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Provostian Moments Vol. IX: Davie Allan & The Arrows

29 Apr

What did DAVIE ALLAN & THE ARROWS, THE DWIGHT TWILLEY BAND and THE DREAM SYNDICATE and all have in common? Bassist Dave Provost, that’s who. Who has played in musical aggregations with the likes of AL GREEN, SKY SAXON, and KATHY VALENTINE? Dave Provost has.

Dave is a kind of rock n roll Zelig, somehow popping up at all the crucial turns and twists in LA rock history during the past 4+ decades. Over the years his formidable musical & rhythmic chops got him seats next to some seriously world-class musicians, while his gregarious, outgoing nature had all the rest inviting him to their after-gig parties. And now, he’s now spilling the beans about it all, starting with this post.

This is really, really good news to those of us who appreciate just where this man’s walked and rocked in his lifetime. So please: do take a seat at the feet of Mr Dave Provost for a spell, and follow him in his search for lost rock n roll time.

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Davie Allan & The Arrows

n 1965, I wanted to be James Bond as much as every other acned adolescent boy. In the darkness of the Van Nuys Fox Theater, I watched the short skateboarding film Skaterdater that was used as the intro to Thunderball. The music score was terrifying. The massive theater was filled with the fuzz drenched guitar sound of Davie Allan & the Arrows.

Davie Allan, also known as King Fuzz, provided the soundtracks for over 40 of the coolest cult films of all time. With close ties to director Roger Corman and the production of Mike Curb, The Arrows became the best selling instrumental band of 1967. Their hit single “Blues Theme” from The Wild Angels would be responsible for the formation of countless garage bands for the next four decades, including Van Halen, who worked the song up as their first number. The iconic photo of the 6’5″ Davie Allan holding a double neck Mosrite guitar is forever etched in the minds of cave-teens worldwide.

I couldn’t watch a teen dance show on TV without seeing the Arrows. They were ringers for other Tower recording artists, including Max Frost & the Troopers, the Hands of Time, and the Chocolate Watchband. The Arrows appeared on TV’s Get Smart, and in Corman’s film The Hard Ride. Davie is also the uncredited vocalist on the theme song of Corman’s Glory Stompers. Needless to say, I became Davie Allan’s biggest fan.

My friend Chris Ashford is the man who first released the Germs on his indy label What? Records. In 1993 Chris was producing Davie Allan’s new album, and he asked me to play bass. Original Arrow Drew Bennet was also in the band. For the first two years we played LA shows with bands like X and Agent Orange, and became Hollywood’s cool party band. When the film Pulp Fiction was released in 1995 the Instro scene exploded. Even though the Arrows weren’t on the soundtrack, we were rediscovered by a new generation of fans. Rhythm guitarist Drew Bennet did not want to tour, and was replaced by the lovely miss Carman Hillebrew, formerly with the Dayglo Abortions. Together we played on bills with Link Wray, Dick Dale, and the Lively Ones. We also toured Europe, and sold out a show at the Garage in London. Davie and I happily continued to write and record songs for Roger Corman soundtracks too.

When we played on the starting line of LA’s gigantic annual motorcycle rally/charity fund raiser, the Love Ride, there were ten thousand Harley Davidsons revving up their engines as we launched into “Blues Theme”. But the real chaos was yet to come.

Jerry Lewis, the event’s host waited in his dressing room trailer as celebrities like Peter Fonda and Pamela Anderson mingled with the crowd. The radio DJ Doctor Demento was our MC. Ten kids in wheelchairs had been rolled on stage, and were placed right in front of our powerful amps. The kids had Muscular Dystrophy, and were to be interviewed by Mr Lewis. Our drummer had very specific instructions to play a long snare drum roll, as a cue to bring Mr Lewis to the stage, but first there was to be an unveiling of the original oil painting of the new Love Ride poster.

Over the years many of the world’s greatest living artists such as David Hockney and Peter Max had donated their talents to the charitable cause, and this year’s poster art was painted by my hero Stanley Mouse. Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve seen his work. His 1960’s psychedelic posters for San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom are American treasures, and the originals fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars. Stanley Mouse looked like a real hippy as he stood in the crowd next to Anna Nicole Smith who was asking for his autograph.

