Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Memories of Mercury
Dakota, with Queen, on tour together in 1980

Members of Dakota have fond recollections of touring with the rock legend

By ALAN K. STOUT
Special to The Times Leader

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” a full-length feature film depicting the life of the late Freddie Mercury, opens in theaters across America on Friday. It is expected to take viewers inside the complex life of the late Queen frontman, who died in 1991, at the age of 45, of AIDS.

Bill Kelly and Jerry Hludzik, both natives of Northeastern Pennsylvania, have fond recollections of Mercury. Though they came from the opposite side of the Atlantic as the British singer, the three men shared one thing in common: a true love for music. And when their respective bands crossed paths for several months during the summer of 1980, friendships were formed and lasting memories were made.

Queen, at the time, was already a huge act in the United States and around the globe.  In prior years, songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Somebody To Love” and “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” had lifted the band up the charts and into country’s largest arenas. But in 1980, with the release of “The Game,” the group climbed to new heights. The album hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart and became the band’s best-selling record. Two of its tracks, “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” each hit No. 1 on singles chart.  And Dakota - a band based out of Northeastern Pennsylvania which featured Kelly and Hludzik - opened most of the shows on Queen’s American tour.

“It’s an amazing story,” says Kelly, a native of West Wyoming. “Michael Stahl, a good friend of our band, was running front-of-house sound for Queen on their tour. They already had an opening act, but they had only done two or three shows when Queen realized that they were terrible. And so Freddie fired them. The question then came up, ‘What are we going to do about an opening act?’ And Freddie said, ‘Well, we just won’t have an opener. We’ll just do a longer set.’ Well … that lasted about two shows. Freddie couldn’t do it. He had terrible trouble with nodes on his vocal chords. He could not pull it off. After the second or third show, he came into the dressing room and said, ‘I’m screwed. I need an opening act. What can I do?’ And Michael jumped up and said, ‘I’ve got your band, buddy. I’ve got your band.’ And on the strength of his word, we got put on that tour.”

For Kelly and Hludzik it was a second brush with national recognition. In 1971, while with the band The Buoys, they notched a Top-20 hit with the song “Timothy” and were major label contenders throughout the decade. By 1980, they’d moved on to a new musical project, Dakota. The group’s self-titled album was released on Columbia Records and featured the single “If It Takes All Night.” Coincidentally, Kelly says that on the same day that they found out they had landed the Queen tour, he and Hludzik had a meeting in New York where the two had two lobbied their record label for more tour support.

“We needed some financial backing, and we were not getting it,” he says. “They refused. And as we were leaving, we said, ‘You know, there’s a very good chance we can get the Queen tour.’ And they laughed at us. I’m not kidding. They laughed at us. When we left there, Jerry and I felt like two bumbling idiots. But when we called home, there was a message from Michael: ‘Be in Baton Rouge tomorrow by 5 p.m. You have three shows with Queen.”  


 'Bohemian Rhapsody,’ a new film depicting the life
of Freddie Mercury, opens Friday 
Their reaction was euphoric.

“We were out of our minds,” he says. “Jerry and I, if nothing else - when we were after something - were like two pit bulls. And so when this came through, we were totally over-the-top excited.”

Kelly says that although the band and its crew were actually just about to go hiatus and were readying for vacation, they were able to round up the troops and make it to Louisiana by the next day. Dakota’s three shows went well, and thus an offer was made for the band to stay on the road with Queen. It would last for two months, from June through August, and also included shows in Canada. It ended with three nights at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“What a thrill to take a look at the marquee, at the Garden, and see, ‘Queen with Dakota.’ “ says Kelly. “Are you kidding me?”

Kelly says that though he had great respect for Queen at the time, his own musical tastes leaned more towards bands such as The Eagles and Poco. He adds that while he had always appreciated Mercury’s singing voice, and the tone guitarist Brian May got with his instrument, he admits he didn’t even recognize May when the musician introduced himself to Dakota backstage on the first night of the tour.

“Of course, after the tour, I became such a huge fan,” he says. “And not only of their talent, but just the type of people they were. They were the most humble, professional group of guys we ever worked with. There was no axe to grind. There was no BS involved. Anything that they could do to make us do better, every night, they did.”

