Sunday, December 30, 2018

Documentary Review: Otway, the Movie: Rock & Roll’s Greatest Failure

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

Otway, the Movie: Rock & Roll’s Greatest Failure
Directed by Steve Barker
[No company listed]
97 minutes, 2013

When discussing cult legends, certain names continually come up, like Alex Chilton, Nick Drake, Willie Alexander, and for those in the know, British musician John Otway is up on that list. His fans are fanatical and essentially paid for this documentary, for which I am grateful to be able to finally catch up on viewing.

Y’see, I interviewed the dude in New York for my ‘zine FFanzeen back in 1980 (HERE), and more recently (relatively) reviewed his second autobiography (HERE). He’s a charming dude whose skills include amazing live performances, lyrics that can be either completely deep and emotional or simply silly and whack-a-doodle, and he’s an expert in manipulation. I mean that, of course, in a totally respectful and admiring way. But more on that later.

While most of what is covered in this documentary is also in the book I reviewed, there is a difference. First, let me state that the autobio is a great read, and recommend it either way, as Otway ha a sharp turn of a phrase. But the opening minutes of the documentary show why this film is so special when he see him performing his signature hit, “Beware of the Flowers ‘Cause I’m Sure They’re Gonna Get You (Yeah),” in front of a huge hometown crowd in Aylesbury, outside London, in 1978. There ae a lot of performances here, and if I may be so bold, perhaps a compilation of live shows over the years for a next project?

Having seen him play in New York, I know he’s an exciting performer. And at the time I interviewed him (the day before he played) I learned that yeah, he can be a bit of a (in his own words) prat. He had rock star idealism and especially an ego that both served him well and also helped torpedo what might have been a solid career. He worked against his own self-interests by focusing only on his self-interests in the past, isolating his partner at the time, the appropriately titled guitarist Wild Willie Barrett.

Let me digress here a moment… In the late 1990s, I saw a “Teen Idol” show. The opening was Bobby Sherman, who had a moment of stardom only to have it fade quickly. He was gracious and really happy to be there. The middle act was Davy Jones (d. 2012), someone who had a similar path, but was obviously bitter to the point where the person next to me started to cry.

My point is, Otway falls somewhere in the middle. When I interviewed him way back when, I had (and have) no issues with him at all. If the fame had stuck, who knows where his ego would have taken him; I imagine not to good places, considering what he did with his first Polydor paycheck, as shown in this film. However, with his being a “rock and roll failure,” his perspective is different than when we met, and he seems (to this viewer) to appreciate what he has, rather than expecting it.

The arrogance part has transformed into something else: exuberance, which I would more accurately call chutzpah. By accepting and embracing his fate as a “rock and roll failure” (much as Leonard Nimoy did with Spock), this opened up a whole new world of self-promotion that led him to rent out some of the biggest and prestigious halls in England to perform in as marketing himself (and yet real gigs), and sell them out. Once the Internet opened in the early 1990, Otway was one of the first musicians to not only embrace the technology, but used/uses it to his own advantage in, again, self-marketing. Brilliant albeit scary stuff to his (again) management, who knew that if it didn’t work, the finances would be disastrous. But they did it and most of the time succeeded.

Watching the film, you can see the sparkle in Otway’s eyes as even he is amazed at what he has gotten away with over the years. And it seems like as scary as it was/is, he is enjoying it wholeheartedly. My question, and of course there is no way to know this, is if his success had been ongoing rather than a very bumpy road, would he still be so appreciative?

Otway uses his teaching of a music business class at the Grange School in Aylesbury as the framework for the film, going back and forth between his lecture that is frank yet fun and informative, and additional interviews with himself and others, some of which are archival, though most are for the documentary. Nearly all these are with first-hand people, such as musicians who played with him like Wild Willie and Steve Harley, his management team that has worked hard to help Otway meet most of his outrageous dreams, media personalities like Bob Harris of the “Old Grey Whistle Stop,” and various producers, including the great John Peel and Neil Innes. Mixing my metaphors, that’s just scratching the iceberg.

By far, though, it’s Otway’s fans – and this focuses more on those in England of course – that have saved his ass on numerous occasions (and I mean that in the best of ways), helping him finance his dreams, fill the halls, and give him a 50 birthday present of a second Top 10 hit 25 years after his first in 1978. He even let the fans choose which song to put into the stores (they chose disco-ish “Bunsen Burner”; I would have picked “Too Much Air, Not Enough Oxygen”)

Documentaries can be a bit dry, but this one is episodic to the point of being epic, and there is absolutely not a minute that is wasted, even when it’s just people talking. The projects, the ambition, the successes and the failures are all part of a complex musical life of someone who is a bit manic, bold, and exceedingly talented.

Now, let’s make this the big documentary, proper!



Bonus Videos:




Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Trying Hard to CLASH: Rude Boy Review [1980]

Text by Lisle McKenty / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos © FFanzeen blog, 2018
Images from the Internet

This review was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #6, dated Year-End 1980. It was written by Lisle McKenty. The article below was based on seeing the Clash’s 1980 film Rude Boy.

In the very early 1980s, Lisle worked in the same office as me, and we didn’t really know each other well, as she was the assistant to my boss, who kept her apart from the staff. One day, at about three in the afternoon, I was having my daily fix of wake-up tea, and Lisle walked by. Under her breath, she murmured, “Boy was in a hallway drinking a glass of tea.” My ears immediately perked up. I stated, “From the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating.” She whipped around, shocked that anyone knew the secret of Patti Smith, and we became close friends for a few years after that. Our boss was not happy about it.

