Rock The Farm Returns To Jersey Shore

Eleven-hour marathon for a cause features tributes from AC/DC to Zeppelin

While there were no barns and cows, Rock the Farm 2018 didn’t need them. The fifth annual music tribute for a great cause that took place yesterday in Seaside Heights, N.J. rocked anyway and felt even better than last year when I attended the 11-hour marathon for the first time and wrote about it here.

Rock the Farm, a.k.a. Faux-Chella, is a pretty cool idea: Imagine an iconic music festival that could never happen in reality and bring it to life with compelling tribute acts and raise money for a great cause in the process. It sort of mirrors Live Aid on a mini scale, but instead of focusing on starvation in Africa, the fund-raising supports domestic addiction recovery programs. All of the performing bands donated their time to the cause, playing for free. That’s what I call greatness in America that actually deserves the expression!

Rock the Farm 2018 Line-Up

With the U.S. being in the throes of an opioid crisis that according to a fact sheet from CNN claimed more than 63,600 overdose deaths or an average of 115 people a day in 2016, an event like Rock the Farm couldn’t be more timely. And while no amount of money is too small to help address this astonishing loss of human life in one of the richest countries in the world, a staggering $18 billion is spent in the U.S. each year as a result of the opioid crisis. And that’s just opioids, so it doesn’t include alcohol or other drugs!

Rock the Farm is the main annual fundraiser of the non-profit CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which was established by the Regan family in 2015, after their son Daniel Regan had come out of a rehab center and with the help of his mother Lynn Regan developed a recovery system for himself. Other people noticed it was working for him and started asking how they did it. That’s when the Regan family realized everyone should have access to an aftercare program, sparking the idea of the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation.

According to their website, to date CFC has assisted more than 7,500 families to help overcome addiction by a loved one. Seeing founder Dan Regan and other CFC folks, and even more so, hearing from some other former addicts who had the courage to step on stage was inspiring to say the least. To me it’s the quintessential story of hope that has made America great and attracted immigrants like myself to its shores. I hope the country will never lose that!

All right, now that the “heavy stuff” is out of the way, it’s time for some great music. Since there was so much of it, I’m only going to highlight some of it.

Decade

Readers of the blog may recall I’ve covered this great Neil Young tribute band from New Jersey before. While they’ve only played together for a few years, all of the band’s members are seasoned musicians, and it shows. Decade are John Hathaway (lead vocals, guitar), Joey Herr (guitar, backing vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion). Here’s the opener of their set: A cool rendition of Star Spangled Banner a la Jim Hendrix, and Mr. Soul by Buffalo Springfield, which Neil Young co-founded with Stephen Stills, Richie FurayKen Koblun and Dewey Martin in Los Angeles in 1966.

Walk This Way

This terrific tribute band to Aerosmith came all the way from Dallas to support the cause and they kicked ass. While Walk This Way mostly perform in their home state, the show history on the band’s website indicates they also travel nationally and occasionally even beyond. Walk This Way feature Ian Latimer (as Steven Tyler, lead vocals), David Semans (as Joe Perry, guitar & backing vocals), Chris Bender (as Tom Hamilton, bass), Martin Turney (Joey Kramer, drums), Eamonn Gallagher (as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein (as Russ Irvin, keyboards). I wasn’t going feature what perhaps is the expected Aerosmith tune, the epic Dream On, but when these guys combined it with Train Kept A-Rollin’, I just couldn’t resist. It was the perfect finish to their great set.

Guns 4 Roses

Walk This Way wasn’t the only band that came all the way from Dallas. They were joined by Guns N’ Roses tribute Guns 4 Roses. Unfortunately, their website and Facebook page only provides the first names of the members (what’s that all about?), and I still had to conduct a bit of research to figure things out: Laz (as Axl Rose, lead vocals), Eamonn (as Slash, guitar), Chris (as Duff McKagan, bass), David (as Dizzy Reed, keyboards), Martin (as Steven Adler, drums) and Chris (Izzy Stradlin, guitar). Hope I got it right. Here’s Sweet Child O’ Mine, one of my favorite Guns N’ Roses tunes.

TUSK

This outstanding tribute to Fleetwood Mac, which mirrors the Rumours lineup, is another band from New Jersey. Their members include Kathy Phillips (as Stevie Nicks, vocals), Kim Williams (as Christine McVie, keyboards & vocals), Scott McDonald (as Lindsey Buckingham, guitar & vocals), Tom Nelson (as Mick Fleetwood, drums) and Randy Artiglere (as John McVie, bass). Like Walk This Way, TUSK is a national band, as indicated by the tour schedule on their website. Here’s Dreams and Say You Love Me from the Rumours (1977) and Fleetwood Mac (1975) albums, respectively.

