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Monday, August 8, 2016

My Latest Hobby Adventure: The Seven Weeks' War...It's what's on the workbench!........Part 1

..that title is a little deceptive. It should be more like on the workbench, then off the workbench and into storage, then back on the workbench again! I have been trying to get this wargaming project off the ground for a couple of years, and I figure if I toss it onto my blog it may motivate me to finish it.

Was it the Seven Weeks War, Austro-Prussian War or the Unification War? Or maybe the Prussian-German War, Brothers War or Fraternal War? Whichever term one chooses to use, the Seven Weeks' War as I prefer to call it, was a brief war in 1866 fought in both Austria as well as some Western German states . What was at stake was control of Germany and her various states, with Austria and Prussia as the main, but not the only protagonists. I will flesh out the "story" of the war in later posts.

Before you dive into any long term hobby project one must do the homework first. In this case I have compiled a pretty good collection of books, magazine articles and internet posts on the topic. There are two books generally viewed as

required reading on the war, and I managed to pick both of them up from for bargain prices. Geoffrey Wawro and Gordon Craig are the authors, and each has a bit of different focus from the other. Wawro's "The Austro-Prussian War" focuses on the complete campaign in detail, while Craig's "The Battle of Koniggratz" turns its attention toward the final battle of the campaign, Koniggratz (Sadowa).

I also found a collection of other reference books on The Miniatures Page for a fraction of their face value. Aside from accounts of the war itself I also acquired information on the uniforms and armaments used by each of the combatant nations. I have found patience really is a virtue when looking for second hand deals. 

The internet is an amazing thing, and there are amazing people who have sites that are helpful beyond measure for almost any hobby or craft endeavor one may have. In the case of the Seven Weeks War I have found a site called " Battlefield Anomalies " that does a more than thorough job of helping to explain the war. From weapons, to maps to individual battles, this site proved incredibly helpful to my understanding of the campaign. The interactive battle maps that show the actual battlefields as they look today are really quite something. A labor of love for sure!

As my ultimate goal is to wargame this conflict, I needed some rules, and I chose Neil Thomas' "Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe 1815-1878". The rules are simple, and the scenarios presented in the book include two for the Seven Weeks War. Thomas also provides national characteristics for all the armies that fought in the war. These characteristics help to represent the positives and negatives of the armies that fought in a given battle. Also there is a Yahoo Group dedicated to discussing Thomas' rule books, and this has proven to be a valuable resource as well.

In subsequent posts I will go over my thoughts on the war itself, my plans to recreate the battles on the tabletop as well as posting my progress in painting figures and creating terrain. I'm hoping to have it all banged out by the first of the year, but we will see!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Double Live Albums; They're Twice The Fun!

Double Live Albums of the 1970's

I do a lot of shopping on Ebay (from their sister site actually). I pick up mostly used CDs as they are cheaper than electronic media of the same albums, usually in great shape and frankly I enjoy the scrounging! I will typically buy  CDs to replace my rather large collection of well worn vinyl and hardback books. I always get a thrill when I can get an album I have on my wish list for under five dollars, and lot of times for under a dollar!

At any rate, I've found that the Goodwill Industries nationally have great internet web stores on both Ebay and Amazon , and lots of bargains, and I love bargains! While buying wish list items I always do a double take to see if there is anything else they have on offer I "need". In one particular case I had put a couple of CDs into my cart, and proceeded to do a search. Suddenly what pops up before my eyes but a CD copy of Ted Nugent's "Double Live Gonzo" for 99 cents, and I thought "wow, someone is going to get a deal on this sucker!". Then like a bolt from the blue I realized I have never picked this up through Itunes or as a CD. I probably hadn't heard the album in it's entirety in 30 years or more. I dropped it in my electronic cart, and waited excitedly for "Double Live Gonzo" to arrive in my mailbox!

I spent hours listening to that live Ted Nugent album in the 70's, and had practically memorized every note, all the between song banter and every firecracker explosion that seemed to go off between every song. When the album finally arrived, and I was in the midst of listening to it I began reminiescing about all the live albums of the 70's, and in particular double live albums. Double live albums, at least to me, seem to identify more with the 70's than any other era. In this blog post I Thought I would talk about why I believed they were so prevalent, why they were so well loved, and why they were typically the last hurrah for many great bands.

They say 1978 was the year of the live album, and there were many great ones that came out that year. I almost feel guilty not having more of those released that year on my list, but there were just so many! The lion's share of those albums were double live albums. I think the medium of the double live album appealed to the public in several ways, both visually and musically.

I believe it took  two vinyl LPs worth of songs to fully replicate a band's live show, and that was what the live albums were meant to do. I could go on and on (and just might blog on that topic one day!) about live albums that consisted of only one LP, but I felt they just left you wanting more. The "more" didn't mean buying another album from that artist, it meant "more" of what you just paid for! Two albums immediately come to mind for me; The Sensational Alex Harvey Band's "Live", and Robin Trower's "Live". As two of my favorite bands I frankly felt gyped not getting a second record. The point being we had all come to expect two records in a live package to some degree. It was an unspoken rule of sorts.

