As Martha and the Vandellas once put it, summer's here and the time is right for dancing in your seat.

All right, so the lyric doesn't go exactly that way, but with concerts so regimented these days, you don't get much opportunity to dance in the aisles, let alone dance in the street. But having recently seen three rock acts in concert, one already a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee while one of the two not in the Hall has a huge groundswell clamoring for its induction, You may be interested in how they perform onstage.

What's funny is that in the last few years I had been attending hardly any rock shows. Rather, my taste for live music had run toward jazz, folk, and international acts in smaller, more intimate settings. And as far as classic-rock acts go, I had been leery of the nostalgia circuit. I used to write for the concert guide of a local venue, and I fluffed up my share of articles touting the likes of Iron Butterfly and Robin Trower, acts trading on their glory days (and in the case of a band like Iron Butterfly, that may have been day, singular) while occasionally promoting their latest album, released on a small, independent label, and noticed by few outside the fanbase.

But as I get older and become nostalgic myself, my curiosity gets the better of me. After all, none of us are getting any younger, and didn't I want to see some of these acts before they head off to the great festival in the sky? Even if, at this stage, they are past their prime?

Laying the Groundwork: Rock and Blues Fest 2013

That started last year, and a one-night "Rock and Blues Fest" show that featured Canned Heat, Pat Travers, Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter, and Ten Years After all playing on the same bill at the City National Grove, an indoor, 1,700-seat venue in Anaheim, California. Now, I'll admit that I got tipped to this show when I saw an offer on a coupon-clearinghouse website that had tickets at half-price. And although I would not have paid to see any three of those acts together, seeing all five—and at half price—seemed to be worth the time and money.

Let's be honest: Of the five, only Edgar Winter (Number 437 on the Not in Hall of Fame's list of rock artists not already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) rates a credible mention for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and even that is a polite acknowledgement before dismissing him. Furthermore, with memories of attending festivals in my youth, and the seemingly interminable waiting between acts, my hope was that logistics and facilitation had managed to improve since then, and with limited time for its set, each act would have time only to fire off its best-known songs before running off to make way for the next act.

By and large, that was the case, and the road crews and Grove staff executed the bill with admirable efficiency. Moreover, all five acts acquitted themselves quite impressively.

It may sound like a sneering, elitist dismissal to say that only Edgar Winter merits a mention for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and even that is a polite mention before rejecting him. But we are talking about a Hall of Fame, which I believe should contain only the very best. At this point, no one seems happy with the inductions made into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and for this site I've done a comprehensive audit of the performers inducted into the Hall to determine whether a performer's induction was justified. (The sixth and most recent installment contains links to the previous five installments.) My conclusions are that about one-quarter of the inducted acts do not belong in the Hall, and I suspect for a number of persons that the implied three-quarters of acts I think are justified is still too many for their liking. In other words, the Hall has no room for marginal acts.

And when I say "marginal," that is still not pejorative because it is relative to the acts already in the Hall that truly belong there. In baseball, it is not an insult to call a player "league-average" because it means that he is a player who plays at the level of the rest of the league. In other words, he belongs in the league—and thus he is better than all the players who did not qualify to play in the league. But Hall of Fame players are not league-average—they are well above that.

All five acts at the Grove that night were "league-average," with one or two a little above that. All were professional musicians with decades of experience, and that was evident from all of their performances. Their order of appearance indicated both their level of fame and, significantly, their level of excellence. The opening act, Canned Heat, may be ranked at Number 242 on this site's list of acts not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it has never been more than a journeyman practitioner of blues-rock and boogie even when early leading lights Bob Hite and Al Wilson were guiding the band. However, thanks to three veterans from its historic appearance at the 1969 Woodstock festival—guitarist Harvey Mandel, bassist Larry Taylor, and drummer Fito de la Parra—the band fired off admirable renditions of concert warhorses "Let's Work Together," "On the Road Again," and the delightful "Goin' up the Country."

