Sunday, April 15, 2018

Bootleg Rodeo: The Band, John Hiatt & Ry Cooder, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

The Band's Syria Mosque 1970
#6 – April 2018

Thanks to the vagaries created by loopholes in international copyright law, it seems that live music from the 1970s and early ‘80s – particularly FM radio broadcasts – are fair game for release on CD by dodgy European labels. The situation is a godsend for rock ‘n’ roll fans, who now have access to budget recordings by their favorite artists that were only previously available as higher-priced bootleg titles.

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

For this month’s “Bootleg Rodeo” column, the first in a couple of months, the Reverend reviews recent releases by the Band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the team of John Hiatt and Ry Cooder, with links to buy ‘em (or not) from Amazon.com.

The Band – Syria Mosque 1970 (Zip City Records)
The Band’s self-titled 1969 sophomore album would vault the rustic rockers and former Dylan backing band into the Top Ten in the U.S. and Canada on its way to selling better than a million copies. Fueled by the Top 30 hit single “Up On Cripple Creek,” the album turned heads and created expectations for what the Band would do to follow up their success. The answer came less than a year after the release of The Band in the form of Stage Fright, a complex work fraught with lyrical self-doubt and disenchantment. While songs like “The Shape I’m In” and the title track would propel the album to #5 on the charts, it would be years before the initial mixed critical response would turn uniformly positive and Stage Fright would be considered a bona fide classic of roots-rock.

Touring in support of Stage Fright, the Band made a stop in the ‘Steel City,’ Pittsburgh PA, performing at the Syria Mosque. A legendary venue built by the Shriners in 1911 and opened in 1916, the Syria Mosque had a lengthy history of hosting incredible musical performances long before the Band showed up at their door, with artists as diverse as Enrico Caruso, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Bo Diddley, the Who, and the Band’s old cohort, Bob Dylan among the many performers that had graced Syria Mosque before 1970. The Band’s November 1st performance was, according to the liner notes of this Zip City CD release, syndicated to FM stations across the country for broadcast. While I couldn’t confirm this as true, I did find that a Dutch TV station taped the concert for later airing, and it was a mono line feed from that recording that was used for several previous bootleg releases of the show.

In 2013, a fly-by-night operation in Japan by the name of Hook & Jab Productions released a bootleg CD titled Syria Mosque 1970 with restored sound and a track listing identical to this Zip City CD, so I’m guessing that they used that Japanese release as an origin for this one, which would explain the odd audio of the performances. The CD’s sound isn’t bad, just a bit muted and hollow which, given its vintage and alleged provenance, isn’t too shabby at all. The Band’s performance is top notch, however, as they crank through a dozen and a half songs drawn from all three of their albums at the time (with an emphasis on songs from Stage Fright, natch). The highlights are what you would expect – “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “Stage Fright,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – but a rowdy cover of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin’” tops off the concert nicely. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

John Hiatt & Ry Cooder's Live at the Cotati Cabaret 1983
John Hiatt with Ry Cooder – Live at the Cotati Cabaret 1983 (Gold Fish Records)
The early ‘80s were an odd and trying time for talented singer/songwriter John Hiatt. By the time of the 1983 release of his Riding With the King album, Hiatt had already released five commercially unsuccessful albums for three different record labels. His albums were critically-acclaimed and Hiatt songs were recorded and/or performed by folks like Roseanne Cash, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Ricky Nelson, and Bob Dylan. Still, Hiatt couldn’t buy a bullet on the charts. Guitarist Ry Cooder, on the other hand, was riding fairly high at the time. A veteran of the Rising Sons (with the great Taj Mahal) and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Cooder was an in-demand studio musician whose credits included recordings by the Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Van Morrison, and Little Feat, among many others.

Cooder’s solo albums sold reasonably well throughout the 1970s and, by the early ‘80s, he’d made the transition towards into writing movie scores which, with his instrumental talents, he excelled at, resulting in acclaimed soundtracks for films like Walter Hill’s The Long Riders (1980) and Southern Comfort (1981) and Tony Richardson’s 1982 film The Border. Cooder and Hiatt had become friends when Hiatt contributed a pair of songs for Cooder’s 1980 solo album Borderline. Hiatt and his road band at the time backed Cooder on his 1980 Borderline American tour, a favor later returned by Cooder, who played with Hiatt during his 1983 tour for Riding With the King. Cooder would remain with Hiatt for the recording of the singer’s breakthrough album, 1987’s Bring the Family and, in 1991, they formed the band Little Village with Hiatt’s friends and bandmates Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner, the musical collaboration resulting in a lone self-titled album in 1992.

All of which, in a roundabout way, brings us to Live at the Cotati Cabaret 1983, an FM radio broadcast featuring Hiatt and Cooder performing together in Cotati, a rural California town north of San Francisco. Touring in support of Riding With the King, the concert’s setlist draws heavily from that album, Hiatt performing nine of the LP’s dozen songs on this sixteen-track collection, alongside a smattering of material from his earlier efforts. The sound quality ranges from good to better, with a couple of drop-outs and some recording artifacts, but nothing that detracts from the performance. Hiatt’s band included players from his 1982 album All of A Sudden, including keyboardist Jesse Harms and drummer Darrell Verdusco, as well as former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ bassist Howie Epstein and, of course, guitarist Cooder.

Little of this material is familiar to any but the most hardcore Hiatt fanatics, but there’s a lot to like from the underachieving Riding With the King. “Love Like Blood” showcases the warm, soulful vocals that Hiatt would perfect on later albums, his voice complimented by Cooder’s wiry fretwork. “Riding With the King” itself is an underrated tune (that would later become a hit for Eric Clapton and B.B. King), the song brimming with swaggering, confident vocals, resonant guitar licks, and energetic keyboard flourishes while “Say It With Flowers” is a new wave-styled power pop jaunt with vibrant guitar playing and an infectious rhythm punctuated by warbling synthesizer notes.

“Zero House,” which would later be recorded for Hiatt’s 1985 album Warming Up To the Ice Age, is an unabashed rocker that offers some mighty fine Cooder slide guitar and Hiatt’s rapid-fire vox roaring above a locomotive rhythm. Altogether, Live at the Cotati Cabaret 1983 is a solid showcase for both Hiatt’s intelligent lyricism and expressive vocals and Cooder’s imaginative and lively fretwork. The performance captures Hiatt “before the fame,” and it’s well worth checking out for any fan of the man. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Nashville 1974
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Nashville 1974 (All Access)
This is a concert that the Rev sort of remembers from high school. Broadcast by local FM radio powerhouse WKDA (before its name change to WKDF), it featured the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performing live at Woodland Studios in Nashville. The band’s inspired mix of country, rock, and bluegrass music was an unlikely fit with the station’s regular hard rock playlist, but the Nitty Gritty boys had a firm local connection, and they were plugging away in an artistic milieu that included the Eagles, Poco, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, appealing to open-minded record buyers before commercial radio formats placed genre cross-overs into a one-size-fits-all straitjacket.

With their mix of twangy originals – typically penned by singer and guitarist Jeff Hanna and/or multi-instrumentalist John McEuen – and well-chosen cover tunes that ran the gamut from early rock ‘n’ roll classics to country legends like Hank Williams and Bill Monroe, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were uncredited, albeit bona fide Americana pioneers. The Dirt Band was still touring in support of their 1972 Will the Circle Be Unbroken album at the time of this live broadcast, the enormous triple-vinyl release representing a commercial breakthrough for the band and featuring a slew of impressive guest stars like “Mother” Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis, and Norman Blake. The LP would hit #4 on the country charts and a respectable #68 on the pop charts, opening up an entirely new audience for the band as the album eventually went Platinum™. They would later revisit the entire Will the Circle Be Unbroken concept with two additional volumes in 1989 and 2002.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was down to four members in January ’74 when they performed for the radio audience at Woodland Studios, with Hanna and McEuen joined by drummer Jimmie Fadden and guitarist/keyboardist Jimmy Ibbotson. Some of the material from this show would be included on the band’s Stars and Stripes Forever album, released later that year, but I’m not sure why they didn’t just release the entire concert on vinyl. The performance documented by Nashville 1974 offers an engaging mix of country, rock, and bluegrass, the band’s signature sound accompanied by an obvious enthusiasm and reverence for the material.

