Rush show 'Grace Under Pressure'

A look at the paradigm-shifting album that just turned 30
By Peter Lindblad

Rush - Grace Under Pressure 1984
Signals was polarizing. Songs of teenage isolation in suburbia and the uneasy transition from an analog world to a digital one, a heavy dependence on synthesizers and sequencers at the expense of Alex Lifeson's guitars ... reggae? What in the name of John Rutsey was going on?

While Rush was embracing the modern technology of the 1980s and adapting to a quickly changing musical landscape, where New Wave was all the rage and classic progressive-rock was all but extinct, a large portion of its fan base was pining for elaborate concept albums and a renewed emphasis on the word "power" in Rush's fundamental power-trio format.

Some hadn't even stayed with Rush past the transitional Moving Pictures, where the integration of keyboards and a focus on composing shorter, more compact songs with self-contained stories, rather than long, drawn-out storytelling with vague resolutions, was still under construction. Those clinging to the hope that Rush would come to their senses and return to "real" guitar-driven prog-rock would run screaming for home upon hearing 1984's Grace Under Pressure, click their heels and throw on Caress of Steel or 2112 and chant, "There's no place like Toronto. There's no place like Toronto."

Rush's 10th album, Grace Under Pressure turned 30 years old on Saturday, and for those who not only hated the band's new direction, but took it as an outright betrayal, it was the final straw. Geddy Lee's synthesizers continued to push forward, becoming a dominant element in Rush's transformation, and it was clear they weren't going away. That was a bridge too far for some. The Rush they had come to know and love was gone. They were now new world men.

There were loyalists, though, who appreciated Rush's artistic fearlessness and willingness to experiment with new sounds and work in seemingly incongruent mediums like ska and reggae. And it's entirely possible that Rush did win over a new audience that had previously dismissed them as relics of the past, although that's debatable. Most of the punk and New Wave crowd was never going to accept Rush in any form. Their minds were made up.

So, revolution really was in the air when Grace Under Pressure came out. To hardliners, anything past Hemispheres or maybe Moving Pictures was heresy. There were no record burnings or a mob that "moves like demons possessed. Quiet in conscience, calm in their right, confident their ways are best." Those lines are from "Witch Hunt," of course, and in a sense, there was a somewhat similar atmosphere of fear and dread in Rush's fandom as to where the band was going next.

Not quite oblivious to it all, but certainly not in a mood to make any kind of artistic retreat, Rush calmly practiced its craft, forging ahead creatively with a sense that what they were doing was an essential and logical next step. What gets lost in conversations about Grace Under Pressure is that it's one of Rush's most accessible and well-constructed albums. With all of the critical worship that 2012's Clockwork Angels received, and rightly so, it being a record that brought some of the lapsed believers back to the faith, it's not as direct or as fluid as Grace Under Pressure.

Seamlessly, Rush toyed with ska on "The Enemy Within," the clipped rhythmic stabbing of Lifeson's guitar adding energy to the track. And "Afterimage" had a more languid reggae feel to it, but on the whole, Grace Under Pressure was almost futuristic, its clean, contemporary sound shaped by a new producer, Peter Henderson. After Signals, Rush amicably divorced itself from the only producer they'd ever had to that point in Terry Brown, who had butted heads with Rush during the making of Signals. Brown wasn't convinced they were on the right path either.

Heavy subjects like the holocaust and nuclear war were addressed in the  "Red Sector A" and the briskly paced "Distant Early Warning," respectively, with "Red Sector A" taking much of its inspiration from Lee's mother's horrible experiences in Nazi concentration camps. Some have described Grace Under Pressure as a dark record, and with Neil Peart exploring the impact of pressure on human behavior, it's not an LP that's all sunshine and lolly pops. Even the affecting vulnerability of "Kid Gloves" has a world-weary quality to it.

Lee has said of Rush's past lyrical concept journeys that "what you have to say ends being very nebulous." Not so with Grace Under Pressure, which featured compelling stories and ideas that made their points clearly and succinctly. Instrumentally, Lifeson pops up everywhere, his solos so pure of tone, so piercing and agile, and his flashing riffs dynamic and moving with inspired purpose, while Peart's precision and energy startles, Lee's rolling bass lines and complex figures brimming with momentum and natural drive.

And then there's that cover art by Hugh Syme that was so imaginative and alien, juxtaposing turbulence and calm in a way that was perfectly in sync with its music, the urgency and tension of "Distant Early Warning," "The Enemy Within" and "Between the Wheels" providing such striking contrast to Lee's watery synth floods and the occasional airy oasis-like clearings of breathtaking beauty you'd come across. There's an earnest intelligence to Grace Under Pressure that's a breath of fresh air in this age of irony and cynicism, and the melodic topography of the record is not at all flat, but rather it has expansive scenery and interesting peaks and valleys.

Grace Under Pressure continued Rush's evolution, and, on a personal level, it paralleled my own musical exploration. I was getting into The Police at that time. I was listening to the Talking Heads. I was questioning whether or not to hold on to the past and hold close those records I loved from Led Zeppelin, from Yes, from Uriah Heep ... the list goes on and on. U2, Ultravox, The Replacements, and all manner of U.K. and U.S. punk and New Wave acts were taking me further away from my roots, and that was exciting.

