RECORD STORE TALES MkII:
Getting More Tale
- OLD DIRECTORY OF REVIEWS (not updated – use search)
One of the greatest “heel” tag teams of all time were Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik. It was the height of the Cold War, and what could be more antagonising than the Russian national anthem sung in the middle of Madison Square Gardens? Only the Sheik declaring “Russia #1, Iran #1!” and spitting on the USA. In reality Nikolai (Josip Hrvoje Peruzović) was from Yugoslavia and was known as a really nice guy. By contrast, the Sheik (Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri) actually is from Iran and might be a little psychopathic! Or it could all be an act, who knows?
Even though Nikolai’s anthem was designed to irritate, I actually like it.
In 1990 Nikolai switched sides, turned “face,” and was gifted an American flag by “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. (Incidentally, Duggan and Sheik were once caught doing cocaine together, a tremendous scandal as they were supposed to be sworn enemies!) Nikolai used “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as his entrance music when he turned “face”, waving his new American flag.
But I’ll always remember him as one of the greatest villains, singing that Russian national anthem as only he could!
Lots of laughs and musical wisdom from the inspiring Polychuck on today’s episode of the LeBrain Train! Influenced by everybody from Yngwie J. Malmsteen to Post Malone, Polychuck strikes from Montreal with his new EP Shadows Exposed. Deke and I had a blast talking to the man about topics such as:
Check out his music on YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes. This fascinating artist is going places.
The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike and Deke
Episode 77 – Polychuck
We’ve been talking about Montreal’s multi-instrumentalist Polychuck for a few weeks; well now it’s time to talk to the man himself! His new EP Shadows Exposed features five new tracks, including “In the Dark” and “Beating Me Down”. Introspective songs with modern urban beats and shredding guitar solos. A unique combination to be sure. Polychuck has been shredding since age 13! We can’t wait to find out what makes him tick. His use of striking visuals and unique influences are sure to come up in our conversation.
RECORD STORE TALES #924: FU!
What is anger? One of the most powerful of the human emotions. It can take over your rational mind, but it is just a mask for what is really going on in your head. Grief, frustration, loss of control…these can all manifest as anger.
Right now, I am angry.
I’m processing a lot of information. Earlier this week, we lost Joey Jordison of Slipknot, younger than me at age 46. Before that it was Mike Howe of Metal Church at age 55, not much older than I am. I didn’t let these deaths affect me. I didn’t let the losses in. Ignored and plowed forward. Sometimes you can handle the shit, sometimes you can’t. A little bit of denial got me through the days.
Then we lost Don Simmons of Helix. This one stung because Don’s sister is a long time family friend. We’ve known her…what, 35 years? 40? In fact she was going to hook me up with Don for an interview. Don was 64 and now things were hitting close to home.
Then it was ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill. Just as long as we’ve known Don’s sister, Dusty Hill has been singing me the blues. Rocking blues actually, but Dusty and ZZ Top have been a part of my life for so long. Most of my life. ZZ Top have been a standby. Great tunes when I needed them, on demand, when I had the blues or needed a kick. Dusty’s gone.
And then, mere hours after Dusty, as if the world needed another kick in the balls, an old friend of mine lost his wife. Age 40. Multiple sclerosis. And they are good people. They did nothing to deserve this. I worked with him several years ago, but we kept in touch. Good by, from Newfoundland, who loves AC/DC and Sloan. And his wife. She was inspiring. Those of us touched by neurological disorders tend to feel a bond. Whether it’s epilepsy or MS, there are many shared experiences. I always felt like we had this in common; that we were the loving supporters of our sick wives. So stuff like this, it hits home. Hard. I was sad when he moved out to Fort McMurray. I can’t imagine what he’s going through now. I don’t want to.
What is my anger masking? Fear. Grief. Confusion. And I’m going to have to deal with them eventually.
For my friend, in indescribably pain, a song by his favourite band. No grief here, just rock. I’m thinking of you. This one’s for you man.
The band that has had the same three members for 50 years has lost a brother. ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill is gone, in the middle of an absolutely brutal week for music. Joey Jordinson, Mike Howe, Don Simmons, and now Dusty Hill.
The bassist with the groove. The mover and the shaker. The guy who sang “I think it’s time to spank my monkey” on a mainstream rock album. He’s gone.