During the unveiling, our stupid ass drummer played the long snare roll too early, and Jerry Lewis came bounding to the stage. Jerry Lewis quickly realized that this was a miscue, and defaulted into his famous slapstick mode. He grabbed the painting like it was a 10 cent vaudeville prop, and proceeded to stretch it over his head. The fat biker security guards tackled Stanley Mouse to the ground as he ran to the stage to rescue his valuable masterpiece.

Mr Lewis then stood on Stanley Mouse as he taunted him with a “Hey Biker Biker” in his best Nutty Professor voice. To add insult to injury Jerry Lewis successfully ripped his head through the painting, and danced like a striper as he wore it like a beauty contest sash. Dr Demento turned to me and said “Looks like the King of Comedy is a little out of control this morning. Why don’t you play a song?” But we couldn’t without blowing out the eardrums of some unfortunate children.

Later that same day, The Arrows played behind a transsexual fashion show in Silverlake, but it was like a midwest ice cream social in comparison. Davie and I are still good pals, and I’m sure we’ll play more crazy shows together.

- Dave Provost

Soft State Recon

3 Mar

In the maudlin soundtrack sweepstakes from the turn of the decade (’69-’70-’71), Fred Karlin was your man. While not groundbreaking, Fred’s soundtracks were some of the first to eschew the flashy mod and swinging pop tropes that the likes of Henry Mancini and John Barry sometimes over indulged in. He sounded most comfortable on more thoughtful and introspective sonic terrain, with strengths that mirrored the burgeoning soft rock and singer-songwriter sounds of that just-post psychedelic generation. And while I realise soft is a word that’ll have some regular readers of this blog navigating the hell away, you’re only half a man if you can’t occasionally take it nice and easy.

If you’ve never heard of Fred Karlin, it’s not because he’s obscure. In his lifetime, he scored over 100 movies and TV programs, and all of the soundtracks below garnered Oscar nominations in their day. No, it’s mainly because many of his scores have languished in vinyl graveyards since their initial release. They’ve been obscured by higher profile soundtrack tear-jerkers from the time (Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) which effectively drowned out all competition, forever more.

But I like Fred, and so it’s left to a cad like me to actually bother with and trumpet Fred’s subtle strong points. While he produced other cool scores at this time that didn’t see LP release (Cover Me Babe, Believe In Me), a grip of them did. And there’s three in particular I just can’t stop listening to lately. Chronologically, they are:

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKThe Sterile Cuckoo (Paramount Records, 1969) Clips I’ve seen from this film – aka Pookie – do not make want to revisit the early films of Liza Minnelli any time soon. But the film’s theme, “Come Saturday Morning” is something else entirely. Cowritten by singer-songwriter Dory Previn, Morning is rendered without any backbone whatsoever by THE SANDPIPERS, and rightly so. THE SANDPIPERS, in fact, were pretty spectacular in their mind-numbing commitment to the easiest and smoothest of pop effluvium – witness their awesome interpretation of the theme to “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” – making them perhaps thee quintessential proto-softrock balladeers.

On this LP, this theme is worked, retooled, and reworked some more into lush cues by Fred using a judicious selection of woodwinds, harpsichord, vibes, and guitar. As any seasoned soundtrackist will tell you, the right theme will allow for this, and brother, this be THE RIGHT THEME. OK yes there is string section syrup present too, but it never threatens to capsize this delicate, if sorta schmaltzy, wonder. My pal Dennis refers to this kinda stuff as “audio Bupropion” and I – an advocate of anti-depressant medication – am inclined to agree. Start equalising your Serotonin levels NOW.

