Thursday, May 30, 2013

Whatta Punk!

OK; time to switch gears a little...focus on a different "genre."  I have been rambling on about classic bands, great guitarists, musicians who played their last gig, the ultimate super-group, and the sheer beauty that is progressive rock.  I think maybe it's time to let loose, put on some ripped jeans, crank the amps up to 11, rattle the windows, and just rip it up.  That's right; time for a little punk!

From the late 70's through the mid 80's, many a band tried to wear the punk moniker...but true punk was a world unto itself.  At some point there came a division in the ranks and the term "New Wave" was born.  I know my parents couldn't tell the difference--they hated it all.  But for me there is no comparing Squeeze and The Pretenders with The Slits and Black Flag...

Some bands landed somewhere in the middle; Siouxsie and The Banshees, Gang of Four, Lene Lovitch, Romeo Void, (early) Elvis Costello, and the Buzzcocks could arguably fall on either side of the discussion...but I would classify this group as New Wave artists--not that there is anything wrong with that.  Some crossed into multiple genres and built careers that are pretty damn impressive.  Still others, Joe Jackson, Nick Lowe, The Three O'Clock, XTC, and Ultravox among them, are a little harder to define.  Not Punk, not New Wave--and please don't get me started on that "Romantic Era" crap.  Every time I hear someone mention that term out loud and there are no history books on the table, I throw up in my mouth just a little bit...

So back to the topic at hand.  I believe punk was born out of necessity; disco was emerging around the same time--and starting to get a death grip on the airwaves.  I remember flipping the dial in my youth desperately trying to find something that wasn't making my ears bleed.  I may be labeling myself here--I like to think that I am open to (almost) all things music--but there are still a few genres I am unable to find pleasure in...and pure unadulterated disco is one of them.  One can only listen to so much Donna Summer, Lipps Inc. (get it?), and the Bee Gees before doubting the meaning of life.

Punk brought the establishment to its well dressed knees.  No one really knew what to make of it, and most of the bands that really had something to say were not getting much airplay outside college radio stations.  Then along came 1977 and the axis of the music world tilted just a bit...The Sex Pistols released "Never Mind the Bullocks Here's the Sex Pistols," Talking Heads released "Talking Heads: 77," and The Clash released their self-titled debut.  Radio stations outside New York and L.A. were not too sure what to make of it.  I still fondly recall making a request to the local radio station where I lived to play "Psycho Killer" only to be told, "We don't play that shit" by the how times have changed... I remember my dad thinking it was therapy session time when I brought two records home one day..."Buddy Holly Lives" and the aforementioned "Never Mind the Bullocks;" I think it put a new spin on "shock and awe."

But punk music was (fortunately) here to stay.  Bands like The Ramones, Dead Kennedys, Killing Joke, and  The Exploited were making their mark and not going away--quite the contrary.  Looking back, one could say these bands were  blazing a trail for other punk bands, much the way Dusty Springfield and Nancy Sinatra blazed a trail for women in rock 'n' roll.  Many excellent, and not-so-excellent, bands came from the fruit of the 70's punk tree.  Spin Magazine at one time rated The Ramones the "seventh best band in the world"  and Pete Townsend once referred to The Clash as the only legitimate band with something real to say.  Green Day owes a debt of gratitude to Johnny Rotten, Joey Ramone, and Joe Strummer.

Punk was a necessary step in the evolution of Rock 'n' Roll...much the way onion soup gratinee was a necessary step in the evolution of cuisine...something great that led to something better.  Mainstream music started to get pretty stale during the 70's; top 40 was dominated by shallow pop tunes and record labels were aiming for the middle of the road--what I call the "Vanilla Section" of musical taste.  I know there was still still some good music out there--Pink Floyd, Yes, The Allman Brothers, and a host of others were still cutting great albums--but the airwaves were clogged with shallow 3-minute songs about nothing...and then along came punk, and just in time...

The Clash were a breath of fresh air on the music scene, and Talking Heads went off in a direction previously        unexplored.  Their version of "Take Me to the River" still rates as one of the best covers of all time.  While The Clash sang about defying authority and standing up for what you believe in, Talking Heads were exploring new musical ground with every LP released.  As is the case with most things in life, some bands lasted long enough to put one LP together and others outlasted the celebration entirely...still others stayed the course of the local bar scene, building a loyal local fan base but little else.  Some bands made a quiet noise; leaving their mark and moving onto better things while never being quite able to get that smash hit that would have propelled them to stardom.

