Monday, May 2, 2016

Concert Review and Photo Essay: Old Towns / Robbie Shirriff, Wolf Willow Cohousing, Saskatoon – April 20, 2016

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Photos can be made larger by clicking on them

I haven’t been to a house concert in a while. Quite a while, actually. As my generation gets older, the performance space seems to be moving out of livings rooms, garages or even rental spaces somewhere else; now it’s being held in the common areas of group housing spaces. In this case, it was the Wolf Willow Cohousing complex, in the Core neighborhood of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on a beautifully cool last day of April.

A co-worker told me about the show. We’ve been talking about music for a while now, especially of his days a few decades ago in Toronto, where we know a lot of common bands.  This show was by Robbie Shirriff, who goes by the nom de chateur of Old Towns. I was not aware of him before this.

Originally from Saskatoon, he moved around to Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton (his current locus of operations). It may not change your life to know this, but it informs his songwriting quite strongly. Traveling is one of the three main themes of his music (but not all of it), with songs like “See You Soon Saskatoon,” “So Long Saskatchewan,” “San Francisco,” “Strathcona” (which is in Vancouver), and so forth. There’s lots of movement, which perhaps leads to the second two topics, being angst usually brought about by loneliness (most are in first-person perspective), e.g., break-ups, being on the road, and drinking. Oh, yes, many songs mention brown liquids in one form or another, something to which many musicians, especially lonely ones on the road, can relate.

The flyer for the show calls the style “Acoustic-Folk from the Prairies,” though, honestly, I would say more Singer-Songwriter than pure folk. I like ‘em both, so it’s all good. Most of his songs were originals, except for two by the Defeaters and Lucero.

Shirriff is a bit of a one man band, playing guitar and banjo (not simultaneously, of course), harmonica on a shoulder brace Dylan-style, and a worn tambourine that he played with his foot for rhythm. His voice is tenor, and when called for, he belts it out on emphasis notes, with a crack in the voice to highlight particular tsuris moments.

It was an enjoyable show, and I stayed through both sets, before scurrying off into the warming spring night. Shirriff, whose mom was in the audience of about 40 people (a near full house…er…rec room) – that’s how Saskatoon it was – was off the next day to continue his tour across Canada, which is does often.

For more info on where he will be appearing, check out his sites at:
oldtowns.bandcamp.com

www.facebook.com/OldTowns
www.facebook.com/robbieboobmunch
















Thursday, April 28, 2016

DVD Review: Johnny Winter with Dr. John – Live in Sweden 1987

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

Johnny Winter with Dr. John: Live in Sweden 1987
Produced and directed by Leninart Wetterholm
Gazell Records AB / MVD Visual
59 Minutes, 1987 / 2016

It will soon be two years since Johnny Winter shed his mortal coil and went to join the other blues rock guitarists that both preceded him, and others that left after. Boogie blues musician Dr. John (nee Mac Rebennack) is still with us at age 75, though he only appears on a bit more than half of this DVD, which is probably why they call this With, although the original program was And. But I jump ahead of myself.

There is a brief pre-show overdub interview with Winter talking about the effect of Blues in his life and what it means to play it, over footage of the band preparing to perform for a Swedish television broadcast. What is especially nice is that you know the sound quality is going to be good as it could be controlled better in a recording studio at that point, rather than an auditorium. There definitely is a graininess to the visual, probably originally recorded on PAL format and transferred to either direct to digital, or to VHS and then digital. That being said, this DVD looks better than most of the leaked videos I’ve seen so far, so I’m going to assume it was taken from the PAL master. Also, being television of then rather than now, the image is square to fit the old-style tubes, rather than widescreen, as is used nowadays.

When I saw Winter play live at Louie’s in Saskatoon in 2011, he sounded great if a bit detached, but looked pretty bad, being mostly blind by then, and pale in both skin and spirit (even beyond his albinism); yet even here in 1987, he looks skeletal at best, like you could knock him over with a deep breath. At the 3:45 mark, it even seems like an audience member appears to be miming that he seems like he’s near demise.

Everything is stripped down on this show, from Winter’s weight to the first part of the show being his band made up as just a trio, with Jon Paris (still looking like his Link Ray/Robert Gordon rockabilly phase) on bass and harmonica, and Tom Compton on drums, with Dr. John jumping in towards the middle.

The show starts off strong, with the Winter trio belting out a bluesy version of the zydeco classic “Sound the Bell.” The band has obviously been playing this number a while because they seem quite at ease with it, yet never letting its proverbial throat go throughout. Johnny sways around the stage like he’s caught in a breeze, just shredding his custom black headless Lazer guitar, which he uses for all the songs albeit one.

