Monday , May 20 2024
Old and grey, my fifty-something ass! Here's a collection of rare performances that were the true "whistle test" of classic rock.

Music DVD Review: The Old Grey Whistle Test Vol. 3

God, what a trip through history this DVD is.

You see, you've got to understand something here. I'm something of a classic rock geek.

I admit it. Guilty as charged.

But let's put this in perspective.

By classic rock geek, at this point I have to separate myself from the modern day Homer Simpson stereotype of the same.

You know.

The balding fifty-something guy who works his way through a dead end job humming to himself the somewhat reassuring refrain of "some people call me the Space Cowboy," that probably sustained him through his youth every bit as much as it does through his current existence.

The same guy who removes his suit and tie once during the summer to don an old rock T-shirt and jeans to rock out to the oldies at one of those triple bills with Styx, Foreigner, and REO playing at your nearest outdoor shed for example?

To some degree, yes I am that very guy. But I'll tell ya what?

For me, this went much deeper.

For me, it was an obsession.

For me, if we want to talk about the memories at least, it was more about lying in my parents’ backyard listening to something like Wishbone Ash or Uriah Heep. Never mind the Led Zep or Steve Miller my buddies from those days remember.

For me, it was about envisioning my own future as a rock star. Nothing less.

While the jocks I knew in high school were thinking about nailing that hot cheerleader at the Homecoming Dance to Chicago's "Beginnings" for example, I had far bigger fish to fry.

For me it was more somewhere along the lines of nailing some rock groupie type to the tune of something like David Bowie's "Cracked Actor."

You know what I mean? The "suck, baby, suck" part?

Yes, even then the lyrics did matter, which gets me to the more immediate present, and the more serious part of what I have to say here.

The bottom line is, for better or for worse, I've devoted my entire life to rock music.

And the rock music that I grew up with kicks my ass like nothing that has ever come along since, or that I suspect ever will again.

And by that I don't mean the same Led Zeppelin and The Who shit everyone my age remembers fondly (great as it is).

But rather, I'm talking about the forgotten chestnuts.

As cool as the DVD age we live in has allowed us to relive just how cool bands like Zeppelin and The Who were in concert back then, just where is that great show by somebody like Mott The Hoople I remember so well? I mean for me at least, all the young dudes did carry the news…

Do you have any idea for example, just how difficult it is these days to locate vintage footage of someone like Uriah Heep when David Byron was fronting the band? Or somebody like say, Humble Pie circa Rockin The Fillmore or Wishbone Ash circa Live Dates?

How about Genesis with Peter Gabriel performing The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway; Alice Cooper doing Schools Out; David Bowie — for Chrissakes — doing The Diamond Dogs/1984 Floor Show?

These are my memories. For better or for worse, these are personal mental snapshots.

You get my drift so far? Good.

There ain’t a lot of us true classic rock geeks left out there I admit. But for us, these performances I just mentioned are the Holy Grail.

This brings me to The Old Grey Whistle Test. I jumped at the chance to review this latest DVD edition of that great series for Blogcritics.

You know why?

Because I am the very poster child of the mid-seventies classic rock geek. There is simply no doubt about it okay?

Let me explain.

From the mid-seventies through the eighties, The Old Grey Whistle Test was the definitive British music show. It aired late at odd hours.

But what made it unique was the eclectic talent that was spotlighted.

Meanwhile, the closest we ever got here in the states was Wolfman Jack (God bless his soul), blaring his way through the "BOC; BOA; BTO; ELP; ELO" and the musical like of the time on Don Kirshner's NBC Midnight Special.

And by the way, I will give anybody here on Blogcritics extra points if you can identify the bands signified by those initials.

But The Old Grey Whistle Test was another animal entirely.

This is the third volume of DVDs from that great show.

It includes great performances from an eclectic mix of artists ranging from the folk rock of Lindisfarne and Fairport Convention all the way through to some of those long lost classic rock performances I've talked about from hard to find artists like Humble Pie.

So I'm gonna cut to the chase here.

There’s a lot of pretentious, and what I am sure are unintentionally humorous, remembrances and recollections about the same performances from the original hosts of the show.

No matter.

Previous editions of this series have included great live performances from everyone from Springsteen (a fairly easy to find show from 1978 that I hear is going to show up on an official DVD soon anyway), to Patti Smith (a greater, and much, much more difficult find).

So let's cut to the chase shall we?

For me, separating out the clips from the likes of a Richard Thompson-less Fairport Convention (though he does appear here later), these are the real keepers here:


Oh hell yeah. We've got ourselves a vintage performance of "Born To Be Wild" for British TV no less. Of course, the real Steppenwolf had long since gone their separate ways. Living in West Seattle myself, I've known for years that original member Goldy McJohn works at the golf course just a few blocks from my house… but look, there’s Goldy at the keyboards!

Roger Daltrey

You remember Leo Sayer? "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing?" and all that? Roger introduced him to the world with his solo album Ride A Rock Horse. And Roger, I still forgive you brother.

Humble Pie

Footage of Humble Pie performing live is extremely hard to come by. What we have here is the late, great white blues shouter Steve Marriott signing his ass off circa the Eat It album which was basically the beginning of the end for this band. Far more elusive is any live footage of the Pie when a young Peter Frampton was their lead guitarist. One can only hope this will one day surface. But ya know what? This'll do for now. The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson for one owes his very life to Marriott.

Johnny Winter

Oh hell, yeah.

The best band that the Texas albino guitar whiz ever fronted was called "Johnny Winter And." In addition to Winter himself, it featured second guitarist Rick Derringer (the guy who penned "Rock And Roll Hootchie Koo") and bassist, soon to be pop tunesmith flash in the pan extraordinaire Dan Hartman. This is not that band. But the version of the Stones "Jumpin Jack Flash" turned in here shows exactly why Johnny Winter developed the reputation he did long before anyone knew a Stevie Ray Vaughn even existed.
And ya know what?

I could go further. A lot further truth be told.

But I'm going to stop here.

This great DVD covers rare live performances by everyone from Jackson Browne all the way through to the classic King Crimson lineup of Robert Fripp with Adrian Belew and Bill Bruford.

Oh yeah, and that Joe Jackson guy while he still "Looked Sharp," if ya know what I mean?

Just get it okay?

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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