The Most Overqualified Second Guitarist in Rock
Grin - The Very Best of Grin (Sony, 1999)
Grin - Moon Tears
Grin - Love or Else
Grin - Everybody's Missin' the Sun
Grin - Rusty Gun
Grin - Nobody
Never in my life did I think that I'd ever have a mouth dropping to the steering wheel, pull over to the side of the road moment when an unknown song came fizzing out of my car stereo. That thought was ended early in the morning last Sunday when 'Rusty Gun', the penultimate track on the Grin best-of thrown into my 10 disc changer as a last minute filler. Before I go on, I would like to firstly send a big shout out to Fire of Love who introduced me to the wonders of Grin. I'm a huge fan of the Boss, have listened to 'After the Goldrush' at least a thousand times, and 'Keith Don't Go' is one of my Dad's all time favourite songs. So it can be safely said that I knew who the scruffy little Grecian leprechaun known as Nils Lofgren rather well. But before 'Moon Tears' knocked me full on my arse I'd never imagined investigating Grin, Lofgren's short lived country rock power trio (later a foursome). Thank you Fire for showing me the error of my libidinous ways.
'Rusty Gun' immediately reminds me of another new favourite of mine (thanks to Cameron Crowe's trailer for Elizabethtown), 'My Father's Gun' by Tumbleweed Watchin' Tobacco Chewin' period Elton John. This is probably for several reasons: they both have the word 'gun' in the title (duh... but semantics are always a good mental primer); they're both a "I'm a little bit country..." in their instrumentation and vocal twang; and they're both steeped in melancholy follwing the death of a family member with the aforementioned gun representing a symbol of both loss and paternity. However, 'Rusty Gun' runs to only 2:21 and one verse (no chorus), lacking the sense of epic proportions that John clearly savours testing his musical chops out on. Sounds a bit crap doesn't it? Well, it's not. With it's accordion/wurlitzer carnivale feel battling against the abrupt acoustic strums and maraca clicks, it pushes along nicely with Nils putting in a strong, emotive vocal that battles against his normal reedier and waif-like verbal stylings. So we get to 1:16 as the verse ends with the intonation "He was my son/Now he's just a rusty gun". Silence falls. You think it's the end, turning your back on the snarling cur before you're shot in the back like John Wayne in 'The Cowboys'. Bang! The most accomplished, acoustic guitar solo comes chattering out of the speakers and begins to boil in keeping with the intesity of the situation. I have never heard harmonics used to better effect in my life than on this song. No, not even by Eddie Van Halen. It's like 'Runnin With the Devil' but without the high kicks, multi coloured leather pants, or Michael Anthony looking like a bit pervy (have you seen how he sticks his tongue out in the 'Jump' which, coupled with his awful lip synching makes my skin run for the hills). Pretty good for someone who's not old enough to get soused at the local dive.
'Nobody' is an old forgotten B-side, unavailable on any other CD (though that may change with the new album re-issues), so be glad that I've made it available. It bristles with professional slickness that would be eventually co-opted by guitar slingers like Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, and J Geils. Tight, intelligent, but still poppy enough to get the shoulders bouncin' and the fingers running along air fretboards. The same could be said for 'Love or Else', another real favourite. It' essentially soft rock but without the ensuing pretensions and melodrama that often spring from that particular fountain. Maybe that was the problem with Grin's lack of any real success in their time. They were just too nice. When the chorus comes round with its demand of "Gimme gimme now baby/Love or Else" it's gotten to the point where its all become rather enjoyable. The tune's light but distinctive much like Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. 'Cept the drummer's probably even more of a womaniser than Animal if Grand Funk Railroad are to be believed. If Iggy was singing those words in his atonal drawl, I would be readying myself for a swift lie down so that I could recuperate, rather than remembering my strange attraction to Janice, the Electric Mayhem's naturalist, big lipped, pot smokin' guitar player. At this point, I should reaffirm that I think all these songs are fantastic much like I think Boz Scaggs mid 90s album ' Some Change' is a masterpiece. I'm a bit of a sook like that.
If my fandom has put you off then I recommend that you listen to the handpicked favourite of Mr Love, 'Moon Tears', by far the most supercharged number Grin ever performed. Starting with two bars of industrial sized chords it immediately plunges into Nils growling a tale of completely barking mad nonsense which I of course find dazzling. "Ask me if it's right to love another guy/First I say yes then I say why?" are the last words you'll hear before being plunged into the 'gooey gooey rich and chewy' goodness of the chorus. It has barrelhouse piano cantankerously rolling along at the fastest seppd it can muster and Joe Dante howls before another sub-ten second circuit of the verse. It's as if Lofgren is just itching with the fever to let loose with his guitar which he finally does to magnificent effect with a wonderful twin guitar solo that Wishbone Ash, the Allman Brothers and Thin Lizzy would all willingly tip their collective fedoras to.
Personally, I think Bruce should start letting Nils sing some of the songs at his shows. The things are becoming marathons so why not inroduce a nice bit of levity. Fuck ten minute versions of Sam Cooke. Hand Nils a Stratocaster, push him into the spotlight, and ask him to sing that ditty he wrote about a letter that he had to main right away to his great inspirer in the USA. Incidentally, the man himself is touring the UK soon and I'm sure that I'll be at the Shepherd's Bush Empire to see him. Anyone wanting to meet up is more than welcome to drop me a line. Disco may suck but country rock kicks derriere, mon frere.
Buy - Grin - The Very Best of...
Visit - Nils Lofgren