BLOWN-OUT EARS ‘N’ ROCKIN’ BONES: BEST OF 2006


Jeff Jarema photo

BEST SHOW:  BLUE CHEER, Local 506, Raleigh, North Carolina (USA)
Honestly, seeing a revived Blue Cheer was not on my “must do” list for 2006.  If anything, I was avoiding ‘em post-publication of my interview with long-vanished ‘Vincebus Eruptum’ engineer John MacQuarrie. 

Appearing this past summer in the latest boffo issue of Ugly Things (www.ugly-things.com), the offending piece centered around the recollections of the ex-recording engineer/retired deputy sheriff (yes, that’s what I said!).  And as can be expected from the only law enforcement participant in this historic event, he provided a pretty icy assessment of the band and the trials of trying to get their prehistoric din on tape. 

Fast forward to this past Sunday night and while flipping through the local paper, to my astonishment there’s a brief plug for a Blue Cheer show the following evening.  While aware that bassist/vocalist Dickie Peterson has been on the road forever under the BC banner, this sounded more enticing as the local rag promised original drummer/icon Paul Whaley, too. 

You gotta hand it to Blue Cheer for four decades of staying power.  For a Monday night in sleepy Chapel Hill, they attracted a packed house of subterranean old school metal types and garage guys ‘n’ gals alike (plus one non-rocker in outdated frat house uniform of untucked shirt, khakis, loafers and Piggy Wiggly baseball cap.  The local narc?  Nah, just yours truly). 

Blue Cheer was so %$#@ing loud that my cap was moving around on my head!!  The main culprit was Peterson who cranks out the most over-amplified bass sound I have ever (gladly) suffered.  It often smothered the guitarist who otherwise spit-out appropriate Blue Cheer heavy fuzz noodling plus wah wah aerobics throughout.  Peterson looks remarkably unchanged since ’68 and was in fine voice; that is if you go for that trademark Blue Cheer bark.

But for me, the star of the show was Paul Whaley.  He may be unrecognizable from those old images but the power and much of his skills remain intact. 


Jeff Jarema photo

After the ear-shredding sonic mush of the set opener, “Babylon”, the first true highlight was Whaley thundering away on “Second Time Around”.  To my best recollection, this was the first time I had witnessed a drum solo at the beginning of a set!  And it wasn’t the only one of the show, either.  As for his overall chops, Whaley was hitting nearly all of those classic flashy drum fills that we know inside out (or is that insideout?).

Other winners were “Just a Little Bit” (again, a Whaley showcase), “Out of Focus” and the sludgy extended middle of “Parchment Farm”.  And of course, there was “Summertime Blues” which Peterson still shrieks with authority. 

To be honest, the two blues covers (“Rock Me Baby”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”) were good but interchangeable while the set-concluding “Doctor Please” was dragged-out to “Dark Star” length which is about 20 minutes beyond my current attention span.  But minor digs aside, Blue Cheer is back and from what I witnessed earlier this week, seemingly indestructible.

REISSUE OF THE YEAR: Rockin’ Bones – 1950s Punk & Rockabilly (Rhino Box set)
On a superficial level, this might seem like an unlikely choice.  From the kitschy cover art (‘50s pulp paperback homage that curiously made me first think of Mad Magazine circa ‘American Graffiti’) to the forced “1950s Punk” revisionism in its title, the overall packaging may be a put-off to purists.  But this is precisely the rockabilly collection I have lazily waited on for over 20 years; since my introduction to the late, great Kicks Magazine.

In each issue, Kicks covered obscure hell cats like Hasil Adkins, Charlie Feathers and the Phantom.  They’re here but so are the more mundanely-named Art Adams, Larry Dowd and Bill Allen, to name just a few of the 80 or so names collected across four discs. (Admittedly, I fail at tallying up all the artists included as several inclusions operate under more than one handle i.e. Ronnie Dawson, the Blond Bomber who makes additional appearances as Ronnie Dee and Commonwealth Jones.  Incidentally and even amongst this esteemed cast of crazies, Dawson’s music is so vital that if his ‘Rockin’ Bones’ wasn’t suitable enough, his “Action Packed” would’ve made an equally ideal box set title.)

The usual suspects are also on tap, from Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins to Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran.  Gene Vincent is represented with two devilishly good, non-hit entries (“Cat Man”, “Woman Love”).  That savage punk Ricky Nelson deservedly secures a spot thanks to the RAB pedigree of “Believe What You Say”, written by Johnny & Dorsey Burnette with a typically stunning James Burton guitar break. 

Burton is all over this disc, challenging Scotty Moore as the quintessential rockabilly six-string hot shot.  There’s uncharacteristically boppin’ early efforts from Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Buck Owens, too.  But the latter, moonlighting as Corky Jones on the promisingly-titled “Rhythm and Booze” actually provides one of the few semi-duds among the 101 tracks.

Like Rhino’s most essential various artist box sets (think ‘Nuggets’), ‘Rockin’ Bones’ towers above this year’s other reissues by sheer ambition, collecting so many great records – from obscurities to Billboard Top Ten hits – from such a wide range of sources; record labels from the majors to the microscopics. 

Thanks to the label’s typically considerable restoration effort, even the rarest ‘n’ roughest of these records are revived in desirably loud sound.  Not bad for music now passing the half century mark (and in the first place, often recorded in less-than state of the art environs).

By the way, there’s little here from 1957 or ’58 that is any more advanced than Elvis’ ’55 entry, “Baby Let’s Play House”.  That aside, there are records by less lauded artists – singers that no one outside of rockabilly aficionados have ever heard of - that I’ll wager are as absolutely perfect as Elvis on Sun. 

Besides the aforementioned, Ronnie Dawson, I would have to place Joe Clay (“Duck Tail”, where echo seems to be the lead instrument) in this vaunted category.  And when the Johnny Burnette Trio finally surface well into Disc 3 (with “Rock Billy Boogie”), they might as well be the Yardbirds.  Their sleek, threatening style is positively space age stuff compared to the rest of the acts on this box.  And they were from Memphis. 

Larry Collins of the Collins Kids is another unlikely standout in this pack of oddities.  On “Whistle Bait”, the 14-year old screamer/guitar picker extraordinaire packs more excitement into a minute and a half than Page and Plant managed in an entire career.  Those guys are on the record as rockabilly devotees so they’d probably have to admit this!

And the mention of Larry’s sister Lorrie Collins brings up another key theme; that this is music obsessed with sex.  And none of the guys, not even Elvis, dish out their overheated intentions quite like the ladies including Collins (“Mercy”), a young Jackie DeShannon (“Trouble”; dig also ‘60s Jackie-as-Barbie doll cutie in the accompanying booklet) and even more so, Wanda Jackson. 

Metaphorically speaking, Wanda’s “Fujiyama Mama” includes some of the most sexually loaded imagery on wax …from any era.  She is only outdone by the unknown female half of John & Jackie who let’s loose the most censor-baiting vocal performance in recorded history.  How this stuff got recorded in the 1950s is beyond belief.

However, the pervasive sex found throughout ‘Rockin’ Bones’ is ultimately quite safe.  This, according to the liner notes, is more than we can say for the fate of the late great Vince Taylor (of “Brand New Cadillac” fame).  His post-rockabilly death was attributed to venereal disease.  Bummer.  

Like ‘Nuggets’, the booklet is a total winner with liner notes ranging from (mercilessly brief) testimonials from Rhino friends ‘n’ clients to an excellent main event; a track by track lowdown from expert Colin Escott.  When Rhino does a box set, they go all out.  It’s just my theory but I get the feeling - like on their classic ‘Beg, Scream & Shout’ ‘60s Soul box (good luck finding that one today) - that it is too cost prohibitive to keep these deluxe packages in print beyond a few years.  So, consider yourself forewarned.   

Consumer note (for novices like me):  As much as I love this 4-CD set, I could’ve handled another disc or two.  OK, that’s an understatement.  There is no shortage of rockabilly comps out there but one that does fit in snuggly with ‘Rockin’ Bones’ is a 2003 release on Sanctuary/BMG, titled ‘Rockabilly Riot!’  Yep, there is some minor overlap.  But it also includes non-repeats from Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette Trio, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and most importantly, the absolutely essential “Sixteen Chicks” by Joe Clay.

ROGUES LIST OF THIS YEAR’S RUNNER-UPS

LINK WRAY AND HIS RAY MEN – ‘White Lightning: Lost Cadence Sessions ‘58 (Sundazed)
Thanks to Sundazed, Christmas arrived in November.  I can’t remember when a label released so many top flight titles in a single month.  From ‘60s soul (check out ‘A Fine Time! The South Side of Soul Street’ or the Big John Hamilton set; both with liner notes from yours truly …but don’t let that stop you) to guitar heroes like Dick Dale or Davie Allan & the Arrows (‘Cycle Breed’; an ideal compliment to Sundazed’s earlier ‘Devil’s Rumble’ 2-CD anthology i.e. zero repeats but plenty of trademark exploito biker flick noise), it’s all worthy of your discriminating spending. 

But the biggest winner in the lineup is this unexpected/unreleased Link Wray disc.  Much like hearing the Remains’ ’66 live-in-the-studio demo or the Stooges’ ‘Funhouse’ alternate takes for the first time, this is nothing short of a revelation.  As a reference point, imagine a wilder version of the Epic instro “Walkin’ with Link” (or “Raw-Hide” for that matter; they’re both here in all their raw, pre-polished glory). 

Even the square titles kill, like the mauling “Dance Contest.”  90% of this unissued haul does not let up, arguably placing it right behind “Rumble” and the ‘60s Swan sides as Link Wray at his deadliest.       

MUSIC MACHINE – ‘The Ultimate Turn On’ (Big Beat CD)
With their singular image and bone-crunching rhythms, the Music Machine almost comes off as spiritual cousins of ’66 contemporaries the Monks.  Then again, after 20 years I still can’t decide if the latter were true pre-punk or a twisted novelty act.  No such reservations about the Music Machine, though; particularly in the menacing centerpiece of Sean Bonniwell.

‘The Ultimate Turn On’ is more successful than Big Beat’s previous garage 2-CD revisitation; last year’s Chocolate Watchband compendium, ‘Melts in Your Brain…Not on Your Wrist!’  That one was a great concept on paper but delivered an attention deficit-inducing 2nd disc of often forgettable material. 

Not so here as both CDs are comprised of contributions from the original (and definitive) MM lineup.  The liner notes are also a shining example of editing in storytelling, with all band members (and producer) interviewed.  Festivus-style airing of grievances ensues; making for a colorful must read.

In addition, kudos to Big Beat for downplaying the demeaning original ’66 sleeve art which assured that Bonniwell and company would be lumped in with inferior one-hits the Syndicate of Sound and Count Five for the next four decades.  The marketing hype on this set is that it restores the mono mixes of the original ‘Turn On’ album.  Maybe it’s just me but I prefer the stereo on certain cuts; for that uniquely bloated Music Machine fuzz.  As a bonus, Disc 2 includes two rare TV clips!

NAZZ – ‘Nazz’ (Sanctuary CD); ‘Nazz Nazz including Nazz III: The Fungo Bat Sessions’ (Sanctuary CD)
With their previous Nazz anthology (in ’02), Sanctuary included every previously released track from Todd Rundgren’s late ‘60s Philly flash rock combo.  However, these newly expanded reissues of the individual albums (actually, album #2 and 3 are combined on the regrettably subtitled ‘Fungo Bat Session’ double disc) are remarkably more satisfying. 

Their ’68 ‘Nazz’ debut is now bolstered with 12 bonus tracks including a super-booming mono single mix of their Who-styled “Open My Eyes” and murderous early version of “Magic Me”.  Regarding this latter track, I’ll be damned if I didn’t discover this tape in producer Bill Traut’s garage back in the late ‘80s.  I tossed it aside in favor of crates of acetates from his days as head honcho at the all-time greatest ‘60s garage label, Dunwich Records.

Better yet is that damn ‘Fungo Bat’ CD, with overall improved sound and even more bonus tracks.  The mono single mix of “Not Wrong Long” is worth the price of admission alone.  The same could be said for the mono “Under the Ice”, though I’m undecided; still partial to the more spacious stereo mix that does nothing to reduce Thom Mooney’s mind-blowing drum performance. 

I’m officially sick of hearing about ‘70s power pop.  The Nazz did it first (cue “Forget All About It”) and better!          

- Jeff Jarema
December 2006

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