Monday, November 25, 2013

Frank Marino

For my money, Frank Marino was the best rock guitar player that came from the 70s and made some classic and trippy rock and roll for 20th Century and later Columbia Records to which Frank considered that to be one of the darkest periods of his music career.  I first heard Frank on California Jam 2, to which they showed him doing an edited version of Johnny B Goode but left off the electric reflections of war segment.  Frank never cared for that either and what you didn't hear on the LP was his final song a version of the Mickey Mouse Club Theme.  An outsider even in rock and roll.

The comparisons to Jimi Hendrix has been a touchy subject to Frank and even though he cites him as a influence, his other influence was Johnny Cipolina of Quicksilver Messenger Service. The first album Maxoom is Frank's tribute to Jimi Hendrix and it shows by his guitar playing and song delivery.  The next album Child Of The Novelty, Frank begin to distanced himself from the Hendrix myth as he begin to sing about a New Rock And Roll. His band Mahogany Rush had wild man James Ayoub on drums and Paul Harwood on bass and they complimented his guitar player quite well.  The next album Strange Universe got a bit more heavier  Land Of 1000 Nights, Frank has said was written from the after effects of a bad acid trip.  I love it as well as failed hit single Satisfy Your Soul.  Although the record was underpromoted by 20th Century, Frank took his act over to Columbia for the classic years.  And years of distain.

Mahogany Rush IV sometimes I think is their best studio album.  There's more confidence in Frank's vocals but his guitar work was nothing short of awesome.  Frank was migrating toward a jazzier and progressive rock sound on Dragonfly or The Answer but Little Sexy Annie is pure rock fun. The World Anthem continued more into Prog rock with Requiem For A Sinner and the title track but like Little Sexy Annie, Hey Little Lover is back to rock but a bit more complex on the beat.

As the ad proclaimed it takes other bands to make a 2 record set whereas it takes Frank to make one album, basically it was Columbia not springing for the full two record set so Live! was kept to a one LP set. But  this was the live record that I played all the time in my Senior year and got my best friend hooked on Frank as well. Beginning with plenty of fireworks, Frank leads off with a killer start of The Answer and Dragonfly before bringing on the blues with a killer I'm A King Bee and showstoppers A New Rock And Roll and more stripped down Johnny B Goode from the Cal Jam 2 version.  The medley of Talkin About A Feeling/Who Do You Love/War/New World Anthem is so over the top at the end one has to hear it to believe it.  And then the usual Jimi Hendrix tribute with Purple Haze.  This is the legend of Frank Marino from start to finish.

Tales Of The Unexpected (1979) continues the Hendrix love with Sister Change and All Along The Watchtower before going into Norwegian Wood  and the jazz/prog rock of Tales Of The Unexpected. The inclusion of live versions of new songs Down Down Down, Door Of Illusion, Woman and Bottom Of The Barrel kinda deflated the momentum of the first side and pales to the Live album.  Reviews were mixed but it's really not that bad.  A subpar Frank Marino could outrock Ted Nugent on his best any night (with the exception of Ted's S/T Epic album)  but for some reason the buying public that bought the Live album got off the bus on Tales

What's Next (1980) was a more return to form  but again radio only played Roadhouse Blues, the Doors cover and Rock Me Baby to which Frank's version was more Robin Trower than BB King or Jimi.  In fact, What's Next was Marino moving away from the sound of Hendrix to a more signature sound and it's very heavy sounding on You Got Livin and the 8 minute Loved By You.  The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame/Mona medley is throwaway.  The biggest selling album for Columbia has never seen CD release in the US (Black Rose issued a poorly mastered CD).

With that Frank retired the  Mahogany Rush name and made perhaps his more heaviest albums with The Power Of Rock And Roll and Juggernaut.  Both sold well but Columbia never promoted them very well. The former album's powerful title track should have made it to rock radio. Other fine rockers include Ain't Dead Yet and the jazz fusion that is Go Strange.  Juggernaut, his final CBS platter contained his only hit single  Strange Dreams to which I never heard on KRNA nor KKRQ but have on XM radio. Juggernaut had the searing title track, the crash and bash Free and Stories Of A Hero which actually harkens back to World Anthem.  It sold enough but by then Frank, tired of dealing with a corporate label clueless how to market him walked away.

