Brian Arsenault Takes On GLADSHOT’s CD, “Maxwell’s Cool Demon”

March 7, 2015

By Brian Arsenault

So Kath and I had to go all the way to St. Martin and back in time to find a New York band of distinction, GLADSHOT. We were walking into the hotel and Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill, the band’s two principals, were walking out of their room. In that friendlier way people are on vacation, we all said hello. That eventually led to us becoming vacation pals and their mailing us Maxwell’s Cool Demon, released least summer.

I missed the album then. I miss a lot early on because there’s so much new stuff and I’m too lazy to listen to it all but that’s no reason for you to go on missing this magically melodic album if you have so far.

There are terrific harmonies, hints of the Beatles, and rhythms, a bit of Stones, throughout. Yet it’s the melodic patterns, sometimes CSN and sometimes early Zombies but always their own, that take you deep into the album. That is never more apparent than on my favorite “Dog On A Skylight.”

Debbie leads off vocally and Mike harmonizes and then leads and more harmony and the warm melody swirls around you like the Caribbean Sea even as the lyrics bite on the nature of perception and despair mingled with hope.

Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill

Despair mingles with hope more directly and sardonically on “We Live in America.” “Build me a dream with no trace of fear” sings Mike. How appropriate to our times when I’m not sure what to be afraid of: North Korean missiles, Russian aggression in the Ukraine, ISIS insanity spreading everywhere, or pop charts topped by Beyonce and boy bands.

Pop music phobia gets treatment in “Corp Safe” where the music industry “manage(s) the filter.” In fact the corporate pop world as a whole provides a “delicate balance of distraction and fear.” Watched any “Housewives” of anywhere lately? Be afraid, be very afraid.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when it seemed the artists had managed to grab control of music and records and we wouldn’t have to suffer through industry created Bobby Vee “Rubber Ball” pop anymore. That was another ’60s-’70s dream of course. The empire struck back early and often to have us “Call Me Maybe.”

Still the rise of digital decried by many, including myself, created a world in which recordings can be made without the big labels. And sometimes still we get a GLADSHOT; although great bands can toil in relative obscurity without the “Good Morning America/People Magazine” hype machine where today we revel in Kim K becoming a blond.

Maxwell isn’t all anger, though, as the album is too poetic to lock into a single emotion. I like so much Mike and Debbie singing together on “Steady Light” as they each “wait for your steady light . . . (that) doesn’t ever fade away.”

And the blue and yellow “Star Tatoo” has a kind of “Strawberry Fields” imagery and Lennonesque irony. I am pretty sure this would have been Lennon’s favorite song on the album.

By the way, I notice they’ve been kicking The Walrus pretty hard lately. Can Lennon really have been great if he had human flaws, some of them pretty damn big, can he? Guess there have never been great artists who were something less than perfect people. Damn.

Anyway, GLADSHOT is a fine band and Maxwell’s Cool Demon will bring you in, sit you down, separate hot from cold and weave its spell. Who hasn’t wanted to have “Fun With Hydrangeas.”

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Live Music: The Fab Faux at the Valley Performing Arts Center

September 21, 2014

By Don Heckman

Northridge, CA. Memories galore resonated through the architecturally grand, acoustically captivating Valley Performing Arts Center on the campus of CalState Northridge Saturday night. Memories, that is, of an era dominated by the Beatles.

The performance, by the Fab Faux, was yet another display of the Center’s growing presence as the creative center for the arts that has long been missing from the San Fernando Valley. And the overflowing packed house, full of 1700 enthusiastic listeners, underscored Executive Director Thor Steingraber’s quest to prove VPAC’s “commitment to arts and entertainment experiences of every variety.”

Which is exactly what listeners experienced in the Fab Faux. There are numerous Beatles tribute bands and cover bands in various parts of the world. But the Fab Faux are unique. Neither dressing in period Beatles costumes nor wearing Beatles hair-dos (or wigs), they focused instead upon the rich creative density of the Beatles’ extraordinary catalog of music.

The Fab Faux

The Fab Faux

The Fab Faux consist of bassist Will Lee, guitarist Jimmy Vivino, drummer Rich Pagano, guitarist Frank Agnello and keyboardist/guitarist Jack Petruzzelli, backed by the Creme Tangerine Strings and the Hogshead Horns.  All of the principal members also sang, doing so without resorting to attempts at imitating either the sounds or the accents of the original Beatles.

The first set was devoted to a broad selection of songs, mostly by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, reaching from “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Paperback Writer” to “Nowhere Man,” with dozens of stops in between.

On the second set, climaxing a long, musically stunning evening, the Fab Faux and their accomplices performed the classic Beatles album Abbey Road in its entirety.

As noted above, this was not a collection of imitations, in any sense of the word. While the musical spirits of the Beatles were ever present in virtually every note, there was another aspect of the Fab Faux performance that was even more closely related to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. And that was the persistent effort by the Fab Faux to find the creative potential that resides in the heart of the songs.

Guitarist Vivino may have described it best when he said, “This is the greatest pop music ever written, and we’re such freaks for it.”

In that sense, the Fab Faux and the Valley Performing Arts made the perfect pairing on this memorable night: classic pop music, played with the sort of creativity that inspired the original versions, in a setting perfectly framed for imaginative performances.

Film Review: B.B. King “The Life Of Riley”

May 21, 2014

By Devon Wendell

There have been countless films made about the blues and about B.B. King. A large percentage of these films merely focus on how King (Born Riley B. King on September 16th, 1925, between Itta Bena and Indianola Mississippi) inspired a plethora of overdriven, unoriginal rock guitarists from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Very few have focused on the validity of the man’s music in its own right and the bleak conditions that helped to create the blues.

B.B. King and Lucille

B.B. King and Lucille

Director John Brewer has successfully captured the heart and soul of B.B. King the man and the musician in his new documentary The Life Of Riley (released in select theaters throughout the US on May 21st, VOD on June 1st, and on DVD and blue ray on June 17th.) The film is warmly narrated by fellow Mississippi native and blues lover Morgan Freeman.

Although we hear from dozens of King’s famous admirers and colleagues such as Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, John Lennon, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Rodgers, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bill Cosby, John Mayall, and Robert “Jr.” Lockwood, it’s the true and often harrowing tales of surviving life as a young black share cropper in the deep South that resonate as strongly as the sound of King digging deep into the strings of his guitar Lucille.

Brewer lets King, as well as his siblings, cousins, and distant relatives, tell a story of a life of a young man surrounded by constant labor and the reality of the most inhumane violence, hatred, cruel conditions, terror, and hell behind the forces of that labor.

There is a look of pain on King’s face as he recalls having started picking cotton from “can to can’t” (“from when you can see to when you can’t”) at the early age of seven and witnessing the Ku Klux Klan brutally castrating and torturing a young black boy to death after being accused of talking to a white woman, An image that has haunted the king of the blues his entire life.

As King recently makes his way to his original home, a tape is played of King’s late father Albert, giving directions and reminiscing about the small rural plantation in Mississippi. This is one of the most touching moments in the film. The love and sorrow is in every expression on King’s face as he looks outside of his tour bus at the familiar sites as he hears his dad guiding him back home.

King visits his late mother’s grave site. She passed away of diabetes while King was barely a teen. After that, King was forced to move from one relative’s home to another.

King talks about feeling “abandoned” after his mother’s death. It was around this time that he discovered the guitar and it’s been the driving force of his life ever since.

As each tale unfolds, we hear the music of field hollers, and Mississippi “country” blues icons Charlie Patton, Bukka White (King’s cousin) and Blind Lemon Jefferson, not to mention fantastic footage of King performing throughout his illustrious career.

Brewer takes us on the long journey from Mississippi to Memphis, where King cut his very first sides at the legendary Sun Records studio for the Bullet and Modern labels.

There’s still nothing like that very first recording of “Three O’ Clock Blues” recorded in the early ‘50s for The Bihari Brothers. At this time, King became a disc jockey for Memphis’ radio station WDIA with Rufus Thomas.

From Memphis we’re taken on the “chitlin circuit” in the ‘60s where segregation is ever present. King recalls almost being killed in Memphis the night Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered when every room in the hotel King and his band were staying in was burned down.

In the midst of broken marriages, hit records, and long tours, King never stopped working on his music. Friends and band members praise the work ethic of this great man and how he loses himself in every single note of a performance. B.B. King becomes one with the music that comes from pain but is made out of love.

What makes The Life Of Riley better than most documentaries about the blues is that it serves as a poignant and powerful reminder of the true pain and dreadful conditions that gave birth to the real blues B.B. King plays that has almost been forgotten by younger generations of blues/rock musicians.   Today, hard times for a “blues” musician are when the balance on his/her Starbucks card gets too low for a refill.

Thank God these conditions have changed but it is clear that there are no more musicians alive today who play the honest, unfettered blues the way B.B. King still plays them.

All of the music industry stuff and talk by self- indulgent English blues plagiarists are mere fluff compared to the simple honesty of the story about love and survival portrayed in this film.

Music lovers do not miss this film.

This is the real deal.


An Appreciation: Hugh McCracken — A Fond Remembrance

March 29, 2013

By Devon Wendell

I was saddened when I learned that Hugh McCracken passed away of leukemia yesterday – March 28th, 2013 – in New York City.

While working at Donald Fagen’s recording studio in New York in the 90s, I was constantly surrounded by the top session musicians of the world on a constant basis, especially during a Steely Dan recording project. Some of these titans included: Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Paul Griffin, The Brecker Brothers, and Hugh McCracken. I was absolutely terrified and intimidated by just about all of them with the exception of McCracken. He didn’t have the ultra-cool, funky, macho boastfulness that Purdie and some of the others had that could make a wannabe, geeky musician and engineer like myself feel like the most un-hip person in the world.

Hugh McCracken

McCracken was very approachable and generous with his musical abilities. I wanted to meet him the most because I was not only a budding guitarist, but also a blues fanatic and I knew that McCracken played the original guitar rhythm track on B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” which is one of the most original and tasteful guitar parts ever recorded.

During down time, I’d be in the live room of the studio rapping cable or taking down microphones while McCracken would be laying down some sweet bluesy licks and chords, alone on a chair in the corner. He had a relaxed, pensive look on his face.

I was very young and played in an overly, flashy manner, not trusting in the economical power of the blues. Larry Carlton had donated a Gibson semi-hollobody guitar to the studio that I used to play all the time. On a few occasions, I’d talk to McCracken and show him some fast blues runs that I had learned. He’d look at me without judgment and say, “Well, try it this way,” while cutting everything I had shown him into a half or more. It made what I was playing sound sloppy and rushed. He knew exactly how to get right to the point with a few perfectly placed notes and with the right tone.

He taught me that you couldn’t always play like Godzilla behind a good singer or in a larger orchestral sound. All I thought about before then was the guitar solo and putting my stamp on everything too loud and too fast. Can you imagine if McCracken had tried to play like Buddy Guy or Hendrix on Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen?”

McCracken also changed my perception of playing the guitar with other artists in the studio. He made it work throughout his entire career with everyone from The Funatics in his youth in New Jersey, to Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, James Taylor, John Lennon, The Four Seasons, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Aretha Franklin, and countless others as a primarily New York based player.

So many guitarists today could learn from MCracken’s example of not tossing out your entire technique within the first four bars and really complimenting a song in a extremely imaginative and funky fashion. I wouldn’t be a session player without having heard McCracken’s timeless guitar playing. He will be deeply missed.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

CD Review: Bob Dylan’s “Tempest”

September 15, 2012

Tempest (Columbia)

By Devon Wendell

Savage imagery of Hell on earth, twisted ultra violence, sinking ships, whores, and  dying villains mixed with the language and rhythms of true American blues, country, Celtic traditions, and R&B  make Bob Dylan’s Tempest a sinister yet melancholy masterpiece.

In the rollicking jump blues of the opening track, “Duquesne Whistle,” Dylan takes us right to the heart of the obsession with trains and getting out of town before it’s too late that’s always been a part of blues history. There are intentional similarities to the Memphis Jug Band belting out “I thought I heard That KC When She Blows” from 1925. Tony Garnier’s walking bass line drives the superb multi-layered guitar harmonies carefully crafted by Donnie Herron, Charlie Sexton, Stu Kimball, and David Hidalgo.

The slow R&B flavored ballad “Soon After Midnight” is an anticipation of an after hours romance, while declaring a man’s vitality from a life lived to the bone, and  the many women who’ve come and gone.  Dylan’s sense of urgency –

“It’s now or never more than ever,

when I met you I didn’t think you would do”

– makes it feel as if he is coming to terms with his own mortality, chasing down an old love which has been a common theme of all Dylan’s recent recordings, starting with 1997’s Time Out Of Mind.

“Narrow Way” directly borrows some verses from the Mississippi Sheiks 1934 “Work Down To Me Someday.” This is a classic “You’ll be sorry someday” blues warning of a bitter and scorned lover.  Dylan covers jealousy, anger, fear, and regret in every verse, as the band cooks up a loud electric Delta blues groove.

“Long And Wasted Years” is a sad and remorseful plea to a long lost lover. Dylan sings of an all encompassing romance that made the world disappear and family forgotten.

“I think when my back was turned the whole world burned.

It’s been a while since we walked down that long, long aisle.”

Dylan sings about the double-edged sword of a co-dependent relationship.

In ”Pay in Blood,” Dylan paints a clear picture of a character who’s lived a life of bloody brutality.

I can stone you to death for the wrongs that you’ve done”

Dylan warns politicians, respected leaders, and good time harlots that he’s no man to mess with. The arrangement on this number is reminiscent of late ’70’s Rolling Stones slick rock n’ roll.

On the haunting minor key “Scarlet Town,” Dylan hits us with images of a hometown plagued with death, beggars, a “flat chested junkie whore” and terror, making his 1965 classic “Desolation Row” feel like a peppy walk through Disneyland.

Some of the images here bring to mind the absurdist hell of Samuel Beckett’s Watt mixed with the no-holds barred language of a Nelson Algren novel.

Over the past few albums, Dylan has used classic Chess records blues arrangements, as is the case on “Early Roman Kings,” which is a tale of greed, immorality, and male machismo set to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy.”

But at this point, the violent boasting starts to feel redundant, and as great as the band is, it would be more interesting if Dylan and company had come up with their own arrangements. But Dylan’s hoarse, strained vocals often bare a frightening resemblance to Howlin’ Wolf towards the end of his life, especially with the backdrop of these Chicago blues rhythms. David Hidalgo’s accordion work brilliantly mimics every nuance of Little Walter’s harmonica phrasing.

More images of a bleak apocalyptic world continue throughout “Tin Angel,” in which Dylan’s narrative is of three traveling characters involved in a murder-suicide. Donnie Herron’s mandolin colorfully laces each one of Dylan’s verses perfectly.

The title track “Tempest,’” with its Celtic rhythms, is about the sinking of the Titanic. Although each verse delivers clear and powerful images of dead bodies floating in water as the ship goes down, 14 minutes is too long to have to endure all of this, and you’d think Dylan could do a little better than making direct references to the Titanic motion picture. Even with that said, Dylan’s detailed snapshots make you feel as if he were there during this historical disaster.

The closing number “Roll On John” is a haunting, mournful ballad, reliving the assassination of John Lennon.  This is the most moving track on the album because you can feel Dylan’s personal connection and love for Lennon, with references to some of Lennon’s lyrics. Dylan sounds vulnerable, as if he is about to burst into tears. He also sounds as though he feels left behind by Lennon.

Many fans may try to decode Dylan’s lyrics on Tempest to find personal, sociological, and political parallels to today’s world. But it’s clear that part of the man’s brilliance is creating well defined characters and telling clear and concise stories – qualities which are too often sadly missing in music today. On Tempest (as on most of Dylan’s past work), he has created a whole album meant to be listened to from start to finish, no matter how far down those dark roads he takes us. And no matter how much we try to decipher what every verse means, only Dylan knows for sure.  So we’ll just have to misinterpret these songs to fit our own lives as we’ve had to do since his very first album, which is fine for Dylan and for all his dedicated fans.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Record Review: The Jeff Beck Group (Vinyl Reissue from 1972)

July 14, 2012

 Jeff Beck Group

Jeff Beck Group (Audio Fidelity in Vinyl)

 by Brian Arsenault

Rod (“Where’s my next blond?”) Stewart was gone.  Ronnie (“I’ll be a Face of the Stones someday”) Woods was gone.  The bluesier Bob Tench was brought in to sing and the late Cozy Powell showed why he was maybe the best of the British rock drummers of the era.

This was 1972’s Jeff Beck Group album, the fourth and final of the band under that name whatever the lineup.  And at its best it is the best of the four.

Jeff Beck


The leadoff song alone — the Beck penned “Ice Cream Cakes” — is an unknown classic, if such a thing can be. It’s a bluesy number wherein Tench makes you wish he’d been the original vocalist, Beck provides rich and vibrant overlays of guitars, and Powell just drums everyone out of the corps. Why this song didn’t have a twenty year run on FM radio is a mystery to me.

And that sort of symbolizes Beck’s career. Revered by other musicians and electric guitar afficionados right up until today, he’s just never received the same public attention as other greats of the Second Golden Era of Rock in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.

Part of it was that he never quite popped the wow factor of The Who’s Tommy or The Beatles Sgt. Pepper. There was always Clapton forming Cream and of course Jimi mind blowing everybody. Yet there was never better musicianship than that provided by Beck and his band and it’s dazzling in more than one place on this album.

The second side’s lead-in song “Going Down” sees Cozy hit the incredible pace of “Ice Cream Cakes” yet again.  Max Middleton plays his particular brand of honky-tonk rock piano and Jeff jumps in and away we go. The piano and guitar leads bounce off each other throughout to great effect.

What a pleasure it is to hear Beck playing within the structure and rhythms of the band, not jumping over it or simply biding time until his blasting solo. (Others will not be named but they know who they are.)

Another highlight is the cover of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Beck could be a real slow hand as well as blazing fast and he shows that here. But it’s Tench and the chorus that steal the number and give an early demonstration of how melodic and soulful a Dylan song can be when Bob’s tuneless gravely growl is removed.

Again we hear a generous Beck willing to play under the vocal rather Keith Richards-like. He just doesn’t have to compete with his singer or play over him.

“Glad All Over” has shades of early Cream and also reaches back to the John Mayall connection shared by so many of the elite Brit guitarists of the era. (Note to self: Why doesn’t Mayall get more attention and credit in the Rock Pantheon?)

Listeners will have other favorites but there are only nine songs on the album.  A quirk of Beck’s that probably also worked against him was short albums.  He also didn’t seem interested in producing a rock anthem, bless him. And bless all providers of vinyl albums in this digital (what does that mean anyway) era.

By the way, Johnny Fever said there was an obligation to teach the children about Rock. In that spirit and thinking of the young, all you have to know about the First Golden Era of Rock is the following.

1) Chuck Berry

2) Buddy Holly

One-two ranking is dependent upon my mood of the day.

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To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault click HERE

“Winter and Other Tales” by Brian Arsenault


Brian Arsenault’s November and Other Tales is a collection of short stories exploring the way cold comes by degrees in winter and in the human heart.  To check it out, click HERE.

An Appreciation: Jimmy Bond 1933 – 2012

May 10, 2012

Mike Lang has been a busy member of the Los Angeles musicians’ community for most of his adult life.  He’s been an accompanist for performers reaching from Ella Fitzgerald to John Lennon.  He’s recorded more than 2000 film scores And he’s written songs for Stan Getz, Fourplay, Herb Alpert and numerous others.  On many of those dates, he worked musically hand in hand with his good friend, Jimmy Bond.

By Mike Lang

Jimmy Bond left us on April 26th. He was and is arguably as close a friend as I could ever wish for, always on the lookout for ways to help others…. in music, in laughter, in living a full vibrant life of which he was “the benchmark” (!). I was a major recipient of his warmth, extraordinary generosity and humor…. Hanging out with “007” was special!

Jimmy was mentored in Philadelphia, a jazz mecca, and the purity and swing of his bass playing was the result we’ve all enjoyed throughout the years. Jimmy made some historic recordings with Chet Baker, including the special presence of Bobby Timmons… his star was rising….

Jimmy Bond

When Jimmy came to LA, he quickly became in demand for all kinds of work…. live and recorded jazz, and then…. freelance recording gigs with an incredibly diverse list of artists in so many fields:  jazz, pop, rock, folk, gospel, R&B and more (!)….. Here’s a sampling:

Henry Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald, The Crusaders, Johnny Griffin, Maya Angelou, George Shearing, Paul Horn, Eric Dolphy, Chico Hamilton, Nina Simone, Randy Newman, Frank Zappa (Lumpy Gravy), Jimmy Witherspoon, Gerry Mulligan, Harry Nilsson, Lou Rawls, Quincy Jones, Tim Buckley, Sam Cook, Sonny Rollins, Tony Bennett, B B King, Don Shirley, Leon Russell, Terry Gibbs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Brownie McGhee, Johnny Hartman, The Stone Poneys, Ike and Tina Turner. He was the “standup bass” fixture in many of Phil Spector’s recording sessions (now labeled “The Wrecking Crew”), and, if I’m not mistaken, that’s about when we met…. (two “Jazzers” on a rock date… perfect!)

As time evolved, Jimmy became busy as an arranger, working for producers Nick Venet, David Axelrod, Ed Michel and others with artists Linda Ronstadt, The Turtles, The Knickerbockers, Linda Ronstadt, Fred Neill and others.  Also, he was active as a composer and arranger of national jingles for Herman Edel, with film and television opportunities to follow.

His playing career continued to flourish, as he got busier and busier in film and television recording work… playing for the major studio orchestras including Alfred Newman at Fox, Joseph Gershenson at Universal and many others. At a time when very few African-American musicians were established in this field, Jimmy’s incredible grace, warmth, humor and skill opened all doors.

I am grateful to have shared so much with this incredible friend and musician. I miss him in all ways…. Thanks, Jimmy…. for all that you have done…

A memorial service for Jimmy Bond will take place at the Skirball Cultural Center on Saturday, May 26.  For more information, click HERE. 


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