Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lawnmower's "West"

This one came my way a couple of Clean Feed releases ago, but didn't kick in until the last couple of days. Leader/drummer Luther Gray's a free jazz-via-punk guy, best known for his work with avant guitarist Joe Morris. Here he partners with a jazz saxophonist (Jim Hobbs) and a pair of folk-leaning rock guitarists (Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton) to create a music that's about as far from, um, "fusion" as you can get.

Most free jazz-cum-rock experiments tend to start out intense and build from there, but these guys exercise admirable restraint, the leader most of all. In fact, West has dynamics like a classical recording, meaning that during the quiet passages that open each piece, you might make the mistake (as I did) of thinking that the record's over. But it's not. The guitarists employ clean tones, altered with just a little bit of amp tremelo, and provide beds of rolling chords for Hobbs to extemporize over. There's a moment when they set up a field of droning feedback for him to play off, but to everyone's credit, he doesn't try to play over them, and they don't up the intensity beyond what a supporting role requires.

I wouldn't exactly call this "mellow," but it's become the music I like to listen to when I'm trying to tune out distractions and wind down at the end of the day. There's definitely a dialogue taking place on West, but it's not one that you'll hear if you're not attending closely. A most welcome surprise.

11.30.2010, FTW

Another reason to go Back To Vinyl: The CD drive on our just-out-of-warranty 'puter has gone south, with the new Stooges-at-Ungano's CD inside it. I guess it didn't like being used as a CD player. Feh.

The 'oo on DVD

1) The Kids Are Alright. Essential. This '78 fan-directed doco actually restored my Who fandom not once, but twice. Sell Out, Live At Leeds, and Quadrophenia were all life-changers for me, in different ways, as was seeing them at Forest Hills in '71. But I'd since lost the thread until I saw this in the theater in Texas when it came out and again in Aspen with my band of the time, winter '79-'80. The "special edition" DVD from 2003 is the one to get, as it restores A Quick One from The Rolling Stones Rock 'n' Roll Circus -- the moment at which they were becoming the greatest live band in the world, which they'd stay a couple of years -- to its rightful magnificence, but there are so many highlights, and really no non-snazz moments. As Reggie Rueffer would say, you gotta have this, Papa!

2) 30 Years of Maximum R&B Live. Originally released in conjunction with their similarly-titled mid-'90s box set, this is almost as essential for fans as TKAA, particularly the three songs from Tanglewood, 1970, and four from Charlton Football Club, 1974. Things start getting dodgy in the Kenny Jones era and go completely south with a horrendous, overblown "Love Reigh O'er Me" from Shea Stadium, 1982, and three songs from the ill-advised "everything but the kitchen sink" 1989 reunion tour. Wise buyers will seek out an original DVD and steer clear of the double-disc 2009 Maximum R&B Live retooling, which replaces the Tanglewood songs with three songs from the At Kilburn: 1977 set (see below).

3) Live At the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. A fan's dream, the most complete release of a show from their late prime -- including the greatest-ever "Young Man Blues" that previously appeared in 30 Years -- but not an unalloyed good thing, as the editors sought to inject "conceptual continuity" by grouping the encore songs that followed Tommy in real time together with the other non-Tommy songs, as a result of which you get to see Townshend smash his guitar in frustration at the end of "Magic Bus" right before they kick off the opera. Duh. The 2006 "special edition" adds two songs that were originally omitted plus a new interview with Townshend.

4) Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who. If you disliked the lack of narrative flow in TKAA, here's a bona fide documentary on the band, directed by Isle of Wight documentarian Murray Lerner, and it's a goodun, if you like this kind of thing, although its lack of complete songs is a built-in irritant to fans. The extras include Lambert and Stamp's original '64 footage of the High Numbers, worth the price of admission by itself, and a peek behind the scenes at a 2003 recording session that I expected to hate but wound up liking real much (at this point, the friendship between Pete and Rog is _the story_). Go fig.

5) At Kilburn: 1977. This is the first invitation-only show that Jeff Stein filmed for TKAA and you can see why it wasn't used -- not only the band's shambolic performance but the way they seem distant from the viewer in a way they wouldn't in the live-at-Shepperton performances of "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" that Stein wound up using (although the iconic knee-drop slide from the end of "WGFA" is actually from Kilburn). Still, it's a not-bad greatest hits set, with Townshend injecting a little spontaneity with the attempted jam on "Join Together"/"Who Are You" (then still in gestation) that follows "My Generation." What makes this really worthwhile, though, is the second disc that includes the complete 1969 London Coliseum show that provided the "Young Man Blues" seen in TKAA and the "Happy Jack" seen in 30 Years. It's the complete set they were playing in the Woodstock-through-Leeds time, including "Fortune Teller," "Tattoo," "I'm A Boy," and "A Quick One," and it burns even though the lighting is pretty dodgy throughout (although it's fine for the Tommy finale and "My Generation" encore). You won't even care that the complete Tommy performance is consigned to a special feature due to drop outs in the 16mm filming, as it's the weakest part of the set.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see the "Complaints Choir" documentary for free?

Streaming for a limited time thanks to the One World Berlin 2010 film festival. Check it!

The 'oo at Woodstock

11.29.2010, FTW

Blogger stat creepiness: How is it that this blog, which has never had more than around 300 pageviews a day, has already had over 600 today? (A "day" in Blogger starts at 6pm CST.) Must be spambots, but why? And how is it that the number one search term for this blog is "johnette napolitano," when the only thing I've ever posted about her is a photo, juxtaposed with one of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano? As the King of Siam would say, is a puzzlement.

Jeffrey Lewis - "To Be Objectified"

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Damn. Listen ye to Daniel Gomez, Matt Hembree, and Dave Karnes back in '91-'93, playing impossibly fast funk-rock.

11.28.2010, FTW

After a few days of listening to iTunes on shuffle, I've come to the realization that its real function is similar to that of a transistor radio in those prehistoric days of my youth. The MP3 sound quality's about the same, only difference is no static and all of the songs are ones I've opted into, at least nominally, by downloading 'em. Lots of Neil Young (Archives and two volumes of A Perfect Echo boots), '70s Miles (The Complete On the Corner Sessions), '68 Jeff Beck Group, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Cambodian rock, and selections from a Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time that my drummer from college had an extra copy of (judiciously edited by your humble narrator o' events; no Eagles or Van Halen in _my_ house, dammit!).

The Ballad of Stoogeaphilia

(I didn't start playing music to rebel. I started playing music to belong.)

It started out as a joke. Early in 2006, Ray and I were at the Wreck Room and I told him that I dreamed I was playing Stooges songs with his band, the Me-Thinks, in my Maidenform bra. He said he'd be down to do that (minus the lingerie). So did Matt and Jon, who were also there that night. A few days later, we were freezing our asses off in the Me-Thinks practice pad -- before it got burglarized and they lost tens of thousands of dollars' worth of vintage gear -- learning the Funhouse songs, then the ones from the first album (except "We Will Fall"). We were only going to play one show, which turned into five after the first one. (We went over 50 this year.)

We played our first gig on 4.19.2006 at the Wreck -- a "Lee and Carl's Invitational Jam" night. Sir Steffin Ratliff's significant other Cammi was there that night, and he emailed me that "I don't want to insinuate myself into your band, but I'd like to jam with you guys sometime," so we invited him to the next practice, just to sit in on songs he felt comfortable with, and before you knew it, we wanted him to play on everything, which by now included a couple of Raw Power songs.

We got a regular monthly gig at the Black Dog until it closed, then moved to the Wreck until _it_ closed. Our last time at the Black Dog, Matt was in Tennessee for the holidays, so Sir Marlin Von Bungy filled in on bass; we made him wear flannel a la Mike Watt for the gig. We broke in "Marquee Moon" on my 50th birthday at the Wreck and it was our most popular song for exactly a year. Then the door was open for Rocket From the Tombs/Dead Boys/Pere Ubu/Ramones/MC5/Alice Cooper/Damned etc. We played the Chat Room a couple of times before Ben Rogers lied to me and said they weren't booking any more shows, at which point we moved to the Fairmount until _it_ closed. (Helpful hint: Don't ever get a "regular" gig. Folks will feel like they can always come see you, so they won't.)

Sir Steffin quit at the end of June 2008. We gave him a trophy that said "Champeen Guitar Wrangler, Stoogeaphilia, 2006-2008." Richard started practicing with us in July and played his first show at the Fairmount 8.14.2008. I think he made us a better band. Sir Steffin is a great guitar player and a beautiful cat, but being in Stoogeaphilia isn't really about being a great player. Richard and I are more like-minded; he brings more of that '70s biker-rock strain into the mix.