Dusty missed a show earlier and it was most likely the first time ZZ Top ever played without the bearded bassist. After 50 years in the same band together, you can bet that Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard are going to miss their brother.
Rest in Peace, Dusty Hill, May 19 1949 – July 28 2021.
RECORD STORE TALES #923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)
I think it was around 1995 that I really gave up into the ’90s.
What do I mean by this? It’s simple. In late 1991, there was a sea change in rock music. The old guard was suddenly unhip, while a new unkept kind of rock was surfacing in Seattle. Within three years, classic rock bands such as Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Poison, Ratt, Whitesnake, and even the once-bulletproof Guns N’ Roses were in some sort of decline, losing key band members or just breaking up completely. They were replaced on the charts with a swath of new bands, from Nirvana, to Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Rock had been on such a high in mid-91 with #1 albums by Skid Row, Metallica, Van Halen and more. It only took months for the landscape to darken. But really, the warnings were in place well back in ’89.
It was a disorienting change and it got to a point in the middle of the decade where my favourite bands were dropped, broken up, or transformed. Bon Jovi survived this period unscathed, losing only the inconsequential Alec John Such. They were one of the few exceptions. Motley Crue put out a killer record with their new singer that was criminally panned at the time by its critics and many longtime fans. Winger couldn’t catch a break. Some of the bands that did put out records in the 90s released sub-par trash. Quiet Riot: guilty with Down to the Bone. Judas Priest: Jugulator. Dokken: Shadowlife. Unless your name ended with Jovi, it seems like every old guard rock band put out albums that were crap, sold like shit, or both. Then, half of ’em broke up.
What was a metal head to do? Still buy the old bands’ records and hope for the best, yes, but when you’re buying so much shit on a wing and a prayer, you start looking for something else. I had to open my heart to some newer bands that, I felt, had something in common with the old.
Here is a list of 11 bands that made their way in.
1. OASIS. I still love those first three records, and all the B-sides that came along with the tide. My mom got me into the Beatles, and while I never bought into that “the new Beatles” crap, I did like that Oasis brought back some of what I liked about the fab four. They were the only Brit Pop band I could put my heart behind. Not metal at all, but Lars liked ’em. They had guitar solos at least.
2. GOO GOO DOLLS. Right around the time of “Slide” and “Broadway”, I let the Goo Goo Dolls into my life. They reminded me of Bon Jovi without the bombast (and the solos). They would have to do during the time when I needed a surrogate Jovi, which happened in the late part of the 90s when Jon released the stinker Destination Anywhere. Goo Goo Dolls nailed the lovestruck acoustic/electric vibe that was once a Bon Jovi strength.
3. THE BARSTOOL PROPHETS. Amazing Canadian band that could have been the next Tragically Hip. The Prophets might have been a little more hard edged, and I identified with their lyrics more than the labyrinthic words of Saint Downie. T-Trev was a fan and he recommended I give ’em a try, and I have loved them since.
4. sandbox. A band that did not win me through a friend or a music video, but through the live experience. Opening for the Barenaked Ladies, sandbox (all lower case) were a bit gloomier and heavier. But there was also something magical about their songs “Curious” and “Lustre”. They soothed my soul when I was lonely. Later on, I found out that guitarist Mike Smith was on a television show called Trailer Park Boys…
5. THE PRODIGY. Who didn’t buy Fat of the Land in ’97? It was a good album and Crispian Miller from Kula Shaker had lead vocals on one track. This new heavy brand of electronica had hooks and a rock-like vibe. It was like dance-y industrial rock. I could dig it. They even had a guitar player named — no word of a lie — Gizz Butt.
6. THE TEA PARTY. I couldn’t get into Splendor Solis; I foolishly dismissed the band as a Zep clone. I came to my senses on their third album The Edges of Twilight. The Zeppelin comparisons were obvious (and I didn’t care about the Doors), but who else was making music like this anymore? Nobody. The Tea Party would do!
7. SLOAN. It was not until their fourth album Navy Blues that Sloan scratched the itch. Yes, I was a late comer. Yes, I got into them during their commercial peak. But the truth is it was really their double live 4 Nights at the Palais Royale that really nailed it. One of the best live albums since the mighty Kiss Alive. The comparisons don’t end there, as both bands feature four lead singers — a configuration I always enjoy. (Hello, Goodbye, Beatles!)
