Ted Nugent – Free For All

Ted Nugent is well known for his exceptional guitar playing as well as his outspoken political views. I don’t talk politics here, so let’s just talk about guitar playing. But not Ted’s. Let’s talk about the “other” guitarist in Nugent’s band, Derek St. Holmes.

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Derek St. Holmes play last night at a local Detroit concert venue, the legendary Token Lounge (which I remember seeing one or two bands at way back in the ’70s and ’80s). I left that show last night realizing that, because he played as the “other” guitarist alongside Nugent, Derek St. Holmes was a vastly overlooked guitar legend.

St. Holmes, who now lives in Nashville, was up in his original stomping grounds in the Detroit area, I believe for the Christmas season. While in the area, he scheduled a night to perform at the Token. When he saw Glocksmith, a local Detroit area band, playing at a nearby venue, he immediately asked them to be his backing band. I have a couple friends who play in Glocksmith and I have seen them play live many times. There was no way I was going to miss this show.

After the show, I couldn’t help but realize what an awesome guitarist St. Holmes is. He was definitely held back by being the rhythm guitarist with Nugent. That’s probably why he left in the late seventies and teamed up with Aerosmith’s “other” guitarist Brad Whitford to form Whitford/St. Holmes. Unfortunately, Brad Whitford returned to Aerosmith when they reformed, squelching any chance of Whitford/St. Holmes ever having a chance of making it.

Derek St. Holmes put on a great show last night, Performing many of the songs he played and sang lead vocals on while in Ted Nugent’s band, as well as some from Whitford/St. Holmes. My only gripe with the show was that my friends, Randy Peavler on Bass and Dave Goldsworthy on guitar, were left somewhat in the shadows – although they were graciously given their moments to shine. That’s a personal thing though. For most people at the show last night, it was all about the often overlooked “other” guitarist from Ted Nugent’s band, Derek St. Holmes.

For me though, it was about my friends in Glocksmith getting do a show with one of their heroes, and a true guitar legend.

Derek St. Holmes and Glocksmith – Stranglehold

Humble Pie – Smokin’

Humble Pie’s fifth album, “Smokin'”, can be summed up in two words: heavy groove. You can put those words together or keep them apart, either way, it’s accurate.

Peter Frampton had just left the Humble Pie in 1972, and the band had to prove they could make it on their own without him. With Steve Marriott at the helm, the Pie set out to make an album that was heavier and funkier than anything they had done before … or after. The result was magical.

Blues riffs and power chords dominate on “Smokin'”, making it an album that is best appreciated when played LOUD. The Pie have never sounded better than they do here. They play down and dirty electric blues-rock with a heavy dose of soul that makes it’s truly addicting. Don’t get me wrong, I love Peter Frampton … but in all honesty … he’s not missed here.

“Smokin'” was also an example of why CDs could really suck. When I purchased this album on CD, I could not believe how terrible it sounded. There was no care at all taken with transferring this album over to the digital realm. I’m not a vinyl snob. I have some old recordings that absolutely shine on CD. But when it comes to bringing a classic analog album over to digital, “Smokin'” is an example of how to do it wrong.

I had a friend ask me recently how vinyl albums could possibly sound better than CDs. This album is a prime example of how. There are cases where the opposite is true – where the CD is superior to the original album. Humble Pie’s “Smokin'” is not one of those instances. If you want to really appreciate this album, and know what it was all about, you need listen to it on vinyl.

And listen to it LOUD!

Styx – The Grand Illusion

As I think it was for many back in 1977, “The Grand Illusion” was my introduction to the music of Styx. This album hooked me right away because of its extensive use of the use of synthesizers throughout it. Dennis DeYoung was an incredibly talented keyboardist and knew how to fully take advantage of the synthesizers to expand his creative ability. Because of the synths, Styx had elements of prog similar to Emerson Lake and Palmer. A big difference though, was that they had three singers, all with very distinctly different voices, allowing them to add impressive vocal arrangements to their songs. Then there was James Young and Tommy Shaw, who had distinctly different playing styles that gave Styx a versatility that few bands could equal. Gluing all this versatility together was the rhythm section of the Panozzo brothers, John on drums and Chuck on bass.

But the thing that made “The Grand Illusion” such a good good album was the songs themselves. There is not a mediocre track on this album. Perfectly arranged and neither overly polished or too raw, it was a near perfect combination of pop, prog, and hard rock. It’s no wonder this was the album that broke Styx into the mainstream. And then there were the lyrics. If it was Styx’s music that initially hooked me, it was the lyrics that reeled me in. Sometimes they were insightful. Sometimes mystical. Sometimes beautiful. Sometimes scathing. Always deeply meaningful. It’s no wonder that Styx will always be one of my favorite bands and “The Grand Illusion” will always be my favorite album by them. Although there’s also “Pieces of Eight”…

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery

Most people who know classic rock know of Emerson Lake and Palmer. Most people who know of Emerson Lake and Palmer, know the song “Karn Evil 9”, if not by name at least by its opening line “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends”. It is after all, their most often played song on the radio. But that song you hear on the radio is actually only a five minute excerpt from an epic song that is over thirty minutes long. It is the central piece of music on their fourth album “Brain Salad Surgery”.

ELP’ s music was always heavily influenced by Euoropean classical music. So it should come as no big surprise that the entire song “Karn Evil 9” is structured much like a classical composition, performed in 3 movements. The 1st movement is split into two sections. Part one takes up the second half of the first side of the “Brain Salad Surgery” and part two starts off side 2 of the album. The 2nd and 3rd movements of “Karn Evil 9” close out side 2. The part of the song that is most often played on the radio is actually “Karn Evil 9, 1st movement, part 2”.

The album “Brain Salad Surgery” is a masterpiece of creativity. The album starts out with a modern take of “Jerusalem”, a hymn commonly heavily ingrained in British culture and with the Church of England. It’s followed by an adaptation of “Toccata”, a rock adaptation of a piano concerto written by 20th century classical composer Alberto Ginastera, Carl Palmer adds a percussion movement to. It starts out on tympani drums and wraps up with a wild solo played on a synthesized drum set. “Benny the Bouncer” is a just for fun song featuring a Keith Emerson playing honky-tonk piano and Carl Palmer’s super-fast jazz style drumming using brushes instead of sticks – something almost unheard of by rock bands. “Still, You Turn Me On” is slow and beautiful piece and the final song before “Karn Evil 9” takes over the rest of the record.

If you think this all sound a bit self-indulgent and pretentious, well…It is. All three members of ELP were exceptional musicians and they aimed to flaunt it on their early albums. They were the epitome of self-indulgent, pretentios rock. I mean that in the best way possible.

Emerson Lake, and Palmer practically defined what becamee known as “progressive rock”. Keith Emerson was a classically trained pianist. He worked closely with Roger Moog, who creator of the Moog synthesizer. Emerson became a pioneer of the synthesizer, demonstrating its versatility and making a significant instrument in rock music. Carl Palmer, was far more than just a drummer. He is considered to be one of the best percussionist ever and could augment any style music. Greg Lake was a solid bassist who had one of the most distinct, immediately recognizable voices in modern music. Only musicians of their caliber could have pulled off album like this.

The Smithereens – Especially For You

2017 was a sad year for rock and roll. So many legends and so much talent was lost this year. Perhaps more so than any other year.

Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), Gregg Allman, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave), J. Geils, Malcom Young (AC/DC), and most recently, Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens.

The Smithereens were formed by four friends from New Jersey who in 1980, decided to form a rock and roll band. They finally found success in 1986, with their debut album, “Especially For You”. The band had a hit single with the opening track to the album, “Strangers When We Meet”, and another with the opening song to side two, “Behind the Wall of Sleep”. But their biggest hit off the album…their biggest hit ever…was the unforgettable “Blood and Roses”. A song driven by an unfogettable bass line and lyrics about losing out on love because of not being able to express it. The song was an immediate hit on both ’80s alternative and mainstream rock radio stations.

Sadly, 2017 took its latest, and hopefully it’s last, rock and roll icon, Pat DiNizio, lead singer and guitarist for The Smithereens, on December 12, 2017. He will forever be remembered by so many for the multitude of emotions he brought to our ears.

In memory of Pat, and all the other legends and remarkable talent we lost in 2017, I will let the rhythmic thump/click of this album’s inner track resonate in the room for at least the next 17 minutes in honor of the rhythmic heartbeats of the those whom rock and roll lost in 2017.

‘Twas a sad year, 2017.

Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me

The second album by Dinosaur Jr, “You’re Living All Over Me” is not an album that’s for the faint of heart. Guitarist J. Mascis had a habit of cranking the distortion up on his guitar to levels that would make even Neil Young shudder in amazement. Yet he could somehow make it come out feeling melodic…bordering on controlled chaos.

