Thursday, December 29, 2011

Joe Satriani: Class is in Session

An interview with one of the greatest guitar players ever

By Peter Lindblad

Some of the greatest rock guitarists of this generation have been taught by Joe Satriani, and with 1987’s Surfing with the Alien, he defied the conventional wisdom that said an instrumental album could never be a commercial and critical hit. Satriani, who has won multiple Grammys for his work, has certainly taken the road less travelled to fame and fortune as a musician. 

Lesser known projects, like his revolving-door touring trio G3, have satisfied his thirst for musical adventure and exploration, while his 1988 stint as lead guitarist on Mick Jagger’s first solo tour provided a showcase for his technically flawless and emotionally transcendent guitar playing. Many feel that Satriani is the greatest guitar player ever, and even though some may argue that Eddie Van Halen has established himself as the pre-eminent shredder of his generation, a strong case can be made that Satriani has passed him by.
Nowadays, Satriani is plying his trade with the supergroup Chickenfoot, which includes veteran singer Sammy Hagar, ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith. Not only is Satriani sparking the group’s dynamic musicianship with his mind-blowing fretwork, but also, Satriani is lending a hand with the writing. Chickenfoot III, the band’s second LP, has been out for a while now, and the band has been on the road with Kenny Aronoff serving as a replacement for Smith. In this interview, Satriani shares his experiences with Chickenfoot and his memories of playing with Jagger and how he was completely dumbfounded by the success of Surfing with the Alien.

Just from initial impressions, Chickenfoot III seems like a heavier album, maybe ‘70s inspired. Was that something you were going for?

Joe Satriani: I think we recognized that that’s what was happening as we were doing it. We never really plan things out. We record ourselves sort of bouncing off each other. That’s kind of like the way we operate, and every time somebody picks up on something like that, you just laugh and smile and say, “Oh, ’72 … you know.” (laughs) That’s just the way we are. That’s part of why stuck together, because we thought it was exciting but curious that we didn’t do like “Satch Boogie,” “Give It Away Now,” and a whole series of Van Halen songs put together. We just sort of … we make this other thing, and so we’ve respected it by not sort of analyzing it. We just let it happen.

From the beginning of Chickenfoot, it being a supergroup, everybody was wondering how the different styles would mesh. Was that a concern when you began?

JS: I’m sure that those guys … you know, Sammy, Mike and Chad were probably thinking about that for a while, because as the last guy to join the unit, I hadn’t spent any time with them, when they, for six months, were jamming down at the Cabo club, and they had a number of guitar players join them onstage. I don’t know at what point it got into their minds that they wanted to make a record, but at some point, they called me and they must have thought, “Boy, that guy’s weird, but maybe it’ll work.” (laughs) So, I’m just happy that they did call me because it turns out I just had a lot of music in my background that was perfect for this band. It’s so natural for me because it was like I was 14 years old again in my high school band. This is exactly the kind of music I dreamt about playing. It didn’t take any extra effort, it was just … I was just so excited I just wanted to make sure we had enough time to devote to the project with our crazy schedules.

I was going to ask you if Chickenfoot allowed you to come full circle in your career, because you started out really loving that music of the ’70s?

JS: It’s funny how that is. I mean, a lot of the music that I’m allowed to write, let’s say, or I’m inspired to write when I’m thinking about Sammy, me, Mike and Chad, I wouldn’t normally be able to pull it off in a solo situation. It would just be so difficult because that style of music is built around a singer being really expressive and charismatic. I mean, Sammy Hagar is just … he’s got an amazing voice. The sound quality of it is huge. He can literally dominate any mix that you bring his voice up in. Wow, it’s just a force of nature. And of course, that style of music really wants the singer to be slightly unusual, slightly dangerous, somewhere on the edge between making a point and just blurting out rock and roll-isms. I don’t know what that is about rock music, but sometimes you like it when they’re being vague, you know, and just sort of being who they are. It adds a certain quality to the music, and so, those are the kinds of things you can’t really do instrumentally. It sounds kind of corny. So I’ve always approached instrumental music that it’s got to be fully, 100 percent, totally inspired by something that means something to me, something that I’ve lived through, somebody that I know, and that’s my guide to making it totally truthful and from the heart. But it’s different when I’m writing, at least for Chickenfoot, I’m really thinking about trying to bring out those things that I’ve picked up on while touring with the band, which I think is why this record sounds just better than the first one we did, because it’s obvious we know each other a lot more. We’ve been able to bring more of our personalities out on this record.

And a heavier record, too.

JS: I think so. I think everybody had a couple of things they were trying to get out of each other. As you said, it’s sort of … it culminated in just a stronger sound. I know Sam kept wanting me to just let loose, and I wanted him to sing in a lower register. I thought it would be more powerful and more intimate at the same time. I definitely wanted to write grooves where Mike, Chad and myself would sound like one big Mack truck coming right at you at a hundred miles per hour because you can write songs where you tell the drummer and bass player to play something repetitive, and you can do crazy stuff on top of it. That would be almost like a solo record type of thing, when you’re trying to give that feeling that the guitars are free and doing all sorts of stuff. You need somebody in the band to be more disciplined. But I wasn’t interested in that with these guys. I wanted to be part of the band, and I wanted Sam to be the thing floating on top. So that means I had to write, specifically, things where we naturally would sync into a backbeat together and sound like one unit. I think that contributes greatly to the heaviness, so we can do those songs like “Big Foot” – that’s a perfect example.

Yeah, that’s one of my favorites. You alluded to approaching Sammy about trying something new. What was that conversation like? Was it a tough conversation to have? Or was it easy to say, “Maybe we should try something different with your voice?”

JS: Oh, I think he was totally into it because I related to him this experience I had a few months before we started really … or I started really writing for this record, and we were hanging out and I’d just come from another local studio, and I said, “Sam, they were working on a song that you sang on. It was Sammy and Neil Schon and Michael Walden, and other local musicians doing a Sly Stone song for a local film. And I was totally blown away listening to Sam’s vocal performance. He just sounded like a stone-cold R&B singer. And the register was lower and his vibrato was beautiful, his voice was the usual, a thousand feet wide. And so I was saying, “Sam, that was like the greatest vocal I’ve ever heard. Why aren’t we doing that?” So, he was definitely excited about it, because he remembered that session. And he had a good time doing it, and he started telling me about all the soul music that he loves and how he’d love to do it. So I kind of took that back with me, and during my writing period for the band last August, 12 months ago, I just focused on that a couple of times to make sure that I could sort of count on that. You know, that I could sort of inspire him in that direction, so that we could get some of those beautiful vocal stylings out of him. Still, I’d love to hear all of it. I mean, he added kind of spoken word, but he’s on the other side of it as well, where he’s screaming like the best of them on this record, too. So I just think he gives, on this record, more of himself than on the first record, which is really cool.

Like you mentioned he was asking something different of you, too. Are there points on the album where you can hear you taking his advice to heart about just trying to lose it in the moment?

JS: Yeah, yeah, absolutely – I took everybody’s suggestions. I’ve got to say, it’s a good thing when we get together. Everybody listens to everybody. Everybody tries everybody’s ideas out. Because we figure, you know, I guess basically, the other guy might be right, so let’s just do it. Why not, you know? So sometimes that means any one of us changing our part just to see if it makes the other guy feel more comfortable with his part or a suggestion of a song. You just never know. A perfect example … well, you mentioned before about letting loose. When we finally got in the studio to do “Three and a Half Letters,” by then a lot of things had happened. I mean, the record was pretty much done and we had just this one last piece of music that Sam and I had written. And our good friend, co-manager and Sam’s personal manager, John Carter, had gotten ill and passed away during the making of the record. And we were back in the studio after he had just passed doing sessions, and so all of that, together with Sam’s earlier request of letting go, was definitely something that I was feeling at that moment. And that I think allowed everybody to let go, and everybody did on that particular one. It was just a very emotionally charged afternoon in the studio. There was another moment where we were working on a song that I brought in that turned into “Different Devil.” And I’d written this acoustic piece thinking it would be a funny, little, odd acoustic song, but everybody else wanted to turn it into a more commercially viable piece of music and I was totally bumming out about that idea. But eventually Chad came back the next day, he had borrowed my acoustic guitar and while he was back at the hotel room, he came up with another chord sequence to inject into the song that Sammy felt he could sing a chorus over. And so we re-did the song that afternoon, with this new piece of music in it, and I started to … slowly I had to pull myself out of, you know, my negative view of something that I had written and realize what they were hearing and I’m glad I did because it turned into one of my favorite pieces. But it was a bit of a cathartic experience – sort of leaving the spot that you were certain about and jumping over into another spot where everyone else was certain about. But I think that’s about trust. I mean, that’s what it’s all about when you get a good band together, there’s an element of trust there. So we will follow one another if the other one suggests it.