When he disappeared from the rock and roll world, I kind of forgotten him till I pulled out Live or Strange Universe  and the CBS albums that he did.  Full Circle, while rocking, was venturing toward new age, a honest effort but it didn't do much for me.  In 1993 Frank retired from music only to be brought back by the fans who continued to support his back catalog and of course it may have something to do with Razor and Tie cherry picking some cuts into a best of Dragonfly, a big mess since it includes nothing from the 20th Century albums and ends up putting the wrong songs off Power Of Rock And Roll.  Buyer Beware.  Sony Music issued in the states Live and Tales only, the rest are import only.  However, the 20th Century albums have been reissued a few times on CD and although Maxoom still remains Frank's I Love Jimi album, the rest does show a more conventional and blues hard rock sound that I still think they have all have their moments.  However, Frank in a interview has mentioned that the original tapes of what he did at Tempo Studios in Canada got taped over by other bands which is a bummer, although I'm sure Sony Music still has the masters of the finished albums on CD somewhere.  But still Frank remains his own man and not owned by the labels whatsoever, when he plays live, he says he plays it for fun and when it's not fun he doesn't go on tour.  But when he does play, he still plays with the rude tenacity that blew Ted Nugent off the stage in 1978.

In a perfect world, The Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame would have Frank Marino in there.  And still, to me, Frank remains the best unheard guitarist that classic rock radio has forgotten.  Which is as bad as having Jann Wanner being head of the RnRHOF dictating who gets in.  Up his ass if he can deal with real rock and roll.

The Frank Marino Anthology (Incomplete)

Maxoom 1972 (20th Century/Just A Minute) B-
Child Of The Novelty  (20th Century/Just A Minute 1974) B+
Strange Universe (20th Century/Just A Minute 1975) A-
Mahogany Rush IV (Columbia/Pilot 1976) A-
World Anthem (Columbia 1977) B+
Live (Columbia/Silver Cloud 1978) A
Tales Of The Unexpected (Columbia 1979) B+
What's Next (Columbia 1980) B+
The Power Of Rock And Roll (Columbia 1981) B+
Juggernaut (Columbia 1982) A-
Dragonfly-The Best Of Frank Marino/Mahogany Rush (Razor And Tie 1996) B- 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Velvet Underground

Perhaps the most influential alternative rock band that ever came out, The Velvet Underground couldn't sell 100 copies of their first album but Brian Eno said whoever bought them formed a band.  If there was any other band that was like the Velvets that would have been The Fugs in terms of turning three chords into much more sinister.  With John Cale in the band being polar opposites with Lou Reed their first two albums are an exercise in melody and mayhem and chaos.  But with Andy Warhol playing a role with oddball movies, a light show and dancers to boot,  there were the first true alternative band.

But after losing Andy Warhol and later John Cale, they turned to be more of a garage rock bar band and after the meltdown that was White Light/White Heat, Lou Reed booted Cale out of the band (at the urging of Steve Sesnick who singlehandedly killed the Velvets when he did the divide and conquer rule to Doug Yule after Loaded was finished) and opted for a more laid back but mellow but still a garage rock sound.  Sad to say MGM didn't know what to do with them and after completing what would be released as VU a decade and half later, moved over to Atlantic for their most accessible album to date Loaded, a phase coined by Reed as an album Loaded with hits and he's right, all 10 songs would have sounded good on either AM or underground FM.  Atlantic, demoted them to Cotillion for Loaded and used Bridgit Polk's cassette recording of the Max's Kansas City Show as a final offering.

Doug Yule ended up taking over for the import only and mostly unheard Squeeze, which isn't a bad album but it's not a true Velvet Underground either, none of the original members play on it and despite no notes and a basic album cover, the big story was that Ian Paice played drums on some of the songs.  Hard to imagine the Deep Purple drummer being a part of Velvet Underground.  But no US label would touch it and it came out on Polydor UK.

Back to the beginning, The Velvet Underground with Nico starts out somewhat mellow a calm before the storm with Sunday Morning but even then Lou Reed warns you to look out and then the next song becomes Waiting For The Man, made famous by John Cale's crazed barrel house piano playing.  Nico does three songs, the mellow Femme Fitale, the failed single All Tomorrow Parties and I'll Be Your Mirror but she would be gone soon after although The Velvets did play on some of her Chelsea Girls album that came out later on.  Buoyed by Maureen Tucker's primitive drumming, Run Run Run is another horror story done in by plenty of Reed's feedback and free form lead guitar.  There She Goes Again could have been a good single had Verve put it out but it has been covered a few times over by the likes of REM and The Beat Farmers.  But side 2 leads off with Heroin, which Reed tells it from a junkie's view and John Cale's viola and Tucker's drumming leads up to a big falling apart toward the end of the song.  To end the album with Black Angel's Death Song to which Cale hisses after Reed spits out the verse and the strange European Son ends things on a chaotic note, not exactly a good thing but this record probably says more about how Reed and Cale would operate on their own solo recordings.