Jon has said we sound more like the MC5 playing Stooges songs than the actual Stooges, and I think that's valid. We only play one actual MC5 song, "Future Now," for Cadillac Fraf because he said he wanted to have an MC5 cover band called the Panther City Five. We tried playing "Kick Out the Jams" at practice once, but it just didn't work. We'll never play any Velvet Underground songs because Hembree had a roommate in college who insisted on lecturing him on _why_ the Velvets were so _important_, and we'll never play "Gimme Danger" because Hembree and I agree that it's our least favorite Stooge song. "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" is the only song we've ever all spontaneously forgotten onstage after practicing it (during the Sir Steffin days). We learned one song from The Weirdness but dropped it when we realized there was _nothing_ we'd rather play "My Idea of Fun" than. You'll never hear us play any post-Stooges Iggy songs, either, although we thought about "I'm Bored" for a minute.

Jon is "Mr. Right of Refusal," which applies set lists as well as gigs, all of which is fitting and proper, as he's the only one onstage who actually has to work hard physically. Pinkish Black will always be his priority, and rightly so. Besides the Stoogeband, Ray divides his time between the Me-Thinks, Vorvon, The Pungent Sound, Epic Ruins, and doing graphic art for a lot of different bands and venues. Matt also plays in Pablo & the Hemphill 7, Goodwin, the Underground Railroad, Protect and Swerve, the Elf-Men, and probably a couple of others I'm forgetting. Richard plays in Transistor Tramps with his wife, and I play in HIO.

While it's sometimes frustrating being the rock 'n' roll secretary for a band whose members have so many other commitments, the li'l Stoogeband remains my favorite band I've ever been in -- all of my favorite guys on their respective instruments, playing music I've wanted to play since I was a teenager (and now we're starting to get into playing songs from _their_ misspent yoof). At this point, my only goal is to keep everybody in the band interested in the project. This seems to work best when we play about ten shows a year, adding new toonage when everyone has the bandwidth to practice.

Our original rationale for doing this was to enlighten "the kids" as to who the Stooges were, but that seems a little bogus in light of the fact that the younguns today seem to have a better handle on proto-punk history than their elders do -- when we went from playing to the 30-and-40somethings on West 7th to playing to the 20somethings on Magnolia, I had to do a lot less explaining, and I've had kids who are my kids' age tell me that the Stooges are their favorite band, Funhouse is their favorite record, etc. What this band really is, is an excuse for us to get Real O Mind and go the fuck off. With or without pizza.

Treniers - "Ragg Mopp"

Baby, that _was_ rock 'n' roll.

Seasonal music: good, bad, ugly

Lou Monte: Yes!

A Simple Plan: No!

The Scrooges: WTF?!?!?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My scrawl on the I-94 Bar

A review I penned of the Stooges' Have Some Fun: Live At Ungano's, a fun but flawed document of the already-changed band about a month after Funhouse dropped, is online now here.

SRC's "Milestones"

One of my all-time favorite albums. I wrote a piece about these guys, "Young Republicans On Acid," for Shindig magazine in the UK. They included it in their Annual No. 1.

11.27.2010, FTW

Just sent my end-of-year top 10 and a review of the Stooges' Have Some Fun: Live At Ungano's off to the I-94 Barman, and working on some updates to an interview with Nervebreakers frontman T. Tex Edwards which is going to run in Maximum Rocknroll. Awaiting the green light from Carlton at Easy Action Records in the UK for another project he pitched to me, and the script from a pal in New York for some, um, voiceover narration I'm supposed to record for an ad for his wine shop. All I ever need is an assignment.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

11.25.2010, FTW

Watching some old rawk vids on VHS with my sweetie after Catsgiving. The capital of Orstralia is Detroit. R.I.P. Sean Greenway and Tim Hemensley.

ADDENDUM: Just ordered the God double CD reish from Afterburn in Oz. The exchange rate's more favorable now than when I used to order a lot of stuff from Down Under, so $25 Orstralian is about the same as $25 U.S. Hooray!

Complaints Choir

Just watched the DVD of Complaints Choir, a project initiated by Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen. Starting in Birmingham, England, the two traveled around the world, inviting local folks to submit their complaints and participate in the performances (regardless of their singing ability), using local musician-composers to create musical settings for the complaints which the choirs would then learn and perform, and documenting the results on film.

The documentary director Ada Bligaard Soby created from the resultant footage focuses on choirs the Kalleinens facilitated in Chicago and Singapore. Released on Smog Veil, a label heretofore known for documenting the proto-through-post-punk Cleveland music scene, the DVD comes with three CDs' worth of performances by choirs both artist-initiated and "DIY." (If you want to try your hand at it yourself, there are instructions here; the artists ask only that you let them know what you're doing, credit them appropriately, and provide a link to their site.)

What comes through the most in the documentary is the Kalleinens' humility; they seem more genuinely committed to creating an expressive medium for the participants than in promoting themselves or their artistic vision. The contrast between the American and Singaporean choirs is striking. The Chicago performance is juxtaposed with the followers of a Midwestern preacher who advocates repressing the urge to complain. In Singapore, repression comes via a government that prohibits its citizens from complaining in public, allows them "free" speech at a sanctioned "speaker's corner" only if they register with the police and permit their speeches to be filmed and archived for seven years, and bans non-citizens from speaking publicly at all. In the event, the Singaporean choir (which included a half-dozen non-citizens, including its composer-conductor) was banned from public performance; the choir members' bland on-camera response is heartbreaking to witness.

The audio recordings are somewhat less compelling than the doco, particularly when the complaints are sung in languages I can't understand, although the ones I can understand are a hoot. (A very few selected lyrics are provided in PDF format on one of the CDs.) It's not that the urge to complain isn't universal; it's just that in the context of this art project, the process is more interesting to observe than the product.

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore's "Three Kinds of Happiness"

Chicago-based bass clarinet specialist Jason Stein is a busy fella, touring the U.S. and Europe both solo and with a variety of collaborators. Locksmith Isidore is his band with bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Mike Pride. On his works I've heard previously -- the solo In Exchange for a Process and the previous Locksmith Isidore release, Three Less Than Between, Stein's delivered the most exploratory and experimental sort of playing. His most recent offering, on the Polish Not Two label, bears a title which might allude to the Bhagavad-Gita, Wittgenstein, or the psychologist Martin Seligman, depending; Stein's not saying. Three Kinds of Happiness features some of his most straight-ahead playing yet -- think Archie Shepp at his most Websterian, or Stein's teacher David Murray when he decides to swing -- as well as a higher degree of premeditation than was heard in his earlier, freewheeling work.

The upper-register trills on the theme of opener "Crayons for Sammy" evoke Eastern European roots, a reminder that Stein named his band in honor of his grandfather's trade. "Cash, Couch, and Camper" unfolds at a leisurely pace, with Stein extemporizing at length over a loping bass walk by Roebke. (Throughout, the rhythm players provide deft but supportive backing.) Stein makes his big, unwieldy horn sing plaintively on the sweet ballad "Little Bird," while demonstrating that he hasn't abandoned the freedom principle by unleashing a Dolphy-esque cascade of rapid-fire notes over the blues changes of "More Gone Door Gone." The impressionistic opening of "Ground Floor South," which features an effective arco statement by the bassist, gives way to another lyrical theme before segueing smoothly into "Arch and Shipp," the album's most "outside" interlude. Three Kinds of Happiness abounds in the hallmarks of the best small group jazz: the richness and intimacy of the sound, the empathy between the performers and their fecundity of improvisational ideas.

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers


Being of a certain age, I always wonder where kids today go to learn how to play now that the high school dance has a DJ and the number of all ages venues/shows in the clubs seems pretty scanty. (Not like the '60s where there were "teen clubs" in roller rinks and rec centers all over the Metromess, and bands used to play during lunch when I was at middle school in another zip code.) The answer: down at the DIY punk spot, of course.

Tonight, my sweetie, Hickey and I trudged over to 1919 Hemphill to catch Spacebeach, the band led by Torry, one of the volunteers over at 1919. It was a six-band bill, topped by Denton eminence Ryan Thomas Becker, but we were there to see Torry's band after he'd come out to hear the Stoogeband at Mambo's, where he told me and Hembree that he and the two other dudes (Jake - guitar, Tanner - drums) started playing together as high school freshmen in Grapevine "because there was nothing else to do," which sounds like an ideal reason to start a band to me.

Torry's a talented kid -- sings and plays bass well, and has great stage presence, even though his attempts at onstage flash usually resulted in his guitar getting unplugged. He and his buds aren't exactly _dangerous_ live yet -- I kept wanting to tell Jake to turn up, and Tanner doesn't hit very hard for a post-punk drummer -- but there was a nice vibe of them playing to their friends, and one of the great benes of following local music has always been watching bands grow up in public. I'm looking forward to following these guys as they progress.

My sweetie posted some of her pics from the evening on her photo blog. Here are a couple of vids from their first show back in October:

After their set, we cut out to try and get some grub at Taco Heads and hang out with Cara Cassaday at 7th Haven, which didn't eventuate because the taco truck didn't show up tonight and Cassaday was just getting off work as we drove up. So my sweetie headed back to the house to prep for Catsgiving, while Hickey and I wound up cracking each other up at the Bull & Bush, just like always. A good night.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

11.23.2010, FTW

I asked for a day off to go see my sweetie's doc and for my sins, my boss gave me two days off. So tomorrow night we're gonna go see Torry from 1919 Hemphill's band Space Beach and Ryan Thomas Becker, whom I don't get to see play nearly often enough, at 1919 on a five-band bill that starts at 7pm. Torry sez all the bands have like 20 minute sets, so then we're gonna stop by 7th Haven to sample Taco Heads' fare and have mo' drinks with Cara Cassaday.

Then on Thursday, as is our tradition, we're going to cook our Thanksgiving dinner and consume in on the floor with the cats while watching Frank Zappa's Baby Snakes. Hooray!

MC5 discography madness!

After reading the annotated MC5 discography from Arthur mag's MC5 ish, I was reminded of this one that I did for a French MC5 fan site a couple of years earlier. The Five's discography remains, as JH would say, "a frustrating mess." If I had to pick ten to recommend today, these'd be they:

1) Kick Out the Jams -- Twenty of the most exciting minutes ever waxed (the first side) coupled with a second side that just doesn't seem to cohere, for some reason. The first copy I ever owned was so warped that only the first side was playable and in some ways, it was all I ever needed to know. And of course, you've gotta hear this on vinyl.

2) High Time -- I think it's their best album. It's also their most political, lyrical content-wise. I think the second side is perfect, although a lot of folks will tell you the first (which leads off with "Sister Anne," an epic foray into Berry-ismo) is better. We play "Future Now" (lead cut from side 2) for Cadillac Fraf in the li'l Stoogeband because he always wanted to have an MC5 cover band called the Panther City Five. And Fred "Sonic" Smith's guitar solo on "Over and Over" will break your heart.

3) The Big Bang: The Best of the MC5 -- If you don't own any, this is the obvious place to start, but it ain't perfect. You get the first side of KOTJ in sequence, _almost_ all of the pre-Elektra singles (but not the original "Borderline" or my fave early Five song, "One of the Guys"), way too much of "revolooshun-as-bubblegum" second album Back in the U.S.A., and not enough of High Time (I'd have subbed "Future Now" for the meh soul ballad "Miss X"). Plus "Thunder Express," the last original song they ever recorded, live in a French TV studio in 1972.

4) Thunder Express -- Originally released on Skydog (1994), available since 1997 on Jungle, this thing is worth owning because it contains the entire '72 French TV session, with versions of "KOTJ," the Stones' "Empty Heart," "Ramblin' Rose," "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa," and "Motor City Is Burning," plus 80% (in the Jungle version) of the pre-Elektra single tracks. The four KOTJ tracks are different enough from their iconic '68 Grande Ballroom incarnations to make the case that musically, at least, the Five were still a vital force even on their last legs. (All those '72 German TV performances you can now see on Youtube prove the same point.)

5) Purity Accuracy -- A must for the insane completist, this hefty six-CD box on Brit label Easy Action compiles _all_ of the "quasi-official" recordings -- a hefty 74 tracks -- in an intelligently curated format. There are separate discs for "rehearsals" (the High Time/Back In the U.S.A.-related material), 1965-1968 (including the September "Dialogue '68" material), the New Year's Day 1970 Saginaw Civic Center show, '68 Grande Ballroom (including KOTJ outtakes), the June '68 Sturgis Armory show, plus a four-track "single" with four tracks from the 2003 London reunion. Currently out of stock at the label, it may be Amazon-available. Easy Action paid the bandmembers or their survivors for this release; I don't know if the same is true of the vinyl releases on Italian Get Back that use Easy Action's sequencing. For those not flush with cash, there's a single-disc version of Purity Accuracy, compiled by Yukiko Akagawa from the MC5 Japan website, that does a nice job of summarizing the high spots.

6) Babes In Arms -- Originally out on cassette-only label ROIR, this was the fustest with the mostest of archival MC5 recordings. Since superseded, it's recently been reished on vinyl, and includes an acoustic version of Fred's Back In the U.S.A. highlight "Shakin' Street" that you still can't get anywhere else (although the only other "exclusive" track here, "Train Music" from the Gold soundtrack, is now also available on the Purity Accuracy box and album).

7) Power Trip -- Boy, this sure hit like the atom bomb when it was released back in the mid-'90s. Having recently been pulled back into the Dee-troit ramalama by Thunder Express, Wayne Kramer's solo debut The Hard Stuff, and his collaboration with Ann Arborites Scott Morgan and Deniz Tek Dodge Main, I was primed and ready to be blown away when this compilation arrived, heavy on High Time session studio jams and my first exposure to the "Dialogue '68" sessions, anchored by a 19-minute live-at-the-Grande extended extemporization called "I'm Mad Like Eldridge Cleaver," replete with skronking sax courtesy of manager-mentor John Sinclair (who curated this release as well as all the ones that followed on Alive/Total Energy).

8) Human Being Lawnmower: The Baddest and the Maddest of the MC5 -- If you don't own any other Five bootlegs, this is arguably the one to get, if only because it includes all of the known KOTJ outtakes, although it reprises the aforementioned "I'm Mad Like Eldridge Cleaver," which also appeared on yet another Sinclair-curated release, Ice Pick Slim, and started me thinking that maybe the ex-White Panther honcho was milking it just a little bit by the time this appeared in 2002.

9) Teen Age Lust -- The complete New Year's Day 1970 Saginaw Civic Center show in good fidelity. It captures the band just as Back In the U.S.A. was about to drop, playing with energy and abandon (more so than on the record, even). There are cool versions of JB's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" and Jody Reynolds' "Fire of Love," as well as a showbizzy medley of "Starship," "KOTJ," and "Black To Comm" (best version available of the latter toon, IMO, so good that Sinclair also included it on Power Trip). Sure, the stage banter is kinda corny and silly, but the only real non-snazz aspect is the inaudibility of Fred's vocal on "Shakin' Street."

10) '66 Breakout -- The Five as they sounded in their teen club/VFW hall days, before they encountered Sinclair and got politicized. Three single tracks (their cover of Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything" was released twice, once in '67 and once with a different B-side to capitalize on KOTJ's '69 release) and a bunch of rehearsals and live stuff that prove that while they weren't yet the fire-breathers of KOTJ (hell, they weren't even that on the June '68 Sturgis Armory date, although they were getting there by the "Dialogue '68" shows a couple of months later), they were worthy exponents of Nuggets-era garage punk, recycling R&B through the prism of Brit interpreters.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rock Therapy, The Fenceless Music Podcast

My pal Phil Overeem teaches high school in Columbia, MO, and once bought me and Nathan Brown a pizza when we were busking on the street there (after yelling futile requests for Velvet Underground songs). A decade or so ago, he pubbed stuff I wrote that I'm not ashamed of on his now-moribund First Church of Holy Rock and Roll website. He also gots a podcast that I like real much. Dig him here.

Josh Alan Friedman's "Thanksgiving at McDonald's in Times Square"

A little seasonal music for you kids. My fellow Lawn Guyland expat Josh sings about the Noo Yawk City I remember from the '70s (as opposed to the Disneyfied one I visited a couple of years ago) in his first single from back in '88. Download your very own digital copy via the link on his blog. Yeah!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see a trailer for a William Burroughs documentary?

11.20.2010, FTW

1) John Rody from Mambo's podcast came in my store yesterday and shopped my section. I sold his companion a liquid iron supplement and him our Mucinex equivalent. I thanked him for having us on the show and he said nice things about the Stoogeband.

2) One of my work peeps who went to the show said it was cool to see me "out of [my] element." I would argue that since I've been playing in bands for 38 years and working at the market for three, she hadn't actually seen me _in_ my element until the other night. But that would be quibbling.

3) The 20something cat from Produce whom I like to talk music with digs the Small Faces, too. He told me he likes to go to "Mod nights" over in Dallas and dance to Otis Redding. Weird in a subcultural/generational way, but also cool.

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna watch a PBS documentary about punk rock?

From Dangerous Minds via T. Tex Edwards.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Adventures in Magnetism

Stumptone mastermind and gifted photog Chris Plavidal has a blog here.

Things We Like

1) Pho from Hop (5022 E. Belknap, Haltom City). Sir Marlin Von Bungy says the place was previously called "Hope's" and when letters fell off the sign, the current owners just changed the name. They make a mighty flavorful bowl to rival my erstwhile HC fave, Pho 95.

2) Herb's pizza and "the guacamole of the gods" (my sweetie's words) at CM.

3) Fall morning run. Wanna do it again on Sunday.

4) The Pretty Things' Parachute.

5) The '64 Mingus band with Eric Dolphy and Jaki Byard. Most recent manifestation to grace my CD player: Complete Live In Amsterdam.

6) M. Ward's Post-War. Teague observes that I have a higher tolerance for singer-songwriters than he (who draws the line at Nick Drake and Willie Nelson). I like this record so much I asked Jenkins at Doc's to order me the vinyl. Mostly because it reminds me of my kids.