If anything important came from the punk movement--and certainly something did--I believe it was a determination to never give in to what we are told to think, say, and do.  Punk gave us our nerve back; music had been numbed-down to meaningless bubblegum ditties that were synthesized and so smooth you slid right off.  There was no depth, no soul, no guts.  Even some of the stars that cut their teeth in the early 70's were jumping on the disco bandwagon...and then a movie came out in 1978 that almost made me throw out my turntable...Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  It wasn't so much the movie itself--I knew enough to stay away based solely on the movie trailers--it was who was in it that crushed my spirit.  Elvin Bishop, Johnny Winter, Alan White, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall, Wilson Pickett, Nils Lofgren, and Nona Hendryx were among a  myriad of stars that performed the title song at the end of the show.  Billy Preston actually had a role in the movie.  George Martin even worked with Robert Stigwood to put this celluloid cancer together...this to me was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

The world needed a music transfusion and punk was in the right place at the right time.  While The Ramones were busy kicking the shit out amplifiers and each other, The Clash was attacking everybody and everything held in any regard...and The Sex Pistols just shot a load of heroin into the whole thing.  Punk was the kid brother who kicked the cat when Aunt Alice wasn't looking, laughing the whole time and flipping everybody off while you took the blame for it.

Punk was the next step in the evolution of Rock 'n' Roll.  New genres and hundreds of bands made their mark post-punk; some good and some not-so-much...but all owe their existence to the thumb in the eye that is Punk Rock.  I chose the post below mainly because I believe that while it is impossible to capture the entire punk movement in one song, this comes about as close as one can.

I'd flip you off, but it almost seems redundant...


Friday, May 24, 2013

If I Could Build a Band

Been away too long...sorting through life and the debris that clutters the halls of my head...but I am back and looking to get this gig into high(er) gear.  Staying on that theme, I have often thought about who I would choose if I were able to build a band...and the more I think about it the more I realize it ain't as easy as it sounds.

My first decision is to make this an expanded band...too much talent around to make this a five-man gig and besides; it is my dream...vocalist seems like a logical starting point so I will obviously skip past the microphone and move to the back of the stage...right to the drums and percussion.  There are so many options here that I almost don't know where to I thumb through my vinyl collection for a little inspiration.  Of course, I stumble across many albums that list Bill Bruford in the credits--and I have made my first draft pick.

Bill Bruford is to drumming what foie gras is to pate; the standard-bearer.  I played "Close to the Edge" so many times as a kid I think my mother had it memorized...and Bill quickly moved from that drum stool to record "Red" with King impressive resume on its own; but he didn't stop there.  Mr. Bruford has released extensive solo work, played all the drums on Chris Squire's "Fish Out of Water," served a brief stint with Genesis, and formed his own band, simply called "Bruford."  Moving into the jazz arena, Bill played with Earthworks, owns two record labels, still plays with Yes and KC (no, not the sunshine band smart-ass) in an on-again/off-again way, and released his autobiography in 2009.

To fill this section of the stage, I bring on board Steve Scales first.  I always admired his ability to bring albums to life.  His addition to Talking Heads was a tour I still play over in my head, having been fortunate enough to catch a few stops.  What he was able to do with the "Remain in Light" album live was nothing short of astounding.  Steve also played on solo projects by Heads members Jerry Harrison and David Byrne as well as the side band Tom Tom Club.  Steve also added his playing style to the Psychedelic Furs, Violent Femmes, and performed with  Yoko Ono and Bryan Ferry among others.

Every band (at least the ones I design) need more than one drummer.  To help Bruford round out the drumming I add Levon Helm.  In reality (if this was reality), I would be adding everything here to Levon Helm's band.  To do this in reverse is almost sacrilegious...Levon Helm is a rock 'n' roll drummer in the truest sense of the word.  He left everything he had on the stage at the end of the gig.  The Band put together classic album after classic album and Levon was at the forefront of the group with Robbie Robertson--not many drummers carried the clout in their band that Levon did in his.  He was not only the drummer, he was multi-talented; playing  keyboards, harmonica, even singing lead vocals.  Levon also tried his hand at acting, but that is a story for another blog...

