Friday, March 30, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Johnny Horton

At the old Twist and Shout on Pearl Street, they used to keep the boxed sets behind the counter and off to the left, and it was stuffed with Bear Family collections – Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Burl Ives, Louis Jordan, great old artists like that, all in twelve-by-twelve boxes with big, beautiful photos on the front. Inside each were multiple CDs and thick, full-color, glossy books about the artists with lots of photos and extensive, well-researched liner notes. The Johnny Horton one is what drew my attention to them. I had a friend I used to go garage sale-ing with at the time who’d play a Horton greatest hits tape in his car as we’d drive from sale to sale and I really dug his rockin’ hillbilly sound, so I set my sights on those box sets. Problem was, I was just out of college and poor and those Bear Family collections were expensive. The pricing formula was $20 per CD, and $20 for the book. And this was the mid-90s. I was lucky if I could get a temp job paying six bucks an hour. But I bit the bullet and bought it, for $120, and Horton quickly became a high-ranking lord in my pop pantheon.
            A big part of it was Horton’s story. He got his start playing on the Louisiana Hayride when Hank Williams was the star of the show. When Williams introduced Horton to his wife, Billie Jean, Williams told the young singer that he would one day marry her, too. A few months later, on New Year’s Day in 1953, Horton was in Milano, Texas, when he heard that Williams had died of a heart attack after a show at the Skyline Club in Austin. Within a year, Horton married Williams’s ex, and was on his way to becoming a rockabilly star. As his career ascended he would go on spirit journeys through the past and future, sometimes with Johnny Cash, and he was visited often by spirits who told him he would die at the hands of a drunkard. These premonitions grew stronger and stronger until he was filled with fear as he took the stage at the Skyline Club on November 5, 1960, because he was sure he’d be murdered that night. He made it through the show though, and as he was about to leave to drive through the night to Shreveport, Louisiana, he stood in the same spot and kissed Billie Jean on the same cheek where Hank had kissed her on the last night of his life. Horton thought he was home free, but he misunderstood the spirits: a drunk driver slammed into his car head-on as he was crossing a bridge in Milano, same place where he learned of Williams’s death.
            I listened to the four discs in that set a lot, each of them crammed to the full 70 minutes with what were to my ears a perfect blend of rock and roll cool and hillbilly camp. Horton’s guitarist Grady Martin was a master of twang, and the booklet had a sweet, full-page picture of him wearing a plaid jacket and holding an old double-neck guitar. Despite the dozens and dozens of songs on the collection my favorites were his big hits: “Honky Tonk Man,” “One Woman Man,” “Hole in My Pirough,” “The Battle of New Orleans,” “North to Alaska” and “Old Slew Foot.” I used to love to play this last one for my country-hating friends because it was so old-school redneck with its cooking banjo and blazing harmonica. And even when Horton was rocking out, he had a way of adding a little yodel to the end of his verses that was too corny to not be cool, especially when I was driving around Boulder with the windows down and the stereo blasting. It was like, Take that, you new-age yuppie clones!
            That box set was one of the last pieces to fall in the death of my collection in the age of the MP3. I was low on cash and I sold it on eBay for $50. When I got my turntable and started buying records again, two of my earliest purchase were a couple of greatest hits collections that are still easy to get on CD, and they’re probably enough for me, at least for the time being. Still, I regret the loss. The booklet that came with the Bear Family set remains one of the best I’ve ever seen, and it had songs you can’t find anywhere, most notably a hissy demo recording of a spooky gunslinger ballad called “Streets of Dodge.” I used to hit repeat on that one over and over again. I regret, too, that I never bought some of those other Bear Family sets that I wanted so badly, especially the Louis Jordan one, a nine-disc set that would’ve set me back over $200 at the time. But that was the better part of a week’s paycheck for me back then.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On #53 - Leonard Cohen - New Skin For the Old Ceremony