Kelly says that while standing off to the side of the stage, he watched Queen’s show every night.

“I watched every single show,” he says. “I was so blown away by this little 5’8, 140-pound guy who could take his shirt off, and get out there and prance around in front of 10,000 or 15,000 people and transform into this 6’4, 210-pound guy. I’m watching this like, ‘How did this just happen?’ He was larger-than-life. And one of the nicest, most professional musicians I’ve ever been around.”

One of Kelly’s favorite memories of the tour was knowing - because of the way Dakota was treated - that the respect was mutual. Queen genuinely liked Dakota.

“So many nights, I’d look to the side of the stage, and they’d be standing there watching us,” he says. “They were just so supportive all the time. Thumbs up all the time. They’d say, ‘Great show, blokes. Great show. (Kelly inserts a British accent.) You’re making us look good.’ Stuff like that … it was really awesome.”

Hludzik, a native a Hazleton, agrees.

“Freddie enjoyed what we did, and that was kind of neat,” he says. “That was once in a lifetime. He, at that time, was the king. Looking back at it, there aren’t too many headlining acts that take that time. He could have just brushed us off. It was special.”

Kelly shares another story that reveals Mercury’s humility.

“We got to Detroit, and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ was just exploding on the radio,” he says. “One of the TV stations in Detroit decided they were going to come in and do a feature on the band, and a part of it was going to be filming Queen in rehearsal, during sound check. And so of course what that did to us was completely eliminate our sound check. We had none. Well … Freddie felt so bad that it interfered with us getting a sound check that he had all of the guys carrying our gear. So picture Brian May grabbing a couple of my guitar stands and a guitar and putting them in place and Freddie carrying cymbal stands and putting them in place. I’m watching this thinking. ‘This is Queen. And they’re helping us get our gear together so we can do our job.’ It’s totally amazing. Where do you ever hear of any headliner doing that? They were wonderful.”
Actor Rami Malek portrays Freddie Mercury in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ 

One of the great traditions in rock and roll comes from when two bands that are on tour together are getting along well and enjoying each other’s company. Usually, that results in some pranks and hijinks. And the Queen/Dakota tour was no exception.

“Usually when an opening act spends time with a headliner, you can tell that you’re in good standing when they start pulling practical jokes on you,’” says Kelly.  “Well, Freddie had a section of his stage that they called his ‘Tooth.’ It was an extension that went out beyond the stage, and it’s where he would go out and prance around. It was made of this really shiny, slick material. Freddie came up to me one night and said, ‘If you want to go out and dance around on the extension, feel free.’ I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? Absolutely.’  

“There was a song called ‘Restless’ on the ‘Dakota’ album, and it had a fiery-type of solo,” he adds. “I’d run out, just as I was starting the solo, and hit my knees, and slide out to the edge of the stage. Of course when you slide out to the edge of the stage, 10,000 people go nuts. It’s kind of fun. So one night, we’re in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I hit the deck, on Freddie’s stage extension, and I’m sliding, and I’m sliding, and I’m sliding. I get to the very edge of the stage and I’m about to go off, and I kick my legs out, and somehow end up sitting on the edge of the stage, instead of going off into the crowd. I look down, and there were three members of Queen’s crew getting ready to catch me. What they had done was super-polished the surface, so that when I hit it, I went flying.”

Kelly laughs at the memory.

In addition to celebrating his music, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” film - which was done in cooperation with surviving members of Queen - is also expected to delve into Mercury’s sexuality. Though it was more taboo nearly 40 years ago, and Kelly says it was obvious that Mercury was gay, he adds that it wasn’t given much thought by anyone on the tour.

“It was what it was,” says Kelly. “He had a couple of different guys, and when they’d come out, we knew that was the local boyfriend or whatever. It was never an issue. It was no big deal. I was so naïve. I was in a conversation with Brain one night, and the whole thing about ‘queen’ being a gay reference hit me for the first time, and he just got the biggest kick out of that. He laughed at me for being so naive.”

Kelly says that at the time of “The Game” tour, both May and Queen bassist John Deacon were married, while drummer Roger Taylor was a “lover of fine women” and enjoyed meeting them at shows. Still, there was one night, at Madison Square Garden, when Mercury’s decadence crept into the backstage area.  

“There were two tents set up backstage,” says Kelly. “If you were heterosexual you went into one tent, and if you were gay, you went into the other. The heterosexual tent had beautiful women, who were topless, and were your waitresses. They’d come over and pour you a beer or get you something to eat. And of course all they were wearing were little black leather panties. And on the other side, in the other tent, they had these good looking stud guys in great shape and they’re wearing these little leather short pants.  And that was for the gay crowd. That was the only blatantly sexual thing I saw on the tour.”

Hludzik also remembers that night and being backstage, in the straight tent, with his father.

“He was happy,” he says with a chuckle. “He enjoyed it.”


"He was larger than life, And one of  the nicest, most professional
musicians I've even been around." - Bill Kelly, on Freddie Mercury
By all accounts, Dakota enjoyed every minute of its time with Queen. And Hludzik says that as recently as just a few years ago, he and his wife were guests of May at a show in Philadelphia where the group was performing with vocalist Adam Lambert. Backstage, he even got to spend some time with his old travel mate.

“He was super nice to us,” says Hludzik.  “He could not have been any more kind. He was such a gentleman.”

That, too, is how Kelly will always remember Mercury.

“The greatest compliment I ever had as a singer came from Freddie Mercury,” he says. “We were in Baltimore, and had just finished sound check, and as I was walking backstage I noticed that Freddie had been listening and watching. And he came up to me and said, ‘Man, how do you do that night after night after night?’ With all of the Dakota stuff, I sing atmosphere-high, all the time. I said, ‘That’s how I’ve had to sing to put food on the table for the past 10 years.’ It was tough, because he was really struggling with the nodes on his throat, and he’d get very down on himself that he couldn’t do more than two shows without taking two days off. And so it was just a wonderful compliment that he gave me.

“Freddie was such a flamboyant personality,” he adds. “And humility doesn’t necessarily come to mind when you think of him. But with my one-on-one interactions, I found him to be humble and sincere.”





This story also appeared in The Times Leader.






(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net)


Monday, October 22, 2018


Frehley proves he’s still the ‘Spaceman’


Former KISS guitarist's playing shines on new album  

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU

Ace Frehley was an original member of the rock band KISS and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is also considered to be one of the most influential guitarists of all-time.

Frehley had two stints with KISS: 1973-1982 and 1996-2002. He was with the group in the ‘70s when a Gallup Poll named KISS the most popular band in the world. And when he rejoined the group in 1996, its “Alive/Worldwide” reunion tour became one of the most successful tours of the decade. And though his relationship with KISS founding members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley has been rocky at times, things have apparently smoothed over in recent years. In 2016, Stanley made a guest appearance on Frehley’s album, “Origins, Vol. 1,” and also shot a music video with his former bandmate. In 2018, Frehley made several public appearances with Simmons while the KISS bassist was promoting his “The Vault” box set and also did a short tour of Australia with Simmons, with both Frehley’s and Simmons’ solo bands sharing the stage. And Simmons has two songwriting credits on Frehley’s  new album, “Spaceman.” Simmons, it has been reported, even helped Frehley name the record.

All of this has the KISS Army speculating the Frehley might be readying for a third go-around with KISS next year when the legendary band kicks off its “End of The Road” tour, which it says will be its last. And, judging from his work on “Spaceman,” Frehley is certainly up for the task.

“Spaceman,” Frehley’s eighth studio solo album, rocks. His guitar work is scorching and his vocals haven’t lost a thing since the days of “Shock Me” and “Rocket Ride.” And though it isn’t his best solo effort, it does feature several tracks that make for fine entries into the Frehley catalog. The album opens with “Without You I’m Nothing,” a churning, beefy number which he wrote with Simmons. And though it’s nice to hear the two working together again, it doesn’t pack nearly as much punch as the following track, “Rockin’ With The Boys,” which would have served as a better album opener. Here, Frehley – who says the song was actually first written in the ‘70s – sings about being on the road with the band, away from his love. In that way, it’s reminiscent of the KISS classic “Beth,” which is perhaps why it never saw the light of day years ago. Unlike “Beth,” however, which featured piano and an orchestra, “Rockin’ with The Boys” is a straight-up, meat-and-potatoes rock song and offers a stinging Frehley solo and a booming sing-along-chorus.

