Ric Lee Still Drumming Away…55 Years After!

Ten Years After today: Colin Hodgkinson, Ric Lee, Chick Churchhill, and Marcus Bonfanti. Photo by Rob Blackham/Courtesy of Chipster PR

For more than a year now, musicians unable to play live shows have been forced to utilize virtual venues, performing everything from solo acoustic shows filmed with a shaky iPhone to full-blown professionally shot band concerts on large stages. It also means that Ric Lee, drummer for classic rockers Ten Years After, has to give drum lessons to his students two days a week over Zoom. And it’s not quite the same.

“It’s awkward at times. Zoom isn’t really designed to [convey] the frequency of musical instruments. There’s drop outs, delays, and then you can’t hear each other!” Lee laughs from his home in England. “But I’ve got a good bunch of kids, and we make it work.”

He also hopes to return to touring soon to support two projects: a deluxe edition of the band’s last studio album, A Sting in the Tale (Deko) with bonus live tracks, and his autobiography, From Headstocks to Woodstock. Both are now available in the U.S. Lee adds that the tracks on A Sting in the Tale are more “radio friendly” than some of the band’s previous efforts (though what radio stations would be playing new music from Ten Years After are, unfortunately, few).

“A lot of our tracks over the years have been pretty long, so the record company would always have to make edits to send to radio stations,” he says. “And what else is new with this record is that all four band members have been involved with all the writing. Previously, it was Alvin Lee who did everything.” The current lineup includes original members Ric Lee and Chick Churchill (keyboards), along with Marcus Bonfanti (vocals/guitar), and Colin Hodgkinson (bass).

The origins of Ten Years After began in the mid-1960s. After various members played in bands including Jaybirds, the Bluesyard, and the Ivy League, manager Chris Wright told the quartet of Ric Lee, Chick Churchill, Alvin Lee (vocals/guitar, no relation), and Leo Lyons (drums) that they needed a better name. And while some sources claim it was a tribute by Alvin Lee to Elvis Presley’s breakthrough year of 1956, in Lee’s book, he mentions it was far more random.

He says that in 1967, Lyons picked up a copy of Radio Times—then the UK’s only radio/TV listing publication, and two program names stood out: Life Without Mother and Suez: Ten Years After (a documentary about the tenth anniversary of the 1956/57 Suez Canal Crisis). The immediately chose the latter as their new moniker.

The hard rock/blues rock band gigged and recorded consistently, but it took their incendiary performance of Alvin Lee’s “I’m Going Home” from the Woodstock movie to bring them to prominence. In his book, Ric Lee describes something of a chaotic scene on the ground involving disorganization and inclimate weather, with Ten Years After the first band to play a full electric set after an August 17 rainstorm.

At that point, it was just an odd gig for many of the acts. It wasn’t until the concert documentary movie was released in 1970 did Woodstock really become “Woodstock.”

Lee remembers attending the premier at a Los Angeles theater with the rest of the group and many of the other featured acts. It was only then that he realized the fortunes of the band were about to change.

“The movie did absolute wonders for us. When ‘I’m Going Home’ finished, the whole cinema gave us a standing ovation. It was unbelievable, it was gobsmacking!” Lee recalls. “And from there on in, we were flung onto the world stage and playing the Enormodomes, from playing to 6,000 people at the Fillmore East to Madison Square Garden with 20,000 people. And two nights at the Albert Hall in London instead of one. Same at the Budokan in Tokyo. We’d never played Japan at all until then.”

Later, they scored an unlikely hit with the psychedelic/socially conscious “I’d Love to Change the World,” the lead single off the band’s 1971 album A Space in Time and the band’s only Top 40 hit. “Chrysalis [Records] is doing something really nice for the 50th anniversary of that album this year, and it was a watershed for us, especially with Alvin’s writing. He was hitting the peak,” Lee says. “And Clive Davis had signed us to Columbia. He said ‘Give me the material, and I’ll give you a gold album.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”

Ric Lee behind the kit for Ten Years After. Photo by/copyright Rui M. Leal/Courtesy of Chipster PR

But so had something else, and that was how the band’s management and label—with at least some complicit behavior from Alvin Lee—was pushing him as the star/guitar hero of the group, at the expense of the other three members. Ric Lee says things came to a head when the cover of 1969’s Shhh featured only Alvin Lee on the front cover and the group on the back.

“That kind of upset us, and management were definitely in the vein of pushing Ten Years After as a ‘guitar hero’ band, which I guess we were,” Ric Lee recalls. “But still, the band was the sum of the parts rather than just any one part. Alvin was obviously the star of the show and had a lot of charisma. If you and I were in a room with a few other people having drinks and Alvin walked in, you’d know immediately that he had that something.”

Lee says the band “learned to live with it,” but did successfully push for all the group to do to at least a few of the interviews with the music press. The original quartet broke up in 1974 with one later reunion, but then all four came back from 1988-2003, after which Alvin Lee left (he passed in 2013 after complications from surgery).

As for performing in Houston over the years, Ric Lee has one memory that jumps out immediately. “I do remember Houston! One afternoon, I came out of the shower in the hotel room and went out into the street. And it was so humid, I felt like I was back in the shower again!” he laughs. “I should have just stayed there!”

For more on Ten Years After, visit Ten-Years-After.co.uk

This article originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Former Grand Funker Mark Farner Offers Up His Chile Recipe

Mark Farner onstage in Chile, 2019. “From Chile with Love” screen shot.

