Lucifer’s Friend

In my opinion, “Lucifer’s Friend” has got to be the worst name for a band, unless they worship the devil, which these guys did not.  Maybe they wanted to one-up Black Sabbath in that area because they thought it would sell. But Black Sabbath took their name from the title of an old Boris Karloff horror film. “Lucifer’s Friend” had no other connotation. I don’t know why they chose “Lucifer’s Friend” as the band’s name, but I think it was a bad choice that cost them much deserved success.  Especially since they were a band that could have out-heavied any band that was around in 1970, when their eponymous debut came out.

Picture Black Sabbath meets Uriah Heep mixed with a combination of Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple. Now picture how cutting edge and heavy that was back in 1970. The only bands that maybe equaled them back then were Sabbath and Zeppelin and that’s a maybe.

So why has almost no one ever hear of Lucifer’s Friend, at least not outside of Germany, where they hailed from?  I can’t say for sure, but I really think it came down to their name. It was just too dark, too evil sounding. I think too many people didn’t want to listen past the name.

Regardless of the reason, Lucifer’s Friend Is a band I am glad to have been turned on to in the early ’80s. They were a band that was too far ahead of their time for their own good – and in my opinion, a great band that chose a terrible name.

Madonna

I first heard Madonna on a radio station from Clarksville Tennessee, and was immediately intrigued. I could tell she wasn’t common to the rock and roll that I grew up with, and still listened to almost exclusively at that time, but that is what I was looking for – or should I say, listening for – at the time.

The different musical tastes that many of my friends in the Army had were making me want to branch out and experience new styles that I HA previously ignored. Reggae, country, jazz, pop, funk, electronic, and even disco (but that was pushing it for me) started to influence my musical tastes, and consequently, my record collection.  I suddenly realized how much I had been limiting my musical palette, so I decided that every now and then, I would buy an album by an artist that was outside of my comfort zone.

“Borderline” was the first song that I ever heard by Madonna. When I did, I somehow knew that she was not a one-hit-wonder. I could tell that she was someone who was going to be a big star. I had no idea at the time, just how big.

Madonna’s debut album became my record collection’s point of entrance into ’80s pop and dance music. In all honesty, I don’t think I could have picked a better entry point. Although the music on it was blatantly designed for the dance floors in the New York club scene (and consequently dance clubs across the U.S.) it offered up so much more than that of its peers. With only one album under her belt, Madonna had already changed the music industry forever. A trend she would continue with her future records.

When I first heard Madonna, I thought she was from New York. After all, that’s where she first hit it big – in its club scene, where her songs quickly became some of the most popular.  It wasn’t until a year or two after I owned this album that I learned she was actually, like me, from the suburbs right outside Detroit. She had to move away to New York in order to get the break she deserved. I always thought it was somewhat appropriate that I discovered her music while living far away from our the Motor City which we both called home.

Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

Back in the seventies, Peter Frampton was known and loved for two things. Girls loved him for his hair.  Guys loved him for his guitar playing.  Well, I guess girls loved him for his music too, but then again, who didn’t?

Frampton started out in the band The Herd, but really made a name for himself in Humble Pie. He left them to form his own band, Frampton’s Camel. After that, he went totally solo, recording and performing under just his name.

“Frampton Comes Alive”  is one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. … Let me correct that.  It is one of the greatest albums ever recorded – live or in the studio, It seemed that after it came out in 1976 everyone I knew owned a copy of it.

It’s unusual for a live album to be the breakthrough for someone, but for Peter Frampton his breakout was “Frampton Comes Alive”.  As I sit here listening to it and looking at the track listing, I have to say that there is not a bad song on this album; hell, not even a mediocre one. I find myself looking forward to the next song just as much as I am enjoying listening to the current one.

The biggest hit off “Frampton Comes Alive” was “Do You Feel Like We Do?”,  a song originally recorded by Frampton’s Camel in 1973.  The nearly fifteen minute live version includes a section where Frampton uses a talkbox to make his guitar “speak”. Although it wasn’t the first time this effect was used in rock and roll it is perhaps the most memorable. Maybe that’s because it is the song that closes out the best-selling live album of all time.

Joe Satriani – Surfing With The Alien

Symbiosis.  Let’s talk a minute about symbiosis.

Webster’s dictionary defines symbiosis as “a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups)” Steve Via and Joe Satriani had a very symbiotic musical relationship.

Joseph Siro Satriani used to teach guitar. One of his most talented students was one named Steve Vai. Joe taught him technique and theory, but most of all, he taught him to combine those with emotion and passion. When Steve decided to pursue a career performing music, his immense talent was almost immediately picked up by Frank Zappa. After Zappa, Vai played guitar on David Lee Roth’s solo albums after Roth left Van Halen. When Steve Vai decided to go solo, he had made such a name for himself, he was courted by numerous record labels.

