jack blades

VHS Archives #87: Damn Yankees! Tommy Shaw & Jack Blades (1990)

“If you coulda gotten a camera up in a tree, you mighta been able to talk to Ted.” – Tommy Shaw

Who doesn’t love a bromance?  Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades formed a lasting one with Damn Yankees and it’s obvious in this summer 1990 interview.  They finish each others’ sentences and talk over each other like excited kids.   MuchMusic’s Michael Williams hosts this excellent interview as they discuss:

  • Getting signed to a label
  • Working with Ron Nevison
  • Terrible Ted and the “wimp police”
  • Tommy’s “critically acclaimed” solo career.  Haha!

You’ll even see Michael’s Ted impression.  Check out why live Much interviews were always best.

REVIEW: Shaw Blades – Hallucination (1995 Japanese import)

SHAW BLADES – Shaw Blades (1995 Warner Japan)

Ever wonder what Damn Yankees would have sounded like without Ted Nugent?  Possibly, a little like Shaw Blades.  In 1995, the Nuge returned to his solo career with Spirit of the Wild.  Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades had already formed a successful songwriting partnership (with an Aerosmith hit under their belts) and so together they continued.  Damn Yankees drummer Michael Cartellone joined them, but for the most part it’s expert Journey-man Steve Smith — one of the smoothest drummers in rock.

Expect acoustic rock and ballads with impeccable harmonies.  Boring, you say?  Not at all; not when you have a batch of songs this strong.  Opener “My Hallucination” is a lament for the 1960s, with an electric guitar backing up Shaw and Blades’ perfect vocals.  Those two guys can hit some notes.  “I’ll Always Be With You” is more like campfire rock, a summetime gem and ode to innocent love.  There are some sweet Def Leppard chords tucked in there.  Third in line, the strong “Come to Be My Friend” gets a touch psychedelic but it’s the smoking acoustic soloing that will blow you away.  Either that or the insanely good chorus harmonies.

“Don’t Talk to Me Anymore” is the first song you could call an outright ballad even though it’s a soft album.  It’s lightly arranged with a less is more attitude.  Then things get upbeat on “I Stumble In”, an outstanding memorable head-nodder.  Journey fans will recognize their favourite drummer’s always fascinating tom tom work.  Moving on to the album’s second true ballad, “Blue Continental”, a laid-back Southern vibe permeates.  It’s logically followed by “Down that Highway”, upbeat but stripped to the basics.  A couple acoustic guitars, two voices, some tambourine and accents (fiddle, keys) and you have a song!

The electric guitar comes out for “How You Gonna Get Used to This”, one of the less remarkable songs compared to the catchier acoustic tunes.  The mandolin makes an appearance on “The Night Goes On”, another quiet but excellent ballad.  “I Can’t Live Without You” draws things to an end, but is also unremarkable.  Among diamonds, it fails to shine bright enough.  Fortunately, the ending it was preceding is a short track simply called “The End”, which reprises themes from prior songs, tying up the album with a nice bow.

This album produced no commercial singles, but there were two extra tracks, exclusive to the Japanese CD.  “How Does It Feel” brings back the electric guitar, but it’s more interesting than the other electric songs on the album.  It could be a grower.  “Straight Down the Line” is the gem.  It’s the fastest song of the whole bunch, upbeat but light, and a blast in the car.  Tommy’s intricate little lightning fast guitar hook is a tasty delight.  Tracks like this are why collectors really seek out Japanese imports.  They are their own rewards.

Any version of the debut Shaw Blades is going to be thoroughly enjoyed.  Get one.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees (1990)


Scan_20160525DAMN YANKEES – Damn Yankees (1990 Warner)

Now here is an album I haven’t played in a long time!

When the supergroup known as Damn Yankees first emerged in 1990, they quickly became my favourite new band.  Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw (Styx), Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and drummer Michael Cartellone emerged with one of the hottest new albums of the summer:  Pure radio-ready hard rock, but with the integrity added by the Nuge himself.  All aboard!

(I like that Ted is in the credits also as “security”.  You can picture it.)

So what is Damn Yankees?  Light rock, Great Gonzos, or a mixture?  The answer is:  all of the above.

The predominant direction is radio-ready hard rock circa the time. Even though all these guys had been around for a while (especially Ted), if you didn’t know who they were it was easy to mistake them for the new hot band.  Their lyrics are geared to the young.

