Sunday, May 06, 2018

The LOOP, Disco Demolition, and the Wild Days of Chicago Rock Radio

Jonathon Brandmeier, Kevin Matthews, Steve Dahl & Garry Meier, mid-1980s  

I finally watched the Twisted Sister documentary on Netflix a few weeks ago. I’d been avoiding it for awhile, but figured, “Well, I’ve watched every other rock doc, I’ll give this one a try.” The doc was almost three hours long, and it covered the band’s slow climb to MTV fame.

Twisted Sister’s tale of slogging it out on the Long Island club scene in the ‘70s was more interesting than you’d expect. The tackiest part of a pretty tacky story involved scenes about the band’s onstage anti-disco tirades.

I was shocked at how vicious the Long Island anti-disco movement was, or that they even had such a movement in the first place. After all, I grew up in Chicago, where the most infamous anti-disco event of all took place, and I was there.

Disco Demolition

The stoner, Dazed and Confused ethos of my college days was accompanied by non-stop music, visits to Rose Records and Wax Trax, and wacky DJs. The soundtrack to my first year in college was provided by WLUP, and to a lesser extent by the other rock stations in town, WXRT, WLS and WMET.

Known more commonly as the Loop, WLUP was the home of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier. Steve and Garry were the dynamic, shock-rock duo that gained infamy – and a rowdy audience of teens and 20somethings - in Chicago and environs in 1979 and throughout the 1980s. 

Their biggest bit was an anti-disco spiel, which involved blowing up disco records via sound effects on their radio show. Soon, they brought their anti-disco message to listeners in person at public appearances, and more fans showed up than the venues and the station expected. The biggest anti-disco rally of them took place at the old White Sox Park (Comiskey Park) in 1979. 

 I thought that blowing up disco records was a comedy bit. I didn’t think it was a pop culture revolution. (Apparently, other people did.) My friends and I loved Steve and Garry and the Loop, so we penciled in the night of July 12, 1979 for a visit to Disco Demolition Night at Sox Park.

I owned lots of disco records, and I had a hard time deciding which record should be blown up. I wasn’t going to part with my “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You, Baby”, and certainly not the Blondie ten-inch disco version of “Heart of Glass”. I finally decided on the single of Peter Brown’s, “Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me?”
We traveled from my friend’s parent’s house near Midway Airport to Sox Park. As it turned out, we were part of a contingent of what seemed like thousands of kids swarming the city buses headed to White Sox Park. They all wore the same uniform- a black Loop T- shirt, jeans and sneakers. (A jeans jacket was optional if it got chilly.)

I wore the same uniform as the other kids, but I carried an additional item with me- a copy of Newsweek, in case I got bored during the first game of the Twi-Night double-header.

A sea of kids descended from city buses and stormed Sox Park in droves. It was like the Day, or rather, the Twi-Night, of the Locust, right there at 35th and Shields. When we got out of our bus, we saw kids scaling the side of the stadium like some kind of artificial mountain.

I don’t even remember if the ticket takers were bothering to collect the 98 cents (WLUP’s frequency was 97.9) entrance fee by the time we got there. I remember throwing my record into a bin. I felt sad about that, and looking in, I could see a copy of Saturday Night Fever.  It looked brand-new, like someone had specifically bought it to be “blowed up.” That, of course, would have actually helped disco’s bottom line.

The stands were full of kids drinking beer, smoking pot and flinging disco records like Frisbees. We sat down in the grandstand, passed around a joint and a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps, and watched the craziness around us.  

My friend Kathy and I escaped the vinyl Frisbees for awhile by hanging out on the ramps between levels. When she told me Minnie Ripperton had died (that’s Maya Rudolph’s Mom, for you youngsters out there), I almost fell off the ramp railing I was so shocked. (She died on the same day, July 12).

When we returned, a young married couple sitting in front of us, who had obviously come to see the game with their kids, couldn’t take it anymore and left. They shielded their bewildered children from the flying records as they walked to the exit.  I wonder if they asked for a refund.  I’d be mad if I were in their position.

Finally the first game ended, and Steve, Garry and Lorelei, the station's sexy spokeswoman, took the field.  It was great to finally see the guys we had listened to on the radio for the last few months get their due. The between game record blow-up was louder and more intense than I expected. I  didn't expect them to literally blow up the records, but they did, right there in center field.

I sat next to an Indian engineering student from my friend’s dorm. We spent most of the first game talking about a Newsweek article I was reading about how the world was going to hell in a handbasket. The moment the interlopers stormed the field, right on cue, the kid said “Now, see, this is what I was just talking about.” 

People said it was a riot, but it looked like a bunch of kids standing on a baseball field not quite knowing what to do. Some kids turned over the batting cage and started a small bonfire. That was the riot part, I guess. Future celebrities Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Michael Clarke Duncan (Green Mile) were in attendance, though not necessarily on the field. White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray couldn’t get the kids to disperse, and then the cops cleared the field.

Most of the barbs on the radio and from the kids I knew were directed at John Travolta and the BeeGees, white upper middle class guys at North Side discos, rich celebrities at Studio 54, disco records by Cher, Rod Stewart, Charo and Ethel Merman, and the radio programmers and management types who catered to the trend. Anybody who made disco records was a target. If the Village People or Donna Summer made hard rock records instead of disco records, I doubt the kids or DJs would have complained.

Kids hated the music for two intertwined reasons – it wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, and it was taking over the culture. Funny thing is, what we would call disco music was around in the mid-70s. "Disco Duck", "The Hustle", hits by the Hues Corporation, George McRae, Barry White, Shirley & Company, Thelma Houston and Donna Summer’s "Love to Love You Baby" constantly saturated the airwaves then, and no one complained about the music. (Well, except for “Disco Duck.”) The anti-disco movement didn’t start until Saturday Night Fever become a hit.

And, of course, the anti-disco movement didn't kill dance music. It just helped repurpose it in a better way as house, techno, trance, etc. by putting an end to the mainstream "blanding and corporatization" of disco.

I woke up on the floor of my friend’s dorm room the next morning, hungover, and heard Steve and Garry on the radio. “You were bad little Cohos,”, Steve  gleefully admonished. (The anti-disco army was called the "Insane Coho Lips".)  We listened to as much of the show as we could, guzzled coffee, and headed for class.  When we got home, we had to explain to our parents, grandparents and siblings that we did not go on the field and were not wooed into a vortex of juvenile delinquency, never to return.

The Rest of the Loop

There was much more to WLUP than Disco Demolition. To me, that was probably the least interesting aspect of the station’s heyday.

It was 24/7 wall to wall hilarity, with Steve and Garry, Les Tracy, Mitch Michaels, Sky Daniels, and Patti Haze. And, of course, Joe Walsh subbing for Steve and Garry when they were on vacation.

I teared up hearing this sound bite for the first time in close to 40 years. “Get jaked and blow lunch tonight.” Good times.

The station even had a Loopfest (not to be confused with Chicagofest) in the early 1980s.  One year they had the biker band The Boyzz from Illinois introduced by Ma Nugent (Ted’s Mom), but the event also featured local bands Pezband, the Hounds and Tantrum.   

And I somehow missed this comic book, released in 1980, which featured the Loop DJs in nonsensical adventures.

Steve & Garry’s newscaster Buzz Kilman did the Blues News - Buzz played harmonica as Steve read "down on their luck" news stories. (Buzz would later become Johnny B’s newsman). Steve's musical parodies included “Heal Me”, a parody of Blondie’s “Call Me”, which addressed the underhanded shenanigans of preacher Ernest Angley and his “faith healings” and “Another Kid in the Crawl”, about serial killer John Wayne Gacy, set to the music of “Another Brick in Wall.” (For obvious reasons, this parody was quickly shelved.)

Stan Lawrence did the All My Children report; there were traffic reports from “Tyrone”, complete with helicopter sound effects. Steve and Garry lambasted old-school Chicago radio heroes like Wally Philips and Cliff Mercer, the WGN announcer. Most of the bits were silly and harmless. However, Steve and Garry’s calls to Iran would result in an international incident or possibly World War III today. Eventually, Steve and Garry were fired for “violating community standards.” They then went to WLS and continued their affront to decency.