Lee Baker Jr.’s “Don’t Take Advantage of Me” is pure blues rock, starting with a growl and a strong rhythm pulse. Northern Blues, but definitely with a southern twist, they add some solid rock into the mix towards the end of the song. Switching to his 1963 Gibson Firebird, he swings into a slide version of J.B. Lenoir’s [d. 1967] Son House-meets-Nawleans-style acoustic-gone-electric slow burn boogie Blues of “Mojo Boogie.”

Of course, this song is a perfect way to set up the introduction of Dr. John’s version of the boogie that made him so popular among the Creole set. A few rattling tinkles on the keys, with Winter back on his Lazer, and they break into a Dr. John original, the cheatin’ number, “You Lie Too Much.” The boogie here – er – lies with the piano, though Winter does get his riffs in. Even with the mixing some of styles, they fit like two gloves with fingers intertwined. John does take the lead on the vocals for these numbers, with Winter and Paris doing back-up. For their second song, they equally share Muddy Waters’ upbeat “Sugar Sweet,” alternating verses and licks.

Together yet, they break into the slow burner “Love, Life and Money” (originally recorded by Little Willie John), again share duties by alternating the song, split down the middle, growl for growl.

There needs to be some kind of rave up after a soul pulling number like that, so to rev it up for the finale they cover “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I’ve never seen a Johnny Winter set without at least one Rolling Stones cover, and this is one of his strongest choices. I always wondered if Keef was a bit jealous of Winter’s agility on the fretboard. John and Johnny both sing on the chorus and it’s a not always a pretty blending, but they play it so well, with such gutsy enthusiasm, it’s easily forgivable. Winter prowls the stage especially aggressively on this number (when I saw him, he was chair-bound, which I am assuming he found frustrating, leading to said detachment to the moment), and takes command both vocally and on the solos. That does not surprise, however, as this is one of his tried-and-true numbers over the decades. That’s not to say that Dr. John just sits still, as he adds some really nice fill to the sound.

The real smile-inducer and wow-factor was when Winter played the chords on Paris’ bass while plucking his own guitar, and at the same time Paris played the chords on Winter’s guitar and the plucked the notes on his own bass, as Winter stood behind him with their arms intertwined.

CD version
They go out on this number, which is perfect for a wanting-more moment for the very blond(e) and white audience. What the small crowd here doesn’t get – but we do – is one more in the extras section, which is a live clip from 1972 of Winter and his band playing a clip of Robert Wilkins’s “Prodigal Son.” It sounds great, but looks like it was filmed in 16mm. Still, it’s pleasing to see Winter looking healthy, as well as in better voice for its 2:08 length. It seems to be a promo for his 1970 Johnny Winter And album.

This Swedish show is also released as a CD now, though the extra song is not included. Still worth it.

Band:
Johnny Winter: vox/guitar
Tom Compton: drums
Jon Paris: bass

Song List:
Sound the Bell
Don’t Take Advantage of Me 
Mojo Boogie 
You Lie Too Much
Sugar Sweet 
Love, Life and Money 
Jumpin’ Jack Flash 
Bonus:
Prodigal Son 



Friday, April 22, 2016

Punk Fashion: Betsey Johnson and Natasha [1980]

Betsey Johnson by Sherri Beachfront / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Natasha by Julia Masi / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet unless indicated

These fashion articles were was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated August / September 1980, in the centerfold pages 18-19.

The piece on Betsey Johnson was written by the singer of the band Get Wet, who should have been much bigger than they were, and came thisclose. I had the pleasure to see them perform many times, which was always a joy, be it at the Ritz, s.n.a.f.u., Max’s Kansas City, or any of the other clubs they’d be playing. Sherri exclusively wore Johnson’s togs, especially when she was on stage. I even had the honor to interview Sherri and her then partner, Zecca, at their flat in the West Village around this time.

The one on Natasha was written by Julia Masi, a fashion maven in her own right, who was the Managing Editor of FFanzeen at the time. Natasha’s store was right on St. Mark’s Place, and her staff included the stand-up comic and author Dave Street. The first time I met Natasha was when I interviewed the band Bleu Ocean for the very first issue of FFanzeen in 1977, after they played at the opening of the ill-fated Elgin Theatre; she was hanging around their loft.

The major differences between these two now-fashion icons is that Johnson’s work was very frou-frou, with tons of frills, puffs and lace, and Natasha’s was definitely designed to be more gritty and geared toward band- (and fan-) wear, such as leather, lycra, and spandex.

What they have in common, however, is a love of music, which is represented in their particular styles. Both are focused on rock’n’roll, and had their lynchpin groups, with Johnson being adopted by the Velvet Underground, and Natasha by the New York Dolls. Their influence would speak volumes, especially with the underground scene of New York in the late 1970s and well into the 1980s. – Robert Barry Francos, 2016.

