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The Wiz – Phil Emmanuel, Harmonie German Club, Canberra  22/4/16. Photo (c) C. Gray

Have you ever stopped and wondered just how many great guitarists Australia has produced over the years ? I’m not talking good – I’m talking great.  Great as in world class, as in the top 20 of the world. Players who possess a feel and original style all their own. A uniqueness that makes them just that – unique. This post is not intended to stoke debate about the names of who should make that list and who shouldn’t, that’s for another time. It does goes without saying though that you can’t mention ‘world class guitar player’ without adding the word Emmanuel. They are synonymous. When someone like Clapton sates that Tommy Emmanuel is the best guitarist he’s ever seen – it’s quite an endorsement.  I have seen both Tommy and Phil Emmanuel a bunch of times over the years, and whilst Tommy has gone on to have way more international success, there’s no denying that Phil Emmanuel is as good as, if not better, than Tommy, certainly as an electric guitar player.  The think about Phil Emmanuel is that he is so indifferent to ‘success’. Tommy chased it – Phil different. He is so unassuming, both in personality and guitar style, and they are both part of his makeup. He plays what he wants to play, on his own musical terms, and he always has.  He cracks jokes, has a great sense of humor – and yet, can shred better than most. Phil Emmanuel is known as Australia’s Greatest Electric Guitar Player and has a resume of amazing performances with musical legends that any musical enthusiast would envy. “Phil’s musical prowess is so astonishing that there are times when the man becomes the guitar and the guitar becomes the man. His passion is illuminating; his ability is breathtaking “While his brother Tommy plays it sweet; Phil plays it from the street” so says Glenn A Baker.  And that’s something obvious when you see him live. He plays with so much echo – it’s very much part of his sound. Phil himself has said, ” if it wasn’t for “Hank B. Marvin and The Shadows” I wouldn’t be the electric guitar player I am today. “When I first heard Hank play in 1959 I was fascinated and hooked by his sound and use of echo. To this day he is still my favourite guitarist”. Artists he has graced the stage alongside reads like a who’s who of the music biz. Artists such as John Jorgensen (Elton John, The Hellecasters), Will Ray, Bonnie Raitt, Duanne Eddy, James Burton, (Elvis Presley), Carlos Santana, the band “America”, The Ventures, Eric Clapton, and indeed, Hank B Marvin. Yet also throw in James Morrison, Don Burrows, Slim Dusty, Reg Lindsay, Lee Kernaghan, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Dire Straits, The Shadows, Midnight Oil, Jimmy Barnes, Roy Buchanan, Don Walker, John Farnham and Ian Moss. From Goldrush to Terrafirma and Kakadu – his musical prowess and output run deep – so when the opportunity presents to see him live, for FREE, on a Friday night – you take it. The German Club in Canberra’s Narrabundah is steeped in Oz rock history – and its still a great venue to see a band. Tonight, the baby boomers are out in force, and there’s no sign of a vacant table or chair.  If they were expecting fast fingered acoustic  style – they picked the wrong Emmanuel. Tonight, the Wiz plugged in and, even though he was solo and playing to a backing track, he was LOUD and electric. So much so that many of the older set walked out with fingers firmly planted in ears.  As I said – Phil does what Phil wants. Here is a recording of Phil playing ‘Terrafirma’ on the night. Check out the video for Terrafirma on Youtube if you get a chance.  Take a listen for yourself to another, Australian guitar great.

