Thursday, October 31, 2019

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

In honor of Halloween, please enjoy the criminally underrated Gwil Owen...

...and his fabulous ode to the proverbial "Haunted House."

I first encountered Owen when he was the lead singer (circa 1988) of alt-rockers The Thieves, who made an absolutely sensational album -- Seduced by Money -- that was produced by none other than Marshall Crenshaw. If you can find a copy, grab it immediately; it's a classic. The song above, if I recall, was from the follow up album Phoenix, which I believe Gwil self-released.

In any case, I lost track of the guy over the years, but I rediscovered him in 2017, and he's done really well for himself since the Thieves, including an Oscar nomination for a song he wrote for the soundtrack of The Horse Whisperer.

You can find out more about him over HERE.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Ever Since the World Ended

Mose Allison -- the greatest hepster songwriter/piano player of all time -- is finally getting a tribute album.

Hey world -- what took you so long?

Here are two cuts from the CD, which drops, as the kids say, on Nov. 29 on Fat Possum Records.

And here's the complete track listing.

1. Taj Mahal - Your Mind Is On Vacation

2. Robbie Fulks - My Brain

3. Jackson Browne - If You Live

4. The Tippo Allstars featuring Fiona Apple - Your Molecular Structure

5. Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite - Nightclub

6. Chrissie Hynde - Stop This World

7. Iggy Pop - If You're Going to the City

8. Bonnie Raitt - Everybody's Crying Mercy

9. Loudon Wainwright III - Ever Since the World Ended

10. Richard Thompson - Parchman Farm

11. Peter Case - I Don't Worry About A Thing

12. Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin - Wild Man On the Loose

13. Anything Mose! - The Way of the World

14. Frank Black - Numbers On Paper

15. Amy Allison with Elvis Costello - Monsters of the Id

I was lucky enough to see Mose, who passed away in 2016 at the ripe old age of 89, at some hole in the wall jazz club in Greenwich Village sometime in the early 80s; the word that most comes to mind to describe the man and the music he made that night is "droll."

In any event, I am planning to enjoy the hell out of this CD when it arrives.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Your Tuesday Moment of Words Fail Me

From their 2011 album Kids Sing Bob Dylan, please enjoy The Starbugs and the damndest version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" you'll ever hear.

Spoiler alert: The girl in the middle behind the microphone is standing on a wooden box.

Seriously, that brought tears to my eyes. And it occurred to me that those children were only slightly younger than I was the first time I heard The Byrds do the song, an event which literally changed my life forever.

In any case, I think the great Lothar and the Hand People said it best. Kids ARE little people.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Folk Process at Work

[I first posted the following in 2010, when this blog and the world were young; I had forgotten two of the three versions of the song featured since then, so for a variety of reasons -- including the fact that I've recently gotten interested in the live tapes of the Grateful Dead recorded before they got their record deal -- I thought it might be worth revisiting. In any case, enjoy if possible. -- S.S.]

From 1966 (but unreleased until 1989) here's The Byrds (at the height of their powers) and a very cool studio version of the venerable "I Know You Rider."

And from a year later, here's land-locked Boulder, Colorado surf band The Astronauts with another perspective on the song.

[Audio Note: This is one of those really weird early stereo mixes -- it sounds horrible on headphones, but just fine on real speakers. Act accordingly.]

And finally, from the Avalon Ballroom in late September 1966, here's the Dead with their take.

The song itself is as old as the proverbial hills, although its first modern appearance dates back to a 1934 John and Alan Lomax folklore anthology; by the 60s, it was pretty much a blues and folkie standard. The Byrds opened their live shows with it for much of 1966-67, but that version was in majestic open-D tuning; the studio track above is in G, the better to emulate (as Roger McGuinn has noted on several occasions) The Beatles then current "Paperback Rider." The Dead also used to play it a lot back in the day; it's no secret I'm not particularly a fan, but I must admit that discovering this version was a bit of an eye-opener. It noodles a little too much for my taste (so what else is new?) but it works up a pretty effective head of steam by the time it sort of collides to a halt.

Actually, on balance I think I kind of prefer the Astronauts' cover. The whole surf thing was of course pretty much passé at this point, and their albums found them trying on whatever current rock styles they thought they could credibly get away with, with often cringeworthy results. But this one has a genuinely authentic folk-rock vibe and the rhythm section really kicks; if the San Francisco hippies in the psychedelic ballrooms the year this was released had actually heard it, I suspect they might even have approved.

Friday, October 25, 2019

It's About Time. Now Lets Get Them Into the One in Cleveland.

TRENTION, NJ -- Governor Phil Murphy has announced that The Smithereens will be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in the Performing Arts Category in the fall.

The Smithereens -- Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken, Mike Mesaros, and the late Scotch Plains native Pat DiNizio -- will be inducted at the 11th annual ceremony to be held on Sunday, October 27, 2019, at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park. The band had a string of hits in the 1980s, including Only a Memory, Blood and Roses, and A Girl Like You.

DiNizio, who was proud of his Scotch Plains roots, has been celebrated locally as an inductee into the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Hall of Fame. In 2018, shortly after his death, the Township honored him by naming a street after him. Mayor Al Smith and Township Manager Al Mirabella unveiled the sign marking Pat DiNizio Way at the intersection of Montague Avenue and Westfield Avenue in front of the musician's family home across from St. Bartholomew's Church.

"This is terrific news for The Smithereens, Pat DiNizio, and his beloved hometown of Scotch Plains," Al Mirabella said. "Pat was a true personal friend of mine and I always enjoyed his stories and the way he shared his love of New Jersey."

"Wherever in the world he was performing, he always talked about New Jersey," Mirabella added. "I miss him, but I’m happy to know that he’ll be inducted into the NJ Hall of Fame. I’m sure his mother, Antoinette Dinizio will be very proud of this prestigious honor."

Apparently, Jon Bon Jovi is going to actually induct them. Fellow Jersey native (and one of my personal heroes) Southside Johnny Lyon will also be honored at the ceremony.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Hairway to Steven

For some odd reason, this resonated with me.

And yeah, it wasn't a hit, but god bless Ben Folds for writing this and spelling my name with a "v".

[h/t NYMary]

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Nick Tosches 1949 - 2019

Okay, it isn't just rock stars who are dropping like flies. Now it's rock critics.

In this case, one of the handful of that breed who might conceivably have been inhabited by genius.

I didn't know Nick Tosches personally, but for years he was a fixture at a watering hole we shared in the Village, where I used to see him at the bar all the time. I found him an incredibly intimidating figure, for a variety of reasons, and frankly, if anybody had ever introduced me to him I would probably have gone into full humiliating "I'm not worthy" mode.

Which is to say he was sort of an idol of mine, and with good reason, I think.

For starters, this book...

...which began its life as an early 70s series in CREEM magazine, turned me on to scads of great music I hadn't known about. It's also one of the two or three funniest tomes ever written about rock-and-roll.

And this one...

...which is also pretty hilarious, is not only the greatest celebrity biography ever, but quite possibly the most profound, perceptive and eloquent meditation on existential nullity and the nature of fame in the English language.

Seriously, it rises to the level of, dare I say, literature, and if you haven't read it, your life is the poorer for it.

Bottom line: RIP, Nick. You were an irreplaceable original.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hiroshima Mon Amour

So as attentive readers may recall, I'm in the process of readying a solo single -- yeah, right, I know; the masses have been clamoring for that -- the a-side of which is a remake of this amazing Byrds' anti-war folk-rock classic from 1966.

But what I myself didn't recall is that a very interesting but obscure American band of the 60s had already done a cover of it in -- dig this -- the style of The Yardbirds. And that I had posted about it here a decade ago.

The Byrds track is one of my favorite things ever (David Crosby's out-of-the-blue harmony line on the last verse is devastating, I think), but their version (courtesy of Pete Seeger) appropriates the melody of an old Celtic folk song called "The Silkie." The lyrics to both versions, however, are based on a translation of a poem by Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet.

In any case, The Misunderstood's radical re-imagining of it -- as you can hear, it sounds almost Middle Eastern -- really does suggest that these guys could have been a major band if the fates (including the Vietnam War era draft, ironically enough) hadn't intervened.

The short version: The Misunderstood were a Brit Invasion-inspired California garage band with all the usual influences. Then they added a steel guitar player(!), got discovered by the guy who would become British deejay John Peel, moved to England, got signed, and impressed people as being innovators in a league with the aforementioned Yardbirds and Pink Floyd despite the fact that none of their singles sold. Eventually, one of them got called up by Uncle Sam and the whole thing kind of fell apart by early '67.

Most of the rest of their recorded output from that period is equally if not more impressive, IMHO. On the other hand, I'm not sure their failure to break through commercially was simply a matter of bad luck -- their original songs (to my ears) lack that certain something, despite the performances being tremendously imaginative and accomplished.

Still, they seem to be one of the more tantalizing Might Have Been stories from the period, and it's kind of wondrous that you can still stumble across stuff like this unawares.

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that there's a really terrific compilation of their studio work available over at Amazon HERE.

Plus, you can read a very entertaining band history by Ritchie Unterberger over HERE.

Also: Misunderstood pedal steel monster Glen Ross Campbell went on to play with UK blues-bashers Juicy Lucy for a while and also did a stint in Joe Cocker's backup band. He later moved to New Zealand where he is still active in music.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Closed for Birthday Monkey Business

They say it's my birthday, and by golly it is!

So I'm taking the day off.

Regular posting -- including reviews of some new albums -- resume on the morrow.

Friday, October 18, 2019

From their 1994 album While You're Down There, please enjoy The Interesting Guys and the most sinister sounding cover version of The Carpenters' "Close to You" you're ever likely to hear.

The specific interesting guy singing that, BTW, is Athens GA. legend the Reverend Connor Tribble, who I knew before he was ordained.

You can find out more about him over HERE.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

World's Coolest Living Human Tells All

From 2004, please enjoy the incredibly great Ian Hunter and his rendition of the venerable "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square."

A song I'm beginning to think it may be impossible to do a bad version of.

Oh, and BTW, the reason I'm bringing all this up is because I heard Dennis Day sing it on an episode of the old Jack Benny radio show the other night.

Yeah, yeah. I know.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Boy Needs a Hobby

Mine, as you may be aware, is spending vast sums of money I don't have on various musical projects in an expensive New York City recording studio.

Including, ridiculously enough -- given my lack of anything resembling a passable singing voice -- a forthcoming solo single.

Right. The masses have been clamoring for that, comrades.

In any case, Monday night I did an almost final mix -- a few tweaks will be forthcoming later in the month -- for the B-side of the aforementioned single.

The song, BTW, is by friend of PowerPop Peter Spencer, who I have written about here on several previous occasions.

I should add that Pete heard an earlier version of the above track and graciously refrained from hitting me. I think he mostly liked the handclaps near the end.

Oh -- the people responsible for this colossal folly include myself (vocals and keyboards), Glen Robert Allen of the Floor Models (drums), Joe Benoit (guitars), and my pals from The Weasels Allan Weissman (bass), David Hawxwell (guitars and harmonies), and Glenn Leeds (more keyboards). Please don't hold any of that against them.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Closed for Monkey Business

Had a productive, but long and exhausting, night in the studio yesterday.

Regular postings -- including the result of that session -- resume on the morrow.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Your Monday Moment of Words Fail Me

From 2015, please enjoy the still criminally underrated Tom Jones and his mind-boggling version of "Elvis Presley Blues."

Oh, and once you've absorbed that -- here's the song's author, Gillian Welch, with more or less the original version of the song in 2001.

I was thinking that night about Elvis
Day that he died, day that he died
I was thinking that night about Elvis
Day that he died, day that he died

Just a country boy that combed his hair
And put on a shirt his mother made and went on the air
And he shook it like a chorus girl
And he shook it like a Harlem Queen
He shook it like a midnight rambler, baby
Like you never seen, you never seen

I was thinking that night about Elvis
Day that he died, day that he died
I was thinking that night about Elvis
Day that he died, day that he died

How he took it all out of black and white
Grabbed his wand in the other hand and he held on tight
And he shook it like a hurricane
He shook it like to make it break
And he shook it like a holy roller, baby
With his soul at stake, his soul at stake

I was thinking that night about Elvis
Day that he died, day that he died
I was thinking that night about Elvis
Day that he died, day that he died

He was all alone in a long decline
Thinking how happy John Henry was that he fell down and died
When he shook it and he rang like silver
He shook it and he shine like gold
He shook it and he beat that steam drill, baby
Well bless my soul, bless my soul

He shook it and he beat that steam drill, baby
Well bless my soul, what's wrong with me?

They're both great, obviously, but the Jones version? Good lord.

That couldn't be any further from "It's Not Unusual" if you put a gun to its head.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Let Us Now Praise (Should Have Been) Famous Women

From 2013, please enjoy the inexplicably obscure Foxes and Fossils, at what appears to be a parking lot outside a suburban Applebees, with an incredibly swell live cover of "I Can't Let Go."

And if I may digress for a moment, I should add that I'm kind of baffled by the sudden Linda Ronstadt nostalgia that's afflicted a surprising number of my critical colleagues of late.

I mean, yeah, her medical problems are very sad and I wouldn't wish them on anybody, but she is and was vastly overrated, and her albums -- with the exception of the trio stuff with Dolly and Emmylou, or the Mexican things -- are mostly sterile and over-produced LA crap. IMHO.

Basically, she was The Eagles' Women's Auxiliary. And I say it's spinach and the hell with it.

Okay, I'm exaggerating to make a point, but let's be clear here: Despite the credit on that video, this is not a cover of a Linda Ronstadt song.

It's a cover of a song written by the great Chip ("Wild Thing") Taylor and originally made famous by Evie Sands (who is far more deserving of household word status than Ronstadt)...

...and then popularized by The Hollies.

As for Foxes and Fossils, apparently they broke up a few years ago without ever achieving the success they clearly deserved.

Here's their gopher website if you want to know more about them.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

[h/t Jai Guru Dave]

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Your Thursday Moment of This Way Madness Lies

Attentive -- and perhaps unusually forgiving -- readers may recall that of late, for reasons we needn't get into, I've been using old episodes of the Jack Benny radio show as a sleeping aid.

And that I have unaccountably developed a huge fondness for the Irish tenor song stylings of Dennis Day as a result.

Okay, I know I said I wouldn't inflict another Day song on you again, but I heard this one -- from a 1942 show -- last night and found myself thinking it was really sweet and really funny.

I hope you agree.

And okay, this time I PROMISE YOU I WON'T DO IT AGAIN.

I'm not kidding, honest.

I should add, BTW, that the song was co-written by the great Jule Styne, who had more substantial success writing "People" and the entire score of Funny Girl. Just saying.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Ginger Baker 1939 - 2019

I was never particularly a Cream fan, and Baker's drum style left me cold more or less from day one.

That said, these two Cream songs are on my Great Jukebox in the Sky in perpetuity. I would have cheerfully covered these in any band that deigned to have me as a member.

I should add that "Tennis," which I had as a single...

...was actually the theme song for The Savage Seven, a really cheesy 1968 B-movie biker flick.

And the lyrics, by Clapton collaborator Martin Sharp, are absolutely fabulous.

Twice upon a time
In the valley of the tears
The auctioneer is bidding
For a box of fading years
And the elephants are dancing
On the graves of squealing mice
Anyone for tennis?
Wouldn't that be nice?

And the ice creams are all melting
On the streets of bloody beer
While the beggars stain the pavements
With fluorescent Christmas cheer
And the Bentley-driving guru
Is putting up his price
Anyone for tennis?
Wouldn't that be nice?

And the prophets in the boutiques
Give out messages of hope
With jingle bells and fairy tales
And blind providing scopes
And you can tell that all they're saying
Underneath the pretty lights
Anyone for tennis?
Wouldn't that be nice?

Yellow Buddhist monk is
Burning brightly at the zoo
You can bring a bowl of rice
And then a glass of water, too
And Fate is setting up the chessboard
While Death rolls out the dice
Anyone for tennis?
Wouldn't that be nice?

I should also add that in the rock-and-roll circles I liked to think I ran in, the whole idea of Ginger Baker was something of an insult at some point in the 70s.

As you can see by this actual Village Voice musicians classified ad for Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band.

Finally, I should mention that word is that Baker was too obnoxious for Satan, to the point where he was just thrown out of Hell, and is now actually making an unholy racket in Heaven.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Who Listens to the Radio?

Hopefully you guys, as I'm gonna be on friend of PowerPop Capt. Al's show Lost at Sea this morning on fabulous Area 24 Radio.

True to my word, I'm gonna be playing music by somebody other than me -- specifically another friend of PowerPop, Joe Benoit, who had a record release party and gig over the weekend that I attended and dug the hell out of.

(Yes, I'm really tired -- rocking out two days in a row really takes it out of me.)

In any case, the show should be a lot of fun; it starts circa 11am EST (I'll be making my appearance around 11:30) and you can listen to it over HERE by clicking on the link that says Tune In.

Oh -- and you can (and should) download Joe's gorgeous new album Too Old to Be a Rock Star over HERE.

Monday, October 07, 2019

The Floor Models: A Night to Remember

The short version: The Floor Models reunion show was, to quote Shelley Duvall in Annie Hall, "transplendent."

And thank you to everybody who attended or was involved in it in any way.

Yeah, yeah; I know that performance is raggedy, but it's great anyway and if those four guys aren't having fun, I'm no judge of horseflesh.

Also: My dear friend Laura Giantonio -- who in an earlier life was a big time rock photographer -- took these. Words fail me.

In case you were wondering, it really felt like the old days. Just a fabulous time.

And here's hoping Andy was watching it from rock-and-roll heaven and giving it a big thumbs up.

Okay, starting tomorrow -- posts about music I am not personally involved in. I promise.

Friday, October 04, 2019

It's Floor Models Week: Part V -- Rehearsals for Retirement

In preparation for tonight's sure to he historic reunion of the Floor Models Mark II (aka Gerry Devine and the Hi-Beams), we got together last night in the same room at the same time for the first time in 33 years.

As you can see, the room in question was, shall we say, somewhat cramped, but hey -- we've always been a low budget operation.

In any case, the big show is tonight at SESSION 73, on the corner of 73rd street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan. The band hits the stage at 8pm.

Pray for us, everybody, and we're looking forward to seeing you there.

Also: a coveted PowerPop No-Prize© will be awarded to the first reader who identifies the source of this item's title.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

It's Floor Models Week: Part IV -- A Clear Sign of the End Times

Well, they said it would never happen, but alas they were wrong.

This Friday evening -- 33 years since we last played together in the same room -- the members of The Floor Models Mark II (aka Gerry Devine and the Hi-Beams) will be performing live in concert.

At SESSION 73, on the corner of 73rd street and 1st Avenue in New York City. A proverbial low dive with continuous entertainment.

Those of you lucky enough not to be members of the group's inner circle may not be aware that this sure to be historic event was preceded two weeks ago by a hugely successful soiree -- at the KEUKA KAFE in Forest hills -- in celebration of our recently released CD Esprit de Floor (available at Amazon, iTunes, Spotify and the rest of the usual suspects).

That's us watching our younger selves on the Keuka's video monitor, BTW.

In any case, tomorrow's show is sure to attract the curious and the kooky, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Doors open during the day, the band hits the stage at 8pm, and the drinks will be discounted while we're on.

Be there or be square. For more details, check out the Session 73 website at the link above.

You're welcome, and pray for us.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

It's Floor Models Week: Part III - Closed for Monkey Business

Had close to a full-fledged anxiety attack thinking about Friday's upcoming reunion gig yesterday.

Regular posting, assuming I can get a Xanax scrip later today, resumes on the morrow.

Have I mentioned we're doing a reunion gig on Friday?

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

It's Floor Models Week: Part II -- Alas, There Will Never Be a Deluxe Criterion Blu-ray Edition of Our 1965 Movie Musical Masterpiece

It was our A Hard Day's Night, but it bombed at the box-office.

And the negative and all surviving prints were recently lost in a fire at Universal.

Fortunately, you can still hear the title song...

...and buy the soundtrack CD over at Amazon HERE.