Monthly Archives: July 2014

COLORED VINYL, PIZZA BOXES AND UFOs: The Flaming Lips

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Let’s revisit the late ‘80s Lips and take in sundry rarities, artifacts and swag, Wayne Coyne style.

BY FRED MILLS

By early 1987 I had become a massive Flaming Lips fan, having fallen under the spell of their skronkadelic ’86 LP Hear It Is (issued late summer the previous year on the Enigma/Pink Dust label—on white vinyl, no less) to such a degree that I wound up bidding in an auction out of Goldmine magazine—this was the pre-eBay era, of course—to score a green vinyl copy of their self-titled EP from ’84 for the princely sum (at the time) of $24. When news arrived that the Oklahoma trio’s American tour would route them through Charlotte, NC, on September 11, I arranged through their publicist to hook up with them the afternoon of the show and conduct an interview for rock ‘zine The Bob.

Interview, we did—whew. Talking for nearly three hours to Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins and then-drummer Richard English (along with Coyne’s brother Mark, who had originally been in the band but had decided to shift over to roadie duties) was a trip, to say the least, and we even found time to stand outside in the parking lot after dark scanning the skies for UFOs, an obsession of Coyne’s. Later, with their permission, a friend and I recorded the show on both video and audio tape, and the final encore of Led Zep’s “Thank You” segueing into Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley ‘69” would eventually surface as a free flexidisc included with the Lips issue (#32) of The Bob as well as part of the band’s 1998 odds-n-sods compilation CD A Collection of Songs Representing an Enthusiasm for Recording…By Amateurs.

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Lips Bob

That night I also got my copy of HII signed by the band, which you can view at the top of this page. Meanwhile, upon learning that I had paid roughly triple market value for the Flaming Lips EP, Coyne told me he would send me another copy of it, this one pressed on red vinyl, and I dutifully supplied him with my address, thinking, “Yeah, sure…” Lo and behold, about a month later, what should turn up at my Charlotte PO address but a large pizza box doubling as a record mailer and containing the aforementioned platter. (It can be viewed below, along with both copies of the EP.) Coyne had even painstakingly hand decorated and addressed the box, which is the photo that appears at the top of this page. Over the years I’ve been offered considerable sums of money for the box from Lips superfans but rest assured, it ain’t going nowhere. To Wayne Coyne, who gifted me with what is apparently a one-of-a-kind Lips artifact and collectible, I submit my eternal thanks ‘cos I get a big silly smile on my face every time I look at it.

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Incidentally, I also store some of my other Lips collectibles in the pizza box, such as… (below) Some of the personal correspondence I had with Coyne in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, including the note that was included with the red wax record:

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The original, official Flaming Lips presskit/bio package, primarily consisting of photocopies of various reviews of the EP and the LP:

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Original clear vinyl copy of 1987’s Oh My Gawd… LP:

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Autographed, original copy of 1989’s Telepathic Surgery LP (note the “Fred Mills kills” sobriquet):

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Original pink/purple vinyl copy of 1990’s In A Priest Driven Ambulance LP:

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Original brown vinyl copy of 1990’s Unconsciously Screamin’ EP:

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Over the years there have been, obviously, scored more collectible Flaming Lips releases, ranging from shaped discs to colored wax to USBs housed in gummy skulls. The Lips, and Coyne specifically, know how to create, stoke and nurture a rabid fan base while simultaneously keep the eBay search engines humming. But I’d like to think that I managed to get in on the ground floor and was able to score most of the earliest artifacts, including at least one that you won’t see anywhere else… A big boy howdy and salute to the Flaming Lips from ye olde BLURT editor – long may you lip!

 

 

 

 

THAT SUMMER FEELING: La Cerca

La Cerca by Omer Kreso

“Sometimes you just have to throw it out there”: As the Tucson band discovered over the course of making their new album, patience will out.

BY ERIC SWEDLUND

Arizona-based La Cerca’s latest album is a project that began around 2006, the songs coming slowly, changing over time and being shaped by different musicians along the way.

“The songs were around for a very long time, but they change form time to time,” says Andrew Gardner, La Cerca’s singer, songwriter and guitarist. “Different players play on it, different people are coming in and out of the band to change things. We all sort of reflect each other, but have our own musical energies that we bring into it.”

Sunrise for Everyone, released as a vinyl-only artifact by the North Carolina (but previously Tucson) –based Fort Lowell label) was an exercise in patience: patience for Gardner as a songwriter, patience as band members, patience in recording. In the end, that’s what pushed the best stuff to the top.

“We’ve been playing together for a very long time and there have been changes in our lives. I’ve taken breaks off to travel and when I get back I don’t really say anything. Someone will ask about playing again and then we’re back again,” Gardner says. “It’s not easy being in a band. Some people don’t like the road. But this is what I want to do. It’s not always the right thing for playing with your best friend. Sometimes you have to reach out to make new friends to play with you and complete the cycle.”

The record is a snapshot of the ever-evolving Tucson band. At the time the basic tracks were recorded, La Cerca was a six-piece: Ernie Gardner (the album is dedicated to Ernie, who passed away in 2012) on drums, Malcolm Cooper on keys, Kevin Dowling on guitar, Miguel Villarreal on bass, Bill Oberdick on guitar and, of course, Andrew Gardner on guitar and vocals (no relation to Ernie).

“That was the band for a good six months, but we started changing again, explains Gardner. “We’ve had shows where Bill has played the drums because somebody couldn’t show up. That was a whole turning point for the band in itself. We just try not to let it faze us, try not to let it affect us. Just keep on moving. I don’t like to cancel show. I want to keep playing as much as I can.

“Everybody affects the band. Everybody affects what’s happening and therefore it changes the songs, ever so slightly, or even very drastically. We don’t play the songs the same way as we used to. It changes because we feel differently. We need to embrace the change. It will change again. I feel it. I don’t know when.”

After the main tracks were done came the vocals, typically the most difficult part for Gardner.

“I’m being more careful. I started meeting more people and it’s like ‘Oh you should sing on this,” he says. Seven guest vocalists show up on Sunrise for Everyone, including Matt Rendon of The Resonars and Tracy Shedd. Whether it’s guest vocalists, someone brought in to record a couple instrumental tracks or core band members, every contributor impacts La Cerca in specific ways.

“I would say I’m the director of the band maybe, but I don’t tell people what to play necessarily. I think every musician has their own input,” Gardner says.

Gardner’s first vision for Sunrise for Everyone was to emphasize the inspiration that comes from place – the landscape and the climate of the desert.

“There is a sense of the desert in the songs, in the music I hear it in my guitars, in the dusty amplifiers. There is something that does come from the desert. As a musician, I can feel it and hopefully allow it to come out in my music. It’s different than if I were someplace else.

“I had an idea that I wanted a record to be somewhat weather-related, or atmosphere- related. It’s taking another meaning into desert rock, if you will. We’re making music that is reflective of the land, or the atmosphere. ‘Weather Festival’ is a perfect example: it’s a sunny day and you end up in a very different place. It can change your mind. It can change everything.”

Sunrise for Everyone is a summer record, but one that spans the very end of spring to the very beginning of fall. It’s not about just the height of summer, but instead about changes.

The songs that gave the album its director are the first and the last, “Arizon” and “Mountain Villager,” which were the last two written. The melancholy vibe of the end of summer is captured in the opener “Arizon.” The song came together after Gardner had returned from a trip to Germany. The name reflects on both the big broad space of the state, but also the very specific place of their practice spot, on Arizona Avenue.

But while the album starts on an introspective and wistful note, it soon gives way to a tightly wound guitar churn.

“There’s a sorrowful pace in the beginning to start, it’s bittersweet. An unsteadyness kind of fills in. It’s something that’s sort of hidden in there. It’s the foreshadow, getting ready to really build it up,” Gardner says. “‘Climate Control’ is to smack you out of it. It’s a rocker. It has this anthem aspect to it.”

“Sunrise For Everyone” and “Sorry XO” were written together and the band still plays them together.

“‘Sunrise for Everyone’ is about trying to move out of depression, trying to move out of any sort of sorrow or hurt. Hey look, there’s always a new day. In ‘Sorry XO,’ I’d like to say that I’m speaking for someone. Not necessarily in any particular moment, but it’s a common thing where words come out that you don’t mean. I relate to that as well. We just started playing it again and it’s kind of a new song for us because we hadn’t played it in three or four years.”

In “Weather Festival,” the hook and the chorus is actually the guitar line, which is something that La Cerca has been known for. Across Sunrise for Everyone, the “voice” in Gardner’s guitar stands out.

“I feel that the guitar is trying to say something too. Along with lyrics, it’s trying to be complementary to the vocal lines. There’s a feeling that comes through the guitar

Playing music is emoting and that’s what I’m doing when I’m playing these things,” Gardner says. “I’m becoming less and less conscious of it. It’s better to lose yourself to it and let it be its own self without analyzing it too much.”

Closer “Mountain Villager” is another favorite of Gardner’s.

“I like to look at it as two songs. It has a part one and part two,” he says. “It’s just a sweet song. It kind of gets out of hand a bit, but I’m super happy about that too. It grabs your attention in a mellow way. It’s relaxing you, hopefully.” [Below: vinyl rules, La Cerca style.]

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Gardner plans to record La Cerca’s follow-up quicker.

“The new material, the new song cycle, started two years ago. And I’m still revisiting some songs that aren’t on this that we recorded. There’s a lot to explore,” he says. “The new songs are wide open, they have a spark to them. At the same time, there’s still a grip of material to draw from that hasn’t been recorded yet. I feel like there’s a desire to make another piece. I’m starting to feel an idea of what can bring it all together already.”

Sunrise for Everyone is definitely a pinnacle for La Cerca, a rock ‘n’ roll journey that brings to mind Big Star, Badfinger and Guided By Voices, musical alchemists who, like Gardner, mastered the powerful combination of sad songs and big hooks.

Gardner says his most memorable inspirations came at a young age, leading him to music in ways he couldn’t really understand at the time.

“When I was young, I went to my neighbor’s house and I wasn’t able to go downstairs, but the music was coming up. I remember this huge sound and it was keyboards and guitars just doing this jam. And I was feeling the vibrations of the floor. I remember receiving records in the mail from a relative and putting on this white label record and hearing this dance music going and not really understanding what was going on but thinking ‘wow I want to make that noise. I want to do this thing,’” he says. “There wasn’t one thing that inspired me, but I found myself with a guitar, taking music lessons, growing up around music, seeing bands play at a young age, forming a band when I was 11 years old.”

And decades later he says he simply has to keep doing it.

“I do keep feeling that fire. It’s an every day kind of thing. I can’t wait until the next time I get to play,” he says. “I was walking down the street and I saw this dude riding his bike, with a guitar on his back and I wondered if he wanted to jam. Not that I would ask somebody off the street, ‘Hey come jam with me,’ but it’s that spirit of I want to play music as much as I can. That’s why there can be more members than just the core in this band ‘Let’s jam, let’s try it out sometime and see how it goes.’”

In that regard, Sunrise for Everyone is a representation of everyone who’s work went to creating the record, not just Gardner’s songs.

“It’s really just a postcard from us, at a couple different time periods. It’s a post card from three years ago, but it’s also from us now,” he says.

“The last time we had any sort of momentum was this last record (2011’s Rock ‘n’ Roll To The Rescue), which was a long time ago and it’s very much like starting over. But I’m sure I will run into those people who found us back in the day. They’re out there. Every once in a while I’ll get an email from somebody saying ‘Hey, I have your record Goodbye Phantom Engineer. You guys are great.

“We have some shows with really cool bands we’re excited about what could come of them. I’m thinking three or four shows in particular I’m very hopeful for,” he says. “There are some strange and good and excellent times ahead. I would say those are three different categories.

“Sometimes you just have to throw it out there and see what happens.”

Photo credit: Omer Kreso. Follow the band at their Facebook page.

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IT’S COMPLICATED: Sean Nelson & Harvey Danger

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With the indie upstarts’ ’97 debut finally getting a vinyl reissue, their frontman and chief songwriter reflects on the album and the wondrous one hit it spawned. But where does Harry Nilsson fit in to all this?

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Harvey Danger’s biggest hit, “Flagpole Sitta,” sounds little like the other nine tracks on the Seattle group’s 1997 indie rock debut for the Arena Rock label, Where Have All the Merry Makers Gone. And even though it turned out to be a relatively lucrative hit, frontman Sean Nelson clearly has a complicated relationship with the song. While the bulk of the songs on that record seemed more at home on college radio, the folks who ran the band’s label at the time thought that one slice of frantic power pop, kinda, sorta might work on mainstream radio.

Lo and behold, it did.

In fact, for about a year, 1997-98, you couldn’t turn on your car radio, flip past MTV or even go to the movies without very likely hearing Nelson bark “I’m not sick, but I’m not well!” The song was all over movie trailers and movie soundtracks and quickly soaked into the collective conscious of just about everyone with a set of functioning ears. A pretty impressive feat for a song on an album that was recorded for about $3,000 in a matter of days. But the band was never really equipped to go from playing to a few hundred people to playing in front of 5,000 over the course of just a couple of weeks.

“You know when a kid tells a joke at table full of adults and everybody laughs. And then the kid just constantly repeats that joke again and again to try and get the same reaction… We felt like we sort of were being asked to retell that same joke every night for the next 4-5 years,” Nelson said recently.

Fame was pretty ill-fitting for him and his bandmates—Jef Lin, Aaron Huffman and Evan Sult— from the beginning. They tried to make it work; made a couple of more records (some very good records, I should add); and tried to make peace with their insta-fame, while battling the One Hit Wonder label that was breathing down their collective neck. The band eventually called it a day in 2009 and Nelson went on to contribute music to and tour with a slew of great bands including The Long Winters, Death Cab For Cutie, Nada Surf and Robyn Hitchcock; he wrote a book, hosted a radio show, acted in movies and taught a songwriting class at the University of Washington.

And finally last year, after fits and starts for nearly a decade, he released Make Good Choices, his first solo album. But later this month, 17 years to the date of its initial release, Where Have All the Merry Makers Gone is finally coming out on vinyl, thanks to the indie punk rock label No Sleep. The knotty issues with “Flagpole Sitta” aside, Nelson is glad to see the record finding a new home on vinyl. He even penned the liner notes, and his bandmates worked to update the album cover for this reissue.

Nelson spoke recently about finally seeing the album on vinyl (a request he made with their initial label almost two decades ago), being a little more “I Melt With You” than “Creep” and revisiting Harry Nilsson’s songs in an upcoming album.

BLURT: So Where Have All the Merry Makers Gone is finally being put out on vinyl. How did this come about? Were you guys approached by No Sleep Records about doing this?

SEAN NELSON: Yeah, it was all their idea. We had pretty much given up on having anything to do with our old label. The contract has changed hands so many times due to corporate mergers and shuffling’s that we just have resigned ourselves to thinking that it’s in the past and [the music] reached a lot of people, it found its audience and everything else is just not in our hands. If we didn’t do that, it could still be full time work simply trying to find that one person at the label to deal with. So Chris [Hansen] from the label contacted me; I didn’t know him, but he seemed like a smart guy who was doing stuff for the right reasons – and that was important to us – and I was like, “Yeah, if you want to navigate the labyrinth of corporate America and try and get them to agree to license this, by my guest.” I didn’t think he would succeed, and low and behold he did and once they had it together we were pretty excited about it.

 It’s never been on vinyl before?

It hasn’t and vinyl is the ultimate legitimizer nowadays.

I agree – a lot of the music I really liked came about in the ‘90s when most labels stopped making vinyl records.

Yeah, I’m in the same boat and I’m the same age. I think at the time, we might have even said “What about a vinyl pressing?” And the reaction was something like “why don’t you just set a pile of hundred dollar bills on fire?” Now it’s a much more viable format, which is great. As a nerd, I prefer vinyl.

Have you thought about putting King James Version and Little By Little out on vinyl after this one?

Well, Little By Little does exist on vinyl. It was put out in a fairly limited pressing by a local Seattle label called Skrocki Records, but King James Version is in the same kind of corporate miasma as Merry Makers, although a different branch. We actually thought about doing a CD reissue at a certain point for Barsuk (Records), and the initial approach… It was owned by Warner Bros. and the license fee was so large that you would have had to charge $40 per CD to make a profit for the label releasing it. It’s really heartbreaking to throw yourself back into that machine. If somebody wants to do it, it would mean a lot to us and it would be so exciting, even if it was a small pressing, but I feel like we have spent as much time and psychic energy as we are capable of.

Over the band’s brief lifespan, you were shuffled around on a number of different major labels. Is there some part of you that gets a little satisfaction in seeing how major labels are struggling to remain relevant today? Is there some sense schadenfreude in that situation?

Well, um, yeah. The lower emotional register of my consciousness definitely experiences a bit of schadenfreude with that situation. On a practical level, I see the conversation about the long slow decline and demise of the record industry. A lot of people talk about it like it’s such a terrible shame that this mighty industry has been felled by illegal file sharing and my feeling about it is that the labels are to blame for the rise in that technology because they squeezed their audience as hard as they could. Our album came out right as Napster was getting started. So the rise of Napster started right as Merrymakers was at its commercial peak.

I would go into a record store and see that the jewel box, major label version of our CD cost $20, whereas when it was on an independent label it cost $12.99. It’s not a lot of money, but considering that the customer base for major labels were children, the difference between $12.99 and $19.99 was huge. The reason the CDs wound up costing so much money was not because the cost of making them increased, it’s because the labels realized they could charge more and did. The ethics of that decision-making process totally skewed toward profit. I am not that naïve about capitalism; I get that that is how it naturally tends, but the rise of Napster, the rise of file sharing, was a free-market reaction to abuse on the part of label executives. The reason for the cost difference was that there were suddenly so many more middle men involved.

So to get an album in Tower Records, it couldn’t just go from the label to the distributor to the shelves, it had to go to a distributor, to an aggregator, to another distributor, to the store, and everyone takes their nickel. So the kid who wanted to buy that record in 1997, the only way you could get your hands on the song you liked was buying that $20 CD, so naturally it only took a certain amount of time for someone to make it a lot easier for that kid to get what he or she wanted. Yeah, I sort of do bemoan the bygone days when you had to go out and look for music and the file sharing world has affected music culture in a lot of really negative ways, but I can’t sign on to the version of that story that blames the nerds, the kids who set this up… Rather than discounting the CDs and trying to understand the issues facing the music-loving kids, they said “Ok, how are we going to prosecute and fine these children who have downloaded this music?”

It’s easy to make these generalities about the music business, because it was and probably is more so now, a really venal, cutthroat industry, but the reality is that there were a lot of really smart people who know a lot about and care a lot about music who work in that business. I’ve met a lot of them. But the industry as a whole was focused on hysterical profit margins because that’s what corporations do. Corporations are not in the business of selling records, they are in the business of selling millions of records.

In the liner notes to this vinyl re-release, you allude to your biggest hit, “Flagpole Sitta.” So many years after that song exploded, what’s your relationship with that song now? It certainly was responsible for getting a lot of attention for the band.

Yes. If this were a Facebook status, I would have to say “It’s Complicated.” We’ve all been through a very elaborate emotional process with that song because obviously, as I wrote in those liner notes, it’s the entire history and legacy of the band to most people who have ever heard of the band, and there are plenty of people who haven’t heard of the band, but are just familiar with the song. And that is more than most bands ever get and you never want to overlook that; you want to appreciate that, but if you are the band, clearly you have all this other stuff. There are people who know it, care about it, seek it out and have a relationship with it…

“Flagpole Sitta” may have been the thing that introduced them to the band. This has been one of the central preoccupations of my life: the sort of conflict between being grateful that that song found a big audience, to frustration that something that we did when we were young — I was 23 or 22 when we wrote that song, and so far of all the other stuff I’ve done (and at times I’ve kept myself neurotically productive to do other things) — it’s still the thing that when I close my eyes and imagine my tombstone, I can still, just imagine it will have “I’m not sick, but I’m not well” carved into it.

After a certain number of years, you have no choice but to make peace with that. But it’s bittersweet. People really like it still, they love it in fact, and I’m sure a lot of people really hate it too. We don’t hear from those people anymore because it’s now part just part of that mound of pop culture. It didn’t take a whole lot of time before I started having a whole lot of anxiety about it; my thought was, “Wait a minute, is this going to be like ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ or ‘Creep’, where it’s one anomalous big hit in a catalogue of interesting music that leads people to a long, rich relationship with the band? Or is it going to be ‘I Ran’ or ‘I Melt With You,’ where it’s the only thing people have ever heard of by the band?”

It turns out “Flagpole Sitta” is way more “I Melt With You” than “She Don’t Use Jelly” or “Creep” and again, until you know how that story plays out, you spend a lot of time worrying about it and trying to engineer the version of the story that you want, which is a long, rich career and this is only the beginning, blah, blah, blah. It turns out we did not have sufficient resources, artistic or emotional, at our disposal to bring that about. So now we’re in the retinue of One Hit Wonder Bands with a cult following. It’s an interesting thing for a band. It’s not like we made just one record and disappeared; we disappeared from pop culture almost as quickly as we arrived in it. The other interesting thing to me is that we never really belonged in pop culture. There was nothing about the band that was likely for us to hit huge rock star status. In a way, we never belonged there and that song doesn’t sound like any of our other songs and none of our other songs jump out as hits like “Flagpole Sitta” does.

There’s also the fact that having hits and appealing to a huge audience for those three minutes, it’s lucrative, but it’s not interesting; it’s titillating, but it’s not enriching. Our interaction with the proper mainstream, I think, was disappointing for us and for the mainstream. We didn’t deliver in the way that bands are supposed to deliver. I’d like to say it was intentional, because we did do some stuff that inverted the expectations of big rock bands, but it was only intentional inasmuch as we were capable of doing anything intentionally. We were only really capable of sounding the way we sounded. It’s not like we could have had a jazz phase and we really believed in what we did and the songs we made, but we had a really weird process; our human interactions were weird and the way we performed was weird and our sense of ambition was weird. We were just a weird band and to some people that weirdness is appealing. To some people it just looks so lame and is just baffling.

Your first solo record, Make Good Choices, came out last year. Are you working on anything else?

The big thing on the near horizon, I made an album of Harry Nilsson songs, called Nelson Sings Nilsson.

I read about that project a few years ago and have been looking for that record ever since.

This is another record that I have been messing around with for years and been losing confidence in. When I started working on it I would tell people I was making a record of Harry Nilsson songs and was going to call it Nelson Sings Nilsson, thinking, “Oh everyone knows Harry Nilsson made a record of Randy Newman songs called Nilsson Sings Newman and they’re going to get that joke.” And for years, nobody I mentioned this to got that joke and most of the people had never heard of Harry Nilsson… and once I explained who Harry Nilsson was they would say “Why are you wasting your time working on this?”

All it took was one of those conversations for me to think, “Oh shit this is a stupid idea and I shouldn’t even bother with it,” even though I loved doing it. There’s a confidence deficient with me. But the record is really good I think. It’s done and being mastered and being put out on a Seattle label, a very small outfit, but they really believe in it and we’re going to do what we can do.

CAUSALITY AND EFFECT: Bry Webb

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From raging young outcast through desperado troubadour to willful family man, the Constantines frontman has become one of indiedom’s most insightful songwriters. Below, check out some recent videos from both the band and of Webb solo.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

You spend your formative years grinding from one gig to another, playing cathartic blue collar rock & roll and living the attendant lifestyle, and any transition from that is going to be filled with complications. Of course, Bry Webb, leader of Canada’s beloved Constantines, was conscious of that even as he went through it — the foreboding sense of youth passing is what gave Fugazi-meets-the-Clash desperation to classic Cons songs like “Young Lions,” “Soon Enough” and “Time Can Be Overcome.”

Webb transitioned to desperado troubadour on his 2011 solo debut, Provider, a lateral move that embodied the change in fundamental ways. Marriage and fatherhood had altered Webb’s world-view, the birth of his son Asa taking precedence in life and song.

On Free Will, Webb’s marvelous new solo LP (Idée Fixe Records), he takes a modest step back from the immediacy of Provider and looks back at his years as the raging young outcast, contrasting them with adult topics like responsibility, belief, love, work, and art. These contrasts flirt with the notion of free will throughout. But what could be tedious singer-songwriter self-examination blooms here because Webb’s lyrics reflect a poet’s careful choices (he even borrows a line from Serbian poet Vasco Popa).

“What flame would hang over this house?,” Webb’s ragged voice wonders on “Fletcher,” the tone-setting opener. “The one that burns eternal and further smokes my conscience out/Further from civility into what wild-eyed love/No higher power will hold me to the ground.” The mostly down-tempo songs still draw volatile energy from the balancing act between resignation and defiance. Free Will’s 12 tracks tread similar sonic ground to the solo debut, only they do so more sure-handedly. Finger-picked acoustic patterns emerge quietly, shadowed by shimmers of electric guitar, brushed drums and double-bass — and always accompanied by the lonesome hues of Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel. Webb’s added some new shades, but with a judicious hand that suits the songs — note the looped noise a la Califone on “Let’s Get Through Today,” the mellotron strings of “Translator,” and the feedback bursts on “Receive Me,” the one track that consciously recalls the Cons’ nervous tempos and shifting chords.

But Webb’s voice remains the most effecting instrument. Despite its limited range, its expression is fully maximized whether he’s growling pointed accusations on “Prove Me Wrong,” whispering intimacies in your ear on the cautionary drug tale “Big Smoke,” or decrying love’s fickleness (“What Part of You”) over organ washes and rolling bass lines: “Goddamn natural law, I have the will to defy it/That moment is nothing with you and I in it/So no more ‘I miss you’ and no more ‘forever’/No good and no bad times, passed through like weather.”

If Provider was Webb reveling moment-to-moment in a new life, Free Will comes to terms with the fact that the more you live, the less you know.

Whether he’s in charge or merely a vessel, Webb transcends.

Ed. note: Webb commented on the “Prove Me Wrong” video, posted above, at his label’s website, writing, “My friend Gavin was working [at the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada], organizing their yearly Donkey Day Festival. I hadn’t been playing much, but Gavin asked if I’d do some songs as part of the day. I had recently started making music with Mike Brooks (pedal steel) and Rich Burnett (lap steel), so we decided to work out arrangements of some old and new songs for the event. It was one of the first shows I had played since the Constantines stopped. When Colin had the idea to make a music video there, it seemed perfect. Music video making can often be an undignified process for musicians – I’m not really inclined to lip sync my own songs – but putting one of the songs to Maya Bankovic and Colin’s wonderful slow motion shots of these incredibly dignified animals has made me very happy.”

 

AND A TRUTH FOR A TRUTH: Corrosion of Conformity

CoC

Three decades on, the North Carolina heaviosity merchants are still making brainy, brawny, ballsy rock.

BY JORDAN LAWRENCE

IX, the simply titled ninth LP from shapeshifting hard rock crew Corrosion of Conformity, arrived on the same day as Once More ‘Round the Sun, the sixth album from Atlanta’s similarly mercurial Mastodon. Both bands draw from all over the heavy music spectrum — CoC having tripped through hardcore, thrash and sludgy psych-rock during three topsy-turvy decades; Mastodon having bred humid Southern pummeling with prog-ish embellishments across its first few albums. Of late, though, both have settled into a similar pattern, using unusual tools to create rock that is hefty and accessible, intelligent but keying on the simple pleasure of pounding rhythms and driving riffs.

For Mastodon, things aren’t working out so great. While 2011’s The Hunter found middling success by accenting fortified Foo Fighters riffing with subtle melodic detours, Once More sees them juggling opposing impulses, dropping as many leaden balls as they catch. On “Aunt Lisa,” for instance, the band augments its muscular surge with serpentine melodies, ratcheting intensity with utmost precision — but the song unravels after the halfway point, attempting to contrast its rich complexities with a painfully hamfisted refrain: “Hey, ho, let’s fucking go,” adds a chorus of female voices, “Hey, ho, let’s get up and rock ‘n’ roll.”

But unlike Mastodon, CoC have had a couple dozen years to work past such growing pains. On IX, they touch on virtually every sound that has ever graced their catalog, fusing them at oddly pleasing angles to deliver 11 unassuming rock songs that are heavy, catchy and fun as all hell. Mastodon might be the one playing outsized clubs and coveted festival stages — among them a headlining slot at the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, N.C., CoC’s hometown — but it’s the elder group that is truly excelling.

After 32 years spent rewriting hard rock rules in relative obscurity, CoC bassist and singer Mike Dean is content with this lot.

He answers his phone, exiting what he describes as a “concrete bunker.” He’s likely on the same industrial end of Raleigh where the band has commandeered an old recording studio complete with some enviable vintage gear. They reunited four years ago, ending a five-year hiatus. And while they cut 2012’s Corrosion of Conformity out at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 in Los Angeles, they handled IX and an intervening EP in their reclaimed digs. It’s been a busy stretch, with all that recording broken up by frequent tours. Dean, though, is hungry for more.

“It feels good, man,” he says, speaking to CoC’s current pace and the pressure of living up to their past works. “It’s always a challenge. It’s a responsibility. It’s a ‘failure is no option’ kind of endeavor, and I feel good in that. I feel like it gives meaning to the process. The stakes are higher, you know? It makes the pre-show and the post-show activities or lack thereof a little more regimented, just trying to make sure that you can do the same thing tomorrow.”

From the blistering hardcore of 1983’s Eye for an Eye to the vicious thrash crossover of 1985’s Animosity to the righteous riffs of1991’s Blind, the band’s early catalog is as essential as it is influential — a reality that weighs particularly heavy on CoC’s current lineup: Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin are the same trio that played on Animosity and backed Eric Eycke on Eye for an Eye. They are the quintessential Corrosion of Conformity, and, for or the last few years, they’ve sounded like exactly that.

Presented cleanly and simply, their 2012 self-titled effort — then their first album in seven years — found them flitting confidently through their various strengths. “Leeches” is a searing storm of punk-rock aggression, Dean’s bass and Mullin’s drums pushing with an intensity equal to that of their early-’80s salvos. “Your Tomorrow” is a perfectly executed thrash rager, with Weatherman slashing nimbly between his cohorts’ clamor, while songs like “Psychic Vampire” make good on the rippling modern rock the group refined during the ’90s. For this trio, Dean confirms, chemistry has never been a problem.

“To me, it’s pretty much always there,” he offers. “Certainly some of the newer songs can become more refined or something like that. It felt pretty natural, man. It felt pretty easy.”

But as comfortable as CoC seemed, the album actually found them recording outside of their comfort zone. Jetting out to California’s San Fernando Valley, the band were left without much of the equipment they typically play with — including Weatherman’s vintage Mesa Boogie amplifiers, an integral element in his full and twisting sound. Picking out gear from the studio’s in-house stock and cutting tracks in a controlled environment, they were unable to tap into the raw power they display onstage.

“We didn’t have [Woody’s] signature kind of sound at our disposal, and that’s such a big part of it,” Dean explains. “We ended up going for maybe a cleaner sound, rather than the huge, nasty sound that we would normally go for.”

Proving the bassist right, Weatherman’s guitar sounds as good on IX as it ever has, a testament to the new recording environment CoC have afforded themselves. The undulating tones of his driving riffs massage the otherwise brutal “Tarquinius Superbus,” which pushes its heavy metal structure to hardcore extremes. His ability to morph between coarse thrash shredding and burly post-Sabbath grime is the glue that holds “The Nectar”’s punk-to-doom sprawl together.

Mullin and Dean also shine. The rhythms throughout are crisp but creative, Mullin’s intricate progressions leaving just enough room for Dean to add some neat melodic embellishments. And in his second straight go as lead vocalist, the bass specialist sounds fully at ease. On songs like the opening “Brand New Sleep,” he slides from an impish groan to a burly bark, keeping up as the band moves restlessly from dense and bluesy riffing to a blitz of tangling solos — one so gnarly that it might well make Mastodon jealous.

IX finds Corrosion of Conformity in full command of every strength they’ve ever had, shifting between them with gleeful ease — a trend that, if continued, might make this era the band’s best.

“We just rolled with what we had and tried to be in the moment,” Dean says of the new record. “That’s definitely the best course. And that’s the course that does serve the legacy of it.”

”It’s kind of a neat solution to a non-problem,” he adds with a laugh.

 

Corrosion of Conformity heads off on an Australian/New Zealand tour this week, then starts a U.S. trek in mid-August. Dates at their official website.

 

THAT SUMMER FEELING: Thunderegg

Thunderegg

On his new album, the prolific Brooklynite explores loss and love, subjects upon which he is well-versed. Above: Will Georgantas with his friend, singer-songwriter KC Turner. The two kick off a US tour of clubs, java huts and house parties in August.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Since Thunderegg’s first release, Larry, going all the way back to 1994, nearly 20 musicians have taken their turn playing and singing alongside Will Georgantas. At times, the band was just Georgantas and a four-track inside his Brooklyn apartment; between ’94 and 2013, twenty albums appeared under the Thunderegg name, including eight that were initially cassette-only along with several outtakes collections and compilations

For C’mon Thunder, his latest, and a digital only release, he drafted former and current members of Sparklehorse and Ben Folds Five to pull together the 14 tracks that make up this record. The collection of songs covers universal feelings of loss and love, while managing to be both melancholy and optimistic at the same time.

Prepping for an end of summer tour alongside fellow San Francisco musician KC Turner, Georgantas was cool enough to indulge Blurt with a few questions (while somehow connecting the dots between Hall & Oates and Hawkwind).

 

BLURT: So Thunderegg – as a band – has always been kind of fluid. I think I have counted more than a dozen members that have played on your records. Who played with you on C’mon Thunder?

GEORGANTAS: It’s mainly me and Alan Weatherhead in Richmond, with Miguel Urbiztondo and Darren Jessee on drums. Al and Miguel used to be in Sparklehorse’s touring band, and Al and Darren also record and play as Hotel Lights. Darren’s also the drummer for the Ben Folds Five.

You’ve been particularly prolific over the past couple of years. What do you attribute that to? Great inspiration and focus or just making more time to write and record?

Since the beginning I’ve tried to put out an album a year – if you have a day job, you want a steady output or else you might panic and wonder if you’re a musician at all. My mom had been sick from 2007 to 2009, though, and during that time I wasn’t writing a lot of music. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I was focusing more on her and my dad. After she died I got back into it. I don’t know if it was inspiration and focus, or just a backlog. But it came from a good place. My mom dug Thunderegg, and it would’ve made her happy that I was still plugging away.

These songs were recorded in Virginia. Have you relocated there or are you still in San Francisco?

Richmond is great but I’ve never lived there—I was driving down from Brooklyn, where the songs were written. Then I moved to San Francisco while Al, who’s originally from Milwaukee, was mixing it. Then it got mastered in Boston. I’m not totally sure but I think the discs were manufactured in Pennsauken, New Jersey. The storm on the cover is in upstate New York.

Can you talk a little bit about this new record? Is there a theme that ties these songs together or am I looking too much into that?

Most of the songs I’ve written are about relationships, but this time maybe there’s more urgency, more of a sense that time is passing and that it’s getting more important to try to make things stick. I think I was watching things ending, people breaking up and even dying, and I wanted to take a stand for permanence. Even though in some ways I had never quite managed to experience it myself, I wished I could, and a lot of the time songs end up being about what you hope for.

Can you talk for a minute about how the song “Summer Kids” came about?

I’d been living in Brooklyn for fifteen years, but all around me I’d see these kids who’d just moved there, clearly didn’t know anything, and still seemed wiser than me. The summer kids are like this Greek chorus of hipsters. If you’re seeking validation from them, that’s when you’re old. If you don’t worry about it and do your own thing, maybe then there’s hope for you. Maybe you’re cool. Maybe you’ve transcended cool.

Were you listening to anything specific during the period you were writing this record that had any influence on it?

 I was really into “Witchi-tai-to,” this amazing groove by Jim Pepper, a Creek/Kaw saxophone player. Its repetitiveness may have had an influence on “Summer Kids,” along with “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz. I was playing Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall & Oates a lot, too. Plus plenty of Hawkwind. Always plenty of Hawkwind. I remember Al listening to Mickey Newbury, Willie Wright, and sixties Al Stewart and eighties Phil Lynott solo records at the time. And of course Joel Plaskett. Then periodically we’d take a break and watch the video for “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ‘n the Tears. [Bravo! A favorite around here—feel free to read our interview from a couple of years ago with band founder Paul Roberts, then check out the aforementioned video below. –Sniff ‘n Fan Ed.]

You’ve recorded and performed both alone and with a full band. Do you prefer having a complete band behind you or does it just depend on the songs you are writing at the time?

It depends. I’ll always like being the solitary four-tracker. There was a cool period back east when we had a six-piece with pedal steel and trumpet. When I moved to San Francisco I didn’t know anyone and played solo acoustic a lot, and now we have a good four-piece band there. The more flexible your lineup is, the more you can play.

Now that C’mon Thunder is done, what’s next for you?

I’ll be doing a cross-country acoustic tour with a fellow San Francisco singer-songwriter, KC Turner, in August. In September the band is recording a seven-inch at Tiny Telephone. It’ll be cool because it’ll be all analog. Other than that, I’ll be trying to come up with a new batch of songs. I don’t have anything for 2015 yet.

On the web: http://www.thunderegg.org/

 

FAR FUCKING OUT—The Led Zeppelin Reissues & A Concert Memory

Led Zeppelin

Our reviewer gives the once-over to the remastered/expanded deluxe editions of the first three Zep albums, while our editor experiences a non-chemically induced flashback to 1970.

BY RON HART & FRED MILLS

When you get into a band as deeply as I and at least three generations of teens had gotten into Led Zeppelin back in our reckless youngling days, it’s only natural to abandon the records on which you were weaned.

If I wanna rock some Zep these days, I’d be more apt to break out Jimmy Page’s experimental soundtrack to the Kenneth Anger film Lucifer Rising or my copy of the beloved 1977 boot Listen To This, Eddie before any of their nine proper studio albums that I played ad infinitum in my youth (truth be told, I’m currently in the throes of a massive Robert Plant ‘80s solo record kick). So with that said, it has been a long stretch since I last gave Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II or Led Zeppelin III any kind of significant time on my stereo.

Yet, like a coven of long, lost friends who show up at your door with beer, blues and barbiturates in tow, Led Zeppelin’s first three albums, originally released in ’69 and ’70, have returned to remind us of the fun we used to have together in the form of these long-awaited deluxe editions courtesy of Rhino Records. 

Of course, for those who played these albums endlessly the first time around, the gravitation of your re-listening to these youth-worn rock classics might pull toward deeper cuts like Jimmy Page’s Jansch-ian instrumental “Black Mountain Side” off Led Zeppelin, the second album’s hammering closer “Bring It On Home” and III’s ode to English folk icon Roy Harper “Hats Off To (Roy Harper)”, though the hits (“Communication Breakdown”, “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Immigrant Song”) that provided the soundtrack to the teenage years of so many of us raised on AOR radio remain great all the same.

 

Led Zep product shot
However, one key issue with the new remastered/expanded reissues falls in the realm of the bonus material. Not in terms of quality, mind you, as all three albums are accompanied by second discs containing masterfully cleaned up versions of long booted studio outtakes like instrumental versions of such II faves as “Living Loving Maid” and “Thank You,” and a heady medley of the previously unreleased jam “Jennings Farm Blues” and Charlie Segar’s blues standard “Key to the Highway” from III.

