DVD Review: Aerosmith – Rock for the Rising Sun

DVD Review: Aerosmith – Rock for the Rising Sun
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Aerosmith - Rock for the Rising Sun 2013
2011 was a horrible year for Japan, what with the tsunami and all the death and destruction it wrought – not to mention the radiation bleeding out from the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown. 

Months after the tragedy, Aerosmith, putting fears for their own safety aside, touched down in the small island nation, ready to bring the soothing balm of blues-fired, rough-and-tumble rock ‘n’ roll evangelism to a wounded people in dire need of a good time.

Aerosmith was not able to raise the dead on their “Back on the Road” Japanese tour that fall, nor could they repair the massive damage and trauma Japan suffered. They are not superheroes. They were, however, able to help out in their own small way. Doing what they do best, Aerosmith played a series of raucous, high-energy live sets that made it seem like 1977 – the first year they invaded Japan – was only yesterday, and their mission of mercy is detailed in a lively new documentary titled “Rock for the Rising Sun” that’s part life-affirming tour diary and part electrifying concert film.

The mood is celebratory and not at all subdued in barn-burning performances of rollicking classics like “Mama Kin,” “Toys in the Attic,” “Rats in the Cellar” and “Draw the Line.” Out front and as cheeky as ever, Steven Tyler struts and preens about like the screaming gypsy he’s always been, his voice full of swagger and hardly eroded by time, as Aerosmith confidently swings around “Monkey on My Back,” snarls like junkyard dogs on “Sweet Emotion” and takes a spirited, raunchy romp through “Walk This Way” as the thousands who braved the cold and snow of Sapporo to see the band roar in appreciation.

Joe Perry tears through them all with reckless abandon, giving fire-and-brimstone guitar sermons that could either save souls or send them straight to hell. His playing is inspired and passionate, flashy and mean but also full of substance and drive – see the captivating, almost hypnotic “Movin’ Out” for proof of his wicked powers. And then there’s Brad Whitford, unassuming as ever, working out deceptively tricky combinations of chords and notes in his own quiet, yet lethal, manner on a funky “Last Child,” as Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton keep the rhythmic pot on a rolling boil throughout.

Director Casey Patrick Tebo deftly captures all the action with fluid, flowing camera work and editing, compiling a warm, vivid love letter from Aerosmith to a Japan the band fervently admires. His shots are beautifully cropped, never too tight on the individual personalities of Aerosmith but always close enough to see how they handle their instruments. And he rarely, if ever, cuts away too quickly, preferring instead to let his lenses drink it all in before slipping away to the next subject.

While the live footage is exhilarating and vibrant, with expansive, potent sound that ought to be tested for steroids, there is also a great deal of humor, heart and drama in Tebo’s film. A sobering visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial allows for moments of deep reflection. Tyler talks respectfully about how Japanese audiences “hang on every word and note” that Aerosmith dishes out and reveals how the song “Boogie Man” was created. And then there’s the moment where Hamilton and Tyler spar over whether to leave “Hangman Jury” in the set.

These behind-the-scenes vignettes offer a peek – and only a peek – behind the Aerosmith curtain, giving a taste of what life on tour in Japan is like for a band that isn’t getting any younger but still has an effervescent personality that draws people to them. Osaka, Kanazawa, Fukuoka, Sapporo – Aerosmith hit as many places as possible on this jaunt, and “Rock for the Rising Sun” follows them everywhere, including a knife shop where Perry spends hours looking at collectible blades. It’s hard to shake the feeling, however, that the filmmakers left a mountain of compelling material, both onstage and off, on the cutting room floor in their zeal to tie the movie up in a neat, tidy package. A trickle of bonus video showing Aerosmith barreling through “Lick and a Promise” and “One Way Street” and a booklet of colorful concert photos and sparse liner notes do not alleviate these concerns.

Understandably, Aerosmith is not as raw as they used to be, but Tyler and the boys are still ballsy and exciting, even if their shows these days are more glitzy spectacle than down-and-dirty barroom bashes. What they did for Japan was a good thing, and “Rock for the Rising Sun” is a thrilling visual scrapbook of their historic visit. (www.eaglerockent.com)
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Exhumed – Necrocracy

CD Review: Exhumed – Necrocracy
Relapse Records
All Access Rating: A-

Exhumed - Necrocracy 2013
For those about to die in the most gruesome, horrific ways imaginable, Exhumed salutes you. As gory as the busiest of abattoirs, records from these grisly Bay Area grindcore ghouls take a backseat to no one when it comes to painting revolting scenes of blood-splattered, dismembered corpses and how they got that way.

The sicker the better for guitarist/vocalist Matt Harvey, the lone original member of Exhumed left standing after more than 20 years of lineup instability, and he appreciates the sacrifice of those who have shuffled off this mortal coil in shockingly violent fashion. For without them, he’d have nothing to sing about – well, except politics, that is. And relationships, societal decay and economic distress … see there’s more going on with Exhumed than meets the eye. Take Necrocracy, Exhumed’s upcoming release for Relapse Records, for example.

Decomposing flesh and maimed bodies make for not-so-subtle metaphors of a bloated U.S. political system being drawn and quartered by corruption, greed and the erosion of civil rights in the punishingly heavy, high-velocity death-metal of “The Rotting,” the title track and “Carrion Call.” Or maybe Exhumed just enjoys a good lyrical blood feast now and then.

