Sunday, December 21, 2014

Crabb Bits: Joe Cocker, Top 8 Rock Albums, Frida Kahlo, Akasha

Best rock lists are like assholes.  Everybody has an opinion    But first.

A couple more musicians passed away, Chip Young legendary guitarist who helped Billy Swann in Billy's hit making years passed away at age 76.  Chip also produced the novelty Ronnie Sessions single Wiggle Wiggle.

The big story is Joe Cocker who left us today at age 70, another victim of smoking and lung cancer.  Joe had a forty year plus career of major hits such as You Are So Beautiful, High Time We Went, Put Out The Light and of course known for the infamous Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour with Leon Russell providing valuable support.  Cocker did write did his own stuff (High Time We Went) but he was best known as covering other people's songs and turning them into hits,  With A Little Help From My Friends with Jimmy Page playing lead guitar,  Feeling Alright is considered to be the definite version of the Dave Mason song and You Are So Beautiful which Billy Preston wrote (never cared for that one myself but it was a big top ten hit in 1974-5). After Stingray, Joe moved over to Asylum for Luxury You Can Afford and onto Island which he made the cult classic Sheffield Steel.  A duet with the lovely Jennifer Warnes gave him a 1983 number 1 hit with Up Where We Belong.  Cocker returned to the spotlight by signing with Capitol Records and hanging with them for about 8 years, One Night Of Sin (1989) his last major hit album, despite the dated 80s production the album still holds up quite well, his last top ten (locally) When The Night Comes a song that Bryan Adams wrote and Charlie Midnight produced. Later recorded albums for Epic/550 Records, CMC International, New Door, Fantasy  and Savoy 429 Records.  His sand paper like vocals was one of a kind and memories do stand out,  his Woodstock show with The Grease Band, a very good band themselves, him being good humor enough to let the late John Belushi emulate him on a song on Saturday Night Show 40 years ago and being an all around nice guy.  There will never be another like Joe Cocker.  An original.

In no way this list is mine, it comes from the Daily 8 and they put together their idea of a best of.

My grades of their albums in order:

Bruce Springsteen-Born To Run A-
Pink Floyd-Dark Side Of The Moon B
Led Zeppelin-Houses Of The Holy A-
The Clash-Combat Rock B-
Beatles-Abbey Road A
Pearl Jam 10 B+
Grateful Dead-The Workingman's Dead A-
Deep Purple-Machine Head A

My friend Rastro didn't think much of the daily eight and gave us his version:

The argument about the B grade on Dark Side Of The Moon is that I never thought it rocked hard enough for me to really get my own copy, but classic rock radio continues to play a lot of tracks off it.  Plus I hated The Great Gig In The Sky from inception.  However I do dig Alan Parson's engineering and sound on the gold CD that came out years ago and those clocks stand out in the mix.  More freaky in it's 5.1 surround sound.  Combat Rock has always been The Clash weakest album, (Rock The Cabash, eeeccch) and radio overkills Should I Stay Or Should I Go.  The rest of the album never grew on me.

Classic and modern rock radio has overkilled the hits off all of these albums and I have a love hate affair with Pearl Jam's 10, to which I bought and donated back to Goodwill twice, most recently after hearing Jeremy and Alive four times in one day.  I originally gave ten a B minus/C plus then elevated up to B plus.  If anybody cares I'd recommend it but it's not something I'd pull off the shelf.  Same thing with Bruce Springsteen and Born To Run, I only bought a copy when Half Priced Books demoted it to the two dollar section after having about five of them unsold.  They are Japan reissues which is a bargain and Japan tends to take better mastering on their copies than the US counterpart. My favorite Zep is still...3, IV is the consensus favorite and Houses Of The Holy has a couple songs that drag.  Workingman's Dead is great, But I tend to favor American Beauty more.  But The Beatles and Deep Purple are just about perfect for these ears, of course we're all sick of Smoke On The Water, but anybody can play the riff.  Just an opinion.

Our friend Bob Lefsetz is bitching big time on his latest rant on the LA Times top ten best albums of 2014 and if he doesn't care what the folks think, why is he bitching about it. Top ten lists are just that, take them at face value, check out the videos on You Tube and decide for yourself.  He don't care about the new Dylan standards record, he don't care about us folk against anti streaming and if you don't think his way you don't belong.  Fuck that and fuck him.   Keep touting Spotify if you want Lefsetz, it has no meaning towards me.  Tout all you want about Luke and FGL but in five years nobody's going to remember the latter, maybe the former if he can get his head out of his autotuner butt. Jump on the band wagon when they're hot but when the record tanks, he'll be the first to jump off and go back to his 70s albums he grew up and still listens with.  in his words that I use when he rants about things like that, it makes me puke.  Big time.

Which leads into the next subject a Coralville Bargain Hunt that started in Amana to pick up some last minute Christmas gifts, some fudge for my fussy dad, and these things were not cheap, a half pound for 11.85 But they're oh so good.  Somehow on the way to Coralville I missed Highway 6 and ended up on a Gravel Road that took me back to highway 965 before the Iowa River.  In fact while taking a short cut it dawned on me that in order to get to Coralville you have to cross the Iowa River and I didn't, by then it was too late to turn around but I did managed to volley through the stop lights and ongoing road construction to Goodwill where I found a bunch of country albums of the 70s, some were even autographed by the artists. Somebody even threw away a copy of Grease to which both Olivia Newton John and John Travola signed the record.  I did pick up a couple of Porter Waggoner, one to which he actually signed and the rest were late 70s albums from Don Gibson, Roger Miller, Faron Young and Eddy Raven.  While explaining to the nice Asian lady cashier that when a couple of the albums had no price tags, I told her that country albums run about 1.88 (up from 1.38 due to the vinyl revival of this year) whereas rock albums have been 3.88 or more. Which was Heart's 1980 Bebe Le Strange was priced.  Somehow the Asian lady agreed with me that country doesn't sell and she sold them at 1.88, while wondering if they have no price tags they could be free.  Which is usually not the case.

Stuff Etc West in Coralville once again had plenty of CD choices to get and I bought six of them for a total of 9.25.  The best of the bunch was Mason Profit Come And Gone (One Way) and a Joe Vitale's 1980 Plantation Harbor (Wounded Bird) and the Kim Mitchell album with his hit Go For Soda on it.  And Willie Dixon's I Am The Blues (Columbia), the fifty cent discount one was Graham Parker & The Episodes Live From  New York (Razor & Tie) and some band called  The Frantics which I didn't know I had till I got it in the car.  I have to say that this year, I have continued to defy the odds and find music cheap and listenable, The Mason Profit completes my collection of that band's recorded output.  Willie Dixon, the late great writer of the blues songs that Led Zeppelin took as their own, made I Am The Blues for Columbia in the late 60s and it's something I wanted to hear since I never had.  I heard his 1989 Capitol Hidden Charms, he can write the songs and play mean acoustic bass but he never much of a singer.

After blowing about twenty dollars on 7 albums and 6 CDs, I decided to slip and slide on the way home and stopping in Solon for a new Mexican restaurant Frida Kahlo. 
I love Mexican food and I eat it more often than I do with pizza.  Fact of the matter is that we have more Mexican food places than Pizza nowadays it seems.  They opened up this summer and it would be a perfect place to eat at if I was still working at the old Pearson's place in Iowa City, they're down the road.  Frida Kahlo has now surpassed El Ranchero for the best place to get chips and salsa.  In fact their salsa is the best that I have had at any place here in Iowa.  Staff was very friendly and I like my spanish rice a bit more juicy. None of that dry as bullets crap.  The food was excellent.  Being in a small town such as Solon, that has another pretty good Mexican place (EL SOL)
can be of stiff competition; on a summer's night El Sol you can't get in before Frida Kahlo came into play.  And then closer to home we have El Senior in Mount Vernon, where I go to, since it's on the way to work. The lunch menu I can get in and out within a half hour and not be late for work.  All three are good, but in the end Frida Kahlo's salsa wins out if only to pick one.  Problem is Frida Kahlo is a bit further down the road, a but out of the way but since the best place in Anamosa closed down, I'm more inclined to head south.

Last week, I posted a picture of a long lost 45 from a local band called Madness, which were the best rocking band from Cedar Rapids in the late 70s early 80s.  They later changed their name to Akasha (due to a band called Madness that had a big hit with Our House and the ska flavored One Step Behind), but they had some great musicians, the great Don Timmons on drums, Tommy Bruner (who replaced Tim Canfield and later left himself), Billy Davis and Billy Watts, who played on Eric Burdon's When Your River Runs Day album of last year.  I found the 45 of theirs Let's Hear It For The Man and posted on a Cedar Rapids FB site and the photo jogged many a memory and even got comments from Gary Darling and Tom Bruner.  Bruner explains the band's beginning and history.

Bill Watts lives in Los Angeles and alternates playing with Teresa James and Eric Burdon & The Animals. Bill Davis lives in Kansas City and I believe is in the insurance industry now, though I'm not totally certain about that. Marty works at Overhead Door and I am told lives in Swisher. Gary Darling lives in Omaha, where he's played for years in a band called Fishheads and also does a solo acoustic act. Don Timmons is still around. I played with Don and Gary at one of the Parlor City jams earlier this year., and Gary sat in on one of my regular Sunday gigs at the Village Meat Market the same weekend. As for myself, I currently play in a classic pop show band called Past Masters (I call it my day job,) a four-piece rock band called Lab Rats, and various solo and duo gigs. I start working on my first solo CD in February.
I joined Madness in Feb. 1977. I left in July 1980 to take a year off to write (which didn't actually happen, as I joined another band sort of by accident.) About three or four weeks after I left they changed their name to Akasha. The Akasha album was called 'Thin Wire Balance' and featured three of my songs, though I was not involved in that project.

Contrary to rumor, we were never signed with Chrysalis Records. What happened was, they were ready to sign us and it's my understanding they had even drawn up a contract, when the Knack released "My Sharona," which went straight to number one. Suddenly, all the major record companies stopped signing bands that sounded like us and started looking for bands that sounded like The Knack.

We comprised the most well-known version of Madness, but we were not the original. The original lineup was: Bill Watts (guitar), Denny Ketelsen (Keyboards), Tim Canfield (bass), and Jeff Clark (drums), and that band was a spin-off from an eight-piece horn band called Brass Unlimited.

From Gary Darling: 

I played bass in Madness starting after Tim C. left. Actually I started as a sound man for Madness while Tim was still in the band. 1975. It was Bill, Marty, Don, and Me before Tom Bruner, and Billy Davis came in. Every few years a thread like this comes up, and I love seeing what time does to history, and how people remember happenings from that time. Everything I've seen here is fairly right on. As far as audio, all I can say is "This thing still plays?" Don Timmons used to have a good collection of live tapes. Some of that old stuff is great to hear.

As Akasha, they recorded Thin Wire Balance in 1982, which sold fairly well as a independent release. But the band broke up after new wave was the big thing and labels wanted to sing the new wave acts.  Don Timmons moved to Davenport for a while but has returned to the area and can be seen playing at various jam sessions in Cedar Rapids, as well as Tommy Bruner.   It is considered that Timmons is perhaps the best drummer in town, although he has been fighting health issues as well.  Not sure if the band is in the Iowa RnR HOF but Tim Canfield, the bass player is.(2011) 

Post Script:  While Thin Wire Balance turned out to be Akasha's only album release, they recorded a song called Madam Operator that was featured on what is rumored to be the first Iowa compilation called First Flight (Snowflake 1980)  which features some of the legendary musicians from the CR area.  The likes of Dennis McMurrian, Craig Erickson, Billy Lee Janey contributed songs with an Iowa theme.  Madness changed their name to Akasha due to a more famous ska punk band called Madness (One Step Beyond, Our House).  While Tommy Bruner did write Madam Operator, he left the band prior to them recording the song.  The lineup was Billy Watts (vocals, guitar), Billy Watts (Sax), Gary Darling (Bass), Marty Fauscher (keys) and Don Timmons (Drums).  While the record can still be found, somebody was kind enough to post this song on You Tube.  Here it is: 


rastronomicals said...

Hello Mr. Crabbe
Was looking for something else on my neglected blogspot and used Google to do it, for no real reason, and this blogpost of yours came up.
Thanks for the mention! The Daily 8 list is just a stupid, stupid list. They went with the obvious in DSOTM (never mind that, commercial popularity and chillout factor aside, there are at least *three* better Floyd albums) and then, perhaps because they were trying NOT to seem too obvious after that, went away from the true obvious choice in Led Zeppelin IV. Houses of the Holy has awesome stuff of course in "The Song Remains The Same" and "Over The Hills And Far Away" and "No Quarter," but it also has two of Zeppelin's weakest songs in "D'yer Ma'ker" and "The Crunge." I can't really fault Zep for *trying* a roots reggae thing, or a James Browen workout--they were Zeppelin, they could do anything they wanted--but they have absolutely NO feel for the Jamaica thing, and are only a passable R & B band. The best thing about either song is that "Where's that confounded bridge" tag at the end of "The Crunge," which is hardly a ringing endorsement of either.

And I hadn't mentioned it, but while Combat Rock is a good album, how could anyone seriously posit it's better than the band's debut? And I'm not a big Pearl Jam fan in any case, but their second record is definitely better than the first.
Deep Purple were of course a great band, but to me at least, none of their studio work has the energy of their classic live set. It's a production thing, maybe. Anyway Made in Japan dusts Machine Head's broom.
And what, no Stones? No Dylan?
I guess I'll give them Abbey Road--it's my favorite Beatles record, "Something" notwithstanding--but even if you confined yourself to artists mentioned in their list (and I wouldn't), my top 8 list would look a lot different.

How about

1) Led Zeppelin IV

2) Animals

3) The Clash

4) Abbey Road

5) Nebraska

6) Vs.

7) Made in Japan

8) And no, sorry, not putting a Grateful Dead record here>

I actually think making these kind of "best-of" lists is kind of silly, because what even one person prefers can depend on the day and the mood, but my REAL list in addition to Animals and Abbey Road, would most times include Soft Machine's Third, Mahavishnu's Birds of Fire, the Stones' Let It Bleed, and a metal album or two that might include Master of Puppets, Peace Sells, Reign in Blood, or the first Iron Maiden joint.
I could actually go either way on Zeppelin. Like you, I think III is my favorite Zeppelin record, but I can understand putting IV on a list of this sort, as it's probably the most discussed, and most influential, heavy rock album of all time.

As a last note, I'll mention that I've since actually bought two albums on my spiteful Death Metal list. Crytopsy's None So Vile and Obituary's Slowly We Rot are actually each pretty damn good, if your tastes run that way.
Take care.

R S Crabb said...

Hi Rastro!
Great to hear from you again and wishing you the best in bloggings.

At this time, any best of lists are a matter of taste or choice although you are free to substitute The Dead with The Stones or The Band ;)

I do agree that Vs is Pearl Jam's best overall album, I find 10 to be casual, but not ground breaking album and my view of that album always swung from a B minus to a B plus. And the less said about Combat Rock the better; I like the UK version of The Clash a tad bit better than the US version. A matter a choice I guess. For later day Floyd, I'd go with Animals too (though my go to album remains Piper at the gates of dawn. Houses Of The Holy has a lot of heavy filler and I never gotten into the Rain Song, although once upon a time I thought Dyer Maker was a fun song but after it a thousand times on the radio, not much so. Arguments can be made of LZ 1 or 2 or even 3 but if I have to choose one Zep, I guess it'd be IV. Bruce Springsteen, I can take or leave, Born to Run including. Even with the remastered Japan version it still sounds muddy. While Rolling Stone Mag continues to give him 5 star praise, he's an acquired taste at best.

Made In Japan is a classic and I had that on 8 track years ago. (although the 20 minute space trucking between fade outs isn't that cool anymore) ;)


Unknown said...

Mr. Crabb,
I am looking for information about an Akasha/Madness recordings called "Madam Operator," and would like to get in touch with either songwriter Tom Bruner, or whoever might have served as bandleader during that era (1980). Could you facilitate?

R S Crabb said...

Hi Jonathan!

Thanks for writing.

My guess is that Akasha/Madness, the leader may have been Don Timmons or Billy Davis. Their lineup was a revolving door. Timmons has been in ill health so I don't see him all that much, but Tim Canfield is a somewhat regular on the jams in town. As well as Tommy Bruner. He plays in the Past Masters and can be found in Cedar Rapids quite a bit.

Thin Wire Balance turned out to be their only album. Madam Operator appears on a 1980 record called First Flight-First Annual Iowa Album that came out on Snowflake. It has never been issued on CD and I heard stories that the masters got destroyed. Somebody did post Madam Operator on You Tube. While Tommy Bruner wrote the song, he wasn't on the recording. The Lineup is Billy Watts (lead vocals, guitar), Marty Fauchier (keyboards) Billy Davis (Saxophone), Don Timmons (Drums) and Gary Darling on Bass. I'll post the song in the blog above.

Tommy Bruner can be found at Facebook (Link: ) you can drop him a line there.

Hope this helps.


R S Crabb said...

Madam Operator link