They deliver passionate performances of tunes like Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans,” and Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen,” but they aren’t afraid to dig into more obscure songbooks, as with their fine reading of Michael Nesmith’s “Some of Shelley’s Blues” or Michael Martin Murphy’s “Cosmic Cowboy.” Of course they included their two biggest hits at the time – loving covers of Kenny Loggin’s “House At Pooh Corner” and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” – before closing out the show with the Cajun romp ‘n’ stomper “Diggy Liggy Lo.”

The band would continue to struggle through the rest of the ‘70s, scoring the occasional hit single but virtually spending nearly two decades in the wilderness before dropping the “Nitty Gritty” from their name and finding their footing as an exclusively country-leaning, hit-making machine. They’d score better than a dozen Top Ten charting country hits during the mid-to-late ‘80s before re-adopting their former name and soldiering on well into the new millennium. For this night in Nashville, the band let its talents shine brightly, performing with joyous abandon. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

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

Bootleg Rodeo #2 - Tom Petty, Stephen Stills & Manasass, Neil Young
Bootleg Rodeo #3 - Bob Seger
Bootleg Rodeo #4 - The Marshall Tucker Band, Steely Dan & Joe Walsh  
Bootleg Rodeo #5 - The Byrds, Midnight Oil & Poco

CD Preview: Shuggie Otis’s Inter-Fusion

Shuggie Otis’s Inter-Fusion
This one almost slipped by the ol’ Reverend – on April 20th, 2018 the amazing Shuggie Otis will be releasing a new album titled Inter-Fusion. Recorded with a monster rhythm section comprised of veteran rockers Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Rod Stewart) on drums and bassist Tony Franklin (The Firm, Roy Harper, Kenny Wayne Shepherd), the album was produced by keyboardist Kyle Hamood of L.A. rockers Them Guns. Inter-Fusion will be available on CD, vinyl, and as a digital download.

Shuggie Otis, of course, is the brilliant singer, songwriter, and guitarist who created such magical musical moments as “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Inspiration Information.” Shuggie honed his chops playing with his legendary father Johnny Otis’s band during the ‘60s, and had his official “coming out party” with the 1969 release of Al Kooper’s Kooper Session album, which featured Otis’s stellar guitar playing. He subsequently recorded a trio of albums for Epic Records, including 1974’s landmark classic Inspiration Information. After appearing on his father’s 1981 album The New Johnny Otis Show, Shuggie all but disappeared from the frenzied rock music scene. He was still writing and recording music, but he was also raising a family and seemed to be in no hurry to undergo the sort of roadwork necessary to sustain a career.

Otis reappeared in 2013 to promote an expanded reissue of Inspiration Information, touring with his sons Eric and Nick and recording a live album, Live In Williamsburg, which was released in 2014. Inter-Fusion is Otis’s first album of new material in over 40 years, a mostly instrumental collection that features his skilled fretwork on what is being called a “fusion rock” project (a mix of funk, blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll). In a press release for the new album, Carmine Appice says “this was one of the wildest sessions I’ve ever done in my career!” while Tony Franklin adds “Shuggie loved to jam, and was very open to everyone’s input. He was not afraid to experiment and try new directions and sounds. I think the music sounds very fresh and alive.”

Producer Hamood offers his perspective, saying “watching the songs come together over such a short period of time, and the diversity that each band member brought to the overall sound and vibe was truly magical. It was an honor to work and create with such a talented group of musicians.” You can check out the promotional video embedded below for a taste of things to come. Heck, I’d walk across the street anytime to hear Shuggie play guitar, so I’ve already ordered my copy of the CD and you can get one yourself from Amazon.com.

Also on That Devil Music.com: Shuggie Otis - Live In Williamsburg CD review


Archive Review: Shuggie Otis's Live In Williamsburg (2014)

Shuggie Otis's Live In Williamsburg
Shuggie Otis, the son of R&B legend Johnny, was a true musical prodigy, the guitarist recording his first album at 16 and retiring from the rigors of the biz by age 30 with a handful of classic recordings comprising his canon. With the 2013 reissue of Otis’s landmark 1974 album Inspiration Information (which included Wings of Love, a bonus disc of unreleased recordings), Otis went back on the road after a three-decade hiatus, performing with a band that included his brother Nick on drums and son Eric Otis as second guitar. Live In Williamsburg offers a snapshot of a single performance from the guitarist’s “comeback” concerts, the document a welcome reminder of Otis’s unique musical voice and enormous talent.

Otis runs through a dozen of his best songs on Live In Williamsburg, the performances ranging from the soulful groove of Inspiration Information or the Chicago-styled, guitar-driven electric blues of "Sweetest Thang" to the psychedelic soul of "Wings of Love." The guitarist’s signature "Shuggie’s Boogie" displays Otis’s deft hand at traditional blues guitar while the exotic "Aht Uh Mi Hed" blends reggae rhythms with lush fretwork, wistful lyrics, and bleating horns to create a new R&B sound. Otis is best known, perhaps, for the sly funk of "Strawberry Letter 23," the song a 1977 Top Ten chart hit for the Brothers Johnson. Here Otis tones down the song’s rhythmic backbone slightly in favor of shimmering instrumentation and soulful vocals, creating a transcendent musical moment. Otis’s vocals and guitar playing show little or no rust here, displaying the same livewire electricity as his groundbreaking 1970s work, albeit tempered with experience and wisdom. (Cleopatra Records, released October 14, 2014)

Review originally published by The Blues magazine in the U.K.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Shuggie Otis's Live In Williamsburg

Friday, April 13, 2018

CD Preview: Wilko Johnson Blows Your Mind!

Wilko Johnson's Blow Your Mind
British rock legend Wilko Johnson isn’t living on “borrowed time” – he just up and snatched the years away from the Reaper – and he has been rockin’ full-tilt ever since. The former Dr. Feelgood guitarist and influential solo artist was diagnosed with terminal cancer in early 2013 and wasn’t expected to live out the year. Instead of sitting around in bed, he hit the road for a “farewell tour” of the U.K. and then ventured into the studio to record the acclaimed Going Back Home album with his friend Roger Daltry; released in March 2014, it would become the most commercially successful album of Johnson’s career.

After touring with Daltry in support of the album, and outliving his doctors’ prognosis by months, Johnson underwent a radical eleven-hour surgery that removed his cancer and provided the artist with a new lease on life. At 70 years old, Johnson isn’t letting any time slip by…as he has been quoted as saying, “there’s nothing like being told you’re dying to make you feel alive.” As an illustration of his rock ‘n’ roll vigor, on June 15th, 2018 Johnson will be releasing Blow Your Mind, his first album of new material in 30 years. The album will be available on CD, LP, and as a digital download on the historic Chess Records label, which also released Going Back Home.

Johnson was joined in the studio by his longtime band – bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe – with Dave Eringa, who produced Going Back Home, on the board. Watt-Roy’s rhythmic bass playing was an integral part of the Stiff Records’ sound, and he’s played on tracks by Nick Lowe, Rachel Sweet, Madness, and the Clash and was a founding member of Ian Dury & the Blockheads. Howe, the son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe, is an acclaimed musician in his own right, playing with artists as diverse as Nick Cave, Ray Davies, Paul McCartney, and David Gilmour.

In a press release for Blow Your Mind, Johnson says of the album’s new songs, “it’s tricky when you get to seventy years old, because what am I supposed to be singing? ‘I love you, baby, but you done me wrong?’ Come on! That’s kind of a problem. But I never thought that I’d be the sort of person to write songs about different sorts of real-life experiences until I got sick.” Featuring his typical mix of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, several songs on the new album deal with his illness and mortality; evincing the black humor that is a Johnson trademark. “I didn’t really intend to ever use them and, obviously, I didn’t know if I’d ever get back into the studio. One of those songs, that’s a reflection of that time, about sitting around the house at night knowing that death’s coming; we’ve recorded it, and it’ll be on the album. It’s actually quite a cheerful one, too!”

Check out the album’s track list below and then order your copy from Amazon.com.

Wilko Johnson's Blow Your Mind track list:

1. Beauty
2. Blow Your Mind
3. Marijuana
4. Tell Me One More Thing
5. That's The Way I Love You
6. Low Down
7. Take It Easy
8. I Love The Way You Do
9. It Don't Have To Give You The Blues
10. Lament
11. Say Goodbye
12. Slamming

CD Preview: Eric Clapton’s Life In 12 Bars

Eric Clapton’s Life In 12 Bars
There can be little argument about guitarist Eric Clapton’s enduring influence on the blues and rock music. From his short-but-sweet tenure with British blues-rock pioneers the Yardbirds and his even shorter stint with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers during the early ‘60s to the formation of Cream, one classic album each with British rock “supergroup” Blind Faith and with Derek and the Dominos, and an acclaimed solo career that continues to this day, Clapton has enjoyed a legendary career. Eric Clapton: A Life In 12 Bars, a documentary film about the guitarist by Oscar® winning director, Lili Fini Zanuck, is currently showing on the Showtime premium cable network.

