Never Say Die

Tony Iommi, living legend. Metal pioneer. Riff machine. Cancer survivor. Solely responsible for keeping the greatest Heavy Metal band of all time, Black Sabbath, alive for 45 years, withstanding decades of changing musical trends and never-ending line-up changes. But is this last bit something we should applaud Iommi for? Looking over Sabbath’s long history and vast body of work, how much of it really lives up to the legacy? Can Black Sabbath even be called a ‘band’ after 1983? Do half of these records even qualify as ‘Black Sabbath’ records?

Let’s start the discussion with something we can all agree on: Those first 6 albums are untouchable. Every one of them should form the core of any self-respecting metalhead’s music collection. They are the reason that the name ‘Black Sabbath’ will be among the few 20th century music artists that will be remembered hundreds of years in the future. Is this not a fact? Is there anyone out there that would argue this?

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We can debate about ‘Technical Ecstasy’ and ‘Never Say Die!’; both are often included when discussing Sabbath’s unquestionable classics, as both feature the band’s original/classic line-up. But there is no consensus of opinion on these 2 albums, and fact that their relative worth is constantly debated means that there is significant doubt about their status in the Sab’s discography.

We may also argue about the Dio era, especially since the line-up that included Vinnie Appice on drums actually dropped Black Sabbath name and began calling themselves ‘Heaven and Hell’ in 2006. Some fans think a name change should have come with the release of the ‘Heaven and Hell’ album in 1979; changing it in 2006 created an interesting conundrum… Is ‘Mob Rules’ a Heaven and Hell album? Is ‘The Devil You Know’ a Black Sabbath album? Shades of grey abound.

Perhaps even more questionable is 1983’s ‘Born Again’, an album that both Iommi and Geezer Butler claim was not originally intended to be released as a Black Sabbath album. So BA carries with it some controversy, but is now seen by most as just as worthy of the Black Sabbath name as the 2 that came before it. However, having arrived at ‘Born Again’, and taking a look back at those unquestionable Original Six, one can see clearly just how far off track we have drifted. That said, I still include ‘Born Again’ in the larger discussion of ‘legit’ Sabbath albums, in fact, for me it is the final album by Black Sabbath proper.

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The post-‘Born Again’ Sabbath story is a fucking circus, with Tony Iommi the Ringmaster. After Gillan and Butler departed, American singer David Donato was hired and demos were recorded, with Bob Ezrin producing. A Black Sabbath album produced by the producer of Kiss’ ‘Destroyer’, Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, and all of Alice Cooper’s classic albums would likely have been amazing, regardless of who Iommi had in the line-up at the time. Alas, this all led to …nothing. Donato did an interview with Kerrang! as Sabbath’s new lead vocalist, before he was officially hired… and was promptly fired.

Iommi planned his next project as a solo album, but the suits at Warner Brothers insisted it be released under the Black Sabbath banner. Despite the ploy, we all know better, and the ‘Seventh Star’ album is now widely acknowledged as an Iommi solo record, no matter what’s printed on the sleeve or CD insert. Moreover, all five of the ‘Tony Martin Era’ albums that followed are also Iommi solo albums. Aren’t they? When the musicians who contribute to an album aren’t properly credited; when the recording line-up is different than the touring line-up, and when the list of players in your ‘band’ changes each album/year in an never-ending revolving door of musicians, putting even Rainbow to shame… That’s not a band. So let’s call these records what they are: solo albums.

Another Deep Purple singer, Glenn Hughes sang on ‘Seventh Star’, but was fired 5 dates into the world tour and replaced by the unknown Ray Gillen. That’s Gillen with an ‘E’. Eric Singer and Dave ‘The Beast’ Spitz played drums and bass. That Spitz gets to forever promote himself as a ‘former member of Black Sabbath’ simply because Warners forced the Sabbath name onto the record irks me to no end. And what’s the real difference between ‘Seventh Star’ and the five ‘Black Sabbath’ albums that followed? Not much.

Spitz was replaced by Bob Daisley after the first sessions for the next album ‘The Eternal Idol’. Daisley also wrote the album’s lyrics, but Ray Gillen quit shortly after recording them. New recruit Tony Martin then recorded new vocal tracks. Bev Bevan and Geezer Butler returned to the band for the tour, but Butler quit after learning that the band were booked to play in South Africa (wtf?), and was replaced by Jo Burt. Then Bevan was out, swiftly replaced by former Clash drummer Terry Chimes…! As I said, fucking circus. ‘The Eternal Idol’ would be the last ‘Black Sabbath’ album for both Warner Brothers and Vertigo, as the labels dropped the ‘band’ after 18 years. It would be the last ‘Black Sabbath’ record released on a major label for 25 years.

