Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Photo Essay: Street Scenes - June 2007

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2010

I enjoy taking photos of people and places, usually unposed to catch them at their most real. Here are some I took in New York. The main locations were out my office window, and on Fifth Avenue, in the high 40s and low 50s, and finally in Bensonhurst. Photos can be made larger by double clicking them.

[Wonder where they're rushing off to]

[A tool toolin' around]

[Wathced too many rom-coms]

[Nuff said]


[More...food...]

[Bike flowers]

[It's all a numbers game]

[Yes, he is]

[Too hip for his own good]

[Colin Farrell wannabe?]

[Why SLRs are much cooler]

[Balloon stampede!]

[You know what she needs? More sugar!]

[Yeah, right]

[Moving truck being towed (in front of St. Patricks Cathederal): Oh, the irony (and without a prayer)]

[Check the graffiti behind the head of the person in the center (from my window in Brooklyn)]

[Fixing the roof on the building across the street from my Broolkyn apt]

Monday, March 29, 2010

UNCLE FLOYD VIVINO: How to Laugh in 60 Easy Minutes

Text by Ira Seigel, 1980
Intro and photos (in studio and at the Bottom Line) by Robert Barry Francos, 2010
© FFanzeen 1980, 2010


The following interview with cult idol, television host and musician Floyd Vivino, who for years led The Uncle Floyd Show on both UHF and VHF at various times, appeared in FFanzeen, Number 5, which was issued May/June 1980.

The Uncle Floyd Show was a pseudo-children show that was geared more towards adults, a la Soupy Sales. The jokes were borderline questionable (an actual joke from the show: Q: What’s the difference between roast beef and pea soup? A: Anyone can roast beef), but more importantly, they showcased many then up-coming bands, but Ira will talk about that more later. It was definitely a favorite among the pre-, present- and post-punk crowd.

The day Ira interviewed Uncle Floyd, myself and our managing editor found ourselves at the television studio in West Orange, New Jersey (I drove, of course), and we had the opportunity to see the taping of a couple of episodes of the show, with Jan and Dean as the musical guest! Floyd opened up to us in his dressing room, and was as cordial as could be.

Over the next few years, we would all watch the show, and go see some live versions of it performed at the late/great Bottom Line (now an NYU dorm).

The format for this interview is a bit different, so just as an FYI, starting below, Uncle Floyd comments will be in plain type, and Ira’s questions and commentary will be in italics.

[Looney Skip Rooney and Uncle Floyd]

Yeah, I know. You’re asking, “Why is a rock’n’roll newspaper wasting space on a kid show? Why not an article on the Ramones or somebody important?

Not only is his show the only one on commercial television that regularly features groups like the Ramones, Ronnie and the Jitters, the Rattlers, Shrapnel, and many more (even the legendary Jan and Dean have appeared), but it’s probably the funniest show on the air right now. If you love rock’n’roll, you’ll love Uncle Floyd.

Now, about the children show thing. If anything,
The Uncle Floyd Show is a satire on kids shows. There are pictures on the wall (sent in by viewers), and he used to announce birthdays (until there were just too many), but that’s it. From that point on, it becomes a totally manic half-hour of outrageous humor. One of the bits on the show is, in itself, a send-up of real kiddy shows: Floyd the TV clown, with Floyd in a clown suit and members of the cast playing kids. A large part of the laughs in the sketchy comes from the truth in it, the empty phoniness in the usual TV kid show host. But this is a digression, and you can argue every point I’ve made. So, the final word on the subject goes to Floyd himself. Is The Uncle Floyd Show for kids?

Uncle Floyd Vivino:: The first show was January 29, 1974… We started out as a kid show the first year, and in the second year, it started out to be a legitimate show aimed for 3-6 year-olds. I just found out like any other person that tried it at the time, that Sesame Street was just too overwhelming. That was the standard for a kid’s show; the puppets, everything, is so superior. I just said, well, that’s the end, this show’s not going to last if I keep this up. But there was something about it, that we always had older people, even from, like, the first show. By the summer of ’76, we started changing it around for an older group, which were high school kids. Somehow, we passed them up and we hit a little bit of an older group, more like 18. Right now, almost everyone watching the show is over 18 and under 30. That’s the dominant age group. Second flank is from 30-35, and then lower is 12-16 year olds. We could count the kids who watch the show because their parents do. That’s unfortunate; a lot of kids 2 years old watch the show, their mother’s 22 or 24, or whatever.

So, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s proof of that, also. The sponsors of the show include the Capitol Theatre, a tattoo parlor, various clubs and bars, and even radio stations, none of which anybody under 18 would really care about. Besides that, back in December of last year, The Uncle Floyd Show sold out all four shows at the Bottom Line in New York City. It’s a pretty nice accomplishment for a local show from New Jersey, although Floyd is more realistic about it.

Well, it’s a small place, don’t forget, it only holds 400 people. We do so many shows out here in New Jersey. We play these tank houses and school gyms that hold 2000 people and only 1000 people show up, so people say, “He couldn’t sell out.” We only had to sell 1600 tickets in New York to sell out. They did that fast because in New Jersey, we always draw 5-600, even at a flea market. We do these theaters too, like the Franklin Theatre in Nutley, 1500 seats. So 700 people show up and the place looked empty, but in the Bottom Line it would look impressive. So that’s deceiving, the Bottom Line selling out. We would have been very disappointed if it didn’t.

As you can see, there’s an amazing dedication to the show by its fans – and there’s a wide range of them.

[Uncle Floyd and Oogie, live and in the mirror]

We’ve taken surveys. We have a little newspaper we put out every month, and we got a 400 sample survey on our viewers. Then again, when they have to fill these surveys out, you’re leaving out the little kids. The ones who are over 18, I think the demographics lie to that area. A lot of them are white-collar bankers or work for IBM and big companies. A lot are construction workers. It seems to be every group as far as that goes. Where it differs is in the intellect. There’s two levels of audience: the highly intellectual and the sub-human. Let me explain it to you this way: we do a lot of shows in high schools. In an average high school, the staff of the school newspaper watches the show, the drama club watches, the debating society does. Football and basketball teams never heard of it. The cheerleaders, they don’t even know what UHF is, they’re beyond reaching. So we leave out football and that crowd and then go from the honor society right down to the class troublemakers, the guys who major in lunch and shop, you know. It seems to be that way at every personal appearance. The audience, as an audience, is very sharp, or very like animals. Totally, like baboons – especially Netto’s fans. When we did a show at William Patterson College, we had motorcycle gangs sitting right next to the honor students. We didn’t have the C students; we had the dummies and the brains. Strange.

The loyalty to the show is so great that occasionally “wars” are declared on anybody or anything that’s anti-Uncle Floyd. The most legendary and bitter of these are the Star Trek wars.

The wars are legit, and what it means is the viewers are allowed to make fun of whoever it is, in full view of everyone, on the pictures on the wall. The only reason they’re allowed to do that is ‘cause whoever we’re going to war with is doing the same with us. The Trekkies were real wars because of the big Star Trek convention in New York. We had a whole fan club go with Uncle Floyd T-shirts and badges, and one guy was really beaten up by a bunch of Trekkies, ‘cause we were both on at 6:00. So we had a debate on the show whether we should declare war on the Trekkies, ‘cause it was a serious thing. Then we decided, well, how are we going to realize who’s going to win the war? So we said, the first show to be dumped by the station or have their timeslot changed loses the war. And we hung in there. Channel 11 [WPIX-TV] dropped Star Trek, and about three weeks later, they moved us from 6:00 to, I think we went to 5:30, I don’t know. They had some strange times there for a while, but we beat them a few weeks.

There’s a lot to be said about the time slot of the show. Right now, it’s sandwiched between reruns of the Lone Ranger and Green Acres. Are there people who sit through Floyd just to see Arnold the pig?

That’s always happened. We used to lead into Time Tunnel, we had Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea for a long time – for almost two years – and that was a big lead-in show. And the intro was Dobie Gillis for a long time. A lot of people said they used to watch that. So we’ve had our share. We used to be followed by a Chinese program at 6:30, and we followed a religious show for a while. In ’74, it was on from 5:00-6:00 live, and we did a country-western show after at 6:00. So you always run into people saying that.

As much as Floyd is loved by fans, he cares about them. He is very serious about the show, even though it’s obviously a lot of fun. Actually, if it wasn’t, there probably wouldn’t be a show. Nobody gets paid, and the studio itself is about the size of a large elevator. It adds new dimensions to the term “low budget.” None of that matters or perhaps it helps, because there’s a remarkable flow and interplay between the cast of the show. It’s all for the love of it, and it’s definitely a group effort.

Everybody just writes; we write it and get ideas. A script for five shows is one page. We use a formula called comedia del’art. We know how it’s going to begin, we know how it’s going to end. All the work has been done, now we just go in and have a party. The guys have worked with me so long; we know how we work together, so there’s no need to rehearse – no purpose in it. There’s no time or money for it. We’ve just been around working together so long it’s easy. It’s like five musicians getting together. They know the song they’re going to play, say they never played it before, but they know how it begins and how it ends, and that’s what we do. Same principle. It’s about half improvised. Everything is planned out, even the ad-libs. You’ve got to be an idiot to go up there cold, or you’ve got to be a genius. If I was a genius, I wouldn’t be here.

A lot of talented people are on the show and deserve credit. Of course, there’s Floyd – and his puppets; the most popular of which is Oogie, literally Floyd’s right-hand man. By his own admission, and on-air jokes, he is a very bad ventriloquist. To offset this, the camera is always on the puppet in a skit. This seems to make the puppet quite human.

(Oogie)’ll like it when I tell him that tonight. That’s the whole purpose of doing that. I mean, ventriloquism is one thing as an art, but to do it on a television you’ve got to be crazy. Shari Lewis is the best, she’s phenomenal, but even guys like Edgar Bergen and other famous ventriloquists had a hard time on TV; that camera’s so sensitive, even if you’re not talking, it looks like your lips are moving. When I do a live show, especially if it’s in a school or a big gym or something, people think I’m great. Put the mike in front of you, talk like this [he covers his mouth], and they can’t even see your face, let along your lips moving, from like the 15th row, and I love that. Then people say, “Wow, you’re really great on TV, you know, but you’re better in person as a ventriloquist.” They don’t know. To tell you the truth, I can’t stand ventriloquist acts that just treat the puppet like a dummy. The guy gets up and all they do is jokes, so I tried to make Oogie not like a puppet.

