Why live Rock albums are a lost art and should be treasured

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

In 1976, an unusual phenomenon occurred that would shine a light on Rock artists in a way that had previously been reserved for die-hard fans, and caused purists and critics alike to reconsider past opinions — a live album dominated the charts (reaching #1 and becoming the best selling album of 1976) and changed the musical conversation for decades to come. The double live album, Frampton Comes Alive!, was released to huge sales and quickly became the bible for generations of guitarists to come. That album, more than others who came before, brought a new legitimacy to live performances, as well as commercial viability to their recordings. It wasn’t the first great live Rock album, but it was such a distinct piece of work that it could not be overlooked. It was the perfect example of the live album as an art form. It wasn’t just live versions of studio cuts, it was an expert offering of improvisation and re-imagining of studio songs. While some other live albums offered versions of songs that were already well known, Frampton Comes Alive! made hits out of songs that were not hits in their original incarnations. “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way” (#6 and #12 on the Billboard Hot 100) were from his fourth studio album, Frampton, and “Do You Feel Like We Do” hit #10 on the same charts (after being edited from 14 minutes to 7 minutes — a previously unheard of running time for a single, never-mind a live recording…Okay, “Hey Jude” comes in at 7:11, but that was the Beatles. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was 2:52 as a single, before you chime in on that one.) …


How Some Diminutive Musicians became Rock Giants

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

Irish Poet Francis Duggan wrote of Death being the “Great Equalizer.” Educational reformer Horace Mann felt that education was the great equalizer. There is also a broad chorus who feel that music is the true great equalizer. I’m gonna run with this last one.

If you’re simply a fan of good music, when you hear a song, your first thoughts are probably not concerned with what the sizes and shapes of the musicians are. You can’t hear tall or skinny or short and wide. You just dig the tune. If you are a musician, when you hear somebody playing a great groove, you either want to sit back and take it in, or jump up and jam with them. Again, it’s the music that washes away all the other nonsense and brings us all into the fold. It’s one big Seuss-ian chorus. No discrimination, no bullying, no bullshit. …


Is Billie Eilish reliving history or righting it?

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

At the 2020 GRAMMY awards in January, artist Billie Eilish won Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Her brother, Finneas, also collected five GRAMMYs that night as well, some shared with his sister, some on his own. The last time anyone ran the board of major awards like that was in 1981. …


When Rory Gallagher made Irish guitarists matter

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Plaid shirt, ‘burst Strat, killer riffs

A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

In 1971, voters in the UK paper Melody Maker chose Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher as the International Guitar Player of the Year, ahead of such notable contemporaries as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Steve Howe. At the peak of British guitarists’ dominance over rock and their interpretation of American blues starting a resurgence of interest in blues guitar playing, an Irishman with no major record label backing or radio hits captured the attention of not only music fans, but his contemporaries and future guitar greats as well. Queen guitarist Brian May credits Gallagher with giving him his distinct sound, recalling a backstage meeting with Rory in 1970 after attending multiple shows by Gallagher’s band, Taste. “I said (to Gallagher), ‘How do you get the sound? What is it?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s very simple. I have this guitar and I have this amp (amplifier) — an AC-30 amp — and I have this little Rangemaster Treble Booster…’ So I went straight out and got the AC-30 and the Treble Booster and it gave me what I wanted; it made the guitar speak. So it was Rory that gave me my sound, and that’s the sound I still have.” Alex Lifeson spoke of opening for Gallagher on Rush’s first tour, “I would watch his set and go back to the dressing room and just play, just because I was so inspired by watching him play. …


When actors act like musicians…and the world shrugs

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

In 2019, an album of original tracks, Rise, was released by a band that started out in 2015 covering Classic Rock songs, such as “School’s Out” and “Whole Lotta Love.” The band is led by three highly successful artists: Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, long-time rock veteran Alice Cooper, and…Johnny Depp

Wait…is this a musical group?

(Yes, hang on, let me finish.)

