Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see a whole set by Dylan with the Rolling Thunder Revue?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ronald Shannon Jackson at the Kessler Theater, 7.7.2012

The great drummer/composer will be at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff on July 7th. If you live in DFW and love great music, you owe it to yourself. Tickets here. Cheap at $20 plus fees and tax.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Great Tyrant @ 1919 Hemphill, 6.7.2008

Down by the old mainstream 2: Dreaming of Dylan

Let's call this the continuation of the Stones rant from a few days ago.

When I get on a kick like I'm on right now, listening to the music that wasn't necessarily my favorite, but was just in the air when I was coming of age, it's funny that I always think of the Stones and Dylan, but not the Beatles. Uncle Johnny Bargas (aka "The Mailman," because he always delivers) opines that Dylan and the Stones were after the same thing in American music, and maybe he's right. I suppose that Dylan and the Stones were in the water I grew up swimming in without realizing it, the same way Hendrix was (although I loved me some Jimi back then).

I think that the Stones (like the Clash) were in love with the romance of a mythical America that they only knew from records, whereas Dylan had experienced some of that first-hand, traveling through the midwest and later, in Greenwich Village, sitting at the feet of people like Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and Victoria Spivey. It's the place Greil Marcus calls the "old, weird America," the one Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music sought to capture. (The best Christmas present I ever gave my sister; I was delighted to hear that my nieces actually had favorite songs from it.) Bob was maybe the first guy to connect the dots between Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, and Elvis (not to mention Rimbaud, Kerouac, Brando, and James Dean), but he also acknowledged Johnny Ray and Al Jolson as musical ancestors.

I never owned a Dylan album until Uncle Johnny made me a mixtape that I still have, around the time I got out of the service in '93. (When I was at an Air Force school in '86, our class leader was a superannuated staff sergeant who had a cassette of Before the Flood in his truck and said that "listening to Bob is like going to church.") It motivated me to seek out a used copy of Biograph, which I enjoyed until I had to sell it to get money to eat after I got shitcanned from RadioShack in '02. Listening to that tape, I realized how many phrases of Dylan's I'd incorporated into my personal lexicon, back when I was striving to be one of those guys slightly older than me that walked around strumming imaginary guitars, who had a line from a song lyric to go with every situation.

An anthology like Biograph is the best way for me to listen to Dylan, since I have no attachment to the sequencing and sense of Moment in any of his "real" albums. I came up hearing his songs on the radio or in other artists' versions and being captivated by his lyrical imagery, but never enough to ever sling out the coin to buy an actual physical artifact: not loud enough; not enough electric guitar noise.

(I do, however, have my old neighbor Robin Sylar's copy of Highway 61 Revisited on the wall in my kitchen. The sleeve, with its iconic photo -- as great as the ones from Freewheelin' and Bringing It All Back Home -- contains _two_ copies of the LP, both beat to shit to the point of unplayability. Hell, if Mick Taylor and Steve Jones could play with Dylan, surely Robin could have, as well; he went to the same school as Denny Freeman, who toured with Dylan in the '00s, and his playing cut a lot closer to the bone than, say, Mike Bloomfield's. But I digress.)

The everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink maximalism of the CD era lends itself well to this kind of listening. While Biograph doesn't have _everything_, it has _enough_ (unlike, say, the Faces' Five Guys Walk Into a Bar, which has _more_ than "everything," but _still_ isn't enough). Listening again after all these years, the only song that was immediately conspicuous by its absence was "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," although on reflection I kind of miss "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest," too.

Bob Dylan remade the face of his chosen medium in his own image. How many artists can say that? What he was after was the energy rush of rock 'n' roll, but with lyrics that "[reflected] life in a realistic way," and when he was done with his first great creative outpouring (1962-66), that was exactly what he got (for awhile, anyway). Freewheelin' got the Beatles' attention, and his four-album hot streak (Bringing It All Back Home through John Wesley Harding) got everybody's. Imagine one performer calling the tune and the changes for the entahr "pop" world for as long as a couple of years. The mind boggles.

With each resurgence -- the '74 tour with the Band, Blood On the Tracks, the Rolling Thunder Revue, on up to Time Out of Mind (which sounded to these feedback-scorched ears like just another Daniel Lanois production) -- he's seemed less, um, "relevant," but no matter. His achievement still stands and he can do what he wants. Beyond that: without him, no Uncle Lou, no Neil Young, no Tom Waits, no Leonard Cohen; the inheritors of the role he created do him proud.

Snapshots from memory:

1) Hearing "Lay Lady Lay" on AM radio when I was 12, the first time I'd ever heard a pedal steel guitar (except for the goof one the King Sisters' daddy played on Lawrence Welk).

2) Hearing "If Not For You" when my sister owned New Morning.

3) Hearing "The Times They Are A-Changin'" on the soundtrack to some '60s TV show (Mission: Impossible?). The way that song now evokes a whole era, and remains timely.

4) Having to sing "Blowin' in the Wind" in middle school chorus. The chorus teacher, a long-haired hottie who was married to the gym teacher, felt it necessary to explain the song's lyrical content to us and seemed frustrated when nobody seemed to give a shit. I also remember her having to teach the black chorus kids how to emote when we sang "Oh Happy Day," in much the same manner as the Richard Dreyfus character had to instruct the bass drum kid in Mr. Holland's Opus before he went off and got killed in Vietnam.

5) The Arlo Guthrie and Fairport Convention versions of "Percy's Song."

6) Hearing "Mixed-Up Confusion" (from _1962_!), "Tombstone Blues," "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window," and "I Wanna Be Your Lover" on Uncle Johnny's mixtape and finally appreciating Bob-as-rockarolla.

7) Hearing "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" off Before the Flood in the store where I worked when it was new and goofing on the way Bob sang "mi-i-ine!" Comparing that version with the Page-era Yardbirds' BBC one now. Bob and the Hawks win out over Jimmy's electric 12-string.

8) Hearing "Like A Rolling Stone" in my living room (as opposed to over a radio) and realizing how important the tambourine part I'd never noticed before is to the record's impact.

9) My favorite Dylan song: "Lay Down Your Weary Tune." I like the way it sounds like a hymn and lyrically connects music and nature. In awe of the majesty.

10) The way "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is the bridge between Chuck Berry and Chuck D.

11) The way I still prefer Van Morrison's Them-era "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (and the Chocolate Watch Band's) to Bob's.

12) Playing "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" with Pete Bollinger at my Reserve superintendent's retirement party in Shreveport.

13) Seeing Bob in '79 on the "guess what song I'm playing now?" tour. (A wag commented, "Isn't that all of them?") He was the size of my thumbnail, and I couldn't recognize a single song he played.

14) Hearing Tex Edwards sing "Positively 4th Street" with the Nervebreakers at SXSW in 2009.

15) Reading from a copy of Chronicles, Volume 1 that was in the house where HIO stayed when we were in Houston last year. Apparently Bob jammed with Ornette and Cecil Taylor when he was on the set in Greenwich Village in the early '60s. "Cecil can play normal piano when he wants to," Bob wrote.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pinkish Black album out 5.10.2012

...on Handmade Birds Records, on sweet, sweet vinyl. To stream a track, go to the link, click "All Releases," then click "More Artists" to scroll down, et voila.

Benefit for Jessica Luther

Jon Teague told me about this the other night. Jessica runs 406 Arts (formerly the Phoenix Project) in Big D. The event is Saturday, March 31st, at 7pm. The address is 406 S. Haskell, Dallas.

Ashley Harris sends:

Hey guys! Jessica is in the hospital due to an infection in her leg. So, we will be holding a benefit to help raise money for the medical bills that are already climbing through the roof and for her being out of work due to this mess.

We will be holding a raffle for the following prizes so far:

$100 gift card to Dolly Python
Art by Clay Stinnett
2 $100 tattoos done by Chandler Foley
and possibility of more to come!

Also, we will be having a line up of amazing bands playing:

Pinkish Black
Nicole and Dan from True Widow will be doing a 2 piece set

There will be a $10 cover and if you would like to participate in the raffle it will be an additional $5. There will be a keg with the possibility of some liquor.

Also, if you feel you have anything to offer to help out please contact me. We would love any extra donations. Or if your band would like to play, you can contact me as well. PLEASE CONTACT ME ASAP!

All proceeds will be going to Jessica so come on out to party on her behalf!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blame it on the Stones

I've always been a little ambivalent about the Rolling Stones. And it isn't just because my ex-wife liked them so much.

First took notice of 'em when I heard the intro to "Honky Tonk Women" oozing out of a transistor radio the summer when I was 12, the cowbell followed by drums, then that taut, tense, droning chord on an open-tuned guitar. (Did Mick Taylor really scare Keef that badly? Or did he just like the sound of an open G when he heard Ry Cooder play it? _You_ decide!) Later that year, when I read Michael Lydon's account of the Stones' '69 tour and the debacle that was Altamont in Ramparts, there was a picture on the cover of Mick looking fey and kind of jive in his omega superhero costume and Uncle Sam top hat, but when I saw this picture of Keef in his psychedelic matador suit, Perspex Dan Armstrong on his hip, I thought he looked exactly like that intro sounded: a little lazy, a little menacing, like a coiled snake ready to strike.

Reading Ian McLagan's description of seeing the early Stones in All the Rage reminded me that they weren't always a tourist destination, like Disneyland. ("My Grandma went to see the Rolling Stones and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.") When they were scruffy bohemian squatters in thrall to Chess Records, with lantern-jawed regular bloke Ian Stewart laying down the barrelhouse boogie woogie as a full member, Brian and Keef _sitting down_ to weave the perfect guitar tapestry, they carried real excitement and danger, which you can still hear on their first album (called England's Newest Hitmakers here in the States). Their records got better when they started touring America, which allowed them to cut at Chess in Chicago and RCA in L.A. (cf. The Rolling Stones, Now!, their early magnum opus). While I liked the Yardbirds, the Animals, and the Pretty Things better, objectively, the Stones were more prolific and had the best track record of any Brit R&B band except the Kinks -- who by '66 had worked their way into a league of their own (but that's another story). And their versions of "Down Home Girl" and "Talkin' About You" were the sexiest music I'd ever heard, back when I was 14.

