Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Secret Museum

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Wal-Mart Country: No Shoes, No Shirt, No Music


 The summer concert season is about to begin, and that’s when most big name artists start their annual ritual of playing the large outdoor amphitheaters located across the U.S. These glorified sheds are basically just big square boxes for a stage, with facilities able to hold fifteen to twenty thousand paying customers. We are accustomed to hearing the basic outdoor warnings about using sunscreen, wearing light colored clothing and hats. It’s finally time someone spoke about the real danger that has plagued concertgoers and the listening public for many years: Wal-Mart Country.

What exactly does Wal-Mart Country mean you are asking, and what’s it got to do with music? You know that all Wal-Mart stores are bland, sanitized structures that are built to maximize income, with absolutely no deviation allowed for any originality or style. Same store layouts, same signage, thousands of similar stores all across the country, all designed to soothe the average customer while maximizing profits.

Wal-Mart Country is the description of a type of music being played by today's so called “Country” artists. You know the names, but here’s a partial rundown to start; Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, and Brad Paisley. These singers all have the same basic sound, same image, and sing about the stuff that is guaranteed to increase their fame and fortune. Yes, their goal, like Wal-Mart stores, is to get the hard earned money in your pocket to be put into their pocket. They’re masters at spinning phony tales about pickup trucks and flag waving heroes. The original Country music artists from the 40s, 50s, and 60s were real people singing about everyday problems. You didn’t have to be beautiful to sing songs; even average looking men and women could, and did, become popular. Good shit kickin’ honky tonk music can’t be faked, and that’s why it doesn’t exist anymore. You have to go all the way back to Hank Williams to hear it start, and while you’re at it spend a little time with Lefty Frizzell, George Jones (who recently dropped his body, probably sick of all the Wal-Mart Country singers everywhere), Buck Owens, and Wynn Stewart. It was the song that mattered then, where today you better look like a model, or don’t even try to get a song recorded.

 What’s wrong with singing, swaying and sippin’ wine coolers to Chesney, the longtime mayor of Wal-Mart Country? To borrow a phrase from John Lydon – Chesney gets the cash, and you get the lies. It’s a robbery of your precious time on the planet and your money. Let’s say you went to a gala event thrown by the master rip-off artist Bernie Madoff before he was imprisoned. You didn’t know that the champagne, caviar and entertainment were paid with stolen money. If someone asked you how the evening went, you would probably say it was very enjoyable. If you found out Madoff was a thief, stealing from others to pay for his extravagance, you would never spend an evening with him again. Switch the name Madoff for Chesney, and you now become an accessory to fraud by willfully participating in Kenny’s charade. Don’t try and say, “I didn’t know”. From here on out you’ve been informed about how his con game works. You are responsible for your musical decisions. If anyone now buys Chesney downloads or concert tickets, you are contributing to a massive Ponzi scheme that only benefits him. No shoes, no shirt, no music.

If you do find yourself at an outdoor music venue this summer take all necessary precautions. Drink a lot of water, limit the amount of fried foods you’re eating, and have a designated driver. If it’s a “Country” music concert at least you’ll now be aware of the scam. Also know that Bernie Madoff will be laughing hysterically in prison while you’re at the concert. He always appreciates when a well-planned heist has been pulled off. Welcome to Wal-Mart Country.

          
Have a nice summer,
Jim Webb


Monday, May 14, 2012


The Secret Museum: 
Maher Shalal Hash Baz
-  Be Quick if You Steal!