Amongst a number of Leonard Cohen aficionados this album seems to have acquired a reputation as a lesser recording in his catalog. My suspicion is that they don't like it as much for exactly the reasons that I think it's one of his finest recordings. It's not just the consistency of the album - Cohen has plenty of solid records out there - but it's the appearance here after three largely acoustic, somewhat somber records of both Cohen's sense of humor worn on sleeve instead of woven subtly into his words and a more prominent role for the music, formerly there mostly to support those words. In short - he's taking his poet's gift for words and making the music signify as much as the lyrics, something he hadn't quite dared to do before.
This isn't to say that there's no sense of humor or sublime music on his first three records, all of which are certainly worthwhile as well, it's just that this album finds Cohen in a more generous and even lighter mood, letting his sly wit out to run more than on the previous three albums combined. He's still the serious man of the world of those earlier records, detailing the struggles of human relationships at several levels, from the personal to the political, with a keen eye, but he doesn’t mind roving to other topics, or to letting a joke have free reign. When he offers up his sly wit in defense of his music in "A Singer Must Die" he knows he's simultaneously making a self-effacing joke and a great song by apologizing for his brilliantly inexpert work with the line "I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song.”
And the music! By bringing in arranger/producer Jon Lissauer to replace previous producers John Simon and Bob Johnston, both of whom had done stellar work with artists throughout the 1960’s (you may have heard of some of their other clients – Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, The Band, Janis Joplin, etc.), Cohen expanded and changed the sound of his albums. The new producer was able to find a group of settings - sometimes evoking jazz, sometimes rock and roll, sometimes Cohen’s folk roots – that worked alongside his music rather than merely supporting it. And the reward is not only Cohen’s most varied album to that point, one with a character unique in his catalog, but also one that scored several of his all-time best songs – “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” and “Who By Fire” evoke his older material with brilliant words, female backing vocals and largely acoustic backing, but “Lover Lover Lover” offers up a driving beat and percussion to complement the longing words while “There Is A War” puts its eternal “us vs. them” conundrum across on the same kind of percussive pulse. And those are only a few of my own faves – Cohen doesn’t step wrong here, and neither does Lissauer, who from congas to jew’s harp to New Orleans-y clarinets finds great ways to add a spoonful of sugar to Cohen’s sometimes acid words.
Those first three albums are great, be sure some time to grab Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room, and Songs of Love and Hate (really, pick up all the Cohen records you can get your hands on), but don’t think that because of their reputation that this album is in any regard a step down for Cohen because he chose to expand what he was capable of on record.
-Patrick Brown

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Butthole Surfers

November 2, 1984
I was 16 the first time the Butthole Surfers played in Colorado. The show was at the old Packing House. The place wasn’t much bigger than a Tuff Shed, and you had to blindly wind your way through the deepest, darkest, post-apocalyptic wilds of Commerce City to get there. On the flyer for the show it said, “IF LOST, WAIT AT 7-11 & ASK A PUNK ROCKER TO GUIDE YOU!” I left before the Buttholes took the stage because my mom said I had to be home by midnight. This would come to be one of the biggest regrets of my life.

April 16, 1987
Two and a half years passed before the Butthole Surfers returned to Colorado to play at Norman’s teen nightclub in Aurora. In the interim, I discovered L.S.D.
The truth is, I wasn’t ready for them when they came through in 1984. I’d only heard their self-titled EP, and I only liked one song on it, “The Shaw Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave,” because it was the closest to hardcore punk, which was all I thought I liked at the time. It goes, “There’s a time to shit and a time for God. The last shit I took was pretty fuckin’ odd.”
But then I got Rembrandt Pussyhorse and it spoke to my newly lysergified soul. The psychotic cover of “American Woman” on side one drew me in, with its amped up tribal drumbeat, distorted high-pitched vocals and an interlude where the lead singer shouts into a megaphone, “Come on out of there, you little creep, we know you’ve killed thousands and you’ll kill thousands more!” The rest of the album is filled with bent and tripped-out distortion, echoes and space sounds, punk rhythms and psychotic lyrics. The Butthole Surfers were just about the only psychedelic thing going in the late 80s. So when they returned in 1987, I was ready. Or at least I thought I was.
            To prepare for the show, some of my friends and I ate a bunch of mushrooms and arrived at Norman’s early enough to snag a spot up against the stage. Everything was Wonderland wonderful when the opening band, Happy World, took the stage and played a quick set, and I was peaking when the lights went down before the Buttholes came on. Then things went downhill real fast. Fake smoke billowed from a machine behind the dual drum kits and consumed the stage. A strobe light flashed and made the smoky air thicken and pulsate and the speakers filled with the most wretched feedback my ears had ever heard. The stage filled with psychotic people: a pair of drummers who stood as they hammered away, their long hair dangling in front of their faces; a lean and mean-looking guitarist with super short hair; a naked woman with a shaved head who writhed above the strobe light. The lead singer wore no shirt, had long hair and he kept pouring lighter fluid on his hand and setting it on fire. He raised a megaphone to his mouth, pointed it at a microphone, and screamed the kind of scream you might scream if you had a debilitating case of irritable bowels, and as he did the screen behind the band filled with a movie I had seen in drivers ed and had been sickened and horrified by: Mechanized Death.
            I stood against the stage, mouth wide open, unblinking, hypnotized, probably headed toward permanent brain damage. All at once, a big fat bouncer grabbed me, picked me up and set me aside so he could take my place against the stage. This jolted me out of my daze, and I suddenly comprehended the horror I was witnessing. I turned to my friend Dave, and his eyes were wide and full of fear.
            We raced out of the club and waited on the front steps for our non-tripping friends join us. When they finally did, they said the show was awesome.