“Your Wish Is My Command,” the second Frehley/Simmons composition on the album, comes with the clichéd-style lyrics that Simmons sometimes gets a bit too lost in, but it too comes with the few torrid riffs from Frehley. And with “Bronx Boy,” Frehley’s guitars again bleed with energy as he celebrates and pays homage to his young life on the streets of New York City. The song, nearly 40 years later, seems like a companion track to “Hard Times,” which appeared on KISS’ “Dynasty” album. It’s Ace singing about Ace. And that’s pretty cool.

With “Pursuit of Rock and Roll,” Frehley sings of his love for the all-time greats, referencing Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. He also, once again, completely tears it up on the guitar.  And with “I Wanna Go Back” he offers a heartfelt cover of the 1986 Eddie Money classic. The biggest difference? More guitars, of course. And if that wasn’t enough, the fret-board wizardry gets even mightier on the rip-roaring, riff-heavy, sci-fi inspired “Mission To Mars,” which also serves as the most fun track on the record.  The album ends with “Quantum Flux,” a stirring instrumental done in the vein of the “Fractured Mirror” style compositions that have concluded several of Frehley’s previous solo efforts. It’s a bit more jammy and less melodic than some of those tracks, but it’s a solid continuation of a Frehley tradition that now goes back four decades.

“Spaceman” isn’t Ace Frehley’s best solo album. He will never likely top his first, which was released in 1978 while he was still a member of KISS and, in the world of hard-rock music, has become an iconic record.  And 1989’s “Trouble Walkin’” also stands among his best. But “Spaceman” is another good album from one rock’s most beloved musicians. Lyrically, he’s not a wordsmith. Bono and Springsteen have nothing to worry about. He is, however, still a fabulous, charismatic lead guitarist who continues to come up with great riffs and great solos, can still sing with plenty of zest and, with every record, can always be counted on for a couple of really good songs. That, “Spaceman” reveals, is what Ace Frehley can still do today. That’s also what made him so perfect for KISS. And that is why, hopefully, in 2019, he’ll join them once again at “The End of The Road.”




(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net)






























































































  



Sunday, September 23, 2018



ALAN K. STOUT
(press bio)


Alan K. Stout is a rock music journalist based out of Northeastern Pennsylvania who currently writes for the Bold Gold Media Group, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader and The Weekender, the No. 1 arts and entertainment newspaper in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He was voted Northeastern Pennsylvania's "Favorite Newspaper Columnist" in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2009. In 1998, he was awarded a "Keystone Press Award for Excellence in Journalism" for his music coverage. In 2011, he was presented with the "Best Special Event/Achievement Award" by the United Way of The Wyoming Valley for his charitable work with the annual "Concert For A Cause." In 2014, he was presented with the "Lifetime Achievement Award" by the Steamtown Music Awards, which were a part of the Electric City Music Conference.

Music journalist and radio host Alan K. Stout
Stout began covering music for The Times Leader in 1992 and his weekly column, "Music On The Menu," appeared in The Times Leader from 1994-2005. In 2000, he was named music editor at The Times Leader. In 2005, "Music On The Menu" moved to The Weekender, where he served as editor until 2007 and where the column appeared until 2011. His concert reviews are still published by The Weekender and well as he Bold Gold Media Group.

