Sunday, August 14, 2011

Two artists, two lives, two tragic ends

Amy Winehouse died July 23, 2011, age 27

Jani Lane, lead singer of Warrant, died Aug. 11, 2011, age 47

Winehouse didn't surprise me...it was just a matter of time. That is not a judgment on HOW she died. I defer to the official autopsy report and the still-pending toxicology report. I am simply saying I'm not surprised.

Jani, a guy I started listening to when he was the lead singer of Warrant (and as I pointed out many times before, my first concert...not to mention my first live national act performance ever, as Warrant was the opening band) surprises me.

I am bummed by both.

Winehouse had this sassy screw-the-world attitude in her songs that had these jazzy-soulful undertones that I have never heard before. She had so much potential and I am disappointed that the world will not get to know more of her music. I am hoping for some unreleased tracks to be released, similar to Jim Croce.

Lane had had a huge impact on my life. I remember blaring the completely inappropriate teen anthem Cherry Pie (see video below) while on deliveries with my dad.

As crazy as this sounds, my "Birds and the Bees" talk went like this:

Dad (knocking on door and walking into my room): "Your mom wants me to talk to you about the sex thing. Any questions?"

Me: "Nope."

Dad (walking out and closing the door behind him): "Let me know if you do."

That's the last discussion we had about that exact topic.

Songs like Cherry Pie and bands like Warrant taught me - for better or for worse - about sex. And for this I thank Jani and Company very very much.

The only thought more frightening or depressing is that these things always come in threes. I'm not looking forward to seeing who is next.






Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gotta' get a break from the same old, same old

This blog entry feels like blasphemy to me, and it’s only the first sentence.

In a previous blog entry, I told the story about how I came to love the 80s arena rock hair metal band Poison.

When I was in junior high school, somewhere around 1990 or 1991, my friend Mark invited me to go see Kiss and Whitesnake at the Toledo Sports Arena. It was for Kiss’s “Hot in the Shade” album, and Whitesnake’s “Slip of the Tongue” album, I think. I didn’t go. That decision was not because I didn’t want to see a concert and see what all of the excitement was about (I was quite na├»ve). I chose not to go for two reasons:

1)   Everyone I read about in the rock and roll magazines said their first concert was Kiss, and I didn’t want to be just like everyone else.
2)   I wanted my first concert to be my favorite band, Poison.

So I waited. But I didn’t have to wait long. In 1991, Poison released their “Flesh and Blood” CD, and soon announced a tour with Warrant, who had just released “Cherry Pie.”

Mark and my brother Lance, and I all wanted to go really bad, but we didn’t want our parents to take us. The problem was that Mark and I didn’t have our driver’s license yet. So I called my Uncle Tod and bribed him to take us. We bought his ticket and gave him beer money. Best deal ever. He took us to many concerts under the same arrangement. \m/

 Warrant was AWESOME. I don’t remember much from 20 years ago, but I know that I loved it. I remember watching the guitar players, Joey Allen (my favorite) and Erik Turner playing in perfect harmony… sometimes even the same solos and fills. It was amazing to watch, and our seats kinda’ sucked.

Then Poison came on and blew our minds. For nearly two hours, they pulled out everything. You can find a performance from the tour on their “Swallow This Live” album. While the album itself came under heavy scrutiny due to overdubs and overproduction, it still is an excellent album.

In the years since, we have stuck by Poison through everything, including a drugged-up performance by C.C. Deville, which besides some false starts, unplugging himself, his pink hair, and some missed chords, was a great performance, through the fistfight and breakup that followed, to C.C.’s cocaine-fueled solo career, Poison’s resurgence with a critically-acclaimed CD, “Native Tongue” with an eclectic guitar player who eventually screwed Poison over (not to mention drummer Rikki Rockett’s girlfriend. He was kicked off a bus in a swamp for that stupid trick.

We stuck through uncertainty, and a really long period of inactivity. Without our fix of Poison, Lance and I turned to the Internet to find old live performances, both on DVD and videocassette. We amassed quite the collection of bootleg tapes during that time.

One of my greatest finds was a legitimate copy of Poison’s recorded and produced, yet unreleased album, “Crack a Smile,” with the amazing guitar player Blues Saraceno. It remains one of my favorite albums, which Capital Records finally got smart and released.

