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.



Monday, May 25, 2015

DVD Review: Dexter Romweber: Two-Headed Cow

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

Dexter Romweber: Two-Headed Cow
Directed by Tony Gayton
MVD Visual
Cape Fear Filmworks
78 minutes, 2006 / 2011

Before the film Boyhood (2014) made a name by following its subjects for a dozen years, and during the period of British director Michael Apted’s Up series following some school chums every seven years, indie director Tony Gayton pointed his camera at The Flat Duo Jets’ lead singer and guitarist, Dexter Romweber, over a period of two decades.

Usually I don’t quote the jacket cover, but here is a shortened version of the description, which I thought did a fine job of an overview: “…[this] started as a black and white film that followed Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow [Chris Smith] on a rock and roll tour along the same route as General Sherman. The film was not finished… but thanks to the digital age the filmmakers were able to resume the film seventeen years later.” Of course, what goes on in the film is actually way beyond the scope of that statement.

I only had the opportunity to see The Flat Duo Jets (TFDJ) once, videotaping their performance at CBGBs on a co-bill with Buffalo cult band The Mystic Eyes in the early 1990s. They were a lot of fun, and I wish I had the opportunity to see them again, but it just never came to be after that. In one more egocentric statement, there is a clip of the band on The David Letterman Show, and ironically, I am watching it on the night of Letterman’s last program. Cue The Twilight Zone music, please!

There are many ways to categorize the music of Romweber and all of them would be accurate, and yet none of them would be, as well. There is a baseline of blues, as his solo off-the-cuff rendition of the Slim Harpo classic “King Bee,” on acoustic guitar in a motel room. There is also an Elvis-esque rockabilly flair when he is in a manic stage. And yet, the evidence of a garage revival from his early ‘80s influences is present. Put that all into an envelope of Other music – a cover term for the unexplainable-yet-charismatic likes of the Shaggs, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and especially the first-generation of the Cramps – and you still haven’t nailed down what it is about Dexter that is a general descriptor as he cannot be pigeonholed. He just refers to it as “‘50s music.” That’s also why he has so many fans, including many who are musicians who refer to him as a major influence.

Thankfully, Gayton doesn’t do the film chronologically, but rather gives us resonating vignettes of the music and the man, as he theorizes life (usually with ciggy-butt firing away) in a cryptic and possibility just a bit of psychotic way. Yet, he still remains a charmer, which I say without the slightest hint of sarcasm, but rather admiration.

At the early stages of the documentary, there is a flash flood of name performers who boost up what Romweber has meant to them, including Jack White (who shares a similar passion for both ‘50s ‘billy and off-kilter performance; he has also had much more success, though Romweber is by far more interesting), the now Tea Party advocate Excene Cervenka of X fame, and Neko Case, with whom Romweber has toured in the past. They all give their testimonials on influence, and happily, unlike most music documentaries, after stating their case in bytes, they mostly don’t come back until briefly near the very end. This is in a brave and thankful deference to most films that drown in back-slapping. No, this film is about Romweber, and he keeps our attention throughout.

His mom, who we meet both in the late 1980s and then again in the mid 2000s, called Dexter an “old soul,” and that may be true, as is his history of alcohol and some drug abuse (we don’t get the impression any of it was of the opiate nature), which led to breakdowns, career hiccups, lost friendships (e.g., Crow, who struggled with his own demons), and an affection for Jean Baudrillard, one of Dexter’s also-troubled philosophical idols. Through mental health issues (in my opinion) and previous use of mind-altering substances such as booze and pot, Romweber goes into some detail about how he has survived over the years between the first filming and the second, but acknowledges that there have been constants, such as his Silvertone guitar, of which he gives us a tour.

The third act is filled with both destruction and redemption, intermingled. After the breakup of the TFDJ, there was a two-year tailspin of no music, regret of the failed TFDJ and the promise of a higher-level career that was not meant to be by the end of the film, but it’s shown that all of it is what makes Romweber remain true to his music. I wonder how much he would have been corrupted by the industry back in the 1980s and ‘90s if success had befallen on him. Yes, he’s still struggling on one level, but as we learn from Neko and others, his influence is felt every day in their own musical output.

There is a lot of music played by Romweber throughout the film, but very little of it is official, i.e., recordings. We do see bits and pieces of the tours, both 1988 and 2005, but most of it is off the cuff stuff, in motel rooms, at home with his mom, hanging out (with Crow, for example), some clips on stage, and even what looks like an old age home where he plays piano for a less-than-gaggle-number of old men. No song is shown complete, but this off-the-cuff competently shows both how much music is a part of his life, and unconventional means of affectionate communication (e.g., in my own family, we communicated by asking routes traveled and volume of traffic; here, casual music is the medium of conveyance of connection).

An especially touching moment is a back-and-forth of Romweber at a piano singing “Burning Bridges,” both in the early BandW and then-present, with Gayton eventually joining the shots together.

While one of the meanings of the title of the film is presented during the final credits, in my opinion there are more possibilities, such as the twin comparison of ’88 vs. ’05, and even an opening clip from the early days, where Romweber is talking and Crow is standing behind him, harmlessly and joyfully mocking him, almost looking like his head is growing from Dexter’s shoulder.

The three extras are solo performances by Romweber: a spectacular instrumental guitar showcase on BET’s Jazz Discovery (5 minutes), an on-stage medley at the Silverlake Lounge (3 minutes), and a somewhat amusing interview Mr. Mouse and music on the Chapel Hill cable access show Z-TV (30 minutes).

This film is both unknown by most, and yet legendary among fans, filling up festivals whenever it shows up on occasion. Now that it’s on DVD and I assume VoD, this is definitely a chance to see one of the unique characters on the indie music scene.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DVD Review: John Mellencamp: It’s About You

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

John Mellencamp: It’s About You
Directed, photographed and edited by Kurt Markus and Ian Markus
MPI Home Pictures / Little B Pictures
80 minutes, 2010 / 2012
But first, a digressive tale from the ego: In 1989, I had a co-worker who was a John Cougar Mellencamp fan (perchance a Mellenhead?). He would go on and on (and on) about how he had very record, every bootleg, every video regarding Mellencamp that had ever been released. To shut him up, I brought in two pieces of vinyl: a 12” split picture disc of Cougar and Cindy Bullens on MainMan, and a four-song 7” EP (with picture sleeve) called U.S. Male that was put out by indie Indiana label, Gulcher Records (which more infamous released the recordings of the Gizmos). He had previously heard of neither of them.

I thought they guy was going to have a heart attack. He wanted to buy them off me, and I said no. I’m not a fan, but I did not want to give this guy the satisfaction. I’m sure he probably bought them off eBay at some point, but I only worked with him for about four to six months. It felt good, and was worth it (and yes, I still have them). Now he can buy this.

And now, back to our feature presentation

At the time of the filming, Kurt Markus was a purist photographer in his 60s living out in Wyoming. His son Ian was in his 20s, and on a challenge by John Mellencamp (JM) himself, they were invited along on a tour with John, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan to film it, and also some recording sessions for an upcoming LP, No Better Than This, released in 2010. Note that there is zero footage of either Willie or Bob.

Shot in a somewhat grainy Super 8 and mixed with stills, Kurt narrates in florid and poetic language about how the two of them, in tow, used this filming as a time of self-“discovery.” This was all set up by JM challenging Kurt to put down the still camera and pick up the film one, and get creative. Mostly, we learn is that this film – while JM is the centerpiece – it is also, in John’s words to Kurt, “it’s about you.”

One of the early shots of the tour is of JM (okay, mostly the audience) on stage singing “Pink Houses,” and “Paper in Fire,” followed by Kurt philosophizing over footage of small towns and big. I see now why Kurt and JM are friends: they wax poetic, but tend to see the glass half empty and try to understand it. For JM, his lyrics are about failure (“…ain’t that America?!”), while Kurt looks at St. Louis and wonders how desolate it may be in 50 years.

We follow JM and crew into the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, with an explanation of how it was used as part of the Underground Railroad. It is also where JM records “Clumsy Ol’ World,” which we see in part. After, JM and his wife (Elaine Irwin; divorced 2011) get baptized by being dunked in a mikva dug into the church floor. Now this may sound cynical (and it probably is), but as I don’t really know JM well, though I know he is for marriage equity and an Obama supporter, so I wonder if they were baptized there for themselves, or the camera.

