Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Road Games (remaster)

I was looking through my unpublished drafts the other day, and I exclaimed to myself, "Hey, there's some pretty good stuff here!" One of my summer projects (along with teaching my daughter how to read and teaching my son how to solve linear equations) is to post some of these forgotten chestnuts. In some cases I might add a few sentences, but I promise not to delete anything-- no matter how incoherent it gets.

This one was originally titled "Allan Holdsworth vs. Eddie Van Halen" and was to pit Road Games against Fair Warning in a no-holds-barred battle for supremacy. I believe that Van Halen wins this one in both the rock AND jazz categories, but I quickly found that explaining my argument was much too complex for the English language, especially on two tabs of Ambien. I'm settling for a simple book report on Road Games.

Original date of draft: August 1, 2008

The early 80's were an exciting time for jazz in the music industry. Wait, didn't he mean to say the late 50's, or at least the mid-60's? You totally missed my point-- I said music industry!

Jazz fusion guys were pressing records by Warner Bros. with legitimate budgets, like 1984's Samurai Samba by the Yellowjackets or David Sanborn's Backstreet (1982). We were still years before Pat Metheny's VH-1 cool jazz empire took over with the help of Still Life (Talking) and Geffen Records. Big jazz records were being made, but the music still had an edge. It seemed that fusion could maybe score a hit record without going new age, but by going rock instead!

Enter jazz fusion journeyman Allan Holdsworth. Then bring in too-hot-for-your-road-case guitar phenomenon Eddie Van Halen, who starts citing Holdsworth as a major influence, and calls Allan "the best." Mo Ostin hears the things his label's major breadwinner's been saying, and decides to lets Holdsworth take a crack at a major label record on Warner Bros.

It seems clear that the goal of the project was to bring jazz fusion music to a much larger audience, an audience that simply never had the chance to hear such challenging music. Bring cultured music to the rockers... which is never easy.

Road Games was recorded in early 1983. Van Halen talked Mo Ostin into funding a project with some major talent, but with even more major groundbreaking to be done. Getting Holdsworth, bass phenom Jeff Berlin and Zappa prodigy Chad Wackerman on drums together sounds like a no-brainer: plug'em in and let'em play whatever the hell they want!

But WB wanted a bit more than Elegant Gypsy -- they wanted jazz fusion with rock vocals and song structure (like, verses and choruses). So the boys brought in a few singers to make this happen: Jack Bruce from Cream, and Paul Williams, who sounds a lot like Jack Bruce.

The record actually came out a bit more like an EP (and when this happens, it's always for the best), but it sure as hell came out on Warner Brothers! I remember carrying my Road Games cassette around in my pocket back then... I'd be at a party, and cats would be arguing back and forth about Geddy Lee and Bruce Harris and Billy Sheehan and sounding like jerks in a record store. I'd whip out my A.H. tape (already cued to the end of side one) during a lull in the action, and then unleash a vicious attack of fretless bass playing that made "Run to the Hills" sound like "Jack and Jill." I wasn't always the most popular guy at a party, but I did get really good at spelling "H-o-l-d-s-w-o-r-t-h" for drunk music fans.

Road Games could have made me into a visionary DJ/producer if I had the proper equipment in 1983. Well, Five Towns did have the proper equipment, but I had absolutely no idea how to use or even refer to it. Anyway, I always fantasized about putting the drum break and chorus of "Tokyo Dream" together to make a cool track on their own. I could have beat MF Doom at his own game by a dozen years if I'd understood my own concept and how to apply it. Or maybe I could've talked some of the guys down at the Long Island Drum Center into blessing the mic with some nasty Commack freestyles... we gettin' loose at the C.M.I., where niggas pay by the hour and never stay dry, or something to that effect.

Hey, I'm glad as all get out to have Road Games as a remaster. The recording simultaneously exemplifies the what could, the what is and the what should never be of 80's crossover jazz fusion, in just six songs!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

E is for EPMD

My intern Josephina quit a few days ago.  Kind of a misunderstanding... I'll just let her email explain:

See what I mean?! Well, she's a good kid.

So I've been ripping all these damn CDs myself for days!!! What a pain in the ass!!! I'll give her this... she was right about the "20x" importing thing-- it really is a lot faster. When she cools off I'll send her a text.

Speaking of crazy women, it was a real trip to see my copy of The Gasoline Age by East River Pipe again. I first heard this on a cassette my buddy made me when I was going through my divorce way back. Actually, I was going through lots of crazy shit at that point: divorce, major illness, and a bitch of a new job that I was laughably unqualified for. All I ever listened to for a few months was Lucinda's Car Wheels (for the divorce), Murda Musik (for the job), and this cassette, which I guess was for my rapidly deteriorating nervous system.

For some reason, I began to believe that The Gasoline Age starts with "Hell Is An Open Door" and not "Shiny, Shiny Pimpmobile," which actually opens the album. I not only believed this mistruth, but I even went on record declaring "Hell... " to be one of the greatest opening tracks of all time. If you start at track #2 and stop before you get to the awful Atlantic City song, you're looking at an amazing album.

I've chosen to alphabetize "number bands" by their spelling and not their numerical value, so 801 Live belongs in this discussion. You won't find this square peg of a record in many discussions at all, unless you keep very peculiar company. For the unenlightened, 801 was a side project art-prog supergroup featuring Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music), Brian Eno (band name came from one of his songs), Francis Monkman (ex-Curved Air, future founder of Sky), Bill MacCormick (ex-Crimso Ian MacDonald's brother), Lloyd Watson (prog session guitar guy), and Simon Phillips (drums for Jeff Beck, Judas Priest, Pete Townshend, The Who, Asia, Toto, etc.). Like I said, a supergroup.

The record itself is weird as hell. Supposedly it was one of the first live albums primarily recorded "direct" (not mic'ed or off the board) to tape. That explains a few things, but the song selections are the story here: oddball Eno covers, standards by Kinks & Beatles, and wacko prog-fusion instrumentals. You might say that I found this album to be influential on my own career...

The best part of 801 Live, however, is particular to my very own copy of the E'G Records CD. It shouldn't surprise readers to read that I listened to this recording with friends while drinking cough syrup from time to time. One afternoon years ago I woke up to find this beloved treasure completely soaked in Maximum Strength DM-- the jewel box looked like a melted grape Fla-Vor-Ice sheath. Pictured at right is the actual booklet, complete with tussin discolorations.

I already dragged the Eno reissues through the mud a while back, so I won't do it again. On a positive note, I'll nominate side two of Before and After Science as my favorite flip side of all time.

Everybody loves EPMD for reasons that are obvious to those of us blessed with a pair of functional ears and/or legs. It's the morons that judge rap solely on "importance" that miss out on all the fun. Pretty tough to beat Strictly Business on any level, and I'll throw "So What Cha Sayin'" in with the cream too. Nothing we don't already know...

I will volunteer some new theories regarding the other rap giants of the E section, the Gog and Magog of hip hop... Eric B. & Rakim. I once brilliantly outlined a one-to-one correspondence of the catalog of Wyandanch's finest and another LI/NYC crew called the Velvet Underground. Yes, these two hugely influential musical acts followed dual paths, as demonstrated by their pristine recording tetrads. I can't exactly remember the finer points of my case, but I know that "My Melody" and "Venus in Furs" had something to do with it. Or maybe it was "Lyrics of Fury" and "I Heard Her Call My Name"... not sure. Since I've also famously presented the VU and Uncle Tupelo catalogs as analogs, it follows that Eric B. & Rakim and UT should also correspond. I'll leave that one to the listeners.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

D is for Dumptruck

First things first... I've settled on a storage system for my orphaned CDs and booklets. The big black Case Logic wallets have served me well for many years, but they don't stack or stow well at all. Since I'll be packing these "fusion frisbees" away long-term, I need something durable, prismic (preferably), and cheap. The winning system is shown at right:

The D-block immediately lifted me out of my musical swamp. Jeez, the Dambuilders were one hell of a live band. My favorite shows of all time were behind the kit opening for these guys, playing my ass off knowing that drummer Kevin was going to kick some majorette butt later on. Not that I had anything close to his chops, but I'd usually bust up a cymbal or two just to make him squirm. Oh yeah, the rest of the 'Builders were really good too.

Josephina left me a hilarious voice mail asking me, "Who the fuck is Das Efx?" and, "How do you have seven of their CDs?" and, "How could you possibly be missing two more?!!" My answers were, "Next question," "I don't know," and "I don't know," respectively. Side one of Dead Serious was as good as things got for a while there. Now, not so sure.

The question she should have been asking is, "How the fuck do you have so many De La Soul CDs?" These guys put more of their 12" singles out on CD than any other band I can think of, and single-handedly kept me feeling "in touch" with hip hop for years. You see, I don't buy vinyl 'cause I refuse to store or maintain it properly. It's a big damn pain in the ass. This makes it tough for one to consider oneself an actual fan of rap music, obviously. Somehow I've made it work, and the Tommy Boy Records marketing department is a big part of that.

The question I was asking was, "Where the hell are my Deee-Lite CDs?!" These hipsters were in heavy rotation for a while there (1990?), along with beer balls of Matt's and lots of acid. In fact, I'm pretty sure World Clique was the soundtrack for the LSD-inspired painting of our living room at the time... a really, really bad idea (lots of swirls and flowers with a hideous black skull in the upper corner of the wall). I remember Deee-Lite completely disappearing as suddenly as they arrived, probably due to the Built to Last Dead tour finally ending, as well as the absurd rumors that Lady Miss Kier was actually a man.

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh... Deicide. Legion is easily top-ten "records you don't ever play at someone else's party" material.
THEM: "What the hell is this??!!!"
US: "It's Deicide!"
THEM: "WHAT??!!!"
US: "It's 'Satan Spawn, the Caco-Daemon!!'"
THEM: "WHAT???!!!!!!!"
US: "It's..."
THEM: "TURN IT OFF!!!!!!!!!!!"

I really wish I knew more about Deicide (the band, not the conceptual act)... any band whose lead singer burns multiple inverted crucifixes onto his forehead, gets a gig canceled when a live bomb is discovered and ultimately detonated on stage, and allows pit bulls to violently mutilate a (fake) body filled with entrails during one of its shows seems worth investigating some more.

I had a Bob Dylan harangue all cued up, but I just don't have it in me right now. I'll end with a CD by Liz Durrett that I picked up on tour about five years ago. It was the one night I actually drank beer after I played, so of course I bought stuff from the girl we played with. I only remember one song she played, which was spectacular; I spent the rest of her set making the songs sound like the one I liked in my head. Mezzanine is pretty good, but the recording doesn't really capture what I heard (or at least what I think I heard) that night in Athens, GA. They never do.