Category Archives: Music World Death

SOUNDTRACK FOR A NEW & BETTER AGE: Johnny Clegg

Arguably South Africa’s greatest export ever, the Juluka / Savuka bandleader, and solo artist of equal acclaim, passed away a month ago this week. Journalist and longtime Clegg fan James Tighe offers this analysis and appreciation of the musical giant. (Above photo: courtesy Wikipedia)

BY JAMES TIGHE

It came out of the blue. The BBC radio announcement just before midnight on Tuesday, the 16th of July, that South African musician Johnny Clegg had died earlier in the day. Pancreatic cancer. He was 66-years-old. The news hit me hard. I didn’t know he had been diagnosed with the disease in 2015.

I first heard Johnny Clegg’s music during a three month stay on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius in 1989. It seemed like everybody on the island was listening to him. As it happened, he played his final scheduled tour date there in October 2018.

Mauritius, being situated 500 miles east of Madagascar, is a member of several pan-African political and trade organizations. It has a sizable population of black citizens, Creoles, of east African origin, descendants of slaves imported to work the sugar cane fields by a succession of colonial powers, Dutch, French, English. These Mauritians, in particular, were ready-made Clegg fans.

The story of Johnny Clegg’s introduction to southern Africa’s Zulu culture and his lifelong identification with it has often been recounted. Born in England, he moved with his divorced mother to Zimbabwe at a very early age, then at the age of 6 to South Africa. Growing up in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, as the story has it, he met a street musician, a guitar player, who happened to be a member of the Zulu nation. The black street musician took the young white boy under his wing, introducing him to traditional Zulu music, dance, the larger culture.

The boy became enamored with all things Zulu, picking up the maskandi guitar and concertina accordion. He eventually became fluent in the language, mastered the male dance traditions, and becoming in the process something of an honorary member of the Zulu nation, if not an actual one.

His first musical incarnation consisted of assembling a mixed-race South African band, Juluka, releasing their first album in 1979. His partner-in-crime was the guitarist Sipho Mchunu, a Zulu migrant worker he met when he was 17. The songs were a mix of traditional Zulu music and rock-n-roll, with both English and Zulu lyrics.

Much of Clegg’s music is characterized by a chorus of deep male harmony vocals that help give the songs their power. Because the band was integrated, Juluka’s very existence was illegal, and the band members were arrested several times and their concerts broken up. At the time Clegg said that Juluka wasn’t founded as a political band, but, “Politics found us.”

He formed his second bi-racial band, Savuka, in 1986 (pictured above). Ironically, Clegg was expelled from the British Musicians’ Union around this time because he refused to stop playing shows in South Africa, a practice the international anti-apartheid movement didn’t condone.

***

After returning home to Oxford, Mississippi, from my Mauritius trip, Johnny Clegg became the matrix for my meeting a fellow countryman of his. One afternoon I was sitting in an Oxford bar, drinking a beer. No one else was in the place but the bartender. Behind the bar was a cassette tape player rigged to speakers. I asked the bartender to play the Johnny Clegg tape I had with me, one that I had bought in Mauritius. After a couple of songs, a guy walked up the stairs into the barroom. He was stout of body, with a black beard, longish hair, and wire-rimmed spectacles. He was about to seat himself at the bar when he stopped, looked up at the speakers with a quizzical expression, and said in a pronounced British accent, “Who’s playing Johnny Clegg?”

Thus was born the start of a friendship.

Peter Lee, like Clegg, was a South African of British ancestry. At the time we met he was the editor of Living Blues magazine, a University of Mississippi publication. He told me he had originally come to Oxford to enroll at Ole Miss as a result of his chancing upon a flyer posted on a bulletin board of the college he was attending in South Africa. The flyer invited students to apply to a foreign exchange journalism program at Ole Miss. Peter, a longtime American blues fan and collector of the music, immediately went into a mad scramble to get here. Mississippi. The word was magic to his ears. The Promised Land. The Birthplace of the Blues.

After graduating from the program, he was selected to become the editor of Living Blues. He went on to found Fat Possum Records in Oxford. His signing R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, among others, to the label revived their careers and helped put north Mississippi hill-country blues on the map.

It should be emphasized that Peter Lee didn’t start up Fat Possum just to make money. He founded the label to help black blues musicians make the money. And he wanted to promote the music. Peter’s deeply felt regard and respect for black people was catalyzed by his experience in the South African army where he witnessed first hand the brutality of his government’s apartheid regime.

As a South African soldier (military service being mandatory) he was literally placed on the front lines of the apartheid wars of the time, albeit not on the side he would have chosen. He witnessed up close and personal the savage inhumanity of violent racism as wielded by the state. The experience marked him for life. It is no wonder he loved Johnny Clegg and his music.

Johnny Clegg was an important public figure in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. His song Asimbonanga was dedicated to Nelson Mandela when he was still imprisoned on Robben Island. The song became an anthem of the movement. Clegg eventually received South Africa’s highest civilian honor, the Order of Ikhamanga, Silver. He was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government and was made an Officer of the British Empire. The list of honorary degrees he has received from universities around the world is a long one. I don’t think he was well known in the U.S., but internationally, especially throughout Africa and much of Europe, he was a super-star.

Back in the early ‘90s Johnny Clegg and Savuka performed on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. It was quite a spectacle. The band members were dressed old-time ceremonial Zulu-style, half-naked, barefoot, draped in big-game animal furs and skins. With spears and shields they demonstrated Zulu dance rituals as they played and sang, deep-throated, resonant Zulu voices booming in harmony. The studio audience loved it. “Just wait until we tell the gang back home in Peoria about this, Gladys.”

Around that same time, I made a cassette tape of Clegg and Savuka for my friend Larry Brown, the late Mississippi novelist. On occasion, usually late at night in a barroom, he would incline his head toward mine and in a low, barely audible voice, begin singing, “Asimbonanga. . .” completing the first line of the song, pronouncing the Zulu words perfectly. He would always end by saying how much he loved the song.

Johnny Clegg’s songs were not only of visionary politics but also of his love for Africa and the African people, the rains they depend on, the ground on which they walk, hunt, till, and otherwise wrest a living. Hearing of his death that Tuesday night awakened in me many of the past associations he and his music have for me. He touched my life in the best possible way. The world is a better place because of him and his music. That, to me, is the ultimate tribute any one of us can ever hope to receive.

Below, watch a complete Clegg & Savuka concert from back in the day.

Silver Jews’ David Berman 1967-2019 R.I.P.

Above photo via Drag City / by Brent Stewart

By Fred Mills

Presumably most indie rock fans got the sad news about Silver Jews’ mainman David Berman‘s passing on August 7; the cause of death has officially been listed as suicide, and it followed a history on Berman’s part of substance abuse, a couple of overdoses, and a 2003 suicide attempt. More recently, his marriage had dissolved and he was apparently experiencing deep financial issues.

I’ll leave the pop-culture analysis and biographical summaries to other outlets. What caught my attention today, however, was a tendency among some music fans to play the exploitation card against presumed (in their minds, at least) music retail gouging – as if they had never heard of or imagined an artist whose passing prompted sudden and renewed sales of his/her catalog. I will charitably view that opinion as “naive,” but to broadly paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, I will also less charitably retort.

***

Allow me to add a potentially-received-as-cynical note: Welcome to real life, music lovers. This has been going on since Brutus shivved Caesar. To telescope down to the micro-level: why don’t we now also dump on Dave’s record label – I met him a couple of times, and he was a first-class dude, full disclosure, and I also mourn our loss – for not shutting down all product orders that are undoubtedly coming in at the moment? Or demand that they not accept money from streaming services that are having a major bump on Berman music?

It is the CONSUMERS who drive the demand, and therefore the prices. Commerce continues apace, regardless of what happens elsewhere in the biosphere. So by a certain twisted logic, maybe we should be going on a major rant against all the Silver Jews fans who suddenly want to get their fix when they got the news. Hey, what were they and their wallets doing during Dave’s lifetime, huh?

Here, let me very clear: he knew he had a very devoted fanbase. But he sure wasn’t on track to join the 1% from that fanbase’s support. Over the years I have voiced the opinion, in so many contexts and publications that I can’t even begin to remember, that the time to let an artist know you care and you respect him/her and you are looking forward to the next creation is NOW. Not after the fact. Ask me sometime how many heroes and heroines I’ve lost over the years and wished I had simply mailed in a fan letter, or, more recently, posted to their social media an expression of support, prior to their passing. As the visionaries of This Mortal Coil once pointed out so sagely and prophetically: “It’ll end in tears.”

I will add that I am 1 million percent against exploiting that $$$ exploitation dynamic, and I say that as a periodic record store employee or manager who was on the sales floor when the news of John Lennon’s assassination and Kurt Cobain’s suicide broke. We sure as hell didn’t say, “Hey, let’s jack these already-high album list prices and make a few extra hundred bucks by noon…” When you’ve been in the music industry as long as I have, you will have seen so many tragically premature shufflings off of the planet that you will reflexively say to yourself, “Well, i guess he/she’s gonna be back on the Billboard charts next week.”