As for the Clash themselves, my friend Nancy Neon and I had tickets in 1981 to see them play in Times Square at Bonds Casino, which is around the same time period as meeting Lisle. Nancy found out that the Rockats were recording their Live at the Ritz album the same night. We both easily agreed to scalp the tickets (at no profit as we were in a rush) in Front of Bonds, and then we rushed down to the Ritz to see an amazing rockabilly set. – RBF, 2018

Rude Boy comes under the heading, “A Michael White Presentation.” Michael White’s London productions list includes Oh! Calcutta!, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Rocky Horror Show, A Chorus Line, and Annie…  His previous films include Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Jabberwocky. Wild stuff. He’s big time.

David Mingay and Jack Hazan directed and produced Rudy Boy. You have to wonder about Jack Hazen. For an ex-cameraman, his shot sequencing is that of a film illiterate. Of course, I don’t know a lot about English films; I’m not what you would call a buff. David Mingay supposedly is. He studied English literature at Cambridge, then spent a year doing Film and Drama at Bristol. He also directed and edited a thirteen-part TV series, “Cinema: The Amazing Years (1897-1916)” before starting Rude Boy.

Rude Boy is distributed by Atlantic Releasing Corporation. Shall I bring up a fairly famous lyric-shall-we-call-it that says something about Atlantic?

As all the ads promised, the Clash is “in” Rude Boy. But how can you get guaranteed personality when you’re lost in the supermarket? Rude Boy is not about the Clash. It’s about Ray Gange [who also co-wrote the film – RBF, 2018], who roadies (don’t get confused) for the Clash when he’s not working in the Soho sex shop that passes for local color. There is also an obscure subplot, but I’ll get to that later. Well, Ray’s in California now, by the way of the money Hazan and Mingay paid him, and Freddy Laker. He has a Green Card, a job as a construction worker, and an American wife. I hope he’s happy. At least, I hope he doesn’t try any more flicks. Somebody please, I hope he doesn’t start a band. Time to go back to anonymity [he mostly DJs now, with a rare acting gig – RBF, 2018]. His best point might be said to be that he is from Brixton. And he did seem to like the Clash, even if his most memorable utterance was when he said to Joe Strummer, “Left-wing is gonna fuck everybody up.”

Ray’s best scenes, and the best in the movie, are the scenes of the Clash playing. No surprise if you’ve ever seen the Clash (and so what if it was over the screen at The Ritz). They’re electrifying. This dumb artsy flick doesn’t even begin to make sense visually or literally. Then you read in the paper that twenty minutes of the original film were cut (must have been the part that explained the subplot – I half-wondered what was up with those pick-pocketing scenes and the subsequent arrest of that Black guy).

Then again, maybe Hazan and Mingay thought that playing the first eight bars of “Revolution Rock” twenty times in less than two hours would drive an audience into an inspired punk madness.  Hazan and Mingay see punk as a “phenomena of the working class consciousness” and a “fusion of New York white punk and England’s polarized reggae, disco, and rock.” They don’t feel it.

The Clash has been there. They formed in 1976, when Joe Strummer (previously of the 101ers) joined up with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, under the management of Bernard Rhodes, a partner of Malcolm McLauren, who “discovered” the Sex Pistols.  They toured as a support group to the Pistols on their Anarchy Tour of England, before pulling out in a dispute over the use of Swastika armbands. Topper Headon joined the band as drummer in 1978. The Clash on Parole Tour (featured in Rude Boy) shortly followed.

After their second LP, Give ‘Em Enough Rope was released, they split with Rhodes and announced self-government, with Caroline Coon as a representative (she’s the pretty blonde who travels with Mick and Paul on their pigeon-shooting charges in Rude Boy [she also wrote the excellent book 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion – RBF, 2018]). They toured the US twice in 1979, completing London Calling, and began a new formal management with Blackhill Enterprises.

Without a doubt, the funniest line in Rude Boy is when Strummer tells Gange that the Brigade Rossi (the Red Brigade) is an Italian restaurant. Rude Boy did try to give an impression that the Clash are revolutionaries. In the film, their performance at the Rock Against Racism concert almost causes a riot (helped by Gange) and audience control is near disaster at Glasgow when Strummer sings “White Man Looking for Fun.” Then there were Gange’s political conversations with the band, but I’ve already given an example of those.

It seems like a million people have asked me if I think the Clash sold out with London Calling. To tell the truth, I’ve wondered a bit myself when I saw the Clash up there on a wall, in-between Linda Ronstadt and KISS, in a suburban record rip-off store. It was nice back in the old days, having them to ourselves. But everything depends on what you mean by selling out.

Selling out usually means trading musical and lyrical quality and morality for commercial success. London Calling is better produced than The Clash or Give ‘Em Enough Rope, let alone the singles (it took me weeks to understand any lyrics on ”White Riot”). “Revolution Rock” is not “Clash City Rockers.” The Clash have contained, purified and polished their riot on London Calling.

“Lost in the Supermarket” is at once more subtle, more pointed, and funnier than “I’m So Bored With the USA” (not that I don’t love “Bored…”). “Spanish Bombs” won’t get airplay in Spain or in any other of what I call non-countries. If “Guns of Brixton” doesn’t incite you, then nothing will. The Clash have retained and strengthened their sense of “unreal politick” and their sense of humor. They haven’t turned us off with any cloying songs, like “Alison” [a song of Elvis Costello I like – RBF, 2018], or distorted reggae to the extent of the Police. In London Calling, they haven’t traded a thing. Just check out “Working for the Clampdown”: “Kick over the wall / Cause governments to fall / How can you refuse it?... / To these days of evil presidents / Working for the clampdown.”

