The Golden Age of Rock and Roll is coming to an end – goodbye to Glenn Frey, Dale Griffin

All I seem to be doing with this blog lately is write obituaries. This week we lost two more from the 1970s rock scene, with the death of Mott The Hoople’s drummer Dale ‘Buffin’ Griffin at age 69, followed by the loss of Eagles founding member Glenn Frey at 67.

‘Buffin’ (or Terence Dale Griffin, to give him his full name) had been ill for several years, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at just 58 years of age. He was a founding member of Mott The Hoople, a British glam rock outfit who were a major influence on many bands who followed. Mott The Hoople scored several UK hits in the 1970s including ‘All The Young Dudes’ (written by the recently-passed David Bowie) and ‘All The Way From Memphis. Buffin and Mott bassist Pete Overend Watts later went into production, notably working with 80s glamsters Hanoi Rocks on their ‘Back To Mystery City’ album.

Mott The Hoople played a series of reunion shows in 2009; Buffin’s place was filled by Martin Chambers of The Pretenders, although he was still fit enough then to be able to perform during the band’s encore.

Bands such as Queen, Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe all cited Mott The Hoople as a band who influenced their own careers; Queen even namechecked them in their own song ‘Now I’m Here’ (‘Down in the city, just Hoople and me’) while Def Leppard’s vocalist Joe Elliott has gone on to cover several of their songs with his occasional band Down n Outz.

Perhaps the last word should go to Buffin; in an interview with Classic Rock magazine some years back he said he was unsure if he had been an influence on any drummers, “but if I have, I feel sorry for them!”

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The announcement this week of the death of Glenn Frey did catch many by surprise (myself included). It was reported that he had also been ill for some time, having undergone surgery for a long-term intestinal problem. However he had not long completed a mammoth world tour with the Eagles, which concluded in July 2015. A year previously, he and the Eagles had played a series of UK dates including a stop at Liverpool’s Echo Arena. I attended that show and would never have thought that he was ill at all, as he performed a long set and fronted the veteran band through their back catalogue of hits.

The Eagles formed as a result of a decision by Frey and fellow founder Don Henley to start their own band, after having backed singer Linda Ronstadt on her 1971 tour. Alongside guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner, they became one of the biggest-selling bands of the 1970s, with Frey co-writing many of their best-loved songs. Guitarist Don Felder joined the band in 1974 and was soon accompanied by Joe Walsh, as Leadon dropped out of the band before they recorded their signature album, ‘Hotel California’.

After ‘Hotel California’ the group were superstars, but the success took its toll on the band who were by this time in the grip of substance addictions, and it would be three years before they released their follow-up album ‘The Long Run’. In those days, bands were expected to issue at least an album a year, and the lack of a record to sell hurt their label badly. When ‘The Long Run’ finally came out, it was critically panned, but still sold. By this time the members were at each others’ throats, with one notorious incident on stage between Frey and Felder where they were threatening each other, even as they played and sang in close harmony. They eventually broke up in 1980 after issuing the ‘Eagles Live’ album, with both founding members enjoying solo hits. Frey also starred in an episode of 1980s crime series ‘Miami Vice’, which yielded the hit single ‘Smugglers Blues’.

In 1994 the Eagles reunited and issued the part-live, part-studio album ‘Hell Freezes Over’. The title referred to a quote from Henley that the group would reunite ‘when Hell freezes over’, and in the live section of the album, Frey famously introduced the band by declaring on the record that they had merely taken ‘a fourteen-year vacation’. The group toured once again, and enjoyed some years of success before problems between Frey and Felder again reared their head, resulting in Felder’s departure in 2001. The group continued as a four-piece backed by additional musicians, and recruited guitarist Steuart Smith to play in Felder’s place for the road. In 2007 they issued a new studio album ‘Long Road Out of Eden’, and embarked upon another mammoth world tour. Following that tour, Frey issued his first solo album in 20 years (‘After Hours’) which featured a selection of covers.

In 2013 the documentary ‘History Of The Eagles’ was released, featuring interviews with band members past and present (including Don Felder). The band then went on the road one final time, with the show opening with the two founders coming on stage to play acoustically, gradually joined by the rest of the band. For that tour, former guitarist Bernie Leadon was tempted out of exile and played alongside his former bandmates while between songs, Frey and Henley offered explanations on how the band came together.

Frey was scheduled to appear at the Kennedy Center Honors in November 2015 but his illness prevented that, with the group postponing that appearance. Following his death it is unlikely the Eagles will continue, and tributes have flooded in during this week – including one from his former bandmate Don Felder.

As stated in the post title, with so many legends being lost to us already this year it does feel like an era is coming to a close, but the music made by these greats will be listened to for many years to come.

Caught Live: Alien Ant Farm, East Village Arts Club Liverpool, 9 January 2016

The years are fairly flying by now; first gig for me in 2016 and it’s to see a band whose heyday was during the nu-metal era, over a decade and a half ago. It was around then that I last saw Alien Ant Farm, as support to Papa Roach, then flying high with their major-label debut ‘Infest’ album. That night, it was AAF who impressed me the most, with some impressive playing and I thought vocalist Dryden Mitchell was a cut above most of the singers of that era. This was before they had the hit with Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’, although the song was played in their set that night.

Since the heady days of 2001, Alien Ant Farm have had rather a chequered career; they parted company with their guitarist Terry Corso in 2003, then a couple of years later bassist Tye Zamora followed him out of the door. They continued to release albums with members coming and going, but in 2010 the line-up that recorded the breakthrough album ‘ANThology’ (vocalist Dryden Mitchell, bassist Tye Zamora, guitarist Terry Corso and drummer Mike Cosgrove) reunited. They recorded and released the album ‘Always and Forever’, then toured, but Zamora quit once again in 2014, so the band is now completed by bassist Tim Peugh, previously Corso’s guitar tech.

This tour was to commemorate that ‘ANThology’ album, with the band declaring that they would perform the album in full on the night. Another pang of nu-metal nostalgia then, and the tickets for this show (to the best of my knowledge, the first time they have played in Liverpool) sold very well, in fact the gig may well have sold out on the night as the downstairs hall of this refurbished venue was already busy as I made my way in. I’d failed to spot that this was actually a three-band bill, so apologies to The Dirty Youth for missing them, but I was able to get onto the floor in time for main support InMe. This band are also survivors of the early 2000s scene, having had a hit album (‘Overgrown Eden’) at around the same time as Alien Ant Farm were charting with ‘ANThology’. They are all very good players, with a lot of dual guitar from Gazz Marlow and frontman Dave McPherson, with  virtuoso playing also from bassist Greg McPherson. At times all three were indulging in things like ‘hammer-on’ solos, and here was me thinking that sort of thing was verboten during the nu-metal days! Although there was a lot of excellent playing and some strong vocals from the frontman, it didn’t really set me alight. Their songs after a while began to run into each other, built as they are on the same sort of dance-influenced beat that many bands of that era based their sound on.

With so many here to relive their youth (the audience seemed to comprise many thirty-somethings, who would have been in their teens or early twenties when AAF were in their heyday), all the headliners had to do was turn up to be cheered to the rafters. Of course, a few of us were well into our thirties already back when nu-metal was hot (!) Dryden is carrying a little more timber now than he was back then, but still has the shaven head and more importantly, still has that voice. As they were playing the ‘ANThology’ album in order, their ‘other’ hit ‘Movies’ came second in the set and a mass singalong was already going on. The slight disappointment on my part that founding bassist Zamora was not present this night soon melted away; although Tim Peugh has a far lower profile on stage he is just as fluid on the bass as his predecessor.

Unsurprisingly, they saved ‘Smooth Criminal’ until the encore, after having played everything else off ‘ANThology’ in the main set. Throughout, the band were getting a lively reaction from the floor, with plenty of crowd-surfers, some moshing and a hearty reception throughout. Although it was exactly the sort of nostalgia-fest their younger selves might have scoffed at years ago (when the ‘old school’ Metal bands started to do the same thing by touring their older material), it was a thoroughly enjoyable gig nonetheless.