But I am realistic: there will always be people who are engaged with commerce who, sensing an opportunity to make a few extra hundred bucks by noon, will go for it. I repeat: Welcome to real life, music lovers. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking records by a musician, autographs by a Kennedy, or scraps of a tunic originally worn by Caesar.

Now, I have no idea which music retailers are apparently being monitored by the Grief Police, or what their prices were before/after the news broke. What I would suggest, however, is that before making a blanket judgment, know what you’re talking about. In this instance, it would involve analyzing a number of complex marketplace dynamics… oh, and also the ability to read minds.

Just to bring it down to a more personal level: I had a pair of Silver Jews CDs that I’d listed online ages ago, and by the time I heard Dave had passed, those discs had sold hours earlier. One was relatively rare already. Were I so inclined, I probably could have claimed some b.s. like “sorry, cannot locate!” or “my co-worker wanted me to let him grab it and I had not yet had the chance to remove it from the store.” And then, of course, monitor the going prices, and re-list sometime soon in my store at a sweet spot, laughing all the way to the bank.

Obviously I didn’t. In fact, I had a wonderful conversation with a kid who clearly adored Dave’s music, and told him I was happy these could find find a good home with a fan. But that’s just me. Anybody who assumes that every collector, buyer, seller, mortician, etc. – and, let’s be very clear, capitalist – on the planet feels bound to act similarly is destined for a lot of disappointments once they get out of their parents’ basement.

None of this is intended to come across as cynical or uncaring. But I’ve seen this movie many, many times before. The rest of you will too, eventually.

David Berman, rest in peace. You brought a lot of joy to our civilization.

Guadalcanal Diary/Woggles’ Jeff Walls 1956-2019 RIP: An Appreciation

 

From the Editor: Atlanta/Athens musical maverick Jeff Walls passed away this week from what was described as a rare  pulmonary disease. He’d battled it for some time, and a GoFundMe campaign that his old Guadalcanal bandmate Murray Attaway had organized had already raised $45,000 towards a double-lung transplant. At the GoFundMe page a tribute reads, “Jeff Walls passed away on May 29th surrounded by his family. With broken hearts, we will continue this fundraiser and all the scheduled events as a memorial to this remarkable man, and to continue to help his family with the overwhelming medical costs of his care.”  To call Walls a mainstay of the Georgia – and the entire Southern – indie/alternative music community would be an understatement; I saw him early on with the legendary Guadalcanal Diary in the mid ’80s, sometime later with his rockabilly project Hillbilly Frankenstein, and in recent years with garage maestros The Woggles (who were also beloved guests at BLURT’s SXSW day parties at the Ginger Man club in Austin – scroll to the bottom for a video clip from that show). You can read a moving remembrance penned by veteran Georgia music journalist Tony Paris here, and below, our man in Atlanta, John Boydston, submits his own memories in words and photos. There will be memorial concerts to help raise funds for his medical bills later this month: June 7 at The Foundry in Athens, and June 23 at The Earl in Atlanta. – FM

TEXT & PHOTOS BY JOHN BOYDSTON

Below: Woggles at Hole In The Wall, Austin SXSW, 2013

Jeff Walls was so up-close and friendly with everyone that you didn’t need to be a personal friend to get his full attention, and have conversations like you were in fact a longtime buddy catching up.   A mutual friend describes it well —  ‘When you were eye-to-eye with Jeff and he started telling you something, you just shut up and listened cause it was always amazing stuff.’   No matter what he was talking about it was cool and he let you in.   His friendliness, candor, and humor were always on.  Then throw on top of that what he is best known for: his incredible musical talents, showmanship, and studio chops that were already fully-formed when Guadalcanal Diary cut their first LP in 1984.  (True with that whole band in fact.)

Below: Woggles at Ginger Man, Austin SXSW, 2013
 

And the things I learned just following his Facebook feed and interacting there after I’d met him and shot a couple of SXSW gigs by The Woggles in 2013.   That band was a photographer’s dream, even in the darkest of clubs.  Especially in the darkest of clubs.   They shared my pics that weekend to great acclaim, and Jeff would continue to be highly complimentary of my “shutterbuggery” and thank me for my services every chance he got.   That was cool, cause I would learn Jeff didn’t say anything he didn’t mean.

