Monday, October 31, 2016

Your Monday Moment of Words Fail Me

If you haven't already seen this over at BURNING WOOD -- please behold in breathless wonder The Flat Five and their absolutely gorgeous cover of "Sundays Will Never Be the Same."

You can get their just released album...

...over at Amazon HERE. I just did, I'll tell you that for free.

[h/t Sal Nunziato]

Friday, October 28, 2016

Zacherley 1918 -- 2016

Just when I thought this year couldn't possibly suck any more than it already has -- comes the news that the Cool Ghoul has shuffled off this mortal coil...

...and with him a huge chunk of my youth.

Apart from being by far the best of all the local horror movie TV hosts of the late 50s and early 60s, Zack had a long second career as a progressive rock radio deejay in New York City. He also hosted a local NYC knock-off of American Bandstand -- Zacherley's Disc-o-Teen -- in the late 60s, where apart from cracking wise with the kids who came to the show to dance and hang out, he also introduced said teens to some of the hippest music around. I vividly remember hearing "Substitute" by The Who for the first time on his show.

And of course Alex Chilton showed up, too.

He also had a hit with perhaps my favorite novelty rock record of them all.

He lectured once at my old college in the early 70s; I was delighted to discover that he was charming, funny, and a real gent even out of costume.

Damn, this year has just been stone awful.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Let Us Now Praise Famous (Unsigned) Men

[I originally posted this back in 2012; I'm re-posting it now because a) the original music links have disappeared (and I recently found a superior version of the Hi-Beams track) and b) in the interim I was lucky enough to write the liner notes for a CD reissue of one of Mark's albums that as far as I know is still scheduled to come out sometime soon on Light in the Attic Records (the great label that gave us those Rodriguez discs, among others.) Enjoy. -- S.S.]

Okay, I mentioned this guy and this CD a couple of weeks ago, but I've finally got a copy and...words fail me.

In any case, here's a representative track -- the quite astonishing "That's What I Want." Sounding pretty much exactly like it would have if, like moi, you'd been lucky enough to catch a late 70s/early 80s live performance by genuine power pop underground legend Mark Johnson (doing business with The Wild Alligators) at Kenny's Castaways (which is where and approximately when the album cover was photographed, BTW.)

A postcript: These guys were -- and remain -- the single most exciting never-signed band I ever saw. Drummer Don Costagno was a monster groove player, guitarist Drew Zing was good enough to later join Steely Dan, Johnson himself was a riveting front man, and the bass guy (on the right in the photo) -- well, I thought he sucked, but that was mostly because I was desperately trying to figure out how to weasel my way into the band, which never happened. I've forgiven Mark for that lapse in judgement, obviously, if for no other reason than I wouldn't otherwise have been motivated to join The Floor Models.

I should also add that I caught MJ & TWA countless times back in the day, and they never failed to induce goose bumps; you can't imagine how many great songs they had, and most of them are on the CD. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print at the moment, but you should head over to Amazon and order a copy of Mark's home studio masterpiece 12 in a Room over here.

I should also add that the aforementioned Floor Models (Mark II, better known as Gerry Devine and the Hi-Beams, featuring a bass player whose name rhymes with Sleeve Nimels) were one of the many Greenwich Village artists who used to cover the above song; here we are, on the radio in Woodstock, with a pretty snazzy live version of it.

Thanks, Mark!!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Closed for Monkey Business

Obviously, this blog is a rigged system. Back tomorrow, unless Trump sues me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bobby Vee 1943 - 2016

From (Holy) Greil Marcus' brilliant Mystery Train:

At a DJ convention early in 1973, I sit drinking with Bobby Vee and Brian Hyland, veterans of the Now-That-Elvis-Is-in the Army-We-Can-Cash-in-on-the Vacuum Era. I am interviewing Bob (he has changed his name back to Veline and is a folksinger now) in order to pen six thousand words of liner notes to a greatest hits package, an essay that will no doubt be the only extended critical discussion of his oeuvre. Bob tells me that, yes, for him it all began with Elvis -- and suddenly the whole tone of the conversation is different. Professional cool drops away and we are shameless fans, awed by our subject. Vee and Hyland have met Elvis: he got drunk with Hyland (so Brian says) and was surly to Vee (I believe that). Well, they are outcasts in the rock 'n' roll world now, two very ordinary looking men; for all their triviality as rock singers, they once did their best to live up to Elvis and keep the faith. You can almost feel them gazing at Elvis as he is today, as if in his comback they still see a glimmer of a future for themselves, just as they did when he started out years ago.

The guy died of Alzheimers, which he first was diagnosed with at the age of 67.

