Bluebeard Screams "Long Live Rock!" on Deluxe With Reverb
Rock and roll will never die, but sometimes it goes into hiding. Sometimes it needs something to kick it back into gear. If you are Jimmy Page and Robert Plant or The New York Dolls or Cheap Trick, it's hearing these new bands supposedly influenced by you or hearing them completely bite your style and call it their own. Maybe it's the need for cash or the allure of getting back in limelight. As Muhammad Ali answered when asked why he kept fighting, "Nothing can replace the cheers of the crowd." For Bluebeard it took the tragedy of something taken away to realize what they had and drove them to get back together and release their new CD Deluxe With Reverb.
Bluebeard formed in 1972 in Los Angeles. They rose up quickly thanks to their dynamic music and exciting live show. Guitarist Vincent Billeti reminisces about L.A. during rock music's innocent and exciting heyday. "In the 70's it was a trip. We played the Whisky A-Go-Go with the infamous Arthur Lee and Love. We opened for 60's stalwarts Steppenwolf. We also played with Van Halen and later with New Wave bands such as The Motels and The Kats. By 1978 we were headlining every club on the Strip to sell-out crowds. Before radio station KROQ went new wave, they had us in heavy rotation. This and our live show, which was full of pyrotechnics and great lighting effects, drove us for some time."
Changes in the nature of the music business caused their wave to crest early, with major label interest suddenly dried up. They continued to slog along for another seven years until they dissipated altogether. In 2002, they began work on restoring their old master recordings (they had almost 2 albums in the can) and in '03 recorded some new material with pop producer Barry "Foz" Fasman at his studio at the top of Laurel Canyon in Hollywood. Then, in January 2004, the band recieved an unexpected blow - their original lead singer and creative force, Robert Barry Leech, committed suicide. This shocked the remaining members to get back to where they once belonged.
Bluebeard's Current Lineup
Ellington Erin [lead vocals]
Vincent Bitetti [guitar]
Brian Barnum [guitar]
Barry Fasman [keyboards, vocals]
Gayle Hart [bass]
Daniel Bogan [drums]
[Kirby] Tell us about your earliest musical memories. What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Bluebeard Elvis Presley with "Jailhouse Rock" was probably the earliest. We grew up listening to everything from the old blues greats such as John Mayall to The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck and Ten Years After. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were always present and set a quality bar for innovation with every record they released. By the time we reached the late sixties/early-to-mid seventies we're talking The Zombies, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, The Doors, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Yes, Kansas, and to some extent Styx. In the 80's it was Guns N Roses, The Police, The Cure, Queen, Billy Idol, INXS, and The Clash. You name it, if it was cool, we liked it.
[Kirby] Who are the oldest core members of the group?
Bluebeard The core members are Vincent Bitetti (guitar), Danny Bogan (drums) and Gayle Hart (bass) - they have been playing together since 1972.
Deluxe With Reverb is almost a retrospective of the group's classic hard rocking style that has been developed over the years. A few of the songs have been re-recorded and re-mastered and have a modern, fresh feel. "We pack clubs with an equal mix of 20 something's, 30 something's, 40 something's and beyond," Bitetti explains. "The discovery of classic rock happens at about age seventeen in girls and nineteen in boys and there is very little visible original classic rock these days. The kids love us - I have remarked to many that have asked for autographs, 'Not bad for a bunch of old guys,' and been told 'You guys don't look or act old on stage' They don't notice. What they see is part what they hear - a very powerful sound on par with any harder-edged music of today, combined with essential elements of what they have discovered, whether it is Led Zeppelin or The Doors. We like to think of ourselves as 18 with 32 years of experience!"
This experience shows up in the music. The CD kicks off hard and fast and lets the listener know what they're in for. "I Don't Know About Me" begins with hard rock power chords and kicks in with harmonized guitar lines straight from the annals of 70's rock. The three-part harmonized lead guitar solo in the song is both technical and emotional in its complexity and power. Throughout the song, Barry Fasman's Hammond organ and synthesizers provide swoops and swirls of sound. What sets this song apart, however, are the words, delivered with full-on rock gusto. In contrast to the machismo of most hard rock, this song shows vulnerability and crazed anguish, thanks to the aloofness of a woman.
"All of your friends say they haven't seen you
You don't answer the phone any more when I call
You could have left a message, maybe just a word or two
But I still don't know where you are and I don't like it at all, NO!
