Friday, April 17, 2009

Rock and roll makes you stupid

Like many another clueless air guitar rebel, I sang in a band during the Seventies, a strange assortment of druggies, layabouts, alkies and genius geeks who all loved hard rock. I was the singer, and the songs I sang ranged from Trower to Led Zep to Deep Purple to Mountain--I had a miserable voice but I was the one who could get a raspy tone and volume, so sang I did. No one seemed to mind, most likely because they were usually as drunk as I was. In any case, Dewar and Trower were the perfect combination of singer and guitarist--there likely hasn't been a collaboration this good since Rod Steward and Jeff Beck or Paul Rodgers and Paul Kossoff (in the late, great band Free). Trower, additionally, is about my favorite British blues guitarist--he broke the Clapton mold his fellows got snared by and developed his own sound; I think he's quite distinct from Hendrix, even with the similarities. I've seen him pass through town in the last few years, and the man plays better than he ever has. Yeah. Great stuff. The saddest day of my life , though, was when someone who'd recorded one of my band's kegger gigs played the the gig--we sounded awful. Even the time-honored honored rock and roll aesethetic the favors attitude over expertise, we we sucked,in turn, long, deep and hard. A bag full of agitated electric razors would have sounded better than the clamour we were producing, out of tune, atonal,thumping, with a guitarist who was fried on cocaine and rum who managed to make his guitar sounded worse than car alarms screaming in a West Virginia mall. I , in turn, had the timbre that sounded, to be kind to myself, like someone who was clearing his throat over the loudest microphone on the stage. A crazed dog would have told me to shut the fuck up. I didn't stay quiet, though. That night we had a gig and what I did was to drink more and scream harder. My voice was gone the following morning and I could talk or eat shell fish for a month.

2 comments:

  1. From where I sit, it is a tad profane to lump the likes of Free in with Robin Trower's work as a bandleader. Free was a pack of lean, mean cocks o' the walk, never portentious or pretentious, just intent on delivering innuendostic blues-rock with the kiss of a well-stropped razor. Paul Kossoff sliced his riffage as clean as possible and Paul Rodgers was credible enough to make you believe he had a real live throbbing libido, as opposed to a messiah complex. "All Right Now" and "The Stealer" testify to this. On the other hand, Trower and his bloated mouthpiece Jim Dewar were purveyors of pseudo-profundities, Procol Harum minus the weirdness and wit, wielding piledrivers upon the skulls of downer-gobbling teens. Really, there's no excuse for this, even if you can play guitar pretty well and have lots of effects toys. If you don't believe me, READ the mythology-ridden, gibberish-laden lyrics to Bridge of Sighs and see if they don't fill your head with something akin to suet pudding. Rock and roll CAN make you stupid if you ingest too much of this sort of thing. Kossoff, Rodgers and company did their business with a wink and a strut, while Trower and Dewar pushed the faces of their fans into clutching mudpits of moist Wagnerian goo. Other than that, I can't tell them apart...

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  2. Well, we're on the same page regarding Free, the best example of blues-rock we've seen come our way. Their album "Heartbreaker" in particular is a masterpiece, I think--Rodgers never sang with more expression and grit, and the combination of Kossof's cranky guitar sanguinations with the chilling organ oscillations made for a rock album that could take me deeper into my own brooding than most of my other albums could. I do have to defend Trower and Dewar, though; the trio were a simple, tough slice of the blues tradition who managed to borrow something of Hendrix's rhythm and blues mojo and harden it just so. There are a good number of ram-charging songs on the first two albums--"Fool and Me", "Day of the Eagle", "Too Rolling Stoned"--give us an excellent idea of what Hendrix's guitar work might have sounded like if he had a steady rhythm section. Trower is a rather smooth and fluid blues stylist, not a speed demon, and there is very little in his band's oeuvre that sounds anything like Procul Harum who were, in any case, a frequently terrific band during Trower's tenure. "A Salty Dog" and "Broken Barricades" are collections I'll stand by. As for Trower's lyrics, I don't hear the myth mongering you mention-- you seem to be stuck on the lyrics to "Bridge of Sighs", which might tap into a common set of racial archetypes, but even then it isn't the ostentatiouisly repulsive drivel Yes foisted on us. Dewar's vocal is over wrought, yes, but the lyrics, the lyrics well , the lyrics are no grandiose or pretentius or gibberish than what one can pluck from Blake. Or Yeats. For the other lyrics, they aren't that bad--not great, mind you, but not offensive to one's trained ear or personal canon. And Jim Dewar was one hell of blues belter--I love man's voice.

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