8. RANCID. Incredible band, two lead singers, and one great album that just slayed me. Many of the rock bands I liked, such as Guns and Motley, extolled the merits of their punk rock backgrounds. Just as Zeppelin and ZZ Top encouraged me to check out Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Nikki Sixx pushed the Pistols on me. Rancid were much better than the Pistols, but they had the same snot in their noses. Rancid brought with them the ska and reggae side, which appealed to me immediately.
9. OUR LADY PEACE. For one album, anyway. Maybe it was Arnold Lanni that made this band buzz for me, but they were really a single album group. Naveed is a monster. Jeremy Taggart was a good enough drummer for Geddy Lee! It had some things in common with hard rock, like loud guitars. I could build them a bridge into my heart.
10. LIVE. I maintain that everybody bought Throwing Copper in 1995. This band just had tremendously broad appeal. Unusually, every song was up to the same lofty level of quality; no duds, all keepers. A number of strong singles led to massive radio and video play, but no followup album of the same stature ever emerged.
11. NINE INCH NAILS. I was just starting to get into Nine Inch Nails. The Downward Spiral is my album when it comes to this band. They took such a long break after it that I lost interest. What I liked were the riffs built from noise, the layered approach, the angst, the self-loathing, and the anger. The album is still is trip to play, but I have never liked “Piggy” or “Closer” and think them a bit contrived. Admirable though that the video for “March of the Pigs” is 100% live, music included.
Although there were many good albums made by metal bands in the 1990s that I have not mentioned, it was not enough for a music addict. I needed to expand my horizons or remain stuck in the past. There were more — Ben Folds Five, Steve Earle, Robbie Williams, Mel C. (yes that Mel C.) and Tonic to name a few. Anything that had some kind of integrity of connection to the rock music I loved. Ben Folds didn’t even have a guitar player, but his music rocked nonetheless. These were all great picks to sample some of the best of the 90s. Have a listen.
Late yesterday we were informed that Don Simmons, the original founding keyboard player from Helix, had passed away. He was 64.
Simmons played in the original Helix band, with singer Brian Vollmer, drummer Bruce Arnold, guitarist Ron Watson, and bassist Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg. Simmons gigged with Helix from 1974-1976, and was still in the group for a short time when Brent “The Doctor” Doerner joined, beginning the transformation into the modern band.
In 2004, Helix staged a massive reunion that included many of their former surviving members. The original band, including Simmons on keyboards, got up on stage for the first time in 30 years and played “Buff’s Bar Blues”, a mainstay of their early sets. The show was released as the 30th Anniversary Concert.
Don never stopped loving music and continued to play keyboard and guitar. Rest in peace, Don Simmons.
RECORD STORE TALES #922: Running Through Alberta (1990)
A long time ago, in a constitutional monarchy not far away, prices were lower. The despised goods and services tax (GST) kicked in January 1, 1991. This federal tax added a 7% levy to your average purchase. In the before-fore times, in the Canadian province known as Alberta, there was no such thing as a “sales tax”. What you saw on the sticker was what you paid. It was an exhilarating time and place to be. The GST wrecked that, but our last trek out west before the hated tax kicked in was nothing short of glorious.
School was out for summer, and I quit my part-time job packing groceries to hang out at the cottage and take a special trip to Calgary. It was time for a visit with cousin Geoff, formerly known as “Captain Destructo”. The most important things to do on any trip were two-fold:
I had just received two albums that were brand new to me from the Columbia House music club: School’s Out, by Alice Cooper, and Come An’ Get It by Whitesnake. As my newest acquisitions, they had to come along. I also brought Steve Vai’s Passion & Warfare which I was recently obsessed with. Finally, I carried enough cash from my job that I had just quit, to buy as much music as I could find. Stuff that none of the stores in Kitchener had in stock.
The clear memory of driving through the mountains with School’s Out blasting in my ears brings a smile to my face. While some moments were undeniably weird (“Gutter Cat vs. The Jets”), I couldn’t believe how catchy the album was. I still can’t. Alice Cooper records were not necessarily designed to deliver catchy songs. They were twisted, and School’s Out was like a Twizzler. Regardless, “Gutter Cat” was entertaining while being unforgettable. I couldn’t wait to share it with my best friend Bob. He loved cats! Another track that took me by surprise was “Alma Mater”, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. The fact that I’d be graduating in a year was scary. But the roaring “Public Animal #9” just made me sing along. I also dug “Blue Turk” although I had no idea how to categorize it. To me it sounded like something from an old musical from days gone by. Here I was discovering this ancient music for the first time while the Rocky Mountains zipped past me in the back seat of a minivan. I like to appreciate moments like that. I just stared out the window while Dennis Dunaway buzzed my ears with bass.
