Monday, December 2, 2013

DVD Review: Tribute to Ron Asheton, Featuring Iggy Pop & the Stooges + Special Guests

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet                                  
Tribute to Ron Asheton, Featuring Iggy Pop & the Stooges + Special Guests
MVD Visual                                      
114 minutes, 2011 / 2013  
I constructed a theory as I was watching this, which I believe is both true and false: please feel free to add your thoughts: The Stooges fall somewhere between the MC5 and the Velvet Underground. They were sloppier than the MC5, but were less noise than the VUs.
While Iggy Pop was and is the obvious front face of the Stooges, by voice and action on stage, Ron Asheton was the electricity that flowed through it, charging him up. Even after Ron moved to bass following the second Stooges album, with James Williamson taking over, he played the bass much like a second lead guitar. Soon he left the band, but rejoined it for a much later reunion tour. Sadly, he passed away in 2009.
Ron was a son of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the band formed, and it only seemed fitting that a memorial concert would be held there at the Michigan Theater, on April 19, 2011, headlined by the Stooges, the band he helped form. And yet, all these years later with only two of the four original members (Iggy, and the other being the drummer, Ron’s brother Scott Asheton), Iggy rightly states during the show, “We are still the Stooges.”
Everyone in the band is gray now except Iggy, and they have all put on a bit of weight except Iggy. After all these years, Iggy has simply remained Iggy. With leather skin and more wrinkles than a Shar-Pei, Iggy’s energy and enthusiasm can rival most bands out there today. All his signature moves are still present, like the sideways bend and twist, the mic stand one-arm lean, jumping around the stage like a manic marionette, the stage diving, and that wicked smile. His voice is as strong as ever, as well.
Produced in part by Ron and Scott’s sister, Kathleen (“Kathy,” who is mentioned often on this DVD, but never identified in person), this show is definitely a love letter to the city’s son.
Introducing the Stooges and to remind everyone why they are there, is emcee Henry Rollins. He uses language like a spoken word artist (which he is, actually) and explains how, in a 30-minute verse that feels so much shorter, how members of his once band Black Flag turned him onto the Stooges, why Ron was so important to that, how the new Stooges respect Ron’s legacy while bringing in something of their own, and then brings it back around to how he is introducing the Stooges to new fans around the world. Somewhere in there, the verbally uncomfortable Scott comes out and gives a quick nod to both Ron and Kathy. When Rollins finishes, the band (sans Iggy) comes out and he leads them, with his classic wide side stance and mic cord wrapped around his hand, in a solid version of “I Got a Right.” Normally his shirt would be off, but in Michigan, that’s Iggy’s job.
When the Stooges reformed in recent decades, it was the second line-up, where Ron was bassist rather than guitarist, and when he passed, those shoes fell to ex-Minutemen Mike Watt. Surely, Watt is not only an elder statesman of the punk scene, but a rock solid and respected bassist. He’s also an interesting character if you have ever seen an interview with him. But he is especially fun to watch on stage. He stands there in a hockey’s goalie stance with legs spread and body bent forward. His eyes follow Iggy around the stage with fascination, and with a big smile that makes it obvious he is enjoying himself. In fact, it’s almost like he’s watching the show, and his body is playing independently; yet, he never misses a beat.
James Williamson is a force unto himself, but has a slightly different cutting edge to his sound. I went back and watched a 2003 show of the Stooges from Detroit, and Ron had a very distinctive chainsaw sound that is a bit different than James, though both deserve to be recognized. Listen to the opening of “Search and Destroy,” probably my favorite Stooges tune, and you can feel the difference. Both great, just not the same feel. Speaking of which, after about an hour into the show, James disappears, and is replaced by fellow Michigan native and ex-frontman for the Aussie punk band Radio Birdman, Deniz Tek. Again, he is more clinical than either Ron or James, but he can sure wail.
For some reason, the camera does not rest much on Scott. He’s always been a consistent element for the band, keeping everything moving along smoothly. It also made me very happy that they were united with Stooges saxman Steve Mackay, who seems to get the least attention when you hear about the band. His shrill bark is definitely part of the band’s sound to me.
Along the way, at “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the band is joined by an orchestra, who I’m not sure helps the sound or gets a bit lost in it, but it is an interesting concept.
I mean, do I really have to tell you about the Stooges? If you don’t know them, seek them out. There are so many of their classic hits here. Actually, if you wanted a greatest hits collection, you’d probably have to just create a box set of all their songs, but I digress…
While there are a couple of “special guests” on stage, I’m glad this didn’t turn into a stream of musicians like so many of these things, showing a pseudo “look how cool I am.” That being said, I must admit I was hoping Niagara would be there to perform “Bored,” the song she did with Ron in their post-Stooges band, Destroy All Monsters.
Stooges shows are always worth seeing, and I have no problem watching this again, or recommending that someone else does likewise.

There are a few extras here, including a quarter-hour opening set by the Space Age Toasters, who mention twice that they were named by Asheton. They dress like a surf band, but are obviously punk. Lead singer moves really well, and the songs are actually quite decent.
There are also interview segments lasting 5-to-10 minutes apiece with Henry Rollins (who mostly says the same things as he does in his onstage band introduction – which I have no problem with), filmmaker and hipster god Jim Jarmusch (not sure why he’s here, nor what has he done in the last few years that matters), Ken Haas of Reverend Guitars that has a signature Ron Asheton model, and with Deniz. Most of these are really interesting.
The fact that it’s a live Stooges show alone makes this DVD worth getting, duh, but that it is increasingly so because of its purpose, and that all proceeds go to the Ron Asheton Foundation, a worldwide charity concerned with animal rescue (find information HERE).
Iggy Pop: vox
James Williamson: guitar
Mike Watt: bass
Scott Asheton: drum
Steve Mackay: sax
Deniz Tek: guitar
Song list:
I Got a Right (sung by Henry Rollins)
Raw Power
Search and Destroy
Shake Appeal
L.A. Blues
Night Theme
Beyond the Line
Fun House
Open Up and Bleed
Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell
I Wanna Be Your Dog
TV Eye
Real Cool Time
Iggy’s Speech
Ron’s time
No Fun

