Year of the Gatefold

Ah, the live album. The gatefold sleeve, plastered with tons of live pics of your favorite band, holding four sides of music recorded live on stage, where it really mattered, performing before an audience of worshiping fans. The best live records drop you in the front row, where the thick, humid air smells like a mixture of weed, puke, and sweat; where your ears take a pounding from a PA system bigger than your house as the crackle and pop of firecrackers echoes through the arena. Some say that the 1970s was the Decade of the Live Album, and if any single year should hold that same distinction, it’s got to be 1978, when an unprecedented number of live sets arrived in record stores (remember them?) to add color to the soundtrack of our youth.
Call it The Frampton Effect. ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’, Peter Frampton’s 1976 double-live release, spawned 2 hit singles and topped the Billboard charts for a whopping 10 weeks, and went on to become the best-selling album of that year. The record remained in the Top 100 for 97 weeks, well into 1977. Live albums by Bob Seger, The J. Geils Band, Joe Walsh, and Rush also reached deep into the Top 40 in 1976. The success of these records had a significant impact on the industry. And in the world of pure Hard Rock, the Top Ten success of Kiss and their ‘Alive!’ and ‘Kiss Alive II’ albums was also hard to ignore.
At a time when the rockers of the era were struggling mightily to get on the radio, the monster success of Frampton’s live album suggested there might be another way to break through. The Record companies saw the gazillions being made from records that cost relatively little to record. And so mobile recording units rolled out for virtually every tour that hit the road in 1977; those recordings would bear fruit the following year. Notable live records from Alice Cooper, Rainbow and Foghat appeared in ’77, but the sheer number of HR/HM live albums released in 1978 is stunning… I count no less than TEN significant live records hitting the market between January ’78 and January ’79.
1978 kicked off with an expanded field recording of Ted Nugent captured in the wilds of America in ’76 and ’77. Unleashed in January, ‘Double Live Gonzo!’ showcases The Nuge’s big guitars and even bigger mouth. His guitar prowess already firmly established, Terrible Ted’s live album is peppered with politically incorrect between-song raps that have become the stuff of legend (just ask Atlanta band Nashville Pussy). But the real value in ‘Gonzo’ lies in it’s capture of Nugent’s classic-era band in a live setting, and how it provides Nugent-the-guitarist the opportunity to put up or shut up… And as we know, Ted never shuts up. I remember walking around with friends, blasting this out of a portable 8-track player, feeling all badass as Nugent’s raunchy raps echoed off my neighbors’ houses.
After the Nugent extravagonzo, there came an almost 5-month lull, the calm before the storm of live releases that would hit in the second half of the year. Thin Lizzy opened the floodgates in June with ‘Live and Dangerous‘, a 2-record set that reached the #2 spot in the UK. While it’s safe to say that Nugent’s ‘Gonzo’ is 100% pure NUGE, Thin Lizzy’s ‘L&D’ is another story. Debate endures regarding just how much of this album is ‘live’… but, seriously, who cares? What matters is the end result, and ‘Dangerous’ is a worthy celebration of the Lizzy experience. Shamefully short at just 50 minutes, it’s overflowing with fantastic songs played with charisma, passion, and flair. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the show.
Recorded in Japan during guitarist Uli Roth’s final two shows with Scorpions, ‘Tokyo Tapes‘ came out in August as a Japan-only release. Nothing like waiting until the last minute to capture the Uli-era Scorps live! I didn’t catch this one until it was released domestically the following year, but when I did, mind = blown. There is some truly jaw-dropping guitar playing within these grooves, and each and every one of us should take a moment to thank their higher power that Dieter Dierks and RCA records rolled tape during Roth’s final 48 hours with the band. ‘TT’ contains some jarring edits that break the ‘concert experience’ feel, but overall this collection really cooks.
Also in August, Sammy Hagar decides to return to his monstrous Montrose roots and release a live album balls-out with scorching rockers. ‘All Night Long‘ was recorded in San Francisco, San Antonio, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica… I’m not kidding. I snapped this one up after learning that the band on the record was 3/4 of Montrose, and the track list includes two songs from the mighty Montrose debut. The Red Rocker keeps this single-disc live outing tight and punchy, and Sam reveals himself to be a smokin’ guitarist. ‘All Night’ is the first and only live album that I’m aware of where the final song fades out —while the band is still playing! Like having to leave the concert before it’s over because your ride wants to be home early.
A few weeks later in September, Blue Oyster Cult would offer up their second live album, ‘Some Enchanted Evening‘. Like Hagar, BOC would limit themselves to a single disc, and much to this young listener’s disappointment, include two covers. With a catalog as deep as BOC’s, why waste precious space on somebody else’s tunes? Where’s ‘Tattoo Vampire’? Where’s ‘The Golden Age of Leather’? And what about ‘Dominance & Submission’?? Thankfully, the stellar version of ‘Astronomy’ included is worth the price of admission all by itself. Despite the dubious song selection, ‘SEE’ would somehow become best-selling album in the Cult’s catalog. Go figure!
I remember walking into my local record store in early October and spotting Cheap Trick’s ‘Cheap Trick At Budokan‘ high on the wall behind the counter, with a $27 price sticker on it. CT had just released ‘Heaven Tonight’ in April; I was completely blindsided by this mysterious live record. ’27 bucks!?’ I exclaimed. The clerk explained that it was a Japanese import, and wasn’t coming out in the US. Shit. Somehow the 14-year old me came up with the 30 dollars (I seem to remember rolling coins…) and snagged it off the wall before anyone else did. Woohoo! ‘Budokan’ was another single-disc live record, (in a gatefold sleeve!) and featured three songs we’d never heard before. Allowance money well spent.
I have come to appreciate Aerosmith’s ‘Live! Bootleg‘, but back in October of ’78, I was disappointed. ‘Bootleg’ dispenses with the ‘concert recreation’ feel that most of the live LPs of the era went for; instead, it serves as a live retrospective, featuring recordings from as far back as 1973 and right up to March’s ‘California Jam II’ concert. It’s a mixed bag; performances by young scrappers in Boston clubs segue into recordings from the biggest stadiums on the planet, not in chronological order, all adding up to kind of a jumbled sonic documentary of the band’s heyday. Teenaged me wanted something more like what Lizzy or Cheap Trick had delivered. Still, two live albums from two of my faves in one month was pretty killer. Wait, what? THREE??
With ‘Bootleg’ and ‘Budokan’ still in heavy rotation on my turntable, Australian upstarts AC/DC joined the fray in late October with ‘If You Want Blood… You’ve Got It‘. The band had released their ‘Powerage’ album back in May and I was instantly hooked; this live album followed a mere 5 months later. Recorded at the Glasgow Apollo (see also: Status Quo’s ‘Live!’, portions of Rush’s ‘Exit: Stage Left’) before an absolutely rabid audience (ANGUS! ANGUS! ANGUS!), ‘Blood’ is a sweaty, raunchy workout that captures the band’s stage show as-is. I remember riding my bike home from the record store with this album clutched to my chest, trying not to bang it around and ding up the album cover. Which reminds me of a story…
So I’m at the record shop, and spot the record, marvel at it’s totally awesome front and back covers, and head to the front counter, where the clerk (let’s call him Steve) checks out the cover, and starts laughing. He says ‘You don’t really want to buy this piece of crap do you?’ I say, um, yeah, I do, and he starts yelling to another employee, ‘Hey man, have you seen this cover? HAWHAWHAW!!’ He looks at me once again and says ‘Really?’ Just then an older gent walks up to us (I presume was the owner or manager) and tells Steve ‘meet me out back in a minute’. Steve, with an *Oh Shit* look on his face, heads to the back room. The owner/manager rings up my sale, smiles and says ‘AC/DC! Cool!’ Never saw Steve there again. True story.
At some point in 1978 (details are scant) came a single-disc live LP from Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. This is another record that I didn’t get hip to until a few years after it’s release. Marino was largely written off as a Hendrix clone decades ago, a stigma that prevented him from ever achieving the mainstream success enjoyed by his peers… although Frank Marino is entirely without peer as a rock guitarist. This guy OWNS every other rock player of the era. On the imaginatively-titled ‘Live‘, Marino, backed by his sturdy rhythm section, blazes through hippie-trippy highlights from his catalog, then shoots himself in the foot by including a Hendrix cover. The liner notes for a 2018 re-issue claims that there are no overdubs on this puppy, but hey, who knows. Call this one Single Live Gonzo.
As if to hammer home the fact that 1978 really was the Year of the Live Album, CBS Records released ‘California Jam II‘, a selection of highlights from the second Cal Jam concert that took place back on March 18. The 2-record set included tunes from Aerosmith, Nugent, Heart and Mahogany Rush. Dave Mason, Santana, Jean Michel Jarre and Rubicon (with Jack Blades and Brad Gillis, pre-Night Ranger) also appear. (Bob Welch and Foreigner played the show, but didn’t make the record, as they were not signed to one of CBS’ labels.) But it’s the hard rockers who dominate the set, of course: Nugent gives us live versions of two songs that didn’t show on ‘Gonzo’, Aerosmith gift us with one that didn’t make ‘Bootleg’, and Marino wipes the floor with all the other guitar slingers on the bill. Worth hunting down on vinyl, as the album has never been released on CD.
As if TEN live albums in one calendar year wasn’t enough, the Gonzo just kept on comin’, a residual effect that would carry through much of ’79. First up: I caught Cheap trick at Boston’s Orpheum Theater in December ’78, and was blown away by opener UFO. A few weeks later, I took the bus (it was January; my bike wasn’t feasible) to the record store, headed for the end of the alphabet, and found the just-released ‘Strangers in the Night‘ double album. The lineup I saw featured Paul Chapman on guitar, but ‘SITN” captures Mad Michael Schenker’s final swing with the band. An instant classic, and possibly the finest album covered here. A shame that a re-arranged re-master is the only way to purchase this album today, as the original Chrysalis version is flawless.
Also in January of ’79, Scorpions finally release ‘Tokyo Tapes’ in the US. With both Uli Roth and Michael Schenker long gone before either ‘SITN’ or ‘TT’ are released, the Scorps/UFO live albums became indispensable documents of a bygone era. Then, in early February, the suits at CBS wise up and release Cheap Trick’s ‘Cheap Trick At Budokan’ domestically as well. The Japanese version had become the biggest-selling import album of 1978, so CT’s next studio record (‘Dream Police’) was shelved to allow for ‘Budokan’s release, and the rest is history. Oh, and in April, the Ramones released the double ‘It’s Alive‘ set… but not in The States, where it wouldn’t be released until 1995 on CD.
Queen’s ‘Live Killers‘ hit the bins in June. Here again, the now-15-year-old me was a little disappointed; Queen’s studio records were so elaborately constructed that to me it didn’t sound like Queen (ex: during ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, a tape of the operatic a capella section was played after the band hastily exited the stage, and that moment plays very awkwardly on a live album). But what I grew to understand is that it does sound like Queen, as this is exactly what the band really sounds like, and in this context, stripped of the indulgent studio magic that adorned their studio records, a great live band comprised of supremely talented performers is revealed.
The Pat Travers Band kicked our asses over the summer of 79 with their single-disc live set, ‘Go For What You Know‘, and their version of ‘Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)’ became a minor radio hit. A double-disc might have been much, but would have allowed for the inclusion of PTB’s roof-raising live version of ‘Statesboro Blues’, or a live ‘Life in London’. The syngery between guitarists Travers and Thrall is stunning, and the chops on display here are phenomenal. This young lad found the myriad tones and effects the two employed positively hypnotic. But it’s not just the guitars that impress here; some of the drumming on GFWYK has to be heard to be believed. Mars was no slouch on the bass either. Where’s the expanded remaster??
This unprecedented super-cluster of live releases comes to a close in September of 79, when The Beast that is Priest release ‘Unleashed in the East‘. Live? Studio? Overdubbed vocals? Again— WHO CARES. The record is simply awesome. At the time, this was the heaviest metal I had ever heard. This single-disc wonder should have been– and could have been –released as a double album, had all the bonus tracks and B-sides culled from the same shows been utilized. As-is, this record explodes with state-of the art, pure of heart, flag waving HEAVY METAL, released at a time when it was definitely not cool to be tagged as such.
WOW. Fifteen live albums from just about all of my favorite bands in a year and a half! You couldn’t leave your house without stepping on a live album. It was almost as if Heavy Metal’s underlying strategy was to ‘wait out’ Punk Rock; that the hard rockers of the era conspired together to take some time off and reassess. Whatever the reason, this deluge of live gonzo makes 1978 (and half of ’79) a standout year in 70s Metal, despite the fact that the rest of the music world was preoccupied with either Punk or Disco, and most critics and journos had decided that Metal was over… One month after the release of ‘Unleashed in the East’, the cover of the Oct ’79 issue of CREEM Magazine blared: “Is Heavy Metal Dead?” No, stupid, Heavy Metal is LIVE!

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The Gift and the Curse of James Marshall Hendrix

Virtually every rock guitarist of the 70s era was influenced somehow or another by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix defined rock guitar for the ensuing decade, exploring possibilities and expanding its parameters like no one before him. Agreed? Great.

Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth shredder) recently caused a minor stir when he stated that he ‘never got’ Jimi Hendrix, and further stating that he always found Jimi’s music ‘primitive’. He says he ‘grew up really loving Frank Marino, Uli Roth and Robin Trower’, which loosely translates to ‘I like Hendrix-inspired music, but not Hendrix’s music itself’. It’s a generational thing; those who weren’t able to experience the whole Experience experience got to experience it some years later through musicians directly inspired by Jimi. Hendrix left us just as the decade began, but his music was alive and well throughout the 1970’s, interpreted and re-expressed by others. Here’s how Jimi’s spirit survived his passing, threading through the work of three phenomenally gifted musicians…

Robin Trower
As a member of Procul Harum, Robin Trower played several shows opening for Hendrix in 1970, including The Isle of Wight Festival and the Sept. 4 gig in Berlin. Hendrix died two weeks later; when Trower heard the news, he decided to write a song for Jimi. Trower studied Henrdix’s records for a few days, in order to become more acquainted with his playing, and wrote ‘Song for a Dreamer’, which became the final track on Trower’s last album with Procol Harum, ‘Broken Barricades’. Trower had already been a fan, enthralled as he watched Hendrix from the side of the stage each night on tour. But after studying Hendrix’s style for ‘Dreamer’, Trower’s approach to the guitar was changed forever. He traded in his Les Paul for a white Strat and left Procol Harum for a solo career.

Early Trower channeled the blues/funk/soul elements of Hendrix’s sound. He often drenched his lead playing in effects, but never lost that raw, emotive Strat tone. Check out the intro to ‘Victims of the Fury’, from the 1979 album of the same name, for a sublime example of the kind of atmosphere Trower can summon with his artistic use of effects. His solos can achieve the timbre and cadence of the human voice, meandering in and out of time while searching for hidden microtones. When Eddie Van Halen arrived in 1978, quickly overshadowing the previous generation of guitar heroes, someone wrote to Guitar Player magazine defending the old school, stating (I’m paraphrasing) ‘These new hot shots need a million notes to say what Robin Trower can say with just one’. True dat.

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Trower’s Hendrix leanings were both a blessing and a curse. Comparisons in the press were seldom favorable, with words like ‘mimic’ and ‘clone’ used often. But those searching for more ‘Hendrix music’ found it here. Trower’s writing and playing effectively carried Jimi’s sound forward into the world of early 1970s hard rock. In the UK, Robin Trower was hailed as the second coming; in the U.S. his 2nd LP, ‘Bridge of Sighs’ went Gold in 1974, and spent 31 weeks in the Top 100. But Trower can’t be dismissed as a mere copyist; no mere ‘clone’ could ever deliver the emotional content and depth of feeling infused within Trower’s lead playing.

‘Bridge of Sighs’ is perhaps the obvious choice of album to recommend, so I’m going to go left field and suggest ‘King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Robin Trower’, a live recording from 1977. While most of the KBFH releases are junk, I’d rate this release as the best live RT album ever. Recorded in Connecticut on the ‘In City Dreams’ tour, it features all of Trower’s strongest material to date, the production is mint, and the performances are sublime. Long out of print, but well worth hunting down. Bonus Points: Best guitar-face ever. Oh, and Robert Fripp once took lessons from him. For realz.

Uli Jon Roth
Uli Roth plays like Hendrix… If Jimi Hendrix was a vampire from Mars. Roth’s playing reimagines Hendrix as a neo-classical shredder with a psychedelic streak and technique to burn. A classically trained musician, Roth joined Germany’s Scorpions in 1974, and played up the Hendrixisms to the hilt. Roth borrowed the Aeolian mode from Ritchie Blackmore, married it to the acid rock freak-out of Jimi at his most experimental, and came up with a truly monstrous sound and style that was deeply indebted to Hendrix but also light years ahead of its time.

The four studio albums Roth recorded with Scorpions are, to this day, untouchable rock guitar showcases, thanks to Roth’s fiery playing and forward-thinking creativity. I’ll recommend ‘In Trance’ here, which showcases Uli Roth at his most face-meltingly obnoxious. No doubt this album resulted in many heads exploding back in 1975 (I can guaran-fucking-tee you that Eddie Van Halen had a few Uli Scorps albums as a teen). But over the course of the four Roth-Era studio albums, the Scorpions sound began to split into two ever-more distinct styles: the melodic but crunchy Schenker/Meine material and the Uli Roth-does-Hendrix songs; a divide most evident on Roth’s final studio album with Scorps, ‘Taken by Force’.

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Roth left Scorpions after ‘Force’ and formed Electric Sun, where he let his Hendrix flag fly. All three Electric Sun albums feature heavily orchestrated guitars, ambitious arrangements, and absolutely horrible lead vocals, all sung by the maestro himself. It must be stated here that Electric Sun’s second album, ‘Fire Wind’, contains the worst lead vocals on any rock record in my collection, often achieving extreme levels of unintentional hilarity. His occasional lead vox on Scorps albums were a tough listen, but here they come close to overshadowing Roth’s otherworldly guitaring.

