steve vai

#911: The Pros and Cons of Rediscovery

RECORD STORE TALES #911: The Pros and Cons of Rediscovery

Ever have an artist that you like listening to, but have neglected for many years?  It happens.  Maybe they appeal to you only when you’re in certain moods, or you have forgotten why you originally liked them.  Or perhaps the albums got buried in a corner and you forgot about them.  There are numerous reasons why any serious music fan might not have heard an artist they like in a long time.

Whatever your reasons are, I assume they are good ones.  When I neglect an artist for a long period of time, I blame it on the haphazard way I’ve ripped my CDs to my digital library.  An ongoing project due to the thousands of albums in the house (and more arriving every week), I have not done it alphabetically.  I tried doing it that way, but it was tremendously monotonous, so I resumed “ripping what I feel like” instead.  And if I didn’t feel like listening to somebody, I didn’t rip it, and often forgot about it.

I’ll give you an example:  Joe Satriani.  Recently I was in the mood to listen to all-instrumental music for a day.  I went to my Satriani folder and only found five discs inside.  I knew I had more, but for whatever reason, they never made it onto my hard drive.  I had guesses as to why.  They were albums I wasn’t as familiar with.  I obviously ripped the familiar stuff that I wanted to hear rather than the stuff I needed to spend time with and grow into.

“I forgot about this song,” I mumbled during “Up in the Sky” from Crystal Planet.  I remember buying that CD.  It was 1998 and I was living with T-Rev, and I was excited about new Satch.  I wanted to touch base with my instrumental roots that began when I bought Steve Vai’s Passion and Warfare back in the summer of 1990.  I also made sure we carried Satch in-store.  It sold well enough for us, but I remember being underwhelmed listening to it.  I couldn’t distinguish a lot of the songs, and I found it a bit overlong.  I guess I rarely revisited it for those reasons.

Getting out Crystal Planet again, I might not have been wrong, but there are some cool songs buried within.  The title track has a really cool rhythmic, metallic riff.  “House Full of Bullets” For ballads, “Love Thing” is pretty sweet.  There is good stuff here that I missed out on for a few years due to neglect.

Other artists that I have recently dove back into include Steve Vai and Jethro Tull.  Undeniably, two more challenging artists.  Their music is not designed for simplicity.  I’ve always found Vai’s Fire Garden difficult to digest.  A single disc, it was originally intended to be a double, but still contains the same music because Steve discovered it would all fit on a modern CD.  It’s dense.  As such, it never made it onto the hard drive.  Until now.  Same with Tull’s A Passion Play.

There’s a negative side to this rediscovery as well.

Upon playing these old Satriani, Tull and Vai albums once more, I started looking up their discographies.  Reading about the albums I had, and the ones I didn’t have.

“Oh!” I exclaimed.  “Satriani has a box of all his studio albums plus a bonus disc!”

“There’s a Thick As A Brick deluxe box now!”

“I still need to get an original vinyl Flex-Able Leftovers to get all the tracks!”

Don’t worry.  I didn’t order all that stuff.  The only purchase I made was an RSD reissue of Satriani’s first self-titled EP.  Original copies go for $500, but I found a reasonably priced RSD copy.  It was within budget so that’s on its way.  And that’s it.  I didn’t go hog wild.

Yet.

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

DAVID LEE ROTH – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

This cassette is a second generation, recorded from a buddy (with good equipment at least) in 1992.  My first bootleg.  It opens with a Van Halen-era interview with David Lee Roth about “precision rock”.  The crackle of original vinyl is audible.

A nice fade-in brings Steve Vai’s guitar to the fore, and then it’s wide open into “Shyboy”.  High octane, even though it’s just an audience recorded cassette with not enough volume on the guitar.  Without pause they rock into “Tobacco Road”. Gregg Bissonette’s toms a-thunderin’.  Vai certainly needs no help in hitting all the guitar hooks that he baked into the vinyl, just with more flair and energy.

Dave has never shied away from Van Halen hits or deep cuts.  “Unchained”, “Panama” and “Pretty Woman” are the first three.  The bass rumblings are unlike anything Michael Anthony played on the original.  The backing vocals are far more elaborate.  Like in Van Halen, “Unchained” is interrupted part way, but this time it’s so Dave can ask what you think of his new band!  Pretty hot.  After “Unchained” he stops to talk to a “pretty Canadian girl”.  “Panama” sounds a little odd with Brett Tuggle’s keyboards so prominent in the mix.  And it’s also way way way too long, with Dave trying to figure out who is reaching down between whose legs, but that’s Dave.  You don’t go to the show just to hear the music.  You go to see the whole schtick.  You put in the quarter, you gotta let the jukebox play the whole thing out.