Monday, November 25, 2013

DVD Review: ’83 US Festival: Days 1-3

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet


’83 US Festival: Days 1-3
Directed by Glenn Aveni
MVD Visual
Unuson Corporation / Icon 
135 minutes, 1983 / 2009 / 2013

Before there was Steve Jobs standing on a stage telling us we needed to buy cell phones and tablets, Apple was run by Steve Wozniak. He wanted to take his profits and, much like Sir Richard Branson of Virgin, do everything, Woz, as he was sometimes known, had the idea to spend his money on some tax shelters that he could use to spread the Apple name to the populace. I actually don’t mean it as cynical as it sounds, but you know what I’m sayin’.

The US Festival was a huge music event that drew an average of over 300,000 people per day, and had some of the world’s top musicians at the time, as well as those who were on the way up.

By the early ‘80s, hardcore had a shaky start and was totally not financially viable in any kind of way. Black Flag? Cro-Mags? GG Allin? No one heard of them on a national level, other than something like “…a riot at club so-and-so last night with so-and-so band was playing…”

Also, many bands I was interested in had turned a corner of popularity and had lost my attention. I mean, after the London Calling double set, did the Clash really do much that was innovative? U2 had become super-obnoxious superstars, Missing Persons had been a cutesy New Wave band who for some reason had a couple of major hits and had lost any club credibility, and I still remember standing on line waiting to see the premiere of Rock and Roll High School where a person behind me was wearing a t-shirt that read “Sit on my face, Stevie Nicks.”

But like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the US Festival as not just about the music, but about the corporate sponsorship, which is well represented here.

Day 1 (Saturday, May 28; “New Wave Day”):

The first band up is the Aussie rockers, the Divinyls. This performance was around the time of their breakthrough album, and the one I still consider their best, Desperate. They usually ended their set in the early days with this, their first hit, “Boys in Town” (years later it would become their opener). Singer Christine “Chrissy” Amphlett (d. 2013; RIP) would later become better known for her sexually tinged soft rock “I Touch Myself” and “Pleasure and Pain,” which is the equivalent of Slade being criminally remembered for “My Oh My” and “Run Runaway.”  In these nascent days, the Divinyls were a powerhouse, and Christine was like a caged lioness in a schoolgirl uniform. Of course, this is a great version of the song, but at the time, they all were. It is obvious by the red streaks up and down her arms that she had already finished the “Elsie,” another of my favorites, where she writes all over her face, arms and legs with a red lipstick. I would have liked to have seen their whole set, but who knows, maybe someday. The Divinyls are worth checking out.

Do you remember where you were when you heard that Michael Hutchence, lead vocalist of (also) Aussie group INXS, had accidentally(?) offed himself in a hotel room in 1997, made all the more newspaper fodder and culture fixation by his baby-mama’s claim that he was involved in autoerotic asphyxiation? Me neither. I was sorry to hear about him as much as I was about Amy Winehouse or any other overpampered and excessing rock star, but I do have to admit that INXS never meant a whit to me, and I don’t think I would know one of their songs if I fell over it. The one here, “The One Thing,” sounds pretty much like every other ‘80s song of the period with that same rhythm and hollow sounding drums. Hutchence, himself, moves well along the stage and is startlingly handsome, but it almost looks like he’s trying to channel Jim Morrison.

The English Beat was a fun band with their white ska, much like the more famous Madness. The multi-racial Brit boys are constantly moving around the huuuuuuge stage during their song, “Jeanette.” But I wonder why they put interviewee Mark Goodman, one of the very first MTV VJs, talking over them; unfortunately, this is only the start.

The Stray Cats were a decent post-rockabilly band (and acted like assholes to me, but that’s another story), though nowhere near as exciting as their New York rivals, the Rockats. “Rock This Town,” however, has rightfully become a classic, as they do it here. Actually, it’s kind of strange that this Americana music is sandwiched in among a bunch of British and Australian groups.

Men at Work pretty much were  a two-hit wonder in the States, and it’s interesting that they only do one of them, “Who Can It Be Now,” with a recent interview with lead singer Colin Hay talking over some of the instrumental parts. Frustrating; while I’m not a big fan, I do respect them for some reason, and I just think it’s insulting to the bands to overwhelm the music with talk, whatever I think of them. They also do their lesser known “It’s a Mistake.

Of course, the band I was looking forward to on this first day was the headliners, the Clash. My question (yes, there is always a question) is, since everyone knows that the heart and soul of the Clash was Joe Strummer (do you believe there would be a Mick Jones wall in the East Village if it has been Jones instead of Strummer to pass in 2002?), so why pick a Mick Jones song, even a decent one like “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” I would have gone with “London Calling” at the very least. Perhaps the producers were as stoned as Jones, whose stories rival even Willie Nelson? This was, by the way, the last show with Mick in the band.

The original line-up for the first day was as follows: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, the English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, and the Clash.

Day 2 (Sunday, May 29; “Heavy Metal Day”):

Even at the time this event was happening, and in fact with many of the fests that the Ramones skewered so well in their “Something to Believe In” video, such as Live AID, when there are shots of the audience, a large amount of them are going to be of either braless women wearing tight clothes, women in bikinis, women sitting on the shoulders of their guys, and women with big…tracks of land, and Monty Python so famously put it. Sexist? Oh, yeah. To be fair, there are a few shots of buff shirtless men, but most males you see are drunk, screaming, or being macho morons.  And to think that these people are now in their early 50s with kids around the same age somehow makes me smile.

Everything that made Judas Priest was in place that day, including Rob Halford’s riding his ‘cycle and leathers onto the stage, his fey manner, and his four octave range. Canadian Hall of Famers, Triumph, for some reason gets the largest number of songs on this collection and is seen on this after JP, though they actually played before. Germany’s Scorpions, post-Michael Schenker (wow, I remembered how to spell it!), are also solid, of course, though they don’t do their metal classic “Rock Me Like a Hurricane.” Oh, well. I noticed that the band incorporated quite a few moves from the Who, such as the mic fling and the windmill.

All three have overlapping themes (hence belonging to the same genre), such as sung verses and screamed/screeched choruses, multiple guitar assaults, loyal fans, and the ability to make me wonder what’s for supper. Yes, I did sit all the way through the DVD of the day.

The original line-up for Day 2 was as follows: Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Triumph, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Scorpions, and Van Halen.

Day 3 (Monday, May 30; Rock Day):

Okay, I realize this collection is a three-part special that was released in 2009, but whoever did it, well, I would like to have a conversation. For example, the first band up on the third day, which is more New Wavy than the official “New Wave Day,” is Berlin. Sure, lots of synth and ‘80s aesthetic, but I like singer Terri Nunn’s voice somewhat (that waiver was very popular then with the likes of Chrissy Hynde, who also played this day, though unseen here). Berlin is given very short shrift thanks to cutting the song to about a minute, and most of that having Goodman talking over it. I agree with what he says, but the producer could have put it between the songs, not over it. Plus, even when you can hear the music, they show the same damn clips of people in the audience (again, mostly women dressed provocatively for the time) that appear on the other two days. C’mon…

Quarterflash never even raised a blip to my peer group, to be honest. I think this is the first time I can remember actually hearing them. And I don’t think I missed anything. With Missing Persons, I can imagine people looking back and thinking, WTF? How did they get any serious attention, really?

It’s interesting to see U2 so early in their career before Bono and the Edge became prisoners of their personas (wraparound sunglasses, and the like), to paraphrase the wonderful Christine Lavin. And as big as U2 became, there is still talking over them, actually having the balls to compare them to Elvis and the Beatles. No wonder their egos became such monstrosities.

Wait, What? They put a Triumph song from Day 2 in the middle of a collection of Day 3? Certainly they didn’t run out of music for the day. They clipped Berlin down to nuthin’, and even talked over U2. What were they thinking, and is the producer secretly Canadian? Surely the band didn’t return and wear the exact same clothes.

Last up is Stevie Nicks (though Bowie closed the night). I have none of her music in my collection, but I can certainly see why she was so prominent on the bill. Diminutive in size, with Mick Fleetwood pounding the drums behind her, she barrels her way through her two songs, making it look easy. She definitely has one of the most distinct voices in rock, even when she’s doing a disco-style version of her solo hit, “Stand Back.”

The original mainstage line-up for Day 3 was as follows: Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, the Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie.

In conclusion, there is a strong woman starting the festival and a strong woman ending it, and lots of shots of audience bimbos inbetween. The success of the three-day collection (the fourth “Country Day” is not shown) is getting so see some acts that were soon to be gone, most of whom have vanished and others in their nascentcy on their way to superstardom. The failure is due to the lack of respect for the artists by narrating over them, or editing their work. Obviously, what is needed is a box set of the entire festival. In the meanwhile, this will have to do, but note that many of the clips here are quite available on YouTube, but you didn’t get that from me.

Song List:
Divinyls: Boys in Town
The English Beat: Jeanette
INXS: The One Thing
Stray Cats: Rock This Town
Stray Cats: Double Talkin’ Baby
Men at Work: Who Can It Be Now
Men at Work: It’s a Mistake
The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go
Judas Priest: Breakin’ the Law
Judas Priest: You Got Another Thing Comin’
Triumph: Lay It on the Line
Triumph: Fight the Good Fight
Triumph: A World of Fantasy
Scorpions: The Zoo
Scorpions: Can’t Get Enough
Berlin: Sex I’m A
Quarterflash: Find Another Fool
U2: Sunday, Bloody, Sunday
U2: Electric Co.
Missing Persons: Words
Triumph: Magic Power
Stevie Nicks: Outside the Rain
Stevie Nicks: Stand Back


Friday, November 15, 2013

DVD Reviews: Beijing Punk, Live from Japan

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Both of these films display the influence of modern Western music on parts of Asia. While one focuses on a singular style – albeit various subgenres – the other looks at a diversity of categories. Either way, the scenes are DIY, and independent of the general culture, which make it all the more interesting.

Beijing Punk
Written and directed Shaun Jefford
Seminal Films / It’s Time! Entertainment /Newground Films
83 minutes, 2010 / 2012

It comes as no surprise to me that this film has won a whole stack of international film festival awards, from Cambridge and Alaska, to New Jersey and beyond.

Filmed around the time when China was preparing for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Shaun Jefford gamely turns his attention to the various styles of punk rock bands that formed in the city thanks in part to the Internet, and from the Western presence of certain individuals who are presented in the film.

One example is Michael Pettis, a professor of Fine Arts at a university, who opened the D-22 Club, which is compared in the film to CBGBs, and, I would add, Max’s Kansas City, which has as much to do the origin of punk as CBs. But I digress…

There is also “Creative Genius” (film’s descriptor) Nevin Domer, who books the shows and helps run China’s punk label, Maybe Mars Records, which at the time of the recording had 40 releases. 

While there are a number of bands there, such as Joyside, Snapline and The Gar, the film focuses mainly on three or four of the groups.  They live in squalor in the “TZ” (Thingzou) neighborhood which is much like the East Village, which also fueled punk’s artistic nourishment.

Two of the bands that receive some coverage are P.K. 14, a Talking Heads-style art punk group which we don’t really see much of, and Hedgehog, who grabbed my attention and I wanted to see more. The main focus is on the tiny female drummer, Shi Lu (Atom), the only women musician in any of the bands in this film. She is definitely a power drummer in the trio, which has a ‘90s Seattle sound. Definitely a band I would have enjoyed back in the day. I can imagine them on a bill with the likes of The Mumps, Mong or Student Teachers.

The main focus, however, are on the bands Mi San Dao (or Misandao, or MiSanDao; it is shown all ways) and Demerit. I will discuss separately.

Mis San Dao, as far as I can tell, is Beijing’s only skinhead/Oi band. They have the standard Doc Martins (now made in China rather than England), suspenders, knee-high shorts, and bald heads. Lemmy and Mötorhead is their godhead, represented in a bootleg video they watch repeatedly.

The lead singer is a tough, wide dude, much like you would expect a skinhead to be, in the classic sense. Obviously, he doesn’t go for the white supremacist stuff, but leans more towards the nationalistic bent (e.g., anti-Japanese, saying some complementary things about Hitler as an artist, but not as a good leader because he made mistakes, such as with the Jews). We meet his wife, his two pitbulls, and watch the band on stage during a short music festival tour of Germany. Mainly what we see is the band drinking a lot of beer and cough syrup with codeine. Oh, and some stuff from Mongolia that looks vile that makes the director puke.

The other band, Demerit, looks like they could have come out of England in 1980, with the mohawks and leather jackets. Their sound ranges from overproduced Sum41/Green Day punk harmonies (lead singer is a fan of Good Charlotte), to Black Flag style hardcore. We even meet their No. 1 fan (i.e., groupie), who is seems right out of the Nancy Spungen overzealous and questionable character checklist.

The best parts of the documentary, of course, are when the bands are performing, either on stage on in their practice studios (usually a basement). What I find interesting is that all sing in English (subtitles are usually supplied anyway). In typical punk form, it is protest music about the Olympics, the government, religion and society as sheep. You know, punk rock. But it also is more dangerous there: think Tiananmen Square plus the push to cleanse for the international visitors attending the Olympics. The government does not exactly smile down on social dissonance. As one of the musicians in Demerit states, “We are not political, just about freedom.”

One aspect I found ironically amusing is that no matter where you are, musicians have a tough time in similar ways. For example, for Demerit’s record release show, they have no records due to a holdup at the record factory. Punk rock!

Jefford is not merely a disembodied voice here, but is actively seen talking to the bands, drinking various questionable liquids, and even getting his head partially shaven against his wishes (Oi!). The cameraman, Alexandre Kyriakidis, who we only see once, has a negative reaction to all the consumption, and ends up in (the) hospital at one point. Punk rock!

If you’re wondering, yes, there are mosh pits and crowd surfing (the latter mostly by Nevin). The audiences are small but enthusiastic, and this documentary shows that punk is a movement that cannot be contained by totalitarian control. They still need to open up more to women musicians, but in general, it feels good to see the music that formed me help (hinder?) so many others in cultures one would not expect.

This documentary is an excellent record of that, and I would like to see a Part II, updating not only these bands, but where the scene has progressed since (beyond the usual title cards at the end about the bands). Okay, one more time, with feeling:  punk rawk!



Live from Tokyo
Directed and edited by Louis Rapkin
Good Charamel Records
79 minutes, 2010 / 2011

Japan, once thought to take over the world through either might or commerce, has become a cultural sponge that absorbs much of what the West has to offer, from various generations. Yet, in many ways, because all this comes together through the social media, especially over the past couple of decades, things become new again by blending different facets into a synergy.

General Semantics states that time binding, or writing things down because they change over time, sort of dissolves as various forms of information arrive at the same time. This is especially interesting in art and music. And that is the focus of this documentary, showing the culture scene of a modern Tokyo that is overwhelmed by data.

In China, there are few markets for alternative bands, but in Tokyo, a multitude of showcases present music every night, so the scene is both nurturing and chaotic. The question, of course, is whether too much is as bad as too little. Nothing stands out when there are so many choices. This is discussed right off the bat here by W. David Marx, Chief Editor of Neohaponisme, Stan Eberlein, the owner of the Intervall-Audio Record Label, Craig Exton, of, and Dr. Jennifer Matsue, author of Making Music in Japan’s Underground (among others), who are Westerners. I realize this documentary is for the Western market, but still… At least the bands are Japanese.

Due to the large number of groups, the clubs there have the dreaded Noruma system, or pay-to-play, where a band has to sell a certain amount of tickets themselves, or pay the difference (which could be in the hundreds of dollars). They tried that in New York (some places still do this), but thanks to social media, some clubs became pariahs and bands would not play there, forcing them out.

A few musicians wisely posit that because rock music originated in the West, of course there are going to be Western influences. No doubt. But all music goes through a gatekeeping filter that changes and morphs the sound, unless it is a copy band. Any original written music is bound to be affected, though. There is definitely a higher use of technology in music there, from bizarre instruments (such as employed by Makoto Ohiro) to multi-media shows, and a whole lot of electronica (e.g., Sexy Synthesizer), even in jazz.

There are so many bands and varied styles shown here, many of which I find, well, annoying, such as rock/rap, electronica, and modern pop, so I’m going to discuss some of the ones I like, rather than all of them. First there’s Nu Clear Classmate. This is a guy on electric guitar while his female partner screams lyrics and plays an electronic keyboard in front of projected images. It’s wild and chaotic.

DMBQ are a heavy metal outfit that fits more into the leather jacket mode rather than a hair band (thankfully). They are loud and rhythmic, with a crashing guitar. They seem like a fun headbanging band. The Zoobombs are sort of a poppier version of the Heartbreakers (Thunders/Lure, certainly not Petty).

Sajjanu is an avant-garde guitar-based trio that reminds me of Tom Verlaine and Television, with fits of starts and stops and lots of dissonance.  My favorite band name presented here was My Pal Foot Foot, after the Shaggs song (though I don’t remember seeing a clip of them actually playing).

There is definitely a greater mix of genders in these bands than in the West or in China, which is encouraging.

We see many groups, including videos and playing live. There seems little focus as we are shown band after band, and don’t really learn much about them as people, even when we see them at home or in the studio. I realize the filmmakers are trying to be a bit comprehensive, but just as there are too many bands for a number of them to become successful, similarly we set a smattering of music and musicians, and it’s hard to get a clear picture.

There are lots of interesting comments how the music is effected by and absorbed into the culture in ways most of Asia could never even imagine, but since we do not get to know any of these people, the film is guilty of being exactly what it discusses in the first act, about oversaturation and lack of personality. That is a shame.

Many times while the bands are heard, we see street scenes of traffic, crowded sidewalks or buildings, sometimes outside of a moving car, or out the front window of a train, reminiscent of Koyaanisquati. This gets tiring really fast

Ultimately, while this documentary shows various ways Tokyo has become a music city, it fails by trying to do too much in its time frame. It would have been better to focus on a few bands so we can get to know them, and let some of the others be more peripheral. 

Live from Tokyo trailer (could not be uploated):


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Guest Interview with 1960s Seminal Blues and Rock Keyboardist Barry Goldberg, by Jeff Tamarkin

Text (c) Jeff Tamarkin, 2013
Images from the Internet
Reprinted with permission by Jeff Tamarkin
Earlier this year I did an interview with keyboardist Barry Goldberg for a British blues magazine that then elected not to publish it. Rather than see it disappear into the void I'm presenting it here for anyone who's interested. Goldberg was best known as the keyboardist in Michael Bloomfield's Electric Flag. He also played with Dylan at the 1965 game-changing Newport gig and has done a ton of other stuff. At the time I interviewed him he had just finished recording a new blues album with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. That has since come out (under the name the Rides) and the band did tour, but at the time I had not yet heard the record.

JT: How did you come to record a blues album with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd?
BG: My friend Elliot Roberts, Stephen and Neil’s manager, said, “Stephen said he would like to do a blues-oriented record. Why don’t you guys get together?” We knew each other a long time ago from doing the Super Session album. We’ve seen each other from time to time but we weren’t really that close. I contacted him and they set up a writing session for Stephen and me to at Stephen’s house. We were just hanging out and he started playing some licks on the guitar and it blew me away. I forgot what a great guitar player he was. Then he started singing and one thing led to another and the vibe carried itself to a blues-rock kind of feeling. We were fooling around with some grooves and I had a couple of things in mind. My idea, after I heard the great guitar playing, was to make the vibe guitar-oriented with a lot of room for him to play soulful licks and sing as well. We instantly connected. It was like finding a new soul brother. We didn’t live far from each other and we wrote two or three things together and then the idea was not just to have a younger guitar player but a really hot young guy who can really play. A few guys were mentioned—John Mayer was one of them and Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Kenny’s always been one of my favorite young guys so he came in and all three of us started writing together at Stephen’s studio with the idea not just of writing songs together but getting ready to do an album together. The original concept was a jam kind of thing but then Kenny came up with some great grooves, Kenny came up with some lyrics and I came up with some hooks. The three of us were like a special force. We got along great together. It wasn’t a forced project where you put people together that had nothing in common. We all had our roots that were deep into the blues and rock and roll, and it was a natural transition for the three of us and it started flowing. We wrote five or six songs together, four of which the three of us wrote on the album. It transcended into something more than just a jam record.

JT: Stephen said you were originally going to call it Super Session 2.
BG: That was the original idea. It was Bill Bentley’s idea but for whatever reason we weren’t allowed to use that name. The first song that Stephen and I wrote together was called “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” and Kenny Wayne said, “Why don’t you just call the album Can’t Get Enough?” Stephen’s sounding like Joe Cocker. His singing is phenomenal from the first song on. It’s a whole other thing. And his guitar playing—Kenny Wayne brought out the energy from both of us. We needed that young guy to come along and bring the electricity.

Who is the rhythm section on the record?
BG: Kenny Wayne’s drummer, Chris Layton, who played with Stevie Ray—Kenny said, “We’ve gotta send for him.” At first he couldn’t make it but the right things took place and he came in. He’s an unbelievable shuffle and blues and rock and roll drummer. Then Stephen chose the bass player, Kevin McCormick from Crosby, Stills and Nash. They each felt really comfortable with the choice of the other two guys and then Luis Conte was brought in for percussion. He’s phenomenal; he’s a Cuban guy. We went to the studio and I wouldn’t say it was intense but the energy demanded itself to get to another level. There was no fooling around; it was business. The grooves came out—I don’t even know if there are any second or third takes. It just happened in the studio—EastWest Studios on Sunset. The producer, Jerry Harrison, was supervising—he worked with Kenny Wayne before—and this guy E.T. [Eric Thorngren], who does a lot of Kenny Wayne’s records, was the engineer. I was happy. I wouldn’t say I’ve been in the minor leagues but I haven’t been in the major leagues for a while, in an A studio. The luxury of that, and the luxury of Stephen’s guys and Kenny’s guys tuning my piano and bringing this over and “What do you need?’ is something I haven’t had for a long time. That was wonderful for me.

JT: Are you playing organ or just piano?
BG: I’m playing B3 and piano.

JT: Are there any cover songs?
BG: Jerry had an idea to bring in Iggy Pop’s “Search and Destroy.” Stephen and I couldn’t relate to it but Kenny Wayne thought it was a great idea. As soon as we got into it, the young kids in the studio—Stephen’s daughter and Elliot’s son—went crazy. So Stephen and I looked at each other and said, “Yeah, OK.” Then Stephen came in one day and said, “I want to do this song.” And it was “Rockin’ in the Free World.” He said, “I want to do this for Neil.” Wow! It’s really a great version of the song. So it’s very diversified. But it all fit. There’s a couple of traditional blues songs on there and the songs that we wrote. Kenny Wayne’s singing, Stephen’s singing. It’s just a fun record, a really cool record. The name of the band is the Rides because Kenny and Stephen are into cars. Gary Burden designed the album cover. He does all the Eagles and Crosby, Stills and Nash and Neil’s stuff.

JT: Are you going to tour behind it?
BG: They said something about going out for three weeks in August, after Stephen is done with Crosby, Stills and Nash.

JT: You’re also involved in a new documentary called Born in Chicago. What is the story behind that?
BG: I was involved in producing it. That was almost five years of trying to bring that story of the guys from Chicago—who really didn’t get the recognition for what they contributing to the rock and roll arena. They were just as important as the English guys in bringing the blues to rock and roll. That’s the story of how we learned first-hand; being from Chicago it was just a few miles away from us. We could go as teenagers and a group of us—Butterfield, Bloomfield, myself, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel—you went to the South Side and the West Side to discover first-hand from the masters: Wolf and Muddy. And in reverence and respect and dedication it wasn’t at all considered a ripoff, it was out of love.

JT: You played with Muddy and Wolf.
BG: Oh yeah. We were like freaks at first, these young white kids. They were so nice to us. Whatever we needed to know about the music, about them—they became an extended family. They took us in and we played alongside them. When Otis Spann wanted to take a break he called me and of course Muddy noticed that it wasn’t Otis Spann on piano. But eventually, after months, I did get it right to where it didn’t bother him that I was playing. We just learned so much from them and we gave it back when we played the Fillmore and Michael introduced Muddy and B.B. King to Bill Graham. It was in reverence, which we carry with us today in our band Chicago Blues Reunion. What we’re trying to accomplish with this documentary is to bring more of an awareness to who we were and what we did, us and Nick Gravenites and Janis Joplin. And Dylan—when we played at Newport it was Sam Lay and Michael and myself. Even the sessions with Mitch Ryder, “Devil With a Blue Dress On,” there’s blues influence in my licks that I play on that record. it was a number one pop record but it couldn’t have happened without he Chicago blues.

JT: What drew you to the blues originally?
BG: We all came from different backgrounds. Michael was a wealthy kid from the suburbs. I had lost my father and the family lost all our money and I was not doing well after my father died. I became sort of a delinquent, a wayward child looking for something different. Rock and roll was always there—Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly. Fooling around with the dial sounds like a cliché but I had a little radio and I tell the story in the movie and it’s true, that I found this station at the end of the dial, WGES, and this show called “Jam with Sam.” It was on at midnight and he created another world for me, with the reverb, and then Wolf came on. It was like supernatural, surreal. I’m in my bedroom and all of a sudden, what is this music? Jimmy Reed! It created things inside of me. I got a great feeling from rock and roll and the Spector records but this was something else. This was a mystical kind of voodoo. I met Michael in high school and we had rival bands competing for sweet 16 parties. That was the cool gig because there were no other guys there. He said, “You should come down with m to the South Side or the West Side. I’ve been going down there and striking up relationships with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy.” So I did one time. We went to Silvio’s and there it was, another world. We played “Killin’ Floor” with Howlin’ Wolf, we met Muddy. I sat in with Otis Rush. They were so nice and took us in like family. My family wasn’t there for me so in a way they were my uncles. We didn’t even realize how great it was learning from the greatest poets and painters of that era. That would never happen again but it was happening in Chicago. Once you got it, you got it. Wolf told me that he got it from Robert Johnson and he said, “You better have it ’cause you playing with me now.” At first it was a joke—we were like a novelty, little white boys. They loved it because more white people would come in and spend money. Then the blues moved to the North Side, when Old Town was like the Village in new York—a lot of folk singers. Michael was doing an emcee thing at one of the folk clubs, bringing in Big Joe Williams, Sunnyland Slim, Hammie Nixon, and introducing them to the college kids. It was a freaky scene. Then Butterfield started playing at this club called Big John’s. they were an interracial band, with Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold and Butterfield and Elvin Bishop. It was a black and white joint; there was no color; it was about the music and about people that loved the music. People from Second City came in—David Steinberg. Ken Nordine came in, pool hustlers. Wires hanging from the ceiling. And all this time, J.B. Lenoir, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Buddy Guy—they all came in to play along with Butterfield. Then Steve Miller and I had a band that followed Butterfield at the Big John’s club, the Goldberg-Miller Blues Band. We also had a black drummer—not intentionally, it just happened.