This kind of shit is really starting to break my heart.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Randy Newman Wants to Be a Putin Girl!!!

"Here’s a song dedicated to a great world leader. I hope all of you like it. I know he will." — Randy Newman, October 12, 2016

This guy is an American treasure -- as some Brit said about Keith Moon, why haven't we nationalized him?

Incidentally, I didn't think Newman could ever surpass his "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country"...

...but I think he just did.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Year of Living Miserably

So I think that we can all agree that 2016 has been one of the suckiest years in the history of suckitude. I have personal reasons for saying that, obviously, but across the board the year has been pretty damn horrible on about a zillion levels.

Still, for me anyway, there has been one constant bright spot -- music. I have been lucky enough to be turned on this year to all sorts of great stuff -- largely in the genre that defines the mission statement of this here blog -- to the point where 2016 will be the first time I will find it easy to vote a Top Ten album list in the Village Voice Critics Poll in over a decade. I mean, for The Swedish Polarbears alone, and they're just the tip of the iceberg.

In any case, courtesy of my chum Marc Platt -- and may I just say, and for the record, that the fact I never got to see his band The Real Impossibles in a club back in the day is now the great regret of my adult life -- I've just discovered the incredibly great Nick Piunti.

Holy Cheap Trick, Beatles, Matthew Sweet, Willie Nile et al, Batman!

The above song is from a 2013 album; Nick's newest CD came out at the end of September (on Marty Scott's JEM Records imprint, which I hadn't realized still existed) and it's more of the same and possibly even more infectiously memorable.

You can find out the skinny on Nick -- who's been doing this kind of stuff for years, and why didn't I get the memo previously? -- over at his official website here. You can also order his albums, which I recommend you do posthaste.

Have I mentioned that this guy is so great I hate him?

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

From Our "A Picture is Worth 1000 Words" Department... are two that say even more.

Have I mentioned that Mike Love is an enormous dick lately?

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Pointer Brothers

So some friends threw a little early birthday bash for me on Friday, and I got to meet Jay Jay French, best known as the long-time guitarist for Twisted Sister. A great, super funny guy (and one who's led the kind of interesting life, not even counting the music, that I can barely imagine).

In any case, as you can see, a splendid time was had by all.

After I got home I was, unsurprisingly, moved to watch the classic TS video for "We're Not Gonna Take It"...

...and imagine my surprise when I learned -- on the very next day -- that the kid in the video actually DID get to...well, you'll see.

From the press release:

Dayz lead singer Dax Callner is also known for his memorable war cry “I wanna rock!” from a then wholesome, yet mischievous-looking, 12-year-old boy to his father figure in the iconic 80s rock video “We’re Not Gonna Take It” from 80s rock legends Twisted Sister. Now, decades later, Dax -- that defiant kid that helped define a generation’s youthful rebellion -- is back and still ready to rock. This time around, he’s behind the microphone.

Words fail me.

In any case, you can find out more about The Dayz -- and order their new EP -- over at their website HERE.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Boy, This is REALLY Gonna Piss Off Ned Rorem!

The irrepressible Bob Dylan is the 2016 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Meanwhile, here's the aforementioned Ned Rorem, America's self-identified greatest living art song composer who nobody gives a flying fuck about, having a jealous hissy fit in the New York Times.
Positively Fourth-Rate

JULY 4, 2004

To the Editor:

As one who has always found Dylan the singer charmless and rasping, Dylan the poet sophomoric and obvious, and Dylan the composer banal and unmemorable, I did not have my feeling changed by Jonathan Lethem's review of Christopher Ricks's book ''Dylan's Visions of Sin'' (June 13). Lethem's complicity with the author in equating Bob Dylan with Blake and Picasso, no less, must embarrass even Dylan.

Yet assuming he is right (though what is ''right'' in such matters?), Lethem has not one word to say about the music; when he says ''music'' it's as a synonym for ''lyrics.'' Since ancient times songs sink or swim on the quality of the music to which the poems are set; but Lethem has no opinion, much less an analysis, of how the tune and harmony and instrumentation relate to the text.

As for the giggly postscript by Lucinda Williams (''Love That Mystic Hammering''), she does refer to Dylan's ''sweet beautiful melodies,''as well as to his influential ''sweet-ass attitude,'' but such notions are meaningless in responsible criticism.

Ned Rorem
New York

Yeah, well, Ned old horse, here's a song Bob threw away. And to paraphrase what Charlie Pierce said at Esquire yesterday, if this isn't great writing then I'm Marie of Rumania.

Well, I heard the hoot owl singing

As they were taking down the tents

The stars above the barren trees

Were his only audience

Them charcoal gypsy maidens

Can strut their feathers well

But nobody can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning

Hear the cracking of the whips

Smell that sweet magnolia blooming

(And) see the ghosts of slavery ships

I can hear them tribes a-moaning

(I can) hear the undertaker's bell

(Yeah), nobody can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

And here's the master with another -- more light-hearted -- song he threw away on a Traveling Wilburys album. On top of everything else, this guy is -- as Jack Nicholson famously said about him at some awards show a while back -- a riot.

And speaking of Bob the stand-up comedian, here's my favorite thing he ever said.

"Once introducing himself to Bob Dylan at an L.A. party, [Peter] Grant offered a warm handshake. 'I’m Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin,' he said. Dylan replied, 'I don’t come to you with my problems, do I?'

Oh, and BTW -- the Hamilton guy gets it.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Separated at Birth

SPY Magazine is back. I can now die happy.

Regular posting resumes one the morrow, cross my heart.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

As Lily Tomlin Once Said -- I Worry That Drugs Have Made Us More Creative Than We Really Are

[I originally posted this back in 2009; I'm reposting it now because a) the music link has long since expired, and b) I'm sort of under the gun time wise now and I'm too hassled to write something new. Plus, I think it's a pretty cool piece. Thank you for your indulgence. -- S.S.]

Ladies and gentlemen...from the genuinely psychedelic 1967 album The Parable of Arable Land by legendary Texas rockers The Red Crayola, we give you the epochal anti-war classic "Hurricane Fighter Plane."

And now, from the November 1992 issue of The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review, here's the backstory (charmingly monikered NOISE IN THE ATTIC).

"EVERYBODY'S in a band/They can't get enough of it," Pere Ubu once sang, and our more politically astute readers are no doubt aware that recent proof of this proposition has emerged during the current election campaign. I refer, of course, to the startling news that Tipper Gore, wife of the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee but better known for getting record companies to slap Parental Advisory labels on naughty rock and rap albums, played the drums in an all-girl garage band in the mid-Sixties. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

Or maybe not. Actually, it's occurred to me that wanting to be a rock star is pretty much the universal fantasy of our age. In fact, when I researched the subject back in 1989, I was able to locate lots of nonmusical celebrities with rock bands in their closets. Some were willing to speak to me about it, among them Chevy Chase (a godawful group called the Chameleon Church, with a 1968 album on MGM) and Saturday Night Live's Kevin Nealon (several mid-Sixties garage bands with names like the Hallucinations and the Atomic Bombs). Others were less forthcoming, like Diane Keaton (who sang with a New York City band called the Roadrunners circa 1966) and the former Bush Administration drug czar William J. Bennett (who played guitar and sang with an Animal House-style frat-rock outfit at Williams College back in 1961).

My favorite celeb with a past rock life, however, is unquestionably Frederick Barthelme. These days Barthelme is a highly regarded member of the so-called minimalist school of fiction, and his work appears in tony outlets like The New Yorker. But few readers of his story collections Moon Deluxe and Chroma know that back in the acid-drenched Sixties he pounded the drums as a member of a band called the Red Crayola, or that he co-wrote such unforgettable songs as "Pink Stainless Tail" and "War Sucks."

"What happened," Barthelme told me in a not-at-all minimalist manner, "was [that] I had already been booted from architecture school [University of Houston, 1966] for a kind of too-wicked treatment of an architectural problem. So I was making pictures, and Mayo Thompson was a friend who had been in Europe for a year. And when he came back he decided we ought to have a rock-and-roll band.

"He and I and a guy named Steve Cunningham, who was a year or two younger, got together and started playing 'Hey Joe' and all that. And we sort of developed at the same time the psychedelic stuff was going on, and we used to play for hours and hours."

Once christened the Red Crayola, Barthelme and his fellow arty hippies began to garner a local reputation. Eventually, they got to do an album "because we won some kind of idiotic mall Battle of the Bands. It doesn't occur to me now that we won, actually, but we played in it and were heard by Lelan Rogers, who was a small-time producer and Kenny Rogers's brother-in-law."

The album, The Parable of Arable Land, on the Texas-based International Artists label [home to the better known LSD pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators], sold fitfully at best, perhaps because "the guy who did the recording recorded it in mono," Barthelme recalled. "We thought it was a good idea at the time."

Undaunted, the Crayolas went out to California in the summer of 1967, where one performance, at the Berkeley Folk Festival, has become almost legendary. "That's where Cunningham played the famous block of ice," Bartheleme explained. "He brought a block of ice on stage, put it on a stand with some aluminium foil under it, and miked the foil. It was an outdoor concert, and it melted attractively."

