Saturday, August 31, 2013

Steve Hackett on Genesis Revisited II - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"I know progressive rock has had its critics, but I can't bring myself to be critical of the music that was a shot in the dark from a bunch of young guys." ~ Steve Hackett on Genesis
Steve Hackett was named Best Guitarist in 2012 by Prog Magazine, and his latest album, Genisis Revisited II garnered the award for Best Album. Since then, he has toured to packed houses across the UK and Europe, and he will be bringing the production through the US and Canada starting late in September.

Genesis Revisited II has been a phenomenal success - while generally I've not been a fan of artists re-recording their past glories, that all changed with this release. Hackett chose not to attempt what many have done - re-recording old hits to circumvent old record companies and contracts in order to generate new profits - he actually approached the project for all the right reasons, enhancing old arrangements with orchestral accompaniment unaffordable at the time of the original recordings, improving some personal performances via his own musical growth and maturity, and even including many musicians who were inspired and influenced by these songs over the years. Success born of right intent, right effort, and authenticity.

I had the privilege and opportunity to talk with Steve last week, a busy week in which he had the unfortunate duty of returning home from holiday to write a eulogy for his recently deceased father:

Steve Hackett: "I was in Italy earlier today, and this evening I'm back in England! So, I've been traveling as is my way, and I was recently in Greece just a few days ago, and now I'm talking to you in California - the global village is in full working order!"

I offered my condolences for his father's passing, and asked about the influence of his father - not just as a musician, but as a man:

Steve Hackett: "Thank you. That happened just at the beginning of my holiday. It's one of those things, and there's going to be a funeral two days from today for him. I'm just writing an obituary, in a way, something I can read at the funeral. 
"He was the guy that brought me to music! 
"He played a number of instruments, not professionally, but first of all he passed on the harmonica to me - mouth organ, and then it was the guitar. The first guitar chords I learned were from my dad, from a guitar he'd brought back from Canada. He had lived in Canada for a couple of years. 
"He brought back a guitar, and when I was twelve, I was finally big enough to seat the thing on my knee and try to get sounds out of it. 
"So yeah, he was very important to me and my brother, who was also a musician. He suffered both our early efforts at making music. 
"I was just writing this - my dad was a powerhouse - he produced thousands of paintings. A reclusive man, but he was a friend to so many in his quiet way. You'd always find out by the back door that my dad had done something for this guy, and that woman, fixed the lights for somebody, and done the shelving for someone else, all that kind of stuff. 
"yeah, one of those quiet heroes. He'll be sadly missed. He hadn't been well for many years. In his time, he was an extraordinary character."

Choosing to stay with this familial thread of thought, I asked Steve about his relationship with his wife, Jo. His wife is not just an author in her own right, she also writes lyrics and music with her husband, is very instrumental in running the family business, and like Hackett is a knowledgable world traveler:

Steve Hackett: "Jo and I were married a couple of years ago, so we became an official couple at that point, though we've known each other much longer than that. 
"Over the course of twenty years, and we really share everything. It's quite an extraordinary thing! We just came back from holiday in Greece - she's a great Grecophile, and historian. She's written the occasional history book! 
"She's so very well informed about a number of things - I'm a pupil here, if you know what I mean, I've got everything to learn! 
"She and I share so many things, and I think that we took so long to get together as an official couple, having gone through my divorce, we're kind of making up for lost time. We travel to as many places as possible and do as many things as we possibly can, work with as many people as possible, write as many songs together as possible, and it's a partnership in every sense of the word. 
"She loves to travel, and travel is important to feed the creative spirit. I don't think there's anyplace she's been with me that she's been bored. There is always something about everywhere - she's a regular Pollyanna in that sense of the word. As long as we're together, we always feel like we are at home. Wherever we are, whether we're in the air, the car, everywhere becomes a capitol city - it's 'In the Moment Central!' 
"I found I couldn't be without her, and it's been very long and it's still blossoming, I have to say!"

Moving on to matters musical I asked about the genesis of Genesis Revisited II:

Steve Hackett: "It always felt current to me. I know that progressive rock has had its critics, but I can't bring myself to be critical of the music that was a shot in the dark from a bunch of young guys. 
"I started with Genesis just over 40 years ago, 41 years ago, oh no - 42 years ago! 
"We're talking, I met them in 1970, joined in 1971, and I think the band was pulling in several directions at once, but we managed to contain it into something cohesive. The early albums weren't huge successes, but there were giant strides to be made in an industry that was still growing itself. 
"Luckily, America was very open to all things English. 
"It's difficult for me to compress into a few sentences, but I do love the music. I loved it then, and I love it now. 
"I think the politics sometimes got in the way. In the main, when we were completely open to each other, I think we came up with some extraordinary stuff. It still holds up today, and this stuff is constantly being reinterpreted by younger acts, and my homage to the early years has brought in so many who were inspired and influenced by it. 
"Genesis Revisited - it's not really a band, it's a cross between a choir and an orchestra for the nearly forty people involved in putting this together, adding their bits, and I felt very proud to do it. 
"It was great to go back and do it with new people, and add orchestra in some places. Just generally to help it breathe a bit more. 
"I've had a lot of time to think about this! In those days, when we used to have to rush the recording process, we were in and out of the studio - between gigs. I think the standards - obviously since then, the goal posts have shifted within the industry."