Whatever the case, Necrocracy – due out in August – also happens to contain some of the meatiest riffage of Exhumed’s tortured lifespan. Mauling, churning guitars, back-breaking tempo changes, frenzied blast beats and cave-deep growls and feral screeching reanimate an Exhumed that still looks to traditional thrash and death-metal misanthropes like Carcass and Entombed as mentors of death-metal mayhem. Thatching together a multi-layered bulletproof vest of overlapping, ever-evolving guitar parts and low-slung bass rumbling, Exhumed mines an infectious, visceral groove in “Coins upon the Eyes” that’s resistant to antibiotics, while “Dysmorphic” grinds flesh, tendons and bones into hamburger with flesh-tearing hooks of great tensile strength, unstoppable momentum and searing guitar leads – all of it bridged briefly with a rickety acoustic passage of evil that portends doom.

There is melody to be found in the surprisingly well-sculpted twin-guitar figures planted throughout Necrocracy and the rare progressive passages unearthed in “Sickened,” but there’s gold to be discovered in the mountains of furious, doom-laden riffs on Necrocracy, not to mention the demented, contorted dynamics that twist the dizzying “The Shapes of Deaths to Come” and “(So Passes) the Glory of Death” into impossible metal yoga positions.

Not addicted to speed anymore, Exhumed takes obscene pleasure in witnessing the trudging, writhing agony of their complex instrumental movements, but when the time is right to go on a murderous sonic rampage, they never hesitate. Necrocracy is a pit of sinister, angry pythons slithering all over each other and ready to squeeze the life out of anything that engages it. It goes down a maze of dark scary alleys that reek of death, and it runs with the bulls, almost hoping to get gored. Though they add demonic texture at times, the terrifying vocals can be a little much, as are the excessive and sometimes gratuitous lyrical autopsies performed here. Dig past that, and Necrocracy rewards bravery and a strong stomach.
– Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Garbage – One Mile High ... Live

DVD Review: Garbage – One Mile High … Live
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: A-

Garbage - One Mile High ... Live 2013
Garbage had a different kind of “seven-year itch” to scratch. Whereas that phrase usually refers to the desire for an extra-marital affair after a lengthy period of wedded bliss, Shirley Manson, Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig decided earlier this decade that seven years was too long to be apart. 

In 2012, Garbage came storming back, releasing the sharply focused, electro-rock flash grenade Not Your Kind of People and embarking on their first world tour in what seemed like forever. They were missed. 

On Oct. 6, 2012, Garbage gave a packed house at the Ogden Theatre in Denver all it wanted and then some in a brilliant, high-voltage performance that should have caused blackouts throughout the metropolitan area. Multiple cameras deftly bring to life the electric action with clarity, color and a keen sense of what the home audience wants – wide shots of the band in full roar, engaging close-ups of Manson and back-and-forth editing that captures the intense creative chemistry of Marker and Erikson – in a raucous, dynamic new concert film “One Mile High … Live,” out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Eagle Rock Entertainment that smartly tacks on a handful of music videos and short, but sweet, featurettes on the making of some of Garbage’s latest techno-rock viruses from Not Your Kind of People.

The focal point, of course, is Manson, her striking red hair, brash demeanor, stunningly expressive vocals and magnetic charm impossible to ignore. Remarking with amazement how every one of their shows on that tour seemed on the verge of devolving into a “f- -king ruckus,” and how it was the women in the audience riling everybody up, a confident Manson lets her raw sexuality bleed out as she plays up the unhealthy desires, lust, alienation, pain and feelings of betrayal of the dysfunctional people and their broken relationships living in her lyrics, becoming vulnerable or predatory depending on her mood.

She is bruised and unbalanced in tales of romantic obsession such as the gloriously noisy “Control” and the dreamy, hypnotic “#1 Crush,” both versions on “One Mile High … Live” so gripping and unsettling. Confident and charismatic, she is “Special,” and on that melodically thorny Garbage anthem, as well as the punched-up, ultra-violet techno-shockers “Big Bright World,” “Battle in Me,” “Push It” and “Blood for Poppies,” Manson is a galvanizing force of nature, her powerful vocals somehow rising above the danceable, futuristic din of crunchy guitars and angry, moody electronica cooked up by Marker and Erikson. At once abrasive and blaring, but also stylish and atmospheric on the elegant, James Bond-like “Milk” and “The Trick is to Keep Breathing,” the heady rush of bent sounds produced by Marker and Erikson – propelled forward by Vig’s clean, crisp drumming – are loud and full of vitality, whipping up an addictive cacophony in “Supervixen” and “Only Happy When it Rains” that’s beautifully disorienting.

Garbage knows where all the hooks in their catalog are buried, and as an incredibly tight live act, these alternative-rock veterans – with bass mercenary Eric Avery, from Janes Addiction and Nine Inch Nails, enlisted to plow rumbling grooves – make damn sure they gleam and stand up to be counted, even as squalls of squealing, squirming techno threaten to consume the earnestly infectious set-closer “Vow” and everything else on “One Mile High … Live.” Vibrant and bracing, Garbage classics and newer stuff coexist easily on “One Mile High … Live,” and riding a wave of ‘90s nostalgia, their return was, perhaps, predictable. Whether that’s the reason for their triumphant comeback is immaterial. They’re here, they’re “Queer” – yes, they played that slinky number, too, and it is a seductive mistress – and they’re not going anywhere.
– Peter Lindblad 

Head East is out to 'Raise a Little Hell'

By Peter Lindblad

It was a golden era for concert albums, and few were better than 1979’s Head East Live!