Kurt has found the sweet spot between highlighting JM and keeping his own personal touch. If there is any complaint about that, it’s that sometimes his philosophizing is over the music; even if I’m not a fan, I still want to understand the music and what about it makes JM = JM, but more often than not we listen to Kurt talk about missing a photo opportunity of Bob Dylan due to the Zimmer-man’s insistence on privacy and not being looked at by crew, or not getting film of someone in Memphis saying that Johnny Cash believed that JM was one of the top10 songwriters in America. A redeeming feature, though, is what Kurt is waxing on about reflects the music playing, in that observant, depressive way (i.e., the destruction of downtowns for the suburbs). Kurt says it best when he posits that “Perhaps John and I are making this journey together. He has brought me in as a parallel traveler.” That is what I would call astute and accurate.

Some of the best musical moments are the sessions in Memphis and San Antonio. It’s among the more static shots, but still interesting as JM and musicians sit around a single microphone, with T. Bone Burnett in charge. The following live performance shots from those cities have some electric sounds and visuals. JM’s Americana Blues Rock sounds better than I remember, even when he’s talking about death. What’s more, his commitment comes through.

Considering the gear used, it is naturally grainy and shaky, like all those home movies of long gone, but the subject matter is the focal point. That being said, Kurt’s experience as a photographer help him in a number of ways, such as how the film is processed, with many different monochromes (red, blue, brown, etc.), as well as standardized colors. As the film explains in the credits, for you technocrats out there, “This film was shot entirely with Beaulieu Super8 cameras, modified by technicians at Pro8mm, using Kodak’s Vision 3 500T color negative stock. Digital Mastering and colorizing…on a Millennium II HD Scanner.”

And at the end, what do we learn about JM and Kurt? Not much, but it’s a fun ride. We conclude that they are very different people, and yet share similar values. JM expresses himself in narrative lyrics and music about life being hard, and Kurt waxes poetic about what he sees in life, the American Southern landscape both rural and urban, and he ponders. In other words, JM looks out, and Kurt looks within, and they find a similar internal soundtrack.

Over the end credits is the video to one of the JM’s biggest hits, “R.O.C.K. in theUSA.” Definitely one of his better, to me, but watching this I realize I tend to go more for the indie than the major hit, preferring the Fleshtones’ “American Beat ’84,” which covers similar material. The point of my saying this is that Mellencamp is an I.N.S.T.I.T.U.T.I.O.N. in the USA, and as much as he feels browbeat at times here, and as much as he can be both a loveable teddy bear and an asshole curmudgeon, he definitely has the chops. And perhaps his tour being stripped down to barebones musicians and minimal crew (e.g., no soundguy), he’s gonna do okay. Even now, in 2015, he’s on a big tour. But what he’s feeding on, for example, is the breakdown of the American cities (remember, this is filmed right after the Bush Administration raped the country’s economy to foster a war to profit his Vice President, with its strongest downturn being in 2008), Even if Kurt and Ian’s cameras stop rolling, there will always be an audience for JM, and rightfully so. But I choose more towards the independents, the hungry, the huddles masses waiting for a guitar-led garage band.

The only extras are the trailers and a much appreciated subtitles. That being said, make sure you stick around for the Epilogue after the credits.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Film Review: D.O.A. (Don’t Overlook Any-Of-It) [1980]

Text by Lisa Baumgardner / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This review was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #4, dated May/June 1980, page 11. It was written by Lisa Baumgardner Falour, who published Bikini Girl fanzine at the time.

Sadly, Lisa passed away early this year in Paris. Lisa was an incredibly interesting person, as was her fanzine. She worked as a writer, photographer, artist, and for a while as a BDSM pin-up model. She was also known for always carrying a hidden cassette recorder, on which she taped all conversations, and then would publish them in her fanzine when she found them interesting. But hardly anyone she transcribed was as thought-provoking as her. I was introduced to her by Diana Torborina, someone who I worked with at Dimensional Sound Studios, and with whom I became friendly (Diana, if you read this, please feel free to contact me).

