The erstwhile bassist for the Go-Betweens talks about a life in music, from early days growing up in Brisbane, Australia, to his eventual career as a much-respected independent publicist.(This interview originally appears in the most excellent Dagger ‘zine.)
BY TIM HINELY
To most people Robert Vickers is known as the bass player for Australia’s late, great Go-Betweens, but as you’ll read below he’s done a lot more. The first Go-Betweens record I bought was Tallulah when it came out in 1987, and from that point I worked my way backwards and got their earlier stuff. The cover showed an arty looking bunch of folks in what looked like an old living room—guy sitting on the couch with the black hat is Robert Vickers, almost as if he’s saying “You gonna take the picture or what, dude?”
As you’ll read below, Vickers had gained some notoriety prior to the Go-Betweens when he was playing music as a resident of NYC for the first time. After leaving the Go-Betweens, following the release of Tallulah, he played with a handful of people, including the Hamish Kilgour/Lisa Siegel band The Mad Scene. I first met Rob, in fact, after booking one of that group’s shows in California in 1995. He was a great chap and happily answered all of my gushing questions that night. Since then, he’s worked in the music industry as a publicist for close to two decades, currently running independent PR firm Proxy Media. He’s a low-key guy—I’m really glad I reached out to him for this interview—who has some great stories, but you’ve got to read the interview to find them out. Take it away, sir.
BLURT: What part of Brisbane did you grow up in? VICKERS: I grew up in the Brisbane suburb of Oxley. It was unfashionably working class but not without charm as it still retained a bit of its rural past in late ‘60s early ‘70s. Ed Keupper of The Saints grew up a few streets away. A number of other bands and musicians from that period also come from the general area.
Was your family supportive of your music? Any musical siblings? My mother played the piano but that was about all the musical activity at our house. The family was very supportive but they would probably have been supportive of any path I took. I was lucky to have fairly open minded parents. My father once welded the tuning peg of my bass back on after it broke off. You can’t get much more supportive than that.
Was Brisbane an interesting place to grow up? Could you compare it to any American cities? At the time I didn’t think it was interesting. It seemed like the ends of the earth. I couldn’t wait to get out. Provincial didn’t begin to describe it. The N.M.E. took a month to arrive by sea mail. There were no restaurants. Well, maybe one or two in the center of the city but that’s it. It was a cultural desert. It’s a different place now of course. It’s become a very livable city. I’d compare it to Houston in the US; hot and humid, a cattle town. There are similarities to LA as well in that they are both hilly and car dominated with water close by.
What was the first instrument that you picked up? What bands did you listern to during your teenage years? The first band I listened to was The Beatles. Our next door neighbors had a wind up record player with steel needles and we played those early singles till they fell apart. I listened mostly to the radio, 60s and 70s top 40, everything from Johnny Horton to David Bowie. When we got a stereo I started buying Bob Dylan’s back catalog second hand. That led to wanting to play the guitar so I got an old nylon string acoustic and strummed away.
Were The Riptdes your first band? How/when did they begin? Yes, but we were called The Numbers at that time. After I finished High School I spent all of 1976 working at Woolworths and saved enough money to get out of Brisbane. I went to London and travelled around Europe and North Africa in the beginning of 77. When I got back to London I realized this musical revolution was happening and the fact that The Saints, someone from my own neighborhood was at the forefront of it was really exciting. I wanted to get in a band and be part of it but I had to decide whether to stay in London where so much was happening but I knew no-one and had no job or place to live, or go back to Brisbane where I had heard that a good friend of mine from school was in a band. I felt I had a better chance of getting something started with him so I got on a plane. The band he was in was The Numbers and I soon joined playing bass which of course I had no idea how to do. We recorded a single right away and played around Brisbane. This is where I met Robert (Forster) and Grant (McLennan) from the Go-Betweens. The Numbers single ’77 Sunset Strip’ came out around the same time as The Go-Betweens ‘Lee Remick’ and I actually took both singles around the southern states of Australia to distribute them to record stores on my vacation.
Is it true that you moved to NYC when you were 19? Were you terrified? Did you have any friends there? What was your first apartment like? I had actually turned 20 when I arrived in New York in early 1979. The Numbers had kicked me out because they didn’t think I was up to their level of musicianship. This wasn’t so bad because I was sick of Brisbane again and wanted to travel in America on my way back to London. After some interesting adventures in Guatemala and on Greyhounds across the US I ended up in New York. I wasn’t terrified; I had been in Morocco so I had some experience with dangerous places. I had a place to stay short term and planned to see something of the CBGB’s/Max’s music scene I had been reading about in the NME, then head off to London. The second night I was there I went by myself to CB’s to see the band DNA and by the end of a very long night I was in a band called The Colors and had a place to live. The apartment was a $30 a month storefront without a shower or bathtub on Rivington St just off The Bowery. This was before it was a bad drug block but still a place you had to have your guard up at all times.
Tell me about The Colors? How did they form? Did they have big fan base? I don’t think The Colors had played live before I joined them, just practiced. The guitarist Paul was technically way ahead of anyone I had even seen play before but ate nothing but Aspirin and Coke-a-Cola and listened to Eno and Kraftwerk. The singer Tommy was from the projects downtown and worshipped The Bay City Rollers. It was a strange mixture. We got a drummer from the storefront across the street and started playing. Paul and I wrote the songs and what came out was pop punk; fast, short and melodic. We developed a fan base of mostly teenage Manhattan girls. They were an interesting bunch coming from families of actors, artists, film directors, diplomats and real estate tycoons.
Did you spend a lot of time at CBGB’s and/or or Max’s Kansas City during those days? We first played at club called Tier 3 in Soho. We got a couple of shows at CBs and Max’s but then the owner of CBs, Hilly Kristal, took an interest in us. Also the drummer from Blondie, Clem Burke saw us and wanted to produce a record. So with Hilly managing us and Clem producing we soon had an indie label winning to put out a single. We then played CBs a lot and as we got free drinks there it became our second home. I went there almost every night for years and saw literally thousands of bands. As we were one of Hilly’s bands Max’s stopped booking us much but we still went there a lot. It was within walking distance so it was possible to go back and forth on the same night. CBs was a friendlier and more down home, Max’s was the remnants of the New York Dolls scene with a dash of Warhol still wafting around.
What do you remember most about NYC in those days? Downtown was pretty deserted. Not just Tribeca and Soho but even the East Village was very quiet. Not a lot of people on the streets day or night.
Had you known Grant and Robert before you joined the Go-Betweens? If so how? I was there the first night they played in public. They asked if they could play a few songs and a drummer from another band sat in with them. I think they played Lee Remick and 8 Pictures. It was pretty stunning so I had to talk to them. I saw a lot of them around that time and later Grant visited me for a wild month when I was living in New York.
How did you come to be in the Go-Betweens? They were in London at the time, right? I was playing with the Colors in New York and had brought a friend from Brisbane, Peter Milton Walsh over to play guitar in that band. The Colors were coming to an end and one day Peter said he was going to move to London to play bass with The Laughing Clowns and suggested I should contact The Go-Betweens because they might be looking for a bass player too. So I did.
I’ve seen in interviews where Robert described those years in London as being very difficult. Was it the same for you? London was tough. We were always short of money and the bleak weather didn’t help. It was a hard life living out of a suitcase for years at a time. We got away to Australia on tour which kept us going and the proximity of Europe was a plus but the living conditions in London were basic at best.
Why/when did you leave the Go-Betweens? At the end of 1987 we finished the US tour in New York and I stayed. I was worn out by five years of touring and wanted a permanent address for a while. I knew The Go-Betweens was always going to be Robert and Grant’s band, I was happy with my contribution but felt it was time to move on. It was a tough decision.
Was it after you left the Go-Betweens that you decided to move back to NYC? If so when was that? In my last year in the Go-Betweens I was essentially commuting between London and New York. Whenever we had downtime I would fly one of those cheap ‘80s airlines back to New York. The feeling in the band in 1987 was that we should move from London to Sydney for the next record. I could see the sense in that but my girlfriend was in New York and I couldn’t commute between Sydney and New York
I met you when you were with the Mad Scene. How did you join that band? I met Hamish Kilgour, the drummer of New Zealand band The Clean and he had a band in New York called The Mad Scene and it just seemed like a good fit so I joined them. We got a deal with Merge and made a couple of what I think are very good albums. It was a good experience with both the band and Merge.