On June 8th, 2018 Universal Music will release the soundtrack to the film, Life In 12 Bars available as a two-CD or four-LP set as well as a digital download (the vinyl set will be released on July 20th). The set’s 32 songs span the entirety of the eighteen-time Grammy® Award winner’s storied career, featuring tracks by all of the aforementioned bands as well as session recordings of Clapton playing alongside fellow legends like the Beatles, George Harrison, and Aretha Franklin as well as songs by Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy that inspired Clapton. The set includes five previously-unreleased tracks, including a 17-minute-long live 1968 performance by Cream of “Spoonful” and two Derek and the Dominos songs, including a live 1970 performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”

The set also includes a pair of unreleased solo tracks from 1974 include the first release of the entire full-length recording of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” (running nearly seven minutes) and a live performance of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” Alternative mixes of “After Midnight” and “Let It Rain,” both from Clapton’s self-titled 1970 solo debut album, were produced by the late Delaney Bramlett and Tom Dowd, and Life In 12 Bars also includes a rare live track by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Clapton on guitar. Altogether the album is a fairly comprehensive overview of the career of one of the most influential guitarists that rock music has ever seen.  

Eric Clapton's Life In 12 Bars track list:


DISC ONE
1. Big Bill Broonzy - "Backwater Blues"
2. Muddy Waters - "My Life Is Ruined"
3. Muddy Waters - "I Got Mojo Working"
4. The Yardbirds - "I Wish You Would"
5. The Yardbirds - "For Your Love"
6. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers - "Steppin’ Out"
7. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers - "All Your Love"
8. Cream - "I Feel Free"
9. Cream - "Strange Brew"
10. Cream - "Sunshine of Your Love"
11. Aretha Franklin - "Good To Me As I Am To You"
12. Cream - "Crossroads" [live]
13. The Beatles - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
14. Cream - "Badge"
15. Cream - "White Room" [live]
16. Cream - "Spoonful" [live] *
17. Blind Faith - "Presence of the Lord"

DISC TWO
1. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton - "Comin' Home" [live]
2. Eric Clapton - "After Midnight" [alternate mix]
3. Eric Clapton - "Let It Rain" [alternate mix]
4. Derek and The Dominos - "High" *
5. George Harrison - "My Sweet Lord"
6. Derek and The Dominos - "Thorn Tree In the Garden"
7. Derek and The Dominos - "Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out"
8. Derek and The Dominos - "Bell Bottom Blues"
9. Derek and The Dominos - "Layla"
10. Derek and The Dominos - "Little Wing" [live] *
11. Derek and The Dominos - "Got To Get Better In A Little While"
12. Eric Clapton - "I Shot the Sheriff" *
13. Eric Clapton - "Little Queenie" [live] *
14. Eric Clapton - "Mainline Florida"
15. Eric Clapton - "Tears In Heaven"

* Previously-unreleased track

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Eric Clapton's Life In 12 Bars


Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Review: Robert Gordon's Memphis Rent Party (2018)

Robert Gordon's Memphis Rent Party
Grammy® Award-winning writer, filmmaker, and music historian Robert Gordon (no relation) is the author of some of my favorite books on music, including It Came From Memphis, Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, and Can’t Be Satisfied, the very best Muddy Waters bio, bar none. Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Gordon has spent 30+ years writing about Southern art and music, with an emphasis on his hometown sounds and the talented and eccentric artists who make the music. With his latest effort, Memphis Rent Party, Gordon digs into his archives to spin a paean to the rich musical heritage of the Bluff City.

Robert Gordon’s Memphis Rent Party


Gordon’s Memphis Rent Party is a collection of essays, many of them previously-unpublished, that cover the gamut of musical styles and larger-than-life personalities that make Memphis a virtual breeding ground for unique and exciting American music. Although, in my opinion, Gordon shorts bluesman Furry Lewis (one of my longtime faves) by relegating him to the book’s preface, the remainder of Memphis Rent Party more than makes up for this relative oversight by covering both non-musical trailblazers like Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, and outsiders like the late Jeff Buckley and indie-rock darling Cat Power whose fates are inextricably linked to the city on the big Mississippi River.

I admittedly brought a fair degree of familiarity with many of the musicians that Gordon profiles here, as I have also written about artists like Alex Chilton, Junior Kimbrough, Jim Dickinson, and Robert Johnson throughout my 45 years as a music journalist. Still, Gordon fills in the edges with insightful anecdotes courtesy of a personal history with many of his subjects, and chapters on all of the aforementioned provide a greater understanding of their music or, in the case of Dickinson (an underrated figure in rock ‘n’ roll overall, IMHO), deeper knowledge of the individual. His chapter on Jerry Lee Lewis provides a deep assessment of the rock legend’s life and career without actually interviewing the subject, while Gordon’s conversation with singer Cat Power swings the pendulum in the exact opposite direction, providing a starkly revealing glimpse at the artist’s psyche.

Where Memphis Rent Party really shines, for this reader, is in Gordon’s tales of the eccentric and original talents that make Memphis a musical melting pot that has long struggled for the respect the city deserves. Gordon paints soul singer James Carr as the tragic figure that he was, while an interview with Mama Rose Newborn – wife of Phineas and mother of Phineas, Jr. and Calvin – provides all three of these incredibly talented musicians with long overdue accolades. Gordon’s beleaguered friendship with the troubled singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley ends with his accidental death while his brief relationship with career criminal Jerry McGill results in a tense but ultimately satisfactory conclusion. Chapters on the Fieldstones and Otha Turner are, realistically, field reports by an intrepid reporter and outsider offering a glimpse behind the curtain to reveal an enticing musical culture.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Memphis Rent Party LP
Memphis Rent Party, the LP
Overall, I have few arguments with Gordon’s editorial choices for Memphis Rent Party. I’d like to have seen a chapter on garage rocker Greg Cartwright and his various bands (Reigning Sound, Compulsive Gamblers, the Oblivians); perhaps something more on the talented Sid Selvidge, a friend of Jim Dickinson and a member of his Mud Boy and the Neutrons band; or perhaps something on sonic terrorist Alicja Trout and her various garage-punk bands (Lost Sounds, River City Tanlines). But those are minor cavils; there’s more than enough meat on the bone here to satisfy any free-thinking music fan.

An appendix to the book offers plenty of information on further reading (including Peter Guralnik’s excellent books on soul music and Elvis) and a couple dozen LPs and CDs of Memphis music well worth your while to track down. If you want to take the easy way out, Fat Possum Records has released a vinyl-only compilation with songs by many of the musicians featured in Memphis Rent Party. Overall, Gordon does an impressive job in capturing the grease, sweat, and heartbeat of Memphis music on the pages of Memphis Rent Party, and you can’t really ask for nothing more from this literary love letter to the writer’s hometown. Grade: A+ (Bloomsbury Publishing, published March 6th, 2018)

Buy the book from Amazon.com: Robert Gordon’s Memphis Rent Party

Also on That Devil Music.com: Robert Gordon - Can’t Be Satisfied book review  

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Book Review: Robert Gordon's Can't Be Satisfied (2003)

Robert Gordon's Can't Be Satisfied
There are precious few cultural icons as important as McKinley Morganfield, better known to most people as Muddy Waters. A Mississippi Delta sharecropper working on the Stovall Plantation, the thirty-year-old Morganfield would travel to Chicago in 1943 to eventually become the musical link between Delta bluesmen like Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and Son House and early rockers like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.

During the next forty years, Waters would find fame as a bandleader, singer and guitarist, influencing a generation of blues and rock musicians while scrabbling for every hard dollar. Robert Gordon, music journalist and author of the acclaimed It Came From Memphis, has written the definitive biography of the blues legend, Can’t Be Satisfied.

Robert Gordon’s Can’t Be Satisfied


Can’t Be Satisfied is based on interviews conducted by Gordon with family and former Waters band members and on four decades of published material, from obscure manuscripts in university libraries to books, newspapers and magazines and, of course, the music of Muddy Waters itself. The resulting book is, perhaps, the most comprehensive music biography outside of Peter Guralnick’s excellent books on Elvis Presley. Gordon finds Waters in the Mississippi cotton fields of his youth, recounting his formative years and early field recordings with Library of Congress historian Alan Lomax and Fisk University professor John Work. We travel along with Waters when he first arrives in Chicago, already a booming blues town during the unpredictable World War II years. Waters’ relationship with famed label magnate Leonard Chess is covered in detail, as are the studio sessions for Chess Records and the Aristocrat label that resulted in a number of late ’40s and early ’50s R&B chart hits for Waters.

After Water’s popularity waned with African-American record buyers more interested in soul records than in Delta-dirtied blues, Gordon takes us on the road to England and across the United States with Waters and his touring band. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, Waters played to a younger white, middle class audience, influencing rockers like the Rolling Stones, who took their name from a Waters’ song. Gordon recounts the early ‘60s folk era when Waters and contemporaries like Mississippi John Hurt were recast as “folk blues” artists. Can’t Be Satisfied winds down with Waters’ late ‘70s studio work with Johnny Winter and death in 1983 from cancer.

Gordon writes in a fluid style, his enthusiasm sometimes getting the best of him when describing a
certain song or performance. Brought up on the blues in Memphis, Gordon has an ear for the music and brings a great deal of passion and empathy to his treatment of Waters. He offers up the blues giant with warts intact, covering Waters’ frequent autocratic manner as bandleader, his considerable womanizing that would lead to numerous children, and his infrequent mean streak that would cause band members to quit.

Gordon also does an admirable job in relating Waters’ generosity, his love of family, and his sense of responsibility for his many children and his creativity, which was never more than a few steps away from the Delta. More importantly, Gordon tells the story of the blues, the music’s roots and its importance and explains its influence on music today. The book’s appendixes offer up a suggested discography and other historical minutiae while Gordon’s exhaustive notes bring Waters’ life into finer detail.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Muddy Waters is an important figure in American music, not only for his own recordings, which would be enough to ensure his legacy, but also for the many talented musicians Waters brought into his band and launched into the spotlight. Little Walter, Otis Spann, Jimmy Reed and James Cotton all got their start in Waters’ bands, each contributing to Waters’ reputation even while creating musical history with their own work. Muddy Waters helped define the Chicago blues sound, putting the wheels in motion for much of what would follow in the music world, from blues and jazz to R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. Waters’ story is a phenomenal tale, expertly told by Robert Gordon in Can’t Be Satisfied, an excellent book that should not be overlooked by anyone with more than a passing interest in blues or rock music. (Back Bay Books, published 2003)

Review originally published in Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2003

Buy the book from Amazon.com: Robert Gordon’s Can't Be Satisfied

1968 Revisited: The International Submarine Band's Safe At Home

The International Submarine Band's Safe At Home
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Gram Parsons is widely considered to be the de facto ‘Godfather’ of country rock and the spiritual forefather of the ‘90s Americana movement for his influence on the making of the Byrds’ landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo album as well as his later work with the Flying Burrito Brothers and a pair of acclaimed, long-enduring solo albums. Long before Parsons became the avatar of what would long be called “Cosmic American Music,” however, he was a member of the International Submarine Band.

The International Submarine Band’s Safe At Home


The ISB only released a single album, 1968’s Safe At Home, but its unique and progressive sound – a hybrid of traditional country, folk, rock, and R&B influences – would echo over the decades. Parsons was a theology student at Harvard University in 1965 with an eye towards becoming a folk singer when he met guitarist John Nuese, who turned him onto country legends-in-the-making like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Parsons had allegedly originally turned his nose up at country music, but he quickly bought into the idea of fusing country and rock together, and thus the International Submarine Band was born.

With Parsons and Nuese joined by bassist Ian Dunlop and drummer Mickey Gauvin, the ISB gigged around Boston for a while without making a real splash, eventually moving to New York City in early 1967. While in the Big Apple, the band recorded a pair of singles for Goldstar Records as well as a full-length album that was never released and subsequently lost to the ages. A move to Los Angeles brought new possibilities for the band, which eventually fell apart due to a lack of gigs and subsequent shortage of money – Parsons’ trust fund allowed him to live in relative comfort while his bandmates struggled, financially – so by the time that the International Submarine Band entered the studio under the patronage of producer Lee Hazelwood, only Parsons and Nuese remained.

Cosmic American Music


Gram Parsons
Gram Parsons
Suffering from performance anxiety, Nuese struggled to find his footing in the studio, prompting Parsons to bring in his new pal Bob Buchanan of the New Christy Minstrels to play guitar and an old friend from Boston, Jon Corneal, on drums. They were joined on initial recording sessions by Wrecking Crew bassist Joe Osborn and guitarist Glen Campbell, pedal steel wizard Jay Dee Maness, and pianist Earl Ball, with Hazelwood’s girlfriend Suzi Jane Hokum producing. Later sessions would include future Burrito Brothers bassist Chris Ethridge on bass. This grouping of abundant talent would cobble together nine songs, a mix of Parsons’ originals and traditional country tunes that would virtually define “Cosmic American Music,” a sort of rock-influenced, folk-inspired country sound that Parsons’ would further refine with his solo albums.

By the time that Safe At Home was ready to release, however, Parsons had lit out for the Byrds, leaving his erstwhile bandmates in the lurch. Hazelwood and Parsons would come to an agreement, and the album was released without publicity (or much promotion) by Hazelwood’s LHI Records in March 1968, promptly sinking like a stone. Although critics generally praised the collection, others found it to be a featherweight contender next to similar efforts that year by Moby Grape, the Band, and even Parsons’ short-lived tenure with the Byrds. There’s a lot to like about Safe At Home, though, in spite of the album’s brevity (clocking in at less than 30 minutes). Parsons’ original “Blue Eyes” is a true-to-traditional country twang ‘n’ banger that could easily pass for a long-lost Buck Owens’ single while a cover of Merle Haggard’s “I Must Be Somebody Else You’ve Known” is framed by Maness’ weeping pedal steel and offers an appropriately lovelorn Parsons vocal performance.

Folsom Prison Blues


Johnny Cash’s classic “Folsom Prison Blues” is brilliantly mashed together with Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right” into a sort of mondo medley of country and R&B with funky rhythms akimbo yelping vocals, Ball’s honky-tonk piano, and staccato fretwork. Another Cash gem, “I Still Miss Someone,” is provided an emotional vocal performance that captures all the romantic yearning of the original, Parsons’ efforts greatly assisted by Ball’s sparkling ivories and Maness’ stirring pedal steel guitar.

Another Parsons’ original, “Luxury Liner,” foreshadows the sort of pop-oriented country sounds that former Monkees member Michael Nesmith would pursue on albums like 1970’s Magnetic South. The song would later be recorded by Parsons’ acolyte Emmylou Harris, but here the song is provided a slow fade-in and locomotive rhythms rambling beneath Parsons’ high lonesome vocals, with striking guitar playing and an undeniable melody creating the perfect fusion of alt-country rebellion and pop music sensibilities that might have been a hit had Hazelwood had cared enough to promote the album. The 2014 Sundazed Records CD reissue of Safe At Home, remastered from the original two-track stereo tapes, includes a very cool ‘lost’ track in “Knee Deep In The Blues,” which evokes the early work of Hank Williams or Johnny Cash with tear-jerk vocals, a subdued instrumental soundtrack, and a few lonesome guitar licks.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


“Hindsight,” as the old adage reads, “is always 20-20,” and that pretty much sums up the International Submarine Band’s Safe At Home. On its surface, the album is an entertaining blend of country and rock sounds, with more twang than bang for your buck, if you catch my meaning. Parsons had yet to take the audacious artistic steps that he’d later show with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, or the major leap forward that he would with the Flying Burrito Brothers’ adventuresome 1969 debut, The Gilded Palace of Sin.

Some folks would argue that Parsons invented country-rock with Safe At Home, and some folks would argue otherwise, citing bands like Buffalo Springfield, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and even the Grateful Dead who were exploring similar aesthetic turf at the time. At its heart, Safe At Home is a paean to the country music tradition that Parsons would later drag, screaming and kicking, from its safe 1950s home into the ‘70s and beyond with his innovative later work. The ISB was an important first step in Parsons’ evolution and influential far beyond its meager commercial showing, inspiring artists like Terry Dolan, Michael Nesmith, Michael Martin Murphy, and even Uncle Tupelo to wander down the lost highway in search of musical truth. (Sundazed Records)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The International Submarine Band’s Safe At Home

Friday, April 6, 2018

Steve Wynn reissues coming from Omnivore Recordings

Steve Wynn's Kerosene Man
For much of the decade of the 1980s, Dream Syndicate was the leading light of the “Paisley Underground” scene in L.A. Fronted by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Steve Wynn, the band were critical darlings, and although they released but a handful of albums during their first run at the brass ring (The Days of Wine and Roses being a bona fide classic of the indie-rock era), they would be a major influence on bands to follow.

