Friday, July 31, 2015

WALTER STEDING: Sound Style Change [1983 interview/article]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1983
Intro by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #10, dated 1983. It was written by Julia Masi.

Currently, Walter Steding is a painter and actor who writes film scores and is in the group Crazy Mary, based in New York City where he resides. – RBF, 2015

On the cover of his new album, Dancing in Heaven, on Animal Records, Walter Steding, in an oversized pair of rolled-up bluejeans with his violin in hand, is suspended in an extracted hop, like the Pied Piper ready to dance off a cliff, or Peter Pan flying back to Never Never Land. A confusing change of image for those of us who think of him as the black-clad figure of the concert stage.

Dancing in Heaven is light-years away from the Walter we once knew “wheezing and wailing” to home-made bio feedback machines. He’s still inviting us to experience his different reveries, but now with 11 simple, lighthearted, commercial songs, his daydreams have become danceable.

“To me, the cover would have been this hat,” he points to his large, black felt fedora that looks like it was designed for a Pilgrim, “the darkest glasses you could find, and just skulls and daggers all over the place. He holds up the cover for careful inspection. “At first I didn’t like it; but now I do, now that everybody is telling me that they like it. The back is the history,” he flips over the cover. ”I never have to talk about my past again. It’s done. It’s documented,” he says of the black and white montage that traces his career. Although he’s only been performing since he came to new York in 1976, the photos on the back of the album read like a Who’s Who of rock‘n’roll. He points to the center picture of himself and his manager, artist Andy Warhol. “Andy was posing, and I said to him, ‘Well, we have to do something. Why don’t you put your hands by your ears?’ Did he go for that in a hurry! It looks derogatory, like, ‘Why is he doing that to Walter?’, but it was my idea. He rests to skip over the pictures of himself in his early days as a one-man-band, wearing electronic gadgets around his waist that looked like Batman’s utility belt, but his past is too interesting to ignore. Even as a kid growing up in Harmony, Pennsylvania, his background was always art. “Remember the kid in high school who always went around and painted the twelve days of Christmas on his windows? Well, that was me.” He temporarily put down his paint brushes in the late ‘70s to try his hand at performance art. “Just ‘cause I saw something happening.

“It was an era when new technologies were being introduced to the masses, and it was a time when bio-feedback and Rolfing, and any kind of New Age idea was really out there. But I just didn’t see any aesthetic in it. I saw that the more that we define existence by finite terms, the less we really see it. You can use any kind of formula you want to start defining existence, but all you’re doing is making it real; making it physical. Unless you put those physical symbols in some sort of aesthetic means, you’re not really describing what’s there.”

At this time, Walter had been working with the Mankind Research Center in Washington, D.C., and was in close contact with the Menninger Foundation, so he knew a lot about bio-feedback. “As people were going on and really thinking they were discovering something new, it just was the phoniness, the unreality of it. It was new at the time as far as the masses were concerned. I was using it as a means of expression. So instead of working with bio-feedback as though it were something real and tangible, I needed something to play against, so I took the bio-feedback and made it into sound, and then used the violin on top of that.

“Working with color and working with animal sounds, I learned a lot about how the sound would affect your brainwave output. Not only brainwaves, but EKG, too. And Galvanic skin response. Any kind of monitored bodily functions. I took a generator to a lake in Pennsylvania where these spring peepers were coming up, and played a concert along with them. That’s another reason why the violin was a good instrument, because it didn’t have frets or finite points. So I could really deal with sounds and sound like the noises that animals make; wolves and whales. You’ve head those whale records and things? So I was playing along with those, but I knew what kind of range those kinds of sound existed in. They’re all over the place. They’re not necessarily concerned with stops and finite points. But it does develop into patterns from that.

“And then, from that, I kind of go into – holistic is the word – where you don’t have the stops. I could transfer that into music because I knew a certain pattern that I’d be playing that would follow along with the noises that the whales would make. And then I knew instead of sliding my finger and going from one step to the other step, I could break that into steps, so I could play a song very similar to the noises a whale would make without actually trying to make it sound like a whale.

“You have different reveries in your different states of consciousness. Like, if you go into the deep Delta region, in this Delta it reverts to neuronal bursts per second. It’s actually (that) you send out these signals, and they can really be monitored. You’re sort of in-between Alpha and Beta, and you’re conscience and think about things, like your motor actions, like moving your hands. That is more in the Alpha region, and those (signals) are amplified. It’s a real minute signal. I built little amplifiers so that I could convert the signals into sound. I did that by taking the electrical impulse and putting it through an LED. The LED would charge a photo-transistor, and that photo-transistor would change the rate and the pitch of the synthesizer.

“I used a homemade synthesizer just built for that.” He learned to make his musical equipment from scratch, “just by reading schematics and things.” And by “working with chips,” he says nonchalantly.

“The tools and things are out there. You can go to an electronics store and just buy all these parts. You could buy a clock – it’s called a clock (but) it’s not really a clock; it’s a little chip, a timer. And they use it for everything. Not necessarily for music. Once you understand the basic principles of how a chip works, you can apply it to anything.” Walter chose to apply it to the violin because he felt that the “violin epitomizes music.”

His first concerts were very short and very avant-garde. “I thought it was art! I mean, I was doing it at art galleries.” And even though he describes those performances as “wheezing and wailing,” he did gain a certain respect for music, and command of his instrument. “That’s how I started getting more and more musical, learning about notation; different stops and points, with Western scales broken down into all those finite points. The more I learned about that, the more I learned how I could use it.

