Tag Archives: Led Zeppelin

Sifting Through the Wreckage of 2016: Blows Against the Empire

Is rock n roll dying? Not rock stars, who seem to be lining up for lethal injections with great regularity lately, but rock n roll. I look at my living room floor. It is littered with Bowie, Motorhead, Mott the Hoople and Paul Kantner albums. Each new week brings another deletion from the rock n roll Hall of Famous.  The detritus of the mighty beast of rock n roll lays scattered like the rubble of a childhood’s end.  The recent deaths of David Bowie, Lemmy, Dale Griffin, and Paul Kantner (hey Glen Frey too) in two months is a very large hit for the rock community to take.(and now in the four weeks since this was written-Keith Emerson offed himself and Prince has checked out too)  But it got me wondering about the state of rock of late. All of these platters on the rug came out over thirty five years ago (Bowie’s Blackstar being the lone exception). Turn on the radio-you hear about the same 100 songs: Bad Company, Boston, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, the Who, the Doors, Bob Seger, Elton John, the Yardbirds, Dire Straits, the Cars…..the list goes on. What do all these guys have in common? They were active and put albums out in the 1964-1979 fifteen year patch. In fact, almost every important album in rock came out between 1967 and 1977. Could it be that rock actually died, and we didn’t notice?

When the Beatles rewrote rock music history in the 1964 season, things really started to change. Groups played their own music for the first time. No longer were acts a couple of frontmen that used different back up bands at every venue, they were a full functioning self contained unit-bass, drums and guitar were now in house. Blues purist groups sprouted first, with the Rolling Stones being the best known aficionados of the new Brit craze, along with Alexis Korner and Graham Bond. The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton began their slow blues inflected ride.  Mod groups popped up in the end of 1964 in the UK, with the High Numbers leading the charge into their next phase renamed as the Who. By 1965, America and the UK were teeming with rock bands of every stripe. Rhythm and Blues, pop, blues, nascent drug music, poetry bands..things started to diverge. With the introduction of LSD to England in late 1965, everything there changed. The budding post beatnik scene in San Francisco launched another center of LSD influenced music. Everyone from the Beatles on down turned on and tuned in. Take a look at what 1965 yielded: the Rolling Stones  spat our an eyepopping five releases, including the groundbreaking Out of Our Heads; The Beatles four releases were topped by the awe inspiring Rubber Soul and the chart inspiring Help!-the Byrds, the Who, the Kinks, Van Morrison (Them), the Moody Blues, the Yardbirds all released their debut albums (technically the Kinks was their second). Bob Dylan released Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home. Add in the Animals, the Beach Boys, and the Zombies and you have a pretty good record collection. 1966 saw even more luminaries hit the recording field: Simon and Garfunkel, and Cream hit the stage, but a new contender hit the airwaves: Psychedelic rock/protest rock/California rock? Whatever you called it, US bands fought back for control.. Buffalo Springfield (the future CSNY), Jefferson Airplane,  13th Floor Elevators, Love, Frank Zappa, the Fugs all highlighted the weirdness that was cropping up in the States with their debuts. Minds expanded, audiences expanded and the diversity of rock expanded exponentially.

    

 

 

It was 1967 that changed everything. LSD was ubiquitous in use, and society mirrored the kaleidoscopic sea change that the music industry went through. Topped by the Beatles Sgt Pepper, many band’s definitive albums came out this year alone: 13th Floor Elevator’s Easter Everywhere, Jefferson Airplane-Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxters, Jimi Hendrix-Are You Experienced and Axis Bold as Love, Pink Floyd-Piper at the Gates of Dawn, The Doors-debut and Strange Days, Cream-Disraeli Gears, The Velvet Underground and Nico, the Grateful Dead debut, Traffic-Dear Mr. Fantasy, Love-Forever Changes, the Beatles-Magical Mystery Tour, the Moody Blues-Days of Future Passed, the Byrds-Younger Than Yesterday, Soft Machine debut, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie-Alice’s Restaurant, Moby Grape debut, Procol Harum debut, the Who-Sell Out-these 23 albums still form the core of many a well curated rock collection 49 years later, and are still considered the masterpiece of each bands work. And they all came out in one magic year. Rock had turned on, tuned in and turned up.

The class of 1967 spawned some fairly worthy progeny, as rock turned up, down and inside out. Add in the late comers to the scene like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Family, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Taste, the Stooges, Genesis, King Crimson, Chicago, the Guess Who, T Rex, MC5, Free, Van der Graaf Generator, Tangerine Dream, Spirit, Steve Miller, Steppenwolf, Sly and the Family Stone, J Geils Band, Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, Cat Stevens, Gentle Giant, David Bowie, Elton John, Mott the Hoople, Santana, the Allman Brothers, Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac, Caravan, the Band, Hawkwind, Humble Pie, Rod Stewart, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Mountain, Alice Cooper, Ten Years After, the Move, Deep Purple, Kraftwerk,  Can, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt,  Bob Marley and the Wailers, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, James Taylor, Funkadelic…a veritable full on collection of classic rock playlist of well knowns and cult favorites, and you have a full blown scene. Just this list would form a formidable collection of pure and diverse rock n roll unmatched by any releases in the last twenty years. All of the above bands were well established by the end of 1970.(All of these bands actually put an album out in calendar year 1970). The bar had been raised considerably  for any newcomers to the game.

So the 1976 punk era brought us a glimmer with the Clash, Elvis Costello, the Stranglers, the Sex Pistols, and the UK scene–the Ramones, Blondie, Television and the CBGBs scene. The synth pop and New Romantics of the 80’s? Does Duran Duran, Simple Minds and Spandau Ballet  warrant attention? Joy Division certainly does. One thing that became clear though, by the end of the 80’s, the ranks of the upcoming visionaries was thinning rapidly.

The early 90’s rock revival brought us Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Janes Addiction, Alice in Chains, Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Fishbone, Smashing Pumpkins? With the some main exceptions like the daring Sonic Youth and the thoroughly acid soaked Butthole Surfers-even the good bands were starting to recycle ideas. Rock seemed out of steam. What started blossoming in 1965 had started to die on the vine only 25 years later. By 2000, the front door had  been left open for the next visionaries, but nobody was waiting on the doorstep.

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Which brings us to the spate of 50th anniversary tours. Never in my wildest dreams as a teenager could I have imagined that some of the best recent concerts I’ve attended would be 50th anniversary shows from the Who, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. If a band lasted more than five years in the late sixties, it was considered a very real achievement. Tenth anniversaries used to be looked at with a mixture of imminent foreboding as well as a huge badge of honor. Hell, the Beatles never made it to ten years. Ten was a milestone, twenty went from unimaginable to a reality quickly for many in the 1970 list above. But FIFTY? No one in their right mind would ever imagine anything along those lines. Ludicrous wouldn’t even cover it if you ran this past Jann Wenner or Lester Bangs in the 70’s. Ironically, the Stones delivered one of their best tours in the last twenty years, even featuring Mick Taylor;  the Who’s Quadrophenia was still spine chilling even sans Moon and Entwistle on their 2013 jaunt; the Grateful Dead? Mixed reviews of their five date summer tour didn’t negate the huge crowds they drew. Yes, Kansas and Rush trotted out 40th and 45th anniversary affairs.

Another troubling sign is the rise of tribute bands from local barrooms to sheds and theaters. Beatles tribute bands have long populated this venue hopping genre, but the mop tops stopped touring in 1965. But newer bands are now blurring the line between reality and homage, while pulling in increasingly large numbers of fans. Dark Star Orchestra, a rip on the Dead, have headlined festivals and regularly packed theaters that their mentors did in the seventies. They toured with former Dead vocalist Donna Godchaux as a member of the band. Pink Floyd? Pick your poison-The Australian Pink Floyd and Brit Floyd regularly play theaters and arenas. Led Zeppelin? The field is crowded. Get The Led Out tours the States from coast to coast filling up theaters and sheds. This is the troubling part-cover bands as bar bands? Sure that makes sense. But when these guys start crawling up the ladder of success, and rock theaters are now headlining tribute bands, one must ask-where the fuck are the real bands? Why are people still so hungry for the magic of the 67-77 era that they will shell out bucks for the ersatz versions?

So where are the next ones to step up? The thought of Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie or the Arctic Monkeys filling up Boston Garden on their 50th anniversary? I would be hard pressed to say those guys even being  remotely remembered in 20 years, and would take odds they won’t even be playing an instrument then. The titanic waves generated by most of the ‘1970’ list above is now reduced to faint ripples in a pond made by the current rock cadre, barely noticeable in the bigger picture of what rock music has accomplished. Kids now flock to arenas to pray to the light machine, as shadowed figures tap at laptop computers to generate an electronic stroboscopic maelstrom, sometimes without an actual musical instrument on the stage. These are now the concerts where the ‘cool kids’ are showing up in droves-no band, no instruments, no real vocals-and riffs sampled (read: stolen) from records of the classic rock era-something very ironic and telling at the same time.  Has social media-everyone with their nose pressed into their goddamn cellphones-killed rock n roll?

Something very very special happened in a ten year run from 67-77, and it has taken the last 40 years to put this in perspective. Rock used to be a form of secret communication. Sex, drugs, mysticism? All contained on the album cover you reverently held in your hands while trying to decipher what the hell any of this meant, buried in huge headphones. Rock albums were your only source of good information about how the world really worked. Album covers soon gave way to CD booklets which gave way to postage stamp size album art on an iPod which gave way to no art at all on your cellphone. Lyric sheets disappeared. Too many questions have answers only a google flick away. Mystery is gone. Rock cannot any longer reinvent itself back to those days when it held sway over pop culture like a monolithic pseudo god, and provided what honestly functioned as a religion for a huge part of the youth and aging youth of America and the UK. Concert goers are now aging. I know there are plenty of good bands lighting up clubs everywhere-but none of them have done anything new, only recycled things done many times over since the 1967-1977 decade of excellence. Some well-stirring the pot of influences into an interesting variant on a theme, some not so good. But the old guard still filling arenas speaks volumes about what has come recently. And though I shudder as I type this, may mean that rock might actually be dying in front of  our eyes.

 

 

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Banned in Boston-Led Zeppelin Banned For Life (Sort of) 1975

On a chilly January evening 1975, Led Zeppelin fans lined up for tickets going on sale the next morning. Thousands of freezing fans were let into the lobby to keep warm. The doors separating the Garden from the lobby were stout, but no match for the eternally wasted Zep posse. The crowd broke down the doors, poured into the Garden, and mayhem ensued. This misbehavior offended proper Bostonian’s Puritan sensibilities, and they were added to the illustrious list of those “Banned in Boston”

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The phrase Banned in Boston meant one of two things. For a Boston citizen on the lookout for the prurient and subversive, it meant something we needed to keep out of our city. For the movers and shakers in the music, theater, art, literature and film world?  It was a badge of honor. I mean, if you can’t offend a Bostonian, you aren’t really applying yourself to your full potential. In the 17th century, Purtians banned…well…everything. Turnips and the Bible were OK, but god forbid a sexually suggestive shape in a turnip. Things accelerated with the entrance of the Comstock Act courtesy of Anthony Comstock in 1873, that prevented obscene material from being transmitted through the Postal Service. What was defined as obscene? Well anything that Anthony deemed offensive. And he was mighty easy to offend. The Watch and Ward Society took up the cause and guarded the morality of the few and imposed it upon the many. Eugene O’Neill, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, H.L. Mencken, H.G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis and Bocaccio’s Decameron were all deemed too naughty for Bostonians to read.  Plays would be banned after a single show (the cast of a play was arrested on site once). Films would be banned mid-reel in front of paid theater audiences. The clean cut Everly Brothers’ Wake Up Little Susie was stricken from the airwaves.  Hell, Rock n Roll in its entirety was banned from Boston in 1958 after a supposed riot at Boston Arena at an Alan Freed rock show.  The list of things banned in Boston would fill up an admirable collection of music, literature and art. But we have strayed from our topic….

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Zeppelin was riding the crest of a tsunami of popularity that had no end in sight. They hadn’t toured America since spring 1973, and the intervening two years of absence seemed like a decade. Their mystical appeal had drawn in an exponential growth in their fan base, and they could easily have sold out a three night stand if it was offered pretty much anywhere in America. Although waiting overnight for tickets is not  something unfamiliar, it was a rare breed in the 70’s that would line up  for an overnight vigil. Rather than regurgitate some of the things known, I thought I’d try to gather the reminiscences of a colleague at a record store I worked at in the mid 80’s. Because….he was there.  Although he told me this tale a long while ago, and many of these things are paraphrased, here’s his account:

