Saturday, February 17, 2018

I'm Still Around Here, Baby




I'm stoked to have finally found this record, one I'd been looking for for years. By 1965, Bo Diddley was commercially cold and culturally passe (though not in UK and parts of Europe). The criminally hard to find 500% More Man, recorded in Chicago by Ron Malo in July of 1965 as Diddley Disciples the Rolling Stones were riding high on the charts with "Satisfaction," is a solid and rocking album, full of style, attitude, and muscular rhythms. Bruce Eder in Allmusic points out that the sessions were among Diddley's last with Norma-Jean Wofford, aka the Duchess, and that the group he's recording with is the studio equivalent of the band he's rocking with in the following year's Big TNT Show.

"It's the thing that I started, and nobody recognizes where it came from, nobody mentions that this is an old Bo Diddley lick!" Diddley observed to George R. White about the raw, funky, and soulful sounds on this album, which he was to explore in greater depth the following decade. "If you listen to the song 'Bo Diddley,' that's where it actually came from. There's a lot of it in there—the 'muffled sound'—you know." 500% More Man was released in the fall, when Herman's Hermits, Sonny & Cher, the Beatles, Barry McGuire, the Supremes, and the Byrds were ruling the airwaves. Where would Bo fit in? In the liner notes, Chess Records' Marshall Paul wasn't selling a new Bo to a new teen audience in '65; instead he seems eager to rave about what's timeless in the Bo Beat:

Party swinging, indeed. The title track is a stomping classic, Muddy filtered through McDaniel. Bo wastes no time in laying down truth:
Some of you people think
That the man growing old
But I'm still around here, baby
And I let the good time roll
"500% More Man"

The real gems are the lesser-known tracks, such as this grooving take on Chuck Berry, Bo hollering in vintage style, chasing his girl around town, the band chugging along right next to him:

"Let Me Pass"

And look at Bo and his band rev it up (while lip syncing) in this performance. Few bands played with this much style, cool, and humor:


And this song, about a robbery in Las Vegas, based on a true story that occurred on the other side of the country, is very cool, a shrugging, shit-happens tale, the wearily accepting and funny tone of which you hear in nearly all of Bo's interviews:

"Somebody Beat Me"

Monday, February 12, 2018

"We believe in what we're doing"

Here's a Super Rock gem courtesy of Paul M. Martin, an interview with the Fleshtones by Ron Rimsite in the New York-based 99th Floor zine, circa 1982.

Rimsite's introduction nicely captures the early-I.R.S. Records era of skeptical optimism:

Here's my favorite exchange:
99th: How does it feel to be one of the only Rock 'n' Roll bands around?
KEITH: It feels great! We believe in what we're doing & always will. We always have.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Teenarama

I love Seth Stephens-Davidowitz's column in today's New York Times, which basically proves with Big Data what we've known all along: a song gets in us when we're in our early teens and, like ink, saturates and tattoos us in a way we can't rub off. "Songs that came out decades earlier are now, on average, most popular among men who were 14 when they were first released," Stephens-Davidowitz observes. "The most important period for men in forming their adult tastes were the ages 13 to 16." What about women? "On average, their favorite songs came out when they were 13. The most important period for women were the ages 11 to 14."
...I did find it interesting how clear the patterns were and how much early adolescence matters. The key years, in fact, match closely with the end of puberty, which tends to happen to girls before boys. This also adds one more piece of evidence to the growing scientific consensus that we never really leave middle school and high school.
For both men and women, their early 20s were half as influential in determining adult musical tastes as their early teens.
The column's graph-heavy, but statistical curves aren't all that necessary. Think back to your teen years and the music you loved. Most of the essays I wrote in Field Recordings from the Inside are about those years and the confounding sensations, moods, and unspoken highs-and-lows that only Top 40 songs, it seemed, understood and articulated. At that age, songs tell us what we didn't know we knew, or didn't yet want to know, and score the baffling, dimly-glimpsed lessons we learn just about every day: about love; arousal; heartache; friendships; meanness; injustices of all stripes. When we're teens, songs lift the curtain on the complicated world that awaits us. But I'm not sure we want to live our adult lives by such sonic knowledge. Think of Jay Gatsby, the fantasy of a teenager named James Gatz. We all know how that story ends.

