Thursday, March 26, 2009

Death and Taxes...

So, I’m reading “Hammer of the Gods” for the first time. I know, I haven’t seen “Gone with the Wind”, or “It’s a Wonderful Life” either. That’s just how I roll. Anyway, it’s actually a pretty well done rock biography IMHO. I like the pace Stephen Davis has charted for his chronicle here. I’ve read quite a few of these books as you can imagine, and even if you’re a big fan of the featured band, most of the time authors wander WAY deep into the minutia weeds and adoration quick sand. There are spots of that here and there in “Hammer of the Gods”, but not enough of a distraction that it really bothers you. It’s a good read whether you’re a Zep fan or not. I’m not quite done with it yet, but I’m sold on it already.

Me, I consider myself a fan, but a very selective Zep fan. My main man Jackson has no love for Robert Plant, and has been know to take a swing at Jimmy Page now and again. I get that. Plant is so self indulgent on so many Zep songs that it’s quite frankly unbearable at times forcing the needle to be lifted and the J.R. Tolken lyrical allusions are just the beginning of it. But I’m comfortable being in the camp that recognizes their much deserved greatness by employing strict Zeppelin track selectivity. The entirety of the debut album is enough to give them a seat at the right hand, but the records that follow are where programming your iPod/CD player become a handy tool with the exception of two other LP’s: Zep’s 4th (the one with Stairway) and their by far and away best, “Presence”.

I might have written about this record before, but reading about the circumstances of it’s creation I was compelled to put the earbuds in last night while knocking out a few waning chapters. Apparently, the four fellows were in the throws of lives as ‘Tax Exiles’ like so many of their English rock and roll brethren before and after (It’s uncanny that so many English bands best work was created while they were tax exiles). Zep albums prior to “Presence” were becoming bigger and bigger productions so much so that extra time was needed to rehearse the subsequent tours in order to create playable arraignments of some of the tracks. John Paul Jones was becoming quite the multi-instrumentalist outside of the studio and on the stage due to the extravagance that multi-track tape machines were affording Jimmy’s production. The studio they settled on to record “Presence” was in Munich Germany (the city of my birth). The owners were barely able to accommodate them since the Rolling Stones were scheduled to take the place over in two short weeks. Given their status and short lead time, they were not able to import the entirety of their bloated collection of gear and thus the album is devoid of synths, sitars, mandolins, etc… and THIS, as Davis notes in his book, is what makes it such a great record. Singer, guitar, bass, and drums. Nothing more, nothing less.

The band completed everything including vocal overdubs in the two weeks they had, the only thing left to be done were lead guitar overdubs which, in normal circumstances, Jimmy would take several weeks to suss out on his own. Jimmy ended up calling Mick Jagger and asking if he could have two more days. Mick, the English gentlemen he is, was only happy to oblige (besides, Keith would inevitably turn up a week late anyway). Miraculously, Page ripped all his lead work to tape in that 48 hour period. I’m strongly of the opinion it’s his best work EVER. Jimmy was a very successful studio musician for many years before even joining The Yardbirds and I get the feeling reading about the Presence recording sessions that the one take world he must have been in for those 48 hours was both struggle and liberation from the usual practice of doing hundreds of takes and dissecting them later in the mixing process. His ‘let it fly’ work on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Achilles Last Stand” is top shelf. My favorite is “Tea For One”. Not only is Jimmy brilliant, but it’s just one instance of an impressive Plant vocal and great lyric a rare enough thing (see Plant comments above), but the band is tight as a drum.

“Hammer of the Gods” is chock full of the now well worn tales of concert tour debauchery, but I think Led Zeppelin should hold a soft spot in all who fell head first into the late seventies/early eighties heavy metal scene whether we like Zep’s music or not. The Zeps were constantly dismissed by high and mighty critics and rock journalists of the day to the point of ridicule, especially by Rolling Stone Magazine. Of course, these are the same assholes who gave all the early Black Sabbath records one and two stars. These detestable snots just couldn’t get their arms around pure energy driven guitar rock. They wanted Dylan and ELP (yipes!). Looking back, it’s hard to believe that these alleged journalists couldn’t comprehend why America’s teenage boys were flocking to Zeppelin’s record breaking sold out shows and buying their LP’s by the metric ton, but I knew, WE knew, Black Sabbath knew (it’s a point of fact that “Presence” was the first LP ever to ship platinum). It’s fair to say that Black Sabbath owes their existence to Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin WERE the heavy metal pioneers that they’ve been lauded to be and for that I thank them, and especially for the album “Presence”.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Funny. As. Hell.

Dr. Zibbs over at That Blue Yak posted this this morning and I can't stop laughing about it.

Click the link to and read the customers reviews. If you don't have tears rolling down your face within minutes, you are a simply souless individual and probably pooped in your pants in the 2nd grade and everybody laughed at you and called you Pooper all the way through high school.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

'Till the day I die...

My wife called me at work last Thursday with the news that the radio station she was listening to were leaking the summer line up for Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheater summer concert series. Chastain is what I refer to as our fare city’s cool little ‘sit down’ concert venue. For some shows, they even set up tables down front and allow all ticket holders to bring wine & cheese type goodies into the show. The music’s volume is usually cranked a little low due to the neighborhood setting the venue sits in, which can be a bit annoying since the uppercrusters buy tickets for the whole series, attend the concerts they care little about for the social aspect, and fucking blather on endlessly all the way through a show you’ve been counting down days to see. Despite this, the wife and I REALLY look forward to taking in a few concerts each year with our more musically inclined friends Bob and Betty the Builder. We’ve seen quite a few great shows at Chastain over the years, Elvis Costello, James Gang, Mark Knopfler, Allison Krauss with Union Station and Robert Plant respectively, to recall a few.

But Mrs. Alva seemed to have a bit of excitement in her voice as she exclaimed, “I think they said Bad Company will be playing this year, honey”. She got me attention with that for certain. We were primed and ready on Sunday morning when tickets went on sale and jumped on’em at 10:00 AM sharp as Live Nation’s internet ordering site lit up. We had to do some digging, but we’re 99.99% confident that the line up will be Mick Ralphs, Simon Kirke, and Paul Rodgers with the American Bass player who tours with Paul’s solo act (whose name escapes me at the moment) filling in for the deceased Boz Burell.

The critical path item here being Paul Rodgers of course. I have never quite figured out why many of my past and current music friends slag Bad Company so much. I vividly remember their epic and flawless self titled debut album flooding out over the airwaves on early FM radio stations in the mid 70’s and being floored by the cool sounds emanated from the little transistor radio speaker. Killer hooks, perfect soulful vocals, gorgeous, choruses, and that can be said for EVERY SONG ON THAT RECORD! Oddly enough, Bad Company was one of those LP’s that all my friends had, so I never actually owned a copy of my own until much later in life. During my crazy metal years, I didn’t listen to it much at all, but 10 years later I picked up a CD copy and listened to it again. It was like discovering the Holy Grail or something. I could now appreciate the phenomenal drumming of Simon Kirke, and McRalph’s tone rich and tasteful guitar playing, but what stands out even more is Paul’s singing. He is simply the Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhodes, etc of singers. Can’t buy into that? Tell me this then: Name one 60 year old singer or older who can sing pitch perfect, heartfelt, note for note, IN THE SAME KEY IT WAS ORIGINALLY RECORDED IN, every song from his/her first recording? As cliché as it sounds, the guy has actually improved with age. Speaking of age, it would appear that Paul Rodgers seems to be immune to the ravages of the inevitable. He doesn’t look a day over forty.

It’s hard to believe that there are deep cuts on the debut record since most of the tracks are FM radio heavy rotation staples: Can’t Get Enough, Movin’ On, Ready For Love, Rock Steady (one of the best vocal recording EVER), and the title track, but the gold is in the two ‘deep cuts’, ‘The Way That I Choose’, and the slow blues number ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. You can practically hear Simon Kirke coming off of his drum stool as he crashes around his kit in Don’t Let Me Down’s finale. Amazingly enough, the debut Bad Co record was recorded in 10 days using some spare downtime Zeppelin’s mobile recording unit found. Ten days to create a masterpiece. Isn’t it funny how things work out that way? Sure, The Firm may not pass muster to some, but denying greatness to Bad Company’s first album, Straight Shooter, and Runnin’ with the Pack borders on criminal behavior.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

There is water at the bottom of the ocean...

