Friday, September 29, 2017

Things we like: Half Cleveland, Paul Trynka on Brian Jones

1) Harvey Gold, formerly of '70s prog band-in-New Wave clothing Tin Huey and currently half of Half Cleveland's brain trust, is a principled man of A Certain Age who's been struggling, as many of us have, with how to respond to the shit show that is TrumpAmerica. The tension between that struggle and the peace he's found in the rest of his life informs "The Fence," a new Half Cleveland track that's now Bandcamp-available, with a portion of the receipts going to the Southern Poverty Law Center (an institution to which your humble chronicler o' events is a monthly donor). Give it a listen and if you dig, download and kick some coins to a worthy cause, why doncha?

2) Inspahrd by Big Mike Richardson's social media Rolling Stones binge, I broke down and finally read former Mojo editor Paul Trynka's Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones, the estimable Bowie/Iggy biographer's 2014 account of the life and death of the odd man out in the Stones saga. The literature surrounding the Stones is voluminous, most of it proceeding from the assumption that Sir Mick and Keef are the auteurs, the brain trust, and the others just sidemen -- a mistake to which Trynka's book serves as a valuable corrective.

Cutting a swath through Cheltenham, a genteel 'burb where a whole lot of scandalous activity went on behind closed doors, Jones was the rebellious and outwardly self-confident spawn of domineering parents, who privately battled self-loathing for a physical defect (asthma). Besides fathering a passel of illegitimate kids by different mothers, he'd latched onto music as a way out of straight life, and had played loads of gigs with jazz bands and his own eponymous blues band (styling himself "Elmo Lewis" after his slide guitar hero Elmore James) by the time he encountered the future Glimmer Twins.

It was Brian's belief that American R&B could be popular music that propelled the Stones to the front of the first pack of Brit blues imitators, and the records from their early R&B phase (the debut LP through Out of Our Heads/December's Children) have his fingerprints all over them. When Jagger and Richards became the songwriting team, he became the group's instrumental melodist, contributing crucial bits like the hypnotically repeated guitar figure on "The Last Time," the sitar part that defines "Paint It, Black," and the incandescent acoustic lead on "Sittin On A Fence," as well as adding exotic instrumentation and hints of what'd later be called "world music" to their records from Aftermath on. His increasing social isolation from his fellow Stones, compounded by heavy self-medication and persecution by corrupt and publicity-hungry police in 1967-68, gradually eroded his self-confidence and musical abilities, and he drowned in a swimming pool in 1969, aged 27.

Trynka does his usual stellar job of research, drawing on extensive interviews as well as published sources, and weaves a fast-moving and highly readable narrative. He's particularly good on the social dynamic within the band, and the web of collusion between the press and the judicial system in which the Stones found themselves caught in '67. He's also very even-handed when it comes to the controversial subject of Jones' death, debunking several popular but unsubstantiated theories of foul play.

Recently, I was re-reading an ecstatic Rolling Stone piece on Blue and Lonesome, the Stones' "return to form" (how many of those have they had?) blues album from last year. Nowhere in the article did it mention that it was from Brian (not Ry Cooder, as I'd mistakenly thought for years) that Keef learned open G, D, and E tunings (listen to the Stones' '64 cover of Muddy's "I Can't Be Satisfied" to hear his facility), and that Mick learned to play "cross harp" the way Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II did. History might be written by the victors, but a fuller, more nuanced story is available for those who care to hear it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

9.16.2017, Fort Worth

It might not have been the most astute booking decision ever, scheduling a Stoogeaphilia show at Lola's on the same night that both Dia de los Toadies and Sally Majestic's end-of-summer party were happening in town, and the Old 97's were splitting a bill with Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians over in Big D. But I have never been accused of being overly astute, in my role as the rockaroll secretary. And we wound up having a real cool time anyway.

