Power has become considered as one of many revered Motor City cult bands (along with SRC, the Up, and the Rationals). A classic power trio in the Cream vein, Third Power was capable of pulling off fine melodies and vocal harmonies amidst its roaring instrumental Sturm und Drang, the band mixing psychedelic and hard-rock with a hint of folk and blues influences. Lost for decades even as it grew in status, Believe was first released on CD by Italy’s Akarma Records and has seen subsequent CD reissue – mostly as a dodgy semi-bootleg – by a number of fly-by-night outfits.

Light In The Attic’s vinyl reissue of Believe is a 2016 Record Store Day exclusive pressed on red wax and mastered from the original tapes. The album is housed in a deluxe gatefold “tip-on” jacket and will include a download card for eleven bonus tracks, including a non-album B-side, a couple of live tracks from the Grande Ballroom, and a bunch of studio outtakes. Liner notes by Willy Wilson include quotes from Abbott and Targal as well as producer Sam Charters, and the accompanying booklet includes previously unpublished photos.

“Like a meteor shooting across the horizon, the Third Power lit up the Detroit music scene with a ferocious roar like no other group before them. But like all meteors, they only burned bright for a short while…” Wilson writes in the liner notes, which perfectly captures the brilliance that was Third Power. If you’re a fan of high-energy Motor City rock ‘n’ roll, or just guitar-driven 1970s-era hard rock, you’re gonna love Believe! Get your ass down to your local indie record store on April 16th and buy a copy...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cleopatra’s Psych Box Explores Classic & Modern Psychedelic Rock

Cleopatra Records' Psych Box

It doesn’t surprise the Reverend that the good folks at Cleopatra Records would release a project like the five-CD Psych Box, nosiree! Over the past year, the label has made it their mission to dig up and release undiscovered gems by psych-rock legends like Iron Butterfly and Quicksilver Messenger Service as well as discs by fellow travelers like Curved Air, Captain Beyond, and Hawkwind.

Psych Box is packaged in a 7” x 7” box with individual CD wallets and a full color booklet, the set tracing the history of psychedelic rock from its roots in the 1960s through the present day. The set includes choice music from bands like the aforementioned Iron Butterfly and Hawkwind, the Syn (which featured future Yes guitarist Peter Banks), the Legendary Pink Dots, the Warlocks, the Black Angels, and many more.

Cleopatra Records' Psych Box
The enclosed booklet includes band bios and suggested listening for whatever sort of musical acid trip you’d like to book in the future. The set includes a bonus 7” record featuring a spoken word track by Dr. Timothy Leary with a B-side from Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Just check out the track list below and we think you’ll agree that you’re getting a lot of bang for around $40 for the Psych Box!

Psych Box track list:

Disc One
1. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – “Going to Hell”
2. The Black Angels – “Soul Kitchen”
3. The Legendary Pink Dots – “Damien”
4. A Place To Bury Strangers – “Sunbeam”
5. The Warlocks – “You Destroy”
6. Hawkwind – “Opa-Loka”
7. Absolutely Free – “Vision’s”
8. The Movements – “Great Deceiver”
9. Chrome – “Meet You In The Subway”
10. Nikola Tesla & Thee Coils – “Sweet Rays”
11. Rotten Mangos – “Tent Rentals”
12. The Thunderbeats – “Something Inside Me”
13. The Third Sound – “For a While”
14. Sula Bassana – “Lost In Space”
15. Brainticket – “Black Sand”

Disc Two
1. Wild Style Lion – “Love Was In Me” (featuring Kim Gordon)
2. The May Company – “Wrap Around Porch”
3. The See See – “Big Bad Storm”
4. The Syn – “14 Hour Technicolour Dream”
5. Sons of Hippies – “Mirrorball”
6. The Deviants – “Jamie's Song”
7. Cambrian Explosion – “The Sun”
8. Surprise Party – “Cut Me”
9. Siena Root – “In My Kitchen”
10. The Spyrals – “Sunflower Microphone”
11. Studio 69 – “Il Est Juste La”
12. The Litter – “Action Woman”
13. Las Brujas – “Sweaty Windows”
14. Jovontaes – “Forever”
15. Spindrift – “Red Reflection”
16. Dum Dum Girls – “Letter to Hermione”