I suppose that stems from everybody’s previous successes. Maybe you’re more willing to listen to the other guys because you know they’ve experienced a lot of success on their own?

JS: You’re absolutely right. Yeah, I mean those guys have sold some records based on really good, commercially minded songs, and so, yeah, I’m going to listen (laughs) if Chad, or Mike, or Sammy says, “Hey, we can trim this, and the song would really pop.” I go, “Yeah, you probably know a lot more about that than I do.” (laughs) Get this, this is funny. I just got a text from Chad. That is funny. He’s in Rio, and he’s just saying that he is loving the podcasts. We’ve been putting out these podcasts on every song every day leading up to the release of the album.

That’s a new marketing tool for you. Are you enjoying doing that?

JS: Yeah, I think when I finally see them … of course, I can’t stand looking at myself, and I’m always explaining they’re using the wrong camera angle (laughs). I’m not necessarily ready for primetime, probably will never be, but yeah, after a while, I realized this is a very cool thing, and I wish that all the other artists that I like would do it, because I’d be eating it up, you know.

What kinds of artists do you like these days? You’ve worked with so many and taught so many.

JS: I think the last couple of things I’ve been getting into are not necessarily that new. I mean, I’m thinking about … whew, here’s a weird one. Animals As Leaders. Have you ever heard of them? Tosin Abasi, the guitar player, is just completely … it’s the craziest way of playing guitar that I’ve ever heard in my life. He’s really great. Believe it or not, I have been listening to a lot of Black Keys. I’ve always been into listening to the stuff that Jack White does. I like when guitar players go all the way, whether they’re forging brand new territory or they’re doing revival, throwback stuff, I do really love it. And I find it just stimulating to the heart I guess. I’m always picking up; if somebody finds me a new bootleg of an old James Gang thing, I’ll listen to that (laughs). I’m always looking for more stuff. You know, probably the next thing I’ll get is that new Hendrix compilation of live stuff. That just came out. I still just listen to Hendrix all the time.

Do you still teach?

JS: No, I recently had to put a lot of this into words because I gave a commencement speech at Musicians Institute down in L.A., and I had to remind myself the last time I taught an official lesson was actually Kirk Hammett, and it was back in January of ’88. And he was the last student I gave a lesson to. He was just about to start recording … And Justice for All, and I was just about to go out on my very first tour as a solo artist for the Surfing … record. That’s how long ago it was. Our lives have changed so dramatically since then, but yeah, it’s been a while.

Do you miss it at all?

JS: No. Teaching is very hard. It’s very hard to sit in a small room, and I was teaching privately, so that meant I was teaching over 40 hours a week. I had 60-plus students, all individual lessons, an hour and half hour. That’s intense. That was my day job. What I was really doing was playing in a rock band at night, and so … yeah, that was pretty tough.

In that way, your career and that of Randy Rhoades had parallels. I know he taught as well.

JS: I don’t know too many players out there who teach. I mean, it’s a good gig to have, because the guitar is in your hand all day long. You have the opportunity to continually think about technique, and it is nice to hang out with other guitar players, rather than … I don’t know, if you worked at the post office or something, driving yourself crazy. The danger is you’ve got the guitar in your hand too many hours a day. You have to be careful of over playing and repetitive stress, and probably mentally, you don’t want to get bitter about music by having to teach kids and professionals. Even though I had students like Charlie Hunter, Larry LaLonde and Kirk Hammett and Alex Skolnick, I also had people who were grammar school teachers, lawyers, doctors, race car drivers, cable car operators, and I had kids who used to bring in action figures and put them on the amp and then pick up the guitar (laughs). I had a diverse group of young and old, men and women, and when you’re a teacher, you have a job to do, which is to get them to play the music they want to play. It’s not about turning them into rock stars, unless they specifically asked you to. Unless they were your average 18-year-old kid who comes in and says, “Make me the greatest guitar player in the world. I’ll do whatever you say, you know.” But it’s not for the faint of heart as far as musicians go. For some people, it would rub them the wrong way with their creative mind, you know. They would rather be out painting or something where they could have their solitude.

What do you like best about working with Sammy?

JS: Well, Sammy is Sammy, and that’s the best part about Sammy Hagar, just his basic personality. He’s one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s got a golden heart, and you know, the music business is absolutely insane. If there’s something bad inside somebody, the music business brings it out. That’s the bad thing about it. So, there are just a lot of those guys you want to avoid. I’ve been through some crazy stuff with Sam, and he’s been the same golden-hearted guy, and that’s a great thing. And that’s why good things happen around him. It’s a testament to his nature. But beside all that, he’s a great singer, he’s prolific, he only does stuff that he truly believes in, which is really great – which can be really funny sometimes, because you can’t believe some of the stuff he believes in. You go, “What?” But he’s not calculating in any way. He just goes straight from the heart. And he gives it all he’s got. I’ve toured with the guy, and he just wants to make everybody feel great in the audience. It’s a very important thing. You’d think that would be … that every performer would feel that way, but they don’t. And you do sometimes find performers who are selfish or who could care less, and that’s really sad and you don’t want to work with them. But Sammy cares really hard. He reminds me of the year I spent working with Mick Jagger back in ’88. I was blown away with how much Mick cared about the audience and the show, and everybody that he worked with – you know, kind and generous, but still unpredictable and totally rock and roll. He was the first guy who told me those elements can actually be together in one human being. And Sam is very prolific. He’s great. He’s got a million ideas, and so to know him is to receive calls all during the day and night, with him being 100 percent enthusiastic about something. You never know what it’s going to be. He’s never like 50 percent into something. He’s always 100 percent or zero percent, which makes him an exciting friend.

What do you think is the future of Chickenfoot?

JS: Oh, I’m pretty confident that the core group – Sammy, Mike, Chad and myself – will make another couple of records. I truly believe that. I think that every time we finish a record, I think we all got the feeling like, “Wow, this is almost like a step to some new beginning.” And then, of course, reality steps in and then, it’s like, “Oh, that’s right. Chad’s in the Chili Peppers. Sam’s got a million things going on. I’ve got a solo career. And Mike’s on a permanent vacation, which he takes very seriously.” But, we kind of put that out of our minds, and we just move ahead one step at a time – that’s what I think. I really do think there’s so much more music to share between the four of us, we will make more records.

The music industry has changed so much since Surfing With the Alien and your other instrumental albums. Could you ever foresee an instrumental album being as popular as that one was?

JS: No, oh man. When we were finishing that record, me and my co-producer John Cuniberti, we were convinced that it was the last record that people would let us make, that we were going to get run out of town, so to speak, you know. It would be like, “Thank you very much. Now go away.” No, we did whatever we wanted, we remastered … you know, we just pushed and pushed and finally handed it over, and it was like, okay. And I literally handed the record in and went back to teaching guitar, and John went back to his studio work. We had no idea. When somebody told us that it landed on the Billboard charts, I remember, and they called up and said, “It’s 186.” And I said, “186 on what?” I just couldn’t believe it. I said, “Billboard? It’s on Billboard?” And I remember, it was a moment where I was in Australia touring with Mick, and it was sitting at 29 on the Billboard charts. It sat there for six weeks, and I remember it was higher than Mick’s solo record. And we were out to dinner, and I remember Mick coming over to me and saying, “Hey, Joe, that is like the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” and congratulating me and … you know, Mick always said, “Anything you need from this organization to promote the record, you got it. You need a room. You need a camera crew … whatever.” And he gave me a solo spot on the tour every night. I’d have 10 to 15 minutes to play whatever I wanted. He was very generous that way and excited about it, but it illustrated to me at that moment, this is like, I could never have imagined this. This is freaky, to have that success and have Mick Jagger say, “Congratulations, Joe. Anything I can do to help, you know.” It was just really cool.

What other things do you have on the horizon?