Fifty years (!) after the Brit R&B boom, it's unsurprising the affinity baby boomer Brits had for the music of disenfranchised African-Americans, given how much tougher they generally had it than their European-American cousins. Even those who lacked memories of sleeping in the Tube or being evacuated to the countryside grew up playing in the rubble of the Blitz, and got to experience wartime rationing which, in Britain, was still in limited effect when Elvis was recording for Sam Phillips.

Stones manager/Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham told them they needed original material to make more money, and so Mick and Keef elbowed Brian Jones out of his position as "undisputed leader," although he continued to add instrumental color to their sound and was probably more responsible than anybody for making a generation of American teenage boys think it was cool to look effeminate. As a single, "Satisfaction" was as era-defining as "Like A Rolling Stone" (although I preferred "Get Off My Cloud," which was sloppier and a blatant Dylan cop) and at the end of 1965, chasing Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and the Beatles' Rubber Soul, they cut Aftermath, an explosion of creativity that was 50 minutes long in its UK version, which didn't even contain all the songs they'd recorded.

Some of those unreleased songs would turn up on the '67 holding-action "mop tape" album Flowers -- a fave of mine, along with its thrown-together-"product" cousins December's Children and Tattoo You. Disparities between the Stones 'Meercun and Brit '60s discographies, which made them (like the Beatles) a collector's wet dream/nightmare, are attributable to the fact that '60s Britain was a poorer country than the U.S., which meant that in the interest of giving the consumer more value for their hard-earned pence and shillings, more EPs were released there, the average Brit LP had 14 tracks (vice 12 in the States, where Nashville-based music publishers were opposed to "giving away" too many songs), and songs that had been released as singles rarely showed up on albums. But those kloodged-together Stones albums make a convincing case that their floor sweepings were as good as some other bands' diamonds.

Flowers became a necessary expedient after drug busts and associated legal hassles kept the Stones off the road for a couple of years, during which time they disappeared up their asses in the studio, chasing the Beatles ("We Love You," Their Satanic Majesties Request), before coming back hard with Beggar's Banquet, an album full of country and blues influences that was more to the point (although one could argue they were still chasing Dylan, who'd come back after his motorcycle accident with John Wesley Harding and sent everyone rushing off to get it together out in the country). Brian Jones disappeared in a drugged-out haze, becoming progressively more unreliable until he drowned in a swimming pool after they'd hired another guitar player to replace him.

To these feedback-scorched ears, a lot of their musical direction during their four-album hot streak (Beggar's Banquet through Exile On Main St.) was cribbed from Ry Cooder (who'd done session work on Let It Bleed -- his scathing account in a Captain Beefheart piece Langdon Winner penned for Rolling Stone was pretty revealing) -- and Gram Parsons (a familiar of Keef's around that time). Mick and Keef managed to pull out a couple of songs ("Gimme Shelter," "You Can't Always Get What You Want") that, for a lot of people, seemed to sum up the dashed hopes and shattered dreams of the ass-end of the '60s. And "Sympathy for the Devil" inspired the collective hipis and rockcrits of the world to mistake Jagger for Lucifer, an image which I 'spect he even began to buy into for a minute, before Altamont scared the bejeezus out of him.

Myself, I found "Street Fighting Man" -- the sound of one guy strumming an acoustic guitar while another bangs on a cardboard box, over which Jagger regards the turmoil in the streets, shrugs, and lights another joint -- more reflective of the Zeitgeist at the turn of the decades. A couple of years later, Pete Townshend, bless his cotton socks, essayed the same point at much greater length in "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Listening again to Sticky Fingers, which back in '71 was so ubiquitous that I never felt the need to own a copy, one is reminded what a great year for music that was, when you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing "Brown Sugar," "Maggie May," or the aforementioned "Won't Get Fooled Again." Or perhaps my memory of it is colored by the age I was then and my, um, awakening consciousness. One is also struck now by the fact that among the songs on Fingers, only three are full-on rockers, along with one song that's 50% rocker, 50% Latin jazz jam; a C&W-_ish_ ballad; a country blues; a soul ballad; a joke country song; a minor key folk ballad a la "Play With Fire;" and an Asian-sounding lament with strings. Big Mike Richardson knows, and I agree, that the Stones' hidden strength was their "slow" songs, going back to "As Tears Go By" and "Blue Turns To Grey" on December's Children. (One of the reasons I dig Tattoo You so much is it's divided into "rockin'" and "mellow" sides, and guess which one is my fave?)

Exile On Main St. was unprecedented among Stones albums in the way that it's like a sonic bath in which one immerses oneself -- like the best albums by Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis -- rather than a mere collection o' tunes. That Keef Richards was so wasted during its creation that he couldn't remember recording some of the songs afterward is even more remarkable in light of the fact that following its release, the Stones embarked on what was probably the strongest tour of their career.

After that? Sound and fury, signifying nothing: With each new release, the Stones' music became more generic (although we could argue about Some Girls). Sure, Mick Taylor was a brilliant soloist, but what has that to do with being a Rolling Stone? Ron Wood, who played fantastic bass with Jeff Beck and displayed a distinctive and idiosyncratic (albeit highly Stones-influenced) musical persona with the Faces and on Rod Stewart's solo records, was a better fit, but wound up morphing into a sort of extension of Keef. Am I the only one who's creeped out by this?

When I was learning to play, the Stones of Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out had become such an archetype that their influence was often transparent. From the beginning, audacious upstarts had been poaching on their preserve. The Pretty Things, founded by original Stones bassist Dick Taylor, were arguably more outrageous, but definitely (and intentionally) in the same mold. On a certain level, like Allen Lowe, I'd rather listen to the Chocolate Watch Band than the Stones. Sure, to paraphrase Martin Balsam in Breakfast At Tiffany's, the Watch Band were fakes, but they were _real_ fakes. The Flamin' Groovies ripped off everything they could from Beggar's Banquet and Let It Bleed on their '71 release Teenage Head and wound up getting bigger hugs from Rolling Stone than that rag's namesakes. The New York Dolls and, um, Aerosmith at least had the same configuration (two guitars, bass, drums, and ugly mug frontguy), although the former were more self-consciously cartoonish and the latter more lowest-common-denominator. And what were the Clash -- those poor misguided souls -- shooting for on London Calling, if not their own Exile?

For me, the Stones finally lost their magic boots forever when I saw them (with my future ex-wife) at the Cotton Bowl in '81, right before we moved to Memphis. We heard the opening notes of "Let's Spend the Night Together" from the parking lot, and hauled ass to get to our seats, laughing like idiots. The Stones played in the piss-pouring rain; thank goodness for cordless mics. You had to squint at a Jumbotron to see them, and they were _tiny_ there. It was very professional entertainment, and very boring. The scale of the Event really worked against feeling any connection whatsoever with the performers. It was the other shoe I'd been waiting to hear drop since I'd seen Mott the Hoople on Broadway in '74, realized how _old_ Ian Hunter looked (he was 35 at the time), and how artificial all the staging and spectacle seemed. Since that Stones show at the Cotton Bowl, I've only been to one other Big Rock Concert: the Who in Y2K, which surprised me by being better than I expected, but the exception proves the rule.

Then again, who gives a shit what I think? It's not the Stones' fault that they're megasuccessful, and I'm an elitist obscurantist asshole-for-life. When they were young, they looked like drunk old women. In their maturity, they look like beef jerky with hair. But better that than botox, no? Time for another spin of Sticky Fingers...

The NEXT Thrift Art Gallery Show and Auction

Christopher Blay sends:

After 12 years of bringing the pain, is Frank Artsmarter switching up his mad knalage and moving on from Auctions? Maybe. Come check out the World Premiere of the infomercial "Art The Smarter Way! With Frank Artsmarter," preceded by musical guests, The Neeks!!!!! Yup. And closing with what you've always come for, Frank's Auction, from his collection at Chrisbee's Auction House. Be there promptly at 7, and stay till 8:30 or you'll miss some of the fun!

It's going on Saturday, 4.7.2012, from 7-8:30pm at William Campbell Contemporary Art, 4935 Byers Ave. in the 76107. If you dig the art, or just know what you like, you'd be a fool to miss this.

Pinkish Black, Nervous Curtains, and Vulgar Fashion pics @

My sweetie posted some of her pics of Pinkish Black, Nervous Curtains, and Vulgar Fashion at Lola's this past Saturday on her photo blog. Click on 'em to make 'em big and leave her a comment, why doncha?

Captain Beefheart at Theatre de l'Empire in Paris, 11.7.1980

Retrieved directly from the French National Television Archives on The lineup: Van Vliet/Tepper/Feldman/Williams/Snyder.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant - "West Cabaret Drive"

Wonder whatever happened to these guys. Named after a misheard Damned album title, at home in Japan they were on a major label (Sony) and played sheds and stadiums with ambulances on standby. Over here, they were on Alive and played rawk toilets like Club Clearview. Great band, anyway.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ex-Zappa band members at UNT

DENTON (UNT), Texas ¾ What was it like to play in Frank Zappa’s band?

University of North Texas College of Music students enrolled in a class about the music of Frank Zappa will find out from two former Zappa band members – bassist and alumnus Arthur Barrow and keyboardist Tommy Mars.

Barrow and Mars will perform Chunga’s Revenge, Cosmik Debris and other Zappa tunes with about 20 students at 8 p.m. April 16 (Monday) in a free concert in Voertman Hall in the UNT Music Building, southeast corner of Avenue C and Chestnut Street. The performance is part of a residency in which Barrow and Mars will talk with about 60 students enrolled in the Music of Frank Zappa class taught by Joseph Klein, chair of the Division of Composition Studies at UNT. Students explore the musical, political, social and cultural aspects of the life and work of Zappa.

“I hope the students will broaden their musical horizons by playing some music that is outside their normal educational experience and by working with a couple of musicians who have been living music their entire lives,” Barrow said. “We can share with them what it is like to be a professional musician, as well as our deep appreciation for Zappa's unique and very creative approach to music.”

