Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Vinnie Moore - The Pro's Pro - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Vinnie Moore appears to be on quite an uphill climb - he's just released what I believe to be his finest work yet with the stunning debut of his new band Red Zone Rider, he's in the process of completing his six studio outing with heavy rock legends UFO, and he's got a new solo album in the can, ready for mixing and mastering. All of this should add up to a very busy 2015 for the veteran six stringer.

Red Zone Rider might just be the best new band of 2014, and their debut album (out September 16th) will most likely end up on a lot of year end top ten lists. Comprised of Moore, Kelly Keeling, and drummer Scot Coogan, the band has partnered up with Magna Carta Records, and longtime metal guru Mike Varney and they've got a winner on their hands. Every track on the album is rock solid, and the songs and performances are going to raise a lot of eyebrows in the world of hard rock.

Vinnie has been a fixture on the rock guitar scene since he made his first appearance in Guitar Player Magazine's legendary Spotlight column back in 1985. Spotlight was one of the vehicles that Shrapnel Record's head Mike Varney used to literally create the shred guitar movement. Moore was at the forefront of the shred movement, but has long since moved on to a solid career as not just a red hot guitar slinger, but as a songwriter, solo star, and a key member of one of British rock's longest running hard rock franchises.

I recently had a chance to catch up with Vinnie, literally dragging him out of his basement recording studio to talk about Red Zone Rider, UFO, and all the news that's fit to print.

Photo by Jo Ann Jackson/Stardogphotos
First off, I have to say that I was completely taken by surprise by the Red Zone Rider album. No hype, no warning, the album one day showed up on my desktop, and it's been there ever since. It might just be the sleeper classic hard album of 2014:

Vinnie Moore: "Aw man, thanks so much. 
"I saw your review, thank you. I was wondering what people would think of it - you just never know. 
"I've known Kelly for years, I love his voice, and I always had him in the back of my mind as somebody I would want to work with, but the opportunity had never rally come up. I've been so busy with the solo stuff, UFO stuff, but there was some time open last summer, and I just happened to get an e-mail asking, 'Hey, how would you like to work with Kelly?' 
"I was in, but there wasn't a drummer yet, so we started looking at drummers, and we ended up finding Scot. We're really psyched about him, not only does he play drums, he's also a lead singer, and a songwriter, too, which we thought would be a very valuable asset for the band."
Photo by Jo Ann Jackson/Stardogphotos
Vinnie's been associated with producer Mike Varney off and on since the mid-eighties, so I asked about his involvement in Red Zone Rider:

Vinnie Moore: "Well, he had been talking with Kelly, initially, about doing a record, and they had kicked around my name. When I got the e-mail, Mike was like, 'Hey, I'm doing something with Kelly Keeling, I think it'd be great if you worked with him!' 
"So, at the time I had some time open, and a guy I had always wanted to work with, so it just seemed perfect."

Red Zone Rider is, as I said, a stunning debut - everybody knows Vinnie can play, and that Kelly Keeling has a great voice, but what came as a shock was Keeling's outstanding instrumental work on both fretless bass, and keyboards. I asked Vinnie if he knew this going in:

Vinnie Moore: "Actually, I didn't to be honest with you - and he shreds on guitar, too!"
Photo by Tristan Greatrex
One thing that is immediately apparent even on a first listen is that Red Zone Rider is an album of great depth. I hear about twenty new albums a week, and a great many of them sound like they were rush jobs, and that the players had never once been together in the same room. Red Zone Rider comes complete with sophisticated arrangements, very well thought out segues, and tons of pleasing ear candy in the way of solos, backing vocals, and sonic depth:

Vinnie Moore: "Thanks. Yeah, I had written some stuff in advance, and Kelly had some ideas coming in, and we really prepared for it. 
"We then got together in Vegas to record, so we were all together in a room playing together, which was really important. 
"We knew we wanted to incorporate all of our collective influences, and we've all been in the business for quite a while now - we're veterans, I guess you could say, and we have a lot of things to draw from musically. We just wanted to show as many sides of that as we possibly could. 
"The only rule from the record company was, 'We don't want any grunge 90s kind of stuff.' Which was perfect, because I'm not into that - I'm into listening to some of that, but it's not my forte as a songwriter. 
"I actually came in with a bunch of tunes. I'm a guy who is always writing songs, and sometimes for nothing - just because I enjoy doing it! Meaning that there's no intended band, or project that I'm going to use it for. So, I came in with a bunch of demos already finished, Kelly came in with some stuff on his phone, but most of it in his head. We just sat down and listened to all the ideas, and then we started playing through stuff! Some of it we played as is, and on some of it we made small changes. A couple, we made major changes on.  
"It's just that kind of thing - 'We have some material, let's just go play."

The album is being marketed by the record company as a great long lost '70s slice of hard rock, but to my ears it sounds exactly what the classic rock world needs right now - a bunch of great songs being sung and played with great passion, precision, and flair. Still, it would fit perfectly on any playlist from the mid-seventies. There's a ton of great hard rock, some funky and blues touches, of course a bunch of scorching guitar playing, and a whole lot of melody. Since Vinnie had mentioned their collective influences, I asked for some elaboration on his early influences:

Vinnie Moore: "Man - my influences were initially Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Queen, I like Skynyrd a lot, though I don't think you'll hear much of that influence on this record. Just all the classic rock bands - The Who, The Beatles, of course, I'm forgetting many! 
"The blues stuff was there first, believe it or not, but when I did my first few records, it was really... I was showing more of my classical influences - it was after that whole thing. I think my one regret is going overboard in that direction at the time. I didn't really show everything I was into stylistically, but I showed it later, eventually. 
"I started to show more things on my Meltdown record, which was more rock, and you could hear the blues and funky kind of stuff, too. 
"I'm just big into jazz stuff, and be bop, and then bands like Skynyrd, who really swing, you know? 
"That's taken over more and more of my playing over the years. I'm always swinging, and being a little funky - I never consciously attempted to do that, it just kind of happened naturally. I didn't mean for it to happen on the RZR record, it just did because it's a big part of what I do."

While you can hear and sense all of these influences across the whole of their new album, you can also hear a pretty vast compendium of examples in the way of sumptuous, glorious guitar tones. I asked Vinnie if he was relying heavily on his signature series Dean Guitars:

Vinnie Moore: "Pretty much - I used my Deans, I have about five of them, and I used them about 90% of the time. 
"But, I also have a few Strats, a Les Paul laying around, I always check, and go back to them for certain things. It's good to have them around, to have some extra sonic tools. 
"But, it's mostly the Deans - I get a lot of tones out of my guitars from using the volume control on the guitar. I'll get half dirty sounds by turning it down to five, and cleaner tones by turning it down to three. I get a lot out of the guitar, tone wise."

Moore has been using Dean's pretty exclusively after long being associated with Music Man for many years. I asked about his relationship with Dean Guitars:

Vinnie Moore: "Yeah, I think it's been five or six years now. It's been a good relationship! 
"We did the signature model, and I was initially excited about going with them because they were very open minded and receptive to my ideas. They were open to doing anything I wanted, guitar-wise, when we were designing the model. I thought that was a great attitude for them to have. 
"It's basically a super-Strat - I've always been sort of a Strat kind of guy. I mean, not exactly a Strat, but the body is shaped kind of like a Strat, the hum bucker with two single coil pickup configuration, the size of the frets, we have a Floyd Rose, and the maple neck, alder body.... 
"These were all my ideas. We just worked together from the ground floor up. I told them what I wanted, explained to them on the phone what I wanted when I initially talked to them, and they made a prototype for me - in fact, it's sitting right here. I went down to the factory in Florida, and I tried it out. They had nailed it. 
"It was about 90% of the way there on the first try, and from there we just made some small changes, like where the volume and tone controls were going to be, moving the pickups just a bit, and shaving the back of the heel of the body to make the higher frets a little more accessible, small things like that. We just tweaked it, but it was really close right away."

As time has marched on, and more influences have made their way into Vinnie's repertoire, I'm always pleasantly moved by his slide playing - it's an occasional treat, but when he applies it, it sings. I asked if he has a guitar set up especially for bottleneck playing, and how he's able to resist over doing it:

Vinnie Moore: "For slide, I have a guitar in the studio set up with the action really high that I use exclusively for slide. It's just kind of a thrown together guitar, another super Strat kind of body with a Warmoth neck. 
"That's because I'm not good enough to over do it! I'm getting better at slide, but it's never really been my forte. I enjoy the sound of it, and I like doing it, though!"

Getting back to Red Zone Rider, I asked if there was any chance of the band playing some live shows:

Vinnie Moore: "Yeah! Right at this moment, we're trying to put some stuff together for January starting out around the NAMM show, then heading back east - I'm hoping that happens!"

Also on Moore's busy schedule is the new, in progress recording of the new album by UFO:

Vinnie Moore: "I'm actually in my studio working on it right now! 
"It's coming out really well, we have some great songs. We cut 14 basic tracks in England - keyboards are done, and I'm working on some guitar stuff at home. Phil's singing in England right now, and it's just going to be rocking - I don't know how to definitively describe it, but it's a rock record! It really becomes UFO with Phil's voice."

The Red Zone Rider album is an excellent primer on the state of Vinnie's guitar work, and I don't think I've ever heard him play better - he's always excellent, but he seems especially sharp in the soloing department. I asked how after so many albums, and so many tours, he manages to continue to grow as a soloist:

Vinnie Moore: "First of all, thanks so much, but really, I don't know! 
"I'm always playing, always listening to different styles of music, and when I've got to do a solo, of course, the chord changes dictate the tonality, and kind of sets the mood - then I just go for it. I either improvise, or I get in the position where I find I'm building a lick or two at a time, and it becomes more of a composed solo. 
"I like when I can just improvise, and it comes out, because it's a lot less work! Then, it usually has a lot of feel, too. I'd say my main problem is having too many things going through my head, and not being able to decide which direction I want to go in. There are so many things you can throw in - at some point I just have to realize that it's only one solo, and just go with it.  
"I still listen to a lot of my old favorite bands for inspiration - The Purples, Beatles, Zeppelins, stuff like that. I went through a phase where I was really heavy into some techno stuff, like Crystal Method, and Prodigy, believe it or not.  
"You know, I'll listen to blues, jazz, just anything good to me is good - it doesn't matter what style it is. I try to learn, and take things from everywhere."
Photo by Franky Bruyneel
Wrapping things up, I asked that since it's been almost six years since his last solo album, if anything was in the wind along those lines:

Vinnie Moore: "Haha, yeah! I have a new solo record that's finished! 
"I just need to get someone to mix it. As soon as I get finished with the UFO record that I'm working on now, that's the next thing I'm going to be working on in October is getting this mixed, and getting it out there. 
"The UFO will be out in January, and I'm hoping to get mine out sometime around then, or just after. We're starting a UFO tour in February and March, so I want to get my record out before that."

Like I said, it sounds like Vinnie Moore is on an upward trajectory. See you in 2015, Vinnie!      

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spike - 100% Pure Frankie Miller - Molten Rock 'N' Soul Gold, 2014's Best?

Rock Ain't Near Dead....not even close, not as long as there's new records like this.

In which, Spike of The Quireboys goes solo with a set of never before heard Frankie Miller compositions with guests such as Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Tyler, Ian Hunter, one of God's rhythm sections in Free's Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser, Luke Morley, and a list of other UK rock luminaries, which will most likely end up on a great many year's end top tens.

In the end it all comes down to the songs - there's no filler to be found, in fact, there's a glut of great musical moments to be found on every track of this magnificent bastard of an album. Spike is the MC, and as he wraps his edgy, soulful vocal cords around every note you've got every musician playing as if their very souls depended on honoring one of the greatest songwriters that rock has ever had the privilege of knowing. I wish I had a film of Frankie Miller hearing this album for the first time - no one was ever done more justice, nor done with more obvious love. I assume you know who Frankie Miller is, right?

I've been on about records that sound good lately, and 100% Pure Frankie Miller sounds great. I'm sure Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke have long grown tired of hearing that there should be a Free reformation/reunion, but when you hear the opening track, The Brooklyn Bridge, that will be the first thing that crosses your mind, as it was mine. Kirke lays down a very slow, very heavy beat in that  swinging way that could only be his, and Andy Fraser plays a stupendous groove that occasionally gets very, very melodic and brings it all back home as someone (sorry, no liner notes) lays down some thick, chunky, guitar while Spike does his magic over the top of it all. A stinging guitar solo moves things along until Spike and some sultry backing singers take it on home. Bad assery, folks - straight, pure, brilliant bad assery.

Spike sounds like he's pouring every ounce of his soul into this record, because when you're singing Frankie Miller's songs, and you're thinking of the beauty of Frankie's voice, what else could you do, right? Cocaine features Tyla, the rhythm section of Kirke and Fraser, and the guitar work of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, and it's great track number two. There's nothing better than a great piece of songwriting performed by inspired players, and this one may be an instant classic. Repeated playing is called for.

I'm Losing You is a love ballad that does precisely what these things are meant to do. Ronnie's back on board, along with Stuart Emerson on some lovely piano, and a vocal from Spike that drips with passion. To think that these songs have been sitting on a shelf for over twenty years, it dawns upon me that this is a perfect record at a perfect time. It's tough times for the rock world, but this is surely proof that while things are in transition, they are far from lost, and there is no end in sight. Life affirming, joy giving, this is beautiful music.

Luke Morley brings some brawny guitar to Intensive Care, and the rock side of Frankie Miller's writing pokes its head out. Great swagger on this one, and it's a classic R&B lyric that will have you moving for certain. Most acts and writers work their whole lives trying to have a track rock like this, and make it sound perfectly natural - Frankie popped them out with frightening regularity, and we're blessed that these have come off the shelf.

Fortune features Bonnie Tyler duetting with Spike - they sound like the male/female mirror images of one another, and it's quite brilliant. This whole thing sounds like a long lost greatest hits album, and all I hope is that these songs get a chance to be played on the stage at some point. Paul Guerin lays down layer upon layer of tasty guitars, and Peter Weir's keyboards are sublime on this one.

Spike wraps his voice around these tunes and he owns them - it's a tremendous job of interpretation, the likes of which I can't recall in the recent past. It's rare these days to hear a singer singing the works of a single outside writer, and this might be the finest case of such since Roger Daltrey came out with a first solo album comprised of Leo Sayer tunes over forty years ago - yeah, it's that good. Amsterdam Woman is another that just grabs you and doesn't let go.

The Other Side Of Time reminds me of an old unnameable Elton John classic with its melodic piano flourishes, and a soulful song that winds its way around it. It's stunning just how musical this entire album has turned out to be. Words like fate and destiny come to mind.

Barrel house boogie jumps out on Cheap Hotel, a tune that might not be a epic and lovely as most on display, but it's a great bit of rock 'n' roll.

Cold, Cold Nights highlights the soulful country western side of Frankie's pen, as does the song that follows, Did You Ever Want To Go Home. Classier examples of the genre really don't exist. Played perfectly, sung righteously, you wonder just how many more chestnuts may remain - is there more in this vein to be mined? The timeless beauty of these songs is truly astounding. Maybe the best record I've heard this year, and there have been some great ones. I keep hearing people compare this record to Rod, but I'll have this, thanks.

Ronnie Wood shows up again on Keepin' It All For You, and it's another slice of country heaven - it'll bring a tear to your eye, and this should do the job of getting people to go back and look closely at the Frankie Miller catalogue, which is filled with similarly brilliant writing and singing.

Bottle Of Whisky rather appropriately wraps things up, and the chiming mandolin frames it all so well. Tyla, and Pat McManus (Momma's Boys) guest here, and once again, the bottle of whisky wins. What a great way to wrap up what just might be my favorite album of 2014. A glorious revisiting of a past we didn't know existed, like reminiscing with a stranger.

Spike - goddamn, you nailed this so righteously that I must think it was on your soul's bucket list of things to accomplish during your visit to this orb.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Richie Faulkner of Judas Priest - Defender Of The Faith - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"I think the skepticism that some people might have, or have had was just a testament to how passionate they are about the band, you know? There was a healthy amount of skepticism that comes from that passion, and I think that's a healthy thing. That's a testament to the fans. And thanks to the fans for trusting in the band, buying tickets, coming down to the show. Within 30 seconds, man - they had their hands up in the air, and they're screaming along. It was just instant really, so a big hat's off to them for doing that." ~ Richie Faulkner on Judas Priest's fans.
Richie Faulkner is still the new guy in Judas Priest, though he's been with the group for over three years. He made his debut in front of tens of millions of viewers on an episode of American Idol, he's played well over a hundred shows with the band, and he's now written and recorded the band's highest charting debut on the Billboard charts (#6) - but, he's still the new guy, and nobody gets what that means more than Mr. Faulkner. He's remarkably respectful to the band's history, legacy, and fans - he understands that the job he's taken is a revered position, and that no one would be stamped as approved without thoroughly having their mettle tested. After the last three years, it's extremely clear to see that the band made the proper choice when they hired him.

Foreigner - Thunder Valley Casino - Putting On The Hits In Fantastic Fashion

I'll admit that I was pretty disappointed to not see Foreigner main-man Mick Jones when the band took the stage last Friday night, but about three songs into the set, I realized that his absence did not prevent his band from putting on an absolute top shelf arena rock, greatest hits show.

Let's get a few points out of the way - this iteration of Foreigner has been together nearly ten years, and at least on tour, this is a greatest hits show (and they've had a bunch). Now, the whole classic rock band doing greatest hits tours thing can go a couple of ways. At it's worst, you've got bands filled with non-original members who have been hired for the lowest wage to crank out an uninspired show that exists only to milk fans for what they're worth. I've seen a lot of this, and I don't have to name names, but that's just the worst case scenario. At its best, you have an act like Foreigner - one original member (who did write the lion's share of their catalog), Mick Jones, who has assembled a cast of talented and inspired musicians who can play and perform not just as well as, but arguably even better than the original band.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators - World On Fire - Reaching To New Heights

Slash has perhaps made his most powerful statement since walking onto the world stage with Guns 'N' Roses Appetite For Destruction way back in 1987. He's finally once again put the whole package together, and he's got the perfect team on World On Fire helping him to put it all across.

In a world reduced to mp3 files and ear buds, it's good to hear that some bands and acts are still doing it right, and making records that sound great. Slash has raised the bar another notch higher with his new album, World On Fire. Teaming up again with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, and bringing on for production duties longtime Kennedy collaborator Michael "Elvis" Baskette, everyone's favorite top hat has blessed us with an album filled with great guitars (excellent riffs, solos, and songs), state of the art vocals, and a throbbing rhythm section. This record is jumping out of my ancient studio monitors, and they're howling and thumbing like a Marshall 4X12 - and that's exactly how it should be.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Randy Bachman - Still Learning New Tricks - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"Neil (Young) looked me dead in the eye, and he said, 'If you're gonna do a new album, don't do the same old shit and call it a new album."  
"Kevin Shirley said to me, 'If I'm going to produce you, you have to promise me one thing. That you will do everything I say, you will not interfere, and you'll keep your mouth shut.'                              
Randy Bachman has sold over 40,000,000 records. He's played before millions of adoring fans. He's been in two of classic rock's most enduring bands (The Guess Who, and Bachman Turner Overdrive), and he's done it his way, every step of the way. So, while it may seem unusual for me to start this interview with him quoting two rock icons, I think it's instructive -  in spite of unquestionable and unflagging success, Bachman still knows how to listen, and how to take heed of wise and good counsel.

Red Zone Rider - A Great Beginning

Red Zone Rider's first album is a solid success - great playing, great singing, inspired songwriting, and much promise. It may even end up in my year end Top 10.

It's somewhat apropos that this album was produced by Northern California's original metal guru, Mike Varney for Magna Carta Records, because it brings to mind many memories of NorCal giants such as Montrose, early Journey, and Y&T. Soulful, bluesy hard rock can be found here in spades, and this album is a great combination of inspired writing and stellar performances. Kelly Keeling, Vinnie Moore, and Scot Coogan have collaborated to create an excellent first effort, and a fine platform from which to build - a super solid album that has even more promise in terms of what the future may hold.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mr. Big - ...Stories We Could Tell - The Band's Best Yet...

Mr. Big hits the nail right on the head with ...The Stories We Could Tell, the band's eighth studio outing, an album that stands proudly beside anything from their days as a platinum selling act, and might just be their best yet.

I'm not sure why, but the band sounds like they're a little hungrier on this record, and they've come out firing on all cylinders. Not that they ever fail to do yeoman like work, their last album, 2011's What If... was filled with great songs and performances, but the record sounded a bit rushed and more canned. You put on ...The Stories We Could Tell, and it sounds a lot like a band in a room looking to make things happen. Very direct, very hungry, and as always filled to the brim with great individual performances by four of rock's sharpest shooters.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ZZ Top + Jeff Beck = Guitar Nirvana

ZZ Top/Jeff Beck
The Mountain Winery
Saratoga, California
August 12, 2014

Jeff Beck started it, ZZ Top proved it, and then they consummated the marriage - the blues did have a baby, and they called it rock 'n' roll.

The sense of awe and joy was palpable in the arena. Whether it was Jeff Beck's great band smiling ear to ear at the gift of being onstage with their boss and hero, or Billy Gibbons looks of unabashed glee at having the legendarily nimble fingered Beck as his lead guitarist for his band's encores, or Beck looking incredibly proud of his young band, and also quite chuffed to be sharing the stage with classic rock's greatest 'lil old band from Texas, it was a perfect night of guitar driven rock 'n' roll.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Paul Gilbert - Stone Pushing Uphill Man - Fun, Fun, Fun

Thanks, Paul - your new record is seriously, seriously fun.

It sounds as if, in his never ending quest to marry melody with mind-blowing chops, Paul Gilbert has allowed us into the workstation of his mind. Stone Pushing Uphill Man is his new solo instrumental record, and it's filled with familiar tunes re-done Paul-style.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Randy Bachman - Vinyl Tap Tour - Every Song Tells A Story: Pure Canadian Gold

Randy Bachman is one of those guys we all know, whether we know him, or not. His guitar, voice, and songs have been heard by countless millions of rock 'n' roll fans for coming on 50 years. First, he wrote four million selling singles with The Guess Who, then he went on to win four Juno Awards and sell millions of records with the seventies concert favorites, Bachman-Turner Overdrive. He's sold over 40 million records. He's been satirized by Homer Simpson, covered by Lenny Kravitz, and his surname was even adapted as a nom de plume by author Stephen King (Richard Bachman). Yeah, that Randy Bachman (pronounced Back-man).

If you don't know the name, you know the songs - American Woman, Takin' Care Of Business, These Eyes, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, No Sugar Tonight, Let It Ride, Laughing, and others are all etched in your musical memories, and Bachman has followed in the footsteps of such songwriting heavyweights as Ray Davies and Greg Lake to present his history in storyteller form with his new DVD/CD package, Vinyl Tap Tour - Every Song Tells A Story.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Walter Trout - On The Mend! - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Jeff Katz
Today Walter Trout is on the mend, but it was not long ago that things were looking somewhat bleak for the blues rock legend. In less than a year Walter lost over a hundred pounds, his hard earned callouses, much of his physical strength, and very nearly his life, but he came back to win the race and acquire a new liver with which to fight the good fight of recuperation, which he is now doing.

In the interim he did what he's always done - he took care of business. He wrote and recorded a new album, The Blues Came Callin', co-wrote with Henry Yates a new biography, Rescued From Reality: The Life and Times of Walter Trout, he's the subject of an in progress documentary film, and he has even managed to keep his longtime band on the road and working. He may not play a single gig this year, but he still has more than enough to keep someone quite busy, all while fighting a life threatening liver failure.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Calfornia Breed - Bonham Out, Joey Castillo In - Bonham: "I wasn't going to be bullied into touring"

Last Friday morning an ominous post showed up upon the official Facebook Page of California Breed - it stated that Joey Castillo would be appearing with the band for all announced dates.

Soon after, the band's website displayed two lineups, one with Joey Castille as the band's 'live' lineup drummer, and a second with Jason Bonham as the group's 'studio' drummer. However, by the end of the day it had unraveled, and it now appears that Bonham is clearly out, and Castillo is the new stickman for California Breed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dick Wagner Dead at 71 - Rest In Peace, My Friend....

I'm saddened today by the death of Dick Wagner - best known as the guitarist who co-wrote Only Women Bleed with shock rock king Alice Cooper, Wagner was one of the greatest unknown guitarists  of his era. He was 71.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ace Frehley - Space Invader: Ace Hits A Home Run With Quintessential New York Arena Rock

Ace Frehley - a guy with a point to prove, and boy has he proved it. Space Invader is the fun rock record of the Summer of 2014. Endless riffs, stinging solos that say 'Ace,' and maybe the best sound I've heard on a hard rock mix this year. The album could have easily been called Kiss This. It's the best album out of the KISS camp since the seventies.

Before I get into this album, I gotta say that this makes my mouth drool for what could have been. If only KISS had been able to play in their original iteration at the RRHoF, the band could have called it a day that night, and been revered for the next hundred years. Sober for over seven years, Frehley is playing better than ever, and it sounds like he's having a fantastic time while he's at it. Whatever the reasons, they sure weren't about musical abilities. We'll always be the less for this tremendous missed opportunity.

That Metal Show Presents: Anthrax, Living Colour, Corey Taylor - Gig Review - Thunder Valley Casino, Northern California

Frank Bello, Corey Glover, Scott Ian
Living Colour remains to this minute one of the greatest rock bands on God's green earth, and it says much about Anthrax that they were able follow Vernon Reid's bunch onto the stage and continue to blow folks away. Corey Taylor? Scott Ian's nu-metal pal showed that he's equally at home with an acoustic guitar and a microphone as he is fronting brutally hard rock.

Classic rock and metal are alive and well in the burgeoning world of gambling and gaming. Where once these genres filled arenas and theaters, time has marched on and many great bands and shows have been relegated to being draws for casinos. The downside is the fact that like it or not, time marches on and no great music stays in the mainstream forever - the upside is that these casinos have better sound, stages, lights, and facilities than their counterparts ever had, they keep these acts earning, and they provide a place for people to see some great entertainment by some very viable bands.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Judas Priest - Redeemer Of Souls - The Pride Of Metal

Judas Priest gives a shit. They show up, they suit up, and they bring it - 40 years later they are still delivering the goods. Redeemer Of Souls is a proud testament to a band that has never rested on its laurels, and while I hope it's not their last, if it were it would be a grand way in which to go.

There's a great set of bookends happening here - frontman of frontmen Rob Halford pours his soul into every moment in an effort to prove he is still the king, and he's joined by new kid on the block Richie Faulkner, who proves his mettle by faithfully filling the metal shoes of one of the genre's legends, the now departed K.K. Downing. As one man is approaching the end of a long and unquestionably brilliant career, another has appeared to carry the torch into the future. This is a passing on of a tremendous legacy, and both men have done their best, and it's damned glorious.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blues Pills - A Flippin' Fantastic Debut

Blues Pills have been simmering for a few years, and now with the release of their debut long player they have achieved a full boil. The nascent band of youngsters from Sweden consistently write and play beyond their years, and there's no weak links to be found - in fact, this goes straight into my top five for 2014 at this point.

No plodding blues rock to be found here, this is bluesy rock all right, but it swings and moves in a glorious manner that only makes singing sensation Elin Larsson and guitar star Dorian Sorriaux shine all the more. These two toss the spotlight back and forth like no duo in recent times, and when they riff together it's heaven. People tend to refer to new bands in old terms, and I'm OK with that, but this bunch would sound great in any era that I've lived through. Unquestionably, this is one of the most powerful debut releases in the last decade.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Overlooked/Underappreciated: 354 Recordings That Demand Your Attention by Greg Prato - A Great Reminder!

They say you should write what you know, and again and again, Greg Prato has done just that. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Classic Rock Magazine, and he's just released his twelfth book, Overlooked/Underappreciated: 354 Records That Demand Your Attention, a loving look at 354 undervalued albums that have left an indelible impression on the author's mind.

Greg has an very comfortable conversational manner of writing, electing to go for the direct approach, as opposed to the pseudo-intellectual, 'I'm so clever and erudite' path that so many scribes choose to meander down. This is a fun, entertaining, and educational read that will well serve those who just want good information and a little direction.

Monday, July 7, 2014

America, Meet Danny Bryant - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Marco van Rooijen
Danny Bryant is a very special, exciting, and exceptional musician, but his longtime relationship with blues legend Walter Trout may be even more special. In their relationship there are lessons in life itself.

Talk about your Cinderella stories - just months ago, things seemed pretty bleak in the tale of Danny Bryant and his mentor and friend, Walter Trout. The pair have been friends for twenty years, and they had hoped to tour America together in 2014, but Walter Trout's liver had other ideas, and the blues guitar legend found himself in an induced coma as his body waited on the possibility of a donor organ being found before his old liver completely surrendered. Touring wasn't even on the menu as Trout's mortal coil seemed in peril.

Well, the world wasn't quite through with Walter Trout, and Walter Trout certainly isn't through with this world. The circumstances have turned around very nicely - a donor liver was found, fans, friends and family have contributed over $240,000 to help defray the tremendous financial burdens, the surgery was a success, Walter is on the road to recovery, and now British guitar wiz Danny Bryant is coming to America for the first time to headline a month of shows fronting Walter's longtime band, and it would seem that from the ashes of what could have been a sad ending there has risen a new day's dawn.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Shell Shocked - Howard Kaylan - It's A Turtle's Life

There's a lot to be saying for being the last guy standing. This theory is put paid by Howard Kaylan's incredibly entertaining memoir, Shell Shocked. It would appear that Turtles don't move fast, but they are in for the duration.

Jim Hendrix, John Lennon, Marc Bolan, Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, and many other friends and associates of Kaylan's may have left us too soon, but the voice of Happy Together is still here and going strong, and we are the beneficiaries. Shell Shocked joins autobiographical treatments by such classic rockers as guitar legend Dick Wagner, and Humble Pie's Jerry Shirley as books by names you might not know, but who all helped write the book we call the history of rock 'n' roll.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bobby Womack - Rest In Peace, Brother....A Brief Remembrance

As always, it began innocently enough. We were working behind the counter at the Guitar Center in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. We had just moved the store into its new mega-location from the low rent ghetto of a store I hired into, and we were getting ready for our grand opening.

I had gone off to the warehouse to count some stock, and when I returned one of my co-workers, a GIT student with silver blonde hair that was stacked to the moon and frozen in place with simple syrup was arguing with a gentleman over some pricing on a few guitar effects pedals. The man said that they were just some toys for his 'git-ar.'

Sunburst - How The Gibson Les Paul Became A Legendary Guitar - Tony Bacon

Sunburst is definitely a book to own, but it makes me pine for something more. If you've been interested in guitars for more than ten minutes, I'm sure you are familiar with Tony Bacon's works, and this is more of the same. Essential, but not exceptional. If I sound like I'm of two minds here, I most definitely am. Please read on....

Bacon is nothing if not consistent - his books are unerringly accurate, and he knows how to layout a story, but they also lend themselves to a 'just the facts, ma'am,' conclusion. He is an aggregator - there's not much here that will be revelatory, but it's a great primer and one that should be on every guitar buff's book shelf. The stories are all here, they're all accurate, and there's enough technical information in his Reference List to make this essential material for every guitar shop.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Philip Sayce - Influence - His Best Yet - The Kid Ain't Going Down, Ain't Going Away

Influence is the best record of Philip Sayce's career, edging out even last season's impeccably rocking Steamroller. Putting paid the notion that you can keep a good man down, Sayce may not have gotten the breaks with his last outing, but he's kept his nose to the grindstone, and he's combined with his producer and friend Dave Cobb to make yet another brilliant record.

Half covers/half original tunes penned by Sayce and Cobb (who also adds tasteful bass to the tracks), Influence is a brilliant production - it's sonically sensational, the arrangements are just that, and when they went to the library they scoured the shelves for rare nuggets and eschewed the temptation to rest on other hit maker's laurels. If this album doesn't make Sayce a star I'll eat my hat.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

David Grissom - Living The Guitar Life - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Matthew Sturtevant
"It was a long process, and I was very adamant that I had the opportunity to use it in the studio, and a lot of gigs to make sure it worked equally well in each situation, because I think if you spend that much money on an amplifier, it ought to be useful live, and in the studio, and that has not always been the case with amps in the past." ~ David Grissom on his signature series PRS amplifiers 
David Grissom truly lives the guitar life. He's played with Joe Ely, John Mellencamp, The Dixie Chicks, sessioned for the likes of Ringo Starr, Robben Ford, Chris Isaak, written hits for Trish Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack and others. He also has a solid solo career with four long players under his belt, including his latest, the excellent, How It Feels To Fly, which is a must hear that includes a half hour live set from his residency at Austin's legendary Saxon Pub, that includes a fabulous cover of ZZ Top's Funky Dogs And Nasty Kings, and a wickedly cool nine minute workout of the Allman Brothers' Jessica - oh yeah, did I mention he once subbed for Dickey Betts with the brothers?

As if that wasn't enough he's also designer of top flight gear in conjunction with Paul Reed Smith Guitars and Amps, doing almost ground-up work on his signature series DGT guitars, and the new DG Custom 30 and 50 watt powerhouse amps. He'll claim to not be a very technical guy, but by the time you're through reading you'll have a fine appreciation for his attention to the smallest details, and his innate ability to know what he wants to feel and hear from his equipment onstage, and in the studio. I've seen too many signature model instruments that just had a different finish and the star's name emblazoned upon them - it's refreshing to learn so much from someone who took the time to really make his signature models something very special.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Dagger - Death Metallers Go Back To A Melodic Metal Place In Time

The Dagger is a side project that appears to be becoming much more than that for this group of Swedish death metal all stars. They've been writing together for several years, all the while looking for the right voice to present their thoughtful reflection on the sounds of classic '80s metal, and in Jani Kataja, they've obviously found the right guy.

Their self titled long player is a great listen, and I hope they've only begun. Guitarist David Blomqvist is a stunner, and he worships at the alter of Blackmore, Roth, and Murray, and his riff writing is top notch, especially when one takes into consideration just how tough it is to write in a genre which has been on tap for over 30 years. Sure, he completely apes the guitar/keyboard solo from a Rainbow classic on their very first track, but it's old enough so that only a few of us dinosaurs will recollect it, and some kids will hear a ripping good musical interlude.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Who - Quadrophenia - Live In London - Bloody Brilliant

Who'd have thunk? Bloody brilliant. Not feral, as The Who once was, but stunningly beautiful. Daltrey is on fire, and this is the perfect document for the greatness of Peter Townshend's right hand. Holy shit good....If you ever dug The Who, even for a moment, buy this.

I love having my mind blown. Especially when I don't expect it. I had recently been sent a trailer type clip which impressed me tremendously, but I was still unprepared for the sheer breadth of this document. This past month started off well enough with the release of the new Zeppelin remasters/nuggets collection, and this is just icing on the cake. It's most telling that two of rock's original wonders are putting out the most exciting and vibrant packages that are crossing my desk. If you're one of the twelve people who have never figured out the genius of Pete Townshend and The Who, I implore you to check this one out.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Kadavar - Live In Antwerp - You'll Want This One

Live In Antwerp
Nuclear Blast Records

Kadavar serves themselves well with the excellent live set, and set the stag for where this German band of rockers goes next.

As I often do, when confronted with a newer band's offerings that suggest a strong connection to rock's long distance past, I'll A/B them next to the actual artifacts of the past to see how they stand up. I put Kadavar's latest, Live In Antwerp, up next to The Who's Live At Leeds, Blue Cheer, and Black Sabbath, and I think it makes the case for rock being quite alive and well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Scott Gorham - Still Proving It - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

 "I think we kind of have a point to prove here. We want to get away from the twelve day thing, just to see what we can do given the chance to go in and make a proper album - the way we were used to making albums, right?" ~ Scott Gorham on recording the next Black Star Riders album in the Fall with Def Leppard's Joe Elliott
At a very young 63 years old, Scott Gorham still has things to prove. While many of his contemporaries have decided to pack in making records, and doing anything but greatest hits shows on the road, this California native is in for all intents and purposes new band, writing songs for a new album, and touring America under a brand new banner.

Friday, May 30, 2014

California Breed - The Father, The Son, The Holy Ghost - Rock Ain't Near Dead....

Rock 'N' Roll is alive and well. I went to the mountain, got the sermon, and I am here to spread the gospel. I saw the history of British rock played out with an American twist as Glenn Hughes returned victoriously to the stage of the Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood after a 44 year absence, and he brought with him, Jason Bonham, the son of the greatest hard rock drummer in history, who is currently state of the art at his art, and they brought with them the new messiah of rock, 23 year old wunderkind Andrew Watt, who played and looked the part of the second coming of the rock star circa 2014. They tore the joint up, and love was in the air.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Last Hombres - Odd Fellows Rest - Levon Helm Sure Had Good Taste

The Last Hombres were the only band Levon Helm ever joined as a member after the end of The Band, and that speaks volumes. The band also worked with Rick Danko, but the fact that they were revered by key members of maybe the best roots music ensemble ever is just my way of drawing you in - what's germane is the band's excellent new record, Odd Fellows Rest, which you will thank me for pointing out later.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rival Sons - Great Western Valkyrie - A Good Band Gets Great

Rival Sons continue to mine gold on Great Western Valkyrie, their fifth long player with producer Dave Cobb, making meaningful rock in the heart of a country music wasteland called Nashville.

To review this record, I attempted to time travel in my mind, back to 1970, where I imagine placing Rival Sons right in the middle of The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Free, to see how they would have fared. These seem to be the points I see struck by most writers, so I figure those are the glasses I'll put on to look into the distant past to see how the present stands up.

Monday, May 19, 2014

PGP 2 - Pinnick Gales Pridgen Do It Again, and Even More Brilliantly

PGP 2 finds Pinnick Gales Pridgen back again, and perhaps they've not only beaten the sophomore jinx, maybe they've beaten even their superb first effort.

In a time in which many are saying that even to consider making an album is a misguided move fraught with danger, dUg Pinnick puts out four records that stand proudly beside anything in his catalogue. People say the guitar is a tired and dying instrument, but somehow Eric Gales makes music sound undiscovered and beautiful every time he picks up his axe. Drums have been a thing of the past ever since rap raised its head, yet Thomas Pridgen remains inventive and vital in a host of various genres and bands. Rock Ain't Near Dead - and it was never proven with more aplomb than on PGP 2, the second effort by Pinnick Gales Pridgen. The Left Hand Gang is back, and they are bad.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Joe Satriani - Strange Beautiful Music, and The Complete Studio Collection

Joe Satriani sails into summer with a great package that should satisfy both the loyal and the neophyte Satch fan. Whether you've been there since the first EP like I have, or you're just getting into the realm of shred's smartest head, this package is all you'll need until Joe returns to the studio. The book is an encyclopedic look at Joe Satriani's catalogue by the master himself, and The Complete Studio Collection, re-mastered in 24-bit/96kHz High Resolution-Audio by longtime Satriani studio partner John Cuniberti and overseen by Joe himself, speaks for itself - even the less than expected mp3 files that Sony sees fit to dump on reviewers they obviously have less than love for sound great (more on that later).

Black Star Riders - Harlow's, Sacramento, California - Scott Gorham Proves His Point

Scott Gorham has a point to prove, and he's proving it. And, he just might be the best rhythm guitar player in the world on any stage, on any given night.

It's a small club, and the stage is smaller yet. The band has half their gear onstage, their soundman is not their own, and it's a Monday night crowd. This could discourage a lesser band, but Black Star Riders performed as if it was the biggest arena in the world and this was the only audience that ever mattered. I've not often seen a band so intent, so committed to their performance - Black Star Riders came and conquered.

Monday, May 12, 2014

California Breed - Zen and the Art of Glenn Hughes

Glenn Hughes is excited about California Breed. Glenn Hughes is very excited about California Breed.

Coming on the heels of the musically successful, but born to lose Black Country Communion, his new band is set to launch their debut album and their inaugural shows, and his excitement is well deserved. In the face of the possibility of restarting the failed supergroup, he looked away from an incredible A-list of world class guitarists offering to be the next in line, and instead took the road less traveled with a virtually unknown kid, the 23 year old Andrew Watt. The results are spectacular - this band sounds dangerous.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Motorhead and Graveyard Rock The Warfield Theater: Lemmy Takes The Day

Lemmy Kilminster led his team to the battlefield once more, and rode away victorious. Long live Lemmy.

The sold-out crowd at San Francisco's Warfield Theater is an experienced, well-dressed rock audience. Everyone here is here for the music, the sights, the sounds, and the lights, and they too walk away victorious. No one knew exactly what to expect from Motorhead, what with their hard living leader reported to be unwell, and having many unfortunate cancellations behind them from the last year. What we got was an amazing performance from start to finish, and a reaffirmation of all that's right with rock.