Halloween, 1988
I quit drugs two weeks before the Butthole Surfers returned to Colorado a year and a half later, for a Halloween show at the Glenn Miller Ballroom in Boulder, and I was truly ready this time. I had all of their records by now, and I was listening to their newest release, Hairway to Steven, everyday – often all day long. It’s a quintessential document of weirdness from an era when weirdness was in short supply – a funny, transcendent, at times horrifying record that is, in the words of a friend of mine: “unimpeachable.”
And they were playing on Halloween! In Boulder! (And that was back when they still did Mall Crawl.)
            I was so excited that I decided to write a story about it.
I contacted the band’s label, Touch and Go, and got a phone number for the band and a time to call. Then I called the Colorado Daily, and they said they’d buy it for 50 bucks. I was 20 years old. I’d never written anything professionally. The only questions I remember asking were, “How would you describe your music?” and “What is your live show like?” To which lead singer Gibby Haynes replied, “It’s like getting shit stuck in your penis hole,” and “It’s like getting shit stuck in your pussy hole.”
I worked both those quotes into the lead of the story, and the editors cut them out. They never paid me.
I also made the coolest Halloween costume I ever made - two, in fact. I went to the hardware store and got a bunch of chicken wire and paper maché goo and I built a pair of giant Cyclops alien head masks for my buddy Dave and me.
When Halloween rolled around, we headed down to the CU campus early in the afternoon and sat by the front door of the Ballroom with our masks at our side. When the Butthole Surfers’ truck showed up, we jumped in and helped unload. Everyone figured we were just supposed to be there, so we got to see the sound check and wound up with de facto backstage passes.
We carried our masks into the green room, smiling goofily and wearing outrageously garish Hawaiian shirts. We presented our masks to Gibby and the others, and they passed them along to the bald woman who dances naked on stage under the strobe light. I asked her if she was really going to wear them, and she nodded and said, “In four-four time, I will.”
Then we sat down next to Gibby. We were both star struck. All I could think to say was, “You guys are so great,” which I said a lot, until finally Gibby turned to me and said, “Oh, shut up.”
We grabbed spots up against the stage. Minus the hallucinations, the concert was mind-blowing, but survivable. And the naked woman wore the mask!
Afterward, I tried to retrieve it from the green room. But the guy at the door had been told to not let us in under any circumstances. I thought about asking him to get the mask for me, but naively thought the band might want it as a keepsake.
And so I went home from another Butthole Surfers’ concert with yet another high-ranking, lifelong regret.

October 6, 1989, May, 1991 & August 25, 1991
After that, my Butthole Surfers concert experiences were somewhat anticlimactic. When they returned to the Mile High City in 1989 for a show at the old Mammoth Events Center, they played horribly because the sound was jacked up and they were too pissed to get into it. When they played the Gothic Theater in 1991, they brought with them a wall of super-bright strobe lights that made you feel like you were falling into a black hole (this was actually one of the most psychedelic experiences of my life, and I was as clean as Art Linkletter). And when they came through Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater as part of the first Lollapalooza tour, Gibby came out on stage shooting a shotgun.
They played Colorado again in 1993, 1996, 2001, 2009, but I didn’t go to any of those. I’d drifted away from them, started getting into jazz and more mellow tunes. But I recently picked up a few of their old albums on vinyl – Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac, Rembrandt Pussyhorse, and Cream Corn from the Socket of Davis – after getting back into the more raucous and insane side of the current independent music spectrum, and I’m stunned at how well they hold up. There were a lot of freaky and obnoxious bands before the Buttholes came along, and there’ve been a lot since, but none truly compare. Maybe it’s just me, the fact that I have so many memories of them that are important to my sense of who I am, but I like to think it’s more universal than that, that the Butthole Surfers are a shining example of how the most incredible art can come from the most repressed and repressive times, and the 80s certainly were that. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who values weirdness has to have at least one of their early records in their collection.

