Monthly Archives: July 2017

GUARDIANS OF THE INDIE GALAXY: Lo Tom

David Bazan and some old pals crank the volume without losing the narrative nuance the ex-Pedro the Lion leader is known for. Check the tour dates, below.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Lo Tom cheekily bill themselves as an indie rock super group, featuring David Bazan and a trio of even lesser-known dudes—Trey Many (Velour 100, Starflyer 59), TW Walsh (Pedro the Lion, The Soft Drugs) and Jason Martin (Starflyer 59)—who’ve played in bands together since they were kids.

In that spirit, their eponymous debut, released on July 14 by Barsuk, was thrown together with minimal fuss—reportedly over just two weekends—using frill-free jam session instrumentation: two guitars, bass and drums. The results rocks harder than most of Bazan’s back catalog and contrasts starkly with his earlier 2017 release, the synth-and-programmed-beats Care.

The trade-off here is gut-punch immediacy for considered sonic depth, and it’s a theme Bazan acknowledges on “Lower Down.” The song opens in full Crazy Horse grinding guitar mode, and highlights Bazan’s snarled chorus, “you don’t need to chase the sound/if it comes from lower down.” Lo Tom‘s seven other songs embrace that edict and build around guitar riffage suggestive of classic rock’s hallmark licks. “Find the Shrine” even recalls the opening chords barrage of AC/DC’s “TNT.”

But this isn’t praise-the-blow and bring-on-the-groupies rock. (“Down comes the mountain with some breaking news/of what becomes of me, and what becomes of you,” Bazan warns—over those AC/DC riffs—of the dust-to-dust fate that awaits us all.)  While the publicity for Lo Tom insists “no one is in charge,” the narrative themes echo the same ones Bazan’s been exploring in fertile detail since he founded Pedro the Lion in the mid-90s. The draw of his songs has always been spiritual ambivalence, specifically re: Christianity. The pull of pride or a good time—via drugs, sex or any gluttonous combo thereof—is leavened by acknowledging the high cost of sin.

These themes still resonate for non-believers because they take their psychic toll, too. Over the years, Bazan’s uncorked some wicked lines calling out hypocrisy and the folly of pride (or the folly of just about any human endeavor). Yet the finger-pointing has always started in the mirror with Bazan—and in that tension is where his songs shine brightest, no matter the stylistic differences.

On “Bubblegum,” for instance, over another sinister riff, Bazan uses the sticky mess/rotting teeth hangover metaphor to chide the subject for their usual “day after” vows to change. Recovery is hard work, the “crooked lines just aren’t that easy to plot,” Bazan warns, and so it’s way easier to give in: “All the old fight is so quickly forgotten/So raise ’em up high to really hoping you stop…or get caught.” The lens widens over the dynamic riff of “Covered Wagon” to include our obsessive phone culture and the tribal devolution it encourages, while the three-minute rocker “Another Mistake” laments the folly of our leaders’ hubris—and the folly of pledging loyalty to them in the first place.

The buy-in with Bazan usually comes with the songs that capture human relationships at their most fraught moments. The hotel room argument between lovers in “Bad Luck Charm”—”She’s not coming out of the bathroom or texting back”—is heartbreaking, and “Overboard” only raises the emotional stakes.

Over a prominent bass line and overlapping guitar lines, Bazan recounts the aftermath of a failed relationship with a hook worthy of peak-era Lemonheads. Evan Dando, though, was an emotional piker by comparison, so the moment of implosion when Bazan “finally understood my place in that sycamore tree” carving is as devastating as when he confesses, “it just takes a while for me to un-feel a thing/and the opposite of what you think for that bell to un-ring.”

But as in “Lower Down,” the power of music—and here on Lo Tom, straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, in particular—offers a life vest. Straining at the top of his raspy range on the bridge, Bazan raises the hair on our necks when he urges us on “Overboard” to “sing that song at the top of your lungs, don’t listen to the static/just listen to the drums.” For a guy who used to draw in charcoals and now tends to favor the digital realm, it’s great to hear Bazan and his pals paint in these big splashy primary colors.

Upcoming Shows:

11 Aug

Allston MA  @ Brighton Music Hall

12 Aug

Brooklyn NY  @ Rough Trade

17 Aug

Santa Ana CA  @ Constellation Room

18 Aug

Los Angeles CA  @ Bootleg Theater

19 Aug

Seattle WA  @ Tractor Tavern

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE NEXT BIG THING?

Checking in with three ’80s icons, many years later, we learn that careers rarely follow the expected trajectories—but they still turn out satisfyingly if one has the right attitude. On the BLURT analysis couch: Katrina Leskanich of Katrina & the Waves; Colin Hay, former frontman of Men At Work; and Irene Cara.

BY DAVE STEINFELD

Since the beginning of time – or at least the 1950’s – popular music has concerned itself with finding the Next Big Thing.  But the vast majority of music industry suits don’t care much about talent, or even about music.  They just care about money.  Who can we sign and market and sell to the greatest possible number of consumers?  This mentality has always existed but over the years, the amount of money that record companies (at least the majors) pour into new acts has grown.  At the same time, the median age of the consumer has decreased.  Kids listen to the radio, have disposable income and short attention spans.  So most record companies – hell, most businesspeople – target them first.

What all this adds up to is an industry that sinks lots of money into a never ending series of Next Big Things – only to chew them up, spit them out and forget them when it decides their moment has passed.  Sure, the ‘heritage’ artist – one who builds and sustains a career over time – still surfaces now and then (see Bruce Springsteen, among others).  But for the most part, it’s about instant gratification.  Sign an artist, promote the hell out of their album (and video), make ungodly amounts of money off them and then – in most cases – drop them when their sales start to decline or when the Next Bigger Thing comes along.

Which raises the question: what happens to the people who were once pop music’s Next Big Thing?  That varies.  But it’s not always what you think.

For this piece, originally written in 2005 (but unpublished until now), I sat down with three artists: Katrina Leskanich of Katrina & the Waves; Colin Hay, former frontman of Men At Work; and Irene Cara.  Back in the first half of the ‘80s, each did time as the Next Big Thing, cutting a prolific presence on the radio and MTV.  Now, more than 30 years later, all three are still making music but only one has a record deal – and with an independent label at that.  You won’t see any of these three on TV anymore, unless maybe you’re watching VH1 Classic.  Two of these artists – ironically, the two who used to front bands – are now solo acts, while the one former solo artist of the three is now fronting a band.  None of the three can get their new music played on the radio.  And all of them are making some of the best music of their careers.

Finding the Sunshine

Katrina Leskanich is best known as the frontwoman of Katrina & the Waves.  The Anglo-American quartet hit the charts several times during the ‘80s, but their biggest hit remains their first: 1985’s “Walking on Sunshine.”  It still gets airplay and also pops up in films from time to time.  In 2004, it was even the theme song for John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

“[Kerry’s] people were talking to my people – which is me – about when he won,” Katrina told me at the time.  “I was gonna go to the party and do ‘Walking on Sunshine.’  I was delighted to potentially be involved in that.“ She pauses, reflecting on how the 2004 election turned out.  “Damn!”

Surprisingly, Katrina doesn’t see any royalties from “Walking on Sunshine.”  She may have sung it, but it was Kimberley Rew (the Waves’ guitarist) who wrote it.  “He gets a lot of royalties from ‘Walking on Sunshine,’ but I don’t see a penny,” says Katrina.  “ I make my own way in this world and it suits me just fine.

Be that as it may, London – where the Kansas born Katrina has been based for many years – is an expensive city.  While she hasn’t exactly been reduced to waiting tables, she has had to seek out other means of making a living at times.  For three years after the band split up, Katrina couldn’t perform under her own name because the Waves owned the legal rights to it.  During that time, she hosted a show on BBC Radio and also played the legendary songwriter Ellie Greenwich in the West End production of Leader of the Pack.

But Katrina has also released several solo albums over the years. To these ears, the best was Turn the Tide, which came out more than a decade ago now and h was available through her website, www.katrinasweb.com.  Sadly – and somewhat amazingly – she doesn’t have a deal with a label.  “For many years, I [banged] my head against the wall, trying to get a deal,” says Katrina.  “I sent out 250 CD’s… and heard back from precisely no one… So I took the bull by the horns and decided to form my own company, manufacture my own CD and deliver it to the people.  I lick the envelopes… and I’m a lot happier doing it this way because I’m in control.”

(Below: Katrina now)

Frankly, it’s difficult to understand why 250 companies passed on Katrina’s CD.  For one thing, she has name value, particularly in the UK.  But beyond that, Turn the Tide was an excellent album of mostly mid-tempo pop.  Katrina’s voice still sounds great and most of the songs are very good.  My personal favorite is “Hallowed Ground,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on AC or AAA stations.  There is also a nice cover of the Kirsty MacColl classic “They Don’t Know,” which Katrina does as a ballad.

Unfortunately, though, good music and name value don’t mean much in the music business – especially when you’re in your fifties.  Katy Perry’s voice can’t hold a candle to Katrina’s, but she is a lot younger and appeals to a money-spending demographic. (That said, Katrina continues to perform regularly, and is currently on tour as part of the Retrofutura tour that includes the English Beat, Modern English, Men Without Hats, Paul Young, and Howard Jones.)

After “Walking on Sunshine,” Katrina & the Waves dented the charts a few more times, with songs like “Do You Want Crying,” “Sun Street” and “That’s the Way.”  But they never had another smash, at least not in America.  “’Walking on Sunshine’ was a hard act to follow,” Katrina admits.  “The song became bigger than us.  There was a point where people would say, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m Katrina, from Katrina & the Waves.’ Question-mark face. Then [I’d say] ‘Walking on Sunshine.’ ‘Oh yeah! I love that song! Wasn’t that Martha & the Muffins?’ You know, they’re asking me!”

 

A Man At Work

Colin Hay (above, center), the former leader of Men At Work, tells a similar story.  The Men had several bona fide smashes, but none was bigger than “Down Under,” their catchy 1983 song about Australia.  But Hay – who not only sung “Down Under,” but cowrote it – once met a woman who refused to believe it was his song.  “I wrote that song – ‘Down Under!’” he insists.  To which the woman replies, “No you didn’t.  You don’t remind me at all of Sting.”  Ouch!

Another of Hay’s favorite anecdotes is about the couple who showed up at one of his solo performances expecting to hear “The Safety Dance.”  That song – by the Canadian combo Men Without Hats – had nothing to do with Hay’s band, but was popular during the same period.  The punchline in the story is that when the couple finds out it’s not a Men At Work song, the woman still asks Hay if he’ll sing it.  Such is the payback for having a hit during the MTV era.

Few people have experienced the highs and lows of the music business to the extent that Colin Hay has.  It’s one thing to have a hit or two early in your career and then fade.  But Men At Work’s debut album, Business as Usual, was anything but.  In America alone, it topped the charts for an astounding 15 weeks, produced two number-one hits (“Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now”) and won Hay and company a Grammy for Best New Artist.  In 1983, Men At Work was arguably the biggest band in the world.

The music business can be a fickle place, though.  Men At Work avoided the sophomore slump with their second album, Cargo.  That album – while not quite as successful as Business as Usual – still sold very well and produced two top 10 hits.  But the band’s third effort, Two Hearts, was a disaster.  It produced no hits. The band had split into various factions and broke up shortly after its release.  By the late ‘80s, Colin Hay was playing solo – to audiences a fraction of the size of those he’d played to a few years earlier.

“I’ll give you kind of a scale of things,” Hay tells me.  “We culminated playing the Us Festival in California, to maybe 150,000 people.  And that was toward the end of 1983… In ’88, I was back in Melbourne playing to 40 [or] 50 people, solo.  People in Melbourne didn’t really care about Men At Work.  So if you wanna stay in the game, you do what you can.”

Unlike some artists who have hit the big time and then fallen, Hay has no problem talking about his past.  During live performances, as in interviews, he is very open about it – even self-deprecating at times.  Hay has even documented his extraordinary career in some of his songs.  One such track is “My Brilliant Feat,” from his 1998 solo effort, Transcendental Highway.  In that song, he writes:

“Is it a game of chance, or merely circumstances?
A jack to a king and back,
Then you have to pay to play.
The world, it won’t wait for you,
It’s got its own things to do.
The sun’s gonna rise and dry another night away…
Once upon a time, I could do no wrong.
Though the candle flickers, the flame is never gone…”

It bears mentioning that Hay’s lyrics have grown considerably deeper since the mid-‘80s.  Men At Work was a good band, but not an especially deep one; they were fun and catchy and made some great singles.  But Hay has truly evolved from being a pop star to being an artist – which, in a way, is an even more brilliant feat than having your debut album top the charts for 15 weeks.

Over the last decade and change, Hay has built his career back from the ground up. He releases albums roughly every other year (the latest is Fierce Mercy), tours frequently, and was fortunate enough to land one of his songs on the soundtrack to the hit movie Garden State back in the day.  “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” is a sparse, somber ballad that originally appeared on Hay’s Peaks and Valleys disc.  This time around, the song became something of a left-field hit and earned him more attention than he’d seen in years.  He is currently signed to the nifty, Nashville-based label Compass Records.

(Below: Colin Hay now)

“Maybe I won’t ever become as successful or as famous as I used to be,” he says in a tone that suggests he has made peace with this.  “But people come and they see [me perform] and it’s like they’re sharing something with you.  It doesn’t require any hype, any radio station pumping it.  It’s just simply you turn up and they turn up – and it works.  And it’s been a real life-saver for me all these years [given] the frustration of how labels operate – or how they don’t operate.  It’s even a compliment to call it an industry.  Because an industry would suggest that people actually know what they’re doing.” Over the years, Hay and I have shared stories about a former record industry suit who both of us worked with (and grew to dislike) separately.

His ambivalence toward labels was echoed by the other artists I spoke with.  One of the first things that Katrina told me was, “Here’s the thing about record labels: they are Kellogg’s and you are Cornflakes.  Warner Brothers, BMG, Capitol-EMI, all the majors – you are Cornflakes.  And when the brand doesn’t sell [anymore], they find another brand.”

