Last week, AP carried a story with the news that Nick Lowe is releasing a Christmas album with the odd name “Quality Street”:
Nick Lowe wasn’t exactly filled with the Christmas spirit when his American record company suggested he make his first holiday album.
He’s no Scrooge. But for musicians in his native England, holiday albums aren’t the coolest thing to do. A song or two is nice, but an entire album? It has the faint whiff of desperation. (Continue Reading…)
The desperation question is fair, but misplaced. Lowe, by this point, certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. Here is a bit from his Wikipedia profile:
After leaving Brinsley Schwarz in 1975, Lowe began playing in Rockpile with Dave Edmunds. In August 1976, Lowe released “So It Goes” b/w “Heart of the City”, the first single on the Stiff Records label where he was an in-house producer. The single and thus the label was funded by a loan of £400 from Dr. Feelgood’s Lee Brilleaux. The label’s first EP was Lowe’s 1977 four-track release Bowi, apparently named in response to David Bowie’s contemporaneous LP Low. (The joke was repeated when Lowe produced The Rumour’s album Max as an ‘answer’ to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours). Lowe continued producing albums on Stiff and other labels. In 1977 he produced Dr. Feelgood’s album, Be Seeing You, which included his own song, “That’s It, I Quit”. The following year’s Dr. Feelgood album, Private Practice, contained a song Lowe jointly penned with Gypie Mayo – “Milk and Alcohol”. Along with “I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass”, “Milk and Alcohol” is one of only two Lowe compositions to ever reach the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart. (Continue Reading…)
Lowe was married for 11 years to June Carter’s daughter Carlene. That made Johnny Cash his step father.
Above is an acoustic version of his biggest hit, “Cruel to Be Kind.” (I invariably like acoustic versions of rock hits better than the originals.) Below is “So it Goes,” which seems to owe a bit to Warren Zevon.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of an occasional feature focusing on covers of — and sometimes by– a band or artist. Check out The Covers Project for more interesting information about covers.
The cover above is a 1968 performance of the Bob Dylan/Rick Danko song “This Wheel’s on Fire” by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & Trinity. Auger is best known for Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, which still is a touring band.
This cover did well enough to rate a Wikipedia entry:
“This Wheel’s on Fire” reached number five in the United Kingdom in June 1968. With distortion, the imagery of the title and the group’s dress and performance, this version came to represent the psychedelic era in British music. Driscoll recorded the song again in the early ’90s with Adrian Edmondson as the theme to the BBCcomedy series Absolutely Fabulous, whose main characters are throwbacks to that era.
It always seemed like an odd choice for the “Absolutely Fabulous” theme. The show, by the way, indeed was absolutely fabulous.
Below is Gomez’ version of Up on Cripple Creek. The band has 10 albums — and a website that’s not so great. So here is the Gomez’s AllMusic landing page. The site SongFacts offers a great bit of trivia: The song was recorded at Sammy Davis’ house, which the band had rented to record its eponymous named second album. A commenter at the site disagrees with the claim, however.
On Monday, TDMB featured Gioacchino Antonio Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” so it seems to make sense to follow it up with Ian Dury and the Blockheads.
AllMusic has an affectionate profile. Here is the start:
Rock & roll has always been populated by fringe figures, cult artists who managed to develop a fanatical following because of their outsized quirks, but few cult rockers have ever been quite as weird, or beloved, as Ian Dury. As the leader of the underappreciated and ill-fated pub rockers Kilburn & the High Roads, Dury cut a striking figure — he remained handicapped from a childhood bout with polio, yet stalked the stage with dynamic charisma, spitting out music hall numbers and rockers in his thick Cockney accent. Dury was 28 at the time he formed Kilburn, and once they disbanded, conventional wisdom would have suggested that he was far too old to become a pop star, but conventional wisdom never played much of a role in Dury’s career. Signing with the fledgling indie label Stiff in 1978, Dury developed a strange fusion of music hall, punk rock, and disco that brought him to stardom in his native England. Driven by a warped sense of humor and a pulsating beat, singles like “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick,” “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” and “Reasons to Be Cheerful, Pt. 3″ became Top Ten hits in the U.K., yet Dury’s most distinctive qualities — his dry wit and wordplay, thick Cockney accent, and fascination with music hall — kept him from gaining popularity outside of England. After his second album, Dury’s style became formulaic, and he faded away in the early ’80s, turning to an acting career instead. (Continue Reading…)
Actually, the mention of “a childhood bout with polio” is understating things. Dury was badly disabled, and it’s a testament to his talent, perseverance and sense of humor that he rose to prominence. It’s really terrific: Ian Dury’s campy fun probably had the deeper meaning of being a triumph against despair. I don’t know enough to say this definitively, but it is a nice thought. Check out this moving interview with British talk show host Michael Parkinson.