    Maher Shalal Hash Baz started in 1984 as a noise/punk rock group in Japan before eventually heading out into more conceptual waters. Band leader Tori Kudo is the visionary force behind their music, and is joined by his wife Reiko and a rotating cast of fellow musicians for their projects( some ex -members have formed the group Tenniscoats). They very quickly dropped the “constraints” of writing three minute rock songs, for the “liberating” effect of even shorter pieces. The music falls somewhere between psych – folk, and pop, with helpings of experimental and purely improvised group interplay added to the mix.
What would you say if I told you this band have released a two cd set that has 177 songs on it, with most between thirty to sixty seconds long! We might debate over what actually constitutes a “song”, but there is no denying the audacity of their 2009 release titled “C’est La Dernier Chanson” (English translation from my almost 24 yr. old daughter Mackenzie who majored in French  from The University of New Mexico is : “This is the Last Song”). Mr. Kudo has likened listening to this music as if you are visiting an art museum. The general public normally spends a couple of hours walking through a museum, stopping at various paintings briefly before moving on to the next offering. Most people will find this 2 cd set from Maher Shalal Hash Baz: A) their most enjoyable, or B) their most maddening. I think you already know without listening to a note of it what side you’ll be on. When I first read it was 177 songs on 2cds, with most under a minute in length (some only five to fifteen seconds!), I had to have it. Others might recall a painful trip to the dentist when reading about such brief snippets of arrangements and melodies. I think you will find it very likeable, as long as you accept the brevity of the music. Some might call this simple music, and that wouldn’t be an inaccurate comment, but it is very difficult to know what exactly should be simplified to make great art, or music.
The Velvet Underground, for one example, derived great power from their less is more approach to rock n’roll, and understood the hypnotic effect of well placed repetition in their songs (“Sister Ray”, “Heroin”). Kudo also knows how to strip down the unnecessary parts of a song to make great music. He has been involved with pottery for a long time, being taught the basics of that craft by his father, and knows how to strip clay, and now music, down to its most essential core. After many years of practice and discipline in cutting away the unneeded parts to his songs, what’s left is a beautiful simplicity to his music that is rarely attained by others. While the band’s primitive sound and lyrics that express real emotion may not be for everyone, it comes from their heart, and isn’t that all you could ever ask for from musicians?
 They have infrequently performed live through the years, and it’s also hard to find their music since they have been on a number of smaller independent labels (Geographic, Yik Yak, and K Records). You can pick up a handful of Tori and Reiko’s solo releases from the Japanese label PSF Records, but some of the band's titles are getting impossible to find and are quite collectable (3 cd Return Visit to Rock Mass, 1996).  If the 2 cd “Chanson” seems too daunting to start with, you might try “Blues de Jour”, or “Maher on Water”, both of those releases have more of a pop/guitar oriented sound. The instrumental/group improvisational stuff is featured more on“Faux Depart”, and “Live Aoiheya”, but any of the releases will have their trademark minimalism, and abrupt writing style. Their name Maher Shalal Hash Baz comes from a biblical passage from the book of Isaiah, and band leader Tori Kudo’s translation of the phrase is, “Be quick if you steal”.  I don’t know about Maher Shalal Hash Baz being thieves, but there is no doubt that they are very fast indeed!

         Jim Webb

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Bevis Frond Map Guide

The Secret Museum

By Jim Webb

Nick Saloman is one of the most underappreciated guitarists/songwriters of our generation. Notice I didn’t say singers, even though he does have a unique voice; that is more of an acquired taste. He is “Bevis Frond”, even though other mates of his (Adrian Shaw, Martin Crowley to name two) have periodically contributed to the musical journey. Working out of his bedroom led to a certain lo-fi ambiance on his earlier recordings, with the initial LP titled “Miasma” appearing in 1986. While there is a wealth of diverse styles that Nick is comfortable writing in, it is important to know what recordings might be most compatible with your tastes. Why waste time trying the song- oriented releases, if what you really wanted was the psychedelic inspired guitar freakouts. I will not say “they’re all great”, that’s a fanatic’s phrase that shows he’s been so captured by a musician’s spell that he’s now lost in the forest of infatuation. The Bevis Frond just recently ended a seven-year hiatus with the release in 2011 of “Leaving London.” I think it’s time to navigate the musical topography that he has travelled these last twenty-five years, and point out a few significant sites along the way.

