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One of the great, lost, legendary live albums in '70s rock finally sees a legitimate, full-length release with Real Gone Music's deluxe, 2CD issue of The Alabama State Troupers "Road Show". The brainchild of Elektra president Jac Holzman and Memphis music legend Don Nix, the 'Troupers were supposed to be a traveling roadshow highlighting the talents of various Southern musicians who were signed to Elektra, most prominently Nix, singer Jeanie Greene (best known for her work with Elvis and at Muscle Shoals), and guitarist Lonnie Mack. Days before the tour, Mack quit, having had a self-described Biblical vision telling him not to go, so Nix found quite the replacement: legendary bluesman Furry Lewis, whose solo set takes up the first side of the double album. The rest of the record features Nix and Greene with what amounts to be the backup group of your Southern R&B wet dreams; dubbed the Mt. Zion Band and Choir, it featured such stellar talents as guitarists Wayne Perkins and Tippy Armstrong, vocalists Marlin Greene and Brenda Patterson, keyboardist Clayton Ivey,bassist Bob Wray and other Muscle Shoals sidemen. Recorded at two October 1971 California performances, Road Show is kind of like the American version of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, a rollicking, boisterous and most of all soulful blend of gospel, R&B and rock in which one can hear the nascent stirrings of what would come to be known as Southern rock a little later in the decade. Our Real Gone release features liner notes by Chris Morris drawn from a new interview with Don Nix, with added photos. Folks have been waiting for this one to come out for years.
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In 1975, at the Renaissance Club (9th and Peach, Cin., OH) Lonnie Mack and I were cleansing our palates at intermission. I asked The Mule about his brief, but well-publicized, and hasty exit from The Alabama State Troupers. His discourse started with a recap of his "failed" Hills of Indiana (Elektra 1971) record, which somehow led to his inclusion in the AST project, his rapid departure back to Indiana to drive trucks, and his attendance at Paul and Linda McCartney's Queen Mary blow-out. (SEE: The Neville Brother's "Live on the Queen Mary" CD)
At his mention of The Hills of Indiana recording, I honed in on the song "Asphalt Outlaw Hero". He blew past an answer or discussion of this burning, guitar-drenched, gear-grinder. The only known live version of that number may be included in this CD document. Unfortunately, Lonnie had already decamped from the AST for supposed religious reasons (?), so his voice and screaming guitar are not featured on his own composition. Prior to its release, The Alabama State Troupers recording got a half-page ad in Rolling Stone (when RS was still a music tabloid). The recording (vinyl) was never available; at least not to me, and I was looking for it.
What we have here and now, in CD format, is a healthy slice of early '70s communal music. The Alabama State Troupers was, more or less, an idealised attempt at a traveling musical revue. Don Nix was presenting Elektra's All-American answer to A&M's (later ATCO) Delaney & Bonnie and friends first recordings. D&B attracted some solid domestic players and high-powered European ringers. Don Nix and the AST were all excellent Southern USA studio masters. Life is funny, and Reality can be tougher, on even grizzled road warriors. The AST's only (as far as I know) recorded document finds Southern Country Rock being crushed by the economics of the record industry and no support mechanism to keep it afloat in a very competitive marketplace.
Lonnie Mack went home and produced(?) "Home" and "Pismo". Two sets of recordings that down-played his guitar god accolades. On those offerings, he was recording with his younger brother Billy (also on guitar).
Lonnie, Billy, some friends and neighbors were playing that night at The Renaissance Club. Lonnie finished his last set flat on his back with a half-gallon of bourbon, as he sang his butt off, while Billy admirably covered the lead guitar. Later, we stood in a circle singing, while Lonnie "directed". He told me I looked like Bobby Bare, so I tried to deliver what I thought Lonnie wanted to hear.
Soon after that night Lonnie disappeared from public view again. Billy joined the military. Lonnie later was performing behind Alligator and Capitol releases that epitomized a career that was "Too Rock for Country, Too Country for Rock and Roll". If Lonnie had stayed with the Troupers would that aggregation have caught fire? All we have is mere conjecture, plus a very fine live recording of Lonnie's "Asphalt Outlaw Hero", sans the composer. A tune that, I believe, could have been the AST's "Let It Rain". Lonnie garnered admiration from other guitarists and singers, but he never hit superstardom. The Alabama State Troupers, collectively and individually, have their admirers and boosters. It is a shame the individuals' talents were not hailed when they were gathered in the group that was The Alabama State Troupers.
If you find this CD at a reasonable price and have any interest in music from this time and/or these musicians, then do yourself a favor and buy this CD. I doubt you will regret the outlay. You might regret Lonnie Mack's absence, but on occasion eccentric talents make unfathomable choices.