Fred Mills is the editor of Blurt. He may or may not be named Time’s Person of the Year some day.
On December 11, Time magazine named young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg the publication’s 2019 Person of the Year. One cannot overstate the significance of the 16-year-old’s award, as over the past year and a half, Thunberg has become the proverbial “face of the youth climate movement,” inspiring sit-ins, protests, and marches among teens and young adults across the globe who, like her, refuse to put their blind trust in the adults of the world any longer.
You can find a huge trove of online coverage and videos of Thunberg, so I won’t worry about pushing out a bunch of easily-found links here, other than to share a clip from her iconic “How Dare You” speech at the United Nations this year in which she laid the blame/responsibility at the feet of word leaders and explicitly told them that they were guilty of stealing young people’s dreams and childhoods. It’s an incredibly powerful, riveting moment, and one cannot help but be caught up in the visceral, almost feral, emotion Thunberg is projecting.
Cue up the Time honor, and then, naturally, cue up President Trump’s jealous schoolyard response on Twitter, which we all knew would be coming since Trump himself was on the magazine’s shortlist this year. (Although that duly noted, a fun parlor game might be to guess whether Time would have categorized his award along the lines of how they characterized, say, Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr., or more like they did with Putin and the Ayatollah Khomeini. My money would have been on the latter “Fraternity of Dictators ’n’ Despots.” Recall that the award is simply “Person” of the year, as in “most impactful,” and not “Greatest Person.”)
So apparently in honor of Melania’s “Be Best” initiative, Trump decides to engage in some good old-fashioned cyberbullying of a teenager. He summarily tweets, “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!” What does the dutiful little 16-year old do? Yep – she claps back and changes her Twitter bio thusly: “A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.”
I would call that one epic fucking burn. (I could die happy today if she would also recreate that UN address by interpolating Trump tweets and rhetoric with a call to arms.)
Greta Thunberg is MY person of the year for a lot of reasons, among them the fact that I believe it’s time to turn a lot of the heavy lifting over to the kids – the fact that I have chronic back trouble means that my heavy lifting days are done anyway – because she’s right: We ARE failing them, just like the generation that was in charge when I was her age back in the early ‘70s was failing ME and MY peers, leaving us no choice but to express our frustration via activism and, for many, grow that activism towards meaningful change.
See, I was 15, almost Greta’s age, in the spring of 1970 when the Vietnam War was fully raging, and when the Kent State Massacre occurred in which members of the Ohio National Guard descended upon Kent State University in response to a campus protest over the bombing of Cambodia, one of many Vietnam-related protests that took place that year on campuses across the US.When the dust cleared, four students had been shot dead by the Guardsmen and nine others were wounded. For some reason, this hit home for me; I wasn’t even in college yet, but I found myself identifying with the horror and the fear those students must have experienced. The subsequent alienation from the mainstream world I would experience was profound.
That horror and fear gradually gave way to anger, and then to action. I was living in a small Southern textile mill town, far away from Kent State (or, for that matter, pretty much any college campus), so the odds of a spontaneous protest march materializing over on nearby Main Street were pretty much nil. There were some fellow hippies like me and would-be activists in my hometown, but at that point in time you could literally count us all on two hands – something the local rednecks apparently relished doing when they decided to go on their weekend evening harassment cruises of the local teen hangout spots. (Ask me sometime about getting grabbed and held down and then having my hair chopped up by a couple of those rednecks, guys I had actually gone to elementary and middle school school with, was in the Cub Scouts and on the Little League team together, etc.)
But while something on the order of a march or takeover of my high school campus wasn’t in the cards, a protest was still doable, even if on a relatively small scale. A few of my friends and I put our heads together and decided to fashion some black armbands, as we had heard that these and other types of protest armbands (such as one adorned with a white peace dove) in the wake of Kent State were suddenly a “thing.” I was already predisposed to telegraphing my stance on various cultural issues of the day, so I was definitely ready to rumble. (Ask me sometime about when I got called up to the principal’s office, where they wanted to know about the marijuana leaf patch that I’d gotten my girlfriend to sew on my jean jacket for me. “It’s not marijuana, it’s a pin oak,” was my indignant response, and as I was one of the officers in my high school’s Friends Of The Earth ecology club, they decided to let the matter slide.)
We wore our black armbands prominently and proudly the next day at school, prompting a fair share of funny looks and bemused queries from our classmates, some of whom belonged to the aforementioned redneck strata and therefore were not exactly chomping at the bit to join our cause, so to speak. But it did lead to a number of really informed conversations among some of us, because cultural change was in the air – there’s a reason why Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album was a constant presence on tons of car cassette and 8-track players back then – and because, in 1970, the Vietnam War wasn’t goin’ nowhere… it seemed to be everywhere in one form or another. The fact that the military draft was still in effect and breathing down the neck of some of my older friends ensured just that.
My peer group, in fact, largely comprised older kids; you could say I was a bit of an “early adopter,” culturally speaking, at least compared to the teenagers in my same grade, and I was eager to sample as much of the culture as I could grab and hold on to, from literature and film, to music both contemporary and older, to esoteric philosophies and chemical enhancers of those philosophies. I still remember the names of several of the older guys who tolerated my relative inexperience and were willing to mentor me and turn me on to that literature, film, music, philosophies, and enhancers I was so hungry for. Guys like Warren Webb, Jimmy Smith, Steve Martin, Jim Wheeler, John Register, Jim and Bill Cameron, Rick Robinson, even Cotton Tollison, the acknowledged loose cannon of our group but who, time after time, would patiently pull me aside in order to shove into my hands a record by some artist I’d never heard of, secure in his assumption that I would immediately hear what he could hear in the record’s grooves.
In our group, my best friend at the time was actually a guy a couple of years younger than me named Fred Covington – yeah, we were sometimes referred to as “the two Freds” – and we both sensed we were privy to a unique education that a lot of the kids in our town were not getting. Compared to most of our classmates, in fact, we were almost living a parallel existence. I know we had frequent conversations about Nixon and Vietnam, no doubt fantasizing about what we would be doing if we were already in college and actually able to become activists. Well, we decided, we’ll just work with the cards already dealt us, and figure out how we can still express ourselves in small, doable ways even if we are stuck in this little town full of rednecks and cotton mills. (Ask me sometime about returning to high school in the Fall of ’72, not long after news broke of the Watergate break-in. That semester I would go up to anybody I could and start yapping about the burglary, about how Nixon and his reelection campaign were somehow involved, blah blah blah – and most of those folks I went up to just dismissed the whole notion out of hand, that this could never happen in the American government. I doubt anyone directed the term “fake news” at me, but I got the distinct impression that my so-called “activism” didn’t particularly impress them.)
So I see parts of my younger self – the outrage tempered by idealism, the bloody-minded go-for-broke attitude in which you don’t care about pissing off the adults,even a semi-naive sense that my very youth will keep me invulnerable – in Greta. I’ll never be able to turn back the clock and recapture my youth; both the misspent and well-spent parts of it are gone forever. But from afar, I sure can recapture my sense of hope and change through her and her peers – and of course through my son, still a teenager as I write this, and also very much one of my heroes.
So I would say to her, Greta, thank you for making me feel young again, if only for a moment, and I am sorry that we are failing you. You have my respect and my support. But promise me one thing: Please don’t fail YOUR children when they arrive on the stage.
Someone somewhere, in a generation far, far away, once proposed that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Nice bumper sticker and T-shirt slogan, but No K Boomer. Sometimes, instead, a takes a child to show a village the way it really needs to be done.
Wuz listening to NPR’s usually-delightful/insightful Michel Martin NPRMichel of “All Things Considered” in the car a short time ago as I returned home from Publix with tonight’s supper – talk about First World moments, hint-hint. I could not help but be struck by the generally tin-eared (translation for the kids: “tone-deaf”) attitudes of purported “lifestyle writer” Olivia Harrison (FB handle: Vocal Fry Pan) of Refinery29, as Martin attempted to pry some “Modern-Day Party Etiquette” tips from Harrison in hopes of providing we clueless listeners/masses several musts-to-avoid as we steer towards Thanksgiving and Christmas.
At least one of these so-called “real-life scenarios” of Harrison’s navigational proposals, admittedly, rang true; if you receive an E-vite from a friend or acquaintance, reply/ Yep. Let’s text (since you already have their number) or shoot off a LinkedIn p.m. (since of course you have their LinkedIn profile bookmarked)! Waitaminnit – no word from Harrison about the wisdom of potentially clicking on a blind E-vite link when it is NOT from someone you know. But of course you would hate to offend them, lest their phishing scam falters, right? After we’re done investigating Ukraine and the Crowdstrike server, I suggest we also investigate Evenbrite and the role it is already playing in the 2019 holiday season for engaged millennials.
But what if you do get the warm and fuzzies, hit a pot-luck gathering, bring some tasty swag, and subsequently receive a Venmo bill from the passive/aggressive hostess who has just realized she didn’t line up any NPR underwriters to help her crowdfund the event? Ms. Harrison allows that “it’s really not appropriate” for said hostess to send a Venmo request if it wasn’t discussed up front in some manner, but she punts on what the hell the rest of us should do if on the receiving end of this type of entitled bullshit.
I would propose tendering this reply; “Fuck you, don’t invite me to any more of your lame lobster-roll-and-craft beerathons. You can stick your Venmo way mo’ up yo’ ass.” Sometimes the direct approach is the most efficient approach, as it heads off potential future conflicts. Not to mention future lame craft beer gatherings.
Then there’s the Martin/Harrison thinktank on what the hell to do if someone shows up all ready to toke up: This is barely worth commenting upon. Well, I will anyway. Anybody with a brain even half-formed since the Vietnam war all the way to now already knows to TAKE THAT SHIT OUTSIDE AND BE DISCREET. Even if you live in a state where it is perfectly legal to smoke/vape lung-collapsing, chemically-tainted THC products out in public, there’s a thing called “consideration of others.” And we’ve been sending smokers of ANY COMBUSTIBLE out to the back deck for as long as I can remember. Just because Elon Musk shows up at your biz-district-overlookin condo doesn’t mean you have to let him pollute your living room. (Tip to smokers: leave that shit at home and either eat some ‘boo-laced gummies or just bring some sinsemilla you got from your old dealer. It’s clearly safer than those toxic liquids currently making the rounds and putting your high-school/college kids in the hospital.)
Then the dynamic NPR duo gets into the touchy territory about off-color jokes and offensive comments that might crop up in the course of an gathering involving libations and diverse sensibilities. While I’m inclined to advise that one not invite any well-known assholes to one’s party in the first place, clowns can and do slip through security because, well, they are clowns; if they look more like, I dunno, Christian Bale and Maggie Gyllenhaal than the Joker and Harley Quinn, then you’ll be caught offguard and shit can happen. But why so serious, Michel and Olivia? “It’s really important to talk to your guests privately,” offers Harrison, in a measured voice that suggests how she deals with her 3-year old. “It’s easy… you don’t have to humiliate them.”
Bah. Don’t take ’em aside like your space is their safe space and quietly counsel them about their possibly inappropriate behavior – just kick those assholes out. IT’S YOUR HOUSE, and you don’t owe ’em shit. They are the ones who accepted your gracious offer of shared community, and they are the ones who defiled it.
Admittedly, when we’re talking your unreconstructed Great Uncle Martin who has always had an eye for the young ladies “but is just being Martin” with his comments, or Second Cousin (once removed) Florence whose late husband Bill lost his job to NAFTA and nowadays just can’t handle standing in line at Taco Bell and listening to all the Spanish jabbering around her, you should probably do a more delicate dance. (Hint: Don’t host parties involving your extended family.)
But that’s not what Martin and Harrison are talking about here. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a mini-litany of First World Problems in a single radio broadcast quite so egregious as this.
Well, to paraphrase a great philosopher from back in the ’90s – I think it may have been F.M. Cornog, aka East River Pipe, or possibly Bill Callahan, aka Smog, both terrific indie singe/songwriters – sometimes, listening to NPR is like being forced to sit in a hot tub with a bunch of grandmothers.
Water’s still warm, apparently. Love ya, NPR, and I listen to you a minimum of 3 hours per day, but, jeez, c’mon.
One of our fave, longest-running, indie outfits returns with a lascivious, blinded-by-science masterpiece culled from their new “Hunny Bunny” EP. No, we have no idea what is going on in the above photo, but we sure as shit dig it…
BY JOHN B. MOORE
It’s been eight long years since their last release, but clearly The New Duncan Imperials still had more left to say.
The band – know for satisfyingly gritty rock and roll, with roots in white trash culture, punk rock, indie pop and just about every influence in between – make more joyous noise than any guys from Illinois not in Cheap Trick should be allowed to make.
So Blurt was grateful when the band asked us to share the latest video and title track from the Hunny Bunny EP, a continuation of the New Duncan Imperials sound that dates back to the early 1990s. Check it out:
“In The New Duncan Imperials’ latest release, a teen-age heroine (Hunny Bunny) stomps all opposition as she thwarts the band’s schemes of world dominion,” said bassist/vocalist Kenn Goodman (aka Skipper). “Set to a Godzilla-sized riff and the band’s trademark blend of hard-rock cliche bending and left-field lyrics (“You smoke the world like a salmon on a tray”), “Hunny Bunny” is loud, weird, and weirdly adorable.”
Incidentally, our esteemed editor here at Blurt personally submitted the following testimonial: “I’ve been listening to these rock ‘n’ roll miscreants for ages – no, you can’t have your money back, if you ever bought one of their records based on my suggestion, but I will buy you a beer next time you feel like getting in my face – and this tune completely brings me to my soon-to-be-replaced garage-rockin’ knees. What the hell are you looking at this website for? GO BUY THE DAMN RECORD!”
The world seemed like it was on fire. His entire band quit on him. He was contending with being a new dad. So B.J. Barham decided he was up to the challenges—literal, existential, logistical, emotional—and created the album of a lifetime.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Last year BJ Barham, frontman for the North Carolina Americana outfit American Aquarium, was set to head out on the Lower 48 Tour – a wildly ambitious trek that would see him hitting up at least one show in every state (sans Hawaii and Alaska). And then his band quit.
Every single member. And all at once.
He understandably felt blindsided. What was the point now?
But just a few weeks after absorbing the psychological blow of having all five members of his band walk out at the same time, his wife gave him some frank advice: “You can either bitch about it or you can change it.”
And that statement become the overarching theme of Things Change, his latest record and easily, with little room for argument, his best collection of songs to date. (Amen. That goes for everyone else here at BLURT, too. – Ed.)
Oh, and he did embark on that exhaustive tour, solo, a little over a month after the dissolution of that version of American Aquarium.
Just a week before the June 1 release of Things Change, with a brand-new band and a new baby at home, Barham was kind enough to talk to Blurt, revisiting the great exodus of 2017, discussing the new record and the politics and optimism that are woven into the new music.
BLURT: I’ve been looking forward to interviewing you for a while now and thought I lost the chance when it looked like the band was broken up. So, I guess, thanks for keeping it together?
BARHAM: Ah, man, I am way too stubborn to give up.
Let’s talk about what happened with your band. You’ve said that everyone just left. Was that a surprise to you or did you see it coming?
It was a surprise because I didn’t expect it to come when it came, and it all happened at the same time. I’ve had over 30 members of this band since 2006. It’s been a lot of turnover, but I’ve been pretty lucky to keep a core of the band for the last eight years, but I’ve never made the same record with the same band back to back; every record has had either someone quit, or someone replaced, so I’m used to turnover. If it had been one person, it would have been a regular day at the office. If it had been two that would have been a little harder… but, I had five guys walk into a room and all quit. It was a mutiny aboard the ship. All the signs were there, I just ignored them. It was just general unhappiness.
We all started this band when we were in college. We wanted the same things, we wanted to tour everywhere, we wanted to play music for a living. We believed in this awesome plan, but over the course of nearly a decade people’s interests and people’s lives change and they go in different directions. What they used to be in love with they no longer care for and what they used to believe in has changed. By the end of that Wolves tour, it got to be that the show was the least important part of the day to those guys. They were worried about what they were going to do before the show or after the show. Those 90 minutes on the stage, that I still wake up in the morning for and live for, became an afterthought for them. And when they quit, I had about two or three weeks of sulking and then my wife said, “You can either bitch about it or you can change it.” And that’s one of the central themes of the record.
I went out and I got lucky. I was on the Lower 48 Tour and ran into a mutual friend from Austin and he said “Hey man, I heard about the band quitting. Can I put a band together for you?” I said, “Sure man, whatever,” and he put together just a crack band of guys that have been doing this for 10, 20 years. I fly into Texas for that first rehearsal and everyone knew every single song from start to finish. We took this thing on the road last fall as a trial run to see how we do with each other and it went gangbusters. It was amazing. We went to the studio and made a record together and things went great. (Below: the smoke-colored vinyl LP version of the album.)
This new record, the first track (“The World is on Fire”) grabs you right away. You didn’t waste any time getting in to what you wanted to discuss with this album.