Goodbye Spaceboy: David Bowie 1947 – 2016

Everything David Bowie did was news. Only a few days ago, he released his most recent album “Blackstar” to coincide with his 69th birthday, with the accompanying heavy media coverage quite normal for an artist of his stature. What hardly anybody outside of his inner circle knew was just how ill he was, until this morning when most of Great Britain woke up to the even bigger news that he had passed away, having been battling cancer for the past 18 months.

David Bowie was one of those very few artists whose appeal crossed over to music fans of all stripes; looking at the amount of tributes coming in it is staggering to see how many different people’s lives and careers he touched. You don’t have to be a devoted fan of his (I wasn’t – confession time – I have some of his albums yes, but didn’t follow his career slavishly) to recognise what a massive loss this is, not just to popular music but to popular culture. The very name itself – David Bowie – that name conjures up so much, in both music and imagery.

Since he broke through at around the turn of the 1970s with the single “Space Oddity” he has proved a fascinating, enduring figure. His music took many twists and turns; from glam rock, to blue-eyed soul, to synthpop, electronic dance and back to rock again with the late 80s band “Tin Machine”, he covered an incredible amount of ground. That’s probably why his passing today has impacted on so many – no matter your musical taste, there’s something by Bowie sitting in your record collection (or your music folder, for the newer generation).

Throughout all of this, he also managed to maintain the respect of both fans and critics, being one of the few artists from the early 1970s to come through the punk revolution unscathed (on a musical level at least; he had relocated to Berlin in order to battle a serious cocaine addiction), to be lauded as a huge influence by the synth-based New Romantic movement that followed. His 1983 album “Let’s Dance” was a massive seller, and his new image of short blonde hair and natty blue suit fitted in perfectly with the era of the ‘yuppie’. He found himself with a completely new audience, one that he later admitted he wasn’t totally comfortable with, but the music he was making (a fusion of rock guitar and funk, produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers) at this time proved popular with his aspirational audience. By 1987 he was performing to large stadium audiences as his “Glass Spider Tour” broke box office records.

In later years his musical output slowed, as he branched out into other artistic ventures including acting and painting. A 1990 concert tour drew headlines, as he offered fans the opportunity to help choose the setlist from his back catalogue. This was spiked by music mag NME, who ran a campaign to get “The Laughing Gnome” (an early novelty song) voted into the set; once Bowie found out about the plot, he abandoned plans to include it.

He retired from live performance in 2004 after suddenly taking ill; when he discovered it was a blocked artery which required immediate surgery, he cancelled the remainder of his tour dates. He never performed live again, and many thought he had retired completely until the surprise release of the album “The Next Day” in 2013. Hopes for a live comeback were quickly dashed however, and he surprised his fans one final time by taking yet another musical direction with the “Blackstar” album, released to critical acclaim only days ago.

David Bowie leaves a massive void; he emerged at a time when musicians could take whatever direction they saw fit, but leaves behind an industry which seeks only to manufacture performers who fit a certain mould, who go along with the sure-fire hit formula. Today’s pop stars who dominate the radio and television all have their songs written by the same select group of hitmakers, who know all the right chords and hooks to satisfy the gatekeepers. Had Bowie appeared in 2016, it’s unlikely he’d get past the first door.

It is impossible to sum up Bowie’s musical career with only a few songs; I have chosen three of his best-loved, but very different, songs to close this post. If you really are unfamiliar with his work and looking for somewhere to start, the 2002 Best of Bowie double CD compilation is recommended as it features a broad selection of his hits over a 35-year period.

1973 – “The Jean Genie”. This performance from BBC Top Of The Pops was thought lost until rediscovered in 2011:

1975 – “Fame”. Appearing on American show ‘Soul Train’ showcasing his then-new soul direction:

1996 – “Hallo Spaceboy”. Live on BBC Later With Jools Holland: