bad company

#620: The Retired Jedi Master (of Rock)

GETTING MORE TALE #620: The Retired Jedi Master (of Rock)

It is always sad when one of my old Jedi Masters of Rock loses their passion for it.

I think for Bob, that began when he entered college. While Bob taught me the ins and outs of Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, and Motley Crue, he was drifting away from heavy metal. There is nothing wrong with diversifying, but his passion for the heavier side of things was waning.

I remember in the summer of ’91 when Motley Crue released their awesome new groove-laden single, “Primal Scream”. I asked Bob if he liked it, and his response was that the new Motley was “too heavy”. My heart broke in two pieces that day. I was so excited about that track. Motley were doing exactly what I wanted them to do: turning it up and giving no fucks. Bob just wasn’t into that.

His tastes were changing. I think a big part of it was that the girls he liked at college weren’t into heavy metal. Bob was checking out more commercial sounds and ballads. One of his favourite groups was Frozen Ghost.  I also remember he was very much into Bad Company’s Holy Water. Meanwhile I was digging into the roots of metal and the bands of the future as well: from Deep Purple to I Mother Earth.  Our paths diverged.  I couldn’t be less interested in new Bad Company, but I was intent on collecting the entire Black Sabbath back catalogue.  It made me a little sad, but I’m not regretful about where my explorations took me over the years.

I think it can be summed up as below:

1. The girls we liked didn’t listen to metal.
2. Bob’s tastes diversified while he outgrew metal.
3. I doubled down on metal, going all in. The girls might not like metal, but maybe they’d appreciate my don’t-give-a-fuck attitude?

Bob’s method got him dates. My method did not! But my musical journey took me far and wide.  From the deep neon coloured oceans of Frank Zappa, to the craggy peaks of Mount Marillion, and back to the Valley of Judas Priest. As real life took over – job, wife, kids – Bob was no longer the music head that I was. He has always been a hard worker, and a family guy. My passion only grew deeper. The longer, heavier and more complex the tunes, the more interested I was in the band. I loved musicianship. Ballads were starting to sound the same to me, and there were some cool new sounds coming out of the woodwork.

Life took Bob and I in different directions. He met a lovely lady named Trish and now has four kids. I have none.  If I had four kids, would I still have time to invest in my passion, music? Bob’s kids keep him very busy, believe me!

Bob sold off his collection many years ago. He had some amazing Iron Maiden 12” singles and picture discs. I bought a few of his singles, but there was one tie-dyed bootleg picture disc EP that I would have loved to get my hands on. I couldn’t tell you anything about it today, except that it was Iron Maiden. He had to do what he had to do. It’s gone now and he has little recollection at all about it.  That information is sadly lost to me now.

Not every Jedi Master of Rock stays in the trenches forever. Some do, and end up writing about it on the internet. Bob may have retired his rock and roll shoes, but his influence lives on right here in these pages.  Thank you for your wisdom and friendship.

 

REVIEW: Queen + Paul Rodgers – Live in Ukraine (2009 CD/DVD)


 

QUEEN PAUL UKRAINE_0001QUEEN + PAUL RODGERS – Live in Ukraine (2009 Hollywood 2 CD/1 DVD set)

The show was dubbed “Life Must Go On”, with funds raised going to AIDS research.  Queen had never played in Ukraine before.  350,000 people would be in attendance at the gig, which also functioned as Queen’s tour kick-off.  No pressure.

The massive 28 song setlist consisted of Queen classics augmented by Free and Bad Company tunes, and songs from Queen + Paul Rodgers’ studio album The Cosmos Rocks. The stage has two huge screens on the sides, and an even bigger one behind.  A taped intro to “One Vision” leads to the band taking over with a rapturous entrance.  There is also a center ramp that takes the members right into the crowd.  I have always liked Paul’s slant on Freddy’s songs.  He’s not the same singer, not in the slightest, so the vocals lines change organically and it works.  Unfortunately “One Vision” is shortened so as to lead into “Tie Your Mother Down” which is right up Paul’s alley.  Brian and Roger do their share of the backing vocals, and it sounds pretty Queen-like.  (The live band is rounded out by longtime sideman Spike Edney (keyboards), Danny Miranda (bass) and Jamie Moses (backing guitar.))

