Feb 082009

This video is appalling on multiple levels.


The pointlessly rural setting, the various Look crimes – the beret, the overalls, the visor, the aviator shades, the peroxide – the objectification of women’s body parts, the exploitation of poor people, Rod’s preening and prancing… I could go on.

This style of Stonesy rock is what Rod had been successfully purveying with the Faces, but here it’s been perfected to death. It’s now drained of whatever vitality it once had and turned into a coked-out rock star nightmare. I hate everything about it.


I absolutely LOVE that guitar riff that comes in after Rod shrieks “I love ya, honay!” (first appearance at about 1:23). A two-chord riff with one repeat, it’s perfect in its simplicity, even it is a bit too Les-Paul-through-a-Marshall-amp. It just works.

Of course it’s immediately undercut by that dull, thudding drum fill from whichever Appice brother that is, but this little hint that Rod still knows what he’s doing confuses me. Does it almost redeem the song, or does it make the whole thing even more embarrassing by highlighting all that he’s thrown away?

Anyway, do you have a song or an album you basically despise which still has some feature or aspect you grudgingly love?

Jan 192009

In my first post about Pub Rock I said that one of the things it was about was the conversation between black and white musical styles. It was also about the musical conversation between the US and the UK.

The Tally Ho pub

The British fascination with American roots music is well-documented, and in the early ’70s the influence of The Band, The Byrds/Burritos, and CS&N was especially important for the bands that unwittingly started the Pub Rock “movement” by playing off nights at the Tally Ho in London.

I had previously known Bees Make Honey and Eggs Over Easy only by name, but I recently acquired the only albums released by these bands that were there at the inception of that scene in the early ’70s and then disappeared into obscurity.

Easy does it

Everyone knows (at least everyone who might visit RTH regularly knows) that Elvis Costello was backed on his first Pub Rockish album by members of expatriate American band Clover. But it was another American band called Eggs Over Easy that started it all. They had been brought over to record an album in London by Chas Chandler, former Animals bassist and discoverer of Hendrix, in late 1970.

They recorded an album that was never released, jump-started the scene by convincing the Tally Ho to host rock bands on Monday nights, hung around for a year or so, and then with work visas expired went back across the Atlantic, eventually getting signed by A&M and re-recording their material in Arizona with Link Wray producing for an album that would be released in 1972 as Good ‘N’ Cheap.

Would you have them any other way?

A trio of singer-songwriters who traded off on guitar, bass, and piano – Jack O’Hara, Austin DeLone, and Brien Hopkins – the Eggs had a much mellower sound than you might expect. Pub Rock later became altogether rowdier with bands like Dr. Feelgood, but there was always a side of it that was more laid-back, leaning towards country/folk rather than R&B. Early Brinsley Schwarz was very much in this mode. Here’s a song with an acoustic feel that would not have sounded out of place on a Poco album:

Eggs Over Easy, “Runnin’ Down to Memphis”

Here’s one that gives more of a sense of what the band might have sounded like in a pub playing rockin’ good-time music for people who just want to have a beer and a laugh:

Eggs Over Easy, “Party Party”

And sometimes they seem to be working towards a sound that goes beyond easily recognizable genres:

Eggs Over Easy, “Home to You”

But the band never got anywhere. They knocked around for the rest of the 70s, recorded more material, some of which got released (for example the semi-legendary “I’m Gonna Put a Bar in the Back of My Car (And Drive Myself to Drink)”, included here as a bonus track), but by the time they broke up in 1981 the pub rock scene they inadvertently initiated had already been overtaken by punk.

Next: Eggs may be over but Bees Make Honey…
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Dec 082008

I love pub rock. There’s no clear definition of the style, but it was a mid-70s British phenomenon, a back-to-basics trend that was never wildly popular, a precursor to punk, and many pub rock musicians carried on into the punk era. Brinsley Schwarz is probably the best-known exponent of the style, which I think of as a mixture of black and white musical genres – rock, R&B, country, folk, and pop. The conversation between black and white is what rock & roll is all about to me, and pub rock was a peculiarly British take on that conversation.

I’m going to write an irregular series about pub rock here, and I want to start with a man who could be called one of the progenitors of the style. He was also a player in what could be called the secret history of rock & roll.

Jim Ford is one of those legends that almost no one knows about. If he’s known at all it’s because he wrote the song “Niki Hoeky,” which was recorded most famously by Aretha Franklin on the Lady Soul album. Here’s Bobbie Gentry doing “Niki Hoeky” on the Smothers Brothers TV show. Note the authentic Cajun mise en scene:

Ford’s other claim to fame is that Nick Lowe has cited him as his biggest influence. But let me back up a bit and give a little background on Ford himself.
Continue reading »

Dec 062008

After Creedence broke up in 1972, John Fogerty made a bluegrass album called Blue Ridge Rangers in 1973. Then in 1975 he released an album simply called John Fogerty.

I’m not sure why this album went nowhere, maybe Fogerty’s time had passed or maybe there was no promotion. Wikipedia says that “Rockin’ All Over the World” was a Top 40 hit, though I certainly don’t remember that. I thought sure that song had a second life being covered by other artists, but my research (ok, the All Music Guide) only shows that Status Quo recorded it.


But the other great song on the album, “Almost Saturday Night,” was familiar to me before I ever heard Fogerty do it. Dave Edmunds did a fine version on the Twangin’ album.


The Searchers did it on their terrific 1981 album Love’s Melodies. AMG says The Burritos, Rick Nelson, the Georgia Satellites, and Gene Clark also did it. Actually I thought both of these songs were more widely covered, but the Edmunds and Searchers albums were big in my world back then. Also I think my memory subsequently mixed in Kimberley (Soft Boy) Rew’s “Stomping All Over the World” (from the excellent Bible of Bop album). Probably influenced by the Fogerty song.

Kimberly Rew, “Stomping All Over the World”

The John Fogerty album is a little covers-heavy, but they’re done well. There are a couple of New Orleans classics – “Sea Cruise” and “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You” – but the best cover is of Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops.” That’s one of those songs you’d think should never be covered, or at least that you couldn’t cover it well, but I love this version. Fogerty throws out the cha-cha feel and just goes with a straight shuffle. He even throws out the whole middle part (“just … give … me a … nother chance” etc) and sticks to repeating the verses. But he hits a nice groove and makes it work, which is surprising since I believe Fogerty did his thing of playing all the instruments (no credits on the album).

Oddly the tracks on this record seem more fleshed out than many CCR records. My theory is that Fogerty was such a control freak with his old band that the backing tracks often seem like demos to me. So when John started playing everything himself it paradoxically gave a more liberated feeling to the tracks.

Anyway the eponymous album seems to have become a victim of Fogerty’s label/legal troubles, so it’s currently unavailable, except for here on RTH.

John Fogerty
“Rockin’ All Over the World”
“You Rascal You”
“The Wall”
“Travelin’ High”
“Lonely Teardrops”
“Almost Saturday Night”
“Where the River Flows”
“Sea Cruise”
“Dream Song”
“Flyin’ Away”

Technical note: This is a vinyl rip, and you may find the sound a little thin and brittle, contrary to conventional wisdom. For LPs I used to use the Loudness switch they always had on receivers back in the day, and that works fine. Nowadays when I listen to these mp3s I use the “bass booster” effect on iTunes. Your mileage may vary.

Nov 042008

I’ve been promising/threatening to write this RTH Glossary entry for a while now, so here goes.

We mean it, maaannnnn!

Sincerity fallacy: The idea that the quality of a song (or of any literary or artistic work) can be measured by the extent to which it sincerely reflects the beliefs, emotions, or experiences of its creator. This is not to say that a “sincere” song is necessarily a bad song, merely that its sincerity is not a useful tool in judging its merit.