In between leaving the Go-Betweens and joining Mad Scene were you still playing music? Yes, I had toured with Lloyd Cole and Yo La Tengo and done some recording with various people like Spike Priggen (Dumptruck) and Malcolm Ross (Josef K, Orange Juice). Nothing had been quite right though. The Mad Scene was more what I was looking for especially as I was getting some of my own songs done. However I may have been spoiled by having been in The Go-Betweens. Robert and Grant were extraordinary songwriters who allowed me a lot freedom in what I played. As a musician to get that kind of freedom to work on songs of that quality was unusual and unlikely to happen again. The other thing was that my songwriting output which had been quite high prior to The Go-Betweens had dropped away to very little. That was a creative problem I wasn’t sure how to solve.
How did you begin doing publicity? Did you think you’d still be doing it all these years? When I left The Go-Betweens I found that New York had become more expensive and I would have to get an actual job. The only other thing I’d done besides play in a band was travel so started to work in travel part time while still playing with various bands as I have mentioned. After about ten years of this I realized I wasn’t really interested in being a full time musician for hire and I wasn’t going to be able to support myself in an indie rock band so I decided I should work in the music industry where I had more interest and connections than I had in the travel industry. Lloyd Cole had a friend who had a label in New York called Jetset Records and he introduced us. I went to work there and just fell into doing publicity. I liked doing it so eventually I left the label and started my own company. I’ve got to help out with so many great releases over the years I’m glad I have been able to keep doing it even as the money has gradually leaked out of the music industry.
Are you playing in any bands these days? No, I haven’t for a long time. I did play with Lindy (Morrison) and Amanda (Brown) from the Go-Betweens at an awards show in Brisbane a couple of years ago so I keep my hand in, but nothing regular. I think bands are only great when everybody is fully committed and I can’t do that anymore. I was never very good at the ‘playing in five bands at once’ thing that some people do.
Do you get recognized on the streets of NYC on occasion? Only by the few friends I have left who still live in the East Village!
What are your top 10 desert island discs? The Saints – I’m Stranded
Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis
Blondie – Blondie
Sarah Vaughan – Sassy
Bob Dylan – Bringing it All Back Home
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – The Good Son
Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure
The Ramones – The Ramones
The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go
Any closing words/ Final thoughts? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
No, I think you covered it! I do want to mention that a feature length Go-Betweens documentary, Right Here, directed by Kriv Stenders [premiered] at the Sydney Film Festival in June.
As we get older, more and more of us experience sleep related issues of some sort. For many people — including a close friend of mine whose condition inspired this piece — this takes the form of insomnia. I myself find it harder to sleep through the night than I used to (oh, to be 20 again when you could blow a building up around me while I was asleep and I wouldn’t bat an eye!). And many people I talk to, of varying ages and backgrounds, admit to having insomnia or some other form of sleep disturbance. Seems you can’t go a week without somebody mentioning Ambien…
Here, then, are a dozen songs for those nights when you find yourself wide awake but not by choice. They are culled from six decades of popular music and the artists range from Cheap Trick to Norah Jones and from Sinatra to Metallica. These tunes may not put you to sleep — but at least they’ll reassure you that you’re not alone while you’re wrestling with your demons.
We’ve created a Spotify playlist for the tunes, and you can also check out video/audio for each track below.
1. “Enter Sandman” — Metallica (1991)
Let’s kick things off with a song that’s guaranteed to induce screams and chills! “Enter Sandman” was the lead single from Metallica’s fifth album, a self-titled disc they unveiled in 1991. More than 25 years later, it still stands as the perfect soundtrack for your night terrors. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett shreds for his life while James Hetfield sings a very dark lullaby. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word/And never mind that noise you heard/It’s just the beasts under your bed/In your closet, in your head…”
Off to Never Never Land we go, with these California thrash-metal kings leading the way….
2. “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” — Frank Sinatra (1955)
In total contrast to Metallica, our second entry on this insomnia mix tape is a ‘50s standard by Frank Sinatra. He didn’t write “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” and he’s not the only artist to record it, but there’s no denying that this ballad — the title track of his 1955 album — is synonymous with Sinatra. “In the wee small hours of the morning,” he sings, “While the whole wide world is fast asleep, you lie awake and think about the girl and never, ever think of counting sheep.” Who among us can’t relate to that sentiment?
3. “Chasing Pirates” — Norah Jones (2009)
Jumping ahead five decades and change, we find ourselves still wide awake but with Norah Jones picking up where Sinatra left off. The opening track from her excellent 2009 album The Fall, “Chasing Pirates” is a lovely song about being too wound up to sleep. Only Norah could make insomnia sound appealing!
4. “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” — Warren Zevon (1976)
In this writer’s humble opinion, the late Warren Zevon was one of the finest singer-songwriters of the 1970s. The rocking “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” appears on his 1976 self-titled outing. It features wailing harmonica, improvised bits of Spanish from Jorge Calderon and some of Zevon’s most twisted lyrics. To wit: “I got a .38 special up in the shelf/If I start actin’ stupid, I’ll shoot myself…”
It’s worth noting that Zevon released a song called “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” 16 years before pop-metal poser Jon Bon Jovi did….;)
5. “Up All Night” — The Boomtown Rats (1981)
Before he became known for Live Aid and other projects, Bob Geldof led The Boomtown Rats, an eclectic band that stormed out of Ireland in the mid ’70s armed with a bunch of great tunes. This song, like the one that follows, is called “Up All NIght” — but that’s about all they have in common. The Rats’ “Up All Night” — which appeared on their 1981 album Mondo Bongo and got some AOR airplay back in the day — features an appealingly off-kilter arrangement and Geldof’s Bowiesque vocals.
6. “Up All Night” — The Records (1979)
The Records were an English foursome best known for the great hit “Starry Eyes,” from their self-titled 1979 debut. “Up All Night” is an ethereal, Beatlesque ballad which demonstrates the underrated songwriting genius of Will Birch and John Wicks. The best line is probably when Wicks sings, “Six o’clock and the town is waking now/Workers are on their way, don’t ask me how/They have to take their daily ride/I hear the paper boy outside…”
If insomnia has a moment of pure pop magic, this could be it.
7. “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All” — The 5th Dimension (1972)
Our next entry is a soft-pop classic from the early ‘70s. “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All” scored The 5th Dimension a top 10 hit in 1972. Written by Englishman Tony Macaulay and featuring the velvet-voiced Marilyn McCoo on vocals, it ruled the AM airwaves. Who couldn’t appreciate the line, “Maybe I should call you up and just forget my foolish pride/I heard your number ring and I went cold inside?”
8. “I’m So Tired” — The Beatles (1968)
“I’m So Tired,” from The Beatles’ self-titled set (AKA ‘The White Album’) wasn’t a hit but it remains one of their great album tracks and is a fearsome slice of insomnia in two minutes and change. John Lennon expresses a similar sentiment to Marilyn McCoo but in strikingly different terms! “I wonder should I call you but I know what you would do!” he screams. Ironically, Lennon had written the beautiful “I’m Only Sleeping” a scant two years earlier. My, how things changed for the man in a short time!
9. “Overkill” — Men At Work (1983)
“Overkill” was the biggest single from Men At Work’s sophomore album, Cargo. It was released at the height of the band’s popularity and the video became deservedly popular on MTV (this is back when MTV played videos, for you young ‘uns). Despite its infectious melody, “Overkill” features dark lyrics such as “I can’t get to sleep/I think about the implications,” “Alone between the sheets/Only brings exasperation” and the great refrain, “Ghosts appear and fade away.” Men At Work would fade away themselves a couple of years later but when this song was released, they were arguably the biggest band on the planet. Frontman Colin Hay has said that this is his favorite song from his days with the Men — and it’s easy to see why.
10. “I’m Not Sleeping” — Counting Crows (1996)
It’s no secret that Adam Duritz of Counting Crows is a notorious insomniac; several of the band’s songs deal with night terrors or the inability to get to sleep. The one I’ve included is “I’m Not Sleeping,” from the Crows’ sophomore set, Recovering the Satellites. It’s a ballad but it’s tortured as opposed to tender. And that torture builds to a crescendo that includes a Psycho string section and Duritz screaming lyrics about a woman who won’t let him get the shuteye he so desperately needs.
