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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee--Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

     Joan Jett and the Blackhearts are nominees, and like almost all of others, can be debated on the merits of it's recorded output. What is not debatable is mentioning Jett without first talking about The Runaways.
     The Runaways were brought together with the help of Kim Fowley who managed the group and also promoted their jailbait image which unfortunately kept the group from having a real shot at long term success. The core of the the group at the beginning was drummer Sandy West, and Joan Jett (real name: Joan Larkin) and was soon joined by bassist Micki Steele who left soon after the addition of guitarist Lita Ford. Steele would make her own mark on rock later in the 80's with The Bangles. Cherie Currie (vocals) and Jackie Fox (guitar) rounded out the group.
     By the time of the release of their first album in 1976, it was obvious that Cherie Currie was considered the visual centerpiece with her lingerie endorsed bad girl looks. What propelled the band however was a combination of Lita Ford's straight ahead rock hooks, which were already well developed at the age of 17, and Joan Jett's glam influenced power chords. All of this was wrapped up with an urgency which was more than fueled by the punk movement (at least the LA version). What hurt the group overall was Fowley's almost total control over the band which, with a group of teenaged girls came across as exploitative (even in mid-70's west coast). Another problem was the content. Rock in the 70's was fueled by male dominated groups singing about sex, drugs and rock and roll. However, a hearing a group of under aged girls sing about it seemed very uncomfortable for American tastes.
     Currie lasted two albums with the band before leaving with Jett taking the lead role for two albums. However, the musical divide between Jett and Ford was becoming more obvious and with Fowley having left as well, the decision was made to break the band up in 1979. Ford had success in heavy metal during the 80's, but it was Jett who continued to develop the strong glam and punk elements started by The Runaways as she formed The Blackhearts.  (by the way...if you are wanting to see a great film about the group...don't bother with the big budget "The Runaways" (2010), but seek out "Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways" (2005) which was filmed by bassist Vicki Blue)
     Jett recorded a solo album in 1980, and was re-released as "Bad Reputation" and it was here that she began to garner critical and popular acclaim.  The album showed the blueprint for later albums, classic rock and roll with a touch of glam, along with a punk rock ascetic which comes across in attitude as much as the music itself.   The album did fairly well for a debut on the charts (#51), but it's influence on a generation of women rockers was vast. During this time she formed the Blackhearts. The group included Ricky Byrd (guitar), Gary Ryan (bass), and Lee Crystal (drums). The group's first album together, "I Love Rock-n-Roll" (1982) has become a rock classic in an era where the top 40 was dominated by new wave-ish acts. The lead single and it's follow up, a cover of Tommy James', "Crimson and Clover" reach the top 10 and not only expanded her fan base, but cause many more to re-discover her first album, and work with The Runaways.
     The next release, called, "Album" (1983) is arguably her most solid album although it's two singles didn't do as well on the charts. From a chart standpoint she continued the decade on a steady path which was highlighted with the top 10 single, "Hate Myself For Loving You" (1988). However, with each release she continued to cultivate her influence on many of the hard rock groups led by women.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee--Heart

     The band Heart revolved around sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, although the genesis of the band began before the Beatles hit American shores...

     Bassist Steve Fossen, along with brothers Roger and Mike Fischer began a group called The Army back in 1963. The group went through several names before settling on Heart in the early 70's. This is also the time that Ann Wilson was brought in on vocals.
     Wilson had lived in Southern California and Taiwan before her dad's retirement from the Marines, where they settled in Seattle. She auditioned for the spot in the band in 1970. Mike, who had fled to Vancouver to escape the draft came down to see the band perform and began a romantic relationship with Ann. She persuaded the rest of the band to rejoin Mike in Canada, which they did. The city became home base for them for much of the rest of the decade.
      Nancy, who is four years younger, finished high school then began college. She quit and joined the band in 1974. Soon afterward she began a relationship with Roger. It was shortly after becoming a member that Mike quit to work behind the scenes. John Hannah (keys) and Brian Johnstone (drums) were brought in to fill out the sound.
     By 1975, the group had a healthy following in and around Vancouver. A demo had been made with the help of producer Mike Flicker, who eventually would produce their first five albums, and keyboardist Howard Leese who would become a full member of the band as Hannah and Johnstone had left the group. Michael Derosier became the drummer. 
     The resulting album, "Dreamboat Annie" would be picked up by Mushroom Records in 1976.  After quickly selling 30,000 units in Canada, it was released in the US, where the singles, "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man" both reached the top 40 and the group was on it's way. From early on, it was obvious that the girls had a musical vision of their own, but it was just as obvious that Robert Plant was a large influence on Ann. The album mixed hard hitting rock, with folk ballads (which was also a staple of middle Led Zep influence as well).
     From 1976 to 1980, the band released a series of top flight albums, "Little Queen" (1977), and "Dog and Butterfly" (1978) completed the trio of albums that are essential for anyone who is wanting to get into the groups output. The end of this period ended on a bit of a sour note as the romantic relationship between the Fischer brother and Wilson sisters ended, and a couple of months later the guys left the band. Roger's guitar work would especially be missed as they entered a period that was a bit unfocused. None of the albums, "Bebe le Strange" (1980), "Private Audition" (1982), or "Passionworks" (1983), were bad, just not up to the standards of the late 70's. Denny Carmassi (drums) and Mark Andes (bass) where brought in before the recording of "Passionworks" which would begin to show the new direction the band was taking and which would come to full fruition in 1985.
     1985 brought them to Capitol records from Epic and with that a change in direction. The songs on "Heart" (1985), "Bad Animals" (1987), and "Brigade" (1990),  had the band turn up the amps and head straight into arena rock territory. This along with a renewed focus on the sister's sexuality in time to take advantage of MTV propelled them to a comeback of sorts which would take them to the end of the decade.
     The singles would pretty much peter out after 1990, however their album output has been strong especially over the last 10 years with top notch albums, "Jupiters Darling" (2004), "Red Velvet Car" (2010), and "Fanatic" (2012). We finish up with two songs from the past, and one from the present.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee--Deep Purple

