Aerosmith – On Tour, 1973-85 – Julian Gill (2021)

Author and rock historian extraordinaire Julian Gill has done it again. Aerosmith – On
Tour, 1973-85
is living antiquity, an exhaustive, extensive, unbelievably detailed trip across a decade of road stories, trinkets, facts, side stories, statistics and images that
frame one of the most impressive touring runs in the pantheon of rock and roll.

Laid out in a dual compendium with his online archives, much as Gill has
accomplished for Aerosmith’s contemporaries, KISS, this tome (and man is it ever, the
author warned me not to drop it on my foot) covers every aspect of Aerosmith’s journey
from Boston bar band to the heights of 1970s superstardom, the band’s implosion and
retooling, which culminates with their comeback pre-mid-1980s revival (previewing the
most unlikely and spectacular second acts in rock). I was at one of those reunion shows at
a stormy Orange County Fairgrounds in 1984, and it remains one of the best concerts I
have ever seen by any band. And Julian’s got it cold, even hinting that there might be a
recording of it!

No Aerosmith fan, hell, no fan of 1970s rock can live without this book. It is the
collection of all collections (he even has solo projects and ensuing tours), and to think
Gill is threatening to keep going – a follow-up volume into the second-act career – even
going so far as to reaching out to readers to contribute. This is a true grassroots
book/online effort that is so unique it may spawn imitators, but in no way duplicators.
Gill’s ability to mine minutia, find the gems, and get to the crux of the facts is without
peer, and this volume may be his finest achievement.

Read More

Music is History – Questlove (2021)

At one point in his exceedingly enjoyable Music is History, Producer/Drummer/Educator/Author, and shameless fellow music geek, Questlove astutely quotes nineteenth century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” This pretty much explains what music journalists (de facto historians) do when we attempt to frame music in the context of its times and beyond. Questlove brilliantly balances this axiom/call to arms in the personal and cultural for music is in his DNA as a musician and an intellectual. And if there is a more entertaining book on music as history, I defy anyone to name it.

To say I loved Music is History is an understatement. It spoke to me the way I usually speak to others, or more to the point write in this paper, magazine pieces, and my own books on music. Questlove has found a voice so filled with deep minutia and profound conclusions, it is quite intimidating. If I weren’t having so damn much fun discovering and rediscovering the songs/albums/artists that run a historical thread through Music is History, I might be pissed at him for this fantastic idea!

The highlights of his journey from birth (1971) to the present, include but are not beholden to the author’s deconstruction of samples through hip hop’s evolution to bridge the gap between generations of celebrated soul/funk artists whose work was reimagined and rediscovered through the art form. There is also the discussion of musical appropriation, the slow erosion of the cultural purpose behind rap/hip hop, the primacy of the Em bass line in dance music, musicians as confessors, and how history can be viewed through the prism of our personal connection to music.

Moreover, any book that dedicates a chapter to Prince and the Revolution’s underrated1985 masterpiece Around the World in a Day is a winner for yours truly. This was so much fun!

Read More

Fab: The Intimate Life of Paul McCartney – Howard Sounes (2010)

I spent a lot of time with the songwriter, the musician, the icon that is Paul McCartney over the past year-plus whilst working on my upcoming book, Take a Sad Song… The Emotional Currency of “Hey Jude,” and as such spent a ton of that time researching his life and times. The best of these I found is Howard Sounes’ Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney. This led me to asking Mr. Sounes to chime in on my project. Crucially, he did – and my book is better for it.

Sounes is a man who knows greatness. He has written about poet Charles Bukowski and icon Bob Dylan in serious detail. In Fab he sees where that greatness lies, its origins (nature to nurture) and where that lead – the Beatles and beyond. There is something you find in Sounes’ McCartney that is mostly absent from his other biographies. Each of McCartney’s biographers have their own spin; many of them are too busy worshipping (that affliction again) and others just trying to tear him down. Sounes works both angles with precision, refusing to ignore much of what is hard to describe about someone as prolific and famous and incessantly covered over six decades as Sir Paul. McCartney is a man of many shades, and they are all explored here.

I especially love how Sounes, a Brit, digs below McCartney’s surface play (a consummate salesman) to his funnier, grittier side; the one that would entrance a surly and focused teen John Lennon. That Paul McCartney is always there. More than any of his contemporaries he knows from whence he came and stays truer to his nature, which, as Sounces points out throughout his book. It is what gives him the antennae to find those brilliant songs.

There are a lot of books on Paul McCartney – not even counting Beatles’ books – many of which I have reviewed here. But after the deluge I have worked through, while there are merits to many out there, this is the one to read if you want to get past the noise and find the signal. 

Read More

Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector – Mick Brown (2008)

If you’ve heard the rumors about Phil Spector that range from unhinged, narcissistic controlling master artist to drug-addled, wild-eyed half-mad gun-toting murderer, then it’s time to get the stories, good or ill, from Mick Brown’s translucent Tearing Down the Wall of Sound.

This was such a fun read, made possible by my friend, singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson, whom I have written about in this paper since 2006, and gave me his copy. He is not only a wonderful human being, but another complete music geek and a sucker for early 1960s pop music. Love him or hate him, all of that all starts with Phil Spector, musician, songwriter, producer, and inventor of a style of music that bridged the incredible history of rock and roll from its infancy into the early to mid 1950s to the arrival of the culture-altering Beatles. And this book covers it all, with an unblinking objectivity.

The author begins the book with an interview he conducted at Spector’s Californian mansion, just months before the alleged murder of a woman in the same room. What Spector tells him will be unfurled with each chapter, giving you direct access to the reasons for his bizarre behavior, his mind-games, his obsession with violence, and the gnawing paranoia that comes from being a relentless perfectionist.

Man, the stories in here are epic and told with such detail, adding the anecdotes and memories by those who sat beside Spector at the control board or during meetings in the halls of the biggest record companies in the world. Spector is everywhere, through the seminal moments of rock music’s infancy, and Brown takes you on that journey. The humor, madness, travails, and triumphs of a complicated character is given its due in Tearing Down the Wall of Sound.

Read More

Hard Rain: A Bob Dylan Commentary – Tim Riley (1993)

What a wonderful read. Author Tim Riley, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director at Emerson College, who has written extensively about the Beatles and other music from the period, takes a welcomed unique slant on the Bob Dylan story in Hard Rain: A Bob Dylan Commentary. It is indeed a “commentary” from the first paragraph, methodically taking apart the accepted narrative of this mysterious icon to concentrate on what made Dylan a musical force across generations. 

Riley begins with Dylan’s genuflecting to the blues more than folk, which makes sense with the budding songsmith’s teen obsessions with Little Richard and Elvis Presley and later with his dramatic move to an electric sound. Yet this creative foundation is wholly ignored in many depictions of Dylan’s initial absorption of Woody Guthrie and his later tap into the early 1960s Greenwich Village folk movement. It is also a solid footing for how the author follows the celebrated singer-songwriter’s zigzag artistic sojourn, always on the move, always challenging both his own talents and the expectations of his audience.

It was especially intriguing to read something this close to the bone before the later waves of Dylan comebacks over the past decades – some hit or miss. I agree with almost all of Riley’s assessments of Dylan’s eighties into nineties works and performances. I endured one of those erratic shows at Radio City Hall that was just awful. I brought a young friend whom I was tutoring in the Dylan canon and found myself apologizing for it throughout. 

Also, it is ironic that right before I read this (thanks to the author for gifting me a copy, and his inclusion as a voice in my next book) when I was finishing up Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir. In the book’s epilogue, Riley rightly takes to task Dylan’s silence in the wake of a New York City crowd booing O’Connor after her infamous Saturday Night Live performance in which she ripped up a picture of the pope. The hypocritical tone-deaf idea that during a Bob Dylan tribute show, which Dylan attended, the celebration would ignore his own bravery to shake the foundations of power and take on the status quo, is articulately deconstructed.

Hard Rain: A Bob Dylan Commentary is a must read for any Dylan fan not mired in rock star worship, something the artist would likely abhor.

Read More

The White Label Promo Preservation Society: 100 Flop Albums You Ought to Know – Sal Maída, Mitchell Cohen & Friends (2021)

Full disclosure: I was gifted this book whilst in Austin, Texas in late summer by one of its contributors, Mr. David Immerglück, a multi-instrumentalist for Counting Crows, the Monks of Doom, and other musical projects. A fellow lunatic music geek, it makes sense that the man we all affectionately call Immer would be included here with his essay about the obscurity of what he dubs “Welsh hippy rockers,” MAN, and their 1974 musical manifesto, Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics. But Immer is but one voice, and the MAN record, which I was gladly introduced to in this volume, is only the tip of the geek-dom iceberg. After just a few of these entrees, you will become a full-fledged member of The White Label Promo Preservation Society.

For newbies to this affliction, a “white label promo” is the vinyl hound’s most cherished find. Back in the day, these were unreleased-to-the-wider-public versions of records that would be shared only with reviewers and radio stations. I have more than a few in my humble collection, but it is only a wink and a nod to the converted, because this compendium casts a wider net. We are introduced by decades to dozens of hidden gems, lost classics, and otherwise bizarre oddities – all of which deserve the attention paid here. Thanks to the efforts of Sal Maída and Mitchell Cohen, who curated the book – as well as added their own essays – there is a place for forgotten worthiness to shine.

It is not just selections from fringe artists like Ars Nova, Zal Yanosky, Bunky & Jake, The Remains, and Milk ‘N’ Cookies, but significant names that released dismissed or plain missed classics; T Rex, The Drifters, Todd Rundgren, The Kinks, Fairport Convention, and much more. The care, excitement, and incredible research done on each and every album is beyond impressive. And now with streaming services and YouTube, readers can quickly try out these records and then join the fray in tracking them down on their original labels. The White Label Promo Preservation Society: 100 Flop Albums You Ought to Know is a record-lovers paradise, but also a lost period of pop music during its heyday that needs to be revisited and enjoyed by those who were not around to hear these “flops.”

Read More

Shades of Springsteen: Politics, Love, Sports, and Masculinity – John Massaro (2021)

John Massaro is not a contemporary of Bruce Springsteen, nor one of those starry-eyed true believers that oft times slather on the worship sauce normally associated with the famed singer-songwriter’s career and exploits. In fact, although a fan and one that sees a reflection of his own biography in Springsteen, the octogenarian author of Shades of Springsteen, a professor at SUNY Potsdam College in New York, was only introduced to his Jersey brethren’s work in the mid-1980s, when the Boss was already seated atop the music world. Recovering from clinical depression, as is Springsteen, the author was whisked away on The Boss’ musical tales of escape, evolution, and redemption. This book is a tribute to all of that. 

Massaro’s thesis of connective tissue in the themes of the book’s subtitle Politics, Love, Sports and Masculinity that he artfully argues drive Springsteen’s canon and best explains the songwriter’s ability to overcome his own issues of depression, is solid. He digs deep, but with an entertaining flair, explaining how all of these themes comes through in nearly every stanza of Springsteen’s songs.

There is a fine needle Massaro threads here, but he does it with great care through stories of his own experiences in many of the places around New Jersey, specifically the Shore, of which Springsteen built into iconic symbols of the region. Despite being a generation removed from the songwriter, Massaro explored many of the same archetypes, long held by those from N.J. that Springsteen mined decades later. 

Although, I do enjoy most of Springsteen’s music and have different periods and songs I cherish more than others, it is my experience growing up in Freehold, New Jersey during the early to late 1970s in the shadow of his immense influence of our burgeoning culture that resonates with me. I am further along the line of generations to Massaro, but feel, as he does through Springsteen’s lyrics, that the connective tissue of lasting art is what makes us want to listen to these songs over and over and take the time to read about them too.  

Read More

Rememberings – Sinéad O’Connor (2021)

This could have gone badly. As much as I adore and respect Sinéad O’Connor for her music, her socio-political stands, her commitment to her art and her causes, both real and imagined, she has been anything but a focused voice on any of them. Having battled mental and emotional illness most of her life while also displaying in her public persona a head-spinning level of mercurial behavior, when I heard she was penning a memoir I was as dubious as when Bob Dylan released what turned out to be a mostly fantasy-addled effort. However, my trepidations were happily proved unfounded. Unlike Dylan’s 2004 uneven Chronicles Vol 1, Rememberings is a brutally honest, and most importantly, consistent work. It reads like the imprint of a cruel world on the soul of a sensitive artist with just enough self-examination and personal epiphanies to induce awe.

Firstly, O’Connor is no writer, per sé. (To be fair, many of these rock and roll memoirs are hardly nods to literary devotion.) Still, there is a writer’s alacrity in the way O’Connor tells her story, bridging the gap between having spent decades burying the horrors of her childhood and her exploitation as a young singer-songwriter, and later MTV superstar in an age of shifting genres and interests, and her artistic integrity. All this transpired in a male-dominated industry that kicked her around for nothing more than its own willful ignorance and insecure self-preservation. O’Connor faces her demons and bravely shares the experience.

Parts of Rememberings is as poetic as its un-grammatical title. O’Connor uses her words and phrases to dig deeper into her psyche, allowing the reader a ringside seat. This is a frightening but rewarding endeavor that helps us understand that a portrait of a true artist is no walk in the park. Much of the myths and well-worn stories of her time under the looming control of her mentally ill mother or the nunnery for which she learned to use music to connect spiritually and psychologically with the world all the way to her weirdly framed wars with the Catholic Church, the U.S. government, and the music business are busted wide open.

Read More

CHARLES ROBERT WATTS – 1941 – 2021

Aquarian Weekly
9/1/21
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
CHARLES ROBERT WATTS – 1941 – 2021
 
There is a magical few seconds that transpires in the 1969 Rolling Stones track, “Monkey Man” in which the band falls out and it’s just guitarist Keith Richards and drummer Charlie Watts that, for me, defines the essence of rock and roll. It has the requisite infectious rhythm, boy does it ever, the raunch, the sexual fury, the defiant bloodletting, and funky groove dynamic that would come to underscore what the Stones meant to the genre. There are hundreds of examples from hundreds of songs that might get you there, but that few seconds, from 1:48 to about 2:08, when Charlie pulls you back into the song by laying into one of his signature rolls that is epic Stones. In fact, screw it, listen to the song from 1:48 until Mick Jagger starts yelping like a maniac and marvel at Charlie’s incredible accents and fills from there on out and you’ll be just fine. It is why those who love this music, dance to it, fuck to it, imbibe to it, drive to it, and study it, always come back to it and the Stones again and again.

Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones during rehearsal, New York, May 1978. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

I use the word magical here because what happens with the Stones truly is. There is no viable explanation for Charlie Watts and Keith Richards, two disparate personalities inexorably linked – a perfectly balanced but oddly contorted element of what the right musicians can do when serendipitously tossed together in youth and purpose. A lot has been celebrated over the years about Mick and Keith. Rightly so. Songwriters. Icons. Pioneers. Sure. But for me, the Stones start with Keith and Charlie. I thought of Keith first when I heard Charlie died this week. Keith, of course, is the core of the Rolling Stones’ soundbeyond what the great and powerful, and dashing and famous – and honestly underrated – Mick Jagger could muster within this weird and wonderful construct, but Keith always said it was he and Charlie who fueled that engine. And it was always a strange engine that began with Keith setting the mean-streets groove and Charlie bringing it home. When Ron Wood, member of other outfits long before he joined the Stones in 1975, came aboard he marveled at how the Stones fed off the tempo of its rhythm guitarist and hung together on a tightrope by its drummer’s instincts. For awhile bassist Bill Wyman – also widely underrated in the annals of this classic outfit – held down the fort too, but it was always a dangerously haphazard ride that could only have been anchored by Charles Robert Watts.

(For a proper tribute to Messrs. Wyman and Watts please dig on “Miss You.” Right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

Watts did things in the Stones so miraculous that it was mostly overlooked for nearly six decades. Not overlooked as much as ignored. When he passed, the main plaudits for Charlie’s talents all over social media and in the music press centered around his steadiness, how he remained a classy lynchpin of non-showy drumming in the swirl of the Stones hurricane, how he was a metronome and a rock. And although all those things are true of Charlie Watts, they totally missed his most essential contribution to the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World. The Rolling Stones only ever existed beyond hit-makers and social pirates and institutional corporate touring machinery because of the unique just-a-tad behind the beat drumming of Charlie Watts.

Trained in jazz, he never stopped loving and revering its intricacies, which made you understand that his approach to rock and roll as a pounding forcefield was never his bag. He attacked it with subtitles and accents and nuances that brought diamond/snowflake qualities to the Stones canon. Watts’s drumming had no origin or a map. Charlie does not play “Honky Tonk Women,”“Brown Sugar,” or thank goodness  “(I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” like an in-the-pocket drummer might. He re-imagines that pocket and challenges the rest of the band to stick it out on his call. Keith starts it, and Charlie wraps it up in his bow.

Watching Charlie Watts was the key to appreciating this. After being a Stones fan as a teenager, my first times seeing them – 1978 and 1981 – I suddenly understood the optical illusion of Charlie Watts, that little lift the sick off the hi-hat right when the thwack of the snare came down, the stuttered kick drum, and the rest of his quirky blues-funk-muddy-water-thud-punch. Supple wrist action, military style grip, the violent use of the crash as a ride when noise is needed.

His finest work may be on the band’s finest album, Exile on Main St., “Rocks Off, Shake Your Hips,” “Lovin’ Cup” to name just three stand-outs), but it’s all there in the 1960s single phase, (“She’s a Rainbow” a particulate favorite Charlie thang for me), after the blues cover band, and Chuck Berry tribute band phase, (“Route 66” – first song on the first album… ummm… wow), the pop phase (“Ruby Tuesday,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?”, the revolution phase (“Holy crap,, “Street Fightin’ Man,” right?) and the heroin chic fear-mongering phase (My god, when he kicks into “Sister Morphine” … fucking chills), that culminates in the greatest run of the era – Beggar’s Banquet through Exile – brutal beauty. It rattles walls and topples steeples, and Charlie is absolutely transcendent on those records and subsequent tours. Charlie may be the best thing about one of the most influential (and maybe best?) rock and roll live albums ever, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. This is why he is on the cover; alone with a donkey, leaping off the road. An inside joke, since Charlie loathed touring. Loved the gig. Loved the two hours pounding away on “Midnight Rambler” and the rest, but hated the whole thing – the press, the gladhanding, the hotels, the constant movement. He’s a sitter. Drummers sit and make their mark. The other members move all over the place and pose for posterity. Charlie was a good sitter.

The Rolling Stones only ever existed beyond hit-makers and social pirates and institutional corporate touring machinery because of the unique just-a-tad behind the beat drumming of Charlie Watts.

There is not enough space here to fully frame the man, (graphic artist, cartoonist, jazz band leader), so I concentrate on his drumming, which, again was so damn unique that when it was announced two weeks ago that the Stones were “replacing” him for an upcoming tour with an excellent drummer, Steve Jordan, I nonetheless whipped off texts to friends that it is a joke consider anyone beyond Charlie playing Stones songs. He is the soul of them, so much so that the trillions of cover versions over the years by bar bands and superstars sound like cheap imitations of imitations. No one can play Rolling Stones songs but the Rolling Stones, or (ahem), the Stones with Charlie Watts. I have written here a dozen times that there is no such thing as Gonzo Journalism beyond Hunter Thompson. People claim to practice it, but only one man did it. There was never any Minneapolis Sound, it was Pr


Stones songs only exist in the realm of the Stones. No matter how many humans attempt to get the groove on “Start Me Up,” it is not, nor will it ever actually be “Start Me Up”. Quite frankly, I’m not sure what the hell it is or what the Stones are doing on that song to make it work, never mind appear to the untrained ear to be simple, but, trust me, it is more complicated musically than anything the prog rockers or fusion bands attempted to convince us was complicated to make a point about prowess.

Of course, because Charlie took a slanted view at simplicity in his playing, we all slept on the point this week on the plain fact that the man is a creative unicorn, the way Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, his contemporizes who got more press, were, and had forged for themselves within what those bands were doing.  

“Gimmie Shelter”; the monster of all monsters in the rock realm. There is nothing that can touch it, and Watts’s drumming on that is something out of Grendel. When he slams those accents in-between verses it fells me every time. Also, less known, is the 1981 Tattoo You track “Slave,” which may be Charlie’s finest moment. I think it is the best Stones song of the last decade they truly mattered, and for most of it they didn’t even play together. But “Slave” is Charlie’s Great Gatsby, his Mona Lisa, his lasting imprint on my favorite band of all time. It is less song than Charlie being Charlie. Unlike “Gimmie Shelter” the greatness is not in its composition but its execution, where all Rolling Stones songs came to be heard, conquer, and burn an indelible mark in our collective brain.

   Pretty good work for a sitter.

Read More

Total F*cking Godhead: The Biography of Chris Cornell – Corbin Reiff (2020)

Guest Review by Chris Barrera

The death by suicide of grunge icon and long-time Soundgarden vocal dynamo Chris Cornell at age 52 caught the world by surprise in 2017. Unlike the brooding self-destructive contemporary Kurt Cobain, who famously took his own life decades before, Cornell was thought to be a rock and roll survivor who had successfully navigated the tides of fame and the music business to achieve a hard-earned place of respect with many years left to thrive.

It is to the credit of author Corbin Reiff that the death of Cornell does not hang over this account as any kind of grim foreshadow, and the evolution of the artist and man are given the proper retelling through the remembrances and quotes of not only many who shared his adventures but also Cornell himself. It is an engaging read that also entices one to explore some of the lesser-known material of Cornell and his various musical collaborations.

The rise of Soundgarden and the Seattle scene of the early nineties is recounted in all its rain-soaked glory, with Cornell’s talents as a singer, songwriter, and frontman given a full examination. The success of the band is portrayed well as a culmination of years of toil and dedication, and fans of the era and its bands like Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains will enjoy the trip down memory lane.

The Audioslave years, the solo releases, and television appearances – the Soundgarden reunion after more than a decade apart – all are presented with detail, as is the ultimate suicide by Cornell in a hotel room by hanging.  The question of why a man so gifted and loved would take his own life may forever remain a mystery, and the author correctly does not try to answer that question, but instead conveys the love and appreciation felt by Chris Cornell’s family, friends, and fans for all the years of entertainment provided by the man. 

Read More
Page 4 of 14« First...«23456»10...Last »