The Seventies laid claim to some great live albums, never mind that many of them were created in a studio. The Woodstock soundtrack kicked off the decade, which to me was roughly the equivalent of stone tablets directly from Mount Sinai. By the time I clued into the whole thing Woodstock was celebrating its tenth anniversary, but for me it was the ancient past.
When Frampton Comes Alive was released in 1975 the flood gates truly opened on the live album era. Kiss Alive! literally saved that band’s career. AC/DC, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper – even the unholy triumvirate of Manilow, Diamond and Denver released live albums. Bowie issued two: David Live and Stage. I loved live albums. I loved the energy, the spontaneity. Hearing my favorite songs off their studio leashes was like peeking behind the Great Oz’s curtain.
Live albums elevated certain venues to shrine status. Cobo Hall, The Budokan, The Fillmore, The Forum, Wembley, The Greek and Madison Square Garden. Red Rocks. The Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta G.A. Rattle off this list to any music nerd staring down the business end of fifty and they’ll name at least one band who recorded an album at one of these venues. For me at least this was a part of the thrill of live albums. They not only broke the music loose from the studio, but they broke the bands loose from their faraway homes. If Cheap Trick could play Japan there was no reason to believe that they wouldn’t make a drive to Spartanburg, but no one ever did. A few years down the road Animotion of “Obsession” fame would play there, but for the bulk of my childhood Greenville, Charlotte, and Atlanta were the places to see touring bands. My goal for 1980: Get to Greenville.
The logistics of getting to a concert thirty miles away are a bit much for a thirteen year-old kid. First there’s the cash, not only for a ticket but for the requisite black concert t-shirt. Then there’s the aforementioned mileage. At that age I wasn’t up for thirty miles on a single speed Huffy. Finally and most importantly there was parental permission.
For some this wasn’t an obstacle. My cousin, for example, jumped out of her bedroom window to see The Who on their Who’s Next tour, catapulting her to legend in my book. Some parents just didn’t care. Theirs were the kids who saw KISS the year prior. But I was a fairly obedient kid and my parents were moderately strict, so neither disobedience nor apathetic parenting were viable options. No, I had to take my fight through the front door. Starting at eleven or twelve I asked to go see whatever band came close, no matter who it was. No, always no, with variations on themes of “too young” or “too inappropriate.” I couldn’t do anything about the former, so I worked with the latter.
In 1980 Nazareth was touring behind its No Mean City album, the cover or which sported some sort of green beast brandishing straight razors and wearing a German helmet. Blackfoot, the greatest Southern Rock band that time forgot, was their opening act, out on the road promoting Tomcattin’.
“Nazareth, Mom, that’s where Jesus was born.”
She gave me her “how stupid do you think I am” look. “What kind of music is it? They’re not another KISS, are they?”
“No way. Their most famous song is a love song called ‘Love Hurts.’ It’s a slow song.”
That look again. “What about this other band?”
“They’re Indians. That’s pretty much all they sing about, but not in a bad way. More like cowboy songs. Like they do this one called ‘Train Train’ that’s like something in Paint Your Wagon or something like that.”
That look again. Three strikes, long pause. Sigh. “I’ll talk to your Dad.”
A deal was struck. I could see the Jesus band and the nice Indians provided: (A) I took a friend; and (B) My mother dropped us off and picked us up. I needed a concert buddy. Lee G was out of the question – not his style. Rick Brent? Maybe. He brought me a KISS ticket stub, after all. Really there was only one guy I wanted to go with: Harold the drummer.
Harold and I were the same chronological age, but he seemed years older. His sense of humor was Doonesbury and mine was Mad; he read Hunter S. Thompson while I was still on Asimov. I owe Harold-Now-Hal many debts, not the least of which was dragging me out of my little sci-fi ghetto and into the land of Vonnegut. I tried to repay that one many years later with my copy of Hocus Pocus that I personally had the great man sign, but how do you repay a life changer? Answer: You don’t. Hal and Lee G and many others have nudged me toward the shiny objects that have given my life shape. All I can offer in exchange is my thanks and acknowledge their influence.
Enough of that. There is a first concert to attend.
We rolled out of my mother’s Pacer, ran into the auditorium, and bolted to the merchandise table. I bought a Blackfoot tee bearing a snake weaving its way through a capital letter B, and a Nazareth shirt sporting the No Mean City cover. We ran to the balcony and grabbed the front two seats facing the stage. We high-fived and whooped and waited while the crowed filled in around us. Frisbees, beach balls, mullets and baseball tees. A “whoo!” anywhere in the auditorium triggered an avalanche of responses.
The guy sitting next to me looked like Daryl From the Bus only less…Daryl. Same long hair, same red eyes, same mysterious smile. His long sleeves were cuffed at the elbow. He unrolled one, removed a cigarette and fired it up with a long drag.
“Want a hit?” He inhaled.
“Nah, I’m cool.”
He motioned to Hal, who shrugged him off. The lights went down, the lighters went up, and the opening riff to “Road Fever” ripped through the auditorium. Hal and I were on our feet and half over the railing, pumping our fists and screaming while Ricky Medlocke tossed his hair and tortured his Les Paul. Occasionally Blackfoot would slip in a song from Tomcattin’. Neither of us were familiar with the new songs, but they had that same Jacksonville boogie as the Strikes! material. Besides, at thirteen you can pump your fist to anything, no double entendre intended. (Yes it was.) They closed their set with “Highway Song.” Medlocke tore up the solo at the song’s end and left his Les Paul feeding back on stage, bathed in a single blue spotlight. The whole scene felt more unifying and holy than anything ham-handed Brother Fred could pull together on Sunday morning at New Pisgah Baptist.
The lights came up and the roadies hustled Blackfoot’s gear off the stage. A greenish cloud overtook the balcony. Hal and I were feeling good, and the beach balls and frisbees were more fascinating than before. Pseudo-Daryl nodded off in his seat beside me.
Where Blackfoot had two albums to their name (actually four, but that’s too much music nerd detail for this story), Nazareth had a deep back catalog. Time and radio have reduced them to “Love Hurts” and “Hair of the Dog” (record store clerk key words: “That messin’ with a sonofabitch song”), but when they rolled through Greenville that night they already had ten studio albums to their credit. I was familiar with only three, so the evening was a lot of “whoo!” without context. Still, they were tight and I loved them. Dan McCafferty looked like Leo Sayer and sound like Leo after fifty years of smoking and a couple of demonic possessions.
I was digging the show already, but then Dan upped the ante: “Hey kids, you want to be on a rock and roll record?” Hal and I went nuts. We were going to be part of the crowd on a live album. We were going to be the guys screaming at Frampton’s talking guitar; Jim and Harold, the new creamy Japanese teens out of their minds at Budokan. Nazareth launched into an acoustic reggae version of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine.” Our job was to scream the answer to who “she” is who don’t lie, don’t lie, don’t lie.
The next morning I was initiated into the Ancient and Venerable Society of Guys Who Wear Their Black Concert Tee To School the Day After the Show. My Nazareth tee was stolen from my gym locker within a week, but I wore the silkscreen off my Blackfoot shirt.
I paid full price for Nazareth’s The Fool Circle the day it was released solely for the live version of “Cocaine” promised on the sleeve. “We’re gonna make you rock and roll stars!” Dan McCafferty screamed, and for the first time since I started buying records I refused to read the liner notes. Those two little voices ahead of the rest of the crowd? Those belong to Hal and me, and I still don’t want to know differently.