Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Madison Square Garden, NY, June 8th 1977

ny77_achillesFrom ledzepconcerts.com

Concert Memories :: Led Zeppelin :: June 8, 1977

06/08/77 – Madison Square Garden, NY, NY – Bill McCue
Ah, memories. I saw Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 8, 1977 – the second of six sold-out nights for the boys. My seat was in a corner slightly behind the stage on JPJ’s side. Section 315 in the green section, to be precise.

Zeppelin’s run of shows was a family affair for the McCues. My brother Kevin went on opening night, my brother Larry accompanied me. It was my first concert in NYC. I was 13 years old. Quite an experience for a young lad.

My most distinct memories are of the volume – extremely loud, almost painfully so – and the “heavy” crowd. Lots of bikers and pyromaniacs. Fireworks were set off indiscriminately throughout the evening, despite Robert’s constant pleas for sanity. The opening numbers were incredible but the sound was a big mush.

Things crawled to a halt early on with JPJ’s extended solo during No Quarter. My brother fell asleep, folks ran to the concession stands and lingered in the hallways outside the main arena. I remember going for a pee during Moby Dick and being struck by how “Night of the Living Dead” everyone appeared. People got really stoned back in those days, smoking bushels of pot and drinking lots of cheap wine. There was a big cloud of smoke hanging over the orchestra during Zeppelin’s set.

My favorite song of the night was Ten Years Gone. Quick sidenote: I’m sure you remember that details like set lists weren’t well known back in those days. I only knew they were going to do TYG because my brother had been to the show the night before. I also loved SIBLY and IMTOD. The acoustic set was cool, too, but the fireworks ruined most of it. The crowd perked up for Kashmir, but after the acoustic set, everyone seemed worn out.

Three hours is a long show, especially when a fair amount of the show involves really LONG solo passages. JPJ tinkered during NQ for about 10 minutes, WS/BMS was about 10 minutes, Moby Dick/Over the Top was about 15 minutes, Jimmy’s violin bow/theramin/box of tricks schtick prior to ALS was about 10 minutes. That’s a lot of noodling to sit through. Even today I skip around a lot and rarely listen to anything beyond Kashmir when I play a bootleg from that tour. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard a boot from the show I went to. I would imagine it was a decent show by 1977 tour standards. I don’t remember any major screw ups or “cringe inducing” moments that were all too frequent during the post 73 tour years.

The visual effects were very impressive, particularly the spinning mirror ball during Kashmir. As I mentioned earlier, the volume was L-O-U-D loud. Volume covers up a variety of audio “blemishes,” I guess.

I remember walking out of the Garden at around 12:30 or so. I believe they came on at around 9:20. Hotel California was playing when the lights went out. I also remember hearing Life in the Fast Lane from the same album. I had on a red Led Zeppelin shirt over a white long sleeved thermal shirt. Purple high top Converse and a huge Afro. Levi Jeans. I was pretty groovy for a 13-year old. Didnt smoke any pot, but I’m pretty sure I got a nice contact high from the cats sitting next to me. People in the crowd were very nice to me. Everyone seemed pleased to see someone so young at the show. I guess I stood out. Very small for my age, which probably made me look even younger.

I got my tickets by cutting out a coupon from a full page ad in the New York Times and sending in a money order for $21 for two tickets. I think they were $9.50 a piece plus a $2 handling charge. A far cry from today’s T-master thievery. The whole event was exotic – even the concept of getting a money order was a new and exciting thing for me at the time. And think about it – six sold out nights! Not sure any of today’s acts could duplicate that feat.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Madison Square Garden NY June 8th 1977 | , | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers Takin’ It To The Streets (1976)

The+Doobie+Brothers+-+Takin'+It+To+The+Streets+-+LP+RECORD-439042From amazon.com

I’m not going to go over the same ground as the other reviewers… Gavin Wilson’s notes for this album are pretty accurate so you may want to read this first. I’d just like to take up a couple of point he makes which are not accurate for all you history buffs out there. At the end I give you my opinion of the album if you just want to skip down to that.

