Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DVD Review: Strange Fruit: The Beatles’ Apple Records

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

Strange Fruit: The Beatles’ Apple Records
Executive Producer: Rob Johnstone
Narrator: Thomas Arnold
Sexy Intellectual, 2011
162 minutes, USD $19.95

Money and musicians produce a strange fruit, indeed. In the U.S., Frank Zappa took his royalties and created two labels that brought the fringe element to the forefront by putting them on record, such as Larry “Wild Man” Fischer and Captain Beefheart. While there was more of a straightforward music direction for Apple than focusing significantly on “outsiders,” we learn of Apple Corps’ full roster of musicians of various stripes.

It was 1968, a time of peace, love, and, well, lots and lots of pharmaceuticals that gave all that the extra oomph. Out of the true nature of “All You Need Is…” etc., the collective Fab Four decided to open their own recording studio and label, and free themselves up from the chains of their major label’s big biz outlook. Without the commitment of a record deal (e.g., X many releases in X amount of time), amid spiritual journeys to India and, well, mind trips, they opened their arms and wallets to those who possibly may never be heard.

It is important to remember that their manager, Brian Epstein, who was incredibly and truly devoted to the boys (pun not intended) was also infamous as a terrible business leader when it came to finances, licensing, and other matters of royalties. So with no real role model and being zoned out as much as they were, it is hardly surprising that the Apple venture would be a financial fiasco.

Apple Corp. certainly started off strong, with the likes of Mary “Those Were the Days” Hopkins and “Sweet James” Taylor. Even though Taylor would quickly jump ship after his first Apple LP, it was just enough of an impetus to get the ball rolling, with many charting songs, a starring role in the bleak film Two-Lane Blacktop, Carly Simon, and a heroin addiction still ahead for him. Hopkins would stay longer, but would feel typecast and leave to follow her own folk roots.

However, Apple’s biggest success, other than by the Beatles as a group and as individual members, would certain have been Badfinger. Their brief shot in the sun (I am including their many reunions received by a lukewarm fanbase) would result in monster hits such as “Come and Get It,” “No Matter What” and my fave cut of theirs, “Day After Day.” But even they would scurry to a major label thanks to the lack of tour support by the Beatles and Apple management (though, as is pointed out here, they actually lost money on the deal).

But ya know what, anyone who is the least bit knowledgeable about these bands, well, this won’t come as any great surprise, though in the case of Badfinger, it is good to hear it first-hand from Joey Molland and Rod Griffens, Badfinger’s guitarist and bassist / lyricist, respectively who are interviewed on this DVD.

However, the most interesting moments for me on this Chrome Dreams British special, is the more obscure musicians that were signed, such as Jackie Lomax, Brute Force, and the very annoying David Peel, all of whom are represented on this, including Elephant’s Memory bassist Gary van Scyoc (I saw them play a free show in ’74 in Central Park with the more enjoyable Brownsville Station opening).

As with most other Chrome Dreams recent DVD releases, there is a mixed representation of musicians, music journalists (for me, the lesser interesting as I want to hear “what we did,” not “what I was told”), and Apple Managing Director Tony Bramwell, to discuss the period (essentially 1967 through 1973). It’s rare they have women to talk about the time under discussion, however; I would have liked to have seen Mary Hopkins included, for example.

On a very positive note, at well over two hours, this is pretty comprehensive, including narrative info, photos, music, and videos to bring the big picture, bit by bit, to the viewer. Lots of interesting facts abound, including how Badfinger backed Harrison at the Madison Square Garden Concert for Bangladesh despite his partially abandoning the production of their LP to Todd Rundgren, how Elephant’s Memory dis John Lennon’s work on their record (giving them a more pop feel rather than classic rock), and especially how the Beatles’ manager and Apple executive Allen Klein essentially alienated and drove away everyone until Apple was irreparably broken, even after he was brought on board to save the Corp in the first place.

