Greg Kihn, Painted Black

Greg KihnAdding to his long and distinguished career in rock music, Greg Kihn is now fully immersed in the world of creative fiction. His latest novel, Painted Black, is the second in a sequence which has Kihn’s fictional characters interact with real life people and events. In this case, the focus is on the Rolling Stones in general and the death of their founding member, Brian Jones, in particular. In July 1969, Jones was discovered at the bottom of his home swimming pool in what the local coroner concluded was a “death by misadventure”. However, over the past four plus decades, many have theorized that Jones’ death was not an accident and Kihn himself believes that Jones may have been murdered.

Published this past April, Painted Black follows Kihn’s 2013 novel Rubber Soul, which features the rise of The Beatles from playing the clubs in Liverpool though the heights of Beatlemania. The story is written from the point of view of Bobby Dingle, a young man close in age to the “Fab Four”, who helps his father run a second hand store on Penny Lane in Liverpool. His occupation earned him the nickname “Dust Bin Bob” and he befriended the young Beatles through their mutual appreciation of American rock and blues records that Bob collected while trading items for the shop. In the book, he introduces the group to the sounds of James Brown and many others who would become legends. While Dust Bin Bob was the central character, following the turmoil in his family life and his travels with the merchant marines, The Beatles and music were ever present in the story.  Khin manages to weave this story into an almost James Bond like tale of international mystery.

Painted Black by Greg Kihn book coverIn our recent interview with Greg Kihn, he told us that when he completed Rubber Soul, the experience had been so enjoyable that he decided to simply keep writing. For this second in the series, Dust Bin Bob and few supporting characters return but the focus shifts from the Beatles to the Stones and a few years later in time. Brian Jones gave the Rolling Stones their name and was the undisputed band leader during the early part of their career. However, by the late sixties his leadership and musical contributions began to wane, due mainly to chemical dependency but also some personal disputes with other band members. After Jones was arrested a second time for drug possession in 1968, it was difficult for him to acquire a visa to tour the United States and he was soon dismissed from the band he founded. Later in 1968, Jones took up residence of an estate formerly owned by Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne. In Kihn’s novel, Jones finds an ancient mirror in this house and becomes obsessed with “mirror gazing”, or looking into the mirror for meditation and seeing visions. One of the visions Jones sees eventually leads to his death.

As a teenage musician growing up in Baltimore, Kihn was strongly influenced by British rock and was especially intrigued by Jones due to his musical innovations and slide guitar technique. He started his musical career off in the singer/songwriter mode before relocated to the San Francisco Bay area and concentrating on rock-oriented music. After a debut solo album in 1976 called Beserkley Chartbusters, he formed The Greg Kihn Band with guitarist Robbie Dunbar, bassist Steve Wright, and drummer Larry Lynch. In 1981, the group reached the Top 20 with “The Breakup Song” from the album RocKihnRoll. This was one of a series of album titles that punned on Kihn’s name, including Next of Kihn, Kihntinued, Kihnspiracy, Kihntageous, Citizen Kihn, and the 1989 compilation album Kihnsolidation. Through this long recording career, Kihn’s biggest hit single was 1983’s “Jeopardy”, which he told us took all of fifteen minutes to write but nearly topped the pop singles charts. In comparing this to the relative ease he had in writing Painted Black he said, “sometimes the best songs write themselves.”

 
One thing the award-winning “Jeopardy” video did show was Kihn’s affinity for the horror genre.  He began his literary career in 1996 with the novel Horror Show, which was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. This was followed by three more novels in the horror fiction category. Although he has moved on from writing in this category, Kihn told us that he would love to someday do a “creature feature” show.

Kihn also had a long and distinguished radio career on classic rock station KUFX in San Jose, CA. During his 16 years at the station, Kihn had the top-rated morning show in Greg Kihn at AT&T Park in San Franciscothe nation’s fourth largest market and this helped spawn his annual “Khincert”, a rock concert in Mountain View, CA where the Greg Kihn Band has opened up for some rock legends including The Who, Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steve Miller Band, and Boston. Greg Kihn is also an avid sports fan and has had the honor of singing the national anthem prior to games by the World Champion San Francisco Giants and other professional sports teams in the Bay area.

Although he has tried his hand in many different fields, Kihn has managed a level on consistency (or should we say, “Kihnsistency”) when it comes to his business practices. Since the early seventies he has been managed by his friend and business partner Joel Turtle and he takes pride in the fact that he maintains total ownership of his musical library. He plans to soon make his entire catalogue available on GregKihn.com.

We asked Greg Kihn about the possibility of third installment in the “Dust Bin Bob” series and he said it was a definite possibility. Although he gave no specifics on who the next rock protagonist may be he talked about how out of control that (late sixties) era was, citing Jimi Hendrix as wild, flamboyant and “crazy as a loon” while being the world’s greatest guitarist. “Without people like them (Hendrix and Jones), guitar players may have gotten there but it would have taken much longer.” We look forward to seeing what’s next.

