Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guitar Icon Ronnie Montrose Dies

Sad news from the world of guitar rock. Pioneering rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose who headed his own bands Montrose and Gamma in the 70s and 80s and worked with the likes of Sammy Hagar, Edgar Winter and Van Morrison has died. More details here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Classic Album Review: ZZ Top's "Tres Hombres" Sets Bar High



Years before "Eliminator" put them into regular rotation on MTV and Top 40 radio, ZZ Top released "Tres Hombres", one of the best rock albums of all time.

All you've got to do is look at the center fold from Tres Hombres and you know it's a great album. The photo of a messy, albeit tasty looking, serving of Mexican food is enough to let you know you're in for a feast - in this case a musical one. The 1973 album is definately the Texas trio's best and possibly one of rock music's best of all time. One listen to Tres Hombres and you begin to understand why ZZ Top is still one of the staples of classic rock radio.

Tres Hombres Track by Track

This classic album kicks off in fine fashion with the gritty "Waitin' for the Bus". You can almost smell the tubes in Billy Gibbons' amp burning as the threesome chugs their way through the familiar riff. As is the case on several songs on the album, the lyrics of "Bus" are kept to a minimum as to allow Gibbons to open up on some extended solos. Notice also the bands penchant to change keys during the guitar solos. As early as 1973 Billy is already sounding like an old blues man - not bad for a guy who was still in his twenties at the time. And bassist Dusty Hill is in fine form as he provides the vocal harmonies.

Next up is the medium slow blues of "Jesus Just Left Chicago". These first two songs have been played as a pair for so long it's suprising to learn that the two songs weren't intended to run into each other as they do on the album. A recording engineer accidentily shortened the break between the two songs on the master tape and the rest is history. This is blues soloing at it's finest with one of the classic turnarounds in blues/rock history.

"Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" has been covered by the likes of Motorhead and Van Halen and is a ZZ Top concert fave to this day. The give and take of Billy and Dusty on vocals is awesome and the beardless Frank Beard sneaks in some tasty drumming - as usual. Listen close to the lyrics and you'll get a chuckle. Again Billy rips out a feisty solo with some really nice licks.

Perhaps one of the coolest songs never heard, "Master of Sparks" showcases just how musically tight ZZ Top is. Combine that with a crazy story (some claim it's at least partially true) about a guy getting in a metal cage and being thrown off the back of a truck at high speed and you've got a Texas sized tall-tale set to a mess of Gibson Les Paul swagger.

The blues is never too far from gospel and that is evident on a few tracks. "Hot, Blue and Righteous" has the passion and feeling of an old spiritual. Again, Billy and Dusty team up on vocals to great effect and the cleaner guitar tones of Mr. Gibbons are beautiful.

The album's second side (for those of us who remember when albums had two sides!) kicks off with "Move Me On Down the Line", perhaps the catchiest and most upbeat track on the album. The song features the familiar vocal give and take of Billy and Dusty with some tasty slide guitar work by the former. Again, listen for the key changes during the guitar solos - a ZZ Top trademark always used to good effect. I dare you not to sing along to this one!

Similar to "Master of Sparks" in it's tightness (and sheer coolness) "Precious and Grace" is another "story song" - this time about meeting up with two young ladies named, you guessed it, Precious and Grace. It seems as if a good time is about to be had by all when all of a sudden one of the gnarliest guitar solos on the album breaks out.

The most iconic song on the album (and possibly of all-time!) is track number eight. "La Grange" starts with Frank Beard's now famous "clickety click" as Billy grumbles out his ode to that "shack outside La Grange". Again, the lyrics are "briefy" and the guitar parts "beefy" as everyone and their grandma knows when to sing along with the "how, how, how". It's hard to imagine this song ever being new as it has become so familiar over the past 35 plus years but here it is. You really are hearing history in the making here.

Juxtaposed against the pounding boogie woogie of "La Grange" is the funky-cool "Shiek". Billy's guitar tone is clean yet slinky and Beard's drum work is especially tight on this one. This song also features a trippy extended ending that is pretty cool.

The album closer, "Have You Heard?" is another nod to ZZ Top's gospel influences. But unlike the mellower "Hot, Blue and Righteous", this one has some scorching slide guitar, growling vocals and tight three part harmonies. Again, this is another one that is hard not to sing along with.

