“Have you ever wondered why young people take to music like fish to water? Maybe it's because music is fun. Plain and simple. It opens up their minds to dream great dreams about where they can go and what they can do when they get older.”
~ Isaac Hayes
I knew this guy named Tony 16 years ago. We smoked cigarettes together and went to some of the same parties. I didn't know him well, but he always seemed interested in hearing my stories, and made me feel good when we talked. The last conversation with him I found out his father was Soupy Sales. I'd known him too long to become a fan at that point. Then last month he wrote a one-line blog on myspace saying he was feeling nostalgic about Soupy. I wrote a comment. We emailed. I discovered he was releasing an album he and Hunt had done 30 years ago and we became friends again. He's a nice guy who happens to have played bass backing Etta James, hung out with Dr. John, and plucked that famous bass line on Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life."
So I have a friend who did an album with his brother in a pool underneath the house in Beachwood, California that should have made them both big name stars. If Tony hadn't hit a tree with his car in 1979, they would have toured the country leaving a trail of fans and broken hearts. Instead, Tony got to live through a coma where the highlight of the day was the smell of his girlfriend's perfume when she visited, and some guy named David Jones was the only big musician who stopped by to visit him in the hospital. That guy was a saint in the city. He was a thin white duke. That guy had to change his name to avoid a conflict with Davey Jones of the Monkees. You probably know him as David Bowie. Tony and Hunt formed a band with him and Reeves Gabrels called "The Tin Machine."
The only record Tony and Hunt ever made with their name in the title is this album I'm writing about. They have been sidemen hired to play with great people for all those years. Sidemen with that kind of ability are called "hired guns." Every musician on the album has made a good living playing the music behind somebody else's songs. This album could have made The Sales Brothers headliners, but the title of the album is called "Hired Guns."
Tony studied the bass from a young age with Carole Kaye, who was the bass player on "River Deep Mountain High." George Harrison once called that tune "a perfect record from start to finish." She was a great teacher. She told Tony he had a style all his own, and should pursue that. Hunt Sales took his inspiration on the drums from Shelly Manne and Buddy Rich. I met him once, but we didn't talk much. Nice guy. He is a great drummer. Tony and Hunt worked together on four Iggy Pop albums including "Lust For Life," some Bowie albums, and then they became half of "The Tin Machine." These brothers played some great music for 30 years while their own "Hired Guns" album sat on the shelf.
You might expect these rockers to do a rock 'n' roll album. They didn't. The album they made was right from the heart and it was all R&B. The brothers are one of the most celebrated rhythm sections in popular music, but when they sing they are as close to Sam & Dave as any two voices on the planet. I've listened to R&B for three weeks to get ready for this review, and then I came back to this album. Late at night with the headphones on, I can see them in their red suits like the "Sultans of Sweat" on the stage of the Starwood, doing splits, and singing R&B like the best of the Stax/Volt records lineup. Their songs come from their own experience, with their own road tested rock 'n' roll souls, but the songs are worthy of Issac Hayes and David Porter.
The horns are as tight as the Memphis Horns playing "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Coming." Those guys called "The Blue Ray Orchestra" were the brass from Tower of Power. Tony and Hunt had called on some powerful friends to make this album. Frank Infante and Nigel Harrison of Blondie also played bass and guitar on some songs. On the live cut recorded from the Starwood performance, Brian Ray is playing guitar. He was the passenger in the car when Tony had his fateful crash. Brian co-wrote "One Heartbeat" with Smokey Robinson and plays guitar with Paul McCartney's band now.
One great damn booking at The Starwood and then CRASH!
Thirty years later, R&B has become the term for what R. Kelly does, but any party in your neighborhood that breaks out the records from that Stax/Volt collection is a better party than the next one on the block. If this album don't get your party started, you are hosting a shindig for the deaf. This record is maximum R&B right to the core, but it's got the heart of rock 'n' roll. Each of these players have taken the long road playing music around the world. You can't fake that experience. You can hear it on the album. It doesn't flinch. That thing is real.
History is a funny thing. What happened seems like it was meant to be. We accept it because we can't change it. So I guess it seems ordained that The Box Tops were the best white R&B band of the time, and The Blues Brothers were that nod to Stax/Volt we all needed. Things happen. Cars crash. Empires fall. We accept it. Once in a while a good thing gets a second chance. "Hired Guns" was left in the vault for thirty years. It didn't age a bit. R&B took a detour somewhere on the long road. Isaac Hayes became known as the voice of Chef on South Park. Just maybe this album would have taken music to a better place. The Sales Brothers might have relegated The Blues Brothers to a footnote in history as a couple of comedians with a decent cover band. The Sales Brothers built the above average white band that R&B would have loved. But the music didn't die. The acetate didn’t' rot. Our whole damn economy has crashed drunk and senseless. What we love about America has been in a coma. Don't just lie there, smell the perfume of someone who loves you. Maybe we should learn to dance again to turn back time.
Turn your clocks back thirty years. Buy this album. Have a party. Invite the neighbors. Maybe we can all get that second chance. Have a little fun. I don't care what you hippies say, Rhythm and Blues is here to stay. "Hired Guns" is rock hard R&B. Get this party started.
1. BUZZ IN YOUR HIVE sounds like a 45 playing from an old portable record player. It's got the punch and power of hits from way back in Memphis 1968 blasting the bobbie soxers into a stomp to wake the neighbors. Nothing in an apiary sounds this sexy. "All I want to do is buzz in your hive." Social animals these bees. Something about "sit on my stinger" kinda beats the Huel Howser approach right out of my interpretation. Sex song, mostly. Hunt's James Brown vocalizing makes me crack a genuine smile. Great damn horn section. Horn-like thing. Horny. Like that music heard though the walls the neighbors having some wild party. Cool. Turn it up. Make 'em think I'm having fun. Makes me feel dirty inside . . . and I like it. That's the buzz.
2. THE SALES BROTHERS sounds enough like Sam & Dave to make me think I saw Sam sing it on that Stax retrospective on Netflix. Tony and Hunt might have had a career singing if they never took up the bass and drums. If this song were written back in the day, chances are it would be about meeting Miss Right somewhere at the malt shop, but this one's got honesty and years on the rock 'n' roll road under it's belt. "I've been lonely too long. Getting ready for a one-night stand." If R&B was born from gospel and the blues, this rocker soul plainly didn't attend the same church. "Now it's time for me to do the crazy!" Sounds like something Ian Drury might have written. The descending guitar riff bringing the couple together as the intention becomes clear floats down in stereo like an angel floating down to a bed full of groupies at the Holiday Inn on Hollywood Boulevard after a dinner upstairs in the spinning restaurant. Try! I dare you. Try to listen to this song without a smile on your face. Better yet, imaging Tony and Hunt in their red suits doing splits at The Starwood and your girl looking over at you to wink. I think I want to sit back and consider that for a minute. Great damn party song! "You're pushing me right against the wall, but listen baby, you're gonna fall. . . . Now it's time for me to do the crazy! Getting ready for a one night stand." Repent tomorrow. Now's the time.
3. YOU REALLY KNOW HOW (TO LOVE) starts with a slow groove bass and drum 'til this sweet and sinuous baritone blues harp slides in wailing like to break your heart. Something high and well . . . high comes in squealing like Dave Alvin & The Chipmunks sings the backing vocals. Damn, these guys know how to set the stage. That slow groove suggests something like Sofia Loren walking down the street in some Italian art film: "You really know how to . . . You really know how to love." There are sometimes you just know. "The way you walk, is just a . . . the way you talk . . . the way you move . . . You really drive me crazy!" Maybe she's just walking away at the end of the song. Tony and Hunt give her a shout out as she moves away like every step says, "Oh, yeah!" She knows. That harp ain't welcome in heaven, it's got too much to say down below.
4. SOMEONE'S GONNA LOSE is that song to clear the floor of slow dancing lovers, and get the place hopping! The Blue Ray Orchestra nails the horn arrangement here like they shot a rivet into every hole in the acoustic ceiling. "Though I don't know your name, you are the one. . . . Someone's gonna lost this time, gonna be you, baby!" Something like that "shave and a haircut" standard piano ending triggers a shout chorus, then it's "One more time!" Might be Jerry Lee on that piano. This is R&B just this side of rock 'n' roll. That rhythm guitar sounds like it's about to blow that little brown Fender amp right out. A good time had by all, winners and losers.
5. LET ME IN "Will you let me in? Will you let me in and start putting me at ease? . . . Open up this door! Let me in." Seems the girl sent a telegram. "How many times do I have to ask you to unlock the door? . . . How many times do I have to tell you you're the one I need?" That honkytonk stride piano is a beautiful thing. "It ain't raining but my face is getting wet. What's that you said in the telegram you sent?" Tony's rap as the music steps back for a moment of sincerity is too damn honest and depraved to be believed:
"Listen, baby. I ain't gonna hurt you no more girl. So let me in now there's people walking by. They think I'm a fool standing here knocking, but I know deep down inside you know I'm cool. You know, come on, let me in. We'll make some sweet music together. And anyway, I might have some money!"
Oh man, that's got to be the most honest, least convincing argument ever. Hunt chimes in high and shrill. "Oh let me in! I'm begging you, let me in. Oh, you better let me in that door baby. Oh, I'm down on my knees!" This is a love song for the neighbor you'll beg the landlord to evict tomorrow morning. Maybe worth moving out your ownself. Not a good role model, but damn don't this this song get it right?
6. MY BABY has a slow stomp in the groove that won't be denied. There are two guitars taking different roads to the same trail. The vocals fight their way through the wall of sound in shared, pared, and traded solos. "My Baby" is a fine sweet sugar mama. "Got some money. Gonna spend it on me." Bass drum and bass are so infectious you might want to take some Vitamin C. "What can I say? What can I do? Let me love." The horns sit back on this one. Feels like the band is playing live. If you can't swing slow, you can't swing. This one swings.
7. SHIFTIN' SOUL gives "Hold On I'm Coming" a big nod and beats the rhythm stick of "Soul Man" with maybe a tongue pushing hard against it's cheek. All that with rock drama and horns this time closer to Savoy Truffle than Stax/Volt's brassy sucker punch wind players. This song makes a case for the thrust of this album, big nasty rock 'n' roll stuffed to stretch the burlap potato sack of R&B. Ten pounds in a five sack easy. New wine in old skins. Stax/Volt meets Iggy, Blondie, and a Tower of Power. It's a little less jagged but there's a thrill in every pill. Bustin' out and having fun. Nothing like that feels like history. Not this energy! The most respectful response is never a tribute, but something fresh and cocky. Old war horse, new tricks. Reverence would send that nag to the glue factory, to the museum, relegate the great to stacks of vinyl in collector's basement. Good job!
8. NO REFUSIN' bangs out the beat with a little R 'n' R in the R&B. Hunts drums take no prisoners, and Tony's bass names. Man that blues harp can't be beat. "There's no refusing my music!" The guitar takes a page out of Eddie Cochran just a little out of phase. This song makes an offer you can't refuse.
9. SHADY LADY might just have my favorite horn support this side of "Soul Man." What makes the Shady Lady so damn powerful? "I don't know she seems to put a spell on me." Friends warn you about this sort of woman. "Hissing from her mouth so strong."
The rap: "I gotta tell somebody about this dream! What going on? So many colors . . . I gotta tell somebody about this dream."
There's some sort of figure from a fife and drum corps crops up where you least expect. Was that a wolf whistle at the end? Careful of that first step, you might just fall. Mama told you not to come! If love like this is wrong . . . Hope you wake up tomorrow.
10. STARWOOD RADIO PROMO Wow! What a great announcement!
11. GODDAM PAYMENTS (LIVE AT THE STARWOOD 1979) isn't prophetic, right? You decide! Let's just say it's a damn fine live performance. Maybe if we'd made those payments, or didn't take those loans. We only have one day. No tomorrow. Yesterday is gone. Take too many loans you can't afford and CRASH! Goddam!