MC5 – High Time Revisited

by Rik Mercaldi on January 27, 2017

When the MC5 came storming out of Detroit in the late 1960s, the praise bestowed upon them by both fans and the press was practically evangelical. A lot had happened in just a few short years. By the time their third and final album High Time was released in 1971, their once revolutionary stance was old news, and disillusionment with the music business combined with increasing drug dependencies were beginning to cripple the momentum of this once powerful band. The world wasn’t exactly waiting with bated breath for another MC5 record, which was unfortunate because High Time would prove to be their most fully realized album. It encompassed their individual and combined strengths in an adrenaline rush that was spirited, defiant and confident. It was a testament to what the band were truly capable of.

Kick Out The Jams, their pulverizing 1969 debut, is an absolutely incendiary document of the live MC5 experience, presenting a band firing on all cylinders in front of an adoring crowd of admirers on their home turf of Detroit’s Grande Ballroom. The revolutionary rants, high decibel jams, free jazz improvisations and raucous energy is positively infectious. The follow-up, Back In The USA was a more refined and structured, song-oriented approach. It showed the band playing tighter, more streamlined material but lacked the adventurous spirit and attitude of its predecessor. Although both were extremely influential, they almost seemed as though they were made by two different bands.

Detroit, Michigan in the 1960s was the epicenter of the automobile manufacturing industry, and if you were a young man growing up there, your future lay just over the horizon, where grey clouds of factory exhaust poured endlessly from the smokestack towers dominating the skyline, while the metronomic clang of assembly line steel rang through the air 24 hours a day, every day. To the five young men who would eventually become known as the MC5, this was not an option. Their restless spirit and rebelliousness was fueled by music, the momentum of societal evolution, and a burning desire to be true to themselves. The world was changing fast, and the preconceived notions and expectations of the previous generations were irrelevant. There was no room for complacency, this was their time.

Formed in the Lincoln Park suburb of Detroit in 1964, the band was started by school buddies Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith on guitars, and later adding Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson on drums. They met Rob Derminer while looking for a manager, and he very briefly played bass in an early version of the group, but when his talents as a vocalist and frontman were discovered, he was made their lead singer, and bass duties were handed over to another local musician named Michael Davis. Derminer, heavily involved in left-wing politics as well as the burgeoning Jazz and poetry scene, changed his last name to Tyner (after Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner) and was the one responsible for coming up with the band’s name. An abbreviation of the Motor City Five, MC5 was a reflection of where they were from and partly chosen because it sounded like a car model or part. They were, after all, in the automobile manufacturing epicenter of the country where cars and girls were fighting for space in the minds of most young men.

While playing gigs locally they caught the attention of poet and left-wing activist John Sinclair, who offered his help and guidance. Not a traditional manager by any means, it was Sinclair’s influence that led the band to become more politically charged and become included as part of the new militant, anti-racist, White Panther Party started by Sinclair and his Wife Leni. The Black Panther Party, originally started to challenge police brutality and discrimination as well as help to create social programs in the black community, was co-founded by Huey P. Newton. When asked what white people can do to help support their cause, Newton replied that they should start a White Panther Party. In addition to supporting the Black Panther’s 10 point program, the White Panther’s 10 point agenda included the declaration: “Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets.” This defiant confrontational declaration was, of course, a threat to the conservative ruling authority at the time. The band along with other members of the White Panthers, many of whom shared the house where they lived communally with partners and spouses, were constantly under surveillance and routinely searched.

The band took part in a protest of the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The tension in the air was palpable leading up to the event and most of the artists who promised to appear were suspiciously absent. The MC5 were the only act to perform on that day and they played for several hours before helicopters started swarming above them and the police started to intervene. The band saw what was happening, the roadies pulled up their van to the stage, threw all of their gear in and got out just before riots started and everything broke down into total chaos. Government surveillance footage was actually taken of the band while they were performing, clips of which can be seen in the film, “MC5 A True Testimonial”. The counter culture cavalry they expected to be there with them in united solidarity, never even showed up to the party.

The band’s following had been steadily growing locally and after independently releasing several singles on their own Trans Love Energies label. They embarked on an East Coast tour in the Summer of 1968. It was during this tour that their reputation really started to blossom. Word started spreading about this band from Detroit that would blow headliners off the stage. Crowds chanted for multiple encores when they opened up for other bands, and rumors of them upstaging the mighty British power trio Cream spread, leading to a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine. Record labels had also started to take notice and Elektra Records sent A&R man Danny Fields to Detroit, Fields was completely blown away by their show and the adulation the band received from their fans who packed the Grande Ballroom that weekend, and he offered them a recording contract on the spot. Guitarist Wayne Kramer told Fields that “if you liked us, you’ll really love our little Brother band, Iggy and The Stooges”, and by Monday both bands would be signed to Elektra Records.