The fact that the phrase"double live album" is  common currency in the lexicon of "50 somethings" denotes that we all know exactly what that term meant. It also carried a feeling of just what that gave you. The reality is a double live album wasn't just a record of the music itself, but also the sights of a live concert. We came to expect, and usually received, a live experience in a nice, neat package. Some of the albums provided more than others. The standard issue double live album came in a gatefold sleeve ( I have some examples in my fav's list). Many single record albums had gatefold sleeves as well, but the double album package almost required it. This provided plenty of room for photos, and the sleeves that protected the records themselves also lent themselves to being covered with even more images. I know from experience that these made nice wall decorations for teenage kids in the 70's! Some albums went as far as to include extra bits of media, such as Uriah Heep's 1973 live album having what amounted to a concert program fitted inside the gatefold sleeve. In the end it was a win win for both the band and the fan. The band was able to promote themselves to the fullest, and the fans got lots of eye candy to look at. 

Something else I noticed while banging this post out was what appeared to be the strange coincidence of many bands seeing their popularity falter very soon after releasing a double live album. One had to question if the fans "overdosed" on said band after consuming two LPs worth of live material repeatedly? Was it sheer coincidence? Was it a calculated move by the band's management to take advantage of a money maker that they knew was about to stop producing? I tend to believe the later notion in many cases.

Of my list of eight favorite albums (I told myself I would stop at five, but that proved impossible. Stopping at eight was tough enough), four of the bands were beginning to fall apart due to internal pressures. UFO had lost Michael Schenker before their live album was released, the same for  Derek St. Holmes and Rob Grange of Ted Nugent's band. Humble Pie was just starting to show cracks as Peter Frampton left before their live album was released, and the band continued to sag under the weight of in fighting and drug abuse within the group. Thin Lizzy was in trouble before the live album was even recorded, as Brian Robertson was already on his way out, to be replaced by Gary Moore, who himself left the band after one more record. I suspect that management, being on the outside looking in, saw what was happening within these bands, and decided they had better capitalize on them before it was too late. All four of the bands mentioned above found huge success with their live collections, but they ended up being their swan songs to varying degrees.

Gentle Giant also began to fall out of favor following their "Playing the Fool" live album, but not due to any internal friction within the band. The clock was ticking on the popularity of virtually every band in the progressive rock genre, and time caught up with Gentle Giant. They released three more studio albums, and with each release sales fell. The group disbanded in 1980.

In the cases of Kiss, Blue Oyster Cult and Rush their careers proved to last well beyond their respective live recordings I've listed. Kiss' career would not peak for several more albums, and in fact they released another double live album, "Alive II", in 1977. BOC would hit pay dirt with the song "Don't Fear the Reaper"  from their "Agents of Fortune" album. The single rose to #12 on the pop charts and helped push the bands popularity. BOC would continue performing at a high level till well into the 80's. The band has survived till the the current era, and still tours regularly. After "All the World's a Stage" Rush went from strength to strength, and are still a vital band, regularly releasing new music. 

The following lists, one being a list of my  favorites as a teen , and a "best of the rest" list.. These lists are probably more exclusive than inclusive. There are many, many double live albums from the 70's that would make other's lists. The thinning process was pretty subjective, so don't get too excited if you don't see a favorite in my list because my listening tastes in the 70's weren't quite as well rounded as I'd like to think mine are today!

My Favorite Double Live Albums of the 1970's least for today!.........

Ted Nugent:Double Live Gonzo

To me Ted Nugent's double live statement from 1978 really defined the form. I have no idea if the album was as "live" as it sounded on vinyl, as studio overdubs were the rule rather than the exception on live work in the 70's. It sure sounded like it was live to my teenage ears! At times firecrackers are going off, and you can almost feel the crowd going nuts, as Nugent was a pro at working a crowd into a frenzy with his nutty and profane between song banter delivered at hyper speed by the Motor City Madman.

The band that recorded this album was tight, and the best group of backing musicians Ted ever assembled in my opinion. Singer and rhythm guitarist Derek St. Holmes was a solid player as well as having a fabulous voice. Bassist Rob Grange had been with Ted in his Amboy Dukes days, and Englishman and former If drummer Cliff Davies made for a solid rhythm section. Sadly this bit of live work was the last recorded work of this incarnation of Nugent's band.

Album Front Cover
The music itself is raw, and sometimes doesn't sound as "full" as on the studio albums, but the sense of urgency with which it is delivered is almost palpable. Some songs given the live treatment here are actually pushed to new heights as is the case with the smoldering, sinister sounding tune "Stranglehold" and the embryonic heavy metal crush of "Stormtroopin". These two cuts comprised all of side three, and were taken from what I think was Nugent's best album, his self titled first LP.

