Tag Archives: john entwistle

Rick Wakeman & Tony Ashton’s Gastank

wakemangastank_ad-breakRick Wakeman just released DVD and CD/DVD sets of the original series called Gastank, a unique show aired in the U.K. on channel 4 back in 1982-1983. It featured Wakeman interviewing a host of musical artists as diverse as Steve Hackett, Ian Paice, Andy Fairweather Low, John Entwistle, Eric Burdon, and Godley and Crème, then joining these musicians for a few live numbers with stalwart cohost Tony Ashton and friends. The show was beloved by fans of rock and prog music who had the chance to see some well established rock ‘n’ roll heroes, along with a few overlooked artists of the era, play bar blues, classic, progressive old and new songs live in an intimate setting. It’s available via Wakeman’s site and at Gonzo Multimedia here: http://www.gonzomultimedia.com/product_details/15960/Rick_Wakeman-Gastank_(DVD).html

Anyone interested Wakeman’s mid-period work, or any of the guests on this show are advised to pick up a copy of this rare set. Every segment is interesting and even of historical importance in some way, be it the interviews or live numbers. One of the best moments of the set is Wakeman and Ashton sharing a piano for a hilarious bit simply called “Keyboard Adlib.” That and Steve Hackett’s “Boogie” alone are well worth the price of the set! Sound good? Read on…

Background / Interview with Rick Wakeman

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Rick Wakeman and Steve Hackett

The year is 1982. Popular music has gone through several tumultuous years, an understatement for artists of the time. Classic and progressive rock musicians are at that moment reimaging themselves, their sound, and their stagecraft, in light of new influences, and the tremendous impact of music videos via the juggernaut called MTV. Punk has come and mostly gone, but continues to influence a host of bands, all plying slightly different musical territory, be it goth, ska, “new wave” dance or one of any number of increasingly eclectic musical styles.

In the face of these events, Wakeman and Tony Ashton, established a new television show called GasTank. Produced by Paul Knight with associate Ralph Tobert, Directed by Gerry Mill and recorded in a pub setting with stage and small studio audience, the show aired in the U.K. on channel 4 in 1982-1983.

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John Entwistle and Rick Wakeman

As an example, GasTank #1 kicks off with a couple of pieces by Ashton and Wakeman, then features friends Rick Parfitt from Status Quo, a reggae band The Cimarons, then legends Alvin Lee and Eric Burdon. Ashton brings a sense of humor, honky tonk bar-band blues piano and gritty vocals to his featured songs – his bits are often tongue-in-cheek and always enjoyable. Wakeman is, well, the man and musician we’ve come to know over so many years in the business – funny, disarming even, and as always brilliant on the keys. The house band includes long time Wakeman drummer Tony Fernandez with Chas Cronk and Jerome Rimson on bass. The rest of the crew play their parts whether an original tune from their catalog, or a suitable cover, such as when Eric Burdon introduces a long time Elvis Presley favorite. It’s intimate and thoroughly enjoyable for any fan or interested viewer.

Three cameramen, Richard Dellow, Andy Watt, and Mike Hand Bowman capture the action primarily from positions just in front of the small stage, or on it, affording us an upfront view of fingers, frets, and performances. The sound by Mike Erander and enduring quality of the footage itself is exceptional.

GasTank has long been unavailable on home video in any format. The box set from Gonzo Multimedia puts that right. It includes every episode of the series, presented over 2 DVDs (and in the larger set 3CDs as well) along with an interviews book and other goodies.

But there is a bit more to the story of GasTank, and for that we talked to the man himself, Rick Wakeman to learn more.

Rick, how did the concept for Gas Tank come about?

My dear friend Tony Ashton came up with it. The whole idea of the program, of playing live with people was his brainchild. He came up with the name as well, which I thought was a great name – back then “gas” was a hip expression. He was wonderful to play with – all Tony wanted to do was play piano, which worked well cause I played synths. He was a great boogie-woogie rock player – bands like Ashton, Gardener and Dyke and all the other groups he worked with are evidence to that. He was so, so good. It was sad when he died. One of the nice things is when I watch the programs – it’s the memories of seeing Tony play and all the good times that we had that I cherish. We did have amazing amounts of fun.