11. “Dream Police” — Cheap Trick (1979)
Cheap Trick had a nice run of hits between the late 70s and the late 80s but this one — the title track from their 1979 album — may be the most dramatic. Lead singer Robin Zander was known as “the man of a thousand voices” early in the band’s career. On this rock and roll ode to nightmares, he shows us why.
On a related note — Rockford, Illinois’ finest is currently in the midst of their most prolific period in decades and is gearing up to release a Christmas collection (their third album in two years!).
12. “Insomniac’s Lullaby” — Paul Simon (2016)
Our final song is also the most recent track of the 12. “Insomniac’s Lullaby” finds the great Paul Simon in quietly existential mode. “Oh Lord, don’t keep me up all night with questions I can’t understand,” he pleads. But by the end of the song, he concludes, “We eventually all fall asleep.” “Insomniac’s Lullaby” closes Simon’s 2016 album Stranger to Stranger — and it’s also a great way to end this mixtape.
The dark, mystical, poetic first album from Tom Rapp & Co. continues to fascinate in the form of a new 50th anniversary edition.
BY BARRY ST. VITUS
It’s not a stretch to proclaim the ‘60s as a dazzling renaissance of musical creativity and exploration that covered a wide spectrum of genres. A pie chart would show large portions of the sound rooted in blues and folk music, the rest in pop, R&B or garage. Pearls Before Swine started out in Florida, made a demo, sent it to Brooklyn label ESP-Disk, and were welcome aboard the label. The band headed north in the spring of ’67, and laid out the One Nation Underground album in three frantic days with the label’s in-house producer, Richard Anderson. It dropped in October of that year. Unfortunately, the band, like others on the label, like Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs found out, were paid practically zero for the album. Somehow, their second album, Balaklava, also ended up on ESP, but they moved on to Reprise and Blue Thumb in later years.
One Nation Underground is now reissued by Drag City as a 50th anniversary, mono-restored remaster; Anderson himself was responsible for this remastering and he has vastly improved the sound. At the time of its original release, it was a rather arcane oddity, even in an era of unbridled musical experimentation, with moody, atmospheric songs in a new, acid-folk genre, and played with odd-sounding and exotic instruments that sounded like they came off of The Garden Of Earthly Delights cover art by Hieronymus Bosch—guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, autoharp, vibraphone, English horn, harpsichord, clavioline, finger cymbals, celeste, organ, oscillator, sarangi, and the Swinehorn that multi-instrumentalist Lane Lederer created. Plus a banjo.
The music was dark, mystical, penned with much poetic license, and conjured an aural mustiness of medieval wooden objects in a museum. Many of leader/troubadour Tom Rapp’s future themes featured references to Jesus, but not quite in His current, familiar persona, but, rather one that presented Him more as a metaphysical and mystical being, separate of later church dogma and commercialization. Rapp’s lyrics are sagacious, vivid, and hallucinatory. His imagery redolent of olden times, velvet, lace, harps, harpsichords, lisping lepers, hunchbacks, and fair ladies.
Some of the music tread alongside the compositions of Dylan, Donovan, and the Incredible String Band, to some degree, but, was wholly in its own dimension. The ten tracks are each diverse enough to make the album sound more like a set on a radio show. “Another Time” is straight-ahead folk; the very Dylan-ish “Playmate,” with its top-heavy Farfisa and plinking banjo; the “Ballad To An Amber Lady”; and the gentle lushness of “Regions of May”—all are moody and hypnotic. “Drop Out!” shifts into sixties sentiment, with its suggestion of casting off society, again back to the folk mode. There’s also the oddball “(Oh Dear) Miss Morse” (which actually does have Morse code in it that translates to “FUCK”), plus the raw, raging, anti-war, proto-punk “Uncle John,” and the mesmerizing psych of “I Shall Not Care.” The album finishes up with the aptly named, swoony, druggy (mostly) instrumental, “Surrealist Waltz.” (You can download a live 1998 version of “Miss Morse” HERE.)
Oddly enough, for all of its acid-flavored ambiance, Rapp had never done any drugs, mostly just riding high on tobacco—Winston cigarettes, to be exact. The album grew into a cult favorite, drawing in a wide audience of people as diverse as Iggy Pop and Leonard Cohen, whose cover of “Suzanne” the Pearls made their own on Balaklava, still my preferred version to this day. I was a teen when One Nation Underground was released, and I recall buying it based mostly on the cover art, but, soon fell under its numinous and haunting spell, and played it regularly. I eagerly snatched up Balaklava when it was released the following year, and was even more blown away by that sophomore release. Hopefully, there are plans in the works for its half-century anniversary release next year.
PBS had four final albums together before Rapp went solo, supporting acts like a young Patti Smith in ’76, before retiring from music for a while and entering a legal career as a civil rights attorney. He emerges occasionally for rare live shows, and has appeared at several Terrastock festivals, including the 1998 event San Francisco. He was a guest of mine on KALX Berkeley then, along with Nick Saloman of the Bevis Frond and Country Joe McDonald. And he also returned to the recording studio in 1999 to cut A Journal of the Plague Year for Saloman’s Woronzow label.
Numero Group offers up an odd, beautiful, powerful monument to one of the craziest stories in popular music, that of a trans pioneer operating as a full-blown soul diva, and possessed of jaw-dropping vocal talent.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
In photos, Jackie Shane radiates an unearthly poise and elegance, whether dressed in suits with only a slash of mascara to indicate her femininity or in full-blown soul diva mode with a long wig, elbow-length gloves and shimmery ball gowns. Born in the south in 1940, Shane knew from early teenage-hood the two things that would set her apart: that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body and that she could sing (oh god could she sing).
Shane made her way in a culture not yet equipped for gender ambiguity on sheer talent, drive and charm and got surprisingly far, flourishing in Canada for a few years in a much loved soul revue and notching a regional hit in her cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way.” There was drama, the usual (song-credit stealing, racism, money troubles and drink and drugs among band members), as well as exotic (she was kidnapped once by a Montreal gangster eager to make her a star and his mistress), but also the hard, ordinary work of building a career, perhaps not as illustrious a career as if Shane had not been trans ahead of her time, but still remarkable for the 1960s.
A new two-disc set from Numero Group collects, for the first time, all Jackie Shane’s singles, as well as sessions from a near legendary set of shows in Toronto in 1967. The first disc of Any Other Way makes the case for Shane’s lasting resonance as a soul icon, fronting a superbly tight band led by Frank Motley. The second reinforces the case for Shane as an artist, provides a glimpse of her mesmerizing on-stage persona and perhaps even draws the curtain on the real person behind it.
Disc One, containing substantially all of Shane’s professionally recorded material, runs from sublime to raucous, with the former exemplified by her biggest hit “Any Other Way,” a saxophone-swaying ballad with bright flares of brass. Shane’s voice is gorgeous, a woman’s voice in its flute-y flourishes, but with the shadowy ambiguity of lower timbres in the refrain.
No one was talking about non-binary pronouns in the 1960s, so gender becomes rather fluid in these songs, sometimes CIS male, sometimes ambiguous, sometimes female. The covers were, of course, written for more conventionally oriented performers, but Shane manages to put a subversive spin on them. Her toughness and resilience is heartbreaking in the title track, when she confides to an ex-lover’s new flame, “tell her that I’m happy, tell her that I’m gay, I wouldn’t have it, any other way.” Yet she was also the center of one of the best party bands in Toronto during her day; you can get a real sense of the sweat-soaked, euphoric abandon of a Jackie Shane show in cuts like “Walking the Dog” and “Shot Gun.”
Disc One demonstrates how well Jackie Shane fit into a tradition steeped in gospel, spiked with soul and jacked on James Brown-style funk, but on the live Disc Two, recorded in mono during two nights of shows at the Sapphire Tavern in Toronto, and it is here that you begin to get a sense of what was different about Shane and her band. The live version of “Money (That’s What I Want),” composed by Barratt Strong but reconstructed here, is a revelation, as Shane unspools a monologue halfway through about difference and self-respect, family, fame and money that makes her personality pop right out of the record grooves. She’s not an easy person, clearly, as she asserts her right to looking good, giving (and receiving) satisfaction, living life her way and getting paid for the privilege, but she is formidable, a force of life not afraid to compare herself to Jesus Christ.