When the band broke up in wake of the release of 1988’s Ghost Stories, Wynn set out on a solo career that is still going strong some 30+ years later. Wynn launched his career with the release of 1990’s critically-acclaimed Kerosene Man album, following it up a couple of years later with the equally-excellent Dazzling Display. Both albums have been in-and-out-of-print over the years, but on April 27th, 2018 Omnivore Recordings will reissue both discs as deluxe expanded editions.

Kerosene Man offered suffering Dream Syndicate fans eleven new original songs, which Wynn recorded with a little help from friends like Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, D.J. Bonebrake of X, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, and former Dream Syndicate bandmate Mark Walton. The album introduced Wynn as a significant solo artist and displayed new facets to his songwriting and performing skills. The album has been expanded with six live tracks culled from the rare promotional LP Straight to the Swapmeet: Legendary Authorized Bootleg.

Wynn writes in the new liner notes for Kerosene Man, “sure, I was nervous. I had spent most of my adult life making music with the Dream Syndicate – a very good, successful band, with musicians I still considered very good friends. Bands break up because the members hate each other, or because nobody cares, or because someone in the band joins the Rolling Stones, or something. That wasn’t the case with us. I just wanted to try something different. I wanted to play different kinds of music, make new sounds, play with new people. I wasn’t running away from anything. I was just running towards something new.”

Steve Wynn's Dazzling Display
Released two years after his solo debut, Wynn’s Dazzling Display also featured talented friends like Vicki Peterson of the Bangles, Peter Buck of R.E.M., and Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of the Turtles and the Mothers of Invention). The expanded edition of the album also includes five rare live bonus tracks. The reissue versions were both overseen by Wynn himself.

Writes Wynn, “I’ve had the chance to revisit Dazzling Display in the course of writing these liner notes and putting together this reissue and, as is often the case, time has brought its merits into focus. Here’s the bottom line. It’s a really fun record. It was made with a fan’s enthusiasm as a reflection of the things that made me happy and got me excited in 1991. It may not have been the right record for its time and it may not have been the right record for this particular recording artist. But it sure feels good to listen to it now.”

Buy the CDs from Amazon.com:
Steve Wynn’s Kerosene Man
Steve Wynn’s Dazzling Display

Kerosene Man track listing:
1. Tears Won’t Help
2. Carolyn
3. The Blue Drifter
4. Younger
5. Under The Weather
6. Here On Earth As Well
7. Something To Remember Me By
8. Killing Time
9. Conspiracy Of The Heart
10. Kerosene Man
11. Anthem
12. Younger *
13. Something To Remember Me By *
14. Graveyard Train *
15. Tell Me When It’s Over *
16. Burn *
17. The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Alter *

Dazzling Display track listing:
1. Drag
2. Tuesday
3. When She Comes Around
4. A Dazzling Display
5. Halo
6. Dandy In Disguise
7. Grace
8. As It Should Be
9. Bonnie And Clyde
10. 405
11. Close Your Eyes
12. Light Of Hope
13. Kool Thing *
14. Boy In The Bubble *
15. Conspiracy Of The Heart *
16. Watching The River Flow *
17. Crazy Feeling *

* Bonus live tracks

CD Preview: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?
Rockin’ R&B legend Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is one of those cult artists that many are vaguely familiar with or, at a minimum, they know his best-known song, the 1956 hit “I Put A Spell On You.” Performing live, he’d be carried onstage in a coffin, leaping out at the audience with a bone in his nose and clad in voodoo regalia as he launched into song.

The primal proto-rock ‘n’ roll wildman was a major influence on theatrical rockers like Alice Cooper, the Cramps, Marilyn Manson, and Glenn Danzig while his signature hit has been recorded by artists as diverse as Nina Simone, Bryan Ferry, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, among many others.

Hawkins was always more popular in Europe than in the U.S. and his discography is sketchy at best, littered with dubious compilations released to capitalize on the enduring popularity of “I Put A Spell On You.” In 1990, however, Hawkins met up with Bizarre Records A&R man Robert Duffey, who would become the singer’s manager, getting him a deal with the Warner Music-distributed label. Hawkins would record three albums for Bizarre – 1991’s Black Music for White People, 1993’s Stone Crazy, and 1994’s Somethin’ Funny – before moving to France, where he’d die in 2000.

On May 18th, 2018 Manifesto Records will release the two-disc compilation Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?, a 44-track collection that offers some of Hawkins’ best work for the Bizarre label. The album’s title is derived from Hawkins’ reputation as a ladies man, the singer allegedly fathering somewhere between 57 and 75 illegitimate children over the course of his lengthy career. The set includes a unique “dance version” of “I Put A Spell On You,” an incredible reading of the standard “Ol’ Man River,” and a pair of Tom Waits songs, “Heart Attack and Vine” (which would become a hit in the U.K.) and “Ice Cream Man.” The collection also includes five previously-unreleased bonus tracks and brand new liner notes by music journalist Chris Morris.

Of his creative relationship with Hawkins, Duffey says in the liner notes, “he was unique. He opened me up to a different kind of creativity. Jay wasn’t trying to make hit records. Jay was just trying to be Jay. He was trying to show the world Jay. He wasn’t a pretentious rock star.”

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

CD Review: Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa's Black Coffee (2018)

Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa's Black Coffee
Flamethrower soul vocalist Beth Hart sang on blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa’s 2011 album Dust Bowl, thus beginning a beautiful relationship that has since resulted in a bevy of mighty fine studio collaborations, beginning with 2011’s critically-acclaimed Don’t Explain and followed by 2013’s Grammy® Award-nominated Seesaw. The duo added a stunning live disc, Live In Amsterdam, to their growing catalog in 2014.

Black Coffee is the third studio album recorded by Hart and Bonamassa, and the pair’s first work together in five years, during which time Hart released a pair of well-received solo albums in 2015’s Better Than Home and the following year’s Fire On the Floor while Bonamassa released something like a zillion live and studio LPs. With producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley back on the boards for round three, and much like their first two albums, Black Coffee is a collection of well-chosen cover tunes that run the gamut from pure blues to R&B and even Americana. With Joey B. holding down the six-string chores, the pair is backed by Bonamassa’s talented, road-tested touring band of veteran musicians.

Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa’s Black Coffee


Hart and Bonamassa dug deep into the annals of rock ‘n’ blues for Black Coffee, kicking the album off with “Give It Everything You Got,” a minor 1971 FM radio hit for Edgar Winter’s White Trash. Hart’s voice is more soulful than White Trash vocalist Jerry Lacroix, if not quite as funky, but a full-blown, gale-force horn section provides the groove atop of which Bonamassa embroiders his molten fretwork while Hart punches out the lyrics like a champion prizefighter. The title track is an obscure Ike & Tina Turner deep cut from a 1972 album, but a rocker like Bonamassa would be more familiar with the Humble Pie version from their 1973 album Eat It. The Hart/Bonamassa version treads much closer to Steve Marriott’s reading of the song, from the sludgy, bass-heavy instrumentation and shimmering guitar to Hart’s gritty, whiskey-soaked vox.

Not everything on Black Coffee works, or even rocks – a cover of the 1960 Teri Thornton jazz classic “Lullaby of the Leaves” allows Hart to indulge in her torch singer persona, which displays a lot of emotion but seldom moves the meter for me, even with Bonamassa’s nuanced and melodious guitar solos. In a similar vein, but much tastier, is a cover of “Kansas Joe” McCoy’s 1936 blues/jazz standard “Why Don’t You Do Right.” Originally recorded by the Harlem Hamfats as “The Weed Smoker’s Dream,” Hamfats member McCoy later rewrote the song, which later became a 1941 hit for Lil Green, with Big Bill Broonzy on guitar, and an even bigger hit a year later for Peggy Lee and Bennie Goodman. In Hart’s hands, the jazzy big band arrangement offers her blustery, albeit playful vocals and stunning guitar playing as an integral part of the song’s lush instrumentation.