They call themselves, Hollywood Vampires, and Johnny Depp is their guitarist and occasional vocalist.

Captain Jack Sparrow is the leader of the band?


Were the Rolling Stones actually the best band of the British Invasion?

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Go ahead…bite the Big Apple

There has been a decades old dialogue about which band was better: the Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Such discourse should seem ludicrous when you’re talking about something as creatively subjective as music, but once the Beatles showed up to insane crowds greeting them at airports, history-making appearances on Ed Sullivan, and a Shea Stadium concert that no one ever actually heard due to the screaming crowd, the whole “invasion” became more of a phenomenon. And, like any phenomenon, it warranted a curious eye for cultural, social and economic impact. …


How Grace Slick unabashedly ushered in the age of the female rock star

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

“I’m getting ready to sing. Some guy in the audience shouts: ‘Hey Gracie! Take off your chastity belt!’ I look directly at him and say: ‘Hey, I don’t even wear underpants.’ I pull my skirt up for a beaver shot, and the audience explodes with laughter. I can hear the guys in the band behind me muttering: ‘Oh, Jesus.’” — Grace Slick recalling a Jefferson Airplane show in Chicago in 1973

Rock and Roll is about power — metaphorically and literally, and one thing is for certain, the more powerful the messenger, the more power the message conveys. In nearly every case, that messenger is primarily the singer — that person front and center delivering the surge of energy you came to receive. It’s that energy, that power and that freedom that makes all the difference. Their vibe becomes your vibe. Sitting politely during a musical performance and sipping wine during intermission is for opera at the Met; jumping up and screaming in a weed-scented Madison Square Garden is for Rock and Roll. When a singer pulls a note from somewhere down deep and pushes it out with the force of all the air in their lungs, phew…that’s it right there. The power of Rock and Roll. …


The Eddie Van Halen/Thelonius Monk Correlation

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

Accompanying the current Play It Loud exhibit of original guitars and gear used throughout the history of modern rock at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City are video testimonials by some of the artists on display: Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Eddie Van Halen, in particular. Each of these artists use their own words to explain their approach to playing, writing, finding the perfect tone, and generally creating music. The artists interviewed each represent very significant milestones across different eras and to say they have merely influenced rock music would simply be ignorant. Page, Richards and Van Halen quite literally created modern guitar rock (which is why they are prominently featured). This section of the exhibit also includes each artist’s actual playing and recording rigs: guitars, pedals and all. …


Why music might be Canada’s greatest export, not weird bacon

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

In the early 60’s, the American music scene was subject to the loud, brash and all engrossing British Invasion. According to the Encylopaedia Britannica (that’s British/Latin for — “we know everything”): “These charming invaders had borrowed (often literally) American rock music and returned it — restyled and refreshed — to a generation largely ignorant of its historical and racial origins.” (So they were “charming” and we were “ignorant”? How about I return a restyled and refreshed middle finger back at ya, Britannica.com.) Crowds of young Americans gathered en masse at airports, fainted at concerts and reportedly flung some underwear at the “charming” scamps as they dominated the charts and minds of America. …


Why drummers are the hardest working musicians in Rock and Roll

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A Strum and Bang Literary Drift

by Kenneth J. McKay

On August 1st, 2015, a momentous event occurred in the world of rock music. It may have passed under the radar of many people, but few drummers will forget it. That date marked the last ever concert by the timeless, inimitable, and arguably greatest power trio ever (sorry HANSON fans) — RUSH. And it’s not just that RUSH came to some realization that their popularity had waned. It’s quite the opposite. Their albums still went gold and their concerts were sold out. The truth was the simple and admirable admission by an always classy and humble man that his body just could not handle it anymore. He was physically spent from 50+ years of drumming. The tenure of one of the greatest rock drummers of all time came to end, not because of death, but because of life. That night in Los Angeles was the final drum solo from the great Neil Peart. …

About

Kenneth McKay

Strum and Bang — a conversation not just about guitars, drums, keyboards and vocals, but about any musical moment that still sends that chill up your spine.

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