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKLovers And Other Strangers (ABC Records, 1970) Soft though they were, THE SANDPIPERS were admittedly more 60’s sunshine pop than 70’s soft rock. But with Lovers, Fred made it clear: the 70’s had arrived. Here Jimmy Griffin and Rob Royer from BREAD helped Fred pen three sublimely understated pieces of phenomenal singer-songwriter fluff. The breakout cut “For All We Know” became a top 5 hit for THE CARPENTERS, and would eventually be covered by everyone from BETTY SERVEERT to Gary Wilson. These songs punctuate a grip of Fred’s wonderful soft-scoring, easily bumping this one up into a sappy league of it’s very own, out where even puffy little clouds are crying moist tears of joy.

Now if the wedding music on side 2 is a little less appealing, that’s just splitting hairs. Those beautiful duelling flutes in “I Am You, You Are Me, We Are One” get me blubbering like a little girl every time. And if that doesn’t soften your thick skull, I dunno what will.

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKThe Baby Maker (Ode Records, 1971) This should have been Fred’s best yet. It contains a great soft pop tune, “People Come, People Go” co-written by his wife, Marsha Karlin. It was inspired by a curious movie about a young free spirit (Barbara Hershey) who agrees to have a baby – for money – on behalf of a very middle class couple. It’s also got some of Fred’s most delicate soundtrack cues, all really beautiful stuff I tell ya.

But then . . . there is OLE BLUE, an early 70’s “heavy” bluesrock eyesore brought in to perform some of Fred’s songs. These guys/gals trade in cheap cliches and sub-JEFFERSON AIRPLANE off key vocals, and while I usually give a thumbs up to this sorta shitrock, I ain’t so generous today. Fred’s “rock” numbers are tired, humourless, and uninspired, with OLE BLUE sounding like the shit they actually are. Had Fred taken a few lessons from my soundtrack hero Stu Phillips – who used to routinely coax useable material out of equally clueless pop/rock types – he might’ve had something here. Ah well, Fred, ya can’t win em all.

Fred, RIP my friend – long may you maudlin.

Sinking

18 Jan

Even as the polar caps melt, floodwaters encroach on Singapore, and the Danube runs red with industrial sludge, I find the metaphor of really deep water an exceptionally profound and beautiful thing. Utterly wordless, sooo freaking vast, and respectfully resistant to even the most basic of human habitation. But it also allows much to run wild: near-alien creatures, shadowy coral reefs, and enigmatic forces that don’t recognise our laws or even our sometimes hackneyed aesthetics. Really, deep water is just freaking NUTSO – with all the beauty, wonder, and cruelty that term implies.

Now I’ve talked a lot about surf soundtracks here, but I’ve long since cast a wider net around soundtracks that get wet and wild, whether the surf’s up or not. Don’t surface too quick or you’ll get the bends . . .

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKDiscoveries Underwater LP (BBC Records and Tapes, 1988) Never seen even a clip from this; someone please tell me this wasn’t just another pedantic BBC documentary? Regardless, it’s clear that Howard Davidson’s soundtrack was typical of BBC productions from the time: mostly electronic in execution, situated somewhere in that vast pool of post-ENO/Michael Oldfield output, what was once termed ambient space music. No, you wouldn’t be remiss if you were reminded of Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence, or perhaps a better Jan Michel Jarre piece from the time.

And yet, and yet . . . there is a seriousness, a gravity at work here that speaks of deeper artistic vision. Moods shift subtly but with clear intent. The composer is not shy of exploring darker, less reassuring terrain when called to. This is actually quite effective stuff: when I close my eyes, the music quietly evokes the sense of awe that I imagine comes from floating weightlessly above the gigantic hull of some 100 year old sunken black vessel, 30 m. beneath the ocean surface. How the title track manages to segue effortlessly from veiled mystery into angelic brightness (shades of Vangelis’ Blade Runner score!) is truly magical. Yes: if only in the most late 80’s way, this is indeed something very special to behold. Hear here.

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKInner Space CD (Festival Records, 1973; reissued by Votary Records, 2007) Flat-out AWESOME Australian jazz score by Sven Libaek to an undersea nature TV documentary series apparently featuring the hammy voiceover of ol’ William Shatner. That Wes Anderson pinched a couple of Sven’s tracks for use in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zizzou (is their a more embarrassing name for a film? Sheesh) only speaks to the astounding beauty of these recordings. The melodies are haunting, the tone subdued, and the prominent use of reverbed flute and vibes conjure up the contemplative wonder that comes from snorkelling through flowing kelp forests whilst watching schools of brightly-painted fish dart for cover just out of reach.