Canadian singer and guitarist Pat Travers (not ranked by this site) had a brush with Stateside success in the early 1980s but has always languished on the second tier at best, although he's still recording and gigging and was the only act to perform any recent songs. However, the biggest reaction came from Travers's tearing into "Life in London" and the crowd-pleaser "Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)" as well as a decent rip at Jimi Hendrix's "Red House."

Rick Derringer (not ranked by this site) delivered a most pleasant surprise: The diminutive singer and guitarist is best-known for "Hang on Sloopy," a huge 1965 hit for Derringer's teenage band the McCoys, and for "Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo," which Derringer had written for Johnny Winter in 1970 but with which Derringer scored his only Top 40 hit in 1973, and of course both songs formed the centerpiece of his set. But throughout his set, and especially during the extended vamp on "Hang on Sloopy," Derringer kept a running monologue going, recounting his bygone days with a tongue-in-cheek flair that not only established him as a witty, articulate raconteur but one who, despite a long and distinguished career as a collaborator and sideman for other acts, knows that to audiences at large he's known primarily for two old songs, and he's developed a self-deprecating yet serene acceptance of that status that endeared him to me, if no one else.

Edgar Winter was next on the bill, and I was a little surprised that he wasn't the headliner given that he'd had the most substantial career of the five acts, at least in the United States. Indeed, unlike his older brother, guitarist Johnny Winter, who concentrated on blues-rock before pursuing blues primarily (and who, sadly, passed away earlier this year), multi-instrumentalist Edgar had a broader palette, blending that blues-rock with R&B-flavored horns and even elements of jazz best expressed on the early-1970s albums Edgar Winter's White Trash and They Only Come out at Night, the latter spawning a pair of enduring hits, "Free Ride" and the instrumental "Frankenstein," that both figured prominently in his set.

Moreover, Winter too had an engaging stage persona, if you can excuse a few of this sexagenarian's questionable dance moves. (I suppose the good news about being an albino is that his hair was always that color.) He also had a rap that differed from Derringer's: Although Winter too was personable, he seemed a little self-promoting, reminding us, for example, that he purportedly invented the keyboard body strap that enables the player to move about the stage carrying the portable unit, while the veiled recitation of his résumé seemed more earnest—concerned about your legacy, Edgar? And although I thought that Winter blew the famous descending synthesizer line in "Frankenstein," he and his band were impressive, even delivering a slam-bang rendition of "Tobacco Road."

As mentioned previously, though, I was a little surprised that Ten Years After was considered to be the evening's "headliner"—until that band hit the stage and stormed out of the gate right from the very first note. The only non-North American band on the bill, Ten Years After was considered in the States to be a middleweight blues-rock band best-known for the vague social consciousness of "I'd Love to Change the World" and an incendiary performance of "I'm Going Home" that electrified the crowd at Woodstock. That latter song had spotlighted the machine-gun chatter of guitarist Alvin Lee, who had died earlier in 2013 and in fact had stopped performing with the band a decade previously.

But with the three original members of Ten Years After—keyboardist Chick Churchill, bassist Leo Lyons, and drummer Ric Lee—having regrouped with singer and guitarist Joe Gooch, this quartet unleashed an instrumental roar that never subsided, from the two previously mentioned songs to "Hear Me Calling" and "Love Like a Man." Churchill may look now like a music teacher emeritus, but Lyons lit a beacon for anyone worried about retirement, slamming out his bass lines to match the stinging guitar of a whirling Gooch, who is almost half Lyons's age.

Some bands present themselves better on stage rather than on record, and Ten Years After, rightly the headliner that night in the City National Grove, gave an indication of what the uproar must have been like nearly forty-five years previously at Woodstock. And—who knows—this may be part of the reason why Ten Years After is ranked significantly higher—Number 258—than Edgar Winter on this site's list of artists not already in the Hall of Fame.

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Last modified on Monday, 23 March 2015 17:53

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