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Tony Ashton and band

What to you are some of the standout moments from the interviews or performances from the show, from your perspective?

There were quite a few standout performances. Phil Lynott was a great friend who came on and you’ll see when you watch it, he introduced a new member of Thin Lizzy, one that became a very important part of the band. John Entwistle’s solo appearance will remain with me forever. I asked him to come on – he was a great friend. I said “I want you to do a long solo – imagine an extended “My Generation” type of solo.” He said okay. So we wrote this piece for him and he did it in rehearsal. It was a good solo – a bit subdued, but I thought it would be really nice. Then his roadie took me aside and said ‘be prepared for tonight – that was just playing around.’ The solo he did for the taping was just jaw dropping – he absolutely knew how to take it to that next level. We had some good fun things on there. Suzy Quatro, Maggie Bell – lots of other performances. There were fun things as well – odd comments made, John Entwistle made one comment and his ex-wife sued him!

We had a great house band – we had a lot of fun with the house band – all great friends and camaraderie. Alvin Lee was on as a guest and he was fantastic. He loved it so much, he asked to come down and play in the house band. We had that with a few of the guest musicians – not just playing and leaving but most staying all day and watching the other people that came in. We had it set up like a club, and it was a great idea and it would still stand up today.

Give us one or two humorous anecdotes about the proceedings, something that went wrong or was surprising or even shocking?

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Rick Parfitt came in and it was the first time he had ever performed solo. And I remember him saying to me “I’m nervous, I never get nervous!” He helped overcome his nerves before we did the interview, by getting completely rat-faced; mind you I was as well. I sat with him doing the interview and I saw the lights were on but no one was in, and he could see in me there wasn’t anyone in either! I asked him a question (mumbles) “how did it feel to do your first solo” and he just grinned – and you can’t see this part because the footage was lost, but he came off the stool and he stumbled by me and landed on the floor (whack). The producers voice came down from upstairs and he said, “probably best to do this interview tomorrow!”

We used to do the interviews after the recordings, we would record in the morning then we would have a liquid lunch then we would do the interviews in the afternoon. They organized a green room, which was heavily stocked with alcohol – better than most pubs and bars. After the incident with Parfitt the green room was only opened after the interviews had been done!

More of this interview can be found inside the set’s booklet, including artists of today who would be on Rick’s wish list if there show were to be revived… and a recollection by dearly departed talent Tony Ashton

Not included, however, is Rick’s perfect pitch for the DVD/CD Box Set:

I can truly recommend that you buy this wonderful collection. The reason I can say this is, I’d buy it myself! It contains so much history, so much fantastic playing, interviews that will never be heard again from a lot of people whom sadly are no longer with us. There’s some music that was never recorded anywhere else. It’s part of our heritage and history and if you’re old enough to remember it, it will bring back great memories. If you weren’t even born at the time, I’m sure you will like a lot of the music, and will like going back and learning how so much of it came about. The GasTank collection, there will never be anything else quite like it, I can guarantee that!

 

The Who Hits 50!

Who50_Hits_50_TourAd_72dpiA nice kitschy title for the most recent, maybe last, tour of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour, and a long delay of our show due to a resulting shuffle in the schedule.

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The show was fabulous, despite Daltrey’s evident struggles with the vocals. The large backing band were all singers as well as instrumentalists, and they helped immensely with multi-part harmonies and solid backing vocals, particularly during tracks like the opener “Who Are You,” “The Kids Are Alright,” and “I Can See for Miles.” Daltrey covers his parts as best you can imagine, often nailing even a high gruff note, while at times needing to hang back in the mix a bit. Though he now struggles during challenging passages, he is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! I read that Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder stood in for Daltrey at an event in Chicago, and that he directly sought out Daltrey at the end of the long set. He told the legendary vocalist that he could not fathom how the man ever delivered those vocals throughout the very long tours the Who staged over the years, so challenging was it to hit those notes on just one night. Sweet thing to say, and one can imagine how true it is, given the experience of all us fans, and our flawed attempts over the years to sing along! Townsend still hits his vocal marks quite well, though at bit gruffly as during “The Acid Queen,” but perfectly well on “Eminence Front.” His guitar technique is immaculate, and though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare.

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The backing band is filled with a who’s who of stellar musicians. Townsend’s son Simon plays guitars, Pino Palladino plays the bass, Loren Gold and John Corey are on keys all led by musical director Frank Smiles who adds more keys (did the Who really have that many keys on the albums?) and assorted instruments, including very strong backing vocals. Critically, Ringo’s son Zak Starkey played drums, and while no Keith Moon (who is?) he did an amazing job of interpreting and covering some of Moon’s most roiling, propulsive leads. As any fan knows, Moon used to play with almost reckless abandon, seldom pinning down a beat with single snaps of the snare, instead nearly always substituting a roll where others would place a note. He was one of the greatest drummers on the planet, maybe the best rock drummer ever (okay, right next to Bonham?), and it’s impossible not to miss him, even though we’ve had nearly 40 years to get used to the fact. Nonetheless, Starkey was top of his class and his assertive and stylized playing hit the marks as well as any drummer imaginable, a truly worthy heir.

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Due to circumstances, poor timing and other factors, I’ve never seen the Who. Back in the day I was drunk on complex progressive rock, and prioritized concerts by Genesis, Yes, Tull and others given limited budgets. In retrospect, the Who’s music edged into that progressive category, as even though their focus was dead-on rock ‘n’ roll, their compositions were deceptively complex, the musicianship and vocals driven and unrelenting in their sheer power and audacity. Besides The Pretty Things’, SF Sorrow, Townsend’s masterwork Tommy was one of the first long form rock operas, certainly affording him and the band a place at the pinnacle of rock god heroism.

Who_TommyCover_72dpiAlas, as I recently shared within these pages, Tommy both excited, and repelled me, particularly after viewing Ken Russell’s love-it-or-hate-it movie version of the album. I realized recently that all my friends had the soundtrack alum to the movie, and it crowded out the memories I had of the original Tommy cassette tape I played endlessly at ten years of age. I recently rediscovered the album and it’s charms, and the story behind it, influenced by Eastern philosophy much as my brother was at the time, as soon after this album’s release he left home to go into seclusion, and become a monk in the Self Realization Fellowship church. Townsend plowed serious ground with Tommy, arguably more personally and more effectively invoking a spiritual story than any of his counterparts including the Beatles who touched on these themes though never as expansively. And, in case you’ve forgotten, there is an almost complete lack of shrieking vocals or angry guitar on the album, quite unlike the movie soundtrack. Townsend primarily plays acoustic guitar, and clear, clean electric while he and Daltrey sing through relaxed vocal cords, innocence and emotions laid bare. Add to that Entwistle’s natural ability to lead or color everything he touched, and Moon’s unrelenting rolls, and the result is an album that is fresh, impactful and eminently listenable, particularly as an adult — it’s simply a masterpiece.

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Not surprisingly for me then, the Tommy segment of the “Who Hits 50!” tour was most compelling to me. The set kicked off with “Amazing Journey,” and continued through the instrumental masterpiece “Sparks,”(go straight to your stereo and spin that track if you have at all forgotten what an incredible piece of music that is!) then “The Acid Queen” (one of the tracks I felt ruined in the film by Tina Turner!), ‘Pinball Wizard,” (okay, Elton did nail that one!) and coda “See Me, Feel Me,” presenting what must be one of the greatest lyrics to end the 60s and start the 70s:

Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet

The concert ended with two songs that followed the Tommy set, two of their absolute greatest, “Baba O’Riley” during which Daltrey’s signature scream actually hit the mark, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” featuring those classic Townsend power chords. The lighting, and particularly the visual backdrops, rendered in hi-def imagery added mightily to the impact of the presentation. Overall it was a great night of music and a celebration of this legendary band, now more than 50 years in the making, and still rolling on.

 

p.s. while finishing up a chapter on the Who for my forthcoming book, I learned something interesting about what is possibly the greatest bit of film of the band playing live. It appears at the end of the documentary The Kids Are Alright, and features the Who playing a blistering version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” What I did not realize was the this is the last footage of drummer Keith Moon playing live, just shortly before his passing, and that it was filmed at Shepperton Studios by the movie’s young director, who felt that this song and it’s companion “Baba O’Riley” had not been properly captured on film….besides the other celluloid rarities the director collected for this doc, the inclusion of this footage alone makes the film worth collecting!