Teddy Morgan Is Easy on the Ears

And Sleepy La Beef is about to lose control, and we think we like it

When I first heard TEDDY MORGAN & THE PISTOLAS' new album, Lost Love and Highways, it reminded me a lot of the past decade's roots-rock bands such as Rank & File, the Long Ryders, Green on Red, etc. It seemed well-meaning, competently executed and listenable, but ultimately dispensable. How and why did a guy now in his 20s sound so 1980s? His songs were simple but real catchy. His thin, affected vocals and inexpert guitar playing bugged me, though. Whaddaya want? This guy's from Minneapolis, fer chrissake.

On second listen, I liked his stuff a little better. I started to hear Dylan and Creedence, rather than just '80s retreads. The guitar work started to strike me as tastefully economical, rather than strictly amateursville. Having Lazy Lester as a guest is a distinct mark of klass, too. Morgan's vocals still annoyed me, though. I hate a guy who resorts to mush-mouthed enunciation to prove how soulful and unique he is.

Okay, I just listened for the third time, and I like it even better. This guy can definitely write a mean hook, and his mixture of country, rock, blues and Cajun influences is very easy on the ears indeed. This stuff would sound perfect while driving a pickup truck through the desert. The CD's a keeper—even though Morgan's vocals still piss me off. Check out Teddy Morgan & the Pistolas Friday night at the Blue Cafe. Then please report back and explain to me why this guy is being marketed as a blues artist.

SLEEPY LA BEEF is something akin to an 18-wheeler with the brakes out barreling down a steep grade —completely out-of-control. He's huge, he's mighty, he's dangerous, and he'll mow your ass down flatter'n a manhole cover.

La Beef is frequently categorized as a rockabilly performer, but the towering old fella (6-foot-7, and I'd guess well more than 300 pounds of heavenly joy) plays straight-up, old-fashioned rock & roll, as pure and undiluted as it comes. His influences are split between country and blues. A good-ol'-boy contemporary of Elvis, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, La Beef has a baritone so impossibly subterranean he makes Dave Dudley sound like a soprano. His guitar playing is clearly Chuck Berry, but he's a far better technician than Berry and most of his legion of imitators. La Beef's overall sound is like Jerry Lee Lewis backed up by the Blasters, cranked up on meth, backbeat cracking viciously on the two and four like thunderbolts. He's the musical equivalent of a toughman contest: savage as hell, but ho-lee shit is he ever a good time, if you don't mind a little blood and guts.

Improbably born Thomas Paulsley Le Beff in Smackwater, Arkansas, in 1935, Tommy Paul got the "Sleepy" handle due to his Robert Mitchum-like hooded eyes. One can only speculate as to the vile reasons "Beff" subsequently became "Beef." La Beef moved to Houston at age 18 and started a rock band. He first recorded in '57 and released singles for a number of indie labels throughout the late '50s and early '60s. He moved to Nashville in '64, signed to Columbia and had a modest hit with "Every Day" in 1968, but he never had much real commercial success; artists as uncompromising as La Beef rarely do.

Because of that, La Beef has semiretired from music a number of times to work day jobs, but he always seems to come home to house rockin' sooner or later, luckily for us fans. His albums for Rounder Records in the '80s and '90s have been uniformly excellent but failed to generate much in the way of sales or popular notice. La Beef is 64 now, but I still need him, I still feed him, and he's in full command of all tonal muscles and ready to bench-press your scrawny butt 100 times when he appears Sunday night at the Abilene Rose in Fountain Valley.

There was something very touching about watching Larry Taylor and Fito de la Parra on a recent edition of one of those damned VH1 shows about geezerly musicians. Bassist Taylor and drummer de la Parra carry on the legacy of hard-luck blues rockers CANNED HEAT, even after all the other original members have kicked off (Al Wilson died in '70, Bob "The Bear" Hite in '81, and Henry Vestine in '97). In and of itself, this is not particularly unusual, and bands whose only original members make up the rhythm section are usually to be avoided at all costs. Yet there's not a lot of money to be made off the name Canned Heat anymore, and these guys are obviously doing it out of love rather than desperation. Fito, in particular, effervesced with the enthusiasm of a 16-year-old as he gushed on about how much he still enjoys playing those old Canned Heat songs such as "Going up the Country," "On the Road Again" and "Amphetamine Annie."

The real surprise, though, was Canned Heat's new release, Boogie 2000. The album not only kicks ass but is also performed very much in the spirit of the original group by de la Parra, Taylor and a loose aggregation of fine musicians I'd mostly never heard of. Whether you want a dose of hippie nostalgia or just a very, very solid dose of blues/rock/boogie, Canned Heat remains very much worth the price of admission. Pay the doorman Saturday night at the Blue Cafe.

So Columbia/Legacy sends me this new collection, THE ULTIMATE GRAMMY BOX, and all I can do is wonder what sequencing genius elected to put Vladimir Horowitz next to Stevie Wonder, Louis Armstrong next to Celine Dion, Duke Ellington next to Billy Joel, Patsy Cline next to Yo-Yo Ma . . . you get the picture. I'm all for decimating the rancid genre pigeonholing that infects the music world like a pernicious ass cancer, but this is a mite ridiculous. The Grammy Awards, of course, are completely irrelevant, but this collection still has a lot of great music on it and might have made an interesting four-disc set if someone had elected to organize it . . . somehow? By dates, perhaps? As it is, this box set makes no sense at all and comes at you like a spastic musical assault rather than as a serious attempt to legitimize the Grammys' importance, or even bestow any perspective on them. And any cretinous programming executive who expects me to listen to Woody Guthrie next to Michael Fucking Bolton ought to be demoted back to a stock boy, following a high colonic with aerosol cheese.

Sleepy La Beef perform at Abilene Rose, 10830 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 963-1700. Sun., 9 p.m. $8; Teddy Morgan & the Pistolas play the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Fri., 9:30 p.m. $8; Canned Heat perform at the Blue Cafe. Sat., 9:30 p.m. $12.
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