Randy Bachman is STILL Takin’ Care of Business

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Randy Bachman today. Photo by Mike Hough.

In his career as a co-vocalist/guitarist/songwriter for not one but two pretty successful classic rock bands (The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive), Randy Bachman has sold tens of millions of records, sold out concerts, and hit the top of the charts.

But, according to his son, singer/songwriter Tal Bachman (who had a hit of his own in 1999 with “She’s So High”), dad didn’t really make it in the music biz until he became animated in a 2000 episode of “The Simpsons.” It’s where Homer loudly requests the band play “Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”…and continues to bellow for the tunes after the band has obliged.

“A lot of other musicians had been on the show. Matt Groening went to college near Seattle, and that was the town where B.T.O. first broke, so he was a fan,” Bachman recalls today.

“So he wanted to animate me and [B.T.O. co-vocalist/bassist] Fred Turner. It was a lot of fun, and they treated us like royalty. Matt even sent a huge box of ‘Simpsons’ stuff, and sent Fred and I an autographed cell afterward.”

Bachman’s cartoon legacy makes for an interesting story, but it’s not one that he tells on the recent DVD, Randy Bachman Vinyl Tap Tour: Every Song Tells a Story. Part concert, part interview, and part documentary, it features Bachman weaving tales of his life and career while he and a band play excerpts from 14 of his biggest songs as he tells the stories behind their creation.

Filmed in his hometown of Winnipeg, Canada on the last date of a tour, it combines Ray Davies’ Storyteller format with aspects of Bachman’s own Canadian radio program, “Vinyl Tap.” Throughout, vintage pictures and video clips play on a screen behind him.

“I haven’t even seen it because I am always facing forward, so I don’t know what they’re showing behind me!” Bachman laughs. “And the format certainly beats standing up at 2 p.m. in the heat playing a pop festival.”

Today, music fans take it for granted they can get pretty much every song every recorded immediately at the click of a mouse. But in early ‘60s Canada, Bachman and future Guess who co-vocalist/keyboardist Burton Cummings relied on painstakingly taped compilation reels of American and English rock music sent to them each Christmas by one of Bachman’s family members.

BTO

Homer Simpson Loves ’em! – BTO: Fred Turner, Robbie Bachman, Randy Bachman, and Blair Thornton.

The pair (and other bandmembers) would learn as many of the songs as possible to play themselves at gigs, as well as buying what they could.

“New albums cost $3.98. So Burton and I would save up money from gigs or throwing newspapers and pitch in $2 each. One of us would get possession of the record for a week, and then give it to the other,” Bachman remembers.

“And we’d learn every groove, every lick, and every lyric on both sides. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley stuff. We even knew the names of the producers!”

One of the more interesting aspects about the DVD is how many of Bachman’s songs that classic rock listeners know and love by heart came about as flukes.

The Guess Who’s “American Woman” was born from an impromptu stage jam with lyrics invented on the spot about the Canadian band’s desire not to be drafted in the U.S. Army. “No Sugar Tonight” was what Bachman heard a San Francisco biker mama tell her man-who-turned-into-a-mouse what he would be getting from her later.

B.T.O.’s “Takin’ Care of Business” had a similar musical origin, with lyrics drawn from words Bachman wrote years before about a blind engineer who commuted to the studio on the train. Originally called “White Collar Worker,” it took on the more familiar title from the tagline of a Canadian DJ. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” was an after-hours goof off performed as a playful poke at Bachman’s stuttering brother.

“I could sit down with a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus and try to sound like a great songwriter, but’s it’s contrived,” Bachman says. “But when you let it go, something happens. It’s a ball of energy that comes from the Angel of Song.”

Guess Who

The music of both the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive – as well as his solo work – fall into the category of that sort of blue collar “meat and potatoes” rock of the ‘70s. Think Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad, Foghat, and the James Gang.

And while the genre doesn’t get critical respect (saved, it seems, for prog-rock bands with intricate instrumentation who write about space like Pink Floyd and King Crimson), Bachman is nonplussed.

“It’s all just music. I mean, Burton and I started out playing classical music. And country music today is basically classic rock. All of them are playing Les Pauls through Marshall amps!” he says. “Lots of people don’t own up to liking meat and potatoes thumping rock. But if you get them at a party, they’ll want to hear ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ and ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ and will sing along!”