Rush would always stay with me, and the plot twists to their career were continually interesting and never boring. I saw them live only one time, and that was on the "Grace Under Pressure" tour, and it was, as it always is with Rush, an awakening. Lifeson has said of Grace Under Pressure that it is the "most satisfying of all our records." For me, it's Moving Pictures, but who am I to argue with Alex freaking Lifeson!

CD Review: Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead

CD Review: Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead
Armoury Records
Gamma Ray - Empire of the Undead 2014

All Access Rating: A-

Wailing to the heavens, as only he can in that dramatic voice of his, the one that once led Helloween to such great heights, Kai Hansen declares, "It's up to you to be forgotten" in the surging symphonic-metal fantasy "Avalon" that serves as the gateway to the Armoury Records release Empire of the Undead, the new album from German power-metal legends Gamma Ray.

Always a potent mix of speed and bombast, Gamma Ray has no intention of being relegated to the dustbins of metal history, not after adding an LP as memorable as Empire of the Undead to their esteemed catalog.

Abandoning any pretense of subtlety, Gamma Ray lets it all hang out on the gloriously operatic "Avalon," a 9:22 shape-shifting theater of magic, deceit and heroism that consists of epic storytelling, soaring strings and powerful, melodic surges of guitars, drums and bass that eventually turns into an angry tempest. The rumbling evil and dark, pounding riffs of "Demonseed" drive a complex tale of a demonic presence looking to spread pain and suffering throughout the earth, while the high-flying "Seven" – reminiscent of Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" – takes an elevator down to hell, as Hansen gives a particularly devilish soliloquy. It's a captivating vocal performance that Hansen gives on Empire of the Undead, as he relishes the chance to assume different roles.

Not always so theatrical, Empire of the Undead doesn't end there. The title a transparent nod to Judas Priest, "Hellbent" is a fast, thrashing ode to the greatness of heavy metal, and it is not only sincere, but also absolutely thrilling, as is the equally fast and furious title track, its guitars full of venom that spreads into the hard-charging "Pale Rider."

Full of diverse compositions, stampeding blast beats, aggressive guitars and dynamic shredding, and Hansen's unique and utterly compelling vocal phrasing, Empire of the Undead is completely over the top and runs on pure adrenaline, that is until Gamma Ray tries to be Queen on the overly earnest "Time for Deliverance." That's when this Empire falls, until revived again by the explosive power-metal back draft of closer "I Will Return." Here's hoping Gamma Ray also comes back again.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Altitudes & Attitude – Altitudes & Attitude

CD Review: Altitudes & Attitude – Altitudes & Attitude
All Access Rating: A-

Altitudes & Attitude - S/T 2014
They've got their "Booze and Cigarettes," they're "Here Again" and they're going to "Tell the World" that bassists, contrary to the recent opinion of Carcass's Jeff Walker, are not just failed guitar players.

Maybe at some point they did give up on playing guitar as their main means of creativity and source of income, but Anthrax's Frank Bello and Megadeth's Dave Ellefson aren't sitting around crying about what might have been. In early 2014, they released a joint EP under the name Altitudes & Attitude, and it wasn't what anybody expected.

Because they hold down the low end for two of the Big Four, Altitudes & Attitude was bound to bear no small resemblance to Anthrax and Megadeth. Either that or it would take the form of some inscrutable bass-heavy experiment that only bassists would enjoy or even understand. Instead, they leaped out of their comfort zones and made an EP of straightforward, melodic – some might even call it "radio friendly" – hard-rock with clean, modern production, life-affirming energy and surprisingly strong, charismatic vocals from, of all people, Frank Bello, who's never really been thought of as lead singer material.

And while both Bello and Ellefson both play guitar on Altitudes & Attitude, although that's Gus G.'s serious fretwork searing the brass-knuckled, hard-charging closer "Here Again" till it's scorched, there's plenty of room for them to take lead on bass and give the instrument its due, exploring all of its potential to form dynamic melodies and well-developed hooks. More impressive is the songwriting, with "Tell the World" an affecting, and ultimately hopeful, yearning for inner transformation and an appeal to mankind's better nature.

There is, however, a reason why "Booze and Cigarettes" was the group's first single, this rousing, uplifting anthem with slashing guitars, driving drums – courtesy of Jeff Friedl, from A Perfect Circle, who control tempos beautifully here – and Bello, all heart and soul, belting out the words as if his life depended it. Their attitude will help you get to a new altitude.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Asia – Gravitas

CD Review: Asia – Gravitas
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B+

Asia - Gravitas 2014
As reflective and almost solemn an album as Asia has ever produced, Gravitas is perhaps the perfect word to describe a recording that examines matters of the heart with such overarching drama and lovelorn longing.

Still technically a super group, although guitarist Steve Howe has seemingly departed for good to concentrate on his work with progressive-rock icons Yes, Asia welcomes a newcomer into the fold in Sam Coulson, joining lead vocalist/bassist John Wetton (King Crimson, UK), drummer Carl Palmer (ELP) and keyboardist Geoff Downes (The Buggles). 

It was Mr. Big's Paul Gilbert who recommended Coulson, and the match is a good one. Coulson's melodic leads and fluid playing fit like a glove, although at times it seems he's straining at the leash to really let loose here and shred like there's no tomorrow. Or maybe he's simply trying to force Asia out its comfort zone, maybe inject some fresh blood into a body that's been in need of a transfusion, even if nobody realized it until his arrival. And the band does seem rejuvenated, making big sweeping epic compositions that have all the hallmarks of past Asia outings.

Immediately apparent is the attention to detail Asia gives to crafting lush arrangements and exquisite, windswept vocal harmonies on the airbrushed Gravitas, such as those that usher in the soaring first single "Valkyrie." Suffused with light and full of amiable hooks, "Nyctophobia," "Heaven Help Me" and the dazzling flood of synthesizers, rich piano, pulsating bass and serrated guitar that make up the bombastic title track are bright, intoxicating aural paintings, all of them written with tighter structures than Asia's prog-rock brethren would ever dare to attempt. If only their tempos weren't so damn sleepy.

Lyrically, Gravitas, out now on Frontiers Records, is extraordinarily introspective, addressing subjects like regret and loss with candor, emotional vulnerability and a graceful ennui that comes with maturity, although it's rather clinical sonically and not at all warm. A particularly harsh self-excoriation, the soul-baring, golden slumber of "Joe DiMaggio's Glove" becomes a metaphor for a soft heart, while the spindly acoustic guitar and Old World imagery of "Russian Dolls," with its trains and vauxhalls, lends an air of mystery, intrigue and forlorn hopelessness to an album that, at times, has a heavy heart. The aching piano ballad "The Closer I Get," so reflective and tender, seems especially sad. 

Some will always dismiss Asia's overblown romanticism, their earnest sentimentality and their lightweight pop inclinations, which always belied their instrumental complexity. Gravitas has all of that. And the scornful might scoff at the fantastical cover art of Gravitas, as Asia has always gone for that Roger Dean look but with a slightly less sci-fi influence and more mythical serpents and dragons, although this one appears to have come straight out of "Avatar." Still, there was a time in 1982 when they were as big as anybody in music, their debut album surprisingly becoming Billboard's No. 1 album of the year. The people have spoken when it comes to Asia, who sound more and more like the Moody Blues every year. And there's something about them people seem to like.
– Peter Lindblad

New Judas Priest album coming soon

Get a load of the new image

Such teases, those men of Priest.

Short on details, the Judas Priest camp is heralding the pending release of a new album today. And the metal gods' representatives say it is coming soon.

There's not much more to the announcement than that, except for the image included with this posting, but there has been a great deal of Internet chatter and fairly vague comments from the Priest' inner circle about completion of the record.

Visit the Judas Priest website to keep up with all the news as it filters out.

Night Ranger taking the 'High Road'

New album from arena-rock veterans due out June 10

Night Ranger 2014
Photo by Grady Brannan
Sister Christian is just a memory for Night Ranger. Now, the arena-rock stalwarts are taking the High Road

Just announced today, Night Ranger has confirmed a June 10 North American release date for a new studio album they produced themselves called High Road, to be released via Frontiers Records. 

Of the new album, frontman and bassist Jack Blades, also the band's main songwriter, remarked, "It's almost summer and a great time to take a trip down the High Road! Our new record features classic Night Ranger feel-good, high-energy, kick-ass rock 'n' roll. We can't wait for our fans to hear."

Chiming in, drummer/singer Kelly Keagy, "We're so proud of this new record and excited to get back on the road to bring the new music to our fans."

Click here to check out an EPK on the making of the album.

Night Ranger - High Road 2014
Available in two formats - a standard CD version and a deluxe version that includes two bonus tracks and a DVD on the making of High Road that also features video clips - High Road can be pre-ordered now at Amazon as the standard version here and as the deluxe version here

This year, Night Ranger, best known for hits like "Sister Christian," "(You Can Still) Rock in America" and "Don't Tell Me You Love Me," will be touring North America and the rest of the world. 

The band consists of Blades, Keagy, lead and rhythm guitarists Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra and keyboardist Eric Levy.

For more information, visit and

Here's the track listing for High Road:

1. High Road

2. Knock Knock Never Stop

3. Rollin' On

4. Don't Live Here Any More

5. I'm Coming Home

6. X Generation

7. Only For You Only

8. Hang On

9. St. Bartholomew

10. Brothers

11. L.A. No Name

12. The Mountain Song*

*only available on the deluxe edition.

Neal Schon's 'Exotica' video premieres

Journey guitarist joined by Castronovo, Mendoza on new album 'SO U'
By Peter Lindblad

Neal Schon 2014
Photo by Robert Knight
Just because he likes to step out on the love of his life, Journey that is, on occasion doesn't mean Neal Schon doesn't love her. They seem to have an open marriage, and that's cool.

Jamming with friends and exploring new territories in jazz fusion, blues and hard rock is Schon's way of expressing the creativity and virtuoso musicianship that sometimes gets stifled with such a commercially successful outfit like Journey. A man like Schon cannot live by the financially sustaining bread of "Don't Stop Believin'" alone.

On the upcoming release SO U, due out on Frontiers Records May 19, Schon gets together with a couple of like-minded musical adventurers to go wherever the wind, and their own imaginations, take them. Drummer Deen Castronovo, known for his work with Journey and Ozzy Osbourne, among others, and bassist Marco Mendoza, who's worked with the likes of Ted Nugent, Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy, are the two brave souls joining Schon this time around, while Jack Blades, of Night Ranger/Damn Yankees fame, stayed home and did a lot of the co-writing.