The original intent was to play the last weekend in June, to coincide with my 60th birthday, but that didn't work out, so we instead opted for this past Saturday, Matt Hembree's [data masked] birthday, keeping the same supports we'd intended for the earlier date: the Mike Haskins Experience, a trio led by the ex-Nervebreakers guitarist who was my axe-slinging idol when I was 21 and used to see his band open for every touring punk and new wave band that came to Dallas, and Sur Duda, the side project of War Party frontman Cameron Smith, who's always impressed me as a smart songwriter in the Uncle Lou/Ray Davies mold, to which his newer material adds an '80s pop vibe.

The li'l Stoogeband, which had been inactive since January, managed one practice for this event, during which we were able to get everything we needed to done in about two hours, leaving an hour for pizza and water (since we're now "Soberphelia," with the benefit of remembering all the shows, in addition to being able to enjoy each other's company more). It was more Stooges-focused than some sets we've played over the last few years, since the muscle memory of those songs is the strongest, as we've been playing them since we had a regular monthly gig at the late, lamented Black Dog Tavern.

Haskins opened with a set of Nuggets-style garage grunt, showcasing his inimitable axe stylings (for my two cents, the best guitarist to come out of the Texas punk development), which cover the whole waterfront from surf to psychedelia, sometimes in the course of a single solo. The Experience is a stripped-down unit of bass and drums who get a full, punchy sound from less backline than I've seen since X___X played at Rubber Gloves.

Their set includes underground garage classics as well as Haskins originals (only three on this occasion) and the occasional Nervebreakers chestnut. My night was made early when I yelled for "Strange Movies" (sorry, Troggs, but in my heart, this song will ever belong to the NBs in the same way "Can't Hardly Wait" belongs to Woodeye) and symphony percussionist turned Nervebreaker Carl Giesecke (whose thunderous fills got a lot of people's attention) kicked off the intro. I wasn't even disappointed when I looked and saw it on Mike's setlist. Wish fulfillment can happen even if it's planned. Would dig to see these guys do a multi-setter in Lola's Trailer Park sometime.

Sur Duda was up next. Cameron Smith has been holding down a regular Tuesday night slot at Lola's for a spell, but this was their first full-band show in our home-away-from-home for a minute, and my first oppo to see the band live. I was quite taken by their Fort Night EP when it dropped a while back, and their new material, skedded for an October release, already resonates, particularly a song Cameron introduced as being about "what your kids think," and another one about Texas.

Richard and I set up our amps side firing per sound guy Fred's request. I had trouble hearing myself all night and thought I should have used the kickback on my Twin, but didn't want to adjust once we started and only realized later that I'd left the output switch on 25% after recording with Brokegrove Lads back in March. Duh. (Look for new Brokegrove stuff on Bandcamp in October, if you're one of Those People.) JT said it was the best stage sound he'd had, though, and presumably at least some of my noise made it out front.

I broke the D string on my Strat halfway into the set after joking with Fred that having the Epi on stage kept me from breaking strings. JT also noticed he had a cracked hi-hat cymbal, which he claims only happens when he plays with Stooge. Richard was on fire, playing a Sharrock-cum-Townshend mic stand-slide solo on "Rich Daddy" (an earlier performance of which has received Dicks frontman Gary Floyd's "Big Dick Stamp of Approval" on Youtube).

Chris Bellomy hotfooted it over from the Grotto, where he had been playing with Sally Majestic, to add his sax to "1970" and "Funhouse" (the latter of which got cut due to my amp problems when he sat in with us back in January), and Carl Giesecke (bless him) shook sleigh bells with us during "I Wanna Be Your Dog." I love this band more than anything I've ever done. Maybe we'll even play another show this year.

The smaller-than-usual crowd meant I had time to visit with several old, good friends, including Brock Miller, an old ally from the Wednesday night jams at the Wreck Room (RIP) back in '05-'07. B-Rock's got a show upcoming at Shipping and Receiving on October 20, at which he'll be playing Kinks songs, including a bunch from Face To Face (my fave Kinks LP of the moment), in a band that also includes singer-guitarist Mandy Hand, Harley Dear, and Sur Duda drummer Jesse Gage. The theme of the event is "Kink'd," and while I'm not wearing fetish gear, I will be there if the Lord be willing and the creek don't rise. Richard and Elle Hurley's Transistor Tramps are also on the bill. So there.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Things we like: Early Stones, Joni Mitchell, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

These days, I listen to records the way I did when I was a teenager, and had my mother asking "Don't you have that one already?" every time I walked into the house with a new LP -- which was frequently, especially once I'd started working at the hipi record store in the next town, where I'd been riding my bike to hang out every Saturday for a year, as soon as I turned 16. Frugal Depression-era parents taught us the value of getting the most for every dollar spent, so I'd play an LP side I liked three or four times a day, sometimes going months before I turned the record over. I couldn't understand it when my boss told me he'd read in one of the trades that the average LP sold was played three times. Three. My mind boggled then, and it does now, too.

While I'm now too busy to listen closely all the time, I like the total immersion method, by which I endeavor to wring every drop of experience out of music, whether it's old and familiar or new to these feedback-scorched ears. (I've been swinging behind the pitch -- typically by about five years or longer -- since I was "discovering" the first wave of Brit invaders around the time Led Zep, Grand Funk, and Black Sabbath were the favored listening of my age cohort. By now, of course, I've gotten much, much worse.)

Big Mike Richardson, of whom I've written recently, has undertaken the project of listening to all of his Rolling Stones records -- US and UK, LPs, EPs, and singles -- and sharing his impressions via Facebook. While I've never been the kind of completist collector Big Mike is and our mutual friend Mike Woodhull (RIP) was, I own as many records by the Stones as I do by practically anybody. This week, thanks to Big Mike, I'm listening to UK copies of the Stones' self-titled debut (which bore a cover shot of the band as striking as the Beatles on Meet the.../With the..., and was called England's Newest Hitmakers here, a title awkward enough to give The Who Sings My Generation a run for its money) and No. 2 (which has the same great cover shot as 12 x 5, which Wikipedia informs us was actually released here first). It's been fun obsessing over the differences in versions that I used to love back before everything was instantly available, when it sometimes took years to track down a rec I was curious about.

The UK debut is nearly identical to its US analog, with one notable exception: the substitution of Bo Diddley's "I Need You Baby," which appeared on The Rolling Stones, Now! (third US LP, for those of you keeping score at home) as "Mona (I Need You Baby)," in place of "Not Fade Away," a single that hit there and flopped here, but isn't included on the Brit album because that just wasn't done in a country where World War II rationing ended the year Elvis cut his first sides for Sam Phillips and folks demanded value for money in a way my folks could have appreciated. The album's heavy on blues and R&B covers that sound like overstimulated young men being set free, and a single original ("Tell Me") that sounds like the greatest Doc Pomus song he didn't write for the Drifters.

No. 2 has seven songs familiar from Now! interspersed with four from 12 x 5 and one ringer (an ace cover of Muddy's "I Can't Be Satisfied" that wasn't released here until More Hot Rocks in '71). To me, it's a better way of hearing 'em, since I already have the German Around and Around LP that compiles all the other 12 x 5 songs (which appeared on the UK Five By Five EP) plus a couple of singles and 75% of the Stones' self-titled UK EP. Confused yet? You ought to be. Now, I'm motivated to seek out copies of the soul cover-heavy UK Out of Our Heads, which I owned back when I was still playing records on a turntable I bought from Woodhull for five bucks (which required a nickel on the tone arm to make it track) through my tweed Fender Deluxe, and the nearly hour-long (on a single LP!) UK Aftermath, their first album of all originals, of which I just sold my ABKCo reissue (which sounded like a CD-pressed-to-LP to me). And to read Paul Trynka's bio of Brian Jones. Once a record geek, always a record geek.

When not geeking out on vintage Stones, I've lately been immersing myself in the works of Joni Mitchell and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. This will require some 'splaining. First, Joni...

In my maturity, I have developed the taste my big sister had when we were in high school. It's her fault I know the lyrics to Broadway musicals. And it's her fault that I was exposed to things like the Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren, Laura Nyro, and Joni Mitchell that I now love but couldn't appreciate back then because they were, you know, not hard rock (we could argue about Todd but I'm thinking of his perfect pop masterpiece Something/Anything in particular).

So I used to roll my eyes white upward every time she spun Ladies of the Canyon, even as the words to "Conversation" (written about a platonic friendship with Turtle/Mother Mark Volman, I recently learned; I love the way she tosses off the line "I don't believe her") and "Rainy Night House" (a sympathetic portrait of what I imagine to be a spoiled rich kid, which lent its name to a bar I used to hear advertised on the radio back on Long Island) were etching themselves in my synapses. Even "Morning Morgantown" (although I used to imagine the chorus was "All your teeth are colored brown").

Working in the record store, I heard Joni's '76 release Hejira a lot when it was new, and the words to "Song for Sharon" stayed with me for 40 years. Around that time, some bad-acting buddies and I were learning how to play Fairport Convention's "Sloth" at the house of one of the fellas' much-older (like 20 years) brother. When I asked him what the words meant, the brother paused for a moment and then said, "Everything." You could say the same about "Song for Sharon," an account of a visit to New York City in which the narrator's internal monologue touches on the way images become dreams, biology becomes destiny, and the roles chance, purpose, and acceptance play in life.

While I carried those songs in my head for years, I never actually sat down and listened to a Mitchell record until I was stationed in Korea in '82-'83. When I was homesick, I used to go to the base library (out of which I read every book I'd wanted to read for a decade, sometimes as many as four or five at a time) and listen to Doug Sahm and Band through headphones (for "Is Anybody Going To San Antone" in particular, even though the only time I'd ever been in the Mission City was for basic training).

Digging through the stacks, I found a copy of The Hissing of Summer Lawns and soon was drawn into its sound world, particularly the African drumming on "The Jungle Line" and the massed voices on "Shadows and Light." The lyrics in "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow" speak powerfully and directly about women's autonomy, while the ones to the title track and "Harry's House" show why such is necessary (all of which went over my head as a 25-year-old enlistee).

Comparisons being odious, Joni was employing the same kind of jazz-rock musos who were making Steely Dan records around the same time, but the craftsmanship on her records never screamed "Look at me! Look at me!" the way it often did with "the Dan" (RIP Walter Becker). Instead, every sound served her singular vision and idiosyncratic melodic sense. So it was only after I bought a copy of Hejira a couple of years ago, for instance, that I realized sounds I'd always assumed came from keyboards actually originated from her overdubbed guitars and Jaco Pastorius' bass. We live, we learn. Her approach was simple (as she explains in the liner notes to the useful Love Has Many Faces box set, which enabled me to catch up on her work -- including orchestrated, retrospective versions of earlier works -- when I decided to pick up the thread a couple of years ago): "The words are the leader."

Her melodies are like Wayne Shorter solos -- she loved the Miles bands that made Nefertiti and In A Silent Way, and cats like Wayne and Herbie Hancock love her back (Wayne's been a frequent collaborator, and Herbie cut a whole album of her music -- 2007's River: The Joni Letters). Unlike many of her male singer-songwriter contemporaries (um, Mr. Reed, Mr. Young, Mr. Dylan), she could really sing (The Range Place classifies her as a "Blue Mezzo" up till '84, a "Cloudy Contralto" thereafter; a lifetime of cigarette smoking didn't help), but her delivery was always conversational because that's the way she wrote.

Comparisons with some of those men rankled; there's a story in the Love Has Many Faces essay about a visit with Dylan and their shared label boss, David Geffen, when she finished the magnificent Court and Spark (only to have it ignored by Geffen while Dylan's less-than-snazz Planet Waves was lauded) that tells it better than I could. Daughters always have to work harder than sons for validation, it seems. "I had a painter's ego -- I took pride in discovering new things," she writes. "I had a painter's ability to self-adjudicate." With the extensive literature surrounding Dylan and particularly Reed (my hero, who has no less than four new bios due), I've made the songwriter-fan's mistake of wallowing in biographical trivia or English major-like explication. I've tried to avoid that with Mitchell, although David Yaffe's Reckless Daughter, due out October 17, looks as though it might be an exception to the songwriter-bio rule.

Finally, Fischer-Dieskau was my father's favorite singer, ranked by those who know right up there with Jussi Bjorling (my mother's fave) among the great vocalists of the 20th century. I was reminded of him by a recent New Yorker piece in which the writer referred to the great German baritone's recording of Schubert's song cycle Winterreise as being emblematic of the Cold War era. Now when I remember asking my physicist father, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, what would happen if a Soviet nuke fell on Manhattan (I grew up 60 miles from there; he told me, after which "duck and cover" drills at school seemed particularly silly and pointless), that's the music I hear in the background (the '62 version with piano accompaniment by Gerald Moore, even though thatun wasn't released until a year later).

Assisted by Alex Ross (whose book The Rest Is Noise hipped me to, among other things, the Wagner family's infatuation with Hitler and the U.S. Army's post-World War II sponsorship of German modernism -- for propaganda purposes, of course), I've begun my descent down the Fischer-Dieskau rabbit hole, which is even deeper (his discography lists 5,199 items) than Braxton's or the Dead's. I'm currently immersing myself in Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, written to be performed at the consecration (also in 1962) of the new Coventry cathedral, which replaced one destroyed by German bombs. Britten's work juxtaposes the Latin Mass for the Dead with nine poems by the British poet Wilfred Owen (killed a week before the World War I armistice) -- most poignantly, his "Strange Meeting." At its premiere performance, it was to be sung by British, German, and Russian soloists. In the event, the Russian soprano was prevented from attending by the Soviet government, but she was able to make the recording session that the composer conducted.

I'm working my way up to a Wagner opera. In the fullness of time, it seems my father's weekly listens to Strauss and Wagner at pain threshold volume prepared me for the Who and Hendrix's different kind of sturm und drang. My wife reminds me that when he died in New Jersey, a bolt of lightning struck a tree in our neighbor's yard. He would have loved that. My plan is to spend four hours on or about October 4 (his birthday my sister informs me, not the 3rd) listening to Fischer-Dieskau in the Furtwangler recording of Tristan und Isolde. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

9.2.2017, Fort Worth

Your left hand is what you know, your right hand is who you are.

Whoever handles social media for Martin Guitars posted those words on Facebook yesterday, and I had them on my mind when I walked down the street to see my friend and fellow Lawn Guyland expat Darrin Kobetich doing "something different" at the Grackle Gallery, where Kavin Allenson has been booking an eclectic mix of experimental, improvisational, and non-traditional musics under the "Grackle Live" rubric.

Da Kobe usually performs as a solo act playing original acoustic guitar instrumentals, but his trick bag also includes electric guitar, dobro, mandolin, oud, and cumbus. He plays bluegrass with the Boxcar Bandits and Blackland River Devils, improv-funk-jazz-world music with Eddie Dunlap's Rage-Out Arkestra, rock with Groom Lake Racers and his Weatherford High School bud Jeff Satterly, and has provided music for some Hip Pocket Theatre productions. Most recently, Darrin has been involved in a studio-only improv project, Bisagre, with bassist Jimi Sly, drummer Jeffrey Williams, and producer Tony Sims. A busy guy.

On this particular night at the Grackle, his arsenal of axes is limited to his oud, his Fender Stratocaster, and a Martin 12-string equipped by luthier extraordinaire Mitchell Cigainero with a second, movable bridge (inspired by one used by guitarist Kaki King) that allows Darrin to fret or pick on either side. With the second bridge in place, Darrin is able to get sitar-like sounds, bending strings by pressing down, or play the instrument with hammers like a dulcimer.

He also employs a looper pedal to stack percussive effects he achieves by striking his instruments, drones (he uses a violin bow on his guitars a la Jimmy Page), and other sounds to create an orchestral backing over which to improvise his signature long, flowing melodic lines. His music has always had an Eastern European flavor (Da Kobe digs tritones), and his right hand attack is highly riddimic even without the slapping and tapping. It's a modern approach that sounds like it could be ancient. Towards the end of his second set, Darrin even threw in a little Dick Dale and a taste of Fiddler On the Roof as teasers. Kavin was recording audio and video, so hopefully documentation will be available soon.