Rockers Recall The Most Impressive Live Acts They’ve Seen, Part 3 (Ian Anderson, Ricky Phillips & James Young of Styx, Rik Emmett)

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Rock Cellar Magazine

With a return to live concerts unlikely for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, join us for the next best thing, more recollections from noted rock luminaries queried about their favorite live acts witnessed firsthand — this follows Part 2 of the series.

Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull): Well, it would always be a toss-up between the Rolling Stones – mainly for the energy and commitment of Mick Jagger, and Led Zeppelin who during their time-gone-by and more recently, as we all know, captured the essence of rock, blues, folk and world music in a way which preceded most.

The vocal gymnastics of Robert Plant and the spirited, innovative guitar of Jimmy Page have probably never been equaled. No need for elaborate stage sets, backing musicians, taped or sampled effects; just the four guys and their music, played quite loudly but always with control and finesse.

I think the Zeps win out for me, especially since their music grew from the basic blues riff approach through to encompass many more stylistic influences. And their recent reunion concert did much to dispel the critics’ trepidation that they couldn’t possibly come back from the twilight zone.


Gary Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd) : Seeing Free live was the most exciting and best concert I’ve ever seen. We saw them at a place called “Skateland” in Jacksonville, Florida. It was this a very small roller skating rink. Every Saturday they’d have a concert. We’d heard about Free and me, Ronnie (Van Zant), Allan (Collins), Bob Burns and a roadie friend, Chuck Flowers, all went over there to check them out.

They were real late getting there. They came on and only had one roadie so the guys in Free were bringing out their equipment. You saw (Paul) Kossoff pulling out his Marshall amps and setting it up. Andy Fraser rolled his bass cabinet onstage. It was chaos. They went offstage for a minute and came right back out and started playing all their songs from their very first album and they just blew our minds!

They were so tight. Paul Kossoff was so great. He’s still one of my idols. Andy Fraser was one of the best players that ever lived. Paul Rodgers‘s voice freaked us out, he’s got one of the amazing voices of all-time. As a drummer, Simon Kirke was so simple and solid. They all played in the pocket.

We stood right up close to the stage. That show really inspired Lynyrd Skynyrd to get really serious. Back then, we were called a different name, we were known as The One Percent. We stayed up all night talking about that Free show. After seeing how good they were, we started rehearsing a lot more to get tight. We also started playing some of their songs like “The Hunter,” “Mr. Big,” and “Fire and Water”. It was unbelievable to see a band so tight; Free really clicked our switch on.

Ricky Phillips (The Babys/Styx/Coverdale/Page): I always think about this one show that I saw in the early 70’s, which was the most awesome and reckless show I ever saw. It was punk before there was punk.

It was The Tubes at Winterland in San Francisco. The Tubes went on first, followed by Journey and then the headliner was the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin. The Tubes came on and every song had a complete set change and wardrobe change. I mean, extreme wardrobe change. (laughs)

It was at a time when San Francisco was so pseduo-intellectual that it made me sick. The audience had their arms folded and wanted to have someone play clean and flawless music. The Tubes went so far over their heads with such a tongue-in-cheek, taking the piss out of rock and roll approach that it was great. This was way before Spinal Tap. Fee Waybill came out in these 12-inch platform shoes, this sequined body suit and wore a huge blonde curly wig and he sang this song called “White Punks on Dope.”

The reason that show was so good is he had this one song where he was dressed up like a baker and he had racks and racks of bread. He had the racks close enough that with the flick of a wrist he’d snap open the bag of bread and all of the pieces would fly like Frisbees out into the audience. He might have cleared 40 loaves of bread that way. (laughs)

Because they were putting on an epic show, it was perceived in those days that anyone who put on a theatrical show was covering up for bad musicianship. That wasn’t the case with them. You had incredible musicianship in that band and yet the pseudo-intellectual San Francisco crowd took all this bread and spit into it so they could mold them in their hands into snowballs and fired them back at the band. Fee Waybill had bread pummeling his body and bouncing off of his face while he was singing. But the band never broke character. It didn’t even phase them. The Tubes were consummate rock stars that night. They rose right above the audience. And those fans of the essence of punk and rock totally got it.

J.Y. Young (Styx): My pick for best live act is Jimi Hendrix. I saw him perform five times. When Hendrix came out it was like he truly came down from the second moon of Mars.

Having grown up on the south side of Chicago and being a fan of the blues and the English psychedelic movement, Hendrix was this amazing, unique and wonderful hybrid of all the things I really loved about rock and roll music. He made sounds with his guitar that sounded like they originated on the second moon of Mars. He did things with the guitar that I’d never seen anyone do before. He oozed star power. Mitch Mitchell to me is one of the great unsung rock drummers and the perfect complement for Hendrix. Noel Redding as a bass player was very solid, too.

Jimi Hendrix was blues based with a strong R&B footing  and yet for he was able to reinterpret a song like “Wild Thing”, originally done by The Troggs, and make it his own. I mean, he looked like the “Wild Thing” himself. He was completely untamed.

My dearly departed younger brother, Rick, said great rock bands have an element of reckless abandon and Hendrix was reckless abandon personified.

Rik Emmett (Triumph): Best rock show I’ve ever seen might have been Yes at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on their Close to the Edge tour. Their music, to me, at that particular period, was a beautiful blend of musicianship and craft, of “band”-ness and rock show-ness.

But, not for the first time, I saw Tommy Emmanuel at a guitar festival in northern Quebec a few years back, playing solo, and he was transcendent. Maybe the best guitarist I have ever seen, for my tastes and sensibilities. He is such a beautiful, liquid musician, and the scope and range of his guitar playing is … well … as good as I’ve ever seen it get.

I’ve seen classical guitarist John Williams in his prime, Joe Pass, Pat Metheny, all of these guitarists are amongst my favorites. But Tommy Emmanuel is, for my tastes, in a league of his own, because the dynamic range of his creativity is jaw-dropping. But he does it with a self-deprecating, loosey-goosey sense of fun. He’s got so much love in his playing, that it makes my heart and soul resonate.

I feel like my life has been blessed because I got to see Tommy Emmanuel do what Tommy Emmanuel does.

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