Stout's focus in the Northeast Pennsylvania region has often been on the local music scene, which has produced national recording artists such as The Badlees (1995) and Breaking Benjamin (2002). He was among the first writers to profile these bands and continues to write about local talent in the NEPA region. In 2004, Stout launched his own weekly radio show, "Music On The Menu," on 102.3-FM, The Mountain. In 2013, the program moved to 105 The River (104.9-FM), and as his column did for nearly 18 years, it continues to showcase local talent. From 2004-2013, Stout hosted of the monthly "Weekender/Mountaingrown Original Music Series," a live radio broadcast which allowed local musicians to showcase their songs to a wide audience. In 2014, Stout began to host a new original music series, "Music On The Menu Live," which is broadcast live on 105 The River from Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. In 2017, Stout, in cooperation with SSPTV and the Bold Gold Media Group, launched a monthly television version of the "Music On The Menu" radio show which airs on Comcast and Service Electric Cable TV throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Stout is also known for his concert coverage and reviews. He frequently reviewed shows at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, The F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre and the Montage Mountain Amphitheater in Scranton. He also sometimes covers major concert tours that visit Philadelphia and has reviewed shows by The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Plant/Page, Sting, Eric Clapton, The Who, Dave Matthews Band, KISS and Billy Joel. In addition to appearing in the Wilkes-Barre newspapers, Stout's reviews have also appeared on the national entertainment newspaper wires, in papers from coast-to-coast, and - if favorable - on the websites of the artists he covers.

Stout's interviews include conversations with Billy Joel, Steven Tyler, David Bowie, Eddie Van Halen, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Don Henley.  Many of these interviews have also appeared on national newspaper wires and have appeared in various newspapers across the United States. Many can now be found on YouTube.

In 1997, Stout broke a news story regarding the Lackawanna County Commissioners office and its decision to possibly end its relationship with the Metropolitan Entertainment Group. Metropolitan had promoted concerts at the Montage Mountain Amphitheater in Scranton, had run the facility, and had brought some of the biggest names in music to Northeastern Pennsylvania. The county, however, had concerns about the facility, particularly what it deemed as Metropolitan’s poor management of concert traffic. Stout’s news coverage of the situation led to a mass movement by the public to save the concerts at Montage. Radio stations organized petition drives, elected officials were lobbied, and eventually, a new agreement/contract was made between Metropolitan and Lackawanna County, with Metropolitan committing to make improvements, including, in 2000, constructing a new and improved multi-million dollar amphitheater. Stout’s ongoing coverage of the situation, which was deemed fair and balanced by both parties - combined with his commentaries/editorials, concert reviews, album reviews and coverage of the local band and club scene – resulted in his receiving a Keystone Press Award for Excellence in Journalism for his music coverage.

In 1999, Stout worked with the band Mötley Crüe when the group released digitally re-mastered versions of its entire CD catalog. Titled "Crucial Crue," the series featured all new liner-notes for each album, written by Stout with the band. He is credited on each album.

Also in 1999, Stout helped found "Concert For Karen/Concert For A Cause," an annual charity event held in NEPA that united the region's entire musical and media community. The annual event, held each April, featured dozens of local bands, plus full sponsorship from the local print, television and radio media. A rock auction featured autographed items from John Mellencamp, KISS, Mötley Crüe, Dave Matthews, Elton John and Bob Weir. Since 2002, the event also included a limited edition companion CD for which Stout often contributed a track. His recordings for the "Concert For A Cause" albums included covers of The Beatles' "Blackbird," Bruce Springsteen's "Happy," John Lennon's "Watching The Wheels," KISS' "Sure Know Something," John Mellencamp's "What If I Came Knocking," Elvis Presley's "His Latest Flame" and U2's "Walk On." In 2008, the "Concert For A Cause 6" CD spent five weeks at No. 1 on the NEPA album chart. In 2009, "Concert For a Cause 7" also spent several weeks at No. 1 and in 2011, "Concert For A Cause 9: The Final Show," also hit No. 1. In 2009, to note its 10th anniversary, the mayor of the City of Wilkes-Barre declared April 22 "Concert For A Cause Day." As of 2011, the concert and the CDs had raised more than $204,000 for regional charities.

In 2003, one of Stout's original songs, "Summer Days," received critical acclaim from others in the NEPA media and the Billboard Magazine Songwriting Panel. Featuring members of The Badlees, as do all of his recordings, it received airplay on 14 radio stations, hit the Top-5 on the NEPA singles chart and also appeared on the "Concert For A Cause II" album.

In 2005, Stout organized "We All Shine On: A Tribute to John Lennon." The sold-out show was held on December 8 on the 25th anniversary of Lennon's death. It took place at one of Wilkes-Barre's most popular music venues and featured an all-star lineup of NEPA artists performing Lennon's songs from both his time with The Beatles and his solo career. It was also broadcast live on the radio. Proceeds benefited The John Lennon Scholarship Fund.

