CD Review: Carl Palmer - Working Live - Volume 3

CD Review: Carl Palmer - Working Live - Volume 3
Eagle Records
All Access Review: A-


Virtuoso drummer Carl Palmer pulls out all the stops on the third installment of his Working Live series, taking on some of the most complex pieces his old band, the classical-rock adventurers Emerson, Lake and Palmer, ever attempted.

Never ones to shy away from a challenge, ELP was, perhaps, the most daring threesome of all the brainy, hyper-ambitious 1970s progressive-rock expeditions, King Crimson included. And though they revered the works of such musical geniuses as Prokofiev and Mussorgsky, Palmer and company didn’t see it as their mission to simply regurgitate their works in those halcyon days. With their imaginations working overtime, they wanted to do them their own way and in the process, make them palatable to audiences whose ears were more attuned to The Beatles than Bach. And if the moment called for it, ELP committed sublime violations that would make classical-music purists squirm – as evidenced by keyboardist Keith Emerson famously stabbing knives into his organs to generate blood-curdling howls from his instruments. Still, ELP won their grudging respect.

Such theatrics, shockingly funny and irreverent as they were at the time, aren’t revived in Palmer’s latest project, another trio that finds Palmer now collaborating with lead guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bass guitarist Stuart Clayton. A concert album of inspired musicianship and envelope-pushing reinvention, Working – Volume 3 is Palmer and crew at their most ambitious, tackling such touchstones as Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” as a brazen ELP once did.

Less whimsical than ELP’s original version, but more dynamic and heavy, the centerpiece of the six-track Volume 3 has to be the lengthy “Pictures at an Exhibition.” There’s nothing cautious about how Palmer and company approach this, or any other, composition. It’s sinister and disturbing in parts, with Bielatowicz’s frenzied guitar work going off in unpredictably wild directions but never veering off course and Clayton providing thoughtful and flexible melodic support. Heads will spin at all the directional shifts and changes in mood that occur, and the three handle them all with the utmost skill and feel. It almost sounds like free jazz. And at the heart of it all is the controlled chaos of Palmer’s thrilling stick work, the action reaching a free-for-all around the 16:30 mark.

Naturally, with Emerson’s keyboards replaced by electric guitars, everything sounds more modern and edgy. This time around, Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn,” as fun as ever, is propulsive, psychedelic and throbbing with mind-fucking kaleidoscopic color and raw energy, the kind usually found in garage rock. “Romeo and Juliet” has a deep, menacing groove and occasionally, there’s a Hendrix-like schizophrenia that seeps into the track’s carefully plotted action and messes with the chemistry in wonderful ways. And while their take on Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” is riddled with clich├ęs, the stop-on-a-dime tempo changes and crazed fury of the Emerson and Lake original “Bitches Crystal” more than makes up for the momentary lapse of reason, as does Palmer’s inventive and intricate drum work on “In a Moroccan Market.”

Working – Volume 3 shows that Palmer remains restlessly creative and unafraid of challenging himself and his band. In the liner notes, he says, “Playing in a trio is his passion.” And if nothing else, this set of live renderings of old ELP numbers indicates that “3” is, indeed, Palmer’s lucky number.

Peter Lindblad

Eric Carr: The Fox Exposed

An interview with author Greg Prato on his new book about the former KISS drummer

By Peter Lindblad

A fox found his way into the KISS chicken coop in 1980, and his name was Paul Charles Caravello. That was his birth name. The rock world knew him better as Eric Carr.

It was Carr who replaced Peter Criss on drums after the man in the cat makeup defected from KISS when tensions arose over Crisss reported substance abuse issues. Until then, Carr was a relative unknown, performing odd jobs and playing in long-forgotten bands from 1966 to 1980 that did mostly cover songs, including CellArmen, SMACK and Flasher.

Encouraged by fellow Flasher Paul Turino, Carr auditioned for KISS after Crisss departure. Its been reported that while sitting outside the audition room and waiting for his turn, the members of KISS walked by Carr without their makeup on. Few outside the bands inner sanctum had ever seen such a sight.

Carrs audition was a rousing success. In fact, stories have circulated that Carr thought the rest of KISS played awful in the tryout, and that because he knew their songs inside-out, it was Carr who had to, on occasion, tell the rest of the band what to play.

