Jack Bruce (1943–2014); Another music legend passes

As a child growing up through the late 70s and into the early 80s I was heavily into the music my parents listened to. If you look at the history of popular music I’m part of the first generation that really listed to the same kind of music my parents did. My parents, particularly my mother, were really into The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the “pre-disco” Bee-Gees, and other groups like that. My father was into “edgier” stuff like The Who, Pink Floyd, and Cream. It was through those experiences that I became a huge fan of Jack Bruce.

Like another hero of mine, John Entwistle of The Who, Bruce’s crunching bass line was often more than just keeping time with the drummer but was instead an integral part if the song itself. It’s because of him that when it comes to songs I tend to focus on the “low end” of things going on, and really respect artists that can drive songs using the end of the musical spectrum.

When it comes to the group Bruce is most famous for, Cream (with guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker), it’s the stuff that didn’t get a ton of radio play that I like the best. On of my favorites is Tales of Brave Ulysses off of their second album Disraeli Gears. I believe it was the B-side for Strange Brew, but I’m not certain of that.

Another Cream performance that I love is called Sitting on Top of the World, a cover of an old blues song originally done by Mississippi Sheiks in the early 1930s. It really shows off Bruce’s musical abilities (even in 2005 when this version was recorded) and is one of the songs that brings out the bluesman Bruce was. It appears on Cream’s final studio album, Goodbye.

Bruce had some great solo stuff that I’d bet many have never heard. Unfortunately there aren’t a ton of YouTube videos of concert footage of them, but luckily Bruce did make a couple of TV talk show appearances and played some great stuff. Here he in on the Late Show with David Letterman (with Cream drummer Baker) performing Hey Now Princess off of Bruce’s solo album A Question of Time.

Throughout his career Bruce played with many of the blues guitar legends of his ear. A few years ago I stumbled into the performance with Bruce performing with Buddy Guy in 1969 on YouTube. The bass line in both songs is classic Jack Bruce. Great stuff.

Because it’s Cream Bruce is most famous for, it only seems fitting the last footage I post is of White Room, off of Wheels of Fire. In my opinion it’s one of the best songs ever.

I close out this post with the first verse of a song by The Righteous Brothers, as it unfortunately becomes more fitting as each day passes…
If you believe in forever
Then life is just a one-night stand
If there’s a rock n’ roll heaven
Well you know they’ve got a hell of a band…

Random Review: Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young

Book Name: Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream
Author: Neil Young
Publisher(s): Blue Rider Press
Format(s): Hardcover/Trade Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Autobiography
Release Date: September 25, 2012

Rating: 8/10

Full disclosure here: I am a huge Neil Young fan. I have just about everything he’s ever released solo and with ‘Crazy Horse’, ‘Buffalo Springfield’, ‘Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young’, and with his various other projects. Other than Shakey by Jimmy McDonough I have avoided biographies about Young because he’s such a private person that most of the stories told about him tend to be inaccurate to the point of being fiction. Because of that I was excited to hear that Young was penning his autobiography and would set the record straight about some issues.

I should have been smarter than to expect that.

While Young does talk about the past, it’s more so the reader will understand how he got to where he is now in life, and where he’s going in the future. Waging Heavy Peace is written more like a conversation as opposed to how many editor-heavy autobiographies are, and it’s as if Young is telling the story to readers as opposed to writing a book. One of the funnier things about the book is on more than one occasion Young mentions he’s changed the location he’s writing from, as if that had a bearing on what he was writing. Although, in a way, it probably did. The stream of consciousness style of writing fits Young.

Those that read Shakey know that Young had no intention of ever writing about his life. Because of Young’s belief that his father passed from complications from dementia Young decided that he should change his mind, and devoted an entire chapter about his decision. Another reason, mentioned several times in the book, is that in the couple years prior to the release of Waging Heavy Peace he was having issues writing songs. He felt that writing a book would generate funds to help continue a couple of his other projects while he recuperated from some illnesses. Those two projects, “LincVolt” and “Pono” are featured heavily in Waging Heavy Peace. Through most of the book Young refers to Pono as “PureSound”, but a name change was required for legal reasons.

If you’re looking for a history of Neil Young, Waging Heavy Peace probably isn’t the book you should be reading. But if you want to know about what makes Young tick and how he sees life, and where he sees himself and the music industry in future years, Waging Heavy Peace is definitely the right choice.

The Miseducation, errrr, comedy of Lauryn Hill

Taking a break from my continuing adventures in Diablo to mention a news story from late this week that has me literally laughing out loud.

It involves singer Lauryn Hill, who the US Attorney’s office claims failed to pay taxes for three years on $1.6 million of income, and charged her with tax evasion. Now, that in itself isn’t really funny, multiple celebrities have been charged with tax evasion over the years. The usual excuse is some accountant failed to do file them and they were unaware of any issue. They then generally get a slap on the wrist, pay their back taxes and fines, and move on with their lives.

There have been exceptions of course, most notably is Wesley Snipes, who despite being a US born citizen claimed he was “a non-resident alien” and was not subject to paying income taxes. When that didn’t fly he tried the “861 argument”, which is the belief that domestic income of U.S. citizens and residents is not taxable under IRS code section 861. As that has never worked in any court in the US it’s not shocking that Snipes lost and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Like Snipes, Hill admits to not paying taxes. What’s funny about this is the reason why; she had to go underground to protect her family from being “…manipulated and controlled by a media protected military industrial complex with a completely different agenda” and couldn’t pay her taxes. If you need a good laugh you can check out her entire statement right here. Don’t drink while you’re reading it or you might do a spit-take. By the way, going underground certainly didn’t sop Hill from performing during the last few years nor stop her from working on a new CD.

She should get three years in jail just for thinking that excuse makes any sense.

My top ten favorite albums of all-time

So a couple of weekends ago I threw out a random tweet and facebook status update that said “I’ve been listening to Throwing Copper by Live this morning…if I were to make a list of my top 10 favorite CDs that would be on it”. It really wasn’t made to be all that thought provoking, I just really like that CD and figured I’d mention it in case there were people that had never heard it. It didn’t get much of a reaction on twitter or facebook beyond the folks I already knew liked the album, but what surprised me later in the day was when I mentioned it on a current events forum I post on where one of the discussions had switched to music. Lots of folks, of just about every political belief you can come up with, liked the CD.

Within a few minutes a new thread was started where people began to discuss the “Top 10 albums of all time”, and after a logical few ground rules were laid out people began listing what they thought were the best albums ever. Considering that some of these people can’t agree on what time it is it was remarkable that in the 25 or 30 posts that went up quickly many of the same albums kept popping up, albeit in slightly different orders. It also didn’t take long for second thread to pop up about what my tweet was originally about, people’s favorite albums. (Folks will note I use “CD” and “album” interchangeably…other than the physical differences of the mediums there really is no difference between the two). At that point I was “called out” to provide my list.

I was surprised how hard it was to whittle down my musical interests into just ten “favorite” albums. To make matters a little harder the ground rules that someone had laid out were that the list should include only one selection per group, and shouldn’t include live recordings (unless it’s mostly new material) or greatest hits CDs. So, after taking two weeks of thinking about, it here are my top ten favorite albums of all time. Listed in no particular order…

Throwing Copper– Live
It would be funny for me to say it would make my list and then not have it listed, but Throwing Copper is indeed one of my favorites and was an easy inclusion to the list. I remember the first time I heard the CD, it was at one of the local pool clubs where a few of us would hang out Monday afternoons because we’d have the place basically to ourselves. The bartender would often turn off the jukebox and play whatever whatever we wanted to hear over the music system, and one week one of the waitresses had bought the CD so we threw it on to play. I was blown away by it, and went out the next afternoon and bought a copy. Live has a pretty good catalogue and I recommend all of them, but to me Throwing Copper is their best work.

Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
One of only two recordings I have owned as an album, eight-track, cassette, and CD, Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best selling albums of all time because it’s also one of the greatest albums ever made. At under 45 minutes in length it’s best when it’s listened to straight through from beginning to end as the sings flow from one to another, with the only breaks being where one used to have to flip the record over from side one to side two. A funny story about the album…years ago when I was living at home with my parents one day I had some friends over and we were listening to Dark Side of the Moon and my mother banged on the ceiling while it was playing. My friends were worried we were playing it too loudly, but I knew the real issue: it wasn’t loud enough for my mother to hear it in the kitchen downstairs.

