rock and roll

MOVIE REVIEW: Accidental Courtesy (2016)

ACCIDENTAL COURTESY (2016 PBS)

Directed by Matthew Ornstein

I’ve done it, and you have probably done it too:  Getting in an argument online with a total stranger over racially charged politics.  We live in new times.  It’s the era of Trump, Trayvon, and Mike Brown.  We live in the years of racial profiling and travel bans.  Just when we think we’ve made amazing strides including the first black US president, we seem to be heading backwards just as fast.

Daryl Davis is a musician.  Most notably, he was the keyboardist in Chuck Berry’s band.  He’s played with B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Platters, and knows all the greats.  He’s a very talented but also intelligent and compassionate man.  Upon watching Accidental Courtesy, I wondered if music really is his first calling.  It seems that Davis’ true talents may just be sitting down and talking.  “When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting,” says Daryl.

Although this movie is about a musician, it’s not about the music.  Music does play a small role.  The first time Davis experienced race-related hate, he was the only black child in an otherwise white marching band, and didn’t understand why things were thrown at him.  He thought, maybe they were playing the music poorly.  His parents had to explain to him, “They don’t like you because of the colour of your skin.”  Life was never the same after that.

Accidental Courtesy isn’t about his music career, but about what Daryl Davis has done with the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists.  Since 1990, Davis has sat with various members of the KKK, both high ranking and rank-and-file.  Very few people can rival Davis for his knowledge of the Klan’s history and practices, so much so that Klan members have even approached him to learn.  Over long periods of time, after truly and sincerely befriending Davis regardless of his race, 26 Klansmen eventually turned in their robes to him and gave up the Klan.

It’s bizarre to see men who don’t believe in the mixing of races show up at Davis’ wedding to a white woman, to celebrate with him.  His friendship with them trumped their belief system.  It’s strange to see a black man invited into a KKK home, and vice versa.  It’s certainly unusual to see a fully robed KKK wizard sitting and shaking hands with a black man, simply enjoying conversation and company.

In the film, Davis also sits with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who seem less moved by his “person to person” method of combating hate.  They prefer to use a bigger stick.  What was surprising is how much flak he took from representatives from Black Lives Matter in Baltimore.  Here, he was mocked by two dropout activists for “only” converting 26 KKK members since 1990.  What was especially shocking was that the Black Lives Matter reps refused to continue to the conversation.   To them, he was worse than a white racist; to them he betrayed the cause.  All these white supremacists were willing to sit down and shake hands with Davis, but Black Lives Matter gave him the most difficult time.  They actually got up from the table and berated and belittled him before cutting the conversation off completely.  He was even treated with more respect by the KKK leader who refused to acknowledge the holocaust and said that blacks should be grateful to whites for freeing them.  It’s troublesome to think on what that means.

Certainly not everyone approves of the methods of Daryl Davis.  But in this day and age of social media, it’s more important than ever to talk.  Not online, not on Facebook, Daryl advises.  In person, where people can get to know each other, see each others faces and expressions, actually get to know one another.  Talk to each other, instead of talking at each other.  In this film, Davis asks questions, but rarely lectures.  Davis’ technique is simply to ask what makes people tick.  “How can you hate me when you don’t know me?” is a good opener.  He finds out what makes them think the way they do.  There is always more to the story than appears on the surface.  There is always a root cause.

Some felt Daryl did more harm that good with his methods.  Some feel he has betrayed his own people.  But, as Daryl says in the film, whites and blacks and people of all races must share America together.  That’s why we have to talk and figure out how to co-exist.  If he could convince an Imperial Wizard to hang up his robes, that is one small step to making the world a better place.  Black Lives Matter and the Southern Poverty Law Center have their own methods.  That does not negate the inroads that Davis made, just by talking.

There doesn’t seem to be much accidental about Daryl Davis’ courtesy.  It’s all very much on purpose.  Davis has a rich tapestry of friends behind him, some of whom have given up on hate.  If they can, why can’t everybody?