Stephens-Davidowitz also raises an essential aspect in the life of every music nerd (*raises arm*): that we love and obsess over songs that came out well before our teen years, and well after, songs that were massive hits or one-off obscurities that barely sniffed the charts. These songs, these artists, mean as much to use as the music that pulsated along with our puberty hormones. He admits to loving "Born to Run, though he was born eight years after the song was released. "In fact, my data analysis couldn’t explain where I got most of my musical taste," he writes. "O.K., maybe I caught the Springsteen bug because I grew up in New Jersey. But why my obsession with Bob Dylan? Or Leonard Cohen? Or Paul Simon? Most songs I listen to came out well before I was born."
This research tells us that the majority of us, when we are grown men and women, predictably stick with the music that captured us in the earliest phase of our adolescence.
But it also adds one more piece to the central puzzle of my adult life: Why did I develop so abnormally?
I spend as much time on Spotify filling in the gaps of bands I missed the first time around, Humble Pie to Husker Du, as I do jamming to the new Bat Fangs and Ty Segall albums. But those songs from my early teen years...they remain as vital, graphic, and memorable as cherished books, whose soft covers and tatty, dog-eared pages I turn again and again and again, relearning—reliving—the confounding lessons and mysteries enacted every moment around me in home and school hallways, back seats of cars, and as I tuned in to the radio alone in my room. Look out, here comes tomorrow.


"Teenagers listening to the latest hits 1957, New York." Photo: Esther Bubley. Via Pinterest

Friday, February 9, 2018

Between bravado and collapse

Bobby Fuller Four
Few songs capture heartbreak and its flip-side more evocatively than Bobby Fuller Four's "Let Her Dance." Released first in 1965 on Mustang, "Let Her Dance" is a dance song about fierce longing, stinging sorrow, wobbly confidence, defensive good cheer, and dance songs, not necessarily in that order. With its distressing lyric set against an irresistible four-four beat and catchy melody, the tune's both a lament and a celebration. A pop song can collapse under too much meta, but it's hard to listen to "Let Her Dance" and not realize that it's likely providing for its unhappy listener the very scenario that Fuller's broken up about—somewhere, someone's dancing to "Let Her Dance" like she doesn't even care, when just yesterday she danced with him the very same way. (And it was their favorite song, to boot.) The melody's a balm of sorts and—if it's correct that rock and roll is fun songs about sad stuff—then the hooks will help him forget, too. The generosity in the title is real, but wouldn't be there if not for the naively hopeful marching rhythm and the pep talk of dance let her dance let her dance dance dance, or is it a kind of a mantra? Is it the guy's bravely insisting inner voice, or his buddies' at the bar? Either way, he vows to turn the tables soon enough.

But I'm not so sure that he's as optimistically large-hearted as he appears in the last verse. As writer Lucy Grealy said in a different context, we have to re-learn are epiphanies every morning. The song's pitched at that teetering spot between bravado and collapse. It's got a beat and you can dance to it. That's the problem.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Drugs, Attitude, Youth. (And a Record Collection)

"If I didn't make a complete break with the music that was going on, I wasn't gonna ever make it as a musician. So we had to stop what was going on and make up something new. And the answer is it was done with drugs, attitude, youth, and a record collection."

   —Iggy Pop, quoted in Jeff Gold's Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Anarchy: Super Rock in NOLA

I love this small Wavelength article that Jimmy Anselmo posted to the "‎I Attended Concerts At Jimmy's Music Club in New Orleans" facebook page, a description of a 1985 Fleshtones show at the late Big Easy rock and roll joint, a favorite Fleshtones haunt. "All the rules of how-you-should-watch-a-concert were out the window," Nick Marinello wrote. "But it was Zaremba and the Fleshtanes who had broken the rules first: the second encore didn't begin until 10 minutes after the lights had come on at Jimmy’s and half the people were sticking keys into their car's ignition. But when the uptown neighborhood began to rock again, the crowd flooded back through the doors and then onto the stage."
Then the anarchy mounted, and it was only when the singing and banging and general delirium was about to unglue Jimmy's that Zaremba began the hypnotic reiteration or “we're back, we're back” and this apostle of lunacy regained control at the stage. The audience began to relax, and as the drummer slackened the fervor of their pounding most people receded to the floor. The Fleshtones were allowed to continue the song and end the set. When it was over Peter Zaremba hopped lightly off the stage and, with a broad, gentle smile, walked into the audience, which welcomed him with open arms.
More on Jimmy's here.



Photo of Jimmy's t shirt via My Spilt Milk.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Musings from the Originator



"Some guys play with real mellow tones that I could never do. I'm not what you call a guitarist; I’m a showman, an’ I’m not downin' myself when I sat when I say that."
There is a difference: the cats that do all that pretty finger-work, now they are guitarists. I could never do that: my fingers are too slow... but my hands are fast, y’understand
"I figured there must be another way of playin’, an’ so I worked on this rhythm of mine. I’d say it was a 'mixed-up' rhythm:"
blues, an’ Latin-American, an’ some hillbilly, a little spiritual, a little African, an’ a little West Indian calypso... an’ if I wanna start yodelin’ in the middle of it, I can do that too.‘ I like gumbo, you dig? Hot sauces too. That’s where my music comes from: all the mixture. I got those beats so jumbled up on "Bo Diddley" that they couldn’t sort ’em out!‘
      —Bo Diddley, quoted in Bo Diddley: Living Legend, by Charles R. White

