Z Z Top (Rock A-Z part #68 (end))

Although the name ‘ZZ Top’ is now eponymous with mid-1980’s tongue-in-cheek ‘smutrock’ with the still brilliant ‘Eliminator’ and ‘Afterburner’ albums, their roots go a lot deeper. Formed in Houston, Texas as the garage band ‘The Moving Sidewalks’ by Billy Gibbons in 1967, ZZ Top originally landed back in 1970 when Dusty Hill and Frank Beard joined the line-up. Securing a deal with London Records, the hopefully titled ‘First Album’ was released in January 1971.

The straightforward raw simplicity of ‘First Album’ extended itself to the group’s show biz masterplan, something which although still continuing, came to fruition as successful album after successful album hit the streets.

‘Rio Grande Mud’ followed in July 1972, ‘Tres Hombres’ in November 1973 and ‘Fandango’, a live/studio album in June 1975, the latter treating the rising worldwide fanbase to a recorded version of ‘Tush’

However, although since my first introduction with the purchase of the February 1977 ‘Tejas’ album, I’ve since added all 18 releases to my collection, there’s one ZZ Top tune which remains an absolute firm favourite – ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ from the 1979 album ‘Deguello’.

This posting rounds off the JemTunes mini ‘Rock A-Z’ series which has been running on and off throughout 2015. I’ve an ambitious gameplan in mind for 2016 which I’ll whet the appetites for with the next taster post. Watch this space…

Yello (Rock A-Z part #67)

The unlikely formation of Switzerland’s ‘Yello’ came together late in 1979 when Boris Blank and Carlos Peron asked wealthy industrialist and gambler Dieter Meier to join then on vox. Indeed, it was a throw-away comment from Meier that resulted in the name – something that sounded like ‘a yelled hello’. It took them a while but Yello leapt to media acclaim with their 1983 release of “I love you”

The Yello sound is categorised by unusual music samples, a heavy reliance on rhythm and Meier’s dark, crooning vocals. Epitomised by the 1985 single ‘Oh Yeah’, I personally have vivid memories of my two eldest children going round and round the kitchen table on their tricycles to this song over and over again in the late 1980s

XTC (Rock A-Z part #66)

In January 1978, a relatively unknown Swindon band released the single ‘Statue of Liberty in advance of their debut album – ‘White Music’. I was just into my second term at West Sussex College of Art & Design in Worthing, UK and the Virgin signed XTC were being played to death in every studio on the campus.

Owing more to quintessential English psychedelia than the raw nihilistic three-chord assault of their punk peers, XTC’s art-pop sound combined with the very obvious song-writing talent of Andy Partridge endeared itself to fine art, ceramics and fashion students alike.

Later in 1978 XTC released the more sonically adventurous second album ‘Go 2’ which was heavily influenced by the likes of Brian Eno to mould quirky art-pop with equally quirky electronica.

The band build success on success with the dawn of the 1980’s releasing the massively successful ‘Drums and Wires’ album in 1979 and a spate of chart-busting hit singles including ‘Making plans for Nigel’, Senses working overtime’ and ‘When you’re near me I have difficulty’.

But, whereas the ’80s brought the good time, the ’90’s initially brought obscurity as fashion changed and the band left Virgin to start their own independent label ‘Idea Records’. However, the Virgin split had a silver lining as an audit revealed that a considerable backlog of royalties had been withheld from the band. An out of court settlement allowed the building of two new studios but despite remaining together through to at least 2005 and releasing a lot of back-catalogue material, XTC never regained the glory days.

We were promised jetpacks (Rock A-Z part #65)

I have always been a sucker for a band with a good name. It doesn’t always follow, but ‘We were promised Jetpacks’ also live up to their good name with a whole lot of good music.

Formed in Edinburgh in 2003, the band have released three albums:

  • These Four Walls (2009)
  • In the pit of the stomach (2011) and
  • Unravelling (2014)

Ricochet is the closing track on album number 3.

Vinegar Joe (A-Z Rock – part #64)

Vinegar Joe were a British R&B band which, although only together between 1971 and 1974, was notable for launching the solo careers of Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer

Formed from the remains of ‘Dada’, a 12-piece Stax influenced jazz-rock fusion band, Vinegar Joe was formed in 1971 with Elkie and Robert sharing joint lead vocals, Pete Gage on guitars, Dave Thompson on keys and Steve York on bass. The band had no drummer at first but used the likes of Conrad Isidore and Rob Tait up until the release of their debut self-titled album in April 1972.

A second album – ‘Rock n roll gypsies’ – followed later in 1972 when drummer Pete Gavin joined for the start of a US tour. This gave rise to what would be the band’s final album – ‘Six Star General’ – released in 1973. The band split in the spring of the following year.

Subsequently, Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer enjoyed hugely successful solo careers and Pete Gage became a record producer. By April 2012, Brooks had released more albums that had reached the top 75 of the UK album charts than any other British female artist. Sadly, Robert Palmer passed away in September 2003 at the age of 54.

