Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Kenny Jones and Roger Daltrey's Autobiographies

2018 was a year for rock n' roll autobiographies, or so it would seem with the publishing of Kenny Jone's "Let The Good Times Roll: My Life In Small Faces, Faces and The Who" and Roger Daltrey's "Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite: My Story". Both are similar reads because both men were, for a short period of time, members of The Who together and they both grew up in humble, working class backgrounds in London (with lots of criminal elements around them) while one got into horse riding and polo the other fly fishing. Both were in a 60's mod band and led quieter and more frugal lives than their drug taking, money spending band mates and both were ripped off by managers and both had a host of middle age related health problems that have you feeling you've tapped into the text of a late night infomercial as you struggle to retain interest in yet another long description of a medical ailment or injury!

Being a fan of the Small Faces and the Who, I had to buy both and I did so without reading a review or chatting with anyone about either of them, I wish I had done the latter. Unlike Pete Townshend's mildly interesting  "A Life" or Ian McLagan's raucous "All The Rage" both of these books are tedious, poorly written and dryer than last week's plain toast. I think it's in their delivery that suffers the most. Townshend's book was at time long winded but he had a way of keeping you interested and Mac's witty anecdotes were well timed and hysterical. Roger and Kenny (or their ghost writers) lack any such wittiness or timing and both remind me of hearing The Who are touring again and you find yourself asking "Why won't it stop?", the same thing I thought as I drew closer to the end of these books.

"Let The Good Times Roll" follows Jones through his post war upbringing in London's East End.  I am always fascinated by stories of life in post war Britain and Jone's description of it with a dose of villainy from his less than law abiding relatives adds to a bit of  charm to it.  If you've ever read a book on the Small Faces then you'll learn nothing you already haven't heard about them here.  You will be surprised, like me, to learn that according to Kenny, that Ian McLagan had a temper and was no shirking violet when it came to making his feelings known and whereas Rod Stewart is a prima donna villain in Mac's book he comes off more favorably in Kenny's, who in fact lets him off lightly for missing their induction into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame and not taking part in the dreadful "Faces reunion" that saw Mick Hucknall as his replacement.  Then there's the awkward subject of Kenny replacing Keith Moon in The Who.  He is at times almost apologetic for filling Moon's shoes and though I always thought that they'd have been better off calling it quits when he died you can't help but feel bad for Kenny as he reminisces about being a member of the Who with Roger Daltrey repeatedly making him feel unwelcome. The rest is all downhill from there, another band, another horse and the process of The Who breaking up is like, in the word's of Robyn Hitchcock's "Balloon Man" "like a slow divorce...". And like The Who's never-ending run of reunion tours I just couldn't wait for it all to end. The back cover reads "The Small Faces were the most creative, The Faces were the most fun and The Who were the most exciting". I'm still confused by the last one as the book itself seems to say otherwise.

"Thanks A Lot Mr. Kibblewhite" is almost a mirror to "Let The Good Times Roll" with it's post war reminiscing but with the neighborhood of upbringing changed from the East End to the West End. The most interesting part is his journey through school and becoming a "hard nut" in a system where inspirational and compassionate teachers are hard to find (the title comes from his headmaster who expels him on his 15th birthday telling him  "You'll never make anything of your life Daltrey".) But like Jone's book it's equally dry and if you know anything about The Who you won't learn too many things about them from reading this book, though Daltrey's impressions of his band mates are interesting: Moon is an asshole who spends his time going out of his way to annoy all and sundry and must always be the center of attention but is so crippled by stage fright he was get out of his mind to mount the kit and while swallowing everything possible his drumming ability vanishes in the last few years of his life as fast as his money.  Entwistle is a quiet, dry, exceptionally cruel bass muso who likes spending money as fast as Moon but on ostentatious items from Harrod's  in addition to pharmaceuticals and booze while Townshend is an intellectual snob whom Daltrey loves like a brother in a "love-hate" relationship much like that of Jagger and Richards. A score card is needed to keep up with which member was responsible for more Who reunions.