“Pretty Woman” is zipped through fairly quickly (with one audience participation stop), going into Dave’s rabid “Elephant Gun” and the slick “Ladies’ Night in Buffalo?”  “Elephant Gun” features solos galore that would have been pretty awesome to see up close.  It sounds like there’s a vinyl side break before heading into “Buffalo”.  Vai’s guitar is the star here, in an extended solo backed only by Tuggle.  This turns into a dual bass/guitar call-and-answer.

When Bissonette starts on those tribal beats, you know it’s Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”  This great version includes a drum solo.  Next it’s “On Fire” from the Van Halen debut.  Dave asks for the guitars to be turned up – we agree.  “On Fire” with keyboards and Vai noodling is a different animal.  After Dave’s original “Bump and Grind”, it’s time to flip the tape.

Side two opens with some of Dave’s acoustic strummin’, and a story called “Raymond’s Song”.  It’s just an excuse for him to say “Toronto” a whole lotsa times before introducing “Ice Cream Man”.  Which completely smokes.  Vai puts his own space-age spin on it, and Tuggle adds boogie piano, but this is one wicked version!

Dave’s solo track “Big Trouble” has plenty of atmosphere and fireworks for the Toronto crowd, but “Yankee Rose” is just nuts.  Nothing but the hits from here on in:  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Goin’ Crazy!”, “Jump” and “California Girls”.  The heavy riff of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” sounds great in Steve’s hands, who doesn’t go too crazy with it.  Of course there has to be another long break in the middle (too many breaks at this point now).  This time it’s so Dave can get Stevie to make his guitar say “Toronto kicks ass, because the chicks are so fine”.  The rest of the songs are somewhat fluffy, the pop stuff, and rendered a little sweet with the added shimmer of Brett Tuggle.  “Jump” misses the deeper tone of Eddie’s Oberheim OBXA.

It’s worth noting that Roth closes with “California Girls”, not “Jump”.  His solo career is the point, not Van Halen, he seems to be saying.  This is the cherry on top.  Roth hands it to his new band several times in the show — he knew they had to deliver, and they did.  And he wants people to know that he has a band that can compete with his old group.

The show is complete,  and apparently Dave didn’t play “Just a Gigolo” on this tour.  The opening act in Toronto was Cinderella, supporting Night Songs.

Sometimes you wish Dave would get on with it and play the next song, but that’s only because this is a cassette bootleg being played on a Technics RS-TR272.  If you were there in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour, you’d be eating up every word Dave laid down.  He is the master of the stage.  Sure, it doesn’t always translate to tape but that’s the nature of Dave’s live show, isn’t it?  It’s precision rock — visually and audibly combined.

4.5/5 stars (for what the show must have been in person)

 

#830: 1992

1992

I’ve never been much of a winter guy.  I get that from my dad.  The winter of ’92 was long with a number of serious snow days.  I had just learned how to drive and it was certainly a challenge.  Details are not important.  You don’t need an accounting of times my little Plymouth Sundance got stuck or struggled to make it home from school.  All you really need to know was what was in my tape deck.

I was still digesting a lot of the music that I received for Christmas at the end of ’91.  The live Poison and Queensryche sets got a lot of car play once I dubbed them onto cassette.  At this point my attention to detail was becoming overwhelming.  I painstakingly faded in and faded out the sides of the live albums onto cassette.  This had to be done manually as you were recording.  If I missed the cue I’d do it over again until I got it right to my satisfaction.  I should have known there was something wrong with me!

We had one serious snow day that year, and although class wasn’t cancelled I stayed home.  My school friend Rob V made a tape for me of David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour.  I know that I played that tape on that day because the memory is so clear.  It was a great concert.  Roth and Steve Vai had a fun interplay, where Steve imitated Roth’s vocal intonations with his guitar.  Vai followed his voice as Roth told the crowd, “Toronto kicks ass, because the girls are soooo fiiiine!”

Time flies, and 1992 didn’t take long to kick into gear with new releases.

I had just discovered Queen.  Suddenly here comes this new movie Wayne’s World which made Queen a worldwide phenomenon for a second time.  More important to me though was the fact that the soundtrack CD included the first new Black Sabbath track with Ronnie James Dio in a decade:  “Time Machine”!  My buddy Peter didn’t care — he was strictly an Ozzy Sabbath fan.  No Dio!  (And certainly no Tony Martin!)  But I was excited.  I wanted to get that soundtrack as soon as possible.

There was a new music store that had just opened at the mall about six months prior.  The very first tape I would ever buy there was the debut album by Mr. Bungle in late ’91.   It would be the very Record Store that I would later dedicate years of my life to…but not yet.  When it opened, I recall my sister and I being glad that there was finally a music store at the mall again, but disappointed in the prices.  $14.99 for a tape was a lot of cash.  CDs were unfortunately out of our price range.  New cassette releases like Wayne’s World were cheaper at $10.99, so I went to the mall before class one morning to get a copy.  And this is a funny memory as you’ll see.