Curious as to his conceptualization of the Revisited project, I asked Steve exactly what his reasons were for revisiting his musical past:

Steve Hackett: "Authenticity was the key word here, rather than variation, or reinterpretation. 
"I wanted it to be - I wanted to honor the original recordings and the original arrangements, but to give it a coat of varnish, or some polish in places. 
"I think there's a pressing need when you go back to visit your past to want to do it in time, and in tune, simultaneously. Then there's the experience of everything I've learned having had my own studio, and the glossary of terms has expanded. 
"If you had asked me what a compressor was in 1970, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. Now, compression based recording is the launch pad - these days, you can put things under a microscope, and you can enlarge them to such a degree that people will pick up on the details that would have been masked in the first instance. 
"So, it's nice to be able to pull things apart and analyze them, and then stick them back together again. To say, 'Well, here it is, if you liked it the first time, you might just like it again! 
"I think I'm justified in being able to do that as one of the original authors. The word authenticity and authorship - somehow I feel there have been a lot of reinterpretations, sometimes it's been done as classical reinterpretations of Genesis - jazz versions, orchestra, jazzers, and rappers have done it. All kinds of stuff, across the board. 
"I haven't heard too many country singers doing Genesis, but that's in there with something like the opening part of The Chamber of 32 Doors, which is basically country music chords. So, all of those influences come to bear with Genesis, it was a great crossover. Something that was happening naturally - we were crossing over genres to the pan genre, of which, I would have not have been able to name it at the time, but just embracing everybody's music. It made it possible to come up with some kind of hybrid thing - the jazzers used to call it fusion, and in rock it became known as progressive music. 
"Somewhere in between there was a collision of separate intentions that managed to form something that was focused enough to set a number of people on the path to music - a lot of musicians have said that this was the reason that they took up their instrument, because they were inspired by that stuff. I think that came across the board, people that were in different areas - classical, jazz, pop, rock."

Genesis Revisited II is a huge undertaking, and Hackett is joined by his co-writer/producer/keyboardist, and right hand man, Roger King. King has been a part of the Hackett team since 1995 when he joined to assemble the first Genesis Revisited album. I asked Steve how he saw Roger's contributions:

Steve Hackett: "OK - Roger is what some would call a renaissance man. He combines two very separate areas.  
"When we were at school, art and science were taught separately. He's all logic, but he's also got the instinct, as well. He was trained as a cathedral organist, he then took a music course, in order to learn engineering - so, he's a fabulous engineer, musician, writer, and he's very disciplined. 
"I'll find myself walking up into the studio, and he's sitting down and he's playing really difficult pieces of Bach - just for fun, and to keep his fingers in shape. He's a great reference point, and a rock. 
"I think he's the least flappable guy I've known in music - sometimes on stage something will happen, and he'll say to me, 'Um, yup - keyboards just crashed, give me ten minutes.' So it's ten minutes for me to play a blues, or tell a story, whatever I've got to do, and then my head will crane around, and I'll say, 'Are we there yet, Roger?' Most of the time, he's already fixed it - it's a bit like trying to fly on one engine, or there's one wing. He'll get through and bring the plane in on time, and there's not too many crash landings! 
"He's an extraordinary character - a very dry sense of humor, very British, but quietly I think he's very proud of all the work he's done. 
"He's often critical of the things I do - but then, I think I always needed someone to tell me when I'm being average. Other times, I'll think, 'Well, I'm passionate about this', so I'll override that need for too much form, and I'll opt for spirit over form. It doesn't always work to have too many preconceptions when you're working in rock. Sometimes the best ideas serve it better - sometimes less chords are better. Other times, if you've got a melody that deserves to be told in a certain way, he'll normally pick up on it when I've got something. 
"I've just started a new album, and I'm further down the line than I'd normally be with this stuff because I've had to defer for a year because we're touring. 
"He's gone on Genesis Revisited, which has been a joy - he's taken on the mantle of Tony Banks, and done it with great panache!"

Hackett with Steve Rothery
Rather unexpected was the roster of guest guitarists showing up on Genesis Revisited II - instead of handling the guitars on the album by himself, Hackett has brought along Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings, Steven Wilson, Marillion's Steve Rothery, and Francis Dunnery, though, of course, Hackett plays the lion's share of the parts. I asked what went into this decision:

Steve Hackett: "I felt that in a way, that with respect to the Genesis canon, the best thing would be to invite people who had been influenced by it. By the time I finished inviting people, what we came up with was almost as if it was a movement by the industry itself, or a certain sector of the industry to honor the early work of Genesis, and to tell people how important it was to them. 
"Luckily, the album has sold phenomenally, in droves it keeps selling, and you know, I think in a short while it actually outsold the early efforts by the band. I suspect it's like putting together an army of generals. It's been an amazing effort by a tremendous amount of people. 
"I did most of the guitar work myself, but in places, obviously, Roine did the guitar solo on The Return of the Giant Hogweed, and we liked it so much, that kind of spontaneous feel he came up with - he thought that we would do the same thing we've done live together at one point, where we'd swap phrases, but I thought it was so good, I thought, 'He's done that, let him have his say on that!' I had done the tapping on the front and all that kind of stuff, and some police sirens on the end. 
"Sometimes, one guitar is enough. With Steve Rothery, we've swapped phrases on The Lamia, on the solo at the end. 
"Steven Wilson on Shadow of the Hierophant, he joined in on the end, I actually used his guitar work from the live session he did with us at Shepherd Bush Empire - we flew that in, basically. So, we've got him playing with us, as well! 
"That's great, all these guys are pals, and it's been really good. It's been a tremendous effort by a lot of people. It's been doing great, I've been doing shows, and I've been guested by some of the people that appear on the album. 
"When we do the Chicago Shows (September 20 & 21), there's going to be Francis Dunnery, and Simon, Phil Collins' son. When we do the Royal Albert Hall in London in October, Bonnie Tyler's going to be onstage with us, which is wonderful and I'm thrilled about that. Various other people will be joining in, like John Wetton."