BETSEY JOHNSON
By Sherri Beachfront

Betsey Johnson
I am not a writer. I am a singer in a band called Get Wet. For those of you who have seen me (whether it be on stage or off), you have undoubtedly seen me wear the clothes made by fashion designer Betsey Johnson. I am a fan of Betsey’s, which brings me to why I am writing instead of singing today.

At a recent fashion show at the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) [which I attended – RBF, 2016], Betsey Johnson’s fashions were shown, and received with much enthusiasm by fellow future designers, students and teachers alike, and more new Betsey fans gathered together once again to order some of her newest Summer and Fall looks. Her colors: pink and blue stripes, black and yellow stripes, and pink and black stripes, just to name a few. The designs range from stripped sweater dresses with matching knit helmet hats, to my favorite, a plastic see-through dress with black fake fur only in the most needed places.

Her fashions are hard to resist. They’re so outrageous, so creative and so much fun, just like Betsey Johnson.

Betsey grew up in Connecticut and came to New York City in the psychedelic and electric ‘60s. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll were very evident, with much of America’s youth at war in Viet Nam.

Where was Betsey? She was designing clothes for a store called Paraphernalia in The Village. Bursting with her first creative rushes, Betsey started making hip-hugger mini-skirts and t-shirt dresses. The girls of the ‘60s were dressing Mod in white go-go boots, wearing fake eye-lashes, slicker lipsticks (hurray, Twiggy!) and rock’n’roll was Max’s Kansas City. Betsey loved the Max’s scene, dressing up in her silver mini-skirt, gluing on those lashes, putting on that eye glitter, and don’t forget your silver tap shoes!

The Velvet Underground wasn’t only packing Max’s but also got Betsey packing her suitcases and traveling with the band, making their costumes. “Rock’n’roll is behind all my ideas,” Betsey told me. “If I dress to a certain record and then change the record, my clothes don’t look right. I have to change my clothes again just to fit the music.”

Betsey came back to New York and moved into the famed Chelsea Hotel (a hotel of many stories). She tried to get work, but no one would hire her, even though her ideas were wonderful and many of the better known companies were already copying her designs; they were afraid to hire a young designer coming out of the rock’n’roll, drug-influenced ‘60s.

Sherri wears Betsey (pic by RBF)
Betsey got fed up and she went out West to look for work. She found a place to live (next to San Quentin Prison – what an experience!) and heard of a designer job that was open in a company called Alley Cat.

A new and different Betsey Johnson look was created at Alley Cat. Sweet, sexy and flowery. The apple pie country girl with brains. How ‘70s! The natural look. Either you didn’t wear any make-up at all or you could barely see it. The ‘70s was the end of the Viet Nam war, back to earth health foods and finding the security of home again. Home for Betsey was New York, so she returned to the city to open a store called Betsey, Bunky and Nini, where Betsey brought her variety of country girl looks. Most of Betsey’s work in the ‘70s was as a freelance designer.

A new era began for Betsey Johnson as motherhood gave her a new inspiration: a baby girl named Lulu. With all this new involvement in her life, Betsey started designing kids’ clothes and called it Betsey Johnson’s Kids. It was the happiest work she recalled doing in the ‘70s. Betsey was still fighting to prove herself as a hard-working, serious designer and it was getting frustrating. In the fall of 1977, Betsey just quit!

And then the magic began with Betsey and Chantal, a friend of hers who was in the business as a model, decided to go into business together.

On August 10, 1978, Betsey Johnson was in business. Using day-glow neon spandex and red and black lycrex, Betsey was working for a timeless look. Tight corset tops and baggy pants that were tight at the ankles. Tight and loose shapes that could be worn together. Jerri Hall and Pat Cleveland were among the high-fashion models that strutted Betsey’s fashions from her SoHo loft, down the runway into Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Fiorucci, and even a television appearance on The Merv Griffin Show. Finally, Betsey’s clothes were really out there in the stores. Finally, the recognition and acceptance that she needed from the garment industry bosses.

The late ‘70s found Betsey Johnson at CBGBs, where a new era was taking shape: punk!

Betsey’s clothes for the ‘80s are strongly influenced by that CBGBs scene, and the now futuristic look that the ‘80s seem to give off. The ‘80s are reminiscent of the ‘60s in many ways. With the world conflict and war being contemplated every day in the news, rock’n’roll is exploding on the scene again. However, the ‘80s brings us its own discoveries, like the much awaited video-disc. The ‘80s will be visual and electric and Betsey Johnson is on the pulse of its energies.

Betsey is currently doing costumes for Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band, dressed the girls who work at the amazing new club, the Ritz, and yours truly, Sherri Beachfront (I need an extra room just for my tutus).