The great thing about the Loop in those days is that they played all types of bands - AC/DC, Van Halen, Graham Parker, Ian Hunter,  Pat Benatar, Tom Petty, The Police, Cheap Trick, Journey, The Stones, and local bands like Off-Broadway and Pezband. I even remember hearing an interview with Annie Lennox when she was in band called the Tourists.

 It was a mix of rock music, regardless of genre. The other rock stations in town did the same. We’d listen to WLS, WMET, and WXRT, too. (If you wanted the greatest mix of genres, that was up the dial at WXRT. They played Kate Bush, the Raincoats, obscure prog rock and even some jazz.)

I taped an interview one of WXRT’s jocks did with REO Speedwagon in 1978, so there was a lot of musical crossover between genres and stations. It was hard to keep track of what you heard and where sometimes. This was a time where you didn’t have to choose your party and stick with it, forsaking all others.

The Loop, Part 2 – Late 1980s/1990s

In 1983, I left for Los Angeles. Friends would occasionally send me cassettes of shows, but the Loop was always there when I came back home. By the time I returned in 1987, things got wackier, and less subversive.

The hyperactive Jonathon Brandmeier was the new wacky radio guy now. Brandmeier’s humor was more frat boy than current events. I remember him commenting on a news story about a new exhibit at the Art Institute saying he didn’t understand that “art crap.”

A recurring bit on Johnny B’s show involved sidekick/show producer Jimmy "Bud" Weiser trying to locate visiting celebrities checked into hotels under aliases. Johnny’s band, Johnny and Leisure Suits, had local hits with “We’re All Crazy in Chicago” and “The Moo-Moo Song” inspired by a guy who romanced a cow at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Kevin Matthews (who I thought was the most talented of them all), did a whole slew of character voices and celebrity imitations. Pee Wee Herman did the traffic, and there were rock lyrics with Ronnie Reagan.

Matthews voiced the sportscaster character/sidekick Jim Shorts, a foul-mouthed know-it-all with no self-editing abilities. This surly character wouldn’t work in any other city but Chicago (and parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana).

(Most people would wrinkle their noses at this and dismiss it as infantile. I’m looking for more episodes.)

The last go round for the crazy, personality-oriented LOOP was in the mid-1990s .Danny Bonaduce, Brandmeier, Kevin Matthews and Liz Wilde were the weekday DJs, and porno star Seka had a show on the weekends.

The gags weren’t mean-spirited like Howard Stern's, but they were silly and annoying. When Kevin Matthews or Brandmeier made prank phone calls, you could almost hear the person on the other end going, “What the hell was that?” after hanging up the phone.

I made a pit stop back to Chicago just in time for the 1994 charity boxing match between Donny Osmond and Danny Bonaduce. (Danny won.) Also, I got to hear the DJs do a play by play of the OJ slow-speed Bronco chase. Between that and the Howard Stern regular Captain Janks’ prank call to Peter Jennings, the commentary was like the pre-internet version of memes and social media, and could turn anything, even a tragedy, into a circus.   

In 1992, Eddie Schwartz joined the WLUP staff. (You’re setting yourself up for problems when you’re on the same station as a guy who makes fun of you.)

When I was about 12, I first listened to Eddie Schwartz when he did overnights on WIND. I had no idea what he looked like.  I was sitting in one of my college radio classes waiting for the teacher, when he walked in as our guest instructor for the day. To say he was larger than life is an understatement. He was morbidly obese, and weighed maybe 500-600 pounds. He had the class in stitches, telling a crude story or two and swearing a lot, in contrast to his nice guy radio persona. RIP Big Guy.

In the mid-2000s, terrestrial radio faded away, as podcasts and  internet radio took over. I found the Loop online, only to discover Mancow was the star DJ. I couldn’t stand the guy when he started on another Chicago station, WRCX-FM, in the early ‘90s. The station’s only other claim to fame was their sexy calendar girls, like a Lorelei for every month of the year. Otherwise, it was classic rock as usual.  

By the time the Loop was purchased by a Christian broadcasting company in March, the irreverent DJs of the ‘70s-‘90s were working at other stations or no where to be found. (Steve and Garry broke up in the mid-90s. Steve currently occupies the drive time slot at WLS-AM.)   

The Loop lives on the internet without all the fanfare and comedy, and you can still buy the Loop logo T-shirt.  In keeping with the spirit of the original Loop, the last song played before the station’s segue into Christian pop was “Highway to Hell.”

