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Under Another Umbrella

24 May

Richard Derrick has cut as singular a sonic swath through SoCal’s independent music scene as anyone you could name in the post-punk era, and smart money says you’ve never even heard of him. I hadn’t either, actually – up until a few years ago, when I caught wind that he’d once backed D. Boon on a number of home/live recordings in the mid-80s. Since then I’ve come to learn that this MINUTEMEN spinoff was but the tip of a much larger musical iceberg. All along, Richard’s primary vehicle had been the space guitar ambient loop music of ANOTHER UMBRELLA.

From primitive, multi-tracked gtr/keyboard tangles at the dawn of the 80’s through expansive, blissed-out sound floatations in the late 80’s/early 90’s, ANOTHER UMBRELLA was dedicated to unflagging exploration of zero-gravity musical terrain of all colours, shapes, and sizes. Richard’s subtle playing brought an attractive restraint to the proceedings, acting as a sort of quiet, prog rock foil to all those raging LA stringslingers who tended to nab the spotlight back then. Few if any recordings leaked out during their heyday, but the vein Richard tapped was rich, indeed! In recent years, he’s made nearly a dozen albums of old recordings available via I-Tunes for those who missed out the first time around.

For what it’s worth, I reckon At Cloud Level (channelling BRAINTICKET in smoggy downtown Long Beach) and Offering (Richard at his most sublimely yogic) are my personal faves right now, though I should probably withhold giving out top honours – I’m still digesting the sum total of his massive output. But while rooting around in this on-line recorded legacy recently, I made contact with Richard himself via e-mail. He turned out to be an upstanding gentleman with a keen sense of humour, and nice guy that he is, he’s kindly answered a few of my questions about his vast body of work. Do read on.

1) I first became aware of your music entirely retrospectively, by way of mid-80’s recordings of you playing drums on the D. Boon & Friends CD (Box-O-Plenty, 2003). For the benefit of us SST/New Alliance freaks, could you talk a bit about about that CD and the other San Pedro-based music projects you were involved with in the late 70’s/early 80’s?

The D. Boon cd came about almost as an afterthought. I had begun an archive project, digitizing my old cassettes and open-reel tapes for posterity. There were several hours of tapes from jams I did with D. and Crane, and although most of it was pretty rough, I had a sense that they could become listenable with some judicious editing. To give you an idea of how much culling had to take place, the 35 minutes or so of jams on the album is taken from about two-and-a-half hours of original recordings.

I contacted D. Boon’s dad by e-mail, and sent him the unedited tapes. Now, picture this: it’s about 15 years after he loses his son, and out of the blue he gets about five hours of home recordings he didn’t even know existed! When I later suggested releasing them to the public, he’d given his approval, although sadly he didn’t live to see the finished product.

When I contacted his wife (D.’s stepmom), she told me that she was quite familiar with those tapes, as he used to play them all the time at home! They were still in the unedited stage, and some of those jams were pretty interminable, so I wouldn’t have foisted them on the public in that condition. But from his point of view, none of that mattered – this was his boy, and that was him playing! She told me that those tapes brought him a lot of joy those last few years. I’m glad he got to hear them in any state at all, really. That alone makes the whole thing worth doing.

D. used to jam with me and Crane a fair bit, and he even recruited me do a one-off Minutemen gig sitting in for George, but there was never any question about him joining up with us on a permanent basis. It was just for fun on the side, a break from his “day job” with his regular band.

I finally got some audio editing software in 2002, and it was a snap to piece the better bits from those jams together and string them together into a natural flow. The tricky part was in sequencing the album. I had about 83 minutes of finished edits to pick from, and when I first made a final sequence, it totaled 74 minutes, but that just proved too exhausting for the listener. I brought it down to 61 minutes, and that seemed to work better. I put the remaining 22 minutes onto a CDR, which I include as a free bonus to anyone who orders the CD directly from box-o-plenty.com.

As for my own history… let’s see… I first began playing music with other people in high school, around 1976. Began playing piano at four, guitar at 10, never made a lot of progress on either, other than developing a sense of chord theory. Moved on to both drums and bass at age 15, both of which seemed more to my abilities.

