Rumble Talk: Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, Live 1987
by DJ Caterina and Rotten Kid Joe
“Is everybody sweating? That’s because it’s damn good music!”
Hey, even if you’re not sweating... are you ready to rock? Because we’re kicking off a new feature called Rumble Talk – a place where we review the best sounds in these parts...around this little plot of internet we call Audio Rumble.
To keep things on the up-and-up, DJ Caterina is also getting by with a little help from her friends for balance – and we don’t always agree!
My guest this week is Joe from Facebook’s Rotten Kid's Music Den. Joe has a great knowledge and interest in the song history of The Hooters, loves his rock 'n' roll, but also has a true appreciation for music across all genres. Join the Den if you want honest music opinions – those guys don’t bite, and it’s a great page!
This week’s Rumble Talk entry is a review of a live performance by Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, September 2, 1987, at Shenanigan's in Sea Isle City, New Jersey.
Tommy Conwell – vocals, lead guitar
Chris Day – backing vocals, guitar
Rob Miller – backing vocals, keyboards
Paul Slivka – bass
Jim Hannum – drums
DJ Caterina: My blog, Audio Rumble, usually only releases one ‘archived’ song at a time, but I had a special request last year for some full concerts by Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers from the 1986-1987 era. Request granted!
My favorite songs from this performance include "Night and Day" and "How Long You Wanna Live Anyway"…however, listening to this again today, I am very blown away by “Crazy Mixed Up World.” I mean, really! Will you listen to Jim Hannum working a groove on those drums during the break?
Rotten Kid: “How Long You Wanna Live” is a classic Stray Cats tune! Forgot that Tommy used to do this song! But I wonder if this concert is edited from its entire length? No way in 1987 the band didn't do “I’m Not Your Man,” “Loves on Fire,” “Everything They Say is True,” “Tonight's the Night,” etc. This was the height of the Walkin’ on the Water album… and it’s an odd set list. Wonder if this is the second set of the night? All the usual songs maybe played during the first set?
DJ Caterina: By June 1987, the band already knew they were signing with Columbia and this concert puts the five-man band together on the road for about 9 or 10 months, if not quite a year. This might have been a time where the band was trying out and/or rehearsing different songs for Rumble. For example, I notice “Smarty Pants” is played at the intro. That song is written by Tommy Conwell and doesn't show up again (as far as I know) until LList’s release of Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings' Hi-Ho-Silver.
Also, "Maybe She's Just Not There" was played a lot around this time but did not make it to the final record - this leads me to my theory of them trying out new songs, revisiting past songs, etc. Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers went into the studio for Rumble in the fall of 1987.
Rotten Kid: Hmmm. Very good observation, but still can't imagine them doing a show without the essential songs. Maybe they did two sets? I would guess this is only a partial show. It's almost a compilation of all the songs TCYR did live, but never recorded. Interesting.
Back to the opening song, “Smarty Pants” – I don’t recall ever hearing this song. But I was too young for the bar shows. I did see the Young Rumblers a lot during this time period playing high schools and colleges where the shows would only be one straight show with no breaks. It could just be my poor memory that I don’t remember this song. I always remembered them opening with "Rumble."
DJ Caterina: Is it possible that they were holding the core Rumble songs for the studio recording? I mean, these would become the staple songs – "I’m Not Your Man," "Workout," plus the others you mentioned – that the Young Rumblers would be known for. So, maybe it was just a matter of trying out newer material…at least for this concert?
It is an odd set list with some songs that were usually reserved for the three-piece band. Also, I forget that sometimes there were early and late shows….
Rotten Kid: Come to think of it -- this is a Sea Isle (Jersey shore) performance – chances are they played two long sets – I will almost bet this is the second set – first set had all the standards and then this second set would be the after midnight “fun” song set. This was a week before Labor Day in 1987 so the summer was still going strong… Even when you see the Young Rumblers perform today, Tommy’s formula for song order seems to be doing all the popular songs early, and then he does covers and fun tunes for encores. His last show at Ardmore Music Hall was pretty much all covers during the encore if I am not mistaken….
DJ Caterina: You are correct, sir! By the way, Ardmore Music Hall was so packed. I can’t believe we were in the same music hall and didn’t get a chance to finally meet…next time, Joe!
Rotten Kid: So back to the tracks..."Crazy Mixed Up World" – is this an original? This is another song I don’t remember too well – the title is familiar enough but the song itself doesn’t sound familiar at all – it’s OK – not the best of his unreleased material. Guitar solo and breakdown are the best moments of the song.
"Demolition Derby" is another song the Young Rumblers should record for a new album. This song is the heart and soul of his sound. Should be done properly in the studio. Give it a little punch and let it run wild!
DJ Caterina: This is a good version of Demolition Derby, but my favorite was probably played in Italy!
Rotten Kid: I think you are on to something, DJ Caterina – I do think these are songs considered for the album and maybe the band was holding off some of the Rumble songs – I know that I saw Tommy in concert a lot before the national album was released in 1988.
I remember thinking “where did these songs come from” when I first heard Rumble because TYCR didn’t do them live before... Mainly I'm talking about "Tell Me What You Want Me To Be," "I Wanna Make You Happy," "Half a Heart" and "If We Never Meet Again."
DJ Caterina: Right.
Rotten Kid: More thoughts as I listen to the rest of this concert...
“I Believe I’m In Love With You” – another song performed many times during this period. I would also add this to any potential TCYR new album. It's a great song that is pure Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers. Tommy doesn't have to re-invent the wheel if he records again...just stick to what makes the band great – simple guitar-oriented songs with great hooks and melodies.
"How Long You Wanna Live Anyway?” is a great Stray Cats cover here: blistering guitar work – takes a different direction with this cover – makes it more rockabilly – the Stray Cats version sounds more like the Ventures mixed with punk.
DJ Caterina: That’s an interesting opinion you have on “How Long You Wanna Live” -- my take on this version is the exact opposite. I feel that the Young Rumblers really rock this song and take it as far away from rockabilly as humanly possibly compared to the Stray Cats version. TCYR sounds way more punk and edgy to me here than the original. Are we listening to two different tracks, Joe?
Also, this is one of my favorite tracks that I’ve come across as of late from the Young Rumblers. Such great musicianship -- and the band is so confident! You can tell that everyone from Tommy to Paul to Jim to Chris and Rob – each man knows their strength and role. In my honest opinion, they sound like “The Best Band in America - 1987” right here…
Rotten Kid: Whoa! That's quite a statement! Here are some more of my reviews on these songs. “Truck Drivin' Son Of A Gun” by Dave Dudley – don’t remember hearing this one much either in concert – nice and rowdy.
And "Sweet Home Chicago" is a good one. I always felt the Young Rumblers should have put this on a record – I love Tommy’s version of this song; it’s the best I’ve ever heard. On “I Knew the Bride – Tommy always made this Nick Lowe-penned song his own; it’s a great cover and I love it.
DJ Caterina: Yeah, there is a cover of “Sweet Home Chicago” by the Young Rumblers from the Bottom Line in the fall of 1988 that is beyond amazing. That particular one has always been my favorite – it really captures the wild spirit and enthusiasm of a TCYR concert.
Rotten Kid: “Walkin’ By Myself” with lead vocals by Chris Day – another great blues-based song. They played this song countless times during this period. It's a fun song. “Reelin’ and Rockin’” – I have visions of being drenched in sweat during this one - they ended their long night many times with this song.
The more I look at this set list I am convinced that this has to be the second set of the night – they would come on around 10:30-ish play until 11:30-ish then take a break come back on after midnight play until a bit before 2 am.
DJ Caterina: Well, at least we can agree that the band is rockin' this performance, right?
Rotten Kid: Right. “It’s Your Life” is another song that I always thought should have been recorded for one of the albums – I like this song a lot. Let’s hope the Young Rumblers record this for a new album. A lot of artists seem to be delving into their old demos from 20 years ago and just revamping them a bit. I really like this formula – Van Halen went down this path and it helped capture their sound from the early days. I think Tommy has plenty of good material that he has never released.
DJ Caterina: I agree that the Young Rumblers have some great unused material. And it seems that Tommy himself has been re-visiting some of the older, unreleased songs in the last few years.
For example, in March 2013, TC updated an unreleased demo called “May We All Be Here” -- played at Coffee Works in Voorhees, NJ. The lyrics were updated...it was so great to hear!
And even earlier in 2013, he also performed “Time’s Gonna Make It Right” – a song co-written with Jules Shear (Rumble-era) at an acoustic show at The Blockley.
So, it seems that Tommy is slowly re-visiting these old songs. It might take awhile for anything new to arrive, but for those of us keeping track, we are very excited about it. Only time will tell!