When I worked at the store, the boss would give me shit if he thought I was talking to someone too much.  I think he would have preferred good old fashioned silent labour, but I don’t know that.  He also drilled into us to pay attention to every customer and don’t ignore anybody.  So it’s quite ironic that he lost a sale that day by ignoring me and talking it up with some hot girl visiting him!

I was standing there in front of his new release rack looking for Wayne’s World.  I knew it was out, but didn’t see it anywhere.  I checked his soundtracks and it was missing in action.   I wanted to ask him if he had it, but he was chatting it up with this girl.  Eventually I caught his attention, but only because as I stood there waiting, I thought he did ask me a question.  So I said, “Pardon me?”  But he wasn’t actually talking to me, he was still talking to the girl.  Once he noticed me, he informed me that Wayne’s World was sold out but he could hold a copy for me as soon as the next shipment arrived.  I was ticked off so I said no thanks, and picked it up at the Zellers store down the hall instead.

Wayne’s World in the deck, I happily rocked to Queen, Sabbath, Cinderella, and hell even Gary Wright.  Peter and I saw the movie one Saturday night at a theater in Guelph, and liked it so much that we went back to see it again the following afternoon.  I saw Wayne’s World four times that winter!

I got my fill of Queen with the recent Classic Queen CD, released later that March.  I got the CD for a good price at the local Costco!  This enabled me to get a good chunk of Queen hits all at once in glorious CD quality.

The next big release to hit my car deck was a big one.  A really big one.  An album five years in the making through triumph and tragedy.

On March 31 I went back to the Record Store on my way to class, and the new release I was waiting for had arrived.  I left gripping Adrenalize in my hands.  An album I had been waiting for since highschool and even had actual dreams about!  It was finally real.  Into the tape deck it went as I drove to school.  Less riffy…more reliant on vocal melody…not bad?  I’ll let them have it though.  After what they’ve been through?  Yeah, I’ll cut them some slack.

Two weeks later, I was digesting another massive chunk of music.

I didn’t get Pandora’s Box in 1991 when it was released.  There was so much going on.  But my parents bought it for me as an Easter gift in April ’92.  That Easter I was “Back in the Saddle” with three CDs of Aerosmith!

It was a bittersweet gift.  Traditionally the family spent Easter at the cottage.  I have lots of happy memories of playing GI Joe in the fresh Easter afternoons up there.  This time I had to study for final exams and stayed home with my gift.  I must have played that box set two times through while studying that weekend.

Exams were over by the end of April and suddenly…it was summer holidays.  In April!  It was…incredible!  I stubbornly refused to get a summer job.  I have to say I don’t regret that.  I had savings from my previous job at the grocery store and I was getting Chrysler dividends cheques (yeah, baby).  Between that, Christmas & birthday gifts, I got most of the music I wanted.  And I got to spend that summer just enjoying it all.  It felt really good after such a long and frankly lonely winter.

Pandora’s Box tided me over.  After all, it was a lot to absorb having heard very little “old” Aerosmith up til that point.  My favourite track was “Sharpshooter” by Whitford – St. Holmes.  I liked that they included a sampling of solo material by various members.  These were new worlds to discover, but what about the next big release?  Who would be the one to spend my valuable savings on?

Iron Maiden were back on May 11 after a very short absence with Fear of the Dark, their second of the Janick Gers era.  But I needed to save my money, and wait one more week for something even more important to me.  It was Revenge time.

Speaking of triumph and tragedy, it was time for some overdue spoils for Kiss.  Having lost drummer Eric Carr to cancer in late ’91, Kiss deserved to catch a break.  Fortunately Revenge turned out to be a far better album than the previous few.  I recall getting over a really bad cold, and my lungs were still congested on that spring day.  The outdoor air felt amazing.  I walked over to the mall on release day and bought my CD copy at the Record Store.  I probably ran all the way home to play it, lungs be damned.

To say I was happy was an understatement.  In 1992 you had to come out with something strong or you would sink.  It was a more vicious musical world than just a year ago.  Fortunately Kiss did not wimp out and came out with an album just heavy enough, without following trends.  It would be my favourite album of the year, though a few strong contenders were still lined up.

My birthday was coming and I would have to wait a little while to get some more essential tunes.  Fear of the Dark was on the list.  So was Faith No More’s Angel Dust, which was a must.  And, of course, rock’s ultimate royalty returned in 1992.  A band that rock history cannot ignore, though it arguably should.  A band that defined the term “odorous”.  A band with a colourful and tragic backstory.  A band making its long feared return with its first album since 1984’s Smell the Glove.  And with their new album Break Like the Wind, they proudly proclaimed, yes indeed, this is Spinal Tap.