MC5 Fuck Hudsons PosterKick Out The Jams was released in 1969 and worked it’s way to the top 30 in the Billboard charts. From the screaming declaration of “kick out the jams motherfuckers” to the yearning sexuality of “I Want You Right Now”, and exploratory jams of “Starship”, the full effect of their rapturous live performance was captured to full effect. Due to what they labeled as obscene in the previously mentioned declaration (as well as in Sinclair’s album liner notes) Hudson’s, a local department store chain, refused to carry the record in their shops. The band responded by placing an advertisement in an anti-authoritarian publication called the Fifth Estate which stated, “kick out the jams motherfuckers, and kick in the door if the store won’t sell you the album, Fuck Hudson’s!”. Seeing the Elektra Records logo prominently displayed in the band’s ad, Hudson’s removed the entire Elektra catalog from all of their stores, resulting in Jac Holtzman, the head of Elektra being forced to drop the band from their contract. Although initially supportive of the album’s content, the potential loss of revenue for the Elektra could have been devastating.

Soon after the band were signed to Atlantic Records and began work on what would become Back In The USA. Jon Landau was brought in to produce and very quickly fell out of favor among the various band members. Although relatively inexperienced at the time, Landau would later go on to produce Bruce Springsteen’s massively successful, “Born in The USA”  album released in 1984. Landau’s almost militaristic approach, which required a seemingly endless number of takes, to keep the songs short and tight, stripped away the band’s improvisational instincts, and the spontaneous energy and fire from which their reputation was built, quickly evaporated. Often, when a band plays together, tempos naturally fluctuate slightly as they feel their way through a song’s changes, creating dynamics and a more natural feel, but Drummer, Dennis Thompson was forced to play to a click track in his headphones to keep their tempos regimented.  Although very common today, this was anathema to a band used to spontaneously playing off of each other. Another victim of the extreme quest for perfection was that guitarist Wayne Kramer had to play bass on a couple of tracks when bassist Michael Davis started to crack under the pressure and couldn’t nail the desired parts.

The album contained some classic MC5 songs including “Looking At You”, “Shakin’ Street”, and “Human Being Lawnmower”, demonstrating that their songwriting was in peak shape. The result was short, tight songs with a thin, bright and edgy sound.  It was, in fact, these qualities that contributed to it’s being considered a kind of prototype Punk record that would go on to become very influential to the artists of that genre a few short years later. It’s still considered a favorite among some MC5 fans, but to the people who were familiar with them at the time, this was a very different sounding band. The album stalled at number 137 on the Billboard chart and the experience left the band exhausted and frustrated. When they reconvened to work on their next album, they decided to produce the record themselves, and with the help of an Atlantic staff engineer named Geoffrey Haslam, that’s exactly what they did.

Guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith was especially prolific, bringing some of his as well as the band’s strongest songs to date, including the explosive album opener “Sister Anne”. Jumping out of the gate, we get classic MC5 dual guitar riffage (listening with headphones, you can really hear the guitars playing off each other) and tinkling R&R piano that literally leaps out of the grooves. Set to an ode about a liberated, promiscuous nun with “the ten commandments tattooed on her arm” the song also features an explosive harmonica duet played by Smith & Tyner.

“Baby Won’t Ya”, another terrific Smith penned rocker, shows the band’s R&B roots coming to the fore and features Kramer and Smith playfully taunting each other in an explosive dual guitar solo, topped off with an absolutely infectious, fist-pumping chorus. Combined with the opening track, it’s a double shot album opener that’s practically impossible to sit still through.

Segueing perfectly to the next track is the anthemic, Miss X. Written by Wayne Kramer, who also plays the piano on it, it’s a perfect breather for singer Rob Tyner to step back, just slightly, and reveal the hidden crooner behind the wailing anarchist. If it didn’t already exist, and carry the questionable connotations and fodder for heated debate among the music intelligentsia, the term Power Ballad would describe this song perfectly, and that’s meant as a compliment.

MC5The track that follows clearly shows that the band had lost none of their anarchic spirit. Drummer Dennis Thompson’s sole songwriting contribution to the album “Gotta Keep Movin'” is a classic rave up and wake up rallying battle cry against complacency that calls out parents, priests, politicians, and anyone else foolish enough to get in their way.

“Future/Now” continues in a similar venomous, revolutionary us versus them vein, reinforcing their status as a band for the people, not “the man”. The dark and moody tremolo effected guitar outro adds an ominous sense of foreboding to the proceedings.