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest... Just Don't Put Corey Glover's Street Cred to the Test

Seeing two big shows in as many weekends readies me for the concert season just around the corner. Big summer show announcements are here it seems almost daily. No doubt Denver will host musical guests of the highest caliber all summer long. I'm ready to see the skyline behind my first Red Rocks show soon enough.
Umphrey's Mcgee sold out the Fillmore on Friday, March 9 and brought the jam to grateful noodlers with two choice sets. Both were uptempo and accessible for fans only familiar with the band’s newer Death By Stereo material and diehard festi kids who have seen too many shows to remember. One of the highlights of the night was the band having Dominic Lalli, saxophonist from Big Gigantic, join the band on stage for “Booth Love.” The addition of the skilled horn made it the highlight of the evening. The band finished with an encore topped out by a decent cover of “Billie Jean.”
Friday the 16th brought the first of two nights of Galactic at the Ogden. Openers DJ Logic and ALO all worked together throughout the night to create several funk fusions worthy of note. ALO blended the perfect mix of pop with just enough jam to win over most of the crowd. The band is fresh off SXSW performances and was picked in Rolling Stone's list of 25 shows not to be missed at the festival. Look forward to seeing them again soon, just perhaps at the top of the bill.
When New Orleans-based Galactic took the stage they did so with a thunder. Corey Henry, 2012 Grammy-winning trombonist for his work with Rebirth Brass Band, stole the show over and over again with his unrivaled talent. He, along with saxophonist Ben Ellman who also absolutely killed on the harmonica, rounded out a superbly talented group of musicians. The band invited Ryan Montbleau on stage for a stellar cover of Paul Simon's “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
Corey Glover, vocalist from Living Colour also joined the band on stage for several groupings of songs and gave an incredible blues twist that included Bobby McFerrin-like voice manipulations. He also did a worthy cover of Zeppelin's “Kashmir” and provided the best entertainment of any of the guests that have joined bands onstage in recent outings. For the encore, Glover went into Living Colour's best-known song, “Cult of Personality.” Two thirds of the way through the song a young gentleman who had been feeling overwhelmingly loving towards those around him all night decided to join Glover on stage and plant a tiny kiss on the singer's cheek. Glover tussled with the intruder and initially threw the trespasser off stage and continued his way through the song. The previously loving young man became irritated at being thrown off stage and began fighting with those around him, catching Glover's attention and luring him down off the stage. He moved towards the crowd distracter, eventually standing in his admirer's face screaming the lyrics that made him famous. He put special stress on the “I'm” part of the lyric letting the crowd and the problem patron know who had the mic and the spotlight.
Hopefully as the streams begin to swell with melting snow and the lines begin to form at concert venues across the metro area the spirit of cooperative music will carry on and we will be treated to more and more pairings we did, or hopefully didn't expect to see. And just so we’re clear, stay the hell off Corey Glover's stage.

- John Binyon

Monday, March 19, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On - At the Movies #35 - Streets of Fire (1984, dir. Walter Hill)