Once again, quite a bit of music to absorb.  I had been anticipating the Iron Maiden.  I heard the first single “Be Quick or Be Dead” on Q107 late one night, and didn’t think much of it at first.  I was concerned that Bruce Dickinson’s voice was becoming more growly and less melodic.  The album helped assuage these concerns with a number of melodic numbers including “Wasting Love”, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” and “Fear of the Dark”.  But the album was infected with lots of filler.  “Weekend Warrior”, “Fear is the Key”, “Chains of Misery”…lots of songs that were just not memorable.  Fear of the Dark sounded better than its predecessor but could you say it was better than Seventh SonSomewhere in Time Powerslave?  No.

Though it was murky and dense, the Faith No More album blew me away.  The M.E.A.T Magazine review by Drew Masters gave it 2/5 M’s.  I gave it 5/5.  I wanted something heavy and weird from Faith No More.  I got what I wanted.  Peter was a big Faith No More fan too, but I don’t think he dug Angel Dust as much as I did.  We both appreciated the comedic aspects but I really got into the samples, nuances and rhythms.  It was, and is, a masterpiece.  I believe I can say that I was of that opinion from the very beginning.

And Spinal Tap, dear Spinal Tap.  The Majesties of Rock took a little longer for me to fully understand.  And no wonder, for Spinal Tap are playing musical 4-dimensional chess inside your ear canals.  I simply had to accept that several years had passed since Spinal Tap last recorded, and they had grown in their own stunted way.  I’ve always thought that the title track was sincerely brilliant.  But I never liked that Nigel Tufnel had so few lead vocals.  I have long appreciated bands that had multiple lead singers.  While this time even bassist Derek Smalls stepped up to the microphone, it was David St. Hubbins who sang lead on 11 of the 14 tracks.  Now, this is certainly not to criticise the enviable lead pipes of St. Hubbins, but merely to state that there wasn’t enough Nigel.  Having said that, Nigel did branch out by employing a new guitar playing technique — doubling his solos with vocals, like Gillan used to do with Blackmore.  He also got to unleash his new amps that went up to infinity, which debuted live at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in April.

Like all things, summer eventually came to an end and it was back to school once again.  That fall and into Christmas I got some of the last new releases that were on my radar.  I missed Black Sabbath when Dehumanizer came out in June.  That one took a long time to really like.  While the production was incredibly crisp, the songs didn’t seem up to snuff to me.  At least at first.  In time, it became a personal favourite album.

That Christmas came the new Bon Jovi album Keep the Faith, Queen’s new Greatest Hits, and of course AC/DC Live.  It was also the Christmas that I first realized there was something wrong inside my head, and I realized it because of those albums.  It was partly the obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also a massive hangup about being ignored.  I wanted the AC/DC double Live, but was given the single.  I wanted Keep the Faith and Queen on CD but got cassette.  As I grew older and learned more about myself, I realized that I became very upset if I felt like someone was not listening to me or understanding me.  Nobody seemed to get why I wanted specific versions (because of my OCD actually), and I couldn’t explain it, so that set me off even further.  I became extremely grumpy that Christmas over these gifts, and it was ugly.  I isolated myself to stew in my own negativity.  It’s not something I’m proud of, and you can call me a spoiled brat if you want to (you wouldn’t be wrong).  At least I’ve worked at trying to figure out my defects.

It’s not like any of it mattered in the long term.  I have re-bought all of those albums twice since, each!

1992 went out much like it came in, cold and snowy.  Canadian winters are hard.  Some people have the DNA for it, but I don’t.  I’m half Italian.  I wasn’t designed for snowy, damp winters.  That’s why music is so important to me in the winter months.  Music can be a completely indoor activity and I had a continually fresh supply.  1992 was a big year for heavy metal even though the grunge revolution had already started.  Of course, things were not to stay as they are.  Iron Maiden and Faith No More were about to hit some major speedbumps, and Black Sabbath had already split in two by the end of the year!  1992 was the last time we could pretend heavy metal was still in good health.    Hard rock was about to endure further challenges and hardships.  At least we had ’92.

 

Live Stream – My Favourite Box Sets – Satuday April 25

What would you like to see featured next week?  Leave your feedback below.


 

VHS Archives #85: Steve Vai’s passion for Whitesnake, Warfare & Wanking (1990)

MuchMusic’s Terry David Mulligan was always one of their best interviewers, and here he has a nice informal chat with (then) Whitesnake’s Steve Vai!  TDM asks a loaded question about leaving Whitesnake and going solo.

Vai is always forthcoming and in this entertaining interview you’ll hear about the Passion & Warfare concept, lucid dreaming, the tuba, David Lee Roth, and of course wanking.

 

Check out a second Much interview with Vai by Denise Donlon by clicking here.

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Slip of the Tongue (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary box set)

WHITESNAKE – Slip of the Tongue (originally 1989, 2019 (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary Rhino box set)

There’s a theme you may have noticed every time we review a Whitesnake box set:  David does it right.