QUOTE “McDonald needed a vehicle to establish himself before going on to a solo career”

This statement is misleading in that it suggests that Mike only joined the Doobie Brothers to further his solo career – at the time in ’73/’74 Mike McDonald would have needed a crystal ball to have had this in mind. He joined the Doobies because he was asked by Pat Simmons over the telephone and he was not just ‘using the band’ as a stepping stone to a solo gig. Mike had been gigging around the West Coast for a couple of years – most notably with Steely Dan (which was on/off as anyone who knows Dan will understand – they went through more musicians that I’ve had hot dinners… approx’ 52 on Aja alone!). At the time he had had an abortive solo album released through a producer friend Rick Jarrard and he was living in a garage apartment surviving on oatmeal. He had pretty much given up on the idea of a solo career and was really looking for work as a session musician. Jeff Baxter, another Dan session man recommended him to Pat and that was that.

The whole idea of Mike going solo didn’t come until the Doobies fell apart around 79/80 and then it was out of necessity… it was either a solo gig or go look for more session work. Mike’s never planned anything in his life.. and he still believes to this day in synchronicity – fate leading him forward.

QUOTE “However much the band’s manager might want to thrust Simmons as the band’s new leader it seems that he needed a co-leader to bring out the best of his playing.”

The truth of this is that Pat is a very nice guy and a great musician but was not a leader in ’74. He was a hippy in the true sense of the word and this was not even his band remember – he came in a year or two after Tom Johnston had formed the band. Tom Johnston was the driving force behind the Doobs in the early days both in terms of direction, leadership and song writing. Following his well documented drug and health issues (he collapsed on tour with bleeding stomach ulcers that nearly killed him and spent 12 months recovering) the Doobies were in serious free fall.

You have to understand that these guys were all stoned half the time and all they could focus on was getting to the next gig to play a live set. They weren’t really a studio band at all so the idea of them all sitting down round a table and working out which musical direction to go after Tom’s sudden exit is frankly…. laughable.

Jeff Baxter, however, is a leader and has very strong ideas about what he wants to do. It was really his decision to employ Mike McDonald and it was part of his (later admitted) plan to take over Tom’s spot as leader of the Doobies. He realised that the Doobs had potential and with Tom gone were ripe for the taking. By bringing in his buddy from Steely Dan (McD) he gave his corner more strength. What is really ironic is that through the Doobies, Mike McDonald blossomed and developed a close bond with Pat Simmons and Tiran Porter which pushed Baxter out of the band a couple of years later. Baxter has commented on this power struggle and admits that once he realised he couldn’t lead the band he decided to quit

QUOTE “The only problem with those two classic tracks was they are both pretty much solo efforts”.

‘Takin It To The Streets’ WAS written before Mike joined the Doobies, in fact the words were part written by Mike’s sister as part of a college paper on Martin Luther King and social unrest in the U.S. It is no surprise that Mike’s musical inspiration for this track was Marvin Gaye and the album ‘What’s Goin’ On’ which pre-dated this album by 3 years. ‘It Keeps You Runnin’ and ‘Losin End’ were also pretty much written solo by Mike and these three songs really began a new direction for the band which would see them rise to chart success and Grammy awards with the next three albums, Fault Line, Minute By Minute and One Step Closer.

This album is a real mish mash of styles and rhyhms which done’ really knit for me. You have remnants of the past (Turn It Lose – Tom Johnstons rescued studio dub from Stampede), Mikes solo tracks over dubbed by the band, a kind of odd song ‘For Someone Special’ from bass player Tiran Porter that whilst OK doesn’t fit with anything, an attempt at a ‘pop’ song in ‘Rio’, Pat’s bluegrass influenced ‘8th Avenue Shuffle’ and a pre-psychodelia ‘Wheels oF Fortune’.

