Monday, June 28, 2010

Two with TALKING HEADS, 1977-78

Interview text © 1978, 1979 by Bernie Kugel;
RBF intro © 2010 by Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet

The following interviews with Talking Head were originally published in Big Star magazine, issue #2, dated August 1977, and Big Star magazine, issue #3, dated August 1977. Both were conducted by Bernie Kugel, and reprinted here with his kind permission. I have left in the text the way Bernie originally had it (cleaning up some typos kinds of things). Text added by me in the present is in [brackets].

Talking Head were the first band I saw play CBGB’s, on June 20, 1975, when they were opening for the Ramones. Many years later I would discover that this was also the first night out for Talking Heads. I went there with Bernie, natch.

When David Byrne started singing back then, he moved the back of his head, the front passing the mic with a Doppler effect. The next time we saw them, he had figured out the whole move the
back of the head instead thing. As I have said before, I enjoyed the band more as a trio, finding a keyboard made their sound too “New Wave,” rather than quirky. – RBF, 2010

Part I – 3 x 3: Talking Heads Talk
Big Star #2, August 1977

Since their emergence at CBGB’s in 1975, David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz, otherwise known as Talking Heads, have been a consistently entertaining pop music band bringing to mind aspects of bands like the early Modern Lovers and Velvet Underground, but basically sounding like themselves more than anyone else. With super catchy songs like “Don’t Worry About the Government,” “Psycho Killer,” “I’m Not In Love,” “Thank You For Sending Me an Angel,” and others, they present a happy melodic future for music. Recently, they’ve been quite busy with bassist Tina marrying drummer Chris, Jerry Harrison of the Modern Lovers joining the group on guitars and piano, and most importantly, finishing up their first album on Sire [Talking Heads ‘77], which should be just about ready to be released when you read this. But until that comes out, here’s a few little insights into the Heads from the Heads themselves, from a conversation I had with them in January. Jerry Harrison wasn’t in the band at the time so I didn’t speak to him, but hopefully I’ll have the chance to do that real soon for an upcoming issue. But for now, as they’re seen in the pic, here are Chris, Tina and David…

Chris Frantz

1. Do you have favorite New York groups?
Yeah, I would say my favorite New York band right now is the Ramones, other than ourselves of course. I know people might think it’s funny that we like the Ramones and all but before we’d ever even played we’d seen them; in fact, the first night I moved to New York City I went to hear the Ramones, I think they were just beginning. I liked them even though they were really terrible then. They’ve cleaned up their act considerably since then. I think they’re great. Television, of course, is good.

2. What prompted you to write to Crawdaddy [magazine] (concerning an article severely putting down the Ramones)?
Well, you know I’d never even written a letter to a magazine before, that was the first and only one I’ve written so far. I just thought it was a really mean record review. I understand that writers can write whatever they want and all that, but it made me angry what this fellow said. I hate to say it but Crawdaddy’s a kind of dry rag, but maybe it’s picking up now that they’ve got us in there; maybe they’re getting better.

3. Do you have favorite movies?
To tell you the truth, I just went to see three movies. David goes to the movies pretty frequently and Tina does also, but I don’t go so much ‘cause I get nervous sitting in the chair for that long, or I get indigestion. But I did go see Carrie and I liked that a lot, and I liked King Kong a lot, and I liked Rocky a lot. When we were in school, we used to have to see movies all the time. They were sort of required in art school. We got a very heavy dose of the “art film,” or at least I did when I was there, and as a result, I have a tendency to go to things like Rocky rather than Cousin Cousine. I avoid those kinds of movies nowadays.

Tina Weymouth

1. What’s it feel like playing live now compared to the early days?
The crowds are really big now, compared to the early days. And where the crowds used to just look at us and say “jeez, they’re so weird” and think that we were very arty and stuff like dramatic and theatrical, we weren’t trying to be; I think it just happened because we wore very simple clothes and not glitter. We’d just put the lights on and leave them on and not use any colored lights or anything. But now it’s really fun. In New York, at CBGB’s, people get very excited, and some of them scream – scream so loud it actually hurts your ears on stage. And it’s louder than our amplifiers.

2. Do you have favorite historical figures or heroes of any kind you look up to?
I’m sure we do. I’m sure we have a lot, although I can’t think of any in particular right now. We like a lot of the old R&B originators. One of the reasons why we decided to take the risk and make the band even though we weren’t sure at all how we would be received and we knew it would be a lot of work, was because we were very disgusted with the art world. There was so much heroizing and the artists that we met were so inflated with themselves - not all of them but a number of them - and so full of themselves and people really looked up to them as though they were magicians, real heroes, and they thought of themselves as elitists: fine artists, and therefore very noble, and I think that kind of turned us off. It really made us decide we don’t like heroes; we don’t like any of that and we’re certainly not going to be heroes ourselves. We’re not gonna do that, we’re always gonna be normal people. We’re not gonna be pretentious and try to have people look up to us as though we’re something special. We try to stick to that pretty much. I guess we sort of got away from that kind of heroism.

3. Do you have any advice to new band starting out?
Yeah, one very important thing is to rehearse a lot before you perform because sometimes you’re a little overanxious to just get up on stage and do it. Of course, audience response is very important in the development. From the time you begin to a few months later you could sound different. But rehearse a lot beforehand so that everything’s very tight, very together, so that the first time people see you they think it’s good and you won’t get a reputation for sounding bad. You could start out terrible and then get good some months later and people will remember you as having been the way you were when you started and they’ll say, “Oh no, that band’s terrible.” So that’s the only advice I can imagine. Work very hard. Practice a lot, like the old Julliard saying goes, “Practice, practice, practice gets you into Carnegie Hall.”

David Byrne

1. What were some songs that you used to play in the early days that you don’t do now?
“I Want to Live,” “Sugar On My Tongue”… I can’t remember them all. We keep dropping more and more, and adding new ones.

2. When did you get the idea for the acoustic guitar now used on many Talking Heads songs?
I don’t know, it was always on records. You would always listen to records and you’d hear acoustic guitar and I thought, “How come nobody does that in a band?” I mean outside of folk acts and stuff. So I thought, well, I’ll give it a try. Just have to crank up the volume.

3. Did you think you’d have the success you’ve found in New York?
I always thought it was possible, but I didn’t expect it to happen this fast. I set a sort of tentative timetable and thought, “Five years before we get good enough so that people get what we do.” And it seemed to happen a little bit faster, which is very pleasing.

Part II – Talking Heads: 78
Big Star #3, Spring 1978

Since our last issue, the big Talking Heads news is that their debut album has of course been released. And, all in all, it’s a fine first album with the second side being especially strong. Definitely one of the better records of ’77, and this decade. Recently, the band has been touring all over (including a superconcert in Buffalo) and I guess it won’t be too much longer before they go into the studios and start recording songs like “The Big Country,” “Stay Hungry,” “Good Thing,” “Let’s Work,” or whatever songs will eventually become Talking Heads album number two.

We’ve been fortunate enough to talk with the band on a couple of occasions now, and it is from these conversations that we present this epic.

Chapter One: First telephone conversation with Tina Weymouth, Part One:

Bernie: Do you think this band will stay together for a long time?
Tina: Oh, I don’t see why not; I don’t see anything that’s gonna… yeah, it could last a real long time… it depends… what do you mean by that?

Bernie: Well, like in lotsa bands there are personality clashes and bands break up.
Tina: Um hum. Well, David and Chris have been together in bands for several years now and they’d know by now whether they were gonna break up or not. I guess it’s only common sense to say that sometimes knowing that different people have different ideas and start to go in different directions, then it’s just logical that the band break up or if the band is not successful, then that’s logical to break up too, because then you have to mutate and change so that you get to be some kind of collaboration that does work. That just seems to be a natural thing that happens all the time – if a band isn’t working, and you break up, then it’s a good thing.

Bernie: You probably get asked this a lot, but are there any special problem being the girl in the band?
Tina: I don’t know; I really don’t know. I don’t know whether the problems I have are problems anybody would have or just problems a girl would have. I don’t feel any particular discrimination if that’s what you mean. That’s a question that’s been asked only a couple of times and I don’t know how to answer it except to sort of ignore it because it just doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem. I don’t think about it; the boys don’t think about it. I think they thought about it at first when they first asked me to join because they didn’t know how it would be, but they knew me very well and I guess I worked out better than some boys would, just because I have similar ideas and concepts. So it was better to have me than a boy who had a totally different direction.