Hart and Bonamassa blow up Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting On Top of the World” with brassy hornplay, scorching guitar licks, and Reese Wynans’ honky-tonk keyboards. There’s no way that Hart could blow gruffer and grittier than the legendary Wolf; instead she brings a subtle but strong soulfulness to the lyrics rather than duel with history. Their cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Joy” takes the Americana legend’s original, pumps up the volume and paints it blue with slithery guitarplay, vocal gymnastics, and a menacing rhythmic soundtrack. Their version has taken some heat from Williams’ hardcore fans for its funky reconstruction, but Hart and Bonamassa bring a punkish blues vibe to the song while still capturing the heartbeat of the original. The LaVern Baker 1953 single “Soul On Fire” is the sort of emotionally-singed R&B that Hart cut her teeth on, and her rendition here is simply priceless, the singer paying tribute to Baker’s original while exorcising a few demons of her own with the performance.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


In its heart (no pun intended), Black Coffee is retro as hell…Hart and Bonamassa wear their love of these songs and the artists that originally sang them on their sleeves, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They imbue their performances with enough old-school tradition to honor the O.G. recordings, but bring an energy, musical chemistry, and contemporary edge that helps pull the songs into the second decade of the 21st century.

Hart is at her very best when she’s paired with Bonamassa, belting out these tunes like she’s singing for her supper, and he gladly relinquishes the glare of the spotlight for a while, content to channel his restless creative muse through his fingertips. Black Coffee is the pair’s most accomplished effort yet, a too-quick romp through the great American rock ‘n’ soul songbook by a pair of talented artists that have found magic in the music. Grade: A (J&R Adventures, released January 26, 2018)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa’s Black Coffee 

Also on That Devil Music.com: Joe Bonamassa’s Live At Carnegie Hall CD review

Sunday, April 1, 2018

New Music Monthly: April 2018 Releases

April showers bring May flowers and all that hogwash...here in the frozen tundra of WNY, we'd be satisfied if the temperature would get above freezing for more than a day or two at a time. Oh well, maybe in July...but while we're waiting for our tulips to bloom, April brings another bounty of great music, including the long-anticipated CD release of King Gizard & the Lizard Wizard's Gumboot Soup album, as well as new music from King Tuff, John Prine, bluesman Ian Siegal, King Crimson, and the Melvins as well as reissues and archive releases by Doug Sahm, Steve Wynn, reggae legends the Gladiators, and the magnificent Webb Wilder!

If we wrote about it here on the site, there'll be a link to it in the album title; if you want an album, hit the 'Buy!' link to get it from Amazon.com...it's just that damn easy! Your purchase puts money in the Reverend's pocket that he'll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock 'n' roll ecstasy!

King Crimson's Live In Vienna, December 1st, 2016

APRIL 6
Eels - The Deconstruction   BUY!
King Crimson - Live In Vienna, December 1st, 2016   BUY!
Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile   BUY!
Ian Siegal - All the Rage   BUY!
Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs   BUY!

King Tuff's The Other

APRIL 13
Sandy Bull - Steel Tears   BUY!
The Damned - Evil Spirits  BUY!
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Gumboot Soup   BUY!
King Tuff - The Other   BUY!
John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness   BUY!
Doug Sahm - Live From Austin, TX [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Sir Douglas Quintet - Live From Austin, TX [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

The Gladiators' Serious Thing

APRIL 20
A Perfect Circle - Eat the Elephant  BUY!
Marcia Ball - Shine Bright   BUY!
Black Stone Cherry - Family Tree   BUY!
Gladiators - Serious Thing [reissue]   BUY!
Gladiators - Symbol of Reality [reissue]   BUY!
Lord Huron - Vide Noir   BUY!
Melvins - Pinkus Abortion Technician   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Quantum Gate/Quantum Key   BUY!

Humble Pie's Office Bootleg Box Set, Vol. 2

APRIL 27
Humble Pie - Office Bootleg Box Set, Vol. 2   BUY!
Okkervil River - In the Rainbow Rain   BUY!
Tom Rush - Voices   BUY!
Chris Squire - Fish Out of Water [deluxe box set]   BUY!
Webb Wilder & the Beatnecks - Powerful Stuff!   BUY!
Steve Wynn - Dazzling Display [reissue]   BUY!
Steve Wynn - Kerosene Man [reissue]   BUY!

 

Album of the Month: Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks' Powerful Stuff! Nashville's favorite son (and an old pal of the Reverend's) gets a long overdue odds 'n' sods collection of studio and live tracks dating from 1985 through 1993 and featuring special guests like Al Kooper. Check it out!

CD Preview: Webb Wilder’s Powerful Stuff!

Webb Wilder's Powerful Stuff!
Americana legend and Nashville’s favorite son Webb Wilder has been making great music for better than 30 years with a dozen studio and live albums to his credit. With his band of various ne’er-do-wells the Beatnecks, Wilder has cranked out a heady, unique blend of roots-rock, rockabilly, blues, and country music that owes as much to the British Invasion as it does the Delta blues. It’s a sound that could only be pulled off by the big man from Mississippi.

Wilder’s last album was 2015’s critically-acclaimed Mississippi Mōderne, of which the Reverend wrote “in the hands of a lesser artist, this ramshackle mix of garage-rock, blues, and old-school country music would sink like an over-inflated soufflé, and the album’s often over-the-top lyrics would lack in sincerity coming from a singer without Wilder’s charismatic personality. Backed by the grizzled veterans that comprise the Beatnecks, though, Wilder delivers a powerful and entertaining collection…” Mississippi Mōderne was Wilder’s first studio effort in six years and only his second since 2005’s excellent About Time, so none of us thought that we’d hear from him again anytime soon.

On April 27th, 2018 however, Landslide Records will release Wilder’s odds ‘n’ sods collection Powerful Stuff! A sixteen-song album comprised of previously-unreleased studio and live tracks dating from 1985 to 1993, the album primarily features the original Beatnecks band of Wilder on vocals and guitar, guitarist Donny “The Twangler” Roberts, bassist Denny “Cletus” Blakely, and drummer Jimmy Lester.

Much of the material on Powerful Stuff! was produced by Wilder’s longtime friend and collaborator R.S. “Bobby” Field and special guests include keyboardist Al Kooper, noted guitarist David Grisman, and bassist Willie Weeks. Powerful Stuff! features seven studio tracks and nine live performances including original material written by Wilder and Field and raucous covers of songs by Ike & Tina Turner (“Nutbush City Limits”), fellow Nashvillian Steve Forbert (“Catbird Seat”), Cajun fiddle legend Doug Kershaw (“Hey Mae”), and Little Richard (“Lucille”). Among the originals, “Powerful Stuff” was originally recorded by Wilder and the Beatnecks but remained unreleased after the Fabulous Thunderbirds had a hit with the song; it’s presented here as a rowdy live version. 
 
If you’re in the Music City at the end of the month, Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks will perform at the official CD release party for Powerful Stuff! on Sunday, April 29th at Nashville’s Exit/In, a venue where several of the tracks on the new CD were originally recorded live in 1986. The current Beatnecks lineup includes Webb Wilder, drummer Jimmy Lester, bassist Tom Comet, and guitarist Bob Williams. Check out the album’s tracklist below and then order your copy from Amazon.com!

Webb Wilder's Powerful Stuff! track list:

1. Make That Move
2. New Day
3. No Great Shakes
4. Lost In The Shuffle
5. Powerful Stuff *
6. Ain’t That A Lot Of Love
7. Wild About You Baby *
8. Animal Lover
9. Nutbush City Limits *
10. High Rollin’
11. Catbird Seat *
12. Hey Mae *
13. Revenooer Man *
14. Is This All There Is? *
15. Dead and Starting To Cool *
16. Lucille *

* live tracks

Also on That Devil Music.com: Webb Wilder’s Mississippi Mōderne CD review 

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks’ Powerful Stuff!

Slayer’s Repentless Vinyl Box Set & Farewell Tour

Slayer's Repentless vinyl box set

Each year, June 6th is officially known as the “International Day of Slayer,” and 2018’s celebration includes the release of the band’s Repentless collectors’ vinyl box set. The limited edition release will be available in black, red, or gold-colored wax and only 2,500 copies of each hue will be released worldwide. Each box set features six single vinyl EPs, each one measuring a unique 6.66” in diameter and each disc offers two songs from the 2015 Repentless album. The red and black vinyl versions will sell for $66.66 while the gold discs will go for $73.99 retail; the box set is available to order from the Nuclear Blast label website.

