Rockers Recall The Most Impressive Live Acts They’ve Seen, Part 4 (Memories of Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan and More)

Ken SharpCategories:Featured ArticlesLatest News

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 concerts witnessed firsthand — this follows Part 3 of the series

Until live concerts can return in the fashion we all want them to, we have memories of prior live concerts that stood out to us for one reason or another — and this series is a celebration of that. 

Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick): In February of 1968 I had tickets for the late show of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Soft Machine. It was a Sunday, I took the two-hour bus ride to downtown Chicago and ended up at The Civic Opera House just after the first show had started. I went to the box office and they had a 14th row center aisle seat. Luckily I had the dough, and went strolling down the aisle in the middle of Soft Machine’s set.

Psychedelic lights, band screaming, it was the ultimate for this 16-year-old. During intermission in the pisser, some guy asked if I wanted to “do some smoke.” I declined, pure excitement for this kid! The emcee introduced The Jimi Hendrix Experience and the band opened up with “Sgt Pepper.” It was the heaviest stuff I’d ever heard. The sound was rich, Hendrix was using Sunn Amps and there were only a couple mikes on the drums.

Noel Redding had a couple stacks too and the sound washed over me like a big warm audio wave. “Fire” was next, then a killer version of “I Don’t Live Today,” “Manic Depression,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Won’t You Please Crawl Out Your Window,” “Foxey Lady,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Purple Haze,” and the big finale of “Wild Thing,” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The band was inspiring to me. And even better, I had a fourth row seat to the late show.

(Click here to shop Jimi Hendrix in our Rock Cellar Store).

The Jimi Hendrix Experience played a longer show with a bunch of different songs, “Catfish Blues,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Little Wing,” “Up From The Skies,” and a few more. I took notes at both shows and a couple years later got a tape of the first show. It was as great as I remembered it as being too! On the bus on the way home I remember thinking the next day in school no one’s gonna believe how great Hendrix was! That night ranks up there with the night a couple years earlier Jeff Beck explained feedback to me, and the afternoon in July of 1968 when Pete Townshend gave me ten minutes of his time for all my Who questions, while he replaced a speaker in his torn up cabinet. Those were the days.

Don Brewer (Grand Funk Railroad): One of the live concerts I was most impressed with was Johnny Winter. This goes back to the very first time we played the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970. It was a favor for us to get on the show. We were down there as an unknown group. No one had ever heard of Grand Funk Railroad. We were formally known as The Pack, but now we were Grand Funk Railroad and we were a stripped down three-piece. So we head to Atlanta to open the festival. We walk onstage and it’s hotter than hell. They were spraying people with hoses to cool them down. We were given salt pills to take to fight dehydration.

(Click here to shop Johnny Winter in our Rock Cellar Store).

By the end of our set, the audience was on their feet and they were really impressed with us. We’d won them over. That show was our first big break. So they asked us to come back the next day and put us on a better time slot. Luckily we got to stay and watch all of these bands play.

As we get into the evening and the sun’s going down they put on Johnny Winter. We had never heard of him. We found out later that he was big in the south. Here comes this guy, an albino, a blues guitar player wearing a cape and he’s got a good three-piece band. We’re standing on side of the stage and our mouths were dropped in awe. He was great. It was like “Wow!” I’d never seen anything like it, an albino blues guitar player who was so good!

His playing and singing was just amazing. At that stage in his life Johnny was at the top of his game. As kids from Flint, Michigan we’d never been exposed to an act like that and it was mind-blowing. I’d have to say he was one of the best live concerts I’ve ever seen.

Tony Brock (Rod Stewart): I’d pick AC/DC as the finest live band of all time because of the sheer power and energy that comes off the stage. The grooves that come out are incredible. They’re one band not to be messed with. They know they’re good, and they’re so powerful.

(Click here to shop AC/DC in our Rock Cellar Store).

Angus (Young) is fantastic and he always gets his rocks off and Brian (Johnson) is a great singer. But you’ve got to give Phil Rudd and Malcolm Young their due as a rhythm section. They don’t get enough credit as far as I’m concerned.

They lay down very special grooves that are super tight. Phil Rudd doesn’t play like (John) Bonham, but he’s got his own style and he’s special in his own right. You know it’s Phil playing right away when you hear a song on the radio. Together the band’s live concerts are magic.

Michael Corby (The Babys): Unable to acquire tickets for my girlfriend and I to go to a sold-out Stevie Winwood concert, I was offered a pair of decent tickets to hear a band I’d never heard of.  It was a ‘take it or leave it’ situation, and being as it was my girlfriend’s birthday I somewhat reluctantly accepted the deal and purchased what I believed were two tickets to have my brain tortured by a Jamaican steel band lead by a stoned Rastafarian. Boy, was I in for a big shock. I hadn’t the slightest idea that I was about to attend one of the most historically important live concerts of the decade.

I noticed that the audience didn’t seem to be quite as West Indian as I had expected. They appeared to be overwhelmingly white, predominantly male and with beards and messianic hairstyles in abundance. We soon found ourselves sitting quite close to the front of the stage next to some guy who kept demanding a joint from everyone in his vicinity and wasted less than no time in abandoning his dignity by begging us in unrestrained desperation of a combustible fix. Ross, my highly educated gorgeous Scottish girlfriend, displayed her utter disdain for our hedonistic neighbor and leaned over to me making it more than clear that he was eroding her patience.

At this point, noticing that he was now standing on his chair screaming his absurd demands at over two thousand people I pointed out to her that he was very likely to be successful in his quest in the immediate future and as we too were also gagging for a puff perhaps she should befriend him, lest she might find herself spending the remainder of the evening sitting next to him enthusiastically inebriating himself whilst we made a science out of a reluctant sobriety. Upon seeing my point, Ross smiled and sure enough, within the ensuing next three minutes, we found ourselves and our new intimate friend sharing an ignited canister of dried contraband.

We still hadn’t got a clue about what we were in for. Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and their associates took to the stage a few minutes further on and much to my surprise I was looking at an almost all white eight-piece American band. Certainly no dreadlocks to be seen here and no-one by the name of Dan with his Steely drums, either. Just the same, this was possibly the ugliest band I’d ever seen, a title which in my opinion they would later dispute with Tears For Fears.

Putting that to one side, which wasn’t easily done, the line-up started to fascinate me. There were two pianos, one being an electric Rhodes played by the extremely adroit Michael McDonald — later of Doobie Brothers fame and the other being an acoustic, where a deceptively confident Donald Fagen was now perched at the ivory end of, slightly to the left of center stage. Guitar legends Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, who would also soon defect to the Doobies and Denny Dias took up their position over at the right armed to the teeth with Telecasters. I couldn’t help thinking that they both looked as if they were Civil War Confederate renegades who had recently escaped the confinement of a Union POW camp despite Dias’ axe being emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes.

A hideous bass guitarist whose hairstyle was clearly a public health risk who was standing at the back was, of course, Walter Becker, a man whom I would later meet three years later in Malibu and who, despite both his diabolical profile and the fact that he point-blank declined my invitation to give lessons in bass playing to John Waite, turned out to be an extremely charming man. Arrayed along the backline was a formidable battery of drums consisting of two drummers, the late lamented Jeff Porcaro being one of them and Jim Hodder being the other with the great Afro-American percussionist, Royce Jones, completing this extraordinary and legendary line-up of some of the greatest musicians that it would ever be my privilege to witness assembled on a stage together.

Fagen leaned into his microphone whilst the band tuned up on stage and beseeched an impatient house to spare them a few minutes grace, promising them that in return for their patience they would receive the finest concert that any of them had ever experienced. Coming from a man we now know to have often suffered from stage fright, this was indeed a mighty display of confidence.

I was impressed. If the evening had been an unmitigated catastrophe that one statement would have impressed me enough to overlook the cash that I had forfeited in order to be there. The band opened with a spectacular delivery of “Bodhisattva.” Before I could recover from the shock, The Boston Rag was under way. The pothead sitting next to us was by now in the lotus position en-route to nirvana. Surely, they couldn’t deliver three masterpieces in a row? Oh yes, they could.

Next up, “Do It Again.” By the time they followed this with “Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)” I had become the biggest fan that not only this band had, but quite probably any band in the world had ever had. This wasn’t even my type of music. I liked Free and Traffic. I thought John Mayall was a deity. This was way off of my beat and they were only just warming up.

They threw “King Of The World” at us next. That was just to get you ready for a bull’s-eye called “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Pothead was now chanting. My girlfriend was drooling over Becker. I wanted to be Fagen. Too late for fantasy, “Pretzel Logic” was the next reality. Before they were done, we witnessed an immaculate drum solo delivered by both Porcaro and Hodder in perfect unison after which I thought there were no great songs left in the universe.

(Click here to shop Steely Dan in our Rock Cellar Store).

Mistake! “Reelin In The Years” came next, by which time I was reelin’ in the tears and then the immortal “Showbiz Kids” which had followed a quick tune up — which also received a standing ovation. When we left the theatre, my shattered and exhausted girlfriend declared that she hadn’t had the slightest idea that I was so knowledgeable about American bands and looking sheepishly at me she asked me if we were now going off to go and see the fantastic ‘Dan and His Steel Drums’ that I had promised for her birthday.

Was there ever a band that I saw that was as handsome as the great eight piece unit who graced that beautiful stage in London, on May 20th 1974?  I think not.

Related Posts