Disc Three
1. Nico – “All Tomorrow’s Parties”
2. Bonfire Beach – “Black Tinted Moonlight”
3. The Fresh & Onlys – “In The Light”
4. The Altered Hours – “Smoke Your Eyes”
5. Femme Accident – “Everything Goes Wrong”
6. The Ones – “Lady Greengrass”
7. Tales of Murder and Dust – “Laid Bare”
8. Dead Meadow – “The Crystal Ship”
9. The Sonic Dawn – “Japanese Hills”
10. MC5 – “Gold”
11. Tashaki Miyaki – “Take It Or Leave It”
12. Holy Wave – “Do You Feel It”
13. The Tulips – “Winter Winds”
14. Fade In Mona Lisa – “Green Carnations”
15. Electric Moon – “Spaceman”

Disc Four
1. Magic Wands – “Jupiter”
2. Nektar – “It’s All In The Mind”
3. The Chocolate Watchband – “No Way Out”
4. Brujas Del Sol – “Occultation”
5. Calliope – “Iron Hand”
6. Energy 2000 – “Zodiacal Light”
7. The Floormen – “The Place Where The Flat Things Are”
8. The Striped Bananas – “Dark Peace”
9. Indian Jewelry – “Kashmir”
10. Wight Lhite – “Close To Odd”
11. Surly Gates – “Under Your Tongue”
12. Aqua Nebula Oscillator – “Innocent Tu Seras Incandescent”
13. Pink Velvet – “Allez prenons un autre verre”
14. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – “Devil's Grip”
15. Black Delta Movement – “MacBeth”
16. Aura Blaze – “A Glass of Tears Half Empty”

Disc Five
1. Iron Butterfly – “Possession” (original 7” version)
2. The Fuzztones – “Hallucination Generation”
3. Allah-Las – “Stoned”
4. Love, Hippies & Gangsters – “This Is What We Want”
5. onYou – “National Strings Attached”
6. Secret Colours – “Get To The Sun”
7. The Vacant Lots – “Julia”
8. Black Moon Circle – “The Machine On The Hill”
9. Ttotals – “Life Thus Far Out”
10. Nik Turner – “Time Crypt”
11. Shuggie Otis – “Ice Cream Party” (instrumental)
12. Kim Fowley – “The Trip”
13. Landskap – “South Of No North”
14. The Lucid Experiment – “She’s My Melody”
15. The Raveonettes – “The End”

Buy the box set from Various Artists - Psych Box

CD Preview: The Daevid Allen Weird Quartet’s Elevenses

The Daevid Allen Weird Quartet’s Elevenses
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Daevid Allen sadly passed away in March 2015 at 77 years old, but he’d led a full and inspirational life. One of the most innovative musicians to leave his mark on the world of progressive rock, Allen was a founding member of 1960s-era trailblazers the Soft Machine, although he had to drop out of the band before they recorded their first album.

Allen also helped form the legendary prog-rock outfit Gong in 1968, recording half a dozen albums with the band – including their influential Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy of albums – before launching a solo career that carried on, one way or another, until his death. There were also plenty of Gong reunions through the years, as well as offshoots of the band that Allen took part in.

On February 12th, 2016, Purple Pyramid Records will release Elevenses, the final album from Allen and his band, the Daevid Allen Weird Quartet, which included multi-instrumentalist Don Falcone of Spirits Burning, bassist Michael Clare of Daevid Allen’s University of Errors, and drummers Trey Sabatelli of the Tubes and Paul Sears of the Muffins. Elevenses is the second album by the band, following 2005’s DJDDAY, which was released under the name “Weird Biscuit Teatime.”