“I’m definitely trying to create a mood with the notation. Certain things do create a mood. The sounds that whales make do have an effect on the human body, even though it might not be aware of how that sound is. Even without hearing whales, a person is still affected by their sound. There is communication between all living things.

“I use the 4/4 beat. With the 4/4 beat, I try to find a more universal kind of sound, even though it’s relative to the 4/4 timing. It’s kind of scaleless.

“I like to think of the violin without any frets, and how it can transform that mood into a sound. And then I like to transfer that into a progression. A real progression in the 4/4 format, starting with the root note, and then going to the 4th and 5th – you know, real traditional progressions. So it comes from a thought and I just keep working it out until it becomes a tune.

“Right now, today, I got this line that goes,” he sings, “Do, do, do, cha, cha. I’ll take that line and I know how I want it to go, but I know that I have to put it in a format where the bass can play along with it and the keyboard player can play along with it. So, I’ll take the rhythm machine and set it to a counter, where it counts off 4s. Then I’ll rearrange the idea that I had in my head to fit that format. Then I’ll arrange it so that the bass can play his full measures, do a turnaround, and come back in again. So it starts with just an abstract idea, but then you keep going over it and over it, until it becomes a song.

“The songs I write anyone can play. I keep them simple. And I can make tapes where everything is separated. I don’t even have to rehearse. I can give someone a tape of what it’s supposed to sound like, and give them a tape of what their part is so they can listen to these tapes and learn the part exactly. And never come to a rehearsal and (still) play with the rest of the group. And then show up for a concert and know all their lines. Like the bass player. I’ll give him a tape of the song, how it should sound with everyone together, and then a separate tape of just his part. And the same with the keyboard player and guitar. So there is no question then of what they should do.”

Lenny Ferraro, drums; Paul Dugan, bass; Karen Geniece, vocals and guitar; Mark Garvin, lead guitar; and Robert Arron, sax, keyboard, vibratone and guitar, accompanied Walter on the album, which he produced himself. “I wanted help. Really. I would have liked to have a producer,” he says modestly as his big dark eyes widen. “At the time, Chris (Stein, of Blondie) wasn’t feeling very well. I learned; I’m glad for the experience. I learned ‘cause I had to. I really would have liked to have someone professional come in and say, ‘This and that has to be done.’ It’s just like, there are rules that you have to follow. The bass beat is on the one, and the snare is on the two. Until I learned that, I didn’t write songs that way. I put the snare wherever I felt like it. Someone could always tell something was wrong with it. I could tell something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. So it would be good to have a producer who could say, ‘Why don’t we write a harmonic part that goes with the 4?’

“I don’t want to do something deliberately wrong when I know it shouldn’t be that way, just because it’s been done by so many other pioneers of electronic music and avant-garde musicians, like Cage and Stockhausen; people who have designed instruments, like Bookla and Moog, and all. That’s been done before.”

Right now, he can’t see himself returning to the avant-garde, using music as an art form. “It doesn’t make much sense for me to stay at one level and just deal with the emotion.

“The last concert I did, people liked it. I’ll keep going in that direction.”



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THE TURTLES: Music’s Pride & Joy (Etc.) [1988]

Text by Dawn Eden / FFanzeen, 1988
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This interview / article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #15, dated 1988. It was written by Dawn Eden.

The only time I ever had the opportunity to see a version of the Turtles was when lead singers Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman had their bookended Flo and Eddie stint, opening for Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies tour at Madison Square Garden during June of 1973. Eventually, they returned to the Turtles name, after their Greatest Hits CD helped make Rhino Records a solvent company. Also, a good friend of mine interviewed Kaylan at some point, and when asked why the name return, he was quite open, stating how much they earned as Flo and Eddie compared to payments for the Turtles.

One of the more interesting aspects of this article is that it is usually Kaylan who does the interviewing, but here, Dawn manages to strike up a convo with the wild-haired Volman.

On that note, Kaylan recently released an absorbing autobiography, co-written with music historian/mensch Jeff Tamarkin, titled Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. [reviewed HERE]. – RBF, 2015

In today’s incestuous Top-40 world, musicians switch from one band to another faster than you can say Sammy Hagar. It’s rare for a band to stay around for 10 years, let alone 25 years. And the number of successful bands whose members have played together since high school can be counted on the gaps between David Bowie’s teeth. Which makes it all the more unusual to look at Flo and Eddie, the nucleus of the Turtles.

FFanzeen caught up with Mark “Flo” Volman in his suite at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza the day after he and partner Howard “Eddie” Kaylan played there.

Volman and Kaylan met in their Westchester, California, high school’s a capella choir. In 1962, Volman joined Kaylan’s surf band, the Crossfires, who became one of Redondo Beach’s most popular groups. The Crossfires were the house band at the Rebelaire Club when they were discovered by White Whale Records in 1965. After changing their name to the Turtles, they recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and almost instantly found themselves elevated to the ranks of rock and roll royalty.

Volman reflects fondly upon the Turtles’ early, innocent years: “When you think [about] what happened to us, and how few bands that happens to in history – how you start as a high school band and years later, find your songs making it into the Top-10 and competing against the biggest in America – you don’t really consider that plausible. That is a dream. When you’re in high school, your main thing is to get out of high school. I mean, for me it was to get out of science class.”

Recently, “Happy Together,” the Turtles’ 1967 No. 1 hit and biggest seller, was being revived in a number of forms. It was used as the theme song of the film Making Mr. Right, and a video of the song mixing scenes from the movie with live Turtles footage was added to the VH-1 cable station’s playlist. The single was also reissued by Rhino Records, the label that reissued the Turtles’ entire catalog of albums.

Oddly enough, “Happy Together,” which is still Our Song to millions of love-struck couples, is really about unrequited love. According to Volman, “A lot of people overlook one very important part of the song. Even as we made the record, we may not have been concerned with its actual philosophy… It starts out, ‘Imagine me and you…’ If you say one thing [about] that record, all we’ve immediately done, to anybody who’s really listening, is paint a picture that this is all a fantasy. It’s all make-believe. It’s the story of a boy who’s fantasizing over a girl who he doesn’t have. ‘Imagine me and you…’” Volman repeated. “There is no relationship. They are not ‘together,’ but, ‘I can’t see me loving nobody but you.’ Lyrically, this record never pays off. The boy never gets what he wants.”

After the Turtles broke up in 1970, Volman and Kaylan performed and recorded with Frank Zappa’s infamous Mothers of Invention. During the same period, they released several solo albums. Because legal hassles prevented them from recording under the Turtles’ name at the time, they took on the nicknames of their former roadies: Flo (short for “The Phlorescent Leech”) and Eddie [The Best of Flo and Eddie, on Rhino Records, is an excellent introduction to their solo career – DE, 1988]. They also embarked upon a second career, that of singing back-up on other artists’ albums. Volman and Kaylan backed up just about every major artist, from John Lennon to Bruce Springsteen.

Ronnie, Bruce, Howard and Mark
Volman says that he and Kaylan met Springsteen by a fluke. They were friends with his road manager, who invited them to attend a Cleveland concert on the Born to Run Tour. Volman picks it up from there: “While we were at the soundcheck, Bruce called me and Howard out of the audience and asked if we wanted to join him, singing [back-up] with Ronnie Spector. I was real surprised he even knew who we were. We rehearsed right there at the soundcheck, and we ended up singing with him and Ronnie in that night’s show! It was real fun.” Volman and Kaylan later did several more shows with Springsteen, and even sang on The River [1980].

In light of the recent commercial that uses “Happy Together” to hawk Golden Grahams, Flo and Eddie have truly come full circle. More than a decade ago, on one of their classic albums, they performed a sketch about a practice that was almost unheard of then. Volman recalls: “What Howard and I were raving about was taking rock and roll and using it as a commercial product. We were saying, ‘What if you took Fleetwood Mac’s big hit and used it to advertise McDonald’s Big Mac?’ It was [meant as] comedy. You go back and listen to it and it’s not dated at all. It’s me and Howard singing to ‘Rhiannon’: ‘You deserve a break today, so come to McDonald’s.’”


Friday, July 10, 2015

DVD Review: JJ Grey and MOFRO – Better Days: The Live Concert Film

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

JJ Grey and MOFRO – Better Days: The Live Concert Film
Directed by Spookie Daly
Alligator Records / Thunderbolt Productions /
Madison House / Flying Pig Studio / MVD Visual

119 minutes, 2011 / 2013

Up North, JJ Grey and MOFRO are not as well-known as some of their other Southern brethren that walk the path of rock, blues and country. Part of this concert documentary is musicians, including members of the band, describing MOFRO’s sound and everyone has a different slant to it. So, what the hell, here is mine.

I definitely would not call it Southern Rock. I can see them as more Skynyrd than the Allmans, with some of Jim Dandy’s growling Blues and less tight pants, but not as much rock. Swamp rock is a good descriptor, but more if it had more classic R&B and Gospel. And for good measure, as one member of the band says, add a bit of “J[immy] Reed.”

The reason why all these are accurate, is because they refuse to stay on any one highway line, but move from lane to lane, keeping it interesting. For example, “DirtFloorCracker” is solid Southern Rock, even though, as I said, I would not classify them as such. Another, the title cut “Brighter Days” sounds to me like something out of the John Mellencamp – er – camp.

This documentary is a cross between a concert and talking heads. The live music part, which is a complete concert, was taped at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, GA, on January 22, 2011. It’s not too far up the swamp from where JJ grew up near Jacksonville, F-L-A (same town as Tom Petty, who followed a very different musical path). You can hear it in JJ’s voice, as he says the lyrics with a deep drawl, “Ain’t but one thing dat’s foww showw / Ev’rybhudy wants sommoww.”

Before each song, there is an interview part, mostly with the tall, lanky and graying Grey, which beautifully sets up the meaning and tone for the song to come. All the music is shown completely, thankfully, though the one where he introduces the band seems to go on a bit.

The MOFRO’s behind JJ are phenomenal musicians, especially Dennis Marion’s trumpet and Andrew Trube’s lead guitar. The whole band gets more than one solo throughout, and each one shines without trying to top the rest. It isn’t a contest, it’s an expression of talent.

I wasn’t familiar with MOFRO’s output before, but I may keep my ears perked up if they come my way to play. The closest I knew was Bodeco (who I have seen live, and they killed), and the Formerly Brothers (Amos Garrett – Doug Sahm – Gene Taylor), which by coincidence was what I was listening to the day before playing this DVD, but it’s nice to add to the repertoire.

If I had any complaints about the documentary, they are small and petty. For example, I would have liked to have had the song titles come up as they started, and as with most of these kinds of films, the talking head interviews are identified once, and then you just have to remember who they are, which makes it harder if they are (a) less known and (b) there are many involved. As I said, petty.

If you are into this kind of sound, I recommend this highly. If you’re bored by Southern Rock as it stands and prefer a more raw sound that has a bit more country and R&B to it than the rock, check ‘em out. This film can easily hold you until then.

