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I was looking through my unpublished drafts the other day, and I exclaimed to myself, "Hey, there's some pretty good stuff here!"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!

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