In Memory of Gregg Allman

The music world lost another giant yesterday when Southern rocker Gregg Allman died at age 69. This wasn’t exactly unexpected, as the hard-living Allman suffered from health problems brought on by years of hard partying.

Born in Richmond Hill, GA in 1947, Gregg and his older sibling Duane were more interested in music and girls than school. They formed bands (Hour Glass, Allman Joys), toured the south and Midwest, and did some recordings, without much success. Returning to their Georgia roots, the band signed with Phil Walden’s Macon-based Capricorn Records, a label specializing in the burgeoning Southern Rock movement (Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, Wet Willie, Delbert McClinton, etc). Their third release, the double LP LIVE AT FILLMORE EAST, put them on the map as a major band:

Tragedy struck the band when Duane died in a 1971 motorcycle accident, followed the next year by another crash taking bassist Berry Oakley. Another double release, 1972’s EAT A PEACH, was a hit, featuring the FM radio staples “One Way Out”, “Blue Sky”, and “Melissa”:

 1973 brought triumph with the album BROTHERS & SISTERS, scoring their first #1 single, “Ramblin’ Man”:

The Allman Brothers broke up in 1975, and Gregg pursued a solo career. The wild Southern rocker also got married to Hollywood glamour girl Cher, one of rock’s truly Odd Couples. Gregg again topped the charts with the title track from 1987’s “I’m No Angel”:

The Allman Brothers Band reunited in 1989, touring non-stop and a new generation embraced them as one of the pioneers of the “jam band” scene. I had the privilege of seeing them in the 90’s (I don’t remember the exact year; I was doing some Hard Partying myself back then!), and Gregg’s voice and the band’s musicianship were as strong as ever. They got off the road in 2014 due to Gregg’s health issues (he’d had a liver transplant in 2010, and recurring Hep C), but Allman continued to perform until he was no longer able late last year.

Gregg’s music can speak for itself far better than me, so I’ll leave you with one of my favorite ABB tunes, “Whipping Post”:

Rest in peace, Gregg Allman (1947-2017)

One Hit Wonders #1: “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace (1974)

(Hello again, Dear Readers! I’m using Fridays to test out some possible new recurring series here on Cracked Rear Viewer, beginning today with a look back at some “One Hit Wonders”. Enjoy!)

British pop group Paper Lace had their only hit in America with 1974’s “The Night Chicago Died”, an ode to those halcyon days of the Roaring Twenties, when Al Capone and his mob ruled that toddlin’ town of Chicago:

The song was written by the hitmaking team of Peter Callander & Mitch Murray, a couple of lads who penned songs for Georgie Fame (“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde”), The Tremeloes (“Even the Bad Times Are Good”), and Vanity Fare (“Hitchin’ A Ride”). The duo wrote another tune for Paper Lace titled “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” that didn’t score on this side of the pond; the immortal Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods had the hit version here in the U.S.

Seems Messers Callander and Murray didn’t quite do their geography homework, though. The events in “The Night Chicago Died” take place “on the East Side of Chicago”, which would make things pretty wet, since that’s where Lake Michigan is located! Still, the song serves as an homage to all those 30’s Cagney/Bogie/Robinson Warner Brothers films we all know and love. As for Paper Lace, they kind of petered out in England around the late 70’s, but they’ll be forever remembered for this One Hit Wonder about the battle between Al Capone and the cops in the middle of Lake Michigan from the glory days of story-songs, the 1970’s!

“The Night Chicago Died”, music & lyrics by Peter Callander & Mitch Murray  

(What do you Dear Readers think of “One Hit Wonders”? Any suggestions? As always, your comments and feedback are more than welcome!! ) 

Book Review: STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL by Carmine Appice with Ian Gitting (Chicago Review Press 2016)

About three weeks ago, I attended the Vanilla Fudge 50th Anniversary show at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA. It’s a great venue to see a concert, with an intimate 280 seat capacity. Three of the four original members performed (bassist Tim Bogert is retired from active touring), and their psychedelic, proto-metal stylings had the joint rocking hard. Keyboard wizard Mark Stein, guitarist Vinnie Martell, new bass player Pete Bremy, and legendary drummer Carmine Appice tore the house down with their renditions of hits like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Take Me for a Little While”, and “People Get Ready”.

