Thursday, February 26, 2015

GRATEFUL DEAD/Three From The Vault: 4LP set! First time on vinyl! Available March 3rd, 2015!

Grateful Dead
Three From The Vault



* First time ever on vinyl
* Newly re-mastered by Joe Gastwirt
* Lacquers cut by Kevin Gray
* 4xLPs housed in a gatefold Stoughton “tip-on” jacket

Following on the heels of Light In The Attic’s vinyl LP release of One and Two From The Vault comes the final release in the trilogy of From The Vault releases by the Grateful Dead. These releases are distinguished from the more abundant Dick’s Picks series in that Dick’s Picks are “direct from the soundboard” recordings, while the From The Vault series were professionally recorded on multi-track tape and then mixed down (decades) later for release.

Recorded live at the Capitol Theatre (Port Chester, NY) in 1971, this is the worldwide vinyl debut release of this seminal show featuring the 5 piece line-up of Pigpen, Garcia, Weir, Lesh, and Kruetzmann (Mickey Hart had temporarily left the band at that point), freshly remastered in 2014 by Joe Gastwirt for your pleasure.  20 classic songs on 8 sides of wax, this show has previously only been available on CD; this is the first ever vinyl LP release!

The band played six shows over the course of seven nights at the Capitol Theatre in February of 1971, and this was the second of that run, recorded on the 19th. Their previous two studio albums had been their landmark recordings of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, and while songs from those albums were certainly featured, the Dead debuted seven brand new songs on this night–all of which went on to become Dead “standards” including “Playing in the Band,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and two absolute classics: “Bird Song” and “Deal.” Essential Dead.

Side A
Two Ditties: "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down", "Spring Song” — 1:19
"Truckin'" — 8:09
"Loser" — 6:23
"Cumberland Blues" — 4:58

Side B
"It Hurts Me Too"  — 6:10
"Bertha"  — 5:21
"Playing in the Band"  — 5:14
"Deal"  — 4:22

Side C
"Dark Hollow"  — 3:15
"Smokestack Lightning" — 14:42

Side D
"China Cat Sunflower" — 3:24
"I Know You Rider"  — 7:02
"Greatest Story Ever Told"  — 4:22
"Johnny B. Goode"  — 3:26

Side E
"Bird Song"  — 7:04
"Easy Wind"  — 8:17

Side F
That's It For The Other One:
I "Cryptical Envelopment”
II "Drums"
III "The Other One" — 16:09

Side G
"Wharf Rat"  — 9:08

Side H
"Good Lovin’"— 18:43
"Casey Jones"  — 5:00  

GLEN CAMPBELL/Rhinestone Cowboy-40th Anniversary Edition! Released March 31st, 2015!



Campbell’s Chart-Topping Album Remastered and Expanded with Five Rare and Previously Unreleased Tracks

Released in July 1975, Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy was the music legend’s first No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, vaulting the already quite famous master guitarist and singer to household name superstar status. On March 31, ahead of Campbell’s 79th birthday on April 22, Capitol Nashville/UMe will release an expanded 40th Anniversary Edition of the classic, adding five rare and previously unreleased recordings to the remastered original album. The new commemorative edition is available now for preorder on CD and digital audio; the remastered original album is also available for preorder on vinyl LP.

Many of Rhinestone Cowboy’s lyrical themes reflected Campbell’s own life at the time, both personally and professionally. The album’s centerpiece title track and its second single, “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In L.A.)” spoke to and through Campbell with messages of sacrifice and concession required to maintain a career in entertainment’s fast lane, which had brought him from Arkansas to Los Angeles in the 1960s. 

Written by Larry Weiss, “Rhinestone Cowboy” became Campbell’s best-known, signature single, hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and Country charts and going Gold in the U.S. upon its release. Nominated for two GRAMMY® Awards, the song took the Single of the Year honors at the ACM Awards, while the single and album won the year’s People’s Choice Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock Single, Favorite Country Single and Favorite Country Album.

Rhinestone Cowboy (40th Anniversary Edition)’s five bonus tracks include a previously unreleased track, “Quits,” recorded by Campbell in March 1975 during the album’s studio sessions; the North American CD and digital release debut of “Record Collector’s Dream” (the “Rhinestone Cowboy” single’s B-side); the worldwide CD and digital debut of “Coming Home” (a studio version previously released only in Japan as a 1975 single); and remixes of “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In LA)” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” (both previously released on Campbell’s Greatest Hits collection).

In a legendary music career spanning more than five decades, Glen Campbell has achieved chart-topping, platinum-selling pop and country success singing everyday tales of life, love, work, and heartache. Before his 2013 retirement from the studio and the stage, Campbell racked up 21 Top 40 hits, 27 Country Top 10 singles, six Top 20 albums, and nine No. 1 Country albums in the U.S.

