Bruised, but Sweet: A Bad History of David Wilcox

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Thread: Bruised, but Sweet: A Bad History of David Wilcox

  1. #1

    Post Bruised, but Sweet: A Bad History of David Wilcox

    In my childhood home there was a radio in the bathroom, kitchen, all the bedrooms, living room, garage, and the car among other places. Young me wasn’t always fond of the news and stuffy uncool information being poured into every part of the house, but on the occasions I had control of the dial, I have distinct memories of rock radio. Q92 – Sudbury’s Best Rock, with Terry & Mel. I don’t recall the personalities at all, but I do remember a concert of great classic rock and of course endless ads. I still remember some of the jingles, sadly.

    Of that onslaught of admittedly mainstream rock and marketing, much of which I don’t find too interesting any longer, the one name that always stands out as a ringing positive is David Wilcox. A Canadian guitarist, singer and songwriter, he only had about five hits that I ever heard over the airwaves, but what fantastic hits they were.

    Now, in my old age, I have never taken the time to dig into this blues-rock virtuoso’s back catalogue. I aim to fix that, so welcome to…

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    I don’t know much about this fella other than he plays a mean guitar and loves blues n’ boogie-woogie. So, let’s start with some basics:

    David Wilcox
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    Born: July 13, 1949 in Montreal Quebec Canada

    According to Wilcox’s own site:
    “Wilcox discovered Elvis at age six, started picking guitar a couple of years later, and played his first gig – to a room full of ex-convicts at age fourteen. A devoted acoustic fan, young David bought a second-hand Telecaster from a pawn shop on a whim and didn’t even know how to turn on the amp when he auditioned for Ian & Sylvia.”

    He got that part and played with Ian & Sylvia as part of country-rock The Great Speckled Bird, “backing the likes of Anne Murray, Charlie Rich and Carl Perkins on Ian’s weekly international TV show.” He played for three years, and two albums.

    In 1976 he started the band David Wilcox and the Teddy Bears, playing locally. Then in 1977 he would release his first solo album, Out of the Woods, producing three of the aforementioned five hits that were played every week, if not every day, on Q92. While it was not initially a breakout, the album was reissued in 1982 when he signed on with Capitol records and went gold.

    Subsequent to that he released a number of solo records, a few compilations and hits records, and one album that I’m most excited to discover, wherein he joined a quartet for one album consisting of James Burton (One of Elvis’ band leaders), Albert Lee (played with Eric Clapton and the Everly Brothers) and finally Amos Garrett (who played with Stevie Wonder, and more).

    David Wilcox is by no means the biggest star in rock, but I’ve always enjoyed his fun take on blues and radio rock. The hits are uproarious and often comedic, so we’ll see if the meat of his career enthralls me as well. His discography is as follows, with the bold items being the ones I plan on reviewing (assuming I can actually find these anywhere. I haven't really got this planned out...):

    You Were on my Mind (1972)
    Ol’ Eon (1973)

    Out of the Woods (1977)
    Schooled for You (197
    My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble (1983)
    Bad Reputation (1984)
    The Best of David Wilcox (1985) (Compilation)
    Breakfast at the Circus (1987)
    Over 60 Minutes With ... David Wilcox (1987) (Compilation)
    The Natural Edge (1989)
    The Collected Works 1977–1993 (1993) (Compilation)
    Thirteen Songs (1996)
    Greatest Hits Too (1997) (Compilation)
    Rhythm of Love (2002)
    Rockin’ The Boogie: The Best of Blues and Boogie (2003) (Compilation)
    Boy in the Boat (2007)
    Guitar Heroes (2015)

    David Wilcox is still playing to this day and according to his website is currently working on new material.

    All information comes from Wikipedia, Google, and David Wilcox's site.

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    With all that said, please bear with me while I bang out the first installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; November 20th, 2019 at 12:21 AM. Reason: Schooled For You changed from 1976 to 1978. D'oh.

  2. #2
    Good to see you back in the game, BH.

    I have to admit I've never heard of David Wilcox. I do like blues though and I look forward to seeing your reviews on the man. I'll try to give him a listen when I get a chance.
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  3. #3
    I want to start with Ian & Sylvia and Old Speckled Bird because I was interested in Wilcox’s earliest stuff, the things that may have been formative. I have no doubt this was a highly educational period for David.

    Ian & Sylvia are apparently quite well known, though I was unfamiliar. Nothing about a folksy 70s duo really interests me inherently, so this will be a quick listen to the two albums that David contributed to. We’ll see if I can pick him out.

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    You Were On My Mind
    Released in 1972, Ian & Sylvia had already been around the music scene for some time. They’d been playing together since 1959 and after they divorced, they stopped playing in 1975, so David got in just in the nick of time.

    Given this, I have a massive notion about what these albums will contain – Some twangy, plain country. And, so they do. The duo is known as country rock pioneers, and I get that feeling on “Old Cheyenne” for example, but on the whole this album does nothing for me. Ian and Sylvia do have nice voices, and they paint some nice scenes lyrically.

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    Ol ‘Eon
    Released 1973. As above. I just want to move on. I considered cutting these, but I locked myself in with that intro post! Wikipedia says this an Ian & Sylvia record, the album cover says its an Ian record. Wiki says David was on it. Discogs says no. Whatever.

    After this unfortunate diversion, we arrive at the first solo record…
    Last edited by BadHouses; December 6th, 2019 at 03:36 AM.

  4. #4
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    Out the Woods ~ 1977

    The first solo record. A damn good one, too.

    Bump Up Ahead
    I don’t know where David got his sound all polished, but the first note of this album is all Wilcox. The beat is bouncy and fun. David’s guitar is tossing little squeaks, squonks and flourishes as he’s singing through the verses, like his fingers are never satisfied with doing the same thing twice.

    Do the Bearcat
    The second track is one I know very well. If you don’t know Wilcox, you may still know this one. “Do the Bearcat” is a fantastic tune I remember from my youth. In fact, this whole album has a kids’ entertainer vibe. The songs are catchy, amusing, simple, and make for great sing-a-longs. David’s playing with the guitar here is amazing, he makes it sound so easy, and it’s clear he loves playing with the sounds, such as the caterwauling.

    Life is Funky
    Quick and to the point, the third track is acoustic. I love the bounce, so characteristic of this album. A squawking electric worms it’s way into the mix halfway through for a squirrelly little solo on the outro.

    Money in the Bank
    The kids’ entertainer feel comes out here with an alphabet song.

    “Now G stands for gin and H for Hennessey.
    I’ll buy ya all the booze you can drink if you come along with me.”

    The song laments a dame who done took “all the money in the bank.” Good stuff. A little slower and the guitar seems subtler but he’s still plucking beautifully.

    Hot, Hot, Papa
    Crazy, fuzzy bastard of an opening on this guy before kicking into a driving rock track. A braggadocious song, replete with ridiculous machismo.

    “I can sip hot lead and spit out rivets.”
    “Do it in the country, they like it just fine / Do it in the city, it’s a twenty dollar fine”

    The songs dances on coals. It never wants to sit still. Awesome!

    Cheap Beer Joint
    I’d actually ran across this one once or twice over the years and never liked it much. Too slow and jazzy for me. Piano takes centre stage. That’s not what I’m here for! I want my face melted and my leg tapping out of control. When the guitar does arrive, it of course does a nice job. A real back porch vibe this time out.

    A Little Chunk of You
    We fade into a Tom Waits’y scene. You can smell the smoke. The entire arrangement is reticent. The keyboard plops a few notes here, the guitar is plucky and reserved yet drives the song forward. I like it, it’s skilful, but I crave something faster. Damn it, Wilcox, why are you so adept?

    Bad Apple
    A nice sort of narrative song with a dirty intro. Those strings don’t deserve to be slammed so hard, but I won’t tell him to stop if it sounds as good as that. I love the chorus to the song, which should be apparent if you’re familiar with the song:

    “Some people call me a bad apple.
    Well I may be bruised, but I still taste sweet.
    Some people call me a bad apple.
    But I may be the sweetest apple on the tree.”

    Out in the Wild, Wild World
    We return to acoustics for a track that sounds like Fred Penner, even if he is talking about fat cigars. Basically, a country song front to back. It’s nice. When I listen to this I’m only thinking about how long is left until we get to the mastery of the next song.

