Graded on a Curve:
Rick Derringer,
All American Boy

I don’t know about you, but I spend plenty of time thinking about the words I want engraved on my headstone. They’re going to be there for eternity, after all, so you want your epitaph to be both eye-catching and memorable. Over the years I’ve gone from E.M. Cioran’s, “Only one thing matters; learning to be the loser” to “Futility Lies Here” to “This is all your fault.” But I always come back to the aside Rick Derringer tosses off in the middle of “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo,” to wit, “Did somebody say keep on rockin’?”

“Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” is one of rock’s greatest songs, and Derringer’s version is decidedly superior to the one recorded by Johnny Winter in 1970. Winter’s version is surprisingly sluggish, and it took Derringer, an axe-slinger more attuned to pure rock’n’roll than the blues, to really press down on the accelerator. And Derringer’s rock chops are what make his 1973 LP, All American Boy, so wonderful.

The ex-McCoy—you know, the band that gave us “Hang on Sloopy”—has very impressive bona fides as a sideman and hired gun. He has had a quasi-incestuous relationship with the Winter Brothers and participated in various of their projects, played on several Steely Dan tunes, was responsible for the guitar solo on Alice Cooper’s “Under My Wheels,” and played on Todd Rundgren’s best albums, including Something/Anything. And I’m just cherry picking here.

But it’s the solo (and star-studded) LP All American Boy that is his finest hour. It’s all over the place, but most of its songs work, and what we’re looking at here is a sadly neglected album of great merit. He certainly brought in the talent: Edgar Winter plays keyboards, David Bromberg plays guitar and dobro, Joe Walsh throws in on electric guitar, Bobby Caldwell handles drum chores, Suzi Quatro plays bass on those songs that Kenny Passarelli doesn’t, and Toots Thielemans even contributes on harmonica.

The resulting LP is mostly hard rock with some glam flourishes, along with a few slower ones thrown in. It includes most of my favorite Derringer tunes, with the exception of (amongst others) “Skyscraper Blues” and “Still Alive & Well,” the latter of which Derringer wrote but Johnny Winter saw fit to include on his 1973 LP of the same name. Indeed, Winter liked Derringer’s songwriting so much he also tossed in the latter’s great “Cheap Tequila,” which shows up on All American Boy.

You know you’re in for some high-voltage rock’n’roll excitement from the glam-influenced cover on down, and Derringer doesn’t disappoint. From opener “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” with its scratchy riffs, great groove, and funky chorus, to say nothing of Derringer’s gruff vocals and his fabulous guitar solo, what we have here is one of the seventies’ ultimate party songs, with Derringer gleefully singing, “Getting’ high all the time/Hope y’all are too.” He follows “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” with the rambunctious and brief instrumental “Joy Ride,” which features more excellent guitar and some truly funky percussion. Meanwhile, he proves he can come up with a pretty melody on the slow and more orchestrated “Teenage Queen,” one of the LP’s two violations of the Mann Act, the other being the hard-rocking and fast moving “Teenage Love Affair,” which boasts an irresistible chorus and one very distorted wah guitar solo, which is guaranteed to make your day, you filthy pervert you.

“Cheap Tequila” is a kissing cousin of “Dead Flowers,” and works wonderfully in its country-honk way thanks to Bromberg’s dobro and one spectacularly cool chorus. I can’t say enough good things about this song, which explores rock’s dark side and is truly a lost classic. “Drink up and be happy,” sings Derringer, “Live just for today/Drown in cheap tequila/And flush yourself away.” Follow-up “Uncomplicated” is another lost classic; it doesn’t soar but it certainly rams it home with some big riffs, and why it never made FM radio is beyond me. Derringer’s vocals are great, the chorus is a blunt blow to the solar plexus, and Derringer’s guitar solo is as fine a thing as you’ll ever hope to hear. Then there’s the ballad “Hold,” which Derringer co-wrote with Patti Smith of all people. It’s a bit too overproduced (strings, sorta cheesy piano, female backing vocals) for my taste, but there’s just no beating that melody, which is more soul than rock’n’roll.

Side Two isn’t as strong as Side One, although it opens with the lovely “The Airport Giveth (The Airport Taketh Away),” a road song with a beautiful melody that has Rick singing the blues over leaving his love behind to go a’ touring. It also takes on a gospel tone when all those female vocalists come in, and I love it far more than I do “It’s Raining,” the easy-listening follow-up that opens with Thieleman’s harmonica and goes nowhere from there. Fortunately it’s short. “Time Warp” is another instrumental on which Derringer shows off his chops, but it stinks of fusion and I want nothing to do with it. The organ and percussion are good, but I don’t like the tone of Derringer’s “space age” guitar or the song, and that’s that.

“Slide On Over Slinky,” with its female backing vocalists, sounds like Derringer is trying to reproduce the success of “Hang on, Sloopy,” but its funky beat doesn’t do much for me. Even Derringer’s guitar solo sounds perfunctory, and while I wouldn’t turn it off, I would never put it on in the first place. Even his, “A little bit of sleaze/Is just what I need” doesn’t win me over, which leaves album closer “Jump, Jump, Jump,” a slow and bluesy tune about suicide. The melody works, and Derringer’s echoing guitar solo (and the whole song for that matter) remind me for some reason of Steely Dan. Probably due to its atmospheric tone, which works thanks to Derringer’s restrained but brilliant guitar playing, one bright piano, and some uncredited saxophone, by Edgar Winter most likely.

Derringer will be better remembered as a sideman and guitar-for-hire than for his solo recordings, and that’s too bad because he wrote a whole bunch of excellent songs and played the hell out of them. Is it his fault if every band or musician in the world turned to him when they wanted a killer guitarist to play on their LPs? Why, he even played the guitar solo on Weird Al Yankovic’s Michael Jackson parody, “Eat It.” “Did somebody say keep on rockin’?” Yes, and I intend to do just that, even after death. It’ll be right there for you to read, on my tombstone.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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  • art blose

    Sorry dudes, this didn’t age well when it was out, and upon refreshing my memory, time hasn’t been kind. Yes, RRHC and Cheap Tequila were good, but this had so much filler that it was painful. This was out when I was in 8th or 9th grade, and we rode around with kids old enough to drive, and who were proud of their 8-tracks. We lived in the PA anthracite coal region, and music was scarce, unless we got to go to a metropolis such as Lebanon or Pottsville. This and other turds such as Brownsville Station played interminably on repeat as we cruised around the back roads looking for beer and weed. Went back recently and re-acquainted myself with some of these high-school classics. Thumbs down on Ric and White Trash live LP, thumbs sorta up on Cactus Ot & Sweaty, and the first Elf, as well as Smokin’. Bowie is unimpeachable, as well as Mott and Roxy. But the best of this is better suited to a best-of-the 70s comp.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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