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Aerosmith – Just Push Play (2001 import version with bonus track)

scan_20170109AEROSMITH – Just Push Play (2001 Sony, includes bonus track “Face”)

“I don’t think we’ve made a decent album in years. Just Push Play is my least favorite.” – Joe Perry

The sad and depressing fact of the matter is, Aerosmith could have retired long before Just Push Play, and we would have lost nothing terribly valuable.  They’ve pandered for hits before, but never as blatantly contrived as Just Push Play.  It’s an embarrassing state of affairs that deserves every inch of scorn we’re about to unload upon it.

Hi-tech digital tracks written and produced with outsiders make up Just Push Play, a weak attempt to be young hip and cool when Aerosmith were anything but. Look at the sleek haircuts in the band photo. Only Joe Perry appears to know what band he’s in. The album was recorded with sterility. At no time were all five members in the studio together, according to Joe, and that’s exactly how it sounds.

If their heads weren’t in the clouds (coming off their biggest hit single ever) they might have made a rock album.  “Beyond Beautiful” is a close imitation, a robotic and stiff carbon copy.  Ballads like “Fly Away From Here” sound as if faxed in from the office.  These blatant attempts to repeat past glories are among the most offensive on Just Push Play.  It is true that one of Aerosmith’s first hits (“Dream On”) was a ballad.  That was a long time ago and a long way from being flat broke and banging out a song in the middle of the night on a piano.  These new ballads like “Luv Lies” and “Sunshine” are written specifically by hitsmiths in order to appeal to people who would not normally buy an Aerosmith CD.  The result is that they appeal to nobody.

As bland and unappealing as these forgettable ballads are, none are as offensive as the title track “Just Push Play”.  Nobody asked Aerosmith to do a rasta-hip-hop track.  The Run-DMC version of “Walk This Way” is the definitive Aero-rap, a masterpiece of serendipity and cutting edge ambition.  Aerosmith thought it was necessary to revisit that sound 15 years later, and once again the result is a blurry facsimile that pales in comparison.

“Jaded”, the first single, is a great Aero-hit, one of the few from this era of co-writers and collaborators.  Fortunately you don’t have to buy the album to get it, as there was a five track EP you could buy instead.  If you go that way, you can still enjoy a couple different versions of the charismatic single.  “Jaded” had the kind of chorus that Aerosmith used to be able to write in their sleep, but now apparently need help to do.

There were different bonus tracks for different regions.  US and Canada got nil, but Europe got “Face” while Japan received “Won’t Let You Down” and a bunch of other stuff including five live tracks from 1978 (California and Texxas Jams).  That 2 CD Japanese edition might be worth tracking down for the bonus material, but “Face” remained exclusive to Europe.  Is it worth it?  Actually…it might be.  “Face” is an acoustic track that sounds a bit like a B-side.  It’s closest to “Jaded” in sound, and sounds looser than most of the rest of the album.  It’s certainly not going to become a lost favourite, but if you find a copy at the right price, consider it.

Just Push Play deserves the dreaded Flaming Turd.

FLAMING TURDS

1/5 stars

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Death Before Suckass (2012)

scan_20161216THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners (2012)

“No edits.  No overdubs.  No bullshit.”  No kidding!  There also also no frills, just seven songs and 30 minutes of rock and roll.

Death Before Suckass, recorded fall 1991, sounds like a crowd recording.  You can tell by the douchebag talking before the Horsemen’s set.  “You should see our drum kit!  It fuckin’ blows that one away!  $5000 Yamaha…”  Whoop-de-do, fucko.  Because no matter how much your kit costs, I doubt you could hammer on it as hard as Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery did on his.

Dimwit swiftly kicks things into motion, with “75 Again”, a screamy rocker that is about 9 out of 10 on the AC/DC scale of kickass.  Lead singer Frankie Starr’s voice was primed for screaming, and could do it better than most.  Without even a pause, “Hothead” follows up.  In a groove now, lead guitarist Dave Lizmi greases up his Gibson and lays down some beautifully fluid solo work.  In the realm of heavy bluesy rock and roll, few can touch Dave Lizmi.  Then rhythm guitarist Haggis takes out his slide for the single “Tired Wings”, soaking it in whiskey stained blues.  Frankie’s charismatic singing shares the spotlight with the biting licks.

