Mick Box Celebrates 50 Years of Uriah Heep with a Bigger Box! 

Uriah Heep in the ’70s: L-R John Wetton, David Byron, Mick Box, Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images)

It’s not every person who can literally hold their life’s work in their hands. But that’s what exactly happened with Uriah Heep guitarist Mick Box recently unpacked the band’s massive, career-spanning box set 50 Years in Rock (BMG).

“I was overjoyed, and it was an honest emotional reaction that I had. It was a sense of pride, and there was a lot of good vibes coming out of the box. It was really, really cool,” he says.

Not that the 73-year-old is ready to put a period on music and story of Uriah Heep just yet. Though the band had to scuttle a 50th anniversary tour in 2020, they’ve been hard at work writing songs for a new record and are ready to hit the road, as Box says. “Once this COVID monster has disappeared into the ether!”

Weighing over five pounds, 50 Years in Rock features 18 CDs containing the band’s entire 24 studio album discography, another CD of their 1973 live record, and four additional CDs of material curated by original or classic lineup bandmembers Box, Ken Hensley, Lee Kerslake, and Paul Newton, for a total of 23 discs. Though some hardcore fans have grumbled online about the absence of any rarities, demos, outtakes, or more live material.

There’s also two art cards by Roger Dean featuring both the original and “reimagined” covers for Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday, a double gatefold vinyl LP of the latter, and a 64-page album sized book featuring comments from the four members, a band timeline, and various programs, posters, and ephemera (though an opportunity was lost here for more historical or critical essays on the band’s music and career).

Mick Box is the only original member left in the current lineup that also includes Bernie Shaw (vocals), Phil Lanzon (keyboards), Davey Rimmer (bass), and Russell Gilbrook (drums). And he feels a little extra burden – gladly taken – of being that consistent link throughout the band’s entire history.

“If I’m there, the heart and soul of the band will be there. I’ve been through all the changes and kept the spirit alive of what Heep stands for,” he says. “I also wanted to keep the legacy of [deceased members) David [Byron], Gary [Thain], Trevor Bolder, and John Wetton alive. And now dear old Lee.

“Dear old Lee,” is Kerslake, who died in September of this year after a long battle with cancer. As drummer from the glory years of 1971-79 and then again 1981-2007, he was the member closest to Box both professionally and personally.

“I’ve known for five years that Lee’s health wasn’t the best. But five years ago, he was given two years to live. What kept him alive was music. He still managed to record a solo album and come up onstage with us every so often,” Box says. “I saw him at his home about a week before he passed away. His mind was fine, his speech was fine, but you could see that his body was in decay.”

Box says that he played his ill bandmate some demos for the upcoming Uriah Heep record. “Lee’s eyes lit up and he sat up in the bed and it was our old Lee again” Box who also spoke at the funeral, says. “We were brothers from different mothers. We went through the university of life together, running around the world creating havoc. We were a team, and I miss him.”

Famously, Uriah Heep took their name from one of the main characters in Charles Dicken’s 1850 novel David Copperfield. A character that Wikipedia notes was “notable for his cloying humility, unctuousness, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own ‘umbleness.’” It seems that the 100th anniversary of the great author’s death was around the time of the band’s founding, so Dickens references were all over the band’s hometown of London.

While Uriah Heep had some traction on American FM radio with tracks like “Stealin’” “Sweet Lorraine,” “The Wizard” and “Easy Livin’” (the last their best known number), they never hit it big in the U.S. like contemporaries Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin, despite treading in the same prog rock/hard rock/proto heavy metal waters. Though they had (and still have) a loyal following in their native UK, and massive fan bases in Eastern Europe, Japan, and even Russia.

Uriah Heep, circa 1975. L to R: bassist Gary Thain (1948 – 1975), singer David Byron (1947 – 1985), guitarist Mick Box, drummer Lee Kerslake, and keyboard and guitar player Ken Hensley (1945-2020). (Photo By Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Their lack of “hits,” though, hasn’t bothered the extremely amiable Box, who ends most conversations with his trademark saying “’Appy Days.”

“We came up in the ‘70s, so we just recorded the album and if there was something n it the record company wanted to put out [as a single], great! But that was never part of our agenda, we never went looking for it,” he says.

Changing record companies and frequent lineup alterations may have played into that instability as well. But when asked if he changed up his guitar playing to match the varied styles and approaches of Uriah’s Heep’s singers and rhythm sections, he lets out a laugh.

“Ha! No, I let them change to me! Bring what you got to the table, keep the heritage of the band, but fit to me! I can’t change my playing or style!”

As for 50 Years of Rock, Box says is a reminder of a time in the music business where things were different. When fans looked forward to a release date from their favorite band as an event, songs weren’t eked out for months ahead of time, and you could actually hold a record in your hand and pore over the artwork and liner notes. And you might come for the “hit,” but it would be a deeper track that stayed with you forever.

“A lot of the heart and soul of the business has disappeared. We go into the studio and spend all this time using this incredible equipment to get the right sound, and then people just hear it on an Mp3!” Box says. “Back then, everyone’s interests were basically sport and fashion and music. Now, there’s a lot more things to take your attention. The diversions are so immense.”

Uriah Heep’s best known records are Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday, both from 1972. When asked with studio effort should hold the proverbial #3 slot in a listener’s collection, Box says without hesitation their last one, 2018’s Living the Dream.

“It’s a statement of where we are today. Each one of us in the band today has the passion for what we do, and we treat every show as if it’s the last one. You have to. And that’s the way it should be,” he says.

Looking back, Box says he has fond memories of playing Houston in June 1983 at the Astrodome in the Texxas Jam, part of a lineup that also included Styx, Sammy Hagar, Triumph, and Ted Nugent.

Mick Box onstage in Europe in 2017. Photo by Stefan Brending/WikiMedia Commons

Today, Uriah Heep band members are also keeping themselves busy filming short videos as the “Lock Down Diaries” for their website. Box’s contributions might find him waxing nostalgic about Little Richard, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and (not so nostalgic) about COVID-19 itself. But by far the most scandalous, earth-shaking, and revelatory revelation came on the episode when Box was wearing a button-down shirt given to him by former Nazareth lead singer Dan McCafferty, whose band did many tours with Uriah Heep.

Box reveals that the man with the gravelly voice behind “Love Hurts” and “Hair of the Dog” had a not-so secret obsession with…ironing clothes.

“Ha! He was absolute killer on ironing shirts. We used to joke about it!” Box says when asked to elaborate.” He’d walk on stage and there wouldn’t be a crease in that shirt, mate! He was unbelievable. Army standard and beyond! But he’s such a good guy and a great singer.”

Finally, we ask Box about a bit of a discrepancy in the band’s genealogy. While most reference books and websites and the band’s own official timeline in 50 Years of Rock peg 1969 as the year of the band’s formation, how could the 50th anniversary tour have been in 2020?

“Well, we went into the studio in late 1969 as a band called Spice, and when we came out in 1970, we were Uriah Heep!” Box laughs. “At least that’s the way I’ve always seen it!”

For more on Uriah Heep and 50 Years of Rock, visit Uriah-Heep.com

Note: This piece was originally published at HoustonPress.com.

After this piece was published, news broke that Uriah Heep founding member Ken Hensley, keyboardist from 1969-1980, passed away on the evening of November 4, 2020. According to the website of Classic Rock magazine, the news was announced by his brother, Trevor, in a post on Facebook. Hensley was the band’s chief songwriter, and penned their best-known song, “Easy Livin’.”

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The Outlaws Remember Their German Invasion

Freddie Salem of the Outlaws in full flight on August 19, 1981 in Germany for the “Rockpalast” show. Photo by Manfred Becker/Provided by Chipster PR

It was June 2, 1979 at Carter-Finley Stadium on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Two young guitar slingers, Freddie (Salem, of the Outlaws) and Edward (Van Halen of, well, Van Halen) were having a beer backstage. Their respective groups were sharing a bill with Poco and headliners Boston for a crowd of 40,000. The Outlaws—with a lineup of triple lead guitarists—had just finished a blazing set of southern rock.