Shane quarreled with her band leader, Frank Motley, soon after these songs were recorded, and spent a couple of years fronting other ensembles. (Funkadelic tried, and failed, to get her to sing for them.) She disappeared from music entirely in 1971, and rumors flew that she had been murdered. She had, in fact, gone back to Los Angeles to care for her mother, and lived as a recluse for decades before Numero found her and convinced her to release this music. Any Other Way is an odd, beautiful, powerful monument to one of the craziest stories in popular music; it’s a killer record without the back story, but all the more jaw dropping when you know the history.
With a new, self-produced album just out, the Cincy outfit aims to keep rockin’ “whether or not anyone gives a shit.” Pictured above: Zach and Andy Gabbard.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers tried things a little bit different with their eighth album. Going it alone without a producer, they holed up at their Howler Hills Farm recording studio and just let the songs roll out.
If that meant the levels were a little off or the feedback a little loud, so be it. It was going to be their record, made their way. And it’s hard to argue with the results. Alive And Well In Ohio (Alive Naturalsound Records) though very much like their earlier albums in spirit—the group’s been together since 2006—has a little more organic feel to it. There’s still that psychedelic, stoner rock vibe, with snatches of blues and pop, but the feel is a bit rawer, as well.Singer/guitarist Andy Gabbard spoke with BLURT recently about the making of Alive And Well In Ohio, flying solo in the studio and what lies ahead.
BLURT: You took a little more time than usual following up Heavy Reverie and Fireball of Sulk (both released in 2014). Was that a conscious decision?
Nope. Not a conscious decision. We just worked on one or two songs at a time. We were recording it ourselves so were learning a lot of things along the way. We wanted to keep going and make a double LP but we realized we were taking too long (laughs).
You guys recorded this at your studio on Howler Hills Farm. Was this your first time recording there? How did that experience compare to going to just a standard recording studio?
First album we’ve recorded ourselves at the studio, yes. It’s a lot different. It’s your own gear and resources, your own time, you’re not paying by the hour (laughs).
It was a different experience as far as creating our songs as well, because we could do what we wanted. Didn’t have to follow the rules. Recorded things in the red and left feedback in the song. It’s a bit more work but the final result is more satisfying.
In writing and putting together Alive And Well in Ohio, was there a specific sound or vibe you were going for?
We never have a vibe in mind. We just have the songs and we try our best to give them as much life as possible. We try to make our instruments and vocals complement each other. We always keep the take with the best energy and try and make the songs flow well throughout the entire piece.
Is it tougher working without an outside producer?
Working without a producer is a lot easier, actually. Having an outsider tell you what to do with your song kinda sucks unless it’s someone you really trust and respect. But you can learn a lot from a producer I guess?
Were you guys listening to anything in particular around the time you started working on this new one that had an influence on the record?
Nothing really had a direct influence on the music we were making. I mean, we love the Beatles. Those albums are something we listen to as inspiration on how to play and record amongst other things.
I can’t recall exactly what I was geeking out on at the time. Probably Once And Future Band or Thundercat.
What’s next for you guys?
We’re gonna play and promote this album for the rest of the year I assume. Beyond that we’re just gonna keep doing our thing. As long as the songs keep coming, we’ll keep playing and making albums whether or not anyone gives a shit (laughs).
From Lifeboat, Tackle Box, and beyond, the indie rock auteur spills the beans. (This interview originally appeared in Dr. Hinely’s most excellent Dagger ‘zine.)
BY TIM HINELY
I had met Greg “Skeggie” Kendall as a person before I even knew about his music. Sort of. He was road managing The Chills when I saw them in about 1989/1990 or so. I was backstage doing an interview with The Chills’ Martin Phillipps (for my zine, DAGGER) and Skeggie brought him a big salad (not “the big salad” like on Seinfeld but a big salad nonetheless) and faked this posh British accent when he put it down in front of Martin and stated, “Your dinner sir.” I laughed and Skeggie and I chatted bit that evening. He seemed like a real friendly, jovial type, completely unlike some other road managers types I had met throughout the years.
So I’d already missed the boat on his band Lifeboat though I’d heard of them and was sure I’d heard some Lifeboat songs. Then missed his next band, Tackle Box until my pal Jeremy Grites told me I had to hear them which was in the late 90’s or maybe 2000. I picked up copies of those cds, On and Grand Hotel (both released in 1993, if I have my story straight, and both on the Rockville label. They also released “The Wheat Penny Single” 7” the same year on Rockville. Fun fact: his rhythm section on those records, Brian Dunton and Sean King Devlin went on to work with Mary Timony in Helium) and both are filled with the kind of at times loud/ at times soft rock music that too many people missed but really should have heard. As you’ll read below he’s done plenty of other stuff, musically speaking.
You know I like to dig a little deeper, go for some more obscure folks to interview, and it was on a whim that I’d reached out to Skeggie to see if he might want to answer a few questions. Thankfully he did and by reading below you’ll learn about the long strange trip that Mr. Greg Kendall has been on all these years. Long live Skeggie!
Where were you born? Did you grow up in the Boston area?
I was born in Norwalk, CT. In the three years following, my family moved to as many states: from Norwalk to Santa Barbara, CA.; Santa Barbara to Red Hook, in upstate NY; Red Hook to Huntsville, AL. I mostly grew up in Huntsville, but our family did weird satellite missions to other places for awkward fragments of school years. There was half of third grade in Atlantic Beach on Long Island, and before that, a 1968 Cocoa Beach summer at the Del-Ray Motel that stretched beyond the first day of school because my father worked for the space program at Cape Canaveral. Eight months for eighth grade in Gaithersburg, MD, then washing up in Middletown, RI in 1973. So, to answer your question, no, I did not grow up in the Boston area. I moved there in 1981, when I was 21.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
I was lucky to have an older brother who was way into music, so I was exposed to scads of great music from very early on. Simply, AM top forty radio WAS my childhood. I tried, but didn’t buy the first record I wanted to buy. There are many tales of the infamous Columbia Record Club. Our family returned from a vacation in what, 1968?, to find a package at our front door I’d ordered from the back of a magazine. “The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees” is the one I remember. My parents were pissed and had to undo the bad deal and returned that record and the other two that were delivered. I eventually bought that album, and of course loved it. The Monkees are the best band ever.
When did you first pick up an instrument? Was it a guitar?
5 years old. Ukulele. Soon after, the guitar. Cat gut string. My first gig was in kindergarten in Huntsville singing “My Old Kentucky Home” with my brother and sister. There are some uncomfortable lyrics in that tune for three little kids to be singing in 1965 Alabama. (It was only recently that I discovered the origin and intent of the song. Interesting history.)
Was Tackle Box your first band? If not tell us about bands prior to it.
Lots of bands before Tackle Box. That was like 1992-93. It’s hard to list the catalogue without supplying background in order to provide fun context. You gotta understand that back in the day we were in the middle of the suburban punk rock expansion explosion, jumping off of what we were gleaning from the CBGB’s scene of the late 1970s and the Detroit thing of MC5 and the Stooges, and also Blue Oyster Cult’s early stuff, not to mention most importantly Lou Reed. I worked backward from “Rock n Roll Animal” to the Velvet Underground in 1975-76. It was mind-blowing. It’s impossible to encapsulate in a brief answer. I moved into the upstairs of a nightclub in Newport RI in 1978. I lived there for two years. I was like 18 and 19 years old. I saw a load of wild shit, ingested a ton of drugs, and had a lot of fun. Johnny Thunders was a regular. I hung out with Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee, J.B. Hutto, and Max Romeo. I held court with Carl Perkins. I played regularly with Jonathan Richman, Mission of Burma, Human Sexual Response, and The Neighborhoods. What else can I say, except that I’m sure there’s a bunch of cool stuff that I can’t remember, plus can’t believe I don’t have Hep C or some other nasty affliction. Our band, Bob Lawton’s Boots —look it up—we were there from the git-go of punk rock. Just sayin’.
Tell us about seeing bands in Boston the 80’s? With the amount of amazing talent there back then you must have had some magical nights!
