Thursday, August 25, 2016

DVD Review: Louder than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story

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

Louder than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story
Produced and directed by Tony D’Annunzio
74 minutes, 2016

When most people think of music from Detroit in the ‘60s to ‘70s, the first bound to come to mind is Motown. Great stuff, no doubt, but there was more to the city than that. Out of the industrial city came a thunder of guitars, unprecedented attitude, and attack-mode rock from a venue called the Grande Ballroom. The title of the documentary comes from the music of the Grande being more voluminous than another club called Love a few blocks over, but I also think it could be interpreted as being louder than most of the other music from either Coast during that Summer of Love. The MC5, the Stooges (with Iggy Pop), Alice Cooper, the Frost, and even the Amboy Dukes rose out of the Grande to change the face of music and prepare the way for the punk movement that was to come nearly a decade later out of New York.

The Grande Ballroom (pronounced Grand-ee), however, was not the “Detroit CBGBs,” but more like an explosive Fillmore (pick East or West), in which many of the touring rock bands, such as the Who, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Cream would play on their way across the States.

Though actually only around for a relatively short while (1967-1972), the effect on American – and British for that matter – music is undeniable. Sure the Stones had Toronto as their fave place, but the Who were so enamoured with the Grande that they premiered Tommy on its stage. Alice Cooper points out here that the talent level on that stage so was high that it was either get better to get lost. To inspire bands, the crowd was known to shout out, you got it, “Kick out the jams, motherfucker!” which is the origin of the MC5’s infamous and ground-breaking call to arms.

The amount of interviews throughout the documentary are staggering including nearly all surviving members of the MC5, Roger Daltry, Alice Cooper, Dick Wagner (d. 2014), BB King (d. 2014), Slash, Lemmy (d. 2015), Grand funk Railroad’s Mark Farner, the omnipresent Henry Rollins (who was 11 years old when the club closed, but is acknowledged to be a huge Stooges fan), Stooges’ second guitarist James Williamson, and even scuzzbucket right wing nutcase Ted Nugent (while I didn’t necessarily need to hear anything he had to say, the Amboy Dukes were an amazing band). No Iggy, though, FYI.

For me, one of the important interviews was with Russ Gibb, who was the owner and founder of the Grande, on the level of Bill Graham without the ego. Well, him and most of the staff of the place are interviewed in detail with lots of anecdotes. Which brings me to:

There are three themes in this that are worth nothing. First and foremost are the interviews, including with Ruth Hoffman, a self-described groupie who tells a tale of getting drunk with someone and comparing men’s butts, only to find the person get up on stage and it’s Janis Joplin. Or, the stories of the whole audience participating in loading up a band’s gear so they can make it to the airport. Then there’s someone bringing Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker to their parents’ home for supper. There are these, along with the “The Stooges!” “Alice Cooper!” “The Who!” meshugas.

Second, there are the images. I am not talking about the talking heads interviews, I mean both the live footage and stills from the day that show just how extreme the entire scene quickly became. There’s everything from onstage action to, well, Eric and Ginger at the family supper.
What I found also interesting was the juxtaposition shots of what the Grande looked like then and its condition now, but more on that later.

For me, the weakest spot is the use of music. Listen, I understand that if all the music discussed would be played as a focal point, this film would be about 20 hours long. That being said, most the sounds you hear are in the background; it runs through the whole film, but little of it is identified except in the song credits at the end. Also, in most cases, it’s snippets… well, probably, because it is in the background under the dialog, so it’s hard to pay attention to it except peripherally. But if that’s the biggest complaint I have, it’s a mere four bars considering the magnitude of the story behind it.

There are a number of really nice extras. The first, at nearly 16 minutes, is “Grande Tales,” which is further interviews (with no indication of who is talking, so watch the film first). At nearly a half hour, you can see what their infamous light shows looked like (sans sound… or mind altering substances). After the 5-minute long trailer, there’s “Dave Miller Grande Wedding,” at nearly 4 minutes. Dave was the MC, and his wedding show was infamous among the inner circle; he wore outrageous make-up that makes Alice Cooper’s look moderate, and it’s also silent, as is the next 10-minute long “Dave Miler’s Home Movies” (I’m guessing 16mm), where he shoots various band members at his parent’s house. It’s a lot of fuzzy fun. Last up is “Belle Isle Love In” (1967), another silent home movie lasting over 5 minutes that focuses in on the audience (especially the women) as much as the bands.