As the former lead singer/guitarist for Grand Funk Railroad, Mark Farner’s voice and playing have been classic rock staples on stereo systems and radio for more than 50 years.

Tracks he wrote or covered include “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Bad Time,” “The Loco-Motion,” “Rock and Roll Soul,” “Footstompin’ Music” and the epic “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home.” They’re all fine examples of good old, no-frills, Midwest meat and potatoes rock and roll. The style is not a critical favorite, but it certainly moved a lot of vinyl and put a lot of rears in seats from the late ‘60s throughout the ‘70s. In an oft-quoted fact, Grand Funk Railroad sold out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles did.

All of those songs – along with other hits and deep cuts – are featured on the new concert DVD from Mark Farner’s American Band, From Chile with Love. Featuring 16 songs with five bonus solo audio tracks and two videos (including the mini-movie “Never and Always”), it was filmed at a 2019 show at the Teatro Caupolicán in Santiago, Chile during a South American run of shows.

“We decided to film there because when we had been to the venue previously, It was such a raucous and happy and rocking crowd. They’re part of our community, just a little south of the equator!” Farner laughs from his home in Lansing, Michigan. “All rockers have that free heart, no matter what country you live in.’”

South American audiences are especially known for their love of hard rock and heavy metal. But surprisingly, it’s the slower, more introspective GFR tune “Heartbreaker” that receives one of the most impassioned audiences responses, complete with a bellowing sing along and many, many hoisted phone cameras filming.

Farner recalls that a South American friend once told him that song was especially popular there, and that he himself learned English from the song. “They love that chorus refrain and vocal phrase. And when it happened the first time, I was full of goosebumps. What a rush! And they were singing the right words!”

And while many performers say some variation of how they “feed off the energy of the crowd,” Farner is an actual practitioner of that, something very plain in the film. “Some [performers] are more concerned how they come off, it’s a sensitive place. I just lay back in the groove and feel it,” Farner says. “It’s a guttural, instinctive emotion.”

Farner has long been an advocate of veteran’s causes and charities, and he and wife of 40+ years Lesia are donating $3 from every copy sold of From Chile with Love to Veterans Support Foundation, an organization that provides transitional housing services for veterans. And he’s lost count of how many Vietnam-era vets have told him how much the song “Closer to Home” (much like the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”) meant to them in the fields of war.

He says the cause is personal, noting that his father was a World War II veteran as a tank driver in the Seventh Armored Division of the U.S. Army. And that his mother was the first woman in the U.S. to weld on Sherman tanks at Fisher Body in the family’s hometown of Flint, Michigan.

“My dad returned home with four bronze stars in four major battles, but a lot of tank drivers didn’t even get to see a second battle,” he says. “I love my brothers and sisters of the armed forces, and I have a passion to help them when I can. [VSA] does a lot of incredible work. If you can’t believe in your armed forces, you’re in the wrong country! I wish Lesia and I could donate all of the proceeds from the DVD!”

One of the original rock power trios, Grand Funk Railroad (later shortened to Grand Funk) included Farner, Don Brewer (drums/vocals) and Mel Schacher (bass). They later added keyboardist Craig Frost in a series of successful records from 1969-1976. In pop culture, they’re one of a certain Homer Simpson’s stated favorite bands, as he reminisced about “the wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner.”

The group splintered and reformed in various lineups. The original trio came back together in 1996 for a series of benefit shows and touring. But they split again two years later. Two years after that, Brewer and Schacher reformed GFR with Max Carl (vocals), Bruce Kulick (guitar), and Tim Cashion (keyboards), and have toured ever since.

The details behind the status are not agreed upon by the factions involved. Farner contends he was misled into signing a corporation agreement, which led to being voted out by his former bandmates. He has said that they also held a disdain for Farner’s very public Christianity and conservative politics. Brewer and Schacher (at least in the bio on GFR’s official website) counter that Farner left to return to his solo career and never returned.

In fact, the blood is still so bad that Farner had to recall the first pressing of the DVD and reprint the jackets of From Chile with Love to eliminate two songs that were the subject of legal threats: “Shinin’ On,” and what is likely the band’s best-known hit, the Brewer written/sung “We’re An American Band.”

But he hasn’t given up hope of a reunion, even after he was sued by GFR LTD. – of which he’s a 1/3 shareholder – for touring as “Mark Farner’s American Band” (GFR LTD. Has the trademark on “The American Band”). In 2019, a federal court ruled in Farner’s favor for the name, though bookers are still cautioned not to mention “Grand Funk Railroad” in materials promoting Farner’s solo band.

Mark Farner onstage in the U.S. in 2019. Photo by Brad Shaw/Courtesy of MOXIE PR.

“The Bible says ‘stay out of the courts’ and I can tell you why brother, they are crooked as a pan of guts! I don’t like going to courts. But for Mark Farner’s American Band, I did,” Farner says.

“But that’s the way it’s been, and that’s too bad. I would love to give the Grand Funk fans the original band. I’ve been trying to do that for over 20 years. Every time we have a corporate meeting though, it’s shot down. I’m a shareholder, but not an officer. So I have no say so in actually what goes on in the corporation. Though I wrote 92% of the songs!”

But through whatever challenges life gives him: musical, legal, or personal (his and Lesia’s son Jesse passed in 2018 from complications of a horrific crippling accident years before), the 72-year-old Mark Farner finds comfort in a higher power. And that’s even more so after he says he had an out-of-body experience during the installation of a pacemaker, before he returned to what he calls his Earth-bound, mortal “bone suit.”

“I always pray before I go onstage and I’m serious about it. I sing my songs from my heart. And I still have my faith because Jesus is my Redeemer and his love is unconditional, though it’s not practiced much on this Earth,” he sums up. “Unless you’ve got a real good dog!”

For more information on Mark Farner and From Chile with Love, visit MarkFarner.com

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Richie Furay is Still DeLIVErin’ Country Rock After 50 Years

Richie Furay and daughter Jesse Furay Lynch onstage. Photo by Howard Zyrb/Courtesy of SRO PR

Located in West Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard, the Troubadour is not only one of the most storied live music nightclubs in the U.S., but holds a crucial place in  the development of California music in the 1960s & 70s. The Byrds, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt and so many more have graced its stage. And as depicted in the movie Rocket Man, the “Troub” also hosted the first U.S. performance by a fledgling singer and piano player named Elton John.

Two other bands who played scores of shows there were Buffalo Springfield and Poco, both co-founded by singer/guitarist Richie Furay. Now, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Poco’s live record DeLIVErin’, Furay will release the CD/DVD set Return to the Troubadour: DeLIVErin’ Again (DSDK Productions).

The first set includes a career retrospective of tunes from Furay’s groups (Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Souther-Hillman-Furay Band) and solo work, while the second half features DeLIVErin’ in its entirety. The show was filmed in pre-pandemic times, and features a guest performance by current Eagle and former Poco singer/bassist Timothy B. Schmit. Furay would leave Poco in 1973, before they scored the hits “Crazy Love” and “The Heart of the Night.”

“With Poco, we did a lot of rehearsals at the Troubadour when we got started. [Owner] Doug Weston let us use it. Of course, we had to also play there at night!” Furay laughs on the phone from his home in the foothills west of Boulder, Colorado. “There was a really popular scene around the club around our genre of music at the time. Poco put in a lot of hard work on that stage.”

In a sort of onion skin-layer logic, Still DeLIVErin’ is essentially a live record of a live record of songs from studio records. Surprisingly, it wasn’t an idea that Furay was too keen on when it was first presented to him.

“I was a bit hesitant at first. The original live record was so special to Poco fans, but in my set over the past few years, I was performing most of the songs anyway! So we set out to learn the other ones, and it turned out pretty cool and unique,” Furay says. “I just wanted to know if we could pull it off, readdress the songs, and bring them more up to date. Recording technology has come so far since the original record. I’m not looking for comparisons, I just want people to enjoy the music.”

Performer/Manager Peter Asher and former Eagle/founding Poco singer-bassist Randy Meisner were in the audience as well. Furay’s band includes Scott Sellen, Jack Jeckot, Aaron Sellen, Alan Lemke, daughter Jesse Furay Lynch, and guest Dave Pearlman.

One thing that’s palpable in the video is the musical and personal respect and admiration that Furay and Timothy B. Schmit (who also wrote for Poco) have for each other. “Our relationship has never waned, and I’m very thankful for that,” Furay says. “And I hadn’t seen Randy [Meisner] in many years. That was special.”

Richie Furay and former Poco bandmate Timothy B. Schmit in “DeLIVErin’ Again.” Screen Shot/DSDK Productions

While the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield made some early dabs into what would be called “country rock,” and the Flying Burrito Brothers and Eagles gained media attention or took it to the bank respectively, Poco often gets lost or overlooked in the story of the genre. Furay points to exclusion of the band’s story in two separate recent documentaries on the music of Laurel Canyon as partial evidence.

“When we were playing at the Troubadour, the audiences just kept coming. It was packed every night. We were there at Ground Zero. But I felt that a couple of recent media projects kind of dissed Poco. It was disheartening, like we weren’t even there,” Furay says.

“We pioneered that country rock sound, while we may not have had the success as some others who came after us. I remember [Eagles singer/guitarist] Glenn Frey sitting on my living room floor in Laurel Canyon while I was rehearsing Poco, and he was picking up on something. He and the Eagles took it to the limit so to say, but somebody had to be the groundbreaker.”

In 1997, Furay was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Buffalo Springfield. He, Stephen Stills, Bruce Palmer [bass] and Dewey Martin [drums] all attended. Conspicuous by his absence was Neil Young, the result of an abrupt decision.

“I wish Neil would have showed up because it would have been the last time all five of us would have been together,” Furay says. “I got a phone call from him saying how great it was going to be. Then I got a fax saying ‘I’m not coming.’” In video footage of the band’s acceptance speech, Furay and Stills joke about getting the same fax from Young.

It would not be the only abrupt decision of Young’s that would affect the band. An effort reunite the original five in 1986 (with percussionist Joe Vitale added) only lasted a couple of rehearsals. In 2011, a lineup of surviving members Furay, Stills, and Young, along with Vitale (drums) and Rick Rosas (bass) played Young’s Bridge School Benefit at his request, which then led to a handful of California dates and a headlining slot at the Bonnaroo festival. But just when fans were salivating for concert seats, Young pulled the plug in a proposed 30+ date 2012 tour shortly before it was set to begin.

“The one in 1986 was a train wreck and never got off the ground,” Furay says. “But the one about 10 years ago was completely different. It’s [unfortunate] that it didn’t last longer.”