While the DVD focuses mostly on the artists, where it is weak is discussing how people who worked for Apple were essentially doing nothing but receiving pay for sitting around and getting stoned, and from what I’ve heard over the years, stealing the place blind (e.g., office equipment). This was part of the reason Klein needed to come in to rescue Apple, including adding time clocks and firing layabouts. His work habits wasn’t the problem, it was how ruthlessly he did it (even if it needed doing).

Along with the usual two extras for Chrome Dreams, namely bios of the contributors (interviewees) and a link to access to more info on-line (never have done this), there is also a 9-minute gem called “The Fuh King Speaks!: In Conversation with Brute Force.” Here, BF (aka New Yorker Stephen Friedland) discusses how he got in touch with George Harrison (through Tommy Dawes of the Cyrkle), and the history of his great song, “The King of Fuh” (much of which is played in long sound clips). I saw Friedland play once at the Housing Works Book Store on Crosby Street in New York City. It was a great experience.

Chrome Dreams is an amazing brand, who specializes in rock history (mostly British, but apparently the ‘60s-‘70s West Coast U.S. scene is on their radar) in as thorough a way as I’ve ever seen, and as time goes on, they get more impressive. As for this one, nearly every one of my music-related friends wants to see this, which is a nod in itself to the efforts put into it. I’d like to see them do some work on both American and British punk, while some of the core creators are still alive. But that’s just my wish list…

Friday, May 25, 2012

THE GIZMOS: Quims, Queens, Teens and Screens

Interview text © 1977 by Lincoln D. Kirk;
RBF intro © 2012 by Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet

The following article about the Gizmos was originally published in Big Star magazine, issue #1, dated May 1977. It was conducted by music historian Lincoln D. Kirk (who wrote for FFanzeen as well), and reprinted here with the writer and publisher’s kind permission. Text added by me in 2012 is in [brackets].

In their day, the multi-peopled Gizmos were as revolutionary as many of their idols, such as the MC5, KISS, and possibly the Stooges. Oh, they may not have had the chops of those bands, but that is part of what made them the
enfant terrible of the Midwest in general, Bloomington, IN specifically.

This article is definitely a piece of its time, and certainly not current PC. The Gizmos were not the only group to write salacious songs, and are in a noble group such as the Angry Samoans, or even W/Jayne County, but the ‘Mos were among the first in the indie recording world of the mid-‘70s. And that they came from the middle of the Bible belt makes it all the more intriguing. Looking back, a lot of this material is cringe-worthy, with comments that would now be considered misogynist, racist, homophobic, and even anti-Semitic, but much of it was done in the ignorance of youth (note that this was
years before punks were wearing swastikas) and a twisted sense of humor. But peeking at this material through 2012 social eyes is like reading Kate’s speech at the end of The Taming of the Shrew by way of that same lens. Even Victor Hugo and Charlotte BrontĂ« came out with some doozie questionable lines by today’s standards, and the Dr. Doolittle books and Bugs Bunny cartoons were full of racist material. No, I’m not making excuses, but I also know that some ex-members of the Gizmos look back and wince at some of these lyrics as well.

The entire Gizmos catalog is currently available from gulcher.gemm.com. – RBF, 2012

Introduction: Gizmos Invade Dunkirk

April 6, 1976, was a pretty hectic day all around. So a bit of chamber music seemed like a good way to inject some sanity into my tired body and soul. Melos Trio, Diers Recital Hall, Fredonia State – excellent recitals, especially the Beethoven. Nonetheless, arrival home at 10:30 PM (after a half-hearted and unsuccessful attempt at hustling my buddy’s fiancĂ©e – not that I was in any condition to do much with her anyway; the day was that hectic) found me ready to drop in my tracks.

Walk in the door, ready to force myself upstairs to my room, when my mother stops me in the hallway. “There’s a couple of fellows here to see you.” So I drag myself into the living room, spot two dandies I’d never laid eyes on before, and figure they must be long-lost cousins or something. The grinning, red-headed Prince Valiant who looked like an oversized John Denver (his partner looked too rock-star cool to pin down so specifically) twangs out in his thickly accented, molasses-in-January Alabama drawl, “Ah’m Eddie Flaw’rs and this here’s Kin Hah-lun.” Or maybe it was Ken Highland who introduced Eddie Flowers. Remember, I was so knocked out from sheer fatigue (and so, it turns out, was Eddie) that my memory’s a bit hazy. Put it this way – from Beethoven to Highland is a greater culture shock than any mere mortal can be expected to absorb!

It turns out that Eddie and Ken had been entertaining my mother and grandparents for about a half-hour before I stumbled home. Well, actually, Ken had done the entertaining; a High-Energy Highland is as garrulous as Eddie (leading contender for the 1976 Calvin Coolidge Memorial Trophy) is silent; Eddie communicates by grinning. I ask you: how many of you have had real live rock stars in your very own home? Of course, Eddie and Ken weren’t rock stars yet (are they now?). They were both merely two long-haired civilians without a record on the market, like any two people reading this.

The next three hours or so are exceedingly difficult to sort out in my brain. I probably should have scribbled down notes knowing that someday I’d take up Ken’s suggestion to commit their visit to paper, but my yawning cerebral cells and shot nerves would have forbidden my mind and hand to coordinate properly. So all that’s left is impressions; some very bizarre ones, but impressions nonetheless.

The impression that’s relevant here (as if anything I’ve said so far is relevant) concerns a cassette Eddie and Ken tried to get me to listen to. The Gizmos, Ken said. Gizmos? The name didn’t mean a thing, but I figured it was some hot new Columbia band like Aerosmith / Dictators / BOC / whatever. In any case, here we are at Eddie’s car parked up a few houses from mine, ransacking the back seat for a huge crate of LPs I was about to get my pick of, when the chilly Lincoln Avenue midnight (and, like most Dunkirk neighborhoods on a spring weekend Lincoln Ave. is almost always mausoleum quiet) was suddenly shattered by the hard smash of wild, mental-jumping guitars and frantic singing, at an obnoxiously loud volume. “Hey, you guys, better turn that thing down. This is a respectable neighborhood!” Thank goodness I wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics or I’d have had a coronary right there in the street! [Dunkirk is a small town in western New York State, southwest of Buffalo and near the shore of Lake Erie. – RBF, 2012]

To be honest, I don’t remember actually listening to that tape, even after it was turned down and even with Ken prodding me for an opinion. I suppose I mumbled something really critic-heavy like, “That seems pretty good” or maybe, “It’s not bad.” I don’t really know now (if I knew then!). When I think of the journalistic coup I blew, I’m virtually heartbroken (slight hyperbole). Here I was, probably the first bigshot-reviewer-type (discounting those directly involved with the project) to hear the Gizmos, and I was too dragged-out and dog-tired to know the difference!

4 x 8: The Rolling Gizmos

And who, you may ask (that is, if you’ve been hibernating or have spent the last six months in a monastery) are the Gizmos? I grew up thinking a “gizmo” was somewhere between a “gadget” and a “whatchamacallit”; a mechanical contrivance the name and / or specific use of which was unknown to the person using or perusing the object. According to Gulcher Records’ president, Bob “Mr. Bear” Richert, “’gizmos’ = stooge / squirrel / Yankee Doodle Dandy / loner / outcast / gimp / etc.” But that definition is so broad it can be applied to nearly every man, woman and child in North American (except maybe Karl Malden). These Gizmos are a savage-young, brutish, doltish, zippy little octet with a four-song 33-1/3 EP (at one time it would has been classified a 7” LP, the term EP being reserved for extended-play 45s; however, producer Bear blanches when the term LP is used in connection with his product, as he’s afraid prospective purchasers will expect a 12” model, which it ain’t) that says it all (a useful advertising slogan that doesn’t mean a thing, but impresses the feeble-minded).

