Categories
Rock on Film

Retro Rock and Roll Cinema – “Zachariah”

Zachariah Billed as the “first electric western,” “Zachariah” is definitely not your typical cowboy movie. This becomes evident right from the opening credits, when close-ups of an electric guitar and drum kit are flashed between scenes of a rider racing across the desert. A couple of minutes later, The James Gang (the one fronted by Joe Walsh, not Jesse and Frank) is shown rocking out in the middle of nowhere. The incongruity of electric instruments and rock and roll in the Old West is never explained, but who cares? “Zachariah” is not the least bit concerned with historical accuracy, and that’s what makes it such a quirky, amusing, over-the-top artifact of early seventies pop culture.

Released in 1971 and mostly written by The Firesign Theater, “Zachariah” takes place in an Old West where people say, “Far out” and “Right on,” the saloon girls are go-go dancing hippie chicks, and Job Cain, the baddest gunfighter of them all (played with smoldering, steely-eyed menace by legendary jazz drummer, Elvin Jones in his only film role), sits down at a drum kit and delivers a breathtaking solo after vanquishing a foolhardy challenger. It’s an Old West where the most notorious outlaw gang, The Crackers, is also a rock and roll band played by Country Joe and the Fish, who perform a couple of whimsical songs about life as stoned out, rockin’ outlaws who “play better than they rob,” and demonstrate an unexpected flair for slapstick comedy. In fact, The Crackers are so inept at crime that the amount of the reward for their capture keeps dropping throughout the movie.

The story is essentially about a farm boy named Zachariah (John Rubenstein) and his best friend, Matthew (a very boyish looking Don Johnson in one of his first films), who become quite proficient at the fast draw and decide to seek adventure by becoming gunfighters and outlaws. Along the way, they join up briefly with The Crackers, encounter Job Cain at his saloon where only gunfighters are allowed to hang out and The James Gang is the house band, and ultimately part ways because of philosophical differences. Zachariah becomes disillusioned with violence and decides to pursue a life of peace while Matthew wants to challenge Job Cain and take his place as the fastest gunfighter in the West. They meet up again at the end for a climactic showdown, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out how it all ends.

Other notables in the somwhate off-beat cast are The New York Rock Ensemble, Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw who, not surprisingly, plays a character called The Fiddler and displays a wild-eyed intensity that makes him seem like a cross between Marty Feldman and Ernest T. Bass, and even, very surprisingly, Dick Van Patten in a brief role as a slick talking used horse and buggy salesman called The Dude. While “Zachariah” is not a great movie in the technical sense by any means, it’s great, low budget cinematic fun, even if it occasionally gets heavy-handed with its messages.

Unfortunately, “Zachariah” is almost impossible to find as a rental and it’s unlikely to be shown anywhere on TV, so if you want to see it you will probably have to buy it. It’s currently available through Amazon.com for about $14 including postage.

Categories
Rock History

Between The Cracks: Wishbone Ash – “Wishbone Ash” (1970, MCA-Decca)

With the release of their first album in 1970, Wishbone Ash instantly established themselves as an exciting, exceptionally tight and talented band with a unique sound that was both hard edged and beautifully melodic.  Featuring two outstanding lead guitarists who complement rather than compete with each other, strong lead and harmony vocals, and a flamboyantly aggressive yet rock solid rhythm section, this album still stands out as an interesting, innovative work with a level of musicianship that a lot of bands would envy.

What really sets this album apart is Wishbone Ash’s ability to craft sharp instrumental arrangements with multiple changes characterized by masterfully executed variations in rhythm, tempo, and accent.  These arrangements provide a dynamic framework for the soaring dual lead guitars of Andy Powell and Ted Turner.  While both are superb soloists, their truly distinguishing characteristic is their skill at creating the ear-catching and often quite intricate guitar duets that are the trademark of Wishbone Ash’s compositions.

The twin guitar sound is unleashed immediately on the album’s opening cut, “Blind Eye” with a jolting hook punctuated by some slick drum rolls from the ever astounding Steve Upton.  It slides from there into a rollicking, bluesy romp rendered with a pizzazz that eluded much of the blues rock fare of the time.

