The Axe Factor

Thin Lizzy. UFO. Scorpions. Motorhead. Four of the most prestigious names in Hard Rock/Heavy Metal history. Three of them still exist to this very day; four if you count Black Star Riders (I don’t). Celebrated for decades, their basic histories are pretty well known to the average fan of heavy rock around the world, while hardcore fans will even recognize names like Lucas Fox or Rudy Lenners. What’s not so well-known is how many ex-members these bands share between them. For these bands early on it was all about getting the chemistry just right; about finding that magic missing piece of the puzzle. What follows is an outline of how these four iconic bands hired, fired, borrowed and traded several guitarists before settling on the line-ups that made them famous. Do try to keep up…

Round 1: Gary Moore quits the band he joined at age 16, Skid Row, in 1971, just before a planned tour of the States. Guitarist Eric Bell, then a member of Thin Lizzy, who have just released their debut album, replaces him for some live dates. Welsh guitarist Paul Chapman is hired soon after as Moore’s permanent replacement. Chapman quit in ’72, and the band folded.

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Round 2: UFO have released 3 albums with guitaris Mick Bolton, to modest success. Bolton, however, quits in January of 1972. The band hire Larry Wallis, who lasts until October; UFO never record anything with him in the line-up. Wallis is replaced by Bernie Marsden, who records a 2-song demo with the band before leaving abruptly while on tour with Germany’s Scorpions in mid-1973. Scorps guitarist Michael Schenker, then 17, plays guitar for both bands for the duration of the jaunt. At tour’s end, Schenker is invited to join UFO permanently. He accepts, and Scorpions split up. Klaus Meine and Rudy Schenker join Uli Jon Roth’s band Dawn Road, bringing the Scorpions name with them.

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Round 3: On New Year’s Eve 1973, Eric Bell quits Thin Lizzy. Bell is replaced by ex-Skid Row guitarist Gary Moore (see Round 1). Moore only stays until April of ’74, but the band record three songs with him that would appear on their next album, ‘Nightlife’. Moore is replaced by ex-Atomic Rooster/Hard Stuff guitarist Jon DuCann for live work. DuCann and Lizzy’s Phil Lynott clash, the band’s Phonogram deal is about to expire, so drummer Brian Downey quits the band. Downey eventually rejoins Lynott, who hires guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson to complete the classic Lizzy line-up.

Round 4: Paul Chapman (ex-Skid Row, see Round 1) joins UFO as second guitarist for the ‘Phenomenon’ tour in 1974. He leaves in January of ’75, but evidence of the short-lived 2-guitar UFO can be found on the final four tracks of the ‘BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert’ CD.

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Round 5: Also in ’75, Larry Wallis (ex-UFO; see Round 2) joins Lemmy’s fledgeling Motorhead. Wallis appears on Motorhead’s debut album, which is shelved by United Artists as being ‘unfit for commercial release’ and isn’t released until 1979. Wallis quits a year after joining, in 1976, when 2nd guitarist Eddie Clarke is added to the band.

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So at this point, all four bands have entered a period of relative stability, having finally arrived at what many refer to as their their ‘classic’ line-ups, and release a bunch of undeniably classic albums. For UFO it’s ‘Force It’, ‘No Heavy Petting’, and ‘Lights Out’; Thin Lizzy make ‘Fighting’, ‘Jailbreak’, and ‘Johnny the Fox’. Scorpions release ‘Fly to the Rainbow’, ‘In Trance’, ‘Virgin Killer’ and ‘Taken by Force’. Motorhead’s Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor trio begin making records. And then, Restless Guitar Syndrome set in again…

Round 6: In November 1976, Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson (see Round 3) severely injures his hand in a bar fight and has to sit out the band’s US tour with Queen. Robertson is replaced by Gary Moore (see Rounds 1&3). After Robertson recovers, he rejoins the band for another album and tour but he is fired for his excessive drinking, and is replaced once again by Gary Moore in June of 1978. This is Moore’s 3rd go-round w/Lizzy.

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Round 7: In June 1977, after wrapping up the UK leg of the ‘Lights Out’ tour, troubled UFO guitarist Michael Schenker (Round 2) disappears. Paul Chapman (Rounds 1 & 4) rejoins the band again at the height of their US polularity. Schenker is coaxed back to complete the tour, and Chapman steps down. A year later, Schenker quits UFO, while at the same time, Uli Roth (Round 3) leaves Scorpions. Scorps hire Matthias Jabs to replace Roth, but after Schenker becomes available, Jabs is kicked to the curb, and Michael Schenker rejoins his brother in Scorpions after 7 years. Schenker plays a handfull of shows with Scorpions but soon flakes out yet again, and is replaced permanently by Jabs. Oh, and Paul Chapman, on his third tour of duty with UFO, finally becomes a permamnent member.

Scorps go on to fame and fortune as a very different kind of band with Jabs. Lizzy will never be the same, with a revolving door of guitarists that never quite recapture the Gorham/Robertson magic. UFO continue onward with some great records but the ‘Chapman Era’ will always be unfairly compared against the ‘Schenker Era’, and usually not-so-favorably… And what of Motorhead?

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Round 8: Fast Eddie Clarke (Round 5), disgusted with his band’s collabration with punk band The Plasmatics, quits Motorhead during the 1982 US tour promoting the ‘Iron Fist’ album. Mere days later, ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson (Rounds 3&6) is on stage in New York with Philthy & Lemmy, and remains in Motorhead until November 1983. It would be another 13 years before Lemmy and Co. would arrive at the satable 3-piece line-up that still exists to this day.

So what have we learned here?

1) There’s considerably less than ‘six degrees of separation’ between these four bands. The most moves required here to connect any two of these groups is 3.

2) This post is in dire need of a flow chart.

2) Guitarists are mercurial, ego-centric prima donnas.

3) Guitarists may be mercurial, ego-centric prima donnas, but finding the right one was essential to the chesmistry that created the four of the greatest bands and some the greatest music in Heavy Rock history.

 

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Revenge of the Black Sheep, Pt II: AeroHead

Motorhead and melody were never the best of friends. But destiny would bring them together, in May of 1982…

After ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke left Motorhead only 2 shows in to the band’s 1982 North American tour, Lemmy and Phil needed another guitarist fast. Legend has it that Steve Kudlow (a.k.a. Lips) of Anvil was asked, but declined. If I were close to the band, I would have recommended Ace Frehley, who was still a de facto member of Kiss but hadn’t recorded anything with them since 1981. But I’m not, so I didn’t. I still think that woulda been awesome, but anyway… Enter former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson. An inspired choice, but the boys were desperate and probably didn’t have many options. Robertson was one half of one of the most acclaimed twin guitar teams in all of rock, AND he had a colorful nickname. Just nine days after Clarke’s departure, the Motorhead machine was rolling again.
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Problems with Robertson became apparent during the completion of the Iron Fist tour, mostly related to his appearance, but also manifesting itself in his unwillingness to learn set list staples like ‘Overkill’, ‘Bomber’, ‘Stay Clean’, etc. Nonetheless, after completing the ‘Iron Fist’ dates and returning to the UK, Lem Phil and Robbo entered the studio together as the New and Improved Motorhead. To many, the addition of Robbo to The Loudest Band in the World looked great on paper; how would it translate onto vinyl? How would Robertson’s skill, musicality and flair jibe with the vicious who-needs-guitars-anyway Kilmister/Taylor rhythm section? Would it work at all? On June 4th, 1983, those questions were answered with the release of Motorhead’s seventh studio album.
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How you interpret APD depends on your point of view on Motorhead in general. If you’re the type of Motor-fan who likes to be beaten about the face and neck with your Motor-music, then you were probably startled by the new additions to the standard Motorhead sound: Subtlety, Dynamics, and *gulp* Melody. The LP’s comic strip insert features a panel depicting Phil asking Lemmy, “He’s a bit musical, isn’t he?” That word balloon sums up APD’s strengths and/or weaknesses, depending which side of the fence you’re on. As far as the new boy’s contributions, ‘Overkill’ is the word that comes to mind. Robertson plays like the legend he is throughout, but the quantity of his guitar playing on APD at least matches, if not surpasses, the quality. And the very first sign that we’re not motorcycling through Kansas anymore comes courtesy of Robbo: the guitar synthesizer featured on album opener ‘Back at the Funny Farm’. Motorhead using synthesizers was akin to a vegetarian ordering a Double Quarter Pounder (w/cheese). The gently picked guitar intros to ‘Dancing on your Grave’ and the album’s title track probably didn’t sit well with many Motorheadbangers, and the boogie-woogie piano on ‘Rockit’ probably raised a few eyebrows as well.