JJ Grey: vox / harmonica / rhythm guitar /tambourine
Andrew Trube: lead guitar
Anthony Cole: drums
Dennis Marion: trumpet
Art Edmaiston: sax
Anthony Farrell: keyboards
Todd Smallie: bass

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ROBBY KRIEGER: Beyond the Doors [1983 Interview]

Text by Joe Viglione and Eric Brown / FFanzeen, 1983
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #11, dated 1983. It was written by Boston-based musician, music historian (and so much more) Joe Viglione and Eric Brown. – RBF, 2015

Robby Krieger, guitarist / song-writer for the Doors, was, and still is, one of the most influential and creative guitarists in rock’n’roll.

The 1982 Robby is a mellower, wizened musician, not content to stay within the safe boundaries of commercial pop which he helped establish, and which in 1982 – more than 12 years later – is suddenly chic and very popular.

In the heat of the Doors revival, Robby Krieger has emerged with a hot band, a surprisingly different direction for those unfamiliar with his post-Morrison works, and a new album on Passport Records, entitled Versions.

We caught Robby’s soundcheck and show at the Channel Club in Boston, on October 23, 1982, and again at the Peppermint Lounge in New York, on the 28th. Along with some instrumental originals, jazzy versions of Doors songs like “Crystal Ship” and “You’re Lost Little Girl,” there were rocking versions of “Love Me Two Times” and “Roadhouse Blues.” At the Peppermint Lounge, Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult jumped onstage for “Roadhouse” and got the place jumping with his earthy vocals. Thankfully, someone at the Peppermint had the good sense to videotape the night.

Despite the zillion interviews (in fact, MTV bumped this interview up a day and a half) and hectic schedule (like speaking at the College Media Brainstorm 2 Convention at the Sheraton up the street); and being, along with David Johansen, the most interesting guest at that otherwise boring affair, Robby proved to be one of the more easygoing and polite musicians around. Despite that, I was a nervous wreck conducting this interview: talent and legend are hard to take in one sitting.

Special thanks to Robby’s manager, Richard Linnell, for making this possible.

-  Joe Viglione, 1983

FFanzeen(* = Joe Viglione): When did you decide to put a new band together and to tour?
Robby Krieger: Well, after I finished the album, I decided to – to get the album going. I’d get out and tour. That was about a year ago, I guess. It took a while to find the right guys for the band.

FF*: How long did it take to conceive Versions and put it out?
Robby: To do the whole thing, about a year. I took my time doing it. I had a bunch of other stuff I was doing at the time.

FF*: I see you’re still playing slide guitar onstage.
Robby: Not a lot of slide. I play as much as I can. Unfortunately, my slide guitar broke that night [at the Peppermint Lounge, October 28 – JV] or it was broken. The neck started to get a crack on it.

FFanzeen(# = Eric Brown): That’s the black Les Paul?
Robby: Yeah, the Les Paul. It’s too bad. It held up last night. I hope it’ll be okay for the rest of the tour, but there’s a definite crack in it.

FF*: Why did you produce Versions by yourself?
Robby: If I could’ve gotten someone like Tom Dowd [d. 2002 – RBF, 2015] or somebody, I would’ve gone ahead with that, but I’d rather not do it myself ‘cause it’s a lot of work and it’s – you don’t get the perspective that you really need when you do your own thing. But I’m happy with the way it came out.

FF*: How do you choose your guitars? Why a Les Paul?
Robby: Les Paul I use for slide and the reason I chose that is ‘cause it’s real heavy; it’s the oldest one they made, which is a ’54, I think. It’s like a big tree. It’s a Black Beauty. The neck is like a tree trunk. For regular playing, I use the 355 guitar, which is a Gibson. And it’s a mono 355; most of those are stereo. For some reason I found this mono and they’re a little heavier than the 335, so…

FF*: What do you use for effects?
Robby: For effects I’ve got a Chorus, a Digital Delay, Analog Delay, a Distortion, and a Slow Gear, which makes it sound like you’re using a volume pedal; kinds of cuts off the first part of the note.

FF#: Yeah, I kind of noticed that.
FF*: What kind of amps?
Robby: Twin reverbs, pretty much. I was going to try this Acoustic. They’ve got a new amp out that’s comparable to a twin reverb, but I couldn’t get it working right before the tour.

FF*: How long do you see this band staying together? Another LP?
Robby: It’s hard to say. It’s going real good right now. It could last for a long time.

FF*: You’ll be planning another tour?
Robby: Well, when we get back to L.A., we’re going to start going out again for the rest of the year.

FF*: How did you find your manager?
Robby: Well, I’ve known Rich Linnell for a long time. He went to school with my brother. He ended up promoting some Doors concerts when the Doors were playing. I’ve just known him for a long time.

FF*: What is his function as a manager? And what do you see as the role of a manager for Robby Krieger?
Robby: He’s got to work with the record company, with tours, promoters, agents – he’s the buffer between me and all these types of people. Plus he has to be creative in thinking of different ways to get me working.

FF*: How about the creative moment with Robby? Do you have to put yourself in the right frame of mind to create a great song, especially songs like the old Doors hits of which you wrote a major portion?
Robby: You can’t put yourself in a mood. It’s pretty hard, unless you have the right drugs [laughs], but usually it doesn’t happen that way. You have to be in the mood.

FF*: Do you turn the recorder on?
Robby: Usually I don’t ‘cause I figure anything that’s good enough to be a song I’ll remember when I play it. Although I think I have forgotten a lot of good songs so I have started using a recorder lately.