Next up was Whitesnake. I still love Come An’ Get It; it’s probably my overall favourite Whitesnake. A few songs don’t click, such as “Girl”, but lemme tell you folks — “Child of Babylon” is another one of those songs that you just have to experience while driving through the Rockies. Bob and I were slowly discovering old Whitesnake. He was the first to have Saints & Sinners, but I was the first to have Come An’ Get It. It was something of a “blind buy” for me, since I didn’t know any of the songs. By the end of the trip, I’d already love “Wine, Women An’ Song”, “Come An’ Get It”, and “Lonely Days, Lonely Nights”.
Two favourites in the making, it was already turning into a memorable vacation. I enjoyed shopping at corny gift shops. I bought some goofy round sunglasses with flip-open lenses. Alberta is dinosaur country, and so I bought a casting of a Tyrannosaurus tooth. At another gift shop I bought a totem knick-knack. I remember Geoffrey and I climbing the modest mountains around the hoodoos at Drumheller, and finding a cave near the top where we paused and caught some shade.
When we hit the Calgary Zoo, Geoff showed us how to put coins on the train tracks to be crushed into minature copper and nickle pancakes. They had a little train that took tours of the park. It ran on a regular schedule so we always knew about when we should put the coins on the track. I had heard that copper guitar picks were the best, but they were hard to find, so I crushed a couple pennies. I turned them into guitar picks once we got home. We didn’t crush anything more valuable than a dime, but sometimes you’d lose the coin if it went flying off the track. (Incidentally, you can’t derail a train with a penny, that is a myth.) We could tell the conductor knew what we were doing and was getting annoyed, so we cut it out.
When we finally hit a music store in a Calgary mall, I was elated. I was always on the lookout for singles, and here I found a few notable ones. Aerosmith’s The Other Side EP was an easy “yes”. It had a number of remixes that, while not great, were exclusives. It also had something called the “Wayne’s World Theme” live. What was this “Wayne’s World”? I knew not, but it wasn’t on the album, so I was happy enough.
Poison were hot on the charts with their brand-new album Flesh & Blood. Bob was already raving about the album, and one song he pointed out was “Valley of Lost Souls”. I found the cassette single for “Unskinny Bop” which included this song and an instrumental pretentiously called “Swamp Juice (Soul-O)”. I never particularly cared for “Unskinny Bop”, but it was the current Poison hit, and “Valley of Lost Souls” was as good as advertised. I also located Jon Bon Jovi’s solo single “Blaze of Glory”. I didn’t know it yet but this single had some slightly edited versions of the album cuts — another exclusive.
The purchase I might have been happiest with was a re-buy. Although it seems ridiculous that at age 18 I was already re-buying albums, it had begun. My cassette of Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny was shite. For all intents and purposes, it only had one channel. I owned Rocka Rolla on vinyl, but didn’t really have a good way of playing it and making it sound decent back then. I knew there was a cassette on Attic records with both albums on one tape, and I found it in Calgary. I was glad to finally have a copy of Sad Wings that I could properly listen to. I even gained new appreciation for Rocka Rolla on those mountain drives. “Caviar and Meths” sounds amazing drifting through the mountains.
Not only did we find some cool stuff we couldn’t easily locate in Ontario, but we paid no tax. Since Alberta had no provincial sales tax, everything we were buying, we were buying cheaper!
I wanted a cowboy hat. We went shopping for them, but I was having a hard time deciding and then Geoffrey told me about an Alberta saying. Something about “everybody in Alberta has an asshole and a cowboy hat.” Either that or “every asshole in Alberta has a cowboy hat.” Same difference. Either way, I was dissuaded.
Geoffrey could be exhausting and I really wanted nothing more than to lie down and listen to some new tunes, so I was granted a couple hours of privacy. We traded tapes back and forth for listening. My sister Kathryn had the new single for “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” by Cheap Trick so I listened to that while she borrowed my Poison.