Many were concerned by the album’s first single, the melodic ‘I Got Mine’, which could accurately be described as a ballad (at least lyrically); remove the gnarly vocals and this tune could belong to any number of early 80’s hard rock bands. And couplets like “Come on lover/Go Back to start/I got your picture in my heart” were a far cry from “I’m in your life/I might be in your wife” of “You know you make me vomit/And I ain’t far from it” from a few years earlier. . ‘I Got Mine’ serves as a perfect example of the clash of stylistic approaches on ‘Another Perfect Day’: delicate chorused guitar riff meets savage drums and brutal mid-bass gouging; beauty meets the beast, head on… does it work? Ya, it does, though the song is a bit over-long. But for those who may have been scared away by the record’s first single, the second one, ‘Shine,’ was much more convincing, with it’s double-speed ZZ Top groove, killer guitaring and I’m so badass lyric.
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For some, all of this was too much to take. Fans and critics alike were shouting ‘sell out!’, and throwing the C word around: ‘Commercial’. Yes, it was true; the new Motorhead album was more accessible than anything before it, but any record that starts with ‘Back at the Funny Farm’ and ends with ‘Die You Bastard!’ could hardly be called a sell-out. Frankly, after the lifeless dud known as ‘Iron Fist’, Motorhead needed something… and love it or hate it, Robertson brought something new to the party. But for many, APD was a step too far from the mean and dirty (sloppy?), amphetamine-fueled (fast!) days of yore. I for one welcomed the expansion of Motorhead’s sound, and rate this record in their top 10, although I will admit to being worried at the time by what might come next… But those worries proved unwarranted, as Robbo was ‘fired’ by Lemmy after touring for ‘Another Perfect Day’ was completed. Black Sheep status assured. This is the Motorhead album for people who don’t like Motorhead; a handy way to separate the casual listener from the diehard lifer. But more importantly, ‘APD’ should be recognized as the first indication of how flexible Motorhead’s music, often derided as one dimensional, really is. If you wrote off ‘Another Perfect Day’ as ‘too melodic’ or a ‘sell out’, go back and give it another try. And it it’s your favorite Motorhead album, grow a set and check out ‘Ace of Spades’ or ‘Bastards’.

Less than three months after the release of ‘Another Perfect Day’, Aerosmith released their seventh studio album, aptly titled ‘Rock in a Hard Place’. It took Aerosmith three years to complete a follow-up to their previous album, the half-assed ‘Night in the Ruts’; Joe Perry left before that album was finished, and the chaotic, drug-addled circus the band had become was too busy killing itself to get its shit together and work on a record. Sessions for ‘Hard Place’ limped along for over a year, eventually leading to the departure of Brad Whitford, who, after all that studio time ($1.5 million dollars worth), had only recorded guitars for one song. It kinda sounded like the end for A-smith. But the Bad Boys From Boston pulled it off, and released the one-and-only Aerosmith album without Joe Perry and Brad Whitford’s involvement.
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‘Rock in a Hard Place’ fell on largely apathetic ears. Much had changed during Aerosmith’s three almost-permanent vacation (Hello, Van Halen!). The 70’s had turned into the 80’s, and Hard Rock fans were getting into Even Harder Rock. The conspicuous absence of the names “Perry” and ‘Whitford’ on the record ensured that even many old-school fans wrote the album off. The dwindling ranks of the Aero-faithful supported the album, which peaked at #32, making it Aerosmith’s lowest-charting record since their sophomore album ‘Get Your Wings’. The disastrous tour that followed, which was riddled with on-stage collapses, cancelled shows, and low ticket sales, did nothing to help the record’s profile (See: Deep Purple’s ‘Come Taste the Band’). I didn’t buy it, and I ignored it completely for 32 years; in fact, I’d never heard it start to finish until I started working on these ‘Black Sheep’ posts.

So: Three decades later, what do we have here? Simply stated, ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ is a better album than both ‘Night in the Ruts’ and ‘Done With Mirrors’. Yes. It’s also a better Aerosmith album than both. How can this be? How can an Aerosmith album without Whitford & Perry’s songwriting or playing be more Aerosmith-y than the album that preceded it and the one that followed it? Chemistry, my friends, chemistry… and I ain’t talkin’ about drugs. Most of the writing credits read ‘Tyler/Crespo’, and somehow the pair managed to conjure up more of the old A-smith magic than the Toxic Twins had been able to for several years. The rhythm section of Kramer and Hamilton anchors the record firmly in classic Aerosmith’s blues/rock/R&B wheelhouse, and Crespo plays with the same laid-back-but-red-hot vibe as Perry. And Tyler is Tyler, which is an impressive feat for someone so firmly in the clutches of a heroin addiction. Perry & Whitford eventually returned, and ‘Done with Mirrors’ showed encouraging signs of life, but this band would never again produce an album with the patented nasty-ass swagger of classic Aerosmith after ‘Rock in a Hard Place’.
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In his book, Joey Kramer unfairly dismisses RiaHP as “not a real Aerosmith record because it’s just me, Steven, and Tom — with a fill-in guitar player…. It’s Jimmy Crespo doing the guitar work.” I disagree with Mr. Kramer. ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ is a Real Aerosmith Album, no matter who’s on it. Or who’s not on it. It ain’t ‘Rocks’, or ‘Toys’, but it could rightfully be considered the last album of Aerosmith’s classic era. It could also be considered the first album of Aerosmith’s post-classic era. Or, in true Black Sheep style, it could belong to neither era. And like all Black Sheep records, it could use a little love. Revisit this album, pronto.