The Rockets – No Ballads

The Rockets were a Detroit band from the late ’70s that most Detroiters at the time felt were destined for national stardom. For some reason that success eluded them.

Detroit was a hotbed for rock and roll in vinyl’s golden era. Many bands from in and around the city went on to achieve national and even international success. The ’60s brought noteriety to bands like the MC5, Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges, The Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder. And of course, you can’t forget all the soulful Motown groups who topped the record charts in the ’60s, going into the ’70s.

Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper were also local Detroit favorites in the late ’60s whose popularity exploded nationally in the following decade. The 1970s also saw Grand Funk, Brownsville Station, Ted Nugent (who left the Amboy Dukes), Suzi Quatro, and the Romantics break onto the national music scene.

The Rockets, featuring former members of the Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder’s band, The Detroit Wheels, had a hard-edged blues rock sound that was immediately recognizable and made them one of the most popular bands on the local scene. Their locally distributed debut, “Love Transfusion” came out in 1977. It’s local popularity immediately earned them a major label record deal with RSO records, putting them on the same label as British blues rock legend Eric Clapton. Despite little promotion, their first album on RSO scored them two minor national hits, “Oh Well” a gritty version of an old Fleetwood Mac song, and the title track off the album, “Turn Up the Radio”.
It seemed national noteriety was just over the horizon for them with their follow-up album.

When “No Ballads” came out, radio stations immediately picked up on the songs “Desire”, “Takin’ It Back” and a cover of Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” making the album even more successful than their previous one … well, in Detroit anyway. RSO was having financial problems and did nothing to promote the record. With the lack of airplay on radio stations outside of Michigan and a national audience only vaguely familiar with who the Rockets were, “No Ballads” pretty much fizzled nationally. RSO eventually went defunct, leaving the Rockets without a national record label. They were picked up by Electra Records, but any momentum they had was stalled. They released three more albums after “No Ballads” that also did well in and around Detroit, but failed to gain any traction nationally.

I have all six albums by the Rockets in my collection and always will. To this day, they remain one of my all-time favorite bands. I alway feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to any of their records because I am reminded of how great their music is and how much more success they deserved.

Aerosmith – Get Your Wings

After reading “Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith” I will forever think of their second album, “Get Your Wings” as the album that saved Aerosmith – and so much of the music from my youth. According the book, because their first album received no promotion from the record company and did do poorly, virtually selling nowhere except in their hometown of Boston and in Detroit, the band was ready to throw in the towel. It seemed they had put everythinginto their first record, only to have it flop. They were all living together in a rundown apartment, struggling to get by. Disillusioned and frustrated, they debated even recording a second record.

Even though their first record went nowhere, Aerosmith decided they would give it one more chance; make one more record, and that would be it. As they were the recording “Get Your Wings” the band members all knew that this would be the album that would make or break them.

Unless you live under a rock, you know Aerosmith went on to become one of the most successful rock bands of the ’70s and ’80s. When I think of all the great albums and songs that Aerosmith recorded after “Get Your Wings” – songs that would have never had existed – well, I really can’t. Aerosmith’s music was the soundtrack of my coming-of-age youth.

So, If you were one of the many who bought this album when it came out, thank you for the memories.

The Edgar Winter Group – They Only Come Out At Night

Edgar Winter was an amazingly talented composer and musician. I found myself being reminded of this when I heard the instrumental “Frankenstein” on the radio the other day. Of course, I had to cue up the album when I got home.

It’s funny, but sometimes when you hear a song all the time on the radio you stop really listening to it because you’re always hearing it. That was the case with me and The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”. For some reason, when I heard it that time, for the first time in a long time, I listened to it again. It was like running into an old, long-lost friend.

“Frankenstein” is truly an amazing song and a very groundbreaking one when it came out. One of the most amazing parts of “Frankenstein” is the duet between drummer Chuck Ruff and Edgar Winter on the synthesizer. At its crescendo, Edgar Winter is twisting and turning the knobs for the oscillators on the synth to keep perfect pitch and synchronization with the drums. At times they seem like one instrument, but there’s just enough deviation to remind you that you’re listening to a duet, not a solo. Plus, synthesized drums really didn’t exist in that capacity back then.

But one song does not make a great album, and “They Only Come Out at Night” with its variety of styles ranging from the melodic pop of “Autumn” to the island sounds of “Alta Mira” to blues rockers like “Undercover Man” to the party tunes “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues” to “We all Had a Really Good Time” to the hard rocking other big hit off the album, “Free Ride”, this is a great album that is always ready to be played when I need something to get me moving.

