Tuesday, December 7, 2010

To 1971 and Back Again: T.S. McPhee and his Mighty Groundhogs; America Cried

The Secret Museum
Jim Webb and Michael Mooney

The Groundhogs—Split
(Liberty Records/United Artists 1971)
At first I don’t believe the things I thought the night before,
But now they come back like a torrent of ignorance once more,
I can’t accept life isn’t a dream; it doesn’t seem real any more,
My mind and body are two things, not one.
T.S. McPhee (Split Part Three)

Making the most of the LP record format, Tony (T.S.) McPhee utilizes the first side of his claustrophobic masterpiece, Split, 1971’s sixth bestselling album in the United Kingdom (!), to document his (subsequently recognized as mistaken) descent into schizophrenia. I believe it’s the Post-Sixties Life-In-London Comedown he’s describing here—see Ray Davies’ Muswell Hillbillies LP for further proof that 1971 wasn’t the best of times to be residing in The Smoke—or maybe just the drugs, but McPhee does a convincing job of relating the terror of psychic disconnect regardless of its nature (I should know).

Briefly John Lee Hooker’s UK backup group, The Groundhogs use the archetypal Power Trio format, a la Cream, Experience, Cheer, Grand Funk, and Budgie (Budgie!) as a springboard for uniquely furious and unglued shape-changing riffage, with a flair all their own for spontaneous shifts in tone and rhythm. This definitive ‘Hogs lineup of T.S., Peter Cruickshank and Ken Pustelnik play an equivocal configuration of Rock: Blues-derived in the loosest sense (more a mood than a style), but stripped of all Brit B-Boom artifice, then layered with dense distortion, wah wah-fired guitar dementia, and an unsettling lyrical fatalism. I call it Punk Rock. The four Splits (Parts One, Two, etc.) of side one create a mood of paranoia matched only by Van Der Graaf Generator’s Pawn Hearts (also from 1971, more evidence that maybe it was the times.). Split One set the tone and rocks its multi-tracked-axes-self silly, as T.S. descends into the psychogenic inferno, but the entire side is a monster. Tony doesn’t find any answers by the end of Split Four, though one gets the sense that redemption may be found by flipping over the record.

Almost. Side two modulates the mood a little, but not the attack, beginning with leadoff cut—and hands down bonafide Rock Classic scorcher—Cherry Red. Not much optimism for T.S., though:

All night long I loved her
Morning came too soon
I knew she’d be gone by the afternoon
I said, “Please don’t go”
Still she said goodbye
But as she turned around she had a crafty look in her eye.

All next day I waited for her return
But she didn’t show
The daylight turned to the dark of night
I said, “Please come soon”
Still there was no sign.
As the dawn returned
I knew that look in her eye was just a lie
And I thought it said:
“When the moon rise this evening, you turn round in your bed,
The warmth of my body will heat you,
Make your blood run Cherry Red”

Cruickshank’s bass and, especially, Pustelnik’s unbridled drumming approach brilliance here, yet McPhee’s incandescent playing outguns them both. You will not have lived a full life until you’ve heard this song. The somber, near-gothic ecological paean A Year In The Life follows, then the truly lunatic Junkman (famously covered by The Fall) with its skronky atonal solo guitar that takes up the song’s entire second half. And lest anyone forget that T.S. was/is an expert Blues player (a version of The Groundhogs still exists in 2010), the record ends on a relatively quiet note with a grungy roots version of Hooker’s Groundhog Blues—basically Tony, his masterful vocal, authentically bluesy guitar, and wavering stick tapping for accompaniment.
Also recommended:
Thank Christ For The Bomb (1970)
Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs! (1972)
-Michael Mooney

America Cried

In the fall of 1971, singer, songwriter Don McLean released his epic song about experiencing the tumultuous 1960s, entitled “American Pie.” It has a lot of specific and vague references to musical events that shaped his (and our) consciousness while growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. It is also a lament for the idealistic “America” that finally vanished during that same period. The Civil Rights Movement, political assassinations, and events of the Vietnam War changed our country, and the music that was being created became a reflection of those turbulent times. Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and Richie Valens were killed in 1959 when their plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, while on tour. Don McLean felt we had lost a whole lot more than just those three gifted musicians, and his tale still resonates to this very day. Much has happened since 1971, so I thought it was time to add a few more verses for these last 40 years.

They were singing,
“Bye – bye miss American pie”
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, this’ll be the day that I die.

We mixed Funk and Soul with Rock n’Roll
I thought that sound would never grow old
Some went so high they just drifted away
And while Son of Sam cruised with the power turned off
The studio dancers could never stop
Too busy tasting the real thing in the dark
Freaking out like tomorrow would never come

The King fell over, and never got up
Now he wanders in Vegas, another lied to ghost
Sometimes you got nuthin’ when you think you have it all
The corporate suits still controlled the game
But a Rotten smell wouldn’t go away
So they disguised it with skinny ties and short cropped hair

While JB was discoing all around
The street gangs stole his processed crown
And the Great Black Music slowly faded away
The plastic ono man was then cut down
Bigger than Jesus with the Woodstock crowd
We all gathered in the park, the day the music died

The TV screens replaced the record machines
With grown men dressed like runway queens
All that sprayed up hair only made us laugh
The angry young boys then had enough
Yelling here we are now, entertain us
Some things just don’t ever change

I met a jazz man who played the blues
I asked him for the latest news
He said they’ll call this the Black Holocaust soon enough
Always Rappin’ guns and drugs, the new stars are throwaway thugs
That same song has been playing far too long

Wanting too much fame, has been an expensive ride
Ask the princess if her fare was too high
No one’s heard her answer from the grave
There was a young boy who loved to sing and dance
In front of millions he grew into a lonely man
With his gloved hand he never got to wave goodbye
The day the music died

They were singing,
“Bye – bye miss American pie”
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, this’ll be the day that I die.

Don McLean—“American Pie”
Jim Webb

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Christmas Letter; Randy Holden: Population I

The Secret Museum
Jim Webb & Michael Mooney

The Christmas Letter

I’m sure you are familiar with the practice of old friends filling you in with a little too much information as regards the trajectory of their life and children during the past year in a Christmas letter. Triumphant tales of job promotions or high school class achievements from the kiddies are added to what their Golden Retriever is up to for a recap of their important events from the last year. It’s nice to hear that Jennifer made the lacrosse team, or that an old acquaintance is now higher up the corporate ladder, but if someone was a friend you would’ve talked to them (or emailed etc.) occasionally for these updates. Sending an Xmas letter seems like a great cover for not wanting to actually speak to a person, but you make sure they know all about your “big accomplishments” from the past year. The only problem is that you never get to hear about the really important stuff. I’m talking about what new musical infatuations they’ve gotten into; like a late adult entry into Glam, or finally having a deep Sinatra immersion. In response to such routine letters I have decided to compose my own year end Holiday recap that will bring everyone up to date on what I consider to be the key music events that I have experienced in the last twelve months.

2010 will be remembered by me as the year when Taos favorites Manby’s Head played their first live shows. Mr.’s Greenberg, Mooney, Reid, and Whitlock broke out of their rehearsal space near Arroyo Seco and brought their brand of garage / psych- rock to the masses. They played several shows at Seco Pearl, and also raised hell at The Shadows Bar & Grill, as well as playing through a minor dust storm outdoors at the Kannaroo Festival near Questa in June. Add in their Santa Fe and Albuquerque gigs and they became a thirst quenching drink for New Mexicans that were parched by the continually dry local music scene. Two other club shows stood out during the year, The Meat Puppets at the Santa Brewing Co. in May, and a series of shows in September by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages. The Puppets brought their mangled sound of hard rock, punk and psychedelic cowboy tunes up from Tucson and entertained a packed crowd with a great set. Barrence Whitfield is a soul shouter that hails from the Boston area, his good friend and guitarist Peter Greenberg of Arroyo Seco reunited the original Savages for three gigs in New Mexico, and the KTAO Center show in September was a welcome blast of fresh air for these parts.

A lot of new infatuations did occur (Blue Note record label - see earlier Secret Museum /Horse Fly), but certainly the biggest was a 100 CD collection that I stumbled upon from the German Membran Label. Every jazz song that charted from 1917 to 1954 was included on this epic compilation of old Ragtime, Swing and Jazz tunes. Detailed liner notes helped bring the music of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, and hundreds of others back to life. We are now quite a bit away from the original 1935 – 1940 explosion of the Swing Band era, but all I can say is that current bands like Arcade Fire and Maroon 5 forced me into cannon balling toward the past for new kicks. The biggest disappointment has to have been the recent cd from Hobbs, New Mexico native Ryan Bingham titled “Junky Star”. He was on an upward flight after releasing “Roadhouse Sun”, and sharing a Grammy for his song in the movie “Crazy Heart”, but this was a step in the wrong direction. He abandoned his slashing rock band sound, for a mostly dull collection of late night campfire songs that could only be recommended as a sleep aid.

The best concert of the year was a no brainer – Roger Waters “The Wall” was a spectacular multi media extravaganza that had epic ticket prices ($99.00 - $250.00) as well. This intense story from the ex-Pink Floyd bassman included a German Messerschmitt fighter plane smashing into the wall early on, and the huge mechanical puppets and other effects surprisingly never dwarfed his core tale of alienation, and rage at all forms of institutional control(All in all we’re just another brick in the wall). Part Broadway show, part Rock concert, a total success in creating thought provoking entertainment. A dream come true for progressive rock music fans, grab the DVD when it finally comes out if you didn’t make it to one of the shows.

I didn’t get promoted at work, my car has over 100,000 miles on it, and I’m trying to downsize everything in the wake of the continuing economic recession (except buying CDs and concert tickets of course). The good news is that 2011 is just around the corner, and there’s still a lot of great music to be discovered.

Merry Christmas,
-Jim Webb

Randy Holden’s Sonic Adventure: The Fender IV, Sons Of Adam, The Other Half, Blue Cheer, Population II

Self-proclaimed (with justification) Guitar God (and gear head), Randy Holden’s recording career began in 1964 with Los Angeles’ Surf-influenced Fender IV. Signed to Imperial Records, their entire output consists of six reverb-drenched songs that owe more than a nod to Dick Dale. 19-year-old Randy already shows a tremendous command of his instrument on these early cuts, though I can’t listen to much Surf Music— kinda makes me edgy (there’s a weird Kenneth Anger/Jayne Mansfield/Big Daddy Roth air about early— and mid AND late—60s L.A. that’s difficult to explain, but it’s evident in everything from dingbat apartment buildings to the Beverly Hillbillies to Ed Kienholz. The whole place reeks of such a creepy pre-memory I’ve-seen-this-somewhere-before vibe that I eventually found it impossible to live there.) Fender IV are particularly spooky sounding, with their proto—ska beat, Middle-East melodies and small room recording atmosphere.

Sons Of Adam trade reverb for sustain, add vocals, and increase the garage factor. The results occasionally sound like The Leaves, or Love minus the songs (and Arthur Lee), plus Jeff Beck on guitar. I also detect traces of The Misunderstood, Beau Brummels and Shadows Of Knight in the mix (none of the dozen cuts I’ve heard would sound out of place on Nuggets.) A pre-Love Michael Stuart contributes some very sharp drumming, and Holden continues to evolve as a guitarist—Beck comparisons aside-— while beginning his initial experiments with volume, feedback and alternate tuning. Good L.A. Pop/proto-psych with Freakbeat leanings.

Transplanted from So Cal to San Francisco, The Other Half’s main claim to fame is Punk classic Mr. Pharmacist. Their lone album suffers from sludgy production and unnecessary cheesy canned audience applause on the opening track, but there’s some great stuff here, notably Flight Of The Dragon Lady, Morning Fire, and Wonderful Day— a Summer of Love stunner about, in Randy’s words, “this guy who's really happy, generally just happy about everything in life. And he's got some girl that is just pissed. So it's a conflict.” With the exception of What Can I Do For You (a BIG exception to some), nowhere is the LP reflective of the contemporaneous San Francisco sound. This is tough psychedelic street punk, similar in certain aspects to the first Amboy Dukes album, and Holden’s work is outstanding. Too bad the record was released in 1968, at least a year past it’s sell-by date.

Randy’s complete Blue Cheer output, consisting of Side Two of 1969’s New! Improved! (three Holden-composed and sung tracks totaling fourteen minutes forty-two seconds), is, ironically, his best-known work. Suffice to say that Holden’s inclination toward heaviness is well matched by Cheer rhythm section Dickie Peterson and Paul Whaley. Drummer Whaley in particular has never sounded better. If Blue Cheer had continued in this vein, they wouldn’t have ended their career playing their first two albums exclusively on the live circuit. Instead, they opted for the prevailing California Mellow approach on the remaining other half (!) of the LP, and future recordings. Randy, meanwhile, just got heavier.

Population II teams Holden with Kak’s Chris Lockheed on an unparalleled study in guitar extremism, or the heaviest record you’ve never heard. Lockheed plays drums and keyboard (simultaneously!!) and Randy does the rest. Sixteen two-hundred watt Sunn amps and a 10-hour-per-day-every-day rehearsal schedule in an empty opera house- the only place big enough to handle the power- set the stage for one massive slab of Strat-fired bedlam (the Sunn getup didn’t do Randy’s Gibson justice, so he switched to Jimi’s axe of choice. Comparisons abound.) Holden takes up the story: “Chris first searched me out after Blue Cheer… So when he had a meeting with me, he said that he also played keyboards. And loving sensationalism as I do, I asked him, ‘Can you play both at once, drums and keyboards?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I thought okay, if this guy's got the confidence and the nerve to say that, he's gotta be able to do it. But it was really laborious for him... It was very numerical and mathematical and calculated. It was very difficult to do. And I realized that the job he faced sucked. To me, it would have been no fun at all. Because you're totally restricted. On one side you have to have this soft touch on keyboards, and the other side, you have to be slamming. So your personality’s divided right down the middle. It's amazing that he didn't overdose on schizophrenia.” Consequently, Population II has a slowed down feeling, almost leaden at times (and just about perfect for the emerging Quaalude generation.) And it’s unbelievably loud. Had it been given a proper offical release in 1970 instead of never (there have apparently been more than a few bootleg pressings over the years, and a questionable “legitimate” Swedish cd issuance), this album might be mentioned in the same breath as Black Sabbath’s first or Paranoid, instead of Bloodrock’s second or Kingdom Come.

Partial discography:

Randy Holden Early Works ’64-’66 (Captain Trips CD 1997)
Sons Of Adam- Moxie EP (7” 1981)
The Other Half (Atco LP 1968)
Blue Cheer- New! Improved! (Philips LP 1969)
Randy Holden Population II (unreleased 1970)
-Michael Mooney

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Via email earlier today:

Hello everyone!
I want to let you know that it has been decided to close the Taos Horse Fly. There will not be a December publication. Feel free to submit your pieces to any other publication.
I thank you all for your past contributions and wish you all the best in the future.
For those of you have subscriptions, the remaining balance will be calculated and returned to you.
Lydia Garcia

We're not sure what's going on here, but hopefully it'll get sorted out soon. Loftholdingswood and the Secret Museum will continue.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Zombies, David Gates and Johnny Otis

The Secret Museum

By Michael Mooney and Jim Webb

David Gates & Bread vs. The Zombies: A Word of Caution

In the annals of Rock, one would be hard pressed to find two more prominent groups with greater self-esteem issues than The Zombies and Bread. Both were responsible for some of the mid-20th century’s most delicate and tuneful music (in Bread’s case, treacly so), yet were much too sensitive for their own good (in Bread’s case, falsely so.) And both bands displayed varying symptoms of mental illness, and in very different ways. As such, their musical message must be declared extremely dangerous to any potential listener who may be experiencing the slightest hint of emotional vulnerability. The behaviors demonstrated in the following songs are not recommended. Consider this a warning.

The Zombies got off to a good start in the late fall of 1964. Their debut single “She’s Not There” shot to Number Two on the Billboard Top Hot 100 chart and heralded them as strong contenders during the second wave of the British Invasion. The Zombies’ jazzy sophistication set them apart from other less polished chart invaders that autumn, such as The Kinks, Manfred Mann, The Honeycombs and The Rolling Stones. “She’s Not There” reveals the group’s innate sensitivity, but suggests, via Rod Argent’s alternating direct/nebulous lyric and the equally alternating resignation/fury of Colin Blunstone’s vocal, a reluctant indifference to the song’s subject (everybody sing):

Well, no one told me about her—the way she lied
Well, no one told me about her—how many people cried
But it’s too late to say you’re sorry
How would I know, why should I care?
Please don’t bother trying to find her
She’s not there

Well, no one told me about her—what could I do
Well, no one told me about her—though they all knew …

Well, let me tell you about the way she looked
The way she’d act and the color of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool, her eyes were clear and bright
But she’s not there …

This is a very peculiar song. The singer is compelled to describe details of the subject’s physical characteristics and behavior, perhaps indicative of the power she may still hold over him, meanwhile admitting his bewilderment that others (his friends?) had been aware of her deviousness all along, yet chose to keep the secret from him. His anger and confusion are obvious, and who can blame the guy?