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Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones

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Beggars Banquet by Rolling StonesReturning to their blues-based roots rock following the psychedelic pop of their 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Rolling Stones hit their true artistic stride with Beggars Banquet. While most critics heralded this album as a “return to form” due to the predominance of blues-based roots rock, it was also a significant leap forward. This album began the group’s highest quality musical era, followed by Let It Bleed in 1969 and Sticky Fingers in 1971, which expanded the musical formula established on this album. Still, with a solid slate of compositions and top-notch production by Jimmy Miller, Beggars Banquet may be the group’s finest album ever.

The album’s production saw a major shift in responsibilities. Miller described guitarist Keith Richards as “a real workhorse”, co-writing most of the material and often recording multiple parts on each track. This was mostly due to the infrequent presence of group founder Brian Jones, who had been a major influence on the sound of past albums but had begun to behave erratically due to his drug use and emotional problems. Jones could never really be relied on and would show up when he was in the mood to play, often being more of a distraction than an asset.

Although the album was not released until December 1968, much of it was recorded in the early part of the year. These sessions also resulted in the non-album single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, one of the group’s most popular and recognizable songs. Written by Richards and lead vocalist, Mick Jagger, the song employs an infectious riff and opaque lyrics which may have been inspired by William Blake’s poem The Mental Traveller. Released in May 1968, the song previewed the sound of the upcoming Beggars Banquet album.


In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
Released: December 6, 1968 (Decca)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, March–July 1968
Side One Side Two
Sympathy For the Devil
No Expectations
Dear Doctor
Parachute Woman
Jigsaw Puzzle
Street Fighting Man
Prodigal Son
Stray Cat Blues
Factory Girl
Salt of the Earth
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Mellotron, Sitar, Tamboura, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Percussion, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The tribal rhythms signify from the start that this is album is a unique listen. Largely a Jagger composition, the lyrics are a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer, traversing infamous historical moments right up to the (then) present day with the line “I shouted out ‘Who Killed the Kennedys?'” put in just days after Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June 1968. This is all backed by an intense rock arrangement, which builds on the percussive rhythms with piano by Nicky Hopkins and a repeated chorus yelps of “woo woo” by group members and several studio guests.

“No Expectations” is a simple and beautiful acoustic blues song, which sets the table for future Stones ballads such as “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Wild Horses” and “Angie”, Jones plays an acoustic slide guitar above the strumming by Richards in this melodic quasi-tribute to Robert Johnson. This is followed by “Dear Doctor”, an almost farcical attempt at blue grass which, despite its use of authentic instrumentation, feels really forced and out of place.

“Parachute Woman” is pure blues with simple rhythm topped by distant electric guitar and a raw and murky atmosphere led by Jagger’s mumbled sexual lyric and intense harmonica playing. “Jigsaw Puzzle” bookends the first side of Beggars Banquet with another extended rock highlight. The music is led by the very strong rhythm of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman, who are joined in turn by Richards’ slide guitar, Jaggar’s strummed acoustic, and Hopkins’ honky-tonk piano. It constantly builds in intensity though its six minute duration with Dylan-esque lyrics and vocal patterns.

Rolling Stones in 1968

The second side begins with “Street Fighting Man”, the point on the album where Jagger shines brightest, with this great melodic journey throughout interpreting some politically controversial lyrics. The tune is a basic rock song built on a cassette recording of Richards on acoustic guitar and Watts on a 1930s toy drum set. However, it does morph a bit towards a more psychedelic feel near the end, with Jones performing a distinctive sitar and tamboura. Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son” is the only cover on the album and it never relents from its acoustic drive and has a great sound right down to Jagger’s hickish vocals.

Compared to the other fine material on side two, “Stray Cat Blues” is a rather ho-hum rocker, aside from the interesting and intense outro with Watts’ fine drumming. “Factory Girl” works well as an ethnic jam with a three chord, piano-driven pattern. It is similar to an Appalachian folk tune in its minimal approach and features guest Ric Grech on fiddle. “Salt of the Earth” provides a melodramatic conclusion to the album as another acoustic ballad. The highlight of the song comes at the bridge, which is followed by the first full rock arrangement. Although this track contains some production flaws, it is still a great ending to the album.