As I stated at the interview's beginning, Genesis Revisited II won big at Prog Magazine's 2012 year end awards - I asked Steve how it felt to be so validated:

Steve Hackett: "Yeah, it's been an amazing time! 
"I always think that it's been a slow burn for me. There were people who came out of the woodwork, like Hendrix, who seemed to arrive on the scene fully formed. But it's taken me decades - where I still wouldn't consider myself fully formed, but it does feel good to finally be getting the recognition. 
"But, you know - I always say this to people, that it might take you a long time, but you can't go wrong if you're in love with so many genres of music, and you want to do some sketching first - but, you may finally want to do the full portrait."
Steve Hackett on Facebook
Pre-order Genesis Revisited: Live at Hammersmith here

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"I Want To Sound Just Like Hendrix." Rock Ain't Near Dead, But We Sure Could Use Some New Heroes

I'm guessing that in all his 27 years, Jimi never once said that he'd like to sound just like anyone. I hear many influences in Hendrix's playing - there's his Curtis Mayfield-inspired chordal work, the Albert King bends, even some Wes Montgomery in the mix, but I think we can all agree that in the end, he sounded only like Jimi.

In the last few days I've heard several interesting discussions on the legacy of Hendrix - at a time when we sure could use a few new guitar heroes. I sat enthralled listening to session guitar legend/producer Bob Kulick (KISS, Meatloaf, Lou Reed, Diana Ross) discuss seeing Jimi when he was still Jimmy James at the Cafe Wha? in New York City, and how it changed his life at 15. I heard my pal at 65amps, Dan Boul explain that no matter where you set the knobs on his exquisite rock 'n' roll machines, you can capture tones, but you still not only won't, but shouldn't sound like Hendrix. Then yesterday afternoon I had an interesting discussion concerning the fact of Hendrix's left-handed playing - did it make him unique by its very nature, and difficult for righties to comprehend and co-opt? Did it even make Jimi approach the instrument in a different fashion?

I've also been witness to some great discussions concerning the question as to the current state of rock 'n' roll. For the umpteenth time, some have again even proclaimed rock to be dead.

What with America being up in arms over Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, or the near complete absence of anything on the Billboard charts resembling a true guitar hero, I'm wondering where it's all gone wrong and what if anything can be done - has rock guitar, and by association rock 'n' roll virtually been played out?

Who was the last universally acknowledged guitar hero? I see and hear a lot of guys making great music and playing great guitar, but I can't say that anyone stands poised to be the next Eddie Van Halen. I go to the example of Eddie because I was there - I remember like it was yesterday that day when I heard VH's You Really Got Me, and I knew there was a new sheriff in town. Since then the metal guys, Dimebag Darrell Abbott and Zakk Wylde and shred kings Steve Vai and Joe Satriani all did noble work putting asses in seats, selling guitars and amps, and inspiring their fans, but alas here we sit today waiting for a new savior of sorts.

Lately, I've taken to using the phrase "Rock Ain't Near Dead." Even going to the extreme of capitalization to emphasize my feelings - I've heard more good rock in the last twelve months than I have perhaps in the last ten years.  But as great as that is, I still don't see a beacon shining towards anyone who can up the ante to the point where not just record and ticket sales can increase, and also bolster the sales of shiny new guitars and amps.

Mind you, those guitars and amps have never been better. Whether it's the brilliant work of the boutique amp builder and luthiers, or companies that are both behemoth and ubiquitous (a friend who has worked in music instrument retailing for a great many years just told me that Fender quality control and customer service appears to be better than ever), guitars and amps have never been better built, nor has there ever been more options for the player. Whether you're a metal maven or a blues guru, there are endless and fantastic options.

So - what's the problem?

Well, maybe there isn't one. I know times are tough - I know that Avenged Sevenfold is going to top the Billboard Rock Album charts with 170,000 copies sold in its first week, and that fifteen years ago Queensryche may well have sold 500,000 in a week and not even topped the charts. I realize that the streaming problem is not going away anytime soon and that the artist's share of the pie is dwindling. Guitar and amp sales are down - none of this is great news, but I see this as evolution more than the road to extinction.

The music industry is being reinvented one day at a time - I have spoken with friends in the last week who are starting in-house small batch boutique record labels and management groups, reinventing guitar amps as we know them, and even yes, opening large recording facilities. There's even distant talk of stereo tube components becoming not just available, but affordable, and the concept of music actually sounding good again is very exciting. After a generation of kids thinking that ear buds and mp3s sound like music, I see this in much the same light as the Monsanto vs. organic plight. If you have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, or you're thinking that light might just be a train, remember where the music industry was just before John, Paul, George, and Ringo became The Beatles.

"If you build it, He will come." Faith is hard to find, and sometimes even harder to hold onto, but it is essential. It's much like the old saying - "Whether you think you can, or can't, you're probably right."

The essence is to never give up, to never quit. Instead of complaining, or bitching about the VMAs, focus on some new piece of music you like, or maybe even go make some of your own. Now is the time for expansion - for reaching out and realizing that it's not up to the world, it's up to you. We can't change the past, and even the future is tenuous, but what we can do is control our own efforts and what comes from us. If there's something you've wanted to do, but haven't had the time, energy, or faith in yourself to step up and do it, now is the time to drop the fears, drop the worries, and to plunge ahead. What is there to lose?

The new Hendrix? Well, he may be just around the next bend, or maybe it's the new Beatles.

In the meantime, I'm watching some new heroes at work - building things, starting things, being willing to go forth boldly into a world that seems unyielding and difficult. Not watching the news, but going forward with their head down and their ears back. Some will succeed and some will fail, but it's important to keep in mind that we can't control results - we can only control our efforts, and how we respond to results. These are the true measure and where we will find growth.

If we are all doing what we can, then the universe can perhaps go with our flow and a new Jimi may be made possible.

Rock Ain't Near Dead
But bringing this semi-full circle, it may be best that you not wish to sound "Just like Hendrix." It's great to educate yourself on Hendrix, immerse yourself in his style, and find out how he achieved his sounds - that's certainly a part of becoming a musician. I'm guessing that I could take almost any decent guitar and amp, and come close enough to Jimi's signature sounds and learn all I need to learn about sounding like Hendrix. I'm guessing that would be true for most of us.

The key may be in doing what Hendrix did - he learned his craft, paid his dues, and then he took off in his own direction. Maybe part of the key lies in what we are each bringing to the table. What's your direction?

Monday, August 19, 2013

68-75 - Don't Say I Didn't Tell Ya - Real Rock Played Right

68-75 appears to be the latest rock sensation to emerge from the deep south of America - to be exact they hail from Atlanta, Georgia, which isn't the first city I think of when I think of rock 'n' roll hotbeds, but I will say that when Atlanta unleashes rock on the world it's generally pretty great, and that's certainly the case with this bunch.

Give this a listen, then c'mon back:

Atlanta has been responsible for the birth of such acts as Mother's Finest back in the seventies, The Black Crowes, and The Georgia Satellites in the eighties and nineties, and even my amp building buddies of 65amps (Dan Boul and Peter Stroud of the Sheryl Crow Band) hail from the Georgia capitol - the city seems to reach deep when it does deliver, and 68-75 seem to be the current Kings of the Hill.

Suzanne Sledge is no new kid on the block, in fact, her band's EP Sanctified is a re-release recorded back in 2002 when Sanctified was the band's name. Mind you, Sledge and her axe wielding sidekick, Andrew Cylar haven't lost a step with their latest self-titled EP. The two records could easily have been recorded in the same session - great rock is like that, timeless and immortal. 

Sledge claims as references such acts as Terry Reid, Humble Pie, Stone The Crows, and I can attest that her music sounds as if it would have fit right in on any great seventies compilation. Her soulful singing will grab you by the throat and keep you engaged as Cylar's riffing manages to remind me of a hundred great players without ever stealing a lick - this bunch sounds more like contemporaries than imitators, and that usually separates the wheat from the chafe.

I spoke with Sledge recently from her Atlanta home, and it appears that the band is getting noticed in the UK - my friends at Classic Rock Magazine had the good sense to include the band on their Metamorphosis compilation CD included in their August 2013 issue (Kings of Chaos on the cover). My advice to the band is to get a full length album finished as soon as possible, play as many shows as possible, and get their asses on a boat for next season touring season in Europe and the UK. 

Camel's Back is the band's latest track , and it's a classic hard rock stomper that will have you thinking Page and Company as Sledge and Cylar confidently swagger across the grooves. An album full of material couldn't fail - hard rock seems to be regaining ground after a few years in the doldrums and 68-75 fits nicely in my current mix along side such strong contenders as The Temperance Movement, Scorpion Child, The Winery Dogs, Pinnick Gales Pridgen, JD Simo - a great year for hard rock debuts, indeed.

In fact, if were my call to make, I'd partner up 68-75 with a strong producer, go into the studio and re-record both Eps, all the new material they have in the bank and unleash it to the world as a package. I'm a big fan of albums - I know kids are into buying a track here, a track there, but real rock fans buy records. Both of their EPs sound quite like the same band, there's no disguising Sledge and Cylar's product - to have it all in one package would be to have a great package.

Here's one from the 2002 sessions that shows the band's timeless rock sound to fantastic effect:

Suzanne Sledge is a star you just don't know yet - she eats, sleeps, lives, writes, and sings great rock 'n' roll - I'm not going to get into comparing her to this or that female vocalist, she's her own person, and to hang tags on her would just be me being lazy. If you had heard her at Woodstock in '69, she'd be a famous legend and that's exactly what she should be today.

I haven't mentioned the rhythm section of drummer Matt Kotheimer and bassist Steve McPeeks, but they lay it down in classic fashion - the backbeat is always exactly where you want to find it, and the basslines propel properly - check it out, and see.

All good rock seems to be similar in it's speaking to 'universal struggles, loser's luck, and those rare moments of personal deliverance,' as Sledge says, and I have to agree. There's not much new under the sun, but anytime I hear rock done this well, and with this much talent and passion, I'm hooked. 

There was a time in which this band would have created bidding wars amongst huge labels, and a million bucks may have been spent before the first record's release - these aren't those times, but I still see grand times ahead for 68-75....

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mott The Hoople Enters The Golden Age of Rock 'N' Roll - Is It Time For A Full Reunion?

As the days grow shorter and seasons pass, isn't it a great time to give back to the fans what they have given for so long? Rock 'N' Roll has grown up, and many great bands are reuniting for last go arounds, and the best of them are being inclusionary in bringing back ex-members and giving their fans the gifts of seeing a panoramic glimpse of cherished histories.

Of course, the return of Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor certainly made The Rolling Stones 2013 Tours more interesting for their fans, and the band seemed all smiles during these cameo appearances, as well. Even the famously fractious Eagles are having back ex-multi instrumentalist Bernie Leadon for their 2013 History of the Eagles Tour (and would have included former bassist/vocalist Randy Meisner had he not been of ill-health).

It's always uncomfortable when there are breakups and leavings taken by well loved members of any musical aggregations, but time is a great healer, and I'm one who feels that it's best to forgive, forget, move on, and remember what was good about our past assignations.

Mott The Hoople 1972
No band has ever been more, or better loved by its fans than England's Mott The Hoople - they've not been a band since 1974, but they still are the topic of many daily deposits on Internet fan sites, and lead singer Ian Hunter's website features one of the best behaved and beloved forums on the Web.

Nowadays, these discussions are fiery with opinions on the band's latest reunion tour, a brief five gig affair to be held across the UK in November 2013. The point of discourse focuses on two members who were notably not invited to the band's first reunion in 2009, and seem to have escaped invite for this sojourn, also.

The members are guitarist Ariel Bender, and keyboard wiz Morgan Fisher - they joined the band late in the group's history, but they were witness to the band's greatest successes and became rock 'n' roll legends during their stay. Bender played his way right out of the band with excessive drinking and a reported inability to get it together in the studio, though few would argue with his amazing performances on both the band's last studio album, The Hoople, or his astonishing performance on the Mott Live record (partially recorded on the first ever rock 'n' roll shows on Broadway in The Big Apple). Fisher brought a polish to the band that was most welcome - again, his performances on the same final two records are held in incredible esteem by the band's loving audience. Bender's extreme histrionics balanced wonderfully with Fisher's grand piano exploits, and Mott The Hoople were set to graduate to Madison Square Garden when frontman Ian Hunter pulled the plug, exiting stage left with ex-Spider From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, who had briefly emerged as Mott's last guitarist - perhaps saving himself from a lifestyle he found lacking.

The discussions between the fans seem evenly pitched, with some saying that only the original five members should take the stage as Mott, and the other half arguing vociferously that Bender and Fisher have been in exile more than long enough, and are more than deserving of sharing the stage with their fellow Hooples.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ariel Bender (real name, Luther Grosvenor, though the two will argue with me on even this) in 2012, and he had this to say:
"I think I joined Mott The Hoople at their biggest and most successful time! The band was much more successful when Ariel was in the band! It was never a problem being compared to Mick (Ralphs), as we were friends. Mick couldn't give a damn if people said that Ariel was better, and Ariel couldn't give a damn if people said Mick was better!"
Concerning the 2009 reunion, Bender looked at it rather comically, and philosophically, as he tends to do:
"At first I did not know anything about it, then I thought I would have been included. I was upset at the time, but did not understand that they wanted to do it with the original members. I think it would have made for a better show, more wholesome, to have included the later members. There has been a lot of feedback from fans who were disappointed that Ariel was not included.  
"Ariel always thought that Ian thought that Ariel might steal the show again, hahaha!"
Both Bender and Fisher have stated that they would be very happy to be included in any future reunion shows, but there seems to be a reluctance from the original five members to either include them, or to even say why they would not be included.

I will certainly state that I am not privy to any information concerning the whys, or why nots of this situation, but I must say that as a huge fan of the band for 40 years, I would give my eye teeth to see a full blown reunion involving all surviving members of Mott The Hoople. Their story is one of rock's greatest tales and to see it played out onstage would be a proper cap to their history, and a more than wonderful payoff for their incredibly loyal fans.

The reasons for an incomplete reunion are unknown, and perhaps unknowable. Is it petty, or grand, I cannot say - but, I can say that if there is justice in the universe called rock 'n' roll, a complete reunion including all members that ever tread the boards as a member, and that also includes touring keyboardists Blue Weaver, and Mick Bolton.

I see little chance of one lineup, or another getting short shrift, or any upset as a result of having up these beloved members one more time - Mott fans most generally revere every member - sure, some came to the party early and some late, but all generally agree that the only bad thing that ever came of Mott The Hoople was its end.

As a beaming fan of fifteen, I remember hating hearing that Ralphs had quit the band after falling into bad company, but I was equally thrilled to experience the rock magnificence that Bender/Grosvenor brought. Verden Allen also opted out, and his replacement turned into just another fabulous facet of the diamond in the rough that was Mott when Morgan Fisher signed on.

C'mon fellas - bury the hatchets, put away the past and any continuing pains, and welcome back a couple of guys who also lived through to tell the tale. Perhaps Dale 'Buffin' Griffin can no longer tread the boards, but let's see those boards shine once more with the entire tale of Mott The Hoople.

Can you imagine a better ending than Ralphs and Bender blazing their glories, while Allen's organ grinds and Fisher's piano tinkles? I can't. Not for the life of me.

It was The Golden Age of Rock 'N' Roll. Roll Away The Stone and bring the boys back home.

Edited: The shame is that Mott is run via a five owner vote - not a democracy, but 100% agreement or nothing. One vote keeps Ariel and Morgan out, even in four votes were to say yes. One can only imagine the trouble this system has caused the band since inception.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Scorpion Child - A Most Auspicious Debut

Scorpion Child are having a helluva year - in addition to releasing their first album, the Austin, Texas based riff rockers are getting set to headline a month of tour dates with Mothership, Gypsyhawk, Wilson, and Nuclear Blast label mates Kadavar - just days after completing the Rockstar Mayhem Tour, not to mention a slate of earlier dates with the legendary Clutch. A helluva year.

Everything I read about Scorpion Child focuses on trying to compare the band to this or that seventies sensation, when in fact, what should be talked about is how tight and together this hard rock troop is, and the skill set on display across their debut.

Clearly the instant star is singer Aryn Jonathan Black - and that's not a completely unfair declaration, as the guy has tremendous chops and a very distinctive voice, and he sings like every note may be his last. The rest of the band is razor sharp and on point. This is great album rock with real arrangements that keeps you involved and entertained. They've honed this material to the point where it stands proudly next to any of their distant forefathers first albums. I'm thrilled to hear a debut that rocks with this much confidence. I've been running around a lot lately and spouting out the mantra that 'Rock Ain't Near Dead,' and this is solid evidence. As good a debut as this is, though, it's their next that I can't wait to hear - just a hunch.

These guys are just the next excellent hard rock band in line - instead of trying to draw comparisons, I'll stick to just pointing out that this bunch have to a very large degree mastered the form. Writing great riffs like that of the album's lead single, Polygon of Eyes, is no simple feat - especially 40 years into the topic, but Scorpion Child has two guitarists, lead player Chris Cowart and rhythmist Tom 'The Mole' Frank, who are steeped in the skill. I will say that I hear some Schenker Brother style lockstep Germanic tendencies in the band's insistent riffing, a tendency that agrees with me mightily.

King's Highway opens the album, and while I can't deny that it's a great tune, they may have thrown one of their less derivative tunes on as an opener - they may have squelched some of the Robert Plant/Zeppelin comparisons I'm reading too often. However, again, that's me being too damned picky - any album that starts off this well has a place in my heart, and on my machine. Yeah, there won't be many albums this year that do this music any better.

The aforementioned Polygon of Eyes is one of the best debut singles by a hard rock band I've heard in ages - it's unapologetically hooky and while you have a good idea where it's going, you still can't wait to hear it get there, and when it gets there, you're all smiles. These guys have to be having a lot of fun with this stuff. Drummer Shawn Alvear is a very musical hammer, and bassist Shaun Avants is delightfully nimble fingered - this is a rhythm section that understands that to swing is better than to plod. This struts with a grand swagger.

The swing and swagger continues with The Secret Spot a phalanx of great rock memories come and go across the grooves. Alvear proves the dictum, that 'without a great drummer you're nothing' - he plays with amazing confidence and without fear. He leads the band into Salvation Slave and the band gets slinkier and funkier along with the trademark rock - the guitarists sound huge when they slam chords on the chorus, and when they separate at funky breakpoints they sound like they listen to one another very closely. The solo section/pyschedelic breakdown on the tune's backside works wonderfully. Stunning musical maturity for a debut in 2013.

Liquor is a straight ahead cautionary tale of the bottle, and they sound like they know from where they speak - Black sings with the same conviction I hear in the voice of The Temperance Movement's Phil Campbell. 'Rock Ain't Near Dead, indeed. There are some great young frontmen busting out after decades of shoe staring malcontents too bothered to tune their instruments. Welcome back, hard rock - this is a resurgence that has been mounting a rise on the horizon for the last two years, and it's getting yet stronger with this entry into the sweepstakes.

Things slow down for the pastoral folk/rock of Antioch, until the band take it up a good bit for the choruses. This is where John Barleycorn's ghost resides quite happily. These step ups for the refrains are properly pomp and arena ready. Cowarth slams into his solo with a possessed passion that dynamically fits perfectly. Then it's the soft ride home, and all is well.

In The Arms of Ecstasy is an experimental look at the band's glam side, their trippier side and perhaps serves as a launching point for some future stylistic slides towards a more sophisticated pop exploits. First albums are a great way to exercise out some of a band's more blatant instances of influences on sleeves, and there is definitely some afoot here - to the band's credit it's never theft, but closer to homage.

Paradigm picks up the pace and the band deftly navigates the faster tempo with ease. Black's vocal carries the tune, and I hear a little Clockwork Orange sense of urgency - especially in the dramatic and theatrical guitar breakdown in the tune's midsection. I love when rock gets cinematic, and this is a great example of how cool it can play out.

The album ends with Red Blood (The River Flows), and it's another Aryn Jonathan Black tour de force - the vocal goes from a whisper to a scream several times, and anytime I hear a vocalist evoke memories of Plant and Zander it's a great testament to the abilities of the singer. You have to stick with this one until the end - there are several sections when thing calm down so much you assume they're through, but I get the distinct feeling that with this bunch, you're never quite through. I see three hour shows in their future.

Scorpion Child is a damned good record. Great? Well, I'll leave that up to the individual listener to decide - in any event is a great debut, and should end up in some years end favorites lists for those who still care about well written, well played hard rock. But like I said, it's going to be the second album that I think will come out of this band after a season of touring that they are enjoying - there is no substitute for good seasoning on the road.

Thanks to Scorpion Child, Nuclear Blast Records, and Loana dP Valencia.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pat Travers - "This Band Is Tough As Nails" The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

I think that this is one of my strongest albums. If this had come out in 1980 it may have been a platinum album! ~ Pat Travers on Can Do, his latest album

Pat Travers is plenty proud of his band, and also of his new album on Frontiers Records - his group of veteran rockers is currently pleasing thousands every night across America on the Rock'N'Blues Fest, and Can Do is garnering some of the best reviews of the six string legend's career. Tough as nails is a pretty apt description for Travers himself - in addition to his obvious musical gifts, he's a second degree black-belt in Isshinryu Karate, and he's been on the road for over 35 years. I recently had a chance to catch up with Pat just before he hit the road for the summer on the Rock'N'Blues Fest.

Rock Guitar Daily's review of Can Do by The Pat Travers Band

I was curious to hear how he viewed his latest album, Can Do, in light of the fantastic reviews that have greeted the record:

Pat Travers: "I seem to be getting the best reviews of my career! 
"I've gotten good ones before, but this one has been very, very good and I feel a little validated - at least critically. Now it would be nice to sell a million copies for some icing on the cake. 
"All in all, I feel like I came up with a really strong album. I started this one last May (2012), but I had started writing prior to that. I had a real creative period for 3 or 4 months - I felt like I had some really strong songs, and the whole way I recorded it, I wasn't under the gun to get it done by a specific time. As a matter of fact, I was supposed to hand it in in September, and I didn't get it turned in until December. 
"Yeah, instead of working on 13-14 songs at once, I worked on 2-3 at a time, then we'd go on the road for a bit and I'd have a chance to get my objectivity back. When you go into the studio, and listen to the same thing over and over again, it tends to get a little obscure."

You can definitely tell that Travers and band took their time, and got it right. Can Do's twelve tracks are all winners - while varied in style and tone, they never fail to sound like classic Pat Travers:

Pat Travers: "Thank you, thank you very much! 
"I'm very pleased to hear that - y'know, a lot of things fell into place and I think that this is one of my strongest albums. If this had come out in 1980 it may have been a platinum album! 
"It sure would have done great on old-time FM radio, but unfortunately, that medium doesn't really exist anymore."

Keeping with how the past relates to the present, I asked how Travers sees the difference in the music business between then and today:

Pat Travers: "Well, from my perspective, I feel like I've been trying to catch up to where I was in the middle of 1980, when we had a very successful record and were on the cusp of getting up to that next level. 
"Unfortunately, there was a lot of weird things that happened with our management, and even myself. So, everything just sort of fell apart and we lost a lot of momentum, and we were never able to pick it up again - not from lack of trying, I guess I never stopped trying. 
"I just hope that now we have something here that isn't just going to appeal to my original or older fans, but is going to hit new people. It's a valid new rock record, whatever that is! 
"I guess it's classic rock only in that I've been doing this for a while. I think it's a relevant, new sounding record."

One thing about the new album that impressed me was that at almost sixty years old, Travers skill set is as sharp as ever - his voice is in tremendous shape and his writing and playing has never been more on point. I asked to what he attributed this:

Pat Travers: "You know, it's gotta be karate. 
"In 2004 just before my fiftieth birthday, I was kind of pudgy and I was drinking too much, blah, blah, blah - I just wasn't happy. 
"I tried working out at this gym near where I lived, and I met this guy named Mike Reeves - he was a major karate guy. I started working out with him, I started to like it, and I'm a second degree black belt now in a style called Isshinryu. 
"That keeps me strong - karate training is hard. It's helped my voice tremendously, and also my fingers, too. I'm pretty careful with my hands, and all in all I just feel stronger in every way."

Travers had been just over 12 years old when he was Jimi Hendrix perform in Ottawa - I wondered what he would have thought if someone had told him that day that he'd still be singing and playing for a living almost fifty years later:

Pat Travers: "I would have been very surprised! 
"At that time, the shelf life of most music and artists in the '60s/'70s was about three to six months, so to think ahead 30-40 years - to think more than five years ahead was hard. 
"I wish I had been more prescient, I'd probably be better off now! 
"I never had any doubt that I was not going to become a recording artist and play around the world - I always knew that that was what I wanted to do, and should do. I didn't have a problem with that, but to think here almost fifty years later I'd be putting out one of the best albums of my career and getting this response, yeah - that's a surprise. But, it's a good surprise."

Not just a long career, Travers' career of late seems to be getting busier and busier. I asked if this was intentional:

Pat Travers: "Well, I've gotta make a living, y'know? 
"A lot of it is just down to having to make a living, and like a lot of people in this country, the last 4 or 5 years have not been easy. I've had to struggle in a lot of respects, but I feel optimistic now that we're going to be able to take advantage of this great album, find a lot of new fans, and play a lot more shows - I don't mind that at all, that's what I'm best at!"

After many decades and many band member changes, I notice that it's still The Pat Travers Band, and not a solo act:

Pat Travers: "These guys are one of the best bands I've ever had, and I've had some great bands. 
"I wouldn't say that one is better than another, but these guys - Kirk McKim, my co-guitar player, we've been playing together for nine years now. He's just an amazing individual, an amazing musician, and a fantastic guitar player, so I love having him with me. 
"Rodney O'Quinn, my bass player, joined up at the beginning of 2008 - he's been with us almost five years. 
"Our drummer, Sandy Gennaro, he played with me back in '81 thru '83, recorded two albums with me, Radioactive, and Black Pearl, and we also did a bunch of major tours with Rainbow, and Aerosmith. Sandy then went on to play with Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett, The Monkees, Bo Diddley - he had a great career. Then, a few years ago after Sean Shannon, who is my co-producer and engineer, he played drums for me, but he decided he wanted to stay in the studio - I called up Sandy and I told him that I needed him to play with me, and he said OK! 
"So, we have a very, very tight unit, plus, we're blooded and battle hardened - we've done some European tours, and had some very sick schedules. This band is tough as nails."

