Friday, March 20, 2015

In Memoriam: Andy Fraser (1952-2015) and AJ Pero (1959-2015)

I thought I'd take the time to write up obituaries for two musicians who passed away this week. I'm putting them here in one blog post so here we go...

Andrew McLan "Andy" Fraser
July 3, 1952-March 16, 2015

Andy Fraser, former bassist for UK rockers Free, passed away this Monday at his home in California. The cause of death is unknown but it has been known that Fraser had been battling with both HIV and cancer. Fraser was 62. Fraser was a bassist who got his start playing for blues legend John Mayall. Fraser was only 15 and was also mentored by blues musician Alexis Korner. In 1968, Fraser became one fourth of Free. Along with Fraser was singer Paul Rodgers, guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke. The band played up until their break-up in 1971 (although they briefly reunited in 1972 but without Fraser). Free found commercial success with the release of their third album, Fire and Water, which included the band's most popular song "All Right Now." The song was written by Fraser and Rodgers. For years, the song would become a classic rock radio staple.

After Free's split, Fraser joined a few other bands including Sharks and Toby, the former being formed with guitarist Chris Spedding and the latter a group formed with Sparks guitarist Adrian Fisher . Aside from releasing a few solo albums here and there, Fraser also focused on songwriting. For years, Fraser had been battling with HIV and was later diagnosed with Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. In 2005, Fraser came out as a homosexual. Before then, he'd been battling with his sexual orientation as well as his illnesses.   

Anthony Jude "AJ" Pero
October 14, 1959-March 20, 2015

AJ Pero, longtime drummer for New York hard rockers Twisted Sister, passed away on Friday this week. Pero had been discovered unresponsive on a tour bus in Poughkeepsie, New York as he was touring with super group Adrenaline Mob. According to Rolling Stone, paramedics rushed him over to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death is said to have been a heart attack. Pero was 55. Pero was one fifth of the classic line-up of Twisted Sister. Pero joined in 1982. His bandmates included singer Dee Snider, guitarists Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda and bassist Mark Mendoza. Pero joined just in time as the band was about to record their debut album Under the Blade, which was release later that year. This was followed by 1983's You Can't Stop Rock N Roll.

Twisted Sister reached their peak in 1984 with the massively successful Stay Hungry album. The album featured the hit singles, "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock." Both singles were accompanied by MTV friendly videos, staring Mark Metcalf of Animal House fame. The band's popularity began to wane after the release of the unsuccessful follow up Come Out and Play. Pero left in 1986 while the band kept going until 1989. After leaving Twisted Sister, Pero participated in several project- one of them being Snider's S.M.F's. Twisted Sister would reunite in 1997 and once again in 2001 before finally deciding to officially reunite in 2003. The day before Pero's death, Twisted Sister had been confirmed to play at the Metal Meltdown, an LA festival slated for May 30 which also features Great White, Skid Row and Extreme on the bill.

It is sad to hear of the passings of Andy and AJ. They were great musicians and will be missed by many.

Rest in peace, Andy and AJ.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Daevid Allen dead at 77

Christopher David Allen
January 12, 1938 - March 13, 2015

Daevid Allen, founding member of psychedelic rock group Gong, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. Allen was 77. While Allen is best known for his work in Gong, Allen was one of the founding members of prog-rockers Soft Machine. Allen was a member from for only a year, as he was denied re-entry to the UK. Allen had stayed in Paris for too long while on tour with Soft Machine. Being Australian, he was not allowed to reconnect with his bandmates therefore forcing him out of the band. Allen returned to Paris in 1967, where he connected with Sorbonne professor Gilli Smyth. With Smyth and saxophonist Didier Malherbe, Gong was formed. 

While not commercial successful, Gong were able to attain a cult following amongst music fans. Of the albums in their discography, the band's most praised piece of work is their Radio Gnome trilogy- consisting of the albums Flying Teapot, Angel's Egg and You. The band went through several line-up changes, with Allen, Smyth and Malherbe as the core three members. The band would split in 1976 but would go on to spawn other Gong bands. This includes Smyth's Mother Gong, drummer Pierre Moerlen's Gong and Allen's Planet Gong. Gong reunited several times over the years (1991-2001, 2003-2006, 2007-present), with Allen at the helm along with other long-time members from the original group. The band's last album was 2014's I See You. In June 2014, Allen had a cyst removed from his neck. When it was discovered to be cancerous, Allen immediately underwent radiation. On February 5 of this year, Allen announced that the cancer had returned and had spread to his lungs. Allen chose not to have anymore surgery.  His doctors estimated he had six months to live. Allen would pass just a little over a month later. 

It's sad to hear of Daevid's passing. I had always heard of Gong and did become somewhat interested in their music but never got around to listening to it. He seemed to be devoted to his music as well as Gong's. Soon after he announced about his six months left to live, I immediately went online and listen to a few Gong albums. They were a unique band. Luckily, Allen left behind a pretty big body of work for music listeners to enjoy. 

Rest in peace, Daevid.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Black Star Riders- The Killer Instinct album review

Black Star Riders - The Killer Instinct
Black Star Riders
The Killer Instinct
Rating: ****

Following up their 2013 debut All Hell Breaks Loose, hard rocker band Black Star Riders have released The Killer Instinct. While their name might not sound familiar, Black Star Riders are a band with historic origins as the band consists of musicians that were in the reunited version of Thin Lizzy. Of the band’s five members, guitarist Scott Gorham is the only member that was in the Phil Lynott-led version of the band. Still, the other members in the band are well versed in the Lizzy songbook and are true fans. For a second album, The Killer Instinct is pretty solid.

            The album opens with Lizzy influenced title track. From the trademark twin lead guitar harmonies to the anthem driven chorus, it’s a strong start for the album and a great choice for the album’s lead single. Guitarist/singer Ricky Warwick shines on the album with his Lynott-like vocal approach and superb songwriting, having co-written more than half of the album. While Black Star Riders are a band that pays tribute to the music of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy, the band sounds like they are trying to make a name and sound for themselves. This is certainly the case for songs such as the rocking “Bullet Blues,” the remorseful western-esque “Blindsided” and the strutting riffs of “Through the Motions.” These songs are great and show that the band is capable of making other songs. However, a few of the songs on here aren’t as catchy or memorable as the ones on All Hell Breaks Loose.  It sometimes sounds like the band is recycling older material. In fact, the chorus for “Charlie I Gotta Go” sounds an awful lot like the chorus from “Hoodoo Voodoo” from the previous album.

Still, Black Star Riders have written some great songs on here and some do sound a lot like modern day Lizzy tunes. “Soldierstown” has Lizzy envy written all over it, with its twin lead guitar harmonies and subject matter (war and history- something the late Phil Lynott enjoyed writing about) while “Turn In Your Arms” features some killer psychedelic-riddled guitar riffs (a la “Massacre”). The nostalgic “Finest Hour” is another highlight while the band show some off Fleetwood Mac Peter Green era influences on the hard-hitting “Sex, Guns & Gasoline.” The album closes with slow rocker “You Little Liar.”

The Killer Instinct is a good album from Black Star Riders. While I do find myself preferring All Hell Breaks Loose, this isn’t a bad album at all. I’m glad these guys are still together and making music. With two albums under their belts, Black Star Riders can now go on tour and mix these songs in with the classic Lizzy tunes. As for a third album, I will be patiently waiting for it.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sam Andrew dead at 73

Sam Houston Andrew III
December 18, 1941-February 12, 2015

Sam Andrew, guitarist for Big Brother and the Holding Company, passed away yesterday from complications from open-heart surgery. Andrew was having the surgery done after he had suffered from a heart attack. Andrew was 73. 

Andrew was one of the founding members of psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band formed in 1965, with Andrew, guitarist James Gurley, bassist Peter Ablin, and drummer Dave Goetz. The band also consisted of singer Chuck Jones, who was in the band briefly before being fired. The band found a new singer in Texas born singer Janis Joplin. With Joplin, the band soon took off. During his time in the band, Andrew was a interesting guitarist,  as he had a background in playing classical and jazz music before becoming a rock guitarist. Big Brother were among the many bands that made up the West Coast psychedelic rock scene, along with other bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Moby Grape. When Joplin left the band in late 1968, Andrew went along with her. With Joplin, they were able to form the Kozmic Blues Band- a group that would act as Janis' solo backing band. The group recorded 1969's I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama! before breaking up shortly afterwards. Andrew would rejoin Big Brother at various times during the next couple of decades, with the core of himself, Gurley, Ablin and Goetz in tact. Of the "classic" line-up of Big Brother, Andrew is the third to pass away- following Joplin in 1970 and Gurley in 2009. 

I'm sad to hear of Sam Andrew's passing. I can't say I'm too surprised though: Big Brother's Facebook page had uploaded a picture of Sam in the hospital. Something like that stands out on one's news feed and it did have me a little concerned. The man was a great musician and it's just sad to hear. 

RIP Sam. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Quiet Riot: Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back movie review

Quiet Riot: Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back
Rating: ****

Picture source: Blabbermouth

In the early 1980s, Quiet Riot had hit it big time. In March 1983, their American debut album Metal Health was released. By November, the album had made its way up the Billboard charts at #1, becoming the first metal album to do so. Drummer Frankie Banali now tells the story of the LA hard rockers, as well as his own story in this new documentary. The movie- Well Now You’re Here, There’s No Way Back- is a heartfelt story about a rock band and the friendship at the center of it.   

