Tuesday, June 5, 2018

BLONDIE: Anarchy in the Streets! [1977], Big Star Fanzine Reprint

Text by Bernie Kugel / Big Star fanzine, 1977
Introduction and live photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018

This article/interview was originally printed in Big Star fanzine, issue #2, dated August-September-October 1977. It was written by its publisher, Buffalo (NY) Musician Hall of Famer Bernie Kugel, who kindly granted permission for this reprint.

When Bernie Kugel did this interview, he was on the phone, sitting on his parent’s bed, both excited and nervous. I know, because I was there, trying to listen in. Bernie kept looking at me and smiling as if to say, “Hey, I’m talking to Debbie Harry!”

Blondie was one of the first bands we saw at CBGB during the early summer of 1975. They were opening for the Ramones, and there were perhaps a dozen people in the audience. We saw them again a few times together, and then after Bernie went off to Buffalo State College in 1976, I continued to see the band. In fact, they were one of the first groups I saw play the new stage at CBs, after it was moved to the right side of the room, and they started to fill the place (see the photo directly below, which also appears in the book The Encyclopedia of Punk Rock and Culture, by Brian Cogan). I have not seen them perform live, however, since the 1970s. – Robert Barry Francos, 2018
Blondie are about to release their second album [Plastic Letters] and with songs that are as good as “I’m Always Touched By Your Presence, Dear” and some other new tunes they are doing, it should be a strong album indeed. And in live performances, they just keep getting better and better, and the Iggy and English tours have really helps strengthen their shows. In fact, the last time I saw them in NY, I felt like I was watching five Iggys, ‘cause they were all using movements associated with Mr. Pop. So, don’t pass up Blondie, kids, ‘cause I think they should be making some of the best pop records around during the next few years. I spoke to Debbie Harry on the phone briefly before the two big tours and here a little of what she had to say:

“Yeah, I think we’re real fortunate. Every other band that’s got an album has been together for three or four years, and our band’s been together for a year and two months completely. And we got a deal to do a single [“X Offender”/ “In the Flesh” – RBF, 2018] and it right-away developed into doing an album [Blondie – RBF, 2018], which I feel is indicative of the strength of our material. We have a unique sound. We have a sound, and that’s very valuable. A lot of bands don’t have their own sound. Like they have a good sound but it’s not original; it’s not unique. And that’s the most valuable thing you can have. And I think that bands that have gotten album deals from the NY scene all have a sound that’s unique, and that’s what has to be.

“I love the Ramones, I like the Talking Heads, I like the Mumps, I like Television sometimes, I like some things about Mink DeVille, I like some things about the Dead Boys, I like some things about Richard Hell, I like the Heartbreakers of course, I like some things about Wayne County and I like the Fast, and I have friends in all of these bands, of course.

“Before I was actively in a band, I used to just be more out in the audience and I wasn’t as particular; I didn’t know as much about what they were doing. Now I understand more from being inside of a band about what happens – what really happens. Yeah, I like Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, things like that. I guess I admired Janis Joplin for her style; her vocal quality was, like, weird. I guess I like it ‘cause it’s unique and she could get a lot of feeling out of what she did.

“We like a lot of movies. Thrillers and monster movies. This Thursday promises to be a great day on TV with Mighty Joe Young and King Kong, two big ape movies. Chris likes a lot of Japanese movies. I like a lot of those old star movies with Peter Lorre, Humphrey Bogart and John Garfield, those creepy black and white things that are sort of fuzzy.

“Sometimes I don’t think I’m going to live much longer than tomorrow. It’s hard to become too political in this day and age for fear that you get up out of the way for saying too much, but I definitely think there should be some changes made. Who am I to be involved with politics? But yes, government is really fucked up.

“Patti Smith’s got a lot of fans. I think she’s really [great] at what she does but I don’t approach music from her point of view at all.

“We like Poe, Frank Frazetta, and Barry Smith. We’re all illiterate, really. Our favorite sports are egg-throwing and arsonry. Our piano player’s favorite sport is escaping; he’s an escape artist. I want to tour. I want to go to other planets, too. We want Coca-Cola in all the high school water fountains, anarchy in the streets and rock and roll.

“You from Buffalo? My mother lives Upstate. She always calls up the radio stations there trying to get our records played.”

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bring Yourself to a Job

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

For most people, employment is a job: something to do to get money to pay for the things one likes to do in the personal sphere; unlike the “Seinfeld” episode, world do not collide. This, of course, can be a mistake in the larger picture.

The more of yourself one bring to a job, not only the more experience be more enjoyable, but the more enthusiasm and positivity the employers will see in you. Here are some examples from my own life.

In just about every job I’ve had, I have managed to bring along my photography with me, though it’s never been part of my job description. Company functions such as big and small events and parties, be it for the whole organization or just for the Department, are the perfect places to take some pictures of your co-workers having fun. The trick is to share it with the group on the company’s intranet. This is especially easy now with digital pictures.