Bernie: Is there any truth to what was printed in the Village Voice a few weeks back that the name Talking Heads comes from David’s neck, or something like that?
Tina: No, no, that was [Robert] Christgau going wild. I thought it was real funny because I thought it was Tom Verlaine of Television – his was the neck that everyone looked at. But I guess David does have a long neck; we’ve been teasing him, calling him “Neckrifiti” ever since, but no, that’s not how it originated. The name came from an old back issue of TV Guide when we were tyring to find a name for ourselves ‘cause while we were in rehearsal we had no name; it was only just before when we auditioned for CBGB’s we had to have a name. So we had to have a name right away, and we had a friend who was staying with us, and he was looking through the TV Guide and he wrote it on one of our numerous lists of possible names. It’s video jargon for a talk show; it’s what cameramen use when they’re talking to each other: “This afternoon, 1 PM, we have a talking head” – so it’s almost a documentary type of name. And so when we were looking at the list, it was the only name we felt had so many connotations to it, that it didn’t offend us and we liked it. It was the only name that made us all laugh and that we all liked. The name is not very important; I think what happens is that you try to find a name that is original so that when your style or whatever it is that you’re doing gets identified with the name, so Talking Heads now means something particular. It means us. Well, it still means what it did the way the cameramen use it, for TV people, but it’s not something like some sorta particular name which connotates heavy metal or anything like that. We didn’t try to find a name which would suit our music, we figured it would work the other way around. The group would define the name, not the name define the group.

Chapter Two: Post-concert party interview with David Byrne

Bernie: Are you influenced by a group like the Troggs as you have played two Troggs songs (“Love Is All Around” and “I Can’t Control Myself”) in your live sets over the past couple of years?
David: I don’t think so, I just liked those. We mainly did that one, “I Can’t Control Myself” a long time ago sort of before the whole punk thing got started. It seemed like a real sort of punky song and they were a real sort of punk group band then, and we just liked it. But then when all this punk thing started happening, we thought we better not do that. It seemed like there were plenty of other people doing that sort of material.

Bernie: You’ve fooled around with playing Ramones songs?
David: Yeah, a year ago in Boston we did “Boyfriend.” We did that a couple of times. It sounded great. That was when I used the acoustic and I just turned it all the way up so it would sound like the Ramones, but it really didn’t.

Bernie: In your [Sire] press bio it states that there was a time when you thought that Tina would be the lead singer?
David: I don’t think so. I don’t remember that; maybe it was brought up but I don’t remember that.

Bernie: Do you ever think you should use more harmonies and try for that kind of sound?
David: Jerry [Harrison] sings sometimes but maybe if we get better we could do that, but it’s a really hard thing to do and make it sound right. I don’t think we’re able to do it yet.

Bernie: What are some of your favorite recording artists presently?
David: I really like Booker T & the MGs’ records from a while ago. I really like James Brown. I really like that group Parliament and Funkadelic, and stuff like that. I like them but I don’t like KISS, although some people might think there was some sort of similarity. I got the new Randy Newman record; I liked that. I’ve been listening to a lot of foreign stuff like music from Japan and Bulgaria, and things like that.

Bernie: Do you think it’s influenced your writing?
David: Not yet.

Chapter Three: Post-concert Backstage by the Elevator Interview with Jerry Harrison

Bernie: Were there a lot of old Modern Lovers songs that didn’t come out on the first Modern Lovers’ LP?
Jerry: Oh yes, another album’s worth (Some titles: “Tenderness,” “I’m Straight,” “She Takes the Pill for Me”).

Bernie: Were any real, real great ones?
Jerry: You know the song “Government Center”? We have a great version; we (original Modern Lovers) did that song. “I’m Straight” is really good.

Bernie: Do you think that stuff will ever come out?
Jerry: I doubt it. It should. I wish they made a single out of “Old World” and “She Cracked.”

Bernie: “Old World” is like my favorite song offa the album…
Jerry: Those two came out pretty well as far as the recording sounded.

Bernie: Did you immediately fit in with Talking Heads?
Jerry: Yeah. It was sort of amazing. Every time we played together it just got better and better, and just got to the point of “Well, alright, it can’t come any further doing this now and then so let’s try it.” And it’s been real good.

Bernie: Do you think you’ll be writing songs for Talking Heads?
Jerry: I hope so. You never know how compatibility will work. Songwriting is a very funny thing in a band because everyone really does enter into the way it sounds; the arrangement. And often the arrangement really starts to influence the way the song is, so it’s very hard to define what you mean by song. A lot of times it’s best for one person to come up with some sort of original conception and take it from that point. People enter in too early and it just gets confusing.

Bernie: Yeah, a lot of the songs seem drastically different from the early days…
Jerry: Yeah, that’s the case. Cos it certainly isn’t like you feel that you’re not involved in the process.

Bernie: Do you like any bands you’ve seen in New York or Europe?
Jerry: I love the Ramones, who we played with in Europe. I think they’re wonderful. I saw the Clash; I thought they were alright. I think they might turn into a real good band; they’re getting to play all the time and they have a real following, and those things are great nurturing experiences, but as far as strictly taking them for their music, it sounds like I’ve heard it all before. So I don’t know what to say, I think the politics are a little bit bullshit, at least when I talked to them. Having been through politics in the United States with the war in Vietnam, I see that they’re angry about things but they don’t have any developed ideas about them; there’s no theory behind it. But maybe I didn’t talk to the right person, so I really don’t know.

Bernie: Do you like any other bands?
Jerry: Well, I haven’t seen Television except when they first got started. They wanted Ernie [Brooks], the old bass player in the Modern Lovers to play with them when Richard Hell left. So I went with him to go see them and at that time I thought they were just dogshit. You gotta see that at that time we came out of a band who we thought could’ve gone everywhere and to just start playing with a band that was nowhere… it’s a very hard thing to go backwards, but yet maybe he shoulda done it. But at that time I didn’t really like them. I haven’t seen them now; I like their record O.K. [“Little Johnny Jewel,” Ork Records]. I didn’t like it that much when I first heard it but I’ve heard it more and it’s grown on me.

Bernie: What do you think of all the current Boston stuff?
Jerry: Well, I like the Real Kids. The Cars are real good; the original drummer from the Modern Lovers [David Robinson] plays with them. I think in general bands in Boston are still influenced by the English sound, sorta like Aerosmith, being a combination of the Yardbirds and Stones. They’re friends of mine; I like them. I don’t have any idea if I would really like them… you see, the Modern Lovers and they… we were ahead of them in a way at some point. Like J. Geils had gotten up there, and then we would; and there was this band called the Sidewinders, they used to live in my apartment. Ernie used to play with them… So anyway, we were sort of the next group, the next group of bands that were gonna make it, so I feel this real allegiance to Aerosmith. Even if they played the worst shit in the world, I’d still stand by them and I do think they’ve developed more of their own sound, and they have something. I don’t think they’re the most amazing band in the world or the most original…

Bernie: Why did the original Lovers break up?
Jerry: Just personalities.

Bernie: What do you think of Jonathan’s current stuff?
Jerry: I’m not wild about it. I mean, I think it’s sort of interesting, but it’s not exciting to me. That’s really why I didn’t want to continue, because it was all his personality. If you really like his personality, then that’s great. I don’t think his personality is that great.

Bernie: Yeah, cos it seems to me that early Modern Lovers was his personality plus a really solid band…
Jerry: Yeah… early Modern Lovers. He was a teenager who’d gone through this unhappy childhood and he’d written some incredible songs that expressed that unhappiness. We all realized that.

Chapter Four: First Telephone Conversation with Tina Weymouth, Part Two

Bernie: Do you have favorite foods?
Tina: Oh, yes. I like avocadoes an awful lot. We don’t really eat a lot of desserts, like candy or anything like that. Everybody in the band has their own tastes. David will eat anything. He likes baked beans for breakfast. He eats anything at all. Put it in front of him and he’ll eat it. We’re not very finicky eaters. We all eat just about everything. I guess that’s because we’ve all travelled a lot. Wherever you go, you eat the food that’s there, and you learn to acquire a taste for a lot of different things. The only thing I don’t like is sauerkraut. But everything else I like.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Talkin’ with Television’s Tom Verlaine (At CBGB’s, New York City, 7/29/76)

Interview text © 1976 by Bernie Kugel;
RBF intro © 2010 by Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet

The following interview with Tom Verlaine was originally published in Big Star magazine, issue #1, dated May 1977. It was conducted by Bernie Kugel, and reprinted here with his kind permission. I have left the text the way Bernie originally had it (cleaning up some typos kinds of things), changing only the way the names are presented in the Q&A (e.g., “Tom” rather than “T.V.”) for clarity. Text added by me in 2010 is in [brackets].

The esoteric level of television was lost on me to some extent in the mid-70s, but even so, there were a band a saw quite a few times back then, and enjoyed the experience nonetheless. My favorite live song of theirs, after “Little Johnny Jewel,” was the cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” in an extended version they had made their own, much as Patti Smith had done with “Gloria.” This was around the time Richard Hell had just left the band.

I was sort of there the night Bernie Kugel interviewed the band. Well, I was at CBGB’s, saw the show, but I hung out with drummer Billy Ficca while Bernie was interviewing Tom (for privacy reasons). I can’t remember I talked with Billy about all that time, during the early sound check period before the doors to the club officially opened, but that’s not the point here.

Television, of course, is part of the reason there
was a CBGB’s, and their history is well chronicled elsewhere (in many different places), so on with the interview. – RBF, 2010

Bernie Kugel: Would you think of Television ever going on television?
Tom Verlaine: No, I don’t want to do TV at all. Fact is, a lot of groups ruin their own live performances by playing TV because everybody sees them on TV and they’re not going to pay $6.00 for a concert if they can see ‘em like that. They might check ‘em out if they’ve never seen ‘em, but if they see ‘em and didn’t like ‘em, they’re not going to pay money for the concert, see? That’s why a lot of people don’t… Blue Oyster Cult don’t do TV for that reason…. A lot of groups are very smart in not doing TV… I wouldn’t mind doing a three-minute spot if I got my own video guy and did it my way, but usually the sound on TV is crummy and you got these asshole cameramen doing psychedelic shit with the lenses while you’re playing. It’s just silly.

Bernie: Would you say you like jazz more than rock…?
Tom: No, no… not by any means. I mean I like all kinds of music, but I’m not hooked on any kind of music, so to speak. Like I don’t sit around and play KISS records all day long. But I do like everything; all kinds of music.

Bernie: How does the writing of a Television song come about?
Tom: I get the words… sometimes get the words, sometimes you get the riffs first, rehearse and throw this around, and I might have ideas for guitar lines… show [guitarist Richard ] Lloyd something like this, he take it and maybe improve it. Same with Fred [Smith, bass]… Fred will come up with a line or I’ll come up with a bass line and he’ll take it and make something better out of it… Billy [Ficca, drums] will make something better out of it… It’s like in any group really. It’s like one guy who writes the material and has the basic idea for the arrangement and you do it for a week and throw it around and everything falls into place. If it doesn’t you find out about it when it’s too late.

Bernie: Would you think there would come a day when Richard or Fred or Billy would be writing songs for the group?
Tom: It’s sorta not how we operate, ya know… exactly… it could happen.

Bernie: Do you foresee Television lasting a long time?
Tom: Oh yeah.

Bernie: Do you see people in the band going into solo careers shortly or anything like that?
Tom: No, I think we’re getting closer as the years go on, so to speak.

Bernie: What’s your favorite types of guitars?
Tom: I’ve always liked Fender guitars; they have a real juicy sound, you know? They’re not great for rhythm, they‘re real good for lead. They don’t stay in tune either, though they’re still worth it somehow. I might end up playing a Gibson because it stays in tune and in a big space it makes a bigger sound; it doesn’t get lost in the room. But in a studio I like to play a Fender.

Bernie: In The New York Rocker, you were explaining about how drugs help you expand yourself…?
Tom: Oh yeah…

Bernie: Do you still experiment with drugs a lot?
Tom: No, not much at all. I wouldn’t say really at all. Drugs are like… if you’re intuitive about things or something and you take drugs, they make you believe in your own intuitions more ‘cause there’s something very nebulous about drugs, and there’s something unspeakably true about what you go through with any given drug.

Bernie: What’s this about Theresa Stern (authoress of a book of poems, Wanna Go Out, credited by many to be the early works of Verlaine and Richard Hell, currently denied by Hell in recent interviews)?
Tom: What do you know about Theresa Stern?

Bernie: Teresa Stern is, in reality, you and Richard Hell.
Tom: Who told you that?

Bernie: I’ve just sort of got the idea from everything I’ve read.
Tom: I got no comment.

Bernie: One of the deep dark mysteries of Television?
Tom: (laughter)… Ya see, I don’t wanna have any bad words about Hell, you know what I mean? He’s always accusing me of this and that over the years… he considers himself a founding partner in the band and I don’t even think about it. It’s like two and a half years ago. I got no opinions on it anymore and anything he wants to say, let him say, I don’t care.

Bernie: So it wasn’t exactly an amicable split when he split from the band?
Tom: No, he quit and that was it, you know.

Bernie: What have you done to earn money over the past few years?
Tom: I haven’t had a job since… Well, I quit the Strand Bookstore in 1970, so I haven’t had a steady job since then. At one time, I worked ten hours a week in a bakery bagging bread, shit like that, part-time job here, putting books in mailing envelopes, when I need money. After the Strand I stretched unemployment for like two years so that was real good.

Bernie: Were you doing writing when you were on unemployment?
Tom: Yeah, always working on stuff…

Bernie: I remember an early [Village] Voice article that mentioned you worked on fiction a lot during those years….
Tom: I was working on some stories…

Bernie: Did these later develop into Television songs?
Tom: Yeah, one of them did, a thing called “Breakin' In My Heart” that we stopped doing for a while; I think we’re gonna do it again. What I got sick of is the whole “spoken style”; I just got sick of it. I didn’t want to project that myself, so I stopped it. I wanted to make it a little more… “listenable” or something.

Bernie: Do Television practice a lot?
Tom: Yeah, we really work out. When we first started we rehearsed six days a week for four months before we even played live; then we still stuck. We were awful, y’know? Now we rehearse four nights a week if we have a job or are breaking in new stuff. If we have a month of no jobs, we might rehearse three nights a week. We have problems finding a place to rehearse, though. If we get some more money… We’ll get some money with this record deal… we probably won’t get a dime after it’s all… ya know lawyers take this, and managers take this, taxes that this, producers take this… and that’s the end of it. Then you buy a new set of drums and a couple of new guitars and you have to go play live for a year.

Bernie: But if you do get some money what do you think you’ll do with it?
Tom: If I had a lot of money?

Bernie: Yeah.
Tom: Well, I’d get a decent place to live. You wouldn’t believe the shithole I live in. You really wouldn’t believe it. The floors are like black with shit and the windows are… the glass is ready to fall out and kill somebody in the street, like it rattles. There’s one radiator for four little rooms. In the winter, it’s like… the only thing is I haven't paid my rent since last November… I owe my landlord like $1500 and he hasn’t come after me for it, which is like a miracle ‘cause I haven't had any money this year at all really. I’ve had enough money to live on from the jobs we’ve been playing. But it’s like a miracle that my landlord hasn’t asked me for rent in almost a year.

Bernie: Do you have television in your place?
Tom: I had one… I had this great little old TV, but the aerial broke on it.

Bernie: Do you watch a lot of television?
Tom: No, I can’t stand it, to tell you the truth. I do find a strange thing happening though. I very rarely watch television really; I watch a movie or something, or the boxing matches, or the Olympics or something, but I noticed that five of our songs that have titles of TV shows… There used to e a game show called Prove It I think in the ‘50s… there’s a soap opera on weekday afternoons called Guiding Light and this kind of shit… I don’t look through a TV Guide to find a sing title… this kind of stuff happens…

Bernie: You have a song called “Guiding Light”?
Tom: Yeah, we do. We can’t do it live ‘cause it’s so gentle that if the guitars go out of tune it ruins it… we’re going to put it on our record, though. It’s a real sweet song.

Bernie: What was it like playing your first performance in some theater in midtown Manhattan?
Tom: It was just a tiny theater; it only had at the most 140 seats and it was designed for screening movies for like Federico Fellini or something. It was just a little hole in the wall, but it was very plush, very small. And they wheeled in this P.A. – it was Alice Cooper’s old P.A. – it was an enormous P.A. It was like 15 feet tall; it was just completely nuts, just crazy. We were all like nervous as hell. We played for two hours or something, it was just completely crazy, insanely loud for a room… the room was like a third the size of this club. The P.A. was at least as big as the one that’s in here now, maybe bigger. Plus all of our equipment was completely fucked up, breaking strings on every song.