Much as I enjoyed all their musicianship, the main reason I went was to catch Carmine Appice,  one of rock’s all-time greatest drummers. The band did a meet-and-greet after the show, and I snatched by a copy of Appice’s recent book, STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL. Mr. Appice (whose drum solo was blindingly fantastic!) was gracious enough to autograph my copy, and the band members were all very cordial (guitarist Martell and I had a fun conversation about the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory). Between all the other things I’m currently juggling, I managed to finish reading this tome on the life and times of one of rock’s truly talented wildmen.

If you’re easily offended reading about the misogynistic sexual escapades of a decadent rock star, this book is not for you. Among the highlights (or lowlights) is the infamous incident involving members of the Fudge, Led Zeppelin, a nymphomaniacal groupie, and a live mudshark immortalized in song by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Appice takes us on a deranged trip from his youthful days running wild with a Brooklyn street gang, to Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic heyday, to his later gigs as drummer for Cactus, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, and King Kobra. Along the way, he befriends young Jimi Hendrix, smokes pot with Buddy Rich, rooms with Prince, and encounters such movie legends as Telly Savalas, Gregory Peck, and even Fred Astaire!

Appice and co-author Ian Gittins (who co-wrote Nikki Sixx’s THE HEROIN DIARIES and penned books on Talking Heads and U2) use a light, breezy style recounting the hotel trashings, sexual exploits, and crazy tales of life on the road. I have the feeling Gittins acted more in an editorial capacity, as Appice has had experience writing for Circus Magazine, and wrote his own best-seller THE REALISTIC ROCK DRUM METHOD. Carmine Appice is now 70 and has mellowed out quite a bit, but back in the day he was one of rock’s true characters, and anyone interested in rock history will enjoy this book. And if you don’t know who Vanilla Fudge were, here they are on Jimmy Fallon doing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Enjoy!

     And buy the book!

RIP in Blues Heaven, J. Geils

Appropriately, I was just leaving Fenway Park in Boston with my friends when we heard the news that guitarist J. Geils had died. The J. Geils Band were legendary here in Massachusetts, a gritty, down-to-earth blues rock band who had a string of hits in the 70’s, then reemerged again in the 80’s at the height of MTV’s heyday. The band, fronted by charismatic lead singer Peter Wolf and propelled by the bluesy harmonic licks of Magic Dick, released their first album in 1970, and hit the road to tour the country incessantly. They became known as one of the hardest working (and hardest rocking) bands in America, and hit it big on FM radio with their 1972 LP “LIVE! FULL HOUSE”, featuring the single “Lookin’ for a Love”:

The first time I caught them was in ’73, touring in support of their album “BLOODSHOT”, with the hit “Give It to Me”. More hits followed, but at the dawn of MTV, the boys changed from guitar-based blues rockers to video pop stars with hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”:

Musical differences caused the band to split up in 1985. John Geils turned to his second love, auto racing, driving and restoring Italian sports cars. In the 90’s he returned to music, forming Bluestime with former band mate Magic Dick, and once again hit the road, touring the New England club circuit. There were sporadic Geils band reunion shows, most recently a 2015 outdoor performance for WHJY-Providence’s 34th anniversary. J. Geils was found dead in his home in Groton, MA earlier today at age 71, purportedly of natural causes. Their working class, blue collar ethic made them Boston’s greatest rock band, and I’ll end this tribute with their hard rocking 1980 hit “Love Stinks”. Rock on, J. Geils.

