Tuesday, February 26, 2013


If there's one thing about me, it is that I'm thoroughly reliable when bands make new music that I buy their stuff.  Most of the bands that I known usually make one or two and then quit or get bounced from their label.  The one thing about classic rock bands was that you knew that they would have a album out every year and we'd wait outside Target or Krackers or Record Realm to be the first on the block to get it.  Kids of today don't know that, the fine art of new release Tuesday.  In this day and age, you can steal it while playing video games while text messaging all the while yakking on a cellphone.  Come to think of it, a lotta folk my age do that quite a lot.

So begins  the story of Whitesnake, a band led by David Coverdale after Deep Purple Mk 3 lineup ended.  Coverdale was always foreshadowed by Ian Gillan when he took over in 1974, in fact DC had to share vocals with Glenn Hughes, who could hit the Gillan high notes.  For their benefit however, they did make a classic album in Burn, which spurned two hits and the spotty Stormbringer before Richie Blackmore had a hussy fit and took his guitar home to be replaced by doomed Sioux City native Tommy Bolin for the underrated Come Taste The Band.  Expectations was so high that Bolin eventually ODed in late 1976 and Deep Purple closed the book (for the time being).  The contractual Made In Europe was offered and David formed Whitesnake.

The Whitesnake of that era actually mirrored the bluesy swagger of the MK 3 Purple lineup although the first two albums were kind of a feeling out period.  Snakebite was actually half Whitesnake/half Coverdale solo album and like a snake wondered all over the place while Coverdale was looking for a style.  It did lead a minor hit with Come On in the UK and is a Whitesnake staple to this day.  United Artists Records signed Whitesnake and released two albums Trouble and Love Hunter, the latter with a racy cover art.  Nevertheless, while the music was shaped up by two great guitarists in their own way Micky Moody and the underrated Bernie Marsden, the band was bogged down by a drummer Duck Dowle, who may have been a good drummer but the albums he played on proved that he was holding the band down.  Out of all the reissues that Geffen put out, Trouble and Love Hunter went by the wayside and nobody in the US bothered to even issued their best album Ready n Willing from 1980 on CD.

Which in 1980, things changed for the better for Coverdale.  Jon Lord joined up on Love Hunter and Ian Paice followed on Willing, thus shaped up that Whitesnake had three Deep Purple bandmates in the band.  Atlantic signed them up, and then stuck them on Mirage Records but still Whitesnake got a big top ten hit with Fool For Your Loving which sounded like the second coming of Burn.  For the next three years, this lineup of Coverdale, Marsden, Moody, Lord, Neil Murry and Paice would be consider the best lineup up till Saints N Sinners to which Marsden left and was replaced by Mel Gallery from Trapeze. Ian Paice would leave to join up with Gary Moore and later a reformed Deep Purple to which still plays today.

In 1984 Coverdale took the band more into a heavier rock feel with Slide It In, to which Cozy Powell sits on drums and Moody was replaced by John Sykes of Thin Lizzy fame.  This is where Whitesnake begins their hairmetal period and the wheels begin go fall off.  In no way is Slide It In a bad album it actually rocks hard.  Soon Jon Lord would exit and rejoined Paice in the MK2 lineup of Deep Purple and Don Airey replaced him in the band for the next offering to which would propel Whitesnake into greater heights and loss of identity
Cryin In The Rain, was a more bluesbased rocker on Saints n Sinners, but on the S/T album, it bares out of the speakers like a runaway train. At this point Gallery left and John Sykes was the sole guitar player and he changed the sound of the band with outrageous whammy bar and Van Halen like HM cliche riffs abound.  Second track Bad Boys was led by some of the most powerful drumming in heavy metal history.  Ansyley Dunbar may have been a hired hand at best, he didn't tour with them when they came through town with Motley Crue, but his drumming on the first two tracks was the most wildest he's ever done.  But Whitesnake had two major hits with the Led Zep like In The Still Of The Night and hairmetal ballads Here I Go Again and Is This Love.  This Whitesnake was night from the daytime sounds of Ready N Willing but with fame came a bad case of sellout.

The band went through a big change with Adrian Vandenburg and Steve Vai joining up to replace John Sykes, Rudy Sarzo replaced Murry on Bass and Tommy Aldrich was the masterbeater on the forgetful Slip Of The Tongue to which Whitesnake became a bad punchline to the joke, a bad parody of itself. And while Coverdale kept the band going, he lost the love interest of his videos, the odious Tawny Katien and most of the guys left on.  So what's to do when the hairmetal which was so vital, like a dinosaur made extinct by the grunge movement and all your videos being laughed at by Bevis and Butthead?

