The Rockbrat Blog

6307208 Halcyon days for rock: Sydney, 1979

I was reading a recent communiqué by Dennis Val, guitar player with one of Sydney’s better rock bands, Love Child, in which he was talking about the lack of Australian artists on radio, and how hard it is to get original Australian guitar rock heard on the airwaves nowadays. It got me thinking not just about that issue, but about the state of the music industry in general – and I’ve come to the conclusion that there needs to be a significant shift, otherwise there exists the very real possibility that there could be no ‘next’ generation of rock fans in this country, and ours could be the last. There was an article in the Daily Review last year that identified the decline of live music in Australia as an art form, and its also a valid read.

For today’s younger generation – music…

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R-1127520-1439560433-2587.jpegQuite possibly the most contrived record to ever be released in Oz rock history. Rank with artificiality, this lot couldn’t pull the wool over my eyes when they first burst on to the scene back in the late 80’s with their try-hard antics and wanna-be rock star shenanigans – and all these years later this smells as fetid as it did back then. Except worse. The songs have not aged well. Forgettable, bland, AOR, keyboard heavy, middle of the road babble that paradoxically, sounds sonically superb. Yet a first rate production, with Mark Opitz twiddling the knobs, still couldn’t save it. Put lipstick on a pig… it’s still a pig. Songs with zero-originality that are a direct carbon copy of all the worst of the LA Sunset Strip poseurs.  They even had a tune called “Bad Boys” (need loving too). Cringe. Puke.

In spite of having paid no dues, yet with Molly in their corner, Roxus were gifted with opening slot supports to international visitors Bon Jovi, Warrant and Poison in 89 and 90. Yet Australian audiences could smell a rat, and didn’t take to them – instead warming to the legitimate international sounds of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Guns n Roses – denying this country of its own late 80’s hair metal home grown hard rock heroes.  If Roxus was the best Australia could come up with – that speaks volumes.

Roxus had a nauseatingly insipid power ballad called ‘Where Are You Now”, which Molly must have thought was destined to go to the top of the charts – both here and in North America – yet you can’t sell ice to eskimos – they already had enough Mr Bigs, Bad Englishes, Damn Yankees, Bon Jovis etc in the charts and didn’t need any D grade deceivers from the antipodes.

As the old saying goes, one swallow does not a summer make – and by 1993, with the Seattle bands having restored a sense of much needed order to things by killing off the bloated hair metal genre, bands like Roxus were rowing a boat with one oar.

The long hair, volume, cowboy boots and bandanas couldn’t hide the fact that Roxus were spurious with a capital S, and every bit as manufactured as New Kids On The Block, Backstreet Boys or any in the Stock Aitken Waterman camp. They should be gratified they had their Warhol moment –as brief as it was. Backstreet Boys, Nightstreet Boys. Yep.

When granted with such big name touring supports, it’s easy to see how the boys thought they were hot patoots –with the front man Juno Roxas in particular having a way over inflated opinion of himself and his singing abilities. So much so that Juno had another roll of the dice in 94 with the release of his ‘long awaited’ solo album called ‘Far From Here’, which came and went like a fat kid chasing an ice cream truck – and sunk faster than the Lusitania. Roxus did make an appearance at the Mushroom Records 25th anniversary concert in 1998 and in 2006, Juno Roxas performed with the Pat Cash All Star Band at the Australian Tennis Open. And here I was thinking his music career had faltered after the demise of Roxus. Where Are You Now ? Far From Here? Words never so prophetic.  Next!

denim5When you cast the magnifying class on 70s punk – the focus tends to be placed on the UK and the US.  Today I wanna hip you to a band from Turku, Finland who released one of THE long lost punk/hard rock albums of the mid 70s. This long lest gem sat long forgotten – certainly for those outside of Finland, yet it was given a re release on CD in 2014. If you dig Cream, ZZ Top, Mountain, Joplin,  Blue Cheer or the Ramones – Dead End 5 may be for you. The album opens with a blitzing cover of BOC’s ‘ME262’, and KISS’ – Let Me Go Rock N Roll’. The singer,  Annika Salminen went onto a successful solo career in Finland, and released a couple of solo albums under the name of Annika Andersson. The video below of a tune from the album, ‘Liekinheitin’ is a great example of the Dead End 5 sound. The album is recommended. And you thought Hanoi Rocks were the only hard rock band to come out of Finland ?

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Dave Evans: the real rock n roll deal

There is a lot to like about Dave Evans’ brand of rock n roll. It’s loud, it’s fiery and it’s in-your-face. And when Evans is on form – like this evening, there’s no other place I’d rather be. As their original frontman, Dave Evans will forever be tied to AC/DC. Yet if it was nostalgia which you’d come for tonight, you were in the wrong venue. Because what is in fact dealt out, is a set list bursting with vital, tough sounding rock n roll – laced with energy and raw power.  

