The book of Rock and Roll is littered with heroes who have fallen from grace. Most of them for good reason, but there are some musicians and bands that have fallen through the cracks of recognition, even though they have contributed greatly to rock music pioneering the use of samples, synthesizers, guitar techniques and even entire genres. Like the late comic great Rodney Dangerfield routine, they get no respect.
Grand Funk Railroad
In 1969, Mark Farner, Mel Schacher and Don Brewer formed a band that rewrote rock music. Guitarist Farner, and drummer Brewer were backing Terry Knight and the Pack and Schacher was playing bass in ? and the Mysterians plowing through the mid-Michigan club scene. Knight, knowing that his time as a singer was over, decided to manage these young men from Flint, christened Grand Funk Railroad.
They were an American Band
Knight used his extensive music connections and experience to get Grand Funk on the bill of the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, where they went over so well on the first day of the festival that they were put on the bill on the next two days. By the last day of the festival, the band signed with Capitol Records. The band came out of the starting blocks blazing and their first LP, On Time went gold. Their second LP, Grand Funk produced the hit song, “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home).” In 1970, Grand Funk Railroad sold more records than any other American band, and with minimum radio airplay. In 1971, they sold out Shea Stadium quicker than the Beatles did five years earlier.
A billboard in Times Square? Who gets that?
Grand Funk Railroad put on raucous, hard rocking performances that pleased the post-hippy teenagers who were the bulk of their audience. They toured all over America, and were huge in Japan. They were one of the first rock bands to play stadiums instead of arenas, but the band refused to play in their home state of Michigan because of the bad press and ill-feelings from the Detroit music scene who felt that Grand Funk had not pay their dues.
Around this time, Mark, Don and Mel thought that Knight was no longer needed and they fired him just months before their contract with him ran out. Knight reacted by repossessing the band’s equipment during the band’s sound-check at Madison Square Gardens. The band still thought that it was worth it.Once the contract problems were worked out, Grand Funk added keyboardist Craig Frost and the band took a different direction with a more pop music oriented sound that only produced more gold records for the band. The Todd Rundgren produced LP, We’re an American Band was certified gold a month after its 1973 release. Finding success with Rundgren, who at the time was one of the most sought after producers in the industry, they hired him for their next LP, Shinin’ On, which went gold and produced the single, a cover of the Little Eva song “The Locomotion.”
Their next LP was the horribly titled All of the Girls in the World Beware, that had the great rock pop song, “Bad Time” and a cover, “Some King of Wonderful,” which both charted in America. Despite the tacky cover that showed the boy’s heads superimposed on the bodies of weightlifters, the LP went gold and the band went on a lucrative world tour.
Grand Funk Railroad -Closer to Home (I’m your Captain)
The following LP’s, 1976’s Born to Die didn’t chart as well as their previous LP’s, and their next LP, Good Singin’, Good Playin’ flopped despite being produced by Frank Zappa. The band called it quits after that, although they have reunited in one form or another since then.
the dumbest record cover of all time
Grand Funk Railroad rose to great heights right out of the starting blocks due to Terry Knight’s management, but the band had talent, drive and a no bullshit factory town attitude that worked in their favor. They toured relentlessly, and did not care what music critics or their jealous Michigan contemporaries had to say about them, as the sold out stadiums was all the proof that they needed to justify their success. Grand Funk Railroad Live in LA 1974 -
From 1969 to 1975, Grand Funk Railroad were one of the biggest selling rock acts in the world, recorded 11 studio records and sold millions of records. Not bad for three guys from Flint, Michigan.
The Official Grand Funk Railroad website
Even at their peak in the early 80’s, when their ballad heavy LP “High Infidelity” produced four top ten hits and sold over 10 million copies, REO Speedwagon were poopooed by everyone but secretaries and dental assistants. But what music snobs forget is that REO was a hard rock band from Champaign, Illinois who had spent over a dozen years on the road, playing every town on the upper register of the Interstate Highway System. There was not a town that was too small for the REO to play in, and they never did a bad show. They were kind to fans and local musicians. REO also was a band that evolved naturally, with singers and musicians coming and going.
