Showing posts with label Rolling Stones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rolling Stones. Show all posts

Aug 25, 2021

Rest In Peace, Charlie

By Kevin Broughton


A few weeks before I turned 12, Mom said, “Grandmama wants to know what you want for your birthday. They’re coming down.” Because “Beast of Burden” had been all over the pop stations in Orlando, I said, “A Rolling Stones album!” On the happy day, I greedily went for the flat, album-shaped object first, shredding the decorative paper. 


“Thank you, Grandmama and Grandaddy!” Scanning the back cover, though, I may have looked perplexed. There was no “Beast of Burden,” or even “Satisfaction.” And who was this weird, jumpy guy on the front? 


I didn’t know who Mick was referring to before “Honky Tonk Women” when he said, “Charlie’s good tonight, innit?” It would be many years before I appreciated the greatness of that live album, recorded over several nights in New York and Baltimore in 1969, before the release of Let It Bleed. I’d be in college before I realized how sublime the Mick Taylor years were. 

But listening to some of these raw, menacing cuts – “Stray Cat Blues,” a nine-minute “Midnight Rambler,” “Sympathy” – it was all over, man. At 12, I was a Stones guy for life. (Beatles guys were, and remain, pansies. Sorry.) Three years and change after that birthday, I'd see The Stones on the Tattoo You tour at what was then called the Tangerine Bowl. The opening act, Van Halen, showed me spandex style. Then I lived substance with the greatest rock band ever. 


But that image of a joyous, goofy, leaping Charlie Watts – flanked by a donkey – that’s the icon I’ll always associate with the beginning of my rock ‘n’ roll education. 


He was a jazz drummer in a blues band. He took no shit from Mick. One night on tour, the up-late, partying front man rang Charlie’s room. “Where’s my drummer?” he demanded, laughing. Charlie got out of bed, changed into a suit and tie, knocked on Jagger’s door and punched him square in the mouth when it opened. “Don’t you ever call me ‘your drummer’ again,” he said. “You’re my singer!” And then went back to bed. 


Charlie Watts (and Ringo, for that matter) would be overshadowed by a couple of game-changing contemporaries, Keith Moon and Ginger Baker. But if you ask any great drummer today to name the masters, Charlie’s name (and Ringo’s) will inevitably come up. To find out how unique and vital Watts was to the Stones’ sound, ask his mates. 


“Most bands follow the drummer as he sets the band,” Bill Wyman said. “In our band, Charlie follows Keith.” And it’s so true. Keef, a/k/a The Human Riff, would kick off “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Street Fighting Man,” with a signature hook. Charlie jumped in, Wyman filled in the pocket, and it was just magic. It also has this weird vibe that a song might go off the rails any minute.


Yet they sometimes followed him. Who but a jazz master could kick off “Paint It, Black” and maintain that manic tempo? What sets the table on “Sympathy?” A seductive, hypnotic groove that still raises the hair on your neck as you think of it right this minute. 


“Everybody,” Keef said, “thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn’t doing what he’s doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You’d find out that Charlie Watts is the Stones.”


He was. I’ve cried plenty today, and I’m not done. This one hurts, and Mick & Keith should shut it down now. Thank you, Charlie, for being the backbone of my favorite band. Thank you, Grandmama, for setting the table.


And thank you, Martin Scorsese, for this precious footage from 2006. The perfect sendoff. 


Dec 5, 2019

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Nov 8, 2019

Hard To Handle: page-churning Black Crowes memoir pulls back curtain on dysfunction, wasted potential


By Kevin Broughton

The Black Crowes could have become the greatest American rock and roll band of all time, or at least in the conversation with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Around the time the scourge of hair “metal” was fading and the fad that would become grunge was just kicking up, the band from Georgia revived Stones-style, blues-based rock in a way only Aerosmith had done (and then, briefly) before them. 

Fans of the band saw the potential immediately; within a few years and albums, though, they became vaguely aware of the dysfunction that would cripple the band. Sure, Chris and Rich Robinson didn’t get along, but how bad could it be?

