Thursday, January 29, 2015

Jack Bruce: The 50th Anniversary Concerts, DVD Edition

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Jack Bruce: The 50th Anniversary Concerts – DVD Edition (2 DVDs)
MIG / Intact
235 minutes, 1993 / 2014

Jack Bruce is associated with many of the important blues rockers of the 1960 and onward, including John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Manfred Mann, Blues Incorporated and West, Bruce & Laing. However, it will always be Cream for which his name will be linked first.

Quick side story: when I was in sleepaway camp during the 1960s, during one year the only record anyone thought to bring up for the three weeks was Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” When we had dances, we would play it over and over. If we wanted to dance fast and frantic, we played it at 78. When we wanted to slow dance, we played it at 78. I don’t remember them putting the needle to the B-side, though they probably did. To this day, I am conformable hearing it at all those speeds.

On November 2 and 3 of 1993, concerts were held at E-Werk in Cologne, Germany, to celebrate Jack Bruce’s 50th birthday, almost 21 years before his passing on October 25, 2014 at age 71.

As presented here in usual excellent Rockpalast standards, the beginning is at a slow build. It initiates with Bruce playing Improvisation on Minuet No. 1 solo on the cello. A multi-musical talent, I understand now why people don’t usually know him for this instrument. I’m just sayin’ and truthifyin’, not hatin’.

After he jumps on the piano (much better) and starts a selection of tunes that sound pretty jazzy in an early style that Fats Waller would have loved, he is joined by keyboardist Gary Husband. With Bruce playing a full piano and Husband on electronics, they blend a sound that is both titters and full chested. Getting better all the time.

When those numbers are completed and Husband is dismissed, Bruce picks up the bass and brings out British blues saxophone legend Dick Heckstall-Smith (d. 2004), along with his Cream compadre, the one and only curmudgeon drummer Ginger Baker. This, of course, changes the dynamics of the room. Interestingly, the trio does not break out into busting some Blues, but into some beautify jazz riffs, usually led by Heckstall-Smith’s sax (though sometimes he does this trick where he plays the sax and clarinet at the same time). Naturally, everyone gets their solo shots. There is a lot of off-kilter-style jazz improvs that would have made Miles proud, full of a-tonal and arrhythmic phrasing.

At 42 minutes, the band expands and we finally get to hear some rock solid blues, with “First Time I Met the Blues.” Of course, it is heartfelt and respectful. Then, as the band gets even larger – including the amazing keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who I had the pleasure to meet in the 1980s when he accompanied Human Switchboard at Irving Plaza – they start to rock a bit more.

About an hour into the first disc, the selection starts turning proggish, and my interest started to wan… Part of me wanted to put on the Ramones, which is always an antidote to this. It was going fine until then, but I suddently starting thinking about what was for supper, and that’s a bad sign. But I was determined to stick it out.

It was worth it, of course, because being the Blues man, you know that would come back, and it did strongly with “Neighbor, Neighbor” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.” This, as with most of the songs, comes with many solos by various musicians, everyone getting their limelight time.

One of the variances into classic rock style with a Celtic lilt is “Ships in the Night,” when he is joined by singer Maggie Reilly (who, elsewhere, was the female vocal on Mike Oldfield’s amazing “Five Miles Out,” but I digress…). With this and the following numbers, she goes into back-up singer, Darlene Love / Uta Hedgwig mode for a few numbers, before vanishing into the night.

“Willpower,” a blasting and grinding number, also shows one of the reasons for the rise of punk rock, just seeming to go on and on (and on). It’s over 5 minutes, and it seems half of it is just the chorus, consisting to the song title, over and over (and over). The follow-up, with Bruce switching back to piano, is “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune,” which goes on for over 9 minutes. Fortunately, it’s a totally up-beat blues-based

raver, and like so many choices on these, there is sections of instrumentals. Rightfully so, he backs off to a slower number, “Theme From an Imaginary Western,”for which he never lets up with the power. Being his 50th birthday, it makes sense to end the first DVD with “Golden Days.”

Before discussing the second disk, I need to stop here for a moment and reflect with an explanation. Jack Bruce is extremely talented, as was all members of Cream, and everyone who participated on this is stellar. I am certainly not trying to put it down in any way. That being said, there was a reason I stopped listening to the radio soon after Sgt. Pepper’s, and especially into the ‘70s, because music became too…sterile. Even the bluesy numbers of, say, Led Zeppelin, sounded bombastic to the point of driving me to the “1-2-3-4” of the Ramones. Jack Bruce and company are the same. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the talent behind these British Blues rockers, but there is still something about long songs, seemingly endless solos and earnest musical masturbation that can make me…distracted to something else.

