Monday, May 29, 2017

Southern Rock Legend Gregg Allman, R.I.P.

Gregg Allman
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.

Multi-instrumentalist and singer Gregg Allman formed the Allman Brothers Band with his guitarist brother Duane in 1969. It wasn’t the brothers’ first shot at the brass ring – they performed together as the Allman Joys in the mid-1960s when Gregg was but a teenager, and would relocate to Los Angeles from Florida in 1967 to form Hour Glass, which released two albums on the Liberty Records label. The ABB would perform rock and blues in the spirit of improvisational jazzmen, with songs often featuring extended free-form jams.

It was with the Allman Brothers Band that both brothers would find fame, the band breaking through with 1971’s double live LP At Fillmore East after releasing a pair of critically-acclaimed studio albums. At Fillmore East peaked at #13 on the pop chart on its way to Platinum™ sales status, which was virtually unheard of at the time. The band’s elation would be short-lived, however, as Duane Allman died in a tragic motorcycle accident in October 1971.

Gregg kept the band together in the face of adversity, recording new studio material for their 1972 album Eat A Peach, expanding it to a double-album with live material featuring recordings of Duane. The album would rise to #4 on the charts, achieving Platinum™ level sales and is a consistent favorite among ABB fans. Tragedy would strike the band again with the accidental death of bassist Berry Oakley in November 1972 as they were working on their new album. Produced by Allman’s former Hour Glass bandmate Johnny Sandlin, 1973’s Brothers & Sisters would become the band’s best-selling album, largely on the basis of the Dickey Betts-penned hit “Ramblin’ Man,” one of two songs on the album that included Oakley’s bass playing.

Gregg Allman's Laid Back
During this time, Allman released his first solo album in 1973 in Laid Back, which was also produced by Sandlin and featured Sea Level keyboardist (and future ABB member) Chuck Leavell. The album would go Gold™ on the strength of the hit single “Midnight Rider” and open the door for Allman to pursue a career outside of his namesake band. The Allman Brothers Band would soldier on, with 1975’s Win, Lose or Draw album charting Top 5 and 1979’s Enlightened Rogues charting Top 10, continuing the band’s commercial momentum. In between his responsibilities with ABB, Allman released a solo live album (1974’s The Gregg Allman Tour) and a new studio album (1977’s Playin’ Up A Storm) to mixed success.

Allman’s personal life was tumultuous during the mid-to-late ‘70s, beginning with his 1975 tabloid marriage to singer Cher (they divorced in 1978), which resulted in a1977 album titled Two the Hard Way and credited to ‘Allman and Woman’ which would become an embarrassing commercial failure. Allman struggled with a heroin addiction during this period and was arrested on drug charges in 1976. To avoid prison, Allman testified against the ABB’s road manager, Scooter Herring, which created acrimony with his bandmates, temporarily breaking up the band. After reuniting and adding various new members, the ABB released two moderately successful albums of inconsistent content – 1980’s Reach For The Sky and 1981’s Brothers of the Road – after which the Allman Brothers Band would again break up.

Gregg Allman's I'm No Angel
Allman continued to tour with his own Gregg Allman Band during this period, striking gold once again with his 1987 solo album I’m No Angel, which scored an FM radio hit in the title track and charting Top 30, earning a Gold™ Record. The album temporarily breathed new life into Allman’s moribund solo career, which would deflate a year later with the meager performance of 1988’s Just Before The Bullets Fly. Allman would be prompted to ‘put the band back together’ in 1989 with guitarist Dickey Betts and acclaimed percussionists Jaimoe and Butch Trucks complimented by new guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody.

Releasing their first studio album in nearly a decade, 1990’s Seven Turns enjoyed modest success but put the band back on the road, which is where the money was. The addition of Hayes and Woody brought two young, talented musicians into the band, expanding the ABB sound. The band would tour heavily throughout the ‘90s and well into the 2000s, releasing several acclaimed studio albums like 1994’s Where It All Begins and 2003’s classic Hittin’ The Note, adding a second phenomenal guitarist in Derek Trucks when Betts left the band. It was during this time period that the ABB would become known for their landmark sold-out shows at the Beacon Theater in New York City. The Allman Brothers Band performed its final show together on October 28th, 2014, the band’s 238th straight sellout at the venue.

Diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2007, which was attributed to a dirty tattoo needle, Allman later developed tumors on his liver and underwent a successful liver transplant in 2010. He would revisit his blues roots with 2011’s Low Country Blues album. Produced by roots musician T-Bone Burnett, Low Country Blues would chart Top 5 and take Allman’s solo career in a different direction. Allman published his best-selling autobiography, My Cross To Bear, in 2012.

Although he had suffered from health issues these past couple of years, Allman continued to tour until he couldn’t, taking time out to record what would become his final solo album, Southern Blood, with producer Don Was at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The album is scheduled for September 2017 release and will represent the final word from one of rock music’s most influential and important artists.

CD Review: Raging Fire's These Teeth Are Sharp (2017)

Raging Fire's These Teeth Are Sharp
Nashville’s Raging Fire was, perhaps, the best ‘80s-era band that you never heard. As recent as a couple years back, unless you were blessed by the gods of rock ‘n’ roll to have seen one of their Southeastern performances during the band’s too-brief tenure, all that remained of their legacy was a pair of firecracker recordings and a red-hot memory branded into your brain. Formed in 1984, they were gone by ’89, swept away by the plodding hoofbeats of grunge, the architects of the band’s unique sound and fury moving on to jobs, families, and lives outside the realms of rock.

Sometimes the gods smile upon we mere mortals, however, and such was the case when Raging Fire’s surviving members – powerhouse vocalist Melora Zaner, bassist Les Shields, and drummer Mark Medley – decided to take a look back at their collective past and honor the memory of their fallen band members, guitarist Michael Godsey and bassist Lee Carr, by releasing the retrospective set Everything Is Roses, 1985-1989. Collecting every sonic scrap recorded by the band for posterity, as I wrote upon its release, “Everything Is Roses is more than a mere nostalgia-tinted look backwards...the compilation instead a worthy snapshot of a time and place were an outfit as original and energetic as Raging Fire, with an enormous musical chemistry, could develop outside major label demands and expectations.”

Raging Fire’s These Teeth Are Sharp

In the wake of the 2015 release of Everything Is Roses, Raging Fire got back together and, with some friends pitching in to help, they performed a reunion show in Nashville. That led to the writing of some new songs and, long story short, a wondrous new 2017 Raging Fire album titled These Teeth Are Sharp, the band’s 30+ years-in-the-making follow-up to 1986’s Faith Love Was Made Of album. The core gang of Zaner, Medley, and Shields are here along with contributions from friends like guitarists Joe Blanton (The Bluefields, Royal Court of China) and Jeff Cease (The Black Crowes, Rumble Circus) and keyboard wizard Giles Reaves (one of the Music City’s most underrated talents). The old musical chemistry is definitely present, even with addition of the band’s new playmates, making the nine songs to be found on These Teeth Are Sharp every bit as raucous, intelligent, and anarchic as the band has ever been.

From the opening riff of the title track, one can hear the presence of something supernaturally special. Zaner sings unlike any vocalist you’ve ever heard, her kittenish voice capable of twisting emotion into a things of dark beauty while the backing instruments shift directions with whiplash brutality. “A Narrow Sky” shows its talons early on with swooping guitar licks and Zaner’s poetic lyrics yielding devastating imagery like “do you know the feeling when the air closes in as quiet as the grave?” which is sung in an ethereal voice as menacing as it is seemingly innocent. The album’s lone cover, of the 1960’s-era Rufus Thomas hit “Walking the Dog,” is as alien an interpretation of the Memphis soul classic as you’ll ever hear with breathless, stilted vocals, sparse rhythm, and delightfully jagged fretwork that work in spite of the fact that it probably shouldn’t.

By contrast, “Free to Be” is a bouncy pop song with rapid-fire vocals (some sung in Chinese…), Medley’s stormy percussion, jangly guitars, and an altogether energetic vibe that seems like a genetic hybrid of R.E.M. and the Talking Heads but with pure Raging Fire DNA. “Raindances” is a rocker with imaginative guitarplay coupled with John Reed’s concrete bass lines and Medley’s unrelenting drumbeats, tho’ it, too, throws a spanner in the works with quiet passages that crescendo to an explosive finish. These Teeth Are Sharp closes with “Dreams From Under the Love Seat,” one of the band’s few songs with lyrics written by drummer Medley, who displays a knack for imagery-drenched wordplay. Zaner delivers a stellar vocal performance while the guitars sting with the anger of a thousand wasps and the instrumentation, overall, washed over you like a gentle tsunami.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Here in 2017, Raging Fire is, perhaps, the best band that you’ve never heard. This time, however, you can change this sorry status by heading over to the band’s website and grabbing up a copy of These Teeth Are Sharp before Raging Fire once again disappears into the mists of time. The band’s blend of words and music is as alchemical as it’s ever been as they expand upon their original sound without treading across old creative grounds, exploring new creative pathways. There’s plenty for the band’s old fans to like about this year’s model of Raging Fire, and a world of wonder for the newcomer to explore. The gods of rock ‘n’ roll are pleased… Grade: A (Pristine Records, released May 12, 2017)

These Teeth Are Sharp is available from the Raging Fire website

Related Content:
Raging Fire's Everything Is Roses CD review 
Raging Fire's A Family Thing EP review

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Archive Review: Eugene Chadbourne & Camper Van Chadbourne (1988)

Eugene Chadbourne's Kill Eugene
Kill Eugene
(Placebo Records)

Camper Van Chadbourne
(Fundamental Music)

Shades of insanity! What we have here, brothers and sisters, is a conspiracy, a contemptuous cover-up, a black-hearted attempt to conceal from you the truth that they wish you to be ignorant of! I’m talking about the shadowy, mysterious ‘them’ who want you to be stuck listening to re-tread rockers and processed cheese pop stars on their radio stations, buying their records, and playing them on the tinny transistor ray-didios and bass-heavy ster-oreos that they sell you!

Break free of these chains of mediocrity that they want you to be intellectually and aesthetically weighed down with and discover the music that will blow your mind, save your soul, and set you on the path of righteousness. I’m speaking, naturally, of the erstwhile Dr. Eugene Chadbourne and the one-and-only Camper Van Beethoven...

Ah, Dr. Chadbourne, I presume? Just when you thought it was safe to venture out of the house and into a new issue of The Metro, here we come slappin’ Chadbourne at you again. And well we should, ‘cause the rest of the free, cultured, civilized world is on the brink of declaring Eugene an artistic genius and showering him with the wealth, fleeting fame, and USA Today bar graphs that such esteem incurs. Nashville hasn’t even seen fit to honor the man with a gig in our city. Chadbourne talks about it, too, on his first Placebo Records release Kill Eugene.

In between the usual Chadbourne mix of original musical satire – such as his “Ollie’s Playhouse,” an ode to our favorite patriot [Ollie North]; the good-natured yet sociopathic “Women Against Pornography;” and the anti-sports tune “Big Boys With Little Balls” as well as inspired covers of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam,” or “Ramblin’ Man,” a vintage Hank Williams number – rests a two-part telephone conversation between Eugene and Elliston Square’s Tommy Smith aptly titled “Getting A Gig In Nashville,” parts one and two. Yours truly is mentioned here, though not by name, ‘cause then they might hear it and realize that there are a few of us brave enough to recognize the talent and skill hidden beneath the looney-tune madness and tongue-in-cheek social commentary that is the art of Chadbourne.

Camper Van Chadbourne
Camper Van Chadbourne is a collaboration between the mighty Dr. Chadbourne and those revolutionary shock troops, Camper Van Beethoven. It’s a match made in heaven, friends, for both parties wander the same shadowy netherworld of broken pop tradition, radical musical composition, and distaste for the rules and regulations of the naked industry gentlefolk. Musical ancestry takes on a new meaning here as the Camper Van Chadbourne guys toss in the (un)usual mutant hybrid of covers, ranging from Joe South and Frank Zappa to Thelonious Monk and beyond, blending in a few typical Chadbourne creations among the trademark raga instrumentation and ‘80s psychedelia that had come to be known as Camper Van Beethoven.

The result is apocalypse dance muzak, nuclear new age classical for the post-holocaust crowd. Unless, of course, you defy them today by listening to the message hidden in these grooves beneath the hypnotic beat…a message that they, the all-too-evil, whore-mongering, erotica-spewing commercial conspiracy would like you to be ignorant of…the truth that music was meant to be energetic, dangerous, passionate, varied and, yes, even creative…and creativity is art. Will you listen?

Originally published by The Metro magazine, Nashville, 1988

Sunday, May 21, 2017

CD Review: Janiva Magness's Blue Again EP (2017)

Janiva Magness's Blue Again EP
For my money, Janiva Magness is arguably the finest, most dynamic vocalist in blues music today. A multiple Blues Music Award winner and a Grammy® Award nominee for her 2016 album Love Wins Again, Magness can purr like a kitten and roar like a lion, often times within the same performance, her voice an instrument on par with two other great R&B talents, Etta James and Koko Taylor. So I dove into Magness’s latest, Blue Again, with great expectations and while I was not disappointed, I do have a minor cavil – it’s just too damn short! Let’s be honest, 23 minutes and 35 seconds of Janiva Magness just isn’t enough, a six-song EP like Blue Again more of an appetizer than a feast...tho’ that doesn’t prevent it from being a satisfying experience nonetheless.

Janiva Magness’s Blue Again

Blue Again may be six songs brief, but it’s a whirlwind of a ride, beginning with the delightfully old-school sound of “I Can Tell,” the lesser-known B-side of a Bo Diddley R&B chart hit from 1962. Guest star Kid Ramos’s guitar trembles and shakes like the first winds before a thunderstorm, the rhythm shuffles along nicely like it’s late for a date, and the echoed production adds enough space to Magness’s voice that it amplifies her lusty, swaggering vocals to the point of red-lining the meters. Magness’s magnificent cover of Al Kooper’s Blood, Sweat & Tears’ classic “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (from their Child Is Father to the Man LP) takes the song in a somewhat different direction, slowing down the pace and turning up the heartbreak to eleven.

The vibrating guitars that intro the performance segue nicely into Magness’s vocals, offering a counterpoint to the emotion that is literally pouring out of your speakers. When the instrumentation takes an unexpected, jazzy turn and the keyboards rise up, Magness’s voice rides the wave like a professional surfer. The band creates a dense, mesmerizing, outstanding instrumental ambiance for the song and Magness should win a Grammy® Award for her performance here alone. It’s true what they say that a great song is like putty in the hands of a great singer, and Magness paints a masterpiece with her blistering reading of Kooper’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”

If I Can’t Have You

The listener can be excused if they need to take a cold shower after Blue Again’s second song, but there’s another dandy comin’ up on the Victrola – Magness’s duet with Sugaray Rayford on the Etta James’ classic “If I Can’t Have You” is simply priceless – their contrasting voices rising above the energetic soundtrack to create an entertaining song that is both contemporary-sounding and a throwback to 1950s-era R&B. Originally a vehicle for James and Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows, to their credit, Magness and Rayford find their own path for the song while keeping the spirit of the original. “Tired of Walking” is another vintage R&B jam, penned by obscure soulman Joe Hinton. The band lays down a raucous rockabilly rhythm with a bluesy undercurrent for the song, on top of which Magness lays out a blustery vocal performance that is more Koko than Etta, if you get my meaning.

Best known as recorded by the legendary Nina Simone, “Buck” is probably my least favorite track here, but that’s like trying to choose between your favorite pizza toppings. The guitars – Zach Zunis and/or Garrett Deloian – sting with the ferocity of a mad hornet, and guest harpist T.J. Norton’s harmonica adds just the right dose of soul beneath Magness’s forceful vocals. Blue Again’s finishing track, Freddie King’s “Pack It Up,” is more to my taste with the guitars providing squalls of notes dueling beneath Magness’s throaty, soul-drenched vocals. Arlan Schierbaum’s tasteful Hammond organ flourishes ride shotgun alongside the rhythm section of bassist Gary Davenport and drummer Matt Tecu, who have provided a strong yet subtle backbone for all the performances. It’s Magness’s incredible vocals that stoke the fires on Blue Again, though, the woman singing every song like the world is ending.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The last couple of albums from Janiva Magness – 2014’s Original and 2016’s Love Wins Again – were stunning works that explored pop, soul, and gospel music with sly original songs and stellar performances. It’s nice to see Magness reach back to her roots with Blue Again, the singer admitting to deliberating long and hard on the EP’s choice of songs. In a press release for Blue Again, Magness stated “There’s definitely been an evolution, an arc over the course of time of the kinds of songs that I’ve elected to do and the kinds of songs I now write. I wanted to bring that arc full circle. I wanted to make a record of what and where I come from. It was important to me emotionally and spiritually.” Magness accomplished what she set out to do with Blue Again, the EP’s six songs displaying more passion and emotion, heart and soul than you’ll hear from any other singer, no matter the genre. Grade: A (Blue Élan Records, released May 12, 2017)

Friday, May 19, 2017

CD Review: Wilson Pickett's In The Midnight Hour + The Exciting Wilson Pickett (2016 reissue)

Wilson Pickett's In The Midnight Hour + The Exciting Wilson Pickett
Singer and songwriter Wilson Pickett was a giant in the world of American rhythm & blues and soul music. As an artist, he was often overshadowed by more flamboyant performers like James Brown and Isaac Hayes, or by tragic figures like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but Pickett still placed better than 50 songs on the U.S. R&B charts, several of which would cross over to pop success. Underrated as a songwriter, Pickett also wrote or co-wrote a number of soul classics, including songs like “In The Midnight Hour” and “Ninety Nine and A Half (Won’t Do)” that have been recorded by artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and many others.

Like many R&B singers of his era, Pickett was born in the south and began singing with the church choir. He’d leave Alabama as a teenager to live with his father in Detroit, where he would develop his powerful, emotional style of singing influenced by artists like Little Richard. At the age of 14, Pickett joined a gospel group, the Violinaires, touring and performing in churches across the country. Pickett spent four years with the group before leaving to follow in the footsteps of singers like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, who had found success in the secular market. He joined Wilson’s former group the Falcons in 1959, which included both Eddie Floyd and Mack Rice at the time. A minor hit with the Falcons prompted Pickett to launch a solo career, signing with Lloyd Price’s Double-L Records label.

Wilson Pickett’s In The Midnight Hour

A handful of R&B chart hits with Double-L led to Pickett signing a deal with Atlantic Records, which had soul heavyweight Solomon Burke on its roster at the time. Several songs that the singer recorded for Atlantic stiffed on the charts so, in 1965, producer and label exec Jerry Wexler sent Pickett to Memphis to work with Steve Cropper and the Stax Records crew. The results proved to be pure magic, Pickett’s Atlantic Records debut In The Midnight Hour yielding a pair of hits in “Don’t Fight It” (#4 R&B) and the title track, which would top the R&B chart and hit a respectable #21 on the pop chart. While ostensibly Pickett’s “debut,” he’d been singing professionally for better than half his life at that point, and In The Midnight Hour displays a poise and maturity unexpected by such a young artist.