Stout's stories have appeared in the Boston Globe, San Jose Mercury News, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Tribune, Dallas Morning News and Miami Herald. He currently serves as a music correspondent for The Weekender, The Times Leader and the Bold Gold Media Group. Through that work, and through his weekly radio show and music blogs, he continues to provide insight into the musical climate of Northeastern Pennsylvania.


(This bio was first published by The Times Leader and also appears on Wikipedia.)

















































Saturday, September 22, 2018


Paul McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ is at No. 1

And that says, and means, much more than just a spot on the charts 

REVIEW


By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU

As I write this, Paul McCartney has the No. 1 album in America. It’s certainly not new territory for the former Beatle. The Fab Four had topped the charts a record-holding 19 times. McCartney’s incredibly successful post-Beatles project, Wings, also hit No. 1 on five occasions. And his solo albums had previously grabbed the top spot twice. But until “Egypt Station” jetted straight to No. 1 earlier this week, it had been 36 years since Sir Paul had sat atop of the Billboard 200.

That’s not to say that a few of his records since 1982’s “Tug Of War” didn’t deserve it. I’m particularly fond of 1989’s “Flowers In The Dirt.”  Tracks such as “My Brave Face,” “We Got Married,” “Put It There” and “This One” are on par with some of McCartney’s best work.  And “Off The Ground,” from 1993, is another really good record. (Check out “Hope of Deliverance,” “Biker Like An Icon” and “Winedark Open Sea.”)  I also liked 2002’s “Driving Rain.” But, for whatever reasons, “Egypt Station” seemed to have gotten a bigger pre-release buzz than any other McCartney album in quite some time. His wonderful “Carpool Karaoke” TV bit with James Corden became a viral sensation – and rightly so – and in the days leading up to its release, it was fun to see Jimmy Fallon wilt into such a total fan-boy when Sir Paul sat with him on the “Tonight Show.” Howard Stern also gave us an insightful McCartney interview, and perhaps we should have known - just by observing what seemed like a confident twinkle in the 76 year-old musician’s eyes - that he had something special up his sleeve.

It was, of course, “Egypt Station.”

If McCartney felt he was about to drop a really cool album, he was right. “Egypt Station” is ambitious. It’s contemporary. It’s engaging. It’s thoughtful. And, quite often, it's just plain fun.

“I Don’t Know,” accented by rich piano, kicks off the record in a refreshingly introspective manner and, in some ways, is unlike anything we’ve heard from McCartney before. Penned during an albeit brief time when McCartney says he was feeling down, it’s interesting, and comforting, to know that even one of most successful men of our time has had moments of self-doubt and a sense of failure. Such moments in life, which are a part of life, spare no one. It’s a song we can all relate to.  

Things shift gears quickly, however, with the rousing “Come On To Me,” a flirty and sexy romping track about that moment when you spot someone across the room and feel a magnetic attraction, but you’re waiting for them to make the first move. Beefed up by a classic rock riff, rhythmic and grooving drums, horns, piano, a clever breakout section, and marvelous pop sensibilities (didn’t McCartney invent them?), “Come On To Me” is an instant Macca classic and one that will hopefully have a regular place in the set-list on his 2019 American tour. It will sound good in stadiums.

On “Happy With You” McCartney sings of how his marriage has inspired him to ditch some of his former habits  - getting wasted and stoned -  simply because, in his life with her, he doesn’t need it. With her, he sings, there is no sadness and no anger. With her, the world is beautiful and in perfect focus and, simply stated, there are “lots of good things to do.” It’s a chirpy gem.

With the pounding “Who Cares,” McCartney offers an inspiring anti-bullying message which is dismissive of those that come with hurtful words, and with “People Want Peace,” he revisits a theme famously first visited by his late songwriting partner, John Lennon. “Hand In Hand” comes with more romanticism and celebrates the happiness of such unions and “Dominos” touches on the concept of how one simple action or small gesture can trigger something that can become much bigger. 
  