The Lo-Fi / Psych - Guitar Blow Outs:
Miasma / Inner Marshland / Triptych / Acid Jam / Auntie Winnie/Through the Looking Glass

While there is any number of great shorter “songs” on any of the aforementioned releases, they are dominated by piercing lead guitar work, longer instrumental passages, and watery keyboard/organ fills. Psychedelic might mean Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service to some, to Nick it is a hyperextension of what Jimi Hendrix was doing. He layers plenty of raw guitars that explode out of the studio speakers, no time limit as to when the lava will stop flowing off his fret board. The problem with trying to classify his output is that you have such ultra-Pop gems like “Lights Are Changing” (Triptych) on the same cd with the 19:47 long “Tangerine Infringement Beak”. Let’s not split hairs- Saloman will always be a stylistically divergent cat. Remember that a maps job is to get you close to where you want to be.

The Bard of Walthamstowe:
Any Gas Faster / New River Head / Son of Walter / North Circular

I do not mean in any way, shape or form that these are Sweet Baby James, Jackson Browne confessional diary-type songs that can be used as sleep aids. Nick has always taken the time to write interesting lyrics with a personal slant, he still has a lot of muscular guitar riffs flying around on these songs; they just seemed to get compacted into a shorter structure. The two cd North Circular is the high water mark to these ears, with New River Head not far behind. Some of these riffs during this period wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Dinosaur Jr. cd for an American reference, but Saloman’s words (Stars Burn Out) and vocal delivery take him way above other talented three chord masters. The song “New River Head” shows just how far Nick has come, lyrically and melodically.

Riff City:
Gathering of Fronds / Superseeder / London Stone / Scorched Earth

Ok, Scorched Earth is a side project from 2008, but “Woman Gone Bad” has such a heavy slamming riff that Ron Asheton shat his pants when he first heard it (I’m assuming). London Stone features the slashing “Well Out of It”, that riff you could loop into a thirty minute remix and I wouldn’t get tired of it. “Gathering” compiles a lot of rarities onto a full-length cd, featuring a guest appearance by guitarist, and Nick’s boyhood friend, Bari Watts. If you like the heavy guitar aspect of Bevis Frond, then Bari’s band The Outskirts of Infinity should also be checked out.


Other Stuff:
It Just Is / Vavona Burr / Valedictory Songs / What Did for the Dinosaurs

I wouldn’t call anything from The Bevis Frond “bad” but there are a few that didn’t do much for me. His various styles from these cds all had better songs on other releases, and a little bit of the old Bevis energy seems to have dropped a notch. All of them still have a few nuggets (High on a Downer from Valedictory), but not surprisingly Nick took a brief break from his Bevis activities from 2004 to 2011. The most recent cd titled “Leaving London” shows that Nick Saloman remains as creative as ever, and doesn’t intend to get bogged down in following other people’s ideas of style and order in his music. You can expect, and get, anything from a folk inspired bash to a full-blown guitar rave up. Let’s hope we get another twenty-five years of Nick Saloman’s music, God bless The Bevis Frond and all who sail with her.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Secret Museum: The Hare Krishnas, The Misunderstood, & Me

I have had a long standing interest in the Hare Krishna movement since the first time I bumped into them outside of the Spectrum arena in Philadelphia. They were distributing their magazines and selling incense on a hot summer day in July of 1975 before the rock band Yes played later that night. Through the years I've read a lot of their books and visited the Radha - Krishna Temple in West Philly a number of times, I haven't tired in keeping track of what has happened to "them" these last 35 plus years. There is something fascinating to me about this large group of American devotees that have renounced meat eating, alcohol, gambling, and sex ( other than sex for procreation), and also accepted a 16th century Bengali holy man from India, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, as the incarnation / avatar of God (Krishna). Krishna appeared as Caitanya to bring the singing and chanting of the Lord's holy name to the masses during these harsh godless times known as Kali - yuga (which we are still in). Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.

Fast forward to December 28, 2011 and I've been reading up on all of the recent ISKCON ( International Society for Krishna Consciousness) related news. Two or three times a year I'll check out the numerous web / blog sites and try and get a feel for the current issues that they are dealing with.The whole modern Hare Krishna movement was begun single handily by a 69 year old Indian reunciate preacher In a small Second Ave. N.Y.C. storefront in 1966. It slowly splintered apart almost from the day the founder of ISKCON, A.C.Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada, died in November of 1977. Before passing away he named eleven senior devotees to be in charge, but all too quickly there were various power struggles and conflicts that still haven't been totally resolved as of today. The late 1970's, and into the 1980's sadly had numerous cases of young children being sexually molested in the movement's school system, and many of the original eleven handpicked disciples that formed the Governing Body Commission (GBC) had either quit (" fell down" ), died, or been forced to resign over various sex, drugs, and money issues. ISKCON today is very vibrant in its native India, and has had varying degrees of success in finding new devotees in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. The U.S. temples have gradually changed from a proselytizing emphasis based on distributing Prabhupad's books, to one of retrenchment that now largely caters to the local Indian communities that are their major support group. The counter - culture in 1966 was ready to throw off all of the "Establishments" views including having a career focused life, with traditional Christian values and rituals. More than a few people decided to tune in, turn on, and drop out. But it wasn't all drugs that they were turning on to.

I googled Santa Fe, New Mexico ( where I now live) for things related to Hare Krishna and got a wide assortment of choices to investigate. I wasn't surprised at all to see that in 1968 Santa Fe had one of the first ISKCON temples opened in the U.S.A. on Water Street, not far from the historic downtown plaza. New Mexico has been home to many religious denominations, hippie communes, art communes, writer groups and just about every alternative life style choice that North America has to offer. Currently the Vedic Cultural Center is one of the few Hindu related organizations active in nearby Pecos, NM and is led by Hamsavatar Das (Howard Beckman), and his wife. He was a disciple of Prabhupad in the 1970's/80's and has commented through the years on all of the changes ISKCON has gone through, and is also an esteemed Vedic astrology and gem specialist. His website led me back to google where I found another Krishna devotee named Hrisikesh (Richard Shaw Brown)who also currently specializes in gems, but has an interesting footnote in his personal biography. Richard Shaw Brown was the lead singer in a legendary California psychedelic rock band from 1966 named The Misunderstood.

The Misunderstood have a great web page at www.themisunderstood.com/band, and you should definitely check that out, loads of audio clips and info there to bone up on. I immediately sent that weblink to my friend and Secret Museum founder Mike Mooney, knowing that he would appreciate all things related to psychedelic/garage bands circa 1966. After emailing him, I suddenly had the feeling he might had heard of them, even though they were a very obscure group with little recognition. Mike is currently the lead singer/guitarist in the New Mexico garage rock band Manby's Head with Peter Greenberg. I then decided to google - The Misunderstood,Manby's Head, and was surprised to find on the 6th entry on the page a link to LOFTHOLDINGSWOOD, MY OWN BLOG SITE WITH MR. MOONEY!! Mike had indeed mentioned The Misunderstood in a piece he had written a year before on guitarist Randy Holden.

So what does this all mean? I guess anyone can play an Internet version of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but I didn't think my googling of Hare Krishna would lead so quickly back to my own blog site! Maybe it means Mike is destined to join up with Richard Shaw Brown and create some intense music with him in 2012 ( I just hope we get more Greenberg / Mooney music in the new year). The Mayans were right, we have to expect a lot of big changes this coming year, and Hamsavatar Das agrees wholeheartedly with massive changes due based on where the planets are aligned right now. I was thinking of having Hamsavatar Das work up a full astrological reading on me, the real advanced type where they need not only your exact date and time of birth, but your parents exact date and time of birth as well. It's not a bad deal, for $175.00 I'll know what to personally expect in 2012. Instead, maybe one of these days I'll finally realize that all you have to do is chant Hare Krishna, ... and be happy.


Happy New Year,
Jim Webb

Friday, February 25, 2011

Update

The Horse Fly does not appear to be returning to print. We haven't shopped the column elsewhere. Jim should be filling space here soon.
-mm

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Soul of Peter Greenberg

The Secret Museum
by Jim Webb

It’s not often that you meet a solar company executive who is also one of the most underrated guitarists in America. Many in the Taos Valley can now make that claim since Peter Greenberg and his wife Milissa moved to Arroyo Seco in 2008. Music aficionados of the local rock scene have seen him playing with Manby’s Head in a garage rock style, and a recent show at the KTAO Center had Peter on stage with his old Rock n’ Soul group Barrence Whitfield & The Savages. Throw in his previous membership with Boston punk group DMZ and the ‘60’s influenced Lyres and you have someone who has attacked his fret board with a passion in a variety of styles these last thirty-five years, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

He is a music fan, as well as a writer and performer of songs, but his music collection isn’t like mine or yours. First of all he doesn’t buy cds, only old style vinyl 45s and LPs are allowed into his home. He has turned his back on any mainstream release through the years, and concentrates with a gold miner’s intensity in looking for lost nuggets in a variety of styles that others have missed. Listening to forgotten swing / jump blues artists from the 1940’s like Louis Jordan and Bullmoose Jackson, along with old time country singers from the 1950’s including Floyd Tillman, Webb Pierce and Moon Mullican is his idea (and mine) of a fun evening. Obscure blues artists and rockabilly bands form another core of his library that pretty much ends by the late 60’s. His real passion though falls under the category of Soul music. There has been a lot of Soul Music sub -genres through the years including Memphis Soul, Philly Soul, Detroit Soul, Chicago Soul, and the broader, overlapping Northern Soul. Detroit Soul, more popularly known as Motown, had the most mass commercial appeal, while Philly Soul generally had more of a “sweeter” sound than the grittier Stax/Volt label artists who recorded in Memphis. Chicago Soul had at times a harder blues edge, and Northern Soul is a general catchall phrase for a lot of obscure artists from the North who never had hit records but released a lot of quality music. Northern Soul also caught on big in certain U.K. clubs during the 60’s and 70’s that were specializing in playing these lesser known Soul musicians. No matter how you classify Soul records, it always has a lot of feeling inside the grooves.

I spent an evening with Peter recently, and he kept pulling out rare and unknown Soul 45s while we discussed the various artists on the small Chicago labels of Onederful and Mar - V- Lus. He recorded the songs he played onto a cdr; here are a few of what we listened to:

1.) Carl O. Jones / Betty Everett – “Days Gone By” (Chicago / Northern Soul). Betty had a hit with the “Shoop Shoop Song”, this was less commercial, but just as satisfying.

2.) Johnny Sayles – “You Told a Lie” (Chicago Soul). Deep, wrenching tale of loss and betrayal.

3.) Soul Brothers Six – “Your Love is Such a Wonderful Love” (Rochester, N.Y.) Five brothers and a friend, uptempo group who recorded on the Atlantic label

4.) Otis Clay – “I Got to Find a Way” (Chicago Soul). Powerful vocalist still
performing live.

5.) Alvin Cash – “Twine Time” (Chicago Soul) Big instrumental hit in 1965

6.) McKinley Mitchell – “A Bit of Soul” (Chicago Soul). One-derful label, he epitomizes the talented, unknown mid – sixties Soul artist.

7.) Bobby Moore & the Rhythm Aces – “Go Ahead and Burn” (Alabama). The Deep South never sounded so good.

8.) Freddie Scott – “I’ll Be Gone” (Rhode Island). Knock out lost single on the Shout label.

9.) Eddie Floyd – “Big Bird” (Memphis Soul). Lesser known song than his big hit “Knock on Wood”

10.) Johnnie Taylor – “Love Bones” (Memphis Soul). Stax / Volt label magic.


In one evening of playing music we didn’t even scratch the surface of his massive collection of hard to find records. Singers like O.V.Wright and Harold Burrage will have to be saved for another day. After repeated listening to the cd he made for me, I learned more than a few things. Johnny Sayles has Soul. Bobby Moore has Soul. Freddie Scott has Soul. Peter Greenberg has Soul.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The F – Word

The Secret Museum
By Jim Webb

It has a deep impact on most people when heard, no matter what the circumstances might be. It’s also an adjective that can be used to describe a whole range of feelings and emotions when calmer vocabulary seemingly just won’t do. A lot of people refuse to even utter the letters that comprise its meaning, because by even saying it you have accepted a certain responsibility for choosing such a descriptive word. There are some who freely accept it as an expressive term, while others have run away from it for as long as they’ve heard its sound. Yes, I am talking about the musical category known as Fusion.

A recent concert appearance in Santa Fe by Fusion pioneer John McLaughlin has reopened this long running debate on the merits of this style of music. He is the pre-eminent Fusion musician on the planet, still releasing new cds and touring all over the world at sixty-eight years of age. He has played the guitar for the last sixty years and has been at the forefront of this highly technical brand of music since its creation in the late 1960’s. No one that has ever seen or heard John McLaughlin play would doubt that he has a tremendous command of the guitar. Not only does he play at times with a blazing pace on the fret board, but he is also a master improviser in the great Jazz tradition. What has made McLaughlin such an imposing figure is that he does have more than just technical virtuosity plugged into his amp. There is a lyricism to the guitar lines that he endlessly weaves, and he has also proven himself to be one of the original innovators in creating a true World Music style. He has played with both Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, and that high octane mixture of jazz and rock is what Fusion is all about. His 70’s electric band Mahavishnu Orchestra had some of the best musicians around (Cobham, Goodman, and Hammer), while he later created Shakti as a vehicle to explore his interest in Indian music. Guitarists Jeff Beck and Pat Metheny have both called John the best guitarist in the world, lofty praise from two highly respected musicians. His performance with The Fourth Dimension band was a microcosm of all things good and bad that have been debated about Fusion since its creation. Excessive soloing might be a downer for some, but how do you argue with such mind blowing technical virtuosity? Others might cry about a lack of “songs” (a la Burt Bacharach), but these four musicians exhibited a cohesion rarely seen that trumped any mundane need for familiar tunes. If someone said it sounded like a guitar / drum clinic at times I wouldn’t argue, but what a sound they threw at us! Etienne M’bappe was a revelation with his unique bass lines, while Mark Mondesir kept the drum seat red hot all night long. Keyboardist Gary Husband added a lot of tasteful licks with McLaughlin the whole evening smiling as if he had finally found that lost chord he’d been searching for all these years. John called himself just an aging hippie at one point during the concert, and that humility rang as true as any note from his guitar. Like a Zen master patiently waiting for his future students to find him, McLaughlin has explored the fret board in a variety of styles throughout his life, and has stayed open to its possibilities. Many people aspire to be the best at what they do, but hard work and skill will only get you so far. After many years he came to the realization that a true master doesn’t just play the guitar, you also have to let the guitar play you.

Immediately after the final notes ended a concert goer one row away from me leaned over to his friend and said - “what do you think”? After forty years people still don’t know what to make of it. If you have any doubts buy John’s latest cd entitled “To The One”, after listening to it then you’ll know exactly what side of the fence you’re on. When it comes to the F-Word, I don’t give a f**k what anyone else says. McLaughlin’s Fusion. I love it.


Peace,
Jim Webb
 
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