A video of "Exotica," the first release from SO U, premiered on Vintage Guitar yesterday, and you can see it here:

Against a backdrop of ever-changing, computer-generated psychedelic imagery, the trio playfully and joyously performs with improvisational fire, mind-blowing instrumental wizardry and unbridled enthusiasm. It's upbeat, sunny jazz fusion amplified with the powerful drive and edge of meaty rock 'n' roll and more expansive psychedelia than Schon has displayed on past efforts, like 2012's critically acclaimed The Calling.

Caught in the wild cosmic storm of Mendoza's bubbling bass, the captivating fills and crazed beats of Castronovo, and Schon's own soaring guitars are short conversations with the three, as they explain the project and what it means for them.

While the video itself is not exactly an artistic triumph – with Schon, Mendoza and Castronovo seeming to be set into a "Tron"-like world, only this one has more fiery scenery – the three give a master class on how to play with both precision and whimsy. Jazz purists might turn their noses up at this kind of thing, but to watch three supremely talented musicians showing off their chops is really entertaining and it's a good composition, with clear melodic elements and strong cohesive bonds. If nothing else, "Exotica" should wow worshippers of instrumental music.

SO U can be pre-ordered now via iTunes, Amazon and the Journey online store. Those who purchase SO U now via iTunes will receive "Exotica" as an instant gratification track.

CD Review: Conan – Blood Eagle

CD Review: Conan – Blood Eagle
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: B

Conan - Blood Eagle 2014
Patience is a virtue, and Conan will reward those who don't jump ship five minutes into the engrossing "Crown of Talons," the 10:06 behemoth of monstrous, primeval doom metal that opens Blood Eagle.

Emerging from earth's deepest, darkest bowels to take stock of humanity in all its ugliness, the Napalm Records release Blood Eagle is a ponderous beast of a record, its enormous riffs – corroded by distortion and tuned down to dredge the bottom of some polluted lake – towering high above apocalyptic scenes of death and destruction. Flooding into the similarly cast "Total Conquest," "Crown of Talons" is spellbinding, an arduous, trudging death march into a blackened pit of despair.

And it is a long, long hike, the terrain growing more and more treacherous with every step. Change comes slowly, as midway through "Total Conquest," Conan starts to churn and writhe, before returning to its well-worn path of devastation. The heaviest sludge to navigate is found in "Horns for Teeth," its malevolent growl that of a massive, feral animal that wants nothing more than to crush the bones of its prey into powder and feast on its flesh. There is great torque in the riffs of "Altar of Grief," and it is an incredible seismic event.

Blood Eagle makes SUNN O))) seem like easy listening, and it doesn't quake in fear of Eyehategod, as the vocals, sounding so distant, seem to come from a place of unbearable pain and the guitars dwarf mountains. Rarely, however, do these English dregs stray from that monotonous tempo and sound that they live in, and Blood Eagle becomes the ultimate test of endurance, causing many to flee in fear or out of sheer boredom.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Offenders – We Must Rebel/I Hate Myself/Endless Struggle

Offenders – We Must Rebel/I Hate Myself/Endless Struggle
Southern Lord
All Access Rating: A-

Offenders - We Must Rebel/I Hate Myself/
Endless Struggle 2014
No history of Texas hardcore would be complete without a generous chapter devoted to Offenders. Roaring out of Killeen in 1978, Offenders brought their vitriolic rage and roiling energy to Austin two years later, showcasing rare musical prowess for a punk act while never losing that thirst for throat-burning shots of pure sonic violence.

Eager to toss a Molotov cocktail in the face of Reagan conservatism, Offenders and their brothers in arms, D.R.I. and M.D.C., rebelled against anything and everything that was remotely fascist, and they did so with strong song-oriented material rooted in '70s hard rock. In guitarist Anthony Johnson, a.k.a. Tony Offender, they had a skilled player with a bag full of tough, dynamic riffs who could solo like a madman, and bassist Mikey "Offender" Donaldson coaxed bubbling fury out of a Rickenbacker, leaving drummer Pat Doyle, who currently also plays with metal outfit Ignitor, and vocalist JJ Jacobson barely enough room to vent their respective spleens.

Offenders broke up in 1986, and Johnson, who became heavily involved in Civil War reenactments, and Donaldson have since passed on. Honoring their memory, both Offenders' LPs, Endless Struggle and We Must Rebel, have been packaged together with the fiery "I Hate Myself"/'Bad Times" 7-inch by Southern Lord in one blazing 25-track reissue.

Scorching guitars, suffocating environments and brawling rhythms power the short bursts of blowtorch punk that are "Coming Down," "Get Mad" and "Inside the Middle," a trio of swirling sonic maelstroms that clock in under two minutes. Every so often, Offenders toss in a curveball, like a raw, serrated cover of the Motown classic "You Keep Me Hanging On" or the Deep Purple-like "Endless Struggle," which features an organ intro that Jon Lord would admire and good, sure hooks. Heavy and metallic, "Bad Times" slowly, and beautifully, corrodes and almost dissolves, before reigniting a punk firestorm that burns up everything in sight, and "You Got a Right" is gathering darkness lit up only by the sparks coming off Johnson's guitar.