Carr was eventually hired, but it took a while to come up with the perfect stage persona for the newest member of KISS. After giving the Hawk a go, Carr and company settled on the Fox, having also changed his name from Caravello to Carr in joining KISS. His coming-out party came during a 1980 episode of Kids Are People Too. Then it was time to go live, with Carr playing his first KISS concert at New York Citys The Palladium in July of that year.

Immediately, Carr made an impression with a heavier, more punishing drum sound than Criss had brought to KISS originally. Perhaps, in hindsight, it was Carrs misfortune to make his initial appearance with KISS on record with Music From The Elder. A huge curveball from a glam band known for balls-out, hook-filled rock and roll and campy, over-the-top theatrics, KISSs 15th album was an attempt at serious art-rock that was a reach for the band and confused just about everybody used to the rollicking hard rock that made the band famous. Carr had a chance to show off his musical chops, not only on drums but also by playing guitar, bass guitar and keyboards. But, the album was panned by pretty much the entire free world.

As it turned out, The Elder was just a bump in the road as KISS rebounded in spectacular fashion with Creatures of the Night, which saw KISS morph into a powerful, sleek heavy metal machine. The engine was Carr, who later was able to show off his singing prowess in overdubbing lead vocals something he also did live on seminal KISS songs Black Diamond and Young and Wasted to the classic KISS ballad Beth for the greatest-hits collection Smashes, Thrashes & Hits. Carr survived through the infamous KISS unmasking phase, and played on five more albums of original material, always hoping to take on a bigger role with the band.

Working with another KISS newcomer, guitarist Bruce Kulick, Carr was instrumental in creating the track Little Caesar in 1989 for the Hot in the Shade album, playing bass and drums on the song and writing the music for it. Darker days were coming, however. In March, 1991, Carr began coughing up blood and feeling heavy in his chest. Initial diagnoses didnt detect anything serious, but later, it was determined that Carr had contracted heart cancer. Surgeries were conducted to remove tumors from his heart and lungs, and by July, he was feeling well enough to go to Los Angeles to play drums in the video for God Gave Rock and Roll To You. There was a brief remission, and Carr made an appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards with KISS in September. It was his last with the band.

At age 41, after beating back an aneurysm, Carr died of a brain hemorrhage. Carr being one of the most accessible and fan-friendly members KISS has ever had, it seemed only fitting that his funeral would be open to the public. A new book from author Greg Prato about Carr and KISSs 1980s period reveals much about Carr and his time with the hottest band in the world. 

What made you want to write a book about Eric Carr?

Greg Prato: The majority of Kiss books that have been released over the past 15 years or so seemed to have little to do with the groups 1980s/non-make-up era, and certainly not that much on the true story of Eric Carr. Kisss 1982 album, Creatures of the Night, I feel is one of the greatest Kiss albums of all-time (and one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all-time, too), and a major reason why the album sounds as heavy has it does is largely due to Erics mammoth drum sound. There were also always a lot of questions surrounding what Erics relationship with the other members of Kiss was like during the last year of his life (as well as his standing in the band), when he was struggling with cancer. Weve heard Gene Simmons and Paul Stanleys side of the story here and there over the years, and I felt it was time to hear the other side of the story, as well, so I got in touch with many people who knew Eric personally. So ... thats how The Eric Carr Story book came about.

Some people might not be aware of the career Eric had before joining KISS and what other jobs he held during that time. Does the book delve much into his early days as a musician with Flasher, SMACK and Cellarmen?

GP: Yes, the first chapter is comprised of Erics sister, Loretta Caravello, recounting Erics early years, which included him working such jobs as a stove repairman, as well as playing in bands. And this chapter covers many of his pre-Kiss bands.

Speaking to some of the people who knew Eric best, what did they tell you about Erics audition for KISS?

GP: Both Bill Aucoin and Loretta had some cool stories about this part of Eric's life Loretta talks about being present when Eric got the call from Bill to set up a tryout, and Bill talks about how the tryout went. It was Erics easygoing personality that gave him the edge over the other drummer hopefuls the clincher being when he asked Ace, Gene, and Paul to autograph a copy of Unmasked that he had brought along to the tryout.

It was difficult coming up with a KISS persona for Eric. What did you find out about how The Fox came about?

