Rick Derringer – All American Boy

One of the reasons I always enjoyed albums and was never big into buying just the single is a lot of albums had hidden gems on them. All-American boy, the debut solo album by Rick derringer is an album that is loaded with great songs that you would almost never hear on the radio, except for “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”.

Rick Derringer is an extremely versatile guitarist and producer who has played as either an official band member or guest musician on albums by Edgar Winter, Steely Dan, Todd Rudgren, Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Wierd Al Yankovic. He also toured guitarist with Cindy Lauper’s “True Colors” tour. It was her first headlining tour and Derringer really energized the shows.

I have to admit I chuckle a little bit every time I look at this album cover. I really don’t think Rick, or any other guitarist for that matter, can play the guitar wearing gloves. I mean he’s good, but not that good.

Greta Van Fleet – Black Smoke Rising (EP)

Frankenmuth Michigan, about an hour and a half drive north of Detroit, has for as long as I can remember, been known for its German cultured shops and the infamous chicken dinners served at Zehnder’s and The Bavarian Inn restaurants. But in late 2017, Frankenmuth became known for something else – Greta Van Fleet – one of the hardest rocking quartets since … dare I say … Led Zeppelin.

The comparisons between Greta Van Fleet and Zeppelin come with no apologies from the band members who are huge Zep fans. But they are also quick to point out that they are not by any stretch, a Led Zeppelin cover or tribute band.

Still, if you like Led Zeppelin, and wish there were more bands around today that recorded that kind of music, well, you need to pick up either “Black Smoke Rising” their debut four song EP or “From The Fires”, their first full length LP.

Right now, my vinyl collection only includes the “Black Smoke Rising” EP, but trust me, that will soon be rectified.

…Stay tuned…

Journey – Next

While most people who are familiar with the band Journey will associate their music with the incredible voice of Steve Perry, some may be surprised to learn that they released three albums before Perry joined the band.

Released in 1977, “Next” was the third and final album Journey would record before deciding to change their sound by bringing in an additional singer to front the band. This album, like the two before it, has a strong contrast to the album’s recorded with Steve Perry. In classic progressive rock style the songs on “Next” focus more on musicianship than on the vocals. If there was ever any doubt, “Next” makes it clearly obvious what great players the members of Journey were

While I have to admit that I like the later albums with Steve Perry better than Journey’s first three records, I still love listening their early stuff. It has a more aggressive style to it. Plus, I’m a sucker for extended solos an jamming. I’m glad Journey changed their sound by add-in Steve Perry. He had an amazing voice and they recorded some incredible music with him. The thing is, they recorded some greAt stuff without him too. It just didn’t become as well-known.

The Who – Live at Leeds

One of the things that always made albums cool was their size. With twelve inches of real estate to work with, there were some albums that took advantage of the size to do cool artwork. Others used it to throw in some cool extras – or in the case of The Who’s “Live at Leeds” A LOT of extras.

Almost all of the extras included with the original 1970 release of “Live at Leeds” were artifacts from The Who’s early career. Among some of the more interesting are a rejection letter from EMI Records (They were eventually signed to Decca), a sheet where they had worked out the lyrics to “My Generation”, a notice to take them to court if they didn’t pay the rental fees for some amps after their check bounced, A couple of tour schedules (one recent and one from before they were signed and were still performing under the name “The High Numbers”), a picture taken from backstage with band notes and some lyrics to their rock opera “Tommy” scribbled on the back, and the contract they signed to perform at the Woodstock festival in 1969. And there was more… But the album is about to run out so that’s all I have time to mention.

“Live at Leeds” is considered by many to be the greatest live album ever recorded. I don’t know if I’d personally place it at the top of the heap but as most Brits would have said it back then, I’d put it bloody well close.

Blackfoot – Strikes

Released in 1979, Blackfoot’s third album, “Strikes”, was one of their biggest commercial successes. The band had two big hits off the album, “Highway Song” and “Train Train” the latter of which was written by lead guitarist Rick Medlocke’s grandfather Shorty Medlocke, who also played the harmonica introduction to the song.

“Train Train” wasn’t the first time the then 69 year Medlocke had appeared on a Blackfoot album – he had played banjo on their debut album in 1975. It wouldn’t be the last either, nor would it be the ‘Train Train” be the last time he would write songs for Blackfoot. Shorty co-wrote “Fox Chase” on the band’s follow-up album “Tomcattin'” and wrote “Rattlesnake Rock ‘n’ Roller”, on Blackfoot’s fifth album “Marauder” The song was another hit for the hard rock/southern rock band. Sadly, Shorty would pass away in 1982.

Although they were from Jacksonville Florida, Blackfoot’s third album had a couple distinct Detroit connections. First, the album was recorded in Ann Arbor, near the Motor City and home to the University of Michigan. Secondly, the harmonica heard within the song “Train Train” was played by Cub Koda, a former member of the Detroit band Brownsville Station.

ZZ Top – Degüello

“Degüello” was the sixth album by ZZ Top and the first from the “little band from Texas” that graced my record collection. It wouldn’t be the last.

The album was the first for them on the Warner Brothers record label and the last of their purely Texas blues and boogie albums. Even though its follow-up “El Loco” still had a strong emphasis on ZZ Top’s traditional sound, it also had many songs that were geared in a hard rock and synth sound. A style that would almost totally overtake the band’s eighth album, “Eliminator”.

Although “Elimnator” remains ZZ Top’s most successful album, “Degüello” is my personal favorite. Like its predecessors, it is grounded in hard rocking blues riffs and solos it also has deeper groove to it than any other ZZ Top album. That groove is augmented in places by “The Lone Wolf Horns” which is in reality the three band members, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard, picking up baritone, tenor, and alto saxophones instead of their usual guitar, bass, and drums.

“Degüello” is Spanish for “no quarter” which means to take no prisoners. I think they chose that name for the album because their previous records had not been the commercial successes they had hoped for or felt they deserved, and usually received, at best, lukewarm reviews from most critics. On “Degüello”, ZZ Top seemed to be refreshed by being signed to a new record label and went all in with a “take no prisoners” attitude that resulted in what is, in my opinion, their best work.

Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies

Alice Cooper was a band, and later a solo artist (but that’s another story I already talked about earlier) that was known not only for their music, but also for their stage theatrics. To record collectors, they are also known for some pretty cool album packaging – an art form that totally lost its impact with the smaller CD format.Billion Dollar Babies was a prime example.

Alice Cooper’s sixth album was styled to look like an oversized alligator skin wallet. Stored inside it was an oversized billion dollar bill that featured the band’s picture in the center. Also, the inside left side of the gatefold cover was perforated so you could punch out trading card sized cards of the band. The album credits were hidden behind the punch-outs.

The album theme was focused around the band’s amazement that in only a couple of years, they had gone from being a totally broke and struggling band to one of the most successful acts in rock and roll at that time. The album packaging was one of the most unique and memorable by Alice Cooper, or any other band, yet it was not their most iconic (but that’s another story I will talk about sometime later).

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.

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 relationsdhip.

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 persue 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, it’s elegant structure, and its shreadtastic guitar. After hearing it just one time, I knew “Surfing With the Alien” was going to be the next aslbum 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, originaslity, 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 recieved 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 buddies who weren’t from Detriot, 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.