A non-musician friend of ours owned an old Sony stereo open-reel machine, and he eventually got a stereo cassette, so we’d tinker around with very basic overdubbing. It wasn’t a regular multi-track with punch-in capability, you’d just run the one tape straight through, re-record it into the second tape deck while you play along, and hope for the best. No mixer, no EQ, no room for mistakes, no nothing. It was pretty primitive, and so were we, but everyone has to start somewhere. I eventually got two TEAC open-reels in 1979, one four-track and one stereo, plus a mixer and a ten-band EQ, and away I went.

In the mid-’80s Crane and I did a few improv gigs with people like Joe Baiza, who was quite the improviser himself. It wasn’t easy back then finding people who wanted to make music like that, or venues to play it in even if you did. One person we worked with often was Mike Ezzo, a unique and brilliant drummer who ended up playing with Lynn Johnston in Cruel Frederick. And I also played bass in The Rick Lawndale Band for a few months in 1997-1998. That was a lot of fun!

2) You’ve described ANOTHER UMBRELLA elsewhere as “space guitar ambient loop music” which is certainly apropos. Who inspired this project, and how does a man go from aggro MINUTEMEN clatter to sustained ENOesque introspection so sucessfully?

Well, to start, of course I was a huge fan of Fripp & Eno, especially the unreleased Paris Olympia concert from 1975. Except I played nothing like Robert Fripp and knew better than to try! I tried doing the loop thing when I first got a four-track, but TEACs don’t have the same head configuration as Revox decks, so there went that, at least until digital delays came on the scene. It’s just a sound I’ve always liked.

To answer the question of the name: in 1985-1986 I was doing a lot of musical projects with Crane. To us, it was one big project, but we soon realized there were so many different strains going on that didn’t blend into a unified whole, but seemed to form their own identities: rock songs with singing, instrumental lounge music, early experiments in space drones using keyboards and effects and tapes. We also made a few attempts at finding other people to play with so we could do gigs, none of which led anywhere. Lots of band names were bandied around – Cosmic Joke, Kangaroo Court, Omnitalk, Carnival Jones, probably a few others I don’t remember.

One of us said something about how we needed an another umbrella name to tie them all together, like how the Elephant 6 collective eventually did. The words “another umbrella” instantly struck us both at the same time, and it seemed at least as good a name as anything else, so there it was.

After realizing things weren’t happening with my high school friends in terms of getting the show on the road, the first band I started working with was in 1982, who used to rehearse in a garage in Laurel Canyon. The drummer was M. Segal, who ended up starting Paper Bag and playing in Sativa Luv Box with Patrik Mata, and is still a good friend of mine.

We jammed twice per week for eight months, working up a few songs along the way, then decided to do club gigs, because that’s apparently what you were supposed to do. We called ourselves Middle Sleep, we played in clubs for four months, and whatever energy kept the band going at first when we were just jamming, well, it just fizzled out when we got mired in the sludge of trying to Be A Band in 1983. We didn’t record every jam/practice session, sorry to say, but we got a few, and as much as I like the way they came out, it’s obvious why something like this wouldn’t get anywhere in Hollywood in 1983. We should’ve just rented studio time and jammed for a few hours every week, become a recording collective and not even bother thinking about gigs, but that’s easy to say now.

As for the difference between ambient space and loud rock, I was never fully in one camp or the other. Hearing the Minutemen, or punk rock in general, wasn’t my big cue to discard all my old albums. I mean, the best of punk was great, but as with any genre, there was enough unimaginative crap that… well, it didn’t exactly convince me to toss my old records that were clearly better anyway! I was already a fan of Eno, the whole Canterbury Scene, Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Nick Drake, Leo Kottke, Zappa, Beefheart, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, John Cale, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Van Der Graaf Generator, things like that. Most of them are still among my favorite musical acts. I didn’t see any reason to pretend that stuff wasn’t any good just so the cool kids would like me. And I never thought of the Minutemen or Meat Puppets as “punk bands” anyway, I just thought they were great, like anything else I liked.

When I used to play in Middle Sleep, we made some of the harshest, most relentness music you could imagine, even though it was more psych than punk. But we weren’t just bashing away, there was listening going on. And there was plenty of dynamics, it wasn’t all relentless in-your-face barrage of volume. But when I’d be driving home after those loud intense practice sessions, I’d listen to things like Plateaux Of Mirror by Brian Eno and Harold Budd. Everything has its place.

