A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Asphalt Ballet

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.

“Soul Survive”

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?”

“Tuesday’s Rain”

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.

“Goodbye Yesterday”

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.

“Wasted Time”

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.

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A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

GUN – Taking On The World

Way underrated and way under-appreciated, it’s almost criminal.

In the beginning GUN got lumped in with the hard rock/glam rock style of bands, however GUN had way more substance. Way more character.

Coming from Scotland, they didn’t conform to the LA Sunset Strip scene. The songs didn’t focus on “Cherry Pies” or “Slipped Her The Big One”. They didn’t focus on spelling Rock, ROK. They didn’t have to compete with any band in the scene for the fastest licks and biggest hair.

Instead they focused on their own brand of rock’n’roll. And their lyrical themes didn’t deal with the usual rubbish that the hard rock bands started to serve towards the end of the decade.

When the band first came together in 1987, it called itself “Phobia” and played Metallica style thrash-metal.

Eventually the style went to a melodic rock style.

And that wasn’t an easy feat to achieve. A rock band from Glasgow, Scotland in the late eighties was very rare. They were the only guitar-orientated rock band in an area dominated by synthesizer dance bands. Even Radio didn’t play rock music at that time, and the ones that did normally stuck to bands like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, etc.

This depressing dance scene would have destroyed other rock groups, however not the members of GUN. They proved to be resilient. No one expected them to do anything with their music careers. They didn’t have the right contacts and they didn’t have any radio support.

From low expectations, GUN became leaders of the Scottish rock revival. That is what makes their debut album even more special. “Taking On The World” has got the story of “backs against the wall” attitude.

After being signed, the group was offered a chance to record in London with Mick Ralphs (Bad Company) as producer. They went in but didn’t like the completed tracks and spent more time back in Glasgow, re-recording the album again by themselves. Ballsy move that a lot of other bands would never have made.

Taking On The World

Released in 1989 on A&M Records at a time when A&M was negotiation ink on a sale deal to Polygram Records. It was a chaotic time and so far removed from business as usual. The Record Label business was going through another consolidation process as takeovers and mergers happened left, right and centre during this time.

The industry was starting to see greater profits from compact discs and since their introduction in 1983, the prominent record companies had been completely or partially acquired by large media companies vying to expand their market share.

GUN’s debut album was also released at a time when the musical landscape was chaotic and changing.

A&M in 1989 released “Louder Than Love” from Soundgarden. It also released the debut album from Extreme and in the following 12 months released “Pornograffitti”. Hard Rock band “Giant” released “Last of the Runaways” also in 1989 and on A&M. Marketing dollars in 1989 could break a band to the masses or make them go unnoticed.

Competition was also fierce amongst other bands. Skid Row released their debut album. Danger Danger and Warrant also released their debut albums. Then you had the following releases to also compete against;

After the War – Gary Moore
The Great Radio Controversy – Tesla
Alannah Myles – Alannah Myles
Sonic Temple – The Cult
…Twice Shy – Great White
The Headless Children – W.A.S.P.
Blue Murder – Blue Murder
Full Moon Fever – Tom Petty
Badlands – Badlands
Trash – Alice Cooper
The Real Thing – Faith No More
The End Of Innocence – Don Henley
Mr Big – Mr Big
Dr Feelgood – Motley Crue
Storm Front – Billy Joel
Hot In The Shade – Kiss
Slip Of The Tongue – Whitesnake
…But Seriously – Phil Collins

However, not to be deterred, GUN is the definition of resilience. You can hear the “Born To Run” lyrical influence in vocalist Mark Rankin. The “resilient, get somewhere on your own and don’t let anybody else run your life” theme.

Add to that the AC/DC meets Def Leppard hard-rock guitar of Guiliano Gizzi, and you get a feel for what GUN is trying to accomplish.

In Australia it was obvious that the label and the radio stations thought that no one would be interested in an album like this. It got no exposure whatsoever.

“Better Days”

It’s co-written by lead guitarist Guiliano Gizzi and vocalist Mark Rankin.

Read a story in the paper last night people living in fear
It’s easy saying nothing it’s easy just to watch things fall
But I was taught that there’s a time in your life
When you’ve got to stand proud
So tell me don’t you think that it’s time we put an end to it all

Things could be heaven but this feels like hell
So hold your head high cos you know I’d die
For better days

It’s easy to keep our mouths shut. Less involvement in situations equals less complications.

However, ignorance is never bliss. Eventually someone will have to deal with the situation.

Look at all the Copyright and piracy issues today. The public didn’t really care about what laws got passed or if terms got extended. However, when the Copyright extremists started pushing for laws like SOPA and PIPA and it involved peoples’ freedoms, internet access and privacy, something amazing happened.

PEOPLE GOT TOGETHER ON-LINE AND STOOD PROUD, PREPARED TO FIGHT FOR BETTER DAYS.

“Feelin Within”

It’s got this Michael Hutchence vocal style.

What’s lost, nothing’s gained
Eye to eye in the city rain
I’m fighting in a war I can never ever win
The pain that pleasure brings leaves you cold, skin on skin

Ain’t that the truth. We knew about love from music. It is a love song, however it steered away from the normal hard/glam rock cliches.

“Taking On The World”

You’re holding out your hand, are you falling?
You’re talking to yourself, nobody’s there
There’s a burning in your heart like a hunger
There’s something on your mind, nobody cares

When you feel that life is dragging you down day by day
You’ve gotta break away

You’re taking on the world

1989 was the last year from the decade of greed. It was a decade of the corporations taking control of the music industry. It was a decade of radio becoming beholden to the advertisers and the PR firms, putting profits in front of music and culture. And to me “Taking On The World” captures that mood and feeling of 1989. Change was a coming.

In a Kerrang interview with Derek Oliver, singer Mark Rankin said the following;

“Before the ball started to roll we couldn’t get record company interest at all. I really sympathise with any up and coming band because it’s really hard knocking your head against a brick wall trying to get people to listen. Very soul-destroying indeed. We worked hard and got a break.”

That was 1989.

Has anything really changed for any new up and coming band in 2014. They still need to knock their head against a brick wall trying to get people to listen.

Music is a lifer game. Nothing has changed for a band trying to make it.

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A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Music, My Stories

Headed For A Heartbreak

Blame Beavis and Butthead. Blame Grunge. The truth is a bit more complex.

Winger was good. Real good, however the band suffered the same unjust fate as all the other Eighties bands. Billy Squire made one ridiculous video with a pink top. A pink top that was recommended by a plethora of enablers, including record label execs. And just like that an amazing voice, with a catalog of songs was gone.

Winger had Kip Winger. A Playgirl pictorial was too outlandish and as glam music was committing suicide by cloning itself over and over again and despite Kip being a great musician, Beavis and Butthead came along and trashed the band. Metallica threw darts at Kip Winger while they recorded the “Black” album.

“Headed For A Heartbreak” is a hell of a good song. On the “Official Winger” YouTube channel the song has 1,506,304 views. On the “80’s Metal Videos” channel it has 347,590 views. On another channel, a live version that appeared on MTV has 245,624 views. On Spotify the song has 173,229 streams.

The song is written by Kip Winger, however it is the performances from the band that captured the imagination and connected on all levels. “Madalaine” was the first single and it failed to get traction. The the track “Seventeen” came out and interest in the band started to grow and while it softened all the hard heads to Winger, it was “Headed For A Heartbreak” that sealed the deal commercially. This business model worked well during this time. Who knew that in 5 years time the band would be headed for a heartbreak.

MTV was king of the airwaves and most people owned little music. The CD’s remained expensive so people only purchased with they really loved or saw as great. Then we would go to the show to hear the songs. Now we only have time for the best. When an album is released we can cherry pick what we like and in a lot of cases it isn’t the single that the record label decided to go with.

People are quick to blame piracy for all the issues currently happening in the music business however the truth is that the audience has outgrown the album format. Why should that outdated format work for us, especially when we can go on YouTube or Spotify to get the hit song we desire.

The audience is king today. Not the artist, not the songwriter, not the record label or the producer. That is why the cycle is so fast. Albums come and by three to four weeks they are gone. Except the real good ones. In the eighties, the big effort was marketing and getting people to buy the record. Today it is all about getting people to listen to the music over and over again.

Winger’s debut didn’t come from out of nowhere. Kip Winger did his time as a songwriter and studio session musician working very closely with Beau Hill who would of course go on to produce the first two Winger albums that went platinum. It is during those studio sessions that he came across Reb Beach. It was still going to be another 4 years before the self titled Winger album was released.

So Winger did time with Alice Cooper’s band, recording and writing two albums. Then in 1987, he left to form Sahara which would go on to become Winger after Alice Copper suggested it.

Guitarist Reb Beach is a graduate from the esteemed Berklee College of Music. He also did his time in backing bands and studio work, until he met up with Kip Winger and started writing demos.

Drummer Rod Morgenstein was the most experienced. Active since joining jazz fusion legends “The Dixie Dregs” in 1974, he was a very accomplished drummer to bring into the fold.

Keyboard player and back up guitarist Paul Taylor was the x factor. He was the touring keyboardist for Aldo Nova during his “Fantasy” success. He did his time with Alice Cooper’s backing band at the same time with Kip Winger and played on the “Constrictor” and “Raise Your Fist and Yell” albums.

Winger like Night Ranger was a pseudo super group of musicians that connected on all levels and it’s important to mention this point to all the wannabe musicians out there.

Another important point to mention is that the songs that made up the debut album were written during a 3 year period by musicians that had experience and that had lived. I rate Winger the same as White Lion, however Winger did have a better all star team, whereas White Lion had Vito Bratta and to some extent Mike Tramp.

Winger is a band that has the songs that you can play forever. In a world that is suffering from information overload, Winger produced a body of work that we can all continue to listen to. Go on Spotify and check them out. Go on YouTube and check them out. Focus on the music and not on the pretty boy images put out there in the video clips.

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories

There Are No Instant Experts

I finished reading an article called “COMPLEXITY AND THE TEN-THOUSAND-HOUR RULE” by Malcolm Gladwell a few weeks ago and a few concepts from that article have been lingering around in my head.

CONCEPT:
There are no instant experts. The article used a study by psychologist John Hayes who looked at “seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years. (The sole exceptions: Shostakovich and Paganini, who took nine years, and Erik Satie, who took eight.)”

While I would argue that rock and metal musicians start composing at an early age, for the purposes of this article I would use the first bands that artists are involved in as year zero or the birth date of when artists started composing.

Basically it’s rare for a debut album or the first piece of music an artist creates to be their best. Of course there are some outliers to this concept, however the concept generally works. So, how does the concept fit into the metal and rock world.

Let’s start with one of my favourite bands at the moment, Machine Head.

Their debut album “Burn My Eyes” came out in 1994. For a groove thrash metal band, the album was a success.

So who is the main composer on “Burn My Eyes?” Of course the answer is Robb Flynn.

Robb Flynn started writing songs around 1984 and by 1985 he was in a band called “Forbidden” or “Forbidden Evil” (depending on which story you read). So Robb Flynn’s birth date for creating music is 1984. Comparing these dates with the concept, you can say that Robb Flynn created a great piece of work with “Burn My Eyes” ten years after he started composing. Since this album is also the debut album of Machine Head, in relation to the concept, for the band Machine Head, this is also Year Zero or the bands birth date for composing.

Burn My Eyes wasn’t Machine Head’s greatest work. That happened in 2007, with “The Blackening.”

From a Robb Flynn perspective, his greatest work happened 23 years from when he started composing. From a Machine Head perspective, the bands greatest work happened 13 years from when the band started composing.

Of course the biggest variable with the concept is that most bands or artists are the sum of their parts. This is so true for Machine Head. For “The Blackening” all of the members played an important part in the compositions.

Phil Demmel’s path is very similar to Robb Flynn’s. He founded the band Vio-Lence in 1985. It is safe to assume that he started composing a year before.

From Demmel’s perspective, it was 23 years from when he started composing that he was involved in the creation of a great work, with “The Blackening”. As already mentioned, from a Machine Head perspective, the bands greatest work happened 13 years from when the band started composing.

However with Demmel joining the band in 2003, this ushered in a new version of the band, so the composition birth date for this band goes back to 2003.

So for Machine Head “Version 7”, it took them 4 years to create their greatest work.

For completeness, here are the previous versions of Machine Head.
Version 1 (operated from 1992 to 1994) was Robb Flynn, Adam Duce, Logan Mader and Tony Costanza.
Version 2 (operated from 1994 to 1995)was Robb Flynn, Adam Duce, Logan Mader and Chris Kontos.
Version 3 (operated for a few months in 1995)was Robb Flynn, Adam Duce, Logan Mader and Walter Ryan.
Version 4 (operated from 1995 to 1998) was Robb Flynn, Adam Duce, Logan Mader and Dave McClain.
Version 5 (operated from 1998 to 2002) was Robb Flynn, Adam Duce, Ahrue Luster and Dave McClain.
Version 6 (operated from 2002 to 2003) was Robb Flynn, Adam Duce and Dave McClain.
Version 7 (operated from 2003 to 2013) was Robb Flynn, Adam Duce, Phil Demmel and Dave McClain.
Version 8 (operating from 2013) is Robb Flynn, Phil Demmel, Dave McClain and Jared MacEachern.

So by looking at the above versions and taking into account the concept that all great works happen ten years from when they start composing, the new version of Machine Head, will create their greatest work in 2013 (of course provided that they are still together). However if Adam Duce, remained in the band, Version 7 of the band would have been creating their greatest work right now.

So what should be the greatest triumph of the Robb Flynn, Adam Duce, Phil Demmel and Dave McClain era, will be a great debut album for the Robb Flynn, Phil Demmel, Dave McClain and Jared MacEachern era.

Let’s look at Motley Crue. Based on sales figures alone, “Dr Feelgood” is their piece d resistance and it was released in 1989. The main songwriters on Dr Feelgood are Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars.

Nikki Sixx, started in bands in 1975, therefore this is the year that Nikki Sixx started composing.

Vince Neil and Tommy Lee started off in bands around 1979, therefore this will be the year that they started composing.

Mick Mars on the other hand goes back to 1972, therefore this will be the year that Mick Mars started composing.

The band Motley Crue was formed in January, 1981. This is the year that the band started composing.

From a Nikki Sixx perspective, he was involved in creating “Dr Feelgood”, 14 years from when he started composing.

From a Mick Mars perspective, he was involved in creating “Dr Feelgood”, 17 years from when he started composing.

From a Tommy Lee and Vince Neil perspective, they were involved in creating “Dr Feelgood”, 10 years from when they started composing.

In relation to the band Motley Crue, it was 8 years from when the band started composing.

So based on the concept, the version of Motley Crue that we know, will not be able to create another masterpiece. So how did they end up creating “Saints Of Los Angeles” which everyone said is their best album since “Dr Feelgood.”

The answer is simple (just take a look at the songwriters on the album);

The song writing team of Nikki Sixx, James Michael, DJ Ashba and Marti Frederiksen wrote the songs “L.A.M.F”, “Face Down in the Dirt”, “What’s It Gonna Take”, “Down at the Whisky”, “Saints of Los Angeles”, “Welcome to the Machine” and “Goin’ Out Swingin.”

The song writing team of Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, James Michael, DJ Ashba and Marti Frederiksen wrote the songs “Mutherf&cker of the Year”, “The Animal in Me”, “Just Another Psycho”, “Chicks = Trouble” and “White Trash Circus”.

Finally the song writing team of Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Tommy Lee, James Michael, DJ Ashba and Marti Frederiksen wrote the song “This Ain’t a Love Song.”

Even though the product was Motley Crue, three of the main composers are not from Motley Crue.

So by looking at all of the above, the song writing team of Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, James Michael, DJ Ashba and Marti Frederiksen should create their best work by 2018. That is provided they stick around.

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