“Edward had been watching us and he asked me ‘How do you DO that with three guitars?’” and I said ‘Well, it takes some work! You just have to blaze away six guns loaded, but you have to watch each other. Especially when you’re just jamming. There’s no limit on how many bars you can play a solo,’” Salem recalls today. “And he said ‘That’s amazing! I have enough trouble with one guitar!’ and I said ‘Kid, you’re doing pretty OK for yourself. You don’t have to worry about that!’”

Salem had already told Outlaws singer/guitarist Hughie Thomasson that Van Halen had “reinvented the electric guitar.” He had been brought into the band two years earlier specifically to give the Outlaws a harder sound. One rougher that most people knew from their two hits to date: “Green Grass and High Tides” and “There Goes Another Love Song.”

So by 1981, the “Florida Guitar Army” were firing on all cylinders. And it’s Salem featured on the cover of the new DVD/CD release The Outlaws—Live at Rockpalast (MIG). It was filmed in August of that year at the Test Open Air Festival in Lorelei, Germany (on a bill that also included Thin Lizzy and .38 Special). The lineup at the time also included founding singer/guitarist Billy Jones, bassist Rick Cua, and drummer David Dix. Both the video and audio have been digitized and remastered for its first official release.

The Outlaws onstage in Lorelei in 1981 (l to r): David Dix, Rick Cua, Hughie Thomasson, Billy Jones, and Freddie Salem. 
Photo by Manfred Becker/Provided by Chipster PR

“I don’t think we even knew they were filming it!” Salem laughs. “Lorelei is a gorgeous place. We had the best time. And the record is what it is – it was just a two track stereo board mix from the house, and sometimes the mikes would go out. So there were hiccups!”

Salem adds that the outdoor amphitheater overlooked the lush Rhine Valley. He says an exuberant crowd of 15-18,000 consisted of mostly Germans, but with a good sampling of U.S. servicemen stationed nearby. In his liner notes, Salem also waxes rhapsodically about the bus trip from Frankfurt to Lorelei, and the Tampa, Florida-based band passed by literal storybook scenes of castles and small villages.

“It was like looking at a tapestry rather than real life. The roads were right on the Rhine River banks,” he recalls. “The whole trip was enchanting. The stage was overlooking the Rhine Valley, so it was like looking at a painting.”

Some members of the Outlaws began playing together in 1967, but the band really coalesced in 1972. Salem joined in 1977, replacing founding singer/guitarist Henry Paul. Salem had landed in L.A. at the age of 18 with “a guitar and 500 bucks” in his possession, soon landing a gig with the rock ‘n soul band the Chambers Brothers of “Time Has Come Today” fame.

Salem says he didn’t care where he slept or what he ate, but he was hungry to play and make connections. He had become friendly with Thomasson and Jones and the Outlaws management. But when an invite came to jam in Florida, Salem didn’t know it was essentially an audition for a spot he didn’t know existed.

“They wanted a more aggressive style to the music, and that’s what I brought.” Salem says. “Hughie is one of the most visionary musicians I’ve ever worked with. He really loved Jimi Hendrix, and so did Billy. All of a sudden, we had bigger walls of amps and we were raging! We were loud and rude!”

The band also started to use producers like Mutt Lange and Ron Nevison, known as more hard rock guys. Salem made his record debut on the live album Bring it Back Alive and then the studio effort Playin’ to Win. He later appeared on the band’s cover of the western standard “Ghost Riders (In the Sky)”, the group’s third hit.

“It took us six days just to do the basic track for that. But we knew right then it was going to be a hit,” Salem recalls. And while the band – known for their harmonies of mostly Thomasson/Jones, Salem was in the vocal with them for this one. “My voice sounded like the Johnny Cash version rather than Hughie’s did!”

Of course, the Outlaws’ sound is usually described with term “Southern Rock, a convenient—if limiting—tag. The Allman Brothers Band don’t sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd. And the Marshall Tucker Band don’t sound like Molly Hatchet. Or the Outlaws. Salem said there was a lot of work in the Outlaws not only on the vocal arrangements, but trying to keep the axemen from slashing each other.

“If you got three lead guitar players blazing away, it could be one of two things: Very exciting, or trains crashing!” he laughs.

Salem left the Outlaws in 1983 when things started to go downhill for the group. They had lost their record contract, there was conflict with management, and their last record—by Salem’s own assessment—was not really good. And he says their career started taking on a parallel with the beloved mockumentary band Spinal Tap. Not of their stadium-filling days, but of the “Puppet Show…with Spinal Tap” gigs.

“It was like ‘Oh, we’re in Seattle, are we playing the Civic Arena? And it was like ‘No, you’re playing Big John’s Amusement Park.’ Then it was small clubs and roadhouses. Plus, Billy was leaving,” Salem recalls. Finally, he says when he and Thomasson were on a multi-act bill at an outdoor festival that drew a paltry crowd of 200, they kind of looked at each other and both said maybe it was time for a break.

Thomasson would continue the band on an off, and a decade-long run playing in Lynyrd Skynyrd beginning in 1996 put the Outlaws on ice. Various formations would continue after that, and Thomasson passed in 2007. The current lineup includes a returning Henry Paul and original drummer Monte Yoho.

“It’s more of a tribute now, but it is what it is,” Salem says. “Nothing can last forever, but it was a tremendous run. And very exciting.”

Today, Freddie Salem is busy with production and session work, has overseen reissues, and puts his guitar on song files that people send him from all over the world. He’s also finishing up a new solo record Freddie Salem and Lone Wolf. But in the Age of Coronavirus, he’s trying to work fast.

“It’s going to be a hard-edged Americana record, and a conceptual one,” he says. “But we’re just waiting for all the major studios to close down again!”

This article originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Todd Rundgren’s Pandemic-Friendly Virtual Tour

Todd Rundgren: A relentless musical seeker and multimedia proponent plots a perfect-for-pandemic virtual tour. Photo by and © Lynn Goldsmith/Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

During the Age of Coronavirus, musicians have struggled to find the best way to get live music to fans across the world. Audiences have seen everything from blurry solo iPhone videos in living rooms to professional, multi-camera shot, full band concerts in empty theaters. But leave it to multimedia genius Todd Rundgren to perhaps figure out how Concert Tours of the Future will look with his upcoming virtual Clearly Human Tour.

“I didn’t do acoustic versions of songs in front of the fireplace because I didn’t want dumb down expectations for myself or my audience,” Rundgren says in a Zoom video interview from his home. “When I do a show, it’s a full on commitment. I didn’t want to just throw people a sop.”

The boundary-pusher and musical chameleon has a deep resumé at the forefront of the intersections between technology, computers, video, the internet, and music. Rundgren had been pondering how to pull off something like this for years. And it’s largely because of airports.

“I was terrorized in airports, trying to get to gigs and waiting for flights that would get delayed later and later and later. Then I have some weird game of tag with my travel agent going to different gates. And then the show is cancelled,” he says. “And the weather is just getting more and more relentless with hurricanes and floods and fires. Then when the pandemic hit, you have to think if the audience even make it to a gig!”

The Clearly Human Tour will consist of 25 “dates” running from February 14-March 22, with each show performed by Rundgren and his band live from a Chicago venue. The $35 ticket purchase will utilize computer “geofencing” to limit audiences to in and around the city (though multi-city packages open to all will also be available). To make things more localized, city-specific photos and graphics will show behind the band, and backstage catering will reflect local cuisine.

“Backstage, we’ll set clocks to the local time and put up posters of landmarks and get some local newspapers and catering shipped in from that town and encourage the audience to patronize the place,” he says. “The local component is very important to the performance.”

Add-on packages include a virtual Meet and Greet with Rundgren, the ability to choose different camera angles, and have themselves appear onscreen in a visible virtual audience. And a total of 19 tickets will be available for each date for audience members to physically attend the show in Chicago. The tour will also have a COVID protocol officer on hand to test band and crew daily.

