Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ROBBY KRIEGER: Beyond the Doors [1983 Interview]

Text by Joe Viglione and Eric Brown / FFanzeen, 1983
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #11, dated 1983. It was written by Boston-based musician, music historian (and so much more) Joe Viglione and Eric Brown. – RBF, 2015

Robby Krieger, guitarist / song-writer for the Doors, was, and still is, one of the most influential and creative guitarists in rock’n’roll.

The 1982 Robby is a mellower, wizened musician, not content to stay within the safe boundaries of commercial pop which he helped establish, and which in 1982 – more than 12 years later – is suddenly chic and very popular.

In the heat of the Doors revival, Robby Krieger has emerged with a hot band, a surprisingly different direction for those unfamiliar with his post-Morrison works, and a new album on Passport Records, entitled Versions.

We caught Robby’s soundcheck and show at the Channel Club in Boston, on October 23, 1982, and again at the Peppermint Lounge in New York, on the 28th. Along with some instrumental originals, jazzy versions of Doors songs like “Crystal Ship” and “You’re Lost Little Girl,” there were rocking versions of “Love Me Two Times” and “Roadhouse Blues.” At the Peppermint Lounge, Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult jumped onstage for “Roadhouse” and got the place jumping with his earthy vocals. Thankfully, someone at the Peppermint had the good sense to videotape the night.

Despite the zillion interviews (in fact, MTV bumped this interview up a day and a half) and hectic schedule (like speaking at the College Media Brainstorm 2 Convention at the Sheraton up the street); and being, along with David Johansen, the most interesting guest at that otherwise boring affair, Robby proved to be one of the more easygoing and polite musicians around. Despite that, I was a nervous wreck conducting this interview: talent and legend are hard to take in one sitting.

Special thanks to Robby’s manager, Richard Linnell, for making this possible.

-  Joe Viglione, 1983

FFanzeen(* = Joe Viglione): When did you decide to put a new band together and to tour?
Robby Krieger: Well, after I finished the album, I decided to – to get the album going. I’d get out and tour. That was about a year ago, I guess. It took a while to find the right guys for the band.

FF*: How long did it take to conceive Versions and put it out?
Robby: To do the whole thing, about a year. I took my time doing it. I had a bunch of other stuff I was doing at the time.

FF*: I see you’re still playing slide guitar onstage.
Robby: Not a lot of slide. I play as much as I can. Unfortunately, my slide guitar broke that night [at the Peppermint Lounge, October 28 – JV] or it was broken. The neck started to get a crack on it.

FFanzeen(# = Eric Brown): That’s the black Les Paul?
Robby: Yeah, the Les Paul. It’s too bad. It held up last night. I hope it’ll be okay for the rest of the tour, but there’s a definite crack in it.

FF*: Why did you produce Versions by yourself?
Robby: If I could’ve gotten someone like Tom Dowd [d. 2002 – RBF, 2015] or somebody, I would’ve gone ahead with that, but I’d rather not do it myself ‘cause it’s a lot of work and it’s – you don’t get the perspective that you really need when you do your own thing. But I’m happy with the way it came out.

FF*: How do you choose your guitars? Why a Les Paul?
Robby: Les Paul I use for slide and the reason I chose that is ‘cause it’s real heavy; it’s the oldest one they made, which is a ’54, I think. It’s like a big tree. It’s a Black Beauty. The neck is like a tree trunk. For regular playing, I use the 355 guitar, which is a Gibson. And it’s a mono 355; most of those are stereo. For some reason I found this mono and they’re a little heavier than the 335, so…

FF*: What do you use for effects?
Robby: For effects I’ve got a Chorus, a Digital Delay, Analog Delay, a Distortion, and a Slow Gear, which makes it sound like you’re using a volume pedal; kinds of cuts off the first part of the note.

FF#: Yeah, I kind of noticed that.
FF*: What kind of amps?
Robby: Twin reverbs, pretty much. I was going to try this Acoustic. They’ve got a new amp out that’s comparable to a twin reverb, but I couldn’t get it working right before the tour.

FF*: How long do you see this band staying together? Another LP?
Robby: It’s hard to say. It’s going real good right now. It could last for a long time.

FF*: You’ll be planning another tour?
Robby: Well, when we get back to L.A., we’re going to start going out again for the rest of the year.