Bo Diddley (1958)

Bo Diddley In The Spotlight (1960)

Bo Diddley's Beach Party (1963)

Bo and Jerome, bringing it

Monday, January 22, 2018

Our only truth

"There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the brains we have. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare and that for the most part our memories are so solid and reliable." Oliver Sacks, "The Fallibility of Memory," The River of Consciousness


Chasing Stories, painting by Karla Beatty via Fine Art America

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"I play the electricity"

Richard Lloyd (with Fred Smith)
I was born at 8:15 PM, October 25, 1951, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I only know that it was Pittsburgh because I was told that it was Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is just a word, and my memories are full of hearsay.
Richard Lloyd's new memoir Everything is Combustible: Television, CBGB's, and Five Decades of Rock and Roll, is a curious book. In sixty-nine loosely linked, non chronological vignettes, Lloyd moves from recounting a fiercely interior, self-aware, and precocious childhood toward his wandering, drug- and alcohol-soaked twenties, up to the present day (Lloyd, with a backslide or two, has been clean and sober since the mid-1980s). In an oddly childlike tone, he writes about his favorite guitarists, lots, and lots of sex, lots, and lots of drug use (cresting with a crippling heroin addiction in the early 1980s), and his recording and touring career as a founding member of Television and as a solo artist and session musician.

In the prologue, Lloyd makes an interesting distinction between autobiography and memoir, insisting that he's composing the latter, which allows writers to wander among life's events, untethered to chronology, and to "understand [themselves] a bit and to share their lives from the inside." Yet for the most part, Lloyd observes, with detachment, his life's worth of sensual, pharmaceutical, and artistic adventures in the world's "lunatic asylum"—occasionally floating theories on spirituality, mysticism, Dharma energy, and psychology, especially in the book's ponderous final pages—with nary a note of self-reflection. We shouldn't necessarily expect deep character excavation in rock star memoirs, but we can hope for some measure of stock-taking, of wisdom or perspective arriving with the long view. For the most part, Lloyd seems uninterested in that; rather, Everything is Combustible reads like a dispassionate diary, closer in tone to Walter Benjamin's "Hashish in Marseilles" than to a revealing memoir.

That said, the book's juicy as hell. In the late-60s in Los Angeles, Lloyd palled around with the idiosyncratic guitarist and performer Velvert Turner, a protege of Jimi Hendrix's from whom Lloyd claims to have learned tricks on the guitar. For a time in the mid-70s he hung with Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards, the latter of whom invited Lloyd down to Jamaica with him on a whim. Alcoholism and drug abuse permeates the book, and the extent of Lloyd's recreational drinking and drugging is astonishing; that he's alive is a remarkable testament to, as he sees it, his stamina, native curiosity in the expanding limits of body-testing, luck, and prayer. Lloyd's other major preoccupation in the book, sex, is mostly of the mid- and late-70s one-off variety, much of it emotionally engaging for Lloyd, a lot of it degrading and tawdry, and sometimes mean-spirited, for both parties. There's a funny scene involving Keith Moon in a tux, and a great revelation that Joey Ramone wrote his early Ramones songs on a guitar with only two strings. Lloyd gets digs in at his fellow band mates, particularly Tom Verlaine, whom he barely tolerates, endeavors to correct one or three errors in others' memoirs of the era and scene, and details the up-and-down recordings sessions of Television's three albums (Marquee Moon, Adventure, and Television) all with an innocent, wide-eyed view of the wonder of the world and the strange people doing strange, sometimes weird, sometimes tragic, often funny things on it.

~~

Two of my favorite moments in the book revolve around music, unsurprisingly. One occasion is couched in a very particular moment in time. In 1978, Television's second album Adventure entered the English charts at #7, but as Lloyd observes, "the timing of our tour for the record was all wrong. While on tour we received a sample of The Cars’ new record. That’s when we knew we were done for in terms of mainstream radio airplay."
We were sitting on the tour bus while listening to it and Tom [Verlaine] threw up his hands and said, “Well that’s it—that’s a commercial Television. Elektra now has a band that is commercial and they are going to forget about us.”
Verlaine, however despairing, was on the money about Ric Ocasek's band; they were just on this side of pop in their arty songwriting, a Top 40 instinct that Television seemed to lack. Lloyd: "Too bad, but we broke up later that year anyway."

The other moment is more universal. Lloyd's hanging out with Keith Richards at Richards's house in Connecticut, when Keef asks Lloyd if he'd "like to have a play." Nervously, he says yes. "Two acoustic guitars soon arrived," Lloyd recalls. "This shocked me a little bit because I was used to playing electric guitar and hardly ever played acoustic."
I always say that I play the electricity while the guitar plays me and the three of us dance while the music comes out.



