Everybody’s Got A Story (But Not Always Another Shot)

The double agent pulls a disappearing act.

In any  record collection there are acts that should have blown up, but didn’t.  They should have been bigger than they were.  They should have become chart-topping  household names, but everyone doesn’t get to be Number One.  Most of the time they don’t even get to be Number one thousand and one.   It’s not that they weren’t good enough or talented enough, but for some reason it never happened.  When their ship came in they were at the airport.

So they fade away.   They remain a private pleasure for you and a few others.   It’s not fair, but it’s truth.  Maybe they were one-hit-wonders.  Maybe they were no hit wonders.

I have a weakness/fondness for underdogs. Everybody wants to put their money on the market-tested thoroughbreds.   Not me.  I  pull for the mutts.  I like the underrated, the underappreciated, and the unnoticed.   That’s why I like Amanda Marshall.   She didn’t get to be a “has been” because in North America she couldn’t get past “never was.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying.  In 1996 Marshall released “Birmingham, ” a catchy song about the happy subject of domestic abuse. Liked it a lot, but it was pretty heavy going for the pop charts.   A short description of Marshall’s singing style is take  Mariah Carey’s range and vocal power, put it in a blender with some of Bonnie Raitt  earthy, blue-eyed soul and turn it on high,  the result might yield Marshall’s freshman debut.

The Canadian born and based singer-songwriter’s first album got good reviews, but not big sales and the follow-up Tuesday’s Child  didn’t make much of a dent on the charts  either.  After two albums  stiffed in the Lower 48,  Marshall was up against it, and gambled on a third album, Everybody’s Got A Story where she traded in her guitar for a slicker and more radio-friendly pop.   But the try too-hard grab for Britney style-success was ignored by radio and annoyed many fans who didn’t like it much either.

Marshall ran into the standard issues with bad management and a record label that couldn’t break her out of the bargain bins and parted ways with her acrimoniously after the failure of Everybody’s Got A Story.

Buried in the overproduction and overt pandering for airplay, there’s an edge in Everybody’s Got A Story and it was in Marshall’s own story about her racial issues as the daughter of a White Canadian father and a Black mother from Trinidad or as she put it, “as a woman who looks white but is also half-black”.    Where Marshall had downplayed her feelings of being biracial, she put them out there on “Double Agent.”

What do you see when you see me?
You see my long blonde hair and the particular way
That my lips are shaped
That my body takes when you talk to me
What do you know when you know me?
Don’t file me under categories, you’re deceived
You don’t know me
I’m not only a surface, a country
What you don’t know about me is, I’m a

Double agent on my mama’s side
The shit I hear you say just blows my mind
Every time, recognize
Though who I am to you is not a lie
I don’t have to volunteer and say
That I was born a particular way
I got no uniform
I’m camouflaged in any light
Obviously you can’t tell
I’m a double agent on my mama’s side

And that was all folks.   After the aptly titled retrospective, Intermission,  Marshall retreated to Canada and hasn’t recorded another album in over a decade.  Without a Facebook page,   Twitter feed, official website and no press since 2010,  Marshall is one double agent that has pulled off a pretty effective disappearing act. .

The double agent kicks back.

If you’ve seen one girl-with-a-guitar-Joni-Mitchell-type you’ve seen ‘em all and from all outward appearances it seems that is what Amanda Marshall was, but she wasn’t simply trying to clone her  countrywoman’s career arc.   She just got lost as many acts do when they fail to build and expand on their small following and turn it into a larger on that can sustain a career.

Which is exactly what happened.  Marshall’s final studio album, 2002’s Everybody’s Got A Story came and went without leaving any impression in the U.S. and that pretty much ended her recording career.

“Let me just say,” Marshall said in her last interview in 2010, “There are a lot of bands and performers whose careers are permanently derailed by spectacularly bad management. They just seem to vanish and one day you ask, ‘Hey, what happened to them?’ ”

“People in my business have a tremendous fear of being forgotten and feel they have to keep putting themselves out there in some capacity. I don’t necessarily buy into that.”

As far as pulling a vanishing act goes, Marshall has done a rather complete one.  She has no Facebook page, no Twitter feed and no webpage.   According to the 2010 story, Marshall has been enmeshed in legal battles with her management and recording company, another familiar story for many a musician.   Time spent in a courtroom is time lost in the studio.

Maybe Marshall will make another record and if she does I’d be curious to hear it, but it seems un likely I will.   Radio hardly breaks new acts and record labels are increasingly irrelevant, which leaves  Marshall’s best option to find a small label that can give her distribution minus the executive meddling she previously experienced.

It would be nice if she could get back and deliver on the promise of her first album.  It would be nice,  in music, you only get so many bites of the apple.  Amanda Marshall may not get another one.

The Rolling Stone Misguided Guide to the Greatest Guitarists

The 70th Best Guitarist in action.

All “best of” lists are subjective and only based upon someone’s opinion.  ALL of them. Yours, mine and certainly any put together by the pointy-head critics at Rolling Stone.   I  read through their choice for the 100 Greatest Guitarists and when I finished wanted to open a window to let out the smell of bullshit. 

This is Rolling Stone’s Top Ten Guitarists:

  1. Jimi Hendrix
  2. Duane Allman
  3. B.B. King
  4. Eric Clapton
  5. Robert Johnson
  6. Chuck Berry
  7. Stevie Ray Vaughn
  8. Ry Cooder
  9. Jimmy Page
  10. Keith Richards

 Not a bad list, but there are some questionable inclusions. We could have an all day argument about who shouldn’t be anywhere near the list of the 10 greatest guitarists, but for my money, I’d kick Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ry Cooder and B.B.King right to the curb.  No disrespect intended and without question Richards has played on some of the greatest rock songs of all time as part of the Rolling Stones, but I don’t find him a particularly imaginative or innovative guitarist.  Stevie Ray had a great sound, but if you’ve got Hendrix at the top, you don’t need a Hendrix soundalike six places behind.  

I know Ry Cooder by reputation.  I don’t know a thing about his music, so I’ll kick him down the list based upon my ignorance.  The same goes for B.B. King.  Maybe he’s good, but third best good?   Not for me.    

The most conspicuous absence in the Top 10 is a guy whom should be somewhere in the thick of it or just hovering outside of it in the Top Twenty, and that’s Eddie Van Halen.   Van Halen probably earns demerits due to all the lead singer drama the band has undergone over the years,  Still, there’s a lot more teenage boys that have rocked out with air guitars trying to shred like Eddie on “Eruption.”  Yet, not only is Van Halen nowhere near the Top Twenty, he’s banished to the nether regions as Rolling Stone named him #70th on their list.  .

"I'm right on your ass, Eddie."

 There aren’t 70 guitarists better than Eddie Van Halen in the whole world, but according to the dopes at RS he’s just barely ahead of Joni Mitchell (#72) and behind Zoot Horn Rollo (#62) from Captain Beefheart. 

Zoot Horn Rollo? 

Mr. Rollo might be a very nice man and even play some mean guitar, but I can guarantee he hasn’t inspired rocked nearly as many teenagers as Mr. Van Halen to pick up a beat-up six-string and learn how to play it.

Here’s some of the other guitar slingers Fast Eddie is looking up at.  Jerry Miller (#68) of Moby Grape (and if you can name two Moby Grape songs you have me at a disadvantage),  Lou Reed (#52),  Jack White (#17), ?Johnny Ramone (#16),  Dave Evans a.k.a. The Edge (#24) of rock’s most overrated band, U2, and Kurt Cobain at #12 who is both overrated and dead. 

Here’s a cute trick RS likes playing with their list.  They name a few bands featuring dual guitarists and include both of them, but the funny thing is they come from bands that are darlings of music critics. This explains how Ed O’Brien (#59) and Jonny Greenwood (#60) of Radiohead and Lee Ranaldo (#33) and Thurston Moore (#34) of Sonic Youth make the cut, while Aerosmith’s Joe Perry (#48) gets a bone thrown to him and poor Brad Whitford isn’t even mentioned.

Of course there are plenty of guitar slingers who are shut out.  Among the unworthy are Ted Nugent, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Slash, Alex Liefson of Rush, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibson, Lindsey Buckingham, Robin Trower, Mick Taylor, Alvin Lee, Todd Rundgren, Nile Rodgers and Prince.  Angus Young of AC/DC barely squeaked in at an anemic #96. 

Only two women make RS’s list, Joni Mitchell and Joan Jett (#87) .  Apparently formidable slide guitar skills weren’t enough for Bonnie Raitt to qualify. 

Only one jazz guitarist was selected and that is former Miles Davis sideman,  John McLaughlin (#49).   Where are George Benson,  Al Di Meola, Mike Stern, John Scofeld,  Jonathan Butler, Stanley Jordan, Pat Metheny, Allan Holdsworth, Larry Carlton or Wes Montgomery?  Sucking hind tit behind Kim Thayil of Soundgarden (#100) and Greg Ginn (#99) of Black Flag. 

The nicest surprise on Rolling Stone list was the inclusion of Funkadelic guitar wizard, Eddie Hazel (#43).  Hazel on his good days could coax sounds out of his axe that would make better-known shredders whip their head around in awe and wonder.

Like I said, all lists are subjective and if I took 20 guitarists off of Rolling Stone’s list (and I could without thinking twice about it) to replace them with 20 guitarists I believed were more deserving  it would still only make me happy and piss off everybody else.  

  1.  Jimi Hendrix
  2. Eric Clapton
  3. Jimmy Page
  4. Eddie Van Halen
  5. Jeff Beck
  6. Wes Montgomery
  7. Carlos Santana
  8. Duane Allman
  9. Kirk Hammett
  10. Al Di Meola

That’s my list and I like it just as much as the critics at Rolling Stone likes theirs.  Is it a better list?   Well it’s better as far as I’m concerned but really it’s only different.

Which brings us right back to where we started about lists and opinions and how subjective they are.   

Still dead. Still better than anyone alive.