Make no mistake, In The Midnight Hour is a classic collection of soul music that puts Pickett’s talents on full display. The singer’s early singles are shoehorned onto the track list, including his lone hit with the Falcons, “I Found A Love,” which is a ‘50s vintage, doo-wop-tinged performance sporting shallow production and a lot of heart but was nevertheless a good half-decade out of time when In The Midnight Hour was released. Pickett’s earlier Atlantic efforts like “I’m Gonna Cry” or “Come Home Baby,” a duet with Tami Lynn, fared much better. The former is an energetic dance record while the latter is an understated torch song that shows great chemistry between the two singers.

Another duet with Lynn, “Teardrops Will Fall,” is even better, the song’s intertwined vocals rising above the perfunctory instrumentation and allowing the emotion of the lyrics to take flight. The album’s title track, of course, is a bona fide soul classic with a monster groove, a great vocal performance, and some brassy hornplay. “Don’t Fight It,” the album’s other hit single, makes good use of horns to build a melody, while minor rhythms and almost-hidden piano support Pickett’s brash vocals. With Cropper’s slinky guitar licks opening the song, “That’s A Man’s Way” was a lost opportunity, Pickett’s blistering vocals assisted by mournful horns and a slow rhythm in creating a powerful performance. The song was never released as a single per se, appearing as the ‘B’ side to the hit “634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)” a year later.

The Exciting Wilson Pickett

The Great Wilson Pickett
Pickett’s follow-up to In The Midnight Hour came a year later and was entirely built on sessions recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis and Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The Exciting Wilson Pickett proved to be even more successful than its predecessor, kicking up dust with three Top 20 R&B chart hits that crossed over to the (white) mainstream. The album itself rose to #21 on the pop albums chart, representing a significant degree of success in 1966. Built around fresh performances rather than piecing together a track list from whatever the label had on the shelves, The Exciting Wilson Pickett is a more cohesive collection altogether and showcases Pickett as a soul superstar coming into his own.

The Exciting Wilson Pickett opens with the garage-rock standard “Land of 1,000 Dances,” which Pickett imbues with pure crackling electricity, his rapid-fire vocal delivery outpacing the frenetic instrumentation to create one of the great dance songs of the 1960s. The third single released from the album, it would hit #1 on the R&B and #6 pop charts, inspiring a generation of young soul rebels. The album’s actual first single was the Steve Cropper/Eddie Floyd jam “634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.),” the song’s loping pace and Pickett’s swaggering, charismatic vocals driving it to the top of the R&B chart (#13 pop). Pickett joined with Cropper and Floyd in penning “Ninety Nine and A Half (Won’t Do),” an underperforming single that is looked upon more favorably today. Featuring a strong, James Brown-styled vocal performance, it represents a slight departure from Pickett’s innate soul sound but works nicely in context with the surrounding songs.

But The Exciting Wilson Pickett has much more to offer than just the hit singles. Pickett’s take on the Robert Parker hit “Barefootin’” captures the energy of the original while turbo-charging its melodic groove with funky horns and a fluid vocal performance. A cover of the Don Covay classic “Mercy Mercy” is ‘60s soul at its best, displaying plenty of pent-up emotion in the telling of a romantic tale that offers up some mighty fine chicken-pickin’ by Fame’s Jimmy Johnson. The Pickett/Cropper original “Danger Zone” is an overlooked gem with a bluesy undercurrent that is ripe for rediscovery by a contemporary blues singer like John Nemeth. This Edsel Records reissue offers several bonus tracks, including a pair of explosive live performances from the Saturday Night At the Uptown album that was recorded at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater with Pickett, the Drifters, and others. Pickett’s immense live charisma is evident with “If You Need Me,” the song providing a tsunami of emotion that has the audience screaming while “I’m Gonna Cry” is its equal, the audience obviously hanging on to every word from the singer’s mouth.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Edsel Records in the U.K. has reissued all ten of Pickett’s Atlantic Records albums, released between 1965 and 1972, as “twofers” with bonus tracks and digital re-mastering that improves the sound of the original recordings while retaining all of their power and character. The pairing of In The Midnight Hour and The Exciting Wilson Pickett omits the duplication of the former’s title track, which was also included on the latter album by Atlantic for some reason. As a result, you have 23 tracks from the original albums along with three bonus tracks that represent some of the best soul music ever caught on tape. Wilson Pickett was an incredible talent, and these first two albums are essential slabs of ‘60s-era soul upon which much of what would follow in R&B, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll music would be built. Grade: A (Edsel Records, released December 2, 2016)

Buy the CD from Wilson Pickett's In The Midnight Hour/The Exciting Wilson Pickett

Chris Cornell of Soundgarden & Audioslave, R.I.P.

Chris Cornell photo by Gordon Correll, courtesy GDCGraphics
Photo by Gordon Correll/GDCGraphics
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.

Cornell is primarily known as the singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist for Seattle rock legends Soundgarden. He was also an accomplished solo artist and the frontman of early 2000s supergroup Audioslave as well as the founder of Temple of the Dog, a band formed in tribute to Cornell’s late friend Andrew Wood of Seattle rockers Mother Love Bone. Perhaps the most classically skilled vocalist of the grunge-era, Cornell famously had a vocal range of nearly four octaves and could sing with great power and emotion.

Cornell formed Soundgarden in 1984 with former bandmates Hiro Yamamoto (bass) and Kim Thayil (guitar), originally playing drums and singing. The band added drummer Scott Sundquist and moved Cornell up front, and this line-up recorded three songs that appeared on the C/Z Records compilation Deep Six. When Sundquist left the band in 1986, he was replaced by Matt Cameron of Skin Yard, who would become Soundgarden’s permanent drummer. Signing with Seattle’s Sub Pop Records, the band released the Screaming Life EP in 1987 and the Fopp EP the following year. Jumping to punk label SST Records, the band released its full-length debut, Ultramega OK, which earned them a Grammy® Award nomination and a subsequent deal with the major label A&M Records, for whom they recorded their sophomore effort, 1989’s Louder Than Love.