Today’s youthful comedy podcasts are more sophisticated and user-friendly, and music is optional. Yes, the radio we grew up with was cheeky and juvenile, but boy, did we have fun.

Read more about Disco Demolition in Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Documentary Review: The Terry Kath Experience

The Terry Kath Experience
Directed by Michelle Kath Sinclair

When I mention the band Chicago, what do you think of? Syrupy love songs of the ‘80s and ‘90s and endless tours of the nostalgia circuit? That’s the recent and quasi-recent past, but that’s not the Chicago I remember.

The jazz-rock hippies of my childhood released double albums with songs in odd time signatures, with a prominent horn section and 12-minute songs based on classical music song cycles. And their original guitarist, Terry Kath, was deemed to be better than Jimi Hendrix by none other than….Jimi Hendrix. Unless you’re a musician or a longtime Chicago fan, you may not have heard of Terry Kath. He died in a freak accident in January 1978 when he was cleaning out one of his handguns.

The Terry Kath Experience, a documentary directed by Kath’s daughter, Michelle Kath Sinclair, retraces her Dad’s life via interviews with his friends, relatives, bandmates and fellow musicians. She was only two years old when he died and has little recollection of him. She produced the documentary through Kickstarter donations after traditional funding fell through due to the usual complaint - “limited appeal.”  

A daughter interviewing friends of the Dad she never knew gives the film an emotional appeal most other documentaries lack. (Of course, there are a few documentaries where an unrelated filmmaker interjects himself or herself into the subject’s life during the course of filming.) Even Peter Cetera showed up for this one. (He declined to be interviewed for the Netflix Chicago documentary.) There’s a clip of Kiefer Sutherland, Sinclair’s stepfather, at her wedding, recalling the day Kath died. 

There’s lots of archival footage - notes Kath was taking for his solo album, family photos and home movies, a concert filmed at Caribou Ranch and New Years Rockin’ Eve with the Beach Boys (both Dick Clark Productions).

In addition to her father’s bandmates in Chicago, Sinclair interviews all the usual suspects (Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, Mike Campbell, etc.) She also talks to a Chicago high school student who recreated Kath’s famous Fender Telecaster guitar after studying articles about the instrument in old guitar magazines. (Yes, there’s hope for the youth of today.)

Chicago at Caribou Ranch

The band’s first manager, James Guerico, bought Caribou Ranch, a recording studio/playground in Colorado for the band, and put them in Electra Glide in Blue, a movie he financed. But he also performed that obligatory rock manager move - cheating the band out of money. Like Cetera, he passed on the Chicago documentary, but grants Sinclair an interview

The documentary film crew pays a visit to the ranch on the day it’s slated for demolition. Camelia Kath recalls some of the memories in between the wood paneled walls. (The chivalrous way he wooed Camelia, whom he married in 1974, is endearing.)

A short interview clip reveals Kath wasn’t a connoisseur of groupies like many ‘70s rockers. Unfortunately, Kath did enjoy cocaine, another ‘70s vice, a bit too much, and that contributed to his early death.

The Chicago documentary Now More Than Ever (currently on Netflix) will fill you on the 40 years since Kath died. The band documentary also covers much of the same material in The Terry Kath Experience in more detail and with more era-appropriate drug and Playboy Bunny references.

Terry's famous Fender Telecaster

Sax player Walter Parazaider recalls Jimi tell him one night at the Whisky “Your guitar player is better than me.” (Probably the inspiration for the title The Terry Kath Experience.) The band’s keyboardist, Robert Lamm, among others, have said that Kath’s singing voice was that of a white Ray Charles. Those comments may sound over-the-top if you aren’t familiar with early Chicago. “Wait - this guy played guitar better than Jimi Hendrix and he sang like a white Ray Charles?” Here’s some supporting evidence.

25 or Six to Four (OMG Did they ever play this song on the radio ALL THE TIME)

After not hearing the song for years, you really appreciate it in all its glory.
If you doubt the accuracy of the statements about Kath’s guitar playing, this solo may convince you otherwise. 