Below: Jeff Walls w/Blasting Cap (which he formed with Guadalcanal Diary’s Murray Attaway) in Atlanta in 2016
I caught up with Blasting Cap, a band he put together with his wife Phyllis (on bass), GD co-founder Murray Attaway, and drummer Robert Schmid of the Swimming Pool Qs, and a gig at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta in early 2015.  I got some shots of band, and was sitting talking to Q’s singer Anne Boston (who were playing next), while Blasting Cap was winding down their set.  She said it looks like Jeff is getting ready to do something funky and suggested I go behind the stage and shoot whatever it was.  Got there just as Jeff was doing his Stratocaster toss, which I was not expecting.   Jeff’s rock and roll stage showmanship was never not on.   I attempted a GIF of that moment you can see here.

And you got deep thoughts from the guy too – here’s a quote from a private exchange we had on FB talking about the fickle biz he was in – “I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be successful and be admired for music that you secretly hated … Not that I’ve ever had that problem! I think that the less-imaginative, mediocre musicians usually have the opposite problem: They fall in love with everything they do (no matter how god-awful it may sound to others). Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep doing it.”

Below: Jeff Walls with the Plimsouls in Athens in 2016

The next year I caught Jeff in Athens, GA (Ath Popfest) in a retooled version of The Plimsouls, with that band’s original guitarist Eddie Munoz, and Atlanta’s Bryan Malone also filling in for a short East Coast tour.  I forget the bar name, but the stage area was set up like a living room, and these guys exploded for a power-set of Plimsouls hits. Jeff played bass.  Also got to talk to Jeff before the show and that conversation was mostly about how much he loved his family, many of whom were there and ready to rock.  Being a grandparent is the best, he told me.

While I do not have photos, I did catch Guadalcanal Diary twice – once in 1986 at 688, and then a reunion show in 1999.  Plus Jeff’s band Hillbilly Frankenstein in 1993 at Atlanta’s Cotton Club. That might be one of the best rock and roll shows I’ve ever seen, and his timing with the retro-upswing of the ’90s was spot on.    Night and day from GD’s music, it just proved what brilliant a musician and showman Jeff was.

Anyone who can do all that and be the world’s nicest guy will truly be forever missed and appreciated. (Amen. – Ed.)
****
Below: A video clip of the Woggles performing at the above-mentioned BLURT day party during SXSW in 2013.

Sara Romweber (Snatches of Pink, Let’s Active, Dex Romweber Duo) 1963-2019 R.I.P.

“You just had to see her play once, and you’d never forget her”: One of the best damn rock drummers ever. Above: brother Dex Romweber with Sara. Scroll down to check out some video and audio.

By Fred Mills

The full details have not been disclosed yet, but what we do know is that Sara Romweber, the kit-crushing drummer for North Carolina’s Snatches of Pink, Let’s Active, and Dex Romweber Duo, has passed away at the age of 55, reportedly from cancer. As I write this the tributes from fans, friends, and fellow music critics are pouring forth on Facebook, testimony to how much she was respected in the music community – and loved in general.

I first met Sara in the early ‘80s when she was the diesel engine helping power Let’s Active  (pictured above, with Mitch Easter and the late Faye Hunter), and she was both hilarious and deliberately weird, full of offbeat jokes and muttered nonsequiturs. Sometime later, after leaving the band, she got together with Michael Rank, Jack Wenberg, and Andy McMillan in Chapel Hill to form garage/trash/twang renegades Snatches of Pink, a true rock ‘n’ roll antihero outfit whose uncompromising style and attitude had a way of creating a loyal fanbase even while club owners would sometimes be aghast at the group’s “unprofessional” behavior. Yours truly, writing in a 2015 essay titled “Why Snatches of Pink Was the Greatest North Carolina Band of the Late ‘80s and Early ‘90s,” observed, “Booze clearly fueled this band, which had slimmed down to a trio, McMillan having assumed the bass position (and sharing vocals with Rank) for 1989’s Dead Men. This LP, along with next year’s 4-song mini album Deader Than You’ll Ever Be, which was cut live at CBGB as a promotional radio release, is what solidified their image as a hard-drinkin’, unrepentantly badass group who clearly did not give a shit what folks—and, significantly, club owners and bookers—thought about the band as long as they came out to the show.” (Below: Snatches of Pink.)

I have more than a few memories of hanging with Sara, Mike, and Andy before and after shows, and Sara was just as hilarious as ever, yet in getting to know her a little better, I was struck by her intensity when it came to talking about favorite films and, especially, books. (One has plenty of time to read books when one is in a touring band.) In between tossing back shots we had a number of discussions about great – and even not-so-great – authors.