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‘Headless Cross’ appeared in 1989 on I.R.S. Records. Chimes was out, Cozy Powell was in. Jo Burton was out, Lawrence Cottle was in, but only for the album; Neil Murray played bass on the tour. Murray stuck around for the next album, ‘TYR’, as did Powell and Martin. The album featured lyrics about Norse mythology; the cover featured Nordic runes that for some strange reason spell out ‘TMR’. Someone didn’t do their homework. Lyrics about Norse mythology? Hey, ‘Born Again’ haters: how you like me now?

in 1992, Geezer, Ronnie Dio and Vinnie Appice were coaxed back into the fold, reuniting the 1982 ‘Mob Rules’ line-up for ‘Dehumanizer’. Thankfully, this record breathed a little life into the tired Sabbath carcass with a pile of strong songs and a successful tour. ‘Dehumanizer’ entered the UK Top Forty and hit #44 in the US. But is this the 16th Black Sabbath album? Or is it the second ‘Heaven and Hell’ album?

Ronnie Dio left again, after refusing to appear with Sabbath as support for Ozzy Osbourne’s two ‘final’ shows in November; Dio called Ozzy a ‘clown’ and quit. This turn of events led to Rob Halford, who had just recently departed Judas Priest, being drafted at the last minute to sing both sets. Everyone involved acknowledges that there was talk of Halford joining the band permanently. How amazing would that have been? Halford fronting Sabbath, looking all Anton LaVey, with a vocal range the band’s previous few singers could only dream of… And he certainly would have nailed it in the lyrics department. But it didn’t happen; surely he was touched by Sharon Osbourne’s Hand of Doom. On the second of those two shows in Costa Mesa, Ward, Butler and Iommi joined Ozzy at the end of his set and played four songs as Black Sabbath. And this led to …absolutely nothing.

Iommi assembled yet another line-up, finally convincing Geezer to stick around and reactivating Tony Martin. Bobby Rondinelli was hired on as drummer. ‘Cross Purposes’ featured cover art blatantly stolen from Scorpions’ ‘Send me an Angel’ single from three years earlier. As the Sabbath circus lurched through 1994, Rondinelli quit and was replaced by Bill Ward for the final five shows of the tour. Immediately after the tour ended, Geezer left again, forming GZR; their debut album contained a song called ‘Giving up the Ghost’, which featured the following lyrics:

“You plagiarized and parodied the magic of our meaning/A legend in your own mind, left all your friends behind/You can’t admit that you’re wrong, the spirit is dead and gone”

Ward also quit. Iommi called Cozy Powell and Neil Murray back, which resulted in a reunion of the ‘TYR’ line-up (yay?). But none could foresee that right around the corner lurked the worst nightmare ever conjured under the name of Black Sabbath… ‘Forbidden’.

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Some context: The mid-’90s were not exactly kind to ‘old school’ metal bands. I’ve written previously about the struggles of bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in this time period, and steering the SS Sabbath through these Grunge-infested waters couldn’t have been easy. The sad truth is, in the late 80s and throughout the 90s, several bands were utilizing the classic Sabbath sound, at times sounding more like Black Sabbath than Iommi’s ‘Black Sabbath’ records did. Corrosion of Conformity, Trouble, Electric Wizard, Cathedral, Candlemass, and others all clearly worshipped at the altar of the Original Six, while Iommi seemed stuck on plodding rehashes of ‘Heaven and Hell’.

By the time of ‘Forbidden’, Iommi had tired of keeping the Sabbath flag flying single-handedly and was eager to take get a full-on Black Sabbath reunion underway. A return to the original Sabbath line-up had been in the planning stages since Ozzy’s 1992’s Costa Mesa gigs, but Iommi was obligated to deliver one more album to I.R.S. The label knew it would be their last chance to do business with the prestigious Black Sabbath name and were ready to take some chances.