The next tune is “Lady Whiskey,” which gives the first indication of the true complexity of the band’s song writing.  It opens with a driving riff that serves as the song’s motif, but quickly runs through a series of changes filled with some stunning guitar themes that are occasionally reminiscent of King Crimson’s early sound.

“Errors of My Ways” mellows things ever so slightly with an arrangement in a minor key that draws its inspiration from English folk music, but with an electric edge that never lets you relax completely.  It also offers the first taste of another of the band’s key ingredients, its stellar vocal harmonies. Combined with their instrumental prowess, the harmonies demonstrate once and for all that there isn’t anything Wishbone Ash doesn’t do well.

The first side ends with the thundering “Queen of Torture,” a  lament about extreme emotional cruelty.  Again, this song follows the band’s tried and true, though never tedious, formula of sandwiching plenty of musical digression between the song’s predominant theme.  Needless to say, the guitarists provide some vibrant hooks to give it that special Wishbone Ash identity and flavor.

The second side begins with “Handy,” an eleven and a half minute cut which is essentially two songs in one. It starts out as a slow, dreamy instrumental with the guitars intertwining in a lovely, fluid way.  After a short, tasty interlude by bassist Martin Turner, the band picks up the pace and rapidly builds up to a quick drum solo that suddenly and quite surprisingly segues into a down and dirty swinging blues number that evokes the original Fleetwood Mac of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer.  It’s a striking contrast to the first part of the song, but with yet another great guitar hook and some very impressive falsetto scatting, it definitely works and that’s all that matters.

The last song, “Phoenix,” is considered by many fans to be Wishbone Ash’s masterpiece.  It’s another long one, but the band makes sure you never lose interest. In addition to another helping of fine harmonies, there are hot solos, loads of crisp changes deftly propelled by Martin Turner and Steve Upton’s extraordinary bass and drum work, and a lively lilting guitar refrain that carries the song to conclusion. This is definitely one for the headphones!

Wishbone Ash’s popularity peaked in the mid-seventies (probably because the lamentable demise of free form FM radio made it virtually impossible for them to get airplay), but they’ve never stopped touring and recording despite several personnel changes.  While the only remaining founding member is guitarist/vocalist Andy Powell, Wishbone Ash is still an impressive band, and the current line-up does an outstanding job of capturing the band’s original sound, both vocally and instrumentally.  I saw them live for the first time last summer and they were every bit as good as I had desperately hoped they would be.  However, the most satisfying reaction to their show came from two twenty-something djs from the local corporate rock station that co-sponsored the show.  They had never heard of the band and were absolutely blown away.  One of them exclaimed to me, “You never hear them on the radio and it’s too bad, because you should!”  Program directors take notice–there’s still a place for bands like Wishbone Ash if you’d just give them the chance.

For more information about Wishbone Ash, check out their website at http://www.wishboneash.com.

Categories
Rock History

Between the Cracks: King Curtis and Champion Jack Dupree – Blues at Montreaux (Atlantic, 1973)

king_curtis
The main problem with blues jams is that they often drag on too long and can severely strain the tolerance of even the most ardent blues enthusiasts with seemingly endless shuffles and marathon renditions of “Stormy Monday.” However, this is not the case with the blues jam captured on “Blues at Montreux.” In fact, the only problem with this extraordinary and priceless performance is that it doesn’t last long enough.

Recorded at the prestigious Montreaux Jazz Festival in 1971, “Blues at Montreaux” was the brainchild of two Atlantic Records execs who thought it would be fun to see what would happen if they spontaneously assembled an all-star band fronted by the unlikely combination of Champion Jack Dupree, an earthy blues piano player and singer, and King Curtis, the undisputed soul saxophone hero of the time. The result was an inspired, fun-filled performance that undoubtedly exceeded the wildest expectations of everyone involved.