Yes. Some great nights were involved. “Magical” is a good adjective. I moved to Boston in 1981. It was an exciting time in local music to be there. “Magical” because one had to invent one’s scene if you didn’t dovetail easily into an existing one. A Boston rock scene was in full play, with the ‘Hoods, Mission Burma, Lyres, Neats, Del Fuegos, etc, etc., but to bust into that world required stamina and songs, particularly if you were in a jangly pop band like mine —Arms Akimbo, which became Lifeboat. We had much more in common with the North Carolina and Georgia music scenes than the grittier Boston sound. We had to work hard to prove ourselves, and we pretty much did. That band broke up in 1987.
How did Tackle Box come about?
The Brothers Kendall were a thing after Lifeboat’s varied successes and failures. My brother Bobby and I wrote a bunch of songs and played a bunch of gigs in 1988-89, maybe 90? I don’t know. We made a record for Bar None with Peter Holsapple from the dBs that never came out, mostly because the record sucked, (through no fault of Peter’s). But, tell you what, I loved that band. We made some music I’m quite proud of. The core of that band became Tackle Box. Shawn Devlin is an amazing drummer I’ve been playing with since the Newport days; Mike Leahy is a genius guitarist (he’s played with Juliana Hatfield, Buffalo Tom, and Pell Mell, among others); and bassist Brian Dunton, (with Devlin, the original Helium rhythm section) are great to work with.
When I (briefly) met you back then you were a tour manager for The Chills. Had you been making your living doing that? If so what other bands did you tour manage?
Wow! Where/when did we meet? That was a goofy gig. If anyone ever asks you, “Hey, should I consider a cross-country tour that requires road managing, driving the van, being the sole roadie and — get this—opening solo act?,” you’re answer should be, “No, definitely don’t do that.”
I also went out as a roadie for the bands Big Dipper, The Feelies, and for the longest stretch, Throwing Muses. I love all of them, very much. So many tales to tell.
How did the deal with Rockville Records come about? Who ran that label (I only knew about Homestead back then).
Jeff Pachman signed us. It just happened I guess because he heard our songs and liked us. I honestly don’t know any other reason.
When/ why did Tackle Box end? Did you have any bands after that?
We all got busy with other stuff, and honestly I was becoming ambivalent about what had started to feel like asking people if they liked me through music. After all those years, I guess hit sort of a mental roadblock. I had a new family, with back-to-back sons, and that had an impact I’m sure on my commitment to touring and other time-consuming aspects of being in a band. But I found a new musical outlet when I fell into scoring film. Doug Macmillan from the band the Connells introduced me to director John Schultz, who enlisted me to write songs for his film Bandwagon, and then asked me to score it. The film screened and was bought at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, which eventually led me to score Schultz’s 1998 Drive Me Crazy for 20th Century Fox. It was a fun, exciting and satisfying time, despite the steep learning curve.
Who are some of your favorite current bands or musicians?
My son’s projects are what I’d like to talk about.
DJ Lucas https://soundcloud.com/djlucasma
Weird Dane https://soundcloud.com/weirddane
They’ve got a whole lot stuff going on. Their collective, called Dark World, is knee-deep in music making, video projects and fashion design.
Care to tell us your top 10 desert island discs?
It’s hard to get it down to ten, but let’s go with…
Velvet Underground (self-titled third album)
Velvet Underground “Loaded”
New York Dolls “New York Dolls”
New York Dolls “Too Much Too Soon”
Jean Jacques Perry “The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sound Of Jean Jacques Perry”
Yo La Tengo “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One”
Joni Mitchell “Blue”
Chet Baker “ Let’s Get Lost”
David Bowie “Hunky Dory”
Brian Eno “Music For Airports”
(Plus any and all releases from Gram Parsons)
Tell us about the reunion gig that Tackle Box recently played. Will there be more?
That was super-fun. I hope for more. I love those guys, and I think we rock real nice together. We fell into playing together as if we hadn’t taken over twenty years off.
What is it that you do now? Something in the film industry?
From 2002-2012, my wife Connie White and I booked documentary films into cinemas as Balcony Releasing. We distributed over twenty films in that period. Currently, I’m working with my wife’s company Balcony Booking. She’s the film buyer for eighteen independent art houses and three film festivals.
Check out our new site here: https://www.balconyfilm.com/
Any closing comment? Final thoughts? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
It’s been a long and interesting trip, including my recent graduation from college in May 2016. With all that music stuff going on, I completely forgot to go to college, so I entered in 2012, and graduated four years later from UMass Amherst with a self-designed BA in Historical New England Documentary Studies.
Also, I’m about to embark on a new musical adventure— or I should say, a potential adventure. I’m going to Raleigh, NC to hang with my buddy Doug MacMillan from the Connells. If it works out, we’re thinking about planning a two-hander that explores the odd lives we’ve led in the music business, including stories and songs in a fun and reflective show. We’ll see. I hope it happens. I love those Connells songs.
BONUS QUESTION: Did you ever hear from Mark Lindsay about the song “Mark Lindsay’s Ponytail?”
I have a signed copy from Mark Lindsay of the Tackle Box “Wheat Penny” single that has “Ponytail” on the B-side. He says he liked it. I’m proud to say that one of my songs, “Eeenie Meenie Miney Moe,” originally recorded with Tuffskins, (a fun post-Tackle Box mini-project) was rehearsed by the fantastic Los Straitjackets with vocals by Mark Lindsay for consideration on an album. Alas, a release was not to be. But still, that feels really good, and the song was eventually recorded and released as a single by Rochester, NY garage-rockers Ian and the Aztecs. So, all’s well, that ends well.
Austin City Limits Music Festival debuted a lot of new things this year: new layout, new security, new foods, new drinks, new ticket levels, etc. Some worked great, some didn’t. But it was nice to see all of the changes. Best of which being the new layout.
The park now has so much more breathing room and attendees can actually enjoy the music at a crowded stage without the interference of the other nearby stages. And even though the lineup this year wasn’t the best in ACL history, there were some really great shows over the weekend.
The Wild Now – Cute and poppy.
ROMES – Trying too hard to be sexy.
The Band of Heathens – An Austin classic!
MISSIO – So much energy and enthusiasm, with a lot of Justin Timberlake vibes from lead singer.
The Lemon Twigs – Drummer was the most captivating of them all.
Crystal Castles – Trying too hard to be scary weird. Die Antwoord has that category covered.
Royal Blood – A solid rock’n’roll show!
Ryan Adams – As always, he delivered a solid performance. The unique thing about this show was that he had an announcer come out before he came on stage and asked the crowd to not use any flash, as Ryan suffers from Ménière’s disease. That started the show off on a pretty serious note. Things got more serious when Ryan confronted a fan who was recording the show and sounded like he had his flash on. Ryan cursed out the fan and told him we will all validate his presence here at the show so he doesn’t need that video to post online. He kept the stage almost completely dark for the entire show as well.
JAY-Z – He only played an hour, took a 20-minute break, came back for a single song encore, and left. Everyone seemed very confused, including other artists in the crowd.
Mobley – Mobley was the best surprise of the festival. Despite his opening time slot, he put on a great show with Headliner enthusiasm.
CAPYAC – Part of their act was making pancakes on stage and throwing them at the crowd. It worked. They got me to stay longer than I would’ve otherwise.
Ásgeir – A less poetic Bon Iver.
Grace VanderWaal – Mini Taylor Swift with a giant voice. As a 13-year-old, she had more stage presence than most adult artists out there.
A$AP Ferg – He got the crowd going with his beats but it seemed like 2pm might have been too early of a time slot for him, as he paced the stage like he was still trying to wake up.
LĪVE – Simply amazing. They rocked the stage like 20-year-olds, not like a band that’s been together for over 3 decades. So much energy, enthusiasm, love for their art, and appreciation for the fans.
ICE CUBE – He was hardcore until he asked the crowd if they’ve seen his hit movie Straight Outta Compton and if they wanted “gangster”. He, then, proceeded with “let’s give them gangster.” Sadly, none of which felt remotely authentic or gangster.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Chili Peppers were once a great band but now they seem to be just bored. Every show in the past several years have been the exactly replica of each other. Very little crowd interaction, heavily filtered Jumbotron footage, same quick transitions between songs.