Offenders never quite get as locked-in as Minor Threat, preferring to play with more reckless abandon, Johnson's buzz-saw guitars – drawing blood and cutting off limbs in speeding "Face Down in the Dirt" and "Victory" – actually holding it all together to keep it from blowing apart. Doyle and Jacobson have revived Offenders, and if they have half the inspiration and violent musicianship of the original, they'll do just fine.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Deep Purple – Live in California '74

CD Review: Deep Purple – Live in California 74
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A
Deep Purple - Live in California 74

To borrow a phrase from Hunter S. Thompson, 1974 was the year the Mark III version of Deep Purple "stomped on the terra."

In February of that year, after welcoming then-unknown blues howler David Coverdale and Trapeze artist Glenn Hughes into the fold, Purple released the explosive pressure-cooker of crashing rock 'n' roll and hard-bitten British soul that was Burn, which lived up to its name and then some. The old masters had learned some new tricks.

Then came a triumphant promotional tour, capped off by a rousing co-headlining gig in the spring at the California Jam Festival with Emerson, Lake & Palmer, although it's Purple's wildly energetic, high-voltage performance – previously released on DVD in 2006 and now out on CD and in digital forms from Eagle Rock Entertainment to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the event – that everyone still talks about.

Where Woodstock was a chaotic melting pot of bad acid, unabashed nudity, peace and love, gridlocked traffic, dancing flower children and stirring performances, California Jam was all business. It didn't lose money, like Woodstock did. It was the highest-grossing music festival of the time, attracting around 250,000 people. And it was orderly and went off without a hitch, serving as a template for more corporate festivals that were to come. Perhaps that's part of the reason why history seems to forget about California Jam 1974, as it goes on and on about 1967's Monterey Pop Festival or the Love Generation-killing tragedy of Altamont.

Whatever its cultural significance, there was no doubting California Jam's commitment to heavy volume, as the festival boasted what was considered the loudest amplification system ever. What better band then to test the limits of that audacious rig than Deep Purple, as hungry and as savagely brilliant as ever in this raw, but potent and lusty, recording of that momentous occasion.

Smashing through the gates, Purple plows through the frenzied title track from Burn as if intent on leaving nothing behind but smoldering wreckage, the blustery organ of Jon Lord and the tenacious guitar riffs of Ritchie Blackmore – all of it designed with bewildering complexity – trying their best to drown out Hughes' falsetto screams. It's a thrilling beginning, and Purple doesn't stop to catch their breath.

Grueling and pained, "Mistreated" writhes in its own deep and hopeless sense of loss and betrayal before turning its face to the sun, as Purple transitions from anguished growl to expansive, dream-like alienation and then opens up to slowly brightening skies. Crazed, complicated jams, like the manic episodes of a 19:32 "You Fool No One/The Mule" that find Blackmore and Lord dueling like psychotic swordsmen, are captivating and electrifying, but Deep Purple really goes to work on the earthy "Might Just Take a Life" and a fevered "Lay Down, Stay Down" – both off Burn, and both have sweat just pouring off them. Their stamina is put to an even more rigorous examination on a 26-minute "Space Truckin'" that keeps driving long after the tank has emptied, Purple growing quiet and almost jazzy before erupting like a volcano.

Live in California 74 is a vital piece of history, but it also captures, in stark relief, the creative tensions that were fueling this rebirth, with the primal, blue-collar R&B wailing, churning grooves and emotional weight of Hughes and Coverdale's burgeoning partnership fighting off the blazing horsepower of the original Purple, the Purple of Lord and Blackmore clinging to tradition and stubbornly drawing and redrawing classically inspired figures and shapes. Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the charged atmosphere of a sweltering, shape-shifting "Smoke on the Water," where the old guard and the new seem hell-bent on carving out their own territory and aren't above committing acts of trespass.

It would only intensify in the coming weeks and months, forcing Blackmore to reevaluate his priorities and eventually leave to form Rainbow. For this occasion, however, at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, Calif., of all places – ironic considering Purple's love of driving songs – they were jubilant, inspired and full of piss and vinegar.
– Peter Lindblad

Foghat: A 'Slow Ride' to the top, Part 2

The highs, the lows and the future
By Peter Lindblad

Foghat 2014: Charlie Huhn, Craig MacGregor,
Roger Earl and Bryan Bassett
(Photo by Steve Sirois)
Not everyone survived Foghat's seemingly endless touring cycles. There were casualties of the road, including bassist Tony Stevens, who had had his fill of it in 1974.

Weeks, months and years spent playing show after show after show left little time to record. Despite that they did manage to follow up their self-titled debut with a second self-titled LP – often referred to as Rock and Roll, due to the cover, which featured a bakery roll and a rock – as well as 1974's Energized and a pair of 1975 efforts, Rock and Roll Outlaws and the seminal Fool for the City LP.

All, except for Fool for the City, were recorded during Foghat tours, with the band entering whatever studios they could when they found a little free time.

"It was pretty weird, actually," said Earl. " Anytime you think that [if you spend] weeks or whatever in the studio, everything's getting improved. But we were going to studios for maybe a couple of days to try to lay down the stuff, and then we'd go somewhere else. It wasn't our idea. I think our second album and Rock and Roll Outlaws ... they were a little difficult and were made in a number of different studios and mixed in different places. It was okay, but whereas the first album, we did it all in one place, with the same producer and we had time, I thought that album worked really well."

For a long time, Earl wasn't so keen on either Rock and Roll and Rock and Roll Outlaws. Earl remembers the making of both being rather trying experiences.

