whitesnake

#719: Mystery Disc

GETTING MORE TALE #719: Mystery Disc

Cleaning out Jen’s mom’s house after she passed away was very emotional work.  Nobody’s been living there since July.  One day she got up and broke her hip.  We didn’t know it yet but the cancer was in her bones.  She never came home again.  When we started working on the house in September, everything was more or less how she left it.

Her music collection was small with a few gems.  One disc that I kept was Cat Stevens’ Icon.  I had to take it for “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.”  As told in Getting More Tale #702, that song seemed to make a connection with me when she was sick.  One day we went to see her in the hospital, and she was unconscious.  No longer able to communicate.  That song was stuck in my head for reasons I can’t explain.  I like to think she was sending me a message.  Not to be sad.  It would have been like her to say that to me.  I get tears in my eyes thinking about her lying there dying, and that song playing on repeat in my head.  I had the song played at her funeral.  It just seemed like such a “mum” song, even though I have no memories of us ever listening to it together.  When I found out that she actually owned that song, I got the chills again.  Finding Cat Stevens made my heart swell.

We also found a number of CD-Rs that I made, but had no labels or covers.  For today’s chapter I’m focusing on one specifically.  I can’t figure out why I made it, or who I made it for, or what it was doing at Jen’s mom’s house!

It is a lightscribe CD, and burned into the top is the old background from my website.  It’s a photo of some model guitars and guitar picks.  The 15 song track listing is most bizarre and I can’t figure out what I was doing!

Track 1:  Craig Fee saying “LeBraaaain”.  This dates the CD to 2012 at the earliest.  I liked to introduce my CDs with something amusing, so this works.

Tracks 2-4:  “Whiskey in the Jar”.  The first is Metallica’s studio cover from Garage Inc.  The second is Thin Lizzy’s take from 1972.  Last is a live Metallica version, possibly from the CD single.  That’s a lot of whiskey – 15 solid minutes worth.  Listening back, the Metallica live version absolutely kills their studio cut.  Yeah-hah!

Track 5:  Steve Earle – “Home to Houston”.  This track is from Steve’s political 2004 album The Revolution Starts Now.  I haven’t played that album in years and I don’t remember this song.  Why it stuck out enough to put it on this mystery disc, I haven’t a clue.  Good tune, but I don’t know it anymore!

Track 6:  Jeff Bridges & Colin Ferrel – “Fallin’ & Flyin'” from the 2010 soundtrack Crazy Heart.  Now, memories are starting to form.  I can remember driving around with Jen and her mom, listening to this song in my car.  Did I make this CD for her mom?  If so, why the Metallica?

Track 7:  Johnny Cash – “The Man Comes Around”.  One of the greatest Cash songs, from the best American album in my opinion.  Goosebumps, still to this day.  Jen and I love Cash and had him played at our wedding.

Track 8:  Me doing a song intro!  The backing track sounds like Motorhead’s acoustic version of “Ace of Spades” with the main lick looped and no vocals.  I made this for a past Sausagefest countdown!  The track I’m introducing:  “Renegade” by Styx!  I mention that it was covered by Daughtry and then add sound effects of Nicko McBrain burping and farting.  I have to admit it’s a pretty great (and funny) intro!  It was #30 on the 2013 countdown.  From that I can now assume I made this CD the same year.  Which is strange because I wasn’t really making mix CDs anymore in 2013.

Track 9 is a personal favourite, “Rock An’ Roll Angels” from Whitesnake’s 1982 album Saints & Sinners.  I’ve always been into rock and roll songs with boogie woogie piano. I have loved this song for three decades.  Then Track 10, another Whitesnake classic:  “Slow An’ Easy” from the landmark classic Slide It In.  That’s another personal fave, because of the slide riff.  It’s incredible and I spent many hours as a teenager playing air slide to it.  Not to mention air drums!  Cozy Powell was so fucking cool.

Then more slide!  Track 11:  The Black Crowes – “Twice as Hard”.  I was clearly trying to make the CD flow.  Indeed I used to spend hours shuffling track order until I had it “just right”.  With all this slide business going on, I wonder if the next song is going to be some “Travelling Riverside Blues”?

Nope!  A total surprise to me, Track 12 is The Tragically Hip!  “50 Mission Cap” is Jen’s favourite, for reasons you’ll understand.

Bill Barilko disappeared that summer,
He was on a fishing trip.
The last goal he ever scored,
Won the Leafs the cup.
They didn’t win another till nineteen sixty two,
The year he was discovered.
I stole this from a hockey card,
I keep tucked up under.

I think the lyrics are brilliant because they tell two stories at once.  First, they tell the true tale of Toronto Maple Leaf Bill Barilko, who tragically died in a plane crash in a remote part of Quebec.  Nobody knew what happened to him until his body was found 11 years later.  The second tale is that of a young Gord Downie who read about it on the back of a hockey card.

Track 13 is another surprise:  “The Boys are Back in Town” by Bon Jovi!  Don’t scoff, this is actually a really good Thin Lizzy cover from their New Jersey period.  Lyrically, Jon and Phil Lynott were on similar wavelengths.  This is exactly the kind of tune that Jon was writing.  “Wild in the Streets” is Bon Jovi trying to re-write “The Boys are Back in Town”.

Track 14:  “Big Foot” from Chickenfoot III.  Gotta be one of my favourite car tunes.  “Got Houses Of The Holy on the box, got it all cranked up cause, yeah! That shit rocks!”  What a groove — you can’t help but stomp along.  Joe Satriani has a way with a riff.

I had a guess that Track 15 was going to be all of side one of 2112.  The track time was over 20 minutes, so I had an inkling it was either that or side two of Abbey Road.  I’ve ended mix CDs with 20 minute epics before, and I think it works.  The Beatles did it!  Granted, the 2112 epic was a side one, but it still functions perfectly in the closing position.  Try it yourself!

Listening to this mystery disc has been enjoyable, but my reasoning still escapes me.  It’s such a bizarre mix, with the front loaded threesome of “Whiskey in the Jar”.  From there it starts to make a little more sense.  But how it did it end up at “mum’s” house?

My best theory is that I made it as a gift for Jen’s Uncle Rick, and it never got mailed.  He lived in Texas at the time — maybe that’s why I included “Home to Houston”.  Rick is also a Whitesnake fan, and a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.  I’m just not sure.

How would you rate this mix CD if you were the recipient?  I think I’d give it a solid:

4/5 stars

 

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#601: Rob, Jedi Master of Rock

GETTING MORE TALE #601: Rob, Jedi Master of Rock

I like to describe some of my older friends who passed on their rock knowledge to me as “Jedi masters”.  The first “Jedi masters” of rock in my life were neighbors Bob and George, who got me started.  I taped a lot of albums off those two guys until I no longer needed their guidance.  I built a killer collection, but at Laurier University I met my next Jedi master.

His name was Rob, and he has appeared in these pages before.  Rob was the star of Record Store Tales Part 32:  Pranks.  He’s always been a little bit of a prankster.  At school, he was an assistant in the Philosophy department.  He told me about a prank involving a $100 bill being taped to a classroom ceiling, and observing the confused expressions.  He liked to prank me in the Record Store too.  In addition to the Deep Purple joke from Part 32, he also liked to sneakily move discs all over the store.  He enjoyed watching me try and figure out what was changed.  He kept everything in plain sight, just the wrong spots.  Rob was good for a laugh.  He actually went to highschool with the store owner; they are the same age.  And don’t worry, Rob didn’t leave without making sure I got all the discs back where they belonged.

I went to the same highschool as those guys, though I was a bit younger.  Rob and I had some mutual friends (like Bob), but we didn’t actually meet until University.  I recognized him from a Whitesnake highschool air band.  Rob played David Coverdale in 1987, but he refused to do a popular Whitesnake tune.  Instead he did “Slow An’ Easy” from 1984’s Slide It In, which nobody else at school knew…except me.  Rob was disqualified, for doing some very authentic mic stand moves a-la David Coverdale…perhaps a bit too authentic.  The school wasn’t impressed when Rob seemed to use the mic stand as a giant phallus, but that’s Coverdale for you.  That’s as authentic as a Whitesnake air band could get.  He may have been disqualified but he did make it into the yearbook.

Rob’s Jedi teachings involved Whitesnake and Coverdale’s previous band, Deep Purple.  We covered the whole family tree from Rainbow to Glenn Hughes and Trapeze.  He educated me on the labyrinthine Purple back catalogue.  Well before all their rarities were reissued on CD, he recorded songs for me.  Whitesnake’s rarities “Need Your Love So Bad”, “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again”, and “Looking For Love” were among them.  He also recorded a couple rare Deep Purple albums – Power House, and The Anthology (not to be confused with the unrelated CD Anthology), with loads of songs you couldn’t find on CD.  It was years before these tracks were reissued officially, but I was already familiar with great Deep Purple tunes like “Painted Horse” when they were.

He and I were in touch on and off over the years.  I remember a memorable dinner at East Side Marios, when he confused the server by orderings two entrées.  He finished one, enjoyed it, and was still hungry so he ordered another.  That really seemed to confuse her.  Rob also had no use for social pleasantries.  He hated when people would ask, “How are you?” when he knew it was just something to say and they didn’t actually want to know.  The socially acceptable answer would be “I’m good, and you?”  Rob’s answer would be “my psoriasis is flaring up”.  I always liked that about him.  No bullshit.

I lost track of Rob about five years ago, shortly after I launched Record Store Tales. But he’s still around.  My buddy Craig over at 105.7 DaveRocks received a mysterious email from a listener, and it could only have come from Rob.

 

Hey Craig,
I heard LeBrain’s name mentioned today and I wondered whether he could answer that one impossible Van Halen question: when is Van Halen Best Of Volume II going to be released? He couldn’t answer that question back in the [Record Store] days.

 

Ah yes, the mysterious Van Halen Best Of Volume II that never materialized.  Rob remembered!  In 1996 when Volume I was released, one of my most hated customer questions was “When is Volume II coming out?”

The frequency of that question drove me nuts.  Hey, I get it.  Volume I didn’t have your favourite song(s).  But Van Halen had a lot of publicity in 1996 due to the aborted reunion with David Lee Roth.  It was common knowledge that they were working on a new album with Gary Cherone.  Why did so many people assume their next release would be Volume II?  Probably because they’d rather buy that than something new.  After getting that question over and over and over and over, I began answering “In 18 years.”  Customers would be baffled.  Why 18 years?  Because that’s how long it took them to put out Volume I.  I was wrong though.  More than 18 years have passed and Volume II is never coming.

I understand why Van Halen wanted to call their best of “Volume I”.  It was to make clear that the band was not done; that this was only the first, and they had no plans on quitting.  Unfortunately the message that fans heard from that title was “Volume I is half of a whole”.  Naming it Volume I was a bad move.  People were far more interested in the mythical Volume II than anything new by Van Halen.

It’s funny how something like that can jog a million memories.  Rob’s email to Craig concluded:

 

If you have time for a request can you play Blue Rodeo’s “Lost Together” and dedicate it to LeBrain? Let’s see whether it will jar any memories.

 

You got me there.  I played Blue Rodeo in store a lot, including that song, but no other memories are jarred.  Sorry Rob!  I’ll have to email him and find out what the story was!*

Nice to hear from the old Jedi masters again.  I hope you’re doing well Rob, and I don’t say that just out of social obligation!

 

 

 

* Update:  I contacted Rob and found out.  His memory is incredible.  “I recall you mentioned some of the difficulties you had with [an ex-girlfriend] in relation to communicating with one another. You listened to Blue Rodeo’s song ‘Lost Together’ as a way of making sense of that relationship during that particular time.”

QUIZ WINNER Scott goes Rogue, receives prize

 

Scott works hard for his prizes!  When he said that Lego Album Cover Quiz #3 was his “entire afternoon” he wasn’t kidding.  That’s what makes a winner!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hand over Scott’s prize (a new copy of Whitesnake’s killer Saints & Sinners CD, featuring “Here I Go Again” and “Crying in the Rain”).  We met up and saw Rogue One which gets better upon further viewings.

There are more QUIZZES and more PRIZES coming in 2017!  Stay tuned, watch this space, or better yet, sign up for daily notifications so you never miss a chance to win some cool rock.

 


 

 

 

REVIEW: Blue Murder – Blue Murder (1989)

BLUE MURDER – Blue Murder (1989 Geffen)

For some, expectations were high.

On paper, it was genius.   Teaming up the legendary drummer Carmine Appice with anyone will turn heads, but John Sykes, the ex-Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake guitar genius?  Sign us up.  Add in ex-Black Sabbath singer Ray Gillen, and the Firm’s Tony Franklin on bass, and that right there is an interesting combo.  Two words were buzzing around the camp, and they were “blues” and “jams”.  When the band did start jamming the blues, they realized that Ray Gillen didn’t have much to do during the long instrumental breaks they were producing.  The decision was made to cut Ray and trim the band down to a classic power trio, with Sykes singing lead.  The trio format was fairly unique among rock bands in the late 80’s.  (Ray hooked up with another new blues-rock band, Jake E. Lee’s Badlands.)

Adding to the hype machine behind the new christened Blue Murder was the tapping of up and coming producer Bob Rock.  Coming off of some hit albums by Kingdom Come and The Cult, it was assumed Rock would do the same for Blue Murder.  They hiked up to Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver and recorded the album, dedicating it to Phil Lynott.

Unfortunately it was pretty clear after a few listens that despite the hype and big names, Blue Murder was not the supergroup debut that it should have been.  Indeed, the lineup expired after one record.

Sykes’ singing was not the issue.  His vocals on songs such as “Riot” and “Ptolemy” are more than adequate.  Power and range were not an issue for Sykes.  Perhaps his unique guitar stylings were too associated with the mega-selling Whitesnake 1987, because the sonic connections are obvious.  Too much ‘Snake, not enough Lizzy.  The songs are not all bad either, though many could use some minutes trimmed from them.  At nine songs and 52 minutes, Blue Murder does have the instrumental chills that Sykes wanted to get across, but at the cost of diluting the impact with meandering rock songs.  Other issues must fall at the feet of Bob Rock.  Though Blue Murder earned the producer a nomination at the Juno awards in 1990, the muddy sound is very far indeed from what Rock can do.  “Sex Child” is a perfect example of this. Rock strove to give Carmine a big drum sound, but there are also excessive keyboards and layers of vocals all occupying the same sonic space. This robs it of the groove.  It’s a chore to finish the whole album in a sitting, due to some of these problems.

There are three album highlights that are possibly worth the expense to rock historians.  They are the singles “Valley of the Kings” and “Jelly Roll”, and the epic “Ptolemy”.  At 7:50, “Valley of the Kings” had to be severely edited down for a single/video. It has all the progressive rock qualities that you know these guys are capable of, and who isn’t a sucker for lyrics about pharoahs and pyramids? Must credit must also be given to Tony Franklin, who makes it sound as if the fretless bass is easy to play! You don’t hear enough fretless in hard rock, and Franklin is one of the world’s very best. Period.

Interestingly, “Valley of the Kings” was co-written by then-Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin. You can absolutely hear parallels to Sabbath’s Headless Cross released the same year – an album that also had some fretless bass on it thanks to Lawrence Cottle!

“Jelly Roll” was a music video, fitting the slot for some good time summer acoustic rock.  Instead of going ballad, Blue Murder went to the bayou.  The tricky slide licks recall Whitesnake, but unfortunately towards the end, the song sinks into typical ballad territory.  It sounds like two songs melded together, but I like the first part best.

