Saturday, January 11, 2020


It is the early to mid '70s, an awkward time for the awkward young men with a penchant for the music of the day and earlier. Probably a bit young for prog and still at school when the full hippie vibe was the freak flag of the day, earnest young men with spotty faces and serious record collections already under their belt. With developed tastes already embracing country, folk and other roots genres, they were a large and restless tribe, seeking a brand, seeking a label. No, I am not talking about the assault of punk rock; they were already just a tad too old and learned for that. And, anyway, we are ahead of ourselves, it being yet to ignite. I was there. I was (am) one of those boys wanting to be men. And pub rock was our saviour, whether we were old enough to go into pubs or not.

This is not the place for a discourse in this overlooked yet influential musical movement, beyond an understanding that it provided the loosening of the established masonry that punk would later pull down, if for however briefly. But, via Brinsley Schwarz, Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers, Dr. Feelgood and many others, a melting pot of styles and influences were put into the mix, thrown up in the air and allowed to land, with a ramshackle 4/4 beat and a cheeky smile, short and tuneful songs to put you on your feet. Out of the movement came many of the now established names of current music, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello being probably the best known, as well as the germination of what then did beget punk, Joe Strummer being a member of the 101ers ahead of forming the Clash. Resolutely tending to be avoidant and ambivalent of style or uniform, pub rockers were of all shapes and sizes, fashion often thrift shop, hair allowed to be long or short, styled or merely as nature intended, facial hair optional rather than a then spurned accessory. Proudly uncool, even. Eddie and the Hotrods fitted well that template. But, in front of the motley bunch of urchins on instrumental duties, they had a cataclysmic and archetypal angry young man in singer, Barrie Masters. They had been around for a while by the time of their break through, chugging out covers of 60's garage rock.

Do Anything You Wanna Do

I was too young to go into pubs, and whilst, yes, occasionally I did, these were not the London pubs that celebrated and created the movement. That came later. I had to rely on the inkies, the musical press, NME and Melody Maker, and the TV, Top of the Pops and Old Grey Whistle Test. And they provided me plenty. TOTP was the weekly chart show, Whistle Test more for the serious (and insomniac) polymath. I devoured both. I remember my first sight of the Hotrods, probably at home, half past seven on a thursday night. Crammed between dross like David Soul, I recall being so bloody excited. They were fast, they were passionate, they were exciting, making my head whirl. Instantly my favourite band, I bought not only the single, 'Do What You Wanna Do', but the album, 'Life on the Line', too. It being 1977, punk had begun, and whilst they certainly sounded punky, there was a touch more melodicism in the undercurrent of bass and the choppy rhythms. But they didn't look it, flared trousers may even have been involved, plus they had a singer called Barrie. Apart from Clive, there can be fewer less rock'n'roll names. And that, I guess, became the problem. A flourish of singles and they were gone, overtaken and subsumed by altogether rougher looking lads. Like the Damned and the Clash. The Sex Pistols, to all intents and purposes, had, by then, been and gone. (Although, for their infamous near debut, in February 1976 at the Marquee Club, guess who the Pistols were supporting? Yup, the Hotrods.) Because of all this and despite all this, for those brief moments and for that summer they were my favourite band.

Ignore Them

Of course, the band never went away. Sure, they broke up, reformed, broke up, reformed, Masters the only constant, and looked to be going on forever, the oldest teenager in town, and still looking good. (Well, quite good.) So it was a shock when, suddenly and perhaps unexpectedly, he died,  probably a heart attack, aged 63. 2019 had been an eventful year, with a successful tour in support to similar 70s refugees, Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers, followed by a celebratory gig, drawing back a legion of ex-members to play a "Done Everything We Wanna Do" concert in April. Was this a warning that the show couldn't go on forever? I don't know, but should anyone even be surprised that it probably will, the residual members of the last band, continuing into this year, first performance tonight? Somehow the Hotrods, as they will be, won't be quite the same without Eddie. And completely different without Barrie.

Done Everything We Wanna Do: the show


You know you wanna do........

Thursday, January 9, 2020

In Memoriam: Three New Orleans Icons

Fats Domino: The Fat Man

Despite Nashville’s self-proclaimed title as Music City, I think that New Orleans might have a stronger claim to the title (although Nashville certainly has a fair argument, and New Orleans already has some pretty good nicknames). I’ve written before about my interest and limited expertise in the area of New Orleans music, but it is fair to say that there are few places where so many types of music have developed and cross-pollinated over the years, and where music is so interwoven into the fabric of the city.