Let’s bring out the colors for the ‘80s, be bright and let all the positive energies that you have emerge. We need them in the ‘80s, just like we need rock’n’roll; just like we need Betsey Johnson [Betsey Johnson’s store was at 150 Thompson Street, in SoHo – RBF].

NATASHA
By Julia Masi

Natasha
Natasha speaks in a soft, sultry voice. The words flow quickly and she smiles often as she talks about the clothes she designs. “Some people say a lot of my things are futuristic,” but she prefers to describe them as “a vamp look.”

Her own looks, which in another time will be considered the epitome of elegance, are quite striking. Naturally, Natasha wears her own designs exclusively. Her long brown hair is tinted with magenta highlights. Two-tone triangles of make-up outline each of her clear, brown feline eyes. Her thin features and high cheekbones are the type you’d expect to see on a glossy fashion magazine cover, but Natasha’s concept of style is light years ahead of the Seventh Avenue crowd.

“I prefer a curvy model rather than just a straight, toothpick model. Movement is very important to my models, because when we do a fashion show we do it to music.” Natasha acknowledges that fashion is influenced by music. This is especially true of her own professional career, which was launched in the early ‘70s when she started designing costumes for the New York Dolls. [Note: Natasha responded to this reprint, saying, "I did clothes for Arthur Killer Kane of the New York Dolls and did for Joey Ramone, the Magic Tramps and many others as they would shop in my store, and custom made for others..." - RBF, 2016.] “I don’t really get influenced by other designers,” she said. “But there is one designer from the ‘60s that I do relate to: Collette.”

Although Natasha’s collection does include a wide variety of miniskirts and colorful sleeveless tops, reminiscent of the Mod era, her clothes are definitely not retro. She is best known for slinky spandex dresses, shirts and pants, and fishnet jumpsuits that let every curve show through the fabric.

Her clothes are not only for women, though. She has designed dozens of tuxedo-style jackets with art deco prints, as well as vinyl jackets and unique accessories.

“As we go into the ‘80s,” Natasha speculates, “we’re going to get more into future wear. Not costumey things, but functional things for traveling in outer space,” she smiles, “and different kinds of things for here on earth. Because the earth is definitely changing.”

Natasha is very much aware of the changing world around her. Recent political situations have inspired her to unveil her own version of the military look, which will be invading her store at 1 St. Mark’s Place, this Fall.

Friday, April 15, 2016

DVD Review: Going Underground – Paul McCartney, the Beatles and the UK Counter-culture

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

Going Underground: Paul McCartney, the Beatles and the UK Counter-culture
Written and directed by Tom O’Dell
Narrated by Thomas Arnold
Pride Films / Chrome Dreams Media
153 minutes, 2013

There were many counter-cultures (aka the peace movement and hippies) in the 1960s, and in fact, more than one in the United States. The one in San Francisco was different than the one in Los Angeles, and both were dissimilar to those in New York or Chicago. Up north, Vancouver was the Canadian center (or in this case centre), but there was also one in Toronto and Montreal. Every major city had their own, yet ironically, many people left to find someone else’s, moving across the country to the other centers, especially SF and NYC.

What most of the scenes had in common, though, were LSD and the Beatles, especially after Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Their effect was so extreme, that I posit that the later album killed rock and roll as a driving musical force (until the Ramones), and became, rather, secondary to the emergence of Rock. But I digress...

But even the Beatles had to be influenced by it somewhere; it certainly didn’t emerge out of Bluebird Way. This documentary starts in the 1950s, examining the roots of the counter-culture movement, beginning with the anti-nuclear proliferation (dis)organization, which was also focused on peace / end of war / end of nuclear armament.

Step-by-step, and in great detail, as this British film lasts for 2-1/2 hours, posits that jazz (e.g., Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor) and then beat poetry made their way from the States and were adopted – then adapted – by the British, leading to a bookstore that would become the locus of the avant-garde music scene. Its name was Indica, named after a form of cannabis plant. No surprise there, eh wot? The store was owned, in part, by Peter Asher. In 1966, it would have its own newspaper / newsletter / fanzine called the International Times (aka IT, or sometimes it)

Where the Beatles come into it is essentially through the bastions of rebellion in England, the Art Schools. Radical art leads to radical thoughts, and vice-versa. This is not a tradition followed in the West, where art in schools is somewhere behind Sports, English, and Study Hall. For Paul McCartney, he was heavily influenced in things underground by his girlfriend’s family. Jane Asher’s brother was the same Peter who co-founded Indica, and who was also in the duo Peter and Gordon, whose song “World Without Love” was both written and produced by McCartney.

The Ashers also introduced Paulie to the music of John Cage, which would later influence his song, “A Day in the Life.” Further, it was his producer George Martin who would call Paul’s attention to electronic music and atonal sounds, such as those by Karl Stockhausen (who, is my guess, also had an influential hand in the Velvet Underground’s sounds, such as with “European Son”).  

