Monday, April 30, 2012
That was in August of 2009, and almost three years later, I'm scratching my head and wondering why Stone Axe aren't flying to gigs in their own 747, when I wake up and realize that the times have changed a good deal.
T. Dallas (Tony) Reed is the band's guitarist, but more than that, he is Stone Axe to a large degree. He writes the songs, he plays all the instruments on most of the band's first two albums, sings lead on some, and the idea behind the band is solely his conception.
"It would be one thing to do a bunch of seventies styled tributes, but the thing is to do them with soul, to get the the feeling and the vibe right," Reed explains. "A song like Turned To Stone, well, some people might think that it might be too close to Procol Harum, but I think it works perfectly - it could have easily fit into that period."
He's right, the song is clearly meant to recapture the vibe of Whiter Shade of Pale, but more than that, it easily could have been the follow up single, and it would have greatly added to Procol's legacy, and that is what Reed is gunning for - not just to recreate the sounds, songs, and bands of rock's golden era, but to actually create music that takes the trip a little further, to keep alive the sound of great rock and roll. When I heard Stone Axe's cover of Cream's SWLABR it was so eerily reminiscent of the original that I had to listen to both back to back. Reed had nailed it. I was especially impressed by his drumming, which is brilliant. In fact, if I have a quibble with the live album, it may just be that Reed is a better rhythm section on the band's studio work.
Reed has just returned from a very successful tour of the UK and Europe with Stone Axe, and he's already deep into several recording projects. The guy is tremendously prolific - after Mos Generator went on hiatus in 2009, Stone Axe has been his main thrust, keeping extremely busy by releasing two long players (each with great Deluxe versions that include copious extra tracks, and live gems), a multitude of splits with other bands, EPs, and singles, and now the live set from the Roadburn Festival 2011. In addition to all of this, Reed is also working on an as yet unnamed country rock project with his outstanding Stone Axe rhythm section of bassist Mike Dupont and drummer Mykey Haslip. Vocalist Dru Brinkerhoff, a singer who is obviously quite comfortable in many guises, is an integral part of the Stone Axe equation.
Brinkerhoff's vocals are raggedy edged, and full of passion and feeling as he brings back memories of Stevie Marriott, David Coverdale, Bon Scott, and Paul Rodgers within moments in some of Stone Axe's catalog, but he still menages to stand tall as his own man. He covers a lot of familiar territory, but more often than not he sounds like someone you may have missed in days gone by as opposed to a mere copyist. His contribution to the band can't be discounted - he's certainly a star in his own right.
His performances throughout Captured Live... indicate that had the band came along 35 or 40 years earlier, Stone Axe would have fitted quite comfortably next to Bad Company and Humble Pie. Between Reed's encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock guitar playing, and Brinkerhoff's wailing, it is easy to shut one's eyes and imagine a day when such a band would be selling out hockey arenas, and collecting platinum records. From the set opening instrumental, Stonin' straight through to the set closer Nightwolf, neither this band, nor this record ever stops, or even comes up for air.
I thought that my hearing some prog influence may have been misguided until I recently heard Reed's as of yet unreleased cover of the King Crimson classic, In The Court of the Crimson King. It is an incredible performance, and truly shows exactly how gifted the man is in the studio. Huge keyboards, soaring electric guitars, sublime acoustic flourishes, thunderous drums, and some great vocals (including harmonies).
The most commercial project Reed has worked on in the last year may be his production of the first Saint Vitus studio album in 17 years, and the first to feature vocals by Scott (Wino) Weinrich in 22 years. Titled Lillie: F-65, after the powerful and once popular barbiturate, the album was lauded by Sputnik Music: "The record is as doomy and dark as Saint Vitus can get. A great return to the music scene, each song on the record is heavier, more pessimistic, and bleaker than the previous, making this a must have for 2012." Part of the beauty is Reed's passion for recording on tape. Twenty four tracks down to two, all on glorious 2" tape.
