Def American

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said it Was Easy (2018 vinyl reissue)

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Nobody Said it Was Easy (originally 1991 Def American, 2018 vinyl reissue with bonus tracks)

Though defunct for well over two decades, the Four Horsemen are like the gift that keeps on giving.  When they bit the dust, all they initially left behind were two albums and an EP.  Today there are a set of reissues with bonus tracks, live releases, and a “lost” second LP that was never released before.  In 2018, another handful of unreleased tracks came to light on a brand new vinyl reissue of Nobody Said it Was Easy.  This is the second reissue of the album now, the first (on CD) having three completely different bonus tracks (“She’s Got It”, “Homesick Blues (harmonica version)” and “Born to Boogie”).  The vinyl replaces those with a bunch more you didn’t have.

First, about the album Nobody Said it Was EasyWe reviewed it back in 2016 and stand by every word.  It was a shining beacon of rock n’ roll when it was in danger of drowning in a sea of grunge.  Rick Rubin gave the album an edgy, loud and crisp sound.  The band had a dirty vibe at odds with the Poisons and Motley Crues on the charts.  And they boasted one of the greatest unsung frontmen ever:  Frank C. Starr.  A real life bad boy, there was nothing phony about Frank, nor any of the Four Horsemen.  The nucleus was the man known as Haggis, ex-The Cult, ex-Zodiac Mindwarp.  His slippy-slidey guitars melded perfectly with the southern soloing of Dave Lizmi.  On bass was a chap named Ben Pape, but the secret weapon was drummer Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery.  This mountain of a man, a Canadian punk rock veteran, had presence and a deep Bonham-like beat.  The Four Horsemen couldn’t be touched by anyone in their field.  The 12 songs that made up Nobody Said it Was Easy sound derived in equal parts from early AC/DC and the American South, with a healthy dose of sleazy intent.

“My name is Frankie, let’s fuck up the place!”

The three singles are flat-out indispensable.  I wouldn’t want to live my life without “Rockin’ Is Ma Business” any more than I would want to live it without “Let There Be Rock”.  “Tired Wings” is a greasy southern revelation, while the title track has more hooks than a tackle shop.

As an added bonus, this package also includes the first Four Horsemen EP, Welfare Boogie.  It was available separately on a remastered CD with bonus tracks, but now you can get it on vinyl right here.  The four EP songs were pretty high octane.  “Hard Loving Man” remains a ridiculous highlight.  Tattooed pecker indeed!

Onto the unreleased tracks, of which there are six:  five songs and an interview.  All of these are exclusive to this LP; nowhere else.  The interview is a vintage road call from a humorous Haggis to a Calgary radio station, but it’s inconsequential at only 2:30 long.  (My copy of the second LP has the sides labelled incorrectly.)

Check out the original open-G tuning of “Tired Wings”.  It’s remarkable how changing the tuning made the difference between a good song and a great one.  Now it’s timeless.  Frankie did a completely different lead vocal on “’75 Again”, without the screaming (some of the guitar bits are missing too).  I think I prefer the screaming version when you hear them side by side.  An alternate version of “Can’t Stop Rockin'” is a different take, also without screaming (or backing vocals).  These versions that ultimately didn’t make the album are as well produced as the record, but ultimately it’s a matter of taste which you prefer.  It’s certainly startling to hear different versions after this many years.

“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” is an instrumental, recorded Christmas Day 1991.  This certainly foreshadows the direction the Four Horsemen would go on their “lost” second album, Daylight Again, which was more Band than AC/DC.  Finally it’s an extended 8:32 live jam on “Can’t Get Next to You”, a non-album rarity.  Another version can be found on the CD/DVD set, Left For Dead.  Dave Lizmi really gets to cut loose on this.

It doesn’t really matter which version of Nobody Said it Was Easy you end up with.  The original 12 track CD was 5/5 stars then and now, but which is best?  The remastered CD gives you unreleased tracks exclusive to the format, so there’s that.  This LP gives you even more, plus the original Welfare Boogie EP, but it is limited to just 500 copies.  Better act fast before it’s too late.