While most of the movie documents the resurrection of Quiet Riot, we are also told of the band’s history. The first half hour of the movie is devoted to giving history of Quiet Riot from the beginning till the 1980s. At certain parts in the movie, it will cut back to the 1980s. For the most part, the information given in the history segments is good. Even being a Quiet Riot fan, some of the information was new to me as were some of the archival videos used. While this isn't a complete history of Quiet Riot, it’s still amazing how much director Regina Russell was able to fit in the movie’s runtime of 104 minutes.  

For interviewees, we get to hear from a nice group of people. This includes former members such as Rudy Sarzo as well as other figures in the world of hard rock including Dee Snider, Glenn Hughes and That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk. We also get to hear from Rhoads’ brother and sister, as well as singer Kevin DuBrow’s mother and even his brother Dr. Terry DuBrow (a plastic surgeon who has starred in several E! Network reality shows). Quiet Riot members Chuck Wright and Alex Grossi even get some camera time, sharing memories of DuBrow and discussing the status of the new band.  Watching the resurrection of Quiet Riot is quite entertaining. We get to see the band audition different singers in one scene before finally deciding on singer Mark Huff. The movie documents almost each and every show the band plays with Huff, which lead to some hilarious and even emotionally intense scenes.

Overall, Well Now You’re Here is a great documentary. The movie is also strengthened by the hard rocking tunes Quiet Riot delivered over the years. In the last few years, there have been a series of great rock documentaries: Anvil with Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Rodriguez with Searching for Sugar Man and Death with A Band Called Death just to name a few. Quiet Riot can now join that group with this movie. I highly recommend seeing this movie, whether you’re a fan of Quiet Riot or not.

This movie was also partially funded by Quiet Riot fans through Kickstarter in 2010. I was one of the many who donated some money so I could see this movie. After seeing this, I’m proud to say I had a small part in helping this movie become a reality.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ringo Starr to release Postcards from Paradise in March

After hinting at the release of a new studio album, it's official: Ringo Starr will release his 18th studio album this year. The album, Postcards from Paradise, will be released on March 31. The album's release is timely, as it's just weeks before Ringo's induction in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. The album consist of 11 original songs, all featuring Ringo's current All Starr Band- which currently includes Peter Frampton, Dave Stewart, Richard Marx, Glen Ballard and Ringo's brother-in-law Joe Walsh. Postcards from Paradise is Ringo's first album since 2012's Ringo 2012.

The tracking list is as follows...

1. Rory and the Hurricanes
2. You Bring the Party Down
3. Bridges
4. Postcards From Paradise
5. Right Side of the Road
6. Not Looking Back
7. Bamboula
8. Island in the Sun
9. Touch and Go
10. Confirmation
11. Let Love Lead

I'm happy to see Ringo will be releasing another album. I wasn't impressed with Ringo 2012 when it came out, thinking it was too short and rushed. With any luck, this one will be better.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Kim Fowley dead at 75

Kim Vincent Fowley
July 21, 1939 - January 15, 2015

Singer/songwriter and manager of the Runaways Kim Fowley has died after a short battle with bladder cancer. Fowley was 75. Fowley was born to actor Douglas Fowley and actress Shelby Payne. By the time Fowley was 20, he was already in the music industry. By the 1960's, Fowley found himself producing singles by artists such as the Murmaids with "Popsicles and Icicles" and the fictional Hollywood Argyles with "Alley Oop."  Fowley also produced singles by artists who would become famous years later such as Slade (as the In'Betweens) and Soft Machine. Sometime during the late 1960's, Fowley embarked on a solo career of his own with little success. 

Fowley is perhaps best known for managing all girl rock band the Runaways. It was in 1975 when Fowley met a young guitarist named Joan Jett. Jett would later be joined with drummer Sandy West, singer Cherie Currie, bassist Jackie Fox and guitarist Lita Ford- all of whom were recruited by Fowley. As the band recalls, Fowley was vulgar in his approach; teaching them how to deal with hecklers by throwing bottles and bricks at the group. In the end, the Runaways would end up becoming one of the first successful all-female rock bands. During the 1970s, Fowley co-wrote several songs for artists such as Kiss ("King of the Nighttime World" and "Do You Love Me") and Alice Cooper ("Escape"). Even after the Runaways' split, Fowley continued to work in music as a producer, manager and songwriter. 

It is sad to hear of Kim Fowley's passing. I was not aware of his illness until now. I've read and heard several stories about Kim: he was a character and sometimes an odd one. Despite being a strange and sometimes vulgar person, the guy was creative and I respect that. 

Rest in peace, Kim.