QUEEN PAUL UKRAINE_0007“The Show Must Go On” came early in the set, and Paul really poured everything into it.  Even with his “cool biker’ stage look, he had the crowd in the palm of his hands, especially when twirling that mike stand over his head.  “Fat Bottom Girls” sounds a little odd without Freddy, but Paul manages.   Of course Brian and Roger do their part to help.

I found “Another One Bites the Dust” to stumble awkwardly, as I anxiously awaited the song to end so we can get on with it.  “Hammer to Fall” is vastly better, and this flows cleanly into “I Want it All”.  Brian smiles away as Paul commands the song in his own way.  “I Want to Break Free” works better than you’d think, and Brian’s guitar is sublime.

At this point of the show, Brian introduces Paul to the crowd, who then sings Bad Company’s “Seagull” acoustically.  This is a show highlight, as Paul occupies that ramp in the middle of the crowd.  Paul then introduces Brian as the “greatest guitar player in the universe” (I won’t argue), who does “Love of My Life” solo acoustically on a 12 string.  Brian’s sweet voice is augmented by 350,000 others.  Brian then invites Roger and his bass drum up the ramp with him, and they do “’39” together, possibly my favourite Queen song ever.  But it’s just a fake-out; Brian invites the backing musicians to join them and “’39” is fully fleshed out.  It’s funny seeing all five musicians out on that tiny platform in the middle of the crowd, but what a treat for those down there!

Roger Taylor is left on stage with Danny Miranda, and they proceed to play his electric upright bass with drum sticks.  This turns into a medley of famous Queen basslines, all played with sticks.  Nonsense aside, Roger is left to solo on his scaled-down portable kit.  This jazzy solo is another solo highlight, as Roger demonstrates his underrated skills on the traps.  As the solo progresses, his drum tech gradually sets up a full kit around Roger.  By the end of it, Roger breaks into “I’m in Love With My Car” with the whole band.

QUEEN PAUL UKRAINE_0005Finally Paul Rodgers returns to the stage for the latter half of “Say it’s Not True”, a stunning ballad for Freddy.  Halfway through the set now, and this is the first new song.  With Paul back, they decide to do a couple more of his songs:  “Shooting Star” and “Bad Company” (Paul on piano for “Bad Company”).  Both sound great with Queen; the guys’ backing vocals work perfectly, and the crowd clearly knows them.  During “Bad Company”, a slide show of that band runs on the giant screens.

May is front and center for his guitar solo, and the crowd loves every note of it.  This solo goes into “Bijou” from Innuendo, featuring the pre-recorded image and voice of Freddy Mercury.  This then leads into “Last Horizon” from Brian’s solo album, Back to the Light.  Unfortunately this appears to be the part of the show during which one would leave to urinate.  “Bijou” and “Last Horizon” are both great, but it’s too much slooow soloing for too long.  The bit only starts to come to life when guitarist Jamie Moses joins Brian for a harmony lead.

QUEEN PAUL UKRAINE_0006Paul straps on an acoustic for a laid back version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” which degenerates into guitar noodling.  Finally comes Queen’s “new” single “C-lebrity” which is a song I like a lot.  It boasts a solid rock riff and a great performance by Paul Rodgers.  Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and the song everyone had been waiting for, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, follow.  Both songs fail to really combine the elements of Queen + Paul Rodgers fully.  “Feel Like Makin’ Love” is a little too sweet when performed by Queen, and “Bohemian” is done with the recorded image and voice of Freddy singing the song.  The crowd doesn’t seem to mind, but it doesn’t work for me.  Paul only shows up for the heavy part at the end.