Oh, and speaking of “Free Ride” I feel it necessary to point out to my fellow Detroit rockers who may not be aware, that the drummer on that song is none other than John “The Bee” Badanajek from The Rockets and Mitch Ryder fame.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

I had a couple of friends recommend that I listen to Jack White’s latest album, “Boarding House Reach”, before deciding whether or not to buy it.

I did…

I bought it.

Some years back, Jack White relocated to Nashville, but he still holds a strong affinity to his roots in Detroit. With its deep R&B hooks, heavy production, and adventurous compositions, “Boarding House Reach” effortlessly makes a way stronger connection with Detroit than anything the Nashville music scene is known for. Overall, “Boarding House Reach” is Jack White’s most fractured album to date, having much less consistency than his previous solo records or any of his work with the White Stripes, Dead Weather, or Raconteurs. That’s why I loved it when I first heard it. The music went places White hadn’t gone before – many different places.

Like David Bowie, Brian Eno, David Byrne, and a handful of select others before him, Jack White is a true artist. True artists take risks. They make statements with their craft. They don’t give a sh!t about holding to convention or what is expected. They don’t try to do something that no one expects or might be ready for; it just happens. That is what best describes “Boarding House Reach”. It just happens.

And it just happens to be Jack White’s best album to date.

The Alarm – Declaration

The Alarm gained popularity in the ’80s around the same time as U2. Both bands had a distinctly different, yet similar sounds. The two bands also shared a common thread in their politically charged and passionately sung lyrics. Unfortunately, U2 became successful before The Alarm and the band from Wales became destined to stay in the Irish band’s shadow. Some critics even refered to The Alarm as U2 wannabes, which I felt was an unfair assessment.

Personally, I liked The Alarm’s music better than U2’s. It had a little more of a punk edge to it, similar to The Clash. I think their first full length album, “Declaration” was every bit as powerful as U2’s “War”. Sadly, they never attained the level of success they so undeniably deserved.

One of the performers that The Alarm looked up to and took inspiration from was Bob Dylan. His politically charged words have always been present in The Alarm’s songs. I had the pleasure of seeing The Alarm open for Dylan in 1988 at Meadowbrook Music Theater in Michigan. As you would expect, almost all the people there came to see Bob Dylan. The Alarm obviously knew this would be the case and made sure that everyone there would remember them that night as well. A couple of songs into their set, front man Mike Peters charged into the crowd to get them fired up. Everyone jumped to and stayed on their feet until The Alarm left the stage. Their performance that night remains in my memories as one of the most powerfully moving performances I have seen by any opening band. I wish I would have had a chance to see them headlining a show before they broke up in 1991.

Mike Peters reformed The Alarm in 2004, but without original members Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald, and Nigel Twist, it just wasn’t the same.

The J. Geils Band – Hotline

The J. Geils Band was always, first and foremost, a live band. That very well might have been their biggest reason for not achieving the success they deserved until their later albums.

I will never understand how some record labels can sign a band, yet do nothing to promote them. The J. Geils Band were in their early years, one of the most popular bands around in their hometown of Boston, MA and in Detroit, MI, and were known nationally for their high energy live performances. With a little push from Atlantic Records, their label during their early career, they could have easily broke out nationally. But because of their strength on the road, Atlantic Records seemed bent on having word of mouth from The J. Geils Band’s live reputation to do all the work; doing little to promote a band destined for success not only on the road but on their records.

Like the five albums before it, “Hotline” was a record that combined the strengths of the five exceptional musicians that were The J. Geils Band.  Seth Justman, who’s wizard-like keyboard talent was a dominant force on the earlier live Geils album “Full House”, and on “Blow Your Face Out” – the live record that followed “Hotline” – was also one of the primary songwriters, along with frontman Peter Wolf, who was a former high-energy Boston area Disk Jockey that left radio to join The J. Geils Band just before their first record. The Geils rhythm section was an incomparable combination of Daniel Klein (DK) on bass and Stephen Jo Bladd on drums, who both always seemed to know just when to throw in those little extra flourishes that gave a song that extra kick it needed at just the right time. Then there was J. Geils himself; a master blues guitarist with a tone so full and a style so fluid, he could swing between power rhythms and tight leads effortlessly; listening to him play, one couldn’t help but be in awe. And of course, there’s the pièce de résistance: Magic Dick on harmonica, perhaps the best blues-harp player ever.

Once The J.Geils Band signed with EMI Records, they finally found themselves with a record label that was willing to throw just a little promotion behind them. Just a little was all it took.  The result was a string of The J. Geils Band’s most successful albums in their career. They finally got the success the had so long before deserved.

The J. Geils Band was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, 2006, 2011, 2017, 2018.  They have yet to earn the induction recognition they deserve, but I know one day they will.