GP: Originally, Eric's make-up/costume design was to resemble a hawk, but it came out looking too much like Big Bird from Sesame StreetThe Fox make-up/costume design was a last minute creation by Eric and Bill, supposedly the night before the Ace-Eric-Gene-Paul line-up was going to play its debut show at the Palladium in NYC (which we learn in the book was attended by Eddie Trunk and Anthraxs Charlie Benante!). After the show, Bill suggested Eric refine the make-up design a bit, and by the time the group launched their European tour shortly thereafter, Eric's official fox design was in place.

How did Eric feel about replacing Peter Criss, and did he find it easy to fit in with the rest of the band?

GP: I remember once seeing an interview with Gene Simmons, in which he claims that Eric actually called Peter to ask if he was OK with him replacing him, and that Peter gave him his blessing to do so. Eric seemed to fit in well with the band from the get-go, and as a fan, I cant recall another replacement member of a well-known band that was as instantly and widely accepted as Eric was in Kiss.

How close was Eric to Bruce Kulick, and what does Bruce remember most about Eric?

GP: Eric and Bruce were very close. When I spoke to Bruces brother, Bob Kulick, for the book, he explained it as Gene and Paul being two peas in a pod, and Eric and Bruce being two peas in another pod meaning that since Gene and Paul were original members, they were calling all the shots. Since Eric and Bruce were replacement members, they didn't have as much of a say in Kiss' decision making, and that after a few years, Eric had an issue with it.

Interestingly, Erics first album with KISS was Music from The Elder, an LP that was so different from anything else in KISSs catalog. One of the subplots to the book is KISSs 80s period. How comfortable was Eric in helping usher in this new era for KISS?

GP: Eric and Ace made their opinions known that they thought an indulgent concept album was not the way to go at that point in their career. And they were absolutely right. Its too bad they didn't release Creatures of the Night at that time, because I think that is the type of album that Kiss fans were clamoring for in 1981 (I know I was!). Many fans seem to feel that Creatures was the first Kiss album in which Erics talents shined through, and I wholeheartedly agree.

In talking to some of the people close to Eric, what was he most proud of during his time with KISS? And what did they think he brought to the band that wasnt there before?

GP: I think he was proud of his drum sound on Creatures, and although it wasnt a strong seller upon its initial release, and the fact that over the years, many fans went on to consider it one of Kisss best albums (and in my mind, without question the best album Kiss issued in the 80s). He also seemed to be proud of the Kiss songs that he helped co-write over the years, probably most notably the song "Little Caesar" off Hot in the Shade, which he co-wrote and also sang lead vocals on. I also think he brought a much more hard rock/heavy metal style of drumming to Kiss whereas Peter Criss was more of a traditional rock n roll style drummer.

When did it become apparent to those around Eric that he was really struggling health-wise?

GP: There are conflicting reports some people I interviewed said that he was experiencing discomfort towards the end of the Hot in the Shade tour (which wrapped up in late 1990), while some say it wasnt until 1991. Similar to Ronnie James Dios current cancer battle, it appeared as though Eric had beaten cancer at one point, but it ultimately returned more aggressively, and eventually claimed his life.

What did you find out about Eric that you didnt know before in researching his life?

GP: Both Loretta and Erics girlfriend, Carrie Stevens, explained what he was like away from the wild world of Kiss, which is pretty cool. And I also didnt know that Eric tended to struggle with his role in Kiss (regarding not being an original member, and being on salary), which is discussed in greater detail by those close to the band at that time.

Eric seemed to be really open and engaging with KISS fans. Did you include any stories of Erics interaction with fans in the book?

GP: Bruce talks about how great Erics interaction was the fans in the book. And none other than Eddie Trunk (one of the co-hosts of That Metal Show on VH-1 Classic) tells a very cool story in the book about he and his friends meeting and hanging out with Eric on the Lick It Up tour. Also, the director of the Tale of the Fox DVD, Jack Sawyers, has a few cool stories about hanging out with Eric as a fan (and then later becoming friends with him).

How do you think Eric wanted to be remembered?

GP: As probably one of the more underrated members of Kiss, and the fact that his drumming was a HUGE reason why Creatures of the Night kicks ass (and has held up so great over the years). And his talents stretched beyond just drumming, as evidenced by his songwriting and singing skills. He also seemed to be a really approachable person something that seems uncommon with a member of one of rocks biggest bands.

Whats purported to be one of the last interviews with KISS manager Bill Aucoin is part of the book. What did he remember of his time with Eric and how did he view KISSs 80s period?