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A non-album track that used to get some live play was “Can’t Get Next to You”, an AC/DC blues a-la “The Jack”.  There is a sloppy edit into “Wanted Man” but as Haggis says in the liner notes, there is nothing perfect about this CD.  “Wanted Man” comes close, with Lizmi again doing some really impressive playing on the six string.  The most familiar songs are the singles “Nobody Said it Was Easy” and “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.  The beat is a little faster, a little more intense for the stage.  The only tragedy is the fidelity of this CD does not capture the thunder.  You can hear it on the stage, but you cannot feel it shake the floor.  Too bad, because you can be assured it all but certainly did shake the floor.

And this leads to a quandry.  This album is packaged intentionally minimalist.  It suits the recording inside.  But it has hard to ignore that what is recorded inside is only 30 minutes, and costs $18 US plus shipping.  Yes, it definitely costs The Four Horsemen a lot to press up these independent discs, and they surely don’t make a lot of money on them.  Still, it is hard for the cash-strapped fan to justify that kind of money, unless you are a superfan.  And unfortunately, it is likely that only superfans will be able to appreciate Death Before Suckass as the valuable noisy treasure that it is.

3.5/5 stars

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COMPLETE FOUR HORSEMEN REVIEW SERIES:

1. NOBODY SAID IT WAS EASY (21ST ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
2. GETTIN’ PRETTY GOOD…AT BARELY GETTIN’ BY (1996)
3. WELFARE BOOGIE (21ST ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
4. DAYLIGHT AGAIN (21ST ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
5. LEFT FOR DEAD (1988-1992) (CD/DVD SET)

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 – Welfare Boogie (21st Anniversary Edition)

scan_20160918THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Welfare Boogie (originally 1990, 2009 Anniversary Edition with bonus tracks)

It feels right to review this re-released EP only after we have already discussed Nobody Said it Was Easy and Gettin’ Pretty Good at Barely Gettin’ By.  Until I met T-Rev at the old Record Store, I didn’t even know such an EP existed.  But he had it; an original copy purchased somewhere in the States before we met.  He taped it for me (same songs both sides) and that was the first I heard of the Horsemen’s 1990 debut EP.  I hunted high and low for another CD copy, but failed until this 2009 reissue.  Originally and simply titled The Four Horsemen, the reissued EP sports the new title Welfare Boogie, and five bonus tracks.

According to the liner notes, the band didn’t mind if they sounded a bit like AC/DC since “nobody is doing AC/DC anymore, not even AC/DC”.  The EP has the same raw and rough vibe of Powerage-era Bon Scott, but with a guy who can also scream like Brian Johnson.  “Welfare Boogie” itself works as an example.  It’s a basic riff, a rawk vibe, a shout-along chorus and a charismatic shrieker (Frank C. Starr).  This track and the laid-back rock and roll “Shelly” were both written solely by drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.  Dave Lizmi’s guitar solo is equal parts Angus Young and Ace Frehley.  The date might say 1990, but it sounds more like 1978.  “High School Rock N’ Roller” was written by founding member, Haggis (aka Kid Chaos aka Stephen Harris), who had finished a world tour with the Cult.  Once again, it’s easy to point at early AC/DC as the prime influence.  The one track that sounds more like punk rock (Dimwit was from D.O.A.) than AC/DC is “Hard Lovin’ Man”.  Starr might not have written it, but it’s clearly about him.  I have heard him reference his tattooed weiner before in a RIP Magazine interview.  (“It has eyes!” he seemed to beam with pride.)  The lyrics:

“I got heart of stone,
And a hand of steel,
Got a tattooed pecker,
And a Batmobile.”

“I”m a hard lovin’ man,” he boasts, before inviting “come here baby and see how hard I am.”  All this to the rock and roll blitzkrieg of a song so fast that it doesn’t even break the 2 1/2 minute mark.  The four tracks combined make for a grand little EP, not even 13 minutes long!  In and out, mission accomplished.  Thankfully the bonus tracks extend the experience for those wanting a little bit more action.

A cassette demo of “Rockin’ is Ma Business” demonstrates a work in progress as the band fiddled with the arrangement.  Comparing the final track to the demo, it sounds like it ingested a steady diet of coffee and gin before cranking it up to 11.  Always interesting to hear these early works in progress.  The bones are there but the meat is only being added.  “The Needle” is an unreleased song, a menacing night prowler with teeth flashing in the gloom.