I met Crane at a Minutemen gig in 1985, and we were playing music within weeks. He’d visit when I was living at D. Boon’s place with a few other people, and it was fun for all three of us to have these spontaneous jams, but the Minutemen thing took precedence over spare time, so before long it was down to Crane and me. After a year and a half of seeking out a new guitarist (I was on drums at the time), I finally relented by becoming guitarist and drummer-on-tape. A two-member trio, you might say.

In late 1986 Crane bought a Stratocaster which he then sold to me, plus I bought a few digital delays and other sound processers around that time. Practiced at home alone for about three months, then we did our first club gig in March 1987. Crane did quite a few shows with me at first, but eventually it became just me plus whomever I’d get to join me if I wanted. It was a lot of fun, and it managed to last ten years, but eventually it just ran its course.

3) I’m curious about the technology you used to build the ANOTHER UMBRELLA recordings. Was the looping process difficult? I can imagine it must have created some challenges in live settings.

I don’t remember the model numbers to lot of this stuff, but I’ll do what I can. I used a Fender Stratocaster. No volume pedal, I’d just use the volume knob to serve the same function. Various chorus units at different times – a ’70s Roland pedal, a Boss BF-2 flanger, and the chorus effect on one of my main delay units. Ibanez tube screamer distortion pedal. A Boss micro-rack unit that had (a) a 0.8 second loop delay, (b) a pitch shifter that I usually avoided because it sounded too cartoonish, and (c) a sampler that created the “live backward note” effect. It had an interesting effect in that, rather than attenuate each echo as most delays do, it actually fed back on itself. If you weren’t careful, it would just make a mess, but by turning it way down in the mix, it created some interesting and subtle timbres.

An Ibanez 1.8-second digital delay foot pedal, which had such a sweet warm tone that people often asked me if it was analog. Used for both “pseudo-reverb” slapback and short loops. I think that pedal was truly my secret weapon. Finally, two Digitech rack-mount delays, 3.6-second and 7.6-second loops. Recorded via direct input, which is why you don’t hear audience sound on the live performances.

Except for when I’d pre-record my drum parts, or Crane would do some multitrack vocals to mix in, it was basically live with no overdubs, All the guitar loops and guitar solo parts were recorded on one track in glorious mono. It was pretty tricky, trying to play continuous 45-minute sets and sustain the mood, while mixing it live, and not muck it up. It was pretty easy after a while, mainly through trial and error, but you still had to pay attention. And also be ready to trouble-shoot in case one of the input connections came loose, and you had to go through the chain of wires to figure out which one was causing the problem!

On the album with Emily Hay, At Cloud Level, that was four-track. Track 1 was my guitar and effects, Track 2 was her voice, flute and her own effects. Track 3 was being fed in from the other four-track, which had various guitar and synth tracks on tape. And Track 4 had Emily’s voice again, only this time pre-recorded, run through both her and my effects and played back in reverse. It made for quite a sound, even after we faded the tapes out and just played live!

4) Speaking of live settings, a number of your best recordings stem from KXLU radio sessions. Did ANOTHER UMBRELLA play out live much, and if so with who?

Well, some of our best shows also took place in downtown Long Beach, before that part of town really took off and became the hot spot it is today. It was a place on 3rd and Pine called System M, and three albums in this initial series of releases took place there: Offering (solo guitar), At Cloud Level (with Emily), and Arrival (with Paul Roessler).

Some of the other people who played with us over the years were saxophonist Lynn Johnston, drummer Mike Ezzo, M. Segal on percussion. We had Greg Segal, Paper Bag’s guitarist, play drums a couple times. Bob Lee played drums on one of the later shows. Dirk Vandenburg of Tragicomedy sat in on a song once, playing lap steel, but something happened to the tape deck and his track didn’t get recorded. I just wish I knew a tabla player back then, that would have been perfect!

A few other recordings were done at home or other friends’ houses. I also did two concerts at The Museum Of Comtemporary Art (MOCA) in downtown L.A., two gigs as part of Nels Cline’s Monday night residency at The Alligator Lounge, a couple secret gigs in the Santa Monica mountains where someone brought a generator, a few radio shows out of town, rock clubs like Raji’s and Spaceland, coffee houses like The Onyx, a few private parties, and a few art galleries and book stores. So we managed to get a few in. 55 gigs in ten years.

With club gigs, we mostly played on bills with friends of ours. Or we’d perform alone at art galleries. The coffeehouse scene was just starting to gain momentum, so by 1989 or 1990 finding gigs was a lot easier. I could have done more, but I chose to take my time and wait until each show was more of a novelty, at least to me, and I felt inspired enough to do it. Once I ran out of variations on the ideas, I figured it was time to hang it up. It had been ten years, which is a good run, and I was just about to start doing shows with Bob Lee in Solo Career anyway.

5) Crane (MINUTEMEN trumpeter) Paul Roessler (ex-SCREAMERS, TWISTED ROOTS, DC3 etc.) and Emily Hay (MOTOR TOTEMIST GUILD and 5UU’s) all contributed nicely to various recordings of yours. How did they mesh with the seemingly private sonic world of ANOTHER UMBRELLA?

Crane and I started it together, so that was a natural. Paul just happened to show up to a radio gig to say hi, stopping by from his band practice, so his keyboard was still in his truck. I was just about to start, so I told him to bring his keyboard up and join me. I had two rack-mount delays, and I gave him one to play through. It fell together right away. One of the pieces appears on the Arrival album as Frozen Moment. At times it’s hard to tell which instrument is creating which sounds, which I really like. He ended up doing six or seven shows with me between 1988 and 1991, and that first one ranks among the best. Things like that happen if you’re lucky.

6) I also gather from your other Box-O-Plenty releases that you have an affinity for wildly idiosyncratic, 70’s prog gtr players. Who would win in a fight: Kevin Ayers, Richard Sinclair or Todd Rundgren?

None of them would bother. Kevin would cook up a fish dinner and break out some quality wine, the other two would get out the acoustic guitars, and good times would ensue.

7) My belief is that instrumental music like yours – whether its harsh or quiet, experimental or tuneful – touches people at a deep level, encouraging closer listening, and hence contemplation. Did you have specific intentions when making this music?

I’m not sure how to answer that. I just tried to make music I wanted to hear, and with luck other people enjoy it too. People often came up to me after live performances to say how much they enjoyed it, but it’s not exactly the sort of music that gets people jumping up and down and raving about it to everyone they know. Another Umbrella seems to work best in a home environment, I think. Not the ideal thing to sit through for 45 minutes without a break.

8) Finally: how does music fit into your life today, and can expect any more releases from Box-O-Plenty?

Well, for starters, I have had Parkinson’s disease for a few years, and it’s damaged my left hand to the point where I can’t really play anymore. (Typing is different: your other hand can compensate, and you can proofread all you want after the fact.) So ain’t gonna be no touring or anything.

But of all the Another Umbrella recordings I have in my archive, I have maybe another four or five hours’ worth that I’d love to release one day. Most of it is missing something or other – some needs a choir of female voices, some needs tablas or percussion of some sort, maybe some bass, maybe someone else adding some lead guitar over the drones. But it’s all got a strong enough root that there’s something there I wouldn’t mind sharing with the world, once I figure out where it’s going.

The biggest irony to me is that, when I first set out to do this music in the ’80s, there was no scene for it, and even though people always seemed to enjoy it, it was obvious to me that I was only doing it for its own sake, and not think of it as a career move or anything like that. Twenty-some years later, it seems that musical tastes have caught up, or come around, and people have more of a point of reference with it. I do realize that a lot of it moves pretty slowly, which isn’t exactly in keeping with today’s short-attention-span world, but I’ve never worried too much about that sort of thing anyway. You want to create music, you just do what’s in your heart. The results are their own reward, having other people enjoy it is just a bonus.

Winter Warmers

8 Mar

How do you get through the grim winter months? Some folks spend every waking hour round the pub sipping pints, turning eyelids into stormshutters to ward off the nasty weather. Others indulge in copious amounts of retail therapy, running up senseless bills that follow them well into the summer months. Still others, they curl up into little balls, shutting down all social engagement in a kind of deep functional hibernation.

