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Jam Gems of Yore

By Walter Patton

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New York City’s Phoenix Media is one of the major music industry organizations today that promotes and nurtures the development of the jam band music scene. Over the last two years, the company has played an active role in the widespread release of today’s jam music. At the first ever Jammy Awards (June 22, 2000), Phoenix Media’s live recording of Lake Trout was nominated for best live recording and Ulu was nominated for the Best New Groove. In addition, Sam Kopper, the recording mastermind behind so many of the recordings, was a featured presenter at the awards ceremony. While Phoenix Media was working so diligently for the jam band community, the company was also working on their Phoenix Gems program. In contrast to the "new music" that comprises the Phoenix Presents series, the Phoenix Gems looks to the rockers of yore. Their first four releases are previously buried recordings by the Tubes, Omar & the Howlers, Rick Derringer and Spirit.

The Tubes - Dawn of the Tubes -Demo Daze and Radio Waves.

What do you get when you mix the sexual ambiguity of the Rock Horror Show with the satire of Frank Zappa with the progressive-glam rock instrumentation of Roxy Music? You would have the Bay Area’s the Tubes. To any Generation Xer, the Tubes are part of our lexicon through their 1980s video hits "She’s A Beauty" and "Talk to Ya Later." Well, that the stage for the Tubes was just the tip of the iceberg. While San Francisco was experiencing its post hippie hangover, the Tubes were steadily making their rise to ascension. With song titles such as "White Punks on Dope" an "Mondo Bondage", the Tubes sung about your not to average subject matter. With homemade costumes, erotic dancing, and general mayhem, a Tubes concert was an event that was never to be surpassed. Phoenix Gems uncovered the Holy Grail of unreleased material and released Dawn of the Tubes -Demo Daze and Radio Waves. The ten song CD is a step better than a greatest hits collection. It contains all the band’s mid 1970s genre busting songs but instead of the versions from the original albums, there are demos, tracks from live broadcasts and tracks from live performances. All of the quintessential Tubes tunes are there, just with a little more punch added to them. When listening to this CD for the first time, I was instantly enthralled by the music. There was a bit of punk angst, English glam, and European progressivism thrown into the songs. Even better, every song on the collection was a full-blown rocker. The Tubes did not waste and time with simple rhythms, slow tempos or steady blues beats. Every song was equal in terms of complex structure and in your face rock and roll.

 

Spirit – Cosmic Smile

Randy California was best known for his guitar playing with the 1960s band Spirit. During the band’s heyday, their biggest hit was "I Got A Line on You" which has probably appeared on every 1960’s compilation album from Freedom Rock to K-Tel. In addition, California received much popular acclaim for his early jam sessions with Jimi Hendrix when California was a ripe 15 years old. What many people don’t know is that Spirit was just a small phase in terms of California’s prolific songwriting and guitar playing. This posthumous collection(California unfortunately died in a swimming accident in 1997) highlights California’s work throughout the 1990s. The collection ranges from the hard driving blues of "Shake My Ego Down" and "Mean & Beautiful" to the upbeat acoustic folk blues of "Barking’ Up the Wrong Tree" and "Fire". Some songs, such as "Compromise" and "No Time to Pretend", stray away from California’s roots in terms of instrumentation, but he makes up for it in terms of laying down poignant lyrics. "Compromise" takes a stab at today’ society with the lyrics "Drive-by shootings, games and war; After this commercial, a football score". Simple words yet a strong message. These recordings do not reflect an age old rocker trying to recapture his glory days and making a buck off his past, but rather a musician who couldn’t put a stop on his true passion. There are apparently piles upon piles of unreleased music that are ready to come to the surface. It looks like Phoenix Gems will ensure that California will be heard once again.

Rick Derringer- Live at the Paradise Theater, Boston, MA 7.07.78

Like Randy California, guitarist Rick Derringer was another musician who made an impression at an early age. As a 16-year-old lad, Derringer played with the band the McCoys who had a chart-topping hit record, "Hang On Sloopy". Derringer quickly moved from bubble gum rock when he joined the bands of both Johnny and Edgar Winter and also played on albums by Alice Cooper, Richie Havens, Todd Rundgren, and Steely Dan. Throughout the 1970s, Derringer was known for his hard rocking guitar playing and this live recording is all about Derringer’s guitar histrionics. The set feature some his best rockers such as "Teenage Love Affair", "EZ Action" and the medleys of "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo/You Really Got Me" and "Back in the USA/Long Tall Sally". From beginning to end, there is nothing but in your face 1970s guitar driven, blues based rock. If Derringer ever needed a side job, he could easily play the score for "That 1970s Show". The CD also possesses sentimental value for the Paradise closed its doors for the last time during the winter of 2000. The club served as a breeding ground for bands like U2, Phish, and the Police and its shutting down closed yet another chapter in New England music history.

Omar & the Howlers /Live at the Opera House, Austin Texas 8/30/87

I had the opportunity to see Omar & the Howlers at a small dance hall in San Antonio, Texas during the rather hot summer of 1996. I walked into the hall, grabbed a Budweiser bottle and preceded to get blown over by the Texas blues. This CD, recorded nine years earlier, does pretty much the same thing. From Luther Allison to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Bo Diddley, Omar & the Howlers love to play all types of blues. It is always upbeat and always in your face. Sometimes their sound is mired in the Mississippi Delta and others it is in the Louisiana swamp. Sometimes it is on the plains of Texas and others it is in a Chicago club. This is one fantastic blues album. This live recording was taped around the same time that their album "Hard Times ln The Land Of Plenty" which is now unavailable. For the serious Omar fans, this recording will make some previously rare songs available to the listener.

Both the Omar & the Howlers and Rick Derringer go full circle in terms of "jam music" as they were re-mastered by Dan Archer of Archer studios in Colchester, Vermont. Archer has put his signature on albums by Phish, Strangefolk and the Dude of Life. All four of these bands jammed in their own respect, it simply didn’t have the same terminology as it does today. It appears that Phoenix is successfully bridging the jam music generation gap and showing today’s critics that "jam bands" have always been around. Keep em coming!

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