Every artist says this about every new project because we’re vain immature children, but I feel like this is the best thing I have done so far. And a lot of friends who are honest with me – the ones who would tell me “this one sucks” or “good luck trying to get this one going” – everyone has been super supportive. I think creatively and musically we took a step forward with this one and I think that’s all you can ask for as an artist; make the thing that you put out better than the last thing and I think we did that this time.
As a father, “The World is on Fire” really struck a chord with me. You realize whatever is going on right now doesn’t just affect you, but your kids as well.
Exactly. That’s where that third verse really came from. That song was such a progression of 2017 for me simply because I wrote that first verse the day after the election, just anger fear and I had so many questions. I had no idea how to explain what I just watched. I put it aside because I didn’t want this record to be about fear, to be about hate because every other thing that has changed in my life since Wolves (his 2015 album) has been pretty positive so I didn’t want to write a record around this. I wrote the second verse after I had been on tour for a while and talking to people at the merch table after the shows – people from the left and the right and people who didn’t vote – and I regained a lot of faith in humanity. I realized not everyone is a bigoted, misogynistic hatemonger, but some people are in just desperate situations and the right has done nothing for them and the left has done nothing for them and they voted for a wildcard. I started to become a little more empathetic and just to listen to others instead of just pointing my finger at them and telling them why they were wrong or why they were right. I think this last election is the result, the epitome of people just wanting to be heard.
I had no chorus and two verses at this point and just sat on it for a while. During that tour me and my wife realized we were having a child and that just immediately changed my perspective. No matter how much my generation does to fuck things up, we’ve still got hope in that next generation. As long as a majority of us teach (our children) to be good, honest people we have nothing to worry about and that’s where that third verse came from. Don’t just bitch and complain about change, do something and inspire that change. Once we finished that song it was a no brainer that it would lead off the album. Some records warm you up, but this one gets it going right out of the gate.
Jason Isbell’s last record was probably his most political one so far. The same with Superchunk and just about any band that’s known for thoughtful lyrics putting out records since the last election. Was there any part of you that was nervous about alienating fans by talking about these issues?
Of course. I think anybody would be. You’re talking about alienating up to half of your audience, so you have to approach the topic intelligently; you have to approach the topic conversationally. You can’t come out and say you are all a bunch of fucking idiots. They’ll turn the radio off and throw out your records and say, “fuck that band!” But if you come at it with the attitude, “Hey man, we both love NASCAR, we both love fried chicken, we both love college football. I just want to know why you feel this way about this thing.” Letting folks know we’re the same people, we come from the same places. We disagree on this one thing, so how can we have an open dialogue about it. If anybody listens to this record and walk away thinking, “man, he’s way too political” then they’re missing the point. That first song isn’t about politics at all. It’s about finding hope in dark situations.
I don’t care what area of life you want to apply that to, but it should affect every American right now. And the third song, “Tough Folks,” if you walk away from that thinking, “Man, that’s just about his politics, he lost it,” then you’re not listening to the song. That’s a song about perseverance, hard work; that’s a song that says no matter how bad today is you can work yourself out of it. I think people from both sides should be able to get behind both of those themes that run through this record.
So, have you thought yet about how you go about introducing these songs from the stage yet?
Yeah, of course. We’ve played them live a few times and I just let everybody know this is a song about finding light in darkness, this is a song about not giving up hope, this is a song about either complaining about your situation or changing your situation. This whole record is a living tangible testament about a guy who was at rock bottom last year when my entire band quit. I could sit at home and complain about it, writing mean songs or I could pull my bootstraps up and keep this thing going and try to be positive, try to fix this fracture in our country. To a lot of people who listen to these records, politics may just be the one thing that’s different. I just want to make people aware that we may be way off base on this one thing but think of the hundred other things that we are right beside each other on.
There are a lot of mainstream country artists that aren’t speaking out and I can understand that because for the longest time I didn’t speak out because I thought people would judge me for it, but I think I’m approaching this record with almost a humble approach. We all grew up the same, I’m just trying to figure how we all grew apart. That’s the hope of this record, that people hear it and try and start a dialogue about it. Try and heal a fracture.
There does seem to be an optimistic thread that runs throughout the record. And I don’t know if that’s because you’re a new dad.
You know, I spent years of my life complaining and blaming all of my problems on other people and this record, more so than any I’ve written before, is me saying most of the problems I’ve seen in my own personal life, I’m going to take responsibility before and write just as honestly about how I’ve messed up my life just as much as I think others might have. It’s harder to take blame than to just put it on someone else. I think it’s a mix of me being married, me having a new child and me just growing up.
I just turned 34 and I’m looking at where I am now compared to where I was three years ago when we recorded Wolves. It’s night and day.
And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, HERE for Pt. 2, HERE for Pt. 3, and HERE for Pt. 4 (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.) Pictured above: Boston’s Prefab Messiahs.
BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND
Here in the Rockin department of Blurt, Inc., we tend to celebrate the variations of rock style by style. But that does an injustice to those acts that don’t bother to make distinction – punk, pop, psych, glam, etc. are all grist for the musical mill. Professor and the Madman is an excellent example. Comprised of veterans of the American and British punk rock wars, the Southern California quartet doesn’t waste time trying to stick to a formula on its first CD (following two digital-only releases) Disintegrate Me (FullerTone). Singers/guitarists Alfie Agnew and Sean Elliott, both ex-D.I., write songs that emphasize melody and hooks over genre loyalties, and the killer rhythm section of Paul Gray (the Damned, Eddie & the Hot Rods, U.F.O.) and Rat Scabies (the Damned) support every direction like a tap-dancing clock.
The quartet careens from seething punk (“Machines,” “Nightmare”) and high-voltage power pop (“Wishes,” “Faces”) to medium-tempo rock (“Useless”) and wayward psych (“Space Walrus,” “Electroconvulsive Therapy”), with the occasional dip into Monkeesish country rock (“Demented Love Song”) and whatever the droning “The Mirror” is. The variety isn’t a sign of dilettantism, however – the band applies the same keen sense of craft and loving charge of energy to every tune, nurturing the same spine. Disintegrate Me is an unexpected gem, and one that doesn’t require knowledge of its creators’ prior work to love.
Though France’s Guts Guttercat has long kept the same faith with Rolling Stones feel (and decadence) as Nikki Sudden, Dave Kusworth and the like, he too has no desire to simply catalog the styles he likes. For Follow Your Instinct (Pop the Balloon/Beluga), the fourth LP from his long-running Paris outfit Guttercats, he weaves strands of all the music he likes – street rock, psychedelia, glam, jangle pop – into a sensuous, ambitious tapestry that’s head-and-shoulders over anything he’s done before. The vocal harmonies on “I Promise You,” the off-kilter arrangement of “Down in the Hole” and the rich, Springsteenesque (or is that Street Hassle-esque?) drama of the title track give the band new dimensions. That’s not to say the group has forgotten its roots – check the ballad “Don’t Cry On My Shoulder” or the rocker “(Beyond the Limits) Before I Die” for old school delights. But Follow Your Instinct shows Guttercats to be a band finding its own sound in the beloved bric-a-brac of its leader’s loves.
Will garage rock – and by that we mean bands whose musical sensibilities haven’t evolved beyond the aesthetics of the Nuggets comps, not the term for anything with guitars and drums that popped up in the new millennium – ever go out of style? As long as older, junkier musical equipment remains (relatively) cheaply had and hormones continue to rage, the answer is clearly no. Especially coming out of the mouths of Thee Wylde Oscars. On its third album Rosalita! (Off the Hip), the Australian quartet needs little more than three chords, a foamy organ and a batch of songs that could just as easily be found on a compilation of regional 60s one-single wonders as on a CD made in the mid-’aughties. Your mileage may vary on whether or not you need more of this stuff in your life, but if you do, you can’t go wrong with “I Dig the Night-Time,” “Funny As a Heart Attack” or “Deja Voodoo.” Or you can skip right to “Wylde-Ass Twist” for immediate Oscarian indoctrination.
The Prefab Messiahs knocked around during the original early 80s garage revivalist explosion, but never managed to get an album out. Listening to the band’s Psychsploitation…Today! (Lolipop/Burger), it’s hard to think why. The New England band’s acid-tinged rock/pop is as tough and tuneful as anything else from the era, with the right balance between nostalgic reverence and cheeky humor. Check out “Having a Rave Up” (you can also view the awesome video for the track right here at BLURT) and “Monster Riff” (a clever recasting of the “Slow Death” riff) to hear the band hit those marks, or “Warmsinkingfeeling” and “The Man Who Killed Reality” for more blunt kicks. The Laissez Fairs also boast links to the original garage psych revival in bandmember John Fallon, late of the Steppes. The band’s second record Empire of Mars (Rum Bar) emulates the mid-60s era when the Beatles and the Stones were just starting to evolve into psychedelia – not yet full on acid casualties (a spot at which the Stones never arrived, of course), but adding touches like sitars, tablas and generous echo to their melodic rock & roll. The band goes whole hog into the other side here and there (the title track being a good example), but keeps the switch on “mildly trippy” for appealing, rockist tunes like “Wanna Make You Mine,” “Again Again Again” and “Almost Got You Made.”
We’ve waxed rhapsodic about Dirty Truckers leader Tom Baker before. In celebration of the attention his no-frills r’n’r has gotten lately, the band assembles “Best of” (Rum Bar), a primer on how to turbocharge the legacy of folk, country and early rock. With the assistance of not only his stalwart bandmates, but also Dave Minehan of the Neighborhoods (and the latter-day ‘Mats) and former Zulus/Human Sexual Response/Frank Black/etc. axeman Rich Gilbert, Baker jettisons trends to just play a passel of catchy, forthright three-chorders with absolute conviction. There’s way too much power here for the Truckers to be thrown under the Americana bus, but just enough familiarity with American tradition to make songs like “Off the Hook” and “Crosscutting Concerns” more than just bar-band rave-ups. The band’s choice of covers slip us the key: the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” and Steve Earle’s “Hardcore Troubadour.” Boston-to-Austin singer/songwriter Buckley (J.D. to his buds) also amps up roots rock on his second solo album Las Cruces (Rum Bar). The former leader of the Gilded Splinters almost slavishly apes Neil Young at times, from the Crazy Horse stomp of “Bakersfield” to the 70s country rock of “Devil Slide,” but plays it all with exactly the right feel. Besides, when the distortion cranks on a singalong anthem like “Three Chiefs,” it’s churlish to complain. [Full disclosure: your humble correspondent was born in the titular New Mexico town.]
Spain loves its American rock, power pop and punk, so it’s no surprise that the country has plenty of homegrown imitators. K7s distill that love down to its essence with Take 1 (Rum Bar), twenty-seven minutes of poppy punk that veers between the energetically sweet (“Listen to My Heart,” “Your Lips Met Mine”) to the blazingly pissy (“It’s the CIA,” “I Want You to Know” – “there’s no tomorrow,” that is). There’s plenty of lyrical treacle here – seriously, folks, it’s 2018, and no one should be writing songs about listening to hearts, yours or mine. But effortlessly catchy hooks and enough turbopower to indicate an unhealthy mixture of sugar and amphetamines mostly keep the band out of trouble. How many other songs called “Never-ending Love” make you want to smash stuff?
Boston’s Watts follows up its kick-ass LP The Black Heart of Rock n Roll with All Done With Rock ‘n’ Roll (Rum Bar), a four-songer that seemingly contradicts its predecessor’s message. The Boston quartet does, in fact, ease back on the throttle a bit – “Hi Definition,” “Sunlight Alleys” and the world-weary title track emphasize hooks over the band’s usual overpowering rawk attack. It’s a surprising turn, but one that works out due to the groups’ rock-solid songwriting and affinity for melody. Besides, “Tear It Up” brings back the wildfire, just in case we think Watts has forgotten its roots.
The Bonnevilles broke out of their homebase in Ireland a couple of years ago with their fourth albumArrow Pierce My Heart. Album number five Dirty Photographs (Alive Naturalsound) continues the duo’s work splicing Chess Records with Nuggets, with more of an emphasis on the latter. Indeed, “By My Side,” “The Good Bastards” and the title track (a paean to singer/guitarist Andrew McGibbon Jr.’s wife’s, um, hindquarters) smile and wave as they kick over the furniture. Even at the pair’s bluesiest (“Don’t Curse the Darkness,” “Fear of the New Zealot”), they have little interest in despair.
It’s always nice to hear a combo that remembers where all this rock & roll stuff originally came from. The Heartbrokers call up the spirit of the late, great Chuck Berry (plus a bit of punk rock attitude) on “Dance Motherfucker,” the second track on its debut Vol. 10 (Off the Hip). Led by singer/songwriter Van Walker, the Australian collective also bashes through wistful folk rock (“Rank Outsider”), horn-enhanced roots rock (“Love Your Enemy”), Midwestern hard rock (“I Am the Devil”), Southern rock (“Eye in the Keyhole”), brash boogie (“Trouble in Paradise”) and even a cover of Freddie King’s “Goin’ Down,” all done with enthusiasm and skill. If it rocks, the Heartbrokers love it, and do it well.
Easy to forget, but the guitar isn’t the only instrument primed for rock & roll. San Antonio’s Harvey McLaughlin reminds us of this by tickling the ivories on his debut album Tabloid News (Saustex). As might be suspected from the title, he also tickles a few ribs along the way – you don’t click over to a song called “Bigfootsville” or “Must’ve Been Elvis” expecting a serious treatise on the human condition. Like Randy Newman, McLaughlin’s playing is rooted in New Orleans pre-rock R&B, which gives his tunes rolling melody lines that would sound comfortable next to Fats Domino on a specialty radio show. “Mysterioso Blues” and “November 1st” demonstrate an excellent feel for Southern styles without coming close to pastiche. McLaughlin never brings his songs to the brink of chaos – to do so would obscure the wit threaded through his lyrics – but he builds up nice heads of steam on “Tunguska,” “My Baby’s Too Good (For the 515)” and the wordless “All’s Well in Roswell.” It’s been a long time since a singer/songwriter like McLaughlin’s come down the pike, and he’s a welcome breath of fresh air.
Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:
What records have had the greatest impact on YOUR life? Here’s 10 of mine.
By Fred Mills
It started as an innocent Facebook “make a list” meme—favorite records, blah blah blah. Me being the extemporaneous gasbag that I am, I took the concept and ran with it. Well, strolled might be a more accurate description. But it did seem that certain records have had a profound impact upon me as a person and not simply as a music journalist. So this is not my all-time Top Ten; it’s more of a confessional. (Thanks to fellow music maniac Glenn Boothe for tagging me in the first place and getting me started here—now you know who to blame.)
Day 1 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
Various Artists – Garden of Delights 3LP
In ’71 my record buying options were pretty limited; I was still 3 years away from shipping off to Chapel Hill for college (but when I did finally get there, I encountered my first store that sold both new and used records, so things would ramp up considerably, as would the balance on my parents’ Visa card), and while my hometown’s five-and-dime as well as Mack’s Record Rack mom-and-pop store did stock albums and singles, including stuff like Cream, Hendrix, and Steppenwolf, the odds of them having an album like this one were pretty low. So it’s likely that I found this at a headshop in Charlotte, about an hour away, called Infinity’s End, as they had a small but vital bin of records that was very much of an underground bent. I bought my first hippie fanzine there as well, along with patches, headbands, rolling papers, etc.
This compilation was a revelation and it completely rebooted my mind, much like those great Warner Bros/Reprise 2LP “loss leaders” collections of the era had done. It’s not every day you see the Stooges, Judy Collins, Atomic Rooster, Renaissance, Love, Crabby Appleton, Incredible String Band, Spider John Koerner, Tim Buckley, Audience, and Earth Opera all on the same album, testimony to the genuinely visionary – culturally subversive, too – nature of the Elektra label at the time. And it was also my first exposure to over half the artists, notably David Ackles, Roxy, Bamboo, Rhinoceros, Koerner, Earth Opera, and the Voices of East Harlem – several became instant faves. The album also had full liner notes on the sleeves of all three LPs that detailed each artist – more fully, in fact, than the aforementioned WB/Reprise titles – effectively schooling me in ways very few albums had done previously. If this were to be released for the first time today, I’d be all over it like the true #vinylporn hound that I am.
I can’t say I’m all that interested in multi-artist anthologies these days, but in the ’70s, compilations were our mixtapes and playlists, and the gateways to discovering new music, particularly if there wasn’t a non-Top 40 radio station with reception in your hometown. So there’s both cultural significance and an emotional resonance attached to Garden of Delights for me. For the rest of you, there are plenty of cheap copies at Discogs, and I’m not sure if it’s ever been on CD, so it is well-worth the purchase.
Day 2 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
I already owned “Teenage Head” and loved it, but when Cyril and the gang went full Carnaby Street and tuned up the 12-string, something seismic occurred. The title (and opening) track alone was downright volcanic – journalists (yours truly included) have written entire essays just on that song. And as I have mentioned many times, my family has orders to play the song at my funeral ‘cos I want folks to leave the church grinning and singing along; the ushers have been instructed to allow air guitar as well.