For my first half-tabloid newsprint issue of FFanzeen, Lisa wrote a review of Lech Kowalski’s then-new, and now-classic 1980 documentary about the Sex Pistols, D.O.A. As a side note, Lech took out a full page ad for the film, for which he never paid the $100. I’m just sayin’. – RBF, 2015

D.O.A. will soon be released to theaters around the world as a feature-length punk rock documentary. It’s definitely worth seeing, but requires a lot of patience and objectivity. Punk rock and its spin-offs in the fashion, art and political world are both important and inconsequential, and tell a story about the ‘70s, yet doesn’t say much at all.

Lech Kowalski’s Film is hard to sit through but bears a number of incredible scenarios. Beginning with a baptism and a soundtrack peppered with corny heartbeats, we are led through the doorway of X-Ray Spex’s rehearsal studio for an astounding performance of “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” Cut away to an interview with the president of Warner Bros. Records, who sneers and mentions, “You know, we are not a non-profit organization!”

These perplexing statements are part of a much larger onslaught of visual sludge known as D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival), a 100-minute-long documentary film on punk. Not the “punk” I grew up with. Hopefully, you too were spared because it’s ugly and disturbing, and when I saw it, my own youth suddenly seemed too close and fresh and unsettling. Yuck!

A pretty girl with heavy makeup and short hair is interviewed in a prone position in a parking lot in Texas. She has just been literally thrown out of a theater where the Sex Pistols were playing. Her crime? “Hangin’ out,” she moans. Apparently, the police have used direct physical force to eliminate a group of fans loitering in the lobby. She looks pretty seriously hurt, at the very least extremely distraught. Can she get up? “This is why punks gotta carry chains!” she says. Violence is breeding further violence. “What are you doing tonight?” Lech Kowalski asks her from behind-camera. “Who cares?” she replies, starting to cry. “I don’t care. If you care, you get let down.”

The film is full of gruesome vignettes. The comedy relief? An interview with Sid and Nancy, O.D.-ing and barely coherent in his all-black bedroom in London. The only time Sid seems aware of anything is when Nancy peels off her black rubber t-shirt, glistening with sweat. He picks it up, sniffs it, and smiles with a look of wonder. “’Ey, it smells just like you, Nancy!” “Well, it ought to,” she replies, “I’ve been wearing it since the first day I got to London.”

“I ain’t afraid to walk down the street looking totally ridiculous,” one serious-looking London punk musician explains. “It don’t matter what ya got on. You’re a human bean, just like everybody else. You’re messed up.”

The message behind this film, as well as the continuity, is obscure. Punk is a reflection of decay, one might say, and as the title implies, was born dead. The similarities between British and American audiences are the boredom, pent-up frustration, and search for freedom of expression of the anger youth feels. British public officials are quoted ridiculing punk and insisting, “They can’t win.” Can’t win what? “I’m ashamed of the world we’ve made,” one female official says, “if our children are growing up with attitudes like this.”

There are moments in D.O.A. that come close to capturing the feeling at a band rehearsal. Four or five young musicians are kidding around in an old, garage-like converted studio, and they begin to belt out a tune as if their lives depend on it. Yes, we conclude, it does start out positive. It’s energetic self-expression, and it beats the fuck out of boredom. But by the time it gets to be performed before thousands of kids who’ve paid ten bucks to see it, it’s pretty sorry stuff.

D.O.A. is negative, but very thought-provoking. It is exciting to see a film with guts these days. It is straightforward, raunchy, and has no plot. It seeks to reveal glimpses of a fascinating phenomenon. Lech Kowalski has a lot of energy and determination to have traveled extensively with a crew numbering from four to thirty, and the footage shot of the Sex Pistols’ tour in the South, particularly Georgia and Texas, is priceless. He has not tried to be arty. He presents a variety of conflicting circumstances and opinions, and allows us to be voyeurs without getting spit on at a crowded rock arena full of young people looking and behaving like assholes. He shows us Sham 69, the Dead Boys, and Bleecker Bob, too. He also makes us wonder about money – the concert promoters, the record companies, the media – and the way they present punk to the world. One of the British officials insists the individual musicians are doing it for the money. We think of Sid and Nancy. In it for the money?

Bonus D.O.A. footage: