Archive for the 'Guitar Gods' Category

01
Mar
19

Mountain “Flowers of Evil”

The guitars on this record just won’t quit. They may well outlast the demise of almost everything else on the Earth. In some future time, just after the cockroaches have even finally all died out, those guitars might still be going. But it’s just one guitar, right? Do I have to look this up? Sometimes I want to deal with a record just at face value, which is why I so enjoyed staying at various cabins in the “North Woods” where the internet is just a rumor, yet they have an old hi-fi and a stack of moldy LPs. This one has everything you need, pictures of the four guys in the band and simple descriptions of the instruments they play (guitar, vocals, bass, drums, keyboards), songwriting credits, some lyrics, but like a lot of older records, no date. (It’s from 1971.) Great front cover black and white band photo—the guys wearing their best stuff, but trying to look casual, and like the photographer was able to expend exactly one photo. On one guy’s shirt it says “Gerken”—but I think that was written there by the former owner of this LP—Gerken is a company that moves dirt from point A to point B. Or it could be a misspelling of gherkin, a type of pickle. Or it could be an obscure weed reference. Or the former owner’s name. At any rate, any of those things could explain the condition of this record (dirt, weed, pickle juice)—it’s close to unplayable. There are also liner notes explaining how side two—which is live—is really long (almost half an hour) which—considering that it was not really recommended making LPs that long due to diminishing sound quality— is really not all that bad sounding.

There has been nearly a half century of guitar heavy rock played, recorded, performed, and practiced by too-loud-neighbors since this record came out, which is a staggering amount, enough to sink the world and float the Titanic. So it’s kind of hard to appreciate what was likely the mind-blowing and groundbreaking nature of the hard rock this band was playing—but it’s just really difficult to put into perspective. I could probably enjoy it more if the record didn’t sound like it was being simultaneously murdered as it played. To be fair, I looked for some stuff on the internet, and there is some really great old footage of them playing live, and I very much enjoyed that. The guitar player and singer, Leslie West, is a big, sweaty guy, and really fun to watch play. I always love when a guitar player makes his guitar look like both a toy, a weapon, and an unwanted growth he’s trying to eradicate. I also really like certain guy’s names that are more often women’s names—not the unisex names, but the ones that kind of throw you off, like Leslie and Tracy. I don’t know why that’s important—and why names are important—but it is and they are.

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26
Jan
19

Chicago “Chicago”

I bought a late-Seventies Chicago record when I was in high school and was so-so about it, then later I just didn’t like them at all, so it was a surprise to me when, a few years ago, I found myself compulsively listening to some of their early stuff, especially the hits. I bought this 1970 record, titled “Chicago” (but also referred to as Chicago II, I guess, because it’s their second LP) from a $4 bin—mostly fascinated because the cover was thin cellophane over what looks like a badly photocopied cover, and the label is this really exotic, old, Asian looking, beautiful silver printing on red, called “First.” What was it? I looked it up when I got home, and it turns out it’s from Taiwan, maybe legit, maybe a bootleg, who knows. I thought it might be unlistenable, but for $4, I was just curious. It turns out that it’s not only listenable, but a great record with great sound. I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not (and my stereo system is an ongoing adventure in inconsistency), but weirdly it sounds better than any other record—just really lush and warm. How much that has to do with the pressing, and how much is just the recording, playing, songs—I have no idea. One thing about the band, Chicago, that I really like, is how uncomplicated their early recordings are, while being tremendously complex—you know, in song structure and arrangements—but just all really organic sounding.

I finally got curious and consulted the internet about these Taiwanese pressings, and sure enough, people talk about the sound quality being really good. I didn’t want to go down that particular rabbit-hole though—you’ve got to protect yourself, you know, from the old rabbit-holes—but I did note that someone talked about the weird cellophane covered album covers that are just like covers printed on the back of other things and then wrapped in this plastic. Then, looking closely at the cover of this Chicago record, I could see this faint writing coming through, and it said: “Shaft’s Big Score!” So then I had to cut the plastic away to see what was going on, and it turns out the Chicago cover is printed on very thin paper, and the inner structure of the album cover is made up of a Taiwanese printed “Shaft’s Big Score!” LP, and a divider (it’s a double record) in the middle is the cover of “Blood, Sweat & Tears 3.” Just really bizarre. Anyway, not ever having heard this record, except for some of the hit songs, I just kind of thought maybe the whole thing was some kind of random bootleg collection, but as it turns out, it’s just their second record, and it is kind of bizarre, just all over the place, but really great from beginning to end. They sure were pretty ambitious for a new band. I guess their first few records were double records, like they just didn’t realize that most sane bands primarily put out single records. At first they were called Chicago Transit Authority, but wisely chose to shorten the name (seeing how it’s even more syllables than ELO, and probably could foresee a career of rock journalists’ cleverness: “elevated” or “missed the bus”) to Chicago, and adopted that dumb script logo that looks like the sign for a deli, or something printed on a fat guy’s softball uniform.

I don’t want to go down a Chicago rabbit-hole, either—well, I just did—looking over their discography, and history, about which I know nothing. I rarely consult other music writers (I read lots of music writers, but I mean, specifically, when writing a review), but I was compelled to check Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” which is a great website, with no bullshit popping up, with an index, and searchable, tons of concise and insightful music writing (plus, he had the honor of getting a taste of his own medicine from Lou Reed, on that “Take No Prisoners” live record). Let’s see… Chicago… Christgau is… not a fan. To say the least. But I guess I am, now. Maybe I’ll pick up some more of the early records (I have a copy the their first “greatest hits” LP). Then, of course, I started reading about the tragic death of Terry Kath, and tried to remember what I thought about it at the time—1978. We didn’t have the internet, of course, and so we had to wait for any news to be on the radio or TV or in the papers, and then to really find out anything, next month’s Rolling Stone. I guess by that point I thought of the band as an insipid AM radio hits band, but still, it was pretty sad and senseless and depressing. Then later the same year, my hero Keith Moon died, and that really hit me hard. While I was legitimately sad, I remembered thinking that the intense public mourning for Elvis (the previous year) was kind of ridiculous (though it’s easy to forget that he was only 42). But Terry Kath and Keith Moon were barely into their early thirties. I don’t really believe that “only the good die young” thing (maybe it’s more that they haven’t had the time yet to become wretched), but considering another prominent 1946 birth… well, forget that (I try to avoid presidential politics on this site, but it is notable when someone goes from being merely a huge, reeking, cultural turd to a literal giant magnet for hate, racism, intolerance, and fascism).

A couple of years ago, when David Bowie died, and then a few months later, Prince died, I did feel pretty emotional, sad and devastated—again wondering if that made sense, not knowing them personally. But now, because of social media, you are very much aware of this as a shared experience. It is not at all unusual for people to mourn the loss of artists, public figures, who enrich their lives. Thinking about it now, when Terry Kath died, I was still in high school, living with my parents, and my shared experience about this kind of thing was primarily with them. And in those years, from the time of my birth, to the point at which I first moved away from home (which coincided, by chance, with Keith Moon’s death) my experiencing and dealing with the death of family members, friends, and public figures was a pretty intimate experience with my parents, and I feel like I was closer with them, on a communication level, than probably the average kid. So I’m thinking about that now… started out to write about this Chicago record… talk about your rabbit-hole…

11
Jan
19

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality”

A record that made a huge impression on me as a kid—I don’t remember when I bought it, but pretty close to when it came out in 1971. The first chords of “Sweet Leaf” still send me right into the time machine. And this was three full years (an eternity to a teenager) before I first smoked marijuana! Those had to be some yearning years—or maybe Carly Simon said it best (interestingly, from the same year)—“Anticipation”—which is about waiting for that damn ketchup to come out of the bottle—so a similar sentiment. We all know what “Sweet Leaf” is about—it’s the best song ever written about my favorite plant, thing that grows, food, smell, and God’s creation: basil. I love basil so much, if I could, I’d marry it—but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because straight people are just so small minded. Anyway, this song! Whoever wrote these lyrics is of a like mind, though, obviously. At the end of the second verse lies what I consider one of the greatest lyric lines in all of rock music: “I love you sweet leaf—though you can’t hear.” Indeed.

“Children of the Grave” may be the first song I ever heard where the guitar does that thing that I can’t really put into words—but it’s kind of like chugging along, you know—chug-chugging along—dum-di-di-dum-di-di-dum-di-di… I’m not crazy about it. But then there is also this really weird kind of percussive sound that I have no idea what it is—I mean, it’s most likely drums, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of normal drums… it’s this kind of flapping noise, like the rear quarter panel of your car is loose. Or maybe it’s like some old gothic church shutter is hanging by a nail and flapping somewhat rhythmically to Satan’s whim. It also makes me think of the sound those androids made—I mean when you saw them alone—maybe it’s what they were hearing, actually—in the original Westworld movie (1973). It’s got to be drums, though, right? And I did listen to the conversation with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on Joe Wong’s The Trap Set podcast—but I can’t remember if he shed any light on that song, so I’m going to have to listen to it again.

It really is one of the best stoner records of all time, regardless of what you’re smoking. You don’t even need to be high to appreciate it—it will make you high. I wonder, like back when this came out, how much really inferior weed got a free pass just because this record was doing all the heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure there’s one of those 33 1/3 books about it, and I might consider reading it—those books are all over the place, so you’ve just got to try each one. And I forgot to mention the cover—it’s one of the best album covers ever. I don’t have to describe it, do I? The wavy, block letters, slightly raised, on a black background. BLACK SABBATH in this really kind of low-key purple, and then MASTER OF REALITY in black—so it’s black on black! I think I’m as impressed with it now as I was when I was 11. Though maybe I’m still 11.

15
Nov
18

Grateful Dead “Workingman’s Dead”

I know less about the Grateful Dead’s discography than about fine wines—totally, exactly, nothing—but I’d like to know more, and I’d like to find a way to like them someday, because I feel like they could be an acquired taste—that is acquired through listening to them—but putting in the time might pay some kind of dividends consisting of a pleasurable knowledge and depth of appreciation. But for now, to me, they still sound like a bunch of annoyingly stoned commune hippies. What a great band name, though!—who was around on band naming day? I can never get a handle on their sound—I can’t pick out individual singers or musicians—its a large band, but they usually sound like just a few people are playing. This record is another one like that—it all kind of blended together like a way too healthy smoothie—the exception being the last song, which is that famous, “Ridin’ that train, high on cocaine,” song, which is named, “Casey Jones”—I never knew that.

The first time I ever heard one of their songs, that I’ve been aware of, was on this early-seventies collection I bought—sold to me by TV commercials—when I was like 11, and it had the song “Truckin’” on it, which pretty much fascinated me, the breezy style of playing and singing, but even more, the lyrics—something about a salt machine, and livin’ on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine. The lyrics are all credited to someone named Robert Hunter, which fascinated me, as he was not a musician in the band. I read somewhere (probably Rolling Stone magazine) that he was the Dead’s lyricist, which seemed so bizarre to me… though, same thing with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, right? But this Robert Hunter, what was he like? I wanted to find out more, but we were a long way off from having the internet, not unlike me here in the “North Woods”—and, in fact, it occurs to me that the perfect scenario would be for the Grateful Dead (I mean, in a perfect world where they were still together and all still alive) to join me here in this cabin and play for about 12 hours straight while I put this old turntable to rest for awhile. I suppose if that happened I’d become either a huge fan or the harshest critic, but I’m guessing they’d all be cool and we’d have a good time and I’d finally gain some crucial insight into this music.

17
Aug
18

Charlie Pickett and the Eggs “Live At The Button”

This 1982 record, full title: Charlie Pickett and the Eggs Live at The Button on Fort Lauderdale Beach, showed up at the Spindizzy record store in Kent, Ohio sometime in 1982 or 1983, probably as a promo, since we were a record store, or because the store was also the address of several zines that reviewed independently released records—though, honestly, I can’t remember how or why it got there. Because no one had ever heard of Charlie Pickett and pretty much associated Fort Lauderdale with “Spring Break,” and they didn’t look too punk-rock on the back cover, and most of the songs were covers, it’s kind of remarkable anyone ever put it on, but once we did, probably intending to make fun of it, we all flipped over it, and especially Keith Busch did, as it was his kind of thing. Immediately evident was that being live was not a drawback (no corny ass-kissing the audience, and excellently recorded) and it was raw and unpolished garage rock (essentially more “punk rock” than many of the bands calling themselves punk rock in what was already the waning days of punk rock).

I haven’t listened to this in years, so it’s a nice surprise how it still sounds great to me; Charlie Pickett’s voice reminds me of someone, but maybe it’s just the memory of listening to this album endlessly for awhile. The band is pretty hot. The album cover is a grainy b&w photo of what looks like a DMV, but it’s more than likely “The Button”—which is a weird name for a club, if you ask me. The liner notes on back—by Paul Beeman (like the gum)—are hilarious. Ten of the 13 songs are covers, though only two of which I knew at the time—and one of which (The Velvet Underground’s “Lonesome Cowboy Bill”) inspired us to do it, in our band (the Ragged Bags) at that time. I was just thinking about playing that song—while looking back through old notebooks—when I saw a Keith Busch quote I had scrawled there, about our version of it: “It’s bad enough that we don’t do the middle—we have to end it somewhere.”

Since I have the internet now, I can look up who some of the songs are originally by: The Velvet Underground, The Yardbirds, Flamin’ Groovies, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Peter Green, Freddy Cannon, and Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers. My favorites are “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I” and “Slow Death.” And there are some fine original songs. While looking this up I hoped to avoid seeing anything depressing, like everyone in this band died a grizzly death and/or worse, but what I did come upon was a very recent article about Charlie Pickett releasing a new record! So that kind of warmed my heart. It turns out that they were influential and loved by a few more people than just us, I guess—and people are dying to get this old record. Or, at least, a lot of people are dying, and this record often happens to be found at the scene of the crime. Nothing surprises me anymore. Anyway, it’s a great record. The only downside is that it ends with a train song, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

21
Jul
18

Silver Jews “American Water”

There is more minimal packaging, I suppose, but not much—the cover looks like a computer drawing (or could be a painting, but as a reproduction it looks like computer art) of a Western landscape with a pink highway extending to a butte strewn grey horizon. All letters are in a font called “not my favorite font”—the same font on other Silver Jews records, I think. Fonts were never a big deal until there were choices, and then came the problems. This record, on Drag City records in Chicago, is from 1998 (I only know that later, when the one thing I’m later using the internet for is the dates, because inexplicably, a lot of records contain no date whatsoever, which really kind of drives me crazy). There is absolutely no information on this record except the name of the band, the name of the album, the song titles, and their times. Oh, wait, I just discovered a one page insert (I swear that it wasn’t in there before—is someone fucking with me?) with lyrics, some drawings, copyright date, recording info, and five names of band members. There’s David Berman, of course, and this incarnation of the band included Stephen Malkmus, who co-wrote a couple of songs. I’m not sure where this record sits in the Silver Jews timeline, but it’s not the first and not the last.

This is a remarkably good record, and the only reason it’s not my favorite is because I’m pretty sure I like that Bright Flight one more, but that could change the more I listen to this. David Berman’s lyrics are so good it’s worth your time listening for awhile (you can generally understand them when he sings) then going back to read along while listening, because it’s probably going to increase the depth of your understanding. Try “Buckingham Rabbit”—holy shit. A couple of songs are co-written by Malkmus and you can tell, they sound like his kind of songs, and I think on those they sing together, like a duel lead vocal. I might be wrong, I wasn’t there. My favorite is “Blue Arrangements”—listen to the first two verses, the lyrics with the sleepy singing, the guitar, and if you don’t fall in love with that combination of words, images, sounds etc., you and I aren’t going to be taking a cross-county car trip anytime soon.

11
Jan
18

Endless Boogie “Focus Level”

Another double album, though there are only 11 long songs, some mostly instrumental, and some with singing that reminds me a little of the Chinese Electrical Band (my first band, not at all Chinese). I can’t make out a single lyric to save my life. The cover opens up to reveal, inside, a huge painting of a party consisting of a bunch of young people in an era several centuries past; it actually looks to me like a computer generated photo collage treated to look like a painting, but I don’t know, really, and honestly don’t care; I kind of like it, but then there was always something annoying to me about albums that opened to reveal more art—you’ve got the front and back cover! And then there is one of those annoying one sheet inserts for the credits, but it’s mostly more art and tells you very little, like who’s in this band and playing what?

Or who is even in the band. I heard one of these guys—or was it two?—or is there only one?—on the WTF podcast and it was pretty interesting, but I don’t remember any of the details. I’m not supposed to remember things, that’s what the internet is for! Anyway, some of these songs make me think of an annoying roommate who you want to take the guitar away from. But then some of them remind me of the first few times I went to see punk bands in Cleveland (at the Drome) and some of them sounded more like hard rock than punk, but that was okay because it was pretty severe, and heavy, and it was live. And then some of the other songs make me think of high school, going to see a local hard rock cover band at the marina or the county fair; one of those bands who has a cobbled together, homemade “light show” and is playing stuff like that “Slow ride, take it easy,” song (Foghat?) and that “Now you’re messin’ with a… sonofabitch,” song (Nazareth?)—not that any of this is a bad thing, it’s all about positive and visceral memories. In fact, those county fair bands made a much bigger impression on me than Blue Oyster Cult at a sports arena, capacity 12 billion. I thought BOC were pretty wanky, actually, though the bad pot didn’t help, nor the fact that they followed Bob Seger and ZZ Top. Anyway, I really like a lot of this stuff. There’s a fine line between wankiness and art, and if you take the chance to be wanky, sometimes, you might be able to make art you wouldn’t have been able to come up with if you didn’t venture into wankyville.




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