Dressed to kill and lookin’ dynamite,
With her high-laced stockings and her sweater so tight,
I asked her name,
She said her name was ‘Maybe’…

Oh come on guys!    Jack Blades was 36 years old when he sang that.  We already have one Gene Simmons.  Thankfully, the lead single “Coming of Age” was musically impeccable for hard pop rock.  Lyrically, there is nothing of any value here, just meaningless male drivel.  The Van-Hagar like licks of “Coming of Age” are enhanced by the aggressive lead guitar work of Terrible Ted, who probably thought the lyrics were pure poetry.

The bluesy riff of “Bad Reputation” screams Nugent, but the vocals of Blades and Shaw blend as if they have always been a vocal team.  Of course as we all know, Damn Yankees led to a long and very productive partnership for the two, with Shaw-Blades being a personal favourite album.  The most remarkable thing about Damn Yankees is indeed the blend of vocals.  Just listen to that bridge in the middle of “Bad Reputation”.  Two rock singers rarely complement each other as well as Shaw and Blades.  But just when you thought it was going too folksy, Ted returns with a fluttering blitzkreig of strings and (probably) freshly killed meat.

“Runaway” features some of Shaw’s great slide guitar work, on a mid-tempo rocker with an unforgettable anthemic chorus.  Damn Yankees is often forgotten for its guitar work.  Think about it though:  Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent are two of America’s best from the old school.  While the songs are simple pop rock, the solos are simply awesome.

By the time fall 1990 rolled around, it was time to drop a ballad for a single:  “High Enough”.  In the year 1990 there were a number of acoustic ballads that were all very similar sounding:  “Silent Lucidity”, “More Than Words”, and “High Enough”.   There is no better way to describe “High Enough” than “sounds like summer 1990”.  Unfortunately it does not stand out or have any qualities that make it more memorable than the other ballads out that year.  The saccharine strings just do me in.  I get ballad-fatigue. And let’s not even talk about that awful music video.

The band’s namesake track “Damn Yankees” sounds like a Nugent song.  It has a chunky, ballsy riff, though nothing to write home to mother about.  Unfortunately the lyrics are terribly dated, the kind of pro-American intervention sentiment that went out fashion many years ago.  With references to Manuel Noriega and the Middle East, this is all much less glorious with the benefit of hindsight.  There’s a lesson to be learned there:  avoid overly politicizing your lyrics, young rockers.

For a better ballad than “High Enough”, check out side two’s opening track “Come Again”.  This one is old-school, sounding something like Styx’s “Boat on a River” colliding with the Nuge on “Stranglehold”.   It builds into a frenetic solo section that is just to die for, Nuge seemingly doing his best Eddie VH impression.  Then on “Mystified”, Ted brings the blues while Tommy gets down on the pedal steel.  This is a great little blues rock jam of the kind ZZ Top are comfortable with.  I’m certain Rev. Billy would approve of the Nuge’s blues licks, authentic as they come.

“Rock City” ain’t bad at all, accelerated for your pleasure and name-dropping Jimmy Page in the lyrics.  It’s not the heaviest song on the album — they save that for the end — but it’s definitely second.  There is little doubt, based on interviews with the band, that the heaviness came from Ted.  Let’s all take a moment now to thank Ted Nugent for rocking so damn hard.  Thank you, Mr. Nugent.  Penultimate track “Tell Me How You Want It” is a pretty good mid-tempo song, with classy vocals from Tommy and Jack.  Had they released more singles from the album, this one would have been up for the job.

And then finally…

A blues lick, and Ted speaking:  “Nice lick!  I have a feeling this is gonna be a rhythm and blues song…nice, real nice.  Tasty.  WAITAMINUTE!”

“Piledriver” is just a dumb sex song, but it’s also pure Gonzo Ted, the Ted you knew was hiding somewhere on this album.  You wanna hear Ted go friggin’ top gear for four and a half minutes?  “Piledriver”, baby!  Tommy and Jack on the backing vocals even drop an F-bomb!  Can you believe it?  They’re the nice guys of the band!  But let’s not forget Michael Cartellone on the drums, hammering relentlessly, not only keeping up with Great Gonzo but setting the freakin’ pace!  Even without headbanging along (strongly recommended), you’re exhausted by the end of the tune.

I say again, thank you Mr. Nugent.

As it turns out, Damn Yankees is still an entertaining listen 26 years later.  I didn’t properly appreciate the smoking guitars on it at the time.  Back then, I was interested in ballads and singles and catchy tunes.  Even so I still liked “Piledriver” back then…because it’s awesome.  The album’s real flaw is on the lyric sheet.  I know these guys can do better than some of these tracks.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Vince Neil – Exposed (1993)

 

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VINCE NEIL – Exposed (1993 Warner)

When Vince Neil finally unleashed his first solo album Exposed in 1993, it looked like he was the early winner in the great battle:  Vince vs. Motley.

As is par for a volatile band like Motley Crue, the acrimony behind the split was intense and overshadowed any music either party was about to come out with.  Even after reading Motley’s book The Dirt, it’s not really clear what happened.  Vince was complaining that he wasn’t into the new Motley music they were working on.  “Like 4th rate Physical Graffiti outtakes” he once commented in Metal Edge, with too much emphasis on keyboards and backing singers.  Crue, meanwhile, felt the lack of dedication coming from the singer.  He had missed a few rehearsals.  After driving through a torrential rainstorm making him late at the studio, he was confronted.  “We’re thinking about having new lead singer auditions again,” said Nikki Sixx to Vince Neil.  The band put out a bogus statement saying Neil was diverting his focus to race cars, and Vince was battling from the bottom again.

After working on one tune with the Damn Yankees (three out of four anyway, minus Ted Nugent) called “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” for the opening song of the Encino Man soundtrack, it was time to put together a new band.  An early lineup consisted of ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Phil Soussan, but that didn’t last.  When Soussan left, newcomer Robbie “Ichabod” Crane (a nickname he pretty much stopped using immediately) switched from rhythm guitar to bass, while the legendary Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame was the main shredder.  Vik Foxx from Enuff Z’nuff was hired on drums, and another newcomer named Dave Marshall took over the vacant rhythm guitar spot.  Vince wanted two guitars, unlike Motley’s one.

With the ex-Billy Idol axeman by his side, Vince Neil already had everything he needed to make an incredible album.  The help of Stevens, Soussan, and Tommy Shaw & Jack Blades from Damn Yankee meant he had a songwriting dream team.  Fired up and motivated to prove everybody in the music business wrong, Vince was in the zone, and the chemistry was working.  He also beat Motley to the punch by 11 months.

The last thing I expected from a new Vince Neil song would have been a six minute epic with more guitar action than Motley Crue had packed into six albums.  Vince was in great voice at this time, and his singing on this album is exemplary.  On every track, he sounds like he means it.  Crisply captured by producer Ron Nevison, the song is driven forth by the relentless Vik Foxx (sounding like he’s doing his best Rush impression) and the space-age technique of Steve Stevens.  It’s an exotic metal groove, with flash and tricks like you have never heard before.  I don’t know how Stevens does some of the things he does, but that’s why he’s the guitar hero and not me.  If record labels weren’t scared shitless of releasing a six minute single, then this should have been the single.

Instead “Sister of Pain” was the single, a song that does not make as strong an impression.  It’s a hard boned sleezy cock rocker in the Motley fashion, which is probably what they were going for.  Vince felt that since Motley were changing styles, it was up to him to keep the old Crue sound alive.  That’s “Sister of Pain”, a catchy and satisfactory rock single, although still five minutes due to the intense soloing. This is one of the tunes that Vince wrote with Shaw and Blades.

“Can’t Have Your Cake” has a neat slippery riff, and it too was used as a single.  This fits the niche of the “fast Motley rocker”, like (say) “Kickstart My Heart”, though it’s not as heavy.  Thankfully it’s a song to its own, thanks to Stevens’ creative licks.  I like “Fine, Fine Wine” better.  Vince is as dirty as ever, proving he doesn’t need Nikki Sixx to write a sleezy rock lyric.  It’s just a kicking groovy guitar song, perfect for playing air instruments to.

Stevens fans know his flamenco work is incredible.  He gets to show it off for the first 30 seconds of “The Edge”, finally a song about Vince’s supposed true passion — racing!  Not an instantaneous song in any way, “The Edge” has a lot going on but it’s worth the challenge.  This kind of technical rock was beyond Motley Crue before, but with guys like Steve Stevens, Vince was able to show them up a bit.  There’s more of Stevens’ incredible classical guitar on the ballad “Can’t Change Me”, a sentiment I have always identified with.  This is the kind of pop ballad that would have made Vince the king of radio only two years earlier.  Not surprisingly it’s a Tommy Shaw co-write, because that’s exactly who it sounds like.