Any musical legitimacy the Gizmos may possess grew out of a band from the northern Indiana community of Highland (no relation to Ken Highland; indeed, it’s one of the few municipalities in the U.S. of A. where Ken has not resided) called Cerberus. At the time of the EP’s recording (March ’76), Cerberus consisted of Rich Coffee (no connection with Coffee-Rich), now 19, on guitar and vocals; Rick Czajka, 17, on guitar; Dave Sulak, 20, on bass; and Jim DeVries, also 20, on drums. Aside from DeVries, who played with polka bands (great training for keeping a steady beat, mixing accents and the like) in the Hammond, Indiana, area, none of the Cerberi had any real musical experience before mutating into the Gizmos.

This mutation came about in a manner perhaps unique even in the annals of rock’n’roll history. Ken Highland, 20, famed fanzine editor (Rock On! and Trash) and writer (Gulcher, and its earlier incarnations Beyond Our Control and the WIUS Tip Sheet) struck up a correspondence with Rich Coffee’s girlfriend in Highland, IN, as a result of her reading Trash. About a year later, Ken (already a fledgling rock’n’roll guitarist and songwriter) pulled up stakes again, moving from Brockport, New York, to Bloomington, home of Bob Richert’s Gulcher publishing / recording empire, the scourge of Southern Indiana. In late ’75, Ken took a sabbatical northward to Highland to meet his correspondent and, while there, jammed with Cerberus (this was some time before DeVries joined the band). In March of ’76, when producer Richert decided it was time to unleash Ken Highland’s concepts on vinyl, Cerberus was the natural choice to become the instrumental portion of the Gizmos.

Three more Gizmos were added as lead and backing vocalists. The legendary Eddie / Eddy / Edde Stenson (take your pick) Flowers, 19, the personification of the rock fanzine sprit in print (although a surprisingly slow-moving, slow-drawling good-ole boy in the flesh) journeyed north from Jackson, Alabama, to Bloomington (which he calls the “hippy-homo haven of the Midwest”). Two other Gizmos were recruited from the Indiana University student body (IU is, of course, located in Bloomington; you didn’t think all the hippies and “homos” congregated there by accident, did you?): Ted Niemiec, 19, is the black lipstick, black nail polish, white-faced “just a regular dude” of the band and co-author of the Gizmos’ greatest hit, “Muff Divin’,” with Davey Medlock, who is, at 21, the senior Gizmo and a college DJ. The Gizmos’ producer and ninth star, Bob Richert, is in his late 20s, comes from Attica, NY, and hopes to see his publication become “the Creem of the ‘80s.” So much for vaunted ambitions.

What do they sound like? Remember the Sonics’ “Psycho”? Divorce it from its “Louie Louie” spasto-rhythm blend in unequal amounts of early Stones, Velvets, Shadows of Knight, Stooges, Barbarians, Chuck Berry, Yardbirds, and hot-flash boogie rave-ups, and then and only then will you catch a glimpse of what all the Top Critics are shouting about. (Case in point: the Gizmos even managed to get a certain Richard Meltzer [who would later form the Angry Samoans] to write the EP’s liner notes.) If you dig wild, two-note guitar solos (remember, it’s not the quantity of notes that counts, it’s the quality, and Highland picks high-quality notes!), chaotic group-shout vocals (and that, too, is a compliment; who needs punk vocals that sound prissy?), over not-quite-organized yet steamrollin’ accompaniment (neither inept nor particularly ept, either), then… [at this point, Kirk directs the reader to Gulcher’s then-address; the new e-address is above in my introduction].

”Kick Out the Giz-jams” – E. Flowers

Hmmm, I haven’t even mentioned the Gizmos’ pornographic lyrics yet – that’s what’s attracting so much of the attention the band has been getting. The aforementioned “Muff Divin’” – aside from its obvious and fully intended offensiveness to women (ardent feminists should sit this one out; they’ve got enough to worry about without these eight nerds lousing up their lives even further) – is the most inventive, most humorous, most perverted, and most educational (Paul Simon might have called it “50 Ways to Lick Her Pussy”) porn-rocker ever written. Really clever stuff, “Muff Divin’” is an instruction guide to the kinkier aspects of cunnilingus, involving the use of such common household items as peanut butter, ice cubes (“muff cocktail on the rocks”), Alka-Seltzer, shower nozzles, and the like. None of this fruit-scented love-cream aphrodisiac nonsense; this song is as raunch-filled lyrically as it is musically. Written by Highland, Niemiec (who sings lead), and Cliff Wolff (a friend of Niemiec’s who lives in Willkie South, the IU dorm which figures prominently in the lyrics), “Muff Divin’” alone is worth the $2.50. Indeed, it was “Muff Divin’” which delayed the EP’s release, as the original pressing plant (a religious-oriented outfit) refused to handle it after sitting on the masters for a couple of months.

The other three songs are less hardcore pornish, but far removed from the WYSI playlist, nonetheless. “That’s Cool (I Respect You More),” a Stones-type which is the only less-than-up-tempo-track, was written and sung by Highland from personal experience, as he tries to seduce a teen lovely who refuses to “go all the way” (now, if Ken were Eric Carmen…). “Mean Screen” (“Dick Clark oughta be my poppa”), written by Ken and Eddie (who sings it) from an original poem by fanzine writer Scott Duhamel, concerns masturbation while watching American Bandstand. “Chicken Queen,” the grand finale, is an “inside joke” of sorts. How many bands do you know with the gall to insult and embarrass their own producer on their first recording?: “Well, five-to-eight of hairy bear / Some don’t know and the rest don’t care / Boys and girls, inbetween / You’re all fine to the Chicken Queen.” It so happens that Bear is a friend of mine, and he never made any improper advances my way, so I won’t get involved with the question of the song’s accuracy (even thought the facts are well-known!). Written by Eddie (with embellishments by Ken and Dave Sulak) and sung by Ken, “Chicken Queen” includes some honest-to-goodness musicianship in Rick Czajka’s clean, neo-Santana guitar on the fade (which conjures up Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” and “Johnny B. Goode”: “Go, Queenie, go-go-go”), following an ingenious rap featuring Rich as the Queen and Ted as the Chicken, in a parody of the Doors’ “The End” (“The bear awoke before dawn… / He walked on down to the chicken coop and he said, ‘Chicken?’ / ‘Yes, Queen?’ / ‘Chicken?’ / ‘Yes, Queen?’ / ‘I want to…’,” etc.). The EP’s engineer, Richard Fish, appended a subtitle, “The (Ass) End,” to the track; I could say that this subtitle was pregnant with meaning, but reproduction of the species has nothing to do with it!

The Gizmos were originally intended as a one-shot project, existing on and around March 20, 1976 (the date of recording). But stardom, even on the fanzine level, brings its pressures – public demand for an encore being one of them. So the Gizmos reunited for a second round of rock’n’roll lunacy. In April, they reformed for a double-EP / triple- / album (which format it will eventually assume has yet to be decided; albums are less cumbersome, Bear) and their first live appearances. There’s at least one change as Rick Czajka has quit Cerberus (which has since changed its name to Loner) to become a folkie. When not Gizmoing, Ken Highland admitted he is in the United States Marine Corps (a family tradition), Stenson Flowers is in Alabama, Messrs. Coffee and Sulak are in Chicago, and Jim DeVries was busted on a dope charge, while Ted Niemiec and Davey Medlock remain in Bloomington.

Upcoming on future Gizmos vinyl you should hear such instant classics as “Gimme Back My Foreskin,” “Human Garbage Disposal,” “Amerika First,” and “Pumpin’ to Playboy” (which I have a tape of; believe me, it’s a killer, built around an irresistible Iberian guitar riff).

Gulcher Records may also issue an album by Loner without Ken, Eddie, Ted and Davey; and possibly one by Bob Richert’s answers to the Runaways and the Quick, a group of 13-to-15-year-olds called the Chickens (I’m not so sure I believe that one, myself…).