Dury was a great writer who is responsible for the iconic phrase “sex and drugs and rock and roll,” which comes from the song of the same name:
Sex and drugs and rock and roll
Is all my brain and body need
Sex and drugs and rock and roll
Are very good indeed
Above is “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” and below is “Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3).” The evidence here shows that The Blockheads were quite a band as well. The video above notes that “Rhythm Stick” became the top song (in the U.K., I believe) in 1979. The funny thing is that it replaced The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”
This is the beginning Wikipedia’s profile of Wilco:
Wilco is an American alternative rock band based in Chicago, Illinois. The band was formed in 1994 by the remaining members of alternative country group Uncle Tupelo following singer Jay Farrar’s departure. Wilco’s lineup changed frequently during its first decade, with only singer Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt remaining from the original incarnation. Since early 2004, the lineup has been unchanged, consisting of Tweedy, Stirratt, guitarist Nels Cline, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, keyboard player Mikael Jorgensen, and drummer Glenn Kotche. Wilco has released eight studio albums, a live double album, and four collaborations: three with Billy Bragg and one with The Minus 5.
Wilco’s music has been inspired by a wide variety of artists and styles, including Bill Fay, The Beatles and Television, and has in turn influenced music by a number of modern alternative rock acts. The band continued in the alternative country of Uncle Tupelo on its debut album A.M. (1995), but has since introduced more experimental aspects to their music, including elements of alternative rock and classic pop. Wilco’s musical style has evolved from a 1990′s country rock sound to a current “eclectic indie rock collective that touches on many eras and genres.” (Continue Reading…)
To be perfectly honest, the stereotypical guitar hero — the flamboyant virtuoso with superhuman skills — is a bit long in the tooth. They were a great breed, however, from Jimi Hendrix (the Louis Armstrong of rock guitarists) to Gary Moore and others.
There isn’t a hard and fast line between the guitar superheros and straight guitar players who fronted rock and blues bands. Eric Clapton and Roy Buchanan are examples. In my mind, these are folks who are less flamboyant (except, as in the cases of Johnny Winter, Leslie West and Stevie Ray Vaughan, in how they dressed).
Their on-stage demeanor is more as part of the band than as a wild man who whose goal is to be the sole focus of the spotlight. It’s only by nature of the guitar being the focal point that they draw the most attention. Clapton, for instance, barely moves on stage and seems happy to slide to the back when somebody else is being featured.
That idea is full of exceptions and holes, of course. It’s just a conversation starter, highly debatable and possibly plain wrong. The question — Is there a difference between the ultra-flamboyant spotlight seeking guitarists and the mellower folks who just happen to play the instrument to which most attention is naturally pulled — came to mind watching these clips of the great Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher.
“Bullfrog Blues” is above and “Shin Kicker” is below. One thing that is clear is that Gallagher was an unbelievable guitarist. And, for all the volume, he plays with a tremendous amount of subtlety.
Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Irish Republic, on March 2, 1948. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Cork City in the south, and at age nine he became fascinated with American blues and folk singers he heard on the radio. An avid record collector, he had a wide range of influences, including Leadbelly, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Albert King, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. Gallagher would always try to mix some simple country blues songs into his recordings. (Continue Reading…)
Wikipedia also has an insightful entry on Gallagher.
Lots of great writing has been done about Freeport, New York’s Lou Reed in the day since his death. The Chicago Tribune equates Reed’s importance to The Beatles or Bob Dylan. That’s a bit of a stretch, but to even make the claim illustrate’s Reed’s importance. Here are the first three paragraphs of the piece:
Lou Reed never had quite the notoriety or sales of ’60s peers such as the Beatles or Bob Dylan — his only major commercial hit was “Walk on the Wild Side.” But his influence was just as vast, if not more so. Punk, post-punk and most strains of underground music of the last 40 years would not exist without the one-of-a-kind merger of music and words pioneered by Reed and his groundbreaking band, the Velvet Underground.
Reed died Sunday at 71 in Southampton, N.Y., of an ailment related to a liver transplant he underwent in May, his literary agent said.
He leaves behind one of the most profound musical legacies of any 20th Century artist. His lyrics suggested a new kind of street poetry, at once raw and literary. His music — conceived with John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker in the Velvet Underground — merged primitivism with sophisticated avant-garde ideas. The Velvets made four landmark studio albums before crumbling in 1970, each a template for the underground music to follow. The artists in their debt include R.E.M., David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, the Talking Heads, Roxy Music, U2 and Patti Smith, and stretch from Iceland (Bjork) to South America (Os Mutantes). In an interview with the Tribune in 1990, Roxy Music founder Brian Eno reiterated his famous remark about the Velvets — “Only a few thousand people bought the first Velvet Underground album, but every one of them formed a band” — and embellished it: “I should know. I was one of those people.” (Continue Reading…)
Here is a nice short bio of Reed at Ultimate Classic Rock:
Lou Reed got his start in the ‘60s fronting the Velvet Underground, the influential noise-rock band that was a commercial bomb but has since become one of rock’s most important groups. After making four terrific albums with the band, Reed launched a solo career in the ‘70s that yielded two classics: 1972’s ‘Transformer’ (produced by pal David Bowie) and the following year’s ‘Berlin,’ a difficult but rewarding song cycle – a pattern Reed would follow over the years. He hasn’t always made the most listener-friendly music (despite scoring a Top 20 hit with ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ in 1972), angering and frustrating fans along the way: 1975’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ is often named one of the worst records ever made by a major artist, and Reed’s 2011 collaboration with Metallica, ‘Lulu,’ didn’t fare much better. But few artists have explored the sonic and lyrical territories Reed has braved for almost 50 years. (Continue Reading…)
Above is “Sweet Jane” recorded in 1974 in Paris and below is “Dirty Boulevard” from David Sanborn’s program “Night Music” in 1989.