5/5 stars

MORE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  5. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By (1996)
  6. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  7. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)

 

 

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Left For Dead (1988-1992) (CD/DVD set)

“You know, Sean Connery was the best Roger Moore they ever had.” — Frank C. Starr

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Left For Dead (1988-1992) (2005 CD/DVD set)

“Nobody said it was easy…and they were fucking right!”

The final review in this Four Horsemen series is a valuable live album/DVD set.  The CD was put together from “a box of old tapes”, all from 1992 gigs (one of which was Toronto), and there are ample liner notes discussing the band’s history and the songs herein.  It’s a brilliant live set, loaded with energy and Frank C. Starr’s unmistakable charisma.  Every track sweats whiskey.  With an opening one-two punch of “’75 Again” and “Moonshine”, you know you’re in for an action packed ride.  “Moonshine” is particularly cool, because the album version featured an authentic over-the-phone lead vocal, but the live one is full-on.  Throwing in a couple extra screams, Frankie added the icing on the cake.  Man, we so miss Frank C. Starr.

It’s a noisy affair, which actually suits this band just fine.  It’s appropriate that a Four Horsemen live album isn’t an overdubbed and glossed collection.  What it sounds like is a live band in a tiny club.  All three of the Horsemen’s singles are included in live form.  The slide-drenched “Tired Wings” goes down a treat.  “Nobody Said it Was Easy” and “Rockin’ is Ma Business” are both electrifying; the latter especially so.  You don’t hear a singer with a voice like Frank’s very often.  He had the grit, the power and the ability, wrapped up in a rock star-sized bottle of Jack.  Frank Starr has to be one of the greatest unsung losses in modern rock.

And what a band behind him!  There is a constant and very hard-hitting beat at the back, courtesy of the man-mountain Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.  According to the liner notes, Dimwit was a psychiatric nurse in addition to being a hell of a punk rock drummer.  The name Dimwit was clearly a joke, but there is a dark side.  The rigors of his work and the amount of care and emotion that went into it may have contributed to the depression and substance abuse that eventually took his life.  It’s sad really, but thankfully these live recordings exist.

One non-album cut is included in this set, a slow raunchy one called “Can’t Get Next To You”.  The AC/DC influences are obvious as this one is clearly in the musical mode of “The Jack”.   The fans wouldn’t have known this song, but Frank wants to see how many people know the album.  Introducing “Hot Head” he announces, “Let’s see if some of you fuckers actually went out and bought this shit!”…right before an equipment breakdown!  And it’s all there, documented for history.  Leaving in things like amp troubles makes for a more authentic listening experience.

All told, only two songs from the legendary first Four Horsemen record are not on the live CD:  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Homesick Blues”.  Although unlisted, “I Need a Thrill” does contain the “Something Good” coda, just like the album.  It’s even longer, with some absolutely consummate playing from lead guitarist Dave Lizmi.  The low grade sound quality perhaps enhances the overall experience.  This was a dirty rock and roll band and that’s how the live CD sounds.  That seems right.  With almost the entire first album plus an unreleased song, any Horsemen fan worth his or her salt should probably get their ears on this.  But there is still the DVD to feast our eyes upon!