Have them posted on a bulletin board somewhere, put them into a collage or PowerPoint slide show, or merely put the photos in a folder to which everyone has access, and you’ll find yourself possibly invited to events outside your own group. Everyone in the company knows who I am, and sees me in a positive light, especially the management.  I started doing this as a tool to help me remember everybody, but it has definitely blossomed. Again, it’s never been part of my position’s job description, but it certainly gets mentioned as a plus on nearly every performance evaluation.

Another example is my experience in PowerPoint. I worked for a major corporation for many years designing slideshows for presentations. When I started working at another position, I noticed that the new company’s informational program slides were inconsistent or not appealing to the eye (too much text, not big enough, inconsistences in style). I pointed this out to my supervisor a few times in a very gentle way, and over time, more slideshows started pass through my hands before reaching the public. Again, these program slides are not in my job purview, but they are in my knowledge wheelhouse, as it were. Now I have made myself more valuable to the company. Yes, it’s a bit more work that I have made for myself, but the outcome is extremely positive to the job, and my evaluations.

When I was hired for a particular position, I volunteered to supply a blog once a month to the local corporate website that relies more on what the company does as a whole, rather than just what my job entails. Most blogs, especially ones for a major company, tend not to be more than 100 words, which is just a few paragraphs. About three times a year, I wrote four at a time, and then posted them on the company blogsite with a time setting. Again, this is not something that is on my job description, and it also makes a bit more work for me, but I truly enjoy it and I’m getting paid to do research on the Internet about topics that I find interesting.

Even my love of obscure music has made its presence felt in a positive light. For example, at one place I worked they had an annual Christmas party, and somewhere during the event there was a contest: people were broken into groups and then a supervisor in another department would play a Christmas song, and whichever group knew who had performed it, they won points. I helped the person in charge organize his song list by providing some material he was unfamiliar with, such as the Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” and Jona Lewie’s “Stop the Cavalry.” This made my co-worker’s life easier, and he spoke positively about me to my own supervisor. Also, it was fun for me, and again, raised my value in the corporate management side of the company beyond my own section.
The point is, I have taken steps to make myself more valuable to a company by expanding my role beyond what is expected of me, which fits into the “Going Beyond” section of yearly evaluations, but I’m also doing something that I find fun, which does nothing but add value. By doing this extra work beyond my scope, it also keeps the job from becoming stale and feeling like I’m in a rut.  It’s a definite win-win situation for all involved.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Heaven That Was ’67: Garage Punk [1985]

By Nancy Foster / FFanzeen, 1985
* = Additions by Robert Barry Francos, 1985
Introduction and live photos © Robert Barry Francos, 2018
Flyers from the personal collection of Robert Barry Francos
Videos from the Internet

This article was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated 1985, by the irrepressible Nancy Foster, aka Nancy Neon.

While I enjoyed the hardcore sounds of the 1980s, I was drawn more to the new garage style, often going to see the bands that often played places like the Dive and Irving Plaza. Some of them were quite aggressive, like the Chesterfield Kings, and some were more pop, like the Cheepskates. I remember hanging out with the ‘Skates at the main floor bar while they played pool during one Super Bowl Sunday before a performance in the 1980s. Don’t get me wrong, when I say pop I certainly don’t mean sedate; just listen to the drumming on “Run Better Run,” because it is fierce, but you felt safer with them onstage. For example in the other direction, at one show at Maxwells, Kings’ singer Greg Prevost was jumping from the stage and swinging on the huge amps attached to the ceiling by chains. I moved to the back of the venue, just in case.

Of course, there were other bands that didn’t get mentioned because, well, there were so many of them, such as the Cynics (Pittsburgh) and to some level, even the Cramps.

The bands were exciting, the fashions were cool, the haircuts were wild, and the sounds were driving beats usually backed by an electric organ. Often I’d go with Nancy, or others, to these shows and just let go of all my worries.

Click on the name of the band below to see a sample their work. – Robert Barry Francos, 2018.

Call it garage grunge. Call it neo-psychedelia or punk/psych. There’s a real ‘60s revival going on in NYC, Rochester, Boston, and LA. When one mentions the ‘60s, Joe Q. Public thinks of throngs of naked hippies, Woodstock, and the Grateful Dead. But I’m not talking about love-ins, Haight-Ashbury (hashbury!), or nude herds of mush(room) minds, I’m talking about The Heaven that was ’67: chicks in minis, Yardley cosmetics, Cleopatra eyeliner, fishnets, etc.; guys with pudding basin haircuts in Prince Valiant style, Wayfarer shades, paisleys, and black leather. I’m talking about Vox and Rickenbacker guitars, Vox organs, and bringing sex and danger to rock’n’roll. I mean intense, not mellow. I’m talking about the coolest era in the wild, wild world.