JS: Wow. Right now I’m juggling interviews. It’s all about Chickenfoot right now. I’m waiting to get some tracks from Jon Lord actually, because I’m going to be adding guitar to a record that Jon Lord is doing. So I’m excited about that. And the 3-D film of my last tour, the Wormhole tour, is coming out [soon].


  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

5150: A Changing of the Guard


Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony reflect on 25th Anniversary of the chart-topping album, Hagar's first with Van Halen after the departure of David Lee Roth. 

By Peter Lindblad

Somebody had to go, and it wasn't going to be Eddie Van Halen. Not with his brother, Alex, on his side and the very name of the band at stake.Whether he left Van Halen of his own volition or was kicked to the curb by the two siblings, David Lee Roth found himself on his own in April of 1985, ready to eat them or anybody else and smile that 1,000-watt smile to the world. However, the future of Van Halen, this hard-partying, hard-rocking juggernaut from California that had vaulted up the pop charts, was in doubt - that is until Eddie made friends with fellow sports car lover Sammy Hagar while his Lamborghini was in the shop. But, at first, Hagar was apprehensive about joining Van Halen.

"My first reaction was, 'I don't want to be in that f**king band,' because Dave's image kind of overshadowed the band. It really did," said Hagar. "The general public, they heard the music on the radio, but me, I was in the industry. And I heard all the tales, and I would go into a building, the same arena where they had just played, and you hear all the horror stories, and I always thought, 'I don't want to be in no f**king band like that.' And so, I said, 'Well, I'll go down and check 'em out.' It's pretty much in the book [Hagar's best-seller "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock"] about all this, but I thought I would check 'em out and maybe get Eddie to play on one of my records - not to be in the band or nothing, but I thought he was a really talented guitar player, and you know, I'm going to do a new record. I'll get him to play on the record, you know. And I went down and jammed with Ed, Al and Mike, and I went, 'Holy shit. This is f**king good.' And they went, 'Holy shit. This guy can sing.' And it was just magic from that moment on."

Hagar's arrival signaled a change in direction for Van Halen. More emphasis was placed on Eddie's shiny new toy, the synthesizer, and Hagar's sincerity as a songwriter starkly contrasted the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" sarcasm and unabashed hedonism boasted by Roth's lyrics. It was a marriage that later turned rocky, but in the beginning, the partnership between Hagar and Van Halen would produce the biggest selling album of the band's career, the chart-topping 5150, named after the California police code for a mentally deranged person. 5150 turned 25 years old in 2011, and the switch from Roth to Hagar was as controversial a lineup change as rock music has ever witnessed.

Tensions boil over

 1984, and the high-flying videos for "Jump" and "Panama" - not to mention the titillating "Hot for Teacher" schoolboy fantasy, rolling along on Alex's barreling drums, Anthony's howitzer bass, Roth's lascivious clowning and Eddie's hot-wired guitars  - that were all over MTV, had made the men of Van Halen giants. Only Michael Jackson, with the indomitable Thriller ruling the charts with an iron fist, was bigger. Onstage, every night was a party to end all parties, the greatest rock and roll show on earth. Eddie's dizzying, thermonuclear guitar fretwork dazzled, while Roth's outrageous showmanship, impossible gymnastics, cheeky humor and hairy-chested machismo made him a golden god.

Behind the scenes, however, during the 1984 tour, jealousy and personality clashes, issues that had dogged the band for years, were tearing Van Halen apart. Eddie could no longer stomach Roth's spotlighting-hogging ego, while Roth was becoming increasingly irritated by Eddie's substance abuse and moonlighting without the band's approval. Furthermore, there were creative differences, Roth becoming more insistent upon moving toward more of a pop-oriented sound, as opposed to Eddie's desire for increased musical complexity. There are two sides to every story, says the old saw, and the backbiting and accusations that have flown back and forth regarding Roth's departure are rivaled only by the litigious slings and arrows of the Mark Zuckerberg-versus-the Winklevoss twins Facebook saga.

Little did bassist Michael Anthony know then that a similar drama would play out when Roth's replacement, Sammy Hagar, was booted from Van Halen in 1996, before Anthony himself, in the mid-2000s, was exiled from the band he'd been in since 1974.

"In the latter days of Van Halen, before I was out of the band, you almost start to lose perspective on why we're doing this in the first place, because Van Halen became a pretty well-oiled machine - touring and everything, and of course, it all becomes big business and whatever," said Anthony. "It almost got to the point where we never got into the studio to really jam, like we do in Chickenfoot [the band he's in now with Hagar, Red Hot Chili Peppers' drummer Chad Smith and guitarist extraordinaire Joe Satriani]."

Chance of a lifetime

Things weren't always that way with what many refer - sarcastically or affectionately - to as the "Van Hagar" years. When Sammy Hagar entered the picture, stepping in for Roth as Van Halen's singer and rhythm guitarist in 1985, his arrival was a breath of fresh air. Introduced by a mechanic, of all people, sports car lovers Hagger and Eddie initially hit it off. But, before this fortunate happenstance, Van Halen had been foundering in its search for a new lead vocalist. As the story goes, Patty Smyth of Scandal was offered the role, but she nixed the idea. Jimmy Barnes was considered, too, but nothing ever came of it. Haggar, as it turned out, was the ideal replacement, even if news of his enlistment wasn't greeted with cheers and toasts from everyone.

For Haggar, joining Van Halen was the chance of a lifetime. Though he'd had solo hits, including the ubiquitous "I Can't Drive 55" in, of all years, 1984, and AOR staples such as "There's Only One Way to Rock," "Three Lock Box" and 1982's "Your Love is Driving Me Crazy," which rose all the way to #13 on the Hot 100 chart, Van Halen was playing in a different league. And after the trials and tribulations the Red Rocker experienced earlier in his career with Montrose, Haggar was grateful for the reception he received in Van Halen.

"Montrose ... Montrose wasn't that much fun," admits Hagar. "You know, we were fun, but we were poor on our ass and we bombed at practically every show we played. (laughs) We got booed ... oh yes. I mean, we headlined Winterland in San Francisco, and we headlined Paris at the Olympia Theater - the only two cities in the world where Montrose was the headline act. The rest of the time, we were an opening act, and we got booed off whenever we opened for anybody. It was like, 'F**k. Why doesn't anyone like us?' (laughs) And then we went on to sell, over the years, four million albums of that first [Montrose] record and we never even made the Top 200. It was never even on the charts. So, you know, that wasn't that much fun (laughs). It was like being in the f**king infantry, on the front lines the whole time, you know (laughs)."

Hagar, though, had his detractors, even though his technical proficiency on guitar - something Roth never had - expanded Van Halen's capabilities, allowing Eddie more opportunities to play synthesizer live. Many of them would continue to deride Hagar long after 5150, Van Halen's first album with Hagar onboard, had fallen off the charts, but Hagar had the last laugh.

"Oh man, joining the band, having the same old thing that always happens with everything I do - the doubting Thomases [that say], 'Aw, this is never going to work. Sammy's a whole different guy. Nobody can replace Roth,'" recalls Hagar.

As the skeptics lined up to express their misgivings, Van Halen went in the studio with Hagar in November 1985 to bang out 5150 in short order. Wasting little time, the band assumed a bunker mentality during the recording sessions, which would quickly yield fruit.

"Just going in there while we were making the 5150 record, we were on fire," remembers Hagar. "You know, we locked everybody out. No one came in but our manager and our engineers and producer, [Foreigner's] Mick Jones, and so forth. And everybody in that room is going 'this is a fight to the f**king world, here's this.'"

For his part, Anthony wasn't quite sure what to make of Hagar when he first showed up to work. This wasn't the laidback California surfer dude and hippie philosopher Anthony had pictured. Any reservations he had, however, were quickly dismissed.