Quadrophenia – The Who
If it weren’t for the ground rules that only allow for one CD per band this list would have a lot of entries by The Who. They’re my all time favorite band and I listen to them a lot, so it was hard to pick just one. It came down to Who’s Next and Quadrophenia, and the double album rock opera won out in my book. Pete Townshend used four separate musical themes throughout the album to represent that different mindsets of “Jimmy”, the central character. Townshend later revealed that the different leit-motifs were based on the four members of The Who. 5:15, the first song on side three, is one of my favorite songs.

MTV Unplugged in New York – Nirvana
This one might be pushing the “no live album” rule because while it does contain many song previously released by Nirvana it really just includes one “hit”, Come as You Are from the CD Nevermind. The others were all B-sides or stuff not released as singles so many folks had likely not heard them before, so I’m counting this one. Kurt Cobain broke just about every “rule” MTV had for the Unplugged series, and because Nirvana was a hot item at the time the producers put up with it. Good thing they did, what resulted was a great recording.

Rubber Soul – Beatles
If you have to ask why, I can’t help you. One of the greatest albums ever recorded and it contains what I would vote as the greatest song ever, In My Life. Most people think Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the Beatles’ greatest record, but to me it’s Rubber Soul by a mile. And if I were to add a second Beatles album to the list it would likely be Revolver anyway. Because back when those record were released there were usually two versions, one for the US and one for the UK, I guess I technically have to pick a version. Seeing as the UK version has Drive My Car on it I guess that’s the one I’m going with for the list.

Operation: Mindcrime – Queensrÿche
Without looking it up I’d guess Operation: Mindcrime is the lowest selling CD on my list, but it isn’t sales that determines how good an album is. I had never heard a song by Queensrÿche until Empire came out, which was a huge commercial success for the group with six Mainstream Rock top-40 singles. Fans of the group were telling people that while Empire had all the hits the rock opera Operation: Mindcrime was a better CD. They were right. It is mind-blowingly good and the perfect vehicle for the vocal talents of lead singer Geoff Tate, who for my money is one of the best heavy metal vocalists of all time.

Appetite for Destruction – Guns n’ Roses
I bought it on album, I bought it on cassette, and it was the first CD I ever bought (from That’s Entertainment in Worcester, owned by my good friend and frequent commenter Paul Howley). Something not many people know (EDIT: I just looked at Wikipedia and it’s on there, so now everyone knows I guess) but on the album it’s not labeled side A and B, but instead it’s G and R. The G-side (Guns) is all about the hard life of drugs and the toll they take, and the R-side (Roses) is all about love and relationships. They say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, and Appetite for Destruction is what we got when Axl Rose had his feet firmly planted on the good side of that line. Most of the stuff that followed is Rose on the wrong side of that line.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
The other recording I have owned as an album, eight-track, cassette, and CD, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is my favorite Elton John record. It opens with Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding), an 11 minute epic that was really supposed to be two different songs but because they sounded so good run together that’s how the two tracks ended up being recorded. The other two tracks on side one, Candle in the Wind and Bennie and the Jets, set the tone for an album that seems to have no rhyme or reason for the way the tracks are laid out. But somehow it works.

News of the World – Queen
The first Queen album I ever heard from front to back after my father bought it. Perhaps it’s that memory that add this record to my list, because it isn’t Queen’s best work nor is it the one from them I listen to the most (that would be Jazz). But to me that’s what music is supposed to be about, the memories and emotions one takes from the recording. Sometimes they’re negative, sometimes they’re positive. I own every Queen album and would call them my second favorite group, and it all started with News of the World.

For folks counting, that’s only nine….for number ten I’m cheating and will list a few more that could easily have made the list on any given day if I was forced to rush one out at the top of my head.

Boston – Boston
Bat Out Of Hell – Meatloaf
Disraeli Gears – Cream
5150 – Van Halen
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin
Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominos
Ten – Pearl Jam

A look back at some 2011 predictions on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to post more, so as I attempt to follow through with at least two posts a week (to be honest I’ll be happy with just one, but no need to not aim high at this point) let’s take a quick look back on how good my predictions on the 2012 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were.

I had four acts that I labeled as “likely”: Beastie Boys, Heart, The Small Faces/The Faces, and Rufus with Chaka Khan. I got two right, with the Beastie Boys and The Small Faces/The Faces getting the nod. When you look at a list of the acts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both Heart and Rufus with Chaka Khan clearly belong so it shouldn’t be too long before they’re inducted. Then again, Rush isn’t in the hall of fame either, so what do I know?

Guns ‘N Roses and Donovan were listed by me as probable, and both were elected into the hall. I didn’t list either as “likely” because I thought that each had an issue that might have turned away some voters. I was uncertain that enough voters knew how influential Donovan was in his era, because in general most people could only name a couple of songs he sang. Luckily the voters were a little smarter than I gave them credit for and elected him in. Everyone knows about the problems between Axl Rose and the other early members of Guns ‘N Roses, and despite having a catalog that should have made them a shoe-in I was figuring on some backlash against Axl–the only remaining member of the group from their debut album Appetite for Destruction–for his antics over the last decade or so.

The artists I listed as “maybe” were Freddie King, Laura Nyro, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Spinners. Of the four only The Spinners didn’t make the cut, and I suspect that may have been more a numbers game than anything else. Just like Heart and Rufus with Chaka Khan The Spinners should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The remaining nominees were The Cure, Eric B. & Rakim, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Donna Summer, and War. I had them all as “unlikely” or “no”, and other than War there really isn’t any case to be made for any of these artists when you consider some of the talent not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some of the more notable artists that are eligible but not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the aforementioned Rush, Warren Zevon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Peter Gabriel, and The Guess Who top a long list of acts more deserving than some of the 2012 nominees.

My opinions on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees

Despite me thinking the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the dumbest things ever created, out of mostly boredom I figured I’d give some thoughts on this year’s nominees. Now remember this is just my own opinion, I’m sure you will have some different ones.

Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys are one of those groups where I like some of their stuff but don’t own any of it. I see the talent there and understand their general message, but they’ve never been something on my radar when I’m looking to buy music. In the list of nominees this year they are one of the only ones that are still relevant to the genre after 25 years. In the era of one-hit wonders that’s something in itself.
Will they make it in this year: Likely
Should they make it in eventually: Yes

The Cure
Look up the word “overrated” in the dictionary and the entry reads “see ‘The Cure'”. While their rabid fans will tell you otherwise, The Cure is one of those groups whose look was far more inspiring than their music. The Cure are almost always included on the list of things that people who like to consider themselves “hip” point out as being great. Lots of the Twilight and vampire lovers seem to love The Cure, which pretty much says all I need to say.
Will they make it in this year: Unlikely
Should they make it in eventually: No

A 60’s British folk icon, Donovan had limited commercial success in the United States but is widely considered a huge influence for several groups already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Paul McCartney credits Donovan for teaching him and John Lennon how to finger pick on a guitar, a technique that changed the Beatles sound immensely. If the Hall of Fame is about the people who influenced rock and roll history, Donovan is a no-brainer.
Will he make it in this year: Probably
Should he make it in eventually: Yes

Eric B. & Rakim
Ummm, who? I had to look these two guys up, and after reading about them for 10 minutes or so I still have no idea who they were, nor what they did to even be nominated. I know they rap and I’m not really into that kind of music, but if I have no idea who you are and never heard of the acts that claim you as an influence that pretty much excludes you from my consideration.
Will they make it in this year: No
Should they make it in eventually: No

Guns ‘N Roses
Several great albums followed by crazed antics by frontman Axl Rose that eventually led to a mas exodus of most of the original members. Is there a better rock and roll story? Appetite For Destruction is one of the great rock albums of all time, and the double release of the Use Your Illusion albums solidified the group’s place in rock and roll history. The only thing left is a huge mega-bucks reunion tour.
Will they make it in this year: Probably
Should they make it in eventually: Yes

Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are without a doubt the first ladies of Rock and Roll. From their hard rock roots in the late 70s through the 80s power ballad era Heart continues to thrill fans with great albums and concert tours. With six top-10 albums and twenty top-40 singles Heart already had plenty of material to provide concert-goers a wide range of well known songs, and their last two critically acclaimed albums provided long time fans with new stuff to get into.
Will they make it in this year: Likely
Should they make it in eventually: Yes

Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
Now I’m a huge fan of Joan Jett, and if just she was being nominated I could probably see an argument for it. But with The BlackHearts? Sorry, I’m thinking not. They have three great songs (and one of those is a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells) but for the most part that’s it. They do put on a great live show and toured with some of the biggest acts of their time, but that isn’t enough in my book.
Will they make it in this year: No
Should they make it in eventually: No

Freddie King
The late Freddie King, along with Albert King and B.B. King, is one of “The Three Kings” of electric blues guitar. Being considered in their company alone should be enough to be included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Several top 10 R&B hits in the early 60s put King on the map, and with guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan, and Carlos Santana all claiming King as a major influence his spot in the Hall should be assured.
Will he make it in this year: Maybe
Should he make it in eventually: Yes

Laura Nyro
I admit I don’t know much about Nyro. I knew she was a song writer that had some limited commercial success early in her career but was more famous for writing songs for other artists. Those artists read like a who’s who of rock and roll, including The 5th Dimension, Barbra Streisand, Three Dog Night, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Elton John considers her an influence, and who am I to argue with rock legend.
Will she make it in this year: Maybe
Should she make it in eventually: Yes

Red Hot Chili Peppers
If there’s a better hard rock/funk fusion band out there I don’t know who it is. From their self titled debut album in the mid 80s to 2011’s I’m with You RHCP’s pounding hard rock and bass heavy style remains the same, although over time and influences of new members has resulted in a sound all their own. Unaffected by commercial success RHCP continues to push the envelope of rock and roll.
Will they make it in this year: Maybe
Should they make it in eventually: Yes

Rufus with Chaka Khan
We’ll leave the argument as to if they’re really rock and roll for another day, but there’s no doubt that they’re one of the greatest R&B groups of all time. With 12 top-10 R&B singles and six top-10 R&B albums (including four #1’s) they are the crème de la crème of the soul and funk genres. They’re last album, Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live, is considered one of the greatest live albums of all time.
Will they make it in this year: Likely
Should they make it in eventually: Yes

The Small Faces/The Faces
The list of members of a who’s who of rock and roll: Steve Marriott, Kenney Jones, Rick Wills, Ronnie Wood, and Rod Stewart. While not a commercial success in the US the group spawned off members that would preform with some of the biggest groups in rock and roll. A super group before that term even existed, the current incarnation includes Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall, a huge superstar in the UK.
Will they make it in this year: Likely
Should they make it in eventually: Yes

The Spinners
One of the R&B greats whose biggest hits came between 1970 and 1975, The Spinners first single That’s What Girls Are Made For goes back to 1961 and was the first of 19 top-10 R&B singles. Despite the deaths three original members and many personnel changes over the years The Spinners are still one of the biggest draws in the “casino circuit” and perform to sold out crowds all over the country.
Will they make it in this year: Maybe
Should they make it in eventually: Yes

Donna Summer
I am not a huge fan of Donna Summer. In fact, other than a couple big mainstream hits I can’t tell you one thing she sings. But I have friends that think she’s the best thing since sliced bread, so I asked them the question “Does Donna Summer belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”. The near unanimous answer was “no”. If her big fans say that, who am I to argue?
Will she make it in this year: Unlikely
Should she make it in eventually: No

It’s hard to describe the group because of their wide ranging talents. One word that definitely fits is “interesting”. Formed by Eric Burdon in 1969 War hit the charts with Spill the Wine, and then while on tour supporting their second album Burdon abruptly split with the group. War went on to have several hit singles on their own. Due to legal difficulties many of the original members of the group now tour as “Lowrider Band” and one original member formed a new group to continue The War name. Those legal difficulties may have resulted in War not being elected into the Hall in 2009.
Will they make it in this year: Unlikely
Should they make it in eventually: Yes