If this seems like a case of artistic overload, I submit to you that Reed is keen on keeping high quality a major goal, and has succeeded heroically thus far. He's talking about a return to Europe later this year, possibly as an acoustic proposition featuring just himself, and Dru Brinkenhoff on vocals - mostly given to the high cost of carrying a full band and equipment back across the puddle. The economic realities of the recording industry are currently such that in order to afford trips across the ocean, Stone Axe must play a bunch of Stateside shows to pay the tab. It says more about the financial instability of the music business (look at the number of cancelled festivals occurring in the UK this summer, and the large layoffs at Roadrunner Records) than the quality of product, or talent on display at Tony Reed's studio in Port Orchard, Washington. He's issued more quality rock in the last couple of years than have most of the big four record companies (yeah, that's right, there are four major labels left).
Tony Reed, "Oh yeah, that's a wonderful idea, God, would I love a crack at that! We spent a lot of time getting the Free set just right, and it was a lot harder than you would think. A lot of what was great about Paul Kossoff was what he didn't play. Vibrato, air, and silence were a huge part of his sound. We took a lot of time working up those songs, and the sets have been just great."
There are tons of tunes I haven't mentioned here, because I would have ended up with another couple of thousand words. I would highly recommend that you buy the complete Stone Axe discography, and anything you can find with Tony Reed's name on it. He, and they are well worth it, and you'll be glad you did.
Stone Axe has a credo: "Outta tune - outta time - a long way from home & outta our minds." I'm only buying half of it. They are as tuneful as hell, and as steady as a Swiss watch. They might not sell, but they can't be bought - they are uncompromising in their personal pursuit of rock and roll.
Long live Tony Reed and Stone Axe.
Great thanks to T. Dallas (Tony) Reed, Stone Axe, and John Rancik at Ripple Music.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
|Photo by Benon Koebsch|
"We're really looking forward to these shows. It's a buzz to fly 30 hours from half way around the world to play for our English fans again," Brown said. "The shows are selling very well, in fact, we had to change venues for London. The show sold out and we needed a bigger room."
Tracer placed 3rd in Planet Rock Radio's Best New Band poll in early 2012, and the band is anxious to keep their momentum building. The band released their latest long player in October of 2011, and they've had great success with the first two singles, Too Much (which has tallied over 65,000 hits on You Tube), and Devil Ride, which has just been A-listed by Planet Rock.
|Photo by Benon Koebsch|
"We've been back home writing and jamming on material for the next record, so it'll be great to be back in front of some live crowds."
Tracer's sound is a tuneful mixture of classic guitar rock, stoner rock, jam band experimentation, and a healthy dose of modern edge. I asked Brown about the band's influences.
|Photo by Benon Koebsch|
|Photo by Benon Koebsch|
Surprisingly, the band is bigger in the UK and Europe that they are in their homeland. Michael had this to say about that:
"Touring in Australia is tough, because for us to drive from our hometown of Adelaide to Melbourne, it's an eight hour drive each way. We come to Europe and we can play three or four times the shows in a shorter span of time. In fact, the record is only just getting ready to be released in Australia, so we hope that we'll get busier at home next year."
A bigger and better question might be, when will America catch on to Tracer? The band is hoping for some 2013 tour dates in North America, and given that they should have another album under their belts by then, the timing might be perfect for them to have a large impact here in the States. Thrown together on a bill with another guitar driven monster like, say, Stone Axe, and you'd have an amazing rock and roll tour on your hands. In the meantime, Tracer will see great success taking over the UK and Europe.
All photographs by Benon Koebsch
Thanks to Tracer, Michael Brown, the one and only Peter Noble, and Benon Koebsch.