Photo of Richard Lloyd and Fred Smith of Television performing at CBGB's in New York City on March 14, 1980 via Getty Images

Saturday, January 20, 2018

South Toledo Talking Blues

The Mods, 1966, left to right: Terry Smith, Larry Music. Larry Smith, horizontal, Fred Jablonski



So baby I know we had a good thing going
And now I see you comin' down the sidewalk and you're playin' your radio
And baby, you knew you done me wrong when you went out with all the high hipsters
But baby now you're back and you're the one whose gonna get a hard way to go


The Mods' bio here.

The Mods recorded the two songs in Toledo, Ohio on the PECK label in the basement of Buzz 

Friday, January 12, 2018

My silver-painted face

KISS signs first recording contract with Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records, on November 1, 1973
In his 2011 autobiography No Regrets (co-written with Joe Layden and John Ostrosky), Ace Frehley sifts through decades of drunken, drug-ridden shenanigans, blackouts, Guardian Angel-vouchsafed impaired driving; groupies, brushes with the law, stays in therapy and rehab, professional lows and highs, excesses of all kinds, to tell the story of a left-of-center, lazy kid from The Bronx who had only one ambition in life: to be a rock guitarist in a wildly popular band. Against unlikely odds, Frehley satisfied that ambition a thousand-fold.

As always, I find myself most interested in the early chapters of a rock star's memoirs. Frehley's stories of seeing the Who, Hendrix, Steppenwolf, Mitch Ryder, and other giants in New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and his hilariously lucky propensity to find himself backstage often, are loaded with the kind of wide-eyed, fanboy, rockist, beer-soaked details that are still clearly dear to him. Similarly to Keith Richards's Life, Frehley regularly brings his musings (you can hear the borough accent) back to his great love: rock and roll. He admits that his favorite memories of playing in the dysfunctional KISS are the early days, when the band hustled for gigs, made their own fliers, sewed their own costumes, learned how to put on makeup by trial and error, played for an audience of a dozen as if there were tens of thousands there, and stuck together as a band of brothers.

I especially like Frehley's description of personally buying the first KISS album. "We were doing things differently in KISS, putting the cart in front of the horse, creating a brand, with a unique marketing concept before we'd even developed a following," he writes.
So I guess it shouldn't have been a huge surprise that the first record didn't exactly take the world by storm. Hardly anyone knew who the hell we were, or why we were wearing this ridiculous makeup. Was the band a joke? A gimmick?

No, man. We were dead fucking serious. But it took some time to convince everyone else.

On that February day I walked into (the now-defunct) Alexander's department store on Fordham Road in the Bronx, right across the street from Fordham University. Alexander's stood near one of the busiest intersections in the borough. There was always a crowd hanging out nearby, and the traffic in and out of the place seemed never to slow. I'd been shopping at Alexander's since I was a little kid—bought a big chunk of my album collection there. So you can imagine how I felt walking through the store, my heart racing as I headed to the music section. You can imagine what it must have been like for a guy who had bought his first Hendrix record—and his first Led Zeppelin record, his first Who record—in this very spot to suddenly be thumbing through the stacks of vinyl, looking for a record of his very own.

And there it was, staring out at me from a wall of new releases:

KISS.

I picked it up, held it for a moment, flipped it from back to front. I smiled and laughed a little as I looked at my silver-painted face, gazing stoically from the upper right-hand corner.

Then I walked to the cash register, pulled out a ten-dollar bill, and paid for the record without saying a word.

Alexander's department store, Fordham Road, The Bronx, New York


1974

Monday, January 8, 2018

"My mind is blown"

The Cramps, Max's, 1977
The Fleshtones' guitarist Keith Streng, on seeing the Cramps for the first time, in 1977: “I flipped when I saw the Cramps. It was probably the most amazing show I ever attended."
I went to Max’s on some Tuesday night to see Suicide, and the opening band was the Cramps, their first show in New York City. Within half a song my mind is blown. It was probably more shocking to see them than to see the Ramones, because when you saw the Ramones they already had a following. At Max’s there were, like, 28 people in the whole place on a Tuesday night and you’re watching the Cramps do their thing for the first time in New York City. They had their gig way down, they were really professional, they knew what they wanted.
Shortly after the show, an inspired Streng wrote "The Dreg (Fleshtone-77)," the lead cut to the Fleshtones' debut album, a stone-cold Super Rock classic, and a fan favorite forty years down the line.

"The Dreg (Fleshtone-77"), Roman Gods (1982)


"The Dreg" (and "Theme from 'The Vindicators'") at Vicolo Bolognetti in Bologna, Italy, July 11, 2015
The Fleshtones, Queens, New York, 1977
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