Sven’s a really important name in the evolution of Australian surf & soundtrack music – he was an A&R man at CBS in the early 60’s, producing early tracks by THE ATLANTICS (“Bombora”) and recording a sleekly mod jazz soundtrack to the surfing flick “To Ride a White Horse” in 1966 – but it’s on the basis of this record that Sven should be crowned Sea King of the Southern Hemisphere. There are few recordings by this man you don’t wanna hear, but this is one you absolutely NEED to bend an ear to. Sample here.

ERIC VANNWater World LP (Coloursound, 1982) Not a true soundtrack at all, rather a collection of library music inspired by aquatic imagery. Eric Vann aka J.V.D.B. aka Joël Vandroogenbroeck is best known as the guy behind hebephrenic kraut-rockers BRAINTICKET, but he also created some 20-odd LPs of this kind of electronic stuff for indeterminate production purposes in the late 70’s/80’s. Exactly how many of his aural squiggles ended up on TV, radio and film segments back then, I couldn’t tell you – your guess is as good as mine.

This rec is thematically focused around aquatic themes, and sonically perhaps similar to the Discoveries Underwater soundtrack discussed above. While I wouldn’t say it was better, Eric’s Moog flutters are more uncanny, the phased percussion more eerie, and the inspiration altogether stranger; this guy is diving a good 50-100 feet deeper than others are reasonably willing to go. Truly, smart money is on anything with Eric Vann’s initials on it, and more than anyone it’s this guy who’s got me curious about what kind of sunken treasure lays at the bottom of library sound LPs the world over. Clips here.

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Now if any of you wish to explore further, I do suggest you spend some time floating around with Michel Redolfi in his sub-aquatic sound exhibition. It’ll help elucidate the relationship between water and sound better than I ever could

Hogin’ Machine

3 Sep

Though I’m quite happy puttering about town in my Volkswagen Golf and carefully obeying the Highway Code, I sometimes like to imagine jumping on a motorcycle, kicking it into gear, and heading straight for the open highway. I mean, I do like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder, and the rest of it too. And if I ever did get on a bike, I’d certainly be the sneering, chain-weilding kind of biker, the fella with all the greasy tattoos who’s wearing the patched denim vest over the leather jacket, the one with the mouthy blonde riding in the saddle screaming bloody murder behind him.

Understand then that I enjoy watching non-biker, middle-class Hollywood actors pretending to be bikers in low-budget 60s/70s exploitation flicks. Better still though, is listening to non-biker studio hounds play their idea of biker music to score scenes of non-biker Hollywood actors pretending to be bikers in low-budget 60s/70s exploitation flicks. THAT’S fun. So here’s my take on 3 recently reissued biker soundtracks that have burned rubber in my CD player lately:

1) Original SoundtrackAngels From Hell (Tower Records, 1968, reissued by Reel Time, 2011) Throughout the late 60’s/early 70’s, studio-wiz Stu Phillips worked this neat gimmick of peppering his exploitation film scores with a few vocal pop/rock songs. This was ostensibly to lend a bit more ‘hipness’ – and possibly chart positioning? – to soundtracks that sitar-led orchestral cues alone couldn’t muster. This led not only to curious but flawed soundtracks like The Name Of The Game Is . . . Kill (containing a wild ELECTRIC PRUNES number Stu co-wrote) but also the towering, rock-simlacra masterwork that was the Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls soundtrack.

On Angels From Hell, Stu gets down to quality exploito-scoring quick, making swinging cues that much groovier with the odd sitar and/or fuzz lead. But as usual, it’s the pop songs included that make this one: appealing studio flower-pop fluff from THE PEANUT BUTTER CONSPIRACY but also feral garage psychosis from THE LOLLIPOP SHOPPE (Fred Cole we love you) and a talking-exploitation blues corker from actor Ted Markland called “Shake Off The Chains”. All total this makes for one schitzo soundtrack ride – exactly how a biker movie soundtrack should sound. Now where is that reissue of Stu’s Run, Angel, Run soundtrack we’ve all been dying for? I can hear the engines revving already.

2) Original SoundtrackHell’s Belles (Sidewalk Records, 1969, reissued by La-La Land Records, 2010) When the times they did a-change in the mid-late 60’s, established Hollywood soundtrackist Les Baxter knew he had to move things along, musically speaking, for work on flicks like Hell’s Belles. But as he wasn’t entirely suited to this new-fangled, rock n roll thing, he did what so many others have done: he poached when he could. So Les’ upbeat title theme here is a tepid reworking of Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” – not something that wasn’t gonna set the world on fire. His love theme – even bikers need good lovin’ – is better, but it still feels like warmed-over Burt Bacharach. But hey, this was the state of play then, and Les is so skillful at deconstructing & reconfiguring themes you don’t realise until its over that you’ve heard the same damn theme repeated a half dozen times at least. Decently, he’s also included a couple of those still-startling drum/bass/harmonica breaks you DJs like to call “fat”. The least essential of these three but not worthless by a long shot, once you’re kneedeep into b-movie biker soundtracks as I am now, you won’t be able to tell a Harley from a Triumph anyways.

3) Original SoundtrackWerewolves On Wheels (Finders Keepers, 2011) Country-pop songwriter Don Gere is responsible for this longgone, messed up collection of soundtrack music to what was certainly the first biker/horror flick, circa 1971. And my, what a glorious and frightening mess of a collection it is. The label says this sounds like guitarist Sandy Bull jamming with AMON DUUL I, and while this is record-nerd hyperbole, I do get the comparisons – Don maintains a pseudo-spiritual, near modal focus through most of this, even when sounds are at their most tribal and free-wheeling. The straight-forward bits get me thinking of a less sex-obsessed Simon Stokes, which means this has also got that all important shit-kickin’ redneck quotient that can so enliven a good film biker brawl. But really, the proof is in the pudding: listening to this as I drove, sans satnav or map, lost through the rolling Leicestershire countryside on a moonless night last month – had me literally CREEPED ME OUT OF MY SKIN. And turning Leicestershire into the set of a horror movie – man, that’s the highest honours I can give. Buy or die.

Bali High Note

18 Mar

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKBali High VHS (Isomer Productions, 1981)

Breathe easy, all you extreme-sport surf nazis: this is the last of my posts about ye olde surf soundtracks from days gone by. But dammit, I’m ending on a high note here. The gorgeous 1981 video by Stephen Spaulding entitled Bali High had a totally hot, fusionoid score by Mike Sena recorded out on the Hawaiian island of Kauai that’s never seen an LP or CD release. Me, I’d never have even heard of Mike Sena or the film in question either, had not Ryan over at (Mostly) Blue Skies Above Us ripped the damn thing from a warped VHS tape and posted it on his blog, in all it’s murky glory. Thank god for obsessives like Ryan.

The hard rockin’ but tropical feel to this score puts me in the mind not of MERRELL FANKHAUSER, but of an instrumental KALAPANA spin-off trying on the early 80’s RUSH catalogue. And if this doesn’t sound appealing, well, that’s only cause you aren’t listening to it right now! The production has a nicely humid, low rent sonic aura, the riffs & motifs are consistently varied and strong, and the musical interaction kicks up righteous sparks at all key junctures. I like that these players acknowledge older, longhair aesthetics – CARLOS SANTANA for one, and maybe TOMMY BOLIN ca. Billy Cobham’s Spectrum lp – while welcoming KRAFTWERKian, new wavey ideas of beauty to their sonic palate as well. Anyone thinking this is hackwork need only to compare it to the proudly lackluster Band On The Run soundtrack by ex-TAMAM SHUD Tim Gaze from around this time; warmed-over Steve Miller Band, anyone? No thanks.

It is this soundtrack that made for the most perfect early 80’s rides through the last unspoilt parts of Indonesia surfers would ever encounter, and I’m glad it did. Listen to it now.

Good Days, Beautiful Waves

11 Mar

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKSea For Yourself (Rural Records, 1972)

Dennis Dragon was thee name in surf soundtracks during the 60’s and 70’s. He first cut his teeth working with THE DRAGONS on Dale Davis’ Strictly Hot way back in 1964, then joined his brother to score a series of Grant Rohloff films including Wild Surf, and eventually teamed up with FARM to rock George Greenough’s Innermost Limits of Pure Fun in 1969. But with the 60’s behind him, Dennis was finally free to indulge a more painterly – in the rockin’, wildass sense of the term – approach to surf soundtracking. A whole bucket of sonic goo gets dumped in here: southern fried twang, hippy-dippy folk hokum, nasty GRAND FUNK-like grooves, keyboard driven prog, orchestral pops, and more. Yes occasionally things catch a near-porno soundtrack rail, but the weird thing is that this crazy quilt actually coheres when the waves start a-breaking.

Dennis’ busy, jazz-inflected drumming is the common denominator linking up alot of the music in the film, but other talents rear their heads too: a bunch of Westside fellas called THE BOZONE who give us a great downer psych spiral called “Stone Crazy“; the I-can’t-believe-this-isn’t-Jimi-Hendrix of VELVERT TURNER, whose track in the flick (“Hear My Train A-Comin'”) was inexplicably left off this LP release; and best of all, ex-SUNRAYS Richard Henn who wrote the beautiful “Rain Ride” and arranged the more orchestral/jazz pop moments included herein. Those quiet bits break up the hectic pace of this collection, helping to mark changing tides, rising suns, and apocalyptic sunsets with the respect they deserve. Not everything here is instrumental, but that’s ok, ’cause the shitty rip from the vhs I’m listening to right now effectively muffles any meaning that may be hidden in them lyrics.

Budding record thieves take note! I don’t actually own this rare-as-hen’s-teeth double LP + 7″ 45 set. I’ve only ever watched the movie. But I’ve done so many, many times, and enjoyed it every time. While a couple of these tracks were unearthed on THE DRAGONS’ B.F.I. CD release and the CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD surf comp. from a few years back, that still leaves like an album and a half of this stuff in the vaults. Here’s hoping the good folks at EM Records will see fit to re-release this, after they give us that CORKY CARROLL Laid Back reish in the ensuing months.

Until then, it’s back to my crappy VHS rip. Ah, the lengths we go to for a good ride . . .

A Bold, Beautiful, Stoked Whirl of Today

5 Mar

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKFollow Me (Uni Records, 1969)

Hear me now: Groovy is not an adjective to be used lightly. No, it took quite subtle talent to create a studio smorgasbord of 60’s sound that straddled modern orchestral pop and psychedelia in a way that allowed parents to feel pleasingly hip while not entirely embarrassing their kids. And even if it did entirely embarrass, it was in a giddy, cannabis-induced way – one that left a big, stupid grin on the faces of everyone not made of stone. Quite difficult to achieve, that.

Composer Stu Phillips has rightfully earned Groovy Sainthood for giving us some of the most fabulous exploitation soundtracks of all time, including Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (a desert island disc IMO) and the less heralded but equally great Run, Angel, Run score. In this pantheon must lie his soundtrack to the surfing flick, Follow Me. Here the camp factor is tuned down, but late 60’s kaleidoscopic dynamism is in full effect, with tracks inspired by farflung oceanside destinations the world over – India, Morocco, Ceylon, Portugal, Hawaii. Not unlike how Les Baxter and Martin Denny reimagined ethnic sounds a decade earlier, Stu incorporates regional sound effects and instrumentation into his fanfares that were proto “world music” in all but name. And he always did it with a crazy glee that boring ol’ Peter Gabriel never knew existed.

Best of all, are the cuts here Stu wrote for DINO, DESI & BILLY. For the first and only time in their horrid career, DD&B gave us something worth telling mom about: a lushly produced, baroque form of soft beach pop that, for my money, surpassed anything Brian Wilson lent his name to that year. The ease with which those tracks – particularly “Thru Spray Colored Glasses” – have slid deep into my warmest thoughts is just, well, sick. It’s a darn shame they were left off Stu’s Surf, Sex And Cycle-Psychos comp CD that came out on Cherry Red a few years back.

So while nothing here really captures the thundering power of breaking waves or the awesome grace that is surf riding, it’s aok by me. What Stu has done is get me believing beach culture the world over really is one gloriously intoxicated, all-year-round swinging party. And that’s no mean feat.

Utopic Sounds

1 Mar


ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKTo Ride a White Horse (Festival Records, 1966)

Sublimely stated, utterly gorgeous surf soundtrack by the uncrowned king of Australian jazz, Sven Libaek. Flute, vibes, and bossa nova rhythyms dominate in a way that sometimes gets me thinking a less-campy Nina Rota, but the whole shebang configures in a way few others – aside from fellow Aussie John Sangster, who, not coincidentally, plays on this here record – were able to make their own. Mod style is nicely enriched by jazz depth, and the subtle timelessness Sven brought to all his recordings is on display, ringing ancient and mysterious. And then, there is that waaaay cool, recurring theme: smooth, glassy, and clearly inspired by the hot instrumental surf music then on the wane Down Under. But this makes perfect sense, since Sven had been the A&R man who signed THE ATLANTICS to CBS in 1963, the group who went on to record the biggest Australian surf instro hit of them all, “Bombora”.

Never seen even a moment of this film, but this record gets me imagining all manner of longboard riders slowing turning across perfectly formed waves along the still-unspoilt Gold Coast of Australia, under the sweetest setting suns you could ever lay eyes on.

Thanks to Pecks Spet Rips for the cover pic

Blown Out

22 Feb

Brian Chidester and Domenic Priore’s Pop Surf Culture (Santa Monica Press, 2008) is one seriously deep archival dig into the aesthetic flotsam and jetsam that has floated around surfing since time immemoriam. Tracing the sport from it’s prehistoric Hawaiian origins through the surfing zeitgeist that occurred in Southern California during the 60’s and beyond, their eyes & ears take in wacky bikini beach flicks, hand-drawn pre-hippie Rick Griffin comics, the slyly mod marketing that addressed the beach going/imagining demographics, and all points between. The energetic writing style speaks of a decades-long contemplation of waves and those who’ve ridden them: the deeper meanings, the unique cultural values, and the solitary beauty of it all.

Teeming with evocative photos of infamous surfers, era-specific film posters & handbills, stylish sport mags and bitchen record covers. Particular attention is paid to the subtle, bohemian-influenced graphic design sense that grew up around the sport. The authors succeed in making a clear argument: surf subculture should be seen as a clearly defined, suburban folk art style all it’s own. Me, I’m inclined to agree.

But then, there is their take on surf music. With all the love they have for surf rock/pop sounds ca. ’61-’64, there’s real distrust of music that has sought to expand on the narrow perimeters of original surf sounds in the years since. Yes it’s great that they’ve taken the time to sift through so many exploitation surf recs to separate the wheat from the chaff for us, but the little digs at the musics that followed surf – psychedelia, hippie, heavy rock etc. – just make these guys sound like fuddie-duddies. And while they’ve included chapters on the later revivals of surf music in the 80’s & 90’s, these chapters seem forced, with praise falling only on the most trad elements of these scenes. It’s a major bummer for a guy like me, who can handle his instrumental sounds not only twangy ala DICK DALE, but jammy like THE GRATEFUL DEAD, or spacey like HAWKWIND, or heavy & abstract like Ginn’s BLACK FLAG, or cruising indie like PELL MELL, or . . . well, you get the picture.

Which brings me to their discussion of surf film soundtracks. As with the rest of the book, analysis early on is spot-on, but as the 1960’s progress they start dropping the ball, missing out mentioning great scores like SVEN LIBAEK’s To Ride A White Horse and TULLY’s Sea of Joy. Talk peters out entirely around ’72 with meaningless blather about the BEACH BOYS reissues of the time. This, to a surf soundtrack lover like myself, was a tad disappointing.

So what’s a poor boy to do?

Well, PS Recon is gonna rectify this situation. Me, I’ve been listening to a grip of great surf soundtracks lately that dig deep into idiosyncratic, instrumental musical action – all without recourse to cloying surf rock cliche. And I’m gonna tell you about em here in the upcoming weeks. Consider yourself warned.

Tonight I’ll start with a some recent-ish ones:

1) BLUEBIRDStylemasters Original Soundtrack CD (Defend Music, 2006) BLUEBIRD were well-established in LA’s heavy rock scene in the mid/late 90’s; the singer used to hang around our record store with a young and pre-SUNN O))) Greg Anderson. But sometime in the early part of the new millennium, they gave up trite things like lyrics, songs, and chord changes, leading to the creation of a pair of hugely effective CDs: Black Presence and this here soundtrack. The sound was a groove-laden form of modal hard rock that might remind me of SPIRITUALIZED or GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR if I knew what them bands sounded like. But the jammed-out, flowing heaviness of the whole thing spoke more of their stoner rock connections, and trainspotters will note not only that desert-rock producer Mathias Schneeberger was on board here, but that FATSO JETSON’s Mario Lalli guests on gtr. Regular readers of this blog, take comfort: this soundtrack might well’ve been called Under The Influence Of Yawning Man. The film itself was compiled from surf footage from the North Shore of Oahu, ca. ’77-’79, and I’m gonna state BLUEBIRD nails the heady vibes and earthy physicality of that time and space, dead on. Check out the trailer to this film here.

2) MPHASEStylemasters 2 Original Soundtrack DVD (Sea Crown Ventures, 2007) Less gutpummeling, but still really effective is the score MPHASE did for STYLEMASTERS 2, the follow-up to the aforementioned STYLEMASTERS. This film documents the end of the single-fin era in Hawaii, right at the dawn of the 1980’s. True to the times, the foundation of this ain’t stoner rock but rather KRAFTWERKian synths and emotionally-detached vocals. That said, gtrs still figure in quite prominently, and a nice groove underpins the whole thing – not unlike what THE CARS once gave us early on, sans the hiccupy vocals of Ric Ocasek. Thus despite the new wave trappings, the flow at work here matches the footage of the waves in a nicely organic way. MPHASE has gone on to contribute to the score of another surf documentary about early 80’s surfing, Echo Beach, and more recently released a neat HUMAN LEAGUE inspired CD all their own . . . but it’s here where they truly shine like VISAGE playing a grip of BRANT BJORK riffs. And if you think I’ve got any bad words to say about VISAGE, well . . . let’s just say you don’t know me very well. Sadly, this was never given the separate CD release it was due. Trailer here.

3) RUSSIAN CIRCLESLavese Las Manos Original Soundtrack (Analog Films, 2009) Ok: so this score wasn’t purpose-built; it was compiled from previously released album tracks by the Chicago group known as RUSSIAN CIRCLES. But it’s an important sidestep for surf scores nonetheless. It’s the first time in a coon’s age that a surf soundtrack wasn’t made up of annoying snowboarding anthems, smug JAMES BLUNT wanna-be singer songwriters (Jack Johnson et al.), or boring indie rock twats. It’s instrumental, as it should be. And it fucking rocks! RUSSIAN CIRCLES play a tightly controlled form of heavy instrumental progressive rock, the sort of stuff that you wouldn’t be remiss in calling PELICAN-esque. They do it in a way that’s slick but intense enough to match footage of what’s commonly derided in more esoteric surf circles as “extreme sport bullshit”. Watching this flick the other day had me imagining how mindblowing a big wave tow-in video would be if STINKING LIZAVETA was rocking the soundtrack. I dunno, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here? But hey: this could be The Third Way in surf soundtracking, if more folks would just get a fucking clue. This was another soundtrack not given a proper release but don’t worry, you can watch the whole film for free here.

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