 

Rockin’ in the Film World #10: THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (20th Century Fox 1956)

Frank Tashlin  combines two of 50’s America’s favorite obsessions, sex & rock’n’roll, in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, Jayne Mansfield’s first headlight headlining role. When Jayne sashays across the screen, turning heads, melting ice, boiling milk, and cracking eyeglasses a star is born, in CinemaScope and gorgeous DeLuxe color. But the film is stacked with more than just Jayne’s Twin Peaks; it features performances from rock royalty like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Platters, and a host of others.

The plot is very simple (and very familiar): a goony gangster (broadly played by a hilarious Edmond O’Brien ) hires a down-on-his-luck agent (Tom Ewell of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH) to make a singing star out of his honey (our girl Jayne). Only problem is, Jayne can’t carry a tune in a bucket, shattering lightbulbs whenever she starts to warble. Seems she doesn’t want to be a star anyway, just to settle down and be domestic. Tom and Jayne quietly fall in love, the gangster gets jealous, and you just know that by film’s end everything will turn out for the best.

Interspersed in all this are the cream of classic 50’s rockers belting out their big ti.. er, hits! Little Richard does the title tune, “Ready Teddy”, and “She’s Got It”. The Three Chuckles (whose lead singer Teddy Randazzo costarred with Tuesday Weld in ROCK ROCK ROCK  ) perform “Cinnamon Sinner”. Fats Domino lends his New Orleans-flavored R&B to “Blue Monday”. Gene Vincent blasts his mega-hit “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. Eddie Cochran belts out “Twenty Flight Rock”. Abby Lincoln does a Gospel-tinged “Spread the Word”. The Platters doo-wop to “You’ll Never, Never Know”, and Nino Tempo, Johnny Olenn, Eddie Fontaine, The Treniers, and Freddy Bell & The Bell-Boys also appear.

Tashlin’s trademark cartoony gags bounce playfully throughout the film, beginning right off the bat with the pre-credits introduction by Ewell. It’s packed with double entendres by the truckload, most of them involving Jayne’s ample endowments. There’s a funny fantasy scene where Ewell, still carrying the torch for ex-client Julie London, sees her everywhere singing her own big hit, “Cry Me A River” (and by the way, the future Nurse Dixie McCall of TV’s EMERGENCY was pretty darn hot herself!). Surpassing that is the sight of O’Brien gyrating wildly and croaking out the song “Rock Around the Rock Pile”, a precursor of sorts to Elvis Presley’s showstopping number in JAILHOUSE ROCK .

Despite the classic rockers, Tashlin’s Looney Tunes humor, and a beautiful pastel color scheme, all eyes will be on Jayne Mansfield. She’s really good in this, giving a sweet-natured performance as the girl who just can’t help it. Jayne was red-hot at the time due to her Broadway smash WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (later filmed by Tashlin), and 20th Century Fox signed her as a rival to Marilyn Monroe. She was a good actress, though now best remembered for her sexpot image, and it’s a shame her career took such a downward trajectory so fast. With the right material, we’d probably be looking at Jayne Mansfield today for more than her obvious assets.

Legend has it when THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was released in England, a 16-year-old kid in Liverpool saw his rock idols perform for the first time. The lad’s name was John Lennon, and soon he met 15-year-old Paul McCartney, who auditioned for Lennon’s teenage band by doing an imitation of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” from the film. McCartney got the gig, and within a few years The Beatles  were the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world. That’s how influential THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was in the history of rock’n’roll, and any fan of rock music, Jayne Mansfield, or Frank Tashlin needs to put it on their must-see list.



 

Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll: RIP Chuck Berry

“Johnny B. Goode”. “Roll Over, Beethoven”. “Sweet Little Sixteen”. “Rock and Roll Music”. The most iconic songs of the Golden Age of Rock’N’Roll belonged to one man, Chuck Berry. When I got home this evening and heard the news he passed away at the age of 90, I knew I’d have to preempt my regularly scheduled post and pay tribute. Because without Chuck Berry, there’s no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no Beach Boys, no rock and roll as we know it. He was that influential on 20th century music, and the uncrowned King of Rock and Roll.

Sure, Elvis was bigger, but it was Chuck Berry who wrote the soundtrack for a generation of kids listening to their radios searching for relief from the blandness of 50’s commercial pop. He spoke their language, the language of teenage lust, hot rods, high schools hops, all set to a rocking back beat. Berry was influenced by the jump blues of Louis Jordan and the electric blues of T-Bone Walker, the western swing of Bob Wills and the soulful singing of Nat King Cole, added his own “duck walking” brand of showmanship, all propelled by Johnnie Johnson’s honky-tonk piano, and created something totally unique. He called it rock and roll.

Chuck was no saint. Far from it. As a teen, he did time in a reformatory for armed robbery and car theft. He was found guilty of violating the Mann Act for crossing state lines with a 14-year-old waitress, got sued for installing a camera in the ladies room at his restaurant, did four months for tax evasion, and was busted for possession of weed. Chuck Berry was rock and roll’s real bad boy, and a notoriously cranky curmudgeon, but his fans remained ever loyal despite his flaws. They knew his talent outweighed all his faults.

Much as teens idolized him, the adults hated him, mainly because he was a black man selling teenage sex to their children. But he still sold out concerts and was featured in Hollywood rock flicks like ROCK ROCK ROCK and GO JOHNNY GO! Like most 50’s rockers, he suffered a career slump during the 60’s, but came back strong in 1972 with the #1 double-entendre hit “My Ding-a-Ling”:

The 1987 rock doc HAIL! HAIL! ROCK’N’ROLL a 60th birthday concert filmed by Taylor Hackford featuring a veritable Who’s Who of classic rockers joining Chuck onstage. There was Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, and more celebrating the music of their idol. Earlier this year, on Chuck’s 90th birthday, it was announced he would be releasing his first new recording in 38 years, “Chuck”. I for one am eagerly awaiting it’s release.

Chuck Berry will live forever as one of the greats in rock’n’roll history, and one of the last century’s music pioneers. I own a compilation disc titled simply “Blues” that showcases his best recorded blues performances, and I’ll leave you with his “Wee Wee Hours”. All hail the uncrowned King!:

Rockin’ in the Film World #9: JIMI HENDRIX: ELECTRIC CHURCH (2015)

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Back in March, I attended the “Experience Hendrix” live show, featuring guitar gods Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Dweezil Zappa, Jonny Lang, and others jamming to the music of Jimi Hendrix. But as they say “Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby”, and the documentary JIMI HENDRIX: ELECTRIC CHURCH is a full-on aural assault chronicling Hendrix’ 1970 performance at the Atlanta Pop Festival.

Director John McDermott begins the film with some famous talking heads (Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, Susan Teschi, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis), as well as residents of the tiny town of Byron, where the festival was actually held (and they seem to be having a ball reminiscing!). There are clips of Hendrix on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW and of segregationist Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox (who hates them damn hippies!).

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Then it’s showtime, as Jimi and his band dive into classics like “Fire”. “All Along the Watchtower”, “Foxy Lady”, “Purple Haze”, “Hey Joe” , ‘Voodoo Child”, and “Stone Free”, which segues straight into “The Star Spangled Banner” and “‘Straight Ahead”. Jimi’s at the peak of his powers, using every trick in his repertoire, playing with his teeth, bending over backwards, working that whammy bar to bend those beautiful notes. It’s easy to forget what a powerhouse drummer Mitch Mitchell was in light of Jimi’s brilliance, but damn if he doesn’t approach Keith Moon territory with his furious playing. Billy Cox keeps a steady bass beat while Hendrix and Mitchell bounce off each other into the stratosphere.

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The performance was filmed on July 4, 1970, and less than three months later Jimi Hendrix was dead at age 27 of a barbiturate overdose. The footage for this film sat in filmmaker Steve Rash’s barn for over thirty years before being made into this documentary and released on the Showtime network. It’s been a long time coming, but now fans can enjoy this seminal piece of rock’n’roll history. It’s on DVD and Blu-Ray, and would make a fine Christmas gift for the classic rocker in your life.