JT: Fast forwarding a little bit, what do you remember about Newport ’65, playing with Dylan? Did you have any clue what he had in mind?
BG: Not at all. When we did that we opened it up for everyone to do and it wasn’t easy. Butterfield asked me to play with him and Michael at Newport. We all got in the car and drove. We didn’t really get out of Chicago that much so this was a big adventure. We went to Newport and when we got there, Paul Rothchild, who was Butterfield’s producer, said, “I don’t hear a keyboard with the band at all,” without even hearing me. So Paul said, “Sorry, man, but our producer said that you can’t play with us.” So I was incredibly bummed. I was there alone in a strange place. The next night there was this big party and Michael had played a few months earlier on Dylan’s record “Like a Rolling Stone” in New York. Bob said, “I don’t know if my keyboard player was gonna show”—that was Al Kooper—“and I don’t know what to do.” Michael said, “This is my friend Barry Goldberg.” Bob said, “Would you like to play with me tomorrow night?” We rehearsed the next afternoon and people were not liking the electric music—Peter Yarrow and Pete Seeger were giving us dirty looks. So we went on and Bob was black leather and the whole deal and Michael was just blasting away. We went into “Maggie’s Farm” and we did another song and then “Like a Rolling Stone.” I felt that we were definitely all on a mission. It was something new. Al Kooper did show up and there were two pianos, but on “Like a Rolling Stone” Jerome Arnold couldn’t get the changes so Al played bass. I’ve felt, and Sam Lay felt, that something different was happening, something great. When you do something different, most of the time people aren’t going to accept it. This was so different for these people, that when we were done playing “Like a Rolling Stone” I felt so energized on another level—it was like the magic from Dylan transferred into me and to this day I carry that.

JT: Were people definitely booing?
BG: Some people booed and some people liked it and applauded.

JT: How did the Electric Flag come together?
BG: I was playing in New York, doing the Mitch Ryder stuff, and Michael had this concept that he came to me with. I was doing some session work in New York and he said, “I want to start an American music band,” with all different elements of American music: Stax, R&B. He knew I knew about Percy Sledge and R&B and the Phil Spector sound. He covered the blues. He said, “I want to have a horn section so we can do ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ and ‘Higher and Higher,’ and I want you to help me put it together. We decided we were gonna use Harvey Brooks, who was the premier session bass player in New York. We didn’t think he’d ever leave but he jumped at the chance. Then we went to the show where Mitch was playing, the Murray the K show, and the drummer was Buddy Miles. Michael and I looked at each other and there’s this guy who was rocking the whole theater to “Midnight Hour.” We took Buddy back to the Albert Hotel, where Michael and I always roomed together—it was a real funky, filthy Village hotel. We bought like four boxes of Oreo cookies. We laid Buddy down on the bed and kept dropping cookies in his mouth. After the fourth box and telling him he could meet all the flower children girl groupies in San Francisco, which I knew nothing about, and he could run the city, Buddy said OK and Pickett was not happy about it. For a year he was threatening us. But that was the nucleus. Nick Gravenites was already in San Francisco looking for a place for us to start rehearsing. We all got there and Susan, Michael’s wife, was sort of like the den mother, the house mother. She took care of us. The first warmup gig was at the Fillmore West. The next gig was Monterey Pop.

JT: What was your take on Monterey?
BG: That was another moment where I felt that something exhilarating was happening in my life. I’d never seen so many people, like 50,000. I was hanging out with guys like Brian Jones and meeting the Mamas and the Papas. I though we really came through, having the horn section and having Buddy. People had never seen anything like that. Only to be blown away by Otis Redding. He was, to me, the greatest thing I’d ever seen. We didn’t even know if the flower children would understand what he was doing but they really did. Soul is a universal thing and when he came out with Cropper, oh my God. I remember Ravi Shankar, I remember Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix. Those were the highlights for me.

JT: Of all the solo records you’ve done, do you have a favorite?
BG: Probably Stand Back! with Charlie Musselwhite. That’s one of my favorite records, and a record I produced called Blue Night by Percy Sledge. The guitar section was Bobby Womack, Steve Cropper and Mick Taylor. We got the Soul Album of the Year award and W.C. handy and Grammy nominations. Percy has always been my favorite R&B singer so to get to work with him in the studio was the most beautiful experience.

JT: What is your feeling on the blues today?
BG: There’s guys that are carrying on the tradition. It’ll never happen in Chicago like it did or anywhere else but it’ll never die. You can still hear the influence today of the Chicago blues. Not only New Orleans blues but Chicago blues. Guys like Gary Clark Jr. and Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne—he lives for the blues. To talk blues with a 34-year-old kid and there are kids coming up that are younger than that, hopefully the film will tie it all in and the young kids will hear it. That’s another point of this film is to educate to the kids how this whole thing evolved and how important it was. Maybe some of them will listen and go back and say, “What is this?” like we did. Because it’s magical.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New blogger: 8 Computers 1 Intern

Text and image (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013

At the YWCA, every year we select an intern to work in the computer lab where I am the instructor. Part of the requisite is that they must pick a project. This season's intern, Rory Jewiss, decided to create a blog about his experience, which is updated every Friday.  Show some love, and check it out whenever you can. You can find it HERE.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