After their California trip, the Crayolas went back to Texas and "just broke up after that season." Mayo continued with another album called God Bless the Red Crayola, and later reappeared in Europe in the Eighties with, of all people, members of Pere Ubu.

Today, from his teaching post at the University of Southern Mississippi, Barthelme looks back at his brush with rock stardom. "It was pretty interesting," he recalled. "Of course, the idea that I was a rock star -- or even a qualified performer -- is, I think, a stretch. You understand I was the world's worst drummer...very far ahead of my time, but the world's worst drummer."

Still, history plays odd tricks, and after the first Red Crayola album was reissued in the late Seventies, some rock theoreticians actually hailed the band as unsung Godfathers of Punk.

"Mayo said something about that when he was in Europe," Barthelme told me, "that in England we were a proto-punk band, and people had heard of us and had the record." He reflected for a moment.

"I don't know if that's true," he said finally. "But wouldn't it be lovely to think so?" -- Steve Simels

A couple of brief notes by way of a postscript:

I originally wrote the above for Rolling Stone as part of a larger piece about celebrities with rock bands in the woodwork; I interviewed a bunch of interesting people for the story, including pre-rehab Insider host Pat O'Brien and the late Republican strategist/devil incarnate Lee Atwater, but the piece ultimately never ran because Jann Wenner thought the premise was somehow insulting. I got paid five grand up front, though, so I didn't really care what Wenner thought, and I was able later to recycle several of the interviews at outlets including Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times, so the whole thing ended up being both quite wonderfully lucrative and marginally rep enhancing.

Also, since I wrote the piece, Arable Land has emerged on CD in stereo (despite Barthelme's mono-only claim); improved sonics notwithstanding, I hasten to add that it retains its period charm, and you can order it at Amazon if the song above piqued your curiosity. I really like it, myself.

Finally, some time in the 90s, somebody put out an actual, quite well-recorded, live album of the Crayola's 1967 appearance at the Berkeley Folk Festival, featuring the aforementioned melting block of ice. I had a copy briefly and seem to recall it's actually a double CD; you can order it at Amazonif you have a little disposable income and a fondness for acid-infused Dada-ish art gestures.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Rod Temperton 1949 - 2016

He wrote a lot of hit songs over the years, but his most famous one, of course, is Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

I've often wondered, however, what he thought about this version -- the definitive one, in my humble opinion.

Incidentally, I just got a copy of the 1984 HBO special that it derives from -- man, that guy was funny back in the days before the steroids destroyed his sense of humor.

Friday, October 07, 2016


From sometime in the late 80s, please enjoy Gerry Devine and the Hi-Beams (aka The Floor Models Mark II) -- featuring some bass player whose name rhymes with Sleeve Nimels -- and a warts-and-all live rehearsal version of that Cat Stevens song we discussed yesterday.

When the Flo Mos did this live, we had the advantage of Andy's Rickenbacker 12-string, but I think our pal J.D. Goldberg on six-string lead acquits himself pretty darned well in its stead.

You'll also note that Gerry flubs the opening chords, and then gets a lyric wrong in the first verse, but what the hell -- rock-and--roll, etc. You'll also note that we add a little descending melodic line in the choruses (so that technically the song doesn't have just three chords anymore), but also what the hell.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

It May Have Only Three Chords, But They're the RIGHT Three Chords!

From 1999, please enjoy The Mavericks (with great lead singer Raul Malo) and their all but perfect cover of Cat Stevens' transplendent "Here Comes My Baby."

I don't think I've ever mentioned this to anybody, but if you put a gun to my head this just might be my favorite song of all time. If you accept that the definition of rock-and-roll is "fun songs about sad stuff" (and I do, often) this one pretty much goes to 11.

I should add that the Floor Models used to do a live version of it, and I never enjoyed my time on-stage more than when we were performing it. Alas, no really good recording of our take on it has survived, although there's a rehearsal tape from a later incarnation of the band somewhere in my archives. Depending on how self-indulgent I feel, perhaps I'll post it on Friday.

In the meantime, that Mavericks video just kills me. I am totally in love with the drummer.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Blues Came Down From the Upper East Side

From 2016, please enjoy the incomparable French Cookin' Blues Band -- featuring Glen "Bob" Allen, my musical director for the last 50 years, on drums -- and "If You Wanna," the title track of their new CD.

Pretty snappy, I'd say. Meanwhile, you can -- and should -- find out more about these guys over at their official website HERE.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Donald Trump Story

From 1982 and his fabulous Trap Door EP, please enjoy the great T-Bone Burnett and the obviously relevant "A Ridiculous Man."

He's got a cattle ranch in Argentina
He's got an art museum in Pasadena
He's got a bank in Switzerland
He's a ridiculous man.

'Nuff said.