“Born to Boogie” transformed completely between this demo and a later demo included on Nobody Said it Was Easy.  According to the liner notes here, this song eventually mutated again into “Can’t Stop Rockin'” from the album.  This track however is just a good time boogie with a bouncy riff lifted from “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley.  Then there is “Ain’t Telling Me”, a purely AC/DC stomp with a hint of Guns N’ Roses on top like a cherry.  Finally, a fun track called “Bring On the Girls” goes down like a round of tequila.  You can hear that the chords here later became “Moonshine” on the LP.  Even the bass line is identical, but this is a more party-hearty version of a fondly remembered deep cut.

This collection of songs was never meant to be more than a warm-up.  The main course was always intended to be the LP.  When a band is as good as The Four Horsemen were, the EP still impresses more than a thousand other bands’ proper albums.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (1996)

scan_20160908THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (1996 Magnetic Air)

The Four Horsemen seemed to burn the candle at both ends.  Before really even getting off the ground, they imploded, but not before dropping one of the greatest unsung records of the decade:  Nobody Said it Was Easy.  They had Rick Rubin, they had Def American, they had a guy that was in the Cult and another from D.O.A., and they had tours with the Black Crowes and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  They also had a volatile frontman who drove the band nuts and ended up in jail, and they just couldn’t make it last.

Founding member Haggis tried to give it another shot.  He reformed the band with a new singer named Tim Beattie, but ultimately the album was shelved.  It sounded like a completely different band, a southern soul band with nothing hard or heavy.  That’s not a bad thing:  the album Daylight Again was finally released in 2009, and it’s incredible (and we’ll get there soon).  Instead they folded again, but not for long.  Dave Lizmi and Frank C. Starr formed a new Four Horsemen, with Canadians Pharoah (bass) and drummer extraordinaire Randy Cooke.  With another Canadian, producer Rich Chycki, they forged a rare followup:  one as good as the original.

Slimmed down to a single guitar band, the new Horsemen sounded leaner and less AC/DC.  Frankie’s voice had changed and he was no longer screaming, and that also lessened similarities to AC/DC.  He had also become more expressive, while losing none of his power or character.  They opened the album with a southern flavoured “Still Alive and Well”, a Rick Derringer cover.  Considering the five year gap between albums, they couldn’t have picked a better opener.

The title track “Gettin’ Pretty Good at Barely Gettin’ By” goes deeper into the swamps of the south.  Lizmi takes out the slide, and who doesn’t love some greasy slide guitars?  This is an uplifting hard rocker, stating the Horsemen’s modus operandi:  “Well well, oh my my, what have we here?  Some good old fashioned music, lots of whiskey and beer.”  Lizmi wrote the lyrics for this album, but the words sound like Frankie’s.  It’s a celebration of rock and roll, proudly and loudly.

The third song in a killer triple threat of openers is “Drunk Again”, which sounds exactly like you hope it does: fast, upbeat, cocked and loaded.  Gotta love the female backing vocals, giving it a kick of soul.  The performance sounds live and authentic.  At one point, it sounds like Frankie cracks up chuckling right in the middle of a line.  “It’s been 40 days since I looked at my face…ah shit…”  This is the kind of music everybody needs for a serious rock and roll party.

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There are few more standout songs that have to be discussed.  First is “Song for Absent Friends”, one of the most emotionally bare tracks you’ll ever find from a band of this ilk.  Original drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery, a Canadian punk legend, died in 1995 of a drug overdose.  “Song for Absent Friends” sends legitimate tingles up the spine.  You can feel the hurt.  But it’s not a funeral, it’s as much a celebration of Dimwit as the rest of the album is a celebration of life.

“And I know that you all are out there somewhere,
On a leave of absence from this place,
And I still have a place for you all,
A place around near me,
And your glasses will always be full.”

Then we have the blazingly fast drag race of “Hot Rod”, featuring the lyric “I got the hottest rod around,” ha ha. It’s that slippery fast guitar lick that knocks you out. But if you want a song that’ll knock some teeth out, with some biting lyrics, look no further than “Back in Business Again”. Frank sounds pissed!

“And we were headed for the top babe,
Way back in ’91,
Some record business scumbags took it from us,
Well they forgot my gun.
Well now we’re back in business folks,
I’ve come to claim what’s mine,
See we’re the Four fucking Horsemen,
Back for a second time!”

That’s nothing. Clearly, they were still ticked that they got dropped by the label in 1992. I don’t think Frank or Dave thought much of the latest wave of bands that were topping the charts in the early part of the 1990’s. Exhibit A:

“Now pay attention,
I got a little story here to tell ya,
It kinda goes like this.
You know I had a couple years off there babe,
To kinda take some time,
And I heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers,
Complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down.
I say we gather up all these little bastards,
Shove them back to their little nowhere town,
See I was born on this stage,
And I plan to stick around!”

Frank didn’t get that chance, either.

Before Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By was even released (by the Canadian label Magnetic Air), Frank was hit by a drunk driver while riding a motorcyle. He suffered massive brain trauma. He never woke from coma, and died four years later.

It’s almost absurd how much hardship fell upon this band, almost as if the fates decided that nothing would stand in the way of grunge. The Horsemen tended to end their albums with emotional epics, and this album ends with “What the Hell Went Wrong”. It’s a complicated question with many answers, but the bottom line is that the success the Four Horsemen had was inversely proportional to their talent.

In one of the strangest twists of an already twisty story, the masses finally heard the Four Horsemen when “Back in Business Again” was used in the movie G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  Completely out of context, but who cares.  The movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made $375.7 million.  That’s a lot of people who got to hear a kick ass Four Horsemen track with theater quality sound!

Rest in peace, Frankie.  Rest in peace, Dimwit.

5/5 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

scan_20160907-2

* 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).

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Searching For Sugar Man (2012)

Looking for something to watch on Netflix this weekend? Look no further.

SIXTO

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012 Sony)

Directed by Malik Bendjelloul

Like the rest of the world outside of South Africa (and Australia), I had never heard of the American singer Sixto Rodriguez.

If I had, I could all but guarantee I would have been a fan.  With a rare songwriting ability often compared to Bob Dylan, the artist known only as Rodriguez released two albums in the early 70’s.  He sounded something like Dylan hanging out with Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash, with the sadness of Nick Drake.  His voice, like those of Dylan and Cash, communicated volumes of emotion.  After he was dropped by his label, he disappeared completely.  What he did not realise is that change was coming to South Africa that he would one day be a part of.

They think his music first arrived in Apartheid-era South Africa via a bootleg tape that made the rounds.  Cold Fact (1970) and its followup Coming From Reality (1971) were of a remarkable quality, but with socially conscious lyrics that struck a chord.  Rodriguez became immensely popular among the people, who were tired of racism and felt Rodriguez’ music was valid to their country.  Some songs were banned completely.  The government didn’t like it, and scratched the songs out of the records so they could not be played.  But no government lasts forever.

Nobody in South Africa even knew who Rodriguez was.  Even his full name wasn’t obvious.  His albums had credits with names such as “Jesus Rodriguez” and “Sixth Prince”, but nothing confirming the artist’s identity.  The story was he killed himself in a spectacular fashion, on stage.  The tale wasn’t consistent.  In one version, he doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight.  In another, she shot himself on stage.  These stories helped propel his popularity in South Africa to a level beyond even Elvis or the Beatles.  And he had no idea any of this was happening.

Hard core fans and musical detectives were determined to find out what happened to Rodriguez.  They followed the money, but nobody was paying the artist for South African CD reissues.  They poured through his lyrics for clues as to his whereabouts.  References to Amsterdam were misleading, and clues scarce.  “How did Rodriguez die?” was the only question on the searchers’ list.  Imagine their surprise when Rodriguez’ daughter in Detroit Michigan discovered the searchers online, and contacted them to tell that Rodriguez was alive and well and living modestly in the city!  Many South Africans thought this impossible, and fully expected it to be a hoax.  Only when he arrived and played a series of concerts in the country did they realise this was no impostor.  It was akin to Elvis returning for a comback today.

Searching For Sugar Man maintains the mystery.  That seems to be the way Rodriguez wants it.  Now that his fame in South Africa has finally caught up with him, he gives most of his newfound wealth away to family and friends.  The voice is intact, and so is the mystique.  The movie has given him a second chance in music, and he has returned to the stage for the first time since a brief tour in Australia in 1979, where he maintained a small pocket of fandom.  Rodriguez will be playing the Centre in the Square in Kitchener Ontario, on Sept 10.

5/5 stars

A rare of example of bass clarinet in popular music.

RE-REVIEW: Aerosmith – Music From Another Dimension! (Japanese edition)

AEROSMITH – Music From Another Dimension! (2012 Sony Music Japan)

When this album came out in 2012, Tommy Morais and I both took a shot at reviewing it, and you can find both those reviews here.  With the benefit of hindsight, Tommy’s review (2/5 stars) is more in line with how I feel now, compared to the 4/5 stars I rated it in 2012.

Having recently acquired a Japanese import of Music From Another Dimension, with two exclusive bonus cuts, now is the time to revisit the album for yet another review.  It can be interesting to document how music does or doesn’t grow on you over the years.  Unfortunately for me, Music From Another Dimension has become more irritating, and I am less willing to overlook its flaws.

The core weakness is that the album sounds like a collection of soundalike outtakes from Get A Grip.  The modern production and layers and layers of overdubs do it no favours.  “Luv XXX” sounds incomplete.  I praised it as “really good” before; I’m not willing to go that far this time.  The production is unnecessary and that’s true of most of the album.  I think that’s why nobody believes Aerosmith when they say “it sounds like Rocks“.  It was never going to sound like Rocks.  Aerosmith simply do not record things basic and live like that anymore.

“Oh Yeah” is still pretty good, as is “Street Jesus” and the funky “Out Go the Lights”.  Given a few years to absorb the album, “Out Go the Lights” is one of the few tracks that really does harken back to better days.  More cowbell!  Probably the best tune on the album, and certainly the most vintage.  The ballads, as before, are largely crud.  “Another Last Goodbye” is the only one still memorable today.

The Japanese fans did not get the same bonus tracks that we got on our North American deluxe edition (“Sunny Side of Love”, “Oasis in the Night”, “Up on the Mountain”).  They got some equally interesting stuff instead.  “Shakey Ground” is so good, it’s insane that it wasn’t included on the album proper.  Just nuts — “Shakey Ground” is the most authentic thing Aerosmith have done in decades.  With full-on horns, sax and female backing vocals at the ready, Aerosmith finally really turn up the funk again!  I want to know who’s playing clavinet, but the credits don’t say.  Tyler?  “I’m Not Talkin'” is also quite good, being a rockabilly experiment.  No layers of production, no additional accoutrements, this is just Aerosmith playing, and Tyler singin’.  Unlike much of the rest of the album, this sounds like something real; an actual band!

Can you imagine if Aerosmith had cut just a little bit of fat from the album (mainly ballads), and included the bonus tracks instead?  You’d have a shorter, harder, more Aero-sounding disc.  Less is more.  Music From Another Dimension is the musical proof of this concept.  The less fiddling in the studio, the less overdubbing, the better.  And fewer songs are better, too.  Aerosmith albums used to have 10 songs on them.  Maybe they should get back to that, especially considering that Music From Another Dimension has 20 altogether.

3/5 stars

#466: Clap for the Wolfman

WOLFMAN

“Another lovely day begins, for ghosts and ghouls with greenish skin. So close your eyes and you will find that you’ve arrived in Frightenstein. Perhaps the Count will find a way to make his monster work today. For if he solves this monster-mania, he can return to Transylvania! So welcome where the sun won’t shine, to the castle of Count Frightenstein!”Vincent Price

GETTING MORE TALE #466:  Clap for the Wolfman

I surely cannot be the only person in the world who heard of rock and roll because of the legendary radio DJ Wolfman Jack…although mine was in a roundabout way!

The irresistibly gravel-voiced Wolfman Jack was born in 1938 as Robert Smith.  A love of classic horror led to the creation of the Wolfman character.  He played rock and roll records from a high-powered transmitter on the Mexico border.  So powerful was the signal that Jack claimed “Birds dropped dead when they flew too close to the tower.”  On a clear night, listeners in the Soviet Union could hear the Wolfman half a world away.

Killing birds and eating records, the Wolfman really came to fame when tapes of his broadcasts were used for radio syndication.  By selling his tapes world-wide, Jack could be heard on over 2000 stations at his peak.    The Wolfman character became synonymous with rock and roll no matter where you lived.

American Graffiti: Richard Dreyfuss and Wolfman Jack

I was too young to know of Wolfman Jack directly.  I was even too young for American Graffiti, the 1973 George Lucas classic about the cruising scene in Modesto California circa the summer of ’62.  Wolfman Jack made a memorable appearance as himself, and did radio DJ intros for most of the tunes through the movie.  This however was preceded by a 1971 Canadian kid’s comedy show called The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. Similarly to of the syndication that made the Wolfman a smash success, Frightenstein was on TV well into the 70’s and 80’s, even though all the episodes were made in 1971.  Via Frightenstein, I learned who the Wolfman was.

Because of the endless re-runs, there was no way for young Canadian kids to miss it.  Before we had cable, it was one of the few shows we could reliably get, both at home and at the cottage, as it was broadcast from Hamilton Ontario.  Billy Van played almost every character himself: Grizelda the Witch, the Librarian, Dr. Pet Vet, Bwana Clyde Batty (a British explorer who ran the “Zany Zoo”), and many more.  Van’s most memorable character however had to be The Wolfman – an actual wolfman radio DJ inspired by Jack, down to the gravelly voice and wolf howls!  The Wolfman would spin classic rock and roll records each show, accompanied by psychedelic images of him dancing and playing air guitar with the character of Igor, played by Fishka Rais.  (The huge Rais was one of very few additional actors on the show.  Vincent Price and Professor Julius Sumner Miller recorded all their parts over the course of the summer of 1971.  And let’s not forget Guy Big, as the Midget Count!)

When the Wolfman’s segments would begin, you would know it immediately.  His theme song was “I Wanna Take You Higher” by Sly and the Family Stone.  “I am the Wolfman!  Ah-oooooooo!” he would howl at the start of his show.  He would play “golden oldies” by the Stones and other classic rock and roll artists, on his radio station “EECH”. He would tell callers that he was “fangtastic”.  (The “golden oldies” concept was brilliant.  Even if he was playing a fairly recent Stones single, he’d call it a “golden oldie”, thus ensuring that the show seemed current even when being broadcast in, say, 1986.  Planning and syndication!)

One of the few Youtube clips featuring original audio and music.

So there I was, a young kid sitting on the basement floor during Canadian winter, playing with Lego and watching  this pretty low-budget kid’s show, when suddenly this wolfman appeared!  “I am the Wolfman!  Ahooooooo!”  I didn’t know the music.  I’d never heard Sly and the Family Stone.  They were great!  I was hooked.  I even made my own tapes of the Wolfman.  I played the Wolfman…and all the other characters.  I had him battling Star Wars composer John Williams for chart superiority!  Fortunately, these tapes no longer exist!

I had no idea yet that Billy Van’s Wolfman was based on a real person.   That came later, probably through my parents, as I learned more about rock and roll.  All I knew was that he was a fun character who played good songs.  “I Wanna Take You Higher” was an early favourite.  The Stones made a strong impression.  He also played Mungo Jerry.  I didn’t like the slow songs.  Unfortunately due to the legal rights involved, “I Wanna Take You Higher” had to be replaced on the DVD versions.  Rights could only be obtained to release a few episodes on disc. (Most of the Youtube clips you will find are overdubbed versions with different music, and a new voice, since Billy Van had passed away before the DVDs were released.)

Wolfman Jack himself appeared on many television shows and records over the years.  After American Graffiti, he appeared in the ill-advised sequel, which flopped.  TV loved him; he even guested on Battlestar Galactica’s spinoff series Galactica 1980.  Notably, in 1974 he appeared as himself on The Guess Who’s classic single “Clap for the Wolfman”, a memorable tribute featuring plenty of the Wolfman’s trademark growl.  His influence trickled down, creating waves far exceeding the radio broadcasts that once reached Russia.  Via these tributes to his accomplishments, the Wolfman served to introduce rock and roll music to new generations, either via TV and movies or Billy Van’s character inspired by him.  Clap for the Wolfman indeed!