Thursday, September 18, 2014

George Hamilton IV

The passing of George Hamilton IV barely caused a ripple in the music world Thursday.  George passed away from a heart attack and was 77 years old.  But he started out as a teen idol of sorts recording a bunch of sides of ABC Paramount before going into the country music world and scoring a number 1 hit with Abilene.  For a 10 plus year career at RCA Victor, Hamilton is better known for discovering and incorporating folk rock into his albums. He was one of the first artists to record Gordon Lightfoot.  He covered Urge For Going a Joni Mitchell write up.  But my favorite songs remain It's My Time, one of the better John Loudermilk songs ever written although it sounded too much like Break My Mind. But since I couldn't find the forty five of It's My Time, I paid 10 dollars for a used copy of the Gentle Soul Of George Hamilton IV from the now gone Memory Lane Records in Tempe years ago.  Even better was a 97 cent record found at The Salvation Army called West Texas Highway, his long forgotten 1971 album for RCA, and he covered James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, a then unknown Michael Martin Murphy and Boomer Castleman's title track of WTH and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils Larry Lee What's Forth Worth as well as some fine songs by Harlan Howard and Bill Anderson.  And produced by Bill Ferguson (Porter Waggoner).  But by then country radio had ignored him although he continued to record for RCA and later ABC, MCA and Dot and a few more.  By the late 90s George was doing gospel 90 percent of the time although he would make the rare secular album such as 2011's  In The Heart Of Texas.

For CD greatest hits, George is non existent. Collectibles issued his RCA album of Abilene and it's a solid album but Sony Music never thought to include him in their long deleted RCA Country Legends series in the US but there's a import that cherry picks the hits and leaves out It's My Time but gives the listener She's A Little Bit Country. Not a good trade off.  Bear Family has done a much better although sloppy job of the RCA early years and The ABC Paramount era with To You And Yours, which is more of the latter label than the former.  So it's either the overblown To You And Yours From Me And Mine 6 CDs box with the early recordings and odd and ends, or it's the 3 cd set My North Country Home which might be the best Gordon Lightfoot tribute album, with the songs that Gordon wrote.  But don't hold your breath for any more of the RCA albums to be reissued but most if not all have highlights.  Except for She's a Little Bit Country.

RIP to a great country singer.

The Days Of Rockpile

Let's face it.  In a perfect world Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Rockpile would be in the rock and roll hall of fame.  Actually they mine.  The uniqueness that is Rockpile stems from the meeting up of retro rocker Dave Edmunds and journeyman de facto leader of Brinsley Schwarz  Nick Lowe, which that band started out somewhat in the style of Buffalo Springfield but got more pop sounding with each album.  Edmunds at that time was a up and coming producer who did Foghat's first album and had a hit of his own with I Hear You Knockin, but Edmunds himself was a one man band.  In 1974 Edmunds produced the Brinsleys What So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding, a minor in the UK (uncharted in the US due to a lack of interest of United Artists promoting it, Elvis Costello covered it in 1979).

However the pub rock scene was in full bloom in the UK.  Bands like Ducks Deluxe and Eddie And The Hot Rods and The Pirates are rising up the dust in pubs and a new label called Stiff started up and Lowe became somewhat of a staff writer and producer. Lowe had a hand in Graham Parker's albums and The Dammed but messing around in the studio he came up with So It Goes (done with Steven Goulding on drums (The Rumour) and the punk fused Heart Of The City which was a far cry from the corporate rock of FM radio of Boston or Heart.  Edmunds on the other hand made a tribute album to Phil Spector and The Everly Brothers for RCA and then signed to Swan Song, Led Zeppelins' label.  At times he used Nick Lowe on bass and Terry Williams (Man) on drums and in 1977 released Get It.  A fun romp through 50s and 60s rock and roll  his I Knew The Bride was more country rather than the Lowe speed rock that can be heard on Stiffs Live.  But Get It, is the first true album of what would be Rockpile the band, rather than Rockpile, Edmunds' alter ego and improves over Subtle As A Flying Mallet, the 1975 RCA one off.  Edmunds was expert in providing many of vocal overdubs on Get It, What Did I Do Last Night or Little Darlin' which managed to scrape the top 100.  But the heart of the record remains more 1961 rather than 1977 and Edmunds could imitate any type of music he wanted, from Dion ballads (Where Or When) to George Jones to Elvis (My Baby Left Me, just about note for note).