     One could argue that if for nothing else Deep Purple should receive a special award from the Hall of Fame for inspiring hundreds of thousands of guitar players to begin a musical road with those now famous power chords which open, "Smoke on the Water". However there was much more to the band, and honestly am baffled as to why it has taken so long for them to be considered.
     The group started out from drummer Chris Curtis, formally of the band The Searchers ("Needles and Pins", "Love Potion No. 9) to start out a band which would revolve it's members in and out as needed. It was to be called "Roundabout", and several investors were interested in this proposition so Curtis went about to put together the first incarnation of the band.
     He first turned to keyboardist Jon Lord who was followed by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. It wasn't very long that the investors in Curtis' idea were interested in Lord and Blackmore, but the drummer's behavior, always a bit erratic, had become more trouble than it was worth and was booted out of his own band. Nick Simper (Bass) was recruited, and Rod Evans (vocals) brought his drummer Ian Pace with him from their group, The Maze.  Shortly after beginning to tour in the spring of 1968, the name Deep Purple was chosen over Roundabout.
     Over the next couple of years, the group had success with the albums, "Shades of Deep Purple" (1968), "The Book of Taliesyn" (1968), and "Deep Purple" (1969). They also reached the heights of the top 40 twice in 1968 with a cover of Joe South's, "Hush", and Neil Diamond's, "Kentucky Woman".
     All of this early work blended the classical leanings of Lord, with the increasing bold work of Blackmore's power chord riffing and laid the foundations of not only heavy metal, but along with Keith Emerson and The Nice, provided a template for "classical" style progressive rock. As the 70's dawned however, it was decided to up the ante....
     Lord and Blackmore had decided to steer the band into more of a hard rock direction. Thinking that Simper and Evans were not suited for the new direction, they were replaced by vocalist Ian Gillian and bassist Roger Glover. This brought the group into what has been considered their classic years. "Deep Purple In Rock" (1970), "Fireball" (1971), "Made in Japan" (1972), and "Machine Head" (1973) set the standard for hard rock in the early 70's, and along with Black Sabbath set the blueprint for a host of heavy metal groups who would appear in the mid-80's.
     The pressures of almost constant touring for several years, a management pushed album, "Who Do You Think We Are" (1973) that was sub par in comparison to the previous work, and friction with Blackmore (that was probably caused by all the above), led Gillian and Glover to quit. He was replaced by David Coverdale (vocals) and Glenn Hughes (bass). The resulting album, "Burn" (1974) was a success. After the next release ("Stormbringer" in 1975) however, Blackmore was not pleased with the direction the band was going and quit. New guitarist Tommy Bolin helped propel 1976's, "Come Taste The Band", but his drug use and subsequent behavior led the band to break up later that year.
     The band reformed in 1984 and has continued to tour in various forms ever since. The line up today consists of Pace, Glover, Gilliam, Steve Morris (guitar), and Don Airey (keyboards). Blackmore joined the reformed group in 84, but left in 1993 and since 1995 has been teamed up with his then girlfriend, Candice Night to form the folk rock duo, "Blackmore's Night". (Which if you like acoustic renaissance style really might want to check them out). Lord also teamed up with the reformed group and stayed until 2002, the last few of those years working on solo projects as well. He passed away July of 2012 at the age of 71.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hall of Fame Nominee--Chic

