Tina Turner and Joe Cocker, who perform at the Arrowhead Pond, have much in common. They both forged successful careers in their early years by singing soul and blues powered by rock & roll energy and an intense, vulgar freakishness. Both employed wildly unsubtle, throat-rending vocal styles that, while undeniably exciting, lent themselves to easy caricature and, sometimes, critical dismissal (often wrong-headed) for the sheer affectation of their methods: Cocker sounded like Ray Charles if he had smoked three packs of Luckies and was about to go down in a plane crash; Turner sounded like Aretha Franklin if she had inserted a Drano suppository while swallowing a cup of broken glass. Both had equally ferocious, idiosyncratic stage presences: Cocker was the booze-addled, sweat-dripping spaz-boy whom John Belushi nailed to perfection on that infamous Saturday Night Live episode; Turner was the provocative, racially stereotyped cartoon character—one part Acid-Queen Negress, one part rhinestone street harlot, her luscious legs and painted lips the stuff of "Brown Sugar" nocturnal emissions (see her appearance in the film Tommy—this is young Tina at the full blush of her forbidden-fruit period). Both suffered very public bouts of personal adversity: Cocker was an embarrassing poster boy for the Friends of Bill W.; Turner got much sympathy following revelations that hubby Ike stomped the piss out of her. And finally, everything resolved itself in previously unthinkable fashion by their later years: they both became prime candidates for the rock & glue factory, so boring that it's nearly impossible to reconcile the sound and sight of Cocker decimating "With a Little Help From My Friends" or Turner torturing "Proud Mary" with the current adult-contemporary-cheesedick standard-bearers they've become.
It's more than a little ironic and disheartening that this brashest and most brazen of rock & roll duos has opted to go the corporate adult-contemporary route. A cursory listen to their current CDs reveals that their voices still boom with authority, but they've been buried in a sea of overproduction and gallingly impotent material—noise designed to appeal to Chablis-sipping yuppie shitbags. It's not as if Cocker and Turner lost their chops when they lost the color in their hair and the elasticity in their skin—they've chosen to become tedious suck-monkeys. They deliberately pulled musical 180s from the glories of their youth. They wanted this. Listening to their modern "product" is a bring-down on the order of first hearing that Jerry Rubin or Eldridge Cleaver had turned into a Republican. While it's possible they give a bit more of themselves in concert than they do in the studio, the feeling here is that neither deserves the $90 high-end ticket price for their concert Wednesday night, even if they can manage to shoot off a spark hither and yon. So let the Dockers crowd have 'em—both are traitors in my book. Traitors, I say!
One of the great frustrations in following the seemingly novelty-obsessed San Diego music scene during the years has been watching overhyped flavor-of-the-month bands get all the press and radio support while such grand old warhorses as Billy Bacon & the Forbidden Pigs, Tomcat Courtney, Joe Marillo, and The Paladins push on year after year without ever getting the attention they warrant.
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The Paladins in particular deserve better. They've been together in one formation or another for the better part of two decades, kicking out rockabilly, blues, jump and swing with the very best of them. Singer/ guitarist Dave Gonzalez is a world-class talent, and the Paladins' stage show is still among the most tireless and enthusiastic you'll ever see (upright bassist Thomas Yearsley is a particularly maniacal performer). The band has gone through several phases—straight-up rockabilly in its earliest days, Harlem-influenced jump in the mid-'80s, Texas blues la Stevie Ray in the late '80s and ZZ Top-ish power-trio blooze-rock in the early '90s. But judging from their latest album, last year's Slippin' In, the group seems to have come home, with a rockabilly style dominating their sound again. But no matter what genre the Paladins favor, they've always been difficult to pigeonhole, and more power to 'em for that. In a single song, one might get equal doses of everyone from Paul Burlison to Freddie King to Fletcher Henderson. Check out one of SoCal's best and longest-running acts Friday night at the Blue Cafe.
Slowly and stealthily, Joe Louis Walker has made the transition from derivative bluesman to one of the most intriguing singer/songwriter/ guitarists the genre has produced in a generation. In his early mid-'80s days as a recording artist, Walker was a competent but prosaic player—just another guy with a guitar, singing and rewriting the same I-IV-V blues ditties for the zillionth time. But Walker hit his stride in the '90s and developed into a unique voice, rare for the blues these days. He blends liberal doses of soul, jazz and gospel into his material—he was a member of gospel group the Spiritual Corinthians in the early '80s, and he's recorded with Branford Marsalis. He also employs unusual chord progressions and sly, witty lyrics that transcend generic blues clichs (he's penned songs for the likes of Marsalis, B.B. King and James Cotton, among others). And unlike other blues cross-pollinators (Keb' Mo' and Robert Cray come to mind), Walker never loses the gutbucket essence of the music in the translation. He's also progressed by leagues as a vocalist, with his reedy, muscular, often raspy-toned pipes conveying honest emotion without ever descending into blues parody. Rounding out the package is Walker's gift as a guitarist. Proficient in both standard and slide styles, his solos are tough and tasty, never resorting to the overkill so prevalent in much modern blues at the expense of real soul. On his most recent album, Silvertone Blues, Walker stepped back from his role as a modern innovator to record a batch of mostly acoustic front-porch country-blues numbers. Surprisingly, he came off every bit as convincingly as contemporary revivalists Corey Harris and Alvin "Youngblood" Hart do. The man's the real deal and a total package—check him out Saturday night at the Blue Cafe.
Speaking of the Blue Cafe, the club has instituted a pretty cool online ticket-buying program for select shows. Getcher tickets off their website, and you'll save $2 on each, have guaranteed reservations, and receive front-of-the-line privileges. Go to the Event Schedule section at www.thebluecafe.com and click on the highlighted "Buy Tickets" legend to receive yer goodies.
TINA TURNER AND JOE COCKER perform AT THE ARROWHEAD POND, 2695 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 704-2700. WED., 7:30 P.M. $30.25-$90.25; THE PALADINS play AT THE BLUE CAFE, 210 THE PROMENADE, LONG BEACH, (562) 983-7111. FRI., 10 P.M. $10; JOE LOUIS WALKER ALSO performs AT THE BLUE CAFE. SAT., 10 P.M. $10.