The idea that sincerity matters is a holdover from the Romantic era. The Romantic artist was supposed to have been a special creature who felt more deeply than ordinary people, and thus his poetry or music was thought to embody these deep emotions and give the reader or listener access to states of being he or she could not ordinarily experience. This gives rise to a corollary of the sincerity fallacy – the idea that more powerful emotions, whether greater joy or deeper pain, lead to greater works of art. To take an example from a recent RTH thread, because Phil Lesh’s father was dying while the bassist was writing (the music to) “Box of Rain”, the song is thought to achieve a level of profundity it might otherwise not have.

And this idea leads to another favorite RTH charge – backstory alert! When discussing the merits of a particular piece of music, allusions to the life history of the artist of the “real life” experiences that are depicted in the song are always suspect. The backstory of a song or album may be interesting, but any use of it to bolster an argument regarding the quality of said song or album leaves one open to being on the receiving end of a severe backstory-alert smackdown.

Awareness of the dangers of the sincerity fallacy is an important corrective to dangerous assumptions, among even the most sophisticated rock fans. We are in a sense still living in the Romantic era. But it’s easy to go too far in the other direction and end up with an attitude that all song lyrics are simply word games and nothing means anything to anybody. If you actually knew a songwriter personally, I think you might be justified in basing at least some of your opinion of his or her work on what you knew about the backstory. But in our media saturated age it’s all too easy to think you know about an artist’s life, but what you know is filtered through publicists, journalists, etc., and you’re better off sticking to the song itself. The problem is that there’s all that media out there leading us away from the song and toward the songwriter. And if you say you’re talking about authenticity and not sincerity, you’re going to to have to prove to me what the difference is or I’m not buying it.

All of this was brought into focus for me recently by Randy Newman, the master of the unreliable narrator. In recent years Newman has started working more autobiographically. There’s a song on his new album, Harps & Angels, called “Potholes”, which he introduces in concert as “the truest song I’ve ever written.” He claims all of the details in the song happened exactly as he relates them in the lyrics. In the linked video that follows he performs and talks about the song:

WATCH! Even Randy Newman is susceptible to the Sincerity Fallacy!

Newman is that last person you’d expect to fall victim to the sincerity fallacy. He’s a good case study. Does any of this backstory matter?

Aug 302008

Geo’s comment yesterday about Garcia being “generally incapable of executing a gripping short rock solo” brought this topic to mind.

I’ve long held that Bill Pitcock’s solo on the Dwight Twilley Band’s “I’m On Fire” is the world’s shortest guitar solo. Check it out at about 1:15.


It’s either the world’s shortest guitar solo or simply the world’s greatest shortest guitar solo. Can you think of a shorter one? Failing that, what would be your vote for the gold medal in the “gripping short rock solo” event, guitar division? [The emphasis here is on short.]

And btw the battered 45 transfer in that youtube wasn’t such a great sounding version of the track. If you don’t already own it, go out immediately and get yourself a copy of Twilley’s immortal first album Sincerely. And then just go ahead and get the very fine follow-up Twilley Don’t Mind. They were two of the records that gave my life meaning in the 76-77 time frame, when I was struggling with the fact that I was socially, emotionally, philisophically, theolgically, pscychologically, ethically, morally askew. I have long since stopped struggling.

In the meantime check this out:


This is a live take of I’m on Fire from 82/83 or so, not the original band (no Phil Seymour) but that apparently is Bill Pitcock reprising his legendary solo. How much of a rock nerd am I that I recognized Susan Cowsill as the background singer before I saw it confirmed in the documentation? Dig the very askew bass player!

Jun 082008

The new Mudcrutch album is not the album they would have made in the early ’70s if they had not broken up, but it’s fun to think about it as if it were. Despite its appearance in the celebration of California Day, I’d like to think of it more as a Florida Day kind of album, with a distinct period vibe.

All that makes this album unique is disguised by the choice of the first single off the album, “Scare Easy”. Probably chosen so as not to scare off any of Tom Petty’s fans, this track sounds like it could have been on any of his albums from the last 30 years. As Ed mentioned, it has the “won’t back down” stance, and a very familiar chugging rhythm. It’s not a bad track at all. Au contraire, as they say in Florida. It’s just that it’s not representative of the album as a whole.