GP: Yes, I conducted what very well could be the last interview that Bill Aucoin ever did as it was only a few months before his passing. He had some great recollections about the band (there are 2 chapters early in the book that serve as Kiss History Lessons, which tell an abbreviated version of the bands 70s history, to set the story of 80s Kiss). Something I learned about Bill was that he never saw a Kiss concert with them not wearing make-up, as he believed that they should have stuck with the make-up and costumes through it all. And although he was no longer Kiss manager when Creatures was released, he does go on record saying that it is a great Kiss album. I agree!

To read a few sample chapters (and find ordering info) from The Eric Carr Story visit http://stores.lulu.com/gregprato.

A look back at the early days of MTV with author Greg Prato

By Peter Lindblad

What an insane notion it was. Playing music videos on television, 24 hours a day who in the world was going to watch something like that? Might as well have a channel devoted just to cooking food oh, wait. Never mind.

MTV came into being on Aug. 1, 1981. Doctored images of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with a flag sporting the MTV logo, ushered in a new age in music history, even if hardly anybody in the country took notice early on. After all, the only cable system in America that had it was in northern New Jersey, and viewers, who, ironically, got to see The Buggles Video Killed the Radio Star as MTVs first video, initially numbered about a few thousand. Of course, things would change dramatically in the next few years.

Artists and their management teams would come to see MTV as the ultimate promotional tool to sell records. And stars such as Van Halen, Duran Duran, Men At Work, Judas Priest, Madonna and scores of others embraced the new medium, making entertaining, and oftentimes high-concept, video art to accompany their latest singles. And people lots of them did watch. Incredibly, viewers found it hard to turn away from MTV. They would sit in front of it for hours on end. They wanted their MTV, as Dire Straits would make abundantly clear in the biggest hit song of their career.

 MTV had turned the music industry on its collective head, and in Michael Jackson, it found its king. Nobody made better use of MTVs potential than the man who created Thriller and became one of the biggest-selling artists of all-time. But somewhere along the way, MTV changed. No longer much of a music channel, MTV now caters to the lowest common denominator with some of the trashiest reality TV on the air.

Coming along to save us from what MTV has become is author Greg Prato, whose new book, MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, details the halcyon days of a television channel and its VJs that impacted pop culture in ways its creators couldnt possibly have ever imagined. Prato talked about the book in a recent interview.

To read samples of the book and for information on how to order the book, visit http://stores.lulu.com/gregprato.

What were the expectations at the beginning for MTV? The channels use of Apollo 11 moon landing footage seems to indicate that there was a sense, even then, that it was going to change the world.

Greg Prato: I think that the people that were putting together the channel really had no idea that MTV was going to be as successful and eventually create as big a change in the music industry that it would. In fact, during MTV's first year or so, there was talk that it may be taken off the air, because it wasn't making enough money (in fact, it was losing money). It wasn't until 1983 (two  years after first going on the air) that the channel was a success financially. This is discussed in my book, as well as the subject of the Apollo moon landing footage, and how they almost weren't allowed to use it!

One of the sources interviewed for the book is Nina Blackwood, one of the original MTV VJs. How did she and the other VJs get hired for MTV? Does she remember if being a VJ came naturally to her or the others or did it seem like something completely foreign to them?

GP: Nina was living in Los Angeles at the time, and she read about job openings at a new music video channel in a trade paper. She was actually already hosting a local music television show, so she had some experience going into it beforehand. I also interviewed another original VJ for the book, Alan Hunter, who was an actor looking for work at the time. He happened to bump into MTV head Bob Pittman at a picnic in Central Park a few months before the channel was to be launched (Aug. 1, 1981) and got a tryout that way. It seems like it took a while for the VJs to get the hang of it, as Nina explained that at first they were told to follow scripted things to say, but after people thought they came off as too stiff, they were given more room to improvise.

What decisions went into the programming for MTV? Was there any real plan at the start or was the channel taking whatever videos it could get?

GP: At first, MTV played pretty much any videos that were given to them. They only had a limited amount of clips in their library and quite a few were repeated over the course of a day. Also, some record labels wanted MTV to pay them for use of their video clips at first. But when they realized it was such a great promotional tool for their artists, they were willing to hand over their clips to MTV. Early on, you certainly saw an awful lot of Rod Stewart, Pat Benatar, and Loverboy.