Worse than anyone could have imagined, it turns out. And thanks to former drummer Steve Gorman’s enthralling memoir, Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of The Black Crowes, fans get an intimate look at a slow-motion train wreck. Think of Almost Famous in real life, with fist-fights.

Gorman, the youngest of eight kids from Hopkinsville, dropped out of Western Kentucky University in the late 1980s to move to Atlanta and join a band – a band that didn’t yet exist. He didn’t own a drum kit; bought his first one about a week after arriving. He had only “air-drummed.”

It was also about a week into his Atlanta residency that he met Chris Robinson, then fronting Mr. Crowe’s Garden. When Drivin N Cryin poached drummer Jeff Sullivan, Chris (who had recently gone cold-turkey off his antidepressants after his therapist committed suicide) gave Gorman the hard sell. He soon relented and along with Rich (still in high school), formed the core of what would become the Black Crowes.

Steve Gorman
Fortune smiled on the band early. It was a different era in the music business, obviously, but they were on the fast track after being signed to Ric Rubin’s label, Def American. George Drakoulias prudently informed the band they needed to tour and practice more before hitting the studio. Before heading back to Los Angeles, Drakoulias gave them some sage advice: Start listening to the Stones, like Beggars Banquet- and Exile-era Stones. And to young Rich Robinson: Learn to play in open G tuning, like Keith does. This, without question, impacted the Crowes’ sound on their first three albums – and their overall sound -- more than anything else. Gorman, incidentally, refers to Rich as a guitar savant; the same applies to himself behind a drum kit. Those two were the instrumental backbone of the Black Crowes.

Drakoulias produced the first two records, Shake Your Money Maker and (to this day the band’s masterpiece) The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. So, after massive record sales, universal critical acclaim and touring all over America and Europe, what’s the next move? Chris decides the band doesn’t need a producer anymore. Oh, the hubris that ensued.

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind about their third album, Amorica? Probably the album cover: a young lady’s midsection clad only in American-flag bikini bottoms, with, uh, some grass showing on the field.

Gorman: “Chris, what the hell are you thinking? Places like Wal Mart and K-Mart will never carry this album.” (They didn’t.)

Chris: “I don’t care. Black Crowes fans don’t shop at those places.”

Predictably, album sales absolutely tanked as a result. (It’s a shame, too, because Amorica is probably the band’s second-best record.) It would be the first of many times Chris Robinson would presume to speak for Black Crowes fans, and over the years he’d be proven wrong manifestly and continually. At one point Gorman, sick of the presumption, told him, “You have no idea how to relate to our fans. How much money would you say you spend on weed in a year?” Not batting an eye or catching the gist, Chris deadpanned, “About a hundred grand.”

Over the next dozen years, Chris would – time and again – drop a grenade into the band’s midst. There’s a clinical term for someone who is incapable of empathy and engages in destructive behavior when success would otherwise abound. Gorman never calls Chris Robinson a sociopath, or even bipolar. But he’s surely thought it. The Robinson brothers were toxically codependent, and it spread through the band. Rich had been bullied by his older brother all his life, and rather than stand up to him, he took it out on his band mates in passive-aggressive fashion. Gorman, the runt of his own (much larger) familial litter, exasperatedly gave Rich some advice: “Next time, take a folding chair and smash Chris right in the f*cking face with it. Send his ass to the hospital, and I promise you, this will stop.” If Rich had taken it to heart and followed through, Gorman’s book would be alternate history.

But he didn’t. Many, many times, Gorman – after enduring a Chris Robinson tantrum of verbal abuse – offered him a free first punch. Had Chris taken him up, we’d again be looking at a different Crowes retrospective. He’s a bully who’s never endured a good ass-whipping, and Black Crowes fans are the worse for it.

Gorman would leave the band after the 2010 tour and return a few years later in response to the pleadings of the Robinsons and the band’s manager. This time, they promised, it would be different. And it would, for a little while. Then, in 2014 it was all over again. Rich released a letter explaining that the band was done, seemingly taking the high road: “I love my brother and respect his talent, but his present demand that I must give up my equal share of the band and that our drummer for 28 years and original partner, Steve Gorman, relinquish 100% of his share, reducing him to a salaried employee, is not something I could agree to.”