Cheap Trick at Budokan, Foghat Live, Alive! by KISS, UFO’s Strangers in the Night, Frampton Comes Alive … so many scintillating live recordings were released in the mid-to-late-‘70s, and they helped break some of the biggest-selling artists of that age.

Bursting forth from America’s Heartland halfway through the decade with a hard-rocking fervor fueled by urgent vocal harmonies, driving guitars, barreling drums and a mix of beguiling keyboards, Head Eastwas already an AOR success story by the time they put out 1979’s Head East Live!

Coming on the heels of Flat as a Pancake and its high-flying single “Never Been Any Reason,” the record harnesses the propulsive energy and barn-burning instrumental heat of a band at the peak of its powers and the utter joy of an audience having a rollicking good time. It’s still revered as a touchstone of classic rock. And yet, its rise up the charts stalled at #96 on the U.S. Top 100 back then, thanks to record company bungling.  

Head East hopes history won’t repeat itself with Raise a Little Hell (http://www.cmerecordsandfilm.com/), the latest live LP from the classic-rock radio stalwarts. Formed near the end of the turbulent ‘60s, Head East – which began life as TimeAtions – was based in East Central Illinois, with many of its core members attending the University of Illinois. There was singer John Schlitt, drummer Steve Huston, guitarist Danny Piper, bassist Larry Boyd and keyboardist Roger Boyd – although Piper and Larry Boyd would depart, replaced by bassist Dan Birney and guitarist Mike Somerville.

They started out playing teen centers and graduated to bars, slowing building into one of region’s hottest acts. Not happy with their name, the band was open to suggestions, and in 1969, colorful roadie Baxter Forrest Twilight supposedly came up with Head East after an all-night acid trip.

By 1974, Head East wanted more, and with money they’d accumulated on their own, they went into Golden Voice Recording Studio in South Pekin, Ill., to record Flat as a Pancake, a funny jab at the topography of the land they call home. Midwest rock radio went gaga for Head East, with KSHE 95 in St. Louis and KY-102 in Kansas City leading the charge, playing up the rousing anthem “Never Been Any Reason” to great fanfare.

Then came the ‘80s, and things started to fall apart, as internal problems bubbled over. Schlitt was sacked due to his substance abuse. He would later find religion and surface with Christian-rock heroes Petra. Somerville and Birney left the band, and Head East suffered creatively and commercially.

It’s a new day for Head East, with original member Roger Boyd still manning the wheel. He’s joined by bassist/lead guitarist/vocalist Greg Manahan, lead guitarist/vocalist Glen Bridger, drummer/vocalist Eddy Jones, and lead vocalist/bassist Darren Walker – who’s a dead ringer for Schlitt – in a lineup that takes no prisoners onstage.

Head East - Raise a Little Hell 2013
The Rock Candy boutique label in the U.K. has reissued Head East Live! Together with Raise a Little Hell, which mixes vintage Head East classics with new songs like “Prisoner” and is named after the old Trooper hit, these two releases represent the old and the new Head East. Roger Boyd talked with us recently about Head East’s history and its new direction.

Why come out with another live album now?
Roger Boyd: Well, people keep asking me that. There are a couple of reasons: No. 1, this is the only live album we’ve ever done anything with promotion-wise or pushed besides our 1979 double live, which was just reissued by Rock Candy, which you probably know. Yeah, it finally came out on CD and Rock Candy out of the U.K. got the rights to it, so we’re pretty cranked, which I’m happy about because people will quit bugging me about it … which they’ve been doing for about 10 or 15 years. The other thing is, so this album really [shows] the guys have really matured in recording and our live performances. We’ve really got something that’s worth time and money pushing it, and live is really where Head East has always been. We’ve always been considered one of the premier live rock groups in the country, playing and singing live, and we just felt that we wanted to try and capture that magic interaction between the audience and ourselves, and so we decided to do another live thing.  

It does really make for a vibrant, good-time concert LP. Where was this show recorded?
RB: Actually, it was a combination of two shows – up in northern Illinois, in Rockford, and we had a good show there, and at the big Oneida Casino in Green Bay.

That’s up around my particular part of the country.
RB: Yeah, we played up there a couple of times – great rock ‘n’ roll people, and that’s always been a wonderful market for us, and WAPL, the big rock radio station out there, has always supported us a lot, so it’s a good venue for us. Not much retouching on it. Most of what you hear is what you get when you’re out catching a band live.