The final keeper is the progressive epic “Ptolemy”.  Unfortunately the lyrics don’t have much to do with the actual mathematician and astronomer who lived almost 2000 years ago.  Instead the song is about tomb robbing; unrelated to Ptolemy of Alexandria.  This is a shame since they could have written about Ptolemy’s musical studies (Harmonics), or his influence on the concept of the universe of a series of spheres that create music.  Fortunately the musical qualities of the song enable us to overlook the words.

There are also-rans worth checking out:  particularly a track called “Billy” which is the most Thin Lizzy of all the tunes.  You could imagine, if Phil had lived, that he could have recorded “Billy” for a mid-80’s Thin Lizzy album.  Unfortunately most of the material resides in Whitesnake territory, especially the carbon-copy ballad “Out of Love”, and the closer “Black-Hearted Woman” which recycles Whitesnake riffs.

Too bad.  Loads of potential, but blown in the delivery.

2.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Whitesnake – The Purple Album (2015 Japanese & deluxe editions)

WHITESNAKE – The Purple Album (2015 Frontiers,  Japanese & deluxe editions)

One old school buddy of mine, Rob Vuckovich, was a huge David Coverdale fan back in the 1980’s, but mostly a Deep Purple fan. He took great pride in telling me that he went to see Whitesnake on the 1987 tour. He held aloft a sign that said “PLAY PURPLE”. David reportedly acknowledged his sign by saying, “We’re not doing any of that!” What changed?

Jon Lord’s dying wish to his friend David Coverdale was to somehow reform Deep Purple MkIII. “Life’s too short and too precious to hold any animosities,” learned David after Lord’s passing. He reached out to Candace Night, wife of Ritchie Blackmore, and eventually spoke to the Man in Black about a Lord-less reunion. Blackmore was intrigued and David started working on updated arrangements for the tunes. He didn’t want to sing them in the same way that he did in his 20’s. The situation with Ritchie didn’t work out, but David did not want the work he had gone to on the new arrangements to go to waste. He approached his band and asked them what they thought about a Deep Purple covers album. The response was instant. Joel Hoekstra (guitar) in particular was pumped.

The result is The Purple Album. Sourced from Coverdale’s three albums with Deep Purple (Burn, Stormbringer, and Comes Taste the Band), 15 songs were selected. It’s hard to argue with the selection, either. There are chances taken. “Holy Man” is a damn hard song to sing, and it was originally performed by Glenn Hughes, not David. And four, count ’em, four songs (on the deluxe) from Come Taste the Band, perhaps the most underrated album in the Purple canon.

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The sound is “Snaked up” as David says, which means modern guitars and technical shredding. To his credit, David really let his band play instead of copying Deep Purple. Joel Hoekstra is a hell of a guitarist, able to shred. He has brought some soul back to Whitesnake that I felt was missing from their two studio albums with Doug Aldrich. Other songs are stripped down, such as the now-acoustic “Sail Away”. This song is dedicated to Jon Lord and it’s certainly among the best songs on The Purple Album. It’s very “live” in the studio.

Is it necessary? Hell no, but David’s entitled to do what he wants. Nobody else is keeping these songs alive except for Glenn Hughes now and then. Jon Lord would be delighted with the quality of it, but he would surely be saddened that Deep Purple MkIII has never reunited. Since that was indeed the case, David and Whitesnake worked very hard on plenty of new parts and licks for their own arrangements. Reb Beach sings many of the Glenn Hughes lead vocal parts (quite well), and finally Whitesnake feels like a real band again. It’s odd that it happened on a Deep Purple cover album, but the band sound like a real band, on album for the first time in ages. Hopefully the injection of passionate young blood in Hoekstra and new bassist Michael Devin will result in new music some day.

The deluxe edition of The Purple Album comes with two bonus tracks and a loaded DVD. “Lady Luck” and “Comin’ Home” from Come Taste the Band are actually two of the best selections. It’s rare that bonus tracks are album highlights, but just because these songs are not as world-renowned as “Burn” does not mean they are not as good. They’re awesome. “Comin’ Home” is very different from the original, having a new and very Whitesnake (circa Slide It In) riff installed.

Japan usually get exclusive bonus tracks and this time it’s a different mix of “Soldier of Fortune”. The reason for the alternate mix (according to the documentary DVD, which we’ll get to) is that David was somewhat torn on which version he liked best. The original concept was a straight acoustic version, with just David’s voice and an acoustic guitar — one guitar, like in Deep Purple. That version didn’t make the album. In a last minute decision, David chose to record bass and other embellishments, and that is what you hear on the standard album. The lucky fans in Japan (or those who wish to shell out for an import!) get the original concept as a bonus track. Delightful.

The bonus DVD is a nice treat, for the 30-minute “Behind the Scenes” feature. It’s great to see the band get so much face time, talking about their love of Deep Purple. Things like this aid in your appreciation of the final album. Observations: Reb Beach does a hilarious Coverdale impression. Tommy Aldridge is still an unstoppable beast of a drummer, even today. Indeed, the new Whitesnake lineup comes across as an inspired band. It is a brand new era for Whitesnake, according to David. He is happier with their sound than he has been in years.

Then there’s the fluff, the Whitesnake EPK (electronic press kit) which is just a condensed version of the main feature. Added to this are four music videos. It’s almost amusing that Whitesnake made music videos today, but again the band get a lot of face time and that’s cool. In the music videos, it really seems like Whitesnake are a band regardless of the lineup changes. The videos are glossy, a little cheesy, but a nice little add-on.

The original rating for this album was going to be 3/5 stars. Cover albums just can’t be judged by the same yardstick as an album of original material. Having seen and heard how much passion and work Whitesnake put into The Purple Album, I’ve grown to appreciate it more. Therefore:

3.5/5 stars

#395: Dutch Boy

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#395: Dutch Boy

As kids in the 1980s growing up in Kitchener, we would buy our music anywhere we could find it.  A lot of mine came from the mall: stores like Zellers and A&A Records.  Other places to find music included Hi-Way Market on Weber Street.  That place was incredible.  They had the largest toy section I’d ever seen, and every Christmas a professional Lego builder would put together a giant display.  None of these places exist anymore.

Another place that carried a small section of music was actually Dutch Boy Food Markets, just down the street from Hi-Way Market.  It too is long gone, but I have many memories of that place.  It had a small music section, but they also sold food, toys and clothing.  It was considered a supermarket but it had a little bit of everything.  My dad remembers buying many of my beloved G.I. Joe figures at that store.  He also says that we bought our Atari 2600 there.  That Atari still works today.  I think we got it in 1982.  My aunt actually used to work at a Dutch Boy location (not the same one) in Waterloo.

My friend Bob used to go there frequently.  I used to think it was because he was Dutch, but it probably had more to do with the fact that one of the Kitchener stores was within biking distance.

One afternoon in early ’88, we hopped on our bikes and hit Dutch Boy to check out the music section.  This “new” band called Whitesnake had been in our ears lately, but we only knew two albums:  Slide It In and Whitesnake/1987.  I didn’t even know they had any albums out before Slide It In at that point.  You can imagine our surprise when we found numerous other Whitesnake titles at Dutch Boy:  Snakebite, Trouble, Lovehunter, Come An’ Get It, Saints & Sinners, and Live…in the Heart of the City.  All reissued by Geffen, all on cassette.

WHITESNAKE FRONT

“Woah!” Bob exclaimed.  “Whitesnake!  Is this the same band?”

“No it can’t be.” I said.  “They’re only supposed to have two albums!”

Each of us grabbed a mitt full of Whitesnake cassettes and began examining them for more details.

This Whitesnake and our Whitesnake were both on Geffen.  This Whitesnake shared the same logo that was found on Slide It In.  It had to be the same band after all.  I explained this to Bob.

“This is the same Whitesnake,” I said.  “Look…they are using the same logo.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “but have you ever seen that guy before?”  He pointed to Mickey Moody on the cover of the live album.  He sure didn’t look like anybody I knew from Whitesnake, but it was impossible to ignore the evidence.

MOODY

“I think,” concluded Bob, “that Whitesnake are another band that had albums out before we heard of them.”  That happened from time to time.  We would discover a “new” band like White Lion or Europe, only to find that they had some little-known earlier albums.  It made it both frustrating and exciting to try and collect albums.

We both started collecting the earlier Whitesnake music.  Bob was first, picking up Saints & Sinners at Dutch Boy.  He brought the tape over one afternoon for me to copy. We loved the original version of “Here I Go Again”, as well as “Crying in the Rain”.  Later on, I added Snakebite and Come An’ Get It to my collection.  I enjoyed the earlier, more rock & roll sounds of these previously unknown Whitesnake tapes.

I’m not sure exactly when Dutch Boy closed, but I do remember the last album I bought there.  It was now spring 1990, and I had a CD player by then.  Once again Dutch Boy did not disappoint.  I found a Van Halen disc there that I had never seen before on any format other than vinyl.  The album was Fair Warning.   Since it was the most “rare” Van Halen I had found so far, I chose to buy it.  It came to about $24 with tax, a lot of money for an album that was barely half an hour long.  It should go without saying that Fair Warning was one of the best purchases that my young self ever made.

Too bad Dutch Boy had to shut its doors.  It was a good store and I hear a lot of fond memories of it from others.  Do you remember?

DUTCH BOY

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare (1990)

PASSION AND WARFARE_0001STEVE VAI – Passion and Warfare (1990 Relativity)

Passion and Warfare was released in 1990.  I didn’t expect it to chart, but it did!  It was an exciting time for instrumental guitar records.  Joe Satriani had recently become a household name with albums such as Surfing With the Alien and Flying in a Blue Dream, but Flying had vocals on some songs.  Now his student Steve Vai was on the charts with his own solo album.

Different from Flex-able, which was basically just released demos, Passion and Warfare was a fully realized piece of art.  Some consider it to be Steve’s “real” debut album.  Some of the music dated back almost a decade.  “Liberty”, said Steve, was a melody he heard in a lucid dream and tried to recall.  Of the dream, Steve remembered saluting a flag he didn’t recognize, with an anthem playing.  “Liberty” opens the CD, which is actually a lyricless concept album.  Steve Vai is nothing if not ambitious.  There is some dialogue on and between songs (some performed by Steve’s then-Whitesnake bandmate David Coverdale), and the liner notes trace out some of the dreams that inspired the music.

Lyrics for a song that has no lyrics!

Lyrics for a song that has no lyrics!

“Erotic Nightmares” is self-explanatory.  Steve composed a chunky rock track with so much guitar that I doubt he even knows how many tracks of shredding is on it anymore.  Guitars build layer after layer, playing melodies that don’t seem possible to perform with fingers.  It’s not mindless shredding for the sake of shredding.  The “concept album” aspect means that the songs have movement and go to different places, trying to convey these ideas to the listener.  Steve used an Eventide harmonizer to give his guitar flute and keyboard-like tones.  Those bizarre sounds compounded with Steve’s impossible fretwork means this is one hell of an ambitious song and album.

Steve was using his new Ibanez 7-string guitar exclusively now.  I believe he stated in an interview that there is hardly any 6-string on Passion and Warfare at all.  It’s that 7th string that enables Steve to dig low on the groovy “The Animal”.   With the expert rhythm section of Stu Hamm (bass) and Chris Frazier (drums), there is no way this would suck.  Steve remembers to throw enough melodic hooks down to keep it listenable for laypeople.  “Answers” is less accessible, a cute dance of strange munchkin-like melodies.  There is a melody here, however, that recurs through the length of the album.  It’s an old melody, and part of it appeared on Flex-able and an Alcatrazz album as well.  Clearly these ideas had been gestating a long time before they were fully realized on tape.

After a brief dialogue snippet (a tape of a preacher that Steve recorded off the radio many years prior) comes the track “The Riddle”.  That’s right — the answer came before the riddle.  I love stuff like that.  It sounds like there are backwards guitars on this song, but who knows!  I’m sure Steve can make his guitar sound backwards.  “The Riddle” is a long epic that goes to exotic territories, and many textures.  “Ballerina 12/24” is a short transitional piece that shows off the Evontide harmonizer – the notes are moved up a few octaves making it sound unlike a guitar at all.  Then a deep breath and it’s onto the serious album epic — “For the Love of God”.  Considered by some as one of the greatest guitar songs of all time, you can hear what all the hype is about.  The melody that it is based on becomes increasingly more complex and expressive as the song progresses.  That’s not a sitar on the song either, just Steve wrenching sounds of the guitar that it was not intended to make!

You can’t close a side better than with “For the Love of God”.  The second half of the album commenced with the jokey “The Audience is Listening”.  While this is a smoking track, the dialogue (performed by Steve’s actual grade school teacher) doesn’t stand up to repeated listens.  It’s amusing but it has a short shelf life.  The school room theme had some comparing it to “Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen, but there’s no similarity beyond that.  It was an obvious choice to release as a single/video, with Thomas McRocklin playing young Stevie.

“I Would Love To” was the most accessible track on the album, and it too was chosen as a single/video. This is as mainstream as Passion and Warfare gets! An uptempo rock track like this is an easy point of entry for the uninitiated. That’s not to say anything is sacrificed for the sake of simplicity. Steve’s guitar is as dropping as ever. I’m not sure where it fits into the concept of the album. The liner notes tell us that the next song, “Blue Powder”, depicts a scene “high above the trees. Everything was more vivid than I thought was ever possible. I saw things from all sides. Then I realized I wasn’t perceiving things through human eyes.” Deep stuff, but musically it starts as a slow blues. Through the fingers of Steve Vai of course, so that means different from any slow electric blues you’ve heard before. And then it goes to outer space, anyway. It’s incredible how well Steve can play the blues, as well as the space-age stuff, and make it sound authentic. “Blue Powder” also boasts a freaky-funky bass solo from Stu Hamm.


I love that they make fun of New Kids on the Block in this video

“Greasy Kid’s Stuff” serves as an upbeat track with the smoking-guitar quotient at max.  “Alien Water Kiss” is another brief demonstration of how a harmonizer could make the guitar sounds like a not-guitar.  “Alien Water Kiss” actually sounds like what it’s supposed to sound like — assuming aliens have lips.  You get the feeling that a lot of Steve’s lucid dreams were wet dreams!   “They must have sensed that my actions and thoughts were harmless, being that they induced a union between us.”  Yikes!

Sometimes Steve Vai doesn’t get too weird and just writes beautiful music.  “For the Love of God” is one such song, and so is “Sisters”.  This soft ballad showcases a side of Steve Vai that some don’t know.  His technique is flawless, but so is his feel.  It doesn’t hurt to have Hamm and Frazier playing with him, who are also able to wrench feeling from their instruments.  The final song, “Love Secrets” is just Steve, at his most bizarre.  It’s a dramatic close to a confusing concept album, that leaves you with the feeling that you just heard something really significant.  You don’t know what that is, but it has a weight to it — and that’s what draws you back.

I’ve been listening to and enjoying Passion and Warfare for 25 years now.  Although Steve’s guitar tone sounds a little thin by comparison to today’s standards, I am just as enthralled as I was in 1990.  Passion and Warfare remains a genius album, and to this day it is still my favourite.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Trapeze – You Are the Music…We’re Just the Band (1972)

TRAPEZE_0001TRAPEZE – You Are the Music…We’re Just the Band (1972 Threshold)

Trapeze in ’72 was:

  • Glenn Hughes (future Deep Purple) – bass & vocals
  • Mel Galley (future Whitesnake) – guitar
  • Dave Holland (future Judas Priest) – drums

Due to the fame that this trio found fame separately elsewhere, Trapeze will be on interest to fans of classic British 70’s rock. Trapeze are a funky soul rock band — picture some of the funkier moments that Deep Purple were into when Tommy Bolin was in the band, and you are in the general ballpark.  The very first track “Keepin’ Time” easily could have been on Purple’s Come Taste the Band.  Not only is a high quality funk-rock song, but Mel Galley has some serious chops going on!


Personal highlights on this CD for me are the ferocious funk of “Way Back To The Bone”, the soul of “What Is a Woman’s Role”, and the solid rock of “Feelin’ So Much Better Now”. I also need to single out the track “Loser” as a great little lost funk rock gem. One thing is clear to anyone upon first listen: These guys could PLAY. Particularly with Holland and Galley, what they did later really was only the tip of the iceberg that is Trapeze. Hughes is in fabulous voice, at the very peak of his vocal powers, and this is essential listening for fans of the man that the Japanese call “The God of Voice”.

3.5/5 stars. A pleasantly perfect example of great 70’s soul/funk/rock!

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Greatest Hits (1994)

WSWHITESNAKE – Greatest Hits (1994 Geffen)

I don’t own this CD.  Never have, actually.  I gave it enough in-store play (only while working alone!) that I have no problem reviewing it. This Greatest Hits CD dates back to 1994, the year I first started working at the Record Store. As such, it was the first ever official Whitesnake Greatest Hits CD, the first of many. The band had been broken up for about four years at that point. Even by 1994 standards, it was only an OK release. It did contain some rare tracks, but was limited to Whitesnake’s 1984-1989 Geffen output only. For budget-priced collections, I would recommend the cheaper 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection because it still has all the hit singles from that period at a lower price. For fans who need more, the much better Whitesnake Gold or Silver Anniversary Collection make a more complete picture with more rarities and deep album cuts. These of course weren’t available in 1994.  Today music buyers have a lot more to choose from.

One inclusion that some listeners may not enjoy about Greatest Hits is the version of “Here I Go Again” chosen. This is not the well-known album version that most people have heard. This is the “single remix” with different guitar solos (by guest Dan Huff) and more keyboards. Some radio stations do play it from time to time, but I think most casual buyers would listen to this and say, “I don’t like it as much”.  And nor do I, but it is a rarity.

Otherwise, this album (like 20th Century Masters) contains every hit single from the period, and nothing from the blues-based records before. It does feature some other cool rarities: the B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” featuring Steve Vai, “Looking For Love”, and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again”. However, with the many compilations and remasters released since 1994, these songs are no longer hard to find. “Sweet Lady Luck” was even released on a Steve Vai boxed set!

Rounding out this selection of hits and rare tracks are deeper album cuts.  These are include the glossy Kashmir-esque “Judgement Day”, “Crying in the Rain ’87”, “Slow Poke Music” and the wicked “Slide It In”.  They help balance out the ballad-y hits that Whitesnake were adept at writing.

Interestingly, when this album was released, David Coverdale assembled a new, shortlived Whitesnake and toured for it. That version of Whitesnake included former members Rudy Sarzo and Adrian Vandenberg, both of the 1987-1990 version of the band. It also included drummer Denny Carmassi (Coverdale-Page) and guitarist Warren DeMartini (Ratt). Shame that no live recordings from this version of the band have never been released. The band disolved for several year again after this, only to reform in 1997 with a new lineup including Carmassi and Vandenberg.

This album is only mildly better than 20th Century Masters, but is inferior to the more recent, more comprehensive compilations I have mentioned. Buy at a sensible price point.

2/5 stars
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REVIEW: Whitesnake – Live in ’84 – Back to the Bone (DVD/CD)

It’s Purple Week at mikeladano.com!  It’s all Deep Purple and Deep Purple alumni, all week.  This is Part 4…and once again we’re going Epic Review Time.  It’s Deep Purple Mk III’s lead throat, David Coverdale & Whitesnake!  This is almost a new release; it’s about four months old.

Part 1:  Shades of Deep Purple
Part 2:  The Book of Taliesyn
Part 3:  Perfect Strangers

WHITESNAKE – Live in ’84 – Back to the Bone (2014 Frontiers Deluxe edition DVD/CD)

David Coverdale has been pretty good to the fans, in terms of giving them live archival releases from the periods they care about.  In addition to cranking out studio and live releases with the current Whitesnake lineup, David has issued deluxe editions of certain albums along with the long awaited 3 disc set Live at Donnington 1990. Now it’s the 30th anniversary of the Slide It In album, so David has issued a live retrospective set from that period too.  A CD and DVD set documenting the John Sykes years is almost a guaranteed slam dunk in itself, but how does it stack up when we break it down?  Let us take a look at the DVD and CD portions in detail.