But I know you'll be alright 'cause that's how you are you'll always be free
And I know you're gonna make it okay in this world but I don't know about me."
Though simply stated in the rock 'n' roll way, the sentiment in the song is a slice of reality. Their cover of the classic song by the Rolling Stones, "Paint It Black" is shot through with wailing guitar and vocals that ride atop Bogan's tom tom heavy drums, giving this song emotional bombast where the original had British cools. But, hey, these guys are hard rockers from modern LA, not 60's London so what do you expect? Keyboardist Fasman and lead guitarist Bitetti duel at the end of the song, which spirals downward into acoustic guitar and whispers. This is a song from their 1978 debut album "Bad Dream" and as a result of digital studio technology, is now a duet between new front man Ellington Erin and the late Barry Leech. In two songs, Bluebeard provides a lesson in how to make rock and roll.
[Kirby] What are the band's primary influences?
Bluebeard Take our early influences and pair them with modern rock artists, ranging from Evanescence to Pearl Jam to Nickelback to Audioslave, and you get an idea of how we think. On our next LP, we are shedding the tribute element in favor of a heavier and more progressive sound that the current line up is perfecting. The "classic" element and musicality will remain intact, of course.
In order to go forward the past must be reconciled. While it is easy to understand a band breaking up, one can only imagine what it is like to lose a collaborator and friend to self-destruction. Bands are like family; indeed, sometimes these chosen families have even closer emotional ties than the ones we are born into. The song "How Difficult is That?", written in the days after Leech's suicide, illustrates this feeling better than any song since the 1995 classic rap tune "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)" by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth. Over acoustic guitars and swooping synthesizers, Erin Ellington sings with the same sharpness, power and feeling that he brings to all the songs on the CD:
"We learned how to rock and roll
For the first time
John, Paul, George, Ringo
We live it today
We live it every day
Don't know any other way to say what we’ve got to say
Letting go, letting God
How difficult is that
We can all break through to the other side
With our faith intact."
The full-bore electric guitar, bass and drums onslaught that is the typical power ballad formula is present but used sparingly. As the song builds the lead guitar comes in with a passage, followed by the bass and then the drums, but laid back and raising the song a step but not to the roof, like "Stairway to Heaven," and only for a short bit, thus keeping the melancholy mood intact.
Rarely are death, defeat and sadness expressed in a rock song (or any song) these days. It's a shame. There was a time when rock, soul and pop dealt with downs as well as ups, with simple joy or hurt. Otherwise known as lived experience. "Looking out of the window of the Whisky A Go Go dressing room on a stormy, wind howling weekend night and seeing thousands of people lined up for an hour or more to get in to see us play was an amazing feeling. Almost getting signed to a major deal - at least 5 times - and then having it slip thru our fingers at the last moment was hard." By experiencing the emotional roller coaster of life through music, the listener "breaks through to the other side... faith intact."
The fact that Bluebeard has fashioned an album around adult themes makes there music so old that it's new. "Love Is Nowhere" is the kind of hurtin' love song you used to hear on the radio and in the culture all the time. A mix of Led Zeppelin and T. Rex, this song once again uses the rich blend of guitars. But what stands out on this cut - aside from the usual strong song craft and singing - is the drumming. Bogan gets a propulsive push/pull feeling with tight and precise uses of force and space, once again elevating the music above the mundane. It's these little things that count.
"Pretty Vegas," a tune by INXS, is another song about real life and vulnerability, over a hard rock groove. Here, the song's hero is a musician who, after yet another show on the road, is stood up by a groupie. This happens. Suddenly, there you are, ass-out, in the middle of some hell hole, or maybe even Las Vegas. As someone who has traveled and rocked in years past, I can assure you that this is a song whose time has come. One of the joys of age and experience is that one outgrows one's ego enough to laugh at life's banana peels and screw ups. Bluebeard covered this song in honor of Leech and Hutchenson (one of Leech’s musical heroes), both victims of suicide.
[Kirby] You've been playing rock and roll for years. What is it about music that drives you to continue?
Bluebeard This is who we are as human beings - we are musicians who will rock until we can't basically. We also take great pleasure helping younger bands. We own part of a record label with five young artists that we mentor and provide sage advice to.
Instead of settling for band after band of regurgitated old styles and sounds, check out some masters at the top of their game, with skills and depth in their ass kicking, heart string tugging tunes. Visit Bluebeard in the MySpace universe at www.myspace.com/bluebeardmusic and at www.bluebeardmusic.com.