Thursday, March 19, 2015

Red Dragon Cartel Name Michael Thomas Beck In Lead Vocalist Change Up

Darren James Smith is out of the band, and has returned to his band from Canada, Harem Scarem, and Jake E. Lee's Red Dragon Cartel have announced that Michael Thomas Beck will be joining the band on their upcoming US/Canada tour.


The band followed up several hours later with this announcement: "Red Dragon Cartel and singer Darren James Smith have officially parted ways. All scheduled shows will still take place as planned with Michael Thomas Beck (owner, engineer, and producer at SoundVision Recording Studio in Mesa, Arizona. He has worked with such acts as Soilwork, Marilyn Manson, The Black Dahlia Murder and Daath) on vocals. We would like to welcome Michael to RDC and we look forward to getting back on stage!"

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Andy Tillison - The Tangent and The Legacy of Prog Rock - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Andy Tillison is the driving force behind the long running prog rock band The Tangent, who are about to release their new album, A Spark In The Aether, on April 20, 2015 on the Inside Out Music label. The album is said to be "a rallying cry to people to keep open minds about newer music in a world where remasters and re-issues are more eagerly anticipated than new material", and it is a powerful record that contains over an hour of some of the finest music I've heard this year. It's definitely a prog rock record, but that descriptor may be a bit too contained - The Tangent is a group of six amazingly talented musicians who are adept at any number of styles and genres, and this is an album that must be heard in its entirety to be appreciated. (full review to come shortly)

I was fortunate enough to be able to grab a rather last minute interview with Mr. Tillison, and being familiar with both his band and his elegant blogging, I leapt at the chance. Anytime I can speak with someone I consider a master at their work, I try to take full advantage of the opportunity. He did not disappoint, and our time together was only over too soon. However, in that time we covered a lot of ground, and I believe that you'll find this discussion as interesting and invigorating as I did.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Andy Fraser - A Life Well Lived

As soon as I heard the news I teared up. Andy Fraser has died. I wasn't a close friend or a relative, but still I felt like I'd been punched in the gut right at my assemblage point. I walk into the living room and told my wife, and she turned nearly white in an instant. She didn't actually know Andy Fraser either, but she got it - she felt what I was feeling, and understood all that it meant.

Andy Fraser was best known for his work as bassist and songwriter in the seminal British blues rock band, Free. Depending upon who's story you accept he wrote either most or all of their greatest hit, 'All Right Now'. He wrote their greatest riff with the brontosaurus bass line that defined 'Mr. Big'. He was an equal quarter of one of the greatest bands this planet has known, but he had left band by the time he was twenty. I vividly remember conversations with such great bassists as my friends Glenn Hughes and Carmine Rojas in which they spoke of the influence of Andy on their art, and for their love of him as a friend.

Chris Impellitteri - The Power and Passion of Metal - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Chris Impellitteri has been leading the group Impellitteri since the late '80s, but he'll be quick to tell you that this is a band, and not the product of a drive for egotistical solo careerism. Though his greatest claim to fame is certainly that of being perhaps the world's fastest guitarist, he's more interested in songs, a band sound, pleasing his fans around the world, and making great records.

I had a chance to catch up with the guitarist at his Beverly Hills home, and I was enthralled as I listened to the dedicated and very seasoned musician speak. He shares credit, he thinks about the product he creates and releases to a tremendous degree, and he's as excited about his band's new album as he is reticent to seem too proud, or boastful - inshore, he's a very well rounded individual who knows what he wants, and works his fingers to the bone to get the results he seeks.

We discuss the new record Venom, his stellar band, his best friend relationship with his singer Rob Rock, his new partnership with Frontiers Music srl, equipment, and recording processes, and much, much more.

Release dates:
EU: April 17th 2015
US: April 21st 2015

Tracklisting: Venom; Empire Of Lies; We Own The Night; Nightmare; Face The Enemy; Dominoe Theory; Jehova; Rise; Time Machine; Holding On; Rock Through The Night*; Reach for the Sky*

*Bonus tracks

Steve Overland of FM - Heroes and Villains - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

FM is one of the UK's most enduring bands, having trod the boards for over thirty years, and frontman Steve Overland has led the band every step of the way. On April 20th the band will begin a new partnership with Frontiers Music srl, and release their latest album, Heroes and Villains.

I had a chance to catch up with Overland in between gigs, and he was still abuzz with the band's reception at the HRH Festival on March 14, and indeed, the band's future. we spoke about the new album, life in a rock band, his band mates, and much much more. The band reconvened in 2007 after a dozen year hiatus, and they've been rapidly ascending the ranks of British rock once again, touring with such stalwarts as Journey, Thin Lizzy, Europe, and Foreigner, and now they seemed poised to return to the top shelf.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Elliott Rubinson - CEO of Dean Guitars, Bassist To The Stars - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

The Elliott Rubinson story, when it is finally written will be one of talent, determination, hard work, and making the most of the cards you are dealt. He's currently the owner and CEO of Armadillo Enterprises, which owns and operates Dean Guitars, DDrums, and Luna Guitars, and he's also a touring bassist who's seen duty with such luminaries as Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, Vinnie Moore, Michael Angelo Batio, and Black Star Riders in the last few years.

He's done all of this without a master plan, but he's always worked very hard, and made the most of every opportunity. From selling guitars out of his apartment in college to operating a seven location chain of music instrument stores (Thoroughbred Music, 1976-1999), and eventually purchasing and reviving the massively successful Dean Guitars to getting back in the game as a working musician, he's focused on preparation and fearless forward thinking to great success.

After having dinner together before the San José date on the Extreme Guitar Tour (Uli Jon Roth, Vinnie Moore, Black Knight Rising), we agreed to catch up once the grueling tour was completed for a more serious chat. For not only did Robinson play with all three acts, the bands also played twenty seven shows in twenty eight days. All this while continuing to run his companies from the back of a tour bus.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Angra's Kiko Loureiro Favored To Join Megadeth As New Guitarist

Odds are that Megadeth has hired Brazilian shredder Kiko Loureiro as their new guitarist. Confirmation notwithstanding, Kiko and Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine have left a Twitter trail of tweets that would seem to confirm my suspicions. Follow me here, if you will.

It all starts innocently enough when early in March, the guitarist starts following Dave Mustaine and Megadeth on Twitter:

New Regrets - EP - Punk Lives

New Regrets
Bandcamp (available now)

New Regrets make no attempt to reinvent the wheel, but what they do they do as well anybody. Full throttle punk that sounds as tough and urgent as anything did in the seventies, and that's largely down to the presence of frontman Ed Pittman, who was there at the creation.

Ed Pittman at fifty-eight is still the same politically motivated nuclear folk rocker he's always been, going back to 1979 when his band Toxic Reasons exploded onto the punk rock scene and captured the attention of people like East Bay Ray, and the Zero Boys' Paul Mahern who each took a shot at recording the band. Pitman left the band after their first long player (Independence, Risky Records, 1982), but his time in the band left behind a legend that remains to this day. Pittman has the requisite (well, it was requisite until the punk pop cuties came along later and soiled the scenery) vitriol, and his ragged edge vocals belie a melodicism that always manages to keep anything he does at the top of the pack.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Wrecking Crew - The Great Tribute Finally Makes It To The Screen

"'The Wrecking Crew' documentary by Denny Tedesco is a must see. It opens our eyes to one of the most unique group of musicians in contemporary music. They are the well from which the rest of us have drawn." Leland Sklar.
You may be forgiven for not knowing Leland Sklar. His leonine visage may actually be more familiar, what with him having graced the stage as the 'go to' bassist for James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Genesis, Toto, and countless other acts for the last few decades. He should be better known for being one of the most recorded and talented musicians in modern history. Leland's skills as a session player are legendary - session players are musicians who, in the words of Wikipedia, "...are instrumental or vocal performers who are available to work with others at live performances or recording sessions. Usually such performers are not a permanent part of a musical ensemble and often do not achieve fame in their own right as soloists or bandleaders." Boy, that's a little clinical, but it sure says a mouthful.

The records of acts that were the creations of marketing and record company executives, such as The Monkees, and The Archies are well known to have largely been the work of behind the scenes session players. However, not so well known is the work of unofficial and loosely membered groups (collectives?) known as The Funk Brothers, The Muscle Shoal Rhythm Section, The Nashville A-Team, The Section (which included Sklar), MFSB, and The Wrecking Crew. These six aggregations created records that sold more copies than most likely did The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Elvis combined.

The Funk Brothers - they were Motown's men, playing the music that made Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, and many others so successful. In fact, many experts consider Motown bassist James Jamerson to have been the greatest session musician of all time. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were The Swampers mentioned in Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama - providing the soulful and muscular backing for Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, The Staple Singers, and most every other act that mattered out of the American South in that era. The Nashville A-Team owned the country & western charts throughout the 1950s and '60s. The Section defined the singer/songwriter sound out of California in the '70s. MFSB were TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia), creators of the masterful tracks of The Stylistics, The O'Jays, Wilson Pickett, The Spinners, and Teddy Pendergrass.

Then there is The Wrecking Crew. This nickname was coined by Drummer Hal Blaine, perhaps long after the fact - allegedly echoing the words of the previous generation of serious, suit wearing, note reading sessioners who claimed that these young, unshaven upstarts with their noisy rock and roll would 'wreck the music business.'

The Wrecking Crew first became known as the team of musicians utilized by studio prodigy/pop producer Phil Spector. It featured a revolving team of talent that included Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Barney Kessel, Hal Blaine, Howard Roberts, Al Casey, and many others. Whether the Crew's largest legend is The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, or maybe being the musicians who created Spector's famous 'Wall of Sound,' it may safely be said that no other group of musicians ever played on more hit records. To say that they were the major pop/rock music making machine of the American '60s and '70s is an accurate statement.

Leland Sklar adds, "The 'Wrecking Crew' were the guys, just before my run started. I was in a band in 1966, and when we went into the studio it was those guys who played on our record. I sat there looking through the window in United A studio, and was in awe. There was Hal Baine, Jim Gordon, Bobby West, Tommy Tedesco, Mike Deasey, Dennis Budimir, Mike Melvoine, Larry Knechtel, Mike Rubini, and others. Within three years I was working with these guys on a daily basis. They were my mentors. A more fun and giving bunch of characters you could not have asked for."

I'm sure that most of you reading this are aware that Tommy Tedesco's son, Denny, has made a full length documentary called The Wrecking Crew. I've just viewed a private copy, and I can tell you - it is the best film you will ever see about one of the most exciting times in musical history. It stands proudly beside Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the award winning documentary that so wonderfully told the story of Detroit's Funk Brothers, as a musical bookend to that fabulous era of record making. Tedesco has compiled an incredibly loving, and touching tribute to these musicians, their time, and their place in musical history.

Even though I already knew most of the stories the film tells before I ever saw it, I will still be going back and re-watching this documentary for years to come - for the sheer joy that it brings. Tedesco has done a fine, fine job of pacing, mixing interview clips compiled over the years with still photos, and filmed scenes from behind the scenes as the music was made. It is the kind of film that will have you wondering where the last two hours went. As I said, I knew most of these tales previously, but what an enjoyable flight to take, to finally be able to watch the telling of these anecdotes in such an entertaining way. Everyone I have talked to that has seen the film agrees - it is a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking.

Sadly, the days of the session player have largely passed. To a large degree, it died off alongside the record business. In fact, this movie is suffering for a lack of commercial release itself. It's been lauded far and wide, screened for thousands, but due to the huge expense of licensing the amazing music contained within (some 130 song clips), it remains unreleased. It seems that the record companies are so pinched for profits that they can't see the wisdom of foregoing a license fee, in spite of the fact that the movie will surely stir up an avalanche of sales for back catalog when the film does (if it does) get publicly released. If nothing else they should forgive the licensing as a thank you to the musicians involved, letting the players now get the well deserved credit that avoided them in their primes.

Denny Tedesco and his team are now showing the film in private screenings being sponsored around the country in order to raise the funds necessary for the film to be shown to the public. 