Glen Campbell has been honored with six GRAMMY® Awards, including The Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and trophies for Male Vocalist Of The Year from both the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy Of Country Music (ACM). In addition to being inducted into the CMA’s Hall Of Fame, Campbell has been awarded its top Entertainer Of The Year honors, and the ACM has honored him with its prestigious Pioneer Award. This year, Campbell is nominated for two GRAMMY® Awards and an Academy Award® for Best Original Song.

Glen Campbell: Rhinestone Cowboy (40th Anniversary Edition)

1.  Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)
2.  Comeback
3.  Count on Me
4.  I Miss You Tonight
5.  My Girl
6.  Rhinestone Cowboy
7.  I’d Build a Bridge
8.  Pencils For Sale
9.  Marie
10. We’re Over
Bonus Tracks
11. Record Collector’s Dream [“Rhinestone Cowboy” single B-side; North American CD and digital debut]
12. Coming Home [studio version, previously released only in Japan as a 1975 single; CD and digital debut]
13. Quits [previously unreleased track from the ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ album sessions]
14. Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In L.A.) (Remix) [previously released on ‘Greatest Hits’ collection]
15. Rhinestone Cowboy (Remix) [previously released on ‘Greatest Hits’ collection]

JOE JAMMER's Headway album: An EXCLUSIVE interview with JOHNNY CONTARDO (Sha Na Na)!

It Wasn’t Meant To Be:
Sophomore Album Saga

An EXCLUSIVE interview 
with vocalist 
(Sha Na Na)

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

    In the mid-to-late ‘60s, Joe Wright was one of the hottest guitarists in Chicago. Although his skills on the six-string were well known locally, he was virtually unknown outside of the Windy City. That all changed when a certain British rock quartet by the name of Led Zeppelin came rolling through town in February, 1969. At the time, Zeppelin was still a struggling new act on the scene and they were the opening act for Vanilla Fudge on the night they met Joe Wright. Shortly after meeting them, Joe became a roadie for the up-and-coming rockers – initially John Bonham’s drum roadie but soon promoted to guitar tech for Jimmy Page. When the band would tour, Page and Wright would jam in Jimmy’s dressing room before each gig. Because of these informal little jams, both Page and vocalist Robert Plant would refer to Wright as ‘Joe The Jammer.’ It wasn’t long before he became simply known as Joe Jammer.
    Led Zeppelin was impressed by Joe’s musical abilities and eventually brought him to the attention of their notorious manager Peter Grant. Once Grant had agreed to take him on, Joe moved from Chicago to London, signed with Regal Zonophone and released his debut Joe Jammer album, Bad News, in 1973. Though the album wasn’t a huge commercial hit, everyone involved was encouraged by the album’s critical success and sent Joe back into the studio to record his second album. Joe assembled a new band for the album in hopes of taking his music to the next level. For these sessions, which were held at Olympic Studios in 1974, Joe assembled an all-star cast of players including drummer Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience), bassist John Gustafson (The Merseybeats/Roxy Music/The Ian Gillan Band), and vocalist Johnny Contardo (Sha Na Na). Laying down 11 tracks in less than a month, this new musical project brought together several musicians from different backgrounds to create a sound that took Joe’s groove into a new direction. Once the album – titled Headway – was finished, all the musicians parted ways with high hopes for a bright future ahead. But then the cruel hand of fate stepped in (as it always seems to do in the music business)…
    Stuck back in Chicago thanks to immigration issues, Joe’s label contract with Regal Zonophone expired, Headway’s release was cancelled, and the tapes were shelved. With each of the members already involved with other projects, the Headway album soon became a distant memory to Joe and his motley gang of musicians. On separate and totally unrelated occasions over the years, both Contardo – who had eventually become a TV star with Sha Na Na – and Joe would stumble across tapes of these rare and nearly-forgotten recordings. Contardo’s copy was a poor quality cassette but the tapes Joe found were in great condition and were prepared for release. In February 2015, 41 years after it was recorded, Angel Air Records finally released the Headway album. The album’s mixture of Blues, Jazz and Rock was a progression for the guitarist and a new venture for vocalist Contardo. Headway’s relaxed and smooth vibe would have certainly cast a different light on all the band members, as it provided a glimpse at how versatile they were. But alas, one of the album’s song titles proved to be prophetic: “It Wasn’t Meant To Be.” Thankfully, Joe himself is alive and well in London and is still slinging the six-string. He’s played live with Supertramp, Donna Summer and Stealers Wheel as well as worked in the studio with top notch musicians like Mike Jagger, Joe Cocker and Ringo Starr.
    Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with the Headway album’s vocalist Johnny Contardo and discover how the Sha Na Na singer became involved with some of rock’s finest musicians…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Now, after 41 years, Headway has finally been released. How are you feeling about this project after all these years?
JOHNNY CONTARDO: Well, it just brings back so many memories. It’s kind of emotional. I immediately go back to the days when I was very young and having a ball. You know, it’s just amazing.