7) Work-related self-study. You can never have too much knowledge.

8) Mark Slouka's Essays From the Nick of Time. Every so often, I have to read something just because I dig the way the author uses language.

9) Listening to the cats tearing ass around the house, then watching them sleeping together on their leopard-print Snuggie.

10) Opening and then closing. It's almost like having a day off in the middle.

Wish I could read Italian

Apparently, there's a review of the interview I did with 1971 Stooges bassist Jimmy Recca for Easy Action Records in the UK in the Italian webzine Black Milk.

11.17.2010, FTW ADDENDUM

So the li'l Stoogeband is taking a couple of months off to work on other projects, fix broken equipment, and maybe even learn some new toonage. We'll return on Saturday, January 8th, at Lola's Saloon with our friends The Black Dotz (sporting a new four-piece lineup) and Bipolar Express. All ages, $10 over/$8 under 21, doors at 9pm, first band at 10pm. C'mon!

Jeff Liles interview

The Decadent Dub Team/Cottonmouth, TX/Kessler Theater man speaks. From audio equipment maker Denon's blog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

11.17.2010, FTW

I never -- repeat, _never_ -- plug in my rig unless it's on the gig, but I did yesterday, and 'twas a good thing, because Mr. Twin now makes crackling noises whenever I hit a low E on the Epi (which makes it unusable for Stoogeaphilia) and an Ab on the E string on the Tele. My drummer from college thinks it's preamp tubes, Teague sez speaker, and James the amp dude says it could be a loose tube socket. The Stoogeband is hard on equipment. Teague has three cymbals he needs to replace, all from playing with us.

Luckily for me, James plays in a band that uses the same prac room as the li'l Stoogeband, so I'll just take it up there and leave it for him the next time we practice (assuming one can be scheduled in December between Hembree's work and Ray's other band commitments). Even luckier, I was planning to have lunch with Sir Marlin Von Bungy that day, and Marlin very generously offered me the loan of his amp for the Stooge show at Mambo's last night. (In the event, I wound up borrowing Marlin's head and Mike Bandy's 2x12 Marshall combo that he uses for speakers only. Thanks, fellas!)

The gig was for a taping of Mambo's podcast with the venerable John Rody of "Labella and..." KZEW fame from back in the day. We committed the tactical error of playing two three-song sets, rather than the single six-song set we'd originally planned, which afforded all the folks who'd come to see us the opportunity to leave before the second time we played. Feh. There was a lot more standing around and waiting than I like, but it was good to see #1 Stoogeband fan Amy Kadleck, Johnny Wenger from china kills girls, Branden from the Dangits, Torry from 1919 Hemphill (whose band we're gonna go see at 1919 next Wednesday), and even a couple of my work peeps from the market. Mambo's is a good sounding room, and the sound dude (who remembers us from the Fairmount) is top-notch. He gave us the best stage monitor mix I've ever had before Hembree told him to take everything out but the vocals.

We played "TV Eye" to souncheck, then a "Ray's choice" set consisting of "Loose," "Ain't Nothing To Do," and "Real Cool Time" to start, picking up later with "Neat Neat Neat," "Not Right," "Kill From the Heart," and (bonus!) "Nonalignment Pact." Undoubtedly there will be online A/V artifacts at whatever point the podcast tech team get done editing. And we might have a gig out of the deal; the sound dude took my number and we talked about a date in late January. Last gig of the year, which leaves me curiously unsatisfied, although I think we played well considering we hadn't all seen each other in a month.

John Cage and Takehisa Kosugi in 1984

With annoying interjection by George Plimpton.

The Who @ the Fillmore East, 1968

Just stumbled on these vids from a great bootleg (sounds like a board recording) that I used to own before it "accidentally" got donated (along with all my other "good" records) to Goodwill in Shreveport back in '89. Days gone by.

The Owl and the Octopus' "Ghost Orchid"

Some new tracks from Terry Horn's non-HIO alter ego are here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hill Country Review

Holy cow! Is it 1973 again or what?

Imagine if Mick responded to Keef's book

From Slate.

Strummermania in Cinemaville

Personally, I find the idea of a Joe Strummer biopic less exciting than the knowledge that Don Letts has directed a documentary called Strummerville that "partially premiered" at SXSW this year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see the Ramones rehearsing in 1975?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don McGlynn

Great documentary filmmaker. My sweetie 'n' I watched his Mingus and Howlin' Wolf docos yesterday. Very compelling cinematic storyteller. Check his Youtube channel. And dig this clip from his 2000 profile of ex-Mingus pianist Horace Parlan.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

M. Ward

More "sad bastard" music that I actually like. I got his Post-War album from Sir Steffin Ratliff when he was still in Stoogeaphilia. I dug it and gave it to my middle daughter for her birthday. The next time I saw her, she explained to me how every song on it reminded her of someone in her family.

This one reminded her of her late grandfather (R.I.P. Al):

This one reminded her of her best friend:

And so on.

ADDENDUM: My sweetie correctly points out that listening to this album is "your way of being with Aimee when she's not here."


All week long I've been alternating spins of this '90s Japanese psych band's self-titled debut with Mingus and Roy Harper. And hey, isn't that Michio Kurihara guesting on this 2009 live performance from San Francisco?

Bright Eyes

I generally dislike "sad bastard" music, but when my middle daughter was still living with me, she pulled my coat to this band and Elliott Smith and I got to where there were some bits that I actually liked. I was reminded of this recently, when two songs from I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning worked their way back into my consciousness.

First was "First Day of My Life," which I heard on the work muzak the other day and thought was M. Ward (whose Post-War sometimes also plays there) before I remembered, and just liked because it reminded me of her.

The other was "One Foot In Front of the Other" (aka "Land Locked Blues"), which I searched for on Youtube after Linc Campbell posted a bunch of Bright Eyes vids on Facebook and found this version, from a show I actually attended at Trees in Dallas. It was the night before we invaded Iraq, and I'd taken Aimee and a friend of hers. I saw more black X's that night than I'd ever seen at a show. It must have been the shittiest bar ever. The bartenders were pissed and charging kids $2 for water (which they let me drink all night for free). Then Conor sang this song and I thought it was the bravest thing I'd ever seen: a kid with a backwards haircut singing a song about walking away from a fight. Go fig.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna download a free Mark Growden single?

It's "I'm On Fire," a Bruce Springsteen cover from Lose Me In the Sand, which drops 2.15.2011 on Porto Franco Records, and it's here. Yeah!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gestapo Khazi

Just got this in the mail from Dead Beat, a label I hadn't thought about since the Sunday Drunks recorded for 'em a decade or so ago. It's a six-song, 12-inch EP that plays at 45 rpm -- who'd a thunk it? Got motivated to cop it from a succession of favorable reviews in Razorcake.

Listening to this record takes me back to when I briefly lived in Austin at the ass-end of the '70s. Used to go hear a lot of local punk bands back then, mainly of the collegiate variety, and I remember how a lot of them had surf music as an influence, possibly inspahrd by the B-52s, but in the fullness of time, it also seems to me that to those kids, surf style might have represented an easy way to start playing rock while conveniently avoiding the blues-via-Berry/Stones dead end that was every mainstream band's stock in trade/Achilles heel back then. Plus, original surf (as opposed to the Beach Boys, who were really more of a doowop group whose songwriter used the local milieu for lyrical fodder to get started) with its oceans of reverb and clean-toned guitars playing minor key melodies (thank Beirut-born Dick Dale) had an aura of dark mystery swimming against the tide, so to speak, of sun-and-sand imagery, which fits Gestapo Khazi's somber subject matter like a glove.

These guys are from Long Beach, so that sound is probably imprinted on their DNA, even if they were born around the time those Austin punks were plugging in (or later). John Roller's the singer and besides looking kind of like Mark Growden before he got healthy, he previously played guitar in Geisha Girls, and here, he keeps his voxxx under wraps -- not buried, but low in the mix, so they're just another element in the sound, rather than the dominant one, and you have to work to hear the lyrics (thankfully, there's a lyric sheet included for those like me who have to cheat). He got my attention with "Miss Temptation" -- which was also the title of a Vonnegut short story (anthologized in Welcome to the Monkey House, for you readers out there) -- in the same way as E.T.A.'s Brooks Holliday did by writing a song about Holden Caulfield on their Insult to Injury CD.

Stark Raving Erik's guitar has that dry, brittle surf sound -- does he use Black Diamond strings? Only his guitar tech knows for sure, if'n he has one. It's a refreshing change from the last 30 years of all those guys 'n' gals playing all-downstroke barre chords as if Johnny Ramone (or Steve Jones, or...) was the only other guitar player that ever existed. Midway through "Time Eats Time," he peals off an ascending-descending solo that recalls the one played by his fellow Mosrite user, Fred "Sonic" Smith, at the end of the MC5's "Rocket Reducer No. 62." Because of the relative lightness of the guitar sound, the engine room has to carry it, and indeed, riddim boyzzz Third Reich Meich (drums) and Gestapo Grazi (bass) form an estimable section.