FF*: What do you think of the stage of the art of recording today? Do you have the same feeling that you did about production when you approached a record in the ‘60s as you do now?
Robby: It hasn’t really changed that much. The tape recorders are basically the same. I haven’t tried the digital stuff yet. That’s more gimmicks now, but you can only use them in certain instances, I think. In fact, I recorded this album 16-track, which I hadn’t – I’ve always been using 24 for years. Everybody has but – I figured I could get better sound by going with a 16-track with two-inch tape because you have more space on each track. Since I wasn’t having vocals I know I wouldn’t need that many tracks anyway. We did it on an Otari 16-track machine.

FF*: You produced the Tan, a Californian band?
Robby: They’re from Santa Barbara, actually. They’re sort of like a New Wave surf band. They’re really good.

FF*: Did you see them in a club or did they approach you?
Robby: …I played with – I had this group, Red Shift, in L.A., for a while, and we played opposite them on a bill in Santa Barbara one time. It turned out my friend was managing them, so I happened to get involved with them.

FF*: I’ve got a couple of albums here that you might remember [two Butts Band LPs on Blue Thumb Records – JV]
Robby: A-ha!

FF*: I remember you guys played the Performance Center in Harvard Square, Cambridge (MA). It no longer exists; it’s now a shopping mall.
Robby: Really, that’s too bad.

FF*: How long did the Butts Band last? I know there were two different albums.
Robby: Well, it lasted for two albums; two or three years. As you said, there were two different bands, one with some English guys. John Densmore [The Doors drummer] and myself were the nucleus of the group. Then we decided that was too hard to keep together so we went ahead and formed an American version. And we got caught up in record company bullshit. Blue Thumb got sold to U.A. or something like that, and we just sort of got lost in the shuffle over there. It’s too bad; we had some pretty good songs on both those albums.

FF*: I really like the Other Voices and Full Circle albums by the [post-Morrison] Doors. What are your feelings on that material?
Robby: I think there’s some good stuff on those albums. I think we probably shouldn’t have come out so soon after Jim’s death with those. Maybe the public wasn’t ready for it yet or – probably should’ve waited about five years or so.

FF*: Maybe, but you were great on the Boston Common in the 1972 Sunset Series [August 17 – JV].
Robby: Oh, yeah.

FF*: That was just wonderful
Robby: Yeah, when we were in Boston, I walked through that place.

FF#: I remember reading somewhere that when you first started, you used to play Flamenco. When did you get involved with jazz?
Robby: Well, I always liked jazz, so I’d say around ’74 or ‘5. I got real interested in playing jazz. I met a bunch of jazzer-type guys in L.A., and started learning about it. I didn’t really know enough about playing guitar to play jazz when I started out, ‘cause I was only – I started when I was only 16. And when the Doors hit, I was like 19, so I just was playing the Doors’ stuff for a couple of years; about five years there. But then I deicide I wanted to get into it.

FF#: That’s great. On your earlier albums, you could hear the influence. And now it’s really blossomed out. I watched you on TV in Boston, 5 All Night Live [the night previous to the Channel gig on October 23 – JV]. I didn’t know what to expect from you, but liking jazz fusion myself, it was a pleasant surprise.
Robby: I get kind of tired of it after a while, y’know. Just people soloing for hours and stuff, but I think – my approach is being a rock’n’roll player going into jazz, which not many people do. Most of your fusion players are like jazz guys, and they try to play rock’n’roll, and it doesn’t come off too great a lot of times.

FF#: There’s a difference. You use real heavy rock’n’roll rhythms under the melodic stuff.
Robby: Right.

FF#: The way you use the harmonies with the two guitars, it’s very –
Robby: Yeah, Barton [Averre, former guitarist with the Knack – JV], our other guitar player, he can play. Anything you tell him to play, he can play.

FF#: You guys seem to work with a lot of communication. The harmonies are real different. The off meds and the off notes are really – you end up on certain notes, not harmonies. It sounds terrific.
Robby: We use a lot of sixths in our harmonies.

FF*: It seems like you’re heading in a direction started with Full Circle. It was starting to get jazzier.
Robby: Hmm, a little bit, I guess.

FF*: With songs like “Mosquito.”
Robby: “Mosquito,” that’s true. You know that “Mosquito” was a giant hit in Europe.

FF*: Really.
Robby: Yeah, and South America, ‘cause I guess it was, y’know – I spoke Spanish a little bit in there, and people loved that.

FF*: You spoke Spanish in the song?
Robby: Yeah: “no mes moleste mosquite.

FF*: “Get Up and Dance” [Full Circle] was a minor hit in Boston, and “Tightrope Ride” [Other Voices] was a big hit.
Robby: yeah, “Tightrope Ride” was good. Yeah, it’s too bad it didn’t really – there were some good songs on that. “Piano Bird” also was a good kind of jazzy one. “Piano Bird” has two basses on it [The LP credits only one, to Carole King’s ex-husband, Charles Larkey – JV]. It has one played by Willie Ruff – who’s like a jazzy guy. He played the upper register – and this Wolfgang Metz played the lower bass.

FF#: Wolfgang!
FF*: [To Eric] Yeah, Wolfgang, he’s great. He used to play with Gabor Zabo. He’s this little German guy with this really thick accent.
Robby: I liked the souped up version that that (the) Knack song, “My Sharona.”

FF*: [To Robby] It was a blessing for you that the Knack broke up.
Robby: Yeah, really [laughs]. Well, I knew Bruce Gary [d. 2006 – RBF, 2015], the drummer, before the Knack ever started, in L.A. So it was kind of natural when they broke up. I’m sure some super group will probably snap him up one of these days.

FF*: Someone like ASIA. Hey, thanks a lot for your time, Robby, and good luck.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Documentary Review: All the Labor: The Gourds

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

All the Labor
Directed by Doug Hawes-Davis
High Plains Films / Big Sky Films / MVD Visual
93 minutes / 2013

In a time of really bad music, where the Top-10 is proliferated with the inanity of the likes of the Bieber, the Perry and sadly, now the Swift, it’s great to continue to hear great music, even if it’s from the past.

And speaking of inanity, in the center of that plus insanity, or as I like to call it: Texas, thank God for Austin, a sane safehouse for a state known for religious fanatics, Southern rock, and future fucktard failures to run for President.

Thus we come to the Gourds, a “genre-blending” band that they call (themselves) “just a rock and roll band,” but I would call them Country Rock and Roll. But mostly I would call them a shit load of fun. But I’m gettin’ ahead of myself.

These guys, who imply the standard instruments plus a variously an electric keyboard, fiddle, mandolin and accordion get down and have fun together. In their current form, they’ve been together since 1999, but they’ve been playing since before that and have over 10 albums out there. Coming from different parts of Texas and Louisiana, they settled in Austin and not only made it their home, have come to be identified with the city, often showing up in bar, clubs and especially SXSW.

Just as important, the quintet seems like a nice bunch of guys, and they certainly seem to get along pretty well. They also share lead vocals between the four front guys. Some songs are straightforward country/Americana, there are also songs about fruit and other seemingly random topics. That’s not to lock them in, though, because their cover of  Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” went viral. But the shots of them playing on stage, which are many here, they certainly seem to be having a blast.

Building the story of the band, both indivudally and as a group, there are one-on-one interviews, and also radio interviews (videoed during the talks). They explain how they are in a relationship, and it’s easy to hurt each other because they know each other so well, but choose not to do that. That’s a brotherhood.

What’s nice is a llot of the interviews are mixes from the last few years, rather than all new stuff, so you can see the changes over time. For example one member is show with his toddler in 1998, and then you see him in recent footage. We follow them on tours, in local clubs, at home, and other music-related situations, such as playing and interviews at radio stations, as I said previously. This is usually something bands hate for someone to say, but I get the impression that the band is their career, because no one talks about other jobs. That they make enough from these tours to survive means they are in nearly constant motion (tours)

One section shows them recording with Larry Campbell at Levon Helms studio in Woodstock, NY. This is introduced by the announcement of Levon’s passing, and the recording session, etc., is in flashback. It’s pretty obvious this documentary is many years in the making.

There are three sets of bonus material, including Deleted scenes, and alternative ones. What got me smiling though, were the 12 complete live songs. It’s all about the music, ain’it?

While this could actually have been trimmed a bit (by 20 minutes, perhaps?), but their joy is infectious, and that we get to hear so much music helps promote the band as much as their personalities. As someone says at about the halfway point, “Our greatest asset is that we’re fun, we’re happy, and we’re having a good time.”



Monday, June 15, 2015

…That was no lady, that was DIVINE [1983 Interview]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen fanzine, 1983
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #11, dated 1983. It was conducted and written by our Managing Editor, Julia Masi.

Perhaps Divine (d. 1988) is where my respect for Drag Queens began. Though, to be fair, calling Divine a drag queen is not inclusive enough, as she was so much larger than that (pun not intended), including having some hit recordings and being a media darling.  Over the years, there have been a number of books about Divine (including one by his mother), a documentary, and even spoofs.

What I find interesting, in McLuhan-esque rear view mirror thinking is that throughout the article below, Divine is referred to as “him.” To be fair, even John Waters uses the male pronoun in discussing Divine to this day. For myself, I have always called Divine “her” and his male counterpart, Harris Glenn Milstead as “he,” as seems to be the current way to differentiate between the actor and the “persona.” I never met Divine, but did once serve ice cream to Harris in the very hot summer of 1976 while working at a long-gone West Village Baskin-Robbins on 7 Ave South and Grove St. (there is a restaurant there now). A friend  who also worked there, at another time after I left, got his autograph (as Divine) and gave it to me. Yes, I still have it.  – RBF, 2015

Capturing the title of “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” is no easy feat, especially if you happen to be a 300 lb. gentleman. But as the comic sex symbol in most of John Waters’ satirical films, Divine was defined his own overstated sense of drag chic that has been immortalized in a paper doll book, Simply Divine (St. Martin’s Press), and helped him land a contract with O Records.

His three singles, “Night of Love,” “Shoot Your Shot” and “Shake It Up” have provided Divine with yet another way to win fans and influence critics. Virtually unheard on American radio, Divine’s voice has been saturating the European airwaves for the past year. His move into music began when record producer Bobby Orlando started searching for new talent. “He was a fan,” recalls Divine, “and he thought I had the charisma and stage presence to put a song across.” At first Divine was reluctant. “I was told for so many years that I couldn’t sing, that I started believing it.”

So he made an agreement with Orlando that he would try his hand at recording, but if the demos didn’t turn out to his linking, they’d just scrap them. First they recorded “Night of Love,” which turned out better than they expected. It hit the European charts quickly and stayed there for 22 weeks. Shortly afterward, “Shoot Your Shot” was released to similar reception. Last Fall, Divine was asked to tour Europe because he had a record in the Top Ten, when “Night of Love” suddenly shot up to the No. 3 spot. His latest single, “Shake It Up,” went from nowhere to No. 15 the first week it was released. “It was quite exciting. It was like being the Beatles or Elton John. I couldn’t believe the popularity. They [the live audiences] just went crazy.”

Back on Divine’s home turf, Key West, Florida, he’s best known as a cult move star. His more memorable roles in Pink Flamingos (1972), and the first venture into odorama, Polyester (1981), brought him a wider audience and his first taste of mass-appeal stardom. It also helped cement a bond of loyalty with John Waters.