Lance’s interest in Poison became so great that he purchased an electric blue Ibanez guitar just like C.C. played on the Flesh and Blood album’s “Road Dogs From Hell” tour.
Credit unknown

Since 1991, Lance and I have seen Poison a total of 16 times, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes with wives, sometimes with our cousin Brooke, or other friends. It has been a wild ride.

We have seen Bret Michaels in concert at least three times, and we have been members of his fan club and met him backstage on numerous occasions. We also saw him perform “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the Toledo Mudhens in 2009. I once won tickets to one of his concerts.

My wife Jenn and I have seen the guitar player, C.C. DeVille, live as a solo act twice, playing at bars with their house bands. One of those bars was the Alrosa Villa in Columbus where Dimebag Darrell of Pantera was murdered during a concert. Lance and I got to go onstage with him during that performance. It was awesome.


Me and Bret backstage on the steps of his bus in 2006 (photo by Big John)

(From left) Jenn, me, C.C. Brooke, Kristy and Lance at Alrosa Villa
in 2007.


Sometime in 2009 or 2010, Lance and Kristy got to meet Bobby Dall, Poison’s bass player, backstage, which I understand was completely unintentional.

This year, Lance and his wife Kristy went down to Cincinnati to see Poison and Motley Crue. I have always wanted to see the Crue, but I wasn’t about to pay $150 per ticket to do it, so Jenn and I didn’t go.

Lance and Kristy became members of drummer Rikki Rockett’s fan club, and met him backstage at the Cincinnati show, and again at the Toledo Zoo, which is really what this blog entry is about.

So that’s where we are now in this story. We were disappointed to not get to see him again with Motley Crue. I can count only a few other times since Poison’s 1999 reunion that I haven’t seen them. Once was when they didn’t tour. Another was when they toured with Kiss and Ted Nugent, and again with Def Leppard. In all instances, tickets were more than $100 each. I’m not going to do that.

So when Jenn and I heard that they were playing at the Toledo Zoo, we jumped at the chance. The fact that we were members and had early access to the seats made it even better. The icing on the cake for me, was that Warrant was opening. It was going to be like my very first concert all over again.

So we got tickets. So did Lance and Kristy. We were all in Row Q in chairs in the front section. Cool. They were the best seats that were available, and sales hadn't opened to the general public yet.

And then they did, and Lance and Kristy got bored one night and checked out the sales availability...and proceded to purchase Row C tickets (that's third row, very front), as non-members. It burns my britches that the Toledo Zoo tried to ram their nose into the taxpayer pockets in Wood County when they pull crap like that. I'm glad the Wood County Commissioners told them to take a hike.

Jenn and I stayed in Row C and waited for the concert to arrive.

Warrant live at the Toledo Zoo July 28, 2011 (l-r, Erik Turner,
Jerry Dixon and Steven Sweet) Photo by Kristy Van Vorhis.
On July 28, we arrived just in time to see Warrant start their set. It was FANTASTIC. Jenn would look at me as if I was nuts when my face would melt from the harmonic guitars. Some things never change. Of course, my face also might have been melting because it was so FREAKING HOT that night. Jenn's fingers swelled up so bad that she couldn't even spin her ring finger. I had to sit down at one point because I almost passed out.

Joey Allen of Warrant at Rally by the River,
Toledo, OH, Aug. 6, 2010. Photo by me.
We saw Warrant last year at Rally by the River in Toledo, and that performance was better. They played an hour and a half last year, and only about 40 minutes this year. Last year, I actually complained that it was too loud. I hate myself for getting old. This year, it wasn't too loud, but it was too short. Photos from that show can be seen at https://picasaweb.google.com/gregvanvorhis/
2010_08_06WarrantLiveRallyByTheRiverToledoOH

This blog, "Stronger Now," is actually named after one of Warrant's songs (see my first ever blog entry).

Then Poison came on, and while I am always excited to see "my boys," and will always stand by them, I am sad to report that this was the same concern that I have seen for the last 10 years. I am able to name all of the songs they play, in order, before they play the first chord, and I can tell you pretty much word-for-word, or main idea for main idea, what Bret will say between each of the songs. I can't begin to tell you how many years in a row they have decided to "put Ride the Wind back into the set." It has gotten to the point of being ridiculous. The saving grace for me, I suppose, is watching the people who don't follow them as closely as we do, and haven't realized they have been touring for so long. They still feel the magic.

Go grab Poison's CD "Power to the People," or their CD/DVD combo "Live Raw and Uncut."It is the exact same show. My oldest son and I started talking about music the night after the concert, so I threw in the Live Raw and Uncut DVD to show him some concepts I had explained to him. Jenn walked in, watched a couple of songs and said "Oh my God. This is the exact same show we saw last night." My response was "Take any concert from the last 10 years, copy it, paste it into last night's time slot, and hardly anything has changed."

The biggest question/surprise is what order they play the last two songs in: Will it be "Talk Dirty to Me" followed by "Nothin' but a Good Time," or the more common pattern of "Nothin' but a Good Time followed by "Talk Dirty to Me."

C.C. and Bret performing at the Toledo Zoo.
(Photo by Kristy Van Vorhis)
They always start with the intro to "Valley of Lost Souls," which goes into "Look What the Cat Dragged In," which is always followed by "I Want Action." And every concert, they play "Every Rose" and "Something to Believe In" in their entirety, despite the fact that they are practically the same song musically. They also always play "Your Mama Don't Dance," including Bret's worn-out harmonica intro.

Bret Michaels at the Toledo Zoo. Notice the drum head
spray pained with the word "Toledo." It will show up later.
(Photo by Kristy Van Vorhis) 
Having said that I WILL ADMIT that the live version of "Your Mama Don't Dance" at the Toledo Zoo this year was the best version I have ever heard them do. Bobby took the bass line back to old school Loggins/Messina, Will killed it on the keyboards, they were both turned up loud enough to hear them, and the play between Bret's harmonica and C.C.'s guitar solos had extra life that I hadn't seen in a long time. This was the highlight of my night.

Then Jenn disappeared and started texting me about which shirt I wanted. She insisted on getting me a shirt because my birthday is coming up. After some arguing with myself, I decided to go to a throwback t-shirt showing the "Open Up and Say...Ahh" album cover, which some people find disturbing to the point that it was censored in 1988.

I texted Jenn that I wanted that shirt, and she texted back "REALLY???" I texted back to her "For 20 years, YES!" After the concert, I told her why, and that is the story I will tell next.

This is the shirt Jenn got me.
Photo borrowed from www.fanfire.com
While this is actually a back patch, this is the
design of the shirt Lance stole from me.
Back in 1989, when "Fallen Angel" and "Your Mama Don't Dance" were getting heavy airplay, they censored the "Open Up" album cover. There were still a few t-shirts floating around stores that still showed the full-face cover.

One day when my parents took us to the Woodland Mall in Bowling Green, Lance and I ran into Record Den, and straight to the back to the t-shirt rack at the back of the store. There, I found one t-shirt left with the "Open Up" cover on it. I told my brother that we needed to figure out how to find mom and dad without losing the shirt. He told me to just hang it on the rack, because nobody would take it in such a short time. I hung it up and started to walk out of the store. I turned around and saw Lance had the shirt in his hand, and he proceded to take it up to the clerk and ask him to hold it for him. I about beat him up right there. For some reason I didn't confront him about it in front of mom and dad, so he got it. I have resented him for it ever since then...a little.

If Poison insists on continuing to release
retro shirts, I hope they re-release this design.
But Jenn redeemed me by getting me that shirt for me (she can't look at it). It has the covers of 15 of their album covers on the back of it. That's not all of them, but it is most of them. Out of that 15, eight of them are either "greatest hits," "best-ofs" compilations, or live albums. Their last studio album was completely comprised of cover songs.

So to review, Poison runs the same live show, puts out the same CD with different art work and song order, and has even begun to sell old t-shirt designs as "retro." I sincerely and severely need a fix of Poison that is all new.

But I love them. We will continue to go see them in concert and buy their non-compilation albums.

And Lance and Kristy were cool enough to ask Rikki to sign his solo album cover for us, and it's personalized, so that's really cool, too. I just wish there was more creativity coming from their camp.

Kristy, Rikki and Lance backstage at the Toledo Zoo July 28, 2011.
(Photo probably by some random dude who was next in line, or Rikki's handler)
Lance with his customized bass drum head he
(or Kristy, depending on who you ask)
bought for charity through Rikki's fan club.
(Photo by Kristy Van Vorhis)

Jenn and me with our personalized and signed Rikki Rockett "Glitter 4 Your Soul"
solo CD cover, our Toledo Zoo tickets, and my new retro shirt
that Jenn can't look at, but I love. (Photo by my oldest son)