Bernie: Do you have favorite Television songs right now?
Tom: I like the long ones more and more for live… I like to do long stuff. I’d stretch any song out to 20 minutes, but it’s hard to do that within a group ‘cause if not everyone’s reading each other right it just sounds fucked up. It’s like a group must have a strong leader. No group survives without a strong leader. Our drummer’s completely behind the band here, he can’t really hear anything. He has to listen to hear what’s going on. We’ve got this room down pretty good ‘cause we’ve played here [CBGBs] 200 times. It’s like playing in your living room now.

Bernie: Do you ever think that you should be doing something else other than this, like you’ve chosen the wrong profession or something like that?
Tom: No, but I’ll tell you a feeling I have though, sometimes. It’s like half of me is in New York, and the other half of me is myself standing on some fertile hillside raking a lawn or something, with a real bright sky. The exact opposite of New York. It’s like completely true. It’s like simultaneous realities or something. Maybe it’s like… rock and roll is sort of self-destructive, there’s no question about it. Unless you attack it as a complete business, I guess that’s why a lot of people end up doing it. They just forget about anything but the business – just do this in the show, bring out this prop, and do this. But I’ve never approached it completely as a business. To me, it’s like an art. The whole struggle is to get the art as perfect as possible. And it is a struggle. I’m not in good shape at all. Like we had to play an hour and a half at My Father’s Place [Roslyn, NY] on Tuesday night. I get offstage, I feel like I’m gonna collapse, at the same time I’m so wired up I couldn’t fall asleep for eight hours. It’s really dangerous for your health, even if you don’t use drugs.

Bernie: Do you have favorite guitarists?
Tom: I have solos that I like. I like Hendrix’s solo in “The Wind Cries Mary,” thought that was a really fantastic little short solo. I used to like John McLaughlin playing on the records with Miles Davis. He had this really beautiful tone, this silvery tone that he doesn’t use anymore. The best John McLaughlin solos are on a record called Mountain in the Clouds by a bass player called [Miroslav] Vitous. They’re the solos of McLaughlin’s I think are completely untouchably fantastic. Really insane, but perfectly in control. Just incredible. There are some solos I like. But my favorite solos are the early Kinks solos on the ’64-’65 Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night”…

Bernie: The ones that Jimmy Page’s taken credit for and Dave Davies says he did…
Tom: Nobody knows…but he was another guy I was thinking of getting as producer, Shel Talmy, who did the early Kinks and the early Who, but I hear he’s no good now that he has 16 tracks. He gets a great sound on a crummy tape machine, and he goes to 16 and he loses that. That roar, that big sound.

Bernie: Do you have favorite authors?
Tom: I went through a whole period where I was really crazy about French writers like [Paul] Verlaine, [Arthur] Rimbaud, especially this guy [GĂ©rard de] Nerval. I really like Nerval. Nerval wrote this one story that’s really great. It’s sorta the diary of a guy going crazy, so to speak. It’s a real beautiful story. Nerval did go crazy, unfortunately. I still like Persian writers, like Omar Khayyam and stuff, about the “wine”… some of those poems are real sweet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

DVD Review: John Lennon: Rare and Unseen

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

John Lennon: Rare and Unseen
Wienerworld Presentations, 2010
75 minutes, USD $14.95

When VCRs first came out, I remember getting a VHS of Beatles’ press conferences. This DVD reminded me of that, as there is not a stitch of music in it, but luckily it is a bit more comprehensive and certainly the sound is cleaner than that long-ago VHS.

Lord knows, there is so much documentation on the Beatles, in all formats, so here is one more, with its own little twists. If I have it right, most of the framework of this collection is based around a British television commentary by author Desmond Norris (The Naked Ape, etc.), which looks like it’s from around the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. There are also a number of clips of the 1969 appearance of John and Yoko at on David Frost’s program. But I get ahead of myself.

All the Beatles are here in the first past, though not often heard from because, well, this isn’t about them, per se. In fact, Cynthia and Sean don’t get a mention at all, other than a second hand snipe by Ringo during a press conference (“Don’t forget you’re married! Oh, that’s a secret…”).

Through the early part of the DVD, there are present day interview snippets mixed in with older footage, with the likes of Colin Hanton of the Quarrymen, Beatles press officer Tony Barrow, comedian / announcer / fan Len Goodman (you’ll know him when you see him), and for some God-knows reason, Phil Collins (who, other than being a contemporary of Lennon, doesn’t really add much, as usual). One of the more interesting and amusing extended comments is by actor Tony Booth, who happens to be the father-in-law of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair; he tells of meeting Lennon at their mutual dealer’s flat, and of them sharing some weed.

Other than a brief comment by Hanton, there isn’t really anything pre-Beatles to note here at all (Act 1 is the Beatles, Act 2 is post-Beatles), picking up on slices of press conferences, television interviews, and b-roll footage of the boys getting on and off planes. Any concert footage, which is kept to a minimal, is used as background for radio interviews.

At first, there seems to be as much footage of other people as there is of John, but that just sets things up: as Hanton explains that at the beginning, John was actually quite shy and reticent to speak in public, but as time went on, this would change sharply. Lennon clearly came into himself in the late ‘60s, being fairly open to express whatever his opinions were, and take appropriate actions for himself.

One of the 2wo large focuses on the Beatles end is the whole religion flap that brought the Beatles back into the spotlight (albeit not necessarily for the right reasons) in 1966, during an interview with Maureen Cleave. There are shots of Lennon getting very defensive and rankled during interviews, and the now-amusing-and-yet-sad comments about Lennon and Christianity by the Klan.

Another segment focuses on the negative reaction to the band in Manila in (also) 1966, when then-first “lady” Imelda Marcos perceived a snubbing by the band, which had to basically flee for their lives from angry crowds. Some of the press conference when they returned to the UK is featured here.

While there is no footage on the whole India debacle (which I’m convinced was as much a cause for the break-up as was the management issues), it is only mentioned in a passing comment. Likewise, there is very little mentioned about Brian Epstein and his relationship with Lennon, though Lennon’s bitterness about the realization of Epstein’s lack of business acumen, which became clear after his death, is quite pronounced. And this, of course, is followed by the acrimonious Klein-Eastman choices that actually did break up the band. Lennon goes on to say that they were going their own way anyway, but it’s easy to tell there is resentment and possibly hurt in his comments.

Of course, by this time, nearly every shot of Lennon is one with Yoko by his side, including the infamous (and abovementioned) 1969 David Frost interview, where Lennon has audience members hitting a nail into a piece of wood and then asking them how it felt.

The bed-in period and John’s activism are well covered, including the concert tour where all the money was to go to prisons to help people make bail. There is a funny quip by him knocking Mick Jagger about greed.

I remember at the time, when I was watching some of these interviews as they originally played out, wondering how much the drugs had played with Lennon’s mind, because the whole “consciousness” bit was fuzzy, and his commentary felt disjointed (which I’m sure is one of the reasons I never had a desire to imbibe). Seeing some of this footage again after all these years, it still sounds profoundly abstract to the point where it’s almost nonsensical to me, but I can enjoy it more now in hindsight as an “experience.”

After the credits (for the ‘80s British telley show?), there is an overly brief segment that is apparently added on, of the newspaper headline of Lennon’s murder and a quick snip after it, lasting no more than 2 minutes total. This, I would have liked to see more of, actually.

John Lennon was an enigmatic public figure, who some folks hated (like my dad, who thought he was a communist and/or rabble rouser), and others adored him as a demi-deity. Either way, he was one of the central public figures of his time, and beyond. This DVD is a fine way to explore the different sides of the Beatle, the figure, the man.

* * *
A John Lennon story unrelated to the video:
A friend of mine (whose name I will add if he agrees) in New York was listening to Alex Bennett’s radio show late one night, and Bennett gave out Lennon’s personal phone number to his Greenwich Village apartment that he shared with May Pang. My buddy, then in his very young teens, called the number, expecting to get a butler or secretary. The phone is picked up. “Hello” “May I speak to John, please.” “Speaking.” Recognizing the voice, my pal panicked, and hung up. Yep, he hung up on John Lennon.