One could join the hairmetal touring troupe and make a living playing the same old hits like Poison or Vince Neal or Britney Fox, or you can start from scratch and recruit new people and get back to a form of rock and roll you can play and believe in.  With Born To Be Bad, the new Whitesnake are relative unknowns but have a better understanding on how to make a listenable record.  Doug Aldrich is the cowriter and lead guitarist and doesn't have to rely on the whammy bar as much as Sykes did when Sykes played in the band. Reb Beach is the other guitarist, Uriah Duffy is the bass player, Chris Frazier is the drummer and the keyboardist Tim Drury, who is the most Jon Lord like sounding since Lord was in the band.   And for the first time since at least Slide It In, Whitesnake returns to a compromise of sound, yes there's the hairmetal guitars but not as Over The Top, and yes that is the sound of a hammond organ in the background or something to that effect.  Coverdale is not going to wow people with his lyrical content anytime soon, but at least he sounds like he's having a lot more fun with the songs than he ever did on the classic S/T album.  What makes Born To Be Bad a fun listen that it sounds like it came from 1987 and would have been the followup to Slide It In had some Geffen executive told them to up on the Whammy leads.  Some of the songs do borrow a lot from other songs, All I Need sounds like a Still Of The Night rewrite but again the guys sound like they're having fun.  But perhaps the biggest surprise is that the ballads sound like true ballads and not of the Over The Top meatheadness and perhaps Summer Rain might be the best Whitesnake ballad ever.  It definably has more roots in Ready N Willing then Slip Of The Tongue.

Even the bonus live cd has a bit of surprises there.  They lead off with Burn with a snippet of Stormbringer thrown in for good measure and they visit forgotten classics like Living In The Shadow Of The Blues, Ready N Willing and Don't Break My Heart Again.  And though there's no Vai or Vanderburg or Alldrich around, the Baby Whitesnakes play more as a band than the superstars of the past and even the crowd gets into the singalongs as well as they did twenty years ago.

But don't look for this album to crack the top ten charts here.  They're not on Geffen anymore but rather on the SPV label, which is the European answer to CMC International, a home for old bands.  Which is a good thing actually.  Which means that Whitesnake doesn't have to answer to the Geffen/Universal pricks anymore, that Coverdale and company can continue to focus on the music and delivered  it to the fans.  The US public can be fickle but the HM fans across the ponds never forget their bands of yore and Whitesnake does sell them out on the summer festivals abroad.  What Born To Be Bad reminds us is that a good album can take you back twenty years, before cell phones and CDs, before the internet that we all lived for the new music and that when bands made good albums we came back for the followup regardless.

That's the fun of Whitesnake.  The reminder that it's all right to still love rock and roll, to still roll down your window at age 47 and scream with the best of them and to live for rock and roll and for the moment.  The freaks on the street with their baggy pants and crappy rap don't know but the ones that like to rock will understand.

And that's all right.

PS: Since this article, Whitesnake moved from the bankrupt SPV Steamhammer label to Frontiers for the loud and in your face Forevermore and Brian Techy replaces Chris Frazier on drums. While good, the album does tend to plod a bit more longer than Born To Be Bad.   Somehow Wal Mart had this CD on sale. If you're familiar with Whitesnake's metal, this would fit in your collection.  I don't play mine much though.

Doug Alldrich remains perhaps the best guitar player and compatible writer that David Coverdale has had since the days of John Sykes although I still prefer the one two attack of Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody. But the Deep Purple soundalike Whitesnake is long ago and far away.  David Coverdale continues the lead Whitesnake deep into the 21st Century and even one time drummer Tommy Aldridge has return behind the drummer's throne replacing Brian Tichey.  Hard to believe that 25 years ago Whitesnake was on top of the hard rock road and Tawny Katilen used to be good looking too.

Ah youth!

Snakebite (Geffen 1978) B
Trouble (United Artists 1978) NR
Love Hunter (United Artists 1979) B-
Ready An' Willing (Mirage/EMI 1980) A-
Live In The Heart Of The City (Mirage/Geffen 1980) B
Come And Get It (Mirage/Geffen 1981) B-
Saints And Sinners (Geffen 1982) B+
Slide It In (Geffen 1984) B+
Whitesnake (Geffen 1987) B
Slip Of The Tongue (Geffen 1989) C-
Whitesnake's Greatest Hits (Geffen 1992) C
Good To Be Bad (SPV 2008) B+
Forevermore (Frontiers 2011) C+

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Day The Music Died

Plane crashes are somewhat rare and unusual until somebody you know or loved dies from them.  In the music world we seem to know what we were doing when it happens. 1964 Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas became one for the ages, 1977 Lynyrd Skynyrd lost Ronnie Van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines became angels and 1990 Stevie Ray Vaughan took the helicopter out to the promised land.  But in 1959 the most historic one was the Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and JP Richardson the Big Bopper who crashed into a barren Iowa cornfield after playing one of the most memorable concerts in rock history at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.  The weather of 59 in Iowa was the usual, crappy, cold and plenty of arctic cold fronts and Alberta Clippers that is the norm of Iowa winters and sad to know that the inexperienced and perhaps starstuck Roger Peterson ended up meeting one of those blinding Clippers that would take him and the three stars into the music heavens.  And that Dion, who couldn't afford the plane rental and Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings would survive and carve out their own music careers as well as Frankie Sarzo a foot note to it all.  Dion becoming a teen idol of sorts then becoming a folk singer and born again Gospel singer before returning back to a folk blues sound that he's been doing most of his 70 years of being here.  Tommy Allsup becoming a producer and you knew what happened to Waylon, a country outlaw but forever haunted by the plane crash till his untimely death in 2002.

Out of the three, Buddy Holly was the innovator and pioneer what I consider guitar garage rock although by the time the original Crickets left Buddy was coming closer to pop music with the posthumous It Don't Matter Anymore and True Love Ways  but in the meantime recorded a bunch of recordings for future use.  It Don't Matter Anymore written by Paul Anka and having the arrangements of Dick Jacobs for that 50's type of sound may not been what Buddy intended but perhaps more so with Learning The Game a very sad and dark type of love song.  There are no shortages of Buddy Holly greatest hits out there, MCA original 6 record Complete Buddy Holly (1979) captures just about everything that Buddy recorded whereas the now deleted Hip O Select Not Fade Away adds more songs.  Steve Hoffman's remastered 1987 From The Original Masters updates the sound to CD standards and it still remains the best sounding best of and cheap too.  The Complete Buddy Holly is probably too broad for those who just want the hits, so you're better off with GOLD and Down The Line-The Rarities   In his lifetime Buddy recorded two albums proper, The Chirping Crickets and the S/T Buddy Holly albums.  The Great Buddy Holly released after his passing is a collection of his Decca output which didn't sell and was closer to country/rockabilly but still has its charms.  The Chirping Crickets and Buddy Holly are essential 50's albums.

As great as Buddy was, Richie Valens had the most potential to make it even big or at least be a bigger Latino rocker even  Los Lobos cite him as a influence.   At age 17, Valens had two top ten hits with La Bamba and Donna but since he was just starting out, he really didn't have much music out there.  Jasmine has The Complete Richie Valens, and Wounded Bird reissued Richie Valens and Richie, perhaps the best overview is Rockin All Night-The Very Best Of Richie Valens which includes the cream of Richie's songs. In Concert At Pacoima Jr High and The Richie Valens Story is Del Fi's scrapings of the bottom of a small barrel.  The live recording poor sounding and even Richie sounds ragged on this brief EP.  Better to stick with the Very Best Of Richie Valens.

JP Richardson or The Big Bopper as he was better known was one of the best novelty songwriters of the 50s with White Lightning and Running Bear, both hits for George Jones and Johnny Preston but he had some hits of his own for Mercury with Chantilly Lace and the hilarious Big Bopper's Wedding.  Like Valens, Big Bopper's albums are few, Hellooooo Baby the only one I can think of that came out. Rhino did collect a few more for the more definitive Hello Baby, Best Of The Big Bopper (1990) and adds the Purple People Eater meets The Witch Doctor.  For the most part Richardson didn't vary his beats all that often, most use the same as Chantilly Lace but still Richardson's sense of humor makes it a must hear.

On the other side of the pond, the UK seems to cherish the memories of the The Big 3. A interesting artifact is Recall's The 50th Anniversary Last Performance to which Jay Richardson, JP's son compiles what would have been the set list of the acts performing there including Dion and Frankie Sardo.  The plane crash drawing is creepy though.

The plane crash didn't kill rock and roll but set it back a couple years but the influences of all artists, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Bopper would influence The Beatles, The Searchers, Bobby Fuller and many many more for years to come.


Buddy Holly:

The Chirping Crickets (Brunswick 1958) A
Buddy Holly (Coral 1958) A
The Great Buddy Holly (Decca 1960) B
For The First Time Anywhere (MCA 1988) B+
From The Original Masters (MCA 1987) A
Buddy Holly: GOLD (Geffen 2005) A-
Down The Line:The Rarities (Geffen 2008) A-

Richie Valens:
Down The Road: The Very Best Of Richie Valens (Del Fi 1995) A-
Richie Valens (Wounded Bird 2006) B
Richie (Wounded Bird 2006) B
Live At Palmona Junior High (Del Fi/Wounded Bird 2006) C+
The Richie Valens Story (Del Fi-Rhino) C+
The Very Best Of Richie Valens (Rhino) A-

The Big Bopper
Chantilly Lace (Mercury 1958) B+
Hello Baby-The Very Best Of The Big Bopper (Rhino 1990) A-

The Day The Music Died (101 Distribution) NR
The 50th Anniversary Last Performance-Surf Ballroom Feb 2, 1959 (Recall 2009) NR
American Pie/Don McLean (United Artists 1971)  Draw your own conclusion.