Here’s another one:  Coverdale cares.

Slip of the Tongue gets the super-deluxe treatment this time, the third of the “big three” to go that way.  This is the album that divided fans the most.  Replacing Vivian Campbell was none other than ex-David Lee Roth stringbender Steve Vai.

“What the hell would that sound like?” we all wondered.

Longtime Whitesnake fans felt it was a step too far into the world nebulously defined as “hair metal”.  Others loved the guitar mania inside, with Vai stretching out in ways different from his prior bands.  Not the “definitive” Vai record that they still wanted (and would get a year later), but certainly a platter they could sink their teeth into.  And it was a weird reason that Steve was playing on Slip of the Tongue at all.

As you’ll see from a feature on the included DVD (“A Look Back: Whitesnake Chronicles with DC and Adrian Vandenberg”), the album was written and thoroughly demoed with Adrian.  They wouldn’t need a guitarist until it was time to tour.  At this point, Adrian injured his wrist and was unable to finish.  Steve Vai and David Coverdale found that they got along famously and the seven-string wizard brought his unique and advanced stylings to the blues-based Whitesnake.

What the hell would it sound like?

It sounds absolutely mental.

With the benefit of now hearing all the demos that Adrian laid down, it’s obvious Steve Vai didn’t just pick up his guitar and play the parts.  It’s clear right from opener “Slip of the Tongue”.  Compare the album to Adrian’s demos on the other discs.  Vai changes one of the chord progressions to high-pitched harmonics, and, let’s face it, improves the song.  Elsewhere there are unique trick-filled runs and fills that add another dimension to the music.  If Whitesnake was always 3D rock, Vai upped it to 4.  The guitar work is blazingly busy, never cliche, and always to the advancement of the song.  With all respect to Adrian Vandenberg who wrote these great songs, Steve Vai was more than just icing on a cake.  Slip of the Tongue arguably sounds more a Vai album than Whitesnake, even though he didn’t write any of it.

The beauty of this set is that if you’re more into ‘Snake than alien love secrets, you can finally hear the purity of Adrian’s vision in the multitude of early demos included.

Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with the album you’ll hear something’s up by track 2.  “Kitten’s Got Claws”?  That song used to close side one.  What’s up?  The album running order has been tampered with, and so has “Kitten’s Got Claws”.  It’s now missing the Steve Vai “cat guitar symphony” that used to open it.  It could be a different remix altogether.  My advice is to hang on to your original Slip of the Tongue CD.  You’re probably going to still want to hear the album and song as they were.

This running order puts “Cheap An’ Nasty” third, a song that structurally resembles the ol’ Slide It In Whitesnake vibe.  Of course Vai’s space age squeals and solos modernized it.  Listen to that whammy bar insanity at the 2:00 mark!  Up next is “Now You’re Gone”, a classy rocker/ballad hybrid that has always been an album highlight.  The demos on the other discs allow us to hear how much this song was improved in the final touches.  That cool answering vocal in the chorus, and the hooks that Vai added, came much later.  Strangely, this box set puts the other ballad, “The Deeper the Love”, up next.  Keyboard overdubs made it a little too smooth around the edges, but a good song it remains.

The Zeppelinesque “Judgement Day” is a track that used to piss off some fans, who felt it was an abject rip off from “Kashmir”.  The Vai touch of sitar (replacing guitar in the early demos) probably aided and abetted this.  Regardless it succeeds in being the big rock epic of the album, and a favourite today.  Another strange choice in running order follows:  “Sailing Ships”, formerly the album closer.  It’s quite shocking to hear it in this slot.  Again, Vai replaced guitar with sitar, and David goes contemplative.  Then suddenly, it gets heavy and Steve takes it to the stratosphere.

“Wings of the Storm” used to open side two; now it’s after “Sailing Ships”.  Some tasty Tommy Aldridge double bass drums kick off this tornado of a tune.  Vai’s multitracks of madness and pick-scrapes of doom are something to behold.  Then it’s “Slow Poke Music”, a sleazy rocker like old ‘Snake.

The new version of Slip of the Tongue closes on “Fool for Your Loving”, a re-recording of an old classic from Ready An’ Willing.  The new version is an accelerated Vai vehicle, lightyears away from its origins.  Coverdale initially wrote it to give to B.B. King.  Vai is as far removed from B.B. King as you can imagine.  The original has the right vibe, laid back and urgent.  This one is just caffeinated.

The only album B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” is the first bonus track on Disc 1.  By now it is the least-rare B-side in the universe, having been reissued on a multitude of Whitesnake and Vai collections.  Valuable to have to complete the album, but easy to acquire.  It’s basically a second-tiered speed rocker with the guitar as the focus.  Other B-sides from this era were remixes, and they are included here as well.  The Chris Lord-Alge mix of “Now Your Gone” is the kind that most people won’t know the difference. Vai said that Lord-Alge could make the cymbals sound “like they have air in them.”  Then there’s the “Vai Voltage Mix” of “Fool for Your Loving”, which has completely different guitar tracks building an arrangement with way, way, way more emphasis on the instrument.  The rest of the disc is packed with four more alternate remixes:  “Slip of the Tongue”, “Cheap An’ Nasty”, “Judgement Day” and “Fool for Your Loving”.  These mixes have some bits and pieces different from the album cuts.  Vai fans will want the alternate solo to “Cheap An’ Nasty”, though it’s less whammy mad.

Of course, “Sweet Lady Luck” wasn’t the only song that didn’t make the album.  In old vintage interviews, Coverdale teased the names of additional tracks we didn’t get to hear:  “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart”.  They’ve been safely buried in Coverdale’s vault, until now.  Additionally, it turns out that Whitesnake also re-recorded a couple more of their old songs:  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”.  They’re all here in different forms on the demo discs.

Perhaps “Kill for the Cut” would have been one dirty song too many for the album.  It ain’t half bad, and has a unique little bumpin’ riff.  “Parking Ticket” had potential too.  Rudy Sarzo gave it a pulse that might have taken it on the radio.  The 1989 monitor mix would have been perfect for B-side release.  Why did Cov have to hold out on us all these years?  “Burning Heart” was a special song, a re-recording of an old Vandenberg track that David really loved.  Unfortunately the monitor mix is is only a skeleton of what could have been a sensational Whitesnake ballad.  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” is heavily modernized, with keyboards sounding like they were trying to recapture “Here I Go Again” (which they were).  “We Wish You Well” is more contemplative, with piano as the focus.

All of this previously unheard material is scattered over several discs.  “Evolutions” (Disc 3) is a familiar concept to fans of these box sets.  Demos from various stages of completion are spliced together into one cohesive track.   You will be able to hear the songs “evolve” as the band worked on them.  Every track from the album plus “Sweet Lady Luck”, “Parking Ticket” and “Kill for the Cut” can be heard this way.  Disc 4 is a collection of monitor mixes with all the album songs and all the unreleased ones too.  These discs are the ones that allow us to really hear the album the way it would have been if Adrian didn’t hurt his wrist.  We would have got an album that sounded a lot more like Whitesnake.  It was audibly different even if familiar.

Perhaps the best disc in the entire set is “A Trip to Granny’s House:  Session Tapes, Wheezy Interludes & Jams”.  It’s just as loose as it sounds.  Enjoy the funk of “Death Disco”, the funkiest David’s been since Come Taste the Band.  If you’ve always wanted to hear David sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”, now you finally can!  There’s a lot of goofing off in some of these tracks, but also a lot of rock.  It’s live off the floor as they rehearse the songs, as a four piece band with Adrian.  Not all the final lyrics or solos are set, but the songs are so raw and fresh.  Some of the jams show a side of Whitesnake we rarely got to see.  Kind of Purple-y in the way they just could take off and rip some blues.

 

Given all the rich audio extras, it’s OK if one of the CDs is a little impoverished.  That would be disc 2, “The Wagging Tongue Edition”.  This is a reproduction of an old promo CD, featuring the album Slip of the Tongue with a Dirty David interview interspersed.  This was meant for radio premieres.  It has the entire album in the correct order, but because it’s faded in and out of interviews, it’s really not a substitute for a proper copy of the original album.  At least the vintage 1989 interviews are interesting.  It saves collectors from buying a copy on Discogs.  (Coverdale claims “Judgement Day” was originally titled “Up Yours Robert”.  Ooft.)

There’s another disappointment here and it’s difficult to forgive.  In 2011, Whitesnake released the long awaited Live at Donington as a 2 CD/1 DVD package.  This brilliant performance finally gave us a permanent record of Whitesnake live with Vai.  In our previous dedicated review, we had this to say:

Musically, it’s a wild ride. It’s not the Steve Vai show. Adrian gets just as many solos, and his are still spine-tingling if more conventional. It is loaded with ‘Snake hits, leaning heavily on the three Geffen albums. In fact there is only one pre-Slide It In song included: The Bobby “Blue” Bland cover “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.  And, since it is also the pre-grunge era, there are plenty of solos, which today seems excessive.  Aldridge does his drum solo at the end of “Still Of The Night”. Vandenberg gets his “Adagio for Strato”/”Flying Dutchman Boogie”. Most excitingly, Steve Vai performs two songs from his then-brand new (and top 40!) album Passion And Warfare: “For The Love Of God” and “The Audience Is Listening”, with Aldridge on drums. Coverdale even introduces him as “Mr. Passion and Warfare!” so I imagine there was no sour grapes that Vai’s album was doing so well. And lemme tell ya folks — the audience WAS listening, and going nuts too!