When the Grande closed in 1972 (though there is no mention of why here), the building was abandoned and is in a state of severe disrepair. Watching the comparison shots of the place then and now is both fascinating and heartbreaking. Personally, I’d love to see it become a heritage building, and have the Detroit government not only fix it up, but turn it into a museum. But, of course, Detroit is broke, so that’s not gonna happen anytime soon.

Considering the number of talking heads, the stories are fascinating enough to keep the viewers’ interest for the entire time, and D’Annunzio keeps his ego in check to make this just the right length to do that. A must for anyone who is into rock history, the nascent beginnings of punk, or just love to hear stories about that period. A visual kicking out of the jams.

Bonus video (not on DVD):

Monday, August 15, 2016

DVD Review: I Need a Dodge! – Joe Strummer on the Run

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

I Need a Dodge!: Joe Strummer on the Run
Directed by Nick Hall
Tin Dog Productions / Cadiz Music / MVD Visual
67 minutes, 2015

If you have to ask who Joe Strummer is, well, you’re reading the wrong blog post. Honestly, he was the only one of the Clash I actually thought was cool (though Paul Simonon had his moments). That being said, the Clash started out as one of the biggest punk bands out of the English phase, and turned into one of the biggest disappointments. London Calling was a mixture of amazing work and commercial dreck, and by the time Combat Rock came out, I couldn’t listen to their stuff anymore. It was almost a relief when Strummer left the group around 1985.

Thanks kind of where this documentary really starts to pick up. I didn’t realize that Strummer headed for Spain; he had a fling with an Iberian woman early in his career, learned some Spanish, and fell in love with the country.

While there, Joe hooked up with a band in Granada called the 091. This seemed ironic, since his first recordings in England were with the similarly titular number-oriented and underrated 101ers. Pre-Joe, the 091 considered themselves punk, but musically I would say they were closer to the New Romantics pop, along the lines of Simple Minds or Tears for Fears (at least in the short clip we see of an early incarnation of the band). Gathering a popular Spanish band called Radio Futura, he then recorded with them as well.

Most of the members of these bands, and other friends from that period and before, are interviewed in the film, which is mostly recorded in Spanish in oral history mode, meaning there are no questions heard to be asked, just the participants telling their stories. There are some nicely done captions in English with a few other languages available. Also included is a Spanish version of the film on the DVD as one of the extras, which I did not watch.

And where does the title of the film come in? Joe Strummer bought a Dodge (or Spanish knockoff, depending on the storyteller) while in the country, even though he had neither licence nor registration (in someone else’s name) and somehow he lost it by forgetting where it was parked. During a radio interview in Madrid, he mentions how he wants to find it, and there is the premise. It’s kind of a slim one as it’s not discussed all that much at the beginning, but that’s fine. What we get instead in a post-Clash Strummer who was mostly out of the Western Hemisphere’s eye, and this fills in the gaps quite nicely.

Most of the early part of the story is more of Joe’s involvement with the musicians, including trying to produce their LP and battles with the ill-equipped record label that was more used to classical Spanish music than anything as raucous as Joe would tip is toe into.

I like that the story has a few different layers, like a history of Strummer (d. 2002) in Spain, the involvement of the car, and also Strummer’s working with the Spanish bands. All these threads are conveyed by those who were there, rather than a third party, such as a journalist who had written about it.

At first, the car comes into the conversation on occasion, focusing more anecdotally of his involvement with the 091 and Radio Futura, but as the tale plays out, the focus lingers on the titular subject more. We watch the director become the focus as he looks for the mystery car. Does he find it? Well, I’m not tellin’.