Bonus video by the great Ed Hamell (aka Hamell On Trial):

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Two on THE ANIMALS (1984)

Text by Mary Anne Cassata, Robert Barry Francos, with Michael McDowell
Images from the Internet

This may get a little confusing, but here we go:

The first article/interview with British scene-makers Eric Burdon and the Animals, is from
FFanzeen number 12, from 1984. It was written by Mary Anne Cassata. It sets up the following Q&A interview which was done by Robert Barry Francos and Mary Anne Cassata, and was originally published in Blitz magazine, issue #49, dated May-June 1984. The second half is reprinted with the kind permission of the Blitz publisher, Michael McDowell.

To give you the bigger picture: Rock writer - and my friend - Mary Anne Cassata had managed to get us into the Animals show at the Beacon Theater in New York City in late 1983. I had already seen the show in Buffalo with Bernie Kugel and Mad Louie (“the vinyl junkie”), so I knew we were in for nearly three hours of non-stop excitement. They didn’t disappoint.

After the grueling show, the two of us went backstage. Alan Price was already long gone, having had a limo waiting outside the back door; as soon as the show was over, he just split, leaving his stuff for the roadies to handle.

The Animals’ dressing room backstage was not large, being “L” shaped and about the size of an average living room, but it was packed. The first person I saw was Chas Chandler (d. 1996). I said hello, and he tiredly said hi back. Then I asked him, “Why do you think Slade never made it here in the States? I saw them a couple of times in the early ‘70s, and they were great.” He became very enthused, talking about what it was like managing them, and how they deserved better. We talked for a short while, and then he had other people to greet. I certainly appreciated the attention.

After saying goodbye, I turned the corner and saw Eric in the corner of the densely smoke-filled room (many substances were being inhaled there), surrounded by some hangers-on. I knew I would get one question in, so I turned on the tape recorder and asked him about the blues. His eyes focused, and as he was so happy to talk about his favorite topic, we chatted for a long time, until someone announced that the band had to get to the after-party for
Saturday Night Live. With that we shook hands, and we left to get some relatively fresh air.

The Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
The first piece below is Mary Anne’s, as it tells of the Animals’ history, and sets up the interview, from
Blitz, which follows. As we both used the same interview material, there is some redundancy, but the Q&A is more complete, so there is a bit more info for the starved fan. – RBF, 2010

THE ANIMALS: It’s Their Lives!

Text by Mary Anne Cassata
© FFanzeen, 1984

The ‘60s music is returning and the Animals are a vital part of it. As with most reunions, hopeful rock bands often fall short, somewhere between a disappointment and disaster. Either the spirit force isn’t present or yesterday’s music doesn’t quite mesh with today’s modern rock sounds.

This, however, is not true for the brawling British blues rock band from Newcastle, England. There’s no denying the Animals had its share of personality conflicts. This inevitably let to the band’s demise in the mid-‘60s, but the music never suffered as a result. The original Animals, co-founded by Eric Burdon and Alan Price, formed in 1962, and continued to perform till 1965.

For the first time in over 18 years, all of the original Animals are back together, performing for sold-out houses across the country and Europe. To band members Hilton Valentine (guitar), John Steel (drums), Bryan (Chas) Chandler (bass), Alan Price (keyboards) and the incomparable Eric Burdon (vocals), the reunion tour seemed like they never left the road almost three decades ago. “People everywhere just seem to love us. They go away happy,” beams John Steel. “It has been great for us. Couldn’t be better.”

In the early ‘60s, clean-cut ambitious young rock bands like the Dave Clark 5 were singing songs about being glad all over, and Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits professed his affections for Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter. Meanwhile, the Animals directed their harsh lyrical statements to working class people and adopted the bad boy image, like fellow Britishers the Rolling Stones and Them.

The Animal’s musical, stance was an expression of individualism and personal liberation. The intent of classic songs, “It’s My Life,” “House of the Rising Sun,” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” remain as affluent today as it did to the ’60’s generation. These hits were successive, and within a brief two years, the Animals completed three sold out tours. Being successful had allowed them to live out some very real rock’n’roll fantasies, but what actually turned out resulted in more than what they had bargained for.

In a business that’s for profit, sometimes artists unknowingly get caught up in dishonest management direction. Needless to say, the Animals were a prime target and never saw any royalties from the early recordings. “Managers are supposed to look after the money and make sure things go properly,” says Valentine with a disgruntled sigh. “Our manager was pretty terrible. We were making all these records and going on tour, and all the while he was supposed to take care of things. But after the tour you find out it didn’t work out that way; he didn’t take care of business at all.

“We all searched, trying to get our money, and found out possession is nine-tenths of the law. We were told, ‘This is not attainable now.’ All you get are doors slammed in your face. All kinds of things happened. One manager we had to fire, and the other one was a pretty terrible manager.”

There doesn’t seem to be much concern at this time, since the Animals are a lot more careful with their business affairs. For devoted fans, it is really exciting to have the group back together and it would be disheartening to think the band could be the victims of a ruthless manager again. Earlier in the tour, it was reported they had to fire their road manager because he wasn’t getting the job done sufficiently.

The Animals’ new studio album, Ark, is an intense offering which, on its own, has received enthusiastic response. Burdon’s powerful, scorchy vocals are his best ever. It comes as no surprise that the Animals’ influence on American rock’n’roll has been plentiful. Popular rock artists Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and many others have included Animals classics in their live performances. New York’s own David Johansen remains the most prevalent, as last year he scored a national hit with the melody of popular Animal songs, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place / Don’t Bring Me Down / It’s My Life.” When first issued as a singe, it proved to be Johansen’s largest selling record in years. Recently, he released another Animal’s classic, “House of the Rising Sun,” which is only available as an import from England.

Much of the material on the new album was written by Burdon and several of his songwriting friends from the West Coast, where he presently resides. Alan Price, who originally left the band in ’65 after a rift with Burdon, contributes a song to the long awaited effort. Since the original demise of the group, Price has been the most successful of the five band members with this own group, the Alan Price Set. He scored big with solo albums and British television appearances. In 1973, he acted in, wrote and performed the score for Lindsay Anderson’s film, O! Lucky Man! In 1974, he reached the British top-ten with “Jarrow Song.” More recently, Price performed in a musical production of Andy Capp on the British stage.

Chas Chandler was credited for the discovery of Jimi Hendrix, and managed the artist’s career from 1966 until his death in 1969. Later, Chandler managed the English rock band Slade for nearly a dozen years. He also ran IBC Studios and started Barn Records until 1982, when he sold his music business interests. He was also working on a book about his life as a member of the Animals, but put the project aside to fill in some more chapters in real life with their reunion. [Unless someone can tell me otherwise, as far as I know this book was never published – RBF, 2010]

Hilton Valentine remained perhaps less interested in a music career after the breakup. He lived in Los Angeles for a brief spell before returning to Newcastle for the first reunion of the band, in 1977. [I happily met Hilton when he made a guest appearance in June 2002, playing with garage rocker Michael Lynch at Under Acme in New York City – RBF, 2010] John Steel also dropped out of sight for a while and worked in a factory making parts for refrigerators. On weekends, he doubled as a guitarist playing with local British bands in tiny smoke-filled pubs. “I was quite happy actually,” he states. “I wasn’t starstruck.” Steel, for a shot while, also joined forces with Chandler in the management of Slade.

Eric Burdon, meanwhile, proved to be no slouch either. He continued to lead new versions of the Animals, one of which included ace Police guitarist Andy Summers. A couple of hits ensued, such as “San Franciscan Nights” and “Sky Pilot,” before the line-up disbanded. He traveled around the U.S. studying the blues from such artists as Johnny Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williams. Then the funk r&b group War formed, and gave Burdon his last popular song, “Spill the Wine” in 1971. Later, in the mid-‘70s, he tried his hand as an aspiring actor in the film The Eleventh Victim (1979), and the play Comeback, in Hollywood and Berlin in 1982, but that too proved short-lived. []

When news of the reunion of the Animals began to surface, John Steel was at first skeptical. “I got this call last January from a guy named Ron Weinberg, who said he wanted to the get the Animals back together. He wanted us to make a record, too. I said, ‘You got to be kidding!’ He said he spoke to Eric, Chas and Alan, and they all gave their approval,” he continued with a slight smile. “I figured, if he could get those three together, it was a lot, so I said, ‘Keep talking…’”

That’s what Weinberg did, and the more John pondered the idea, the more convinced he became that the reunion could have its possibilities. At first sight of one another, all were wary of the outcome. “Since everyone else wanted to do it,” Steel continued, “I thought maybe it would be fun. The first thing we did was get into a studio and work on the new songs to see if it could be realistic. I think, without a spoken word, we all really wanted to try it out,” he related. “We went back to the old hits and all: I think that is what a foundation is all about.”