The liner notes read like a warning on a pack of cigarettes: “This material was recorded on analog equipment, ignoring modern noise reduction techniques. We pay our humble respects to the mighty gods of analog tape who have shown us both their destructive power and their compassionate mercy”

In the space usually dedicated to gear endorsements by the band members this caution, “Reverb and tremolo are welcome; all other effects are strictly forbidden”. This is followed by similar accolades to nebulous ‘old strings and old guitars’. The section ends with, “Norm eats Maruchan Ramen Noodles exclusively”, no doubt offering first person testament to the fact that life as a working musician is fraught with poverty, hardship, and lots of hard work. If you stop and think about it, it’s a wonder that anybody in their right mind would even consider playing music as a career at all. I have many musician friends and included in that list are a few who have passionately chosen it as their life long profession. The word ‘sacrifice’ could surely be inserted in that previous sentence without risk of hyperbole or apology.

So it was on a rainy Friday night last week that my brother Mathdude and I set out in search of a long lost friend and a little salvation in the form of one Lonesome Jim Ransone and his band The Breeze Kings. My faded memories of Jim are of a brilliant, if not painfully quiet, young guy who balanced his time back in high school between his academics, playing music, and being dragged by my brother into many ill-fated capers and misadventures. From what Jim told us, he begrudgingly attended Georgia Tech and earned an engineering degree at his father’s insistence and once he wrapped that up, he turned to his dad and said, “Okay, can I go play music now?” Of course I’m fictionalizing a bit here, but you get the gist. Amazingly, it turns out that Jim was the founder of a smoking hot band called The Urban Shake Dancers whose music I was baptized in upon arrival to Atlanta in 1991 by my ragtag gang of music friends who had graciously welcomed me into their circle. My new friends had gone to high school with the other members of the Shake Dancers and I’m certain that Jim and I were in the same room on a couple of occasions unbeknownst to either one of us.

Oh yeah, music, sacrifice, passion… The Breeze Kings. I’m pretty certain Jim had to seek out his ‘other’ education some place other than on the campus of the MIT of the South, but judging from the performance my brother and I witnessed, and after giving The Breeze Kings two brilliant CD’s multiple spins, it would seem that Jim has been doing post doc work on the life and times of Willie Dixon, Bobby Blue Bland, and Albert Collins. Mathdude and I were treated to three of the most scorching sets of traditional Chicago blues I’d heard since seeing Mr. Collins himself perform “Too Many Dirty Dishes” at ‘The Chance’ in Poughkeepsie NY back in the late 80’s.

The Breeze Kings have all the bases covered and it always starts with a swinging drummer especially when it comes to their style of music. And that’s what Mark Yarbrough is: One swingin’ son of bitch. Coupled with Dave Roth’s masterful bass rumbling and Bill Wyman-esk demeanor, Jim was free to channel with reckless abandon the ghosts of Chess Studios through his Gibson ES 135 and tweed covered tube amp. There are many great trad blues bands out there, but for me what makes one rise up out of the fog over another is how well the singer can keep up. Authenticity is made or broken in this key role. Carlos Capote’s melodic voice and mastery of the harmonica certainly didn’t disappoint me, Mathdude, or the other hundred or so in the room. I think the only critical comment I could make about the evening (other than the pouring rain) was that while the Fern Bank Martini Night drew an enthusiastic and generous sized crowd, there are places in Atlanta I’d rather see my friend and his band throw down at ( Blind Willie’s off the top of my head). The 60ft ceilings, marble floors, T-Rex and Aptosaurus skeleton backdrop were a little distracting. It would be even more amazing if at some point I could catch them accompanied by 'The Gimme Dolla Orchestra' who graces the band’s “You Got to Bring Some …To Get Some” album.

We’ve since heard back from Jim and you can bet I’ll be dragging my wife and friends out to see The Breeze Kings again very soon. If you like this kind of music, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of either of their records available at ‘Sorry That You Put Me Down’ is worth the price alone. You will NOT be disappointed.