DIY?… Because they could – Rock’s Greatest “One Man Band” Albums

Authored by Dale Nickey:

The “One Man Band” is the lone wolf in the ecosystem of music. Not only are they multi-instrumentalists, they have upped the ante by declaring, “we don’t need no stinkin’ band”. Whereas Brian Jones was the ultimate “jack of all trades” when it came to the band dynamic, he would have fallen short trying to make a coherent album all by his lonesome. Here then is my list of the greatest “One Man Band” albums of all time.

“McCartney” (Paul McCartney)

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The Beatles were in the process of a very messy divorce. Paul was depressed, drinking, bearded and smelly. Linda was fed up and demanded he get up off his arse and do something. Macca’s first solo album was result. Paul puttered around his home studio, played all the instruments, and knocked out this home baked little gem. Beatlesque’ genius rears its head on “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and lightweight Wings-Pop is presaged in the humble ditty “Lovely Linda”.  Not the magisterial mission statement one might have expected from Paul’s first solo long player; but maybe that’s part of this album’s charm and longevity.

“Emitt Rhodes” (Emitt Rhodes)

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Emitt Rhodes should’ve been a contender. He had the looks, talent and work ethic. During the swinging sixties he honed his multi-instrumentalist chops as leader of the chamber pop group The Merry-Go-Round which had a modest hit with “You’re A Very Lovely Woman”. At the dawn of the 70’s he signed a solo deal with ABC Dunhill and repaired to his parent’s garage to build his own studio with his $5,000 advance money. There he produced the McCartneyesque’ DIY masterpiece “Emitt Rhodes”. The album charted well (#29 on Billboard) and the critics swooned. All systems were go for a productive career to rival that of Todd Rundgren or perhaps even Macca himself.  ABC Dunhill had other ideas, all of them bad. First they rigidly held him hostage to a contract that required one album every 6 months. Being an artist, who wrote, produced, performed and engineered his work in its entirety, this blueprint was untenable and illogical.  Rhodes reasonably lobbied for a more sane release schedule. After all, his debut effort was a commercial and critical success. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it, right? No deal. ABC Dunhill not only refused to nurture their budding solo star, they sued him for $250,000 for breach of contract and withheld his royalties for failure to deliver his albums in a timely manner. Through clenched jaw and gritted teeth Rhodes recorded two more solo albums before calling it quits.  Rhodes then walked out of the machinery and refused to make anymore solo records. Instead, he sustained himself as a recording engineer and studio owner. ABC Dunhill’s handling of Emitt Rhodes was one of the most colossal corporate blunders since the Boston Red Sox sale of Babe Ruth.

“Olias of Sunhillow” (Jon Anderson)

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By 1976, Yes had pretty much conquered every mountain that poked out of the sky. They’d had hit singles. Their double LP concept album “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” shot to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. They were headlining stadiums. Their (then current) album “Relayer” saw them at the peak of their musical powers. What next?….Solo albums of course. For Jon Anderson, this meant spending his Yes lucre on lots of cool instruments and recording gear and building both a studio and album from scratch. Normally a lead singing specialist, Anderson pushed himself and played all the instruments and sang all the vocals on “Olias….”. The album was a dense and eclectic affair even by Yes standards. However, it charted surprisingly well, and was arguably one of the forerunners of the “New Age” genre. Echos of “Olias Of Sunhillow” can be found reverberating through much of his subsequent work, most notably his ethereal collaborations with synthesizer master Vangelis.

Arc Of A Diver – Stevie Winwood

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The 1980’s separated the men from the boys literally and musically. You were either a groovy young thing or you adapted to sound like a groovy young thing.  ZZ Top added buzzing synth washes to their roadhouse musings and struck pay dirt. Yes cut the length of their songs and their hair and scored a worldwide numero Uno with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. Bruce Springsteen ditched his beard, buffed up, and sang zippy ditties about “Dancin’ in the Dark” and “Hungry Hearts”. Stevie Winwood had to fashion a similar re-calibration. Previously a band musician (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith), he ushered in the new decade by entering the studio alone and shutting the door behind him. When he emerged, it was with the DIY masterpiece “Arc Of A Diver”. Previously a piano/Hammond man, Winwood now discovered the joys of synths, midi and beat boxes. “….Diver” was an unqualified smash and set the table for more of the same. Winwood’s solo success during the 80’s and the revenue it generated probably had as much to do with Traffic’s induction into the Rock And Roll HOF as anything the band accomplished during it’s brief heyday.

John Fogerty – “Centerfield”

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In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Creedence Clearwater Revival broke the bank with an impressive string of top selling albums and singles. However, when Fogerty wanted to leave the band and Fantasy Records to go solo, he had to give up all future royalty rights to his Creedence songs. The deal cost Fogerty millions. Fogerty refused to perform his most popular hits for several years rather than line the pockets of his enemies. Due in part to the psychological stress, his first two solo excursions were shaky and marginal affairs. However, the third time was the charm with “Centerfield”. Fogerty sang all the vocals and played all the instruments and fashioned a sound that was. well….identical to CCR (see “The Old Man Down The Road”).  Baseball metaphors abounded as John Fogerty got back in the game, hit a grand slam with a #1 chart topper and took Comeback Player of The Year Award. “Centerfield”  replenished the Fogerty coffers. Eventually, Concord Records bought up Fantasy and Fogerty was able to renegotiate a deal that provided closure.  However, Fogerty’s image will forever be tarnished by his decision to exclude his Creedence band mates from the Hall Of Fame Induction performance honoring the band’s admittance to the hall. Fogerty may have occupied Centerfield, but he was never a team player.

The Over-rewarded vs. The Under-appreciated Pt. 2 (The Rolling Stones vs. The Kinks)

The Rolling Stones vs. The Kinks

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Click here>>>> Part 1

Upfront let’s stipulate the phrase “Over-rewarded” does not mean I consider a band “Under-talented”. However, being a ‘spread-the-wealth’ social progressive, I do think it’s possible for scruffy yobs who sing and play guitar to achieve levels of wealth and celebrity that are obscene. For every band or artist that breaks the platinum ceiling, there are equally deserving bands left in the dust as a result of poor management, poor luck and poor judgement. Here a few comparison studies. And, for all of you true believing fans out there who imbue your favorite artists with pope-like infallibility; let the trouser loading begin!

The Rolling Stones:

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“The Rolling Stones” as a brand have almost become sacrosanct and immune to any honest criticism. The fact that Mick can no longer write and Keith can barely play, seem to have no effect on the  Stones’ fortunes as a band. Their heyday as a recording group is decades past. Still, they trudge on making albums nobody cares about; yet they continue to set box office records as a live attraction.  However, signs are appearing that they may be approaching their expiration date. Their 50th anniversary shows saw them bringing Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman in from the bullpen. Partly for historical continuity and partly because the Keith Richards/Ron Wood tag team is sounding as tired and old as they actually look.  I guess they have to see it through at this point. But are they still “The World’s Greatest Rock And Roll Band”? Only if you think Chuck Berry is the “World’s Greatest Rock Guitarist”.

vs. The Kinks:

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The Kinks:

Early in the British Invasion, It was really a four horse race. The Beatles were the class of the field and couldn’t be caught. The Dave Clark Five broke out of the gate fast but were sprinters, not built for distance. The Rolling Stones and The Kinks were slugging it out for place and show money. It looked good for The Kinks at first. Ray Davies’ songwriting skills were far superior to those  of the Jaggar/Richards team. The Kinks also invented heavy metal with their monumental “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” improved on the formula.  They also change it up with pop hits like “Lazy Afternoon” and “Tired Of Waiting”.

The Kinks could also grace the charts with wry social commentary “Well Respected Man”.  Ray Davies boldly explored alternative sexuality with “See My Friends” and “Lola”. Brother Dave Davies was a monster guitarist who  scooped Jaggar on the androgyny front and pumped up The Kinks mythology by famously spurning the advances of  John Wayne Cacy when the fledgling child killer hit on the pretty boy guitarist during a mid-western tour swing in the mid-sixties.  The Rolling Stones got the most press mileage out of their bad-boy image, but it was The Kinks who were banned from performing in the U.S. by The American Federation of Musicians  due to rowdy onstage behavior.  The ban came at a time (1965) when touring the colonies was any British band’s gateway to iconography. The hardworking  Stones passed The Kinks on the inside and the rest is history.

Top 10 Countdown “Singing Bassists” – # 8 (Peter Cetera)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Peter Cetera (Chicago/Solo)

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Pop Rock heavyweight in the music industry both as a Singer/Bassist/Songwriter for the band Chicago and as a mainstream solo artist.  Ironically, his vocal style developed as a result of having his jaw wired shut after suffering injuries in a fight while attending a ballgame at Dodger Stadium in 1969.  Cetera’s blue-eyed soul vocals and his chunky, economic bass playing style provided a necessary anchor to the massive sound of Chicago; which included a horn section and monster guitarist Terry Kath.