 

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Gwyn Ashton – Better than all the rest. Live in Canberra 18/3/16 (photo: D. Gray)

Gwyn Ashton is a musician who is revered by his peers. He has hordes of appreciative fans (mainly scattered throughout Europe), and has had his fair share of accolades placed upon him over the years – bestowing his prowess and originality as a guitar player. Original ? You bet. Master craftsman of his instrument ? Indeed. Writer of memorable and quality songs? Absolutely. Yet it’s humility that is his most endearing character trait. Sadly, it’s a quality which is not found in musicians half as good as he is, who have a profile a lot bigger than his. Yet at the end of the day – none of that matters. The music is what matters- and the connect that it has with people. And make no mistake, the music of Gwyn Ashton has found its mark with thousands upon thousands of people – from Australian country towns to Russia, Poland, Eastern Europe and all point in between. We have been fortunate to have TWO tours of Australia by Gwyn in the past 12 months. What a treat. Man, the guy is so good. –and he continues, like a true rock soldier, to bring his music to the masses, day by day. It’s what he does. Yet he’s no hack. He’s beyond great. OK OK, before I continue, let me give you a few of the aforementioned accolades I was talking about – that way you won’t just think it’s me being my usual biased self. Gwyn plays electric guitar, slide guitar, acoustic guitar, and harmonica. He is a killer on the Strat, yet I’ve also seen him do some pretty amazing things on his resonator as well. In 76, Gwyn started his musical journey, playing bars and festivals across the country. He relocated from Adelaide to Sydney in 1983, formed his own trio with IMAG0045.JPGdrummers John Lalor (Heaven, The Beast, Swanee, Cheetah), Richard Harvey (Divinyls, Party Boys), John Watson (Australian Crawl, James Rayne, Daryl Braithwaite) and played stints with Swanee and Stevie Wright. In 1991 he moved to Melbourne, recorded his first two albums Feel The Heat (1993) and Beg, Borrow & Steel (1996). During that time he also played with Jim Keays, Mick Pealing and opened for Junior Wells, Rory Gallagher, Steve Morse and Albert Lee. In 1996 Ashton relocated to Europe, picking up supports with B.B. King, Johnny Winter, The Yardbirds, Mick Taylor, Peter Green and Status Quo on their 15-date British arena tour in 1999. (You still want more accolades?) He recorded the Fang It! Album with Rory Gallagher’s rhythm section Gerry McAvoy and Brendan O’Neill. He replaced ex Motörhead/Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson in Band Of Friends, a memorial to Rory Gallagher with Rory’s former sidemen Gerry, Brendan, Lou Martin, Mark Feltham and Ted McKenna. In 2001 French fans voted Ashton at number three position in Guitar Part magazine’s Guitarist Of The Year poll with Jeff Beck and Gary Moore at first and second positions. Did you read that ? If not, read it again. Over the years Ashton has played onstage with Mick Fleetwood, Hubert Sumlin, Marc Ford, Canned Heat and has opened for Rory Gallagher, Ray Charles, Robin Trower, Vanilla Fudge, Wishbone Ash, Van Morrison, Jeff Healey, Tony Joe White, Johnny Winter, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, John Hammond and Pat Travers. Robert Plant is a fan, and as is well known, Gwyn recorded an album with Plant’s guitar player, Robbie Blunt. To those in the know, none of these accolades are new. If anything, they are all merited for a guy of his standing and prowess. If he wasn’t any good folks – he wouldn’t be mixing with such distinguished musical peers. Yet for Gwyn, he just keep on at it, plugging in and playing his own imitable style of blues to anyone who cares to listen – and listen you should. At the end of the set – he packs his van, hits the road and onto another town. When he comes to your town – make the effort to go see one of the best their truly is. Forget whatever else it is you think is rock n roll – Gwyn Ashton is, in my humble opinion, without peer. A one percenter. And the best of the best. Head to gwynashton.com for dates and more info.

ARS55_large If you haven’t done so already, click here and listen to the interview my brother conducted with Gwyn in March 2016. They talk all about Gwyn’s career, touring, influence and all things in between.

Look out for Gwyn’s new album ‘Ragas, Jugs & Mojo Hands’, due soon. Can’t wait to see you next time Gwyn.