The final bit to the puzzle of Paul, who would become a de facto silent partner to the movement, was Timothy Leary and his introduction of LSD to the world. No, he didn’t invent the stuff, but he promoted it brilliantly (“turn on, tune in, drop out”). John Lennon, of course, was also right behind, and with the help of reading Nietzsche, and the addition of the psychotropic drug, Lennon would write one of the first psychedelic songs, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Hooking up with Yoko certainly had its influence, as well, as they posit here.

While all this was going on in the UK, the documentary wisely points out that they were not the only ones producing these sounds, as there were also bands like the Byrds in the States, releasing “Eight Miles High” just three weeks earlier (I would add the Count IV’s “Psychotic Reaction” and the burgeoning Garage scene). In England, there were also other simultaneous bands cropping up with the sound at the same time, such AMMmusic, a UK-based improvisational group. Their influence would be strong on the likes of Syd Barrett and his group Pink Floyd, and the Soft Machine. AMMmusic didn’t last long, but both of these other musical collectives would become identified with the movement, especially Syd Barret (d. 2006). Even on this DVD, there are periods where these other bands get more time than the Beatles around the counter-culture for using sonic techniques, but the Beatles were on top because they had the most widespread influence.

Over time, the scene spawned a central hub club in 1966, when the UFO opened (pronounced You-Foh, not U-F-O; oh, those crazy Brits!), where Pink Floyd (specifically Barrett) and Soft Machine became the musical figureheads of the movement.

An interesting argument given is that at first McCartney was shy about being associated with the UFO and IT, and would show up in disguise (including as a sheik), but in 1966, started arriving as himself. What amusingly crossed my mind is perhaps the real Paul was wary, but after his rumored death in ‘66, the Paul replacement (whom George would amusingly call Fauxl) was not as leery being associated with it..

Over a relatively short time, Paul would lose interest and John would stay involved. This film concludes that it was that incident that broke up the Beatles, rather than Yoko or business dealings, or the whole craziness about who would be their manager. To me that seems a stretch, though it could have been all of it, rather than just the one thing. Anyway, between police raids and times they were a-changin’, the scene would peter out eventually, as all scenes must. 

I’ve only touched on what goes on in this documentary, so it’s still worth a view. The counter-culture in England was definitely different than it was in the States. One thing that seems clear though, is that just like in North America, it was run by men (other than Yoko, I don’t remember a single woman even mentioned here). I remember reading a book about the 1960s Canadian counter-culture called Underground Times by Ron Verzuh (1989), and he makes similar claims about gender politics, not addressed here, but obvious to me seeing who is represented in interviews and discussions.

While there is less music expressed here in recordings than other Chrome Dream docs (and none complete, as is usual), there still is plenty. However, this film has definitely stepped up on getting movers and shakers to the scene, such as a frail and shell-shocked-looking John “Hoppy” Hopkins (d. 2015, who founded IT and organized UFO), a toothless Mick Farren (d. 2013; musician and IT journalist), Robert Wyatt (drummer for Soft Machine), Joe Boyd (founder of UFO and producer of Pink Floyd), and Eddie Provost (drummer of AMMmusic), among others. Journalists are kept at a minimum, so most of the stories are first hand.

The extras include a seven-minute short about the differences between the counter-culture scenes in North America (specifically San Francisco) and the UK titled “Other Side of the Mirror: UK and US Psychedelia,” a list of those interviewed and their accomplishments, and a link to find out more online.

Honestly, I did not know a lot of the British counter-culture history, though more familiar with its North American cousins, so this kept me interested throughout.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

DVD Review: B.B. King: The Life of Riley

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

B.B. King: The Life of Riley
Directed by Jon Brewer
Emperor / Cardinal Releasing
119 minutes, 2012 / 2014

First some housekeeping: so in case you didn’t already know, blues legend extraordinaire B.B. King was born Riley King, hence the name of the documentary about his life. While a young’n in Mississippi and Tennessee, he became known as Blues Boy King, which led to his better known shortened moniker. While his name has undergone a couple of changes, all his guitars share a similar one: Lucille.

Okay, now back to our show. The film opens up with a short, terse clip of Bill Cosby (how’s that for timing?) describing what it was like to be Black and to live in the Deep South pre-1960s. Along with his ruined reputation, Cosby has spent much of his life and career heralding the Blues genre, especially the Northern, electric variety.

Before the introduction of King the Man, we are given another brief intro to what the Blues means, and what King has brought to the Blues. Pointing in that direction are the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, John Mayall, Aaron Neville and Eric Clapton.

Though King was born into the more traditional acoustic sounds of the Delta, he would move north to Chicago and become the father of the electric Blues, and the touchstone for nearly every ‘60s classic rock band that followed. Hit records on the R&B charts and near-constant touring during his 90 years-plus on this earth [b. 1925] has made him a legend, an originator, and a man with whom to be reckoned.