I really enjoy “Elijah” as a set closer, and I really like this version of “Love Me Tonight.” What are some of the highlights for you on Raise a Little Hell?
RB: Well, obviously, “Raise a Little Hell” (laughs). Trooper toured a little while and opened up for us many years ago in Canada – really fun bunch of guys. And it always sounded like a Head East song, a song we would have written and done. And one of the things is, of course, radio is so brutal these days, especially in classic rock. And the resistance to playing anything new is unbelievable. We always loved the song, thought it sounded like us, so it’s like they go, “Well, we don’t want to play new music,” and we go, “Why not?” And they go, “Because we don’t know if anybody’s going to like it,” and we go, “Wait a minute, ‘Raise a Little Hell’ got some decent airplay …” And actually, their record company should have broken it bigger. And so it’s fun, it kind of reflects where we’re at, and we also thought that may help us with airplay. And “Prisoner” – I’m talking about the new songs now – is a song I really like because it’s a wonderful story song, we did an incredible video with it which we shot down in New Orleans – which is going to come out with it – and it’s a little something different, hit a little different kind of market … you know, some of the stations that are not straight-ahead rock. I guess overall I just like the whole thing. I like the mix of the new stuff we did with some of the old stuff that people would expect to be on a live album.  

It really does capture that fun vibe the band’s always had. Did you really want to document that and give people something they could play in the car on a summer day?
RB: Well, I think our music has always been something you could play in cars. When we were on A&M, they said, “You guys sell more 8-tracks than anybody else on the whole label.” I said, “Well, I don’t know if that means we’re such a great party band or it mixes well with engine noise or it’s better when the hood’s down on your car or what.” And I always said that the Midwest, where people rock – which really is the rock part of the United States … I mean people up in the Northeast and out in California, that’s not rock. Rock is more the heartland of the country, culturally. So in your cars … I mean, people spend a lot of time in their cars, you’ve got to travel further and listen to music, and it works really well. That’s what we’re shooting for, and also for me, personally, it’s a really nice bridge between what everybody calls the original act with [singer] John [Schlitt] and [drummer] Steve [Huston] and [guitarist] Mike [Somerville] and [bassist] Dan [Birney], when he’s around, and then the guys today, because [singer] Darren [Walker] and John could be twin brothers as far as the vocal sound is concerned. And so for me, I’ve kind of come full circle with another band that can totally sing, that’s got two real dominant writers, except for Steve’s really low voice. I mean vocally we’re stronger and really identical to what the band was in the ‘70s. So I kind of wanted to show the bridge between that, because you always get some flak from people, “Well, you know, who’s all original?” And I go, “Well, who from the 1970s has got all the members left in the band?” I mean, it’s like Tom and three other guys. Unfortunately, everybody’s lost some people in their band, so I have maintained the integrity of the sound of the band, so the band sounds … unless you choose to go off in another direction, and I’ve never wanted to do that. I’ve always loved our sound and that’s what we do. That’s our signature sound, so it shows the branch between the group of guys we have now and the guys we had back then.

How much input or control over the sound did you have? Were you pretty involved in how the live album came out sounding?
RB: Yeah, pretty much. I’m starting to get to the age now where some of the years of pounding sound and monitors have taken a little bit of a toll. So Greg [Manahan], our bass player and the guy that wrote “Prisoner,” has got an excellent ear. So he was pretty involved in it as well, and he did some of the engineering to help me out there. But I’m still pretty involved in the sound, and I’m happy to say I think after 40 years of rocking and the kind of pounding I’ve taken, my ears are still pretty consistent. 

You formed in 1968 in the Midwest. Some of the guys were going to the University of Illinois. That was a volatile time in American history and an amazing time musically. What prompted you to start a band, and what were those early rehearsals like?
RB: Well, actually it was ’69, instead of ’68, but you’re right on the money with what was going on in the country – all the upheaval and the social change. And at the time I was just playing teen centers and stuff and trying to augment my scholarships in college. I went to college because I wanted to be a college professor. I love the college scene, but there was so much going on in America and rock was there. I mean rock was in the center of it, and all of a sudden, we got together in ’69. John was going to the University of Illinois. He and my brother played. And we practiced all summer in our fraternity house, and Aug. 6, we went to play this college club, and we thought we were getting paid. We changed our name to Head East over the weekend. We played a teen center on Saturday. Well, we found out the guy was not up front with us, and they just had bands come audition on Monday nights, and so all the locals and the college people came and they’d throw ice cubes at the band and tell them they weren’t very good. And man, we came out singing Crosby, Stills & Nash and Three Dog Night, and we had rehearsed every night for a long time and we just blew everybody away. They kept us six nights a week the rest of the fall and winter, and we were just hotter than a pistol and really got our chops together.

And then Steve and John wanted to … it was they couldn’t go to school and keep playing, and they wanted to finish their degrees. And my brother and I wanted to keep playing, so I left school, and of course, my family was absolutely thrilled about that. But then when Steve and John got graduated in ‘73, I went through some changes and we had some really, really good bands, with some female vocalists. We had dual vocalists for a while, and a couple of those folks that went on to some good success. Got them back in ’73, and the expressed purpose was doing an album. We’d always been a big regional band for years, and you know, in 1974, we cut Flat as a Pancake on our own label, took the risk, which everybody said you couldn’t do and that meant that if we could, boy we were really on the right track. Back when people weren’t cutting their own albums, like they do today … I mean, today everybody does it. I mean, there are kitchens with the technology now. And then, in ’95 … you know, I always thought I’d be out of school in six or eight years, and with all the success we had, I just never went back. And in ’95, there were some shifts in the business, and it primarily went to summertime, and it was time to go back and finish that dream. So I went back and went straight through – finished my bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate, and then taught at the university level for 11 years.

Oh, you did?
RB: Yeah, so I got my B.A., and I taught sociology and criminal justice and then family counseling, substance abuse and stuff – from a lot of life experience in the music business, having lost a lot of good friends, close friends, to that. So I taught that and so my wife and I just stepped down two years ago from university time – had done enough there. And the band was at a point in time where I thought this stuff as a business we had something to take a chance, to make a push and take a shot at.

You mentioned that you put that first record out on your own, and you had your own record label, Pyramid Records. That must have been somewhat unusual back then. You were DIY before it was cool.
RB: Well, yeah. We were one of the first bands to ever do that, and the problem I saw with bands at that time was more bands would make demos and try to sell them to a record label. So they would spend a thousand dollars, or so, on the recordings, and the recordings sounded like they were rough demos. And I said, “Well, shoot, we’re a big regional act, and the country people were selling stuff offstage,” although rock never had the kind of success country did. It was a different kind of crowd. But, I said, “Why don’t we really spend some money and do something that’s really good, instead of just doing a little demo?” So we risked $15,000, which people were going, “Oh, my God,” and we did it. And we came out with something that could compete with the coasts. It sounded like the record label had given us $40,000 or $50,000, which at that time was a lot of money – today it’s nothing. And so KHSE 95 radio in St. Louis, and then KY-102 in Kansas City picked it up, on our own label. And it was already a hit in those two markets, and then it went to A&M, and of course, they did a re-release. But in fact, this past Thursday night, they just did a rockumentary called “Something in the Water,” and it looked back at the emergence of KC and the AOR FM format, that transition and what was going on culturally in America, and us and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, who obviously had national success, and then a band called Mama’s Pride and Pavlov’s Dog for St. Louis, and it talked about the combination of the rock bands coming out of the market and KC radio breaking new acts and AOR and the ‘70s – it’s wonderful. And it’s online, and it’s on the web and people can see it. And the people who did it [Kathy Bratkowski, producer] did a sensational job, did a wonderful job. And it had contemporary production, which came from one of the bigger promotional companies, Steve Schankman – they were all part of it. The Mississippi River Festival, with its event, and then Bob Heil, who did the PA sound at the request of Pete Townshend that was in the round that brought about Quadrophenia. So, as a story, it was just fascinating.

So, that’s what happened. We just happened to be, as you know … sometimes the stars just have to line up. The stories about the differences between people really making it and breaking it, and people not … like Mama’s Pride was going to be big, and they ran into Ronnie [Van Zandt], the guy from Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Ronnie loved the way [the brothers] Pat and Danny [Liston] sang together, that sibling harmony, and he wanted them to tour with them and travel with them and sing with them. And then, two weeks later, their plane went down and that was it. One day they looked like they were there and on their way, and as Pat said, “Well, we could have been on the plane, too, and been dead.” So you can look at it that way, but that was it. Their run, their shot at it, was over. So ours was coupled by … we took a risk, did our own record, had worked on our songs for over a year before an audience, which helped work them out. And then [general manager] Shelley Grafman at KSHE says, “I love the sound as much as anything. Our station is coming on strong. We want to see how strong FM is and AOR rock is, and I want to break the record,” and he did.

I wanted to ask you about Golden Voice Recording Studio in South Pekin, Ill., where you recorded Flat as a Pancake. What was the place like and what do you recall about those sessions?
RB: Well, Jerry Milem was one of the premier studio designers in the country, and he was out of this little town just outside of Peoria, and he wanted somebody to cut a hit record. And it was nice, and it had nice equipment, and he cut us a really good deal, which also helped us out because our money went a lot further. We never could have done that in L.A. or New York or Nashville. And of course, back then, you just had like reverb and slapback and tape loop (laughs). So, you pretty much had to get your sounds out of having good instruments. We had really good equipment, and we just rehearsed the songs so well that we cut the whole thing in less than 10 days. We basically went in and set up like a live band and played it and sang it and there you go.

What do you remember about recording “Never Been Any Reason.” Did that seem like a hit to you right away?
RB: No, actually, it was “Love Me Tonight.” (laughs) Well, because AM radio was still the dominant format, and “Never Been Any Reason” was too long, and we felt it was too heavy. We felt in order to go Top 40 that “Never Been Any Reason” would open the market on FM, but then “Love me Tonight” … in fact, David Kirschenbaum from A&M Records came through and they wanted us to let the Bay City Rollers do “Love Me Tonight.”

Oh, is that right?
RB: But then we wouldn’t be able to do it, and so we declined, because we thought they would immediately follow up with “Love Me Tonight.” “Never Been Any Reason” just became so overwhelming that then people wanted us to … they didn’t want us to go to some of the softer, more melodic stuff we did. They wanted more heavier rock like that, but we knew when the album was played back – there was just me and [Mike] Somerville and Tom [Byler], the engineer, in the studio on playback, we knew some magic. In fact, Mike said something to me, “Well, you never know how big it’s going to get, because the public decides that.” But I knew we were making our money back, which was great, and we knew we captured something. You can just feel it. I mean, it’s only happened maybe three or four or five times, you know. I mean, bands … even the Stones, who have done 40 or 50 albums, they’ve captured magic maybe eight or 10 times. It doesn’t happen that often. There’s so much difference between a magical cut and a really good cut. And that’s why when everybody said, “Well, I think that’s a hit record” … well, then everybody else did too. I mean, you just don’t think, you feel that there is something about them, and they’re not always the smoothest recordings. There’s just about them that grabs people. You know, we knew that, but we were a bit surprised that “Never Been Any Reason” became that huge. I mean, there’s no way you can project that.

 What were those years like from ’74 to ’75? It must have been a whirlwind for you guys.
RB: You just really grab the back of your britches and try to hang on, because when they break, as you know, the demands on your time are just unbelievable. And back then you went to a radio station, or maybe two radio stations, and you did an in-store, to sound check, maybe another big media break with magazine or newspaper interviews, to doing a show, to signing autographs or doing stuff afterwards and then jump on a bus … next. And also, when you’re the opening act for a while, it’s your break and it’s really brutal because you’re fighting for time, and trying not to be in the “take your seat with the beat” and the house lights are on, and they give you 25 minutes and you’re not making any money. And psychologically, you go from being a big regional act, where everybody loves you, to being an opening act where a lot of times people don’t necessarily know who you are. They’re there to see the headliner. For a lot of bands, it’s not the talent that’s the problem; it’s the mental jump from being a bigger regional local band to trying to be a national band and not understanding that you have to go through the whole pecking order to make the jump. 
Going back in the studio to record Get Yourself Up and then Gettin’ Lucky, after the success of Flat as a Pancake, how much pressure was there to recreate the success of that first record?
RB: Tremendous. Absolutely tremendous, and one of the other problems is we did Flat as a Pancake on our own and we just did what felt really good, and we never, ever, ever were able to do that, because as soon as you were signed, you’re signed. And then all of a sudden we had all the management, you’ve got the record company, you’ve got the booking agents and all of a sudden you have all this extra influence, and it really gets hard to start out. Like Gettin’ Lucky, we wanted to call that album the Trifecta. We already had the cover together and everything else. The only state in the country that doesn’t bet a trifecta is California, and they go, “We’re not going to release it as Trifecta.” I go, “You’ve got to be kidding.” And they go, “Well, nobody knows what it is.” I go, “Only in California, and this isn’t our biggest market.”

So we had to go back in and Steve and Mike wrote “Gettin’ Lucky.” We had to go back in and record that, change the whole title of the album, which pushed the release back and everything else to do that. And I mean, it’s running into those kinds of things, and then the live album, the double live, which was just re-released by Rock Candy – still considered one of the best live albums ever done – and we were 52 with a bullet, and A&M changed their distribution right in the middle of when the album was out. We couldn’t get records out in the stores for five or six weeks. It killed the album at the time. So all those other kinds of things come in, plus the pressure to continue to top whatever you did before … I’ll always remember, Elton John came out with one of his albums and he only sold three and a half million and everybody was all over him and thought it was a flop because they expected six or seven million. I go, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” You know, and Stevie Wonder got sued for plagiarism from one of his good buddies. I mean, if those kinds of folks that were that big and that well established are under that kind of pressure, for the rest of us, it was every bit as bad or worse.

What prompted you, on 1978’s Head East, to do a cover of Argent’s “Since you’ve been Gone”?
RB: Well, speaking of pressure, the guy that got the song for us was at CBS east coast, Mark Spector, and he passed on the band. He came out to Chicago and saw us in a little bar, and he said, “You guys are just a little bar band.” And west coast CBS wanted us real bad, and I never heard that story until later, but we were already on our way to getting signed by A&M … all of a sudden, he shows up as the head of A&R at A&M, and I go, “Well, this is just great.” But Mark Spector found a song for us, thought it would be a great song. So I guess he kind of mea culpa’d for the past at CBS, which actually would have been a better label for us, being a rock band, but being on A&M was real special. I mean, that rep was real good anyway, and he found it for us. The problem we ran into with “Since You’ve Been Gone” is then Ritchie Blackmore and Rainbow, of course, recorded it and came out and kind of stomped on it, and that created some problems. And we were going to do another Russ Ballard tune called “I Surrender,” and Blackmore got word about that and he got it released before we even got ours out. That goes to show you some of the politics and some of the things that went on in the music business that went on back then and that still go on now. That was totally the A&R department and they did a great job. I mean, that’s what they are supposed to do.

Talk about the double live album. I know you’ve touched on it, but to your ears, what made it such a great live album?
RB: Well, I think it’s the same reason that Raise a Little Hell is so magical and one of my favorite albums. It’s that [this] is our strength. That is what the band is about. That’s what the band enjoys the most. I mean, we did some really good studio work, but really, we’ve always been more comfortable in front of a live audience, and we’ve always been a bunch of friendly, gregarious guys and down-home guys. We all came from small towns, and we like interacting with the crowd, and that comes across. So, the double live was trying to follow up – because all of a sudden a bunch of live albums had hit right then – the success we had with “Since You’ve Been Gone.” It was to follow up on that. It’s just really unfortunate about the distribution thing, but like I said, sometimes the stars line up and sometimes they don’t. In that case, ours didn’t. But we were able to capture some of that excitement that is part of our essence, our musical essence, which in a studio setting … you just record different. The goals are different and everything else.

The late ‘70s and early ‘80s was a tough time for the band. What do you think happened back then that made it rough for you guys?
RB: Well, boy there was a lot. There was a lot going on personally, obviously. I mean, John, obviously, had to leave the band and he was having issues with drugs and alcohol, which, of course, was the selling point when he went to Petra and found religion, which a lot of rock guys did. And it was good, because it would have been a shame if his talent had gone to waste. He was an excellent vocalist, and he experienced some success there.