In January, Slayer announced that it would do one more final world tour to say goodbye and thank the band’s rabid fans for three decades of support. Lamb of God, Anthrax, Behemoth, and Testament will open for Slayer on the first leg of the band’s farewell tour, with Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament, and Napalm Death taking on the second leg of the tour. Slayer’s swansong tour begins in mid-May; you’ll find dates for both legs listed below.

MAY (FIRST LEG)
10   Valley View Casino Center, San Diego CA
11   Five Point Amphitheatre, Irvine CA  (SOLD OUT)
13   Papa Murphy's Park at Cal Expo, Sacramento CA
16   Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver, BC CANADA
17   South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton, BC CANADA
19   Big Four, Calgary, AB   (SOLD OUT)
20   Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton, AB CANADA   (SOLD OUT)
22   Bell MTS Place, Winnipeg, MB CANADA
24   The Armory, Minneapolis, MN   (SOLD OUT)
25   Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park IL
27   Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill, Detroit MI   (SOLD OUT)
29   Budweiser Stage, Toronto, ON CANADA  (SOLD OUT)
30   Place Bell, Montreal, PQ CANADA  (SOLD OUT)

JUNE
 1   Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville CT   (SOLD OUT)
 2   PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel NJ 
 4   Santander Arena, Reading PA   (SOLD OUT)
 6   Riverbend Music Center, Cincinnati OH
 7   Blossom Music Center, Cleveland OH
 9   KeyBank Pavilion, Pittsburgh PA
10   Jiffy Lube Live, Bristow VA
12   Veteran’s United Home Loans  Amphitheater, Virginia Beach VA
14   PNC Music Pavilion, Charlotte NC
15   Orlando Amphitheater, Orlando FL
17   Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land, Houston TX   (SOLD OUT)
19   The Bomb Factory, Dallas TX   (SOLD OUT)
20   Austin360 Amphitheater, Austin TX  (SOLD OUT)

JULY (SECOND LEG)
26   Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, Gilforf NH
27   Impact Music Festival, Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, Bangor ME
29   Northwell Health at Jones Beach, Wantagh NY
31   The Pavilion at Montage Mountain, Scranton PA

AUGUST
 1   Times Union Center, Albany NY
 3   Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, Darien Lake NY
 4   Lakeview Amphitheater, Syracuse NY
 6   Budweiser Gardens, London ON CANADA
 7   Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids MI
 9   Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, St. Louis MO
10   Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood, Atlanta GA
12   Municipal Auditorium, Nashville TN
13   Walmart AMP, Rogers AR
15   Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio TX
16   The Zoo Amphitheatre, Oklahoma City OK
18   Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, Denver CO
19   USANA Amphitheatre, Salt Lake City UT
21   Ford Idaho Center Amphitheater, Boise ID
23   Sunlight Supply Amphitheater, Portland OR
26   SAP Center, San Jose CA

Heavy metal legends Slayer
Heavy metal legends Slayer, photo courtesy Nuclear Blast Records

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Spooky Tooth’s Mike Harrison, R.I.P.

Spooky Tooth photo courtesy BBC
Spooky Tooth photo courtesy BBC

According to the BBC, British rock legend Mike Harrison passed away of unreported causes on Sunday, March 25th, 2018; Harrison was 72 years old.

Harrison is best known as the voice of revered ‘70s-era rockers Spooky Tooth, the band he co-founded with guitarist Luther Grosvenor, bassist Greg Ridley, and drummer Mike Kellie. The four were originally in a band called The V.I.P.s, the band including future superstar Keith Emerson. When Emerson left to pursue fame and fortune, they changed their name to Art.

Art's Supernatural Fairy Tales
As Art, the band released a single album in 1967 titled Supernatural Fairy Tales. Released by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label, the album’s sales were mediocre at the time but it has since been reconsidered as a psychedelic-era classic, and notable for its Hapshash & the Coloured Coast cover design. Blackwell was supportive of the band, and urged them to add American singer, songwriter, and keyboardist Gary Wright to the line-up, at which time they changed their name again to Spooky Tooth.

Spooky Tooth released four critically-acclaimed albums between 1968 and 1970, and enjoyed a modicum of success with 1969’s Spooky Two, which was fueled by FM radio hits in “I’ve Got Enough Heartaches” and “Hangman, Hang My Shell On A Tree.” At Wright’s insistence, the band recorded a 1970 album, Ceremony, with French electronic composer Pierre Henry; after its release, Wright left the band for a solo career. After the release of 1970’s The Last Puff (credited to Spooky Tooth featuring Mike Harrison), the band broke up for the first time.

Harrison pursued a solo career with the 1971 release of his self-titled debut, the singer backed by a band from his hometown of Carlisle, Junkyard Angel, which included his former V.I.P.s bandmate, guitarist Frank Kenyon. A second solo album, titled Smokestack Lightning, was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound studio in Alabama with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and released in 1972. Not much happened commercially with either album, prompting Harrison to re-form Spooky Tooth to record 1973’s You Broke My Heart So…I Busted Your Jaw. Wright returned to the band while Luther Grosvenor – who had joined Mott the Hoople (as ‘Ariel Bender’) was replaced by future Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones; Ridley and Kellie were also gone, the bassist to Humble Pie and the drummer to the Only Ones.

Spooky Tooth released one more album with Harrison, Witness, in late 1973, after which time Harrison left the band once again, Wright and Spooky Tooth later releasing The Mirror in 1974 with singer Mike Patto on the microphone. Harrison released his third solo album, Rainbow Rider, in 1975, but when he allegedly discovered that Island Records was taking royalties from his solo work and applying the money towards debts owed by his former band, he retired from music for nearly 25 years, reportedly working in a warehouse in Canada and various other odd jobs like bartender and milk man.

Mike Harrison's Mike Harrison LP
In 1999, Harrison decided to inch back into the world of music, which resulted in a reunion with Grosvenor, Ridley, and Kellie and the release of the underrated Cross Purpose album under the Spooky Tooth name. Around the same time, the Hamburg Blues Band offered Harrison a monthly gig singing with the band, which yielded the 2001 album Touch, which featured lyrics by Pete Brown, longtime songwriting partner of Cream’s Jack Bruce. Harrison reunited with Wright and Kellie in 2004 (Ridley had passed away in 2003) as Spooky Tooth, their short tour documented by the 2007 concert DVD Nomad Poets. Harrison released his fourth and final solo album, 2006’s Late Starter, the album recorded with members of the Hamburg Blues Band and, along with Wright, he was still touring as Spooky Tooth as late as 2009.

Harrison’s contributions to British rock history are unassailable; although often overshadowed in the band by Wright, he was nevertheless a soulful singer that imbued both his solo work and that band’s songs with powerful emotion and no little nuance. His 1970s-era solo albums have withstood the test of time, and Spooky Tooth’s hard rockin’ proggish sound influenced bands like Blodwyn Pig, Patto, Marillion, and Kansas while providing battle-tested veteran musicians to outfits like Humble Pie, Mott the Hoople, Widowmaker, and Foreigner. Harrison never received anywhere near the accolades he deserved, dying in relative obscurity when he should be considered as a rock ‘n’ roll legend.



Sunday, March 25, 2018

1968 Revisited: The Chocolate Watch Band's The Inner Mystique

The Chocolate Watch Band's The Inner Mystique
Although the Chocolate Watch Band’s 1967 debut album No Way Out suffered from excessive studio tinkering by producer Ed Cobb, their sophomore effort – 1968’s effervescent The Inner Mystique – was mostly created out of the ether in the studio by engineer Richard Podolor. The band itself had literally imploded in mid-’67, guitarist Mark Loomis leaving first to pursue his drug-fueled dreams of creating psychedelic-folk music with the Tingle Guild, which featured original Watch Band vocalist Danny Phay.

Drummer Gary Andrijasevich would follow Loomis out the door, with singer Dave Aguilar right behind him, leaving guitarist Sean Tolby and bassist Bill Flores as the remaining members. The pair recruited new bandmates to fulfill live bookings but, by the end of 1967, the band was essentially dead in the water. That didn’t stop Ed Cobb and Richard Podolor, though, neither of whom wanted to leave money on the table; they literally pieced together The Inner Mystique from whatever odds ‘n’ ends they found in the studio, creating the rest, branding it “Chocolate Watch Band” and slipping it past an unsophisticated, pre-Internet audience that didn’t know any better.

