Doug Gray of Marshall Tucker Band Still Has the Fire in His Belly (and on the Mountain)

The Marshall Tucker Band today: B.B. Borden, Rick Willis, Doug Gray, Marcus James Henderson, Tony Black, and Chris Hicks. Photo by Mariah Gray/Courtesy of Absolute Publicity

For many people, remembering where they were and what they were doing on any given New Year’s Eve is an effort hampered by time, memory, or alcohol. But Doug Gray recalls exactly where he was more than four decades ago when the year 1978 rolled into 1979: Onstage at the Warehouse in New Orleans, fronting the Marshall Tucker Band through a lengthy and fiery set.

There were over 2,000 people in the audience, but tens of thousands more heard the concert simulcast nationwide on more than 150 radio stations. This show is also the latest archival release on the band’s own Ramblin’ Records imprint: New Year’s in New Orleans: Roll Up ’78 and Light Up 79!

Ramblin’ Records cover

“That show was something! And it sounds really, really good. Everybody was having a good time, and you could tell. I remember a lot because I brought my mother and father down there. And I had been hanging out with Gregg [Allman] – the best Southern Rock singer there is,” Gray says today from his home of Spartanburg, South Carolina. The city not coincidentally also give birth to the original band in 1972. Gray also has a non-musical memory that involves…fast food?

“It was the first time my dad ever ate Popeye’s chicken – and during [that day], he wanted to get more of it!” Gray laughs. “So about four hours later I was busy with something, and just told him go down the street himself to get more.”

The record includes MTB standards like “Long Hard Ride,” “Fire on the Mountain” “Searchin’ for a Rainbow,” “Heard It In a Love Song,” and “This Ol’ Cowboy.” There’s also deeper cuts “I’ll Be Loving You,” “Desert Skies,” and “Fly Like an Eagle” (not the Steve Miller version). It boasts the most Southern Rock-sounding-ever take on the appropriate holiday standard “Auld Lang Syne,” and the band brought out members of opener Firefall for a jam on the country standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Taken from the original 24-track soundboard recording tapes and worked on by longtime MTB producer Paul Hornby, it’s not doctored or sweetened up. There’s bum chords, notes, and feedback, which lends an authenticity that Gray insisted upon. And the band’s leader/guitarist, Toy Caldwell, apologizes for his very hoarse voice before launching into perhaps the MTB’s best known hit, “Can’t You See.” It’s a rare tune not sung by Gray, but the latter wouldn’t have it any other way, even today.

“I wouldn’t be talking to you now if it wasn’t for Toy,” Gray says of the group’s primary songwriter. “With ‘Can’t You See,’ he wrote it for me to sing, and I told him I couldn’t do it. First, it was about his wife – so that was out! But he wanted me to sing it hard, and I asked him to show me. He went out there, nailed it, and we recorded it. It’s just better for his voice than it ever was for mine, and it would not have been as big a hit as it was if I did it.”

The record features the original/classic lineup of the group: Gray, Caldwell, brother Tommy Caldwell (bass), George McCorkle (guitar), Paul Riddle (drums), and Jerry Eubanks (keyboards/sax/flute).

Of course, fans know there is no Marshall Tucker in the Marshall Tucker Band – the group took their moniker from the real-life blind piano tuner from Spartanburg whose name the band found on a keychain that led to a rehearsal place the band rented when they were just starting out. Unbeknownst to them at the time, Tucker was the space’s previous renter (the group would form a friendship with him…and his equally-blind wife!).

The classic lineup of the Marshall Tucker Band: Doug Gray, Paul Riddle, George McCorkle, Tommy Caldwell, Toy Caldwell, and Jerry Eurbanks. Record company PR photo.

But Gray has lost track of how many thousands of times over the decades people have called him “Mr. Tucker” or queried about the origin of the name. “In the beginning it was funny. We made up a joke – I can’t tell you it! – but we were doing so many interviews and it got asked,” he laughs. “And we’d count it how many times we’d have to tell it. We’d go ‘This is number 34! This is number 35!’”

In 1980, Tommy Caldwell died from head injuries sustained in an auto accident, and the group disbanded three years later. Gary and Eubanks revived the group in 1988. Toy Caldwell died in 1993 from a drug-related heart attack, McCorkle in 2007 from cancer, and Eubanks and Riddle have largely retired form performing.

The band’s current lineup includes Gray, B.B. Borden (drums), Tony Black (bass/vocals), Marcus James Henderson (keyboards/sax/flute), and Chris Hicks and Rick Willis (guitars/vocals).

And they’re very, very busy on the road. This year will find them sharing stages with fellow Southern Rock Royalty Lynyrd Skynyrd on that band’s farewell tour, playing with longtime friends the Charlie Daniels Band on the Fire on the Mountain tour (the titled shared by an MTB song and Daniels album), and finally their own headlining Southern Rockin’ Roundup run of dates in which Gray is seeing his audiences actually grow younger.

The Marshall Tucker Band onstage at New Orleans’ The Warehouse in the 1970’s (though not at the 1978 New Year’s Eve show). Photo by Sidney Smith/Courtesy of Reckoning PR

“It’s all about the music. And kids who weren’t even born when the songs came out are responding to the music,” he says. Gray also recently spoke with Dan Rather for the latter’s music-themed series “The Big Interview.” A conversation that was supposed to last less than an hour went for more than three as the two men reminisced about their time in Vietnam during the war – Rather covering it and Gray fighting it, as did several other members of the original band. There’s even a second part coming out.

“But I haven’t watched it! don’t like looking at myself!” Gray says. “I have a hard enough time looking in the mirror at myself at four o’clock in the morning. I want it covered up. My girlfriend says I’m crazy!”

If Southern Rock is a three-legged stool, then Lynyrd Skynyrd is one, the Allman Brothers Band the second, and the Marshall Tucker Band the third. Today, Gray is more concerned with his actual legs and getting enough exercise.

“I’m almost 72. You have to take care of yourself,” he says. “We didn’t take care of ourselves early on, or we embalmed ourselves with some of the things we were doing. But I don’t think people relate age to the way the music makes them feel.”

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

For more on the Marshall Tucker Band, visit MarshallTucker.com

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Joe Grushecky: Rock’s Iron Man

The Iron City Houserockers in 1980 (from left, Gil Snyder, Eddie Britt, Joe Grushecky, Art Nardini, Ned E. Rankin and Marc Reisman). Photo by Cleveland International Records/Courtesy of Randex Communications

It hard to fathom in a time when the push of a button can send the music of an album to the entire country at the same time. But from the ‘60s through the early ‘80s, local rock scenes thrived around the country. Midwest and east coast towns like Boston, Detroit, New York City, Cleveland, and a certain Asbury Park could ferment their own bands and clubs with live, original, and regular rock and roll. Some acts stayed local heroes, others exploded nationally, and more fell somewhere in between.