Unfortunately, to save a little bit of plastic, this set was reduced to a single CD for its inclusion here.  The Vai and Adrian solos were cut, though Tommy’s drum solo in “Still of the Night” is retained.  To cut the guitar solos in such a guitar focused boxed set is not only unwise but unforgivable.  Fans who don’t have Live at Donington are going to want to shell out again just to get the solos.  Fortunately, the whole show is uncut on the included DVD.

The DVD has plenty of added value; it’s not just a reissue of Live at Donington.  You’ll get the three music videos from the album (“Now You’re Gone”, “The Deeper the Love” and “Fool for Your Loving”).  There’s even a brand new clip for “Sweet Lady Luck” cobbled together from existing video. Then, you can go deeper into the album. The aforementioned sitdown with David and Adrian is really enlightening.  Another behind the scenes feature narrated by David is fantastic for those who love to watch a band create in the studio.  Coverdale’s not a bad guitarist himself.

These Whitesnake box sets also include ample extras on paper.  There’s quite a nice miniature reformatted tour program with the majority of cool photos.  A large Slip of the Tongue poster can adorn your wall, or remain safely folded up in this box.  Finally, there is a 60 page hardcover booklet.  This is a treasure trove of press clippings, magazine covers, single artwork, and more.  Lyrics and credits wrap it all up in a nice little package.

Because we know that David puts so much into these box sets, it’s that much more heartbreaking that this one is so slightly imperfect.  The shuffled running order and lack of guitar kittens on “Kitten’s Got Claws” is a problem.  The truncated live album is another.  It means I have to hang onto old CDs that I was hoping to phase out of my collection in favour of this sleek set.  Alas, I’ll keep them as they are my preferred listening experience.

Otherwise, in every other way, this box set delivers.  It makes a lovely display next to its brethren and it justifies its cost.

4.5/5 stars

MORE Slip of the Tongue?

Just Listening to…Whitesnake: Slip of the Tongue (30th Anniversary)

Sit down Sykes fans, because I’m a Vai kid and this is “my” Whitesnake.  The fact that this lineup existed at all is miraculous.  The most creative guitarist of all time joining one of the most successful commercial rock bands at the peak of their popularity?  Recipe for, at the very least, interesting history.  And absolutely perfect box set fodder.

So here we are buying Slip of the Tongue for at least the third time, and finally getting it (mostly) right.  At a quick glance, it appears the only detriment to buying this box set is that you will not get the complete Live at Donington concert on CD.  In order to fit the whole thing on one CD (disc 6), they axed all the solos.  Let’s face it folks.  When your band includes Steve Vai, you don’t cut the solos.  You’ll have to shell out for the original triple disc Donington set to get them on CD.  The good news is that the whole Donington concert is still here on video, on a fully-packed DVD (disc 7).  (The DVD also includes a detailed interview with David Coverdale and Adrian Vandenberg, touching on Adrian’s mysterious 1989 wrist injury.)

The running order of the songs on Slip of the Tongue, the 30th anniversary remaster, has been slightly shuffled.  It’s strange and off-putting enough that I’m keeping my old copy of the album, so I can still listen to it the familiar way.  “Sailing Ships” isn’t the last song?  “Fool For Your Loving” is.  The bonus track versions included, with alternate solos and guitar fills, are stunning additions.  Then there’s an entire CD, the “Wagging Tongue” edition, with the songs in the correct order but interviews with David interspersed.  This is a reproduction of a vintage 1989 promo CD, for contemporary perspective.   Disc 3, the “Evolutions” CD, is a favourite.  The “Evolutions” series of tracks, now a Whitesnake reissue trademark, mixes early demos with later demos and and even later versions, so you can hear the tracks evolve as you listen.  It’s deconstruction and reconstruction in one.  Importantly, you finally get to hear what the album would have sounded like before Steve Vai came in to record it.  Disc 4 includes 16 monitor mixes, including some superior rarities.  Finally, after 30 years of waiting and teasing, we get the unreleased tunes “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart” (originally by Vandenberg).  We also get “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”.  Verdict?  Worth the wait.  Oh, so worth the wait!  There’s no reason some couldn’t have been released as B-sides in 1989, and they should have!  “Parking Ticket” has a neat Van Hagar-like, and could have been a summer hit.

Disc 5 is “A Trip to Granny’s House”, actually the name of a rehearsal studio they used.  These funny tapes, “Wheezy Interludes & Jams”, are informal fun.  A highlight is the funky “Death Disco”, not unlike some of the stuff Purple were doing with Tommy Bolin towards the end.  These tracks predate Steve Vai’s involvement, so you’ll get the purity of Adrian’s original playing.

I look forward to investing more time with this box set.  Let us hope that David continues to empty the vaults.  Next up: Restless Heart?

VHS Archives #19: Steve Vai talks to Much (1990)

A really revealing interview:  MuchMusic didn’t have a chance to speak to Steve Vai before this, because David Lee Roth would not pass on any press requests.  Hear that story and more.

Seven strings? It’s here. Walking onstage to a crowd chanting “Yngwie! Yngwie! Yngwie!”? It’s here. Astral projection? Right here!

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

This is the first Just Listening post for an album I’ve already reviewed in full.  I tackled David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper back in 2013, rating it 4/5 stars.  However a recent conversation with singer/songwriter Derek Kortepeter led me to try to listen with new ears.

It started with Derek’s message to me.  “Unpopular opinion:  Skyscraper is better than Eat ‘Em and Smile,” he said.  “Better songs, better guitar, tons of awesome synth…when you have tracks like ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Knucklebones’ how can you go wrong?”  Derek says “Perfect Timing” might be his favourite song on the album.

Derek definitely has some good points.  It’s easily arguable that Skyscraper has better guitars.  Steve Vai was in the co-producer’s chair, and he layered his guitar parts as if he was building one of his own solo albums.  They’re very dense, yet melodically intertwined.  As for the synth, he has a valid observation with some songs like “Skyscraper”.  That song verges on progressive rock; it’s got so much going on, including synth and layered Roth vocals.  However I think the synth was overdone on tracks like “Stand Up“, which doesn’t even have Billy Sheehan on bass.

Skyscraper is an almost absurd album in some respects, with Dave pouring on that “charasma” to the nth degree.  There are so many “woo’s” “wow’s” and “oh’s” that you could make an entire song of just that.  Steve Vai was the star on Skyscraper, and as I said in my original review, how much you like Skyscraper will depend on how much you like Steve Vai.  I like Steve; I think his music and playing is fascinating.  Rock fans often don’t want “fascinating”, they just want the riffs and the choruses.  Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more about the big guitars and choruses, but it’s also just a fabulous record.  Skyscraper is colder sounding by comparison, and often drifts into experimental pop rock excursions.  It also suffers for the lack of Billy Sheehan, who wasn’t given a lot of creative freedom.  Where there should be bass, often you will hear synth.

Sorry Derek, you have made some really great points, and Skyscraper really is a great album.  It’s brave and fun and experimental, but it’s also cold with little bit of filler (“Stand Up”).   I’ll always rate it high…but not as high as Eat ‘Em and Smile.

REVIEW: Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)

JOE SATRIANI, ERIC JOHNSON, STEVE VAI – G3 Live in Concert (1997 Epic)

It took me 21 years to finally buy this CD.  Why?  It was hard to get excited about three live Satch songs, three live Vai songs, and so on.  But a collector needs to catch ’em all, and it’s actually a pretty fabulous listen throughout.

Joe Satriani opens the set with “Cool No. 9” from his self-titled blues album.  Blues to Joe Satriani is a different kind of animal.  It’s trick-laden and thick with notes, although this doesn’t mean light on feel.  His landmark classic “Flying in a Blue Dream” is more what people expect from Joe.  I like to describe his albums as regular vocal rock records, just with the lead guitar singing the melody instead of a person.  I think I stole that description from Joe himself.  You can’t really call “Flying” a ballad but it sure is epic.  Finally it’s “Summer Song”, Joe’s big 1992 hit from The Extemist.  It doesn’t get more accessible for instrumental guitar rock.  Joe’s actually the perfect artist to open this CD for that reason.  His music, more than most instrumentalists, is door-opening for listeners.

The sublime Eric Johnson is in the middle position.  “Zap” is a tour-de-force of instrumental prowess, built into the framework of a nice shuffle.  Though you can certainly bop along if you like, the musicianship here is not for the timid.  “Camel’s Night Out” is a busy groover.  One of Johnson’s best tunes ever has to be “Manhattan”, which goes down unbelievably smooth live.  The playing is lyrical and warm.

Steve Vai’s threesome includes “Answers” and “For the Love of God” from Passion & Warfare.  “Answers” is one of Vai’s more challenging songs, fast and funky with weird tones and melodies.  This is probably the most blistering song on the whole disc, including a solo that isn’t in the studio version.  For all that, “For the Love of God” is the most awe-inspiring.  This ballad puts the passion in Passion and Warfare.  This is the one with Steve’s soul in it, every bend and every beat.  “The Attitude Song” is an oldie from the first Vai album Flex-able, just a solid rocker with some shredding.  Live it is much heavier than the tinny studio cut.

Finally, there is a trio of tunes with the three maestros playing together, as is the G3 tradition.  The blues standard “Going Down” is a typical jam, with Joe on vocals.  Then a tribute to Steve’s mentor, Frank Zappa, on “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” with everyone singing…and shredding.  Finally, Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” finishes the CD with Eric Johnson on lead vocals.  Of these three tracks, “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” smokes the other two.

May as well pick up the original G3 CD if you find it in the wild.  It’s good stuff.

3.5/5 stars