“Poison”, another strong offering by Wayne Kramer features Wayne on lead vocals and a driving guitar riff that builds to a climactic chorus that dynamically shifts to a spoken word interlude, framed
beautifully with slippery, expertly executed cascading minor key guitar licks before releasing itself back with the delicately delivered statement of “beauty & perfection are my attack!” The results are powerful while still demanding introspection.

The pulsating tremolo guitar that ended “Future/Now” pops it’s wobbly little head back into the intro of “Over and Over” before launching into the climbing riffs and frustrated rants about topics ranging from ecology, cops, and the Love Generation, to Vietnam. The shouting refrain of  “over and over”, an angst ridden plea to anyone who will listen, that things have got to change. This was the high energy Five doing what they do best, with Dennis Thompson’s powerfully frantic drumming driving the song to an absolute frenzy.

A pounding drum beat starts ominously, augmented by percussion and voices into an almost tribal sounding brew, slowly building with a smoldering intensity. This leads us into the album’s final track, “Skunk (Sonically Speaking)”. The guitars soon join in with a raunchy intensity with Smith’s heavy riff providing the springboard for Kramer’s incendiary lead work, with Tyner’s pleading wail draped over the top. Eventually, a horn section creeps in to accent the proceedings leading to a cacophonous blasting of Free Jazz experimentalism with echoes of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman. How better to end a record. The band firing on all cylinders, embracing their wide range of influences, performing to their fullest potential, and delivering an album that was true to what the MC5 was all about.

Unfortunately, it was all a little too late. Atlantic Records’ interest in the band was waning by that point and they did little to market the album. Even Lenny Kaye’s glowing review in Rolling Stone Magazine couldn’t give the album the boost it needed, and sales of the record were disappointing. The spiraling heroin use among some of the band members was also becoming a problem. They booked a small tour with dates in the U.K and Europe, during which bassist Michael Davis decided he’d had enough, and quit. The band acquired a replacement and soldiered on for a bit longer, but it was clear that the end was imminent. The spirit and chest pounding camaraderie that had fueled the band was dissipating fast, and the once defiant wind that filled their sails had given way to a breathless, narcotic whisper.

The original five reunited one last time to celebrate the reopening of the venue where it all started, the Grande Ballroom. It was New Years Eve 1972, and by all accounts, the band phoned it in that night. They got through the gig, took their money, and went their separate ways. In 2006 Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer, and Dennis Thompson reunited for the first of what become several successful DKT/MC5 shows with various auxiliary players subbing for fallen comrades Rob Tyner (1991) and Fred “Sonic” Smith (1994). I was able to catch one of these shows when they came to New York and it truly was an uplifting and inspired celebration of all that was great about the MC5. They really looked like they were having a blast.

Although not appreciated at the time, High Time has gone on to become a much cherished classic, not only among MC5 devotees but among the band members themselves. As of this time, only Dennis Thompson and Wayne Kramer are still with us (Michael Davis passed away in 2012) but High Times still stands as a high watermark, and a true testimonial to this remarkable band. Kick out the jams, Brothers and Sisters!

Just A Chance – The Story of Wish You Were Here

by Rik Mercaldi on July 27, 2015

Badfinger WYWH CoverReleased in the spring of 1974, Badfinger’s sixth studio album Wish You Were Here is arguably their finest piece of work as a band, and as a complete record. The songwriting was inspired, with a world-weary, melancholic edge that can only come from real-life experiences, both good and bad. Some songs were collaborative efforts that pushed the material to greater heights and allowed the
individual band members, whose performances were truly exceptional, to shine. This was the last Badfinger album to feature all four members in their classic lineup.

Strangely enough, it’s a record that most people have never heard, or even heard of. It didn’t contain any of their famous singles, and by the time the album was finally released the band members were embroiled in conflicts with their manager, their record label, and with each other.

The story of a group of talented Beatles-loving musicians who realize their fantasies of recording on The Beatles’ Apple label and working with The Beatles themselves, sounds like a fairy tale come true. They played on George Harrison’s solo debut, All Things Must Pass, Lennon’s Imagine album, and appeared as part of the house band at Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the tale is a cautionary one filled with deceit, betrayal, and suicides in a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Badfinger evolved from an earlier group called The Iveys which was formed in Swansea, Wales in 1961 by guitarist/vocalist Pete Ham, bassist Ron Griffiths, guitarist Dai Jenkins and drummer Mike Gibbins. In 1966, while playing on the Swansea club circuit opening for bands like The Who and The Moody Blues, The Iveys caught the attention of Bill Collins who offered to manage them. The band decided to relocate to London and moved into Collin’s house at 7 Park Avenue in Golders Green. In 1967 Jenkins was replaced by Liverpudlian guitarist Tom Evans. Although Collins wasn’t the most business savvy of managers, he provided encouragement and was instrumental in getting them to start writing their own songs, which he saw as their route to success.

While in London, Collins met Mal Evans, The Beatles road manager, who immediately took a liking to The Iveys and brought the band to the attention of his employers. In 1969 they were signed to The Beatles label, Apple Records and released their first single, “Maybe Tomorrow”, a lushly orchestrated pop ballad written by Tom Evans and produced by Tony Visconti. While moderately successful in other European markets, the song failed to chart in the UK. The band continued working on material with Visconti and submitting songs to Apple, though they struggled to come up with anything that Apple deemed worthy of releasing.  An interview with bassist Ron Griffiths in Disc & Music Echo caught the attention of McCartney. When asked how the band was getting on at Apple, Griffiths responded, “We do feel a bit neglected. We keep writing songs for a new single and submitting them to Apple but The Beatles keep sending them back, saying they’re not good enough.”

Help came when Paul McCartney was contacted to supply three songs for an upcoming film called The Magic Christian, starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.  McCartney, feeling that this would be a good opportunity to get The Iveys some much needed exposure, asked them to bring in two of their own songs to record for the film, and offered them a new composition he’d just written called “Come and Get It”. The Iveys submitted  “Carry on Till Tomorrow” penned by Ham/Evans and “Rock of All Ages” by Evans/Ham/Gibbons which along with “Come and Get It” were recorded and produced by McCartney at Abbey Road Studios in August of 1969.

The band felt that it would be a good time to change their name.  The Iveys sounded too dated and they felt that they needed a name that sounded more contemporary. John Lennon’s cheeky suggestion was The Prix (pronounced pree, but obviously meant to be mispronounced).  Mal Evans remembered a working title that Lennon and McCartney had used for the song “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It was called “Badfinger Boogie” as Lennon had injured his finger on the piano while they were composing the song. It wasn’t exactly a eureka moment, but tiring of the process and the fact that no one was coming up with anything better, they all agreed: The Iveys were now Badfinger.

Conflicts within the band forced the resignation of Ron Griffiths and the band set out to find a new bass player. When a suitable replacement couldn’t be found, Tom Evans agreed to switch to bass and they brought in another Liverpudlian, guitarist Joey Molland. The classic Badfinger lineup was now in place.

BF2The newly christened Badfinger released “Come And Get It” as a single in December of 1969. It was a worldwide top 10 hit, reaching #7 on the Billboard charts in the U.S and #4 on the Melody Maker chart in the U.K. To take advantage of this success, an album was hastily put together using the three McCartney produced tracks combined with songs produced by Visconti and Mal Evans. The album was named Magic Christian Music after the film and was in the shops a month later. Since the artwork for the record was being prepared before Molland was in the band (and, actually, all of the tracks were recorded when they were still The Iveys) only Ham, Evans, and Gibbons are shown on the record.

Subsequent albums No Dice and Straight Up yielded more successful singles including “Day After Day,” “No Matter What,” “Baby Blue,” and “Without You,” which was later covered by Harry Nilsson and became a global hit. “Without You,” written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans, has since gone on to become one of the most covered and beloved pop songs ever written.

In 1970, the band signed a management deal with an American businessman named Stan Polley. When their Apple contract ran out, Polley advised them to sign a deal with Warner Brothers for $3 million. As Polley handed the band the papers to sign, he told them “you’re all millionaires!”

Badfinger still had one more record to complete for Apple, and it was Tom Evans who came up with the idea for the cover art. A painting of a jackass wearing headphones staring up at a dangling carrot in the distance, it unapologetically revealed the underlying sense of skepticism and uncertainty that was in the air. The album, titled Ass, also contained a moving tribute by Pete Ham to their former label. The song, “Apple of My Eye,” would be the band’s final single for Apple.

While still completing tracks for their final album with Apple, the band was immediately thrust back into the studio to prepare songs for what would be their first album for Warner Brothers. Their proposed album title For Love Or Money, (thought to be a thinly veiled remark on their leaving Apple for Warner Brothers) was rejected by the label, and changed simply to Badfinger. Unfortunately, both Badfinger and Ass were released within a couple of months of each other, causing great confusion with the public. The pressure Polley put on the band to get their new Warner Brothers album together so quickly after just finishing up their last one resulted in a record that was simply not up to the band’s standards. Peaking at 161 on the Billboard charts, Badfinger, was their lowest charting album to date. Upon reappraisal, both records do contain some great music and have their admirers with Ass, generally considered the stronger of the two. Things were not getting off to a good startwith their new manager or with their new label.

While the band was being kept on a seemingly endless cycle of recording and touring, Polley was taking all of the band’s earnings and setting them up in various accounts only accessible to him. He kept the band on a wage that was barely livable, and created the illusion that they were all sacrificing larger salaries from profits generated through album sales and concerts to create a nest egg for their futures. When Pete Ham repeatedly tried contacting Polley in desperate need of cash for his family and house payments, Polley was elusive and almost always impossible to reach. There had been speculation for some time now amongst various band members that things weren’t quite right, but now even Ham, who had always been the most trusting of them all, was beginning to realize that something was very wrong.

An so in 1974, as the band began sessions for what would become Wish You Were Here, at Caribou Ranch Recording Studios in Colorado, to say that tension was in the air would be an understatement.

When it comes to creating art, extreme emotions and dark circumstances can often lead to inspiring work. The air of discontent, frustration and confusion that hung around the band like an ominous cloud would not only drive each of them more deeply into his own introspections, but seemed to bond them musically. This was clearly not just another album they were making, but a work of honest, artistic expression of the highest order.

The album leaps out of the gate with the explosive intro of  “Just A Chance,” a mourning, yet optimistic, plea written by Pete Ham. Absolutely brimming with energy, their shimmering vocal harmonies and signature chiming/chugging guitars, combine to make it not only one of the strongest tracks on the album, but a highlight in the band’s entire oeuvre, and an absolute Power Pop classic.

The next track “You’re So Fine,” is interesting in that is was written by the band’s drummer Mike Gibbins. He had contributed toand even had a couple of his songs recorded onprevious albums, but it’s evident here that he was becoming more accomplished as a songwriter. For this, the first of Gibbins’ two outstanding contributions to the record, the lead vocals were handed over to Joey Molland who puts in an inspired performance, reinforced again with the powerful harmonies of Ham & Evans.

When you listen to the next song, Molland’s darkly introspective “Got To Get Out Of Here,” its ambiguous lyrics leave you wondering what exactly he needs to run away from. Their manager?, a woman?, the band itself? The beautifully ethereal, church like organ that runs throughout lifts the song into an almost spiritual, elegiac declaration of longing.

Ham’s “Know One Knows” follows with a deliciously infectious refrain. Later in the song, over a brilliantly executed dual guitar harmony solo, singer Mika Kato (the wife of Chris Thomas, the album’s producer) recites Pete Ham’s lyrics in Japanese adding a unique dimension and international flair to an already stellar track.

A beautiful song of reassurance and hope, the dark minor chords which feature in the first section of the next song “Dennis” are opened up to an uplifting chorus of  “we love you,” only to reveal in the final section, a man filled with self doubt trying to convince others that everything will be all right. “There’s a way through, there’s a way to, take away blue… Hearing the song, even if one is oblivious to it’s actual subject matter, is quite a moving experience. Knowing now what Ham was going through at the time this was written makes it even more poignant.

Side two starts with “In The Meantime”/”Some Other Time” the first of two interesting song mash-ups found on the record. The first is another Gibbins track, followed by Molland’s. The two songs blend into each other as though they were conceived together. More interestingly is that as the band was coming into their own, moving away from the earlier Beatles comparisons, the compositional technique of two songwriters fusing separately realized ideas so seamlessly couldn’t help but remind one of how well Lennon and McCartney often did the same, to such great effect.

“Love Time” which follows is a richly layered acoustic-guitar-based ballad written and sung beautifully by Molland. Also worth noting is that it contains, for me, one of the album’s best guitar moments in the tastefully soulful solo section, complete with classic Badfinger guitar harmonies.

“King Of The Load (T),” Tom Evans sole songwriting contribution is a warm, inviting, electric piano led ballad about a wandering minstrel displaying characteristics not far removed from those of its author. Not the strongest song on the album, and considering some of his past work, maybe not even one of Evans’ best, but it actually works extremely well here in the context of the album. Changing the mood just enough to keep the flow of the record interesting, while also serving to accentuate the intensity of what comes next.

The album closes strong with one of Badfinger’s most powerful statements, both musically and lyrically. Once again, two separate songs blend seamlessly into one another. The song starts with Ham’s “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch” A unapologetic selfpurging of frustration that I have no doubt is directed towards manager Stan Polley. This morphs into Molland’s “Should I Smoke” which segues effortlessly, reinforcing the desperate angst of a group of men in turmoil, though still sounding defiant.