Oogie is even a recording star now. Records? There are two out, and a third is planned. So far, they’re only available in New Jersey or at live appearances. The records are great, and you can even dance to them. Floyd wrote all the songs, plays piano…

Every one of my relatives plays at least one instrument. I play three chords on the guitar. I used to play the trumpet pretty good, but you’ve got to work at it, keep that embouchure up. I’ve played an accordion on my show. Piano’s really it. I had lessons from when I was about 7 until 12; a classical background. Jimmy Durante had a big influence on me; I used to get a kick out of the way he played, so I stared fooling around with that style.

And sings, although in puppet or character. Oogie has two songs and a familiar sounding voice. I think he sounds like Frankie Valli (the Four Seasons period) myself.

Well, that’s what happens. No matter what you do, somebody traces it and says you took it from here. Frankie Valli, and before him Curly of the Three Stooges had a high falsetto and before him bobby Clark in vaudeville, and so on. I didn’t have that in mind, just a high-pitched voice. The little noises he makes, I mean Frankie Valli, he would be very insulted if he heard this, that I took that from him.

Okay, so I’m wrong. Floyd knows his music pretty well. What does he listen to?

I don’t call them, these bands on my show now, I don’t know. It’s very interesting, I don’t know what the… rock’n’roll, New Wave, I don’t know how to classify anything anymore, but for me, rock’n’roll was Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, you know, Elvis Presley. That, to me, is rock’n’roll, not the Beatles. And I like rock’n’roll from ’55-’64. I really love Rhythm and Blues from ’48 to about ’55; early, like the Five Redcaps. I’ve got B.B. King. I’ve got 30,000 records, not all 78s. I’ve got extensive stuff. I’ve sold, and I’ve been a pretty good dealer. Vin Scelsa [DJ on WNEW-FM and Floyd fan – IS] wants some of my Beatle stuff that I have from the Iron Curtain: Beatle postcard records which are like worth about 300-400 bucks apiece. I found them in a stack of postcards – postcard records from Poland – and I almost had a heart attack when I saw the stack. I knew what I was looking at, and I said to the guy, “How much to you want for the whole stack?” and he said, “Give me a buck.” I started shaking; I had the shakes. And I got out of there and I said, “I’m going to wake up any minute, this is a dream, this isn’t true,” and I take it out and I show it to guys on my show, Scott [Gordon] and them. But I like jazz too; a lot.

So he doesn’t really care for new rock’n’roll that much. How does a band go about getting on his show, then?

First of all, they have to have a record. They have to contact David Burd, he handles that, he schedules them and puts them on. Now, anyway.

There’s some good news, though,

Disco I never liked, and that’s probably the only form of music I can honestly say I just can’t relate to. I don’t think it’s because of the music. It’s the attitude of the disco fans; it just drives me up a wall. I mean they just make me sick, the whole thing. John Scher [Capitol Theatre] said it best: he said these are just the people who can’t relate to rock. It’s dying anyway, right? Finally, thank God. I hate it. Well, everybody in the business hates it. Even the people making the disco records hate it. It’s a total, complete turnabout from… anybody from the ‘60s generation is anti-disco. Plus, they would never watch my show, disco people. The only thing they look at is a mirror.

[Uncle Floyd, Artie Delmar, Looney Skip Rooney]

Let’s introduce the cast now. There’s Looney Skip Rooney, a living tribute to the Golden Age of baggy-pants comedy. Dressed in a plaid suit, huge polka-dot bowtie, and crushed top hat, he tells the corniest jokes imaginable, but somehow he makes them work;

David Burd, famous (?) as Artie Delmar, proprietor of the Artie Delmar School of Rock’n’roll Violin Playing (including such all-time hits as “Louie Louie,” “Satisfaction,” and “Secret Agent Man”). It’s a very visual act, with fright-wig hair, foot-high platforms attached to his shoes, and a pair of glasses with what seem to be large reinforcements for eyes. And that’s just one of many characters he does;

Scott Gordon, often the straight man for some of the best bits on the show, but a great talent – particularly in the many slapstick segments, including a very good imitation of Oliver Hardy to Floyd’s Stan Laurel;

Mugsy [d. 2005], the teen heartthrob, who specializes in often hilarious song parodies, by such luminaries as Neil Yuck, Bruce Stringbean (“The Bum”), and Peter Punk, who looks like a reject from a KISS fan club, but sings some solid numbers. At the Bottom Line, where the show was backed by a full band, he sounded excellent;

Netto, apparently the resident burn-out (or at least the subject of jokes on that line), whose main character is Prof. Bizzie Martinez, with highly useless but funny theories on almost everything. That’s another visual experience, with an even more outrageous mane of hair, and bulging eyes. He’s also a fine mandolin and guitar player (as Jerry Garsweata); and

Finally, and only because he’s been on the show the shortest time, Charlie Stoddard, who plays aspiring rock’n’roll singer Sid Kreplack, who makes “Pinhead” sound like a bar-mitzvah. He also plays Deacon Jim in Floyd’s evangelist satire, Brother Billy Bobby Booper, singing a hysterically bizarre gospel parody comprised entirely of bass rumblings, accompanying himself on piano.


These guys, most of them have been with me now about four-five years. Some have come and gone. People have used this show to get on to bigger and better things, too. Oogie’s the only one that’ll stay with me forever.

And now just a small list of Floyd’s own characters. There are lots more of them, all just as good: besides Brother Billy, there’s Eddie Slobbo, a good-natured and often riotously funny pig; Julia Stepchild, a cooking instructor featuring Floyd in garish drag, including smeared lipstick and what appears to be basketballs (that size anyway) as a chest; Joe Frankfutter (sponsored by Martian Paints, among others), probably his most accurate satire, and one of his most popular; and then there’s Mr. Frogers (“It’s a beautiful day in the ghetto”), a brilliant character, with an apparent shoe fetish and a remarkable repertoire of double-entendre jokes, one of the best (not to mention bluntest) being a sequence on measuring objects. The intent is so obvious; I had to ask about them. Were there any censorship problems?

[Artie Delmar]

It’s the way things are done. I mean, he had a ruler that was six inches, and obviously we were going to start measuring things. We had a display thing underneath. We didn’t get one complaint about that. I think it’s because of the way it was handled. I didn’t say, “Do you have anything six inches long?” I just looked at the camera and I said, “Do you have anything that’s six inches?” I think it’s the way things are said and done that would offend people. We did have a complaint come here once. The letter was on file, from some parent who felt that the show had no educational value, or something like that. But what’s the educational value of Mr. Ed, or Mike Douglas for that matter? I’ll still match up my audience; I bet every one of my audience knows the difference between Queens, Staten Island, and Netcong. They know their geography anyway, from the show – that’s one thing. We have more people just seeing the pictures on the wall, and hearing these towns, and wondering where it is. They get that, anyway. But no matter what any TV station puts on the air, somebody’s going to get offended. You can’t do anything anymore; you never could. You tell a joke about a fat person, right away you’ve got problems. If I say my nose is big, someone else will complain and say, you shouldn’t make fun. You should be lucky you have a nose. What about the people who don’t have noses, right? Now, okay, there are people without a nose, but what are you going to do? Where do you draw the line? It does become kind of strange after a while. And what goes on, on the networks, that offends people because it’s just so blatant. But I think people, they’re not even going to get uptight anymore.

Finally, what about Floyd Vivino? There had to be something before Uncle Floyd. It’s something you always hear – what was he doing before he started doing this?

I was working carnivals. Right after high school, I started working with a couple of circuses as a side show barker, real carnie. And I worked a lot of tab shows in Brooklyn: Club 802, the Lisa Terrance on Strickland Avenue, and the El Caribe, the Airport Lounge, Gil Hodges’ Grand Slam Lounge. Fifteen-20 bucks a night, with a cast of, like, eight; little tab shows. I’d play the piano, be the MC; really horrible stuff. They still have stuff like that; like on Friday or Saturday night, all old people would go, real little shows, in tuxedo, atrocious. Now they call them “Gong Shows.” It was the same basic thing. You get these agencies, guys who book acts, get guys like 18-19 years old, just starting to get in the business. It was a lot of fun.

Everybody has inspirations in what they do. What are Floyd’s?

Norman Vincent Peale would probably be close [the FFanzeen group breaks up laughing]. He’s a funny guy. I’m serious. He’s a funny guy. I would say Laurel and Hardy, and the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, everybody. I love everybody, every comedian, from the eccentrics to the characters to the comic actors, I love them all. Like a baseball player would like another baseball player. The only one I don’t like is Benny Hill, and there’s not a comedian in the country who likes him. He’s been big in England on American acts. He takes our stuff, acts from American TV from years ago, and he goes and does them. He ripped off an awful lot of our stuff, and comedians are funny that way. They don’t care if you do a gag or two, but he’s taken complete routines, say a comedy sketch seen on The Dick Van Dyke Show 12 years ago; he’ll do it over there in England.

Obviously, Floyd has very strong opinions on comedy and comedians. Having feelings like that is a sign of a true artist, this caring about the purity of the art form.

Lately, Floyd has been getting a lot of publicity. He’s been on
Tomorrow (with Tom Snyder), WPIX-FM’s Radio, Radio, in New York magazine, and the Sunday Daily News. A lot of people are beginning to take notice of him and the show. It makes you wonder if he’s ever going to get too big for the local scene.

[Uncle Floyd as Cowboy Charie]

That will never happen, because we have that structured out, that I won’t give up this market for syndication. In other words, we’ll keep the show local here as our base, and if we ever got big enough to, say, go on in other cities, we’d make a different show for out of town. I won’t leave this area of the country for nothing. I can’t even think of it. I’m just… I’m New Jersey, and I don’t want to do anything else. I just want to be “Uncle Floyd” and that’s it, just keep it going. If syndication came, this kind of a show wouldn’t work in Milwaukee, ‘cause everything’s here. We built up our own little world out here with our viewers and us, and that’s okay and fine. It won’t work in Phoenix, Arizona, so when that comes, we’ll put together a real slick, super-slick show with the whole bit, and it’ll probably run 26 weeks and die, like everything else, and we’d still have this here. [Note that in 1980, a nationally syndicated version of the show made it to NBC-TV in New York and 16 other national markets, shown in NY after SNL, for a short time, before being yanked for being too subversive – RBF, 2010]

So there’s nothing to worry about. Uccle Floyd is going to be around for a long time. Even if Paul Simon did put him in his movie, One Trick Pony.

It’s a dramatic role; tough guy nightclub owner in Ashtabula, Ohio, of a punk rock place. I’ll come across as pretty tough, as a touch guy, wise. I give Paul Simon a little hard time. I don’t want to pay him, I threaten to shoot myself with a gun, then I make believe I kill myself. I play the piano, I introduce the acts myself. They got me smoking a cigar in it, too, blowing smoke in everybody’s face. [Note: the scene was deleted from the final film – RBF, 2010]

Strange. It doesn’t sound like a very serious role. Anyway, Floyd Vivino has broken into another medium. It’s great, thinking of him on the silver screen, but television is where he wants to be. He always wanted to.

[Jan & Dean, on the show]


I was with a carnival traveling around; I must have been on like 30 TV stations, all over the country, on the Eastern Seaboard and Midwest. And I finally said, you know, this is what I want to do; I love being on these TV stations. And I knew I’d never get on Channel 5 {WNEW], 9 [WOR] or 11 in New York, at 22 years old. A cable station, UA-Columbia, had just started a local station up there. This station (WWHT-68) wasn’t on the air in January of ’74. It went on in September, and I got hooked up with them when they first went on the air. I had my cable show going. They were horrible. In the beginning, I had little segments on bicycle safety, and Oogie would be up there for 10 minutes, which is a long time. Then I’d take a guitar and sing a song straight, then we’d have a little crafts and hobby thing, and I’d teach the kids how to make a paper puppet. It was pretty brutal. We have no tapes of the real old shows either. They were live.

You’ve got to give him credit. Anybody who would put up with that is either crazy or super-dedicated.

I just always loved TV. Like when I was 12 years old, or whatever, guys learned every car that goes by and all that. Well, I knew the TV Guide word for word.

Loose ends department – The address [no longer valid – RBF, 2010]. The show is [was] on Monday-Friday from 6:00-7:00 PM, on channels 60 and 68. Channel 60 is usually clearer in New York City, but unfortunately, on most sets, there’s so much snow on the screen, it looks like a night at Studio 54. If you’ve got, or know someone with Wometco Home Theater (pay-TV), watch it on that, but try to catch it at least once. It’s like potato chips – watch one and you won’t be able to stop.

Some of the fans who I know have seen, like, every show. The groupies – what they call the cult following. We’re just like a big gang.

Join the gang, the devoted Uncle Floyd fans. It’s worth it. Floyd Vivino is a magician, and The Uncle Floyd Show is just a taste of magic.

www.unclefloyd.com/

A Taste of Uncle Floyd’s character, Cowboy Charlie:
www.themadmusicarchive.com/song_details.aspx?SongID=3065

Friday, March 26, 2010

GUN CLUB: Hot as a Pistol

Text by Julia Masi, 1983
Brief intro by Robert Barry Francos
© FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

I can’t speak much for the Gun Club, as while I own the record
Las Vegas Story, I never saw them live. Now that lead singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce passed on in 1996, at the age of 37, that’s much less likely to happen. I had met two members of the band though: Jim Duckworth was in the Panther Burns when Julia interviewed them (and I tagged along), and Dee Pop, well, I’ve known since 1978, when he was drumming for the Secrets up in Buffalo, right after he left the Good (I saw a great show at Hallwalls Art Gallery then, with The Good, the Secrets, and George - for $1).

For those who were not around during the period of this interview, the Brooklyn Zoo was a club that existed for a very short time in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and has no relation to the zoo in Prospect Park. There were some major acts who played there (for example, I saw Iggy Pop, Bow Wow Wow, and Joe “King” Carrasco), despite it’s odd location and its medium size (about half the ground level of Irving Plaza). It was, however, close to the subway, but it was a time before Brooklyn became the “cool” place, and it was way on the other side of the borough from Williamsburg. According to the Website fromthearchives.com/gc/chronology3.html, this interview took place in February 1983. But, back to the band… - RBF, 2010


Jeffrey Lee Pierce slouches in his chair, blond hair falling into his dark brown eyes, his voice softening to the beginning stages of laryngitis, as he reads the headlines from the various rock’n’roll tabloids and daily papers scattered around the dressing room of the Brooklyn Zoo.

Brooklyn was the last stop before the Gun Club (Jeffrey, vocals; Jim Duckworth, guitar; Patricia Morrison, bass; and Dee Pop, drums) hit the road again for a three month European tour. They are anxiously awaiting the release of a single and an EP, both for Animal Records. And earlier that week, they began working on a video.

Jeffrey is noticeably tired. It’s 8:45 PM, and he’s already put in a full day’s work just trying to get the band to their soundcheck. The Brooklyn Zoo is buried like a treasure, in one of the more residential sections of the borough. The cab drivers, gas station attendants and smart-mouthed street kids will point you in the direction of the Prospect Park Zoo, a real zoo, which is nowhere near the club. Consequently, Jeffrey and company drove around in circles before they finally arrived for the soundcheck a mere two hours late.

“I think we went to the Bronx Zoo,” Jeff quips. “I’d thought they’d cleaned out one of the cages and we’d have a show. Play next to the lions. It would fit, too, the way we play.”

He frequently describes the band’s unusual link in the evolution of rock’n'roll as “noise,” a humbly accurate label for the vast stretches of improvised sound that the band unleashes during each set. Could this be a delve into Dadaism? Jeffrey just won’t say, but considering the collective musical backgrounds of the band, their style seems more akin to the structured disorder of Stockhausen, or Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, than the racket the Raincoats made a few years ago.

“I don’t see it as anything but noise,” Jeffrey says. “It’s just a bunch of noise right now. And it will be for a little while. Nothing musical really impresses me right now. I really don’t listen to music.

“Right now, I’m mostly listening to ragtime. I don’t play it. It doesn’t affect my music at all; it’s just something I listen to, like listening to Brazilian jazz.” He laughs, “It’s not gonna affect my music at all, not the way I play. It’s just not in my veins, or whatever, to do that kind of stuff. But I dig sittin’ around playin’ it. Ragtime, old vaudeville sound, all that ‘20s and ‘30s stuff. The blues; it's like any other infatuation. You just get bored. I’ve just been bored with that kind of thing. It’s sort of a natural blues influence anyway. It’s always gonna be there. But I don’t necessarily always thing of it as blues or country, or whatever, when we’re doing it. I don’t really think of it as being –“ he shrugs his black leather-clad shoulders and points into space “– standard stuff.

“Your musical knowledge is the same as your regular knowledge. It’s influenced by what you’re raised with. I was raised with lots of country music. I like it. I listen to it more than I listen to rock’n’roll.

“I kind of like all that other stuff. Hokey things with pianos and clarinets. Fats Waller and all that. I just started to really like that stuff lately. It’s sort of a side thing to the blues. All the blues (musicians) of the ’20s and ‘30s divided their time between doing blues and rags, and showtunes. Things like that. Now that they’ve already reissued all of the blues quotients of these guys, they’re still puttin’ out their dumb rags and hokey vaudeville stuff. And I like that better. I’ve even started to like Leon Redbone ‘cause he tries to re-hash all of that. All those songs about the Sheik of Araby.

“Eubie Blake!” He jumps in his chair a he reads a tribute to the late composer. “He’s another one of those dorky rag players!” His fingers dance across the newspaper as he hums a few notes of one of Blake’s chestnuts. “Da-do-din-dink – “ He stops short as his eyes fall on the cover of the New York Post. “We’re doing a video right now, and we were trying to rip off most of the video ideas from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. And Tennessee Williams just died today! I felt like I caused it or something. I think he died because he’d seen how we butchered his ideas in the video. He killed himself over that.

We tried to do a rock video, except that we can’t do a rock video. So we tried to do Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with this girl in a slip and I’m drinking bourbon, and a fan going, and we’re all sweaty. Then I toss her around the room – “ he flings his arms through the air miming a violent slap, “ – Bitch!

“We were trying to combine all our favorite film adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ plays. Then he dies three days later! We haven’t even finished it yet. For the very end of it, we’re just gonna have the cover of the New York Post at the end of a chair. Maybe have a dog.

“We’re doing our famous $2000 video. We’re trying to break the world’s record for the cheapest video ever made. We went to this place called the Stardust Motel. It’s a prostitute joint. But it has this big sign in the lobby,” he stretched out his arms, his finger flashing to echo his ominous words, “’No prostitutes allowed.’ When you’re silent in the room, you can hear people, like some guy (in the next room) going,” his voice becomes a screechy whine, “’You been sleepin’ with my man? I’m gonna kill you!’ A really first-class motel. We did the whole video inside it. It’s just one song. I don’t even know what song it’s gonna be.” He shrugs his shoulders again. “One of the new songs that’s coming out in a couple of weeks. We found out that two of the songs are about the same thing, so it could be a video about either one of them. Different music, but the same subject.”

Reviews of the Gun Club’s last album, Miami, over-emphasized Jeffrey’s use of voodoo imagery and the recurring theme of death. A strange contrast to this irrepressible personality and the band’s jolting sound. “It’s just kind of a subject matter,” offers Jeffrey, as he denies any fascination with the topic. “(I’m not) obsessed with death. Not any more than Skip James or Howlin’ Wolf, or anybody.”

“I love musicians who kill their wives,” Jim Duckworth facetiously chimes in. “Or at least ones who say they’re gonna kill their wives. I was thinking of Spade Cooley on my way over here today. Spade Cooley’s famous quote – he was gonna kill his wife – “ his blue eyes widen and this voices becomes a baritone growl ‘ “’I’m gonna kill her!’ And he said to his daughter, ‘and you’re gonna watch!’

“Come here,” Jim says, motioning towards his guitar case. “I want to show you something.” He flips open the lid of the case to expose its burgundy velour lining and a white patch that says, “Kid C. Powers.” It seems that when Jim was on the road last fall with his previous band, the Panther Burns, he stumbled into a dressing room where “there were all sorts of holy artifacts. Lydia Lunch’s guitar and this,” he points to the white patch. “I said, ‘Look at that! Wow! Somebody’s gonna throw it away,’ so I stuck it in there. And lo and behold, it must have been resting on the strings and that must have caused me to join the Gun Club. It’s pretty amazing. It’s enforced destiny.”

Jim decided to join the Gun Club because he wanted to play “more original music.” And the Gun Club is about as original as a band can get.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Two on RONNIE & THE JITTERS

Live photos © Robert Barry Francos
Album image from the Internet

Here are two pieces of the New Jersey band, Ronnie and the Jitters, who appeared around the New York scene right on the cusp of the ‘70s/‘80s. I was introduced to them by my then-managing editor, Stacy Mantel, who talked me into seeing the band at CBGBs, and then we all went over to Phoebe’s restaurant down the block for a very noisy interview.

However, the first piece here is by me, as was published in the Scottish fanzine
Next Big Thing, by Lindsay Hutton. The second is the very interview I just discussed above, from FFanzeen.

In the short years that they were around, I saw Ronnie and the Jitters quite a few times, including Max’s Kansas City on one of the very last nights that it was open. I’m not sure where all of the band members are now, but I am aware that Steve Missal has a recording studio and teaches drums, and bassist Dave Post is part owner of Maxwell’s,
the rock’n’roll bar / club in Hoboken, NJ.

Around the time they broke up, after one amazing studio album called
Roll Over, Steve became the drummer for Billy Idol soon after he left Generation X. Supposedly there is a photo of Idol and his new band, which appeared in Billboard, has Steve wearing a FFanzeen logo tee-shirt. I’ve never seen it, so if anyone has a copy of that, I’d be grateful. – RBF, 2010

Part I: Introducing Ronnie and the Jitters
Text by Robert Barry Francos, early 1980s
Originally printed in
Next Big Thing Magazine #13/14, early 1980s

New Jersey. Desolate. The joke of the East Coast (more so than even Philadelphia). Years ago, Dictator Adny Shernoff had put out a fanzine while growing up there and aptly named it Teenage Wasteland Gazette. But every once in a while a person or group comes out of that expanse of highway , trees and gas stations who shines through the factory smoke. There was Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye. Then there were some of the Dictators. And now there’s Ronnie & the Jitters. Each of these have their own sound, and each are masters of it. Ronnie & the Jitters are, alphabetically:

Ronnie Decal; lead vocals/guitar: As the frontman and songwriter of the group, he pulls the band together. He’s tall and possesses very round eyes, sometimes known as “doe eyes.” His eyes are the first thing to capture your attention. When on stage he uses a bit of eyeliner (for some God-knows reason) and he gets the band geared up. His voice is gritty and no nonsense – but there is the element of fun loving that is undeniably there. There are no wild guitar solos, no Ted Nugent tendency, just a good chordal strum and some solid riffs. A talent.

Warren Keller; vocals/saxophone: The heartthrob of the group. Despite his obvious Irish looks and name, his nationality is debatable. A mystery man. For a while he insisted he was black. He even does the Motown covers, like “My world is empty…” Then there was his “Jewish” period. He’s always coming out with these wild Yiddish expressions. And that’s not all that’s wild about Warren. All you have to do is hear him wail on his sax on their cover of “Wild Weekend.” To dissipate any doubt of his talent, even his erratic playing on some of their original material is controlled – but far from tame. He is also the fashion plate of the group. There is always flash in the way he dresses, from his red shoes to his multi-colored jacket. And the motions he can make with his sax.

Steve Missal; drums: One of the more powerful drummers on the scene today. He was once the drummer for a famous rock star, making some “real” money. But after hearing the Jits at a local N.Y. club, he knew what he wanted to do. “I was a born again rock’n’roller,” he would later claim. His chance came when he joined the band. He fit right in and is now the driving force behind them, with his two differently pitched snares and his power. Sometimes he gets into the songs so much that he starts playing standing up! He also has the sharpest sense of humor of the group.

David Post, bass: David is the historian of the band. Even now he is at work on an extensive piece on Duane Eddy. Though the most silent on stage, his presence is always there, as he keeps the rhythm at an even keel with varied, but steady bass riffs. A definite A-1 rock’n’roll bassist.

That is all the Jitters, but as Monty Python had Carol Cleveland, the Jits have Belinda, Steve’s girlfriend and group (I mean this kindly) mascot. She is there at every set and ahs become as much a participant of the sets as the group is. She’s the Spanish devil wit the large chest and the vodka and grapefruit juice right up front. Most of the jokes the band makes on stage deals wit her, but she doesn’t mint. She’s having as much fun as her compadres and the rest of the audience. Fun is the key work in Ronnie & the Jitters.

I once asked Belinda how she could sit through set after set, since the band has really started to play out now, after being together over a year. “Well,” she told me,” I can’t listen to the tapes they’ve made anymore and rehearsals are a bit boring, but every show is different. Every time they play there’s something fresh and new. They get along so well with the audience and the audience with them. Everyone just has so much fun and I love it.”

That’s true; every set has that spark of originality. The reason for this is two-fold: one is that they are friends on and off stage, and because they get along so well, they can always play off each other, but it musically or verbally, without worry about hurting each other because everything is taken causally and in jest. The second is that the sets are not totally structured. Sure there is a plan but they wing it once in a while and they just swing. It’s as though every show was a jam and everyone on and off the stage gets into it.

As of yet, they have only one single out on their own independent label, Meshugenah Records. They handled all the costs and production themselves. One side is a rip-roarin’ version of “Black Slax” which literally blows the lame Robert Gordon version away. There is no way to listen to it and not move some part of your body. The flip side is another cover, “Wild Weekend,” with lyrics (!) written by Ronnie that make you think that they were the original (“Alright, it’s the end of the week / I wanna dance ‘til I’m sore on my feet…”). Don’t’ bother asking for it though, ‘cause it’s been sold out for a while now (“Well, my mother has a copy,” claims David).

As of last count, they have another single ready to be released, as soon as they can get the money to pay for its pressing. One side will be my favorite of their originals, the rough, tough, wild in the streets, “She’s Not the Girl For Me.” The flip is supposed to be one of their more romantic non-ballads, “Take Me In Your Arms,” in which both Warren and Ronnie share the vocals.

But not all of their songs are fast, rip ‘em up rock’n’roll songs. They do have their ballads, such as “You Can’t Fool a Woman in Love,” one of their newer pieces. It only goes to show their versatility.

You may ask, how did they come up with the name, “The Jitters”? That in itself is remarkable. It’s taken from the title of one of their favorite movie shorts by the Three Stooges called Baby Sitters Jitters. From that they wrote a piece called “Jitter Me Crazy” (with Warren sputtering out, “Jit-Jit-Jit-Jit,” etc, at a very fast and frantic pace on the chorus, over Ronnie’s vocal). That led them naming themselves.

The full name, Ronnie and the Jitters, is misleading though. When you isolate the name of the lead singer it makes it sound as though the back up is not as important. However, the Jitters are not merely a back-up band for Ronnie, they are all the Jitters. The Jitters is also what they give the audience who dance the night away.

There you have the ideal band; rock’n’roll, fun, humor about their music and themselves who are out to have a good time, know their roots, and can entrance an audience. And there’s Belinda.

Part II: AMA Approved Case of the Jitters
Text by Stacy Mantel
Originally printed in FFanzeen #4, 1980s
© FFanzeen


Thanksgiving is “Bah! Humbug!” to a lot of apathetic Americans who forget about things like history and their roots. I was one of those until this past Turkey-Day when I became a giver of thanks. It happened at Hurrah’s. I was bored. While sinking into my drink, a group took to the stage. Without a word of warning, they ripped into the Rockin’ Rebels’ “Wild Weekend” (with the addition of more than appropriate lyrics). The next thing I knew, the place was hoppin’, my feets started shakin’ and my body was a-boppin’. It was a jolt as experienced upon seeing an old friend in a strange environment. The band was kickin’ out the kind of rock’n’roll that’s been trapped in 15 year-old vinyl jails. Jon Landau may have seen the future of rock’n’roll as having the name of Springsteen, but that’s all in the past. Rock has been rejuvenated – given a new face and fanny lift. I had heard this band before on the famed WPIX-FM Radio, Radio programme, but they definitely drive harder live. Colorful, kick-ass rock’n’roll – and its name is Ronnie and the Jitters.

Ronnie and the Jitters are:

- Ronnie Decal – serious front man with boyish good looks and a round, yet unadorned driving chordal guitar style. He has a prowess for writing enigmatic tunes reminiscent of early Ray Davies – mellow sarcasm with cream and sugar. Punchy;

- David Post provides measured, supportive bass lines and clever runs, the bones keeping the ligaments and guts in place;

- Steve Missal’s use of two differently pitched snare drums is unique, and so is his range – from machine gun attack to savage nonstop – vibrate your heart beats; and

- Fourthly, Warren “The Boy Who Should Have Been Born Black” Keller on manic alto sax, whose name should be synonymous with tremendous, or at least always thought of when one mentions King Curtis.

Together, their sound is more than just the sum of four intrinsic parts. It’s the kind of nourishment we were long in need for. The kind of rock’n’roll you and I were weaned upon.

The following interview took place between sets at CBGB’s at Phoebe’s on February 17, 1980. All the Jitters were there, along with manager Jim Green, FFanzeen editor/publisher Robert Barry Francos, and assorted girlfriends.

Stacy Mantel (FFanzeen): So you’re working on a new single now, I hear.
Ronnie Decal: Yes and no.
Warren Keller: Sure. No, we just tell people that.
Ronnie: As soon as we find someone to back it we’re gonna do a new single, but if nobody backs it soon, we’re gonna put it out ourselves.

FF: What songs do you feel are the best to put out now?
Ronnie: It’s gonna be “She’s Not the Girl” backed with “Throw it Away.”

FF: Well, what’s the problem; I mean, what’s the difference between putting out an album rather than a single? You certainly have enough good material.
Jim Green: Money.
Ronnie: We don’t have enough money to put an album out. If someone wanted to finance an album, certainly we would put out an album.
Warren: Of course.

FF: Okay, the boring questions... standard influences. As a group, do you follow any one particular guy or group – like you have this song dedicated to Little Richard (as the “King of Rock’n’roll”).
Warren: Everybody.
Ronnie: I like the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols.

FF: Warren, what about Lee Allen or King Curtis?
Warren: I heard one record by King Curtis once called “Floating” – it was good.

FF: What about Charlie Parker?
Warren: Naw, I wasn’t very jazzy – I never followed any of those guys.

FF: So, basically all your own style?
Warren: No, I guess I like later people [e.g., Clarence Clemens].

FF: How did you feel when you missed your cue on The Uncle Floyd Show?
Warren: Which one?

FF: I know everything was lip-synced and must be a real hassle – It was probably the first time any of you had to do that.
Warren: Wha’d I miss?
Ronnie: You know what he did…on The Uncle Floyd Show he stopped playing at the saxophone solo.
Warren: Yeah, dah da-da dah, I cut off early; that was pretty funny.
Ronnie: Yeah, that was it. Do you like The Uncle Floyd Show?

FF: Yeah, I watch it all the time. We have an interview with him in this issue.
Ronnie: He’s getting’ interviewed a lot lately.
Warren: Yeah.
Ronnie: He liked us a lot.

FF: You’re the new drummer.
Steve Missal: Yeah.

FF: How long have you been with the group?
Jim: It’s been about…
Ronnie: No, you’re [to Steve] supposed to answer that.
Steve: Fourth gig.
Warren: That’s why he has a manager, ha-ha.
Robert Barry Francos: Reminds me of the movie, The Girl Can’t Help It when Jayne Mansfield keeps saying, “Ask my agent.”

FF: On the single, “Wild Weekend,” you wrote “Traditional” under the title, when Todaro/Shannon wrote the song.
Ronnie: We just wanted to get in trouble.
Warren: He couldn’t spell it.

FF: But you wrote BMI, which was the company that copyrighted it.
Warren: He thought it was funny – he told me to do it, so I did it.
Ronnie: Told you to do what?
Warren: It.

FF: Did you mean traditional in the sense that having a wild weekend is traditional?
Warren: Sure, that was it.
David Post: It’s a traditional rock’n’roll song.
Ronnie: No, I didn’t mean it as having a traditional wild weekend; it was more or less like – that’s traditional rock’n’roll as far as I’m concerned, you know. Besides, I didn’t know who wrote the song, so I had to put something down. It served its purpose because everyone asks why I put “Traditional” down. And the true answer is – just to get in trouble, just to have people notice it.

FF: Do you consider yourselves a dance-band?
All: Yes.

FF: How do you feel when people cannot dance, like at CBGBs?
Warren: Bad; awful.

FF: I really feel constipated when I don’t have room to dance.
Warren: Yeah, a lot of people say that when they sit up front. They know why we’re Jitters, coz they just got it.

FF [To Warren]: I know you jump around a lot on stage like they did in the early ‘60s-late ‘50s, like the guys in Rock Around the Clock. The sax players would jump all over the piano and on everyone else, and lay down on the floor.
Warren: Oh, really, all the sax players I saw were so spastic.

FF: Everyone was doing choreographed dances.
Warren: Yeah, that choreograph stuff, that’s so corny, you know. You see all these little spastic horn players movin’ around.

FF: And all the people in the audience were doing the Bop – do you think that’s gonna swing around and come back again?
Warren: I don’t think choreography’s gonna come back, like everybody together, but I think energetic type stuff, jumping around will, definitely. It should come back. People are lazy; they hang back and they play. Today, too many people got that “sophistication” thing, like “this is the ‘80s so I’ll just hang out and play.”

FF: Do you see any major record deals coming up?
Warren: I hope so.

FF: You do… you’re negotiating?
Warren: Got interest.
Jim: [What he said here was totally muddled by “Heart of Glass” from the jukebox – anyone for symbolism? We’ll just say – they’ve talked to a couple of companies and got good vibes from them, but no signatures yet – SM]

FF: Is there any hesitation on your part to sign with a major label, or would you rather have your own?
Ronnie: If it doesn’t come soon, we’re all gonna die of malnutrition.

FF: I take it you all have other jobs.
Warren: Sure.

FF: How did you come up with the name “Jitters”?
Ronnie: It’s from an old Moe, Larry and Curly move, The Three Stooges.

FF: What was the name of the movie?
Ronnie: The Jitters.
Jim: I never heard of that one.

FF: A group like the Romantics, no comparison intended, but he sound is somewhat similar…
Ronnie: And we wear red pants.

FF: They have this image. I think they stay up nights just thinking about what kind of clothes they’re going to wear. Do you ever think of doing something like that?
Ronnie: No, we can’t afford the same clothes.

FF: Today you look pretty coordinated – kind of pinkish, reddish…
Warren: Yeah, we somehow manage to do that even though we don’t think about it.
Ronnie: It’s intuitive – except that Warren always asks if he looks all right before he goes on stage.
Warren: Yeah, yeah.
Ronnie: And he takes our word for it.
All: Ha-ha.
Warren: Yeah, they fix me up good – it’s fun to dress up.

FF: Do you think sax is going to regain its importance?
Warren: I hope not, because then I’ll just be another one. Sax got a lot of importance in disco, but as far as the really wailing rock’n’roll sax…

FF: Yeah, but not as much as synthesizers.
Warren: Yeah, but every song had its little alto sax solo. I hope not. I just don’t want to be just another one. Let ‘em stay; let ‘em stay the way they are.
Ronnie: I’m gonna clear it up right now, what we really want is big bucks.
All: Ha-ha.
Ronnie: We want big dollars… we want to ride around in gold-plated Cadillacs like Teddy Pendergrass.
Warren: Porsches and stuff, and houses; fireplaces.
David: How about paying the phone bill, Ronnie.
Warren: And oil.

FF: What kind of music do you like to listen to? [To Ronnie] I know you like the Stones and the Pistols…
Ronnie: I listen to the radio; I don’t have any records. Dave’s got records.

FF: When you buy records, like other stuff, what would you pick up?
David: Old rockabilly or Stones.

FF: What do you think about this song [on the jukebox is “Money,” by the Flying Lizards]?
David: I love this song.
Ronnie: This song, I think it’s great… this is the best song I’ve heard in my life, ha-ha.
Warren: Ha-ha, who is it?
Ronnie: The Leaping Lizards.
Steve: This song shows me that a new seed was planted…
Warren: The Flying Gizzards.
Steve: Take the go-go boots out of the closet – it’s gonna get back to rock’n’roll, r-i-g-h-t?
[All agree]

FF: Disco’s dying out.
Ronnie: Let’s hope so.

FF: Some people making the disco songs don’t even want to make them.
Warren: You know what I’m scared of? This whole things gonna get so packaged, all this New Wave stuff. It’s already stared to get so produced…
Steve: The Heat, the Knack, the This, the That…
Warren: It’s gonna be like, Donna Summer of the ‘80s.
Steve: Dress New Wave like Close Encounters.
Ronnie: We’re not a New Wave band.

FF: What do you consider yourselves?
Ronnie: We’re a rock’n’roll band; we’re not a New Wave band by any means at all.
Warren: We have to listen to a lot of that.
Ronnie: Did you think we were a New Wave band?

FF: No, I thought you were an early ‘60s-late ‘50s type rock band.
Ronnie: No, we’re an early ‘80s rock’n’roll band.

FF: Have you all played in groups before this? Warren?
Warren: Yeah, I had actually only one professional band before this. I ran the gamut from big brass Chicago to funk and disco. Rock like the Aerosmith sound.

FF: Dave?
David: This is my first rock’n’roll band. I’ve played weddings, symphonies, jazz bands, big bands. I’ve been playing bass for 10 years.

FF: Ronnie?
Ronnie: I was in one other band before this called the Ros. They were a New Wave / punk band.

FF: It used to be that, about three years ago, anyone could play at CBGBs even if they’ve played guitar or bass for only a couple of weeks.
Warren: Yeah, that was a shame.

FF: It’s not like that anymore. Do you feel a competition with any other groups?
Warren: No.
Ronnie: No, I don’t think there are any groups like us around.

FF: What’s happening in Jersey [where the group lives]?
Warren: Well, nothing. We’re definitely not a Jersey circuit band.
Ronnie: We just live in Jersey coz that’s where we were born and we can’t afford to move out. Once in a while we pick up a gig over there, but there’s no circuit in Jersey.
Steve: New Jersey’s Alabama. If you’re in New Jersey, you can be in Alabama.

[While FF is digging up questions…]
Steve: Do you do it in the road?
Ronnie: I do it wherever I can, whenever I can. I did it before in the dressing room.
Steve: By yourself?
Ronnie: No, you were there.
Steve: Ha, yeah, I remember. It was so fast.
Ronnie: He slapped my face.
Jim: What’s this locker room stuff?
Warren: Uh-oh, here comes another one [question].
Ronnie: Here comes a good one.
Steve: A new one.

FF: Why do you think there’s such a big resurgence of the ‘60s in clothes, music and movies? Do you think it’s because we’re bordering on war?
David: Are we bordering on war?

FF: You know, the whole scare with the draft.
Warren: What it is, is the cyclic theory of history. You get so sick and tired of using what you did right up to your technological capacity and then you go back. Dig it all up again. I think rock’n’roll lost its fun and went progressive – somebody was smart enough to say we gotta go back.
Steve: Rock is getting back to the prestige it lost when it got hyped up in disco. Rock is making a big, big comeback. Everybody’s talking about dancing to rock, which is one of the first questions you asked, “Do you consider yourselves a dance band?” Of course. People shouldn’t be able to sit when we play.
Warren: I think we’re enough of a show. We want people to watch us, too. So we don’t exactly want everyone jiving away there and not checking us out. But we think it’s cool, too.
Ronnie: Do you like the band?

FF: What band?
Ronnie: Us.

FF: We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.
Warren: Ah, a newspaper with integrity, that’s what I like.

FF: The first time I saw you was at Hurrah’s. I was just standing there and you went on and [with Marty Feldman eyes] I went “wow.”
Ronnie: They had to revive you, right?

FF: Yeah, ‘cause I’m really into that sound. I loved the Crystals, the Dovells, Duprees, Ventures.
David: The Del-Tones, the Tone-Dels…
Steve: You know the movement for Born-Again Christians? The Jitters made me a born again rock'n’roller.
Warren: Hallelujah!
David: Hallelujah, thank the Lord.
Ronnie: Praised be the Lord.
Dave: Oh yeah, that’s right.

FF: What were you [to Steve] doing before?
Steve: Whatever New York had to offer to someone from out of town. Trying to make a living playing with various…
David: Steve has six months combat duty with Ted Nugent.
Steve: It’s true… I saw the Jitters at Hurrah’s on probably the same night you were there.

FF: We were there Thanksgiving.
Steve: I saw them one date previous to that. That’s when I met her [points to his date]. The day I saw the Jitters, I met her; yeah. I looked up [smiles and blushes].
Warren: Oh, what a good story that is.

FF: You see, everything falls into place, eventually.
Steve: You see, you can go to the Heat, CBGB. You can go to Trax or any club, and a lot of bands are rockin’, but this band really, really rocks, totally… Robert Gordon, Levi and the Rockats may be in the same ballpark, but they don’t really twist it.
RBF: They both take themselves too seriously. They don’t relax when they’re doing it.
Warren: That’s where it all gets pretentious. When you’re dealing with a sound that should be fun and rock’n’roll, and then you take yourselves that seriously, that’s when it really comes off, you know.

FF: You can always tell you enjoy yourselves because you’re always kidding around on stage.
Warren: Yeah, man. It’s fun – it’s fun as hell. Well, we’re out to have a good time.

Check out Warren's current Website on astro-imaging: billionsandbillions.com

Monday, March 22, 2010

THE CYRKLE: We Had a Good Thing Going

Text by Robert Barry Francos, 1982
Originally printed in Blitz! Magazine #44, Nov-Dec 1982
Images from the Internet

The following interview with the lead singer of The Cyrkle, Don Dannemann, originally appeared in
Blitz! Magazine, Number 44, which was issued November/December 1982. Blitz! Is still around and can be read at blitzmag.blogspot.com.

Though the band broke up in 1967, the Cyrkle remains pop-rock leaders due to two of their hit singles, “Turn Down Day” and “Red Rubber Ball.” With these to their credit and an acquaintance with Brian Epstein, they were swept along as an opening act on the Beatles’ final American tour in 1966. The fugue-like music backing the nasal tones of lead vocalist Don Dannemann gave the Cyrkle a unique and distinctive sound that remains in a class of its own to this day.

Today, the members of the Cyrkle are all doing well in their own respective fields. Earl Pickens is a successful surgeon in Gainesville, Florida. Drummer Marty Fried is a prominent lawyer. Guitarist Tom Dawes [d. 2007] also enjoys similar fortunes as Dannemann in advertising. In Dannemann’s case, success lies in the outer ranges of the music arena, dealing with advertising jingles and supplemental work in other area, such as on The Great Space Coaster, an inventive children’s program.

Above these even, in importance to him, is Dannemann’s wife, Eileen, and his two children. Recently Don and Eileen released a single, “Mother and Lover” b/w “I Did It For You” as a tribute to John Lennon. Rather than a sobby, “We miss you John” record, what they have is a statement on love, for themselves and the world.

The following interview with Don Dannemann was conducted at his home in New York City earlier this year.

Robert Barry Francos: How long have you been playing the guitar?

Don Dannemann: I started playing in eighth grade. I took piano lessons before that. I took some guitar lessons when Elvis Presley first became popular. I started at the beginning of high school, somewhere around 1967. I got a tape recorder early on in high school for my bar mitzvah, I think. Later on, I got a second tape recorder. When I got the second tape recorder, I couldn’t wait to overdub! I couldn’t wait to sing along with myself. The first thing I did was all the parts on “In the Still of the Night.”

RBF: The Five Satins.

Don: Yeah, right. I did all the parts and sang the lead. First, I sang the lead acapella. Then I got up to the tape recorder, turned it on, put the mike in front of the second tape recorder, put the mike in front of me, tried to balance it and sing together. I went back and forth about five times. By the fifth generation, it was very hissy and mushy. That’s what got me going into music.

When I went to college, I had envisioned that I wouldn’t be into rock and roll at all. I started cultivating a taste toward jazz at the end of high school. I began to like it, but never really played it. When I got to college, I was so happy to hear that people still liked rock and roll. So then I started listening only to rock and roll. I met a couple of guys in freshman year. We called ourselves the Rondells. I think there were a lot of Rondells then. I never liked the name that much, actually, when we first got together. Anyway, we were the hot-shit band on campus at Lafayette College in New York. By the time we got to be juniors and seniors, having built ourselves up, we were the band to get for fraternity parties. We began to make pretty decent money. I don’t know what bands make now, but we were making about $400 a night. We would get jobs as far away as Penn State. When we gout out of college, we were about to break up. Tommy had a half year to go. Earl Pickens and I had graduated. Earl played keyboards and sometimes bass. Tommy played bass and sometimes guitar. I was working for my father at a sheet metal factory.

RBF: So that’s how you got the title of “Sheet Metal Prince” [as stated in the liner notes of the Red Rubber Ball album

Don: Right. We were playing in Atlantic City the summer we graduated. Earl was still playing with us. We had played there the summer before, at the Alibi, right off the boardwalk. That summer, Nat Weiss turned up. He was a good friend of Brian Epstein. He wasn’t into rock at all. He was a matrimonial lawyer and a friend of Brian’s. He liked us. I wanted to work for my father to bide some time as I was in the Coast Guard reserves. Tommy, Marty Fried and myself still played as a trio occasionally. We made a couple of demos on our own. They were songs we had written ourselves. We recorded them in stereo. I was scheduled to play them for Nat Weiss the night of the blackout in 1965. Of course I didn’t. I went the week after.

Stereo headphones were new at that time. Nat was hearing stereo headphones for the first time. You could really see it by the look on his face! Next he said, “Let me introduce you to Brian Epstein.” Nat invited me to a party in Manhattan, and Nat wasn’t there! We really felt out of place. Finally he came in and said, “Oh there you are. Let me introduce you to Brian.” Sure enough, there was a limousine outside and Brian Epstein was sitting inside the limousine. He escorted me to the limousine. Nat said, “Brian Epstein, I’d like you to meet Don Dannemann, one of the finest musicians I know.” I shook his hand and we exchanged maybe two works back and forth: “Hello. How are you?” sort of stuff. Then Nat said, “Okay, glad to see you, Don,” and I was escorted out. They closed the door and off went the limousine into the night. I don’t remember the exact chronology, but he got us jobs at a couple of places. One was at Trude Heller’s in New York City. We did lousy there.

RBF: How come?

D on: Right then, the Young Rascals were big. That stuff was making it happen. It was loud and harder than we were. We were like the Count Five, the Beach Boys or the Beatles. Somehow, it wasn’t like that hard, dirty stuff. This is what the club scene was like back then. We did well at colleges.

Anyway, we played a club that Christmas time called the Downtown at One Sheridan Square in New York City. We did pretty good there. Nat was trying to find us a producer. That’s where he tried to sell us. That’s when John Simon saw us and signed us to Columbia. Then Tommy heard “Red Rubber Ball” from a friend of his, who had a publishing company with Paul Simon, who wrote the song.

RBF: Charring Cross?

D on: No. What was its name? Barry Cornfield had a publishing company with Paul Simon, and he was a friend of Tommy’s. That’s how we got “Red Rubber Ball.” That was one of the things we chose to perform. I still don’t quite understand how it happened. It’s a nice song.

We turned down “The 59th Street Bridge Song.” We had our next song picked out, “Please Don’t Ever Leave Me.” It was our first flop.

RBF: Did Earl Pickens play on the first album?

Don: You can’t really hold me to this, although we saw Earl last year and we talked about the good old days. I don’t think he played on “Red Rubber Ball,” but I think he did play on “Turn Down Day.” I don’t remember the rest of the album.

RBF: What about keyboardsman Michael Losekamp?

Don: No idea. Michael Losekamp was not an original member, going with us to Lafayette and all that. He auditioned and got the part of keyboard player. I have no idea whatever happened to Michael Losekamp after the group broke up. We liked him and all, but we weren’t good friends. [According to Wikipedia, Losekamp became an engineer for AT&T and an active musician in Ohio – RBF, 2010]

RBF: Did you have any trouble opening for a band as well-known as the Beatles?

Don: No, it was actually okay opening for the Beatles. We were not the only group. There were several. There was only one group that was basically unknown, the Remains. It was them, the Ronettes and Bobby Hebb. At that time, the three of us were pretty big hits. To the best of my recollection, we got pretty good receptions.

There was one concert where it was just about to rain and they had to get the Beatles on. But it wasn’t really raining yet, so we followed the Beatles. The Beatles opened for us! The other bands had already been on, so we were the only ones after them.

RBF: Do you have any strange or weird anecdotes about the Cyrkle days?

Don: No, I can’t think of anything weird. I would say that the weirdest thing is that there is not much weird. We were very together in college. But as a hit group, I think the fact that we were not weird was unnatural.

RBF: Why did the Cyrkle break up?

Don: Because the group was not being successful, for two reasons: One is the fact that we were not really exciting personalities. Though we did have a very good college concert, we didn’t draw people. But when people did come, like at a college concert, everybody came because it was the only thing happening on campus that night. So when people came, we were very well received. Standing ovations, wild applause and all that stuff. But we didn’t draw. Second, I think, was a poor choice of material and no proper PR. We broke up in 1967.

RBF: Didn’t you do the Seven-Up commercial in 1968?

Don: Yes. That’s when the Cyrkle was just breaking up. Tommy Dawes wrote the spot. That was the first uncola!

RBF: On the sleeve of your new single, you claim that the name Cyrkle was given by John Lennon. But on your first album, it states that it was Brian Epstein who gave it.

Don: Brian handed me a card and said, “Here is your name,” at one of our recording sessions. I always thought it was him. But I saw Earl last year, and Earl said, “No, no, no! It was John who gave the name to Brian.”

RBF: Do you ever envision a reunion gig for the Cyrkle?

Don: I can’t imagine it. If the opportunity came up, I can imagine Earl, because he’s not in the business. Don’t think Tommy would want to do it. I don’t have much of an urge to do it. It’s nice to do these projects with Eileen. If something happens with them, that’s nice, too!



One of my favorite songs by the Cyrkle:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Two on MIDGE URE and ULTRAVOX

Part I: Text by Chris Van Valen and David G,
© FFanzeen, 1981
Part 2: Text by Abby Sheffield
© FFanzeen, 1986
Images from the Internet

The following interview and article originally appeared in
FFanzeen Number 7, which was issued in 1981, and in Number 14, from 1986.

PART 1: Ultravox – Not Standing Still
By Chris Van Valen and David G., 1981

Ultravox’s song “Vienna,” their third single since reforming after the departure of lead singer/lyricist John Foxx (nee Dennis Leigh), was number one on the British charts for quite a while. “Vienna” has established the band as legitimate stars, a distinction they so richly deserve but were denied due to a disregard for fashion and poor reception by the British press. The current band’s members, Billy Currie (keyboards, violin, questionable guitar), Chris Cross (bass guitar, synthesizer, vocals), Warren Cann (drums, electronic percussion, vocals), and ex-Rich Kids Midge Ure (lead vocals, guitar, synthesizer), have avoided the danger of collapsing due to the loss of a key member by abandoning those aspects which characterized Foxx’s presence – a highly serious image, mechanical stage manner, and intellectual approach – and taking a romantic view of living in a modern world.

We met Midge Ure (who spoke with a very thick Scottish burr) and Chris Cross (whose real last name is St. John) fall of 1980, during the band’s extensive (U.S) East Coast tour. They proved to be as entertaining off stage as on.

FFanzeen: Let’s have a quick summary of what the band was doing between the first American tour (Fall ’78) and the break with Island, and then with Foxx.
Chris Cross: The break with Island was before the tour. The main reason we came over was because we didn’t have a record company. It was something that we really wanted to do, so we came over.

FF: There were tracks recorded, weren’t there?
Chris: That was before we went to America, as well. It was that stuff that we played on that tour.

FF: “Radio Beach” and “He’s a Liquid”?
Chris: Yeah, and “Touch and Go.”

FF: What happened to that stuff?
Chris: John put it on his album, being a friendly sort.

FF: What was the story behind the compilation, Three Into One?
Midge Ure: He put a writ on me and I didn’t have anything to do with any of the other albums. I had nothing to do with it.
Chris: We didn’t want it to come out. He didn’t want it t come out. The only way we could try and stop it was if he sued us or we sued him. So he sued us. Island was trying to make a free buck from us and it worked.

FF: Midge, how did you join the band?
Midge: It was just when they’d come back from that first American tour and they parted their ways. I’d met Billy (Currie) just before the tour. I didn’t know any of the guys in the band at all. I was doing a studio project with some of my favorite musicians.

FF: Was that Visage?
Midge: Precisely. I asked Billy if he wanted to do some stuff, and he was well up for it. He thought it would be just great working with some other musicians for a while. Just like a busman’s holiday. When they came back from America, I didn’t know that the band was ready to split. When they did split, I started working with Billy and he didn’t want to do anything with the band at that particular point. The whole thing had become one big pain in the backside, and he just went away and did the Visage stuff. When I got through working with Billy on it, I wangled my way into the band.

FF: What do you mean “wangled”?
Chris: Not really [laughs].

FF: The band had a direction on Systems of Romance [the band’s third and last album with Foxx]. Did this point in the direction from which you were coming?
Midge: Definitely. I think Systems was half a great album. There were some really good songs on it, but it was still a bit confused at that point. But the band was starting to get somewhere. I didn’t like the first two albums at all. When I joined the band, my idea was that it would be an obvious step up from “Slow Motion” and “Quiet Man,” while still keeping an experimental state, like “Just For a Moment,” and continue from that point. What we’ve got now is what I’d personally liked to have seen the band doing before. But it was just too mixed up before – it lacked the right ingredient.

FF: I read in one paper where you and Billy said that this album is a stopover to get yourselves together before going on to more experimental stuff in the future. What direction will the follow-up to Vienna take?
Midge: It’s started already. We recorded while we were in Miami for a couple of days. When we go into the studio, we have no idea at all what we’re going to do. We just recreated something in the studio. The track is pretty good, too. It’s only now that we can do that because we’ve been together a year and a half. We’re starting to rely on each other and bounce ideas off each other. You go into the box and you’re under pressure to be as good as everyone else has been, and make it mix.
Chris: Instead of having everything meticulously planned, we’ll do half that way and half very, very loose and free, and just see what we come up with.

FF: The set was similar to the first tour with the new band. Was the first tour just to show that the band was still alive?
Midge: Yeah, and it helped us break in the new material. We don’t like the idea of recording material before we’ve played it for a while. Once you’ve recorded it, that’s it, you can’t really change it that much.

FF: What was the idea behind trying to get a contract while insisting on not doing demos?
Chris: Demos are a real problem because when you do them, there’s always something on them. For example, drums: that’s impossible to recreate the magic. We have demos that we’ve done before that are much better than the finished tracks.
Midge: It’s not that we’re trying to be elitist. We blew more record deals because of that then anything.

FF: I guess Chrysalis is treating you better than Island?
Chris: Oh, yeah. The mafia treats us better than Island [laughs].

FF: Midge, I saw Glen Matlock at the gig last night. What does he think about what you’re doing now?
Midge: I’m sure he’s quite pleased. He could see what was happening when the Rich Kids started to split. I wanted the Rich Kids to sound more like the way we’re doing things now, and he wanted the Rich Kids to sound more like what he’s doing now with the Spectres. I went to his gig and I could see all the Rich Kids things from his point of view, and he saw my Rich Kids ideas from my point of view. I’m sure he thought it was…bloody awful [laughs].

FF: Where do you think Ultravox fits in right now, with Gary Numan capitalizing on the style of music you pioneered?
Chris: I don’t think we fit in with the Numan thing or electronic thing at all.
Midge: We don’t want anything to do with that.
Chris: We’re similar to what we’ve always been; we’ve never really quite fit into what’s going on. We basically don’t want to be a fashionable band because as soon as you are, it ends in six weeks. We’re really very conscious of that.

FF: In every interview that Gary Numan gives he mentions Ultravox as his primary influence.
Midge: We can’t see the connection, musically. We can see some basic ideas, but he’s taken them off on a tangent. I can’t see any similarity between him and us at all.
Chris: The whole similarity is more in his mind. It’s sort of like is version of what Ultravox sound like to him.

FF: One of his songs, “The Joy Circuit,” sounds as though it was ripped off from “Astradyne.”
Chris: We actually recorded pretty much during the same period of time.

FF: What sort of relationship does the band have with Foxx?
Chris: We never see him. He does exactly what he always wanted to do. You know, he wants to be a pain in the ass artist [laughs]. Really, all he wants to do is sit home and beat people away from the front door.
Midge: I’m sure he’ll come up with something eventually, but it must be alienating for him to step out of a band that, whether or not he admits it or not, had a lot to do with the music. The music was the band. To step out of that and try to do it all yourself must be a bit…lonely.
Chris: He has a really good keyboard player that works with him. He does all the good bits.

FF: How did you get back to working with producer Conny Plank?
Chris: He just really liked the idea of doing it. He’s the only person that we have a good working relationship with. We feel confident about the way he works and the sounds he gets.
Midge: We keep saying that it would be nice to work with somebody else. I’ve only done one album with him, and found it great and interesting working with the guy. This is the band’s second album with him so we looked around and couldn't come up with a single other name worth trying.

FF: He seems to have a handle on the electronics. He gets a good sound out of machines.
Midge: People try to use synthesizers as cold machines or an effect, like plugging in a fuzz box or whatever. He uses it like an acoustic instrument. He plays it back through a speaker cabinet and mics it up just like a guitar amp or a drum kit, an ambient thing. He treats it different ways like any other instrument, not just an electronic one.
Chris: He gets a natural sound.
Midge: And it comes across on the record. Most synthesizer groups are cold and plunky-plunky.
Chris: It’s a lively sound.

FF: Roxy Music started the idea of the synthesizer as more than just a fancy organ that makes funny noises.
Midge: I like the idea of Eno playing out front, from the mixing deck.

FF: You do (Eno’s) “King’s Lead Hat” and the encore. Have you ever talked to him about it?
Midge: He came to see us in LA, just as we walked off stage. He missed it. He said he’d liked to have heard it. We asked him what the lyrics were. He said he didn’t know, ‘cause we don’t know either. We sort of made them up. It’s the only thing we do that incredibly loose. It changes every night. We don’t know what the next line is. Really spontaneous.

FF: What’s your schedule like now? You recorded in Miami. Is that going to be your next single (this song is “Passionate Reply,” the B-side of “Vienna”)?
Midge: That was an experiment. It’ll probably be the B-side or an album track. We started recording early in 1981, after a short tour of England.

FF: The “Passing Strangers” video was very cinematic, not just the usual close-up of the singer’s face.
Midge: That’s what we were trying to steer clear of. We even added a violin that’s not on the record.

FF: You got Billy Currie to sing on it, too.
Midge: That was hard [laughs].
Chris: He couldn’t remember the words. Twenty times I had to tell him the words and he still said, “What’s the second line?”
Midge: We just wanted a video that didn’t look like a band playing. That’s why we did the live stuff.

FF: It summed up the idea of the song. It must not be as hard as having him play guitar, though.
Midge: Well, that’s hard to listen to more than it’s hard for him to play.

FF: The crowd cheers when he puts it on.
Midge: Part of the crowd cheers when he puts the guitar on. The other part cheers when he doesn’t. He says, “I fancy the guitar,” he doesn’t say he plays it. He enjoys himself.

FF: Have you any idea of what your next phase will be?
Midge: Hopefully, it’ll be a step up from what we’ve done.
Chris: We’ve got four or five set songs. It’s more interesting to go in not knowing what we’re doing.
Midge: It’s a whole different way to working. On Vienna, it’s a layered thing, not more than two of us playing at one time. It was all done bit by bit. That’s hard in itself, trying to get a sound like a band playing. This time we’re going to let one person go in at a time and play whatever they want to play.

FF: Vienna suggests several possible directions, such as the title track’s use of space.
Midge: The really sparse introduction. Then we built to a crescendo.

FF: At your shows, the crowd’s mood seems to go up and down, but at the end, they all go crazy.
Midge: Dance songs. It’s got to go up and down. When I go from guitar to keyboards, there’s not much happening on stage. It’s sort of a listening period. Then we do some older stuff.

FF: Will you be stepping out more on guitar?
Midge: I’m doing one or two more solos than on the first tour. I hate guitarists that just do straight-out solos. I play a backwards solo at the end of “Passing Strangers.” It’s a great song to solo over. I never played much guitar with the Rich Kids. I let Steve New do most of the live stuff.

FF: You seem to enjoy yourself on stage. Foxx just stood there.
Midge: I do enjoy myself.

FF: How were you accepted initially by the fans?
Midge: I didn’t know that the fans thought that Foxx was the whole band until we went out on the road. I never thought that at all. I thought he was the singer and wrote good lyrics and that’s it. The fans thought that Foxx was the savior of the band, and I wanted the band to get the recognition they deserved. That was hard for the fans at first.

FF: Your vocal style is different. You’re a singer and he sort of spoke-sang. Both versions are good in their own context.
Midge: I suppose that’s ‘cause I’m a singer before I’m a guitarist and he’s an artist before he’s a singer. He hadn’t been in a band before he was in Ultravox. I’ve been singing for years.

FF: Was it conscious or a coincidence that a few of the riffs, for example “Vienna” and “Maximum Acceleration” from Systems of a Romance are similar?
Midge: Someone else pointed that out to me. It’s a coincidence. On “Vienna,” it’s much slower [Midge sings both]. We use those scales that Billy knows. “Quiet Man” and “Sleepwalk” use similar scales. Those chord progressions and scales make up the sound which is Ultravox.

FF: When Billy plays more I guess he’ll learn more scales.
Midge: Well, I’m teaching him all I know.

FF: How does the new recording techniques differ from the earlier albums, Ultravox! and Ha-Ha-Ha?
Chris: It was basically similar. “Fear in the Western World” was done live. Everything else was just bass and drums with other parts overdubbed.
Midge: “Astradyne” and “Passing Strangers” were done that way. With a synthesizer; it’s easer to mix from the control room.

FF: How’s the writing distributed now?
Midge: We all contribute. Some of the stuff Warren’s done totally. He did “Mister X” and part of “Sleepwalk.” Then Chris and Warren will change a line there and there.

FF: On stage, the vocal parts were very cleverly altered. Was this done by your sound man?
Midge: I do all that on stage. I use foot switches so I don’t have to depend on the sound man in case he’s having a chat and forgets to switch it on. I’ve got a set of switches that does echoes and megaphone, stuff like that.

FF: “Mr. X” reminds me of “Touch and Go.” Was this an effort to salvage a piece of old material that Foxx used?
Chris: We didn’t know he was putting out an album. We had “Mr. X” done before he had his album.
Midge: The band wrote the music. John used it and said he wrote it.

FF: Chris, how do you keep it together on the freak out during “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”?
Chris: I find playing the reggae really the easiest to play. Like on “Dangerous Rhythm.” I like mixing it into berserk electronic surroundings. It’s almost like dub.

FF: Did you play sax on the album cut? The record says, “Sax by C.C.”
Chris: Everyone asks me that, but no, I didn’t.

FF: Would you like to do dub records?
Chris: I’d like to do one. I was trying to think of a song that would suit it and I couldn’t think of one.
Midge: I like the way Andy Partridge (of XTC) does it because it’s not very reggae-ish. He totally changes things. I’m sure we’ll eventually do one, but it’s very expensive; studio time and everything.

FF: Whatever happened to Stevie Shears?
Chris: Last thing we heard, he was playing in Cowboys International. I haven’t heard anything since then.

FF: The album cover of Vienna looks very robotic. What that intentional?
Midge: To me, it looks like a ‘40s fashion photograph of a band. We were trying to get a natural look and it just turned out that way. We stole the crumpled up paper idea from an old Vogue magazine picture. It was a lady standing there in an evening gown with all these shadows in the background. It looked really nice. And it was just crumpled paper. But ours just looked like crumpled paper.

[Special thanks to Jackie Boone]

PART 2: Midge Ure: A Recollective Conversation
By Abby Sheffield., 1986

It’s an 82 degree day in Miami. Images of poolside leisure or a cruise to the beach usually accompany days like this. Midge Ure, affable Scottish spokesman of Ultravox pushes such thoughts aside – at least temporarily – for the duration of the afternoon. After all, it’s not that tough a choice; a challenging interview with another journalist or a few more hours in the hot, baking sun. No choice at all.

When Sir Bob briefly left Boomtown and proposed an idea to Ure, one that would introduce some charitable ideas into the music marketplace and aid a suffering nation, little did either musician realize that the result of this collaboration would be on such a grand scale. The Band Aid project brought a slew of rock heroes to the forefront and propelled Bob Geldorf into knighthood. Ure actually had an equal partnership in the beginning of the project, musically and in the business sense.

“I actually saw some of the Band Aid shipments getting there,” Ure recaps. “Everyone said to me that it must have been an amazing feeling knowing that you’ve been involved since the beginning. That was the best feeling of all, to be able to take the supplies over there.”

Ure still waxes enthusiastic over rock’s charitable snowballing efforts since his project moved to the back of people’s minds. Gone but not forgotten.

“I didn’t see them as jumping on the bandwagon. I see them as taking over where Bob and I left off. It was great to see that when the (“Feed the World”) single start to die, ‘cause it was a Christmas record, the Americans took over; then the Canadians, then many more.

“I think the music business, when it all pulls together the way that it has, can become a very powerful piece of machinery. It’s nice to see that power channeled into something worthwhile. I don’t see why the musicians and the music business in general can’t get involved by helping in various ways.”

The Scotland-born, English-bred Ure interestingly enough introduced his most recent solo work into the conversation. A solo project from an artist may differ form his band’s collective release in a variety of ways. There’s, perhaps, less reasons to compromise and the artist may pursue a style that the entire band may not have agreed on. A Phil Collins situation was discussed, since the drummer/vocalist of Genesis successfully forged a path that Ure aspired to follow. It’s tough being one of the creative beings in a group and then stepping out alone. Dedicated fans may know where to apply the credit for such inventiveness, but what about the rest of the world?

Granted, Ure (and partner Chris Cross) have written the music and produced the videos for Ultravox and is well versed on several instruments, and even is designated as the main warbler in the group, but what happened when this creative being unleashed his talents with only his name on the album’s front cover?

By now, we know that Ure’s solo album did not do as well as his collaborations with his band. Moreover, the album’s appeal did not go unnoticed.

“I didn’t think that it was radically different form what I do with Ultravox,” he recalls. “My only thought was to make it half instrumental-half vocal. I was rebelling against the fact hat everyone knew me for my voice, rather than as a musician.

“There were influences propping out that I didn’t know I had – touches of Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno.”

Would the musician in him want to expand and experiment with other instruments?

“I bought a koto from Japan. It looks like a softball with strings on it. It’s that classic Japanese plucked instrument sound that you hear on any Japanese music. I had the idea for a piece of music with a slight oriental sound to it.

“The album sounds very orchestrated without having to use an orchestra.”

There were several opportunities for the versatile musician-songwriter if he wanted to grab the solo spotlight. He was, after all, involved in the Prince’s Trust; an annual benefit sponsored by Price Charles, and had a couple of solo singles released. Why was that specific time chosen for the solo?

“Well, Ultravox had a phenomenon happen. When “The Collection” was released, it sold a million copies in Britain – more than ever before. All of a sudden Ultravox became a household name. It gave me a bit of breathing space. After the success, it would be nice to take a break. This gave me the time I needed to go into the studio. The time was right. I don’t think that if I had done it two years before, that I would have been satisfied.”

Ure is well practiced on reviewing his evolution from Scottish pop-belter to the versatile performer we know today. When Ultravox revamped the personnel involved at the time and omitted the exclamation following the name, there was a vacancy looking to be filled. Along rambles Ure, the survivor of such bands as Slick and the Rich Kids. After an invitation from friend Cross, Ure passes the audition and joins right in. Fueling the band financially meant outside touring to Ure and his guitar joined Thin Lizzy. His part in Ultravox’s Vienna established him as a potent musical force.

Musical credits aside, Ure has also directed the band’s last eight video clips, as well as the promotional pieces for Bananarama, Fun Boy Three, Visage, and the late Phil Lynnot.

As time marched on, Ure held more of a creative place in his band. Keyboards are added to his ever growing list of accomplishments. Though the group was always democratic in their decision making procedures, Ure was noticed as more of the creative force. When he built a small studio in his English country home, the opportunities became more frequent for his experimentation. Soon, other projects were thrust in his direction.

Ure concludes, “I’m very happy with what I’m doing with Ultravox, but there’s something inside me that wants more.”

Stay tuned.