Me, I just rock the fuck out, and that much louder. So here’s a few recent-ish releases that have been getting me through this neverending cold weather that’s been gripping England since I can’t remember:

1. JEX THOTHJex Thoth CD (I Hate Records, 2008) This CD hasn’t really left my radar since it first came out, and seeing as JEX THOTH is all set to release a new mini-LP next month, it’s been getting extra play in this household lately. This is amazing barefooted heaviness that had Julian Cope trotting out all manner of comparisons to PENTAGRAM, BLACK SABBATH, and JEFFERSON AIRPLANE a year ago. But with good reason, too – these guys really do sound like folkies gone electric and then heathen heavyass, in that order. Alot of know-nothings have derided JEX’s voice (it’s not metal enough! it’s not femme enough! it’s not SHUT UP ALREADY) but I fucking love her strident delivery. She means what she sings, and what she sings is right on. At times the whole thing reminds me of a more focused, pagan version of SACRED MIRACLE CAVE, if that means anything to you. The production gives it a humid, undersea cave vibe we all know and love from that first WITCHCRAFT CD, but there’s also something refreshingly modern about this too – like, I might bump into one of these folks hiding behind a standing stone during my next trip to Avebury. One of the best things I’ve heard out of California in recent years.

2. THE REACTIONARIES1979 LP (Water Under The Bridge/45 RPM Records, 2010) Green vinyl issue of a January 1979 practice pad recording that documents the no frills punker action Mike Watt, D. Boon, and George Hurley got up to with singer Martin Tamburovich prior to any MINUTEMEN mustering. Low-fi but still very fine and distinctive suburban punker stuff indeed, sorta like if THE URINALS had a mind to demolish the early CLASH songbook. The developing styles of these individual players bleed through during solos/intros, with the final song, “Tony Gets Wasted In Pedro” pointing directly at THE MINUTEMEN proper.

If that’s not enough, we also get an album side of various one-off aggregations featuring members of SACCHARINE TRUST, THE ZARKONS, RIG, THE RUB, F.Y.P. etc. – not to mention Watt and Hurley themselves – covering the same REACTIONARIES songs with 3 decades hindsight. The excitement these oldsters inject into the songs is totally palpable and infectious, as if everyone’s pleased to be tackling Watt/Boon songs that don’t have madcrazy rhythmic changes laced throughout em. These covers are uniformly great and all a hoot and half, but if a gotta pick one, I’d reckon it’s Jack Brewer who steals the show (as always). His gruff reading of “1979” – wherein he tries to sing all you people think you’re cas/ just cause you heard the clash/ you’ll always be stuck in your time/ wake up to the times! with a straight face – cracks me up bigtime. Kudos to Craig Ibarra for curating this one with so much love.

3. HENRY’S FUNERAL SHOEEverything’s For Sale (Alive Records, 2009) No I do not approve of the let’s-do-it-without-a-bass approach that’s been prevalent ever since THE WHITE STRIPES did whatever they did to make people like em. Though one thing’s certain: if you are a rock duo interested in heavy, primitivist blues rock, do it like HENRY’S FUNERAL SHOE, without any wink-wink irony and with some kickass rhythmic power. Singer/gtrist Aled Clifford’s growl is strong, his riffing nicely loud and crunchy, and the way he integrates slide into his heavy playing reminds me of some of RORY GALLAGHER’s mid-70’s highs. Still, this record feels less than complete. I suppose finding a decent bass player in post-Dr. Who Wales ain’t as easy as when MAN and BUDGIE ruled the Black Mountains, but methinks some fat, low end chooglin’ could do wonders for these obviously talented bros. Any bassists out there wanna give these guys a call?

4. CLAW HAMMERDeep In The Heart of Nowhere! Live in Texas 1995 (Munster Records, 2009) Speaking of SACRED MIRACLE CAVE . . . thank Americentric Europeans for digging this one up. Friggin’ tremendous live set by one of the very greatest bands to emerge from late 80’s, Raji’s-era Los Angeles. Drummer Bobzilla’s hilarious liner notes are alone worth the price of admission, but what you get here is so, so much more. This totally lays to waste their decent but flawed 90’s studio stuff. The sheer relentlessness of these guys’ sonic attack – a twisted, high energy, but still bluesy form of prog/punk – was always guaranteed to turn off the staider elements in the audience. And Jon Wahl’s hair-raising vocal screech wasn’t exactly calculated to reassure anybody. But for those looking for uncommonly inspired musical ideas, wildly impressive chops, and an unhinged emotional flow that spoke of secret knowledge gleaned from chemical explorations of a psychedelic nature – look no further. The clear mix gives every instrument it’s rightful space, and on this night in ’95, CLAW HAMMER was on fire and out for blood. Dallas didn’t have a chance.