There are a few surprises though. Daltrey's teetotal-ling/health nut image is shattered by his admission that he was addicted to Quaaludes (aka Mandrax) for a bit in the 70's and his explanation of their break from managers Lambert and Stamp is told in far greater detail than in any other book and goes far beyond the story briefly touched upon in the 2014 in the documentary on them (which Roger and his wife Heather played a large part in). And on the subject of managers there's an interesting story of their manager Bill Curbishley, a one time Shepherd's Bush mod and ex-con (wrongly convicted of a robbery he did not commit) and his entrance into the band's orbit. There's also an amusing scene where Roger and his business partner go to Broadmoor to visit Ronnie Kray in order to secure the rights to a film on the Twins (which later was also sold to someone else who ultimately made the film using the Kemp brothers). But these and other minor points of interest aside there's not a lot keeping me glued to it and like Jone's book I couldn't wait for it to end.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Zombies "The Odessey"

In honor of the 50th anniversary of their legendary 1968 album "Odessey And Oracle" the Zombies remaining for living original members undertook tours to perform the album in it's original running order.  In conjunction with the tour they have published "The Odessey (sic)", which at a first glance appears to be about the famous 1968 album, but in reality contains a bit more.  Read on.........

The Zombies famous second album has been well documented in other places so I'm not here to give you the history, the book does that in the words of the men who made the album (interspersed with some very tasty, previously unseen period photos, especially of them recording it in the EMI's Abbey Road studio).  What most people have thus failed to notice whenever writing about the album it is that it gives a small glimpse of the band finally moving away from the tried and true (and almost hackneyed) "boy wants girl/boy loses girl" formula (in fact three or four tracks on the album still mine that vein).  The Zombies began writing material that was part social observation ("A Rose For Emily") and part story telling , like a girl being released from prison  in "Care Of Cell 44" or the horrors of World War I "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)". It also marks the introduction of the Mellotron augmenting Rod Argent's usual electric piano/organ which finally takes the band into "contemporary" fields by breaking with their jazzy/mild r&b/beat roots (or route?) melded with the three part harmonies of Messers Blunstone, Argent and White on "Changes", "Hung Up On A Dream" and "Brief Candles" and giving a taste of what might have been had the band not chosen to chuck it in as the album was unleashed on the sadly ambivalent record buying public. This is mostly missed in the book but the gaps are filled in with rather in depth recollections of all of the album tracks inspiration and their recording/production with doodlings and hand written lyrics for each track.

Hard at work at Abbey Road, 1967
The book is sort of odd as it writes about their first couple of singles and then stops by not discussing all of their 45's or even their debut long player (issued in the U.K. as "Begin Here" and in altered form in the U.S. as "The Zombies featuring She's Not There and Tell Her No"). It's almost as if there was nothing following and it jumps immediately to "Odessey...". Strange. There are a host of photos, both in color and black and white that range from the usual to many that are new to my eyes from 1964 onward as well as some 45/EP/LP picture sleeve reproductions.

The book is largely in the words of the four remaining living members (Colin Blunstone, Rod Argent, Chris White and High Grundy) and was compiled by Scott B. Bomar and Cindy Da Silva with blurbs about the band from various other musicians (a third of whom I've never heard of).  The most fitting is the intro by the late Tom Petty who channels the youthful enthusiasm of hearing them for the first time in 1964 into a perfect tribute.

The book is available here from Amazon.com

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hell's Angels And Rock N' Roll's Darkest Day....

The disaster that sprung from the free concert at a desolate raceway in Northern California on the night of December, 6, 1969 has been well documented but nowhere better than in this book by Joel Selvin "Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hell's Angels And Rock N' Roll's Darkest Day". It effectively creates a meticulously crafted timeline of events worthy of an investigative report.

Almost anyone who is aware of rock n roll knows what happened the day Santana, The Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Rolling Stones played a free concert to a crowd of over 300,000 at a disused dirt race track in the middle of nowhere (under the jurisdiction of a three man sheriff's department in a valley where radio contact was impossible) .  There were several deaths, two were hit by a car driven by a chemically impaired young man, another fell into a canal and drowned and the most infamous was a young African American named Meredith Hunter who was beaten and stabbed to death by Hell's Angels during the Rolling Stones headlining slot.

Though the gig itself and the death of Hunter are well documented in the Maysles brothers film "Gimme Shelter" Selvin's book delves into the how and why the gig happened and the aftermath concluding with the murder trial of Hell's Angel Alan Passaro, charged with stabbing Meredith Hunter (Passaro would be acquitting and wound up dead floating in a reservoir in 1985 with his pockets stuffed with $10,000 in cash).

The idea to put on a free concert in the San Francisco area was planted in the Stone's minds by one time Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully. Ever conscious to be hip and seen at the forefront of counter culture The Stones (Mick Jagger in particular) were enthralled by Scully's Utopian visions of free concerts and the D.I.Y hippie ethos that pervaded San Francisco and wanted in before the Age of Aquarius drew to a close. The Stones were already planning to have their 1969 US tour filmed by brothers Albert and David Maysles.  A free concert at the end of the tour would be a perfect ending for the movie and cement The Stones wishes to hitch their wagon to the great human spirit that had prevailed at Woodstock.  The Stones were also being assaulted in the press and the hippie underworld where their high ticket prices (the band were effectively broke and the tour was needed to restore some much needed capital to their enterprise) were being touted as a sign of being capitalist pigs in a society where "free" was the way and to charge for something was the way of "the man".  A free concert in the heart of the hippie dippy central would assuage all that.

Putting it together became a web of intrigue with a host of shady characters that takes on almost Dickensian proportions. From Rock Scully to former Blackhill Enterprises gofer Sam Cutler thrust into the role of road manager for the tour, a shady character named Jon Jaymes with an army of off duty NYC police detectives and connections to get the band coke and a fleet of brand new US made automobiles, money hungry speedway owner Dick Carter (who comes off even more unhinged than the drug soaked SF hippies), various SF counter culture fixtures, legendary attorney Melvin Belli (brought in to grease the wheels of the hostile SF city council) and the proverbial cherries on top: the Hell's Angels. The Hell's Angels were hired as "security" at the behest of Rock Scully, an idea The Stone's warmed to being staunchly "anti police" and being charmed by stories of the SF chapters long history of brotherhood and their own experiences with the bogus London chapter of poseurs who handled "security" at their previous Hyde Park free concert. Though the SF chapter of the Angels were at Altamont the area fell under the turf of their San Jose brethren who held no such cozy relationship with hippies or rock n roll.  In fact a great deal of the violence as we can see in Selvin's book stemmed from keyed up, out there prospects of the San Jose chapter eager to earn their full time membership in the club by displaying their machismo and willingness to go Medieval on anyone in sight without the slightest provocation. Add lethal doses of hallucinogenic spiked fortified wine and beer to those already volatile individuals and the path to mayhem and death is sealed. There is an almost sad scene where an SF Angel and personal friend of the Airplane named Terry The Tramp retreats in tears at the mayhem he is powerless to stop.

Rehashing the contents of this highly insightful epic would do no justice here so we will touch on a few high points. One of the most fascinating is that the book offers several new perspectives into the planning of the event (no doubt the most haphazard gig ever planned on this scale, it's location was not confirmed until 20 hours prior to show time!), the Grateful Dead's arrival and hasty retreat without playing (akin to US embassy personnel hotfooting it out by chopper during the fall of Saigon) and offers new insight into the death of Meredith Hunter.  Rock n roll mythology had previously cast Hunter into the role of the unfortunate young black man harassed at a gig for being there with a pretty young white girl. Though the latter part is indeed partially correct, Selvin's book paints him in a more sinister light as a cocky (he returned to his aunt's apartment as he left for the gig to retrieve "his piece"), strung out (he was a methamphetamine addict as well as a low level street dealer) and arrogant young man (his death was not the result of a hate crime for being with a white girl but because he repeatedly and inexplicably attempted to climb onstage multiple times).  The final attempt to mount the stage resulted in a beat down by the Angels which led to him drawing his weapon and being killed. Common sense would indicate if you'd seen what the Angel's had been doing all day (beating various punters, knocking out a member of the Jefferson Airplane in the middle of their set, etc) you would give them a wide berth and certainly do so after being physically ejected from the stage by them.  Trying it and second and finally third time could be fatal, and in Hunter's case, it was.

Selvin offers no apologies or justifications for any of the actions by the principals involved but rather leaves us, the readers, to draw our own conclusions and judgement.