But Steve Via never forgot his teacher and mentor, Joe Satriani. He told the record companies that Satriani was someone they needed to sign.  Vai had become so successful that the record companies actually listened to him, and Joe Satriani soon signed a record deal as well. He went on to achieve success that paralleled that of his former student.

So…

Steve Vai would not have had his success had it not been for his exceptionally talented guitar teacher, Joe Satriani. And Joe Satriani would not have had his success had it not been for his exceptionally talented student, Steve Vai.

Symbiosis defined.

The first song I ever heard by Joe Satriani was “”Always With Me, Always With You”. I was blown away by its beauty, its elegant structure, and its shreadtastic guitar. After hearing it just one time, I knew “Surfing With the Alien” was going to be the next album I would add to my collection.

Joe Satriani has released many albums since this, his debut album;none have ceased to amaze me in technical ability, creativity, originality, and innovation. Still, “Surfing With the Alien” remains my favorite Satriani album – only because it was my introduction to him – an introduction to one of the most amazing guitarists ever.

The Rockets – Back Talk

The Rockets share a story that is unfortunately common with many rock bands.  They were a band that was loaded with talent but just never got that one big break.

Made up primarily of former members from Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels and Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, The Rockets’ first independent album, “Love Transfusion” was noticed by the major labels and they signed a record deal shortly after its release.  Their self titled major label debut was a hard rocking record that received little promotion from the record company.  Still, it sold exceptionally regionally around the Detroit area and was played regularly on the local radio stations but only had moderate success nationally.  It was the same story for their second album, “No Ballads”, although it fared slightly behind their debut in sales. For their Third album, “Back Talk”, The Rockets employed Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas to sit in the control Room. The album should have been a huge success for them. However After again receiving no promotion, its sales were minimal outside of the Detroit area.  They would release one more studio album after “Back Talk” and also an incredible live album recorded at the Royal Oak Theater, near Detroit, before throwing in the towel.

All of The Rockets’ records had a gritty and aggressive yet soulful sound that made them stand out and really embodied what Detroit is all about.

I picked this album up  while I was  In the Army, stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I had no idea at the time that The Rockets had even come out with a new album. I immediately bought it.  When I played it for the first time in the barracks, I was surprised when a couple of buddies who weren’t from Detroit, asked me if that was “The Rockets” and commented that they thought the were great,  One of the guys had first heard them when he was stationed in Germany. He said they were pretty popular over there. That made me feel proud for my favorite ho.etown band.

I listened to The Rockets a lot when I was in the Army. Whenever I felt homesick, they reminded me of Detroit.

John Cougar Mellancamp – Scarecrow

You would be hard pressed to find an album with more heart than “Scarecrow” by John Cougar Mellencamp.

Growing up in rural Indiana, Mellencamp went back to his roots for the songs on “Scarecrow”, taking inspiration from his the changes he saw happening to his hometown and its nearby farms. Sometimes it was proud, as in “Small Town”, and at others it was sentimental, like on  “Minutes to Memories”. But the album was most moving with the scathing picture it painted of the family farms that were unable to survive against the huge corporations on the opening song, “Rain on the Scarecrow”. Where Mellencamp sings of a heartland that had lost its heart.

The songs on “Scarecrow” struck a chord across America and it became one of Mellencamp’s most popular and memorable albums.

Shortly after the success of “Scarecrow”, Mellencamp would form “Farm Aid” along with country star Willie Nelson. The non-profit organization put on a series of benefit concerts to raise money that brought financial relief to many struggling American  farms. He remains an active advocate to rural America to this day.

The Allman Brothers Band – Eat A Peach

There will never be another band like The Allman Brothers Band. Nor will there ever be an album quite like “Eat a Peach”.  One of the original jam bands, The Allmam Brothers seamlessly blended the Southern rock and blues akin to their Georgia roots with jazz infused improvisations that showcased the talents of the band’s members.

“Eat a Peach” was The Allman Brothers Band’s third studio album and second live album. It was a double album that contained two sides of almost all studio material and two sides of all live material recorded at the original Fillmore Theater in San Francisco.

Two sides of live material taken up by one song, aptly titled “Mountain Jam”, which clocks in at just under forty minutes.

Most typical bands would have laid out the two parts of “Mountain Jam” back to back on subsequent sides. But the Allman Brothers Band are anything but typical. After closing out side one with the tender love song “Melissa”, side two kicks off the first half of “Mountain Jam” which fades out after an unfogettable drum and tympani solo by Butch Trucks. Instead of picking up where that leaves off, side three opens with a couple other live tracks, including the classic “One Way Out”, moves into more studio recordings and closes out with the beautiful instrumental “Little Martha”.

Side four picks up where “Mountain Jam” left off on side two, starting off where the drum solo transitions into Berry Oakley’s bass solo. Dual guitar solos by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts lead into an all member jam crescendo that closes an incredible jam on an incredible double album by an incredible jam band.

One of the original jam bands.