But with both of those titles clocking in at a little over 40 minutes apiece, they could have included the studio stuff on the first disc to make room for more like the material included as the companion to the first Zeppelin LP: a boffo live set from the band’s October 10, 1969 show at The Olympia in Paris, France. Comprising the entirety of the deluxe edition’s bonus CD, the concert fills up two bonus LPs if you purchase the vinyl edition of Led Zeppelin. It’s highlighted, in particular, by a mindboggling 15-minute rendition of “Dazed and Confused”. There are plenty of quality soundboards from both periods that could have made handsome additions to these sets, namely the incredible soundboard captures of the group’s April 1969 gig at the Fillmore West and their 1970 show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Or, in the case of III, Page’s supplementary acoustic workouts from the band’s time in that cottage dubbed Bron-Yr-Aur on the beautiful English countryside.

Yet regardless of any fanboy foibles, it really is a long overdue treat to see these first three Zep LPs get the individual reissue treatments they so richly deserve. Indeed it will be quite interesting to see what gets dug out from the vaults for the next wave in this campaign. Coming, presumably in time for the Christmas shopping season: 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV aka Zoso) and 1973’s Houses of the Holy. —RON HART

***

Led Zep Charlotte 4-7-70

On April 7, 1970, not long after I’d turned 15, I went with my best friend to see Led Zeppelin at the Charlotte (NC) Coliseum, which was your basic Sixties-era cantaloupe-shaped venue typically used for basketball, ice hockey and the circus in addition to the occasional concert. At the time, Led Zeppelin II was riding high in the charts—“No. 1 Album In the Country” is how local newspaper ads for the concert billed it, additionally citing LZII songs “Whole Lotta Love” and “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” along with the first album’s “Good Times, Bad Times” as hits for the band.

See them perform a full two hour concert—making their 1st Southern appearance!” read the ads.

Ticket prices were a whopping $4, $5 and $6, or if you wanted to pony up the princely sum of $7 you could score the limited “special VIP front orchestra seats,” which I suppose was the 1970 version of the Gold Circle. If memory serves we had previously purchased tickets (probably the $4 or $5) at the Hi-Fi Camera Center, although it’s possible that we did it via mail order since our hometown was about an hour away. And as neither of us could drive yet, we had to get his mom to drive us to the concert; after dropping us off safely in front of the Coliseum’s main entrance around 7:30 she would go to the nearby Shoney’s restaurant, smoking and drinking coffee and reading magazines for the “full two hour” duration.

This was to be our very first rock concert—busting the proverbial musical cherry. Still, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the evening; to date my exposure to rock culture, hippies, etc. had been mostly limited to accounts in Life or Look magazine (for example, I remember the former had published a special Woodstock edition that I poured over endlessly, staring at the beautiful flower child gals in their colorful peasant blouses and long, daisy-adorned hair). Nor had I turned on yet—that would come later. But I was definitely curious, and had already been soaking in the underground sounds of the day, graduating from pop and soul 45s to full-length albums by the Stones, Steppenwolf, Cream, Hendrix, CSN and of course Led Zeppelin. We lived in a small Southern textile town, but both the five-and-dime store and one of the local pharmacies had small record bins that occasionally yielded the proverbial “acid rock” artifact, so each week after getting my allowance from my parents I’d ride my bike uptown to see if anything new and exotic had come in.

My friend and I had also taken close stock of our situation and determined that, although we felt culturally semi-attuned, we both looked helplessly square. By way of remedy, we decided that since we couldn’t possibly hope to have our hair grow out much past the tops of our ears by the day of the concert, we would take scissors to the ends of our pants legs and our shirtsleeves, thinking that by “shredding” them a few inches or so we would gain the necessary visual panache to fit in among the hirsute, hip, flower power’d masses. I’m guessing that maybe one of us had seen a fringed leather jacket or vest (maybe a photo of Roger Daltrey at Woodstock?) and thought that it might be possible to reproduce that look on checked sports pants and button-down powder blue short sleeved shirts… my face is getting red at the memory… I suppose it was marginally hipper than when another, younger friend of ours went with us to see Steppenwolf and he opted to wear his dad’s big olive green army hat, subsequently drawing numerous, “Hey Smokey the Bear, I can’t see over your head!” catcalls during the show. It came in handy when, due to the extreme heat in the venue, he threw up. But I digress.

I sorta remember the concert, although I think I actually remember more just being in the crowd, absorbing the light show, shouting at each other over the music to look at that, no, look at that! and staring nonstop at the mass of long-haired, dancing beauties and their long-haired, bearded boyfriends and… sniffing the air and slowly glomming on to the fact that it’s not all incense I’m smelling… That night, more than just my musical cherry got busted. It’s no exaggeration to say that I had my mind blown in a major way, viscerally feeling the tug onto a particular cultural path that I would continue to wander down for years to come. Far fucking out.

For the record, here’s what Led Zeppelin played, courtesy the Led Zep setlist site:

We’re Gonna Groove,  Dazed and Confused, Heartbreaker, Bring It On Home, White Summer / Black Mountainside, Since I’ve Been Loving You,  organ solo / Thank You, What Is and What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love.

There would be a number of other Led Zep shows for me in the future. Among them, a June ’72 Charlotte concert during the tour for Zoso and a sold-out Greensboro, NC, appearance in ‘75 that proved particularly memorable, as it basically started in the parking lot around 3pm with the chemically-enhanced crowd of fans, eager to make the most of the festival seating potential, gradually becoming unruly enough to draw the police, in turn sparking a number of confrontations (this all before the concert even started). But the Charlotte ’70 event was where it all began, ultimately igniting my teenage imagination and setting the stage for a life lived in music. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Robert, Jimmy, John and Bonzo. —FRED MILLS

 

 

WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD THE RAMONES?

Ramones

We wanna be sedated: a tribute to da brudders, whose co-founding member Tommy died last week. He followed Joey (2001), Dee Dee (2002) and Johnny (2004).

BY THE BLURT CRÜE

Ed. note: The death of Tommy Ramone (nee Erdelyi) on Friday July 11 left music fans stunned, not just because we’d lost another beloved member of the community, but largely due to the realization that the last living member of the original lineup of the Ramones was gone. No slight to those who came along later: Marky, Richie and CJ; but to paraphrase a certain moldy classic rock song, in a very real sense, it felt like the day the music died, too. With that in mind, I’d like to turn the narrative over to the staff and contributors who offered to weigh in on the rhetorical question posed at the top of this page. Their musings are clearly from the heart, and in more than one instance the grief is palpable. Farewell, Tommy, and here’s hoping that you, Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee are up there bashing away your two-minute heavenly anthems at the CBGB in the sky. —FM

 ***

Forming in Queens in 1974, the Ramones released their self-titled Sire Records debut on April 23, 1976. At the time I was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and following classes one afternoon in late April or early May, I went over to my girlfriend’s apartment. After awhile her roommate’s boyfriend burst in, holding a fresh copy of the album. We put it on, and I am not ashamed to admit that my initial reaction was somewhere in between meh and yeucchh, probably due to the fact that my musical diet for the past several years had largely consisted of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and other haughty British prog acts, and this was simplistic, decidedly lowbrow stuff. At the same time, though, I had been an occasional fan of the Stooges, MC5 and other proto-punk acts, and I also owned a well-worn copy of Nuggets; not to mention Patti Smith’s ’75 debut Horses, which had gobsmacked me (I didn’t really think of it as “punk,” at least not yet). I was also somewhat familiar with the CBGB/Max’s Kansas City scene from reading about it in Rock Scene and New York Rocker as well, and probably Creem and maybe even Rolling Stone, so at least I had a whiff of context in which to place Ramones.

I noted that I’m not embarrassed by my first take on the band: if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years as both a music fan and a rock critic, sometimes the mark of a classic album is that it has to sneak up on you, like a thief aiming to pickpocket or cold-cock you.

Well, what th’ fug. For some reason we listened to the album again, and then again; it lasted, like, less than a half hour? (29:04, according to Wikipedia. —Fact-check Ed.)So certain nuances began to reveal themselves over repeated spins. Elements of surf and garage were detected, maybe even a little British Invasion-derived jangle pop, albeit sped up to 78rpm, along with some of the aforementioned Motor City hard rock and leather-jacketed ‘tude, and possibly even some glam, given Tommy’s wham-bam-thank-YOU-ma’am style of drumming and the inclusion of big-ass guitar hooks in the arrangements. There was also a distinct wall-of-sound vibe to the production, like Phil Spector on an extreme budget ($6,400 to be exact. —Accounting Ed.), and a Mad Magazine-worthy satiricalthrust to some of the lyrics, which Joey sang in an impossibly thick Bronx-ian accent, like some Joisey wise guy on amphetamines. No group that I’d ever heard played and sung like this; that well-outside-the-mainstream edge definitely appealed to my collector-elitist, secret-handshake side. Imagine that: the Ramones were a band for musical elitists, albeit the sort who favored teeshirts and torn-knee Levis over flannels, tie-dyes and bellbottoms.

Within a couple of days I would own a copy of the album, and I would also be fortunate enough to see the band several times over the years. The Ramones and their spawn would inspire me to dive headlong into punk and new wave, even getting into writing for and publishing punk fanzines in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The rest is history, so in a sense, now you know who to blame.

Thanks, guys. Now I wanna go sniff some glue. Wait, make that Carbona… —FRED MILLS

***

One of the first times –  maybe the first time – that I ever stepped foot in CBGB’s, The Ramones was playing  (don’t know the date, though I feel as if it was after David Bowie’s Nassau Coliseum show). It wasn’t on purpose, but everything about the Ramones seemed like an accident… at first. I had an early promo of the first Sire album and that whole affair sounded thin, even a bit ridiculous (Joey’s dumb monotone voice against the singular thwack of Tommy’s drums, in particular).

Still, above all that, The Ramones was brutally blunt – a frank fact made all the more clear upon seeing them live in a grimy club setting. There, set against Johnny’s clean grouchy guitar crunch, Joey’s voice and Tommy’s rhythmic pulse was utterly awesome and not all dopey. Theirs was a loud, proud vibe that never left them (or me, I suppose) during the possibly 100 subsequent gigs I caught of theirs after that first date.

When I woke up and the first thing I would read that morning was that Tommy had died, I was genuinely sad that each of the original Ramones had gone, with none left to tell the true tale of misfit sedation. —A.D. AMOROSI

***

The Ramones made me leave home—often: I was one of the lucky ones when it came to the Ramones. I’d been reading about ’em in the New York Rocker newspaper and was right there for their first west coast appearance at San Fran’s Savoy Tivoli in August of 1976 when their first LP appeared. Never heard of the joint, before or since, and it couldn’t have held more than 50 people.  My buddy Tony Guerrero and I had a good laugh when the guy in line in front of us referred to them as “the Ramon-ies.” But we really didn’t know for sure. Maybe they were “the Ramon-ies.”

They played every tune on the first album in a plaster-cracking set that couldn’t have lasted more that 30 minutes, and we staggered out into the street afterwards as though we’d gone 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. Along with meeting my wife, having a baby, and a few other events, it was truly a life-changing experience.

Saw the boys 12 more times through 1988, including once in early ’77 at a tiny club in Campbell, Calif. called the Bodega, capacity around 45. They did an in-store that afternoon at a San Jose record shop where they gave away copies of Ramones Leave Home they’d just signed in ballpoint pen. I took my daughter, then about ten years old, to meet ’em, and introduced her as “the brat” to Joey, even then easily IDed as the most approachable. Interviewed Tommy for Magnet magazine some 30 years later. Most congenial and the perfect drummer for the band (and I told him so). I loved those guys every bit as much as I ever loved the Beatles, Kinks, Byrds or Beach Boys. Long my they wave. —JUD COST

The first time I heard the Ramones was on a live cassette I bought through the classifieds of some music mag (possibly New York Rocker). I didn’t get it. Gimme gimme Television and Patti Smith, not shock treatment.
But the first time I saw the Ramones, it all clicked. The band came to D.C. to play the Childe Harold, a sit-down music venue that didn’t quite know what punk was. (Bruce Springsteen made his local debut there, and Emmylou Harris performed there regularly before she became a national act.)
The Ramones were great. Precise but playful, deadpan but silly, raw and rocking yet with a whiff of performance art. (The way Dee Dee and Johnny stopped the music to remove their leather jackets in tandem was a modern dance.) The band played three sets a night — maybe 25 minutes each — for three nights. The place was full every time, although some of the listeners were more amused than persuaded.
I also interviewed the band — and got to meet Danny Fields! — and learned that Tommy — R.I.P. — was The Articulate One.
The week after the Ramones played, I was told, the Childe Harold fired the agent who had booked them. —MARK JENKINS

***

Where was I when I first heard The Ramones? Honestly, I have no idea. I graduated high school in 1982 so it was definitely before then. I remember some freaky kid in high school, named Scott, playing them on a boom box in the lunch room once. It sounded different that what I was listening to at the time (The Doors, Zeppelin, etc.) but I liked the energy and it seemed, well happy. I do remember the first songs that stuck out in my mind were “Teenage Lobotomy” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

Fast forward one year to the Summer of 1983. I was working a job as a busboy in a casino in Atlantic City, NJ when a pal of my and fellow busser Geno asked me if I wanted to go see The Ramones and the B-52’s at the Philadelphia Zoo (7/29/83…thank you internet for helping me to remember the exact date). Hell yes I wanted to go! It was great, it was incredible, it was…well hell, I didn’t want it to end. The Ramones, in their ripped jeans, leather and t-shirt looked like hoods, thugs, guys I wanted to be like, but wasn’t.

I saw da’ bruddas a handful more times after that (probably 5 or 6 , usually at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ) and those gigs were all special but not as special as that first gig at the zoo. That was somethin’. Can’t believe they’re all gone now. R.I.P.,Tommy. —TIM HINELY

***

Being born in 1981, I basically missed the Ramones. My earliest memory of them is knowing “I Wanna Be Sedated” from the radio, the way you just know certain songs as a kid. I strongly recall impatience that the ba ba ba-ba section never came soon enough, and I had to sit through SO many verses to get to it. Now the idea of being impatient with a Ramones song, all those 2-minute fits of confection, is ridiculous, but I was kind of a pain in the ass kid.

The first time I became aware of Tommy as an individual “Ramone” was from the back of Tim (the Replacements album he produced). I couldn’t pronounce his given surname (still can’t, no matter how hard NPR has tried to teach me today), and my brother had to explain to me that he was Tommy Ramone. —ZACH BLOOM

***

Even in the cultural backwater that was Nashville in the 1970s, we’d heard of the Ramones, so we were excited that they’d booked a show in the Music City. Sadly, though, the promoter had scheduled the show at the Municipal Auditorium (10,000 capacity) and sold only 500 tickets, subsequently cancelling the show. No matter, ‘cause the band’s label slotted them into the infamous Exit/In club as an opener for singer/songwriter Marshall Chapman and her band, who were playing an industry showcase for her first Epic Records album.

The audience had no idea what hit them when hurricane Ramones took the stage, ripping through nearly 20 songs in 30 minutes. Their fast ‘n’ furious set prompted Chapman and band to play louder and faster, and the Ramones upped the arms race by playing an unbelievable second set. Chapman closed out with what was probably the heaviest performance of her career, and by the time our Take One magazine crew hit the street, we were dancing with the parking meters.

It was my first – but not last – taste of the Ramones, and although I’d see them several more times with various band line-ups, they were never as good as they were that night. —REV. KEITH A. GORDON

***

In my early teen years, I was an unapologetic, devoted metalhead. By the time I was 17, metal had lost my interest, lost the jolt it had once given me, and I needed something to focus my music-loving mind on. Like so many other people that grew up in the pre-internet, get-everything-right-now-in-a-nanosecond world, I discovered punk rock and The Ramones, in particular, the old fashioned way: a stoner friend of mine gave me a dubbed TDK cassette of The Ramones’ world-shattering debut. This dude had everything in his collection; if you wanted good tunes, Jay was your man.

It’s clichéd and corny to say but once I pushed play on my Walkman, my life was changed forever. “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Beat on the Brat,” “I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” and “53rd and 3rd” blew away my ever-loving mind. The Ramones approach to music: taking simplicity, aggressiveness, a love of The Shangri-Las and adding weapons grade amphetamines, changed the way I saw music and the world. Thanks to my stoner friend Jay and Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy and Johnny for pointing me in the right direction. I am eternally in your debt. Rest in Peace, Tommy. —DANNY R. PHILLIPS

I don’t remember the first time I heard the Ramones—probably by working backwards from being a teenaged Blondie and Talking Heads fan—but I do remember the first time I saw them: In late 1979, they came to Dickinson College in central Pennsylvania where I was a sophomore college radio DJ, and thrilled. The venue was totally inappropriate: a staid auditorium with a high stage and no atmosphere, and most of the liberal arts kids were there as curiosity-seekers. But the show was great: a rush of eighth-note guitar chords and black leather, with Joey leaning over the crowd joyfully singing about Sheena and sniffin’ glue and wanting to be sedated. The venue mattered not, and maybe it was simply a pro forma Ramones show, but I loved it.

After the show, the band hung around for a little bit with some of the students, and Johnny tried to convince one of them to trade shirts: he offered his Ramones-insignia T-shirt for one of the simple silk-screened ones the student promotion staff had made. I wish he’d asked me: I still have my threadbare college Ramones T, but I’d rather have Johnny’s. —STEVE KLINGE

***

I’d read about the Ramones in the Village Voice.  I ordered several copies for the record shop sound unheard. An ABC rep dropped off the promo, this was before Sire went to Warners. The cover struck me the same way Meet the Beatles had – high contrast, stark, striking. We threw it on the turntable within moments of receiving the record. Yikes, what an unlikely mixture of stuff, all stuff I dug – Beatles, Beach Boys, Stooges, Dictators, Troggs, Black Sabbath, God knows what else. When the music streamed from the speakers young girls danced. True story. Do you need to know more?

I had a band called Thumbs. We started a record label, later a recording studio. Both were named Ramona. Ours was a catholic, hot mess vision of rock ‘n’ roll that embraced Bob Dylan and the Ramones. We wanted a name that reflected that. The name just tripped off my tongue. And stuck.
I saw the Ramones for the first time in January of ’78, the same month I saw the Sex Pistols. I knew the game had changed. And I was damned excited to be on board.  —STEVE WILSON

***

The first time I heard The Ramones was during my freshman year of college. When my roommate first played them for me, I dismissed them immediately. I can still remember the two of us arguing about them when he suddenly said, “Listen to the words!” I did, heard Joey Ramone singing “Beat on the brat with a baseball bat,” and started laughing hysterically in spite of myself.

Fast forward to last summer. An old friend of my cousin’s hired me to write a short piece on the Ramones song “Rockaway Beach” for The Daily News. Seth, my cousin’s friend, is the executive director of Queens Economic Development and he was working with the News on a campaign to revive the Rockaway section of the borough after it was devastated by Superstorm Sandy. I was happy to write the piece but I only had a few days to turn it around. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could get a quote from Tommy Ramone, the original drummer and the one surviving member of the band?? I contacted publicist Ida Langsam who gave me Tommy’s email address… and then I waited. It came down to the wire but Tommy got back to me with a great, concise quote right before the piece was due. He seemed like a class act. —DAVE STEINFELD

***

I gotta admit, I was never much of a Ramones fan early on. In my view, they were too scruffy, too goofy, and way less charismatic than expected my rock stars to be. They were ugly and tattered, with no gift of eloquence and a sound that didn’t seem to boast any special innovation or significance. To me, it sounded liked basic rock ‘n’ roll regurgitation, a rehash of themes that were mostly mundane, nowhere as good as those bands that boasted more craft and creativity.

I actually got to meet them once, at an in-store at Miami’s late, much lamented Yesterday & Today Records, but the close encounter didn’t do anything to bolster my estimations. Sitting behind a table, drearily signing autographs, they seemed slovenly and bored.  If there was any spark, any apparent connection, it wholly escaped me.

In retrospect I’ve come to appreciate the Ramones a lot more. The music still sounds daft and primitive, but now I see that spirit of abandon, of not giving a shit recklessness and rebellion that is, after all, essential to a true rock attitude. It’s that same spirit of insurgence and indulgence that was borne by Jerry Lee, by Keiths Richards and Moon, in Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Kurt Cobain and all the others who professed allegiance to a muse but little more than that. The fact that death has decimated the Ramones’ ranks bolsters my newfound fondness for them I suppose — a tragic passing has away of inspiring a certain amount of sentiment after all — but it is sad that a band that was so mocked, so abused and once so vilified, isn’t be around to enjoy the posthumous kudos from those who came lately, like me, and are now belatedly finding that praise so fit to share.

Ramones… rock on… —LEE ZIMMERMAN

***

I was living in Clearwater, Fla., in 1977-1978 working for a now-defunct daily and not fully aware of just how much resistance there was to punk among people who loved rock (especially Southern rock) and felt threatened by a music they thought was sneering at their values (and maybe it was). I didn’t sense anything dangerous about the Ramones, unlike maybe Johnny Rotten — “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” and “Rockaway Beach” sounded catchy and good-humored, maybe a goof, and I was always up for a revival of “California Sun.”

Anyway, one night in 1978 after work a bunch of us were watching TV — I think it was Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert — and the Ramones came on. I thought everyone would at least be interested. But one guy got up and turned the station, saying “I hate that shit.” The others agreed. I felt like I was in prison and the biggest thug had commandeered the community TV. From then on I felt different about the Ramones: fun, yes, but they also were a symbol against intolerant, close-minded musical tastes. —STEVEN ROSEN

***

I was two years behind the curve, and fixated on the music of Barry Manilow and Jefferson Starship. (Your guess is as good as mine). I guess I read about punk rock in Rolling Stone, and it sounded interesting enough to investigate. But it was 1978, how did one do that?

I don’t remember how I discovered KWUR, a little ten-watt college radio station that played the bands whose names I was seeing. Here were the Sex Pistols, 999, the Flamin’ Groovies, and the Ramones. I don’t remember which songs I heard, but yeah, that was something different. I remember trying to understand what it meant to have a song about beating on the brat with a baseball bat. And I had to get in on that.

Tommy Ramone was out of the band by the time I first saw them live. Thanks to a press contact, I was able to interview the Ramones before their 1979 concert the week after I turned 21. With no other option to publish it, my friend and I started a fanzine, Jet Lag. Without the Ramones, I would never have figured out I could write about music. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy, thanks for teaching me life was bolder than I had ever dreamed. —STEVE PICK

Ramones logo

Postscript: Longtime Perfect Sound Forever contributor Robin Cook interviewed Tommy in 2006 during SXSW, where he was performing with his bluegrass duo Uncle Monk. You definitely need to see it—go HERE at YouTube.

DOWN IN THE FLOOD: Memphis Minnie

MEMPHIS MINNIE 2

An updated and revised edition of the iconic blueswoman’s biography gets to the heart of the hoodoo, and then some.

BY DENISE SULLIVAN

In what is perhaps the best-known story of a blues woman as legend, Big Bill Broonzy tells of the “cutting” contest he lost to Memphis Minnie following her 20-minute performance of “Me and My Chauffeur Blues.” So carried away was she with the jam, Minnie was carted offstage by the judges who were said to be bluesmen Tampa Red, Muddy Waters and most unlikely, Mississippi John Hurt. Meanwhile, as Minnie was catching her breath, Big Bill was making off with the two bottles of hooch earmarked to be taken home by the grand prize winner.

“…She can make a guitar speak words, she can make a guitar cry, moan, talk, and whistle the blues,” Broonzy wrote in his memoir. Man enough to admit he’d been whupped by a gal, the story behind their supposed tussle in 1930s Chicago has, over time, been revealed to be a conflation of repeated guitar stand-offs between Broonzy, other bluesmen, and Minnie who was known to routinely trounce all-comers throughout the South and Midwest with the antics on her ax. While Broonzy would go on to be remembered as the musician who brought the blues to England and influenced an entire generation of rock’n’roll guitarists, Minnie’s legacy is less tangible and entrenched. For reasons not entirely clear and despite repeat testimonials from Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams, Minnie’s only had a few, cheapo boxed sets and a recent tribute compiled; there have been no lovely vinyl reissues, collector’s editions, or special treatments given to her recorded legacy.

Memphis Minnie book

As for what we know of her history, most all of it comes down to Paul and Beth Garon’s 1992 volume, Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues, available once again in an updated and revised edition with a forward by Jim O’Neal (City Lights, 2014). Twenty-two years after its initial publication, the most profound details of Minnie’s story still reveal a hard travelin’ blues woman—singing and performing her ribald, daring, and well-honed songs in the early part of the 20th Century—as a player who has yet to be honored and enshrined in equal measure to her accomplishments.

A certain amount of projection, imagination, and accounting for what the Garons call “the listener’s own obsessions” aid in an understanding of Minnie’s blues, alternately concerned with cooking, hoodoo, love, sex and the natural environment. A least that’s what I hear when she sings “I’m Gonna Bake My Biscuits,” “Black Cat Blues,” and “When the Levee Breaks.” When Minnie sings, most of her lines go at least two or three ways, which in itself is not the revolutionary part; that she was a woman, saying and doing the things that she was in her time, contributes to the possibility she was also the greatest songster of them all, and yet, she remains the proverbial secret hiding in plain sight. Broonzy said as much in his 1955 book, and since then, the songs have supported the fact she’s a giant—just ask the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Chuck Berry who used them as springboards for their own. Is it possible that Minnie was so good—the world’s deepest blues player, conjurer, show person and poet—her story is believable only if it’s portrayed as myth?

Minnie’s way with words is largely the focus of the Garons’ study, a combination of interpretation and inquiry into Minnie’s blues and the deep subconscious well from which she drew inspiration. Crafting lines with far more layers of meaning than the kind of poetry which generally receives laurels, the authors emphasize Minnie’s contributions to blues form have barely begun to be unpacked. The Garons’ surrealist portrait of Minnie is a unique work of scholarship and an essential text toward understanding not only Minnie’s world and work, but the blues itself. Quoting her lyrics and others in blues tradition, the authors consistently and convincingly deliver the idea that a blues narrative is often less critical to interpretation than its lines and metaphors. Pieces of the dream are absorbed in a flash, by design, assimilated “on the fly, while dancing and drinking. Thus, there may be an analogy of how we listen to the blues and how surrealist poets listen to the unconscious.”

A captivating performer—agile, fast, and showy—Minnie was not only an accomplished guitarist but a songwriting original with verses double and triple-loaded with richness. She covered it all, though an area that Minnie mined singularly and deeply was the kitchen: Like the bluesmen’s perpetual and enduring references to liquor as poison, potion and magic elixir, Minnie used food as a way to sing of longing, desire and consummation but also of autonomy, liberation and ultimately transformation. (In addition to her ability to wipe the floor with her guitar competitors, Minnie was also known for her home cooking, especially her biscuits).

Automobiles and trains, allusions to the great outdoors, and the open road also serve as symbols of freedom in her songs, an ideal that still largely lived in the abstract for a rural black woman—and most all women—of Minnie’s generation. And though she might have done sung on the drudgery of domestic work, more often she chose not to: All these sides of Minnie, and what may also be perceived as her contradictions are explored throughout Woman With Guitar.

And you can’t tell me nothing, baby, that I never seen (2x)

And if you don’t believe me, follow me back to New Orleans

Among the new discoveries in this fresh edition of Woman With Guitar: Minnie, born Lizzie Douglas, was not from Algiers, Louisiana as was previously believed; rather, she is a Mississippian, like so many other legends of the blues, likely born in Tunica County around 1897. The eldest of 13, Lizzie or “Kid” as she was known, began to play guitar and banjo from age 10 or 11. She ran away from home to begin her career as a teenaged guitarist on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, and joined the Ringling Brothers Circus for a few years. Returning to Beale Street, she fell in with friends in the Memphis Jug Band and was eventually discovered and signed to a Columbia recording contract in 1929. Her first sides, cut with “Kansas” Joe McCoy, were released that year and in 1930: Among the early songs, which remain her best-known were “Bumble Bee” and “When the Levee Breaks,” concerning the great Mississippi flood of 1927 (famously covered by Led Zeppelin).

Wild associations, side roads, and back doors are the Garons’ stock-in-trade, infusing their studies with an edge that the work by other scholars of classic American music forms often lacks; and yet, Woman With Guitar is no easy ride for casual readers who may need to delve deeper into America’s blues past to perceive the big picture.

When LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) described the makers of indigenous African American music as Blues People, he explored the idea that as musical innovators jazz and blues players could look misery in the face while never allowing despair or suffering the last word; music was their soul expression, a place where joy, pain, and liberation occupied the same truly free space, no matter one’s circumstances. Scholar Cornel West has furthered this idea in his ongoing dialogues suggesting, “These people are neither sentimental [nor] cynical; they’re blues people.” Blues people are willing to fight for what’s right and to be of service, “even when it did not look as if it would produce major consequences and effects.”

It’s unlikely Memphis Minnie was conscious of what she had to give or the ground she was breaking or taking—she was merely trying to survive America, the South, and escape her oppressors. Using her poetic and musical gifts, her expressions were samples of the life sustaining properties of song and the unconscious messages emitted when a poet puts pen to paper and gives voice to her soul. Given her circumstances, it’s miraculous that Minnie could read and write at all (any number of her contemporaries could not).

Paul Garon’s City Lights title, Blues and the Poetic Spirit, further defends the blues as a complex form, piled with as much meaning as so-called standard poetry has, if not more. Making the case that the blues is a “sustained poetic attack on the superstructure of an exploitative society,” he asserts the blues has made its own “psychopoetic” contribution to American music and social history. The same must be said for Minnie. Whether or not she is acknowledged by the masses, or the blueskeepers and tastemakers who reissue records is irrelevant.

“We have everything to gain if we interrogate our own level of consciousness about what we hear and how we hear it, in an effort to plumb the depths of responsibility toward the determination of the nature of the revolutionary poetic voice,” write the Garons. An offering to anyone interested in better understanding the blues and aiding in its survival, the Garons’ work has certainly made a difference in my own explorations, listenings and writings on blues. While there are no pat stories or explanations and few solutions to age old dilemmas on offer, Minnie’s story as a consummate artist against the odds will resonate with anyone who finds him or herself up against it in the here and now. Let Minnie’s life and work be a reminder that it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it that’s important.  May she continue to inspire and inform listeners for another 100 years or more.

Below: Memphis Minnie as lovingly rendered by artist R. Crumb, from his Heroes of the Blues trading cards.

memphis-minnie-crumb

 

 

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, BASEBALL & BEER: The Baseball Project

bb

The indie supergroup hits the road this week for a national tour, including a stop at BLURT ground zero. Batter up!

BY THE BLURT CRÜE

The Baseball Project was formed in 2007 by Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5, R.E.M.) and Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3). The endeavor began as a way for a couple of fans with a shared musical vision to pay tribute to our national pastime. They had talked in the past about collaboration, and apparently they decided to move forward with the project after they ran into each in New York.

“It finally took flight at the R.E.M. pre-Hall of Fame induction party,” Wynn remembers. “Everyone was happy. The wine was flowing, the food was incredible and spring training had just started. Scott and I talked baseball until most of the party guests had cleared out. And we actually remembered it the next day.”

Since then, The Baseball Project has evolved into a “proper” band that tours and records and features Zuzu’s Petals/Steve Wynn drummer Linda Pitmon and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Mike Mills, plus (when available) Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor.

BBP 2

The group’s first effort was 2008’s Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails (Yep Roc), and if you think a three-bagger sounds kind of kinky and wouldn’t be able to pick Daryl Strawberry out of a lineup, you probably couldn’t have written the lyrics to “Ted Fucking Williams” or “Jackie’s Lament.” But you could still get caught up in the magic of this ‘60s-flaovred tribute to a dying pastime by a group of left-field musical all stars. And you’ll know more about the game before they’re through.

In “Harvey Haddix,” for instance, you’ll learn that on May 26, 1959, in Milwaukee, Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitched a perfect game for 12 straight innings but his teammates couldn’t score, depriving Haddix of his rightful place in the history books as one of 18 men who’ve thrown a perfect game. And then, there’s “Broken Man,” the album’s most infectious song — a touching, sympathetic look at Mark McGwire’s date with infamy, in which McCaughey points out how “no one seemed to care when it brought back the fans.” But before digging deep in the history of everyone from Satchel Paige to Big Ed Delehanty, a wistful tribute to the game called “Past Time” sets the stage, guitars chiming away as McCaughey runs down a laundry list of baseball memories, including Oscar Gamble’s afro, before giving voice to the question no fan wants to ask: “Are you past your prime?”

In a perfect world, this unassuming treasure of an album would bring back the fans the way McGwire’s little homerun derby did – both to the ballpark and the record stores. The musicians’ various projects, of course, kept ‘em busy, but in 2009 they did release the Homerun EP then in 2010 found time to go into the studio to record a full-length followup, Volume 2: High and Inside, featuring a host of guests such as Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and the Decemberists’ Chris Funk.

Baseball and pop music have always been well-suited for each other – both are all about getting hits – and there have been some classic baseball-themed rock tunes, like Earth Opera’s “The Red Sox Are Winning” and Todd Snider’s “America’s Favorite Pastime.” For Volume 2 the band has brought a sustained literary quality – a Boys of Summer-infused glow, by turns celebratory and melancholy with touches of wry humor – to the subject. A few songs are too prosaic or nostalgic, but many are specific, concise, tightly rockin’ tales with a bittersweet dimension, like Wynn’s “1976,” an elegiac remembrance of the late goofball pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych that also serves as a tribute to punk. McCaughey’s tragic and imaginatively rhymed “Buckner’s Bolero,” which has production touches reminiscent of Jan & Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve,” is another diamond-in-the-rough. The aforementioned Hold Steady frontman also guests on a tribute to Minnesota Twins fans called “Don’t Call Them Twinkies.” Baseball Project has another winning record.

Then 2012 saw the release of a timely video, “Why Melky Why.” A tribute to ‘roided up Giants slugger Melky Cabrera titled “Why Melky Why?” we were certain it must be a reworked version of the old country foot-stomper made famous by George Jones and scores more, “Why Baby Why.” It was a McCaughey original, though – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Why Melky Why? by The Baseball Project

Then this year came 3rd, the smartly titled third BBP album, which picks up where its predecessors left off, singing the praises of heroes, wannabes, almosts and also-rans with equal enthusiasm, additionally dipping its resin-stained fingers into baseball’s sprawling culture, from fans’ obsession with statistics (the blazing garage-rock anthem opening track is titled, fittingly, “Stats”) to the fading art of collecting and trading baseball cards (the banjo-fueled, countryish “The Baseball Card Song” tells the fanciful story of one young aficionado’s experience, and it’s hard not to imagine it being a long-lost Jim Stafford tune).

BB Project CD 3

Clearly, the topic provides plenty of songwriting fodder for the musicians. For example, fuzztone’d thumper “The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads” details the true story of how surly pitcher Dock Ellis, legendary for his claim that he was on LSD while pitching a no-hitter in 1970, decided to “go mental” on the mound. Meanwhile, “The Babe” pays tribute to you-know-who (“he was a giant among men” affirms the solemn chorus, over a stately piano ballad arrangement); glammy, T.Rex/Stones-styled rocker “They Are the Oakland A’s” similarly celebrates the life and times of the Moneyball men; and “A Boy Named Cy” fetes the legendary pitcher Cy Young and manages to work in a smart nod to the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue.”

There’s also “Monument Park” (live in-studio performance, below). It was inspired by the career of the New York Yankees’ Bernie Williams, who was overshadowed by the legendary Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio but was still ranked as the third best center fielder in team history.

And don’t miss the outrageous, harmonica-powered “They Played Baseball,” which ticks off some of the sport’s more, ahem, colorful characters—among them, “racist” Cap Anson, “dumbass” John Rocker, “filed with bile” Ty Cobb, Leo “The Lip” Durocher, A-Rod who apparently “thinks he’s a centaur,” plus sundry faces of the steroid/doping era, including Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Ryan Braun—to conclude that no matter their idiosyncrasies, character flaws or transgressions, we still love and idolize ‘em “because they played baseball,” period. Ain’t it the truth.

The album wraps up with a rousing reprise of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” but as it turns out that’s just the warm-up because…

BBP 6

Starting this week the group heads out on tour, bringing their musical base-stealing to sundry clubs and stadiums, including an appearance at the Durham Bulls ballpark Saturday, July 12 as part of the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game Fan Fest & Block Party. That is followed by a Raleigh show Sunday, July 13, a free concert at the Lincoln Theater for the 40th anniversary celebration of BLURT’s sister business Schoolkids Records. Also on the bill: Drivin ‘N Cryin, Six String Drag, Hank Sinatra and the DeBonzo Brothers.

McCaughey emailed a merry missive to the punters on July 4, writing, “Happy Independence Day, all ye!  I hope the barbecue’s are a’blazin’ and your dogs and cats aren’t too freaked out by the reign of noisy terror this holiday provides. Next week we embark on an intrepid five-weeks-in-a-van sojourn across the amber waves of grain, and the fruited plains, and the hills and hollers.  Hopefully we’ll be stopping in somewhere near you, to make your (re-)acquaintance.  Steve, Linda, Mike, and I will have lots of friends popping up with us, like the Minus 5 (at various times including Mike Giblin, Joe Adragna, Peter Buck, and the Professor and Mary Anne), the Split Squad (with Clem Burke, Keith Streng and Eddie Munoz), and Fenway organist Josh Kantor will play in all the above bands whenever the Red Sox are on the road and he can join us.  And for those of you on the west coast, look for us in early September. Yep.”

Rock ‘n’ roll, baseball and beer: was there ever a more fitting alliance? Only in America. The only thing missing is an official Baseball Project mascot. Volunteers?

The photo at the top of the page by Mary Winzig, courtesy the band’s Facebook page. The one immediately below is lovingly lifted from Caught In The Carousel because it’s so perfect. AT CITC you can read a killer interview conducted by Paul Gleason with Steve Wynn in which they talk nothin’ but baseball. Meanwhile, this BLURT story includes review text originally drafted for us by Steven “Satchel” Rosen, Fred “Fireball” Mills and A. “Anabolic” Watt.

BBP 5

 Incidentally, check the Baseball Project’s official website for a full tour itinerary. Dates also listed below.

 Fri Jul 11 : The Earl, East Atlanta, GA, US

Sat Jul 12 : Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC, US

Sun Jul 13: Lincoln Theater, Raleigh NC, US (Schoolkids Records 40th Anniversary)

Thu Jul 17: The Hamilton, Washington, DC, US

Fri Jul 18: Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, Rehoboth Beach, DE, US

Sat Jul 19: Live at Drew’s, Ringwood, NJ, US

Sun Jul 20: Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, NY, US

Tue Jul 22: Hygienic Art Park, New London, CT, US

Wed Jul 23: Club Helsinki Hudson, Hudson, NY, US

Thu Jul 24: Martin Luther King Jr. Park at Manhattan Square, Rochester, NY, US

Sat Jul 26: Stage on Herr, Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center, Harrisburg, PA, US

Sun Jul 27: Garcia’s at the Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY, US

Mon Jul 28: World Café Live, Philadelphia, PA, US

Tue Jul 29: The Press Room, Portsmouth, NH, US

Wed Jul 30: Great Scott, Allston, MA, US

Fri Aug 01: Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY, US

Sat Aug 02: Rough Trade NYC, Brooklyn, NY, US

Sun Aug 03: Asbury Lanes, Asbury Park, NJ, US

Wed Aug 06: Duck Room, Blueberry Hill, St Louis, MO, US

Thu Aug 07: Abbey Pub, Chicago, IL, US

Mon Aug 11: Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN, US