I’ll admit, this is an album I have to be in the mood for (which tonight I am). It’s raw. It’s raucous. It’s as unforgiving as a sucker punch to your face. And it’s as exhilarating as sitting in the front seat of a roller-coaster that’s about to jump the tracks, but somehow it holds on.

Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands that is hard to fit into a specific genre because they just did what they did, with no reservations and without ever asking forgiveness.
Punk rock.
Post Punk.
Alternative.
Indie rock.
Shoegaze.
Dinosaur Jr. was all of the above.

Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic

This has got to be my favorite album title ever. Apparently Ian Hunter loved it too. Legend has it that the phrase was first seen on a bathroom stall wall and Mick Ronson, who is best known for his collaborations with David Bowie, was going to use it as the title to a solo album of his own. But once Ian Hunter heard it, he wanted to use the title so badly he offered Ronson writing credits on the first track and single from the album, even though Ronson had nothing at all to do with the song. Released in 1979, “You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic” was Ian Hunter’s fourth solo album after leaving Mott the Hoople in 1974. In addition to “Just Another Night”, the aforementioned first single off the record, the album also garnered hits for other artists as well. In the ’80s, Barry Manilow would have a hit with the song “Ships” and in the ’90s, The Presidents of the United States would strike gold with “Cleveland Rocks”. That song was also used as the theme song for one of my favorite TV shows “The Drew Carey Show”.

Although they did not go by the name they were collectively known as, Ian Hunter’s backing band on this album were the members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Queensrÿche – Empire

Empires can be built in many different ways. Dedication and drive. Crime and Corruption. Narcissism. Greed.

They can also have many different consequences for the builder. Satisfaction. Loneliness and abandonment. A desire for more.

Those topics and more pretty much sum up the theme of Queensrÿche‘s fourth album, aptly titled “Empire”.

Queensrÿche had paid their dues as a band throughout the eighties. After years of rejection from every record label they courted, the band finally signed a deal with EMI, and released their first album in 1984. “The Warning” earned them a moderate but solid fan base which stayed with them for their subsequent albums. Their third album, “Operation Mind Crime” should have been the album that broke them, but EMI did little in promotion and it never did as well as it had potential. When Queensrÿche released “Empire” as the follow up, it absolutely exploded. There was no holding it back. It hit near the top of the charts in almost every country it was released in, including number 7 in the U.S. It sold over 3 million copies worldwide.

The song “Silent Lucidity” was nominated for two Grammy Awards – Best Rock Song and Best Rock Vocal. Unfortunately, it didn’t win either. I honestly forget what songs it was up against at the time, but I remember thinking at the time that “Silent Lucidity” was the hands down winner. It is one of the most beautifully and emotionally gripping rock songs ever performed. A masterpiece of a song on an album that is the same.

REO Speedwagon – Hi Infidelity

Sellout.

That was a word a lot of people used to describe “Hi Infidelity”, the 9th studio album by REO Speedwagon. And in many ways it was. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Towards the end of the 70s, REO Speedwagon’s albums began to take on more of a pop sound then their earlier, harder rocking albums. A trend that was brought to fruition on “Hi Infidelity”. The thing is though, when you really listen to it, this record rocks just as hard and any of its predecessors. Sometimes more so. It just did it with a bit more polish.

In their early incarnation, REO Speedwagon was anything but a pop band. They were a hard rocking Midwestern American band with highly talented musicians. Gary Richrath was a phenomenal guitarist and Neil Doughty was absolutely one of the most underrated keyboardists ever, as was Alan Gratzer on drums. Despite their talent and some great songs, true success seemed to elude REO Speedwagon, album after album, in their early days.

So they spruced up their sound a bit, to make it more accessible, and started throwing a slow ballad or two on each new album. And voila! Hit records. The great thing was, they still wrote songs that allowed Gary Richrath and Neil Doughty to really cut loose. Hidden under the hood of the pop gloss on “Hi Infidelity” are some of the best riffs and solos in the REO Speedwagon canon.

The formula on “Hi Infidelity” absolutely worked worked for REO. Even though it was absolutely a pop album, especially when compared to their early material, “Hi Infidelity” never alienated REO’s early fan base because it’s still rocked hard. Yet the album gained them a new pop fan base. The album ended up becoming their most successful album ever, selling over 10 million copies and topping the Billboard charts in 1981. It also earned them their first number one single, the obligatory slow ballad “Keep on Loving You”.

“Hi Infidelity” was the record that finally, after eight previous albums, earned REO Speedwagon the success they had so long deserved but had constantly been denied, while still letting them keep their musical integrity. Call it a sellout if you want. I call it REO Speedwagon at their finest.