The grooviest groups in NYC are the Vipers, the Fuzztones, Mad Violets, Outta Place, Cheepskates, and the Tryfles. Boston has the Lyres (my fave raves) and the Prime Movers. Rochester has the Chesterfield Kings, and LA has Rain Parade, Long Ryders, 3 O’clock and the Unclaimed.

Whereas the East Coast combos of cool are more influenced by the ominous, sinister sounds of the Sonics, the Standells and the Chocolate Watchband, the LA groups are mostly influenced by the more mystical, melodic, introspective sounds, such as made famous by folk rock sensations, the Byrds (except the Unclaimed, who are pure primitive punk!

The Vipers
THE VIPERS recently got signed by Passport Records, who are releasing their long-awaited LP, Outta the Nest. Previous to this, they were turning NYC on to their fab sounds at the Dive’s Thursday night Cavestomps. The line-up is Jon Weiss (vocals, sax, harmonica), Paul Martin (lead guitar), Pat Brown (drums), Graham May (bass), and Dave Mann (keys, harmonica, guitar). 

The Fuzztones
THE FUZZTONES have risen like a phoenix from the ashes of Tina Peel,  a warped ‘70s Archies. The Fuzztones pledge their allegiance to the punk/psych sounds of the ‘60s. The original members are Rudi Protrudi (lead vocals, guitar) and Deb O’Nair (keys and backup vocals). Their set includes hot covers of “Shapes of Things to Come” and “Riot on Sunset Strip,” complete with flashing lights and sirens. 

MAD VIOLETS stars Wendy Wild [d. 1996 – RBF, 2018], ex- of Pullsallama.  She’s the wildest dancer and a fab dresser, when she makes the ‘60s scene mushroom queen. One night she pulled a Goldie Hawn a la “Laugh In,” wearing a bikini top, miniskirt, and body paint. Their version of the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” is positively warped! 

THE CHEEPSKATES are one of the top dance bands. Their version of “Little Latin Lupe,” the Kinks’ “I Need You,” and the Yardbirds’ “Over Under Sideways Down” has the kids dancing in the aisles. Their “Run Better Run” single, on Midnight Records, is perfectly primitive.  

The Tryfles
TRYFLES are a great live band that has loads of originals, as well as intense covers like “The World’s Not Round, It’s Square” and “Way to Die.” One of the more visible bands on the circuit today. * 

OUTTAPLACE stars Chandler (lead vocals), Shari (nubile Morticia on keys), Orin (bass), Jordan (guitar), and Andrea (drums). They have a wild, wild record out on Midnight. You’ll seldom see so many groovy looking people in one place. [Late news: Outta Place no longer exist as a band, but their record on Midnight is worth checking out – NF, 1985.] 

The Chesterfield Kings
THE CHESTERFIELD KINGS have a 1982 album on Mirror Records that’s already a garage classic, and have just released a new single, “She Told Me Lies,” on the same label. They dress cool and take their hair style cues from Brian Jones. You might recognize lead singer Greg Prevost as writer of Future fame, and more recently Outasite! 

THE MYSTIC EYES from Buffalo features ex-the Good  leader Bernie Kugel on lead guitar and vocals, with ex-Davy & the Crockets leader Dave Meinser on backing (and occasional lead) vocals and guitar. Their music is wild, raunchy, and Bernie’s vocals are not to be believed! Their main influences are “The Honeymooners” and “Green Acres.” [Note: not to be confused with the German band with the same name – RBF, 2018] * 

THE PRIME MOVERS pump out a powerful potion of mod garage soul. Their hyped-up version of Lou Reed’s “Waiting for My Man” makes them heavy garage contenders.  

The Lyres
THE LYRES, who have been called by some as “white soul,” have a real gritty, garage sound. The Lyres put out great records, most recently a fantabulous album called On Fyre on Ace of Hearts Records, and put on mind-bending shows featuring intense frontman Jeff ”Monoman” Connolly. 

Salem 66
SALEM 66 are a cool Byrds-type psychedelic band from Boston, who follow in the footfalls (and far surpass) the likes of Dream Syndicate and the dull Green on Red. Formerly an all-girl trio consisting of Judy Grunwald on guitar and lead vocals, Beth Kaplan on bass, and Susan Merriam on drums, they have invited male guitarist Robert Wilson to join their fold and make the sound even fuller. This band has a rockin’ new album and single out on Homemade Records. * 

THE LONG RYDERS, on 10-5-60, are more devout to their ‘60s pilgrimage. Spectres of the Byrds weave through the melody lines and especially Sid Griffin’s (guitar/vocals) hero, the late Gram Parsons. The Country & Western twang of “You Don’t Know What’s Wrong, You Don’t Know What’s Right” comes complete with steel guitar and it is real good kicks. On the title track, the smooth folk of the Byrds combines with the spunky Rhythm & Blues of the Yardbirds for a provocative musical hybrid. 

THE RAIN PARADE’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip is my favorite of these three LA releases. The music is more mystical, and lusher with its languorous and magical melodies. The soft, introspective tone vocally, along with the sitar, enhances the ethereal feeling that the record inspires. “I Look Around” sounds like a more cerebral Hollies. 

THE PANDORAS are an incredibly good band that could be a female flip-side of the Chocolate Watchband, giving many East Coast garagers a run for their money. Their LP, It’s About Time, on Voxx Records, has no sense of innocence blocking its way as it raunches out with Paula Pierce’s (d. 1991) scratchy and screaming vocals, along with haunting instrumentals. * 

A couple of other bands you might want to check out for a mild psychedelic sound are the Things and Eyes of Mind, both of whom have albums out on that super label, Voxx. *

If you dig the ‘60s sound ‘80s-style, but you still crave the real thang, check out a groovy French record company called Eva and their extensive listing of cool combos: “Diddy Wah Diddy” (Barry & the Remains), “Calm Before The…” (Rising Storm), etc.

Bomp!/Voxx, “Where the ‘60s never ended,” proves its slogan with great plastic platters like Acid Vision, High in the Mid-Sixties, and my persona faves, Electric Sugar Cube Flashbacks, Vols. I and II, which contain rare British punk/psych ‘60s gems and the reigning ruler of my turntable, The Tongues of Truth by the Grodes, a terrific Tucson combo who did the original version of “Let’s Talk About Girls,” which has often been considered a Chocolate Watchband original.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Film Review: Nothing Good Ever Happens

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet
Nothing Good Ever Happens
Written and directed by Henrique Couto
New Dynamic
91 minutes, 2016

Normally, when a director switch-hits genres, it’s either sub-genres within the same genus (horror comedy, horror drama, horror Giallo, psychological horror, etc.), or it’s a one-off to push their own comfort level as an experiment, and then go back to the theme from whence they came. Hence the auteur label.

Henrique Couto, the director of this micro-budget film is a bit different in that way. Yes, there is a stylistic similarity which is pretty inevitable (as an example of that theory, does the name M. Night Shyamalan ring a bell?), but Couto does manage to genre-hop like few others do. Sure, he does horror (e.g., Devil’s Trail), but there is also the likes of Westerns (Calamity Jane’s Revenge), warm and romantic themes (Making Out) and family-oriented releases (A Bulldog for Christmas). He’s also done at least a couple of comedies about depression, such as this one.

Bradley Diehl and Josh Miller
A comedy about depression? What’s more, a decent comedy about depression?! In the words of that deep, spiritual philosopher, Keanu Reeves, “Woooooh.” For this story, Neil (Josh Miller), in a role similar to the Ben Affleck character in Chasing Amy (1997), is an artist who is suffering through some tough breaks. These include a go-nowhere career as a for-hire industrial artist, some friends that bully him, and most importantly, his live in girlfriend Amanda (the always wonderful Erin R. Ryan, who appears in many Couto films) leaves him with little warning, though the viewer gets see a few of the signs. To make matters worse, he accidentally drinks a glass of bleach while in a drunken stupor, and no one will believe him that he was not trying do away with himself over Amanda.

This is where we pretty much pick up the story, as it is told in a mixture of being in the moment and flashbacks. But the basic plot, which in itself is enjoyable, is not all of what makes this film stand out to me. Rather, it’s the way Couto plays with the convention of the story, switching thing up in ways one would not expect, especially in this type of story. His formula is to not be formulaic. Sounds like a contradiction, I know, but that’s what makes it work.

Erin R. Ryan
For one example, most of his friends, including his ex-, turn out to actually be quite toxic, but one of the truest friends who sticks by him, is the not-too-smart, occasionally racist and complete boneheaded Dave (joyfully played by Bradley Diehl). His idea to cheer up Neil is to make up a screechy song called “Neil is an Asshole.” We’ve all had good friends like this, that others would look at and think, what do they see in each other, but it works. Also, that Dave is a sympathetic character rather than being merely an annoyance, shows in both the writing and the portrayal. Another true friend turns up who starts as a rival, Mia (Marylee Osborne, in a really spot-on and impressive reading of her role). Both of these are probably just who you would not expect to be helpful, and in turn it’s the good friends that are toxic and the ones who usually end up in the buddy role in most films.

In a similar fashion, there is a nice little twist in the story about a possible love interest that I will not give away (hopefully) that just shows how smart the film actually is, as opposed to being merely a Lifetime Move-of-the-Week type.

One of my favorite characters in the film is the court-ordered psychologist (Chandra McCracken) who Neil is to obligated to see. She is a wound up looney (reminding me Dr. Cheryl Kinsey, a sex psychologist played by Andrea Martin on “SCTV”), and scarily similar to someone that I once saw as a teen in a similar capacity. She asks really personal questions in a negative-yet-monotone-yet-distant tone, and is hilarious.

Coquette du Jour
In other words, the film is definitely character-driven, and sometimes it’s the moments that impress, such as a disappearing parent, a rebound relationship that takes some surprising turns (with the lovely professional burlesque dancer Coquette du Jour), or a just-met family friend (a nice cameo by Al Snow, who keeps impressing me with his mostly short bits, that I’ve seen, in indie films of various genres).

As with many indie filmmakers who work on micro-budget productions like this one, they find their niche location, and with Couto, it’s the Dayton, OH, area. He has a community, and many of these actors have worked together enough to know each other’s rhythms, and have learned how to play off of each other in ways that give great chemistry, and help move the film along to make it both more believable and especially give a human touch that many large-moolah productions lack.

Again, while the dialog is humorous and the plot is filled with some unexpected twists and turns, it’s not only that and the characters that make this film successful, but also that these fictional beings are given some level of respect, even within the disrespect they sometimes give each other. It’s warm without being mushy, it’s romantic without being sloppy, and there’s some raunchy bits without it being embarrassing for couples to watch together.


Entire free film:

Bonus short 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Music Reviews: Catch-up for April 2018

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

There was a point where I just found myself starting a new job, and other responsibilities weighed in, so here I am catching up on some of the CDs I’ve received over the past few years that I haven’t gotten to as yet. Note that CDs will mostly have first shot over digital/streaming releases. If you are interested in me reviewing something, contact me at rbf55@msn.com to find out where to send it. This is going to be a bit of a series, so patience…

Sands of Time
Carved in Stone
Boston is a center for metal, and this is a perfect example of a heavy sound. Most people think of Aerosmith for Bosstown rock, but they’re pure pop compared to this. The center is Jeffrey Baker on vocals (y’know, they type that warbles on the last syllable), Aart Knyff on lead guitar and Joe Black pluckin’ bass. These three would later record together under the moniker Joe Black’s Blackenstein. Here they are joined by Tom D’Amico on keys, leading to one solid metal song after another. If you like the classic heavy sounds, this will not disappoint, since whether it’s a ballad or a rave up, it’s a piledriver, with titles like “Let It All Hang Out” (with a strong musical catch that one can pump their fists to), “What Comes Around Goes Around,” “Real Woman” and “Don’t Play with Fire.” Lyrics are included.

Buzzy LInhart
Electric Lady Dream: The Eddie Kramer Sessions
Buzzart Enterprises
Buzzy Linhart has spent a large chunk of his career flirting with the big time. Yeah, he’s recorded with the likes of Hendrix, Carly Simon (his ex-girlfriend), CSNY and John Sebastian (his ex-roomie). These sessions that were recorded at the fabled studio in 1969 (this album was originally released in 1971 under the title MUSIC), starts in solid Hendrix-style rock that mixes with the breeze of the West Coast sound, but with a more bluesy edge. He continues on with various styles, but its rock in one variation or another. His claim to fame may be co-writing Bette Midler’s “(You Gotta Have) Friends” with Moogy Klingman, but his near psychedelia-fueled sounds are post-Sgt. Pepper’s/Pet Sounds’ heavy production values. This may have killed if he had found a proper outlet for it at the time, and fans of American rock from that time, you certainly won’t get disappointed. Most of the songs are originals, like the enjoyable opening “IF You Love Me,” but there are also a couple of covers, like Fred Neil’s (one of Buzzy’s early mentors) “The Bag I’m In,” Tim Hardin’s “Reputation,” and another collaboration with Klingman, “The Birds.” Long guitar and vibraphone solos punctuate the music, continuing to solidify his sound to those in the know. He may never be a household name, but he is a musician’s musician.

MVD Audio
Wow, talk about feeling like you’re being hit over the head! This Texas trio can generally be put into the Southern Rock category… or perhaps Southern Metal Rock? They are definitely closer to ZZ Top’s wicked guitars than, say, anything from sweet home Alabama or dark wood Arkansas. It’s no surprise when you consider that one member, bassist and vocalist JD Pinkus was a member of both the Butthole Surfers and the MELVINS. He’s joined by Bobby Ed Landgraf on vox and a thunka-thunka guitar; pounding the skins in wild zeal is Trinidad Leal. This power trio never lets up for a second. They manage to make lots of noise and yet keep a melody and rhythm going. The instrumental “4:21,” shows some Butthole Surfer kind of noise that’s impressive. By the half-way point, it’s a bit more accessible, albeit still heavy as hell. I do believe that both southern rockers and metalheads can find mutual ground here. It ends on the impressive “Black Joe’s Bitch.”

Jah Wobble & Keith Levene
Yin & Yang
Cherry Red Records
If you are anywhere familiar with Wobble and Levene, you know that (a) they were key components of PiL, and that (b) their direction is anything but conventional. They have updated their sound to include some rap (the “fuck” filled title cut) and what sounds like Harry Potter-ish incantations (“Jags & Staffs”), but lyrics don’t really seem to be a main focus of their intentions. There’s a lot of noise within the melodies (electronica, I’m assuming), that relies on rhythms and odd sounds, and the occasionally distorted singing (echoes, reverb, etc.). There is one weird cover of the originally weird George Harrison cut, “Within You Without You,” and lots to unpack of their own creations. I would argue that this is either updated No Wave or Fusion Jazz, but it would fit in well with the likes of Kraftwerk or DeadMou5, except it’s a bit more melodic and not quite as rhythmic (thank god). I don’t think there’s anything here that’s you’d necessarily sing along with, per se, but as an adventure in experimentation, it’s a valiant and I believe successful endeavor. Hey, anyone who can make The Hybrid Kids (1979) collection is okay with me!

Metal Pistol
Magnum Force
FNB Productions
Sometimes one can succeed without pushing the envelope, just sticking to the path. Metal Pistol is solid metal, with brilliantly flashing guitar work by Steve (Laz) Stanley. He’s bound to gain most of the attention, along with Benatar-ish vocals by Sunny Lee, and rightfully so. However, drummer Roy Adams’ and Brett Sinclair’s bass bottom definitely deserves equal notice as all are integral to this pounding sound and rhythm. This is a fun tat-a-tat-a-tat type of metal that feels like being hit with a sledgehammer, and yet it feels so good. I’m not sure how much of it is in the production, but screw that, just put this puppy on if you’re metal-bound, and I’m sure you might have a good time. In typical metal mania, the songs are typically in the 5 minute mark, but they fly away fast.

Mud, Blood & Beer
Gone For Good
Mud, Blood & Beer Music
Technically, I assume that this could be considered country rock, but for me it has kind of a ‘60s garage sound, with an additional kind of Scottish pastiche, especially on the second of the 5 cuts here, “New Math.” “Mine the Light” is a bit more traditional, post-“9 to 5” commercial country, the only cut with a pedal guitar, but it still has a sharp edge to it that has it stand out. “Gramercy Park” has vocalist Jess Hoeffner puts on a bit of Townes van Zandt growl on the stanzas, and the choruses rock out a bit, with harmonies.  This is one of the few I sat through twice, so that tells ya something.

Ralph Carney’s Serious Jazz Project
Smog Veil Records
While I enjoy jazz, especially this kind, I have to admit it’s a bit out of my wheelhouse; I don’t know who these guys are, so I hope they don’t take that personally and I’ll give it my best shot. This is definitely not avant-garde (the punk equivalent would be No Wave), which means it’s a lot more accessible to a larger amount of people. With a bit a boogie thrown in here and there, this reminds me more of the early days of swing, like Cab Calloway, Count Basie or Benny Goodman (my parents’ favorite type of sound). This is heavy on the sax and clarinets, which Carney plays multiple types of both, for which he is joined by Randy Odell on drums, Ari Munkres on bass, and Michael Macintosh on keys. There are others who add their expertise here and there, such as the sultry sounding Karina Denike on vocals. If you liked listening to your parents’… well, now I guess grandparents’ old records, you might enjoy this. I certainly know I did. There’s an original or two, but mostly it’s covers by the likes of Ellington (“Carnival in Caroline,” “Gypsy Without a Song”) and Rodgers and Hart (“You Took Advantage of Me”), so if that sounds familiar to you, certainly you know the sound I mean. Definitely more upbeat than boring lite jazz, and not as atonal as Coltrane, so it’s a swing-fest of fun.

Sean Burns
Cold Beans & Broken Eggs
Folk singer-songwriters in a country vein is a category I don’t hear enough of, and Sean Burns is a really nice way to easy back into it. This CD is a bit of a travelogue, with each song about a different place, such as “A Postcard from Rochester, New York (Talkin’ ‘Bout Now),” “Texas,” “If You Need Me I’ll Be in Wisconsin,” “Mexico Town,” and I especially enjoyed “Tumbleweed,” which name-checks a bunch of locations in Saskatchewan (he’s from Manitoba). Considering how much he tours, it’s hardly surprising. I’m hoping he plays Saskatoon at some point. There’s some country that runs through most of the songs with a pedal guitar (that has a Mexican lilt). For those who don’t know, C&W is overall bigger in the Prairies than, say, the pop of Alanis Morissette or the rock of Rush. For this, Sean’s voice has just the right amount of warble (think less than Melanie Safka), and a pleasant tone that feels comfortable from the first note. His songs are basically about real life situations and daily emotions, rather than something grand and esoteric. The band backing him is well mixed on the CD, with Sean right in front rather than being buried. Each song is well done, which makes it hard to say one is a standout among the others, because they are all of high quality.

Steve Gilligan
Jacob’s Well
Actuality Records
From his work in the Stompers to pairing up with Jon Macey (Fox Trot), Steve Gilligan’s history in the Boston music scene is unquestionable. I had the opportunity to see Macey and Gilligan perform about a decade ago, and it was quite enjoyable. This marks Steve’s first solo effort. Despite the rock-pop background, this time the coast to coast sound is solid singer-songwriter balladry, and Steve’s alto voice is actually quite suited for it. His sound could fit into the “feel-good music” category, which the Lovin’ Spoonful and Turtles successfully embellished. The songs are quite poetic and melodic, and I am quite impressed by how good it all is. While Steve is the main focus and plays most of the instruments, he has quite a few locals filling in, including most members of the Stompers in one form or another, including its vocalist Sal Baglio who adds some electric guitar on one cut. A couple of songs, “Out of the Rain” and “Niki’s Blue Waltz,” are almost a Stompers reunion. The rare rave-up, such as “What’s a Little Rock’n’Roll Between Friends” (Dave Friedman’s keyboards are enjoyable) are also standouts.  Most of the songs are about love, so Steve’s harmonica is also a key instrument through most of the cuts, which gives you some idea of the sound. Steve should be recording more often, even knowing there’s another album out there titled Winter Rain. Lyrics are included in a booklet with very small print (my only complaint about this).

Vonda Shepard
Panshot Records
Along with Diana Krall, Shepard has pretty much cornered the market on the very blonde womyn jazzy piano and singing. There is a reason for that; okay a couple at least. First is that she had just the right vehicle at just the right time when she appeared (musically) on the television show “Ally McBeal,” back around the turn of the Millennium. The other and larger reason is that she is extremely talented. Most people know her for the songs she covers, but she has also been a songwriter for decades, so this is a good opportunity for her to shine as she plays live in the studio: just her and her piano. Her voice is sort of like water flowing over pebbles; I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s the image it conjures. She has a cadence that is all her own, which is part of what made her popular in the first place. If there were two themes to pick out of these slow ballad-paced songs, it would be travel and heartbreak. Many songs deal with moving on in both the physical and emotional senses, with a piano tinkling behind it. For examples, the opening song is about traveling down to “Maryland,” or in “Soothe Me,” she starts with “Maybe I should wander down these streets a little longer.” Though mostly originals, even the covers she’s chosen talks about moving: “You Belong to Me” (“See the pyramids along the Nile…”) and the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.” For break-ups, there are the likes of “Don’t Cry Ilene” (“It’s hard to say exactly why he left you”) and “Baby Don’t You Break My Heart Slow,” the two songs that close out this collection. There’s no doubt it’s a beautiful albeit sadness-focused set, but it may be just want is needed on a lonely rainy afternoon. Lyrics are included in a nice booklet.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Review: The Head Cat Rockin’ the Cat Club, Live From the Sunset Strip

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Head Cat Rockin’ the Cat Club: Live from the Sunset Strip
Directed by Mikki and Malory
Cleopatra Records / Ultra Films / MVD Visual
34 minutes, 2004 / 2006 / 2018

Back in the 1980s, there was a huge ‘50s revival. It was spearheaded, like it or not, by the Stray Cats. The reason I phrase it like that is because while the two guys backing up Brian Setzer, who seems to have garnered the lion’s share of the attention in his cutsie looks, were so much better than he was; musically, Setzer was by far the weakest link. It would be as if Billy Idol’s and Generation X was the face of British punk. Like Setzer, Idol’s okay, but he’s not really a good example of the actual sound, more a pretty face that’s built on ego. For more authentic rockabilly, we in the know relied on bands like the Rockats.

The reason I bring this up is because a member of both those post-rockabilly groups are at the core of the supergroup cover band called the Head Cat. Recorded in 2004 and originally released in 2006, this musical collective is made up of Lemmy (of Motörhead) on vocals and acoustic guitar, Danny B. Harvey (the Rockats) on electric guitar, Slim Jim Phantom (the Stray Cats) on drums, and Jonny Bowler (the psychobilly Guana Batz) on stand-up bass. One look at the set list below will give you some idea of the direction of the music.

If you are familiar with Lemmy’s sound, you may think, hmm, how authentic a rockabilly sound is that going to be? He’s more known for the growling, metal-punk cross-over of “Ace of Spades,” which feels like a vocal oil spill sludging across the speakers. You know, a great sound… but rockabilly?

From the first notes of “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” one of the earliest rock’n’roll songs from 1947 by Roy Brown – which, if I may digress, proves that rock’n’roll did not start with (a) “Rock Around the Clock” in ’55, nor (b) with Elvis – you know you are in for an interesting show.  The trio comes out swinging and out to take no prisoners (yeah, I’m full of cliché’s tonight). Lemmy’s growl is perfect for the effect, Slim Jim simply pounds the skins at full tilt, and Danny dances around the melody to a tight-yet-loose sound like a piledriver. This is rock and roll mixed with just the right touch of rock’n’roll.

The visuals are crisp and digital, but definitely pre-HD, and the sound is totally clean and loud. The lighting is cast in mostly hues of greens and reds, as they should be. Also, the stage is small, which is actually appropriate for the sound, rather than having musicians running around the stage.

Next up is Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” more commonly known by Richard Penniman, aka the Little Richard. This medium-speed grinder is a great selection, even though tethered by the sheer weight of the rhythm section. Not a complaint, by the way. Sometimes I can be a purist, but hey, it’s Lemmy. This is followed by the similarly paced “Talkin’ ‘Bout You” by Ray Charles from 1958, though more know the Animals’ cover in ’64.

One of my major complaint about this DVD is the editing by Kari Pearson and King Romero. This isn’t ‘80s rock and it’s not M-TV; there is enough energy onstage that the editing doesn’t need to denote tension or excitement, as Sergi Eisenstein famously posited. The cameras move around way too much, swinging and swaying, and edited together so quickly that by the time you get your bearing on what you’re watching, it’s gone to the next shot. It seems like they average about every two-to-three seconds, which is not only annoying (and bad direction), but literally nauseating via motion sickness. I felt like turning off the screen and reviewing it like a CD rather than DVD. You can see a sample below.

Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else” has been interpreted by many, including an enjoyable one by Sid Vicious in ‘79, but the Head Cat are a bit more loyal to the ’59 version. The pace, however, picks up when they next cover Chuck Berry – in my opinion the true King of Rock and Roll – with 1957’s “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” a rave up all the way. I remember the Rockats did an outstanding version of it as their encore the night they recorded their Live at the Ritz album; though the song never made it to the vinyl, sadly. But I digress…

The camera hovers around the three big-name members, including Phantom’s minimal yet-highly effective drum set, but you almost never see Jonny or the stand-up bass except in the background. The best I can tell there are three cameras, one for Slim Jim who is off to the far left rather than behind, one for Lemmy and Danny (though it’s usually up Lemmy’s nose), and one for a longshot from the back of the room. The bassist gets squeezed out. As a fan of bass players, this was disappointing, as well.

Putting aside some of the growl, they do the almost ballad-like “Fool’s Paradise.” Lemmy explains this is off the first album he ever bought, by Buddy Holly and the Crickets in ‘58, which explains why he singing it more straightforward. It’s a more obscure track of Holly’s, as is their next choice, Chuck Berry’s medium rocker “Bye Bye Johnny” (which was also covered by the Stones). Keeping the pace, they play Fats Domino’s 1958 “Sick and Tired,” which actually as a very similar feel to the previous song.

It’s important that they did not just pick the “top 10” kind of songs that you hear at most revivals, but rather chose some that you don’t hear very often, such as Larry Williams’ 1958 “Bad Boy.” While I’m familiar with it, it’s not one that shows up on oldies radio shows often. More people know the Beatles’ cover from their Help! album. However, the next song gets covered a lot, Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” which is solid I-IV-V progression. Danny’s guitar really flashes on this one.

For the final number in the main set, it’s the third Berry number with the raver “Back in the USA.” Lemmy is in full growl mode for this one. It’s a fine number to end the set proper, just as Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do” is perfect to start the two-song encore. Danny B. again gets to show off his guitar skill in a more modern vein that still stays loyal to the heritage.

The last on the DVD is “Blue Suede Shoes.” Knowing this band’s fondness for Elvis, I am assuming that’s the version they are covering, but for me, it’s solid Carl Perkins, who got jyped out of his career potential by an accident. But I will say this: no matter who’s they are doing, it’s a kick-ass song and a solid way to end the show.

The last thing Lemmy says as he ends the gig is “Thank you very much; live forever.” After Lemmy’s passing in 2015, he was replaced by death metal bassist David Vincent (aka Evil D, of Morbid Angel and Genitorture); I’m guessing Bowler is no longer with the band?

The extras are nice. The obvious ones are the set list (i.e., chapters) and a 2:40 slide show over a song not included in the DVD’s show, which is a killer cover of Buddy Holly’s great “Not Fade Away.”

The other more significant extras are two sets of interviews. The first is 20:33 of Lemmy and Slim Jim. They discuss a wide range of subjects including how they met and became friends, bonding over rockabilly, music from that period’s effect on the youth then and “still going on all the time” (Slim Jim), and the mythology of Elvis of course. For the 19:18 second interview segment the focus is Johnny D., on his history in music, his bands, and his musical philosophy.

Despite the terrible direction/editing and shaky camerawork in the feature, the important thing is the music, which is fantastic. I will gladly play this DVD more, but I will have it go through my speakers, and turn the visuals off. It’s still a great record.

Set List:
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Lawdy Miss Clawdy
Talkin’ ’Bout You
Something Else
Reelin’ and Rockin’
Fool’s Paradise
Bye, Bye Johnny
Sick and Tired
Bad Boy
Back in the USA
Baby What You Want Me to Do
Blue Suede Shoes