Tonight, Evans is backed by local Brisbane outfit Dirty Dice and they’re a great fit. This act are tight, polished and are a band you need to make a note of – it’s just the kinda stuff we dig. They hit the stage with a one-two punch of ‘Can I Sit Next To You Girl’, and then a raunchy ‘Rockin In the Parlour’. 1974 never sounded so damn good ! A re-worked ‘Sunset Strip’ – taken from last year’s ‘Wild’ EP cooks – and is followed by a kick arse take of ‘Rock n Roll Singer’. Yeah, you’ll find it on AC/DC’s ‘High Voltage’, however the tune dates back to the band’s earliest days with Dave out front. Tonight Evans indeed has the devil in his blood and sounds amazing. It’s an important point worth noting that after all this time, his powerhouse vocals are as strong as ever. He’s always had a strong vocal range and it can be felt tonight from only a few metres away. Amazing.

The ‘Sinner’ album is widely regarded as one his strongest releases and it’s a delight to hear some of that material cop an airing….’Rock n Roll Or Bust’, ‘Take Me Down Again’ and ‘Turn It Up’ sound loud and fresh but it’s ‘Sold My Soul To Rock n Roll’ which brings the house down. Could be my choice cut of the night. Evans is giving his all tonight and you’d better believe he means every lyric in that song. Guitarist Aaron has himself been playing for three decades and it shows, he has a great guitar tone and adds much muscle to the Evans catalogue. ‘Go Wild’, from the aforementioned 2017 EP ‘Wild’ is a great example of this. I had my fingers crossed for a take of ‘Revenge’ – the killer title track from an album Dave cut with John Nitzinger, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, Dave Evans and Dirty Dice close out a smoking set with a four-pronged AC/DC assault comprising TNT, Highway To Hell, a crunching Let There Be Rock and Whole Lotta Rosie.

The ringing ears will subside, as will the heat of this sweaty summer show. But tonight’s set is one which will live on in my rock n roll memory. I’ve long been of the belief that Dave Evans is the real rock n roll deal and it’s always satisfying to have that confirmed in the live environment. 10/10

Hear our 2015 i/v with Dave here

They could have been the next Beatles – but a series of tragedies, mismanagement and rip offs left Badfinger as one of the most maligned rock bands of all time. If the Ed Sheerans of the world could pen a tune half as decent as this – I’d give him his fair due. Yet he cant. Peter Ham was a superb songwriter.  Badfinger had superb songs, harmonies and songs that have endured. Nuff said.

 

302933_262172890491107_1926654424_nThe Howlers hail from the south coast of NSW – and are a band you need to keep on your rock ‘n’ roll radar. With their rockin’ style of blues/roots rock and an emphasis on swing – Howlers style rock ‘n’ roll holds strong (and broad) appeal for even the most discerning of rock fans – and scores two thumbs up from us here at Rockbrat HQ. The band are out and about and performing live, but by way of introduction, I wanna draw attention to an album they released a few years back now called ‘The Devil In Me’. On display are ten original tunes, heavy on the hooks and melody. That’s important, cos if a tune has no melody / no hook- it ain’t worth a nickel. As evidenced by the calibre of these tunes, the Howlers recognise this too. Testament to the quality of the song writing.

Plenty of high points from an album that is chock full of strong tuneage – opening with the title song ‘Devil In Me’. Total bad-ass blooze with plenty of hook and a strong/clear vocal from main man Larry Millott. Lot of appeal here, and all the right ingredients. Yet this ain’t a one trick blues pony, as there’s a ton of diversity in the tunes too. ‘Born To Love You’ is a total swing/jazz trip – characterized by a prominent horn section and piano. I never like making comparisons, but the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies style of modern swing comes to mind. Similarly, ‘When To Let Go’ also walks the jazz/swing route, whilst ‘One Drink Away’, complete with harmonica, will appeal to any Delta/Mississippi blues purist. Hillbilly Boogie is out ‘n’ out western swing fun. Yet I’m a rock guy – so I love love love a song like ‘Walking On Water’ – full tilt, riff heavy blooze with a dirty hard rockin’ edge. On the high wire without a net and best played loud.

‘She Can Roll’ channels the spirit of Jim Morrison on another down n dirty boogie n blooze extravaganza and is close to the album’s high point for me, but that gong goes to ‘Pretend You Still Love Me Tonight’. Great tune, super catchy, plenty of hooks, and memorable singalong chorus. This one has all the ingredients that make a hit song.

2018 is shaping up to be a big year for the band – who after slogging it out for 15 years are starting to get some long overdue recognition. A new album is expected and the band will be out and about in support of legendary UK blues rock outfit Dr Feelgood on their Australian tour of May 2018. For tour dates and to pick up a copy of the album, head to the band’s website here. You can also keep in touch via Facebook here

Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe I find that what passes for contemporary rock ‘n’ roll and indeed film, just doesn’t resonate with me. Consequently, I find myself constantly digging deeper back into the past – particularly when it comes to music and film. Of late, I have found myself listening to a lot of old American blues and r ‘n’ b artists from the 1940s – an era which I contend to be the birth of rock n roll – and not the 1950s as most pundits agree on.

As many erudite Rockbrat readers may know, ‘Rocket 88’, by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (who were actually Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm) is often considered to be the first rock ‘n’ roll song. This was released in April 1951 and went to number one for half a dozen weeks. I contend however, that rock ‘n’ roll had its infancy in the previous decade, with 1945-1949 being particularly fertile years for the genre.

Yet back to ‘Rocket 88’ (penned about an Oldsmobile ‘88’). Brenston was Ike Turner’s saxophonist. The band was actually 19-year-old Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm band, with Brenston singing the lead vocal. The reason this song is often credited with the mantle of the first rock n roll song is due to its guitar sound, with the song featuring one of the first examples of distortion, or fuzz guitar ever recorded, played by the band’s guitarist Willie Kizart.

There are different accounts of how the guitar sound came about. One version is that Kizart’s amplifier was damaged on Highway 61 when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee to record the song. An attempt was made to hold the cone in place by stuffing the amplifier with wadded newspapers, which unintentionally created a distorted sound. Apparently, Sam Phillips liked the sound and used it. Others contend that the amplifier “had fallen from the top of the car”, or that the amplifier was in the trunk of the car and that rain may have caused the damage. I think a similar story exists with Link Wray and he discovered the fuzz sound.

For others, Bill Haley and The Comets are considered rock pioneers – and Bill, who cut his teeth as a country performer, recorded a country and western-styled version of “Rocket 88”, not long after the release of the original. Haley’s ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was released in what, 1954 so Bill may not be able to lay claim to have penned the first rock n roll song, although he was certainly there or thereabouts, and may have been the first white guy to put rock n roll on the map in a big way (although others also claim that title could have gone to Alan Freed (did someone say payola?). Freed was a rock n roll evangelist/opportunist who made rock n roll palatable for a white audience, but like Bill, he certainly didn’t create the genre. In 1953, Haley had chart success with “Crazy Man, Crazy” the first rock song to be televised nationally when it was used on the soundtrack for a 1953 television play starring James Dean. So that was a first for Bill.

Yet I contend that rock n roll as a genre was created in the 1940s by black artists playing rhythm n  blues.  There were a litany of blues / r ‘n’ b artists releasing songs in the mid 40s who could claim to be originators of the first rock ‘n’ roll song. What is undeniable is that there is a definite swing and or a boogie-woogie element to many of these tunes from the 40s. While Bing was crooning to white picket fence America – the black guys were singing about sex – rocking and a rolling and boogie-woogie.

Many also consider Elvis’ “That’s All Right Mama” as the first rock n roll song. Elvis Presley’s version was recorded in July 1954, yet if you apply the 1940s rule – history shows that the tune was written by Arthur Crudup, and was originally recorded by him in Chicago on September 6, 1946, as “That’s All Right”. He in turn used some of the lyrics for the tune from verses he pulled from a Blind Lemon Jefferson song. Sadly, but not surprisingly, and in an all too familiar tale, and after legal battles extending into the 1970s, Crudup was reportedly never paid royalties. An out-of-court settlement was supposed to pay Crudup an estimated $60,000 in back royalties, but never materialized.

Hang on a sec though. Forget about the 40’s, if you listen to some tunes from the 1920s, you can also hear elements of what would become rock n roll. Check out Pine Top Smith’s “Boogie Woogie” from 1928 or Kansas Joe McCoy’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ from 1928 (yes the same tune immortalized by Zeppelin). This tune is 90 years old. Still sounds better than anything today.  

Yet back to the 1940s. Check out Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson from 1944 with ‘Boogie Woogie Dream’, or Louis Jordan’s ‘Caldonia’ from 1946. How about Albinia Jones’s ‘Hole In The Wall’ from 1948. Man this could be the contender for the title here – She’s singing about a speakeasy, and uses lyrics such as “Gonna rock ‘n’ roll at the hole in the wall tonight’ and ‘hip to the jive’. Big Bill Broonzy is another blues name you could throw into the mix too. 

I challenge you to check out some of these great tunes from the 1940s and tell me, is this not the birth of rock n roll ?