Steel was also quick to point out that the reunion “isn’t another nostalgia trip,” and that he hopes the new material will reach a wider audience. “We wanted to give something we could be proud of,” he said with enthusiasm. “We know we have to do our old material, because that’s what people want to hear. I think that is one of the things that really worked out well. Our oldies have been on the radio for over 18 years now; we’re surprised a portion of our audience is younger kids.”

Life on the road is better than expected, despite the fact some of the animosity, which lead to their original break-up 18 years ago, still lingers. “Our personalities are quite strong,” confirms Valentine. “When this happens, there are bound to be clashes. It’s very difficult to put together different personalities that are strong. We all see different ways to doing things. One person sees it this way best and the other one doesn’t.”

At this point, the Animals are secure that the tour will be completed, but have no plans for a permanent situation. “Somehow we seem to be in sections. We started with a world tour that was supposed to bring us up to November. It’s past that now,” explains Steel. “We are now doing another section of shows in Europe and plan to record a live album soon [due out in April 1984 – Ed., 1984] [Recorded live in Wembley Arena, London, England on December 31, 1983; released in 1984 – RBF, 2010] . I think when we finish this tour we have to all sit down and think, ‘Can we go on and do another tour?’”

Although the band wants to record another studio album soon, they really don’t want to be pressured into promoting it. “It’s hard to say. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We might end up going for each other’s throats and it could suddenly end bloody,” laughs John in mock seriousness. “We all seem to have this friction; we always have and probably will, too.” This tension of personality conflict certainly gives their music its rough and gritty edge.

In 1976, the original line-up reunited the first time in their hometown of Newcastle, to record the album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted. Although the effort received remarkable praise from music critics, it ended up as a commercial disappointment.

Since the success of the reunion has been so overwhelming, Hilton Valentine is more than somewhat surprised that people have been so supportive. “People always come up to me and say, ‘Can I have your autograph?’,” he beamed. “They say it’s for their mother or something. Then there are the mothers who come up and say it’s for their daughters. It’s really nice.”

At first mention of the group getting back together, Hilton seemed anxious and yet very cautious. “I got very excited, but wanted to be consulted more before I made my decision,” he recalled. “Johnny (Steel) and I were in Newcastle when Weinberg came up to have a chat with us. My first question was, ‘How does everybody feel about it?’ He said everyone wanted to do it, so I said, ‘Okay, I guess it could be done’.”

FFanzeen asked Hilton why extra musicians were added to the original line-up, and why doesn’t he play lead guitar on the songs. “First of all, when the Animals broke up in ’66, we were headed toward augmenting the band anyways,” he replies. “It’s pretty much like where we left off. We are experimenting on a much larger scale. We have a brass section and did some new things over in London with this sort of line-up.” Additional musicians are included in the live show to expand the music arrangements and to add a more full sound.

“This time around we have four extra musicians (Nippy Noya, percussion; Steve Grant, lead guitar; George “Zoot” Money, keyboards; Pat Crumly, saxophone and flute), so actually it’s a nine piece outfit,” explained Steel. “It gives us more variety and color with the whole thing, don’t you think? I think it’s good to have extra musicians to work with. It adds something more to the songs.”

Hilton paused momentarily before replying to the second part of the question. With a shy laugh, he added, “The other guitar player is much better than I am. I like playing chords on the early Animals songs, and on the new material I basically just play rhythm.”

Some of the back-up musicians on the tour were also featured on Ark. The album, recorded rather hurriedly in time for the concert tour, was produced in London by Steve Lipson and the Animals. Much of the new songs dominate their live set, which seemed to be equally accepted by audiences, as well as the older favorites.

During the first quarter of the tour, the Animals brought their live show to the Midwest, but almost didn’t make it out of there alive. Reports of a hurricane were brewing in Dallas, Texas, at the time of the group’s arrival at the Southern state. Though the storm was imminent, the scheduled show was sold out that night. All the band could do was hope for the best. Luckily, no one was hurt, just pretty shook up. Hilton recalls that fateful night:

“The gig was still on, as far as we knew, so we flew into Texas. We didn’t know whether to stay or move on to Austin. By that time, the police had boarded off the town and we had to stay there.” It was nearly 3 a.m. when the monstrous typhoon hit and the hotel guests were told to leave their rooms and take refuge in the lobby. “Windows were popping out all over. I don’t remember much after that. I went to the bar to get drunk. I figured if I was going to go, I wanted to go drunk silly.”

The Animals recently performed in New York City at the renowned Beacon Theater, to a wildly enthusiastic crowd. Eric Burdon, still in fine form after all these years, delighted all for two-and-a-half hours. His riveting blues vocal is a distinct Animals musical trait. Modestly dressed in a two-piece black suit and dark glasses, Burdon worked the crowd, ranging from ages 15 to 40, into an absolute frenzy, leaving them screaming for more. As familiar organ sounds spilled into the hall, Eric flashed a satisfied grin and wailed into the microphone, “There’s a house in New Orleans / They call the Rising Sun…”

Many high points that evening included “Bring It On Home,” “It’s My Life,” “Misunderstood,” and Burdon’s solo of “San Franciscan Nights,” which along with Alan Price’s only solo of “O! Lucky Man!,” was added later to the tour by the demands of the crowds, according to Burdon. The bluesier tunes, “I’m Crying,” “Boom Boom,” and “When I Was Young,” seemed to retain more lyrical sentiment than just an “oldies but goodies” merit.

Later, after the show, Eric and the band (with the exception of Alan Price, who hastened out of the hall) relaxed backstage and spoke with FFanzeen. Chas Chandler, interested in our comments on the show, asked publisher Robert Barry Francos what he thought of it. “I’m a big fan of yours,” said Robert. “Thanks to this guy in Buffalo named Mad Louie, I got to see the show up there, too, at Shea Auditorium. Both shows were intense.” Chandler listened intently for a moment, and by the look on his face, seemed relived it was favorable. “The tour has been doing good, so far,” he said, sipping a glass of wine. “It’s amazing. When we played in London, all these papers picked up on us the same day. Some of those papers are the equivalent to magazines like Time and Newsweek in America.” Chas said he enjoyed being in the States, but can’t wait to get back home to Newcastle and work on the new material for the Animals’ next album.

Eric Burdon, with a drink in his hand, huddled in the corner of the dressing room, and was being entertained by several female guests. The 42-year-old legend has always been an ardent believer in emulating the rock’n’roll lifestyle to the extreme and intends to make a film of the recent tour [As far as I know, this also has never appeared – RBF, 2010]. One difficulty he faces with the newfound project is the resistance of the other band members to be seen on film. Eric, however, confident in his power of persuasion, hopes to have the film finished by spring.

Picking up a copy of FFanzeen [No. 11], Burdon carefully inspects it and places it in his coat for future reading. “That’s a fine looking magazine,” he says, nodding his head in approval, giving the high sign for an interview. He sits down and one of the women pours him a drink of whiskey, and the other, kneeling, lights his cigarette. This typical backstage setting is nothing new to Burdon, who relishes and comes to expect it with each performance.

“Fire away,” he said to us. The conversation focused on the blues, one of his favorite topics. “The blues have a lot to do with working class, but more to do with sexuality,” he explained. “I remember hearing one of the first blues songs I heard; it had a lot of saxophone in it. It was a real sleazy, sexy sound. I think the white kids are more political and the young black kids are more sociological, and come from that background. They understand because their parents were fighting about being unemployed and subjected.”

Eric, in his childhood, used to “hang out with black Americans in particular,” and feels these people view the blues as ecology. “That is what makes it working class, I think. My first instant feeling about the music was sexual and very meaningful,” he continues. “Johnny Lee Hooker only wanted to express himself through his guitar and voice about what was wrong with his situation. I am more drawn to the erotics of blues than the politics of the blues.”

Going on to define different levels of the blues and what kind of people it included, Eric stated, “I think there is an understanding between working class humor and black humor, where worship is involved,” he expressed. “There’s the marriage of songs, the love lost, and the forgotten songs; and then there is the pimp and whore relationship. What about the guy that doesn’t have anyone at all?”