Soundgarden’s tenure with A&M Records resulted in but four studio albums total, but they’re all considered classics of the era. The band’s 1991 breakthrough, Badmotorfinger, charted Top 40 in the U.S. and U.K. on its way to double Platinum™ sales while its follow-up, 1994’s Superunknown, topped the U.S. charts and sold better than five million copies, earning Soundgarden superstar status. Their final album for the label, 1996’s Down On the Upside, would go Top 10 in a half-dozen countries and land a Platinum™ Record for sales. The band toured constantly, including a slot on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour co-headlining with Metallica. After a worldwide tour that spanned 1996-97, Soundgarden broke up due to internal tensions and disagreement over the creative direction of the band.

Cornell launched his solo career with the 1999 release of Euphoria Morning, which performed respectively, charting Top 20 in the U.S. and Canada, with the singer touring in support of the album. He wouldn’t release a second solo album until 2007’s Carry On, following up two years later with Scream. In between solo efforts, Cornell formed the band Audioslave in 2001 with former Rage Against the Machine band members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk. Audioslave released three albums between 2001 and 2006, selling close to five million copies, the band’s middle album Out of Exile hitting #1 in the U.S. and Canada. Cornell left the band in 2007 to renew his solo career. He would release his final solo album, the critically-acclaimed Higher Truth, in 2015.

Soundgarden reunited in 2010 with the band’s 1990s-era line-up of Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron. The band was touring at the time of Cornell’s death, releasing the album King Animal in 2012 and working on new songs as recently as late 2016. Cornell’s legacy as one of the greatest singers in rock ‘n’ roll is based on his critically-acclaimed work with both Soundgarden and Audioslave. One of the big four bands of Seattle’s vaunted ‘grunge’ scene, Soundgarden was arguably the first and one of the most successful among its peers, largely due to Cornell’s immense vocal abilities, on-stage charisma, and songwriting talents. He will be missed…

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

CD Preview: Red Hot A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records

Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records
There can be no denying that Sam Phillips’ Sun Records imprint had an enduring and important influence on not only the creation and evolution of rock ‘n’ roll but on the promotion of blues and R&B music as well. Founded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1952, Sun Records is best-known as the initial home of the legend, Elvis Presley. But Sun can also brag of releasing records by then-unknown musical giants like Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins; producer Phillips’ love of R&B also prompted him to record essential early sides by Howlin’ Wolf, Little Milton, Roscoe Gordon, and Memphis’s own Rufus Thomas, among many others.

On June 16th, 2017 the Americana Music Society will release Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records in honor of the Bluff City’s homegrown indie label which changed the direction of popular music. Proceeds from the CD will benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® which treats children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The tribute album was co-produced by roots-rocker Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, and Tamara Saviano, a Nashville-based writer and producer and the author of Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark.

Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records was recorded at the two legendary recording studios owned by Phillips – the original Memphis Recording Service, later known as Sun Studio and opened in 1950, and the Sam Phillips Recording Service, opened in 1959 – and the album features performances by a slate of talented roots ‘n’ blues artists. Luther Dickinson and his brother Cody are the sons of late Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson, who recorded for Sun Records in 1966 with his garage-rock band the Jesters. The Red Hot house band includes Memphis singer/bassist Amy LaVere, singer/guitarist John Paul Keith, keyboardist Rick Steff of Lucero as well as the Dickinson brothers on guitar and drums.

Along with vocal performances by Luther Dickinson, John Paul Keith and Amy LaVere, Red Hot includes contributions by Valerie June, Shawn Camp, Jimbo Mathus, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and the great Bobby Rush. Check out the Red Hot website for more info on the project and then order this worthwhile CD from

Luther Dickinson, Valerie June,  Jimbo Mathus, Rick Steff
L-R: Luther Dickinson, Valerie June,
Jimbo Mathus, Rick Steff (seated)

Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball revisited

The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast
Way back in 1974, former Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover agreed to produce an album by his longtime bandmate Jon Lord, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast a concept album based on a popular British children’s poem. When Lord couldn’t find time away from his obligations with Purple, Glover decided to go forward with the project, writing most of the songs and then opening up his phone book and recruiting a veritable “who’s who” of ‘70s British rock ‘n’ roll to record the project, including vocalists Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale, and Glenn Hughes.

Released in November 1974 in the U.K. (almost a year later in the U.S.), the album earned a modicum of critical acclaim and performed respectively on its home turf, the Dio-sung “Love Is All” hitting the U.K. charts and reaching #1 in the Netherlands. As a result, a single performance of the production was held at the Royal Albert Hall in London on October 16th, 1975. With singer Ian Gillan (Deep Purple, duh…) appearing in place of Dio, who was touring with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, the performance also included narration from the great Vincent Price and included model/actress Twiggy as one of the singers. The live concert was filmed and released in 1976, produced and directed by Tony Klinger.

Klinger has produced a limited edition, deluxe edition of the live performance of The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast which includes a double DVD containing the original concert film as well as the re-edited, re-mastered 2017 version; a previously-unreleased double-CD soundtrack from the live performance, a reproduction of the original press pack including five 8”x10” glossy promotional photos, and an A3 sized (roughly 11.5”x16.5”) reproduction film poster. Each box contains a numbered certificate signed by Klinger, and will be strictly limited to 250 copies. The deluxe edition of this beloved performance is available for order from the PledgeMusic website and runs roughly $129 plus shipping.

The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast is also available in other, less expensive formats from PledgeMusic, including just the two-disc DVD set of the concert (roughly $26) and the two-disc CD set (roughly $19) as well as t-shirts, a poster, and other memorabilia of the event. This is a gift for the Deep Purple fanatic as the concert features vocals from Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, and Glenn Hughes as well as music by Roger Glover and Jon Lord. The concert also includes talents like John Gustafson and Eddie Jobson of Roxy Music, John Lawton (Lucifer’s Friend, Uriah Heep), and Eddie Hardin (Spencer David Group), among others. A cool relic of the classic rock era, check out all the goodies available on the PledgeMusic website.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Blues Music Awards 2017 Winners

Bobby Rush's Porcupine Meat
The Blues Foundation held its annual Blues Music Awards ceremony in Memphis, Tennessee over the weekend. The event honors those talented bluesmen-and-women that are too often ignored by mainstream awards programs (cough *Grammys*) and if you’re a blues fan and you find yourself in the Bluff City in early May, it’s well worth your time to check out the BMAs ‘cause The Blues Foundation really knows how to throw a shindig!

Blues legend Bobby Rush deservedly earned a pair of Blues Music Awards for both his new album (Porcupine Meat) and his earlier work (the archival Chicken Heads: A 50 Year History of Bobby Rush). The Tedeschi Trucks Band were also big winners this year, winning BMAs for their album Let Me Get By as well as “Band of the Year” and “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” for Susan Tedeschi. Lest we forget, dynamite bluesman Kenny Neal won both “Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year” and “Contemporary Blues Album of the Year” for his fantastic Bloodline disc.

Blues-rock guitar prodigy Joe Bonamassa turned 40 years old this past week (he’s been performing since he was opening for B.B. King at the age of 13), and The Blues Foundation voters recognized the prolific, hard-touring bluesman’s contributions to the genre with the coveted B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award.

We have a partial list of BMA winners below, with links to buy the winning albums from Check out the full list of Blues Music Award winners on The Blues Foundation website!


Acoustic Album of the Year
Eric Bibb - The Happiest Man in the World (Stony Plain Records)

Acoustic Artist of the Year
Doug MacLeod

Album of the Year
Bobby Rush - Porcupine Meat (Rounder Records)

B.B. King Entertainer of the Year
Joe Bonamassa

Band of the Year
The Tedeschi Trucks Band

Best Emerging Artist Album of the Year
Jonn Del Toro Richardson - Tengo Blues (VizzTone Records)

Kenny Neal's Blood Line
Contemporary Blues Album of the Year
Kenny Neal - Bloodline (Cleopatra Records)

Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year
Susan Tedeschi

Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year
Kenny Neal

Historical Album of the Year
Bobby Rush - Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush (Omnivore Recordings)

Rock Blues Album of the Year
The Tedeschi Trucks Band - Let Me Get By (Fantasy Records)

Soul Blues Album of the Year
Curtis Salgado - The Beautiful Lowdown (Alligator Records)

Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year
Curtis Salgado's The Beautiful LowdownMavis Staples

Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year
Curtis Salgado

Traditional Blues Album of the Year
Lurrie Bell - Can’t Shake This Feeling (Delmark Records)

Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year
Bob Margolin

Click on the album links to buy the CD from!

Friday, May 12, 2017

King Crimson summer tour & Heroes EP

King Crimson 2017

Prog-rock legends King Crimson will kick off a 17-show North American tour with a sold-out performance at the Moore Theatre in Seattle, Washington on June 11th. The “Radical Action Tour 2017” includes performances in Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, and Toronto as well as at the Rochester Jazz Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival. There will be further dates scheduled for the fall, including an anticipated New York City concert.

The current incarnation of King Crimson includes original founding member Robert Fripp as well as multi-instrumentalist Bill Reiflin, guitarist and singer Jakko Jakszyk, longtime Crimson bassist Tony Levin, saxophonist Mel Collins, and multiple drummers – Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, and Jeremy Stacey. Coinciding with the initial slate of live performances, King Crimson will release their Heroes – Live In Europe, 2016 EP on June 2nd, 2017 on the band’s own DGM label.

The EP features the band’s version of the David Bowie classic “Heroes,” on which Fripp originally played guitar, recorded at the Admiralspalast in Berlin in tribute to the late rock ‘n’ roll legend. The Heroes EP also includes live renditions of “Easy Money,” “Starless,” and “The Hell Hounds of Krim” and is available from the band's website or from

King Crimson 2017 North American tour dates:

06/11 @ Moore Theatre, Seattle WA (sold out!)
06/12 @ Moore Theatre, Seattle WA
06/13 @ Moore Theatre, Seattle WA
06/15 @ Mountain Winery, Saratoga CA
06/16 @ Fox Theatre, Oakland CA
06/17 @ Fox Theatre, Oakland CA
06/19 @ Humphrey's, San Diego CA
06/21 @ Greek Theatre, Los Angeles CA
06/24 @ Bellco Theatre, Denver CO
06/26 @ State Theatre, Minneapolis MN
06/28 @ Chicago Theater, Chicago IL
06/30 @ Rochester Jazz Festival - Kodak Hall, Rochester NY
07/03 @ Montreal Jazz Festival, Montreal, QC CANADA
07/05 @ Massey Hall, Toronto, ON CANADA
07/07 @ Centre Videotron, Quebec, QC CANADA
07/09 @ Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank NJ
07/10 @ Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank NJ

Thursday, May 11, 2017

STIV: The Life and Times of A Dead Boy

STIV: The Life and Times of A Dead Boy
Stiv Bators was a one-of-a-kind rock ‘n’ roll frontman, a charismatic singer and performer who, while maybe not the greatest singer in the history of the genre, was nonetheless talented enough to infuse his lyrical delivery with no little attitude and emotion. Bators is, perhaps, best known as the singer for Cleveland, Ohio punk pioneers the Dead Boys, and for the international hard rock outfit Lords of the New Church, the former a legendary and influential group and the latter enjoying modest commercial success both stateside and in the U.K.

Few but the faithful know that Bators was a solo artist with a fine, if obscure pop-punk album recorded for Greg Shaw’s Bomp! Records label. He was also the frontman for a number of long-forgotten, fly-by-night bands like the Whores of Babylon (with Dee Dee Ramone and Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls) and the Wanderers (with Dave Tregunna of Sham 69). Bators tragic, accidental death in 1990 robbed the world of rock ‘n’ roll of an influential voice.

STIV: The Life and Times of A Dead Boy is a feature-length documentary film focused on Bators and his care3er. The first film ever made about the controversial singer, Bators’ life will be remembered through archive footage, photography, music, and new interviews with those who knew him. Filmmaker Danny Garcia will direct the project, and it’s not his first rodeo in the punk rock arena, with films like The Rise and Fall of the Clash and Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy to his credit.

With a tentative release date of May 2018, Garcia has launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding effort to raise the cash to complete the film. With a number of interviews already in the can, the filmmaker needs to raise some cash to conduct more interviews, edit the film footage, and license music for the movie. Listen to some classic Stiv tunes like “Sonic Reducer,” “Ain’t It Fun,” or “Russian Routlette” and then surf over to the STIV fundraising page and check out the various perks available for your support of this worthwhile project.

The Plasmatics – Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-1981 DVD

The Plasmatics – Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-1981 DVD
Formed in 1977 by manager/svengali Rod Swenson and notorious lead singer and former porn actress Wendy O. Williams in NYC, the Plasmatics were a wonderful trainwreck from day one.  The controversial punk/metal outfit was known for its anarchic live performances, with the scantily clad Williams – the nipples of her bare breasts covered with strategically-placed black electrical tape – often taking a chainsaw to speaker cabinets or joyfully applying the business end of a sledgehammer to a television set. Arrests for public indecency were not uncommon and, in spite of their outrageous reputation, the band managed to eke out several studio albums and a handful of EPs in the five or six years after their first gig at CBGBs, including Coup d’Etat, released by major label Capitol Records.

Williams recorded three solo albums during a mid-80s band hiatus before releasing a final Plasmatics album, Maggots, in 1987 after which she retired from the music biz. The band’s influence cannot be dismissed, though, their ground-breaking punk rock/heavy metal hybrid and high voltage stage show influencing both contemporaries and bands to follow including Anthrax, the Cro-Mags, the Ramones, and Motörhead. Because of the visual nature of the Plasmatics’ stage show, there have been several DVDs released of the band’s performances, but on May 19th, 2017 Pandemonium Studios, with Music Video Distributors, will release The Plasmatics – Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-1981, the DVD featuring rare, previously-unreleased video footage of the band.

During the band’s early years, Swenson – who had directed all the Wendy O. Williams and Plasmatics videos, as well as videos for Blondie, the Ramones, and Motörhead – filmed a number of Plasmatics shows, the footage of which had never been edited or released and, in fact, was thought lost or rotted away. While moving the WOW/Plasmatics archives, however, some of this long-lost footage was rediscovered and while much was damaged, producer/director Randy Shooter was able to salvage, restore, and edit this rare video to create The Plasmatics – Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-1981 DVD, which includes two performances from CBGBs which come from the first Plasmatics’ shows. We’ve included the DVD’s complete tracklist below as well as a link to buy the DVD from Amazon. Enjoy!

The Plasmatics – Live! track listing:

1. Want You (Baby) (July 26, 1978)
2. Tight Black Pants (June 9, 1979)
3. Dream Lover (May 17, 1980)
4. Sometimes I Feel It (May 17, 1980)
5. Squirm (May 17, 1980)
6. Butcher Baby (May 17, 1980)
7. Living Dead (May 15, 1981)
8. Summer Night (May 15, 1981)
9. Fast Food Service (May 15, 1981)
10. Nothing (June 19, 1981)
11. Summer Night (June 19, 1981)
12. Sex Junkie (September 22, 1981)
13. Squirm (September 22, 1981)
14. Lunacy (September 22, 1981)
15. Black Leather Monster (September 22, 1981)
16. Monkey Suit (June 18, 1980)

Black Flag bassist Cel Revuelta, R.I.P.

 Black Flag bassist Cel Revuelta

Former Black Flag bassist Cel Revuelta passed away on May 3rd, 2017 from brain cancer. Revuelta did not appear on any official Black Flag records, replacing Kira Roessler for the band’s 1986 tour with guitarist Greg Ginn, singer Henry Rollins, and drummer Anthony Martinez and appearing in the Dave Markey 1991 documentary film Reality 86’d.

Revuelta returned in 2003 for a handful of Black Flag reunion shows with Ginn. Revuelta’s tenure with the band was captured by the bootleg Last Show album and on the Program: Annihilator compilation LP. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for Revuelta’s medical expenses.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bootleg Rodeo: Tom Petty, Carlos Santana & George Thorogood

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' New York Shuffle
#1 - May 2017

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 our inaugural “Bootleg Rodeo,” the Rev has chosen to round up recent live CDs from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Carlos Santana, and George Thorogood & the Destroyers, with links to buy ‘em from 

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – New York Shuffle (Sonic Boom)
A lot of shows from the legendary My Father’s Place in Roslyn, New York have appeared on bootleg vinyl and CD through the years, most of them snatched from the frequent and ubiquitous radio broadcasts by WLIR-FM. Radio stations generally hold onto tapes of these shows in their archives for years (or at least until some employee grabs ‘em!), and while more than a few of these previous bootleg releases were no doubt sourced from off-air recordings, in the case of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ New York Shuffle, the sound quality is good enough to believe that it’s a first generation soundboard taping.

Capturing an early Petty & the Heartbreakers’ performance from November 1977 at My Father’s Place, New York Shuffle documents a young band touring in support of their acclaimed debut album. As such, there are spirited performances of great songs like “American Girl,” “Breakdown,” and “Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” as well as “Listen To Her Heart” and “I Need To Know” from their upcoming album, You’re Gonna Get It! The disc also includes raucous covers of the Isley Brothers (“Shout”) and Bobby Troup’s “Route 66.” To fill out the CD’s tracklist (and get closer to an hour of running time), Sonic Boom added two tracks from a KSAN-FM broadcast earlier in the year, including a rowdy take on Chuck Berry’s “Jaguar & Thunderbird.” The Rev’s recommendation: Buy it!

Carlos Santana's One Monday Morning
Carlos Santana w/John Lee Hooker – One Monday Morning (Laser Media)
This lil’ disc from the enigmatic Laser Media label bills itself as “legendary” Santana radio broadcast dating from 1985, but that’s really all the information that they’re willing to reveal. Although his name is writ large on the front cover beside his smiling face, with a smaller “Special Guest John Lee Hooker” in a box below, this album has very little to do with Carlos Santana. Rather, it’s a mid-‘80s John Lee Hooker performance, the legendary bluesman backed by his Coast to Coast Blues Band, including guitarist Roy Rogers and keyboardist Deacon Jones.

Nevertheless, there are a few things on One Monday Morning to like, providing you can grab a copy at a decent (> $10) price. There are only eight songs here, two of which feature the CCBB cranking out blues/R&B standards like “Shake Your Money Maker.” They bring on John Lee and, after a couple of perfunctory warm-up tunes (“One Monday Morning” and “I Don’t Know’), the Hook launches into an incendiary reading of his classic “Boom Boom” that offers up some scorching fretwork courtesy of rock ‘n’ roll legend Santana. The sound quality is, to be kind, mediocre, shallow without noticeable equalization, but around half the performances here (i.e. those with Carlos) are incendiary. The Rev’s recommendation: Maybe?