1978 really begins the Rockpile era.  Lowe recorded for Stiff Records (later issued to Columbia) and Edmunds for Swan Song so they could do two albums per year. And Lowe's Jesus Of Cool, later renamed Pure Pop For Now People becomes the first album and the Columbia version is all over the place, beginning with So It Goes and Heart Of The City, the Stiff singles, a goofy Bay City Rollers tribute song and power pop songs like Marie Provost, Breaking Glass, and They Called It Rock. When Pure Pop went out of print, Yep Roc reissued Jesus Of Cool and added plenty of b sides and oddities to make it a better buy.  His Heart Of The City live version, Edmunds used vocal overdubs for the same take on Tracks On Wax 4, still remains their most hardest rocking song ever.  It also includes Cruel To Be Kind (the original version).  Even with the meddling Columbia cherry picking and redoing the song sequence Pure Pop For Now People remains a classic album in itself but Jesus Of Cool is the better buy.  Tracks On Wax 4 from Edmunds had much compressed mix and louder sound, but Edmunds' heart remains in Eddie Cochran/Chuck Berry land with Trouble Boys and a over the top It's My Own Business, and of course the Everly Brothers on What Looks Good On You Is Me.

1979 is the year of Rockpile coming into their own as Lowe and Edmunds made their best albums, Lowe's Labour Of Lust and Edmunds' Repeat When Necessary.  Nick was more experimental, he'd add elements of  punk on Switch Board Susan, Love So Fine and Born Fighter.  Edmunds updated his sound but still kept a love of Phil Spector on Take Me For A Little While, gone blues on Bad Is Bad (featuring one Huey Lewis) but Edmunds choose wisely on his covers, Elvis Costello's Girls Talk is one of the best things he ever did, and getting Albert Lee to play guitar on Sweet Little Lisa, and Queen Of Hearts is better than Juice Newton's version.  But it also helped that Billy Bremner came on to play lead guitar as well. Billy's presence in this band cannot be understated.  And it was nice to see Cruel To Be Kind hit the top 30.  Still, in my book, Labor and Repeat both albums were the top 2 best of 1979.  And the future looked bright for Rockpile to make it even big right?

So it goes. 1980 the first true Rockpile album Seconds Of Pleasure came out and the combined efforts of Lowe and Edmunds and even Bremner made the record a fun album.  Of course Nick wrote the songs, and Edmunds found the covers but the perfect 2 minute song was Now And Always, somewhat of a throwaway but it's not.  They could rock out with If Sugar Was As Sweet As You or You Ain't Nothing But Fine. But the band was falling apart and a falling out had Edmunds leaving and Nick moving on to new members although both of them had enough material to do their own albums, Nick The Knife and Twangin...from Edmunds. The latter sounds thrown together, after all this was Edmunds' final album for Swan Song and while some of the songs were still quality (Almost Saturday Night, You'll Never Get Me Up In One Of Those) there was more filler than what I expected from Edmunds.  I'm going to start living again even if it kills me might be the best direct link to George Jones and The Everlys. But overall pales next to Nick The Knife which comes out of the field running with a drum heavy Burnin, going into a reggae beat of Heart (much different from the seconds of pleasure version) and then Stick It Where The Sun Don't Shine, co sung with soon to be ex wife Carlene Carter who married Lowe. But it was becoming clear that Nick was changing his music from power pop punk to contemporary rock and roll.  While Lowe was rocking less, Edmunds was rocking more with D E 7th, his first for Columbia in 1982 with Me And The Boys.  But in all fairness, Rockpile was basically done with Twangin... and Nick The Knife.

Over the years Lowe would be changing his style to a more crooning country style that I have never gotten much into, although most of it is fine, I come to find that the albums starting with Pinker And Prouder Than Previous was the musical downslide of Lowe, content to gently rock out and a far cry from the 70s.  Edmunds did work with Lowe one more time on the 1989 flop Party Of One and Lowe's last good album. The start of a long and fruitful relationship with Bill Kirchen (Commander Cody) Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner, the latter two he worked with when he helped John Hiatt with Bring The Family.  That included a one off album called Little Village in 1993 with Hiatt, but Party Of One Lowe would bring some of his later day classics stuff like You Got The Look I Like and I Don't Know Why You Keep Me Hangin On, a duet with Paul Carrack.  A solid record but it didn't sell, and Lowe would move on to Upstart and later Yep Roc.  Edmunds on the other hand started working with Jeff Lynne (ELO) for the 1983 Information album and later Riff Raff.  A bit too techno rock and too much of a ELO both albums do have their charm.  After a live album, Edmunds dropped out for a few years, than returning with Closer To The Flame (Capitol) and then back to the DIY that recalls of the days of Rockpile the Edmunds alter ego band of the early 70s with Plugged In a valiant effort but rather more of a hobby album since it didn't sell.   Edmunds has been semi retired of late but has put together some new songs.  A Pile Of Rock, with The Refreshments and Gerant Watkins backing Dave up was a worthy live effort although I have yet to hear it.

In the end, when Lowe and Edmunds teamed up in the late 70s to make albums under their own name, it was like getting two albums from them in the same year.  Rockpile to me was the Beatles in my lifetime. They were that much loved.