Eric laughed at the thought of the blues ever catching up with him during a live performance. “I try to keep it under wraps. I try to keep on the political side of the blues, mainly because I am white and European.”

He is also concerned, socially, with America, on a musical aspect. Eric hopes one day people will acknowledge Chuck Berry as the “poor lord of America. I learned more about the United States before coming over here though Chuck Berry records than I did from books over in London. His rock’n’roll records were fucking documents of the time.” Perhaps the blues will make a “return some 20 years from now – who knows, maybe next week,” Eric offered.

Earlier in his career, Eric worked with blues great Johnny Lee Hooker, who, to this day, has had an incredible influence on Burdon’s music. At that time, Hooker seemed more than willing to combine creative efforts with a long-standing admirer. “Johnny really loved the fact that I was interested in him. I really get the feeling he was flattered by it,” Eric recalls. “At one point, I was hanging out too much with him. It was very sad. I watched him drink himself to death.”

Before taking leave for the night, we asked Eric how he felt about David Johansen’s remake of the Animals’ songs. “One night I saw the video on TV. It was funny watching him sing it,” he said with a Mona Lisa smile. “I thought it was a little too short, too. It was alright. I like the new arrangement.”

With a fond farewell and a hi-yo Silver, Eric Burdon and company rushed off into the night to their questionable future. All Robert and I could think of was to look at each other and ask, “Who was that blues man?”
* * *

THE ANIMALS: Loose Change

Text by Robert Barry Francos and Mary Anne Cassata
Introduction by Michael McDowell
© Blitz, 1984

To reiterate the history of the Animals here would be redundant. Suffice it to say that the British band enjoyed great aesthetic and commercial success between 1964 and 1966 with such singles as “I’m Crying” (MGM 13274), “Bring It On Home To Me” (MGM 13339), “Don’t Bring Me Down” (MGM 13514) and “The House of the Rising Sun” (MGM 13264), as well as cracking the album charts with such blues-based releases as Animal Tracks (MGM SE4305) and The Animals on Tour (MGM SE4281) before dissolving in 1966.

The legendary band return in 1983 with the original line-up intact. They released a studio album,
Ark (IRS SP70037), which has since produced two hit sings, “The Night” (IRS IR-9920) and “Love Is For All Time” (IRS IR-9923). The band is presently working a live recording, scheduled for April release.

The Animals’ first American concert of the
Ark tour transpired during the last week of July 1983, at Shea Auditorium in Buffalo, New York, a performance deserving of many superlatives. Lead vocalist Eric Burdon remained in fine form, taking command of the stage for over two hours, with a set consisting primarily of new material, interlaced with Animals classics.

The following interview was conducted at the Beacon Theater in New York City at the end of 1983. In attendance were lead vocalist Eric Burdon, lead guitarist Hilton Valentine, bassist Chas Chandler and drummer John Steel. Only keyboardist Alan Price was not present. – Michael McDowell

Blitz: Do you think that the Animals are a blues-oriented band because of the working class background of the members?
Burdon: It’s more than just being working class. It has more to do with sexuality. I like the blues because of its sexual connotations.

Blitz: In which ways?
Burdon: When I was younger, I used to hang out with Americans. Blacks in particular. My first feelings about the music were sexual and very meaningful. I remember hearing my first blues song, which had a lot of saxophone in it. It was a sleazy, sexy sound. I think the young, white kids were more political and sociological. The black kids understood the blues. It is only the young, white intellectual that sees it on its political level. That’s what makes it working class. It is like saying, “I want every other Saturday off at least once a month for my workers. I want to fuck up the Russian government,” which is something like what great revolutionary characters say. Then the media zeroes in on it. That’s what makes it a working class hero. I think there is an understanding between working class humor and black humor, where worship is involved. There are so many different shades and textures to blues. There are marriage blues songs. There are the long lost and forgotten songs. There is the guy who doesn’t have anyone at all. Then there is the pimp and whore relationship. It does creep up on me in performance. I try to keep up on the political side of it, mostly because I am white and European. I currently live back and forth between Los Angeles and London.

Blitz: So your implication s that white people see the blues politically and that black people see it socially.
Burdon: I don’t think they see it at all these days. It will come back. Look at what is happening socially in America now. Look at Chuck Berry. One of these days people will recognize him as the poor lord of America. His rock and roll records are not rock and roll records: they are documents of the time. Before coming over for the first time, I learned more about America from Chuck Berry than from books in London. Chuck berry is brilliant. There are some wonderful songs on his more recent albums.

Blitz: In the 1960s, it appeared as though many middle class guitarists were going south to find some musician to teach them the blues.
Burdon: That must have been some kind of trip! I get the feeling from John Lee Hooker that he really loved the fact that I was interested in him. He was flattered by it. Sonny Boy Williamson was, too. I was hanging out with him, as well. I watched him drink himself to death. That’s all whiskey under the bridge now!

Blitz: It has been speculated that the original Animals line-up dissolved in 1966 as a result of personality conflicts. Are there any difficulties now?
Valentine: Well, the personalities are quite strong. When that happens, there are bound to be some clashes. We all see different ways of doing things.

Blitz: The members of the Animals allegedly experienced financial problems after that 1966 break-up. What happened to the royalties?
Valentine: That’s what we would like to know! We had a terrible manager. We were making records and going on tour while he was supposed to be taking care of things. After the tour, we found out that he was not taking care of business. You try to get your money and you find out that possession is nine-tenths of the law. We tried to check things out, only to find another door slammed in our faces. We’re told that nothing is obtainable now.

Blitz: There have been a couple of different versions of the Animals. Was it Andy Summers who joined the band briefly in 1968?
Steel: Yes. The original Animals broke up in 1966. Then Eric formed Eric Burdon and the Animals. That is where Andy came in.
Valentine: Alan Price was the first to leave in 1965. John left in 1966, six months after Alan did. We continued for about six months after that. Eric then decided to form his own band at that time, with all the San Francisco stuff.

Blitz: What line of work was everyone doing before the reunion took place?
Steel: Right before the reunion, Alan Price had just finished a musical on stage in London called Al Capp, based on this comic strip character. Chas Chandler had just sold his business, a studio and production company. He was going to take off for a couple of months and buy a word processor and write a fact/fiction kind of book. I worked with Chas most of the time after the band broke up. We managed Slade. They were a very big hit in most parts of Europe, Australia and Japan. They were big in America, but not as much. About five years ago, I got fed up with the music business and went back up north in England, back to my roots.

Blitz: And Slade?
Chandler: They were ahead of their time. And look what happened with Quiet Riot!

Blitz: What did you do after your association with Slade?
Steel: I got a job with a friend who owns a factory that makes parts for refrigerators. I was production manager for him. I was also playing with a blues band. I was actually quite happy. Then I got a phone call in January 1983 from a guy named Ron Weinberg, who said he wanted to get the Animals back together again. He wanted us to record and all.

Blitz: What was your reaction to that?
Steel: I thought that he was kidding! I asked him if he had talked with anyone else and he said yes: Eric, Chas and Alan had already given their approval. If he could get those three together, it was a lot! Since everyone else wanted to, the more I thought about it, I thought it would be fun. The first thing we did was get into a rehearsal studio and work on some songs to see if it was realistic. So we started straight off with new material. We wanted our new material to reach out to the people without having to depend on our hits. But we also do the hits, because that’s what people want to hear.

Blitz: Is it difficult for the band to break newer material when people want to hear the hits?
Valentine: We haven’t experienced any of that on this tour. People are pretty patient. I think they want to hear the new songs, too.

Blitz: Your live show is augmented with lead guitarist Steve Grant, keyboardist Zoot Money, saxophonist / flautist Pat Crumly and percussionist Nippy Noya. Why are you using additional backing musicians?
Valentine: When the Animals broke up in 1966, we were heading toward augmenting the band anyway. I think back-up musicians add more color to the songs. It works out very well.

Blitz: Why have Steve Grant play lead guitar on all the songs except “The House of the Rising Sun,” instead of you taking the responsibility?
Valentine: Because he is a much better guitar player than I am! But I play the chords on the early Animals songs. On the new material, I am basically playing rhythm.

