The J. Geils Band
Back in the Seventies, I had a girlfriend who thought the J. Geils Band was the sexiest band alive. She and her normally sensible pals would get together and turn to meringue as they argued over personal minutiae (He looks cute in knee-high boots") and endlessly fantasized over what it would be like to be with drummer Stephen Jo Bladd or Faye Dunaway's squeeze, Peter Wolf.
Since I am an inveterate eavesdropper, these Tiger Beat sessions never ceased to mystify me. Bladd was a dude-looks-like-a-lady kind o' guy--clogs, ugly scarves, shirts that tied at the waist, the works. And Wolf was a 90-pound Otis Redding imitator who smoked butts in a holder like he was Colonel Klink or Gloria Swanson.
On days when the bodily fluids reached flood stage, there would even be serious discussions of the sexual potential of the band's harmonica bullhorn, Magic Dick. Consider this: At that particular moment in history, Magic Dick, Jeff Lynne and Lindsey Buckingham were really all the same person--tall, pseudocosmic white men in dark glasses and eight-foot-high Afros. The animal magnetism escaped me.
Then I was dragged to see the band live. After watching a breathless, scat-filled run-through of "Southside Shuffle," I, too, was hooked. On the band's music.
When it comes to Seventies cheese revisited, the J. Geils Band is one of the few smelly chunks still worth a nibble. One of the all-time quintessential live acts, these "bad boys from Boston" could work up a ferocious funk-rock groove when the mood was right. The white-funk madness this band could incite in places like Detroit's Cobo Hall and Boston Garden was frightening.
The latest in what's become a string of impressive reissue projects, Rhino's Houseparty is a 38-track, two-disc collection that mixes cuts from the band's up-and-down studio work with a clutch of its gland-grabbing, delirium-drenched live performances. The inclusion of material from the band's overlooked but excellent early albums is a plus here. Produced by Wolf, keyboardist Seth Justman and Trouser Press editor Ira Robbins, this Atlantic/Atco-Rhino set also has a well-written book and lots of silly photos.
It's on Houseparty's second disc, which opens with ten straight live cuts--most from 1972's incredible Full House--that the fanaticism the band once inspired becomes understandable. Twenty years after they were recorded, speedy covers of soul classics "First, I Look at the Purse" and "Pack Fair and Square," and the band's own pile-driving "Hard Drivin' Man" are undeniably rockin' and real. For harp fans, Magic Dick's signature tune, "Whammer Jammer," is still a potent blast. "Pack Fair and Square" is also where Wolf, the king of jive-ass, between-tune talkers, blurts out his legendary exhortation: "Take out your false teeth, Mama, I wanna suck on your gums."
The negatives to this set are few. Some of the sequencing here is bizarre. For example, editing the intro to Full House onto material from Blow Your Face Out is a needless bit of studio trickery. And although it had to be done to please latter-day fans, the desultory, funk-by-rote hits (Freeze Frame" and "Centerfold") that end this set are a downer.
Most of what happened musically in the Seventies is best left buried in ridicule. But there are a few acts like J. Geils worth salvaging. A wide-ranging introduction to the band, Houseparty is packed with the reasons a bunch of fashion don'tz from Beantown could live up to record titles like Blow Your Face Out and make the girls go crazee.--Robert Baird
Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs
Dressed to Swill
To make authentic honky-tonk music, a band must reside on the road, wear vintage clothes, find a manager with a cheesy soul patch, ingest saturated fat at every meal and festoon each album with a sexist tune about women who don't "put out." Fez-topped bass slapper Billy Bacon and his duo of like-minded cohorts have got all that covered and more. The Forbidden Pigs aren't down n' dirty because they have to be; they live it. With this, their second album for Triple X, the Pigs have become one of the very best American roots-music bands. Since its 1991 debut, Una Mas Cerveza, this trio has grown immeasurably in terms of playing and songwriting.
The most striking change here is the newfound confidence and ability that Billy Bacon displays as a songwriter. While this trio's music has always been diverse, the material on Dressed to Swill increases the group's range considerably. Along with typical jump blues/rootsabilly workouts like "Get Out of the Car" (complete with Mojo Nixon rantings) and "Ruth Ann," the Pigs stretch into New Orleans second-line rhythms (Dancin' on Bourbon St."), Tex-Mex (Nogales" and "Pushin' the Trucks") and Western swing (Highway 29"). Most surprising of all is this album's alternative-sounding tune, "Life I Left Behind." With Bacon's plaintive vocals and Tom Upthegrove's strummy leads, the trio actually pulls off a creditable gitar-band number. Adding their considerable talents to these sessions are distinguished guests Dave Alvin, Michael Doucet and Evan Johns.
Along with the songwriting, the band's playing has also improved a notch or two. After years of revolving-door guitarists, the Pigs have found a winner in Upthegrove, an Oklahoman. As the replacement for Valley archtop master Mario Moreno, who left the band nearly two years ago, Upthegrove had big shoes to fill. Throughout this album, though, he shows he's up to the task. His solos are consistently inventive and most rock harder than Moreno's did.
If there's a downside here, it's that making a trio work--particularly with a bassist as leader--is no easy trick. There just aren't enough soloists. The recent addition of a tenor player has added a much-needed instrumental voice.
Old fans will find Dressed to Swill a trough full of good marfin'. There's also lots here to attract new fans to what is essentially one of the best good-time party bands around.--Robert Baird
Memphis Sol Today!
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)
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Go figure: This here writer packs his bags, kisses his dear, sweet mama goodbye and leaves the South for Arizona--and a year later, his musical thirst-slaker of choice is about as Sonoran as a field of kudzu!
Anyway, the Gibson Bros. originally hail from Ohio, but from their inception in the mid-'80s, they've plowed deep into the red clays and rich soils below the Mason-Dixon line, sharing stages and sensibilities with the likes of North Carolina's Southern Culture on the Skids and Memphis' Panther Burns. Currently, and as the band's fifth album title suggests, the city where Sam Phillips worked his musical alchemy is where the band wrings out its drawers at the end of a tour. Jeff Evans and co-founder Don Howland both sling axes, and for the last few discs, they've been joined by drummer Rich Lillash and guitarist Big Jon Spencer (ex-Pussy Galore, also fronting his own Blues Explosion). The foursome turned turds into gold, albeit with a trademark postmodern touch that allows the Sonic Youth crowd to "get it."
There's the irony--drunk hillbillies have been poking fret boards with blunt objects and setting cheap amps at ear-splitting distortion levels for ages, but if it takes a vernacular-chewing band of hipsters like the Gibsons to reach the now generation, well, rock n' roll's never gonna die, right? So you get some choice covers, including the rawest, most demented version ever of "Let's Work Together" (roll over, Bob Hite, and tell Wilbert Harrison the news), and a chilled-to-the-bone slice of blooze wail from the Junior Kimbrough songbook called "I Feel Good, Little Girl." There's also a slew of originals that get soaked so thoroughly in week-old Brunswick stew grease that you'd be hard-pressed to nail down an actual year of origin. Tunes of note here include the antiracism ode "My Huckleberry Friend," done up in a swampy, Johnny Burnette-style choogle, and an ass-whompin', twangy boogaloo about a real-gone white-trash gal, "Barbara." Damn. I feel like goin' home.