Tres Hombres in retrospect

One of the things that sticks out about this album is the sheer sonic variety. It's been said that blues is about the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs. It that's true then ZZ Top really does pay homage to the music form. From singing about beer drinking and hell raising to singing songs to heaven, the trio really does run the gambit of the blues. Unlike their future 80's blockbusters Eliminator and Afterburner which seemed to fall into a formula (albeit a very lucrative one!) Tres Hombres is such a great album because it does just the opposite. This 1973 album showcases three musicians who apparently love the blues/rock idiom but are not afraid to mix things up a bit. And compare this album to some of their contemporaries at the time. Tres Hombres still sounds fresh even all these years later. That can't be said for a lot of the rock music from the early 70's. If you had to pick a handful of the greatest rock albums, Tres Hombres would definately be on that list.

Originally published at Suite101.com.

Classic Album Review: Montrose Debut Album Ahead of its Time




When you hear Montrose's excellent self-titled debut album you'll be impressed. When you realize it was released in 1973 you'll be amazed.

After working with Edgar Winter, Van Morrison, Herbie Hancock and others, guitarist Ronnie Montrose put out his first album as a band leader in 1973. His band included Bill Church on bass, Denny Carmassi on drums and a young Sammy Hagar on vocals. The thing that is most surprising about this album is that it is not more widely hailed as a hardrock masterpiece.

Montrose was the blueprint for future American hardrock and metal bands

While the group's debut album never had a huge impact on the record buying public, Montrose did influence many budding musicians of the day. Eddie Van Halen has sited Montrose as a major influence and Van Halen even covered some Montrose tunes in the early days. It was not surprising, then, when the Van Halen camp tapped Hagar to front the band when David Lee Roth departed in 1985. And VH is just one example of the influence of Montrose. Some have called Montrose the first American heavy metal album. That may or may not be the case, but the group did make major sonic enroads into a niche that was dominated by British bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.

Montrose paired a great guitarist with a great vocalist

As a group, Montrose was rock solid, but the guitar work of Ronnie Montrose and the vocals of Sammy Hagar are what really make the album shine. Ronnie Montrose was using feedback, harmonics and other lead techniques in ways that were mostly unheard of at the time. And Hagar is in fine form as the vocalist/frontman. To the uninitiated listener, Montrose sounds like it could be one of the many great rock albums to come out of the late 70's or early 80's. But then realize this is 1973! This album had the sound, the attitude, the production value of albums that would come ten years later! Compare this album to a Grand Funk, BTO or Guess Who album; that's not to slam any of those bands, but Montrose just sounds years ahead of any of those groups.

Great songs run throughout Montrose

There's not a lame track on the album, but there are a number of standouts that deserve special recognition. "Rock the Nation" is a great lead track and does an adequate job of introducing the band. I can only imagine what a rock music fan in 1973 thought of this song. I was only 6 or 7 at the time so I can't speak from experience, but I would assume this was quite a fist-pumper for the long haired set. "Space Station #5" is my personal favorite. This song features some trippy science-fiction sounds and subject matter (picture Logan's Run, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey or any other 70's science fiction movie) and a really cool vocal line by Mr. Hagar. It's a great song. If there's a "hit" off of Montrose it would be "Bad Motor Scooter", a great song featuring a 'slide guitar as motorcyle' riff that has been ripped off by Motley Crue and several others over the years. Who doesn't want to sing along with this one? It's possibly one of the greatest highway rock songs ever written. Of course you would have to include "Rock Candy" in this list of great songs. It starts with an awesome Zeppelinesque drum intro and then that famous greasy, swaggering guitar riff. This song should be considered one of the all-time great classic rock songs but for whatever reason it never charts too high on the classic rock songs countdowns. It's a shame as it has all the right ingredients.

Montrose in Summary

Montrose introduced the music world to a few things. First, it exposed us to a very versatile and talented guitarist and band leader in Ronnie Montrose. Second, it was our first look at one of rock's all-time great vocalists, Sammy Hagar - who is still at the top of his game even in his sixties! Third, it showed us that a simple, straightforward approach (ie. guitar, bass, drums) can work to great effect in a heavy rock context. If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and give this excellent album a listen.

Originally published at Suite101.com.

Classic Album Review: The Cars' debut album still sounds fresh




Walking a fine line between new wave and hard rock, The Cars' eponymous debut album sounds as good today as it did in 1978.

The Boston based Cars were something of a mystery when their first album, The Cars, was released in 1978. The album cover had no pictures of the band on the front but instead a photo of a smiling model with her hands on a steering wheel. In fact, the Cars were always something of a mystery. Ric Ocasek was the "leader" but he was no "front man" in the gregarious 'David Lee Roth' sort of way - and he didn't even sing all of the songs. And now that I think of it, the band members' pictures or personalities, for that matter, never were a major part of the program. One thing was no mystery, however; The Cars could craft some great, catchy, cool songs - and The Cars was full of them!

The Cars was "Just What I Needed"

Coming at a time when the pop music scene was feeling the tugs of punk, disco and corporate rock, the Cars provided a well needed burst of energy and their debut album presented a perfect mix of new wave and hard rock. "Just What I Needed" was the first single; written by Ocasek and sung by bassist Ben Orr (who would actually sing many of the group's most popular songs), the song encapsulated the Cars sound. Producer Roy Thomas Baker helped meld new wave lead vocals and keyboards with tasty pop/rock guitar playing to yield something that was pretty exciting in 1978. The fact that Baker had worked with bands like Queen didn't hurt either. He was a master at recording stacked vocals and great vocals are another signature of the album.

The Cars is a staple on Classic Rock Radio

Other singles from The Cars include "My Best Friends Girl" and "Good Times Roll"; great songs to be sure, but only part of the story. Really, every single song is great and you are just as likely to hear "You're All I've Got Tonight" or "Moving in Stereo" on your local classic rock station as you are to hear "Just What I Needed". One point to consider: Before the days of CD's, song order seemed to be alot more important, and the fact that albums had two sides meant bands thought in terms of sides and not just the overall album. Case in point: Side two of The Cars. The entire side could be viewed as a medley of sorts as each song fades into the next. It makes for a great continuous play.

Summary

To this day, the Cars continue to be one of the more popular bands of the classic rock era. Their quirky but hip style is emblematic of the late 70's and early 80's yet still sounds fresh today. And for a group that really didn't feature alot of "personalities", they sure were a great band with a handful of great albums. The Cars is probably their strongest album and, in fact, the band jokingly refers to their debut album as their first greatest hits album. They may have been joking, but they have a point - The Cars really is that good.

Originally published at Suite101.com.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blizzard of Ozz Bassist Bob Daisley Speaks Out




Just as Ozzy fans are celebrating the hoopla surrounding the 30th anniversary of "Diary of a Madman", original Blizzard of Ozz bassman Bob Daisley sets the record straight on his contributions to the band, his relationship with the late great Randy Rhoads and the Osbourne's heavyhandedness. Read about it here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Timothy B. Schmit: Eagle Soars Solo





Timothy B. Schmit of Eagles and Poco fame is about to set out on a solo tour of the west coast. Classic Rock Revisted sat down to talk with him. Read the interview here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Van Halen song and video is out!




You can now check out Van Halen's new single "Tattoo" and accompanying video. See it here.

Peavey Classic 30 a Great Buy for Tube Amp Fans on a Budget





Tube amp afficionados would be hard pressed to find a better value than the Peavey Classic 30. This 30-watt wonder delivers the goods at a reasonable price.

Tube ampers looking for a solid performer at an affordable price need look no further than the Peavey Classic 30. First introduced in the early 90's, the Classic 30 has established a reputation as a great little workhorse with the legendary durability of Peavey's earlier amp models.

Peavey Classic 30 Features

The Classic 30 features a simple yet functional design. While the Classic 30 is not a true two-channel amp (the gain stage and clean channel share the same tone block), the amp has alot of tonal versatility. From left to right, the C30's funky chicken head knobs control the following:

Normal - controls the clean volume;
Pre - controls the gain or level of breakup in the lead mode;
Post - controls the overall volume of lead mode;
Reverb - controls reverb effect for both lead and clean modes;
Bass, Middle and Treble - shared tone controls for both lead and clean modes.

Additionally, the control panel features two push buttons: one allows the player to switch between clean and lead modes (there is also an optional footswitch for this as well); the other engages a midrange boost witch adds a bit more "chunk" to the tone. Other features include an in/out for an effects loop and an external speaker jack. The C30 is available in a "vintagy" yellow tweed with oxblood grill cloth or in a black tweed with black grill cloth. More recent models feature a slightly more stylized appearance but the guts are the same as the older models.

How does the Classic 30 sound?

With three 12AX7's in the pre-amp and four EL-84's in the power stage the C30 pumps out a respectable tubey vibe. The EL-84's give it more of a Vox than Fender feel. It's high point is definately the clean mode. This little guy seems to perform equally well with single coils or humbuckers. In my particular 1994 model I was hard pressed to get any discernible break up in the clean channel. It was loud for such a small package. Only when I replaced the stock Chinese tubes with JJ's was I able to get the slightest amount of breakup; but even then it was pretty subtle.

The spring reverb, while not getting into Fender territory, is respectable. A Strat or Tele will sound quite respectable through the C30 but don't forget to plug in your LP or other double-coil equipped guitar. This amp can handle either.

While the clean mode is my favorite, don't be afraid to try the lead mode. The C30 seems to have ample gain for classic rock and does a fair job of cutting through the mix. As with many amps, I find maxing out the distortion tends to make things a bit muddy.

The mid-boost button can yield some interesting results but I find I don't use it very often. This feature is not selectable from a foot pedal so it's a little tough to engage on the fly.

The Classic 30 also seems to take effects pedals very well. Plug in a Tube Screamer or another distortion pedal and see what you think.

Classic 30 proves big things can come in small packages

One of the great things about this amp is its size to performance ratio. It's not very big yet can keep up with a drummer. You shouldn't have any trouble using this in a club setting and for anything bigger you can get great results miking it up or even driving a 2x12 or 4x12 cab. With this guy you can head out the door with your amp in one hand and guitar in the other and be prepared for just about anything. I've found myself leaving my bigger amps at home alot more often and grabbing the C30 instead.

Summary

Like a number of Peavey amps, the C30 is something of a "jack of all trades". This amp will give you a solid foundation for a number of playing styles. While it may not be the best amp on the market, it is a very good amp. And for the money it would be hard to find an amp that represents a better value. You could spend alot more money and find a better sounding amp but at a price ranging from $250 to $500 you can't beat the value. Add to that Peavey's reputation for nearly indestructible amps and the Classic 30 is a real winner.

This article was originally published at Suite 101.

In appreciation of Billy Squier




Ok, so this may sound "out of the blue" but Billy Squier never gets any respect. Last night I was listening to the local classic rock station and heard "Lonely is the Night" by Billy Squier. To be honest it was the first time I'd heard one of his songs in a long time. I had forgotten how great Billy Squier was (is?).

Hearing that song took me back to 1982 and my sophomore year of high school when my friend Jeff and I went to see Billy Squier at the Lloyd Noble Arena in Norman, Oklahoma. I believe it was the "Emotions in Motion" tour. Funny thing was, neither of us were really fans of him at the time. I mean we'd both heard "The Stroke" and seen a few videos on MTV but that was about it. I can't even remember the details surrounding our getting tickets. Maybe Jeff's mom bought them for us or something - I can't remember. Anyway, we both left that concert Billy Squier converts. In fact, to this day, that was one of the best concerts I've seen. He and his band just rocked! No heavy metal trappings (which my friend and I were totally into at the time), no huge light show, no theatrics - just great melodic hard rock. It was one great song after another with great guitar work throughout the set.

For whatever reason, Mr. Squier isn't in the limelight much anymore. I'm not sure why. I guess he's recently done Ringo Starr's all-star tour but this guy needs to be out on the road because, frankly, I'm sure he could still out rock most of the groups out there. Do yourself a favor and go buy a Billy Squier CD today. You won't be sorry. And Billy, where are you man? We'd love to see you!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Van Halen Tour Dates Released



Van Halen has released dates for their 2012 tour. Here they are.

Michael Schenker Announces Tour Dates






Good news for fans of the mad axeman. Michael Schenker has announced spring tour dates to promote his Temple of Rock release. More info.

Fender Deluxe Reverb: Does it live up to its reputation?



The Fender Deluxe Reverb has been touted as one of the all-time great amplifiers... and for good reason. Check out my review.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Peter Frampton's Happy Ending



These kinds of stories don't usually turn out this well. Peter Frampton has been reunited with his favorite guitar after 31 years! Check it out here.