Monthly Archives: July 2016

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: Sonny Rollins

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Presenting installment #4 of the Blurt Jazz Desk—go HERE to access the previous editions. For this installment, our Jazz Editor sat down with sax legend Sonny Rollins for a lengthy, career-spanning conversation.

BY BILL KOPP

Among jazz fans, Sonny Rollins needs no introduction. For everyone else, here’s a quick thumbnail bio. Born in New York City in 1930, Rollins began his career as a tenor jazz saxophonist in the 1940s. A contemporary of many jazz greats including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk—all of with whom he worked and recorded—Sonny Rollins is considered one of the most important instrumentalists in jazz. He has released more than 60 albums under his own name, and is a sideman/collaborator on countless classic jazz recordings. Though health problems currently preclude his playing, the now 85-year-old Rollins has embarked on a series of archival releases, a series of CDs under the Road Shows banner. For our BLURT Jazz Desk feature, Rollins discussed his career, philosophy, the music industry, and much more.

BLURT: Holding the Stage is the fourth in your series of Road Shows CDs. Have you been recording all of your shows for decades now? [Go HERE to see details of Holding the Stage, including a video trailer.]

SONNY ROLLINS: I have not. But I am amazed that other people have been recording many of my shows; I find out about them later. Other people have been surreptitious.

So are these Road Shows recordings ones that you made, or are they ones that you have collected from other people that made the recordings?

Some of them are [from] collectors; one who was credited on the album. And some I made myself.

One of the things that is remarkable to me listening to Holding the Stage is the way that it flows. It really does feel like an entire concert, a single concert, even though clearly it is not. Do you have plans to release more albums in this series?

(Laughs) Well, I don’t know. I really don’t know at this point. I had intended to record a studio album, but I had a few little health issues that prevented me from doing that. In order to fulfill a contract, I did another Road Shows [release]. But will I do any more in the future? I don’t know; I cannot answer that.

The medley that closes Holding the Stage represents the previously-unheard part of your 2001 Berkeley concert. Some of the reviews I read call the recording of that show among the finest work you have ever done. As I understand it, that set was informed by your firsthand experience of living in Manhattan when the Towers came down. Would you say that the emotional backdrop or context for your performances and recordings is important to the music that you make?

In that case it was. I mean, it definitely did. I had just experienced that, and everyone had experienced that. I was closer to it and had to be evacuated. But most of the guys were living in New York, so we all went through that whole deal. So that was definitely very important to that particular record.

But in general, you know, Charlie Parker used to say that when he played in a concert he was expressing what he lived through that day. And that’s sort of the way it really is. It’s all coming together through our music; everything that happens to us that day, and really everything that happens to us in our life is what we are playing. When you get to the level of being an improviser and a musician on that level, then you are really expressing your whole life. Everything that happens to you comes out through your music, and that’s what you are playing. The so-called good, the so-called bad, the love affairs, anything. Your whole life comes out through your music.

In that particular case, of course, that was a very horrific event, and I happened to be right there at the time it happened. So I was particularly shaken. But everyone was shaken: the audience was shaken, the band was shaken. It was some experience. So maybe that came out; I am sure that must have expressed itself somehow in the performance that we did.

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The Holding the Stage press kit makes mention of the virtue of you having taken control of your musical output. Lack of control over one’s catalog is certainly a common theme among musicians in most every genre. The unfairness of that seems to have been visited disproportionately upon artists of color. Especially for music from the ’50s and ’60s, there are countless stories of artists recording their material and then having no control over what happens with it after that. How important has it been to you to be able to exercise control over your releases?

Well, it’s really something which is endemic in the society. It dates back to slavery, really. And in this music business, everyone is a slave: white and black are a slave to the industry. But of course black people are more prone to get taken advantage of. In my case – and in many cases – they tell you how many records you’ve sold, and you have to agree with them. Some people have been really ripped off in music.

One kid I used to be with, Joe Glaser, a very famous entrepreneur, used to be Louis Armstrong’s management. I was with his agency one time when I first left the Max Roach band, and I was working there with one of his agents. I had actually caught them ripping me off with a deal, and one of his agents was a very honest guy. He told me, “You know, Sonny, I have been in the boxing business and I have been in the music business, and the music business is worse than the boxing business.”

That’s pretty heavy stuff. I knew the music business was crooked, but I did not realize it was that crooked. So that’s the way it’s been: guys get ripped off. Even today – and, y’know, I am not Prince or Jay Z or somebody that sells these huge amounts of records – but even so, I realize. I have my company now, Doxy Records, but I still have to go to the big distributors to sell my records. So in a sense, I don’t really have control of my own product, because it still has to be distributed.

Now, in the future there may be ways to have more control of your own product with all of the new technology that’s coming up, streaming and all of this stuff. But somehow I doubt that I will ever have complete control of what I do. Somehow I think it’s just a dream. So I don’t dream that dream anymore. I just forget about the business part, and try and produce music. That’s a long answer.

To your knowledge, have pieces from your back catalog been sampled by hip hop artists? Do you get compensated for that?

I have had some songs being sampled but I don’t get any … I don’t know if it’s a large amount and if it produces any really recognizable stream of money. But some guys have.

 Even when many of your contemporaries were going in a more, shall we say, abstract direction – and here I’m thinking of some of Miles Davis’ work, and Ornette Coleman – you made music that was somehow both ambitious and accessible. Is it by design or default that your music has such a strong melodic sense?

I think it’s by the way things worked out. As a kid I was much influenced by one of my favorite people, Fats Waller. I heard a lot of that music. I was born in Harlem, surrounded by a lot of melodic music. Louis Armstrong, all of those people, I consider them melodic music, yet they had the jazz tinge. I just consider myself that type of a player.

My early influences were people like Louis Jordan, the great rhythm and blues player. I used to get everything he made. And this was like, when I was 7 or 8 years old.

I think that you are correct. Some of my contemporaries might have a different style of playing. I might have thought [at one time] “Hey, I’m not really in the groove, but then these guys all like my playing.” Coltrane and Ornette Colman, all those guys whose playing could be considered more “outside,” they all were very big fans of mine.

I guess, even though my repertoire – in the large sense I’ll use that word – might be something which is melodic, it has the jazz element to it. The surprise that is emphasized in jazz, it has that to it. So that’s who I am. I love melodies. I used to go the movies a lot when I was a kid. Every week there was a new movie. It was way before television. So I heard a lot of the American Songbook. As a child I heard the Grand Old Opry. But I loved melodies, you know? I love Stevie Wonder when I hear some of his songs. So … guilty!

You mentioned Louis Jordan. When I talk to my friends who are mostly into rock music, I say, “you’ve got to listen to this guy,” because I think he is as important to the development of rock and R&B as all of the people who are normally associated with that: Fats Domino, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and people like that. I think he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath, even though he wasn’t going for the same thing. I hear that in his music.

Louis Jordan was also a very popular guy. He did a lot of pop songs and he recorded with Bing Crosby, he recorded with Ella Fitzgerald. He was a very eclectic guy in the sense that he was rhythm and blues for sure, but he did a lot of pop music which was also very commercial. But still it was good stuff. [Below: Sonny Rollins Trio – “Weaver of Dreams” (1959)]

Recently, a good friend of mine gave me a gift. It’s a coffee table book called New York Hot – East Coast Jazz of the 1950s and ’60s. What it is, really, is a book full of notable album cover reproductions, just great album cover art. One thing that is so remarkable about the book is just how many of those records are Sonny Rollins titles. Back in the day, did you get involved in any way with things like album titles, album art and packaging, or was that completely the realm of others?

That was out of my hands, completely. Back in the day, we just came into the picture as artists and musicians. I can’t speak for everybody, but I think most of the guys just did the music, and then there were other departments which handed the designs of the covers and everything.

The only thing I was involved with was my Way Out West album. It was my idea to dress in the cowboy suit. But most of the other albums that I was involved with, it was the art department that did that work.

I would say that with the benefit of hindsight, in that regard anyway, I think you were perhaps better served than a lot of your contemporaries. Because some of those album covers are just wonderful. It’s wholly separate from the music, but they’re nice to look at, too.

I agree. I agree! That’s one thing we lost with the advent of CDs. We’ve lost the big album covers because the CD, even though it’s the same picture, is not as attractive. It does not look like art. These album covers are pieces of artwork.

And it has gotten even more so now, with things going to digital. There is no longer anything you even hold in your hand; it’s just files.

Yeah. But you know, it is funny you say that. You know, of course, that they are coming out with vinyl now. And I just got a few copies of Holding the Stage on vinyl. And so the albums look more like a work of art than the CD did. I guess now with the files and all that you don’t even get a picture. With this vinyl production, it really looks like the old days with nice artwork. [Below: Sonny Rollins & Don Cherry (1960s)]

Both of my kids, who are both in their 20s, have fairly extensive vinyl collections. A lot of times they will go to concerts, and there will be a merch table in the back of the room where you can buy a t-shirt or whatever, and they will buy vinyl of new recordings. Neither one of them owns a single CD; they only have vinyl. I don’t think records are ever going to be the primary physical format again, but I think vinyl is back in a way that we might not have …

… Predicted. It’s amazing.

Like much of your work, Holding the Stage features your original compositions along with readings of standards. When you’re composing music, do you come up with a melodic line for the head and then build a song around that, or do you use some other approach?

Well, that’s a tough question to answer. I think melodically, of course. And sometimes a melody will come to me, sometimes the whole concept will come to me. Sometimes I start with the melody and fill in the rest of it. Stuff comes at different times.

Sometimes I’ll get a whole melody. And that’s why I always carry around manuscript paper, because things come to me. And at night when I am sleeping, I always have manuscript paper right around. If I get a thought, an idea, I better put it down right away. Because if you don’t, it’s gone.

Music comes from … you are influenced by things you don’t remember. And it’s a matter of putting together things that you’ve heard. It’s very hard to say where music really comes from to you; how do you get music? I don’t know. It comes from what you have heard, of course, and some of it’s more invented. You hear things which are sort of more unusual than [by] other composers.

It comes to me in many different ways … just a phrase here which reminds me of something, maybe in this life, maybe in another life. In fact, I believe in reincarnation. It might be a thousand lives ago I might have heard a melody, and now here I am today writing it down. Who knows? I don’t know where music comes from, you know? But we’re all humans, so we are influenced by what we hear. And then we are putting it down as we remember it.

Only rarely have you played any other instrument besides tenor sax. Have you felt that there was enough to explore on tenor that there was no need to move beyond it, or is there some other reason?

The saxophone, my instrument, is, for me, a very difficult instrument. I think every instrument is difficult. I love the saxophone. As I said, my idol was Louis Jordan and then I gravitated to Coleman Hawkins, and then I gravitated to Lester Young. There were all these various styles that the saxophone could elicit. All these different ways of playing. I took piano [briefly] when I was a kid, and I could play a few chords on the piano.

But the saxophone was all that I could handle; it’s more than I can handle. I never felt a need to … I’m not that talented. There are some guys I know that can play many instruments. There’s a guy I know named Ira Sullivan, he’s a musician who was around … sorta my era. Ira plays great trumpet and great saxophone. That’s special. The great Benny Carter played trumpet and saxophone. Miles Davis used to play piano, enough that it could help him help his trumpet [playing]. Dizzy Gillespie was able to play enough piano to help his harmonic sense when he played the trumpet. So I can do a little bit, I can play some chords. But no, the saxophone is still my dream instrument; it’s still the thing that I am trying to conquer. And that’s that, I’m still in that. I’m still trying to get that right.

Throughout your career, in addition to enlisting a lot of fine and very, very notable side men, you’ve played and recorded with a lot of other legendary musicians. Is there anyone with whom you never got the chance to play that you wish you had?

I wish I played with Fats Waller. And I wish I had played with Louis Armstrong.

And I wished I had played with Count Basie. Now, Count Basie liked my playing; I know that. We played on the same bill, so that was good; it was nice to know that great Count Basie, but I never got a chance to play with him. Duke Ellington, of course: I would have loved to have been able to play with that great band, you know.

One of the great American composers …

Oh, boy! And the harmony and the harmonic adventures that he embarked on … I’m telling you, that was really great, great stuff. [Below: Sonny Rollins Quintet – “Don’t Stop the Carnival” (1976)]

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One of the things that has always intrigued me about instrumental jazz, or any instrumental music for that matter, is how even without words it can be “about something.” Because you are so successful at conveying thoughts and moods musically, how do you set out to express ideas and emotions via your instrument?

Well, that’s another tough question. I’ve heard the words to the songs I have played. When I was about 3 years old my mother took me to hear “Pirates of Penzance.”

Gilbert and Sullivan …

Do you remember them?

Sure!

[Laughs]

But just historically.

Exactly right. I know you didn’t know them [laughs]. Anyway, so I heard that “Pirates of Penzance” at a performance in a park up in upper Harlem where we lived. So I always heard music and lyrics together. As I became a jazz musician, I guess that was always in my mind. I remember the great saxophonist Ben Webster used to always know the lyrics of what he played. And I think Lester Young also knew the lyrics of some of these beautiful ballads that they played. It would be in their head while they were playing.

I knew most of the lyrics of some of the popular songs that I played, those ballads. I knew most of the lyrics, not all of them like Ben Webster and Lester Young and others might have. But that was the way we went about it. [Below: Rollins w/Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones, Rufus Reid & Mickey Roker (1987)]

Many musicians remark upon the difference in atmosphere between a live show and a studio session. Perhaps more than any other style of music, I think jazz seems best represented by live recordings. Is that your sense as well?

Well, it’s hard to say that. Back in the day when I first started recording – and I have been recording now since the late ‘40s – in those days there were a lot of great records being made, and they didn’t depend upon a live atmosphere, so it’s hard to say that.

When the technology came in to overdub and do a lot of technological things, I began taking advantage of that. I used to do a lot of extra takes on one track, for instance. And then I realized, well, somebody said: “the first track is your best track, so don’t waste time doing a million tracks.” But technology allowed us to do that, and I took advantage of it.

But a lot of great records – all the great records I heard – were done in studio situations. Very few were done live. I mean, there were some, but that was not the norm. I got sort of seduced by that and I liked playing live because I thought the studio was a very stultifying place to create music. You would always be looking for the red light to go on: “okay, recording.” So that was sort of a drag to me.

I always felt that when I was playing, not only could I get a lot from the audience, but it freed my inhibitions. So I do feel that, in my case – and it’s probably a detriment of mine –  I like playing live. I always feel better when I am playing live under the sky, and I can get closer to Mother Nature, if you will. I just feel more with it. I prefer that to the constrictions, in a way, of a studio.

That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned about overdubbing and multi tracking. If I recall, in the late ’60s and early ’70s Miles Davis and his producer Teo Macero would often build entire tracks out of a little bit from here, a little bit from there. They would piece it together afterwards so that it didn’t even really resemble what they had originally recorded. And that’s just a different approach, I guess.

Yeah, I would say it’s a different approach. Originally, no one did that, so in a way it can be thought of as artificial, and in a way it can be thought of as just another way of doing something. They both have merit. But you know, Miles had to play first before he and Teo Macero could go and put stuff together. What comes first is his ability to create something. [Below: Rollins – “Falling In Love With Love” (Tokyo 1997)]

Even the shortest biography of you makes note of the periods in which you seemingly took time off from performance so that you could hone your skills, or engage in personal development, or however one might want to phrase it. I suppose that jazz is no different from other genres in that when an artist stops releasing material or stops appearing in public for a time, they’re quickly forgotten. Obviously that never happened to you, but one supposes that it could have. At the time you took each of those sabbaticals, did it feel like a risky move?

No, it didn’t to me, because I always had a sense of myself. I was cautioned by some people “Sonny, don’t leave the scene; they’ll forget about you! It’s a highly competitive field of music and you know, if you leave the scene you are going to destroy the fan base you’ve built up.” But of course in my case it did not matter, because I wasn’t really interested in trying to maintain something that I wasn’t sure about.

I wanted to get myself together and then be able to work. It’s a good model for anybody. Really make sure that what you are doing is what you want to do. Don’t get caught up in what other people expect of you [or else] you’re lost when they don’t like you; you’re just out there all alone. So you have to know what you are doing. That was a good lesson in life, and I didn’t pay any attention to people who cautioned me not to get away, that I would be forgotten.

The things that you studied during those times – yoga, zen meditation and so forth – can you tell me a little bit about how those studies affected your approach to making music?

They affected my approach to the meaning of life and what life is. I have always had this certain, for lack of a better word, religious feeling about an afterlife or a god. That was when I was a kid, going to church. As I grew up, of course, then we have to face the real world and we realize that it is not so easy. That’s when I began getting interested in yoga, just as a way of getting inside of myself, having some control of my own thoughts against the world; the world will lead you in a lot of ways.

I studied Rosicrucianism and thought that was fascinating. And then I saw this movie Annie Hall with Woody Allen. He made fun of Rosicrucianism: “Anything that you can find on the back of a comic book…”  That was funny. And that’s all good; it wasn’t really about Rosicrucianism. It was a search for something beside the norm. I learned a lot out of Rosicrucianism, as a matter of a fact.

And then I began studying yoga; that helped me to stop smoking cigarettes. All these things helped me to get through life. I began studying Buddhism. All of these things helped me to sort of center myself and get some kind of control over my own mind. I think it was in the ’50s when I first really got into those things. And I’ve done them all my life.

Now, when I say that I’m doing yoga, I’m not doing the kind of yoga where you are doing exercises or twisting your body. I did that, and that is called Hatha Yoga. I did study that, but the other kind of yoga has to do with the mind; that’s the kind of yoga that I am more into now at this advanced age that I am. I am more into the mental disciplines, the mind rather than the body, at this stage. [Below: Rollins – “Nishi” (Orange County 2009)]

So you still find benefit in it, even now?

Oh, definitely. It’s learning. There are great teachers through history. Jesus Christ, all of these great teachers. And life is learning. We are here to learn. We are not here to eat ice cream and drive the cars. That’s something you find out. What you have in this world are some people that feel, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” That’s one way of looking at life.

There are other people that feel like me, that there’s something else. That there is some other reason for living. Life has some other purpose than for a sense of enjoyment. I fall into that other category. I believe life is here to learn something, to try and understand why we are here, what it means. And therefore to have a way of living.

Who knows what is right? I am not proselytizing at all, but for me, I am very, very happy with my study of the ancient scriptures and these rules, I could say, for living. It’s learning … it’s a learning experience for me. I am very happy. And if other people think that it’s about having fun and enjoying the senses and that’s what life is about, and there is no afterlife and that … well, okay. That’s fine.

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Above: Rollins in the Fifties (photo from Rollins’ official website, which also has a remarkable trove of live videos and filmed interviews with the musician). Bill Kopp is BLURT’s Jazz Desk editor. He knows more about music than the entire office staff, so feel free to post him a comment here, or visit him at his most excellent Musoscribe music magazine.

Who knows?

NEVERMIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE VINYL RECORD INDUSTRY

LP

There’s unlimited supply
And there is no reason why
I tell you it was all a frame
They only did it ’cause of fame
(—The Sex Pistols, “EMI”)

BY STEPHEN JUDGE

Ed. Note: Stephen Judge, who owns BLURT, also owns Schoolkids Records, a small chain of North Carolina-based record stores; yours truly worked with him in one of those stores from 2012-15, and during that time we got to experience firsthand the latter-day vinyl explosion. From the groundswell of new releases, both major label and indie, that previously would have only been offered on CD, and the deluge of catalog reissues on vinyl; to the steadily-growing used vinyl business, and the broadening of the customer demographic to include every age group, including pre-teens just discovering vinyl for the first time as well as older music fans catching the bug again and finding a reason to return to their neighborhood record stores; it was by all measures a period of unprecedented growth for that sector of the music industry, one which saw the market share of vinyl growing by significant percentages practically every quarter. (You would’ve had to be living in a cave not to spot at least one hyperventilating “Vinyl is back!” report in the national and international media during that time as well, to the point that such reports started become hilariously redundant.)

Now, however, with the escalating price of new vinyl—for both new releases and reissues—hitting what some are calling dangerous levels from a consumer point of view, media coverage has gradually been turning negative, in some instances even prematurely sounding the death knell for vinyl. Last year there was a cautionary story published at Stereogum titled “Have We Reached Peak Vinyl?” which discussed, among other things, those rising prices, the problems small labels were having getting their records pressed with a limited number of actual pressing plants, and the perception among a lot of collectors that the annual Record Store Day—which arguably kick-started the whole latter-day vinyl revival—had become co-opted by the major labels and ultimately rendered near-meaningless. (That’s what a limited edition Justin Bieber record will do, eh?)

Then last week Stereogum published a follow-up story, “We’ve Passed Peak Vinyl—Here Comes the Collapse” in which writer Michael Nelson addressed all this, and more. Lively discussions about the Nelson article quickly followed across the interwebs, including one that Stephen and I found ourselves knee-deep in—we’re both extremely passionate about these matters, to say the least, and feel it’s a dialogue that needs to be ongoing. Plus, make no mistake, Stephen’s take (and mine too, even though I am no longer in Raleigh and working at Schoolkids) is that despite all the current issues, vinyl is decidedly NOT on the verge of extinction. There will always be collectors of and devotees to the analog format. Perhaps the headlines should instead read something along the lines of, “Hi, My Name is Vinyl: The Rumors of My Impending Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” What follows below, then, is his recap of our side of the conversation, plus elaboration, stemming from his experiences as a record store owner and as a well-known figure within the national independent record store community, both as a member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores and a board member for the Music Biz Association (formerly NARM). Readers are encouraged to post their comments and reactions. Got all that? Okay, let’s rock. – FM

 The Michael Nelson-penned Stereogum report referenced above may be viewed by some as “just another person belly-aching about the record industry and its mistakes.” However, from my perspective as a record store owner—I operate three Schoolkids Records businesses, in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill—it is all 100% accurate and an honest take on where things stand. (The comments that Stereogum readers posted following the piece are honest, too; they are all spot on.) Regular customers who shop at stores know. This is fluid and serious. Now, more than ever, support your local stores—they need you.

Furthermore, if people blow this off as just another person just complaining about the industry, major labels, etc., you are really missing the point. I am all for major labels, all for vinyl selling in chains, and am not an elitist and someone who never promotes or looks for negativity ever. But these statements Nelson is making are correct, minus the parts about Billy Fields, who I know personally and is 100% a champion of vinyl and record stores, one of our biggest cheerleaders and advocates in the industry. Everything Billy says in the story about Record Store Day and the industry itself is true as well: Yes, WEA recently announced they would stop selling to anyone who doesn’t meet a certain threshold of sales on an annual basis, but as much as I know that doesn’t help (and that it does hurt some small retailers), also realize that a lot of people were also taking advantage of the system, buying direct from WEA just so they could participate in Record Store Day while not buying and carrying vinyl year-round—which defeats the purpose.  However, it is a policy that has been in place with WEA for years but was not enforced. And it is a concern, as it will hurt a lot of small, low volume stores and make it more difficult.

One thing I get really tired of is people blaming Record Store Day, such as in THIS article published earlier this year at TheVinylFactory.com about stores opting to drop out of RSD participation. To me, that’s the same short-mindedness as saying, “I don’t shop at a store that carries Led Zeppelin because that’s too mainstream…” Get over yourselves. Vanity is not a virtue that will yield long-term success in this business. Fields’ comments on RSD in the report are accurate. While it’s not untrue that the major labels have essentially taken over, as most of us know, it’s still a good day overall, sales-wise, and in terms of spreading awareness of indie record stores—which was the whole point of RSD in the first place. RSD

I have been on many panels with Record Store Day co-founder Carrie Colliton seen the venom coming her way, as if she has something to do with the onslaught of releases coming and the prices—as if she alone can 100% control it.  The RSD folks do everything they can; they are a non-profit tiny operation where the day to day administrative aspects and policing of policies is run by one person.  Yes, one. What’s corporate about that? What people fail to realize, is that some companies out there will do whatever they want: They defy our rules, our criteria, hell, even our way of life, and they will do it with someone else (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble) if we say no.  They are already doing this. In Dublin, where I am at now writing this, local friends/colleagues were telling me about Tesco (UK company), a grocery store that is the third largest retailer in the world for Father’s Day, selling rare, limited edition colored vinyl from bands such as The Jam and The Clash.

Seriously? Do the labels not understand what they are doing to the format by doing promotions with large chains like this? Not to mention what this does to small indie record stores? It’s an insult to all of the work we stores have done; it’s now in the hands of those who do not respect what it is and will do anything to make an extra buck.

In addition to that, I also know, since she works in our Raleigh store every single year to help us with crowd control on RSD, what Carrie deals with on an annual basis. This includes record stores themselves breaking the explicit rules set up by RSD, such as gouging fans by putting limited LPs on eBay. Some things I will not mention here as it would create havoc for her, but let’s just say that there are some greedy people out there, and they are not all at labels—they are at stores as well.

Then where does that leave the stores that helped create this phenomenon and curated the format? Who never stopped selling vinyl for over 40 years?  We build something up, make it work, make it successful, and then it leaves us to go elsewhere? Hello, LeBron James! They will just take “their talents elsewhere.”

Well, it’s time for the flirtations to end, time to take a pay cut and take one for the team, and time for you to do the right thing—and come home.  If LeBron can do it (who was once the most hated athlete in the world for leaving Cleveland to go to Miami), why can’t you?  You can win in Cleveland; you just have to assemble the right team.

Colored vinyl

Make no mistake: Vinyl is not dead, so don’t believe any headlines to that effect. It’s not in any danger of disappearing. But the pricing structure is deeply problematic. The real issue RSD has presented, and something that was not mentioned in the Stereogum article, is that because of its success, stores have become a line-item on the Income Statement for major labels, instead of just being in the “Misc” column. That is, RSD has made a significant enough impact (as vinyl sales have, overall, but this is largely led by RSD) industry-wide to prompt the “black-and-white/I-have-no-idea-why-people-buy-records” accountants working in the industry to start to dissect those line items. Those accountants then come to the conclusion that the labels are “not making enough margins” on their products. THIS is the reason for the price increases that Nelson outlined in his Stereogum report. It’s based on the generic analytics that accountants use to study what something should be priced, which incorporate manufacturing issues, volume, and the ridiculous overhead they have, what with the large buildings, offices, and expenses incurred for the elite few in an industry that is only a fraction of what it was before, during the peak years for the CD, volume- and cash flow-wise.

The latter point is worth restating, and I have said it before. It makes no sense for the majors to have these large offices in NYC or in extremely expensive real estate markets, when you can work from just about anywhere (depending on your actual job). You can save tremendous amounts of money having satellite offices and/or in cheaper markets. There are tons of empty buildings, for example, in Atlantic City from casinos that went out of business. In 2016, normal human beings are moving away from overpriced large cities like New York to more reasonably-price areas like Raleigh-Durham (my hometown). But the music industry, for some reason, feels it has to “keep up appearances” and stay in ridiculous situations. They therefore make the “business of music” almost impossible for these large corporations—the ones that waste money on such things—to have a realistic grasp of the “business” in terms of the prices that normal people are actually willing to pay and what this industry realistically can make in 2016 and into the foreseeable future. It all goes back to those margins, which become the problem, which in turn is due to the inflated overhead and unrealistic expectations.

In a sense, independent stores were better off when we did not show up on those accountants’ radars. RSD did generate press and hype; those large RSD sales figures and vinyl sales in general got noticed by the industry, and the numbers were then played with. And here we are: accountants in NYC making decisions that might work on paper in a short-term sense, but make no sense for the long-term life of the business. Anyone in the trenches or who actually buys records can tell you this; it is obvious.  However, this is nothing new, that those decisions are being made by people who haven’t bought a record (or even music, for that matter) in years or decades and answer monthly to shareholders and look at everything as just “widgets.”

They simply do not understand the landscape and the customers—what they actually want, what their consumer habits are like, and what they are willing to pay for the products they buy.  However black and white that is, it lacks complete common sense.  As my late father, who was a highly respected CPA, used to say, “You can teach someone the numbers and the books, but you can’t teach someone common sense.”  In this day and age, where people walk around like the zombie apocalypse playing a video game on their phone, is it any wonder why the stereotypical starched, white-collar accountant can’t look up from his desk for five minutes and see what is really going on? Of course not, but we all need to look up as we are missing a really beautiful world around us, all the while getting stuck in a fantasy world with numbers that don’t add up.

The indie labels understand this—most of them do try to keep their prices down, relatively speaking—but the majors control way too much catalog and therefore need to lead here. But the direction they are leading us in is down to the edge of a cliff once again, when people actually need to see the whole picture of what is happening. Success—the type that RSD did foster— shouldn’t necessarily be a problem. If managed properly, growth and success can work, but not if the people making the decisions don’t understand what exactly they are selling and who they are selling to and the basic common sense of it all.

stone-temple-pilots-yellow-colored-vinyl

At any rate, I have been saying for a year now that vinyl has reached a milestone and a peak, mainly because of the price and over-saturation of the marketplace, versus the demand and supply. The only reason vinyl sales are even up nationwide is because some places are only just now coming to the party, so it’s a false increase. I call it the “Bugs Bunny Effect,” when someone gets hit over the head with a hammer while running and they keep running for many frames until they realize someone hit them over the head and the big bump rises on the top of their head and it goes “ouch!” There is always a delayed reaction in the marketplace. It was the same when vinyl was going up; we saw it first at indie retail, and now we’re seeing the opposite.

With stores closing, prices staying high, too many sub-par reissues coming out, labels’ continued policies of vinyl being sold one-way/NON-returnable (unlike CDs, and unlike vinyl in decades’ past, once you buy a new LP for your store, it’s yours, and if it’s a stiff like the latest, and high-priced, Lana Del Rey album, you’ve essentially eaten your cost and can only pray you recoup after you’ve reduced the price and dumped it in your “sale” bins), and stores struggling to keep cash flow up for the traffic and turnover, this will ultimately start to trend downward. More stores will inevitably close, many will survive just like 15 years ago (when piracy had taken a huge toll on the independent store sector), but many markets will not be able to support a store, or multiple stores, especially if you are vinyl only.

At this rate and change we have seen over the last 12 months, there is going to be another purge. This is also inevitable, as everything is cyclical; but it could have been another 5-10 years before we saw this (and could have been more gradual) if the industry would just be more patient, let things build organically, and not overprice and make the same mistakes made in the ‘90s with the CD. (Remember when you’d pay an $18.98 for a single CD, not even a deluxe version, just to get the couple of songs you wanted?)

The stores with the higher rent are going first, which is why you are seeing it in NYC, where we all know rent is an issue. It will continue to trickle down into other markets unless the industry makes some major changes such as (1) moving street date from the current Friday back to Tuesday; (2) lowering the price of vinyl back to what the market can bear; and (3) also not allowing streaming services to have a record online and streaming on street date. The film industry doesn’t allow 99% of its movies to be rented concurrent with them opening in theaters, so why does the music industry allow new releases to be streaming—which is very analogous to renting— the same day they appear in stores? It makes no sense.

At my stores, I have seen double digit growth over the last four to five years—until last year, May 2015, when it just completely stopped. This trend started when the majors increased vinyl costs and list prices. Blurt editor Fred Mills was sitting right next to me, around April 2015 in my Raleigh store, when I opened the email from two of the major labels announcing the price hike. My immediate reaction was, “What are you idiots doing?!? You are making the same mistake you made in the ‘90s with high list prices for CDs, which directly fueled the downloading and piracy problem.”

Then the industry compounded matters with street dates changing to Friday, which has been an utter disaster and effectively killed weekday sales; weekends were already when customers were more likely to be out and shopping, so having Tuesday at a street date was a great way to get them into the stores during the week.

Many other factors were at play, too, but those were two huge ones. For example, we started off the first four months of 2015 up 22% from the same period in the year before, and we were on pace to have our best year in 10 years. Once those changes outlined above took place, however, the bottom fell out, and we finished down for the year.

I am seeing this nationwide. I deal with it every single day in my stores, as do the retail coalitions mentioned in the Stereogum article.  I am a proud member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS) and also a board member for Music Biz (formerly NARM), so I am hearing stories from all over the country.  Some are seeing it worse than others, but the common denominator is, everyone agrees, that we have a really serious problem.
CIMS

I noticed things dropping off a few months after Record Store Day 2015, by the time August rolled around, I knew something was seriously wrong and this was not just a lull and/or a slow summer. I have voiced my issues to my colleagues, and there have been some heated discussions. There are many higher-ups in the industry who are furious about this and are pushing every day for solutions, but it typically falls upon deaf ears among those people who should understand but cannot seem to do anything, as well as people who just don’t care. So I am back in my corner, building up my reserves as best I can for the winter and the freeze. It’s been a perfect storm of problems, and here we are.

Another point worth mentioning here is that there are too many places selling vinyl for the number of people actually buying.  To restate what I said about about the UK grocery store Tesco selling vinyl, with the boom we also have chains such as Guitar Center, Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters and even some Whole Foods locations selling the wax.  If you look at the statistics and sales numbers, they are not large enough to justify this amount of growth in the market place it’s all hyped-up fashion that has been sold to them by those who benefit from it, and it’s not healthy to the business in the long run—you don’t want to blow your wad before you have the romance, so to speak.  Think of your retail partners, people. Think of the long-term effects of this. Can we really afford to not let this grow organically? Do you seriously not see the ramification of going to the altar too soon?

Many of these challenges were bound to happen, but in this day and age of social media, things change quickly. When we had a little bit of “good news” in the industry during the last ten years, such as all the “Vinyl Is Back!” stories in the media, well, of course everyone jumped on board. But it was too fast, too soon, too broad, too expensive.

Now those businesses that are more efficient, can manage their cash flow and inventory, have reasonable landlords and rent and good locations, experience a stable market, and diversify themselves enough to make higher margins off other items (such as online sales, second-hand vinyl, and accessories) are the ones most likely to survive. Lately I’ve been working more with shirts, books, and other items that have better margins, additionally trying to stockpile as much second-hand product as I can get my hands on, whatever the format.

When nearby stores do close, those stores that remain will certainly pick up some of the customers, but it’s all short-lived gains. Don’t forget that competition is good and more product in the marketplace is good—as long as it’s priced right and fits the market demand. This is the same thing that happened in the early 2000s, when stores were closing left and right. It’s about to happen again, and it’s sad because it could be different if it was managed better.

I am particularly worried about the small stores that are vinyl only and don’t have any room for error. Two of my stores are 50/50 CDs-to-vinyl, which is healthy. Another was 70% vinyl, but that is gradually starting to change now. Stores that sell only vinyl, that is a really tough thing to manage, and unlike my stores, they don’t necessarily have a 40+ year history of selling CDs and all genres. This gives us an advantage, not just in the shop itself but especially on-line, where secondhand sales do really well for us with CDs and LPs alike.

Regarding stores located in areas of high rent, they are the most vulnerable right now. As mentioned, I have three stores and I have a lot to fall back on. We are adjusting to these industry changes. It’s what I do and analyze every single day.

I also have an accounting degree and business management degree, and thanks to having smart store managers, I am not bogged down daily with running the stores. That frees me to spend all of my time running reports, analyzing sales, trends, and inventory levels. (Having a robust point-of-sale system that can manage inventory and cut down on the administrative labor is critical for a retail business, and that’s the best investment I’ve made in the last 6-12 months.) I also am constantly looking for more things to increase our business and to make us different—like having a bar and selling craft beer at my Raleigh location, for example—and to increase our brand, not just within NC but nationally and in Europe as well.

But many others do not have this luxury, and it’s those stores I worry about. Clearly the conversation about all this is now happening among the general public, and with customers, too, who are seeing it happen every day.

The question is, will they do anything to fix this? The record industry, that is. I am not counting on it. But I plan to survive regardless. Vinyl’s not dead; it’s a music format that has endured for longer than most of us have been alive, in fact. As a retailer, I certainly don’t plan to go down without a bloody fight—which makes it worth reminding you that in 2013, major label EMI was broken up as part of its acquisition by Universal. This renders those defiant, confrontational Sex Pistols lyrics quoted at the top of this article all the more timely, and meaningful:

Unlimited edition

With an unlimited supply

That was the only reason

We all had to say goodbye.

 

Stephen Judge

Above: Stephen Judge

THE (ALMOST) LAST HURRAH: Pylon Live

Pylonchainpromo

Everything is cool: The Athens post-punk icons get a welcome reappraisal via a remarkably vital-sounding archival release on Chunklet Industries.

BY FRED MILLS

The year 1983 was nearing its close, and Athens-based post-punk-slash-art-rock-slash-new-wave outfit Pylon was no longer, leaving behind a relatively pretty corpse: two LPs, a handful of singles, tours with the likes of U2, Gang of Four, and fellow Athenites the B-52s, and a whole lotta love from a devoted fanbase. Me, I’d witnessed ‘em in the fall of 1980, at a tiny bar/restaurant in Carrboro, North Carolina (near Chapel Hill), called The Station; as was the custom of the times, I pogo’d my tail off, but there was also no small amount of genuflection before the stage. This was not a so-called flavor of the month, despite the fact that the tiny Georgia college town that had birthed Pylon was already on the path to becoming one of those “scenes” rock fans talk about in triumphant tones.

The musicians’ abrupt announcement that they were splitting had caught the rock community off-guard. Serious rock fans know a serious rock band when they see one, and this was a group that had always oozed purpose; what possible rationale could they have for breaking up? It certainly wasn’t because the four members had grown sick of one another. As I myself adored Pylon, I realized I had been lucky to have glimpsed its greatness back in the day. And I’ve always wondered what the folks who attended the group’s final show that year, December 1 at Athens’ Mad Hatter venue, thought as well. They probably realized they were also lucky, but let’s face it, these types of notions rarely occur in the moment, usually only in retrospect, and typically when the artist in question did in fact go on to become the proverbial legend/icon/influence.

However, speaking to the band’s vocalist Vanessa Briscoe-Hay years later, for a 2007 Harp magazine profile of the band, I got the sense that the bandmembers themselves, though proud of having broken out of the regional scene—touring up the East Coast to NYC and such influential venues as Philly’s Hot Club, NYC’s Hurrah, Hoboken’s  Maxwell’s, and Boston’s The Underground— and notching kudos worldwide for their music, weren’t quite sold on the whole “legendariness” of their musical journey. Their original aim in forming, in fact, was, according to Vanessa, “to go up to New York, play once, get written up in the New York Rocker, then come back and break up!”

indexThe occasion of our conversation was a CD reissue of the group’s 1980 long playing debut on Atlanta’s DB Recs label, Gyrate, newly remastered and expanded with bonus tracks for the DFA label. (Chomp would subsequently get similar treatment, and both albums are cornerstones of any, er, serious rock fan’s collection.) Reflecting upon the group’s initial 1979-83 trajectory, and the decision to call it a day Vanessa told me that despite their status as fanzine critics’ and college deejays’ darlings, not to mention the recent high-profile tour opening for U2 on the Irish stars’ War trek, they realized they were having trouble breaking through to the next commercial level. If they soldiered on, it’s likely that the work aspect of their enterprise would quickly outweigh the fun part. Maybe they’d even wind up hating one another.

“We just felt like we’d done everything we could at that point,” she said, adding that it wasn’t a particularly bittersweet or emotional decision. “I remember waiting outside the 688 Club one night, before the encores; this was before the final show. And it was about 110 degrees on the inside there, I’m just covered with sweat, and I was thinking, gosh, I won’t be doing this anymore! That wasn’t a relief, just kind of an observation. So I guess I just kind of accepted it.”

There were several subsequent reunions, of course, starting in ’89 and a high-profile tour with R.E.M., and continuing, in a sense, to this day with the Pylon Reenactment Society’s respectful reappraisal of all that is Pylonesque. To their credit, they don’t call it “Pylon”—co-founding guitarist Randall Bewley passed away in 2009, following a heart attack—but even with additional musicians to flesh out the lineup, if it walks like Pylon and squawks like Pylon, well… you get the idea. (Go HERE to read a recent interview with Vanessa, conducted by BLURT blogger Tim Hinely.)

Meanwhile, Pylon fans were caught off-guard a second time when, a few months ago, it was announced that an archival album documenting that ’83 Athens gig, Pylon Live, was en route. It’s a chance for both the fans and the surviving members of the band—Hay, bassist Michael Lachowski, drummer Curtis Crowe—to dip back, if only for an hour or so, and get a delicious whiff of how the band originally walked and squawked.

Fairly crackling with electricity and oozing with a propulsive charisma, Pylon, on Pylon Live, doesn’t sound like a group saying goodbye. It’s easy enough to single out fan favorites like “Crazy,” as edgypunchysexycool as ever (and reaffirming R.E.M.’s decision to make it a staple of their setlist at one point). Or “Beep,” which is all militaristic thump ‘n’ sway, Hay doing arpeggio’d vocal acrobatics while the other three turn “angular” into an action verb. The dissonant, whooping “M Train” finds the Lachowski-Crowe rhythm section sonically creating a new language for future generations of musos to study and decipher. And of course “Cool,” which by ’83 had attained true anthem status, a kinetic, fist-pumping call to arms.

Pylon 7-29

Unexpected delights abound too. There’s the instant seduction of concert opener “Working Is No Problem,” twinned with a sinewy “Driving School,” both serving as an announcement that Pylon was not going out on a calculated note purely for the sake of being crowd-pleasing. “K” is a showcase for Bewley, demonstrating what an innovative guitarist he was, with slurs, slides and glissandos that are nigh-on hypnotic. There’s even a fake Italian movie theme called, smartly enough, “Italian Movie Theme,” which will have you pondering everything you thought you knew about, ahem, Italian movie themes. And post-punk was never quite so subversive as when they do the classic “Batman” theme; the core riff and melody are front and center, but (spoiler alert) Pylon subsequently takes the tune way beyond those limited parameters. This was not a timid band.

The album additionally showcases some qualities of the band that may get overlooked at this remove, at least by younger fans who never saw the group perform. I’ve already suggested that Bewley was a monster on guitar; in his own way, he was as agile and innovative as U2’s The Edge, using tonalities and textures to surf over and around the rhythm section and really help sculpt the sound. Likewise, that Lachowski-Crowe team could unleash huge squalls of rhythmic waves capable of flattening listeners against the back walls of the club. And Hay, with her patented barks, snarls, and growls, would turn downright feral as if daring her bandmates to match her stomp for stomp. The Pylon setlist is just as cinematic, full of dramatic tension building, spikey with explosive dynamics; this is a group that could fill every corner, nook, and cranny of a venue in surround-sound fashion, and not in a random sense, either, as the four players were fully in control, purposeful and direct when necessary, subtle and nuanced at other points.

That’s Pylon for you, folks; long may they chomp. Despite the frequent gaps in the group’s timeline, there a very real sense of continuity and longevity seemingly always at play. As I noted in my above-mentioned 2007 story about the band, nowadays, it’s the rare band that can last for more than a few albums; rarer, still, are those that can break up, get back together again, and then break up and then get back together again, and manage to make things fresh and fulfilling. In the case of Pylon, Hay attributed all of this to the relationships she and her bandmates forged years ago.

“We’ve always been really good friends, we really have,” she said, in a voice tinged with both wistfulness and pride. “Like any friends, if you think about it, you’ll ebb and flow like the tide; sometimes you get to see each other a lot and sometimes not at all. That’s what it’s like, and we’ve all known each other since we were about 20 years old. That’s a long time! We [didn’t] reap the financial rewards, but you know, money’s not everything; and we’ve seen the worst and the best of each other and we’re all still friends.

“These guys are like my brothers.”

Consumer Note: The double LP Pylon Live comes with a digital download and is pressed on black vinyl, limited edition clear wax or super-duper limited magenta. There’s also a companion 45, likewise of a tinted hue and limited format, for “Gravity” b/w “Weather.” Chunklet majordomo Henry Owings has clearly made this a labor of love, not only with his layout and packaging (Owings is the visual brain behind numerous archival projects of late, including the recent Betty Davis album on Light In the Attic), but also in his overseeing the audio transfer of the concert’s tapes; considering those tapes’ age, the album sounds remarkably fresh. Whether you’re a digital or vinyl devotee, this recording will have you pogoing like yours truly did at a Pylon show all those years ago.

COURTESY Terry Allen. Pylon at Memorial Hall in 1980, Left to right: Michael Lachowski Vanessa Hay Curtis Crowe Randy Bewley

(Above photo by Terry Allen)

CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, ALAN: The “Insane Gospel” of Alan Vega

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“Thanks, baby”: In 2008, the iconic Suicide frontman was on the phone and raring to go at it with the future BLURT editor: a tribute to the recently-deceased artist and provocateur.

BY FRED MILLS

“No one believed the story about the axe!”

Alan Vega, on the phone from his home in New York City, is chortling loudly. And with his New York accent and rapid-fire delivery, Vega is a natural raconteur, although given his audience-baiting legacy with electro-punks Suicide, perhaps provocateur terrible is a better title. It was July 24, 2008, and I was talking to him for Magnet magazine, where I was an associate editor, the occasion of our conversation being the release of a pair of Suicide-related artifacts. (The original Magnet story, which you can read HERE, ran around 500 words, although the interview itself lasted nearly and hour and transcribed at nearly 3,000.)

Vega was instantly “on”—ready to talk, and, let’s face it, ready to promote, so there was some well-worn material we covered that he already had answers for. You can compare our conversation below with what was published here at BLURT in an interview conducted by another writer around the same time. But at other points, he definitely seemed less like the artist in promotional mode, and more like the eternal rock fan, simultaneously aware of his place in the proverbial pantheon but still in awe, and appreciative, of the fact that he’d somehow landed in that same pantheon that housed his heroes. Plus, like a true rock ‘n’ roll warhorse, he still loved telling tales of life in the trenches.

“I was on a solo tour, maybe 1985,” Vega continued. “I’d been telling the band this story, but no one believed me. At the end of this show, the Jesus And Mary Chain guys came in and say, ‘Oh yeah, we were at the show in Edinburgh when the axe came flying by your head.’ All the guys in my band’s jaws dropped.”

Vega laughed again. At a safe distance of three decades, he could afford to, although during Suicide’s ascent, being onstage was no laughing matter; the sheer hostility emanating from the crowd and the projectiles launched at Vega and bandmate Martin Rev ensured that.

Vega

Suicide—Rev on minimalist keyboards and drum machine; Vega on Elvis-from-hell vocals; everything draped in thick, claustrophobic sheets of reverb and echo—arguably birthed the modern-day synth-rock movement, although it should be duly noted that the Suicide’s influences were decidedly proto-punk (thing Stooges and MC5), so let’s not blame the band for the subsequent likes of Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. The two helped write the book on electronics-infused rock, channeling elements of punk, garage, and rockabilly and ramming them through a minimalist, pulsing/huffing—though still melodic—sieve of synth-powered noise.

The duo formed in 1970, prowling the same grimy-artsy Manhattan scene that spawned the New York Dolls. With its 1977 self-titled debut, released by the NYC label Red Star, whose founder, Marty Thau, was one of the original record biz mavericks, Suicide was ready to take on the world.

Literally so—as Live 1977-1978 (Blast First Petite) attests. Thirteen Suicide shows spread across six CDs are featured in this limited-to-3,000-copies box, and though the recordings are crude (sourced from audience tapes), the negative energy that cycled between Vega and Rev—both in full provocateur mode, per my note above—and audience is startling, particularly during the gigs in the summer of ’78 that found Suicide opening for Elvis Costello and the Clash. Don’t forget to duck, lads; as the booklet’s liner notes helpfully outline, that’s the sound of a pint glass being hoisted directly toward the stage. Axe optional.

Punks, it seems, didn’t take kindly to a guitar-less duo whose singer taunted them and beat the stage with chains. No, not the kind you wear around your neck for decoration. Real chains.

“I would get so wired and adrenalized,” said Vega. “You hear about those crazy dances Indians would do, how they’d go into these trancelike states? I used to cut myself, too; a little blood would get into your sweat, then it would look like a lot of blood. In a way, it quelled the riot that was about to happen: ‘Wait a minute, this guy’s fucking nuts!’”

At the moment, when I was interviewing Vega, Suicide was in a period of dormancy; the singer, who had been releasing solo projects on and off since the early ‘80s, was working on a solo record that he described would be “insane gospel.” But concurrent with the live box, Blast First also launched an elaborate Suicide tribute project: Each month for two years, a limited-edition 10-inch EP to be released featuring artists (such as Bruce Springsteen, Peaches, Spiritualized, Primal Scream, The Horrors, Lydia Lunch, LIARS, and Grinderman) covering Suicide, plus a previously unreleased Rev/Vega rarity.

The 70-year-old singer was pleased, but circumspect about the tributes. “I get called an icon a lot. I want to go, ‘Wait a minute, don’t they do that with guys who are dead? Did I fucking die and everybody forgot to tell me?’”

To say that Vega was an icon barely scratches the surface. And as anyone now reading this knows, he has fucking died, on July 16, at the age of 78. Nobody’s forgetting to tell anyone, though, and he looms even larger.

According to the New York Times, “His death was announced in a statement from his family posted by the musician Henry Rollins, a longtime friend. The statement said he died in his sleep but did not say where he died or specify a cause. Mr. Vega had a stroke in 2012, but had continued to work as a visual artist… Mr. Vega had exhibitions of his art in France and New York. And last year the Invisible-Exports gallery on the Lower East Side presented what it said was his first full exhibition of new work since 1983.”

The tributes have poured forth in the wake of his death. Among them was one from Rollins, whose grassroots indie label Infinite Zero reissued several Vega solo projects in the ‘90s. Rollins told Billboard, in part:

“Alan was an unceasing creative force: so many records, books, gallery shows and performances all over the world. Until the end of his life, he was blazing away. Five decades of output: Match it. Springsteen encored with Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” on tour. Springsteen probably won’t be covering any of your songs. Ever. Selfishly, I must tell you this: Alan was my friend. He was a lesson in integrity, courage and humanity. I loved him dearly. I can’t explain how much I miss him.”

Rollins also paid tribute to Vega in a Pitchfork interview published earlier this week. There was also Pearl Jam, which covered Suicide’s classic “Dream Baby Dream” last weekend at a Canadian music festival; and Bruce Springsteen, who offered a eulogy at his official website and his Facebook page a few days ago, and that was followed by him doing his patented cover of “Dream Baby Dream” Wednesday night (July 21) to open his Horsens, Denmark, concert. (The Boss also had worked part of the song into his own “Drive All Night” on July 17 in Rome.) Springsteen wrote:

 “Over here on E Street, we are saddened to hear of the passing of Alan Vega, one of the great revolutionary voices in rock and roll. The bravery and passion he showed throughout his career was deeply influential to me. I was lucky enough to get to know Alan slightly and he was always a generous and sweet spirit. The blunt force power of his greatest music both with Suicide and on his solo records can still shock and inspire today. There was simply no one else remotely like him.”

Certainly one measure of an artist’s influence are the other artists who have tipped their hats via covers. There’s Springsteen, of course, and also the Rollins Band, of course, cut a version of “Ghost Rider” for the soundtrack to the 1994 film The Crow, and “Ghost Rider” has been revisited by everyone from The Gories, M.I.A., the Horrors, and LCD Soundsystem, and both Neneh Cherry and Savages have recorded “Dream Baby Dream.” Worth additional note: Light In the Attic/Munster recently reissued the album Cubist Blues originally cut in ’94 by Vega, Alex Chilton and Ben Vaughn; go HERE to read our review.

I myself was lucky enough to see part of a Suicide performance in the early ‘80s (my memory is hazy). More recently, in the fall of 2011, Vega and Rev descended upon Asheville, NC, to take part in the then-annual Moogfest electronica festival, and yours truly along with fellow Suicide enthusiast Steven Rosen were in attendance to be summarily blown away.

From our report:

“Late that night, Suicide took the stage at the Orange Peel club for a fiery, no-nonsense and angry play-through of their first album, 1977’s Suicide. The muscular Martin Rev, standing by his synth and looking revved up, commanded his droning, buzzingly ominous electronic music with proud authority, stalking around stage between songs like he’d just dunked a game-winning three-pointer.

“Vocalist Alan Vega, for his part, stomped and swayed like he’d been bitten by something painful and was about to fall over. And when someone in the crowd gave him a requested cigarette (a violation of the no-smoking policy), he puffed so voraciously and defiantly it was scary—like a dying man’s last wish. But he howled, exclaimed, and chanted the lyrics with the kind of punk authority that’s now folkloric.

“After “Rocket USA,” with its cautionary refrain, “It’s 1977/Whole country’s doing a fix/It’s doomsday, doomsday,” he shouted in complaint, “And look at the country now.” His meaning, one presumes, is that it’s only gotten worse with time. But Suicide’s music only has gotten better.”

Thank you, Alan Vega, for that performance, and also for one of my more memorable conversations with one of my heroes back in the day. Thank you, too, for keeping the faith all the way to the end. Long may you howl.

Below, read the complete unpublished transcript of my 2008 interview.

BLURT: I pulled out my copy of the first Suicide album the other day and realized I had a test pressing – I don’t even know how I got that now.

ALAN VEGA: That’s crazy man! I’ve heard Suicide records going for 200 dollars over in Europe and Asia. Hang on to that thing, it’s probably worth something.

 

You’ve probably got a box of those Red Star records under your bed, right?

Oh no, I wish I did! In those days they used to give you a box of 25 vinyls, but of course everybody wanted one so I handed them out and handed them out until I only had one or two of my own! Now I’m kicking myself…

 

Listening to the new Suicide live box really brings into focus how chaotic and confrontational the early gigs were. Were you surprised when you revisited the tapes? What memories came back?

Those were the most memorable days of my life. So intense. The whole thing was insanity. Listening to them was painful in a way. Musically and artistically I’ve advanced so much further than where I was then; I’m so into what I’m doing now. And then you hear this stuff and it’s like a retro view of your life. It’s like when I look at old pictures of me from that era or the ‘80s: what was I thinking about, some of these costumes — why was I wearing them?!? But at the time it all seemed so “right” to do, you know? Playing the game, in the uniform of a rocker or something.

 

Can you think back to what you were feeling or thinking when all this was going on, stuff being thrown at you onstage? Fear, anger…?

I dunno if “fear” is the right word, but I used to tell Marty, “Am I gonna die tonight?” For the first 15 years, every show, I thought I was gonna get killed. But you went out there so adrenalized, I love/hated it. I loved those reactions we were getting. Marty and I were trying to get those reactions. We were provocateurs.

 

Like a circle of negative energy that keeps looping.

Yeah, and I felt so enveloped in the music it was like a religious experience going out there. I would get so wired and adrenalized that… you felt you were gonna die [laughs] but there was also something about you that was, nahh, it’s gonna be all right. I felt that something was protecting me somehow. Which was pretty amazing because you had everything on the planet thrown at us. Yeah, I got hurt. I dunno, though, it’s really hard to explain. You hear about those crazy dances Indians would do. They’d get liquored up and go into these trancelike states. I think with the music and the newness of it all, I felt totally liberated. I felt free, like I was doing what I wanted to be doing to the full hilt.

 

With an axe spinning past your head…

Yeah, with an axe going past it! No one believed the story about the axe for years. [laughs] I was on an Alan Vega tour, maybe about ’85, and I’d been telling my band about the time an axe went flying past my head like I was in a 3-D cowboys and Indians movie with arrows and knives flying past. No one believed me. So we were doing this show in Liverpool or Leeds, and at the end of the show the Jesus & Mary Chain came in and they say [in fake Scottish accent], “Oh yeah, we were at that show in Edinburgh when the axe came flying by your head!” And all the guys in the band’s jaws dropped!

Like I’m saying, everything you can name – axes, bottles, tables, money, shards of broken glass.

 

But at the same time you’re slamming a chain against the stage, too, so you’re kind of inviting this behavior too, right?

Yeah, inviting it, but also to cool it. I used to cut myself too, not much, but a little blood would get into your sweat and then it would look like a lot of blood was flowing from your arms or face. And people see a little blood they’d stop in their tracks. There’d be the chain, and the cutting, and they’d stop in their tracks. I figured out what they were saying: “Wait a minute, this guy’s so fucking nuts,  there’s nothing we can do to him!” So in a way it cooled them out, quelled the riot that was about to happen. “He’s crazy! What are we gonna do to him?”

 

At what point did this change? It’s funny how the whole punk DIY aesthetic still had this rigidity and conformity build in: “Oh, they don’t have guitar or drums, they aren’t cool…” But at some point people finally had to give you some respect, right?

I’ll tell ya this funny story. [In 1978] first we started out on that Elvis Costello tour, on the Continent, then we went to England and thought it was gonna get better because it was with the Clash. Turns out it got worse. We went from the frying pan right into the fire. It was crazy days in England, the National Front situation, etcetera. Then Suicide had a tour of our own, seven or eight shows as headliners, Wales, Scotland, England. The very first show was in Edinburgh and we were in this old ballroom, a big disco ballroom. It had one of those mirror balls. About a thousand people, and it was dark so you couldn’t see the people. We started playing, and it was like the third or fourth song. I see the people starting to move, so I go back and tell Marty, “Watch out. Incoming at two o’clock. It’s about to start. Here comes the riot.” And the light went on [the disco ball], boom — and everybody’s dancing!

I got back to Marty: “Marty, it’s done. I’m finished. I have no job anymore.” [laughs]

 

“What am I doing wrong here?”

Yeah! “What am I doing wrong? They’re dancing!” So we kinda found out we had more fans than we thought in the UK and Europe. What it was would be [on the Clash tour] was all these skinheads at the front of the stage, and the Teddy Boys behind them, with the punks pushed to the back, so our fans never had an opportunity to show their respect or whatever. But when we had our own tour, they were coming out like crazy. Bands that went on to become Soft Cell, Haircut 100, etcetera. Every night in the dressing room it was packed. So that’s when I began to realize that there were fans out there for us.

 

Of course a year later you’re opening for the Cars on big stages in front of thousands of people…

Oh yeah! L.A., Providence, Hartford… you never heard a roar of boos—it was like an ocean, a wave of 18,000 people booing you. It was awful—no, it wasn’t awful. I loved it! But we come back to the States, open for the Cars, and… America was never one to buy into Suicide.

 

You had your fans here though. One of them in particular: Bruce Springsteen. He’d talked you up in the press. And years later he’s on the Devils & Dust tour covering your “Dream Baby Dream.” A great version. I bet most of his audience thought it was some obscure Springsteen original.

I got kidnapped to go to Bridgeport to see him. He invited me up. Some guys from D*Generation that I know and were friendly with him. I hadn’t seen him since about 1981 when we were both working in the same studios, the Power Station, when he was doing The River and we were next door with Ric Ocasek doing the second Suicide record. He came in one day and said, “Wow, this fucking shit is great.” So we started hanging out together [at the studio]. Just a great guy, just a regular guy.

So anyway, I went up there and spent an hour with him before the show and an hour after the show. He saw me from the stage at soundcheck and he came down and just grabbed me and gave me a bear hug, lifted me up. Everybody around is looking at me going, “Who the fuck is this guy?” He introduced the song that night: ‘Suicide’s a futuristic band, Alan’s in the audience tonight, blah blah blah…’ and proceeded to do the best version of that song ever. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do “Dream Baby Dream” the same way ever again after that night. I almost had tears in my eyes, man.

Then after the show, you know how they’ll pump up some rock band over the P.A. as people are leaving? This very weird piece of music comes on and I’m going, wow, this is cool. Then after about 30-40 seconds I think, wait a minute, this sounds familiar. And then it really hit me: it was one of my own songs! I didn’t even recognize it because it came from left field…

 

Out of context.

Out of context. Right. Then I was about ready to have a heart attack. Holy shit. I was stunned.

 

You’ve got a series of Suicide tribute EPs coming out soon too. Did you have any hand in getting Bruce’s “Dream Baby Dream” for that, or any of the other bands?

There’s going to be a video, a DVD, on there too. There were going to be 12 bands, singles of Suicide songs. Now it’s going to be two years’ worth of 24 bands. Bruce is gonna be the first one, “Dream Baby Dream.” He asked for a smaller advance, which was great of him. So it’ll be [the single] and the DVD. I said, “Now I can die!” when I heard Bruce was going to do it. Nick Cave said the same thing when he heard Johnny Cash was doing his song.

Bruce ended up sending us some autographed pictures, for my son and his best friend, and I said, “Hey, can I get your address, let’s be in touch, send Christmas cards or something…” So he wrote it down on this white piece of paper, and we left, walking back out to the car, and I turn the paper around and it’s his setlist! [laughs] So it went right into a frame immediately!

 

There’s an earlier Suicide tribute too, on a Spanish label, called Your Invitation To Suicide. You’ve seen that?

Oh yeah.

 

What does an artist feel when he learns there’s to be a tribute album?

I felt old at the time! [laughing] I was old anyway, but then I really felt it! Every time these words like “tribute” or “icon” are used, I get called an icon a lot, I want to go, “Wait a minute, don’t they do that with guys who are dead?”

One day in Paris, I was down at a museum, and in [the gift shop] there were post cards, blah blah. I’m standing there looking at one of the post cards, and it was like the music thing with Bruce: “Wait a minute, this looks familiar, who is it?” Turns out it was ME! I gotta tell you something man: a fucking postcard along with all these old rocker, like Gene Vincent, the ‘50s Elvis – and me! Which I didn’t recognize right away. A postcard, man. I turned it over, it says “Alan Vega.” THEN I felt dead! “Did I fucking die and everybody forgot to tell me?”

 

Go ahead and reserve a spot at the Pere Lachaise in Paris…

Oh, that French cemetery? With Jim Morrison? I gotta get into a hot bath first…

 

Do you ever feel like retiring?

I get that a lot: “Oh, why don’t you retire?” I feel like I’ve been retired all my life, man. Just one long vacation. No, it’s been hard work, it’s rough, traveling, and people think it’s a glamorous thing but it’s a lot of hard work. Which I love! I love working.

No, you don’t retire from this shit man. It’s in my blood. What am I retiring from? I can’t retire. Every night I write lyrics, I do drawings. It’s something I enjoy. I come home from the bar, it’s the middle of the night and all the devils are around, and it’s the perfect time. I just start writing or drawing.

dbe75013

What are you working on nowadays?

It’s a solo album, it’s crazy, using new technology and these crazy wild beats, these advanced rap beats, and electronics. I’m kinda going to make it like a country & western, Johnny Cash record, like his last one, that beautiful, amazing album. Kind of the mood of that thing. Maybe because I’m getting old, I gotta make peace with my God or whatever. I’m trying to get into that place—an “insane gospel” sound is the best way I can describe it. I’m not achieving it—maybe in my mind I am, and maybe I’m hearing it that way and no one else will, but… I think the feeling is going to come through. I think the future of hip-hop is in this thing too. Going for that kind of advanced beats thing, and the sounds are electronically bizarro, crazy, but it sounds great to me. It makes me feel good.

It’s amazing, because sometimes I’ll walk into the studio and feel like shit, and at the end of the session I’m flying out of there because the music is doing that to me, man.

 

That’s what it’s supposed to do, isn’t it?

Yeah, exactly. I walk in half dead and [laughs] I walk out 20 times alive, you know? Just something in the sound itself that is healthy.

 

And “insane gospel” – that’s the pull quote. I like that.

The only thing I can think of!

I’ve been working with a lot of other people too. You remember that show Paladin? “Have gun, will travel”? I’m “have voice, will travel”! [laughs] People will come to New York, young kids, and I’ve just worked with this hotshot producer from England, Liam Howe [of The Prodigy] from London. And they come in with reverence or something, like I’m the old man now. I do these one takes, one take vocals, and I’ve always loved to do that. The producer guy is amazed: he’s used to getting 16 vocal takes from a band, and he’s standing there with his jaw dropping when I go, “Bing! Done!”

 

The Suicide box would suggest you’re the master of one-take vocals…

Oh yeah. And after working with Marty I could sing with a backdrop of garbage trucks at this point. [laughs]

 

My hat is off to you.

Thanks—I appreciate it. You take care of yourself—great interview, man. Thanks, baby.

 

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS: Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt. 2

HOUND GAWD! RECORDS

HOUND GAWD! RECORDS

And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

As leader of the now-legendary Lazy Cowgirls, Pat Todd created a canon of blazing roots/punk rock & roll that should serve as a textbook for anyone who reveres both Johnny Cash and the Ramones. When the Indiana-born longtime Los Angeleno shifted focus (barely) toward the Americana side of his personality with the Rankoutsiders, he stuck to the same standards – four chords, blasting guitars, a kickin’ rhythm section and more soul than a Baptist church on Sunday. Blood and Treasure (Hound Gawd!), the band’s fourth LP, is another stellar example of Todd’s vision. Jolted by the six-string team of Kevin Keller and longtime foil Nick Alexander, the ‘outsiders rip through blues and ballads, C&W and R&R, with an expertise that should be the envy of bands half their age. Todd’s songs eschew clever wordplay and ironic distance to simply channel the man’s heart from his sleeve to yours, whether he’s fighting bad love (“Tell Me Now,” “I Hear You Knockin’”) or working class despair (“This Counterfeit World,” “Just Another Broken Day”). He won’t give in, though, stating his case most effectively in never-surrender anthems “Stand Up and Sass Back” and “Don’t Be Sellin’ Emptiness.” Blood and Treasure shows Todd and the Rankoutsiders once again reinventing ragged but right by being simply unable to do wrong.

Capsula Santa Rosa

Fronting a freewheeling blend of Detroit hard rock, Nuggets garage punk, dirty Cramps-a-billy and grungy surf, all given an acid sheen, Spain’s Capsula have been blasting away for nearly 20 years to a devoted audience far smaller than it should be. But the Argentina-bred power trio have never let that – or anything, really – get them down, and that same joie de vivre infests Santa Rosa (Vicious Circle), the band’s eleventh album. (Twelfth, if you count its stint backing up Ivan Julian on Naked Flame.) Tempering its live energy a tad (note: if this band comes to a club anywhere near you, do not hesitate), Capsula polishes its songwriting to an even more potent shine, balancing full throttle burners like “Tierra Girando” and “Candle Candle” with midtempo psych poppers “Moving Mutants” and “They Are New Models.” The trio even successfully ventures into ballad territory on “Past Lives.” Proof that great bands can keep getting better. Birth of Joy comes from the same spiritual place as Capsula, but, with the bass replaced by keyboards, trucks in a more expansive sound. Get Well (Long Branch/SPV), the Dutch trio’s sixth album, picks up where its last studio LP Prisoner left off, pushing the psychedelic and jamming tendencies to the fore while not losing the band’s intense rock & roll drive. That proves BoJ equally adept at both short/sharp/shocked bangers like “You Got Me Howling” and “Blisters” and drawn-out epics “Numb” and the title track. Perhaps not the revelation Prisoner was, but a progression, for sure.

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With a name like Dr. Boogie, you’d expect a band beholden to John Lee Hooker, or at least ZZ Top and Canned Heat. In this case, though, you’d be wrong – the L.A. quartet owes its soul to the New York Dolls and the heyday of glam and protopunk on Gotta Get Back to New York City (Dead Beat). “Down This Road,” “Queen of the Streets” and the title track rock hard with that ever-so-tricky mix of Chuck Berry and aggression, while “Really Good Feeling” verges on power pop. The biggest surprise is “Together,” which adds a disco beat and “doot-doot” vocals for a dandy variation on the formula. Boasting a clever, “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” name, Indonesian Junk romps straight outta Milwaukee with an impressive self-titled debut album (Rum Bar). Throwing glam rock, protopunk, power pop and R&B-flavored garage rock into a centrifuge, the trio shakes it all down until it comes out as uncomplicated rock & roll. “Black Hole,” “Little Malibu” and “Indonesia” show off a band that rummages through the past, takes what it wants and leaves the rest to rot. Surprise bonus: a cover of Jayne County’s “Fuck Off.”

Ricky Warwick - When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Gu... - Artwork

Though best known for leading U.K. punk & roll band the Almighty and his current frontman position with Black Star Riders (the group that grew out the latter-day revival of Thin Lizzy), Ricky Warwick started banging guitar in imitation of Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. Despite his schedule with the Riders, the Irish native found time to knock out a double album that serves both sides of his personality. When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (and Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues)/Hearts on Trees (Nuclear Blast) ranges from the hard-edged heartland rock of the first half (“Son of the Wind,” “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride,” “The Road to Damascus Street”) to the mostly acoustic folk rock (“Said Samson to Goliath,” “Disasters,” a cover of Porter Wagoner’s immortal “Psycho”) of the second. Not out of line for a dude whose first professional job was playing second guitar on a New Model Army tour. German singer/songwriter Conny Ochs takes a similar tack on his third solo album Future Fables (Exile On Mainstream), though he prefers to mix his folk and rock rather than segregate them. Fielding melancholy introspection and cautiously optimistic progression, the record sounds like Ochs decided to blend his twin lives as acoustic troubadour and badass rocker, giving “Golden Future,” “Piece of Heaven” and “No Easy Way” a grit most singer/songwriter records rarely achieve.

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If Kiss had succumbed to its 70s glam rock tendencies instead of its 80s hair metal fantasies, maybe it would be half as cool as Watts. The Beantown quartet kicks the requisite amount of gluteus maximus on third LP The Black Heart of Rock ‘N Roll (Rum Bar), happily rebooting riffs from the Stones, ZZ Top and the Sweet as it’s the first time anything like it has ever been heard. “She’s Electric’ and “Strut Like a Champ” brandish serious swagger, “Stage Fright” boogies like Marc Bolan if he’s been born in Texas and “Bye & Bye” reveals the bruised heart under the bravado. If the U.S.A. has ever produced a rock & roll band inhabiting the same dimension as the late, great Dogs D’amour, Watts is probably it.

Phantomscover

Led by singer/songwriter Victor Penalosa – younger brother to Hector of the Zeros and Flying Color, cousin to the Escovedo clan, current drummer for the Flamin Groovies – the Phantoms bop all over the map on their self-titled debut (Rum Bar), from power pop (“Baby Loves Her Rock N’ Roll”) and country rock (“One For the Road”) to snotty punk (“Chump Change”) and no-nonsense rock & roll (“Tears Me Up Inside,” “Ditch Digger”). Add the driving heartland rock of “Two Lane Black Top” and Chuck Berry boogie of “The Ballad of Overend Watts” and it’s a party. The band has a solid grasp on anything that requires a backbeat and loud guitars, while Penalosa’s memorable melodies and appealingly plain singing tie it all together. You can probably be forgiven for casting aspersions toward the Two Tens – after all it’s a co-ed duo with a male guitarist and a female drummer, and debut album Volume (Ugly Sugar) was mixed by Detroit super producer Jim Diamond. But the L.A. act is no White Stripes wannabe – the band is far more enamored of 60s garage rock than Zeppelin blues. All the better to rock sweet pop tunes “Sweet as Pie” and “Watching Me” and pounding thrashers “Life” and “Rush Out” into the dirt.

Connectioncover

Despite coming from Portsmouth, New Hampshire (or maybe because of it), the Connection has established itself as one of the best 60s-inspired power pop bands going via Little Steven-endorsed rekkids like Let It Rock and the stupendous Labor of Love. So it’s a good time to reissue the quartet’s debut New England’s Newest Hit Makers (Rum Bar). Fresh-faced and sparkling, the record gets down to business quickly and efficiently via “Stop Talking,” “My Baby Likes to Rock N Roll,” “I Think She Digs Me” and other nuggets analogous to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night era. Delightful. Seattle’s Navins apply similar energy to power poppy tunes that boast melodies by the jangleful on debut LP Not Yourself Today (Green Monkey). Named after Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk, the band (which includes ex-TAD man Gary Thortensen) certainly exhibits a sense of humor, but is no joke, showing serious craft and heart on the winsome “Oceans,” the jamming “Wallet Full of Signs” and the crunchy “Never Wanted Nothing.”

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Singer/guitarist Eric Knoxx slung strings for rockin’ surf/lounge band the Vice Barons for several years, but finally uncorks his larynx on Saturday Night Shakes (Rum Bar), the debut album from his new outfit the Backseat Angels. With a nod toward the upbeat melodies of old school punk/pop like the Boys and a wink toward the swagger of bubblegum glamsters like the Sweet, Knoxx and co. bang out hard candy delights “Teenage Rock’n’ Roller,” “To Be a Better Man” and “My Baby Wants to Brainwash My Mind.”

LiquidGenerationQtZ

Hailing from Seattle, the town that kicked off the whole garage rock thing back in the 60s with the Sonics, the Wailers and – RIP Jack Ely – the Kingsmen, Liquid Generation takes direct inspiration from its forebears on Quarter to Zen (Green Monkey). Recorded in 1983 and unreleased until now, scrappy snarls like “Hang Up” (a gem from the Wailers’ catalog), “Nothing” (via the Ugly Ducklings) and “¼ to Zen” would’ve landed the band on the Get Hip label and on tour with the Chesterfield Kings had it come out when it should’ve. NYC’s Mystery Lights get even more faithful to the old school on their self-titled debut (Wick) – close your eyes and you’d think this was recorded in 1965. As such, it sounds like a bunch of kids with loud guitars, a handful of chords and a few drugs fueling their rock & roll fantasies. It would almost be too retro for its own good if not for the quality of the songs – the blistering “Melt,” the wide-ranging “Before My Own” and the surprisingly psychedelic “Flowers in My Hair, Demons in My Head” scratch the Nuggets itch as well as anything from the original era.

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The blues is, of course, one of the bigger planks in rock & roll’s platform, and bands will never stop using it as the crux of their raison d’etre. So it is with Jane Lee Hooker. The NYC five-piece takes on everyone from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to Ray Charles and Otis Redding on its debut album No B! (Ruf). But since these ladies have backgrounds in punk and hard rock – specifically Nashville Pussy, Bad Wizard, Helldorado and the legendary Wives – they simply can’t help rocking the hell out of the likes of Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” Albert King’s “The Hunter” and Charles’ “I Believe to My Soul.” The band’s rip through Johnny Winters’ “Mean Town Blues” hews far closer to the members’ previous day jobs than anything that came out of Memphis. Whiskey-and-cigs singer Dana “Danger” Athens’ original “In the Valley” fits right in alongside genre classics and deep cuts. Northern Ireland duo the Bonnevilles stick to an original program on Arrow Pierce My Heart (Alive Naturalsound), but also punk up the blues like Chess Records filtered through the Standells. “I’ve Come Too Far For Love to Die,” “The Electric Company” (not a U2 cover) and “The Man With the X Shaped Scar On His Cheek” rock raw and dirty, not a million miles away from what the Black Keys were doing in their early days.

Left Lane Cruiser BIB

For the last decade, Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Left Lane Cruiser has practically defined the idea of punk blues. Beck in Black (Alive Naturalsound), compiled by original drummer Brenn Beck from the albums on which he appears, collects tracks from the then-duo’s earliest days up until right before the band became a trio on last year’s barnburner Dirty Spliff Blues. The Cruiser’s rawboned bottleneck ‘spunk stomps and stammers on “Zombie Blocked,” “Circus” and the mighty “Sausage Paw,” one of six previously unreleased tracks. Shawn James is more of a blues traditionalist than Hooker, Cruiser or the Bonnevilles, but only in the sense of staying acoustic on his latest LP On the Shoulders of Giants (self-released). Wielding a pair of resonator guitars and recording at Sun Studios, the big-voiced Arkansan lays down deep blues like “Back Down” and “When It Rains, It Pours” that would crush boulders if played through a Marshall stack.

Blues Pills - Lady In Gold - Artwork

The blues is more of a feel than a form for international (counting members from the States, France and Sweden) quartet Blues Pills. Second full-length Lady in Gold (Nuclear Blast) finds the band folding in flavors of psychedelic soul into its groovy rawk stew, which suits brassy singer Elin Larsson on tunes like “Rejection,” “You Gotta Try” and  “Won’t Go Back” (all hidden in the final third, oddly enough). Ultimately, though, the band is still about fairly frill-less rock & roll – check “Bad Talkers,” “Little Boy Preacher” and the especially catchy title track. Bonus: a menacing, rocking take on Tony Joe White’s “Elements and Things.” Hailing from Sudbury, Ontario, Sulfur City plays groovy blues rock with a political edge on Talking Loud (Alive Naturalsound). With an electric washboard, a powerful howl, a 60s sense of social outrage and a thing for the Devil (who appears in “Johnny” and “Sold”), leader Lori Paradis cuts a striking figure. Aided and abetted by guitarist/co-writer Jesse Lagace, she sometimes lets her band lapse into a Grateful Dead choogle that sucks the energy out of the performances. But when she and the band grit their teeth, via the swampy “One Day in June,” stomping “Tie My Hand to the Floor” and fiery “You Don’t Know Me,” they show a lot of promise.

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Remember when alt.country meant more than folk singers with tasteful bands backing them up?  The Right Here does. Sounding on debut LP Stick to the Plan (Rum Bar) like the Old 97’s if they’d just come off a particularly debauched tour with Motörhead, the Minneapolis (of course) quartet takes two-stepping melodies and C&W progressions and thrashes the hell out of them while keeping the songcraft intact. From blazing cowpunkers “Til the Wheels Come Off” (which sounds like a classic set-closer) and “Judge Me When I’m Sober” to the tear-in-your-spilled-beer ballads “Drunk and Rolling Around” and “Fall Asleep, Hate Yourself, or Leave,” the Right Here rips and tears at your heartstrings as often as your ears (and your air guitar). Austin’s New Mystery Girl also fields a rootsy vibe on Crawl Through Your Hair! (Gutsy Dame), but calling them just another band of that ilk is a mistake. Singer/songwriter Chrissie Flatt and guitarist Eric Hisaw have deep roots in country and Americana music, but also a smart pop sense and a raw attack, while rhythm section Bobby Daniel and Hector Muñoz did many years with Alejandro Escovedo. Add quality songs like “Stepping On My Toes” and “I’m Not Ready to Let Go” and a rollicking rip through the New York Dolls’ “Subway Train” and you’ve got something more developed than just roots rock.

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The Kingbees were contemporaries of the Stray Cats, but never hit the same heights. That’s partly because the trio simply wasn’t as stylized as Brian Setzer’s crew, and partly because the group’s neorockabilly wasn’t as flashy about its retro stylings. That’s especially evident on second LP The Big Rock (Omnivore), originally released in 1981. Singer/guitarist Jamie James and co. worry less about 50s trappings than in simply continuing the tradition, making streamlined confections of the title track, “She Can’t ‘Make-up’ Her Mind” and covers of Charlie Rich, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins.

MuffBlonder

On the way to recording their second LP, the Muffs lost rhythm guitarist Melanie Vammen and traded drummer Criss Crass for ex-Redd Kross basher Roy McDonald. The changes did the band good, however, as evidenced by Blonder and Blonder (Omnivore). Originally released in 1995, the record reflected no radical departures from the self-titled debut. Instead the band refined its melodic punk & roll, with sharper hooks, wittier lyrics and a more aggressive attack. (Credit McDonald, whose spirit animal is clearly Keith Moon, at least in part for the latter.) “Ethyl My Love,” “Oh Nina” and “Laying On a Bed of Roses” rock recklessly without ever losing their grip on the hooks, while “Sad Tomorrow” and the waltz-time “Funny Face” demonstrate growing lyrical sophistication. The Doug Sahmish “Red Eyed Troll” and mostly acoustic “Just a Game” show a group growing beyond its self-imposed boundaries. Blonder and Blonder represents the Muff growing from strength to strength. As with last year’s reissue of The Muffs, this edition adds a gaggle of bonus tracks (including the album-worthy “Become Undone” and “Born Today”), informative liner notes from bassist Ronnie Barnett and Shattucks’ song-by-song commentary.

Sleeping_Beauties_PREORDER_-_border_grande

Careening out of control like a bus driven by a tweaker, Sleeping Beauties reclaim punk rock bash ‘n’ crash for a younger generation with their self-titled debut (In the Red). Slavering meat-eaters “Meth,” “Hands” and “Bobby & Suzie” filter garage rock through the prism of ADHD-addled high school dropouts; “Slumber Party” adds a shit-kicking (if barely recognizable) C&W beat. “Merchants of Glue” and “Addicted to Drugs” pass for ballads, with pretty melodies rolled in the dirt and left to dry in the sun – “South Eugene” even goes full on acoustic. The Pacific Northwestern quintet lays claim to real songwriting chops, which means even the most crazed numbers hold up beyond the initial energy rush. Like the long-gone Squirrel Bait drowning in the Johnny Thunders side of its personality, Sleeping Beauties buries a sensitive soul under a nightmare of squalling guitars, blaring vocals and chemically-assisted insanity, and may very well be what rock & roll is all about.

***

Michael Toland also writes about metal for BLURT. Go HERE to read the latest installment of his blog, “Throwing Horns,” in which he covers himself in goat’s blood and genuflects before the likes of Cobalt, Melvins, Death Angel, Candlemass, Dust Moth, Lord Mantis, and more.

 

————-AUDIO/VIDEO———————

 

The Backseat Angels – Saturday Night Shakes bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/saturday-night-shakes

 

Birth of Joy – “You Got Me Howling”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6F2WG5bos8c

 

Blues Pills – “Lady in Gold”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-1hn87q9_8

 

The Bonnevilles – “I’ve Come Too Far For Love to Die”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBFEQnIG79Q

 

Capsula – “Dali’s Face”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOS_X7rIjmc

 

The Connection – New England’s Newest Hitmakers bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/new-englands-newest-hit-makers-rum-bar-edition

 

Dr. Boogie – “Get Back to New York City”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEZbidRpyLc

 

Indonesian Junk – s/t bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/indonesian-junk

 

Shawn James – “Hellhound”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1KzScW87ZE

 

Jane Lee Hooker – “Mannish Boy”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnRiiJMN3B0

 

The Kingbees – The Big Rock trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYDXwTWPYDc

 

Liquid Generation – Quarter to Zen bandcamp:

http://greenmonkeyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/quarter-to-zen

 

The Muffs – Sad Tomorrow”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsxyaZhdW1s

 

The Mystery Lights – s/t bandcamp:

https://themysterylights.bandcamp.com/

 

The Navins – Not Yourself Today bandcamp:

https://greenmonkeyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/not-yourself-today

 

New Mystery Girl – Crawl Through Your Hair stream:

http://newmysterygirl.com/?page_id=20

 

Conny Ochs – “Killer”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMQbWFYY21o

 

The Phantoms – s/t bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-phantoms

 

The Right Here – Stick to the Plan bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/stick-to-the-plan

 

Sleeping Beauties – “Meth” (live):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNKHvBMljFo

 

Sulfur City – “Ride With Me”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk9jZYKXNW0

 

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders – “Just Another Broken Day”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfM6N5v2f_I

 

The Two Tens – Volume bandcamp:

https://thetwotens.bandcamp.com/album/volume

 

Ricky Warwick – “The Road to Damascus Street”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npqBrRDEKEs

 

Watts – The Black Heart of Rock-N-Roll bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-black-heart-of-rock-n-roll-2

 

 

 

HAVE WILBURY, WILL TRAVEL: The Traveling Wilburys

TW singing

The worthwhile 2CD/DVD compilation The Traveling Wilburys Collection captures a moment when superstars let their hair down and made music for the pure joy of it.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Supergroups tend to come with a lot of expectations – given the talent involved, the music has to be high caliber. Stands to reason, right? With all that star and/or creative power in the room, the results pretty much have to be amazing, or be consigned to the dustbins of history. Mere mortals (i.e. folks who don’t think of themselves as artists) can’t imagine the pressure, even if it’s self-inflicted.

In 1988, via the LP Vol. 1, the Traveling Wilburys said “Fuck that noise.” The lineup is definitely heavy – George “Nelson Wilbury” Harrison, Bob “Lucky Wilbury” Dylan, Tom “Charlie T. Jnr.” Petty, Jeff “Otis Wilbury” Lynne and the legendary Roy “Lefty Wilbury” Orbison – but the vibe is decidedly not. Originally assembled by Harrison to knock out a B-side to the single “This is Love,” from his popular album Cloud Nine, the Wilburys were less a band than a bunch of buddies getting together to dick around. That’s not to say these recordings are sloppy – far from it. There’s no way that craftspersons as supreme as these could merely puke up some half-formed melodies and call it a day. But there’s a relaxed atmosphere here, a sense that everyone involved was in it only for the fun, not to make art. Hooks offer handshakes instead of lapel grasps, lyrics unfold rather than drill, rhythms lope rather than gallop, and even the most tightly crafted nuggets sound casual, even modest.

Thus the irony of the record’s artistic and popular success – it sold a few million copies and won a Grammy. It’s no surprise that Harrison’s songs provided the hits – not only coming hot of the ascent of Cloud Nine, but also because “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line” are the kind of instantly memorable pop tunes that an ex-Beatle would write.

But the rest of the record revitalized the careers of its other participants as well. The work Petty did with the tropical-flavored “Last Night” presages his work with Lynne on the wildly popular Full Moon Fever, released the next year. Following a string of less-than-satisfying albums, “Dirty World” and the acerbic epic “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” were the best Dylan songs in years, setting the scene for his comeback via Oh Mercy. The spectacular “Not Alone Any More” – written primarily by Lynne – announced to the world that Orbison, the oldest and, by the 80s, least estimated member, was still at the peak of his considerable powers, and led to his own comeback with Mystery Girl. (A comeback sadly truncated by his premature death in 1989.)

Every one of these tunes, as well as deeper cuts “Heading For the Light” and “Rattled,” has held up nicely. Put a bunch of old friends with enormous talent into the studio with no real expectations (who’s gonna pressure these guys?) and it’s not a project – it’s a party. One that still, 28 years later, sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.

Despite Orbison’s death, the Wilburys reconvened a couple of years later to see if lightning could strike twice. Vol. 3 feels like most sequels – it hits the right beats and could never be called bad, but doesn’t hit the heights of the original. The same elements are here – loose arrangements, unhurried performances, easy craftsmanship – but there’s something missing. Perhaps it’s the spirit of the first album – by virtue of its nature as a follow-up, Vol. 3 automatically suffers the burden of expectation its predecessor avoided. Or maybe it’s the absence of Orbison, whose voice gave the first album’s recordings a near-spiritual dimension. Whatever it is, it keeps otherwise solid songs like the lush “New Blue Moon,” frisky “Poor House” and garage rocking “She’s My Baby” from achieving the transcendence of the best of Vol. 1. By no means lousy, Vol. 3 is simply underwhelming, and was wisely the band’s last.

TW deluxe

Originally released in 2007, The Traveling Wilburys Collection (via Wilbury Recordings/Concord Bicycle) puts both albums together as a 2CD set along with a bonus DVD of the band’s videos and a surprisingly (given the Monty Pythonesque liner notes) straightforward documentary. Each CD also includes B-sides as bonus tracks: “Maxine” and “Like a Ship,” both featuring the mysterious “Ayrton Wilbury” (AKA Harrison’s son Dhani) on Vol. 1 and the benefit album contribution “Nobody’s Child” and a cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” on Vol. 3 – all well worth the spins.

Even if ultimately it’s the first album that’s the true classic, this is still a worthwhile compilation that captures a moment when superstars let their hair down and made music for the pure joy of it.

TW

LAND OF THE TED, RIGHT, AND TRUE: Ted Nugent

Ted 3

RNC special! As we lurch into convention week, what better way to celebrate than with a conversation between BLURT and the Motor City Madman, Ted Fuggin’ Nugent, who holds forth on everything from the deaths of Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, and Lonnie Mack; to Obama, Trump, political correctness, and “looney fringe freaks”; to how one can be firmly anti-drug while being pro-medical marijuana; and even to why he’d put a puppy in a blender and drink the brew if it served a higher purpose. Maybe even a word or two about the ol’ “Wango Tango,” too… Go HERE to view dates on his current Sonic Baptizm tour, which features drummer Jason Hartless and bassist/vocalist Greg Smith.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Whether you love him or hate him — and be assured that there are folks who veer towards each extreme — no one can deny that Ted Nugent makes no apologies. To say he’s passionate about his beliefs, whether it’s in defense of the NRA, his repudiation of the political left, or even his disdain for President Obama himself, is like saying it sometimes snows in the Arctic. In other words, it would be a gross understatement. Animal lovers beware; having started our conversation by explaining how he killed a squirrel on his property earlier in the day, Nugent made it clear that hunting was something he relished and killing, albeit for the sake of furnishing his food, and was a bloodsport he enjoyed.

Of course Nugent’s also known for the music he’s made over the course of nearly 50 years, starting with a hit song with the Amboy Dukes in his native Detroit, a song that swept underground radio in the late ‘60s called “Journey to the Center of the Mind.” However, it’s been the solo career that followed, punctuated on occasion by his bond to the supergroup Damn Yankees (which also included bassist Jack Blades, an ex-member of Night Ranger; guitarist Tommy Shaw, formerly of Styx; and drummer Michael Cartellone), that helped establish his reputation as the self-proclaimed Motor City Madman. More hard rock than heavy metal, his onstage antics and catalog of standards have made him a prime draw and the very image of a crazed guitar welding rocker.

Nevertheless, prompted perhaps by a presidential campaign more freewheeling than any in history, Nugent seemed most interested in talking politics, gleefully expounding on his basic beliefs about where the country was headed and what’s needed to be done to wrest control from the party in power. Despite his adamant views — some of which have drawn accusations of racism and abject extremism — Nugent can be a surprisingly charming fellow, one who’s easily able to engage and entertain while still punctuating his point of view. So if you decide at the outset you absolutely hate all he stands for, at least by the end of the conversation you still feel like you can like the man himself. Maybe…

BLURT: Hello Mr. Nugent. How are you today?

TED NUGENT: I’m so good it’s stupid. (laughs) I’m continuing throttling the bad and the ugly — there’s more bad and ugly than there ever has been in our lifetime — but if one prioritizes intellectually, there’s more good as well. I already killed a squirrel this morning, fixed a gate and a fence. We found a bird that had a broken neck, so we killed her and preserved her precious protein. The dogs are happy. They’re laying there chewing on bones. They’re looking so happy it’s insane. I’m getting ready to do the greatest tour of my life. I’m getting ready to go to a turkey hunt and a Ford Bronco rally. Is there something I’m missing here? And I practiced guitar this morning. Prince danced naked in a sea of purple rain. I promise you that!

Wow. Will you do a Prince tribute in your set?

I will not. I’m sure I will acknowledge the loss of Lonny Mack, however. He was one of my huge influences. He is in the top one percent of the founding fathers of electric guitar. Bowie died, Glenn (Frey) died… I’m 67.4 years old. I’m a little older than most of those guys and I expect they respected their elders. It’s a great loss. With the rumors of Prince’s drug abuse, I’m ignoring all the things that are against my self-evident truth quality of life and I don’t criticize the fact that Glenn Frey viciously attacked me from the stage for the last five years. So when I pay tribute to Glenn, I don’t even acknowledge that. I just thank him for enriching our lives with his brilliant, genius, groovin’, Motor City R&B/rock ‘n’ roll. I always take the positive side.

Shutup_&_Jam!

You also seem to have no worries saying exactly what’s on your mind, no matter how controversial it may seem. You don’t make any attempt to hold back.

You noticed that? I think honesty is always the best policy. If honesty ruffles your feathers, then your feathers needed ruffling.

The concept of adhering to political correctness may be somewhat alien as far as you’re concerned…

Here’s a great quote for you. The concept of political correctness rolls off my back like hygiene off of Michael Moore.

What do really think, Mr. Nugent?

Political correctness is a lie. It’s just the cult of dishonesty. Some words hurt feelings, but there’s no pressure to get a hero Marine, a warrior, new legs because the VA is corrupt and criminal? Some words are worth a protest, but not in support of all the heroes of the military that provide you the freedom that is unique to America? That doesn’t offend you, but the words do? See what I mean? That’s Bizarro world. Alfred E. Newman wouldn’t include this in Mad Magazine. This one would fly over the cuckoo’s nest. I’m an old guy and I’m having the time of my life because I’ve always prioritized, and I’ve always tried to make the best the best of honest and pragmatic and intellectual decisions based on honesty and truth. One and one are always going to make two, no matter how many people are offended by the number two. And that’s really how simple and stupid and pathetic political correctness is, so I dance on its skull on an hourly basis and it’s a joy for me.

Is there ever a time where you think, “I better not say that? I better hold back?”

No. No never. Let’s put it this way. I’ve been training with the U.S. Marines for 45 years plus. I’ve never been an official Marine, but the way these guys embrace me, I’d rather have this than officialness, than government officialness. The battle cry of the Marine Corp is “Improvise, adaption, overcome.” When I speak every year, as I have for 27 years at my Ted Nugent Camp for Kids charity, for kids between seven and seventeen, I don’t exactly do the same introduction to “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” I would do at a Ted Nugent concert. Are you with me? I spoke at a Republican luncheon yesterday here in Waco Texas and I never said “fuck” once. How about that? So I improvised. It wasn’t a conscious decision that, gosh, I should avoid these words. I embrace the environment that I’m in and conduct myself accordingly.

Well, you have made some disparaging comments about Problem Obama that some people have had some a problem with.

Some people have a real problem with that as the threats against my life would indicate.

The Secret Service paid you a visit, did they not?

Well, the Secret Service was forced to, because they were embarrassed to have to spend time with the most law abiding American in the history of the world, while some of their own agents were committing crimes. (laughs) They didn’t express in our little meeting what was alluded to, but I have nothing but respect for those great warriors of law enforcement — the majority of them anyway — but that moment was a manifestation of political correctness. How stupid do you have to be to misunderstand my clear statement, my unambiguous irrefutable statement that I was in fear of my government, not that I was threatening anyone. You have to genuflect at the altar of buffoonery to twist the meaning of those words to that degree. And it was Nancy Pelosi — you remember old Nancy —  who said (adapts the tone of a cackling witch) “You don’t need to read this! You need to sign it!” So when those kind of freaks emphasize their freakishness, the media reports of the Secret Service are as serious as a heart attack, but boy… when these heroes of law enforcement come and check out Ted Nugent with the terrorism running muck around, I don’t think I’m in the top million to have the Secret Service, with their limited resources, spend their time with.

You’ve made some other comments about Obama that raised some eyebrows. You referred to him as a “subhuman mongrel.” That could be construed as racist, no?

Yes, a subhuman mongrel. That was in response to his daily violations of constitutionality and his oath to the office…his present hatred for America and freedom and our way of life. The guy was raised by communists. He was tutored by communists. Who doesn’t know where this guy came from? This is going to go down in history that Ted Nugent was right all along, and if you think it’s wrong to call a guy that is intentionally dismantling the greatest quality of life that’s ever taken place in the history of humankind — i.e. mental transformation — if you don’t recognize that and that my condemnation in street terminology was right on the mark, then you are an enemy of America. If you support this president who is the enemy of America and find fault with those of us who are criticizing this enemy of America, then you’re an enemy of America. [Go HERE to read a report on Nugent stating that Obama “wants to start a race war” in America along with his opinion on the recent police officer deaths in Dallas.]

Okay, I understand where you’re coming from here, but…

Well you do, because you’re not on acid. (laughs)

But let’s play devil’s advocate. Some people might say that referring to a president who is African American…

Let’s stop right there. When you say “some people” let’s really examine those “some people.” They are consumed with hate. They really believe that people who refuse to be productive deserve some of your wages. The length of their anti-logic, anti-American, anti-human atrocities is really unlimited. And if those people find fault with me, you know what it does? Not only does it please me immensely, but it encourages me to stay on the path of logic, truth and common sense. And so when those “some people” find fault with me, it proves that I’m on track. And if you really examine where the hate and the threats against me and the condemnation of those terms that describe pure evil and anti- Americanism come from, then identify the source. You have to be honest with yourself. They hate you because you’re productive. You’re a chump. Because they can make more money than you by not even getting out of bed. Those are the people who hate me.

Okay, but still… saying subhuman in the context of an African America individual…

I don’t mean to cut you off, but you know what Ted Nugent doesn’t say? I see no color. I see no ethnicity. I don’t know what your ethnicity is and there’s nothing in life I could care less about than someone’s religion or color or way of life choices, or gender alignment. None of that means anything to me! I refer to Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein in the same way, but no brouhaha occurred because they’re white, which shows that those attacking me are the real racists.

Okay, we’ll take you at your word.

Well of course you will. So does anyone who has a modicum of education and is honest. It’s the evil, rotten, strange… I use the term “subhuman” because I know how subhumans act. I’m surrounded by real humans every day. And they work hard, live within their means and earn their own way. They give and give to every children’s charity, every military charity. They’re kind and thoughtful and have goodwill. So I know humans. From my band and my family, the guys I go hunting with, my crew. The people I’ve done charity work with, the people I’ve worked with for 50 some years, the people I’ve done bookings with…the entourage of a gravity defying musical career.  I know what human beings are, and I don’t recognize people who say on the house floor, you need to read this enormous document and you need to sign it! That’s not human. Maybe Martian. Where does that work? Where could that work? Where is that legal?

Okay, well we get where you’re coming from then.

Of course you do! Because you have to get up in the morning and go to work. You and I have a great connection. We actually feel accountable for our own productivity and benefit to our fellow man and America and our neighborhood and our family and the good mother earth. You go to my Facebook and there are eleven million people on there. I always share my writings and my interviews and comments, and it’s all loving. Tens of millions of people get on and comment that “That’s what I would have said, you said it exactly that way I believe.” Then some come on and say, “Fuck you, Ted Nugent, you murderer of innocent animals. I hope you rot in hell.” Jeffery Dahmer lives. That’s going to be from all the John Wayne Gaceys out there. They’re never going to like Ted Nugent.

Ted 2

Okay, let’s talk about another comment you made recently, that Jews are responsible for gun control?

What I did was a posting on my Facebook where it listed a bunch of people that are on record to ban private firearms ownership, and they’re identified as pure evil. I identified them so someone can know to keep an eye on them. They are in elected positions and they must be voted out of office. And if they have any influence on policy making in America, they must be stopped. I had no consideration for their religion, because I’m surrounded by Jews. In fact, when I wrote that I was adjusting my yamaka. I had just dived into some kosher venison. I’ve performed at bar mitzvahs!  Give me a fucking break! What kind of freak would say that age 67 Ted Nugent became a Jew hater! You got to be kidding me!

But in your comment you attributed this stance to Jews.

They happen to be Jewish people, which is even more astonishing because that’s how Hitler forced them into victimization. By disarming them. How could a Jew or anyone not know that the battle cry of freedom, to save our Jewish friends is “Never again!” And what does “never again” mean? It means that we will never again let anyone disarm people and take control and then send us to the gas chambers. Is my interpretation pretty good there?

So Ted, how do these things get misinterpreted then?

C’mon. How old are you? I know these are rhetorical questions. But c’mon! Examine The Huffington Post and Move On.org and Media Matters and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Those are the punks that bus protestors to my gigs, my gigs all around the country, and call my promoters and all my sponsors, and claim that I’m a child molester and a draft dodger and a racist and an anti-Semite and I torture innocent animals. These are actual quotes that these people constantly barrage me with. They’re a few looney fringe freaks, but because they don’t have jobs, they can still be paid by these ultra-left organizations to muzzle me. Because they know if they try to debate me, I’ll eat their family tree and shit sawdust. They can’t debate me! I’ve got all the facts, all the evidence on my side and you’ll come off like Pierce Morgan, which is almost pitiful.

Are you endorsing any particular candidate?

Well my God, at this point, anybody but the communist and the felon. I think Trump and Cruz are great men. I’m not picking an individual at this time. I speak to them and their camps on a regular basis and I have declined to endorse either. But quite honestly, it’s anybody but a Democrat. Those two frontrunners — Ted Cruz, a great man, and Donald Trump, a great man — neither are perfect, but compared to Hilary and Bernie, they’re almost like archangels. I’m pushing to make sure that we stop this fundamental transformation that bribes people for votes, bribes people with the producers’ money. Those of us who work — they’re taking our money to bribe people to vote against us. Who doesn’t know that?

Some people would say the Koch Brothers do much the same with their money and their influence.

Except the premise of the Koch Brothers is one of rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, freedom of choice, respect for religious decision making and support of the LGBT without compromising other people’s freedoms. So I think what the right does, what the conservatives do is just fine — although I think the word “conservative” is hysterical, because I wrote “Wango Tango.” So I don’t know if I would fall into the Webster’s definition of a conservative. But when it comes to work ethic, patriotism, good over evil, being a good law abiding citizen — all the things that make life good — those are what I believe in. I don’t believe in Occupy Wall Street claiming that those not willing to produce deserve the earnings of those who do produce. Other than Mao Tse Tung, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Wasserman-Shultz and all the creeps on the left, where can we point to that working anywhere?

You seem to be defending a strong work ethic then.

Don’t encourage non-productivity. You can’t reward non-productivity. You can only encourage productivity, i.e. capitalism. Reward cleverness, a work ethic, tenacity, risk taking, sacrifice. That’s why they can’t argue with me. That’s not a Ted Nugent thing. It’s your stuff too. It’s people who care stuff. If we can’t keep most of our earnings, then we can’t help tornado victims and flood victims and the hungry and the sick and the disabled. The government won’t. People of goodwill and decency not only hear me, they hear themselves through me. They won’t get on the phone with you this morning. I get on the phone. I’m not speaking on my behalf. I’m speaking on working hard working, playing hard Americans’ behalf who work their asses off to be in the assets column, because we would be embarrassed and ashamed to intentionally be in the liability column. That personifies an enormous percentage of the Democrats and that is tragic! And if that offends someone, then someone needed to be offended.

It would seem that Trump is the man for you. It appears he’s unafraid to say whatever he says without fear of consequence or backlash.

I’ve heard people say that Trump is as close to Ted Nugent as you’re going to get in today’s politics. Yes, and that’s why nobody cares if he’s a liberal or a conservative or a Libertarian or religious or atheist. Nobody cares. They want to fix America.  Stop and think. There’s a debate in America today over whether we should have secure borders or not. Are you kidding me? There’s actually an acceptable colloquialism in America that people have given up looking for work. (laughs) That’s not America! Or how about the list of jobs that Americans refuse to do? Those words struggle to come out of my lips because it’s so illogical. Can you imagine your kid coming up to you and saying, “Dad, I have my list of chores here and there’s a few on here I’m not willing to do.” Well, no food for you, son.

You could be on the short list for Trump’s VP pick.

I’m not going to give you all the gory details, but I’ve been prodded for years to run for governor here or governor there, senator here or state rep there. People who aren’t afraid of the truth and they’re not strangled by political correctness, they know that I speak like the shit kickers who made America great. The wielders, the carpenters, the cops, the teachers — the people with jobs, they rally behind me. They’re not really behind me…they rally beside me because we’re in this together. I was part of the culture wars in the mid ‘60s — before anyone knew there was a culture war because the rock ‘n’ roll media was a minor consideration way back then — and they immediately started condemning me for being a gun guy, and I just didn’t understand that.

Unlike many musicians, you take a strong stance against drugs and other stimulants.

Not only would I not do their drugs, but I condemned the behavior of my fellow musicians on their drugs. Who in your life do you want high?  Do you want your airline pilot high? How about your plumber? You want your babysitter high? Who do you want high?  Death with THC in the bloodstream in Colorado since pot was legalized has gone up 44 percent. Who likes this?

However you have come out in support of medical marijuana.

For sure. I’d put a puppy in a blender and have you drink it if it could help cure something or another. I do have a way with imagery, don’t you think? [Go HERE to read Nugent’s editorial from last year in which he announces his support of medical marijuana.]

Do you ever say things purely for the shock value?

Because I do this all the time, my vocabulary is a little more uninhibited than others, shall we say? But I write music that’s out of body, that’s stream of consciousness and so I find that certain gestures and certain words are more emphatic. The biggest problem is that political correctness came from people being cautious about what they say. But if you’re confident in your intellect and you’re confident in your goals, what your intentions are, then you don’t have to mince words. I have confidence in my vocabulary and in your capability of editing it for your unsuspecting civilian readership. Maybe I have more confidence in that than you do.

I don’t think you want me to edit what you have to say.

Oh sure, but you have a publisher or a boss that will insist you do so.

No, not really. [Absolutely true, Mr. Zimmerman. This is an awesome interview. Nothing will be cut. —Copy Ed.]

Ah, then let it rip. I think the shit kickers of the world who are the best people in the world, and so the shit kickers are the people who bust their ass. They’re the people who work hard and play hard. People that won’t accept being in the liability column. Our instincts, our morals and our patriotism drive us to be in the asset column. So they don’t have a problem with my words. You know what I’m confident in telling you? You will never interview with anyone who has spent more time with dying children and with their parents and family… little girls and boys, five, six, seven years old, teenagers, young adults, old people… who want to spend their last day fishing or hunting or barbecuing with Ted Nugent. The family who is letting their five year old daughter who is dying of leukemia, if they think that I’m okay to spend that time with that little girl, well you know what, I’m okay! These families know that I say “mother fucker” on occasion. They know that I use colorful language on occasion, but not around the little girl around the campfire. I’m a smart guy, and I know when where and how. The people who have a problem with Ted Nugent just don’t know when, where or how. For me to please them would be like me trying to tell a heroin addict to quit putting a needle in their arm, which by the way I’ve done. But they won’t listen to you. They like that needle. They don’t want to be accountable. They don’t want love. They don’t want to believe in the American dream. They just want to die. And I’ve held them in my arms until they’ve cried, and I’ve begged them, and I’ve taken the needle and I’ve thrown it away, but they go and find another one.

But again, you’ve come out in favor of medical marijuana. For some, that’s seen as a first step towards all out legalization.

That’s so stupid! I don’t think so. This is the condition, this is the environment, this is the situation. The guy’s in pain. He’s got leukemia. What can we provide him that will help? Get it.

You’re a naturalist though. One would think that smoking weed wouldn’t bother you. After all, it’s a natural herb that comes from the soil. One would think that you’d find that it is okay.

Except that in my lifetime the proof that is that it’s not okay, because the people smoking dope around you are liabilities instantly. I couldn’t rely on them for anything. I have to babysit them. What if I needed help? They want to drop out and get high and do whatever it is that that embarrassing self-inflicted condition is. There’s no benefit to any of that.

Aren’t you just lumping everyone together into kind of a general stereotype of your own making?

Sure, I’m lumping the thousands that I’ve seen firsthand and that I’ve witnessed. Those are the people that I’m lumping. I’m only lumping people in the category of chopping people’s heads off in the category of chopping people’s heads off. I hear people complaining about Donald Trump. “He thinks all Mexicans are rapists and murderers.” No, he doesn’t. Nobody does. We think that rapists and murderers are rapists and murderers. So there may be three or four percent who are rapists and murders, but the other 97 percent aren’t, but we don’t claim they all are!

Perhaps he phrased it in an unfortunate way that didn’t get that point across.

No, not at all. Perhaps in the world of political correctness if you’re stupid enough to swallow that. Nobody with an ounce of intellect thinks that he thinks all Mexicans are rapists and murderers.

We’re just trying to clarify here.

Of course you are. To counter my stand, you have to be on the devil’s side.

By asking these questions, it helps people to illuminate exactly what you mean.

Illumination is your job. Nobody appreciates that more than I do, because all those leftists gangs that I mentioned earlier — and there’s so many of them, it goes right up to ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and even Fox sometimes — they’ll take a headline from the Huffington Post and rerun it as if it was true! How about the one where they said I told Native Americans to go back to where they came from? What sort of subhuman mongrel could possibly think that Ted Nugent would say that, not knowing that Ted Nugent is aware that they’re from here!

If you’re going to attribute some nasty, hateful thing to me, at least make it believable. You can tell I’m chuckling throughout these things because on a personal level it doesn’t faze me a bit, but what does breaks my heart to the core is that those are fellow Americans making up the nastiest, cruelest,  hateful lies about another American. Again, not that it hurts me, but I’m hurt that that kind of conduct goes on.

The Nuge is on the web, natch. Commune with him at his Facebook page. More details, tour dates, merch, etc. at his official website.

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LIFE’S A GAS: The Bevis Frond

bevis 1992 b_ CARLA VAN DER MAREL CREDIT

Indie rock’s Lord Plentiful of ‘90s psychedelia may have had his regrets, but the rest of us are fortunate he has persevered. Our official Nick Saloman correspondent examines Frond classic Any Gas Faster, and finds that Saloman himself remains pretty chuffed about the record, as well as the current Fire Records reissue series.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Any Gas Faster, for me, was the moment where Nick Saloman and his music arrived on a much larger stage, and felt like it was set to take on the world. With this album, originally released by Reckless in 1990, he managed to forge all of his disparate influences together into a record punctuated with scorching guitar licks and moments of immense solace, and tempered throughout with jaded Anglo introspection.

Take opener “Lord Plentiful Reflects”: The guitar rips and roars, and then in wonderful Bevis Frond fashion, becomes this wonderful slice of classically informed psychedelia. Here, Nick sings, “Well I hate the person that I’ve become whether in your pocket or beneath your thumb” and “Until I face reality you’ll take as much as you can from me.” The scathing lyrics are a kick in the teeth and cut a unique contrast with the melody, which is both hummable and full of the “guitar heroics” Nick speaks of in a later track.

“This Corner of England” is the other equally important side of Bevis Frond. Here we have a heartbreakingly beautiful, acoustic number that captures both unrequited longing and the stinging dissolution of a relationship. Nick sings, “I bury my pain in this pillow that burns up my head with smell of her vanishing cream, look over the rooftops above beyond the distant horizon and there through mists of confusion she dances till morning with never a though for this corner of England.”  The words are poignant and rendered with a painterly grace.

“Olde Worlde” closed out the original album with Nick’s double tracked guitar wizardry which slashes and burns all the way to the end. It’s a raucous sendoff for an album brimming with more poetic heart than anything that came out at the time. With the new Fire Records label reissue (due July 29), they’ve tacked on the Ear Song EP that was released on Reckless Records back in the day. Here you get an incredibly raucous live versions of Inner Marshland tracks “I’ve Got Eyes in the Back of My Head” and “Mediaeval Sienese Acid Blues.” The live version of “Olde Worlde” takes on a punk rock aggressiveness that moves into Husker Du territory.

Any Gas Faster is definitely one of The Bevis Frond’s most engaging and musically inspiring albums. Borne into a period where grunge was beginning to take hold, it never truly got the listening it deserved, so do yourself a favor and don’t let it pass you by this time.

Nick Saloman has graciously answered a few questions about the album for BLURT readers.

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BLURT: What does Any Gas Faster mean?

NICK SALOMAN: When I left school I became a trainee copywriter in an advertising agency for a while. ‘Any Gas Faster’ was the headline of the only ad I ever got into print. It was for industrial propane and the like. So it meant exactly what it said. You want propane? You want it now…

 

How long did it take to record the album?

Not long, probably about 4 or 5 days.

 

Did you demo the songs on your own or with the full band?

That album only features really me plus Martin Crowley on drums. Plus Mick Wills makes a brief appearance on acoustic guitar. I did all the demos alone.

 

Why is Fire now doing the reissues when Cherry Red was slated to do most of your back catalogue?

Because Cherry Red decided they didn’t want to continue with the project. Apparently the sales of the first few reissues weren’t as good as they’d hoped, so they just stopped doing them. Fire stepped in and did a deal with Cherry Red (with my approval), and now they’re continuing the reissue programme.

 

You seemed to have been on a tear releasing 6 albums in short order over the course of the proceeding three years, what was different stylistically about Any Gas Faster than the previous records?

I suppose the main differences were that Martin was playing drums, and that it was recorded in a proper studio instead of my bedroom. So in both cases the recording values had been raised somewhat. Other than that, it was just the next batch of songs I’d written.

 

The Psyche Bancroft cover art is as always really striking. How closely did you work with him on that? Do you have the original piece of art at home?

It’s ‘Cyke’ actually, and he was such a brilliant artist that I just left it entirely up to him. I’d give him the track listing and all the text that was needed, and then it was up to him. No, I don’t have the original. In fact, I have no idea what happened to it. Maybe Reckless have it, maybe Cyke still has it, I have no clue.

 

What are the songs that you still play live from this record?

We still do ‘Olde Worlde’ and occasionally ‘This Corner Of England.’

 

 

What is your favorite song off the album?

Well, personally, I always liked ‘Legendary’ a lot.

 

Was this the first record you recorded at Gold Dust studios?

It was the first Bevis record I recorded there, but we did the Von Trap family EP at Gold Dust some years earlier. That’s how I knew it was a good place.

 

Were the recording sessions paid for by Reckless? What did Reckless Honcho, Charles Taylor think of the album when he heard it?

If I remember correctly, Reckless gave me an advance, and I spent some of it recording at Gold Dust. I guess Charles must have thought it was okay, or else he wouldn’t have wanted to put it out. He didn’t like ‘London Stone’ very much. I thought Reckless would put out, but in the end it ended up being on my own label, Woronzow.

 

How did the album sell?

I don’t really know. Once again I suppose it did okay, because Reckless put out the next album, New River Head.

 

The opening guitar lick for “Then You Wanted Me” what do you remember about how that came to you?

No, sorry. I have no recollection at all. It was probably just the result of have a play up in the bedroom studio and coming up with a nice sounding riff. That’s how it usually happened. Now it’s a basement studio.

 

“This Corner of England” is such a heartbreakingly beautiful song. What was the genesis of this song?

Well, I was just imagining some guy who moves to Cornwall (or some similarly remote place) with his girlfriend with dreams of an idyllic new life. However, she gets bored and leaves, and he’s left there on his own. That’s it really.

 

I was always fascinated by the Ear Song EP that Fire have included on this reissue. Who did the art? Who is that old guy reading on the front cover?

The image was from an antique book of French art nouveau prints.

 

The live songs, took on a punk muscularity and aggression to them, do you attribute some of that to Martin Crowley and his punk background?

I think Martin played a big part in giving the band a kind of punky edge, but I was pretty into punk anyway. Martin was a true young punk who lived up a tower block in Camden Town. He was several years younger than me, but somehow it worked really well. He was an absolutely wonderful, intuitive drummer, and also a decent guitarist. Sadly he died about 18 months ago, aged just 49. He certainly added a bit of blue-haired youth to the band, but anyway I think we’ve always sounded tougher and more aggressive when we’ve played live. And I think that’s still the case.

 

Was “Radio Bloodbeast” ever performed a second time?

I don’t think so, but I we usually did similar sounding improvisations, and it was more or less dependent on Rod’s improvised lyrics what we called it. Throughout the years of playing live, I’ve always liked to include a bit of jamming and improvisation just to keep everyone (including myself) on their toes. And because when it’s done well, it sounds great.

 

Did Rustic Rod Goodway join the band for touring during that period or was that just a one off live?

Rod & Martin both did a bunch of UK gigs and then one European tour with the band. After that Bari Watts joined on guitar and we changed drummers briefly to Twink, but that didn’t really work so Ric Gunther joined. Bari & Ric both left a couple of years later to concentrate on their own band The Outskirts Of Infinity, so we went down to a three piece and Andy Ward joined on drums. After Andy left the band 8 years later, we had the amazing Jules Fenton on drums. Then I had a 7 year hiatus, and when we started gigging again in 2011, the line-up was me on guitar and vocals, Adrian on bass and vocals, Paul Simmons on guitar and Dave Pearce on drums, and that’s how it is now.

 

The live stuff from Denmark on the “Ear Song EP” did you manage to record the entire show? Will it ever see the light of day?

I think those four tracks were all that ever got recorded.

 

Of all your Reckless releases where does this one rate for you?

I was very happy with the album, but I only had a brief sojourn with Reckless, so I never really considered the output in terms of relative merit. I suppose if I had to choose, I’d say that ‘New River Head’ was the best of the Reckless releases.

BF

***

Photo Credits: B&W pic (circa ’92) by Carla Van der Marel; others courtesy Nick Saloman. Big salute to our old BLURT pal Phil McMullen of Ptolemaic Terrascope fame for helping to keep the Frond fires burning all these years. –Ed.

 

MYSTERIOUS MIX: Ray LaMontagne

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Rootsy songwriter blends the cerebral and the psychedelic on his latest album, produced by Jim James.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Don’t try to pigeonhole Ray LaMontagne. While critics have been quick to compare him to any number of rarefied and rootsy icons — the Band, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley and Steven Stills among them — LaMontagne sole muse is the inspiration that strikes from within. “I always let the songs lead the way,” the soft-spoken singer/songwriter insists. “It’s always kind of the same process. I hear all these melodies. If something catches me, then I say to myself, wow, I’ve really got to pursue this further.”

The dusty veneer this New England native established with his first four albums — Troubled (2004), Till the Sun Turns Black (2006), Gossip in the Grain (2008), and the Grammy-winning God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise (2010) — began to shift slightly with 2013’s Supernova, a set of songs that found him connecting with producer Dan Auerbach and taking more of a psychedelic spin. His latest effort, Ouroboros, released earlier this year, continues that tact, opening up new layers of aural suggestion thanks to the input of producer Jim James and his own cerebral sensibilities.

We recently connected with LaMontagne during a break in his current tour and asked him to expound on his overall MO. Serious and soft spoken, he came right to the point.

BLURT: You’re touring behind the new album now. How long ago did the tour start?
LAMONTAGNE: We’re ten days into it now. It’s good.

And you’ll be on the road for how long?
Right through the end of December.

You’ll be out for awhile. Are you looking forward to it? Is it still satisfying?
It is. It’s an adjustment. But this tour especially, being able to play with these guys is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s really a high point in my career so I’m just trying to enjoy every minute that I get to be around these guys.

It’s been said that this latest album of yours took some time to come. You weren’t sure where you wanted to go with it and then it supposedly came to you in a dream. And then your demos actually became the album. Is that how it transpired?
Not exactly. I demoed the piece in full for Jim (James). I have a very rudimentary home studio, so I played all the guitars and sung all the harmonies, and just kind of mapped it all out just so he had a good idea of what I was getting at before we went into the studio. Which is what I like to do anyway. I don’t go in with any questions. I go in with songs that are finished so that all that stuff is out of the way and we can just get to work. I don’t like hanging out in the studio. I like the work, but I like to see it completed so that we can just go in there and get it as good as it can be. But I don’t want to spend a month in there. I like to do it in less than two weeks if we can. I just wanted to give Jim a roadmap. But really, Jim is Jim and he loves things to be really pure. When he heard the demo, it was Jim’s personality to say don’t even mess with it. Just release that. It’s beautiful. It sounds so pure. But of course that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to use good mikes, and record it with good players. It really blossomed because so many surprises happened in the studio, and I knew it deserved that.

You’ve worked with any distinguished producers over the course of your career… Ethan Johns, Dan Auerbach and so on. Now you have Jim James at the helm. What makes you lean towards any particular producer at any given time? Why don’t you stay with the same producer for two albums in a row? You seem a bit restless.
Working with Dan was due to the fact that I really just always loved his music. We got to know each other slightly around the time when I released my second record, and that’s how that conversation started. Working with a producer is for me just having someone else’s ears in the room other than mine. I need someone to bounce ideas off of, other people just to prove to me that my initial idea was right. It’s really helpful in a creative situation, I feel, just to have someone to bounce ideas off of. It gives you outside perspective, to get it out of my own head so to speak. That’s really it. I don’t need someone to write songs for me, I don’t need someone to rewrite songs for me, I don’t someone to tell me what the sound is going to be. I already know what I want, and so I just want that other person in there to bounce it off of, and the musicians as well of course. I find it helpful, even if it’s just to clarify my own ideas, my own thoughts.

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It seems like you made a pretty dramatic change from the God Willin’ album to the one that came out after, Supernova. You veered from a sound that was very archival, emanated this kind of Woodstock mystique, to a set of songs that were cloaked in a psychedelic haze. So is that the path you’re pursuing now?
I never really know until I get in a room and start of waiting for melodies to come. It’s driven by something that’s really unknown. I just open myself up to the unknown and see what happens. It’s always been that way. In the earlier years, when you’re learning, you may have been working to heard to receive things in one direction or another. I’m learning to be really hands off and the less I’m consciously involved, I think it’s better for the work.

So you wait for inspiration to come to you? It seems a kind of passive way of doing things.
Yeah, it’s a funny sort of balance. When I decide it’s time, I think it out, and I feel that current pulling me and then I’m very dedicated. I can be in my room from 7:30 in the morning to 10:30 or 11 at night. It’s all I do. I just pace and follow the melodies until I hit a roadblock, and then I follow another melody until I hit another roadblock, and I just keep going in that circle. And if things aren’t panning out, I just wait for another piece of melody to filter down, and then I follow that. Whatever is fruitful is what I follow. It seems to be producing good stuff. I really feel that the Supernova record was my best work. I feel like I’m just hitting my stride. I’m just getting to a place where I’m in a good place with that creative energy. I don’t push it, I don’t manhandle it, I just follow it and hopefully I use the skills I’ve learned and the tools I’ve learned to just take it ever so slightly. And at that point, it’s mysterious to me too as to what it’s all about. (chuckles) I enjoy that mystery for what it is.

You seem like a very cerebral sort of guy. A real deep thinker. Introspective to a degree. Is that a fair assessment?
I’m a homebody and I value my friendships highly and my relationships. I’ve been with my wife for 28 years, and we’ve been married for 20. I’m taking my oldest boy to college this fall in between tours, and these things are important to me. Stability is important to me. Fame is not important to me. I’m never put any energy towards that whatsoever. It doesn’t do anything for me, but the work does. I just love the art form. I love music. It’s such a beautiful powerful art form and I feel like it’s a blessing to be able to do it and make a living at it. I feel really fortunate. But I want to do good work. I don’t want to just go out and tour. There’s a certain element that does it a lot, especially younger bands that just love it because I think they don’t believe there’s any responsibility out there. What strikes me is that a lot of guys like it because they like the image of it. They like the lifestyle that comes with no responsibility and being the coolest guy in the room. That’s not why I do it.

Hopefully you’ll be able to do it for a very long time.
I’ll keep doing it as long as I can. When I talk to some of my heroes like Elvis Costello, he’s such a groovy dude. If I ever get down, I just talk to him. He gets me into shape. That’s the career arc I would love to have, just being able to age into it gracefully and always try to do good work. Really, it’s not about right now. It’s about 50 years from now. I don’t care how a record is received today. I just hope that 50 years from now, some seventeen year old kid is going to find it in a stack somewhere, maybe all moldy, and he’s going to take it home, and it’s going to blow his mind. That’s it. That’s the shit. Who knows? For now though, I’m just going to keep working.

***

Ray LaMontagne will resume his extensive North American tour this week, starting on July 15. Dates are HERE. Below, watch him perform “Hey, No Pressure” live at the World Cafe.

 

THE MAN WITH THE POPSIDED GUITAR: Dom Mariani

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Australian power pop legend discusses his three decades-plus career, current favorite bands, his desert island discs, and more.

BY TIM HINELY

Wait….what do you mean you haven’t heard of Dom Mariani? Where have you been? As you’ll read below Mariani has been a fixture on the Australian garage pop scene for decades, but yeah, he’s from a town outside of Perth, the most isolated city in the world, so you will forgiven (sort of).

Though he and his bands (The Stems, The Someloves, Majestic Kelp, DM3, and, most recently, Datura4) have been a favorite amongst power pop folks for years he hasn’t really made a dent in any kind of commercial scene, at least here in the USA—not that he cares. It’s a damn shame, too, because Mariani writes these songs with monster hooks that really should be blasting out of car stereos everywhere. (For a good overview of Mariani’s 1984-2004 activities, check out the anthology Popsided Guitar, on Citadel, which features extensive liner notes from BLURT editor Fred Mills.)

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Late last year the Alive Naturalsound label (part of the Bomp family) released a terrific DM3 compilation called West of Anywhere which is well-worth picking up for a beginner or a longtime fan. The same label also released the debut album from Datura4, which features fellow guitarist Greg Hitchcock from You Am I and the New Christs; BLURT’s reviewer noted that Demon Blues departs from Mariani’s “usual pop aesthetic, however, [instead focusing on] heavy blues-inflected psych rock.” (Below: current Datura4 lineup)

Datura4

I sent Dom some questions via email and he was more than happy to shoot me some answers.

Ed. Note: This interview originally appeared in Dr. Hinely’s most excellent fanzine Dagger, which you can find on the web HERE. Many thanks to Tim for allowing us to republish his interview with one of our favorite artists.

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BLURT: Where were you born, in Fremantle, Western Australia? If so, when did you move to Perth?
DOM MARIANI: Yes I was born in Fremantle and have lived here all of my life. Fremantle is about 30min west of Perth and is a port city with a big European influence of mostly of Italian, Croatian and Portuguese origin that migrated here in the fifties.

Tell us one unique thing about each Fremantle and Perth that we might be surprised by Fremantle.
This may not be a surprise, but for music fans Fremantle was Bon Scott’s home town and Tame Impala are also locals. Perth is known as one of the most isolated cities in the world.

Was there much music in your house growing up?
Both my parents were music lovers. My mother loved to sing and my father had a decent record collection of ’50s and ’60s Italian classics, but they also appreciated Elvis and The Beatles. They encouraged both my brother and I to appreciate music and take up an instrument.

Was there one particular moment that you thought you’d want to be a musician (ie: seeing a specific band on tv maybe)?
I was into music from an early age, but I can’t pin point a particular moment. We’d have the transistor radio on a lot at home. An older cousin that had a record player introduced me to Manfred Manns’ Do Wah Diddy Diddy, The 1910 Fruit Gum Co. and” I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

Elvis movies, seeing The Beatles on TV, The Monkees, Beatles cartoons,….there were also some great Australian music programs like Six O’clock Rock, Up Tight, Bandstand and GTK. I believe all these things combined were early influences.

Was the guitar your first instrument?
Yes it was. My very first guitar was a steel string acoustic gifted to me by my parents when I was 9.

Being on the other side of the country, were Aussie bands like The Saints and Go-Betweens big influences or was there other stuff happening locally that influenced you more?
Not so much those bands you mentioned. In the ‘70s there were bands like The Zoot, Masters Apprentice, Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs and AC/DC were bands I liked. The Sunnyboys, The Church and The Hoodoo Gurus came along in the ‘80s. Locally – the Manikins were my favourite band.

Was the Go-Starts your first band?
No – I was in a high-school band that started out as Impact. We lost a member after leaving high-school and changed our name to Gypsy. We were then a power trio.

How did The Stems come about? What do you remember most about that band?
The Stems came pretty much straight after The Go-Starts called it a day. I wanted to start from scratch and form a band that was more sixties influenced. It all happened pretty fast. We’d build up a good local following and we tried our luck on the east coast when our first single was released on Citadel. Luck was on our side and things went very well for the band. We recorded a new single and an EP while we were in Sydney. Both produced by Rob Younger. Those releases helped establish the band nationally and we were able to tour more often. It was a very exciting and somewhat crazy time. We were part of a great period for Australian rock and roll. We signed to a major label and released our debut album ‘At first Sight Violets are Blue’ in 87,…by the end of that year we were done. Poor management and the usual band problems ended a great run.

Stems

How about The Someloves? DM3?
The Someloves was a side project to begin with. Darryl Mather and I shared a house in Petersham n ’85 while The Stems resided in Sydney for 4 months. Darryl and I became close friends and suggested we write and record some tunes together. I recall writing the songs (“It’s My Time” and “Don’t Talk About Us”) a few nights before the recording session. These were released as a single on Citadel. We recorded another single (Know You Now) a few years later. It was still a side project at this time, but after the Stems split the label were keen for me to keep going with another project. Darryl and I had discussed doing an album together, so I suggested this to Mushroom and they were right behind it. Recording Something or Other with Mitch Easter was a great experience. A friendship that continued through to the DM3 recordings, and Darryl’s Orange Humble Band.

We did have plans to record another, but it got complicated and we decided to walk away from it. The problem being, that we lived opposite sides of the country and we were a studio project which didn’t sit well with the label. The pressure to tour was something Darryl was not giving in to.

DM3 came shortly after The Someloves project. DM3 was prolific for me. I’d gone back to working a day job and out of contract with the major, so I felt less pressure. I had a solid line-up, wrote a bunch of new tunes and played regular local shows. We built up a respectable following in parts of Europe where we were able to tour several times in the 90’s and in most recent times with the revived interest in the band.

Any other notable bands I’m missing? I know you’ve been in a ton.
Right now it’s Datura4 (listen below). We play quite regular and have just completed our second album. The Majestic Kelp is an instrumental side project I’ve had going for a number years. The Kelp have released three albums and are now working on a fourth. The DomNicks from a few years ago where I teamed up with one time Clash member Nick Sheppard. We released an album titled Super Real.

Is it true that you are an architect? If so do you see any parallels between that and being a musician?
Not an architect, but a building designer. I studied architectural drafting and worked off and on while I was between bands, but I have been doing that full time since the early 90’s. With music and architecture I have the best of both worlds. They are both creative.

Who are some of your favorite current bands?
I like the Greenhornes, Temples out of the UK made a great album a few years back. Tame Impala from my home town, Kelley Stoltz, Ty Segall, Allah-Las first album was great, Queens of the Stoneage.

Can you name a few local Perth bands that might not have heard of but need to?
The Manikins and The Bamboos.

Musically, what are you doing at the moment?
Datura4 is my main band. We’ve released one album ‘Demon Blues’ through US label Alive Natural Records and just completed another, due for release in October I’m told.

Care to name your top 10 desert island discs?
This is always tough,..

Let it Be – The Beatles

After The Gold Rush – Neil Young

Notorious Byrd Brothers – The Byrds

Underground – The Electric Prunes

Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin

Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones

Radio City – Big Star

Are You Experienced – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys

Cosmos Factory – Creedence Clearwater Revival

What’s been your proudest moment as a musician?

Opening for John Fogerty – My musical hero.

Any final thoughts?  Closing comments? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
Stay true to your to yourself and the rest is easy.

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On the web:

www.dommariani.com

www.facebook.com/dmmariani