Beggars Banquet reached the Top 5 on charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Within days of its release, the band filmed the full television production of Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus where they performed several songs from the album. The show also featured several contemporary guests such as The Who, Jethro Tull, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton, and was originally meant to be aired on the BBC. However, the Rolling Stones withheld it because they felt their own performance was substandard and it wasn’t released in any form until 1996.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones

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Between the Buttons by The Rolling StonesBetween the Buttons was an album released in January 1967 by The Rolling Stones. Sonically, the album works well with the strong mid-sixties British rock that the Beatles produced with the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums while it also previews some of the more artful productions of 1967. Following the ambitious 1966 album Aftermath, this album is a further morphing of the band away from their R&B roots. The album is also the last in which founding member Brian Jones played a major role in song arrangements, although he would remain an official band member for another two-and-a-half years. Jones played a huge array of instruments above the steady rock and blues rhythms, giving the album a definitive musical edge. It was published simultaneously with the double-A single “Let’s Spend the Night Together”/”Ruby Tuesday”, both of which were included on the U.S. version of the album. Between the Buttons was the last Stones album to have different versions as the record company practice was all but eliminated after 1967.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” is a pure rocker with guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards taking on much of the musical details, playing guitar, bass, and piano on the track. The song reached #3 on the UK charts. Although this was the intended “A side” of the single, the 45 was often flipped over by DJs to play “Ruby Tuesday”, due to the then-controversial nature of the lyrics (with its suggestion of casual sex) most radio stations opted to play the flip side “Ruby Tuesday” instead, which went on to become a #1 hit in America. Possibly the best psychedelic song by the stones, “Ruby Tuesday” was recorded nearly simultaneous with the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and explores similar musical territory. Jones led the way on this track, playing piano and recorder, with double bass recorded by bassist Bill Wyman (who pressed the strings) and Richards (who bowed the strings). The song also has a really nice melody sung by Jagger.

Between the Buttons was the last of five early Rolling Stones produced by the band’s manager Andrew Loog Oldham and was recorded on a four track machine, with much “track bouncing” to accommodate the rich arrangements. Lead vocalist and songwriter Mick Jagger has expressed dissatisfaction with the end result due to the excess tape noise generated by track bouncing and excessive overdubbing.


Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones
Released: January 20, 1967 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: Los Angeles & London, August-December 1966
Side One Side Two
Yesterday’s Papers
My Obsession
Back Street Girl
Connection
She Smiled Sweetly
Cool, Calm & Collected
All Sold Out
Please Go Home
Who’s Been Sleeping Here?
Complicated
Miss Amanda Jones
Something Happened to Me Yesterday
Tracks On Alternate Album Version
Let’s Spend the Night Together
Ruby Tuesday
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Piano, Dulcimer, Vibraphone, Saxophone, Percussion
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion

 

The subtle bass-driven “Yesterday’s Papers” starts the album with a heavy dose of marimba by Jones. The song was written solely by Jagger about a recent relationship which went sour. Road manager Ian Stewart, a former player in the band, lent is boogie-piano skills to a couple of tracks. “My Obsession” is segmented into sections which each start over with a drum beat and contain some cool traditional rock sounds and Jagger swagger throughout. Stewart also plays on “Connection”, written mostly Richards (who shares lead vocals), a popular live rock song for years to come.

The Rolling Stones in 1967“Back Street Girl” takes a completely different approach. A pleasant and melancholy ballad with a well-crafted acoustic by Richards, a great melody by Jagger, and Brian Jones on accordion, giving the song some great depth and feel. Although this was excluded from the US version, this is one of the finest tracks on the album. “She Smiled Sweetly” continues the foray into different sub-genres, as a flute-laced organ introduces a moderate waltz with some nice rock elements, especially by Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts. The first side concludes with “Cool, Calm & Collected”, which alternates between the upbeat verses driven by the boogie piano of Jack Nitzche and the calm psychedelic choruses, which feature a sitar by Jones. Later in the song Jagger adds a harmonica and the song speeds up before reaching a crashing end.

The second side begins with the few songs on the album which feature a prominent amount of electric guitar, “All Sold Out” and “Please Go Home”, the second of which features a Bo Diddley-style “Hand Jive” riff. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” starts with an acoustic intro before breaking into good musical motif with piano, harmonica, and some exceptional bass by Wyman. “Complicated” is another song featuring a potpourri of sound while maintaining a very pop-oriented sound.

<em>Between the Buttons</em>

The album concludes with a perfect closer, “Something Happened to Me Yesterday”. Here Richards adds some dry and pleasant vocals to this upbeat and happy-go-lucky duet, which sounds like it borrowed some of its sound from the Kinks. The song is allegedly about Richards’ first LSD trip, but it stays away from the deeper, surreal sound scape (which the band would explore on their next album), for a more upbeat sound with Jones playing a complex brass arrangement by Nitzsche.