The film follows his life chronologically and in sharp detail, interviewing many of his elderly relatives that certainly must be near the centennial mark, talking about how B.B. was a kid when they met him. While the story follows his trajectory, there is a mix of media of B.B. at different stages of his life, talking about those days, mostly taken from various interviews from television through the decades. Mixed in with these are some b-roll films and stills from the period of poor workers and kids, and the occasional historical re-creation (e.g., clips of a young “B.B.” walking down the road with a guitar, or hitching to Memphis).

One chilling part, especially considering the U.S. politics as the moment, is the discussion of living in the Deep South under the watchful and vengeful hand of the KKK (Mississippi Goddamn, for real). This section is both about King, and the culture in which he lived and grew into adulthood.

Because much of this follows his life’s history line, we get to see the inexperienced youth he started out to be, and follows through to fame. His rise came in spurts, each one jetting him up the ladder and bringing him further notoriety. For example, his recording career started as a jingle writer – and then DJ – for the first black radio station in Memphis, WDIA (where he officially became solidified with the shortened “B.B.”), leading to recording at Sun. A contract dispute there brings him to Chicago and Chess Records, where he would break into the “Chitlin Circuit” (there is a humorous argument on the film between some musicians and a photographer from the time arguing over the term).

I once had a professor who posited that trends started with the lower classes, was noticed and copied by the rich trying to show how “cool” they were (via appropriation), and then finally reaching the Middle Class, who want to emulate the wealthy. This is certainly true of the Blues, and has certainly had an effect to King’s career. While popular within the Blues audience, he was “discovered” and copied by British musicians such as the aforementioned Clapton and John Mayall, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Paul Rodgers, Ringo Starr, Bono and Peter Green, all of whom are represented in this film. This brought the sound to American audiences, including musicians John Mayer, Jonny Lang, Susan Tedeschi, Slash, and Joe Walsh. Bonnie Raitt comes right out and states that she learned about the sound from the British Blues.

In fact, King opened for the Stones on one tour, as a brief interview with four of the band (including Keef and Mick), attest. Also included are some clips from the U2 documentary, Rattle and Hum (1988), in which King played with the band.
                                                                                                            
But it’s not all big-time musicians who have a voice here, as we meet King’s second wife, producers, managers, other Blues musicians, and also some members of his band, which is what I especially enjoyed.

His breakthrough point to mainstream audiences, after being put on the brink by the Brit rockers, was “The Blues Is Gone,” the song that would be forever identified as his. But even so, this is just part of his career as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th (and 21st) century, which is clearly posited – and rightfully so – by this documentary.

The director is Jon Brewer, a Brit who has a history in both rock and rockumentaries, thereby gaining insights from musicians who would have normally been out of scope, such as members of the Stones and U2, which elevate this film into a stratosphere not usually reached by most filmmakers, even if their subject is someone, well, like B.B. King.

But does that make a good documentary? Well, in this case, considering the talent, it probably was important to have that many names to show how loved King is, but personally, I would have liked to hear more of B.B. rather than mostly a parade of stars. The balance is far more to the other musicians than to King, but I guess it is okay considering who those names are, in the long run. Luckily, there is Morgan Freeman to narrate the whole thing, and a lot of B.B. King’s music.

The extras are a number of extended interviews and an 8-minute clip of King live at Albert Hall in his later years, accompanied by the likes of Slash, members of the Stones, and others.

B.B. King passed away in May of 2015. RIP, and thank you for all you have contributed. The world of music would have been a very different place without you.



Friday, April 1, 2016

Anarchy Burger, by Paul Decolator [1983]

Text by Paul Decolator / FFanzeen, 1983
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

 Paul Decolator
This article about the New Jersey Hardcore (NJHC) scene was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #10, dated 1983. It was written by Paul Decolator, whose own highly regarded fanzine was Tips and Tours. He was also a musician, and liked to promote the scene and its bands. In another article in the same issue as this piece, he wrote a negative piece about the Bad Brains (as people), that was not well received at the time (and reprinted HERE),  even though he has been proven right over time. Paul’s untimely passing at age 36 in 2002 is discussed HERE

Paul was also correct that while I was involved with the First Wave punk movement, it took a while for the Third Wave (Hardcore) to reach the pages of FFanzeen, other than record reviews. This article is old news, but it’s sort of like a time capsule, which keeps it relevant. Besides, I’m amused at the mention below of the Beastie Boys when they actually still played Hardcore.