“Yeah well, me and my friends were a mix of juniors, seniors, Boston suburban high school kids.  We were pumped that Zeppelin was coming cuz most of us missed the Garden show in ’73. I knew if we got there early, we would definitely score tickets. We got some booze and rolled some bones and headed into town. We were surprised to see a HUGE line when we got there. Also not psyched cuz it was fucking coooooold, temps got close to zero. But whatever, we’re in line and seem guaranteed tickets. Soon, some kind hearted security guy saw kids outside in denim jackets turning blue and shivering violently and took pity on us. He opened the doors and let us into the lobby. To warm up. Lots and lots of us. The room was pretty huge and held hundreds. More piled in and it got crowded. Well, only one place to go to make more room,and that was through the fucking doors to the Garden!  So in the spirit of the times, we all pitched in and broke through some fairly meaty security doors. Once inside, it was like that scene in Wizard of Oz when the doors open and  it turns color -mixed with some scenes from Road Warrior. I mean, you haven’t seen chaos like this at the Garden. Thousands of kids ran amok! Tearing up wood seats, throwing them on the ice, running and diving on the seats and sliding the full length of the rink on impromptu sleds, crashing into the boards full speed, getting up cackling laughing and going to it the other way.  Hundreds of kids were on the holy Bruins ice surface partying. Most of the refreshment stands were broken into immediately. Kegs were tapped, and already drunk people drank out of anything they could find. We’d been boozing to keep warm in line already.  We had brought our own stuff, so we stayed away from that. But everyone was shitfaced, and getting drunker. Crushed paper cups were everywhere.  Food was passed out, but mostly was the ammunition for a massive thousand person food fight. Industrial sized plastic jugs of ketchup, mustard and mayo were tossed around like watermelon sized grenades. Walls were plastered like art with yellow and red splotches. Fire hose fights I remember. Water went everywhere, people went flying like in the 60’s. . Then small piles of chairs in impromptu bonfires contrasted with enthusiastic fire extinguisher fights erupting. Regular seats got lit on fire. Foam covered and water covered kids staggered around. Some guys said they had broken into the Celtics dressing room and basketballs got thrown around. Drunk screaming everywhere, more fires, and then a single thought formed in my head:

“this shit is not good. I’m gonna get fucking arrested if I hang around “

A rare moment of sobriety, and I got most of my friends to leave with me before we got the shit beaten out of us by Boston cops (it had happened before to us). Arrest was kinda a secondary but real concern. I got home right before the sun came up and thanked my lucky stars I had all my teeth still. “

The cops did show, and were beyond horrified. How can you successfully deal with an unintended but contained riot that has a 30-1 participant advantage against the cops? So quickly the box office opened and the tickets went on sale in the wee hours of the AM.  The Garden revelers successfully filtered their way out and home, leaving over $50,000 of damage, in 1975 dollars ( a quarter of a million dollars in today’s money). Most surprisingly, nobody got arrested. Mayor White came in the next day, and surveyed the damage of the flooded, rubble strewn and partially scorched Garden. He imposed a five year ban on Page and co. within the confines of Boston. The band had to cancel the ’75  show that had caused this ruckus. They passed on trying to book a show in 1977. Finally in 1980 for the prospective fall tour , they were booked to play Foxboro, a football stadium 35 km south of the city, in an effort to suss if they were serious about the Boston ban.This show doesn’t appear in the official Fall 1980 US tour list, but was reported on local radio stations (they may have been confusing a proposed summer 1981 tour in their excitement). But in a final irony, ’twas not to be. John Bonham inconsiderately died from drinking over a liter or so of booze. The ban might have been up, but the band had a drummer in Valhalla and the dream also went belly up.  So let’s raise a beer to the days when kids REALLY knew how to party.

“Can….You…Dig… It” -Cyrus

Led Zeppelin Remastered Vinyl-Do I Need All of Them Fancy Bonus Deluxe Versions?

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Well it took fourteen months, but here we are with the final three Zep lps remastered: Presence, In Through the Out Door and Coda. The project that began in June 2014-an overhauling of the whole Led Zeppelin catalog for CD and vinyl with extensive bonus tracks-has reached the end. The sound, according to Jimmy Page, is immaculate. Just how do these things hold up, and is it really worth it to grab the expensive double and triple lp versions?
The short answer is ‘no’. Sure, if you are loaded with extra dosh, grab everything. But for the discerning consumer, there are some that can have a miss. First up, how do these things actually sound on vinyl? The answer is: pretty damn good. The vinyl pressing in the first two batches was fairly uneven: skips and clicks were numerous, with Led Zeppelin IV showing to be the worst of the bunch. (I and many others had to return ours for a prodigious amount of skipping events.) Physical Graffiti needed a heavy cleaning before it would play without skipping. Brand new expensive vinyl should not require this much attention to get it to play correctly when you have just popped the seal on it. (the final batch of three from Presence on is noticeably better) On a quality control scale, the Beatles Mono lps these certainly ain’t. But one thing they are is a very accurate repressing of some of the most full on classic albums of rock n roll. (For many fans, this is….lets count–
1.original lp circa. 72-87
2.1987 original cd
3.1990 cd remaster
4. 2015 remaster– a minimum of four times they have purchased the same album). With the remix mania fueled by Steve Wilson’s wholesale pillaging of Jethro Tull, Yes, King Crimson and ELP in computer aided remixes, some were wary that Page would tweak some of the albums in an ill advised remix session. Fans can rest easy, for Page wisely said when asked about this: “I’m not into re-writing history, I’m just re-presenting,”  So worry not, these are the original mixes, presented in the best possible form that any true audiophile would want-vinyl. Below follows a guide to the bonus tracks for each release, and whether you need them or not.(Side note-the ratings comments were written consecutively when these came out in June 2014, February 2015 and July 2015)
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Led Zeppelin 1
The debut album itself rings with the youthful energy that created it in the 1968 to 1969 recording sessions. The bonus tracks for this album are unique to the whole set of reissues, a full on double lp live album. Recorded in Paris in October 1969, this large wallop of Zeppelin pushing the boundaries of volume in a Hendrix and Who era of LOUD is a very stripped down peek at Zep. A soundboard that is bit muddy for many folks, this recording has been circulating as a bootleg forever. Sound quality is not the greatest but the performance dictates this one is a must. C’mon, a double live album as the bonus track?  Rating: Must have
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Led Zeppelin 2
The album that really put them on the map. The hallucinogenic Whole Lotta Love sent many a fragile novice into the lands of madness single handed. The bonus tracks are early mixes of seven of the nine songs (The Lemon Song and Bring it On Home aren’t represented) Some are rough mixes, some are backing tracks lacking vocals. Some sound identical to the originals barring a rougher vocal. The one treasure is La La, a previously unheard track. For this alone, a true Zeppelin fan should pony up for this one. Rating: Grab it just for La La
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Led Zeppelin III
Zep goes acoustic, sort of. Some love this album, some think it was a bit limp on the heavy. On remaster, these songs are crystalline in their delicate beauty, as Zep shows off their musical diversity. The bonus tracks are similar to the predecessor- a mash up of early mixes, backing tracks lacking vocals and takes that sound pretty much like the album cut. Seven songs have an antecedent on the bonus tracks, with Tangerine, That’s the Way and Hat’s Off to Roy Harper  the three songs that are not represented. That’s The Way is noticeably different with a dulcimer and quirkly effects. Key to the Highway/Trouble in Mind is an unheard track that is a blues rundown. Jennings Farm Blues is a proto version of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp guitar overdubs. Neither is quite as essential as La La. This is the first album where I wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off with just a single lp version. Two unreleased songs make this annoyingly enticing. Still-these bonus tracks are starting to feel like album versions minus vocals. Rating: Maybe to Sort of
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Led Zeppelin IV
The doozy. Stairway to Heaven? For many, this is the ONLY song Zep recorded. The bonus tracks however? Uh oh. Eight duplicates of the eight album tracks. The biggy here is the legendary Sunset Sound mix of Stairway to Heaven. Much ink has been spilled discussing this mix. I had never heard it, and dropped the needle in anticipation of a revelatory event. And then…damn! Disappointment strikes. This thing is nearly identical to the original. A bit muddier, a bit more guitar heavy. The key word here is ‘mix’. All of the vocals, all of the instruments are identical to the more famous final version, just a wee bit higher or lower in the mix. An instrumental Battle of Evermore is nice, especially if you have a karaoke machine and a Sandy Denny soundalike kicking around. For many, this bonus disc will be a disappointment. Rating: Not sure this one is worth it
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Houses of the Holy
Zep’s fifth album is many people’s favorite. It certainly has some good reasons to say that-Dancing Days, No Quarter, The Song Remains The Same? The bulk of this 1973 album was recorded in ’72, and Zep was on a run. The album is a snapshot of a band completely in control of everything in their universe . The bonus tracks? Notsomuch. This one is nearly identical to the album tracks. Eight album tracks are duplicated with eight bonus tracks. Piano missing on one song. No vocals on another. A vaguely enticing instrumental No Quarter that illustrates how integral the vocals are to this trance inducing song. The pattern of rough mixes of tracks things they end up recording identically  is now becoming troublesome. Nothing extra or unheard here. This is not what I would call bonus tracks. Rating: Leaning towards No
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Physical Graffiti
Zeppelin’s 1975 double lp showed the band not missing a beat. Eight new songs were padded out with leftovers from Zep III and Zep IV and Houses, and some pretty impressive stuff these leftovers were-Boogie With Stu, jamming with Ian Stewart on barrelhouse piano, the never credited sixth Rolling Stone member; Houses of the Holy-the title track they left off the album…It’s one of my personal favorites in the Zep canon. The bonus tracks here are well chosen. Brandy and Coke, an early Trampled Underfoot, A Sunset Sound mix here and there. But the treasure is an early version of In The Light known as Everybody Makes It Through. This song is completely different in approach, lyric and arrangement to the point of it actually being a different song. Brilliant insight of the process on this album. Rating: A solid yes
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Presence
1976’s Presence found a humbled Zeppelin-car crash, death of Plant’s child, mayhem on the previous tour. Yet though Robert Plant was in a wheelchair recording this, some of their more obscure classics reside here, Nobody’s Fault But Mine and Achille’s Last Stand being the standouts. The bonus disc contains one side of nearly exact duplicates of the album track with very minimal differences. Some large exceptions are on side two: the oddly Monty Python-esque titled 10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod), an unheard piano piece that evolves into a nice full band blueprint for something they never finished. Almost Fleetwood Mac in inception, and that makes it easy to see why it was abandoned. Royal Orleans features a rough guide vocal-by John Bonham? Yep. For these reasons, this one is probably necessary. Rating: A qualified yes
In Through The Out Door
Zeppelin on the ropes. Mostly written by John Paul Jones, this album found the band bereft of ideas. Carouselembra is fairly epic, but some find it too synth heavy. More noted for its cutting edge innersleeve, one that changed color of the components of the artwork if exposed to water. I discovered this right when it came out when someone spilled water over the sleeve. Suddenly-peanuts were yellow, glasses blue, lighter red, ash tray green: micro capsules of water soluble ink were stored invisibly in the white cardboard. Genius! Unfortunately, the brilliance of the sleeve outshines the music as this one has some clunkers. So the bonus tracks? Identical to the album. In fact some are literally identical-but mono mixes.I actually got up to check to see if  the real album had been switched with the bonus disc in the sleeves, it was that convincingly identical.  I am now insulted by the bonus material and wonder what the fuck Jimmy was thinking on this one. Rating: No. Avoid at all costs
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Coda
The swan song so to speak for Zeppelin. 1982’s Coda was a huge disappointment when it was released. Fans knew there was a ton of unreleased material in the vaults, and expected it. At 33:04, it was perilously close to Van Halen standards of ‘hey let’s put out a 30 minute lp’. “Coda been a good album” one of my friends said after finishing the first play. I had to agree, not much here was good. Bonzo’s Montreux? A drum solo? That brings it down to a friggin’ 27 minute lp. Ugh. But Jimmy Page had one more trick up his sleeve, and had saved all the goodies for last. Now a full 3 lp set, Coda is insanely good. Too many treasures to list here. St. Tristan’s Sword sports a riff that Page broke out at the 1988 Atlantic Records 40th anniversary party. They started Whole Lotta Love, but Page oddly could not stop this riff from taking the song over. John Paul Jones shrugged after watching Page play this inexplicable snippet and played along underneath as Whole Lotta Love turned into Whole Lotta confusion. Not until this month with the release of Tristan was this curious event to make sense.  Fifteen songs, four unreleased ones. A gospel song that presages the Honeydrippers? The Bombay Orchestra recordings in India? Hey Hey What Can I Do? finally on lp. A 1968 recording of Sugar Mama that sounds closer to the Yardbirds than Zeppeliin? This is the holy grail of unreleased Zep, and shows a breadth of diversity this band was capable of. . Curiously, White Summer/Black Mountain Slide from the 1990 reissue is missing. If you only buy one deluxe edition, let it be this one. Rating: Holy Crap! Yes!
One slight detraction here is that these were not created in the pure analog path, and involve digital conversion-which some may find a deal breaker. But when compared to earlier original pressings and classic records 200g reissues, these do have a bit more clarity here and there. But the ability to actually do these full analog path did exist and perhaps the ‘cleaning up’ weighed more heavily than analog purist in the final reckoning.
So, if you got the money, hell go get ’em all. But if you are on a budget, you can limit this to a few. Even if you are a completist, avoid the In Through the Out Door deluxe version, for even the most initiated afficiando will be hard pressed to point out any differences at all in the bonus tracks without a crib sheet. Sometimes the song does remain the same.

Aleister Crowley, Jimmy Page and the Curse of Led Zeppelin-When Myth, Magick and Weird Facts Collide

The curse of Led Zeppelin. People started to whisper about this in the late seventies. Nobody had any particular facts. But when Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died in September 1980, things started to pick up. So—is there anything to this so called Led Zeppelin “curse”? Nonsense, right? Let’s see…

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Most of the curse talk is centered around the little understood late 19th century magician, Aleister Crowley. To say the word magician in the 21st century conjures up images of David Blaine or David Copperfield working illusions. In the late 1800’s, there existed a different kind of magician. These guys were serious-unlocking dimensions, communication with extra terrestial intelligences, communication with the dead, thought teleportation, spirit photography-spooky stuff, and grounded in science. The spiritualist movement was huge at this time, and though many charlatans inhabited the terrain, making the public think this was all some tomfoolery, others knew better. (Read up on the influence of Helena Blavatsky in the spiritual movement and Theosophy). Much of this work was centered in England around the Golden Dawn Society. Founded by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers in the late 1880’s, it was a secret society based loosely on Freemasonry, and like the Masons, had access to ancient secret Egyptian knowledge…supposedly. Their intent wasn’t evil or underhanded, they knew that humans had unlimited potential, and had vast untapped reservoirs waiting to be discovered. In short, they wanted mankind to rise up to a higher level of consciousness and awareness, not bad aspirations. They attracted high society intellectuals (William Butler Yeats was an early member), but infighting for control of the group, and a new member, Aleister Crowley, caused rifts that tore the group apart. . By the early 1900’s, the group had splintered into several sects and Crowley was off on his own.

The salacious aspects of Crowley are the easiest to locate in books and internet articles: copious use of drugs and sex. Lots and lots of sex. And sex while on drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. You get the idea. His life is far too much to cover here, but suffice it to say, Crowley continued on an esoteric magical path that continued to confound and mystify-and push the boundaries of understanding of the unseen further than anyone in the last 200 years. (he is indirectly responsible for Scientology, but was long dead when L Ron Hubbard foisted that scam onto the public). He became known as the master magician of the early 20th century-part devil incarnate or part receptacle of interdimensional knowledge? It was easy to find both opinions.

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Enter Rock n Roll. From Beatle-esque good times to the psychedelic movement was a scant three years. Fans and bands were looking for something further. LSD and a rainbow of other drugs gave the insight that there actually was something further out there. Bands started to get weird and fans got weirder as the sixties shifted into 1970. It was around this time that Jimmy Page began to have a large fixation with Aleister Crowley. His bookstore he financed, The Equinox, was named after a Crowley journal, and it stocked some seriously rare and pricey occult books. This is the time when supposedly Page asked the band to perform a magical ritual with him, a ritual that would bring the band power unimaginable and something akin to everlasting life. Now for anyone who has heard or talked to people “in the know”, this kind of magic is nothing to fool with. It supposedly involves forces with powers beyond any human imagination, and is not to be trifled with by anyone not steeped in mountains of experience, certainly not for novice magi or stoned guitarists.(The oracle at Delphi giving mixed prophecies is a good ancient example).  Blame hubris, blame drugs, but Page allegedly got the band, minus one, to join in this solemn and ancient ceremony. Jon Paul Jones was either skeptical enough or learned enough to stay far away.

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The first evidence of this pact showed up on Led Zeppelin III. It was years before I discovered its exixtence. Between the end of  the last song and the paper label is the outro groove. (this is where matrix numbers used by the pressing plant are usually located).  Written into the vinyl (carved with a stylus into the test pressing acetate more correctly) was So Mote it Be on one side and Do What Thou Wilt on the other. These are basic stock phrases that are in the core of Crowley’s belief system, and are familiar to most who are aware of him. The magical significance of a Crowley power phrase spinning simultaneously on thousands of turntables across the  world could not have escaped Page’s notice. (colleagues of this era say he most certainly was a member of the O.T.O. at this point)

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It was on Led Zeppelin IV that the symbolism became more overt. No band name or title graced the cover or spine. Inside, a haunting painting of the hermit, a powerful tarot card symbol, was the sole image. On the innersleeve-more esoterica. Four symbols boldy across the sleeve. From left to right, these represent Page, Jones, Bonham and Plant. Page has said in interviews that most of these were taken Rudolf Koch’s 1955 Book of Signs, a collection of ancient and magical symbols from across the world. Plant’s is the easiest to decipher, the feather of truth from the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. Plant brought the truth and spoke it. Bonhams’s is the least esoteric-depending on who you believe it is either a symbol for a drumkit, the family unit, or the Ballantine Beer logo. Wise pundits refer to the latter as most likely. Jon Paul Jones’ logo, likely chosen by Page, is an ancient Celtic symbol with differing meanings and was co-opted by the early Christian church as a meaning for Trinity. The famed Zoso symbol is harder to pin down. Page famously has said he will never tell anyone what it means, but that it has obvious magical and occult significance. Robert Plant once said that in a quietly guarded moment, Page revealed the full meaning of all four signs, including a lengthy discussion of what Zoso meant. Unfortunately for the rock world, Plant said “I was a bit wasted at the time, and by the next morning I had forgotten. I asked him the next day to tell me again and he said he couldn’t/wouldn’t”

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Even Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention, the ethereal voice on Battle of Evermore got her own symbol (cue foreshadowing music here) in the credits. Her symbol is related to both godhead and the power of the female.

 

Page at Boleskin, Crowley's mansion
Page at Boleskine, Crowley’s mansion

 

Page with Miss Pamela
Page with Miss Pamela

That is a lot of esoteric ballyhoo, but where is the curse? According to Pamela des Barres, groupie extraordinaire and main squeeze of Page during this era, Jimmy got very deep into the Crowley myth, tasking her to scour San Francisco and Los Angeles for Crowleyania. She managed to come up with some impressive artifacts, manuscripts and even the magical robes Crowley wore. Then Page dropped a large chunk of change to acquire Crowley’s mansion, Boleskine, located on Loch Ness. Page said that the house had a history of suicides, which was true. This was  now a serious obsession, but he managed to keep it fairly quiet above boards. Visitors to Boleskine said that at dusk, the outdoor patio was awash with shadows-phantoms and ghostly shapes, residue of decades of conjuring and whatnot. Whatever you believe, maids and servants were a quick turnover in employment, as all agreed the place was haunted to the point of being uninhabitable and beyond creepy.

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Enter Kenneth Anger, Crowley disciple and filmaker. He was a noted underground filmmaker, drug taker and subversive. When Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin hatched a plan to exorcise and levitate the Pentagon in 1967, people took it as a Yippie lark, a stage show. However, Anger was ensconced under a truck, busily drawing magic circles, burning incense and chanting spells in Enochian-truly and seriously trying to do a real ritual exorcism. When plans for his film Lucifer Rising began to go astray-the lead actor (Bobby Beausoleil, later convicted of murder as a Manson family member)- had to quit; Anton Lavey of the Church of Satan had a cameo; he had an off and on relation with the Rolling Stones for soundtrack work, (eerily right before the Altamont tragedy); rough cuts and cameras were stolen by Beausoleil. (“To take his revenge, Anger made a magic talisman, one side of which was a likeness of Beausoleil, the other of a toad. On this was written: ‘Bob Beausoleil, turned into a toad by Kenneth Anger.’ ” Beausoleil ended up in jail for life for murder within a year.)

In stepped Jimmy Page to do the soundtrack. This was the start of a love/hate relationship between Anger and Page. The music Page produced was genuinely creepy (some showed up on In Through the Out Door as the intro to In the Evening.) Anger moved into Boleskine and they shared their love of Crowley memorabilia.  Anger was eventually asked to leave Page’s house where he had been living  as the relationship degenerated and Page pulled out in 1975. Anger did a major flame job in the media publicly, but privately said he had cursed Page and Zep with one monster of a spell, the hugest psychic whammy he could conjure, replete with the worst Crowleyisms he could muster.  This is where shit really started to go south.

First Robert Plant was in a horrific car crash, plunging off a cliff in Greece in 1975, nearly killing himself, his wife and child Karac. This forced a cancellation of the remainder of the Physical Graffiti tour, and postponed the recording of Presence, which Plant was forced to record in a wheelchair.  The make up tour was then plagued by a plethora of highly negative events. A sudden case of laryngitis for Plant after the band had shipped all of their equipment and instruments to the States meant zero rehearsing was possible. Ticketless fans in Cincinnati rioted and stormed the gates (oddly the site of the infamous trampling incident at the Who two years later that killed eleven), In San Francisco, manager Peter Grant and John Bonham roughed up Bill Graham and nearly beat a Bill Graham employee to death-Bonham and Grant narrowly escaped serious charges and incarceration. Then Karac got sick. the best physicians  money and private jets could buy all had the same answer-‘we have no idea what is wrong’. He passed away in 1977 right after the Graham incident, and as the band arrived in New Orleans, they got the news.  The tour was immediately canceled. Plant quit the band and music in response to Page and Jones not showing up to his son’s funeral. Zeppelin truly seemed cursed.Things continued to implode. Page was nearly comatose on a daily basis from a crippling heroin addiction. Bonham’s alcoholism raged out of control, and he became increasingly violent and unpredictable.  In 1978, Sandy Denny, the goddess of Battle of Evermore plunged drunkenly down a flight of stairs and broke her neck and died. Finally, in  September 1980, John Bonham was sent home blisteringly drunk from a band rehearsal. Handlers tucked him in bed, he’d only drank 40 or so shots, he would be fine. Incorrect. He died in his sleep, and so did Zeppelin. The curse had cut a swath through the band in under five years. Only Jon Paul Jones, the only one not to sign the supposed pact, remained unscathed.

When all is said and done, it is pretty easy to chalk all of the above up to circumstance and chance. Eerie circumstances, but nevertheless, a round of odd coincidences. Page had said several times in interviews that he was ‘using a system that worked’ when asked about Crowley. Clearly occult practices were genuinely involved on some level, and some creepy and frightening personages dance in the background of the story. Anger does seem to be a demonstrable potential curse source.

Personally?  I am not so sure. Things started to backfire just as the band became the worldwide legends they had tried to magically invoke. Perhaps Page had violated the fourth pillar of O.T.O. commandments ‘To Be Silent’ by dropping some larger hints as to what he was into in his 1970’s interviews, which drew some commensurate magickal actions. But this is the thing that gets me–when so called ‘black magicians’ mess with this stuff, they usually do a protective spell on themselves for extra safety. Because black-ish magic is notorious for either backfiring or not working in the way it was supposed to. Collateral damage around events associated with this behavior is well known. But Page’s extra level of spell could be simple, like “make sure nothing happens to me”. And looking back on Page’s career since 1980: his level of heroin addiction, lack of production musically (ignoring the Firm), failed Zeppelin reunions, and general dearth of accomplishments after nearly two decades of brilliance….it gives me pause. Nothing, literally nothing has happened to him. Good or bad. Just as it was phrased. And a fairly decent body count to go along with it is just enough to make you wonder. Really wonder.

In The Lap of the Gods-Amazing Super Groups That Almost Happened: HELP, XYZ, WWB and Beyond

The Super Group: a collection of well known stars that band together to make up a highly touted record selling juggernaut, attract all of the attention, get the plum gigs, and of course, get all the girls. Most have failed, few rise above the hype and the lucky ones (usually ones not noted initially as super groups) grab the brass ring of success.

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Early super groups were defined by the band Blind Faith. Even the name suggests what the audience should have going into the project. Members of Cream (kind of a super group already)  and Traffic (Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Ric Grech) combined ideas and personnel to make one middling album (known more for its topless twelve year old girl on the album cover than any music inside), a 1969 tour that pulled in the dollars but showed the band to be more or less a blues jam band with few real songs, and relied on their former bands for in concert faves. Playing the same Cream songs to increasing hordes of rabid fans who were out of their minds wasted was exactly why Clapton had broken Cream up, so the writing was on the wall. They pulled the plug and quickly faded from memory, thus providing the model for many super groups to follow. (see GTR)

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But this article isn’t about the dinosaur era of failed super groups, it is about groups that nearly formed, or formed and then disbanded without any output. You know, the big “what if’s?” of rock history. One of the first of note did not have a name, but was going to be a collision between the most histrionic rock guitarist going, and the most over the top keyboardist of all time: Jimi Hendrix and Keith Emerson. It was to be called either HELP or HELM depending on the final line up. With the end of the Nice, Emerson was looking to retool a band. He had already pooched Greg Lake from King Crimson, and was fishing around for some pieces of the puzzle to round out the band. Supposedly he contacted Hendrix to jam together, and (depending on who you listen to) Jimi came by to sit in on  some of the early sessions that yielded Emerson, Lake and Palmer.  This is where the story gets a little murky. The one thing that has been documented is that Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell showed up to a rehearsal at Emerson’s studio with a large entourage. Discussions of Mitchell coming on board to round out the trio led to the wild idea of including Hendrix. It is uncertain whether Carl Palmer was in the loop of discussion as of yet as a drum choice. It is likely that, had the project gone a bit further, Hendrix would have had the final say in drummers, and gone with his favorite in Mitchell over the unknown Palmer. British tabloids at the time hinted at the HELP moniker, but a close look at the facts indicate that the HELM lineup would have been the final outcome. Witnesses to the first meetings said that the huge drugged out entourage Hendrix brought with him did not lend to the ‘friendly jam’ atmosphere that nascent bands crave in the formative stage, and that Lake and Emerson “freaked out”, and had second thoughts. Still, for any fans of Hendrix and ELP, the thought of two of the most talented point men in rock being able to duel on stage and trade riffs and solos of unimaginable depth is pretty appealing. (Hendrix’s untimely death in 1970 put an end to the proposal). But the jazzier leanings Hendrix was dabbling in at the time make it even more of a tantalizing proposition. Which leads to….

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Hendrix, McCartney, Miles Davis and Tony Williams. This lineup is documented by an October telegram sent to Apple Records and Paul McCartney trying to get the bass player to show up in New York for the album sessions. Hendrix and McCartney are already a fairly enticing proposition, but throw in jazz legend Miles Davis and phenom jazz drummer Tony Williams? Good god the mind boggles at the thought of what that quartet could have accomplished. Whether Macca would have been one of many bassists on the album or a solid member of the quartet is unknown. But the tantalizing scrap of paper in the Hard Rock Cafe bears witness to something that rock fans can only dream about- a super group that could have rewritten musical boundaries forever. The Hendrix album Nine to the Universe released in 1980 had jazz leanings, and a little known album session with John McLaughlin of Mahavishnu Orchestra fame showed the direction Hendrix was heading. (McLaughlin nixed the release of his jams with Jimi, alluding to crappy playing on his part. I have a bootleg of  the session, and McLaughlin gets truly smoked at every turn and is out of sorts with Hendrix, not something a flash guitarist wants on his resume). In the long run, McCartney was on holiday and it is unknown whether he was apprised of the telegram. (Apple was notoriously inefficient in 1969).  But this would have been something special, no doubt. A group that would have defined and redefined “jazz rock”.

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Led Zeppelin Mk 0, Proto-Zep 1966

This is a band line up  that has fueled much speculation and disagreement over the years: Led Zeppelin almost happened in 1966. There is only one enticingly small piece of evidence that documents this incarnation of the proto-band. A barely noticed B-side to a Jeff Beck single (Hi Ho Silver Lining) called Beck’s Bolero had been recorded in May 1966, and quietly slipped out in 1967. A truly earth shaking super group this was too: Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, John Paul Jones on bass and Keith Moon on drums. Page and Beck had a short run together in the Yardbirds (Train Kept a Rollin’ in the film Blow Up was their only documented duet), but this single had the earmarks of a real band. The Who were on the verge of a break up once again (Daltrey had been fired briefly in 1966) and Moon and Entwistle had discussed a project involving Jimmy Page. Whether the original name Lead Zeppelin originated with Moon, Entwistle or future Zep manager Peter Grant is unclear (Page has tapped Moon as the origin)–Entwistle was adamant that Grant was present at his and Moon’s initial discussions and stole the idea, including that he had even thought the project out to include the Hindenburg in flames on their first album cover (which Grant also nicked). Soon the Who and Moon had kissed and made up, and this idea was put on the backburner to simmer for a couple of years.

beatles  (FILE) Rolling Stones Return To Hyde Park, A Look Back At The 1969 Concert bob-dylan-1969

Beatles, Stones, Dylan form a single band

Before passing out of the sixties, another proposed band has recently come to light. In the realms of the word super group, this one would  have been a doozy: a nine piece band comprising Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Yep–Dylan, the Beatles and the Stones, all in one band. Producer Glyn Johns let this one out in his recent book. According to Johns, the impetus for this project came solely from Bob Dylan. He wanted to make an album with the most influential song writers of the 1960’s, and see what the combined talents could collaborate on to produce. The time period would have been the summer of 1969-Self Portrait era of Dylan, post Brian Jones Stones, and the chaos of Let it Be for the Beatles. Johns had worked for years on the Rolling Stones production end, and Dylan was intrigued by his recent work with the Beatles. Despite Dylan’s enthusiasm, only George Harrison and Keith Richards jumped at the chance and tried to gather support. Wyman, Ringo and Watts waited to see what others would do, and Lennon felt ambivalent. McCartney and Jagger would not even consider it for a second, perhaps reflecting the power struggles then going on in both bands. Despite the cachet these names generate, it is hard to see how this would have played out. Collaborative song writing? If real, then it would have been something we’d still be analyzing to this day. But other luminaries were sidling up…

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Fast forwarding a decade comes a super group that strikes very close to home: XYZ. Representing eX Yes and Zeppelin, XYZ was formed in late 1980 as both Yes and Led Zeppelin had imploded (the former due to a break up during the failed follow up to Tormato, the other by the death of John Bonham.). At the time, two of my favorite bands had just jumped the rails, and my lifelong search to finally see Led Zeppelin live summer 1980 was thwarted by Bonham’s untimely death. Whispers by those who had insider information spoke of XYZ-Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Chris Squire and Alan White. Holy Crap–talk about a consolation prize! I anxiously awaited further news. I carried around a 1981 clipping from a local newspaper from a ticket scalping agency for the better part of a decade. Around the border were upcoming big concerts they were pushing: The Rolling Stones, Springsteen, AC/DC…the hottest tours of the biggest bands circled in a border around the advert. But one caught my eye, the elusive XYZ. Was there going to be a tour? Holy shit! But then….an information black out. Nothing in the news anywhere about this. What was going on?  In reality, Page, White and Squire had gotten together with former Greenslade keyboardist David Lawson to combine forces. As a front man, the obvious choice was Robert Plant. Rehearsals in early 1981 progressed well, but Plant dropped out after a single session with them, citing lingering trauma from Bonham’s death. Other sources claim the songs being written were straying into an unfamiliar ground as Squire and White drew Page into much trickier uncharted territory-fluctuating time signatures, stops and starts and evolving key changes–the hallmarks of prog rock and Yes. Plant found this material out of  his comfort zone and a bit too “tricky” for his liking. Whichever excuse you  prefer, Plant was out. This left Squire and David Lawson as vocalists, but the initial momentum and  enthusiasm began to wane as rehearsals continued. Disputes over management between Brian Lane of the Yes camp and Peter Grant of the Zep camp did not help. (The aborted sessions produced some tantalizingly rare outtakes, which finally have surfaced in the bootleg underground and are readily available to the skilled internet surfer). Finally both parties realized that this was headed in the wrong direction without Plant to tie it together, and they went their separate ways. Some of the more finished material ended up on the rare Squire/White single,  Run With the Fox. Other material ended up on the 1983 Yes reformation album 90125. One song ended up on a Page/Rodgers Firm album. One of the ‘trickier’ pieces finally surfaced 15 years later as Mind Drive on the 1997 Keys to Ascension2 Yes album. For many Yes fans, this was the last decent original song they ever released. Few know that its origins have Jimmy Page rattling around in there somewhere. But this wasn’t the only aborted Yes project of the era….

When Yes failed to come up with a follow up to Tormato, they imploded in Paris. Roy Thomas Baker was at the helm, and the band bickered endlessly. Writing was strained and Jon Anderson tried to wrestle control and impose his will upon the band, a very un-Yeslike attitude. (Songs of this era showed up on bonus tracks of Drama and the Anderson solo album Song of Seven. They are excruciatingly bad.) In the background was the easily disaffected keyboard genius Rick Wakeman. Rick had once famously consumed sausage sandwiches on his grand piano while playing on the Tales From Topographic Oceans tour to show his disapproval of the material and horrify the recently vegan turned Anderson and Howe. So when Alan White broke his ankle during the sessions, Rick saw his opportunity and wisely bolted for the door.

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WWB-Wakeman, Wetton, Bruford

But this was not the first time Wakeman had pulled a vanishing act. The first time was post Tales, in 1974. He then became a fairly large draw as a solo act, but stage productions for Journey to the Center of the Earth (performed around a lake with inflatable monsters bobbing up and down from the surface) and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of  the Round Table (performed around a skating rink with ice skating characters, and orchestra and choir) drained finances like burning money in a stove. A solution was in the offing, and America had the answer. With ELP effectively off the road, a keyboard led supergroup was needed. That group was Wakeman Wetton and Bruford, WWB.  John Wetton and Bill Bruford had most recently played together in the final 70’s version of King Crimson, and were nearly telepathic in their playing. Wakeman? Well as he himself has noted, was an unofficial member of the UK Olympic Drinking Team. This seemed doomed from the start, but they hung together for six weeks in May-June 1977, took promo photos on a James Bond movie set, had press releases out and record companies lined up. Unfortunately, the execs pumped up Wakeman’s already inflated ego with promises of ELP styled mega events with him at the helm. They also proposed a 50-25-25 split of the finances, something that Wetton and Bruford could not swallow. With  accountants running with contracts after them, the band fell apart. Wakeman rejoined Yes, while Wetton and Bruford enlisted Eddie Jobson and Alan Holdsworth for the more sedate and complex band, UK. The bombastic WWB never saw the light of day. Two songs of their work survived–Beelzebub surfaced on a Bruford solo album, and Thirty Years on the first UK album.

Recent history has provided many an example of super groups that fizzle out upon launch. Had these bands continued and actually toured and released albums,the same fate may have struck the above mentioned bands. But time and events will not let us know how this  would have played out. One thing I do know, I really would  have loved to see Jimmy Page in a progressive rock band. “What if?” indeed.

AC/DC Bag Half Full-Gov’t Mule New Year’s at the Beacon 2014

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Warren Haynes is a guy that is known for taking chances, and somehow never stumbles. Mule, Lesh, Allmans, the Dead…the list goes on for projects he has either jump started or revitalized. As for his now main project, Gov’t Mule, his work is impressive. With over 300 songs in their working repertoire, and a working knowledge of cover tunes that is inexhaustible, they are able to pull out some obscure chestnuts to surprise a crowd. But it is Halloween and New Year’s Eve that are considered the ‘main event’. Both evenings are usually dedicated to full on tributes: Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, the Doors….this is only a sampling. Last year’s New Year’s show at the Beacon Theater in New York City featured Robbie Krieger on guitar, as Warren Haynes and company plowed though a full 90 minutes Doors set after midnight.
This year’s theme was announced in October as an AC/DC tribute. Some early rumors had Slash as the ‘special guest'(Slash’s vocalist Myles Kennedy as Bon Scott was the actual guest, also known as Led Zeppelin’s final vocalist in the aborted 2009 Zep reunion) Initial excitement was met with some lingering doubts. Even Angus Young would admit that he is not a really exploratory guitar wizard. Would this be a good template for Gov’t Mule to successfully launch into hyperspace?
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The answer? Well not really. Although things were fairly raucous as the band hurtled into Highway to Hell, you could sense some frustration building in the crowd. Myles Kennedy took over lead vocals for the 18 song second set. It was strange to see Gov’t Mule and not see Warren singing for this long. When in the past they have had special guests at a show like this, they were usually musical sidemen, not frontmen. Vocalists were usually given a turn at a song or two. To have someone take over the stage for this long? Weird. The other problem was alluded to earlier. AC/DC songs are not really suited to stretching out musically. Longish solos don’t really feel right, nor are they really vehicles for jumping off to deeper jamming. This is what some in the crowd noticed. Warren, the focus of the band, was relegated for almost two hours to a sideman position. He had been painted into a corner musically from the first notes, and it was very difficult for him to inject his intergalactic guitar extrapolations into these concise tunes. It almost felt half way through the second set as if I were watching a top tier AC/DC cover band, and at 90 bucks a pop for tickets–the most expensive cover band ever. Others around me echoed similar sentiments. Warren looked a bit lost on the sidelines as if even he was starting to wonder if this had been really thought through. Not one of the better Mule shows I have seen, a noble failure if you will. Other things noticed: for the first time in memory, there were no balloons dropped from the ceiling at midnight. Also, the New Years tshirt pictured above as a poster oddly sold out on 12/30 during the show, meaning that everyone who attended on the 31st had no chance to buy a New Years shirt. Some in the crowd were puzzled by this lack of preparation.
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Before we finish, I want to be clear: the purpose of this article is not to take pot shots at Warren Haynes for taking chances, on the contrary, this is to point out and thank him for being one of the few out there willing to take some really big chances. In this age of completely scripted and meticulously rehearsed performances that are getting pretty far from what a real rock show once was: getting out there with an idea and seeing what happens–an event like this is pretty rare. Sometimes you fly, sometimes you stumble, but the point is you tried something different and went for it. More folks in rock music need to think this way-what was once a raison d’être is now becoming a dying breed. As Ian Anderson observed decades ago, this business is a Crazed Institution. Take chances, stay crazy and rock on in 2015 folks!