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Interspersed with rare footage and interviews, you get all the original Horsemen music videos, starting with “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.   The stark music video for “Nobody Said it Was Easy” is a previously unseen version with some risque shots.  An interesting clip from MTV has the band mistakenly called “Four Horseman”.  (Apparently it was Riki Rachtman’s first show.  But then MTV got the name wrong on a later episode too!  MuchMusic got it right though.)  A rare live bootleg of “Hard Lovin’ Man” is audio garbage but video gold.  “High School Rock and Roller” is a blast to watch, especially the moving mountain that was Dimwit on drums.  There is big stage action from October ’91, opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd (“’75 Again” and “Rockin’ in Ma Business”).   Perhaps most interesting are some rejected music videos that didn’t see the light of day.  An early version of “Tired Wings” (with a pre-fame Kate Moss) is pretty crap and rightfully hated by the band.  Better than this is a rare “Mexican version” of “Nobody Said it Was Easy”.  The intro borrows liberally from “The Old Man Down the Road” by John Fogerty, but it’s cool watching the band mime in a hot dusty town in Mexico.  Then there is a never before seen $2000 budget video for “Welfare Boogie” from the original EP.  This video was rejected by MTV because the band were “too ugly”.

DVD special features are sparse but cool.  There is an exclusive acoustic demo version of “Tired Wings”.  What a different spin this is!  In demo form it was a slow acoustic drawl, laid back with angelic band harmonies.  The lyrics and melodies are identical but the arrangement is completely different.  This is set to a nostalgic slide show of rare band photos.  There is also a band commentary track for the main feature (Haggis, Dave Lizmi and Ben Pape). Lots of laughs, memories and anecdotes.  And making fun of “Dave Lizmo’s” hockey stick-style guitar neck.   Mostly they poke fun of each other’s clothes.  It’s a lot of fun to hang out with the Horsemen.  The audio commentary track is a highly recommended shambles.

The CD/DVD set can be ordered straight from the band, and it comes autographed.  I think mine is signed by Haggis but I cannot be sure!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said it Was Easy (21st Anniversary Edition)

Giddy up! Part one of a five part Four Horsemen series this week at mikeladano.com!


scan_20160907THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Nobody Said it Was Easy (originally 1991 Def American, 2009 Anniversary Edition with bonus tracks)

1991’s Nobody Said it Was Easy was one of the greatest rock albums to ever come from the grunge decade that you’ve never heard of.  The Four Horsemen were a multinational band, with Rick Rubin at the helm at the legendary Sound City studios, and one of the greatest rock star frontmen to ever grace the stage:  the late Frank C. Starr.

There could only be one Frankie.  But there was so much more to this band than just the singer.

There was Haggis, on rhythm guitar (ex-The Cult, formerly known as Kid Chaos).  He lent the album an AC/DC edge with simple rock and roll riffs.  Then there was Dave Lizmi, an uber-talented guitarist with a knack for classic tube-amp driven solos.  On bass was Ben Pape who provided the album with interesting and melodic basslines.  Finally, on drums, the man the myth the legend:  Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery.  A Canadian native as big as the mountains that spawned him, Dimwit was an absolute beast on the skins.  His brother Charles Montgomery would change his name to Chuck Biscuits and join Danzig.  Both brothers would spend time in the legendary Canadian punk band D.O.A.  Sadly, Dimwit succumbed to drugs and died in 1995.  What a gargantuan loss.  (He later inspired the Horsemen track “Song for Absent Friends” from their second CD.)

This album was preceded by an impossible-to-find four song EP (since reissued), so when it was released on Def American, it was the first time most of us heard the Horsemen.  And it was instant.  With three unforgettable singles, the Horsemen kicked out the jams.

“Nobody Said it Was Easy” was a hell of an introduction.  With a riff similar to those peddled by the Black Crowes a year before, but with a much harder edge, the track kicked every ass in the room.  Get into the groove and enjoy, because the party is just starting.  Frankie had a rock n’ roll voice, but when he let loose with his screaming, that’s when we knew he was special.  Able to sing with a Brian Johnson shred, the Horsemen really had an ace in their pocket with him.  Frankie was something else.  He took no prisoners and without him, the Horsemen just didn’t sound like the Horsemen.

There aren’t breaks between the songs, so “Nobody Said it Was Easy” goes right into “Rockin’ is Ma Business”, the heavier second single.  Louder, groovier and weightier, “Rockin’ is Ma Business” proves its point.  “And if it’s so good why am I still fuckin’ broke?” asks Frankie before Lizmi rips into another solo.  (That would be a question for the accountants, Frankie!)