Everyone involved in this debacle should have known better. ‘Rap Sabbath’? Seriously?? The band were summoned to London for a meeting to discuss the direction of the album. Iommi was told that Sabbath needed to regain some street cred, get hip with the times, and other such bullshit. Ernie C., guitarist for Body Count, the infamous ‘metal’ band fronted by hip hop icon Ice-T, was drafted in as producer for ‘Forbidden’. That the record sounds awful is of secondary concern. The real issue here is that the the song that opens the album, ‘The Illusion of Power’, features a rap by Ice-T. Here it is again in all caps: THE SONG THAT OPENS THE ALBUM, ‘THE ILLUSION OF POWER’, FEATURES A RAP BY ICE-T. Even Tony Martin raps/speaks his verses in the song. It’s godawful. And it’s only the first song…

After the Forbidden tour, Iommi was, once again, the last Sab standing. Since recording ‘Born Again’ in 1983, Iommi had burned through 6 drummers, 6 bass players, and 5 singers. The fact is that Ozzy Osbourne, ‘solo artist’, had more changes in his line-up between 1983 and 1995 than Black Sabbath, the ‘band’. Take that, Blackmore! Rather than gather another bunch of hired hands (who was left? Rudy Sarzo? Tommy Aldridge? Oh no, no, please God help me!) he wisely opted to put the Sabbath name on hold and until the inevitable reunion. You know, the reunion that started coming together at the Costa Mesa gigs in 1992; the reunion that, according to Iommi’s book, ‘Iron Man’, was being ‘managed’ by Sharon Osbourne?

Here’s how a snapshot of Sharon’s ‘management strategy’: After the band first reunited for Ozzy’s ‘final shows’, six years passed before the original Black Sabbath met with Rick Rubin to discuss an album and then entered the studio to write new material… but Sharon put everything on hold so she could turn her husband into a clown on TV. Ronnie Dio warned us of the danger! Because making herself a TV star by whoring out her family and presenting Ozzy to the world as a mindless drug-addled idiot was more important than a new Black Sabbath album. So talking, planning and writing was as close as we ever got.

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Today, 17 years later, we’re no closer. In fact, at this point, it may never happen. The Dio-era line-up, reunited as Heaven and Hell, wrote 3 new songs for a comp, then recorded a new album, and toured the world twice, all in just 4 years. Sharon has had 23 years to put a reunion together with all four original members of Black Sabbath. The original Black Sabbath only worked together for 8 of those years, and under Sharon’s ‘management’ were only able to produce one proper tour, a few jaunts as part of Ozzfest, one live album, and one recording of one new song. It’s almost as if she’s been working to prevent a reunion from ever happening. Hmm…

To my mind, the epic Black Sabbath run can be broken into three distinct ‘eras’: the ‘Original Six/Subsequent Six’ era, the ‘Tony Iommi Solo Albums’ era, and the ‘Sharon Osbourne-Controlled, Utterly Fruitless, Nearly-Twenty-Year, So-Called Reunion’ era. That third period is the longest of the three. Thirty years after ‘Never Say Die!’; I’m thinking that, all things considered, maybe it would’ve been OK to say ‘Die’ after all.

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Three Great Albums That Sound Like Shit

Blue Oyster Cult’s first three albums: A masterclass in 70’s hard rock songwriting and tasteful playing, equal parts nuance and bombast, delivered with both menace with considerable wit. But let’s face it: they sound like shit. Words like ‘thin’, ‘flat’, and ‘tepid’ are often used to describe the sound quality of these records. Imagine the impact this trio of albums would have had if they shared the production value of other contemporary US hard rock bands; say, Aerosmith or Montrose. Methinks BOC would have had a much better chance of achieving their initial goal of becoming ‘The American Black Sabbath’ had these records sounded like what they looked like.

The sub-par sound doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of these records at all; in fact, ‘Secret Treaties’ is one of my top three favorite albums of all time. Production value is only one element of a record’s overall success; if the songwriting’s great, and the playing’s stellar, it’s easy to overlook a record’s sonic shortcomings. Most of us grew up listening to badly-produced records before we really knew or cared about the sound quality of the music we listened to. Some of us still don’t care. I do; when I hear a record like ‘Tyranny and Mutation’, and those crazy, crafty and cryptic tunes, I hear a missed opportunity; I want it to knock me flat on my ass, but it just doesn’t have the visceral impact that it could.

Of course this is all just my opinion. In my own musical universe, there are a handful of albums that frustrate me endlessly because, to my mind, the sonics just don’t live up to the caliber of the material or the level of the performances. But I get it: inadequate budgets, inexperienced producers, bad decisions and drugs happen. Truth be told, I wouldn’t change a single second of any of these records… I love them all dearly… But it’s hard not to lament what might have been. Here are my three favorite examples:

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Kiss/Hotter Than Hell
So many things went wrong for Kiss in 1974, it’s a wonder they made it to ’75. Sales of the debut failed to live up to expectations, so a mere six months after the release of their debut, their label, Casablanca, pulled them off the road and shoved them back into the studio for a quick follow-up. The production duo of Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise were again tapped to produce, but had both moved to California, so the four New Yorkers flew to sunny Los Angeles to record their all-important 2nd record. The project was regarded by Casablanca as ‘make or break’; not only for Kiss, but for the label as well. The fledgling label had just lost it’s distribution deal with Warner Brothers Records, and Warner’s promotional budget with it. A lot was riding on this record…

Several books have been written on the early days of Kiss, including biographies by all four members. Each tells the same story about how difficult the sessions for ‘Hotter than Hell’ were: the band hated LA, Kerner and Wise hated the studio, Ace wrecked his rental car and was injured, Paul Stanley’s custom-made Flying V was stolen on the day the sessions began. Wah. None of this had anything to do with why this record sounds like a garbage can filled with forks rolling down a stairwell. The real culprits were Kerner and Wise.

While the pair had done a decent job on Kiss’ debut, Wise wanted to move the band’s sound in a different direction. Hoping to better align their music with their image, Wise planned to move the band away from their rock n roll core and toward a heavier, more menacing sound. This was Stupid Idea #1. Stupid Idea #2 was to record everything ‘hot’, meaning distorted, needle-in-the-red ‘hot’. As in ‘Hotter Than Hell’. Get it? Wise stated in the book “Kiss: Behind the Mask” that ‘It’s the worst-sounding album I ever recorded. It was overly compressed and overdriven. I’ll take the blame for wanting to make it heavy and distorted… The intent was to make a Black Sabbath kind of sounding record, but it just didn’t pan out sonically.’ He also called it ‘…very harsh and just disgusting.’ Paul Stanley’s bio also acknowledges that the distortion in the recording was intended.

Several songs on ‘Hotter than Hell’ have risen from the murk and gone on to become bona fide Kiss Klassics; a testament to the strength of the material. Unfortunately this clusterfuck recording renders them almost unlistenable. Even with huge advances in recording technology, this recording simply cannot be fixed. When Kiss put out their ‘Double Platinum’ best-of in 1978, most of the songs included were remixed, but the two from HtH were not… because it wouldn’t have helped. The distorted signal that Wise was after is printed on the original tapes, and it’s there to stay. The Kiss catalog was remastered in 1997, allowing Kiss fans to hear this godawful sludgy mess with crystal clarity.

The Kiss story almost ended right there in the control room of Village Recorders in West Los Angeles, California. ‘Hotter Than Hell’ flopped hard, peaking on the charts even lower than the debut. After the failure of HtH, Kiss faced losing their recording contract, and Casablanca faced bankruptcy. Four months later, Kiss was once again forced off the road and into the studio. Dressed to Kill was Kiss’ third album in 13 months, was NOT produced by Kerner and Wise, and peaked at #32. The rest is history.

Rainbow-Rising

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What could one say about Rainbow’s 1976 classic, ‘Rising’, that hasn’t already been said? How about this: ‘It sounds like shit.’ Some of Metal’s greatest performers deliver some of their strongest performances here, and there’s a handful of indisputably classic songs on hand (side two is flawless). However, all of the epic grandeur of Blackmore/Dio’s finest hour (34 minutes, actually) is buried in a resoundingly flat, one-dimensional mix, devoid of any discernable bottom end, and utterly lacking the clarity and depth that this material calls for. The strength of the songs and the musicianship shines through, making this record an absolute classic of the genre… But sonically, it sucks.

‘Rising’ was recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany; same studio that hosted the ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ sessions a year earlier. Martin Birch helmed both records. So how come the sonics on ‘Rising’ are so… crappy? Well… Birch’s initial mix (completed in LA) was rejected by the band’s label as being ‘too bass-heavy’, and the album was remixed (in NY). It’s the NY remix of the record that was pressed onto plastic. What went wrong here? Cozy Powell sounds like he’s playing in a separate room; bassist Jimmy Bain in another zip code. Dio’s vocals sound phoned-in… literally. In the louder, busier passages (and what’s HM if not loud n’ busy), the sound dissolves into an annoying grey mess.

Things were rectified somewhat in 1986, with ‘Rising’s first appearance on CD. Birch’s original LA mix was utilized when the record was mastered, as Polydor were unable to locate the master tapes of the NY mix. This version of the album sounds pretty great, with Bain’s bass loud and clear, Dios vox are warmer and several layers of guitar and keyboard overdubs apparent that were barely audible on the NY mix. This version was available commercially for a little over a decade, until Polydor remastered the entire Rainbow catalog in 1999.

‘Rising’s ’99 remaster utilized Birch’s NY remix… But how, if the original tapes weren’t available? The mastering engineers at Polydor utilized the ‘needle-drop’ method; they used a vinyl copy of the album, plus tons of noise reduction and digital tweaking. This was done mainly so the label could market the remaster as the ‘original mix’. But the original ‘original’ mix was in fact the LA mix… Are ya confused yet? The ’99 remaster does sound decent, considering it’s source material. Thankfully, this epic saga has a happy ending.