If you have made it this long in life without having experienced a screening of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire then it must be said that you have done something wrong that can easily be remedied by picking up the DVD case below, purchasing it from your friendly Twist cashier and racing home to watch it as soon as humanly possible. “But hey” you say, “What’s it about?” and I will quiet your mouth with my finger and tell you “That’s not important because tonight is what it means to be young.”
Actually, what it’s about is pretty integral to the experience so let’s start there. Directed by Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours) and written by Hill and Larry Gross, who had collaborated on 48 Hours previously and had developed a tone of “gritty fun” in Hollywood’s eyes. This led to a request from Universal Pictures to apply that “gritty fun” to a film that would attract the youth of the time (circa 1984) and capture all the momentum that the recently launched MTV was building in the youth market with all the pow and zing of a music video. Hill and Gross agreed to the idea but began quickly hammering out an idea that on one hand would seem attractive to the youth of the time but was based more on ideas that would have excited them in THEIR youth: spaghetti westerns, comic books, Nicholas Ray films and the wild and dangerous vibe of old school Rock N Roll. Put all of that in a blender, shake it up, pour it out and you’ve got yourself a tall glass of Streets of Fire.
The film is set in, as the credits indicate, “Another Time, Another Place…” which is a great descriptor of Streets’s world. The music and talk and style are all 1980’s but the cars, styles, sets and clothing are all circa 1957. In this world we meet pop star Ellen Aim (a baby faced Diane Lane) as she’s about to take the stage at a raucous and electric sold-out show. She barely gets to finish a song before she’s kidnapped by Raven Shaddock (a baby-faced Willem Dafoe) and his gang of vinyl wearing motorcycle thugs. Into this situation a hero must emerge and who better than Tom Cody (Michael Pare), who is Ellen’s ex-love and Raven’s long standing enemy? Tom is helped by his brave sister Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), a plucky new sidekick McCoy (Amy Madigan in a great role that was rewritten as a woman just for her) and Ellen’s new boyfriend/manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis showing a great side as a D-bag). At this point the story couldn’t become more simplistic; the hero and his gang must rescue the damsel and take out the thugs but it is here that Hill’s direction, Gross’ writing and the hot cinematography by Andrew Laszlo take a rote plan and execute it into a vivid, colorful and absolutely fascinating rock ‘n’ roll fever dream. Oh, and the music! We gotta talk about the music!
With some original music from the incomparable Ry Cooder, the Streets soundtrack is absolutely owned by Jim Steinman whose collaborations with Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler created some of the best, and I do mean best, rock ‘n’ roll ballads of the late seventies and early eighties. I dare you not to lose your cool the next time that you hear “Nowhere Fast” or “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” playing at a party. In fact, just step a few feet over from this display and pick up the Streets of Fire soundtrack while you’re at it and infuse your ears with the aural satisfaction that it craves from a movie soundtrack. It’s this music in Streets that gives the entire masterful soufflé its real flavor and leaves you wanting another piece.
What are you waiting for? Pick up this DVD right now and correct the biggest mistake of your life then save the dates of June 1 & 2 for a big screen presentation of Streets of Fire in the Denver FilmCenter’s Watching Hour program. You’re welcome.
- Keith Garcia

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Still in Denver during SXSW?

Fear not, you can still get a taste of the famous festival here on Spork. Twist & Shout has partnered with our friends at Waterloo Records in Austin, who will be streaming their 30+ exclusive live in-store performances this Wed-Sat with a 4 camera hi-def video and stereo audio feed. Here’s what you can still catch today through Saturday. Enjoy it, and be sure to say thanks to Waterloo for going to the trouble of doing this!

(Note - all times are Central time zone, so one hour ahead of Mountain time.)

Thursday 3/15
12pm Blitzen Trapper
1pm Little Willies (featuring Norah Jones)
2pm Icky Blossoms
3pm Oberhofer
4pm Honeyhoney
4:30pm Ruthie Foster (inside)
5pm Hospitality
6pm Lucero

Friday 3/16
12pm Say Anything
1pm Talib Kweli
2pm Jimmy Cliff
3pm Of Montreal
4pm Howlin' Rain
4:30pm Father John Misty (inside)
5pm Gary Clark Jr.

Saturday 3/17
12pm Youth Lagoon
1pm Nada Surf
2pm Kid Congo
3pm Strange Boys
4pm Blouse
4:30pm Chuck Ragan (inside)
5pm Chuck Prophet
6pm Love Inks

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Bill Evans

It’s a shame how much power prejudice can have over a music collection, how it can limit the range of sounds in our lives. For instance, I’ve long been prejudiced against white jazz musicians, and piano jazz in general, and that kept me away from Bill Evans for a long time. Which is ridiculous because one of my all-time favorites albums is Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, and Bill Evans had a lot to do with the way that record sounds. The truth is that I didn’t give Evans a full listen until a black friend of mine recommended him – a black piano player, in fact. Thank goodness he did, because Evans now ranks near the very top of my list of favored artists.
            The first Evans record that really turned me on was Waltz for Debby. A friend of mine played it for me when he had me over for dinner a while back. He had a super high-end system with a pair of tall electrostatic speakers, so it sounded like Evans was right there in the room with us. The arrangements were delicate and pleasantly asymmetrical, full of subtle but surprising twists and turns. Yes, it was piano jazz, but it didn’t sound safe to me the way most such jazz does, like background music in a lounge full of people like my parents. There was melancholy in the melodies, a lot like the beautiful sadness that pervades Kind of Blue. I immediately went out and picked up a whole bunch of his stuff, and all of it was fantastic. Evans quickly became my go-to guy when I wanted to mellow out and slip over to the introspective side of life. It’s not escape music per se; there’s a lot going on in it. He made many of his best albums with a trio that included bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian and, after LaFaro died in a car crash, with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morrell. These rhythm sections were never merely metronomic - they played like lead musicians, soloing all the way through every number, so the music is calming and stimulating at the same time. I like to play it when I’m teaching a writing class and I ask my students to take out a pen and paper and free-write for a few minutes. It never fails to quiet them and get them focused.
            Evans released tons and tons and tons of albums over the course of his career, and there’s not a dud among them. Waltz for Debby turned out to be a good place to start, along with its companion piece, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, which was recorded on the same day in 1961, ten days before LaFaro’s death. I’ve since collected work from across his career, and the more I listen the more I can detect the subtle but significant changes in his sound over the course of his years of playing, and it’s always satisfying to be able to get to know an artist on that level, to study him as a dynamic force of creativity. Because his work is so consistently good and compelling, I’ve tried to maintain a policy of picking up anything of his that I find in the used bins without bothering to listen to it first. So I guess you could say I’m still prejudiced. Just in a good way now. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On #52 - Ten Years After - Cricklewood Green

Released in 1970, less than a year after their triumphant and star-making performance at Woodstock, Cricklewood Green is Ten Years After’s most sophisticated album with their most interesting songs and very memorable production by Andy Johns. One of the more misunderstood groups of the late 60’s, Ten Years After are contemporaries of and similar to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Mountain. Like those bands, leader Alvin Lee and his band occupy that wonderful space that falls between psychedelic experimentation, blues reverence and crunchy proto-metal. Cricklewood Green showcases this better than any of their albums (and they made plenty).
Kicking off with a one-two punch of road songs, “Sugar On The Road” and the frenetic “Working On The Road,” the tone is set for a high-energy ensemble affair that showcases each member of the band as a whole while never letting the focus slip away from Alvin Lee’s charismatic abilities on guitar. “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain” might actually be my favorite song on the album as it really utilizes the atmospheric production that Johns brings to the table to shroud an amazing Lee solo in clouds of heavy day-glow fog.
In the original liner notes for the album Alvin Lee talks about the “layered” approach to recording, “thus giving separation to the varying frequencies as opposed to each instrument.” Andy Johns creates a thick, soupy broth of a sound that colors the air with chugging Hammond Organ, a drum/bass attack that might give Cream a run for its money and, of course, Alvin Lee’s hyper vocals and Guinness-book-of world-records blinding lead guitar style. If you are unfamiliar with Lee’s brand of guitar work, fasten your seatbelt. Lee’s speed and clarity were unmatched in rock music. Certainly Jimmy Page played with more experimental panache, and Clapton had such fabulous taste and succinct phrasing, but Alvin Lee plays faster and with more balls than anyone else. He’s on a par with John McLaughlin in the notes-per-minute category. If you doubt it, listen to his solos on “Year 3,000 Blues” whereby he brings together country-picking, blues chords and cosmic lyrics to create an absolute psych masterpiece.
The centerpiece of the album however is the seven and a half minute “Love Like A Man” which pretty much is the ultimate expression of the Alvin Lee ethic; tough, ballsy blues-rock with a macho swagger and a very cool 60’s feel. “Love Like A Man” is the classic slow-burn opening with a plodding wood-block rhythm and killer guitar riff, which works its way to a climax whereby Alvin busts out with the monster solo for about two solid minutes of firecracker notes before he returns to the memorable opening riff at double time, embellished by the rest of the band playing their asses off.
After the anthemic wonder of “Love Like A Man” it is hard to imagine what they could follow it up with, yet they produce another masterpiece. “Circles” showcases the acoustic, ballad side of Lee’s talent with a real-world look at existentialism surrounded by roiling acoustic guitars, melodic lead bass and a blanket of warm Hammond organ. The album closes with the sci-fi epic “As The Sun Still Burns Away” which finds Andy Johns panning the band back and forth between the channels with deep space special effects while Alvin solos like an acid-fried monk on Mars.
Cricklewood Green is a very special album in my cosmology. When I moved from New York City to Denver in 1968, I really felt disconnected for a little while. I took solace in rock music. Certain albums became touchstones. In fact, certain buying trips to record stores with my brother Alan became touchstones. It was on a vacation back to New York City when we bought Cricklewood Green. Everything about it seemed exotic and incredible to me. I studied the cover, I read the liner notes, I listened to it over and over and made every note of this album part of my DNA. When I listened to it to write this review, it immediately took me back to that place: where a rock album could completely change my life. It is still a great album and one of my favorites.