For his swansong, Allen created his typical musical mix of prog, art-rock, psychedelic rock, and experimental music; still, Elevenses serves up a few surprises, including a blues song and an Irish-styled folk song. Anything Allen recorded is always worth a listen, so check out Elevenses and if you like what you hear, dig into Gong’s early ‘70s catalog or any of Daevid Allen’s many solo efforts. 

Daevid Allen Weird Quartet's Elevenses track list:

1. Transloop This Message
2. Imagicknation
3. The Latest Curfew Craze
4. Kick That Habit Man
5. Secretary of Lore
6. Alchemy
7. The Cold Stuffings of November
8. Grasshopping
9. God's New Deal
10. Dim Sum In Alphabetical Order
11. Killer Honey
12. Under The YumYum Tree Cafe
13. Banana Construction

Buy the CD from Daevid Allen Weird Quartet's Elevenses

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Archive Review: Dan Baird's Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired (1992)

Dan Baird's Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired
Songwriter and frontman Dan Baird “fired” himself from the Georgia Satellites after their wonderfully complex and darkly emotional third album and struck out on his own. That he should hit the often-traveled trail of the journeyman should certainly come as no surprise. The Satellites were always just a group of inspired journeymen at heart, as loose as a pick-up band in a one night jam session, as tight and cohesive a unit as any well-practiced bar band could be.

Baird’s solo debut draws upon the same influences and inspiration as did his band’s best work – the Stones, Chuck Berry, the Faces; all musical pioneers who defied the expectations of their time and defined an art form. As such, Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired is no-frills, straight-ahead, gut-level, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll.

A vastly underrated songwriter in a Woody Guthrie/Hank Williams “keep it simple but convey a lot of thought” vein, Baird has always had a flair for penning both lyrical and musical hooks, and he provides both here in quantity. Tunes like “The One I Am,” “Julie and Lucky,” “Seriously Gone,” and the grammatically-correct “I Love You Period” are meat-and-potatoes tunes for fans who like their rock unpretentious and undiluted. From Baird, no less is expected.

Fossils: MC5's Back In The USA (1970)

The MC5's Back In The USA
[click to embiggen]
Detroit’s favorite sonic terrorists, the infamous MC5, were an oddity even in the late 1960s. The band’s first album, 1969’s Kick Out The Jams, was recorded live at Russ Gibbs’ legendary Grande Ballroom venue, capturing the dynamic band onstage and raging against the machine. As such, Back In The USA, the band’s sophomore effort, was actually their studio debut. Even in those days, a band usually had a couple of studio records under their belt before shooting for a live disc.

But MC5 were no ordinary band, and their deep repertoire of original material and inspired covers of deep blues, soul, and jazz sides allowed them to introduce themselves with a high-octane live collection that would hit #30 on the charts on the strength of its incendiary title track. Back In The USA was a different kind of beast, however – produced by rock critic Jon Landau (who would later become Bruce Springsteen’s manager), the album masterfully blended punkish intensity with a raucous, melodic power-pop sound that would yield some of the band’s best original songs in “Teenage Lust,” “High School,” and “Shakin’ Street,” songs that would in turn influence bands like the Dictators, the Flamin’ Groovies, and the New York Dolls, among others.

Atlantic’s ad campaign for Back In The USA was simple – a black and white photo of the band, clad in leather jackets with a collective sneer on their faces, looking like a gang of ruffians (an image later appropriated to good use by the Ramones). Beneath the dominant band photo is a list of the album’s songs, and a shot of the cover. Although Back In The USA found nowhere near the success of its predecessor, rising only as high as #137 on the charts, its influence would cross the decades. It has since become considered a high water mark for the legendary band, and you can hear strains of MC5 in the music of the White Stripes, the Clash, the Dead Kennedys, Radio Birdman, and other bands across the spectrum of the rock, punk, and metal genres.