 

Still Got the Feeling

The third artist I spoke with, Irene Cara, has also had an ambivalent relationship with record companies, to say the least.  A major force on the singles chart throughout the ‘80s, Cara’s hits included surging movie themes like “Fame” and “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” as well as the beautifully vulnerable ballad “Out Here on My Own” (also from Fame).  Her albums weren’t as successful as her singles, though, and by the end of the decade she too found herself without a record deal.  In 1993, Cara won a lawsuit against her former label, Nettwerk Records, for 1.5-million dollars in unpaid royalties.

Since then, Cara has emerged as the leader of Hot Caramel, a large, all-female band based in her adopted home state of Florida.  When I last spoke with her (roughly a decade ago now) Hot Caramel was putting the finishing touches on their first album which Cara hoped will be picked up by a label – a bit ironic, given her history. To the best of my knowledge, that album was released independently in 2011.

Of the three artists I spoke with, Cara is the least inclined to discuss (or perform songs from) her past.  Unlike Katrina, who has no qualms about singing “Walking on Sunshine” 30 years after the fact, or Colin Hay, who mixes old material with new at his shows, Cara prefers to focus on her current band and let go of the past.  She is especially adamant about not dwelling on Fame.  Even though that’s what ultimately made her a household name, she is rarely in touch with her former co-stars from the film and is tired of discussing it.  “People have to realize that you work on a project and then everybody goes their own way,” she explains.  “[Fame] was a moment in history that we all got together to be a part of – and that was it.  It’s not an ongoing part of our lives.”

That said, Cara also makes it clear that she is proud of that period of her career – not just musically, but in terms of its effect on the education system.  “I would love to do a tour that goes to all the performing arts schools across the country,” she says.  “’Fame had a lot to do with so many of them springing up – here and around the world.  That’s a great legacy.”

Cara is quick to distance the women in Hot Caramel from the current barrage of female pop-tarts and such.  And for good reason.  While the music business is quicker to spotlight women than it was 30 years ago, many of these women are not so much musicians as entertainers – and in some cases, they border on being strippers.

“[My music] is grown-up shit,” Cara states emphatically.  “We’re not really targeting the teen market – although I think we’ll appeal to the teen market as well… I think there’s room in music for another kind of image of women that hasn’t been readily promoted or readily seen – certainly not in pop-R&B.“  Interestingly, Cara is quick to give props to the Dixie Chicks.  “Country at least has some great songs and some great artists, who aren’t 11,” she says.  “[Artists] who can play and sing and actually write about something.  I would love for us to be the pop-R&B version of the Dixie Chicks.  That would be the highest compliment to us.”  Whether that happens, of course, remains to be seen.

(Below: Irene now)

***

I have to say again that I find it amazing that these three artists do not have major label record deals (although Hay has enjoyed a productive relationship with Compass, a respected mid-level indie). They are essentially being ignored by the same industry that once made stars of them.  It isn’t fair to relegate artists of their caliber to ‘where-are-they-now’ status when they still have a lot to say –and it’s equally unfair to their fans, who wonder what they are up to and who would likely enjoy their new music.  Nor does it bode well for the current crop of pop stars who dominate radio and MTV.  Look at it this way: if an Irene Cara or a Katrina Leskanich – both of whom can actually sing – can’t get a record deal, where do you think today’s Auto-Tuned singers like Katy Perry and Rihanna will be in 20 years?

© 2005/2017 by Dave Steinfeld, all rights reserved / contact: skinnythai@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Checking in with three ’80s icons, many years later, we learn that careers rarely follow the expected trajectories—but they still turn out satisfyingly if one has the right attitude. On the BLURT analysis couch: Katrina Leskanich of Katrina & the Waves; Colin Hay, former frontman of Men At Work; and Irene Cara.

 

BY DAVE STEINFELD

Since the beginning of time – or at least the 1950’s – popular music has concerned itself with finding the Next Big Thing.  But the vast majority of music industry suits don’t care much about talent, or even about music.  They just care about money.  Who can we sign and market and sell to the greatest possible number of consumers?  This mentality has always existed but over the years, the amount of money that record companies (at least the majors) pour into new acts has grown.  At the same time, the median age of the consumer has decreased.  Kids listen to the radio, have disposable income and short attention spans.  So most record companies – hell, most businesspeople – target them first.

What all this adds up to is an industry that sinks lots of money into a never ending series of Next Big Things – only to chew them up, spit them out and forget them when it decides their moment has passed.  Sure, the ‘heritage’ artist – one who builds and sustains a career over time – still surfaces now and then (see Bruce Springsteen, among others).  But for the most part, it’s about instant gratification.  Sign an artist, promote the hell out of their album (and video), make ungodly amounts of money off them and then – in most cases – drop them when their sales start to decline or when the Next Bigger Thing comes along.

Which raises the question: what happens to the people who were once pop music’s Next Big Thing?  That varies.  But it’s not always what you think.

For this piece, originally written in 2005 (but unpublished until now), I sat down with three artists: Katrina Leskanich of Katrina & the Waves; Colin Hay, former frontman of Men At Work; and Irene Cara.  Back in the first half of the ‘80s, each did time as the Next Big Thing, cutting a prolific presence on the radio and MTV.  Now, more than 30 years later, all three are still making music but only one has a record deal – and with an independent label at that.  You won’t see any of these three on TV anymore, unless maybe you’re watching VH1 Classic.  Two of these artists – ironically, the two who used to front bands – are now solo acts, while the one former solo artist of the three is now fronting a band.  None of the three can get their new music played on the radio.  And all of them are making some of the best music of their careers.

Finding the Sunshine

 

 

Katrina Leskanich is best known as the frontwoman of Katrina & the Waves.  The Anglo-American quartet hit the charts several times during the ‘80s, but their biggest hit remains their first: 1985’s “Walking on Sunshine.”  It still gets airplay and also pops up in films from time to time.  In 2004, it was even the theme song for John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

“[Kerry’s] people were talking to my people – which is me – about when he won,” Katrina told me at the time.  “I was gonna go to the party and do ‘Walking on Sunshine.’  I was delighted to potentially be involved in that.“ She pauses, reflecting on how the 2004 election turned out.  “Damn!”

Surprisingly, Katrina doesn’t see any royalties from “Walking on Sunshine.”  She may have sung it, but it was Kimberley Rew (the Waves’ guitarist) who wrote it.  “He gets a lot of royalties from ‘Walking on Sunshine,’ but I don’t see a penny,” says Katrina.  “ I make my own way in this world and it suits me just fine.”

Be that as it may, London – where the Kansas born Katrina has been based for many years – is an expensive city.  While she hasn’t exactly been reduced to waiting tables, she has had to seek out other means of making a living at times.  For three years after the band split up, Katrina couldn’t perform under her own name because the Waves owned the legal rights to it.  During that time, she hosted a show on BBC Radio and also played the legendary songwriter Ellie Greenwich in the West End production of Leader of the Pack.

But Katrina has also released several solo albums over the years. To these ears, the best was Turn the Tide, which came out more than a decade ago now and h was available through her website, www.katrinasweb.com.  Sadly – and somewhat amazingly – she doesn’t have a deal with a label.  “For many years, I [banged] my head against the wall, trying to get a deal,” says Katrina.  “I sent out 250 CD’s… and heard back from precisely no one… So I took the bull by the horns and decided to form my own company, manufacture my own CD and deliver it to the people.  I lick the envelopes… and I’m a lot happier doing it this way because I’m in control.”

Frankly, it’s difficult to understand why 250 companies passed on Katrina’s CD.  For one thing, she has name value, particularly in the UK.  But beyond that, Turn the Tide was an excellent album of mostly mid-tempo pop.  Katrina’s voice still sounds great and most of the songs are very good.  My personal favorite is “Hallowed Ground,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on AC or AAA stations.  There is also a nice cover of the Kirsty MacColl classic “They Don’t Know,” which Katrina does as a ballad.

Unfortunately, though, good music and name value don’t mean much in the music business – especially when you’re in your fifties.  Katy Perry’s voice can’t hold a candle to Katrina’s, but she is a lot younger and appeals to a money-spending demographic.

After “Walking on Sunshine,” Katrina & the Waves dented the charts a few more times, with songs like “Do You Want Crying,” “Sun Street” and “That’s the Way.”  But they never had another smash, at least not in America.  “’Walking on Sunshine’ was a hard act to follow,” Katrina admits.  “The song became bigger than us.  There was a point where people would say, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m Katrina, from Katrina & the Waves.’ Question-mark face. Then [I’d say] ‘Walking on Sunshine.’ ‘Oh yeah! I love that song! Wasn’t that Martha & the Muffins?’ You know, they’re asking me!”

A Man At Work

 

Colin Hay, the former leader of Men At Work, tells a similar story.  The Men had several bona fide smashes, but none was bigger than “Down Under,” their catchy 1983 song about Australia.  But Hay – who not only sung “Down Under,” but cowrote it – once met a woman who refused to believe it was his song.  “I wrote that song – ‘Down Under!’” he insists.  To which the woman replies, “No you didn’t.  You don’t remind me at all of Sting.”  Ouch!

Another of Hay’s favorite anecdotes is about the couple who showed up at one of his solo performances expecting to hear “The Safety Dance.”  That song – by the Canadian combo Men Without Hats – had nothing to do with Hay’s band, but was popular during the same period.  The punchline in the story is that when the couple finds out it’s not a Men At Work song, the woman still asks Hay if he’ll sing it.  Such is the payback for having a hit during the MTV era.

Few people have experienced the highs and lows of the music business to the extent that Colin Hay has.  It’s one thing to have a hit or two early in your career and then fade.  But Men At Work’s debut album, Business as Usual, was anything but.  In America alone, it topped the charts for an astounding 15 weeks, produced two number-one hits (“Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now”) and won Hay and company a Grammy for Best New Artist.  In 1983, Men At Work was arguably the biggest band in the world.

The music business can be a fickle place, though.  Men At Work avoided the sophomore slump with their second album, Cargo.  That album – while not quite as successful as Business as Usual – still sold very well and produced two top 10 hits.  But the band’s third effort, Two Hearts, was a disaster.  It produced no hits. The band had split into various factions and broke up shortly after its release.  By the late ‘80s, Colin Hay was playing solo – to audiences a fraction of the size of those he’d played to a few years earlier.

“I’ll give you kind of a scale of things,” Hay tells me.  “We culminated playing the Us Festival in California, to maybe 150,000 people.  And that was toward the end of 1983… In ’88, I was back in Melbourne playing to 40 [or] 50 people, solo.  People in Melbourne didn’t really care about Men At Work.  So if you wanna stay in the game, you do what you can.”

Unlike some artists who have hit the big time and then fallen, Hay has no problem talking about his past.  During live performances, as in interviews, he is very open about it – even self-deprecating at times.  Hay has even documented his extraordinary career in some of his songs.  One such track is “My Brilliant Feat,” from his 1998 solo effort, Transcendental Highway.  In that song, he writes:

“Is it a game of chance, or merely circumstances?

A jack to a king and back,
Then you have to pay to play.

The world, it won’t wait for you,

It’s got its own things to do.

The sun’s gonna rise and dry another night away…

Once upon a time, I could do no wrong.

Though the candle flickers, the flame is never gone…”

It bears mentioning that Hay’s lyrics have grown considerably deeper since the mid-‘80s.  Men At Work was a good band, but not an especially deep one; they were fun and catchy and made some great singles.  But Hay has truly evolved from being a pop star to being an artist – which, in a way, is an even more brilliant feat than having your debut album top the charts for 15 weeks.

Over the last decade and change, Hay has built his career back from the ground up. He releases albums roughly every other year (the latest is Fierce Mercy), tours frequently, and was fortunate enough to land one of his songs on the soundtrack to the hit movie Garden State back in the day.  “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” is a sparse, somber ballad that originally appeared on Hay’s Peaks and Valleys disc.  This time around, the song became something of a left-field hit and earned him more attention than he’d seen in years.  He is currently signed to the nifty, Nashville-based label Compass Records.

“Maybe I won’t ever become as successful or as famous as I used to be,” he says in a tone that suggests he has made peace with this.  “But people come and they see [me perform] and it’s like they’re sharing something with you.  It doesn’t require any hype, any radio station pumping it.  It’s just simply you turn up and they turn up – and it works.  And it’s been a real life-saver for me all these years [given] the frustration of how labels operate – or how they don’t operate.  It’s even a compliment to call it an industry.  Because an industry would suggest that people actually know what they’re doing.” Over the years, Hay and I have shared stories about a former record industry suit who both of us worked with (and grew to dislike) separately.

His ambivalence toward labels was echoed by the other artists I spoke with.  One of the first things that Katrina told me was, “Here’s the thing about record labels: they are Kellogg’s and you are Cornflakes.  Warner Brothers, BMG, Capitol-EMI, all the majors – you are Cornflakes.  And when the brand doesn’t sell [anymore], they find another brand.”

 

Still Got the Feeling

 

The third artist I spoke with, Irene Cara, has also had an ambivalent relationship with record companies, to say the least.  A major force on the singles chart throughout the ‘80s, Cara’s hits included surging movie themes like “Fame” and “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” as well as the beautifully vulnerable ballad “Out Here on My Own” (also from Fame).  Her albums weren’t as successful as her singles, though, and by the end of the decade she too found herself without a record deal.  In 1993, Cara won a lawsuit against her former label, Nettwerk Records, for 1.5-million dollars in unpaid royalties.

Since then, Cara has emerged as the leader of Hot Caramel, a large, all-female band based in her adopted home state of Florida.  When I last spoke with her (roughly a decade ago now) Hot Caramel was putting the finishing touches on their first album which Cara hoped will be picked up by a label – a bit ironic, given her history. To the best of my knowledge, that album was released independently in 2011.

Of the three artists I spoke with, Cara is the least inclined to discuss (or perform songs from) her past.  Unlike Katrina, who has no qualms about singing “Walking on Sunshine” 30 years after the fact, or Colin Hay, who mixes old material with new at his shows, Cara prefers to focus on her current band and let go of the past.  She is especially adamant about not dwelling on Fame.  Even though that’s what ultimately made her a household name, she is rarely in touch with her former co-stars from the film and is tired of discussing it.  “People have to realize that you work on a project and then everybody goes their own way,” she explains.  “[Fame] was a moment in history that we all got together to be a part of – and that was it.  It’s not an ongoing part of our lives.”