The third (and some say the best) single was the slide-drenched “Tired Wings”.  With a southern Skynyrd vibe, “Tired Wings” is simply awesome.  I’m a sucker for a slide guitar, and there’s enough here to drown a cat. Haggis makes sure there is plenty to go around.

There could have been more singles, but the band hit the rocks when Frank was arrested and jailed for a year on drug charges. They were dropped by the record label, who stopped promoting the record. That effectively put the band on ice for several years, but that’s another tale for another review (or two).

T-Rev always pointed out the strength of the closing track, essentially two songs over eight minutes long, “I Need a Thrill/Somethin’ Good”.  The song reeks of cigarettes, booze and tired hotel rooms.  With organ and loads of Lizmi licks, it’s an epic track soaked in feeling.   T-Rev pointed out that the Horsemen seemed to like closing their albums with slow bluesy epics like this.  The next CD, Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By has a similar track called “What the Hell Went Wrong”.  Their long lost second album (finally available today) called Daylight Again closes with an 11 minute version of “Amazing Grace”.  That’s the kind of track this is.  It could only be an album closer.

This CD reissue has three bonus cuts from the original demo tapes.  I didn’t really want to trade up my old original CD copy of this album, but these bonus tracks made it worth while.  “She’s Got It” was written by Dimwit, and has a pure AC/DC riff like they used to write when Bon Scott was alive.  “Born to Boogie” is a rare Starr co-write (with Haggis).  This is a completely different song from the same-titled demo that was included on the EP reissue (Welfare Boogie).  It has a completely different riff, which is good because the original one basically sounded like “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley.  I prefer this version, the faster and more fun of the two.  Finally there is a different version of “Homesick Blues”, featuring a harmonica part by Tim Beattie.  The funny thing here is that Beattie later joined a reformed Horsemen as their lead singer!  It is he that recorded Daylight Again, before yet another version of the band would form and start recording with Frankie up in Canada….

But again, that’s another story for another review.  If you are one of the many rock fans who missed the Four Horsemen during their brief heyday, then this CD reissue makes the album easy to acquire.  The important thing is to get it!*

5/5 stars

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* But beware!  I know of at least one customer, Freddy, who purchased a defective copy of the original CD with Dwight Yoakam instead of the Four Horsemen! (Record Store Tales Part 224: Rockin’ is Ma Business)

For a review by 1537, click here  (It’s Dirty, It’s a Pity).

 

 

REVIEW: Wolfsbane – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990)

Welcome back to the Week of EPs! Each day this week, I’ll be checking out a variety of EP releases, both famed and obscure.

MONDAY: Aerosmith – The Other Side (1990)
WOLFSBANE_0001WOLFSBANE – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990 Def American)

I only own one Wolfsbane release on CD, and it’s this EP.  I remember that their Rubin-produced debut Live Fast, Die Fast didn’t sound as good as a Rubin production should.  This follow-up EP was produced by someone named Brenden O’Brian, who is presumably a different producer than the famed Bredan O’Brien.  Whoever it is, there’s little wrong with the production here.  It has guts and clarity.  The drums could use some more oomph.

The opening track “Steel” is one that I remember from Blaze Bayley’s live album.  Hearing it again, it’s fucking awesome!  “Tough as steel!” repeats the chorus which is appropriate for this razor sharp attack.  The guitars by Jase Edwards are choppy and aggressive, and they really sell the song.  I like when the rhythm guitar drops out during the solo, and all you have is bass and drums — just like it would be live.

“Paint the Town Red” is good time hard rock.  It still has a toughness to it, because of the basic guitar-based production.  There’s a radio-ready chorus and plenty of rocking melody, so if you had to pick one song as a potential hit, it’s “Paint the Town Red”.  Then it’s on to the ridiculously over the top “Loco”.  This time the guitars are almost a parody of shredding, so insane are they.  I can’t say I’m overly fond of “Loco”, but it sure does rip.