You know, we had been on the road a long time, we had worked hard, and we’d had a couple of missed opportunities at A&M Records, like the distribution thing. Our management, Contemporary Productions, initially was really into managing and all of a sudden, they became one of the biggest promoters in the country and were more interested in promoting other people because they were now promoters, and they were making money off promoting. Management was a little more long term, and it uses other talents, so we left them. A&M was basically dropping all their rock acts at the same time – us and .38 Special. In fact, Mark Spector went on to manage .38 Special and had success with them after they left A&M. So, us and [Joe] Cocker and .38 – the label was trying to turn into a new music label, with Split Enz and stuff like that. And everything cycles, and so a lot of the ‘70s stuff … people were looking and disco was coming on, and this, that and the other. A&M was a boutique label, so that made a difference. I mean, they weren’t a CBS. In fact, all of the rock groups in the Midwest that really had some success – Cheap Trick, REO, Ted Nugent … all are CBS bands. And a couple of us were going through divorces … I mean, there was just a lot. So it was just a combination of internal and external factors. I mean, most bands … even The Beatles … five or six years. Five or six years for a band is a long time, and generally things happen and changes happen, and they regroup later, or sometimes they join up with other people. The business takes its toll. The pressure, the emotional pressure vs. the pressure to be creative and still be on the road, it’s hard.

During your heyday, what was your favorite live show ever, and on the other end of the spectrum, was there one that was really difficult for you?
RB: Well, the difficult one is really easy (laughs). The first big show we sold out in St. Louis at Kiel Auditorium… 10,000 people for us and about 25 people from the record company are sitting there in the second row, and we’re having a great show, and it’s going great and the crowd is going wild. And our management at the time, decided they wanted to have this big Head East sign with block lights and [when it came on] with everybody sitting there in the second row, my synthesizer went, “Rrrthip, rrrthip” … I mean, it just went bonkers. It’s amazing I didn’t just pick it up and throw it on the floor and smash it. I’m going, “How could this possibly be happening to me?” That was probably as brutal as … and having Casey Kasem interview me for being a feature artist in a couple weeks, and we went from 42 with a bullet on “Since You’ve Been Gone” to 41 to “see you yesterday.” You go from a big high to … whoops. Yeah, it’s hard to recover from that. I mean, that takes a long time to recover from. Probably some of the biggest shows … first time we headlined … it wasn’t even our own management, it was in Kansas City, it was Soldiers & Sailors [Memorial Auditorium] … that first headline, sold-out show a week in advance, you never forget it. The Cotton Bowl in Dallas when we did that first Texas Jam with Van Halen and us and Heart and all those bands … Eddie Money. I mean, we were on Walter Cronkite. I mean, that was 104,000 people or something. Just to pick a couple, but 5,000 shows, we’ve had some really incredible ones. And then you’ve also had some ones where you were backing the semis up to keep the stage from falling over backwards or something like that. By the way, the Texas Jam … the show we did two days before out on the airfield I the middle of Kansas – I can’t think of the name of the town – was where the plane practiced to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. So here’s Van Halen and Eddie Money and Heart playing in this airstrip surrounded by wheat fields in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, and then two days later we’re doing the Texas Jam. Whenever we go out to Kansas people still talk about that (laughs).

Is that right?
RB: Oh yeah. In the business today, those shows don’t happen. That was a special place and time, and to be a part of that was amazing, and you know, other things are emerging, but the TV video market has changed all of that. We won’t see those kinds of things again.   

I’ve got to ask you about that St. Louis show again. Did you know he was bringing that sign out?
RB: No, we knew it was back there, but nobody knew when they plugged [it in] … see the starters for the fluorescent bulbs, when those starters kicked in … because most synthesizers … I had one of the first Moogs ever manufactured … it threw all the oscillators out of whack. So we knew the sign was back there, but I didn’t know it was plugged in with my keyboard. Killed everything in sight, but that’s the way it goes. So all these guys from L.A. are sitting there and going, “Well, this is pretty happening.” We slogged through it.

That wasn’t the only time you had something go wrong with your synthesizer.
RB: Oh yeah. Well, we had something one day, and it’s on YouTube – it’s probably still on YouTube – where my strap broke – because I carry it around my neck now, and back then I didn’t do that – and it went sailing across the stage. And my lead singer fortunately had the cord and caught it right before it was going to pave the security guy, and the synthesizer went over the side of the stage, and the crowd goes, “Whooooaa.” And I pulled it up like it was a big fish, and at the very end of the “Never Been Any Reason” solo, the last solo, I go, “woo ooo,” the crowd just went absolutely bonkers. There are always things that happen, you know, with this breaking and that falling, or this happened with some guy. When you play as many shows as we did, there are a lot of show stories.

In the making of “Never Been Any Reason,” I think you had two Moogs playing, right – to create that famous sound?
RB: Well, yeah, actually that was the album … a lot of times some of the best accidents happen in studios. You just have to be aware of them. I’d forgotten to hit the “mute” button. I played two different solos, you know, to make sure we had a good one, and I played two different solos and I forgot to hit the “mute” button, and it went live, and I’m going, “Oh, crap” – because back then it wasn’t computer stuff, where it was all in a computer. You did the mixes live standing at the board, which by the way I think is the better feel to music, too. I’m not a fan of computerized mixing. And it went by like that, and we go, “Oh,” and then all of a sudden, we went, “That sounds pretty neat. Let’s hear that back again.” And the engineer really liked the way it sounded, so we went back in and took the second solo that was falling … we had to make some changes, obviously, so it fit together really well. And that was the end of that. That was not the initial thought, but …

It was a happy accident, though.
RB: We were talking about “Love Me Tonight.” That was a song we played live and it never quite came together, and it never quite came together, and it never quite came together, but it was a great song and we knew it, but it just never felt quite right. And there was a funky little guitar that was strung kind of weird sitting in the corner of the Golden Voice studio, and Mike picked it up and hit it, and I go, “Wow! That might be it.” And when we put that guitar with the other guitar we had, it kind of changed. It wasn’t a 12-string sound, but it changed the rhythm sound and really made the song come alive. So that’s a song that never really came alive until we were in the studio, and it was just happenstance.

I was going to ask you about the ‘80s, and I know that wasn’t a great commercial time for you, but what album of that era do you think should people go back and revisit?
RB: Well, the last record we did … the next to last record we did on A&M actually the European market was finally breaking, because in Europe, Flat as a Pancake was too early for them. So we’re hoping that the double live re-release will rectify that situation, but the Different Kind of Crazy album, there was a song on there that I always thought had magic to it, which was “If You Knew Me Better.” And that did really, really well in Europe, and a lot of the Austrian and German bands play that song and we’re hoping to take, with these two albums, Raise A Little Hell and the re-release, to take advantage of that, because now the European market is almost a better place to release a record than the American market. But some of the things we did on independent labels, we had some good cuts here and there, but for bands of the ‘70s, we were dinosaurs at the time. Playing a Hammond organ was like, “Oh, how archaic can you be?”

And now, if you play a Hammond, you’re like the coolest thing on earth. So it really wasn’t until the mid-‘90s when things started turning around, and we became “classic.” I said that just means you’ve lasted a long time. And people started taking a renewed interest in this stuff. I mean, there were a few bands that got through the ‘70s that had more success. And that was okay by me. But all the ‘70s bands, by the latter part of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, unless you were like the Bee Gees and totally changed what you were doing and stuff like that, that was a pretty tough time.

With this new album, I suppose you’re going to try to build on the momentum of it. Is there going to be any new music from Head East?
RB: Our intention … well, first of all, we’re going to do Raise a Little Hell on vinyl in the fall. I think the record is worthy of that. That collector thing, that niche marketing, is just becoming really critical, and of course, in my opinion, vinyl is still the best way to listen to it. Most audiophiles … that’s what they prefer, but our intention is to do a whole album of all brand new songs in the winter. We have some really good songs. Unfortunately, we’re not going to get to field test them prior as much as we have with “Prisoner” and “One Night,” the new songs on this record, because we need to push what we have now. But we’re definitely planning on doing an all complete set of brand new tunes. The down side of that, Peter, is that there’s so much resistance to new music, you’re really caught in this, “Boy, we need to get something new out there and try and stay fresh, and we have some new ideas and we have really good songs” vs. “Are you going to put all the sweat, blood and tears and money and potential heartache into something that’s really going to not get any play on it.” But our intention now is to definitely do one. You just have to keep plugging away. And like I said, once again, you hope the stars line up for you one more time.

I was going to ask you about, and I know you’ve been asked about it a million times, how the band’s name came about. It was a suggestion from a roadie, Baxter Forrest Twilight. He was a pretty colorful character. What do you remember about him and his coming to the band to suggest a change of names to Head East?
RB: He is a colorful character. Well, we still see him. He lives outside of San Jose. We still see him a couple of times … my wife and I ski. In fact, we have a condo in Tahoe and we skip there about three weeks a year. But he’s still in San Jose, and we still see him. He was an earth muffin guy. He was definitely into the culture, shall we say, of the early ‘70s, and he just came in. We were looking for a new name, because our old name [TimeAtions], when we were primarily a teen center band, we decided we were going to change our name when we hit the college circuit, because our drummer Steve … we couldn’t play the clubs. His mom was great, a wonderful lady, but she was very religious and conservative, and we never could play the bars. Even as a teen center band, we were showing some success. So as soon as everybody went to college, we were going to get a chance to play … we were looking for a new name, and he came in and when he said, “Head East,” we said, “Okay. That sounds pretty good,” and major religions look to the east and on and on and on. And it just sounded better than anything else, and so Head East it was. We probably would have preferred something like The Police or Trooper or something, because we’ve always had problems with people remembering the name.

Oh, is that right? I always thought it was a great name.

RB: You’d think they’d remember. You go what? What’s so difficult about Head East? But sometimes people get thrown. Well, it’s just like with “Never Been Any Reason.” Everybody knows that song as “Save My Life,” and they tried to get Mike [Somerville] to re-title it as “Save My Life,” but we refused. Back then, writers had more independence than today. I would just go, “No, we’re going to name it ‘Save My Life.’” Whenever it would get played, people would call up and ask for that “Save My Life” song when we were a new band, and sometimes some of the jocks and people would … because it was called “Never Been Any Reason,” it caused us some problems. Obviously, in the long haul, we were able to overcome it, but things like that, you don’t think about that when you just get started, it becomes so critical.