“Nearly Human” record cover

The tour’s title takes its inspiration and partial title from Rundgren’s 1989 album Nearly Human, which the band will perform in its entirety, and is being reissued on CD and vinyl. Its themes of chasing love, seeking spiritual fulfillment and purpose, and how an individual person or incident can have wide-ranging consequences has only grow more prescient in the past 30 years.

It’s also an album of big sounds and many singers and instruments, something that Rundgren admits would be more difficult to take on the road with the amount of people and trucking for instruments and stage sets. The original album was recorded live with no overdubs, and Rundgren admits at the time it had a specific goal in mind. 

“I wanted to reinvent myself as an R&B singer. I was a fan and could sing it, but I had never done a record where I was that in my head,” Rundgren says. “So everything was written to advance that objective. And we had gospel!”

He adds that while some of his current band also played on the Nearly Human, they’ll still be learning to do songs that haven’t been performed in more than three decades. “Hopefully, if their muscle memory is there, it will all come back!” Rundgren laughs. “But these are all top class musicians, and I’m pretty picky about who I hire.” In addition to the entirety of Nearly Human, Rundgren says there will be plenty of other material in the shows both from his long discography and the hit songs he knows people want to hear.

The band will include Kasim Sulton (bass), Prairie Prince (drums), Eliot Lewis (keys), Gil Assayas (synth), Bruce McDaniel (guitar), Bobby Strickland (sax), Steven Stanley (trombone), plus the erstwhile “Global Girls:” Michele Rundgren, Grace Yoo, and Ashle Worrick (background vocals).

There’s also some unexpected Sounds of the Season going on in Todd Rundgren news, as he recently released his first holiday-themed single. “Flappie—A Holiday Fable” is a cover of a 1978 novelty tune by Dutch comedian Youp van ’t Hek. It’s about a boy and a pet and a family Christmas tradition and…well…let’s just say the tale has more in common with the works of EC Comics than Clement Clarke Moore.

Rundgren explains that his label wanted him to do a Christmas song, but he’s the self-professed “least Christmassy guy in the world” and it’s his least favorite holiday. That led him down a rabbit hole on Google, until he came across the song. Further research uncovered only a live video to learn it from, and he also had to work a bit on the translation/interpretation to English.

Outside of his solo career, the lifelong Beatles fanatic has done several stints with Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, including the last (and longest-serving) lineup that also included Greg Rolie (Santana/Journey), Steve Lukather (Toto), and Richard Page (Mr. Mister). Rolie and Lukather have both told The Houston Press how even after so many shows, they couldn’t believe they were onstage playing Beatles songs with an actual Beatle.

“Ringo just fell in love with this band, so we just kept going out. One year, I was on the road for 10 months between his band and my solo shows,” he offers. “But [the setlist] barely changed, and that drove me crazy. But to get to play ‘Yellow Submarine’ with Ringo? Wow. It was a great bunch of guys, I got to go to places in the world I never would otherwise. There was no ‘weird guy’ that everyone had tiptoe around. Though I got a lot of back stories about other guys over the years that were like that!”

He also had some relationship with another Beatle, George Harrison, via his completely full companion career as a producer. Over the years, Rundgren has been behind the board for acts ranging from Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, Hall and Oates, and Cheap Trick to the Tubes, XTC, and Bad Religion.

In 1972, Rundgren was brought in to finish the Badfinger album Straight Up after Harrison’s own attentions turned to producing his Concert for Bangla Desh shows. But despite the amount of work Rundgren put into it both producing songs from scratch and working on others in various stages of completion, Harrison controversially retained sole named production credit when the album came out. It spawned two of the band’s biggest hits in “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue.” 

The latter rose to prominence again in 2013 when, like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ for the Sopranos, it featured prominently at the end of the series finale of “Breaking Bad.” 

“’Baby Blue’ was the first song I did with the band, and from scratch when I got to London. They had already been through the wringer and  done a whole album with [engineer] Geoff Emerick [that was rejected by the label] and five or six songs with George,” Rundgren recalls. “I was hired because I had a reputation of no nonsense in the studio. They weren’t crazy about me, but we finished the record, I took the tapes back home and mixed it at Woodstock, then sent them back to England.”

When Rundgren was hired to do similar duties on the Badfinger’s follow-up record, the relationship only lasted to the second session. “I showed up, and they fired me! I think one thing they didn’t like is that I wasn’t English. And didn’t want to go out to the pub drinking with them,” he says. 

As the Zoom interview winds down, Classic Rock Brother Jamie—a Todd Rundgren obsessive and audio-tech geek—asks a few deep dive gearhead questions. There are also cameo appearances by Rundgren’s son Rebop and wife Michele in the background of his screen. But he has one piece of advice for us before shutting off his camera phone. 

“Let’s do this again!” he says. “And get your vaccine!”

This article originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

For more on Rundgren and his career, visit Todd-Rundgren.com

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Paul Dean of Loverboy Remembers His First Kiss

Loverboy today: Paul Dean, Matt Frenette, Mike Reno, Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve, and Doug Johnson. Photo by Mick Rock/Courtesy of Wolfson Entertainment

When Loverboy’s self-titled debut came in in October 1980, the prevailing media format for music was the vinyl LP. But given what he saw shortly thereafter, guitarist Paul Dean probably didn’t expect that the Canadian rockers would be releasing Loverboy in a 40th anniversary edition on vinyl as well!

The band was in Japan promoting their second album, 1981’s Get Lucky. A rep from the Sony Corporation took them to their headquarters in Tokyo, where they met the company’s President. He excitedly ushered Loverboy into his office to show off what at the time was one of the world’s first CD players, to handle the new shiny disc format that Sony had developed in partnership with Philips.

“I thought ‘This is definitely the future!’ I wasn’t thinking it would only be temporary. Downloads and streaming rule these days!” Dean laughs from his home. The just-released anniversary edition of Loverboy comes in a limited edition red vinyl. Unfortunately, the man who had a writing credit on each of its nine songs won’t be able to hear it for himself.

“I don’t even have a turntable anymore!” he says. “But I know that people appreciate the fidelity of a good turntable and cartridge and the quality of vinyl. Our manager, who’s an audio nerd, first brought it up to us. And when I listen to the record on Spotify, it still sounds good!”

Loverboy would hit #13 on the U.S. Billboard charts and spawn two hits with “The Kid is Hot Tonite” and “Turn Me Loose” (whose video—like many others to come from Loverboy—would later be in constant rotation on the fledgling MTV). Other tracks include “Prissy Prissy,” “Teenage Overdose,” “It Doesn’t Matter,” and the appropriate “Lady of the ‘80s.”

Dean recalls that by the time the band, which included himself, Mike Reno (vocals), Doug Johnson (keyboards), Scott Smith (bass), and Matt Frenette (drums), got into the studio, they were raring to go. Despite the fact that had only been together for less than a year.

“We were pretty ballsy back in those days, totally confident. Failure was not an option and we were going to go for it,” Dean says, noting that the Loverboy didn’t even have a record deal yet, and had already rejected a couple of “lame offers,” told it would take three albums for them to reach any level of success.

“At the time we had had a lot of recording experience, and we were pretty tight as a band. Our managers at the time got a good deal on the studio time,” Dean says. “I’m a perfectionist and the overdub king, and I’m sure I drove everybody pretty nuts. I was the guy there first thing in the morning and the last to leave at night.”

Dean also gives credit to producer Bruce Fairbairn, engineer Bob Rock, and assistant engineer Mike Fraser for helping the band greatly during the process. “I was impressed with how organized Bruce was. He’d have a chart on the wall with the nine song titles, and boxes below them that would say ‘guitar’ or ‘drums’ or ‘keyboards,’ and he’s just check them off as we finished them,” he says. 

Dean also notes that Fairbairn was a “great diplomat” who could diffuse any tensions between members who might think that a bandmate’s work might need another take by delivering the request himself. And he says that Rock has called him just in recent days to congratulate Dean on the anniversary and reminisce about the record.

