Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rock. Hard.

Is this my version of a hot red sports car? Ever since I retired from the Loud Family after our last tour in 2000, I find that I just can’t get enough of old school Hard Rock. Could this be a way to deal with a mid-life crisis? Maybe. But I’m lovin’ it and while I had many of these records when they came out, I have been going back and either rediscovering bands I wasn’t into at the time, or discovering bands that passed me by.

I was very surprised that out of the 8 tracks (how appropriate! 8 - track !) I’m offering here, ½ are from 1970. I was 14 years old then and while I do indeed remember getting some of these records that long ago, I think I must have acquired most of them a couple of years later. Some of them I got recently - in the last 5 years or so.

Fire up your Bic and shake your hair (if you still got it) - It’s time to Rock. Hard.

1. Blue Cheer - “Come And Get It” from the LP Outsideinside released in 1968. Forget about flower power for now - this stuff is scary and aggressive. I can’t think of any other band from that era that assaulted my eardrums as much as these guys. And this track is from their more...refined 2nd album! According to the hype, much of this record was recorded outside in Sausalito Ca. just because they were so loud! Whatever, but this song kicks hippie butt. I specifically remember my dad taking me to Eckerd Drugs in Charlotte and letting me pick out a record. I picked this one, probably due to the album artwork more than anything else, but I still love it very much. Wonder if Kurt Cobain was a fan?

2. Bubble Puppy - “Lonely” from the LP A Gathering Of Promises and also released as the b-side to their awesome single "Hot Smoke And Sassafras" in 1969. I love the single and heard it on the radio quite a bit back in the day (funny - Jamie Hoover loved it too, and we tried our best to cover it in the Happy Eggs in the early 80's, but couldn’t quite make it work in a New Wave/Punk context!). Anyway - while "Lonely" doesn’t really start out so hard, hang with it until the end to hear an absolutely mind blowing lead break. I actually saw these guys on American Bandstand!

3.Cactus - “Parchman Farm” from he LP Cactus released in 1970. This is a band that I rediscovered in the last 5 years or so. I saw them open up for Mountain (?) At Charlotte’s Park Center, but wasn’t much interested in them at the time. The rhythm section is Carmine Appice (drums) and Tim Bogert (bass) from the Vanilla Fudge. Could be the deadliest freight train of bass and drums on this planet. It’s interesting that they chose to do this Mose Alison tune 1 year after Blue Cheer recorded it for their debut album Vincebus Eruptum ! Serious smoke is blistering from my poor little computer speakers as I write this!

4. Mountain - “Never In My Life” from the LP Climbing! Released in 1970. Most folks are well aware of "Mississippi Queen", so I chose this song. Classic Hard Rock with their trademark cowbell once again propelling the crunch you hear. What drew me to this band was the involvement of Felix Pappalardi (producer, “musical director” and bass player). I knew of him from Cream. He produced all but one (Fresh Cream) of their LP’s. He sings a beautiful version of "Theme From An Imaginary Western" that is one of my very favorite songs written by Jack Bruce. This is a very solid album. (I’m still kicking myself for not attending a Mountain reunion show in San Francisco about a year ago! Jamie and Mitch Easter both highly recommended that I go, but...I didn’t...sigh..) Mr. Pappalardi was tragically murdered by his wife many years ago, but from what I've heard, Leslie West and Corky Laing (drums) are still gettin’ it done in a grand way.

5. Frijid Pink - “End Of The Line” from the LP Frijid Pink released in 1970. This is probably the newest discovery for me. I remember they had a pretty decent hit (#7 on Billboard) with their cover of "House Of The Rising Son" that year, but I never heard anything else by them until I got a reissue of their debut album about a year ago. The album isn’t all that good - some of the worst production and engineering I’ve ever heard, but they were from Detroit - the city that brought us The Stooges and MC5!

6. Wishbone Ash - “Queen Of Torture” from the LP Wishbone Ash released in 1970. Another recent discovery - I’m not sure I ever even heard this band until I got a greatest hits CD a couple of years ago. I knew of them, but we never crossed paths. Nice "Manic Depression" style beat, and plenty of dueling guitars that for better or for worse, would become a standard sound for many styles of Rock including Metal and Southern Rock.. I like the vocals a lot and this song moves.

7. Uriah Heep - “Love Machine” from the LP Look At Yourself released in 1971. Not sure why, but when I listen to these guys, I sort of chuckle. While they sometimes come off goofy to me (mainly due to the vocals), good heavens were they influential! They really helped set he standard for the Heavy Metal that was to come. Regardless, I think their first 3 or 4 albums are pretty great. Mindless boogie, but done well. I remember seeing them on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and was highly amused when the singer fell backwards against the drum riser and got his shirt caught on one of the tuning pegs on the kick drum. He couldn’t get up, so he finished the song sitting on he riser. Tap!

8. Pat Travers And Carmine Appice - “Evil” from the LP Bazooka released in 2005. Ok, this is definitely the ringer of the bunch, being such a recent recording, but I think this version could rock harder than any rock song I have ever heard. Seriously. On point - it is a cover of a cover recorded on the first Cactus LP of a song written by the fabulous Howlin’ Wolf. The guitar shreds and this is a mind blowing drum track by Mr. Appice. Nothing but power here, and while I don’t have my red sports car yet, this will do just fine.

Here are the songs - I hope you dig 'em!
A Place of Hard Rock Muxtape

Thanks for listening....but if none of this music blows your skirt up, there's always these guys: (Thanks to my pal Dan for turning me on to this incredible video!)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wasn't Mine!

It’s not easy getting to my “unit” at the condos I live in. I park, take an elevator up 5 floors, walk down a hallway and up one more floor, either by stairs or another elevator. Pretty convoluted, but ok by me. A burglar would have a hell of a time negotiating this if he decided to rob my “unit” and make a speedy get away. That was actually a big selling point for me - pretty good security. Living between Oakland and Richmond, stuff like this is important.

But sometimes, the elevator is a place I don’t want to be.

Sorry for the ...uncomfortable subject matter, but there have been occasions when I get in the elevator and quickly realize someone has loaded the damn thing up with.....farts. Whatever...I can deal with that. What I can’t deal with is once I enter and decide to tough it out and ride it down to the parking garage, a very strong ...fear enters into my brain; what the hell am I gonna do if there is someone in the garage waiting to board as I get off, and thinks that I was the one that loaded the elevator up with...fart?

The other night I happened upon that particular scenario and decided to bail out of the elevator before I got to my destination. Couldn’t deal with it, so I took the stairs the rest of the way. I think I made the right decision, but I’m troubled that this troubles me, but not quite as much as I’m troubled that I even posted this, but we’re all adults and I hope we can handle the truth. Farts are funny. Farts are global.

And it's a good thing to take the stairs every now and then.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is William Klesse A True Patriot?

One week - $.04 a gallon increase. Bill, Bill, Bill....You supported Bush for 2 terms, so surely you must agree with his war and his handling of the U.S. economy. Will you sacrifice some of your profits during this special wartime economy? I think that would be patriotic! I wonder if your fellow countrymen will be seeing $5 a gallon gas by July 4 ? I hope not!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Disco Dis Way - I Went Dat Way!

8/21/78 at the Harbor Inn in Rock Hill S.C. was my last gig with Rhapsody. I stuck it out for one year, and what a year it was. I ended up making $7,836.30. This works out to almost exactly $150 a week, as John more or less promised. Going through my records I see that there were a couple of times we were not paid, sometimes we were paid a little, and around the Xmas season I was making $200 a week.

It was a busy year - we played almost every week. We were dismissed a couple of times, and I think it was because we were booked as a 5 piece, but due to shifting personnel, sometimes we were not what we were advertised as. There were a couple of times when we played without a guitarist at all. Young John V. (the keyboardist) was the only player aside from the rhythm section for a few of those gigs (Richard had left to find a happier situation for himself) and I’m sure we must have been terrible!

Things were still dicey due to John and Pam’s affair. In Opelika, Alabama, Pam’s husband made a surprise visit to John and Pam’s hotel room one morning. Richard and I were in our room next door (with Sumo, the Akita of course!), and were woken by the sound of Pam’s husband banging on her (their) door. They never answered (smart) and the husband finally left. These types of things were wearing on all of us, as was the thought of going through another guitarist search, so I decide to quit. I called John to tell him the news. I don’t quite remember what his reaction was, but he wasn’t angry. I think he said something to the effect of “Well Gil Ray, it’s been great working with you!” Cool. I arranged to turn in my jumpsuit and the smoky smelling shirts and wondered who in the hell will be wearing these next? Hope he doesn’t mind the extremely snug crotch and too short pant legs!

