Tuesday, October 30, 2012

10.30.2012, FTW

This past weekend I played what are likely the last shows I'll be playing for awhile. I'm taking care of some family business that isn't compatible with musician's hours. Also, I need to stay clear-headed, so I stopped drinking in September, and both of my bands were drinking clubs that played gigs. (I find it somewhat hilarious that they both showed up on the list of nominees for Dallas Observer music awards right around the time I was stepping out. Wha-wha.)

Back in June, when Stoogeaphilia played Poag Mahone's for the Fort Worth Weekly music awards thingy, I remember looking over at the other guys while we were in the middle of the meltdown part of "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" and thinking, "This band sounds like a fucking tidal wave. I love this more than anything I've ever done."

That hasn't changed. What a gas it was the last six years, watching Ray come into his own as a frontman; seeing Hembree, who loves to play more than any other musician I know, letting his insane and abandoned side out onstage; playing with Jon, the greatest drummer I'll ever play with; and sharing guitar duties with Richard, a fantastic player with whom, I lately realized, I probably have more in common than any of the others.

For myself, it was a particular pleasure playing Stooges music, which I've loved since I was 13 but could never find anybody else to play with (although I recently learned that the guy who directly inspired me to start playing, with whom I was later in a band, was a big Stooges fan -- the subject just never came up back then, for some reason). And getting to explore the Peter Laughner songbook was also a kick.

Really, though, Stoogeaphilia was the vehicle I used to explore and express everything I think about rock music, and if we were good, I think it was because once we learned the forms, we played them our way, with every man putting into them everything he knew. That's why I always said we were a repertory band, not a tribute band. (Ray dressing up as Iggy would have just been weird.)

As for HIO, with whom I sat in at the Cellar on Sunday, that experience -- starting from the time Jeff Liles asked us to come play for his video camera in the green room at the Kessler Theater, using only cigarbox guitars -- really opened up my conception of what music could be (or what could be music). Knowing Terry Horn has really changed the way I listen to and think about music. Hickey is like the son I never had. Mark Kitchens is a great addition to the lineup, both temperamentally and musically.

The collaborations with Big Rig Dance Collective and Sarah Gamblin caused us to learn and grow as a unit. With the now-aborted dance piece we were working on at the time I bailed, I think we may have written a check with our mouths that we couldn't cash with our asses, but I regret that now, I'm not going to get to find out whether or not I'm wrong.

Anyway, this weekend, I finally got to play with Terry Valderas, who drummed in ESP, the Toadies, the Gideons, and Parasite Lost. He was in town from Albuquerque to play at the Halloween party that Darryl Wood and Anna Harrington hosted at their place over on Yucca Drive, and the Gideons reunion show at 1919 Hemphill.

Valderas and I had been talking about playing together since Stoogeaphilia and the Gideons shared a bill at Fred's back in 2006. He'd been planning to reunite with his ESP bandmates Robert Kramer (who also played bass in Tabula Rasa and Gumshoe) and Steve Bond for the Yucca party, but Steve says he's "retired" from playing, so I got drafted for the occasion. I also suggested that we could play an opening set at HIO's "Improvised Silence" at the Cellar the following night.

Terry proposed some tunes to use as springboards for improvisation. Robert and I kicked in a couple more, and jammed a couple of times at my house, where we found we had an agreeable chemistry. A quick rehearsal at Yucca the night before the party yielded similar results.

Terry and Robert have been playing together since they were kids, so playing with them felt a lot like playing in PFFFFT!, which I always said was a conversation between Clay Stinnett and Matt Hembree, where Tony Chapman and I were just hanging on for dear life. I was also using my PFFFFT! stage setup, adding the Phase 90 back into my effects chain along with the fuzz and wah, and using my Hughes & Kettner amp. (The Twin would have been ridiculously overpowered for a house party.) With Terry and Robert, I could have played anything, but what made it work, I think, was the fact that we could all listen and respond to each other in the moment.

At Yucca, the crowded party atmosphere wound Terry's clock tighter (not unlike Clay in PFFFFT!), and we played everything faster than we'd rehearsed it, except for the really legato version of Miles' "In A Silent Way." We played NEU!'s "Hallogallo" as sort of a raga breakdown, which Robert and I seem to like to do. (Also in the spirit of the raga in the Move's cover of "Fields of People," since Shazam! is a mutual favorite of Terry's and mine.)

Other themes that got essayed included the outro jam from Fairport Convention's "Sloth" (which I played in Pressed Rat & Warthog with Carl Johnson and Dave Relethford a million years ago); "Eight Miles High" and "Third Stone From the Sun"/"Beck's Bolero" (all three of which I used to play as a medley with Bruce Wade, John Klein, and Jay Hardesty in Aspen, winter of '79-'80); Jeff Beck's "Led Boots" and an aborted stab at Larry Coryell's "After Later" (I don't have the chops to play "real" fusion, but both of those guys had enough rock in their styles for me to play a dumbed-down simulacrum). Managed to fill an hour, anyway.

At the Cellar the next night, Terry was under the weather after four days of non-stop pedal-to-the-metal activity, and we had to quit after a couple of abortive stabs at playing. We kind of sucked, and it was a disappointment, but Robert and I plan to keep 'shedding together, and the three of us will give it another go the next time Terry's in town.

Anyway, goodbye to all that. Back to life in the now...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stuffs 'n' such

1) Charlie Is My Darling, the Andrew Loog Oldham-produced documentary of the Rolling Stones' 1965 tour of Ireland, out on all those video formats on November 6th.

2) Can - The Lost Tapes (3CD). An auditory bath of Krautrock goodness.

3) Slow Strobes (CD-R). "Rough draft" (sketches, loops and ideas) for an album by Dallas hip hop DJ brothers Terry and Tony Sims, due for a vinyl release in March 2013.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see a Peter Green documentary?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gideons update

Apparently their most recent reunion went well. From their Facebook page:

Thanks to everyone who came out and witnessed The Gideons last night at 1919. It was almost three years to the month of our last one and what a whirlwind it was! It was a highly visceral and physical experience for us and we really appreciate those who made the journey. 

There is already talk of a GIDEONS FAMILY REUNION in 2013 with past and present members joining in to play as well possibly as their new bands. Stay tuned....

Living well: Always the best revenge.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Trollfinger is a Fort Worth-based power trio comprising Allan "Skippy" Wise on guitar and voxxx, Alex Taylor on bass, and Brian Pucher on drums. Quoth Skip, "I was in Hash Palace in the late '80s, and Lotsapoppa (when I split, they changed into Pimpadelic). Brian was in Thorazine Dream with Daron Beck." Not a bad bloodline. They gots a demo that sounds like the Pink Fairies in some places, like the Melvins in others. Hear 'em January 26th at the Wherehouse, where they'll be opening for the mighty Me-Thinks and the Dangits.

Albert King - "Blues Power"

For my money, Indianola, Mississippi's other favorite son was the greatest of the blues guitar Kings, and his Live Wire/Blues Power (recorded live at the Fillmore in San Francisco because, as Josh Alan Friedman says, "Hippies loved blues") crushes B.B.'s admittedly titanic Live At the Regal. What Albert had that B.B. and Freddie didn't: That tone. And the ability to bend two whole steps. And Al Jackson, Jr., producing him, and Booker T. and the MGs backing him to the hilt. Jimi was listening, as was SRV.

Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask's "Howl!"

I've been a fan of free jazz since the mid-'70s. The first Coltrane record I bought was Ascension. That said, I'm aware that the style can often be more fun to play than it is to listen to, occasionally veering into the realm of "music as endurance contest" -- a place nobody wants to visit.

All of which makes this latest release by altoist Peter Van Huffel, a Canadian expat living in Berlin, extremely welcome. Van Huffel's a saxophonist out of Ayler, Brotzmann, and Zorn, his sound all braying vibrato and squealing multiphonics, but he frames his improvisational forays in the context of a trio with hard rock dynamics -- on the surface, just your standard post-Rollins bass 'n' drums, but with a penchant for repeating patterns and overlaid electronic noise elements. Further, on Howl!, they program their cataclysmic blasts in manageable chunks: the tracks average six minutes and change -- a lot easier to process than, say, some of Brotzmann's hour-long exorcisms.

"Legendarious" opens with sampled noise, giving way to a tense ostinato that showcases the interplay between bassist Roland Fidezius and drummer Rudi Fischerehner. Van Huffel makes his entrance with a solo that refers to the theme before careening off into ecstatic flurries. When the theme is repeated at the end of his ride, the noise returns as well. On the tribal-sounding dirge "Z," bass and drums hammer away at a simple syncopated pattern while the leader sounds a few opening blasts (summoning the muse?), joins in for a moment, then takes off on a circuitous journey. When the rhythm section unexpectedly breaks into what sounds like the Panzer tank-like groove from White Zombie's "Thunder Kiss 1965," Van Huffel follows their tangent without breaking stride.

"Dirty City" starts as a mutated shuffle, over which Van Huffel churns up a shitstorm of vibrato-laden long tones before skittering off into his upper register. As his improvisation builds to a complexity, so does the rhythm section's backing; when he melts down into end-of-the-world skirls and skitters, they up the intensity even further. "Fucked" works off the juxtaposition of Van Huffel's tortuous line with the bedrock simplicity of the tune's insistent backbeat, even when the drums take off into orbit and the sax locks in with the bass. And there are quiet moments here, too, such as the closing "Angry Monster," which starts out deceptively sedate before the electronics and arco bass spiral up into pure white noise.

Overall, Van Huffel and his men have given us an engaging new way of hearing freeblow, in much the same way as Neneh Cherry and The Thing did on their debut disc. Damn, it looks like I'm going to have to revise my year-end Top 10 list when the Village Voice comes calling...

Thursday, October 25, 2012


So Woodeye played at Lolaspalooza this past weekend. I didn't go; I'm taking care of some family business that'll keep me off the set for a good while. But I'm sorry I missed them, in the same way I'm sorry I'll be missing the Gideons at 1919 Hemphill tonight. Both of those bands are prominent in my memory of a time in my life that I cherish, although I wouldn't be foolish enough to want to go back there from where I am now.

Lola's wizard o' sound Andre Edmonson said that some people were surprised to see Woodeye performing, but not for the reason you'd think -- "Oh wow, I thought they broke up." Rather, Dre said, "They were surprised that Carey was in a band." That'd be Carey Wolff, Woodeye's frontman, who tends bar at Lola's now. And that's kind of indicative of the changes in West 7th St. since the Wreck Room -- Woodeye's stomping grounds -- closed back at the ass-end of September 2007.

I'm ambivalent, to say the least, about the "West 7th Corridor," which my sweetie calls "the curmudgeon zone" because every time we cross Montgomery St. heading east on Camp Bowie, I start bitching about "little North Dallas" and "Fort Worth's bar ghetto." But don't get me wrong -- I'd rather see people I know making money than empty storefronts, which is what was there before the spate of development that's taken place the last five years.

I hope that Brian Forella, who owns Lola's, is making money now, and I suspect he is. Will Wells, who owns Poag Mahone's around the corner, told me he tripled his St. Paddy's Day receipts from last year, and Lola's has become a real destination in the Corridor. But the Wreck Room -- the pit into which Brian poured all the treasure from his other enterprises for a decade, where Woodeye bassist Graham Richardson used to tend bar -- was our favorite rockaroll dump of all ti-i-ime and our second living room for five years. We had our wedding party there, and I celebrated my 50th birthday there, with paper flowers my sweetie hung on the chicken wire that framed the stage.

I saw a lot of great bands at the Wreck, back when I was trying to make a living as a freelance journo with the Fort Worth Weekly (a fool's errand): locals like the Gideons, Yeti, the Me-Thinks, Sub Oslo (whose New Year's Eve exorcisms threatened to levitate the joint), Goodwin, The Theater Fire, and Pablo & the Hemphill 7; out-of-towners like Mark Growden, the Boss Martians (best show I ever saw to a house of five people), and That 1 Guy. (I also missed a lot of shows I intended to see, hanging out with my pal Jesse the Painter in his studio behind the Wreck.)

But nobody embodied the spirit of the Wreck, its character and characters, like Woodeye. Thinking about it now, they really were one of my very favorite bands of all ti-i-ime. Not "local bands." I have a problem with the kind of thinking that ranks the four guys in the corner of the bar down the street below the ones onstage at the shed where you have to gape at a Jumbotron to see 'em (and they're still tiny) solely on the basis of being a "local band." (Do you need someone in Pitchfork to tell you what's good? Do you think that economies of scale and the vagaries of chance and the marketplace equate with quality? Then walk on, friend.)

Fella told me once, "Yeah, but most local bands suck." "No," I told him. "Most bands suck." But I've had the experience of being moved to tears by a song sung and played by people I know, in a dump where I could feel my clothes being moved around by real air from speaker cones and kick drum heads a few yards away, and see the musicians sweat and grin at each other when someone makes a mistake, and it whomped the tar out of every big-stage spectacle I've ever beheld.

More to the point, Carey Wolff has written more great songs than anybody I know personally save the Hochimen's Reggie Rueffer, and Such Sweet Sorrow, Woodeye's last CD from 2003, is one of my very favorite albums from its decade. (If you live in Fort Worth and haven't had the pleasure, you might be able to find one if you scour Half Price Books' CD bins. Otherwise, I'm afraid you'll have to take my word for it. If a tree falls in the woods...)

Carey was bleary-eyed and gruff as he spouted self-effacing bullshit in between songs, then dug deep into some unfathomable wellspring of hurt and sorrow to sing with incredible emotional candor about things we all understood, but wished we didn't, in a raspy voice that was world-weary and worn by cigarettes and booze. At our wedding party, when he sang "Our Song," a waltz with lyrics about a relationship beyond its last legs, my sweetie 'n' I danced to it like nobody was watching. (Been there, done that. Here's to making it better next time, which is this time.)

Behind his big Thunderbird bass, Graham had the best rock 'n' roll moves in the city, while on guitar, Scott Davis played nothing but the good notes. (Besides Steffin Ratliff, I've never heard a player so formally perfect, who complimented a song so well.) Scott had come up from Houston to go to TCU and was playing in Crinkleroot with his homeboy Jared Blair. Woodeye began when they joined forces with Carey and Graham, who were in Towing Jehovah. (Before that, Carey had played bass in the Dada-ish art band Dead King's Pillow.)

Jared had the distinction of getting knocked out of his chair by Brad Thompson when he went to the Aardvark to heckle the Undulating Band after a Woodeye gig. When Woodeye put the wheels under him, he found out by showing up at the Wreck with his gear when they were already onstage. He had to pay cover to get in.

There was a succession of drummers, starting with Eric Salisbury, who wound up serving as artistic director at Jubilee Theater for a spell after its founder Rudy Eastman had his final curtain call. Young prodigy Dave Karnes briefly occupied the Woodeye thumper throne, but with a jazzer's overconfidence, he overplayed without bothering to learn the tunes. Carey looked over his shoulder and asked, "You having fun back there?" before Scott fired him. (That was part of Scott's job description: firing the drummer.) Once they played the Wreck without any drummer. Andre said the bar sold a record number of whiskey shots that night.

Kenny Smith wound up being the timekeeper that took, and his crisp, economical backbeat anchored Such Sweet Sorrow. After Woodeye folded the tent, he and Scott moved to Austin and went on the road with Hayes Carll. It was quite an experience seeing them playing with that band on some late night TV show. "I remember when..." They're living the dream, and I can't think of anyone who deserves it more.

What's good in all this, besides the music, is how good Carey and Graham look whenever I see them now. And the knowledge that as much as the world changes, good bands don't have to break up; they just don't have to play all the time. Think I'll go give "The Fray" another spin, and lift my imaginary glass...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's never too early to do your end-of-year Top 10, is it?

1) Pinkish Black - Pinkish Black. Two 20-year veterans of the North Texas band wars take alienation, grief and loss, and make from them a music that's dark and heavy but mindful of the structural considerations of pop.

2) Neneh Cherry and The Thing - The Cherry Thing. Don Cherry's hip hop diva daughter joins with three top-flight Swedish avant-jazzmen to make a record that's both sexy and challenging, replete with covers of Ornette and the Stooges.

3) The Black Keys - El Camino. A postmodern take on the eternal verities of '70s blues (and glam) rock. Finally, one of those two-piece punk-blues bands that doesn't suck. And Dan Auerbach just might be the best American rock singer of the decade.

4) Patti Smith - Banga. Maturity becomes the erstwhile boho punk poetess and recent best-selling author. A work of stunning spiritual completeness, filled with hope and healing for the world.

5) Tyshawn Sorey - Oblique-I. A thinking person's composing drummer in the manner of early Tony Williams, with significant influence from both Morton Feldman and Anthony Braxton, here he takes a traditionally configured post-Bitches Brew quintet down some fascinating rabbit holes.

6) Wally Shoup and Paul Kikuchi - Aurora Distillations. From Seattle, the confluence of a stalwart improvising saxophonist and a percussionist who specializes in creating moody ambient soundscapes.

7) Dennis Gonzalez Yells At Eels featuring Wojtek Mazolewski - Bandoleros en Gdansk. The always imposing Dallas trumpeter and his ever more awesome family trio joins with two Polish musicians for a brief set of exploratory intensity and surprising humor.

8) Nomads - Solna. Durable Swedish garage-rockers return with an album that recaps their signature strengths and makes the case for the Rawk as an older man's game here in the Teens.

9) The Move - Live At the Fillmore 1969. A dream release, demonstrating how representative of their live show of the time Shazam! was, with some extended versions and two spiffy Nazz covers as the icing on the cake.

10) Captain Beefheart - Bat Chain Puller. Finally the Zappa Family Trust gets off the dime, and if it isn't a better record than Shiny Beast (and shows how strapped Don was for material his last few years in music), it's at least a fascinating glimpse of a possible alternate reality.

Brendan Benson - "Whole Lot Better"

Binky Philips on the Huffington Post

Oh, yeah: Here's the Huffington Post blog of the guy that I always thought caught Townshend's guitar at Woodstock (but didn't). Of particular interest are his account of said event, and his highly idiosyncratic list of the "most influential guitarists." So there.

Lite - "Another World/Red Horse in Blue"

Instrumental prog from Japan? Sure, why not. But why do Japanese bands always have the worst websites in the world? (Thanks to Andrew in Philly for the coat-pull.)

Psst! Hey, kid! Wanna see the Stones at the Marquee in '71?

The Quietus

Nothing to write about today, so here's some scrawl from my new favorite music blog, The Quietus, on the 40th anniversary Live At Leeds (which included the recently-released-in-standalone-form Live At Hull), the most recent spate of FZ reissues, and Can's The Lost Tapes. These people are so good they almost make me want to stop.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stuffs 'n' such

1) I'm always swinging after the pitch when it comes to new music. Part of that is being at the age when everything new I hear reminds me of something old, and if I hear something new I like that carries such an association, I wind up going back to the old thing.

But there are exceptions. One such: Michigan power pop guy Brendan Benson, who qualifies as "new" in my world even though he made his first album, One Mississippi, in '96. My buddy Geoff from Philly, who knows good rock from bad (although the five-year difference in our ages means that there are a few significant differences in our aesthetics), pulled my coat, as he did earlier with Terry Anderson, Eric Ambel, and Tim Carroll, to my great benefit.

Part of the problem I have with power pop is that all of it sounds to these feedback-scorched ears as though every song was written by Paul McCartney, and played by the Who ca. '66. (The great flaw in the late, great Greg Shaw's thinking at the end of the '70s was his belief that Dwight Twilley was going to take over the world; instead, the Knack had one hit and fizzled. Wha-wha.) That said, there's a lot of this style that I dig: Todd Rundgren ca. Something/Anything, anything Dom Mariani's various bands, even guilty '90s pleasures like Freedy Johnson's This Perfect World, the La's "There She Goes," even, um, Toad the Wet Sprocket's "All I Want."

Part of Geoff's pitch: "Chicks dig it." And wouldn't you know, when my sweetie came home and sat down at the 'puter where a compilation Geoff had made me of the cream of Benson's first four albums -- he's since released a fifth, What Kind of World, as well as serving as Jack White's right hand man in the Raconteurs, about whom I could give a rat's ass -- was playing. It took her exactly one minute to ask, "What's this we're listening to?" (The last time she'd responded so positively to anything she heard was when brought over a fuzz pedal I'd been thinking about buying on a night when I was jamming with a bass player at my house. She commented on the tone, and she claims she can't hear the differences in guitar shit.)

As Geoff promised, this Benson guy's songs hit you immediately, and then you notice the details, like the way the arrangement to "Alternative To Love" builds from folkie-strumming simplicity to prog-like complexity, or the folk-blues derived guitar bridge on "Folk Singer,"or the Motown-via-ELO pastiche of "Garbage Day," or great lines like "I fell in love with you / And out of love with you / And back in love with you / All in the same day..." (from "Whole Lot Better" -- it's the "And back in love with you" that makes it genius) or the guileless "You're like me / We're the same / I'm Brendan / What's your name" before the most disarming request for drugs in rock song history (from "You're Quiet").

It pleases me that as long and as attentively as I've been listening (and I'm a dilettante compared to guys I've met that can mention 60 bands in a 15 minute conversation), there's still so much great music I haven't heard.

2) Now that I'm no longer in any bands, I'm getting back into the idea of just playing music. I'm going back and woodshedding stuff I haven't played in 40 years, and figuring out stuff I've always meant to but never got around to. (This week, it's Sonic's Rendezvous Band's "China Fields," which is thankfully on Youtube, since I made the mistake of giving away the only CD on which it appears, which now goes for 40 bucks online.) That said, I'll be playing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with Terry Valderas, Robert Kramer, and Darryl Wood. (A practice, a party, and opening HIO's "Improvised Silence" evening at the Cellar, where I'll also sit in with Mr. Horn, Hickey, and Kitchens.) After that it might be awhile before I play out again. We'll see.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Vote and vote often

So this year, for the first time, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Lame? Shame?) is allowing ordinary citizens to express their preference re: who gets inducted via an online poll. This morning, I cast my statistically insignificant votes for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Procol Harum, and the Meters. So there. Go here to put your virtual two cents in.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mo' Mingus

"You will find it is better to want than to have. It is not logical, but it is often true." - Mr. Spock

I always say that I'll buy every recording I can get my hands on by the '64 Mingus touring band that included Eric Dolphy and Jaki Byard. While my preferred listening medium remains vinyl, this is one example of an instance where the real good stuff is only available on CD. Universal's 2003 reish of The Great Concert of Charles Mingus, which restored the version of "So Long Eric" from the 4.19.1964 Paris concert that was replaced on the original 3LP by the previous night's (on which it was erroneously  listed as "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat") is only available on shiny sliver disc, as is Blue Note's Cornell 1964.

Now sterling reissue label Mosaic is releasing a 7CD box of Mingus performances from '64 and '65, including four discs by that band. About two discs' worth of the material are previously unreleased: five pieces from the famous 4.4.1964 concert at NYC's Town Hall (including a 19-minute "Peggy's Blue Skylight"), two from the abbreviated '65 Monterey Jazz Festival set (which also includes a previously-released 18-minute "So Long Eric"), and six from a '65 Minneapolis concert. The set is filled out with the 4.10.1964 Amsterdam concert (already available on a bootleg 2CD) and the officially released '64 Monterey appearance that included an expanded ensemble on a 25-minute "Meditations on Integration."

Difficulty: It retails for $119. Wha-wha.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Otis Rush's "The Cobra"

For my two cents, the eight singles that Otis Rush cut for Eli Toscano's Cobra label between 1956 and 1958 are among the most essential of Chicago blues recordings -- right up there with Muddy and Wolf's classic sides, Little Walter's Hate To See You Go, and Junior Well's Hoodoo Man Blues. I've owned these sides twice before: on UK Flyright vinyl ca. '80 (on the basis of an ecstatic Village Voice rave by St. Lester) and Paula CD a decade later. Now there's a vinyl-resurgence 180 gram reish on Italian Doxy. Hooray!

Along with Magic Sam and Buddy Guy, Rush was one of a triumverate of younger Southern-born singer-guitarists that ruled the West Side in the late '50s and early '60s. Their sound was characterized by fluid, B.B. King-influenced single-string lines; powerful, gospel-inflected vocals; and minor-key chord progressions. If Muddy sang like a Mississippi field hand, Wolf like a force of nature, and Walter and Junior like street corner wise guys, the West Side guitarists sang with the fiery emotionalism of Holiness preachers, the kind that grunt between lines of their sermons.

If it wasn't as doomy and apocalyptic as the Delta variant it briefly superseded, their music had the sound of a Saturday night rent party, albeit one with an undercurrent of urgency that could explode into violence at any moment. All three men made good records -- Sam for Cobra, then Delmark; Guy, a little later, for Chess and Vanguard -- and had songwriting input from Willie Dixon, but Rush's were just a cut above the others.

The primitive but tightly focused studio sound on his Cobra recordings thrusts every note from his guitar into brilliant relief. You can almost hear the tremolo springs on his Strat creaking as he squeezes the strings. Besides employing the standard array of bends, hammers and pull-offs, Rush raked and muted his strings and arpeggiated chords.

More to the point, Dixon seemed to save some of his most novel songwriting flourishes for Rush's sessions. One wonders, for example, whether the juxtaposition of the title/subject matter and corny '30s Tin Pan Alley chord progression of "Violent Love" was intentionally incongruous. And on "I Want You To Love Me," a gospel chord progression is implied, but never played.

"My Love Will Never Die" could serve as a template for the West Side style, with Rush's guitar echoing his falsetto cry of "Please!" "Double Trouble" boasts Ike Turner on second guitar, and the immortal line, "Some of this generation is millionair-es." "All Your Love" and "I Can't Quit You" are familiar to rockers from cover versions by Eric Clapton (on John Mayall's Bluesbreakers LP) and Jimmy Page (on Led Zeppelin I), but these versions slay their Brit imitators'.

In these sad days and times, when the sound of urban blues has been reduced in the public mind to the soundtrack for beer commercials (and not cool ones like the ones Albert King did for Miller back in the Fillmore era, either), these records still cut like a razor. You can't find a sound more real.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My scrawl in the Dallas Observer

A piece I penned about James Hinkle and his new project, a transcontinental collaboration with some Belgian musos, is in this week's paper and online now.

Monday, October 15, 2012

We're listing

My Dallas Observer editor, who is knowledgeable of such things, informs me that folks on the intarweb like to read lists. So, when I don't have anything substantial to write about, I shall endeavor to publish lists of whatever I can think of at the moment. Today, it's just what I'm listening to this week.

1) Symarip - Skinhead Moonstomp Deluxe Edition (2CD). Great '70s Brit ska. (Thanks, Hickey!)
2) Pete Townshend - Music from Lifehouse (DVD). I've learned to use DVDs a la Ray Liberio, i.e., as background noise while I'm doing stuff around the house.
3) Don Preston Akashic Ensemble - The Inner Realities of Evolution (CD). Composed and improvised experimental music from the ex-Mother/current Grandmother of Invention.
4) Beach Boys - Smile Sessions (2LP). Someday I shall own Pet Sounds, the first record I always play in whatever new space I'm inhabiting, on vinyl. Until then, when I want to hear Brian Wilson, this is what I reach for.
5) Bunny Wailer - Blackheart Man (LP). Is there a better quiet time chill out record than thisun? I think not.
6) Arvo Part - Litany (CD). Except maybe this.
7) Faust - Faust/So Far (CD). In a Krautrock frame of mind, I'll go for this or Can's Tago Mago.
8) Pete Townshend - Cool Walking.... "Buy this and throw everything else away" best-of compilation. Contains every moment I treasure from all those albums I bought in the '80s-'90s and then wondered why.

Bonus! Favorite Pete Townshend songs of the moment, or proof positive (as if any more were needed) that I'm going soft in the head in my old age. I don't own all of these anymore, but they're etched in my synapses.

1) "Sunrise" (The Who Sell Out). Matt Hickey has a recording of me singing and playing this (badly) that now will never see the light of day.
2) "Blue Red and Grey" (The Who By Numbers).
3) "Tattoo" (The Who Sell Out).
4) "Real Good Looking Boy." I have no idea what record this is on, if any, but it's in the Amazing Journey DVD and it's pretty neat. It's about Elvis Presley.
5) "Sleeping Dog." Bonus track on the Rykodisc CD of Who Came First. If I had an acoustic guitar, I'd learn this to sing to my grandson.
6) "I'm One" (Quadrophenia). I so related to this when I was 15.
7) "A Litte Is Enough" (Empty Glass).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pete Townshend's "Who I Am"

Even before the recent vogue for rockstar memoirs, Who I Am -- in the works since 1996, but first contemplated 30 years earlier -- was inevitable.

All the exhibitionism, violence, and noise of the Who aside, what earned Pete Townshend's fortune was his ability to write songs that made listeners feel as though he was speaking for them. (I am one of them. When Quadrophenia arrived at a particularly low ebb in my misguided yoof, I saw myself in it and clung to it like a lifeboat.) Back in the day, the Beatles (coolest guys in the room) and Stones (baddest guys in the room) didn't have that quality; neither did Ray Davies (the oddball aesthete scribbling in the corner). Townshend understands this, and even alluded to it in his recent Jon Stewart interview, cracking a joke about now having to write songs for people in their 70s who are "still messed up."

Beyond that, he's always been the most loquacious and articulate of rockers, going back as far as the '68 Rolling Stone interview in which he outlined the concept of Tommy for the first time, while out of his head on acid. His review of his band's own album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy for the same rag (who else got to do that?) was an exemplary piece of scrawl, but perhaps the finest example of his prose to date was the short story that served as liner note copy for Quadrophenia.

His '85 collection of stories and poems, Horse's Neck (now Amazon-available for a penny), was more self-consciously literary and less successful in the same way much of his solo music has been, although a couple of the pieces ("Fish Shop" and "Champagne On the Terraces") still resonate years after reading them. Thankfully, in this long anticipated, well edited memoir, the author employs a lean, economical prose style that allows him to hit all the high and low points in his life and career in just 500 pages (trimmed down from twice that length).

The Who's story has been told many times, and Townshend has written and spoken widely on their career trajectory and the creative process that spawned their masterpieces. So why read about it again? Here, his recall of childhood incidents that shaped his work adds perspective: hearing heavenly music in a boat's motor on the Thames (later echoed in Quadrophenia) as an aspiring Sea Scout, or shadowy memories of abuse he believes he suffered while under his eccentric grandmother's care, which he drew upon when composing "A Quick One While He's Away" and Tommy.

He writes movingly of the bond he felt with the Who's original Mod fans (his first "patrons" after leaving art school) and the band's loyal New York claque, many of whom spent all day at the 58th Street RKO to see if the Who would run out of equipment to wreck when the band made their American debut at Murray the K's 1967 Easter Show. The book's most affecting passages come near the end, however: an excerpt from a letter the 50something Townshend wrote to his eight-year-old self, and an appendix where he reads a fan letter unopened since 1967 and concludes, "My life would have been very different if I had been able to recognize genuine, loving adoration and concern when it was demonstrated."

The tensions between opposing forces in the author's life provide the narrative's dramatic action. As an art student, absorbing the experimental ethos of the early '60s, Townshend was already earning more money than his tutors, playing pubs and weddings with the low-level circuit band that would evolve into the Who. As he fought to subvert the band's direction to one more palatable to his art school mates, they achieved their first successes. The hothouse atmosphere of the times spurred him to try for ever bigger achievements, but that creative drive was always undercut by the need to tour and earn money to finance the band's ballooning expenses. Similarly, his desire for a stable family life and his spiritual concerns were continually undermined by a raft of compulsions: addictions to drink, drugs, overwork, and serial womanizing. (By the later chapters, it's hard to keep track of all the houses he's buying and all the women he's chasing.)

Townshend writes with candor about his insecurities and personal humiliations, including his 2003 arrest in a child pornography sting (he was subsequently exonerated by investigative journalist Duncan Campbell). More sobering for fans is the realization that Townshend now regards himself as a theatrical composer a la Kander and Ebb, and the Who as a part of his past. More power to him. Earlier this year, he sold the publishing rights to the Who's catalog for an amount estimated at $100 million, saying that he intended to use the money to allow him to finance new works without touring. Whie his new opera in progress Floss sounds as esoteric as, say, The Iron Man or Psychoderelict, perhaps this is what he'll be remembered for in 100 years. Who knows?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Andy Shernoff's "Let's Get the Band Back Together"

My buddy Geoff from Philly pulled my coat to this hi-larious vid by ex-Dictator Andy Shernoff. If you enjoy such things, it's a goodun.

Dennis Gonzalez/Yells At Eels' "Bandoleros en Gdansk"

Bandoleros en Gdansk is the second recording from a collaboration Dennis Gonzalez/Yells At Eels undertook last year with a pair of Polish musicians, bassist Wojtek Mazolewski and tenor saxophonist Marek Pospieszalski. While their session at Radio Gdansk was curtailed after only 24 minutes, the full results are now available on two vinyl artifacts, both on Dallas-based indie labels: TreeFallSounds' Wind Streaks in Syrtis Major 7" from earlier this year, and now this newly released 45 rpm 12" on 1 Car Garage.

Opening track "The Polish Spirit" is a moody waltz, which Stefan Gonzalez propels like a runaway freight train, clattering along polyrhythmically and throwing out jaw-dropping fills with insouciant abandon. Dennis solos in the middle of his horn's range with a burnished tone, his careening line skirting the limits of tonality. Pospieszalski joins in, commenting on the trumpeter's improvisation before undertaking one of his own. The saxophonist plays with great soul and invention, his long tones evoking the solitude of snow-dusted forests.

Turning the record over, the title track opens with horn polyphony that recalls Ornette's early '70s band with Dewey Redman, then falls into a rock-like, bass-driven groove, with Pospieszalski and the elder Gonzalez testifying on their horns. The rapturously kinetic romp "Artykuty Gospodoarstwa Domowego" begins and ends with a lighthearted vocalization of the title by Dennis, with Mazolewski and Aaron Gonzalez wrestling monolithic slabs of sound from their twin basses in between. It's a pithy and humorous way to end the outing. Jimi Bowman's mastering and the high-quality pressing preserve the immediacy of the moment beautifully.

Stuffs 'n' such

1) Pete Townshend, Who I Am (book).

2) Dennis Gonzalez/Yells At Eels, Bandoleros en Gdansk (12"), the second half of their Radio Gdansk recordings with bassist Wojtek Mazolewski and saxophonist Marek Pospieszalski, released on new Dallas indie 1 Car Garage Records. (The first installment was released back in the spring on TreeFallSounds Records' 7" Wind Streaks in Syrtis Major.)

3) Old Time Musketry, Different Times (CD/download), an eclectic band of Brooklynites recording for SteepleChase LookOut, the new imprint of a venerable Danish label.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A bunch of good jazz records

What better way to spend Monk's birthday than listening to a bunch of good jazz records?

To peruse a copy of The Wire or Signal To Noise is to be astounded at the fecundity of the contemporary jazz scene. While the economies of scale may have diminished dramatically, and the search for a new heroic innovator in the classic mold has proven a dead end, the field is dotted with creative artists who have taken the freedom of the '60s and '70s as the starting point for an exploration of the territories that jazz-rooted music (whether composed, extemporized, or a combination thereof) shares with modern classical and experimental musics.

The Portuguese Clean Feed label -- a veritable Iberian Blue Note of the still-young Millennium -- continues to maintain an astonishingly full release schedule, which one hopes is indicative that someone is actually buying their product. With the arts funding that makes Europe a more congenial environment looking to be in even more potential jeopardy than usual here in these United States, it's within the realm of things possible that the birthplace of jazz could, within our lifetime, cease to be its creative center.

Paradoxical Frog's Union is the second outing by a trio consisting of pointillistic pianist Kris Davis, ruminative saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and world-beating drummer Tyshawn Sorey. All three of them compose, and the confluence of their thought-streams creates some peaceful, Zen-like soundscapes with just the right undercurrent of unease. The disc's best moments come when Sorey puts down his beaters and picks up his melodica or trombone to create some wind polyphony, as on Laubrock's somber, elegiac "Masterisk" or his own Feldmanesque "Repose."

On Wires and Moss, her third outing as a leader, pianist Angela Sanchez steers a quintet that includes Marc Ducret's quicksilver electric guitar, Tony Malaby's muscular tenor and soprano, and the ever-responsive rhythm team of Drew Gress (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). Her compositions range from the inexorable forward motion of "Loomed" to the pastoralism of the appropriately-entitled "Feathered Light" to "Soaring Piasa," which winds its way through a succession of moods, starting out with great arco swoops from Gress, giving way to lyrical abstraction from Sanchez worthy of Hancock or Corea when they were still young and hungry, which in turn leads into a slow, graceful ostinato for Malaby to flow over. The title track starts out as a feature for Ducret on guitar-as-percussion-instrument-slash-sound-effects-generator -- a veritable avant-garde "Eruption" -- before the Malaby enters, weaving the searching theme through a maze-like accompaniment. The ensemble's interplay is riveting, but it's the composer's intelligence that structures and guides the proceedings.

Aurora is, to my knowledge, unique in the Clean Feed catalog: a vocal/piano album, teaming Portuguese chanteuse Sara Serpa with her former Berklee instructor, the Third Stream pianist Ran Blake (reprising the role he played with vocalist Jeanne Lee on their 1962 collaboration The Newest Sound Around). The sound they make together is unadorned but rich in detail, evocative but not maudlin. Serpa's delivery is pure-toned and clear, and she attacks her notes head-on, without over-emoting them to death. Blake's accompaniment is spare and supportive, free from obtrusive flourishes. Highlights include "When Autumn Sings" and "Love Lament," two songs written for Abbey Lincoln by the shadowy and mysterious R.B. Lynch; Margo Guryan's "Moonride," originally recorded by Chris Connor in 1958; and Billie Holiday's signature song "Strange Fruit," which Serpa boldly tackles acapella. Blake shines on his solo feature "Mahler Noir," which draws equally on the influence of 20th century classical music and film noir soundtracks.

5 Frozen Eggs is a reissue of a 1996 recording by guitarist Scott Fields that was originally released on the Music and Arts label. On it, he's joined by longtime Anthony Braxton pianist Marilyn Crispell, his fellow Chicagoan Hamid Drake on drums, and bassist Hans Sturm. Fields' compositions are introspective and impressionistic, with episodes that sound improvised but are in fact through-composed. Guitar-wise, he usually occupies some of the same sonic space as John McLaughlin did circa Extrapolation (before discovering Sri Chinmoy and distortion), his tone astringent, his ideas abundant. On "Little Soldiers for Science," Fields dirties the sound up a bit, his lines juxtaposing crazy intervallic leaps and glisses with hammers and clusters of notes. The other musicians swirl around him like a sorcerer's spell.

More on the experimental tip, the double CD The Nows documents a 2011 duo tour by percussionist Paul Lytton and trumpeter Nate Wooley, during which they performed with guest artists from the various cities they visited. The first disc, recorded at John Zorn's stomping ground the Stone in New York, opens with 35 minutes of "Free Will, Free Won't," with Wooley zipping around in his upper register like the shade of Dizzy Gillespie, then settles down to a sparring match between the trumpeter's burry, overblown lines and Lytton's lightly handled but staccato percussion array. As Wooley descends into a lower register, Lytton matches him with timbral changes. Lower Manhattan eminence Ikue Mori adds Varesian computer-generated squiggles and squonks to the mix on two tracks. Rather than just playing "our thing with added electronics," Lytton and Wooley respond to her input with empathy, melding their sound to accommodate the new element. On the second disc, from the Hideout in Chicago, Windy City avant godfather Ken Vandermark seamlessly blends his multiple reeds into the duo's flow.

Not on Clean Feed but also hailing from Portugal, saxophonist Rodrigo Amado's current outing is a live set from the 2011 Jazz Ao Centro festival in Coimbra, with trombonist Jeb Bishop, a Vandermark familiar, joining Amado's Motion Trio. Over three long pieces, the four musicians conduct an improvisational dialogue in the mold of classic free jazz and free-bop. Their interaction flows like a river, now meandering, now roiling.

On Cousin It, Israeli pianist-composer Maya Dunietz -- who also sings and conducts, but perversely doesn't have a website (Myspace doesn't count) -- leads a trio with bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble. She makes masterful use of dynamics and isn't afraid of negative space as she and her musicians sketch in light and shade. Edwards and Noble follow her with a delicacy of line and economy of motion that are rare in any music. Edwards' arco bass sounds like a horn in places and Noble plays with the restraint of a symphony percussionist. A beguiling listen. Funny artwork, too. (Cop via Hopscotch Records.

Speaking of minimalism, Seattle-based drummer Paul Kikuchi has done a lot of work with electro-acoustic ensembles, specializing in spatial performances. But the self-titled LP from the decade-old Empty Cage Quartet -- their sixth release -- finds him in a more traditional jazz setting, in the company of trumpeter Kris Tiner, reedman Jason Mears, and bassist Ivan Johnson. Tiner and Mears provide the structures that serve as Empty Cage's jumping off point. In places, their unisons and contrapuntal lines recall early Ornette Coleman ballads or the duets Eric Dolphy played with Mingus and Richard Davis, but all the musicians work together like spontaneous composers to realize their creative visions. The recording captures the resonance of each instrument beautifully, and the pressing is immaculate. (How appropriate that this fits on my shelf right between Ellington and Eno.)

Now, where's my copy of "Ruby My Dear" with Coltrane?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Captain Beefheart's "The Lost Broadcasts"

Van Vliet's hardly been well represented on DVD: There's the chatty Under Review doco and Anton Corbijn's impressionistic portrait of the artist as an ailing recluse Some Yo-Yo Stuff. But if it's performance footage of the Magic Band in full flight you're wanting, you're stuck with YouTube versions of the clips that appeared on Revenant's Grow Fins box set -- "Sure Nuff and Yes I Do" and "Electricity" on the beach at Cannes, '68; a '69 Belgian festival performance where the camera focuses on Don's mug for the duration; and best of all, the Decals band tearing it up on the Detroit Tubeworks TV show in '71) -- and the French Chorus broadcast from '80 that whoever owns, should release. At least you were until now.

The performances on The Lost Broadcasts were taped for the German Beat Club show in '72, but only one of them, a version of "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby," has heretofore been widely available. (I once had a copy of it on a VHS tape, ripped from Laserdisc, that also included the MC5 doing "Kick Out the Jams" on the same program and disappeared into the recesses of my Stoogeaphilia lead singer's house around 2006.) By this time, ex-Mother Artie Tripp had supplanted John French behind the trap set, and another Zappa alumnus, bassist Roy Estrada, had joined the fold, leaving Mark Boston to join Bill Harkleroad and Elliot Ingber (a third ex-Mother!) on guitar. I'm reminded of my buddy Jay's dictum: "Pink Floyd: One guitar. The Who: One guitar. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Three guitars. I rest my case." (Vintage guitar freaks will salivate at the red Telecaster and 335 and tobacco sunburst Les Paul Jr. that the triumverate flaunt.)

This release is welcome for the opportunity to see some previously unreleased footage of the Magic Band at a performing peak, but it's not an unmitigated joy to watch. The band performs against a blue screen, over which "psychedelic" F/X would be added for broadcast, and some of the camera angle choices are perplexing. Why focus on Don, or Artie Tripp's kick drum, when the Magic Band -- Boston in particular -- were such kinetic performers? The broadcast "Booglarize" showcases them at their best, but there are other highlights as well.

Boston's back on bass for a couple of Trout Mask Replica numbers -- the opening solo (the bass part from "Hair Pie," here entitled "The Mascara Snake") and an instrumental version of "Steal Softly Through Snow" with Don on soprano rather than vocals -- and Clear Spot's "Little Golden Birdies." The bass solo is etched in my memory from countless bootleg versions I heard as a teenager, when I was just beginning to realize that Beefheart's music was through-composed rather than chaos. Boston's playing is virtuosic. I was astonished to hear Eric Feldman replicate it note-for-note when I saw Beefheart in '76. "Steal Softly" exemplifies the Trout Mask band's achievement: assembling extemporized fragments into coherent sound sculptures. Don's sax solo is no less effective for the knowledge that he really didn't know what he was doing on the horn. Sometimes art is what you say it is. "Birdies" was a clever repurposing of themes from Strictly Personal and Decals. Harkleroad, with his painted fingernails, looks curiously tense during this performance.

Two takes of "Click Clack" follow -- the most exciting song off The Spotlight Kid, the first Beefheart album I owned. While latter day accounts indicate that the band members were less than enthused about the material on the album, its swampy blues-rock was the perfect point of entry for someone like my teenage self who was versed in Hooker, Muddy, and Wolf. "Booglarize," presented here in two outtake versions, as well as the broadcast one, is one fun wallow. It's a gas seeing the way the three guitars intertwine their choppy rhythm parts without sounding cluttered, and the precisely-scripted slop with which former symphony percussionist Tripp (wearing a monocle and green panties over his head) attacks his kit. Don, wearing the Nudie jacket from the Spotlight Kid album cover, gets out of time in places, but his voice is highly distinctive and his stage presence commanding. Genius or charlatan, there won't be another like him.

Now, when are they going to release that MC5 footage?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Pretty Things in Germany, 1969

Friday, October 05, 2012

Neil Young's "Waging Heavy Peace"

So Neil Young wrote a book, and it's as idiosyncratic as you'd expect from a guy who's been resolutely going his own way since he stepped out of the Buffalo Springfield back in 1967. 'Tis the season for rockstar memoirs (although Frank Zappa and Ray Davies, to name two, got there decades ahead of the pack), in which Keef Richards is a best-selling author and Pete Townshend's long-awaited bean-spiller Who I Am waits in the wings.

In contrast to the pre-publication hype surrounding those two tomes, Neil's Waging Heavy Peace arrived unobtrusively; I only learned of its existence when it magically appeared in my Amazon recommendations, and read it during a weekend of enforced leisure. It was written during a similar period for its author, during a year when he was idle after breaking a toe, and quitting marijuana and alcohol simultaneously on his doctor's advice. It was also a musically fallow period for Neil. After 40 years, he finds himself unable to write songs straight, and is working up to another tour with Crazy Horse. (We know there's a happy ending there; since the book was completed, the Horse has once again hit the boards and released not one, but two new albums.)

That's not to imply that Neil was idle during that time. Waging Heavy Peace is full of descriptions of works in progress, and not just musical ones: a compilation of early Crazy Horse material, a restored version of his 1982 film Human Highway, his biomass-fueled electric car Lincvolt, his ultra-high definition music streaming system Pono. At times, the book reads like an infomercial script for the latter two projects, but Neil's propaganda is of interest for the insight it provides into his passions and his innovative streak. (Inspired by his disabled son Ben Young, he also created switching and sound systems for Lionel Trains, and founded the Bridge School. And made the album that got him sued by his record label.)

By now, rock 'n' roll has undeniably evolved into an old man's game, and Waging Heavy Peace could only have been written by a 65-year-old man. There's nothing polished or "professional" about his prose style, which reads like a letter from a friend. Neil lifts the lid on some of the health problems that contributed to his enigmatic image early on, and almost took him out in 2005. He episodically details his career trajectory (the bits on his early days with the Squires are particularly engaging), with only a thimbleful of the sex 'n' drugs 'n' interpersonal dysfunction that sensation-seeking fans might be wanting and much more focus on fallen comrades like original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, longtime producer David Briggs, and cinematic collaborator Larry Johnson. Those finely wrought portraits are probably the most heartfelt and evocative writing here, along with Neil's ruminations on his family. Memory, grief and loss, regret and gratitude: the stuff of life.

Neil says he wants to write more books, and that he's working his way up to fiction. Sounds like this old man might just be getting started.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Stuffs 'n' such

A list of things I've been listening to/reading/thinking about, some of which I might actually write about at some point. Or not.

1) Neil Young, Waging Heavy Peace (book).

2) Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Lost Broadcasts (DVD).

3) Scott Morgan, Three Chords and A Cloud of Dust (box set). I've seen the tracklist and read Geoff Ginsberg's liner notes. Easy Action is rushing to press as we speak. It's going to be unspeakably killer.

4) James Hinkle & the Transatlantics, First Crossing (CD).

5) Empty Cage Quartet, S/T (LP).