24 Apr - London - Islington O2 Academy
25 Apr - Bristol – The Tunnels
26 Apr - Manchester – Academy 3
27 Apr - York – The Duchess
28 Apr - Sheffield – The Plug
30 Apr – Divan Du Monde - Paris (FR w/ Headcharger)
03 May - L’Oasis - Le Mans (FR w/ Gojira)
04 May - La Nef - Angouleme (FR)
05 May - Le Splendid - Lille (FR w/ Gojira)
11 May – Maiwoche - Osnabruck (DE)
16 May – Little Devil - Tilburg (NL)
17 May – AfterDauwpop Festival - Posternenk (NL)
17 May – Luxor - Arnhem (NL)
19 May – Egopop - Egchel (NL)
01 June - La Luciole - Alencon (FR)
30 June - Rosrock - Rossem (NL)
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Bag of Bones is a stripped down, rough and ready rock record in the best British tradition. Its swagger and strut will have you remembering the halcyon days of the hammer of the gods. Singer Joey Tempest and guitar star John Norum have assumed the mantle, and they're taking no prisoners. Memories of summer days listening to Black Dog, and Burn will come back to you, as they have done for Tempest, as you listen.
"I recall the best days of my youth, when we first heard Led Zeppelin doing Black Dog, or Deep Purple doing Burn, and that's the vibe I hoped to return to with Bag of Bones." the singer recalls, "That's why we recorded the album using a warm old Neve recording console, and all analog gear. All the compression, the EQ, everything was '60s and '70s gear."
The band also made an inspired decision when they hired super producer Kevin Shirley, the man who seems to have the modern day Midas touch - maybe the last of the great hard rock producers.
"We would finish a song completely before we moved on to the next. That made it so that every song had a different feel and sound, you could go, 'Well, what are these lyrics about, how should the guitars sound' - things like that. It made for a very dynamic sound."
He's right. Riches to Rags kicks off the album, and I actually stopped and looked to be sure I had the right CD in the computer. I admit that I expected a huge swell of synths, and rack mounted guitar tones. Instead, I was greeted by a swampy, bluesy swagger that had my feet tapping and my ass moving. Written at the end of a long tour, it has the very classic sound of a guy who's dragging himself onto the jet for one more flight, one more show in one more town. It kind of nails the downward spiral that saw great bands worked to the point of exhaustion, drugs, and despair in the late seventies. Thankfully, the days of record companies overtaxing their golden geese are gone.
Now, we have a band that has been on a steady climb since they reunited in 2004, peaking with the release of 2009's Last Look at Eden, an album that had Classic Rock Magazine exclaiming, "One of the few bands around still making thrilling records."
|Photo: Michael Johannson|
Tempest and Norum have at last become the equivalent of those great singer/guitar partnerships they loved as kids, when at 14 or 15 year of age, Tempest heard Norum play, and thought to himself, "I have to be in a band with this guy." Both have risen above their past accomplishments to truly become a great team.
Firebox is another soon to be classic, and this moody, mid-tempo thumper features some wonderfully dynamic keyboard riffing from Mic Michaeli - this is one of several that takes its cue from the incredible Mediterranean/Indian influenced arrangements of John Paul Jones. Middle Eastern modalities have always worked well with great guitars and drums, and Europe has applied just enough to satisfy the listener. Michaeli's playing is perfect across the whole of the album, as is the bass work of John Leven (who contributed some fine writing, as well). The secret weapon would seem to be drummer Ian Haugland - his tub thumping is simply smashing. When I think of great drummers in the realm of loud rock, my brain goes to Bonham, Cozy Powell, and Ian Paice, and for almost 30 years, Haugland has been equal the stickman. Time and time again, I am riveted by his flashy fills, and thunderous support. Go straight to the track Demon Head, and prepare to be amazed.
I told Tempest that this record sounds more like a debut than an album from a band with a deep catalog, and his response was perfect.
"That's funny! Our manager said that this album could almost be a prequel! We were listening to young bands like Rival Sons, and Joe Bonamassa, and with Kevin's approach we ended up with an album that we are really pleased with. We had been listening to Bonamassa's Ballad of John Henry backstage before shows, and we really thought the song was fantastic, but equally cool was the production. We thought it would be great to work with Kevin, but it turned out even better than we had hoped."
|Photo: Fredrik Etoall|
Seldom do I say a singer has achieved greatness, but Tempest has continually grown as both a singer and a writer, and great he has become. He states, "I went back to the singers who originally moved me - Zeppelin, Deep Purple, but also Phil Lynott, who could do so much with his lyrics and his voice, and also UFO's Phil Mogg."