What’s perhaps most interesting about “Egypt Station” is its musicality and contemporariness.  The production is crisp and booming. “Back In Brazil” sounds as if it could only have been recorded in 2018 and the sizzling, recently released accompanying music video is as hot as anything PG-rated that you’ll see this year. “Caesar Rock” is equally fresh, and with “Despite Repeated Warnings” McCartney takes on the perceived ambivalence of Donald Trump towards global warming. But it’s not your typical chanty-protest song. It’s a melodic, seven-minute, cleverly arranged bulls-eye aimed straight at the President of United States. Lennon would have loved it.

Despite the diverse themes found on “Egypt Station,” it’s the fun songs that serve as its highlights. And, like “Come On To Me,” the track “Fuh You” is one of them. It’s comes with an insanely melodic pre-chorus and an amusing chorus about, well, feeling a special connection with someone and just wanting to … um …  get right to it. It’s breezy and catchy and it could inspire even the most reluctant homebody to get out there and look for love (or, at least sex). There’s something to be said for an artist that’s been around for as long as McCartney truly surprising you with a song, and with “Fuh You,” he’s done just that. It’s fabulous. And it’s easy to imagine a local cover band of 23 year-olds playing this one at your favorite club.

Today, Paul McCartney’s “Egypt Station” is the No. 1 album in America. And that’s a good thing. And not just because it is worthy, but because of who he is and what that says. I’ve been saying this for years now: we are lucky to be living in these times, with such artists. The contemporaries of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven – and perhaps even those artists themselves - might not have realized that we’d still be listening to their music long after they were gone. But we do know, right now, that people will still be listening to Paul McCartney long after he and the rest of us are gone. And they’ll look back at his entire body of work, and they’ll study it, and they’ll wonder how the music that came much later in his life was received at the time. And, at 76 years old, they will see a No. 1 album.

They will see that his contemporaries got it. We knew what we had. And we embraced it and cherished it.

I spent most of the ‘90s and a good part of the following decade covering concerts. For 15 straight years, it was a huge part of my life. And then, about 10 years ago, when my children came along, I pulled back quite a bit.  But eventually, I felt a little pull to get back at it from time to time. And so, over the past few years, I covered some shows by people like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Sting, U2 and Rod Stewart. I’d seen them all before, but I was becoming more aware of the fact that those artists aren’t just the greatest of our time, but they will long be considered the greatest of all-time. I realized we’re all fortunate to be here, right now, enjoying this music, from such artists, and that when an artist of that caliber continues to record or perform, we need to be paying attention.

Paul McCartney sits at the very top of that list, and today, in September of 2018 – with a wonderful new album, he is right where he belongs.

Right on top.

We get it.

And that twinkle in his eye was well-deserved. 



(Alan K. Stout has seen Paul McCartney live three times and has covered rock and pop music since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net)













































































Wednesday, January 24, 2018

King Edward, where are you?


If Eddie Van Halen wants to record new music, he should consider working outside the band

COMMENTARY

By ALAN K. STOUT
Bold Gold Media Group

About two years ago, I went to see Van Halen in concert. It was the sixth time I’d seen the band live. In the ‘80s, I saw them with David Lee Roth. In the ‘90s, I saw them with both Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone. And, two years ago, Diamond Dave was back. Sometimes, I went to the show as a journalist, covering the event for newspapers. Sometimes, I was there as fan. (Well, OK ... working or not, I was always there as a fan.) I saw them at venues in New Jersey, at The Meadowlands, and in Philadelphia, at The Spectrum.  I saw them in New York, at Bethel Woods, near Woodstock. And I saw them twice in my home region of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, at Montage Mountain. I’ve also seen Hagar, solo, a few times, including a few stops on the 2002 tour that he did with David  Lee Roth. I was also able to interview Hagar on one occasion, and on two occasions, I interviewed the great Eddie Van Halen, who I affectionately call “King Edward.”

If you grew up in the ‘80s, Eddie Van Halen was the king of rock guitarists. He literally changed the way, for many, the instrument was played. (In high school, I wore a "VH" necklace, just like Eddie's.) And honestly, when I went to see Van Halen in concert two years ago - (and wore that same necklace) - he was the main reason I went. I love the band, and songs such as “Mean Street” and “Dreams” will always resonate with me. But the last time I went to see them, I was simply in the mood to see Eddie Van Halen play the guitar. It had been a while. And I wanted to see King Edward.