Perhaps no musician is more identifiable with the steel town of Pittsburgh than Joe Grushecky. First as lead singer/guitarist with the Iron City Houserockers, then Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, and as a solo artist, he’s been putting out music and gigging live for more than 40 years with his gritty, blue collar, and beer sodden party music.

1980 saw the release of the Iron City Houserockers’ well-reviewed Have a Good Time…But Get Out Alive! A new 40th anniversary reissue includes the original album, along with a second bonus disc of demos, alternate versions, and rarities.

And when Grushecky calls from Pittsburgh, he’s actually in his car listening to the reissue for the first time. “My CD player wasn’t working, so I just downloaded it!” he offers. The reissue came about because Steve Popovich, Jr. is reviving his late father’s Cleveland International label on which it originally appeared. It has already released the band’s debut Love So Tough, albeit with no bonus material. That sent Grushecky digging through his archives to find cassette and reel-to-reel tapes that were decades old to add to this one.

“This record was a life changer musically in the national press. We got a lot of hardcore followers that are still with us today from it. It was a real experience in the studio, first class all the way,” he says. “It was our first shot at the big time.”

In addition to Grushecky on lead vocals and guitar, the Iron City Houserockers included Gil Snyder (piano), Ned E. Rankin (drums), Art Nardini (bass), Marc Reisman (harmonica), and Eddie Britt (guitar). But it’s the presence of some high-profile guests that also set this project apart, including Steven Van Zandt. Mott the Hoople leader Ian Hunter, and Mick Ronson (David Bowie, Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople) on various guitar, arranger, and producer credits. It gives the whole record a sort of Pittsburgh/New Jersey/London amalgamation vibe.

“Those were some diverse musical minds. On paper, it should have never worked! But it’s a tribute to [original co-producer] Steve Popovich that it did,” Grushecky recalls. “He had everyone working together. He was an ‘anything goes’ type of guy. He was a character, and he loved his music.”

Music trivia geeks and liner note readers will also note the presence of singer Ellen Foley, most famous for duetting with Meat Loaf on record (but not in the video) for the horny teenage anthem “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Grushecky also has a longtime friend and admirer in Bruce Springsteen, who produced a 1995 Grushecky album and has appeared with him on stage many times over the years.

The term “bar band” often gets a dismissive connotation. But it’s descriptive of another time long gone when rock fans in the ‘70s and ‘80s had their favorite groups that they would go see at area clubs time and time again at their go-to watering holes/pick up joints. That communal feeling and culture of locality is pretty much dead in 2020. And in the Age of Coronavirus, the stake has been driven even deeper.

Joe Grushecky onstage in the ’80s.
Photo by Barb Summers/Courtesy of Randex Communications

“So many of the little clubs left, they probably won’t survive this. And live music in general is not what it used to be. People just aren’t into music bars like they used to be,” Grushecky reflects. “It used to be about how many clubs you could hit and how many bands you could hear in one night. We still have local favorites here that the city rallies around. But they’re a bit of an anomaly.”

As for growing up in his home city of Pittsburgh, Grushecky credits the thriving AM radio stations with big-personality disc jockeys for influencing him, as well as the music they chose to play (yes, children – there was a time when DJs actually got to pick and play their own choices). For instance, while most radio stations across the country might play the hit “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group, Grushecky says Pittsburgh stations would spin “High Time Baby” instead – which would then find exposure in the dance clubs.

“And you’d see playing in those little clubs on the circuit acts like Junior Walker and the All Stars and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, all this gritty rock and R&B. We had a complete different spin on things,” he offers. “Even me, I used to play four or five nights a week!”

Despite his impeccable rock and roll credentials, people might be surprised to find out that music is actually not Joe Grushecky’s main gig. He’s been a special education teacher in Pittsburgh-area high schools for decades, and still holds that position today. That means if Joe the Rocker stepped offstage at some bar at 1 or 2 am during school nights…Joe the Teacher had to be in class and ready to go just a few hours later.

“You never get used to it. And it wasn’t the late nights that killed me – it was the early mornings!” he laughs. “I had to support my family. Health issues have always been a big thing in our family, and I needed the insurance. And my dad – he dropped out of school at 12 to go work in the coal mines – always guided me to go to school. He was a musician too. And he told me ‘I don’t care what you do after you go to college…but you’re going to college.’ He was very big on education.”

Grushecky had planned to celebrate the reissue of Have a Good Time…But Get Out Alive! with some live shows, playing the record in its entirety. The Age of Coronavirus has scuttled those plans, they have afforded a new opportunity: doing solo acoustic shows via his Facebook page. He and the current version of the Houserockers (which includes Joffo Simmons on drums, Danny Gochnour on guitar, Jeff Garrison on bass, and his son Johnny Grushecky on guitar and drums), were actually in the midst of recording a new album when everything shut down.

“We can’t do anything now,” he sums up. “But I can’t wait to get back out there and play.”

For more information on the reissue and Joe Grushecky visit JoeGrushecky.com

This article originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Who is He? The Silent, Stoic Bassist’s Story is Finally Told

The Who in 1965: John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and Keith Moon.
KRLA Beat/Beat Publications, Inc./WikiCommons

The Ox: The Authorized Biography of John Entwistle by Paul Rees

384 pp., $30, Hatchette Books

Every member of the Who has been the subject of a number of biographies and autobiographies save one: bassist John Entwistle. Known as “The Quiet One” for his stoic, anchoring stage presence and unflappable demeanor, it’s no wonder he’s often overlooked amidst the madcap, attention seeking, wild and drunk antics of Keith Moon, the preening, microphone-tossing of Roger Daltrey, or the windmilling, media winding-up of Pete Townshend. “I ain’t quiet,” he sang on a self-deprecating ‘70s Who track, “everybody else is too loud.”

With this book, “The Ox” gets his own due, with a tome Rees has written based on Entwistle’s own writings, his deep dig researching, and interviews with family, friends, and fellow musicians who have rarely talked about him before. It should also stand as the definitive work on the bassist.

And as a bassist, John Entwistle never saw his four-stringed instrument as inferior to the guitar or meant to play a merely supporting role. “Thunderfingers” (yet another nickname) played the bass as a lead instrument, and his on-stage battles with the rest of his band over the volume of his speakers is legendary.

Entwistle was also a prolific songwriter (for the Who he penned “My Wife,” “Boris the Spider,” and “Heaven and Hell” among others). The former trumpet player often worked as the band’s arranger, and even cover artist – that’s his caricature on the cover of The Who By Numbers. He also held a decent level solo career.

Offstage, with Keith Moon, he found a demented partner in crime – often instigating the combustible drummer into a prank or frenzy at his own instructions. And not even the band’s infamous infighting touched him.