In spite of the lack of defining electric guitar representation, Between the Buttons proved to be the most solid rock album of their early catalog. It also contains strong signs of the direction they would take on their late ’67 release Their Satanic Majesties Request, the most controversial album of their career.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Aftermath by The Rolling Stones

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Aftermath by Rolling StonesAlthough it was their fourth album released in Britain and their sixth album released in America, Aftermath was really the second “true” album by The Rolling Stones, following 1965’s Out Of Our Heads. This one, like that previous one, was released in two distinct versions in the UK and in the USA, a common practice for the day (this review will look at the “greater” album, considering all the tracks included on either version of Aftermath). The UK hit single “Paint It Black” was added to the American version, replacing four songs that were included on the UK version.

With Out Of Our Heads, the band reached the peak of their mid-sixties (then cutting-edge) mixture of Chicago-style blues and pop-rock. Aftermath builds on this while it progresses the band more towards their distinct sound and image as “rock and roll’s bad boys”. It is also the first Stones album to include all original material, written by the tandem of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Although not himself a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was the driving force behind some of the unique and distinct sonic quality of the album. Jones incorporated wider musical influences, such as psychedelia and folk, and widely expanded the use of instrumentation, with songs on Aftermath including touches of dulcimer, sitar, marimba, and various keyboards.

Aftermath was also the first Rolling Stones album to be recorded entirely in the United States at the legendary RCA Studios in Hollywood and it was the first album the band released in true stereo.
 


Aftermath by Rolling Stones
Released: April 15, 1966 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, December 1965-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Mother’s Little Helper
Stupid Girl
Lady Jane
Under My Thumb
Doncha Bother Me
Goin’ Home
Flight 505
High And Dry
Out Of Time
It’s Not Easy
I Am Waiting
Take It or Leave It
Think
What To Do
Song Included On U.S. Version
Paint It, Black
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Dulcimer, Sitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Organ
Charlie Watts – Drums. Percussion, Marimba

 
Much of the music’s backbone is still rooted in Chicago electric blues, with Jones’ instrumental tangents adding strategic flavoring to several songs. The opener “Mother’s Little Helper” contains a signature riff of heavily compressed 12-string electric guitar played with a slide. The song itself is a Beatle-esque, upbeat ode with a much darker message about drug dependency that made it one of the more thought provoking songs of the era.

“Stupid Girl” features a Fafsa organ by band manager and studio keyboardist Ian Stewart. It has the musical vibe of mid-sixties surf music and contains some juvenile lyrics that degrade the band’s groupies, one of several songs on the album that portray the fairer sex in a less-than-stellar light. Feminists have long lamented the message in “Under My Thumb”, which speaks of gaining the “upper hand” in a sexual relationship. No matter the message, the music to this song is absolutely brilliant, led by Jones’ marimba riff throughout with Richards’ acoustic and electric guitars and Bill Wyman‘s driving “fuzz” bass. Jones later brings back the marimba for the Phil Spector-esque “Out of Time”. This song was soon covered by English solo artist Chris Farlowe, whose recording was actually produced by Mick Jagger and reached number one on the UK singles in July, 1966.

Paint It Black by Rolling Stones“Paint It, Black” is, in reality, constructed very similar to the band’s 1965 smash hit “Satisfaction”, in the sense that a catchy and heavy rock song is wrapped around a signature riff. However, the riff on “Paint It, Black” uses the much more exotic sitar which Jones recently learned from Beatles guitarist and Indian music enthusiast George Harrison. During the verse, drummer Charlie Watts adds to the atmosphere by playing a Middle Eastern-flavored drum pattern while Jagger contributed the dark lyrics, about depression, mourning, and cynicism. Keith Richard plays both electric and acoustic guitars as well as contributes background vocals to this hit song.

“Lady Jane” showcases Brian Jones on dulcimer and has a middle-age feel throughout due to its distinct instrumentation and precise vocals. Fans have long considered this song a hidden gem from Aftermath and critics have long argued that Jones deserved a song writing credit. The dulcimer is brought back by Jones on “I Am Waiting”, another good, meditative song.

Unfortunately, Aftermath does include a lot of filler as not all the songs hit the mark. “Goin’ Home” is an 11-minute blues jam, remarkable for its length in the era, but really Mundane in its delivery. “It’s Not Easy” is uninspired, basic filler while “Think” is a feeble attempt to rip-off “Satisfaction” with its buzz and precisely picked strings falling short of anything really interesting. Other songs are more interesting but don’t seem quite done, such as the bluesy “Doncha Bother Me”, the piano rocking “Flight 505”, and the upbeat, acoustic folk/bluegrass “High and Dry”, which has a nice edge due to Jagger’s vocals and Jones’ blues harp, but also contains an annoying, up-front and distracting hi-hat beat.

Rolling Stones in 1966

Aftermath would ultimately be the high-water mark for Brian Jones’ influence on the band. Over the next few years and albums, his contributions were eventually diminished in lieu of the Jagger/Richards influence until he was ultimately nudged out of the band in 1969. He died shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1966 albums.