Paul and Caroline
So if they aren’t a sellout crew (and they’re not), why did the Clash participate in Rude Boy? By the time of Clash on Parole, they were packing houses all over England, and their first LP had appeared a year earlier in 1977. Well, until recently, the Clash was denied airplay on both the BBC and Capitol Radio networks (maybe it was just Mick’s affiliation with the Shepherds Bush anarchists?).

As far as I know, they have been continually in debt to their record company, CBS (Epic’s just a trademark). I don’t know if Mingay and Hazan first approached Ray Gange, or the Clash, to make the film, but I’ve got a horrible feeling it was Gange.

In any case, these people wanted to make a “serious film” about punk rock and the working-class consciousness. A band’s a band and a gig’s a gig; the Clash needed the PR, the money, and they wanted the platform. And as far as a sell-out goes, didn’t I use the term “commercial success”?

Rude Boy was made two years ago. Obviously, Mick and Paul and Joe and Topper were a lot less sophisticated than they are now. In my mind, hell, they were damned na├»ve. Maybe I can blame it on Caroline Coon (or was it Rhodes?). Rude Boy is a terrible flick, excluding the music scenes (“I Fought the Law” was especially great), made by terrible people, in my book.

To bring in the inevitable Beatles comparison (are you ready?), it’s like when Brian Epstein stuck them in suits, albeit without collars. I don’t feel bad panning Rude Boy, and I’m a Clash fanatic. If you like the Clash, then you’re like me – you’ll go see it anyway. If not, maybe you should listen to “Jimmy Jazz” or “The Right Profile” for a while.

To conclude: I often wear a tee-shirt proclaiming “The Clash: The only band that matters.” I’ve seen lots of others around on various other bodies. According to the rumor, the Clash now wants to make their own film. A terrific idea [didn’t happen – RBF, 2018]. Hopefully, next time they’ll make a worthy one – humor, politics, emotion, a riot – one that matters.

Monday, November 5, 2018

THE RUNAWAYS [1978-79]

Text by Barry Geiger / FFanzeen 1978-1979
Introduction and photos by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #3, dated Fall-Winter 1978-1979. It was written by Barry Geiger.

As I’ve stated before, I’ve had the opportunity to see the Runaways play New York three times: once in its original incarnation at a (mostly) music industry showcase at CBGB, once opening for the Ramones at the Palladium, and then post-Cherie Currie with the B-Girls opening, again at CBGBs. Each show was different, and all were a fun night.

When reading this article, I think it’s important to remember the time period in which it was written, because you’re probably going to cringe a bit at the language (i.e., the female descriptors early in the piece). Still, this is one of the early articles about the band, so I leave it as it stand.

I don’t exactly agree with all of what Barry says, since I find the second album to be pretty damn good (though none can hold a candle to the first), but music is so subjective that I respect what he felt.

The only member of the band I met post-Runaways was Currie, at a Chiller Theatre convention in the early 1990s, and she was an asshole to me. Considering how Right Wing she is now, somehow that makes sense. But that’s not going to stop me from enjoying the music of which she was an important part. – RBF, 2018

During the Summer of 1976, I went to the newsstand to buy the new issue of Creem. When I got home, I read this great review of a new debut album about this group of five foxy teenage girls who call themselves the Runaways. After finishing the article, I said to myself, “This band will never make it. The record company must have paid off the magazine to write something good about these chicks.”

Even though I thought it was all a bunch of bullshit, I was a little curious to hear them. I didn’t want to be closed-minded about them. That night I went to the record store and saw the (self-titled) album on sale for three-and-a-half bucks. It had a nice cover, so I figure, “What the hell.” I bought the record.

When I got home and played the album, I was astounded. These girls were really good! It was like magic. From the first note, I knew that this band was very special.

This group was really talented. Cherie Currie’s singing was pretty good, Lita Ford’s guitar playing was great, Jackie Fox’s bass playing was fantastic, and Sandy West’s drumming was sheer dynamite! Joan Jett seemed like a mediocre guitarist, but her lyrics were outrageous: “I’ll give you something to live for/Have you, grab you till you’re sore.”

“Cheery Bomb” was destined to become a teenage anthem. “American Nights” was sheer poetry, “Blackmail” was two minutes and forty-two seconds of pure ass-kicking rock and roll, and their rendition of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll” was a true delight. “Dead End Justice” would have been great if it weren’t for that stupid dialogue between Cherie and Joan in the middle of the song.

For weeks and weeks, I couldn’t get that record off of my turntable. I simply loved it. Then it happened: the Runaways were featured on the cover of Crawdaddy Magazine. I said to myself, “This is it. They are gonna hit it big!”

Well, I was wrong. Their second album, aptly titled Queens of Noise, which was released in early 1977, was a tremendous disappointment. Alright, “I Love Playing with Fire” is a masterpiece, “Born to be Bad” is pretty good, “Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin” is decent, and the title cut is bearable, but the rest of the album is totally uninspiring. I quickly began losing interest in the band. Cheri started to sound too much like Suzi Quatro. The lyrics weren’t as powerful as the ones on the first album; and neither was the music.

They started sounding too commercialized. Steve Tyler of Aerosmith co-wrote one of the songs. Why the hell was he writing for punk bands? I couldn’t believe that the Runaways had sold out. Their songs were bordering with Middle-of-the-Road. “Heartbeat” and “Midnight Music” could have been big AM hits with the right promotion, but they were not rock and roll.

One day that Summer I heard the news: Cherie Currie split from the band. The reason was personal conflicts with Joan Jett. I was shocked. It was impossible for me to imagine the Runaways making it without their lead singer.

A few weeks later it was announced that Jackie Fox, the bass playing Jewish Princess, had quit the Runaways so that she can study Law. I was sure that this meant the end of the group. Jackie was probably the most talented girl in the group. Her basslines are what made me so intrigued with the first LP. I was really upset when I heard they lost her.

Rumors were that Danielle Fay, bassist of the Zippers, an LA band, would replace Jackie, and Joan would take over as lead vocalist. I started gaining interest in the band again. I had heard the Zippers before and I knew that Fay wasn’t bad. I also knew that Joan was just as good a singer as Cherie (she did sing “I Love Playing with Fire,” the best tune on the second album).

The Danielle Fay rumors were later found to be false. As a replacement for Jackie, the Runaways hired a blonde bombshell by the name of Vicki Blue.

In November, the third album, Waiting for the Night, was released. I found it to be the best thing the band had ever recorded. Vicki wasn’t nearly as adept a musician as Jackie was, but she was adequate. Sandy was terrific, as usual. Joan was a very pleasant surprise. Her voice sounded just perfect: the lyrics were full of emotion. It was great!

The most interesting thing about this album, however, is Lita Ford’s devastating guitar riffs. She had evolved from a good guitarist playing for a good group into the driving force behind a great rock and roll band.

Joan had also developed into a fine rhythm guitarist. On the first two albums, her guitar playing wasn’t nearly as important as it was now. On The Runaways album, her major contribution to the group was her songwriting. On the second album she not only wrote the songs, she also sang half of them. On Waiting for the Night, she not only writes and sings the songs, her guitar playing is now an integral part of the sound. She is now the true “leader” of this band.

This album contains some of the hardest driving rock and roll songs the Runaways have ever recorded. “School Days” was custom-made for high school kids and people who know what it’s like to be a teenager in the ‘70s. “You’re Too Possessive” is so full of hate and vengeance that one can’t help but love it. “Thrash Can Murders” is a fantastic song, thanks to Lita’s extraordinary guitar solos. “Wasted” is a New Wave classic (because of its lyrics, not the music).”Don’t Go Away” is the best song on the album. Joan and Lita work great together, exchanging riffs throughout the song. Sandy’s drumming is as superb as ever. It’s also the only number on the album in which Vicki matches Jackie’s excellence on bass.

If the Runaways can continue producing albums like Wafting in the Night and keep away from the kind of dissention that made Queens of Noise such a disaster, they will become a truly super group.

Friday, October 5, 2018

THE COLORS: A Case of Synesthesia [1981]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen fanzine, 1981
Introduction, live photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet, unless indicated

This article was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #7, dated 1981. It was written by our Managing Editor and current philanthropic goddess, Julia Masi.

I had the chance to see the Colors a few times, mostly at CBGBs, back around the time this article originally came out. Solid hard-edged powerpop sailing among a sea of punk, the Colors never really went anywhere, though on a verge a few times, releasing a couple of records and lasting for about four years. Some of its members did pretty well afterwards, though. For example, Charlie Pipp went on to join the David Johansen Group (pre-Buster Poindexter); Robert Vickers joined the much popular The Go-Betweens, and then Jersey’s own Yo La Tengo, and he now owns his own Public Relations firm called Proxy Media since 2005; Tommy (Tomas) Cookman is the founder/CEO of Cookman International and Nacional Records,which has released over 150 albums and earned at least nine Grammy or Latin Grammy awards from its over 72 nominations, and he is considered an ambassador of Latin alternative music. But while they were together, they were managed for a time by Hilly Kristal. – RBF, 2018

A shot of adrenalin in the fatigued veins of the New York music scene, the Colors explode on stage with a rush of hardcore rock’n’roll that recaptures the spirit of the ‘60s British Invasion. But these guys aren’t stuck in a time warp. Their debut EP, The Colors, produced by Clem Burke [of Blondie – RBF, 2018] for Infinite Records, proves that they have commercial viability for the ‘80s.

Tommy Cookman, Robert Vickers (pic (c) RBF)
Tommy Cookman (vocals), Paul Sass (lead guitar), Elf (drums), Charlie Pip (rhythm guitar), and Robert Vickers (bass) have the G-rated sexy looks that teenage idols are made of. And enough confidence in their talent to know how to use that as an asset.

“People underestimate us from the word go,” says Charlie. “They think we’re a little kid band. We’re really well rehearsed. As soon as we hit the stage, we hit them with this wall of really tight music. It shocks them.”

They may look like a bunch of rowdy kids hamming it up every chance they get, but there is nothing childish in their demeanor. Dressed in the vibrant colors and military style of the Mersey Beat era, they’re as much fun to watch as they are to listen to.

Tommy, who has an affected English accent, jumps around and off the stage to spur audience participation; offstage, he’s surprisingly low-keyed for a  lead singer, with a voice so soft you have to hug him to hear him. He doesn’t care that some people are initially attracted to the band because of their looks. “It’s like Cheap Trick. When they played the Palladium, the front was all twelve-year-old girls. And then there are all these twenty-five-year-old guys from Brooklyn pushing to get to the front because they like the music. The girls like Cheap Trick because of the way Robin (Zander) looks. People make these comparisons because they see a young band instead of what they do on stage.”

“We’re very audacious on stage,” mentions Paul. “We have a career in music cut out for ourselves. It just takes a lot more time than we may have in the past. We’re very serious. We may not be in a very serious business, but we’re very serious about it. And one of the most important things about it is money. It costs money to play. It costs a lot of money to sound good. We rehearse; that’s one of the best things about having a manager. We rehearse in a studio. But a lot of artistic and musical ideas and concepts we want to put across, we just can’t. We’re not conceptual masters. We don’t have studio production on the first record. The engineer, Jay Burnett, is a genius. But to do more than that, it takes not even our earning money, because bands don’t earn money anymore. They get signed to a four-year contract and the record company that sings them figures, ‘Well, they won’t make any money during the first contract, but when we re-sign them and they make it, they’ll pay us back all that money.’ And that happened with one out of a hundred bands. And the other ninety-nine go back to being dishwashers.”

“Now-a-days, you have to build a lot more than you did before,” explains Robert, in his light Australian accent. “You think of a band like The Who, or a lot of bands from the ‘50s or the ‘60s, they didn’t have to build up anything. They just had to arrive, and once they’re there, you can’t get rid of them. Once you have an establishment, you can never disappear. The public will keep buying the records no matter what you do.”

Paul Sass (pic (c) RBF)
The Colors know how to package them-selves so that people will buy their record, which comes in seven different shades of colored vinyl. The disc is wrapped in a sleeve which spouts a full-color picture of the boys, and has its titles in both English and Japanese.

Tommy, the resident “Jap-o-phile,” takes an active interest in the financial side of the band. He knows how important it is to capture the Japanese market, and he’s aware that the largest record consumers in Japan are teenage girls. “The whole Japanese thing is nice. You see singles that come out in America and especially on the New York scene, they all sort of have the same thing. The Japanese thing just sort of gives it a real distinctive sort of feel when you pick it up. It looks like an import.”

Another unusual feature about The Colors’ EP is that one side is in 45 and the other 33-1/3. Tommy states that, “Peter Crowley was telling me that at Max’s (Kansas City), they have it in the juke box with just one side playing two songs listed, and the other has a sign that reads, ‘Please do not play this side.’ About five times a night someone plays it.” The EP, which has Robert’s “Have You Seen Her” and “West End, “ Paul’s “Rave It Up,” “Growing Up American” and “Jealousy,” proves that the band’s sound cannot be diluted. Paul comments, “The single is a mini-production. It’s almost like a mini-album. Sometimes it seems that our entire set is one song with a lot of parts and a lot of breaks. That’s our business now. We talk about going in and slaying the audience. If they’re not screaming by the end of the set, then it’s a waste of time. If they’re not climbing on the stage, they’re dumb.

“Our instrumentation has a greater range. Not more than other bands, but some bands like to use the same style of playing over and over. Maybe it’s because they think it’s their style. We try to do as many different types of songs as we can. They’re all rock’n’roll-fast.

“Working with Clem has been a really good experience because he’s taken seriously in the industry.” They’re not worried that their association with Clem will have an adverse effect and draw biased criticism to the band. “We already went through that,” Paul notes. “Last Summer, we did about ten gigs with Clem and some of them were billed as ‘The Colors, featuring Clem Burke.’ And if you know the way Clem plays drums, then you know that we couldn’t appear on stage with him and not either get blown away or be really good. I’m sure people didn’t come up to Clem and say, ‘Sure you’re a great drummer, but the band you were with was terrible.’ I think he was a really good drummer for our band. We were right up there with him.”

Last September, Elf joined the band. He received his nickname in Junior High school, where he was always the shortest of his friends. And he likes it because, “When The Colors make it big, then your family doesn’t get a lot of mail, and nobody knows where you live.” On stage, the blond, doe-eyed drummer is almost obscured by his drum kit. “Want to know what kind of equipment I got? My drums were bought by Sears. Right out of the catalog. Sears brand.”

According to Charlie, their rehearsals aren’t much different from their performances. “I always believe that the audience is there for our entertainment only. I think of the audience as being behind the glass. It’s their privilege to watch us doing what we think is cool. We don’t need the audience to make the gig. We sound just as good with nobody there. It’s a treat for them. They’re paying to see us do our professional thing, like you’d pay to see a trapeze artist do a triple somersault. When he’s up there, he doesn’t say, ‘This one is for the crowd.’ He says ‘I’ll do a flip and go downstairs and have a cup of coffee. See you later.’ The audience is just there for him. I can’t say I don’t care about them, because they’re the consumer and the ultimate goal of what I’m trying to do. But I’m not writing songs to make money and to make those people like me. I’m saying, ‘Here, look, this is my statement in musical form. Let’s dance and have a good time’.”

“Being good on the guitar doesn’t mean being like Eric Clapton or something. It’s being able to quickly transmute your ideas and feelings at that moment into musical terms. Just picking up your guitar and saying, ‘I feel sad today,’ and playing all these sad chords. It’s just another way to speak. A lot of people in New York don’t get nothing out of them. They just get noise. But even the volume and the noise are expression. To me, the epitome of rock’n’roll is getting commercial airplay. Most of the bands can’t ‘cause they’re so experimental.”

“The real musicians,” Elf says, “are those Black cats who play in jazz clubs for $18 a night. They’ll play all night long.” He speculates that rock music is “going back to where it came from. Nothing new, but different. We’ve already had classical and psychedelic. And we’ve only had rock’n’roll for 27 years. Nobody has really done anything with it since Chuck Berry. It’s been refined. People can play more guitar notes and runs faster and faster, but then it got more intense, like Cream and Jimi Hendrix. And it got more intricate with lyrics, like ELP and Yes. That isn’t rock’n’roll. It doesn’t have that beat, like Chuck Berry says, on the 2 and the 4.” Elf thinks rock’n’roll will be around “as long as you have people who want to dance to the 2 and the 4, and people who want to get drunk and play.

“I’m in rock’n’roll ‘cause I got a scrap book I can put my pictures in. I gotta have something to show my kids.”

