Thursday, February 16, 2017

Eugeology: Eugene's List of Hard Rock Albums and Possible Gems Part 6 - Black Star Riders 'All Hell Breaks Loose'

I wanted to see Judas Priest on their farewell tour when it rolled through Winston-Salem a few years ago. But the mighty Priest wasn’t the only reason… There were three more. Scott Gorham, Brian Downey, and Thin Lizzy.

I had never seen them. Sure, Phil Lynott has been dead for a couple of decades but this reconstituted band was the closest that I was ever going to get. And I got close being about 15 rows back from center stage.

They were awesome. And they spoke onstage about recording an album and hitting the road again.

They did the right thing and decided to drop the classic name of Thin Lizzy for Black Star Riders. Personally, I felt that they honored the work of Lizzy’s creative force Lynott with the live shows. But it just didn’t seem right to put out new material as Thin Lizzy.

I don’t mean that as a snobby thing. Lynott was the creative force behind Thin Lizzy. Sure, Gorham lent his licks to Lynott’s songs but to claim the material as Thin Lizzy just didn’t seem right to me.

I read some articles promoting the new album’s release and there it was… A name change was announced. That particular version of Thin Lizzy didn’t feel that it was right either.

I jumped on ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ when I had a subscription to Zune Pass. I devoured it the first day. I had the album in my random rotation. I was happy as a hermit crab in a new shell. I had some new stuff from Scott Gorham. Dare I say it, I was giddy.

While this album sounds like Thin Lizzy and reeks of Irish sounds, it’s not Thin Lizzy. Black Star Riders were in effect.

There’s enough of Black Star Riders that causes the initial Lizzy feel to fade some when listening. Yeah, there’s a wink in the lyric about “wearing dead man’s shoes” in the title track. Marco Mendoza’s solid bass playing along with Damon Wharwick’s vocals breathe new life into the classic sounds of Lynott’s ghost.

‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ is a darn good hard rock album. There are ear-catching hooks and the lyrics keeps the Lizzy tradition of storytelling that actually has meaning when you’re singing along. The production is solid. This is a good album for driving some winding mountain roads or sitting around with friends knocking back a few cold ones.

Standout tracks for me are “Bound For Glory”, “Kissin’ The Ground”, “Hey Judas”, “Hoodoo Voodoo”, “Valley of the Stones”, and “Blues Ain’t So Bad”.

And I also recommend the other two albums ‘The Killer Instinct’ and the latest ‘Heavy Fire’.

Check out what Tim Beeman and Jon Lowder have to say about it on their blogs.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Eugeology: Eugene's List of Hard Rock Albums and Possible Gems Part 5 - Rob Zombie 'Hellbilly Deluxe'

So we enter the 1990s on my list of hard rock favorites and it’s a good ‘un!

Let me begin with this… Rob Zombie is a twisted and talented genius. And yet I haven’t watched a single one of his films that caused me to walk away saying “That was great!” That’s because they’re just not even the slightest bit entertaining for me.

I first discovered White Zombie while working at Peaches Music & Video on the old High Point Road in Greensboro. A coworker was digging the 1989 album ‘Make Them Die Slowly’. I borrowed it for a listen and thought it was okay enough to purchase. It was a little sludgy and punkish. But I liked it.

As I have gotten older, my “like” for the album has dramatically waned.

But when I heard their major label debut ‘La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume 1’ I was Zombie for life.

They were incorporating audio from movies and television. That was something that I was doing with my mix tapes. White Zombie churned out incredible riffs and they had the kind of groove that made you feel as if you could watch sleazy strippers gyrate and twist all night long.

But for my money, Rob Zombie didn’t quite hit his stride until he ditched the “White” and released his first solo album ‘Hellbelly Deluxe’.

Rob Zombie, for me at least, was an Alice Cooper for a new generation. The horror imagery was neck-high and his voice had the same type of gravely character. And the shows!