220px-RenegadePickerLife is indeed, uncertain. I only blogged a couple of weeks ago about the greatness of Steve Young, and then I read on the weekend that he passed away last Thursday. His music maintains a quality, a richness, and a humility that you would expect from someone of his vintage and era in country music. It’s a realness that is hard to find nowadays. He never rose to the heights of his outlaw country peers, but in my mind, he was every bit as good as Kristofferson, Guy Clarke and the like. According to the press blurb, “Singer-songwriter Steve Young, who was best known for writing the song Seven Bridges Road, died on Thursday, March 17 at the age of 73.  Young was born in Newnan, GA and grew up in states across the south. Throughout his youth, he was influenced by the southern sounds of blues, country, folk and gospel and incorporated it into his first songs which he wrote in his late teens. Returning to Alabama, he started to make a name for himself in the local music scene before moving to the west coast in 1964. Steve initially worked with the likes of Van Dyke Parks and Stephen Stills before joining the early psychedelic country band Stone Country. In 1969, he released his first solo album, Rock, Salt and Nails which included contributions by the likes of Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons and Bernie Leadon. Over his career, Young recorded twelve solo albums but it was his actual songs for which he became most famous. Seven Bridges Road, from Rock, Salt and Nails and the title song from his 1972 album, has been recorded by a long list of artists, most notably by the Eagles on their 1980 live album. Young said that he started writing the song in the mid-60’s and it evolved over several years. Others who have recorded the song include Eddy Arnold, Joan Baez, Tracy Nelson, Ian Matthews, whose version the Eagles based their track, Dolly Parton and Alan Jackson.  Young’s Lonesome, On’ry and Mean was used as the title song for Waylon Jenning’s 1973 album while Hank Williams, Jr. recorded his Montgomery in the Rain. Young, himself, also charted with the album Renegade Picker (1976 / #48 Country Albums) and the single It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way (1984 / #84 Country). Steve’s son, Jubal Lee Young, posted the following on Facebook: “Turn supernatural, take me to stars and let me play. I want to be free, Alabama highway.” My father, Steve Young, passed peacefully tonight in Nashville. While it is a sad occasion, he was also the last person who could be content to be trapped in a broken mind and body. He was far too independent and adventurous. I celebrate his freedom, as well, and I am grateful for the time we had. A true original. Scroll below for the article I wrote a couple of weeks back, and if you haven’t seen it already, go and watch Steve in ‘Heartworn Highways’. RIP – the great Steve Young.

89028OK, maybe not introducing you to, but rather reintroducing you to – the amazing Claudia Lennear.  The Oscar winning documentary  ’20 Feet from Stardom’ certainly introduced Lennear to a public who largely were unaware of her, or who may have had a memory of her association (relationship with) Jagger and also Bowie in the early 70s. What makes her story so interesting though, is that unlike other renowned back-up singers who continually tried to make it (like Darlene Love, Merry Claytown and Táta Vega), Lennear essentially dropped out of the music scene completely in the mid 70s, and followed a different path in life, and ’20 Feet’ has basically brought out back from obscurity.

As some will know, she was the inspiration behind the Stones’ Brown Sugar’.  As others may know, she was part of George Harrison’s band for the Concert For Bangladesh.  She was also the inspiration Bowie’s ‘Lady Grinning Soul’. In the film, Jagger still calls her “very hot” and a “beautiful girl”. And she was, no doubt, smoking hot. Speaking of which, after watching ’20 Feet’ it reminds you of just how cool Ike Turner really was. Who is it that kids think is cool nowadays, Kanye West ? is that his name ? The guy who is famous for marrying a celebrity famous for being a celebrity ? How banal. These talentless turds are a good example of what’s wrong with the entertainment industry today. He couldn’t hold a candle to Ike Turner who really was, Mr Cool. And the Ikettes simply oozed sex appeal. Anyway, I have digressed.