To the casual student of rock history, Furay has been cast in a role—like Hillman with the Byrds and Graham Nash with CSN/CSNY—as the peacemaker between more mercurial bandmates. But he doesn’t see it that way.

“Sometimes Bob, I feel that people are trying to make more out of it a situation than really what was there. A lot of people want to think there was a lot of tension and dissension in the Springfield. But there were about nine people in and out of that band in two years, so it would be hard to keep that together anyway,” Furay offers. “Stephen [Stills] and Neil [Young] were such prolific songwriters. The funny thing is, we looked at what happened with the Byrds and said ‘That will never happen to us.’ And then it did!”

Outside of music, Furay is very much open about his devout Christianity, something he was introduced to in the 1970’s by multi-instrumentalist and Manassas member Al Perkins, and shares with former bandmate Chris Hillman. The latter of whom told The Houston Press last year he sometimes speaks with Furay about religion, and while their faiths may differ, they’re “all on the same ball team.”

“If Jesus is front and center, then that’s good enough for me!” Furay laughs. In fact, for much of the past decades, Furay has also written and recorded Christian music. And in 2017, he retired from Calvary Chapel in Broomfield, Colorado after serving as Pastor for 35 years. He and his wife Nancy—who he met at an early Buffalo Springfield gig at the Whisky a Go Go—have been married for more than 50 years.

Today, Furay is busy with a number of new projects  including a “Nashville record” with special guests set to come out in June, a Cameron Crowe-narrated documentary on his life and music in development called Through it All: The Life and Influence of Richie Furay, and new music like “America, America,” which he debuted on the Mike Huckabee show. And he’s still writing new songs.

“It’s just instilled in me,” Furay sums up. “I don’t sit down and think ‘I’m going to spend three hours today writing songs.’ I sit down and do it when I’m inspired.”

For more on Richie Furay visit RichieFuray.com

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Hair Metal Years Revealed in Massive Oral History

Poison in Los Angeles, CA, 1986. From L to R: Rikki Rockett, C.C. Deville, Bobby Dall, and Bret Michaels. Photo by and © Mark Weiss/Courtesy of St. Martin’s Press.

Come with us, children, back to the magical, mystical land of the 1980’s. Where for a brief but shining span of time the hair was high, the riffs were righteous, the lead singers preening, the flashpots fiery, the colors popping, and the party never stopped on Sunset Strip—or at the strip club.

Whether its called Hair Metal, Glam Metal, or Pop Metal, it filled the charts and screen time on MTV with bands like Guns n’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Poison, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Warrant, Winger, L.A. Guns, Skid Row, Tesla, W.A.S.P., Dokken, Vixen, Quiet Riot, Stryper, Ratt,, Cinderella, Whitesnake, and Great White.

Some have survived and continued to rock and fill large arenas or clubs, while others faded into obscurity. And the entire story is told in the book Nöthin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the ‘80s Hard Rock Explosion (560 pp., $29.99, St. Martin’s Press).

Noted music journos Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (who met while writing for Guitar World magazine) included more than 200 mostly-original interviews with musicians, producers, engineers, managers, promoters, journalists, fans, DJs & VJs. The result is a highly entertaining and definitely no-holds barred tome.

“This is the music that has never left us. We’ve always discussed doing a book because it would be fun and cool, but an enormous task” Beaujour says in a dual Zoom interview with Bienstock. “But it’s the music that captured our imaginations when we were young. And you only get that relationship with music a couple of times in your life. You can’t bond with a genre as strongly in, say, your thirties.”

The 1980s time period and Los Angeles/Hollywood locale seemed to make a perfect breeding ground for the hard and fast sound with an unapologetic party vibe. “You had all these clubs in walking distance of each other on the Strip, and all around Hollywood, so all these bands and audiences were very concentrated,” Bienstock says.

In those pre-internet, pre-smartphone days, there were basically two ways outside of word of mouth for a band to promote their gigs: cheap ads in local rock publications, or be a soldier in the Great Flyer Wars. How many trees gave their lives for bright paper being plastered to area telephone poles – only to be covered up by a competing group’s notice, sometimes within hours – we will never know. Sabotage and skullduggery for placement ensued. It makes for one of the book’s more entertaining chapters.

“It was a full scale Marines-like operation!” Bienstock laughs. “These bands would print and put up thousands of flyers, but you also had to know what glue to use and where to place them and when to go out. You had to get people in the clubs, otherwise you wouldn’t get another gig. But [city workers] had to clean this up! It was like full-on vandalism in the name of show promotion.”

Guns n’ Roses, Los Angeles, CA, 1986. From L to R: Steven Adler, Izzy Stradlin, Axl Rose, Duff McKagan, and Slash. Photo by and © Mark Weiss/Courtesy of St. Martin’s Press.

There’s also an anecdote from members of Warrant how Guns n’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan left a very threatening voice mail that the Gunners would come kick their asses if Warrant stuck their own flyers over a GNRs again, something the authors got McKagan to corroborate. The book also notes how Poison had something of an advantage, as guitarist C.C. Deville’s mom owned a copy shop.

In fact, Poison’s story and history is one of the book’s more interesting. Hailing originally from Pennsylvania and nakedly ambitious, their early visual formula seemed odd: They dressed in effeminate clothing and wore heavy makeup. This somehow attracted a huge female ban base just as eager to have sex with the members as get grooming tips. This in turn attracted males to ensure sold-out shows.

The band still does incredible live business today, touring with the classic lineup for large crowds eager to hear “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “Talk Dirty to Me,” and the song from which the book takes its title.

“It helps to have all four guys, and each one of them had a personality. We [learned] a lot about their story that hadn’t really been reported on before,” Bienstock says. Beaujour adds that Poison’s commercial success plays a part in their longevity. “They had more Top 10 hits than Mötley Crüe, which surprised us. They reached more people that transcended the core fans of this music. Bret [Michaels, singer] is a serious hit writer.”

Skid Row, Los Angeles, CA, 1991. From L to R: Rachel Bolan, Rob Affuso, Sebastian Bach, Dave “Snake” Sabo, and Scotti Hill. Photo by and © Mark Weiss/Courtesy of St. Martin’s Press.

Another band’s story the book digs deep into is that of Skid Row. A group that could do power ballads, rock anthems, and harder music, they seemed to be set for longer success. But the combustibility of lead singer Sebastian Bach and some of his over-the-top antics and controversial behavior alienated the rest of the band.

“They were a bit at loggerheads from day one. Literally the first night Sebastian joins the band, he gets into a bar fight. But he’s this kid who’s just 20-years-old with this insane voice who is literally beautiful,” Bienstock says. “If you created sort of an ‘80s rock god in a lab, it would be Sebastian Bach. The other guys knew what they were getting, and it took [Sebastian] to put them over the top. He was ‘rock’s bad boy’ and acted like he thought he was supposed to act, then didn’t [understand] why people were shocked.”

The book also discusses the prime importance of MTV in the career of these bands and their record sales, especially given they were so visual with the costumes and hair and explosions and scantily-clad women doing things that would not fly at all today. But in conversation, both authors feel that the music video channel was just as crucial for bands well outside Hair Metal.

“You can’t separate the history of pop music from MTV,” Beaujour says. “The song that really blew open the doors for this genre was Quiet Riot’s ‘Cum On Feel the Noize’ in 1983. That album [Metal Health] blew the Police’s Synchronicity out of the top spot on the charts. And that was [largely] because of the video. Without that, probably none of this would have happened.”

Bienstock adds “A lot of these bands also played every show, even if it was a club, like they were playing Madison Square Garden. So a lot of times you just had to put a camera on then and let them do what they normally would onstage.”

Mötley Crüe in their “Theater of Pain”-era outfits, Los Angeles, CA, 1985. L to R: Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, and Mick Mars. Photo by and © Mark Weiss/Courtesy of St. Martin’s Press.

But, like many other genres, the heyday couldn’t last forever. In the early ‘90s, bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam came in with a different look and sound that caught the pop culture zeitgiest. Hair Metal genre’s fall was as fast and sudden as its rise, even though as the book posits, the “Grunge killed Hair Metal” theory is overly simplistic.

Of course, nothing ever really goes away. The 1970’s saw a resurgence of interest in the music of the 1950’s, and Gen Xers of the late ‘80s all wanted to be at Woodstock or a Doors concert. Today, Hair Metal has seen a resurgence from Broadway (Rock of Ages) to a dedicated channel on SiriusXM (Hair Nation), movies (the Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt). It’s even part of the playlists on terrestrial “classic rock” stations.

In Houston, a look at Warehouse Live’s upcoming concert calendar lists shows by L.A. Guns, Winger, Slaughter, Kix, Lita Ford, Bulletboys, Warrant, Sebastian Bach, and Mike Tramp (White Lion). Audiences include Millennials and Gen Z new fans among the original Gen Xers, with parents bringing along their children to shows.

“It’s definitely nostalgic for people our age, and there’s a distance from the original [time period],” Bienstock sums up. “When Poison does ‘Nothin’ But a Good Time’ in concert, everybody knows all the words, and everybody’s having fun. It makes you happy, and you want to turn it up. It’s just fun in a way that a lot of music today is not.”

“I spend more time on YouTube watching these videos than you’d think having just written this book!” Beaujour laughs. “But the numbers of views are huge. Young people can just consume and investigate anything they want, and they do. To be able to look at bands who looked like superheroes. It’s like ‘I wanna be that dude. He’s having fun, he’s running across the stage, he’s jumping, people love him, and there’s fire!’”

This article originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

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Dio-Era Black Sabbath Records Get Bonus-Laden Reissues

Black Sabbath in the early ’80s: (Top) Vinny Appice, Tony Iommi; (Bottom) Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio. Photo by Mark Weiss/Courtesy of Chipster PR

With all due admiration and respect for the guitarists, bassists, drummers, keyboardists, and theremin players out there, it’s not for no reason that the lead vocalist is called the “front man” of a band. From their position at center stage, it’s usually the warbler who must engage and energize a live crowd, is a lineup’s most recognizable face, and often the only member a casual fan knows by name.

So when Black Sabbath fired Ozzy Osbourne in 1979 for excessive drinking and drugging (that in itself an accomplishment, given the gargantuan-but-still-less proclivities of guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward), the blokes from Birmingham were in a bit of a pickle.

Enter one Ronnie James Dio. Fresh off a stint with Rainbow, a chance encounter with Iommi at a party led to him assuming not only singing duties, but all of the lyric writing as well for their next two records—the second with Vinny Appice replacing Ward on the skins.

