Saturday, June 23, 2012


     These days everybody is into pills. Got an ache? You reach for the aspirin. Need sleep? There’s a pill for that. Allergies? Set me up, Mr. Pharmacist. When The Other Half recorded that song (Mr. Pharmacist) in 1966, the pill revolution was already in full swing. Generations have grown up since with every kind of fix in the medicine cabinet – for better or worse.
     But I hate pills. I could never swallow them. I never wanted to get addicted to anything, and I have a phobia about side effects. I like more organic forms of painkillers - the blues, for example. That’s always worked for me. And I grew up at a time when electricity, and volume changed the sound of the blues into something very different from what Muddy Waters brought with him to Chicago from his home in Mississippi back in the late 1940’s. It didn’t take long for Muddy to realize that if he was going to be playing the blues in crowded clubs in Chicago that he needed to plug in to be heard over all that talking, and yelling, and hootin’ and hollerin’. He needed to be heard above the din of glasses smashing, and shots fired. Adapt and change.
     In the late 1960’s, after the British blues boom and Psychedelia had run their course, some bands got the idea that they could turn the volume on their amps to distortion level, and invent a new kind of music. Blue Cheer, Cream, Vanilla Fudge and Led Zeppelin were playing blues-based rock louder than anyone had ever heard it, and they were selling a lot of records and a lot of concert tickets, too. Heavy Metal came out of that, but at its core, it wasn’t new. It was just the blues turned way up for a generation that liked it louder than their parents did.
     The Black Keys (who cut their first LP for Alive Natural Sound) have made a pretty big name for themselves doing essentially what bluesman Hound Dog Taylor did years before they were born - guitar and drums and amps turned to “distort”. And their success has spawned another generation of bands that love to play the blues that way. Why do they do it? It feels good. It feels good to play it. It feels good to listen to it. And it never goes out of style because everybody gets the blues.
     Which brings us to the new album, Painkillers, from Left Lane Cruiser and guest vocalist and keyboardist James Leg from The Black Diamond Heavies. The Heavies and LLC are mining the same territory, so a pairing of the two seems logical. But if it’s a special occasion, you want to do it right. You want to think “classic”. So you bring in producer Jim Diamond from Detroit to engineer and play bass. You get Harmonica Shah, a 66 year-old bluesman to play harp, and you cut blues and rock songs written or recorded by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Foghat, and Jimi Hendrix, not to mention thousands more who have cut these songs before. Blues standards never go out of style. And volume is the booze that makes it go down real smooth. Now mixing real pills and booze is a ticket to the bone yard. But there is a way you can combine the two and not flatline. I prescribe Painkillers on Alive Natural Sound records. You’ll be in the pink in no time. Just follow the directions on the label: “Take this medicine with a full glass of whiskey. Side effects may include euphoria and an uncontrollable desire to boogie. If symptoms occur, increase volume and repeat.” Pay the receptionist on your way out, and have a nice day. 

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