Jason Bonham

REVIEW: Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989)

Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989 Polygram)

In 1989, I proudly sported my Moscow Music Peace Festival T-shirt in the highschool halls.  It was cool to see the rock bands on the forefront of heavy metal bringing music to the Soviet Union.  Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne and Skid Row joined Russian metal band Gorky Park in the name of peace and being drug free.

Drug free?  Ozzy?  It’s true that this was a little strange, but Motley were at least clean for the first time in their lives.  The Scorpions had played behind the Iron Curtain before, and Sabbath were huge in Russia.  Meanwhile Bon Jovi were one of the few bands to legally release an album in the USSR, and in return they brought Gorky Park to the US.  I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend who recorded the televised part of the concert off MTV and sent me a copy.  It was a pretty mindblowing video.  Those Russians were going absolutely nuts, seeing their idols on stage.

Later on, the bands each contributed a song to a compilation album called Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell, each covering an artist who had been touched by substance abuse.  The CD was produced by the biggest name at the time, Bruce Fairbairn himself.  The proceeds went to an anti-drug charity, for all the good “just saying no” does.  The album itself was a pretty great compilation of mostly exclusive music.  Though almost all of it is now available elsewhere, that wasn’t the case in 1989, making this a tempting buy.

Gorky Park, the up and comers, started off with “My Generation”.  Some find it too putrid to stomach.  It’s virtually an original song with only the lyrics recognizable.  The riffs and melodies seem otherwise new.  So give Gorky Park some credit for at least not attempting a carbon copy, but then you gotta take off some points for turning “My Generation” into a Bon Motley song.  Unfortunately for Gorky Park, their momentum halted when singer Nikolai Noskov quit in 1990.

Skid Row surprised the hell out of everyone with the Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun”.  It was the first indication that Skid Row had punk roots.  “Holidays” was very much a look ahead to where they would go on Slave to the Grind.  They were on the punk bandwagon a full two years before Motley decided to cover the Sex Pistols.  It’s always strange to hear flashy metal guitar solos on a Pistols song, but it’s sheer joy to hear Sebastian spitting and screaming up a storm.

Scorpions had a new compilation out called Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads.  Another Who song, “I Can’t Explain” was taken from it to be used on this CD.  It is by far the better of the Who covers, as Scorpions really made it their own.  Next, Ozzy’s track is quite interesting.  It’s the only studio recording of the lineup including Zakk Wylde, Randy Castillo, and Geezer Butler.  Geezer quit the band shortly after, and this incredible lineup never recorded anything else.  I consider it the strongest band that Ozzy had after Randy Rhoads.  The quartet did a live sounding cover of “Purple Haze”, unfortunately not the greatest version.  It is at least a showcase for Zakk Wylde to go nuts on the wah-wah pedal.

I will argue that the best track on this album came from the band that was riding a brand new high:  Motley Crue.  Clean and mean, they were incredibly strong in 1989.  They the balls to choose an obscure Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) solo tune:  “Teaser”.  Motley put on that Dr. Feelgood groove, and Mick Mars laid waste to the land with his slidey guitar goodness.  It’s no surprise that “Teaser” has reappeared on Motley compilations several times since.  It has balls as big as a bus!

Another strong contender is Bon Jovi’s take on Thin Lizzy.  “The Boys are Back in Town” fits seamlessly with that small town New Jersey vibe that Bon Jovi used to have.  Lynott must have had some influence on a young Jon Bon, because all his old tunes are about the boys – back in town!  Dino’s bar and grill could be in Sayreville NJ.  Of course, Bon Jovi are a competent enough band to be able to cover Thin Lizzy and do it well.

Another surprise:  Cinderella doing Janis Joplin.  Singer Tom Keifer suited Joplin, though you don’t immediately associate the two!  “Move Over” takes advantage of that Keifer shriek that isn’t too far removed from Janis.  From there on though, it’s filler.  Jason Bonham, Tico Torres and Mickey Curry do a pretty boring “Moby Dick”.  It’s funny how John Bonham sounds bigger on the original, than three drummers on this remake.  Then it’s a bunch of live jams from the Moscow concert:  “Hound Dog”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Rock and Roll” (Bonham on drums again for the latter).  Vince Neil is hopelessly out-screamed by Sebastian Bach on the Zep tune.  All the singers participated, but Sebastian Bach and Tom Keifer blew ’em all away.

This disc has been out of print a while, but isn’t too hard to find.  80s rockers need to have it for its historical value.

3/5 stars

Advertisements

REVIEW: Bonham – The Disregard of Timekeeping (1989)

Scan_20160804 (2)BONHAM – The Disregard of Timekeeping (1989 CBS)

The rock press went nuts for Bonham in ’89.  Finally, after long wait, the son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham finally made his move into the music world.  Fans had seen him in The Song Remains the Same.  Some knew that Jason Bonham jammed with Zeppelin in 1988 at Atlantic’s 40th anniversary bash. It was a much more successful reunion than 1985’s Live Aid.

The music world in 1989 was far removed from the days of Zeppelin.  Pretty boys with big hair and flashy videos were the norm.  Bands who could get up there and jam for 20 minutes or more on a single track were few.  With much naiveté, the magazines drooled over Jason Bonham’s new band, simply and obviously called Bonham. The singer, a young Canadian named Daniel MacMaster, had the youthful curls and range of a young Robert Plant. The bassist, John Smithson, was a talented multi-instrumentalist just like John Paul Jones. The band had to be a quartet; there could be no other way. They tapped Bob Ezrin to produce, a guy who has never done anything that sounded like Led Zeppelin, but someone who was able to take young bands and push them ahead a few levels.

The resultant album The Disregard of Timekeeping attained a lot of attention, making many magazines’ year end lists.  Best new group, best new album, etc. etc.  And while it is an ambitious record for a debut, it does fall very short of those lofty marks.

Going for the bombastic, the CD opens with a two minute instrumental of keyboards, guitars, violins and the odd burst of drums.  It makes little impact besides setting up the first single “Wait For You”.  Conceptually, it sounds as if they collectively said, “Right, so let’s write a song that sounds like something that could have been on the next Zeppelin album after In Through the Out Door.”  So it’s big, echoey and loaded with keyboards and effects.  It does recall Zeppelin, particular the remarkable pipes of MacMaster.  It has the necessary big chorus that you needed to have in 1989, and the two sides of rock that Bonham inhabited were melded together in fine fashion.  “Wait For You” is a success, but Ezrin’s production in the late 80’s seemed hollow.

Is the Bonham DNA present? Yes, of course. It comes out most naturally via the drum parts, but a lot of the material sounds intentionally contrived. Still, there were a number of really good tracks on the album, enough to make it worth buying. Young Jason, sounding exactly like his dad, counts in the quality track “Guilty” with a “One, two, ha ha ha!” It sounds less like Led Zeppelin, and more like late-80’s Deep Purple. Which is fine of course; we’re talking about quality comparisons. Especially great though is John Smithson’s violin solo. I’m especially fond of the violin in rock music. I like out of the box thinking, and it’s this kind of experimentation that made Bonham more like Zeppelin in the long run. Smithson nails it with the perfect tone.

Another pretty decent tune is “Holding on Forever” which has a Zep funk, with a modern 80’s chorus. “Dreams” though is nearly tanked by a long intro, featuring a guy coming home, brushing his teeth, setting his alarm and going to bed. Yes, that is correct.  You have to listen to a guy coming home, brushing his teeth, and going to bed.  You gotta blame Bob Ezrin for that mistake. Who wants to buy a rock album and sit through a guy brushing his teeth…only to get a ballad out of it? At least “Dreams” is a decent, progressive sounding ballad, but in the CD/mp3 age, how many people are gonna hit “skip” before the actual song, while the guy hasn’t finished brushing his teeth?

Having unloaded their best songs on side one, the second side is a bit of a chore to complete. Songwriting was not the band’s strongest suit. The two best songs (“Wait For You” and “Guilty”) were co-written by Bob Ezrin, and I don’t think that’s insignificant. Other songs on the album, such as “Playing To Win”, “Cross Me and See”, and “Just Another Day”, are competent. What they lack is the magical ingredient that makes a song stay with you forever. Bonham embraced the past and present, modern production and old-fashioned playing, but that alone was not enough to forge a truly great album.

Finally the album left one of the most impressive songs for the end, “Room For Us All”, an ambitious track over seven minutes long. Soft and anthemic, “Room For Us All” has subtlety that is missing elsewhere on the album. It’s an impressive end…but too little, too late.

3/5 stars

Scan_20160804 (3)

REVIEW: Rock Star – Music from the Motion Picture (2001)

Scan_20150812ROCK STAR – Music from the Motion Picture (2001 Warner)

I remember dragging my long-suffering girlfriend at the time out to see this movie.  She had every right to complain.  The movie was a stinker, absolutely.  Not to mention, it had no idea when it is taking place.  Vaguely, the 80’s, but then after this guy (Marky Mark) leaves the band (Steel Dragon), he goes and becomes the founder of grunge?  The movie sucked!  It was very, very loosely inspired by the story of Ripper Owens being discovered by Judas Priest, by being in a Judas Priest cover band.  In the movie, Marky Mark becomes the singer of Steel Dragon after their original singer (who also happens to be gay, hmmm?) quits.  It was supposed to be a really inspiring story of the everyman with talent who succeeded, but it ended up being just a normal everyday turd.

But listen, we’re not talking about the movie.  We’re looking strictly at the soundtrack CD.  I ask you one simple question: If you were to pick one band to write and play the title anthem for a movie about a heavy metal band in the 80’s, who would it be?  Obviously the answer is Everclear.  (I say “obviously”, because a whole bunch of suits who get paid a whole lot more than I do picked it, so they must be right.)  Actually, their tune “Rock Star” isn’t bad.  It sounds a bit like an old Canadian rock band called Deadline, actually.

Scan_20150812 (3)

It’s astounding, but Zakk shaved his beard to get that 80’s look back!

The main attraction of the CD is actually the original tunage by the fictional band Steel Dragon.  On record, the lineup was:

  • Zakk Wylde – lead guitar
  • Jason Bonham – drums
  • Jeff Pilson – bass
  • Nick Cantonese – guitar
  • Mike Matijevic – lead vocals
  • Jeff Scott Soto – lead vocals

See why I dragged that poor girlfriend out to see this movie?  Zakk, Jason and Jeff were in even the movie, as the band Steel Dragon.

They had two lead singers, while Marky Mark mimed.  Jeff Scott Soto sings the raspy, mid-rangey stuff such as “Livin’ the Life”.  This isn’t a bad rock tune, but it’s Zakk’s guitar that makes it perk up a bit.  Mike Matijevic (Steelheart) sings the smooth and screamy stuff, with his impeccable range.  “We All Die Young” is a bonafide  great songs.  Matijevic’s stunning vocals meeting Zakk Wylde’s leads is probably a wet dream for some folks!  The only problem with it is that it doesn’t sound accurate to the period.  The movie is supposed to take place in the early 80’s (I think) but “We All Die Young” sounds early 90’s.  But wait…we’re supposed to be talking about the CD, not the movie.  Fuck the movie!

“Blood Pollution” (written by Twiggy Ramirez, interestingly) has Matijevic singing, but as with “Livin’ the Life” the song isn’t that special.  It sounds like Motley Crue, except with Zakk Wylde on guitar and a better Vince Neil.  Jeff Scott Soto helms “Stand Up”, which is way heavier than you’d expect considering Sammy Hagar wrote it!  This version actually came out before Sammy’s, on 2002’s Not 4 Sale and has different lyrics.  “Stand Up” kicks ass, and along with “We All Die Young” is one of the soundtrack highlights.  Just listen to Zakk killing it in that fast part! It’s also one of the few tunes with that patented, genetic Bonham Stomp.

Another track right up Motley Crue’s alley is “Wasted Generation”, and with its Desmond Child co-write it’s a lot heavier than expected. Jeff Scott kicks ass on the anthemic punchy chorus, and Zakk’s shredding is tasty. The final Steel Dragon tune on the disc is a Rainbow cover — “Long Live Rock and Roll” with Matijevic singing. I never understood why the band Steel Dragon would be playing a Rainbow cover, since it is implied that Steel Dragon were active in the 70’s too, contemporaries with Rainbow. But we’re here to talk about the CD, not that piece of shit movie. “Long Live Rock and Roll” with Zakk Wylde on guitar…it’s not what you’d hope it would be. Bonham’s awesome though, and remarkably Ian Paice-like.

The rest of the disc contains various hits from various bands from various years.  The Verve Pipe – “Colorful” (2001), check!  INXS – “The Devil Inside” (1987), check! Why? Who the fuck knows. I like some INXS, it’s completely out of place. I suppose that a soundtrack for you. More suiting to the tone of the CD are Kiss’ “Lick It Up” (1983), Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” (1986), Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” (1975), and Motley Crue’s “Wild Side” (1987). I do wonder why “Stranglehold” seems to be the only Nugent that ever shows up on movie soundtracks.  At least Marky Mark doesn’t have any songs.

The final song, Trevor Rabin’s “Gotta Have It” sounds like end credits music, but I’m not going to watch that crummy movie to find out. Rabin’s track is excellent, as should be expected. It sounds like Rabin, which is all I can really say to describe it!

So: Rock Star, a shit movie, gave us a pretty OK soundtrack. Considering I (and probably you) already had the Nugent, Kiss, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue songs, I salvaged seven tracks from the album as keepers: the six Steel Dragon tunes, and Trevor Rabin. There are 14 songs, so this time the math is easy.

2.5/5 stars