A PR manager recalls hearing a cacophony of shouts, screams, and smashing objects coming from the band’s dressing room one night. He entered to find a disaster area with Daltrey holding Moon by the throat and choking him, Moon trying to fight back, and Townshend screaming at Daltrey to stop. Entwistle? He was in the corner, calmly cleaning his fingernails and paying no attention to the chaos.

But a good chunk of the book also focuses on Entwistle’s non-musical pursuits. He had enormous appetites for (in no particular order): sex, brandy, red meat, more sex, cigarettes, cocaine, still more sex, and shopping. Yes, shopping. He bought dozens of luxury cars – despite never driving them. He could drink and drug in amounts that dwarfed others, yet rarely seem out of it or sloppy – thus, the nickname “The Ox” for his seemingly invincible constitution.

John Entwistle practicing his bass. Personal photo from the Entwistle Archive/Courtesy of Hachette Books

And his English Quarwood estate would be filled with tons of offbeat knick knacks crammed in every corner and reflecting his dark sense of  humor, Visitors might see full suits of medieval armor, a human skeleton posed and relaxing on a divan, an effigy of the Hunchback of Notre Dame swinging from a high dining room ceiling, and many, many plaster casts of fish he’d caught. Plus millions of pounds worth of model trains, clothing, and guitars. And he had his own pub in the basement that would be the envy of any town in England.

But he was also a huge spendthrift, and his often self-inflicted, dire financial situation was directly responsible for the Who getting back on the road more than once.

Entwistle also loved being Rich Rock Star/Lord of the Manor…and wanted people to know it. An frequent customer of high-end English department store Harrod’s, a shady acquaintance worked a deal where Entwistle could get the same goods for 60% off, though they would have to be delivered in an unmarked van. After a short while, Entwistle went back to his regular deliveries at full price: He wanted neighbors to see the van with “Harrod’s” on the side making the multiple trips up his driveway.

John Entwistle in Quarwood’s fully-stocked basement bar with his rotweiler, Marlene. Personal photo from the Entwistle Archive/Courtesy of Hachette Books

Toward the end of his life, Entwistle finally began showing the cumulative results of his decades long debauchery. And he had a “rock and roll” demise, passing away at the age of 57 from a heart attack in a hotel room which contained booze, cocaine, and female accompaniment, on the evening of the Who’s 2002 tour. And though he passed a simple and (given the test subject) pretty lax physical for tour insurance purposes, a simple CT scan would have showed that three of his four heart arteries were compromised, with one being blocked completely.

If The Ox has one weak point, its perhaps one that couldn’t be avoided – we read what Entwistle did, but rarely what he thought, or what deeper mental and emotional motivations and decision-making processes were. It’s not surprising, given the subject, but this book is a must for any Who fan, and a highly entertaining read.

A version of this review originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Ted Templeman’s Tales: Doobies, Van Halen, and…Frank Sinatra??

Ted Templeman listening to a playback at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, most likely while working on the Montrose debut album, summer 1973. Photo by Donn Landee/Courtesy of ECW

Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music by Ted Templeman as told to Greg Renoff

450 pp., $19.95, ECW

As an introduction to the often misunderstood art of record production, young Ted Templeman could not have found a better session to observe. Through friends in the music biz, the young singer/drummer found himself in a Capitol Records  studio behind the soundboard. 

On the other side of the glass, Frank Sinatra was recording the song “That’s Life”…and running roughshod over the session’s nominal producer, Jimmy Bowen. Here, the artist was making his own decisions and giving the band directives asking no second opinion. But I mean, hey, it’s Frank Sinatra.

Book cover

Templeman’s main gig was as member of the sunshine pop group Harper’s Bizarre (they had a hit with a 1967 cover version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy”). But as his desire to perform waned he kept focused on the thought: I could be the Man Behind the Glass. And one that would work with an artist, not let them call the shots.

And he did, forging a successful career for over two decades while he working with Van Morrison (on his #1 hit “Wild Night”), Little Feat, Eric Clapton, Sammy Hager, Aerosmith, Carly Simon, and Nicolette Larson (he admit to nicking the chords for her smash “Lotta Love” from Ace’s “How Long,” while adding a sax solo and disco beat for radio). But readers will likely be most interested in Templeman’s two most successful and longest-lasting collaborations: the Doobie Brothers and Van Halen. 

There’s a lot for fans of the Doobies here. How “Black Water,” a throwaway B-side that no one thought much of, became a #1 nationwide hit after one radio station in Roanoke, Virginia started playing it. Or how an unconfident Michael McDonald – still unsure of his place in the band while supposedly “subbing” for original lead singer Tom Johnston –  thought “Takin’ It To the Streets” would be a flop. Templeman would even dust off his own skin thumping skills, playing on “What a Fool Believes.”

And there’s even more Van Halen stories, right from the beginning when Templeman became their champion after seeing them in a near-empty Hollywood club (“It was like they were shot out of a cannon,” he recalls). He was wildly impressed with the energy and skill of guitarist Eddie Van Halen (“I’d never been as much impressed with a musician as I was with him that night”).

In fact, the world likely would have never had Eddie Van Halen’s signature guitar workout “Eruption” had Templeman not happened to overhear Eddie simply warming up with finger exercise in the studio, then demanding the guitar virtuoso actually record it. 

He was less enthused with singer David Lee Roth’s limited vocal abilities, even going so far as to suggest to some before recording VH’s debut album that the flamboyant front man be replaced with the singer from another band he’s worked with, Montrose. A man by the name of…Sammy Hagar (though it would be years before Templeman saw that switch actually come about). 

A fascinating bit of VH history is how Templeman relays the solo EP he made with Roth while Eddie Van Halen hemmed and hawed on their next record – the smash Crazy from the Heat (with “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody”)– inadvertently exacerbated tensions within the band, which directly led to Roth’s exit. 

Though his professed naivete about at shock at that outcome seems disingenuous. As his rejection to producing the band’s next record – now fronted by Sammy Hagar – because “it wasn’t really Van Halen” without Roth. Templeman writes that he’d only take the job of the band renamed themselves Van Hagar or something similar. The band declined. And in the words of Larry David, they did pretty, pretty good with Hagar. Better than some of Templeman’s relationships with various Morrisons and Doobies and Van Halens ended up.

Throughout, Templeman also gives a lot of credit to his engineer for many of his records, Don Landee (though that relationship would fray as well). Nevertheless, Templeman (via Renoff) comes off as an engaging and friendly narrator and tour guide behind the making of some of classic rock’s biggest records. 

This review originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Dennis DeYoung Goes Back to Where It All Began

Dennis DeYoung onstage.EXPAND
Dennis DeYoung onstage. Photo by Rebecca Wolf Photography/Courtesy of Freeman Promotions

Like all musicians of varying ages, genres, and stages in their career during the Age of Coronavirus, Dennis DeYoung is stuck at home. He’s got a new solo record coming out, but has had to put a planned tour on ice. So he finds himself at walking the floors with his wife of 50+ years, Suzanne, and thinking about…laundry.

“This morning, my sweatpants stormed into my bedroom…and demanded that I wash them! My wife has insisted on six foot distancing with just the two of us in our house. Including the lovemaking. She said it’s never been better! Does that sum it up? Make sure you tip your waitresses!” he spits out rat-a-tat with the impeccable timing of an old Catskills comic, before turning more serious.

“This pandemic, it’s the great leveler of the human race. And that’s sobering. It’s making everyone on the world consider our fallibility, and think about things we try our best not to think about” he says. “But when rich people and celebrities say we’re all in this together…not exactly. Very few of us are worried about our next meal or mortgage payment. I would never be so arrogant to even think I’m in the same boat as most of my fans are. I make that clear, and I thank them for placing me in this position. But it still feels trivial to even talk about a new record.”

That record – 26 East: Vol. 1 (Frontiers Music SRL) was 2 ½ years in the making for the former Styx singer/songwriter/keyboardist. Its ten tracks manage to veer easily between wistful nostalgia, tentative future, and very, very current events.

The title comes from the real-life address (in Roseland on the southside of Chicago, Illinois) that DeYoung grew up in. It had a basement where in 1962 DeYoung and two twin brothers from across the street – Chuck and John Panozzo – would form the nucleus of the band that would eventually evolve into Styx. The three trains on the cover represent the three teens leaving the station to chase their dreams, with the name of their first group, the Trade Winds, emblazoned on one.

“In Chicago, everybody has a basement, but there was always the danger of flooding. So we always had to have our equipment up high when the rain got bad. The floor was forest green and the walls were white,” DeYoung remembers. “My grandfather Charlie lived right above where we rehearsed. He would always bang on the floor with his cane for us to keep it down. So we struck a deal. We told him when we were going to practice, and he got in his ’54 Chevy and drove to the tavern. If it could have been less glamorous, I don’t know how!”

This being the early ‘60s, though, the music the trio learned to play (Chuck on guitar, John on drums, and DeYoung on vocals and…accordion?) wasn’t exactly emanating from a teenage wasteland.

“There were no Beatles or rock bands then. We were trying to play our parents’ music that they loved out of fake books and please them. We were a wedding band with a small dream,” he says. “That all changed on 2/9/64 when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. Then we knew what we wanted to be. That’s when the big dream started.”

In the lead-off track, “East of Midnight” DeYoung recalls the rush of those early days hearing the latest music in his bedroom on a transistor radio – something today’s teens who can stream any song every recorded in history can’t fathom.

“We had to hear songs on the radio or in the car or a crappy record player with a nickel on the arm so it wouldn’t skip. So music was the focal point that connected us to the greater world,” he says. “Now, 16-year-old males can just look at porn on the internet, and music doesn’t seem so important anymore!”

There are also ballads (“You My Love”), reflections of life (“Damn That Dream,” “Run for the Roses”), and songs that somehow manage to take both a dim and promising view of the world and where it’s headed (“A Kingdom Ablaze,” “Unbroken,” “Promise of the Land”).

Dennis DeYoung and Jim Peterik during the recording of “26: East: Vol. 1.” Photo by Kristie Schram/Courtesy of Freeman Promotions

But that song that makes the most noise is “With All Due Respect,” a blistering, flamethrower of a rocker that takes to task the talking heads of TV and radio news, with the chorus: “With all due respect/You are an asshole/With all due respect/You make me sick/With all due respect/Plug up your pie holes/With all due respect/You don’t deserve no damn respect!” It makes Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” look downright innocent by comparison.

“We need as a country, as a democracy, as a functioning society, the ability to see news that isn’t so completely biased. We don’t have that. This song is about the destruction of democracy for cash, and when news organization functions as entertainment. And that’s for cable news, national news, and radio,” DeYoung – whose personal politics stand center right – offers. “It’s all partisan. It’s not just the left or the right, but it’s both of them. People don’t like it when I say this, but the left should shut up about the fixation with Fox, because 80% of [the media] leans left.”

“With All Due Respect” was co-written by Jim Peterik (Ides of March, Survivor) who also plays multiple instruments and pushed DeYoung to work on the album when he wasn’t so sure about it. As did Frontier Records President Sefarino Perugino.

“Jim and I have two similar personalities in the same room with the same life experience and the same sense of humor…and we just cruised through it all. It was a joyous experience. And I’m indebted to him for that,” DeYoung says. That’s somewhat of a switch from his former group. “I was the possessed guy in Styx, always. The guy with the biggest ambition, the cheerleader, the guy at the center of it all telling everyone – probably wrongly – that we were better than we were!”

The fissure of Styx between DeYoung (who was fired from the band in 1999) and members Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young is one of classic rock’s most bitter tales. Shaw and Young continue to record and perform under the band’s moniker, with guest appearances from Chuck Panozzo (John Panozzo died in 1996). While DeYoung has done the same, billed under his name. Their omission from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of that institution’s greatest snubs.

And while DeYoung recently told Andy Greene Rolling Stone he feels they should reunite and do one last tour for the fans, both Shaw and Young have told me – and other music journalists – it’s not a partnership they are looking to revive in any format.

For the new record, despite the open-ended nature of its title – and the fact that there are plenty of other songs in the can – DeYoung certainly talks about 26 East: Vol. 1 as if it’s his last studio record and a farewell to fans. The last full song on the record – “To the Good Old Days,” features Julian Lennon on vocals and seems like a last look back to that Chicago basement and all the places it took DeYoung and the Panozzo brothers.

Lennon’s involvement stemmed from a straight-up Beatles homage DeYoung wrote called (in a nod to the Fabs’ own song with the same title) “Hello Goodbye.” “I did the demo and got the idea of involving Julian, but I realized that it wasn’t his story. Then I went to the piano and wrote ‘To the Good Old Days,’” DeYoung says. “I didn’t know him. I just sent a demo to his business manager and thought I’d never hear back. But Julian said he’d be honored to be on it. I mean, it was his dad’s band that gave me this great life I have. I’m trying not to tear up talking about it right now.”

Julian Lennon and Dennis DeYoung during the recording of “To The Good Old Days.” Photo by Tim Orchard/Courtesy of Freeman Promotions

The record actually ends with “A.D. 2020.” At less than a minute, it shares a melody with two other song snippets (“A.D. 1925” and “A.D. 1958”) and the smash hit “The Best of Times” from the 1981 Styx album Paradise Theater.

The now 73-year-old DeYoung’s words leave little room for interpretation: “And so my friends/I’ll say goodbye/For time has claimed it’s prize/But the music never dies/Just listen and close your eyes/And welcome to paradise.” And the last sound you hear are fading notes from DeYoung’s accordion. A sentimental video that combines both songs features video footage of DeYoung’s family, and includes the Panozzos.

“I wanted this album to be listening experience, from start to finish. And I wanted to end it with those two songs. It’s one thought process,” he sums up. “It’s the metaphor of what music – over all other art forms – does for human beings. It’s an organic, physical experience. No one can define it or explain it. But what is does so valuable. At my age today, when I hear from people what my music – and any music – has done for them…that’s magical.”

For more information on 26 East, Vol. 1 or Dennis DeYoung, visit Dennis DeYoung.com

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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DVD Review: ZZ Top – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas

ZZ Top at the Crossroads Guitar Festival, June 26, 2010. Photo by Steve Proctor CC BY-SA via WikiCommons.

ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas

125 mins./DVD + Blu-Ray, $29.98, Eagle Rock Entertainment

Last year, the three members of ZZ Top  – singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons, singer/bassist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard – celebrated 50 years together, the longest of any major rock band without any lineup change. This documentary recounts the Houston-born group’s career, musical styles, and influence.

The story of ZZ Top is told mostly on-camera by the three men themselves in recently-conducted interviews, aided by a treasure trove of vintage photographs and live footage. All three prove able raconteurs, even if they’ve told these stories over and over. Musicians like Steve Miller, Dan Auerbach (the Black Keys), and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), and several producers and engineers add their talking head thoughts.

DVD cover

As to how they got their name, Gibbons recalls after leaving his Houston band the Moving Sidewalks (who made the garage rock classic “99th Floor”), he was aware of a number of artists with double consonants in their names like B.B. King and Z.Z. Hill. After considering dubbing the group ZZ King, he noticed that the revered bluesman’s name was at the top of a concert hand bill. Thus, ZZ Top was born – though briefly with two other players before Hill and Beard joined.

While their early music was blues-based, they weren’t a blues band by any means. Their first producer, Robin Hood Brians, offers that “they turned blues into party music.” And when a producer of an early ‘70s Memphis Blues Festival booked them based simply on the music, he was shocked to find out they were white. Nevertheless, the band shared the stage with Muddy Waters, Freddie King, and fellow Houstonian Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Much is made of how promoters, disc jockeys, executives, and even audiences didn’t quite know what to make of the group that looked like a country band and were stubbornly “Texas.” To drive home the point, ZZ Top toured the infamous 1976/77 “World Wide Texas Tour,” which found the band sharing their stage with Lone Star State décor and all sorts of live animals including a buffalo, longhorn steer, rattlesnakes, and a buzzard.

As the buzzard was placed on a perch behind Beard’s drum kit, he remembers the animal getting agitated when he’d play a slow blues and barely moved. Beard would make sure to make big swirls with his arms every so often—so as not to give his feathered friend the impression that he was dead and ripe for picking. Actor/musician Billy Bob Thornton calls the tour equal parts “rodeo, circus, and rock show.”

ZZ Top took a break of several years after that – instigated by Beard’s successful rehab stint to kick a massive cocaine and heroin habit (upon receiving his first big check for $72,000 – about $327,000 today – he says he blew the whole thing on drugs).

But when the band reconvened with a new record company, they discovered two things: None of them had bothered to shave for a very, very long time (though ironically, it would be Beard who would soon shear his off), and that this new channel called MTV had appeared.

ZZ top prom

That’s some high school prom band for 1970!

Thus began ZZ Top’s renaissance and road to massive sales and concert crowds, buoyed by a string of clever videos in which they appeared in supportive roles as otherworldly angels sent to help out young lovebirds amidst a flurry of hot girls and a distinctive red hot rod. With their hats, ever-present sunglasses, and long beards, ZZ Top became almost cartoonish. But their more pop-based songs like “Gimme All You Lovin’” “Legs,” and “Sharp Dressed Man” found a massive audience, and their 1984 album Eliminator sold 15 million copies.

There are a few weaknesses in the documentary. The story strangely ends with the worldwide success of Eliminator, with no mention of the past nearly 35 years of the band’s career. Their Super Bowl performance and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction are represented by one still photograph each.

Also conspicuously missing is any video of longtime manager Bill Ham, though anecdotes about him are brought to life in pretty funny animation. This includes a tale Hill tells when, while in Hawaii opening for the Rolling Stones, he and Beard ran up a huge hotel bar tab. Ham limits them to “two drinks a night.” The pair abide by that rule, but order a special drink whose container is several feet tall.

ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas is available now on Netflix, but fans will want to spring for the DVD as the bonus footage includes 35 minutes of live material both filmed recently at Gruene Hall and vintage 1976 & 1981 footage from Ham’s archive.

This review originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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How Kansas Returned to “The Point of Know Return”

Kansas in 2019: Tom Brislin, David Ragsdale, Zak Rizvi, Rich Williams (standing), Phil Ehart, Billy Greer, and Ronnie Platt. Photo by Emily Butler.

Kansas guitarist Rich Williams vividly remembers a certain day in 1977 that still has an impact on his life and career in 2019.

His band had just finished playing a show in Chicago when they headed for a studio which had been set up for them to be filmed miming to two tracks from their upcoming record, Point of Know Return. On deck was the title track, along with a little ballad called “Dust in the Wind.” Though they weren’t quite sure what to call what they were doing.

“That was long before MTV, and the term ‘music video’ didn’t exist. I didn’t know what we were doing it for!” Williams laughs today. “But in Australia and Europe, the way they market music is to show these videos on television. I said ‘Aw, that’s not gonna last!’ We went in there, shot it, then went to bed. And that was it! Those videos come back and haunt me to this day!”

Maybe it was Williams’ disco-meets-country-gentleman white suit that makes him cringe today, because the two tracks certainly stand up. The band had high hopes for Point of Know Return as their previous album, Leftoverture, had given the band its breakthrough hit with the now-staple of classic rock “Carry on Wayward Son.”

But if asked to name one Kansas song, most people would cite “Dust in the Wind.” Penned by original guitarist Kerry Livgren, it hit #6 in 1978 and is the band’s only Top 10 hit. The gentle ballad with heavy lyrics about life’s legacy and its somewhat fatalistic view has run the gamut of use in the ensuing 40+ years, from being played seriously at funerals to being quoted by Bill & Ted in their first Excellent Adventure and as Will Ferrell’s eulogy  for a friend (“You’re My Boy, Blue!”) in Old School.

“’Dust in the Wind’ is not a dated lyric or even dated sounding,” Williams says of its continued appeal. “There was nothing else like it at the time, unless you go back to the folk era. It stood on its own. Country stations even played it!”

The “Point of Know Return” cover was painted by Peter Lloyd. Album cover

In 2019, Kansas performed Point of Know Return in its entirely – along with a selection of hits, deep cuts, and newer material – on tour. Williams says the record was crucial to the band’s career.

Leftoverture was a platinum record, so we knew we had something special. It just exploded and we went from small headlining shows and opening act slots to playing Madison Square Garden,” he says.

“Every album to that point was getting more cohesive and selling more. So our expectations for Point of Know Return were for it to be even better. And it did outsell it – though I think Leftoverture has sold more as of today. But those two albums back to back were career makers for us.”

Of the deeper cuts on the sextuple-platinum record – some of which Kansas had never even played live before this tour – Williams says “Hopelessly Human” is his favorite to play. Even if it finds him frantically switching between acoustic and electric guitars and changing settings and pickups. All accomplished amid flashing stage lights.

The current lineup of Kansas includes original members Williams (lead guitar) and Phil Ehart (drums), along with longtime bassist Billy Greer and violinist/guitarist David Ragsdale. There’s also Ronnie Platt (lead vocals/keyboards), Zak Risvi (guitar), and new addition Tom Brislin (keyboards).

Williams says that he and Ehart have a special bond as the two remaining original/classic lineup members, having played together consistently since 1967 when both were in their junior high band, the Pets.

“It’s kind of like my other marriage. Whatever difference of opinion or philosophies we’ve had have long been talked out. There’s no surprises, and we’ve always known we can count on each other. We’ve never wavered in our commitment to what we do,” Williams says.

He notes that the original six man lineup – Williams, Ehart, Steve Walsh (lead vocals/keyboards), Kerry Livgren (lead guitar), Robbie Steinhardt (violin), and Dave Hope (bass) was like a “mighty pirate ship on the sea” (sort of like the iconic cover to Point of Know Return). And all six participated in the 2015 band documentary Miracles Out of Nowhere.

Williams says that all six remain friendly and business partners, and the former members will often come see the current band or sit in with them at shows. But what he admits gets under his skin is when purported “fans” simply won’t accept anything but the original lineup, no matter what the current reality is.

“Not everybody has the will or the inclination, desire, or ability to stick with something for 47 years. Nothing against the [former members], they’ve moved on and wanted to do something else. And we’re all fine with each other,” he says. “But you can’t remain frozen in time.” If you want the original lineup, Williams suggests to stay home and listen to the records – or call the former members and gripe at them.

In fact, Kansas is about to release a new record, The Absence of Presence this month, their first since 2016’s The Prelude Implicit. Though unlike during the band’s heyday, commercial success is not a goal.

The classic lineup of Kansas: Kerry Livgren, Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, Robbie Steinhardt, Steve Walsh, and Dave Hope.

“Business is a fraction of what it once was. There’s no money in putting out a new record. But we still want to be relevant and be creative and experiment,” he says. The band was also looking forward to hitting the road in 2020 with Foreigner (which has since been cancelled due to the pandemic). He was hoping that it would allow them to change up their set list even more. “They’ve had like 20 hits and have to play all of them. We’ve had a couple of big ones and a few minor ones, so we have more freedom!” Williams laughs.

Finally, Kansas – along with Foreigner, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Boston, Bad Company, and Supertramp – are examples of worthy classic rock bands not yet in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Williams has some thoughts on the matter, and ultimately why he hopes that Kansas will be enshrined in that glass pyramid in Cleveland.

“I don’t know who it’s for – I don’t know that anybody does!” he says. “I know what we’ve accomplished. I would be appreciative of it, and it would be great for my personal legacy for my grandchildren after I’ve gone, so it has an importance to me for my family. But personally, it’s not something I need or [obsess] about.”

He jokes about starting a “Not in the Hall of Fame Hall of Fame” for similar rock bands as-yet not enshrined. And he isn’t so sure that the term “Rock and Roll” should even be part of the Hall’s moniker.

“I don’t know at what point it became so politically correct to represent genres that aren’t rock and roll,” he sums up. “Not to take anything away from those [inductees], but it’s not their arena. It’s like taking the person who won the Bassmaster Classic and putting them in the Baseball Hall of Fame!”

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Janis Joplin Finally Gets the Book She Deserves

Janis Joplin lounging in her favorite room at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, 1969.Photo by David Gahr/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Janis: Her Life and Music By Holly George-Warren

400 pp., Simon & Schuster, $28.99

Rock’s first female superstar has already been the subject of a numerous biographies, memoirs by those who loved and worked with her, documentaries, and even a musical play. But nearly 50 years after she died from a heroin overdose and joined the 27 Club, George-Warren really reveals the woman behind the brassy, bawdy mama persona in this masterful work in which Janis Joplin becomes a person – and not a Southern Comfort-swilling caricature.

George-Warren does the deepest dive yet of Joplin’s life growing up in conservative, buttoned-up Port Arthur, Texas during the 1950s and early 60s where even then she was a nonconformist. A Beatnik wannabe, as a young teen she was obsessed with the Jack Kerouac novel On the Road, dressed unlike area debutantes, and loved black music and arts (especially the singing of big influences Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, and Odetta).

Joplin also had ideas about freedom and doing what she wanted when she wanted – often expressing that loudly and in an “unfeminine” manner. The reader also sees a Joplin who craves fame and attention, yet is shockingly insecure in her voice, place in society, and especially her looks.

The book also gives us the clearest portrait of the family who she would alternately embrace, return to, or run away from. That included an atheist, glass-is-two-thirds-empty father, a conservative, devoutly Christian mother, and a younger brother and sister who didn’t know quite what to make of their wild sister.

She was a sibling who might disappear for months, and then return home with incredible tales of adventure or, at one time, weighing 88 pounds and strung out. There’s also details of her seemingly sincere attempts to “go straight” – down to enrolling yet again in a college and pining for a fiancée who turned out to be a slimy, lothario con artist.

Big Brother and the Holding Company during an early photo session: James Gurley, Peter Albin, Janis Joplin, Sam Andrew, and David Getz.Photo by Lisa Law-Cache Agency/Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

George-Warren also debunks a couple of Janis myths that have loomed large in her legend. First, that she was a nice, normal, buttoned-down girl until getting to San Francisco and hoisting her freak flag (she had been an enthusiastic user of drugs and alcohol and had lovers of both sexes for years). Another longtime myth was that during her ill-fated stint at the University of Texas at Austin, she was voted “Ugliest Male on Campus” in a frat boy-driven election. Joplin was indeed nominated – with her picture splashed on posters – but never actually “won.”

While in Austin, she gained early and valuable performing experience singing with the bluegrass band the Waller Creek Boys at Threadgill’s restaurant, where owner Kenneth Threadgill took a fatherly shine to her. It’s also where she really discovered herself as a singer but – of course – not with ease.

“Yet, while surrounded by a tribe of like-minded bohemians, she continued to push her own emotional extremes boozing and brawling—and foreshadowing a long pattern of self-sabotage,” George-Warren writes.

Houston appears a few times in the narrative, including when at 17, a night of drinking wine and popping pills landed her in a city hospital. She also occasionally sang at the folk clubs the Jester and Sand Mountain Coffeehouse to mixed reviews (on patron recalls that as a singer, “she was just too damn strong for everyone”).

Finally, at one of the last shows she did with Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1968, disastrous events led the city of Houston to banning all rock concerts. And even when it was lifted, George-Warren says Joplin was barred from ever performing in the Bayou City “for her attitude in general.”

After fellow Texas and concert promoter Chet Helms encouraged her to try her luck in San Francisco a second time in 1966, things began to click for Joplin. First, as the new singer for psychedelic rockers Big Brother and the Holding Company, and then in a career-making, mesmerizing, show-stopping performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, her profiling only growing after the movie was released.

And while that footage of her is iconic today, it almost didn’t happen, as the band’s manager at the time refused to allow their show to be filmed. Crestfallen and heartbroken, Janis begged and pleaded that the opportunity for exposure far outweighed what they wouldn’t be paid. The band was given another performance slot the next day that was preserved on film. Joplin, of course, was absolutely correct. But it was already clear that she was simply too big a star and force of nature to stay with a band whose musical skills and scope were fairly limited.

Unfortunately, George-Warren writes that one band member, guitarist James Gurley (with whom should would also have an one/off romantic relationship, despite his marriage) had a more lasting impact on the singer. He introduced her to shooting heroin. Soon, she was an avid user.

Post-Monterey and Big Brother, the book’s narrative picks up speed as Joplin struggles to find the right new bandmates, sound, and direction, all while amping up her drinking and heroin use.

A series of romantic adventures doesn’t fail to quell her loneliness, insecurity, and anxiety. And her screaming, stomping, and sweating stage antics which at first made her unlike any other performer now seemed more exorcism than performance. And for every musical step ahead that seem to put her career in perspective (like putting her heart and soul into Kris Kristofferson’s song “Me and Bobby McGee,” a posthumous #1 hit), there were personal steps back.

Janis performing in front of a camera crew in Frankfurt, Germany, 4/12/69. Photo by John Byrne Cooke/Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Like when she returns to Port Arthur (which she had been deriding in the press) for a disastrous visit to her 10th high school reunion, looking like an alien in beads and feathers and swagger. That the evening ends with a drunk and depressed Joplin instigating then getting into a fistfight with Jerry Lee Lewis in a Louisiana night club with the Killer punching her in the face an offering “If you’re gonna act like a man, I’ll treat ya like one” is not surprising.

George-Warren posits that the heroin overdose that killed Joplin in a Los Angeles hotel room happened because of a combination of factors: her tolerance has been down after yet another effort to clean up, she injected it differently that her normal routine, and she had a much purer form of the drug than usual. But just as she looked to her blues heroes for inspiration, two generations since her have looked toward Janis Joplin as the O.G. of a woman in rock.

Janis is truly an amazing piece of work, and the highly-skilled George-Warren had virtual free access to Joplin’s archives while conducting scores of original interviews. And unlike many just-the-facts rock bio narratives, this one really conjures its subject off the pages with a vividness and clarity.

This review originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Simon Kirke’s Good Music with Bad Company

Bad Company in 1975 during a photo session for the “Straight Shooter” record: Simon Kirke, Boz Burrell, Paul Rodgers, and Mick Ralphs.

It was the middle of 1973, and drummer Simon Kirke’s band was in complete and utter disarray. Though Free had only scored one hit in the U.S. (“All Right Now”) they were a popular concert attraction. But the group had pretty much – according to Kirke – “ground to a halt.”

“The last two years of that band were particularly troublesome and emotional, because of [guitarist] Paul Kossoff’s drug addiction,” Kirke says. “It had become intolerable.”

When Free was finished, Kirke took off to Brazil, while singer Paul Rodgers formed a new group, Peace. While on tour opening for Mott the Hoople, Rodgers became friendly with their guitarist Mick Ralphs, who was itching to leave his employer and form a new group. Rodgers put in a call to Kirke, ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell was added, and by the end of the year Bad Company was born.

“Glam rock was big with Bowie, Sweet, Gary Glitter, and T. Rex. We wanted a no-frills, bluesy band. And we wanted to have some fun for god’s sake!” Kirke says. And while popular legend has them cribbing their name from a 1972 Jeff Bridges movie, Rodgers told Spinner.com in 2010 that it actually came from a book on Victorian morals he remembered from childhood. There was an illustration of child looking up a shady street character wearing shabby clothes, smoking a pipe, and holding a liquor bottle. The caption said: “Beware of bad company.”

Looking to score a record deal, the fledgling band had a New Zealand roadie named Graham Whyte, whose countryman Clive Coulson held a similar position with Led Zeppelin. The most popular band in the world had just started their own label (Swan Song), and Rodgers wanted Bad Company to be on it.

After getting Zep manager Peter Grant’s phone number via Coulson, Rodgers called him up and pitched the group. Grant drove 100 miles from his home to see the band rehearse at Guilford in Surrey, England, and he was instantly sold.

Bad Company would go on to record six records for Swan Song: Bad Company, Straight Shooter, Run with the Pack, Burnin’ Sky, Desolation Angels, and Rough Diamonds. They would chalk up massive hits including “Can’t Get Enough,” “Ready for Love,” “Rock Steady,” “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” ““Shooting Star,” and “Rock and Roll Fantasy” (as well as…“Bad Company”).  All six albums are collected together in the box set Bad Company: The Swan Song Years 1974-1982 (Rhino).

Kirke recalls that the first three were recorded piecemeal and in a variety of locations by a mobile recording unit, while for the last three they were able to work on them in a more concentrated fashion. And while many classic rock record collections include a Bad Company greatest hits compilation, he says there’s much merit in the standalone record format that mixed now-familiar radio hits with deep cuts and experiments, presenting a snapshot of the group at a single point in their career.

“Albums as we remember them are not the same. They’re a thing of the past. Bands put out EP or two or three tracks here or there [for streaming],” Kirke says. “But I always think of where we were and what we were doing around the making of each album.”

When asked to choose which one of the records he would present to a 15-year-old budding classic rock fan to say “This is what Bad Company is all about,” he doesn’t take too long to answer.

“That’s a tough one. I would say Straight Shooter,” he offers. “No outstanding reason. But by the time we recorded that one, we’d been together 15 or 16 months and had a lot of touring under our belts. We were tight. I’m not denigrating the first album at all – that was a labor of love. But Straight Shooter had a cohesion that made it stand out.”

Bad Company has had lineup changes, reunions, and periods of activity and inactivity since the Swan Song years. Boz Burrell died of a heart attack in 2006. And Mick Ralphs suffered a massive stroke near the end of 2016.

