musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Great Southern Music Hall’

Amazing Rhythm Aces & Russell Smith

I suppose it’s inevitable, given my own advancing age and the passage of time, but it seems as if every week I notice another musician that I like has passed away. Last week we lost Russell Smith, the lead singer of the Amazing Rhythm Aces. He was 70 years old

If you are one of those people of a certain age, like me, who cut their musical teeth in the 1960s and 1970s, you will recall the Amazing Rhythm Aces, especially their bit hit “Third Rate Romance.” But in addition to that tune the band had plenty of other great songs, and many fine albums too. Stacked Deck, the album that contained “Third Rate Romance”, was their best selling one, but my favorite was the follow-up effort, Too Stuffed To Jump, a terrific album that contained my very favorite song by the band, the majestic “The End is Not in Sight.” And my soul cries out for rest … and the end is not in sight. Beautiful stuff.

The description of the Amazing Rhythm Aces found on Wikipedia is an apt one:

“The band’s music is distinguished by its eclectic scope, literate and often quirky lyrics, and distinctive vocals by lead singer and songwriter Russell Smith.”

 

And eclectic they were. The band was often labeled as “Southern Rock” or “Country Rock”, but they effortlessly blended country with generous dollops of blues and soul, as well as touches of gospel and even reggae. And it all worked. Great musicians, and as noted in other reviews, Russell Smith was a helluva good singer. Not to mention an outstanding songwriter. After the breakup of the band he enjoyed many years of success writing hits for various other country acts. After the Aces called it quits (for the first time; they later reunited) in the early 1980s, Smith went solo and released several good albums, although in my opinion none of them captured the magic of the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

I had the privilege of seeing the Amazing Rhythm Aces in concert at the Great Southern Music Hall in Orlando, Florida back in the late 1970s. Man, they put on a fabulous and very energetic show. Smith himself was very personable and charming onstage. Honestly, I don’t think he and the band ever got the proper respect and attention they deserved. They were certainly much more than one-hit wonders.

 

After the breakup of the Aces, Smith also released another interesting side project in the early 1990s, called Run C&W (a tongue-in-cheek poke at the popular rap group Run DMC). Dubbed by one reviewer as a “parody bluegrass” group, Run C&W’s two albums, Into the Twangy-First Century  and Row vs. Wade, gloriously blended county/bluegrass and vintage soul music, covering (mostly) classic Motown songs such as “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, “My Girl” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” Good fun!

Yes, once again, we have lost another great songwriter and musician. In recent months Dr. John and another New Orleans legend, Dave Bartholomew (who was 100!) also passed away. Gone but never forgotten.

Swimming Pool Q’s

It was back in 1978 and a new punk-looking British band, The Police, was making their first US tour. I was there on the front row at the Great Southern Music Hall in Orlando, waiting for Sting, Andy, and Stewart to take the stage, but first, we had to listen to this “other” band, the Swimming Pool Q’s, play a set. The Pool Q’s perfectly fit the new wave mold at the time; lots of short, fast songs (“Rat Bait” … “The A-Bomb Woke Me Up” … “Big Fat Tractor”) and an energetic performance that ranged from weird to exhilarating. They made a good first impression.

 

The Swimming Pool Q’s may have started their life as a quirky new wave act, but in the decade to follow they morphed into a polished and multi-faceted recording act, one of the better, yet woefully unsung, bands in the US during the 1980s. But, unlike some bands that disbanded after stardom didn’t come knocking, the Pool Q’s kept on a-chooglin’ and are still playing shows to this day.

 

The Pool Q’s have recorded many excellent songs over the years, but they particularly shined on stage, dazzling audiences with their well-crafted songs and front man Jeff Calder’s flair for the theatrical. I always loved the band’s sound; a rousing pop-rock cocktail that combined Anne Richmond Boston’s comfortably warm vocals and Jeff Calder’s crafty lyrics (which could range from witty and whacky to poetic and profound) with Bob Elsey’s blistering guitar licks, and a rock-solid rhythm section. Other critics seemed to agree. “Visionary pop eccentrics from Atlanta,” noted Melody Maker. “Some of the most compelling rock sounds in all of America … lofty architectural style distinguished by the elegant and muscular guitar duets between Jeff Calder and Bob Elsey and [Anne] Boston’s rhapsodic alto phrasings,” said The Village Voice. In Rolling Stone, Kurt Loder wrote, “Overlaid with Calder’s unusually literate songwriting sensibility, this musical mélange is one of the freshest sounds coming out of the South.”

 

The band released a “comeback” studio album, Royal Academy of Reality, in 2003, a collection of songs that many reviewers hailed as their best yet. All Music Guide said, “The striking scale and superb craft of this album are impressive by any standard.” David Fricke in Rolling Stone likened the album to “Abbey Road wrapped in kudzu.” Ed Ward in Wire U.K described it as “flat-out astonishing” and “overflowing with musical and intellectual ideas.” Yes folks, it really was that good. But despite the rave reviews and a devoted cult of fans, as far as most of the world is concerned, the Swimming Pool Q’s remain a “quirky band” — if they are known at all.

