Before there was Bad Company, there was Free, and before this young group of guys established their soulful, groove-rock staple, they showed off their bluesy undertones in their debut album, Tons of Sobs.
Even if my old school interests and collection of friends twice my age make me feel like I was alive during the sixties and seventies — I wasn’t, but I can only imagine all the kooky stuff that went down when Free’s debut album surfaced. It was 1969, and people were getting freaky as the traditional characteristics of rock and roll began to change. The Doors in themselves opened up new opportunities for innovation, especially those of weirdness. Simple rhythms and lyrics were thrown out the window, forcing every new-comer musician to step their game up. The defining question developed as the seventies neared in: who could be the most different in this new, funky decade?
Rodney, an older gentleman I sell shoes alongside at Herbergers, made an interesting point recently about the themes laced in music today. He exclaimed that our current music scene doesn’t relate much to our time and place in history. Instead, songs often obsess over sex, break-up survival or bottle service at the club. Thanks to some of my favorite modern music men, Gary Clark Jr. and Jack White, I can’t agree with Rod completely, but to a degree he’s right — just who are the Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix type icons of today? Larger yet, what the hell happened to the blues?
Now we all know the blues will never die, but it’ll be hard to top what it once meant for the music industry. Tons of Sobs plays a mean blues game that doesn’t just preach about a sorrowing love interest. It’s an array of songs that detail the sentiments we think about all day long. The album’s lyrics are unexpected; somewhat dark and carefree. Rodgers’ voice sounds new and fresh, but pleasantly sparks and kicks like an old, classic vinyl. It truly is a great introduction to these musicians, and I don’t think anyone was prepared for the success that was about to come.
Tons of Sobs starts and closes with the two part “Over the Green Hills.” Part one gives the album a subtle start, and for about 30 seconds you’re mystified; sinking deeply into a certain kind of mood. Then, boom! Abruptly, the ride starts. Rodgers begins to curse us with the lyrics of the next song: “Worry,” shouting out the exact opposite feelings of every other sappy pick-me-up song holding the norm.
Then worry baby worry
There’s a reason for you to.
There’s a silent, deadly message
In the wind that’s meant for you.
Although some may get discouraged by confronting these kinds of actualities, I really appreciate the realism here. As much and I want to believe the road to happiness is worry-free, it’s impossible not to prelude the major decisions and events that occur in our daily lives. Our worries shouldn’t consume us, but it does no good to ignore them. Sometimes the only way you can really understand just what they are is to throw on a song and sing it out, and that’s what makes the blues the blues.
The bluesiest track on the album for me is “Walk In My Shadow,” majorly due to Rodgers’ range and the sexiness of what he’s alluding to. I think I would pass out with over-excitement if he sung this to me in person. “Sweet Tooth” is a straight up jam session; crazily sporadic but somehow in line. I love the bass line in “Goin’ Down Slow,” rocked out hard by then 16-year-old bassist Andy Fraser, who sadly passed away this past March. It’s not hard for songs to overshadow the bass, but on this album, its sound is extremely clear, which I really dig.
It’s quite easy for me to get lost in a song; engage in a relationship with the music itself. I, like any emotional human being, can easily drown out from the blues — something that just happens from time to time. A regular KQRS listener named Jared, who calls in every morning during the KQ Morning Show, kindly reminded me or something: if you’re having a bad day, you just have to go through it. Things don’t always work out the way you want, and sometimes the only thing you can do is blast some tunes and get over it. Take worries as they come and work them out with yourself, on your own time. It sure is comforting to know that no matter what happens, I can always stomp my foot to a beat, and that’s the one thing I’ll never fall out of love with.