Free Fallin’

Another band that took a long trip for Rock The Farm was Free Fallin’, a Minneapolis-based tribute to Tom Petty. He is yet another longtime favorite artist of mine, and with their execution of the music and Petty’s distinct vocals, I think Free Fallin’ would have made him proud. The band are Tom Brademeyer (as Tom Petty, guitar & lead vocals), Mark Larsen (as Stan Lynch, drums), Russ Lund (as Ron Blair, bass), Karl Swartz (as Mike Campbell, guitar & vocals), Dale Peterson (as Benmont Tench, keyboards, percussion & vocals) and Craig Volke (as Scott Thurston, guitar, keyboards, harmonica, percussion & vocals). While I think looks are secondary when it comes to tribute acts, it doesn’t hurt when they have visual similarity with the artists they capture. I should add that’s also the case for at least one member of each of the other tribute bands I’ve highlighted in this post. I was tempted to feature Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, for which Kathy Phillips of TUSK joined Free Fallin’, but I just couldn’t resist highlighting my favorite Petty tune instead: Refugee, from the excellent Damn The Torpedos album (1979). Just like Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, it was spot on.

Live/Wire

What better way to close out a great all-day festival than with the hard charging rock & roll of AC/DC – and, boy, did Live/Wire kick ass! This band from New York, which has been around since 2000, includes Mike Hughes (as Angus Young, lead guitar), Bill Voccia (as Malcolm Young, rhythm guitar), Chris Antos (as Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, lead vocals), Bill ‘Daytona’ Bowden (as Cliff Williams, bass) and Billy Rauff (as Phil Rudd, drums). While most tribute acts like to call themselves the “ultimate experience” or variations of the claim, I could imagine that Live/Wire are indeed “the ultimate AC/DC experience.” Based on their current 2018 schedule, the band’s touring radius appears to span the eastern half of the U.S. Here’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll). While there were apparent problems with the microphone for the bagpipes, frankly, it didn’t matter much. Instructions for the clip: To be played on a decent sound system at maximum volume!😜

Yes, an 11-hour festival is a marathon, and I can’t deny by back and feet were aching when it was all over, but it was worth each and every moment. So guess what? Come next September, and if I’m still alive, I’ll be back!

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN opioid crisis fast facts (June 2018); CFC Loud N Clear Foundation website; Decade Facebook page;  Walk This Way Facebook page and website; Guns 4 Roses Facebook page and website; TUSK website; Free Fallin’ Facebook page; Live/Wire website; YouTube

My Playlist: Toto

Even though their sound is pretty commercial pop, which to many music aficionados are bad words, I’ve always liked Toto for their great sound and outstanding musicianship. Here’s the thing: Yes, there are plenty of examples of terrible commercial pop music – just look at what’s currently dominating the charts. But just because something is selling well doesn’t mean it’s bad. Like it or not, a widely beloved and my all-time favorite band The Beatles made commercial pop music, at least during their earlier years. Or take Michael Jackson’s Thriller album: It probably doesn’t get more commercial than that, yet it’s one of the best records ever released, at least in my humble opinion. And there are countless other examples.

Toto was founded in Los Angeles in 1976 by David Paich (keyboards, vocals) and Jeff Porcaro (drums, percussion), who had known each other from high school and done studio session work together. They recruited four additional members: Jeff’s brother Steve Porcaro (keyboards), Steve Lukather (guitar, lead and backing vocals), David Hungate (bass) and Bobby Kimball (lead and backing vocals). Like Paich and Jeff Porcaro, each of the additional members had worked with other artists. In fact, according to the official Toto website, the band’s members have performed on a total of 5,000 records that together sold half a billion copies. Obviously, this includes both projects that predated Toto and side engagements after the band’s formation – still, these are astonishing numbers!

Toto
Toto in 1978

Paich co-wrote half of the songs for Boz Scaggs’ seventh studio album Silk Degrees from March 1976. Steve Porcaro, Hungate and Lukather also worked with Scaggs. Following the formation of Toto, Lukather became one of the most sought after session guitarists. Perhaps his most famous engagement in this context is his guitar work on Michael Jackson’s Beat It from the Thriller album. Jeff Porcaro, who at the time was a 20-year-old drummer, played on all except one Steely Dan tunes on their fourth studio record Katy Lied from March 1975 – anyone who could live up to the perfectionism of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker must have been top notch! Last but not least, Kimball before joining Toto had been a vocalist in various New Orleans bands and S.S. Fools, an unsuccessful short-lived venture with three former members of Three Dog Night.

After signing with Columbia Records, Toto began work on their eponymous debut album. Paich wrote all except two tracks for the record that appeared in October 1978. Though music critics weren’t impressed with Toto initially, the band soon got a significant following. The record reached the top 10 on the albums charts in various countries, including Australia (no. 2), Sweden (no. 5), Germany (no. 8), Canada and the U.S. ( both no. 9) – not shabby for a debut! Toto have since released 12 additional studio albums, six live records and numerous compilations. Between June 2008 and February 2010, the band was on hiatus. Last June, they announced their latest greatest hits collection 40 Trips Around The Sun and a 2018 tour to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Let’s get to some music!

The first time I recall hearing the name Toto was in connection with the song Hold The Line. Written by Paich, it was the lead single and most successful tune from their first album and remains one of my favorite Toto songs. In particular, I dig the keyboard part and the guitar riff.

Next up: The title track of Toto’s excellent sophomore album Hydra. Credited to all members of the band, it’s a pretty complex tune with all kinds of breaks and changes in tempo that nicely showcase top notch musicianship. You simply don’t play this stuff without plenty of experience!

Toto IV from April 1982 became the band’s most successful album, topping the charts in Australia, Canada and the Netherlands, and reaching the top 10 in many other countries, including the U.S. and U.K. (both no. 4) and Japan (no. 3). It also generated what became the band’s only no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100: Africa. Toto IV turned out to be Kimball’s last record with the band at the time. He was told to leave two years later after drug use had taken a toll on his voice. However, he would be back for Mindfields, the band’s 10th studio album from 1999, and stay on for the two albums thereafter. Toto IV’s lead single Rosanna, written by Paich, is yet another example of musical complexity the band seems to pull off effortlessly.

Since I suppose no Toto playlist would be complete without it, here’s Africa, which was co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro. Paich is sharing lead vocals with Kimball. Former Poco and Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit is among the guest musicians on the track, providing backing vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar.

In 1986, Toto released their sixth studio album Fahrenheit, the first with Joseph Williams as lead vocalist. It was also the last to feature three Porcaros: Jeff, Steve and their brother Mike Porcaro, who had replaced Hungate on bass shortly after Toto IV had come out. After Fahrenheit’s release, Steve left to focus on songwriting and music composing. While he continued to work with the band in a supporting capacity, it wouldn’t be until Toto XIV that he would be listed again as a core member. Here’s I’ll Be Over You, co-written by Lukather and American songwriter Randy Goodrum. Sung by Lukather, it’s perhaps Toto’s nicest ballad. The tune also features Michael McDonald on backing vocals. It became Toto’s highest charting single in the U.S. since Kimball’s departure, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Toto’s seventh study record, ingeniously titled The Seventh One, came out in March 1988. It’s one of my favorite Toto albums and the last to feature Williams until their most recent studio record Toto XIV from 2015. Similar to Kimball, Williams was let go after his voice had been impacted by drug use. One almost wonders whether Toto makes their lead vocalists take drugs, fire them thereafter, and eventually ask them to come back! Here’s a nice rocker, Stay Away, featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals and David Lindley on lap steel guitar.

By September 1992 when Kingdom Of Desire appeared, Toto had become a four-piece band, with Lukather performing all lead vocals. Their eighth studio album was also the last with Jeff Porcaro who passed away shortly after its release. Here’s the opener Gypsy Train, which like the majority of the record’s tracks is credited to the entire band. I hear a bit of an Aerosmith vibe in this one.

Tambu, released in May 1995 in Europe and in the U.S. the following month, is Toto’s ninth studio album and the first without Jeff Porcaro, who had been replaced by English drummer Simon Phillips. Similar to the band’s other members, Phillips had done plenty of session work. He also had been the drummer of The Who during their 1989 reunion tour in the U.S. Here’s The Turning Point, a groovy tune that’s credited to all members of the band plus Stan Lynch, the original drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Toto’s 10th studio record Mindfields appeared in Europe and the U.S. in March and November of 1999, respectively. Kimball’s return as a vocalist made Toto a five-piece band again. Here’s the title track, which is credited to all members of the band and features Kimball on lead vocals.

Since I’d like to keep playlists to no more than 10 songs while ideally spanning an artist’s recording career, I’m jumping to Toto’s most recent studio album, the previously noted Toto XIV. Released in March 2015, as mentioned above, the record once again featured Williams on lead vocals and Steve Porcaro as a core member. It also marked the return of original bassist Hungate; Mike Porcaro had been inactive since 2007 due to Lou Gehrig’s Disease and sadly succumbed to complications just days before the album came out. Keith Carlock had replaced Phillips on drums, who had decided to leave Toto in January 2014 and focus on his solo career. Here’s the haunting Burn, a Paich/Williams co-write that also became the album’s third single.

Toto’s current official core members include Williams, Paich, Porcaro and Lukather. Three weeks ago, the band announced that Paich won’t be part of the North American leg of their 40th anniversary tour and instead will focus on his health that took a hit during his recent appearances with Toto in Europe. In the statement Paich said: “To say this was a difficult decision would be a complete understatement. I hope you will all be understanding of my need to be home. I look forward to joining the boys again on stage ASAP.” In the meantime, Dominique Xavier Talpin, who among others played with Prince, will sit in on keyboards.

The band’s North American tour kicked off in Vancouver on July 30. Tonight the band is playing in Costa Mesa, Calif. before it’s on to Henderson, NV on Friday. The current schedule lists 32 additional North American dates all the way until mid-November at what mostly look like small and mid-size venues. One, State Theatre of New Jersey in New Brunswick, is right in my neck of the woods. I got two tickets today – if only more top notch bands would be as reasonable when it comes to ticket prices!

Sources: Wikipedia, Toto official website, YouTube