John Norum has always been an exceptional guitarist. He always shined during his time with Europe (he was out of the band for six years in the late '80s/early '90s), and throughout a stellar solo career, but his playing has never been as brilliant, or shone as brightly as it does on this album. His lead playing is world class, and his riffing is exemplary. His tones are complex and varied, an obvious salute to Shirley's demand that the band start fresh with each tune and staying with each song until its completion. Every song has its own sound and the sound is always Norum leading the charge, with a new found sense of urgency and passion.
Europe has indeed beaten the odds and made their finest album, many years after most of their contemporaries have hung up their boots, or turned to relying on past glories. Joey Tempest and the band have reinvented themselves as a seriously sleek and strong rock and roll machine. This is Europe's finest moment, regardless of how you look at it. They are going to blow some minds when they hit the festival circuit, and with a bit of luck they may just get to cross the ocean and unleash some of this rock and roll glory upon the Americas.
Bag of Bones will be released on April 18 in Japan, and April 30 in Europe and the UK.
My thanks to Joey Tempest, Europe, earMUSIC, and Peter Noble at Noble PR.
Edited by Libby Sokolowski.
Friday, April 6, 2012
"Well. you know, I played in a great power trio with Tim Bogert, and Bill Ward, the drummer from Black Sabbath back in '86 and '87," Trout states, "We played a lot at a bar right near my house in Huntington Beach, and I still have a great recording of a show we played together in Long Beach. We were called Blue Thunder, and for a while it looked like we might become really big, but...."
"I had so many amazing jams with Tim, he was such a great, great singer and player," Trout said. "We did so many great old tunes, like Goin' Down, Howlin' Wolf tunes, Chuck Berry stuff, some really great times."
Blues for the Modern Daze is Trout's 21st album as a solo artist, and may just be his best. It defines everything that Walter has done over the last 23 years. His legendary six string gymnastics sit well amongst a diverse package of tunes that cover the gamut of blues for the twenty first century.
Saw My Mama Cryin is the albums opening cut, and it flat out rocks. Recorded with his basic stage rig (a dependable Strat and a Mesa Boogie MK V), Trout's tones are huge, as are his lively licks, and his passionate vocals. This is the blues - but it's the blues as the blues exists in 2012, like Walter says, "I think that if Blind Willie Johnson was alive today, he'd have an electric guitar, a bassist and drummer, and it would sound a lot like this."
"This record is the blues - just in the way that I interpret them. When I went solo, I tried a lot of different genres, experimented with many styles and approaches. I mean, the blues is a very wide umbrella, and this is my interpretation of the genre. The blues hasn't, and doesn't need to remain stagnant! The old stuff, well, I love all that stuff, but I don't feel the need to copy that. This album is like everything I have ever written and recorded - it's not an exercise in songwriting, it's personal, it's topical and timely."
Indeed it is - Lonely, the second track is a slow blues tune for our time. It tells the story of Walter standing in Starbucks, listening to the crowd talking all too loudly into their cell phones, but with no sense of connection. Topical and timely? You bet. Trout relates some good advice on blues songwriting given to him by a somewhat drunk and disturbed female friend some 35 years ago:
"I've tried my best to stick by that, but really, I broke them both on this record! My wife is continuing her education and is pursuing a PhD. Well, she was somewhere at a seminar in Texas, and I did miss her, so I sat down and wrote, Blues for my Baby. Then I experimented with a Willie Dixon-esque take on the housing situation in this country for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It's kind of a take on the whole 'great big Cadillac car' story! So much for the rules."
In keeping with the theme of modern problems, I asked Trout how his career was being impacted by the state of the recording industry and a world that downloads in lieu of purchasing. His answer was typically philosophical and measured with the wisdom of great experience.
"I just did see something interesting on iTunes - it was a cover of a Led Zeppelin song by me that I knew I had never recorded. I bought it, and it was some terrible Led Zeppelin tribute band, and it totally sucked! I sent the record company several e-mails, but they haven't taken it down. It's not worth hiring a lawyer, and the way I look at it is that I worked awful hard for a long, long time, and I'm finally bootlegable!"
Trout comes across as a fellow who has worked hard, played hard, payed a great many dues along the road, and has lived to smile and tell the story.
I asked him about the obviously personal nature of the song, Recovery.
"When I get ready to do a new record, I often have a brief period where it's hard to get started - I get a little despondent, and think maybe that the ideas have dried up, that I can't do it. Then I hear the voice of my mother saying to me, very clearly, 'You are a musician. You make music, and it comes so easy and naturally to you.' After being on the road for eight or nine months, I'll take about a month off, then my wife reminds me that it's time to make a new record. I wrote this one in about three weeks, but I had worked out many of the lyrical ideas and concepts before that. Like Lonely - I had written that on a napkin while in line at Starbucks."
There are a great many other great songs on this album. Every tune is a memorable riff, a hummable melody, and several thousand great guitar licks that Walter Trout makes sound easy. I'll leave it to you, the listener, to get it and check it out for yourself. There are a great many treasures to be discovered, and I'll let you discover it in the same manner that I have.
I get it now. This is a blues record, it's just not an out of date replica of some old schtick. This is the blues as it lives and breathes today, and Trout is one of the finest bluesmen on the planet. If you've been a fan, you know of what I speak. If you're not, get this record and get on board.
Thanks to Walter Trout, Steve Karas, and Peter Noble.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Mind you, I had heard many Marshall amps before I actually experienced playing through one. The first I saw and heard belonged to Robin Trower, on tour with a hit record, Bridge of Sighs, opening for Frank Zappa and The Mothers at Dayton's Hara Arena back on November 20, 1974. Trower's tone was huge, sounding like a wild jungle cat, drenched in Univibe and fuzz. Then a year later, KISS annihilated The Palace Theater in Dayton with a whole wall of blaring Marshalls. I heard Tommy Bolin fail miserably through his Marshall stacks in February of '76 as he succumbed to his chemical demons.
It was about this time that I decided that a Marshall amp was the way to go. Not being an incredibly savvy buyer at the time, I opted for the first Marshall I came across. A friend had come upon a used Marshall, but he needed something he could play at home, so he traded me straight across for my MusicMan HD 130 212 combo. It turns out that what I had unwittingly acquired may have been a bit much, the loudest guitar amplifier ever built, the 200 watt Marshall Major.
I found a used Marshall 412, and I plugged it all in - good Lord. I had never heard anything like it. It was louder on two than had been the earlier Ram Jam Marshall, even at its full volume. And, no matter how I tried, I could not get it to distort, not a bit. No matter how loud I turned it up, it retained the same sound. Now, mind you, the sound it delivered was glorious. Its tone was not terribly unlike that of a Fender Twin Reverb, except that it had a much thicker midrange, and the low end was almost beyond description. This was many, many years before guitarists starting tuning their instruments down to get fatter tones, but this a vastly superior low end to what I have ever heard from dropped tunings. It was unbelievable. It was also too loud.
The list of great rock guitarists who have used Marshall amps at one time or another is basically the list of great rock guitarists, period. There are very few who did not at some point plug into a Marshall. Many of the greatest tonemeisters, such as Eddie Van Halen, Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Ace Frehely, bands such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, and many, many others owe much of their signature tones to their Marshall amps. I heard Gary Moore play incredible hard rock, and wonderfully emotive blues through his career and his constant relationship with Marshall - there was even a signature Moore model in development at the time of his death, and no sooner are we past a year since his death that we are now saddened by the passing of the amp's father, builder Jim Marshall.
I first met Jim Marshall in the mid '80s at various Guitar Center functions. He was a true gentleman - he had never met a stranger, had never heard a dumb question, and seemingly never tired of talking about his company, his amps, and their legacy. His passing marks the end of an era, he was one of the last living of the original manufacturers of the instruments that forged the sound of rock and roll. You can be assured that Leo, Les, and the boys appointed a new member to the big board of directors up above today. God bless, and thank you, Jim - you will be missed, loved, and remembered.