If you know the history of the band at this point in their career, it is glaringly obvious why the album should be this way. It is an attempt to tread water, an albums of bits and pieces put out under pressure from the record company whilst the band tried to come to terms with losing its core (Tom Johnston).

Having said that, it is also a remarkable album in that it marks a turn in the bands direction. It is historical in that it certainly rescued the faltering career of the Doobie Brothers. It’s worth buying just because it features the fledgling inspirational work of Michael McDonald and the truly great song ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’. This is THE album that began a major shift in popular Rock music away from the hard blues of Cream and Jimi Hendrix to the Ray Charles and Motown influenced Soul. Just a few years later Michael McDonald’s chords and vocal dubs would be copied across the board for nearly a decade from Christopher Cross, Toto and David Pack in the early 80’s to band like Go West in the 90’s. This album is where it began and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Takin' It To The Streets | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers Minute By Minute (1978)

28686185-28686188-largeFrom amazon.com

“Minute By Minute”, originally released in December of 1978, was the third official studio album from the Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald as a member of the band, and I think it’s clear that the third time was the charm, both artistically and commercially–although the previous two albums certainly weren’t without solid commercial success in the US, this one was a bonafide blockbuster, topping the US charts, having gone platinum within the first four months of its original release, and having gone triple-platinum by 1985.

I think the report of the band being dissatisfied with this album can be attributed to them feeling emotionally drained at the time of its recording/ release. The sessions weren’t exactly smooth sailing–in the booklet for the Rhino “Greatest Hits” CD, Michael McDonald recalls how the band did countless takes just for “What A Fool Believes” alone and that they “almost gave up”.

Without a doubt, the huge success of this album was deserved. It’s really amazing how much better of an album “Minute By Minute” is compared to the first two Doobies’ albums with McDonald–1976’s “Takin’ It To The Streets” and 1977’s “Livin’ On The Fault Line” respectively. Although respectable albums, the Doobies sound rather burnt out on “…Streets” and “…Fault Line” and often seem to be coasting on their (admittedly hugely respectable) instrumental chops to try and mask a lack of quality songwriting. With “Minute By Minute”, energy and enthusiasm are back in a big way–it’s like the band suddenly got a second wind.

Michael McDonald’s gasping, soulful vocals here pack a major wallop and are simply infectious, and he handles the lead vocals on a handful of classic tracks from this album. And of course, McDonald was one damn impressive songwriter as well–his album opening solo composition, the heavily syncopated “Here To Love You”, is one of his characteristic “soulful rants” as I like to call them, and it’s an irresistible, uplifting feel-good tune. “What A Fool Believes” was a huge hit, and with its crisp beat, rich & soaring harmonies, clever and incisive love lyrics, the sly key change on the chorus, and the extreme melodic catchiness, it’s a total classic–it’s true that you’ve probably heard it a ‘zillion’ times, but there’s no denying the brilliance of it. The jazzy, arrestingly hushed and moody title track is also classic hit. “Open Your Eyes”, with its pleading minor-keyed verses and extreme catchiness, is also a gem, and don’t forget about the grooving album closer “How Do The Fools Survive?”.

The greatness doesn’t stop there. On the previous album, it was as if the band was either afraid to rock out or had forgotten how to do so, but they come gloriously roaring back in that department with Patrick Simmons’ enthusiastic bluesy rocker “Don’t Stop To Watch The Wheels”, an irresistible song with a super fun guitar line and cool atmospheric stuff going on as well.

I’ll admit that not every song itself on the album is a classic, but still, “Dependin’ On You” is a fun feel-good tune, and “Streamer Lane Breakdown” is a solid, country-flavored instrumental that adds a welcome diversity. The minor-keyed “You Never Change” is admittedly a bit slight, and yet it’s still another piece of arrestingly catchy material. The quasi-ballad “Sweet Feelin'”, with vocals from Nicolette Larson, is rather fluffish, but it’s still catchy, under 3 minutes long, and nicely enjoyable.