SPAZ: How did you get involved with this project to begin with?
JOHNNY: What happened basically was I was in Europe and a tour with Sha Na Na was about to come to an end. This girl that I went to high school with, Elyssa Jerret, knew I was there and she basically asked me if I wanted to hook up with her and her boyfriend at the time, being Joe Jammer, and I said sure. I was gonna hang out in London for a little while after the tour anyway. So we hung out and then he had these songs that he was thinking about recording, and he basically asked me if I wanted to sing some of the songs. And that’s how it came about. Elyssa ended up marrying one of the fellows from AerosmithJoe Perry, the guitar player. All of us are from Boston, and I knew Aerosmith in the very beginning when they were just starting out playing local clubs.

SPAZ: Is this a project that you had almost forgotten about over the years?
JOHNNY: About 20 years down the road, I happened to find a cassette tape of Headway – just like Joe found in the cellar of his mom’s house when she passed away. I had found this cassette of the songs 20 years ago, and I put the tape on. I listened to it but the tape quality wasn’t very good. I kind of forgot about it after that.

SPAZ: How much input did you and the other band members have? Because it sounds like everyone’s really connected and on the same wavelength. I thought maybe all four of you would’ve written the songs, but I see they’re only credited to Joe.
JOHNNY: When a singer gets together with studio musicians, you get what you put in. The reason why I’m mentioning studio musicians is because we were not a band, so for lack of a better word, you’d want to assume that all these guys are going into the studio and they’re professional and they’re just gonna do something similar to what studio musicians would do. And that was not the case here. I think what happened was that the fact that we didn’t really do a lot of studio work – everybody was from other bands –we kind of knew how to get along and gel together. 
That’s what was remarkable about this. I think the fact that all of us had that experience with other bands made it sound like we were together. Joe did produce everything and he did write everything and he did put us all together. He definitely was the glue. We were just going in and doing what he wanted us to do. An interesting thing about that was, you know, I said to Joe, “Are you familiar with Sha Na Na?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “You know, my voice is a pretty voice. I’m not like a typical hard rocker type singer. That’s maybe the kind of guy that you want. I won’t be offended in any way if that’s the guy you’re looking for.” He kept insisting that I sing the songs. So I said to him, “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll do two or three songs for you. I’ll go in and do one session with you and I’ll learn the songs. And if you feel after those sessions that I’m not the guy and you really need that rocker type singer, I will not be offended at all.” And I really threw that out at him, and he just kept saying he was happy with what I was doing and you know, we kept doing it and we ended up with 11 songs. The amazing thing about the album for me is that I think that’s one of the only times in my life when somebody really kind of stretched my voice in another direction.

SPAZ: So you were definitely finding more freedom to experiment as a vocalist?
JOHNNY: Absolutely. I didn’t know it at the time. At the time, it was a real challenge for me so I wasn’t really thinking about this was like a breakthrough for me voice-wise. At the time, I was thinking about the challenge ahead of me because some of the songs were really high to sing. I kept wanting him to bring the keys down, and he wouldn’t. So I said, “Okay – I’ll just do my best.” Most of the songs, I was very, very happy with, and very happy that he did push me.

SPAZ: Was it easy to go in this different direction? Both Joe Jammer and Sha Na Na, at the core, are definitely Blues-based. However, I feel the Joe Jammer record is more of a Jazz-Blues record.  
JOHNNY: Joe says that, if you try to describe the record to somebody, it’s like Curtis Mayfield meets Smokey Robinson and they knock on Jimi Hendrix’s door and they made an album.

SPAZ: Was it comfortable once you got into the groove?
JOHNNY: Once he accepted my voice, I said, “Let’s go.” And for three weeks or a month, we did it. I just took direction from him. He gave me the songs. I learned the melodies. I learned the lyrics. And we went ahead and did it.
SPAZ:  What was it like to work with these guys? Was it a whole different experience than Sha Na Na?
JOHNNY: It was a different experience but I’m not sure I appreciated it as much as I should have, because my focus at that point was being in Sha Na Na. We were touring and that was my main focus. Of course, once I was off the road, I was able to dismiss it temporarily because I had this project at hand to do. I know I’m gonna get myself in a little bit of trouble here, but all the people that I was working with were really, really professional people, and I couldn’t say that about some of the members of Sha Na Na….(laughs).

SPAZ:  Are there any particular songs that you’re fond of on the record? I think “Afraid To Make A Friend” is definitely one of the standouts on the record.
JOHNNY: Nice that you said that. “Afraid To Make A Friend” really lends itself to my voice – the pretty, ballad-y type voice – and I really challenged myself on “Not Tonight.” I love “Broken Little Pieces” – it’s a great little subtle jazzy type of song.

SPAZ: Now, looking back at yourself in 1974 – were you closer to the funky Jazz-Blues guy in Joe Jammer’s band or were you closer to the sort of angelic-voiced Sha Na Na guy?
JOHNNY: That’s a really good question because maybe some of my Jazz roots came out of my singing without even knowing it. I started singing in a church when I was 6, 7-years-old, in the Italian neighborhood that I lived in, and then we moved to a Jewish neighborhood and I had a stepfather and he had all these Jazz albums. He had great albums. I was really influenced by the female Jazz singers. I loved Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. I also liked the club stuff because all these Mafioso guys owned these nightclubs in Boston and they used to let me go in as a young teenager and get up on stage, even though it was illegal for me to be there. I would get up and sing all these Frank Sinatra tunes and Sammy Davis tunes, so I had that Jazz upbringing. And then my sister, who is 5, 6 years older than me, she kind of liked the Doo Wop stuff, the Bobby Rydells and the Frankie Avalons, so that was really my foundation in music.

SPAZ: If the album had been released, would it have been difficult to balance both careers? What if the album had taken off?
JOHNNY: I can’t imagine if I had left Sha Na Na and taken a chance and gone with Joe, and then we ended up in the toilet…or if I went with Joe and we became a huge band. We just can’t answer that question, can we? Sha Na Na got their television show 5, 6 years later. We were on TV in the states for 7 years.
SPAZ: Wasn’t your TV show one of the first real popular syndicated TV shows?
JOHNNY: It was. I think it was the very last variety show too, if you wanted to put it in a variety category. I don’t think there was a show after ours that had that kind of flavor to it.
SPAZ: Didn’t you have The Ramones on the show?
JOHNNY: God yeah. We did 4 years of shows plus the pilot, which was a total of 97 shows, which means we had 97 guest stars on the show!

SPAZ: Were you more surprised when the Headway album was shelved or when you were told it was going to come out?
JOHNNY: Oh, when I was told it was going to come out. When I left London and Joe was trying to do what he was trying to do – even though we had an association with EMI at the time – I said to myself, “What are the chances that this is all gonna happen?” I was on my way to something else. I was too busy with Sha Na Na going off on another tour or whatever it was I was doing. I just kept moving on and that was that. After I left London, I don’t think I’ve seen Joe for 40 years.

SPAZ: What’s next for Johnny Contardo?
JOHNNY: I’m getting ready to go to the Caribbean – I’m gonna be singing on a Doo Wop cruise and I’m gonna be in the Caribbean for two weeks. I also play small little theaters around the country on my own. I still teach a little bit. I’m in the infant stages of trying to put this school together teaching teachers my technique, and that’s what I’m up to.  

SPAZ: What’s spinning on your CD, record, DVD, Blu Ray players?
JOHNNY: Oh, I listen to anything that’s good. I have students that come to me with music. I go to the gym to work out and occasionally I will be humming a song that’s coming through the intercom in the gym and these young girls will look at me like, “How does this old guy know these songs?” I’ll listen to Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga – all that stuff. I’ll throw on a Jazz album. I’ll listen to straight raw Rock ‘n’ Roll. I love it all as long as it’s good. I’m not a Country fan, but some of those Country female singers are great.  

Thanks to Johnny Contardo
Special thanks to Peter Purnell, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky



An EXCLUSIVE interview with Robin Trower!

The Other Side Of The Bridge:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

   The Blues may have been born in America, but those crafty Brits on the other side of the pond created a whole new subgenre in the ‘60s. The first British Blues boom gave birth to a new generation of master bluesmen including Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Peter Green alongside bands like The Rolling Stones, Savoy Brown and Led Zeppelin. America may have loved their Blues sons, but the British adored them – often breathing new life into their long-dormant careers via package tours and cover versions. The British Blues scene stumbled as the ‘60s turned into the ‘70s, but it didn’t stay down for long. While some of the musicians expanded their horizons and headed in different musical directions – The Moody Blues and Jethro Tull, in particular, traded simple Blues riffs for the complexities of Symphonic and Prog Rock – there were still plenty of Blues-based artists making a glorious noise in the early part of the decade. Former Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower was one of them.
   Robin Trower made a huge splash when he released his debut solo album, Twice Removed From Yesterday, in 1973. Joining Trower for the ride was bassist/vocalist James Dewar, who would remain with Robin for the next decade. Dewar handled lead vocal duties which allowed Trower to concentrate solely on his distinctive guitar style. When he released Bridge Of Sighs in ’74, Trower became one of the most popular guitarists in the world. Bridge Of Sighs reached #7 in the U.S. and stayed in the chart for 31 weeks. It was certified Gold by the end of the year. For the next decade, Robin released a string of best-selling albums that expanded upon his Blues upbringing, yet he never strayed too far from the music that influenced him. When the ‘80s rolled around, the music scene shifted away from the sounds of the old guard and embraced a youthful and synthetic musical future. Thankfully, Robin’s core fanbase stuck with him as he continued to hone his craft, never resting on his past successes and always reaching for something new. Not as prolific as he once was, Robin has continued to release a string of albums that prove that he has not lost his flair for creating inspiring music. On 2013’s Roots And Branches, he tackled some old Blues favorites as well as some tracks from his own catalog, adding a new Trower twist to each of them. The album’s laid-back atmosphere paved the way for his next project…
   Something’s About To Change, Robin’s latest album, features a new batch of self-penned tracks that expands upon the groundwork laid by Roots And Branches. The album’s warm and intimate feel lends well to the new material, which spotlights his emotional connection with the Blues in both his playing and his vocals. Yes, that’s right folks: Robin does sing (and very well, I might add). Handling lead vocals is nothing new for Robin – he sang some tracks during his Procol Harum days – but those who may not have heard his work in recent years will be pleasantly surprised by his ability to project emotion through his guitar AND vocal chords. Something’s About To Change is an album that all Trower and Blues fans need to hear. It will surprise those who may have lost track of Robin over the years and it will introduce his always-evolving talents to a new generation. Perhaps the album’s title will prove prophetic and Robin will be thrust into the spotlight again. Lord knows he’s more than worthy!
   Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Robin Trower about the new album and much more…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your new album, Something’s About To Change, is now available. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction so far?
ROBIN TROWER: I think the reaction, just from a few reviews, has been perhaps better than I would’ve thought, to be honest. With my stuff, I’m making albums really just to please myself and so when people pick up on it, it’s gratifying.

SPAZ: The album has a very warm and intimate feel, much like your last album, Roots And Branches. Was this a natural progression for you to create a warm and inviting feel to the album?
ROBIN: Well, it’s a lovely description of it. All I can tell you is that doing Roots And Branches kind of opened up a bit of a new avenue for me, which I thought I would pursue for one more album, providing I could come up with the material. Every song had to be inviting me to play lead work on them. That was the key to each of the songs that I chose. I had to want to play – I was sort of looking forward to playing lead on them. So once I decided that, I would go ahead and finish writing the song.

SPAZ: There are some amazing moments on this record where you hold a note for a beat or two as opposed to sort of shoving as many notes in as possible. Do you subscribe to the idea that in many cases that less is more?
ROBIN:  Well, (chuckles) I think it’s horses for courses, you know? There are good guitar players that like to play a lot of notes per minute, but they’re doing what they want to do. The other end of the spectrum is I’m trying to make one note count. That’s my training from listening to B.B. King and Albert King and players like that, you know? Because I just respond emotionally to it.

SPAZ: Do you tend to work out what you’re going to play in advance or do you let the feeling take over during the recording?
ROBIN: I do try and get a feel of what will work for each particular song. So, you know, there is thought that sort of goes into it before I record solos, but I have to feel that it’s spontaneous at the same time. Otherwise, it’s not working for me.
SPAZ: So, you don’t work out the notes and then play the same exact thing live.
ROBIN: No, I can’t do that now. It’s got to be a bit of a happening where you’re carried away playing it, if you know what I mean.

SPAZ: Is this a whole new batch of tracks or have some of these songs been sitting around just waiting for the right project?
ROBIN: This is a whole new batch that I wrote over a period of about a year. I wrote those songs with all the same concept in mind – that they would be great to play lead to, and they would be soulful.

SPAZ: What is your normal songwriting routine or do you even have one? If so, has it ever changed over the last 40 years or so?
ROBIN: I don’t think it has really. Songwriting for me, it always comes out of me playing the guitar for my own amusement. And I have to practice to a certain amount anyway, so I pick up the guitar and sort of doodle, really. I fiddle around with ideas and what have you, and if something really catches my imagination then I think, yeah, it could be a song. Then away you go. The only thing I would say that maybe I’ve got a different way of wrestling about the lyrics now. I’ve found that it works best for me if I work on one lyric continually until I’m happy with it. That’s something I worked out over the course of writing these songs. That’s the best way for me to go about it because if I continue working on that and nothing else, it’s continually in my mind and I’m sort of changing lyrics, changing lines, until it really works for me.

SPAZ: So all the lyrics for these songs are specifically for these pieces of music, as opposed to you having a little notebook of lyrical ideas and then putting music to them later.
ROBIN: No, I’ve never done that really. I think I did write one song, I think it was “Another Time Another Place,” where I wrote the lyrics before the music. But generally and certainly on this album, it’s all lyrics written to go with certain pieces of music.

SPAZ: The early days of Blues music seemed more about emotion and expression, whereas later on it seemed more about proving your skill as a musician, but I think on this record, you bridge that gap and bring both aspects to the table.
ROBIN: Oh, what a great compliment.  Thank you very much.
SPAZ: What originally drew you to the Blues in the first place?
ROBIN: I think I’ve always loved the depth of it. You know, it’s deep. In many ways, primal almost. And it’s emotionally rich. Everything I’ve listened to and loved has been Black-American music, you know? And that’s constantly feeding into what I’m doing.

SPAZ: When you go into the studio, are you constantly thinking you’ve got to top your past accomplishments or do you just approach each project as a whole different entity with a fresh perspective?
ROBIN: I think my overall approach, if you like, is I’ve got this song and I want it to be as good as I can possibly make it. I think it’s just as simple as that really, rather than thinking of what I’ve done. You try not to repeat yourself, but of course that’s pretty hard to do when you’ve made as many albums as I’ve done. Yeah, I’m just trying to bring it to fruition really, each song, to the best of my ability.

SPAZ: I think handling lead vocals on an actual Robin Trower release is relatively new for you compared to guitar playing. How come you didn’t jump into the fray sooner?
ROBIN: Well, I always had great singers and was kind of always worried about being able to reproduce it live – playing and singing at the same time. My guitar parts are not just strumming along behind the vocals – they’re proper arranged parts and so that was why I thought to have someone else do the vocals. So I can concentrate on the guitar, really. Of late, I’ve started to write more and more songs that are more personal lyrically, and also on this batch I’ve written all the songs for me to sing. I’ve made sure the key is right and is something that I can just about handle.   

SPAZ: Do you feel comfortable in the role as a vocalist now?
ROBIN: I think I’m getting there. I have been singing on the last couple of tours I’ve done. I’ve been singing two or three songs in the set and we’ll probably add something from this album as well in the new set for the next touring.

SPAZ: Does it get frustrating when you’ve got strong new material and people want to hear stuff from 40 years ago?
ROBIN: No, not at all. I still enjoy playing the classic stuff. It still works great.

SPAZ: Is recording today a completely different beast than it used to be? Is modern technology making it easier?
ROBIN: I’ll tell you how it makes it easier for me, is because I build it up from a click track basically, so that allows me to get everything exactly right as I go along. If you’re playing live with a band, it can become something else, perhaps something that you didn’t have in your mind to start off with, but you accept it because that’s what you’ve got. But this way of recording, I’m able to get nearer to what’s in my head when I come up with the song. I get to play bass as well on it so I can put exactly the right feel. Not that I haven’t worked with great bass players – I have. The more I’m involved in playing, the more fun I’m having. So, that’s really the key to it – having fun, loving what you’re doing.

SPAZ: What is next for Robin Trower?
ROBIN: Well, I’ve already recorded five songs for the next album. And I’m going in next week to do two more. So, I’m hoping to get another album out by the spring of next year. And I’ve got touring coming up as well, so I’m pretty busy this year.

SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD, record, DVD, or Blu-Ray players?
ROBIN: Well, I watch a lot of football (laughs). If there’s a football match on, I’m probably gonna be watching it regardless of who it is.
SPAZ: And that’s British football as opposed to American football?
ROBIN: Yes, soccer you call it. (Laughs) What I listen to music-wise is I’ve got quite a big collection of very, very old stuff from ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. That’s mostly my listening pleasure apart from early James Brown and Howlin’ Wolf and stuff like that.

Thanks to Robin Trower

Special thanks to Derek Sutton, Larry Germack, David Maida, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky




KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS/The Third: Available March 31st. TOUR DATES ANNOUNCED!




Having sold over a quarter of a million albums worldwide, London siblings Kitty Daisy & Lewis return with their 2014 album, KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS THE THIRD. Produced by Mick Jones of The Clash in a new 16 track analog studio in a derelict Indian restaurant in Camden Town, the band take their third album to another level, with the songwriting, instrumentation, styles, production and sound.  With three different writers and multi-instrumentalists in the band, their songs are an eclectic mix up of Pop, R'n'B & Blues, Psychedelic Rock, Soul, Country, Jazz and Ska. Embracing a spread of influences from blues to disco, but always sounding unmistakably Kitty Daisy & Lewis, the stories in this album resonate with moods and melodies that touch you in ways that are both uplifting and unnerving.



Crocodile Cafe Seattle 


Doug Fir Lounge Portland, Oregon 


WOW Hall Eugene, Oregon 


Belly Up Tavern Solana Beach, CA 


The Independent San Francisco, 


El Rey Theatre Los Angeles 


Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend Las Vegas, 


Bluebird Theater Denver 


Reverb Lounge Omaha 


Turf Club St. Paul 


Lincoln Hall Chicago 


The Magic Bag Ferndale, MI 


Lee's Palace Toronto, ON, 


The Bowery Ballroom New York 


World Cafe Live – Downstairs Philadelphia 


The Sinclair Cambridge, MA 


U Street Music Hall Washington, DC 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ELVIS: The King Of The Whole Wide World

The King Of The Whole Wide World
(AKA: A Beginner's Guide To Elvis)

Stephen SPAZ Schnee looks back on the different phases of
ELVIS PRESLEY's remarkable career.

"The man who can sing when he hasn't got a thing,
He's the king... of the whole wide world"
("King Of The Whole Wide World"/words & music by Batchelor - Roberts)

Ever since he released his first major label single - "Heartbreak Hotel" on RCA - in 1956, Elvis Aron Presley has been widely acknowledged as 'The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll.' It is not a title that he chose, nor have I ever read or heard him refer to himself as the 'king' of anything. However, it is a title bestowed upon him by the press, his fans and just about everyone else in the known universe. It is a badge that I’m sure he wore proudly at times in his career, but it was also a burden to try to live up to, especially since his talents were far more versatile than that nickname suggests. It is also a moniker that ensured that Elvis would have to endure endless mocking by those who now look at his ‘60s and ‘70s output as anything but Rock ‘n’ Roll. It would seem that many have forgotten the man and his music, chosing to focus purely on the 'myth of Elvis'. While a simple blog post cannot properly describe or define Elvis, I've chosen to devote a few words to steer you away from the more sensational aspects of his personal life (i.e.: rumors and gossip) and encourage you to refocus on the man's musical career.

For anyone who still thinks of Elvis as an artist who lost his way after the ‘50s, I’m going to break his career down into different phases so that you understand that he was much more than “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Heartbreak Hotel.” Elvis was - and will always be - known as 'The King Of Rock 'n' Roll'. And as the unitiated will soon learn, he was much, much more than that...

And don't worry, I'll keep it brief...

(NOTE: None of this info is new or earth-shattering. Just an Elvis fan taking an opportunity to write about Elvis and maybe encourage folks to investigate the different phases of Elvis' amazing body of work. If you've read a million blog posts on Elvis and his music, then let this be a million and one!)

From his very first recording in 1953 (a private acetate for his mom) until he signed with RCA Records, Elvis was primarily known as a Country and Hillbilly performer, a genre that is now more commonly referred to as Rockabilly.  His sides for Sun Records are legendary and are now acknowledged as early Rock ‘n’ Roll but when he was signed to the label, he was sold as a ‘Hillbilly’ artist. He was quite successful at it too.  During the first year or two of his professional career, this wiggling slab of talent honed his skills on the road, building up a fan base an receiving plenty of attention from the press. This may have been before he hit the big time, but this period was crucial in turning Elvis into the artist that he became when worldwide fame came calling. When RCA bought his contract from Sun, his style didn’t change that much, but the production on Elvis' records moved away from the raw, rootsy feel of the Sun sessions towards a more refined - but no less energetic - sound.  This slight shift in direction earned him his 'legit' nickname...

Beginning with his first RCA single – “Heartbreak Hotel” in January of 1956 – Elvis went from being an up and coming Hillbilly/Country artist to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s first real superstar. When people refer to him being the ‘King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ this is the period they are talking about. It was a period that lasted a little less than five years, but it changed the course of music. Almost everyone knows “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” etc. Although he never toured overseas, his records were enormous hits in almost every corner of the world. Elvis was unique. Elvis was different. The kids loved his look and sound but the adults found him offensive – just as it should be in Rock ‘n’ Roll. However, Elvis was humble and down to earth and that came through during his TV performances, which caught the attention of viewers of all ages. Whether he was loved or hated didn’t matter – he was selling records and influencing a new generation. He made some movies – Love Me Tender, Loving You, Jailhouse Rock and King Creole – and was even drafted by the U.S. Army and spent the last two years of the decade overseas in Germany, yet his popularity never waned. Elvis seemed to be unstoppable.

When Elvis was discharged from the Army in 1960, he received a hero’s welcome. The press went wild, Frank Sinatra hosted a TV special in his honor, and he was thrust back into the studio to pick up where he left off.  Plans were also put in place to resume his movie career. However, something was different.  While Elvis had been away in Germany, Rock ‘n’ Roll had become an accepted form of musical expression so he was no longer considered ‘dangerous’ or ‘controversial.’ And in those two years, Elvis had lost his mother and matured, leaving his primal Rock ‘n’ Roll instincts behind and embracing a sound that was deeper and more meaningful to him. Yes, it was still Rock ‘n’ Roll, but it was more controlled, more thoughtful and more emotional.  He was singing better than ever and the Gospel and Country that he loved growing up began informing the music that he made.  Elvis shaped a new sound for himself and set his sights on growing as an artist, as an actor and as a human being. 

Elvis made two films in 1960 alongside his Elvis Is Back album, but it wasn’t until ’61 that his focused shifted away from the studio and onto the silver screen. That year, Blue Hawaii was released and it was a turning point for Elvis – the hit movie helped the soundtrack sell millions of units around the world and convinced everyone that his movies were better at promoting his albums than his concert tours were. So, apart from one benefit show, Elvis did not play in front of a live audience again until 1968. In the meantime, he recorded a lot of soundtrack music, made a lot of movies and sporadically recorded non-soundtrack sides that would be released between soundtracks. This was the period of time that most critics consider his first downfall. The truth is, a lot of the soundtrack recordings were lightweight and often embarrassing, but Elvis almost always sounded great. It was obvious at times that his heart was not in it and he was sleepwalking through many of the songs, but there are some absolute gems that made it all worthwhile. A lot of people forget that “Return To Sender” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” two of his most familiar ‘60s hits, were from soundtracks. Other top notch tunes include “C’mon Everybody,” “I Got Lucky,”, “I’ll Take Love”, ‘Viva Las Vegas,” “King Of The Whole Wide World,” and many more. They may not have been on the same level as his ‘50s hits, but they were recorded under different circumstances and in a very different time. There are real gems to be found during this phase in his career, although you do have to have a little bit of patience and get past songs like “Old McDonald” and “Do The Vega.” Remember this, though: Elvis cut some amazing non-soundtrack recordings during this time and the power in those cannot be denied. But alas, the studio became his part-time job and movies became his day job!