I’m extremely grateful for the experience, though. John taught me many things. I came out of Rhapsody a better musician all around. My drumming continued to improve and I was becoming comfortable singing back up vocals. I learned how to be a showman, but knew when to lay back and let Pam have the spotlight. I traveled more than I ever had in my whole life. Mostly in the Carolinas, but some shows took us to Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee.

I was thrilled that Mom would come to a couple of our Charlotte shows. It really felt great to have her see me in a professional setting, making money, and playing at fancy hotel lounges. Her escort was usually my very favorite uncle - Uncle Ambrose. He was the divorced husband of my dad’s sister. He made a point of visiting Mom frequently after Dad died. The 3 of us were more or less drinking buddies and we all had such a good time during his visits! He had a very booming, deep voice. He would sometimes refer to me as “ little bitch!” That would crack up all three of us! Not sure if he was gay or not. He may just have been a little prissy, but he was a great friend to my Mom and myself. He was an amazing man that made Mom laugh. I loved him very dearly.

Speaking of Mom - she was starting to have some serious health problems around this time. She smoked like a chimney and drank all the time. It was sad to watch, but her situation must have sucked. I was the last family member living with her, but I was growing up and getting involved in my own independent world. Her days consisted of checking in on her parents, grocery shopping, dealing with me and most importantly, being alone. Even our lifetime maid, Hazeline, had to quit due to a very unfortunate accident that rendered her husband more or less a vegetable. I hated leaving her all the time. If I wasn’t playing music, I was either sleeping at home or hanging out with my girlfriend (that also wasn’t too keen on my continual absence). I had to do it. I had to somehow develop a sense of self. It was hard, and as usual, I felt very guilty doing this, and man... did that bite me on my ass later on in life. Still does, but in a little bit more..controlled fashion thanks to about $30,000 worth of psycho therapy and doctor prescribed chemicals. It helps.

Soon after Rhapsody, I got a call from Clark P. He was a buddy musician I met at college, and he had an offer for me. His selling point was that in his disco band, all members would be paid equally. No one would be paid on a different scale no matter what they did in the band. He said they were getting paid around the same amount Rhapsody was, but there would be fair distribution of the money. That was appealing to me at this point because I figured John and Pam were probably making around $500 - $1000 a week while the rest of us were making $150 a week. Sounded pretty good. I knew he was a great player. His band was called Skyline, which featured Clark on guitar, Sammy B. on keys, and William on bass. William was African American, and that would be the very first time I would be playing and hanging with a black guy. Sounds silly now, of course, but it was a big deal and I was very excited about this! My Mom loved William. He was super polite and she always liked that. And of course, he was a damned funky bass player that could sing and really entertain. Great stage presence.

Skyline was also looking for a singer and I believe we found one not long after I joined. Her name was Jennetta, and she was African American also. I think our booking agents (McWing Productions which featured Mick - Ebenezer’s old manager! ) recommended her. Not sure what the appeal was, though. She didn’t sing very well, and frankly, wasn't very good looking. She wore terrible clothes and was not a dynamic show person, but we went with her.

Thankfully, there were no jumpsuits in this band. Black pants, white shirts and a black vest was what we wore. It seems moustaches were required too. We quickly took some publicity shots and now we were ready to go. Cool. I hope!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gil Ray's Greed-O-Meter!

Here’s a fun new feature! I call it the Gil Ray Greed-O-Meter and I plan to update it every Friday. Here’s the deal: My neighborhood gas station is a very convenient Valero Gas Station, right up the street from where I live. Valero Energy’s CEO is a man called William Klesse. In 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Mr. Klesse 131st in CEO compensation. At the time of my last pay increase, gas was $1.76 a gallon.
Let’s watch as Bill helps destroy the working class of the United States! Fun!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Rings (leaking) Around (my) Saturn

I really do love my Saturn 2000 L-Series Station Wagon.

Stacey has had 2 Saturns. In the mid 90's, she needed a new car something fierce. She came to California in what is probably the world’s worst car - a mid-80's Chevrolet Celebrity. Horrible piece of crap. We were wanting to boost America’s own car industry, and she particularly wanted a Saturn because they had a good (relatively new) rep and they were built in America, specifically Tennessee. That was a big selling point for her - she had just spent 4 years in Nashville getting a degree in music business at Belmont University.

So we got her one, and she loved it. About 5 years later, I needed a new car and knew right off the bat I would get a Saturn, also. Stacey also had nothing but good things about their service department and after the world’s shortest test drive, I went for it.

