Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Blues Project

For a band that has been so widely praised back in their heyday, The Blues Project didn't leave many albums behind and their reputation became more than the sum of their parts.  Not exactly a blues band they also took their inspiration from jazz, and folk rock along with their Chuck Berry numbers. And every album always featured a different lineup it seems, Tommy Flanders was on for the Live at Cafe Au Go Go and would disappear till their forgotten Capitol S/T.  Even their so called classic album Projections is hampered by a slow moving Two Trains Running that you're about ready to give up on them.  But at their best Al Kooper would lead them to many different styles of music from the garage rock of No Time Like The Right Time or I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes, to the jammy Wake Me Shake Me and to the jazz flirtations of Flute Thing or covering the Donovan folk Catch The Wind, Projections will forever remain their claim to fame and one of the essential albums of the 1960s.  Live At Cafe Au Go Go is a curio first album which shows them running through the Chess catalog with their versions of You Can't Catch Me, Going To Lousiana and a few others. Not needed in your collection but it's not bad either

Projections is everything Blues Project, the combination of Kooper, Steve Katz, Roy Blumenthal, Andy Kulberg and especially Danny Kalb on a wicked Caress Me Baby is their finest hour although I'm surprised that Fly Away didn't make the pop charts (They would try it again with another single in 1973).  The recording is not exactly all that great, it sounds distorted but Sundazed reissued it with better sound.  With Al Kooper and Steve Katz leaving to form Blood Sweat And Tears, Verve scraped the bottom of the barrel for Live At Town Hall which adds No Time Like The Right Time (with canned applause) and Electric Flute Thing adding more shock value to the LP (zzzzzz).  Pressing on, Planned Obsolescence starts out with a nice cover of If You Gotta Make A Fool Out Of Somebody but the majority of songs were boring.  Only decent thing about the album was the cover picture  Andy Kulberg would form the minor all star band Seatrain with Peter Rowan and made three uneven albums for Capitol and Warner Brothers which had a underground classic with 13 Questions (Produced by George Martin of The Beatles fame). The Blues Project would solder on with the heavier Lazarus and Tommy Flanders returned for the S/T album which was so so.

For some reason Al Kooper decided to reunite the original Blues Project for one last show in Central Park in 1973 and it turned out to be a fine end to a band who never really got off the ground.  Actually better than Cafe Au Go Go, Reunion In Central Park at least made a fine final statement that when the Blues Project put aside their egos and conflicts of interest, they were a damn good band.


Live At Cafe Au Go Go-Verve Folkways 1966 B
Projections-Verve Forecast 1967 A-
Live At Town Hall-Verve Forecast 1968 B
Planned Obsolescence-Verve Forecast 1969 C
Lazarus-Capitol 1971 C+
Blues Project-Capitol 1972 C+
Reunion Live At Central Park-MCA 1973 B+

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Blackfoot was the hardest rocking band ever to come roaring from the Southern rock world of Lynyrd Skynyrd and led by the pounding drums of the late Jakson (Boomerfoot) Spires and the banshee shout vocals of Rickey Medlocke set upon a world of a Island debut that was way ahead of it's time, even in 1975 No Reservations with the metallic riff leading off side 2, the song Take A Train even with the female singers couldn't hide the fact that Blackfoot was much different than Skynyrd even though bass player Greg Walker and Medlocke played from time to time in the early years.  That was my first hearing of Blackfoot, and it took years to find that album since Island had it out of print in 1977 (although they reissued it via the Antilles offshoot, don't ask why).  Although uneven, No Reservations was a in your face train going 90 miles an hour and get out of the way if you can't take the music.  Only other band that was this hard rocking would be Molly Hatchet.

Island couldn't figure out how to market a southern rock band so they let them go and Blackfoot signed with the other big independent label at that time Virgin Records (Via Epic) for the equally blistering Flyin' High but again the album met with indifference and they were let go.  It wasn't until 1979 that they latched on to Atco Records with Strikes which kinda balances out the hard rock of Road Fever with the Skynyrd like answer to Free Bird Highway Song. Choice covers in Blues Image's Pay My Dues, I Got A Line On You (Spirit) and Wishing Well (Free) it also has  Train Train (featuring the late great Cub Koda on Harmonica), it would eventually go gold.

Tomcattin' (1980) return to much harder attack in tuned with the early albums but despite classic songs such as Every Man Should Know (Little Queenie) and On The Run, the LP sales were disappointing.  Marauder (1981)  attempted a return to Strikes and that too didn't do very well despite having a decent single with Fly Away and rocking cuts such as Good Morning and Dry Country.  Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep) joined up for the even less appealing Siogo but the bottom fell out on the lackluster Vertical Smiles which only made it to 176 on the charts.  The dated keyboard sounds and half assed songwriter and one of the worst album covers ever didn't help either.  And with that Blackfoot called it a day.

Or so it seemed.  Rickey Medlocke returned with an all new Blackfoot lineup and managed to get that released on Atlantic rather than Atco and featured Wizzard from Mother's Finest as a member but that record was even worse than Vertical Smiles.  Later albums featured Medlocke as the only original member although in the 2000's the other members of Blackfoot did reunite with Bobby Barth (Axe) being the main vocals and continuing till Jakson Spires death in 2005.  They are now known as Fired Guns after Rickey Medlocke reclaimed the Blackfoot name and added new members in 2012, but for the most part Rickey spends time going from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blackfoot and sometimes appearing on as an actor on TV, most notably on a 2001 Nash Bridges show.

Their best albums remains the first five plus the live 1982 Highway Song which didn't see US release till Wounded Bird issued it.  It's better than the King Biscuit 1983 live album.  The last true Blackfoot album is Vertical Smiles and this is where the story ends for me. The 1987 Atlantic album is a waste of time although Medlocke kinda returned to a more rocking sound on Medicine Man and After The Reign but by then I really wasn't that interested anyway. 

Blackfoot when they were on, were just about the best Southern Hard Rock band but when they were off, they came across more like a second rated Skynyrd or by Vertical Smiles, a third rate 38 Special.  But put on Take  A Train or Train Train or Every Man Should Know, they'll stop you in your tracks and make you rock out.  They were more celebrated in the UK than USA it seemed.

No Reservations (Island 1975) B+
Flyin' High (Epic 1976-later reissued on Collectibles) B+
Strikes (Atco 1979) A-
Tomcattin' (Atco 1980) B+
Marauder (Atco 1981) B
Highway Song Live (Wounded Bird 1982) B+
King Biscuit Live (EMI 1983) C+
Siogo (Atco 1983) B
Vertical Smiles (Atco 1985) C
Rickey Medlocke And Blackfoot (Atlantic 1986) C-
Medicine Man (Nalli 1990) C+
After The Reign (Wildcat 1994) C+
Rattlesnake Rock And Roll-Best Of Blackfoot (Rhino 1995) B+

Friday, July 5, 2013

Jim Croce

In the archives that is music, there are artists that die way ahead before their time and sad to say a few of them died in airplane crashes.  Who knows what would have happened had Buddy Holly or Richie Valens never chose to take a plane to get out of a bad winter in Iowa.  Or where Ronnie Van Zant would have taken Skynyrd after Street Survivors.  Jim Croce was on his way to big stardom when a plane crash took him away from us in 1973.

There are 10 times many more best ofs from Jim Croce than actual albums but he did record a couple albums that didn't sell with his wife Ingrid, Pickwick issued a truncated version of his album which whoever heard it compared Jim and Ingrid to Ian And Sylvia, pleasant folk rock but nothing more.