Zombie shows are a sight to behold.

Although I’ve never seen a solo show I did get to see White Zombie on the Astro-Creep tour with Rev. Horton Heat and Social Distortion at the LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem. My sister Tina didn’t care for them, but came out of the place saying… “You know… That was a really good show. I’m glad that I went.”

The only “negative” thing that I can say about Zombie’s music is… I have to read the lyrics most of the time in order to understand them. His delivery along with the vocals buried in the mix doesn’t allow me to hear them clearly.

But I get it… Zombie’s voice is just another instrument in the mix so it doesn’t necessarily have to be front and center.

The standouts on this album include “Living Dead Girl”, “Dragula”, and “Superbeast”. But there are other dark little gems on this album… like “The Return of the Phantom Stranger” that sounds as if that stranger is dragging a foot while trying to catch you.

There’s the industrial grind in the rest of the songs like “Demonoid Phenomenon” and “Meet The Creeper” that makes dancing to these songs a possibility. “Demonoid Phenomenon” comes with some riffs that would make Tony Iommi proud.

The production is fantastic and the mixing begs you to put on the headphones or squeeze the ear buds in. Throw in some entertaining short tracks to “horrifically” fill the segue selections on the album and boom! You’ve got one of the great hard rock albums of the 1990s. It's just another fun and jamming album. There's nothing to really dissect with a high-brow knife. Just turn on, tune out, and enjoy.

Check out the other two perspectives of this album with Tim Beeman and Jon Lowder. Let's see if we're all in agreement or not. I find reading the other perspectives quite fun!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Eugeology: Eugene's List of Hard Rock Albums and Possible Gems Part 4 - Kick Axe 'Vices'

My friends and I went to see Judas Priest on the ‘Defenders of the Faith’ tour at the Greensboro Coliseum. Although Wikipedia doesn’t have the date listed, I remember that it was in June. It was probably in late June which would coincide with the Charlotte date.

Yes, we were excited to see the Priest. But my buddy Jonathan and I were also looking forward to seeing a new band that we liked by the name of Great White. They were listed as the opening band in the newspapers and on the radio commercials. We had Great White’s self-titled debut album and we were always excited to see another band.

When we got inside the coliseum, they used to have the merchandise tables out in the lobby instead of the concourse area. So Jonathan and I stepped up for a Defenders tour shirt and I wanted to add a Great White to my collection. Back then, I would even buy a t-shirt from the opening acts that I liked. Hell, I even purchased a Bon Jovi shirt when they were on the 7800* tour opening for Billy Squier.

But on that fateful night, there was no Great White merch on the walls. We saw one black tee from a band that had us looking at each other at the same time and saying in disbelieving unison… “Kick. Axe?”

I remember asking Jonathan, “What kind of name is that?”

It sounded like one of those generic names of a local cover band.

I had more money in my pocket than most 15 year olds because I had been painting with my father so I blindly purchased a Kick Axe t-shirt.

I still have it packed away somewhere.

Once inside the coliseum we did our usual ritual of trying to spot the microphones for live recordings and admiring all the ladies that were there to put on their own shows. Then we got to our seat just as the lights were going down.

The stage was bathed in a dark blue light and we saw this HUGE guy with a mound of hair sit in behind the drum kit. He was joined onstage by a tall guitarist, an average height guitarist, and a smaller than average bass player. There was a low register hum in the air along with screams and the sound of human wildlife in the mix. The guitarists just stood motionless on the stage as the drummer came to life in the darkness. He pounded those drums as if he was warning villagers of invaders. The lights were flashing on only him as he rolled from the snare to the floor toms and back again. Then as they guitars ferociously joined in, the lead singer swung in from out of the darkness on a rope. He was screaming as if someone was pulling one of his fingernails out slowly. The band was loud with riffs that spoke to every fiber of my dark little heart. The singer was wearing a leopard print spandex body suit with bare feet. He must have done this a million times because he landed effortlessly on the stage. The singer went from a full-on, out-of-the-darkness swing to stepping onto the stage as if he was stepping off an escalator. And at the moment that he landed he sang out, “Rock and roll soldiers, side by side, how many times have they made us cry?” And then the rest of the band stepped up to their microphones and yelled back at the singer.

I must have been standing there with my mouth open and jaw hanging on the hinges. I was blown away by this band in one minute. They had me.

Kick Axe were tight. Their harmonies were dead on. Although I knew nothing about their songs, I enjoyed the hell out of those guys. And even though they only had a 45 minute set, they made an impression that still remains in me for over 30 years. And I’m proud to say that I became a life long fan of Kick Axe on that night in June of 1984.

The day after that show, Jonathan and I went to the Record Bar at Friendly Center to get some Kick Axe. Jonathan purchased the cassette and I got a copy of the vinyl. I still have the LP and have purchased a cassette copy with a compact disc copy of ‘Vices’ along my way in life. And if you include the MP3s, I have it on all formats.

‘Vices’ was produced by Spencer Proffer who possessed the Midas touch with Quiet Riot. Proffer had signed them to his own label Pasha that was distributed by Columbia/CBS/Sony.

The album starts off like that show in June with “Heavy Metal Shuffle” and for me never slows down.

Make sure to put on the headphones or put in the ear buds because ‘Vices’ is a headphones album through and through. The production is crisp and the overdubbing is kept to a minimum. Proffer is a producer that isn’t afraid of leaving blank canvas to fill in the holes.

The album kicks off just like the concert that I witnessed with “Heavy Metal Shuffle”. It’s one of those “cheerleading” kinda of songs. Then the title track “Vices” shows off their songwriting chops. It starts with the drums and then a guitar comes in followed by the rest of the instruments. And for most of the song all of the stringed instruments are playing what sounds like three different songs until it’s needed for them to become one. The music is as layered as the lush vocals on the album. It’s one of my all time favorite songs just because it’s, in my opinion, great song composition.

“Dreamin’ About You” is the obligatory ballad that mixes in from “Stay On Top” which features the vocalist scatting that would make the Velvet Fog Mel Torme proud. The drums fade from “Stay On Top” while an acoustic guitar slowly rises from the big huge Bonham-like sound. It’s a thing of odd beauty.

“Alive & Kickin’” holds a special memory for me and my bud Jeff Baker. His younger brother Mark misheard the lyrics and sang them as “a live, live chicken”. There’s not a listen that goes by without me thinking about that.

Personally, there’s not a bad song on the album. If you’re looking for the kind of substance that’s usually debated over snobbish dinner parties, go somewhere else. But if you’re looking for well-crafted hard rock that’s filled with hooks, melody, great vocals, and face melting guitars that will cause your fingers to twitch for more volume… Then you’ve found it.

I could teach a community college class on this album. As great as I find it, I feel that is sorely overlooked. After ‘Vices’ they released ‘Welcome To The Club’ that didn’t quite have the same magic. Then they dropped a member and released ‘Rock The World’ on an independent label. ‘Rock The World’ features a great cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”. So check that out sometime.

They wrote songs for other hard rockers during the 80’s and they contributed to the animated Transformers movie soundtrack as Spectre General.

So yeah, they had problems with coming up with a solid band name.

‘Vices’ will always be a go-to album if I need my mood picked up. Not only was it my soundtrack to the summer of 1984, it has been the model that I use for hard rock album comparisons. I think Proffer and Kick Axe set the bar with that highly underrated album. There’s only one album that comes within 99% or reaching that bar. And you’ll read about that album later as we move through my top 50.

Read Tim's take here on Useless Things Need Love Too along with Jon Lowder's.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Eugeology: Eugene's List of Hard Rock Albums and Possible Gems Part 3 - Lynyrd Skynyrd 'Nuthin' Fancy'

Yeah, I added Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Nuthin’ Fancy’ to my list of 50 hard rock albums.

For me, hard rock isn’t as restrictive as the term “heavy metal”. Hard rock is driven by the guitars and they’re distorted for the most part. Lynyrd Skynyrd has influenced a lot of southern hard rock bands and even some from California. Just check out Armored Saint’s version of “Saturday Night Special”. And there’s no discounting the twin guitar attack that’s prevalent in southern and European hard rock.

I remember receiving some advice from Jeff Kay when we worked together at Peaches Music & Video back in the 1980s. He told me not to judge the band by their fans. The band has always been seen as a joke just because of their fans. After all, that’s why you hear someone invariably yell “Freebird!” when they’re at a local show. It had to start somewhere and I’m sure it began with someone known and referred to by their first and middle names.

I knew Tim would be the one with the hardest time with this particular choice. I told him to think of them as a southern version of Queen. I consider Queen to be a hard rock band even though they dabbled in a generous amount of styles. Hell, you could say the same thing about Led Zeppelin. Lynyrd Skynyrd also dabbled in other genres as well.

‘Nuthin’ Fancy’ starts with the kickass tune “Saturday Night Special”. It’s an odd little rocker that is basically about gun control by a southern rock band. Is that not crazy? Who’d a thought??

And “Cheatin’ Woman” subliminally drives home the same point with a lush melody and a fantastic bass line.

After “Railroad Song”, guitars get distorted again with some great riffing guitars in “I’m A Country Boy”. You don’t really expect loud and crunchy guitars in a song about the love of small towns and vast countryside. And there’s no mention of a pick-up truck!

“On The Hunt” delivers a Florida gut punch right off the bat. And credit where credit is due… My Yankee buddy with a Blackfoot (rock band) tattoo used to bring this song up all the time. And when we worked together, I took his Skynyrd knowledge and trivia seriously. He fortified Jeff Kay’s position about them. And I specially went after ‘Nuthin’ Fancy’ when I first got a monthly subscription to Zune.

Bradford “Hinzy” Hines wasn’t wrong. He was always hot about “Whiskey Rock-A-Roller” too.

“Made In The Shade” brings it back home with a southern combination of blues and ragtime music complete a collection of instruments from harmonicas to mandolins. It’s a fun little ditty.

And the aforementioned “Whiskey Rock-A-Roller” brings back the rock complete with a lively piano closes out the album. It’s about traveling around and playing for the fans. The song is basically Ronnie Van Zant’s philosophy that shows up in other songs. He’s a rolling stone and has no plans to stop for long unless there’s a fishing pole or bottle in hand.

Lynyrd Skynyrd has a tremendous body of work. I got to see them live with Hank Williams Jr. about a decade ago. And it was one of the wildest shows that I had ever seen at the Greensboro Coliseum. If I had just one percent of the beer and liquor sales within Guilford County from that day, I would be a retired man right now. It was a lot of fun and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

So grab yourself a sixer or a small bottle of whiskey and enjoy ‘Nuthin’ Fancy’ with the volume cranked up so loud that you can’t hear yourself hoot and holler. And don’t forget to hoist a shot in air for Ronnie, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines.

Check out Tim's take along with Jon Lowder's. They both dig the album choice this week and I know since I have the luxury of posting late to the game.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Eugeology: Eugene's List of Hard Rock Albums and Possible Gems Part 2 - Ratt 'Invasion Of Your Privacy'

Is Ratt’s ‘Invasion Of Your Privacy’ a rock n’ roll classic?

Absolutely not.

Is the album a hard rock classic?

I believe that it is just that.

I remember getting my first taste of Ratt when I stumbled across their 1983 self-titled EP at Camelot Music in the Carolina Circle Mall (no longer there). Their songs were catchy and infectious. Their look was New York Dolls meets Duran Duran. And they had a great cover of “Walkin’ The Dog” on that EP. The production was a bit murky, but that led to their full-length LP ‘Out Of The Cellar’ on Atlantic Records.