Loverboy also had a distinctive cover, created with some old school photo technology. Canadian artist Barbara Astman was hired for the job, and she took a Polaroid selfie of herself. She immediately put the photo in a typewriter as it was developing, and punched in the words for the album’s track “Little Girl” across it before tossing it into a freezer.

Asked as to why the band wouldn’t feature themselves on the cover of their debut, Dean notes it wasn’t until their third album that they did so. “But we made sure we had our photo on the back of Loverboy,” Dean says. “In our best new wave clothes—the reds and blacks and yellows of our newly adopted color code!”

After recording was completed and the band started shopping around the results, it wasn’t long before executives at Columbia Records heard it and offered the band a contract. 

For his part, Dean was grateful for their support, and says that bandmembers were happy to do anything to get the word out about their music. And if that meant doing radio station drop-ins, newspaper interviews, or record store appearances in cities during the day before the show that night, so be it.

Dean says the band used to have an ad hoc baseball team called the “Weekend Warriors,” and they’d sometime play against record company execs and employees. And while he questions his own athletic ability at center field, it’s where he learned who the most important people to connect with on the other team.

“The most important people in the game were the sales people! That was a great lesson. They had a lot of power to [push and promote] the music, so we made sure we paid attention,” Dean says. “And whatever they wanted us to do, we did it. Back when there were actual albums to be sold!”

It was Loverboy’s quickly-released next record, 1981’s Get Lucky, that would really break them even further in the U.S., spinning off hits like “When It’s Over,” “Lucky Ones,” and “Take Me to the Top.” But it also included what’s become their anthem, “Working for the Weekend” (and the audition song for Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze as wannabe Chippendale’s dancers in a memorable Saturday Night Live sketch).

Along the lines of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Working for the Weekend” has transcended being just a hit into something that means more to listeners. Plus, it gave (and still gives) radio stations something to blast out on Fridays at 5 p.m. across the country.

As singer Mike Reno told us in 2018 about the song he co-wrote with Dean and Frenette, Dean’s original title was “Waiting for the Weekend.” Reno suggested a one word change in the title that started with the same letter, but it made all the difference. 

“I said if that’s what he [wanted], then sure. And it really worked out. Thanks, Mike!” Dean laughs. He says he knew the song was special from the time the band first began playing it, even before it was recorded, during a weeklong engagement at a bar on Vancouver Island one Saturday night.

Loverboy’s 1983 album “Keep It Up.” Clockwise from top: Frenette, Dean, Smith, Reno, and Johnson. 

“The band was secondary, and we were playing [originals]. People were just interested in meeting each other and talking, and we couldn’t reach them for two entire sets.” Dean recalls. “But in the third set, we played that song, and the dance floor that had been empty the whole time suddenly was packed! I don’t know if it was the booze or everybody getting loose, but I like to think that it was because of the song!”

Of course, the Age of Coronavirus has scuttled any of Loverboy’s plans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their debut with live shows. Dean says he’s been keeping busy writing music for the band and his solo career, as well as working on screenplays. Loverboy performed a couple of songs remotely and in their individual homes and studios (brought together by the magic of video and technology) for some of their charitable causes, but that’s about it.

The current lineup includes original members Paul Dean, Mike Reno, Doug Johnson, and Matt Frenette, with Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve on bass since 2001. Scott Smith was involved in an accident the year before while sailing off the coast of San Francisco when a large wave capsized his boat, and he was lost at sea.

As for 2021, Dean says he’s itching to get back onstage. “I’m doing just fine for being a forced recluse! But I miss the crew and the fans and the band and crunching my guitar,” he says. And like Reno, he’s thinking of putting out some new Loverboy music, but on their website only, mainly for their more diehard fans.

“We know at this point we’re not getting on the radio with any new music, so we’d just like to do something for the fans,” Dean says. “We know there’s people today who will take off of work, get a babysitter, drive 400 miles to see us at a show, stay in a hotel, then drive back. We want to thank them for their loyalty.”

For more on the band, visit LoverboyBand.com

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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George Thorogood Throws Full Beantown Party – Nearly 40 Years Later!

George Thorogood today: Still Bad to the Bone. Photo by David Dobson/Courtesy of Chummy PR

The year 1982 was turning out pretty good for George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Nearly a decade into their existence, the blues ‘n boogie band had opened a string of European dates for the Rolling Stones (as they had done the previous year in the United States). They were musical guests on Saturday Night Live. They had released their breakthrough record, Bad to the Bone.

And the atmospheric video of title track (which featured rock pioneer Bo Diddley and Thorogood as pool hall rivals) was in constant rotation on MTV. There seemed to be no escaping the song’s earworm standard blues guitar churn of “Duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH.”

So the group consisting of Thorogood (vocals/guitar), Jeff Simon (drums), Bill Blough (bass), and Hank Carter (sax) were riding pretty high when they played a gig on November 23 in the huge ballroom of the Bradford Hotel in Boston. And it was something of a homecoming for the group, which had relocated to the city from their original base of Wilmington, Delaware, where they formed in 1973.

“We really played our asses off for that show! We had just broken out of the bars and clubs and started doing larger venues,” Blough – still a Destroyer to this day – says. “And we’d normally play 2 ½ to 3 hours every night! We couldn’t do that today. We’re old men!”

The show was recorded, but not released until nearly 30 years later. A single-CD edit was issued in 2010 by Rounder Records as Live in Boston, 1982. But both casual and diehard fans noticed the omission of a certain tune which Blough – who worked on the track listing – chose not to include.

“In hindsight, maybe it was a bad idea not to put ‘Bad to the Bone’ on it!” Blough laughs. “But we really didn’t have it down yet. We’d only recorded it six months earlier. It was in the show, but it wasn’t matured. I’m sure that didn’t help sales of the record!”

Now, the entire show is available as Live in Boston, 1982: The Complete Concert (Craft Recordings). This newly-remastered release includes the entire 25-song set (including some spoken intros by Thorogood). It will be available in a red marble vinyl limited edition of 1,000 copies, as well as a standard 2CD set and across digital platforms. Liner notes by former Boston Globe music critic Steve Morse features new remembrances from Thorogood and the band.

On this night, the group played a smoking set that included original material (“Kids from Philly,” “Bad to the Bone,” “Miss Luann” ), blues classics (John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying” ), early rock ’n’ roll and R&B covers (Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”), and a few country tunes that the band put their own spin on (Hank Williams’ “Move It on Over” and T.J. “Red” Arnall’s “Cocaine Blues”).

Throughout their career, George Thorogood and the Destroyers have been one of those bands that many people go “Well, their studio records are great, but you really need to see them live.” Free of time constraints and given the ability to stretch out songs in front of an engaged live audience, Blough says it’s where the band preferred to work.

“We always considered ourselves more of a live act like the J. Geils Band. The studio albums set them up for the live show, but didn’t quite capture them,” he says. “They were a reference for when you went to see them live. You used to make records really so the club owner would have something they could bring to radio, so that was another hook to bring people to the show. And that’s what people remembered.”

The band’s current lineup includes Thorogood, Simon (an original Destroyer since 1973), Blough (since 1976), rhythm guitarist Jim Suhler (since 1999), and saxophonist Buddy Leach (since 2003).

As the trio of Thorogood, Simon, and Blough have nearly 45 years of experience playing together, one can wonder if they have an almost telepathic musical communication at this point from the hundreds of thousands of hours spent together playing on stages in studios, traveling on buses, planes, or staying in hotel rooms. Blough says that is indeed the case.

“In the days when we used to tour more heavily, we barely had to speak complete sentences to get a point across each other,” he offers. “We’d be riding in a car with a stranger and he might say ‘I don’t understand a word you said to each other!’ We’re just grunting and gesturing or speaking in bits and pieces of lingo we understand, but the outside world and even our wives didn’t! We can sense what the other guys are doing or thinking onstage.”

