Sunday, March 1, 2015

LIVE REVIEW - The Juliana Hatfield Three, The Sinclair (Cambridge, MA) 2/27/15

Photo Credit: Johnny Anguish/Daykamp Music

On February 28, 1994, the Juliana Hatfield Three - singer/guitarist Juliana Hatfield, bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Philips - hit the stage in Memphis for what ended up being their final show for more than two decades. Fast-forward to one day shy of the 21st anniversary of that event, and a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd braved the snow-packed parking maze of Cambridge to witness the band's first full hometown show since they reformed last year.

Hitting the stage for only the third time since getting back together, the band performed their (until very recently) lone album, 1993's Become What You Are, from start to finish. Time has done nothing to diminish the strength of the record's 12 songs, as deep cuts like “Addicted” and the brilliant “For The Birds” earned the same level of audience enthusiasm as MTV hits like “My Sister” and “Spin The Bottle.” It was impossible to ignore the looks of absolute joy in the crowd as each of the album's songs unfolded. Become What You Are is dear to a lot of people's hearts, and it's an unexpected gift to be able to experience it live in 2015.

Even before the band hit the first notes of their classic album opener, “Supermodel,” there was already a lot of history represented on stage and throughout the Sinclair. In addition to living within walking distance from the venue, Hatfield birthed her career in this area in the late '80s while she was a member of the unforgettable Blake Babies. Philips first earned attention behind the kit for Massachusetts heavyweights Moving Targets and Bullet LaVolta (and more recently with The Lemonheads), while Fisher has worked with wife and fellow New England music mainstay Tanya Donelly. A look around the crowd revealed some Taang! Records band-emblazoned clothing here and there, while a good percentage of audience members had the hairlines and hair color indicative of years-long investment in Hatfield's career. This show wasn't just a gig by a popular '90s band; it was a celebration of a milestone album from a regional scene and tradition perpetually brimming with great music.

Perhaps it was the comfort of playing to a crowd of friends, family and devoted fans that led to such an enjoyably loose performance. Philips wore an ear-to-ear grin from start to finish, while Hatfield joked that the 21-year layoff in the band's activities has resulted in her mind forgetting things. (The quip was driven home when the flustered singer stopped “Feelin' Massachusetts” during the first verse to ask Philips if she had messed up the words. She hadn't.) Sure, the equipment was temperamental at times and there were guitar flubs aplenty, but these imperfections felt absolutely right in this setting. It takes a truly wonderful band to turn a big room like The Sinclair into an intimate living room.

Although the full live presentation of Become What You Are was a treat for any Hatfield fan, its inclusion in the set came at the expense of showcasing the band's recently released reunion album, Whatever, My Love. As discussed elsewhere on this site, Whatever, My Love is a beautiful and perfect as an album can be, which makes the performance of only three of its songs a bit of a letdown. As enjoyable as it was to see and hear the band bring out the electric Hey Babe version of “Nirvana” (a song that first appeared in acoustic form on The Blake Babies '91 EP, Rosy Jack World) and a surprise cover of Minor Threat's “I Don't Wanna Hear It” (!!!!), it would have been equally exciting to hear Whatever tracks like “If I Could,” “Invisible” and “Parking Lots” live. Unlike the vast majority of '90s bands still slugging it out on the road, the Juliana Hatfield Three do not have to merely rely on nostalgia to win over an audience. By reducing the new album to an afterthought, the band undersold their great asset.

This minor criticism aside, the Juliana Hatfield Three delivered exactly what you'd expect – endearingly imperfect Pop songs that have stood the test of time. It's so great to have them back.

(Hey, guys - Please don't make us wait so many years to see you again, okay?)

Order Whatever, My Love


Friday, February 27, 2015

FEATURE - The Real Thing Never Dies: The Pagans Are Back

The Pagans, 2015. Left to right: Ben Reagan, Tony Matteucci, Mike Hudson, Mike D'Amico, Loren Molinare. Photo by Julie Molinare

Author's Note: Shortly after conducting this interview, Mike Hudson was involved in a near-fatal car accident in Los Angeles. To aid in his lengthy recovery, a number of his closest friends are gathering for a special benefit concert on March 6 at Loaded Hollywood. More information (including the full lineup) is available here. Additionally, The Pagans have released their new track, “NoWhere Girl,” as a benefit single. My best wishes to Mike for a speedy recovery.