untitledSo yes, Lennear. I first saw her several years ago whilst watching Eastwood’s 1974 film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in which she has a brief role, yet in the late 60s/early 70s, she worked with many acts including Ike and Tina Turner, Humble Pie and Joe Cocker.  She was part of a trio of backup singers for Delaney and Bonnie, that also included Rita Coolidge. She was also one of Leon Russell’s Shelter People. She sang back-up vocals on Joe Cocker’s 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and live album, on Leon Russell and the Shelter People, released in 1971 and on George Harrison’s The Concert for Bangladesh. As I mentioned, she had a part in the 1974 film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, playing a secretary, and she smouldered in the August 1974 issue of Playboy magazine in a pictorial entitled “Brown Sugar”. She cut one solitary album, 1973’s “Phew” and it is well worth tracking down. It’s an album that was  lost to obscurity – yet thanks to ’20 Feet’  interest was sufficient enough to see ‘Phew’ reissued on CD for the first time. So many great tunes on this album, including ‘It Ain’t Easy’, ’Sing With The Children’, and ‘Casey Jones’. Side one features her with members of Jim Dickinson’s Dixie Flyers and Ry Cooder, side two finds her singing songs written and arranged by the great Allen Toussaint, with such legends as Jim Keltner and Spooner Oldham along for the ride. The CD reissue features a non-LP bonus track, notes by Pat Thomas featuring quotes from Claudia herself and photos from her private archive. Yet the album was not a success. After struggling financially to make ends meets, pay her band etc. she left the music industry in the mid 70s to become a teacher of French and Spanish. How cool is that. What does your teacher do? She used to sing with Jagger and George Harrison. She’s the one Jagger wrote ‘Brown Sugar’ about.  Man, which Dad’s wouldn’t have looked forward to parent teacher day! Lennear appeared at the Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, VA. on September 11, 2015, and performed with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Rita Coolidge, Leon Russell and other alumni from the 1970 Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour in a memorial concert for Joe Cocker. She also came out in the press last year stating that David Bowie promised to write some new original songs for her. She stated that she got a call from Bowie, and that he wanted to write on her next project. With Bowie now gone, I hope that we still get to see new material from her regardless.

$_57Here’s an old handbill from LA circa 1973. What an amazing time period. Claudia Lennear on a double bill with Iggy Stooge. And check out the other nights. Joe Walsh, Elvin Bishop, JoJo Gunne (‘Run Run Run’ still sounds great to my ears in 2016), Hot Tuna (check out their 2011 album ‘Steady As She Goes’ and the tune ‘Angel of Darkness’. Great tunes). Not to mention ELO and also Wishbone Ash. Marty, set the DeLorean to 1973! It goes without saying, that if you haven’t seen ’20 Feet From Stardom’ you need to.  And head to Itunes sand pick up Claudia Lennear’s 1973 album ‘Phew’.

I’d like to think that I’ve always been into cool rock n roll. Yet its admission time. There was a slight blip on the radar there in the late 80s where I slipped up and was buying LP’s by (gulp) Poison, Warrant, White Lion, and others of the so called ‘big haired variety’. There, I’ve admitted it. Good to get that off my chest.  Hindsight is indeed – a wonderful thing. With the benefit of hindsight, we would not have done certain things right ? With the benefit of hindsight, and indeed being a little more discerning  or judicious, there is no way I would have been into any number of, what is now termed as ‘hair’ bands. So how did it happen? It was the time right? These bands were massive, and like a flash flood, it was easy to get swept along. Before I knew it, I was swept along. Interestingly, I was never, ever into Bon Jovi.

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Pucker up. No its not Carlotta. CC of Poison looking every bit the drag queen….

The other day I was watching the four part documentary about Heavy Metal called ‘Heavy’, and it raised some interesting points about the late 80’s LA sunset strip period and the big haired metal excess. In the documentary, Dee Snider, accurately I think, blamed bands like Mr Big, Extreme and the like for going ‘unplugged’. Combined with the power ballad, (which all labels insisted on releasing as the 2nd single, after the hard-rocking anthem first single. This was a successful formula, yet by the early 1990s audiences lost interest in this approach) this sounded the death knell for the genre that was best defined by bands like Priest in say 80-82, although if you look at stuff like Mr Big, someone had lost the blue print to how it was originally meant to be. By the way, if you haven’t seen the series, it’s on You Tube so check it out.

So now I’ve fessed up , let’s examine this a bit more.  Mr Rockbrat and I always loved shock rock, and certain bands who had a glam lineage: ie: The Dolls, Ki$$, Sweet, T-Rex etc were cool – but these late 80’s Sunset strip dudes took it to a whole new level. But it wasn’t just Poison and Warrant. It was bands like the god awful Roxus, Winger, and any number of bands with the big hair. So how does it happen? In 1985, (pre Bon-Jovi ‘Slippery When Wet’ mind you, which is, as I’ve often stated, the line in the sand for the whole sugary hair metal thing), I knew what was cool – it was stuff like Dio, Scorpions, (pre Hysteria) Leppard, Boss, Maiden, Ozzy, Keel, Priest, Motley Shout/1st album etc, and then two or three years later, I am buying and listening to rubbish like the W bands – Winger, White Lion, Warrant, the nauseous late 80’s version of Whitesnake with all their posing, and the extremely hard to listen to Vinnie Vincent Invasion etc. Being blues/Zep influenced, I suppose Great White were the obvious exception and I must admit to liking Frisco’s Vain,  although when I saw them live they were as limp wristed as the hand shake I got from the band’s main man Davy Vain.

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Roxus: Australia’s answer to Bon Jovi? Not quite. Cliches aplenty and zero originality

I quickly figured out how lame it was though. Live, witnessing both Poison and Warrant was observably underwhelming. Lamentably, yes, I saw them both live. Molly’s mates Roxus were typically, capital L for lame (and who the hell are you Juno Roxas to flame Dave Evans? Your band  were nothing more than a pre-fabricated boy band with long hair and volume. You friend, paid no dues and were gifted with these international supports), yet people could see through the facade from a bunch of try hards without decent material, which is why Roxas never became Australia’s version of Bon Jovi. Fact. BB Steal were a way better band)  A truly forgettable evening of sufferance with light weight, thin sounding, shallow, low calorie hair rock of the worst kind. Is it still too late to ask for a refund? With interest ? Thankfully, I saw how banal these bands were – and I’d moved back to the Australian hard rock/indie guitar rock scene (Hitmen, Tribesmen, Dubrovniks) which was way more comfortable and without the pompous carry-ons of wannabe’s like Juno Roxas. This territory was real, and very familiar.

I knew what was cool, and in 2016, where lately I am spending time listening to all the legitimacy/realism of artists like Gary Moore, Gwyn Ashton, Rory Gallagher, James Gang and Steve Earle – it’s like this blip on the rock radar never occurred. But deep in the back of my mind – I know it did. Fashionably robed in attire of the time including black Faberges and white denim jacket, exist it did. At least I had the sense to never wear tassels. Thank God.

Retrospectively, the English ‘hair’ bands of the late 80s, (and I hate using that capture all tag), were WAY better than the collective LA Sunset strip shooting match (and that includes Guns N Roses, a band who audaciously aped Hanoi Rocks and Rose Tattoo and weren’t fit to string Pete Wells’ guitar. The only one worth his salt in that line up being Izzy Stradlin). You know why? Cos bands like the Quireboys and the Dogs D’Amour and even Thunder were rooted in the best of the UK early to mid-70s fare – T Rex, Faces, Bad Company, Mott The Hoople etc. I loved the Quireboys and Dogs. Yet I should have stopped there.

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Cowboy Col looking out at Hollywood 1993. Where did all the hair bands go?