Underworld (Rock A-Z part #63)

When ‘Born Slippy Nuxx’ was re-released in 1996 I was convinced that its instantly recognisable lyric was ‘…shouting llama, llama, llama…’ (Seriously!) Hot on the back of the Danny Boyle film ‘Transpotting’ which featured the song as its closing tune, what was originally a B-side single gave Underworld its really big break.

The original ‘Born Slippy’ – an instrumental about a greyhound the band won a bet on, didn’t do so well. Released in 1995, it only made it to No.52 in the UK charts. ‘Born Slippy Nuxx’, however, shot to No.2 and helped the band’s 4th album ‘Second Toughest in the Infants’ get into the top 10 on the album charts. Although only ever making it to album re-issues and ‘best ofs’, ‘Born Slippy’ and ‘Underworld’ have become synonymous with each other; say one now and the other’s bound to follow.

And I finally got to see the band live last year as a part of the ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ tour. Born slippy Nuxx was kept back for a 35-minute encore during which the sold-out Brighton Dome crowd (me included) went quite literally bonkers!

The Temperance Movement (Rock A-Z part #62)

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Formed in 2011 by vocalist Phil Campbell and guitarists Luke Potaschnik and Paul Sayer, The Temperance Movement have wasted no time in establishing themselves at the pinnacle of British blues rock in the 21st century. Their first EP – ‘Pride’ – in September 2012 was followed a year later by their self-titled debut released on Earache Records. Now poised for a UK tour starting on 16 January 2016, the second album – ‘White Bear’ – is set for release the day before.

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However, seeing as I have tickets for the opening leg of the UK tour, I’m resisting the i-tunes pre-order temptations in preference for the joy of purchasing it from the Merch stand on the night. Might even stand a chance of a signed copy! And if ‘Three Bullets’ is anything to go by, both the album and the gig are going to be gooduns!

Since I first heard them back in early 2011, The Temperance Movement have been on my bucket list of bands to see. So that’s one more check off come mid January. Counting the days.

The Steepwater Band (Rock A-Z part #61)

Formed in Chicago in 1998, The Steepwater Band’s prolific album history is bettered only by their passion for the blues. Since I first discovered them about ten years back, I’ve been slowly collecting their back catalogue and now have all but the first EP. Wonderful stuff.

  1. 2000 – Goin’ back home (EP)
  2. 2001 – Brother to the snake
  3. 2001 – Live: half in the bag
  4. 2004 – Dharmakaya
  5. 2006 – Revelation Sunday
  6. 2007 – Songs for the 8th day
  7. 2008 – Grace & Melody
  8. 2008 – The Steepwater Band live
  9. 2010 – Live at the Double Door
  10. 2010 – The stars look good tonight
  11. 2011 – Clava
  12. 2012 – Steepwater
  13. 2013 – Live and humble
  14. 2014 – Diamond Days

Reef (Rock A-Z – part #60)

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Reef formed whilst on a music course at the West London Institute back in 1993. Originally called ‘Naked’, they rose to fame via an advert for the Sony Mini-Disc portable stereo system. Filmed in New York, the advert depicted them as an unsigned heavy metal band touting for a recording contract whilst presenting their self-titled song ‘Naked’ an an unimpressed A&R man.

It was with no great surprise then that they were subsequently signed to S2, an offshoot of Sony Records, releasing ‘Good Feeling’ in late 1994. Their debut album ‘Replenish’ followed in 1995 and featured both the original ‘Naked’ and ‘Good Feeling’. But it was the 1997 follow-up – ‘Glow’ – which propelled them to super-stardom on the back of the October 1996 single release, ‘Place your hands.’

Quantic Soul Orchestra (Rock A-Z – part #59)

 

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The Quantic Soul Orchestra, originally set up in 2003 as as alter-ago of one Will Holland was a live project of circulating musicians with music influenced by a love of dusty old funk 45s.

Having released two successful albums on the Tru-Thoughts label, multi-musician Will Holland from Worcestershire, UK wanted to give something back by producing an album which was rough, raw and real. ‘Stampede’ was the result. The first QSO album from 2003 and featuring the dulcet tones of Alice Russell and Will’s saxophonist sister, Lucy Holland. It’s an album influenced by the many flamboyant (but often poor) musicians in the 1970s who loved music for music’s sake and who wanted to dance and make people dance.

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I was fortunate to catch the Quantic Soul Orchestra as a part of ‘Quantic and his Combo Barbaro’ 2009 UK tour to promote their ‘Tradition in Transition’ album. At London’s iconic Roundhouse, this was a subliminal gig featuring not only the latest Barbaro stuff but also the best of Quantic and Tru Thoughts with classics like ‘Hold it down’ and ‘Pushin on’ from the early QSO days.