FF*: How did you find your manager?
Robby: Well, I’ve known Rich Linnell for a long time. He went to school with my brother. He ended up promoting some Doors concerts when the Doors were playing. I’ve just known him for a long time.

FF*: What is his function as a manager? And what do you see as the role of a manager for Robby Krieger?
Robby: He’s got to work with the record company, with tours, promoters, agents – he’s the buffer between me and all these types of people. Plus he has to be creative in thinking of different ways to get me working.

FF*: How about the creative moment with Robby? Do you have to put yourself in the right frame of mind to create a great song, especially songs like the old Doors hits of which you wrote a major portion?
Robby: You can’t put yourself in a mood. It’s pretty hard, unless you have the right drugs [laughs], but usually it doesn’t happen that way. You have to be in the mood.

FF*: Do you turn the recorder on?
Robby: Usually I don’t ‘cause I figure anything that’s good enough to be a song I’ll remember when I play it. Although I think I have forgotten a lot of good songs so I have started using a recorder lately.

FF*: What do you think of the stage of the art of recording today? Do you have the same feeling that you did about production when you approached a record in the ‘60s as you do now?
Robby: It hasn’t really changed that much. The tape recorders are basically the same. I haven’t tried the digital stuff yet. That’s more gimmicks now, but you can only use them in certain instances, I think. In fact, I recorded this album 16-track, which I hadn’t – I’ve always been using 24 for years. Everybody has but – I figured I could get better sound by going with a 16-track with two-inch tape because you have more space on each track. Since I wasn’t having vocals I know I wouldn’t need that many tracks anyway. We did it on an Otari 16-track machine.

FF*: You produced the Tan, a Californian band?
Robby: They’re from Santa Barbara, actually. They’re sort of like a New Wave surf band. They’re really good.

FF*: Did you see them in a club or did they approach you?
Robby: …I played with – I had this group, Red Shift, in L.A., for a while, and we played opposite them on a bill in Santa Barbara one time. It turned out my friend was managing them, so I happened to get involved with them.

FF*: I’ve got a couple of albums here that you might remember [two Butts Band LPs on Blue Thumb Records – JV]
Robby: A-ha!

FF*: I remember you guys played the Performance Center in Harvard Square, Cambridge (MA). It no longer exists; it’s now a shopping mall.
Robby: Really, that’s too bad.

FF*: How long did the Butts Band last? I know there were two different albums.
Robby: Well, it lasted for two albums; two or three years. As you said, there were two different bands, one with some English guys. John Densmore [The Doors drummer] and myself were the nucleus of the group. Then we decided that was too hard to keep together so we went ahead and formed an American version. And we got caught up in record company bullshit. Blue Thumb got sold to U.A. or something like that, and we just sort of got lost in the shuffle over there. It’s too bad; we had some pretty good songs on both those albums.

FF*: I really like the Other Voices and Full Circle albums by the [post-Morrison] Doors. What are your feelings on that material?
Robby: I think there’s some good stuff on those albums. I think we probably shouldn’t have come out so soon after Jim’s death with those. Maybe the public wasn’t ready for it yet or – probably should’ve waited about five years or so.

FF*: Maybe, but you were great on the Boston Common in the 1972 Sunset Series [August 17 – JV].
Robby: Oh, yeah.

FF*: That was just wonderful
Robby: Yeah, when we were in Boston, I walked through that place.

FF#: I remember reading somewhere that when you first started, you used to play Flamenco. When did you get involved with jazz?
Robby: Well, I always liked jazz, so I’d say around ’74 or ‘5. I got real interested in playing jazz. I met a bunch of jazzer-type guys in L.A., and started learning about it. I didn’t really know enough about playing guitar to play jazz when I started out, ‘cause I was only – I started when I was only 16. And when the Doors hit, I was like 19, so I just was playing the Doors’ stuff for a couple of years; about five years there. But then I deicide I wanted to get into it.

FF#: That’s great. On your earlier albums, you could hear the influence. And now it’s really blossomed out. I watched you on TV in Boston, 5 All Night Live [the night previous to the Channel gig on October 23 – JV]. I didn’t know what to expect from you, but liking jazz fusion myself, it was a pleasant surprise.
Robby: I get kind of tired of it after a while, y’know. Just people soloing for hours and stuff, but I think – my approach is being a rock’n’roll player going into jazz, which not many people do. Most of your fusion players are like jazz guys, and they try to play rock’n’roll, and it doesn’t come off too great a lot of times.

FF#: There’s a difference. You use real heavy rock’n’roll rhythms under the melodic stuff.
Robby: Right.

FF#: The way you use the harmonies with the two guitars, it’s very –
Robby: Yeah, Barton [Averre, former guitarist with the Knack – JV], our other guitar player, he can play. Anything you tell him to play, he can play.

FF#: You guys seem to work with a lot of communication. The harmonies are real different. The off meds and the off notes are really – you end up on certain notes, not harmonies. It sounds terrific.
Robby: We use a lot of sixths in our harmonies.

FF*: It seems like you’re heading in a direction started with Full Circle. It was starting to get jazzier.
Robby: Hmm, a little bit, I guess.

FF*: With songs like “Mosquito.”
Robby: “Mosquito,” that’s true. You know that “Mosquito” was a giant hit in Europe.

FF*: Really.
Robby: Yeah, and South America, ‘cause I guess it was, y’know – I spoke Spanish a little bit in there, and people loved that.

FF*: You spoke Spanish in the song?
Robby: Yeah: “no mes moleste mosquite.

FF*: “Get Up and Dance” [Full Circle] was a minor hit in Boston, and “Tightrope Ride” [Other Voices] was a big hit.
Robby: yeah, “Tightrope Ride” was good. Yeah, it’s too bad it didn’t really – there were some good songs on that. “Piano Bird” also was a good kind of jazzy one. “Piano Bird” has two basses on it [The LP credits only one, to Carole King’s ex-husband, Charles Larkey – JV]. It has one played by Willie Ruff – who’s like a jazzy guy. He played the upper register – and this Wolfgang Metz played the lower bass.

FF#: Wolfgang!
FF*: [To Eric] Yeah, Wolfgang, he’s great. He used to play with Gabor Zabo. He’s this little German guy with this really thick accent.
Robby: I liked the souped up version that that (the) Knack song, “My Sharona.”

FF*: [To Robby] It was a blessing for you that the Knack broke up.
Robby: Yeah, really [laughs]. Well, I knew Bruce Gary [d. 2006 – RBF, 2015], the drummer, before the Knack ever started, in L.A. So it was kind of natural when they broke up. I’m sure some super group will probably snap him up one of these days.

FF*: Someone like ASIA. Hey, thanks a lot for your time, Robby, and good luck.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Documentary Review: All the Labor: The Gourds

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

All the Labor
Directed by Doug Hawes-Davis
High Plains Films / Big Sky Films / MVD Visual
93 minutes / 2013

In a time of really bad music, where the Top-10 is proliferated with the inanity of the likes of the Bieber, the Perry and sadly, now the Swift, it’s great to continue to hear great music, even if it’s from the past.

And speaking of inanity, in the center of that plus insanity, or as I like to call it: Texas, thank God for Austin, a sane safehouse for a state known for religious fanatics, Southern rock, and future fucktard failures to run for President.

Thus we come to the Gourds, a “genre-blending” band that they call (themselves) “just a rock and roll band,” but I would call them Country Rock and Roll. But mostly I would call them a shit load of fun. But I’m gettin’ ahead of myself.

These guys, who imply the standard instruments plus a variously an electric keyboard, fiddle, mandolin and accordion get down and have fun together. In their current form, they’ve been together since 1999, but they’ve been playing since before that and have over 10 albums out there. Coming from different parts of Texas and Louisiana, they settled in Austin and not only made it their home, have come to be identified with the city, often showing up in bar, clubs and especially SXSW.

Just as important, the quintet seems like a nice bunch of guys, and they certainly seem to get along pretty well. They also share lead vocals between the four front guys. Some songs are straightforward country/Americana, there are also songs about fruit and other seemingly random topics. That’s not to lock them in, though, because their cover of  Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” went viral. But the shots of them playing on stage, which are many here, they certainly seem to be having a blast.

Building the story of the band, both indivudally and as a group, there are one-on-one interviews, and also radio interviews (videoed during the talks). They explain how they are in a relationship, and it’s easy to hurt each other because they know each other so well, but choose not to do that. That’s a brotherhood.

What’s nice is a llot of the interviews are mixes from the last few years, rather than all new stuff, so you can see the changes over time. For example one member is show with his toddler in 1998, and then you see him in recent footage. We follow them on tours, in local clubs, at home, and other music-related situations, such as playing and interviews at radio stations, as I said previously. This is usually something bands hate for someone to say, but I get the impression that the band is their career, because no one talks about other jobs. That they make enough from these tours to survive means they are in nearly constant motion (tours)

One section shows them recording with Larry Campbell at Levon Helms studio in Woodstock, NY. This is introduced by the announcement of Levon’s passing, and the recording session, etc., is in flashback. It’s pretty obvious this documentary is many years in the making.

There are three sets of bonus material, including Deleted scenes, and alternative ones. What got me smiling though, were the 12 complete live songs. It’s all about the music, ain’it?

While this could actually have been trimmed a bit (by 20 minutes, perhaps?), but their joy is infectious, and that we get to hear so much music helps promote the band as much as their personalities. As someone says at about the halfway point, “Our greatest asset is that we’re fun, we’re happy, and we’re having a good time.”



Monday, June 15, 2015

…That was no lady, that was DIVINE [1983 Interview]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen fanzine, 1983
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #11, dated 1983. It was conducted and written by our Managing Editor, Julia Masi.

Perhaps Divine (d. 1988) is where my respect for Drag Queens began. Though, to be fair, calling Divine a drag queen is not inclusive enough, as she was so much larger than that (pun not intended), including having some hit recordings and being a media darling.  Over the years, there have been a number of books about Divine (including one by his mother), a documentary, and even spoofs.

What I find interesting, in McLuhan-esque rear view mirror thinking is that throughout the article below, Divine is referred to as “him.” To be fair, even John Waters uses the male pronoun in discussing Divine to this day. For myself, I have always called Divine “her” and his male counterpart, Harris Glenn Milstead as “he,” as seems to be the current way to differentiate between the actor and the “persona.” I never met Divine, but did once serve ice cream to Harris in the very hot summer of 1976 while working at a long-gone West Village Baskin-Robbins on 7 Ave South and Grove St. (there is a restaurant there now). A friend  who also worked there, at another time after I left, got his autograph (as Divine) and gave it to me. Yes, I still have it.  – RBF, 2015

Capturing the title of “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” is no easy feat, especially if you happen to be a 300 lb. gentleman. But as the comic sex symbol in most of John Waters’ satirical films, Divine was defined his own overstated sense of drag chic that has been immortalized in a paper doll book, Simply Divine (St. Martin’s Press), and helped him land a contract with O Records.

His three singles, “Night of Love,” “Shoot Your Shot” and “Shake It Up” have provided Divine with yet another way to win fans and influence critics. Virtually unheard on American radio, Divine’s voice has been saturating the European airwaves for the past year. His move into music began when record producer Bobby Orlando started searching for new talent. “He was a fan,” recalls Divine, “and he thought I had the charisma and stage presence to put a song across.” At first Divine was reluctant. “I was told for so many years that I couldn’t sing, that I started believing it.”

So he made an agreement with Orlando that he would try his hand at recording, but if the demos didn’t turn out to his linking, they’d just scrap them. First they recorded “Night of Love,” which turned out better than they expected. It hit the European charts quickly and stayed there for 22 weeks. Shortly afterward, “Shoot Your Shot” was released to similar reception. Last Fall, Divine was asked to tour Europe because he had a record in the Top Ten, when “Night of Love” suddenly shot up to the No. 3 spot. His latest single, “Shake It Up,” went from nowhere to No. 15 the first week it was released. “It was quite exciting. It was like being the Beatles or Elton John. I couldn’t believe the popularity. They [the live audiences] just went crazy.”

Back on Divine’s home turf, Key West, Florida, he’s best known as a cult move star. His more memorable roles in Pink Flamingos (1972), and the first venture into odorama, Polyester (1981), brought him a wider audience and his first taste of mass-appeal stardom. It also helped cement a bond of loyalty with John Waters.

He called Waters “a realist,” insisting that “he cannot cheat his audience. If something is supposed to happen, it does. If it looks like something is going on in the film, I can tell you it actually does. If someone is supposed to set themselves on fire, then John has found some fool who will do it.

“He’s interested in his career and he’s interested in my career, too. He’s interested in Divine. I’m very lucky to have that. To have somebody that you can really trust.” He feels that their mutual admiration comes across on the screen. That’s one of the reasons the films are so successful. I can take his written word and give it life. I know exactly what he wants without asking. I’d always work for John. The only reason I wasn’t in Desperate Living (1977),” he says almost apologetically, “is that I was doing a play [Women Behind Bars – RBF, 1983].” That play toured Europe and gave Divine his first shot at something he’s always wanted, “to become an international star. I’d wanted to go to Europe. I’d never been out of the States. And the films hadn’t been released there until just recently. To this day, I never know whether I made the right decision. Maybe I did the right thing. I’ll never know, but it all worked out.”

He compares his relationship with Waters to the old movie studios of the 1940s. “They made your career. They got you work – they could ruin you, but they kept you working.” He praises Waters because, “He actually created a star of sorts; in my case out of a complete unknown without he the major backing of a major studio, and without the money.

“They’re very sophisticated films. Some of the new movies that are coming out look like they were made by fools. I shouldn’t say that. I haven’t actually seen them, but the ads and things are enough to keep me away. Of course, the ads for Polyester weren’t that good. But what I’m trying to say is that John deserves more credit for his writing. John’s writing is just so –! I can read [other people’s] scripts and not know whether or not I’m supposed to laugh. I read his scripts and be hysterical.”

His favorite role to date is Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble (1974). “It was fun because it kept changing. It was her whole life story, which allows for different looks and different costumers, which allows for more fun. I’m not saying it was my best part. I was at my best in Polyester, because it was a completely different kind of role for me. It was the exact opposite of glamour and everything that the Divine character stands for.” Film critics also found this to be his best role, and the first where they actually took notice of his acting expertise. “I’ve always been typecast. They say, ‘Oh, well, here’s Divine. All Divine can do is play fat women with big teased hair and tight dresses.’”

Unlike most leading “ladies” he does not mind being called sexy. “I try to be at times. There are all sides to the character.” What he feels makes the character sexy are “the size, the volume, the attitude. You’ve’ got to think sexy to be sexy. To do it, you’ve got to be it. It’s easy to get into.” But the essence of Divine’s sensuality is “the sense of humor. It’s not like,” he lets out a deep animal-like pant, “a maniac who jumps on anything – a fencepost. The sexiest thing about a woman is a sense of humor.

“I’m real, I think. The character makes people laugh. There are no holds barred, says whatever comes out of the mouth. Nonchalant. I think more people would like to be like that.”

The matinee goddess that Divine most admires id Elizabeth Taylor (d. 2011), who he has idolized since he was a child. “I met her at the Roxy Roller Rink in New York City, at a party for her daughter. It was about a year-and-a-half, or two years ago. I don’t know what she thought of me. It was like looking in a mirror.”

Last Winter, Hollywood excreted Tootsie (1982) and began flirting with the ideas of transvestite heroes. More commercial film scripts are called for actors to get dressed up, a trend that is very upsetting to Divine. “They’re trying to ruin my business. He (Dustin Hoffman) didn’t wear one pretty dress in the movie. With their budget!

“And now I hear that John Travolta is dressing up like a girl [I’m not sure to what Divine is referring, but Travolta actually played the Divine role in the musical remake of Hairspray in 2007 – RBF, 2015]. He can’t need the money that badly. Come on, boys! I could understand the feminist movement and feminist consciousness, but there’s no reason for our sex idols to dress up like girls.

“I honestly find it shocking. I’m here and I could do it. Maybe I’m just jealous. It sounds like sour grapes, doesn’t it? But nothing really happens in that movie (Tootsie). At least with a John Waters film, for one-and-a half hours you can’t stop laughing. It’s action-packed. That’s what movies are all about.

“I guess Richard Burton will be dressing up next,” he muses. “I’ll have to play men’s parts. I guess women will have to play men’s parts. I guess I’ll be out of work.”

Unemployment is hardly an immediate threat for Divine. After another brief tour of Europe this Summer, he’ll begin recording an album [My First Album – RBF, 2015]. And there’s a new John Waters film in the planning stage (Hairspray, released in 1988 – RBF, 2015]. “I can’t tell you anything about that except it’s his best one yet. That could start any time. I’m up for three other films, but you never know. We’ll just have to wait and see.”



Bonus video (John Candy as Divine on SCTV):