Petty’s Byrds influence was apparent from the very first, and it’s there on this album as well. But here we have the Gram Parsons and Clarence White versions of the band to thank, rather than the Feel a Whole Lot Better Byrds. Mudcrutch even covers “Lover of the Bayou” here, a McGuinn/Jacques Levy song from the Byrds’ Untitled album. And with Mike Campbell and Tom Leadon on guitars here, there’s a hell of a lot of guitar picking going on, and the sound often invokes Clarence White’s Telecaster.

However much we think of the Byrds as a California band, most of its members were not from the area. Only Crosby and Hillman were natives. McGuinn was from Chicago, and Gene Clark was from Missouri. And you know where Gram Parsons was from? Florida. He may have felt that Joshua Tree was his spiritual home, but he grew up in Winter Haven, Florida (and also Waycross Georgia). Parsons is definitely a presence on this album, and there are some his quasi-shitkicker style songs here. They also cover the trucker anthem “Six Days on the Road”, which the Burritos also covered.

Lots of people played that one back in the day. I think I first heard it from Taj Mahal. And this album opens with “Shady Grove”, one of those folk songs that was knocked around by lots of bands. It’s on one of those Garcia/Grisman collaborations, but the version here is probably most influenced by the one that was done by the edition of Quicksilver Messenger Service that featured Nicky Hopkins. Very ’70s. I read in an interview that Mudcrutch actually used to play this one way back when.

“This Is a Good Street”

This album also reminds me that, when Mudcrutch first went out west, they were signed to Denny Cordell’s Shelter Records, and if I remember correctly Petty and the Heartbreakers did some time in Shelter’s Oklahoma studio. Here and there – mostly “This Is a Good Street” and “The Wrong Thing to Do” – this reminds me strongly of another Shelter artist, Dwight Twilley. The same mixture of twang and British beat, but with strikingly different idiosyncratic lead singers.

“Bootleg Flyer”

Another thing that might surprise you if you were expecting a Heartbreakers album instead of a period piece is the jamminess. As I said before there’s a lot of guitar playing, and on the 9:28 long “Crystal River” there’s a LOT of guitar playing – solos with space echo, wah-wah pedal, even phasing. It’s one of those dreamy extended workouts like “Mountain Dew” or “Mountain Jam”. Remember that in the world of the original Mudcrutch, the Allmans would have been a major presence, and there’s even a nod to them on this album’s “Bootleg Flyer”, a dual-guitar lead passage that’s so obvious it will make you smile.

In general the playing here is great. I’m sure Petty is glad he gave up the bass for the rhythm guitar/frontman role, but I bet he’s having a blast playing bass like he used to. Benmont Tench does his thing of never calling attention to himself, but when you do pay attention to what he’s doing you realize how great he is. If you were worried about whether drummer Randall Marsh, who doesn’t have much on his resume besides Code Blue (an L.A. band he was in with former Motel Dean Chamberlain and Gary Tibbs of the Vibrators/Roxy Music), don’t. He sounds fine. Sometimes you recognize Mike Campbell’s licks, but in general you can’t tell if he’s playing or if Tom Leadon is.

The reason Mudcrutch headed to L.A. in the first place was that Tom’s big brother Bernie was doing so well with the Eagles, perhaps the stereotypical L.A. band, none of whose members were actually from L.A. Beside Leadon, Meisner was from Nebraska, Henley Texas, and Frey Michigan, but I guess that’s one of the truisms about L.A., that no one is from there. (And here’s a bit of trivia I found when fact checking that last bit: according to Wikipedia, Frey, in his pre-alpha douche days, played on RTH icon Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”.)

So I’m not saying anyone will mistake the Mudcrutch album for a Marshall Tucker Band album, and I’m not even saying that Petty is exploring his southern roots on this album. But maybe the sounds here crystallize the southern basis of Petty’s music that was there all along.


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