In 2011, 35 years after the album’s original release, a Deluxe Edition of Rainbow’s ‘Rising’ was issued in a two-CD set. Both the NY and LA versions are featured, both newly mastered, providing nerds like me a great way to compare both mixes. The remaster of Birch’s original LA mix wins hands-down. On disc 2, a rough mix of the entire album is included, and even it sounds better than the NY remix ordered by the label. Moral of the story? Don’t mess with a Martin Birch Mix. Perhaps the Mystery of the New York Mix will be explained in Birch’s book…

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UFO/Obsession
Okay, this one’s probably just personal preference.

UFO’s fifth Schenker-riffic album, Obsession, contains some of the greatest lead guitar playing of the 1970’s. To capture it, producer Ron Nevison located a disused post office building just outside of Los Angeles, set up Schenker’s favorite 50-watt Marshall head on top of 2 a Marshall 4×12 cabinet and let the German genius wail away at will into the cavernous space. The sublime tone and fiery attack of Schenker’s lead work never sounded better.

Nevison’s approach to recording the rhythm guitar tracks was a bit different. The famed British producer had previously produced and/or engineered records by The Who, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and The Rolling Stones, so nobody argued when the legendary producer set up microphones around a Pignose amplifier.

The ‘Pignose’ amplifier is a small, portable, battery-operated 5-watt amp that employs a single 5-inch speaker. It was created as a practice amp that could be used in a variety of places and situations without having to plug in to a power outlet. The Pignose ‘sound’ at it’s best is a mid-to-high end processed fuzz/crunch; nasal and treble-y, but certainly decent enough for warming up backstage or practicing quietly at home without disturbing Mom and Dad. But when it comes to 70s Hard Rock, isn’t disturbing Mom and Dad mandatory?

To these ears, the rhythm guitars on ‘Obsession’ sound barely demo-worthy. The riffs written into the harder songs sound limp, fuzzy… almost comical. The Pignose was used by Nevison on UFO’s previous album ‘Lights Out’, but merely as one more guitar sound for that record’s expansive sonic palate. On ‘Obsession’, the Pignose’s signature ‘sound’ is harnessed and expressly highlighted, removing the crunch and punch from some potentially monstrous riffs and creating several infuriating moments of near-parody, subverting the very idea of riff rock itself. Perhaps Nevison was aiming to play with the contrast between the two sounds; it doesn’t work.

Where the Pignose works well is in the record’s quieter moments; the li’l champ adds some textured delicacy to the chorus of ‘Born to Lose’ and to the intro to ‘I Ain’t No Baby, as well as some brassy, trumpet-like sass to ‘Lookin’ Out for No. 1 (Reprise)’. But Oh, how I would LOVE to hear the balls-out rockers like ‘Hot n’ Ready’, ‘Pack It Up (and Go)’, or ‘One more for the Rodeo’ played through Schenker’s own equipment, or maybe (since we’re daydreaming here) through brother Rudy’s Scorps gear. Imagine if the Mad Axeman had rejected that rizzy little box with the Radio Shack speaker, and instead tore into ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ with the ‘post office’ set-up… Talk about ‘going postal’!

The Greatest Car Accident EVER

In July of 1969, the Jeff Beck Group split after two successful and groundbreaking albums for CBS. Singer Rod Stewart joined bassist Ron Wood (yes, you read that right, ‘bassist’) in a revamped version of the Small Faces. Beck was immediately approached by the Rolling Stones to replace Mick Taylor, but declined the offer. Jeff Beck had other plans: a team-up with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, formerly the rhythm section of American psychedelic rockers Vanilla Fudge. While Beck waited for the Fudge to wrap up their touring commitments, fate intervened… in the form of a car accident.

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It’s well known that iconic guitarist Jeff Beck’s other great passion is for American hot rods; The guitarist has amassed a collection of over 30, and has built or modified many of them himself over the course of his almost 50-year career. Beck also has a history of car wrecks (3), and was once sidelined for several months after crushing his thumb under a car he was restoring. Maybe not the best hobby for one of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

One of Beck’s wrecks occurred On November 5th, 1969, when he crashed a car near Maidstone, in Kent, about 30 miles south of London. He suffered a fractured skull in the accident, forcing him to put all musical activity on hold for nearly 18 months. Bogert & Appice elected not to wait for Beck’s skull to mend, and quickly moved on to seek out new opportunities. What they came up with was pretty damn amazing. In fact, Jeff Beck’s November ’69 car wreck accidentally resulted in a whole pile of damn amazing.

Bogert & Appice formed Cactus. The pair wasted no time recruiting ex-Detroit Wheels/Buddy Miles guitarist Jim McCarty, a smokin’ player who blazes a burning trail through the first three Cactus albums. I mean, this guy is on fire; a criminally overlooked player. Also brought aboard was Rusty Day, ex-Amboy Dukes lead vocalist. Day sang on the the Dukes’ 1969 ‘Migration’ album. Rusty Day was the real deal. A true rock and roll character, Day had a bluesy authenticity in his ragged but soulful vocals, and could play the hell out of a harmonica. He was also a drug dealer, and wasn’t afraid to write songs about it. When these two badass players teamed with the superhuman rhythm section of Appice and Bogert, the result was truly monstrous.

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Simply put, the first 3 Cactus albums ‘Cactus’ (1970), ‘One Way …Or Another’ and ‘Restrictions’ (both 1971) kick ass. All 3 records are essential to understanding the history of American heavy metal, as Cactus almost single-handedly held up the US end of 1969/1970’s heavy metal explosion. Unfortunately, it was the British bands that got all of the attention, and Cactus were completely overshadowed by the Sabbath/Purple/Zeppelin triumvirate. In fact, none of the few heavy American bands at the beginning of the decade worthy of mention (Dust?) made any lasting impact. There are, however, so many Van Halen-isms on Cactus’ first 3 albums, that we know somebody was listening…

So: There’s 3 great albums (and one truly awesome band) that never would have happened unless Jeff Beck smashed up his car. But what of Becks own trajectory? After his noggin healed up, Beck put together a second version of The Jeff Beck Group, and released 2 albums, ‘Rough and Ready’ and ‘The Jeff Beck Group’. Both records stray a little too far into jazz/R&B/soul territory for my tastes (head injuries are unpredictable things), so I’m not going to call these albums great, but Beck gets extra points here for introducing the world to Cozy Powell.

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In mid-’72 Beck broke up his namesake band once again, and reached out to Bogert and Appice to give their previously planned collaboration another go. Cactus, who had recorded an awful fourth record sans-McCarty/Day, dissolved just a few weeks after Beck’s band (amazing coincidence!), and so the duo was available. Beck Bogert & Appice finally happened. Bogert and Appice toured the US with Beck and 2 ex-Jeff Beck Group members to fulfill JBG touring obligations, and by December of ’72, Beck Bogert & Appice were finally in the studio recording their debut album… 3 years and 6 albums after forming.

The result? a solid slab of tasty seventies rock, running the gamut from freight train heavy (‘Lose Myself With You’) to laid back melodic balladry (‘Sweet Surrender’), and topped off with a ton-of-bricks cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ and Cactus-soundalike ‘Livin’ Alone’. Beck makes contributed a rare lead vocal to ‘Black Cat Moan’, but the real surprise here is that Carmine Appice handles the bulk of the vocals and is a more than capable lead singer. Bogert sings a bit and is no slouch either. There’s no new musical ground broken here, where there might have been if this band was able to record together in 1969, but ‘BB&A’ is an enjoyable detour on Jeff Beck’s highly unpredictable career path. Perhaps a second record would have been a little more daring?

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Well… There actually was a second record… almost, as Beck mysteriously quit BB&A during the recording of their second album. The record was finished but never mixed, and has never been released officially. It has been available for decades as a bootleg, often called ‘Working Version’ (sometimes referred to as ‘At Last Rainbow’, as it was often tacked onto a boot featuring a live radio broadcast from the Rainbow Theatre in London on January 26, 1974). And guess what? It’s a bunch more adventurous than the first record, and also significantly more hard-rockin’. Odd time signatures abound, Bogert’s bass sounds like nothing else ever heard before, and compositional experiments such as ‘Solid Lifter’ and ‘Livin’ Life Backwards’ work really well. Add a little muscular prog-funk, and you’ve got a lost record that deserves rediscovery. I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: It’s a better album than the debut. Of course it is!

Then there’s the matter of BB&A’s double live album, recorded in 1973 while on tour in Japan before sessions for the second album began. Since the record was only released in Japan, and only after the band had ceased to exist, it’s relatively unknown outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s a shame; ‘Beck Bogert and Appice Live in Japan’ was a great summation of Beck’s post-crash career up to that point, as it includes songs from the second version of the Jeff Beck Group, both BB&A albums, and even a nod to Vanilla Fudge’s version of ‘Shotgun’. Of historical note: Beck plays a Heil ‘Talkbox’ on this album, two years before Peter Frampton popularized the apparatus (always wanted to use that word) on his ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’ album.

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So: that’s a total of six great albums that one could reasonably argue are a direct result of Jeff Beck’s questionable driving skills. Cactus would never have existed, and the three BB&A records would never have been recorded; we can be sure that the record(s) that the trio would have recorded 3 years earlier would have been significantly different from the lps that we got in ’73/’74. Guitar greats Ace Frehley and Joe Perry have wrecked countless cars, and were lucky to walk away with bodies/careers intact, but none of their mishaps resulted in such an accidental bounty of great rock n roll. So let’s all recognize this ‘head injury as career move’ incident as yet another facet of Jeff Beck’s genius. I can’t recommend this strategy to others, but I will admit it’s sometimes fun to imagine certain musicians driving into trees at high speeds.

 

‘Snakebitten

Rainbow, Gillan, and Whitesnake: three bands that filled the void between Deep Purple’s 1976 break-up and the Mk II reunion in 1984. All achieved great success in the UK and Europe, with charting albums & singles, Gold records, TV appearances, etc. However, while Gillan (the band) never made any serious waves on this side of the pond, Rainbow and Whitesnake did. Blackmore and Co. did it the old fashioned way: touring America incessantly in the late 70’s, and later retooling their sound for FM radio. The story of Whitesnake’s road to fame and fortune in the US is a tragic one. If handled differently, Whitesnake could have been another Bad Company, maybe even an Aerosmith. But sadly, this was not to be. In an effort to break into the lucrative American market, Whitesnake dove headlong into the empty glitz and glam of the of the MTv era. When the dust settled, we’d lost another fine band in the great Hair Metal Wars of the 1980’s.

Whitesnake had evolved out of the post-Purple career of David Coverdale, who, after 2 solo albums, decided to make a go of it with a proper band. ‘David Coverdale’s Whitesnake’ debuted with the ‘Snakebite’ E.P. in 1978, and by their third album, had absorbed former Purps Ian Paice and Jon Lord into their ranks. Alas, almost five years/albums into their career, despite major success in Britain, a breakthrough in the States continued to elude a band that was three fifths Deep Purple Mk III. Guitarist Mickey Moody, frustrated that a band with several Gold records could be 20,000 pounds in debt, quit the band near the end of sessions for Whitesnake’s fifth lp ‘Saints an’ Sinners’. The Coverdale/Marsden/Moody triumvirate was no more.

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David Coverdale knew some major changes needed to be made if the band were to break outside of the UK. The singer abruptly called a halt to the recording sessions and put the band ‘on hold’ in an effort to cut ties with manager John Coletta. During this enforced hiatus, guitarist Bernie Marsden left the band, as did the rhythm section of Niel Murray and Ian Paice. David Coverdale and Jon Lord were the last ‘Snakes standing…

So ‘Saints an’ Sinners’ sat unfinished for most of 1982. By the end of the year, Coverdale was managing Whitesnake himself, and had rebuilt the band from scratch. The new ‘Snake was comprised of bassist Colin Hodgkinson, ex-Trapeze guitarist Mel Galley, and Cozy Powell. Not exactly blooz-rawk legends… Recognizing this, Coverdale invited Micky Moody and his down-and-dirty slide guitar back to the band. Moody accepted.

As it turned out, all the unfinished ‘Saints…’ album needed was backing vocals, so Moody and Galley contributed vox and the sessions were wrapped. (Some believe the album was actually finished, with Coverdale holding the completed record hostage during his efforts to separate the band from Coletta.) ‘Saints an’ Sinners’, recorded by a version of Whitesnake that no longer existed, hit #9 in the UK. The record, um, missed thd charts completely; this latest failure of Whitesnake to crack the American market infuriated the band’s new manager…

Just before starting work on album #6, Coverdale scored a major record label upgrade, moving the band in the US from Atlantic to Geffen. The band began recording a new album in earnest. If anyone could guide Whitesnake to their US breakthrough, it was proven starmaker David Geffen. Geffen often acted as career advisor to the artists on his label, with outstanding results. What would this new high-powered ally advise Whtesnake’s new management?

Mickey Moody, back in the band he helped found, felt like a stranger in a strange land. Throughout the recording, Moody sensed his time was short. While on tour with Thin Lizzy in 1983, Coverdale struck up a ‘friendship’ with guitarist John Sykes, while Moody’s own friendship with the vocalist had all but evaporated. After a backstage incident between Moody, Coverdale and Sykes, Mickey decided to once again quit the band. He called a meeting to make his announcement, which everyone in the band attended… except singer/manager David Coverdale. John Sykes, available after the demise of Thin Lizzy, was immediately announced as his replacement. Imagine that.

