Playing Matchmaker

Among many things that the COVID-19 presence has lead to over the past year has been that due to the physical isolation, it has made dating rather difficult. Traditional avenues for meeting people are closed down (some permanently), and online dating cannot often advance to in-person dating due to the lockdowns imposed on the public. Tying this into music, musicians may feel similar constraints. Sure, you can collaborate and make recordings in isolation with new groups of musicians, but they can’t get the same rush that comes from performing live on-stage since most venues are closed to the public, limiting performances to livestreams across the internet or (for certain mainstream acts) television.

Valentine’s Day is coming up, so I thought I’d use it as an excuse to have a little fun around here. I feel like playing a bit of a game with the readers if you’ll indulge me. No, it’s nothing like a marathon round of Risk, which is difficult enough to keep straight in a New York subway never mind across the internet. It’s a simple concept. I’ll give five lists of musicians, living or deceased, where each musician shares a common trait. Feel free to guess the connection all you want. You can scroll down and peak, and I’d have no way of knowing. I can’t promise it will be easy, and in some cases, the musician’s associations with one another may be based solely on my own perspective. After first showing each band’s lineup, I’ll share what I named them based on their common thread, and then elaborate on my decisions. This is my way of playing matchmaker in time for an overly-commercialized holiday. Not that I aim to get these musicians romantically involved, but being in a band can be like a couple’s relationship or marriage depending on the arrangement.

Anyway, allow me to introduce the lineups of the bands.

Band #1

Brad Whitford – lead guitar

John Deacon – bass

Tony Banks – keyboards

Matt Cameron – drums / percussion

Bobby Tench – vocals / rhythm guitar

Band #2

Buzz Osborne – guitar and vocals

Shane Embury – bass

Questlove – drums and percussion

Band #3

Robert Fripp – guitar

Elton John – vocals / piano / keyboards

Hugh Hopper – bass

Ian Paice – drums

Charles Lloyd – saxophone / flute

Band #4

Frank Zappa – vocals / guitar

Les Claypool – bass / vocals

Rick Wakeman – keyboards

Alex Lifeson – guitar

Dave King – drums

Band #5

Ian Anderson – vocals / flute / acoustic guitar

Ray Charles- vocals / piano

Joe Walsh – guitar / vocals

Tim Bogert – bass / backing vocals

John Weathers – drums

 

Now my rationale for the groupings:

 

Band #1 – Unsung

 

 

No, this is not a Helmet tribute band (though that could prove rather interesting with this lineup). These five musicians, I feel, do not get enough recognition by the general public for their contributions to their bands or to rock music as a whole.

Many people don’t even realize that Brad Whitford performed several guitar solos on Aerosmith songs in addition to having writing credit on some of their more popular songs like “Last Child” and “Nobody’s Fault”. In this group he can let his guitar sing, perhaps more so than when he is paired with Joe Perry, so I gave him the ‘lead’ guitarist title. Bobby Tench is best known for being vocalist in The Jeff Beck Group for two albums. In fairness, it’s hard not to be outshined by Jeff Beck in any context, but his work with Hummingbird or Streetwalkers is largely unheard by those that didn’t grow up in the ‘70s. In fact, Tench so overlooked that I feel the need to look deeper into him to check out some of his other accomplishments, and I’m the one singing his praises here! I have a feeling that these two axe-slingers could stylistically mesh quite well with each other.

Tony Banks and John Deacon I group together because much like Whitford, they are key contributors to massive bands (Genesis and Queen, respectively), yet are far from household names as individuals. A Genesis fan might wonder why Tony Banks would be considered overlooked, but to the public at large, Genesis is either Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel depending on the era. Casual fans probably scramble to remember his or Mike Rutheford’s names when watching their music videos. That’s unfortunate considering their commercial peak was as a three-piece band. Deacon, depending on who you ask, comes in as either third or fourth place in terms of most-popular Queen member. Considering he essentially quit the music business not long after Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991, I’d say he comes in last place. The beauty with Queen is that they were a four-headed monster when it came to writing hit songs. Deacon’s contributions on that front include no less than “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Your My Best Friend” and “I Want To Break Free”. Not too shabby for the quiet one in the band!

For drums, I nearly went with Phil Rudd. Rudd is a usual name associated with overlooked drummers, so I then thought he pretty much gets a fair amount of recognition for his contribution to AC/DC’s sound. Whenever he’s not in the band, it seems like fans are always wishing for his return. Instead, I’ll give the drummer’s stool to Matt Cameron. Cameron has similarly played with popular artists that are now classic rock staples (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and the hybrid of the two in Temple of the Dog), but in spite of that, has gotten away with playing some deceptively-tricky beats. The more I focus on the nuances in his playing style, the more I want to explore other bands he’s played with. Any suggestions on where to begin?

 

Band #2 – FroGurt, Fur-Ball or Mane Attraction

So I couldn’t narrow it down to one name, and one of them I nicked from a White Lion album. Any one of them should get the point across. The bottom line is that if your thing is out-of-control hair, then this power trio should be right up your alley.

 

 

But what would they play? I never really though beyond the name, and this was the first group I conceived. It could be a variety of things, so let’s break down the lineup.

Shane Embury always seems to be involved in something. Outside of his main gig as Napalm Death’s bassist and longest-tenured member, he has played in numerous projects such as Meathook Seed, Brujeria, Absolute Power, and Tronos to barely scratch the surface with what springs to mind. Buzz Osborne also has a history of fruitful collaborations with musicians outside of his Melvins, perhaps most notably Fantomas. Not only have the Melvins and Napalm Death toured together (which I happened to witness first-hand), but Buzz and Shane joined forces on the first Venomous Concept album, Retroactive Abortion. I’m only loosely familiar with Questlove’s career through The Roots and their gig as the house-band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, but he’s got fingerprints all over the place. I don’t watch late-night talk shows these days, but know of the musical flexibility and vocabulary needed to genre-hop at times. He’s also shown he can use any instrument asked of him to perform if needed, a useful tool in filling up sound with a small band size as this would be.

Is either Buzz or Shane into R&B or hip-hop? I’m not sure, but Shane has been known to wear Public Enemy t-shirts on-stage in notable performances, and Napalm Death have had a good sense of groove and use of diverse sounds throughout their history. That and the mess of side-projects either man has been involved in over his career show he’s willing to try something different. And on the contrary, is Questlove into extreme forms of metal or hardcore that the others have played? I can’t say.

If these three treat this like a summer camp situation and jam for a few weeks, who knows what could come out. Maybe a sound that none of them ever explored.

 

Band #3 – Spectacle

Time has a way of slowly blinding us all. Fortunately, it never stopped this quintet from heightening their other four senses as the fifth diminished. I know I’m probably just thinking of Daredevil and it doesn’t work exactly that way, but I needed some way of introducing this band other than saying they all need glasses.

 

 

If you think Robert Fripp and Elton John seem like a mismatch, the idea is not as far-fetched as it seems. There was a moment in 1970 where Elton John was being considered for inclusion in Fripp’s King Crimson near the time that In the Wake of Poseidon was being recorded, albeit it may have been solely for the album session and not as a full-time member. Elton also shares a significant link in his career history through Hugh Hopper. Reginald Dwight was allegedly inspired to take his adopted first name from fellow Bluesology band-mate Elton Dean, a saxophonist who is best known as a member of Soft Machine alongside bassist Hopper.

While we are talking sax players, I needed to add some sax out of my love for Mel Collin’s contribution to King Crimson’s Islands and Red. I was glad when Fripp brought that element back in modern Crimson tours. There are plenty of four-eyed saxophonists out there, but who would fit in well with this crowd? Gato Barbieri? Michael Brecker? Paul Desmond? Joe Henderson? There are no lack of options at all, but I went with Charles Lloyd. He played on some rock albums by The Beach Boys, The Doors, and Roger McGuinn, so there’s that ever-important flexibility factor. His ability to contribute flute is icing on the cake, and he can certainly take a walk on the wild side with his performances to help take this project to another level.

Ian Paice could have easily found space into my band of over-looked musicians, but sprung to mind for this band because aside from his fabulous playing with Deep Purple, his glasses and big fat sideburns look he had going for him in their heyday made him look so cool. He’s been thrown into some interesting session work in his career, such as this one I just learned about: jazz saxophonist Eddie Harris’ E.H. in The U.K. among an impressive collective of Britain’s finest rock musicians including Jeff Beck, Chris Squire, and Steve Winwood.

 

Band #4 – Frank Zappa’s Levity Contagion

For those familiar with any of these musicians, they tend to be among the band members with the biggest senses of humour. The range of their humour is pretty wide-spreading, with the ability to joke about taboo subjects, make good use of absurdity, or taking critical aim at pop culture and political subjects. This group would easily be capable of delivering the goods musically as well as tickling some funny bones.

 

 

I was tempted to throw Frank Zappa’s name into the band’s moniker because of everyone here, he’s the one I have the hardest time picturing taking on a supportive or secondary role, very much a natural leader. Zappa’s inclusion should need little explanation. His Baby Snakes concert video introduced me to his wild, parody-drenched, party-atmosphere live shows, but all you really need to see it song titles like “Penguin in Bondage” or “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” or listen to one of his conceptual albums like We’re Only In It For The Money or Joe’s Garage to know that he could have had an alternative career as a writer for Mad magazine.