Queen – The Game

Queen is one of the most versatile and creative rock bands ever.  Freddie Mercury has an incredible vocal range and knows how to use it. Brian May’s guitar extravagance in both tonal qualities and technical ability are unequaled. Roger Taylor has a unique drumming style that is immediately recognizable (for one, he loves to play the hi-hat just slightly behind the snare drum making it sound like one elongated beat) and John Deacon is absolutely solid on bass. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, they were a band that was never afraid to try anything new. Except for synthesizers.

Queen always seemed staunchly defiant to synths. Not to the point of ever talking negatively about them. But they did make a point on their first six albums to somewhere in the liner notes, point out that “no synths” were used on the albums.

Quite honestly, on those early Queen albums, synthesizers weren’t missed. It was actually quite amazing some of the sounds Brian May could wring out of a guitar, making tones and sonic fluctuations that many bands would need to use a synthesizer to even come close to. Then again the guy was a thesis away from a doctorate in astrophysics when Queen’s success took off, and did all his own guitar electronics, so it wasn’t that surprising that he could be pretty amazing. (He did finally write his thesis and receive his doctorate in 2007, and has since co-authored a book on the origins of the universe).

I don’t think any of my close friends would be surprised to know that I love reading liner notes on albums. I could say “the more the merrier” but that would be untrue. I don’t necessarily want to have the back cover or inner sleeve plastered in paragraphs of text, but it’s nice to have some interesting information about the songs or the band or the recording sessions – and lyrics are always nice. It’s all about the balance.

When I heard the opening to Queen’s seventh studio album, I knew – there was no doubt in my mind – I mean, Brian May could do some amazing things on guitar – but that was a synthesizer. And as I read the liner notes, there it was in black and white: “This album includes the first appearance of a Synthesizer (an Oberhein OBX) on a Queen album“.

There were no apologies or explanations given . Then again, none were really needed. Queen never denounced the use of synths. They just made it clear to those who paid close attention, that they didn’t use them. On “The Game”, they made it clear to that same crowd that on this album they were going to start.

The use of synthesizers didn’t ruin “The Game” – it made it a stronger album. Synthesizers allowed Queen to expand their sound beyond where they had gone before.

“The Game” went on to be one of Queen’s most successful albums, and one of my personal favorites by them. That’s in part, because they chose to use synths on it. “The Game” wouldn’t sound the same without them. Queen just had to know how to use them but not over do it. After all, it’s all about the balance.

Crack The Sky

When I’m surfing the Internet, I read a lot about bands I’ve heard of. The other day, I ran across an article titled “The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of”.  Now I have heard of a lot of obscure bands, so I was intrigued.

The band of topic was “Crack The Sky” and no, I had never heard of them.  I was further intrigued. It turns out Rolling Stone magazine declared Crack The Sky’s 1975 eponymous album “the best debut album of the year”. I was even more intrigued. I also ran across a 2015 post where “Crack The Sky” was included as one of the 50 greatest prog albums of all time by the same publication. I was beyond intrigued. I had to listen to this intriguing band from Vermont that never really gained popularity outside of Baltimore, Maryland.

I found a copy of “Crack the Sky” for sale on Discogs and immediately bought it. And so here I  sit listening to a band I’ve never heard of.

…And I am more than beyond intrigued. I am impressed…and amazed….

I am amazed that Crack the Sky never made it beyond their local popularity. They had it all: vocal arrangements falling in line with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the musicianship of Yes,  the pop appeal of Styx, the complexity of Focus, and the contrasting dark lyrics yet bright music of Steely Dan.

From what I am hearing on their debut album, Crack The Sky  is a band that is…what’s the word? …

…Intriguing.

I am intrigued to hear more by them.

Stanley Clarke

Jazz fusion is a style I need to add more of into my record collection.

When one thinks of Stanley Clarke, they think of two things: bass and jazz fusion music. Stanley Clarke is probably the person most singularly responsible for bringing recognition to bass as a lead instrument instead of just part of the rhythm section. Jazz fusion, with its freeform breakaway jamming style was absolutely the best fit for Clarke’s playing style. He is absolutely amazing to listen to.

Stanley Clarke recorded this self titled album – his second solo effort – while he was still in the band “Return to Forever” with Chick Corea. “Return to Forever” was a great fusion band, that for the most part, focused on traditional instrumentation. Usually, guitar or keys were the lead instruments. On Clarke’s solo efforts, it was all about the instrument he played. It was all about the bass.

Side one consists of more traditional jazz fusion. That is, if one can really call any jazz fusion “traditional”. It’s really a style That’s all about playing what you feel and feeling what you play. Listening to Stanley Clarke, it’s evident that he feels it.

“Spanish Phases for Strings and Bass” kicks off side two with a combination of neo-classical and Latin music. That’s followed by the four-part jazz fusion masterpiece “Life Suite”, which can be best described with one word: “epic”.

I think the reason I don’t have more jazz fusion in my collection Is because to me, jazz has always been a style of music that should be heard, and seen, performed live. But that doesn’t mean it can’t make for a great studio recording. Stanley Clarke proves that here.