Make Me Smile 

Question 67 and 68

Cetera lip syncs to a recording in this clip. Check the comments section for Danny Seraphine’s memories of the filming and a great revelation from one viewer – “Whoa! Who’s that on guitar? I thought Chicago was weak-ass Dad music. That dude’s an animal.”

Little One (written for his daughter, it was the last song Kath ever sang with Chicago)

“Wishin’ You Were Here” (not to be confused with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”), and “Color My World” were other omnipresent songs in the early to mid ‘70s. There was no relief from Chicago ballads when I was in high school. Some kid played the intro to “Color My World” on the piano in the gym every damn day at the same time. Even the teachers complained, “Learn another song!!”

Listen to any pre-1979 Chicago album, especially Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago II, for more Terry Kath-era Chicago.

Michelle Kath Sinclair at  her father's alma mater, Taft High School in Chicago 

Friday, November 10, 2017

10 of the Best Tom Petty Deep Cuts

I never cried when a celebrity died before. Usually, I’d be shocked for a few minutes or there’d be a delayed response where the grief would come days or weeks later. With someone I’m not that familiar with, it’s merely a comment like, “Well, there’s another one gone.”

But when I heard Tom Petty was in cardiac arrest, the tears flowed immediately.

There were tributes saying the same thing - losing him seemed so personal to so many, even people who weren’t big fans. He seemed like a regular guy; someone you could have a few beers with at the local bar. He wasn’t flashy, involved in scandals, headlines or publicity stunts; he made music. That’s what he did.

Despite his superstardom as an individual, Tom kept his original band intact through the years. Only one original member left for good after 20 years (drummer Stan Lynch, who was replaced by Steve Ferrone). Bass player Ron Blair left in 1981 (to open a surf shop!) only to return in 2002. (Blair replaced Howie Epstein after Howie O.D’ed.) 

Petty and guitar player Mike Campbell got along for over 40 years! Imagine that, a singer and guitar player working together that long without recurring fistfights.

I first discovered the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers by reading a truncated review of their first album in Hit Parader. I keyed on the word Heartbreakers in the review section, mistakenly thinking the review was about Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers.

“That’s not the Heartbreakers!” I exclaimed after looking at the band photo. The critic,who seemed to be from the New York punk crowd, insulted the band's looks. The review told me nothing about the band or its music, except that they were from Gainsville, FL.

 A few weeks later I heard “American Girl” and lesser-known cuts from the debut album,  probably on WXRT, a local free-form station that routinely played all kinds of new releases. I instantly fell in love with the sound.

Some of my fondest memories of Tom were formed before most people had ever heard of him. I keep going back to these two concerts – Winterland and Santa Monica, New Years Eve, 1978 and reliving the soundtrack to my junior and senior years of high school.

Compiling a top 10 list of Petty songs, underrated or otherwise, is an arduous task. I could have added 20 more, but I’m sticking with this list – and a few bonus tracks. 

10. American Dream Plan B– Hypnotic Eye

The last TPHB album, Hypnotic Eye, released in 2014, melded the straightforward garage rock of the first two albums with the wisdom of age. It covered a lot of ground subject-wise, from religion to the deflating American dream. The crunchy, badass “American Dream Plan B” may just be one of the fiercest songs Tom’s ever written, and the band just wails on this.

9. Something Good Coming - Mojo

Unless you’re a completist, you probably don’t know a lot about Petty’s post-2000 albums. With the advent of the new millennium, the music industry didn’t just change – it pretty much ceased to exist as we knew it. 2002’s The Last DJ indicted music industry for its greed and corruption. This was different than the legal wrangling that surrounded Hard Promises and DTT. No one else really cared about fixing the music business anymore. There wasn’t much of an industry left to preserve.

The blues rock of 2010’s Mojo doesn’t rehash old blues tunes, but proves that you can write brand-new blues with the spirit of the originals. Some are convincing as new songs and others are predominantly a showcase for the band without much of a framework. There’s plenty to groove to here, but my favorite is a slower song “Something Good Coming” with its message of hope.

8. The Damage You’ve Done – Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough

No one escaped the neon malaise of the late 1980s, not even Tom. Yes, the TP and the Heartbreakers toured with Dylan, but they still had time to record the underrated Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough. The songwriting and playing remained natural, there were no swirly synthesizer-heavy songs or any other missteps into trends. Tom would never fall for that, but this album still stalled at #20 on the Billboard 100.

