Reissue Review: The Quick, “Mondo Deco”

Welcome to the San Fernando Valley, circa 1976. Los Angeles’ own The Quick released one full-length album in their three year existence for Mercury Records – and now Real Gone Music has re-issued their debut full-length, Mondo Deco, as an expanded edition. Released for the first time ever on CD, it features 11 bonus tracks; liner notes; archival photos; a recent band essay, track by track commentary and more! This post-glam, pre-punk, all-power-pop gem is at the epicenter of a truly mind blowing intersection of such disparate pop culture touchstones as NBC’s “Friends”, The Three O’Clock, The Cruzados, The Dickies, Kim Fowley, Frontier Records, The Runaways, Luke Skywalker, The Starwood, “Repo Man”, The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Beck.  To tie these threads together, simply get a copy of this album and read the notes – everything fits!  My own vinyl copy, which I sought out several years ago, is fairly well-beaten up, so it’s a joy to revisit this on CD and hear it clean.

Not to digress, let’s get to the songs – the original tracks that comprised this mid-’70’s masterpiece.  From the opening notes of “It Won’t Be Long” (yes, the Lennon-McCartney classic), this band had a certain youthful magic about them; the vocals of lead singer Danny Wilde fit this arrangement and the sugary-pop style (not dissimilar to the glam sounds of the preceding years) make this not sound like a Beatles cover.  “No No Girl” has a slash-it-up guitar sound that clearly shows where The Dickies developed their style from, not too long after; the arrangements are not what one would typically expect from a teenage band – some classical qualities, if you listen between the lines; “Hillary” should have been a hit single as it sounds like something that would have been on the air at the time; again, pop but sophisticated (it must be noted all originals were written by guitarist Steven Huftsteter) and the overall arrangement, feel, energy and vibe of “Hi-Lo” makes this one of the album’s absolute highlights.  “Last In Line” is definitely one that had to have been influenced by Sparks – and does have touches of what would become more “new wave” in it; although recorded in ’76, it could have easily been recorded in ’81.  “My Purgatory Years” is the magnum opus; a teen angst rock anthem that stands out for its sheer power and dramatic arrangements – and for me, the other standout.

It’s easy to wax poetic about classic albums and hearing them after a lengthy period.  But like so many albums I’ve loved over the decades, this is one of those that never get old.  For even though it was made by young people for other young people in a different time, it’s one of those records that catapult you back to that moment.  And when you remember how much you enjoyed hearing those songs both then and now, it’s double the thrill.

As so many, The Quick deserved stardom.  That it didn’t happen is typical, but I guess becoming legendary isn’t the worst thing in the world.  This album certainly is.  Now go do your homework and connect the dots from the first paragraph above – but first, buy a copy of Mondo Deco.

*It must be noted that while the track “Hillary”, which is from Mondo Deco, we’ve included “Pretty Please Me” as well, since it’s such a great, classic track.  Enjoy!

Mondo Deco is currently available

www.realgonemusic.com/news/2018/4/16/the-quick-mondo-deco-expanded-edition-cd.html

 

Either Dead Right or Crazy: Fathom Events and Rereleasing Classic Films

I’m becoming a big fan of Fathom Events. They’ve reinvigorated what going to the movie theater means for me.

For a while, revivals and reissues were completely dead. There was no point in going to the theater to watch an old movie anymore. There was home video, cable, and later streaming. At first this was supposed to be the great savior of films. Anyone would have the power to watch whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

But it had the effect of cheapening movies for a lot of people. Now, I and a lot of other film geeks were raised on home video. But it turned movies into a sort of background distraction for a lot of people. Once something was available to everyone, it became less valuable. When you’re paying to watch something in the theater, you’re required to pay attention. If it’s on a TV screen, it’s almost not worth paying attention to.

But something that is constantly in the background sticks with you. Just ask anyone suffering a mild headache. People began to view these films as comfort food, which is what spawned the ongoing reboot craze.

Fathom Events doesn’t spend millions of dollars remaking anything. It has a simpler model. “Remember that time when studios would just re-release films in theaters?” the company asks. “Let’s just do that again.”

And that model is doing very well. A special re-release of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth grossed $1,592 per screen. By comparison, Solo: A Star Wars Story grossed $103,000,000 in its opening weekend, which leads to a gross of $7,838 per screen per day. Yet it played in 6.7 times as many theaters, had a much larger advertising budget, and played for three days across the entire day as opposed to one showing at night.

There’s an audience for these re-releases. I was one of the people in that Labyrinth screening, and the theater was packed. People weren’t sure if they still had to follow traditional etiquette and not belt out “Magic Dance” at the top of their lungs. There was applause when the credits rolled. And people were reminiscing on their favorite moments at the end of the screening. Did that happen after Ocean’s 8 rolled credits? It didn’t even happen after 2017’s Best Picture winner The Shape of Water rolled credits.

Throughout 2018, there are going to be a lot of Fathom Events re-releases are worth checking out more than, say, Hotel Transylvania 3 or that Mamma Mia! sequel.