Oh, the irony. Several years earlier, the Robinsons – both of them – had written Gorman and demanded he give up his ownership in the band they’d formed together. The drummer called their bluff and was ready to walk until they quickly relented.

Each of the book’s 40 chapters are packed with vignettes that will leave fans shaking their heads at what might have been. No spoiler here, but the one that sums it all up involves Jimmy Page. You remember they toured together and made a double album, right?


Of all the infuriating episodes in Gorman’s tell-all, it’s the one that will piss you off the most.

Still, it’s a book you can’t put down. As in, buy it on a Friday afternoon and you’re up till 3:30 a.m. reading.

And you’ll finish it while watching your favorite team the next day…in between plays.

Gorman says, “This isn’t the story of the Black Crowes, but it’s my story of the Black Crowes.” It’s one well told, but ultimately sad. I hope the movie isn’t a letdown. Meantime, let’s remember what was, and what could have been.


Feb 2, 2018

Weird, I Guess I Like the Stones More Than the Beatles Now

by Robert Dean

I don’t know at what fork in the road I took, but apparently, I turned left somewhere around "Gimme Shelter." For the longest time, I’ve always packed the Beatles vs. Stones conversation away as a waste of time because both bands are amazing at what they do and to compare them is moot. Both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones changed the face of music. But, the older I get, that comparison, at least for me, starts to have a lot more dimensions than it had in the past.

I’ve always loved the Beatles. For most of my life, the standard, “who’s your favorite band” question was always met with The Beatles and….” Usually, the other band is Nirvana, but others have come and gone. My wife and I like the Beatles so much that our youngest son’s name is Lukas Lennon.

In the realm of pop, The Beatles are the greatest of all time. You cannot move the Rock of Gibraltar that is their catalog. The harmonies are bright and sumptuous. The innovation is unprecedented, and then there’s the sheer genius of the Lennon/McCartney competition of songwriting. But, I’ve heard these songs so many times, there’s no nuance anymore. They’ve been examined to death. For a band who was only around for less than ten years, we’ve microscopically obsessed about them to an infinite degree.


Somewhere though, the Rolling Stones crept up on the Beatles and stole my attention away. There’s something underlying there; there’s chaos to the music that the Beatles cannot compare to. As I get older, I want danger, sex, sacrifice, and mystery – "Penny Lane" doesn’t exactly have that, but "Street Fightin' Man" sure as hell does.

When I hear The Rolling Stones, I continually find a band who did not give a single shit about what was popular and did their own thing without consequence. The albums, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, etc. – there’s always an off-putting sleaze to them that still adds a sense of danger. But, what the Rolling Stones can anchor emotionally feels greater because of the stripped away bare bones realness vs. the layered studio effects of The Beatles grand orchestral orgasms.

Granted, we could be living in a world where Martin Scorsese movies have altered what a Rolling Stones track felt like and will continue to feel like. But, that’s the thing, The Rolling Stones don’t feel out of place in a dirty garage with bikers puffing on hog legs while wrenching on their Harleys. The White Album wouldn’t fit that scene; it’s too polished, too clean. The Beatles are the soundtrack to every day, the series of moments, while The Rolling Stones amplify scenes of excess and wonderment.


Getting older, I obsess about how my time is spent, about investing worth more than value because they ain’t the same. As the Beatles showcase the brightest and best of humanity with their neon harmonies, I’ve felt more Stones-like as the world has thrust its boot at my crotch more times than I care to count.

This world is hard, and nothing is easy, I guess it’s why sometimes we need a mile marker, something to stab a kitchen knife into and claim it as ours. The Beatles were that for me and, will forever be, but as I evolve as a person, the sense of danger is more valuable than a few ditties about love.


Sep 12, 2017

Rock n' Roll Ain't Dead, It Just Needs to Evolve

By Robert Dean

On the eve of the release of the new Queens of The Stone Age record, someone in the band mentioned that “guitars were going extinct”. Wait, what? 

Is the symbol of a mindset, culture, a musical movement going to be relegated to the history books? Are we doomed to endless supplies of shitty music made with computers? Existential questions abounded.