Roth let his worship of Jimi Hendrix spill outside of mere guitar playing. He dressed like Jimi, and even dated Monica Danneman, who was also Hendrix’s girlfriend at the time of his death. Roth wrote several songs with Danneman, notable the outstanding ‘We’ll Burn the Sky’ from the aforementioned ‘Taken by Force’. Danneman committed suicide while living with Roth; perhaps he sings in his sleep.

Frank Marino
Frank Marino’s tale at once comic and tragic. At the age of 14, the Montreal-born Marino was hospitalized for an LSD overdose and admitted to the hospital for several weeks, with only a guitar to keep him occupied. He taught himself how to play the instrument, and at 15, started a band called Mahogany Rush. He turned 17 while in the studio recording the first MR album ‘Maxoom’. These are the elements of the story that Marino maintains are true to this very day. But back in 1972, the story was quite different…

Someone on Frank’s team; manager, agent, or perhaps the young Marino himself (although he denies this) concocted the story that Marino, while recovering from his bad trip, was visited by the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, after which Marino suddenly became a prodigy on the instrument. This myth has morphed and mutated; the version I read (in Creem Magazine!) stated that Marino ‘claimed’ that he was in a car crash and was visited by Hendrix’s ‘ghost’ while in a coma, and that Marino claimed to be ‘possessed’ by Jimi’s spirit. Even as a kid, I knew this was total horseshit. This stunt would haunt Marino and his band throughout the 70s, preventing him from being taken seriously as a musician by the mainstream press.

All of that ‘spirit’ nonsense may have garnered the young guitarist some valuable attention early on; his 2nd and 3rd LPs, ‘Child of the Novelty’ and ‘Strange Universe’, both released on Canadian indie labels, achieved his highest-ever chart placings in the U.S. But when MR was picked up by CBS, both Marino’s music and his unfortunate mythology went worldwide. The backlash came quickly. CBS hooked MR up with hard rock kings Leber-Krebs Management (Aerosmith, Ted Nugent) and secured them opening slots on many primo mid-70s tours and high profile festivals (Cal Jam II in ’78, A Day on the Green in ’79), but Marino couldn’t shake off the bad vibes from that early publicity ploy.

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Sometimes Marino was his own worst enemy. Early on, he dedicated the ‘Maxoom’ album to Hendrix and included a tribute song to Jimi (‘Buddy’), but also years later while on CBS, Frank made Jimi’s ‘Purple Haze’ and a section of ‘Machine Gun’ (retitled ‘Electric Reflections of War’) permanent parts of his live show. Moves like this didn’t make it any easier for Marino to break free of the Hendrix comparisons even as his music gradually evolved away from Jimi’s sound. By the time of 1980’s ‘What’s Next?’, the band had become a jazz-inflected heavy metal monster. The label dropped the ‘Mahogany Rush’ name and their last 2 CBS albums were released as ‘Frank Marino’ solo albums. It didn’t help sales. The ghost of Jimi still haunted.

Several generations of guitar freaks and rock critics have now come and gone, and Marino is just now starting to achieve the recognition he’s deserved for decades. Frank Marino is an absolute master of the instrument, and those who leave him out of discussions of the Great Guitar Gods of the 1970s are either woefully mistaken or willfully ignorant. As much jazz-informed as it is blues-based, Marino’s playing can be astonishingly fast and fluid, while managing somehow to be both unrelentingly fierce and impeccably tasteful. He wears his Hendrix on his sleeve, but a unique voice emerges through his stunning fluency in several different styles of guitar playing. Pick up either ‘Strange Universe’, for the prog-psych Jimi-esque side of Marino’s work, or ‘Juggernaut’, for a sample of his later, shred-tasticly metallic period.

Such is was love of Jimi Hendrix’s music and the grief over his loss that anyone stylistically similar was immediately branded a rip-off, unworthy of our respect and attention. To be sure, Trower, Roth, and Marino flew a little two close to the sun, and each of them paid a price. But by keeping the Hendrix sound alive as a genre all its own, these three were able to influence the Marty Freedman generation with their own Hendrix-infused music, which in turn speaks to the enormity of the Hendrix legacy, and of the depth and power of Jimi’s music. Hopefully Marty Friedman understands that, even if he doesn’t ‘get’ Jimi’s music, he’s been influenced by it all the same, via three gifted and creative guitarists who stood on the shoulders of a giant.