The song that really grabbed me on this album was the sixteen minute long "Hibernation" that was originally on Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes "Tooth Fang and Claw" LP. The version found on this album takes the song to a whole new level. Without getting technical I can tell you feedback is typically not the musicians friend, but due to the guitar Nugent played, and the volume at which he played feedback was always happening. Nugent turned a nuisance into a trademark of sorts. Live he found a way to incorporate it into his songs, and there is no better example of this than on Hibernation. Nugent coaxes all manner of sounds out of his Gibson Byrdland guitar, and adds it to a already nice instrumental. The song always sounded like freedom to me, like a drive on the open road with all the windows rolled down! 
Inner Gatefold Pictures

All in all this is a great example of a double live album. It feels live, the songs have been rearranged in some cases, and actually improved upon. In a nutshell the two records in the set make you feel like you were actually there, and that is what a live album was meant to do, no? As seemed to be the case with most bands after making a live recording, this was the high watermark of Nugent's, and his bandmates musical careers. St. Holmes and Nugent argued about how much mic time Derek should get, and he was let go, and Rob Grange followed. G Davies would last several more albums and then was let go as well. Nugent's next album  "Weekend Warriors" was well received, but the advent of disco and the rapidly approaching musical change in the 80's would hasten Nugent's demise as an arena headliner. Luckily the band left us with this little nugget that shows what a live show should sound, and feel like!

The album packaging, other than the iconic photo of Nugent on the cover, was nothing spectacular. A few live photos on the inner cover, and the obligatory thank yous and song listing on the backside of the cover. 

Ted Nugent playing "Hibernation" live

Gentle Giant:  Playing the Fool:Official Live

I had heard of Gentle Giant, and seen their LPs in the bins before, but had never listened to their music. While on the way to see Heart on their first headlining tour at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1977 I got my first taste of the band. My buddy Jeff was driving, and he slide a tape in and asked "have you heard Gentle Giant?". I answered back "no", and over the next half hour or so I was subjected to, 

Front cover of Playing the Fool
what I thought at the time, was some of the most chaotic music I had ever heard. There was chamber music, acapella vocal sections, odd time signatures and searing guitar work. It didn't make any sense to me, what was going on musically. I was not so shocked as to not notice it was a live album. At any rate we finally arrived at the parking lot of the venue, and I thought no more about Gentle Giant and their so called music. On the drive home we listened to something different, and it was case closed, or so I thought. 
Gatefold cover inner view

Several weeks later I was going through the bins at one of my favorite musical haunts, Music Market in Costa Mesa. As I went on my monthly "musical safari" through the used bins there when I got to "G" low and behold, Gentle Giants "Playing the Fool:Official Live" was sitting there staring at me. It was a demo, and a mere 50 cents. After a bit of internal dialogue (and looking over the album artwork)I ended up buying it. 
"Playing the Fool", and Gentle Giant as a band became what I would now call "a grower". The first few listens through their music still made no sense to me and then, "wham", what they were doing all made sense to me one day. As my musical palette grew in the 70s I found more and more "growers". Gentle Giant were a English progressive rock band, and one of the most adventurous in the genre. I ended up falling in love with this LP, and Gentle Giant's music in general. This LP still sounds as fresh to me as it did back in 1977. "Playing the Fool" was released in January of 1977, and proved to be the pinnacle of the bands career. I wouldn't say this is my all time favorite double live LP, but it sure is a good one!

"The Runaway" from "Playing the Fool"

Kiss: Alive

Yes, I know "serious listeners" didn't listen to Kiss back in the day, that was for the casual listener who was on to the next musical fad as soon as it arrived. Well, I would like to believe I fit in the "serious listener" category, but I readily admit I drank the "Kiss Koolaid", and that wasn't as bad as some made it out to be. I used to describe Kiss as "Humble Pie with greasepaint"; their music was standard issue blues rock with a stage show. If you could look past their schtick, it was a rockin' rollin' good time! "Alive" put Kiss on the map, and in fact I think if the live album hadn't put them over the top, Kiss, and Casablanca Records would have found themselves in deep trouble. That being said, I loved this double live LP. I wore the vinyl out on sides one,two and four. Side three with it's twelve minute long "100,00 Years" I usually skipped. "Alive", the title being an homage to Slade's 1972 "Alive" LP, really managed to convey the excitement of Kiss' live show. One could almost see the flash pots you hear explode during the intro to "Deuce". 

There is still a lot of controversy over how "live" the album really was. To be honest, as a 15 year old kid I really couldn't have cared less; I was sold! From the proto-metal of "Parasite" to the amped up version of their party anthem "Rock and Roll All Nite", Kiss delivered what the kids wanted; two albums full of good time rock n roll! As I mentioned earlier, their stage show was very bombastic, but their music was just basic meat and potatoes rock, very much in the vein of Slade, BTO or Humble Pie.