Four years ago, it looked like notorious writer and Cleveland Punk legend Mike Hudson was finally calming down. After a lifetime of hedonistic ups and horrendous downs, the incendiary scribe and Pagans frontman found himself living comfortably in Niagara Falls. Earning a living as the owner of a popular newspaper (The Niagara Falls Reporter) and years removed from the dirty stages he called home during his music days, Hudson – a man as well known for his self-destructive ways as he was for his creativity - had arrived at middle age with a day-to-day life that actually resembled stability.

But that all changed with a trip to California.

In the fall of 2011, Hudson received a call from Loren Molinare, longtime frontman of legendary LA/Detroit band The Dogs, inviting the singer to appear in the video for the band's cover of The Pagans classic, “Her Name Was Jane.” Happy to oblige, Hudson flew out to Los Angeles – and into the arms of a powerful new muse.

No stranger to the world of Rock 'N' Roll, the stunning Evita Corby was the former wife of Babys guitarist Michael Corby and the lady whose derriere graced the back cover of the Kill City album by Iggy Pop and James Williamson. Appearing as the female lead in the “Jane” video at the behest of photographer and longtime Dogs associate Heather Harris, she soon found herself the recipient of Hudson's amorous gaze.

“I feel like a ton of bricks,” he recalls.

Molinare will never forget how easily the two connected.

“It was kind of like being a onlooker to Richard Burton and Liz Taylor filming Cleopatra,” he says. “There was this intensity and electricity on the shoot.”

Before long, Hudson was selling his newspaper and heading to the Golden State to be with her.

(Crazy, right? You betcha, but you'll have to read the book to get the details on just how crazy.) 

Once unpacked and settled into the Land of Insecurity – oops, I mean Opportunity – known as Los Angeles, Hudson soon discovered that the city's deceptively sunny environs were perfect for a writer/musician with a penchant for chronicling – and living – the less savory aspects of the human condition.

“When I first lived here, I had an apartment in the hills that was right across the alley from a movie studio,” he recalls. “Out of my window, you could see a billboard that advertised a hotel; the billboard said, 'We're so Hollywood, our pool should be shallow at both ends.' It's a very shallow place, but I love it.”

Not surprisingly, Hudson's new locale soon inspired the creation of new music. The lyrics to the first song he wrote in Los Angeles, “Hollywood High,” were written after hearing some music Molinare (who also plays with LA Hard Rock veterans Little Caesar) had been developing at home.

“Mike came over on Christmas day,” Molinare recalls. “He came up to my music room and I said, 'Listen to this.' He goes, 'Lay it down for me,' The next day, he calls me up and he had the lyrics, and we wrote it. It was just instantly written.”

After “Hollywood High” provided the initial jolt of inspiration, the songs kept coming. Hudson would come up with the lyrical concept, and Molinare would take it from there.

“With Mike being a writer, it's easy to give him imagery, like, 'You're standing in the hallway. Sing what you might feel like if you're in the detention home watching these kids come in,'” explains the guitarist. “It was quick and fast. We didn't think about or analyze anything. It's probably the most spontaneous project I've ever played on. Rock 'N' Roll is an untamed beast; we just jumped on her back and let her take us where she went.”

Naturally, Hudson has a similarly high opinion of his co-writer.

“I think he's the best guitar player walking around today, and that's because he never stopped playing,” he says.

The collaboration between Hudson and Molinare has greater significance than simply putting together a killer collection of songs. Molinare's wife, Julie, was married to Hudson's brother and original Pagans drummer, Brian, who was killed in a car accident in 1991. Already a close friend of the family, Molinare later fell in love with and married Julie, helping to raise Brian and Julie's son, Marlon. (“He turned out really well for being of Hudson blood!” offers his uncle with a chuckle.)

“It was a relationship built through family for 20-some years,” Molinare says. “It was just coincidental that Mike was in The Pagans, a Cleveland street rock band, and I had my background with The Dogs being from Michigan. Being Midwest guys, we're not like LA or New York guys. On a musical level, it was real easy to relate to each other.”

Along the way, the two (along with one-time Pagans drummer David Liston) ended up in Nashville on the dime of an unnamed producer who offered Hudson some money to record a Country album.

