Archive for January, 2014

Dino Gallery LIVE!

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Hi friends, fans and family! This Saturday, come see me at Taylor White‘s new Creature Features in Burbank, the coolest monster shop in America! We;re having a huge celebration of All Things Dinosaur! Be there or be square(ly on the wrong side of the K/T boundary!

Great New Book on Rhino Records, Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Movies!

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

I just read a terrific book, The Rhino Records Story – Revenge of the Music Nerds by Harold Bronson (full disclaimer: I designed the original Rocky Rhino logo character for Rhino Records and several of their record covers back in the day). If you have any interest whatsoever in the music business, this is the book for you. It’s the fascinating tale of how two passionate music lovers (Bronson and Richard Foos) who ran a quirky record store started their own record label with practically nothing but humor and imagination and quickly built it into the finest reissue label in the world. Besides reissues, they also ended up releasing a number one hit. The Rhino “brand” became so strong and trusted that they became one of those extremely rare record companies whose product often sold just because Rhino’s name was on it (“Not since Motown has a music label forged a meaningful brand identity” – Brandweek magazine).

The Rhino story also functions as a quite contemporary rise-and-fall allegory. Bronson goes into delicious detail after detail about just what it takes to be successful in the mercurial music world. Partly, it was that very attention to detail that helped make Rhino so successful. It’s sad and more than a little ironic that the Warner Music Group eventually acquired Rhino and then killed it off — despite the fact that Rhino was the most profitable branch of their record company. Reading this book gives you an insider’s front row seat as to how this could (and did) happen.

The book also gives the reader an up-close-and-personal chronicle of the many huge changes that swept over the music business in the past few decades and why (the main reason being that the people now in charge of the music business don’t really give a damn about music).

Because of the author’s passion for The Turtles, The Knack and The Monkees and those bands’ subsequent relationships with Rhino, there is a chapter on each band. There is a riveting chapter on Tommy James and James’ involvement with a mob-connected record company head that brought back scary memories of some of my own work in the entertainment business.

Harold’s honesty is refreshing. He doesn’t hesitate to point out who screwed up and how (even when it’s himself; he predicted no one would want to watch The Sopranos), as well as who came through like a champ and went out of their way to be thoughtful and helpful in this tough business.

Rhino also branched out and produced films (and 14 books as well). Budding filmmakers will love learning the ins and outs of making Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Daydream Believers: The Monkees’ Story and Why Do Fools Fall in Love.

Valentine’s Day is less than a month away. If you know someone who is passionate about music or film and loves knowing the insider behind-the-scenes stories of these worlds, then pick up this fascinating book immediately. You can get it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Rhino-Records-Story-Revenge-Music/dp/1590791282/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390067170&sr=1-1&keywords=harold+bronson

Satan’s Portrait

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Every word of what you are about to read is true.

In 1971 I was in my last year of art school and living in Hollywood. I regularly picked up The Los Angeles Free Press, an informative free weekly hippy newspaper. The Freep always had a variety of ads in their back pages. One ad seized my attention, as the advertiser was looking for an artist for a job that involved the occult, witchcraft and other dark or supernatural subject matter. Perfect! I had been painting the covers and creating interior illustrations for the horror pulp magazine Coven 13 for the past couple of years. I loved monster and horror movies as well, so this job seemed like it could be right up my proverbial dark alley. I called the phone number listed in the ad and made an appointment to show my portfolio the following Friday night.

When the evening arrived, I drove to the nearby address on Orange Avenue in Hollywood. The apartment I was seeking was on the second floor. I double-checked the address and apartment number, then knocked on the door.

The door creaked open to reveal a medium sized bald man. He had crinkly eyes and a slightly mischievous grin. I identified myself, although I’m sure the bulging portfolio under my arm told him exactly who I was. He greeted me in return.

“I’m Mr. X (I have forgotten his real name). Come in, come in!”

He handed me his business card (I recently ran across his card about a month ago — then immediately lost it again. Sorry).

I stepped over the threshold and WHAM! It suddenly felt as if I had smoked an entire gram of high quality hashish. I was stoned out of my gourd, totally blitzed.

My host beckoned me to sit down on the sofa. I did, while attempting with every fiber of my being to hold it together. After all, this was a job interview!

