Not longer after his high profile gig with Alice Cooper, Al (whose biography I'm writing) did 2 albums apiece with these 2 oft under-appreciated bands & 3 1/2 tours pretty much overlapping over a handful of years. Neither of them really came to any great commercial high for him, but he got to be creative, keep his name in circulation, expand his musical horizons a bit, meet some new people, play with members of Twisted Sister, Yes, ELO, A-Ha & most importantly have a paycheck without too much pressure to find an ugh day job. What more can a musician ask in the end without being greedy? Personally, I consider them both highlights of his pre-Savatage/Megadeth output.
Actually, I've become a big fan of Asia, in all its incarnations but particularly with bassist/songwriter/singer John Payne, because of finding more about the band via writing about Al. I always knew their first 2 MTV charting albums, but nothing more until writing the book. Now I own it all & look forward to their forthcoming much-delayed Americana release. Al doesn't know how many bands he's introduced me to that I've come to love even after he stopped contributing or being a member, including Megadeth!
But, for my book, the timeline is vital like a heart pumping. So, which came first - Asia or Widowmaker? I know that Al released the Coven Pitrelli Reilly album & wasn't on the little regional tour that followed for an obligation with one of these bands, but I hadn't been able to figure out which one was responsible for that obligation. Then, with one of the most old fashioned things in music ... & something becoming extinct thanks to technology & the forthcoming generation of kids ... I got my answer just the other day. Now, I know who the next chapter of the book, #10, is going to be about!
In the liner notes to Coven Pitrelli Reilly's great release CPR, Al has "... thanks to T.M. Stevens, Joe Franco, Rick Wake ..." Former James Brown funky bassmaster Stevens Al did a session with & would later play in his band & on many albums. Rick Wake, though I know him as Ric Wake from other liner notes, was the producer of Al's first sessions for Donny Osmond Eyes, Henry Lee Summer, Kathy Troccoli & Expose. But, there's drummer Joe Franco of Twisted Sister & Widowmaker! Questioned answered! Chapter 10 here I come. I'm not gonna take it ... this delay!
Nope! A little bit farther down is thanks to "... Geoff Downes, John Payne ..." That's Asia! Drummer Carl Palmer had already left for an ELP reunion, to be replaced by 3 session drummers including Michael Sturgis of A-Ha, so Asia is really a trio, though label PR at the time would keep Palmer's departure a secret. So, with no mention of Widowmaker's 2 other members in the liner notes ... Confucious say, first come the oriental then come the widowmaker!
So, what's the lesson to be learned here? Liner notes are super important for us historians, not to mention the geeky fans who want to know everything, let alone fans who just want more than the music! But, now, the question is asked - where have all the liner notes gone? In this age of downloads & online only releases the liner notes are slowly, if not really quickly, vanishing. There's a generation that cares nothing for liner notes or packaging, as they burn CDs to their computer & iPods & throw out the physical product without a care or even a glance. Some musicians even fill their liner notes with fluffy artwork as they know writing long essays isn't worth it. Other bands, like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, through whom many know Al for, with their Night Castle, should get awards for keeping the liner notes alive & literary, but that's fast becoming a minority.
What band offers pdf liner notes to download? I can think of Lou Reed. I do it. But, how many buyers actually download the liner notes? Let alone, how many download an album or some songs from iTunes & look up who the musicians are on each track? It's hard enough that I don't know which of the 3 drummers is playing on what track on Al's first album with Asia, but without liner notes I would have no clue there are 3 drummers, unless wikipedia fills me in.
Without liner notes look what important fact I would have missed for my work! For days I've been pondering this missing piece of the timeline pie, not being able to start the next chapter without it, let alone finish the Coven Pitrelli Reilly chapter the way I want. All I could write was something akin to "Al didn't tour CPR as he was obligated to tour with another band." It's a nice cliff-hanger zero spoiler ending setting up the next chapter ... but at the same time was chapter 10 going to be about Asia or Widowmaker? This isn't a tv series that gets cancelled. I need to know what happens next.
Cliff hangers are nice, but I'd really much rather have a nice end of chapter sequeway, something like: "... while Al enjoyed performing with Randy Coven & John Reilly, working with Dee Snider in Widowmaker was a more lucrative gig as Snider's past reputation via MTV icons Twisted Sister meant a built in audience for the new group". Or, perhaps something like: "... while Al enjoyed performing with Randy Coven & John Reilly, the invite to join Asia & help them reboot, now sans the vocalist/songwriter who'd crafted their MTV hits a few years earlier, was too lucrative to ignore. If, for no other reason, then Asia had a reputation far stronger than the Randy Coven Trio & many would see Al as the guitarist who was good enough to replace Steve Howe of Yes, even if technically other guitarists had walked before him."
Though, I guess I could have always written a book with both versions & the reader can "choose your own" next chapter, like those children's books that used to be popular. That would be a first in biographies! It would be a first ... maybe at the same time a last ... but I feel sad for the future biographer who is definetly going to be the last to know the pleasure of delving into liner notes to find out information!
But, before you argue that asking the subject is the solution. Sorry, but nope. There's an early Alice Cooper autobiography, co-written by Alice, where he talks about touring a song a couple years before the song was written. While Aeromsith's Steven Tyler's autobiography, I recently saw critiqued in a magazine, discusses how Tyler would bounce around his bedroom as Spider-Man ... 8 years before the comic character was invented!
If I haven't already made you sad on the loss of liner notes - which is indeed what I'm aiming for with this blog post - one more example from my current writing will do it, showing how even wikipedia is no replacement. All over the internet you'll find that Al played with forgotten Mellencamp-esque heartland singer Henry Lee Summer on his first 2 albums. I bought the albums - as e-mails were unreturned from Summer's management - as I buy everything with Al. You can already predict that I'm going to now tell you that he's not listed on either! Not even a minor thank you tucked away. Then I bought the third album & there he was alongside Joe Franco & Ric Wake, though for the one track "Till Somebody Loves You". Yet, seemingly nowhere on the internet will you find this third album listed as including Al. Even wikipedia had the Summer listing wrong. It may still be, unless I corrected it. I know how this happened. There's a lousy Al discography out there which people copy information from & nobody has bothered to buy the albums & verify the accuracy of anything. This is why I refuse to download any album featuring Al Pitrelli's name in any context. I have to see those liner notes. Imagine me writing the book talking about these first 2 albums, obviously unintentionally making up information & outlandishly misinterpreting history, let alone not even listening to the albums. Got it? Now, imagine me handing the rough draft to Al to read. Notice the look on his face? Or, interviewing Summer - I've tried many times but no e-mails are returned - about his multiple albums with Al! I'll be laughed out the door so fast by both of them, let alone my reputation will be garbage to any who hear about the incident. I may not be always accurate, but at least I try. To not read liner notes is not even trying.
Now, there is a chance Al was on the first 2 albums & isn't mentioned for some reason or other. It happens. I know pianist Bob Kinkel of Trans-Siberian Orchestra worked on an Aerosmith album as an assistant engineer but they didn't list him - he told me directly. Dee Snider's Van Helsing's Curse Al co-created & played guitar on, but for some reason I've yet to verify is missing from the liner notes until the reissue years later. Al is on the album, no doubt. Of course, I've seen people write that the album was completely re-recorded with Al on guitar for the reissue. Not true. One only has to listen to know this, let alone read interviews with Dee who is very talkative & forthright. But, when writing internet pages who has time to buy & listen to the music being written about?
So, that being said, long praise the liner notes.
Or, maybe ... rest in peace, mourned eternally?
Oh, if you're wondering what I did with those 2 Henry Lee Summer albums I suddenly didn't need? Well, I reviewed them for my blog & ended up being a few more albums by him. What a great singer & songwriter ... who I had never heard of before researching Al's life! Which is why I want to interview him ... I just like the guy's music! I'm a fan.