The noise fest that is White Light/White Heat is that, all noise, amps cranked up to ten and did I mention more noise.  The title track becoming yet another failed hit single, the trainwreck ending to which Cale sounds like the bass is strangling him and side 2 is I Heard Her Call My Name and the 19 minute Sister Ray which will drive the old ladies out of the building if they heard it.  I give it points for effort but I didn't like The Gift or Lady Godiva's Operation much, nor the 2 minute throwaway Here She Comes Now.

The third album is polar opposite, mostly nice and mellow and only the 8 minute throwaway Murder Mystery to which Lou And Sterling speaking gibberish first and then Maureen and Doug doing what I'm guessing is the chorus line doesn't get much playing time but it leaves you back to the first side to almost perfect pairing of Candy Says leading to What Goes On, then Some Kinda Love and Pale Blue Eyes and then Jesus.  Take away Murder Mystery and this could have been their classic album.

But then that would be saved for Loaded and there's not a bad track anywhere. Another failed single Who Loves The Sun b/w the 7 minute Oh Sweet Nuthin' but this is where you get to hear the original Sweet Jane and a revisit of Rock And Roll (the original was on the 4th album). My other faves are Head Held High and Train Around The Bend.  Even the lesser known songs (Lonesome Cowboy Bill and I found A Reason) have a bit of heart to them as well.  But sad to say, Maureen Tucker doesn't play drums on it at all, she was pregnant at the time and bowed out so Doug Yule and brother Bill took over most of the drumming as well as Adrian Barber.

The original Live At Max's Kansas City was upgraded to a 2 CD set and is much better overview should you find it.  Robert Quine recorded a bunch of live Velvets and some of the highlights came out on the 1969 Live on Mercury.  With the 10 minute Ocean and the 9 minute What Goes On, you really get the feeling that you had to be there to see it and the recording is rougher than the Max's Kansas City but till the 1993 reunion live album that was all we had to go on.

The albums didn't sell and Polygram only had the Velvet Underground And Nico in print but in 1984, they reissued much of the 4th album that MGM rejected and it's a worthy listen and the songs were so good, Lou Reed would use them for his early solo albums.  Leading off with I Can't Stand It  and the other side with Foggy Notion, The Velvets never rocked harder. A couple of 1967 sessions with John Cale doesn't leave him out.  VU, the album sold well enough that Another View was issued a year later, and basically a bottom barrel scraping adventure although we do get to hear the original We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together and a feisty Guess I'm Falling In Love, an instrumental that the original vocal on the tape were too damaged to use.

For years, there would not be a Velvet Underground reuinon of sorts till 1991 although John Cale and Lou Reed buried the hatchet to do a 1990 tribute to Andy Warhol, Songs From Drella.  Three years later the Velvets did reunite to do a European tour and Sire issued both a one cd and two cd set of the shows and it's a mixed bag for either version although you're better off with the 2 CD set.  But it wouldn't last and the band imploded, and Sterling Morrison passed away in 1995.

Mark Prindle thinks their overrated and he could have a point but if you take them at their music and not get caught up in the media praise, the Velvet Underground was still a very good bar band, and they were if you had to chance to see them in the late 60s after Doug Yule joined up, with John Cale they were more of a cabaret band with a chance to shock with the S & M imagery of Venus In Furs or documenting a sick party like Sister Ray.  Andy Warhol may have "produced" the first album but the dirty work recording was from the late Tom Wilson (Bob Dylan, Animals), and everybody from Sterling on down to Maureen played a vital role in the music, Tucker being the inspiration to Meg White although Tucker was by far the better drummer. Even though Doug Yule was a big part of the VU, he was all but forgotten when the original band got back together in 1993 and when they became part of the rock and roll hall of fame in 1996.

There are plenty of best ofs out there And The Velvet Underground Gold pretty much gets rid of the filler of the albums that were released on Verve/MGM/Polydor but nothing from the Atlantic albums. A 1989 best of does feature two cuts from Loaded (Rock And Roll and Sweet Jane of course) but for me the Gold set was the better buy.  Still the original albums speak for themselves and if you really want to know how Alternative Rock started, The Velvet Underground and Nico is that album.  Last year, Universal put out a limited edition of the Scepter Sessions which was the basis of the first album and it's rougher and cruder but worth a listen.  You'll never hear Squeeze anyway and you're better off for it but in the end, The Velvet Underground carved out a territory that no other band dared go to, celebrating drugs, drag queens and adultery but could pin a nice little love song, or a tribute to the radio and even a song about Jesus.  But still uncompromising but still rock and roll rebellion, no band ever sounded like that before them.  But they sure had a lot of imitators after that as well.  The perfect compliment.


The Velvet Underground  Scepter Sessions Acetate (1966 reissued 2012 Polydor) B+
The Velvet Underground And Nico (Verve 1966)  A
White Light/White Heat (Verve 1968) B+
The Velvet Underground (MGM 1969)  A
Loaded (Cotillion 1970) A
Live At Max's Kansas City (Cotillion 1971) B
Squeeze (Polydor UK 1973) B-
1969 Velvet Underground Live (Mercury 1974) B+
VU (Verve 1985) A
Another View (Verve 1986) B
Best Of (Words And Music By Lou Reed) (Verve 1989) A-
Velvet Underground Gold (Polydor) A-
Live 1993 (Sire 1993) B
Final VU (Captain Trip 2001) B

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Spooky Tooth-That Was Only Yesterday

Let's face it, the 60s and the 70s was my era, even though I continue to review things in the 80s onward and thought that the 90s has their share of great bands as well.  But as time progresses on, some of the bands that I used to listen to on the FM side of the dial have not dated properly.  Some have not stand the test of time.

I used to be a Cactus fan back in the 70s, they had the guys from Vanilla Fudge and Jim McCartney from The Detroit Wheels and the screaming Rusty Day of Amboy Dukes.  But upon buying the reissues from Wounded Bird, I came to find that the first Cactus album isn't that great and the Rhino Best of, I donated it back to charity after hearing it.  The Fudge, loved their singles and their best of but their actual albums didn't do much for me anymore.  And the 1983 comeback album Mystery, bad beyond belief.  At least with Bloodrock I do enjoy their first two albums including the morbid D.O.A.  I've been searching for years for the Capitol best of Bloodrock And Roll, which came out as a reissue in the early 90s but then again I come to find I could live without that.  But I do keep my eyes open.

And then there's Spooky Tooth, a band that may have been A&M's answer to Vanilla Fudge.  Led by Mike Harrison and Gary Wright, later of Dreamweaver fame, they made a few albums for A&M and Island (although Island issued their albums in the UK).  In Arizona on vacation I found their so called classic Spooky Two in the cutouts fairly cheap and decided to buy it on a cross state tour of Arizona only to get to stuck in a runaway lane miles from nowhere and somehow somebody helped me out of that situation and the song I got stuck in the lane was Better By You, Better Than Me.  I came to find the album a farce and ended up on the trip back, donating it back to Goodwill and maybe thinking I may have misjudged them.

So in Quincy, FYE had a used copy of their best of, That Was Only Yesterday, which is Spooky Two with the best song left off the thing (I Got Enough Heartaches, a excellent song covered by Three Dog Night) and cherry picks three off their first Tobacco Road, Four from The Last Puff and an except from the Ceremony and one off the Mick Jones version of band with perhaps one of the best titles in rock history with You Broke My Jaw So I Busted Your Jaw to which Island in the US issued that album.

Rarely has a greatest hits package has disappointed me in a way that whoever compiled this best of had their head up their ass.  How could you leave off I Got Enough Heartache but in the process added the rest of Spooky Two?  That's deducts a half grade right off the bat.  The three sections from Tobacco Road, including title track and a oddball cover of Janis Ian's Society's Child are so damn pompous and over the top it sounds like they're going for a Vanilla Fudge sound, with bombast to boot.  Sunshine Help Me is passable.

Perhaps the best song or nadir is Evil Woman, the 9 minute FM favorite from Spooky Two.  It's interesting to hear both Harrison and Wright trade off vocals, and whoever decided to sing the higher notes must have been wearing very tight jeans in the process.    It's one of the songs that when the younger generation hears, wonders what the big fuss was all about. Better By You was later covered by Judas Priest.  When they tone down the rhetoric, they actually sounded like Humble Pie around the  As Safe As Yesterday to which Greg Ridley would later join.  In all fairness, Spooky Two is basically all you need if you want to know the hoopla of this band.

The scattershot song selection kills this best of.  Their second best known is a slowed down and druggy I Am The Walrus but also covers a Joe Cocker song (Something To Say) and up and coming Elton John (Son Of Your Father) that perhaps The Last Puff album might be worth a listen to, since Cocker himself provides some backing vocals and three members of the Grease band play on this.  Luther Grovsenor would leave and change his name to Ariel Bender as he replaced Mick Ralphs in Mott The Hoople.  Gary Wright would replace Mike Harrison for the 1973 Busted Your Jaw, to which only featured one song and the followup LP Witness, with Mick Kellie returning on drums no songs.  And then the band would break up, with Wright going on a solo career, Mick Jones played in Leslie West Band before starting up Foreigner, Kellie, the drummer would play on later albums by Johnny Thunders and become part of The Only Ones with Peter Parrett.

For a overview, That Was Only Yesterday isn't worth your time or effort since it borrows too much from the second album. Buy Spooky Two instead.  And shortchanges the rest of the catalog of this band.  And leaves you scratching your head of what the fuss was all about.

Grade C