Randy Bachman’s plans for the next year will keep him busy. He’s touring (some gigs with the “Vinyl Tap” format, which hopes to bring to the U.S.). He’s also recorded a blues record with a female drummer and bassist (“They sound like the Who in their prime!”) with producer Kevin Shirley called Heavy Blues. There have also been occasional gigs with B.T.O. partner Fred Turner and Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus.

“I’m having the time of my life recycling myself and reinventing myself over and over, doing things I thought I couldn’t do again in terms of songwriting and singing,” he says.

And who knows? Maybe Randy Bachman will someday, somewhere, somehow overhear a snippet of your conversation and turn it into a classic rock hit. Homer, are you listening?

A version of this article originally appeared in The Houston Press.

 

 

 

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Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer: Pounding Skins and Coffee Shots

Bloodbrothers - Aerosmith today: Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Joey Kramer.

Bloodbrothers – Aerosmith today: Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Joey Kramer.

There is no more quintessential “Boston” rock band than Aerosmith. Since their formation some more than 45 years ago (!) they’ve proudly stood for everything Beantown, and even have an official city historical plaque in front of their old living/rehearsal space.

But goddamn – it’s cold up there! That’s why drummer Joey Kramer is more than happy to enjoy the much warmer climate of his current home in Texas.

“It’s wonderful to live here in Austin. I lived in New England for 40 years, and the winters were brutal. I’m glad to be out of the cold!” Kramer – whose wife is originally from Cypress in North Houston – says. “We talked about moving to Texas, and I didn’t want to go to Houston or Dallas. I just love the people and vibe about Austin.”

Houstonian or Dallasite Aerosmith fans shouldn’t take that preference personally. And members of their dedicated “Blue Army” (so named for their preference for denim) enthused about their recent full-length concert film Aerosmith Rocks Donnington.

The 19-song set list, filmed at the massive Festival last year, covers the band’s career timeline. But did Kramer, Tyler, and band mates Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, and Brad Whitford alter their stage norm for historical posterity?

“I don’t think about we went about our show any differently, though it would have been easy to let it happen. You’re in front of 100,000 people and have cameras pointed in your face,” Kramer adds.

Raunchy boys in the '70s: Perry, Whitford, Tyler (reclining), Hamilton, and Kramer.

Raunchy boys in the ’70s: Perry, Whitford, Tyler (reclining), Hamilton, and Kramer.

“But the best thing for us to be doing onstage is to be relaxed. As long as we are and the audience is with us, you’re in for a hell of a ride. I just worried about [the cameras] when my arms started flailing!”

Aerosmith is also one of the few classic rock bands still touring with an intact classic lineup (Whitford was an early, but not original member). And while there have been some periods in their history where that hasn’t been the case, Kramer likens this quintet to…food.

“It’s just not the same without the five of us. You can’t take an apple pie, slice it out, take out a piece, and replace it with a piece of blueberry. I mean, you can, but it’s not the same,” he says. “After all this time, Tom and I are so tight, we make fucking mistakes together!”

Aerosmith also has something of a literary legacy, having already published an official oral history. And while Steven Tyler’s (Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?) and Joe Perry’s (Rocks) autobiographies got more attention, Kramer’s Hit Hard was the first to come out in 2009.

As much (if not more) of a story about his substance abuse and addiction/recovery – as well as detailing a fraught relationship with his father – Kramer says he’s surprised that people still talk to him about it today.

Joey Kramer still rocks the soul patch.

Joey Kramer still rocks the soul patch.

“It took me four years to write. Most people don’t spend that much time, but I wanted it to be a certain way. The original manuscript was 1,000 pages, and the finished book was 250,” Kramer says. Unfortunately from a marketing perspective, it was also released the day that Michael Jackson died.

“But at the same time, I felt it covered the important things, and it was a personally cathartic experience for. Not just talking about gossip and what kind of drugs we took and girls we fucked. It was about me and my story.”

And what of Perry’s book, that the guitarist said had not sent to his band mates prior to publication?

“Yeah…I read it,” Kramer says. “He was honest in what he chose to talk about. I mentioned some of the same things he did, but didn’t spend a lot of time on it. My book isn’t about anybody else in the band, it’s about me.”

Kramer has also expanded his business resume as the force and co-founder behind Rockin’ and Roastin’ Coffee. A venture he’s quick to point out he doesn’t just lend a famous name to.

“I’m very hands on. I’ve cut the coffee, came up with the artwork, and my wife came up with the name,” he offers for the brew that is also the official coffee for the House of Blues Chain.

Aerosmith had a big comeback in the '80s, thanks partially to MTV and some popular videos: Whitford, Kramer, Tyler, Hamilton, and Perry.