Barrow, who graduated from UNT in 1975, will lead the students in rehearsals – as he did when he served as “Clonemeister” in Zappa’s band. The group also will perform an improvised piece composed by the entire ensemble and conducted by Mars.

Klein began teaching the Zappa music class in the summer of 2001, and his students have included those with majors in art, music, philosophy, sociology, English, anthropology and more. Students in the class have watched videos of Zappa's concert performances and his appearances on "Saturday Night Live;" studied his lyrics; and read books and articles on his work, including his autobiography, "The Real Frank Zappa Book.” From the 1960s until his death in 1993, Zappa wrote a prolific mix of music — including mainstream classical, avant-garde classical, jazz, rhythm and blues, and electro-acoustic music.

“Since Zappa was such a trenchant social commentator -- not only through his music, but in his writings, interviews and television appearances -- his life and work allow one to examine, in a unique and interesting way, many of the major cultural and political movements in America during the last half of the 20th century,” Klein said.

“I think that's one reason why the course attracts so many people from a wide variety of different majors -- and all of those students' varying perspectives become part of our discussions as we deconstruct these issues,” Klein said. “Because many of the concerns Zappa had -- such as the influence of religion on American politics -- are as significant today as they were during his lifetime, I think Zappa remains relevant as a cultural figure.”

This will mark Barrow’s second visit to UNT for a performance through Klein’s class, although he has participated in phone interviews with students several times in previous classes.

“While my own perspective on Zappa is broad and more academically oriented, having an actual performer from Zappa's band gives you the kind of nitty-gritty personal details you can't get from a book,” Klein said. “Having Arthur here sharing his personal anecdotes about auditioning, touring and running rehearsals as Zappa's ‘clonemeister’ is a priceless experience for the students -- and this year we're ‘upping the ante,’ so to speak, by bringing in Tommy Mars as well.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna hear a new Nomads single?

New album Solna out April 18th, with a U.S. vinyl-only release on Philadelphia-based Green Mist Records in September. Yeah!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Nervebreakers' "Hijack the Radio! (Vintage Vinyl & Studio Sessions, Volume One)" (Part One)

This time it's personal.

People think I'm kidding when I say the first four or five bands I ever saw play live, which consisted of guys a couple of years older than me back in middle school and high school, had a bigger impact on me than all of the Big Rock Concerts I went to later. But I'm not. I'd rather stand up front where I can see the people onstage sweat and feel the air from real skins and cones moving my clothes around than go anywhere I have to squint at a Jumbotron to see the performers, and they're still tiny there. Being signed to a label or written about in a magazine doesn't necessarily make a band better than the guys I saw in my local rock dump, playing their hearts out to three punters, the sound guy, the door guy, and the other band.

(What's that you say? "Most local bands suck?" No, dude. Most _bands_ suck.)

So it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that in my world, the Nervebreakers made a bigger impact than the Ramones or the Sex Pistols.

Although my drummer from college claims not to remember this, in January 1978, he called to inform me, "I saw the Sex Pistols and they sucked, but this Dallas band The Nervebreakers opened and were great. You should move to Texas. You can make $10 an hour raking rocks in the road [the only work he figured I was capable of doing], you don't need liability insurance to drive here [I was paying $900 a year with a clean record in New York], and you can drive up to a cop with a beer in your hand and he'll just wave [although if you were in Fort Worth, he'd probably be drunker than you were and kick your ass]." Six months later I showed up on his doorstep in Irving, and I haven't looked back since.

Before my first year in Dallas (where I saw a bunch of Nervebreakers shows and worked with their guitarist Mike Haskins at Peaches Records & Tapes), Fort Worth (where I was present for the Nervebreakers' legendary August 11, 1979 stand at Tootsie's on White Settlement, which ended when the police arrived), and Austin (where I used to spin the Heartbreakers' Live At Max's Kansas City while working at Record Town in Dobie Mall -- I took Tim Kerr's job after he quit -- and got to see the Huns, the Big Boys, and the Clash before decamping for Colorado on an ill-advised whim), punk never resonated for me, although I'd taken plenty of shit in the early '70s from the older guys at the hipi record store where I worked for digging the Stooges, the MC5, the Flamin' Groovies, and Nuggets.

Back home on Long Island, you could hear Patti Smith's "Gloria" and the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" on the New York FM stations. I sold records to a guy who later had his 15 minutes of fame when he cut a punk era 45 called "Death To Disco" under the rubric Jimi Lalumia & His Psychotic Frogs, and I knew another guy called John Del Gaizo that sang with a "punk" band whose demo tape was good for some yuks. But in my backwater town, we were still playing Cream and Allman Brothers songs and trying to figure out what happened to Jeff Beck on Blow By Blow. The Bowery and CBGB's might as well have been a thousand miles away.

It was the Nervebreakers who made me see the connection between the short, sharp shocks of punk and the bands I'd taken shit for liking four or five years earlier. For one thing, Mike Haskins could really play. (Texas just breeds good guitar players. Listen to, say, Zakary Thaks or the Fort Worth Teen Scene compilations and you'll hear teenage axe slingers who copped their first licks from Freddy King when King Records in Houston tried the novel approach of marketing a blues player as a "surf" guitarist.) For another, Barry Kooda, immortalized in Rolling Stone for biting a fish when the Nervebreakers opened for the Pistols, embodied something damn near like rock 'n' roll incarnate, with the emphasis on laughs rather than self-destructive bullshit.

Up front, there was Thom "Tex" Edwards, whose totally blase appearance disguised the fact that he was on fire for the music (still is). "Barbecue" Bob Childress, third in a succession of bass players, was an Uberfan who'd witnessed the Stooges and the New York Dolls up close and personal while attending college in Atlanta, and used to buy the records that Haskins had stashed under the bins at Peaches. In the back, drummer "Crusher" Carl Giesecke sounded like anything but the slumming symphony percussionist that he was.

The Nervebreakers played rock 'n' roll with a mixture of power and insouciance that was both irresistible and straight to the point. I've seen live shows that matched them in their heyday -- Ron Asheton playing Stooges songs with Scott Morgan's Powertrane, the Dictators, the Nomads, the Mooney Suzuki -- but none that ever bettered them. In some ways, they are my favorite band.

Like the MC5, the New York Dolls, and the Dictators, the Nervebreakers utilized the classic Rolling Stones two-guitars-bass-drums-and-standup-frontman format. Like the Dolls, the Dictators, and the Faces, they weren't afraid to let their sensahumour infuse their rockaroll. Like every true band, their story was as much about the bond between friends as it was about the music and mayhem they created together. In my dotage, I'm beginning to believe that, more than rebellion or even triumph -- sorry, Mr. Townshend -- rock 'n' roll is really about friendship: the primacy of the peers we use to define ourselves when we're casting about for an identity to distinguish ourselves from the families where we grew up. The best rock 'n' roll movies -- The Kids Are Alright, MC5: A True Testimonial, We Jam Econo -- are informed by this understanding.

That's why it does us good to see superannuated rockarollas putting aside whatever differences rent 'em asunder back in the day and regrouping for an extended victory lap, as the Stooges have done: it makes us feel as if maybe we, too, can go home again. While the cynic in me originally felt that the Stooges' reunion was merely Iggy's way of cashing in on the realization that the Millennial kids were finally ready for the dum dum boys and their noise in a way that their parents' generation was not, his grace in the wake of Ron Asheton's passing and that of Michael Davis (bassist for the Stooges' "big brother" band, the MC5) makes it seem more like his way of paying a debt to them that brought him, with the manic thrills which he and they brought to their audience purely the surplus value.

Of course, there was never a big beef between the various Nervebreakers the way there was between Iggy and the Asheton brothers (Ron in particular) in the wake of the Stooges' demise. In fact, Mike, Tex, and Barry (and Bob and Carl as well, early on) have all played together off and on in various configurations over the years.

But even though I'd seen Mike and Barry with the Punk Rock Dinosaurs in 2001, it gladdened my heart inordinately to see all five of them playing together on two separate occasions in 2009. While only Barry still looked the part of the badass punk rockarolla, they still sounded every bit as good as my memory of their '70s shows, not to mention the We Want Everything CD (which languished in the can for 14 years before it was released) and the equally impressive "fan club" CD-Rs I bought from Haskins a decade or so ago. (The ten-minute "Gloria" from their first Dallas performance -- 1976 at the Villager Inn on Lemmon Avenue -- is a particularly vivid example of what they were about.)

All of this is by way of explaining why the news that Get Hip would be releasing Hijack the Radio! (Vintage Vinyl & Studio Sessions, Volume One) in April was particularly welcome at mi casa. While copies were originally planned to be available in time for the Nervebreakers' appearances at SXSW 2012, circumstances (few vinyl pressing plants, greatly increased demand for product -- a good problem to have, if you're in the business) intervened. So now, we wait.

Read Part Two here...

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Nervebreakers' T. Tex Edwards Talks

If you were lucky enough to see pioneering Dallas punks the Nervebreakers back in the mid-to-late ‘70s, they definitely made an impression. On one side of the stage stood lead guitarist Mike Haskins, pealing off blazing licks while looking for all the world like a baby-faced Donnie Osmond. (He still does.) On the other stood rhythm guitarist-backup singer extraordinaire Barry Kooda (ne Huebner) -– immortalized by the Rolling Stone “fish pic,” taken the night the Nervebreakers opened for the Sex Pistols at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas -– in his Army helmet and pistol belt (he served in Korea in the early ‘70s), legs splayed, his Les Paul slung low, trying to eat the microphone. In the middle, draped over the mic stand with a cigarette in one hand, an expression of ennui on his handsome mug, was the lead singer, Thom “Tex” Edwards.

Contemporaries, not followers, of the first wave of New York/Cleveland punks, the Nervebreakers compiled quite a track record in the years between 1973 (when Kooda insinuated himself into Edwards and Haskins’ “art-rock” band Mr. Nervous Breakdown) and 1980 (when the NBs imploded at the end of an East Coast tour). They opened for the Ramones and the Clash, as well as the Pistols. They released an EP (Politics), two singles (“Hijack the Radio” and “Girls Girls Girls Girls Girls”), and two tracks (“I Love Your Neurosis” and “So Sorry”) on ESR Records’ legendary Are We Too Late for the Trend? compilation. They served as Roky Erickson’s backing band, documented on the Live Dallas ’79 album on French label New Rose.

