Stray Cats – Built For Speed

In the US, the Stray Cats pretty much single-handedly revitalized the popularity of rockabilly music in the 1980s. As much as anything, the success of that revival was due to the guitar talents of Brian Setzer.

Rockabilly is rock and roll in one of its earliest forms. Combining old-school country music along with rhythm and blues and a lot of attitude, rockabilly first became popular in the early 1950s. Somewhat limited in the core of its scope, other influences quickly merged with rockabilly, morphing away from the earliest style of rock and roll. This left rockabilly regarded as nothing more than an oldies piece of musical nostalgia.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s some bands tried to revitalize rockabilly by infusing a little punk rock attitude into it. None were more successful than Stray Cats. Brian Setzer was the lead guitarist for the Stray Cats and not only did he have the persona to bring attention to the band, his guitar playing demanded you to listen. Setzer could keep pace with, and even outplay any of the hard rock and metal shredders around then…and now. It just wasn’t as noticable because his solos were played on a hollow bodied Gretsch guitar with a semi-twangy tone instead of an overdriven solid body electric. It was that guitar virtuosity helped the Stray Cats stand out and turn rockabilly into something new in the 1980s, making it more than just nostalgic oldies. It also helped their US debut sell over a million copies.

The Rockets – Rocket Roll

The Rockets threw everything they had into “Rocket Roll” in a final attempt to become something beyond just local Detroit favorites. The band led by three local legends, Jim McCarty (guitar), John “Bee” Badanjek (drums) and Dave Gilbert (lead vocals) had experienced just a taste of that fame with their eponymous major label debut. But when its follow-up, “No Ballads” failed to do as well nationally followed by their record label, RSO Records going defunct, they never regained the national traction they had in the beginning, even after signing a major label deal with Electra Records.

Although “Rocket Roll” failed to gain the national success of The Rockets’ debut, it became one of the band’s most popular records around the Motor City. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, I think it is their best of their six studio albums.

Even though they were trying to break onto the national scene, The Rockets alway believed in holding on to their Detroit roots. Had they hit it big nationally, like Bob Seger, they would not have abandoned their hometown, but would have tried to bring attention to it. The Rockets were putting everything they had into Rocket Roll in one last effort to become, like Seger, a headlining national act. At the same time they chose to open up side two of their make or break album with “Born in Detroit” an homage to their hometown and their fans.

“Born in the city
The city where they make the cars
Born in Detroit
You know I’m gonna be a star
Hey Motor City
Love me for what you are”

Box Of Frogs

What would the Yardbirds have been without either Clapton, Beck, or Page on lead guitar? Well, in 1984, they were known as “Box of Frogs”.

In the 1960’s, the Yardbirds were at their core, Jim McCarty on drums, Chris Dreja on rhythm guitar, and Paul Samwell-Smith on bass – and they had a knack for picking awesome lead guitarists. Unforfortunately those lead guitarists had a knack for pursuing solo careers. First Eric Clapton, then Jeff Beck. By the time Jimmy Page joined for their third go-round, the founding members decided to call it quits. In the wake, Jimi Page went on to form Led Zeppelin, which he nearly called “The New Yardbirds” (but that’s another story).

Perhaps realizing that great music is not created by lead guitarists alone, McCarty, Dreja, and Samwell-Smith regrouped in the ’80s along with guitarist and vocallist John Fiddler, rebranding themselves on their self titled album as “Box of Frogs”.

Perhaps realizing that this was magic in the re-making, they were joined on some songs by Beck and Page. Sure, Clapton didn’t participate in the reunion, but Rory Gallagher jumped in on a couple; even better, in my humble opinion.

The McCoys – Hang On Sloopy

Rick Derringer is one of the most respected blues rock guitarists from the 1970s. In addition to his solo work, including the hit “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo”, he also lent his six string talents to the bands of brothers Edgar and Johnny Winter and on tour and in the studio with numerous acts. But his first gig was along with his brother Randy (on drums) in The McCoys.

When Derringer became successful in the ’70s, most people probably never made the connection back to The McCoys. Most of their songs, like the title track from their debut album “Hang On Sloopy” were 1960s pop. But their deeper tracks show quick glimpses of what Rick Derringer would unleash years later. I especially love the cover of T-Bone Walker’s blues classic “Call it Stormy Monday” which closes this album out.

But it’s not only the pop style that would have most people miss the connection between blues rock guitarist Rick Derringer and The McCoys. The biggest reason is that when he and brother Randy played in The McCoys, they used their real surname, Zehringer. Going into the ’70s, Rick changed his performing name to something with more of a rock and roll feel to it.

Tomato, tomahto.
Derringer, Zehringer.
Still great, no matter how you say it.