    That Hypnotizin’ Boogie
    This could be the best album closer in history. Oh, it’s excellent. You get the mean sound, you get the barging beat, you get a fantastic delta blues setting in the lyrics and its all done with such pomp and showmanship, you can’t help but want to toss your partner around on the dance floor. This reminds me of the “Johnny B. Goode” bit from Back to the Future.

    I love this album. Play it loud, play it with your friends, and play the air guitar from top to bottom. When I think of David Wilcox, this is the sound blasting in my head.

    With that said, please bear with me while I bang out the second installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; November 20th, 2019 at 04:07 PM.

  5. #5
    As you mentioned, Ian and Sylvia go way back. I listened to a lot of their material from 1963 to about 1967 and I believe they were the premier folk artists out of Canada. Their most famous song is probably Four Strong Winds, a song I still listen to occasionally. And, of course, they recorded the original You Were On My Mind which became a big folk rock hit for the We Five. David Wilcox came in the picture later of course and I haven't heard Ian and Sylvia's later work as much. Still, very interesting from an historical standpoint.
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  6. #6
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    My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble
    ​ ~ 1983

    Released in 1983, My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble gives the impression it will be a continuation of the of the debut album, dealing in sex, drugs, rock & roll. The cover is pretty cheesy, but it was the 80s: Cheese was all around. I know two songs of this album which are radio staples, “Downtown Came Uptown” and “Riverboat Fantasy,” both of which are fantastic. I hope the rest of the album lives up to their example.

    My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble
    The album opens at a decent pace with a smooth guitar tone with a touch of fuzz. Even though Wilcox is playing well, I don’t find this track all that interesting. The songwriting has that typical blues trope of repeating each line of the song twice, which I’m not sure works here. I found a live version of this song from a recent music fest and I enjoyed that a lot more. We get a proper solo, whereas the album version feels flat. Wilcox’s singing also feels lacklustre. Not a great start.

    Love Meltdown
    Before listening to this, I predict it will be a rehash of the last song. Spinning it up, the beat is similar. Again it feels lame, except this time the song has hit written all over it. The vocal hook should be paired with a riff or something that really catches your attention. The song also abandons its rhythm after each verse with a small ambient (synth?) interjection before popping back into the verses. I like this one more that the opener, but not by much. I wonder if the digital version of this album is significantly changed from the original mix. David’s voice is centre stage while his guitar seems well out of the spotlight. That seems wrong. At least there’s a solo, albeit bland.

    I See You
    Country-style start with a pop-sounding overdubs. Guitar sounds a bit Beach Boys, and the lyrics are awful.
    “When I’m sailing through my day and nothing’s going my way
    I see you x2
    “When I feel I can’t go on, pick me up and make me strong.
    I see you x2”

    I am NOT feeling this at all. Damnit David, not even a redemptive flourish on your guitar?

    Downtown Came Uptown
    At least this album produced this one. The guitar is way up on the mix and David actually sounds like he cares with his singing. I’ve loved this track for a long time, and this is no different. David plays with volume, pauses, and has written a decently fun track. We get a pile of changes to the guitar tone, from low-down dirty to high and reedy.

    “I used to think coke came in a bottle or can
    Silk underwear wasn’t right on a man
    Hush puppies and sneakers? Now it’s alligator shoes
    Because downtown came uptown, for you.”

    Riverboat Fantasy
    I’m glad these two are right next to each other, because right now it’s looking like they’ll be the two flecks of gold in a pan of silt. We return to the delta blues feel, apparent even in the title. A nice story of love “on the Mississippi River headin’ outta New Orleans.” Wonderful sing-a-long chorus and a Harley-Davidson guitar busting into a so-so solo near the end. There’s a few more layers here including a twinkling banjo that makes itself scarce. Still adore this one.

    Shake It Baby
    Meh. Seems like more of the same and we return to the weak lyrics. Wilcox writes some decent stories and it’s a shame he only does so on rare occasions. I barely notice this track.

    Freeze To Me
    More bayou bounce with vocals that sound like 80s rap. David sings well though. According to the track list I’ve still got another four songs and if I wasn’t set on completing this, I’d put something else on.

    Too Cool
    Similar to “Hot Hot Papa” but less fun and less ridiculous. Anybody who calls themselves “too cool” should probably back it up. This song only gets halfway there. Finally some burning guitar, but it leaves as soon as it arrives. More 80s rap verses that sound like they’re right out of an educational VHS music video.

    Just This Side of Heaven
    “I See You” again. He even compares this lady to light.

    Bad Feeling
    The open of this song makes me want to say “aaaaawww yeah,” as we get a drawling blues track. It’s very standard in terms of lyrical content and sound, but at least he’s doing something well with panache. Nice and slow track with standout guitar and actual life. Three out of ten (so far) ain’t bad. I really like this one.

    Mow ‘Em Down
    I swear to god the riff to this song is from Sonic the Hedgehog. We surprisingly end on a relatively high note. The guitar is the main event with David’s singing echoing from the distance. Great attitude as he sings the title and ominous interplay back by a solid wall of sound. It’s over too soon and fades out like there’s something to follow… but that’s it.

    Unfortunately, I’m glad this is over. With only four enjoyable tracks and the remainder well-below Wilcox’s abilities, this was a sad listen. AllMusic gave it 2 stars, which seems appropriate. As mentioned on the title track David Wilcox seems like a live act and his albums don’t showcase that. The quality of the video below is poor, but even it has more life than this studio effort.

    With that said, please bear with me while I bang out the third installment.

  7. #7
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    Bad Reputation
    ~ 1984

    “Bad Reputation is the third album by the Canadian guitarist David Wilcox.[1] The album includes eleven songs.”

    Other than a track list and album credits, that’s the entire Wikipedia entry for this album. According to Wilcox’s website this is the third in a trilogy of three albums concerned, quite obviously, with sex drugs and rock & roll. A third album along the same lines? Considering my lack of appreciation for many of the tracks so far, we’ll see if this one does more for me.

    Bad Reputation
    Boring. For a song about being a bad ass, it limps in and hobbles out. Not a great start. It does have a kazoo which I find endearing.

    Ting Ting
    Okay, now we’re talking. This is the guitar that should’ve been on the last track. It swaggers in likes it about to give it to your momma.

    Not sure if I like David’s vocals, but they are east to overlook since the rest is so good.

    Somethin’s Shakin’
    An acoustic song. I didn’t agree to this. But David sells me on his singing. The song is focused on the lyrics which are simple, so it maybe should have done something a bit more with the instrumentation. That said, the song is up-beat and pleasant with a mixture of guitar, and maybe some mandolin? Nice soft drums as well.

    Boogie Ride
    David loves boogie. He boogies herein. He even shoop-de-shoops.

    The bass is nearly “Another One Bites the Dust.” As with previous tracks there’s a nice mix of instruments here including a rag-timing piano. I like this one.

    Huh? Oh, is there a song playing?

    Okay, that’s mean. This one’s pretty dull. “Sitting talking to my cactus.”

    Can’t Take It Anymore

    The Grind
    Everything about this one starts 80s huge, with bashing drums and slamming guitar and echoing vocals. It’s all drenched in effect.

    “Your baby is a good cook
    His baby has a cool look
    Her baby wrote a great book, but
    My baby does the grind
    She does the grind
    She does it all the time”

    This is achingly familiar territory, but as with all the Wilcox songs I enjoy he forces me to like it by charisma and delivery alone.

    Love Me Too
    While there’s a few slices I’ve enjoyed thus far, by this point I feel compelled to skip to the end and call it a day. This track doesn’t do anything to stop me.

    Preachin’ The Blues
    “My name is David Wilcox. I am the high sheriff of hell!”
    Fantastic tone to his guitar on this one and the playing is top-notch. We find Dave in his sweet spot, grinding fun bayou-blues that he seems to love playing. I believe this is an arrangement of an old blues staple.

    Brain Fever
    Where the hell did this come from? It feels like a drunk punk song stumbled into the studio while everybody was on lunch and snuck itself onto the recording. This is amazing!

    Play on Your Harp
    Jaunty rockabilly? The final two songs of the album are a lovely surprise and make me thankful I didn’t just write this album off at the midpoint. This is a traditional Christian song from what I've read. I'm not familiar with older (or any) versions.

    Overall I’m not too fond of this album. I did discover some gems though which I can add to the still-small list of Wilcox songs I will enjoy after this tour is all done.

    Edit: Non-region locked video added. Sorry for the decrease in sound quality.

    With that said, please bear with me while I bang out the fourth installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; December 9th, 2019 at 06:21 PM.

  8. #8
    Video unavailable- This uploader has not made this video in your country. What, are the Canadians afraid we Americans going to steal their intellectual property? Not that we couldn't use another brain or two.
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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by mrmustard615 View Post
    Video unavailable- This uploader has not made this video in your country. What, are the Canadians afraid we Americans going to steal their intellectual property? Not that we couldn't use another brain or two.
    Damn! I'll have to look into finding a more accessible video. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Keep yer grubby Yank mitts off our brains!
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

  10. #10
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    Breakfast at the Circus
    ~ 1987

    Breakfast at the Circus

    We begin with… a TV show intro? A jingle for cereal? An opening for a morning news show? A sparkling little song with a squeaky clean solo that I imagine fronting an educational VHS you were made to watch at work about cleaning supply safety.

    I wouldn’t say it’s a bad song. It’s polished and put together nicely, but it’s not something I ever want to hear again. If this song is any indication, we’re not going to see much blues or rock over the next little while, rather we’re going to get a deep understanding of David’s lyrical work.

    Between the Lines
    The opening keys give me even more 80s vibes. This album wears its era unabashedly. As with the last track it is well-assembled. There’s a nice bumping beat underscoring the song and very glitzy piano with only a smattering of guitar. The lyrical focus is retained here. They’re sweet, but I can’t compliment it much more than that.

    On a Roll
    David breaks out his guitar for a lick that sounds eerily close to Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner.” It overshadows the song because I can’t stop hearing it. Still this one is really nice. I enjoy the smoothness of his tone and playing, it feels very precise. He even introduces a touch of funk in the background here and there and we return to some of that playful axe wiggling, though only a bit. The Steve Miller guitar gets its own crescendoing solo that I enjoy.

    At five minutes the song has a few phases and it meanders as different sounds get slid in and out of focus. Time well spent, very good track! I’ll be honest I didn’t expect it.

    Invisible Shield
    A spare intro precedes a tropical bomp. An odd one.

    Cabin Fever
    Smooth rock. Pretty forgettable.

    Push, Push, Push
    A song decrying capitalist excess? Sure! Lists of expensive things? Absolutely. Very catchy sound on this one and more undeniably 80s piano. Apparently this was never released as a single, which surprises me since it could be right at home on some easy listening station.

    The Song He Never Wrote
    A noir tale of a fellow drowning his sorrows in a bar. The story does nothing for me, nor does the music, but as usual it is very competent.

    Fire in My Bones
    Up until now the songs have had a very languid approach, almost sleazy. This one ups the pace with a heavy driving beat. The drums are 80s huge as usually, but they’re even louder on this one. Dave’s playing with a grinding guitar sound that cuts in here and there. There’s some unusually fuzzy screeching guitar in the mix as well, and for a moment I hear a tone that sounds just like Eric Johnson. Being the second song that plays with a wide mixture of speeds and tones, I really like this formula.

    Layin’ Pipe
    This is the song I’ve been looking for on this album. It’s a classic blue-collar double entendre anthem. Love it! We get some classic Wilcox playing and the song has an energy that most of the rest of the album lacks, even some of the enjoyable cuts. This one leaps out at you from the crop.

    Let It Flow
    So many orchestra hits. I’m just going to pretend this doesn’t exist.

    Breakfast at the Circus (Reprise)
    And that’s it. I’m happily surprised by Breakfast at the Circus. It’s consistent and it comes off as a professional piece of recording. It’s so consistent that I wouldn’t be shocked to learn they used the exact same drum track on every song. If you hate the “80s sound” you should avoid this at all costs. If you can dig it, give it a spin.

    With that said, please bear with me while I bang out the fifth installment.


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