George Thorogood & the Destroyers' Boogie Chillin'
George Thorogood & the Destroyers – Boogie Chillin’ (Zip City)
The El Mocambo club in Toronto, Ontario is one of Canada’s legendary venues, and the site of many a notable performance. Since the club opened in 1948, it’s hosted a literal “who’s who” of incredible performers like Muddy Waters, Elvis Costello, the Rolling Stones, and the Ramones, among others. It’s also been the site of the not-infrequent live FM radio broadcast, like this red-hot set by George Thorogood & the Destroyers, attributed to a July 1978 performance and broadcast by an uncredited local station. Thorogood and his rough-riders had been together a few years at this point and already released two critically-acclaimed albums (1977’s self-titled debut and 1978’s Move It On Over), and the performance documented by Zip City’s Boogie Chillin’ is largely comprised of material from those discs.

This is around the time that the Reverend first saw Thorogood & the Destroyers perform, at Nashville’s Exit/In with the Nighthawks opening, and I can personally vouch for the band’s explosive and entertaining live show. Boogie Chillin’ opens with Thorogood’s lively take on bluesman Homesick James’ “Baby, Please Set a Date” and, from that launching pad, soars with blistering covers of classic early rock ‘n’ blues gems by Bo Diddley (“Who Do You Love?), John Lee Hooker (“Boogie Chillin”), Willie Dixon (“I’m Wanted”), and Chuck Berry (“Reelin’ and Rockin’”). Thorogood was never the most prolific of songwriters in those early days, but his own “Homesick Boy” is an inspired rocker that fits like a glove with the other material here. The sound quality on Boogie Chillin’ is very good, with a sonic few drop outs, and George’s guitar seems to be out-of-tune at times, but Thorogood and crew more than make up for it with the passion and energy of these performances. The Rev’s recommendation: Buy it!

Book Review: Martin Popoff's Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers The Rise of Motörhead

Martin Popoff's Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers The Rise of Motörhead
In this scribe’s humble opinion, no other band epitomizes the pure, undistilled spirit of rock ‘n’ roll more than Motörhead. A saber-rattling golem formed from spilled whiskey, broken glass, and handfuls of amphetamines, Motörhead lurked forward from the shadows of the back alleyways of the United Kingdom to rock the world. Lemmy K’s musical leviathan toured constantly for nearly four decades until, literally, the band’s erstwhile frontman could no long stand upright on stage and sing.

Motörhead was equally influential (and well-liked) by punk rockers, metalheads, and your garden-variety punters, and although none of their 30 or so studio and live albums enjoyed overwhelming commercial success, they sold well enough to sustain the band’s lengthy tenure in the trenches. Why they haven’t been inducted into the joke that is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is beyond my comprehension – perhaps their reputation for grime upsets the delicate sensitivities of Mr. Wenner and his HoF gatekeepers – but the band’s loyal fans recognize Motörhead as the rock ‘n’ roll pioneers that they were.

Martin Popoff’s Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers

Writer and heavy metal historian Martin Popoff is no newcomer to Motörhead. The founder and editor of Canada’s esteemed Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles music zine, Popoff has penned 55+ books on hard rock and heavy metal, including acclaimed tomes on Deep Purple, Yes, Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, and Dio, among many, many others (really – check out his website!). In the interest of full disclosure, Popoff is also a colleague and a buddy of mine, and I’ve enjoyed and positively reviewed a number of his books. In many cases, Popoff’s work stands as the last word on his subjects, and if his recent Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers: The Rise of Motörhead isn’t necessarily the final tale to be written about this influential gang of sonic terrorists, it is certain to be the cornerstone of any other author’s future effort.

With Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers, Popoff literally recounts only the “rise of Motörhead,” circa 1975 through 1982. Rather than attempt to chronicle the band’s entire 40 year history, Popoff instead chooses to cover the band’s early “classic era” line-up, the primal power-trio of bassist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke,” and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor that recorded such enduring hard rock albums as Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, and the bruising live set, No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith. As per his usual ‘modus operandi,’ Popoff assembles the story from numerous interviews with the principal artists as well as providing comments from conversations with other musicians.

The Rise of Motörhead

Popoff begins the Motörhead story with Lemmy’s initial ‘60s-era bands (The Rocking Vicars, cult rockers Sam Gopal), his stint as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, and his short, tho’ ultimately important tenure with U.K. space-rock pioneers Hawkwind. Lemmy first appeared on Hawkwind’s third album, 1972’s Doremi Fasol Latido, subsequently recording 1974’s Hall of the Mountain Grill and the following year’s Warrior on the Edge of Time, as well as the classic 1973 double-live set Space Ritual. Lemmy also penned Hawkwind’s lone hit single in “Silver Machine” before he was booted from the band for his well-documented recreational excesses. One could say that, in many ways, Lemmy put together Motörhead in response to his sacking by Hawkwind, a move that may have affected Lemmy greatly but essentially set the stage for him to pursue his own unique musical muse with his own band. From this point, Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers follows Motörhead from its early stumbles in both the studio and on stage as the band eventually gelled with the aforementioned line-up of Lemmy, Clarke, and Taylor.

The author dives deep into the blood, sweat, and tears spent in the writing and recording of the band’s classic early albums; the interpersonal dynamics that helped create such speed-fueled, tension-filled music; and the eventual conflicts that broke this beloved line-up of the band apart. Musicians and fans of the band such as Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Brian Robertson (Thin Lizzy, and a future Motörhead member), producer Sandy Pearlman (Blue Öyster Cult, The Clash), and Hawkwind’s Dave Brock and Nik Turner, among others, all provide their perspective, while interviews with Clarke and Taylor, as well as Lemmy’s bandmates in the band’s final incarnation, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee, help round out the story.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The Reverend has read better than 60% of Popoff’s books to date, and I can honestly say that Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers: The Rise of Motörhead stands proudly as one of his best efforts. Although he unfolds the band’s story chronologically, the author eschews his frequently-used timeline approach in creating a narrative in favor of following the band from album-to-album, using each recording as a milestone, and allowing the band members and other interviewees to color between the lines.

The result is an entertaining and informative read that sheds no little light into the often-enigmatic Lemmy K. and his life’s work, Motörhead, documenting the early years of one of rock music’s most beloved and underrated outfits. The Rev highly recommends Beer Drinker and Hell Raisers for both hardcore Motörhead fans (duh) as well as anybody who lives and breathes rock ‘n’ roll. Grade: A+ (ECW Press, published May 9th, 2017)

Buy the book from Amazon: Martin Popoff's Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers

Related book reviews:
Martin Popoff's Time and A Word - The Yes Story
Surfing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with Martin Popoff