There is a lot that is formulaic about the formatting of the film, with multiple talking heads, but it remains interesting because they were there, and stories about Joe tend to be never dull. Also, Nick Hall is wise enough to know that most likely the audience for this film will not know these musicians and friends, so the title captions for each person come up pretty often. Thank you for that.

Another smart choice is that Hall keeps the film relatively short. Rather than dragging it out, he gets to the point in a mostly enjoyable roundabout way, not focusing merely on the car or the musicians, but edits it in an ever growing arc that keeps the interest level high.

There are a bunch of extras that go with the DVD, including a stack of deleted interviews that are mostly around a minute long, with a couple being around 3 to 5 minutes, and a 25-minute one with Pete Howard and Nick Sheppard, two members of the reformed Clash (who talk in detail about Joe’s troubled relationship with manager Bernie Rhodes). Taking these out were right, but so was adding them into the extras.

Another two bonuses are audio tracks of interviews with Joe, one being 13 minutes from 1984, and the other is also 13 minutes, from 1997. Both are in Spanish with subtitles. As an extra bonus sweetener, this is interview is also on a cassette (you read right) that is included with the DVD box. Sure it takes up more space on the shelf, but hell, it really is cool, proving once again what Marshall McLuhan said, that replaced technologies come back as art. In this case I might say art as fuck.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ming, 1998-2016

Text and images (c) Robert Barry Francos

Yesterday, we had to put down our precious Ming. She had a fast growing mass in her gut, and had lost nearly a third of her body weight. It was all very fast, and she let us know it was time to join her litter-sister, Memphis, who passed in February 2014. In just over a month, Ming would have been 18 years old, which is 90 in cat years (we looked it up).

Ming was an affectionate kitty who liked to curl up between us at night, or rest with her head on some part of our body (usually the one trying to get things done, like type or write). She would headbutt us to ask for a rub, and was very kind tempered, especially as she aged. She seemed to take an instant like to my dad, though he was not impressed with pets, but she was insistent. Ming was strong willed and usually got what she wanted.

Sleep well, little one, you are missed and loved.

You can find of more her and her sister's story HERE.


Monday, July 25, 2016

The Last Ramones Interview [1977]

Text © Bernie Kugel / Big Star fanzine, 1977
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

These interviews were originally printed in Big Star fanzine, issue #3, dated Spring 1978. It was written by its publisher, Bernie Kugel, who kindly granted permission for this reprint.
I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with members of the Ramones three times. The first time was when Bernie interviewed them for the Buffalo State College magazine, Shakin’ Street Gazette, just before July 4, 1976, in the dressing rooms of Max’s Kansas City. This was the night before they headed off for their first tour in England. The next time was more accidental: we were heading up the stairs on our way to the offices of Sire Records when we ran into Joey on his way down. We had a nice conversation for a while, and then when we arrived at the office, we were given the pre-release, white label first Ramones LP (yes, I still have it). If it had been in reverse order, I would have had him sign it. The last time was during an interview with Joey for Videowave at Arturo Vega’s apartment in 1997, after the band broke up. He was wearing a butcher’s apron that said “Happy Birthday Oedipus” for a special recording he did to be played at the Boston DJ’s party (we watched them film it). I took the apron when we left as it had been finished, and found out he was furious about it. I made sure he got it back; part of me wishes I had kept it though.  

This piece was supposed to be part of a series, but as it was the last issue of Big Star, this was also the – er – last Ramones interview for the ‘zine. By the way, Bernie asks some great questions, rather than the usual nonsense people tend to ask over and over. – RBF, 2016

(The following comments are from conversations recorded in New York City and Buffalo in ’76, ’77, and ’78. And fear not, Ramones fans, for even if this is The Last Ramones Interview, the one that will make it totally unnecessary to ever do another interview with them, this is a multi-part article which is beginning now and will be continued in future issues.)

Bernie: Do you have a favorite English new wave band now?
Joey Ramone: Clash. I like the Adverts.

Bernie: Do you have favorite songs by the Clash and Adverts?
Joey: I like the album; The Clash album’s great. I like “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes.” I like Gaye Advert; that’s what I like about the Adverts.