He called Waters “a realist,” insisting that “he cannot cheat his audience. If something is supposed to happen, it does. If it looks like something is going on in the film, I can tell you it actually does. If someone is supposed to set themselves on fire, then John has found some fool who will do it.

“He’s interested in his career and he’s interested in my career, too. He’s interested in Divine. I’m very lucky to have that. To have somebody that you can really trust.” He feels that their mutual admiration comes across on the screen. That’s one of the reasons the films are so successful. I can take his written word and give it life. I know exactly what he wants without asking. I’d always work for John. The only reason I wasn’t in Desperate Living (1977),” he says almost apologetically, “is that I was doing a play [Women Behind Bars – RBF, 1983].” That play toured Europe and gave Divine his first shot at something he’s always wanted, “to become an international star. I’d wanted to go to Europe. I’d never been out of the States. And the films hadn’t been released there until just recently. To this day, I never know whether I made the right decision. Maybe I did the right thing. I’ll never know, but it all worked out.”

He compares his relationship with Waters to the old movie studios of the 1940s. “They made your career. They got you work – they could ruin you, but they kept you working.” He praises Waters because, “He actually created a star of sorts; in my case out of a complete unknown without he the major backing of a major studio, and without the money.

“They’re very sophisticated films. Some of the new movies that are coming out look like they were made by fools. I shouldn’t say that. I haven’t actually seen them, but the ads and things are enough to keep me away. Of course, the ads for Polyester weren’t that good. But what I’m trying to say is that John deserves more credit for his writing. John’s writing is just so –! I can read [other people’s] scripts and not know whether or not I’m supposed to laugh. I read his scripts and be hysterical.”

His favorite role to date is Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble (1974). “It was fun because it kept changing. It was her whole life story, which allows for different looks and different costumers, which allows for more fun. I’m not saying it was my best part. I was at my best in Polyester, because it was a completely different kind of role for me. It was the exact opposite of glamour and everything that the Divine character stands for.” Film critics also found this to be his best role, and the first where they actually took notice of his acting expertise. “I’ve always been typecast. They say, ‘Oh, well, here’s Divine. All Divine can do is play fat women with big teased hair and tight dresses.’”

Unlike most leading “ladies” he does not mind being called sexy. “I try to be at times. There are all sides to the character.” What he feels makes the character sexy are “the size, the volume, the attitude. You’ve’ got to think sexy to be sexy. To do it, you’ve got to be it. It’s easy to get into.” But the essence of Divine’s sensuality is “the sense of humor. It’s not like,” he lets out a deep animal-like pant, “a maniac who jumps on anything – a fencepost. The sexiest thing about a woman is a sense of humor.

“I’m real, I think. The character makes people laugh. There are no holds barred, says whatever comes out of the mouth. Nonchalant. I think more people would like to be like that.”

The matinee goddess that Divine most admires id Elizabeth Taylor (d. 2011), who he has idolized since he was a child. “I met her at the Roxy Roller Rink in New York City, at a party for her daughter. It was about a year-and-a-half, or two years ago. I don’t know what she thought of me. It was like looking in a mirror.”

Last Winter, Hollywood excreted Tootsie (1982) and began flirting with the ideas of transvestite heroes. More commercial film scripts are called for actors to get dressed up, a trend that is very upsetting to Divine. “They’re trying to ruin my business. He (Dustin Hoffman) didn’t wear one pretty dress in the movie. With their budget!

“And now I hear that John Travolta is dressing up like a girl [I’m not sure to what Divine is referring, but Travolta actually played the Divine role in the musical remake of Hairspray in 2007 – RBF, 2015]. He can’t need the money that badly. Come on, boys! I could understand the feminist movement and feminist consciousness, but there’s no reason for our sex idols to dress up like girls.

“I honestly find it shocking. I’m here and I could do it. Maybe I’m just jealous. It sounds like sour grapes, doesn’t it? But nothing really happens in that movie (Tootsie). At least with a John Waters film, for one-and-a half hours you can’t stop laughing. It’s action-packed. That’s what movies are all about.

“I guess Richard Burton will be dressing up next,” he muses. “I’ll have to play men’s parts. I guess women will have to play men’s parts. I guess I’ll be out of work.”

Unemployment is hardly an immediate threat for Divine. After another brief tour of Europe this Summer, he’ll begin recording an album [My First Album – RBF, 2015]. And there’s a new John Waters film in the planning stage (Hairspray, released in 1988 – RBF, 2015]. “I can’t tell you anything about that except it’s his best one yet. That could start any time. I’m up for three other films, but you never know. We’ll just have to wait and see.”



Bonus video (John Candy as Divine on SCTV):

Sunday, May 31, 2015

CHEAP TRICK: Interview [1978]

Text by Cary Baker / Big Star fanzine, 1978
Introduction and photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Videos from the Internet

This interview was originally published in Big Star fanzine, issue #3, dated Spring 1978. It was written by Cary Baker. Thanks to Bernie Kugel, the fanzine’s publisher, who kindly granted permission for this reprint.

Thanks to uber-rock writer Mary Anne Cassata, I had the chance to hang out with most of Cheap Trick in the very early 1980s, during a promotion for a USO Tour. I stood outside the New York USO headquarters snapping pix of guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos goofing around, while vocalist Robin Zander bought a pretzel off a street vendor. Over a decade later, I would work with Carla Dragotti, who was a huge fan, and actually became their tour manager (I had met her just a year earlier in 1991 at the Marquee NY Johnny Thunders Memorial Concert). With all of that, I’ve never seen the band perform live. – RBF, 2015
Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos hanging out on Times Square
Cary Baker: After getting off the road with KISS a week ago after two months of solid touring, what impressions do you have of Gene Simmons and crew?
Rick Nielsen (lead guitar): I can give you a scoop. That’s not really makeup they wear at all: it’s tattooed right on their faces. It’s amazing to me as a musician that they’d be into their act enough to do that. I mean, this baseball hat I’m wearing is not sewn to my head. It does come off every time I go for a transplant.