- Paul Epstein

Friday, March 9, 2012

Several Species of Small Furry Thoughts - An Incredible Colorado Experience.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m on the board of The Colorado Music Hall Of Fame. It’s something that I’m totally weirded out by. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such an honor, but it has been a very interesting experience. I have had to learn to balance my own feelings about what is important with the agendas of a lot of different people. The result has been that I don’t do that much, but I am proud to be doing it. Yesterday I had the experience of a lifetime when I got to have lunch with the original members of future inductees, the great Denver band Sugarloaf. I moved to Denver in late ’68 and by ’69 I was aware of Sugarloaf because one of my classmates told me his cousin was in a band called Sugarloaf that was gonna be real big. Then in late ’69 “Green Eyed Lady” started hitting the airwaves and immediately caught my attention. I loved it. I bought the 45, then the album and really dug the whole thing. The song became a national hit and for a while there Sugarloaf was everywhere (at least they were on Denver AM radio). There were not a lot of bands from Denver at that point, and none that had cracked the top 10, so kids at my school were proud to have our own rock stars. After the single peaked, the band kind of disappeared for a few years. They did release a second album Spaceship Earth that was not as popular and they kind of came to be a dead issue. Then in the mid-70’s they came roaring back with another single “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” a sardonic look at the music business that also really caught my ear. I was just starting to understand that there was such a thing as the “music business” and that it might not be all sunshine and roses. After “Don’t Call Us…” ran its course Sugarloaf kind of left my radar. They became a pleasant memory. Then, as a record store owner I followed their reissues on CD and always kept a soft spot in my heart for them.

When we started talking about which bands from the 60’s would be inducted to The Colorado Music Hall Of Fame Sugarloaf was at the top of everyone’s list. So I was surprised and a little nervous after receiving a call inviting me to the Morrison Inn to meet with the band. It turns out all the members who appeared on that first album had not been together in over 30 years. As I walked in to the Morrison Inn I looked over to my left and saw seated at a table keyboardist, songwriter and singer Jerry Corbetta sitting there chatting with original guitar player Bob Webber. Unreal! I had been told that Jerry Corbetta was suffering from an Alzheimer’s-like condition. While he was a bit scattered in his thoughts, I found him to still be charming and clear on a lot of details. They were all there: bass player Bob Raymond, first and second drummers Bob MacVittie and Myron Pollock. The only major guy missing was Bob Yeazel who joined for the second album, and who I used to see perform throughout the 70’s and 80’s in town. But for all intents and purposes, this was all of Sugarloaf, embracing each other, catching up and looking like old friends from the neighborhood. It took a little while for things to loosen up, but just like any other gathering of old friends, it soon became clear that these guys had shared a great bond together and had plenty of war stories to share. They were all great. Myron Pollock, who avoided all rock-star temptation at the time, was clear as a bell and had an incredible scrapbook of memorabilia. Bob Raymond was a cool character that seemed to have just left rock and roll at some point and become a normal guy, never looking back. For me, the biggest thrill was Bob Webber, who still looked every bit the 60’s rock star - a cross between Kris Kristofferson and Jeff Bridges - but was as nice and low key as you could imagine. He told me he still played guitar and never really left music behind. He was thoughtful and sharp and it was a gigantic thrill to meet him. He had absolute clarity about what inspired him - seeing Rich Fifield with the Astronauts tear up the Fender guitar at a school dance. He said the next day he and Bob Raymond talked about buying guitars. This was in 6th grade. As Bob was relaying this story, the historical thread of this man’s life started to wind with my own and I realized the very real bonds that tie all us rock and roll people together. We all remember standing there looking up at a heroic guitar playing guy and thinking: “I could do that.” Ultimately we all can’t. But these guys sure did, and it was such a rewarding experience to get to meet them and see that they were just guys like me - touched by rock and roll and never truly free of its spell.