Bernie: Do you have favorite New York bands now?
Joey: Naah. I like Suicide… I don’t like many groups in New York… I don’t like many New York groups that haven’t gotten anywhere, like Blondie [did]; they’ve kind of made it. But of groups around now, there’s nothing around now besides the Cramps and Suicide.

Bernie: Do you look back to one special concert or set and think that was the best you ever did?
Joey: We just finished an English tour and that was fantastic. I can’t really think of any jobs in particular, 'cause everything’s been going really, really great.

Bernie: Do you ever think back to the early days at CBGB’s, playing to a few people, and think you wanna return there?
Joey: Naah, I try to forget about those days. I don’t think about those days.

Bernie: It says in the Bomp Newsletter that your brother [Mickey Leigh – RBF, 2016] plays guitar on some of the Ramones records.
Joey: He did the claps in “Sheena,” but that’s about it. [Check out Mickey’s book, I Slept with Joey Ramone: A Family Memoir, for more of the actual story – RBF, 2016]

Bernie: You like the Flamin’ Groovies?
Joey: Yeah.

Bernie: Do you have a favorite song of theirs?
Joey: “Shake Some Action,” “Please Please Girl.” When we were in England, we went to an NME party and they were playing, and they’re putting out a new album and I can’t believe they were playing these songs; man, they were playing “Paint It, Black” and all these Stones songs. I couldn’t believe they were playing those songs instead of their own songs because their own songs are so great. But they’re putting out “Paint It, Black” and Dave Edmunds is producing. And they’re putting out – what’s that song – “Feel a Whole Lot Better”?

Bernie: “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” the Byrds song???
Joey: Yeah, yeah. They did that great.

Bernie: Have you ever played with a member of the band sick?
Joey: Yeah, all the time. We’re always sick.

Bernie: But I mean when one member of the band was so sick they couldn’t play and someone else had to replace them.
Joey: Oh, no, no… I mean, it doesn’t matter how sick we are we always play unless we’re really fucked up.

Bernie: Ever see Richie Ramone anymore?
Joey Ramone: Naah. John saw him though the other day. I think he’s just like been in his house for the past two years and hasn’t come out.

[Bernie: What do you do for fun when you’re on tour?]
Joey: All I’ve been doin’ when I’ve been going to a record store is like… spending everything… broke.

Bernie: You should see the store across the street [Play It Again Sam’s, which would soon become Home of the Hits; both stores were Buffalo landmarks – RBF, 2016].
Joey: Yeah, the last few stores we’ve been going to are like that… yeah, I was at this store, it was a real gourmet collectors' store. The guys would just play albums in the little store and have a pile like this for a buck… used stuff.

Bernie: You don’t think they’ll be a lot of Ramones solo singles in the near future?
Joey: No, I don’t think so… maybe later, later on.

Bernie: Have you heard any records by any non-New York groups that make major label records that you thought was any good?
Joey: I don’t think so. I’m always listenin’, but I never hear nuthin’. I think it’s really exciting when you come upon something new that no one’s ever heard. But that hasn’t happened in a while… But I’m really into collecting and checking out those English bands.

Bernie: “Babysitter” never came out; what happened with that?
Joey Ramone: Well, it’s out in England on the Leave Home import. I think what we’ll eventually do is put it out on the B-side of a single over here.

Bernie: Do you have any songs from the real early days you don’t do anymore?
Johnny Ramone: “Succubus,” “I Can’t Be,” “Girl What You Want From Me,” “I Just Want Something to Do,” “I Don’t Wanna Get Involved With You,” “Why Did She Write that Letter,” “Crazy Animal Stomp,” which became “Listen to My Heart,” “I Don’t Wanna Be Learned, I Don’t Wanna Be Tamed”…

To Be Continued [Not – RBF, 2016]

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Text by George Beke / FFanzeen, 1984
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen 12, dated 1984, by George Beke. If I remember correctly, Beke is actually a pen name of one of our staffers who wrote so much they wanted to use a pseudonym for some of their articles.

