Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bloodrock-Bloodrock (1970)

To hear sample song Melvin Laid An Egg, click here. To read an interview with Bloodrock keyboardist Stevie Hill click here.

Bloodrock was a Texas hard rock band that were best known for their only top 40 hit, DOA. The song was about a dying man in an airplane crash. A keyboard riff simulates a heart monitor. The lyrics are the man's last thoughts before he dies. It ended with the keyboard simulating a flat line. A few radio stations refused to play it when it was a hit and after September 11th, no station will play it now. Bloodrock was reportedly a favorite among troops in Vietnam. They were often the opening band for Grand Funk Railroad and broke up in 1973.

Despite the band's name and biggest hit, Bloodrock was not a band that focused on morbid songs. Their music is mostly akin to Deep Purple and Uriah Heep in that the music has a boogie beat and tons of organ/guitar interplay. They also share a similarity with the Grateful Dead. Non-member Robert Hunter wrote most of the Grateful Dead's lyrics. Likewise, Texas blues guitarist John Nitzinger wrote most of Bloodrock's music. Yet, he never became a member.

The band started out with a strong eponymous first release. Like Grand Funk Railroad, the band liked to jam. There is a lot of jamming in the opening number Gotta Find A Way as well as Timepiece. The heavy riffs of Double Cross, Melvin Laid an Egg and Wicked Truth will satisfy most heavy metal fans. There is also a Doors-like number in Fantastic Piece of Architecture. All these songs wouldn't shine if it weren't for Jim Rutledge's rural sounding lead vocals and Stevie Hill's colorful organ playing.

Whereas most heavy music lyrics either focused on sex, Satan or getting high, Bloodrock's lyrics were different. Timepiece's words deal with a death row prisoner counting the seconds of his life before he is sent to the gallows. Fantastic Piece of Architecture concerns a man making his artistic masterpiece. The song Melvin Laid An Egg involves a sideshow carny trying to make a buck. (One website has suggested that the song refers to Nixon's defense secretary Melvin Laird, his laid egg being the Vietnam War.)

Grand Funk Railroad's Terry Knight produced their debut album. Like Grand Funk Railroad, Bloodrock was a band that was better on stage than in the studio. Knight almost gets the band to match the quality of their live performances.

The band never achieved the fame of their hard rock/heavy metal peers like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad. However, this debut album remains an interesting listen for those who like early heavy metal.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Leaf Hound-Growers of Mushrooms(1971)

To hear sample song Freelance Fiend, click here.

Singer Peter French was asked to join a British blues rock band, Black Cat Bones. Rod Price, their guitarist, would then leave Black Cat Bones to join Foghat. After Price's departure, French and his cousin, guitarist Mick Halls reorganized Black Cat Bones, hired a new drummer and became Leaf Hound.

Leaf Hound toured heavily for a year and blew their headliners off the stage. Their prowess on stage landed them a record deal with Decca, who for unknown reasons, originally was going to not release the record. When Leaf Hound heard this, they broke up. A year later, Decca finally released the record but with no band to promote, they only issued a limited number of copies.

However, those who did buy the record really liked what they heard, but word traveled slowly. In 1993 Record Collector magazine decided to do a cover story on Leaf Hound and their album Growers of Mushrooms. As a result, the album was reissued on CD to great critical acclaim. The few original vinyl recordings of Growers of Mushrooms are a collectors' item. The asking price is said to be in the thousands.

The album is a hard rock classic and deserving of its reputation. Like Badfinger is to the Beatles, Leaf Hound is to Led Zeppelin. Also like Badfinger, Leaf Hound is not especially innovative and clearly imitating a better known band, but they also manage to imitate the nuances and spirits of their source.

It is not only Peter French's Robert Plant-like voice(he sounds like Rod Stewart in the softer numbers) that makes one think of Zeppelin but it is also some of the numbers as well. Stray is propelled by a Heartbreaker-like riff. The ballad With a Minute To Go sounds like Thank You.

Zeppelin are not the only ones they seem to be inspired by. There are traces of the Who in Sad Road To The Sea and the title track. The album opener Freelance Fiend has a cowbell that makes the song reminiscent of Mountain's Mississippi Queen. (I choose it as the sample song, because like any good album opening, it grabs you right by the throat and pulls you into the album.) The B-side to one of Leaf Hound's single Its Gonna Get Better (one of the CD's extra tracks) sounds like it would neatly fit onto a Paul McCartney album.

Though not likely, Leaf Hound appears to be influencing other artists as well. One can hear future echoes of Soundgarden in Drowned My Life In Fear. You also have to wonder if the mighty Zeppelin was listening to Stagnant Pool when they decided to do The Ocean. Not only did Zeppelin refer to a body of water in the song title, but they seem to have copied Stagnant Pool's main guitar riff.

Contrary to what some might think, the band name Leaf Hound does not refer to smoking pot. The name is taken from a short story by Ray Bradbury; a dog returns from the dead covered in mud and leaves. Even the album and song title Growers of Mushrooms are not drug related, it refers to a poisonous mushroom.

Singer Peter French had some success after Leaf Hound's demise. He sang for two mildly successful bands in the 70s, Cactus and Atomic Rooster. When he learned about the belated acclaim that Leaf Hound received, he formed a group of new musicians and currently tours as Leaf Hound. It's a shame they are only touring in Britain. American fans are deprived!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Gong Show Movie (1980)

Chuck Barris does Fellini

Favorite Joke: Father Ed: Today I'd like to pose a biblical question. Is there reincarnation after death? And if there is, does an individual return to a higher or lower state than he or she held in his or her mortal life?
Chuck:That's an interesting question. What's the answer? Father Ed: Beats the shit out of me.

As a kid, I used to love the The Gong Show. There was an irresistible schadenfreude in watching those no-talents humiliated on TV. American Idol owes loads to The Gong Show. Let's face it, we don't watch the show just for the Kelly Clarksons and Carrie Underwoods. We mainly watch it to see Simon Cowell rip the contestants to shreds.

The host, Chuck Barris, has done quite a lot in his career. He was the creator of other hugely successful game shows; The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. He was the writer of hit songs such as Palisades Park and he supposedly was a real-life secret agent. Long before George Clooney made a film about him, Chuck decided to do one himself. He would write(with Robert Downey Sr.), direct and compose the music for The Gong Show Movie.

The hook for this film are some real life Gong Show scenes that were too risque for TV; Judge Jaye P. Morgan flashing her breasts or foul mouthed jokes by the Unknown Comic and Father Ed. At first glance, this would seem like a vanity movie strictly for Gong Show fans. Yet, that observation would be off the mark. The film is dark. It details his distaste for fame and his hatred of fans. This is Barris' 8 1/2.

We know from his autobiography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind that living a double life was tough, but in The Gong Show Movie, Barris tells us his one life as the host was too much. During the opening credits, there's a theme song sung by Barris telling us how it doesn't pay to get out of bed. Everywhere he goes, people want to be on the show. Those who do get to audition are usually people who are even less talented than those who get "gonged" on the Gong Show.

Barris complains about the grueling shooting schedule. When he is not holding auditions or filming his show, his boss, Mr. Didlo(James B. Douglas) warns him of "impending slippage" (the ratings will fall this year) and as a result, Didlo has to cut costs. He also warns that the show is getting too raunchy and could lose TV affiliates if Barris doesn't clean up his act. Even detractors won't leave poor Chuck alone. A huge man starts a fight with Chuck and kicks his ass. While the fight is going on, two fans try to ask Chuck for an autograph.

All this craziness puts Barris on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He leaves the show, breaks up with his young girlfriend, and escapes to the Morocco desert. His entourage follows and begs him to come back.

The most shocking moment in Clooney's cinematic adapation of Confessions of A Dangerous Mind was when the real life Chuck Barris says it was miraculous that he didn't kill himself. While watching The Gong Show Movie, you expect Chuck to pull out a gun and blow his brains out. He puts his show and fans on the chopping block, but its Barris himself who appears the more pitiful and vacuous. He is a tortured, empty soul. His face seems devoid of human compassion. He gets his kicks debasing himself. He has a dog attack him, eggs are thrown in his face and he's even pissed on.

The movie is badly acted, poorly written and terribly directed. Although his TV shows were unbelievably successful, the creator turns out to be a confused, depressing excuse for a man. But for anyone who is curious about Barris, this film offers an deep look into his twisted psyche which the Clooney film was unable to do.

Since Barris was doing everything he could to alienate his potential audience, its not a surprise that The Gong Show Movie bombed. Yet I think Barris felt his picture was a success because very shortly after the film's release, his tv Gong Show was cancelled.