Fortunately one more new song was played: “Cosmos Rockin'”.  I wish there were more.  Yes there are a lot of songs to be played, but surely a solo could be cut in order to play more new material.  It feels as if Queen + Paul Rodgers weren’t even giving the album a chance.  It’s not like radio is going to play it, so you have to play it live.  The song is well received with the crowd jumping and down.  When they sing, “We got the whole house rockin’ to the mighty power of rock n’ roll,” I believe it!  They are dancing and going absolutely nuts!

There are only a few “must-plays” left, and undoubtedly “All Right Now” is one of them.  Paul Rodgers has certainly lost nothing through the years and that riff sounds great coming from Brian May.  And finally, the traditional duo of “We Will Rock You”/”We are the Champions”.  I’ve always felt these highschool rally perennials are probably best experienced live.  It’s a “had to be there” feeling, since these singalongs are probably more fun to experience than to watch.  Although Paul since both songs differently from Freddy, I like his slant on them.

Wikipedia reports (unsourced) that digital download versions of Live in Ukraine contained two bonus tracks:  “Radio Gaga” and “A Kind of Magic”.  I’ve been searching online for years and I’ve never found them available anywhere, so take that with a grain of salt.  Both songs are available live on another Queen + Paul Rodgers album, Return of the Champions.  That album has enough different live material from this one, such as “Can’t Get Enough”, “Wishing Well” and “These are the Days of Our Lives”, that both are worth owning.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Rock Aid Armenia – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions

ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions (2010 Edel CD/DVD set)

When some of the biggest names in both British and Canadian rock combined together to re-record “Smoke on the Water”, as a mega-collaboration charity track, I don’t care who you are:  You gotta listen!   Originally released as “Smoke on the Water ’90” on The Earthquake Album, it didn’t garner the attention of, say, a Hear N’ Aid, but it’s definitely a noteworthy track.  The Earthquake Album contained just the radio mix, which was an edited down version lacking Paul Rodgers.  This package on the other hand is a CD/DVD combo set including all 4 versions of “Smoke ’90” and a documentary.

The region 0 encoded DVD is 40 minutes long, and filled with incredible behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews.  First, an explanation of the cause:  rebuilding a children’s music school in Armenia, destroyed in a 1988 earthquake.  Then, the musicians arrive!  Roger Taylor (Queen) is first in the door.  Can’t do anything without the drums!  He shows off his considerable chops while warming up.  Chris Squire (Yes) is next, who reveals that all egos have been dealt with in advance of the recording.  Brian May turns up with a broken arm (skateboarding accident) to offer his support; he would return to record after the arm has healed.  The recording takes place over five separate sessions.  One benefit of this arrangement was that it enabled Ritchie Blackmore to show up, without having to see Ian Gillan!

IOMMI MAYOh, to be in that room…

Soon to arrive:  Tony Iommi.  Paul Rodgers.  Bruce Dickinson.  David Gilmour.  Alex Lifeson.  Two keyboardists:  Keith Emerson and Geoff Downes.  Even Bryan Adams sings some backing vocals, after he turned up just to check out the recording studio!  (Gilmour can’t help but take a stab at Rogers Waters during the interview segments.)  Incidentally, I found it cool that Rodgers recorded his vocals with a hand-held mike.

I’ve always been a fan of this version of “Smoke”; in fact this was the first version of that I ever heard, 23 years ago.  The band was dubbed Rock Aid Armenia.  They got together in late ’89, and recorded this updated sounding cover.  Gillan, Dickinson and Rodgers handled the lead vocals, in that order.  It’s great to hear Iommi playing those chunky chords again.  Chris Squire’s bass work is fairly simple, but perfect.

The CD includes an updated 2010 remix that cuts down a lot of Keith Emerson’s cheesey keyboards.  Emerson stated that he wanted to put his own stamp on his parts, based on ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”.  He probably wouldn’t be happy to be mixed down on this version, but his keys always stood out like a sore thumb to me.  The 2010 mix adds in a lot more previously unheard guitar fills instead. Other extras include a previously unreleased version of the song, with an entire Ian Gillan vocal take.

This is a great little-known recording, and I’m glad an obscurity like this has finally been reissued properly.

4/5 stars

Footnote:  In 2011 and 2012, Gillan and Iommi followed this with a single and compilation album under the name WhoCares; also featuring Nicko McBrain, Jon Lord and Jason Newsted!

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time (1986, 1996 bonus CD)

Part 9 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Somewhere In Time (1986, 1996 bonus CD)

After the yearlong World Slavery Tour, to hear it told by Steve Harris, lead singer Bruce Dickinson had “lost the plot”.  Bruce on the other hand felt that the next album should be a game changer:  their Physical Graffiti.  But burned out from the road, all he brought to the table were some acoustic tunes which were all rejected. According Steve Harris, it wasn’t so much that the songs were acoustic.  It was because they weren’t very good.  This was the first time Bruce didn’t get a writing credit since The Number of the Beast!  And instead of Physical Graffiti, Bruce said that they “just made another Iron Maiden album.”

Bruce and Janick Gers acoustic, 1990

In spite of the lack of Bruce songs,  Steve, Adrian Smith and even Dave Murray came in with enough songs for an album.  They also came in with synthesizers for the first time.   All three were credited with guitar or bass synth on Somewhere In Time, a sound that threw some of us for a loop.  Also for the first time, Adrian would take sole writing credits on several Maiden songs (lyrics, music and all) which lent his more melodic bent to the resulting album.

The production, again by Martin Birch, was paradoxically both cold, and warm.  It’s a chilly sounding album, but the synths actually bring some warmth back to it.  Unfortunately there isn’t as much guitar grit as before, everything sounding smoothed out.

“Caught Somewhere In Time”, the excellent opener, starts right off the bat with synth; Maiden were laying their cards on the table.  The gallop is still there and Steve still drives the Beast forward withi his bass.  The synth doesn’t really detract from it.  It is plenty riffy, and Bruce’s voice soars with the excellent chorus.  This is a Maiden rocker to sing along to.

Adrian contributed the first of the two singles:  “Wasted Years”.  This classic song was my introduction to the new Maiden sound, since it came out a bit before the album was available.  Not only was the video great (black and white footage of the band rehearsing with collages of Eddies and tour photos) but the song was also great.  This is definitely hard rock Maiden, the kind of thing that made good Maiden singles, like “Flight of Icarus”.  The lyrics, also by Adrian, are clearly about the road life and I’m sure Bruce could pour his heart into the words.

Two lacklustre songs follow:  “Sea Of Madness” and “Heaven Can Wait”.  Neither song have ever really blown me away, but at the same time “Heaven Can Wait” turned into a tour classic for many years so what do I know?  It was the traditional concert spot for the crowd to sing along.  Smith contributed “Sea of Madness”, while Steve wrote “Heaven Can Wait”.  I do like the slow part in the middle of “Sea of Madness”, with its nice solo.

That ended side one.  Side two started with “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, one of Steve’s longer songs.  It was based on a short story of the same name, and I have to admit that lyrically it’s not one of those Maiden songs that really has me waiting to sing the next line.  The choruses are pretty straightforward:  “Run, on and on.  Ru-uu-un, on and on.  The loneliness of the long distance runner.”  The synth in this song is effective although the song is arguably filler.

(Of note:  The intro portion of this song would really serve as a blueprint for many many Maiden songs to come.  You know the kind:  Steve’s rinky-dinky-rink bass, backing a mellow guitar melody, with mild synth in the background.  “Fear of the Dark”, starting 30 seconds in, is similar.  “Mother Russia”, 30 seconds in.  Most of  The X Factor.  And so on.)

The excellent “Stranger In A Strange Land” follows, the third of Adrian’s writing contributions.  This was the second single, and a good choice it was.  A catchy mid-tempo song, it took advantage of the textures of the new synths effectively.  I’ve read in the past that it’s based on Stranger In A Strange Land by Heinlein, but I fail to see the connection.  I always felt it may as well be about the 1984 film, Iceman.  The lyrics fit.