Now, would you like to know about MX-80 Sound?

[I saw a later version of the Gizmos play at Max’s Kansas City in the ‘70s, which was released as a live EP titled, Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Here are the Gizmos. It was a wild and hairy show.]

Here is some “Where are they now” info:
Rich Coffee: Was in the bands Thee Fourgiven, the Unclaimed, and the Tommyknockers.
Eddie Flowers: Now in the experimental, lo-fi, noise rock band Crawlspace; CDs available from Gulcher.
Ken Highland: A long and varied musical career, mostly in the Boston Area, including quite a large number of bands that he has fronted, such as the Hopelessly Obscure and Kenne Highland and his Vatican Sex Kittens. Still touring after all these years. Nice guy, too.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Zombie Walk, Saskatoon, May 5, 2012

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them
More photos can be found HERE

Saskatoon may be a relatively small city, but they have a young and somewhat transient population thanks to the University of Saskatchewan and SIAST College. That is part of the reason for the success of the Dark Bridges Festival (DBF) that occurs yearly.

The DBF is a film showcase held at the beautiful (and non-government-supplemented) Broadway Theatre, where they show different and odd genre films, including action, horror, foreign and westerns. The crowd for it gets larger every year.

A few years ago, someone figured out a Zombie Walk for Halloween, when there is usually a special horror-related show at the Broadway; people dress up like zombies and stumble from the downtown side over the Broadway Bridge, to the theater. Being as cold as it gets at the end of October, however, coats were needed over the costumes just to not freeze your braaaaain off. So, someone wisely decided that perhaps at the start of the DBF in May would be a better time for the Walk, as it tends to be better weather, so the zombie-fan crowds would be in larger turn-out.

Despite the threat of inclement weather on that Cinco de Mayo day, people gathered in good spirits at Kiwanis Park, at the base of the Broadway Bridge, at least an hour before the Walk was to start. This was my first time to be there, and was looking forward to it. Of course, I still have not purchased a new camera, so as my old one is sensitive to dampness, it was turning on and off by itself. As the weather got wetter, the less the camera worked.

According to the Old Testament, God got angry at the world, and sent a giant flood. That is kind of what happened at the this Zombie Walk in Saskatoon, when the skies boomed and then opened up, just as the walk was about to start. My camera gave up the ghost, so I left to do my own two-mile walk home in the downpour.

The zombie horde marched and stumbled slowly across the bridge, umbrellas up and soaked, with make-up thinning and dripping.

God must hate zombies, having sent another flood.
The young girl next to her is the spiting image of Kyra Schon
[Any true Night of the Living Dead fan should know the name...]

Was it the Box Store's coffee that turned her this way?

Sports zombies... an everyday event.

Even zombies want to keep a Facebook memory.

Love this look

A brother and sister Bride and Groom.
Cute, and yet also kind of creepy in many ways.

I had a  nice talk with her mom at the gazebo while the rain was falling.

Apparently, heavy metal fans just don't get the difference
between metal / goth make-up and zombies. 

I love the expression of the woman on the bench to the left.

A couple of the Zombie Walk organizers

What's the difference between a zombie and an HMO. No, really, I wanna know...

Brilliant Mariachi band for Cinco de Mayo.

My favorite Saskatoon news photographer, Gord Waldner, snaps away.
He works for the daily StarPhoenix

Wonderful Hunter S. Thompson zombie

A rap zombie... oh, wait, what's the difference?
The Statue of Liberty with a gun... there's a true oxymoron.

I understand that these guys wear the same alien zombie costumes at each Fest.
An "A" for originality, "C" for redundancy.

These sleepaway camp zombies group are local musicians and comedians.
They were coordinated and stayed in character (mostly). Kudos.

While the rain came pouring down,
the Camp Counselors sing an undead love song in the gazebo.

Neither rain nor storm nor dead of night
will stop the zombies on their walk... I can't say the same for me...