It was a luxury car by my standards - leather seats, power (assisted )steering, air conditioning, a kick-ass stereo (CD and Cassette!), and the feature that seemed the silliest to me were ass warmers in the front seats! Seemed real stupid, but I gotta say - I flick that switch every morning and love it! Besides warming my ass, it really loosens up my chronically bad back on my morning commute to work.

Unfortunately, I have had none of the good luck Stacey has had with the service department. It seems that every single time I take the car in, either some bizarre....event would occur at the dealer, or I would bring my car home and they would have screwed something else up causing me to have to take it back. Over and over again. After about 5 trips to get the kick-ass stereo working properly (it would intermittently break up, but never do it while I was there), including a surreal offer by the service manager to switch cars over the weekend so she would have a chance to hear what was going on! We did - nothing. Finally, one day I happened to be driving right by the place, the stereo crapped out, I slammed on the brakes and roared into the service dept. like a banshee and yelled “It’s doing it! It’s doing it ! ”. The other manager ran over, stuck his head in my car, heard the problem and tells the woman manager: “It’s a bad stereo. Put a new one in.” Praise Jesus.

This dealer was in San Rafael, near to my workplace. Super convenient - they would drive me to and from work while they serviced it. Suddenly they were gone, though. Out of business. Goodbye convenience. Time to switch to the Oakland branch.

More shenanigans - they fixed a broken hood latch. Next morning, my car wouldn’t start. They sent a guy out with a charger. I really hoped that would work because I park in a garage, and I don’t think a tow truck could easily fit in there! Well, the poor fellow could not open the freaking hood. He called in, discussed the matter, they told him some trick, he got it done.

I drove it back to the dealer and parked it in the garage, motor running and left for about an hour. Imagine my surprise when I got back to see that not only was my car still parked in the same spot - the motor was still...RUNNING! "Rockne! (service rep) What the hell are you doing? You gonna buy me a tank of gas! What the hell!” “Well Mr. Ray, we didn’t want to turn your car off cause it might not start again”. **sigh**

Anyway, I took my car there every 3000 miles and spent a buttload of money maintaining the car. Last week, I needed another maintenance service and oil change so I called to make an appointment. It did in fact seem very weird that the nice woman answered the phone by saying “Saturn Of Fremont” "What! " “Saturn of Oakland has closed” Great - now the nearest Saturn service dept. is 35 miles away, nowhere near rapid transit. Christ!

Today I took the car in for it’s last Saturn dealership servicing. I found what appears to be a good independent garage right here in Albany, but they couldn’t get to me until next week, so I decided to go ahead and go with Saturn one last time.

In a way it was comforting to see my old buddy Rockne greet me. Good Lord, he must have been as thrilled to see me... He looked under the hood and saw what could be a leak near my power steering gear that I had spent about $2000 to replace 3,000 mile ago! He said that if I had the receipt, the work would be free, but of course, why would I be carrying the receipt around with me for 4 freakin’ months!? No problem, he could pull it up on the computer. Wrong. GM’s computer system was down. Here we go again!!!

He told me that if indeed it was the problem I would be in no danger driving it for a week until I could get the paperwork and drive another 70 mile round trip to fix something they screwed up..again. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem after all, so I left the car for the oil change and walked about 15 minutes to a giant shopping mall. I sat on a bench and read the newspaper I brought with me. 15 minutes later, my cell phone rings and it’s my pal Rockne! I kid you not - “Mr. Ray? Do you have your keys?”

I took it that he didn’t, either.

Of course I panic and tell him that last I saw them, they were in his hands, but I’ll walk back and see what the heck is going on. It was not a very enjoyable 15 minute walk. All of my keys were on the key ring: car, home, garage gate, mail box, bank lock box and my security card to get inside the building I live in. And Stacey is in Illinois for a week. And Joe and Sue, who used to live above us and had a spare key, no longer live there, and boy am I screwed if we can’t find them!

Fortunately he found them and my car was being worked on when I got there. But I no longer have any ill feelings towards Rockne. He told me that not only were many dealerships folding, everyone at Saturn knows that 2,400 jobs are going to be cut - soon. And I thought of the relatively new mall I was hanging out in this morning and many stores were gone or in the process of going out of business. It’s bad out there and it’s getting worse. It’s frightening. As I was in the waiting room at Saturn, an employee asked if I was done with the section of the paper with the employment ads. He wasn’t kidding. I paid my bill and walked up to Rockne and shook his hand. I told him that I really hope things get ok with him and his workmates. My Saturn is running great right now, but this country isn’t. It really is getting bad out there.