Bill Blough: Destroying bass strings since 1976. 
Photo by Steve Jennings/Courtesy of Chummy PR

Blough remembers that his introduction as a Destroyer was on July 1, 1976 in Philadelphia for a four night stand. That meant his last show of the run was on exact day of America’s Bicentennial, and in the city where much of that history happened.

“Those first shows were pretty overwhelming for me,” Blough recalls. “We played three sets the first night, going to 2 a.m., and slept on the floor above the bar. I woke up fairly early and wandered down South St. on Bicentennial weekend! Pretty crazy for a first gig.”

Of course, the band’s core sound is blues-based, raw, uptempo rock and roll. Once a dominant sound in greater musical pop culture, rock and roll – of any kind – wouldn’t make even the Top 5 list of today’s most popular genres. Blough hopes to pick up some younger ears since The Complete Concert will be on digital and streaming services, but he’s not betting much on it. “To be honest, I don’t know how all that stuff works!” he says. “I just hope it rubs off and [younger people] can hear the music.”

What he and the band do know is how to play live, and to that end they’ve already scheduled a 27-date tour that will take them to Canada and the U.S. west coast in May, then to Europe and back to the U.S. from July through September. These dates themselves were postponed from 2020 in the Age of Coronavirus. But Blough is hopeful things get better and they can actually play the shows.

“Everyone in the business is waiting to see. We went ahead and [announced the shows] hoping it would be far enough ahead past the pandemic. But we don’t really know, and nobody does at this point,” he says.

Bill Blough – Back in the Day! Courtesy of Chummy PR

“I know George is doing more online and with digital things to keep the visibility up. But the entire band all lives in different parts of the country, so that makes it difficult to even have a rehearsal.”

As for Houston, Blough believes the band’s first gig in the city was at Liberty Hall in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. He says their first Texas shows were a two-night stand at Austin’s Soap Creek Saloon where they played with Stevie Ray Vaughan and his pre-Double Trouble lineup, the Triple Threat Revue (which also included vocalist Lou Ann Barton and guitarist W.C. Clark).

George Thorogood and the Destroyers crossed paths again Vaughan in the early 1980s when both acts were playing the same venue in Atlanta.

“He played first, then we played. We were the headliners and he sat in with us,” Blough remembers. “Then he’d go back out and do all instrumental stuff like swing until 1 or 2 in the morning! We had to leave before he was done.”

Finally, Blough mentions that he recently received a single copy of the limited edition vinyl edition of The Complete Concert, and wasn’t intending to open it at all. But when he was booked for this interview, that changed.

“I got an email saying that I’d be talking to you, and I figured I better open it and listen so I knew what I was talking about!” he laughs. “I had to order another one to keep [intact]. The whole thing cost about $80. I thought ‘Holy shit! I hope somebody has some money after the pandemic!’”

When it’s suggested to Blough that maybe he could write it off as a business purchase on his taxes, he seems stunned. “My god, I hadn’t even thought about taxes! I need to go to work to make some money to pay the taxes!”

This article originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

For more on George Thorogood and the Destroyers, visit GeorgeThorogood.com

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John Kay: A Wolf Goes Solo…and Acoustic!

John Kay’s virtual concert will focus on folk/blues covers and solo material, while raising funds for live music venues devastated by the pandemic. Photo by Jutta Maue-Kay/Provided by Clarion Call Media.

Note: This article references a livestream/taped concert from last year.

John Kay’s voice is one of classic rock’s most distinctive. As the lead singer/rhythm guitarist for Steppenwolf, his gravelly, powerful tone drives their best known songs like “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Rock Me,” “Hey Lawdy Mama,” and of course, signature tune “Born to Be Wild.” As the sole original member left, Kay retired Steppenwolf in 2018, 50 years after the release of their first album.

But it will be a very different musical side of John Kay that a virtual audience will see in the livestream event  Live from the Lobero. The taped concert features just Kay, an acoustic guitar, and a microphone. Ticket sales will benefit Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre and NIVA (The National Independent Venue Association), during a time when live music venues are suffering or shuttering due to the pandemic.

“After I retired Steppenwolf, the next thought of course was ‘Well, what do I do now?’ So I started doing these solo acoustic shows, and they were received warmly,” Kay says. The format has Kay mixing cover tunes, older solo material, and unrecorded new songs, interspersed with stories of Kay’s musical and personal life.

“It’s really a collection of songs that harken back to my folksinger/blues singer days in the early ‘60s. Where I and so many others with a guitar were following in the footsteps of the masters like Son House and Howlin’ Wolf, and being influenced by those our own age like Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton,” he says.

Kay and his wife Jutta Maue-Kay – who he first met in 1965 – have been living in Santa Barbara for almost a decade. He fell in love with the historic 147-year-old Lobero Theatre both as a performer and audience member. Musicians Kenny Loggins, KT Tunstall, and jazz legend Charles Lloyd had already done similar benefits, so for Kay it was a no-brainer to join the club.

“It is the oldest, still operating theater in California, and the community has lovingly looked after it by restoring it and adding new things like a PA system. It’s a clubhouse for the community that we don’t want to lose,” he says. “The Lobero and so many other live music venues around the country are barely holding on by their fingernails.”

The 70-minute show was recorded with no audience and shot with multiple cameras by a social-distanced and masked crew. It will be available for viewing for an additional 72 hours, to better accommodate Kay and Steppenwolf’s global fanbase.

“We have a lot of fans in Europe and South Africa and other parts of the world. So they don’t have to get up at some ungodly hour to watch it,” Kay says. “[Steppenwolf] had the ongoing support of a global fan base from Peru to Botswana to a biker’s festival in Venice, Italy. They heard our music. But It was never my intention to do Steppenwolf material for [this show]. I did that for 50 years.”

And while Steppenwolf’s brand of hard/psychedelic rock produced a string of good time party hits, the band has never gotten credit for its deeper material that plumbed social and political issues of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Tracks like “Move Over,” “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam,” “Power Play,” and “Snowblind Friend” attest to that.

But it’s epic trilogy “Monster/Suicide/America” whose impact has lasted longest. From the band’s 1969 album Monster, it’s a 10+ minute meditation on the State of America at the time, as well as immigration, imperialism, the Civil War, political and economic disparities, the police, decaying cities, the Vietnam War, and the American Dream both achieved and elusive. And it appealed to a different audience for the band.

“The white girls who were screaming for us in the audience on the Ed Sullivan Show knew ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ and that was great. But it was the FM underground radio that played the albums and [deeper] cuts,” he says. “‘Monster’ was a big hit on college campuses during the time of Kent State and protests against the war in Vietnam. That stuff went deep.”

After being off the band’s set list for years, Kay says he started getting more requests for it right around the time of the 2007/08 Great Recession. And it stayed in the set list to the last show. “People were losing their retirement monies and homes and we started playing it again. David Fricke from Rolling Stone even went back and listened to it and said how prophetic it was.”

Kay explored a similar financial issues back in the ‘80s with “Sign on the Line,” which Houston musician/promoter Allen Hill remembers clearly from a Steppenwolf show back in the 1980’s at the much-beloved Party on the Plaza concert series. Kay seems delighted when the song is brought up, which appeared on the 1990 record Rise and Shine.

John Kay performing at the Oregon State Fair, 2007. Photo by Fdbrumbl/Wikimedia Commons.

“I used to introduce it on stage by saying ‘I’m going to do a song about that wonderful invention known as the credit card. Which enables you to buy things you don’t always need with money you haven’t made yet for items that will be broken by the time you finally finish paying them off.’” Kay offers.

“They say ‘The interest rate is a mere 18.5% applied and compounded, and if you have a credit card bill of $5,000 and if you pay the bare minimum, it will get paid off in the next millennium’ kind of thing. We all got sucked into it. ‘Did I ask for these? Why do I have 14 credit cards in my mailbox?’ It operates on the drug dealer template – the first hit is free. It was my sardonic take on it.”