Tribute Madness

16 Jun

If you wanna talk lowest common denominator, tribute records just gotta be among the easiest to grok. We’ve all heard great cover tunes in our lives – the glorious JIMI HENDRIX reinvention of BOB DYLAN’s “All Along the Watchtower” immediately comes to mind for me. We know: the right song in the right hands can absolutely slay. And the suits know this too. Like all those remakes of classic films Hollywood churns out these days, tribute records have readymade audiences and built-in sales potential.

When those early tribute records to VELVET UNDERGROUND/KINKS/BYRDS etc. first began appearing on the UK Imaginary Records label in the later 80’s, I found myself curious to find out what kinda of ingenious updates might lay in such grooves. But within a few years, major labels had run this new tribute concept into the ground. Damn near every artist of note saw their catalogue plundered by whatever half-assed pop/rock act was being pushed at the time. By the end of the millennium, somebody with record sales on par with, say, GUNS ‘N’ ROSES could expect to have a half-dozen tribute CDs to their name. And if you were a BEATLES or a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, god help you – the tribute albums by bluegrass and country artists alone could number in the double digits.

Still, reinterpreting someone else’s work has the potential for great and wonderous things, and I’ve stumbled across more than a few really great tribute recs in my time. In no particular order, I give you my favorites:

ClawhamCLAWHAMMER Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are NOT Devo! (Sympathy For The Record Industry, 1991) What do you get when one of the original Fullerton Kids of the Black Hole hooks up with a DOWN BY LAW gtrist, a deadhead bassist, and the best Keith Moon impostor LA ever gave the world? That’s right, ya get CLAW HAMMER. For once I wholeheartedly agree with what Jay over at Detailed Twang had to say about em: “When Jon Wahl and Chris Bagarozzi played guitar together, I swear to god at times it was like what everyone said Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd were supposed to have sounded like live – unpredictable bits of chaos, pure unbridled energy and extremely amplified sound.” Yep every time I saw these fellas play (a half dozen times at least!) I felt like I was witnessing some beautiful vestige of longgone Hollywood punk rock spirit revealing itself, for the very last time, right there in front of me. But the way CLAW HAMMER rock the fuck outta DEVO’s first and weirdest album, live and unedited in the studio (I’ll give you “Space Junk” now but the whole album demands to be heard) always reminds me of why I dug them Akron spudboys in the first place. I swear: what DEVO sounded like to my 11 year old ears in 1981 is damn near exactly how CLAW HAMMER’s revisitation hit my 21 year old years in 1991. No kidding.

200px-Our_Band_Could_Be_Your_Life_-_A_Tribute_to_D_Boon_and_the_MinutemenVARIOUS ARTISTSOur Band Could Be Your Life (Little Brother Records, 1994) No no my SST Records bias is not getting the best of me here. Yes there’s a busload of NeareSST Relatives on this thing (Joe Baiza, Lou Barlow, VIDA, Joe Boon & Tony Platon, etc.) but there’s also all manner of indie detritus that I wouldn’t normally expect to give a thumbs up to. Clearly, THE MINUTEMEN held magical qualities that transcend space, time, and subculture divisions, ones that everyone from balding BÖC spin-offs (THE BRAIN SURGEONS) to 90’s shimmer/fuzz titans (SEAM, HAZEL) could relate to equally deeply, in turn drawing new and inspired musical ideas out of.

Few bands here attempt to match the Boon/Watt/Hurley rhythm combustion step for step – a wise move too, as damn near no one has ever rocked with such authority upon this Earth. What this comp is really about is the experiments, the polemics, the intimacy, and those wonderful little tunes that San Pedro once gave us. And if you were one of those folks who felt THE MINUTEMEN could improve things by ditching all that ornery ‘n’ jagged jazzfunk, then this rec will be a godsend. Dare I admit that in recent years I’ve listened to this comp more than any actual MINUTEMEN album proper? Not unlike THE MINUTEMEN themselves once did with their brilliant covers of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and STEELY DAN’s “Dr. Wu”, turning the familiar on it’s head – like Tom Watson’s OVERPASS does here with their great version of “Fake Contest” – has helped me rethink damn near all these tracks in new and unexpected ways.