The J. Geils Band – Sanctuary

The J. Geils Band is one of the most underrated bands in the US; except in Boston and Detroit. Boston is understandable. Geils after all, comes from that city. You always love your hometown hero. But Detroit was equally, if not more enthusiastic about The J. Geils Band’s combination of blues, rock, funk, soul, and pop from day one; and Geils loved them right back. They even at one point during an interview, referred to Detroit as their home away from home.

Geils was first and foremost, a live band. If you never saw them perform live, you have no idea what they were all about. Perhaps the album that came closest to capturing their live sound and energy in the studio was their tenth record, “Sanctuary”.

I can’t even pick a favorite song on this album. Every song is my favorite off of it. “Sanctuary” is one of those albums that, when I ignorantly thinned down my record collection, converting everything to compact disc, I never considered parting with. Yes, I eventually bought it on CD, but I was never not going to own this album.

To me personally, “Sanctuary” is memories from my ignorant teenage party days, the album I took refuge in during my early adult years when I felt down and betrayed, and the record I always pulled out when I just needed to f’ing crank it up and jam out.

Musically, it has been and will always be my “Sanctuary”.

Journey – Captured

It’s funny how you never forget your firsts. Journey was my very first concert and I remember it like it was yesterday. My two best friends and me, the legendary Cobo arena, my favorite band at the time at the height of their popularity, and a foot-long “torpedo” of contraband that was fired up when Journey took the stage (thank you EZ Wider Unrolling Papers).

Now that I think of it, I’m kind of surprised I remember any of it at all; but I do. Vividly. It was musical experience I will never forget and still ranks as one of the best concerts I have ever been to. Some of songs on this album were “Captured” at Cobo Hall, so I just might be on this record.

Yeah, I think that’s me right there! 😅

I guess I’m on a live music kick, I just realized this is the third album in a row I’ve chosen to listen to that is a concert recording. Oh well, I always felt rock and roll is best when it’s performed live.

Fillmore: The Last Days

Today, the Fillmore is a pretty popular concert venue in Detroit. Maybe that name is used in other cities now days as well. I don’t know. What I do know – and what a lot of the younger music lovers around today may not know – is that the name “Fillmore” was taken from a couple of legendary concert venues from the ’60s and early ’70s that were run by a man who was perhaps the greatest concert promoter who ever lived: Bill Graham.

Bill Graham was a German holocaust survivor who fled to France and later immigrated to the United States. He was an entrepreneur and philanthropist who more than anything, respected artistic expression; and believed in the power of music. To help promote the emerging music scenes in the ’60s he opened The Fillmore concert hall in San Francisco. It became the premier venue for bands to play in the United States. Without the Fillmore, the world would probably have never heard the music of Santana, Janis Joplin, Bos Scaggs, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and many more performers who are hugely influential in pop and rock music today.

Bill Graham is also responsible for the one other thing I collect besides records and CDs – concert tour posters. He would commission local artists to create unique artwork for promotional posters advertising specific shows at his venues. Along with a 32 page historical book, This three record box set also includes a replica of the poster that was used to promote the final shows at the Fillmore.

Bill Graham was a man who believed there could be a balance between financial success and artistic expression. Unfortunately, following the Woodstock festival in 1969, the record companies realized that rock and roll was big business and the intimacy of moderately sized concert halls like the Fillmore gave way to the larger arena rock shows. Knowing the smaller venues couldn’t compete, Bill Graham threw in the towel and made the business decision to close the Fillmore in 1971. He continued to promote bands and concerts into the ’80s. In 1985, he and Bob Geldoff organized Live Aid, a series of concerts that were performed and broadcast around the world to raise millions of dollars for famine relief in Ethiopia.

“Fillmore: The Final Days” captures the music of the bittersweet days that marked the end of a philosophical and musical era. It is a memoir of an unforgettable era in music.

Kiss – Alive!

Kiss is known as much for their looks as they are for their music, maybe more. Although their music was pretty much straight forward hard rock, their concerts took pyrotechnics and stage theatrics to a whole new level in the ’70s.

Even though Kiss had one of the most devoted followings in rock and roll, there were still many who wrote their music off as simple three-chord rock and roll (which it is when you get right down to it) hidden behind makeup and theatrics. But Kiss was all about presentation, and on “Alive!”, they proved that their concerts weren’t only about the presentation of visuals. They were about the presentation of the music. Fairly basic songs? Yes. But it’s all in how they’re performed that makes “Alive!” one of the greatest live albums ever.

Being from Detroit, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the picture on the back cover of “Alive!” was taken at Detroit’s legendary Cobo Hall. Many of the songs on “Alive!” were recorded at Cobo Hall the night that picture was taken.