“Stranger” was also host to another excellent Adrian guitar solo.  It was around this time that I bought a white guitar simply because Adrian played one in the video!  And yes, the video was an excellent summation of their stage show, with giant inflatable Eddie coming out of the stage!

Steve and Davey’s “Deja-Vu” is up next, and I have always loved this one.  It’s the only song under five minutes, and it has a furiously fast pace.  The synths take a bit of the edge off, but this one is irresistible

But alas, we are now at the end:  The 8th and final song is yet another Steve Harris epic album closer.  This time the topic he chose was “Alexander the Great”.  Another historical topic for me to devour!  I later majored in history.  I wonder how much of that was due to my two greatest influences?  My dad, and Iron Maiden?

“Alexander the Great” has been criticized by some as being a lesser epic.  I really don’t know.  At this point you’re into splitting hairs.  Who cares?  It’s still awesome.  Maybe you don’t like it as much as “Ancient Mariner”; maybe you prefer “Fear Of the Dark”.  It doesn’t matter:  It’s a Steve epic and that means fast parts, slow parts, different tempos and riffs.  And through it all Bruce manages to spit out the tricky lyrics:

A Phrygian king had bound a chariot yoke
And Alexander cut the ‘Gordian Knot’
And the legend said that who untied the knot
He would become the master of Asia

The choruses are awesome, and I consider this to be one of Maiden’s lesser-known triumphs.

And what about that album cover?  Absolutely my favourite Maiden cover of all time, look for all kinds of hidden messages.  What time is it again?  Oh yeah…

I imagined that after Eddie’s resurrection on Live After Death, he had emerged some time in the future (around the time period of Blade Runner, it appears) and gotten himself some cybernetic enhancements.  The cover is, in essence, an updated take on Killers.  Emerging from his Spinner, Eddie’s traded in his hatchet for a laser.  On the back, you can see the members of Maiden themselves witnessing Eddie’s deed.  Notice Nicko’s goggles?  He’d just got his pilot’s license!

The artwork for the singles were equally awesome:  On “Wasted Years”, we see Eddie travelling back in time to 1986…chasing the T.A.R.D.I.S.?  Its B-sides were excellent!  As far as B-side material goes, these were two of the best.  “Reach Out” was a rare thing:  A song written by an outside writer, Adrian’s buddy Dave “Bucket” Colwell who would later end up in Bad Company.  Perhaps even more astonishing was the lead vocalist:  Adrian Smith!  Martin Birch compared it to Bryan Adams-type rock, but fear not! Bruce shows up by chorus-time to blow you away with his wail, as he answers Adrian’s lines.  Pure awesome in a nice sweet hard rock package.

Then there was “The Sheriff of Huddersfield”, a not-very-complimentary roast of Maiden manager Rod Smallwood!  “‘Rufus the Red’ has a crane by his bed, to wrench himself up in morn’, but if you dare to tread at the foot of his bed, you’ll wish you’d never been born!”  Not a great song, it’s still pretty damn funny.  Rodney, it seems, had fallen for the L.A. lifestyle and the band were not beyond giving him a hard time about it!

The “Stranger In A Strange Land” single had even cooler artwork:  Eddie entering a space bar full of space-scum and villainy!  Looking like a cross between Harrison Ford’s Deckard, and Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name”, Eddie ignores their stares.  This might be my favourite Maiden single art of all time.  (Of ALL time, Kanye!)

Its B-sides were two covers:  “That Girl” (FM) and “Juanita” (Marshall Fury).  “That Girl” is a pretty good hard rock song, very much in line with a song like “Reach Out”.  I never liked “Juanita” much though.

Don’t worry – Maiden’s arrangement is nothing like this!  Makes you wonder why they covered it though.

I have a real soft spot in my metal heart for Somewhere In Time.   Although it sags a bit in the middle, and it’s toned-down Maiden, this is still one of my personal favourites.  It came out when I first started high school, and you can’t compete with nostalgia.  Although today many consider inferior to the albums that came before and the album that came after, I have to rate it pretty high.

4/5 stars