Note that due to the time span between the original publishing and when you are reading this, lives change and therefore so do addresses, so whenever an address or phone number is given by Paul, I have redacted it, but left in the city of origination. – RBF, 2016

Well, here it is, FFanzeen’s finally gotten to admit that HC does exist. As of now, the hottest scene on the East coast is New Jersey. Yes, that’s right, New Jersey. The major news is that Adrenalin O.D. is finally in the process of releasing their vinyl debut. AOD’s EP will contain six songs, including “Trans-Am” and “Die For a Cause.” And Dave (the drummer for AOD) says that the production is very good, almost rivaling that of Kraut’s Unemployed EP. Speaking of Kraut and AOD, at the Irving Plaza AOD / Kraut / Stroken Wurst / Young and the Brainless show, Kraut was in awe when AOD played. Seems Kraut suffered a little attack of jealousy, and after AOD played to a very enthusiastic crowd, Kraut went into the dressing room at Irving and locked AOD out. Supposedly, they were sulking, ha-ha.

South Jersey faves Autistic Behavior are also in the process of getting their debut EP out. AB has been plagued with problems as of late. Their guitarist tore a few ligaments in his leg in a skateboarding accident, and their drummer broke his collarbone, also skateboarding. This has led to a lot of gigs being cancelled. AB also had a gig pulled right out from under them with Black Flag at City Gardens. The reason for the cancellation was that Randy (owner of CG) decided he didn’t want to book HC due to the fact that somehow the sprinkler system in the dressing room went off on a night when Millions of Dead Cops / Hose / Stroken Wurst just happened to be playing. It’s unfortunate that most club owners now won’t book HC. Club Mod cancelled its HC policy after too many minors were let in for the Code of Honor / TDV (Thirteen Day Vacation) show, and the Fast Lane had to close its doors. To make up for the lack of venues to play in, Pat Duncan from WFMU radio [on from 1979-2009 – RBF, 2016] had been having bands in the studio to do live over-the-air concerts. As of late, Pat has had AOD, Mourning Noise, Sand in Face, The Misguided, Fartheads, and TDV on his show. The Pat Duncan Show has been temporarily cancelled due to the fact that too many “bad words” leaked out over the air. It seems doubtful now that any more bands will play in the studio [HERE]. https://wfmu.org/playlists/PD

Halls are also starting to crop up. The NJAMAS (New Jersey Alternative Music Appreciation Society) has found a hall in Newark and are putting on shows. The first show was with AOD, The F.U.’s from Boston and Crib Death. The hall concept is catching on, finally, and after all, don’t you think it’s about time that kids should be able to go to shows without getting carded and having to worry about getting drunk? Also, due to the lack of clubs, people have been throwing a lot more parties: best one was thrown by Shaun up in Dover, where The Outgroup and Sand in Face played. Speaking of The Outgroup, Dover’s only HC band has gone into the studio to record some tracks for a possible EP.

New bands that have cropped up in Jersey are Rosemary’s Babies, who stem from Lodi. Hard and loud is the best way to describe ‘em. TDV are also new, but you would never know. TDV are probably Jersey’s Next Big Thing, combining a brash US thrash sound with some English overtones thrown in. Super fast – almost too fast. TDV now have a ten-song demo, and you can order a copy from [address], Old Bridge, New Jersey. Include $2.00 for the tape and 50¢ for the postage. It’s well worth picking up and is unusually well produced.

Flag of Democracy, from South Jersey, came on to the scene with a bang, doing their first show with Minor Threat and SS Decontrol. Other bands that are starting to get their acts together are NJF (New Jersey’s Finest [aka, Paul Decolator’s band – RBF, 2016]), Chronic Sick, Child Abuse and Suburbicide. Suburbicide have actually been around for quite a while, but have been plagued with line-up problems, and now they have a whole re-vamped line-up. Let’s hope they can keep it together. Look for Suburbicide on the new (well, not-so-new-anymore) Meathouse compilation tape put out by Bob Moore of Noise fanzine and Version Sounds Records ([address], Xenia, Ohio). Sacred Order is about to go into the studio and have also auditioned for a cable TV show, and it looks hopeful that they will be on it (Channel 3, Clifton Cable Network).

Old Jersey stalwart, Genocide, finally look like they are coming back. The band now consists of its two founding members, Bobby Ebz (vocals) and Brian Damage (drums); new members are Biggie from Legion of Decency, and a newcomer, Mike Moe. Look for Genocide’s album on Smoke 7 Records ([address], Canoga Park, California). Old bands never die, they just play reunion gigs, as is the case with No Democracy, who refuses to die. ND has played a reunion gig on WFMU, and a reunion hall gig. I don’t know why, ‘cause they really are bad, even though they admit it. Oh, well.

