That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 15: Powder Keg
The CDB had bounced back after the fiasco of the ill-fated ‘Honky Tonk Avenue’ with ‘Me and the Boys,’ which produced the top ten country single, ‘Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye,” and a lot of the songs from that album were sitting in the 80s pop rock pocket, couple that fact with other southern rock bands were having tremendous success on the pop charts - ZZ Top and 38 Special - so in 1987, this was the direction the band headed in, although - sadly - the plan would backfire.
Let me just say that the ‘Powder Keg’ album is one of my favorites. I think it stays true to the band’s roots, but it was definitely intended to be a commercial pop rock and R&B-influenced album.
Personally, I think that if CBS/Epic had played their cards right, this could have been to the CDB what ‘Eliminator’ was to ZZ Top, a huge crossover album that launched the boys from the Double Z Ranch to new heights, and CDB was poised to do the same thing, but it didn’t work out that way.
The CDB’s most commercial album which was loaded with potential fizzled, and ended up being the least commercially successful of all the CBS/Epic releases.
So, what went wrong?
Well, CBS had other priorities, namely, Michael Jackson.
In 1987, CBS Records was preparing for the release of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ album. Even though Michael was on the Columbia imprint of CBS, they seemed to put all their eggs in the ‘Bad’ basket with the resources from both Epic and Columbia, and from what I remember hearing, CDB was not the only New York based CBS act that had an album released in 1987 to suffer from lukewarm label support.
‘Powder Keg’ was released on June 4, 1987, and ‘Bad’ was released in August, I think CBS knew how important it was for ‘Bad’ to be as big as ‘Thriller,’ and they allocated their resources accordingly.
The first single was a beautiful song that captured his love for my mom, but I don’t think it was the right choice for the first single, the second and last single was what they should have gone with first, but at that point, the album had flopped, so it didn’t even chart.
Before I start breaking down the songs, one thing I found in my ‘Honky Tonk Avenue’ research is that there were three songs that were recorded and in the running for this 1987 album, in fact, someone pointed out that in one of his shows, dad had announced that the album was going to be called ‘Teamwork’ after a song that was a reworked version of “Funky Junky,” I also found a re-recorded version of “Dixie on my Mind” that I didn’t know existed, as well as a song called “Start All Over Again,” that I had never even heard. That one took me by surprise.
The production team stayed the same, but drummer, Freddie Edwards, left the band after 14 years and he was replaced by Jack Gavin, a human dynamo on the drum kit.
But let’s get on to the songs.
The first song is “Bogged Down in Love With You,” which is what I think should have been the first single.
It’s funky, it’s got a rockin’ groove with kind of an upbeat blues feel to it, and the guitar work is killer, and it definitely fits with the 80s rock path paved by ZZ Top.
Personally, I think it’s one of the best songs on the album
The next song, “Bottom Line,” is a great laid back rockin’ love song. The song is full of outrageous things that the man in the song would do to be with his lady, “fight every tiger in Southeast Asia,” “Chop down every pine tree in North Carolina,” etc…. “Bottom line, baby, I just want to be with you. I see it as a testament to dad’s love for my mom and how powerful it was.
It was the lead single from the album, and as much as I love the song, I think it should have been later. The CDB’s new tone needed to be set with something that rocked, it would have been a good follow-up to “Bogged Down in Love With You.”
“Love Pouring Out of Me” was inspired by the Stax R&B sounds of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and such with the full production that you would expect, horn section and prominent backup singers.
It’s a feel-good song if there ever was one. It may not be as poignant as “Bottom Line,” but it makes up for it in the groove and danceability factor.
I would have loved to have heard this as a single at some point.
“Saturday Night U.S.A.” is another fun R&B-inspired number. I was always amused because “Saturday Night U.S.A.” is a bit of a mouthful to say, so it sounds more like “Sat Day Night…” when he sang it.
It’s about people who work hard during the week and party hard on Saturday night.
It’s got a similar rhythm and rhyme scheme as “Every Time I See Him” from ‘A Decade of Hits.’
“Dance With Me” is a tribute to the bands playing cover tunes in bars and clubs. The first two verses tell the story of a group of high school kids starting their band, and the influences each of them brought to the table and then chronicles the progress they make.
The final verse are words of encouragement for those in the “jukebox bands” and it ends with “I hope you make it too,” since that’s exactly the path that dad followed; from bar band, to studio musician to eventual success.
The song is punctuated by some really screaming guitar licks by Tommy Crain.
“Powder Keg” is another one of my favorites from this collection. The first verse paints a picture of dread as “something dirty went on between midnight and dawn” and people died in a bad part of town, implying that there is a volatile situation which is about to explode like a powder keg.
The second verse paints a similar picture of danger, but warning of the dangers of drunk drivers, and the third is about those who kidnap in order to exact a ransom for the safe return of their loved ones.
I always felt that the inspiration for this song – at least for the first verse - was “Miami Vice” which was extremely hot at the time, and this song would have fit well in an episode.
“What She Do to Me” is Taz’s contribution to the album. It’s fast paced and another R&B influenced number – Taz even references “Cold Sweat,” a James Brown song” - with blazin’ horns and background singers, telling how his woman makes him feel.
“Trapped in the City” feels like another “Miami Vice” inspired moody rockin’ number, about a man who is sick of the urban life of the city filled with street gangs, prostitutes drug dealers and muggers and such. He goes as far as to say he wishes he could buy a pair of wings to fly out of this “concrete hell, and forget about everything.”
Tommy Crain’s song is “Stay With Me” and it’s probably the most country song on the album featuring lots of mandolin and jaw harp, and a much lighter sound than the album’s previous tunes.
It’s about a relationship that seems to be hesitant to take the next step, the man is more sure about things and he’s trying to convince her to trust that the love is true, but she seems to want to withdraw, and he wants their love to grow stronger and points out that “You and me aren’t getting any younger.”
It’s also the only song on ‘Powder Keg’ to feature dad’s fiddle. Everything else was more pop/rock/R&B influenced, but the fiddle fits on this song of Tommy’s.
The song, “Juanita,” is the first of two songs with “Juanita” in the title.
It’s got a funky groove, and it’s about a man confronting his cheating wife yet again, and he gives her an ultimatum, quit cheating, or it’s over.
Fun fact, “Juanita” is my mom’s middle name, but that’s where the similarity ends, the hook is “You been cheatin’ again, Juanita,” but nothing could be further from the truth with my mom and dad.
So, that’s it.
The album was dedicated to Eric Eggleston, a young man who was a huge fan, but sadly passed away. Dad got to spend some time with him, and he dedicated 'Powder Keg' to him.
"To my little buddy
How I've marveled at your courage
And your will just doesn't bend
You're a better man than I am
May God bless you, little friend
Charlie Daniels 1987"
'Powder Keg' is a great, commercial CDB album that was poised for a massive crossover, but unfortunately, the moment was lost.
This would be the last album released through New York, the subsequent albums would go back to Nashville for the first time since the ill-fated ‘Honky Tonk Avenue,’ album, but this time, things would go more smoothly.
What do you think?
Let’s all make the day count!
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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