It’s also important to note that this record is a high water mark for Joey Molland as a songwriter. Although he regularly contributed many quality songs to each of their albums, and was responsible for the majority of the tunes on Ass, he unfairly fell under the shadow of Ham and Evans, especially after the huge success of “Without You.” Not unlike George Harrison’s role in The Beatles, interestingly enough. His songwriting contributions to this album are nothing less than stellar.

The album was released in November of 1974 and received some favorable reviews, most notably from Rolling Stone magazine. But there was a huge problem. Warner Brothers found a large sum of money missing from the band’s escrow account, and when no satisfactory explanation was given by their manager, a lawsuit was filed, and the album was pulled from the shelves, seven weeks after it’s release. A fabulous record and great press mean nothing if no one can find your album in the shops, which is precisely what happened. Wish You Were Here remained out of print.

Joey Molland left fracturing the band, but they did their best to soldier on. Pete Ham left, then rejoined to record another album that was again rejected due to ongoing litigation with Warner Brothers. Everything continued to spiral downhill.

In 1975, with the band stuck in limbo, a new family with a baby on the way, and mounting debt, Pete Ham was informed that he was broke.

Pete Ham & Tome EvansFinally, with their management unreachable for any explanation or help and unable to cope with all of these pressures, he hung himself in his garage, leaving a note expressing his love for his family and saying “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better” and adding “P.S Stan Polley is a soulless bastard, I will take him with me.” He was just 27 years old.  Tom Evans, who remained one of Pete’s closest friends, was absolutely devastated. He soldiered on putting together various Badfinger lineups, recording the Airwaves album with Joey Molland, and a final record, Say No More, neither of which was well received.

At the start of the 1980s, Evans found himself plagued by more misfortune. Several failed attempts to put together a touring band had resulted in Molland leaving and starting his own version of Badfinger. Evans’ version of the band, which now included Gibbins, all signed separate contracts with an agent to arrange another tour. They then found themselves stranded in the US with no gigs and no money. When Evans returned to the UK, he found that he was being sued for $5 million in damages resulting from an unfulfilled touring contract. This was followed by his former band members and original band manager Bill Collins threatening litigation over unpaid ASCAP royalties from the result of airplay of “Without You.” The band had agreed to split ASCAP royalties for all of the songs they recorded together. Evans had been collecting a small portion in order to survive but some publishing money was still tied up in litigation between Bill Collins and Apple Corp. Ltd.

All of this, combined with the fact that those close to him have said that he never got over the death of Pete Ham, led Evans to take his own life. He was found hanging from a willow tree in his back garden on the morning of November 19th, 1983. His wife Marianne recalled hearing him say, “I want to be where Pete is. It’s a better place than down here”.

In 2005, Mike Gibbins passed away from a brain aneurysm at the age of 56, leaving Joey Molland as the last surviving member. He continues to perform as Joey Molland’s Badfinger, keeping alive the memory of this great band whose epic struggles are now legendary, and stating in his own words “if I don’t do it, who will?”

Most fans would probably agree that Wish You Were Here was the band’s crowning achievement. A fragile beauty born from the ugliest of circumstances and a testament to towering artistic achievement in the face of adversity. They would never reap any rewards or enjoy the admiration they so longed for, and richly deserved, for creating a piece of art for the ages. That is the final tragedy of their story.

As the mid 1960s approached, the popularity of the hollow thinline electric guitar design began picking up steam. The line was first introduced by Gibson in the late 1950s with their ES series. The Beatles were playing Epiphone Casinos, Blues players like B.B and Freddie King played Gibsons, and even brands like Harmony and Guild were seeing their hollow body electrics being played by The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.

In 1965 Hagstrom released their first hollow body electric model called the Viking I. It originally had a 6 on a side tuner configuration, which was later changed to 3 and 3. The Viking I was very similar to the recently issued Fender Coronado series, right down to the Fender trademarked headstock design. Not quite sure how they got away with that! Frank Zappa was often seen using a Viking in the early Mothers of Invention period, and was featured in several Hagstrom advertisements. The Viking Deluxe was introduced in 1967, the name was soon changed to the Viking II and only remained in production until in 1968. The Viking II was a fancier version of the Viking I with the addition of gold hardware, large block inlays, flame maple and spruce, and bound headstock and F-holes. Only 1350 are said to have been made, and it’s most famous user was a guy from Tupelo, Mississippi who didn’t actually own one… yet.