Les Claypool and Alex Lifeson have collaborated before musically (see “The Big Dance” on Lifeson’s Victor album), but their ability to make their fans laugh is what made them easy inclusions here. Their potential for comedic chemistry was briefly on display through Primus’ DVD/EP Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People in a sketch where Lifeson plays an interviewer named ‘Big Al’. Rush is known for airing humorous intro videos prior to their concerts and occasionally in between songs, and Alex is known as the band’s biggest goofball, having made a few appearances in the Canadian comedy series Trailer Park Boys. Les Claypool has been known to deliver a chuckle or two through his quirky songs, music videos, or on-stage banter, and outside the band even directed and starred in a mockumentary of jam-band culture with Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo. And you’ve got to love a band that plays old Popeye cartoons during intermissions like Primus did when I saw them live on their “3D” tour in 2013. I’ve got to believe that was Les’ idea.

Rick Wakeman’s humour is a big of a different beast. It has more of a way of showing itself in interviews and in transforming award speeches into stand-up comedy routines than it does in his music performance. I exclude his wardrobe from the consideration because depending on your fashion tastes, this could extend the band member count of this project well into the hundreds. The Bad Plus’ drummer Dave King is likely the one that would have you scratching your head. As a jazz drummer, you might expect him to be someone that takes their craft too seriously. His Youtube channel, Rational Funk, is one I would highly recommend for its ability to lampoon the idea of music lessons and tutorials.

Perhaps if this band were actually possible, you’d see them making a strong presence on social media platforms with various comedy shorts. I will say they are probably too old for TikTok. Heck, I’m not even 40 yet, and I feel too old for TikTok!

 

Band #5 – Stuck

I saved the most difficult grouping for the end. Like the first band on my list, this one boils down more to my opinion. If you’ve seen clips of these musicians on-stage, they put on faces that only a mother could love. Granted, that mother would probably also have impeccable taste in music.

 

 

Why do so many musicians make these odd faces while performing? Does it come from being too self-interested or too absorbed in what they’re doing? Are these expressions uncontrollable, like a natural twitch or reflex? It could be either way, and there is apparently some benefit for musicians to do this. I admit that while I like Steve Vai, his guitar-faces come across on the show-boaty, “Damn, I’m so good!” side that it seems like too much of an act. I’ve tried to find a few that are a bit more natural, or at least ones so amusing in their own right that I couldn’t help but give them a mention.

Ian Anderson’s exaggerated expressions and wild facial hair make him look straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean with the wardrobe to match. His work with Jethro Tull has shown him to be a very energetic live performer, and he’d be hard-pressed not to make these caricatured faces while playing the flute. Tim Bogert, who unfortunately succumbed to cancer in January, isn’t as obvious a choice. He doesn’t always have that weird face thing going on, but there are certain moments where he’d get that look as if he’s trying to hold back a sneeze. You can see slight glimpses of this in Vanilla Fudge’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” video and a few other sources, but he didn’t seem to be doing it so much in later stages of his career. Maybe he was truly afraid his face would get stuck that way.

John Weather’s variety of expression is something I’ve yet to see elsewhere, and is the person I immediately thought of when throwing this lineup together. I’m clearly not alone in this thinking because as obscure a musician he is, someone immortalized him in an animated GIF. He gets so in the zone in such different ways that his looks shift from a man falling asleep one minute, being wired on a caffeine high the next, and then reverts to appearing like a child afraid of monsters hiding under his bed, all while striking the skins with expert precision. No still image can do justice to his facial variety, so checking him out in Gentle Giant’s performance “Proclamation” from German television covers all his least-flattering angles.

Guitar-face is a pretty common phenomenon, and you could put so many guitarists in this slot. Since Ian Anderson can double on guitar, I only wanted to include one other player. So I went straight to the search engines and saw that John Mayer was one of the most common hits, as was Joe Walsh. I went with Walsh since he’s in the right age bracket, and the expressions don’t seem as forced. I’m not much of an Eagles guy, but his heavy guitar sound from the James Gang era would fit in well here.

I struggled to find the right keyboardist, with keyboard face image searches yielding mostly exhausted office workers with QWERTY imprinted backwards across their foreheads. Then I thought of Ray Charles. Ray Charles would definitely get that face going pretty good. With him, since he mostly played with shades on, it’s all in his mouth. It’s not just how Ray emotes to his own music either. As the film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles illustrates, his playing can draw those faces out of anyone. He is about a generation older than the next guy here, and seems to be a guy that largely did his own thing rather than appear in group contexts, so I’m not sure what his fit would be here.

Of course, not all these bands are intended to be a permanent thing anyway. And since Ray Charles and Tim Bogert are no longer with us, this is hypothetical only. Maybe something could have brought these guys together in the 1970s when they were in or nearer the prime of their careers. A charity benefit show, perhaps?

—-

I know all the above groupings are quite odd conceptions, but it was mainly as a means to amuse myself. If you want to return the favour, throw an unlikely super-group my way. Is there a lineup full of ambidextrous musicians waiting to be formed? How about one where each member has a very specific food allergy? The only limitation is your imagination.

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