Their debut full-length, We Want Everything, was recorded in 1980 and finally released on vinyl by Existential Vacuum in 1994. More recently, Pittsburgh-based garage label Get Hip reissued We Want Everything in 2000 (CD only) and again in 2010 (CD and vinyl). Also in 2000, the Italian Rave Up label released a vinyl Nervebreakers anthology, Hijack the Radio. Next month -- if the Lord is willing and the creek don't rise -- Get Hip will release the compilation Hijack the Radio! (Vintage Vinyl & Studio Sessions, Volume One), about which more later.

Post-Nervebreakers, Edwards relocated to Austin, Hollywood, and then Dallas and Austin again. Along the way, he reinvented himself as a purveyor of Crampsian psycho-country under the rubrics Tex and the Saddletramps, Out On Parole (releasing Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone To Kill on Sympathy for the Record Industry in 1989), the Loafin’ Hyenas (with ex-members of the Cramps, Gun Club, and Blood on the Saddle, releasing the self-titled The Loafin' Hyenas on New Rose in 1991), and the Swingin' Cornflake Killers (releasing Up Against the Floor on Honey Records in 1997 – still with me?).

In 2007, Pardon Me and Up Against… were re-released by Saustex Media, the San Antonio-based label helmed by Hickoids frontman Jeff Smith. That same year, the Nervebreakers regrouped to record some original material they’d never gotten around to cutting back in the day, and put together a collection of previously unreleased archival tracks. Around the time of SXSW 2009, they played a handful of shows in Austin and Dallas, ripping through energetic versions of classics like “My Girlfriend Is A Rock” and “Hijack the Radio,” and even essaying a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.”

Since then, Edwards has undergone Interferon treatments for hepatitis C. We’re happy to report that he’s on the mend, and as you can read below, Nervebreakers fans can look forward to their once-scarce original recordings, as well as their latest ones, being generally available in the wake of their recent reunion activity.

When Edwards let me hear a rough mix of the Nervebreakers’ 2007 recordings, I was floored. Face Up To Reality -- for that is the title by which the new Nervebreakers album shall be known -- hits like a candygram from the gods, a fully realized full-length from guys we thought we’d never hear from again. Its combo platter of cleverly arranged, muscular Rawk, songwriting smarts (mainly from the team of Edwards-Haskins), and sardonic humor is reminiscent of both the latter-day Dictators and Killer-era Alice Cooper (back when that moniker still referred to a band and not a Hollywood Squares clown). Comparisons being odious, it kicks all kinds of ass on the reunited Stooges’ The Weirdness (if not Rocket From the Tombs’ Rocket Redux).

The title track operates off a snaky, menacing riff, with lots of high-end guitar damage from Haskins, who proves time and again on this album that he was the most lethal player to emerge from the whole ‘70s Texas punk development. “Just Yawn” evokes rockabilly with its leg-twitching beat and Tex’s vocal hiccup, capped with more dueling dual guitars. “Don’t Wanna Be Used” is a splenetic minor key rant, reminiscent of Elvis Costello’s “I’m Not Angry” until its masterfully malevolent bolero ending.

On “I’m Lost,” “My Girlfriend Is A Rock” lyricist Carl Giesecke –- whose tub-thumping is punishingly precise throughout –- crafts a tale of a Robinson Crusoe/Gilligan’s Island-like idyll. “I Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand” isn’t the Fab Four pastiche/parody you might expect from its title, but rather, a two-beat polka you can pogo to. Speaking of which, onstage visual vector Barry Kooda collaborated with Haskins on the Ramonesian dance ditty “They Were Doing the Pogo,” which reminds me of nothing so much as the sheer idiot glee bassist “Barbecue Bob” Childress used to project onstage, bouncing up and down with the pure joy of a fan who got to be in his favorite band.

“Formerly Street Queen” is cut from the same bolt of cloth as the Dictators’ “Minnesota Strip,” a gritty street saga overlaid with wah-wah dramatics, while Kooda’s “Wake Me Up” recalls his anthemic “Stand Up” -- We Want Everything's closing track -- musically, while lyrically painting a picture of a couch potato snoozer. The glammy “It’s Obvious” struts on wobbly six-inch platform heels, while “Breaking Down” encompasses a Clash “Jail Guitar Doors” intro, a catchy sing-along chorus, and a modal psych solo. “I’d Rather Die” takes it out with rib-rattling aplomb, a valediction that sounds like they never left (when in fact, their last trip to the studio was 30 years previously).

But you’ll have to wait to hear all of those until Get Hip (or somebody) deigns to release ‘em.

When I spoke to T. Tex by phone on April 22, 2010, I’d recently seen a screener of Laura Tabor-Huerta’s documentary DFW Punk. Then I caught up with him for an update on November 27, 2010. The publication for which this was originally written decided to pass on the piece, but nothing's ever wasted here at The Stash Dauber. You can also read an interview I did in 2000 with Mike Haskins, Barry Kooda, and Bob Childress here. Lucky you.

K: How’s your health these days?

T: I’m doing pretty good now that I finished that stuff [Interferon treatment]. It’s a gradual thing. I’ve got more energy; I’m in a lot better mood. Starting to be among the living again.

K: How did it feel seeing that footage of yourself, from the Nervebreakers and later on, in the DFW Punk documentary?

T: A lot of that stuff I’d seen before, the stuff that my buddy Edwin shot back in the early ‘80s. I don’t know if there was a whole lot of Nervebreaker footage.

K: There were probably about 30 seconds.

T: That’s one of the problems. Not much has turned up. I know there were some videos taken back then, but not like today where if you have a bad gig, somebody’s gonna have a tape of it.

K: Everybody photographs and videos everything today, whereas back then, it wasn’t as common.

T: Which is good in some ways, but it does make you think when you get onstage, “God, if I screw up really bad…it’s documented!”

K: It’ll be all over the Internet in the morning.

T: Like the Sly Stone [at Coachella] thing. I didn’t even care about that, but it was the whole train wreck thing, or the auto accident where you can’t help but stare. I read the whole article!

K: You’re not even curious, but it hooks you in.

T: It’s that Courtney Love train wreck thing. You could care less, but still…I’ve seen [DFW Punk] twice. I saw it once over at her house -- [director Laura Tabor-Huerta] lives not very far from me down here -- and at the Austin showing last year at the Alamo Drafthouse downtown. But I didn't see the earlier versions from a few years ago, which I never heard anybody say anything good about. And then there's that last section of the film…she still needs to edit some more there. But she’s fooled with it for years and, I think this is pretty much it.

K: It’s definitely a fan’s labor of love. There’s no slick cinematic value to it at all. A few of the people that saw it here in Fort Worth said that she’s trying to cover a whole lot of turf in a short amount of time…stuff from the Nervebreakers era on up into the ‘90s. I saw footage of Lickity Split from Fort Worth from ’89, and it’s almost a different world from the one you guys inhabited.

T: But that’s kind of what she inhabited, though. The guy that did the Texas psychedelic documentary [Dirt Road to Psychedelia], that guy Scott Conn, I talked to him recently, and he’s doing one on the Texas punk scene, and it’s mainly focused on Austin. He’s a little younger, too, but he knows he needs to include some of the Dallas and Houston bands, too. He came over one afternoon and we talked, and I gave him some email addresses of some people that could help him out, so he might wind up with a better perspective on the early stuff. I don’t think he’ll go too far into the ‘80s, but since he’s younger, a lot of stuff he likes probably starts with the Big Boys. So that might be pretty good. He’s a little bit more professional –- in a good way.

K: Not slicker, but more craftsmanlike.

T: Yeah, right. That’s what I was trying to say.

K: It’s interesting seeing how people’s perspective on a lot of music has changed. In the moment while it’s happening, we kind of take things for granted, particularly when they’re local to where we come from. But it seems like Texas punk and psychedelia have really gained a lot of stature in people’s minds over time.

T: That whole first wave of punk was so marginalized and put down when it was current. It was important to [people who were there at the time] but they didn’t think of it in the whole scheme of things. Now at least it’s getting its due.

K: It just seems like that music has had a phenomenal longevity, as widely loathed as it was when it was new. It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since the Stooges. It seems to carry a lot of weight, and not just with older people, but even with people in their 20s who know about the Nervebreakers and the Big Boys or whomever.

T: They don’t realize how it was at the time, that these bands weren’t very big at the time. They were the weirdo fringe. The Stooges never got played on the radio! They were so totally out of the mainstream, and now it’s part of Rock & Roll History 101.

K: When I think about the Nervebreakers, compared to other Dallas bands like the Telefones or NCM, you guys had a little bit more time in music under your belts. You didn’t appear out of nowhere after the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. You guys were a band from much earlier, and in that sense, I kind of equate you with somebody like Rocket from the Tombs in Cleveland, or the early Neon Boys stuff in New York.

T: We were trying to do something, and then when that [’76 punk] came along, it was close enough to what we were doing to where we were thrown into it. You start getting into all that and you realize that it all kind of came from the same stuff, though. I saw a thing of Nick Cave when he was real young, his first band…before the Birthday Party [The Boys Next Door]. They were doing Alice Cooper, David Bowie, stuff like we did when we first came out of high school in that same time period. Then you realize we were all doing this in different parts of the world and we were the weirdos aping the stuff we liked, and it turned into whatever we turned into.

K: At the time you started playing, did you feel commonality with any musicians that you knew, or were you just kind of isolated?

T: Pretty much isolated. You’ve worked in a record store, so you know how it is, you think you’re the only one who likes something, then a few more people come in and buy it and you think, “Wow, that’s neat.” You realize there’s just a small group of people that are into certain things.

K: We just had “Record Store Day” and I’ve been thinking about how the way people consume music has changed, and I’m not sure how young people find out about things anymore. When I was a teenager, I’d go to the record store where the guys a couple of years older than me that knew a lot more would make me aware of things and I’d kind of follow those threads. With the Internet, kids have access at the click of mouse to the whole history of recorded music, but who puts that in context for them? It seems like it’d be kind of overwhelming and hard to filter.

T: It is for me! There’s all these bands I’ve never heard of, and I’m sure that some of them are doing something I’d like, but I just can’t wade through all this other stuff to find out who they are unless somebody I know says “Hey, you’d probably like this,” the way they did at the record store when I was a kid. That’s the only way I hear about stuff nowadays, or if I read somebody I like and they go, “Oh yeah, we like…” or they compare it to something else. There’s just this mass of stuff and who knows what’s what.

K: It seems like in the last five years or so, any band from the last 30 years that had any kind of notoriety, from the Sonics to the Nervebreakers, has gotten back together. What was it that motivated you guys to start playing together again?

T: We did some reunion shows back in the ‘90s and they were just one-off things. I was doing stuff, and then when I moved to Austin, I was doing my things. There wasn’t any real reason to [have a reunion]. I had no computer. I was late on that, like most old guys. When I got on that, we kind of got back in communication. Before that, there’d be the occasional phone call, but [the Internet] kind of got us back in touch.

I don’t know if there was any certain event that got us to start thinking that way, but Carl [Giesecke] the drummer said something about recording a song or playing a gig or something. He said, “We should record some stuff,” and he was talking about trying to write some new songs, and I went, “Well, we have all these songs that we never [recorded] before.” So we went back and listened to some live tapes of them and went, “Hey! These are pretty good songs. These are better than I remember.” So we decided to make that the project.

I wasn’t doing much at the time, so I went up [to Dallas] a few weekends and we recorded stuff all day, and that didn’t work out. All you could do was get in there and rehearse for a little while and then leave. The recording sometimes would just be one song, or sometimes it would be two, maybe even three in a Saturday afternoon over at Mike [Haskins]’s house, so it was more long, drawn-out, but it worked better that way. You think something’s going to be a certain way, and when you get into it, you find out, “Oh, that’s not practical.” And we just did it the way it worked, so it stretched out over a year or so. Like I said, I wasn’t doing much else, so I didn’t mind driving up to Dallas all the time.

K: What was it like playing with those guys after 30 years or something?

T: It was fun. It was too loud! I think after the first rehearsal or two I came home and I lost my voice, which seemed odd. I finally went in for an ear test and found out I have moderately severe hearing loss and had some custom earplugs ordered. Lots of people I know are in the same boat. “You’re not alone; I can’t hear, either.” I had all those bands with all those guitar players, but then I worked at the Continental Club [in Austin], worked the door there for a number of years, and some of those bands weren’t loud, but some of them were really loud. I can remember one Hank III show and my ears rang for a long time after that.

K: I can remember going back to the Continental for the first time in 20 years and being astonished at how small the room was. How did all those times fit in there?

T: Now our new challenge is to play quieter. When you’re younger, you equate the power with the volume, which isn’t necessarily the truth.

K: It’s kind of an adrenaline thing, whereas really, you can get a better sound and more dynamics using smaller amps and playing quieter.

T: Yep. My band down here [Out On Parole] doesn’t play that loud, so it’s not a problem. But with the Nervebreakers, it’s going to be a challenge.

K: So, what’s the current status with the Nervebreakers recordings?

T: Get Hip, who Mike has gone round and round with for years, finally reissued the CD they put out years ago [We Want Everything] and they are now also reissuing it on vinyl. Plus they’re reissuing the early Wild Child singles in a limited vinyl thing. They’re starting to go in the vinyl direction. It seems the younger folks are getting interested in vinyl again, and getting interested in the old bands, so they’re re-releasing a lot of old punk singles on vinyl. That’s a pretty good business plan.

Then Gregg [Kostelich] at Get Hip is planning on doing our anthology, which would include the studio side of the vinyl album [Italian label] Rave Up put out awhile back, plus a bunch of additional songs we recorded at various sessions back in the late 70's. It’s called Hijack The Radio! (Vintage Vinyl & Studio Sessions, Volume One) and will be released on vinyl and also on CD with a few bonus cuts added. Sophie Lo, a French gal that does great artwork, has put together a nice package of photos and info to go with it. So that part of the past will be available again.

Next comes the Face Up To Reality album we recorded last year. When that will be released or by whom? I just don't know at this point. But there's that, plus a second volume of the anthology with more older studio stuff, and then we will be fully documented and caught up. Oh, and I guess there's some pretty good live tapes in the can, too.

K: I’m just sorry you guys didn’t record “Positively 4th Street” [Dylan cover the Nervebreakers played during their 2009 shows].

T: If we [record] again, that’s one we’ll do, but Face Up is all original stuff.

K: It seems like Jeff Smith from Saustex Media would be the guy to release that. You already have a relationship with him from re-releasing the Out On Parole album.

T: He was kind of interested. He had the Nervebreakers scheduled for one of his 2010 SXSW/Saustex afternoon things, but then they [the four Nervebreakers in Dallas] decided not to come down to Austin for SXSW. Then the whole music industry has been so fucked up and up-in-the-air the last year or two. So that drags the whole process out even longer in time, but that’s about par for the course. Like I said earlier, a lot of times things don’t work out the way you’ve planned, so you just have to “go with the flow” and not push too hard, and just be happy with the way things turn out. Because once something’s done, you sure as hell can't go back and change the past. But I know it’ll get out there eventually. To me, the main thing was just getting it done, getting those songs documented, and the fact that they turned out really well –- it’s at least in the can. The big part is done, and now we just have to wait for the time to be right for somebody to put it out.

K: What are some of the songs you guys recorded, besides “Face Up to Reality” itself?

T: “Just Yawn.” [A rockabilly-ish number with a singalong punk chorus.] Speaking of “Positively 4th Street,” the first song that Mike and I wrote together was called “Formerly Street Queen.” It kind of fit in with the theme of the song, but obviously it was a takeoff on that whole Dylan “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” “Positively 4th Street” kind of thing…adverbs in song titles. We recorded that and it’s kind of punk, but it’s more in the proto-punk vein because it has this big, long, kind of epic ending that sounds like early ‘70s rock. There’s “They Were Doing the Pogo,” which is kind of our joke song, kind of a takeoff on the whole Ramones thing. Back then a lot of it was a joke and then people took it seriously. There’s one called “I’m Lost,” the first one that Carl wrote the words for, another ‘70s proto-punk kind of thing. There’s one called “It’s Obvious” that’s just real basic rock and roll, probably the closest to a Cheap Trick/Dave Edmunds basic rock and roll thing that we made.

K: Back in the ‘70s, you seemed a lot different from all the other rock bands I knew around here, but watching the documentary, you also seem uniquely Texan in a lot of ways. Like Barry [Kooda]’s comment when Sid Vicious was throwing punches at his face, and Barry tells him, “Look, son, you’re in Texas. You can get killed for doing that here!” Even before you were doing your solo stuff, you had little bits and pieces of C&W influence in your music.

T: George Jones.

K: “The Race Is On,” and you’d open with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly theme.

T: One of the songs on the new album, “I Don’t Want To Hold Your Hand,” is kind of our punk version of country from back then. It’s kind of like that cowpunk real fast “oom-pah, oom-pah” beat. That Hickoids thing, kind of a Mexican beat that wound up being the cowpunk thing. That’s something that kind of just happened.

At the time, I was not really heavily into country or anything. Just as time went on, a little bit. I was interested in rockabilly, and really got into country through rockabilly. Back then, the Clash were doing “Brand New Cadillac.” When the rockabilly thing was kind of hitting punk, people were going back and saying, “Yeah, this is kind of the modern version of what that was back in the old days.”

I started a side band, Tex and the Saddletramps, to do that, because in the Nervebreakers, we’d kind of do a little bit of it, but not really too far. That had kind of always been a [Nervebreakers’] thing. I don’t remember who all was in it, but Mike had a side band, a reggae band, just for them to explore playing reggae. With different types of music, you really have to learn to play it to absorb it and figure out what you like about it.

So I had that on the side, and once the Nervebreakers were no more, I had a band with Carl because everybody else quit, and we auditioned some people, because we still had the Nervebreakers’ rehearsal room, but we decided we were more interested in doing something else, so we just made it another band, called the Jungle Heirs. Then after that broke up, I started a version of Tex and the Saddletramps again, and that was the version that recorded “Move It.”

K: It seems like you moved around a lot in the ‘80s.

T: After that I moved to Austin in ’84, L.A. in ’86, back to Dallas at the end of ’90, and back to Austin in ’95. I guess around ’89, my dad passed away, and that was a real prime motivator for me to come back to Dallas and just be around my mom to kind of help her out. My older brother was around, but I just felt like I wanted to be there too. Four years in L.A. was enough for me. Playing with the Loafin’ Hyenas, I got into drugs, and [going home] seemed like a good way of trying to get away from that. Of course, I got back to Dallas and there were plenty of people into drugs there, but the whole Hollywood scene is just so…well, what can you say? I like it here [in Austin]. Dallas is what it is. Good friends, good people there. But any big city is going to be the same in a certain way, you can eventually find people to hang around with who are kind of interested in what you’re into, but Dallas is so weird, I don’t know. I’m just glad to be away from there.

K: Do you find the music scene in Austin to be more conducive to what you want to do?

T: Everybody in the world moves here to play music, and then half of them quit playing once they get here -- which I did, for a while, too. Everybody used to be in a band, or is in a band, and they have live music everywhere, but you just have your little niche and do your thing.

They’re really open to music here, and they have the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, which helped me through my thing. With our insurance situation, once you have hepatitis-C, you can’t get insurance unless you pay a whole lot of money. Then we have the SIMS Foundation, and they work more on the mental [health] side, rather than the physical side.

Once I decided to give up the booze, which I’d needed to for a long time, but I didn’t do it until I had to, until it didn’t work anymore, and I ended up drinking all the time, and being depressed…the SIMS people helped get me into detox and rehab and that was just the first step. Then HAAM hooked me up an internist and then I could work on the hepatitis, which you need to quit drinking if you have hepatitis, but a lot of people don’t. It’s hard to do. Hepatitis just sits there in your system for ten or 20 years and does nothing, and most people don’t know they have it until they get a blood test for something else, and then they go, “Oh, by the way, you have hepatitis.” Which is how it was with me, so I just went, “Oh, shit. Damn.” So I just kind of ignored it for awhile, until eventually I couldn’t ignore it.

K: How long is it now since you quit drinking?

T: Two years. I drank plenty in my lifetime for four lifetimes.

K: There’s a scene in the documentary where you’re on this cable TV show in Dallas and you just chug a half a bottle of Jim Beam.

T: It had tea in it, of course. “Was that really bourbon?” Well, what do you think? If you think somebody could do that, well okay. Of course not! Well, that’s part of the myth.

K: Speaking of Austin, can you tell us about some rooms you like to play down there, and some like-minded bands?

T: It changes all the time. Clubs close down and some come back. The Hole In The Wall has changed owners several times and added on. Liberty Lunch closed and the building was torn down. The Continental's still going. We opened for Chuck Prophet there recently. I did a gig with Reverend Beatman at Beerland, and then played at a neat little place on the east side called The Scoot Inn a couple of months ago with The Cynics for their stop in Austin. The Ugly Beats were also on the bill. They are pretty entertaining. My next gig is at a cool old joint called The Carousel Lounge that has a vintage circus motif. So you literally have a pink elephant next to the stage!

K: On [July 24th, 2010], you guys played a show at Trees in Deep Ellum, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Dallas’ original punk dump, the Hot Klub. How’d that go?

T: That was a lot of fun and really, really special. All the bands got to rehearse ahead of time and everybody sounded really good. There were four bands that had actually played at the Hot Klub back 30 years ago: the Telefones, Bag Of Wire, Fallen Idles and us. Then also a couple of later bands featuring various key players from several of the old, original groups like Superman's Girlfriend and Deprogrammer. A lot of old grudges were probably put aside, and we survivors that were still kickin' had a good time with some good music, good stories, laughter and hugs.

K: Do the Nervebreakers have any live action planned for the coming year?

T: We'll probably do our Dallas annual Nervebreakers reunion show sometime in the spring. But beyond that, we'll just have to see what rears its ugly head.

[The Nervebreakers just played three shows -- two sans Kooda, who had to work -- at SXSW 2012. A review of Hijack the Radio will follow once I'm able to lay hands on a copy.]

Friday, March 16, 2012

Nervebreakers - "Hijack the Radio" @ Dog & Duck Pub, ATX

The Nervebreakers, whose vinyl compilation Hijack the Radio drops April 12th on Get Hip, in Austin for SXSW. Barry Kooda couldn't get off work for their two unsanctioned performances, but will be there for their showcase at Easy Tiger Patio at 8pm on Saturday. Break a leg, fellas.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

3.12.2012, FTW

The li'l Stoogeband played at the Chat Room on Magnolia for the first time in four years. (The last time we played there, Ben Rogers told me they weren't going to be booking bands anymore. Ha. It would have been cool to say we were too loud, or that the crowd didn't dig us, but we still love you, Ben.) I actually changed strings on Ray's SG the day of the show because when I opened the case, I could see the rust. And I discovered after the fact that I'd had my Twin on 1/4 power, which explains why my ears weren't ringing as badly as usual the following day -- probably a mercy for the punters, but next time we play, I'll make sure it's full-on so I'll have "amp parity" with Richard (who actually brought his half stack this time).

When I was a snotnose, just learning to play (and using "band practice" as an excuse to get out of the house and party), I always dreamed of belonging to a community based around music, like the 'orrible 'oo's Mod claque, or the Detroit kids at the Grande Ballroom. Maybe the Wreck Room was as close as I'll ever come, but standing in the parking lot of the Chat before we went in with my sweetie 'n' all of the cats from my two favorite bands I've ever played in -- some of the smartest, funniest people I've ever known, with whom I share a deep love for certain musics -- felt damn near like it to me. I'm a lucky asshole to have wound up where I did.

Teague correctly and humorously characterizes our performances as "geezers sharing a stupor," and that pretty much sums up how it went that night. Ray and I both enjoyed ourselves so much that we forgot to stick around for our payout, even though Brad Hensarling had made a point of telling us we'd be paid. Teague told the bartender to give it to the headlining band, which is fine; they've got travel expenses to cover, and it's not like we do this for the money (although it's nice having some dough in the kitty for pizza and beer). Going forward, I need to remember that it's not necessary to drink every beer that's bought for me after we finish. Brad mentioned that going forward, the Chat will be booking bands once a month. Hopefully, we'll get another chance to play there in less than four years.

Jesse Sierra Hernandez solo show - Spring Gallery Night

Sunday, March 11, 2012

3.10.2012, Dallas

It was a week to make one contemplate mortality, but Ian McLagan and the Bump Band were making a rare visit to the Metromess to celebrate the former Small Faces and Faces keyboardist's impending induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Club Dada. Ever since hearing about the expat Brit's regular Thursday night gig at Austin's Lucky Lounge awhile back, we'd been saying that if he and Tex Edwards ever both had shows during a week when my sweetie was out of school, we'd have to make a road trip down to America's Live Music Capital (R) to see them. But this was even better, saving us gas and the cost of a hotel room, so on a rainy Saturday night, we made a rare foray out of our house and zip code and down the road apiece to Deep Ellum.

A week ago Friday, I'd gotten the word that the cantankerous old Yank Tim Schuller, whose scrawl I read as a teen in Guitar Player and Living Blues before I got to work with him briefly at Peaches Records & Tapes at Cole and Fitzhugh in Big D when I first arrived in Texas, had passed suddenly. I remembered lots of extremely dissolute nights at his apartment (the Prescott Palace) in Oak Lawn, soakin' suds, playing guitars, and listening to him tell stories about growing up in Cleveland and going to Kent State, moving to Chicago with his drummer pal Mot Dutko, meeting and playing with Robert Jr. Lockwood and John Brim.

After we stopped seeing each other regularly, I continued reading Schuller in Buddy Magazine, Southwest Blues, Blues Access, and the Dallas Observer. When I was in a blues band that was hosting a food bank benefit back in '98, he encouraged me to look up poet and Uber blues fan Wes Race, and actually made the trip out to Fort Worth with his lady for the occasion. Schuller was a Mencken-esque sage, possessed of a great acerbic wit. He'll be missed by those who knew him and anyone who shared his passionate appreciation for the music and read his scrawl.

Then a week later, the guitarist Bugs Henderson, whom I'd seen at Mother Blues on Lemmon Avenue and the Palladium on Northwest Highway back in the day, died of recently-diagnosed cancer. Henderson had played in Mouse and the Traps of Nuggets "A Public Execution" fame (the best 1965 Dylan cop ever waxed by a Texan), honed his chops playing at the legendary Cellar in Fort Worth (not the one on Berry Street that exists today, but the more famous one downtown where JFK's security detail spent the evening before his assassination, earning the spot a mention in the Warren Report), and led his own bands for decades, becoming a regular visitor to the Fort's McDavid Studio in recent years.

When we walked into Dada, where another local legend, John "Beard" Brewer, still works the door, I looked up over the sound booth and saw Frankie Campagna's Gretsch on display in a glass case. The last time we'd been to Dada, back in 2009, we'd seen Frankie's band Spector 45 -- hot young greaser punks -- open for the Nervebreakers. We'd seen them a couple of years earlier at the Wreck Room when they were just starting out, and they'd come a long way. Last year, both he and his bassplayer Adam Carter committed suicide. I can't imagine the pain those boys' families went through. It didn't make sense, but then, so much of life just doesn't. I muttered "Sorry, kid," as I looked up at his axe.

We always arrive everywhere much too early, so we walked down the street to Mama Mia's (not affiliated with the one in Fort Worth, I don't think) and wound up eating a whole pizza because it cost the same as four slices would have. They throw a righteous pie there, too. When we walked back to Dada, there were more people and the opening band, the Sutcliffes, had started. (I guess they start shows _on time_ in Big D.)

Walking back to the merch table, I saw rock Uberfan and Eight Track Museum curator (see below) Bucks Burnett, who was the shipping/receiving dude at Peaches when I worked there and wound up running the 8-track department ("so I really haven't come that far in 30 years"). These days, he's still running record stores -- most famously in a corner of Dallas vintage clothing store Dolly Python, where Garuda bassist Brian Green also sells vintage toys; also in Retro Revolution at Greenville and Lovers, and some tee-tiny town that's two block's long, "but I'm never actually _in_ any of 'em." Bucks just signed paper for a New York location, where, he says, "I'll never be either." In between now and then, he's run the Mr. Ed fan club (which he started as "an excuse to talk to Monty Python over the phone"), managed Tiny Tim, promoted the massively unsuccessful "Mr. Ed rock festival" Edstock, and served as former Small Faces/Faces bassist Ronnie Lane's butler.

My sweetie brought cash for swag, so I scored a copy of Mac's great book All the Rage (now back in print and a riotous read) and a couple of CDs, on Bucks' recommendation: Here Comes Trouble, a reish of Mac's solo debut Troublemaker that's filled out with some stuff he recorded later, and Spiritual Boy, the Bump Band's Ronnie Lane tribute, a couple of songs from which we heard Mac play during his set. Bucks pointed out that Troublemaker has "a New Barbarians sound," and I discovered that he also remembers seeing Keef Richards tossing his cups onstage when the NBs (the band nominally led by Ronnie Wood that also featured Mac, Bobby Keys, Stanley Clark, and Zigaboo Modeliste) played the Tarrant County Convention Center in '79 (a story I've been accused of fabricating) -- "so we're _vomit brothers_!"

Mac carries around some ghosts of his own -- besides Lane, there's Small Faces frontman Steve Marriott, and Kim, his wife of 33 years, who died tragically in a 2006 car accident, and is the subject of his lovely song "Never Say Never" -- but it'd be impossible to imagine a more upful and life-affirming performance than the one he gave to around 40 people at Dada. He's the most engaging performer you could hope to encounter (sample stage patter: "If I ever walk into a pub wearing a black shirt, people mistake me for a pint"), and his Bump Band, made up of the most archetypal looking Austin music dudes imaginable, actually captures the loose-limbed swagger of the Faces -- a tough act to cop (to these feedback-scorched ears, Terry Anderson, the rockin' pride of Bunn, NC, had done the best job I'd heard until last night).

I think the drummer must have been a sub for regular Don Harvey, the way guitarist "Scrappy" Jud Newcomb was cuing him throughout the night, but he locked it in the pocket just fine with bassist Jon Notarthomas (who said he used to back "folkie singer-songwriter chicks" before hooking up with Mac). Newcomb's mastered Ronnie Wood's chunky, choppy chording style, and he tops it off with slithery steel-sounding lines that are all his own. An estimable foursome, these guys.

I had the best vantage point in the house, with a clear view of Mac's Wurlitzer electric piano and Hammond B-3 organ, which he plays standing up, so while my sweetie shot pictures, I settled in to watch the man work. His pianner style is out of Jerry Lee Lewis and Otis Spann, while his organ playing is strictly from Booker T, and he sings in a genial rasp that's ragged but right, enough to make me wonder why they needed Mick Hucknall to front the Faces reunion (although I saw him puffing on an inhaler midset).

We got to hear Mac sing "Get Yourself Together" from the Small Faces, and "You're So Rude" and "Cindy Incidentally" from the Faces catalog; "Been A Long Time" from Mac's Rise and Shine album was a particular standout, and he finished with Ronnie Lane's "Kuschty Rye" (with Bucks waving his arms up front). The set included a lot of new material from an album that Mac and his band are in the middle of recording, and the new stuff sounds every bit as strong and vital as his back catalog. We look forward to hearing it when it's released, and will continue plotting a trip to Austin to catch a Lucky Lounge stand.

ADDENDUM: My sweetie posted some of her pics of the show here. Check 'em out and leave her a comment why doncha?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna stream/download a War Party/Doom Ghost EP?

They call it Love At First Fight, Vol. 1. It's here, via Lo-Life Recordings and Bandcamp:

Johnny Case gig schedule

Was bummed to hear that pianist Johnny Case lost his first regular gig since the abrupt closing of Sardines a few months ago. Here are a few shows he has on tap so far. (I'm only including ones that are open to the public; he's also playing solo on Easter Sunday and Mother's Day at the Ridglea Country Club.)

Saturday/Sunday, March 10 & 11: Sheraton Hotel D/FW hosts the Texas Steel Guitar Show. Johnny Case performs (3-10) from 6:00 to 6:30 PM with a dance band preview, then from 12:00 to 2:00 AM at the annual Midnight Dance. The genre is Western Swing!

Tuesday, March 13: The Johnny Case Trio with Joey Carter performs at Scat Jazz Lounge in downtown Fort Worth. 8:00 PM to 12:00 PM. No Cover.

Friday, April 6: The Brian Reilly Trio at Soho Food & Jazz (5290 Belt Line Road). Brian Reilly, trumpet & vocals, Johnny Case, piano, Chris Peake, acoustic bass. Hours – 9:00PM to 1:00 AM.

Saturday, April 14, 2012: Johnny Case Trio plus guests play a special event - “Sardines Revisited” at Arts Fifth Avenue. The trio will feature Joey Carter, drums & Chris White, bass. The $20 cover charge includes Italian food served at 6:30 before the music begins at 7:30 PM. Many familiar Ft. Worth jazz artists will perform!

Thursday, July 19, 2012: Johnny Case performs with a quartet including jazz guitarist James Shannon and drummer Duane Durrett in a Tribute to Wes Montgomery as part of the Thursday Jazz Concert Series at the Fort Worth Public Library. This event free to the public (check later for performance times).

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Move's "Live At the Fillmore 1969"

I didn't buy the Move's Shazam album the first time I saw it.

As I've recounted elsewhere, I'd been obsessed with the Move for over a year, having read about them first in Nik Cohn's Rock From the Beginning, then in a Rolling Stone review John Mendelsohn penned of the two albums that followed Shazam. But on the day when I first beheld Shazam's sky blue cover, with cartoon figures of the band in superhero costumes below the album's title, I allowed the older guys in the music store where I bought records back then -- Buddy the bespectacled redhead and Johnny Lum, the oldest son of the family that owned the Chinese restaurant up the street, who was reputed to be a shit-hot jazz guitarist, although no one had ever heard him play -- to talk me out of it.

"You won't like it," they said. "It's not heavy and there's no guitar." On their suggestion, fool that I was, I bought the first Led Zeppelin album instead. It wasn't until after I'd heard Message From the Country -- the Move's 1971 terminal opus, which, when reissued in 2006, inspired Robert Christgau to quip, "No other band better evokes a giant mechanical lizard" -- that I summoned the guts to cop Shazam, take it home, and realize those older guys were talkin' out of their necks.

Heavy? Shee-it. The Move were from Birmingham, the Detroit of England, home of Black Sabbath (with whom Move/ELO drummer Bev Bevan toured for a minute in the early '80s), and one of the Move's sonic signatures from alpha to omega was elephantine basslines. As for "no guitar," while there wasn't an iota of blooze influence audible in Roy Wood's rides on squiggly wah-wah, jangly 12-string, or a weird hybrid of banjo and sitar, there was plenty of extemporization on a Live At Leeds level, with Bevan and bassist Rick Price hot on Wood's heels every step of the way. His proximate models appeared to be Roger McGuinn (the only rock guitarist about whom the contemporary Lou Reed had a kind word to say), classical music (quotes from Bach and Tchaikovsky popped up in "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited"), and an extremely idiosyncratic Brummie take on Indian ragas (although Wood dismissed his own instrumental prowess in a '71 interview as "boing-boing Eric Clapton stuff").

On top of that, you got Wood's quirky songwriting, a collective gift for interpretation, and a vocal blend that encompassed Byrdsian harmonies and the contrast between Wood's reedy menace and Carl Wayne's showbizzy croon -- still magical, but a shadow of the original five-piece lineup's sublime vocalismo (as I'd learn later). Although it wasn't released until February 1970, a convincing argument could be made for Shazam as the last great album of the '60s.

Little did my 13-year-old self realize that Shazam and the first Zep LP were both basically studio documents of live shows -- Zep's the set that they had to play twice because they didn't have any other material when U.S. audiences demanded more after they'd wiped the floor with the Vanilla Fudge, the Move's the set they put together for their belated maiden voyage to the States after a season on the cabaret circuit, postponed by founder member Trevor Burton's departure the very week "Blackberry Way" hit number one in the UK. (In a masterpiece of poor planning, they drove all the way across the country to play three cities -- Detroit, L.A., and San Francisco -- after which they chose to head back home to Brum rather than stick around Stateside to play New York and Chicago.) While the Move were pop stars at home, they were considered "underground" in the States (much as T. Rex and Slade would be later), so they took the opportunity to present an evening of the kind of long jams they reckoned 'Meercun audiences would appreciate, while tipping their lids to the American bands they clearly loved.

This brand-new 2CD release (on UK-based Right Recordings, an imprint with which I'm unfamiliar) of the board recording from the Move's stand at the Fillmore West in San Francisco at the end of the tour is the realization of a dream and a labor of love for frontman Wayne, who went on to a career as a jingle singer, actor, and radio presenter before replacing Allan Clarke in the Hollies, but never gave up carrying the Move torch. As instrumental as he was in reissuing the Move's catalog in the CD era, it's unfortunate that he never got to see this set -- from tapes he carefully safeguarded for years -- released before his death in 2004. I downloaded a bootleg of some of these songs a few years ago (before iTunes took a dump and sent it to the widowmaker), but this has more songs and sounds loads better, not to mention being licensed from and sanctioned by Wayne's widow. (Two tracks also appeared legitimately on Salvo's 4CD Anthology 1966-1972 box set.)

Starts out with a surprise: a cover of "Open My Eyes" by the Nazz, the 45 of which I must have spun hundreds of times back when. You can tell that Carl and Roy really dig that bridge from the way they reprise it (not once but twice), and you get some heavy Bev crash 'n' thump before and behind Wood's Yardbird-era-Page-esque solo in place of the jazzy, Electric Flag-ish accompaniment to Todd Rundgren's ride on the original.

You get versions of three Shazam songs from two different nights, thankfully on different discs so you don't feel like you're being brainwashed: "Don't Make My Baby Blue," "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited," and "The Last Thing On My Mind." While the takes don't really differ that significantly, it's still nice to have 'em. (Was there a '60s band that sang better live than the Move? I think not; the proof's here. Just check the version of Goffin and King's Notorious Byrd Brothers highlight "Goin' Back." And dig Roy's fingerpicking facility on "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited.") "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" -- their greatest single, for my money -- is heard in an extended version that features a drum solo from Bev and musical quotes from "Born To Be Wild," the bit from "1812 Overture" that was quoted in their debut single "Night of Fear," and the Peter Gunn theme, among other wonderment.

"Fields of People" opens the second disc, with Carl still getting comfortable with the flow of the words and Bev providing more sympathetic accompaniment to Roy's raga than he would on Shazam. (In fact, I'd say that Fillmore 1969 features some of Bev's best trap-kicking ever.) "Hello Susie," recently covered by Dallas' Backsliders, rocks out nicely, pointing in the direction Roy would follow in the '70s after he started painting his face green (a shy man's way of getting up the nerve to front a band). Another Nazz cover, "Under the Ice" -- the sheer audacity of covering another band's two best songs! -- breaks down into a lengthy jam wherein Wood (making with the octave runs like a Brummie Wes Montgomery) essays snatches of various Beatle tunes, and the band revisits instrumental gambits they'd employed before (the patented dinosaur shuffle from "Wild Tiger Woman;" the jazzy 5/4 they used on the instrumental break of "Stephanie Knows Who" from their live-at-the-Marquee Something Else EP).

While I got my copy via Amazon UK, Live At the Fillmore 1969 is now Amazon-available here in these United States. If you're a Move newb, I'd probably direct you first to Shazam, either on vinyl or in Repertoire's 1998 CD reish, which also includes the live '68 Something Else tracks, and some sort of greatest hits collection, since you _most_ hear "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" and "Fire Brigade." If you're already a fan, of course, you're probably listening now. If not, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Telstar: The Joe Meek Story

I'll admit it: I'm as big of a sucker for dramatic films about rock 'n' roll as I am for baseball movies (although I'm not so much a fan of the game itself; I'm just in love with the American mythos that surrounds it).

Comparisons being odious, let's just say that if La Bamba equals Field of Dreams (Lou Diamond Phillips and Kevin Costner are equally wooden, leaving Esai Morales and James Earl Jones to run off with their respective flicks) and Velvet Goldmine equals For the Love of the Game (both are skin-crawlingly overblown and cliched to the same degree), then maybe That Thing You Do equals A League of Their Own (both are equally sweet and sentimental) and The Commitments equals Bull Durham (similar vibe, except that in these films, all of the principals know they're losers from the get-go), which makes Telstar: The Joe Meek Story the rockin' equivalent of Eight Men Out: the dark side of the dream.

Directed by Nick Moran from a stage play he co-authored with James Hicks, the 2009 Brit film, out on DVD March 20th, tells the story of the flamboyant record producer whose 1962 recording of "Telstar" by the Tornados was the first British record to top the U.S. charts. Meek's innovations in the studio included the use of compression, close-miking and isolation of instruments, echo and reverb, even sampling -- a much more forward-looking approach than, say, Phil Spector's "wall of sound," which involved recording large groups with key instruments doubled and tripled live in the studio.

Without "Telstar," no Pink Floyd: listen to Meek's instrumental, inspired by the communication satellite launched in '62, its melody played on the clavioline (a monophonic keyboard instrument also used by Sun Ra), and you can hear sounds that the Floyd's producer Norman Smith would be trying to replicate five years later -- not just the spacey F/X, but even the timbre of Rick Wright's organ. Unable to play an instrument or write music, Meek communicated his ideas to his studio musicians by singing them onto tape in much the same way Captain Beefheart would before he got his piano.

Meek was a complex character: gay (still a crime in '60s Britain; he was convicted of importuning in 1963, after which he was subject to blackmail -- which the film indicates he handled fairly blandly), amphetamine addicted, obsessed with the occult (he claimed that he'd predicted Buddy Holly's death and that "Remember Me Johnny," a hit for TV star-turned-rocker John Leyton, was written by Holly from the beyond).

He squandered much of his fortune promoting Heinz, a no-talent pretty boy (seen below in a clip from the 1963 film Live It Up, with David Hemmings of Blow Up fame on guitar and Steve Marriott on drums). Meek's royalties for "Telstar" were delayed by a French plagiarism suit (decided in his favor only after his 1967 suicide), and as his financial situation became more and more tenuous, he descended into paranoia and depression, convinced that his competitors were bugging his studio to steal his ideas.

Moran and Hicks' dialogue is sharp, fast, and funny, even after the farce turns tragic and the film takes on a hallucinatory quality that mirrors Meek's growing madness. Con O'Neill, who originated the role of Meek onstage, gives a powerful, nuanced performance, starting out larger than life, then gradually showing us glimpses of his character's vulnerability before his world unravels. Kevin Spacey, playing Major Wilfred Alonzo Banks, the plastics magnate who bankrolled Meek's endeavors, is typically solid (with an English accent that's only sporadically present) but doesn't steal the picture the way you might expect, while Pam Ferris is sympathetic as Meek's long-suffering landlady.

The strong ensemble of supporting players is apparently heavy on actors from Brit TV, but they're unfamiliar enough to U.S. viewers that those of a certain mindset can just have fun trainspotting ("The guitar player with the big rockabilly quiff is Ritchie Blackmore! The drummer who pees his pants in the studio after Meek holds a shotgun to his head is Mitch Mitchell!" and so on). Among the most memorable are J.J. Field, who plays Heinz as an egotistical opportunist; Tom Burks, as lovelorn songwriter Geoff Goddard (who unsuccessfully sued for plagiarism over the Honeycombs' hit "Have I the Right"); and James Corden in a comic turn as Clem Cattini, a notably successful session drummer whom Lester Bangs once ignorantly dismissed in a review of a Lou Reed album. They help elevate Telstar above the level of your average rock 'n' roll biopic.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Rory Gallagher's "Irish Tour 1974"

As hard as it might be to imagine in this era of Youtube and Netflix, there was once a time when you couldn't call up, say, Jimi Hendrix's complete performance from the '67 Monterey Pop Festival or SRV's '83 stand at Toronto's El Mocambo on demand. When such things first began to be commercially available on VHS back in prehistory (late '80s), I maintained that if I'd had access to them when I was a snotnose, it wouldn't have taken me ten years to master fundamentals on guitar. These days, Hendrix is well represented on DVD, and if I need a Jimi fix, I'm as likely to reach for the vids of his Monterey, Woodstock, or Isle of Wight performances as I am for a record. (Heresy, but Jimi's just good to watch.)

In the last decade or so, the Irish blues-rock guitarist Rory Gallagher -- a great if underrated artist who came to prominence in the late '60s with the band Taste and headlined under his own name from '71 until his untimely death in '95 -- has been even more so, with the release of four and a half hours of footage from five different Montreaux Jazz Festivals, a mind-boggling ten hours from seven appearances on the great German Rockpalast TV show (source of a '79 Mitch Ryder performance that I wish somebody would release on DVD), and another 90 minutes from the German Beat Club show (shot with blue-screen backing so distracting images could be superimposed during broadcast) that accompany the Ghost Blues biopic DVD. While I don't think it's possible to overdose on goodness, that's a hell of a lot of TV watching (unless we're talking about Mad Men), so my Rory DVD of choice is Irish Tour 1974, a two-hour documentary directed by Tony Palmer (who also filmed Cream's farewell performance and Frank Zappa's 200 Motels), originally released theatrically and reished on DVD last year.

Back in '72, Rory's Live in Europe was a game changer for me. As guitar rekkids that made a difference in my life go, it ranks right up there with Live At Leeds, Truth, Funhouse, Electric Ladyland, and Second Winter. Rory's electric playing had a distinctive nervous energy and stinging tone -- the sound of his battered Strat (the first sunburst in Ireland, bought for him by his parents at great sacrifice, its finish worn off by his acidic sweat) run through a treble booster into an AC-30 or Fender combo amp -- replete with jazz-influenced lines, wide vibrato, squealing harmonics, and masterful use of techniques like right-hand muting and volume knob swells. (In the fullness of time, I've come to realize that Rory also seems to tap into the same deep well of Celtic modes as Richard Thompson, but I wasn't listening for such subtleties when I was 17.) He sang in a strangled cry, but sounded like he meant every word. He was also a master of slide, fingerpicked acoustic, and mandolin, and played serviceable harp (worn in a holder like Dylan's) and saxophone (a hangover from his showband days, the Irish equivalent of the chitlin circuit).

Born in Donegal, 1948, and raised in Cork, he'd grown up in a musical home, albeit one without a record player, and managed to connect the dots from Lonnie Donegan to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and thence to the '50s Chicago bluesmen and their Delta forebears before making his way to Belfast's Maritime Hotel (Van Morrison's stomping ground with Them) and London's Marquee Club. While his approach to riddim always made him more than a mere blues copyist, as the '70s wore on, he continued to refine his own blues-rock style.

As fortune would have it, the bassplayer and drummer in the first good band I was in (SUNY at Albany, '74-'75) were both Gallagher freaks, so we used to play "Messin' with the Kid" and "Laundromat Blues" from Live in Europe, and a '78 interview with Stefan Grossman in Guitar Player provided almost as many profound clues as the '75 Hendrix issue of said rag. I kind of lost the thread after the albums Blueprint and Tattoo, which added an electric piano to the mix but didn't quite have the same spark (to borrow an idea from Rafi Zabor's novel The Bear Goes Home, Rory's "playing-with-other-people-in-front-of-an-audience" chops were better than his "playing-with-other-people" chops), but I remember being impressed by Photo Finish (which stripped the lineup back down to a trio and included good songs like "The Mississippi Sheiks" and "Brute Force and Ignorance") when I heard it in the store where I was working in '79.

More recently, I've had the good fortune to play in a band with Richard Hurley, another Roryphile, and it was after talking with him about Gallagher at Stooge prac that I got motivated to lay hands on a copy of the Montreaux double DVD, which is an embarrassment of riches with great video and sound quality, but almost too much to take in (and the lion's share of the footage comes from a '94 performance when Rory's ill health was visible in his appearance if not in his playing). Irish Tour 1974 is more to my liking, not only because of its watchable length, but because of the filmmaker's craft that director Palmer applies to his raw material (which captures Rory at an early peak).

The film joins Gallagher and his band in the middle of a shuddering jam on "Walk On Hot Coals" (remember when bands used to extemporize onstage?), but in general, its narrative arc follows the flow of a live date, from the dressing room to the stage and back again, intercut with interview material and footage of Rory and band sightseeing, shopping for gear, and jamming informally in a pub. (The latter gives a nice sense of place, another side of which is the brief appearance of British soldiers rolling through the streets of Belfast, a regular Gallagher tour stop even at the height of "the Troubles").

While the performance footage is obviously intercut from several different shows, the songs (besides the opener) are continuous and complete, and the liberties Palmer has taken only serve to enhance the feel of the live event: the nonverbal interaction between the players, the vibe of the room, the enthusiastic and demonstrative audience. The songs (especially "Tattoo'd Lady," "Who's That Coming," the tour de force "A Million Miles Away," and the set-closing rave-up "Bullfrog Blues") are all stupendous, as is the band: 20-year Gallagher veteran Gerry McAvoy on bass, SRV lookalike Rod de'Ath on drums, and pianist Lou Martin. Irish Tour 1974 is the only rock movie I've ever seen that gives me the same buzz I get when I'm performing onstage. It's a keeper.

When I met my sweetie, she was all set to move to Ireland, even had a line on a job working for the Brothers of Charity in County Kerry. Someday we'll have to visit the Emerald Isle, so she can see where her grandparents came from, we can walk the Dublin streets that Leopold Bloom walked, and I can pay a visit to Rory in his final resting place.