Saturday, June 13, 2009

Blue Ash-No More, No Less CD Review

The Blue Ash story is one of rock’s best kept secrets. Formed in Youngstown, Ohio in 1969, Blue Ash were a powerpop outfit in the same vein as Cleveland’s Raspberries, albeit with a harder edge. Of course, the term “powerpop” hadn’t been coined yet; then it simply meant good pop music. Blue Ash and the Raspberries played on the same bill often back in Ohio. The band’s name is taken from a real town in Ohio, though none of the members were born or raised there. Four long haired guys done up all nice, in striped jackets and white ankle boots, Blue Ash countered the disheveled hippie look favored by Midwestern rock bands at that time.

Mercury Records won a bidding war, signed them, and the underground classic No More No Less hit the shelves in 1973. Collector’s Choice recently rescued the album, out of print for over 30 years, from obscurity with a CD edition. Even a cursory listen of No More, No Less makes one wonder why the album wasn’t all over the airwaves in ‘73.

“Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)” is a crossbreed between garage rock and frilly power pop that served as a precursor to bands like the Nerves and the Plimsouls. (The Records included it as a bonus track on one of their albums). Singer Jim Kendzor alternates between effortless, uptempo delivery and emotive wailing to make the tune something special. The song has a timeless quality that surely sounded as good crackling though a transistor radio as it does streaming through an iPod. Where were these guys when the radio audience at large was force fed a steady diet of Lobo, Helen Reddy and Cher doing cheesy story-songs like "Dark Lady"?

“Dusty Old Fairgrounds” a previously unrecorded Dylan song when Blue Ash adapted it for No More, No Less. For a Dylan song performed by Blue Ash, it sure sounds like the Who! Drummer Dave Evans exudes Keith Moon frenzy on this one. You could slip it right at the end of Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy without disrupting the flow. “Just Another Game” has country pop undertones more reminiscent of the The Byrds than any of Blue Ash’s power pop brethren. The catchy "Plain to See" has one of those choruses that gets stuck in your head, with a pop sensibility that captures the essence of bouncy and melodic Brit pop bands from the Searchers to Freddie and the Dreamers. Likewise, the wistful lyrics of “I Remember a Time” wrapped in a bright, sugary base of smooth harmony vocals and jangly guitar.

Blue Ash had the (mis)fortune of being signed to Mercury by Paul Nelson shortly after the stiletto heeled appearance of the New York Dolls on the same label. Blue Ash toured around the States, opening for iconic acts like Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, and Iggy and the Stooges to support the album. No More, No Less made many critics’ Top 10 lists for 1973. Chicago Sun Times writer Bob Greene championed them in his column a few times and named them the best American band of the 1970s. Bass guitarist Frank Secich begins the reissue’s liner notes by mentioning Greene’s penchant for the band. None of the buzz impressed Mercury, and they dropped the band shortly thereafter. After a few singles and another album on Playboy Records, followed, but soon that label folded.

The band continued to write and record until 1979, many of the songs contained on the Not Lame compilation Around…Again covers the band’s 10 year history. Blue Ash called it quits at decade’s end with over 200 songs written and/or recorded. A sidenote- Blue Ash bass player Frank Secich played on fellow Ohioan Stiv Bator’s solo album Disconnected and also contributed a solo song to a Stiv Bators tribute album out of Italy. Luckily, Blue Ash are back together, currently playing shows in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They even have their own blog and MySpace. The reissued No More, No Less is selling briskly on, proving that it’s never too late to pick up where you left off.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Cult "Love" Live Tour

The Cult will embark on a tour of the U.S. and Europe later this summer to perform one of their seminal albums in its entirety. Fear not, music purists, I don’t mean Sonic Temple. It’s Love, of course, the 1985 goth/alternative/rock masterpiece.

This is great news on many fronts. It gets the boys away from cover song side projects and back to the Cult’s own legacy. Ian is no longer channeling Jim Morrison in Riders on the Storm (see reprint below), and although Billy may occasionally play a gig with yet another incarnation of Camp Freddy, the boys are recording new songs in L.A. Finally!!

Here’s a clip of the Cult performing “She Sells Sanctuary” from a 1987 BBC telecast.

21st Century Doors-The Story Begins

Last Thursday in Los Angeles, the Rolling Stones played a free
concert at Staples Center. The following night, the Doors played the
Universal Amphitheater. Can you imagine if a rock fan had been
cryogenically frozen in, say, 1970, had been thawed last week, and
looked at the concert listings. "Hey, I told you guys to freeze me
for 33 years, not 6 months!," he might protest. Funny how geezers are
outselling and/or outpublicizing many of their younger counterparts
these days. Latest item - the Doors - er, the 21st century Doors
consisting of original band members Ray Manzerak (keyboards) Robbie
Kreiger (guitar), Cult vocalist Ian Astbury, bass player Angelo
Barbari, drummer Stewart Copeland (or someone else as the drummer,
I'm not sure as of this writing.) A tour featuring all the old
Doors songs... It's not that the remaining band members created stacks of
hit material the last 30 years, so this is it. The tour will be sort
of a tribute to Jim and the Doors music. New material is allegedly in
the works to be written by Jim Carrol, John Doe, et al, and is due
later in the year.* The pesky fact that original drummer John Densmore
filed a lawsuit against the 21st Century Doors hasn't stopped the

A few months ago, VH-1 debuted a show "Graveside Groupies" which
highlighted the escapades of fans who weren't even born when
their idols died. One day last year, I encountered my own version of this
phenomenon. I hung out at Barney's Beanery in L.A. with a bunch
of kids who were either in kindergarten or not even a glimmer in
daddy's eye when Jim Morrison died, relating where exactly Jim
held court in the infamous restaurant and pointing to his old "home",
the Alta Cienega Motel. Yes, I visited Room 32 once, sneaking in when the
motel manager wasn't around. Later, my friend and I surmised that
Jim's ghost was there. (I think they've eliminated Room 32
since then.) Face it, Jim captured all the signposts of rock stardom
perfectly. Drugs, alcohol, poetry, buffoonery, sleazy groupies, a
soulmate (Pam), a celebrated court case for indecent exposure, and
all the other attributes that comprise a legend. And he died in a
bathtub in Paris. Couldya get more romantic than that?

Although tickets for the February 7 Universal Amphitheater gig sold slowly at first, it sold out a few days before the concert. A handful of warm
up mini-shows (the Harley Davidson Fest during the summer and radio
station sponsored shows at the House of Blues) received praise from
the few who attended. Once good word of mouth and the radio station
panzer PR machine hiked into gear, the naysayers didn't have a
chance. It appears that all's well that ends - or begins - well.
The wacky cross-section of fans at the Universal show consisted of old
boomers reliving their halcyon days and kids hyped up on years of
myth. A good time was had by all, replete with stage rushing at the
end. Perhaps people are thirsting for something more than style over
substance MOR pop and recreating. Even three local Doors tribute
bands are advertising more heavily in the L.A. Weekly and similar
papers. So who is still kvetching? Well, as of Feb 9 the Densmore
lawsuit is still a go. Last summer he wrote a piece for The Nation
citing his desire to keep the Doors catalog out of TV commercials and
other non-pure venues. So as always, there's one dissenting
voice. Of course, a band without an occasional quarrel
is not a very good one; a history of fisticuffs is even better.

Now, if one were going to keep a rock legacy intact, i.e. no reunion
tours, no fiddling with the memory, this would be one of 'em. Well,
it's too late now. As long as the project doesn't go on indefinitely
and wear out its welcome**, it shouldn't be construed as a "black
mark" on the Doors legacy. Jim's not here anymore, but the songs are.
And at the end of the day, that's what it's all about.

*Never released
** 2007, Ian replaced by the singer from Fuel. As of June 2009, he's still there.