Bibi Bourelly – Perhaps most famous for writing the Rhianna song “Bitch Better Have My Money,” Bibi’s performance of her own material proved to be authentic and raw.
Raging Fyah – Energetic, enthusiastic and a lot of fun!
Milky Chance – Somehow, Milky Chance managed to sing all of their songs in the same exact way in the same exact tone…again. It’s very difficult to even tell where one song ends and the other begins with them. Snooze fest.
Run The Jewels – Simply kicked ass.
Vance Joy – Great, fun show.
Portugal. The Man – They kept the stage almost completely dark the entire show. The sign at the beginning of the show stated that they will not be engaging with the audience during the show, and they did keep their promise by systematically running through all of their songs.
Gorillaz – They put on a big production but it didn’t seem like there was much heart there. Still a pretty good show, though!
Down at the Goose Island Block Party, our man with the plan in the Windy City had the best view of all…
TEXT & PHOTOS BY MARTY PEREZ
What a way to celebrate this year’s Autmnal Equinox.
And in the good company of some Filthy Friends, all the while being able to sample some new fall batches of local craft beer. Where did all this goodness go down, you might ask? Well, friends at a block party put on by Chicago’s oldest and largest craft breweries; Goose Island. Let us praise and raise a toast to sir John Barleycorn.
A spectacular setting sun illuminated the short, fun and upbeat set put forth by Corin Tucker and the Friends: Pete Buck, Scott McCaughey, Kurt Bloch, and Linda Pitmon. After that they had to cram into the van and bust out of Chicago for the drive to Cincinnati to make Saturday’s afternoon festival show.
Highly recommend catching thee Filthy Friends, should they make it out your neck of the woods. Considering the members of the Filthies and their varying schedules, it does make for a special occasion and/or a logistical nightmare to get all them Filthy Friends under the same roof for a house party.
Bringing together some of the BLURT gang’s Tom Petty coverage from the past few years because… well… because there’s a dream we keep having. (Above photo by Scott Dudelson)
BY FRED MILLS, JOHN B. MOORE, TIM HINELY, LEE ZIMMERMAN, SUSAN MOLL, GREG KELLY, & SCOTT DUDELSON
Editor’s Note: Tom Petty passed away October 2, at the age of 66. After some initial media confusion, his longtime manager Tony Demitriades posted an official announcement (see below). An outpouring of grief on social media immediately followed, as did the mainstream reports, obits, and tributes—such as this heartfelt one by Jon Pareles of the New York Times (“A Mainstay of Rock With the Heartbreakers), this mini-retrospective by Stereo Williams of The Daily Beast (“Tom Petty’s Remarkable Stand Against the Confederate Flag”), this career overview at Rolling Stone by Kory Grow and Andy Greene, and “The Final Interview” at the Los Angeles Times, conducted by Randy Lewis a couple of days after the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour had wrapped at the Hollywood Bowl, and just five days before Petty’s death. The latter also includes a wonderful backstage photo gallery from the Bowl shows, taken by my friend (and fellow BLURT-er) Andy Tennille, who has been the band’s official tour photographer for years.
I’m not going to write an obituary; I just can’t do it now. It seems like I’ve already done that 50 times over the past 48 hours on social media and via sundry correspondence with fellow Tom Petty devotees. Let’s leave it at “permanently among my Top 5 artists of all time.” But when you factor in how much Petty and his Heartbreakers meant to me, as well as to my wife, from the very beginning—starting on that afternoon in 1976 when I wandered into the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, record store Schoolkids, spotted an LP with an insouciant-looking, leather jacket-sporting, blonde longhair adorning the cover, and had the shopkeepers cue it up over the house stereo—it’s impossible not to add my voice to the grieving choir. Apologies in advance for making your load heavier, fellow fans. But this is what we do precisely because we are fans.
How many times did the two of us get to see TP&THB? I’m not certain, to be honest, but who really cares? If you want to play the World’s Biggest Superfan game, seek elsewhere. But we picked some good ‘uns over the years to attend, ranging from the now-legendary evening in Charlotte 1990 when (as related below) Petty renounced his earlier marketing blunder involving the Confederate rebel flag; to the transcendental show in Phoenix in the late ’90s that featured no less than the Blind Boys of Alabama opening (!) for their avowed fan; to just a couple of years ago in Raleigh in which Tom and the gang gave us—presumably without realizing it—a wedding anniversary gift of a career-spanning show that, now, seems all the more meaningful. Along the way, I accumulated my share of shows on cassette, CD, CDR, and digital download, going all the way back to the beginning through the recent tour celebrating the band’s four decades. (Maybe I am a superfan after all.)
What follows, then, is my attempt to share some appreciations of Tom Petty that I have had the honor, along with my fellow TP fan Stephen Judge (owner of BLURT and Schoolkids Records), to publish in this space over the years, both in words and images. It starts with a terrific photo gallery, which is then followed by an extended (very extended—feel free to scroll past) essay/review I myself wrote on the occasion of Petty’s 2009 box set The Live Anthology. After that are some related commentaries and photos from everybody else. I wish I had a profound final tagline here, but I really don’t; there have been so many things written about Petty in the past few days (including the above-linked Daily Beast article, which actually quotes from my original piece on Petty and the onstage rebel flag incident), that I fear anything I might say would come across as redundant or, worse, facile.
So since Petty always had a knack for saying the things that the rest of us wished we had said, I’ll let him get in the last word for this introduction. I dedicate it to Allison Mills. —FM
“You know, sometimes, I don’t know why,
But this old town just seems so hopeless
I ain’t really sure, but it seems I remember the good times
Were just a little bit more in focus
But when she puts her arms around me,
I can, somehow, rise above it
Yeah man, when I got that little girl standing right by my side,
You know, I can tell the whole wide world, and shout it,
‘Hey, here comes my girl, here comes my girl, Yeah, she looks so right, she’s all I need tonight…’
Every now and then, I get down to the end of a day,
I’ll have to stop, ask myself, “What’ve I done?”
It just seems so useless to have to work so hard,
And nothin’ ever really seem to come from it
And then she looks me in the eye, says, “We gonna last forever,”
And man, you know I can’t begin to doubt it
No, because this feels so good and so free and so right,
I know we ain’t never goin’ change our minds about it
Here comes my girl, here comes my girl, Yeah, she looks so right, she’s all I need tonight…”
Writers whose roots extend below the Mason-Dixon Line have long dwelled on matters of heritage. Even those who preach the occasional necessity of getting out in order to make a life for oneself understand how roots run deep, and you can no more escape that heritage than you can declare your back yard a sovereign nation and secede from the Union. So to speak.
Tom Petty’s a writer, of songs, and while he’s a textbook example of a southern boy who got out and, in the parlance, done real good for hisself, in those songs there’s always been a lyrical tension between the past and the present that gives his material an autobiographical undercurrent, an ambiance, a vibe, peculiar to southern writers. I’m a writer, too, and the longer I do it the more I discover my own regional idiosyncrasies creeping in to my work; I suspect they were always there and I just didn’t recognize them as such. Finding parallels between Petty’s life and mine isn’t particularly hard, either. Both of us came of age in the sixties, he in upstate Florida and me in a textile mill region of North Carolina, right at the NC-SC line — which, if you know much about those two regions, suggests a distinct lack of cultural opportunities, so a person was usually left casting a wide net utilizing whatever resources could be found.
“Well she was an American girl Raised on promises She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there was a little more to life Somewhere else After all it was a great big world With lots of places to run to…”
As Petty pointed out in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, his best-known song “American Girl” is not about a specific girl: “I was creating a girl like I knew in Gainesville, the kind who knows there’s more out there than the cards she’s drawn.” But he was also subliminally sketching himself into the character, articulating what he had felt growing up in Gainesville. This is why the tune strikes a chord regardless of whether you’re a male or a female; the yearning is universal, and it’s not necessary limited to teenagers either.
In our mutual quests to find a little more to life Petty and I both eschewed high school sports for books, movies and, most particularly, music, and because of that our role models tended to be a few years older, typically long-haired and liberal-tilting types (and with good weed connections) who gave us the kind of encouragement we didn’t necessarily get from our peer group. Both of us took a lot of grief when we began growing our own hair out, including thumpings from local good ol’ boys who took exception to our appearance, and such incidents fueled streaks of anger, defiance and righteousness. Petty, for example, told Rolling Stone that during his early years as a musician he was harassed by rednecks and even refused service at truck stops and it helped him understand and sympathize with what African-Americans went through on a daily basis. Those angry, defiant and righteous feelings continue to manifest in us as adults.
And Petty and I both finally got out, too: he traveled far, to L.A., and embarked upon one of rock’s more storied careers; I made it to college, and in a roundabout way, not always financially fruitful but still aesthetically satisfying, to a life in music, too. All along, although the two of us have met just once and then only very briefly, our southern heritage has continued to link us in ways that gives his music a resonance that is deeper and more enduring than that of pretty much any other artist I admire.
One day in late 1976 I wandered into a Chapel Hill, NC, record store. Spying among the new releases a copy of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I wondered who this leather-jacketed guy on the sleeve was. The shoulder-length blonde hair painted him a traditional ‘70s rock type, yet the jacket and half-smirk/half-sneer creasing his face suggested he was more aligned with punk, which by then I was already enthusiastically embracing. The guy behind the counter played a couple of songs, notably the Byrdsian raveup “American Girl,” and I was sold. It would be over-romanticizing matters for me to claim I converted, on the spot, to fan-for-life status — it was only Petty’s first album, after all — but I can confess, in all sincerity, that the net result was the same.
Other albums would similarly floor me — 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, 1985’s Southern Accents, 1994’s Wild Flowers (billed as a solo Petty release), even 2002’s The Last DJ, which did well commercially but took a drubbing from critics — while songs from all of Petty’s releases would find their way into regular mixtape rotation in the car, on the home stereo, and eventually on the iPod and smartphone, too. I recall buying the 45 of “Refugee” because it had a non-album B-side, “Casa Dega,” a spooky-sounding slow-burn number that referenced a strange little Florida town (it’s actually spelled Cassadaga) populated by psychics. I even penned an essay about the song for one of the indie rock zines I scribed for back in the day, attempting to probe the mysterious yet open-endedly romantic, lyrics, that to this day still get under my skin—like a partially-remembered dream that lingers and haunts you long after you’ve awaken:
“She said to me as she holds my hand And reads the lines of a stranger Yeah, and she knows my name, yeah, she knows my plan In the past, in the present, and for the future… ‘Baby, fools pay the price of a whisper in the night In Casa Dega Time rolls by, night is only night Can I save you?’”
Of course it was the live Petty experience that would cement my fanship. I’ll never forget squeezing down front at an outdoor amphitheater in Charlotte in the early ’80s (June 22, 1980, to be precise) to watch the Heartbreakers blaze through a set in the summer’s heat; I was surrounded by so many gorgeous, sweat-drenched, dancing, screaming females that I got a first-hand sense of what Beatlemania might have been like. Later that evening at the nearby hotel, who should I run into at the elevator but keyboardist Benmont Tench; upon learning that we had a close mutual friend, he paused to chat a few moments then invited me up to say hello to Petty, as the band was about to check out early and drive through the night on their bus to the next gig. Starstruck, I wound up mumbling at them something about “owning all the records” and “when are you going to start making better music videos,” thus ensuring that Petty and Tench quickly found excuses to go finish their packing before I could get around to asking for an autograph. But hey, at least I got to shake their hands.
Another time was the Echo tour in Phoenix, August 19, 1999, at a point when the Heartbreakers had skillfully merged both their own songs and Petty’s solo material to craft what was unquestionably one of the most dynamic stage shows by one of the most formidable live acts in the business. In particular, they brought down the house with “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” which had earlier been an MTV staple thanks to the goofy Alice In Wonderland-styled vid, but in concert was transformed into a psychedelic epic complete with an eye-popping, potentially seizure-inducing, lights and strobe production.
But the Petty concert I’ll always remember most vividly was on January 29, 1990, once again in Charlotte. In April of the previous year, Petty had released his first solo LP, the Jeff Lynne-produced Full Moon Fever, so he was spotlighting a good chunk of that record even though, with the exception of guitarist Mike Campbell, the members of the Heartbreakers only had cameos on FMF. The band was also doing a lot of the Southern Accents album, from 1985, and much of the same stage design (plantation mansion columns, assorted antebellum/southern touches, etc.) from the Southern Accents tour was still being used. It was during the “Southern Accents” song itself that something totally out of the blue happened.
A certain yahoo element had already been making its presence in the crowd known, emitting whoops and raising beer cups whenever Petty would make a regional reference. It was starting to feel like a NASCAR rally in the arena. Now, as the band eased into the song’s signature piano intro, somebody tossed a folded-up object onto the stage. Petty walked over, picked it up, and started unfolding it: a rebel flag, symbol of the Confederacy — and of a whole lot more. He froze, uncertain as to what he should do. Well, wave it proudly at all your fellow Southerners, you could almost hear the collective thought ripple through the air. Instead, while the band continued vamping on the intro, Petty walked back to the mic, still holding the flag, and slowly began to speak, talking about how on the Southern Accents tour a few years ago they’d included a Confederate flag as part of the stage set, but since then he’d been thinking about it and decided that it had been a mistake because he understood maybe it wasn’t just a rebel image to some folks. As a low rumble of boos and catcalls, maybe mixed with a few tentative cheers, came out of the crowd, Petty carefully wadded the flag up and concluded, “So we don’t do” — nodding at the flag — “this anymore.” Chucking it back into the audience, he started to sing, softly, gradually building in volume:
“There’s a southern accent, where I come from The young’uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb I got my own way of talkin’ but everything is done With a southern accent where I come from…”
Driving home from the concert that night I still could feel the combined chill and thrill I’d gotten earlier. A lesser performer wouldn’t have been able to pull off a simultaneous refutation and affirmation, and in the unexpected duality of sentiment and expectations of the moment, Petty and his Heartbreakers had gone on to perform the song with a visceral resolve imbued equally with grace and grit I hadn’t detected at previous concerts.
Turning on the radio, I heard the local classic rock deejay talking about the incident in disparaging terms and inviting listeners to call in and “let Tom Petty know just what we think about him.” In that moment, I felt the anger and defiance of my younger self return, and I wanted to punch the dashboard.
It’s these memories that steer me to The Live Anthology (Reprise), a five-CD, three-DVD, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers box. Arriving as a kind of two-year coda to 2007’s Peter Bogdanovich-directed TP&THB documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream and the accompanying book and multiple-DVD/CD set, it’s a dream date all on its own terms, stuffed to its 12” x 12” x 2”, Shepard Fairey-art-adorned gills with all manner of goodies and memorabilia. There are facsimiles of tour posters and backstage passes; a thick LP-sized booklet boasting detailed track annotations and commentary plus extensive liners from Petty, Warren Zanes and a host of music journalists; a pocket-sized TP “notebook”; and a reproduction of the 1977 promotional-only 12” EP Official Live ‘Leg that Shelter Records distributed to radio stations (the repro even duplicates the way the original had the same four songs pressed on both sides; incidentally, the nine-minute “Dog On the Run” is a must-hear). In short, pure collector catnip.
Sound- and vision-wise, Petty’s not just fucking around with a high-ticket item suitable for holiday shopping, either. One of the DVDs contains all of the live audio material in the high-resolution Blu-ray format, meaning that if you have a Blu-ray player and harbor an audio geek side, you’re in clover. Meanwhile, the two video discs nicely complement the other Petty DVDs in your collection (there have been quite a few, including RDAD, to date). Live at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was professionally filmed at the Heartbreakers’ Dec. 31, 1978 concert, and it’s every bit as intense and celebratory as a New Year’s Eve show should be. That it captures the band on the cusp of — but not quite there yet — huge international stardom, a good nine months before the release of Damn the Torpedoes, therefore giving you a long-form look at a group still hungry and fueled by an almost punkish combativeness, makes for a revealing and rewarding viewing experience. Several as-yet-unreleased songs were already in the setlist at the time, notably “Refugee” and “Casa Dega,” and the closing Isley Brothers cover “Shout” completely smokes the version that appeared on 1985’s concert album and film Pack Up the Plantations: Live!
The third DVD is titled 400 Days, a documentary film directed by Martyn Atkins. Atkins had been introduced to Petty by Rick Rubin during the making of Wildflowers, and he accumulated footage of Petty and the Heartbreakers in the studio and on the subsequent 1995 tour – essentially a chronicle of 400 days in the life of an artist and a rock band. It’s an engaging portrait, necessarily less comprehensive but in places more intimate than the Bogdanovich film, with a number of the performance clips in particular demanding repeated attention.
Everything circles back to the live CDS, however. And while the thought of over five hours’ worth of concert material is daunting by any standard, as a live album in the truest, most classic sense — think the Who’s Live at Leeds, the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, the Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, Gov’t Mule’s Live… With a Little Help from Our Friends, etc. — this surely ranks high. Petty told Rolling Stone that he put a lot of effort into sequencing the material in order to make each disc represent “a whole program,” like an individual concert set. Acknowledging the fracturing of artistic intent that iTunes represents and how people will undoubtedly cherry-pick the individual tunes they want to hear, he added, “But there’s somebody out there who will sit down and take it as the work it is.”
And what a work it is: a series of five emotional journeys (four, if you opt for the standard, budget-conscious 4CD edition, but I encourage you to be brave, hock your kid’s bike at the nearest pawn shop, and go for the full unexpurgated Kahuna), arranged not chronologically but in order to reveal, as Petty writes in his liners, “mood first… a band capable of thinking on its feet… one moment leading to the next.”
If you’ve had the patience to read this far you’re obviously a Petty fan and probably don’t need me to sell you on the music. I will say that, given the sheer quantity here, 62 songs in all, it’s damned remarkable that there’s nary a shred of excess on display. Even at their most demonstrative, say on a 2001 wig-out on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” or the extended boogie/raveup/anthem that is 1993’s “Drivin’ Down To Georgia,” the Heartbreakers demonstrate a cool restraint that keeps the focus on the actual songs. They also, via a healthy sampling of cover material (my faves: Peter Green & Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” from Bonnaroo ’06, and Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy,” from the famed 1997 Fillmore residency), open the doors wide to an in-action view of the band’s roots, influences and inspirations.
And for a collection of tapes that spans three decades, the sonic consistency and flow across the discs amount to an achievement that’s equally remarkable. For example, the aforementioned “DCAHNM” is followed immediately by a 1978 recording of “Too Much Ain’t Enough,” but they sound like they could have come from the same show. Another memorable pairing juxtaposes “Southern Accents” with Wildflowers standout “Crawling Back to You,” confirming a notion I’ve long held, that the Southern Accents and Wildflowers albums, though separated by a decade, are linked musically and thematically in Petty’s mind. And in one of the most striking sequences, one that almost singlehandedly sums up the Petty musical and thematic aesthetic, you get “Even the Losers”/”Here Comes My Girl” (1980) followed by “A Thing About You” (1981), “I’m In Love” (1982), “I’m A Man” (2006) and “Straight Into Darkness” (1982) — an entire lifetime’s worth of defiance, bliss, celebration, swagger and heartbreak rolled into a 25-minute mini-set.
In the latter tune, originally from 1982’s Long After Dark, Petty sings:
“There was a little girl, I used to know her I still think about her, time to time There was a moment when I really loved her Then one day the feeling just died… I don’t believe the good times are over I don’t believe the thrill is all gone Real love is a man’s salvation The weak ones fall, the strong carry on…”
It’s a telling number that, like “American Girl,” has a universality sunk deep into its sonic and lyric hooks, and it’s emblematic of the many musical riches contained on The Live Anthology. Listening to the box is like immersing oneself in a sea of personal sense memories. Indeed, as a songwriter, Petty’s sometimes been accused of having an unvarnished nostalgic streak. (You could make a similar case for Springsteen.) But there’s a difference in nostalgia for the sake of cheap, fleeting emotion, and nostalgia that seeks to extract something that’s true and pure from a previous life in order to find clarity within the present one. The present’s never quite as clear-cut as we like to tell ourselves it is.
I reckon that’s something else Petty and I have in common. We both realize that to survive and move forward you often have to escape your current circumstances — after all, it’s a great big world, with lots of places to run to — but only a fool would try to erase the past. Luckily, I’ll always have my southern accent to remind me of mine.
Petty: The Biography (by Warren Zanes) review: John B. Moore (November 2015—full review here)
“While the book is crammed with a lot of the popular Petty lore that many may already know, like his friendships George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan – all eventual members of the Traveling Wilburys – his longtime collaborations and kinship with Stevie Nicks and his remarkable solo career, the book also covers some of the more interesting aspects of the Petty story, most that have never been told in full detail before. In particular, before the band really took off, Petty was signed on as a writer and collaborator for Leon Russell where he would often be sent for at all hours of the night, simply to cool his heels on the couch outside the studio waiting for inspiration to strike his boss.
“Despite his relationship with Petty, Zanes still tackles some of the tougher aspects of the rockers career, including his struggles with heroine and other drugs, soured relationships with his bandmates, his divorce and a strained relationship with his father. Petty discusses all in a refreshingly honest manner and still manages to come off as sanguine.”
“Mojo is billed as a return-to-roots affair, loaded with the blues, Southern rock and West Coast psychedelia of Petty’s youth, a loose, collaborative and comfort-zone effort for the band aimed at pleasing themselves first and foremost (but which won’t come across as exactly esoteric to theircore audience)…. it’s a stronger, more assured effort than the last proper TP and the Heartbreakers album, 2002’s The Last DJ, which was very good but got bogged down in a few spots by its thematic conceits. And it’s a zillion times better than 2006’s Highway Companion, a Petty solo album that, aside from some contributions from Campbell and coproducer Jeff Lynne, featured Petty playing most of the instruments and going for a loose (if polished) feel that ultimately came off as tentative and too introspective for its own good. So whether Petty came to view those two records as misfires or was energized by the Mudcrutch and The Live Anthology experiences (or both), the end result is a collection of tunes that sounds like it was fun to write and record, one which evolved organically from the sheer joy of making music together.
“Ultimately Mojo, by striking a deft balance between earthy performances and crystalline production and presenting a focused-yet-diverse array of tunes, is the most satisfying studio release from Petty in a decade or more. Damn the media clichés, then; it’s far more than a return to roots. It’s a goddam renewal, spinning the same kind of new-discovery magic that sparked the imagination of a pre-internet generation all those years ago. Who’s up for some memories?”
Mojo Tour 2010 Live Album Expanded Edition review: Fred Mills (December 2010—full review here)
“A superior souvenir from this past summer – you can track down full-show bootlegs and audience tapes easily enough, but probably not any that were recorded and mixed professionally for the band – and as kind of summation-to-date of the Heartbreakers and their
notable, time-tested live aesthetic.”
“The band hit the stage at 9:00 PM sharp and Petty seemed in exceptionally good spirits (maybe something in the, uh, Colorado air?) and if I may introduce the band? Benmont Tench still on keys, Mike Campbell on guitar (and though he is Petty’s age, looks much younger), original bassist Ron Blair on the bass, (all three with Petty since 1976 though Blair dropped out and then dropped back in after Howie Epstein’s death in 2003) as well as drummer Steve Ferrone and (very sharp dressed) 3rd guitarist Scott Thurston (Ferrone and Thurston are the “new” guys though both have been around at least 20 years).
“These days the band basically cherry picks the best stuff from their catalog (40 plus years worth) and they sounded terrific, though Petty was really the only one who moves about the stage, dancing, arms in the air/conducting, interacting with the crowd, etc.”
“It’s groove over gravitas. A deeply furrowed bass line underscores the restless rhythm of the aptly titled “Faultlines” and its apparent companion piece, “Shadow People,” while the boogie and bluster of “Burnt Out Town” sounds amazingly like a lost long gem from the ZZ Top songbook. More on point, the full throttled, unrelenting pace driving the majority of these tracks – “Forgotten Man” and “All You Can Carry” being two examples – brings to mind such early standbys as “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and the equally edgy “American Girl.”
“Although it’s easy to lament the fact that Petty and the Heartbreakers don’t vary all that much from their usual template. Hypnotic Eye also affirms the fact they remain an austere and unapologetic outfit, which has pretty much been their mantra since the start. After nearly 40 years, it’s almost reassuring in a way to find Petty’s still so full of purpose.”