For me, the album also represents one of those classic scenarios you only get from walking into a record store. In ’76 I was attending UNC-Chapel Hill and living in a trailer nearby, just over the Chatham County line (no pun intended). The first North Carolina Schoolkids Records was on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill (original location, two door down from the Varsity Theater), and it had been recently opened by a young hippie couple from, if memory serves, Ann Arbor or somewhere in that vicinity of Michigan. Kinks-worshiping and savvy retail merchants, they had sized me and my musical tastes up early on and would tip me to new releases they thought I might dig. My parents didn’t “dig” the subsequent uptick on their monthly MasterCard statement… but I digress. So there I am one sunny afternoon, wandering into the store, and John, the co-owner, nodded, reached over to the bin of LPs beside the house stereo, and dug one out. “Hey Fred, I bet you’ll like this new one, you ever hear of the Flamin’ Groovies?” Yes, I had, but not the new LP. He lowered the needle onto side A, and my mind proceeded to be blasted into outer space well past the rings of Saturn….
Trust me, you won’t get anywhere near a similar experience browsing the playlists on Spotify, or letting the algo-bots of Amazon making suggestions. Support your local indie record store!
Day 3 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
Spirit – 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (Epic, 1970)
The 1970-72 period yielded a ton of records that would go on to be among my all-time faves, and the 4th album by Spirit is easily in my top 10. In 1970 I was already into the band to a degree, having been primed from the get-go with early single “I Got a Line On You.” But I didn’t have all the records yet. “12 Dreams” wrapped its sonic tendrils around me like nobody’s business, and I even bought the 8-track version as well so I could hear it in the car.
In fact, the first time I heard it was on 8-track. A vivid memory I have is of riding to Charlotte with friends for a concert one evening, and as I sat in the back seat of Bryant Hunt’s green Mustang fastback, the (cough) “enhanced mood” gradually coming over me, the Spirit album unfolded in metaphysical waves to match that “mood.” I can even hear in my mind right now the telltale “ka-CHUNk!” as the 8-track player advanced each of the 4 programs. (For all you kids scratching your heads about what I’m describing: go look it up.)
Years later, in 1991, I was interviewing guitarist Randy California from Hawaii and I related that anecdote and he got a huge laugh from it – and he genuinely seemed to appreciate getting praise for his work over the years and “12 Dreams” in particular. “We did know it was special, yes,” he replied to me, ever the fanboy, asking a lot of obvious questions along with a few pretty insightful ones (if I do say so myself), when I asked him did he know it was a different kind of record when they had finished it, given that the original lineup would split very soon afterwards.
Randy died tragically in ’97 while saving his young son from a riptide off the Hawaiian coast, and I bawled when I got the news, having by that time scooped up every available Spirit record and California solo recs and well into a live tape collecting habit. I still miss him terribly, and “12 Dreams,” with key tracks like “Nature’s Way,” “Nothing to Hide,” and “Morning Will Come,” has never been too far from my heart.
Day 4 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing (Mo’ Wax, 1996)
“The music’s coming through me”… it sure went through me, too. Sometimes a measure of a record’s timelessness is how many reissues it has undergone, and in the case of Shadow’s epochal debut, with Discogs.com listing in excess of 40 iterations, one supposes that’s a pretty strong argument. And even if you have gone for the deluxe/expanded versions, which admittedly yielded all manner of crucial-listening proximate material, remixes, reimaginings, etc., the original 1996 release is THE one to own, and THE one for unadulterated listening.
I was working at Zia Record Exchange in Tucson at the time of its release, and as the store’s import buyer, had already caught the buzz on DJ Shadow, and I subsequently ordered heavily on any imports and singles the album yielded – “What Does Your Soul Look Like” remains a stone classic of the nebulous genre known at the time as trip-hop.
Soon enough I found myself on the telephone interviewing the artist for Magnet magazine, and rather than suffer through a conversation with an obvious sampling/hip-hop neophyte (that would be me), Shadow patiently discussed his motivations and inspirations, and even a few of his methods. At one point he asked me about record stores in Tucson, and he audibly became excited when I told him about a nearby store that was 95% vinyl, one that even had a special “invite only” vinyl inner sanctum for pre-approved customers. I have no doubt that he went crate-digging in Tucson the next time he came through Arizona.
The album as a whole is soulful, nebulous, psychedelic as fuck, and amazing music to listen to barreling down the highway – a perfect road-tripping album. A few years ago Magnet had me, a former editor and contributor to the magazine, contribute to a feature on the greatest albums of the ‘90s: My choice was, no question, “Endtroducing,” and it remains my selection to this day. I’m Fred Mills, and I approved this message.
Day 5 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
The Who – Live at Leeds (1970, Decca/Track)
Another entry from the 1970-72 period that was so influential upon a young Fred Mills, stuck in a tiny North Carolina nowheresville and counting the months until he might be able to ship off to college. People will debate endlessly over WHAT IS THE GREATEST EVER LIVE ROCK ALBUM: Is it the Allman’s “Fillmore East”? The Stones’ “Ya-Ya’s”? MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams”? Nirvana’s “Unplugged”? Cheap Trick’s “Budokan”? FRAMPTON FUCKING COMES ALIVE?!? (I’ve always been mildly offended that Humble Pie’s “Rockin’ the Fillmore” doesn’t regularly make these lists, but I digress…)
“Live at Leeds” is obviously “THE” greatest—there’s no comparison, no live platter as viscerally thrilling, as brick-in-face immediate, as GENUINELY live (e.g., no post-production “sweetening in the mix” going on). The original single LP still wields a hypnotic power over yours truly, just like it did in 1970 to my teenage brain. Since then, a number of expanded iterations have been released—the bootleggers, naturally, beat the band’s official label to the punch—primarily in order to showcase the “Tommy” portion of the Leeds concert that was not originally included. All versions are must-hear, a point I made in a 2,500-word review for Goldmine Magazine in 2001, on the occasion of the release of MCA’s 2-CD expanded reissue. But you still owe it to yourself to experience the record as it was originally intended, from the track sequencing to the duly noted, intermittent, crackling sounds in the audio to the memorabilia-stuffed sleeve (which was designed to mimic classic bootleg LP sleeves like the Stones title mentioned above and Dylan’s “Great White Wonder.”
Within a year of the release of “Leeds” I would finally get to see the Who in concert, in Charlotte NC touring behind “Who’s Next.” A decent chunk of “Leeds” material was still in the band’s setlist, and the show remains in my all-time Top Ten concerts… hmmm…. NO ONE on FB has ever thought about starting THAT tagging meme, right?
Day 6 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
Sidewinders – Witchdoctor / Auntie Ramos’ Pool Hall (1989 & 1990, Mammoth/RCA)
I’m cheating somewhat by listing two albums here. But (a) they are, indeed, of a piece, to such a degree that I sometimes find myself having a hard time remembering exactly which song goes on which album; and (b) for a long time I carried around a c90 cassette in my car that had both albums on it. The Tucson band played so-called “desert rock” – a mélange of garage and power pop with occasional classic rock leanings (think Tom Petty meets Neil Young), and infused with primal energy and some of the most pristine melodies you could get this side of Neil Diamond. It’s not a coincidence that one of their best tunes was a cover of “Solitary Man.”
By 1990 I was deeply in love with Tucson bands, thanks to discovering them via English zine Bucketful of Brains, and subsequently writing about them myself in US zine The Bob and elsewhere. By 1992 I was LIVING in Tucson, subsequently meeting and hanging out with members of the Sidewinders, River Roses, Giant Sand (including future Calexico members), Naked Prey, Al Perry & the Cattle, Rainer & Das Combo, and more. (I was a few years away from meeting this awesome Arizona band called The Beat Angels, but all in due time…) Admittedly, the grass is always greener from afar, and when I did move to Arizona and eased my way into the local music scene, some of my idealism dissipated as I realized dope really had its grip on some otherwise brilliant, talented folks and it undercut their mojo.
But even though I moved back to NC after a 10-year run in Tucson, the place permanently holds a special place in my heart. In fact, it was the Sidewinders song “Get Out of that Town” that started the love affair: One night, when my wife and I were looking at places we might want to move to, having started to burn out on Charlotte, we were literally on the verge of throwing darts at a map of the US. Pouring another glass of wine for each of us, I cued up the Sidewinders, and the aforementioned song began to play: “Get out of that shopping mall,” sang the band, “C’mon down here!” And while they were referring specifically to Arizonans getting out of Phoenix and relocating to the far more culturally progressive Tucson, the fact that we North Carolinians had been slogging away working at malls for way too long made the song seem personalized for us. Two vacations and one Mayflower moving truck to Tucson later, we arrived on July 5, 1992. The heat that first month or so just about did me in, but with the Sidewinders and some of those other bands I mentioned, I knew I’d be able to make it.
Day 7 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
Patti Smith – Horses (1975, Arista)
This is a no-brainer. Not only did she revolutionize the whole notion of “women in rock” – in the process demolishing the earlier objectification “chicks in rock” – Patti subverted the so-called feminine “ideal,” which of course had been a patriarchal construct. In the process, she became a hero to both females and, dare I say it, males (including this one). Put another way, she grabbed the baton passed to her from the likes of Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Joan Jett from the Runaways, and the Millington Sisters from Fanny, and outpaced all the subsequent rock ‘n’ roll competition.
“Horses” itself was revolutionary, from its surreal poetry and pointed sexuality to its punk/garage musicality and invocations of an earlier rock ‘n’ roll era. I must have played it 6 times in a row the day I brought it home from the store – I still own my original copy, and it’s hopelessly battered (thank you, Record Store Day, for the 180gm reissue a few years ago).
I communed with Patti twice, in significant fashion. The first time was when the band came to Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill for the Radio Ethiopia tour, and I managed to ease my way into the stage crew by simply showing up at soundcheck and offering my services. Naturally I grabbed a few opportunities to get autographs and yak with the bandmembers. One abiding memory is of some fellow students gathering outside the venue to listen to soundcheck, a couple of them clutching gifts for Patti, and she instructed the security to let them in and allow them to stay (it was a general admission show I think). A classy lady who cares very much about “the people.” She walks it like she talks it.
The other time was not long after my mom died, a phone interview for a Goldmine Magazine cover story. Ironically, I conducted it from my mom’s house while I was living there in my home town for a few months to get it cleared out and cleaned up and ready for sale. I told her how I’d had 1996’s “Gone Again” with me during a summer beach vacation that also turned out to be the last time I’d be able to spend extended quality time with Mama – and how, ever since, I’ve associated that album with those memories. “I hope they are good memories,” Patti murmured, noting that one key through-line of the album for her was the notion of loss and how we process it. She added, “Sometimes, the role of the artist is to provide a shoulder for the rest of us to lean on when we most need it.”
Thank you, Patti, for offering that shoulder when I needed it.
Day 8 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros – Global A-Go-Go (2001, Hellcat)
This FB exercise is technically about albums that “made an impact” on me, and not an all-time Top Ten list; for the latter, my list would probably change every year, whereas here I’ve been talking about stuff closer to Desert Island Disc territory. The second Strummer/Mescaleros album certainly qualifies, and not simply because it has some kickass music on it while also showing off Joe’s more eclectic impulses as well as his democratic approach to fronting a band.
Prior to its release I had a CDR promo of the album from Hellcat as I was preparing a couple of stories on Joe, one of them for the Phoenix New Times (I interviewed him over the phone from England in advance of some Southwest and West Coast shows; at this point we had given birth to our son in early 2001 so we’d moved back from AZ to NC to be closer to family, but I was still writing for a couple of weeklies in the region… ah, the good old days of freelancing, when you could actually make a credible living as a music writer…). I had also arranged to interview in person in NYC, where the band was going to appear at Irving Plaza the same week as the CMJ convention; this was to be a cover story for Magnet Magazine. So the morning of my flight north had arrived, my bags were packed – along with my Strummer notes – and sitting beside the front door. Then the phone rang, and it was my wife’s sister: “Turn on the TV fast.”
This was the morning of 9/11. You know the rest. Needless to say, my plans changed instantly.
(I would still get my NYC sojourn, a month later, as Strummer’s original date was cancelled and rescheduled. And I’d still write my cover story, even winding up in Dick Rude’s Strummer doc “Let’s Rock Again,” which included footage of the band onstage and backstage at Irving Plaza. Strummer was awesome. We talked about 9/11 a little, too, and it clearly had shaken him as well.)
But for the time being, the psychic discombobulation of 9/11 was profound, and intense. We decided to get away from TV and news reports for a few days and rented a cabin near Asheville, about 4 hours away from my hometown where we’d been living. The only media we consumed on the trip were newspapers and WNCW-FM, a community station out of nearby Spindale with a heavy Americana focus. Not a talk or news station. And as it turns out, the just-released Mescaleros album had gone into heavy rotation on WNCW, so it basically became my de facto soundtrack for the mountain trip.
To this day, I associated the songs on the record, and Joe in general, with 9/11, all the shock and horror and grief… and the deep, abiding sense of relief and love I took from knowing that I had been with my wife and kid, and not on a flight to NYC, when the towers fell. Those feelings of relief and love, and a kind of mental smile, are what I still experience when I listen to “Global A-Go-Go.” What a gift. Thanks, Joe.
Day 9 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
The Slits – Cut (1979, Island Records)
Like all of the other entries I’ve been writing about, this album has a significance for me that goes far beyond the music. Of that music: released during the punk explosion, its blazing blend of rock and dub was unlike anything else I’d been listening to, and it quickly went into heavy rotation on the Mills stereo. That the nude cover itself was outrageous goes without saying, a bold feminist statement intended to both shock – it wasn’t every day you’d see three attractive young females standing topless and deliberately de-prettifying themselves so overtly; this was not a strip club mud wrestling depiction, in other words – and teach. I’m pretty sure more than a few record stores sold it in a paper bag, or at least with paper across the breasts. I like to call this record, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the dub.”
Cut to late 2004, and I’m on the phone to the Slits’ Ari Up. A slightly expanded CD of “Cut” was about to be released in the US, so I was doing a story for Harp Magazine on the record and the band. She was utterly delightful, with a great memory for detail, a self-deprecating sense of personal pride, and comfortable in her own skin and with her legacy, which certainly wasn’t a huge as, say, her peers in the Clash or the Pistols, but she knew that the Slits had been pretty damn influential, and an inspiration to female rockers operating in a male-centric music business. One memorable portion of the conversation involved her recounting some of the harassment she’d experienced as a woman, particularly a woman who “invited” abuse by being deliberately in-your-face, visually.
She even teased me a little when we talked about the LP sleeve and I mentioned that I’d had it up on my wall across from my desk: “You haven’t said yet how good I look on my website,” she giggled, referring to her current musical activities. I think I mumbled something about downloading photos off her website to hang beside the Slits album, and her throaty laughter told me she was pleased that she could still work her charms on a hapless male journalist.
A few years later I would interview her again about her solo projects, and she was just as much fun a conversationalist; I’d also get to see her performed with a reunited Slits during SXSW one year. She passed away, sadly, in late 2010, following a battle with cancer.
I’ll never forget that wicked laugh of hers, and I have hopes that now, in the #metoo era, a new generation of young female artists will discover her and her music and draw inspiration from it.
Day 10 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.
[TIE] U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984, Island) / Dream Syndicate – Medicine Show (1984, A&M
Obviously I’m cheating here for my final entry by listing two. But my mid-’80s memories are indelibly inked with these two classics, and they continue to inform my emotions and ideals to this day.
“I got a Page One story buried in my yard”:@ The Dream Syndicate‘s second full-length hit me with a psychic immediacy I didn’t anticipate, for as powerful as its predecessor, “The Days of Wine and Roses,” was, this -to me, at least – marked a quantum leap in both the songwriting of frontman Steve Wynn and the collective group’s ability to remain true to its Amerindie ethos and its willingness to step into the void and embrace the potential of mass appeal. (We can all thank R.E.M. for laying down that particular blueprint…)
To this day, both the smouldering noir-rock narrative “Burn” and psych-skronk epic “John Coltrane Stereo Blues” bring me to my knees, and with last year’s return to the record bins by the band, accompanied by extensive touring, it’s clear from that Wynn understands that he and his band have created a legacy as meaningful as any rock band you’d care to mention. And what a timeless album he and his compadres crafted. I feel honored to have seen the Dream Syndicate in its prime and touring behind the record, and even more chuffed to have interviewed Wynn when it finally got remastered and reissued on CD, a free-wheeling conversation that detailed the lead-up to, the making of, and the aftermath surround “Medicine Show.” (Read it here: https://blurtonline.com/…/scene-crime-steve-wynn-dream-synd…/ ) There’s not a bad record in the D.S. or Wynn solo catalog, and the group has become a contemporary force unto itself with 2017’s “How Did I Find Myself Here.” But “Medicine Show” is in a league all its own. Front-page news, indeed.