So, despite some weaknesses, I have to admit I have a real weakness for this type of classy music, the kind of stuff that really holds up to repeated listening. Even “What A Fool Believes” is one of those songs that, despite its relentless airplay, has so much going on to make it one of those songs that’s always ‘worth one more listen’, as the saying goes. On the whole, “Minute By Minute” is a great and timeless album.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Minute By Minute | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers Stampede (1975)

From amazon.com

the_doobie_brothers_stampede_frontStampede is the most under-rated of all Doobie Brothers albums. I found it in a cut-out bin (remember those?) not long after it was released in ’75, even though it charted to #4.

In most ways, I find it the most satisfying album to come out after Toulouse Street, much better than The Captain And Me, and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. The acoustic-electric charm that was present with Toulouse Street was the abundance of folk, jazz, R&B, swampy country, and rock all fused together into a “sound” which experimented with throughout the album in such a way that it never left you wanting for more. The Doobie Brothers would shift tempos, chord progressions, mutate the beat and warp the melody sometimes shifting total genre in a song.

These have always the been the best elements of their music, continued on The Captain And Me but not so much on an album which generally became more electric and save for a handful of songs, most of the material on Captain utilized formulaic 70’s rock. Vices…Habits started to lean more to what is found on Stampede and with the release of this 1975 mini-cult classic, fans like myself were back in the saddle with the Doobies where we loved them. On Stampede they diversified those elements of their sound even more than ever before, grabbing up chunks of the genres outlined above (from Toulouse Street) and infusing more country-rock, folk, and a heaping helping of hot funk!

If you know what “Creole” or “Gumbo” mean, when you get your hands on Stampede you have a musical Creole all stirred into the most wonderful Gumbo you could ever taste!

Johnston and Simmons both wrote more eclectic songs on Stampede which captured the diversity and genius of their best early works, Toulouse Street as a whole, “Clear As The Driven Snow”, “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman”, “Ukiah”, “The Captain And Me”, “Spirit”, “Black Water”, “Daughters Of The Sea”, and “Flying Cloud”. This was the material that really set The Doobie Brothers apart from their 70’s contemporaries, as they, unlike other classic 70’s acts, were one group which really fused together the elements that gave birth to this music.

The Bay Area of Northern California was, through the latter part of the 60’s and into the early 70’s, an encampment of musical ideology that utilized “fusion” in the creative spark. And that applies beyond the common genre of fusion jazz. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Country Joe & The Fish, and Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, were all vanguards of fusion rock in the counter-culture movement. Rock, blues, jazz, folk, gospel, R&B, far-eastern, latin, and other world-wide elements of music were infused into contemporary music and experimentation was the measure of success. In 1971, The Doobie Brothers drew all the best elements of this front line together to make a successful sound that was unique in its own right and polished to a winning accessibility. 1972’s Toulouse Street was the perfect presentation of this and in reality, the two follow-ups to that album fell short of recapturing the magic. Stampede succeeds where those two came up short.

Also, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter finally fully became a member of the band on Stampede, adding that incredible third guitar with its unique steel jazz sound. When all three guitarists get cranking on songs like “Neal’s Fandango” the explosiveness is unmatched even by standard bearers like The Allman Brothers or The Eagles. When Little Feat’s Bill Payne cuts in with a jazz piano bending the melody and turning it on its head, or when Superfly Curtis Mayfield tops a song with Memphis Horns and Motown Strings, or when Ry Cooder adds a bottleneck guitar to three jammers already in overdrive, and when Maria Muldaur caps dissonant and haunting strings and horns with a plaintive wail, you have a masterpiece as a finished product. This may be The Doobie Brothers best work of art, sincerely under appreciated!

STAMPEDE starts with an ol’ timey vaudeville piano (courtesy of Bill Payne as are all the piano keys) that jumps right into the “signature rock” of Tom Johnston, but this time, Tom mixes it hot and then downbeats the song half way through with some gospel backing kicked up with keen guitar licks and you know that Tom is back in the driver seat leaving the hamburger rock melodies (ie. Without You, Natural Thing) on the old plate and serving up a fresh steak! “Sweet Maxine” is kick-ass country rock, boogie, gospel, and rockabilly all rolled up into a big fat Doobie!

“Neal’s Fandango” cooks. There is no other way to explain it. Three guitars country boogie right through a song that has a firmly planted bass fingering and three-part harmony that starts in full highway speed and goes to warp drive. The electric guitar lead exchanges between all three, especially Skunk’s signature sound is immaculately conceived and executed. This is one of Simmons’ best compositions belying his jazz work with Skunk on the next album. The double-drumming here just adds to the pleasure and this is a prime example of what the Doobies are all about.

“Texas Lullaby” again demonstrates Tom’s best talents. He sings this old country home styled ballad with soul and heart. The strings envelope bass and country twang guitars with gentle caress and Pat and Tiran back him up nicely. Halfway through the song Tom lets Skunk play around a nice country-fried jazz lead before he finishes off the vocals to a pedal steel coda.

Then…Motown comes calling on the ranch. Tom’s “Music Man” goes soul right away with Curtis Mayfield flourishes and a funky R&B guitar accent. Choruses are gospel tinged and after two full minutes the string section and guitars carry the song to dizzying heights and exit. Another prime example of Doobie Brothers adventures in artwork.

Beautiful guitar work of Pat, Tom, and Skunk provides an intermezzo called “Slack Key Soquel Rag” (scored by Pat) before the Doobies go Motown again with the amazing cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s hit “Take Me In Your Arms”. With the same kind of revitalizing energy that they provided for blues covers on Toulouse Street, the Doobies hit the bull’s-eye dead center with this R&B classic. The Doobies really rock this one and when the guitar leads kick up the dirt, the result, with double-pound drums and bass, is anther of their best efforts. Released as a single, “Take Me In Your Arms” fell just outside the top ten but for album listeners this is just another chapter in the great adventure of Stampede.

For many fans, the centrepiece of Stampede is the incredible “I Cheat The Hangman”. Pat wrote this literally haunting ballad after reading Ambrose Bierce’s classic ghost story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” about a post civil war ghost who does not realize he is dead. The dual acoustic guitar melody, electric picks (Skunk haunts the haunting song with gorgeous accents), Bill Payne’s ethereal piano tinkling, eerie percussive effects, and frightening string overlays, build slowly into a terrifyingly beautiful story. The finale is compared to Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” by Pat and producer Ted Templeman, but one who is familiar with Alan Parson’s orchestral vision of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall Of The House Of Usher” on Tales Of Mystery And Imagination cannot help but draw a direct comparison to the work engineered and produced there!

“Précis” is a classical style guitar piece written and performed by Skunk. Another brief interlude before the final three songs chop more wood.

“Rainy Day Crossroad Blues” is another top form acoustic guitar blues work by Tom. Three guitars are now supplemented by the one and only Ry Cooder on bottleneck. It slides up and downbeats and shuffles itself right into your soul. The center stop gap with overlaid strings and pedal steel changes the hot shuffle to country ballad instrumental carrying the song to fruition and then Tom amps it up with a rocking soul “I Been Workin’ On You” complete with gospel choir backings (Venetta Fields three-girl unit that backed Take Me In Your Arms as well). The chord progression changes and lead guitar work in center field, leading to last verses with whistling develops another sure sign that Tom saved some of his best material for this album.

Pat Simmons’ “Double Dealin’ Four Flusher” finale rocks us right out of the album to hitting the play button for a second go. Pat wails vocals and guitar leads (shared with Tom and Skunk) while Bill Payne lays down honky-tonk piano boogie that just before the end of the song segues into a tight jazz improvisational piece and then jump starts the whole band into electric finish. The end result is The Doobie Brothers best overall album to share the spotlight with Toulouse Street, and the jazzy other side of the band, Takin’ It To The Streets coming up next.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street | | Leave a comment