Cary: I’d imagine it must be quite different touring with Foreigner.
Rick: It’s geared way down. KISS’s set is very elaborate with hundreds of people behind the scenes. Foreigner is a normal tour. My parents go out and buy albums by anyone we’re touring with. Foreigner was easy – they have only one album. KISS posed a problem.

Cary: Who is the handsomest man in rock’n’roll?
Rick: I’m not going to say Dick Manitoba. I read that somewhere. I guess it’s Bun and me. It’s a tie. Bun E. and I are the two most eligible bachelors in the rock’n’roll business. I did tell Paul Stanley [of KISS – RBF, 2015] that the four most eligible bachelors in the world today are Gene Simmons, Robin Zander and himself, not necessarily in that order, and if the Mexican divorce goes through, Bun E. Carlos.

Robin Zander buying a street pretzel
Cary: I heard there’s a live LP of you guys.
Rick: We did record live in the Whisky in the middle of recording In Color, but it probably won’t come out.
Tom Peterssen (bass; 12-string guitar): Who wants a boring live LP?
Rick: We’ve got other projects we’re more concerned with. Someday we’ll get to the point where we’ll be auditioning the Vienna Boys Choir, the London Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra – but only if they rock. We’ll draw up the ultimate charts. It won’t be Cheap Trick and Orchestra. It will be an entity of its own. But we’ll always be pounding rock’n’roll in warehouses. We’re doing TV too. Just taped shows in New York and Atlanta. Also, we’ll be appearing on Lloyd Thaxton [d. 2008], Hullabaloo and Shindig.

Cary: The single from In Color, “I Want You to Want Me,” reportedly has a B-side that’s not on the album.
Rick: It’s called “Oh Boy,” and it marks the singing debut of Bun E. Carlos. But since Bun E. has never sung, there are no vocals on it.

Cary: What if it’s the runaway A-side?
Rick: I doubt it. But it’s neat. You’ll never guess who’s whistling on it. When you get a copy, listen to the whistling at the beginning. I’d tell you who it is only it would be like dropping names. We did our LP at Kendun [Studios] in L.A., where the greats have done albums, like Fleetwood Mac. Just think, it could have been Stevie Nicks whistling, but nah!

Bun E and Rick bookend Steven Stills on his birthday.
Cary: Word’s reached us here that there’s a Cheap Trick bootleg on the West Coast. You must be very flattered.
Bun E. Carlos (drums): There was. But not since the FBI’s been out there.
Tom: The idea was flattering…
Rick: …the recording was terrible. They made my voice sound so stupid.
Bun E.: They took a $75 cassette machine in the 50th row or something with no EQ added.
Rick: Though I must say, the performance was brilliant!

Cary: Rick, are the rumors true that you played on a couple of Yardbirds’ singles?
Rick: Jimmy Page said he never saw who did the keyboard stuff. He was always gone before that stuff was added. The editor of Trouser Press asked Page about that. He said if he does remember me, he called me Pete Townsend, 10 or 12 years ago. He called me Pete Townsend because he wanted to buy some guitars from me. Instead, I stole them from him. No, I never stole a guitar, though he did get some stolen. Really, though, he wanted to buy my guitars. I didn’t sell them to him and his career went right down the drain.
Bun E.: Serves that guy right.

Robin Zander stands amid member of other groups
such as the Eagles and Kansas
Cary: What new songs have you written for the new album?
Rick: I’m in a real slump. One I just wrote – and the band hates it – is “Oh, Claire.” I think it’s a cool song, though. In 3-1/2 minutes, this couple, well, they meet, they get married, they have kids, they grow old, the guy dies and goes to heaven. It’s cool. Look for it on our next album.
Bun E.: Kind of like Love Story.

Cary: After working with two producers, Jack Douglas and Tom Werman [who currently owns a luxury B&B in Lenox, MA – RBF, 2015], who do you feel handled the group best?
Tom: I’ll put it to you this way and let you guess which is which: one guy was unbelievably great. One guy didn’t know what the hell he was doing.
Rick: One of them cheats on his wife. I’m sorry; they both cheat on their wives. The first album that Douglas did had more of a live sound; the second was more of a studio album. If we use a different producer for four albums – and I’m not saying we will, but if we do – we’ll call in the producers and we’re gonna produce them and see what they sound like. That will be after Cheap Trick Four, which is the tentative name of our fourth LP [their fourth album was, of course, 1979’s Dream Police – RBF, 2015].

Rick Nielsen motor-vatin'
Cary: Has there been radio action on the album?
Rick: Sure, all over. We were even interviewed on Clairol Essence Earth News Radio, you know? We did that a year ago. They ask you your favorite color on the taping. Then on the show, they ask you, “Rick, you look a little down in the dumps. How do you feel today?” “Blue.”

Cary: What’s on the boards for the third album [Heaven Tonight – RBF, 2015]?
Rick: The Ten Commandments. It’s really very clever. We’ll dedicate it to the growing Bun E. Carlos is God sect in Chicago. We’ll have “In the Bun-ginning” or “In the B. Ginnings” and “On the Third Album.” It will be a total concept. The Ten Commandments etched in vinyl. Watch for it around Spring.