When I say that the film has garnered great and loving reviews, I kid not. Here's a sampling from some folks you may know:
"A wonderful, touching, and hilarious film about the unsung heroes of so many songs that you carry in your heart." Elvis Costello

"It was incredible! I felt like I was sitting right there with them at that table. It had everything that I wanted to see, and more that I didn't expect. Thank you for making this film!" Peter Frampton

"Denny Tedesco has given us an amazing look at a musical moment in history that everyone who loves rock and roll should see." Christopher Guest (director and star of Spinal Tap, and other great mockumentaries)

"The Wrecking Crew is in the league of the best music documentaries ever made!" Dan Forte, Vintage Guitar Magazine, Dec. 2009

"If I had known they were available, I would have used them on my records! The Wrecking Crew is the best documentary yet about the recording scene. I loved it." Steve Miller (Gangster of Love)

"They were the unsung heroes - if those guys were playing sessions today, they would be known, people would know about them. It would be something more than just session musicians." Cher

"I highly recommend this to everyone to see. It's terrific, hard hitting with the right punches, and filmed as only experienced, and fine filmmakers can do. I know your revealing film will be enjoyed and appreciated by the public for years to come." Carol Kaye
 Carol Kaye? Isn't she on record as being vehemently against this film?

She is, indeed, and as Leland Sklar has remarked about the situation, "I just don't get it!"

I do not doubt that there is a possibility that the name The Wrecking Crew may have come after the fact. And, as the film was made by Tedesco's son, I'm not too shocked if Tommy gets a lot of screen time, but I will add that the elder Mr. Tedesco introduced a great many of us to the realities and the existence of studio/session musicians many years ago in his brilliant columns in Guitar Player Magazine for so many years. Without the Tedescos, we might still be wondering who made all this great music.

Ms. Kay is treated fabulously in, and by this film. I would certainly call her one of its stars, and recognize her as one of the greatest musicians to ever record a note. Her legacy is as unquestionable as her occasionally bewildering and curmudgeonly ways. This is not the first time she has been embroiled in controversy, but I can't say that I've uncovered much to support her views of this film. Her issue seems largely to do with the name given this 'group' of musicians who dominated the '60s recording industry in LA, and her denied, but rather obvious dislike of Hal Blaine. I take no sides here, other than to state that as a very educated, and I like to think reasonable music writer I can only say that while obviously not perfect, this film is a stunning and wonderful tribute to those it portrays. I would hope that she and Danny Tedesco may someday settle their differences, and be friends again.

Before I actually watched the film, I experienced a degree of trepidation - had young Tedesco went off the reservation, and made something egregious that would in some way shame his proud father's past? I had certainly hoped not. I would be neither the writer I am, nor the musician I am were it not for Tommy Tedesco. His writing inspired me, making me believe that one could communicate honestly, and passionately, even without a degree in English. His guitar playing made me realize the value of not just knowing the notes, but how to make them beautiful. I had the pleasure of meeting Tommy at a well-known music store I helped manage in the late '80s. It was there that I learned the best lesson - that no matter who you were, no matter how far you had risen in your field, you could and should still be above all, a nice guy. Denny has done his father a great honor.

I'll close with a comment from studio guitar legend Mitch Holder that sums things up pretty well. Mitch, of course, nailed it on the first take.

Mitch Holder says, "Denny Tedesco has done a super human job in documenting the great group of studio musicians who carved out so many hits of the '60's. The fact that they all played together in the studio at the same time is almost a thing of the past now. Sure, it happens every now and then but not like it was done back then. The crossfire of ideas that developed recording that way are in evidence on all of those records. Denny's film takes you back to that golden era of recording for all of posterity."

If Denny Tedesco didn't get every nuance right, I'm OK with that. If Hal Blaine has somehow elevated himself in stature as he has raised the awareness of the story and plight of the session player, all is forgiven. This is a documentary film, I understand, but it is also a piece of entertainment. And it's a great piece of entertainment - one that will have you watching again, and again - and maybe even buying some old records. You're going to love this movie.

I hope that this fine film makes its way onto your screens - it is truly one of the best music documentaries I have ever seen, and it deserves its audience.

Here is a link to the movie's website. Contribute if you are able, or see if there is a possibility of holding a screening of the film in your neck of the woods:

Great thanks to Leland Sklar, Denny Tedesco, and those who made my viewing possible.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nita Strauss - Alice Cooper, Ibanez Guitars, Hired Gun Doc, Solo Albums, and More - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Nita Strauss had the type of year in 2014 of which dreams are made. She parlayed years of hard work with such acts as The Iron Maidens, Femme Fatale, Critical Hit, and Jermaine Jackson into a job with one of the most prominent and prestigious touring bands in the world, Alice Cooper.

She took to it like baby to breast, and it seems to be the most natural fit in the world, as she emerges in photo after photo mugging with the king of shock rock and flying her Ibanez guitars like flags of victory, and never once taking the smile off of her face - and who could blame her, right? 2015 appears to be promising more of the same, and now there's even talk of a Nita Strauss solo album, which will certainly sweeten the pot. I caught up with Nita on a rare day off in the Hollywood hills of her hometown, Los Angeles.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Whitesnake - The Purple Album - Critics Be Damned, This Is Great Stuff

The Purple Album
Frontiers Music srl
May 15, 2015

Whitesnake's The Purple Album is a solid, solid sender. It should be taken at face value and accepted for exactly what it is - this is David Coverdale revisiting his past, and in light of the fact that it looks like there is to be no reunification of that old troop, he's chosen to put up the best front possible and to simply play and sing the living hell out of these old chestnuts, and he's succeeded mightily.

Let's take a few minutes and deal with naysayers, critics, and those who will reflect negatively upon this album - some may think it best to dance around this 800 pound gorilla in the corner, but that's just not my style.

First, there is the matter of David Coverdale and his voice. I'm continually amazed that fans seem to think that a man is going to sound the same at the age of 63 that he did at the age of 22, and that's unrealistic and somewhat foolish. There's no question but that the man has used his voice over the years in much the same manner as an athlete, and there have been injuries, there has been wear and tear, and there is the matter of simply the ravages of time. However, on the flip side of that is the depth, dynamics, and phrasing that a singer learns and implements in a forty year career that can't be denied or discounted. Sure, there are places on this record in which studio technology is used to sweeten up certain spots, but there is less of this than many would assume. To my thinking and to my ears, this is a wonderful representation of what a hard rock vocalist can accomplish late in the game. David Coverdale has spent great time and effort to make the very best product he possibly can, sparing no expense, and he's done a fantastic job.

Judas Priest - Defenders Of The Faith (30th Anniversary Edition) - Nothing But The Best From The Best

Judas Priest
Defenders Of The Faith (30th Anniversary Edition)
Columbia/Legacy Records
March 10, 2015

There's something to be said for being the last guy standing. When the day is done, and all has been said, who is still standing tall in the saddle speaks the measure of the man. Judas Priest are out there, right now, proving it with a great new record and still amazing shows, and now they've unleashed one of the finest metal reissues I've had the pleasure to experience. The 30th anniversary edition of Defenders Of The Faith delivers the goods.

I'm going to go in reverse here, and start out by talking about the 'bonus material' of this package. It's a two disc live album that was recorded at the Long Beach Arena on May 5, 1984, and it is the logical follow up to the band's classic live set, Unleashed In The East. Plain put, this is one of the best live albums to come from perhaps the most fertile period in metal history.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Europe - War Of Kings - Perhaps Their Finest Hour

War Of Kings
March 6, 2015

War Of Kings might just be Europe's best record yet. The songs are top notch, the playing is as good as it's ever been, Joey Tempest is ever growing as a vocalist, and super producer Dave Cobb has gotten not just the band's best performances to date, but also their best sound ever.

The story of Europe is one of a slow steady rebuild - after a long (ten year) hiatus, the band reconvened in 2003, and since they have been slowly and steadily reinventing their legacy. War Of Kings is the latest chapter, and it sees the band continuing to re-channel the history of British and European hard rock in a modern contemporary fashion. Sometimes I believe that the world looks towards change for change's sake, but I often find that things turn out better when an artist simply refines and hones their strongpoints, and this is a method that has worked wonderfully for Europe. They get better with every record, and the tours get bigger and better.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Wolfpakk - Rise Of The Animal - Jam Pakked All Star Metal Fun!

Rise Of The Animal
AFM Records
February 27, 2015

Wolfpakk's Rise Of The Animal is a most curious and enjoyable slice of classic metal. Alpha wolves Michael Voss and Mark Sweeney have again partnered up to bring more metal mayhem to the masses via their third chapter of their all star project.

Where else can you find Don Dokken, Michael Kiske, David Reese, Joe Lynn Turner, and Marc Storace all singing on the same album? Where else can one hope to find Jeff Watson, Bernie Tormé, John Norum, Doug Aldrich, and Axel Rudi Pell throwing down guitar tracks on the same disc? Not to mention stickmen the quality of Simon Phillips, Mike Terrana, Chris Slade, and Mark Schulman - yeah, this record is packed from beginning to end with talent, and Voss and Sweeney have written a fun filled bunch of heavy hitting tracks on which their guests can perform.

Eden's Curse - Live With The Curse - Give This One A Try, It's Brutally and Beautifully Good

Eden's Curse
Live With The Curse
AFM Records
March 13 (UK/Europe), March 14 (US)

Eden's Curse keeps getting better and better - each release, each lineup change, every hurdle they catapult seems to place them higher in the realm of modern classic metal. Live With The Curse is a most impressive live set which serves as a great 'story up to this point' document.

Fans of bands like Queensryche, Iron Maiden, and other melodic metal monsters (or even folks who wish Journey has a bit more oomph) will absolutely eat this up. Nikola Mijic came on board as lead vocalist for the band in 2013, and he's taken the band to a completely new level. New keyboardist Steve Williams (Dragonforce) also fits like a glove and supplies both tasty pads and some great interplay with guitarist and original band member Thorsten Koehne, who has been consistently brilliant since the band's inception almost ten years ago.

Paul Logue (Full Interview from 2013) is one of the founding fathers of the band (he originally formed the group with departed vocalist Michael Eden in 2006), and in addition to being an exceptional bassist, he's also one of the very best songwriters in the genre these days - it's the songs really comes down to, and where the band delivers the goods in spades. He's steered the band through four studio albums that have been consistently top notch, and he keeps getting better at his job as evidenced on 2013's Symphony Of Sin the band's latest long player which features heavily (eight tunes out of eighteen) on this new live opus.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Frank Hannon's Guitar Extravaganza and The Return of Atomik Tommy McClendon - Gig Review - Folsom, CA

Frank Hannon Band/When We Become Kings
The Powerhouse Pub
Folsom, California
Feb 28, 2015

Tucked away behind a high end pizza joint on a row of retail shops for social climbers there was a whiskey fueled rock 'n' roll party going on last night in the normally sleepy town of Folsom, California. For the paltry fee of twelve dollars (7.77£) the stuffed to capacity crowd at the Powerhouse Pub witnessed a long night of guitar heroics explode from the axes of headliner Frank Hannon (Tesla) and Atomik Tommy McClendon (UFO, SoulMotor) of the opening band When We Become Kings, and not a soul went home disappointed.

When We Become Kings is a new band that features the immense talents of veteran guitarist Tommy McClendon, best known for his two album stay in UFO in the mid-to-late '80s. He's joined by vocalist/guitarist Matt Sudfeld, bassist SJ Rehn, and hard hitting drummer Michael "Fro" Frowein, and their set of all original material covered a lot of ground, ranging from anthemic power pop to a more modern alt-rock 90s sound, but the evening's best moments came when they would contort into a sleek, hard riffing rock machine over which McClendon laid down solo after solo of melodic brilliance. It will be interesting to see what this band sounds like in the studio. Their identity was a little unclear due to the genre shifting nature of what they laid down, but there were many excellent moments to be found in their set.