In talking to different artists for the book, how did they view MTV initially? Were some of them wary about this new medium? Did others embrace it early on?

GP: There is an entire chapter about this in MTV Ruled the World titled Initial Impressions, in which artists such as "Weird Al" Yankovic, Gerald Casale [of Devo], John Oates, Stewart Copeland, Marky Ramone, and Rob Halford (among others) discuss this. I think it took a while for people to fully understand the potential promotional power that MTV had, but just about everyone I spoke to said they were very intrigued by it initially. In fact, Halford talks about how he would just leave it on 24 hours a day whenever he was in a hotel room on tour around that time!

What do some of the VJs or other MTV people you interviewed remember about the launch and the planning for it? Behind the scenes, was it chaos?

GP: Yes, it was a mad dash to get everything in order before its Aug. 1, 1981 launch. And the night of the launch, they hit several technical difficulties, including the order of the VJs being jumbled up (Mark Goodman was supposed to be on first, but Alan Hunter's taped bits wound up being aired by mistake). Bob Pittman also talks about how there was a technical problem that would result in silence on the channel at various points that first night. I also interviewed a lot of "behind the scenes" people that worked for MTV for MTV Ruled the World, and they talked about how the set was being designed and finalized very close to the deadline, and how it was chaos leading up to the launch.

Did there come a point for everyone, or at least some of them, when it really hit them how big MTV was going to become?

GP: Yes, and there is a chapter in the book about this very thing, appropriately titled Success! Both Nina and Alan talk about when they would go to make promotional appearances in towns where MTV was being played (keep in mind, not all of the U.S. got MTV at the same time), and there would be mob scenes with hundreds of fans wanting to meet an MTV VJ. It was at that point that people who worked for MTV realized they had struck a nerve.

Do many of the people interviewed for the book lament what MTV has become? Are they nostalgic for what it used to be?

GP: Indeed. And guess what? Yes, you're right...there's another chapter in the book that tackles this very subject in the book! The chapter is titled MTV Today. The vast majority of the people who I interviewed are disappointed in what MTV has become almost no music and all about horrible reality shows that aren't based in reality at all (just a bunch of poorly behaved idiots acting obnoxious). That said there are also a few of the interviewees who say that they think MTV is "as it should be" in 2010. I tend to wholeheartedly agree with the former opinion, however.

What lines from the book struck you as being particularly poignant or insightful about the impact MTV had on the music industry?

GP: Michael Jackson's videos for "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and "Thriller." Before those 3 videos, very few black artists were played on the channel, and MTV was getting criticized for it. But once Michael was played on the channel, then it opened the doors for a wider stylistic variety of artists it wasnt all about just rock n' roll anymore. Which is obviously a very good thing, as variety is the spice of life.

What did you learn about the early days of MTV that surprised you?

GP: I wasn't aware how much behind the scenes work it took to get MTV to play the Michael Jackson videos for Thriller which if you think about it now, is quite funny, since Michael quickly became "the face of MTV," and probably more than any other artist, is the one you associate the most with '80s-era MTV. I also learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes filming of some of this era's most popular videos. I was lucky enough to interview such directors as Bob Giraldi (Michael's "Beat It," Lionel Richie's "Hello"), Steve Barron (Michael's "Billie Jean," Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing") and Pete Angelus (Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" and David Lee Roth's "California Girls"), all of which had tons of great stories about what it was like on the sets of these videos and working with these artists.

What happened that caused the departures of some of those early VJs? Was there a point for them at which they could see things changing for MTV from its early mission?

J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman
Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter
GP: It seems like there were conflicting versions of this, as you'll discover in my book. Some people that I spoke to claim that MTV would take a stance that the VJs were the "face of the channel" one moment, and then the next moment, [they] would say that MTV was bigger than the VJs. Many of the VJs were also being offered other work at the height of MTV's initial wave of success (roles in movies, offers to host other TV shows) and had to turn them down at the behest of MTV. Also, the VJs realized the writing was on the wall at the first-ever Video Music Awards in 1984, when the VJs were not the event's hosts (Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler were) and were only given small spots on the show. For me as a viewer, I always say that MTV started to lose its luster for me when the original VJs started to leave around 1985-1986. It just wasn't the same, as then MTV's playlists got more formatted, video budgets become astronomical, and videos required musicians to act and recreate Raiders of the Lost Ark.