The packaging also managed to convey the sense of a live show in a small package. Inside the gatefold sleeve we were given notes from each band member, and pictures of the covers of their first three studio records. The album sleeves also had pictures, and I know the sleeves themselves ended up taped to more than one bedroom wall (including mine!). I think the difference for me was that I didn't listen to Kiss to the exclusion of other bands like UFO and Rush. Kiss was just savvy enough to provide kids with a package that contained mixed media of sound and visual art. Others would follow their example.

"Parasite" from "Alive"

Humble Pie: Performance Rockin' the Fillmore

The grand daddy of the double live LPs of the 70's was Humble Pie's "Performance Rockin' the Fillmore". Released in 1971, it showed a band who had morphed from a band that was a much acoustic as it was electric to a powerhouse blues rock band. With the diminutive but dynamic front man Steve Marriott leading the charge, the band works through a set of mostly covers of blues and R&B tunes, most of which are unrecognizable from the originals due to the high powered delivery. This was to be guitarist Peter Frampton's last album with the band, as following this record he went solo (and in the process gave us another classic double live LP himself!).
A ragged copy just like mine!

Humble Pie was one of several bands ( another being the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals) who could have been as big as the preeminent blues rock band of the 70's, Led Zeppelin. In the end egos and drug abuse derailed the other contenders for the blues rock crown. That said, this a red hot live statement of what Humble Pie was capable of. From what I can find this album had very few overdubs, which was unusual, and proved they were a seasoned live band. The songs themselves are your basic blues rock boogie, but to say the least, they are played with conviction. Their cover of Dr. John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" is a masterpiece in dynamics. Clocking in at almost 24 minutes, it moves through numerous changes and showcases Marriott and Frampton's guitar playing in several different modes. There are sections of the song that still make me ask myself "why weren't these guys huge?". We also get some boogie workouts in "Four Day Creep". "I'm Ready" and "Stone Cold Fever". Humble Pies take on Muddy Waters "Rollin' Stone" for the most part is a rather literal rendering of the blues classic, while the last three minutes sound like Foghat at their best. The most popular tune from the album was a cover of Ashford and Simpson's "I Don't Need No Doctor", and it was the closing number as well.
The inner gatefold sleeve

I picked my copy of used in 1975 or 76, and in nearly unplayable condition.I had heard the band, and the album itself before, but funds had not been forthcoming earlier to buy it! Back in those days I had to be very careful about what I bought, as money was tight. One had no way to sample songs back in the 70s like we do now. You had to decide whether something was good by either hearing a friends copy, by reading an article about the LP in Circus or Creem magazine or just by buying it because the album cover was cool. Other than this LP Humble Pie had a few more good records left in then with "Smokin" and "Eat It", but sadly Marriott would die in a fire long before his career should have been over. "Performance Rockin' the Fillmore" was a band on the top of it's game, and is an album worth adding to one's collection.

"Four Day Creep" from "Performance Rockin' the Fillmore"

Thin Lizzy: Live and Dangerous

Thin Lizzy were a known commodity to me by the time "Live and Dangerous" was released in 1978. I had a friend who had their "Fighting" album, and even though it was hit and miss (as the band would readily admit) it had a couple of great songs in "Suicide", "Fighting My Way Back","Ballad of the Hard Man" and "Freedom Song". When their "Jailbreak" album came out in 1976 I bought a copy within days of it's release, and it was obvious the band had stepped up their game! With the high point being "The Boys Are Back In Town", there wasn't a bad tune on the disc. The two subsequent releases weren't quite as good as "Jailbreak", but an album of it's overall high quality was hard to beat. As record sales were driven by performing live, and Thin Lizzy were old hands at touring, it was probably inevitable that a live album would be released, and it was. 
Live and Dangerous Album Cover

"Live and Dangerous" was recorded at shows in 1976 and 1977, and released the summer of 1978. It featured the soon to be disbanded "classic" lineup of Glaswegian Brian Robertson, Californian Scott Gorham, and Irishmen and original members Brian Downey and front man Phil Lynott. Gorham and Robertson provided a blistering dual guitar attack and Downey and Lynott held down the bottom end. All the songs on this recording are far superior to the studio versions. Through years of touring Thin Lizzy had polished every song in this live document to a high sheen. In particular the rearranged version of "Still In Love With You" greatly benefited from the live treatment. Thin Lizzy historian Mark Putterford said the live version recorded for "Live and Dangerous" was the high point of band leader Phil Lynott's career. I would have to agree. Lynott delivers a heart felt vocal on the song, and both guitarist played phenomenal solos, with Robertson taking the first solo, and Gorham giving us the outro solo. For the record, Gorham's solo on this song is one of my all time favorites.

"Still in Love With You"from "Live and Dangerous"

As usual with our double live albums from that era, we get what is basically a condensed tour program. There were numerous photos on the gatefold sleeve on the inner cover, as well as more pictures on the record sleeves. Those ended up on my bedroom wall! The cover itself had what would become a iconic picture of Lynott, bathed in stage lights on his knees, at the front of the stage. All in all a fabulous "snapshot"  of a great band, who by the way, should have been much bigger than they were. That is a story for another blog! As with all the double albums in my favs list, this one is still played in heavy rotation!

Inner Gatefold Sleeve of "Live and Dangerous"

Rush: All the World's a Stage

I got into Rush by way of their first LP. I had heard about the band, but had heard not a note of their playing. While looking through the bins at Bourbon Street records in Tustin CA I came upon what appeared to be a water damaged copy of the first Rush album. Warped, stained, with some of the ink smeared, I could buy it for the sum of only 25 cents. It came down to a 1.50 copy of Roxy Music's "For Your Pleasure", or the bargain priced Rush album. I wouldn't then, or now pass up a bargain like the Rush LP for a quarter! I took it home and enjoyed the album from the intro to "Finding My Way" to the final clashing of cymbals on "Working Man". Yeah, they might have been a poor man's Led Zeppelin, but I didn't let that bother me.

The bands "2112" album, released in April of 1976, put them on the map after they had almost thrown in the towel after the "Down the Tubes" tour in support of the "Caress of Steel" album. "2112", with one side consisting of a concept piece based on Ayn Rand's book "Anthem" and the other with non concept tunes, went to number 61 on the US charts. To capitalize on the success of "2112" Mercury Records managed to push out a live Rush album by the fall of 1976. With a nod to William Shakespeare the double live release was titled "All the World's  Stage".

The Album Cover
The album, recorded at Massey Hall in the bands home town of Toronto, did a great job of documenting the band's studio output up to that point in time. The song selection was pretty solid, not a clunker in the lot. I particularly liked the live versions of "Bastille Day" and "Lakeside Park", both taken from the Caress of Steel album, which historically was Rush's worst selling album up to that point. Both are given a bit of a new life, as "Bastille Day" opens the show as if it were shot from a cannon, and "Lakeside Park" just sounds stronger, with Geddy Lee's vocals really pushing the song along. The 2112 suite was shortened by two segments to allow it to fit onto the album. Between "2112" and "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" virtually two whole albums sides were taken up with lengthy concept pieces. This was just a precursor to the direction Rush was heading as subsequent releases had more 

The Double Gatefold Sleeve Inner Cover
heady lyrical and musical content than the prior albums had.   I don't listen to this as much as the first three albums listed, but back in the day I wore the grooves out on this thing!

As far as album packaging went this live collection, at least the one I own, is a triple gatefold sleeve. I have seen later releases that were only a double. There were tons and tons of cool live photos. The one photo that I found mesmerising was a pictures of Alex Lifeson all in white, and the stage has been turned blue by the lights.

My favorite photo is in the lower right corner

 He is playing his Les Paul and using a wha wha pedal. In the background Geddy Lee is either totally rocking out, or he is sitting on the drum riser and really concentrating on playing his instrument. It was just a cool picutre that drew my attention for some reason. I do know that photo would have made for a great poster on my bedroom wall! All told, this Rush album was to hold my interest for a long while, and is definitely still a favorite memory!

Note: Early CD versions of this album omit the song "What You're Doing". When CD technology advanced in the 90's the tune was included again.

"Lakeside Park" from "All the World's a Stage"

UFO: Strangers in the Night

While reading a series of blog posts on this particular double album I saw one poster call it jokingly "Schenker in the Night" in lieu of the official title. That was really a startling comment to me, because that was exactly why I bought the album, to hear Michael Schenker's guitar playing.

Michael Schenker
UFO existed as a band before Michael Schenker was recruited from Germany's Scorpions when he was 18 years old. UFO was going nowhere fast until Schenker arrived. Schenker's music coupled with vocalist Phil Mogg's lyrics were a winning combination, and UFO went from strength to strength one album at a time. Schenker's brilliant riffs and amazing soloing caught the attention of hard rock fans everywhere. As good as things seemed to be for the band there was trouble in paradise by the time "Strangers in the Night" was recorded.

Schenker never seemed to fit in with the other members of UFO. Chalk it up to the language barrier (when Schenker joined UFO he spoke virtually no English), the drugs, the booze or his paralyzing stage fright, Schenker always seemed to have one foot out the door. Such was the case during the tour when this live album was recorded. Schenker never finished the tour, and Paul "Tonka" Chapman from the band Lone Star was brought in to cover for him. No offense to Chapman, but he wasn't, nor would he ever be quite the player that Schenker was. So what we have is Schenker's swan song with UFO by way of a smoking hot live recording.