Super-Rock Japan ’84

The main program of the release is on the DVD, and the main focus of the DVD is Super-Rock Japan ’84.  It is an 11 song set taken from Japanese television.  This is the legendary four-piece lineup: David Coverdale, John Sykes, Cozy Powell, and Neil Murray.  There is no doubt that even though the band had been trimmed down, they sounded powerful.  I just really hate when an interview is inserted right between the first and second song.  There’s no reason to ever interrupt a song on a live video, but editors do it all the time!  It’s interesting seeing Whitesnake in a single-guitar lineup, but there is obviously a backstage keyboard player (Richard Bailey).  The chops of John Sykes are such a welcome addition to the Whitesnake sound.  He has a “chug” that few other guitar players have.  Cozy Powell is as on-point as ever, but David Coverdale’s young lungs are remarkable.  At peak power, David prowls the stage and humps the microphone in complete control.

The highlight of this portion of the set is “Crying in the Rain”, almost but not quite like it would be performed on Whitesnake 1987.  I also enjoyed Sykes’ guitar solo.  Sykes makes some of the best guitar faces in rock, and he resembles a young David St. Hubbins with his shaggy mane.  “Soldier of Fortune” (an abridged version) was a pleasant surprise.  On the other hand, Cozy’s looong overblown drum solo would be more appropriate to his time in E.L.P. (Emerson Lake & Powell).  David must have been taking care of business backstage.

The video quality here is very good for an 80’s television broadcast.  Sound quality, also good.  David states in the liner notes that they weren’t able to find the master audio tapes, so this hasn’t been touched up too much.  I’m satisfied; in 1984 we didn’t have 1080p TVs in widescreen.

Only three songs from this were included on the CD: “Love Ain’t No Stranger”, “Ready An’ Willing”, and “Slow An’ Easy”.  That’s too bad.  I would have paid a little more to get a 3 disc version with a full CD of this show.  Just sayin’.

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Jon Lord’s Final Whitesnake Performance

The passing of Jon Lord has been the biggest loss in rock, in recent memory.  This truly is a treasure.  From Swedish television and shot with multiple cameras, this looks even better than the Japan footage.  Shame it’s only four songs.  To have Jon there raises the bar several notches.  It’s a five-piece lineup, although the cameras spend so little time on Jon that you’d wonder if the keyboardist is offstage again!  (Jon’s wearing a white shirt in a black-topped band; he should be easy to spot but he’s not.)  “Gambler” goes directly into “Guilty of Love”, and it’s so strange to hear it with only one guitar.  With guys like Sykes and Powell in the band, they are very active on stage and the energy is plentiful.  “Love Ain’t No Stranger” is so much better with Jon than without.  You cannot understate how much difference that big bad Hammon organ makes.  Then David tells the audience that they are “Ready An’ Willing” for some sweet satisfaction!  From this brief four song set, I can at least conclude that Swedish television in the 80’s was better than Canadian television.  Strangely, on the CD, it is included as one solid 16 minute track with no breaks.

Slide It In Slide Show

This is actually a cooler feature than you might think.  These contain some snippets of writing demos for Slide It In.  In some, David’s talking to someone, and there’s a single guitar.  In others there is a full band, but the lyrics are not there yet.  You can hear some of the classic riffs taking shape.  The rest of the audio has vintage interviews with David and live music.  Unfortunately at times the “slideshow” portion of this turns into little more than a lyric video, defeating the purpose of having a photo slideshow.  The real treasure here is a live version of the B-side, “Need Your Love So Bad”, with just David and Jon.  I am disappointed that it is not on the CD.  Something that rare really should be.

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Snakeskin Boots: The Best of the Bootlegs 

The main feature on the CD consists of bootleg and soundboard tapes.  I love bootleg recordings, and who can fault a band for beating the bootleggers and releasing the tapes officially?  Tapes were cleaned up as much as possible to make them listenable (David suggests the car as a good setting).  These songs were sort of arranged in the order of a live concert, so it still begins with “Gambler” and “Guilty of Love” like all the other sections.  “Gambler” sounds pretty good, only slightly muffled but with a hard pulse.  Sykes’ solo on “Guilty of Love” sends electric chills up the spine.  It’s great to hear the band so young and ferocious!

Cheeky David tells the crowd that the Slide It In album title does not refer to a banana!  “Love Ain’t No Stranger” is always a pleasure to hear, especially sung by a young David, and Sykes is shreddin’.  Then another cheeky intro: “I’d like to give you a toast.  If it’s in deep, and if it’s in long, and if it’s in hard…it’s indecent!”  That has to mean “Slow An’ Easy” is up next.  I will never tire of this excellent song.  “Walking in the Shadow of the Blues” is a nice surprise, but “Ready An’ Willing” is overplayed.

Sykes is given a couple minutes on his own to introduce “Crying in the Rain” with some bluesy soloing.  As great as this song is, this long version makes it clear why Whitesnake is a two guitar band.  They sound very bare when John again takes a long solo in the middle, and Neil Murray is left to fill the space.  David always wanted two guitar players, while John would have preferred not to share the spotlight.  “Soldier of Fortune” closes this portion of the CD, a nice version of the old Deep Purple classic.

The rest of the CD is dedicated to the three tunes from Super-Rock Japan that they chose to include, and the four songs from Jon Lord’s final Whitesnake show.  If you have a look at the tracklist you’ll notice that this means there’s a lot of repeat.

In closing

None of Coverdale’s archival releases or deluxe editions have been perfect.  Live in ’84 – Back to the Bone is probably the best of them yet.

4/5 stars

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