Blitz: In Buffalo, the band performed only material by the original Animals, but in New York, Alan Price did his solo single, “O! Lucky Man!” and the band played “San Franciscan Nights,” which was a hit in 1967 for the newer Animals. Why did you decide to put those songs in?
Burdon: I like that sound. Also, I think that’s what people want to hear. I have to give them what they want. I was pressured. That’s the truth!

Blitz: You were caught in a hurricane in Texas.
Valentine: Like idiots, we flew into Texas when a hurricane was imminent. The gig was still on, as far as we knew. By the time we flew in, the gig was cancelled. So we said we could either stay there or move to Austin. But by that time, the police had bordered the town off. So we had to stay there. The hurricane hit the town at about three o’clock the next morning. The windows were popping out. We had to come out of the rooms into the lobby on the floor, with blankets. I don’t remember too much about it after that, because I went to a bar to get drunk. I figured that if I was going to go, I waned to be drunk silly. It was scary!

Blitz: Does touring feel the same as it did when you first started?
Steel: Just about. Things are on a much bigger scale now, with the amount of equipment that we travel with. It’s pretty much like where we left off. We were experimenting with a much larger line-up just before we broke up in 1966. We had a brass section and did a couple of gigs in London with that sort of line-up. The extra musicians we have now give us more space to experiment with different things.

Blitz: What kind of comments are you getting from fans on this tour?
Valentine: “It’s great to see the Animals back together again! Can I have your autograph? It’s for my mother, not for me.” Then there are mothers that say, “It’s not for me. It’s for my daughter.”

Blitz: How has the press reaction been so far?
Chandler: Amazing! Three weeks ago, we played in London. Papers we never heard of picked up on us in the same day. Some of the papers are like Time and Newsweek are in America.

Blitz: On the Ark album, Eric Burdon resumed writing most of the material?
Valentine: Yes. He co-wrote with various people that he knows in Los Angeles. Alan Price has a song on there, too. The guitarist, Steve Grant, has a couple of songs on there. I have no songs on it. I am no writer. We produced the album ourselves, in conjunction with Steve Lipson, who happened to be available at the time. We just recorded it and went on tour. It all happened very fast. We do most of the new album in our live set.

Blitz: Have you heard any of the live covers of Animals songs by Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty?
Valentine: No, I haven’t. But I have heard mention of them.

Blitz: What did you think of David Johansen’s remake of your songs?
Valentine: I haven’t heard it, but I have heard of it. I don’t think it was released in England at all.
Burdon: I saw him do it on television one night. I thought it was a little too short. But it was alright. I really did like the new arrangement. I was very flattered by it.

Blitz: There is such a need for rock and roll now.
Steel: I have a daughter who is 18. She feels the same way. So do her friends. They are bored with heavy metal rock. Now they even listen to the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and a lot of stuff from the 1960s. They listen to that more than the current stuff. I think younger people now are more broad-minded. They are quite happy listening to the Rolling Stones. They don’t give a damn if the guys in the band are in their 40s. The music is still good. That’s the kind of reaction we were getting from the start. That is what we want. It is perfect!

Blitz: Bands popular 20 years ago have become big cult heroes now.
Burdon: I think you’re right. I saw a German television special about a man who runs a blues school in Chicago. It was called “I Am the Blues.” It turns a really sexual thing into thoughts. That is what makes the blues so great. This is an example of what I was talking about earlier.

Blitz: What plans do you have in the event that the reunion does not work out?
Valentine: Hopefully it will work out. If not, I will go back to Newcastle, get a new band together and probably do some writing. In order to do some writing, you have to have some time. Your head has to be in the right position.

Blitz: Do you plan on making the reunion a permanent situation?
Steel: I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. We seem to go in sections. We started in July with a world tour that would bring us to the end of October, which involved a studio album. It is past October now. We are on another section, another series of shows in North America. After that, we go back to Europe for a while and record a live album. It will be a mix of our hits and some of the new material. It should be released some time around April. We are working on new material now. Once we finish the series of tours in England, we have to see if we can carry on for another year. We must take it step by step. We would like to do another studio album. If we do that, we would be pressured to promote it. We have no way to knowing what is going to happen. Who knows, we might go for each other’s throats in the meantime and it will suddenly end bloody! We all seem to have this friction between us. We always did and probably always will. It’s a matter of whether we can ride over it or not.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

DVD Review: Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List

Text and live photos © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
Film images from the Internet

Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List
Sexy Intellectual, 2009
88 minutes, USD $19.95

Like the Velvet Underground, a band they shared a bill with many times in the VU’s nascent period, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention are hard to define, let alone put into a genre box. If it were called up to name the format, I would call his music jazz in a rock milieu. But even that is too limited a definition for one of the more groundbreaking avant-garde musicians of the later 20th Century.

Zappa was aware of this conundrum, even in his early days, and on the Mothers of Invention freshman Freak Out album back in 1966, he tried to help out the listener by preparing a list of his influences among the fold-out liner notes for the double-disk. This includes a wide variety of names and styles, from the blatant to the obscure, and nearly all are present in his music.

The purpose of this documentary is to partially explore this list (not all on the list are musicians, such as Wolfman Jack, Sacco & Vanzetti, and John Wayne), and not just show why particular composers and artists are important to Zappa, but to the world of music at large.

One of Zappa’s gifts was as a deconstructionalist. He knew how to synthesize different sounds and genres, and meld them together into a form that made sense. As one talking head interview states in this doc, Zappa did not see genre lines when listening to sounds, it was all just music. He also rebelled against being called jazz, or rock, or anything else; he was performing music that mattered to him, and that’s what was important. That different albums slid over style to style, was more a testament to his versatility than to being an auteur. Or perhaps he was an auteur in his non-auteurism. Deep, man.

I have to say, at this point, that I wasn’t much of a fan of Zappa’s recordings, in fact only owning Freak Out in my collection, finding most of his work too esoteric and usually a-melodic, in the same way that, say, the Velvet Underground’s “European Son” is lost on me (though I like the VU sound in general) in a similar fashion. I’m more of a linear kinda guy. Even so, I found this documentary fascinating in what motivated the man. Zappa is correct, to some extent, that music is music, and what contributes as an influence helps create the output.

As Zappa is deceased (1940-93), and this is not a Zappa-family “official” telling, instead we hear from lots of other musicians, such as numerous members of the Mothers, and music experts / historians / professors of various genres, but we’re not done yet folks, there is also more than one Zappa biographer. Needless to say, the people who talk about the music and Zappa know their topic. Thomas Arnold’s narration is also handled well.

Once the foundations are set about the Freak Out! album and Zappa in general in act one, if you will, the list begins to be broken down by the experts and band members. The first stop is the classical input, by other 20th Century deconstructionalists, such as Stockhausen and Schoenberg, who used patterns rather than formulaic measures.

Moving on to R&B, there’s the likes of Hank Ballard and the Moonlighters, Richard Berry (who wrote “Louie, Louie”), and Johnny Guitar Watson are introduced, the latter of whom would become both a collaborator and friend of Zappa’s.

The progression continues into one of Zappa’s favorite sounds, doo-wop, which has shown up in many forms on various Mother’s albums, specifically the Ruben and the Jets LP. Included in the list is the Cadillacs (“Speedo”).

The progression from there, posits the documentary, is jazz. Miles Davis and his Bitches Brew is cited, though Zappa was already releasing similar sounds before Miles did. Also mentioned are the likes of Eric Dolphy, and another Mothers influence and member, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.

There are many clips of music used, and not just of Zappa’s, but of the original sources (Miles, for example), sometimes shown one after the other, so the viewer can see by example. These pieces are given enough time to hear what we need (and sometimes thankfully more), but nothing complete considering the length of the music used vs. the length of the documentary.

One part of the film I particularly enjoyed was the discussion of Zappa’s work as the soundtrack writer for one of the best “worst” films, The World’s Greatest Sinner, which I was lucky enough to see in a revival thanks to Walter Ocner (also in attendance was A-Bones’ Miriam Linna and Billy Miller, both big supporters of the film).

Whatever point on the musical map one wants to put Frank Zappa, if they need to, well, it’s only partial because he jumped the genre lexicons the way the Ramones didn’t. But being a stylistic shape-shifter is part of what makes Zappa so important, especially in the time period this film covers.

Some of the extras on the DVD include a short commentary (more like a single-camera class lesson) about a couple of albums that mattered to the man, titled “Desert Island Disks,” which includes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. There is also a person-by-person text biography for all the people who spoke during Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List.

Bonus: The trailer

Bonus bonus