By the end of ’67, record and movie ticket sales had dropped and Elvis was no longer embraced by the music industry. His movies were fun but formulaic, just like the music. He started putting more energy into his non-soundtrack recordings and while they weren’t scaling the charts, he was sounding more connected to the music than he had since 1960. Since there was no interest in his movies or records at this point, Colonel Parker decided it was time that he returned to the medium that helped create the legend a decade before: TV. The 1968 Elvis television special is now called The ’68 Comeback Special for a reason: it rejuvenated his career in a big way. The TV special showcased an artist with a fire in his belly that seemed to have been missing for years. With a new look, Elvis blew everyone away with a variety of songs old and new. With much of it filmed in front of a live audience, Elvis was filled with nervous energy – it was a stunning return to form. Suddenly, everyone who saw it was an Elvis fan again. He still had a few movies left on his contract so he filmed those while focusing more on studio work into 1969. His sessions in Memphis are now legendary and they gave him some of the most memorable hits of his career: “Suspicious Minds,” “In The Ghetto,”, “Kentucky Rain,” and more. Elvis never sounded more connected with his music – there was a rasp in his voice that came from the soul and every word he sang sounded like the gospel. Not only did he return to TV and the studio, he also made his return to live performing. Those first 1969 shows in Las Vegas are now legendary. When he returned to Vegas in '70, his engagement was filmed for the movie That’s The Way It Is. On top of the Vegas gigs, he began touring the U.S. again. To top it all off, he returned to the studio and, although not as ground-breaking as the ’69 recordings, his studio work still sounded like he was connecting to his music again. Elvis had never been more alive, more real and more in touch with his audience. The excitement lasted throughout ’71 before more changes began taking place.

Next to the soundtrack recordings, his ‘70s output is the most misunderstood phase in Elvis’ career. Although this period started out well – “Burning Love” and “Always On My Mind” are two of his greatest singles – things went slightly askew, commercially. Record buyers wanted more Rock 'n' Roll from Elvis, but he seemed more interested in 'entertaining' than rocking. His choice of live material included recent Pop hits alongside the songs he was best known for. In fact, his live set lists began to feature the same type of material that adult contemporary artists like Andy Williams, Dean Martin, and Perry Como would include in their own concert performances. His recorded output began to suffer as well. While most artists went into the studio to record an album, Elvis headed in to record as many songs as possible in a short period of time - his manager Colonel Tom Parker and RCA would then take those songs and spread them out over a few albums plus a couple of non-album singles. During this period, Elvis seemed to put his heart and soul into the types of songs he really connected with - the ballads, the Country songs and Gospel favorites. Elvis' voice still sounded great but he wasn't always offered the greatest material (due to publishing issues that you can read about elsewhere.) However, when Elvis did actually connect with the material, he made that song his own. Every one of his '70s albums contains classic songs and performances, although there are some tracks that are best left only heard once. However, he was still an extremely popular artist and his Madison Square Garden concert in ’72 and the Aloha From Hawaii satellite broadcast were two of the most celebrated highlights of his career (although this writer considers Elvis' performance on the Aloha special to be uncharacteristically reserved). Behind the scenes, things were changing. Rock radio stopped playing his singles around ’73, although he was still being played on Country stations. In ’75, he seems to have regained some of his energy on the Today album, but by this time, the momentum was slowing down. From that point, Elvis couldn’t be bothered to enter a studio anymore – his final two albums, From Elvis Presley Boulevard… and Moody Blue, were recorded at Graceland in his Jungle Room. A dependence on prescription drugs and a never ending touring cycle wore Elvis down. On August 16th, 1977, it all came to an end. He was only 42.

In Elvis' final years, he couldn't get a record into the Pop or Rock charts, although Country radio still played his latest releases. Concert attendance was stil good, but record sales were dwindling. However, when he died, sales on Elvis' catalog went through the roof. Entire record pressing plants had to set aside other projects in order to keep up with the demand for Elvis' albums. Elvis probably sold more records than any other artist in the world over the next year or two. Over the years, Elvis has released more albums posthumously than he did when he was alive. As long as there is interest in his music there will always be reissues and repackages. In fact, the official Elvis collectors label, Follow That Dream (via BMG), has released amazing digitally remastered and expanded editions of all of his studio albums as well as loads of previously unreleased live shows. There's never been a more exciting time to delve deeper into his catalog than now! There is so much great music to be explored.

The king is dead. Long live Elvis!

Peace, love and pancakes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee