Artists That SHOULD Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The 1970s

RockHall3

The current crop of artists and bands vying for entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a very impressive lists. Cutting across all genres, including rap, pop, rock, metal and alternative music (it is arguable that folk isn’t included, but that’s a rarity instead of the norm), the potential inductees in 2020 will have many more shots at the brass ring. But who from the past may be running out of chances at getting into the Rock Hall?

There are 221 artists and/or groups in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and many might say that the truly immortal have already been enshrined. It is tough to nitpick this fact but, in this first part of a series of essays on this subject, I was able to come up with five artists from the 1950s who have yet to be inducted for their influences on the world of rock music. In the second part of a multi-part essay series, the 1960s were covered with a selection of artists that covered genres that have contributed to the world of rock music. Now, it’s time for one of the most difficult decades to critique – the 1970s.

Before you think that all the greats from the 70s have been nominated, you’ve got to remember some that I’ve advocated for and for many years. In another article, I talked about artists such as Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett, who have never even been nominated. There’s also a corps of solid 70s rock bands – Boston, Styx and Kansas leading the way – that haven’t even been nominated. These artists and groups are a given, so let’s delve a little deeper and take a look at some artists who might not be on the top of the list but should be in the Rock Hall for their contributions to the genre (not saying those mentioned haven’t, but they’ve got their longtime advocates!). As a reminder, we’re not including those that have been nominated this year. And this by no means is a comprehensive list of those who should be inducted – they are arguably the most notable oversights, however.

New York Dolls

NewYorkDolls

While they may sound like they are a women’s professional football team, the New York Dolls were actually the genesis for several formats of rock in the States of America. Led by David Johansen (who would go on to arguably greater success as a character he created, “Buster Poindexter”) and backed by guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain, the group came out around the same time as 2020 Rock Hall nominee T. Rex. Much like T. Rex did in England, the Dolls embraced the glam style of rock and opened up some minds while expanding the musical landscape.

The Dolls are credited with having an influence on punk rock, glam rock, and even metal to a degree, while their style of androgynous dress – dressing like the opposite sex to the point where you couldn’t determine if they were women or men – became a staple of bands from the 70s through today. Their music impacted such diverse bands as the Sex Pistols, Guns ‘N’ Roses and the Smiths, with their lead singer Morrissey a proclaimed acolyte of the band.

What works against the New York Dolls is something that works against many bright, shining lights that burn out on the battleground of rock music – they weren’t around very long. Founded in 1971, by 1976 the band had broken up (by the time the band broke up, Thunders had quit the group and Blackie Lawless, who would go on to front his own band W.A.S.P., was doing the axe work for the group). As previously mentioned, Johansen would go on to do “Hot! Hot! Hot!” and front a full orchestra called “The Banshees of Blue,” which was a FAR cry from what he did during his days with the Dolls. The group would reunite in the 2000s, but the magic was gone. A fitting end for the New York Dolls would be to reach the ultimate goal – the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

KC and the Sunshine Band

KCSunshineBand

Although many don’t like to mention it, the disco era was a part of rock and roll. Many top rock acts of the day, including KISS (“I Was Made for Loving You”), The Rolling Stones (“Miss You”), Rod Stewart (“Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”), The Kinks (“Superman”) and many others all did a “disco” song, partially so that they would remain relevant during the disco era. As such, the Rock Hall should recognize the era and induct the best from that genre, starting with KC and the Sunshine Band.

Founded in 1973, the band would quickly find success in the discotheques of the U. S., first with “Get Down Tonight” in 1975 and followed by a litany of hit songs like “That’s The Way (I Like It),” “I’m Your Boogie Man” (covered by White Zombie is a genre mashup for the ages), and “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.” Of their six Top Ten singles, five of those went to #1 and the other went to #2…a pretty good track record.

There are many out there who would say that Chic, featuring the late drummer Tony Thompson and vocalist/producer/songwriter Nile Rodgers, would be a better choice, but why limit it to just one? Chic has been nominated on a few occasions and, honestly, should have already been inducted (Rodgers was inducted in 2017 via the “Award for Musical Excellence”). There’s no reason why both groups can’t be inducted, and it would bring the crème of the disco world into the Rock Hall.

War

WarBand

This was one that I had to really research before I came down for inducting the group. War was a groundbreaking funk act that not only pushed musical boundaries but also pushed the norms of the era. A multicultural ensemble, they were fronted for a time by Eric Burdon, who would ride with the group until he decided to go solo in the mid-70s. Whether with Burdon or without him, the group would put together a string of solid music.

Originally formed in 1969, War seemed to tap into the militancy of the time, when organizations and political elements felt they had to take stronger stances to make their points known. Beyond being multi-race, the music of War blended several different styles of music – Latin, jazz, blues and R&B – into a fusion that became a very recognizable sound. “Spill the Wine,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” and the classic “Low Rider” were the recognizable tunes from the band, only a sampling of the 14 songs that hit the Billboard Hot 100.

There might be others with a better chart history, but War delivered outside of simply the musical realm. They were groundbreakers in musical styling, they were groundbreakers in getting the best musicians for the band, regardless of race (much like 2020 Rock Hall nominee The Doobie Brothers), and they were able to maintain an excellence even after losing what many thought was the only thing driving them to success (Burdon). For these things, they do deserve induction.

Carole King and Gordon Lightfoot

As stated previously, I’ve been a longtime proponent of both Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They have both been at the forefront of their genres – Zevon in the creation of the “California sound” of country rock (along with another potential nominee, Gram Parsons) and Buffett in the creation of “trop rock.” But there’s a couple of other singer/songwriters that should also be inducted.

CaroleKing

Carole King’s contributions to the rock world are nearly too numerous to mention. Teaming up with Gerry Goffin in 1958, she would write 118 songs that hit the Billboard Hot 100, including such tunes as “Up on the Roof” (The Drifters), “One Fine Day” (The Chiffons), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin) and many others. When she finally got around to doing her own material, King only came up with Tapestry, considered one of the greatest albums not only of the 1970s but of all time. She’s technically in the Rock Hall as a “contributor” with Goffin, but she deserves her own place in the building as a performer and songwriter.

Lightfoot is one of those artists that many say, “he’s not in there already?” The Canadian is one of the people who helped move folk music into the mainstream with such tunes as “If You Could Read My Mind’ and “Sundown.” It is his epic tour de force on “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” that most people remember him for, however. He’s been covered by such diverse artists as Johnny Cash, Herb Alpert, The Tragically Hip and Paul Weller.

GordonLightfoot

None other than Billy Joel has said that he intentionally wrote songs to “sound” like Lightfoot, all the way down to the vocals. This can be heard in Joel’s classic album The Stranger, with the song “She’s Always a Woman” being perhaps the best example of the Lightfoot influence. Lightfoot continues to perform, and strongly it must be added (usually when you see an 81-year old onstage, it isn’t their best work – Lightfoot is the exception); it would be fitting for the man to receive recognition for his life’s work.

Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds

LoweEdmunds

This is arguably one of the more controversial choices because many people would say “who?” when these names are mentioned. But both men have been a key linchpin in the evolution of the British music scene, even today.

Lowe got his start in the early 70s with Brinsley Schwartz, a country and blues-based group, but his quirky approach and songwriting style didn’t lend itself to the staider sound that the band wanted. But it also allowed Lowe to pen songs that the band didn’t use that became staples of the rock world later on, songs such as “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” (a massive hit for Hall of Famer Elvis Costello) and the song that would become his biggest solo hit “Cruel To Be Kind.”

Lowe’s greatest contribution in stride with his songwriting was his producing. Not only did he produce Costello for many years, Lowe would be at the production board for the eclectic lot of Carlene Carter (his now ex-wife), The Damned, Paul Carrack, The Pretenders, John Hiatt, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and even the late Johnny Cash. His nickname ‘Basher’ came about because of his “bash it out” style in the studio, simply playing the songs and waiting until getting in the editing room to sweeten any sounds.

Edmunds followed a very similar path to Lowe. Playing the bar scene around the U. K., Edmunds demonstrated his virtuosity on the guitar, mostly concentrating on the blues and rockabilly. One of his big hits was in 1970 with a version of “I Hear You Knocking” that became a huge success. In the 80s, he would have some dabbling success as he tried to ride the MTV wave with “Slipping Away,” but he would be most remembered for his partnership with Lowe.

The Lowe/Edmunds duo partnered on arguably one of the iconic albums of the early 80s with their group Rockpile. Seconds of Pleasure was the only “official” Rockpile album (with Edmunds and Lowe sharing vocals alongside guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams), but the lineup basically served as the band for albums from Edmunds (Repeat When Necessary), Lowe (Labour of Lust) and Carter (Musical Shapes and Blue Nun). The Rockpile Years were the fusion of their love for the past in rock history while trying to move it forward in their own way.

While their chart legacy isn’t anything remarkable, the Edmunds/Lowe combination was one that brought the British music scene from the rockabilly sounds of the 1950s to the Beatles to the New Wave of the early 80s and onto this century. Their partnership, while fraught with infighting and disagreements, arguably brought out the best creatively between the duo. Like Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards, the duo of Edmunds and Lowe (and there would probably be complaints from Lowe that it should be Lowe and Edmunds) need to be recognized for their contributions.

Next up is a decade that is going to provide even more arguments between rock aficionados. The 1980s are going to start the blurring of the lines between what traditionalists call “rock & roll” and what some call “pop” or other genres that aren’t as readily recognizable as “rock.” As I’ve stated before, it’s a big umbrella when you’re talking about “rock & roll” and there’s going to be some artists in our next part of this series that aren’t going to be your traditional “rock & roll” artists or groups. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…in the next part of this series!

Artists That SHOULD Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The 1950s and Before

RRHallofFame

The current crop of artists and bands vying for entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a very impressive list. Cutting across all genres, including rap, pop, rock, metal and alternative music (it is arguable that folk isn’t included, but that’s a rarity instead of the norm), the potential inductees in 2020 will have many more shots at the brass ring. But who from the past may be running out of chances at getting into the Rock Hall?

There are 221 artists and/or groups in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and many might say that the truly immortal from the 1950s and before have already been enshrined. It is tough to nitpick this fact, but in this first part of a series of essays on this subject, I was able to come up with five artists who have yet to be inducted for their influences on the world of rock music. In one case, the artist has earned a nod for their “early influence,” but they really should be inducted as well for the priceless value of their performances.

“Big Mama” Thornton

BigMamaThornton

One of the groundbreaking blues singers, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, called that because…well, there’s no way to be kind about this…she tipped the scales at around 450 pounds, was a vocalist who owned the R&B charts in the early 1950s. For those that only remember Elvis Presley’s 1955 version of “Hound Dog,” it was Thornton who originally brought the song to the masses in 1952 with her powerful version of the song written by Leiber and Stoller. She was one of the groundbreakers for women in the industry as well, like another person that will appear on this list.

The possible downsides for Thornton getting in is that she didn’t have the longevity that many would like in their performers. By the early 1960s, Thornton’s star had faded and many had forgotten about the blues pioneer. Also, beyond “Hound Dog,” Thornton did not have a lengthy list of hits, although another song she wrote and performed, “Ball ‘n’ Chain,” was never released by her record company; it would eventually become a monster hit in the hands of Janis Joplin, who viewed Thornton as an influence.

Dick Dale

DickDale

While the Beach Boys get the credit for the creation of “surf music,” that credit should really go to the master of the surf guitar, Dick Dale. Dale was at the forefront of innovation with the electric guitar in the 1950s, creating the “surf music” sound by combining Middle Eastern influences, reverb and pure speed in bringing out his unique sound. Dale’s career wasn’t a lengthy one but, to the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and a host of other musicians and bands, Dale was a god.

Dale also is one of those artists that the Rock Hall misses out on honoring before they are no longer with us. Dale played right up to the last days of his life, passing away earlier this year from heart failure. It is very much like the nominations of Thin Lizzy and Motörhead this year, nominations that should have come long ago before the members of the group had passed away and not received the recognition they deserve.

Neil Sedaka

NeilSedaka

This was one that I initially didn’t agree with before I started my research. I always thought that Sedaka was just another nauseating “candy coated” pop music thief of black artists’ music. It was only after I really started looking at his career that I gradually began to shift my opinion.

Sedaka started out in 1957 and, since that point, has written over 500 songs that either he or other popular artists have recorded and charted. His own performance library includes the classics “Oh! Carol,” “Calendar Girl,” “Next Door to an Angel” and “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” After a lull when the British Invasion hit the U. S., Sedaka would come back in the 1970s with songs like “Bad Blood” and “Laughter in the Rain.”

Sedaka would also pen songs for such artists as The Captain and Tennille, ABBA, Connie Francis and Jimmy Clanton. Although I still am not a huge fan of him as an artist, I’ve got to give him credit for his longevity, success and critical acclaim that he’s garnered for more than 60 years.

Patsy Cline

PatsyCline

Anyone who watched Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music cannot disavow what Patsy Cline did for the music industry, country or otherwise. She was performing while still in her teens and her first big song, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” came when she was a mere 21 years old. That song, which topped not only the country charts but also the pop charts, catapulted her into the realm of the immortals.

Her contemporaries Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson are already in the Rock Hall (Lee as a performer in 2002, Jackson as an “early influence” in 2009), so it is highly illogical to keep Cline out because she’s “not rock enough.” If it weren’t for Cline, it’s arguable that there’s no Dolly, no Loretta, no Reba, no Shania and no Miranda. And, taking the other path of the evolution tree, possibly no Janis, no Suzi, no Joan, no Anne and Nancy…you get my point. Patsy Cline deserves a slot in the Rock Hall.

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

WillsTexasPlayboys

This is another artist that got a great deal of attention from the Burns documentary and it was well deserved. Their musical legacy is undoubtable, but what set Wills and his backing group apart was their non-stop touring, one of the things that is ENTIRELY rock and roll! The group would sometimes play three or four towns IN A SINGLE DAY and six of seven days per week (Wills did, as a good church man would, saved Sunday for worship).

Wills and His Texas Playboys technically are already in the Rock Hall as an “early influence” (1999), but they really deserve to be inducted as a performer outright. Without them, do we even hear of Hank Williams and his progeny, Johnny Cash, the “Texas Outlaws” (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Company) or a host of others who came out during the 1960s and 70s? Maybe we do, but Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys paved the way.

Speaking of the 1960s, there are some from that era who haven’t been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as of yet! In the next part of this series of essays, we’ll examine those that have been the biggest oversights and, as of yet, have not been inducted into the Rock Hall. Will these oversights be corrected? The longer that we as fans – and the voters for the Hall – are removed from their heydays, the less likely it is that they will earn induction.

The Highwomen Deliver Emotional Effort, Sheryl Crow Going Out with a Bang

One of the things that the world of music has gotten hammered on over the past few years is the paucity of female performers, both on the radios and satellites of listeners and in the awards process (Grammys, CMAs, etc.). It is a fair argument too; in country music currently, you have to go down to #11 on the Billboard Country Singles chart to find the first female entry (Carrie Underwood) and, on the Billboard Hot 100, although the first three slots are occupied by women or male/female combos (Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” Shawn Mendes & Camilla Caballo with “Senorita” and Billie Eilish’s mopey “Bad Guy”), there are only two other female contributors in the Top 20 (the Ariana Grande/Miley Cyrus/Lana Del Rey collaboration for the reboot of Charlie’s Angels entitled “Don’t Call Me Angel” and Ariana Grande with Social House). With two new releases out from top female artists, you might think that this situation would change, but you’d be surprised.

TheHighwomen

First up is the rather ostentatiously named The Highwomen, who have come out with their eponymous CD Highwomen. The quartet, consisting of Grammy winners Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires along with Grammy nominated songwriter Natalie Hemby, are all very accomplished performers and songwriters in their own rights. Coming together for this record, however, they put their egos at the door and come up with an emotional effort that delivers across the board for their purposes as a female country supergroup.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, however: they probably should have called themselves something other than “The Highwomen.” That name harkens back to the 80s when four of the titans of country music – the late Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson – joined forces as “The Highwaymen,” a country supergroup that brought each man commercial and critical success. By branding themselves as “The Highwomen,” it seems that Morris, Carlile and Company are equivocating themselves as equal to the legendary male artists who made the name famous (plus they’re putting a HUGE target on themselves). Even Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt – the closest thing there was to a female “Highwaymen” previously – didn’t have the audacity to call themselves “The Highwomen.”

If you can get by the quartet calling themselves “The Highwomen,” you’re going to find a very solid outing from the artists involved. Of course, they have to start off the album with their version of The Highwaymen’s “Highwayman,” and it is naturally called “Highwomen.” It follows the pattern that was set by Cash, Nelson, et. al., with a call-and-response song about repressed women in history. A woman subjected to and executed during the Salem Witch Trials; a Freedom Rider murdered in the South; and (poignantly starting the song) a refugee from Honduras who took the long walk to try to seek asylum with her family in the U. S before dying on the trek. It is an excellent update from the male oriented original and starts a very emotional trek that runs through the album.

“We are the Highwomen,
Singing stories still untold.
We carry the sons you can only hold.
We are the daughters of the silent generation,
You send our hearts to die alone in foreign nations,
And they return to us as tiny drops of rain
But we will still remain…”

TheHighwomen2

Going deeper in the album there are some jewels for the listeners. Perhaps for the first time ever, there is a lesbian “kiss off” song called “If She Ever Leaves Me” that tries to subtly tell a cowboy that the woman he’s looking at picking up – Carlile’s secret lesbian lover – “thinks your cologne’s too strong, she’s into perfume” and that he has absolutely no shot. Another song that is noteworthy is “My Only Child,” a song from a mother to her child about why she didn’t have any more children for her child to play with.

The songs aren’t long on Highwomen, roughly three minutes in length for the 12 songs on the record, but each one packs an emotional punch that doesn’t get displayed often in music. If you’re a fan of the women in the group – or you just want to hear some damn good country (or maybe “Americana”) music – you’d be well advised to pick up the record.

SherylCrow

In her over 30-year career, Sheryl Crow has pretty much done it all. Originally a music teacher, Crow would in 1987 become a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his Bad tour. She would eventually find success as a solo artist through her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club in 1994. Now, more than 25 years later (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, are you listening?), it looks as though Crow is calling it a close for her album recording career with her CD Threads.

Why does it seem like the Missouri songbird is ending her recording career? Because it seems that she brought everyone and their brother out to play with her on the album! Both Morris and Carlile from The Highwomen make appearances with Crow and they rank as the MINOR players on the record. Artists such as Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Eric Clapton, Gary Clark, Jr., Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Joe Walsh, St. Vincent, James Taylor and Emmylou Harris all add their prodigious talents to the record, making it for a stellar outing. Let’s put it this way: if this is the way that Crow wants to bid adieu to her recording career, she’s done a hell of a job.

SherylCrowThreads

There are several highlights on the record. “Prove You Wrong” with Crow harmonizing with Nicks and Morris, starts the record with a bang that sets the ever-increasing standard for the rest of the record. “Beware of Darkness” is an ode about falling too far down “the rabbit hole” and letting everyday news bring us down, brought to life by the guitar work of Clapton and the vocals of Sting and Carlile.

It is a couple of collaborations you don’t expect that seem to steal the record, though. First is a stunning “Redemption Day,” a duet with the late Johnny Cash. The collaboration took a version of her song that Cash recorded before he passed away and mixed it with her voice, delivering a performance for the ages. From Crow’s lilting voice to the gravely rumble of “The Man in Black,” the song that Crow wrote about the U. S. involvement in Bosnia gains new life in these times. Crow comments in the liner notes that “online trolls say ‘shut up and sing…’ I’d think no one would have the gall to tell Johnny Cash to shut up and sing…he’d probably respond with the famous photo Jim Marshall took of him at San Quentin, the shot taken ‘just for the warden.’”

JohnnyCashFlipsBirdWarden

The other collaboration is surprising in the mixing of genres that comes together. Crow teams up with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, soul singer Andra Day and guitar wizard Clark on “The Story of Everything,” a song that, according to Crow, “was born out of the feeling of frustration with the state of affairs in America…so much hope accompanied our first black President into office, but that hope turned into fear and division.” The foursome power through the song, calling out those who continue to push the divisiveness in the nation today, and they aren’t shy about laying it at a certain politician’s door. Musically the song is evocative, lyrically it is a protest from the people…and a warning that the people better pull their heads out of their asses.

The record could have been called “Sheryl Crow and Friends” because, without the ample assistance from Crow’s pals, the record wouldn’t have been as impactful as it is. Crow’s steady, beautiful mezzo-soprano is accented by each and every performer and she’s smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let her guests do their thing. If it is goodbye to recording for Crow, this is one hell of a way to exit the stage.

Alas, it appears nobody is listening to these artists. The Highwomen are currently ranked #53 on the Billboard Album charts after peaking at #10 two weeks ago, while Crow’s record reached #30 on the Albums chart and #2 on the Country Albums chart before plunging off in a mere two weeks. This is a sad statement on the music industry today, but it is something that REAL music fans will appreciate by supporting these women.

100 Essential Albums of All Time – Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968)

JohnnyCashFolsom

If it has something to do with music in the States of America – be it country, rock, gospel…pretty much anything short of opera – the legendary Johnny Cash has to be, if not in its Hall of Fame, then pretty damn close to it. One of only two people that is in both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame (the other is Elvis Presley, although an argument could be made that there are three with Sun Records owner and producer Sam Phillips), Johnny Cash is without a doubt one of the icons of music in this country. But can you believe that there was a time when Cash was on the verge of being shunned by the music industry?

After making his name in country music and, alongside his wife June Carter and the Carter Family, to a lesser extent in gospel music, Cash was at a crossroads in 1968. Battling the demons of drug and alcohol abuse, his record label, Columbia Records, was very wary of what would come next out of the “Man in Black.” Cash had a controversial idea for what approach he wanted to take for his next record:  a live recording at a state prison in California, from the man who in 1955 penned and sang the song “Folsom Prison Blues.”

The idea for this live album had been in Cash’s mind even before he wrote that famous song. Cash, while in the Air Force Security Service in 1953, saw a film called Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. It was that film that inspired Cash to write about his views of what prison would be like. The results of that inspiration was “Folsom Prison Blues,” which became a staple of the Cash library along with “I Walk the Line,” and “Ring of Fire.”

While Cash thought that a live album at a prison would be an outstanding move, Columbia Records wasn’t as wild about the idea. It wasn’t until Cash was teamed with producer Bob Johnston from Columbia that someone from the label embraced the idea. It is rumored that Cash and Johnston contacted two prisons, Folsom State Prison and San Quentin State Prison, with Folsom winning out because they replied first.

JohnnyCashatFolsom

The result, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, became one of the benchmarks of Cash’s career despite little investment from the label and even less promotion. Cash and Carter, along with the Tennessee Three (Cash’s backup band of Luther Perkins, Marshall Grant and W. S. Holland), Carl Perkins (no relation to Luther but an occasional member of the “Tennessee Three”), the Statler Brothers, Cash’s father Ray and Reverend Floyd Gressett (who counseled inmates at Folsom), journeyed to Folsom Prison for a day of rehearsals and a day of performing. After the rehearsals and back at the hotel for dinner, then California Governor Ronald Reagan heard that the entourage was in the building and came by to encourage the group and wish them well for the performance the next day.

On January 11, 1968, the group hit the stage at Folsom State Prison. There were two shows scheduled for the day, one at 9AM and one at 12:40PM, just in case there were any issues that arose from the first show. After performances by Perkins and the Statler Brothers, Cash took the stage and blew away the prisoners in attendance with a scintillating performance. Of course, he would lead off with “Folsom Prison Blues,” but he also mixed in other tales of woe and sorrow such as “Cocaine Blues,” “25 Minutes to Go (about being on death row),” “The Wall,” “Dark as a Dungeon,” and the Tennessee Three stretched their legs with a classic version of “Orange Blossom Special.”

JohnnyCashFrontFolsom

When it was released in May 1968, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison was hailed for Cash’s realism with the songs. Al Aronowitz of Life stated that Cash’s songs sounded like “someone who was…one of the people that the songs were about.” The emotional grip of the songs was emphasized and the audience – the inmates of Folsom Prison, whom the warden had been worried about possibly being unruly during the shows – were grateful for the performances and responded enthusiastically to seeing such acclaimed musicians considering where they were.

For Cash himself, the album marked a “rebirth” of sorts and, arguably, MADE him the legend that he would become. “(The album) was where things really got started for me again,” Cash would note in an interview with Rolling Stone. It would lead to a second “prison album,” Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969), where a man by the name of Merle Haggard would hear him and vow to change his life so he could perform like Cash. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison would also be the kickoff point for the remainder of Cash’s career, which ended sadly with his death in 2003.

The laurels that Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison has received are almost too numerous to mention. Along with being chosen by the Library of Congress for its National Recording Registry, the album has also been named one of the top 100 albums of all time by such outlets as Rolling Stone, Time, and Blender and was named the #3 country music album of all time by Country Music Television.

What makes Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison so special? First, it was a “live recording” in an era that wasn’t exactly embracing the format. Second, Cash’s career at that point was sputtering – some would say on life support – and his record label’s lack of support for the record could have spelled the end of his career. Finally, it was a stroke of genius to do such a record for such an audience, displaying to music fans that the people in this situation WERE actually people, people that deserved respect. It was a “liberal” idea for the time, breaking the tradition of country musicians being considered “conservative” (and something shown of late by another country music legend, Willie Nelson in his support of Democrat Beto O’Rourke in the current Texas Senatorial race).

johnnycash

The music world – ANY music world – was greatly enriched by Johnny Cash. But without Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, it is conceivable that the “Man in Black” could have disappeared from the annals of music history.

100 Essential Albums of All Time – Rockpile, Seconds of Pleasure (1980)

RockpileSecondsofPleasure

Being able to link different eras through a quasi-genealogy track – father begat son, who begat grandson, who began grandson, and onward – is something that many artistic endeavors look to tie together. For country music, there is the desire to tie together the gospel, bluegrass and “Appalachian” sounds to its current product (and for some, that is a LONG stretch). For blues, it is that link to virtually every branch of rock music. So, what was it that brought rock to the “new wave” that came out in the late 1970s/early 1980s? While the punk rock that emanated from New York City in the late 1970s certainly helped, you need look no further than the very underappreciated band Rockpile and their only official album release, the cheekily titled Seconds of Pleasure, for a better piece of evidence.

The members of Rockpile separately are probably more recognizable to the general music fan than the band itself. Guitarist and singer Dave Edmunds is arguably the person who created the band, with a solo album called Rockpile in 1970 and a backing band that featured the same name. In teaming up with another English virtuoso, guitarist and singer Nick Lowe, he found a kindred spirit who followed along the same musical path that he did. That path – a devotion to 50s style rockabilly with touches of blues but an overtly poppy personality – was something that both did well in the prior work before the only official Rockpile album.

The reason I keep calling it “the only official album” is that the entirety of the band – Edmunds, Lowe, drummer Terry Williams and guitarist Billy Bremner – played on several albums together through the middle point and to the end of the 1970s. Two of Edmunds’ solo efforts, Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary and the album recognized as Lowe’s tour de force in Labour of Lust, were essentially Rockpile jamming on the albums with Williams and Bremner’s quality playing. If you go back and listen to the works, you can pick up on this fact rather easily.

Through the 70s, Lowe and Edmunds teased the audience with their solo work and, by using Rockpile as their “house band,” whetted the appetite of fans for an official Rockpile album. The combinations and musical stylings that the band put together have been given credit for breaking ground in “new wave” music, with Elvis Costello (Lowe wrote the song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”), Graham Parker (Edmunds penned “Crawling from the Wreckage”) and many other artists…these were songs that were more than likely created from this quartet through the 1970s.

Even though there was a great desire to get something going officially on a Rockpile effort, the band was hamstrung by the fact that their leadership, Lowe and Edmunds, were both signed to different labels. Edmunds was a part of the Swan Song stable (the label formed by Led Zeppelin), while Lowe recorded for the now-defunct Radar Records. It wasn’t until 1980 that Edmunds put out an album called Twangin… to complete his Swan Song contract that Rockpile could actually come out from the shadows.

Rockpile

The original LP was priceless in its simplicity and its ability to deliver the best of Rockpile. The list of songs from the album, including “Teacher Teacher,” “A Knife and a Fork,” “When I Write the Book,” “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine” and “Wrong Again (Let’s Face It)” (written by Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook), demonstrated the incredible musicianship of the band. It also demonstrated the skillful lyricists that Lowe and Edmunds had become, with their priceless ability to turn a phrase.

Unfortunately, just as they were about to receive the accolades for the work that they had done, it all came crashing down on Rockpile. Perhaps because there were two “alpha dogs” at the helm of the ship – both Lowe and Edmunds, replete with producing, writing and playing credits that rivaled each other, had a bit of a time taking directions from each other – Rockpile was reaching the end of their productivity just as they were getting recognition for their work. Lowe, who had married Carlene Carter (Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter) in 1979, was not only touring with Rockpile but the band was serving as her backing band for her tour also. Tensions continued to rise between the duo until, in 1981, they would break up Rockpile, with Lowe saying in the liner notes for the 2004 expanded release of Seconds of Pleasure (which features Rockpile’s version of “Crawling from the Wreckage”), “We got together for fun and when the fun had all been had we packed it in.”

How bad was the breakup of Rockpile? Although Williams and Bremner would hold onto ties with Lowe (each played on his recordings in the 1980s), it wasn’t until 1990 that Edmunds would return to work with his former bandmate on Lowe’s album Party of One. It was perhaps even more important the other hatchet that was buried between the two men; Edmunds served as the producer of that album which received critical acclaim (in 1988, Edmunds had produced one song on Lowe’s album Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, but the 1990 reunion was of greater importance).

lowe

It is arguable that Lowe and Edmunds – either through their solo work or through their days when Rockpile was the rage – are deserving of induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their litany of songwriting and producing and the bridge that they formed from the sounds of the 1950s to what would become the “new wave” era of the 1980s can’t be overlooked. If there was going to be a band that you would induct for their only recorded effort (officially), Rockpile would be it and Seconds of Pleasure would be that very record…it can be played in any era and it would be at home, be it today or sixty years ago.

DaveEdmunds2018

Previous entries in the 100 Essential Albums of All Time:

Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Metallica, …And Justice for All

Who Will Be the Inductees for the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

RRHallofFame

It is always a favorite time of the year for me. The announcement of the nominees for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame always draw a great deal of commentary, either about how well the “keepers of the Hall” did in making the nominations or in how much they screwed it up. Thus, when the nominees list was released last week, it was a cause for celebration or debate, depending on how you liked the list.

First, however, let’s look at who WASN’T on the nominee list…

PAT BENATAR

Just what does it take to get the preeminent female rocker of the 1980s to even get a NOMINATION to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, let alone inducted? A four-time Grammy winner, two multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums and rock anthems like “Heartbreaker,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and “Love is a Battlefield,” Benatar should have been in LONG ago. As of yet, however, she has not received even a nomination.

DURAN DURAN

They were a seminal part of the success of MTV back in the day and they brought about (for better or worse) the “video” era of music. They were nominated previously (at least they have that) in 2015 and 2016, but were overlooked this year. Along with their importance in MTV’s formation and development, the band was highly successful with critics and fans (and the fact that they are the only band who ever had a theme to a James Bond film go to #1 on the Billboard charts – “A View to a Kill”). If you’re going to induct other pop icons from the 80s like Madonna and such, Duran Duran deserves consideration.

OZZY OSBORNE

Sure, he’s already in as a member of Black Sabbath, but Osborne’s solo career lasted longer than his tenure with the Sabbath. In addition, it is arguable that his solo work – along with his continued discovery of ace guitar slingers like the late Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, Steve Vai and Zakk Wylde – has been more influential than his previous time with the Sabbath.

I could keep on going (trust me, there’s plenty of snubs out there), but that would be a distraction from what we’ve come together for…the breakdown of the nominees. Here are your nominees for 2018 (in alphabetical order), a bit of backstory and an examination of their chances for induction come Spring 2018.

BON JOVI

Whether you like it or not, Bon Jovi was a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s. That Jon Bon Jovi has “kept the faith” for the most part with the other members of the band – save guitarist Richie Sambora – and continued to perform into the 21st century, it is difficult to conceive that they won’t be voted in by the Hall. Look for them on stage doing “You Give Love a Bad Name” next spring.

KATE BUSH

To be honest, I was completely stunned to see Bush nominated. Her ethereal voice and eclectic musical stylings were an acquired taste (one I tremendously enjoyed) and, thus, she never was a darling of the U. S. market (the U. K., her home country, LOVED her). If we’re looking at the critical aspect, Bush is a shoo-in; if it comes down to some perception of “popularity,” then probably not.

THE CARS

This might stun some readers, but I’ve had a complete 180 on whether the boys from Boston belong in the Hall. Last year I said that they weren’t good enough but, after I went back and reviewed their catalog, the diversity of their music swayed me. In the 70s, The Cars were a straightforward guitar rock band. As the 80s came along, however, they adapted to New Wave and then the MTV Generation, all while maintaining an unsurpassed quality to their overall efforts. It changed my mind and, hopefully, others will have reflected like I did and The Cars will enter the Hall this spring.

DEPECHE MODE

While I appreciate the music of Depeche Mode, it isn’t something that really set them out from the crowd of synthesizer bands of the 1980s. INXS, The Cure, The Human League…there’s a litany of bands that were similar in style to Depeche Mode that have just as much claim to a spot in the Hall. That’s why they won’t get in…it isn’t the Hall of Pretty Good, it’s the Hall of Fame.

DIRE STRAITS

This one falls under the category of “they weren’t in already?” Mark Knopfler’s exquisite finger picking guitar style is unique in the world of rock and makes for a distinct sound for the band. Add in a nearly 40-year career in creating smart, enjoyable songs and albums and it is long overdue for Dire Straits to be inducted.

EURYTHMICS

Here is another dilemma facing the voters. While Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart DESERVE to be in the Hall of Fame, there is a logjam in front of them for inductees. The problem with this (as you’ll see here in a second) is if you aren’t inducted early on in your eligibility, then you kind of get forgotten about. Unfortunately, that’s what I see happening to Eurythmics, who are more than qualified to be in.

J. GEILS BAND, LINK WRAY, LL COOL J, MC5, THE METERS, THE MOODY BLUES, RUFUS featuring CHAKA KHAN, and THE ZOMBIES

There was a reason I grouped all these artists together:  it’s because the explanation for their denial of entry into the Hall of Fame is based in the same reasoning. All had their moment in the sun in the History of Rock, but none of them ever made my jaw drop and say, “I’ve GOT to go see them perform!” About the closest one who would come to that criteria would be the J. Geils Band and MAYBE the Moody Blues. All of them together, however, are a part of that “Hall of Pretty Good” argument.

JUDAS PRIEST

If you’re going to recognize hard rock/metal in the Hall of Fame, it is incomplete without Judas Priest. Still pounding out their sound going on 40-plus years now, the Priest is, in many people’s opinion, THE preeminent hard rock/metal band. They definitely invented the “leather and studs” look that was prevalent for theirs and other bands and Rob Halford is one of the most memorable voices in the genre. As the ground breaker for a genre, Judas Priest should have been in the Hall long ago.

NINA SIMONE

Nothing against Simone or the massive amount of talent the woman had – and the travails she had to navigate through in the pre-Civil Rights era – but she’s just not “rock and roll.” There are at least a few nominees of this ilk every year for the Hall of Fame because, in some cases, while they are not traditional “rock and roll,” their style, attitude or actions has had an influence on the overall genre. Simone’s vocal abilities are legendary, but her overall influence on “rock and roll” is limited. Simone isn’t even a member of the Rhythm and Blues (R&B) Hall of Fame, making it tough to justify selection for the overall Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

RADIOHEAD

Long a critical darling, Radiohead is one of those “fringe” rock bands that probably will come up in discussions over the next few years but never get in. Much like Television or Kraftwerk, they were seminal parts of the rock genre that inspired many acts that followed, but they’re just a little too obscure to capture the attention of many. As such, I don’t think that Radiohead will get into the Hall…but I’ve been wrong before.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Here is the only other slam-dunk choice for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2018. Over the span of only four albums, RATM spawned the “rock/rap” genre. Beyond that point, RATM brought back one of the purposes that originally drove rock & roll:  the political nature that tries to change society. The lyrics of the band – enunciated to their full power by Zach de la Rocha – and the searing guitar work of Tom Morello gave their protests full throat. Morello is trying to keep the passion going that RATM brought with Prophets of Rage (and Chuck D of Public Enemy), but he’d be better advised to get back with de la Rocha.

SISTER ROSETTA THARPE

If you’ve never heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, you can be forgiven. But the work done by the woman – playing rock & roll when there was NO SUCH THING – cannot be ignored. In the 1930s and 40s, Tharpe melded blues, gospel, bluegrass, and country into a brew that eventually would become rock & roll music, influencing some of the biggest MALE names that ever were uttered in the music industry. Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley all cited her as influential and her guitar work wouldn’t be out of place in today’s rock world. If you’d like to learn more about her, YouTube has a simply outstanding look at her life that is well worth the time to check out.

Guess it would be obvious that I personally think Sister Rosetta Tharpe should be inducted this spring!

Fans will be able to vote on the inductees, choosing up to five candidates per day until the vote closes. The top vote getter from that process is usually a lock for entry – the previous five winners of the Fan Vote (Rush, KISS, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chicago, and Journey) all were inducted – and there are usually six or more nominees inducted. We’ll find out next spring who will be the newest members of the Hall…and we’ll be back to debate the merits of those inductions!

Volbeat Deserving Of “Next Big Thing” Status; Amaranthe Presents Unique Sound

One of the things I enjoy in my well-rounded life is some great music. There are things that I come across that I simply cannot stand (such as Taylor Swift’s caterwauling…seriously, can someone give the girl a gift certificate to buy a voice?), but when I come across something I find great, I like to tell people about it. As my general preference is for harder edged rock, it will often go in that direction (but not always…).

Of late, there are several bands that I am very high on. Previously I told you about Halestorm and, if you want to get on that train, they should have a new album out towards the end of the year (meanwhile, jump on their ReAniMate 3.0 covers album). Here’s two more that you should be considering: one is a major opener for one of the biggest tours of the summer and the other presenting a different sound, if you will, in the hard rock genre. As always, I don’t claim to be on the band first, but I do think they’ve got some legs to them for the future!

Volbeat

Volbeat is a band out of Denmark that has been a 16-year “overnight success.” Despite having great success in Europe with their mixture of rockabilly, hard rock, and punk – surprisingly, the band rarely embraces a hard-core metal or thrash sound – Volbeat was unable to penetrate the U. S. market to any great extent. That changed with their latest release, Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie, which debuted in the Billboard Magazine‘s Top Five Albums the week of its release last year. As we speak, Volbeat is joined by Avenged Sevenfold (on some stops) as the warmup acts for the massive Metallica “WorldWired” tour that is hitting stadiums in the U. S. and worldwide.

That they all are considered hard rock acts (Metallica delves into thrash metal and A7X crushes their more metalcore sound) demonstrates the diversity of the hard rock arena. Volbeat, as stated before, aren’t your typical metalheads, incorporating sounds from across the spectrum into their particular brew. On earlier efforts, Volbeat’s sound was more inspired by country music such as Johnny Cash (their effort previous to this, Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, had a theme to it that gave you impressions of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western). With Seal the Deal, however, Volbeat has a sound more reminiscent of The Offspring than anything else.

The first song on the album, “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown,” was a very strong effort that just didn’t seem to click with U. S. audiences when it was released as a single. It wasn’t until the eponymous title track was released that some success occurred for singer Michael Poulsen, guitarist Rob Caggiano and bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen. “Seal the Deal” was a powerful piece of music that rumbled from the speakers, with the guitars provided by Caggiano being particularly notable. Since then, hard rock radio has been all over “Black Rose,” which may outdo “Seal the Deal” in popularity.

Surprisingly, Volbeat can sound almost melodic with the music they create. Do not be fooled, however, they do have an edginess to their lyrics that can be surprising and, in some songs, imagery of Hell and the Devil are implied. There are tunes about darkness, redemption and “selling the soul” that some might not like. That would be their misfortune, because most of the songs have a finish where, if the protagonist doesn’t emerge on top, they are at least fighting towards the future.

Along with the songs mentioned above, there are a couple other efforts that are noteworthy on Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie. “The Gates of Babylon” is a very good track from the album, but it is a cover song on the album that is even more surprising because of its quality. Taken from the Georgia Satellites (an 80s outfit that is highly underrated), “Battleship Chains” demonstrates that Volbeat takes their inspiration from a wide assortment of musical genres. The future is going to be fantastic for this band and, with the next couple of years, I can easily see them becoming a huge part of the music scene in the U. S.

Another great foreign act that has been chipping away at the walls in the U. S. (the metaphorical ones, not the ones some idiot wants to put up) is Sweden’s Amaranthe. Another one of those multi-year “overnight sensations,” the band actually started in 2008 and has been pretty much non-stop touring and recording since then. They had a bit of success in 2013 with the song “Drop Dead Cynical” from their Massive Addictive album, but they have found their stride with their latest release, Maximalism.

Pinning Amaranthe down to a “sound” is roughly like trying to give a cougar a bubble bath in a thimble. First off, the band encompasses some elements of EDM but loves to roll out a metal guitar assault to go over the hypnotic background. They can sometimes veer into the realm of “pop” music, which may offend some of those who are more hardcore, but they always seem to be able to bring it back to a more “hard rock” sound when necessary. That may be because of the triumvirate of vocalists that Amaranthe employs.

Amaranthe

That’s right…three vocalists. First there is Elize Ryd, who gives an ethereal quality to some songs when she’s not rocking out with an unbelievable voice. Ryd gives credibility to the Amaranthe sound whether they are in their more experimental modes or they are driving the guitars down your throat. A nice meshing with Ryd WAS Joacim “Jake E.” Lundberg, who had a voice that harmonized nicely with Ryd as they performed the “clean” vocals (Lundberg, after the release of Maximalism, left the band and was replaced by Nils Molin).

There’s a reason I say “clean” vocals. The third vocal effort on the album is Henrik Englund, who provides the “death growl (a guttural vocal styling where it sounds like the beasts from Hell are emerging from your speakers)” or the “unclean” vocals on the record. While it may sound like it is a complete mess, Amaranthe has been able to put together songs that perfectly accentuate the stylings of each of their singers and, likewise, the other members of the band (Olof Morck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Lowe on drums).

Of particular excellence is “Boomerang,” an effort that would have been perfect on pop radio had it not been for the crushing guitars and Englund’s growling of his lyrics. A song about how someone tries to put another person down – but the person keeps coming back “like a boomerang” – it is an outstanding tune that epitomizes Amaranthe very well. Two other songs, “That Song” and “21” are also excellent, but most surprising is a ballad that demonstrates the abilities of the band quite well.

Supersonic” is a tune that Englund takes a break from and let’s Ryd and Lundberg exercise their vocal abilities on. Yes, it is a ballad – and everyone usually HATES a metal ballad – but it works for Amaranthe because of the dual vocals (not a duet – each vocalist has a lyrical segment written for them). Using some orchestral instrumentation along with the band’s musicians, it may give some a comparison to Amy Lee and Evanescence, but “Supersonic” soars in its own right and serves as an excellent “palate cleanser” for an outstanding record.

You may not have heard of them yet, but they’ve got the potential – especially with Ryd’s photogenic qualities and the power of the band – to be a breakout act, possibly even on the pop charts (bands always appreciate crossover success, not to mention their record companies). They’ll have to get control of some of their personnel issues – not only from Lundberg’s departure last year, but Englund replaced original “unclean” vocalist Andreas Solveström in 2013 – to fully realize their potential, but if they can record more albums like Maximalism, it will push Amaranthe into the stratosphere of the hard rock/metal world.