 

Over the years, I’ve seen the Pool Q’s in concert dozens of times; in and around their home base of Atlanta, and in my hometown of Orlando. In fact, I booked a few of their shows myself and became good friends with the band members. I recently got e-mails from both Anne Richmond Boston and Jeff Calder, telling me about a new project — a “Kickstarter Campaign” — that aims to fund the re-release of two of their best albums, The Swimming Pool Q’s (1984) and Blue Tomorrow (1986), as deluxe CD editions. I didn’t have a clue as to what a “Kickstarter Campaign” entails, so I’ll let the band tell you all about it:

 

This project realizes years of dedication—remastering, research, flights to nowhere—so we’ve taken great care assembling a variety of additional rewards, many available exclusively to Kickstarter backers:

  • A CD of demos, outtakes, alternate versions and remixes from the period, including a country version of “The Bells Ring”.
  • “Fire Makes Us Diamonds”, Jeff Calder’s historical notes examining The Swimming Pool Q’s in the years 1983–1987; accompanying the text will be many never-before-seen photos from The Q’s archive and Anne Richmond Boston’s personal collection.
  • A DVD, created by our drummer Bill Burton, which captures us in a variety of compromising situations: The 930 Club in Washington DC in early 1985; various teenbeat cable television shows; a stirring clip of The Q’s psych-folk interpretation of “Little Drummer Boy”; a promotional video created for A&M Records’ 1984 annual meeting, plus a visit by the band to the record company’s legendary Hollywood lot; and more.
  • Signed photographs from sessions surrounding both albums, plus reproductions of the luxurious 24” x 36” posters that accompanied the reissue of The Deep End (1981/2001) and the release of Royal Academy of Reality (2003).
  • A disc of new material including tracks like “System of Love” and “Science Moon”.
  • Two CDs from The Swimming Pool Q’s catalog, The Deep End and Royal Academy of Reality, along with our debut 7” single from 1979 “Rat Bait” b/w “The A-Woke Woke Me Up” on Chlorinated Records.
  • Archival flyers from many Swimming Pool Q’s performances, reproduced on original Xerox machines, when possible.
  • A full-course dinner at your nearest Olive Garden, hosted by the group.
  • A private live show at which we’ll play selections from The Swimming Pool Q’s and Blue Tomorrow plus bonus tracks

A couple of folks have asked for some more detail on what the fundraising is going toward. This is it in a nutshell: mastering, manufacturing, designing, printing, and assembling as many of the reissue packages as we can afford to make, plus the extra CD and DVD. Producing each of these elements is painstaking and costly, and we’ve invested much time and money already to make this project a reality – and to do it at the highest possible level of quality and creativity. It’s been nearly 30 years in the making – so we want to do it right! As we move along, we will share the details of the process with you to keep you in the loop, since you now have a vested interest.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/swimmingpoolqs/the-swimming-pool-qs-double-album-reissue-project

http://www.swimmingpoolqs.com/

 

Horslips at Home

Horse Lips? No, Horslips! The pronunciation is the same either way, and it still sounds like a silly name to some, but the music of Horslips is nothing to snicker about. During their relatively brief recording career, this Irish band produced some vital, influential music.

 

Horslips were one of the very first bands to combine traditional Irish folk music with contemporary rock sounds. Imagine the Chieftains meeting Thin Lizzy, with perhaps some Byrds and Jethro Tull thrown in for good measure. They were that eclectic, that different. Horslips utilized guitar, flute, keyboards, fiddle, and drums to produce a unique, thrilling sound. Studio albums, such as The Book of Invasions, Aliens, Dancehall Sweethearts, and Happy to Meet … Sorry to Part were wonderful examples of this heady fusion of musical styles. By the late 70s, when they released The Man who Built America, Horslips had shed most of their folk trappings and were veering towards a more rock style, albeit with their Irish roots still showing.

 

The band’s last studio album, Short Stories/Tall Tales, was released in 1979, and followed by the live album The Belfast Gigs in 1980. And after that … nothing. After ten years together, Horslips had broken up. A strangely quiet end to a most wonderful band. They got back together temporarily in 2004 to release a new studio album, Roll Back, but rather than recording new compositions, the album was comprised of acoustic “reworkings” of some of their more popular songs. But then in 2009, after a nearly 30 year hiatus, Horslips reformed for a series of concerts.

A live recording of some of those shows, Live at the O2, was released in 2010. I recently bought a copy of that live album, a 2-CD set, and have been enjoying it for the past month. This is a musical feast for Horslips fans to savor and appreciate; a Celtic hoedown with all the trimmings. The band members are all now in their sixties, but on this live recording they sound absolutely on top of their game, spinning reels and jigs with rock and roll fervor. Most all of the old favorites are included here: “Mad Pat” … “Power and the Glory” … “The Man Who Built America” … “I’ll Be Waiting” … “Sword of Light” … “Trouble with a Capitol T” … “Sideways to the Sun” …. “Ghosts” … “High Reel” … and many more. They end the album with a rousing version of “Shakin’ All Over,” I’m sure that after hearing this tremendous concert document, many Horslips fans felt the same bliss that I did. You can’t help but be very impressed. They are still a great band!

 

I was lucky to have seen Horslips in concert one time, during their 1980 US tour at the Great Southern Music Hall in Orlando. We had front row seats, but few of were sitting during the wildly energetic show, cheering on the band as they dished out an incredible variety of musical fireworks. Great, great show by a great, great band. If you want to know what all the fuss was about, and why so many listeners still adore them, listening to live recordings such as Live at the O2 or The Belfast Gigs would be a good way to discover the magic.

http://www.horslips.ie/

 

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