Somehow, Van Halen recently came up in conversation with a friend, and I was talking about what I’d like to see the guitarist do next. Hagar has stated he’d be OK with doing one last tour with the band, and even went as far as saying that, for the sake of the fans, he’d also like Roth to be a part of it, too. And, he'd want original and longtime bassist Michael Anthony there as well. That would be cool. But that probably won’t happen. Maybe they’ll do another tour with just Roth on vocals and Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, on bass. That would be OK, but as a fan, that doesn’t really excite me too much. Another studio album with Roth? Not too exciting either. The last one, 2012’s “A Different Kind of Truth,” was alright, though most of the tracks were re-worked songs that had been demoed in the late 1970s/early 1980s. And what that tells us is that there is no longer any creative spark between Roth and the Van Halen brothers. The fact that it was the first new Van Halen studio album in 13 years, and the fact that they haven’t done another one since, also tells us that there is no prolific songwriting happening in the Van Halen camp. And there hasn’t been in a very long time.

So, what is King Edward to do?

I’ll tell you what I’d like to see him do. 

I’d like to see him pull a Santana.

Flashback to 1999. Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana releases “Supernatural,” an ambitious collaborative album that featured an all-star roster of other musicians, some of whom were among the most popular young artists at the time. Dave Matthews appeared on the album, and its biggest single, “Smooth,” featuring Rob Thomas, became one of the biggest singles of all-time. It spent 12 weeks at No. 1 and won three Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. The album hit No. 1  in 10 countries, including 12 weeks at No. 1 in the United States. It went 15 times platinum and, in total, won eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. During the summer of 1999, it seemed that you literally could not walk down the street without hearing “Smooth.”  The brainchild of Clive Davis, “Supernatural” was a remarkable career move for Santana and introduced his guitar work to an entire new generation of fans.

Four years later, in 2002, Santana released “Shaman” and again collaborated with young artists. It too hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart and featured the hit single "The Game of Love," with Michelle Branch. It, like “Smooth,” was simply a really great song featuring one of the most beloved guitarists of our time. And I - as a fan - would like to see Eddie Van Halen borrow a few pages from that playbook.  He should release an album like “Supernatural.” And if he did, I think it could be one of the most exciting things he’s ever done, both for himself, creatively, and for his fans.

The possibilities of whom Van Halen might collaborate with on such a record are fun to even just think about. Bruno Mars. Adam Levine. Adele. Pink. John Mayer. Blake Shelton. Lady GaGa. Justin Timberlake. Taylor Swift. Beyoncé. Dave Grohl. Trust me, Eddie Van Halen could probably choose whoever he wanted to be on such an album and they’d be lining up to do it. He is, after all, Eddie (expletive) Van Halen. Don’t think he'd have his picking? Who did Michael Jackson call to play on “Beat It” all of those years ago? That time, however, the song was pretty much already done. Eddie just dropped in the guitar solo. This would be different. For this project, perhaps he could write with some of these artists, and hash out some of the arrangements together. And he’d be playing the guitar for the entire song, on every song.  

I think the people at radio would get excited about such music because a lot of the people running radio stations these days grew up with Eddie Van Halen, and the idea of matching him up with some of today’s biggest stars could make for some really interesting songs. Bring some great songwriters onto the project. Find a great producer. And just let Eddie do his thing. Maybe he’ll stumble upon a “Smooth.” Maybe, without feeling the need to "shred" on every song, ala the band Van Halen, he’d show us a different scope of his playing. Maybe Eddie Van Halen would not only surprise us, but also himself.

How exciting is that?

Eddie Van Halen doesn’t have to do anything. His place in rock history is secure. He is one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all-time. And his band has released some of the best hard-rock music ever made. But if he’s looking to do something different and something special, and if he’s looking for a challenge, he just might want to think a little bit about Carlos Santana. I think it would be a very interesting move for a guy that, from what I saw just two years ago, can still play that red Fender better than anyone in the world.

I think it would be a great way to remind everyone that he is indeed King Edward.




(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu” airs Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His commentaries on music and concert reviews are published by the Bold Gold Media Group.)