“Every once in a while, we would cut a really bad version of one of these really bad Country and Western songs and send them back east just to make the guy think we were working on what he wanted us to work on,” Hudson says. “But really what we were doing was recording Hollywood High.”

Released November 4 on Ruin Discos, Hollywood High delivers an eight-song, 33-minute blast of energy that reminds listeners of what the real deal sounds like. Of course, the album's power isn't a surprise when considering that Hudson's been putting out records since the '70s and Molinare has been rocking with The Dogs in one way or another since the late '60s. Simply put, Hollywood High is worthy of the Pagans name. (Read a full review of the album here.)

“As I got into this project, I thought, 'This is as good as anything I ever did [with The Pagans],” Hudson remembers. “I called [original Pagans guitarist] Mike Metoff back in Cleveland and sent him the songs, and he was like, 'Go for it.' He and I are still very close. With his blessing, I thought it was cool. Even though it doesn't sound like 1978-era Pagans, it still has that edge. It's like The Pagans grew up.”

“It was a heavy statement from Mike to call it Mike Hudson and The Pagans,” adds Molinare. “Pagans fans could hear this album and go, 'Well, it's not like the Pagans I remember,' but those Pagans fans from 35 years ago have grown up and probably could relate to what is on [the album] now. A lot of the reviews validate what we were trying to do with the record.”

With a great new record to promote, Hudson and Molinare assembled a new Pagans lineup with Dogs drummer Tony Matteucci and White Murder bassist Mike D'Amico. On December 6, the new quartet performed a set at the Hollywood High record release party at Blue Bag Records in Silver Lake. It was the first time Hudson performed a full live set in over a decade. Not surprisingly, the band easily won over the uber-hip crowd of Los Angeles rockers and tastemakers.

“The response was really cool,” Molinare says, “Mike came out and read from one of his books, so we had some spoken word before we launched into the set.”

“Most of the people in the audience weren't civilians; they were musicians and writers,” adds Hudson. “The fact that it was well-received by that audience meant a lot to me.”

Later that month, The Pagans (who by then also included former Feederz/current Richie Ramone guitarist Ben Reagan) recorded a new song, “NoWhere Girl.” Then came the launch of an official Facebook page

There wasn't anyone familiar with The Pagans who expected any of this to be happening nearly 40 years after the band's first single. And that includes Mike Hudson, a man pushing 60 whose entire life has been a series of unexpected twists and turns.

“Coming out here has made all the difference in the world,” he says. “It's almost like I planned it (laughs).”

Photo by Julie Molinare


Sunday, February 22, 2015

LIVE REVIEW - Midge Ure, Johnny D's (Somerville, MA) 2/21/15

“This is about as low-key as you can get!” joked Midge Ure shortly after taking the stage at Johnny D's in Somerville, MA on a snowy February evening. As previously discussed on this site, Ure is currently traveling through North America on his “Fragile Troubadour Tour,” a jaunt that sees the longtime musician (Ultravox/Thin Lizzy/Visage/Rich Kids) driving from club to club with only his guitar and a modest selection of merchandise. This is quite a tall order for a 61-year-old man who performed in front of millions as part of Live Aid three decades ago. But for nearly two hours, the music he delivered at this small venue across from the Davis Square Station earned enough love and admiration to fill an arena.

Stripped down to only his voice and six strings, Ure effortlessly carried the 105-minute show by delivering classic after classic from both his solo career (including stellar versions of “If I Was,” “Cold Cold Heart,” “Guns And Arrows,” the new track “Become” and the Berlin Wall-inspired “Tumbling Down”) and his time with the legendary Ultravox (”Hymn,” “Vienna,” “The Voice,” “Brilliant,” “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes,” an extraordinary “Lament”). The recently departed Steve Strange was honored with a soaring rendition of Visage's “Fade to Grey,” while the encore included covers of Tom Rush's “No Regrets” (Ure's first solo hit from 1982) and David Bowie's “Lady Stardust.” Ure's trademark voice remained strong throughout the set, reaching its apex during a stunning “Vienna.” Simply put, the man still has it.

(By the way, full marks go to the vast majority of the audience, who actually refrained from talking throughout the show and simply took in the music coming from the stage. What a novelty in 2015!)

Ure punctuated his 21-song set with a self-deprecating sense of humor that covered everything from his sometimes-shaky solo career (he responded to the applause given to “Breathe” with “...and you didn't buy it!”) to his thick Scottish accent (which he compared to Groundskeeper Willie's). He also took a dig at the “kara-fucking-oki” artists currently dominating the charts, questioning why a show like America's Got Talent is even necessary in the country that invented Rock 'N' Roll. Of course, the best way for an artist to swim against the tide of today's music business is to keep true artistry alive, and that is exactly what Ure is doing on this current tour.

The conditions outside were treacherous, the crowd inside was modest and the environs were far from glitzy. But every single person who braved the lousy weather to be at Johnny D's last night felt every single note this singer/guitarist offered from that stage. That's the mark of a genuine performer. After a 45-year career of intense ups and downs, Midge Ure has clearly won the game.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

INTERVIEW - What Happens NOW: Andy Gill on Gang of Four's Troubled Past & Hopeful Future

L to R: John "Gaoler" Sterry, Andy Gill and Thomas McNeice of Gang of Four (photo courtesy of Metropolis Records)

As discussed at length in my review of their new album, What Happens Next, U.K. Post-Punk legends Gang of Four have been through some pretty heavy changes in recent times. With guitarist and sole original member Andy Gill keeping the flame burning, the current version of the band is about to start a North American tour that hits the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on March 6. I recently phoned the ever-busy Gill to chat about (among other things) the new album, the departure of longtime singer Jon King, working with Germany's biggest music superstar and the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest records you've never heard.

The last time we all saw you guys, you were touring with the Content album. Jon was involved, and then he wasn't involved. What happened?

If you look back over the decades with Gang of Four, I think it's always been a bit of a stop-start affair, hasn't it? I've always had this kind of parallel job of producing other bands, so when Gang of Four wasn't doing anything, I'd be off producing other people. I think that Jon could never make his mind up about being involved or not. We did a bunch of dates – two or three weeks in North America – when Content came out, and then we did a couple of weeks in Australia. After that, Jon signaled that he wasn't going to be doing any more, which was disappointing to the extent that we had intended to do an awful lot of live work after Content. That was a bit of a change in plan, but I was very, very committed to doing more songwriting and recording with Gang of Four. I just went straight ahead and threw myself into doing the new record. I think it was a case of reimagining the whole thing at that point.

Of course, you have the new John – John Sterry – who does a fantastic job on the new record. How did he enter the picture?

The whole thing was so weird, really. When I kind of launched into doing the new record, it was like sort of stepping out into space – not quite knowing where you're going and how you're going to do it. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to do a bunch of collaborations. Incidentally, I had thought about that for a very long time, but it wasn't an idea that flew with Jon King. I knew I wanted to do some collaborations. The other thing I thought was, 'There's no rules here. Do what the hell you want and don't look back.' That was kind of my motto at the beginning of the record.

I had been writing a few songs, and I had my weird vocals doing the tune and the lyrics. I was asking around if anybody knew a good singer who could come in and do some really good, better guide vocals for me so that I could hear what the songs really sounded like. John Sterry, or 'Gaoler' as I call him, popped in the studio one day and sang. I thought, 'That sounds great!' For months, he was coming down three times a week...He was like a session singer for me, and I was kind of paying him like a session singer. Then after a few months and we had done a few songs together, I thought, 'This guy's really good. He's a nice guy, and I get on with him and I love his voice.' So I just said to him, 'Should we do a gig together?' We did a semi-secret, little gig in London at the Lexington, a little club above a pub. It all felt very natural and felt right, so he was in. In my mind, I thought, 'I suppose I'm going to have to do hundreds of auditions in London and maybe in New York or whatever,' but it just felt right, so I got on with it. It's been quite gratifying to hear people give 'Gaoler” props for how he's done so well on this record.

Jonny [Finnegan] is now your current full-time drummer, correct?

Jonny, yeah.

That was an addition since the last album as well. How did that change come to be?

Mark Heaney, who was the old drummer...can be a little volatile, and he had a series of fallings out with the management - not with me. It seemed to be a personality thing as far as I could tell. He drummed on two or three tracks on the record, and then Jonny came in. [Bassist] Thomas [McNeice] is very much my right-hand man, and we checked out a bunch of drummers, and Jonny kind of won the day by a considerable margin.

In terms of some of the guests you have on the album, Alison Mosshart stands out to me because I know she's done a lot of really great work in recent times with the James Williamson album and her own projects. From your perspective, what did she bring to the proceedings that really elevated things to where they wouldn't have otherwise been? What made her contributions special?

I think it's great having women involved, and I've always felt that. When [former bassist] Sara Lee joined he band in the early '80s, it was very much like, 'Let's get a woman in; let's not have this all-male thing.' I think [Alison] brings her incredible vocal style, that powerfulness. She is quite extraordinary, I think. She's a workaholic; she really brings an incredible dynamism and energy. I think the whole record massively benefits from having these different personalities involved. I think in the early days of the record, when I started to see all the different people involved, I did slightly worry that it was going to sound disjointed or disparate. But as I continued to work on the record, I stopped worrying about that because it felt like everything was coming from the same place.

When you were going through the process of making this album, did you know all along that this would end up being Gang of Four versus another project under a different name? I would imagine with all the changes, there might have been a temptation to not use Gang of Four as a moniker.

To me, it very much felt like, 'Okay, so we got Gang of Four. We're doing Content, Jon decides to go his own way, so it's Gang of Four less Jon King.' Now, you might be of the mind to believe that means that Jon King is so integral to Gang of Four that it's no longer Gang of Four without Jon. But in my experience, nobody's really said that. I think most people feel that I've always been the producer, musical director, writer of the music and half the lyrics, so it's Gang of Four. I think the question would be, '[When] you listen to this album, do you hear the DNA of Gang of Four, or not?”

The song on the new album that struck me the most was “The Dying Rays.” That really is an achievement - a brilliant piece of music. Lyrically, where were you coming from and what inspired you to create those words? Was it a personal experience or was it something you had seen elsewhere?

I think it's both. It's very much written from the heart...It's not a young man's song, let's put it that way. I think with a little bit of experience and a certain amount of looking in the rearview mirror, you have some ideas about time, wasted time and things like that. I hesitate to over-explain because I think Gang of Four, over the decades, has sometimes been guilty of trying to be our own reviewers and trying to really spell out what we think it's supposed to say. I think sometimes, you can take away some of the magic in things by over-talking them. But the crucial thing about that song was Herbert Grönemeyer talking to me and saying, 'How's it going, Andy?' I explained that Alison had sung on a couple of tracks, and I was excited about it. He said, 'Do you want me to sing on something?' I thought, 'Yeah!' It was an interesting idea, and a lot of people in Germany have recently expressed quite a lot of surprise at that collaboration. I thought, 'I've got a few songs kicking around here; I've got some demos. Maybe Herbert can do this one or maybe that one.' Then I thought, 'Hold on a second. Let's not waste this opportunity.' I went and kind of really listened to Herbert's work and the things he's done. The thing that he does that most affects me and most moves me are the mid-tempo, angst-filled ballads. He has a very emotional and moving voice. He did a great track with Antony of Antony and the Johnsons guesting on it. It's quite a sad song, and Herbert really inhabits the track with his voice and his emotions; he seems to be in the track. So I thought, 'I'm not just going to give him any old thing; I'm going to have to really try to make a track for Herbert to sing.' It was hard work; I went down a lot of blind alleys and went in circles. I was really kind of getting getting frustrated; I was getting in different musicians I knew to come in to try to help me co-write this thing.

I didn't know where I was going, but eventually something clicked. I was just playing around with a little drum loop, and then the guitar seemed to work and then it started to fall into place. It took a long time. And then the words...I was in this Elizabethan house, [a] hotel in England. The sun was going down, and I was sitting in the chair and doing nothing, staring off in the middle distance. I just saw this speck of dust coming down in front of my eyes. It mesmerized me; I was hypnotized like a cat. [Those were] the first words...the 'speck of dust' thing. Everything came from that.

It's been 20 years since one of my all-time favorite records, Shrinkwrapped, came out -

It's not 20 years, is it surely? My God! I thought that was like last week!

Looking at the album now, what are your thoughts on the end product and its place in the history of Gang of Four?

It's one of my favorites. I'm very pleased with Shrinkwrapped, and I'm proud of it. I think at the time, nobody paid much attention. I think that the label...We didn't do any interviews; we didn't do anything. It kind of came out unnoticed. I've noticed that more and more people mention Shrinkwrapped these days, but at the time nobody seemed to notice it was there. But I am proud of it.

I saw the reunion of the original Gang of Four at Coachella [in 2005]. We're almost 10 years away from that event now. Clearly, there were a lot of expectations when the original band got back together, but the band didn't last and go the distance. Ultimately, why didn't the original band continue the second time around?

From the other three's position, I think they were looking at basically a quick-buck opportunity. I think for them, it was never intended to be more than doing a couple of tours and getting some money. I don't want to sound too cynical, but I think that's basically what it was about. I don't think [original bassist] Dave Allen ever really belonged in the band. He seemed to be causing a lot of problems; he kept trying to stir things up between [original drummer] Hugo [Burnham] and myself, which is a shame, really. Hugo and I are very, very different people, but we've always got on with each other, and we do to this day. But during that brief period, Hugo seemed to have been turned very much against me by Dave. You just don't need that kind of backstabbing going on in your life...You just don't need it. I think that was part of it.

Actually, now that you mention [the reunion], I think for Jon King, he thought this was a temporary thing. So maybe in the light of that, it makes more sense of why he bowed out after Content. Despite it being slightly inconvenient timing, it does kind of have some logic to it.

You're 38 years into this with Gang of Four, on and off, and you have a body of work that represents that period of time. When Gang of Four does cease, what would you like to see the band remembered for? What do you think will be Gang of Four's greatest legacy?

I think there will be songs that stick out to people. Obviously, they'll probably be the better-known ones. It would be nice if some of the songs on Shrinkwrapped were remembered, but it never quite captured the public's imagination at that point in time. I think the guitar stuff will be remembered. It seems that many musicians have been influenced by Gang of Four, and I think that's how the band kind of lives on in a way.

Pre-order What Happens Next 

What Happens Next review

Gang of Four Website 

Gang of Four on Facebook

Gang of Four of Twitter 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Words for Pajo

The cover of Slint's Spiderland (David Pajo far right)

I'm posting the music below in support of David Pajo of Slint, who is currently recovering from a recent suicide attempt. This Misfits tribute album he released in '99 is just one of the many innovative things he's done over the years. (Slint's Spiderland album is a must-own). David's Bandcamp page features music going back to the mid '80s (when he toured with Samhain as a member of the pre-Kinghorse/Slint band, Maurice.) It's all worth a listen and a purchase. He's also worked with Interpol and Zwan, among others. Brilliant guy. I've never met the man, but his work has moved me for years. Sorry to hear this news, and I truly wish him peace and strength.


Friday, February 13, 2015

'Black Sabbath' at 45: An Appreciation

February 13, 1970. With heavy rain and a crack of thunder, everything changed.

On this day 45 years ago, four young men from the post-war streets of Birmingham, England released their debut album and created a new genre in only 38 minutes. Every band, every album, every note that has ever been called “Metal” can be traced back to the sounds on this album. This is an indisputable fact. Careers paths were decided, lives were dramatically altered (and perhaps even saved) and a new style of music was unleashed on the world because of this thing. 

What Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill built on this album - and on the seven records that followed - will never be bettered by anyone else. Why? Because these four people put their very souls into the grooves on those records. From crying out against the horrors of battle and the atrocities committed against our beleaguered veterans (“War Pigs” off Paranoid) to shining a light on the often-ignored struggles of the working class (“Killing Yourself To Live” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath), Sabbath gave a voice to those who needed it most. They stood on some of the biggest stages in the world, but these four men always stayed close to the streets - where humanity's heart beats the loudest. Black Sabbath showed many that genuine strength and growth could come from facing - and overcoming - the dark side. They offered catharsis through distortion, an escape through intense songs that were cries for peace in a world gone mad. And it all started when a young man first responded to this chaos with one question: “What is this that stands before me?” 

Bill Ward – A man whose heartfelt devotion to Heavy Metal is matched only by his generosity and kindness. Love and thanks to you, sir.

Ozzy Osbourne – An incomparable frontman who did it better than anyone else for longer than anyone else. 

Geezer Butler – A man whose many talents turned pain into poetry, impacting millions in the process.

Tony Iommi – An unwavering engine who recently pushed through the hardships of severe illness to perform for crowds all over the world. A true inspiration and working class hero.

Although the four original members of Sabbath are entitled to more praise than the world could possibly give them, appreciation must also be shown to the many fine musicians who kept the band alive between 1979 and 1996. As always, I tip my hat to Bob Daisley and Eric Singer, true gentlemen in an ever-savage industry. At the same time, I honor Ronnie James Dio, Cozy Powell and Ray Gillen, departed comrades in Metal whose contributions to the music of Sabbath and other bands secured their immortality. I also send my thoughts to one-time Sabbath bassist Craig Gruber, a vastly accomplished player who is currently battling Stage 4 cancer. (More info on Craig's condition – and how you can help – is available here.)

All hail Black Sabbath, forever the greatest Heavy Metal band in the world.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW - Sardonica: Follow Me

If you're an avid follower of the Garden State's underground music scene - or are even remotely knowledgable of the extended family of musicians surrounding Lodi, NJ's legendary Misfits - you know the name “Sal Bee.” An active musician for decades now, Sal first gained notoriety as the frontman of Slaughtered Grace, a late '80s Hardcore/Metal act that released a 1990 EP (Call This Planet...Slaughtered Grace) on the Misfits' Cyclopean Music label. A few years later, he helped out his lifelong friends Jerry Only and Doyle by filling in on vocals in the early days of the band's reformation. Before long, Dr. Chud - Sal's former drummer from his then-current band, Sardonica - got the gig as The Misfits' new timekeeper. And when The Misfits performed their first European and US dates in early '96 after announcing new vocalist Michale Graves, Sardonica served as the opening act. Onstage, Sal struck an intense visual with his shaved head and muscular build; offstage, he endeared himself to fans by being one of the nicest, most approachable guys they could ever hope to meet.

Fast-forward to now, and the ever-charismatic singer/bassist is reaching new audiences all the time thanks to his must-see online show, Rock 'N' Roll Cooking with Sal Bee. He also continues to play live in the NJ/NY area with both Sardonica and a reunited Slaughtered Grace. His latest album under the Sardonica moniker, Follow Me, finds him backed by a who's who of Lodi Punk legends for a selection of covers, new Sardonica compositions and a handful of recent recordings of older Slaughtered Grace tunes. On drums, we have The Murp, best known to Fiends as a member of Jerry and Doyle's late '80s band, Kryst The Conqueror. On guitar, the powerhouse Pete Murder. The one and only Steve Zing (Samhain/Danzig/Mourning Noise/The Undead) turns up to sing a cover of “Runaround Sue,” while Michale Graves fronts the band on a rendition of The Doors' “Touch Me.” Although he's not the most famous musician to add his talents to Follow Me, guitarist Ron Paci's amazing lead playing on “Black Sheep,” “Six Feet Below,” “Terror Unleashed” and the epic “Tragic End” is the record's crowning achievement. As far as what the music on Follow Me actually sounds like...Well, if you know Sal Bee, you know what to expect. If this is your first time, just imagine the Cro-Mags (if they had a sense of humor) jamming with Manowar (if they ditched the goofy ultra-masculine posing). Fans of fellow Jersey bands like Overkill (especially their Punky early stuff) and Whiplash will find a lot to love here. With its excellent production and solid performances, Follow Me serves as the perfect introduction to the music of two of New Jersey's finest bands. Sal's as great now as he was 20 years ago. Respect.

On a personal note, listening to Follow Me brought me back to when I first met Sal Bee during my days hanging out with The Misfits in the mid '90s. I had the good fortune of keeping the beat for quite a few of their rehearsals back then, and I got to jam with Sal on many occasions. (As it happens, I first made noise with him 20 years ago this month.) I still remember when Michale Graves first started working with the band in the spring of '95, and the first time I met Steve Zing (backstage after a Misfits show at Action Park in Vernon, NJ that I put on in '96). And I'll never forget when Sardonica played a benefit show I put on at my high school in support of D.A.R.E.! Sal Bee and Steve Zing have never once said no to me in all the years I've known them, and Graves has earned my eternal respect for his well-earned place in Misfits history and work on behalf of the West Memphis Three. Simply put, some of the best people I've ever met in my travels are on this record, and hearing it makes me feel like I'm 18 again and back in Jersey. Thanks for that, fellas!

Follow Me is available at