When Elvis Presley started drying humping a mic stand with his long, greasy hair, no one had seen something like that in mainstream culture. While yes, Presley’s theatrics were a milquetoast reflection of his black counterparts out on the Chitlin Circuit; Presley was the guy who put ass wiggling at the top of the news hour.

After Elvis, the floodgates opened up. You had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, etc. And those bands begat other generations of rock and rollers, along with subsets of music like punk, heavy metal, hard rock, and whatever Steely Dan played. However, the underpinning idea here was simple: because of that initial wave of bands, guitars and rock and roll was the predominant art form. 

Back in the day, you had few social choices: dig on music or play sports. Everything else was all sub-genre and had nowhere the social pull like strapping on a Les Paul or tossing a tight spiral. But no matter the scene, the music was the great equalizer. Despite different worlds, those jocks were listening to the same stuff as the long hairs. 

Because of the limited choices for popular music the same bands got gigantic. Radio was controlled with an iron fist. Record labels and station managers had mafia-like relationships, and only certain groups got the nod to move to stardom. Bands were so big they were playing venues meant to land aircraft carriers. Dudes in Led Zeppelin were renting whole hotels and banging chicks with fishes. 

Then technology started to evolve. Hip Hop came onto the scene, which challenged rock and roll as an art, not only in style but also in purity. Country music was moving away from a Willie Nelson driven tenor but more poppy and accessible. 

Throughout the 1980’s, bands were adopting machines, keyboards, and synthesizers. MTV appeared and soon, symbolism and identity were as much of the package than just the riffs. 

The medium of the video was a step toward today’s market. The 1990’s was the last pure decade for rock and roll. Maybe the early 2000’s, but this new thing, this new addition to the musical landscape, tainted that: computers. 

So while in the past, rock and roll or whatever one of its descendants had the larger stage, now it’s just a slice of the contemporary pie. We only had the radio. Then MTV opened that up. And then we got access to broadband. And then the computers themselves could make music. Everything had changed.

Every interest of every type has a meetup or a scene. You can be an adult man and into a children’s cartoon about ponies and you have a community you can cling to.  Whereas in the past, you had one of those two choices music or sports as a blanket community – today, you can find a crew into a Finnish flute music. 

But, those articles, they keep saying rock and roll is dead. That kids only listen to hip hop or electronic music. People speak to the rise of the rapper or the huge dj. For every Kendrick Lamar, there’s a bazillion wack rappers who’ll have one hit and fade RE: Chingy or Migos. The rap game might have a few legit superstars, but even their world some thirty years later almost mirrors that of rock and roll with the 2000’s acting as their 1980’s excess. 

The electronic music world stands on the merit of the experience: it’s people on drugs dancing around to predictable beats staring at flashing lights. How is anyone surprised this makes money? People love drugs. We’ve been getting high since the jump. There’s no substance to electronic music. 

In twenty years no one will listen to the Chainsmokers. You can bet kids will definitely want to learn about Kurt Cobain, though. 

Rock and Roll isn’t dead. The music just no longer has the iron grip in a world that’s textured and with so many options. It’s not that there’s a lesser place in society for this music, it’s simply that those arena's are not filled with really anyone except ultra pop mavens. Why? Because those pop acts aren’t dangerous, they’re brands that you can slap a cool outfit on and sell products to. There’s no rock radio anymore. Everything that’s moving across traditional airwaves is so out of touch, and we all know it. 


Because as its own ecosystem it doesn’t need to evolve musically – there’s no point.  But, what the music does need to do is embrace all of the technology and trends of today and realize this how it is. Before a record was released and it was gospel thanks to a handful of channels; today you can stream an album on Facebook with no warning. 

We, as listeners need to accept the fate of all kinds of music: there’s a ton out there and it’s our job to support acts we’re passionate about. The new bands need their shot, but it needs to happen on the backs of the people who are passionate about the art. 


Violent Soho, JD McPherson, Rival Sons, Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes - these acts and more are all out there writing killer tunes. Just do the homework. We need to look past those days of lore. They’ll never exist again. Socially, no one is gonna get banged with a fish without Instagramming it first. 

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