I don’t remember exactly how or where I met Sex in Miami’s lead singer, Clark Render (or if we only talked on the phone), but he was quite happy to have this piece published about the band. They were raucous in a milder-than-Electric Chairs way. That being said, the gender-bending was not common on the scene back then, with drag being more sequestered to gay bars and the like, even with Jayne (then Wayne) County being such a force on the scene. It wasn’t until Wigstock followed by the popularity of the PRIDE and Halloween parades that it became a bit more acceptable and – for lack of a better term – mainstream.

After this piece came out (pun not intended), Clark called me regularly to chat, and to ask for further coverage in FFanzeen. I explained that we were not in the habit of having follow-up pieces as we did not publish that often, but he kept at it, and I did enjoy our conversations. However, I had predicted that as soon as I stopped doing the ‘zine, I would not hear from him again. And I was correct when, in 1988, FFanzeen ceased in its print form.

Over the years I didn’t hear much about him, but in researching this reprint, I found he’s been active in the community performing at various venues, including off-Broadway and Wigstock, in a tour de force piece called “Dueling Bankheads,” a hilarious bit based on the oft sodden Tallulah.

Mikky Zsedely (guitar) studied photography and now owns the 10 Thousand Steps Bookstore in New York. Ralph Robinson (drums) moved on to play more jazz, including for the group C’Est What. He passed away in 2009 (a blog about him HERE). Tom Gartland (bass) would later work at Secret Sounds Studios in New York. – RBF, 2016
Self-described as “most confounding,” transvestite-led Sex in Miami extoll the virtues of preening through chaos. The band members – Clark Render on vocals, Tom Gartland on bass, Ralph Robinson on drums and Mikky Zsedely on guitar – are interviewed in Mikky’s East 13 Street apartment, sans Gartland, who was unavailable for comment.

FFanzeen: You’re very Kabuki theatre.
Clark Render: Thank you. Kabuki is a good word. Much better than drag or transvestite. Those words feel obsolete. I guess I wear mini-skirts because they feel good.
Mikky Zsedely: Clark has great legs.

FF: Right up front is a strong sense of humor.
Clark: We can’t take ourselves too seriously, without incurring fratricide; still, we do dream about world takeover.
Ralph Robinson: We want lots of money.

FF: You’ve managed to combine certain elements of cabaret, psychedelia, hardcore and salsa. Is this the ‘80s formula?
Clark: It really just reflects our own tastes. Destroy All Monsters [excellent noise band from Detroit, including singer Niagara and late guitarist Ron Ashton – RBF, 2016] is probably my favorite band, and of course its predecessors, the Stooges and the MC5. Those and other odd, obscure bands, like Pavlov’s Dog.

FF: What about new bands?
Clark: The Stars That Wouldn’t Shine from Bard College is great.
Mikky: I just like whomever I happen to be listening to at that moment.
Ralph: It’s a free-for-all and you steal whatever you can get away with.

FF: Do you see a new psychedelia movement bubbling up?
Clark: Well, one does get the feeling of a new chapter starting occasionally.
Mikky: Coca-Cola and coffee are psychedelic these days.

FF: Where is each of you from?
Clark: I was born in Florida and raised in Detroit.
Mikky: New York
Ralph: South Beach, Miami.
Clark: Tom, our bass player, is from West Haven, Connecticut.

FF: You’ve come across as a very New York band.
Ralph: We’re a Florida band.
Mikky: We’re an American band.
Clark: Florida via New York.

FF: You have followings in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Digress a bit on these.
Clark: Well, in Baltimore, people actually flock to buy our record and even line up for autographs.
Mikky: John Waters has our record. I can see why he made those movies [Polyester, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, etc. – RBF, 1984]. They’re nice people. They write fan letters and make you feel it’s well worth it.
Ralph: Baltimore likes winners, as in ’83.
Mikky: They have pink hotel rooms.

FF: And what about Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love?
Clark: Well, we got the ol’ brotherly shove from the Philadelphia police, but the audience and club people are great. One person, whose name I won’t mention without permission, has really helped us win the hearts and minds of Philadelphia.
Mikky: When the police searched us, they wouldn’t touch Clark.