That said, Cara also makes it clear that she is proud of that period of her career – not just musically, but in terms of its effect on the education system.  “I would love to do a tour that goes to all the performing arts schools across the country,” she says.  “’Fame had a lot to do with so many of them springing up – here and around the world.  That’s a great legacy.”

Cara is quick to distance the women in Hot Caramel from the current barrage of female pop-tarts and such.  And for good reason.  While the music business is quicker to spotlight women than it was 30 years ago, many of these women are not so much musicians as entertainers – and in some cases, they border on being strippers.

“[My music] is grown-up shit,” Cara states emphatically.  “We’re not really targeting the teen market – although I think we’ll appeal to the teen market as well… I think there’s room in music for another kind of image of women that hasn’t been readily promoted or readily seen – certainly not in pop-R&B.“  Interestingly, Cara is quick to give props to the Dixie Chicks.  “Country at least has some great songs and some great artists, who aren’t 11,” she says.  “[Artists] who can play and sing and actually write about something.  I would love for us to be the pop-R&B version of the Dixie Chicks.  That would be the highest compliment to us.”  Whether that happens, of course, remains to be seen.

***

 

I have to say again that I find it amazing that these three artists do not have major label record deals (although Hay has enjoyed a productive relationship with Compass, a respected mid-level indie). They are essentially being ignored by the same industry that once made stars of them.  It isn’t fair to relegate artists of their caliber to ‘where-are-they-now’ status when they still have a lot to say –and it’s equally unfair to their fans, who wonder what they are up to and who would likely enjoy their new music.  Nor does it bode well for the current crop of pop stars who dominate radio and MTV.  Look at it this way: if an Irene Cara or a Katrina Leskanich – both of whom can actually sing – can’t get a record deal, where do you think today’s Auto-Tuned singers like Katy Perry and Rihanna will be in 20 years?

© 2005/2017 by Dave Steinfeld, all rights reserved / contact: skinnythai@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK, ep. 10: TWELVE ARCHIVAL RELEASES

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from MPS, Omnivore, Resonance, Sam, TCD Music, and hatOLOGY. Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk. (Pictured above: Albert Ayler Quartet.)

BY BILL KOPP

Albert Ayler Quartet – Copenhagen Live 1964 (hatOLOGY)

The music of tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936-1970) is assuredly not for the jazz novitiate. With an approach that makes Ornette Coleman sound mainstream, Ayler pushed even the boundaries of free jazz. Released in cooperation with the musician’s estate, this never-before-heard live session from more than a half century ago is vintage Ayler: uncompromising, difficult and – if one is in the right frame of mind – fascinating. The sound quality isn’t pristine, but it’s far above bootleg quality and shouldn’t bother those receptive to Ayler’s unique brand of jazz. Ayler is joined in his musical mayhem by like-minded musicians Don Cherry (cornet), Gary Peacock (acoustic bass) and drummer Sunny Murray.

The Kenny Clarke Francy Boland Big Band – All Smiles (MPS)

Big band jazz was decidedly out of vogue by 1968, but apparently nobody told bandleaders Kenny Clarke (drums) and Francy Boland (piano). And thank goodness: the excitement of this 17-man ensemble shines through on this studio outing. Vibraphonist Dave Pike takes a solo on Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” Elsewhere listeners will find tasty solos on flute, piano, flugelhorn, trumpet and so on as the band tears into classics (Gershwin, Porter, Sousa, Dorsey) with relish. Music like this is timeless and really shouldn’t ever go out of fashion. Available on vinyl, too.

Nat King Cole Trio – Zurich 1950 (TCD Music)

Cole’s major breakthrough was as a pop vocalist, but as this 1950 set recorded live onstage at Kongresshaus Zurich, the man was a superb pianist/arranger as well. This small ensemble – Cole on piano plus guitarist Irving Ashby, bassist Joe comfort and Jack Costanzo on bongos(!) – excels as they run through tunes from the Great American Songbook and other songs. Right out of the gate, Cole makes a point of putting the spotlight on his band mates. In 1941 he appeared – uncredited – onscreen in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane; a mere nine years later he had released five albums and established himself as a premier musician. This set captures him mere months before he released his biggest hit, “Unforgettable.”

Don Ellis Orchestra – Soaring (MPS)

By the late 1960s and early ’70s, certain flavors of jazz had worked their way into mainstream pop culture. Even those who claimed no interest in the form could admit to enjoying the theme music from television and film. Ellis’ “Whiplash” – very much of a piece of the music he scored for The French Connection – is a thrilling, impossibly catchy piece of music. What make it and the other tunes on Soaring (1973) so special is the uncanny combination of tricky time signatures with (dare I say it) pop hooks. Ellis was the stuff of legend: might there be a connection between the medical condition that ultimately killed him (and irregular heartbeat) and his penchant for unusual musical meter? The very electric album has a rock sensibility, and it rocks. But it’s not rock. If you don’t enjoy Soaring, like the man said, Jack, you’re dead. Also on vinyl.

Albert Mangelsdorff – And His Friends (MPS)

For better or worse – and fairly or not – this album of free jazz from 1969 is precisely the sort of thing cited as Exhibit A by people who insist jazz makes absolutely no melodic sense. On “I Dig It – You Dig It,” Mangelsdorff’s trombone engages musical dialogue with Don Cherry’s trumpet, without any other instruments. Near the end of that track, Mangelsdorff vocalizes through his instrument in a way that recalls a kind of cross between the kind of thing Nat Adderley did in the early 70s and some of Frank Zappa’s Mothers albums (specifically, Weasels Ripped My Flesh‘s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask”). If that sounds appealing to you, do indeed check out this title. Otherwise, best run in the opposite direction. For those brave few, it’s on vinyl as well.

Thelonious Monk – Les Liasons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam Records)

Monk had one of the most distinctive piano styles in all of music. He used dissonance in a manner wholly unlike, say, Bill Evans. In Monk’s hands dissonance was a tool of expression, used in very precise ways. But to the uninitiated, his style cold sound positively ham-fisted. This previously-unreleased set is the soundtrack from a 1960 film; rather than compose new material, instead Monk ran through favorites from his existing catalog. And owing to his style and inventiveness, these versions are as valid and delightful in their own right as the better-known recordings. Sound quality is pristine, and a second disc of outtakes – not to mention a 56-page(!) color booklet – raises this CD to the level of positively essential.

Alphonse Mouzon – In Search of a Dream (MPS)

Powerhouse fusion drummer Mouzon made his name on sides by Les McCann (the stunning Invitation to Openness) and Weather Report’s debut, but it was with Larry Coryell’s 11th House that he gained top-level fame. This, the sixth album under his name, is guaranteed to please fans of his work with Coryell. With a lineup that includes Stu Goldberg, Philip Catherine and Miroslav Vitouš, there’s virtually no way it could go wrong, and it doesn’t. You’ll find more drum solos here than you would on an an 11th House record, but that’s only fair. Even when the energy is dialed down – as on the smooth jazz of “Shoreline” – the playing and arrangement on the reissue of this 1978 LP (once again available on vinyl) are top-flight.

Jaco Pastorius – Truth, Liberty & Soul (Resonance Records)

For someone whose time in the spotlight was only 15 years, Jaco Pastorius was an amazingly busy presence on the jazz scene. And while it has long seemed that listeners had heard the last of the incalculably important bassist, the release of this 2CD set – a project that has been in the works for many years – adds another important piece to the puzzle. Recorded live onstage as part of George Wein’s Kool Jazz Festival, parts of the performance were broadcast on public radio. But the full set – featuring Pastorius leading a big band – has never been heard before. That it’s Jaco will be reason enough for most jazz fans to pick it up, but it’s superb on its own merits. Never one to be outdone, project curator Zev Feldman has included a 96-page color booklet – jam-packed with essays and interviews – as part of the beautiful package. [Ed note: For further investigation, you can also go HERE to read fellow jazz scribe Michael Toland’s review of the Pastorius album.]

Art Pepper – Presents West Coast Sessions! Vol. 3: Lee Konitz (Omnivore Recordings)

Because of his contractual obligations, saxophonist couldn’t record under his own name outside of Fantasy Records. So he and a Japanese label came up with a simple idea: he’s put together bands and appoint someone else the nominal leader. Those albums are now receiving a belated Stateside release, and this volume from 1982 – originally called High Jingo and credited to Lee Konitz & His West Coast Friends – is another fine entry in the series. It features timeless jazz (albeit centered around a 1950s West coast aesthetic) from a five-piece aggregation: two saxes, bass, drums and piano. Thankfully there’s nothing “eighties” about it.

Art Pepper – Presents West Coast Sessions! Vol. 4: Bill Watrous (Omnivore Recordings)

From the same cache of releases on the Japanese Atlas label comes this 1979 set, originally released as the Bill Watrous Quintet’s Funk ‘n’ Fun. But original title be damned: this is more ’50s style jazz, with trombonist Bill Watrous as the purported leader. Longtime Pepper associate and pianist Russ Freeman is at the center of many of these tunes. The Omnivore reissue adds two bonus tracks.

The Art Pepper Quartet – The Art Pepper Quartet (Omnivore Recordings)

Working closely with the saxophone’s widow Laurie, Omnivore is clearly on a mission to bring as much lost and/or unheard Art Pepper music to modern-day ears. One look at the cover art of this set and you’ll know it’s an early title; released I n1956, his eighth album ranks among Laurie Pepper’s favorites. And it’s not difficult to hear why: the band swings in inventive style, and the entire band – Pepper, Russ Freeman on piano, bassist Ben Tucker and drummer Gary Frommer – is on fire.

Baden Powell – Tristeza on Guitar (MPS)

I’m not an especially ardent fan of Brazilian jazz; in general I like a bit more fire and electricity in my jazz. And while for me Powell’s 1973 Images on Guitar has its appeal, it doesn’t rank among my favorites. Yet somehow this set from 1966 knocks me out; there’s an energy to the tracks that brings the session alive. Powell’s playing is superb – that’s a given, of course – but here there’s almost what one could call aggression is his playing on tracks like “Saravá.” The Brazilian character always comes through, but Tristeza on Guitar has a worldliness about it that makes it even more special.

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK, ep. 9: SIX NEW RELEASES

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Codes Drum, Ronin Jazz, Resonance, Mack Avenue, and Cuneiform. Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk. (Pictured above: Ignacio Berra Trio)

BY BILL KOPP

Ignacio Berra Trio – Straight Ahead from Havana (Codes Drum Music)

Cuba has a long, storied and proud history of jazz. But owing to the U.S. Government’s half-century-long embargo on all things Cuban, few Americans know much about it. The doors were opened less than a year ago when President Obama relaxed some – but by no means all – of the restrictions regarding travel to and in Cuba by American nationals. The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – who does not deserve the dignity of having his name printed (but oh, does he love to hear and see his name) – arbitrarily reversed those rules, citing as his justification the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. As consolation, we have this new collection by Cuban-born drummer Ignacio Berroa, who explored the many facts of Cuban jazz in highly appealing form. Until the U.S. comes to its collective senses and kicks the Orange One to the curb (or better yet, Guantanamo Bay), this set of ten immortal Cuban tunes interpreted by the former Dizzy Gillespie sideman will do quite nicely.

B.J. Jansen – Common Ground (Ronin Jazz)

It’s a neat trick to make something new while conjuring the aesthetic of something old. But (a) that’s what is expected of jazz players of a certain stripe, and happily (b) that’s what baritone saxophonist B.J. Jansen has taken on as his mission. And with Common Ground, he succeeds. Joined by five musical heavyweights, Jansen tears through a dozen tunes – mostly originals – that evoke warm memories of hard bop, West coast cool and other classic jazz styles. Recommended.

Dave Liebman / Joe Lovano – Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (Resonance Records)

To note that NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman (tenor and soprano sax, recorder, flute) and Joe Lovano (tenor sax, clarinet, flute, etc.) are established artists is to engage in laughable understatement. But for this new set, the two men set aside their own material and focus instead on the music of Coltrane. Aided by a trio, they tear through six tracks. In the process they succeed both at making the songs their own and remaining true to Trane’s spirit. From thrilling to adventurous to soothing, Lovano, Liebman and band strike all the right notes.

Microscopic Septet – Been Up So Long it Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues (Cuneiform)

This New York outfit’s ethos is expressed by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston’s slogan, “Break all the rules and respect all the saints.” That’s as good an aphorism as any for soul – or blues-jazz. And that’s what’s on offer here: not so much of the odd meters and such; more of the blues-based approach to jazz that keeps one foot in melodic accessibility and another stretched into adventurous territory. And – unlike some of the more “serious” jazz out there – it’s fun.

The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Great Un-American Songbook: Vol. I & II (Cuneiform)

With a style best described as big band fusion/pop, here the Ed Palermo Big Band plays big-group jazzy interpretations of songs more often associated with progressive and/or psychedelic rock. With former Frank Zappa associate Napoleon Murphy Brock fronting the nearly 20-person ensemble, the works of (to name just a few) King Crimson, the Beatles, Traffic, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Radiohead and Jethro Tull are reinvented with a varying (but generally high) degree of success. Who – beyond prog fans and those who appreciate Zappa-style weirdness – will enjoy much less even know about this release remains to be seen, but for those who take the time to discover it, The Great Un-American Songbook is rich with delights. Bring on future volumes, please.

Christian Sands – Reach (Mack Avenue)

Sands’ deft touch on the piano is a thing to behold. His lengthy melodic lines demand a good deal from the listener; his ambitious approach all but requires close attention. Backed by supremely tight and creative rhythm sections, he expresses all range of emotion in his eight original (and two cover) pieces. The covers are interesting, too: Bill Withers’ “Use Me” is reinvented to the point of being nearly unrecognizable, but Sands’ reading still conveys the original’s vibe. Some tasty (and tasteful) elective guitar crops up now and then as well.

 

THE MAGIC OF MONTREAL: The Festival De Jazz De Montreal

After 38 years, the annual music event has yet to disappoint. This year it took place June 28 through July 8. Following the review, scroll down to see a gallery from the festival.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY ALISA BETH CHERRY

There are any number of reasons why the Montreal Jazz Festival stands out above all others. The first has to do with the music, which is world class, eclectic and marked by the kind and calibre of performance that’s rarely heard elsewhere. The other cause for why it’s so special is …well, that it’s held in Montreal. The host city alone ought to provide enough allure to draw those who are willing to succumb to the mystique, aura and allure that makes Montreal the closest thing to a European metropolis in the whole of North America, Quebec being the only exception. The singular line-ups featured each year provide added incentive, but even those like myself who have a limited knowledge of many of the musicians involved can find reason enough to trust that the setting alone will make it an exceptional event nonetheless.

To be sure, there is something of a risk that comes with peering at a roster that I find for me consists of mostly unfamiliar names. Even my husband’s reassurances that there’s much to enjoy still leaves me wondering if, in this adventurous array of cutting-edge artists, I’ll still find sounds that will easily find their way into my brain and later leave me humming a few catchy refrains. While I love jazz of the classic variety — big band, swing, contemporary conceits and the like — much of the music demands a willing ear and a willingness in general to venture deeply into experimental realms.

Mind you, that’s a concept that I’m generally comfortable with. The first time I agreed to go with my hubby to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, I had to wonder how I’d relate to a plethora of fiddles and banjos. I was a cosmopolitan girl from up north after all, and the lure of back porch jams and arcane Americana had me convinced that I’d be settling in for a series of hillbilly hoedowns, albeit in the lovely setting of Colorado’s magnificent mountains. Yet by the end of the festival I was totally hooked, having become enamoured by the likes of the Avett Brothers, Sam Bush and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Would I get the same feeling of satisfaction from The Souljazz Orchestra, Bill Frisell and Christian McBride? Clearly, it remained to be seen.

Granted, there were also artists who lured me in. The opportunity to see Bob Dylan on the day we arrived provided a sense of satisfaction, even though I knew that Dylan himself was hardly what one would call a predictable performer. Yet at the same time, he provided a perfect segue way for some jazzier designs, his current fascination with the music of his early idol, Frank Sinatra, and the Great American Songbook providing a cultural tie to the musical mantra that the Montreal Jazz Festival has always drawn upon for the past 38 years. Dylan’s designs were so concrete and coherent, in fact, that even when his own classic songs seemed inexplicably altered to the point where they were practically beyond recognition, his reverent renditions of “Stormy Weather,” “That Old Black Magic” and “Autumn Leaves” consoled me and made me believe that I could find connections even in the most unlikely circumstances.

That sense of calm was further amplified the following day when we took in a performance by the Bad Plus, a melodic jazz trio that chose to supplement their sets with an array of special guests. On this particular eventing, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel was sitting in, adding an extra texture to the group’s sooting sounds and seemingly extemporaneous improvisation. At times it seemed a bit too sedate, but after a whirlwind day taking in the sights and sounds of the festival — among them, the plethora of free outdoor performances, street shows and the general buzz that gave Rue Sainte- Catherine its festival-like atmosphere — a mellow mood seemed to play well into the evening’s fare.

That said, the next concert we took in changed my perception dramatically. The grand Festival a la Maison Symphonique is a spectacular setting for any concert, given its remarkable acoustics and a multi-tiered auditorium that brings to mind the regal opera houses found in many a great European city, London’s Albert Hall in particular. However, witnessing the performance of Colin Stetson on his saxophones, accompanied only by some strange sampling and unusual aural effects made me think that instead of being in a magnificent concert hall, I was actually in the belly of a beast. Suffice it to say, Stetson creates sounds like no other, strange, dissident and outlandishly obtrusive. It was left to Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan to restore my sense of calm and allow some reassurance that even the most avant garde experimentation was simply a matter of individual taste.

At this juncture I have to say that indeed, there were plenty of established artists at the festival who had earned their place in the pantheon by breaking boundaries and take their artistry to places that were unexpected and often divine. The Charles Lloyd Quartet, blues greats Buddy Guy and Charles Musselwhite, and Hudson — a new quartet featuring Jack DeJohnette (the recipient of a prestigious award of accomplishment the next day), John Scofield, John Medeski and Larry Grenadier — all proved that experimentation could be both adventurous and enticing all at the same time.

Nevertheless, our third day at the festival was all about reassurance as far as I was concerned. A soothing set of perfectly tuneful and melodic songs from Canada’s own Ron Sexsmith set the pace that evening, allowing the chance to admire and observe a singer/songwriter who, nearly 30 years on in his career, still makes music that comes complete with cascading choruses, willowy melodies and a soothing sense of wistful reflection. Ater Sexsmith’s set, we made a shift in our settings, from the intimate environs of Club Soda where Sexsmith had performed to Evenements Speciaux, another magnificent auditorium where we would view the film “La La Land” with the accompaniment of a full symphony orchestra. Having seen the film, I couldn’t imagine how the live symphonic sounds could effectively integrate into the musical segments on screen. And yet, it worked out seamlessly, giving a cinematic experience that was as uniquely charming as it was wonderfully romantic.

As if we hadn’t experienced enough diversity that evening, we braved through our hunger pains and made our way back to Club Soda for what may have been the most unlikely concert of the whole festival, a performance by the ‘80s pop/new wave/electronica band Men Without Hats. While the bulk of the band are new to the fold — and without hats, I might add — original singer Ivan Doroschuk still retains his distinctive baritone and, for a man of senior status (he turns 60 this year) some remarkably agile dance steps. Naturally, the group’s worldwide hit “Safety Dance” proved the highlight of the set, performed no less than three times throughout the evening, the first marred by technical difficulties involving one of the keyboards, the second by way of a make-up and the third to close out the show prior to the band taking an encore. Clearly, the nudge of nostalgia is a hard habit to break.

After the nonstop bombardment of both the proven and the provocative, our final evening of the festival couldn’t have provided us with a better way to say our farewells. It offered ample amounts of both. King Crimson was one of those weird yet wondrous outfits I remember seeing at the Fillmore at the end of the psychedelic ‘60s, when progressive rock brought strange new sounds to an audience that clamoured for the unconventional. Their signature song “In the Court of the Crimson King” offered a wonderful ride into an unexplored dimension, but ever since then, the ever-evolving nature of the band left me behind and unfamiliar with all but that earlier era. So much to my surprise, I found myself fascinated by the band’s current incarnation, particularly the three drummers that lined the front of the stage and seemed so in synch when it came to exacting the band’s rhythms. No jam band, this; each of the percussionists took solo turns, picking up with the others left off and pounding different drums while colleagues took their solos with sole original stalwart Robert Fripp playing out his unique guitar style and also tending to keyboards, the entire ensemble dazzled the audience with varying tones, textures and an ethereal ambiance that was as mesmerizing as it was magical. The end of the performance paid off with songs I could recall — the aforementioned “Court of the Crimson King, a soaring version of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and the electrifying verve of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the latter of which seems more appropriate than ever.

It was an extraordinary end to an extraordinary festival, one that stands alone in its unique musical draw. Even the fact that we had to awaken at 4:30 AM the next day to catch a flight back to the States on the 4th of July proved well worth the effort. Montreal is amazing, and its soundtrack couldn’t be more enchanting.

***

Colin Stetson

Tigran Hamasyan

Ron Sexsmith with Lee Zimmerman interview

Montreal Jazz Fest 2017 – Street scene

Street Performers @ Montreal Jazz Fest

Ron Sexsmith

La La Land in Concert

Men Without Hats

Jakko Jakszyk & Mel Collins of King Crimson -interviewed by Lee Zimmerman

Jakko Jakszyk, Lee Zimmerman, Mel Collins

Street Performers

LAW OF… The Suburbs

Key players on the Amerindie underground of the ‘80s keep rolling with a terrific new Kickstarter-powered album. Chan Poling explains.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, Minneapolis churned out a slew of staggeringly talented musicians and bands. From Prince and The Replacements to Husker Du and Soul Asylum, it’s a literal who’s-who of great American bands. Fueled on cheap beer and late nights, these Midwest kids were fairly agnostic to genres, allowing the scene to flourish and cross pollinate blending musical styles and tastes from punk and funk to soul and new wave. At ground zero of this musical movement stood The Suburbs.

A band with a knack for mixing classic rock drums with new wave keyboards, R&B horns and raucous guitar, the group’s self-titled EP was the first ever release on the iconic Twin/Tone label. For a decade, from 1977-1987, The Suburbs turned in half a dozen albums on Twin/Tone as well as the majors (Mercury/Polygram and A&M) before finally calling it a day.

They resurfaced to the surprise of many in 2013 with a new record, Si Sauvage, laying the groundwork for Hey Muse!, their latest full length and a clear signal that they are just as brilliant now as they were four decades prior.

Chan Poling, band co-founder, singer and keyboardist, was kind enough to speak with Blurt recently about why the band got back together, the affirmation of crowdfunding and having his song serve as a gay rights anthem.

BLURT: You guys have played together here and there for the past 10 years or so. What was behind the decision in 2013 to finally put out a new record?
CHAN POLING: Well, I’ll outline it for you. We broke up at the end of the ’80s after really working our asses off and getting to a certain stage with two major label deals, but finally it wore us down, as it does a lot of bands. We realized really quickly that we still enjoyed playing, so we started playing back together again around ’93. We kept it more fun; we’d play outdoor festivals and around our hometown and go to New York every once and a while, but we just played four or five shows a year to keep our chops up.

When we lost Bruce (Allen, guitarist, who died in 2009), we decided to do a memorial show and had to find a guy to do Bruce’s part, so we asked Steve Brantseg, who had been a friend from the old Twin/Tone days and he added in his own panache. At that point, our bass player Michael Halliday had developed arthritis so bad he couldn’t play anymore. We lost two players, so I asked Steve Price if he wanted to join. That was a great fit. Over the years, if people want to play, they play with us. But I was thinking how would we every get someone to replace Beej (Blaine John “Beej” Chaney, guitarist, who stepped away from the band in 2014)? He had a really unique style. We found Jeremy Ylvisaker, who played with Andrew Bird. He’s super talented and he came and joined us. He was an old fan of the band so he was thrilled and he’s just monstrous on guitar, so I was thrilled. The band is just fucking killing it.

You guys finally put out a new album four years ago. Was there less pressure putting out Hey Muse! as you had already had the comeback record out of the way?
Yeah, we were very pleasantly surprised to find that the fans were still there and the record was good. We were proud of it and the reaction was the clincher for us. The Kickstarter was the highest grossing Kickstarter in Minnesota. I write songs all the time and I finally realized that my Suburbs song folder was viable again. When I’m writing, for theater or movies or for the Suburbs, I usually know exactly who it’s meant for. “Hey Muse!” popped into my head when I was sleeping and I woke up and found a little electric keyboard and write down the lead line and verse chords in my pajamas. In fact, I’ve already got two songs for the new record.

You mention Kickstarter. Things have clearly changed a lot in the music world since The Suburbs were last signed to a label. What have you seen as some of the bigger changes since you last put out music with the band?
In the olden days, the model was that the labels had capital to invest in developing their artists. If we got a $300,000 advance from Polygram it wasn’t like they were giving us $300,000. We had to pay that back. The idea of controlling your own operating capital is always intriguing to me. Some bands thrive in that world (with labels). We thrived in that world for a few years and we were making alternative, very personal rock music. We don’t make music that competes with Katie Perry or Taylor Swift. We make music for our own esoteric survival and you need to find ways of funding that like any other business.

When we realized people actually wanted to be part of these crowd funding things, it was a relief. There’s a stigma that you’re asking for money because the labels don’t think you’re viable enough to give you money. The fact of the matter is, we’re making a product. It costs nearly $100 grand to make a good rock record with the studio time and the musicians and the manufacturing. Vinyl is expensive. It’s a large outlay of cash. When I found out we could control our own destiny by offering our record for sell before it’s made, let’s do it. It’s more empowering, it’s about community and it’s a closer tie to the fans.

Is there a case of schadenfreude seeing what the labels are going through now or were you guys always treated well by the record labels?
Now that you mention it, maybe it is a little bit of schadenfreude. But then again, I don’t wish ill will on anyone. It’s always the underdog against the big guy and I’m always for the underdog.

There’s a new book that just came out about the Minneapolis music scene on the ‘70s and ‘80s called Complicated Fun. The Suburbs and a bunch of other bands are covered in it. At the time, did you realize something unique was happening in the city music-wise? [Go HERE to read our review of the book. – Lit. Ed.]
I had no idea, we were just doing our thing. It was awesome for sure. I haven’t read the book, but I definitely lived it.

The song “Love is the Law” is a favorite among many fans of the band. It was also adopted by the Gay Marriage movement in Minneapolis. As a local guy, what was that feeling like that your song was tied to such a historic movement?
I was super proud of that and it was really personal for me because my son is gay and was discussing getting married to his partner of many years. We were wondering where that wedding was going to take place and when we found out that it was able to be done here and that they were using our song to celebrate that, it was really personal to me. I am very proud. The fact that that song can have two different lives is very cool.

You guys have some tour dates online for Minneapolis and a few other places in the Midwest. Any thoughts about touring in other parts of the country?
Oh, yeah. We definitely want to it’s just a matter of inching our way out there and to see what we can afford. The problem with The Suburbs is that we are a completely irresponsible, unwieldy commercial venture; we’ve got three horn players, a back-up singer, five guys, the crew. We just never grew up.

2015 Photo Credit: Jay Smiley / 2017 Live Photo Credit: Brian Grenz / Below, check out a live video of the band performing at this year’s Record Store Day

CULTURAL AMNESIA IN AMERIKKA: The Charles Manson “Lie: The Love and Terror Cult” LP, Revisited

Whoahhh… hold on there, Mr. Bugliosi, I was just checkin’ in to see what my condition was in, Charles Manson-wise!

BY UNCLE BLURT

Yeah, I was there—NOT, I hasten to add, at the Tate-LaBianca murders. I was at the local record store, many many many years back in the day, when producer/scenester (and future Gram Parsons body-snatcher) Phil Kaufman and his ad hoc indie label Awareness Records released Lie: The Love and Terror Cult. In 1970 America was in a protracted state of culture shock, and yours truly was only marginally coming to terms with the dissonant notions that one could wave one’s freak flag really fucking high while opposing Vietnam and sundry other Nixon-era ills, and still be not only appalled but downright nauseous that a countercultural opportunist and interloper like Charles Manson was able to shatter the—our—hippie dream merely by dispensing LSD to a bunch of impressionable kids and “suggesting” that the phrase death to pigs was not just a mere jocular implication taken from a Beatles song, but a goddam mandate.

You can get all you need to know about the original LP from its Wikipedia page (although no one seems to have bothered to update it in ages—there’s nominal info about the album’s reissue trajectory, so perhaps click over to the extended Discogs entry). Here, in 2017, we are fortunate to have yet a fresh iteration—and on translucent red vinyl to boot!—via the estimable ESP-Disk label, which actually can trace a “professional relationship” with the album (and whoever may have owned the rights to it at various times) going all the way back to a ’74 vinyl repressing and picking up again during the CD era. (ESP’s 2008 CD Sings expanded the original 14-song tracklisting to a whopping 26. That’s also the version you’ll encounter if you pull the album up on Spotify.)

Why do I say “fortunate”? Well, that’s complicated. Let’s face it, the music itself is, at best, nominal. There’s always been a lot of hoo-hah over the track “Cease to Exist” because it was notoriously turned into the Beach Boys’ “Never Learn Not to Love,” no doubt with the late Dennis Wilson sweating his way through the sessions; it’s decent enough, in an early Tim Buckley vein, but hardly memorable. And who gives a shit whether Rob Zombie, Redd Kross, and the Lemonheads have covered a “hardly memorable” song? “Garbage Dump,” made retroactively prominent by G.G. Allin, is barely listenable, go figure, while “Big Iron Door,” a blink-you-missed-it love song to, uh, prison, is even less so. A few track-skips later, we are left returning to “Look at Your Game Girl,” the album’s opening track and perhaps the tune that convinced Kaufman he might be able to shift a few copies. It’s strummy and has a moderately catchy folk-soul vibe, the kind of song you could do a blindfold test with on any given millennial or hipster and come away feeling pretty smug when your blindfoldee was positive it’s an unreleased Rodriguez track. There, I said it. Charles Manson sounds a lot like Rodriguez, if you need a musical selling point, I guess. Alternatively, maybe you’re simply a Guns N’ Roses fan and this is your entry point.

So, no. Still –  “fortunate,” because this is a genuinely priceless cultural artifact that demands to be in the collection of any sentient music collector who gives even a small portion of a damn about rock ‘n’ roll, its history, its undercurrents, its implications, its future. Without an awareness of Charles Manson and the cultural bomb he set off back in the late ‘60s, all you kids out there reading this review are doomed to one day allow another Charles Manson creepy-crawl into the personal spheres of your brothers, sisters, friends, compatriots—and even your children.

The Mansons of the world are still out there; in fact, there’s a good chance several of them are currently strolling the corridors of the West Wing, patiently looking for their openings. The original is by all accounts not long for this world, and it’s unlikely he’ll make it to the age of 92, in 2027, the year he’s up for parole. But don’t for a second think that when that sawed-off little gangster is dead, the toxins that initially spawned him will have been eradicated. They’ve always been in the Amerikkan water system.

Luckily, as long as folks like ESP-Disk are doing their part to revive the conversation and then keep it alive, we have a chance of getting through that whole “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” etc., thing.

When this LP arrived in the mail, a lot of memories came rushing back.

Remember, I lived through the Manson era. I recall, with great clarity, the moment when Woodstock-powered utopianism came crashing down, and the realization gradually dawned that long hair, sandals, love beads, bellbottoms jeans, and tie-dyed teeshirts were no longer instant affirmations of being part of the same club. Worse—for me, at least—it happened before I had even turned legal. In the summer of ’69, when those Manson murders took place, I was only 14 ½ years old. But I was old enough to have begun sketching out a future; in my teenage mind, as soon as Woodstock happened, I had a lot of catching up to do. Well, so much for that, because when news of arrests in the murder case hit the headlines in early December, those idyllic Bryan Adams future memories I’d no doubt been working on a few months earlier came crashing down, too.

Back here in 2017, I caught my breath, shuddered, cracked open the shrink wrap, slowly tugged out the red vinyl repressing, and laid it on my turntable. After a long pause—full disclosure: a longer pause than usual, first to admire the wax, because, well, colored vinyl— I allowed the needle to begin its descent…

Postscript: The last two times this publication posted Manson-related content on the website and put links out to it, we noticed that we were quickly followed on social media by organizations and individuals who were clearly Manson sympathizers. And many years ago, our good friend, the late Joe Young of AntiSeen band fame, released a solo 7” EP, “Bury the Needle,” that had a Manson-sampling track called “Charlie’s Blues” on the flipside. Not long after, he was visited by a couple of folks who identified themselves as members of “The Family.” Joe was somewhat bemused, but also somewhat shaken. It will be interesting to see what kind of feedback BLURT receives for this particular commentary.

 

The Blurt Music Book Summer Reading List

Everything from a legendary Austin music venue and the equally legendary Minneapolis punk scene, to the Summer of Love and the Newport Folk Festival. (Pictured above: the Suicide Commandos.)

BY JOHN B. MOORE, LEE ZIMMERMAN, TIM HINELY, AND FRED MILLS

Complicated Fun – The Birth Of Minneapolis Punk And Indie Rock, 1974 – 1984, by Cyn Collins
Minnesota Historical Society Press (April 4)

There are a number of seminal U.S. rock scenes that easily come to mind: New York in the mid-to-late ‘70s; Athens, GA in the early – to-mid- ‘80s and Seattle in the early ‘90s. Often overlooked by many but the die-hard music obsessives is Minneapolis throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Prince, the Suburbs, Husker Du, the Replacements, Soul Asylum, Suicide Commandos… It’s remarkable that such a small region could be responsible for creating such an influentially impressive list of artists that remain relevant 30 and 40 years later.

DJ and music journalist Cyn Collins does a remarkable job in this oral history of tracking down and recording the memories and anecdotes of some of the scene greats. The early ‘70s were lean times for the Minneapolis musicians with few places to play, but getting inspiration from eclectic scenes like Detroit, London and New York, local rockers started to gather wherever they could, be it frat parties, bowling alleys or, in many cases, their own homes. Spurred on by influential local record stores like Oar Folkjokeopus or Electric Fetus, a legit music scene started to bubble up. Out of Oar Folkjokepus, for example, came Twin/Tone Records which would go on to put out records by the Replacements, Soul Asylum, The Suburbs, Jayhawks, Babes In Toyland and a slew of other great bands.

Around the same time, rock and punk venues started up and traded owners – in particular The Longhorn and First Avenue, in the process becoming legendary venues and soon locals realized Minneapolis bands were just as important as the national touring groups stopping through.

Complicated Fun is crammed with inside stories from those who helped start the scene. Everyone has a Prince story, everyone has a drunk Replacements story and everyone remembers the scene for what it was: a tight community of raucous, but brilliantly talented musicians some of whom would fade out early, but many of whom would go on to international acclaim and inspire others in far off places to start their own music scenes. Complicated Fun is a beautiful love note to DIY music everywhere.   [John B. Moore]

Boogie Chillun: Rock ‘n’ Blues Articles, Album & Book Reviews (The Reverend’s Archives, Vol. 4), by Reverend Keith A. Gordon

Excitable Press (April 8)

Volume friggin’ FOUR? Damn, Rev, you are making the rest of us scribes out here in indiesville look like slackers!

The “Rev” would be Keith Gordon, Nashville ex-pat currently terrorizing the populace of upstate New York, and regularly beaming his broadsides in via the digital pipeline to multiple media outlets (including, full disclosure, this very one from time to time). He’s a prolific sonofabitch, too, for you may recall that barely six months ago we reviewed his Let It Rock! compendium of rock-write, the third volume in his ongoing series of missives from the Gordon archives. As I noted at the time, “Let It Rock! zips, zings, and zooms across the rock/blues/Americana CD and DVD milieu, and as is always the case with record review anthologies, your attention and enthusiasm will ebb and flow depending on which artifact your thumb winds up paging to…. There’s something here for all of us, kids, ‘cos when the Rev. sets up his tent to preach the gospel, it’s a big goddam tent he pitches.”

Picking up where its predecessor left off, Boogie Chillun finds Gordon plucking roccrit nuggets from his back pages anew, dipping all the way back to the ‘70s at times, ultimately serving up more than 150 reviews (“and over 120,000 words,” he adds). Among those nuggets:

Black Oak Arkansas: The Complete Raunch ‘n’ Roll Live (album review): Okay, okay, all you Coachella clowns out there, yes, Rev. Keith and yours truly are indeed rednecks. That’s why we loved Black Oak in the first place! But I can tell you this: Back in the day, when Jim Dandy came to the rescue in concert, you considered yourself done rescued. Something tells me that is not a claim that a Fleet Foxes or Feist fan can make.

Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers: L.A.M.F. Live at the Village Gate 1977 (album review): Who needs another crummy-sounding, bootleg-in-everything-but-name-only Heartbreakers rec? You do, that’s who! Just because it’s released on Cleopatra doesn’t mean it’s not pure junk—which, coincidentally enough, is what killed Johnny Thunders. So don’t let it happen to you, kids. This is your brain on Rev. Keith—any questions?

Steve Earle & The Dukes: Terraplane (album review): As Blues are Gordon’s specialty, he includes plenty of da blooze in his book. He’s particularly well-qualified to assess Steve Earle’s well-publicized foray into the field, and his observations are about as insightful as any commentary I’ve read on Earle, period, and not just about the Terraplane album.

Zap Comix No. 16 (book review): I still own copies of all the original Zap underground comics—R. Crumb, if you are reading this, drop me a line sometime—but that doesn’t mean I’m dumb enough to actually take ‘em out of their bags ‘n’ boards and get my finger oil all over the covers. That’s why we have folks like Fantagraphics to reprint ‘em! “Zap Comix was the grandaddy of all undergrounds [that] proved that comix were a legitimate art form,” writes Gordon. Amen.

-“Piracy on the High Seas of Cyberspace” (1998 essay/op-ed): Here, Gordon talks to music industry folks such as Bill Glahn (then-editor of Live! Music Review, a bootleg-centric publication) and Richard Conlon of BMI, and the topic is issues surrounding the leaking of big-name albums before street date and the industry’s response. In 2017, the notion of “leaks” might seem vaguely quaint, given that numerous artists now put their music up on the web for streaming well ahead of an album’s physical release, and it actually serves to build buzz, not kill it. But in 1998 it was still a big deal, and the powers that be were shitting bricks and sweating dollars every time a major release loomed on the horizon. When you read this article, pay close attention to the comments from Glahn, as he presciently envisions what music access and distribution in the digital age-to-come will look like.

The Author points out in his introduction that Boogie Chillun is the final installment in his rock ‘n’ roll brain dump: “It still only scratches a small part of what I’ve written overall… I figure that four books of my literary narcissism are probably (at least) three too many… Perhaps it’s time for something new.”

Regarding the “three too many” angle: As someone who has enjoyed this rock ‘n’ roll animal’s writing for many years, I would propose that there can never be too many music reviews in the world. I still regularly consult my dog-eared The Rolling Stone Record Review volumes from the early ‘70s, both as primary-source reference material when researching an artist, and to remind me of some of the journalists who originally inspired me to try my hand at this whole rock critic game. So it would be entirely appropriate if some young wannabe scribe in 2017 is in the process of mentally charting his own career path and taking deep inspiration from the likes of Gordon—and will still be hanging on to the four volumes in Gordon’s archives series some four-plus decades hence. Can I get a “boy howdy” to that?

As far as the “time for something new” part: To paraphrase Johnny from The Wild On”—well, Rev, what’ve you got? [Fred Mills]

I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival, by Rick Massimo
Wesleyan University Press (June 6)

There was Woodstock and there was Monterey; there’s Telluride and Bonnaroo; but in terms of a legacy and significance, no festival can match the prestige of the Newport Folk Festival. It was there that Dylan committed the utmost in blasphemy by exchanging his acoustic guitar for the full throttle of rock ‘n’ roll. Where Pete Seeger made the bold decision to mix up the genres and African American artists like Odetta and Leadbelly were encouraged to share the same stages as their white contemporaries, long before integration in the arts became a common occurrence. And it was there, when Old Crow Medicine Show made its bow, that guitarist Chance McCoy could revel in the fact that he learned to play by listening to recordings made live at the Newport Folk Festival while he was growing up.

As the first to document a comprehensive history of the festival, author Rick Massimo had a formidable task on his hands, and yet, all that he accomplishes within the book’s 240 pages ranks it among the best music treatises of its kind ever written. Massimo doesn’t just give a broad historical survey; rather he pores into the personalities involved — the festival’s founder and long-time mainstay George Wein, those that helped execute the operation from behind the scenes, the performers that commanded its stage and the journalists that covered it year after year. The trajectory is told through anecdote and reflection, first-hand accounts of the sometimes difficult circumstances—financial and otherwise—hat occasionally threatened to imperil its progress. And yet through it all, the triumph of the music and people that made it provides its ultimate achievement, both then and now.

“The threading together of the traditional and the new has been a part of the festival’s ethos since the beginning, and it has fuelled its recent renaissance,” Massimo writes, and indeed, that’s the core of what this book is all about. It speaks to a grand legacy, one timeless in its intent and ever-changing in its execution. The song belongs to us all. Let’s hope it is never extinguished. [LEE ZIMMERMAN]

 

1967: A Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love, by Harvey Kubernik
Sterling Publishing Co. (April 18)

The name Harvey Kubernik undoubtedly rings a bell with anyone who is moderately interested in rock history; as a journalist, he’s covered music for national—and international—publications for decades, additionally working in A&R for the MCA label and producing numerous records over the years. More recently, he published handsome coffeetable books about Neil Young (Heart of Gold, reviewed here at BLURT) and Leonard Cohen (Everybody Knows, ditto here). With 1967, issued not-so-coincidentally just ahead of the much-ballyhooed 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, he extends his authorial winning streak, once again in a colorful, graphics-rich 9 ¾” x 11 ½” coffeetable format and once again well-stocked and –organized with text, commentary, archival, and interview materials that belie the general stereotype of “coffeetable” book-as-mere-eye-candy.

In a nutshell, Kubernik, a longtime California resident who was making the nature(al) hippie scene back in the day, traces that epochal year, first introducing numerous major players of the era such as LSD prophet Timothy Leary, concert impresario Bill Graham, Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman, and members of the Jefferson Airplane, then pushing the narrative forward month by month via media accounts and firsthand quotes. Key events are highlighted, from the release of the Doors’ self-titled debut in January to the release of D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back in May to the arrival of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine in November. Along the way sundry key moments deserving of extended navel-gazing get their props—the Monterey Pop Festival, of course, which Kubernik previously documented in detail in a 2011 book, A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival; and, uh, a little album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—but Kubernik puts plenty of energy into, and sets aside plenty of space for, smaller items on his sunshine checklist that he feels wielded an impact upon the times and the culture worth documenting.

To wit: The hippies of San Francisco may have dominated the conversation that year, but there was a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on in nearby L.A., where the Seeds were laying the, ahem, seeds for the eventual Nuggets-ian rediscovery of garage rock; across the continent in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where a collection of studio rats who would one day be known as “the Swampers” were creating sonic magic behind some of the Sixties’ greatest funk/soul voices; and halfway across the world, where a conflict in the split country known as Vietnam was steadily growing, and along with it, American G.I.s were learning how to leaven their terror and stress with marijuana and underground records.

One of my favorite tangents in the 266-page book arrives on page 206, where Kubernik details the rise of the underground press, including the aforementioned Rolling Stone, the Berkeley Barb, Ramparts, and The Realist. The latter wielded a huge influence on yours truly, ensnaring me in its us-against-The-Man!, oftentimes surreal/silly aesthetic. Meanwhile, Kubernik rightly points out that the mainstream (relatively speaking) media likes of Playboy provided plenty of coverage to the emerging counterculture and the people behind it, with musicians in particular leading the pack. Among all the naked women and bachelor pad gear reviews was coverage of Jimi and Otis, Janis and Grace, Ravi Shankar, Chris Darrow of the Kaleidoscope, and others.

Did I mention the graphics and layout? Oh boy. Suffice to say that the hot-pink-yellow-green neon-day-glow outer cover of this hardback is clue enough that a visual feast awaits one inside—as do stunning photos and eye-catching fonts, along with respondents’ quotes blocked off into their own sections, effectively allowing the reader to graze and skim at will, should that be desired, over start-to-finish consuming. That’s the coffeetable-book factor working nicely in Kubernik’s favor alongside the hungry rock-geek effect.

Kubernik includes a four-page appendix, an alphabetized “Playlist” of tracks that no so-called self-respecting Scholar of Summer of Love would be caught dead without on their personal mixtape or Spotify roundup; for all you newbies out there, it gives you a chance to delve into far more than the usual suspects, given the presence of The Hombres (“Let It All Hang Out”), Friend & Lover (“Reach Out of the Darkness”), The Wild Cherries (“Krome Plated Yabbie”), and a slice of classic soul by the eternal James Carr that messes my mind up every time I hear it (“You Got My Mind Messed Up”). Throw in exhaustive quote sourcing for each chapter and an equally comprehensive bibliography that proves Kubernik is, first and foremost, a veteran reporter who personally interviewed most of the quoted individuals cropping up in his book’s pages, and you’ve got a scholarly tome that should be on the required reading list of any college course that purports to delve into the cultural history of the Sixties. [ —FRED MILLS]

 


The Prodigal Rogerson: The Tragic, Hilarious and Possibly Apocryphal Story of the Circle Jerks Bassist Roger Rogerson in the Golden Age of LA Punk, 1979-1996,
by J. Hunter Bennett
Microcosm Publishing (May 15)

Admittedly, the full title is a mouthful but this is one killer book put together by J. Hunter Bennett, bassist for terrific Washington, DC power pop band Dot Dash. I loved those early Circle Jerks records, but hardly knew anything about their bassist, Roger Rogerson. The book, done in an oral history style of the folks who were there (band members, Roger’s old girlfriend, his ex-wife, etc) spills the beans on what a complete over-the-top character that Rogerson really was. Blowing into LA from Kansas City in the late 70’s the dude was as enigmatic as he was colorful and boisterous. Eventually he OD’d, but lived, and managed to still play for a few years. However, band members say he was never the same again.

A master of odd phrases (“Horn in, chief out”, etc.) and a personality turned toward the con, Rogerson even played with teen idol Jimmy McNichol for a while. The guy seemed to make friends or at least acquaintances, wherever he went, at least until the day he stole the Circle Jerks van and vanished. For a while, anyway, until he reappeared in… aw, I don’t want to spoil the book for you. It’s a must read and yes, you must read it. The American hardcore scene of the early ‘80s had many characters—a few within the Circle Jerks—and especially the LA scene, but Rogerson was definitely near the top of that “characters” category.

As the title says, the tale is both tragic and hilarious, but above all, riveting reading. Miss this book and your life will never improve, Incidentally, this is the fourth in Microcosm’s Scene History series). [ –Tim Hinely]

Sgt Pepper At Fifty: The Mood, the Look, the Sound, the Legacy of the Beatles’ Great Masterpiece, by Mike McInnerney, Bill DeMain & Gillian G. Gaar
Sterling Publishing Co. (June 1)

If you’re like me, you sometimes shudder as we approach the anniversary of such-and-such iconic artifact from the ‘60s; I’m as nostalgic for my misspent youth as the next senior citizen, but as anniversary celebrations are often organized by people who experienced the artifact in question secondhand, they frequently overlook some of the most salient aspects while elevating the more mundane ones. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has been no exception this year, with talking heads going into breathless overdrive, media outlets doing their best to cash in with tie-ins and even the record label itself doing its level best to dilute what was genuinely groundbreaking about the 1967 album by serving up a buffet of studio outtakes that illustrate why they were, in fact, relegated to outtake status.

This 178-page hardback book is a welcome exception, not only getting everything right in terms of providing an immensely informative and entertaining analysis of a musical and cultural watershed, but also in the way the evidence of same is presented for the printed page.

The structure is straightforward: Following a stage-setting introduction by Gillian G. Gaar—a Seattle-based journalist/author (she’s a longtime BLURT contributor) and scholar on all things Elvis, Nirvana, and the Beatles—Mike McInnerney, who during the Sixties was a graphic designer in London, reports on “The Mood” that informed the era in which the Beatles operated. He touches upon everything from the counterculture’s obsession with spiritual and, ahem, chemical enlightenment, to the influence that fashion and art wielded among youth, to some of the mass gatherings taking place that additionally put that youth front and center in the media. Next, Nashville-based journalist Bill DeMain tackles “The Look”—speaking of fashion and art—that went into how the Beatles physically presented themselves (one section subtitle is “Pepper Sprouts: How the Beatles’ Mustaches Set Them Free in the Summer of Love,” tellingly enough) and all the behind-the scenes stuff that went into creating the iconic Sgt. Pepper’s record sleeve. Fun side note: The origins of the notorious “Paul McCartney Is Dead” urban legend that would sweep the planet in 1969 can be traced back to the album’s photo session. And finally, Gaar writes about “The Sound,” discussing the actual recording sessions for the record. She breaks down individual songs and traces the progression of the material, recounts some of the public’s and media’s reactions upon the album’s initial release, and even delves into some of the more intriguing (for Beatles geeks, at least) musical minutiae, such as the debate over which is “better,” the mono or stereo mix.

Throughout, Sgt Pepper At Fifty supplies a nonstop visual feast, from period photos of the Swinging Sixties and shots of relevant cultural heroes of the day (including many who were pictured on the album cover), to images of the Beatles working in the studio and assorted ephemera (such as shots of them in India with the Maharishi and on the set of the video shoot for “Strawberry Fields Forever”). Some of the photos are familiar, but many are not, indicative of the thought and care that went into the book’s creators’ planning process. Ultimately, it’s a solid time capsule for anyone wanting to delve into both the content of and context surrounding Sgt. Pepper’s, as well as a worthy addition to any Beatles fan’s already-sagging bookshelf—a keeper and a conversation-starter that you’ll no doubt want to display conspicuously for when visitors arrive. [ —Fred Mills]


Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir,
by Eddie Wilson, with Jesse Sublett
University of Texas Press  (April 4)

It may be a slight exaggeration to say Eddie Wilson is the reason why Austin isknown today as the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” But just a slight one.

Wilson, a liberal hippie in 1970s Texas – when such things still existed – founded the Armadillo World Headquarters, Texas’ version of CBGBs, Café Wha, The Fillmore and Whiskey A Go Go, all in one venue. In his brilliantly clever memoir, Wilson details the exact moment he found the old National Guard armory that he would soon convert into a club that would host everyone from Frank Zappa, Slade, AC/DC, Springsteen to Willie (naturally).

“If not for the coincidence of a swollen bladder and a flimsy lock on a derelict building, there might never have been a place called Armadillo World Headquarters,” writes Wilson in the opening paragraph.

The author, along with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the legendary singer/songwriter and all around badass member of The Flatliners, walked across the street from the Cactus Club to piss on the side of an old building and stumbled on his Taj Mahal. Not too much later, with a small army of friends fueled by a lot of cheap pot and local Texas beer, they would open and run the legendary Austin venue from the early ‘70s through the early ‘80s.

The book is a fascinating story of how a handful of young adults managed, at least for a little while, to completely define a city that at that point was known for little more than Longhorns football and Lone Star politicians. The venue became a haven for all kinds of freethinkers and non-conformists, boasting several brilliant poster artists, and eventually an off-shoot ad firm (they helped to reinvigorate Lone Star beer sales with a genius longneck bottle campaign). The ‘dillo also had a world class kitchen and catering company and was the scene for several live albums, fundraisers for liberal politicians and causes and even competing music venues.

Despite its reputation with music fans and musicians across the globe, the venue rarely made a profit. However, it could be argued that everything from the long-running PBS live music show, Austin City Limits, to the SXSW music festival would not have existed if not for Wilson and his merry band of music-loving hippies.

His memoir is required reading for any music fan out there. [John B. Moore]

 

All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music, by Michael Corcoran
University of North Texas Press (May 17)

Quick, determine which artist in each musical trifecta here does not belong with the others: (1) country gyspy Floyd Tillman, gangsta hip-hoppers the Geto Boys, soul music avatars Archie Bell and the Drells; (2) outlaw country rocker Billy Joe Shaver, Dylan/Velvet Underground/Zappa producer Tom Wilson, fiddle legend Johnny Gimble; and (3) “loco” jazz-polka accordionist Steve Jordan, cosmic cowboy Doug Sahm, Tejana pop superstar Selena.

Think you know the answers? Sorry, it was a trick question, because if you listed a single name, you failed the quiz. As chronicled in veteran music journalist Austin-based Michael Corcoran’s latest book, each artist originally hails from Texas: in respective order, from Lone Star regions Houston, the Waco area, and San Antonio/Rio Grande Valley. By way of fun facts: I had always figured Bell and his Drells were from the South, probably South Carolina, due to their being strongly identified with beach music; I did not realize that producer Wilson was African-American, much less from Texas, considering how so many of his productions were done in New York studios; and always just assumed Selena came from Mexico, considering that her core audience was located south of the border.

The point I’m making, of course, and the one Corcoran clearly intends to convey with All Over the Map, is that Texas is way more than folk, country, Tex-Mex, and the blues; for every Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, there’s a Ronnie Dawson (rockabilly) and a Butthole Surfers (psychedelic punk). I mean, did you even realize that Sly Stone was born in Dallas and spent part of his childhood in nearby Dallas? Admittedly, Texas is a big freakin’ place, and as Corcoran notes, “It’s where the South ends and the West begins, and yet Texas remains independent of those regions. Removed from the pressures of the music industry centers, Texans were able to chase the muse without much interference, resulting in indigenous sounds that retained personality.” (No kidding. Among the diverse “personalities” Texas has spawned over the year are Janis Joplin, Roky Erickson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gibby Haynes, and DJ Screw. ‘nuf said.)

Clocking in at 308 pages, All Over the Map, as noted above, breaks its musical groupings down via region rather than the more obvious genre or chronological options. It’s not a history of Texas; rather, you get an invaluable series of history lessons via the context Corcoran places each of his 39 main profiles, and the stories they tell or have told about them. In this study, then, the artists who came out of Waco are as important as those from Austin, and neither East Texas nor West Texas is the more influential locale, partly because within each section, there’s a hugely range of styles being practiced.

In many instances, Corcoran conducted firsthand interviews, an authorial perk of someone who spent much of his professional career as a music critic for the Dallas Morning News, Texas Monthly, and of course the Austin-American Statesman. (Anyone who ever attended South By Southwest prior to 2012 inevitably came across the Corcoran byline in the daily paper while the annual music conference was raging.) He also includes a musical appendix, a 34-track playlist of artists not included among the profiles; for example, he didn’t write about ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, or Marty Robbins, preferring instead to utilize that space to sing the praises of some lesser-knowns. And there’s a nice section titled “Behind-the-Scenes Heroes” that serves up tributes to musical movers and shakers who weren’t necessarily musicians themselves, among them journalist Chet Flippo, SXSW legend Brent Grulke, and legendary club owner Clifford Antone.

Factor in an amazing selection of archival photos—several of them not heavily circulated before, like a teenaged Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a shot of Don Walser and his band onstage and sporting Stetsons nearly scraping the venue’s impossibly low ceiling—and you’ve got a Texas-themed book that is essential reading whether you’re a Lone Star fanatic or just a standard-issue music geek. It’s also more than just an updated edition of Corcoran’s original 2005 book of the same name. As he points out, he opted to rewrite it, adding both newly-unearthed information and entire new chapters. [ —FRED MILLS]

 

America 51: A Probe Into the Realities That Are Hiding Inside “The Greatest Country In the World,” by Corey Taylor
Da Capo Press (August 8)

In 2011 Corey Taylor, the lead singer for Slipknot and Stone Sour, hustled his way onto the New York Times Best Sellers list with Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good (Da Capo Press), a part-memoir, part-self-help tome that used as its jumping-off point Taylor’s own extensive first-hand acquaintance with those titular sins and sundry related vices, and subsequently extrapolated them to explaining how fucked-up humans—and by implication, societies—truly are. The book was a mixed bag. As our reviewer observed at the time, “Taylor’s ramblings, though entertaining at first, start to grate by the time you hit gluttony. A decent enough effort, that doesn’t exactly fulfill its promise. Two hundred and seventy pages later, I’m wondering if Taylor is guiltier of vanity or greed for thinking his peachiness on society’s ills is worth shelling out $25 in hardcover.”

Since then, Taylor has also published 2014’s You’re Making Me Hate You: A Cantankerous Look at the Common Misconception That Humans Have Any Common Sense Left, which in places mined similar themes (including a love of ridiculously long and convoluted book titles), but was generally deemed to be more laugh-out-loud funny and less self-aggrandizing than its predecessor. With America 51, Taylor maintains his lazer-like focus on our cultural foibles (I suspect he would never use a word like “foibles,” but hey, BLURT is a family publication), this time drilling down into the new era of der Trumph. As a touring musician, he’s as eminently qualified as Steve Earle to do so—one cannot truly say they understand how America is viewed by people in other countries until they’ve actually visited those countries and talked to those people—and as someone who has clearly put a lot of time and effort into thinking about what it means to be an American in 2017, versus just clicking on clickbait and then ranting about it to his Facebook followers, he’s earned the right to do so in a very public forum such as a book from a major publishing house.

Here, Taylor tackles religion, racism, bigotry, and the alt-right; chronicles the drip-drip-boom-boom of propaganda (see: social media; #fakenews) through our nation’s history; ruminates upon the “Fall of the House of Kennedy” and its implied corollary, the fall of the house of Clinton; and he even finds time to ponder just why man buns are so fucking annoying to pretty much everybody except the doofs who sport ‘em. The book title, accompanied by the image of the alien on the cover, is pretty awesome, incidentally; I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been wondering of late if our country isn’t actually part of some protracted alien autopsy experiment.

Trigger warning: There are more “fuck”s and “shit”s per capita here than a box set of Richard Pryor DVDs (I think Taylor would like that comparison, by the way). And from time to time, all the self-referencing Taylor engages in can at times feel disruptive, flow-wise; his screeds can often ome across more like a standup routine than an expanding narrative.

But maybe that’s the point. Taylor’s also grown immensely since 2011 as an essayist, and his sense of humor is indeed wicked. In 2017, having and expressing a sense of humor is the only thing that’s kept me sane, so I’m all for more—from a healthy disrespect for bullshit comes #resistance. I can’t say that I would welcome the opportunity to hang with Taylor at a backyard barbecue, since his outsized ego would probably mean he’d dominate all the conversations and keep me from concentrating on my game of cornhole.

Ultimately, I can say that I am grudgingly becoming a fan of the dude’s point of view and how he expresses that point of view. As I write this review, Kid Rock has just announced a bid for the U.S. Senate, aiming to take on Democrat Debbie Stabenow in 2018. And while I have no idea what, if any, political aspirations Corey Taylor might harbor, if he got an itch to run for office from his native Iowa in an effort to counterbalance whatever bad juju Sen. Rock might be aiming to conjure in Washington, I would certainly applaud the move. [Fred Mills]

 

VISUAL ABUSE: Jim Blanchard’s Graphic Art 1982-2002, by Jim Blanchard
Fantagraphics (Sept. 16, 2016)

And if you are looking more for eye candy… you’ve come to the right place.

By  way of full disclosure: From around 1992 – 1997 I was the books/magazines buyer for an indie record store in Tucson, Arizona, and if you have a sharp memory of that time, you’ll know that the aforementioned period was what I’ll tentatively peg as “alternative lifestyles in ascendancy” for the book biz. Not only did I sell boatloads of tattoo/piercing books, straight-up rock bios, and (cough) The Anarchist Cookbook (ask me sometime about the grilling I got one afternoon from a couple of Tucson detectives looking into the presumably illegal escapades of a local punk “subversive”), the underground art milieu was in full bloom, along with its printed chroniclers.

Fantagraphics was not only one of the distributors we ordered from, it was a cultural force of nature in its own right, playing host/den-mother to its own stable of urban guerillas. So thumbing through this recent hard-cover volume from the publishing house, which collects, per the subtitle, native Texan/subsequent Northwest underground artist Jim Blanchard, I’m immediately struck by how delightfully right the guy’s work seems—and by that I don’t mean “for that era,” but instead, for the enduring underground aesthetic.

By way of additional disclosure: Somewhere in my attic is a sizable collection of old underground comics, hippie-era artifacts containing ground zero epistles from the likes of Crumb, Rodriguez, Griffin, Wilson et al. If you were born at the right time, it was a no-brainer to graduate from Mad and Cracked to Zap and its printed peers; and then, sometime later, after punk hit, to the sometimes realistic/sometimes impressionistic/always outrageous work of folks like Blanchard.

Visual Abuse is a flashback, for sure, stuffed with psychedelic skeletons, colliding craniums, bouncing breasts, exploding eyeballs, morphing mutants, and even the stray construction worker (?). More to the point, this handsomely appointed 200-page volume serves up a buffet of twisted brilliance that neatly presents an artist evolving alongside the culture he was chronicling and/or commenting on. Early in the game, Blanchard is found publishing his fanzine Blatch, duly inspired by punk and hardcore and soon dispensing photocopied word of wisdom alongside vivid pen-and-ink depictions of the likes of Black Flag, T.S.O.L., etc. Within a couple of years he’s doing concert posters and handbills, and with a relocation to Seattle in 1987, Blanchard, along with similar talents such as Charles Burns, crafting delicate (ahem) visual come-ons for potential attendees of upcoming shows by Skin Yard, the Fluid, Killdozer, Mentors, Butthole Surfers, and some three-piece called Nirvana.

In addition to reproductions of gig posters, the book includes Blanchard’s album art: Coffin Break sleeves for Sub Pop and C/Z, New Bomb Turks, Italy’s Raw Power, Mooseheart Faith (apparently a fave of Blanchard’s—and mine, too, with 1991’s Magic Square of the Sun a psychedelic gem as masterful as any of the Fillmore-era artists), and others.

Blanchard would digress into pure fantasy, both drug-induced and sexual in thrust; on occasion his sketches of females may border on sexism, but most of the images portray them as coming from a position of strength or power, such as the faux-Blaxploitation poster starring a giant Afro hair-do, and one for a “Patty Hearst is Tania” film. Here and there the book also displays some relatively straightforward narrative comic strips, like the chilling nine-panel “An abbreviated picto-history of bad crime in these United States,” about a pair of “big time hoods” who turned out to be just another pair of fuck-ups.

It’s an anarchic ride for sure, and a must-read for any fan of underground art, particularly those who came of age alongside Blanchard. As fellow artist Daniel Clowes testifies, in Blanchard’s honor, “A treasure trove of fucked-up shit from the dare end-times of a lost civilization.” You got that right. Now, more than ever. [Fred Mills]

cheap-trick

Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, Illinois, 1973-2005, by David Ensminger
Microcosm Publishing (Feb. 7)

I first became aware of current Houston resident David Ensminger’s writing when he did his classic punk zine Left of the Dial. I was sad when that one folded but since then Ensminger, who also teaches at a university, has published numerous books, most detailing all of the nooks and crevices of different punk rock scenes. This particular book, as the title states, goes into depth on Ensminger’s hometown of Rockford , IL. If you’re like me then the only thing you knew about Rockford was that it was the birthplace of Cheap Trick. I believe a few of the C.T. members still live there, but Ensminger goes back from the time of the immigrants who built the city in the early 1900s to the time it became a dilapidated rust belt city by the ‘70s and beyond.

After a small but strong music scene began to blossom when teenagers began buying guitars the author goes into the ‘60s garage band scene who called the place home to the classic Cheap Trick (‘70s) and then, by the early ‘80s, a hardcore punk scene began to spring up of which the author was a big part of (doing zines, helping put on shows, etc. The scene seemed like that of many others with too many good bands that never got the proper notice. Built by a dedicated crew of folks who kept it alive to the downsides of scenes (drunkenness, infighting, apathy, etc.) but Ensminger has a certain flair for words so he can turn even a humdrum Tuesday night punk gig at a bowling alley into the most exciting night of the year.

The book is part of the Microcosm’s “Scene History” series and it’s terrific. Pocket-sized, under 100 pages and a wealth of information. Even if you only have a passing interest in the punk scene you won’t want to miss this one as it not only give a history of the music scene but a history of the town of Rockford itself, built by the immigrants looking for a better life. [Tim Hinely]

BLURT’S INDELIBLES (THE COLLEGE ROCK CHRONICLES, PT.9): The Windbreakers’ Terminal (1985, Homestead Records)


In which we talk to Tim Lee and Bobby Sutliff about their classic ’85 album, recently reissued with bonus material.

BY FRED MILLS

Terminal, by Jackson, Mississippi, power pop legends the Windbreakers, originally released in 1985 by the Homestead label, has been in yours truly’s personal Top 25 ever since it first appeared—we’re talking an LP rubbing shoulders on my shelf with everything from Who’s Next, Let It Bleed, Funhouse, and Daydream Nation to Shake Some Action, Stands for deciBels, Sincerely, and Places That Are Gone. As produced by Mitch Easter at his Winston-Salem Drive-In Studio (six songs) and Randy Everett in the band’s native Mississippi (four songs), Terminal is a timeless slice of Southern-spawned tuneage that sports all the expected power pop influences yet still sounds utterly fresh and unique unto itself.

Yet with one semi-flukey exception which you’ll read about shortly, Terminal has never seen a proper reissue for the CD and digital eras, leaving me and fellow fans to wonder whether or not it will ultimately be consigned to those perennial “whatever happened to…” essays. As of this writing, it doesn’t appear to be on any digital streaming services, although luckily the superb 2003 Windbreakers career overview Time Machine is on both Spotify and Apple Music, and six of the compilation’s 20 tunes were culled from it.

Windbreakers cofounders Bobby Sutliff and Tim Lee, of course, are not exactly unknown quantities, as both have remained fairly prolific in their post-WBs solo careers—check the Trouser Press entry detailing their work together and separately, as well as this 2015 BLURT interview with Lee about his band at the time, The Tim Lee 3—and although Sutliff’s near-fatal car accident in 2012 served to temporarily put his musical career on hold for awhile, he continues to write and even finds time to collaborate with Montana-based psych=pop monsters Donovan’s Brain. Still, the general public’s obliviousness as regards Terminal seems all the more criminal in 2017 if you actually drop the needle on the platter and allow its pleasures to pour forth anew.

There’s the opening trifecta of “Off & On” (jangly intro, a harpsichord motif, and yearning Sutliff vocals), “Changeless” (a tough, hard-twanging Lee-penned surf/powerpop gem right up there with Let’s Active’s “Every Word Means No” and the Smithereens’ “Behind the Wall of Sleep”), and “That Stupid Idea” (more gossamer jangles from Sutliff, whose soaring upper register here is the stuff of the angels). From that point the record simply doesn’t let loose of its grip on the listener, from Lee’s deceptively dark jangler “All That Stuff,” to a remarkable cover of Television’s “Glory” featuring the Rain Parade as the duo’s backing band, to sinewy, sitar-laced rocker (and Sutliff-Lee joint composition) “Running Out of Time,” which closes the record.

It’s a goddam classic album, period—feel free to rewind to paragraph #2, above—with not a single throwaway tune. It’s also quite possibly the most beautiful bummer of a power pop album the ‘80s produced, with virtually every song a meditation on the vagaries and vicissitudes of love and all the emotional trauma that phrase implies. Utter the words “windbreakers” and “terminal” to someone at a record store or a concert, and if their face lights up and a knowing smile breaks, you’ve got the equivalent of a sonic secret handshake. We Eighties-college-and-indie-rock fans have more than a few records like that, of course, but the thing is, back then the idea wasn’t to keep our favorite bands secret—we felt it was our mission to proselytize for ‘em.

(Below: front and back sleeves of the original LP, plus the new CD package.)

Enter Italian label Mark, which a few months ago reissued Terminal as a sharp-sounding remaster boasting five bonus tracks, four of them from a 1986 live performance. Also included is a bonus booklet adorned with reviews that originally appeared in the wake of Terminal’s release, and some of those critical observations bear quoting here:

“A brilliant jewel of aural splendor from the goldmine left by the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Big Star.” —Option

“Think of them as a genteel Replacements with 12-string guitar, or an R.E.M with clear melodies and lyrics.” —Los Angeles Herald Examiner

“Originals that [evoke] everybody from Dylan to the Byrds, with references to the Beatles, acid-rock and the Left Banke. Sort of a brawnier approach to the Let’s Active sound, and more rural, too.” —Jet Lag

Is this the pop record of 1985, or what??” —Jim Testa, Jersey Beat

Well, yes—yes, Jim, it was. Matter of fact, it still is. In a moment, let’s take a trip back in time and revisit it, courtesy the two men who created it.

***

Regular BLURT readers will recall our ongoing “College Rock Chronicles” series in which yours truly has profiled the likes of Big Star, Dumptruck, The Gun Club, Dwight Twilley, Winter HoursGreen On Red, Thomas Anderson, and The Sidewinders. Sometimes these are fresh essays and interviews; other times they are features culled from the archives and updated as needed. I got the idea from a regular column titled “Indelibles” that I authored for BLURT precursor Harp magazine from roughly 2005 to the spring of 2008, when it closed up shop and filed for bankruptcy, and in fact several installments of my “College Rock Chronicles” have been retooled, expanded versions of stories originally published in Harp.

“Indelibles” itself was inspired by those great Mojo features in which a key, critically-significant album from the past was put under the microscope and viewed through a contemporary lens; the records we selected for each of my columns were, typically, just being reissued as expanded remasters, and the idea was to get the artist to discuss the making of the original album, reflect on its trajectory, and frame it within the larger context of what it meant to his or her career. If the artist was actually involved with the reissue, so much the better, and we would also delve into what went into that project, how bonus material was decided upon, etc. As a music fan first and a critic second, I have to say that it was pretty great to be able to geek out over some of my all-time favorite records by the likes of the Dream Syndicate, the dB’s, Let’s Active, the Clash, Wire, Pylon, the Slits, the Gun Club, Dinosaur Jr, etc.—not to mention being able to geek out in front of some of the people who actually created those records, but not as the slobbering fanboy I actually was, and instead under the assumed guise of (cough) a professional journalist and reporter. The truth is finally out.

So with this Windbreakers story, I’m formally re-booting “Indelibles.” Bobby, who lives with his wife Wendy in Columbus, Ohio, and Tim, based with his wife and bandmate Susan in Knoxville, Tennessee, were kind enough to weather my inquisition, and to them I just want to say—salute, gentlemen.

 

Set the stage for Terminal: With the first two EPs (1982’s 7” Meet the Windbreakers and 1983’s 12” Any Monkey With a Typewriter) under your belts, what was your collective state of mind as a band, and what was the music scene in your neck of the woods like circa 1984?
TIM LEE: Actually, shortly after Any Monkey… came out, we kinda ceased being a band for a while. I started another band, Beat Temptation, that lasted a year or so. During that time, though, the EP was getting some attention, and Sam Berger at Homestead asked if we’d be interested in doing a record for them.

Bobby and I had been hanging out during that time, so it was no big deal to start playing songs for each other and get back into it.

BOBBY SUTLIFF: The 1984 local music scene was an interesting hodge-podge. There were quite a few bands doing their own thing. We were all friends for the most part. Tim and I would together, or separately, sit it with them quite often. Tim’s other band, Beat Temptation, was very good and released a fine EP and a full-length LP.

How did you land the deal with Homestead?
TIM: Like I said, Sam Berger was the guy who asked us to make a record, but he left and was replaced by Gerard Cosloy by the time Terminal came out. It was very early in the life of that label, so it kinda felt like they were just getting their feet wet.

You decided to return to the well for the album with Mitch Easter; what had you liked about him and his studio? What did he bring to the table that made you and other artists gravitate to the studio?
TIM: We made the first Windbreakers EP in a gospel studio in Madison, Miss., and it was not a particularly wonderful experience. But we’d read about Mitch in New York Rocker, and we were fans of the songs he did on that Shake to Date compilation (1981 UK album issued by Shake/Albion to document New York Rocker’s Alan Betrock’s indie label as well as Chris Stamey’s Car label), and we knew about the Sneakers and H-Bombs and the dB’s. So we just called directory assistance and got his number.

We talked [to Mitch] a few times and then we made a trip to Winston-Salem and tracked two songs, mixing and everything, in about 20 hours or something like that. The first session with Mitch was so revealing for me, in that I was like, “Okay, this is why they say making records is fun!” He was so creative and so supportive of our goofy ideas, willing to go down any road to come up with something cool.

BOBBY: We were very aware of the dB’s, and by 1980/81 knew about Mitch. It’s actually quite a long way from Mississippi to North Carolina, but the trip was so very much worth it. After about 20 minutes with him in his garage studio—the Drive-In of course!—we knew we had found our mentor/kindred spirit. I remember one musical moment to this day. I pulled out my guitar and played the intro to Big Star’s “Way Out West.” Mitch walked into the room and said, “Oh, you know them?” We were friends for life.

What are some of your most prominent memories from the Drive-In sessions for Terminal? Hanging with Mitch (pictured left, with Tim) Faye Hunter, and Don Dixon? (The latter two guested on bass on selected tracks.)
TIM: Other than going out to eat, we were pretty much nose to the grindstone, but my favorite memory of being at the Drive-In was the sense of possibility. Electric sitar? Let’s do it. Dixon’s coming by today. Cool, let’s get him to play bass. That kind of thing.

BOBBY: Tim mentions going to eat in passing, but I must confess Mitch teaching us about the two different kinds of North Carolina Barbecue was very important! Faye remains one of the finest people I ever met and I miss her so much. (She passed away in 2013) It’s strange, I’ve lived in Ohio for 20 years now and so has Dixon. And oh yeah, early on we drafted Richard Barone into playing some amazing guitar for us.

Favorite songs cut at the Drive-In? Happy accidents? Failures best left on the cutting room floor?
BOBBY: My favorite Windbreakers tune recorded at the Drive-In was “Changeless.” Holy cow, that’s an amazing song—and should have been a massive hit. There are really no failures left behind. Mostly because we were on such a budget we had to use everything!

Tell us a little about working with Randy Everett for the other session back home—I recall spotting his name on more than just your records back in the day, so I’m guessing that he was a valuable guy to that region’s music scene.
TIM: Randy Everett is a guy that we’d just known around town. He was known as a jazz guitarist, but he was just trying his hand at studio engineering at the time. Rick Garner (Terminal co-engineer on the Mississippi session) was a businessman with an interest in music who bought some studio gear and set it up temporarily in his suburban home. That’s where we did the other tracks. As I recall, Bobby traded him a guitar for the studio time.

Randy very much became an important fixture on the recording scene in the South. A lot of folks worked with him, and I worked with him a lot on various sessions. A great friend; I actually saw him just a couple weeks ago. He’s still recording, and he’s also doing some very cool paintings.

BOBBY: Randy Everett is one of those guys other guitar players just hate! He is better than you are ever going to be. And in his own wonderful way he is just as good as anyone else behind the board. And, oh yeah, the guitar I traded him for studio time was a sunburst 1964 Fender Jazzmaster.

You cover Television’s “Glory” with the Rain Parade backing you up on the album; how did that connection happen?
TIM: We knew their record (1983’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip), we dug it. I was booking shows at this tiny dive bar, and we were able to line them up for one. They stayed with me and (wife) Susan and hung out an extra day. We all just became fast friends. They had a day off coming up the following week, so we made a plan to record that Television song.
I remember all of us sitting at a sandwich shop before the session, mapping out the arrangement on the back of a brown paper bag.

BOBBY: Our entire connection with the Rain Parade was totally Tim and Susan. And wow—was I delighted about that since I was such a huge fan. Later on, I became friends with that other Paisley Pop genius band, True West, and was glad to bring them into our group of friends.

Anything else that was cut for Terminal that you ultimately decided against for whatever reasons?
BOBBY: Quick answer—no. Simply because we had to use everything!

Sonically, what do you think you were going for on Terminal?
TIM: To my mind, we just wanted to make a cool record. That was all. Perhaps Bobby remembers more about that.

BOBBY: Interesting question. I remember that (A) we didn’t want to sound overly dated like perhaps my beloved Flamin’ Groovies did from time to time; and (B) we didn’t want to sound like a “modern” ‘80s band would sound.

I’m struck how almost every single song is about a break-up, or a looming break-up, or looking back at the post-breakup wreckage, running into the girl who broke up with you, etc. Was this by design, or were both of you simultaneously in the throes of heartbreak when you happened to be writing material for the album?
LEE: I was already married, so I’d probably turned my attention to the heartbreak of everyday life, as opposed to any specific romantic strife. (I didn’t mean that to sound as stupid as it did.) (No worries, Tim.—Parenthetical Ed.)

BOBBY: Um, yeah, I kept rewriting the same song over and over. It was of course all about the same person.

What was your reaction when the reviews started rolling in? It was fun to read the ones you selected for the new booklet. I don’t think a lot of young fans can truly appreciate what the fanzine network back then was all about, and how it was “our internet,” along with the occasional breakthrough via a mention in Rolling Stone or Spin. I’ve written in the past about how there was this very special “us against the mainstream” feeling prior to the grunge explosion that has resulted in a bonafide community of friends who still commune on Facebook, etc.
TIM: It’s always gratifying to get good reviews, and most of ours were pretty positive. You’re right, the fanzine network was pretty great. They were physical things, not just something out in cyberspace. It was a very cool scene during the early days of the independent thing.

BOBBY: It’s of course the only reason we ever made a record—to get a good review! I’m only sort of kidding. I’ve got to say this—I met quite a few fellow musicians in those days who are still very close friends. That is so wonderful.

Tell us a little about getting out on the road to promote Terminal, and in particular the 12/26/86 show you culled the reissue’s live bonus tracks from.
TIM: At the time, Bobby wasn’t able to tour, so I put together a band in Atlanta and did an East Coast/Midwest tour. It was a lotta fun. Bobby knows more about that live recording than I do… he’s the very handy archivist of the group.

BOBBY: By the time of the 12/26/86 show, I had been out of the band for quite a while and was well into recording my first solo album – 1987’s Only Ghosts Remain. That show was a Christmastime one-off thing. I don’t think we actually did another Windbreakers show together for a couple of years

Speaking of bonus tracks, any other rarities or oddities out there? You included “Lonely Beach,” from the 1985 Disciples of Agriculture French compilation, here. What was the story on it?
BOBBY: It’s my faux surf instrumental, which was recorded in quite a lo-fi way on my Fostex X-15 4 track cassette deck. I did redo it years later in somewhat higher fidelity on my solo disc On A Ladder, but I’m sure the original is better. I went through everything I could find recently and there remain two unreleased studio tracks from 1982 or so. That’s about it.

How did this reissue come about with the Mark label? (Note: Mark is a subsidiary of Italy’s metal-tilting Minotauro Records and to date has also reissued the Original Sins’ 1989 album The Hardest Way.)
TIM: The short answer is, the Mark label asked about it, and nobody had prior to that. [Previously] the entirety of Terminal was tacked onto the end of the CD of 1989’s At Home with Bobby & Tim because CDs were new and we didn’t feel we could ask people to pay $16 for one record. So we gave them a second one free. The mastering on the current reissue is much, much better.

Update us on any current activities—and what’s the possibility for future Windbreakers projects?
TIM: I stay busy with mine and Susan’s band Bark, plus I end up playing with a wide range of other folks here in Knoxville. Most of the time, I’m busier musically than when I was young.

BOBBY: I’ve been working on perhaps a solo disc for the last year or so—about half way there, I reckon.

TIM: We got together 10 or 12 years ago and recorded a couple of songs. They turned out pretty well, and we had a good time doing it. Around that time, we also recorded a song for a Buffalo Springfield tribute record. I guess we just never had the impetus to keep at it. (Note: Five Way Street: A Tribute To Buffalo Springfield came out on Not Lame in 2006. Details and a stream of the Windbreakers doing “Expecting to Fly” is here at Discogs.)
After Bobby was in that awful accident a few years back, we made a tentative plan to get together with Mitch and record some songs, but that ended up not happening.

BOBBY: I’d be happy to turn over what I’ve got for a new Windbreakers disc. But I totally understand how unimportant that is in the world’s big picture.

***

Ah, Mr. Sutliff, some of us out here in Windbreakersville might opt to differ regarding that last point. Let the cajoling and convincing begin, fellow punters…

 

Bonnaroo Music Festival 2017

This year’s event took place June 8th-11th in Manchester, TN, and featured, among many changes, an expanded Other stage.

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY: MARK JACKSON

The great music festival known as Bonnaroo took place Thursday June 8th thru Sunday night the 12th on “The Farm” in Manchester, TN. Bonnaroo turned Sixteen this year and it defiantly was a sweet sixteen! Bonnaroo has always been known and praised for its ability to put together a diverse lineup. This year might have been its most diverse year yet, and the attendance numbers – over sixty five thousand – seems to show the people approve.

This year they took the Other tent and turned it into a full-on open air stage just like the Which stage and the What stage. This new stage may have been part of the reason the festival attendance was up over last year as this stage catered to the electronic crowd. With such acts as Nghtmre, Herobust (below), and Marshmello Man (below), this stage keep the EDM crowd engaged and dancing with the most intense light shows and l.e.d. light boards that I have ever witnessed.

This year’s headliners included U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chance the Rapper, and The Weeknd. This in itself is a very diverse lineup, but now add in the EDM acts, a ton of new and up and coming acts, and a little country just for good measure and you have yourself one hell of a good weekend.

Bonnaroo also has a ton of vendors of all types of food including vegan food, lots of drink options with Miller Lite (Cherokee Distributing) and Bacardi being huge sponsors this year. There were also lots of vendors of all types of goods such as earrings, festival wear and casual clothing, paintings, hammocks, and air capture loungers that seemed to be all the rage this year.

The weather was the best it has been in the last three years that I have been attending the festival, with the first three days being sunny and in the mid-80s during the day and around 60 at night. Sunday rose to the lower 90s but was bearable as I ducked in and out of the shade and was able to stay hydrated with lots of water filling station across the farm. Many people took advantage of the water fountain mushroom, as it was a great place to cool off each day.

The people are the main reason this is one if not the best festival of the year. You will see all kinds of unique characters as you venture across the grounds.

Once Centeroo opens on Thursday afternoon it doesn’t shut down, going twenty four hours a day until late Sunday night. The Silent Disco is an all out dance party where everyone wears headphones while the DJ plays the tunes goes on until 4 a.m., and The Jake and Snake Christmas Club Barn featured DJs all day until 6 a.m. The motto is “radiate positivity” and the people live it through out the festival. It is common for random people walking by to be high fiving everyone they pass by. What other festival could you step on someone’s foot and them apologize to you.

There were so many great bands this year, but a couple of standouts for me this year were Wilderado, Boyfriend, July Talk, and Tove Lo, plus Marshmello Man. (All are pictured below.)

This is just my guess, but I suspect that you will see Bonnaroo become two festivals in one next year and going forward. I say this because of the layout of the land, being so large and the spacing of the stages, as it is you could have an upscale of this years EDM lineup. The Other stage is now large enough to handle the large EMD crowds that it drew this year and could easily draw even more big names.

If they either built or converted one of the other tents in place and expanded the Christmas barn, this end would be a huge draw and be little to no reason for these festivalgoers to venture to the other end. I also heard rumors that there might be a Country Music Festival in the works. Why not? You have everything in place, so why not take advantage of the facilities for more than the one week a year. Being so close to Nashville, this could easily become a huge deal, but again this is just a rumor.

We will have to wait and see what happens with Bonnaroo, but either way I can’t wait until next year the dates have been set for June 7th-10th in 2018.

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Belly

Big Gigantic

Big Jesus

Charlotte Cardin

Cold War Kids

Deap Vally

Dram

Gallant

Leon

Lukas Nelson

Luke Combs

Milky Chance

Preservation Hall Jazz Band w/Flint Eastwood

Head and the Heart

Tory Lanez

Travis Scott

Tucker Beathard

… plus the crowd!