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. The front cover of "You're Gonna Get It", the Heartbreakers' second album, made it hard to decide who was the cutest. 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.