The Sandlot (July 22, 24) – The Sandlot has become a sort of millennial classic, with “You’re Killing Me, Smalls!” as the shorthand for frustration. The Sandlot is, at its core, a rip off of Stand By Me. But it’s a great, effective rip off of Stand By Me.

This year, the film celebrates its 25th anniversary so a re-release makes sense. (Jesus, we’re getting old.) But then, that also means that the film could just as easily be released in 4K with an exclusive new five-minute featurette with Patrick Renna. So, what does putting it back on the big screen do? After all, the film was shrugged at in 1993 – it grossed $4 million in its opening weekend and critics patted it on the back as a good try. Maybe the filmmakers are finally going to receive the victory lap they deserve?

I don’t think the re-release is that cynical. I think it’s because the movie only artistically works when it’s presented in the context of nostalgia, youth, and a summer gone by. Screening for its now adult audience in the middle of summer is likely to be the most effective screening possible.

The Big Lebowski (Aug 5, 8) – When it was first released, The Big Lebowski was considered a huge disappointment. In the same way that The Coen Brothers followed up their Oscar winning No Country for Old Men with the screwball comedy Burn After Reading, Lebowski was a follow up to their Oscar winning classic Fargo. People weren’t sure what to make of it. The same duo that ended a film showing someone being ground up in a woodchipper was now making a stoner comedy?

But The Big Lebowski found its audience, with its Pynchonesque plot and its quotable one-liners. Lebowski-fests are held now, and the movie has summarized Jeff Bridges’ career for the last twenty years.

This is one event that I’m not sure can work as well, because any screening will have to be a Rocky Horror style participation event. People will be unwilling to not join in and sing “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” But people are also too aware of theater etiquette.

Yet Lebowski isn’t just a movie anymore and the theater provides the perfect space for a communal event. That’s the one difference between a theater and home video – the shared experience. Hopefully something as beloved as The Big Lebowski will remind people of what that means.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Oct 14, 17) – For some reason, Fathom Events is broadcasting a week and a half after something called The Trump Prophecy. Perhaps this re-release is a strange sort of penance? Or maybe it’s a reminder of a time when someone who had no clue what they were doing being elected to higher office was a storyline that was celebrated.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is shorthand for classic Hollywood – the story of a simple, but kind man who is appointed Senator and proceeds to break up a corrupt political machine through his hometown wisdom. But it takes on another meaning today, for the reasons I outlined above. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington would not be made as it was. They’d keep the House of Cards style manipulation that Jim Taylor uses. But there is no way that anyone would view Mr. Smith as a hero. We’re too cynical now because we’ve seen what happens when an outsider like “Mr. Smith” goes to Washington – he’s all to eager to make the political machine even worse if it benefits him.

That’s also why people need to see Mr. Smith Goes to Washington again – to remind them of a time when there was still hope for the political system and when positive change could happen. And maybe if people are reminded of that, they’ll be determined to bring those ideas back.

Spirited Away (October 28, 29) – Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki is a national treasure in his native Japan and has slowly but surely garnered a global audience that respects his impressive work. He was only the second person to ever win the Oscar for Best Animated film and his movies are cited as an inspiration for Disney.

Fathom Events loves re-releasing Miyazaki films. They still feel like an event for the U.S. His films are some of the most popular films ever made in Japan, but over here he revered by a cult audience. It’s a shame, because these are the sort of films I wish Disney would make. They’re made for children, but they don’t talk down to anyone. Disney wants to take the safe approach, while Miyazaki understands that childhood is just as complex as adulthood.

Spirited Away is one of Miyazaki’s best films. It perfectly captures the confusion between the child’s world (in which spirits exist and adults can turn into pigs) and the adult world (in which your work ethic will save you). Chihiro is forced to work in a bathhouse for the spirits after her parents are turned into pigs. She’s trying to save her family but, at the same time, is not sure if she can handle her workload.

Those who’ve seen Spirited Away already know how effective it is. It’s an animated film that doesn’t cut corners. It looks amazing and creates an enormous mythology that most live action films can’t create.

But the question remains – why re-release it in theaters? The animation will look more impressive, for one. For another, it goes against the trend of American animated films. They’re largely forgettable, thinking that the kids in the audience won’t care about quality. Spirited Away has no patience for this trend. It respects childhood and knows how to reward its audience. If only there were more Spirited Aways than Minions in the world.

Frankenstein (Oct 22, 29) – This is not a re-release of the 1931 James Whale classic. Rather, it is an encore broadcast of the National Theater’s play version featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and John Lee Miller. They would switch roles during the production – Cumberbatch would play the Creature one night, John Lee Miller the next. I’ve seen the play before and it’s probably the best version of Frankenstein I’ve seen.

James Whale changed much of Mary Shelley’s context for the novel. She wrote it to explain her fear of motherhood and the idea that her offspring would lead to her destruction. (Death in childbirth was more common back then.) It was something that a woman could easily understand, but not a man. So, she invented a man who would have to face those fears.

It’s the same plot – scientist builds creature that grows to hate him – but the play captures all the additional subtext, making it seem fresh and exciting. The Creature emerges from a giant womb on stage. Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancé wonders why he couldn’t make a human with her “the old-fashioned way.” And the creature acts like an abused child – still trying to be nice but growing to hate the father who treats him as a burden.

This also showcases one of the great inventions of cinema. It’s an encore presentation, but this was initial broadcast as it happened from the National Theater. If you told someone living in Shelley’s era that we would one day be able to do that, she’d have considered it even more fantastic than creating a new human from scratch. But here we are, and it’s a novelty that still hasn’t lost its punch.

Die Hard (Nov 11,14) – It’s Die Hard. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Die Hard has become the template that every other action film, no matter how dumb, copied. Yet it still retains its power because of how it portrays Detective John McClane. He’s not a superhero. He acts like a cowboy but he’s a scared man who knows he’s more than likely going to die during his fight with the terrorists who have invaded Nakatomi Plaza.

I can’t imagine what it was like to watch it in theaters, because the whole idea was seemingly a joke that shouldn’t have succeeded. The filmmakers took a sitcom actor and promised to turn him into an action hero of Schwarzeneggerian level. It cast an unknown theater actor as its villain. But the film was a huge hit and became one of the most influential genre films of all time.

To me, watching Die Hard on TV emphasized how claustrophic a film it is. People have described the Nakatomi Plaza as a jungle, but I could never see it. I also couldn’t understand McClane’s plight after the first act. He took up most the screen and Bruce Willis was already a well-known action star to me.

Watching Die Hard on the big screen emphasizes that urban jungle and McClane’s helplessness. Plus, they really don’t make films like Die Hard anymore. There’s an emphasis now CGI produced fight scenes that are as bloodless as possible. Die Hard is gritty and not glamorous at all. That’s why it’s being brought back – to remind people what action films should be.

Popdose Song Premiere and EP Preview: De’Anza, “Cosmic Dream”

De’Anza, a Latin artist who combines hypnotic, electronic funk with alternative and psychedelic styles, announces the release of her concept E.P., Cosmic Dream.
 
The release takes the listener through various stages of the sleep cycle, with interludes sprinkled throughout; “Stage I: Light Sleep”,  “Stage III: Deep Sleep”, “Stage V: REM”. The EP was co-produced by Grammy winner Andre de Santanna (Ziggy Marley, Jason Mraz, Sergio Mendes, etc.) and De’Anza herself. In addition to singing, she also performs vihuela, guitar, piano and programs drums.
 
Born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an epicenter of convergent cultures and rich folk art, De’Anza journeyed west to Los Angeles, armed with a vihuela, a passion for songwriting, and a mission to develop her own musical identity. Cosmic Dream has the songwriter fully embracing her love for electronic music and implementing those sonic influences into her evolving production style.
 
Cosmic Dream will be available on Friday, June 29th, 2018
 
www.deanzamusic.com

 


Reissue Review: Jeremy Enigk, “Return of the Frog Queen”

Sub Pop Records recently reissued Jeremy Enigk’s Return of the Frog Queen, a circa-‘96 solo debut whose first printing remains, justifiably, a much-sought-after cult classic. It also has become, over the years, a rather interesting point of departure from Enigk’s tenure with the on-again/off-again Sunny Day Real Estate and a lightning rod for dialogue about Enigk’s relationship with Christianity. That’s a tall order for any LP but, all these years later, the record still stands up well – and even seems to presage the shape of what followed Sunny Day’s Diary in the world of indie rock.

On tracks like the opener “Abegail Anne” or “Explain,” Enigk’s mission is writ large: tender acoustics blending into grandiose, sometimes-borderline-baroque chamber pop. The arrangements – backed, it seems, by a rather able and rather full orchestra – are colorful but not garish, supplementing Enigk’s diaphragm-pushing wails. Elsewhere, on the spare “Lewis Hollow,” he poses as a foil to Kozelek’s Red House Painters, with solo acoustics and whispered leads taking the spotlight, only occasionally backed by hints of cello or violin.

The areas where I think Enigk remains a little more timeless are where he pulls out the stops and goes full art-house – take “Carnival,” which offers a vampy electric guitar line underneath its off-time drum descents and flute-and-organ whistling. The effect is stagy, even self-conscious of its construction, but it’s also alarmingly engaging; when Enigk spits out lines like “no one knows my name” or “the lines made me perfect,” you can feel the acid land on the skin. “Shade and the Black Hat,” another dressed-up affair, offers a piano backbone and lush strings that propel the narrative forward. (“Won’t you stay tonight?” Enigk roars at one point. Indeed.)

There are parts that show their age, of course, and I’m looking mostly at the closer “Fallen Heart,” a minor piece that features, quite prominently, the reverse-looping of a ballad on analog tape, possible even a four-track cassette. “Call Me Steam,” though, might be the record’s only lull – and it seems designed with that intention. (The “expanded edition” comes with a handful of “demo” sessions that don’t add to the story but do add to the color.)

What we need to talk about, though, is where Frog Queen fits in the indie-rock canon and, in that respect, it owes more to freak-folk or Andrew Bird or Neutral Milk Hotel – the arrival of whose In The Aeroplane Over The Sea it beats out by a whole year – than Diary or Sunny Day’s post-resurrection work. Frog Queen is hardly the stuff of a Sunny Day after-thought and Enigk clearly established himself here, as elsewhere, as a creative force beyond the structures of an emo band. It’s not an epic in the sense of a long-form song-cycle, but Enigk is clearly working on something larger than he ever had constructed previously, and, for that alone, I welcome the Frog Queen’s return.

Album Review: Jeremy Enigk, “Return of the Frog Queen”

Sub Pop Records recently reissued Jeremy Enigk’s Return of the Frog Queen, a circa-‘96 solo debut whose first printing remains, justifiably, a much-sought-after cult classic. It also has become, over the years, a rather interesting point of departure from Enigk’s tenure with the on-again/off-again Sunny Day Real Estate and a lightning rod for dialogue about Enigk’s relationship with Christianity. That’s a tall order for any LP but, all these years later, the record still stands up well – and even seems to presage the shape of what followed Sunny Day’s Diary in the world of indie rock.

On tracks like the opener “Abegail Anne” or “Explain,” Enigk’s mission is writ large: tender acoustics blending into grandiose, sometimes-borderline-baroque chamber pop. The arrangements – backed, it seems, by a rather able and rather full orchestra – are colorful but not garish, supplementing Enigk’s diaphragm-pushing wails. Elsewhere, on the spare “Lewis Hollow,” he poses as a foil to Kozelek’s Red House Painters, with solo acoustics and whispered leads taking the spotlight, only occasionally backed by hints of cello or violin.

The areas where I think Enigk remains a little more timeless are where he pulls out the stops and goes full art-house – take “Carnival,” which offers a vampy electric guitar line underneath its off-time drum descents and flute-and-organ whistling. The effect is stagy, even self-conscious of its construction, but it’s also alarmingly engaging; when Enigk spits out lines like “no one knows my name” or “the lines made me perfect,” you can feel the acid land on the skin. “Shade and the Black Hat,” another dressed-up affair, offers a piano backbone and lush strings that propel the narrative forward. (“Won’t you stay tonight?” Enigk roars at one point. Indeed.)

There are parts that show their age, of course, and I’m looking mostly at the closer “Fallen Heart,” a minor piece that features, quite prominently, the reverse-looping of a ballad on analog tape, possible even a four-track cassette. “Call Me Steam,” though, might be the record’s only lull – and it seems designed with that intention. (The “expanded edition” comes with a handful of “demo” sessions that don’t add to the story but do add to the color.)

What we need to talk about, though, is where Frog Queen fits in the indie-rock canon and, in that respect, it owes more to freak-folk or Andrew Bird or Neutral Milk Hotel – the arrival of whose In The Aeroplane Over The Sea it beats out by a whole year – than Diary or Sunny Day’s post-resurrection work. Frog Queen is hardly the stuff of a Sunny Day after-thought and Enigk clearly established himself here, as elsewhere, as a creative force beyond the structures of an emo band. It’s not an epic in the sense of a long-form song-cycle, but Enigk is clearly working on something larger than he ever had constructed previously, and, for that alone, I welcome the Frog Queen’s return.

-30-

The Popdose Interview: Tom Bailey

Songwriting is often described as muscles that constantly need to be flexed, or they will atrophy. This is the part where former Thompson Twin Tom Bailey walks onto the stage to tell the audience that he hasn’t written a pop song in 25 years, and yet his songwriting muscles are swole, bro. His upcoming solo album – his debut solo album, if you can believe that — Science Fiction is armed to the teeth with the same Velcro hooks and singalong choruses that vaulted the Thompson Twins to the upper echelons of the charts. Bailey’s peers will congratulate him in person, then curse his name behind his back for making songwriting look so easy. (It’s not.)

Popdose stole some time with Bailey to chat about the new album, and learned a new rock and roll rule: when touring with women, the health food store is the new guitar shop.

Where are you right now?

I’m in London, actually. It’s a very warm and humid afternoon in London, so I’m taking a rest in a darkened room for a moment. [Laughs]

I love the new record.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

Not only that, my 11-year-old son was immediately taken in by the production, so good on you mate for that.

Wow. So he’s an expert in record production, that’s interesting, at 11 years old.

He’s been listening to music since…he hasn’t really had a choice. I’ve been forcing it down his throat since he was born.

Of course. That’s interesting, but the fact that he can separate the experience from the production is an interesting thing.

I think he’s gotten used to listening to a lot of his parents’ music, and he’s gotten a feel for production style. He knows what an ‘80s record sounds like, and he knows what a modern-day record sounds like, and you bridged the gap rather seamlessly with this album.

Well, a lot of adults can’t do that, so he’s doing really well! [Chuckles] I’ve been making records all my life, okay, I haven’t stopped, I’ve always been doing it. But [I] just recently decided to make a pop record again. And that has a kind of specific set of consequences for me, in terms of how it’s done, and inevitably, although I try to be contemporary, there’s a bridge to where I left off as well with the last pop record, which was a long time ago.

How long was the span of time between the moment when you started writing the first song for this album, and the moment you finished the last song?

It’s was quite a long time, like a couple of years, partly because I was doing it in between lots of other stuff. And because I have an insane travel habit. Not just touring and things, but I don’t live in one place, and I move around all the time. So I’ve just gotten into the habit of working with a laptop and a pair of headphones. That’s my studio these days. Which is a great thing, but it does mean that a lot of work gets done in hotel rooms.

It’s funny to say out loud that Tom Bailey made a bedroom pop record, but you did.

Isn’t that a fantastic thing, that the final democratization of the technology has taken place. So if you have half a mind to it, you can very quickly get to it, whereas back in the day, the whole thing was about getting permission to go into the studio over the weekend. It was all we dreamt of, all the time. And it was constantly denied us, and yet held in front of us as some kind of morsel, or bait.

One of the most refreshing things about the album, to me, is the arrangements. I feel like the art of arranging a pop song has taken a serious hit in the last decade.

Well, if you write a song by committee, which quite a few successful songs are these days, then one of the things that’s going to come up is, “Oh, just start with the chorus, because that’s the hook.” That may be an inspired idea, but after a while, if everyone does it, it just becomes banal, you know, just going for the short attention span capture. And obviously there are still certainly disciplines of arrangement where you have to make it within the 3:15 mark for it to be on the radio, and all of those things still exist. And I love those, the boxes you have to tick to get there. But there are several ways of doing that.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make writing for yourself versus writing for a band?

[Pause] That’s an interesting question, inasmuch as I’m now realizing that there was no difference at all! [Laughs] I’d never thought of it that way.

I didn’t know if there was a group dynamic that you had to take into account.

Oh, okay. Well, back in the day with the three-piece Thompson Twins, there was a constant push and pull of debate of ideas and stuff, that’s true. But the fact is, our division of labor, which we very formally worked out, was that I was in charge of the music, and so I’d just get on with it. Alannah (Currie) wrote a lot of lyrics, it’s true, so she spent a lot of time contributing to the songwriting process, but not really to the record making, or the music side of it. And Joe (Leeway) was really interested in the live performance aspect, the theatrical point of view. So it was always pretty much down to me, I guess, and that’s why there’s not an enormous change.

Although I’ll say one thing about having a three-piece band, is that you can never have a split decision. Whereas a four-piece can have two on one side of the table, and two on the other, staring at each other.

I feel like you’ve planted about half a dozen Easter eggs throughout the album. For example, in your song “Lies,” you borrowed the bass line from “Low Rider,” and with “What Kind of World,” I hear a little “Oye Como Va” by Santana.

That, I hadn’t noticed. [Laughs] Certainly, I would count Santana and one of the hundreds of people that I liked, so it’s not absolutely out of the question. But no, I wasn’t doing that consciously.

I feel like the title track has a little of “Sister of Mercy” in it, “Bring Back Yesterday” feels like a descendant of “King for a Day,” and I hear a little of “Tears” in the song “If You Need Someone.” And I’m not suggesting that they’re blatant copies, because they’re not at all. They’re completely different songs, but I can hear hints of some of your other material in them.

I can’t quite process the second two, but I see what you mean with “Science Fiction” and “Sister of Mercy.” Completely different songs, except that chord structure of the chorus is the same, you’re right. So, well spotted.

Thank you very much.

Maybe that chord structure is, to some extent, a signature move. I make no excuse for that.

The song that I really want to talk to you about is “Blue.” Have you seen the Pixar film “Ratatouille”?

No.

Okay. There is a scene at the very end where this cynical food critic tries the food that Remy the rat gives him, and he takes one bite, and you see him get transported back through a wormhole to when he was a child, and his mom was making food for him.

And that’s exactly what that song did to me. I was immediately this dumb, love-struck teenager again.

Wow. It was a strange song in that it was the less obvious song on the record, I think. It’s kind of introverted in its concept. But for me, the moment of magic with that was actually deciding to sing it in an assertive way. Partly influenced by the way that Bowie would do it, or something like that. In the past I have done – and quite successfully – I have done takes that are very, very internalized, where it’s all taking place in my head. And then, the other end of that spectrum is to imagine yourself on stage, and then operatically declaiming it to a crowd. Even though it’s a personal reminiscence, and very poetic in that sense.

That’s interesting that you mention Bowie, because what I heard, in the first verse, was Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout.

Wow, well, that’s a nice comparison. I wonder where he is. The last time I saw him, he had the longest, big white beard. It was magnificent.

I want to go back to “Bring Back Yesterday.” That is a curious one for me, because you don’t at all strike me as the kind of guy who, even when playing your hits from 30-plus years ago, is remotely interested in bringing back yesterday.