The man looked through my portfolio. I tried to clear my head but couldn’t. I noticed other people moving throughout the room, men and women, all around his age (he seemed to be in his fifties or sixties but then, I was twenty, so everyone over thirty looked like they were in their sixties to me). They didn’t appear to be stoned at all. I noticed there were black candles on the mantle as thick as my arm. Between them was a reproduction of an old engraving that I had seen before in one of my reference books on witchcraft. It was a full-length portrait of Satan as a goat.

Satisfied I could do the job, my host refocused on me. He explained that Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–1997), whom I knew to be the head of the Church of Satan (based in San Francisco) had just made him the leader of the new Los Angeles branch of the Church of Satan. His ambition was to spread Satanism throughout southern California. He then proceeded to explain the church’s philosophy. To my heavily blasted brain, Satanism all seemed to boil down to being exactly like Christianity ––– but with more sex.

What the church needed from me was a nice, large painted portrait of Our Lord and Master Satan. He wanted Satan’s goat head inside a pentagram (an upside down star. The points of the star hold the goat’s horns and ears; the bottom point is the goat’s beard). He asked if I could complete it in two weeks. I said I could. We agreed upon a price. I promised to return on Friday two weeks later at the same place and time.

I struggled to my feet, shook hands with him and approached the door. As soon as I stepped outside, WHAM! My head instantly became clear again. I was no longer high, not even slightly.

I drove back home.

The painting didn’t take very long, even though I added elements beyond the simple job description. I always like to give my clients more than they’re expecting. Part of that comes from really doing my homework. I heavily researched previous portraits of Satan as well as Satanic pentagrams. I discovered they often included Hebraic letters as part of the design, so I included those letters. I didn’t make the goat just a goat; I added some humanity to his leering face.

I finished well before my deadline and I was pleased with the results (I’d do it differently now, of course. I like to think that with over forty more years of painting under my belt that I’ve become a better artist).

Friday rolled around. I arrived right on time, re-consulting the address on the same piece of paper I had taken with me two weeks ago. I knocked on the door, portrait of Satan under my arm.

The door opened — but this time it was a good-looking young man in his mid-to-late twenties.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m here to see Mr. X. I’ve finished his portrait.”

“There’s no one here by that name.”

“Did he step out?”

“No. What I mean is, there has never been anyone here by that name. At least not in the last three years since my wife and I have lived here.”

“Wait a minute. I was here three weeks ago. This is your address, right?”

He looked at my scrap of paper.

“Yes; that’s our address.”

“Well, two weeks ago I was commissioned to paint a portrait of Satan and deliver it here tonight.”

The young man looked back into his apartment and shouted.

“Honey, do you know anything about a portrait of Satan?”

As he was turned away, I looked inside the apartment. His wife was an attractive young blonde. In front of her was the same sofa on which I had sat. On the wall opposite the sofa was the same mantle from two weeks ago. The mantle no longer had the black candles, however, nor the old engraving of Satan on the wall above it.

“No, dear ––– nothing.”

He turned back to me.

“Sorry.”

With nothing more I could do or say I returned back home to my Beachwood Drive apartment in the foothills of Hollywood with my unpaid-for portrait.

To this day, I have no explanation for what happened. How did they instantly make me feel so heavily stoned? How did I instantly lose that sensation when I stepped out of the apartment? What happened to Mr. X. and the Los Angeles Church of Satan? Was the young couple claiming no knowledge of the church lying to me? Were they actors, hired by the church for some kind of cover-up? Had the head of the church run into some kind of trouble?

I guess I’ll never know.

I thought I had sold the portrait to my friend Terry Stroud, co-owner back then of the American Comic Book Company. I vaguely recall him buying it because he liked the story so much. When I contacted him, though, Terry told me that he never purchased it and didn’t have it. So, I never knew what had happened to it.

I had to vacate my studio about a year ago when the building was sold. In the process of moving I found all kinds of things I had forgotten I had. One of them was my portrait of Satan. I thought posting it here would make a fitting end to this story.

The Little Visitor

Friday, January 10th, 2014

This event occurred circa 1975. I was living in Hollywood a half a block from what we called “the rock ‘n’ roll Ralph’s” (because of that 24 hour supermarket’s late night pop star clientele) with my girlfriend Cheryl and our daughter Faith (Faith was about four or five years old at the time).

Late in the evening, after Faith had been put to bed, Cheryl and I were watching television. The doorway to our hall was to the right of our TV. From where I was sitting I could look through that doorway and into my studio.

Some movement to the right of the TV caught my eye. I watched as a small figure, dressed in a floor length pale nightgown and an old fashioned tall pointed sleeping cap walked out of my studio and then turned left down the hall. I didn’t say anything.