In 1990, you had to have an accessible song with acoustic guitars on your CD.  “Hey Babe” is that song.  Blaze’s flat vocals lend it some character, but otherwise it’s a pretty standard sounding 1990 rock ballad.  The dry guitars are very tasteful, the highlight of the track.  “Totally Nude” is a pretty dumb title, but it’s actually a pretty good hard rocker.  As the guitars blaze up and down the fretboard, song works its way into your head.

“Kathy Wilson” is a little bit of a mini-epic.  Based on the classic film Invaders From Mars, it’s a little corny but absolutely cool at the same time.  Blaze acts out some of the movie lines in spoken-word segments, but wails away on the choruses.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this is an impressive little track.  It’s a little more complex than the standard rockers, but has the same blitzkrieg drive.

Consider picking up All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! at a reasonable price for a nice brief addition to your metal and Iron Maiden collections.

3.5/5 stars

Part 224: Rockin’ Is Ma Business

For a closer look at the album itself, check out 1537’s cool writeup!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business

In 1995, this guy I knew named Freddy was looking for more new tunes.  He’d been playing all the Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughn that I could get him, but he wanted some rock as well.  Something a little heavier.

“Have you heard of the Four Horsemen?” I asked.

“Nope,” he answered.  “Who’re the Four Horsemen?”

The Four Horsemen were a great band.  They had a solid AC/DC vibe mixed in with assloads of southern rock.  They were an odd mixture of personnel, with members from Wales, America and Canada.  They featured ex-members of DOA and The Cult (Haggis), along with a charismatic unknown singer from Long Island who went by the name of Frank C. Starr.  They were a volatile band and the original lineup imploded, but there were also rumours of a reunion and second album.  (Sadly, drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery passed away, and after recording the second album, Frank Starr would be close behind.)  They did manage to crank out a solid debut, helmed by Rick Rubin, called Nobody Said It Was Easy.*

Freddy was sold without hearing a single song, after I described how strong the debut was.  We had it stocked new for the low, low price of $14.99.  Freddy made his purchase and headed out.I was confident he would be satisfied.

A week later, Freddy returned.  He had a bone to pick with me about Nobody Said It Was Easy.

“It was good music,” he said, “But not what I was looking for.  You said it was more like AC/DC.  This doesn’t sound anything like AC/DC.  It’s more country.  I don’t know why you said it sounded like AC/DC.”

I was really confused.  How could you miss those AC/DC-isms?  The rock solid beats, smoking guitars, and screamin’ lead vocalist?  What Freddy was saying didn’t make much sense.

We talked for a while trying to make sense of each others’ side of the story, getting nowhere, so I asked him to bring the CD back in.  He did, and I put it in the player.  Sure enough, Freddy was right — but on a CD clearly labelled The Four Horsemen was music by Dwight Yoakam!  The voice was unmistakable.

How could this happen?  It was rare, but not impossible, for a CD to be manufactured but then labelled and packaged as the wrong album.  Dwight Yoakam was on Reprise, and the Horsemen on Def American.  Both labels were subsidiaries of Warner Brothers.  Obviously the CDs were also manufactured in a Warner plant, for this mix-up to happen.

I insisted that Freddy return the CD so we could make it right, but he didn’t want to!  He liked the Dwight Yoakam album and wanted to keep it!  I ordered him a replacement copy of Nobody Said It Was Easy, and he liked that one too.

A lot of people were surprised that a CD could end up with the wrong music or artwork (however you want to look at it) printed on it.  It was rare, but it could happen and did.  Fortunately Freddy was happy with both records!


*The Four Horsemen finally reached a wider audience in 2012, in the movie GI Joe: Retaliation. From their second album, “Back In Business” is featured completely out of context during a frantic action sequence. The lyrics of the song are clearly about getting screwed over by record labels and passing trends in music.