Aerosmith had a big comeback in the ’80s, thanks partially to MTV and some popular videos: Whitford, Kramer, Tyler, Hamilton, and Perry.

Speaking of voodoo – or bad juju – we had to ask Kramer about his participation in the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Aerosmith appeared as the “Future Villain Band” and battled the Bees Gees and Peter Frampton in a climactic fight. Their cover of “Come Together” the only song from the trumpeted double LP ever played today, besides Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

“Oh my lord!” Kramer laughs. “What do I remember other than the fact that it was probably the worst movie ever made? Hey, that was in the ‘70s, and my memories of the ‘70s is extremely vague, as it that film! But I’m sure I had fun doing it!”

A version of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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Graham Nash Has Some Wild Tales to Tell

CSN today, with harmonies still soaring high. Photo by Chris Kissinger/Jensen Communications.

CSN today, with harmonies still soaring high. Photo by Chris Kissinger/Jensen Communications.

One of my all-time favorite interview subjects over the years has been Graham Nash. Engaging, open, wry, and blunt, it’s no wonder he’s long been the glue that holds the sometimes-fractious CSN (and sometimes Y) together. Here is my most recent talk with him about  the big CSNY box set that came out awhile back. I also highly recommend his memoir, Wild Tales.

“We knew it was something special,” Graham Nash says. “No one had done a tour like that, in that many big venues. But I felt we were up to the task. We could all play and sing, and there were four of us. With four intense egos!”

Today, massive football stadium tours by rock’s major acts are taken for granted. But many years ago it hadn’t even been attempted. While the Beatles and Stones had done the massive gigs as one-offs, it was a reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young who took the plunge first.

Their fabled 1974 tour encompassed 31 shows in 24 cities in three countries from July through September, with the group presenting nearly 80 songs played in various personnel combinations – a quarter of which hadn’t even been released at that point but would find their way onto later group, solo, and duo records.

CSNY on the 1974 tour. Photo courtesy of Rhino.

CSNY on the 1974 tour. Photo courtesy of Rhino.

And the jaunt has passed into rock legend. David Crosby dubbed it the “Doom” tour for its manic mix of music with huge highs and lows, drugs, crazy financial expenditures, and the aforementioned egos.

A handful of those shows were recorded. And while shitty bootlegs have circulated for years, the massive box set simply titled CSNY 1974 (Rhino) has 40 live songs over three CDs, as well as a DVD with rare video footage shot during two of the shows, and a thick booklet with essays, photos, and liner notes.

The project – like other archival sets from the group – was helmed and produced by Graham Nash himself and Joel Bernstein, with Stanley Johnson as sound engineer. And it took four years to put together.

“It was an absolute labor of love. And we set a high bar both musically and graphically,” Nash says. “Our original intent was to present the best possible performances from this tour. And that’s why ‘Carry On’ isn’t on there. We just couldn’t find a performance that stood up to the other songs.”

Backstage at Roosevelt Stadium on the 1974 tour, with Richard Nixon on the tube. Photo by Henry Diltz

Backstage at Roosevelt Stadium on the 1974 tour, with Richard Nixon on the tube. Photo by Henry Diltz

The songs that did make it on the box run the gamut from CSN (and/or Y) warhorses (“Wooden Ships,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Déjà Vu”) and solo songs (“Love the One You’re With,” “Old Man,” “Prison Song”), and rarities (“Grave Concern,” “Myth of Sisyphus,” “Fieldworker”). Some others, audiences were hearing for the first time anyplace.

“So many of the songs are relevant even today, like ‘Immigration Man’ and ‘Military Madness.’” Nash offers. “Even ‘Goodbye Dick!’”

The last song is perhaps the most ultra rare CSNY tune – a bizarrely funny, one and half minute, seemingly improvised ditty by Neil Young in which he celebrates the then-recent resignation of Richard Nixon. Ironic, since Tricky Dick himself is back in the news with the recent release of more damning audiotapes. It was performed only once, and is captured on the box set.

While very few “live” records by any band are actually live, Nash says he wanted to keep the music of CSNY 1974 as real as possible, but does cop to a little tweaking.

CSNY in dressing room, 1970, Minnesota (photo by Henry Diltz)

CSNY in dressing room, 1970, Minnesota (photo by Henry Diltz)

“There is not one single overdub on the entire album,” he says. “Did I tune certain things? Yes. And if I could find a note or phrase that make a song better, I took it from another performance. But it’s very true to us. Anybody who is curious about who CSNY was or is, they can go to that box set.”