As a guitar aficianado I tend to go on about Michael Schenker. He is very high in the pantheon of 70's guitarist I love, but UFO was not just the Michael Schenker show. Without Phil Mogg's lyrics to flesh out Schenker's tunes UFO would never have made it as far as they did. With Pete Way and Andy Parker holding it all together on bass and drums, and multi instrumentalist Paul Raymond adding depth to the sound on both guitar and keyboards, UFO was a radio ready machine (and I mean FM radio!). As mentioned in my breakdown earlier of why double live albums were done, most were recorded to give bands some much needed momentum to get to the next level. This wasn't the case with UFO. They were well on their way to greater heights as a band, live album or not. Phil Mogg has stated that he doesn't know why they had to do a live album rather than another studio album. Possibly management saw the band imploding and wanted to milk it for all it was worth. No matter what the cause, we were left with a great live recording of a band at the top of it's game.

Front Album Cover
Recorded on their US tour in 1978, "Strangers in the Night"was released in early 1979. As double live albums go I find this collection of tunes has better song placement than some others. Out of the four LP sides there isn't a dog in the bunch. As a huge UFO fan I love all the songs on this album, but there are some that standout. 

As always "Rock Bottom" had been Schenker's tour de force, and on this record it is no different. His classical versus blues lead stylings have always made for great songs, but on "Rock Bottom" he really delivers. The song works through several "movements", with  each movement Schenker subtly changes his playing to match the mood. Other favorites are "Out On the Streets", "Mother Mary" and "I'm a Loser". I found that I preferred tunes from the first three albums as opposed to the last two, more popular records. Not that "Lights Out" or "Obsession" were bad, they just didn't seem to tickle my fancy like the earlier records did. That said, I must say songs like "Lights Out" and "Love to Love" are very powerful in their own way. In fact Schenker's outro solo on "Love to Love" is 1:30 of guitar solo bliss. All in all a great listen, and definitely a great "road album" for the car stereo.

Gatefold Inner Sleeve
The album artwork, like all of UFO's covers up to the time of this release was done by the art house Hipgnosis. I will say of all the covers that Hipgnosis did for UFO I find this one the least interesting. The cover isn't much to look at, nor the inside of the gatefold sleeve either. The packaging concept as a whole was fairly spartan. It is possible that the label Chrysalis was cutting cost, as at the time they were having issues with their stable of artist, not just UFO. Of my favorites I've listed I find the artwork the least appealing of the group, especially considering it was done by the preeminent purveyors of the medium Hipgnosis.

I probably enjoy this album so much because I was taken by UFO, and Schenker's guitar playing, from the first time I heard them on a tinny record player in a empty classroom when I was in 9th grade. For any fan of hard rock, or a fan of heavy metal who wants to listen to a band who was to lay the ground work for bands who came after them, this is worth a listen. For any FM radio fans this is filled with radio ready classics one after the other. Well worth the price of admission.

Note: In 1999 an expanded CD version of this set was released with two additional tracks, "Cherry" and "Hot 'n' Ready", both from the "Obsessions" LP.

"Rock Bottom" from "Strangers In The Night"

Blue Oyster Cult: On Your Feet or on Your Knees

Released in 1975, this live album showcased songs from BOC's first three studio albums. OYFOOYK was released prior to "Agents of Fortune", which gave us the bands cash cow single "Don't Fear the Reaper". This is also one of the few instances when a live album was released with a bands largest success still ahead of them. I would say every song BOC recorded for this live package was much better live than the studio versions were. In particular the band's FM radio hit "Cities On Flame" was greatly improved in a live setting.

The album as a whole was very good, with my two favorites being the instrumental "Buck's Boogie" and "ME262". In particular I liked the portion of "Me262" when the whole band, all five of them, are playing guitar (and this was documented in photos on the LP sleeve!). I also found great joy in mimicking the between song banter with friends and family, in particular the barking lady doing the intro to "Born to be Wild!"

The album was a great representation of the bands live sound, as BOC were true road warriors, who seemed to be touring constantly. Never having a true hit prior to "Don't Fear the Reaper",playing live shows was the only way stay in the public eye, and that generated record sales. Also the music magazines of the day were very high on the band, and I remember they got a fair bit of press in the 70's. 

Inner Cover Picture
The cool inner sleeve with the band performing  in front of a wall of Marshall amps as a crowd of hooded followers looks on was pretty cool, as well as funny!The album cover itself showed what appeared to be the band's limo pulled up in front of the church where it is implied they are playing. The flags with the BOC logo on the front fenders was a nice touch. There were also a handful of live photos on the record sleeves too. They were all a bit blurry, and almost appeared to be "stretched" for lack of a better word. It's funny the things that draw our attention. I distinctly remember staring at the mock up of a picture of the "celestial stage" on the inner gatefold sleeve and wondered "why isn't Albert Bouchard wearing any shoes or socks?". It seemed like a really important question back in 1976!

"ME262" from "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees"

The Best of the Rest

Reo Speedwagon: You Get What You Play For

Wishbone Ash: Lives Dates

Camel: A Live Record

The Allman Brothers Band: Live At Fillmore East

Lynyrd Skynyrd: One From The Road

Rainbow: On Stage

The Outlaws: Bring It Back Alive

Deep Purple: Made in Japan

Scorpions: Tokyo Tapes

Todd Rundgren: Back to the Bars

Genesis: Seconds Out

Monday, July 4, 2016

Album Review: Paris / Self Titled ........or what you do when you need to let off some steam.....

"I wanted to do something very much along the lines of Led Zeppelin, something a little more 'hard rockish'. Zeppelin were becoming huge in the States. I wanted to do that more hard-edged thing but John, Mick and Chris hated that kind of thing. In 1974 it was fresh and they thought it was just a load of crap. I suppose there was validity to that. Led Zeppelin were very brash and raucous."

Bob Welch

Bob Welch in Fleetwood Mac

By the end of 1974 Fleetwood Mac guitarist/vocalist Bob Welch had had enough. Welch joined the band in 1971 along with Christine McVie upon the departure of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. Welch was originally from Southern California, and joined the band while living abroad in France. Welch originally joined as the rhythm guitarist, with Danny Kerwin on lead guitar. As time wore on the band began to disintegrate. Welch at this point began to take matters into his own hands. He was instrumental in getting the band to relocate from England to Los Angeles (which would prove to be a very provident move later when it resulted in the recruitment of Lindsay Buckingham  and Stevie Nicks!) to be closer to the record labels base of operations. This move did not help resolve the internal conflict in the band, and by the end of 1974 Welch had moved on.

At the insistence of his brother in law,  well known producer/engineer (Jimi Hendrix/Led Zeppelin/Sammy Hagar) Jimmy Robinson, Welch created a power trio. As the opening quote shows that, at least at the time, he wanted to  go in the direction of Led Zeppelin, and play some heavier music (in 2011 Welch would release a cover of "Black Dog").The group that Welch assembled under the moniker Paris had Thom Mooney (the Nazz/Fuse) on drums, and Glenn Cornick (Jethro Tull/Wild Turkey) on bass. I have to guess coming up with the band name was a rather easy thing for Welch as he had spent quite a bit of time living in France. 

Paris were Thom Mooney, Bob Welch and Glenn Cornick

The band's self titled first LP was recorded at the Record Plant in  Los Angeles and "The Pit" in Sausalito in 1975. Jimmy Robinson handled the production chores, and the record was released on Capitol Records in January of 1976. The cover showed the word "Paris" in green neon, with the letter "A" shaped like the Eiffel Tower. The logo itself was designed by Glenn Cornick.


A few observations before I go into a song by song description of the album itself. I think Jimmy Robinson, being related to Welch, night have been given lots of leeway in the recording booth due to the relationship. There are lots of interesting effects used at times, and several songs with heavily effected, almost dream like sections. Possibly these ideas were conceived by Welch, but one has to wonder. All told, Robinson did what I think was a fine job of producing on this album. Lots of different musical "textures" are used on the album. That said, this is a great listen with headphones on!

All of the words and music on this LP are all of Welch's own creation. Some of the lyrics are rather simple, and not high concept by any means. Other songs are built around literary concepts are metaphysical ideas, and a bit more complex. Overall the album has a dark, moody feel to it. The music itself was pretty hard rocking for the day. I think the band was viewed by critics as having slavishly copied Led Zeppelin. I personally don't see it. Do I find some similarities to Led Zeppelin; yes. I think every hard rock band from the 70s tipped it's musical hat to Led Zeppelin at one time or another.  As a matter of fact we will see at least one instance where Paris were doing things that Led Zeppelin wouldn't do for another four years. Bob Welch's vocals are, I have to admit, an acquired taste. His voice isn't necessarily strong, which at times isn't an asset. One thing I do notice 40 years after this LP was released was the strong drumming from Mooney. He and Cornick did an admirable job holding down the bottom end.

On to the music itself! The album opens with the raucous "Black Book". A mid paced rocker, the song has a cool riff, and a nice bass line from Cornick. During the verse there is a nice effect of doubling the guitar parts with harmonica lines. The interesting thing about this tune is that there isn't a solo of any kind. Not on the intro or outro, or in the mid section of the song as one traditionally finds. So for three minutes we are bludgeoned with a rather pleasant riff. A nice way to open the proceedings. 

The second track is "Religion", and this tune has a definite Led Zeppelin quality to it. It is a bit reminiscent of "Black Dog", but ironically it also sounds strangely like Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" too.  A bit like the case of the chicken and the egg! The song structure is very similar to both songs mentioned. We get the riff, a chorus sung without accompaniment and then the verse. The last three minutes of the song are just a lot of special effects under layed with bass and drums. In some ways it reminds me of several of the songs from Aerosmith's "Rocks" LP. Lots of random bits that sort of float in and out of the mix. I'm guessing Welch let the producer Robinson have some fun with this. One oddity of this song is that on both album and CD version it sounds like the recording tape was backed off ever so slightly to give the song a bit of a slightly off key, "out of kilter" feel.  

I find the third song "Starcage" is of special interest. It is mostly driven by a synthesizer line, with Welch's heavily effected solos riding over the top. A bit of irony here, as "Starcage" sounds very similar to Led Zeppelin's "Carouselambara" from their "In Through the Out Door" album that was released four years later. A strange coincidence I'm sure.

The last two songs on the first side of the album are the best on the first side in my opinion. The first of the two is "Beautiful Dreamer". Lyrically it seems to be based loosely on Nathanael West's novel "Day of the Locust" which is about the a group of Hollywood outcasts in the 1930's. He mentions the book title, and period Hollywood hotel's like the Garden of Allah and the Chateau Marmont. I think Welch uses the words to create a mood, but he isn't necessarily telling a story. The music itself begins with a picked, muted guitar and a subdued drum part with Welch's lyrics a sung over them. The song builds from this rather quiet section to a big riff played by both bass and guitar. Welch takes a solo, and then another verse and the outro. A solid effort, and it sets the table for the last track on the side "Nazarene". A song that seems to be about a lost love, the song is built around a basic riff, and the song builds on variations of that riff. a solid rocker, the band really locked in on this tune.

The second side opens with the tune The Narrow Gate (La Porte Etroite) which I believe is based on the novel of that name by French author Andre Gide about a couple who meet as children, and love each other but never seem to "find" each other in adulthood.  A repeated motif in the lyrics themselves is "don't wait too long".That is a short description of a complex story. The song opens with ethereal keyboards, and a faintly heard heartbeat. Welch sings the  first few lines of the chorus over this swirling intro. All fades to silence, and then an acoustic guitar accompanied by a Fender Rhodes organ comes in over a steady drum beat. We get another verse as things begin to get louder. A heavy riff then crashes in, and things get a bit "Zeppelinesque". Welch's singing takes on a Robert Plant like wail, and then the song changes gears. The next section moves into a passage with a guitar part doubled by a synthesizer set to a deep bass tone. This section slowly dies away as a rapidly strummed acoustic guitar takes us out with Welch playing some country inflected leads as the song races to a finish.

A sound clip of Paris' "Narrow Gate (La Porte Etroite)

The next song is a mid paced heavy rocker called "Solitaire". the song chugs along with a repeating riff, and a lead guitar mimicking the vocals with different embellishments as the song moves along. About two thirds of the way through the song the band lays a different riff on us, and then reverts back to the original song pattern. Oddly enough, I could see Fleetwood Mac doing this song, if in a slightly altered version.

The next tune "Breathless" crawls along at a glacial pace, and always reminded me of something Black Sabbath would do! the band grinds along, while Welch lays down a heavily distorted, wah wah pedal driven leads. The tune never picks up speed, it just rumbles on to a funky little ending.

Next are two rockers "Rock of Ages" and "Red Rain". "Rock of Ages" could very easily be a Led Zeppelin song. I can't say it copies any particular style, It just has some of the key "features" of a Led Zeppelin song. It features a big drum sound, a phase shifter being used on the guitar much as Jimmy Page would and histryonic vocals right out of Robert Plant's playbook. I don't really say this as a knock, I have always liked the song. Sometimes imitation is the highest form of flattery! The last song "Red Rain" initially has a bit if a country feel to it, but this changes rapidly into another riff driven tune. We are put through a lot of musical stops and starts, and unique guitar solo, and then the song ends abruptly with echoes of Welch saying "rain"

Paris recording at the Record Plant in LA

Parting Thoughts:

This was the first of two albums from Paris,  "Big Towne 2061" being their second. Both were released in 1976, and neither made much of a dent in the charts. By the second album original drummer Thom Mooney had left, and was replaced by Hunt Sales (son of comedian Soupy Sales). "Big Towne 2061" was a quieter, funkier, poppier affair than the first Paris LP.  The music was very similar to what Welch was recording in his solo career post Paris. As a matter of fact some of the material for a proposed third Paris album ended up being on Welch's "French Kiss" LP. The second LP was as many as Paris would make. With low record sales and turmoil within the band Paris disbanded in 1977. Welch went on to successful solo career, while the other musicians faded into musical obscurity. The producer Robinson went on to produce records for many more projects, two of them being bands I quite liked in Detective and Yesterday and Today.

I still really like this album. I think I picked it up at a time when I was really into heavy riffs and big drums, which Paris delivered in spades. Welch would never again deliver anything musically that rocked as hard as the first Paris LP did. I like what he did as a solo artist, but it was much closer to what he was doing in Fleetwood Mac than in the first edition of Paris

This review is a bit of a labor of love, and in one way not very helpful to a reader even if you think you may like the hear this band. The CD reissue of this LP can be prohibitively expensive. It was issued on CD by Zoom Club Records in the 2002 in a unremastered version (which I own). It can also be found, with some hunting, as a remastered import from Japan. If you are old school and still like to use a turn table vinyl copies of this can be found pretty easily. 

If you liked this album you might also enjoy:

Led Zeppelin: Presence

Widowmaker: Too Late Too Cry

Detective: It Takes One to Know One