U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” has a specific Mills backstory I’ve told many times, so just go here ( https://blurtonline.com/feature/joshua-tree-u2/ ) to read it in case you are so inclined. In a nutshell, the 1984 album came out at a time when I was neck-deep in publishing a U2 zine called U2/USA, and as the band hadn’t quite gone mega in the U.S. just yet – that would come with in 1987, with “The Joshua Tree” – little publications such as ours were still able to enjoy access (and in our case, occasional unlimited access) to the U2 extended family. Sitting alone in an Atlanta arena dressing room with Bono one night, after the concert, and passing a bottle of wine back and forth while conducting an interview, is one of those “tell the grandchildren…” stories that a lot of my fellow rock journalists will no doubt identify with.
This isn’t about that. Rather, “TUF“‘s spiritual and emotional impact upon me at the time is what I remember the most. It opened a lot of possibilities within me, the kind that I want to think led me on a search on how to become a better person and how to care about the world beyond my little self-centered bubble. I realize that’s a ridiculous cliché, and I probably never genuinely lived up to that type of lofty ideal; it’s not like I suddenly got religion (although I would experience some moments in the album’s aftermath that I can only describe as “metaphysical”), or that I suddenly became a die-hard activist (although since January of 2017, I have gradually found myself renewing certain social vows I took three decades prior, and remembering why I took them), or even that I suddenly surrendered all my vices and proceeded to live a life on the straight and narrow (don’t get me started). But because the album arrived at the proverbial time and place, and as I was approaching a crossroads of sorts in my own life, I associate it with a period of learning and renewal for me.
Rock ‘n’ roll can be a catalyst for change, after all. It’s not just dope, guns, and fucking in the street.
Time’s up, fellow music bizzers—the vacation’s over, that’s for sure. If anyone else has been following the Charlie Walk sexual harassment scandal that broke a couple of days ago, below is a VERY LONG but very enlightening read. Basically Walk, current Republic Group prez and judge on The Four, was called out in an open letter Jan. 29 (the image above accompanied the open letter from Tristan Coopersmith; go here to read it: https://www.lifelabhb.com/blog/2018/1/29/metoo-an-open-letter-to-charlie-walk ) for some mighty sleazy behavior while he was at Sony, and my gut feeling is that this will finally open the Weinsteingates all the way in the industry, since anyone with even half a toe’s involvement in the biz knows full well that #metoo isn’t a Hollywood/politics-only phenom. Billboard has a good summary of the Walk story as well. (go here: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8097342/charlie-walk-republic-two-women-accuse-sexual-harassment )
Meanwhile, Lefsetz weighed in, naturally – read his brief blog entry on the matter here: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/2018/01/29/the-charlie-walk-letter/ – and then the letters poured in, including some from other music industry ladies who were similarly harassed by Walk during their tenure working under him. Since it doesn’t appear that Lefsetz publishes all the letters at his blog, you’d only be able to read them if you got the email version of his Lefsetz Letter, so that’s why I’m sharing it here. Pass it along. To anyone who reads this and is also in the industry, if this doesn’t make you red-hot mad and be willing to speak out and do something, you seriously need to find a different career. Jeez, this Walk guy, what a fucking scumbag. Maybe he and Russell Simmons should start a label together, eh? —FRED MILLS (below: Charlie Walk)
From the letter writers to Lefsetz, 1/30/18:
It happened to me too, not ever physically like this brave woman’s story, but the mental games and invitations to galas and dinners that I didn’t deserve, followed by comments about my photos on social media and invitations to hotel rooms and unwanted naked photos sent to my phone via Snapchat so that I couldn’t save them.
One time after I was laid off from Republic he twirled me in front of Joe Carozza Republic’s head of PR and said something like, “She’s so hot, look at her, I can say it now that she doesn’t work for us.”
feel free to print this but please leave my name anonymous.
thanks Bob for paying attention
I wish to remain anonymous but I am not surprised at all to hear this news, Bob. I have warned other women behind closed doors of Charlie Walk but I have never spoken publicly about how uncomfortable and inappropriate he was to me when I worked with him years ago. From repeatedly directing the conversation to my looks, my figure, my eyes and how attractive he found me (I am a married woman and business owner), both in front of people and when alone. He would take a perfectly normal business encounter and steer it toward objectifying me and completely disregard anything I had to say about work (which could be hugely embarrassing, awkward and degrading when said in front of other members of the company). He had also sent me inappropriate text around that time which left me to wonder, where did this man (who is married with children) think exchanges such as these were going to go exactly?
I tried to laugh it off but couldn’t escape the fact that this was a completely inappropriate way to talk to a female colleague. He creeped me out to no ends but given his position of power, I was left with no option other than to downplay this exchange and simply not engage. Who knows where he was hoping to take this but I did not reciprocate. For years I have wondered to myself “am I the only one that has ever experienced this with Charlie Walk?” Seeing that letter today gave me a shock but I hate to say it, I was not surprised.
I am aware that this is NOTHING compared to what others have gone through and are speaking up against right now but it is a prime example of what women have to put up with in this business from men in powerful positions. I’m just glad to see this industry is finally starting wake up. Because of Charlie’s position he felt he could belittle, objectify and act inappropriately towards me and I’m ashamed to admit I have been part of the problem by not speaking up until now.
Like I said, I had warned others about him over the years, because if ever there were a red flag, those encounters I experienced with Charlie were enough of one for me. Predatory behavior is rife in the music industry and I would not be surprised if more women come forward with worse accounts than mine.
Just because this was her experience, doesn’t mean it was everyone’s. And just because this was my experience, doesn’t mean it’s anyone else’s:
On a typical promotions/programming add call in 1993, I told Charlie Walk I was moving to NYC. He asked what I wanted to do and I replied, “work for you.” He said, “You don’t want to move all the way up to New York just to work for me.” I said, “Yes, I do.” What I wanted, was to move out of Radio and into Records. The artful ease in which our weekly calls took place led me to know I could learn a lot from Charlie Walk. It mattered to me that I worked for a major once I got there, so I held the Columbia/Sony dream close. I moved without having a job (like you do when you’re in your 20’s), and I signed up through a temp agency in Manhattan.
As fate would have it, my very first temp gig was for none other than Charlie Walk at Columbia Records. 25th Floor at 550 Madison. I walked into his office and he about crapped his pants. He called me by my last name and said, “You’re _______?!” recalling our conversation two months prior. He stood up from behind his desk and gave me a hug. I assume by his verbal reaction he was surprised I was attractive- or maybe relieved. I was surprised he was as well- I hadn’t been able tell much from the little postage stamp-sized pix I’d seen in R&R. But it was really more like sizing each other up so we’d know what we were dealing with, rather than some sleazy get-to-know-me.
I worked with Charlie for just over a year in that 550 temp position (in the most legit of ways) before moving across the hall to Marketing into a permanent gig.
What I learned from Charlie about the record industry are lessons I STILL use today. He showed me the complex footwork the industry requires, and by example lived and breathed the art of promoting hit records. It was a defining point of reference for a lifetime doing the thing I love most- music. Yes, I saw that “side” of him. In the 90’s most people in the industry had that “side.” The trick was to be one of the boys without losing your femininity. Know your worth, live it fully without the fear of someone else taking it from you. Pursue your goals and don’t forget who you are. The only way to diffuse a cheeseball is by not empowering them with shock or fear. Deal down to them the way you would a drunk, delusional teen. A sincere, catty, demeaning laugh, and an “are you f*cking kidding me” dismissive shrug-off goes a lot further. Nothing lets the air out of unwanted advances more reliably than the steady drumbeat of quick, demeaning laughs.
We are never gonna get certain people to agree to the concept of equal respect when we come from a victim’s position, using the voice of victims. When we do that, we agree to the role we in turn have to fight our way out of. To be clear- I’m not talking about the open-letter author. I’m talking about all of us.
Some don’t respect women in the first place and never will. Appealing to their common decency is a joke. They’re mentally incapable! Appealing to their reason is a joke. Fairness- joke. Morality- joke. Reputation- joke. Even their wallet/bottom line- joke. And as far as that sort of man goes, there will always be women who don’t care who they’re married to. There will always be friends of sleezeballs who sleezeball together and run businesses in a vacuum.
As time marches on, the men and women who can make a difference are taking the place of the bro club members, one member at a time (pun intended)- slowly but surely. And that’s fantastic. Change happens via many outlets.
As for Charlie Walk, part genius/part scoundrel- or just one of those one in a million guys who’s really good at what he does? I think it depends on what his take is on you. His rep precedes him, but he is absolutely capable of decorum and respect.
And just because it didn’t happen to me doesn’t mean I’m attempting to minimize someone else’s trauma or negative experience, to any degree.
The people on both sides of theese stories are multidimensional- not flat, convenient characters.
Name withheld, please.
I realize resentments only poison my soul. I pride myself on not rooting against people who have harmed me. But…..I’m only human. When Donny ran the evil empire and Charlie was a top lieutenant , I was called into his office. I was brought in to help Sony break a Swedish pop girl group Play by Ienner, Botwin and Ingrassia. Having had a modicum of success with the Boy Band Dream Street despite little radio air play. I met first with Play’s A an R rep the delightful Lee Dannay and Project Manager Josh Zeman to share my ideas. When I was called into Walks office, I was showered with compliments which I admittedly soaked up. It took me a while to realize I was being set up, Its a long story but needless to say, it was as sleazy as it gets. Even for the Music Industry. Sometimes Karma isn’t instant, but it’s always a bitch. Sorry Charlie… not.
All for One Media Corp.
Hey Bob – I met Charlie Walk on a set in 2005 when I was a young, stressed-out Hollywood assistant. He was remarkably friendly to me when he didn’t have to be (whether or not this matters, it was my impression). At some point he told us a story about how John Mayer’s “Daughters” was on track to becoming an ignored/forgotten track on the album, had he not personally zeroed in on it’s poignant message and fought tooth and nail for it to become a successful single (and we all know it endures).
If the letter is true, there’s some sad irony in this story now.
This shit is crazy and this is just the beginning.
Another thing no one is talking about, is what are these wives thinking by staying with these dirtbags? What are they teaching their children by not leaving immediately when this happens?
I’ve never been so happy that I decided a long time ago to be my own boss in a small business. I haven’t had to deal with any of this, but I know if it came out that my husband was talking to women this way, I’d be gone day one.
I hope the wives start leaving, including Melania. Show people, especially your kids, you won’t stand for it.
wow. holy shit. i’m glad she wrote this. i’m mad at her for not speaking up sooner, but I understand why she didn’t. I am grateful to you, Bob, for passing this along. I’m sad to say that this is probably EVERY woman’s story in the industry, at some level, in some form.
yes, he needs to be GONE!
I think there are a lot of reasons why the industry is curiously quiet with regards to sexual harassment.
I think a lot of it is subtle enough… we feel uncomfortable but we can’t always quite explain why. On the other hand, sometimes it’s explicit.
I was on an international business trip with a management client years ago. Her main label rep was in town and we got together to catch up after a session one day. He had told me that he wanted me to quit my job and come work for him. The label (owned/operated by an A Level artist) was looking to create a management company, he told me. He said I’d be perfect to run it. I was elated. I love the artist, and the opportunity seemed like a dream come true. Moments later, he began talking to me, bluntly, about wanting to sleep with me. Told me he’d fulfill any “black guy” fantasy I may have. Despite him having a wife and young children. He reiterated this in a text message which I still inadvertently have saved in “Whats App.”
I used to be a tour manager. I’m lucky to have traveled with mostly respectful men over the years, but I will say that on one specific run, one of the crew guys kept dropping his pants/towel around me. The bus door separating the lounge area from the bunk area would open, and he would just drop whatever he was holding and expose himself to me. I had done several tours with him without this behavior, but suddenly, it seemed to be the norm. He was much older with far more road experience, so all I felt I could do in the situation was laugh.
There are so many men that I turned to for advice in my formative years in the industry who hit on me or tried to fuck me. Men I’d approach following panels that would try to take me back to their hotel rooms. The one who I was on a summer tour with who told me he wasn’t married, meanwhile I found out later that his wife works in the music industry. There was the guy who I thought was my friend – who started to teach me the ropes with regards to touring – who I spent an entire day chauffeuring around my city to do off-day tour errands, who called me into his bathroom while he was showering in his hotel room (while two other people were also in the hotel room!!!!) — I turned him down, and at the next day at the next show, he asked security to remove me from the backstage area, even though I was properly credentialed and was accompanied by someone else on the tour. There’s also the guy who sexually assaulted me in the back of his band’s van and lied to my friend in his band when I told him after the fact. There’s also the management client who told me to take my clothes off and that he’d rub oil on me when I was looking for the tour chiropractor.
These are just SOME of my stories. I’d imagine, many women have similar; many have worse.
We’re taught early on that music is a “boy’s club.”
It doesn’t feel like there’s room for our voices to be heard.
Even amongst this movement.
While I think that what Tristan wrote is brave, Tristan is also not in the entertainment industry anymore. Tristan doesn’t have to feel like she’s going to lose out on jobs or experiences because she spoke up. No one will google her name when she’s interviewing for a job and see that she spoke out, and (whether it’s right to do so or not), see the articles and form an opinion with regards to her potential employment.
Women are taught that you need to be able to “hang” with the guys if they want to make it in this industry. And by whistleblowing in the industry, even for men who truly deserve it, we fear our repercussions. Because the terrible men in the music industry are still much stronger than this movement. At least for now.
So instead, we laugh politely and we nervously bow out of uncomfortable situations as best we can, and we hope beyond hope that a small handful of the men that we know will not turn out to be complete creeps. And above all else, we continue to persevere in our careers despite all of it. It’s EXHAUSTING, Bob. Our jobs are hard enough without having to constantly dodge advances and question intentions.
It’s not right, it’s not fair, but I understand why my peers are mum. It still just doesn’t seem smart or safe or “worth it” to speak up.
P.S. a note worth adding: the only woman in the music industry who is actively still in the industry who has spoken out against an abuser is kesha, and she went through hell to even have her voice heard. the way that was handled is not a good example of a safe space for women.
Good riddance. That guy was a loose unit and anyone who met him knew it.
Won’t be missed. Some other irrelevant non creator will step into the breach I am sure…
Thank you for sharing this letter on your platform.
This Fiction Management
His brother Brad(may he RIP) was a wonderful and caring guy. We were fraternity brothers at Tulane. Obviously Charlie was not given the mensch genes that or he drank too much of the NYC society kool aid.
“Put a little sugar in my bowl” Lots of lyrics from blacks in the 20’s 30’s were thinly disguised double entendres aimed at the whites who treated them so disrespectfully
Is this the same Charlie Walk from Boston, started out with Columbia doing radio promotions?? I was assistant GM at The Channel, he was brand new to that gig but I can still picture him and this sounds like exactly the type of person I could see him becoming, just like the guy she’s describing. Sadly I’m not surprised one bit if they are one in the same. Good for her, can’t imagine how difficult that must have been.
Thank you so much for this piece and, most personally for me, this line:
“I’d be scared to be a woman. It’s like running a gauntlet every day.”
It hit hard and clear because it is painfully true.
Hoping that your message is getting through so that younger women (and men) do not have to face that gauntlet.
With warm regards, Lisa B
Director of Sales, Home Entertainment
Music Box Films | Doppelganger Releasing
Not for long, I assure you, Bob. Received an email that “Marie Claire” is currently interviewing women in the biz on and off the record for an expose, so you’re about to see music industry stories come out next….
It’s been quiet from Wall Street too and its because no one worth their weight in salt wants to damage a relationship, and there is a whole lotta sex going on.
With you on this one, Bob. I think the memo that they failed to receive is the one that read, “The Best Revenge is to Live Well.” Instead, they have to punish those who rejected them when they were popping into puberty and slightly beyond, namely GIRLS. Unfortunately, the girls that get punished are not the ones who rejected them.
I was raised by the son of a farmer in northern Kentucky.
My grandfather was a high school drop out from the Great Depression era, who started his first successful business venture at 16 years old, and made himself into a man that eventually became a County Judge and an entrepreneur who owned land, businesses, and livestock. My grandfather sat on the bench and tempered his judgements with the true balance of things…the noble cause of right versus wrong, and the heartfelt belief that everyone could be deserving of a second and even a third chance. He was Judge, but never judgmental…
My father and his father had respect and admiration not for money, nor power, but for people who behaved in a fashion that always trumpeted doing the right thing. My grandfather used to tell me “Don’t ever do anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper”. Truer words…..
Charlie Walk, if this is all true, you’re an asshole, just like the rest of these cretins……where indeed did these men learn this shit from? A barnyard?
i play in the house band for this show.
i am raising 2 young daughters.
i dare anyone to make these moves while I’m alive.
Well I was waiting for the shoe to drop on the music business.
Honestly other than Marko, and another guy with an M in his name, I never saw any of this stuff.
Probably because I worked for Mo, and he’d never allow that.
I almost hired Charlie out of of college for WB. He was smart and a smooth talker.
Maybe too smooth, because something bothered me and I passed.
As Charlie climbed the Columbia ladder, he always reminded me of my passing on him.
Admittedly, sometimes I thought I made a mistake.
I guess now I know I didn’t.
Hit records and $ do not compensate for a low Moral Compass.
I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more of this, but I’m grateful I worked for Mo Ostin and Russ Thyret.
Thanks Bob, I ask the same questions too, not only about sexual discrimination and harassment, but also about privilege in general. I think this is born from that privilege.
You see, I’m an immigrant and a woman of colour pursuing a music career. I started working jobs when I was 17 to help my family pay for food and shelter, while I dreamed of being a musician. And I’ve finally found a way to play music while I make money on the side, at 34years of age. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved on this journey towards music and it makes me humble everyday.
Privilege means not having to have faced these struggles on a daily basis, while still being mistreated in one way or another. Perhaps that is why we have misguided men (and some women).
You’re damn right it is scary to be a woman. I’ve been assaulted, harassed and abused, but I’m still standing.
My tough upbringing has ensured that very little scares me, I guess that is a “benefit”. And open conversations like yours empower me to speak up, over and over, as much as it’s needed. I never back down an opportunity to stand up for women’s rights these days.
I don’t think I’d have such an urge if it wasn’t for my history.
The blade cuts both ways.
By the way, here in Australia we’ve started our own campaign #meNOmore as a response in support of #metoo:
Regarding the percentage of pervy, pushy, rapey men in music, I suspect we’re no different than any other industry. Doesn’t matter if it’s politics, movies, or dry cleaning, certain men will try to leverage their position to gain sex.
What sets music apart from every other business except porn, is that our product is sex. TV has sex, Films have sex, but music is sex. Men and women get into the business for it. I’ll bet music people have more consensual sex than anyone this side of cocktail waitresses and bartenders. Ask David Crosby if he got into the music business for fame or fortune, and he’ll tell you the original lure was “Girls. We were all in it for the girls.”
I hope you’re getting a lot of response from your female readers.
I think it is equally as important to mention that allegations do not and should not always equate to guilt. A line has been crossed, and the pendulum now swings the opposite way. Where women were once voiceless and all allegations were often discounted as false, we are now seeing the opposite occur, where any woman can make any allegation against any man with power and everyone believes it to be true, regardless of whether or not the alleged acted this way. Charlie may or may not have done what this lady alleged he has done. Maybe it’s best to wait and hear from the person who is said to have acted this way?
I have an artist, most would describe as gorgeous named Dylyn that has spent a good amount of time with Charlie a couple years back. Monte and Charlie were fans and friend with Dylyn and often invited her out with them. She went to private karaoke with them and watched Psy perform, during his Gangnam Style fame. She hung out with them backstage at a handful of shows (including The Weeknd when he blew up) and swears they were both very kind and fun to be with. I asked her again after reading the allegations if Charlie ever crossed any lines with her and she said not only did he not ‘try anything’ he didn’t give off any of those creepy vibes. She always spoke so highly of Charlie and Monte. She is an artist and he is a music mogul that was very much in a powerful position and never once made her uncomfortable. This doesn’t disqualify the allegations that were made. They may be true. But please be careful not to add to the dangerous narrative that any allegation = guilt. This man can lose everything he has with reckless discourse about him. It’s irresponsible to say the least.
For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from MPS, Modern Harmonic, Varese Sarabande, and North Texas Jazz. Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk. (Pictured above: Barney Kessel.)
Jamaican pianist Alexander has a bright, flowing and lyrical approach to his instrument. Originally released in 1971, Here Comes the Sun was Alexander’s sixth album. Working with three other musicians (bass, drums and percussion), the pianist is at the center of the arrangements on all seven of the album’s tracks. His style often sounds like it’s the result of overdubs; his left hand plays rhythm, as expected, but his right hand is so busy that it sounds like two hands in and of itself. But yet the approach never feels busy. There’s a lively and exuberant to Alexander’s playing that can leave the listener nearly breathless. He and his sidemen sound as if they’re having the time of their lives here; the opening cut “Montevideo” is quite uptempo, but Here Comes the Sun explores a variety of textures; you’re not likely to mistake any one of these tunes for another; such is the level of originality on display here. Be warned, however, that the titular Beatles classic is transformed beyond recognition. MPS does its by now expected top-flight job of repackaging and reissuing another timeless classic from nearly a half century ago.
Richie “Dick” Garcia – A Message from Garcia (Modern Harmonic)
Though he doesn’t receive prominent billing on this 1956 album from jazz guitarist Dick Garcia, pianist Bill Evans is all over this album. Garcia is out front, but it’s Evans’ crystalline and meditative piano that holds things together. The band explores a variety of tempos and textures, but at its heart, A Message From Garcia is fairly consistent in its musical approach: the guitarist plays single-note melodic runs while the band provides subtle support. Garcia does engage in the occasional musical dialogue with Evans on cuts like “Ev’ry Night About This Time,” but there’s little doubt whose show this is. When he does take the spotlight, Bill Evans sounds as if he’s enjoying himself. The Modern Harmonic reissue of this relative rarity features top-notch sleeve reproduction and colored vinyl.
Barney Kessel – Live at the Jazz Mill 1954, Vol. 2 (Modern Harmonic)
Acclaimed jazz guitarist Barney Kessel only began his career as a band leader around 1953. By that time he had made quite a name for himself thanks to his work on recordings featuring Billie Holiday, Benny Carter and others. And he’d continue to provide supple six-string support to some of the biggest names in jazz and pop, including Sonny Rollins, Sam Cooke and Chet Baker. Those who don’t know better could easily mistake Live at the Jazz Mill 1954, Vol. 2 for a reissue of a record from years past. In fact it’s not: a young fan taped Kessel (backed by the Jazz Millers), and the tapes were only recently discovered. This second volume (the first was released a couple of years ago) features surprisingly good audio quality. And everything about the package – the cover art, the jacket’s liner notes – is note-perfect.
Volker Kriegel – Spectrum (MPS)
I first – and quite belatedly – discovered the work of Volker Kriegel via a 2014 archival release from the now more-or-less defunct SWR/Jazzhaus label. The German guitarist worked in a number of musical idioms including soul jazz and jazz-rock fusion. This 1971 album – Kriegel’s second – is (in places) much closer to rock than anything else I’ve heard from him. With a nasty fuzztone, percussion that may remind some of Low Spark of High Heeled Boys-era Traffic and a kinetic bottom end (featuring acoustic and electric bass as well as cello), Spectrum is a scorcher. John Taylor plays what’s noted as “electra-piano.” The rest of us would know it as a Hohner Pianet or maybe (but probably not) a Fender Rhodes. The opening track “Zoom” finds Kriegel doubling his fuzztone leads on sitar, and it’s not even a little gimmicky. Two years later Kriegel would form a band named after this LP. A tasty treat for those who dig the most accessibly tuneful end of jazz rock, Spectrum is adventurous, too: “More About D” is almost Zappaesque in its weirdness, albeit still rooted in jazz traditions. The album is newly reissued from MPS and is enthusiastically recommended.
Herbie Mann – It’s a Funky Thing: The Very Best of Herbie Mann (Varese Sarabande)
One could say that Herbie Mann was the Rodney Dangerfield of jazz: he got no respect. Part of that was his own doing; he resolutely refused to be boxed in with regard to what is and is not jazz. His work is wonderfully accessible and irresistibly catchy. It’s also, on occasion, a bit schlocky, and some of his work has a distinct air of bandwagon jumping (or at least musical dilettantism) about it. How else to explain disco outings like “Hijack,” a big hit in the disco era? But for listeners who can put all that baggage aside and simply dig, Herbie Mann’s music is supremely diggable. Truth be known, he was at the forefront of the world music movement, though few will afford him the credit he deserves for it. And anybody hip enough to hire Larry Coryell and Sonny Sharrock is okay by me. This collection – annotated by my pal, the esteemed author and esteemed music journalist Pat Thomas – is a lot of fun. The tracks here are featured in their single edits, most making their first appearance on digital media of any kind.
Jay Saunders – Nice!: Jay Saunders Best of the Two (North Texas Jazz)
The University of North Texas has a storied and vibrant Division of Jazz Studies, one that goes back some 70 years. And its North Texas Jazz label has released a sizable catalog of music, featuring instructors, students and alumni. Trumpeter and band leader Jay Saunders recently retired from his position at UNT, where he taught classes and directed bands. This new 2CD collection is subtitled Best of the Two, as in the Two O’Clock Lab. It draws from six earlier releases by the ever-shifting ensemble. The big-band music is a nice mix of standards, ambitious pieces and jazz readings of pop tunes; it’s classic and modern all at once, deliberately all over the map in a way that shows the timeless nature of jazz when it’s done right. “I 8 Da Whole Half Thing” sounds like Lalo Schifrin-style 1970s movie music, and that’s meant in the best possible way.
Various Artists – Jazz for Hi-Fi Lovers (Modern Harmonic)
This time capsule in the form of a colored vinyl LP is a true delight. Originally released in 1958 on the Dawn label, Jazz for Hi-Fi Lovers is a various artists collection presented in wonderful hi-fi (read: monaural). Zoot Sims is among the biggest names featured here, and he’s performing Thelonious Monk’s “Bye Ya.” Paul Quinichette provides the opening cut, the aptly named “Start Here.” Paulette Girard’s original liner notes are presented intact, and they too are a kind of trip back in time: they include three lengthy paragraphs under the heading “about the sound and the equipment,” full of info to satisfy the keen high fidelity enthusiast in your mid-century modern household. The cover art is a gas, too. Come for the packaging, and stay for the music.
And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, HERE for Pt. 2, and HERE for Pt. 3. Pictured above: Sweet Apple. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)
BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND
Everything singer/guitarist John Petkovic touches seems to turn to rock, from Death of Samantha to Cobra Verde to his current project Sweet Apple. The latter quartet seems like the culmination of his vision to date, putting postpunk, glitter rock, power pop and old-fashioned hard rock through Petkovic’s own special filter and coming out gold. Sing the Night in Sorrow (Tee Pee), the third LP from Sweet Apple, practically shivers with barely-repressed energy, focusing all of Petkovic’s loves into a potent rush to the rock & roll finish line. The tough “World I’m Gonna Leave You,” epic “Candles in the Sun” and sky-kissing “She Wants to Run” enliven the rock radio of our dreams, while “A Girl and a Gun” – a duet with Rachel Haden – and the album closing “Everybody’s Leaving” reclaim the slow song from power ballad territory beautifully. If Sweet Apple sounds a little more like Cobra Verde than on previous platters, that’s no surprise, given that CV co-axeman Tim Parnin and former DoS/CV slinger Doug Gillard share six-string duties. Not that it matters, as Sing the Night in Sorrow keeps the rock & roll faith as well as any other record Pektovic’s captained – which is to say as well as any contemporary rock record extant.
Boston seems like it should be a town too intellectual and gentile to kick out any jams, but plenty of balls-out rawk has come from that town. The latest addition to the ranks is Justine & the Unclean, a rip-snorting quartet of glam/punk/power pop/garage rockers that never met a six-string hook they didn’t like. Get Unclean (Rum Bar), the band’s debut, keeps the melodies strong and the attitude sneering on cracking tunes like “Love Got Me Into This Mess,” “Worry Stone” and the self-explanatory “I’m in Love With You, Jackass.” Fans of Nikki & the Corvettes and the NY Loose should just line right up.
Further to the west, Stars in the Night (Rum Bar), the second LP from Milwaukee trio Indonesian Junk, plays up the streetwise side of its protopunk/power pop cocktail. “Turn to Stone,” “Nosferatu” and “I Would Never Treat You Like That” streamline the band’s sound down to its essence, with bash-it-out rhythms pushing unvarnished rock licks and Daniel James’ inelegantly wasted sneer. Meanwhile, L.A. gutter rockers Dr. Boogie drop a deuce with new single “She’s So Tuff”/”Peanut Butter Blues” (Spaghttey Town). The A-side’s streetwise glitter rock contrasts nicely with the B’s Stonesy roar, the connecting thread being Chris P.’s angry rasp and the band’s dedication to riff and groove. The East Coast re-represents with New Yorkers Dirty Fences’ third slab Goodbye Love (Greenway), a dizzily catchy collection of rockers, rollers and rompers that crossbreed Midwestern power pop with Lower East Side street rock. If the feverish opener “All You Need is a Number” doesn’t do it for ya, the Christine Halladay duet “One More Step” or the delirious pop tune “Blue Screen” just might.
The legendary status of the Raspberries in the power pop community obscures the fact that the Cleveland band was quite popular during their early 70s heyday, regularly lobbing hit singles into the charts. Regardless of standing in the nebulous cloud of the music industry, the original quartet reunited in the first decade of the new millennium to show the young whippersnappers how it was done during the years when the Beatles, the Kinks and the Who were their only role models. Pop Art Live (Omnivore) captures a fiery gig from 2004 in front of a hometown crowd, all four original members included. Eric Carmen’s voice no longer hits the gloriously throat-shredding heights of the band’s glory days, but that’s no crime – age comes to us all, after all – and it otherwise retains its melodic power. The band backs him as if they couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle, making it clear that this reunion was done as much out of love as any financial incentive. Running enthusiastically through the catalog, the ‘berries reminds us just how many gems they’ve polished – not just the hits (“I Wanna Be With You,” “Overnight Sensation,” “Tonight,” a titanic, show-closing “Go All the Way”), but lesser-known, equally fine cuts like “Makin’ It Easy,” “I Can Remember” and “Nobody Knows.” Add in a couple of songs by Raspberries precursors the Choir and some filler from the Beatles catalog and it’s a power pop party. Plus it’s a double live album like the days of old.
Seattle’s Knast falls on the more psychedelic end of power pop on its debut Reckless Soul (Casual Audio Group Ltd). That mainly means some extra echo and tremolo here and there and some obvious affection for the 80s British psych pop scene, but the focus remains squarely on the songs and hooks. Which works out well for the Knast – whether the band is kicking up dust with “Side Effects” and “Sold Out,” getting sardonic with “Fight or Flight” and “Situation Vacant,” or just being a sparkling pop band on “Here and There” and “Time Out of Mind,” it knows just how to handle a catchy melody with taste and verve. The fellow Pacific Northwesterners of Date Night With Brian add a 90s alt.rock flare to the efficiently composed and performed tunes on its self-titled EP (Top Drawer). Five songs in eleven minutes, not a one less than immediately catchy and appealing.
The garage rocking Juliette Seizure and the Tremor Dolls (who win this month’s “Best Band Name” contest) find that revered sweet spot between Nuggets-powered punk and girl gang pop on Seizure Salad (Off the Hip), the Australian sextet’s second record. The blurry production doesn’t suit the band’s harmonies, but these songs are powered by attitude more than expertise, making the grungy “Stink,” the hooky “Imagination” and the rocking “Take What You Want” more representative than attempts to be like an edgier Shangri-La’s. Nice tip of the hat to Dead Moon with “Be My Fred Cole,” by the way. Detroit-to-L.A.’s intrepid Singles have kept on keepin’ on since the early ‘aughts, refusing to die no matter how many years go between albums. Sweet Tooth (Grimy Goods), the trio’s fourth LP, keeps the faith of prior platters, with stripped down power pop hearkening back to the late 70s glory years of the Plimsouls and their brethren/sistren. Stuffed with hooks and youthful verve, “Voodoo,” “If You Want Me, You Can Have Me” and “Masterpiece” effortlessly bring smiles with every turn of the melodies.
Chattanooga’s Mark “Porkchop” Holder clearly has no time to waste, as he’s already followed up his debut album from earlier in 2017 with Death and the Blues (Alive), picking up right where he left off. Though the former member of Black Diamond Heavies is no amateur, Holder is sort of the anti-cracker blues cracker bluesman – he skips displays of six-string virtuosity typical of Clapton/Vaughan acolytes and just goes for the gut. Whether he’s admonishing haters with the heavy “What’s Wrong With Your Mind,” gets a little frightening with the anthemic “Be Righteous” or just rocks like a motherfucker on “Coffin Lid,” Holder and his backup duo burrow right down to the bone. Speaking of blues grunge, Indiana’s Left Lane Cruiser hit a new high (yes, we see what we did there) with 2015’s Dirty Spliff Blues, and while latest album Claw Machine Wizard (Alive) takes a bit of a step back as the band goes back to being a duo, its raunchy punked-up blues roils unabated. “Lately” boogies, “Burn Em Brew” boils and the title track bashes, powered, as always by guitarist/vocalist Freddy J IV’s filthy slide and backwoods bark.
Five Horse Johnson plows much the same furrow as Cruiser, but if the latter uses a rake and a hoe, the musclebound Toledo quintet prefers a backhoe and occasional dynamite to make the earth move. Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone), the band’s eighth album, pulls from the heavy rawness of the early years while keeping the songwriting progression of recent albums, making “Ropes and Chains,” “Cryin’ Shame” and “Daddy Was a Gun” masterclasses in powerhouse blues rock. Best of all, “Hard Times” gets political without being preachy – it’s too busy rocking your soul for that. Berlin’s Travelin Jack(pictured above) weave a carpet out of threads sewn from bluesy grit, hard rock stomp and glam, then dirties that rug up with platform boots on its second album Commencing Countdown (Steamhammer/SPV). Guitarist Floy the Fly drives the tracks with riffs that mix in-your-face theaterics and a soulful feel, but it’s vocalist Alia Spaceface who takes center stage with her leathery howl. Hit up the menacing “Fire,” the anthemic “Time” and the blazing “Keep On Running” and get your 70s rockstar air guitarspew on.
Australian James McCann did time in the original lineup of the Drones and its predecessor Gutterville Splendor Six, so you know the dude’s got chops, attitude and credibility to spare. But even if he didn’t, Gotta Lotta Move – Boom! (Off the Hip), his sixth album and second with his backing combo The New Vindictives, would rule. Like his former bands, McCann has a grounding in the blues, but no reverence for its traditions – he’s more interested in feel than form. For the latter the singer/guitarist goes back to his punk rock youth, bashing out blazing bruisers like “Lies Start Here,” “Tar On the Lip” and the blast-tastic title track like a man with nothing to lose and a lot to prove. “Sheena Says” boasts the kind of pop hook you’d expect from a song with a girl’s name followed by “Says,” while “Nick’s Song” drags countrified balladry through the bloodsoaked dust of the scene of a shootout. McCann pays tribute to a couple of vets along the way, co-penning, singing and guitaring “I Can Control Your Mind” with Wet Taxis/Sacred Cowboys/solo slinger Penny Ikinger and covering erstwhile Beasts of Bourbon/Johnnys guitarist/songwriter Spencer P. Jones’ “What is Life in Jail.” The real punk blues indeed. (Toland, you had me at “Australian.” I’m in love, L-U.V. — Oz Ed.)
The roots rocking Flat Duo Jets have often been cited as a big influence on Jack White and his perception of what a rock & roll duo could be. People forget, however, that the North Carolina combo was a trio when it made its full-length vinyl debut. The band’s self-titled first album came out in 1990 on former R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt’s short-lived label Dog Gone, and was M.I.A. for years. The double disk Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13) rescues that LP from oblivion, adding the Jets’ 1985 cassette-only EP In Stereo and a plethora of outtakes from the original Flat Duo Jets sessions. The addition of bass grounds singer/guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow a bit, reigning in their wild-eyed Reagan-era rockabilly just enough to make it surge with power, like a tightly-coiled spring. Covers of the usual early rock suspects (Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson) sidle up to a handful of originals, but the real surprises come in the outtakes. Besides the rockabilly and R&B, Romweber knocks out the jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne,” the ridiculous but challenging “Bumble Bee Boogie” and Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s gypsy jazz classic “Minor Swing.” It’s a reminder that Romweber is not, and has never been, a primitive, but a musician of unheralded skill.
Tom Heyman’s rock & roll creds are impeccable due to his membership in the long-gone, much-missed Go To Blazes. He’s kept more to a rootsy singer/songwriter vibe since then, but Show Business, Baby (Bohemian Neglect), his fourth album, pulls some of his mojo back in. Like a stripped-down Tom Petty, Heyman lets “Show Business,” “All Ears” and “Baby Let Me In” get loose ‘n’ lively like John Fogerty jamming with the 70s Stones. Boston’s Dirty Truckers get more medieval on roots rock’s ass with latest EP Tiger Stripes (Rum Bar). “Human Contact” and “Feedback” sound like they come from a lost mid-period Replacements album. Leader Tom Baker proved his rock & roll bonafides with this year’s Lookout Tower via his other band the Snakes, and Tiger Stripes upholds the same virtues: melody + energy = coooool.
Any punk knows the SoCal milieu in the early 80s was a thriving thrash & roll metropolis equal to the 70s scenes in New York, Detroit and the U.K. Symbol Six didn’t attain the same repute as peers like the Adolescents, Agent Orange and Black Flag, but when the band resurrected itself a few years ago, it was with the same brute strength and righteous rage as it had thirty years prior. Side Four (Jailhouse), the third album by the group since its revival, is simply a powerhouse, from Phil George’s battering drums to Tony Fate’s wall of guitar crunge to Eric Leach’s Alice Cooperesque howl. It helps that the band has a strong batch of songs to which to apply its mojo – “Cold Blood,” “Really Doesn’t Matter” and the cheeky “Megalomaniac” scan as catchy as crunching. Fate’s acoustic instrumental title tune and tape collage “Mellotron” allow quick chances to breath, but otherwise Side Four breathes fire from beginning to end. Eric Leach(pictured above) also has a solo album out; surprisingly, Mercy Me (self-released) eschews blazing punk & roll for tasteful roots rock. Comparable to the 80s roots rock scare, the songs on Mercy Me benefit from Leach’s evident sincerity, no-bullshit attitude and his remarkable voice, which adapts to this music better than you might think.
If Tales From the Megaplex (Saustex) is any indication, Count Vaseline (Stefan Murphy to his mom) sees no difference between 60s garage rock, 70s New Yawk proto punk and rockabilly. The former Dubliner/current Atlantean simply bangs out his rock ditties, most of less than two minutes long, without a jot of regard for genre, sensibility or public opinion. Plenty of wit and personality, though, from the dry shade of “Hail Hail John Cale” (“Lou Reed died wishing he could be John Cale”), the wishful thinking of “Texas Band” and the cheeky mystery of “What’s Your Name, Where Are You From, What Are You On?” (“I’m on ecstasy and I really want to tell you some jokes”). At eight songs in less than fifteen minutes, it’s a very efficient use of one’s rock & roll time. Pittsburgh’s Carsickness took the eclectic, late 70s punk model of the Clash and pushed into artier directions. 1979-1982 (Get Hip) shows off the quintet’s singleminded focus, mixing fractured rhythms, free jazz histrionics and pure punk power together for a knee-twisting blast of spasmodic fury. The raging “Plastic Beauty” and the seething “Bleeding” demonstrate that “rock” need not compromise for “art.”
Joey Skidmore is one of those rock & roll true believers who’s been knockin’ around the leather jackets/blue jeans underground for years. So many, in fact, that the Missouri rocker compiled a two-disk anthology covering his 37 (!) years of service. Mostly produced by the venerable Lou Whitney, may he rest in peace, Rollin’ With the Punches: The Best of Joey Skidmore (self-released) ranges from exuberant roots rock to raging power rock, all of it united by Skidmore’s rich baritone, love of guitars and enthusiastic songwriting. Divided into a “best of” disk and a “worst of” (i.e. rarities, EP tracks and unreleased stuff from the vaults), Rollin’ With the Punches never flags in its pursuit of a rockin’ good time. Skidmore may be an unknown quantity to many people, but with Nikki Sudden, Eric Ambel and members of Jason & the Scorchers, the Skeletons, the Morells and even Black Oak Arkansas making appearances and a covers pallet that runs the gamut from Chuck Berry to Blue Oyster Cult, you know he’s got the goods.
And speaking of faith-keepers, one of Finland’s greatest musical exports has also decided the time is right for a career-wide retrospective, as Michael Monroe, ex-Hanoi Rocks, rounds up nearly thirty tracks from his life outside of Hanoi for the simply titled The Best (Spinefarm). He divides the disks into the times between stints with Hanoi, with the first disk covering the mid-80s to the early ‘aughts, and the second disk hitting his recent years since Hanoi’s second shutdown in 2009. Though the first disk shows the influence of the time period in which a lot of it was recorded, Monroe’s rock & roll vision – a wickedly hooky blend of glam rock, punk and heartland rock refined in New York, L.A. and London, as well as his home country – stays consistent throughout. Disk two cuts like “Goin’ Down With the Ship,” “The Ballad of the Lower East Side” and “Trick of the Wrist” sound superior to these ears – there’s nothing like the buzz of a late career renaissance, when an artist has both reignited enthusiasm and savvy experience on his side. But that’s not to deny the powerhouses on disk one, including “Where’s the Fire John,” “Life Gets You Dirty” and the immortal classic “Dead, Jail or Rock N Roll.” Hell, the inclusion of four songs from Monroe’s sadly short-lived early 90s act Demolition 23, whose lone album is a bear to find, nearly make this a must-have on their own. Essential.
Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:
“If you want to be part of MY world, I’ll accept you with open arms”: We say farewell to the late Northwest punk/garage legend and lifelong champion of the DIY aesthetic. (Above photo by Michael Passman exclusively for BLURT.)
BY FRED MILLS
When the final chapter is writ, one of my greatest regrets will be having never seen Fred Cole perform live. Sure, I have all the records—from the Clackamas, Oregon, rocker’s ‘60s garage outfits The Weeds and Lollipop Shoppe, through his legendary two-decade run fronting Dead Moon, to Pierced Arrows, which ran from 2007 to 2016, at which point his increasingly poor health dictated that he finally call it quits.
In rock ‘n’ roll, of course, we never say “never,” always holding out hope for another encore, just one more song. With Cole’s passing this week at the age of 69, that hope is permanently dashed. (Go elsewhere on the BLURT site to read our Cole obituary; he’d recently experienced a serious scare involving bleeding in his liver, and According to Willamette Week, despite treatment had remained “still very ill.”) Cole’s passing was announced at the Facebook pages for Dead Moon and Pierced Arrows:
I’m so sorry to have to let you know that Fred lost his battle with cancer & passed away peacefully in his sleep last night, Nov 9, 2017. Thanks you one & all for all the years & memories we all shared together, for being friends first & business partners second, so proud to be a part of your lives.
Fred had that quality of being “immortal” and I believe his songs & recordings will make it so. We can always hear his voice & his passion there and remember it like it was only yesterday & will go on forever. I love you all, Toody
“The last train is leaving
Can’t you read the signals in my eyes
And I’m standing on the platform
Waiting for the ones I’ve left behind”
Losing our musical heroes has become increasingly, depressingly, commonplace, and each of us deal with it in different ways—pulling out the albums, of course, or attending a candlelight vigil at a relevant shrine, or even organizing a tribute concert where other musicians can also work through their grief. In one sense, then, I’m luckier than many fans, because as a music journalist since the late ‘70s I’ve sometimes had the privilege of interviewing the deceased, and as a result, those earlier one-on-ones take on a deeper and richer resonance for me—and additional salve for the grief, a way to pull close to the artist one last time.
What follows, then, is a pair of interviews I conducted with Fred Cole, along with his wife and longtime bass-playing musical foil in both Dead Moon and Pierced Arrows, Toody Cole. The first conversation with the couple, conducted by phone for Harp magazine, to Oregon in July of 2006, was on the occasion of the impending release of a two-CD anthology from Sub Pop, Echoes of the Past, that essayed the trio’s recorded career to date, most of which the Coles had released (in lathe-cut mono, no less) on their own Tombstone label. Concurrent with Echoes was the DVD release of a documentary on the band, Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, so for the story I also talked to Jason Summers and Kate Fix of Magic Umbrella Films, both of whom proved invaluable resources.
One quote that sticks out in my memory from that ’06 interview was from Toody Cole, who spoke of her husband in terms both peer-admiring and industry-defiant: “Fred was going to be great at whatever he did. He’s also the kind of guy that you don’t tell him he can’t do something. If you do – he’s so there. He’s a great inspiration.”
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Dead Moon was on its last legs. A few months after the release of the CD and the film, in December, Fred Cole posted an announcement on the Sub Pop website, writing, “After 20 yrs, Dead Moon is retiring. It has been a journey we will always treasure and feel that a worldwide family has emerged in its place. Dead Moon became much bigger than the band itself, it became a DYI underground hopeful for a lot of people. The candle is still burning!” So that was that. Although it soon became clear that Fred and Toody remained very much a personal and musical unit, because while drummer Andrew Loomis was now out of the picture (sadly, in 2016 he would pass away, from lung cancer), by May of the following year the Coles were back in business as Pierced Arrows, tapping Kelly Haliburton for kit duties. By 2008 there was a Tombstone-issued Pierced Arrows album, with more records to come.
Then in early 2010 I’m on the phone again, this time for Stomp and Stammer zine, with Fred and Toody, getting the state-of-Pierced-Arrows broken down for me. That feature, along with the prior one for Harp, appears below—both stories in, you guessed it, director’s cut/expanded form, as I was able to locate my original interview transcripts. What was once around 3500 words is now nearly 9000.
To any Fred Cole devotees out there—and particularly to Toody Cole, if she ever comes across this appreciation—this one’s for you.
And for me, too.
In 1990, a package with an Oregon return address arrived in the mail: Dead Moon’s third album on Tombstone, Defiance. Included was a hand-written note on brown stationery from Fred Cole, thanking me for the reviews I’d written of his band’s previous records. I still have the LP and, of course, the note. Years later, as our 2006 interview was winding down, Fred mentioned that he’d always remembered those early reviews because of our shared first name, and how nice it was to finally connect directly over the phone.
Then he thanked me profusely for being one of the writers who had stuck with the band over the years. I’ll never forget how he put it to me, simply but sincerely:
“Fred, thank you for digging the scene after all this time, and for being into Dead Moon, for this many years.”
R.I.P., Fred Cole. May the angels of Heaven all sing in mono.
DEAD MOON: The Whole Story (Originally from Harp magazine, Sept./Oct. 2006, here expanded with previously unpublished quotes.)
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives,” but had he been around in ’87 he might’ve revised that oft-quoted statement. Because that’s when the first stirrings of Dead Moon were heard—and the second stirrings of Fred Cole. Slithering outta the Portland, Ore., garage/punk underground to chart a purposeful trajectory into the Amerindie scene’s consciousness, Dead Moon – singer/guitarist Cole, his wife Toody on bass and vocals, drummer Andrew Loomis – has been in the national and international spotlight ever since.
Jason Summers, of Magic Umbrella Films, which did the 2004 documentary Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, first heard the band around ’91 and summarizes the band’s sonic appeal thusly: “That was back when Nirvana was starting to get big and Dead Moon just sounded nothing like what was becoming college alternative pop — kinda creepy, more rootsy, and somehow having a vein that went way back in history. No matter what style they play, it’s got their signature style. It could be a country song or a ballad or a screaming punk song, but it’s always got some kind of cobwebs on it.”
“We don’t care anymore!” cackles Cole, from his home in Clackamas, near Portland, when I ask him what motivates him year after year, but you sense his flippancy’s a self-deprecating ruse. For Cole, he of the leather-lunged, Arthur Lee-meets-Roky Erickson howl, serial killer riffs and outside-of-society lyrics, and a staunch DIY lifer, these past two decades must have been a hugely gratifying second act.
Addressing the rabid core of fans that snap up Dead Moon’s independently-released records and pack punk rock clubs whenever the band tours, Cole adds, “Come see us live again, soon. Come and see a fat old fuck play some real rock ‘n’ roll!”
He laughs again, this time proudly. Yeah, he cares. A lot.
Despite his contemporary project’s tenure and popularity, Fred Cole’s first time around in the music biz was in no way an inauspicious one. Born in Tacoma in 1948, as a teen Cole wound up in Las Vegas where he worked with several bands – among them, the otherwise all-black R&B band Deep Soul Cole and Top 40 covers outfit The Lords – before notching some regional success in 1965 as the lead singer for the more garage-leaning The Weeds. The following year saw the band relocate to Portland – to evade the Vietnam draft, they’d headed off for Canada, only to have their van break down en route – and they began gigging regularly up and down the West Coast, sharing bills with the likes of Big Brother & the Holding Company, Seeds, Chocolate Watchband, Buffalo Springfield, Love and the Doors.
The Weeds subsequently changed their name to the more teen-palatable Lollipop Shoppe and, signing with UNI Records, released an album (1968’s Just Colour) and scored a hit single (“You Must Be A Witch,” which would become an oft-covered staple of the garage/psych genre ripe for rediscovery during the Nuggets milieu). By ’69, though, the band had run its course.
Cole continued to make music in Portland, but meanwhile, he was also enjoying the domestic life. When the Weeds first landed in Portland in ’66, he’d caught the eye of Kathleen “Toody” Connor, a young, dark-haired beauty fresh out of Catholic high school, and intrigued by “this tall, skinny lead singer in the hottest band in town.” Love at first sight?
“Oh God, yeah,” gushes Toody. “Well, it was attraction at first sight. You gotta understand, I was a sweet Catholic girl, and he had a notorious reputation. So it was an oil and water thing. I totally expected him to be the biggest egocentric airhead from hell. But once we actually got together and talked, which we did a lot of, it was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re nothing like I imagined you would be…’ Once you actually get to know somebody…”
“I just wanted to do the ‘please don’t’ with her!” interjects Fred, referring to a certain carnal Dead Moon lyric of his from the song “Poor Born.” “But no, she just knocked my socks off. And she was so arrogant and just thought, ‘Oh God…’ and wouldn’t let me touch her. So every night either before or after a gig she and I would go up to the park and talk and eat red liquorish – I was on a band budget, making about 80 cents a day to eat, and saving up our money to record, so I’d buy a big package of Red Vines, and that’s basically what happened for two months. Everybody would say, ‘Fred – pffftt, forget about it, there’s no way this is gonna work out.’ Her parents thought she was a lesbian because she didn’t hang out with guys. I remember when her dad finally met me, and I stuck my head in his car window and all he saw was all my hair, and his eyes got real wide, like on the Little Rascals.”
Fred and Toody married on June 14, 1967, a little fact they had to hide from Fred’s image- and career-conscious bandmates. Says Fred, “People would’ve freaked. In ’67, if you’re the lead singer in a band and you’re married, you can forget about it!”
The Cole-Connor union (which recently celebrated its 39th anniversary and to date has resulted in three children and seven grandkids) would yield more than just marital bliss. In 1976, on the heels of several underappreciated bands — notably hard rock quartet Zipper, which released an eponymous LP in ’74 on Cole’s fledgling Whizeagle label – Cole, inspired by the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the rest of the punk explosion, put together hi-octane trio the Rats. The band lasted until 1983 and issued three albums on Whizeagle, a Spinal Tap-esque drummer scenario ultimately deep-sixing the popular outfit’s aspirations. But with Toody tapped by Fred for bass chores in the Rats, one of indiedom’s most enduring musical partnerships was forged.
“I always had a thing about getting up on stage and always thought it would be drama or something like that, but it never worked out,” says Toody. “So Fred did me one of the biggest favors anybody can do: ‘Hey, get your ass up there, I know it’s gonna make you crazy, but…’ It took me a lot of years to get comfortable. But I just love it! So he picked the right time, and started me with something pretty basic. He hadn’t played that much guitar at that point himself. He just kinda wanted a bunch of amateurs to get up there, hammer away, and see what happens. Luckily for me he pressured me into it.”
What happened, of course, would be Dead Moon.
After the Rats’ demise Fred briefly indulged a Country & Western fetish with cowpunk trio Western Front, but his garage roots soon beckoned. One night in ’87, while on vacation and driving across the desert, Fred gazed up at a crimson-hued moon and suggested Red Moon as a good moniker for the back-to-basics combo they’d recently been brainstorming. Toody countered with Dead Moon, and the name stuck. Fred remembered a talented Portland drummer, Andrew Loomis, late of a Plimsouls-like new wave combo called the Boy Wonders, then working at local punk club Satyricon, and an audition was arranged.
“Now that was love at first sight,” recalls Toody. “Andrew had been coming to see us when we had the Rats and we didn’t even realize he was a big fan of ours. Instant chemistry. And we’d had so much trouble in the Rats trying to keep a drummer, so we thought, hey, we’ve got something that works, and Fred had been through breakups with the Weeds/Lollipop Shoppe, so when you’ve waited for 25 years to get it back again, you ain’t gonna let it go again the second time. It’s like falling in love, getting married, and then realizing that it’s a working relationship; sometimes things fuck up, but you don’t just say hey, hit the door jack.”
Now, even at their most vibrant, local music scenes can be pitiless towards new bands, even those fronted by a more or less known quantity such as Fred Cole. And Dead Moon definitely paid their dues early on, playing mostly cover tunes and taking gigs at any regional dive that would have them. Remembers Toody, “We played in this one place and came on after the local amateur comics finished doing their spiels – oh my God, it was unbelievable! But in a lot of ways it made us who we are. It was a very humbling experience, and to this day we appreciate it when people show up.”
But with the release, in 1988, of their first couple of 45s, “Don’t Burn the Fires” b/w “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Parchment [sic] Farm” b/w “Hey Joe,” and debut album In The Graveyard, both on the Coles’ second homegrown label, Tombstone, the Dead Moon snowball began rolling. Wildly enthusiastic national reviews ensued for this “music too tough to die” (as the Tombstone motto defiantly proclaimed) – primarily from the fanzine sector, where yours truly, writing for The Bob, drooled over Dead Moon’s “incendiary rumble” and “feral yowlps” of “primitive garage-rock fuggit-all.” Ahem.
Hype-laden wordsmithery aside, reviewers consistently hailed the group’s primitive yet incendiary sound and took due note of the band’s steadfast avoidance of effects such as reverb and echo, not to mention their preference for recording in monophonic. For his birthday one year, Toody bought Fred a vintage mono lathe, reportedly the same one the Kingsmen had used years earlier to cut “Louie, Louie”; to the notoriously frugal Fred, saving money by cutting his own record masters was a no-brainer. This turned out to be a telling aesthetic/practicality factoid not lost upon other reviewers, including Spin’s Byron Coley and the influential editor of Britain’s Bucketful of Brains, Jon Storey. Second and third albums Unknown Passage (1989) and Defiance (1990) followed in short order, each to similar underground press raves.
The aforementioned snowball turned into an avalanche upon Dead Moon’s inaugural overseas trek, which came at the instigation of Hans Kesteloo, owner of Germany’s Music Maniac label. Kesteloo, a die-hard garage freak a Fred Cole fan, had met Greg Sage of the Wipers while on tour in Europe; Sage, who knew the Coles from their Rats days and also frequented their Portland instrument store, Tombstone Music, agreed to put Kesteloo in touch with Dead Moon. Kesteloo subsequently licensed some Dead Moon tracks for a pair of Music Maniac compilations, and when the band landed in Europe in 1990, Fred, Toody and Andrew were treated like conquering heroes. (The Music Maniac alliance for Tombstone’s European market continues to this day.)
Fred, devoted to the one guitar/one amp school of touring, still marvels at the reception they got. “Our tour manager over there had toured with all the biggest bands – he had been doing the Lemonheads, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed. He showed up at the airport with this huge fucking van and 14 guitar stands in the back. ‘Dude, I only bring one guitar…’ The van was probably 3 times bigger than what we needed for the little bit of gear we carry!”
Toody notes, of the European market, “They accepted us like gangbusters over there! Same with a lot of different bands, like the Gories, that would go over and the Europeans just loved.” Dead Moon would return to Europe time after time in the years to follow; nowadays both Coles will eagerly single out certain cities where they have the equivalent of an extended family they look forward to seeing on each overseas trek. Meanwhile, having a loyal European fanbase allows them to return home with a profit, which partly explains why U.S. Dead Moon tours, while not necessarily rare, are neither as frequent nor as extensive.
“I always look forward to touring, especially Europe,” says Toody. “You know what hard work it’s going to be, what it’s going to take out of you, and it’s not like those early years when it’s so fresh and new that everything’s a surprise and you’re riding so high on emotion. We used to have this rep for playing three hour shows! But there’s another quality you gain from experience, so you try to give every audience the best you’re capable of every night because you realize that this many people are willing to pay the ticket price to see you.”
Such loyalty to their fans mirrors the loyalty that Fred, Toody and Loomis demonstrate towards one another; long ago it was decided that the Dead Moon brand would be retired if for any reason one of the three couldn’t continue. Fans observe this devotion each night when the band undertakes a pre-performance ritual. With just a candle jammed into a Jack Daniels bottle for illumination, the trio gathers at Loomis’ drum kit, leans in to one another, and firmly clasps hands.
“Fred’s very much into ritual and superstitious stuff, repeating things over and over again. He still laughs how as a kid he’d keep going back and touching the top of the door jamb 20 times just to make sure he had a good day that day,” explains Toody. “So we do The Handshake. It’s like, all is forgiven, whatever happened yesterday is in the rearview mirror and does not matter, let’s just go forward. The Handshake is a way to touch bases and let us all know that we love each other.”
Back home, in between tours, the Coles devote their energies to running their record label, operating a maze of other income-generating businesses (Tombstone Music, their instrument shop; Tombstone General Store, a convenience-type mart; and several nearby rental properties), and of course recording Dead Moon records. In mono, natch.
“Basically,” recalls Toody, “we started Tombstone for ourselves just like we did with Whizeagle Records. Then it became almost like a mentoring thing. Locals would ask us how they could get a 45 out, get gigs and all that, so we pressed up local bands, doing it on the cheap, and we got our street creds, so to speak. Then we had bands from all over wanted to have records out on Tombstone. But we haven’t done anything for quite awhile because we’ve been so busy. But we still have people asking all the time. Fred will have a continual lifelong affair with vinyl. He wants someone to listen not to the first song on a CD, but to listen to the whole first side of the record and want to turn it over to see what happens next.”
And the whole Fred Cole-Tombstone Records mono thing? This throwback touch was partly due to Fred’s steadily mounting hearing loss over the years, but it was also borne out of serendipity, explains Toody.
“That just happens to be the lathe he has, an old ’54 model lathe and that’s all it does. And hey, we all grew up with mono, and for him it’s like, ‘I’m deaf anyway, so all I’ve got to do is put two signals in one direction and, bam, they’re there.’ He hates effects, obviously, and there’s the old thing about stereo panning and all this other stuff. He figures, ‘I’m a vocalist, I write these songs, I’m not a guitar god.’ It all goes back to that old crunch of Bob Dylan: keep it simple, and let the songs speak for themselves. If the songs are good, it doesn’t really matter.
“So there’s no frills: you either love it or hate it. For a lot of people, mono is irritating as hell, and for the other half, hey, they love it, so it’s great. You hear all that reverb and compression on records from the ‘80s, and that’s his biggest beef. The reason we sing live and on records with completely dry vocals, no reverb, is so you don’t have to compensate for that. Just let your voice do what it’s supposed to do. He’s a pure naturalist, he really is. To him, effects are cheating. When it gets so homogenized, anybody can sound good. But how can you tell what they really sound like?”
In September Sub Pop, which along with other indie tastemakers such as Sympathy, Empty and Australia’s Dog Meat has occasionally played patron over the years to Dead Moon’s ever-growing back catalog, issues the two-CD Dead Moon career overview Echoes of the Past. Personally compiled by the Coles, it provides a compelling series of snapshots, stretching back to In the Graveyard and running up through 2001’s Trash & Burn – the most recent release is ’04 studio album Dead Ahead – and with a full Sub Pop roll-out slated for the set, it should also boost Dead Moon’s domestic profile considerably.
“The Dead Moon-Sub Pop northwest connection seemed important and valid,” agrees Toody. “And in a way it’s been a godsend that Sub Pop wanted to do this, because, you know, we think everything’s gonna last forever, but once Fred sent back and started messing with these old tapes – whew, you forget how old tapes start disintegrating after awhile. He was going crazy, having to keep re-cleaning the tape heads in order to go back and get what he wanted. He’s like the absent minded professor, so half the tapes he ever had were recordings in boxes, sometimes labeled with what songs and in what order, sometimes with nothing written on there. So a lot of it was disorganization on our part. And as I said, with the Sub Pop thing now, it’s great to know that in a way all of this is going to be saved if those tapes are at some point completely unusable. And thank god we have the technology to salvage them.
“We didn’t do any true remixing, but there was a lot of balancing and computer programming to try to even out tones, bring out the bass or drums on certain tracks. I mean, our tapes are – cough – sorrily lacking anyway! Between the different eras, and where we were recording and how we were recording it — and because Fred’s deaf as a post, treble frequencies are lost, so when we are recording he tends to mix the treble up really hot so what he hears sounds right to him. We got our copies a few weeks ago and I’m really impressed. Fred and one of his old bandmates worked on it here, and also Sub Pop went in and tweaked it out again, so they really did a nice job ‘given the quality of workmanship’! [laughs] So in a way the stuff sounds dated – as it should! We did this 15 or 20 years ago.”
“Lo-fi and DIY,” says Fred, firmly, a note of satisfaction in his voice.
Favorite Dead Moon records or songs?
“Oh God,” sighs Toody. Even getting the Sub Pop thing together was tough. Same thing going back and putting together a song list for this upcoming European tour. I love the fact that at different points we don’t listen to our own material that often that it impresses me like crazy all over again. But if I had to pick all over again: What we did on Unknown Passage, between “54-40” and “My Escape,” which happens to be one of my favorite songs. And Defiance, I’m especially proud of “Trash & Burn.” At different points it gets really difficult to pick a favorite.
“Trust me, Fred’s biggest fear, growing up in the ‘60s, there was X amount of bands that had one or two songs and you went out and spent your hard earned money to buy this album and you love this one song so you’re hoping the whole album is awesome – but usually it’s that one song and a lot of filler. So that’s been one of his biggest fears as an avid music fan. Just remembering that. And it was a bonus bonanza when the whole album was great.”
I ask the Coles if they encountered any surprises while sifting through their tape archives, or did they find themselves cringing at any of the old stuff…
“A lot of stuff we hadn’t heard in a long time,” admits Toody, “so honestly, the hardest part was having to pick out what would fit on two discs, and we left out a lot of stuff we wished could go on there. We left off [the first 45] because they were cover songs. And our cover songs, we’ve always kind of done them from memory – ‘Oh yeah, I think it goes like this…’ – and we always get it wrong, which is great, so it’s never a true cover song. It becomes a Dead Moon song. As an added bonus, Fred got the title wrong – it was “Parchman Farm,” not “parchment”! But hey, that’s our style! Our version of “Play With Fire,” which I sang, we left a whole verse out – ‘Whatever, it’s our song!’ [laughs] AC/DC’s “Long Way To The Top,” we got that whole rhythm wrong too, so it’s our song and the way we do it.
“And yes, sometimes I do [cringe] personally, to this day. But hey, that’s one of the unique things about us, and that’s why we say we’re ‘entertainers.’ We’re not ‘musicians’; we learned how to be adequate on our instruments with a certain flair and style, and the chemistry just happens to be magical. Name just about anybody and they can play rings around us. But that’s kinda cool. Part of having that constant struggle where it’s not one of these unbelievable natural born talents – you have to work at it, and that kind comes through. And I think people love the fact that it doesn’t look too easy when we do it.”
“We’re not an all-star band,” interjects Fred.
Agreeing, Toddy adds, “And that’s why we’re amazed that we have so many musicians that are fans. At any point at least 30-50% of people out in front of us at shows are musicians. And we are what you see – this is the real deal meal.”
Fred: “And you better not expect a guitar solo that lasts more than two or three bars, either!”
Both musicians are quick to point out that the gig’s the thing and always has been. Toody, elaborating, recalls wrapping up a particularly memorable, extended 2004 tour.
“And when we got back, I had tendonitis in my left wrist. So we took 9 or 10 months off and didn’t play at all. I was in a brace and basically let it heal. So we played a local gig here, rehearsed once, a fly by the seat of your pants thing. And we got up onstage and we basically fell in love with it all over again. Because at certain points, when you’ve done this many shows, when you know you need to stop is when you get to the point of, ‘Oh my God, this is becoming a job and I’d rather be doing anything else tonight…’
“So this show in Portland, we worried if anybody would remember us and show up, but the house packed out, and my mom, who’s 84, came to the show with my three brothers, and we honestly just had one of those magic nights.
“There’s been other shows like that. Shows at Vera, in Groningen, our second hometown, for example – shows where you feel not just the electricity in the audience but when that electricity and chemistry happens to be working between all three of you. It’s like basketball players being in this zone where they make 15 three pointers in the same game. And you know you can’t do that every night. But when you do, oh my God, there’s not a better high than that. And certain cities just work their magic with us too.”
One of the more intriguing recent twists in the Dead Moon saga is Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, the feature-length documentary from Magic Umbrella Films, aka North Carolina’s Jason Summers and Kate Fix. The pair initially got the idea to make a film about Dead Moon while working in the film and television industry in New York in the late ‘90s. Fix, who’d attended college in Portland, was already a big fan of Dead Moon and a friend of drummer Loomis; Summers was exposed to the band’s records as a deejay at UNC-Chapel Hill’s WXYC-FM but had never seen Dead Moon live until one night in ’98 when he and Fix spotted a flyer announcing the first-ever NYC Dead Moon gig. After the show, which Summers says “completely blew me away – even Jon Spencer was there in the front row, going nuts,” they invited the band back to their apartment and subsequently kept in touch.
“We’d get these long letters from them on Tombstone letterhead stationery,” recalls Summers, “which seemed to speak volumes about them even before we started broaching the subject [of the film]. We figured if they were that way with us then they must be really genuine.
Fix agrees, saying, “They have such sharp, sharp memories for everything, especially for the number of people they’ve encountered over the years. People are so excited to talk to them and you’re just amazed they can remember meeting someone once for just five minutes.”
Fascinated by both the band’s music and by the musicians as people, Summers and Fix eventually broached the idea of a documentary to Fred; already impressed by some of the Super-8 live video the pair shot of Dead Moon in New York, he agreed, much to their surprise – and delight.
Explains Summers, “We’d become more and more intrigued. Their music had gotten us. But it was the other parts of their lives that really got us. They were so quirky, so eccentric, so many projects going on all the time that it seemed like to them the music was kind of like a derelict hobby. I tend to think that musicians who don’t think of themselves as superstars, there’s something more there to that, about having a lifestyle where you can take all the things you love and build a working life.” Summers mentions the 1969 Robert Elfstrom documentary on Johnny Cash, The Man, His World, His Music, as a “brilliant piece of cinema verite” that influenced him as he and Fix were editing their film.
Indeed, Unknown Passage, while loaded with riveting concert footage, is equally weighted with intimate interviews (including Loomis and the Coles’ three children) and segments showing the Coles going about their daily activities at home and at their businesses, essentially painting a portrait of a couple at peace with the lifestyle they’ve carved out for themselves. A wealth of archival material outlines Fred Cole’s lengthy musical resume – there’s a priceless live clip of the Rats appearing on a Portland cable access TV program in the late ‘70s – while glowing Cole testimonials from the likes of Music Maniac’s Kesteloo, the Kingsmen’s Mike Mitchell and Mudhoney’s Steve Turner add additional context.
One intimate scene has Fred Cole displaying the Dead Moon album masters and casually tossing them around, not heeding the potential for damaging them. Summers says that’s his favorite part of the movie. “It reminds me of William Blake or something etching his little copper plates. Fred looks like Ben Franklin in his dirty robe with his bi-focals on, going through tape after tape after tape, getting these ancient machines working.”
Summers recalls their initial filming sessions of the band as being a literal trial by concert-trail fire. Fred, shortly after giving his blessing to the project, called the filmmakers up and asked them if they wanted to join them, 11th-hour style, on a European tour. The next thing they knew, Summers and Fix were getting off a plane in Amsterdam. “We’re in the parking lot going to get into the rental van,” says Summers, laughing at the memory, “and Fred got us in headlocks and made everybody get into a huddle. He says, ‘All right, if anybody fucks with you, you’re not with us – you’re in Dead Moon now. Do you understand? You’re IN the band!’ Then we broke the huddle and went into our first play – in the van, and go!”
“We tried to stay quiet and out of the way while rolling,” observes Fix. “In fact, our presences made it more fun for them. We felt like we were the honored guests, being shown around Europe, being introduced to all their many friends they’ve made while touring over there.”
Adds Toody Cole, “It worked out great – we loved the film. And we became really good friends with Jason and Kate, too.”
The self-financed film took approximately four years, from inception to final editing, to complete; in 2004 it was screened extensively at film festivals (a pair of memorable screenings in Australia and New Zealand featured live performances from Dead Moon!) and reviews were unanimous in their praise. Fix suggests that ultimately their budget restrictions worked in their favor. “It was just the two of us, no audio person, a real basic run-and-gun setup. But if we’d had a huge crew I think we would have sacrificed a great deal just in terms of the whole feeling and spirit of the project – and the intimacy we were able to achieve with the three of them.”
Hopefully timed to come out close to the Sub Pop anthology is a DVD of the film, most likely as a joint Magic Umbrella/Tombstone release (see: www.MagicUmbrella.com or www.DeadMoonUSA.com). Unknown Passage is not the first documentary treatment of Dead Moon; in 1995 Dutch fan Wilko Bello made the 50-minute You’ll Love Them All the Same, included on a CD-ROM with ’97 album Hard Wired in Ljubljana. But with a wealth of DVD extras, from songs to archival goodies to interview outtakes and ephemera (one priceless segment captures a snooty tour manager for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club kicking Dead Moon off the stage and a subsequent screaming match between him and Loomis), it will undoubtedly stand as definitive.
Prominent in the film whenever the Magic Umbrella lenses zero in on Fred Cole is a Dead Moon tattoo, the trademark band logo depicting a deathly, grinning skull protruding from a crescent moon. Not just any tattoo – it’s on his right cheek, a highly visible symbol of the man’s devotion to his band and to his craft.
This will probably preclude the man’s ever taking a job as a Wal-Mart greeter when his senior citizenship beckons, but predictably, both Fred and Toody have no intention of entering their twilight years quietly (although Fred, in a not-unwise concession to the drumbeat of age, recently got fitted for a new, high-tech pair of hearing aids).
The tattoo’s also physical testimony to Fred Cole’s bloody-mindedness as an individual. Ironically, despite the band’s seemingly tireless work ethic and massive musical output (at last count, roughly 13 studio and live albums and 14 singles and EPs), Dead Moon has been its own worst enemy in terms of any huge commercial break-throughs it might have achieved. Fred Cole still stubbornly insists on recording in mono, of course, with the digitizing of a Dead Moon vinyl releases barely an afterthought; and after all these years, Dead Moon remains a self-produced project. (With luck, the Sub Pop release should go a fair ways towards raising the band’s profile.)
Plus, he’s notorious for shrugging off – or outright running from – any overtures the mainstream might cast in his direction. Toody notes that Fred “kinda gets into this deer-in-headlights mode when shit gets intense.”
Pausing for a moment, she then relates an incident in the early ‘90s when the band, on tour in Europe, found themselves courted by Britain’s influential weekly Melody Maker. At the time, anything from the American northwest was blowing up and the paper wanted to send over a reporter and a photographer for a cover story – but at Dead Moon’s label’s expense.
“So Hans [owner of Music Maniac] runs it by me and says it would be a great career move: ‘All we have to do is fly this Everett True and his photographer over here to Europe, put them up in a hotel, and they’ll come and interview you and it’s just going to make you guys.’ Fred was like, ‘Oh, this just so smacks of payola. Ah, no. No, we’re not going to do it that way. If they think we’re such hot shit, fine. They can come over here [on their own] and I’ll talk to them.’
“You know, Fred has been so disillusioned by the music business in general and how it works, he just thinks, ‘If I’m worth the story, I’m worth the story.’ This is important to him: ‘I just want to know I did it on my own.’”
Hearing his wife say that, Fred thinks about it for a moment, then softly agrees.
“That’s right. I mean, hey, we grew up in the ‘60s and found out how the world works then. So, okay, I refuse to be part of it. I’m not gonna go there.
“But if you want to be part of my world — cool. I’ll accept you with open arms.”
PIERCED ARROWS: “Not Just Righteous, But Right” (From Stomp and Stammer zine, March 2010)
The letter is still here, tucked inside the jacket of a Dead Moon LP, on brown Tombstone Music stationary and bearing a July 1990 postmark. It’s a handwritten note from Dead Moon guitarist Fred Cole that begins, “Dear Fred, thanks for the reviews. You’re one of the core of people who started the ball rolling…”
Only hubris would allow me to think that I really had anything to do with Dead Moon’s rise from unruly Oregon punk/garage trio to international prominence as one of the fiercest, most uncompromising underground bands of the last two decades; by the time Cole formed the band in ’87, he already had enough experience under his belt to know exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. Just the same, helping get the word out about the band was something I and a number of my fanzine-scribbling peers approached with a missionary-like zeal, and it was gratifying to know that Cole appreciated the effort
In fact, although I never met him or his wife and bandmate Toody face to face (Dead Moon tours rarely seemed to be routed through wherever I happened to be living), we corresponded quite a bit, so when we convened via telephone in the summer of 2006 for Harp magazine dissection of their career to date, the occasion being the impending release of Sub Pop’s two-CD Dead Moon anthology Echoes of the Past, the interview took more the form of a conversation among old friends than a journalist grilling two musicians.
And then the band promptly broke up.
Cut to 2010: “You know, it wasn’t your fault…” Toody Cole lets her words trail off, then chuckles loudly into the phone.
I’d half-jokingly suggested that perhaps I’d placed a curse on the band by publishing the 2006 article; the laughter dies down, and she explains that after doing Dead Moon for two decades, “We kind of got trapped in a box, especially for Fred and his songwriting, and everybody wanted to hear the same 20-30 songs over and over again. But he’s one of these people who’s like, ‘It’s whatever I’m doing now, and not what I did then or when.’”
What the Coles are doing now is the Pierced Arrows, which they put together in surprisingly short order following the demise of Dead Moon. According to Toody (who, due to Fred’s deafness, handles the bulk of interview duties, fielding the questions and turning to Fred for clarification as needed), her husband had actually been thinking about closing the book on Dead Moon for some time; the band played its final gig in Groningen on Nov. 26, 2006. “And I pretty much had to talk him into coming back after that break anyway,” she continues, “because he was done at that point. Originally we were going to wait six months to a year, but it turned out to be about three or four [months] instead — just long enough to realize how much we missed it!”
Outwardly at least, the Pierced Arrows bear such a close resemblance to Dead Moon that some fans may have wondered why even bother with the name change and potentially squander the group’s momentum. Like Dead Moon, the Arrows are a three-piece, with Kelly Haliburton (ex-Murder Disco X) taking DM drummer Andrew Loomis’ place behind the kit; Fred Cole still spews his manifesto-like punk anthems in an unhinged, Arthur Lee-like howl while unleashing furious bursts of serrated riffs; Toody Cole still wields her precision basslines and shares occasional vocal duties with Fred; and just as Dead Moon did, before each gig the trio convenes onstage in a tight semi-circle whose physical closeness signifies both a musical and personal camaraderie.
Yet as Toody told me in 2006, in an unintentional foreshadowing what was to come, “We decided a long time ago that if any one of us three is not replaceable, then that will be the end of Dead Moon. Maybe something else will come up down the line, but it will be a different name.”
Hence, with drummer Andrew Loomis leaving the Dead Moon fold, the Pierced Arrows. The Coles knew Halliburton from his turning up at Dead Moon shows (his father had also played in a band with Fred in the ‘70s), so when they got the itch to resume playing, Fred invited him over for some informal rehearsals. Things clicked, and the Arrows played their first gig in May of 2007 with Poison Idea in Portland on the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. “We’d only been rehearsing for about 4-6 weeks,” says Toody, “and we only had about a half hour’s worth of material. But it was just phenomenal, really over the top. We’d figured we’d have to start up the ladder again like we had done in Dead Moon, but that gig went so well things just took off from there.”
Indeed they did. Since that first show the band has toured regularly and scored great press coverage. Yours truly, reviewing debut LP (on Cole’s long-running Tombstone label), enthused thusly:
The Coles are as garage-shock defiant and hell-bent for leather as ever. Yeah, they sound a lot like Dead Moon — Fred Cole’s unhinged, Arthur Lee-like vocals and keep-it-simple chord structures ensure that — with the main break from the past being a shift away from Dead Moon’s signature lo-fi/mono aesthetic by recording in a real studio with a producer. Improved sonics aside, Straight To the Heart is aimed directly at faithful D.M. fans, notably the grinding, malevolent anti-war screed “Guns Of Thunder,” punk thrasher “Walking Wounded” (featuring a nice Fred-Toody vocal duet), a thunderous romp through Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” and a bluesy slab of alienation (one of Fred’s favorite song topics) rock called “C-U.” Welcome back, Mr. and Mrs. Cole.
For their second album, the just-issued Descending Shadows, Pierced Arrows inked a deal with über-tastemaker Vice Records. Wisely, the Coles and Haliburton don’t fuck with their established formula too much, either; in a mere 11 tracks, the band plows forth with such feral viscosity and velocity that you’re left clutching your chest when the record’s done.
In classic Fred Cole form, the album opens with a manifesto-like anthem, “This Is the Day,” a churning slab of sinewy guitars and rhythm section thud that finds the singer bemoaning all the ugliness he’s seen — and spawned — in the past and trying to find the inner strength to rise above from this point onward: “If only I could change the way I’ve become through all these years/ I wouldn’t be watching you holding back your tears.” The creepy, noirish “Buried Alive” comes next, Fred chronicling a modern-life-is-suffocating-me viewpoint via a science-gone-terribly-wrong metaphor. That’s followed a few tracks later by the even more horrific “Paranoia” that utilizes metronomic bass, abrasive, serrated swipes of guitar, and appropriately unhinged lyric images of “creaking floors,” “evil in the night” and “the sound of blades just before they carve.” And “On the Move” finds the Coles, against a thick backdrop of dark riffage, swapping vocal lines about an impending apocalypse (literal, mental or perhaps both) that’s propelling the two protagonists to flee ahead of the coming storm.
Fred Cole has been compared in the past to Love’s Arthur Lee, and sometimes to Roky Erickson as well, but on this album he sounds uncannily like a cross between late vocal greats Bon Scott and Alex Harvey, moaning and gurgling and blustering and spitting into the mic as if through clenched teeth while reeling from a significant flesh wound. Animalistic, by any measure.
Too, like a radically minimalist AC/DC, the band locks into some of the most primal grooves imaginable, Toody and Halliburton adopting a no-frills approach that’s propulsive yet steady, and this economy of motion additionally frees Fred to unleash a heady mixture of steel-lined riffs alongside psychedelic sound effects. There’s even an unexpected foray into British punk territory, “Zip My Lip,” that has Toody adopting a Johnny Rotten-like sneer as Fred deploys proto-metal buzzsaw licks to great effect.
The net result is a set of tunes simultaneously spilling forth on a chaotic veneer of sonics while remaining powerfully and purposefully focused.
In its time, Dead Moon became a Northwest institution, based out of Clackamas, Oregon, and amassing a core rabid fanbase that extended to pockets all across the U.S. and, in particular, Europe. From 1987-2006 the band issued 15 albums (plus the Sub Pop compilation), many of them on their own Tombstone label — official motto for their lo-fi aesthetic: “music too tough to die” — and pressed in glorious mono courtesy Fred’s vintage mono lathe.
Fred’s musical roots, likewise, extended to an earlier era: as a member of Las Vegas teenbeat combo the Weeds and later the Portland-based Lollipop Shoppe, he’d enjoyed some chart success in the ‘60s, notably with the latter’s hit single “You Must Be a Witch.” By 1976 he was fronting a hi-octane punk combo called The Rats, the first in what would a succession of bands featuring Toody (whom he married in ’67) on bass. Dead Moon was the charm, however, and while the band never sold records by the truckload it still built up a huge stockpile of indie cred during its tenure, with fellow NW bands like the Wipers, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam singing the group’s praises. Pearl Jam has frequently covered Dead Moon songs in concert, while singer Eddie Vedder recently composed an endorsement of the Coles for Spinner.com that reads, in part, “In a day and age when authenticity is harder to come by than an honest Republican, legends Fred and Toody Cole deliver on every record and at every show… [They] epitomize the true potential and pure meaning of straight-no-chaser rock ‘n’ roll. Not just righteous, but right.”
Toody and Fred had offered a telling anecdote when I interviewed them in 2006 that illustrates the authenticity and purity Vedder’s suggesting. They were touring Europe at a point in the early ‘90s which coincided with the overseas press going ga-ga for anything remotely Sub Pop-related or Northwest-based. Melody Maker wanted to come over and do a cover story on the band — but on the record label’s dime. Fred, smelling payola, flatly refused, saying, “If they think we’re such hot shit, fine. They can come over here [on their own] and I’ll talk to them.” As Toody explained, “Fred wanted to know that he did it on his own.”
Remembering that part of our earlier conversation now, I can’t help but wondering how on earth Pierced Arrows wound up on Vice, hipster haven to such acts as Chromeo, the Raveonettes, King Khan & the Shrines and, most notoriously, the Black Lips. For 2008’s Straight to the Heart, the Coles self-released, but for the followup, the decision was made to shop for a label. The timing was apt, as around the same time the Arrows toured with the Black Lips.
“That’s how we ended up dealing with Vice,” explains Toody. “We were thinking about asking around, and Sub Pop’s docket was completely full, so we said, well, let’s give Vice a shot and see what happens. We sat down with them to talk about licensing Descending Shadows and they had ideas about promotion, etcetera, so we told them we’d be willing to do that within reason. It’s something we need to do on our part to support all the work they’ve put in, and so far it’s been a really great experience.” She adds that they’re scheduled to do a split single with the Black Lips and that Vice will be flying the band out in April to record it in a New York studio.
Working with a high profile record label isn’t the only thing the Coles are doing differently this time around. Whereas most Dead Moon records were self-recorded and -produced, for both Pierced Arrows albums they’ve opted to record in professional Portland facilities (Straight to the Heart was even done digitally). The yield thus far has been a far more expansive sound and boasting greater clarity than the signature Dead Moon lo-fi aesthetic — although true to habit, Fred Cole still cuts the vinyl masters with his mono lathe.
Of the decision to work with outside producers, Toody says, “I think we’ve gotten more comfortable in the studio, and also at this point Fred’s [hearing] has gotten so bad that he realized that he can’t record and self-mix anymore; he can’t hear the frequencies anymore. Still, we’re working with first, second or third takes, so it’s also a bit of the same-old, same-old. It was a lot easier this time around and less intimidating than it used to be. And very relaxing from the fact that Fred wasn’t rattled trying to figure out, ‘Okay, which room should we use…’ and trying to roll tape and keep headphones on and play at the same time, stopping the take – it just got too ridiculous.”
Truth be told, the Pierced Arrows, though perhaps demonstrating more complexity in their arrangements than Dead Moon did (Toody also has a greater singing role in the new band), still ooze a primal ferocity that’s instantly identifiable. One detects echoes of everyone from AC/DC to the Sex Pistols to classic NW garageshock, but there’s no question you’re getting Fred Cole & Co. within the first few seconds of hearing a Pierced Arrows song. The net result is a powerfully delivered and purposefully focused sonic collision that’s as thrilling as ever.
“One of the nice things about having this new band is that you’re not so tied down to the regimen of what you’re ‘expected’ to do,” says Toody. “With Dead Moon, everything was always like, ‘It’s just this way. Don’t deviate. Nothing different.’ You know? With the Pierced Arrows, though, Fred is happy as a clam because it’s the natural direction he was leaning in anyway, but for whatever reason Dead Moon couldn’t pull it off.
“We have a whole new energy — a whole new jazz.”
I can dig it, Toody. Just don’t break up before I get to see you play this time. Cool?