The Chocolate Watch Band’s The Inner Mystique


The first side of The Inner Mystique – three of the album’s meager eight-song tracklist – was entirely Podolor’s show. Using un-credited studio pros, along with singer Don Bennett, whose unremarkable vocals had been shoehorned into the grooves of No Way Out without the band’s knowledge or approval, Podolor approximates the R&B-drenched psychedelic roots of the Chocolate Watch Band with mixed results. The album-opening “Voyage of the Trieste,” credited to producer Cobb, is a swirling, raga-touched psychedelic instrumental that stirs a bit of jazz-rock fusion into the grooves…not entirely uninviting, but it has nothing to do with the band whatsoever. The same goes for the Cobb-approved five-minute psych jam “Inner Mystique,” which offers up some inspired playing, just not by any real Chocolate Watch Band members, and almost a year too late to catch the initial wave of psychedelic rock fervor.

The stand-out of side one is a torrid cover of “In the Past,” originally by fellow garage-rock pioneers We The People. Although Bennett’s vocals are soft-pedaled in favor of the song’s jangly instrumentation, the result is pleasant enough and would have been a solid single release at the time. Side two, however, offers up some prized authentic Watch Band treasures, most notably in the band’s wired cover of Ray Davies’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” With Aguilar’s snarling vocals right up front with Loomis’s taut fretwork, and with the rhythm section providing a big beat backdrop, the song’s defiant edge stands among the best performances of the era.

The album-closing “I Ain’t No Miracle Worker” showcases the band’s immense talents, Aguilar coming on strong like an American Eric Burdon on a slow-burning, R&B-seared mid-tempo rocker with sneering, emotional vocals matched by some elegant, Spanish-flavored Loomis fretwork and a solid rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack with large drumbeats and heavy bass lines. Two studio outtakes – the soulful “Medication” and “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” – offer Bennett’s vocals overdubbed atop Aguilar’s voice. As for the former, we should begrudgingly offer Bennett his due for not fudging up the basic vocal track and delivering as strong a performance as he ever would under the Watch Band name. He was helped, no doubt, by the spiky, punkish guitar lines provided the song by Loomis, as well as a rolling rhythm track.

The less said of “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” the better…Bennett’s hoarse, charmless vocals are thankfully hidden low in the mix while the band slogs away lazily behind him. The listener is never sure whether this is supposed to be a traditional blues song, with Otis Spann-styled piano in the background, a big beat R&B rave-up, or a rockabilly romp, and it fails on every level. Better is the band’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” a former B-side that seems to include vocals by both Aguilar (appropriately Memo From Turner period Jagger) and Bennett (eh) riding atop a busy psychedelic swirl of instruments that reminds of Flowers era Rolling Stones.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Although neither the Chocolate Watch Band’s No Way Out or The Inner Mystique sold in remarkable quantities, and were anything but representative of the band’s high-voltage live sound, the two albums would continue to increase interest in the band. In late 1968, the Chocolate Watch Band would reform with the first recorded line-up mostly intact, Aguilar replaced by Phay, and with original Watch Band guitarist Ned Torney brought back into the fold after his stint with the Army. This version, now known as the ‘Chocolate Watchband’, would record 1969’s One Step Beyond, eschewing their earlier Stones-inspired R&B vibe for a more mellow folk-rock sound similar to Moby Grape or the Charlatans. Still, it represented the most original Watchband music caught on tape, even if the band had evolved beyond recognition, and by 1970 even this version of the band was done.

Still, Chocolate Watch Band’s reputation as flamethrower live performers, along with reissues of their first two albums, would find a new audience in the post-Nuggets and Pebbles ‘80s, influencing a new generation of throwback garage-rockers like the Lyres, the Chesterfield Kings, and others, while original vinyl copies of No Way Out and The Inner Mystique would trade on the collectors’ market for premium prices. As a result, several band members, including singer Aguilar, second line-up replacement guitarist Tim Abbott, and the rhythm section of bassist Bill Flores and drummer Gary Andrijasevich would reunite in the late 1990s and begin playing again.

This re-formed Chocolate Watchband recorded a live collection of their original material, At the Love-In Live! in 1999, followed by an all-new album of mostly Aguilar originals titled Get Away in 2000. They would continue touring well into the 2000s, and in 2010 the band re-recorded a number of songs from the first three albums, releasing it as Greatest Hits, the Chocolate Watchband story coming full circle and providing a happy ending to a saga that began in 1965…

Buy the vinyl LP from Amazon.com:
The Chocolate Watch Band’s The Inner Mystique

Short Rounds: 6 String Drag, the Doors, Nick Moss Band & Jack White (2018)

6 String Drag's Top of the World
New album releases in 150 words or less…

6 String DragTop of the World (Schoolkids Records)
Americana pioneers 6 String Drag released two classic “No Depression” LPs during the ‘90s, the second of which – High Hat – recently receiving a 20th anniversary reissue. By the end of the decade the band, fronted by Kenny Roby and Rob Keller, had broken up. Fifteen-plus years later, the pair put together a new band and picked up right where they left off. Top of the World is their second post-reunion disc and, kids, it’s a scorcher! “Reckless country soul” best describes the new LP, a fierce stew of simmering country punk with British Invasion roots and more than a few honky-tonk ghosts bursting out of the grooves. If songs like the rockin’ “Small Town Punks” blend the Who with the Bottle Rockets, the grandiose “Waste of Time” matches lush ambiance with bluesy lyrics while “Wish You Would” lopes along like Roger Miller with a hipflask of Jack Daniels; highly recommended! Grade: A   BUY IT!

The Doors' Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970
The Doors – Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 (Rhino Records)
The hardcore Jim Morrison faithful have to be dizzy with glee about the release of the Doors’ Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. A two-disc set with CD and Blu-ray, the album represents the last Doors concert ever filmed, a better-than-average performance in front of more than a half-million fans at the Isle of Wight Festival in England in August 1970. The concert tracklist is about what one would expect, with inspired readings of “Roadhouse Blues,” “Light My Fire,” and “Break On Through,” as well as an extended medley of “The End” that perfectly captures the death throes of the psychedelic rock revolution. Eight months later, the Doors would release the smash L.A. Woman; a few months after that, Morrison’s death would effectively end the band. As an archive releases go, this one is aces, and if you’ve ever loved the Doors, you’re going to want a copy. Grade: B+   BUY IT!

Nick Moss Band's The High Cost of Low Living
Nick Moss Band – The High Cost of Low Living (Alligator Records)
Bluesman Nick Moss has been kicking around the Windy City for better than two decades, making his bones playing with legends like Jimmy Dawkins and Buddy Scott. Breaking out on his own in the early ‘00s, Moss has released nearly a dozen critically-acclaimed studio and live albums on his own Blue Bella imprint. Hooking up with skilled harp wrangler Dennis Gruenling, Moss signed with the esteemed Alligator Records and delivered The High Cost of Low Living, the traditional-styled Chicago blues LP we knew he could create. Layering his fiery guitar licks alongside Gruenling’s raging harp, the two crank out a joyful noise on original tunes like the jump-n-jive “Get Right Before You Get Left” or the swinging title track, while “Count On Me” is part honky-tonk rave-up and part juke-joint jam. With their Alligator label debut, Moss, Gruenling and a talented crew update the Chicago blues for the 21st century. Grade: A+   BUY IT!

Jack White's Boarding House Reach
Jack White – Boarding House Reach (Third Man Records/Columbia Records)
Too much of Jack White’s third solo album, Boarding House Reach, sounds like the former rock ‘n’ roll innovator has lost his fuckin’ mind. It’s not that I mind noisy music – when used properly as an accent or punctuation, noise can be an effective tool in an artist’s arsenal. But White sounds like he discovered the special effects button on the producer’s board and gleefully litters his songs with electronic beeps, harsh sirens, and other unnecessary aural irritants. Combined with nonsensical narrative voice-overs, altered vocals, and embarrassed attempts at “rapping,” White creates a sticky musical morass that is neither edgy nor entertaining. There are some interesting things going on musically in songs like the funky romps “Corporation” and “Ice Station Zebra” or the rockin’ “Over and Over and Over,” and White’s fretwork still bites like a hungry gator, but there’s too much clutter and not enough butter in these grooves. Grade: C   BUY IT!

Previously on That Devil Music:
Short Rounds, February 2018: 6 String Drag, Tinsley Ellis, Mabel Greer's Toyshop & Wishbone Ash

Short Rounds, January 2018: Ethiopian & His All Stars, Gladiators, Moloch & Phil Seymour
Short Rounds, December 2017: Flat Duo Jets, Focus, The Original Blues Brothers Band, Uriah Heep & John Wetton