DVD Reviews: Brick and Mortar and Love; Last Shop Standing

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet
It is wonderful that independent record stores are getting more notice, especially with the fall of the majors, like Tower Records and Virgin Records. All we who love to browse through the record stores have our touchstone places where we gather(ed) and have the kinship of our passion. For me, there were a few, such as Sounds (St. Mark’s Place, NYC), the House of Guitars (Irondequoit, NY, a suburb of Rochester, especially during the Greg Prevost/Andy Bauilbk years), and Home of the Hits, aka Play It Again Sam, in Buffalo, NY; RIP). I used to joke that I couldn’t go to those stores because I couldn’t leave. But, of course, I went. These two documentaries are hardly the first on record stores and collecting, such as I Need That Record! [reviewed HERE], but are important nonetheless.
Brick and Mortar and Love
Directed by Scott Shuffitt               
Trust Gang Films
70 minutes, 2012
Everything closes eventually. Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, nearly everything on St. Mark’s Place, the local video store (remember when they were everywhere?), and numerous record shops. Why? Some blame the ease of scoring free music online. Many people under 25 never owned a physical piece of music in their lives. But there is a connection to a record store that once experienced, can become a feeling you always want to recreate.
Such a place is the focus on this documentary, which is followed from 2010 through 2011. Located in Louisville, KY, ear X-stacy was such a gathering place. Run by John Timmons and a devoted staff, the store went through numerous permutations, such as having a second, unsuccessful location changing by moving the main store’s site more than once.
We follow the store’s progress – or, to be more accurate, its possible death thrashes – as they struggle to keep the doors open. These events are handled well, keeping the viewers’ suspense going, almost as if it were alive. This is almost as much a thriller as a documentary. We follow the bands that play in-store shows, both local and nationally-touring musicians that play there (such as My Morning Jacket), the management, the workers, and the buyers.
But this one store is not the entire scope of the film. They also cover various other stores in the mid-west that are struggling, talking to the owners who both praise ear X-stacy and shudder in their own boots. There’s also talking heads of some musicians, but none of it feels static.
This film is, on one hand, quite nostalgic about the store, showing it in a loving light most of the time, but they also show some who are quite calloused about the stores trouble, owing it up to bad management rather than the market. Considering that some of the majors have had to close over time, such as Tower, shows that the fact that some of these stores have managed to scrimp by actually shows just the opposite of that claim, in my opinion. There are also always going to be naysayers.
I also understand. When CBGB shuttered, it felt like a sentimental blow, but I also know that the CBGB I knew is not the same CBGB that closed. They had become a brand, a change something that turned us Blank Generation-ers off, considering branding is something we mostly abhorred (I remember going to shows in the 2000s and being shocked at the punks there dancing to rap and wearing Nike crap). The point is, after a store is open 25 years, is it the same store as when it opened?  The impression they give here, is that ear X-stacy was pretty close to its initial model, which could be either for the better good, or as one musician claims, the worse.
Shuffitt manages to keep the story moving and fluid, manages to hold off much of the sentimental mawkishness that is present in many of these an-institution-is-in-trouble-folks docs. Some of the people running the place touch the heart, and I would have liked a follow-up on a few, but that’s just me, Mr. Sentimentality.

 Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop (Deluxe Edition)
Directed by Pip Piper                   
Convexe Entertainment
124 minutes, 2012 / 2012  
Across the Pond, the UK equivalents of record stores are also having difficulties, to some extent, keeping up with the digi-world. Part of what is brought up here is the question of whether there Is a conspiracy against them.
Based on the book by Graham Jones with the same name, Graham also hosts this documentary, as we are shown the back end of a number of record shops across Britain. Apparently what has been hard for the North American indie (and majors, for that matter) shop(pe) is reflected there. The one owned by Jones may not actually be the literal last one, but as the film states, many across the country are closing their doors for business, and few new ones are replacing them. For this exercise, 27 music sale palaces are presented, including Rough Trade.
This tale is broken into three segments, with the first being “Act 1: The Rise.” As many of these stores have been opened for many generations (one over a century), and most of the owners shown are at least in their 60s if not 70s, they know what they are talking about as they discuss the decades.
Apparently, the record boom was started by Americans stationed over in Jolly Ole’ in the mid-1950s, as requests for Elvis and the like started to flood in. Rock’n’roll in 78 form foreshadowed the first big wave of record purchasing. It wasn’t stated here, but historically, before rock’n’roll, the big seller in these types of stores was sheet music rather than the sounds themselves.
The next big wave came with the Beatles (we see some archival footage, ironically from when the boys landed at JFK in NYC) and what we called the British Invasion; not sure what they called it there, come to think of it). That was followed by the punk movement and the flood of independent records.  Apparently, the period up to the mid-to-late 1980s was a great time to be selling vinyl.
This period, however, led to “Act 2: The Fall.” Even though CDs were still sold in stores, there was, according to the film (and I agree) a complicit conspiracy by the major labels to get rid of vinyl. The example they use is that the larger record companies made it harder to get LPs, and also made them thinner and less trustworthy (true) so they would skip easier, driving people into buying what they were told was a more reliable CD product (lies; early CDs tended to skip quite regularly at the beginning). In addition, and this is from me rather than this film, you had a choice between a record or a CD that generally had three or four more songs. Guess which one sold more?
CDs, being a digital medium, of course led way to digi-music, where the listener to buy it directly from the company or musician, bypassing the store altogether (though not any cheaper).  On a side note, again not stated in the film, is that before the early ‘60s, singles (i.e., 45s) were the biggest sellers. With the advent of the Beatles, albums became the most popular. With digit-music, the song rather than the collection became the top seller again.
Many stores had to develop a different model during the technological seismographic shifting phase. There were a large number that didn’t make it, but there were some who managed to hold on.  As Marshall McLuhan states correctly, when a technology becomes obsolete, it comes back as art. This has been true of vinyl, leading to “Act 3: The Rebirth.”  Stores also started to change their dynamics to include a wider variety of styles, adding extras like musical instruments and gear, and even having bands play at in-store shows.
The documentary has a wary tone about the future, and rightfully so. Who knows what will come around in the coming years. Who knew that Napster was the beginning of the happy days of music selling, as one store owner states here.
There are a lot of amazing good and intelligent musicians interviewed for this, such as Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and Jo Good, to name a few. By giving a cross-section of stores over a wide area, we are given an overview of the condition the record store condition is in, as it were. On the other hand, as there is no central store at the heart of the story, it’s hard to garner much emotional attachment for any of them. Sure, as collectors, we (I am assuming and speaking for everyone, I know) care about our stores, the personalities of the people who run them (such as the Yankees-hating owner of Revolutionary Records on St. Mark’s Place; I would love to see a steel cage match with Yankees-loving Handsome Dick Manitoba… but I digress…)
 Lots of cool extras on board, such as the trailer, a bit that plays catch-up with some of the stores after the film’s release, and lots of extended interviews that go on for quite a while. In fact, the added interviews (including with Weller) together last longer than the film itself, which is a good deal!