ZZ Top – Tres Hombres

Here’s a big reason you should own ZZ Top’s third album, “Tres Hombres” on vinyl and not on CD: they are not the same recording. Sure, the songs are the same, but when Warne Brothers originally decided to release Tres Hombres digitally, someone felt it would be a good idea to remix all the songs, giving it a more ’80s feel.

It was a very bad decision.

The Vinyl version is the way ZZ Top intended “Tres Hombres” to sound. There’s a reason it became ZZ Top’s breakthrough album in 1973 – it was mixed to capture their sound and style perfectly. This was not an ’80s album. It’s mix of Southern roots, Texas blues, hard rock, with a touch of funky Chicago blues had the ’70s written all over it.

Fortunately, someone at the record company must have seen the err in their ways. When “Tres Hombres” was made available on iTunes, they went back to the original 1973 mix.

Even though the album and digital download are the same version again, I still prefer listening to this (and really any album) on vinyl. I love the touch and feel taking the record out of the jacket and sleeve and there’s something magical about dropping the needle in the groove.

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 Universty 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 saxaphones 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.

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 Filmore 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.


The Outlaws

You can call it country rock or southern rock, I just called good music. The Outlaws debut album came out in 1975. Falling somewhere in between the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd, with a little Crosby Stills Nash and Young and the Allman Brothers thrown in, their sound was an incredible combination of great guitar playing and beautiful vocal harmonies.

The Outlaws featured two guitarists in their lineup. Hughe Thomasson and Frank O’Keefe both had a fast picking, bluegrass style that, combined with three of the five band members also singing, allowed The Outlaws to harmonize and jam with a feel-good Southern style that made them stand out among their contemporaries. A perfect example of this is “Green Grass and High Tides”, the nearly ten minute closing song to the album that features some of three part vocal harmonies in the chorus and one of the coolest dual guitar jams played in any song.

The Charlie Daniels Band – Greatest Hits

I worked in radio from the mid-eighties to the early 90s. My first radio station was a small market country station in the thumb of Michigan, WLEW. The nice thing about being a DJ at a small-market radio station is, for the most part, you get to play what you want. I played a lot of Charlie Daniels while I was there.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I’m a rocker. To me, the Charlie Daniels Band was always the perfect combination of rock and country music. Best known for his fiddle-playing, Charlie Daniels was also an accomplished guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass player. 

As should be expected from any Greatest Hits compilation, every song on this album is exceptional. But there are definitely some standouts.

“The Legend of Wooley Swamp” is probably the least traditional country song Charlie Daniels ever did. If it werent for his North Carolina accent, it might not even be associated with country music. It tells the story of a swampland that’s haunted by the ghost of an greedy old man who was murdered for his money.

On the other end of the spectrum is “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”. Opening and closing with Charlie’s signature fiddle playing, it pays homage to the other country and southern rock performers that were becoming popular at that time. 

“Still in Saigon” paints a poignant picture of a solder who has returned from the Vietnam war. After surviving a brutal war, he returns home only to be tormented by his memories and finding himself hated and chastised by many of the people around him. Sadly this is an accurate depiction for many who fought in Vietnam.

“In America” is a song written following the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 and the recession the American economy was dealing with at the same time. It is a patriotic and prideful song with a strong “united we stand” message.

“Long Haired Country Boy was the first song I had ever heard by The Charlie Daniels Band. A simple song about living a simple life. Simply, one of my favorites.

“Uneasy Rider” was Charlie Daniels’ first hit single. It’s a humorous song in which Charlie’s car has a tire blowout down in a redneck town where they don’t take kindly to “long-haired hippies.” When his hair falls out from under his hat, he has to fast-talk his way out of trouble…and drive away even faster. Luckily, the tire was fixed in the nick of time.

And then there’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which needs no introduction. It’s the CDB’s most famous song and proves that among fiddle players, he is the best of the best. 

I have had the pleasure of seeing Charlie Daniels live, in concert three times. The most memorable was in Nashville, Tennessee, at Volunteer Jam 8, a benefit concert he would put on every year. I was standing near the front of the crowd when he tossed one of his bows out into the audience. I saw it flying towards me  I reached up,  jumped just a little bit, and touched it ever so briefly as it bounced off my fingertips. 

So close.

REO Speedwagon – Live: You Get What You Play For

REO Speedwagon had their greatest success in the 80s with their more pop oriented songs. I love the album “Hi-Infidelity” and was so glad it brought much deserved success to a band that was vastly underrated for over a decade. But to me, the epitome of what REO Speedwagon was happened in the 1970s, and was encapsulated on their live album “You Get What You Play For”. This album ranks up there with the greatest of the great live albums which are in my humble opinion Bob Seeger’s “Live Bullet”, Peter Frampton’s “Come’s Alive” and REO’s live album from 1977.

What gave this, and the preceding Studio albums by REO Speedwagon, their special character, was the band’s geographical Origins. Coming from Indiana, their early music had midwestern rock roots with just a slight hint of southern rock influence. Then they combined this, ever-so-slightly, with progressive rock that was influential in the seventies, and created a sound that was unmistakaby unigue. Yes, some of this came through in their later, more pop oriented material, but to me this was the epoch of what REO Speedwagon was at their finest.

I would be remiss to not mention every song on this album, in mentioning what makes a great. It really is the combination of the whole. But if I were to list standouts, they would be the opener “Like You Do”, “Keep Pushin'”, “157 Riverside Avenue”, with its incredible improvisational interplay between lead singer Kevin Cronin and lead guitarist Gary Richrath, “Ridin’ The Storm Out”, and what has to be one of the finest live album closers of all time, “Golden Country”.

This album is also one of the reasons I started getting turned off by compact discs. Although they offered convenience, quite often the remastering of some albums left something to be desired. Either the recordings were over compressed, muddying the sound of the original recording, or they came across sounding thin, losing much of the dynamic range of the vinyl record. With “You Get What You Play For”, it was the latter. 

What made it even worse though, was the omission of critical songs off the record. To omit “Little Queenie” might have been forgivable, but “Gary’s Guitar Solo” was one of the defining moments of this album. To delete it was near blasphemy. The CD noted that this was because of time constraints. I later recorded my own CD, direct from the album (this was in the era predating MP3s). I merely edited the length of some of the audience sounds in between the songs and was able to fit the entire album onto one CD, so I call bulls***!. They just didn’t want to take the time to do it right – to give “You Get What You Play For” the respect it rightfully deserved.

Savoy Brown – Street Corner Talking

British bands in the 70s loved to emulate the sound of American Southern blues rock bands. If ever there was a British band that sounded like an American southern rock band, it was Savoy Brown, especially on their seventh album, Street Corner Talking. So much so in fact, that for the longest time, I had no idea they were British.

Savoy Brown saw significant changes in the band’s lineup on “Street Corner Talking”. In between this and their previous album, three of the remaining original band members left and formed the band Foghat. This left lead guitarist Kim Simmonds as the only remaining original member. This obviously changed the sound of the band noticeably. Whether for the better or for the worse is debatable. The bottom line is,  they still were able to release one of their best albums ever.

“Street Corner Talking” is loaded with Southern Blues grooves, catchy riffs, and just plain and simply great songs. All of the songs on it are originals, written or co-written by Simmonds, with the exception of the closer, “Wang Dang Doodle”, which was written and originally performed by Dixon. 

“Street Corner Talking” is  album that’s easy to track all the way through. As a matter of fact, I find it impossible not to. The opening track, “Tell Mama” is possibly my favorite Savoy Brown song. I still can’t believe it’s not being played buy anow American southern rock band.