Later, during the late ‘00s and well into the current decade, Sara joined brother Dexter as the Dex Romweber Duo (above). I’ll never forget working at Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, NC, during the 2012 Record Store Day blowout: the Duo was scheduled to play a set that afternoon, and when Dex and Sara finally rolled up I went over to greet them. “Fred!” Sara shrieked, and gave me a huge hug – due to my moving around quite a bit, it had probably been 20 years since we’d seen each other, and it was a wonderful feeling to know that even after all that time she instantly recognized me and remembered some of the, uh, misadventures I had shared with the Snatches gang.

My deepest condolences to the Romweber family and to everyone who knew and loved Sara. May she rest in peace. Below are a few remembrances that have just been posted online that I feel are well worth sharing.

***

Stephen Judge, Schoolkids Records: “All of us at Schoolkids at devastated to hear this news today of the passing of a good friend, Sara Romweber. Sara was an amazing drummer and an even better person. Always lit up the room with her smile and charm. She loved coming to the shops on Record Store Day and she and her brother Dexter played our shops many times over the years. She was an inspiration to us all.”

Michael Toland, Austin Chronicle/Blurt: “One of the best rock & roll drummers to ever beat the skins. I saw SOP (when they were going by the name Clarissa) at the Electric Lounge one night and she was astonishing – precise, grooving and, above all, powerful. One of the unsung rock drumming greats.”

Michael Plumides, former owner of Charlotte’s 4808 Club: “The last show was performed by Snatches of Pink two nights later. No one showed up because the entire city thought we were out of business. They had revoked our ABC permit that day. That afternoon, Sara Romweber brought me a little hand-painted black bat on a string that she said she made for me. I adored Snatches of Pink but Sara especially and frankly, I was one of the few people in town who would book them.”

David Menconi, 2019 Piedmont Laureate and former music critic at Raleigh’s News & Observer: “Whenever I’d see Sara Romweber onstage, I would ask myself: How does she hit those drums so hard? Because even though she was slightly built and soft-spoken, Sara could bring the thunder. Sarah did not seem like one to call attention to herself. But you just had to see her play once, and you’d never forget her.”

 

 

 

 

Tony Joe White 1943 – 2018 R.I.P.

He was the Swamp Fox – the only one, period. And there will never be another. Latest album is Bad Mouthin’, and you need it.

By Fred Mills

Words escape me. When I finally got to see him perform live in Austin, about a decade ago at SXSW (Antone’s, if anyone is interested), I was absolutely flattened. To shake the hand of a hero of mine since the ’60s, well… he had no idea what a fanboy he was looking at through those thick black sunglasses of his.

Like I said, there are no words…

Conway Savage of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 1960-2018, R.I.P.

Gifted Aussie keyboardist had a long, illustrious tenure with the Bad Seeds since the early ’90s. He’s pictured above, second from right. Below, watch a pair of videos and listen to a unique vocal performance with the Bad Seeds.

By Fred Mills

Having been fortunate enough to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds twice in recent years, it hits hard to learn of their veteran keyboardist Conway Savage’s passing yesterday (Sept. 2) from a brain tumor. He was only 58. Savage had been diagnosed in 2017 with the illness, and it prevented him from performing with the band for much of the Skeleton Key tour.

At the NickCave.com site, the following announcement was posted:

Our beloved Conway passed away on Sunday evening. A member of Bad Seeds for nearly thirty years, Conway was the anarchic thread that ran through the band’s live performances. He was much loved by everyone, band members and fans alike. Irascible, funny, terrifying, sentimental, warm-hearted, gentle, acerbic, honest, genuine – he was all of these things and quite literally “had the gift of a golden voice,” high and sweet and drenched in soul. On a drunken night, at four in the morning, in a hotel bar in Cologne, Conway sat at the piano and sang Streets of Laredo to us, in his sweet, melancholy style and stopped the world for a moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Goodbye Conway, there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Love, Nick and the Bad Seeds.

An extensive biography for Savage, that also details his numerous solo albums and other bands over the years, can be found here. Meanwhile, check out a few choice video moments, below – note that the third clip, a Bad Seeds montage, is for “The Willow Garden,” originally the B-side for “Where The Wild Roses Grow,” which was sung by none other than Savage himself. R.I.P., good sir.

Richard Swift 1977-2018 R.I.P.

Indie rock maven was noted for his music, his collaborations, his production work, and his dips into the film industry.

By Blurt Staff

Multi-instrumentalist, producer, and all-around Renaissance dude of the indie world Richard Swift has passed away, tragically, at the age of 41. According to Pitchfork, the cause of death has not yet been announced; his “life-threatening condition” had him hospitalized of late at a Tacoma, Wash., medical facility.

Read about Swift’s productive life HERE, and meanwhile, check out some choice music he left behind for the rest of us. Our condolences to his family and friends – and his many fans, including the BLURT community  Oh, and by the way – the top photo comes from the gent’s always lively Facebook page. We are confident he would have approved.

 

Adolescents/Agent Orange’s Steve Soto 1954-2018 R.I.P.

Ace bassist/guitarist justifiably considered an American punk legend.

By Barbi Martinez

In an era when we increasingly – and sadly, but respectfully – take note of the passing of musical elders from all genres, it still remains a shock when we lose someone from the punk era, since those ranks are, for the most part, not even remotely considered old and infirm. But word arrived today that the 54-year-old Steve Soto died yesterday, June 27. The cause of death remains unclear as of this writing.

Soto was a ground zero West Coast punk, having been an original member of both Agent Orange and the Adolescents, as well as Manic Hispanic, Joyride, 22 Jacks, the Twisted Hearts, and more. Most recently he had been touring with the Adolescents that wrapped last weekend in New York. Tributes have subsequently poured forth on social media from scores of contemporaries and fellow punk musicians.

On Twitter, the Adolescents posted, “with heavy heart i share the passing of steve soto, my friend and bandmate since 1979. i dont know what to do. or to say. goodbye my brother.” And on Facebook, is friend Greg Antista initially announced Soto’s passing, writing, “I’m sorry to break such bad news in such an impersonal way but the family of Steve Soto would like everyone to know that he passed peacefully in his sleep today. I’m sure this is a terrible blow to all of you. He will be missed. We will be posting details on a memorial as plans are finalized.”

Listen to Seattle ’72 Fleetwood Mac Show w/Danny Kirwan (R.I.P.)

The former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, and veteran of 5 key albums, passed away on June 8 at the age of 68.

By Uncle Blurt

The music world was caught offguard this past weekend with news of Danny Kirwan’s passing – speaking as someone who got to see him perform in the Bob Welch/Christine McVie-era incarnation of the band, I am particularly saddened. Not many details have been released as of this writing, although it’s known that he had numerous chemical and alcohol issues over the years.

He was a helluva guitarist, though, and the good folks at Big O zine have posted a sharp soundboard recording of Fleetwood Mac performing in ’72:

MP3: Paramount Northwest Theater, Seattle, WA; March 10, 1972

It’s an even mix of Kirwan/Peter Green-period classics and more then-recent fare from the Welch/McVie era (Future Games, etc.). The tracklist is below – enjoy. You can listen to it online or download it for free, along with downloadable artwork.

      Track 01
. Tuning and Intro 1:23 (2.3MB)
      Track 02
. Tell Me All The Things You Do 5:23 (9.1MB)
      Track 03
. Future Games 11:02 (18.5MB)
      Track 04
. Get Like You Used To Be 4:24 (7.4MB)
      Track 05
. Child Of Mine  7:23 (12.4MB)
      Track 06
. Spare Me A Little Of Your Love * 4:37 (7.8MB)
      Track 07
. Homeward Bound * 5:14 (8.8MB)
      Track 08
. Black Magic Woman 11:21 (19.1MB)
      Track 09
. Oh Well 3:07 (5.3MB)

BLURT’S INDELIBLES (THE COLLEGE ROCK CHRONICLES, PT. 10): Rank And File’s “Sundown” and “Long Gone Dead”

Paying tribute to twanging alt-country pioneer Tony Kinman, who passed away this week from cancer.

BY FRED MILLS

Ed. note: For this installment of my “College Rock Chronicles” series (previously excavated: features on Big Star, Dumptruck, The Gun Club, Dwight Twilley, Winter HoursGreen On Red, Thomas Anderson, The Sidewinders, and The Windbreakers) I flash back to the mid ’80s and a pair of albums that caught my fancy back then and continue to be favorites to this day.

The indie music world received very sad news this week: Tony Kinman, a pioneering West Coast ground-zero punk in the late ‘70s with The Dils, and a pioneering alternative country twanger in the ‘80s with Rank And File, passed away at the age of 63. The cause of death was listed as cancer, his brother and bandmate Chip Kinman announcing the news on Facebook on May 4. Writing at his Facebook page a day prior, Chip explained, “Tony is home with his family. He is no longer receiving treatment and is comfortable and at peace. I have read him everything that people are posting and he is very moved. I will let everyone know when it is done. I love you all. Thank you, Chip.” (According to the LA Times, Kinman “was diagnosed with cancer in March, and had begun what had been expected to be a six-month program of chemotherapy, according to the CaringBridge page Chip’s wife, Lisa Kinman, created to keep fans informed. But the cancer turned out to be extremely aggressive.”)

The news of Tony Kinman’s death was particularly hard on the Americana community, for the Kinmans were more than just “pioneering” with Rank And File—they were a key influence upon and godfathers to the burgeoning alt-country movement that would commence picking up steam in the late ‘80s, by which time the band had broken up following three albums and several U.S. tours.

Yours truly was fortunate enough to see R&F on their first cross-country trek supporting 1983 debut Sundown—I still have my LP signed by the band—and I still have fond memories of hanging out and sharing drinks with the members during soundcheck and after the show. I hadn’t really kept close tab on the Kinmans following the band’s demise, although I did enjoy their post-R&F activities, including Blackbird and Cowboy Nation. More recently, Tony had worked with brother Chip on Chip’s latest band, Ford Madox Ford. There was a genuine lifelong bond between the two brothers as profound as any you’d care to cite.

Then in 2003 word arrived that Rhino Handmade was reissuing their two albums, along with bonus tracks, as a remastered CD, so I jumped at the opportunity to write about them for my column that appeared regularly in Harp magazine, “Indelibles,” in which I zeroed in on classic or influential albums that were finally seeing reissue in the digital era. So I consider myself even more fortunate to have been able to renew my acquaintance with Tony Kinman, if only for an hour or so over the phone. What follows below, then, by way of a remembrance of Kinman now, is an expanded version of the “Indelibles” profile. I found him to be more than affable, and quite willing to reflect on his old band’s fortunes—the good times as well as the less-than-good ones. He was rightfully proud of the music he and his brother and the other members (one of whom was Alejandro Escovedo—you may have heard of him) made together, stating simply, “I know what Rank and File was and I know what we did in terms of pioneering.”

A lot of us out here also know what you did, Tony, and we’re all immensely proud of you. Rest in peace, sir.

From Harp magazine, 2003: Nowadays, spotting lapsed punks hooked on twang is commonplace (just ask Ryan Adams or Jesse Malin). But back in the early ‘80s, when two alumni of West Coast punks The Dils –  aka “the American Clash” – turned up sporting wide-brimmed Stetsons, singing about trains, sundowns and border crossings and emitting a hard-edged but distinctively country rock sound, the sight was alien, to say the least. Some clever critic dubbed Rank And File “cowpunk”; the label stuck, subsequently being applied to the likes of Jason & the Scorchers, Green On Red, Lone Justice, etc.

Looking for an escape from punk’s “faster/louder” orthodoxy, brothers Tony and Chip Kinman (bass and guitar, respectively) had formed the band with another ex-punk, guitarist Alejandro Escovedo (late of San Fran’s Nuns), and after migrating to Austin and picking up a drummer, Slim Evans, began rehearsing and songwriting with a military-like dedication.

“You know how badly it can sound when people are just going, ‘Hey, even I can do a country song!’’ recalls Tony Kinman. “We didn’t want that. Plus, if you’re gonna say you play country music, you’re gonna come up against guys who can play and sing the pants off you. So you better be able to play. And we wanted to bring some life, skill and imagination into it.”

The diligence paid off; after a tour opening for The Blasters, Rank And File landed a deal with Slash, and recording sessions (with producer David Kahne) for Sundown quickly commenced. Upon its release in late ’82, critics wet themselves, as much for the record’s unique-for-its-time sound as for its obvious musical merits – visceral, twangy rock choogle fueled by some of the sleekest fretwork since the cosmic cowboy duels of Roger McGuinn and Clarence White, not to mention harmony vocals that conjured everyone from the Beatles and Eagles to the Brothers Everly and Righteous.

Muses Kinman, “I thought it was a good record. None of us had any experience in recording, and we were on such a low budget that the only way David could afford to bring it in under budget was to have us come in [to the studio] late at night after everyone else was done! But reviewers weren’t really ready for how good the material was – ‘Wow, this is pretty strong!’ – and that was gratifying.”

Rank And File promoted its album heavily, even landing a choice TV appearance on Austin City Limits. The schedule took its toll, however, and after the tour was over Escovedo took his leave, eventually embarking on a notable solo career. For a brief unrecorded spell, future guit-steel virtuoso Junior Brown was Escovedo’s replacement. (Kinman says Brown “was phenomenal even back then and he knocked ‘em dead, but wasn’t challenged enough” in the band.) Drummer Evans left too, so it was a two-man Rank And File that went into the studio in January of ’84 to work on a sophomore album, sessions that Kinman now admits were “definitely strange. It wasn’t the ‘all-for-one’ thing like the first one. Al was gone, Slim had gotten married and left the band as well, so it was just Chip and I. But we got it done.”

