Saturday, March 2, 2019

Music Reviews: Pacific Gas & Electric

Pacific Gas & Electric, later known as PG&E after some unpleasant legal interactions with the utility company of the same name, was a late sixties/early seventies band based in blues-rock with a side order of soul and gospel. The band wasn't one which I think really stood out for instrumental virtuosity or songwriting skills. I think the band was worthwhile because of the soulful voice of the primary singer, Charlie Allen. The band was unusual then and now because it was racially integrated. 

I suppose this made it more difficult to get radio play as Allen's voice was unmistakably "black" while some of the guitar work sounded very "white". So perhaps the band was often too "black" for white radio and too "white" for black radio. So it goes. The band had broken up by the mid seventies. I don't think any of the band members ever truly hit the big time. Few musicians do. That's life. But there were two songs of theirs which I liked a lot. The first is "Death Row #172", a bluesy lament in which a Vietnam Veteran on Death Row wonders about his approaching end, how he got there, and what happens next.

I like this song because it's a reminder that people can do evil things and yet not be evil themselves. We can all fall from grace. I also love the bass line. Bass should always be heard and felt I say. The lyrics are pretty introspective. I'm not on death row but I do occasionally find myself listening to this song when I'm wondering about life decisions. Hope can sometimes arise in what looks like hopeless situations.

The second PG&E song which I liked a lot is "Are you ready?", a steaming slice of gospel rock which asks the listener if they are ready for the Messiah's return. The song owes a lot to the then contemporaneous sounds of people like the Hawkins Singers and the Staples Singers. There is a nasty guitar solo which fits surprisingly well with the gospel groove. I have actually heard a few gospel choirs do versions of this piece, which makes sense. The female backing vocals were done by the Blackberries, who had together or separately provided backing vocals for people such as Ike and Tina Turner, Humble Pie, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Bob Seger, Bette Midler and many more.

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