‘Out Of The Cellar’ is a mighty fine album as well. But for me, ‘Invasion…’ hit all the right notes. It arrived in stores not long after my high school graduation. My friend Jonathan Everett and I went to pick up my LP and his cassette copies at the old Record Bar in the Friendly Center Shopping Center.

Jonathan put his cassette into the tape player of his hot red 1985 Chevrolet Camaro before we left the parking lot. The volume was set at level that would make Lemmy Kilmister wince. And when those opening riffs of “You’re In Love” bounced off our eardrums for the first time I knew that I was in love with that song and wanted more.

I got more. In fact, I got a great album.

When people talk about the great opening tracks from albums, “You’re In Love” should be on the list somewhere. It’s the perfect blend. One solo guitar opens the song and it doesn't take too long the rest of the band to thunderously joins in.

Sure, “Lay It Down” could’ve been a good choice as well. But its placement as the third track on side one really provides that boost again after “Never Use Love”. The song sequence was definitely thought out. It was like Ratt used their own tunes to make a “mix tape” with the proper ebb and flow.

I wanted to be in Ratt. I wanted to be Juan Croucier. He is one of my favorite bass players. He wasn’t just a “thumper” plodding along with the beat. He worked the neck. And when you saw him play live, it was a show. He didn’t stand in one place like a mannequin. He was animated. The song made him move and seemed to consume him on stage. And at times, Croucier looked as if he was beating his instrument into submission and causing it to bend to his will.

But the most underrated musician in the band was Robbin Crosby.

Warren DeMartini got all the accolades because he handled most of the lead guitar chores. DeMartini got those accolades because he IS a very fine guitarist. Crosby excelled on the rhythm guitar. Sure, he looked like a fullback that modeled his appearance after Bea Arthur from ‘The Golden Girls’ complete with makeup and the long jackets. But Crosby was the back bone of the twin guitars in the band. The band didn’t have the typical power chord strum or chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga style. Ratt were more of the Van Halen type of songwriters where combination of notes provided most of the riffing. There was more pickin’ than strummin’ with Ratt.

As an aspiring rock star, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a lot of those riffs with my ears alone. As a self-taught wannabe, I found Ratt as aggravating as Molly Hatchet. Jonathan could pick out the songs in just a matter of minutes. He was always there to calm my aggravation when it came to pickin’ out the tune.

‘Invasion Of Your Privacy’ was produced by Beau Hill. Hill produced ‘Out Of The Cellar’ and they guy had a way of recording and producing hard rock. He gave it a cleaner, clearer sound and steered clear of the murkiness that most hard rock albums exhibited at the time. He also produced another fine album, ‘Midnight Dynamite’ by Kix.

He helped to produce a few more million selling albums later in the decade that were, to me, pieces of crap. But hey, the guy had a mortgage and bills to pay. And who can fault Hill for having goals and meeting them. He will always have more gold and platinum awards on his walls than I will ever have.

As for ‘Invasion Of Your Privacy’… I find it as one of Hill’s top achievements. “Lay It Down” just cracked the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. ‘Invasion…’ climbed to number 7 on their album chart. As my friend Benjy Johnson once said, “They toured world as a headliner with that album.”

I consider “Closer To My Heart” as the only dim spot on ‘Invasion Of Your Privacy’, but I can live with it. Pearcy’s acid-scarred voice provides the perfect countermeasure to the clean and crisp production from Hill. And first and foremost, the album is fun.

The lyrics won’t make you contemplate any philosophical thoughts or get you into a heated debate on Facebook concerning the meaning. The songs are of the universal variety. Boy meets girl, girl problems, and poppy hooks with a side of misogynistic undertones.

It was the perfect album for that time and place. ‘Invasion Of Your Privacy’ will always remain as a “go-to” when I’m looking for something that will cause me to switch off my brain and just rock out.