Moving to the right of the drummer, I see a few bass guitar players...Jaco Pastorius and Chris Squire come to mind immediately, but I need to expand in my blogging...these artists and masters of their trade were mentioned in an earlier post.  So lining up along side these two I would like to see Alan Spenner, but as is the case in this business, Mr. Spenner has moved to that great gig in the sky.  Playing with everyone from Joe Cocker at Woodstock (he was a member of Joe's original backing band The Grease Band), Roxy Music, and Kokomo, Alan brought a bluesy soul to the bass that made focusing on the bass guitar a necessary part of the music listening ritual.  Another bass player I have always enjoyed listening to is Roger Waters...both during and after his Pink Floyd days.  I always try to steer clear of why bands go through the messy break-ups they do--too many fragile egos involved and all I want to do is enjoy the sound.  I would also have to include Boz Burrell...another member of the rock 'n' roll died-of-a-heart-attack too young club. Boz played with King Crimson and Bad Company and had a great blues voice.  He performed in the late 60's with Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice,  and Jon Lord...remember deep Purple? the drum kits are manned and the bass line is keeping the discipline.  Let's move to the keyboards and save the lead/rhythm guitar debate for later.  I don't believe any band is complete without Sly Stone and Billy Preston pushing each other to the most extreme limits on keys...I can still see Preston leaping up and dancing at George Harrison's Benefit Concert for Bangladesh...the producers had to be wondering where the hell he went when the keyboards were unmanned and the crowd was going nuts...this being decades before technology placed a camera every 15 feet along the stage so social media can get instant feeds.  I would be selling the band short, however, if I stopped there.  At the risk of requiring 300 feet of stage triple-tiered to accommodate all the equipment, I would also give Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess, and Garth Hudson stage space.  Emerson, I am sure, is well known from his Atomic Rooster and ELP days, and Jordan has been building quite a resume for himself with Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment...of course gaining entry into Julliard at the ripe old age of nine is an impressive stat as well.  Garth is a master of all things piano and can play almost any instrument put before him.  He was classically trained in his youth and was a pillar of The Band.  Of course Brian Eno must get stage presence as well...I could ramble on for days as to why...but if you don't know his music spend a few days on YouTube catching up....

To avoid having this particular blog entry ramble on forever--it has been in the making now for about two weeks--I will take a few liberties and combine all horns, brass, and accompanying instruments into one category.  Starting with harmonica, I would have Norton Buffalo front and center.  Norton played for almost everyone it seems and was a member of the Steve Miller band for over 30 years.  He toured and recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Elvin Bishop, The Doobie Brother, and Commander Cody among others.  Buffalo also released a few solo albums during his time...No horn section could be complete without Chris Wood, co-founder (along with Steve Winwood) of Traffic.  Chris played flute and saxophone in his day, and performed with Hendrix, Christine McVie, Carl Palmer, and Ginger Baker among others.  Andy Mackay is another horn player I would enlist just for the pleasure of having an oboe in the band.  A founding member of Roxy Music, Mackay also played with a who's who in the 70's and is one of the few people on the planet that wore a mullet in any respectable fashion.  And for more fun on the edges of the stage, I need Eddie Jobson playing violin--although he could very aptly sit at the keyboard as well.

So now we are in need of guitar players and vocalists, and the stage is already pretty crowded.  Just because I don't want to argue and this post is getting a lot longer than I intended (maybe I should have split it into Part I and Part II?), I will list in no particular order the axes I would choose along with their here goes:  Les Paul (who made this entire post possible), Brian May, Paul Weller, Steve Cropper, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Bill Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Robbie Robertson, David Byrne, David Gilmour, Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King.  But why stop there?!  Since the stage is already crowded, let's add Jon Anderson, Laurie Anderson, Andy Summers, Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Phil Manzanera,  and Paul Rodgers...who was born to sing in a rock 'n' roll band...

So there you have it, the band I would build if I could build a is big, flashy, proficient, loud, precise, crazy, bluesy, rockin', obscure, and most importantly of all--mine.  I know I will never see all this talent on one stage--at least not in this universe--but it sure is fun to imagine the nine-day concert it would take to get all the music in.

No doubt I missed several, dozens, even several dozen  of other very talented musicians...but to truly build a band like this is a thing of subjectivity...and subjectivity by definition leaves itself open to bashing, disagreement, and arguing...which is (of course) the other reason for posting this.

So break out your vinyl if you have any (I have a strange, obsessive, sentimental attachment to mine), cassette tapes, CD's, or reel-to-reels and get a black light, a Bic lighter, and a frisbee.  Sit up on the back of an old sofa that is light years past comfortable with the cold beverage of your choice, and spend a weekend reminiscing...and don't be afraid to holler a little and demand an encore.  The video I added here is the only one I could find with any kind of "entourage" that seemed fitting.  Enjoy!