“There’s no beating around the bush. His career is finished, and it breaks my heart to say it because I love him dearly. To see him is not…it’s not a cheering sight. Mick is so debilitated now. It’s very sad,” Kirke says. He last saw Ralphs a couple of years ago when he took his then-new wife to visit his friend and bandmate at a care facility in England.

“He can talk and type with one hand, but can’t communicate. After about 10 minutes, I had to leave room to compose myself. It was very upsetting,” Kirke says. “He’s just a great guy and fantastic guitarist and a funny man. But he didn’t keep his health together and had high blood pressure. And he paid the price. But wherever we go, there’s an outpouring of love for Mick. And I miss him very much.”

Today Rodgers, Kirke, and additional musicians play occasional gigs as Bad Company, including a  string of dates opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd on the southern rockers farewell tour. They also played a Houston gig  last year in Houston  for hometown heroes ZZ Top.

Both of those bands are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But for many classic rock fans, Bad Company is either #1 or very high on the list of shocking exclusions to that club. Kirke is fairly forthright about his opinion on the matter.

“I don’t want to be coy and say I don’t give a shit one way or another. I do!” he says. “I do care, and I think it’s a glaring error that Bad Company and Free have not been inducted or at least nominated. Both bands have been very influential. It’s wrong, and I definitely feel slighted.”

Still, he’s cognizant of his fortune that’s been able to afford him a long-lasting career in music, and playing it for thousands of rabid fans still to this day.

“I’m so grateful to have gotten two bites of the apple. To be in one well-known group is great. But to be in two, it’s very humbling.”

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Authors Offer a Texas Flood on the Life and Music of Stevie Ray Vaughan

Andy Aledort and Alan Paul onstage together. Photo by Tore Claesson/Courtesy of St. Martin’s.

It’s October 3rd, 2019 when Alan Paul and Andy Aledort – co-authors of the new bio Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan – are on the phone. The date is appropriate because it would have been the 65th birthday of the book’s subject, had he not died tragically in a 1990 helicopter crash shortly after leaving a performance.

So in the public mindset, the Texas blues rocker is permanently and forever 35 years old, sporting his chin goatee, wide-brimmed black hat, and decked out in colorful garments as his fingers move effortlessly over his guitar neck while singing in his distinctive low voice.

Both singer/guitarists themselves, Paul and Aledort reflect on what that frozen-in-time mentality means not only for Vaughan, but other music legends who died young or at the height of their careers.

I played with Billy Cox, who played bass with Jimi Hendrix. He liked to say as a joke ‘All of us got old, but Jimi is always going to be 27! He didn’t turn into an old person!’” Aledort says. “But it’s still a sad thing whether it’s Buddy Holly or Otis Redding or Stevie, who was at the peak of his powers at the time.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1988 for a “Guitar World” cover shoot. Photo by Jonnie Miles/Courtesy of St. Martin’s.

“It’s a mystery. You never know how musicians will turn out as they age,” Paul adds. “But I don’t think Stevie would have ever reached a sad point. He had overcome his problems, and maybe he would have had more, but I don’t think he would have gone back to the way he had been with the drug issues.”

Texas Flood will likely go down as the definitive work on the life and music of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the only other tome being a 1994’s Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire by Texas music journos Joe Nick Patoski and Bill Crawford (the book’s research files reside in Texas State University’s Wittliff Collection). Read my original review HERE.

Texas Flood benefits from not only the time that’s passed to assess Vaughan’s musical impact (he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 along with his backing band, Double Trouble ), but also because it had the active participation of Vaughan’s family and closest friends. That includes older brother Jimmie Vaughan, who’s had a stellar career of his own and was Stevie’s first and most important musical influence.

Paul and Aledort could not be more qualified to handle this book. The pair first met in 1994 when both were (and still are) writers for Guitar World magazine. “We bonded because we liked the same music, so we found ourselves together all the time since we were going to the same shows like Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Bob Weir, Gov’t Mule, and the Allman Brothers,” Paul – who would later pen the 2014 Allman Brothers Band bio One Way Out – recalls.

Having written about and interviewed both Stevie Ray and Jimmie many times over the decades, the pair decided to collaborate on the book about four years ago. They pooled both their archival resources as well as starting on fresh research and interviews.

Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1977. Photo by Ken Hoge/Courtesy of St. Martin’s

“I had the opportunity to interview Stevie four times starting in 1986, and have seen him play even more,” Aledort says. On Guitar World assignments, Aledort would often bring along his guitar and amp, do a traditional interview, then ask his subject to show him something to play with the transcribed music included as part of the article.

“On that first time, we spontaneously just started to play together for about 10 minutes,” Aledort continues. “Then I unplugged my guitar and Stevie said ‘What are you doing?’ and I said ‘I have to interview you now.’ And he said ‘Oh…I thought we were just going to have fun…’”

Getting the trust of Vaughan’s family was crucial to making the book happen. And in addition to their past with the brothers, Aledort had also done liner notes on a string of SRV reissues. “We both, separately, had long term relationships with Jimmie. We didn’t have an ulterior motive of doing a book,” Paul says. “Nobody could call him up out of the blue and say ‘Hey, I want to do a book about your brother.’ But he liked us and trusted us.”

Paul and Aledort both told Jimmie Vaughan about their intentions. And while he didn’t offer a ringing endorsement…he didn’t quite reject it outright either. A music biz associate and Vaughan family friend, Beverly Howell, helped pave the way with the Vaughan cousins for participation. And once Jimmie gave his approval for them and others (as well as himself) to talk to the authors, things started really moving.

Texas Flood is written mainly as an oral history, and followed the life and career of Stevie Ray Vaughan beginning at birth. But Vaughan also had a debilitating drug and substances abuse problems that wreaked havoc on his body, his relationships, and his career.

“During those difficult years when he was really scuffling, what we learned and what was kind of shocking was what a disaster his personal life was, mainly due to drugs and substance abuse,” Aledort says.

“The couch-surfing, the not bathing for a week, and no one knowing where he was an hour before the gig. I made the analogy to Charlie Parker. Once he was onstage, everything was great. But the second the gig was over and he left the stage, his life was in shambles. Stevie was a lot like that. Not with his band mates, but things like romantic relationships and [financial] issues.”

But the book does end with Stevie Ray Vaughan in a good place, as he eventually cleaned up completely, embraced sobriety, and began preaching it with an almost evangelical zeal. There’s no shortage of irony that at the time of his death, Vaughan was poised for even greater success and musical journeys with a now clear-eyed road ahead of him. It was this part of the story that the authors found most surprising in the course of their research.

“The depths he had fallen to was surprising,” Paul sums up. “But when he got better, he really embraced it and dug deep. He wanted to get back to the person he was and make amends. And after he cleaned up, he was really into helping other people.”

This interview originally appeared on HoustonPress.com

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