Scan_20160216 (2)Nothing like a cover to kick off side two, and “Set Me Free” by the Sweet is basically the original “Kickstart my Heart”.  May as well go back to the original and amp it up a bit with some slippery Steve Stevens fretwork.  It’s a heavy, layered presentation of guitars and ass kicking drums, and we can certainly forgive Vince for putting a cover on his album.  Besides, the next track “Living is a Luxury” has a nocturnal, smoky vibe that makes it one of the most interesting cuts.  The jazzy guitar is like nothing on any Motley Crue album.

Then we’re down to a remake of “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” from Encino Man.  Damn Yankees played on the original, and sonically and vocally, that is the one I prefer.  The album version of course has more guitars.  It’s too bad they couldn’t add that one in as a CD bonus track, but the Encino Man soundtrack was on Hollywood, not Warner.  Regardless of which version we’re listening to, this is still a dynamite blast of adrenaline that seems over way too soon.  I used to play the soundtrack version on repeat in the car.  Rewind and go again.

“Gettin’ Hard” is a great mid-paced rock tune, but what’s odd is that the lyrics in the booklet are nothing like the actual song, except for the choruses.  It’s as if they changed the words at the last minute but forgot to tell the people who print the CD sleeves!  A strange little oddity to go with a grooving cool song.  Out come the acoustics again for the last track, “Forever”, a really sweetly made ballad.  The layers of shimmery guitars make it a class above most ballads of this ilk.  It ends the album on a glowing nostalgic note.

Unfortunately for Vince, he was unable to follow this album with anything decent.  We realistically knew that Steve Stevens wasn’t going to hang around long, but what hurt Vince most was his ill-advised attempt to cross over, getting the Dust Brothers to produce.  1995’s Carved in Stone failed to make any impression whatsoever.  Meanwhile, his former cohorts in Motley Crue quietly cooked up a beast of an album with Bob Rock.  1994’s Motley Crue was about the only thing that could have topped Exposed.

4.5/5 stars

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Most Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 1990s – LeBrain’s List Part 4

This is it!  The end!  In alphabetical order, here’s Part 4 of 4:  88 albums that meant the world to me in the 1990′s but never got the respect I felt they deserved.   Thanks for joining in!

Savatage – Streets:  A Rock Opera (sheer brilliance, their first and best rock opera)
Savatage – Edge of Thorns (an album to give Queensryche a run for their money)
Savatage – Handful of Rain (recovering from tragedy to create a triumph)
Savatage – The Wake of Magellan (how did this band just keep getting more brilliant?)
Scorpions – Face the Heat (had a couple good heavy rockers on there like “Alien Nation”)
Shaw/Blades – Hallucination (Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, campfire goodness)
Skid Row – Subhuman Race (when you’re pissed off and you know it, bang thy head)

Sloan – 4 Nights at the Palais Royale (one of the best live albums of all time – ignored internationally)
Dee Snider’s SMF’s – Live / Forever Twisted (fuck, I missed Dee in the 90’s!)
Spinal Tap – Break Like the Wind 
Stryper – Can’t Stop the Rock (a compilation with two great new tunes)
Sultans of Ping F.C. – Casual Sex in the Cineplex (see here)
Talas – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (Billy Sheehan and the boys reunited for one night, and has the wisdom to record it)
Tesla – Bust A Nut (in some ways it’s better than their prior records)
Testament – The Ritual (really heavily slagged at the time as a sellout)
Tonic – Sugar (much better than the first record, you know, the one that was a hit)
Devin Townsend / Ocean Machine – Biomech (one of his more accessible albums)
Union – Union (Bruce Kulick + John Corabi = better than what the Crue or Kiss was releasing)
Steve Vai – Sex and Religion (Devin Townsend — lead throat)
Veruca Salt – Eight Arms To Hold You (their best album, better than the big hit one)
White Lion – Mane Attraction (it was a little mushy, but brilliant guitars by Vito Bratta)
Whitesnake – Restless Heart (back to his blues rock roots, it wasn’t even released here)

We’re done!  88 albums that meant a lot to me in the 1990’s, but in some cases were criminally ignored.  Check them out.