Mike & The Ravens
Mike & The Ravens. This is Mike on the left - be patient; photos of the other guys will follow soon!
Let me explain who these guys are, and where they came from.
They go back a long way - at the same time that I was in the army, in 1962, (yeah, I’m ancient) Mike & the Ravens were playing some of the first rock ‘n’ roll out of Plattsburgh, New York. Two years before the Monks were formed in Germany, they were driving kids wild.
The group, Mike & The Ravens, was comprised of Mike Brassard (lead vocals), Stephen Blodgett (rhythm guitar/backing vocals/songwriter) John “Bo” Blodgett (lead guitar), Brian Lyford (bass/backing vocals) and Peter Young on drums. Back in 1962, they were influenced by the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent, Link Wray, Buddy Holly, Del Shannon and the rest of them. They have a real gone rock and roll pedigree.
They made a 45 or two, going through all the manipulations and head games that groups go through, in the corporate system of working their way into rock ‘n’ roll success - but then, as it turned out with many groups, including the Monks - without adequate promotion and distribution, they were doomed to be only remembered by the most fanatical rockers for singles like "Goodbye To Mary Jane" and unreleased stompers like "Oobie Doobie Do."
In a natural state they would have moved past the friendly teen pop, beer-soaked frat rock, and sand-in-the-crotch surf rock. Their songwriters continued into the '60s and flirted with psychedelic concepts - like the song, “I Could Hear the Grass Growin'.” Yeah, we know what that’s about. People say if you can remember it, you weren’t there.
Some people considered Mike & The Ravens to be ahead of their time, and surely they proved it when Stephen Blodgett, Brian Lyford and Peter Young broke into the Stowe Community Church, to play a rock 'n' roll LP over the steeple carillon system at midnight. As they discovered, some people have no sense of humor. Blodgett, Lyford, and Young (sounds like a legal team) went to jail, forcing the group to disband. If you ask me, what they did was more impressive than just throwing TV sets out the hotel windows like some of the British groups did. The full story of Mike & The Ravens is in "Ugly Things" at www.ugly-things.com.
As it has turned out - guess what? - more than four decades later, these guys got together in the studio and recorded a new CD of music. All of them, except the rhythm guitar player, Steve Blodgett, had not played for 40 years. This is the album I got in the mail, and lo and behold, it was produced by Will Shade, more ba’ad than bad.
When I put it on the CD player, I was surprised to hear something that was so familiar and yet so new. Mike & The Ravens play rock like rockers should - and it’s not just old rehashed memorabilia. There’s an aural halo shining over the songs that suggest just how advanced they would have been had they escaped from jail and fled the country to record in some faraway Scandinavian studio, tucked away in some dense northern forest where the anti-humor police would never think to look.
Oh well – it doesn’t matter now. I got this album and this is what I want to say about it. The first thing that strikes me is how the two guitar players work together, as if they are working with the same mind. Okay, maybe these guys are brothers. Listening to the cut, "Sweet Potato Red Sez (Polly Won’t Ride)," Mike has a strong raspy voice that suggests his Duck’s Ass haircut might still be there - if it weren’t for the pimp’s hat placed backwards, on his head, covering up the hair. The words, “Polly is a looker, a street hooker, but she won’t ride,” explains all the frustration I need to feel at my advanced age. It has that infectious beat, and if it would have been played forty years ago on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” I know the kids would have given it a good rating because it has a good beat – even as the song might have compelled them to think of all the wrong things for the right reasons.
The songs on this CD are full sounding, well produced, and while they hark back to some sound we vaguely remember, there is a newness – a bit of modernity in them. For one thing I think the players are better now than they were then – obvious signs that these guys still get on their instruments, to chase away the evil spirits. Each song, on this CD, has a different feel and that’s unusual these days. On “She Wolf” - Mike, the vocalist, breaks into a yodel – I ain’t never heard nothing like that – and I liked it even though I don’t like yodels. Each song is its own unique creature.
On “Once I was a Dancing Bear” the lead guitar uses old-fashioned Fender tremolo, better than most. There is a bit of "Willie And The Hand Jive" in it and it will turn you into a dancing bear - a whirling dervish bear, moving through the room - multi-layered guitar sounds - and the rhythm is on - as good as it gets. There's a bit of melodic rap – evoking a memory as long as time - was it done like this in the 1960s? I ain't never heard that before.
“Who Will Love You (Junior’s Subs & The Phantom Beat)” starts with the sound of a jail-break siren. Yeah, those guys are getting out of jail - Gimme some. Who will love you when your lips turn blue? These guys are funny. Gimme some of this. Gimme gimme some. This is a song I could sing to my daughter, even though it might not sound like it at first. It ends as you get the feeling of being in a bar, after a soccer game bar - or you’re just eating a normal dinner in a prison cafeteria.
Some of the songs are progressive. Heavy tom-toms and rambling chord structures offer a contemporary feel. I do like this guitar player - both of them. They compliment each other. The lyrics are sung by a very busy man, who has a lot of things to do, including escaping from the hari-kari rigors of this life, and he’s doing it while combing back his duck-tailed hair.
The rhythms are very pronounced - every measure played lockstep by all the members - concentrating on each beat – even as rock ‘n’ roll is not supposed to be played perfectly. The cut, "Unlucky In Love," has a bit of a rubber soul, singing through the megaphone. Every song has a different hook. On this song the drummer is playing eight beats to the bar and it sounds good.
As the CD rolls along, each song seems to get better. “I Wanna See You Dance” is a rock ‘n’ roll rap song. It's a strange blend of 40 years passed and fifteen minutes ago - no alienation, just good times. I like this song. You can see the singer, moving across the stage, bent backward, legs lifting up to his chin as he moves. Does he really look like that? I hope so.
The intro to the last cut - “Are You Ready” - sounds like a Monk song. It has that ponderous beat, but still there is the crucial structure of rock ‘n’ roll. One of my favorites because it has a great blend of chord changes and repetitive rhythms. And as usual the lead guitar adds a very luscious topping to it. Happy! I'm happy! Hell, it could be a song by the Monks. Nope - these guys have their own influence. Enuff said!
Then the last song begins. “Noisy Boys (Too Stupid For The Radio)” is my favorite - a jam/rap/chant - one chord, played over and over, but with a lot of interjected sounds, words, and effects. Shut Up, noisy boys! That's what it's about. I like the over-enunciated back up chorus playing the words - part of the rhythm. Funky, punky, noisy boys and it chugs along - chugga, chugga, chugga - a bit of a freak out. This song gets better as it goes along. Layers and layers of voice sounds, with layers of guitar - or is it a violin? No, it can’t be a violin, because you can’t set a drink on a violin. It has to be a fiddle. Again, I can see this like a cartoon with those guys with the long legs, the shoes very big – as they strut, they lean backwards.
Having worked with a number of producers, I have found that each producer’s style will certainly affect the final production. In this case, I can tell that Will Shade lets the artists work. It’s the same kind of approach that Bob Johnston used when he worked with people like Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkle, and The Charlie Daniels Band. He just sits in the control room, smiles and lets the musicians play. These guys, Mike & The Ravens, did just that. They played. Like I’m sure Will did, I smiled.
Eddie Shaw, The Monks
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