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After ‘Slide it In’ was completed, David Geffen continued to work his magic behind the scenes. Geffen demanded the record be remixed for the US market. He also demanded that new guitarist John Sykes overdub guitars, and that Hodgkinson’s bass be re-recorded by ex-member Niel Murray. The resultant album is not really much different, with all of Moody and Galley’s work intact; Sykes’ more 80’s guitar tone is apparent but not obtrusive (though Murray’s new bass tracks were a vast improvement over Hodgkinson’s). The real difference would be in how the album looked on TV.

Both promotional videos for the ‘Slide’ album featured only Coverdale, Sykes, Murray and Powell (oh– and bimbos; lots of bimbos). Jon Lord had left to take part in Deep Purple’s Mk II reunion; Mel Galley had injured his arm and would never fully recover, forcing him to leave the band. New boy Sykes was now the band’s sole guitarist. Once again, the band people would experience would be vastly different than the one that wrote and recorded the music they were hearing. And so we see John Sykes pretending to play Micky Moody’s classic slide guitar parts, as well as Mel Galley’s solo on ‘Slow and Easy’ (Moody’s slide solo was edited out of the video). Sykes looks positively dreamy aping Galley’s solo in ‘Love Ain’t no Stranger’. And from the looks of the video, no one was playing the keybords.

Whitesnake’s new front line looked great in the videos, if you liked hair… and apparently America did. ‘Slide’ reached the American Top 40, a feat that no Whitesnake album before it had achieved. How? What was the difference between ‘Slide it In’ and all previous Whitesnake albums? Presentation. David Geffen knew what was coming. He knew that what music looked like would be just as important as what it sounded like to rock fans in the age of MTv. And let’s face it, Micky Moody, with his ever-present stovepipe hat and questionable facial hair, was hardly a match for the flowing locks and heroic posing of John Sykes. Geffen helped revamp Whitesnake for the MTv generation, and it worked. ‘Side it In’ went Gold in America, and Whitesnake had planted one foot firmly on the road to Hair Metal. David Geffen’s impact and influence on Whitesnake was undeniable, and after the success of ‘Slide’ he urged the band to ‘start taking America seriously’. Uh-oh.

It took Coverdale and Co. took more than three years to complete a follow up to ‘Slide’, mostly becasuse, as a band, Whitesnake was a mess. Cozy Powell quit after the last date on the ‘Slide’ tour, and was replaced by Aisnley Dunbar.
The Coverdale/Sykes writing partnership yielded two hits in ‘Still of the Night’ and ‘Is This Love’… but not much else. Unimpressed with bulk of the writing, producers Mike Stone and Lieth Olsen suggested re-recording earlier Whitesnake UK hit singles ‘Here I Go Again’, and ‘Crying in the Rain’. Then Coverdale developed a serious sinus infection, forcing the band into another extended hiatus. Sykes actually urged the band to replace Coverdale (!!!), which led to his firing by the band’s manage(Coverdale!)ment. Adrian Vandenberg was hired to replace Sykes. This was no longer a band, it was a goddamn soap opera.

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By the time the ‘Whitesnake’ album was released, Coverdale had rebuilt Whitesnake yet again, with Tommy Aldridge, Vivian Campbell, Rudy Sarzo (oh, for Christ’s sake!) and the aforementioned Vandenberg. What is this– Rainbow??. Nobody in this line up (except Covs) wrote or recorded any of the music they were fronting. And how ironic seeing Adrian Vandenberg ‘play’ John Sykes’ guitar parts in the videos for ‘Still of the Night’ and ‘Is This Love’… Somewhere, Micky Moody was smiling.

The ‘Whitesnake’ album defied all logic and was a smash hit everywhere. Riding high on the the Hair Metal wave, it charted higher in the US than in the UK, eventually selling 8 million copies, and pulled it’s predecessor from Gold to Double Platinum status. And the most important factor in this album’s success was not even a musician: Tawny Kitaen, Queen of the Video Bimbos. You know it’s true.

The transformation was complete: from a solid band of bluesy hard rockers to glam metal fops in just three albums. Whitesnake had reached its goal of conquering America. But mega success like this does not come without a price. Whitesnake’s road to success in America was littered with bitter ex-members, covert machinations and ridiculous videos. A once-great band had sold out and become a revolving door of hired hands with big names, big hair, but no soul. There would be one more Whitesnake record (featuring Steve Vai on guitar… the polar opposite of Micky Moody; look it up) before Coverdale folded the band ‘for good’. Some consider this to be the wisest management decision David Coverdale ever made.