--- Paul

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Bluegrass music may have gotten its start in a different range of mountains a bit east of here, but for fans of banjo picking and fiddle playing there may not be a better place to be than right here in the Rockies.
Nationally touring Yonder Mountain String Band nearly sold out a five-night run in their birthplace at the Boulder Theater over the New Years weekend. Additionally, Bluegrass festivals Telluride (June 21-24) and RockyGrass (July 27-29) in Lyons draw national audiences and help grow the state's solid base of fans ready to go see live music when anyone with a banjo or a fiddle shows up.
Denver recently hosted multiple nights of Railroad Earth playing to packed houses.  The band offered nothing short of two perfect sets the night I caught them including a memorable rendition of “Goat” and a worthwhile “Cuckoo Medley.”  Bluegrass virtuoso David Grisman also brought his band of incredibly talented musicians to the Ogden for a night of “Dawg Music.” Grisman's son played the bass in the band alongside many talented players. Grisman was talkative through the night giving listeners a lesson in bluegrass history and shared several Bill Monroe standards. He invited Nick Forster of eTown fame to join him on stage and the unique arrangement of musicians around limited microphones offered a chance for everyone to step to the front and show off a little.
Mudstomp Records band Whistle Pigs stopped at Sancho's Broken Arrow for a show and played some of the best bluegrass this side of the Ozarks.  The Illinois natives worked through a hilarious mix of tales that could draw on characters from Trailer Park Boys and Petticoat Junction. They did a fun version of “All the Marijuana” that I've seen their label mates Mountain Sprout play a number of times and by the end of the night they had a reluctant crowd moving around the tiny dance floor. Worth a watch if they swing through again.
More recently the Bluebird played host to the Hackensaw Boys who played energetic and innovative ‘grass all night. Every member of this large group had superior talent individually and together they raged for almost two hours. I loved the fellow with the percussion space rocket strapped to his chest. It looked like a hubcap with several sizes of metal can attached and he played that thing like the devil.
Finally, Cornmeal and Hot Buttered Rum started a three-week west coast tour at an Ogden packed with happy fans. Both bands were full of fire and energy from start to finish. Perhaps bluegrass lends itself to exploratory noodling and stage antics but these gentlemen looked to be having quite the time and the show didn't drag once. They also incorporated the jam band set into the fold by offering the occasional Dead cover and wandering ever so slightly out there before coming back to grass.  Dreads were bouncing and boots were tapping side by side. At the end of the evening members of both bands shared the stage for several numbers together as “Hot Buttered Corn.” And it sounded just like summer in the south.
- John Binyon

Monday, March 5, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On - At the Movies #34 - Joe (1970, dir. John G. Avildsen)

The first thing the namesake character for the 1970 cult classic Joe says when he appears on screen is the N-word. He’s sitting in a blue-collar bar somewhere in New York ranting about the state of the world -- blacks and black-loving hippies are messing up the country and making it hard for a workingman to get by. He’s supposed to be a parody/cultural-critique character, sort of a proto Archie Bunker, someone for us all to laugh at or recoil from, but he caused a sensation when the movie first appeared on the silver screen. Men would watch it and stand up from their seats, shake their fists and shout along. Which is scary, because Joe does a little hunting by the time the final credits scroll through, and it’s not deer he aims his rifle at.
This legend is part of what elevated the flick to cult status and inspired me to rent it from the video store in the first place. It looked like an artifact of bygone craziness, and it is, but what keeps me coming back to it is its profound darkness and weirdness. In addition to Joe’s rants (which are hilarious, if you can get past the racism, because they’re so dumb and impassioned), you’ve got: the surliest hippie boys who’ve ever graced the big screen – scowling, greasy-long-haired guys who devour every drug in reach, lie and steal and treat their women like shit; women who take three measly hits off a joint and get so high they rip off all their clothes and jump on the nearest guy; and a grey-haired corporate exec who unwittingly murders hippies and says really creepy things while he’s peeing at urinals. Ultimately they all converge around a hookah for an inter-generational love fest that goes horribly wrong. All along the way the plot is punched up with low-budget psychedelic effects. They’re like a cross between the light shows they used to have behind bands in the late sixties and the superimposition-heavy dream sequences from mid-seventies soap operas. It sounds horrible, but it’s quite lovely to look at, like an outrageously and wonderfully garish find at a thrift store. Plus it’s Susan Sarandon’s first role (and yes she gets naked). 
All told, this mélange of gloomy oddness paints a telling portrait of that period in time in a way that only Hollywood can. There’s something about the way the movie industry tackles big social trends and issues and crams them into their violence-loving formulas that makes for a kind of apropos bleakness that would be unbearable were it not for all the hilarious schlockiness. Then again, some people took this particular piece of pop-culture pertinence as a rallying cry and seized the racist, hippy-hating Joe as a hero. And that makes Joe all the more fascinating. It’s one of those cases where Hollywood puts out something that seems totally phony and punched up with gratuitous sex and violence. Yet it’s on point for the way a lot of people in country are feeling. To me, that makes the film as valid a depiction of the late 60s/early 70s as Woodstock or Zabriskie Point or any of the other classics we associate with that period. It’s just another side of a many-sided story.

-Joe Miller