One of the reasons for this was Dave Bartholomew, who died on June 23, 2019 at the age of 100. Bartholomew rarely recorded under his own name, but instead was a trumpeter, composer, bandleader, arranger, and producer who, it could be argued, helped create both rhythm and blues and rock music. After an early career as a trumpeter and bandleader, Bartholomew connected with Fats Domino, and their co-written song, “The Fat Man,” kickstarted Domino’s career. Together, they had 65 singles on the Billboard pop chart from 1955 to 1964, including “Ain’t That A Shame,” “I’m Walkin’” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans.” Bartholomew also wrote or co-wrote "My Ding-a-Ling,” which was a hit for Chuck Berry, “I Hear You Knocking,” for Smiley Lewis, and produced Lloyd Price's recording of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” Among many, many others. And many of his songs were covered by artists including Elton John, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Hank Williams Jr., Elvis Presley, Dave Edmunds, and Cheap Trick. He was also name-checked by Elvis Costello in his song “Monkey to Man.”

Bartholomew remained active into his 80s, and in 2011, appeared in his first rap video –“Born in the Country,” a collaboration with his son, New Orleans hip-hop producer Don B, and grandson, rapper Supa Dezzy.

Dr. John: Right Place, Wrong Time

The young Mac Rebennack’s first studio session was supervised by Bartholomew, before he was Dr. John, and when he was still a guitar player. Rebennack started playing with Professor Longhair at the age of 13, and continued his career as a sideman and leader based in New Orleans, until 1960, when the ring finger on his left hand was injured by a gunshot at a gig in Jacksonville. This led him to switch to piano. At about this time, Mac also got involved with drugs and other illegal activities, and after a stint in jail, he ended up in Los Angeles as a studio musician, including being part of the fabled Wrecking Crew, and backing artists as diverse as Sonny & Cher and Frank Zappa (who fired him due to drug use).

In 1968, he adopted the persona of Dr. John, the Night Tripper, and released his first album, Gris-Gris, containing his particular brew of music, psychedelia, and voodoo. For the next few decades, he had a mostly successful career, with hit songs, exciting live performances, awards, guest appearances and star-studded collaborations, all focused on the varied music of his home city. One highlight was his 1973 album, In The Right Place, a collection of funky songs, including both “Right Place, Wrong Time,” and “Such A Night.” The album was produced by another New Orleans legend, Allen Toussaint, and featured the quintessentially New Orleans band, The Meters.

In later years, Dr. John explored many musical styles, including standards and classic jazz, but also collaborated on one of his last albums with Dan Auerbach. And, he played himself in the great TV show, Treme. Although a long-time heroin abuser, Dr. John had been clean since 1989 and died of a heart attack on June 6, 2019 at age 77.

The Neville Brothers: Fire on the Bayou

One of The Meters, who appeared on In The Right Place, was Art “Poppa Funk” Neville, who contributed keyboards. He was the oldest of four brothers, and began his musical career in his teens. By 1965, he had formed The Meters, which was later joined by brother Cyril. The Meters’ 1975 album, Fire In The Bayou, was a critical and popular success, and after all four brothers appeared on 1976’s The Wild Tchoupitoulas, an album of "call-and-response" style chants typical of Mardi Gras Indians, led by George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry, the Nevilles’ uncle, they formed The Neville Brothers. The group became a New Orleans institution, and for years, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival closed out with a Neville Brothers set.

In 1991, Art and Charles Neville inducted Dave Bartholomew into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Neville later reunited with his Meters collaborators, and performed with both acts over the ensuing years. Neville retired from music in 2018, and died at the age of 81 on July 22, 2019, after years of declining health.

Sunday, January 5, 2020


A deceptively simple song, with a picked acoustic guitar and a rudimentary organ, a repetitive whisper, barely crooning over the top, yet just enough going on to nail a mood, an almost intrusive melancholy. No middle eight, no instrumental flourish to embroider the two notes in the key. Of course the words are busy, not that it is that easy to make them out. One senses the writer maybe not in such a good place. (A blink at the lyrics supports that suspicion, albeit without that much clarity.)
Perhaps then, a couple of decades after I first heard that song above, Basement Dream, from parent album, Basement Dreams, the news that the performer had taken his own life came less of a shock. Well, still a shock, less of a surprise.