FF: Your debut record features a song called “Japan Must Be Stopped.” What was all the fuss over it?
Clark: We received a letter from the Japanese embassy, inquiring as to the intent of the song, but anyone who listens to the last verse carefully will know we’re actually flattering Japan.
Mikky: “Japan” is a hot record on progressive radio stations from Iowa to Maine, from Tampa to Clearwater, and, of course, New Jersey.
Ralph: There’s a Sex in Miami record-burning wave sweeping the Southeast. They’re buying them up and burning them down.

FF: What’s next?
Clark: Well, a record deal would be nice for starters. We’ve got about a hundred great songs now and even though we’re in the process of recording a couple of them, namely “Celebrities on Booze” and “Here Come the Magnetic Discs.” We’d rather not be forced to put it out ourselves.

FF: But if forced, would you?
Clark: Absolutely.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

DUANE EDDY: Twang’s the Thang [1981]

Text by David Post / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was written by David Post. This Hoboken resident came to my attention as the bassist of Ronnie and the Jitters, who were the last band to ever play upstairs at Max’s Kansas City (I was there). He would later be one of the co-owners of the club Maxwell’s, and is now in a more formal swing band called Swingadelic, using a stand-up bass. He’s also a great guy.

As for Duane Eddy, who was born in Upstate New York before his family moved to the Southwest, he is still around and kicking as of this reprinting, at age 78. Even as late at 2010, he sold out London’s Royal Festival Hall. Along with numerous awards, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, before the Hall became a joke. – RBF, 2016

This year marks the 23rd anniversary of “Twang.” You say you don’t know what “twang” is? Well, where in God’s name have you been? Webster’s defines it like this:
“twang”/n 1: a harsh quick ringing sound like that of a plucked bowstring 2: nasal speech or resonance 3: the characteristic speech of a region.”
Everyone else who knows (like Dave Edmunds, whose new LP is entitled Twangin’, and New York City’s Rousers, who’ve penned their own tune called “Twanged”) defines it as the guitar sound that Duane Eddy used as his signature.

Duane Eddy came out of Phoenix in the mid-Fifties, and didn’t stop churning out instrumental hits until the British Invasion of the Sixties came along and provided a new sound for America’s rock’n’rollers.

Eddy’s cool guitar style consisted of flipping on his amp’s tremolo switch and playing simple, bluesy riffs on the bass strings of his hollow body Gretsch guitar, using the Bigsby “whanger” bar to get that real lowdown “twang.” His band, the Rebels, would play an easy rambling beat at a medium tempo while Eddy would alternate verses with a raunchy tenor sax. Hoots and hollers were always interjected by the band, and ultimately featured on a number called “Yep!” This formula (along with the help of Lee Hazelwood, Eddy’s producer and sometimes co-writer) brought Duane Eddy and the Rebels nearly twenty Top-40 hits.

One of Eddy’s earliest and most famous singles was “Rebel Rouser.” This simple driving riff really kicked off his career, reaching number 49 in Cash Box’s 100 in 1958, the year of Danny and the Juniors’ “At the Hop,” David Seville and the Chipmunks, and [Sheb Wooley’s] “The Purple People Eater.” More hits quickly followed, such as the up-tempo “Ramrod” and the toping shuffle of “Forty Miles of Bad Road,” and Duane Eddy was well on his way to becoming one of America’s biggest international stars. He was in demand for soundtracks and parts in movies and television, and made several guest appearances in “Have Gun Will Travel.”

Soon everything was “twangsville,” especially the names of Eddy’s albums, which included Have Twang Guitar Will Travel, Twang’s the Thang, Million Dollars’ Worth of Twang, Twangy Guitar, Twangsville, Biggest Twang of All, and of course, The Roaring Twangies. Most of Eddy’s albums and singles were recorded in Phoenix on Philadelphia’s Jamie label, and RCA has put out several re-issues. A good bulk of the material can still be obtained through the mail from Jamie.