"I know Sammy was ... I think he was just starting to take a long break [just before he joined Van Halen]," says Anthony. "So, he comes walking into the studio and I was sitting in the control room and he came walking in, and here he is, his hair is all shaved off, pretty much. And I said, 'Whoa, that's Sammy Hagar? This ain't the guy we signed on to come play with us.' But yeah, we had a few ideas that were already written that we were kind of working on, before Sammy came in. One of 'em was 'Good Enough' ... I forget what the other one was, but we had a couple of ideas and we started playing, and Sammy just started singing off the top of his head, you know, just listening to this stuff. And there were a lot of lyrics that he actually ended up using in the songs. That's how well it clicked. I still have the cassette tape somewhere at home of that first time. We all had copies, and we were just blown. I mean, as soon as we started playing, as soon as we started playing ... we actually stopped and said, 'We've got a band.' That's how well it clicked. It was great."
What chemistry, what magic - Hagar couldn't believe how fast the record, released 25 years ago in 1986, and the promotion of it, came together. The salacious "Good Enough" was a powerhouse of an album opener, its rhythmic pistons pumping furiously from start to finish, while the triumphant "Best of Both Worlds" happily marched up a mountain of life-affirming riffs. The bruising "Inside," with its roiling guitars sounding as brutal as a gang initiation, was a cocky middle finger pointed straight at Van Halen's critics, and "Summer Nights" nostalgically pined for those  humid, sweaty evenings of misspent youth, when smoking joints, drinking beer and fouling around in the backseats of cars was all that mattered.

"5150 was actually recorded pretty quickly, because we had a lot of ideas already and then a lot of stuff, obviously, was written once Sammy entered the thing, but I think the band was on such a high at that point," said Anthony. "I mean, we were firing on 16 cylinders at that point, because it was new and fresh and Sammy really brought his own thing into the band full-on. Here was a guy who could vocally sing anything that Ed was coming up with, and he could play guitar. So from that standpoint, he could make suggestions musically and melodically there, and he could also pick up a guitar and jam with us in the studio, too. And I can't remember, but I think ... I can't say for sure, but it seemed like we did that album pretty quick - a month, a couple months."

A pristine palace of sonic grandeur, with its sparkling production, 5150 - that cocoa-buttered muscle man down on one knee holding up the world on the cover indicative of the band's ambition and the pressure they were under - wasn't your typical Van Halen record. For one thing, it had soaring ballads, earnest love songs like "Dreams," "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Love Walks In" that contained nary a hint of Roth's prurient penchant for sly sexual innuendo and bawdy jokes. Different too was the fact that Eddie's guitars, so prominent in the mix on Van Halen classic hard-rock rumbles like "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," "Everybody Wants Some," "Running with the Devil," "And the Cradle Will Rock," "Mean Street" and "Unchained," among others, had taken a step back, quite comfortable on equal footing with keyboards, Anthony's big, booming bass and Alex's thundering herd of drums. And then there was the stunning vocal interaction between Anthony and Hagar, a signature feature of Van Halen's sound with Hagar.

"I'll say one thing, after doing backgrounds to David Lee Roth, because his vocal range is a lot lower, all of a sudden, it was like, 'Whoa,'" says Anthony. "I mean, it really pushed me in the beginning, so I was all of a sudden singing in registers that I hadn't really sung in before. Not that I couldn't do it. But I never did it with Van Halen, and it was cool. And I think it really inspired me and the fact that I could sing those parts, I was really digging it. We really kind of took it to another level vocally with the backgrounds we were doing."
While the public waited with bated breath to hear the results of this unusual union, Hagar and company had every reason to be satisfied with what they had produced. And Warner Bros. was thrilled, too. To think, after Roth had left, the record company, nervous about its cash cow, had pushed the band to abandon the Van Halen name, or even change it, officially that is, to Van Hagar. Not only that, but the suits had put their foot down about allowing Van Halen complete control in the studio. Their ace in the hole, producer Ted Templeton, who captured all the vital energy and punishing intensity of Van Halen's live sound on record in the making of Van Halen I and II, and Fair Warning, Women and Children First and Diver Down, was out of the picture, and they weren't about to let the inmates run the asylum. Don Landee, the engineer on previous Van Halen records, initially assumed production duties, and later, Jones was recruited to provide production assistance.

Still, when all was said and done, Warner Bros. figured it had a monster hit on its hands with 5150. And they couldn't wait to cash that lottery ticket.  "Warner Bros., they shot us right out there on tour," said Anthony. "We didn't even know what happened. The album wasn't even out yet and boom, they had us out on the road. I guess they were all wanting new summer homes and stuff like that (laughs). But you know, for the first two, three albums that Sammy did, we'd tour and then we came right back in the studio and bam, we were going and then we were right back out on the road before we knew it. It was all happening really fast at the time, but like I said, the band ... we were really on a high right then."

Hagar's head was spinning, as well. "So then we go out and play the first show before the album was out, and the place knocked the f**king barricade down in Shreveport, La., and ripped the stage apart," says Hagar. "We damn near had to stop the show in the middle of it, because it was just ... you know, it's those kinds of things: the energy and enthusiasm and the success. The album goes to No. 1 the third week out, it stays there for three weeks. Everybody had their first No. 1 album. It was just one thing after another; it was just success, success, success."

Epilogue

Swept up in all the swirling madness that used to accompany a No. 1 record, Hagar and Van Halen, nevertheless, relished the spoils of their victory. And the backlash that came from longtime Van Halen fans that pledged their allegiance to Roth and gnashed their teeth over the new sound of the band didn't faze Hagar or the other members. Instead, when the 1986 Tour, so named as a not-so-veiled swipe at the doomed 1984 Tour that caused so much tumult within the band, ended and 5150's meteor had fallen to earth, this new Van Halen went back to work.

There was a concert movie, "Live Without A Net." OU812, 5150's follow-up, arrived two years later, and it contained the hits "When It's Love" and the countrified "Finish What Ya Started," with its light "aw shucks" pop manner and incredibly nimble guitar picking. 1991 saw Van Hagar release For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge - the acronym of which produced a certain F-word Hagar is found of using - and it reunited the band with producer Templeton. Unlike the first two albums, which generally received more positive reviews than scathing rebukes, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was savaged by the critics as being unnecessarily fussy and devoid of fun, and it signaled the end of Van Hagar's first run. Then came 1995's Balance, and the tensions that had simmered between Hagar and the Van Halen brothers, who were breaking down physically with Eddie's hip problem and Alex's neck pain, began boiling over. Still, on a commercial level, everything Van Halen and Hagar touched seemed to turn to gold.

When asked what his favorite memories are of the Van Hagar period, Anthony said, "I think one was just seeing every album go to No. 1, and then enter at No. 1 in the charts with Sammy. It's funny because, it isn't until I can really sit back and look at what's happening, or somebody comes up to me, a friend or something, and says, 'Wow! Do you know how big you guys really are?' We never really realized it, because you're working so hard and you're there, and plus, it's great, you're playing for the big crowds and everything, but you don't have time to sit back and think of what happens. I think it would scare the shit out of me if I did. But, you know, we were just having so much fun doing it, there was a time when it was like, you know ... we called ourselves the four-headed monster. There was no stopping us. And I don't know, I just think ... you know, just the way Sammy entering the band just elevated the whole thing, it was like man, it almost seems like a dream now. You know, every now and then, I'll put on 'Live Without a Net' or see something live that I've got that the band did, and the energy that the band had, it was pretty cool. I sit back and kind of ... whoa, we were happening."

What was happening internally was not so pleasant. Hagar and Van Halen reached the point of no return with the recordings for the "Twister" movie soundtrack, which Hagar was dead-set against, and plans for a compilation album, which Hagar also resisted. And so, like Roth, Hagar exited in a storm of controversy, with Hagar saying he was fired and the Van Halen claiming that he quit. Some reports have said that Hagar did, indeed, quit, but it was because Van Halen was recording with Roth again behind his back.
Since then, of course, Van Halen has churned through a series of singers, chewing up and spitting out Gary Cherone before recycling Roth, not once but twice, and Hagar, whose reunion with the band lasted from 2003-2005. In 2011, Hagar put out an explosive tell-all autobiography that detailed, in no uncertain terms, his strained relationship with the Van Halen brothers and his wild times with the band, as well as hitting on other parts of his musical career.

About the book, Sammy says, "I just figured it was time for people to hear my story. I know it kind of sounds stupid, but I wanted to do it while I still remembered it. All this stuff, my memory is still pretty good, real good actually. It just ... I don't know, it was time, you know. I'm one of those guys who don't make decisions unless it just comes to me, and I think, 'Oh, I'm going to do that.' I'm really a knee-jerk f**ker. I'm kind of like an insect. If I'm cold, I move towards heat. If I'm hot, I move towards cold. If I'm hungry, I eat. If I'm tired, I sleep. So, somebody offers me the book ... I've been offered a book a hundred times, for the last 20 years. I even wrote a book already once and never released it. And I just said, 'Yeah, this is right.' I thought the Van Halen stuff ... I was just getting sick of doing interviews and going down the street and on the radio and people, fans, getting me letters saying, 'Why can't you and Eddie get it together? Why don't you give Eddie a call? Why don't you guys go back in the studio? Why can't you go on tour? Why didn't you guys play my town? How come you ...?' And I'm just going, 'F**k. I've got to tell these people why. It ain't me, damn it. It's not me. I'm not the problem here.' I've made 15 records and probably played a thousand shows since the last time they've shown their faces (laughs). It's not me. I really kind of wanted to get that out. And I feel real good about getting it out."

In some respects, despite their differences, Hagar feels bad for what's become of Van Halen, who, as rumor has it, is working on a new record with ... drum roll please: David Lee Roth.

"I think [Eddie] and Al, as much as I love Al, they over-think everything until it ain't no more, it ain't there no more," said Hagar. "By the time they finished going back and forth and back and forth, wake up in the middle of the night, changing their minds, it's pretty soon that that golden light just went to darkness. And it's no longer there. So, they go, 'Aw, f**k it. Yeah, we shouldn't have done it anyway. Yeah, it's probably better. Okay, next.' It's the way they function, and I don't know what their problem is with that, but you know, there's a lot of abuse going on in that in terms of personal stuff and everything else, and I just ... I feel bad for him. I feel bad for the fans ... Van Halen, one of the biggest, greatest bands in history, in rock history ... you know, we hold a lot of titles. And to just not give anything ... God, it's just such a waste. I couldn't live like that. If I was still in that band, and we had these long hiatuses, I would have just quit. I would have retired from music completely, and just said, 'No, I'm not going to wait seven or eight years,' and then say, 'Okay, let's make a record and go tour. Get the f**k out of here.' It's like an athlete, boxers, Muhammed Ali takes two or three years off from the Army thing that came down on him, and he was never the same fighter ever again, you know. And that's the way all athletes are. You know, musicians, rock musicians, are especially like athletes. You've got to keep your art, your hands and your voices, your body, everything, has to stay in that kind of condition - lubed up and ready to go. Otherwise, you lose it, and I'm sorry, but those guys are crazy."
As for Anthony, he and his Jack Daniels bottle-shaped bass began drifting apart from Van Halen after 1996 as well. Though he stayed on for various projects, despite various reports that he was no longer in the band, Anthony's role steadily diminished, until in 2006 Eddie revealed that Van Halen would carry on with his son Wolfgang replacing Anthony on bass. Since then, Hagar and Anthony have grown closer, having worked together on Planet Us with Satriani and others before touring as a member of the Other Half during part of the Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas tour. And now, Chickenfoot is a thriving enterprise, with two hit records to its credit.

"There was a time when Sammy was out of [Van Halen] that we actually lost touch," says Anthony. "We didn't really communicate too much, and obviously, Eddie and Al, that was my band. So, it was politically incorrect for me to have anything to do with Sammy, which I was kind of bummed out about that because Sammy and I became really good friends during the time he was in the band, and I think it was ... God, it had to have been a few years later, when ... I think I remember getting drunk on New Year's Eve, and I was with some friends, and I said, 'You know, I'm going to call Sammy.' And I called him and got his voicemail, and we actually played phone tag a couple of times like that. He called me back and he happened to be in the L.A. area doing something at one point, and he gave me a call and said, 'Hey, why don't you come on down and we'll hang out.' We actually became better friends the second time around than when he was in the band the first time. I think probably because it wasn't ... well, the first time he was kind of thrown into it: 'Here's your new lead singer,' and it started out like that. Whereas the second time, we just hung out, and really didn't even talk about anything musically or anything like that. It was just, 'What's been happening in your life? What are you doing' and we are better friends than we have been."

Looking back on it all, Hagar has no regrets about the time he spent with Van Halen, even with all the eventual hassle that came with it. We had nine incredible years, two horrible years, and then another reunion nine months of horror beyond horror, and you still look back, and the horror is pretty much the most recent things so I can recall things, thinking, 'I'll never play with that guy again. I would never be in the same room with Eddie Van Halen again, sober or anyway,' because anybody who was in as bad a shape as I saw, sober is still going to be crazy," explained Hagar. "So, I'm not going to deal with it. So, looking back, it's still too fresh from that reunion tour, but at the same time, I had some of the greatest times in the history of rock. For nine years, it was the greatest ride on the planet. I mean, I don't think life could be any better than that for any musician or artist. And then it went bad. But, too bad - the last couple of years ... everything written in my book, I put that in there because it was part of the deal. And everyone wrote about it and brought it up, and exploited it. But the truth of the matter is I had nine of the greatest years of my rock and roll life in Van Halen. It was one of the greatest things I'll ever do. And the only thing that rivals any of it is this Chickenfoot thing."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book Review: The Stooges Head On

Book Review: The Stooges Head On
Author: Brett Callwood
Wayne State University Press, Painted Turtle
All Access Review:  B+



Sorting through The Stooges’ trash to dig up whatever dirt is left to uncover about the Ann Arbor proto-punks has become a sort of blood sport with rock journalists. By now, though, it would seem that every lurid tale of debauchery and mayhem involving Iggy Pop and the boys — especially, Iggy — has been told and retold to the point where nothing’s shocking with them. 

The whole ugly, unvarnished truth has been exposed, and if there is more out there hidden by the fog of time and fading memories, it probably wouldn't add much to a mangy mythology built on The Stooges' violent appetite for self-destruction. With the heart of a fan, then, author Brett Callwood, who is familiar with the terrain having written about the MC5, smartly rises above the fray with “The Stooges: Head On,” preferring to tell the band’s story without a great reliance on sensationalism, and that's to be celebrated. 

And it is The Stooges’ story that Callwood sticks to. This is not a band biography masquerading as an Iggy tell-all. In fact, Iggy’s part in this tragic-comedy is muted in Callwood’s book. Relying heavily on in-depth, and often very funny and insightful, interviews with both Asheton brothers, Ron doing his before he died in 2009, and all the other Stooges, including Iggy, James Williamson, Steve McKay, Mike Watt and Scott Thurston, Callwood paints a broad, graffiti-splashed mural that encompasses the band’s entire history without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. Other offbeat characters, underground journalists and Detroit-area musical revolutionaries, like the MC5’s Dennis Thompson make sure the weirdness never ends.

In drawing and developing fully realized portraits of each Stooge, Callwood doesn’t play favorites. His solid, substantive writing humanizes and spotlights every character in The Stooges’ epic, giving them all equal time. Callwood’s interest in The Stooges is undeniably genuine, as he dissects the recorded violent they put on wax and walks through the fists-flying riots they spawned in concert. He traces The Stooges' origins in bleak, rusted-out Michigan and follows each band member's life prior to The Stooges on through the band’s 1970s implosion and all the way through the post-millennial reunions. Of particular interest is the thorough excavation of Ron Asheton's musical adventures in Destroy All Monsters and the New Order, the post-Stooges' groups that he took part in to fill the void in the wake of the breakup. Perhaps no other Stooges' book has paid more attention to Ron, including the deep disappointment he felt in being replaced by Williamson on guitar for Raw Power.

While there is much to digest here, Callwood organizes the book in a free-flowing fashion that makes it an easy read. Much of the content is delivered in long, well-chosen quotes that, when pieced together with Callwood's light transitional touch, carry the story along like a fast-moving river current. A black-and-white photo section in the book's midsection seems like a dysfunctional family album, one awash in the white-trash environs that birthed the Stooges. And, even though Callwood doesn't dwell on the scary chaos that surrounded the band, he doesn't run from it either. There's enough violence, hilariously mean pranks and borderline insanity to fix any reader who comes looking for it. 

- Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Ozzy Osbourne "God Bless Ozzy Osbourne"

DVD Review: Ozzy Osbourne "God Bless Ozzy Osbourne"
Eagle Vision
All Access Review:  A+


In retrospect, that bubbly, tongue-in-cheek lounge version of “Crazy Train” – served with off-the-charts levels of irony – that became the theme of “The Osbournes” reality TV show wound up being more telling than its creator, Lewis Lamedica, perhaps intended. His speech largely unintelligible, except for the omnipresent swearing, Osbourne seemed to have difficulty mastering the simplest of everyday, domestic tasks, a fact borne out by the famous scenes of him befuddled by that dastardly TV remote. 

This was heavy metal’s crowned “prince of darkness”? This was the man regarded by God-fearing, Bible thumpers as evil incarnate? Surely, Satan had more capable henchmen to do his bidding. At home, everybody was laughing at the bumbling, semi-coherent mess train wreck they watched from their living rooms, making light of a family’s seemingly benign dysfunction. What they didn’t know was that, behind the scenes, Ozzy – as well as two of his children, Jack and Kelly – was a drunk and a drug addict seriously in need of help. Ozzy was going off the rails. 

In truth, Osbourne has always been more of a court jester than a powerful master of the dark arts. And like most clowns, underneath the greasepaint, there was sadness, crippling insecurity and a deeply flawed human being who needed to be the life of the party. His son, Jack, has seen Ozzy at his worst, and he produced the warts-and-all documentary “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne,” an unflinchingly honest portrayal of Ozzy’s wild life and times that pulls no punches in telling the whole unvarnished truth. And those who come to “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne” with a mighty thirst for tales of rock and roll excess and debauchery shall be sated. Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler talks about the bags of cocaine the band had at its disposal after its early brush with success, while Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee relates the revoltingly funny stories of how Ozzy, in a game of one-upmanship, once licked up Nikki Sixx’s pee and snorted lines of ants before regaling us with another that has Ozzy smearing his own feces over a tour bus’s walls. 

But, Ozzy is, for the most part, the main storyteller here, and before launching into confessionals of his less-than-stellar parenting skills, the film details Ozzy’s failed teenage criminal enterprises, his troubled working-class upbringing, Sabbath’s rise and fall, his unexpected rebirth as a solo artist and the emotional torture he experienced after the death of his musical soul mate Randy Rhoads. All of this is well-traveled territory, of course, but it is skillfully and compelling traversed in “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne.” When Ozzy and Sharon, once again, are prompted to explain how, in a fit of drug-addled madness, he came to bite the head off a dove during a pow-wow with record label executives, they hold nothing back, and the filmmakers follow it up with a nicely edited montage of hilariously clueless TV news reports about Ozzy coming to their town to slaughter cats during a concert and, predictably, the bat-biting incident. Directors Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli, with Jack’s help, are no slouches when it comes to crafting a visual biography – the endless stream of black-and-white home-life stills, Ozzy party shots, vintage interview and Sabbath and Ozzy concert video pieced together so cleverly that it all just flows from the screen. The vast amount of interviews done with Sabbath cronies Tony Iommi and Bill Ward, plus sit-downs with Henry Rollins and others in Ozzy’s inner circle, flesh out the story, as does the footage culled from two years spent following Ozzy on the road. 

If that was all to “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne” – there are plenty of extra scenes from the cutting room floor included in this DVD, plus an in-depth Q&A with Jack and Ozzy – it would fall just short of expectations, but this isn’t so much about Ozzy the rock star as it is about Ozzy the damaged addict, still reeling from the deaths of his beloved father and Rhoads and unable, or perhaps unwilling, to salvage his first marriage or establish much of a relationship with the two children it spawned. This is about repairing the devastation wrought by Ozzy’s almost inhuman substance abuse and how Jack’s sobriety became the model by which Ozzy would get clean himself. There’s a clip where Kelly, while admitting her own drug abuse, explains how she found her daddy’s stash of booze in the oven at the family home, and it illustrates just how far Ozzy had fallen and how chaotic the Osbournes’ family life really was. But, this is a story of redemption, and Ozzy’s moment of clarity does come. When the exasperated rock god relates how he asked Jack how he could be so angry when he and Kelly and Aimee, the one Osbourne with enough self-respect not to participate in the circus that was “The Osbournes,” wanted for nothing, Jack responded by saying that maybe he had lacked a father. That, Ozzy reveals, was the catalyst for his rehabilitation. In the end, there is a faraway shot of Ozzy in his dressing room bowing to his knees to pray. It’s a poignant moment, one that engenders a great deal of sympathy for this particular devil. 

-            Peter Lindblad

Ozzy's Official Website: http://www.ozzy.com/us/home

CD Review: John Doe "Keeper"

CD Review: John Doe "Keeper"
Yep Roc
All Access Review:  C


Old punks like John Doe aren’t exactly expected to be little rays of sunshine and happiness. Doe’s last four records saw the grizzled veteran probing the darker aspects of human behavior with the eye of a black-hearted cynic. And as one of the driving forces behind X, those feverish, Americana-loving punk desperadoes that reigned as L.A. underground royalty in the late 1980s, Doe shone a flashlight on the corrosive desperation and fear bubbling up under the fragile façade of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” in raw, fierce, tension-filled songs like “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” and “The Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not.”
With Keeper, his latest solo outing, Doe seems to have found the joy he’s been missing for so long, and it doesn’t take long for him to express it. Deeply romantic and full of heart, the guileless “Don’t Forget How Much I Love You,” the upbeat opener to Keeper, is awash in golden slide guitar and jumping rhythms. It drives headlong into the rolling, energetic romp “Never Enough” and its searing indictment of American consumerism, before Keeper settles down with the acoustic “Little Tiger,” a tender, lovely coming-of-age sketch that pines for the innocence of childhood.
Somewhat uneven and not quite as eloquent or edgy as A Year in the Wilderness, Doe’s critically acclaimed 2007 effort, Keeper really swings when Doe and company pound the keys and let it rip on the rollicking honky-tonk juke joint “Walking out the Door” and “Jump Into My Arms,” a hot nugget of rockabilly fervor that would get Jerry Lee Lewis all worked up. However, the smoky “Moonbeam,” immersed in late-night bluesy atmospherics, sucks the life out of Keeper with its ponderous clumsiness and lack of sexual heat, as does the long, drawn-out “Lucky Penny,” which has all the action and suspense of a blinking traffic light. “Sweetheart” is a country-tinged lightning bug of a song, with a light glow and porch-swing ease, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.
All three are pretty and lyrically clever in spots, but what Keeper, as a whole, does is it fails to raise the stakes for Doe. He’s become too comfortable in that role of a smiling, mature country troubadour with the troubled punk past. And some of his songs seem as worn and tired as a middle-aged waitress working in a greasy-spoon diner.
-        Peter Lindblad

Thursday, December 8, 2011

CD Review: Slash "Slash Live" Featuring Myles Kennedy

CD Review: Slash "Slash Live" Featuring Myles Kennedy
Made in Stoke 24/7/11
Armoury Records
All Access Review: A-



Slash has always had a soft spot in his Jack Daniels-soaked heart for Stoke on Trent, England. Getting back to the place where he grew up has proven more difficult than the rock god imagined, however. A long way away from the boozy, debauched madness and danger of the Sunset Strip club scene that spawned Guns N’ Roses, Stoke, as it is more commonly referred to, has nowhere near the reputation for hedonism and lawlessness that Slash’s other hometown has. At one time it was an industrial city, and it still boasts a booming pottery business. Well, maybe “booming” isn’t the right word, but you get the idea: this is a town that rock ‘n’ roll forgot. If “Mr. Brownstone” ever visited, he’d die of boredom.

Touring the world over, in marauding fashion, with Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and his own solo projects, Slash, the sleaziest of sleaze-rock merchants – and that’s a compliment, by the way – has never had the chance to perform his special brand of gritty, street-level, electrified blues and bare-knuckled, STD-infected hard rock for the home folks in Stoke. When hitting the road in support of his all-star studded, 2010 solo release Slash, one of the most expressive and technically proficient guitarists of our time made damn sure Stoke was on the schedule. And, as luck would have it, there was a big, ornate venue – historic Victoria Hall – waiting to welcome Slash’s rock ‘n’ roll circus to town.

Recorded and filmed for posterity, the sold-out show, which took place only months ago, has been documented as a double CD and a two CD-DVD package, and it’s a feast for the eyes and ears. The sound is intensely vivid, matching the visceral performance Slash and company pull out of that grimy black top hat of his. The secret weapon here is vocalist Myles Kennedy, the Alter Bridge singer whose alley-cat phrasing and switchblade tonality bear more than a passing resemblance to one Axl Rose. Joined by bassist/backing vocalist Todd Kerns, drummer Brent Fitz and guitarist/support vocalist Bobby Schneck, Kennedy and Slash take the audience down memory lane, evoking memories of Guns N’ Roses’ salad days with a roaring, white-hot version of “Nightrain” that’s as thrilling and scary as a night of horrors in a crack house. Slash’s guitar has never sounded so lean and mean, spitting venom and bile with every note, and his band slithers through every tight, sharp-as-broken-glass hook. Played with wild abandon and dynamic vigor, “Nightrain” leaves the audience breathless, and it almost ruins Made in Stoke 24/7/11 for everything else that comes after it because it is so gripping and deliciously nasty. But, hold on everyone. Slash and his band have miles to go before they call it quits.

One of a handful of Guns N’ Roses favorites on Made in Stoke 24/7/11, “Nightrain” almost makes one forget how rugged and soulful the riff-heavy opener, “Been There Lately,” off Slash’s Snakepit’s second LP, Ain’t Life Grand, is. It pops the cork on Made in Stoke 24/7/11 so dramatically that you can’t help but salivate over what’s to come. And Slash still has plenty of gasoline left in the tank by the time the meaty riffs of “Mean Bone,” also off Ain’t Life Grand, and the solar-powered soul of “Back from Cali,” picked from his latest effort, arrive. Digging back into Guns N’ Roses’ misanthropic catalog, Disc 1 lets it bleed with a rough-and-ready “Rocket Queen” setting up the raging epic “Civil War,” before the bands lays into “Nothing To Say,” “Starlight” and “Promise” – all from Slash – with relish and stabs swords into this mighty sonic bull to finish it off.

Not done by a long shot, Slash and his musical outlaws inject the heart of “Doctor Alibi” with a shot of adrenaline to jumpstart Disc 2, and the track off Slash slams headlong into the growling thrash- metal monster “Speed Parade” that lies in wait. Given the Aerosmith treatment, with its slide guitar and Kennedy’s world-wise singing, “Beggars & Hangers On” plays with the toys in Joe Perry’s attic, while “Patience” breaks tattooed hearts and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” pines for innocence with a revitalized crowd loudly singing along. Still, it’s Velvet Revolver’s “Slither” that steals the show on a Disc 2 that’s slightly more subdued than its predecessor. After the band is introduced, they rip into a powerful display of furious riffage and satisfying, face-down-in-the-gutter hooks that ignites an audience on the verge of storming the stage. And that’s before the blistering “Paradise City” threatens to blow the roof off the place with that song’s riotous conclusion, giving Slash and the boys a chance to finally take their leave.

Though there are brief moments when the driven, manic energy subsides, Made in Stoke 24/7/11 is mostly an all-out assault of fearless, gutsy rock ‘n’ roll. Slash’s solos are piercing, transcendent and wonderfully agile, proving once again that his hands haven’t lost a lick of speed or nimbleness. He remains a sublime talent, and Made in Stock 24/7/11 is a homecoming not only for Slash, but also those fans of his who haven’t given up hope that, one day, he’ll be back to conquer a music world that desperately needs his fire and recklessness, even if he is clean and sober and no longer the wild poster child of sin and degradation we all wanted to party with back in the day.  

-          Peter Lindblad


  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CD Review: Megadeth "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying" & "Thirteen"

CD Review: Megadeth "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying"
Capitol Records
All Access Review:  A-


CD Review: Megadeth "Thirteen"
Roadrunner Records
All Access Review: B+


Getting booted from Metallica put Dave Mustaine in a foul mood for … oh, about 30 years. Chip planted firmly on his shoulder, the surly, snarling Viking – practically besotted by alcohol and drug problems – plotted to usurp the crown from thrash metal’s mighty kings when he formed Megadeth around 1983 and he almost succeeded twice. The first attempt at revolution came in 1986, when Megadeth offered heavy metal a deal it couldn’t refuse, the thermonuclear warhead Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? Four years later, Megadeth brought forth Rust in Peace, and it was a great leap forward for Mustaine and company, what with its mind-bogglingly complex arrangements and sheer musicality. But then, in 1991, came The Black Album and Metallica, in short order, squelched any hope Mustaine had of an insurrection. The throne was firmly in Metallica’s possession, and they weren’t going to share it with anybody.

Flash forward to 2011, and Metallica seems hell-bent on throwing away its career with Lulu, its disastrously bizarre and barely listenable collaboration with Lou Reed. Megadeth, meanwhile, is on a roll. Rumor has it that Megadeth’s performances during the Big 4 tour trampled the competition, including Metallica. As if that weren’t enough to put a weak smile on Mustaine’s face, Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? has been reissued in celebration of its 25th anniversary, and the treatment it’s been given is worthy of royalty. And then, there’s Thirteen, the well-received new album from Megadeth that finds longtime bassist Dave Ellefson back in the fold. Suddenly, Megadeth again has regime change on its mind.

A remastered version of the original album that packs on sonic vigor and enhanced clarity, this particular species of Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? attacks with all the unbridled rage of a pack of wild dogs. Exploding out of the gate, with a short, but bad intentioned, burst of drum artillery, “Wake up Dead” is a pummeling jackhammer of a track that, without warning, seamlessly downshifts to navigate a series of tight guitar switchbacks before being swallowed up in a chaotic skirmish of head-spinning guitars, drums and bass, and then joining in a stomping, rhythmic infantry death march. Unrelentingly heavy and more ferocious than ever, Megadeth gallops darkly through “The Conjuring” and the shouting of “Devil’s Island” like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, both tracks seething with menace. The beautifully drawn guitar intro to “Good Mourning/Black Friday,” its etching more pronounced on the reissue, gets blown to bits by aggressive riffing and a blinding speed-metal riot that no cops could quell; it all sounds so violent and yet controlled, as if Mustaine knows just how far to push it before the whole thing will collapse on itself. Somehow managing to come off even meaner and angrier, the ubiquitous “Peace Sells,” with that familiar nimble, rumbling bass line that MTV nicked for the opening of its news slots, finds Mustaine breathing fire and growling with fangs bared. “Peace Sells,” as he writes in the well-written reissue liner notes, “ … was something different … because it told a story about my faith; my beliefs; my distrust of government; my work ethic; my integrity,” and that’s why it connected with an audience as disaffected and marginalized as Mustaine. Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? not only made Mustaine a guitar hero – his soloing so sharp and precise, and yet completely unpredictable here – but also a messiah for the misanthropic. His is a voice not crying in the wilderness, but rather, it is one that steadfastly and bravely expresses discontent and rebellion. Metallica’s Lars Ulrich’s assessment of Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? in the liner notes, augmented with a few classic Megadeth photos, is that it was something fresh and new that turned the trash scene on its ear. And the scene still hasn’t recovered.

 In 1987, Megadeth played the Phantasy Theatre in Cleveland. Never before released, the recording of this fiery show is not of the best sound quality – Megadeth seems to have performed in a Campbell’s soup can that night – but the band’s raw energy is undeniable and frightening. In contrast with the album versions, “Wake Up Dead” and “The Conjuring” are brutal street fights of sonic mayhem, Mustaine’s stiletto soloing knifing through the night air. In rare form, Mustaine’s vocals are scratched up and battered, and in a bludgeoning speed-demon killing machine like “Rattlehead,” they sound as if they were made for metal, while “Killing is My Business … And Business Is Good” ratchets up the intensity to unsafe levels. Never taking a breath, Megadeth stampedes through a volcanic set that boasts blazing solos, complex guitar puzzles, and bone-crushing riffs, the disc including furious remakes of “Looking Down the Cross” and “My Last Words,” along with a sped-up “Peace Sells” that’s simply vicious and unapologetically pissed off.

And so, into this boiling cauldron, walks Thirteen, an album that couldn’t possibly live up to Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? could it? “Sudden Death” doesn’t back down a bit, however, as the opening track – melodic in parts and hard-hitting in others – is whipped around by an awe-inspiring maelstrom of guitars, and “Public Enemy No. 1” is a satisfying and nasty grinding of Mustaine’s boot heel into one’s throat, while the snaking crawl of “Guns, Drugs & Money” seems as deadly as a rattlesnake’s bite.

Thirteen is not plagued by bad luck. It is, instead, a showcase of Megadeth’s ability to shred (as the traditional trash-metal flurry of “Never Dead” proves) and newfound playfulness with melody. Shrouded in mystery and nightmarish atmosphere is “Deadly Nightshade,” which features one of the most fearsome, well-constructed and compelling choruses in the Megadeth canon, and it’s almost as potent a poison as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Almost as gothic, “Black Swan” doesn’t quite rise to the same level, it’s “churchyard shadow” not quite so imposing. “Wrecker” also seems to fade away, instead of burning out. But, “Millennium of the Blind” is one of those stinging political diatribes – “We The People” and “New World Order” are others – of Mustaine’s that should rock the foundations of Congress, and “13” reveals another side of him, one that is reflective of the rocky journey he’s walked all his life. Thirteen may not knock Metallica off the mountaintop, but it will add to Megadeth’s street cred – something Metallica, sadly, is losing.

-          Peter Lindblad

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CD Review: Lou Reed and Metallica "Lulu"

CD Review: Lou Reed and Metallica "Lulu"
Warner Bros.
All Access Review: D-


Destined to become one of the most controversial albums of all-time, Lulu never had a chance. When news first broke of a Metallica-Lou Reed collaboration, on a record of songs for two plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind no less, critics from here to China were sharpening their knives to mercilessly skewer this pretentious pile of avant-garbage and then toss its bloody carcass into a landfill. No amnesty for past brilliance was promised, nor has it been given. To say the careers of Metallica and Reed are on suicide watch might be overstating the issue, but the reputation of both parties has been irreparably harmed in the making of Lulu. And hardly anybody is feeling sorry for them.

The die was cast as soon as Reed proclaimed Lulu the best work of his career. That declaration alone seemed like the delusional ravings of a once-genius artist gone completely mad. For Metallica’s part, the Bay Area thrash gods haven’t shrunk in the face of heavy criticism either. Lars Ulrich even went on “That Metal Show” and implored people to give it a chance. And they should. They ought to judge it for themselves without the white noise of critics’ drowning out their own thoughts. It is an important work for both, a crossroads record that will either point to a bold new direction that will shock and awe the world, or it’ll be an unmitigated disaster. So, what’s the verdict? Well, let’s put it this way: that therapist from “Some Kind of Monster” might have more work to do on Metallica … and maybe Lou, too.

It’s not lack of ambition that dooms Lulu. The problem has more to do with communication. It’s as if Metallica and Reed are speaking in foreign tongues and neither party understands what the other is trying to convey. Never has Metallica sounded more uncertain of itself, and part of the problem is, nobody knows where Reed is going with his senseless poetry. In a wobbly voice ravaged by age, Reed spits out ridiculously silly lines such as “I would cut my legs and tits off/when I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski/In the dark of the moon” and clumsy rhymes like “It made me dream of Nosferatu/trapped on the Isle of Doctor Moreau” – both from the opener “Brandenburg Gate” – in a spoken-word hemorrhaging that ought to be disinfected and bandaged.

And it’s tricky for Metallica, known for its aggressive, lightning-fast riffing and crashing rhythms, to figure out what mood to set. When Lulu’s first single, “The View,” was released, all you could hear was the chirp of crickets, and there’s a reason. It’s a grim death march from beginning to end, and “Pumping Blood,” with its violent, gory imagery of a rape or a murder, should be filled with tension, rage and desperate energy, but instead, it sounds impotent and mechanical, with Metallica pressing forward tentatively and then pulling back as if James and the boys are waiting for a cue from Reed.

There are moments when it seems as if the real Metallica will rise from the dead and let loose a whirling storm of chords that would trigger tornado warnings. And “Mistress Dread” starts out whipping around with serious intensity, but it just keeps whirling in the same direction and never gathers strength. Where Metallica feels lost at sea on “Mistress Dread,” they try to stage a pop-oriented surprise on “Iced Honey,” and it just might have a chance if not for a laughably disjointed duet between Reed and James Hetfield.

Putting the Disc 1 in the rearview mirror, the partners go for broke on “Frustration,” one of four tracks on Disc 2. Constructing a gargantuan wall of guitar sound and thick grooves that seems to blast upward through cold, dead, droning earth, Metallica appears to have righted the ship. It’s heavy, a thousand yards wide and satisfying, given everything that’s come before it. Then, suddenly, the action comes to an abrupt halt … for these head-scratching, disconnected interludes that interrupt the flow of the piece and let Reed prattle on about male sexual frustration and misogynistic hatred. Quietly muddled, “Little Dog” spends a lot of time mucking about with atonal stabs in the dark, and it seeps into “Dragon,” which could have been just as bloodless. Again, Metallica tries to propel the track with weighty, pounding riffage, and Kirk Hammett and Hetfield strongly assert themselves with crushing guitar and a tendency to toy around with Sonic Youth-style experimentation – something they do a lot of on Lulu. The problem with Metallica here, and almost everywhere else, is that once they take their bats to a riff, they beat it into the ground. And then they pound on it some more, just to make sure it’s dead.

There are ideas worth exploring on Lulu, and not everything the very elderly sounding Reed – and startling so – pours out onto the page is excrement. Scary, confrontational, ugly and dramatic, Reed’s words capture, in very stark and dangerous language, the abused, exploited life of tragic characters caught up in horrifying circumstances, and he tackles big themes. But, Lulu is too repetitive, too imbalanced, too directionless and too … well, boring and needlessly long, and Reed often commits egregious poetic crimes. Metal Machine Music now has some competition for the title of “most unlistenable album of Lou Reed’s career.” As for Metallica, one gets the sense they’re searching and trying to add layers of depth to their identity. Suddenly, however, St. Anger doesn’t look so bad.

-          Peter Lindblad

Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: Car Party “High and Low Places” [EP]


Modern rock
The Baltimore-based pop-tinged alternative rock quartet, Car Party, has released their sophomore EP “High & Low Places.” The band was formed in 2009 through a CraigsList ad posted by female drummer, Taylor Hughes. Joining Taylor is vocalist Michael Matzke, guitarist Jim Luparello, and bassist Chris Martin. The new EP was produced and engineered by Ace Enders of the modern rock band, The Early November.

“Please Me” is the new single and you can check out the video below. Within a week of Substream's video premiere of this video, Car Party skyrocketed to #2 on PureVolume.com. “Please Me” is a slick and tight slice of modern rock straddling a sound that fall in-between Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World. The other three songs on the EP follow suit, with “Dear Son” having the greatest impact after “Please Me”. Lyrically astute, “Dear Son” should resonate with listeners of all ages. “Forever Family” features a very impassioned vocal by Matzke, perfectly placed subtle backing vocals, and a gang chorus preceding the coda. The EP closes by showing a softer side to the band with the ballad “Anniversary”. One of the key things the band has going for them is chemistry – every member gets an opportunity to shine and the songs are written in a way that allows Matzke to showcase his vocal talents. One area that could use a little polishing: the band needs to focus on crafting more captivating hooks in the chorus of every song.

Catchy enough to satisfy most fans of pop rock, the songs on “High and Low Places” also boast contemporary production that will pull in modern rock fans as well. This EP suggests a band with great potential – with some sharper hooks, they will reach the high places for sure. Check out Car Party if you like Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco, or Jimmy Eat World.

Car PartyFacebook

CAR PARTY | Please Me | {el.de.te} from {el.de.te} on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard


By Kurt Torster

Drake Bell - It’s Only Time (2006)

One of the secret joys about being a parent is being able to watch kids shows without any feelings of guilt whatsoever. One show that my boys watch over and over is Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh, and I’m there with them every time. Just puts me in the mind of an 80s sitcom, a genre sadly missing from the television these days.

We bought this disc as a gift for my youngest and he would play it night and day, loudly. But, I sure as hell took notice because this was far from what I expected it would be. Obviously the boy was raised right musically because it would have been all too easy for him to release some over processed, auto-tuned mess rather than this power pop blast of goodness.

Seemingly inspired by Jellyfish, Paul McCartney and Cheap Trick, it’s standard three chord rock that far exceeds any sort of expectations. Not that I’m complaining, because it’s so easy to hit repeat on a track like the riffy and oh-so-hit-worthy title track, which not only reaches for the rafters but proceeds to blow the roof off. The same could be said for the sunny day 70s pop of “Makes Me Happy” or the acoustic take of the Drake & Josh theme song “I Found A Way” which continue this poptastic streak.





But, it’s songs like the vaudevillian opener “Up Periscope,” the pure piano pop of “I Know” or the deep Beatlesque “Fool The World” that elevate this far above typical teen idol fare.



On the musical front, Drake has been awfully quiet other than some live shows (where he actually covers Jellyfish’s “Joining A Fan Club” and nails it). I heard a new track from an album that’s been forever due and though it has an almost industrial touch shows a lot of promise and still very much in the power pop world.