Perhaps the only song from this album most people recognize, “You’re Jammin Me” wasn’t included on the first Greatest Hits package. The video for it is a primer in early computer graphics editing.

My favorite, though, is “The Damage You’ve Done”, a vitriolic sentiment set to a breathless rock beat. It was passed over as a secondary single in favor of “Runaway Trains”.  

Bonus: For some silly end of ‘80s video hijinx, check out this clip from the VHS compilation “A Bunch of Videos and Some Other Stuff”.  Hilarity ensues when clips of golf lessons by a Paraguayan golf pro pop up on the band’s video compilation. And Stan chops up the ‘ole drum machine .

7. Magnolia – You’re Gonna Get It

If you were a teenage girl in 1978, there was an unwritten rule that upon first seeing a band on their album cover, you had to choose the guy you thought was cute. To our young eyes, the Heartbreakers were all hot (or were we still using the term foxy back then?), but the songs kept us interested long after we moved on to new rock star crushes.

Magnolia concerns subject matter that would be addressed with more authority on Even the Losers, but this tale of unrequited love was still bittersweet in its own right. I wanted to include either this or Luna from the debut album on the Top 10. “Luna” was more poetic, (Black and yellow pools of light /Outside my window/ Luna come to me tonight/ I am a prisoner /Luna glide down from the moon),  but since “You’re Gonna Get It” was the first TPHB album I bought, I’ll go with Magnolia .

6. Fooled Again- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Tom gets all snarly with the vocals here. I love it as much now as I did when I was 17.

Even though we had yet to see the extent of his talent (and the Heartbreakers as a unit), there was still something there, an earthiness you didn’t see from other bands touted as new-wave or power-pop at that time.

I also believe this mini-concert was filmed is after bass player Ron Blair, swallowed a block of hash to avoid getting hauled in at customs. See the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream for details.

5. Wooden Heart – Playback

With and without the Heartbreakers, Petty performed dozens of covers. Most of them were the usual suspects – “Mona”, “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, “Gloria”, “Psychotic Reaction” (with Stan on vocals), but Tom’s tender rendition of “Wooden Heart”, the Elvis hit from GI Blues, is my favorite.

Bonus cut – from the aforementioned Winterland 1978 concert – Clarence Carter’s “Makin’ Love (at The Dark End of the Street)” It totally floored me to see this skinny white boy channel the blues with so much conviction.

4. Face in the Crowd –Full Moon Fever

One of his saddest songs, it has that twinge of longing for that something, which differs with every listen and to every listener. I vacillate between this and “Love is a Long Road” which is a rocker, but melancholy all he same.

When I first heard Full Moon Fever, I said to a friend, “Hey! Is Tom going through a bad divorce? Cause this album has a lot of depressing songs on it.” Well, actually, the divorce album was 1999’s Echo, which was more dirge-like.    

3. Honey Bee - Wildflowers

Raucous, bluesy hard rock blasts out on SNL with Dave Grohl as guest drummer. With all the ballads and wistful songs Tom recorded in the ‘90s, it was good to hear an all-out rocker again. Note the amused look at Mike’s face as Dave launches into his drum histrionics.

2. Nightwatchman –Hard Promises

A few nights before Tom died I was noodling around on YouTube trying to find different live versions of Nightwatchman, a funky reggae number from Hard Promises I hadn’t heard in 30 years. I was overjoyed to hear it again.

1. Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid) - Damn the Torpedoes

Tom had a great way of writing about women. His lyrics were about real women in everyday situations, and always seemed to be written with reverence for the female involved. There were no signs of classic rock cliches like the conniving whore or untouchable goddess.  

“With that little bit of mystery, she's a complex kid, 
And she's always been so hard to live without.
Yeah, she always likes to leave me, with a shadow of a doubt."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

CD Review - Crowmatic by Steve Hooker

Steve Hooker
Pimphouse Records

This six-song CD from rockabilly/blues rock veteran Steve Hooker has all the earmarks of his time-tested sounds. The CD starts with the shouting you often hear on  preludes to '50s or early '60s songs, and then segues into blues rock stomper Don’t Look Behind You.

The rhythmic cadence of the instrumental Nine Yards brings back memories of old-school Chicago blues, and Keep On Keepin On is a Cajun-esque growler. Catch On is a hip-shakin’ rockabilly dance revival distilled in two minute and twelve seconds.

Any fan of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll or rockabilly will enjoy listening to this CD – or more likely, dancing to it.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review: Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass into the Wild Times, Loud Rock and Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen By Noel E. Monk with Joe Layden

Book Review: Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass into the Wild Times, Loud Rock and Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen
By Noel E. Monk with Joe Layden

Noel Monk managed Van Halen from 1979 until the band fired him in early 1985. With the 30 year non-disclosure agreement now lapsed, Monk tells his side of the story, but not without a tad of bitterness, in Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Passinto the Wild Times, Loud Rock and Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen.

Monk managed the Sex Pistols ill-fated US tour in 1978, stage managed at Woodstock, and seemed a natural to handle the next big thing.

Handling any rock band on the road is a chore, but Monk had his work cut out for him with VH. Monk had to assure Eddie a blow job couldn’t get a girl pregnant and reels in disbelief when he records the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s Beat It –for free. 

Alex was a mean drunk. “Al pouring Schlitz Malt Liquor over himself and his drumkit…was the soberest part of the day for Alex”, Monk writes. And Dave’s ego and ADHD (buoyed on by cocaine) resulted in roadies having a straitjacket on hand, and not just as a joke.

Monk considers the band’s appearance at the US Festival in 1983 to be “one of my worst (days) as manager of Van Halen.” As anyone who was there can tell you (I was), apparently there was such a thing as Dave doing much coke, but the rest of the band took up the slack musically.

Runnin’ with the Devil reinforces the notion that musicians and entertainers aren’t necessarily exemplary human beings. Even before adding groupies and drugs to the mix, the guys come off as emotionally stunted. In Monk’s reminiscence, there are three bad guys here. Dave’s an egotistical blowhard, Eddie plays guitar and doesn’t know about much else, and Alex is a drunken bully.

In the early days, Dave wanted to marry a movie star, but Ed beat him to it. Valerie, like millions of other girls, had a crush on Eddie. Unlike those girls, though, she got to meet him backstage in her hometown and it was love at first sight. Valerie wasn’t much different than her TV alter-ego, Barbara Cooper, but she eventually fit right in with the entourage and the rest of the wives.

Valerie did coke because “Ed likes me thin”, but is confused about groupies. She wondered why the guys weren’t hornier after being away from their wives for so long.   

Monk instituted a payola scheme for the band’s least commercial album, Fair Warning. It was probably overkill – the album had two radio-friendly songs, Pretty Woman and Unchained. The band had almost achieved iconic status by 1981, so it was an unneeded boost . Around the same time, Dave’s alleged paternity suit insurance was widely touted in every publication from Time to Hit Parader. It was a PR stunt, unlike the exclusion of a certain candy backstage per their rider. The band actually had a good reason to exclude brown M & Ms  from the catering table, as Monk reveals.

Some of the behind the scenes anecdotes really knock the sex and drugs glamour out of the band’s image. What should have been a triumphant bus ride to Paris after the last DLR-era show ended up being depressing and icky. The guys comes off particularly pathetic in Monk’s description of the meeting where the band fired him

Eddie, Alex and Dave cut Michael Anthony, the band’s only “nice guy” out of his share of the band’s royalties from the album 1984 on, and made him a salaried player. Even after this, they still resorted to junior high bullying tactics on the road like they resented his mere existence.

Was the acrimony toward Michael Anthony solely because of money, or was there some other reason?

Some critics would question why Anthony would accept the demotion and stay in the band. (Shades of Rick Wright and Pink Floyd?) Although what was Anthony supposed to do? Quit the band and release a solo album that went nowhere and fade into obscurity, or stay with one of the biggest American rock bands ever as a salaried player?

Being a hardcore fan, I’m going to nitpick one detail. Monk says the band rarely played Happy Trails during their concerts, but I saw them do it at least twice, maybe three times.

