Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Another Roadside Attraction

A sort of postscript to Sunday's obit for Bill Bartolin, lead guitarist and songwriter for Ohio powerpop gods Blue Ash:

Please enjoy the band's irresistible cover of Bob Dylan's "Dusty Old Fairgrounds," my second favorite track from their glorious 1973 debut album.

DOF was a pretty obscure and at the time unreleased Dylan song when Blue Ash covered it; it derives from the famous bootleg of Bob's 1963 Town Hall Concert. I don't know if the band were particularly big Dylan fans, but I do know that they got the song from the guy who signed them, the late Paul Nelson. Paul was a rock critic before there even was such a term -- he was publishing a folk music fanzine when he was a college kid in 1961 -- and he was one of the very best of the breed, writing brilliant stuff for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone and the lamented Musician Magazine well into the late 80s.

He also had a brief stint as an A&R guy at Mercury Records in the early 70s, which is where he was when he discovered Blue Ash. After that, he famously went out on a limb to sign The New York Dolls; when neither of their albums sold, he was unceremoniously dumped by the label. History has vindicated him, obviously.

I knew him professionally (he reviewed the first Patti Smith album for me during my first tenure at Stereo Review) and to a lesser extent socially (which is to say I used to see him at band shows and yak about stuff). He was a lovely guy as well as a terrific writer, although during the 90s he more or less dropped off my radar, so I was both saddened and surprised to hear of his death in 2006. For the last several years of his life, it turned out, he had worked at a mom and pop Manhattan video store, where he could indulge his other major enthusiasm (for film). When he died, however, he was alienated from and all but forgotten by the profession he had helped to create.


steve simels said...

Note to self: Dead rock crit who signed obscure 70s band less interesting to readers than perhaps expected.

ms. rosa said...

Lord's work, writing about dead rock crit who signed obscure 70s band. Had never heard of Blue Ash or Paul Nelson. And now I have. Thanks, Steve.

Brooklyn Girl said...

He deserves to be remembered. Thanks.

Noam Sane said...

I remember seeing Nelson's byline in Musician magazine back in the day.

Such a great rag, which turned suddenly to shit over the course of just a few months...whatever happened there?

I like the Byrdsian/Whoish mishigas. Drumming is very Moony. Typically muddy 70s production, but hey.

You are the Prince of the Obscure, Steve.

steve simels said...

Comes with extreme old age, my friend.

Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary said...

I gotta tell you, dude - I really appreciate this stuff. I love hearing music I never heard & probably never would have if it weren't for you. Thanks. Gath.

MBowen said...

Wasn't Nelson the managing editor of the old Crawdaddy magazine? I used to love that one.

steve simels said...

Nope. Peter Knobler and the late Timothy White were the guys at Crawdaddy.

Nelson wrote for just about everybody, though, including lots of stuff for CREEM. So he might have done stuff for Crawdaddy, though I have no specific recollection. I think he also was writing regularly for one of the Boston papers in the 70s