Best song here's "Come One, Come All," a rewrite of the Statue of Liberty's inscription for the decade we live in ("...To the land of fortune. Where the trash smells like fruit. Hate is always assumed..."). A full-length from these guys would be welcome.

Color Me Obsessed

Oooh...Replacements doc coming. Wonder if they talked to any of the actual 'Mats.

Lime Spiders @ the Sandringham Hotel, 11.12.2010

Classic '80s Aussie band, reunited.

Everything you need to know about the Pretty Things

Mike Bandy from the Me-Thinks had never heard the Pretty Things until just recently, and he's been listening to music for a good while, so perhaps you haven't, either -- a situation that should be remedied at the earliest opportunity.

Although there's lots of other stuff I listen to, I've never really gotten over the '60s Brit bands that were my first obsession, as you've probably noticed if you read this thing at all regularly. The Who, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Small Faces, the Move, and these guys: I've owned all of their catalogs innumerable times (as I've tended to divest myself of record collections at times when funds were low).

I first got wind of the Pretty Things via Nik Cohn's Rock From the Beginning (the "R&B England" chapter, to be exact), in a passage that was so hilarious that it had to be substantially toned down for the much-less-snazz (libel lawsuit-fearing?) 1973 revision. Here I'll quote the '69 original in full:

The most classic were the Pretty Things, who'd been deliberately designed to make the Rolling Stones look like that proverbial vicarage tea party. Man, they were ugly. I mean, really ugly -- Phil May, the singer, had a fat frog face, entirely covered by hair, and he'd bang about the stage like some maimed gorilla. The others looked even badder. And their music was all chaos: the big bad blues. Actually it wasn't either big or the blues. Bad it was, however.

What 14-year-old boy _wouldn't_ want to hear them after reading that description? And it was true: Phil May and the bassplayer, John Stax, looked like either Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum or precursors to James Earl Jones' evil henchman from the Conan the Barbarian movie. But their early records, which I first heard on a cheapie German import, later on a Sire double LP reish, were more raucous than their contemporaries and local competition the early Stones (for whom the Pretties' jazzer-bearded guitarist Dick Taylor had originally played bass) and Yardbirds.

Where the Stones took their main inspiration from Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, the Pretties drew on more primal influences: Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed. May's tonsils were more tortured than Jagger's, and drummer Viv Prince, who was given to stunts like getting his ass kicked by Hell's Angels, was the proximate percussive and behavioral exemplar for Keith Moon. (Dig his relentless kick drum on "Honey I Need," f'rinstance.) Their second album, Get the Picture, in particular is a masterpiece of fuzzed-out Mod R&B to rival Them Again.

While I got the impression, studying what was then relatively recent history, that the Aftermath/Between the Buttons Stones were very consciously chasing the Rubber Soul/Revolver Beatles, the Pretty Things seemed more like the Zeitgeist incarnate and so _of course_ on their third album, Emotions, they toned things down, ditched Bo and Jimmy, covered the Kinks, and added cod English horn sections to their mix.

That was a transitional album for the Pretties. During the sessions, Stax and rhythm guitarist Brian Pendleton decamped and were replaced by Wally Allen (bass, voxxx) and Jon Povey (keys, voxxx) from Bern Elliot and the Fenmen, a close-harmony surf outfit, of all things. The addition of those two brought a new musicality and paved the way for the Pretties' finest hour: their psych phase, commencing with the epic single "Defecting Grey," which winds its way through several themes and is a harbinger of the sound of their masterpiece album, S.F. Sorrow.

Trumpeted after the fact as the first rock opera, Sorrow was recorded at Abbey Road at the same time the Beatles were working on the "White Album" and Pink Floyd were cutting A Saucerful of Secrets there. It wasn't released in the U.S. until after the Who had toured Tommy, and so made zilch impact. (This was typical of the Pretties' history of hard luck/bad decisionmaking, which included passing on the opportunity to cover Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" as their first single before the Byrds got hold of it and failing to tour America until the '70s -- although they did tour Australia in 1965.)

As a narrative, Sorrow's a lot more coherent than Tommy, and as a record, it meanders a lot less, with music that's in turns lush (the dense, quirky vocal harmonies throughout), experimental (the stew of Mellotron and primitive tone generators cooked up by the white-lab-coated EMI engineers), and hard-edged (the archetypal heavy psych jams like "Balloon Burning" and "Old Man Going"). Along with the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (which also has a song called "The Journey") and the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle (which also has a song about World War I), it remains one of my favorite artifacts of 1968.

It's a popular untruth that Parachute, the album which followed Sorrow in 1970, was a Rolling Stone "album of the year" when it was released -- a fallacy which, if true, would validate the suspicion that there was payola, or at least drugola, in the rockcrit biz. It's not exactly the "Pretties' 'White Album' or Abbey Road" that some would make it, either, but it is a fine example of Brit post-psych -- not exactly "gettin' it together out in the country" like Traffic and their post-John Wesley Harding ilk, but a step back from the lysergic heights that had preceded it. Dick Taylor having split after Sorrow's commercial failure, bassist Wally Allen steps up to do the lion's share of writing and even lead singing here, before leaving the fold himself.

The first Pretty Things album I actually owned was 1973's Freeway Madness, recorded by a lineup built around May, Povey, and ace guitarist Peter Tolson. It's kinda directionless and sounds like it was recorded under the same mountain of cotton wool as the Velvets' Loaded and MC5's High Time, but it features the Pretties' greatest moment of Stones-like Berry-ismo ("Havana Bound") and some nice acoustic numbers ("Peter"/"Rip Off Train," a "Country Road" which is not the same as John Denver's) alongside "Over the Moon," which sounds for all the world like a Mott the Hoople song. This latter disturbing tendency was even more in evidence on the follow-up Silk Torpedo, released on Led Zeppelin's label, the title song from which is indicative that Phil May had sort of run out of ideas, lyric-wise, by this point.

My boss at the record store where I worked in high school saw them around that time, at the Beacon Theater in NYC, opening for the Strawbs. He said they played a very long and unconvincing rocker entitled "Freakin' At the Beacon." In the fullness of time, one wonders why so many performers were trying _so hard_ to "rock out" back in those days. Maybe, subconsciously at least, they realized that that particular historical moment was over, and that the '80s were going to be more like the '50s with stupider clothes.

I kind of lost the thread after that, until the Pretties had a nice resurgence starting in the mid-'90s, with small-scale but ecstatically-received U.S. tours (nope, I never caught 'em; sigh) and a succession of ever-more-deluxe reissues of their catalog. Everyone should own S.F. Sorrow, and hearing Parachute would also make your life better. I'd also seek out a good singles compilation: Shout Factory's Come See Me: The Very Best of the Pretty Things CD is ace and a fave at mi casa, and I'm saving my milk money to buy Sundazed's 2LP Singles '64-'68 when I can lay my hands on one. Long live the Pretty Things!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see the Move on Dutch TV in 1966?

Interview includes pig, fish, and brass band imitations, then they play a live version of "Watch Your Step" that includes Carl Wayne smashing a TV set. Beyond awesome! The original five-piece lineup of this band really was something special.


The Fort Worth Weekly's Hearsay has some good things to say about Joe and the Sonic Dirt from Madagascar's new album And then.... Read them here.

A new operational definition for "milking it"

The Who, now apparently on Geffen, are releasing a "super deluxe" version of Live At Leeds, which Nik Cohn, writing in the NYT before its release, correctly designated "the best live rock album ever made": four CDs, a vinyl LP and 7", including the previously unreleased show from Hull that was originally shelved because Entwistle's bass wasn't recorded on some songs, which in the fullness of time proved to have bass after all. Thing lists for 80 bucks; you can preorder it on Amazon for $63.96. Drops 11.22.

My take: Save your money. If you don't own it, buy the '95 CD, which was a legitimate improvement because it restored the rest of what Cohn had promised back in '70 ("Heaven and Hell," "Tattoo," "Fortune Teller," "I'm a Boy," "A Quick One," and so on) and revealed the original LP to be essentially a document of the encore. You can live without the Tommy songs, especially since the '70 Isle of Wight show has been DVD-available for years. And Live At Hull is so much less euphonious than Live At Leeds.

New Nervebreakers scrawl in the works

Getting ready to dust off and update an interview I did back in the spring with Thom Tex Edwards of pioneering Dallas punks the Nervebreakers for publication in Maximum Rocknroll. Yeah!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mark Growden

Here's a music vid for his song "Coyote," from his album Saint Judas. If you don't own it already, you owe it to yourself. Cop via Porto Franco Records.

He'll be back in Texas in December. Unfortunately, a D/FW gig has thus far failed to eventuate. He'll return in the spring to promote his new album Lose Me In the Sand, which drops in February. I got an advance listen, and it's a stunner.

Male Instrumenty

Watching this Polish improv outfit makes me wanna play an HIO show.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Mo' '64 Mingus

I've written before about the fact that I will purchase any recording by the band (featuring Eric Dolphy and Jaki Byard and a repertoire that included "Meditations," "Fables of Faubus," "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress" and "Peggy's Blue Skylight") that Charles Mingus took to Europe in April 1964. I see that recordings of the Amsterdam and Bremen dates from that tour are now available. Oh my.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

11.7.2010, FTW

Woke up in the middle of the night the other night and sat down with the Tele to figure out the intro bit to the opening track from Charlie Haden and Hampton Hawes' As Long As There's Music that I'd had stuck in my head for a couple of days. When I put the album on this morning, I was pleased to note that I'd learned it in the correct key (F). Perhaps I'm becoming a better musician as I get older. Or maybe just lucky. (And knowledgeable that keyboard players like C and F the way guitar players like E and A.)

I've been on kind of a jazz pianner kick the last couple of days, since Big Jessie from work picked up Don Pullen's 1976 solo piano album Healing Force from Recycled in Denton for me. (Thanks, Jessie!) For some reason (UNT jazzcats divesting?), that store has a shit-ton of CDs on the Italian Black Saint label, which released loads of stuff by U.S. avant-gardists back in the day (not the least of which were the first Old and New Dreams LP and the opening triptych of masterworks from David Murray's Octet).

I first owned Healing Force back in our Bicentennial year, when I'd temporarily forsaken rockaroll to become a jazz snob and Monday night wrestling fan. Pullen (1941-1995) was Mingus' pianist in his last great band, with George Adams on tenor, Jack Walrath on trumpet, and Dannie Richmond on drums, and later co-led an estimable band with Adams that included Richmond. I first heard "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress" on Changes Two, and it took me awhile to get used to Jaki Byard's more tradition-bound approach on the versions by the '64 Mingus band that I've collected since then after hearing Pullen's freewheeling attack.

Pullen's style was saturated with gospel and blues, as well as an "outside" approach he claimed he formulated before he ever heard Cecil Taylor. You can hear all of that on Healing Force, as well as a lyricism that's substantial, not saccharine, which I find calming at times like now, when my mind's racing. I also dug him on a Black Saint album called Capricorn Rising that featured Sam Rivers on reeds and was more intense.

Alternating spins of Healing Force with Joe and the Sonic Dirt From Madagascar's beautifully ethereal And then..., which has become like a narcotic to me this past week. Luckily you can't OD on musical goodness.

ADDENDUM: I just ordered the Gestapo Khazi record from Dead Beat because Jenkins from Doc's said none of his distributors had it.

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna watch the entahr last Sex Pistols show?

It's here.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Banner Pilot's "Collapser"

Let me get this out of the way up front: I'm not typically a lyric listener. That's my sweetie's deal. I actually lost the facility of being able to remember song lyrics around 1973, as a result of which I'm able to remember songs I didn't even like from back then but am generally clueless to the words of most songs I've heard since then.

But when I got this rekkid (on sweet, sweet vinyl) after streaming all the tracks online and slit the shrinkwrap, a lyric sheet fell out on the floor and being the enthusiast of The Romance of the Artifact that I am, I sat down and read it while spinning the album -- three times in a row.

I don't know a lot about this band in the biographical sense. They're a four-piece from Minneapolis. Nate Gangelhoff, the bassplayer, is the main songwriter. Their music reminds me a lot of one of my friend Matt's several bands, Goodwin, but then again, it also reminds me a little bit of all those fuckin' pop-punk bands with numbers in their names (the one from Arlington was called 41 Gorgeous Blocks after a line from The Catcher in the Rye and was actually pretty good). Not to mention (and I gotta mention) the 'Mats and Huskers.

Nick Johnson, the singer/guitarist, writes all the lyrics, and he's good. All of his songs have basically the same premise. See, there's this kid, say in his early 20s, and he hates his midwestern town, hates his job, drinks too much, tries to get close with women but always fucks things up or runs away. He tries to capture fleeting moments when he feels connected, but he knows how ephemeral they are. He doesn't like where he is, but he knows he's stuck there. It's a classic rock 'n' roll scenario, going back at least as far as Eddie Cochran, or the Who, but here's the thing: The kid is really articulate. He reads fucking John Fante, for Christ's sake (the Italo-American proto-Bukowski, for those of you who just joined us).

Banner Pilot's chord progressions and melodies are as circumscribed by their genre as any blues or jazz band's are, and that's fine. They give Johnson the medium and the momentum he needs to get his message across, and he's got a lot on his mind, even though he claims, "I'm no writer/Just bad rhymes and some confused sentiment."

Dig: Cat spews more syllables than anybody since Brooce recited the Manhattan phone directory on Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. He's so verbose that he's got to phrase around beats, but his word-torrent signifies. Basically, the songs on Collapser encapsulate that Quadrophenia/SLC Punk moment when your peer group has taken you as far as it's going to, and you're poised on the cusp of becoming your own person -- scary plunge into the unknown. Johnson's kid aches and because you know him or you've lived his story, you ache too. The stories resonate because they're true, and the music gives you something to bounce around to and maybe shed some of that emotional tension while you're listening to him unload his head. It's catharsis in the best sense.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Bassist Gary Rasmussen Tells the Up Story

K: You grew up in Ann Arbor?

G: We grew up in Detroit.

K: You started playing music at age 9 with your brother Bob. What kind of music were you playing then?

G: Really kinda folk music, like Smothers Brothers stuff. We didn’t play out that way, but that was the idea when we got started. Homer and Jethro! We had an album from somewhere.

K: And your brother was playing guitar before you?

G: We actually got a guitar at Christmas that we were supposed to share. We took lessons for maybe a year, year and a half, something like that.

K: How’d you wind up switching to bass?

G: My brother is two years older than me, so when I was 11, he was 13, playing guitar with a band, and they needed a bass player, so that’s why I started playing bass.

K: You used to play with [drummer] Dave Palmer, who later played in the Amboy Dukes?

G: We started out as the Galaxy 5, and that was Dave Palmer, my brother and me, and a guy named Charlie Martin, just a guy in the neighborhood, playing guitar, and a saxophone player – can’t even think of his name. I was 13 years old, so that’s like 1963. We were playing all instrumentals like Ventures and stuff like that, nobody was really singing. It wasn’t too much later that the Beach Boys and Beatles got big, and we started kinda switchin’ over. Of course, when you’re that young, you’re not really out there singing much, anyway. But with the British Invasion and all that stuff, we started being more like a band with singing in it.

K: You guys once opened for the Capitols of “Cool Jerk” fame.

G: Yeah, the band changed its name then. We were the Citations, and we all had matching outfits…matching vests and stuff, and there was a guy on Detroit radio named Dave Schaeffer, he was actually the program director for CKLW. He would do sock hops on the weekends, so we were like “his band” – he’d drag us along to all these sock hops. It was in a lot of teen kind of clubs and roller skating rinks and those kinda things. People would be skating to the music! A lot of ‘em would be in Canada, like Windsor, Kingsville, kind of close, but within an hour or so of Detroit…Port Huron, Michigan. So we’d play live and he’d spin records and talk, and they’d always have one famous, something-that-was-on-the-radio kind of band, maybe Question Mark and the Mysterians, or one time it was the Capitols. What they would do is, they would come and just lip-synch to their record. So we were playing in Windsor with the Capitols, and they were coming to do their one song, and the record player wasn’t working right, so they asked if we could do that song. I was probably 13 or 14 or something…young! So we played that one song, and they sang it!

K: It seems like there were a lot of places to play within in hour of Detroit back then.

G: Yeah. I was in junior high when I was doin’ that, and awhile after that, they started having a lot of teen clubs, because they had those TV shows, Shindig and Hullabaloo, and in Michigan, maybe in other places, there were Hullabaloo clubs. There were quite a few of ‘em; every little city would have their little teen club. We played a lot of those., and a lot of high schools. It just started from there, and then we stopped doing the radio shows, ‘cause we never got paid. We were just kids, and they’d say, “It’s great exposure.” I still hear that: “It’s a great exposure gig!”

K: How’d the transition take place from the Citations to the Up?

G: We changed the name of the band to the Brand X, which was with [rhythm guitarist] Steve Farmer, who also ended up being in the Amboy Dukes. Ted Nugent called and was looking to put a band together. Ted had been living in Chicago, and he was in Detroit, and we sorta knew him, didn’t really know him, but he was hangin’ around the same kind of places, the same clubs where we were going to watch other bands. There was a band that was popular in Detroit called the Lourds [who became the Amboy Dukes, led by Nugent and singer John Drake], and we’d go to their gigs and watch ‘em. They were a little older than we were, and they were kinda like role models for us. When Dave Palmer joined the Amboy Dukes, we started looking for other players.

We ended up talking to Frank Bach, who was the singer for the Up, but before that, he was working at the Grande Ballroom, which had just opened up [in October 1966]. He was the MC there when it first opened up. So we got together with him and then found a drummer, Victor Perrino, and then we became the Up and just kinda started hangin’ out around the Wayne State [University] campus in downtown Detroit. There was kind of a scene goin’ on there – hippies and all that stuff.

K: What kind of music were you playing in the early days of the Up?

G: By that time, we were pretty influenced by the MC5. We’d been going to a lot of shows and playing a lot of shows all along, like the Yardley had a big show in the state fairgrounds in Detroit, which was like the Yardbirds, the Blues Magoos, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, the Velvet Underground – quite a show, actually, for back then. After the British Invasion came through, we were actually playing a lot of songs by the Kinks and Yardbirds and that kind of music. Then we saw the MC5 play and since we were kinda hangin’ out with them, we probably started buying bigger amplifiers and turnin’ it up.

K: Were you at the Grande show where the Five opened for Cream and Fred Smith was cracking on Eric Clapton before they went on?

G: It was actually while they were on. They were playing their set. They gave Cream one dressing room and the other side of the stage was the other dressing room that the MC5 had. The Cream was taking solos, and they got to the point where Ginger Baker’s playing his ten-minute, 15-minute drum solo, and Eric Clapton comes down into the dressing room, and Fred was pretty cool. He goes over to him and says, “Why don’t you guys have a rhythm guitar playing in your band?” “Well, we think we can handle it without a rhythm guitar player.” “Well, how come there’s a rhythm guitar on your records, then?” Just giving him shit, basically. But that was the MC5, anyway – they kinda gave everybody a little bit of shit. They were all pretty cocky, especially when they were young, and they felt that the Grande Ballroom and Detroit…that was their home. And they would give people a little bit of shit, just to let ‘em know.

K: You guys once had your gear repossessed during a gig?

G: There was a music store in Detroit, Massomino’s Music, which I believe is still there. They had given us a charge account where we could, on credit, go buy drumsticks and cymbals and strings and stuff. And we probably got out of control with it – got new guitars, y’know. I don’t think the guitars were as big of a problem as everything else. “Well, I need ten pair of sticks,” all that stuff. It got to the point where we owed them a lot of money, and we were playing at the Hideout, which was a teen club back then, run by Punch Andrews, Bob Seger’s manager. We got to the gig and set up our equipment and Joe Massomino walks in the door with two big giant guys and took our guitars! So we got on the microphone and asked the kids in the room if anybody had guitars we could borrow for the night. The kids went home and got some little cheap guitars and brought ‘em up, and we did the gig.

K: You guys had quite a few run-ins with the law back in those days?

G: Not too much. We played a teen club in Ann Arbor – that had to be probably 1967 – called the Fifth Dimension. Somebody at the club at that time came up and gave us a bag of marijuana. Actually it was so crummy that you couldn’t smoke it, it was so bad! Anyway, we stuck it in the glove box of the car and drove back, ‘cause back then we used to drive my mother’s car. My brother had his license. Got back to downtown Detroit, ‘cause my brother was living in the Wayne State area, where the MC5 and John Sinclair and all those people were living, and were unloading the equipment late at night. Police came up and started hassling us, saying, “Somebody complained his dog’s howling at the moon. Is that you guys?” -- that kind of stuff. They ended up searching the car, and there was the bag of marijuana in the glove box, and I panicked and grabbed it, and that was pretty much it. They arrested us, took my brother to jail, and took me to juvenile hall and told me I’d be there ‘til I was 18 – and I was 14! But I was only there for two days. They called me down and my parents were there, and I think I was more afraid of my dad really at that point than anything else that was going on, but [my parents] were real good about it.

K: What did your parents think about you guys doing all this crazy rock ‘n’ roll stuff when you were in high school?

G: I’m kind of amazed that they went along with so much of it. We were pretty determined. My brother had moved out when he was 18 to be with the band, and the band was moving to Ann Arbor, to Hill Street. The MC5 and John [Sinclair] and all those people had moved a couple of months before that, and we found out that the house next door was for rent also, so the band wanted to move there. That was the summer that there was riots in Detroit, a lot of stuff that was going on, they killed Martin Luther King [in Memphis] and it was getting really quite bad where I went to high school – Cooley High School in Detroit, which was probably 70% black then. I guess I was stubborn maybe, because I decided, “I’m going, as soon as summer comes and school is out, I’m going to be with the band in Ann Arbor.” My folks said yeah. They didn’t like it, I don’t think, but they let me go. I was 16. A summer of that, and there was no way I was going to go home! Living in a commune, we had 30something people, the Summer of Love and all that stuff. It was just the times. People were breaking traditions. It was a different world there. A great time to be 16 years old and be the bass player in a rock ‘n’ roll band!

K: What was the scene like at the Grande when you guys played there?

G: It wasn’t a bar. It wasn’t really a teen club. It was more like a counterculture kind of scene, like the Fillmore. I think the MC5 probably played the first show there. Russ Gibb had been around, and he was an older guy, and he’d seen the things going on in San Francisco and Chicago and other places, with the posters and the art. Really, the whole culture at that time was really something. A lot of it, too, was the war in Vietnam polarized people. When you’re getting a draft card and thinking about going to Vietnam, it’s pretty easy to start making decisions about what side of this you’re on.

K: Do you think that pulled young people together?

G: Well, it had an effect on me. I had already been playing for a long time in bands, and God, you’re that young and you get a draft card and you start thinking, “Man, that’s just not what I want to do at all. No way.” And I think a lot of people did just kinda…it’s the alternative: you just go with it, get drafted and join, or you’re against it.

K: Did any of the guys from the Up get drafted?

G: I was really a little bit younger than most of the people, so by the time I got sent a draft card when I was 18, first they sent me one that said I was 1-A, and you were supposed to go down for a physical at some point, and then they sent you another one and gave you another ranking. At that time, I really believe, I don’t know for sure, but all the people that I lived with had been through it, and they were doing all that crazy junk to get out of it. They’d do anything they could to get out of going: punch a bunch of holes in their arms and say they were a junkie, or say they were gay, anything. I never got called for a physical. I received a second draft card in the mail that said I was a 4-F, so I never had to go. They probably saw the address and said, “Aw, the hell with this!”

K: Didn’t [poster artist] Gary Grimshaw paint a guitar for your brother?

G: Yeah, he did two of ‘em. He did a white Stratocaster, and he painted a rainbow dragon on the guitar -- a rainbow that was shaped like a dragon. It was real cool. Wish I knew what happened to it. It was really nice. When the lights would change on the stage, with the colors on the guitar, it almost looked like the wings would be moving.

K: Isn’t the Fender Precision bass you play today the same one you used in the Up?

G: Yeah, I got that in 1968. Actually, I had another one before that, but it had problems. It got stolen at the Grande Ballroom. When we were doing a gig there, somebody walked off with it. We called up the radio station – back then, WABX was the big radio station in Detroit. I can’t remember which DJ it was, it might have been Dan Carlyle, but he went on the radio and said that I’d had my bass stolen at the Grande Ballroom, and if anyone knew about where it might be, or if they had another one that I could buy for cheap, to call me. So somebody called and said, “I heard on the radio you got your bass stolen. I got one, but I never play it, and I’m willing to sell it,” so I bought it for maybe $175. A ’62. And I still have it!

K: Wasn’t [Cult Heroes singer] Hiawatha Bailey the Up’s roadie at one point?

G: Yep. When we moved to Ann Arbor, he was one of the first people that we actually met. He had kind of a trash hippie pad, crash-house kind of thing going. What happened is, we were having trouble with our drummer Victor Perrino. He was kind of a greaser, a biker, and the rest of us were more like hippies, and we were kind of having trouble with Victor’s brother’s motorcycle club, who would just come and live at our house, and there wasn’t much we could do about it. So we kicked Victor out of the band, and at that time, Scott Bailey had moved down from Traverse City, and he was living in Hiawatha’s house, renting a room in the same house. So we started trying to get Scott to come over. We needed a drummer, so Scott was the drummer, and Hi kinda came along with him shortly after.

K: There’s a story that you guys played a gig in Nebraska and Hiawatha was locked in the back of the equipment truck all the way back to Ann Arbor.

G: Ron Abfaulter was a friend of Scott Bailey’s from Elk Rapids up by Traverse City, and those two guys kinda came as a package, so Ron was a roadie. Then we got Craig Blazier. We played at a high school, I believe it was Dexter or Chelsea, little town just by Ann Arbor, and he called to hire the band for the show. I think he thought we were really quite weird, actually, when we did the thing, but we started hanging out. He turned into our roadie. Ron Abfaulter left, so Craig Blazier became our roadie, and then Hiawatha. And Hiawatha’s kind of a crazy guy, so we played out in Nebraska at this anti-war rally, and I think Craig had had just about enough of Hiawatha, so Hi went around to the back of the truck for something, and Craig locked him in and wouldn’t let him out until we got back to Ann Arbor! Craig’s worked for all kinds of people. He worked with Kiss, now he’s road manager for Bob Seger. He’s been with Bob Seger for years. He worked for Barbara Mandrell for a long time.

K: Talk about the recording of the Up’s single (“Just Like An Aborigine”/“Hassan i Sabbah”).

G: The [band] SRC had a studio in Ann Arbor. Not Morgan Sound, which was a bigger studio they got later, just a house that they had turned into a studio. I believe it was only four tracks; a little studio on Division Street or someplace. I think I’d just moved here, it was 1968, and we went over there and cut a couple of songs.

K: How were you guys affected when John Sinclair went to prison in 1969?

G: Well, I think it affected the commune a lot, really. At the time, the MC5 had been signed [to Atlantic], and when John went to prison, the MC5 moved out of the house and got their own house. They thought they really needed a manager, somebody that could do the work for them, and John was in prison. So the MC5 left and the Up was still there, and the whole focus for those two housefuls of people really became to get John out of jail. There was a lot of energy put towards that; they had the newspapers, the magazines, the artwork – we had quite a scene with Gary Grimshaw living there, and a guy named Al Shamie was a really great artist that I don’t think many people know about. A lot of the focus of that had switched from maybe setting up food co-ops to overthrowing-the-government kind of stuff to get John out of jail. We were playing benefits for it, drawing people together for it, writing articles about it, and just drawing attention to it. And we were the band in that time, and I think most of the money we made probably went to keeping those things going, paying the rent on the houses and stuff.

K: The Up played an SDS rally up in Flint.

G: I thought it was another gig. You could tell from the beginning, “This thing isn’t going to go well.” A friend had just come back from Vietnam. He just got out of Vietnam and he had some of this weed that was the bomb. He had a film canister full. Well, he said, “I’ll drive the band up to this gig.” We said, “That’s fine,” and sent the equipment on up ahead. And we’re going up there and the police stopped us and started hassling us and ended up searching us, and they found this little bit of Vietnamese pot. The guy that was the driver and had the stuff said, “You know, I just came back from Vietnam last week, and this is something I got into while I was there, but don’t mess with me, because I just got back,” and I think the police gave him a break, and they let us go.

So we left after being stopped by the cops and we drove to the gig, and when we got there, it was just a really weird scene, real dark, kinda scary thing going on. It was these radical women, lesbian groups there, SDS people. They were different than we were. We always thought we were kinda radical, but we were rock ‘n’ roll cultural radical, and these people were a lot more serious. At least they thought so. It wasn’t so much cultural as more really anti-government things. They were givin’ us so much shit, just stuff, that we were counter-revolutionary, that we treated women bad, we were male cock-rock and all this stuff they were sayin’ – which might have been true, basically we were doin’ what we were doin’. They just gave us so much shit about it before we even got close to unloading the equipment that we said, “The hell with this. Fuck this.” We just left and went back home. And it turns out that that’s the meeting where they’d all conspired to blow up all these government buildings and all those people ended up going underground. Pretty odd. We ended up not playing, but I think that was a good thing. We just ended up getting out of it, escaping it.

I was kinda for a lot of the political issues that I was involved with, but on the other hand, I was really just into the music end of it – the cultural end of it – and let the other people really worry about the rest of that stuff.

K: Is it true you dropped acid with Timothy Leary?

G: Well, he stayed at our house when he came to Ann Arbor, so we got some when he was there. Didn’t take it with him, but it came with him.

K: Didn’t the Up also play gigs with him?

G: Yeah, we did a few. I think it was Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan. Actually, I was looking through some stuff the other day and I found a flyer: Timothy Leary, the Stooges, and the Up.

K: Talk about your mind-expanding experiences!

G: Yeah, but the [Hill Street Estates] houses were kind of a unique thing. They were kind of famous at the time. We always had people coming by. Abbie Hofman came there. Jane Fonda came and stayed there at the houses. The Hog Farm, they all came and they were hanging up there. At one point, Sun Ra and his band lived there at the houses for, I think, a week or two maybe.

K: Did you guys ever play any music with the Sun Ra band?

G: Yeah, I’d try. These guys were in a whole different league than what we were doing. We were doing kinda rock, and these guys were deep – far out, like old jazz guys. But even then, I’d try to play with them. I don’t know what they thought. They probably thought, “What the hell is this?” But I thought it was cool. That was funny, too, because Sun Ra knew what his guys in the band were doing. Basically what they were doing was coming over to us and going, “Let’s get some hippie girls and get some of that pot stuff! Where are them hippie girls at?” But then they were kinda looking over their shoulder, too, making sure Sun Ra didn’t find out!

K: The Up recorded a song with Alan Ginsberg, didn’t you?

G: No, that was for the Free John rally with John Lennon at Crisler Arena [in 1971]. The Up put out a single, and on one side was a song called “Free John Now,” and on the other side was Alan Ginsberg doing a prayer for John Sinclair. So we kinda shared a single. He had one side and we had the other, and I think we printed ‘em up to give away at the concert.

K: Do you have any particular memories of that Free John benefit?

G: Oh, I dunno. It was quite a show! God, it had everyone on it, from Stevie Wonder to [free jazz trombonist] Roswell Rudd, David Peel and the Lower East Side, Bob Seger – a bunch of people, a bunch of speakers, like [Black Panther] Bobby Seale. Ed Sanders and the Fugs, Phil Ochs. It was quite a show, all kinds of stuff, everything from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz to folk to everything, and ended up with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and he played acoustic. That was cool, ‘cause they had a lot of people, it was probably Elephant’s Memory up there with them, but they had five or six guys strumming on guitars. I remember I enjoyed the whole thing and it was really good.

They made a movie [Ten for Two] about it. I’m not sure, but I think there’s a couple of different versions of that movie around, and at least here, I don’t know about other places, every once in awhile, like every anniversary, five years or ten years or something, it comes back and you’ll find it somewhere. It shows in some theater. I went to see it and I’m the first thing in the movie! When the movie comes on, it’s me! And I didn’t know that when I first went to see it. I’m sittin’ in this theater, and it comes on, and God, there I am, I’m 40 feet tall! Actually, we don’t even play a whole song in the movie. It’s just pieces of a song, just to get the thing going. But it was kind of a thrill for me back then. I’m like the very first thing for a couple of seconds, then there’s our band for maybe ten or 15 seconds, then we’re done. So I was kinda like, “Well, I can go now!”

K: How did the end of the Up come about?

G: We were in the studio again. We were recording in the new SRC studio, which was a way bigger thing. I think they probably had 16 tracks, a real nice place. We were having a lot of trouble doing the vocals, because Frank [Bach] was really not a singer. He was just a guy. Back then we thought anyone could do anything! Anyone can be anything they want! Which in a way kinda is true – y’know, with all the punk music and everything that came later – a lot of everything is attitude. But I think that I had pretty much gotten to the point where I’d just go, “Basically, this ain’t no good, man.” Frank had a tone problem, he couldn’t sing in tune, and I think I just got frustrated to where the other three members of the band decided, “We’re kickin’ Frank out and getting a singer.”

We were still living in the commune then, and we’d been playing gigs with this band Brat from Mount Clemens. Really, we called up Leon [Mills], he was the singer, and we told him, “This is what we want to do. We want to have a band. We’ve got me and my brother, and what we need is you and your drummer and your guitar player. Let’s do it.” We moved ‘em up to Ann Arbor and put ‘em in the carriage house between the two houses and started the band from there. It turned right from Up to Uprising, and that band was managed by John Sinclair and Peter Andrews. John was out of jail by then and he was managing Mitch Ryder and the Rockets.

Things were never quite the same with those guys. Those guys from Mount Clemens were never really revolutionary guys. Mount Clemens! So it didn’t seem to be working that well with the people living in the commune, so we moved out. We kept it going for a while, another year or so, really just struggling along, playing what we could. We had a booking agency, which is still here – Prism Productions, when they first started out. [future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator] Howard Kramer was the guy that worked at Prism, and he was getting us work. We were renting very, very cheap housing and struggling to pay the bills, playing the gigs, and basically having a really good time.

What happened is, we played a gig and there were a lot of bikers at this thing, and Leon the singer was in the bathroom and this biker came in and goes, “Snort this!” Leon thought it was cocaine and he snorted this stuff, and it was some kind of PCP stuff, and for the next week or so, Leon was totally gone, just out of his mind. He ended up stabbing himself, taking a knife and just plunging it into his stomach. It was really bad, because right when he did that, Howard Kramer had booked us a ton of gigs! We thought, “Finally we’ve got enough work, we’re gonna have money, and things are goin’ well, and then that happened, and Leon was in the hospital. The rest of the band started getting disillusioned with a lot of stuff, pissed off at Leon, and they decided what they’d do is get Nate Pearson, who’s a good singer and a bass player. So basically, they fired me and got Nate Pearson, got rid of Leon, and I think they lasted for not very long afterwards, a few months in that particular configuration.