It’s 1991 and “Use Your Illusion” parts one and two have hit the charts. However it was Asphalt Ballet’s debut album that initially had the most radio take up, beating out the juggernaut that was Guns N Roses.
And what a great band name, using a police slang term for a motorcyclist crashing and skidding along the road at high speed.
Their so called overnight success was over 14 years in the making that began in different states and different cities, far removed from the Sunset Strip of LA.
Vocalist Gary Jeffries has a huge story to tell. He put in a lot of time playing the bar circuit and his origin story dates back to the Seventies. Eventually he came to L.A in the mid Eighties to audition for QUIET RIOT after original vocalist Kevin DuBrow left. He didn’t get that gig, losing out to Paul Shortino from Rough Cutt.
After that he played with guitar virtuoso Alex Masi, Passion, Baronette and Broken Rule. That eventually led to a group called Mistreated which by sheer luck rehearsed next to Jeffries other bands. Guitarists, Danny Clarke and Julius J. Ulrich along with bassist Terry Phillips and drummer Mikki Kiner all came from “Mistreated”.
And before recruiting singer Gary Jefferies in 1989, Mistreated had a Bon Jovi meets Warrant pop rock sound. As they once said, “it wasn’t a believable thing and that they were doing it make a buck.” With Jeffries in the fold, Mistreated became King Kong and then Asphalt Ballet and the sound went to a more organic southern delta blues rock vibe.
As was the norm back then, bands needed to get a buzz happening and Asphalt Ballet did just that on the Los Angeles bar circuit, which eventually got the attention of Virgin Records via a recommendation from Myron Grombacher, drummer for Pat Benatar.
Start with the debut album. They wanted to call the album “Mood Swing” and once you sink your teeth into it, that is exactly what you will get.
It was produced by Greg Edward who paid his dues as an engineer on big albums like “Scarecrow” from John Cougar Mellencamp and “Like a Rock” from Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Virgin Records released the album and it looks like they had no idea how to promote the band or the album in a changing musical landscape.
What a song and what a groove. It gets the head nodding and the foot tapping. It’s written by guitarist Danny Clarke and it’s rooted in the AC/DC style of blues rock.
“I’ve seen the system fall apart from the rules
And all our Presidents lie
I’ve seen the needle and the damage it’s done
The wreckage left behind”
The system has gotten worse and the war on drugs has been lost. We have our own democratic governments spying on us and storing our information in massive data banks.
“I’ve seen the broken dreams and broken hearts
I’ve seen the strong be cruel
I’ve seen a man driven by success
And break the golden rules”
It seems that all we read about today are people committing some form of crime. All in the name of money. The RIAA claims that they are victims of copyright infringement. Then you get the minority and the poor claim that they are victims of corrupted or over zealous law enforcement officers. And the list of injustice just goes on and on. All the name of money.
Instead of singing “WAR, WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?”, the catch cry of 2014 should be “MONEY, WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?”
It’s the complete opposite of “Soul Survive” and this one is written by guitarist Julius Ulrich. It’s the Yang to Clarke’s Yin.
“As I wait for my new high
And sit on my mood swing
And drift out like the tide
Into the deep blue sea”
That’s what life in general is all about. Mood swings and reactions that move us about each day.
“End Of My Rope”
Another melancholic rocker written by Julius Ulrich.
“Well it’s a ruthless world with a painted face
Ain’t nothin’ gonna change but the time and place”
Aint that the truth. Different cities and different people all over the world are experiencing the same pain. Heartbreak, the loss of a loved one and so on.
“Winners and losers, beggars and choosers
Talkers, doers lost in illusion
Lawyers, villains, hometown killings
It’s all the same to me down at the end of my rope
Well lord, I’m losing hope, yeah!
Down at the end of my rope”
That’s it, right there, the unwritten law of the street. There are winners and there are losers. There are beggars and there are choosers. People that talk it up and there are people who actually do it. But when you are always hanging on, all of the shit that goes on up top is all the same. It doesn’t make a difference to you down at the bottom.
“Heaven Winds Blow”
Another song written by Danny Clarke and this time it’s got this Southern Skynyrd vibe happening.
He said you can’t stop and worry about the things that you’ve done
There’ll be no more looking back when the judgment day comes
Judgment day is coming, yeah!
A conversation with the Lord Almighty. We are a long time dead, but alive for a little while. So live it up until the heaven winds blow.
“Blood on the Highway”
Written by Julius Ulrich and Gary Jeffries. The “When The Levee Breaks” groove is hypnotizing and it hooked me in from the get go. Bon Jovi and their Nashville songwriting team ripped them off for “We Got It Goin On” from the Lost Highway album in 2007. But then again, it is a typical blues rock groove and Keith Richards once said, “YOU CANT COPYRIGHT THE BLUES”.
Living like there’s no tomorrow
Lovin when it comes my way
Well it’s a lonely road, a new town to go every day
So many songs written about life on the road. It isn’t a pop culture phenomenon like “Turn The Page” or “Wanted Dead Or Alive” but man, this song is a classic song just waiting to be discovered.
It is written by guitarist Danny Clarke and Julius Ulrich. It is “Tuesday’s Rain” merged with “Soul Survives”. And for some reason I can’t stop shaking that Tesla connection from my mind when I hear this song.
People might not know this song, but man its got the best lyric line ever committed.
Life done wait for you
Precious wasted time
Julius Ulrich, West Arkeen and Danny Clarke wrote this song. West Arkeen (RIP) also did some work with Guns N Roses and the “Use Your Illusion” albums. It’s got that Blues Gospel vibe that I dig.
Hearing this song again today, seventeen years after West Arkeen’s death due an accidental drug overdose, it sure is wasted time. The Skid Row song of the same name just hits home.
“Is it all, just wasted time
Can you live with yourself
When you think of what
You left behind”
“Taking a Walk”
This is a great song, again written by Julius Ulrich. The whole album is showing the eclectic style of Ulrich. In this case, he has crafted a song that merges the Van Halen SoCal vibe, with some pedal point metal riffing and a lot of swing.
“Do It All Over Again”
It’s a simple 12 bar blues acoustic ditty written by guitarists Clarke and Ulrich.
I’m no social grace, I’m no millionaire
I don’t wear a tie, I don’t comb my hair
If I sing out loud to myself, give me the stage
I’ve got a few things I can call my own
My TV’s broke, I ain’t got no phone
I’m doin’ just fine and I thank you just the same
Don’t mind the shape I’m in
I don’t mind if you let me in
‘Cause if I had the chance
I’d do it all over again
I get by on caffeine and alcohol
Some days I walk and there’s some I crawl
A few bad moves, it’s just a part of the game, yeah it is
A lot of artists just stopped soldiering on once they lost their deals in the wake of Grunge or they changed their styles to match the Seattle Grunge sounds.
The Record Labels and their predatory exploitive practices are to blame here, more so than Grunge or the saturation of the market place with inferior hard rock bands. The artists slaved away without a chance in hell of recouping because no one monitored or regulated the creative accounting practices of the labels.
Vocalist Gary Jeffries decided to leave during the tour for the debut album. The band had been out on the road for 12 months and in the majority of the cities they played, no one could find a copy of their album.
They did in stores and acoustic gigs in record stores and there wasn’t a copy of the CD in the store.
Back in 1991/1992, the rule of thumb was that if a band plays a city and rocks the audience, then those fans would go out and buy the album. In the case of Asphalt Ballet, the album wasn’t in the stores so how can the fans buy it. Basically, the record label failed their artist. To top it off, the label then pulled the plug on any further touring because sales weren’t high enough. How ironic.
That was when their manager stepped up and financed a tour with “Shotgun Messiah” which as the headlining act, had no pull. Eventually, after living on $160 a week and with Virgin pushing the band to get a little bit more grunge sounding, vocalist Jeffries went back to Louisiana and a few days later he was working a normal job, trying to make an income to support his pregnant wife.
The band was thousands in debt based on the recouping label formula. Asphalt Ballet’s manager sweet talked Virgin to front up enough cash for a new album and after doing the CD, “Pigs”, they were dropped before any tour began.
But we have the debut album. Cherish it as a great piece of rock and roll music.