Saturday, January 30, 2010

ABOUT A HOUSE


If you've ever lived with a roommate, you've probably been in a situation where your musical tastes tend to cross-pollinate. It's a great learning experience, turning each other on to music you wouldn't ordinarily listen to, especially when there are shared reference points. Try multiplying that by nine roommates (and often times more), and you have a hard time soaking it all in..

For roughly a year and a half, I lived in a seven bedroom house, with what started as eight roommates. That varied wildly. With rent at $135 a bedroom, there were instances of up to four people splitting one room, and there were a lot of extended stays by couch crashers. It was a mob scene. The core group were people in and around the punk scene, but it really wasn't a "punk house". We were pretty smart kids, almost all had pre-punk histories with varied musical, artistic and literary interests. So, what to most of the punk scene seemed like a party house, was actually a melting pot of culture.

There were records, literally, everywhere in that house. There was one closet, between the kitchen and the living room, that had a pile of records just thrown in it, a couple feet high (some with covers, some without). Just about every room in the house had some sort of record player in it. (One friend told me his first impression of the house was a hanging out in the kitchen, while people ate mac and cheese with knives and Johnny Cash played on a portable record player on the sink...) Because the majority of the records were freely shared there was a lot of exploring going on, and it wasn't uncommon to have a roommate's interest in one of your records prompt a reevaluation.

The breadth of taste in the house was wide, and looking back, surprisingly good. And, more often than not, there would be music blasting simultaneously from different rooms. A trip through the house might bring snippets of the Clash, Eddie Cochran, U-Roy, Eno, Howlin' Wolf, Abba, Pete Seeger, the Injections, Kraftwerk, and the Stones. And it played constantly. Because there were so many roommates, with varying schedules and levels of employment (many had neither), there was always someone up and around. (In the time that I lived there there was not one minute in which everyone was asleep.) So, musically, you had the best of situations: a multi-room, 24/7 record party with thousands of titles, and an abundance of taste.
The house, without any prompting from the residents, got tagged by people in the scene as "the Mod House," despite the fact that there wasn't one mod who lived there. Thirty years later, there's still theories floating around about the source of the name (one is that it was because there was a lot of early Who, Kinks and Stones played), but, nevertheless, it stuck. Oh, did it stick. All anyone had to do was open their mouth and say "party at the Mod House" as they were exiting a show, and the house would become flooded with a hundred or so of our closest uninvited guests. This, of course, would sometimes lead to bad scenes involving fights, cops, bad raps and thoroughly pissed off neighbors (not to mention a few stragglers that would be "recovering from their hangovers" for days on end, without ever vacating the house).

There were quite a few musicians and wanna be musicians among the residents and visitors and, depending on what else was going on, there might be a band playing on the back porch, or in the basement (more like a storm cellar) that had been converted haphazardly as a "practice" room (when conditions were damp, it wasn't uncommon to get shocked if you weren't standing on something off of the floor). One roommate, through his reggae connections, offered up his room, a large converted patio, for a pre-tour rehearsal studio for Leroy Smart, a reggae artist whom most of us were familiar with due the Clash name-drop in "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais." So, for roughly a week, we had a bona fide reggae icon (and/or his band) playing in our house. The same room was used for a no-bones recording studio, producing the backing tracks for two albums, one by A Doeman, and another by Mohamed I. (I have fond memories of falling asleep to the sound of thumping reggae bass lines seeping through the floor of my second floor bedroom.)

It's been thirty years since we moved into the house. My first memory is from right after we were handed the keys. Roommate Suzie, spinning around, arms outstretched, in the large empty living room exclaiming "I can't believe this is all ours!" My last memory is returning to the same living room through an unlocked and wide open front door, post eviction party. No one else was there and the house was eerily quiet. A bashed up acoustic guitar was sticking out of a hole in the wall (that it had been used to create), choice words were scrawled on walls, and shit was strewn everywhere, including, yes, many records.

Suffice it to say that living there has had lasting effects on my musical tastes and interpersonal relationships. As with any big household, the bad shit was magnified, but then again, so was the good. I'm just thankful to remember the good, and even more thankful that, in hindsight, I can laugh at the bad.

These songs are for Margaret, Suzie, Lisa, Kathleen, Lou, Bruce, Gary and Peter, all the later roommates, and, of course, our "guests." If someone would have told me that most of us would still be around, let alone some with families, I most assuredly would have asked for some of what they were smoking (and a generic beer or two to wash it down with).
.
2/25/2010 NOTE: Due to a notice from Blogger, all links have been removed on this post. I do not yet know which was the offending link, but I know enough to play it safe until I have more details. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SORRY, WE ALREADY HAVE YMA.


Slow loading web pages are a pisser (but you knew that). A few days ago, I was on a blog that had waaaay too many posts on the first page, so it took a painfully long time to finish loading. Yet I felt compelled to go back to it to snag an mp3 of a song by The Sound of Feeling, just for you. TSOF (as us lazy typists like to call them) were twin sisters Alyce and Rhae Andrece, whose other main "claim to fame" was as bit actresses in Star Trek and Bonanza (sometimes research leads nowhere...). I thought, maybe, one or two people might find it mildly amusing. I found it hilarious. The more I listened to it, the more I found it hard to believe that it was actually released. It's a cover of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," a song I've never been too fond of anyways. But this cover is, well, on a different planet than the original. Really, the backing vocals make the Shaggs sound like divas. And the lead vocal sounds like somebody strangling Yma Sumac. That's no easy feat, that spread.
It starts out innocently enough, a quiet intro into the lead vocal. It's at about :34 seconds in, when the background vocals start, that you realize that something is askew. Someone had to have been sleeping with the producer. These aren't backing vocals, they're, well, closer to moans. Just about the time you get used to them, and settle in, it gets quiet. (You know in the old war movies, they used to say "it's quiet out there, too quiet."? It's kind of like that.) Keep in mind, you're only into a little over a minute of it. Then the lead vocals come back in, with a little scat sorta thing, kind of annoying, but okay.... just as soon as you drop your guard, it's staccato time. Yes. Then it slowly evolves into some high pitched theremin impressions, and you're closing in at just past 2:00 minutes, when the music dies down and is replaced by the soothing sounds of ocean surf. Then, inexplicably, in fades a street organ (that's the type that usually has a monkey attached). Okay, this is just getting all WTF, up in your face. It's exhausting. I'll leave it at that. It's five minutes and 24 seconds of misguided freakness. (And, yes, the vocals do return.)
.
(Re Shaggs link source: No shit. It was labeled as "atonal" so, it must have been for a music class.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

REALLY, WE JUST LOOK CREEPY


There's a long bio of Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights on Garage Hangover, and I'm not sure I want to read it. Not because I'm not interested, I'd just like to believe that they were, deep down, as creepy as their cover of Otis Rush's "Homework" sounds. I mean, look at them; they've got a Twin Peaks-creepy thing going on. Maybe it's just because it's a typical early 60's band of faceless white guys. I don't know. But their reworking of "Homework" does nothing to dispel that feeling.
.
It's a great song, "Homework," one that seems hard to screw up. Probably the best known version was on the third J. Geils album, "Full House," a live set that had the band at their sweaty, greasy peak. It, like the rest of the album, was just straight ahead rockin' blues, but the pace and spontaneity captured on that album make it hard to ignore. (Really, don't dismiss the entire J. Geils Band output because of "Centerfold." It's like the Faces compared to later Rod Stewart: a whole different band.)
.
Knight & the Mid-Knight's version, done roughly ten years earlier (and just a couple years after Rush's original), is a whole different interpretation. The creep-o-vibe is a probably a sum greater than it's parts, namely the Munsters-like tempo of the organ, the extreme echo on the vocals, the weakest space filler whines ever (listen to the "awoow-ow" at :51 seconds in) and the unusual instrumentation and overall mix. It sounds like Knight must have just got a new Wurlitzer with a few more buttons, because there's several different organ sounds buried in it, ranging from aforementioned Munsters, to roller rink to Jimmy Smith. It could be just me, but the vibe is unsettling enough that I can't get enough of it. Sadly, none of their other stuff posted on Garage Hangover sounds quite the same, so historians will probably end up theorizing that recreational drug use led to this departure from their frat party sound.
Otis Rush's original, from 1962, is of course the template. It too has a pedestrian tempo and organ rather prominent in the mix, and Rush's guitar work is perfectly understated; but it's the horns that dominate. The horn arrangement, with it's intro, pulsing rhythm and it's filthy bump-n-grind burlesque sax fills, is the stuff of Daptone drool. Makes me wish I'd done my due diligence thirty years ago.
.
Alternate link:

Monday, January 18, 2010

GET DOWN AND GIVE HELP


No matter how crappy things get for you, just remember, you've got it good compared to others suffering in third world countries. The good guys at Soul Strut have organized a record auction to help out the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, and they've got some gems posted. Among the dozens of titles are an original Studio One pressing of the first Burning Spear LP (with the awesome silkscreen cover), an ultra rare Jackie Mittoo private pressing, a Daptone test pressing of the Menahan Street Band, Thee Midnighters "Unlimited" on Whittier Records,...drooling yet? When was the last time you paid (probably) too much for a record and felt good about it? Really, the champs are the guys donating the records. That's another rarity: generous record collectors!

Friday, January 15, 2010

VELVET UNDERGROUND GRAB BAG

A few months ago, I was listening to mp3's on shuffle, going about my business, when I was jarred by an instrumental that I hadn't really heard. I mean, it was on my computer, so I had downloaded at some point. But I must not have listened to much of it, because I would have noticed it. It was raunchy, repetitive and kind of distorted (so, my kinda music). The playing was good, but it was basic enough that it didn't come off like hot shots. But the thing was, the mix; the mix was godhead-o-phonic. When I went to my computer to see who I'd been listening too, and saw that it was the Velvet Underground, I felt like Poseur of the Day.

Could it be, that my (new) favorite Velvet Underground song was an instrumental? And singled out, without a clue who it was? I should have recognized it, but it was from an outtakes album that I never got around to getting. And, sans vocal, it didn't sound like them. (Listen to it. The mix seems a little louder than most of their stuff.) And I like that there are breaks; the song has spots for verse, chorus and back again. And that it sounds like the Sonics doing the Velvets, (Gawd, would I like to hear Gary Roslie yelp over that!) A few months after putting it in the "save for later" pile, I figured I better put in up, before the link is dead. Do yourself a favor, get it now.

Ever wonder why all the photos you see of the Velvet Underground are in black and white?

This of course, gave me the excuse to post the backlog of Velvets/Lou Reed mp3s and links that I had. So here's the rundown: The first is the aforementioned instrumental version, followed by the live "gymnasium bootleg" version, with vocals. That's followed by the live gymnasium recording of "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore" (the only known recording of that song). "Pale Blue Eyes" is on here because it reminds me of my brother. "The Gift" is on here because it reminds me of a long lost friend, Doug Diaz, who transcribed the whole damn thing and turned it in as his own short story back when he was in high school. Then there's nine songs (at Beware of the Blog) from the "Ultra-Rare Acetate," unreleased studio recordings that were found in a stack of old records and sold for some ungodly sum a while back. Next is a Lou Reed interview from 1974, just because I find funny; it's right out of the Warhol interview hand book (you know: short, inconclusive answers). Then there's one of very few videos that's labeled as the Velvet Underground and Nico on YouTube (though it seems like it's just Lou Reed and Nico) doing an acoustic "Femme Fatal". I followed that with Nico, from the mid-80's doing "All Tomorrows Parties". I included that because it was about the time I saw her live in Amsterdam (and, you know what? The bitch didn't even look at me). After that is the Primitives, a demo-only pre-Velvets group of Reed and Cale's, who were working as songwriters for Pickwick at the time. Somehow "Do the Ostrich" got released and became a minor regional hit, forcing them to throw together a group to promote it. (A complete pre-Velvets discography can be found here.) I had to include "Perfect Day" not only because it's beautiful, it's also a go-to tear-jerker for anyone DJing a wedding. The promo for the BBC using the song is pretty tight too. (Don't turn it off when Bowie flashes on your screen. You'll be rewarded with snippets of Burning Spear, Shane McGown, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, and Tom Jones as compensation.) Then there's the mildly amusing "Sister Ray" mash-up with the VU dubbed over a video of a Lawrence Welk band. Next is an interview with Reed at Kung Fu magazine, about the "Tai Chi of Rock n' Roll," which I haven't read, but still induced a nice smirk when I saw his poses (here's the cover). Last on the list is yet another mash-up by Go Home Productions, this time mashing Christina Aguilera and the Velvets.

So, I've pretty much depleted my stock of oddball Velvets/Reed links. Now a challenge: Five, count'em five, American dollars to anyone who sends me an mp3 of their own (or someone else's) vocals over the instrumental version of "Guess I'm Falling In Love". The only criteria is that it can't be Reed's vocals. You can make up lyrics, do a mash-up or whatever. If there's more than one sent, I'll post them all and let people vote on them. If you drop Gary Roslie's vocals over it, you'll be an instant winner of ten American dollars. Just throwin' it out there...
One more thing, just remember folks, per Reed, his reissued Metal Machine Music is "the perfect holiday gift for your loved one."
.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

OK, I'LL SAY IT: HE AIN'T HEAVY

The photo above is pretty telling. It's of my brother Tim, gazing lovingly at a Telecaster that had been hanging in a guitar shop. Left for dead, it's body scarred by fire, and deemed unsavable, it was a magnet for Tim, who took it home and rebuilt it, from its naked charred body up. After adding a new neck, tuning pegs, bridge and all of the electronic gizmos, it turned out to be more than playable. And, although he had about a dozen better guitars at the time, it held a much more significance for him. It was, first and foremost, oddball. But it was also something that no one would want. Discarded, overlooked, unloved, funky, challenging, weird, dirty and pretty fuckin' homemade cool.

Today is our birthday, we are twins. He passed away roughly 13 years ago. And he is the reason for this blog. Because he was my primary source for musical dialogue. And, if you knew him, you know that he was wild about music. Let me rephrase that: he was wild about wild music. And he loved to talk it. So, I had to start doing this to make up for the conversations I so missed.
Because of our impending birthday, last night I wrote a friend of Tim's, to thank her. She was one of the last really good friends Tim had made, and really special to him. So, I wrote her and didn't think much more about it. I looked at a few photos of Tim and, while doing so, the terms "big shot" and "bad ass" both came to mind. Not really in a chest-beating sort of way, but kind of self effacing, but also with a little bit of truth. Then today, I received an email back from Tim's friend. It was a long, stream of consciousness email, in which she splattered some of the best words written about my brother. She's was one of the last people to know Tim well, and she pretty much summed him in one particular spurt (of many). She described him as "one amazing freaky free rock n' roll sweet bad ass nice guy..." I give. That pretty much pegs him.
.
Happy Birthday bro. I'll post some music tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

ENTRY LEVEL COUNTRY


Everyone who's really into music has done it. You find out someone you're not quite familiar with covered a song that you already know like the back of your hand. So, you buy their record, and find yourself liking it. You notice other covers, so you check out the originals, and all of a sudden you find yourself working backwards, getting closer to the source. So it is that the Rolling Stones can lead to Merle Haggard, or Commander Cody can lead to Red Sovine or Bob Wills, and so on. Pretty soon, you're looking for session players like Sneaky Pete, Don Rich and Phil Baugh. To paraphrase the Talking Heads, "You might find yourself saying, 'how did I get here?'" It seems especially true for genres left under explored in your younger years. But that's the cool thing about music.

There's a neat quote that was on some blog somewhere, that was from a sign in a record store. It was directed at music fiends, but, shit, it applies to everything, across the board. It said "You will never know everything. You will never hear everything. You will never own everything. You will never remember everything." I'd like to think that it came from a wise old sage, but more than likely it came from a snotty record store counter guy who was being a little profound completely by accident.

I can think of at least a dozen people in my past who have emphatically pointed me in the direction of a country artist of some sort. All had different starting points, and all were followed up on. But, still, I'm a country neophyte, so a rather obvious starting point was Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. I got as far as Buck and Merle, realized that I was opening up a can of worms and just cut to the chase, one of the aforementioned session guys, Phil Baugh. As a side note, I've got to add that Dave Dudley's "Two Six Packs Away" is a personal favorite. Not only does he sound drunk, but those perky backing vocals piping in repeatedly with "Two Six Packs Away" always manage to slay me.

~ NOTE: ALL MEDIA IS HOSTED BY THE BLOGS & SITES NAMED BELOW ~
Listen:
The Flying Burrito Brothers - Christine's Tune (Devil in Disguise) mp3 at Rock-52.net

Saturday, January 2, 2010

POP THE COURVOISIER


That's right, it's Black Moses time. Another long, totally reinterpreted, cover by Isaac Hayes. Here he stretches the Beatles "Something" to almost 12 minutes. (Could you imagine if he did a Fela cover?!?) Some of his extended songs can be hard to appreciate, but you really do have to listen to the whole thing and not try so hard. For that reason, it makes for good driving music.
.
I found it on the blog, Ear Hole, which also had about its pages tons of assorted soul and funk jams, making it yet another blog on the "must really dig in to one of these days" list. I'll limit it to two, the Diplomats of Solid Sound and Spanky Wilson, two keepers. (Remember the drill, right click on title and "save as...")
.
Spanky Wilson and the Quantic Soul Orchestra - I'm Thankful mp3 at Ear Hole
Diplomats of Solid Sound - Plenty Nasty mp3 at Ear Hole
Isaac Hayes - Something mp3 at Ear Hole
Ear Hole's main page