During the filming of the 1968 TV Special ‘Elvis’, which would later be referred to as the “Comeback Special”, the producer asked if anyone had a guitar that looked flashy to use for some of the segments. Guitarist Al Casey, who was playing on the show (Casey was part of the infamous group of session musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew” who played on the recordings of artists such as Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys) looked through his instrument trunk to see if he might have something to fit the bill. He came across a cherry finished 1968 Hagstrom Viking II, and the rest as they say, is history. Elvis can be seen playing the guitar in the opening and closing segments of the show and in a stand up performance in front of a live audience. Elvis later purchased several more Vikings and a shot of him holding one made it’s way onto the cover of his “From Elvis in Memphis” album released in 1969.

As the 1960s approached the 1970s, the music got tougher and louder. The need for more traditional styling, a simpler more user friendly control layout, and a more powerful tone, pushed the company to refine their electric models to compete. The result was the HII (two pickup model) released in 1969. It was later replaced with the HIII/Scandi (three pickup model) in 1976. Both were offset, double cutaway, slab wood bodies. There was no plastic or vinyl on these, except for the pickguard, and they were equipped with more powerful humbucking pickups and a three way selector replacing the clumsy to use sliding switches of their earlier models. The development of the HII and HIIIs led to what became one of Hagstroms most popular models.

Zappa Nifty HagstromThe Swede was introduced in 1970 and sported a single cutaway, dual pickup design that had more than a passing resemblance to the iconic Gibson Les Paul, which was experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Featuring the familiar Les Paul control layout but with a bolt-on neck, the Swede was later upgraded to a glued in neck in 1979 and renamed the Swede De Luxe, also known as the Super Swede. Hagstrom succeeding in fulfilling the need for a fat, chunky guitar sound, a staple of Rock in the 1970s. The Super Swede could be seen in the hands of artists as diverse as Bjorn Ulvaeus of the Swedish band Abba, Frank Zappa, Detroit rocker Bob Seger, and Jazz/Fusion guitarist Larry Coryell. The Swedes were also used to house the electronics in the very first guitar/synthesizer hybrid, the Swede Patch 2000 which was introduced in 1976, and was in production until 1979. The Swede Patch 2000 was used by Bill Nelson from Be Bop Deluxe and…you guessed it, the dancing fool himself, Frank Zappa!

As the 1970s drew to a close Hagstrom was suffering. The brand had been outpriced by competitors, a lot of whom had started to shift their production to Japan in order to cut down on costs. Hagstrom had some prototypes manufactured in Japan as well, but unhappy with the quality, they were never put into production. In 1983 they officially closed up shop, putting an end to Hagstrom guitars made in Sweden. The brand was revived in 2004, but that’s a story for another day.

Do you own, or have owned an original Hagstrom guitar?

MonkeyWahIt all started in the 1930s, when trumpeter Clyde McCoy began making quite a name for himself after he created an almost vocal like “wah-wah” sound on several hits including “Sugar Blues”.

The effect was later mimicked by steel guitarists in the 1950s by quickly rolling off and back on the tone control. In 1961, Guitarist Chet Atkins used a home-made pedal on one of the earliest, if not the first, recorded examples of wah-wah guitar on a track called “Boo Boo Stick Beat”.  The effect was further pushed into the spotlight in the 1960s by players including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, who made the recently introduced Vox Cry Baby part of their tone arsenals. Incidentally, the first model Vox introduced was named the “The Clyde McCoy”.

The Cry Baby name was later used by the Dunlop company as it was not trademarked by Vox. The Cry Baby has become the best selling wah pedal of all time, and the name is widely used as a generic term for wah pedals.

ShaftYou’re probably thinking, what’s all this got to do with the Boomerang, baby? Shut your mouth! What is one of the most recognizable wah sounds on record? Is it the theme song from the film, Shaft? You’re damn right! The slinky, smooth, sexy quack that has become so instantly identifiable, was produced using a Maestro Boomerang. Played ever so soulfully by Stax Records session guitarist Charlie Pitts, the result is nothing less than iconic. Not only contributing to a stellar recording, but defining the sound of a genre, and arguably an era, of popular music.

The Boomerangs were manufactured by All Test Devices for the Maestro brand, which was a subsidiary of Gibson. The first model, the BG-1, was produced from 1969-1972 and later replaced by the BG-2, sometimes labeled as the Boomer 2, which stayed in production until 1976.

So for the uber pedal/musical electronics geeks out there, (I’m not making fun, I’m the nerd writing this, remember!) all Boomerang pedals use a 25K potentiometer and an El-Rad 500mH inductor. The inductor is a bit of a mystery and, to my knowledge, is not used in any other effects pedals or musical device that I know of. Could this be the key to the the elusive Boomerang tone? Possibly. That and the reactive combination between all of the specific parts, many of which are no longer manufactured, could be the key to the magical alchemy that is, the Maestro Boomerang.