It was Cheryl who spoke.

“Did you see that?”

“See what?”

“I just saw a little figure dressed in a nightgown and a peaked cap walk out of your studio and turn down the hallway.”

“So did I!”

We both jumped up and ran down the hall. At the end of the hall was our bedroom. We entered to find our daughter sitting in the middle of the floor.

“Faith! Did anyone just come in here?”

“Yes; the little boy.”

“What little boy?”

“The sad little boy. He’s always crying. He likes to come here to play with me.”

We put Faith back to bed. She didn’t seem upset in anyway. According to her, his visits were a regular occurrence.

The next day I confronted our apartment building’s manager.

“Who lived in our apartment before us?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“I actually do want to know. Tell me.”

“It was a gypsy woman and her little boy.

“Little boy?”

“Yes. He used to play with our son Frankie when he was a toddler.”

“What happened?”

“She used to torture that kid. I heard him screaming one day and ran upstairs to find her holding him over the stove. The flames were on and his pants were off. She was lowering him down to the flames and burning his genitals.”

“Oh my God…What did you do?”

“I yelled at her to stop. She looked at me and said, ‘I take care of him; I fix him. Now he won’t have any problems with filthy disgusting women.’ I called the police and testified in court against her. Her attorney tried every trick he could think of to break my testimony but I stuck to my story.”

“What happened?”

“The goddam judge ruled in her favor and returned her son to that witch. They moved out right after that and I never saw them again. I assume she ended up killing him.”

Those were different times back then. Child abuse was not considered a serious issue and it was near impossible to separate a child from his mother, even with eyewitness testimony as devastating as my manager’s. I heard a little boy being tortured by his parents at my old apartment building on Beachwood Drive. He was a sweet kid. I used to let him come up and draw while I worked. I shouted through the door for them to stop. The father, a huge guy, burst out of his front door, knocking me up the stairs. I scrambled to my feet as he continued to come after me. I dashed into my apartment and locked my door. He furiously pounded on it as he shouted threats at me.

“Keep your goddam nose out my business! He’s my kid and I can do whatever the fuck I want to him!”

I threatened to call the police, which only fueled his fury.

I did indeed report him and his wife to the police. The officer asked, “Did you witness the torture?”

“No, but I sure heard it.”

“If you didn’t actually see it, then there’s not much we can do. We’ll send someone over there to check things out, though.”

I was there when the authorities arrived. The father coolly talked his way out of even letting them in to see their son. He was warned they’d be watching for any signs of abuse.

I later heard him boasting that he and his wife still tortured their little boy, but that they gagged him and bound him to a chair with wire so that outsiders couldn’t hear his screams. They moved away not long after that.

Thank heaven times have changed.

Our little visitor never returned, although I (and others) often heard crystal clear but random snatches of conversation in that apartment. I would always turn around quickly to see who was speaking but no one was ever there — at least not that I could see.

I used to refer to our little visitor as a ghost until I ran into a prominent member of the Skeptics Society at Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I told him the story.

“I don’t doubt your story or your perception of it and I have no explanation for it. But why do you identify it as a ghost?”

I thought that was a very perceptive question. Since our conversation I have stopped referring to it as a ghost. Who knows what it was?

Whatever it was or is, I hope it has finally found peace.

50 Great British Blues Recordings – Part 6

Monday, January 6th, 2014

26) Killing Floor – Killing Floor (1970/2007)
Killing Floor’s first LP was a raw, high energy effort, kind of garage band-bluesy in its sound. When I first heard it back in the early 1970s, I didn’t like it. It sounded too raw and unpolished for my young ears. In the passing years, however, it’s grown on me. I really like their version of “Woman You Need Love” (Willie Dixon’s song for Muddy Waters was originally titled “You Need Love”; most folks know it as Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”). I also like “Come Home Baby”, “My Mind Can Ride Easy”, “Keep On Walking” and “Lou’s Blues”.

Keyboardist Lou Martin later joined Rory Gallagher’s back-up band. Guitarist Michael (Mick) Clarke continues to play and record the blues. He has released a slew of solid blues CDs as the Mick Clarke Band.

27) Led Zeppelin – The Complete Studio Recordings (1993)
Blues classics get majestically transformed on vocal and instrumental workouts from Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John “Bonzo” Bonham on nearly every Led Zeppelin LP. Don’t pick up any Led Zeppelin CD issued prior to Jimmy Page’s 1993 remastering.

On Led Zeppelin (1969) the band excels on Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me” (a Muddy Waters hit) and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” (Otis Rush’s signature blues tune), as well as Howlin’ Wolf’s “No Place to Go” (reworked by Zeppelin as “ “How Many More Times” with a bit of Albert King’s “The Hunter” — written by Booker T & The MGs — thrown in for good measure, along with bits of The Weavers’ “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”). The musical structure of “How Many More Times” evolved out of the Page-era Yardbirds’ live version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”.

On Led Zeppelin II (1969) there are more great reworking of blues classics, including “The Lemon Song” (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”) and “Whole Lotta Love” (Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love”) and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bring It On Home”.

Led Zeppelin III (1970) has the Zep blues original “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and a cover of Lead Belly’s “Gallows Pole”. “Hats Off to Roy Harper” was obviously inspired by Mr. Harper but also includes lyrics from Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down”. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” was also recorded by Zeppelin as “Jennings Farm Blues”.

On Led Zeppelin IV they cover Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks”. Some of “Black Dog” was inspired by Peter Green’s and Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”.

No blues really on Houses of the Holy (1973) but on Physical Graffiti (1975) they cover Josh White’s “In My Time of Dying” which White originally recorded as “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed”, previously recorded by Charlie Patton as “Jesus Is A-Dying Bed Maker”. The song was first released by Blind Willie Johnson as “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed”. The original recorded (but never released) version was by Reverend J. C. Burnett as “Jesus Is Going to Make Up Your Dying Bed”. Bob Dylan recorded “In My Time of Dyin’” on his first LP (1962). “Boogie With Stu” began as Ritchie Valens’ “Ooh, My Head”. “Custard Pie” has lyrics from “Drop Down Mama” by Sleepy John Estes, “Shake ‘Em on Down” by Bukka White and “I Want Some Of Your Pie” by Blind Boy Fuller. “Trampled Underfoot” was inspired by Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues”. Plant’s original title for “Black Country Woman” was “Never Ending Doubting Woman Blues”.

Presence (1976) contains the slow blues epic “Tea For One” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”. The blues influence in In Through the Out Door (1979) is extremely limited.

The Led Zep grab bag Coda (1982) opens with “We’re Gonna Groove”, a version of Ben E. King’s “Groovin’” (also covered by Manfred Mann). There’s a live version of the Willie Dixon-penned Otis Rush hit “I Can’t Quit You Baby” on Coda as well.

A final reminder: don’t pick up any Led Zep CD issued prior to Jimmy Page’s 1993 remastering.

28) Love Sculpture – Blues Helping (1968/1991)
The first Love Sculpture LP showcased classic blues tracks as played by Dave Edmunds and friends. Their take on Freddie King’s “The Stumble” and Willie Dixon’s hit for Koko Taylor, “Wang Dang Doodle”, are highlights.

The Early Edmunds (front cover)

The Early Edmunds (1991) is a 2-disc 40-track set that contains all of Dave’s 1967–1971 recordings, including his two Love Sculpture LPs, his first solo album and several rare singles. Other recommended blues cuts: Slim Harpo‘s “Shake Your Hips”, Edmunds’ “Blues Helping”, Lazy Lester‘s “(I Am) A Lover Not a Fighter” and Bob Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues”.

29) Manfred Man – Down The Road Apiece – Their EMI Recordings 1963–1966 (2007)
This 4-CD set includes all the cuts from their earthy 1964 blues masterpiece, The Five Faces of Manfred Mann (which is also available by itself on CD).

If you just want their first album, the Japanese version of Five Faces is best, as it has all of the American and UK tracks of the LP in mono and stereo, plus bonus tracks for a total of 27 songs on one great CD. I consider this one of the greatest British blues LPs ever recorded. Their version of “Smokestack Lightning” is my favorite version of that Howlin’ Wolf song. Other standouts from Five Faces include “Down the Road Apiece” (a hit for both the Will Bradley Trio and Amos Milburn), Muddy Waters‘ “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I’ve Got My Mojo Working”, Bo Diddley‘s “Bring It to Jerome”, Paul Jones‘ “Don’t Ask Me What I Say” and the band composition “What You Gonna Do”.

The band cut way back on their blues numbers after that first LP but don’t miss their versions of Bobby Parker‘s “Watch Your Step”, T-Bone Walker‘s “Stormy Monday Blues” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ “I Put a Spell on You” from their later LPs.

30) Steve Marriott & The DTs – Sing The Blues Live (2000)
This late career live recording by Steve Marriott is a decent representation of his pub rocking blues band days near the end of his life. Besides his raw, unmistakable (and, by now, fried; his high range burnt out from decades of pushing himself to the limit. “All or Nothing”, indeed!) vocals, savor his crisp, crunchy and spare-but-powerful Steve Cropper-ish guitar work. Stevie excels on Bobby Parker‘s “Watch Your Step”, “My Baby” (Little Walter‘s “My Babe”), “Take a Look at Yourself” (Bo Diddley‘s “Before You Accuse Me”), Rufus Thomas‘ “Walking the Dog” and Eddie Boyd‘s “Five Long Years”.

If you don’t mind hearing more rock than blues, pick up Steve Marriott – Dingwalls 6.7.84. It’s an outstanding Packet of Three set with much better recording and performances from around the same time. If you’re like me, you’ll love the entire CD. The blues tracks here are “Five Long Years”, the Ashford-Simpson-penned Ray Charles song “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and “Walkin’ the Dog” but Stevie’s rockers are great as well.

I highly recommend Stevie’s live DVD Steve Marriott Live (2001; a.k.a. Steve Marriott Live From London). It’s the same show (and interview) that’s on the legitimate Japanese laser disc release Steve Marriott – Tin Soldier Live at London.

More to Come — Keep On Bluesin’!

50 Great British Blues Recordings – Part 5

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Happy New Year, Everyone!

One of my resolutions for the new year is to make more regular postings on this site’s Journal page. I got waylaid by the holidays but now I’m back!

Let’s begin where we left off…

21) Humble Pie – Performance – Rockin’ the Fillmore (1971/2013; see image above)
Steve Marriott plays and sings hard rocking full-throated British versions of blues and R&B classics on this electrifying live set.

The original double-LP was expanded in 2013 with a 4-CD box set (Performance – Rockin’ the Fillmore – The Complete Recordings) that includes all four of their May 1971 shows at the Fillmore East (the more Marriott, the merrier, I always say). This is Steve at his vocal peak. Best blues tracks: “Four Day Creep”, “I’m Ready”, “Rolling Stone/My Babe” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor”.

22) Jellybread – The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions (1969/2008)
Pete Wingfield really stars here on Alan Price-ish vocals and piano. For some great, smooth British blues, try “River’s Invitation”, “I Pity the Fool”, “Never Say No”, “I’ve Got to Forget You”, “Boogie Sandwich” and the song I first heard by them, “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”.

24) Tom Jones – Praise & Blame (2010)
Tom Jones surprised everyone with this magnificent blues and gospel CD. Every cut is killer, especially “What Good Am I?”, “Lord Help”, “Strange Things”, “Burning Hell”, “Don’t Knock”, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Run On”.

This highly acclaimed CD was followed by Spirit in the Room (2012) which found Tom once again in his element, singing great blues, gospel and other roots music. How many other vocalists can sing like this? None! Get up and enjoy “Soul of a Man”, “Bad As Me” “Love and Blessings”, “Traveling Shoes” and “All Blues Hail Mary”.

Prior to these two great CDs was Reloaded (2002) which contains a hot version of Leadbelly‘s “Black Betty” produced by Wyclef Jean.

After that came the terrific Tom Jones & Jools Holland (2004), Tom’s first major return to his blues and early rock roots. “St. James’ Infirmary Blues” is amazing; other superb tracks include “Life’s Too Short to Be with You”, “200 Lbs. of Heavenly Joy”, “It’ll Be Me”, “Roberta”, “Mess of Blues” and “My Babe”.

For you completists out there, the CD single of “It’ll Be Me” has Tom singing the non-LP cut of Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”.

25) Jo Ann Kelly – Black Rat Swing (2003)
This comprehensive 2-CD 45 track set covers this great singer’s entire 1964-1988 career. Her ethereal voice calls up the ghost of Memphis Minnie, even sounding of that lost time. Her early death was a tragic loss. Listen to “Backwater Blues”, “Levee Camp Holler”, “Louisiana Blues”, “I’ve Been Scorned”, “Jump Steady Daddy”, “Help Me Through the Night”, “Two Nineteen Blues”, “Come See About Me”, “Moon Going Down” and “Death Have Mercy”. Jo Ann’s singing gives me the eerie chills.

Stay Tuned! More to Come!