Now that I’ve cleared the air a bit, I’m ready for disc two, which seems more focused on the Cream era. We shall see.

As with the first, this disc opens on a nice, slower note, with Bruce sitting with an acoustic guitar, singing “As You Said,” accompanied by two cellos. It’s pretty effective, and has a mix between Celtic and modern. The band comes in for the next, similar sounding “Rope Ladder to the Moon.” See, part of the problem with me, particularly, reviewing this, is with the exception of some of the Cream stuff, Bruce’s material never really entered into the realm of my tastes, so I am not familiar with much of it (e.g., “Oh, this is from that group and that album…”).

For example, after he switches back to the bass, they do “Life on Earth.” This song, from 1981, sounds like another of that string of Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer” / Steve Winwood “Higher Love” ‘80s solo comebacks. I was listening to hardcore and the Garage Revival back then, so this is kinda out of my ken. The next few songs seem from the same period.

I was amused at the juxtaposition of Toto’s Simon Phillips’ extended drum solo. His kit is huge and he rambles on with it. Afterwards, you see Ginger Baker, ciggy-butt dangling from his half-toothless mouth (he has COPD now…keep smokin’ kids!), get into his miniscule-by-comparison kit, and almost nonchalantly show how it’s done. One of my fave moments.

The Cream starts rising, with “Sitting on Top of the World,” a folk song they Blues’d up to fame. And here is where the really long, extended songs begin (this one is over 7 minutes, as are many of the others to come). Baker on drums, Bruce on bass; all that’s missing is, well… Clapton would tour with the two in the next decade, but he was not present for this. Ably taking his place for this section is Humble Pie’s Clem Clempson. Pete Brown, the lyricist who co-wrote some of Cream’s biggest hits (and cousin of Marty Feldman), jumps in and joins the vocals for “Politician.”

It’s the Cream era that I’ve been patiently (sorta) waiting for, and here it is. “White Room” (8+ minutes) bleeds out, and a near full orchestral “Sunshine of Your Love” (7+ minutes) are actually done great. With the extra instrumentation (including two bassists, two drummers, a horn section, an acoustic guitar, piano, Bernie Worrell’s keyboard) and Clempson’s guitar, they show that the songs retain their power even after all these years…make that decades.

This section ends with the sizzling 8+ minute (get my point?) blues grinder, “Blues You Can’t Lose.”

Though everyone seems to be wearing the same clothes, I’m wondering if this next part is from a different night, because he covers a bunch of the material that’s already be done. However, for this part he’s joined by Baker on drums and Thin Lizzy’s Gary Moore (d. 2011) on guitar. Moore is a dynamic player, different in style than Clempson, so he manages to shake up the redone material, making it fresh.

Even “Life on Earth” takes on a more rock mode than ‘80s pop. Thanks, Gary, for that! Also, not only does he breathe an entirely different flavor into the mix, he also pushes Bruce into a different direction, as they both play their asses off, feeding each other’s energy. So much better than the first time around, even the solos.

While this trio doesn’t re-do “Sunshine,” they cover Willie Dixon’s Blues classic “Spoonful,” in a glorious fashion, and finish off, however, with “White Room.”

Again, in usual Rockpalast fashion, the sound is great (though I notice Worrell gets drowned out sometimes), the visuals sharp, and the editing enjoyable (not MTV-ishly quick cuts). I also like the way the camera focuses in on the musicians rather than the audience, who are only in a few shots. Better that way, because it’s the talent I want to see, not a roll call.

There are three different versions of this release. One is, obviously, this one, called the DVD Edition, containing 2 DVDs. There is also the Extended Edition, with both DVDs and a CD Digi-Format (just over 5 hours of material), and the Special Edition boxset of 3 DVDs plus Bonus DVD and CD (almost 8 hours). Up to you to get yer Jack Bruce fix, and how much of it you can handle.

Jack Bruce, you were a talented man, and I thank you for your years of playing; RIP. Meanwhile, I’m turning on “Rock-Rock-Rockaway Beach…”

Improvisation on Minuet No. 1
Can You Follow?
Running Thro’ Our Hands
The Tube
Over the Cliff
First Time I Met the Blues
Smiles & Grins
Bird Alone
Neighbor, Neighbor
Born Under a Bad Sign
Boston Ball Game 1967
Ships in the Night
Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune
Theme From an Imaginary Western
Golden Days
DVD 2:
As You Said
Rope Ladder to the Moon
Life on Earth
Drum Solo by Simon Phillips
Sitting on the Top of the World
White Room
Sunshine of Your Love
Blues You Can’t Loose
Featuring Gary Moore:
Life on Earth
Sitting on the Top of the World
White Room



Friday, January 16, 2015

Music Impresario Kim Fowley Obit (1939-2015), by Scott Kempner

Text by Scott Kempner / FFanzeen, 2015
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos, 2015

Kim Fowley was an enigma. He’s one of the more important and shadowy, behind-the-scenes figures in rock and roll history, from its birth through its various forms. He was part of the original West Coast doo wop groups, the Hollywood Argyles who rose to fame with the off-beat novelty ditty, “Ally Oop,” and followed up with a number of his own releases as singles and LPs that were genre bending and leaning towards psychedelia and glam. Kim was also known as the contentious manager and Svengali of the original The Runaways.

There was much that had Kim’s presence in the biz. For example, the experience of holding up a lighter in concerts was his brainchild. He had his hand in John and Yoko playing in Toronto (he even emceed the event), did the first recordings with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, co-wrote a number of songs with major bands such as KISS, Cat Stevens and Alice Cooper, played on Frank Zappa’s Freak Out!, and… Well, if you want a taste of the man, check out the 2003 documentary, The Mayor of Sunset Strip. Born in California in 1939, the 75 year old Fowley died of bladder cancer on January 15, 2015, in West Hollywood.

Bronx-bred Scott Kempner’s career started with the seminal rock punk (as opposed to punk rock) band, The Dictators, who in 1975 was the first of the bands to spring out of CBGBs to release an album; he was known as Top Ten in those days. He moved on to another well-known band, the Del-Lords, before moving out to California. – RBF

Just heard the news that Kim Fowley has passed away. I didn't meet Kim until the mid-‘80s, at one of the first South By Southwest conferences. I never knew what to make of him from afar, and even when I first got to know him a little, I was a little suspicious. I guess it was kind of a NYC-to-LA trans-continental kind of suspicion. But I did get to know him, and hung out bullshitting with him many memorable times, including one especially memorable week when Stevie Van Zandt had his Underground Garage Festival in NYC in 2004, at which the Dictators performed, and Kim was the MC.

Stevie put both Kim and myself at the same hotel for a week. I would see him for breakfast every day, and we would chat for hours, as he held court, regaling all with his endless tales of rock'n'roll heroes and the sometimes even more interesting also-rans. He was hilarious, original, knowledgeable, madly in love with rock'n'roll, and he knew EVERYBODY!!!

It was a tough time for me, as I had been out of the band [Dictators] for two years, and this was gonna be my first show with them in two years. In fact, if not for Stevie, I don't know if I ever would have played with them again. But, Stevie went to bat for me, and I rejoined the band for another five years, and Kim listened to it all, and always had advice or some bit of Kim wisdom that would lift me and get me through the day. He also never once let me pay for breakfast, and always saved a seat next to him each morning so we could pick up where we left off.

Kim was so gracious, and just a great pal and sounding board. The private Kim was very emotional and sweet, and had so much passion for the music and those that played it. He remembered every detail you had spoken to him about. After that week, we were "officially friends," as he told me. That made me very happy and proud.

He was a prime mover on the West Coast, as I am sure you all know. He seems to have a million friends. Kim's name is on dozens and dozens of hits. A true original, a classic hustler - in the best sense - and one of my favorite people out here on the West Coast. I was always thrilled to run into him. He even knew of the Del-Lords, and our guru/hero, Lou Whitney "and his Trans-Am song". His stories were the very best anybody ever told, or anybody ever heard - if people like Dylan, Morrison, The Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds, Ray Charles (remind me to tell you that one), etc., etc., etc., mean anything to you.

It pains me that the days of running into him at a Springsteen show (at which I saw him at least five or six times), or some other rock event are over. I feel like I will still be looking for him towering above the rest of us, and spotting me before I could spot him and calling me over to regale me with yet another tale that I will be repeating to anyone who'll listen for as long as I live.

I am quite sure I am safe in saying we will never see anyone (even remotely) like Kim Fowley again. R.I.P. Kim, I know there are scores of broken hearts around town right now as the news of your passing spreads. I guarantee you, you will never be forgotten. That's a fact. Goodnight, Kim.