* Sidenote: The last time I was at the Oakland service dept., the mechanic told me that I would be due a new timing belt soon. $1200. Great - now I have something to use our “Up with America You Poor Bastards” tax rebate check! Today, Rockne (my new best friend) informed me that my car was a 4 cylinder and doesn’t have a timing belt! Guess we’ll use it for next year’s taxes, now.

** Speaking of Saturn, here’s a link to some absolutely mind-blowing photos of the planet Saturn.
Cassini photos of Saturn

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Iron Butterfly - A Hard Sell!

Get back here! Just be glad it ain’t the Vanilla Fudge! I like them too, but after carefully listening to way too much of them, I decided it would be darn near impossible to justify my love of the Fudge. (But some day...Cactus!)

I love Iron Butterfly and thanks to muxtapes, I’m gonna try my best and ask that you reconsider your disdain for the band, (if indeed you hate them) and give this stuff a listen. Comments welcome.

Forget about In-A-Gadda-Yadda-Yadda-Yadda-Da Vida. While the song is old school iconic, it’s probably most people’s only exposure to the band. I really don’t care if I ever hear that song again, like - really, but I did buy the single (edited down to just under 3:00!) when it came out, and eventually got the album. I’m a drummer, but I loathe drum solos for the most part, and the solo on the album version is as iconic as the riff, but it’s a pretty icky solo. I did see them live in Charlotte sometime around 1970 or so, and thought they were pretty great.

Here are the tracks, with a few comments:
1. Iron Butterfly Theme (from their debut album “Heavy” 1968) - I love band theme songs! Not nearly enough of them, though. Imagine what Scott Miller could’ve come up with writing “Game Theory Theme” ! This is an extremely psychedelic instrumental with a very cool lead/melody line that just buzzes out of a very fuzz toned-out guitar. It’s doubled by a really creepy sounding vocal and/or organ sound that suits me just fine. That sound would stay with the boys for many albums to come and it’s probably the hook type thing that draws me to them. Creepy. Much mind expanding guitar soloing after that first line, and that’s always a good thing.

2. Most Anything That You Want (from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” also 1968!) - This is nothing more that a big fat slab of pure pop. It’s funny - they have a reputation as this heavy-ass rock band, but most of their stuff was fluffy-ass pop! This song features a killer melody, very cool guitar work and it all stays pretty baroque with the hot organ going on. Uh... maybe this is the time to bring up Doug Ingle’s vocals. This could be the big stumbling block for many, but I like it. Not quite as earnest as Mark Stein’s (Vanilla Fudge), but there is a sort of heavy ...push to his voice not unlike David Clayton-Thomas or...Phoebe Snow on steroids. The dude hits his notes and writes good songs!

3. Flowers And Beads (same as above) - Couldn’t you hear the friggin’ Monkees doing this?! Some of the wimpiest pop I’ve ever heard, but it’s awesome! Hippy pop! Funky bass and the ending is....beautiful vocal sweetness. I want some beads! And flowers! My love is true!

4. Soul Experience (from “Ball” 1969) - Seriously. This is one of my very favorite songs of all time. It’s incredible. What a strange...groove! All of the instruments have their own little syncopated space. Fabulous and ethereal sounds glisten and fall like waterfalls of peace and happiness. Cool use of delay and simply marvelous production. An outright beautiful song.

5. In The Time Of Our Lives (same as above) - This is all about the backing vocals. Almost horror movie-like. A very unusual arrangement.

6. In The Crowds (same as above) - More pure, wimpy pop. Almost sounds like what folks on the eastern seaboard call beach music, until of course the chorus creeps up and turns it into some other beast. Short and sweet. Love it

7. To Be Alone (bonus track on “Ball”) - I had never heard this before and it is pretty neat. Weird syncopated verse that appeals to me. Neat-o guitar and a pretty stripped down production for them, but I’m all over the weirdness of this track.

8. New Day ( from “Metamorphosis” 1970) - New guitarists appear, and the band gets a bit tougher sounding. What a cool guitar riff! Simple, but rocks hard. I’m a little partial to this tune because a band I was in (Ebenezer) covered it. Doug’s vocal are just as ...earnest, but maybe toned down just a tad. Flicks my Bic.

**** Hear the Butterfly here! ***

There you go! Hopefully you stuck through most of this and have been enlightened. If not, please don’t hurt me, and remember: No Vanilla Fudge!