Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Five Famous Rock Stars Killed by Alcohol

When we think of rocks stars dying young – people like Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Phil Lynott or Janis Joplin – it's usually because of hardcore drug use and it's a long, long list of those who departed. But many rock stars have died way too young because of their addiction to alcohol and drinking. Here are five famous rockers who died from the bottle

John Bonham

Led Zeppelin's drummer and resident fun guy, John Bonham died on Sept. 25, 1980 at the age of 32. Bonham was well-known for his drinking prowess, and ultimately, it cost him his life. With the band gathered at guitarist Jimmy Page's house for US tour rehearsals, Bonzo began binging early in the day on Sept. 24. He was still going into the evening until he finally passed out. He was put to bed by his and Page's assistant, but never woke up. The bands manager tried to wake him in the morning, but found no pulse. Bonham ended up choking on his own vomit and his death was ruled accidental. Reports showed he'd consumed the equivalent of 40 ounces of vodka in 12 hours. Bonham's death marked the end of Led Zeppelin.

Bon Scott

Just as AC/DC was reaching the top of the hard rock mountain in 1980, the band found itself without a singer after Bon Scott choked to death on his vomit on Feb. 19, 1980. The band was working on the Back in Black album in London. On the night of Feb. 18, he and Alistair Kinnear were drinking in a pub called the Music Machine. The story goes Scott passed out in Kinnear's car on the way home, so Kinnear left the singer in the vehicle. Scott threw up in his sleep and choked to death. The coroner deemed he died because of acute alcohol poisoning. He was 33 years old. Brian Johnson replaced him in AC/DC on April 1 and Back in Black was released in July, 1980.

Steve Clark

Steve Clark was Def Leppard's guitarist and one of their main songwriters. He was a longtime alcoholic who had been trying to sober up when he died on Jan. 8, 1991 at the age of 30. At the time, he was on an official leave of absence from the band so he could get cleaned up. However, he would never play with Def Leppard again. Clark died in his Chelsea home after a night at the local pub. He died in his sleep and an autopsy confirmed the cause of death was compression of the brain stem - which caused respiratory failure - due to excessive alcohol mixed with anti-depressants and pain killers.

Jeff Hanneman

Like Steve Clark, Jeff Hanneman is another guitarist who died too young. The Slayer co-founder was 49 when he lost his life due to alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver, on May 2, 2013. But it was a spider bite which ultimately led to Hanneman's demise. A couple of years before he died, he developed necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease) in his arm. It was treated with antibiotics, but Hanneman simply couldn't play guitar the way he wanted to anymore. That led to him drinking more and more, going into a tailspin (he'd also been drinking heavily since his father died in 2008). Hanneman died in hospital.

Jani Lane

Many will remember Lane as the lead singer for 1980s metal band Warrant. August 11, 2011 from acute alcohol poisoning. The man who wrote "Cherry Pie" was found dead alone at a Comfort Inn in Woodlands, Calif., surrounded by bottles of booze and containers of prescription pills. He embraced alcohol and the rock lifestyle even long after the short-lived fame of his band, but did make attempts to sober up. He even went on the VH1 reality show Celebrity Fit Club 2. But he was never able to put down his demons. Lane was 47 years old.

Read about how former AC/DC vocalist Bon Scott got his distinctive voice

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Eddie Van Halen - Master Rhythm Player

While he's mostly recognized and lauded for his lead playing, there's no doubt Eddie Van Halen is also one of the best rhythm guitar players you'll ever hear in rock.

In fact, Edward Van Halen should be put up on the rhythm-playing pedestal with Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards.

Fans and musicians can talk forever about how good "Eruption" is or the stellar solo on "Ice Cream Man", but when you listen to the first ever song on the first ever full Van Halen album, "Runnin' with the Devil", you quickly realize Eddie's got that uncanny feel and oh-so-smooth swing when it comes to playing rhythm. "Runnin with the Devil", while being a fairly simply riff, has an undeniable hook that still sounds so fresh almost 40 years later. It also showcases his penchant for triads.

And Eddie is certainly happy to be recognized for his rhythm playing.