As of now, NJ has one hall which will probably book HC on a regular basis. So far, only a couple of gigs have gone on. The hall is the Piaste Hall. It is a huge Polish hall in Jersey City. The acoustics are good and it’s in a safe area. If any out-of-state bands are interested in playing there, they should get in contact with either Dave from AOD [phone number] or myself, Paul Decolator [phone number]. The shows that have gone on have had small but enthusiastic turn-outs. Also, there are some gigs being set up at a hall in Clifton. The first gig will be with AOD, The Beastie Boys, and TDV.

There are a lot of good fanzines popping up, too. The best ‘zine is Flesh and Bones ([address], Middlesex, New Jersey), with intelligent writing, hilarious interviews, comix, and tons of record reviews. Send one dollar to Jeff J. if you want a copy. Assassin of Youth ([address], Rochelle Park, New Jersey) is okay. Hey, for 50¢, you really can’t go wrong. New edition just out. On the Rag ([address], Matawan, New Jersey) is a new fanzine and it’s a crack-up. Funny, almost stupid, interviews with Jersey bands. Real good cover on issue #2. Well worth the measly 25¢ editor Lori Wedding [FFanzeen #9 cover girl] asks for.

The scene in Philadelphia is fucking hot, after a rather lame summer with no gigs, and the closing of the Elks Lodge. But things are really starting to pick up. The big news is the forming of the Philly BYO (Better Youth Organization). The Philly BYO is made up of about 25 people, including members of The Sadistic Exploits, Allison from Savage Pink fanzine, members of Skatecore fanzine, and all the Philly punks. Their first gig was a benefit with Minor Threat / SS Decontrol / Crib Death (from PA) / Flag of Democracy / Agnostic Front. The price to get in was only five dollars and the proceeds are going to a permanent hall in Philly. The show went off with a few hitches and I’m happy to report that there was a strong sense of unity there; even members of an all-black biker gang called the Ghetto Riders were there, and they really enjoyed it. The BYO will be sponsoring gigs and let’s hope that it works. If the show in Camden was any example of how things are gonna work, the future looks bright. Hint to the BYO: stage your gigs in Philly and not ghettos like Camden. There were two incidents where punks were assaulted by the locals. If you want to get in touch with the BYO for info on upcoming gigs, or if your band wants to get involved, write to them at [address], Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Also, The Love Club and East Side Club have started booking HC entertaining acts, such as Discharge, Meat Puppets, and local bands. The only problem with that is the stupid 21-year-old age limit the club sets, so a lot of kids can’t get into shows. In other news, The Sadistic Exploits have finally found a drummer. The old drummer left because he didn’t want to go on a tour. Hopefully, a new vinyl release from the Sad Ex’s will be out soon.

New fanzine in town is called Skatecore ([address], Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). The ‘zine focuses on the skateboard scene in Philly, and covers local punk events and record reviews. It’s free, so write for it. Another good one, which is Philly’s oldest HC ‘zine, is Savage Pink ([address], Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). SP is filled with interviews (this issue is the DK), news reports, record reviews and political articles. Well worth 75¢. Another good newsletter is Anarchy for Punks ([address], Darby, Pennsylvania).

Getting closer to home, the NYC scene seems to be doing nothing. NYC is like Jell-O: it just sorta sits there and wiggles. There have been a few good things happening. Irving Plaza has re-opened its doors again and is now doing shows on a sketchy basis. CBGB’s is booking a lot more HC Saturday afternoon matinees. The matinees are real good, usually two bands for three dollars, and draft beer is only a buck, and the shows are usually over by six or seven at night. NY’s best HC band, The Nihilistics, is going into the studio again to record some more tracks. Heart Attack has reformed as a four-piece, with Jesse [Malin] moving over to vocals. Big deal. The Misguided just released their EP; it’s okay. The Mob recently returned from a tour of North Carolina, and is also in the process of putting out Urban Waste’s EP on its own Mob Style Records. I wish to hell Regan Youth would release something. RY are probably NY’s best known band and really deserve to get picked up. I’m surprised Faulty Products or someone hasn’t approached them.

Rumour also has it that The Ramrod bar (an infamous NY homosexual hang-out) is going to experiment with HC. The first show is scheduled for some time in late January with The Nihilistics and Long Island’s favorite bunch of guys, The Headlickers. Javi, from Savage Circle, is planning to release an eight-song NYC HC sampler. Tentative bands are Anti-Warfare, Urban Waste, and other local bands.

Worthy records that have come out in the past few months are The Mob’s debut EP, The Nihilistics EP, and the NYC compilation Rotten to the Core, on S.I.N. Records ([address], Oakland Gardens, New York), with Killer Instinct, The Mob, and The Headlickers, among others.


Urban Waste is a very impressive HC thrash band who has been impressing a lot of people as of late. A recent gig with Minor Threat and The Mob at CB’s went over well, but they only got to play five songs, due to the fact that the club opened late. It’s a shame because everyone wanted to hear more.