Sticking with band mates, I asked about the working relationship between himself and co-guitarist, Kirk McKim:

Pat Travers: "Kirk does some amazing stuff - he does most of the flourish-y guitar stuff that's over the vocals and the verses. Usually, with him, I find it better to have a backing track with most of the guitars that I'm going to play, and the vocals on it - then I'll get him in there and he'll spend an hour or so on each song. Then I go back and listen to see what I like, but when it comes to my songs, he always seems to know just what to play, and it's usually something that would not have occurred to me to play. 
"I love it in that regard - as far as who plays what, it's pretty organic, y'know? 
"Live, whoever seems to jump on it first. We play in unison a lot, too. Live, that sounds so tough! So big and fat! Then we'll take off and he'll do something different, some new inversion, and I'll do something else and that keeps it interesting. 
"We have a lot of verbal communication, and we're both very good listeners. We figure out what's happening within a fraction of a second, and we go and do the right thing."

Can Do is Travers' first record on the Frontiers Records label - a leader in melodic and classic rock genres, I wondered how, in this era of DIY, having a large label was working out for the band:

Pat Travers: "So far, it's really good, and one of the reasons I signed with them was because I felt what we needed was better promotion and distribution. So far, they haven't disappointed me at all, and I'm very happy with that. 
"I'm doing a lot of promo and that's what it takes. 
"Although - I've never met anyone from the record company, hahaha! Everything has been over e-mail. Yeah, Serafino (Perugino, Fronteirs founder) is very organized and they have the right people working in the right countries, and they are doing what they need to do. It really helps, and we just want to keep the momentum going for a few months."

After decades of being a renowned Gibson devotee, Travers began playing Paul Reed Smith instruments over the last decade - I asked Pat about how he came to meet Paul and find his way to Reed Smith's fine guitars:

Pat Travers: "It's interesting - at first, I didn't actually meet Paul. 
"Once, we were at the Dallas Guitar Show in like '96, or so - a long time ago. We were in the same hotel, and coming down the same elevator. I knew it was him, and I'm sure he knew who I was, but he just didn't say anything, but it just turns out that he's very shy. 
"They offered a few guitars for me to try in 2004, and I had been using Les Pauls and every time you look at a Les Paulthe wrong way, the neck cracks. I was just getting very tired of this happening, and I remember looking at a PRS neck and seeing that they didn't have the same neck angle and that they might not do that - and they don't.  
"They sent me a couple of guitars, and one I really, really liked, so I had them send me a another couple until I got one that I felt was kind of like a Les Paul. The one I'm using now is a Custom 22 and I also use an SE-1 for slide live - that's a very inexpensive guitar, but it sounds amazing! 
"Paul is a true artist, and an amazing guy. It's fun for me to realize that 50 years from now there will be coffee table books about Paul Reed Smith. 
"There's Leo Fender, Les Paul, and Paul Reed Smith - he's the same age as me, and for a young man to achieve that. The quality of his guitars is second to none."

As my office was literally being packed up and loaded out around me, I realized it was about time to wrap up our chat, so I asked Pat about the diversity of Can Do - again, it covers a tremendous amount of ground while maintaining the signature Travers sound:

Pat Travers: "It's really just what came out of me organically. I mean, after I had 8 or 9 songs, then I thought, well maybe I should have an uptempo tune - not that I would intentionally write an uptempo tune, but I did know I needed one. 
"I didn't really try - like the cover of the Eurythmics tune, Here Comes The Rain. I was just driving in the car one day, and I was singing along to it, and it was in my key. A friend had loaned me a really nice Taylor nylon stringed classical guitar - so I went in and did a pass of it with a drum machine, and I added a little bass, then I forgot about it. 
"A couple of weeks later, I was looking for something else on a CD, some other track I was working on, and that popped up - I said, 'Wow, that's great!' I had my wife Monica, who's a great vocalist come in and sing with me on it. And it ended up having the mojo somehow!"

Talking to Pat, I realized that here was a guy who has truly seen about everything, and truly led the life of a musician. I wondered what advice he may have to others seeking a similar path in life:

Pat Travers: "Well, you've got to practice the boring stuff, because it's important later when you get to the good stuff - you need those skills! 
"You need to take a certain amount of time to get your skills together - say, doing scales, chords, picking, but then you can just enjoy yourself after that. I always recommend like thirty minutes of just bashing the crap out of the guitar in any way you want. Finding out, and exploring the instrument. 
"The other thing is to listen to a lot of different styles of music, y'know? You need a vocabulary to express yourself properly, and the only way you can get that vocabulary is to listen to a lot of different types of music, and expose yourself to a lot of different players."

If you haven't heard Can Do, I would highly recommend it - it is amongst the finest rock records of 2013, and again, it is a career high for a fellow who has been consistently delivering the goods for many decades.

Pat Travers Band on Facebook - his daily Rx is one of FB's best musical features
Pat Travers Band website

Thanks to Pat Travers, Frontiers Records, and Dustin Hardman.