Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thoughts on the passing of Lou Reed

1) By the time the news came down about Uncle Lou's passing, I had been mourning Shannon Jackson (with whom I had a personal connection) for a week. My vessel of sadness was full. Another reminder (like Mick Farren's earlier this year) that the generation of musicians that inspired me is leaving. (I remember when 71 seemed old.)

2) In 100 years, if our society (such as it is) survives that long, it won't matter one iota whether he was a mensch or a putz. The songs will still survive, however. I believe that the judgment of history will weigh him against Salinger and Roth as well as Dylan.

3) I'm glad that he found Laurie and they had 20 good years together.

4) Much of his legend was created by St. Lester in the pages of Creem, in the same way much of Don Van Vliet's was created by Langdon Winner in the pages of Rolling Stone. I believe Lester had it wrong: he obsessed on the piece of Lou that felt closest to his own Romilar-drunk confusion, and it didn't inspire his best writing; ultimately, it killed him. Lou got to reinvent himself several more times in the succeeding 30 years.

5) I bonded with two of my very best friends over Lou Reed records: my buddy Geoff from Philly over Ecstasy, and my buddy Phil from Missouri over The Quine Tapes.

6) I find much of Lou's subject matter as repellent as Irvine Welsh's Filth and all of Quentin Tarantino's pornography of violence: "Kicks," "The Gun," "The Rock Minuet." But in Lou's case, it's so artfully rendered, I can't look away.

7) I didn't really go the distance with Lou. I lost the thread after Rock and Roll Animal (a great Steve Hunter record, not Lou's), picked it up again at great length after reading about The Blue Mask (which I still dig less than the record that followed it; Lou was finding his feet again, and it took a minute). I think the string of albums from New York to Ecstasy was his zenith. I missed my one and only opportunity to see him live, when he played the Bronco Bowl in Dallas in '96. Missed Dylan there, too. Fuck me.

8) Like another of my personal saints, Ron Asheton, Lou did far more than you're supposed to be able to with only the most rudimentary guitar technique. From "I Heard Her Call My Name" to the '69 "guitar amp tape" version of "Sister Ray" to the "loud-soft sound" (saturated tones at conversational volume) that he developed after trying to shout his way over his Robert Quine-era band in arenas, Lou's guitarissimo epitomized something primal and fundamental about rock 'n' roll.

9) I think Fernando Saunders was his ultimate accompanist.

10) Rest in peace, magnificent bastard. These are only "thoughts," not "final thoughts." I'll be thinking about you as long as I still draw breath.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

R.I.P. Ronald Shannon Jackson, 1940-2013

The magisterial drummer-composer-bandleader died on Saturday from leukemia.

Memorial service:

American Legion
1250, Mansfield Ave
Ft Worth, Tx 76104

A remembrance I penned for the Fort Worth Weekly is here. His New York Times obituary is here. His Fort Worth Star-Telegram obituary is here.

There will not be another like him.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Concert for Uncle Curtis

Sir Steffin Ratliff sends:

My brother-in-law, Curtis Heath of Fort Worth has been burdened with the unexpected costs of treating cancer. He is our neighbor, friend, brother, partner, son, and uncle. As a talented member of The Theater Fire, a film score composer, and a producer he is a cherished part of our DFW family. Please come support Curtis, listen to some great bands, and buy some art. 

Suggested minimum donation at door: $10


The Apache 5
Henry the Archer
(Art Auction coordinated by Christopher Blay)
Mara Lee Miller
Telegraph Canyon 

If you would like to donate directly to Curtis but cannot make the show, you can do so through Paypal. 


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Pop Clearinghouse the new musical project from my baldheaded son and former HIO bandmate Matt Hickey. Listen here.

Shuggie Otis at the Kessler, 10.4.2013

This one was a candygram from the gods.

Back in '72, when I first got wind of Shuggie Otis via a Jeff Beck interview in Rolling Stone and his then-current LP Freedom Flight, I never dreamed I'd be seeing Shuggie in the flesh 40 years later. A legendary cat: Started as a teen playing guitar with his dad, West Coast R&B maven Johnny Otis (a Greek who passed for black); recorded with Frank Zappa and Al Kooper; on his own, made records that combined blues with a laid-back studio R&B that sat somewhere between There's A Riot Goin' On-era Sly and early Prince.

Freedom Flight's "Strawberry Letter 23" was famously covered by the Brothers Johnson, but before then, Shuggie's follow-up album Inspiration Information -- recorded painstakingly over three years, with Otis playing everything but strings and horns -- sank without a trace, and he lost his recording contract. In the '90s, Inspiration Information gained a cult following, and in 2001, it was re-released (augmented with some cuts from Freedom Flight) on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label. In April this year, it was reissued yet again in a 2CD version that included a second disc of previously-unheard material, Wings of Love, that Shuggie cut between 1975 and now.

Shuggie's playing at Austin City Limits, but on the way, he stopped off at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff for a stunning surprise of a show that presented a varied set of material, backed by a crack band that included his son on drums, a cousin from NYC on keys, a bassist (James Manning) who almost took the show with his firmly authoritative snapping and popping, and a three-piece horn section including an altoist (Albert Wing) from Frank Zappa's last touring band.

Shuggie's thinner and more frail-looking than he appears in his publicity shots, but he delivers the goods, singing in a smooth and surprisingly youthful-sounding voice, making minimal announcements between songs, and seeming to withdraw to another world when he's deep into his solos. His funk tunes are beautifully orchestrated and the band dynamic really brings them to life, lending them a depth and dimension that the studio versions only hinted at. His blues is surprisingly in-your-face and immediate, reminiscent of Albert Collins in his Alligator days (guitarist Jim Suhler was watching from a seat front-and-center, directly in front of Shuggie).

Otis played a Les Paul for most of the set, getting a sharp, biting tone even from the neck pickup. He can rip through scalar runs like a jazzman, but then he'll pull off an Albert King two-whole-step bend that just slays. Some of his later material (the title track from "Wings of Love," f'rinstance) is almost Todd Rundgren-ish in its chord progressions -- prog-rock soul. The crowd went most apeshit for "Ahut Uh Mi Hed," but I was happiest to hear "Ice Cold Daydream," the opening track from Freedom Flight. Of course, he couldn't get out of the building without playing "Strawberry Letter 23," then the band locked into a titanic groove of P-Funk dimensions, and after an extended feedback-and-whammy bar exorcism (with trumpeter/bandleader/MC Larry Douglas whipping the crowd to a frenzy), Shuggie was out.

The best shows are like wish fulfillment. For me, this one was like that on a few different levels.