REO Speedwagon during their Hayday
REO Speedwagon sold millions of records in the 80’s, and their music is the soundtrack of that era… can you forget “Keep On Loving You” and “Take It On the Run?” Those two songs are the template for all of the power ballads that came after it. Lead guitarist Gary Richrath’s razor sharp leads and perfect tone are the pinnacle of hard rock lead guitar playing. He is definitely one of the most underrated guitarists in rock.
Listen to their 1977 platinum selling live LP, Live: You Get What You Play For to understand what a solid rock band they were. The years of playing at high school gyms in Midwest and rodeo arena’s in the west came to fruit. Forgotten rockers like “Keep Pushin,’” “(I Believe) Our Time is going to Come,” “Golden Country,” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” are played to perfection. Although they had their peak in the 1980’s, REO Speedwagon is still a working band, and probably playing in a town near you.
The Official Website of REO Speedwagon
People talk about the Velvet Underground as if they were created by God. Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Mo Tucker, John Cale and Nico are all fawned upon by fans, but nobody ever speaks of Doug Yule. Stepping in at the tender age of 21 to fill out the band on bass guitar after Reed fired John Cale. Yule was in the band from 1968 to 1973, and put up with more crap than a Chuck Berry groupie.
How everyone remembers the Velvet Underground
Yule, a multi-instrumentalist contributed on lead vocals on a number of songs, and filled in for Lou’s vocals when Reed had problems with his voice on the road. Yule’s mistake was continuing the VU after Reed quit the band. Reed went on to insult and berate Yule in interviews, and even John Cale butted in, siding with Reed when the VU was preparing for a reunion tour in 1993 to not to allow Yule on the bill.
How most people saw the Velvet Underground – with Doug Yule
After VU, Yule joined country band American Flyer with Steve Katz, and later moved to Seattle where he is a master violin luthier. Despite that he was in the band longer than anyone other than Lou Reed, Yule was denied entrance to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the VU was indicted in 1996.
Doug Yule Violin Maker
Mention the name Bill Nelson to any audiophile and they’ll answer, “Oh yeah, Be Bop Deluxe,” or they’ll say, “I used to dance to Red Noise when I was first allowed in clubs.” Yes, Nelson did front the great mid-70’s art/glam/prog rock band Be Bop Deluxe. And yes after Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson did create electronic dance music in the early 1980’s, but he has done so much more than that during the last 30 odd years, releasing over 100 LP’s since 1980.
Be Bop Deluxe – at your service
Nelson, whose guitar playing can only be described as dazzling, busted out towards the end of the glam era with his band Be Bop Deluxe. After their first LP, 1974’s Axe Victim was released Nelson fired the entire band, and brought in new musicians. The band did well, and released five studio LP’s between 1974 and 1978, but the attraction of the band was Nelson’s fluid and melodic lead guitar playing.
the coolest album cover of all time
After Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson went into electronic dance music with a project called Red Noise. “Do You Dream in Colour?” was a hit in the dance clubs. Nelson, never one to sit on his laurels, started leaning towards ambient music, inspired by his muse, pioneer multi-media artist Jean Cocteau. Capital Records, as well as the other majors did not want to risk any money on the prolific and ever changing styles of this man from Yorkshire. With his manager Nelson created Cocteau Records to release his more esoteric and ambient LP’s. Records came out, with elaborate covers and CD booklets. A pioneer in the use of samplings, Nelson had sampled Gregorian monks chanting to beats years before the monks cashed in on that fad. On his 1983 EP, Savage Gestures for Charm’s Sake, Nelson out Fripp’s Robert Fripp and out Eno’s Brian Eno. Nelson bounced around on record labels big and small throughout the 80’s, releasing 25 albums that decade.
The early 1990’s found Bill Nelson bankrupted and divorced. When he went to his record label from the Be Bop Deluxe days, he found out that all of the royalties from all of the Be Bop Deluxe LP’s went to the band members who only played on Axe Victim. Not a penny was assigned to Nelson. With no money to sue with, Nelson retreated back to his first love, the guitar. It helped that he had over 40 guitars of every different type. Nelson got back on his feet, remarried, got the rights back to his music, and dived back in, procuring record labels to rerelease his catalog, while producing ecstatically positive guitar oriented LP’s.
Bill Nelson will quit playing music when they pry his cold dead hands from his guitar neck
Bill Nelson performs occasionally, and has a hardcore group of fans who gather at the annual Nelsonica convention in which Nelson is the star. Besides writing and recording music for television and films, Nelson still releases an average of four LP’s a year. Unarguably, the most prolific songwriter in rock history, a forerunner of dance and ambient music, a pioneer of digital sampling and a true guitar God, Bill Nelson’s name is rarely mentioned these days.
Red Noise – Sound On Sound – entire LP
Be Bop Deluxe – Modern Music full LP
Bill Nelson & the Gentlemen Rocketeers – The October Man live 2011
Welcome to Dreamsville – the Official Bill Nelson website
Founded in 1984 by brothers Chris, Curt and Grant Eckman, and Chris’s longtime girlfriend Carla Torgerson, the Walkabouts played their share of art gallery basements, dive bars and rented halls in the formative pre-grunge era in their hometown of Seattle. More musically talented, arty and folky than most bands of that era, their sets were welcome relief from feedback filled gloom and doom and noisy punk that the Walkabouts shared bills with. Not that the Walkabouts did not rock, but they played better than most bands of that era. Years later their sound was termed Americana.
The Walkabouts released their first record, the EP 22 Disasters in 1985, and went on an American tour without bassist Curt Eckman. Michael Wells replaced him and has been in the Walkabouts more or less ever since. Their first LP, Weights and Rivers, was going to be released by Wrestler Records but the company went bankrupt before it could hit the shelves. It was years before the band got the masters back.
See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens…
Their second LP, See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens was put out by Seattle’s eclectic PopLlama Records in 1988. They released five LP’s on SubPop and SubPop Europe/Glitterhouse, between 1989 and 1994, toured the states on the same bill as other stalwarts of the 90’s like the Chills, Throwing Muses, Uncle Tupelo, Glass Eye, the Jazz Butcher, Thin White Rope, and FireHose, but their real draw was in Europe where their poetic lyrics and desolate tunes struck a chord with the youth of the day. Their LP’s scored high on not only the alternative charts, but on the mainstream radio networks in Greece, Norway and Eastern Europe.
Signing to Virgin Records in Germany in 1995, the Walks looked forward to having major label backing and released Devil’s Road and Nighttown, their two bestselling releases, but selling 90,000 units was nothing to Virgin and they were dropped by the label, despite their videos being on heavy rotation on MTV Europe. Glitterhouse immediately signed the band to their label and released their LP’s for thereafter.
Their success in Europe did not transfer to North America, and when Americana got popular in the mid-90’s the Walkabouts were that band in Europe who only had reviews in languages other than English. No matter that the Walkabouts basically created the template for hundreds of bands using the mandolin, cello, harmonica, and acoustic guitars; they get no respect in their home country. The only American shows that that Walkabouts do is in Seattle, during the holidays, if Chris comes home to see his family. The Walkabouts filled concert halls in all the major European cities, but are reduced to playing one show in a neighborhood bar in Seattle when they play America.
The Walkabouts – Bordertown
The Walkabouts – Jack Candy live
The Walkabouts – Man From Reno
The Walkabouts – Got No Chains – SubPop 200 1989
Just remember, every ancient punk rocker playing a contemporary version of Woody Guthrie to packed houses and admiration… Every pretty bearded boy band playing acoustic music and selling millions of records… Every washed up musician who adds a string section to make their music more listenable… have the Walkabouts to thank for setting the woods on fire.
The Semi-Official website of the Walkabouts
If there was anything revolutionary about American rock and roll in the 1970’s it was The Tubes. The San Francisco based band put on freak show unlike any other up to that point. Led by singer Fee Waybill, who changed outfits and characters about every three songs, the Tubes were a mixture of theater, shock and prog rock. The duel guitars of Rodger Steen and Bill Spooner held down the rock, while pianist Vince Welneck added class, Michael Cotton flew on the APR 2600 synthesizer, and drummer Prairie Prince and bassist Rick Anderson laid down a solid rhythm, all the while semi-naked dancing girls romped around the stage, there was nothing like the Tubes, anywhere.
Their first LP, the Tubes was released in 1975 and included what became their signature song, “White Punks on Dope.” During the performance of the song, Waybill, as rock star Quay Lude, wore a fright wig and a jock strap with his penis hanging out of it, while romping around the stage in 18 inch tall platform shoes. The rest of the LP, along with their second, Young and Rich, was well guided and clever Prog Rock, with a subtle touch of social commentary.
The Tubes – 1974
Their third LP, the Tubes Now, was even more theatrical with Welnick’s beautiful piano work dominating the record, but it was their fourth LP, the concept record, Remote Control that should have sent the Tubes record sales soaring. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Remote Control is the quintessential early 80’s record. Too bad it was in 1979, and about five years ahead of its time. A & M Records never knew what to do with the Tubes. Their singles were radio friendly, but their stage act was R Rated and whenever they had someone on the label supporting them, that person would end up getting fired. A & M did nothing to promote radio play for the band and dumped them after rejecting their next LP. The label then released a live LP to fill out their contract.
Mondo Bondage – the Tubes
“Turn Me On” from the Tubes Remote Control LP
Signed to Capitol Records, the band rolled up their sleeves to become more radio friendly. Their 1981 LP, the Completion Backwards Principle found the band tossing out their props and wild outfits, and opting for business suits. The rocker Talk to You Later was perfect for radio and the newly launched MTV and the Tubes finally found some success. Their next LP, 1983’s release, Outside Inside produced the Tubes only American hit song, “She’s a Beauty,” which was number one on the radio rock charts. Returning to Rundgren for their next LP, Love Bomb did nothing to help the Tubes. Capitol dropped them, and kept an entire LP, known as the Black Album, from ever getting released. It is still sitting in a vault somewhere in Southern California.
This was in 1974!!!
Although the Tubes did not sell a lot of records, their live shows were always popular; unfortunately, they were an expensive band to take on the road. Their elaborate sets needed carpenters and electricians, their outrageous costumes needed seamstresses and helpers, along with dancers and roadies, a second tour bus was needed to get the crew from show to show, and all of them needed to be fed and housed while the band toured. Their tour for Love Bomb put the band a half million dollars in debt.
The Tubes Live 1982
Waybill left the band, and Welnick joined the Grateful Dead as their touring pianist, a notorious roll for the band, as all the former pianists died. While with the Dead, Welnick became fast friends with Jerry Garcia, something the rest of the band resented and when Garcia died from a heart attack while detoxing from longtime heroin use, the surviving members of the Dead shunned Welnick, and did not include him on any further projects. Welnick took the rejection hard and eventually committed suicide in 2006.
No Titties in the Twin Cities
In 1993, The Tubes reformed with Waybill on vocals, but without powerhouse guitarist and musical director Bill Spooner. Welnick and Cotton also declined to rejoin the band. Prairie Prince went on to being one of the most recorded drummers in history and still plays with the Tubes, when he isn’t busy with sessions and touring obligations.
The Tubes were too wild and crazy for their era. They wrote intelligent and humorous songs that musically bridged the 70’s to the 80’s, all the while putting on the best live shows of their era. The Tubes were too clever for their own good, and were musically a few years ahead of everything else out there. Innovators are rarely rewarded and the Tubes, who still perform, are living proof.
The Tubes Official Website
Detroit boy, Harvey Mandel cut his teeth in the blues clubs on the south side of Chicago in the late 1960’s, playing on the groundbreaking 1966 LP, Stand Back! Here Comes Charlie Musslewhite’s Southside Band. Moving to the burgeoning scene in San Francisco the next year, Mandel released a solo LP and jammed with the likes of Jerry Garcia, Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, before being drafted by Canned Heat as their guitarist. His third show with the band was at Woodstock.
Young Harvey Mandel
After playing with Canned Heat for two years, Mandel joined British blues legend John Mayall’s band. When the Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor left the band, Mandel was picked up by the Stones and contributed the incredible lead guitar to the hit song “Hot Stuff” and fan favorite “Memory Motel.” Fellow Brit Ronnie Wood was eventually hired as the Stone’s permanent second guitarist. Mandel stayed busy over the years releasing over 19 solo LP’s to date, and later rejoining Canned Heat for live performances.
Harvey “The Snake” Mandel
As if his career was not impressive enough, Mandel is credited with being the first electric guitarist to use the technique called fretboard tapping. Tapping or hammering is when the musician taps the strings of the guitar with their fingertips, in a hammering motion, instead of using a pick. The technique is especially impressive through an amplifier and effects, and Mandel is the master of two-handed tapping. Eddie Van Halen made a fortune from that method of guitar playing.
Harvey Mandel’s Offical Web Site