To date, Steppenwolf has appeared on the ballot for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame once – in 2017 – but did not make it past that stage. In 2018 though, “Born to Be Wild” was inducted into the inaugural class of the newly-created Singles category, reflecting the influence and importance of individual songs.

It went in alongside “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (technically Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm band); “Rumble” by Link Wray; “The Twist” by Chubby Checker; “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, and “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” by Procol Harum. Kay says he’s particularly proud to be in there with “Rumble.”

Finally, Kay says he and Jutta have been taking the forced extra quarantine time during the pandemic to concentrate on their Maue Kay Foundation, which they formed in 2004 and focuses on wildlife protection, conservation, and human rights. He recently unearthed a treasure trove of videos taken from trips around the world on missions like Africa and Vietnam.

He’s also catching up on his reading and just finished Isabel Wilkerson’s currently-in-the-news Caste. “I find her to be not only a fine writer in the sense of literature with total command of the language, but also in a manner that is instantly accessible,” he says. “It’s not over the top trying to impress the reader with a sense of the dictionary.”

But most importantly, the Kays are taking care of a recently acquired new addition to their family. “We wound up with a four-footed, fur-bearing grandchild!” he laughs. “He’s a lovable rascal who makes us smile, and my wife takes him to the beach to chase the ball. He lifts our spirits at a time when we need it.”

For more on John Kay’s music and Steppenwolf, visit Steppenwolf.com

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Firefall Drop First New Record in Two Decades

Firefall in 2020: Jock Bartley, David Muse, Mark Andes, Gary Jones, and Sandy Ficca. Photo by Jamey Bartley/Courtesy of Leighton Media

It was, according to guitarist/singer Jock Bartley, not only one of the highlights of his musical career, but of his life. And it happened onstage at Liberty Hall in Houston late in the evening of February 24, 1973.

Bartley was playing just his second gig behind country rock pioneer Gram Parsons in his backing band, the Fallen Angels. It also included singer/guitarist Emmylou Harris. That’s when they were joined by two musical luminaries, fresh off their own Houston show earlier that evening at the much larger Sam Houston Coliseum.

“We were onstage, and Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt walked out and started playing and singing with us. And that was the first night Linda and Emmylou met and sang together,” Bartley recalls on the phone via Zoom.

“Then they invited us all to go back to their swanky Houston hotel, and we stayed up all night playing and singing and taking massive quantities of everything. If there was a guitar around, Gram would pick it up and play 20 or 30 country songs. But to hear Emmylou and Linda sitting next him and blending their voices together, it was magical. And wonderful.” Ronstadt and Harris would become lifelong friends, musical collaborators, and – with Dolly Parton – later record as the Trio.

But just five days before that Liberty Hall show, Bartley was holding not a guitar in his hand, but a brush. He was laying down fresh coats of paint at his apartment building in exchange for his rent.

“I wasn’t a country picker, but I was better than the last guy in Gram’s band, I guess. He was nervous and had gotten drunk and the show was awful,” Bartley continues. “They called me up and the next morning, and I was on the road to play Austin at the Armadillo World Headquarters. The next gig was in Houston.”

Bartley’s stint it the Fallen Angels wouldn’t last much longer, but there were bigger things on the horizon. He – along with Rick Roberts and Larry Burnett (vocals/guitars), Mark Andes (bass), and Michael Clarke (drums) formed the country rock group Firefall in 1974, adding David Muse (keyboards/flute/sax) shortly thereafter.Firefall scored three big radio hits on their first trio of albums with “You Are the Woman,” “Just Remember I Love You,” and “Strange Way.” Fans also enjoyed deeper cuts like “Livin’ Ain’t Livin’,” “Cinderella,” “Mexico,” and “Headed for a Fall.”

The group went through breakups, reunions, and many lineup changes, but the current band (Bartley, Andes, Muse, singer/guitarist Gary Jones, and drummer Sandy Ficca,) have just released Comet (Sunset Blvd. Records). It’s their first new studio album in over two decades.

The 10 tracks are penned by both bandmembers and outside writers. Jones handles most of the lead vocals, with contributions from Bartley and one by band friend Mark Trippensee. But the whole project started when they recorded a cover of Spirit’s “Nature’s Way” with a lead vocal by Andes, a former member of that group.

“Firefall’s been doing a log of package shows, and we’ve been playing the same 45 minute set for 20 years. So for me, it was nice to include ‘Nature’s Way’ in the set as a doff of our hats to Spirit and Randy California,” Bartley says. “A lot of classic rock bands won’t put out albums because it won’t get on radio and will just be sold at the gigs. We have new stuff to play and to say. And we’re excited that it’s out.”

Leadoff track “Way Back When” has Bartley reminiscing about some of the great performers of the ‘60s, weaving in song titles in the lyrics in which each chorus is dedicated to a different year.

“I wrote the first verse about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Byrds in 1965. Then, I Googled the top 100 hits of 1967 and I saw Aretha Franklin and the Rascals and all the songs,” he says. “Then I did the same on the next verse for 1969 with Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Led Zeppelin.”

Other tracks include “A Real Fine Day, “Younger,” “There She Is,” “Ghost Town,” “Before I Met You,” and “A New Mexico.” The band actually finished recording it in November 2019, but the pandemic delayed its release. And while some voices in their management wanted to hold the album even longer, Bartley and Andes made the final call.

Jock Bartley onstage recently. Photo by Jamey Bartley/Courtesy of Leighton Media

“The new record is our way of staying in touch with our audience without being able to tour,” Andes says via video on the same Zoom call. “We’re gonna have to test the waters with [concerts], but doing it in a responsible way. Like being careful and hopefully getting vaccinated. It’s just so complicated.”

The original Firefall was already in existence in the mid-‘70s when Bartley, Andes, and Roberts were moonlighting in former Byrd/Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman’s band. A tour was ending with a three-date run at New York’s The Other End when Hillman fell ill after the first gig. The trio convinced the club owner to let them fly out Burnett and Clarke to finish the shows as Firefall. Hillman also produced the band’s demo that helped get them a deal with Atlantic Records, whose reps had seen the band play at the club.

The band took its name from a longstanding tradition at Yosemite National Park, where organizers would light a large wooden bonfire, then push it over the edge of a cliff as thousands watched it fall. After the practice was discontinued due to safety and image reasons, visitors can now see a “natural” firefall during mid- to late February. That’s when the setting sun makes the Horsetail Fall near El Capitan appear to be “on fire,” with an optical illusion river of flames cascading down the cliff. 

Asked as to how his and the band’s base in Boulder, Colorado affected their music, Bartley says it’s partially because Firefall was smack dab in the middle of the burgeoning scene that mixed county and rock, but with a different perspective than their California cousins.

“I grew up in Boulder, and in 1972 or so Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman, Richie Furay, Dan Fogelberg, Carl Wilson from the Beach Boys, and the great Mark Andes all moved there,” Bartley says. “When Rick and I were first getting together and Mark came and sat in with us, it felt like we could be a band. The California sound that started with the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield and Poco moved to Colorado, and Firefall was an outgrowth of that.”

“That western kind of music has a depth and feel that is more expanded than typical [rock],” Andes adds. “The songs sounded like they filled the void of desertscape.”

With the success of the Roberts-penned “You Are the Woman” – the third single off the band’s 1976 self-titled debut record and the band’s biggest hit – casual listeners pegged them in the soft rock/ballad category. That had its pros and cons.

“In later years, Rick didn’t want to even play it anymore! And I said ‘Rick that’s our biggest hit! People are buying tickets to hear that song!’ Thousands of people have told me over the years they got married to that song!” Bartley says.

Firefall backstage recently. Photo provided by Leighton Media.

“When Rick presented it, it was a late addition to the album. But we all figured it could be a hit. I’ve been working 25 years because of that song!” he continues. “But the downside is that after it was huge, and so was ‘Just Remember I Love You,’ people who listened to AM radio thought we were just a ballad band. But a lot of our other music was more rock and roll.”

In its commercial heyday, Firefall opened for many contemporaries including Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doobie Brothers, and even the Band on the last dates before their breakup—the last being Bartley’s personal favorite.

But their most memorable run may have been with Fleetwood Mac on the massive Rumours tour. “It was unbelievable. We opened for them during the previous album in ’76 and they liked us,” Bartley says. “To walk onstage in front of 80 or 100,000 people a couple of nights a week, it was amazing. Those were some of the best shows we ever played.”

This interview originally appeared in longer length at HoustonPress.com

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Rob Halford of Judas Priest Confesses Everything. EVERYTHING.

Rob Halford’s trademark entry is roaring onstage astride a Harley. Photo by Gary Peterson/Provided by Hachette Books

Confess: The Autobiography by Rob Halford

368 pp., $30, Hachette Books

For much of the 1970’s and ‘80s, even as he was fronting Judas Priest, one of the most popular, loved, and revered heavy metal bands of all time, lead singer Rob Halford was scared shitless. Scared that if the truth ever came out about his homosexuality, his legions of fans would turn their backs in disgust, he’d be held up to ridicule, and it would immediately kill the band’s career.

Growing up in the tough Black Country area of Walsall, England, where everyone’s father seemed to work at the nearby giant metalworks factory, Halford knew from an early age that he preferred boys to girls. And even after he joined Judas Priest, his band mates and business confidantes knew. But as long as he could sing those notes and kick ass…nobody really cared what he did in his personal life.

In those days of pre-cell phones and TMZ, Halford knew he was taking risks with some of his behavior. So imagine his surprise when he finally came out on the spur of the moment in a 1998 MTV interview and…nothing much happened. Fans still bought records and concert tickets in droves, and a huge weight was lifted from the singer’s shoulders. “I imagine[d] a mass chorus of the voices of our hard-won fans in the Midwest and Texas: Fuck! I isn’t going to see no band with a goddamn faggot singer!” he writes.

Though as wags would point out later, Halford’s preferred stage attire of leather, studs, whips, and other regalia was not exactly subtle. Nor were the many hints he dropped in Judas Priest songs as the band’s lyricist. Even he was shocked few caught on to lines like those from “Raw Deal” mentioning leather guys, denim dudes, colts playing “rough stuff,” and even name checking New York’s Fire Island, long a celebrated as a favored destination for homosexual men.

So it’s no surprise that Halford’s struggle with his sexuality – along with booze and cocaine – dominates as much (and maybe even more of) Confess as reminiscing about music, concerts, and recording sessions. Some readers might be taken aback by his tales of truck stop bathroom sex in stalls with glory holes, sweaty trysts with strangers and fans, and details of passionate sex-and-drug fueled relationships with men who someone always turned out to be straight (including one who killed himself with a gun shortly after a screaming fight with Halford).

Though at the top of his career, Halford hit rock bottom in 1986 when with self-loathing and substance abuse. Fortunately, the book’s easygoing narrative style (likely written by an uncredited ghostwriter, music journo Ian Gittins) offers great doses of humor and self-deprecation. And makes it less shocking that it might been. Judas Priest fans will also get a peek behind the curtain at some of the bandmember’s relations and key moments over the years, and he writes insightfully about them.

This includes the bizarre incident in which the band was sued for purportedly inserting subliminal and backwards-masking messages in their songs that “led’ a 20-year-old and 19-year-old fans to make a suicide pact after a day of drinking booze, smoking pot, and listening to the album Stained Class. One was successful in killing himself with a gun and the other was severely maimed, later dying of a methadone overdose.

Lawyers for both sets of parents played snippets from songs in which Halford seemed to say (if you listened really, really hard) phrases like “try suicide,” “sing my evil spirit,” “Fuck the Lord, fuck all of you,” and “do it.” As the sole member of the band who testified, Halford said was utter nonsense, adding to reporters that if he was putting secret subliminal messages in songs to fans, it would be to “buy more records” and certainly not kill themselves.

Still, these were the days of the PRMC and “heavy metal hysteria, and Ozzy Osbourne has been sued for a similar situation, so emotion may have ruled over logic. But Halford’s authoritative testimony carried weight. As did his own lawyers who produced evidence other incidents of “backward masking” in Priest songs that said (again, if you listened really, really hard) phrases like “Look ma, my chair is broken,” “they won’t take our love away,” and “I-I-I asked for a peppermint.” The band and their record company were acquitted. 

Rob Halford would leave Judas Priest some years due to a “miscommunication” and to pursue a solo career, but “The Metal God” returned to the fold and has been touring and recording since. Drug and booze free for 34 years and in a stable, healthy relationship, he writes that while coronavirus has put the kibosh on the band’s planned next album and tour, he’s ready to ride that Harley on stage again and melt audiences faces off, just as soon as he can. 

This review originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Chris Hillman Looks Toward the Byrds, the Burritos, and Beyond

Chris Hillman onstage with the Byrds in the mid-1960s. Photo by Getty Images/Provided by Conqueroo PR

Throughout his nearly 60-year career in music, he’s flown high as a Byrd and a Burrito Brother. He’s served as a Squirrel Barker and a Golden State Boy. He left the train depot in Manassas on his way out west to pick a Desert Rose. And he’s been rightfully lauded as a founding father of country rock.

So Chris Hillman has a lot of stories to tell and observations to make about music, life, and his former bandmates. And he does in Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond (315 pp., $29.99, BMG books). And while the book takes its title from a Hillman song, it’s not exactly what he wanted it to be called.

“I was going to call it My Life as a Beatle, but nobody wanted to publish it!” he laughs. “I just don’t understand why!”

Hillman’s story opens up with a childhood near San Diego in Rancho Sante Fe, California. His father was an advertising and newspaper man, with great assist from his mother. And while family finances were sometimes issues, it was a youth filled with horse riding, surfboarding, car riding, and music. 

He also met western-tinged local characters like The Red Cowboy and Old John Robertson, the latter of whom would be immortalized in a Byrds song. “John Robertson was just a lovely man. He was also always throwing money at us,” Hillman recalls. “If you saw him on the street he’d say ‘I think you dropped a dollar,’ and point to the ground where one was. I’d say I didn’t have a dollar. He’d go ‘Well, you better keep this one until you find out who it belongs to.’”

Barely out of his teens, Hillman was drafted to play bass the Byrds. They exploded in popularity and helped invent the genre of folk rock (sometimes tinged with psychedelia) with songs like “Turn! Turn! Turn!” “Eight Miles High,” “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n Roll Star” and their danceable Dylan cover, “Mr. Tambourine Man”—which in turn influenced the Bard of Hibbing to steer his own career in a more rock direction.

Among music nerds though, it’s the band’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo album that has taken on the most mythical status as Ground Zero for Country Rock. And while new Byrd Gram Parsons has been given “credit” for moving the band in that direction, it’s a misnomer. One that’s only grown given the Cult of Gram that has developed around the late performer.

The original Byrds: Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby,and Michael Clarke. Photo by Getty Images/Provided by Conqueroo PR

“I didn’t think it was the best album we ever did, but we were doing country songs in 1965, and lot of people don’t understand that,’” Hillman offers. “They say ‘Well, Gram Parsons got them to do a country record,’ and that’s not the case at all. He loved the music and it was great to have an ally, and it sounded great to Roger [McGuinn] and I. But on the second Byrds album we did a Porter Wagoner song. So Sweetheart wasn’t really a stretch for us.”

Hillman also notes that all of the Byrds had come out of folk music, and is proud that the album “blew open the door” for bands like Poco, Pure Prairie League, the Eagles, and even Hillman’s next group (co-founded with Parsons), the Flying Burrito Brothers.

In the book, Hillman writes candidly about bandmates Parsons and David Crosby. And while he respects them as friends and musicians, their ego, hubris, and sometimes childish behavior derailed important moments.

In the case of Parsons, he had become enamored of the Rolling Stones and especially his new drug buddy, guitarist Keith Richards. He began spending more time with that group hanging out than his own. Hillman and Roger McGuinn saw the writing on the wall when the Stones took the Byrds to see Stonehenge one early misty morning while the American group was on tour in England.

“We were walking through the wet ground and Mick Jagger and Keith were ahead and Gram just went running after them [like a puppy]. I’ll never forget Roger says ‘Uh-oh, someone’s fascinated with the Rolling Stones.’” Hillman says.

Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman onstage with the Flying Burrito Brothers at the ill-fated 1969 Altamont concert. Photo by Getty Images/Provided by Conqueroo PR

Jagger – who sent his chauffeur to bring back dry socks for the bands – was not enamored of Parsons. Hillman writes that one day when he had to search out his bandmate to ensure he made a concert that evening, he found Parsons stoned out with the Stones. Parsons would receive a tongue lashing from Jagger.

“Mick was really onto him, saying he needed to be professional and responsible and owed it to the audience who had paid their money to see him. If people are buying tickets, you need to show up,” Hillman says.

Hillman recalls that when the Burrito Brothers were scheduled to play in apartheid-era South Africa, Parsons made an “impassioned” speech about why he wasn’t going, and how growing up in Georgia and Florida made him extra sensitive about racism in all forms. Hillman was nonplussed.

“He really just wanted to stay behind with Keith Richards. I had to fire him three or four months later. But it’s all water downstream,” he says. “I liked the guy, but his biggest problem was having the family trust fund and getting a check every month. You have to struggle and suffer to attain success, it’s part of the process. And he had this safety net behind him. I think it held Gram back.”

As for the still-alive-against-all-odds David Crosby, Hillman says “David has outlived a lot of people. What an amazing constitution! Yes, he gets into mischief every five seconds by something he’s done or said. He can’t seem to keep his mouth shut, but I love the guy.”

Hillman took on a more prominent role – even as vocalist – in Manassas, led by Stephen Stills. When it’s suggested to Hillman that he seems to have always taken the “Graham Nash role” as band peacemaker, he laughs.

“We share that role! Graham was in the middle of two maniacs with Crosby and Stills. I know. because I worked with them both!” he laughs. “But I love them. I was the mediator like he was.”

Hillman would go on to find mainstream country success with the Desert Rose Band in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and today tours with former members Herb Pederson and John Jorgenson. He’s continued to record, his most recent effort being 2017’s Bidin’ My Time. It was produced by Tom Petty (always heavily influenced by the Byrds), and included contributions by Petty and his band the Heartbreakers as well as McGuinn and Crosby.

Time Between also covers Hillman’s deep Christian faith and spiritual journey. He became an evangelical Christian in 1973. After marrying Connie Pappas, whose own religious background is in the Greek Orthodox church. Hillman got curious about that faith after attending some services with her and their two children.

“I felt a strong calling and talked to the priest for a few days and asked about icons and things like that. I love the layers and layers of tradition. I was brought into the church in 1996. And the way I see it, we’re all on the same ball team if you’re a Christian,” he says.

He goes on to describe his journey in more detail, before stopping himself and laughing. “I feel like I’m giving you a theology lesson! I’m not trying to proselytize!”

And if readers take away one lesson from Time Between, it’s this.

“What’s implied in my book is simply don’t give up. Pick yourself up and keep moving. When my dad died [by suicide] and we were flat broke, and my mom said we had to move, my sister and I didn’t complain. We went and did it, and kept moving. Nobody said anything was fair. You have to work things and respect others and stop with all this vitriol. There, I’m preaching to you again!”

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Jimi Hendrix: Where the Wild Thing Was

Jimi Hendrix performing in Helsinki, Finland, in 1967.
Hannu Lindroos/Lehtikuva – Wikimedia Commons

Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix By Philip Norman

400 pp., $28.95, Liverlight Publications

When veteran music journalist Philip Norman turns his attention to a musician, the word “definitive” is not an understatement. For while many of his subjects are themselves subjects of dozens—even hundreds—of tomes about their music and lives, Norman’s efforts tend to end up being the go-to one volume work. As he’s done with Buddy Holly, Elton John, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton.

And his 1981 Beatles bio Shout! – while not the most in-depth work on the Fabs, was the first serious look at their career in which the band themselves were not directly involved. Norman continues his higher calling streak with this work, likely the “definitive” look at perhaps the greatest guitarist in rock history.

Part of that is Norman’s very natural storytelling ability and just way he makes words flow. Whether uncovering new information via his own interviews, or retelling familiar tales, Norman writing skills are evident. When he’s describing how a young Jimi’s first instrument at the age of 12 was a one-stringed ukulele that his father found in a garbage pile, the reader can visualize the pleading on the boy’s face.

The book also goes into detail about Hendrix’s complicated relationships with his absent mother (who died early), and a stern, ego-driven father who seemed unfazed and unimpressed by his boy’s worldwide success. Despite Jimi’s every attempt to please him.

One head-scratching aspect of Hendrix’s pre-fame career Norman details is just how easily he would move from job to job seemingly without a care – even when he was fired. As a backing guitarist, he played with everyone from Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding to Solomon Burke, Chuck Jackson, and even Joey Dee and the Starliters. His tenure would always start out great, but eventually his tardiness, sloppiness in dress onstage, and showboating would make his employers sour on him.

As Norman notes, his tenure with Redding’s group ended when he was literally left on the side of the road in between gigs as the bus pulled away. Also interesting is how often he would be without a guitar, having hocked it, but always finding a way to have a bandmate or—more often—a sympathetic woman or girlfriend (and that term was a very loose one to Hendrix), pay to get it out for him.

“I still have my guitar and amp,” Jimi wrote in one letter to his father from the road. “And as long as I have that, no fool can stop me living.” And what he did with that guitar would be first appreciated by English audiences, leaving fellow players awestruck. Norman describes one scene at an early Hendrix rock show where in the wings Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton were “holding hands like awestruck toddlers at a fireworks display.”

It took Hendrix’s iconic performances at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival to ignite his career back in his native U.S., and then the world. Though even while his star was burning brightest, it didn’t shield him from both casual and flagrant encounters with racism from how he was described by some to those who took issue with his many white girlfriends.

The book is also filled with women who jump in and out of these pages as they did in Hendrix’s bed. That the guitar god would often use them to fulfill his own sexual and career needs, then drop them, and maybe come back does not paint him in the best light, but they all kept coming back.

His personal charm seemed to go a long way. And the one consistent of any Hendrix book is how the amplifier-humping, guitar-smashing, flamboyantly-dressed and flailing wildman onstage belied an offstage persona that was actually shy, soft-spoken, and surprisingly unsure of himself.

That personality type also led many to take advantage of Hendrix – first and foremost manager Mike Jeffery, the book’s designated villain. That’s not including the countless, hangers-on, groupies, sycophants and drug pushers Hendrix would eagerly surround himself with, then bemoan their presence.

Of course, Jimi Hendrix met an untimely end. Part of the “27 Club,” he died at that age in September 1970 from what varying has been described as a drug overdose and/or choking on his own vomit. The exact details of Hendrix’s death and how he spent his last 24 hours of earth will likely never be known given that the woman he was with at the time – girlfriend Monika Dannemann – changed her story and the extent of her involvement many times over the years.

The casualness with which the investigation happened would be unimaginable for a star even half as famous as Hendrix was in today’s climate. But with new interviews, Norman pieces together what is likely an as accurate as possible chain of events. And of course, wonders what kind of music the ever inquisitive and forward-moving musician could have made. 

Wild Thing does have one weak point in that Norman seems to rush past how large Jimi Hendrix still looms in the rock and pop culture consciousness in the 50 years since his death. And the amount text on the struggles and battles involving his estate and his family members could have been fleshed out a bit more, as well as a look at his discography.

Nevertheless, Philip Norman has once again managed to write what history may look at as the most complete word on his subject, and Wild Thing deserves a place on the top tier of the Jimi Hendrix bookshelf.

This review originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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