Much of what makes “Blues at Montreaux” so special is the playful musical interaction between Dupree and Curtis, who seem to be having the times of their lives. Many of Dupree’s lyrics are impishly ribald, and throughout the album King Curtis never fails to find the ideal phrase to emphasize them. With just a few well chosen notes or a suggestive honk, he makes his sax do everything but talk while expressing sly innuendo that speaks volumes. For his part, Dupree is obviously amazed and delighted by King Curtis’ masterful playing and can be heard throughout the album whooping and shouting his approval. In the middle of one solo he reverently declares, “Boy, you the Lip!” Dupree also provides some amusing patter between songs, and at one point introduces guitarist Cornell Dupree as “Dupree Junior.” While the audience can be heard chuckling, he goes on to insinuate that it’s quite possible because “I used to move around a lot…and in sixty years I coulda did a lot of damage!”

Five of the six songs on “Blues at Montreaux” are credited to Curtis and Dupree, but they are essentially standard blues vehicles that allow the members of this virtuoso band to show off their considerable chops. The one pure original is the opening tune, Dupree’s classic “Junker’s Blues,” which he first recorded in the early fifties. It wryly tells the story of how Dupree gets busted for smoking reefer but is ultimately released when the judge tries some of it for himself and likes it. Dupree triumphantly relates this with the line, “The judge took a hit off my reefer/And sang, ‘Jack Dupree you are free!'” For the most part, however, Dupree’s lyrics seem to be a patchwork of lines lifted from dozens of songs, but he does it so expertly that it doesn’t detract from the performance in the least.

Overall, the playing on “Blues at Montreaux” is loose and unpretentious, yet superlatively skillful. Champion Jack Dupree tickles the ivories with reckless abandon and King Curtis amply demonstrates why he’s considered a saxophone legend. The rhythm section of Cornell Dupree, drummer Oliver Jackson, and bassist Jerry Jemmott is consistently solid and often spectacular given the fact that this band was literally thrown together on a moment’s notice. Jemmott in particular deserves special commendation for devising as many variations on a walking bass line as is humanly possible in the space of forty minutes.

Hardcore blues fans will absolutely love this album, and even those who can take the blues or leave it will almost certainly find it impossible not to get caught up in the effusive spirit of “Blues at Montreaux.” This album is a masterpiece and well worth the expenditure of a few of your hard earned entertainment dollars!

Wayne Wayne

Categories
Rock Radio 2.0

The Rock and Roll Report Radio Spotlight is On “Adventures in Plasticland”

Join Spaceman Stan every weekend as he plays “elevator music for elevated minds” in the wee hours on Adventures in Plasticland. Featuring the best in rare, unusual, and seldom heard rock and roll, much of it gleaned from Stan’s staggeringly huge vinyl collection, Adventures in Plasticland airs from 11:59 Saturdays to 3:00 am Sundays on CKWR, FM 98.5 in Waterloo, Ontario and is also streamed live on the net.
In addition to great music, Adventures in Plasticland also occasionally features guests from the Hamilton Paranormal Society, who discuss their visits to famous haunted locations in Ontario.
Spaceman Stan is also a fan of The Rock and Roll Report and on his next show plans to feature tracks from Blodwyn Pig’s “Ahead Rings Out” and Savoy Brown’s “Lion’s Share,” the two albums that have been profiled in this site’s Between the Cracks section. Tune in if you can!

Categories
Rock History

Between the Cracks: Savoy Brown – Lion’s Share (1972 Parrot Records)