I look back on that whole LA late 80s thing with a kind of voyeuristic curiosity. By 1991, the Sunset Strip was bursting at the seams with hedonistic, homogenised copy-cat bands who all looked and sounded the same. The scene was littered with hordes of B and C grade bands whose presence only necessitated a faster death to the whole scene. The genre lost mainstream interest in the late 1980s as the excesses of hair / glam metal created a backlash against the genre. It was fat, boring, stale and needed a quick death, which as has been well documented, grunge took care of. Penelope Spheeris‘ film Decline Of the Western Civilisation accurately captured the scene in all its overblown ugliness. I remember seeing this film in 1989 and walking out void of feeling thinking, “what a bunch of poseur wankers”, and shaking my head at the whole emptiness/shallowness of the LA scene. The music had become lame. The bands lame, the guys looked like women. It was all too much. Mediocrity like Nadir D’ Priest was given a voice, believed his own hype and genuinely thought he was a star. Musically limited bands like Motley Crue were bestowed upon them the status of Gods. (let’s call a spade a spade, with the exception of say ‘New Tattoo’ and ‘Hooligan’s Holiday’, Motley have been musically redundant since Dr Feelgood. Think about that.

It’s hard to register why major labels were still releasing product by these hair bands in 92 and 93. You think bands like the aforementioned W bands or Poison etc were lame? Have a look at the LAMER bands that rode on their sequined coat tails. Remember bands like the irritating Trixter, Roxy Blue, Baton Rouge, Bangalore Choir, Baton Rouge, Steelheart, Banshee, Casanova etc. The horse had bolted, but nobody bothered to tell these jokers. Death came swiftly not long after…..It needed to be killed off.

It’s not surprising that the one band to emerge from the 1980s heavy metal period as the perennial did not come from the hair metal genre – and that includes Bon Jovi. It was Metallica. Now a universally known word, a brand name as common as Coca Cola. Scores of kids in the late 80s turned off the glam stuff and headed to Metallica territory cos it was real. It was authentic, and they could relate to it – as opposed to a man wearing lipstick and mascara and cowboy boots, prancing and pouting and telling you to party hard dude.

So there you have it.  Here is another article penned about Poison in Sydney 1989. Makes you wonder how many kids will look back in twenty years’ time and kick themselves for being into the retarded dork band that is Seven Seconds of Summer.  Cut your losses now kids. Who will save rock n roll ? Nobody. The old girl has seen better days. Largely, it’s just going through the motions.

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On the drums – Mr Bun E Carlos (not Dax)….

If you have ever seen Cheap Trick over the years and not caught a Rick Nielson guitar pick, you can probably count yourself as pretty unlucky. He must have thrown thousands of the things out to the crowd over the years, probably more so than any other guitar player ever, and it was a marketing idea that he no doubt picked up from KI$$. Kids in an audience love having a souvenir from the gig – with the most common item thrown from the stage being the guitar pick. Yet there’s also been raw meat (Blackie), bibles (the yellow and black attack variety), and the broken guitar (if you were lucky). Drumsticks have also been thrown out in their thousands, and I’m sure some kid must have lost an eye over the years from this projectile being hurled into the crowd from the stage. Here you go. Ive googled it. Only a couple of months ago, A ‘5 Seconds Of Summer’ fan was injured by a flying drumstick at the band’s concert in New Zealand, and almost lost her eye sight. ‘5 Seconds of Summer. Dork band alert! These retards have be the most contrived bunch of teen dorks Ive seen in a long time, and the fan deserves all shes gets for attending such a lame concert. Learn your lesson. I remember back in 1985 a friend of ours caught A.J Pero’s drumstick at Twisted Sister’s Sydney show. I was pretty impressed by that. Which brings me back to the topic. Cheap Trick. I saw Cheap Trick a few times in 1988. I believe I caught this Bun E Carlos drumstick from a gig at Selina’s, Coogee Bay in December 1988. The irony is that Mr Rockbrat scored the other one! Here it is.

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Whilst rummaging through the Rockbrat archives I found some old RAM newspapers (Rock Australia Magazine) from the 1970s. In the issue from December 9, 1978 if this full page ad promoting the ‘If You Want Blood’ LP. Thought I’d share……