Croce was the ultimate blue collar working man, working for many jobs while trying to make it in the music business and a chance contract with ABC gave him a top ten hit with You Don't Mess Around With Jim, a interesting account of pool hustlers and Willie McCoy aka Slim declaring revenge on Big Jim Walker, pool shooting sun of a gun.  In some ways an East Coast answer to Tom Waits, Croce's songs were a bit more accessible and better sung than the gravel pit voice of Waits but Croce could be as melancholy as Waits.  The single Operator (that's not the way it feels) to me tells a story of a guy trying to reconnect with an old ex girlfriend and enlists a operator to help him place a call and then saying the hell with it.  That too hit the top ten here but Croce would top the charts with another bar hustler tune set to a barrellhouse piano boogie woogie tune called Bad Bad Leroy Brown  to which the storyline is kinda like You Don't Mess Around With Jim but this time out it's shooting dice.  And maybe he didn't intended it, It Doesn't Have To Be That Way is heard a lot more often during Christmas Time.

A posthumous release I Got A Name issued late 1973 ends the story there.  Beginning with the title track which he didn't write himself, the album is perhaps his most introspective.  I Have To Say I Love You In A Song is one of my favorite love songs ever but also Croce could write an anti love song, Lover's Cross comes to mind.  Even though it was left off the best ofs, the revisiting of Age can touch the heart as well.  The record kinda drags at the end of side two (The ho hum Salon And Saloon and Thursday both on the best ofs) but since Croce wasn't around to finish the album I'm sure ABC was looking for outtakes that they could use.

Outside of The Doors, record labels have continue to put out Best ofs after best ofs and perhaps the best overview was Rhino finally putting both Time In A Bottle and Photographs And Memories into the Classic Hits in 2004.  Lifesong scraped the bottom of the barrel for the uneven The Places I've Been in 1976 and a 45 of Chain Gang Medley was released and made it to number 63 on the Billboard chart.  But it seems that every major label has had a hand in putting out Croce's best ofs.  ABC had the original best of, then Lifesong got distribution from CBS/Sony and Croce's albums came out on Lifesong/CBS in the 70s.  Later on 21 Records (later Saja) via Atlantic put out the 2 best ofs at that time and even EMI managed to put out a couple of their own (and Croce didn't live to see that). Which you cannot go wrong but The CEMA/EMI best of has more filler songs and less hits but it does have Age on it.  And Sanctuary (now part of Universal) has put out best ofs as imports abroad, so basically Croce get credit for recording all of the major labels, post death that is.

In 2006 thereabouts, Shout Factory reissued the early Jim And Ingrid Croce albums but also a live album Have You Heard Jim Croce Live which Croce with his right hand man Maury Muehelisen  in tow and they give a intimate performance. Worth seeking out on either DVD or CD.  But there wasn't much live TV stuff from Croce outside seeing him on one show (I think it was The Midnight Special but not too sure). Americana, is Jim and a tape recorder playing old cover songs. Not bad but not essential either.

Nevertheless had he lived Jim Croce could have had a career something like Gordon Lightfoot since both were basically folk rock artists. Or a less pretentious Bruce Springsteen, since Bruce kinda wrote along the same lines. He made classic singles and very good albums in his year stint with ABC and his tragic passing elevates him to the stature of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, cut down before their prime.  Any best of will do for you but somewhere in oldies and classic rock land Bad Bad Leroy Brown is playing and soft rock Time In A Bottle.  To which the words ring truthfully that there's never enough time whatever you do. 

And he was right.

The Albums:

Facets (Shout Factory 1966)  B+
Croce  (Capitol/One Way Records 1969) B
You Don't Mess Around With Jim (ABC 1973) A-
Life And Times (ABC 1973) B+
I Got A Name (ABC 1974) B+
The Places I've Been (Lifesong 1976) B-
Photographs And Memories (Lifesong 1978) B+
Time In A Bottle-Greatest Ballads (Saja/Atlantic 1985) B+
Home Recordings-Americana (Shout Factory 2004) B
Classic Hits (Rhino 2004) A-
Have You Heard Jim Croce Live (Shout Factory 2006) A-

Certainly there's more Jim Croce Best of's there's are the notables.

Down The Highway (Saja/Atlantic)
The 50th Anniversary Collection (Saja 1992)
Bad Bad Leroy Brown And Other Favorites (Cema 1994)
VH1 Behind The Music Collection (Rhino 2001)
Live The Final Tour (Saja/Edsel 2012)
The Way We Used To Be: The Anthology (Sanctuary)