"Real musicians actually respect me more for my rhythm-guitar playing than my soloing," said Van Halen in a Rolling Stone interview from 2008. "'Cause soloing is almost like pissing up a rope, showing off – unless you're truly improvising off the melody of the song. But I'm actually a very rhythmic player 'cause I'm the only guitarist in the band. So I gotta cover both."

Eddie has noted he was influenced and inspired by the likes of Iommi (especially Black Sabbath's "Into the Void"), Cream, and Malcolm Young (Eddie said "Down Payment Blues" is an all-time fave of his).

Another prime example of a stellar Van Halen riff is "Mean Street", which showcases his choice of notes and phrasings combined with his picking ability.

Through the entire canon of Van Halen albums, Eddie has always contributed amazing riffs with "5150" being another classic track that often gets overlooked.

Eddie Van Halen certainly doesn't get enough kudos for his riffs and rhythm, which is really too bad, because he's one of the best. Ever.

See the five most underrated Van Halen songs from the David Lee Roth era

Friday, June 9, 2017

"Some Girls" – The Rolling Stones Return to the Top

By 1978, the Rolling Stones' star was waning in the U.S.

Disco was taking the States by fire and punk rock was making its move in England.

But then the Stones released Some Girls, 39 years ago on June 9, and boom, they were back. Big time.

The record went to No. 1 on Billboard, becoming the Stones' best selling album in the U.S. thanks to hits like "Miss You" and "Beast of Burden".

It was the first record with Ronnie Wood as a full-time Stone after he replaced uber-talented guitarist Mick Taylor in 1975.

But what's really interesting about Some Girls and 1977-78 for the Stones, was that Mick Jagger had basically become the engine of the band in a big way. Keith Richards had been busted for heroin possession in Toronto in February, 1977 after cops found an ounce of smack in his hotel room. They charged him with possession and intent to sell, even though the human riff noted his his autobiography, Life, that it was all for his personal use.

The scary part about the charge for Richards and the band was he could be facing a life sentence in jail under Canadian law. In an effort to show remorse, Richards immediately went into rehab and underwent neuroelectric acupuncture (Eric Clapton's recommendation).

Then, on Oct. 24, 1978, Richards plead guilty to possession after a plea bargain to drop the trafficking charge. Even though the possession charge could have meant seven years in the slammer, Judge Lloyd Grayburn gave Richards a year of probation with a one-year suspended sentence. He must have been a Stones fan. Grayburn also ordered the Stones to play a benefit gig for the blind.

Meanwhile Jagger was writing songs for the new album (he wrote many of the tracks on Some Girls, which was recorded from Oct. 1977–Dec.1977 and Jan. 5–March 2, 1978 in Paris. Richards took part in the recording sessions, contributing "Before They Make Me Run", which he'd written while being held up in Canada. That song is about his heroin bust and unapologetic lifestyle choices. There's also a clear reference to friends he's lost to drugs, particularly his good buddy Gram Parsons, who overdosed in 1973.

"That song was a cry from the heart," said Richards in his autobiography. "It came out of what I had been going through and was still going through with the Canadians. I was telling them what to do. Let me walk out of this goddamn case. When you get a lenient sentence, they say, oh, let him walk."

It took five days to record Richards's signature song, and Richards recalled it was without a wink of sleep.

While Richards took the helm for "Before They Make Me Run", Jagger was clearly driving the bus.

Richards Didn't Want to be a Beast of Burden

And part of the major friction that would turn into the huge feud between Jagger and Richards, really started around the Some Girls sessions.

The bottom line is Jagger had control and Richards felt like he wasn't being heard. At the time, he notes Jagger and himself "went off on almost perfect 180s".

When he wrote the basic track for "Beast of Burden", Richards said he came to realize it was a thank you to Jagger: "When I returned to the fold after closing down the laboratory (a reference to his heroin addiction), I came back into the studio with Mick... to say, 'Thanks, man, for shouldering the burden' - that's why I wrote "Beast of Burden" for him, I realise in retrospect."

Jagger said he'd have taken "Beast of Burden" off the record, since he wanted it to generally be a faster record: "I wanted the new album to be a dance record with mostly fast stuff on it. And there were other songs we cut out that I would have preferred on the album. I wanted to take "Beast of Burden" off - that would have depressed you - you know what I mean?"

But the control Jagger enjoyed while Richards was out of it and going through legal issues would become the catalyst for their mega-feud down the road (but that's another Stones story).

One of the most unheralded Stones tracks is the first song on Side 2 of the original vinyl – "Far Away Eyes", which sees the Stones returning to country music, something they hadn't done since "Exile". It's got some fantastic pedal steel guitar from Wood, while the harmony on the chorus with Jagger, Richards and Wood is perfect.

There's certainly an eclectic mix of songs on Some Girls with a nod to punk music in "When the Whip Comes Down", and a hint of rap in the New York-inspired "Shattered".

While the record overall is certainly not as revered as Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main St., one could argue it is the last truly great Stones album (with a nod to Tattoo You with it's songs dating back to 1972 and up to the Some Girls sessions).

Check out why Exile on Main St. is the Stones best album

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Eddie Van Halen & Randy Rhoads: Duelling Guitarists

It's 1977 and the hard rock scene in Los Angeles is thriving in booze-soaked, Hollywood bars like the Starwood and Whisky thanks to two local bands: Van Halen and Quiet Riot.

The former would sign a mega record deal and become one of the best selling hard rock bands of all time. Quiet Riot would hit a high in 1983, then fall into hair metal obscurity shortly thereafter.

Despite their differing career trajectories, in 1977 both bands boasted two of the greatest guitarist of all time in Edward Van Halen and Randy Rhoads.

The two axe slingers would never hang out, but they did cross paths several times back in the day.

In 1976 (or '77), Rhoads first saw Van Halen and came away from the show "devastated" according to former girlfriend, Jan. That's because Rhoads was the acknowledged top dog in Burbank, with fans constantly telling him how awesome he was. Seeing Eddie Van Halen play was a real eye opener for Rhoads, but he was also inspired by what he saw and heard. He thought Van Halen was amazing and he wanted to be amazing as well.

According to a Rhoads biography, the two actually met four times before Rhoads' untimely and tragic death in 1982.

One such instance was in April 1977 at a Glendale College gig. Quiet Riot opened for Van Halen. The unassuming Rhoads approached Eddie and asked him how he kept his guitar in tune without a tremolo locking nut. Eddie refused to tell him, saying it was his secret. This came as a bit of shock for Rhoads, who was into sharing ideas and teaching others to become better guitar players. It must have been like a verbal slap in the face.

At the time in Quiet Riot, Kevin DuBrow was the de facto band leader with the goal of getting U.S. record deal. To that end, DuBrow focussed the band on writing more radio friendly songs, which didn't really allow Rhoads to spread his wings and flourish like he did when he joined the Blizzard of Ozz band in 1979.

So Randy would play a lot of Van Halen's licks live. He told journalist John Stix it killed him to that, but added it’s just flash, and that’s what the kids want to see. That’s what impresses them. He also said that it kills him because he believes in the importance of finding your own voice and style. Rhoads thought the worst thing a guitar player could do was copy someone else.

Van Halen watched Rhoads Play Live Several Times

Now it should be known that both guitarists admired each other. Former Quiet Riot drummer Drew Forsyth has said on record the Eddie/Randy rivalry has been made up to be so much more than it was. Forsyth also noted Eddie used to come watch Randy play way more than Randy used to go see Van Halen play.

There's also the story of how Rhoads went to a music store to buy some classical records in 1982 during a break on the Diary of Madman tour and saw Eddie Van Halen there. Apparently Eddie was picking up a copy of "Diary of a Madman".

Over the years, Eddie hasn't said much about his late contemporary. There is one interview from 1982 that was on Youtube (which has since been taken down) where Eddie is quoted as saying "yeah, well, he didn't do anything that I hadn't done", which drew plenty of criticism - not only from Rhoads fans, but guitar players and other musicians as well.

The two couldn't be more different in their styles and each contributed massively to hard rock, with Rhoads pretty much helping establish neo-classical metal as a heavy metal sub-genre, while Van Halen was the guy every guitarist wanted to be like and he spawned a host of hair metal fret-master-wannabes in the 1980s.

As music fans, we can be thankful for both Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen. It's just unfortunate Rhoads' body of work is so small.

Read our look at the life and times of Randy Rhoads