The quartet were aided and abetted onstage by longtime CSNY associates Tim Drummond (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums), and Joe Lala (percussion).

And while Nash says he doesn’t have a particular memory of that show, playing to huge, huge crowds was not intimidating. “We had already played Woodstock, and that was nearly a half a million people,” Nash says. “So playing to 40 or 80,000 people wasn’t that big a deal to us.”

And while all members have contributed songs to the group pot over the past nearly five decades, it’s Nash who – as Crosby told audiences during the last tour – “writes the songs that the world knows by heart and sings along with.”

Those would be chiefly “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” and “Just a Song Before I Go” – also some of the band’s best-known and commercially successful tunes.

CSN at Criteria Recording Studios, Miami, March 1977 (Joel Bernstein)

CSN at Criteria Recording Studios, Miami, March 1977 (photo by Joel Bernstein)

“Teach Your Children” in particular, Nash feels, will “be around long after our physical selves are gone.” And two incidents – one years ago, one recent – drove that point home to him.

“A few years back, a friend called me, and he was sitting in a small coffee house on the top of a mountain in Katmandu in Nepal, and the song came on in the café. In Nepal!” Nash says.

“And I was in an Apple store in Italy, and one of the employees rushed up to tell me he’d just been listening to the version on CSNY 1974 and how much it meant to him. To think I wrote a song that touches so many heart and minds and has for so long…that’s a thrill as a writer.”

And while he readily admits having fun with various substances for many years, Nash’s indulgences never derailed the band, hurt the music, or caused bizarre behavior.

So, as the man in the middle, how many times over the years has the long-suffering Nash thought, “Am I the only sane one who just wants to make music?”

“Oh, I always think that. I have from day one actually!” Nash says. “I mean, I’m English. My country was devastated twice by war in 80 years. And there were times you didn’t know if your house was going to be still standing or your friends were going to be alive. So you just want to get the job done because you don’t know if it’s every going to end.”

For more on Graham Nash, visit his website.

Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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Dennis DeYoung: Styx and Stones Won’t Break His Bones

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Dennis DeYoung today, still rockin’ the Paradise and fans all over.

To many classic rock fans, it would seem a bit of unnecessary clarification to bill a Dennis DeYoung show as “Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx.”

After all, as the band’s main vocalist, chief songwriter, and keyboardist, anyone with a ticket to the show surely knows they will hear the headliner belt out classics like “Lady,” “The Grand Illusion,” “Babe,” “The Best of Times,” “Come Sail Away” and – yes – “Mr. Roboto” in that utterly distinctive voice.

Yet, despite all that success, DeYoung himself felt that his name alone doesn’t have enough familiarity, and thus the extra wording. Which he is allowed to use after some messy legal wrangling following his unceremonious 1999 ouster from the band. After all, it’s his legacy too.

“When I was replaced, I had to find a way to work it out. I worked really hard at promoting a certain four letter word my whole life,” DeYoung says today. “And there is a genuine honesty to Styx music. It was heartfelt. We weren’t trying to be ironic or smarter than anybody. And I’m proud of that.”

From the time in 1975 when he joined the already-existing Styx, DeYoung was the group’s strongest creative force in a lineup that also included vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw, guitarist James “JY” Young, and a rhythm section of brothers Chuck and John Panozzo on bass and drums. And he was happy with that.

“I loved being in a band. I wanted to be in the Beatles, but those son of a bitches never called me!” DeYoung laughs. “But a band is the sum of its parts. The Beatles were all great individually, but put together…that was something else. And that’s how I felt about Styx.”

Dipping their musical toes in pools of straight ahead rock, ballads, and prog during their ‘70s and ‘80s heyday, there seemed to be a Styx song to fit any mood. And it’s that versatility that DeYoung feels boosted the band’s career.

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Classic Styx: Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, John Panozzo, and Chuck Panozzo. The boxing gloves wouldn’t be needed for several years in the future.

Along the way, many of their more popular tunes became cornerstones in the soundtrack-of-your-lives way. This writer recalls that during the late ‘70s/early ‘80s at Magic Skate in Humble, the opening electric piano notes of “Babe” instantly signaled it was time for a Couples Skate. Kind of ironic, given the song’s actual lyrics about leaving.

DeYoung notes that hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t hear a similar story about how the music of Styx is in the fabric of someone’s life, often during what he says are “high voltage emotional events.”