Rank And File may have been unstable personnel-wise, but musically speaking, Long Gone Dead is every bit as strong as its predecessor. Somewhat slicker in feel due to the presence of session players (including Tom Petty drummer Stan Lynch) and with additional country flavorings (prominently featured were pedal steel, fiddle, banjo and slide guitar), it still sounds fresh today, more “cow” than “punk.” As Kinman quips, “We almost invented the modern country sound of today, what gets on the radio. Country-sounding, but with a drive to it, like our version of [Lefty Frizzell’s] ‘I’m An Old, Old Man.’”

Reviews once again were terrific. Except, ironically, the one that appeared in Slash’s hometown paper, the L.A. Times, which Kinman says sparked an odd bit of tension between band and label. In fact, once the Long Gone Dead national tour (guitarist Jeff Ross and drummer Bob Kahr were now in the band) was over and it was time to begin work on the third Rank And File album, Slash waffled over everything from studio scheduling to producer choices – at one point Van Dyke Parks was on board – for nearly two years.

In 1987 Rank And File was recorded and released, but the delays had taken the wind out of the band’s sails and it was a substandard effort. Says Kinman, “Basically everything went to hell, and my attitude, Chip’s attitude, everyone’s attitude was getting more and more like, ‘Aw, screw it.’ And that’s basically why that third album sounds like it does. It’s a record that has some good songs on it, but the whole idea behind it was just wrong, like, heavy metal and hard rock or something, and by the time we got in to make it we just didn’t care anymore.”

Following a final tour, Rank And File called it a day. The Kinmans went on to the duo-plus-drum-machine Blackbird, subsequently picked up acclaim for yet another Stetsons-and-twang project, Cowboy Nation. Now, with the Rhino Handmade expanded/remastered reissue of the first two Rank And File albums on one CD as The Slash Years (see sidebar, below, for details), Kinman hopes his former band’s precedent-busting efforts in the pre-No Depression/alt-country era will finally get their due.

Admits Kinman, “For awhile it used to bother me that it was almost like we’d never existed — like, the only Rank And File ever got mentioned at all was in an Alejandro Escovedo article A lot of younger people playing now simply never had the chance to hear us. They make the jump from, say, Gram Parsons to the Knitters – or Uncle Tupelo. And there’s this whole void there, and I think it’s simply because our stuff was not around.”

“But,” he adds, with undisguised pride, “I know what Rank and File was and I know what we did in terms of pioneering.”

******

Rank And File: The Slash Years (Rhino/Handmade RHM27816; 2003). Personnel: Chip Kinman, Tony Kinman, Alejandro Escovedo, Slim Evans

1982 saw Rank And File debut with the David Kahne-produced Sundown (Slash SR114); appearing in 1984 was Long Gone Dead (Slash/Warner Bros. 25087), produced by Jeff Eyrich. Plans were made years ago, then delayed several times, to reissue both LPs on CD. Finally, with the Slash label’s back catalog controlled by Warner Strategic Marketing, under which Rhino now operates, Rhino Senior V.P Gary Stewart – a huge R&F fan, not so coincidentally – got involved, shifted the project to Rhino’s Internet-only collectors’ imprint Handmade, and co-produced the CD along with the Kinman brothers. The Slash Years is a numbered/limited edition of 2500 copies (www.rhinohandmade.com ).

In addition to remastered sound, a 16-page booklet with incisive liner notes penned by veteran journalist Jimmy Guterman and a separate mini-booklet of lyrics and gig poster repros, The Slash Years includes four non-album bonus tracks. Three of them hail from the Sundown recording sessions: edgy anti-racism screed “Klansman,” an early staple of the band’s live sets; a cover of old-school country standard “Wabash Cannonball”; and twangy gem “Post Office,” which previously appeared on the cassette of Sundown and a Warners rarities compilation, Revenge Of The Killer B’s. The final bonus cut is a spirited (if slightly muddy-sounding) live recording from ’87, “White Lightnin,” a J.P. Richardson (Big Bopper) penned drinkin’ ‘n’ stinkin’ recorded over the years by everyone from Waylon Jennings and George Jones to the Fall and the Waco Brothers.

Additional Update:

The Slash Years, as noted, was a limited edition. It quickly sold out, and is considered relatively rare nowadays; at the time of this writing, the lone copy listed at Discogs was going for $99. In 2005 the Collectors’ Choice label reissued all three R&F albums on CD, minus any bonus tracks; this marked the first time 1987’s Rank And File was available on CD. And here in 2018, The Slash Years is available for streaming at Spotify.