Dick Clark – 20 Years Of Rock N’ Roll

1953 to 1972. If it’s 20 years into the history of rock and roll and you want to chronicle the music year by year on a double album, you better have a recognized rock and roll authority on the cover. Maybe someone like Dick Clark.

From the fifties into the eighties, Dick Clark, a former rock and roll DJ from WFIL in Philadelphia was the host of American Bandstand. In its 37 years on the air, Bandstand helped launch or excel the careers of more rock and roll bands than probably any other single show – over 8 thousand different acts.

I picked this album up at an estate sale not too long ago. Besides being excited about finding this great compilation of early rock and roll, I was really excited find it still had the 24 page yearbook and bonus record still with it. A lot of times, the extras like these get separated from the album. The yearbook was very insightful, talking about significant events of each year and how popular music both affected and was affected by them.

The bonus record is a picture disk that has Dick Clark’s brief recollections of the numerous bands that made their first appearance on one of his shows. It’s a great insight to just how influential Dick Clark and American Bandstand were during the first 20 Years of Rock n’ Roll.

Pat Benatar – In The Heat Of The Night

Pat Benatar struck gold on her debut album in November 1979. Actually, she struck platinum.

In the heat of the night was an immediate success for Benatar, selling over a million copies worldwide and giving her two hit singles in the U.S. and two others around the globe.

Although the two U.S. singles were original songs, more than half the tracks on “In The Heat of the Night” are cover songs. The covers were all lesser known tracks by the original artists and are perfect matches for Benatar’s incredibly versatile voice. The songs are all short power pop rockers that Guitarist (and Benatar’s future husband) Neil Giraldo, plays with so much zeal, it’s no wonder “In The Heat of the Night” was one of the best-selling albums of 1980.

I honestly don’t know why this album doesn’t end up on my turntable more often. Its one of my all-time favorites.

Joe Cocker!

There are singers, and there are interpreters.

Interpreters are a rare breed of singers. Interpreters don’t need to write their own songs, although they do on occasion; they make any song they sing their own. Interpreters can choose a song that you think could never be done by anyone except the band that first wrote, performed, and made it popular, and turn it into something totally original. They make it unforgettably their own.

Joe Cocker is an interpreter.

The Amboy Dukes – Journeys And Migrations

Before Ted Nugent, there was The Amboy Dukes.

Ted Nugent is probably known as much for his right-wing political activism and outspoken nature, especially when it comes to his support of the 2nd amendment to the U.S constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) as he is for his guitar playing. Whether or not you agree with Ted Nugent’s political views or like his in your face, sometimes brash nature, you can’t deny he is one of the best rock guitarists ever. It’s that incredible guitar playing that really makes “Journeys and Migrations” the great compilation that it is.

The album gets it title from The Amboy Dukes’ early albums “Journey to the Center of the Mind” and “Migration”. The Amboy Dukes only had one big hit in their existence from 1968 to 1965. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” from the album of the same name, pretty much represents the psychedelic sound of most of the songs featured here, although the band does occasionally wander into jazz, doo-wop, and hard rock territory.

In order to release their records in Great Britain, The Amboy Dukes had to change their name, since there was already a band performing there under the same name. Appropriately, they chose to call themselves The American Amboy Dukes.

The Best Of The Guess Who

Most Americans will admit without hesitation that our neighbors to the north (or to the south if you live in Detroit) know how to rock. Granted, you recently gave us Justin Bieber, but you also gave us bands like The Guess Who, so we’ll let you slide on your more recent export.

The Guess who were popular in Canada long before America eventually discovered them. Once they broke onto the American music scene in the late 1960s, they seemed to be an unstoppable musical force, due in part to Randy Bachman’s guitar and Burton Cummings unmistakable vocals. Within a few short years, they had amassed enough popularity to easily fill a compilation album of hit songs along with a couple early fan favorites which they released in 1971.

Randy Bachman would eventually leave The Guess Who at the height of their popularity due to creative differences. He would go on to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive, another Canadian band who gained huge success in Canada and the United States.

The Faces – A Nod Is As Good As A Wink … To A Blind Horse

Rock and roll that’s raw, rowdy and played with plenty of swagger, that pretty much sums up the Faces third album; their first with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on guitar. No discredit meant to the other band members, but it was the addition of Ron Wood’s guitar that really gave “A Nod is as Good as a Wink…” that distinct raw and rowdy sound and Rod Stewart who brought the swagger. There was no way this album could have missed in the early ’70s.

“A Nod is as Good as a Wink…” is one of those albums that needs to be listened to cranked up…at least just a little…even if everyone else in the house is sleeping. It’s for albums like this that I made it a point to put my main sound system in a very well sound isolated room in my basement.

Time to rock.