     I know every one of you who went down the list of nominees at some point (for some of you many points) went, "Huh?" My moment was Chic. I know them for two songs, but their influence went much deeper than that...
     Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards met as studio musicians in 1970, and formed a rock band called, "The Boys", and later, "The Big Apple Band" up to 1976. The band disbanded after a second album failed to chart. In 1977, they recruited drummer Tony Thompson and as a trio did some club work. Thompson suggested keyboardist Raymond Jones, and to round out the group, singer Norma Jean Wright was brought in. They went in to the studio and recorded, "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah,Yowsah, Yowsah). To add more depth, the group chose to bring in a second singer. Norma suggested Luci Martin. Wright had to leave early in 78, because of an issue with her contract. Alfa Anderson was brought in as they entered into their classic phase.
    In 1978 and 79 they had three big hits, "La Freak", "I Want Your Love", and "Good Times". History points to "La Freak" as the most popular, but it was "Good Times" which became the template for many songs of that era. More importantly, the Sugarhill Gang using it on their breakthrough rap single, "Rapper's Delight". Edwards and Rodgers always contended that their music was the rock side of disco. Considering everyone from Duran, Duran, to David Bowie, to Queen were influenced directly by Edwards' bass lines, and Rodgers production values, there is a strong case to make here.
     With the end of the disco era, Edwards and Rodgers left to work together and separately on many albums. Their fingerprints could be heard all over the early and mid-80's. Madonna, Bowie, Cindi Lauper, Howard Jones, Steve Winwood, Sheena Easton, Thompson Twins and others had music produced by Rodgers. One has to wonder if this nomination is as much for the Rodgers/Edwards duo and their contributions to a decade of music rather than what they did with Chic. One never knows about the Hall of Fame voters. We decide.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Hall of Fame Nominee--The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

     Paul Butterfield was born and raised in Chicago and grew up studying classical flute, but discovered blues harmonica and the blues. Paul and fellow student Elvin Bishop (guitar) began hanging around the blues houses in the city, rubbing elbows with greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. By 1963, they had teamed with Jerome Arnold (bass) and Sam Lay (drums) to form the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
     The were signed to Electra records in 1965 which also was the year of their first release. By this time they added Mike Bloomfield as a second guitarist and Mark Naftalin on the organ. It was a great album, showing the band learning the lessons taught by the Chicago masters earlier that decade. It was the 1966 release however, "East-West" that broke ground in the blues that are still being learned. It was a jazzier album, but it was the influence of Indian raga that not only set it apart, but pointed the way for a new direction for the blues.
     Their next album, "The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw" (1967) lost Bloomfield, but added larger ensemble including horns (including a young David Sanborn on Alto Sax) and continued into a jazzier sound. Three more albums would come, and band members shuffling in and out before Butterfield broke the band up in 1971. The group had taken their blues base and explored eastern music, psychedelic, jazz, and soul in their 6 years together. The band also found themselves at the crossroads of the major events of the 60's musically. In 65' the several members were included in Bob Dylan's backing band at the Newport Folk Festival where the folk community had been shocked by the performance being done electric. They also were on the bill at Monterrey and at Woodstock.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Version 2013

     Some of you may have already heard this, but here are the nominees for the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

     The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
     Deep Purple
     Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
     Albert King
     The Marvelettes
     The Meters
     Randy Newman
     Procol Harem
     Public Enemy
     Donna Summer

          For years now, I've heard whining that started out like this, "(fill in the blank) isn't rock and roll, why are THEY being considered". Well, if you look at it from a very narrow definition, there are probably only four on this list that would be considered "rock" music. So...isn't this watered down?
          Yes, and no would be my answer. From a pure historical perspective, you could argue that none of these would fall under that title anyway.  "Rock and Roll" signified a period of time which generally started in 1955 (although you could easily make the case that it began before then), and went to about the mid-60 when we entered the "modern rock" era. That might seem like semantics to you, but believe me, there is a big difference. 
          In including all modern popular music, those at the  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made the term, "rock and roll" very generic. You might not like that, but let's face it, from a marketing standpoint, "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" sounds a lot cooler than, "Popular Music Hall of Fame". So those of you who moan and complain about the fact "it's not rock and roll" ...get over yourselves.
          As to the actual nominees, we'll take a week or two to check them out and maybe to give you a bit more understanding why they are on this list anyway. If your fans of their work, you might already be thinking, "it's about time". At the same time, there are those who I believe should be on this list (or should already have been included)....I'll share those as well.
          I'd love to hear your opinions about this list, or any omission that you would like to see rectified. So...send them on.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Eagles--Take It Easy (1972)

    In the spring of 1971, singer Linda Ronstadt was preparing for a summer/fall tour and her manager, John Boylan was looking to put together a backing band. Glenn Frey was from Detroit and had moved to LA back in 69, Don Henley had come to the city from Texas the next year. Both were recruited for the band. A few months later a couple of relative veterans came into the fold. Bernie Leadon had just finished a stint with the Flying Burrito Brothers after recording a couple of albums with the group. Randy Meisner had begun doing session work on a full time basis again after spending some time with Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band.
     The four actually only played one gig with Ronstadt together, but quickly began to work among themselves on material written by Frey and Henley. By the end of the summer, their work with her had finished, and their work as the Eagles had begun.
     Although much of the first album was written in house, it was a friendship that Frey had with Jackson Browne that produced their first big hit. According to Browne, he had a bit of the song written and was in the studio fooling with it a bit, Frey asked about it and Jackson had replied that it wasn't ready yet. Glenn then suggested that it be completed there in the studio because he liked it. When Browne declined to do so, Frey then suggested that he help complete the song. "...after a couple of times when I declined to have him finish my song, I said, 'alright.' I finally thought, 'this is ridiculous. Go ahead and finish it. Do it.' And he finished it in spectacular fashion. And, what's more, arranged it in a way that was far superior to what I had written." (Taken from 'The Jackson Browne Fan Page')
     The result was a great song which became their first release, and first hit in the Spring in 1972 going to number 12. The debut album in which Browne was working on became a hit as well, with the debut single, "Doctor My Eyes" reaching the top ten.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bob Dylan--The Times They Are A-Changin (1964)

     There is not a lot to add here about Bob Dylan that has not already been said. It is important to note however, that if you are under the age of 40, many of you might wonder what the fuss was really all about. After all, in all of his years he only had four songs in the top 10. His voice has been parodied to the point of exhaustion, and in interviews (like the latest one in Rolling Stone), he comes as a cross between a curmudgeon and a religious zealot.
     Let me put it as succinctly as I can. There has been no one, over this enormous span of a career (now over 50 years) who writes like he can. Almost all of the songwriters in the rock era that we look to as great, has been influenced either directly or indirectly by Dylan's craft. You can take his voice or leave it (am not a great fan of his vocals overall), but you cannot challenge his way with a lyric. By the time The Beatles met him, he had already redefined folk music, written anthems that spoke to a generation, became disillusioned with folk music religiosity and with politics and had begun to turn inward.
     If you hear a singer/songwriter who sings in an introspective manner, you can thank Dylan for that. John Lennon would remark years later that it was Bob's music which taught him that you could write songs that were personal. As strange as it seems, it was not conventional for songwriters to write directly about themselves. Dylan broke the mold for that.
     Together, Dylan and The Beatles led music into the modern Rock era. The Beatles' music came from a fresh take on the Rhythm and Blues filtered Rock and Roll of the middle/late 50's. Dylan's rock came directly from Folk, which shocked many followers, but gained many more fans as the quality of his output never wavered.
     And what an output that was! "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan" (1963), "The Times They Are A-Changing" (1964), "Another Side of Bob Dylan" (1964), "Bringing It All Back Home" (1965), "Highway 61 Revisited" (1965), "Blonde on Blonde" (1966), "John Wesley Harding" (1967), "Nashville Skyline" (1969). Most artists would give anything to have ONE album that was as good as any of these. Instead he gave us an entire decade's worth.
     That is not to say that he sloughed off after that, however it is fair to say that he has had peaks and valleys over the last 40 years. For those who stopped paying attention after Nashville Skyline, it's worth noting (and listening to), his middle 70's output, including, "After the Flood" (1974), "Blood on the Tracks" (1975), and "Desire" (1976). I could list another ten albums that are essential listening after that. It's not like he's been coasting, but after a decade like the 60''s a hard act to follow....ask any of the Beatles.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Duran Duran--Hungry Like The Wolf (1982)

     If I were born ten years later, there might be a quaintness to the synthesizers of the 1980's. As it turns out, growing up during the early days of the Moog taught me a few things (like enjoying the bass sound in a recording) and it seemed as if the entire technology took a step back. Which is why a lot of early 80's stuff leaves me cold except for those artists who understood musical textures and could make the best of lousy keyboards.
     Which brings me to Duran Duran. One could, I suppose discuss the merits of their music, but listening to an hour of them (which happened in prep for the radio show) brings a numbness to my brain cells. Their sound was good enough, and was danceable, but what gave them staying power for so long were the videos.
     Like everyone else in my generation, the idea of seeing an artists rendition of a song was fascinating, even if the artist usually had very little to do with it. I can remember for hours sitting and just watching this (yes kids, MTV used to actually just show videos.....). Looking back now with a tad more jaundice view, it was obvious that without MTV Duran Duran would have gone the way of many a early 80's UK group. However, the guys could make love to the camera and the videos were interesting in a 1982 sort of way.
     In an age now where substance gets overshadowed by flash (there is still a lot of good stuff out there...but you have to work a bit harder for it), one has to look back and wonder if MTV was a good thing at all. Of course, the programming that you find on it now make this video clip look like Masterpiece Theatre.