In the early Sixties, instrumental artists like Duane Eddy were starting to get quite a bit of competition from the vocal “girl-group” bands and the oncoming British Invasion. Like everyone else, Eddy tried to cash in on the various bandwagons. The resulting product was Twistin’ with Duane Eddy, Surfin’, Duane a Go Go, and his own band of girl singers, the Rebelettes. Production qualities started suffering about this time. Gone was the old, raw, raunchy style, and in was a newer Muzak-like production complete with strings and the Rebelettes high harmonies. Instrumentalists were a dying breed.

Though he continued recording for various labels until the mid-Seventies, it’s ironic that the last hit on which Eddy appeared, he wasn’t the featured artists. Remember back in 1966, Nancy Sinatra came out with “These Boots Are Made For Walking”? You know that growling, descending bass line? Yep. That’s Duane Eddy.

"Rebel Rouser":

"Cannonball" live

"These Boots":

Ronnie and the Jitters:


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Review: Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records

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

Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records (Blu-Ray)
Directed by Robert Mugge
MVD Visual
87 minutes, 1992 / 2016

It is important to realize just how crucial Alligator Records is to the modern Northern electric Blues scene and industry. Founder Bruce Iglauer singlehandedly built the indie label into the largest Blues publisher in the world.

This is also not the only film about Alligator Records, which makes a good companion to this release (reviewed by me HERE). There are some great performances on that one, but part of my question is that there is quite a bit of repetition between the two films about the facts, so why not just make this just a concert film, as it offers music from the Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour, which was filmed at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia, on March 12, 1992 (the club closed in 2013).

I’ve already dealt with the social implications of gender and appropriation in the other review, so rather than discuss the interviews with Iglauer that are inserted between the songs at length, I’m just going to stick mostly to the music, if you don’t mind. Honestly, I wish they had done that, because I would have liked to put this Blu-Ray in and just groove instead of the wordy interruptions.

Note that the song list is at the bottom of the page.

All the music is electric – Chicago style fomented by the likes of B.B. King – and usually based on some form of the I-IV-V chord progression. First up is Lil Ed (Williams) and the Blues Imperials doing the title number, “Pride and Joy.” Lil Ed plays a mix of picking and slide. This is a near (early) rock’n’roll sound for some of it. The subject leans toward a love song, a topic not always found in Blues, though sex is often at the core. Here it’s just plain happy, with some amazing “bing-bing-bing” strumming and pounding of the strings reminiscent in a bit of a Son House adaption.

Katie Webster (d. 1999) was known as a boogie piano player, and here she does the slow burn of “Pussycat Moaning.” The grinding theme is being lonesome because her love has left, even though he’s no prize (“You spent my money / And chased every skirt in town”), and she has reached her limit. Her upper key registry playing on the piano is chilling in the context of the song topic. The style reminds me a bit of Cab Calloway’s gender reverse “Minnie the Moocher.” Katie’s blues scat is so deeply steeped in emotion.

Elvin Bishop, of course, has his own rock blues pedigree, having started with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and swinging into his own Elvin Bishop Band. Here, he is joined with Ronnie Baker Brooks (son of Lonnie Brooks) to pound out “El-Bo.” This is definitely the hardest rocking of the songs. Brooks plays a softer solo, and perhaps more emotional; he doesn’t seem to need to rock out, but rather butter up the guitar playing the same song. Both are incredibly delved in a different edge of the same framework.

The Lonnie Brooks Band plays a song deep in horn dog mode with “Wife for Tonight.” Wearing a Bo Diddley kind of wide-brimmed hat with the feather in the front, Lonnie plays the slow burner with a halting style that fits well into the desperation of the song, also hanging out in the higher register part of the guitar neck. “I feel a need / For some down-home love tonight,” he howls.
Koko Taylor (d. 2009) and her Blues Machine plays with Lonnie Brooks, with Brooks and Taylor sharing the back and forth vocals of “It’s a Dirty Job” (but somebody’s gotta do it). They are broke and both offer the other to do some work that isn’t that great, such as with an escort service; Lonnie volunteers, saying that even though it’s a dirty job “I wanna do it!” It’s a medium speed, humorous piece that reminds me a bit (in theme, not style) of the type Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty (d. 1993) would do.

