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The Freedom of Music: In the Heat of the Shite

August 14th, 2011


One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

It was the great cover that made me listen in the first place to The Pat Travers Band Heat in the Street. It sat in my bedroom for ages, along with Puttin’ It Straight, a later Travers opus. The covers to both were “themed covers,”© to coin a phrase. On the front was a scene, oddly normal, but strange. The back cover is the same scene, minutes later, and things are no longer normal.

sidebar-4 Heat in the Street, for example, features the band members suntanning in a parking spot on a busy city street. Two female police officers and a male one are on the scene. Strange, but believable. On the back cover all normalcy is gone. The police officers have not arrested the sun-tanners laying on lounges in their bathing suits, but have joined the party. The police women, it turns out, are hotties, and sitting, shorts open, talking to the band members.

I spent hours pouring over that album cover, studying the band members, studying the police women, looking for clues in the front of the hot party girls of the back, looking for other, less obvious differences between front and back. I loved that cover, and eventually it led me to listen to the music inside.

“Some call what we play blues based rock,” Pat Travers told the audience at the Kitchener Blues Fest last weekend. “Some call it,” he hesitates, searching for word, “shite, I guess,” he shrugs and laughs. Well yea, that’s probably true. If it’s not blues based rock, it’s not really anything. And not really anything is pretty much shite.

Fortunately for Pat Travers, he qualifies as blues based rock.

Travers is probably most known songs for a couple of pretty politically incorrect numbers. Snortin’ Whiskey and Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights promote violence and drug use. Good party music,we called it in the 70’s and early 80’s. Shite people would call it today, pretty much without listening.

Snortin’ Whiskey is a party rocker. The main line, “snortin’ whiskey and drinkin’ cocaine,” is certain to offend the folks at MADD, AA, and any other temperance group with a Facebook page. That one line is so inappropriate, if Travers was writing it now he would be compelled to rap it over a sample of When the Levee Breaks.

Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights is worse:

No Kiddin’, I’m ready to fight.
I’ve been lookin’ for my baby all night
If I get her in my sight,
Boom Boom (out go the lights)

traversOf course, it’s an old Little Walter song, a true blues legend. And there is an argument it’s not about smacking his woman around, it’s about making love to her. With Travers pumping two guitars through Marshall Amps at volume, both songs fall clearly into the rock category. And both would qualify as traditional, roadhouse blues based on the lyrics. So yea, blues based rock Pat Travers music undeniably is.

In 1982, Travers hit the Am radio with the top 40 hit, I La La La Love You. It’s your pretty standard 80’s fare, keyboards, over produced guitars and “I la la la love you,” lyrics. It is, some might call it, shite.

I keep returning to that Heat in the Street cover. Clearly The Pat Travers Band had a sense of fun, that was the draw of the cover (hot police women notwithstanding). And then you put the album on, and the song, Heat in the Street comes up. A classic 70’s rock lick, played over an A chord: a complex version of Tie Your Mother Down, and you think, who cares what they call it? This guy is a virtuoso guitar player, playing great rock songs, I’ll listen all day.

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