lionsshare
Formed in 1966, Savoy Brown was one of the foremost bands of the British blues movement of the sixties. Although they never had a bonafide hit record, their albums consistently charted in the middle to upper range of the Top 100, and they were well regarded as a kick-ass live act. From the beginning, Savoy Brown has undergone numerous personnel changes (including three of the founding members of Foghat) with the one constant being founder/guitarist Kim Simmonds, who continues to lead the band today.
Released in 1972, on the heels of “Street Corner Talkin'” (containing the classic, “Tell Mama,” probably the band’s best known song) and “Hellbound Train, “Lion’s Share” is by far my favorite Savoy Brown album. The line-up for this album was essentially the same as the two previous releases and included Dave Walker on vocals, Paul Raymonde on keyboards and rhythm guitar, Dave Bidwell on drums, the ubiquitous Andy Pyle on bass, and Simmonds on lead guitar and harmonica.
“Lion’s Share” is quite possibly the most exuberant and vibrant of all the Savoy Brown albums. This version of the band had an undeniable chemistry and a knack for creating great, rockin’ party music. The opening cut, “Shot in the Head,” is the highlight of the album; a straight-ahead rocker featuring some beautiful, stinging slide work by Simmonds. Although rarely mentioned in the lists of great rock guitarists, Simmonds is not only a first rate slide player, but has a fluid, melodic lead style that’s instantly recognizable. I have to think that he would get a lot more credit for his chops if Savoy Brown had produced a couple of big hits. The man can flat out play!
Other standout tracks include the driving, “Second Try,” the slow, bluesy “The Saddest Feeling,” “I Can’t Find You,” a rolling, rollicking tune driven by Paul Raymonde’s tasty barrelhouse piano, and a raucous cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ for My Darlin’.”
Throughout the album, Dave Walker’s clear, powerful voice stands out, alternating between joyous boisterousness and heart-rending despair. No mellow crooning here, Walker wears his emotions on his sleeve and holds nothing back (for another fine example of his singing, check out his all-out rendition of “(I’m a) Road Runner” on Fleetwood Mac’s “Penguin” album).
Bottom line, if you like your rock bouncy and bluesy, “Lion’s Share” is a must for your collection. The usual reaction I get from friends hearing it for the first time is, “This is (expletive) great! Who are these guys?!” It might be more than thirty years old, but it will never go out of style. For more information on Savoy Brown, check out the band’s web site at http://www.savoybrown.com.

Categories
Rock History

Between the Cracks – Great Rock and Roll That Time Forgot: Blodwyn Pig – “Ahead Rings Out”

Between the Cracks is a semi-regular feature of The Rock and Roll Report. Its purpose is to help rescue, from the dustbin of history, some of the great albums of the late sixties and early seventies that are ignored by the so-called “classic rock, all the hits all the time” corporate radio stations, and which have been forgotten by almost everyone except a few diehard fans. If you’re dissatisfied with a lot of the music that’s being offered today, there’s plenty of great old stuff out there just waiting to be re-discovered.

bloodwynpig1

Blodwyn Pig – “Ahead Rings Out” (A&M Records, 1969)

Blodwyn Pig was founded in 1969 by Mick Abrahams, who was the original guitarist with Jethro Tull. After the release of Jethro Tull’s first album, Abrahams lost a power struggle with Ian Anderson over the musical direction of the band and struck off to form his own group. Comprising Abrahams on guitar and vocals, bassist Andy Pyle (who has played with practically everybody at one time or another), drummer Ron Berg, and saxophonist Jack Lancaster, Blodwyn Pig offered up an energetic blend of blues and jazz flavored hard rock. At times, “Ahead Rings Out” is reminiscent of Jethro Tull, but for the most part it offers up a unique and original sound built around Abrahams’ tasty guitar work and Jack Lancaster’s jazzy sax riffs (at times, he even played two saxes simultaneously in the manner of the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk).

The band also possessed a wicked,off-beat sense of humor as is evidenced by the cover of “Ahead Rings Out.” It’s a head shot of a real pig sporting headphones, sunglasses, and a nose ring, and with a suspicious looking hand rolled cigarette jutting from its mouth. Anyone who was around in St. Louis during the seventies will instantly recognize it as the old logo for rock station KSHE-FM.

Mick Abrahams’ whimsical liner notes are also quite entertaining, and feature such off-the-wall comments as, “For best results when listening to this number dip your head into a large bucket of red paint, dial 999, and run gaily into the street stark naked, shouting death to the evil trouser worm and his wicked accomplices.” To Blodwyn Pig, that’s what rock and roll was all about, and it’s hard to argue with a sentiment like that!

Today, Mick Abrahams is still going strong, and off and on over the years has kept Blodwyn Pig alive in one form or another. He has also released several solo works. For more information, visit his website at http://www.mickaby.freeola.com/index.htm