Both were enthusiastically received by fans, the band got a much needed jolt, and the albums’ respective title tracks along with “Voodoo,” “Die Young,” “Neon Knights,” “Children of the Sea,” “The Sign of the Southern Cross,” and “Turn Up the Night” entered the Black Sabbath canon.

Now, Rhino Records has released expanded editions of both Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules with the original albums remastered in a variety of formats.

And—manna for fans—generously stuffed with extras including B-sides, alternate takes, and live recordings, including a full concert from the era. It also includes the much-cherished version of “Mob Rules” recorded for the soundtrack to the animated movie Heavy Metal, the most brutal and slashing take the band ever did on the song.

And while Ronnie James Dio passed away in 2010 from stomach cancer, his widow Wendy has overseen or championed many related projects, and couldn’t be happier with the reissues.

“I think it’s great for both the longtime fans to get the live stuff, and for the kids who really haven’t had a chance to listen to them. We’re all very excited,” Wendy Dio says from her home. “There were like two Black Sabbaths. Ozzy was an innovator and a great showman, and when Ronnie came into the band, it became a different group with a new audience. I wouldn’t say one was better than the other, but Ronnie was more melodic with his writing. And it was such a tight band.”

Wendy Dio today. Photo by PG Brunelli/Courtesy of Chipster PR

While both Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules continued the band’s previously-established themes of demons and netherworlds, Dio added songs of royalty and knights, witches and dragons, and mystical fantasy along with some deeper social commentary. And the tempos became faster and more slashing, some of that reflecting his own knowledge of musical instruments which played.

Strictly as a listener, Wendy Dio picks out the best-known lyric from the song “Heaven and Hell” as a favorite: “The world is full of kings and queens/Who blind your eyes and steal your dreams/It’s heaven and hell, oh well.” “There’s so much you can read into it, but Ronnie would write so listeners could also decipher their own meaning of what the songs were about. So many of those songs are special to me.”

For longtime Sabbath fans, it’s the inclusion on both records of live material from 1980-82 that will be the highlights of the releases. That’s because 1982’s Live Evil—the only official release from the Dio-Iommi-Butler-Appice lineup—didn’t live up to expectation, and Rock Lore notes Dio and Iommi would each helm competing and contradicting mixing sessions, with one erasing or altering the work of the other.

Most of the live material comes from the two Dio-helmed records, but also feature his versions of Ozzy-era songs like “War Pigs,” “N.I.B.” and “Iron Man”—the last of which was the source of some intermarital ribbing among the Dios.

“I always remember him singing that and sort of [stomping] up and down the stage, and I used to laugh at him about that!” Wendy chuckles. “But he’d always try and make the live performances different from the recordings, sometimes making it faster. And they all played so well together, and pushed each other forward.”

That conflict over Live Evil one reason Dio quit Black Sabbath to embark on a hugely successful solo career with his own band, though the quartet would reunite several more times: For 1992’s studio album Dehumanizer; to record new material for a 2007 compilation CD, and—against all odds—reunite under the name Heaven & Hell right after for both touring and another new record, The Devil You Know, and live DVD.

They purposely did not use the name “Black Sabbath.” It not only freed them from doing Ozzy-era material, but helped avoid a probable legal wrath (and writs) from Ozzy and manager/wife Sharon Osbourne. When the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, it only included the original four members, which angered many fans (a similar situation occurred with the induction of KISS).

Right up until the end, Ronnie James Dio continued to make a real connection to his audience. “Ronnie cared about his fans and they meant so much to him,” Wendy says. “He’d spend hours and hours signing autographs after the shows. He never wanted to forget where he came from.”

Wendy also helms the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Should Cancer Fund, whose goal is to “support cancer prevention research, raise awareness and educate the public with the focus that early detection and prevention saves lives.” The pandemic has put a temporary halt to the Fund’s two biggest fundraisers, “Bowl for Ronnie” and “Ride for Ronnie.”

This year saw a number of other Dio-related projects, including the long-awaited recent publication of his autobiography, Rainbow in the Dark. Titled after his biggest solo hit, Ronnie himself wrote a chunk of it, later completed by Wendy and noted hard rock journalist Mick Wall.

“After he died, I couldn’t think about it or look at it. But now the time is right for it to come out,” Wendy says. There’s also a graphic novel with an original story based on the cover of Dio’s Holy Diver from Z2 Comics. Wendy is also working on a musician Walk of Fame along Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, and even a Dio Museum.

Finally, there’s the unexpected reappearance of the song “Mob Rules” last month in an unlikely format. Some inventive folks posted videos to YouTube and social media with song providing an apt soundtrack to footage of the Capitol Hill riots of January 6. When asked if she’s seen any of them, Wendy Dio lets out a delighted laugh.

“No! That’s amazing! And funny! Ronnie was way ahead of his time! And as he said, ‘if you listen to fools…the mob rules!’”

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

Posted in Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio | 1 Comment

The Allman Betts Band Give Their “Blessings”

The Allman Betts Band: John Ginty, R. Scott Bryan, Devon Allman, Johnny Stachela, Duane Betts, Berry Oakley Jr., and John Lum. Photo by Kaelan Barowsky/Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

Note: This interview originally appeared in early 2021.

It is indeed a very strange and (here comes that word again) “unprecedented” time for live music. Bands, audiences, venues, and promoters are all still trying to figure out when the gears for the industry will start moving again, and how shows and tours will even look while the pandemic is still with us or in its own end times.

Contemporary southern rockers the Allman Betts Band are placing their bets on getting back out on the road sooner than later, with an ambitious tour schedule starting this week.

Their website lists 60+ dates of festivals, support slots, and headlining shows stretching through October (this includes a summer “Spirit of the South” tour that pairs them with like-minded musicians and friends Blackberry Smoke).

“I’m exciting to be playing again. We’ve already done a few drive-in shows, and those were awesome,” says singer/guitarist Duane Betts. “But you have to be careful. We want to take the proper measures and not do anything that puts people in danger.”

This tour will also showcase the first chance that audiences will have to hear material from the band’s second record. Released last August, Bless Your Heart clocks in with 13 original tracks at 72 minutes, a great leap artistically from their already-solid debut. And it finds the band delving straight into much deeper, richer material both lyrically and musically.

“We just wanted to branch out. There’s definitely some different kind of soundscapes and flavors not on the first one,” Betts offers. Of lead-off single “Pale Horse Rider,” Betts has noted its “beautiful entanglement of guitars,” which he says has only gotten better in the years since he and Allman first played together.

“It’s kind of unique how we play that together there that doesn’t happen in any other song ever, like a Neil Young & Crazy Horse approach. The guitars are all together, but it’s a mess that sounds good. And the way we recorded it, sometimes I’m louder and sometimes he is. That was a completely live take.”

Two numbers that Betts co-wrote with musician/songwriter Stoll Vaughan and sings lead on have particularly close meaning to him. The cinematic and semi-autobiographical tale of romance gone awry and it after effects (“Ashes of My Lovers”), and one that touches on his youth growing up on his grandmother’s Florida property (“Rivers Run”).

“’Ashes’ is about that wreckage after a relationship and how to make that right. It’s kind of a spiritual thing about this guy who has left all of it. I guess it’s kind of about me because I’m the one singing it!” Betts laughs.

“And ‘Rivers’ was about that 30 or 40 acres of that my father bought for my grandmother on the Manatee River out in Parrish, Florida, where I grew up and would visit. Then my dad lived there after she passed, and [so did I] for a few years,” he says. “We still have it. It was a magical place. We’d go out running around in the cow pastures and then later in my teens, try to find mushrooms!”

In addition to Betts, the band’s lineup includes Devon Allman (vocals/guitar), Berry Oakley, Jr. (bass), John Ginty (keyboards), Johnny Stachela (guitar), and R. Scott Bryan & John Lum (drums/percussion). There’s a lot of musical lineage there, of course, as Betts, Oakley, and Allman’s dads were co-founders of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Allman Brothers Band.

During the pandemic, Betts says that he’s done a wide variety of things including writing new music, but mainly connecting with his family and nature. “I’m just trying to have gratitude for what I have, and am waiting for this thing to be in the past,” he says. As to his father Dickey, who has had numerous health issues in recent years, Betts says the 77-year-old is “doing great.”

Here Come the Sons: Devon Allman and Duane Betts. Photo by Kaelan Barowsky/Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

The Houston Press also spoke with Duane when father and son appeared together on 2019 live concert DVD/CD Ramblin’ Man – it’s title taken from the 1973 song that Dickey Betts wrote and sang, and was the band’s biggest hit single.

Dickey Betts is of course known for his grand instrumentals like “Jessica” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which partially inspired Duane to solely write the equally epochal 12+ minute “Savannah’s Dream” on Bless Your Heart. “I kind of took it upon myself to write an instrumental. I didn’t fight it!” he laughs. “My dad writes all these great instrumentals, and I thought we needed our own.”

Of the Allman Betts Band setlist, Betts estimates it’s about 80% their originals, with the rest featuring covers and a couple of Allman Brothers Band tunes. However, Betts says they do the latter out of respect for their fathers and the songs, not because they feel they have to in order to meet any audience expectations.

“I think we just love playing music and having fun. I like to go up and play ‘Jessica,’ but I don’t feel like I have to play it, and I wouldn’t want to feel that way. I enjoy it,” he says. “We’re proud of that. But we’re also proud of the records we’ve made and the songs that we’ve written. And that’s what makes us feel good about covering a few of our dads’ tunes.”

For more on the Allman Betts Band, visit AllmanBettsBand.com

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

Posted in Allman Betts Band, Allman Brothers Band | Leave a comment

Bill Champlin Talks Solo Record and Vast, Varied Career

Bill Champlin’s new record was partially inspired by a sea change in his outlook on life after some significant life challenges. Photo by Craig Carreno/Courtesy of O’Donnell Media Group

Bill Champlin is on the phone calling from his home in Santa Barbara, California to talk about his solo record—and a whole lot of other topics!

Livin’ for Love is Champlin’s latest effort in a very varied career that spans more than 55 years for the singer and multi-instrumentalist. And it’s a generous one for listeners. The fourteen tracks – all written or co-written by Champlin – mostly clock in at the five to six minute range, with the Japanese edition including two additional songs.

Touching upon rock, jazz, funk, soul, and Champlin’s favored R&B sound, the sheer quantity of material is at least partially due to the extra creative time he was afforded with the pandemic.

“I couldn’t go anywhere or play live, so it was time to get to work. It’s that way for a lot of musicians. I think there will be more albums released in 2021 then children born nine months after the [1977] New York blackout! And I’m really proud of this record,” he says.

Champlin also notes that a serious prostate cancer scare and extensive treatment a few years ago, along with the death of his son from esophageal cancer around the same time, helped influence the record and sharpen his focus.

“It kind of changed my whole viewpoint. When you’re in that kind of scene, your list of things you care about gets quite a bit shorter, and the list of what you don’t care about grows a lot longer. And I put a lot of that into the songs,” he says. “But of course, there’s also a lot of ‘Oh baby, you’re hanging out with other guys’ R&B stuff. But that’s not personal!”

Which is good news for Tamara, who also sings and co-writes on Livin’ for Love. But her husband is quick to squash any thoughts of nepotism. “She’s an ass-kicking singer and a great writer. This isn’t a Linda or Yoko thing!” he says. The couple will often be joined on the road or in the studio by their son Will, a singer/musician himself who placed third on season five of “The Voice” in 2013.

“A lot of my solo stuff is pop and craft oriented, but this one goes deeper. It’s more art than craft oriented,” he continues. “People can’t touch each other anymore with keeping six feet apart, so the only way to do that is through music and art and poetry.”

One song that has a decidedly contemporary subject is “Losin’ Ground.” Written by Champlin and Greg Mathieson, it’s about political and social divisions in our country that have been inflamed in recent years, and even moreso given events of the past few months and even days.

“Everybody is promising everything right now and nobody is going to keep those promises. I try to stay out of politics, because it’s become such a cancel culture,” he says. “And everybody is pointing the finger at everybody else. People find there’s always someone else to blame [for problems], and then do it loudly. I think you can make your same point, but do it in more uplifting, spiritual, and quiet way.”

Growing up in Marin County, California, Champlin’s musical influences came from both nearby San Francisco and Oakland, though it was the soul and R&B music of the day which really grabbed him. A January 1, 1963 matinee show by James Brown at Sweet’s Ballroom in Oakland was a turning point, and the teen Champlin would shop for Wilson Pickett and Lou Rawls records at Berkeley’s legendary Reid’s Records.

Bill Champlin onstage with Chicago in 2008. Photo by Craig Carreno/Courtesy of O’Donnell Media Group

His first band of note was the Sons of Champlin, a San Francisco-based rock group that featured horns and a heavy jazz influence which formed in 1965. And while other area bands of the late ‘60s like the Grateful Dead, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin did (and still do) get the lion’s share of attention, it’s often the “second tier” bands like the Sons, Moby Grape, and Quicksilver Messenger Service which produced even more interesting music. But the Sons’ namesake leader suggests that their lack of greater success was somewhat of a self-sabotage.

“We had the opportunities. But I always say that with the Sons, when opportunity knocked, we answered the phone instead!” Champlin laughs. “We didn’t know what opportunities were! We were so busy smoking dope, and we thought the world would beat a path to our door.”

Champlin would continue in the ‘70s and early ‘80s to be extremely busy as a session vocalist/player and songwriter, working with Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Amy Grant, Patti Labelle, Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, and even idol Lou Rawls. He co-wrote the big hits “After the Love Has Gone” for Earth, Wind and Fire and “Turn Your Love Around” for George Benson.

But it would be his nearly three-decade tenure with Chicago as a keyboardist/singer that casual listeners most know him for. He joined in 1981, and was the lead vocalist on the 1988 hits “Look Away” (which hit #1) and “I Don’t Want to Live Without Your Love,” as well as the duet with Peter Cetera “Hard Habit to Break.”

Interestingly, he found out from an original member of Chicago that their late singer/guitarist Terry Kath once showed up at a band rehearsal in 1969 with a copy of the Sons of Champlin’s Loosen Up Naturally record and insisted they all listen to it in its entirety, and immediately. Kath was a fan of their guitarist Terry Haggerty’s experimental approach to playing.

However, Champlin’s time in the band ended acrimoniously when he was fired in the middle of a summer 2009 tour with Earth, Wind and Fire. In interviews over the years, Champlin has said he was treated by some original members as more of a sideman than equal contributor, and that they were not happy he was pushing the band to create more new music and also pursuing an occasional concurrent solo career.

When Chicago was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, it included only the seven original members, which left Champlin out. And he (like Peter Cetera), chose not to participate in the 2016 band-produced career documentary Now More Than Ever, though it did included an on-screen quote from him with some of his grandmother’s advice of the long-held adage “If you can’t say something nice….” Champlin does still perform occasionally with original Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine in his California Transit Authority band, and post-Cetera vocalist Jason Scheff makes a guest appearance on Livin’ for Love.

A conversation with Bill Champlin is also a mile-a-minute tour through music history, touching on ‘60s soul greats, the Righteous Brothers, Kool and the Gang, Paul McCartney, Level 42, and two new newer acts he encourages people to check out: the Dirty Loops and Jacob Collier. “You’ll find when you talk with me, if there is a tangent, I’ll drive on it!” he laughs.

Of course, Bill Champlin can’t tour to support Livin’ for Love right now and doesn’t see it as a possibility in the real near future. But he is hopeful.

“With the vaccines, we’ve got a possible shot at this stopping. But then as soon as those came out, there was suddenly another strain. And this is been so politicized, I can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t,” he says. “But this is a story about science, not politics. If this thing stops COVID, it needs to get to everybody as fast as it can.”

For more information on Bill Champlin and Livin’ for Love, visit BillChamplin.com

This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com

Posted in Bill Champlin, Chicago | Tagged , | 2 Comments

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’.”

Posted in Uriah Heep | Leave a comment

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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