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Motorhead, Funkadelic, Phil Seymour, Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Nicholas and The Top 10 CDs of 2017

Start the new year off right with the best of the best: Motorhead, Funkadelic, Phil Seymour, Johnny Nicholas and the top 10 CDs of 2017.

When Lemmy got fired from Hawkwind in 1975 over amphetamine use after four years of toiling in that band’s space oddity, he was totally freaked out. Thinking the band would take him back, he still got together with other musicians just in case. After a few personnel missteps, bassist Lemmy finally found drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor and guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke and called his new trio Motorhead (after originally wanting to call it Bastard). When plans to have Dave Edmunds produce fizzled, Speedy Keen got just the sound for Lemmy: “the dirtiest rock’n’roll band in the world. If we move next door to you, your lawn will die,” as he once famously said.

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Motorhead, the album, is just that. This brash 1977 metal/punk debut had only eight tracks. Hell, it was only supposed to be a single. But it was so riveting, intoxicating enough with a sheer heart attack of adrenaline, that they soldiered on. They even ended it with a psychotic cover of one of the first rock’n’roll songs ever written: Tiny Bradshaw’s 1951 “Train Kept A’Rollin’,” a song that’s been appropriated by just about every generation since (most famously in 1965 by Jeff Beck in The Yardbirds).
Fast-forward 40 years. Great Britain’s Ace Records has put it out again, this time with 20 tracks, a 3,500-word essay, rare photography and even the trio’s original hand-scrawled notes. Musical rarities include the non-LP b-side “City Kids,” the four-track Beerdrinkers EP and seven unheard alternate mixes.

Funkadelic: Reworked By Detroiters (Ace), a sprawling two-disc funkfest of Funkadelic tunes as re-imagined by a host of current Michigan DJs, musicians, vocalists, producers, rock bands and mixers who all were heavily influenced by the original mothership of a band. Wildly unpredictable, wholly immersed in splitting the atom of genres, its two hours ends with 1971’s “Maggot Brain” wherein techno pioneer BMG takes it to the house big-time. The tale is told in Detroit that P-Funk mastermind George Clinton once told lead guitarist Eddie Hazel [1950-1992] to play on the original of this song “as if he just learned his mother had died, and then, halfway through the solo, just found out she was still alive, letting all the light in,” according to the illuminating liner notes.

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The Dirtbombs tackle “Super Stupid” (about a drug deal gone bad) while “Take Your Dead Ass Home” and “Get Off Your Ass And Jam” are so out-there in their spectacular peripheries that what began in both cases as singular dirty party chants of the mid-‘70s now become space-age vehicles for groovealicious meanderings. Ditto for “Cosmic Slop,” “Sexy Ways” and “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure” (given a Latin twist by percussionist Alton Miller).

From house music and electronica to futuristic funk, techno, spoken-word comedy and back-alley sloppy soul, this mother rises and rises until you just can’t take it anymore.

Ace is the place for Prince of Power Pop: His Very Best + 11 Unissued Tracks by ‘80s rock star Phil Seymour. No one did the ‘60s better in the ‘80s than Seymour. Known mainly for his work in The Dwight Twilley Band, Seymour’s star was that of the shooting variety, burning so effervescently bright for a short period of time that those who knew of him, revere him. Like Cheap Trick, Marshall Crenshaw and Eric Carmen, Seymour’s vision is unadulterated glory, joyful in scope and epic in conception. You know how you can always tell an ‘80s album (be it Stones, Tull, ELO or Cars) via over-synthesized squiggles? Not Phil. His purview always harbored a harder variety of bar-band garage-glory Beatlesque heart-on-your-sleeve non-stop show-stoppers one after another. Like rat-a-tat-tat machine gun fire only with breathtaking harmonies and tight, short, but high-flying, guitar solos. (He covers The Supremes as if he were The Ramones.) Phil Seymour died of cancer in ’93 at the age of 41, but lives large here and may he never stop being heard.

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 Look up Latin Jazz and you'll find a picture of this man, Eddie Palmieri. Photo: Erik Valind

Look up Latin Jazz and you'll find a picture of this man, Eddie Palmieri. Photo: Erik Valind

Asians have it right by revering the old. It’s a long held Far Eastern thing that the older you get, the more you are respected, unlike here in the States where youth is served. Examples of 80-or-older artists still creating on an elite level are Willie Nelson (83), Tony Bennett (90), Wayne Shorter (83), John Mayall (83), Buddy Guy (80) and Kris Kristofferson (80). Sabiduria (Ropeadope) by pianist/composer/bandleader/icon Eddie Palmieri (81) shows the Latin Jazz legend just as vital as he always was. He’s already got a whole host of projects on tap for 2018 including one with Santana.
For his first CD in 11 years, the Harlem-born and Bronx-raised maestro has let it all hang out by infusing all 12 tracks with the kind of percolating percussion that won’t let up. The sole cover is a Cal Tjader samba that fits so fine right between some stunning solo piano and a jolt of caffeine called “Spinal Volt” that mixes’n’matches conga, timbales, bass, bongo, cowbell, two trumpets and two saxophones in a free-wheeling highlight that jiggles like jelly on a plate. All 12 tracks are positively mesmerizing and you can lose yourself in the hot tamale of tabasco sauce liberally poured all over your mind. I’m still jumping just at the thought of this!

 Johnny Nicholas by Cybellle Codish

Johnny Nicholas by Cybellle Codish

A case could be made for Too Many Bad Habits by Johnny Nicholas & Friends as the blues album of the year. If so, it would have to have an asterisk next to it because its 14 songs were originally released in 1977. Nicholas, the long-time member of Asleep At The Wheel, is a multi-instrumentalist composer whose friends are legends unto themselves. With Big Walter Horton [1921-1981] on harmonica and vocals, Johnny Shines [1915-1992] on guitar and vocals, Boogie Woogie Red [1925-1992] on piano and vocals and Ray Benson leading a host of other Asleep At The Wheel practitioners, Nicholas has achieved a stunning synthesis of rural country blues, folksy in execution and absolutely wonderful to the ear.

In fact, Nicholas has achieved in bringing me back through time because when I was 12 in 1963, I somehow latched on to a record called Blues Rags and Hollers by Koerner, Ray & Glover. I never, to this day, forgot that record. I wore it plum out to the point of scratching, nicking and ultimately destroying it on my cheap Sears record player but not before memorizing its contents and singing it for anyone in my family who would listen. Since I was too busy listening to British rock in 1977 when I was 26 (Bowie, Elton, Stones and Queen), when Too Many Bad Habits was first released, I missed it. This new version now sits in my lifetime rotation as the first album in 55 years to bring me back to the dulcet folk-blues tones of Blues Rags & Hollers. I wonder if the long-retired “Spider” John Koerner--now 79 and living in Rochester, New York--has heard this. I think it would make him smile.

Top 10 CDs of 2017

 Ricky Byrd by Guy Aceto

Ricky Byrd by Guy Aceto

1) Ricky Byrd, Clean Getaway
2) Steve Earle, So You Wanna Be An Outlaw
3) Eric Bibb, Migration Blues
4) Taj Mahal and Keb Mo, Tajmo
5) Charles Lloyd, Passin’ Thru
6) Gregg Allman, Southern Blood
7) The Isley Brothers and Santana, Power Of Peace
8) Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
9) Chris Hillman, Bidin’ My Time
10) Rusty Young, Waitin’ For The Sun