“And I find that is true of a lot of bands from that era, because the music during that time was so essential to young people’s lives. There were not as many other distractions as there are today,” he offers.

“Look, I lived in the greatest time in history to be a musician, something that never happened before and will never happen again. I hit the sweet spot by matter of birth. And I feel a warmth from the audience when they talk to be about this music. It goes beyond anything I thought I would ever achieve.”

It’s a feeling that has run off into his earlier parallel solo career and then post-Styx endeavors.

“The vast majority of people on this planet never have the opportunity to be appreciated as I have because of the music,” he says. “I’ll go someplace, people will pay me to go there, and then afterward thank me for coming to their town and performing. It’s a miracle.”

But things aren’t always so heavy and misty-eyed in the world of Dennis DeYoung. In fact – as he demonstrates during the interview – he possesses a quick and self-deprecating sense of humor (even if some of his jokes are a bit practiced – “I’m half Italian…from the waist down!”).

Trouble in Paradise during the "Mr. Roboto" days: DeYoung, C. Panozzo, Young, J. Panozzo, and Shaw.

Trouble in Paradise during the “Mr. Roboto” days: DeYoung, J. Panozzo, Young, C. Panozzo, and Shaw.

It’s a humor that wasn’t always on display during his time with the Styx.

“Writers always characterized us in ways we weren’t based on our music. You couldn’t be funny if you were in Styx,” he says. “And all the photos of bands from that time, everyone is so dead serious trying to be cool. But we were misunderstood. If there was ever a Clown Alley, it was the guys in our band. And John Panozzo – may he rest in peace – was the funniest guy I’ve ever known.”

Still, despite their huge commercial popularity and sold out shows, Styx – both then and now – were never critic’s darlings. Which DeYoung feels is a big reason that the band is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though at least they are in some good company.

“I don’t want to sound like the guy with sour grapes and who is not in the club, but this is the truth,” he says.

“Styx, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Chicago, and the Doobie Brothers. The people who never liked them are the same people who decides who gets in. I have been saying that there’s no room for Deep Purple, because Leonard Cohen is in!” [Note: since this interview was conducted, it was announced that both Deep Purple and Chicago would be inducted in 2016].

DeYoung also feels that rock critics and writers who make up a chunk of the voting bloc favor lyrics over music. And while he’s tried a “half a dozen times” with his best shot to get through the music of the Velvet Underground, he still can’t see what the critical fuss is all about on any level.

“Night after night, I see people locking arms and singing my songs. And after the first 12 words, they may not know the rest, but they know the melody,” he says. “And that’s why the music is more important that the words.”

If Styx ever does make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, fans may not want to hold their breath for an on-stage performance reunion of the four surviving classic lineup members.

“I have no personal communication with them, and it’s a shame,” DeYoung says. Young and Shaw lead the current lineup, with the health wise fragile Chuck Panozzo making an occasional appearance. Any viewing of their episode of “Behind the Music” will fill in some of the story.

But for Dennis DeYoung, he’s content to look both backwards at the music he made with Styx, and forward to performing it with his current band of five years standing (“They work for cheap!”)  for fans that now span nearly three generations. And he knows what he would tell them today.

“Rejoice in the music that has given you pleasure. And remember that it was created by five guys. And if you change one of those parts, you change the music,” he says, before urging this writer to watch a video on his website of Styx miming to their song “Rockin’ the Paradise.”

“That, my friend, is who the band was. Just watch it.”

For more on Dennis DeYoung, visit www.dennisdeyoung.com

A version of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Zombie Invasion Continues with Colin Blunstone!

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The Zombies today: Tom Toomey, Rod Argent, Jim Rodford, Colin Blunstone, and Steve Rodford

2015 turned out to be pretty good year for the Zombies. They released a well-received album of new material (Still Got That Hunger). And they embarked on a tour that saw surviving original former members Chris White and Hugh Grundy – join current members and originals Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone – to perform Odessey and Oracle in its entirely, before the current lineup closed out the show.

Before those developments, though, I spoke with Blunstone about the band’s legacy, music, and Argent’s intensity.

So imagine this sonic scenario.

You are a member of a ‘60s British Invasion band looking to distinguish yourself from various Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Animals, Pacemakers, Hermits, Troggs, and Pretty Things.

Your group has had a couple of Top10 hits in America a few years before, both nothing that was sustainable careerwise. Or reflective of the new, heavier, and trippier sound that is in vogue.

Then – partially to the thanks of a well-known U.S. record industry insider and fan who brings a copy of your most recent record back across the pond – one song goes into heavy rotation on radio and is picking up steam.

Interest and curiosity in your band begins to surge, inquiries are made from promoters about tours, and the music press begins to take note.

Unfortunately, your band has already well-broken up by the time that “Time of the Season” hits #3 on the Billboard chart in 1968. Most bands would make a mad dash to reform and take advantage of the situation. But not the Zombies.

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The original Zombies: Top row – Paul Atkinson, Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone; Bottom row – Hugh Grundy and Chris White

“I know that all of the other guys felt it was the absolutely right thing to do. There was never even a conversation about getting together again,” Zombies vocalist Colin Blunstone says today from his home in England.

“Rod [Argent, keyboardist/vocalist] and Chris [White, bassist] were already committed to their new band, Argent, and writing new songs. Sometimes, I do wonder what would have happened if we had kept going, because they were on such a really wonderful streak writing for the Zombies, and I would have loved to have seen what we could have done next. It does intrigue me.”

Instead, the Zombies became a short-lived, but much beloved group for their mixture of pop (“Tell Her No”), R&B, garage (“She’s Not There”) and psychedelia, which culminated in their masterpiece/swansong, Odessey & Oracle.

After the split, the five original members pursued careers both in and out of music. Argent had the most successful run with the band under his name (“Hold Your Head Up”) with White along as writer/producer. And Blunstone had a decent solo career in England.

Blunstone, White, and drummer Hugh Grundy briefly reunited in 1990 for a record and tour. But the last time all five appeared together – including guitarist Hugh Atkinson – was for a few numbers at a small club gig in 1997 to celebrate the release of their box set, Zombie Heaven. Atkinson, who had spent his post-band years as a respected music A&R man, died in 2004.

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Blunstone and Argent began collaborating again in 1999, which led to touring and new records. Though originally, they did not use Zombies name or play more than two or three Zombies tunes in a set.

“Our intention was not to reform the group, and we didn’t use the name for six or seven years. But it got to a point when promoters were billing us like that, even though they weren’t supposed to,” he says.

“Our audiences wanted more and more Zombies music, and it was a pleasant surprise. As was when we found out there was a huge interest and fascination in the group all these years later.”

Finally, with the blessing of the rest of the original lineup, The Zombies reconstituted, with ex-Argent/Kinks bassist Jim Rodford (who was, ironically, also in a very early lineup), son Steve Rodford on drums, and Keith Airey on guitar. Tom Toomey later replaced Airey.

The band has released two records of new music, including 2011’s Breathe Out…Breathe In. They are finalizing material for another effort that they’ll start recording after the current U.S. tour, and are including some songs in the current set including “Movin’ On.”

“I can say emphatically that if we didn’t have new music, we wouldn’t be doing this. New music is the life force of artists,” Blunstone says, bluntly. “Neither one of us would be interested in just playing the tunes of the ‘60s. At the same time, we love to play both the old hits and the [deeper cuts] that we are now rediscovering.”

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And while Blunstone writes songs mostly for his parallel solo career, most Zombies tunes flow from the pen (or computer screen) of Argent.

“For him, the sound of the lyric is important, maybe moreseo than the actual words, and that’s how he typically writes. It’s very sophisticated,” Blunstone says of the man he has known for more than 50 years.

“Rod can be very single minded, but every band needs someone like that. He was incredibly talented, even at 14, 15, years old when we met. And he’s incredibly generous and supportive.”

So as the Zombies continue to march forward (though not as slow as their brethren on “The Walking Dead”), Blunstone is very pleased to see that the band – and their work in the ‘60s – is getting more and more their due.

“I think we have been getting more recognition and attention in recent years, and it’s really great,” Blunstone sums up. “It validates everything we did back then!”

A version of his article originally appeared in The Houston Press

For more on the Zombies, visit www.thezombies.net

 

 

 

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Gregg Allman Keeps Riding Well Past Midnight

Gregg Allman CRB

Gregg Allman, his publicist tells me, rarely does phone interviews anymore. And really, who can blame him?

Why would the 67-year-old classic rock icon want to answer another litany of queries about the past and future of the Allman Brothers Band, brother Duane, Berry and Dickey, drugs, health and Hep C, wives and girlfriends, trials, and the recent judgment which sent the director of his now-in-limbo bio film to jail after the negligent death of a crew member?

Anything he presumably wants to say on those matters, he’s said before in countless talks, his autobiography (My Cross to Bear), and the more recent ABB oral history, One Way Out.

And while his last solo effort was 2011’s well-received Low Country Blues, Allman is excited about an upcoming spring and summer tour with his solo band for a variety of reasons.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member agreed to answer some questions via email, and here he discusses the tour, favorite Texas bluesmen, and (yes) the status of the little ol’ band from Macon he co-founded nearly 50 years ago.

Aside from a wider choice of material, what do you enjoy most about doing a solo tour at more intimate venues?

Allman: One of the things I like most about playing with my band is that there’s only one cook in the kitchen, if you know what I mean.

That wasn’t the case with the Allman Brothers, so I really enjoy how relaxed and easy things are when I’m doing solo shows. I’ll tell you, it is nice to play some small venues, because it allows me to get a bit closer to the fans, and I like that feeling. It reminds me of the old days, man.

The Allmans live at Fillmore East: Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Jaimoe, Berry Oakley and Butch Trucks.

The Allmans live at Fillmore East: Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Jaimoe, Berry Oakley and Butch Trucks.

Tell me a bit about the structure of the show, and what songs you are looking forward to playing most.

Allman: We play a real nice mixture of songs from my solo career, some Allman Brothers tunes that I’ve rearranged to better fit the sound of my band, and a few killer covers as well.

I like playing them all, man, but I know there a few – “Melissa,” “Midnight Rider,” “I’m No Angel,” “Statesboro Blues,” – that the fans expect to hear, and that’s cool.

I really enjoyed the All My Friends DVD of the tribute concert to you last year. How did you first find out about the project, and what made you decide to do it?

Allman: My manager, Michael Lehman, brought the concept to me, and when I saw the list of names – Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, Keb Mo, Sam Moore – plus the country guys like Eric Church, Trace Adkins, and Zac Brown. Boy, how could I say no?

I was so humbled that night. It truly was one of the highlights of my latter years, no doubt.

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Which Texas musician of the past – blues, rock, or otherwise – had the most impact on you growing up and during your early career?

There have been three guys from Texas who influenced me, and I’m proud to say that two of them were dear, dear friends of mine.

The first was Lightnin’ Hopkins. When we were kids, my brother loved his playing, and that’s how I came to find out about Lightnin’. The second was Johnny Winter. Johnny was another big influence on us, and he played with the Allman Brothers from time to time. Johnny sat in with us during the 2009 Beacon run, and he tore it up, boy!

The third was Stevie Ray Vaughan. Good God almighty, nobody played like that man did. We toured together in the mid-’80s, and we had some times back then, let me tell you. Texas has turned out some kick-ass players, no question.

Which contemporary Texas musician do you like most today on a strictly musical level?

Allman: I’d say Doyle Bramhall II; he is a tremendous guitar player, man. Doyle has played with Mr. Clapton and with Derek Trucks, and he added a lot to Low Country Blues. I had heard that Doyle could play, but when he got in the studio with us, he just blew me away.

Many fans were surprised that the Allman Brothers Band seemed to end so abruptly last year with no big farewell to mark the occasion. And comments in the press by yourself and others have not really been clear what, if any, future the band has either as a recording or touring unit. Where do things stand in your view today?

Allman: Right now, the plans are there are no plans. That being said, I learned a long time ago to never say never about the Allman Brothers.

 Finally, what are your own future plans? And anything you’d like to add?

Allman: I’m going to keep playing as long as I can; I still love it, man. As I’ve said many times, music is my life’s blood.

A version of this interview originally appeared at http://www.houstonpress.com

For more on Gregg Allman, visit www.greggallman.com

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Punk Legend Marky Ramone Gabba Gabbas!

Da Bruddahs: Johnny, Joey, Marky, and Dee Dee Ramone

Da Bruddahs: Johnny, Joey, Marky, and Dee Dee Ramone


In his Band of Bruddahs, Marky Ramone’s primary role was that of drummer, the pounding heartbeat and engine of so many of the legendary punk rock group’s numbers.

But over many years in meetings, rehearsals, recording studios, concert stages, and countless miles on the road in their trustworthy van, he also had another occupation: constant mediator between his lead singer and guitarist.

Acrimony had always been thick between Joey and Johnny Ramone, as the pair were on opposite of ends of the spectrum in politics, temperament, hygiene, and punctuality. Not to mention musical direction. Oh, and Joey’s girlfriend also left him for Johnny. The couple later married.

So Joey and Johnny Ramone had not spoken a word directly to each other in nearly 15 years. And when they needed to communicate with each other, they did it – through Marky.

But out of the blue toward the end of their career, Joey leaned over in the van and asked the baseball-obsessed Johnny a simple question about his thoughts on the New York Yankees chance for the pennant. The guitarist offered a brusque “I don’t know.”

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Joey turned back around, and radio silence continued. A chance slipped by, never to return. Johnny would not even bring himself to call his bandmate of 22 years as Joey was dying from lymphoma. Johnny himself would later succumb to cancer.

This story – and many others about the punk rock pioneers – get told in Marky Ramone’s memoir written with Rich Herschlag, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg – My Life as a Ramone (416 pp., Touchstone, $28).

“I wish they had talked, I do,” Marky says today. “At that point, Joey was on Prozac, which made him more extroverted. And John knew it was the drug talking. But Joey was a friendly guy, and at that point John should have at least made some small talk to break the tension between them.”

The man born Marc Bell was not the band’s original drummer who laid down the template for the band’s sound, but joined on the fourth album, Road to Ruin. He spent 15 years with the group (not including a hiatus after being fired for alcoholism), and played roughly 1700 of the band’s 2,263 gigs.

Even after the very last show the Ramones ever played in 1996, Marky writes how the band’s interrelations remained frosty, with the band simply leaving the stage and drifting off.

“We were brothers and band mates and business partners. But there were no goodbyes, not handshakes, no pats on the back. We just left,” he remembers. “I went back to the hotel and ordered Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and watched TV all night. The next morning, I went back to New York.”

Thankfully, the Ramones left a large catalogue of albums behind for fans to discover or rediscover. With Joey, Johnny, bassist Dee Dee, and original drummer Tommy now dead, Marky is (with apologies to later members Richie and C.J.) the last Ramone who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame standing.

Yet, the band is today more popular and known than they were at any other time in their actual career.

Marky Ramone today

Marky Ramone today


Their songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Beat on the Brat” and “Rock and Roll High School” appear on soundtracks and in TV commercials. Bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Motorhead, Green Day, and Rancid have sung their praises. And 14-year-old girls – who Marky says may or may not actually own a Ramones record – wear their T-shirts bought from the local mall.

“It’s nice to see your band’s name on people’s chests!” he says. Marky has continued to play Ramones music with different musicians. Marky’s weekly radio show, “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg” on Sirius XM’s Faction channel is also going into its tenth year of airing.

“I will continue to perpetuate the band’s name through the music around the world. The songs are too good not to be played,” he adds. “There’s a whole new generation of Ramones fans out there.”

In the book, Marky also relates tales of his upbringing as well as his stints in other groups. Prior to joining the Ramones in 1978 (four years after their founding), Marky had played drums for early hard rock power trio Dust, the gender-bending Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys, and punk rockers Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

It was while on a tour of England with that last group on a bill with the Clash that Marky saw the difference between U.S. and U.K. punk music.

“We could see that [punk music] was very political over there. Lots of people on the dole, homeless people, and the structure of the country was dwindling,” Marky says. “For our [scene] at CBGB’s, we just wanted to provide our listeners with a good time, a fun time, just throwing out those songs in rapid-fire succession. A few hours to get away from your problems.”

Problems of a different sort were apparent in 1982. For while Dee Dee and Joey had substance abuse issues of their own, Marky’s drinking got him booted from the band. It ended up being a blessing in disguise, albeit a leather-jacketed one.

“I was a periodic drinker, but it was starting to get to me. When Joey told me it was time to leave the band and get some help, it was the best phone call anybody ever made to me,” Marky says.

“The first rehab didn’t work – it was like a country club. The second one was like one of those places you see in ‘40s and ‘50s movies about alcoholics. And when I walked out of there, I never wanted to go back to a place like that. But life is an adventure, and that was part of it.”

After taking a series of odd jobs including bicycle messenger and construction demolition worker, a sober Marky was asked to rejoin the Ramones and 1987 and stayed with them until the end, and has not touched a drink since.

So it’s with some head scratching that one of his latest business ventures (he already has a line of marinara sauce) is a…beer. One whose natural brown ale “rich in flavor and aroma” has never made it to its namesake’s own stomach.

“It was some business advice I was given!” he laughs. “I swished some of it around in my mouth 20 or 30 times and then spit it out. I wasn’t going to swallow it, because it would break my sobriety.”

He adds that some of the proceeds from the beer will go to the group Musicians Without Borders, and other monies from sale of the sauce are earmarked for the charity Autism Speaks.

For more on Marky Ramone, visit his website.

A version of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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