Not that this was necessarily his usual style or format, his name being more of a worthy gun for hire, a name to add kudos to the work of another. I certainly took a second look and a greater interest if I saw his name on a record sleeve, playing, usually, guitar, often piano and, surprisingly, quite often the  photo on the front.

These Days with You, 'Fade Away, Diamond Time', solo, 1995)

Neal Casal first hit my attention when UK rock mag Mojo awarded him the Americana Album of the year, 1998, for Basement Dreams. Americana is a big deal in the UK and there are many US musicians who seem much bigger names in that field over here than in their homeland. I'm thinking Willy Vlautin, both with Richmond Fontaine and, now, the Delines, I'm thinking ex-Green on Redder, Chuck Prophet, people like that. The UK also had, at least then, a strong library sector, where, as well as books, so too could you borrow vinyl records and, later still, CDs. Many a fledgling collector of music would expand their shelves handsomely, home-taping the crop of their local library, most hi-fis easily able to record straight from vinyl onto cassette. Sure, home taping was as illegal as it ever is, but, somehow, the libraries were in on the act, extracting a small fee for the lend. An urban myth suggested this went toward the royalties of the artist, easing any pang of conscience. (The urban truth gets, um, murky, but isn't too complicated, but, worry not, RIAA, I binned all my cassettes years ago, when I ceased having a player or the space to play or keep 'em.) Anyhoo, my first copy of Basement Dreams was exactly that, a copy, enlivening many a car journey, that being where the cassette ruled in those days.

Debris (Ronnie Lane/Faces cover), 'Return in Kind', solo, 2005

Liking the cut of his jib, I dug around his name and sought new works. A covers selection, Return in Kind, was especially good, my obsession with cover versions already beginning to hit a stride. Another artist heralded by Mojo, was Ryan Adams, and I snapped up his breakthrough albums, his apparent erraticism then putting me off later product. But when I read that Casal had become his right hand man in backing band, the Cardinals, I was back in like Flynn. His instrumental prowess lifted the sometimes leaden tendencies of Adams into loftier territory. Furthermore, when the Adams' helmed Cardinals became the chosen backing band for Willie Nelson's 2007 recording, Songbird, this should have been perfection. (Actually it wasn't, disappointing me with a somewhat hamstrung over-production, but where it was good, it was very, very good, and usually when Casal was to the fore.)

Everybody Knows, 'Easy Tiger', Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, 2007

Songbird, 'Songbird', Willie Nelson & the Cardinals, 2007

Another initially well regarded musician was Chris Robinson, especially with Black Crowes, until he fell out with his brother. Resultant band, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, could have been just another stoner jam band, but, again, Casal was at hand to give some stabilising muscle.

If You Had a Heart to Break, 'Barefoot in the Head', Chris Robinson Brotherhood, 2017

Alongside this he also formed an integral part of Hard Working Americans, a so-called supergroup of players filling their downtime productively by making yet more music. Co-fronted by Casal and Todd Snider, the band also included members of Widespread Panic.

Opening Statement, 'Rest in Chaos', Hard Working Americans, 2016

The last I heard of him he was in the line-up of yet another band of loose affiliates from elsewhere, the Skiffle Players, this time with Cass McCombs and members of Beachwood Sparks.

Always, 'Skifflin'', The Skiffle Players, 2016

As if this weren't enough, he managed twelve solo offerings, and performed on innumerable sessions, for Lucinda Williams and Tift Merritt amongst others. And I haven't even mentioned Circles Around the Sun, the band he formed when commissioned to write the between sets music for the residual Grateful Dead 2015 Fare Thee Well tour and 50 year celebrations, that request arising from his participation in, yes, as well, a Phil Lesh & Friends touring project.

He seems to have been a well loved individual, given the eulogies made by friends and bandmates. Capable of extended and joyous electric solos, as well as reflexly capable rhythm control, and a deft hand on an acoustic to boot, familiar in most of the modern american genres that bridge the gap between the Stones and the Dead. Which, as the youngster he was, obsessed with the music of both, leaves no small legacy and big gap. He also had the voice of a tarnished choirboy, capable both of soaring beauty and understated lyrical dialogue, a gifted craftsman of songs.

So what makes someone take their own life, as he did, on August 26 last year? I cannot imagine and wouldn't want to, but I would guess, if labelled 'gentle' and 'introspective', as he usually was, depression will have been the diagnosis, suicide sadly no stranger to musical circles these past few years.

I know I have overloaded the clips, but here is a a full stream of his memorial concert. However, I should warn it is very long indeed, five hours....

Where to start?

Godspeed, Neal.