Monday, September 10, 2018

Nancy Neon's Notes: September 2018

Text by Nancy Neon / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet
Live Review: The Legendary Cazbats
Club Bohemia, Cantab Lounge, Cambridge, MA
August 25, 2018, 8 pm
After my hiatus from rock 'n' roll, I was excited about seeing the Legendary Cazbats. I also wanted to bid a fond farewell to Micky Bliss, host of Club Bohemia, held at the Cantab since 2007. Before 2007, Club Bohemia had a home at the Kirkland Cafe for 14 years. It is fitting that I would say my goodbyes while seeing drummer, Daniel McCarthy play as I did my first night at Club Bohemia back in November 2000. That night, the bill was the Lyres, the Classic Ruins with Billy Borgioli, and the Downbeat 5, with McCarthy providing Jerry Nolan-esque drums. It is also noteworthy that McCarthy played on Borgioli's last recording, Boston Cream {2010} and was the last on to play live music with Borgioli before Billy’s passing on June 27, 2015.

The line-up of the Legendary Cazbats is Chris Yeager on vocals and guitar, Bob Roos on guitar, Matt Robinson on bass, and Daniel McCarthy on drums. The band set the fierce garage punk tone with "Same All Over" by the Rogues/Squires. The Chocolate Watch Band's "Are You Gonna Be There {At the Love In}" amped up the intensity. I recognized "Move" by the State Of Mind as a great Venusians' cover from their 1990 recording Garage Dazed. The performance is classic garage-punk-snotty-snarl. The band lightened the mood with Bobby Freeman's "C'mon and Swim."

The Legendary Cazbats run the musical and emotional gamut, switching it up again with the wistful romanticism of the Choir's "In Love's Shadow." A personal favorite of mine was the band's MC5-style rendition of "I Can Only Give You Everything." The Cazbats made the Count V's "Psychotic Reaction" their own by opening it up as a runaway, accelerated punk version. These guys reined it in on a beautiful version of the Gants' "Smoke Rings." Yeager and company show their love of Chicago blues on the Willie Dixon composition, "Spoonful," first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960, and then popularized in the later ‘60s by Cream. The Cazbats finish on the upswing with a pristine delivery of shimmering jangle rock, The Byrds' "So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star."

DVD Review:
All You Need is Fuzz: 30 Years in a Garage Band
Directed by Timothy Gassen, 2018
The Marshmallow Overcoat was an important part of the garage punk movement of the ‘80s. Timothy Gassen, under his alter ego Randy Love, formed the band in 1986. The film is one hour and 29 minutes long, including many interviews with group members, music videos, live shows, studio work, and rehearsals leading up to their final show in 2008.

The band's influences include the Chocolate Watch Band, the Doors, the Beatles, the Byrds, Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Electric Prunes and bands that would be considered contemporary with Overcoat, such as the Fuzztones and the Miracle Workers. The band incorporated traditional garage rock elements of a Farfisa organ, 12-string Rickenbacker guitars, and Vox amps. Sartorially speaking, they took up the ‘60s affinity for paisley shirts, Prince Valiant haircuts, and Chelsea boots.

After a decade of spreading their paisley-drenched neo-psychedelia, the band took a hiatus between 1996 and 2000.They reformed and continued to record through 2011. Their sustaining influence on more contemporary garage rock is due to their being so prolific. They have nine full albums as well as singles and EPs. They have also received exposure via garage rock compilations in Europe; also they earned a following through a European tour in their heyday. In addition to their recording on Skyclad, Music Maniac in Germany, and Psyche Out in France, Timothy Gassen released a 30 song, two-album set in 2013 on colored vinyl: Marshmallow Overcoat-The Very Best Of. Gassen also has DJ'ed as Randy Love and is the author of the popular Knights of Fuzz book and DVD series.


Song For Dylan
Florid in the doorway
Blowing Bobby's horn
Told him I'm the one
Who took his crown
From the thorns
Hes buying me champagne
At the Metropole
Met him at the Mardi Gras
The fortune teller of my soul
The child is the father of the man
You gotta stumble before you can stand
The seventh mother said to the seventh son
Among the lucky you're the chosen one
He's Billy The Kid
He's Jean Harlow
Got a fake beard
Blue eyes like Rimbaud
On Highway 61
He tracked my heart
Playing dust bowl ballads
On a borrowed guitar# 

Cornflower Blue
Mercury is sleepless
He gave his Red Wings
To a folk singer
At the HMV
Little sister is heading downtown
What will she pawn
She says she's the one
But only you cut through
Cornflower Blue
There is no one else
Who does what you do
There is no one else
Who always cuts through
Daddy's in the alley singin'  the blues
Mama's readin' Jitterbug Perfume
Junior's talkin' Bible at the Exchange
Met him in Saigon
He says he's the one
But only you cut through
Cornflower Blue#

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

THE SIC F*CKS: The Ultimate Punk Band [1977-78]

Text and live photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 1977
Photos can be made larger by clicking on them
Videos from the Internet

This interview was originally published in Issue 3 of FFanzeen, dated Winter/Spring 1978-79.

Be warned, the Sic F*cks in their day were crude and lewd, but what would you expect from a band named the Sic F*cks anyway. My guess is they picked their name in a similar fashion to Led Zeppelin. But that’s conjecture.

I don’t know what happened to the John Cale tapes, but in 1982, the Sic F*cks released an Adny Shernoff-produced and self-titled 5-song 12”-er on Sozyamuda Records. The musicians listed on the record playing with Russell, Tish, and Snooky are Bob Hopeless on guitar, Dick String on lead guitar, Stink on bass, and Harry Viderci on drums. For all I know, these are the same people who were playing with them when I interviewed them. 

One side is dedicated to one song, “(Take Me To) The Bridge,” a droll spoof of the Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River.” However, the other side is so much more fun. There’s – in order of listing – “Spanish Bar Mitzvah,” “Rock or Die,” “Insects Rule My World,’ and that Sic F*cks classic, “Chop Up Your Mother.” Two of the songs, “Rock or Die” and “Chop Up Your Mother” were performed (well, lip synced, anyway) by the band in the 1982 horror film, Alone in the Dark, which starred Donald Pleasant and future Oscar winners Martin Landau and Jack Palance.

While the physical form is gone now, thanks to greedy landlords, Tish and Snooky have have successfully turned Manic Panic into a multi-million dollar hair coloring enterprise that started out as mail order, and is presently in drug stores and supermarkets (including the local Shoppers Drug Mart here in Saskatoon). Behind the scenes helping them is first wave punk scenester and bassist for the likes of Judas Priestess, Gyda Gash, who is Manic Panic’s webmistress.

The Manic Panic website is, and tell ‘em I sent ya.

It was the first really hot night of 1978, the night I interviewed members of that fun group known musically and affectionately as The Sic F*cks (“All that’s missing is ‘U’”). Present were lead singer/guitarist Russell Wolinsky, and the back-up singers, Snooky and Tish, also known as the Bellomo sisters. Not present were the rest: guitarist Norman Schoenfeld, guitarist Joey Schaedler, bassist Jim Aresca, and drummer Greg Wassil. The following took place in Tish and Snooky’s clothing store, Manic Panic (St. Mark’s Place & Second Avenue):

Russell Wolinsky: Alright Trigger, how much is two and two?
Tish Bellomo: I ain’t tellin’ you. Why should I do your math homework for you?

FFanzeen: Okay, you wanna tell, like, the background to how you got into Barbara Markay & Hot Box, and all that?
Snooky Bellomo: No! We were bamboozled into that. We were tricked. It was disgusting. They promised us two hundred dollars a week to sing and dance and they never paid us.

FFanzeen: You were in another group at the time?
Tish: Our first real group – well it wasn't a real group – our first group was the Porno Rock Revue. Some of our songs were originals, sort of in the line of the Sic F*cks: “Jerk Off Blues” and “Sit On My Face,” and stuff like that; and then we had Rugby songs. We were in Blondie.

FFanzeen: Blondie?
Snooky: We were the Bonzai Babies.
Russell: You were in Blondie? You know Debbie?!
Tish: We can get you an autograph. Then we were in Gorilla Rose and the Gutterettes. [Then] the Dropouts, who are now the Accidents. They were our back-up group. We fronted them. After that –
Russell: – The rest is history.
Tish: Well, during the time we were in the Dropouts, we did that Barbara Markay thing. It was just a fiasco. And then we were still in the Dropouts and then we started doing guest spots, you know, we did the thing with The Sic F*cks, and because of that we got thrown out of the Dropouts – now Accidents. Cruel band. Naw, we’re still friends.
Russell: How’s that for a success story?

FFanzeen: How did The Sic F*cks start?
Russell: There I was, in a five thousand watt [radio station in Fresno, California] – I had never played on stage before and I had been threatening to do an audition at CBGB for years. Well, maybe one year.
Tish: I would say more like two months.
Russell: Actually, the day before – no, so one day I was drunk at CBGB and I decided I could do better than the band playing. I kept on drinking and I thought I could do better than any of the bands playing. I knew Joey and Norman for a long time. They introduced me to Jim, our bass player, and at first we used the sound man at The Bottom Line [the club where Russell works – ed.], Ronald. So it was going to be the five of us for the audition. We had written the songs, like “Saint Louis Sucks” and “Chop Up Your Mother.” We told them (Tish & Snooky) about it. I know them from throwing up all over them.
Tish: No, Russell was throwing up all over himself in the front seat of the car, and I was in the back seat.
Russell: So, anyway, they were just opening up the store here and we told them about the band, and they said, “When do we start?” and it was like, one of those great ideas, like Edison inventing the light bulb or something. This is just what we need to make things whole for us.
Snooky: And the rest is history.
Russell: We had one more rehearsal, they worked out their own parts and we went up on stage. August 1, 1977, I’ll never forget it.
Snooky: Was that when it was? We have to celebrate.
Russell: I wanna do a first year anniversary show at CBGB.
Snooky: Yeah, great! A Tuesday night!
Russell: I’m trying to work it so everyone gets a free beer on the house.

FFanzeen: That’ll be right after this comes out.
Russell: Well, if they don’t get the free beer, don’t be disappointed. Anyway, we did it. I didn’t tell that many people about it, but this incredible amount of people, what was it, 300 people were there.
Tish: It broke the CBGB record at any rate.
Russell: It was an audition night record.
Tish: And Lisa (Kristal) said, “Dad will be sooo pleased,” as she looked down at the green. Did Handsome Dick show up?
Russell: Handsome Dick sang “Wild Thing” with us. You were wearing Girl Scout uniforms. The only time you surprised me was when you played in blackface. We told the crowd that it wasn’t Tish & Snooky, but The Chocolatettes from Detroit.

FFanzeen: The first time I saw you, you were wearing cut-out plastic garbage bags.
Russell: That was the night Snooky had the fight.
Snooky: Oh my fight? Yeah, because I was wearing a garbage bag. Robert Gordon doesn’t like garbage bags.
Russell: He likes paper ones.
Snooky: He was very upset. Robert’s my boyfriend and he didn’t like me wearing garbage bags on stage.
Russell: Only around the house.

FFanzeen: How did Manic Panic get started?
Russell: They said, “Hey let’s start a store.” 
Tish: We just decided to have the first punk rock clothing store in New York. My personal thing is I would wear things to CBGB and they were copied about two weeks later. So I figured why not sell it.
Snooky: It’s not like we said, “punk rock’s gonna be the next big thing, let’s cash in on it.” It just happened to be what we were into.
Russell: So they said, “this is going be the next big thing let’s cash in on it.”
Tish: I used to go to a designing school for a few months and I quit. I’ve always been into fashion and I always wanted to have a store.

FFanzeen: How did you pick a name like Sic F*cks?
 Russell: It’s just a parody of a punk rock name. You’ve got to remember we never expected to do it more than once, a one shot deal. Unfortunately, it was taken the wrong way. People come in and expect to see the ultimate punk show: throwing up; fornication.

FFanzeen: Instead they get Jewish jokes.
Russell: Borscht Belt rock and roll.      
Tish: Why did the Negroes move out of the outhouse?
Russell: Why?
Tish: The Puerto Ricans were making too much noise.

FFanzeen: What are your influences?
Russell: Alcohol.
Snooky: Durwood Kirby.
Russell: The usual. Henny Youngman, the Ramones, the Dictators, Jonathan Richman.
Tish: The Shangri-La’s. Vaginitus. The sixties in general. Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. The Rugby sounds.

FFanzeen: What do you listen to now?
Russell: “I Got a Right” by Iggy. “Rhapsody in the Rain” by Lou Christie, I listen to that a lot.
Tish: Herman’s Hermits. I still listen to those 45s. There’s some good new stuff here and there.
Russell: Yeah, ABBA. I like ABBA.
Tish: You would. Typical.

FFanzeen: How does a typical Sic F*ck song get written?
Russell: We get a case of beer. We always start with the title, then me, Joey, and Norman write the music, then I write the words over the music, then they (Tish & Snooky) fill their parts in. Well, there we were, trying to think up a name for “Chop Up Your Mother.”
Tish: We were blasting that outside the store last night. All these people were outside listening to the tape.

FFanzeen: Can you give me couple of your song titles?
Tish: We can give you all of them.
Russell: Even songs we don’t do anymore, if you want. Their song, “A Girl Like Me,” “Chop Up Your Mother,” “Teenage Abortion,” “Let’s Eat,” “Faster and Louder,” both of which were written before “Let’s Eat” by Nick Lowe and “Faster and Louder” by The Dictators.
Tish: “Ride the New Wave.” “Insects Rule My World.”
Russell: “Spanish Bar-Mitzvah.”
Tish: “Toni Tennille.” “Fags on Acid.” A classic.

FFanzeen: I came by here a while ago and someone said you were recording with John Cale.
Russell: We did that already.
Tish: Old news.
Snooky: Ancient history. Old Wave news.

FFanzeen:  Is it coming out as a single?
Tish: An EP.               
Snooky: It has nine songs. The title is “Rock It to Poland.”
Russell: It was supposed to come out June sixth. Don’t hold your breath. I like John, but I would have done the recording differently.
Tish: Yeah, he didn’t pay for our coffee.
Russell: Yeah.

FFanzeen: Do you think your name will hold you back?
Russell: It’s holding us back now. That’s probably what’s holding us back from a major recording contract. The world ain’t ready for a band with the name Sic F*cks.
Tish: Hilly suggested we change it to the Sic Folks.

FFanzeen: You’d have to spell it Sic F*lks.
Russell: We suggested Hilly should change his name of Sic Folks. Him or Jonathan.
Tish: Jonathan’s dead.
Russell: We should have a benefit for Jonathan. Remember the dog Jonathan who was always at CBGB? He died. I think CBGB should have a benefit concert every week.
Tish: I don’t think Jonathan had as many friends as Johnny Blitz.
Russell: It was close.

FFanzeen: Anyone who ever played pinball and stepped into…
Russell: Dog poo?
FFanzeen: Yeah, they’ll remember. That was his favorite spot, wasn’t it?
Russell: He used to do it on the stage occasionally. Especially the old stage with the carpet on it.

FFanzeen: What are the ultimate goals of the group?
Tish: Money. Fame. Get laid. I just always wanted to be a rock star. Even more than having a store, which was one of my main goals. Now I have everything. Except for the money and the fame.
Russell: We haven’t made People magazine yet.

FFanzeen: What kind of fan is a Sic F*ck fan?
Russell: Somebody with nothing to do on Friday night. We’ve established a solid following.
Tish: We get a lot of tourists coming to the name.
Russell: “Hey these crazy New Yorkers. What will they think of next?”
Tish: A lot of guys come to gawk. Men in raincoats with newspapers on their laps.
Russell: Just a lot of people who are tired of all these New York bands taking themselves so seriously. We’re punk and rock and roll.
Tish: We’re also power pop-oriented. Also New Wave.
Russell: Even reggae.
Snooky: Calypso. We even play weddings and bar-mitzvahs.
Russell: I mean, everyone has a definition of punk. There’s a big difference between the Ramones and the Dead Boys, a totally different attitude, but basically both play the same thing; they play rock and roll.

FFanzeen: What do you do to keep busy? I realize some of these questions are dumb, but I wrote them about half an hour ago on the train over, or I took them from old fanzines.
 Russell: Yeah, I remember this one from the Teenage Jesus interview in FFanzeen.
Tish: We knit. Crochet.                                                               
Russell: We beat off a lot.

FFanzeen: That’s the same thing Lydia Lunch said (in the Teenage Jesus interview).
Russell: Then we don’t beat off a lot. Isn’t it great to be young and live in America!
Tish: I like hanging out once in a while. I love getting drunk. I like being on stage more than anything. But we rarely rehearse.
Russell: There’s nothing like being on stage.
Tish: What do you get when you cross a Jew and a Polack?
Snooky: Russell Wolinsky!