Van Halen fans should read Runnin’ With the Devil after Greg Renoff’s Van Halen Rising and before Sammy and Dave’s books.  VH Rising has lots of info you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a well-researched look at the band’s origins, (Dave was a rich kid; Eddie and Alex were from the wrong side of the tracks.) And Runnin’ With the Devil’s backstage shenanigans probably won’t shock you if you know anything about the band, but the degree of acrimony between the guys near the end of the first VH era may leave you flummoxed.   

Monday, August 07, 2017

Book Review: A Fast Ride Out of Here: Confessions of Rock’s Most Dangerous Man by Pete Way (With Paul Rees)

Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider once referred to Pete Way as a "rock 'n' roll version of Dudley Moore's 'Arthur'.”  The reference to Dudley Moore’s perpetually soused but lovable millionaire character in the 1981 movie is certainly understandable.  Way, UFO's former bassist, certainly imbibed more than his share of alcohol back in the day, and he's a personable and easy-going guy, but.. rich? - well, maybe - til he spent all the money on drugs.

Way’s autobiography A Fast Ride Out of Here: Confessions of Rock’s Most Dangerous Man, co-written with Paul Rees, certainly has all the alcohol, drugs and sex you’d expect from a rock star bio, but without the artifice or self-importance. It has dissenting opinions from cohorts including Michael Schenker, Joe Elliot, Ross Halfin, Geddy Lee and Way’s brother, Neill.

Unlike many English rockers born in the middle of the 20th Century, Way actually had a fairly pleasant childhood. He did well on his exams, but once the late‘60s rolled around, drugs, were everywhere. (He first used heroin at 13, a few years before getting into music.)

Pete met Phil Mogg at 16, and they started the band that eventually became the blues-based version of UFO. Once guitarist Michael Schenker joined, the band developed a harder rock sound and broke into the American market.

Way had a manic onstage persona during his UFO heyday, and would zip back and forth with his bass like a true showman. It’s no surprise that he influenced Nikki Sixx and Ironmaiden’s Steve Harris.

A Fast Ride Out of Here is sprinkled with anecdotes about life on the road. Tales of hot and cold running drugs, alcohol, groupies and in-fighting (mainly guitarist vs. singer) abound.

 Of the girls that pursued the band, he writes, “The girls got what they wanted , too….they reasoned that the best way to know someone famous was to be involved with a guy in a band.”

Another anecdote from the UFO days - Pete appeared on the rock ‘n’ roll edition of the TV game show “Hollywood Squares” in 1979 with Todd Rundgren, Chaka Khan and other music stars of the time. He was billed as “Mr. UFO.”

Schenker bailed after the breakthrough Strangers in the Night live album was released. Eventually, Way left to start a new band, Fastway, but never played in the band due to contractual obligations with Chrysalis.

Way formed another band, Waysted, in 1983. Ex-UFO bandmates Paul Chapman and Paul Raymond made brief appearances with the band, and Way worked with Schenker on a few projects in the '00s. Like a codependent couple, Way reunited with singer Phil Mogg in UFO many times (and as Mogg/Way in the late ‘90s). The last split, in 2007, appears to be permanent.

Pete traveled with Ozzy when Waysted toured with him, and joined him in search of “waffle dust”, among other adventures. That’s just one sample of the hilarity that ensued on that tour. Way was also a friend of Bon Scott, and hung out with him a just a little over a week before he died.

Joe Elliot’s dry comments counter a few of Pete’s claims, in a friendly way. Photographer Ross Halfin calls UFO “the great lost British rock band” and Michael Schenker comments on his on-again, off again musical partnerships with Way.  

Way’s substance abuse also contributed to problems in his personal life. Two wives died of drug overdoses, and he was estranged from his daughters, Charlotte and Zowie, for years. The chapter about his time in Columbus, Ohio, with his fourth wife JoAnna is more surreal tragedy than rock excess. It proves, once again, that truth is stranger than fiction.

At 66, Way has beat heroin, prostate cancer and a heart attack. He’s been working on a solo album, "Walking on the Edge", with producer Mike Clink, between health crises.   

A Fast Ride Out of Here will have you laughing one minute, and shaking your head in disbelief the next. Way comes off as such an endearing character, you’ll genuinely like the guy, regardless of his foibles. Funny, heartbreaking and honest, any fan of classic rock or metal will enjoy this book.