Great show today! John from 2loud2oldmusic brought on engineer/mixer/musician/songwriter Ryan Williams for storytime. Though his credits range from pop to metal, we tended to focus our discussion on rock and roll. If you’re a fan of Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Slayer, Staind, U2, Phil Collen of Def Leppard, Limp Bizkit, Velvet Revolver, Dave Navarro, or Kelly Clarkson then you’ll want to check this show out.
From starting out in Atlanta, to travelling the world recording epic performances, Ryan Williams has seemingly seen it all and done it all. Recording music on a Tascam 4-track home studio, graduating to two synced 24-tracks machines, to the modern tools of today, Ryan has kept learning. We talked about his beginnings, and working with Brendan O’Brien, all the way to the present day and the imminent release of a Stone Temple Pilots box set for Tiny Music. Ryan even had a little bit of show and tell with some hand-written original Eddie Vedder lyrics.
ALICE COOPER – “Paranoiac Personality” (2017 Edel 7″ single, white vinyl)
In 1969, the original Alice Cooper group released their debut album for Frank Zappa’s Straight records. The band consisted of Vincent Furnier on lead vocals using the stage name of “Alice Cooper”, Michael Bruce & Glen Buxton (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass), and Neal Smith (drums). This legendary lineup laid waste to rock and roll until 1974 when they split for Alice to go solo. Though Glen died in 1997, the surviving member eventually reunited on vinyl in 2011 for three tracks on Welcome 2 My Nightmare. Since then the original band has worked together with surprising regularity, including on Cooper’s latest album Paranormal.
To go with the Paranormal brew-ha-ha, Alice put out a 7″ white vinyl single for “Personoiac Paranality” “Paranoiac Personality”. It’s an easy track to like with a vibe reminiscent of his classic single “Go to Hell”. This is likely to be a concert classic for as long as Alice tours. The chorus is meant for a crowd to sing along. “Paranoid! Paranoid!”
A great B-side is what makes a single memorable. In 2017 you see all kinds of gimmicky singles, from coloured vinyl to ridiculously low production numbers. That stuff won’t make me buy a single; but an exclusive B-side will. “I’m Eighteen” is performed by the aforementioned original Cooper band! They are augmented by current Cooper guitarist Ryan Roxie, filling in for Glen Buxton. What a great version this is, and how much more authentic can it get? Alice has a nice intro for Glen, and it’s stuff like this that makes a single worth spending the money (and shipping) on. My copy came from Seismic Records in the UK, but it was worth it to me. The pristine white vinyl is just the icing on top.
ALICE COOPER – Paranormal (2017 Edel 2 CD edition)
Both Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin had a lot to live up to with their latest collaboration Paranormal. Excluding 2015’s covers album Hollywood Vampires, their last record together was the remarkable Welcome 2 My Nightmare in 2011. Bob Ezrin has already produced one of the more impressive rock albums of 2017, Deep Purple’s InFinite. Considering this recent track record, one might say we expect the goods this time too.
Paranormal is a great album, loaded with fantastic Alice Cooper material of different rock and roll styles. It is not up to the level of brilliance of Welcome 2 My Nightmare. That album (a concept album sequel) was dense with ideas and composition. Paranormal is a step towards something less conceptual and more like a traditional album. The big surprise this time out is the drummer: U2’s Larry Mullen plays on 9 of the 10 core songs, and you’d never guess that without reading the credits.
The title track is impressive on its own. It has a haunting guitar hook and vocal, and is built a bit like Alice’s horror material from the 80s. That’s Ezrin’s pal, Roger Glover from Deep Purple on bass. Back to the early 70s, get down with some hard rocking “Dead Flies”, but don’t let your guard down. Relentlessly, “Fireball” blazes down the terrain, kicking aside everything not nailed down. Alice doesn’t have anything that sounds like “Fireball” on any of his other albums.
The lead single “Paranoiac Personality” (a single worth tracking down for an exclusive live B-side) is similar to “Go to Hell” (from 1976’s Alice Cooper Goes to Hell). It’s the kind of magic that happens only when Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin work together. Memorable Alice Cooper rock, accessible enough for radio play, but within the personality of Alice.
Moving on to sleaze rock, “Fallen in Love” is a strong entry. If it sounds a little greasy, that’s probably because Billy Gibbons is on it. It’s followed by a speedy trip called “Dynamite Road” with a neat spoken-word style vocal. It suits Alice’s storytelling lyrics. After a couple of heavy bashers, it’s good to get back to a groove on “Private Public Breakdown”. These are some impressive songs, each different from the other but fitting the whole.
A kickin’ horn section joins Alice on “Holy Water”, a fun and unorthodox rock and roll sermon. Then there’s a good old fashioned punk rocker called “Rats”. It might remind you of Michael Monroe’s classic “Dead, Jail or Rock ‘N’ Roll”. It’s the only song on disc one that Larry Mullen doesn’t play on. “Rats” has the surviving original Alice Cooper band: Michael Bruce, Neal Smith, and Dennis Dunaway.
Going for a haunting close, there is an understated song called “The Sound of A” to end the album proper. This truly recalls Welcome to (and 2) My Nightmare. Original bassist Dennis Dunaway co-wrote and plays bass on the track. Although he was not in the band during the Nightmare era, that is what immediately comes to mind. This is the kind of song that has the potential to become an Alice classic a few years down the road.
Cooper has been generous with bonus tracks on his last few albums, and Paranormal has a fully loaded second CD. There are two more brand new songs featuring the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band. Steve Hunter is also on board with some slippery slide goodness. “Genuine American Girl” is a transgender celebration, the kind of thing that would have been cutting edge in 1972, but today is just timely. Smith co-write this with Alice and Ezrin, and it’s a remarkably catchy little tune. “This is no-man’s land and I live here every day” sings a gleeful Alice. It does sound like something the original band could have played back then. “You and All Your Friends” (Cooper/Dunaway/Ezrin) is more of an anthem. A crowd could definitely sing along. These two tracks serve as reminders to what great players the original band members are. Neal Smith is absolutely a drumming maniac and Dennis Dunaway is still one of kind.
There are six more bonus tracks, all live cuts from 2016 featuring Alice’s stellar live band. It’s good to have these, because really the only thing missing from the new songs is guitarist Nita Strauss. She’s a monster player. For those hoping to hear Nita on Alice’s new album, at least she’s on the bonus tracks. The live cuts are a fairly standard selection of 70s hits (all but “Feed My Frankenstein”). You know what you’re getting: expertly performed Cooper classics by his gang of professional rock and roll misfits.
Paranormal is yet another late-career triumph by Alice Cooper. It’s just a hair shy of mind blowing.
It started in early 2008. It probably really began much earlier than that, but January 2008 was when I knew something was very wrong.
Jen and I were looking forward to getting married in August. She was still living in Brampton, and coming to visit me in Kitchener on weekends. Things seemed fine, until they weren’t. She seemed tired a lot. She slept a lot of the days and was up until late in the night. She seemed depressed. Then one day I noticed something really, really odd.
We used to enjoy playing Nintendo Wii all the time. Her favourite game was called Find Mii. It was a simple “Where’s Waldo” style of game. You had to find certain people in crowds. Jen was the master of Find Mii. I saw her finish the game a few times. She was unbeatable and had several winning strategies. There was one level where you had to choose a particular Wii character, and then a few levels later, you would have to identify that person in a crowd scene. It made sense to pick a character who stands out in a crowd, like one with a colourful hat. When Jen hit that level she picked the most generic character to find later. I thought that was odd.
“Why did you pick that one?” I asked. “That will be hard to find in a crowd.”
She didn’t answer. She didn’t even notice I was speaking. I just sat and watched her. She continued playing.
When she got to the level where she had to pick out the character she had chosen earlier, she was very confused.
“What?” she said. “I didn’t pick anybody yet.”
“Yes you did,” I answered. “Don’t you remember? I thought it was strange that you picked such an ordinary looking character.”
“No I didn’t…” she answered but there was worry in her voice.
I had my suspicions. I got with her parents and we eventually talked her into going to see the doctor. She was very resistant. I can understand this. Nobody likes finding out there is something wrong with them. It’s frightening. But so is watching someone you love suffering.
Nobody was particularly surprised when she was diagnosed with epilepsy. It fit what we were seeing. What I had witnessed was what the doctor called an “absence seizure”. I call it “zoning out” because that’s how it looks to an outsider. It looks like someone has completely spaced out, staring at nothing.
I thought, optimistically, that a neurologist would put Jen on some medication and she would be OK. Most people are. I had a friend who also had “zone out” seizures, but when he took his medication he was fine. When it comes to Jen’s health I always try to be optimistic. It could, after all, have been a whole lot worse. Unfortunately my optimism was misplaced. This was not going to be an easy fix.
There have been so many ups and downs since that day in 2008. From the happiness at finding a neurologist, to the despair of side effects and pills just flat-out not working. From people who don’t understand and mock epilepsy, to accidents and injury. There have been so many. These incidents have taken their toll not only on Jen, but on me. People forget that the role of the supporter is no easy task.
As 2008 went on, the wedding loomed closer. Jen prepared to move to Kitchener and start her new life with me. One of her former co-workers at Brampton Transit thought epilepsy was terribly amusing. “Wouldn’t it be funny if she had a seizure at her wedding!” one said, not knowing she was overheard. As if getting married and moving wasn’t stressful enough!
But we made it. We had an awesome wedding, and no seizures. We were very fortunate to be surrounded by the best of family and friends.
Jen moved to Kitchener and three months later had full time employment with Research in Motion, aka Blackberry (before they went tits up). She worked really hard and was very proud to get that job, and rightfully so. One of the perks to working there (of many including a custom R.I.M. Monopoly board that we treasure) were their company concerts. They had thrown private parties featuring Aerosmith one year, and the Tragically Hip another.
Their next employee concert wasn’t a private one, but still free: U2. U2 had signed a big endorsement deal and were on TV every night advertising Blackberry phones. Jen was very much looking forward to seeing U2, but with their light show, could she even go at all? Imagine her heartbreak when her doctor told her it was very unwise to go and see U2 in concert.
Concerts in general were a problem. She hasn’t been able to go and see one since we saw Russell Peters early in our marriage. We tried to see the Trailer Park Boys too. As soon as cameras started flashing, she had a seizure. She was taken out in a wheelchair and we didn’t see the rest of the show. Movies were also impossible. We had to leave The Muppets before the show even started. It has been difficult getting used to what we can and cannot do with her epilepsy.
She cannot drive. But she has to get out and have a life. Staying inside all day is a sure recipe for depression. She does her best. She takes busses, taxis and Uber. Unfortunately seizures can happen anywhere. Over the last few years I have received dozens upon dozens of phone calls telling me that my wife had a seizure on a bus. Off to the hospital we go, where we’d wait several hours for a discharge. Now, if she is able, she tries to insist on not being taken to the hospital. They cannot do anything for her there. We know this from experience.
Unfortunately seizures on a bus sometimes mean falling on a bus. Jen has had so many injuries from seizure related falls over the years: concussions, twisted ankles and knees, and a fractured knee. She’s no longer able to walk without assistance. When on a bus, she has to fight for a disabled seat. If she’s not seated on a bus, it’s not safe. And too many entitled children (and adults) refuse to move for her. A couple weeks ago she was told to move from the accessible seat to make room for a bloody shopping cart. An inanimate object. It is frustrating. When she falls, it is heartbreaking.
One evening (December 11 2011) after a bus seizure, one of those entitled kids (old enough to know better) thought he needed to take pictures of my wife on the stretcher for his friends. He is lucky that I don’t believe in physical confrontation. If I did, there would have been two people on stretchers. Jen’s mom said, “What is that kid doing?” I went over to speak with him as he was walking away.
“Hey! What are you doing?” I shouted. He ignored me and continued to walk away. “Hey you! What do you think you’re doing!” I repeated as I followed. For a second time he ignored me. Once again I shouted, “You, taking the picture! What do you think you’re doing?”
“Taking a picture for my friend,” he answered.
“Why, because it’s really funny?” I asked.
“What do you care?” he retorted.
“That’s my wife!” I said.
“I didn’t take a picture of her face, why are you being rude?”
Rude? Seriously? “I don’t care!” I yelled.
“Fuck you,” the little disrespectful dink said, and walked away. I returned the sentiment, but I could not believe it. I’m the rude one?
When she’s taking public transit now, we have a routine. When she is out on her own, she texts me every 30 minutes to check in so I don’t have to worry. When she can’t get somewhere because of an emergency vehicle with flashing lights, she can text me and we can figure out what to do. Aside from the falls and injuries, we have had some scares. I once witnessed her almost wandering straight out into traffic while picking her up from work. She’s had her shopping bags ripped off at the mall. She’s had people point and laugh because they think she’s walking around dazed from drinking too much. We have had to develop thicker skins.
What about all the doctors and specialists? Her first neurologist couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her and dropped her as a patient. Finding a neurologist is hard. There are no neurologists here in Kitchener. You have to go to Mississauga, London, or Toronto. Eventually we did the only thing we had left to try: Go to an emergency room in Mississauga where they have neurologists, tell them this girl keeps having seizures, and she needs to see one. It was her family doctor who instructed us to do this. Of course emergency didn’t want to deal with that, but that was the only option we had left. They changed their tune when we told them that she had a seizure right there in their waiting room. Now we have a new neurologist, and he is in the process of putting her through a battery of tests. Surgery is the option on the table, but there is a medication we haven’t tried yet that we are going to ask for: medical cannabis. That might be the miracle cure we are still hoping for.
In the meantime, we continue to fight on. We take inspiration from figures like Prince and Neil Young, both epileptics who overcame their illness to perform for millions on stage. We try to find the humour in life. We have to. We don’t have a choice in the matter. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with some of the epilepsy moments we have been able to laugh at.
When Jen comes out of a seizure, her senses all seem enhanced. Her vision can be like looking at the world through binoculars. She can see incredible detail and very vivid colours. After a seizure the world seems vibrantly bright. And unfortunately for her, sometimes the first thing she sees after a seizure is my face. So I can’t help but laugh by some of those post-seizure observations she’s made:
“Wow, your beard is WHITE!”
“Your nose is pointy…and triangle shaped!”
A variation of the above, “Your nose is pointy…and tear-drop shaped!”
I have a glow-in-the-dark Albert Einstein T-shirt that I love. One night after a seizure, it was glowing away in the dark. That’s when she observed, “Your tummy is glass…on fire!” I guess that’s what glowing Albert looked like in the dark!
We will continue to fight this disease, and we will continue to try and see the light side of things. It’s the only way. If we didn’t try to laugh at it, it would have beaten both of us by now. That’s not going to happen. We have worked and fought way too hard since 2008.
In the meantime, we will continue to raise awareness. Do you or your kids have any articles of clothing with flashing lights? Do you take flash photographs in public? These things can, and will, trigger a seizure. Try to be mindful of your surroundings and the people around you. And please, if an epileptic asks you to stop taking flash photos, just turn off your flash. Don’t tell them to “fuck off” because “that’s not my problem”, as we have been told recently. Be a good person, and do your good deed for the day. Do your part to stop a seizure before it happens.
RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale #430: Album Art – Where can it go?
How important is album artwork today? Still important, I’d argue, though not as much as it was in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. You can tell that artwork is still important, because every major artist produces “cover art” any time they release a single, even if there is no physical product for it to be applied to. Artists will commission art or pose for expensive new pictures to accompany the new music.
Columbia Records kicked off the era of album artwork in 1938, a full decade before the birth of the LP. Columbia’s art director Alex Steinweiss is generally credited with the introduction of packaging art. Before him, 78’s used to come in plain sleeves with very little printing on them. Some sleeves would have large holes in the middle, through which you could read the label on the record. After the dawn of the LP, the rest of the record manufacturers in the world had caught up and were using artwork on their LPs in the 1950’s. The standard size was 12 – 3/8”.
When you think of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band today, you inevitably picture that incredible album artwork as well as the songs. That cover, with its 57 different distinct figures pictured, became a high water mark. They also included cardboard cutouts inside, a gimmick that Kiss were eager to copy and make their own. Sgt. Pepper’s artwork cost 60 times more to create than the average album cover in 1967! It took a band with the success of the Beatles to push the limits in this way.
The Rolling Stones included postcards in their Exile on Main Street (another unforgettable album cover), but they also brought album artwork into three dimensions. Sticky Fingers featured a working metal zipper, with which you could open the jeans on the front cover, to reveal briefs inside. It was a level of interactivity previously unseen. The zipper tended to cause damage to the records and packaging in shipment, but pioneering is a process of trial and error!
Early 90’s CD reissue of Sticky Fingers with zipper
Perhaps Led Zeppelin took LP artwork to its end point, with 1979’s In Through the Out Door. The record was concealed in a sealed, stamped paper bag that looked like a cheap bootleg, but inside would be one of six different album covers. You would not know which you got until you tore it open. The Grammy award winning packaging also included an inner sleeve that one could paint on, just by adding water! If you wet a paintbrush (or anything, for that matter), you could dissolve paint embedded in it and colour it yourself. Finding an original unpainted inner sleeve is the goal of a true collector.
Historically speaking, album artwork like this had several purposes. The first and most obvious would be to identify the product inside (something Led Zeppelin messed with by not including their name on Led Zeppelin IV). The second purpose was to attract the eye, in the crowded shelves of the record store. It was noted by many that a brown cover just melted into the background. Something striking would jump out, and be hard to miss in the racks. Another job of the cover art was to tie together all the related marketing for the LP. The artwork could appear in magazine ads, posters, and later on, in music videos.
The purpose of cover art that Kiss embraced was to give value for the money. Not only did you get killer artwork with loud rock and roll inside, but you also got a cardboard Love Gun, or even masks you could cut out and wear. Fans drooled over these extras. For a while, any time Kiss put out an album, you knew that the packaging would be special. For albums such as Destroyer and The Elder, they even used gatefold sleeves – an added, unnecessary expense for single LP packages.
Album artwork suffered in the 80’s and 90’s. With cassettes and ultimately CDs replacing the 12.375” width of an album cover, the pictures were smaller and less striking. You could not pack as much information onto a 4.75” CD sleeve. Iron Maiden’s artist Derek Riggs was known for hiding secret messages and logos in his album covers, including a mischievous “Indiana Jones was here” and “Wot, no Guinness?” inside Powerslave. These touches are lost on smaller CD covers.
There is no question that the majority of cover art suffered in the 90’s. Some bands and labels still strove to give the buyer some extra value, but the canvas was now teeny tiny. Tool are an example of a band who took advantage of the CD age. Their AEnema CD had lenticular, “moving” cover art, thanks to a special jewel case that enabled 3D images. You could even swap images by folding the booklet differently, and get a different moving scene. Kiss copied this, less successfully, for Psycho-Circus in 1998. Coloured plastic jewel cases were another way to get some attention on the CD racks. Bands such as Alice in Chains and Collective Soul used coloured jewel cases for their self-titled albums in 1995, but these were fragile and prone to scratching. The cardboard digipack was another method to enhance CD cover art, but they were not popular with everyone. Some consumers complained that the covers wouldn’t fit properly into their CD towers, and would scratch up the discs if poorly designed. And then of course, we had artists such as Garth Brooks who decided to milk the fans by releasing the same album with different cover art, encouraging them to “collect them all!” His Double Live had no less than seven covers to collect. That would come to well over $150 total for the collector who had to have each one.
LPs are currently having a second surge of popularity. Will it last? No. Before you cry “heresy!”, remember that in today’s society, convenience is king. That means portability. Vinyl LPs are meant to be enjoyed at home. The future will remain digital, although LPs will probably never die completely. The advent of digital music has reduced the importance of cover art yet again. You don’t need a cover, obviously, to enclose something that does not physically exist. Yet, cover art is still being made.
Some have chosen to take cover art in the digital age to minimalist extremes. U2’s Songs of Innocence was initially released digitally, with a very plain photo of a white LP sleeve with “U2” stamped on it. Kanye West embraced minimalism on Yeesus, releasing the CD with no packaging to speak of at all. A CD housed in a clear jewel case, sealed by a strip of orange tape, and a sticker with some credits – that’s all Yeesus gave us, surprising many by not going completely over the top with it. It’s still an artistic statement, but is it the kind of art that a fan will embrace and cherish?
I feel that album artwork is currently in a state of flux. LPs are having their moment again, and with them, lavish packaging that one can handle and enjoy. On the other hand, simple digital pictures are all kids need today, to be attached to their mp3 files. I hope that some enterprising, artistic individual, a modern day Alex Steinweiss, will innovate and bring back cover art in a lasting way. I sure hope, because I do like cover artwork to accompany my music.
Lee Aaron: Canada’s “Metal Queen”. It is a name she will never live down despite the credible jazz career. Try as she did to distance herself from the Metal Queen tag, Lee’s seems to embrace it more recently, even throwing a funky jazz-tinged version into her sets, as a mash-up with “Mysterious Ways” by U2! And it works!
In the late 80’s, Lee (aka Karen) was less comfortable than today with being the Metal Queen, and her 1987 self-titled disc is possibly the best example of this. All shades of metal were dropped; what was left is a mainstream pop rock record co-written with professionals such as Marc Ribler and Joe freakin’ Lynn Turner.
Growing up in Canada, you basically had two mainstream choices in female rock singers: Lita Ford, or Lee Aaron. That was all MuchMusic would play. OK, sure the odd Joan Jett track too, after her resurgence with Up Your Alley. That was it. Otherwise the Pepsi Power Hour was pretty much devoid of regular female rock heroes. There were the odd flashes in the pain — Vixen, Madame X — but Lee and Lita were the only two to get regular play year in year out. Lee of course had the trump card labelled CanCon in her deck.
I got this album for Christmas 1987, and I was so disappointed. The sound — plastic, turgid, processed, synthetic, with hardly any guitars. The songs — commercial pop designed to get played on the radio and not a hint of metal to be found anywhere. John Albini (now blonde all of a sudden?) is still her guitarist and co-writer, but there’s much less guitar on this album. There are also some truly awful, awful songs on here, most notably “Don’t Rain On My Parade”. I won’t tell what that rains smells like, but it don’t smell good.
The single/ballad “Only Human” is a decent song, very soft, but not too far off from stuff the Scorpions would do later on! (Lee actually sang backup vocals on “The Rhythm of Love” by the Scorps in ’88.) The best track is actually the pop keyboard rocker, “Powerline”. The guitar is not as dominant as the keyboards, but it does at least have some guitar. It has Joe Lynn Turner’s melodic sensibilities and songcraft, hooks galore, and a smashing chorus.
But then you get tripe like “Goin’ Off the Deep End”, “Dream With Me”, and…ugh. There was just no way, as a 15 year old, I was going to let anybody catch me listening to those songs. People might have thought I’d stolen my sister’s Tiffany tapes or something.
Turns out that Lee, despite that powerful voice, just wasn’t cut out to be a Metal Queen. She’s doing great as a jazz singer, and I think that’s just fine.