Second single “Leave Me Be” (written by bassist Chris White) is a signpost for things to come: Blunstone admits his self-pity over her departure, and would like to be left alone, please, until he’s completely recovered. Alas, it is not to be, for The Zombies’ third single bears all the markings of full-blown psychosis.

With “Tell Her No” (another U.S. Top 10 smash), The Zombies’ psychological sickness (it should be noted that most of these songs are the work of Rod Argent; White’s songs, while occasionally lacking amour propre, rarely approach the self-loathing shame of Argent’s more autophobic material. And to be fair to Rod, not everything he’s composed is like this—how could it be?—but surely enough is like this to make you wonder) becomes fully manifest:

… And if she should tell you “come closer”
And if she tempts you with her charms
Tell her no …

I know she’s the kind of girl who’d throw my love away
But I still love her so
Don’t hurt me now, don’t hurt me now …

And if she should tell you “I love you”
Just remember she said that to me …

The lack of self-respect revealed in these words defies comprehension. Because he is still in love with his ex, Colin is asking her new lover to call off the relationship. The 63 “no’s” repeated during the song (second only to The Human Beinz in the Great Rock Negatives competition) probably won’t help his cause, but if anyone in the history of Planet Earth has ever succeeded in reconciling through the use of this uniquely masochistic method, I would be extremely interested in hearing the details.

Here’s more (from Chris White):

She told me she loved me
With words as soft as morning rain
But the light that fell upon me
Turned to shadow when he came …

Maybe after he’s gone
She’ll come back, love me again …
Once in a while, Rod acknowledges his illness:

… Can’t you see that you were wrong
Can’t you see I knew how long you’d lied and cheated …

If I worry that’s my business, anytime I want to cry
If I want to feed this sickness
Keep away from me
Cause I’ll keep trying till you come on home …
Keep trying till you come on home to me

Mostly, though, it’s more of the same (to differing degrees) forever and ever, or at least until, with the exception of “Maybe After He’s Gone,” of course, Odessey and Oracle.

Any analysis of Bread must begin with the manipulative pack of lies quoted below:

It don’t matter to me
If you really feel that
You need some time to be free
Time to go out searching for yourself
Hoping to find time …
To go to find.

And it don’t matter to me
If you take up with some
One who’s better than me
’Cause your happiness is all I want
For you to find peace …
Your peace of mind.

Lotta people have an ego hang-up ’cause they want to be the only one
How many came before, it really doesn’t matter, just as long as you’re the last
Everybody runnin’ ’round and ’round and tryin’ to find out
What’s been missing in the past.

And it don’t matter to me
If your searchin’ brings you
Back together with me
’Cause there’ll always be an empty room
Waiting for you
And an open heart
Waiting for you
Time is on my side

’Cause it don’t matter to me.

Yes it does matter, liar. David Gates is contemptible. He wants to get back into her pants, plain and simple. He uses words like “don’t” instead of “doesn’t” (and phrases such as “Baby, I’m-a want you” and “I wanna make it with you”) to show that he’s just plain folks, and not some slippery West Coast studio hack (or posh Home County boy like those Zombies.) The hippie sentiments expressed in this song are so unmistakably untrue it’s hard not to laugh: that you must have self-image issues to desire commitment in a relationship. Gates certainly has those issues in spades, as evidenced here:

I found her diary underneath a tree
And started reading about me
The words she’d written took me by surprise
You’d never read them in her eyes
They said that she had found the love she waited for
Wouldn’t you know it, she wouldn’t show it

Then she, confronted with the writing there,
Simply pretended not to care
I passed it off as just in keeping with
Her total disconcerting air
And though she tried to hide
The love that she denied
Wouldn’t you know it, she wouldn’t show it.

And as I go through my life, I will give to her, my wife
All the sweet things I can find

I found her diary underneath a tree
And started reading about me
The words began to stick, and tears to flow
Her meaning now was clear to see
The love she’d waited for was someone else not me
Wouldn’t you know it, she wouldn’t show it

And as I go through my life, I will wish for her, his wife
All the sweet things that she can find
All the sweet things they can find

Oh please. You’ve been made a fool, and that’s the best you can do? At least The Zombies would have gone straight to the other man and begged him to end the romance at once. This instant, my good fellow! Instead, David Gates wishes the both of them all the best “things” in life. Gates is no Gandhi. He probably realized the guy was too big to reckon with and went looking for another Top 10 hit instead (sorry, Dave: this one only got to number 15.)

Finally, in “Everything I Own,” after relating all the wonderful “things” his lady taught him (and I’m positive David Gates is precisely the type of chauvinist to refer to his partner as “my lady”), Gates declares that he would give the title of this song, plus his house, and his heart, and his own life in order to touch her body once more. Which begs the question: if she trained you so well, why did she go? David Gates won’t quite commit to admitting that he took her for granted, though he does go on to warn us against similar behavior. The Zombies would never do that.

1. She is a liar, my friends provided her cover, but I’d rather give a rundown of her physical attributes. (She’s Not There)
2. I won’t leave this room until I’m certain not to liquefy the next time I see the girl who jilted me. (Leave Me Be)
3. She doesn’t love me; she loves you. But I love her. So please, new boyfriend, don’t hurt me. Break up with her. (Tell Her No)
4. She took off with another. I hope she’ll return once it’s over. (Maybe After He’s Gone)
5. She’s a liar, plus she cheated on me. I admit that I am sick, but I will never give up on her. (I’ll Keep Trying)

1. If you love someone set them free, ’cause I’m easy like Sunday morning. Also, I’m better than everyone else, so I really don’t care if you never return. But if you do, that’s fine, too, because I’m also a liar. And horny. (It Don’t Matter To Me)
2. I’m not troubled by your “disconcerting air,” probably because I’m a sap. But all the best anyway, even though you’re marrying him when I thought you would be marrying me (because I’d like you to think that I’m easy like Sunday morning, but in reality I’m a sap.) (Diary)
3. You kept me warm, but left with him anyway. And I would die if it meant getting you back, which makes absolutely no sense, but I’ll try anything. Oh, and you people out there: let this be a lesson!
4. I wanna make it with you because life may be short, except it may also be long. (Make It With You)
5. I’m-a keep-a talking like-a this until I’m-a make it with you (apologies to Mark E. Smith) (Baby I’m-A Want You)

-Michael Mooney

Who Is This Man?

He is a member of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Rhythm n’ Blues Hall of Fame, and the Blues Hall of Fame. This musician was the driving force behind 17 Top Forty R n’ B hits between 1950 and 1969, and during 1950 he had 10 songs appear on the Billboard Retail Rhythm n’ Blues lists. His job duties have included being a singer, writer, producer, band leader, performer, author; TV & radio show host, club owner, community organizer, painter and preacher. Not only has he drummed for The Count Basie Orchestra, but he has also played with everyone from jazz legend Charlie Parker to bluesman T-Bone Walker, R n’ B great Big Joe Turner, and Rock icon Frank Zappa. He discovered and nurtured many great singers like Etta James, Hank Ballard, Jackie Wilson, Big Mama Thornton and Little Willie John. In 1945, his big band had a huge hit with “Harlem Nocturne,” and in 2000 he headlined the San Francisco Blues Festival. The person in question has been described as one of the great unknown renaissance men of the 20th century. His parents were Greek immigrants; with the last name on his birth certificate listed as Veliotes. Known as a great ambassador for African American culture, he just happens to be white.

I’m describing the legendary Johnny Otis, and his remarkable life is the subject of a recent biography by George Lipsitz, titled “Midnight at the Barrelhouse, The Johnny Otis Story.” The Barrelhouse was a music club that Johnny opened in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1947, and he was instrumental in shaping the sound that was to become Rhythm and Blues. Big Band jazz groups were finding it too expensive to stay together in post World War II America, and Johnny was at the forefront of creating music for small combos that played for the black community. Early on, he repeatedly experienced many different forms of racism as a musician. He saw black musicians’ songs that wouldn’t be played on mainstream radio stations become massive hits when inferior versions by white singers were recorded and released. As an olive-skinned ethnic Greek, Johnny passed for being a light-skinned black, but the various problems that he had in the Jim Crow Deep South were truly unique. He always ate and slept with his band members in the black side of town, but Otis tells a poignant story that occurred in 1952 after playing in Memphis, Tennessee. He was refused a hotel room in the black part of town for being white, so he proceeded to a nearby all white neighborhood, only to be refused a room there for being black. You might already know Johnny from his big hit “Willie and the Hand Jive,” but he is much more than just another name on an oldies radio station. The book touches on all phases of his life, including his thoughts and experience of living through the L.A. Watts riots of 1965, as well as becoming a minister late in life. 

Johnny Otis doesn’t shy away from making negative comments about White America and their acceptance of the racial status quo that had African Americans treated as third class citizens. His anger and at times bitterness might be too off putting for some people, but are examples to me of his complete honesty in recalling his experiences in life. Johnny retired in 2006, after almost 70 years as a professional musician. George Lipsitz should be commended for such an intimate portrait of a unique individual, and we are lucky that Johnny is still with us today at 88 years of age.

Mr. Otis found a way to connect with many different people—through his music, his social work, and the church pulpit he spoke from. Today’s entertainers think success is measured by how large their bank account is, or how many paparazzi trail them around town. Johnny Otis has consistently shown what it means to be committed to your work, to try and help others in need, and to always give back to the community that has nurtured you. Who is this man? I think the best answer is that he’s a real success.

Jim Webb

Suggested listening: “Midnight at the Barrelhouse” 5-CD box set, JSP label.
Further reading: “Upside Your Head, Rhythm and Blues on Central Ave.” by Johnny Otis.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mick Jagger & The Rolling Stones; A Baker’s Dozen For Jim Webb

The Secret Museum

By Jim Webb & Michael Mooney

Death of a Salesman: Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger

He sold because that’s what he did best. Some people knew him only as a musician, a singer, and writer of songs. Mick never straightened them out—part of being a master salesman is letting the customer think they know you, are comfortable with you. No one would ever have considered him an innovator in the musical products he packaged and sold since 1963 with various members of his sales team called The Rolling Stones. The quality of his wares varied considerably, with a noticeable decline in later years. In the fast changing tastes of the pop culture market place, he figured out how to stay active for almost 50 years, when others simply faded away.

“The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle and comes out, the age of 21, and he’s rich!”—Willy Loman*

The last great product he had to sell was from 1972, called “Exile on Main St.” This period was at the tail end of when Jagger still gave a damn about what he was pushing on the showroom floor. His vocals on “Sweet Virginia,” “Loving Cup,” and “Torn and Frayed” have an authenticity that was rarely heard again. What followed in the coming years exposed how naked his ambition was to sell, regardless if it affected his credibility. A track from 1973’s “Goat’s Head Soup” called “Dancing with Mr. D” was complete nonsense, foreshadowing the inconsistent studio and unnecessary live albums to come. It took the young punks selling rebellion in the U.K. to get Jagger & Co. hustling again with “Some Girls” in 1978. By the mid-eighties, Mick was so bored he decided to go solo, before quickly coming to his senses when the sales figures for those efforts were reported. While his old buddy Keith Richards had been mostly chasing drugs, Mick was interested in being a celebrity and chasing women more than anything else.

“Just wanna be careful with those girls, Biff, that’s all. Don’t make any promises. No promises of any kind. Because a girl, y’know, they always believe what you tell them.”—Willy Loman

Mick Jagger was one of the greatest salesmen in the last 50 years. At one time or another he sold sex, seduction, danger, attitude, style, albums, 45s, CDs, DVDs , T-shirts, hats and anything else he could put his big lips logo on. We bought it all, and in the process he became a very rich man. A brief nod should be given to his first manager Andrew Loog Oldham who showed him how to use the media to his advantage. The group formed their own Rolling Stones record label in 1971 to increase profits and cut out the middle man, and also became one of the first to accept corporate sponsorship when touring. Budweiser, Volkswagen, Tommy Hilfiger, Sprint and Levi’s are just a few of the companies that have paid big money to be associated with The Rolling Stones traveling circus. Ultimately, the product that Mick Jagger sold best was always himself.

“The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.”—Willy Loman

In 2010, “Exile on Main St.” was re-released with a couple of previously unused tracks from the original sessions. After all these years, the strength of the writing and performances from 1972 still stands out as one of the high points in their long catalogue. “Exile” has unfortunately also reminded us that the Mick Jagger who wrote great songs has been a missing person for so long that it is time to officially announce his passing. Mick had a lot of big sales through the years, but his biggest was making people believe he was just a singer in a famous rock n’ roll band. It was a pleasure doing business with you Mr. Jagger. I won’t forget to put roses on your grave.

“He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have—to come out number 1 man.”—Willy Loman

*“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.

Jim Webb

An Interview with Jim Webb

MM: Jim, what is your earliest Rock memory, and why do you suppose it stuck with you through the years?

JW: At first I was going to say seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, then I remembered a special dance I did for parents to an early Herb Alpert/Tijuana Brass hit single. After about 30 seconds of making sure they were my first Rock recollections, I realized that the truth was that on Saturday mornings when I was about five years old (1963) I used to watch a TV show called “Sky King.” I don’t know who the actors were, but it was a Roy Rogers type cowboy show that was unique because the main cowboy flew around in a small airplane solving crimes and helping people. It took place in the Western U.S., and all of the scenery—mountains, boulders and trails—made it seem like a magical place. Not long ago, I researched the show on the Internet and found out it was from the mid fifties, with reruns being shown into the sixties.

MM: I faintly recall Sky King—mainly, I think, because of daughter Penny. But I don’t remember any music. Did the Sky King sing?

JW: That doesn’t ring a bell, him singing, but the combination of him flying a plane and being a cowboy seemed like an exciting life. The Sky King was surrounded by rocks, mountains, etc.…

MM: I see. But that hardly explains your subsequent interest in Rock Music, especially if Penny doesn’t factor in there someplace. Let’s go back to Herb Alpert for a moment. As an eight year-old, I dug him almost as much as The Association. Still do.

JW: My parents didn’t buy a lot of LPs, but they did buy some Herb Alpert & the TJB. My dad loved listening to the mid-sixties Ramsey Lewis Trio and anything by Anthony Newley. “Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd” was played a lot when it came out. The TJB was fun music, and not too complicated.

MM: Miles Davis once said that you could tell a Herb Alpert lead within three notes. Herb probably took that as a compliment.

So a nice mid-sixties Adult Contemporary vibe was going on at the Webb compound? In Philadelphia, you’d hear some of that stuff on the AM giants WIBG and WFIL, but mostly the mellower songs were only played on WIP. That’s where I first encountered The Free Design back in ’68. Did you know Chris Dedrick passed away recently?

JW: I didn’t know Dedrick had died. The first radio station I can remember listening to fanatically was CKLW from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. We lived in Toledo, Ohio, from 1965 to 1969 and that station was close to Detroit— it easily reached us. I have three brothers and four sisters, but my older brother and sister were buying 45s regularly in ’66 & ’67. We weren’t buying albums; the first 45 I can remember buying was The Rolling Stones “Ruby Tuesday.”

MM: Good choice for a very first purchase, and an extremely poppy song. CKLW—were they playing the noisier sounds coming out of Detroit at the time?

JW: A little bit of everything. But mostly they were a Top Forty station that took chances. Things like Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was a monster smash in Toledo/Detroit, and they played The Who’s “Call Me Lightning.” Whatever they played I thought were big hits across the country—turns out some were just regional hits. The first 8-track I bought was The Cream—Best of, 1969. An older neighborhood friend was into The Doors, Hendrix and The Cream.

MM: Same situation in Philly. I always assumed Some Kind Of Wonderful by the Soul Brothers Six was a nationwide smash, as did Grand Funk Railroad, apparently, who were to discover otherwise when their version went Top Ten seven years later. Ditto Billy Harner and the Kit Kats. I’m still amazed that Call Me Lightning broke out in the Upper Midwest and nowhere else.

In 1969, your family relocated to the East Coast. Did you find the musical climate in the Delaware Valley to be much different from Northwest Ohio?

JW: I remember we moved during the middle of sixth grade. One of my teachers that year in Bensalem, PA., asked the class to write down their favorite group. Three Dog Night won, closely followed by Sly & The Family Stone. I was a little puzzled by that result, having written down The Rolling Stones.

MM: Hmm. It seems that the divide was already in place. I guess Bobby Sherman and The J5 hadn’t arrived yet. I, too, was firmly in the Stones camp in late ’69.

You are five years away from witnessing your first concert. Give us a sense of how your musical tastes expanded during the interim.

JW: The period of 1970 to 1973 didn’t spark any great new finds, I wasn’t looking that hard for any. I still listened to Top Forty radio, but that was getting hard to find good songs. People like James Taylor did nothing for me, and Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick” seemed too weird. A good friend of mine got Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” but neither one of us could understand what all the fuss was about—not driving enough for my 15 year old ears. In late 1973/early ’74, the New York Dolls cleared the decks. Watching them on Don Kirshner’s TV show with their platform boots, wild hair and slashing songs made me realize I had ignored the great non-commercial bands that would never be on AM radio. I started listening to progressive FM station WMMR, and just kept checking out all the bands/artists that I hadn’t heard before. Any Rock magazine like Circus, Rolling Stone, Hit Parader was now consumed cover to cover.

MM: And so, the Dolls served as your catalyst to the possibilities of Rock. I would suggest that proximity to Manhattan, and later trips to London, were also springboards to wider musical appreciation. Many have taken that road and never looked back, yet you’ve always remained faithful to some of the less exploratory sub-genres. Explain.

JW: I’m not sure, but listening to all the great radio hits and almost-hits from the sixties made me appreciate a good three-minute song. Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” just seemed like a great tune when I first heard it. Once I got into the history of Rock music, it didn’t take long to have to run down all their influences from Blues, Country and R n’ B. The history of pop music and how it quickly evolved through the years just seemed like something important to check out. It was still reasonably new; in ’74, Elvis had only been around for about 20 years. Pop Rock music was being created by our extended peer group, for our enjoyment. The Rock community still existed in the mid-seventies, though corporate big money was already changing things.

MM: The decline of AM radio gave rise to the creation of specific airplay formats and a splintering of broadcast choices. Is that fragmentation responsible for the deplorable state of radio these days? Or does it no longer matter?

JW: For a long time, the record companies had no idea what would sell, they just released 45s and albums, hoping some of them would be big sellers. Then they signed a lot more bands that sounded like what was selling. The Underground/Punk scene in both the U.K./U.S. (1972-77) was a reaction to the corporate suits, and the kids finally could make “their” music. Radio today is simply about holding the most listeners as possible until the next commercial break comes. Someone like Sheryl Crow is very safe—she has homogenized the last 30 years of pop/rock music to the point that there is nothing left to taste.

MM: Apart from the U.S. Hardcore phenomenon (the ’80s version of a Folk revival, in my opinion) and some interesting rumblings from the world Underground, that decade appears today as a musical wasteland. Two questions: What happened to the promise of Punk, and is there anything of merit to come out of the 1980s that still resonates?

JW: The eighties didn’t have much to offer me that I could find at the time. I’m sure I still haven’t heard some great stuff released on obscure labels. My current favorite unknown/unheard (at least in the U.S.) band from the eighties is the U.K. group Half Man Half Biscuit. After about 1983, I dove into The Blues and didn’t come to the surface until 1987. I immediately went into a prolonged Jazz infatuation that ended around 1995 (thankfully I missed Grunge). The shambolic indie/punk band The Fall really blossomed in the eighties, and I still like their stuff.

MM: Which brings us to the last 15 years, and my final question: Do you see any hope in the future of Rock, or will it continue to splutter and meander before ultimately petering in the next decade or so?

JW: Mainstream corporate-promoted Rock is dying as we speak. What gives me hope is the young men and women who are currently pumping their enthusiasm into varying styles of music. As an example, there is a young band from Albuquerque called The Squash Blossom Boys that embodies that pure love of music. They take old blues and folk songs from the 1920s and ’30s and rave some of them up into an out of control freight train. When any group of people get together to pursue their shared love of music, great things are always possible.

Michael Mooney

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lisa Germano Redux/Jager Shots Live

The Secret Museum
Michael Mooney & Jim Webb

Lisa Germano: Magic Neighbor, In The Maybe World, Lullaby For Liquid Pig

I was wrong. A few issues back, a particularly nasty review of Lisa Germano’s (somewhat) recent recordings appeared in this column. Actually, one recording: Lullaby For Liquid Pig, from 2003 (I’d never gotten around to listening to 2006’s In The Maybe World, and wasn’t even aware of last year’s Magic Neighbor.) I made a big deal about why I couldn’t relate to Lisa’s newer music, how her self-pity bored me, and that she seemed stuck in a self-created rut only she could wallow in. Exceedingly boorish accusations, I’m ashamed to admit. The fact of the matter is that I hadn’t truly listened to Lullaby For Liquid Pig. But now I have, and I was wrong.

Jim has a rule, which demands that one listen to a recording at least three times before consigning lesser works to eBay (or wherever those thousands of CDs go each year.) I’m impulsive. If something doesn’t grab me immediately, I’ve been known to hit the eject button and move on to something else. Lullaby For Liquid Pig is not an easy first listen. Maybe it’s the sequencing, but the three initial songs killed the album for me the first time around. And while it picks up considerably from there, I didn’t give the record a chance. That’s a shameful admission, particularly from someone who prides himself on his musical tastes, because LFLP is a pretty good disc. While not quite approaching the caliber of Lisa’s groundbreaking 4AD LPs, it does maintain an appealing unsteady quality throughout, and the tunes are definitely there, although she occasionally buries her hooks beneath provisional-sounding—and surely intentional—home-studio dissonance (especially on those first three tracks, which are, of course, my favorites now.) Another thing I was wrong about: Lisa’s still self-deprecating (a rare quality in the overweening world of Pop,) and she’s still, at times, terribly funny.

There’s nothing humorous about In The Maybe World. This album ranks right up there with Berlin, The Painted Word, and Germano’s own Geek The Girl as one of Rock’s classic works of introspective sadness. The theme is loss. These are the lyrics to Too Much Space:

In the morning without a sound
And the stirring of dreams around
Then you wake up
He wasn’t there again

On the way home you feel it there
Cause your heart needs to be somewhere
But you wake up
To too much space again
An illusion it’s just not true
We’ve always been me and you

But I wake up
And you’re not here again
You never know
You wait too long
You need a fire
It’s all gone wrong

He gave it up he hit the dust
And now your heart is made of rust

You dig a plant
And put it there
And hope and hope
And swear and swear
One of us.

Lisa Germano has the rare ability to render complex emotional states into deceptively astute and intelligible lyricism. The music on this brief record (34 minutes) is equally beautiful, at times heartbreakingly so. That it’s taken me four years to discover the album is regrettable. In The Maybe World is a small masterpiece.

So is Magic Neighbor. The fact that an artist can produce her best work nearly 20 years into a solo career that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire is (may I say?) remarkable. That the same artist only got started well into her fourth decade proves that Pop is not exclusively a young (or someone pretending to be a young) person’s game, and that creativity need not diminish with age. It’s inspiring that a musician as distinctive as Lisa Germano continues to remain true to her own musical intuition while expanding its possibilities. Magic Neighbor is a little more impressionistic than most Germano recordings (French Impressionistic to be exact). Not as tranquil-sounding as In The Maybe World, though every bit as melodic, there’s also a degree of luminousness in the subject matter here that is not usually found on a Lisa Germano album. That may bode well for those of you who are unwilling to hang tough with Lisa for fear of reaching for the stop button (or the razor blade), just like me several months ago. I won’t make that mistake again.

Lisa Germano Top Ten:
In The Maybe World (2006)
Geek The Girl (1995)
Magic Neighbor (2009)
Happiness (1994 version)
Inconsiderate Bitch EP (1994)
Slide (1998)
Happiness (1993 version)
Excerpts From A Love Circus (1996)
OP8: Slush (L.G. and Giant Sand- 1997)
On The Way Don From The Moon Palace (1991)
-Michael Mooney

Drunk on Profits: Jagermeister, Live Nation & Rush

The Canadian Rock band Rush recently played the Hard Rock Casino Pavilion in Albuquerque. This year’s main outdoor summer concert series in the Duke City is again being handled primarily by Live Nation, who earlier this year merged with Ticketmaster to create an entertainment powerhouse called Live Nation Entertainment. Live Nation signs bands to long term deals where they become the exclusive promoter for all of their live concerts. Madonna, U2 and Jay-Z are just a few of the big names that have been locked up with huge guarantees from the deep financial pockets of Live Nation. As the traditional market for CD sales keeps shrinking, bands are relying even more on concert revenue as their biggest source of income. Ticketmaster was the largest company that handled ticket sales for hundreds of main venues throughout the Unites States before joining up with Live Nation in 2010. We all know them for the service charges, facility and shipping charges that are added to the base price of the tickets we purchase either online or by phone. As I drove into the parking lot at the Pavilion, nothing was outwardly different since Live Nation and Ticketmaster joined forces. The same hassle getting into the venue off of Rio Bravo Boulevard occurred—you’d think one day they would realize 10,000 plus concert goers were coming and would have a better traffic pattern in place. Rush came out promptly at 7:45 p.m.—this was the opening North American concert on their 2010 Time Machine Tour. The band sounded good as they opened with “The Spirit of Radio” and played a couple of unrecorded new songs in the first set as well, but I kept getting distracted by the young women constantly selling Jagermeister shots.

A recent phenomenon in outdoor beverage concession sales is roving sales teams of ladies bringing “Jager Shots” to your seat. At first it seemed as normal as the beer and soda sellers, employees wading through the crowds to save you from having to wait in line. But the frequency of seeing them pass by with trays of test-tube size shots was surprising. There will be no moralizing from me on people who choose to get high or feelin’ good on beer, wine or pot at concerts. I personally enjoy a few beers as much as anyone, but the constant effort Pavilion employees were involved in to sell as much “Jager”as possible seems to me to have crossed the line. No one forces you to buy shots at a concert, but this easy access “service” just seems potentially dangerous for others. Let’s see, tickets ranging from $49.00 to $150.00, $25.00 T-Shirts, $8.50 beers, $13.00 hamburgers with chips and a soda is not enough profit from 10,000 people? Why don’t we all tip the Jager ladies $1.00, BUT DON’T BUY THE JAGER SHOTS. I contacted the Pavilion management office and they refused to answer any questions or comment on their concession/alcohol policies.

Rush has created a unique sound where hard rock and progressive rock have blended together. Some people are there for the radio hits like “Tom Sawyer” or “Freewill”; others like me enjoyed the longer instrumental pieces. They played the entirety of their 1981 “Moving Pictures” album in the second set, but they aren’t just a nostalgia band like ’70s stalwarts Crosby Steals the Cash or Chicago. Rush has been rewarded with one of the most loyal followings in Rock history by continuing to release new CDs and always introducing new songs to their performances. After 36 years of being onstage together, these three musicians show no signs of slowing down. As much as I liked what Rush was playing, I decided not to fight the crowds back to I-25 and left near the end of the concert. I’d also had my fill of Jagermeister, without ever buying a shot.
-Jim Webb

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Doll By Doll: Gypsy Blood; Lew Lewis

The Secret Museum
Michael Mooney & Jim Webb

Doll By Doll

“I see the bars of your prison when you cry.”

Released in the early morning of the Thatcher era, “Gypsy Blood” is a towering monument to the failure of Punk. Working loosely within the Classic Rock idiom, on this recording (their second LP, following the speed-fueled sonic claustrophobia of “Remember”—a relentless, dualistic masterpiece of horror and beauty) Doll By Doll blended elements of pub-rock, doo-wop, folk, country, psychedelia, gospel, early-’60s pop melodrama and the Velvet Underground, added their own unique guitar ferocity (albeit tempered here) and a late-’70s dynamic production sheen (think “Born To Run” or “Bat Out Of Hell.”) The result is a singular work of breathtaking magnificence, capped by the sweeping power of Jackie Leven’s vocals.

This record simply sounds like no other. From the 1-2 radio-friendly punch of “Teenage Lightning” and the title track, through the majestic “Stripshow,” “The Human Face” and “Highland Rain,” and finally the unsettled and unsettling “Endgame” and “When A Man Dies,” Doll By Doll achieve that rarest of aims: absolute timelessness. The album could have been recorded in 1969, or last week. That it evokes a Britain (and Europe) about to disappear forever is the only clue to its moment in time.

Roundly ignored upon release (the album was un-issued in the U.S.), the failure of “Gypsy Blood” signaled the coming musical backslide—Spandau Ballet were just around the corner—that the English record buying public willingly accepted. 30 years later, it still stands alone, reflective of a time when music took chances and changed lives.
Michael Mooney

“The Devil of Dreams is Black”

Why is this record so different and important that you should immediately pop round the local shop to order a copy? If I rave about how brilliant “Gypsy Blood” is, I risk becoming just another fanatic trumpeting his favorite group. But there is truly something special about Doll By Doll, a U.K. rock band from the late ’70s/early ’80s led by singer, guitarist and main writer Jackie Leven. Two guitars, bass and drums were the basic components, playing in a straightforward rock style that we’ve all heard before. They are musically tight as a group and play with passion. The magic for me, however, lies in two things that elevate this band from hundreds of others who suddenly appeared on the late ’70s scene.

Jackie Leven’s vocals are unique and will have you on the edge of your seat with the passage of each song, wondering where he will soar to next. I won’t compare him to Roy Orbison, or other celestial-voiced wonders, because, while he has taken on many influences (as Gypsies do), what comes out of his mouth is ALL Leven ALL the time. Jackie’s range is unbelievable and he has the gift of a classic saloon singer for putting across real depth and emotion.

The other aspect of this band that is so enjoyable to me is the subject matter. These are no run-of-the-mill tunes about whiskey, women or life on the road. Leven writes from an idiosyncratic perspective that makes his lyrics so much more interesting than anyone else’s. He will walk that lonely street and, by the time he reaches the next corner, you will feel that his world and yours are one. “Stripshow” is one of the most powerful songs I have ever heard in over 40 years of listening to music. On “The Human Face,” Jackie sings about knowing why Jesus wept (for the next 30 years he’ll continue to unravel that particular mystery in his solo career). You may at times find yourself close to weeping, too, at the beauty of this music.

Jackie’s like an insomniac bus driver, cruising the late-night streets. His passengers are the tired, the hurt and the truth seekers. He lets you know you’re not alone, and the common bonds we all share of joy and despair are illuminated by him in a way that reminds us of the beauty of everyday life. No matter how you’re feeling when you get on his bus, by the time you arrive at your stop, life has become a more interesting ride.

1979 brought us a lot of great new music, but, in my opinion, “Gypsy Blood” battles The Clash’s “London Calling” for best LP honors. I vote for “Gypsy Blood.” Get this CD if you like rock music that has power and intensity, yet travels down a different path. You will not be disappointed.
-Jim Webb

Lew Lewis & The Perfect Day

On Friday July 14, 1979, I was a 20-year-old American living in Holland Park, London, and working full time at a restaurant called BJ’s Roast Beef on Fulham Road near Chelsea. I was in the middle of a six-month visit to England; no definite plans, just soaking up as much of the British culture as possible (including the beer), before returning home. There was a lot of great music in London that summer; it was hard to choose who to see on any given night. From where I lived it was about a 15 minute walk to one of the main music clubs in West Kensington called The Nashville, a famous pub that from 1976 to 1980 had a lot of bands play there like The Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello. A co-worker had mentioned earlier that we had to see a guy called Lew Lewis that evening, so we met up around six o’clock and started walking toward the venue. We were still too young to have any real problems in the world; whatever we made each week at our jobs we happily spent all of by the next Friday. There were no bills or mortgage payments to fret about, no responsibilities. Looking back, I’m surprised we didn’t float away, we had so little worries to tie us down. As we got closer to the pub, a young man on a bicycle went past us; my friend Keith said, “Hey, that’s Lew Lewis.”

Canvey Island is about 30 miles east of London, a mostly working class area in Essex that is known to music fans as the home of Pub Rock legend Dr. Feelgood. Pub Rock was a back-to-basics approach to music that had its peak around 1973–75 in the U.K., and in part was a reaction to Glam Rock (David Bowie, T. Rex) and some of the pretentious excesses found in huge bands like Pink Floyd and Yes. Most of the Country-Rock influenced pub bands never had a lot of mass appeal, but groups like Eddie & The Hot Rods and Dr. Feelgood drew bigger crowds with their high energy live shows, helping clear the decks for the coming Punk/New Wave explosion. Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, Declan McManus (Elvis Costello), and Graham Parker are some of the names that served time in the pubs before finding a bigger audience in the late ’70s.

Lew Lewis was a harmonica playing maniac from Canvey Island who became an early member of Eddie & The Hot Rods in 1973. He ultimately tried to make it with his own band, scuffling around before signing with Stiff Records, which released his only album, titled “Save the Wail,” in 1979. I saw him twice that summer of ’79 and I can still picture him soaking his harmonicas in a pint glass and then flipping them wildly above his head as the band played ferociously behind him. He would spin around in mid song several times before sticking his hand out and pulling the harp out of the air to his mouth, quickly blowing some intense solos without missing a beat. He wasn’t a great singer and his record label had a hard time marketing a young, white Chicago Blues style harmonica player. This was the era when New Wave bands ruled with skinny ties and Power Pop’s jingle reverberated all around the world. Lew disappeared for a while and in 1987 made some minor headlines when he was sentenced to seven years in prison for holding up a post office with a fake gun. He’s had a number of illness and addiction issues throughout the last 15 years, but recently was still trying to get a new band together. He might’ve been just a bit player in the 1973–1985 U.K. music scene, but it’s people like Lew Lewis that add the unpredictable excitement that makes great rock music possible.

Music has so much to offer us as listeners. There is the pure enjoyment of organized sound and rhythms, as well as getting into the history of a given style of music and hearing the reflection of the era from which it came. We all have certain songs that, when we hear them, magically transport us back in time. They might take you back to your wedding, or a graduation day from school; they can be a powerful reminder of any period in your life. I’ve been happily married for 28 years and now have three beautiful daughters, but when I hear the music of Lew Lewis, it’s July of 1979 again. I’m single and 20 years old, walking down the Cromwell Road in West Kensington, London. I don’t have a care in the world.
-Jim Webb

Saturday, July 24, 2010

From The Archives: Jackson Browne and the California Myth

One of the first to try and make a career out of hanging around other people while doing nothing: Jackson Browne. It wasn’t until the late 60s that it became possible to seriously think you could get away with it (Southern California had copious amounts of weed and cocaine amongst the hippie/music fringe types). Who needed a job when it was sunny?

But then, who wants to listen to anyone’s constant personal diary, especially when it’s set to such uninspiring music? America’s youth lost 10 years of their lives listening to Browne’s and James Taylor’s navel-gazing drivel. He couldn’t even make his best song a hit; had to let those flannel-shirted idiots The Eagles smooth it out for national consumption.

I saw Browne live in 1976. Even then he was the dullest headline performer I’d ever seen (out of 800 concerts). Lawyers In Love- the title says it all- you knew that would be a real sad-ass album before even hearing a note of it. In 2008, I thought I would give him one last chance and bought Solo Acoustic, Volume 2. This CD is so God-awful sleepy, I almost lost consciousness while trying to listen to it. I want to give him a little slack because he has been on the right side of most political issues of our day, but I’m sorry, this is strictly a musical critique. If you want to listen to a good singer/songwriter, try Fred Neil, Townes Van Zandt, Nick Drake, Kevin Ayers, John Hyatt, or Stephen Merritt (for starters).

Joni was right- he’s a loser; stay away from him.
-Jim Webb

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Two Ton Strap; Infatuation Therapy

The Secret Museum
Michael Mooney and Jim Webb


Group history, please.

We've been friends since the late ’90s. Kevyn, Danny and Max grew up in Dixon, and Kan, originally from Japan, spent his youth in the valley of San Cristobal. Later, after Kan lived on the couch ... for months ... the band was formed. "Restless nights," says Kan. Max and Kevyn used to play with Omar Rane and Rita O'Connell until they got fired and replaced by significantly better musicians. What up, Norm!

Obviously, some rootsy countrified influences are discernible in your music. Are you Mekons fans?

We don't know who they are ... now we feel like real tools. It's surprising that anything in our music is "discernible." (What does that mean?) Our major influences are hangin' out and friends. And we're boozers. Also, the band Handsome Molly was a major influence on our music and our drinking.

Favorite tipple?

PBR and a shot of Beam.

Banjo: open G tuning?

The banjo was custom-made for Kan by Brooks Masten (brooksbanjos.com). If anyone knows how to tune a 4-string banjo, fuck you.

You have some very nifty gig fliers. Who's responsible?

Our good friend, Taos resident Sarah Hart of Hart Print Shop (hartprintshop.com), designs and prints all of our flyers on recycled beer boxes. "She's an incredibly talented woman and we're blessed to have her in our lives," says Kevyn Gilbert. “With her help, we also make all our own shirts, underwear, beer koozies and other stuff.”

Can you offer some thoughts on the allure of Dixon, N.M.?

"Stay the hell out of our town, yuppies," says Koko. "Except for the studio tour, when we'd like your money."

I've been listening to your music on MySpace, but the player produces a hyper echoey wobble, like Lee Perry and Martin Rushent on Ether fighting for control of a Pogues session. I'm sure it's just my computer. You should hear it though.

Sounds like maybe it IS your computer. Call Gizmo Productions (575) 758-9522. We record all our own music. A lot of our online material is from live shows.

Does everyone write?

Everyone does a bit of writing—some as group songs, some written solo and brought to the group.

What's your schedule looking like this season?

Check our website: twotonstrap.com. We're too lazy to book our own shows. If someone else wants to do that, please call (575) 613-5914. Shadows and Dreams excluded. Fuck you. "Thanks for paying our bar tab, Brendan!"

Dreams? What was that about?
"Hey bartender. D’ya know how to make a redeye?"

4 ounces Beer
1 ounce Vodka
3 ounces Tomato Juice
1 whole Egg

Recording plans?

We record intermittently at Milton Records, and will be recording our full-length EP with Dave Costanza, hopefully.

Kannaroo—group effort or simply Kan?

Simply Kan. June 19. Sunshine Valley. Lots of bands. Free show. Free camping. Free love. kannaroo.com.

You are one of the more higher-profile Rock bands in the area. What is your take on the local music scene, and what can be done to improve it?

"Stale? Watered-down? Unoriginal?" says Max.
"I'm improving the scene!" says Kan. "Come to Kannaroo."
"They should change our name to the Brent BEAR Band," Koko pointed out, "because we're about to pull a grizzly on their asses."
“If you're tired of the same-old, same-old, come out to Kannaroo. Don't be a tool.”

Thank you, Two Ton Strap.

-Michael Mooney


Most of you probably have at least one or two hobbies that you spend some of your free time pursuing. You might be into gardening, playing golf or any number of other healthy diversions that help us cope with the pressures of everyday life. I’m sure you think you are pretty well adjusted and these leisure activities wouldn’t be considered an obsession or compulsion. But has your hobby ever crossed the line into a full-blown infatuation?

An infatuation can frequently occur within a hobby, as an intense period of concentrated interest that can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. One example might be of someone who enjoys reading, suddenly having to track down every known book from a particular author, and refuses to read anything else until they’ve finished them all. A person that finds decorating their home rewarding could also exhibit some obsessive behavior by needing to find an accessory for their kitchen or living room, and then proceed to visit every antique shop/flea market within a hundred miles of where they live in search of the “perfect” piece. Hikers can feel compelled to reach all mountain summits over a certain height in the state they live in. These obsessions can go in any direction and are really endless in their possibilities. I bring this up because we may not share any of the same interests, but we can all understand each other’s need for the enthusiastic pursuit of personal happiness.

The infatuations that infrequently take control of me are usually (but not always) music related. Countless times in the last 40 years of buying and listening to music, I have found myself needing to hear every album or CD a band has released. I’ll also have to track down all books written about that particular group or artist, and travel to see them perform live. Some early infatuations lasted for years (Grateful Dead), other times it lasts only three or four weeks (Rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers). Then I return to my normal listening habits. I have also done an extended immersion where, 24/7, I play nothing but a certain artist or group. A music immersion is a “burst” within an infatuation. An example of a musical immersion would be when you wake up and the first music you put on the stereo, ipod or computer is your current infatuation. You listen to their music while driving your car; it continues to be played at your place of work and is also heard when you get home in the evening. I’ve gone weeks with an immersion (Muslimgauze), until I feel that I have an initial understanding of their sound and history. Through the years, immersions have happened when an artist that I’m not familiar with (guitarist Derek Bailey) interests me, or there is someone I already like but realize I need to hear the rest of their extensive catalogue (The Fall). Currently, I am infatuated with the Blue Note jazz record label. Specifically, I’m immersed in everything they released from 1957 to 1967 by sax men Hank Mobley and Tina Brooks, pianist Sonny Clark and guitarist Grant Green. I’m not new to this period of jazz, but have realized that I had missed a lot of great music from that era by concentrating on established performers like Art Blakey or Dexter Gordon. This current immersion has been going on for about three weeks, and it could continue for quite a while—or it could end as quickly as it began.

With all this talk of infatuations, obsessions and immersions, you probably think I’ve got a lot of personal issues to deal with on my end. You may be right, but the next time you spend every waking moment of a weekend skiing, or spend all day shopping endlessly for the perfect pair of jeans or a hanging flower basket for your patio, you have also experienced an immersion. We can debate the merits and labeling of all these different activities, and I obviously would never advocate getting lost in drugs or other destructive actions. The only thing I know for sure is that it’s the people who don’t have any healthy interests that are the ones who puzzle me the most. So much of our lives have to follow a daily routine, we all need something that keeps things interesting, an activity to look forward to. If you find your current lifestyle getting stale, may I suggest you start immediately in the fanatical pursuit of something. Life is short, and there are so many things to get wrapped up in before it’s all over. I can’t wait until tomorrow; you never know when a new infatuation might begin.
Jim Webb

Sunday, June 13, 2010

From The Archives: WORST GIGS EVER (part one)

Michael Bolton/ Kenny G.
Universal Amphitheatre,
Los Angeles, 1990

Diane had heard something by Gorelick on the radio at work, and decided that she liked his smooth style. I was able to get tickets to this sold-out show via a brokerage ($50 each), and had no idea what I was in for-I thought they might be Jazz guys like maybe Al Jarreau or Chuck Mangione or something. This was the single-most horrific musical experience of my life. Kenneth Gorelick made like a brain-dead Pied Piper as he lurched from the stage all the way up the center aisle to the lobby (keep going!); Mikey Bolton’s take-no-prisoners vocal histrionics gave new meaning to the term ‘stupefying’. Afterward, we retired to Bob’s Frolic Room in order to erase all lingering memories- double Jameson for me- though whenever I see a guy with a shiny mane of curls (not very often in Taos) or a Bolton-style mullet (seems like every day!) I’m reminded of that night, and want to be sick all over again.

Here’s something I didn’t know:

Gorelick's 1999 single, “What A Wonderful World” stirred controversy among the jazz community regarding the overdubbing of Louis Armstrong's classic recording. A common criticism was that such a revered recording by a musician known especially for improvisation should not be altered. Pat Metheny responded to this recording by saying, "With this single move, Kenny G became one of the few people on earth I can say that I really can't use at all - as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music."

Santana/ Rusted Root
Greek Theatre,
Los Angeles, 1997

Two years before the massive Supernatural, we find Carlos here at his career’s ebb, preaching to the largely upscale Hispanic audience that their lowly vocational choices (itinerant farming, lawn care, dry cleaning) determine how the world sees them. Also, only meditation will heal the planet. Interminable jams follow. Saving grace: the explosive power of Cuban percussionist Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.

And whose idea was it to allow the appalling Rusted Root a 75-minute opening set?
-Michael Mooney

Friday, May 21, 2010

Johnny Cash/Johnny Dowd / Lisa Germano

The Secret Museum

By Jim Webb and Michael Mooney

February of 2010 saw the release of Johnny Cash’s last studio recordings from 2003, titled “American VI: Ain’t No Grave.” These were his final sessions produced by Rick Rubin in a project that originally started in 1995. A few weeks later in March came Texan Johnny Dowd’s latest CD called “Wake Up The Snakes.” Two musicians: one who left a musical legacy as a certified American legend, the other a little known singer, writer, guitarist who’s happy to add a few more fans with every new CD and club tour. Each man brings a personal intensity to his darkest songs that few others can match.

Johnny Cash was a deeply religious man his whole life. Even in the midst of his problems with drug addiction, he always looked at it as a test from God. Cash’s contradictions are apparent from early on as he embraced the wild rockabilly music of the ’50s while still singing gospel music every chance he had. He was known as “The Man in Black” who released hit albums and toured constantly. Throughout his career he sang thousands of songs; some of his best were about liars, robbers and killers. The main line from the title song on Cash’s last release goes “There ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down.” Near the end of his life the only songs that mattered spoke of faith, and the coming glory. He quotes scripture on “I Corinthians 15:15”—“Oh death, where is thy sting. Oh grave, where is thy victory.” His wife June passed away four months before him in 2003, and you can hear on these final recordings how ready he is to join her. There is a contemplative spirit that pervades these last recordings and the selection of buddy Kris Kristopherson’s “For The Good Times” was another beautiful choice. At the end of his life such lines as: “Don’t look so sad. I know it’s over. But life goes on, and this old world will keep on turning. Let’s just be glad we had some time to spend together” carry a gentle goodbye to his fans. “Ain’t No Grave” is a somber, melancholy album, but this poignant selection of final tunes ultimately becomes a touching farewell from one of America’s most popular performers.

Johnny Dowd is now 61 years old and was born in Ft.Worth, Texas, but raised in Oklahoma and Memphis, Tennessee. He didn’t get his first CD released until he was almost 50 years old, so you know his early songs had been fermenting for quite a while. His overall sound could be compared to the carnival barker Tom Waits colliding with a ’50s psychobilly singer named Nervous Norvus. His voice isn’t as soothing as Cash’s, and at times he treats it with a megaphone effect, along with the static of a fading radio station. “The Wrong Side of Memphis” was his first studio recording that finally got released in 1998, and following efforts like “Cemetery Shoes” and “Cruel World” are just as strong. These evocative lines are from a tune called “Final Encore”: “He died in a motel, surrounded by women’s shoes. Lipstick on a mirror had the words—I’m the king of the Jews. A Fender amplifier was still warm to the touch, in the corner a telecaster against a wall, like a cripple’s crutch.” 2010 finds Dowd releasing his ninth CD, entitled “Wake Up The Snakes,” and it’s a continuation of the mangled garage/blues sound that has been his trademark from the beginning. The organ is a little more prominent now, but Dowd’s still sitting on the front porch of the Bates Motel singing mysterious songs with black humor and intrigue. It’s a shame that Cash never recorded any songs by Johnny Dowd before passing away in 2003 from a diabetes related illness. They would have fit perfectly with his other Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings, and given Dowd a much needed boost as well.

Johnny Cash was a master singer of country, folk and gospel music whose sincerity and shared convictions with the common man appealed to a huge group of people. If Cash was a musical Billy Graham, bringing in large numbers of music lovers to his shows, then Dowd right now is just a small time itinerant tent preacher, scuffling to add a few more converts and barely having enough gas money to reach the next town. What Johnny Dowd does have is the storyteller’s gift, and a few more tales of his own still to tell. The circle remains unbroken.

Jim Webb

Lisa Germano

I used to be a big fan of Lisa Germano back in the ’90s. There was something indefinable about her haunting, catchy music that struck a chord with me, and I had great affinity for her remarkably confessional (and frequently very funny) lyrics. Mainly, though, it was her voice that first caught my attention. Soft, measured and unaffected, with a barely-discernible Midwest twang, hers was the slightly cracked sing-song Voice Of The Prozac Nation. If you asked me in 1995 which female musical artists Rock Division were my all-time favorites, I would have obviously answered, "Number one: Kleenex/Lilliput," but Lisa ran a close third or fourth, right after Poly Styrene's consumerism-obsessed X-Ray Spex and—I'm almost embarrassed to admit (after all, it being 1995)—Huggy Bear or Bikini Kill, both of whom I stubbornly believed were about to rid the world of the growling Eddie Vedders (despite ample indications to the contrary).

So what happened to Lisa? Well, for one thing, there's evidence of creeping decline in the Germano disco-chronology, and, for me at least, her tales of dejection, uncertainty and woe eventually began to lose their appeal. I can’t say that Lisa’s lyrics became farcical or myopic over time (her subject matter never changed), I just didn't relate to them personally anymore. It’s as if she got stuck in her own discomfort zone and invited everyone to join her there, then decided she didn't like the company. What once was self-deprecation became self-pity. Loyalist that I am, I responded by attempting to tune out the lyrics to her new songs and focus solely on the music instead. That didn’t work (and it never does): Lisa's trademark mix of creaking parlor recording and studio-created sound collage now appeared increasingly dull and indistinct. Look no further than 2003’s dreary Lullaby For Liquid Pig, in which, after a five-year recording hiatus, Germano returned with more of the ol’ mopey-dope (bizarrely, this particular dud was reissued in 2007 by infamous Rock Creep Michael Gira on his Young God imprint—just to piss me off further?). The humor is gone and she simply won't let you in; on this record the listener is left with nowhere to go but OUT. But I can take a hint. Here's hoping Lisa Germano will one day lose the funk and rediscover her creativity. Maybe she already has; In The Maybe World was released in 2006. I haven’t heard it.

This bit comes from Lisa's own blurb for Lullaby For Liquid Pig (on her website):
"ok i give up
too hard to trust people
stay alone and LOVE your addictions
always there

Michael Mooney
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