It can be hard to imagine how a pedal with such a simple circuit can vary so much. I mean, it’s basically a foot controlled tone control, but these definitely have a unique sound that continues to keep tone freaks everywhere seeking them out. Can ya dig it? I think you can… What’s your favorite wah-wah guitar track?

MXR, And My Little Rock & Roll Christmas…

by Rik Mercaldi on December 23, 2014

It was Christmas morning, and I was 15 years old. My Dad said he had one more present for me. As I ripped off the shiny, metallic green wrapping paper I instantly recognized the yellow box with black lettering. An MXR Distortion Plus! I ran upstairs and grabbed my guitar, amp and some cables and started blasting away every riff and lick I could muster.

MXR PedalsMy family watched, a little confused, but seemingly happy (my Mother held her ears and smiled) as I joyfully embraced the sonic bliss that this wonderful little box had brought into my life. Now, the stuff that I had been diligently practicing for hours on end, sounded just like the record!  At least, it did to me. My Dad couldn’t understand why I wanted to make my recently purchased used Les Paul Custom sound so fuzzy and distorted, he thought I was nuts. Still, I realized I had a pretty cool Dad. How did he know that this was the holy grail of distortion pedals to me? And so began my love affair with MXR pedals.

MXR was launched in Rochester, New York in 1972 by Keith Barr and Terry Sherwood. Their pedals were known for their sturdy, nearly indestructible metal boxes and their great sounds. The first pedal introduced was the Phase 90, a simple one knob phase shifter that immediately found it’s way into the arsenal of many guitarists.  It’s smooth liquid tone produced everything from slow swirling swells to wobbling leslie-like rotating speaker effects that quickly became a staple of many records produced in the 70s.

Les paul & MXR

The Phase 90 was followed by a simpler more subtle version, the Phase 45, and a more elaborate version with presets called the Phase 100. The original Phase 90s with the script logos have become very sought after and highly collectible, they continue to climb in value. A few of the more popular pedals produced, included the Analog Delay, Dyna Comp compressor, and the Blue Box, a sort of erratic, octave fuzz famously used by Jimmy Page for the guitar solo on Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain”.

When I was a teenager almost every guitar player I admired had some kind of MXR pedal (or Electro Harmonix, but that’s for another blog). When I needed  more tonal flexibility, I got the MXR 6 Band Graphic EQ and when I thought a Flanger might be cool, I got MXR’s… you get the idea.

The original company went out of business in the mid 1980s, but in 1987 Jim Dunlop picked up the brand and started making reissues of some of the classic block logo models and has continued to expand the line to the present day. I still have my original Distortion Plus and it still sounds awesome! Have you owned or own an original MXR pedal and do you have a favorite?

Odessey and Oracle – The Zombies – A (relatively) brief look at an underground British Pop masterpiece

March 15, 2014

In the late 1960s artists were pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in Pop music with experimental approaches and orchestral arrangements. The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd’s debut, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and The Moody Blues first concept record, Days of Future Passed, being a few key […]

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Space Age Bachelor Pad… Guitars! – Hagstrom Electric Guitars (Part 3)

February 20, 2014

In the1950’s, futuristic designs were being introduced into popular culture, gradually picking up steam in the later half of the decade and into the 1960’s. Influenced by the latest developments in space exploration and the popular science fiction craze, “Space Age” designs were popping up everywhere. Cars, furniture, and of course, guitars were heavily influenced […]

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Swedish/Spanish Castle Magic… – Hagstrom Electric Guitars (Part 2)

May 17, 2013

The  first series of Kent model solid bodies introduced by Hagstrom in 1962, gradually morphed into the numbered series. The Hagstrom I, II, and III, basically sported the same features as their earlier counterparts with some differences, a new slightly narrower neck and adjustable pickups. A version of the Hagstrom II model was also sold […]

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Ziggy played guitar… A Hagstrom, that is… – Hagstrom Electric Guitars (Part 1)

May 14, 2013

Mention, Music and Sweden, in the same sentence, and most people say Abba! Well, I say Hagstrom! Although I do love “Waterloo”… and Bjorn often played Hagstroms… But I digress… It all started  in 1921 when Albin Hagstrom of Alvdalen, Sweden began importing accordions. Fast forward to 1958 Hagstrom began building electric guitars and basses […]

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Bring it on home – before you bring that guitar home… (Part 2)

April 5, 2013

One of the things I like about used and vintage instruments is the fact that they’ve been played and don’t feel so… new. There’s just something about an instrument that’s been broken in that appeals to me. A lot of guitar manufacturers these days are making artificially worn guitars, so I’m not the only one […]

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