It’s not really a literal explanation. It’s not really about nostalgia, it’s about regret. In relationships, if we’re honest with each other, there’s always the opportunity for regret. Because we do things that mess up, and it’s really about that. It’s a song that, as it says, you can be taking the drink to your mouth, but if you spill it on the floor, it’s gone forever. Sometimes those kinds of things aren’t valued until we lose them. I guess, now we’re gonna say that I stole it from Joni Mitchell. {Laughs]

I interviewed Terri Nunn of Berlin a few years ago, and I want to share two great stories that she shared with me about touring with the Thompson Twins on the “Into the Gap” tour. One, she said that you had this amazing vegetarian chef, and the band would stare at your craft services table like a pack of starving cats.

[Laughs hard] That’s so funny. But they never said that at the time. I would have invited them to join us. I’m a kind of militant vegan, and I like people to think about taking up a plant-based diet, so there you go. And yeah, we always took a chef with us back in the day. These days, actually, now it’s much easier, because everyone understands what vegan means, and a lot of people are asking for it. Back in the day, it was like asking for the impossible, so we just ended up taking our own. But yeah, I’ve seen Terri recently, and a couple of other guys from Berlin, and they didn’t mention that. [Laughs]

The other thing she mentioned was that Alannah wanted nothing to do with her.

Well, you’d have to ask her about that.

Fair enough. You mention veganism, we recently found a product called Beyond Burgers, that are made from peas, and they’re amazing.

I’ve also come across some fake animal protein made from peas that are very, very substantial, and saw people around going crazy for it.

If you hit a Whole Foods while you’re touring the States this summer…

Are you kidding? Listen, I have an all-female band. And my big joke is that every time we hit a town, if it was guys, they’d be saying, “Where’s the guitar shop?” {Laughs] With the girls, they all say, “Where’s the Whole Foods store?” And we stay healthy that way.

Tell me a good Nile Rodgers story. He’s #1 on my interview bucket list, and until I get him on the phone, I have to live vicariously through the people who have worked with him.

I recently did a gig with him, and I hadn’t seen him for years, and there was a rumor that we were going to play something together. So I went around to where he was rehearsing – this was the day before the show – and he’s in there with the Chic band just blasting away, you know, this is musicianship of the highest possible quality. [Laughs] And then I walk in, and he just stopped everything and introduced me to his band, and they all said hi. And then he said, “Great, good to see you. Teach us a couple of your songs.”

And I said, “Well…” Of course, inside, I was thinking, “Oh, no. I can’t teach these guys my songs! This is ridiculous!” And I hadn’t brought a guitar with me. He said, “No problem,” and he handed me the Hitmaker guitar, which is this legendary guitar he has that no one ever touches, right? And he said, “Just be really careful, because it’s got really light-gauge strings on it.” So I took it, and I taught them a couple of songs, and luckily, in my panic, I could remember how to play them. But it was one of those strangely starstruck moments, not with him, because I know him well, but with the Chic band. And the next day, we sang a couple of Thompson Twins songs together, and it was fantastic.

In about an hour and a half, I’m talking to Thomas Dolby. He told me once that he wrote “One of Our Submarines” for the Thompson Twins. So, two things: did he ever actually give the song to you? He wasn’t 100% clear on that.

No. This is the first time I’ve heard that. (Note: Dolby later confirmed that he never gave it to him. “It was too good,” he said.)

Two, do you have a message you’d like me to pass along to him?

Yeah, tell him that I still want to work with him. We were talking a couple of years ago about working together, and doing some live shows in the States. And it’s very, very tempting, and I can’t give you the full details, but it was an extremely seductive idea. And I was hooked. And then, for various interpersonal reasons, not between he and I, but other people, it didn’t come together, and both of us got busy. Anyway, so I’m saying to him, we’ll do it sometime.

I will be happy to send that along, although after this tour that he’s doing, he’s going to go back to teaching, so I’m going to have to find out if Musician Thomas is going to be let out to play again soon.

He’s got a complicated, multi-disciplined life, and he doesn’t need to do gigs to pay the bills. So the good thing about seeing Thomas is that when he goes out [on tour], it’s because he’s really decided he wants to do it, rather than needs to do it.

I just read his book. It was insane. Your touring schedule is also insane. How many dates are you doing in the U.S. alone?

I don’t know, but in my diary, this year, including the States and elsewhere, it’s nearly 80 concerts, I think. And we didn’t do that many back in the day [Laughs], so I don’t know how I’ve gotten into the situation. It’s because we were agreeing to do runs with certain bills (Note: he is referring to Culture Club and the B-52s), and back in November, I was working with the Culture Club and Boy George in Australia, and it went so well that we said, “Hey, let’s do America together.”

At this point, his next interviewer calls in, and we say our goodbyes.

Dizzy Heights #41: When You Think It’s All Over, It’s Not Over — Questions, Vol. I

Big, super-ultra-mega show this week, as there are scores of song titles that are also questions. And of course, what do I do but practically lead off with a song that I’ve already played. I keep a list of songs played to prevent this very thing from happening, but here we are.

I also also lucky enough to secure a couple of liners/bumpers/whatever those in the biz call them from Dizzy Heights-friendly artists. I’ll give you a hint: one of them, like Jim Kerr, is a fellow Scotsman.

Tons of artists making their DH debuts this week, including The Lonely Island, Jesus Jones, a (killer) brand new song from former Thompson Twin Tom Bailey, Zebra, The Three Degrees, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, Tower of Power, Monaco, Love Spit Love, Ben Folds Five (wait, what?), Band of Horses, and Travis (wait, WHAT?).

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Sixty-Nine

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Sixty Nine

Once again, Jon and Rob tackle numerous subjects that either directly affect or somehow creep into all our lives, but they do so with wit, warmth, humanity and loose-limbed aplomb.  On this latest installment (just in time for the first day of summer), among the topics discussed and dissected, the AT&T takeover of Time Warner; the ugly workings of New York City’s mayor; D.W. Dunphy’s fine piece on The Carpenters; the hypocrisy of the media, plus a tribute to Paul McCartney and “In Our Heads”.

It’s always a worthwhile endeavor – what Jon and Rob bring to the table, you should want to feast on and devour.  So sit down, make yourself comfortable and prepare to digest their musings.  It’ll fill your heart and your mind.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Sixty Nine


The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Soul Serenade: Aaron Neville, “Tell It Like It Is”

In April, we lost Charles Neville to pancreatic cancer. Charles was an integral part of one of the finest family bands that this country ever produced. But ten years before there was a Neville Brothers Band, there was Aaron Neville who had a smash hit on his own in 1966.

Neville, like his brothers, was born in New Orleans of mixed heritage including African-American, Caucasian, and Native American bloodlines. He originally recorded for the Minut record label and had a little bit of success with the single “Over You.” in 1960. It took six years and a move to the New Orleans-based Par-Lo label for Neville to have his biggest hit.

“Tell It Like It Is” was released in November 1966 and it raced up the charts until it reached the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The only thing that kept Neville’s single out of the top spot was the Monkees hit cover fo the Neil Diamond song “I’m a Believer.” There was no such obstacle on the R&B chart and “Tell It Like It Is” attained the top spot and stayed there for five weeks. The song was written by George Davis who also arranged it and played baritone sax on the recording, and Lee Diamond. The session band also included trumpeter Emory Thomas, guitarist Deacon John, tenor sax player Alvin “Red” Tyler, pianist Willie Tee, and drummer June Gardner.

Aaron Neville

Aaron Neville went on to have a sterling career on his own and with his brothers. The Neville Brothers Band formed in 1976. In addition to Aaron and Charles, who played saxophone, the band included keyboard player Art Neville and percussionist Cyril Neville. The band entertained audiences worldwide for nearly three decades while releasing several successful albums in that time. Art Neville’s health issues slowed them down in the ’90s but they came back with a new album, Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life, in 2004.

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans the following year, both Aaron and Cyril left the city. It seemed that the Neville Brothers Band would be no more but the brothers reunited to play the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2008. The formal end of the band was announced in 2012 but even then there was a farewell concert in New Orleans three years later.

Meanwhile, Aaron Neville was forging an impressive career on his own. Among the highlights were his Grammy-winning duets “All My Life” and “Don’t Know Much” with Linda Ronstadt that appeared on her 1989 album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. Neville’s own hit singles included “Hercules” in 1973, his cover of the Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool” in 1991, and “Don’t Take Away My Heaven” in 1993. He has also had four platinum albums. His most recent album, My True Story, a tribute to the doo-wop songs of his youth, was released in 2013.

The song “Tell It Like It Is” had more success via a hit cover version by Heart in 1980, and another by Billie Joe Royal in 1988.

Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll #17: I Got the Six

(Archive.)

Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned.


May – June 2017

Here’s the thing about Roscoe’s Basement, for me: It’s not just a band, or a peer group, or an opportunity for socialization or creative expression — it’s a protracted exercise in spiritual improvement. Left on my own, I tend toward passivity — ignoring problems in hopes they’ll go away. And Roscoe’s Basement has a problem that cannot be ignored.

In the wake of Mike’s departure, we all agree that we should soldier on rather than breaking up the band. And after assessing our setlist, it’s plain that continuing as a five-piece is not an option — not without retooling our repertoire from the ground up. So we will look for a new guitarist, to replace the irreplaceable. And because this band constitutes for me a self-improvement program, I proclaim that I will take the lead in the search. It will be a good exercise, I think.

What I do not know is that the process will take three solid months and I will hate every goddam stinking tooth-pulling moments of it.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Figuring to stick with a proven winner, I write up an ad for Craigslist:Wouldn't you?

While we’re waiting for Craigslist to work its magic, we ease in to the search, starting close to home with someone we know. Well, someone our drummer knows. Metal Todd is an acquaintance of Tom’s from work. He’s got a taste for the heavy stuff, and some decent gear, but he hasn’t played in a ton of bands.

Part of the challenge will be finding a player who has a distinctive voice on the instrument but doesn’t feel the need to be the boss; the democratic setup we have now suits us all fine. In this, Metal Todd’s relative inexperience is a point in his favor. When we meet to jam, he’s very pleasant and obliging.

He is also, to put it bluntly, in way over his head. Metal Todd proves to have virtually no musical touchstones in common with the rest of us. He’s never heard a Ramones song, let alone played one. Even the Rolling Stones rate only the faintest glimmer of recognition. It’s as if we’re speaking different languages, mutually unintelligible.

Metal Todd’s inexperience in a band setting is a liability, too. He can keep time pretty well, but his tone bespeaks hours of playing along with records while wearing headphones. It’s got no punch, no thickness — certainly not enough to cut through the racket of three other musicians. I’m standing closest to him, and despite repeatedly encouraging him to turn up, I register his guitar primarily as a thin, angry buzz, like a bumblebee caught in a baby-food jar.

Metal Todd is a nice dude, but in the end the prospective learning curve is simply too impossibly steep to even warrant serious consideration.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Not long after Metal Todd’s audition, our ad starts running on Craigslist — to the sound of crickets. I decide to reach out in other ways, and quickly create accounts on both Bandmix and Sonicbids. I also start searching Soundcloud for other Rochester-based musicians, and reaching out via the platform’s messaging system.

After a few false starts — which I’ll cover in a future column — it becomes plain to me that we’d have an easier time finding someone if we were doing the standard bar-band list. The Roscoe’s Basement aesthetic isn’t hard to explain, but it seems unconscionably risky — or too much like work — to too many players.

I don’t get it, I honestly don’t. Do these guys actually get any satisfaction out of playing “Mustang Sally” week in, week out? Do the audiences get any joy out of hearing it? Or is it simply safer to do the standard repertoire, to be a known and pre-sold quality?

Or is it just easier? After all, if you’re playing songs the audience has likely heard a thousand times already, it seems likely that they’ll be able to fill in the blanks as long as you nail the general contours of the song. If you’re going to do a relative obscurity like “Starry Eyes,” you’d damned well better know how to play it, or why even bother? But three chords and an attitude will get you a long way with the standard bar-band canon. The bar for a recognizable version of, say, “Ramblin’ Man” or “Taking Care of Business” is pretty low.

This thought is heavy on my mind a few weeks into the process, when we audition our first serious prospect. Shawshank is a rock ‘n’ roll lifer — a biker with the requisite look and swagger, long hair and tatts and that handlebar mustache you apparently get at the Harley dealership with your 50,000 mile checkup. He’s got a good tone on his Les Paul, and he’s properly loud — he’s been kicking around in bands forever like the rest of us, so he’s not intimidated — which makes it easier to evaluate his playing.

We let Shawshank call the tunes for the first hour, and he’s not shy. We play the Who and the Stones and Creedence, and even dig back into our archives for “Road House Blues,” which we haven’t played since our first gig — almost a year ago. Shawshank blasts through them all, playing fluid, gutsy solos. Then we call a few, and he gamely bluffs through “Surrender” and a couple of Ramones tunes. We chat a while — Shawshank talks mostly about gear — say our goodnights, and then the five of us sit down to talk things over.

Tom is ready to sign Shawshank up right away; Deanna thinks he’s got promise; Chuck and Craig don’t have strong feelings either way — not that they’re saying out loud, anyway — and so it falls to me to be Captain Buzzkill, and to put into words the uneasy feeling in my gut.

Given free reign, I point out, Shawshank’s musical choices didn’t extend much past approximately 1974. And while classic rock is definitely part of what we do, it’s not the end of it. How far out onto the ledge will he be prepared to follow us and our crazy skinny-tie music? And when we asked him what kind of cover material he might bring to the band, he didn’t really have an answer, which suggested to me that he didn’t have any firm handle on our vibe.

And for all his solo chops, Shawshank was half-assing a lot. He knew the songs, but he didn’t know the songs. F’rinstance: We did T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” — a song with one of the most iconic rhythm guitar parts in all of rock — and Shawshank just sort of played through the chords in an undifferentiated strum, with no accents. When he played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” he had the progression down, but he wasn’t playing the licks, wasn’t playing the song — just a rough approximation.

Now, that’s just how a lot of bands play — but not us. Not to blow smoke here, but what we do is hard work, and it can be unforgiving; the drive to be note-perfect is part of what killed the joy of it for Mike. But when it all comes together, we are pretty spectacular. We need someone who’s going to do the work, and I don’t know if Shawshank is that guy. What I’ve heard tonight makes me think that when the crunch comes, he’s likely to say, “Eh, good enough.”

(Also it set my teeth on edge the way Shawshank barely acknowledged Deanna’s presence all night, and casually referred to women as “chicks” throughout the evening. The little things, sometimes they give you a feeling.)

I try (and mostly fail) to express all this in the moment. In the end, we compromise rather than cut Shawshank outright, we put him on standby, thanking him for the audition and keeping him as an option for a callback, still hoping for someone more obviously suited to the gig.

And I keep looking.

Oh boy, do I keep looking.

Next: Dog and Pony Show