If there was a side two to this record, this would probably start it off. Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials record in the studio rather than on the stage, for “Ed’s Boogie.” This is a great rave-up instrumental that sounds straight out of 1955 rock and roll. The band all play together in studio, rather than in pieces, which give it more cohesion. Plus we get to see more than one take, which is a pleasure since it’s a blazing song. Plus they seem to be having so much fun that it transfers over to the listener.

Katie Webster says her style is a mixture of Texas, Louisiana, and gospel. Back on the stage of the Chestnut, there is a strong feel of gospel mixed with the Blues for “Lord I Wonder.” It gets the audience participating with hand-clapping with this self-referential song that has malleable lyrics that Webster adapts to the particpants playing at any particular show, as well as classics like Billy Holliday and Etta James.

Working in some sense of humor to the song “Beer Drinking Woman,” Elvin Bishop plays the first-person storyteller. At first he talk-songs, and they dives into his heavy rockin’ blues. Throughout he goes back and forth between the vox and guitar.

The Lonnie Brooks Blues Band, which also includes his son Ronnie, has Lonnie playing more classic electric blues with a bit of a Chuck Berry-ish riff occasionally on “I Want My Money Back,” even when he plucks the strings with his teeth for a bit. I think I like his and Lil Ed's material the best on this release, and I say that without disparaging any of the other artists. Watching the father and son sharing the song, and even the same guitar at some point, is a joy. Unfortunately, like the second Katie Webster number, there is a brief interview with Lonnie and Ronnie that is placed in the middle of the song, breaking the vibe. To me, that just says director ego.

Koko Taylor and Her Blues Machine’s slow grinder number, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” sounds stylistically like something Gladys Knight or Tina Turner might have covered. Or perhaps the Stylistics or O’Jays. Definitely sounds more Philadelphia Soul than Chicago Blues. It’s a gusty number with a vocal slide from growl howl to low murmurs: “I’d rather go blind / Then see you walk away from me.” Powerful.

The final is, rightfully, a phenomenal jam with all the main artists and back-up bands joining for a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” I recent heard someone say they found the Blues boring because it all sounds alike. What I would like is to have that person watch this piece to see how all the musicians play the same song differently. One of the special moments of this song, I thought, is when Koko (she leads the whole thing) presents Elvin Bishop’s turn. He humbly starts playing in the back to honor the level of musicians that are on the stage, but Koko won’t hear of it and insists he comes to the front. That is camaraderie at its finest.

While I found a lot of the talking between songs made me anxious because I wanted to hear the music, there were still some fine moments in explaining the philosophy and history of the Alligator label. Just wish they had put it either at the beginning or the end, and let the music flow straight through. At least they played the complete songs, even the two that were interrupted; I still believe that’s a bad choice that too many documentaries make.

The first extra is an 11-minute Making Of, which is more of a director’s background to making the film than anything else. The big attraction for me is the audio of a number of songs from the show, the list of which is at the bottom.

Song list:
Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials: Pride and Joy
Katie Webster: Pussycat Moaning
Elvin Bishop, with Ronnie Baker Brooks: El-Bo
The Lonnie Brooks Band: Wife for Tonight
Koko Taylor and her Blues Machine with Lonnie Brooks: It’s a Dirty Job
Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials: Ed’s Boogie
Katie Webster: Lord I Wonder
Elvin Bishop: Beer Drinking Woman
The Lonnie Brooks Blues Band: I Want My Money Back
Koko Taylor and Her Blues Machine: I’d Rather Go Blind
Jam: Sweet Home Chicago

Audio Tracks:
Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials: Killing Floor
Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials: Can’t Let These Blues Go
Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials: Mean Old Frisco
Katie Webster: Two-Fisted Mama
Elvin Bishop: Stealin’ Watermelons
Elvin Bishop: My Dog
The Lonnie Brooks Blues Band (with Katie Webster): Those Lonely, Lonely Nights
The Lonnie Brooks Blues Band: Two Headed Man
Koko Taylor and Her Blues Machine: Something Strange is Going On
Koko Taylor and Her Blues Machine: Wang Dang Doodle