JAIMIE VERNON – A PIECE OF THE ROCK

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The demise of Rock And Roll has been greatly exaggerated by the likes of Gene ‘I don’t know how to work an iPad‘ Simmons. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have it on suicide watch and coax it back from the ledge where its been hanging by its finger tips since Axel Rose delivered ‘Chinese Grafitti‘ and not ‘Appetite For Destruction 2‘.

Deep Purple

It would appear on the surface that Rock is only available in the rearview mirror. Nostalgia has shifted the demographic for Casinos and Cruise Ships to one that allows Deep Purple, ZZ Top and John Kay’s Steppenwolf to maintain the level of comfort they’ve grown accustomed to over the last 40+ years. But instead of cocaine and women they have an endless supply of custom fit toupees and Polygrip. There is no gold watch for those that retire in this biz. You rock until you drop…or your audience does.

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What Gene Simmons is really decrying is that now we have a thinned herd. Rock is no longer the dominant musical force that drove an industry. It’s now an exotic and rare dinosaur species. When Kurt Cobain took a scythe to Rock and left the decapitated remains on the road to ruin the vacuum was filled by other genres – mostly pop and dance. But those genres have peaked and waned as musical Tidal waves often do. Another generation has passed since the resurgence of Classic Rock and the old soldiers have returned to the battlefield to gather the troops and go to war once more. But is there enough Rock left to Roll?

AC/DC and Van Halen have returned to the road – neither act having a decent piece of serviceable product to propel them. Fortunately, they’ve got legacy in their arsenals. But this is the first wave. The Stones have the Leer jets on stand by. They’re critic proof. It bodes well for a healthy touring season. It’s good news Heavy Bluesfor an industry that no longer remembers how to imbed Rock in the public psyche. But the farm teams are standing by. The albums are being released, the audiences are being greased. What’s missing is belief and a momentum. A true revival requires a tail wind and skilled sailors to navigate through the cynicism, the hype and the crap infested seas of a zombie industry. And there’s one man who just might pull it off with his new album: RANDY BACHMAN and his ‘Heavy Blues.

Before Led Zeppelin were retroactively declared the Kings of the First Generation of Rock there was the British Blues movement that preceded them (in fact, Jimmy Page’s version of The Yardbirds gave birth to itself as Led Zeppelin). At the time Randy Bachman was deep in post-British Invasion pop turmoil attempting to get the Guess Who Mach II some street cred – and a record deal. But Randy was paying attention. Something was clearly afoot and The British Blues Explosion would soon be responsible for the likes of Cream, The New Yardbirds (aka Zeppelin) Long John Baldry and even Jimi Hendrix among many others.

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The Guess Who landed that record deal and it was RCA that pushed them stateside where the post-psychedelic “These Eyes” gave them instant success. Immediately after that the iconic Rock based “American Woman” gave them the street cred they desired both for its perceived anti-American subject matter and Bachman’s iconic riff. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the tune as a slow grinding blues tune – which Bachman and partner Burton Cummings did during the mid-2000s on their Jukebox Tour.

It was clear even back then that Randy Bachman – who was jazz trained by Lenny Breau – really wanted to rock. And given that the roots of rock come from three chord blues, it seemed a natural progression when he emerged in 1973 with the final evolution of Brave Belt called Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Comparisons to ZZ Top were inevitable except BTO were the Thunder From the Tundra – Ice Road Truckers with dungarees and guitars. They were heavier literally and figuratively.

Randy Les Paul

Bachman’s official tenure with the band ended around 1978 and he spent the next two decades in an acrimonious relationship with his old band of brothers and rock itself. Following last decade’s revival of the Guess Who and its offspring, the Bachman-Cummings project, Randy invited his old BTO cohort Fred Turner to put tires on the road for one last spin as Bachman &Turner.

So what does a JUNO Award winning artist with gold and platinum records from two of Canada’s most prolific bands do at the age most people have already retired? According to Bachman’s old friend Neil Young you throw away the blueprint and start fresh. And only someone with a legacy as solid as Young’s could afford the luxury of doing so. Having conquered pop, rock and to an extent jazz, Bachman has decided to revisit the blues as defined by the Blues Rock movement of the late 1960’s.

Trio2While attending the Stratford Festival premiere of The Who’s ‘Tommy‘ in 2013 with the musical’s writer Pete Townshend himself, Bachman was struck by the bombastic drumming skills of the show’s Dale Anne Brendon. He was inspired to tap her Keith Moon style to make an authentic sounding rock record; and with bassist Anna Ruddick – herself a John Entwhistle subscriber – Bachman assembled a female version of The Experience.

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Over 5 days in May 2014 the trio barricaded themselves in Metalworks Studio in Mississauga with producer Kevin Shirley to recreate the London Blues Explosion circa 1968-1969 live off-the-floor. The gimmick was that they weren’t going to record any cover tunes – it would be original tunes ‘inspired by’ the masters. And so it went…

‘Heavy Blues opens with a very familiar introduction – The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – on “The Edge”. It’s unmistakable. But where the rolling, thunderous drum rampage would normally precede a Roger Daltrey scream the melody takes the roundabout and that familiar “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” charm of Bachman’s measured vocal gives us a new lyrical melody and hook to create a new hybrid.

“Ton of Bricks” gives us exactly what the title suggests. It’s a take no prisoners “Immigrant Song” gallop across Zeppelin territory with mellow psychedelic acoustic guitar intermezzos so that we might catch our collective breath. Bachman’s Black Sabbath bar-chord grind is matched with Tony Iommi lead guitar intensity by the first of many guest guitarists on the album. In this instance we get fiery slide and staccato hammer-on improvisational work from Rival Son’s Scott Holiday.

We get our first taste of institutional blues on the Hendrix inspired “Bad Child” with its counter-puntal time signature and looping, overlapping chorus. By the middle eight it breaks down to a crawl to allow room for guitar God Joe Bonamassa to show listeners why he’s the current gold standard for guitarists. Bachman let’s Bonamassa take the song out of respect.

Randy NeilMeanwhile, Bachman hands the reigns on “Little Girl Lost” to his long time pal Neil Young who gives the tune a Crazy Horse bent on top of the tribal drum and bass groove with his typical slash and burn falling-down-the-stairs-while-soloing flare that only Neil Young can deliver. Randy and the rhythm section, fortunately, keep the song from going completely off the rails. But just barely.

No slouch on guitar himself, Bachman regains control of the album with the tasty early ZZTop Texas blues stylings of “Learn to Fly” and “Wild Texas Ride” (possibly the most commercial track on the album). The guitar work is tasty, beefy and will satisfy BTO fans hoping for glimpse of the old, playful meat and potatoes 1970s Bachman.

The album finally hits its stride with the swamp blues spiritual “Oh My Lord” which carries on the battle between good and evil hinted at on “Ton of Bricks”. Randy’s at home vocally and thematically as he warns that something wicked this way comes. Playing devil’s advocate at the crossroads is the blistering guitar slinger Robert Randolph. We also get a gospel rock revival with female vocal harmonies.

Randy JeffBachman gives us a one-two punch with “Confessin’ To The Devil” – a “Bo Diddley” fused pelvis grinder. It’s the type of jungle groove that Southern Baptists feared would corrupt our youth back in the heady days of Rock and Roll. Randy’s preaching and confessing and the congregation chants their approval. Adding to the heavenly charm is a visit from the late guitarist Jeff Healey whose lead work provides icing on the cake.

“Heavy Blues”, the title track, is an amalgam of the jazzy Bachman we’ve heard on BTO classics like “Lookin’ Out For #1” and “Blue Collar” on top of a Ginger Baker drum assault while legendary guitarist Peter Frampton channels Carlos Santana of all people. On paper it should sound like hell, but in the hands of producer Kevin Shirley it all works.

Bachman re-writes every Hendrix trope in “Please Come To Paris”. It’s one of the least inspiring tracks here but as an homage it carries its weight in gold courtesy of guitarist Luke Doucet.

Randy

Finally, Bachman gets his Clapton blues ballad on with the “It’s A Wonderful World” delivery of  “We Need To Talk” with what is the most introspective lyric on the album about two people needing to clear the air so that their relationship can move forward. And as we’ve learned about the best blues songs, melancholy heartache drives the genre.

Send your CDs for review to this address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

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Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON – A PIECE OF THE ROCK”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Great column. I can’t wait to get my hands on the CD.

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