Roger Earl behind the kit for Foghat
(Photo by Steve Sirois)
"We did both of those albums kind of piecemeal in different studios," explained Earl. "We didn't know exactly where. We'd go in for a day or two and do it. And then we'd go and do something somewhere else. That I found a little difficult, but having said that, both those albums I had to listen to about a year or so ago, because they were being re-released in Asia and Europe, packaging them all together. I had to listen to them and sort of talk to people about it. And I was surprised how much I enjoyed them. I'd forgotten how they actually sounded, and I thought, 'I don't remember them being this good (laughs).' At the time, you're always very critical, especially when you're in the studio, about whether it's good enough. That's probably the hardest thing to do is to let something go.

Fool for the City was a different experience. Foghat had time, and Nick Jameson, on their side.

Genius level
Along with producing the Fool for the City record, Jameson also took over for the departed Stevens on bass. His musicianship was almost supernatural, and Foghat made good use of it.

Earl became acquainted with Jameson during the recording of Foghat's first album.

"We mixed a couple of songs – a song called 'Gotta Get to Know You,'" said Earl. "He mixed 'Gotta Get to Know You' and he remixed a couple of other things with Dave Edmunds around 1970. So that was my first meeting, and then the second time I met Nick was at Bearsville (Studios in Bearsville, N.Y.). We were just doing some demos and stuff up in Bearsville, and Nick was the resident engineer at the label. Nick and I got real close. I loved the man, an absolute genius as a musician, and I loved working with him, even though that didn't quite work out apparently, but then he came in from time to time over the years."

Living up in Woodstock, N.Y., Earl and Jameson had the opportunity to hang out together often.

"We'd go and play badminton together, or we would go out and jam together at various places, up at the barn, because there were much better musicians up there," said Earl. "I was very closed off up there at Woodstock, and we became very good friends. I loved Nick. I probably learned more from Nick about music and musical things and playing and everything else than any other singular person."

A man of many talents, Jameson wasn't the first choice to replace Stevens, according to Earl's memory.

"So when Tony Stevens left the band in 1974, I think I'd moved to Bearsville, though I shared a house down there on Long Island with Rod Price," said Earl. "Actually, we auditioned (current Foghat bassist) Craig MacGregor, and I liked him, but I think our manager didn't think it would work. So I'm back at Woodstock, and I'm hanging out with Nick, and I said, 'Nick, do you play bass?' He said, 'Yeah, the first thing I picked up was bass.' I said, 'Do you want to join the band?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'All right.' And then he said, 'Hold on. I don't have a bass.' I said, "Oh, so what do we do?' He said, 'I know somewhere we can rent one.' And I said, 'All right. Let's go.' And he said, 'It's 4 o'clock in the morning.' And I said, 'Oh, do you want to hit the bar?' And he said, 'Yes, Roger (laughs).' So then we rented a bass guitar."

Jameson's initiation would have to wait, but when the moment arrived, it was magical.

"At the time I had a 1967 convertible Corvette 427, a bit of a monster," related Earl. "I've always loved cars. I'm a car man. Picking up, we had the top down, and on the way down, the rear axle broke on the car. We were doing about 80 miles per hour, and the rear axle breaks, the swing axle on the back ... one of them broke, all of a sudden. I thought, 'Oh, shit!' Then we pull off the road, and there was a Chevy dealership there. We pull in there, and we could see the car wasn't doing very well at the time. It was sort of stuck up in the rear. They said, 'Well, this is an old car.' And I said, 'Yeah, I know. Can you fix it?' And they said, 'Well, yeah, but it'll cost a bit of money.' Then I call a cab, and Nick and I get in the cab, and we go out to Long Island, and then it started. In fact, we were rehearsing in the house Rod and I shared down there, where we soundproofed the basement. And that's where 'Slow Ride'came from, from a jam."

Jameson hasn't been given enough credit for his role in the creation of "Slow Ride," still a staple on classic rock radio.

"He had everything to do with it," said Earl. "And the fact that he didn't get a writing credit for it ... well, that was it. The arrangement was basically everything that we jammed that night. Nick obviously did the bass playing part, also the break ... every break that was there, Nick came in with. In fact, even the intro, although I claim I wrote it, it was Nick who actually suggested it: 'Hey Rog, just go back.' And I said, 'What do you mean, go back?' 'Just go back.' I said, 'Like this?' He said, 'No, no ... back.' I said, "Oh, you mean like ... bang. Oh, okay.' So I did ... got on to the bass drum. And he said, 'Yeah, that's it.' (laughs) It's basically a John Lee Hooker riff. Instead of playing it like a shuffle, you straighten it out. In fact, the jam part was very similar to what ended up on the record. We even sped it up like on the record, and the middle part, Nick wrote, like the rhythm playing and all that stuff. He didn't get credit for it, but he did get credit for producing it."

Around the same Peverett was trying to learn how to play the saxophone. He would practice at all hours in his hotel room and the house where Foghat was working on Fool for the City.

"And when you're hanging out with a bunch of musicians, you don't say to somebody, 'Here, can you shut the f--k up?'" laughs Earl.

When Jameson heard Peverett's sax, Jameson became inspired.

"So the next morning, Nick goes out behind this secondhand store, and he finds a saxophone, and when we got to the studio, Nick had probably had this instrument for maybe an hour or two, if that," said Earl. "He'd already learned to play it. Dave had been practicing for years to learn to play this instrument. So Nick now is writing charts for sax players, and Dave had a song called 'Going to the Mardi Gras' It didn't make it on the record. I don't know where it is, but anyway, Nick and Dave had all these horn parts written. We recorded the song, and I think Nick also put piano on it. So it had that Mardi Gras kind of feel to it. I don't know what happened to it, but that's typical of his genius."

There was cause for jubilation in the aftermath of Fool for the City, as the band garnered its first platinum record, the infectious, galvanizing anthems "Fool for the City" and the slide-guitar slathered "Slow Ride" fueling rising album sales.

Jameson, though, wanted to get off the ride. He had aspirations of working on his own solo material.

Fishing hole
Able to work at their own pace, with a skilled producer and engineer in Jameson always at their beck and call, Foghat made an album for the ages in Fool for the City, and the record-buying public ate it up.

"Fool for the City was an album we actually took time off and recorded in just one place, and it was just the band and our engineer and producer, Nick Jameson," said Earl. "And I thought that worked really well. Anytime we were just in one place, and we could lock ourselves away, I think the music benefited. Having said that, we were a touring band. We didn't have the luxury of time, where we were going to say take six months off and actually make a record. We did take time to do the Fool for the City album ... in the end, it we proved it to be the right decision (laughs)."

As always, Foghat's sense of humor helped ingratiate them with their fans. The cover for Fool for the City is one that's always given Earl and a lot of people a good laugh. Away from rock and roll, Earl loves to fish. Jameson thought they might be able to use that.

"I'm pretty sure Nick was the one who suggested it," said Earl. "I should ask him about it. I think it was his idea, because anytime I had some time off or I was wanting to unwind, I would go fishing. I'd grab a rod and go."

Foghat - Fool for the City 1975
Needing an idea for a cover photo, Jameson liked the idea of having Earl do some angling in an unlikely place.

"I think we'd finished the record actually, and we were out on Long Island, and we got up early one Sunday morning, drove to Manhattan with a pole, lifted up the manhole cover and started fishing," Earl related. "And a couple of New York's finest came along and said, 'Hey, you got a license?' Because I had a pole, and I said, 'Oh, shit.' And he said, 'Do you have a fishing license?' (laughs) They said, 'What the f--k are you guys doing?' And we explained to him what we were doing, and they said, 'Oh, okay.' So they just made sure the taxis and other cars wouldn't go down the manhole or anything. They're New York's finest, and they laughed at it. They were more worried about murderers, robbers and rapists ... not some rock 'n' rollers pulling up manhole covers (laughs)."

The fun didn't stop there for Foghat. In fairly short order, they found a replacement for Jameson, calling back Craig MacGregor to give him the job. In 1976, Foghat released another gold effort in Night Shift, which boasted another classic track, "Drivin' Wheel."

"'Drivin' Wheel' is probably one of my all-time favorite songs," said Earl. "I love the way it starts, and I thought Craig MacGregor played really cool bass on it.

Foghat - Night Shift 1976
Night Shift was not an easy birth, as Earl remembers it.

"That was a learning experience on that record," said Earl. "In the end, it turned out well, but you know, sometimes the music comes easy and everything sort of flows, and other times, you have to really work at it."

According to Earl, Foghat would lay down basic track in Long Island in a mobile unit, while also working on backing tracks in Manhattan. Dan Hartman served as producer.

"We'd been working with some stuff, and we went over to his studio, and I really like the way he plays," said Earl of Hartman. "He's a very talented musician, and he has great ideas. He's an excellent recording engineer, and we recorded in his house. And it is was this really nice big house, huge big rooms for the drums."

The accommodations were wonderful. Earl said, "What happened on that album was we were really working, but we were working in a really nice environment," said Earl. "We stayed in that house, and we'd get up anytime we wanted and play, and Dan had this fabulous cook ... I remember she was from Jamaica. This woman was absolutely beautiful and made some of the best food."

They ate well, but Peverett and Price were at loose ends, as Earl recalled. "The problem with doing that album was Dave and Rod, I think would come up against a brick wall." Still, it was an enjoyable time for the band, especially with guests like Edgar Winter lending a hand on backing vocals and keyboards.

Foghat - Foghat Live 1977
All of this was prelude to the biggest-selling album of their career, 1977's Foghat Live. It exceeded 2 million copies in sales, but Foghat wasn't about to rest on their laurels, as the band released Stone Blue in 1978, the studio tension between the band and producer Eddie Kramer resulting in a more aggressive sound.

Change of fortune
As Foghat headed into the '80s, however, their commercial fortunes waned and wholesale lineup changes added to their frustration. Price was the first to leave in November, 1980, and MacGregor followed him out the door in 1982, only to return two years later. Jameson came back, playing on In the Mood for Something Rude and Zig Zag Walk.

The biggest hit of all came in 1984, when Peverett departed and went back to England. That one forced Foghat to disband, but only for a short while, as Earl, MacGregor and Price's replacement, Erik Cartwright, regrouped with a new guitarist/singer in Eric (E.J.) Burgerson. Peverett returned to the U.S. in 1990 and formed his own Lonesome Dave's Foghat. Bassett was a part of it.

Three years later, producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin negotiated a reunion of the original Foghat lineup, which released a couple of albums in the '90s. Price would leave again after a second tour of duty, leading to Bassett being welcomed into the fold for good.

Joining forces again brought Earl and Peverett closer than ever. They spent a great deal of time together reminiscing and finding out that when they were much younger, they'd gone to a lot of the same concerts.

"Yeah, we talked about that on our last tour that we did together," said Earl. "It was kind of cool, because we had calmed down somewhat over the years, and afterward, we'd sit in the back of the bus and Dave would put on some music. He was the resident DJ. And we'd sit there having some cheese and crackers and drinking some wine, and we'd talk about stuff we did when we were kids, and who we'd go and see. And it would be like, 'Oh, were you there?' It was strange, because we'd been together since 1967, or something like that, playing together and we'd never really talked about it, seeing Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry."

Peverett died in 2000, complications from kidney cancer being the cause. Price shuffled off this mortal coil five years later. In 2010, the Foghat lineup of Earl, MacGregor, Bassett and Charlie Huhn – the one that's been together now for years and continued the band's legacy of busy touring – finally completed a project that Peverett and Earl had always dreamed of doing: the blues album, Last Train Home.

And Foghat is working on something that might just top it.

"Well, we've already done a couple of weeks of rehearsing and recording and writing, and we're going to start writing and recording again," said Earl. "We've already picked out a number of songs that we want to do. I've got three or four tunes, with lyrics and stuff, that are written, as I'm sure Bryan and Charlie and Mac do. And we're going to probably have some guests on this album. I find that rather refreshing. When (blues legend and longtime friend of Foghat)  Eddie Kirkland came up it gave us the idea (on Last Train Home). Eddie is no longer with us. I think we'll have some guests and other players joining us. It's always fun when somebody else sort of joins the band for a while, whether it's my brother (Colin Earl, electric keyboard player for Mungo Jerry) or somebody on harp singing or playing guitar."

For Earl, that's the good stuff.

"Playing music is a joyful thing, so playing it with someone else has got to be joyful, right?" said Earl. "Charlie and I were talking the other day about maybe doing a couple of blues songs, or maybe another thing I did back when I was in Savoy Brown. He's a big, huge Savoy Brown fan, so we might resurrect one of them as well. It worked. The idea of sitting down and picking out the songs you really like, and then there's also something to be said for four people being productive and writing original stuff, as well. It will probably be a year along similar lines, but hey, who knows?"

CD Review: Hatriot – Dawn of the New Centurion

CD Review: Hatriot – Dawn of the New Centurion
Massacre Records
All Access Rating: B+

Hatriot - Dawn of the New Centurion 2014
Charlton Heston wasn't going to give up his guns, not while he was alive anyway. Those enemies of freedom that dared try would have to kill him first.

Before God and country, and members of the National Rifle Association, this steely-eyed "cowboy" once held a rifle above his head and warned that the only way they'd take it was "from my cold, dead hands."

Michael Moore made a big deal about it in "Bowling for Columbine," his scathing indictment of the pro-gun lobby. And now, Steve "Zetro" Souza, the former Exodus front man who now heads up the unstoppable thrash-metal throwback Hatriot, is offering a counterpoint, unearthing audio of Heston's quote to introduce "My Cold Dead Hands," an intense and vicious defense of the Second Amendment and gun rights that opens the band's ferocious sophomore effort Dawn of the New Centurion.

Souza is just as passionate about preserving the basic tenets of thrash, as Dawn of the New Centurion provides the kind of visceral thrills, relentless sonic violence and startling energy that started the wildfire that engulfed metal in the early days of Metallica, Souza's own Legacy – which would morph into Testament – and, not to be outdone, Exodus. A seething cauldron of frenzied thrash, Dawn of the New Centurion is barely harnessed thrash-metal fury, comprised of indestructible song structures, hammering drums, a bewildering variety of raging, high-velocity guitar riffs – courtesy of the mysteriously named Kosta "V" – and Souza's demonic, almost reptilian vocals.

Gnashing his teeth in the midst of dizzying cyclones of sound, Souza loads lethal doses of venom into murderous, vengeful lyrics, his hell-spawned screeds coming through loud and clear in the chugging, surging monolith "Superkillafragadisticactsaresoatrocious," and its earthquake of a successor, the dangerously seismic, hard-charging "Silence in the House of the Lord." Even more brutal and punishing is the rampaging "World Funeral," a Slayer-like blitzkrieg of death and destruction with an explosive solo from Kosta "V" that is pure hell fire.

And that's not the only example of his electrifying speed and brilliant tonality, as Hatriot displays an innate ability to vary tempos, with the blistering "Your Worst Enemy" running smack dab into the heavy wrecking ball that is "The Fear Within," its building drama, stampeding blast beats and melodic guitars erupting into a riot that keeps escalating. The aggression is amplified, and so is the excitement, as Hatriot races toward the heart-stopping closer "Consolation for the Insane," bringing this crazed carnival ride to a blazing end.

At times, the sonic carnage not only threatens to overwhelm any semblance of melody, it burns the evidence, and because of this, Dawn of the New Centurion might be a powerhouse record with classy production that hits like a brick to the face, but its songs are far from memorable. Not quite as raw as its predecessor, Dawn of the New Centurion is, nevertheless, a shot of adrenaline to the heart, scary and bestial, moving with instrumental agility, a fast pace that would kill anybody with a heart condition and slashing sharpness. The family affair that is Hatriot – Souza's sons Cody, on bass, and Nick, on drums, round out the lineup – is not at all dysfunctional, at least not musically speaking.
– Peter Lindblad