Here’s a funny detail. For the car trip with Whitesnake and Alice Cooper, I can remember being on the left side of the vehicle. For Rocka Rolla, I seem to remember sitting on the right. The view was always great. Nothing like Ontario. The air was different, and even the weather was unusual to us. People left their doors unlocked, we were told by Uncle Phil.
Auntie Lynda spoiled us and took us on all these day trips; it was fantastic. It was the last great summer holiday. I know I kept a journal of the trip, which seems to be unfortunately lost. Great trip though it was, I looked forward to coming home and seeing my friends. Showing off my new purchases and sharing my new music. The flight home was uneventful and we arrived late at night and exhausted. I didn’t sleep much that night — I had recordings of WWF wrestling matches to catch up on. The last great summer holiday was over, but never forgotten.
With a long career travelling landscapes of rock, jazz and metal, Lee Aaron has returned on CD with 12 new tracks that represent some of her best work to date. It’s called Radio On! and it’s an apt title. These are radio-ready tunes built for summer purposes. For best results, roll down those windows and hit the highway with Lee Aaron on your deck, loud.
Lee’s band with whom she wrote and recorded Radio On! include Sean Kelly on guitar, Dave Reimer on bass, and John Cody on drums. With a guy like Kelly contributing licks, you know you can count on some smokin’ guitar hooks and that’s exactly what you get on opener “Vampin'”. Hard hitting, but constructed with melody in mind. Lee is one of those artists for whom time has not passed. As she’s explored genres other than rock, she’s only gotten better and that shows on “Vampin'”. It belies the jazz records in her discography, but make no mistake, this is rock! Kelly’s solo break ensures it.
A collection of vintage-sounding riffs on the mid-tempo “Soul Breaker” lend it a melodic base. Lee uses that to springboard into hook after hook. Future classic potential. A memorable solo is like a maraschino cherry on top. Things turn slightly pop-punk on “C’Mon”, a brilliant single that will be lighting up stereos all summer long. Check out John Cody’s cool drum pattern and the jabbing stun-gun melodies that Lee delivers.
A diverse album this is, with “Mama Don’t Remember” sounding like a rocked-up roadhouse blues. You can picture a band playing this number in a seedy bar with dusty beams of light leaking through the walls. Then it’s the title track and the memorable hook “I wanna die with the radio on”. Me too, Lee!
“Soho Crawl”, backed by bouncy piano, rocks pretty hard in a different direction. Another road is explored on the dark “Devil’s Road”, with bass leading the way. Burning slow, laden with some of Lee’s finest words, “Devil’s Road” has the potential to be the kind of song that makes an album immortal, like a “Black Velvet”.
Picking up the pace, “Russian Doll” has the “Radar Love” rocking boogie, while Lee belts line after line of sticky sweet vocal candy. Kelly dives right into parts unknown for the wicked solo. Live, this is the song that will get people up and dancing. But this album doesn’t linger in the same places too long, and so the mid-tempo “Great Big Love” takes a different road. Opposites attract in the lyrics, and the music leaves lots of room for Lee to do her thang. Her lyrics just keep getting better. “It all comes down to chemistry, the science is in babe and science don’t lie.” There’s a swing and a country feel to it.
“Wasted” goes to dark territory. Serious subject matter, but wrapped gently in some of the most beautiful music Lee Aaron’s ever sung. All before it explodes punkily in the middle for a rousing chorus. Shifting into a funk groove, “Had Me at Hello” has some wicked rhythm. Lee’s playful words are an instrument to their own as the band jams on.
Finally closing on a piano ballad, Radio On! feels like a journey. The last leg is “Twenty One” which is likely to take you back in time. “Always in my mind, I’m 21.” It’s a vocal tour-de-force, ending an album full of ’em.
It’s worth celebrating any time a beloved artist from our past puts out a truly great album these days. For it to be one of the best albums of their career, that’s something very special. Respect to Mike Fraser for another perfect mix. Summer 2021 just gained another mainstay for its soundtrack.
From his just released new EP Shadows Exposed, it’s Polychuck‘s fresh video for “Beating Myself Down“! He’s a talented multi-instrumentalist, and this very different but boppin’ track is right up my alley. The guitar solo at the end will knock you on your ass. This is a catchy, upbeat but lyrically serious tune with relatable words. Check out “Beating Myself Down” and don’t miss Polychuck when we have him on the LeBrain Train on July 31!