4e93923f8da0cc899325a010.L._AA200_MEDIUM COOLImagination (Rough Trade/New Routes, 1991) This is actually nothing but a quiet, unassuming tribute to 50’s counterculture icon Chet Baker, and many of you will find it too straight-up/EZ for comfort. But since the project was led by ex-PANTHER BURN Ron Miller and most other folks involved (Alex Chilton, Adele Bertei, James White/Chance, and some other ex-CONTORTIONS) have trod crooked paths for longer than many of us have been alive . . . this never feels anything less than totally individual and heartfelt. My hero James White effortlessly takes the cake with his sweetly off-key versions of “Let’s Get Lost” and “Imagination”, proving definitively that his unique talents were otherwise wasted during the 90’s. And though I coulda done without Angel Torsen on the mic, it all helps me better understand the true beauty of Chet Baker in relation to the grim backdrop of America in the 1950’s. John Giorno’s liner notes sum up the context better than I can: “It was before Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl, before there was a possibility of a way out, other than suicide, and before the possibility of Enlightenment. The only way out was booze and sex, and whatever few drugs were available; and music, medium cool and CHET BAKER.”

DSCF2725VARIOUS ARTISTSMatter Dominates Spirit?: A Jim Shepard Tribute (Meta Records, 2001) – The passing of long-time Columbus, OH resident Jim Shepard (VERTICAL SLIT, V-3, LAQUER, EGO SUMMIT, etc.) left an ugly, gaping wound on the face of underground rock that I don’t imagine will ever heal properly. But as tributes go, Charles Cicirella really outdid himself here. This double album, hand painted/crafted with nice inserts (including a lengthly essay by ex-THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS leader Ron House) is about as loving as they come. Though it’s mostly close friends who are tackling Jim’s material (Don Howland, Robert Pollard, Mike Rep, former V-3er Nudge Squidfish etc.), there’s also alot of stray songs/noise/poetry by Jim himself, reminding you of just how diverse his commitment to expressive sonic beauty actual was. This is one guy who lived, created, and died at the edges of that anonymous, lower-middle class life tedium most of us are unwillingly exiled to. The spaces he occupied were ever shrinking, sometimes ugly, but always beautifully vibrant and alive. The note from Jim gracing the back of this record admits to it: “3:53 am 9/11. I’ve headed into The Sniper Zone – Hopefully, I’ll get back safe – J-Man”. Yep anyone who has ever tried to navigate that particular purgatory would do well to dig into Jim’s art. And since my turntable’s not working right now, we’ll end this with Jim and his VERTICAL SLIT doing “All“.

SST Reinterpreted, UK-Style

24 Nov

frontrear

Recent posts by a couple fellow bloggers (here and here) hipped me to an early 90’s SST Records tribute single by England’s proto-emocore DRIVE. Taking on THE DESCENDENTS and THE MINUTEMEN – not to mention Raymond Pettibon – all on one measly 45! That’s the kind of moxie I can get behind. Sure DRIVE sanded down the more subtile rhythmic kicks & leaps that made the originals so goddamn compelling, but that’s probably by necessity – what, you think you could top the Watt/Hurley or Lombardo/Stevenson rhythm sections? These Liverpudlians sound genuinely excited to be rockin’ these tunes (though it woulda been way cooler to hear em sung with a Scouse accent). Yes it’s mighty reassuring to know there’s at least a few rocker types wandering around here who had their heads spun by the very same Blasted Concepts that hit me so hard upside the head all them years ago.

D. Boon‘s high-end chankin’ & now Frank Navetta‘s chunk-style riffin’ may be gone forever, but I don’t figure the extended families of THE DESCENDENTS or THE MINUTEMEN will be calling it quits anytime soon. There’s just too much caffeinated energy and restless orneriness fueling that collective clan to lay still in the cemetery for long.

DRIVE – “My World
DRIVE – “This Ain’t No Picnic

Relatin’ Dudes to SST

4 Oct

Man oh man oh man did I ever hoot outloud when Donut Duck over at the SST Records-loving blog, The Blasting Concept, published this post about an unknown mid-80’s bass & drums duo who once called themselves THE CHASTITY TWINS. While these CHASTITY boys never left the garage, a pantload of SST Records sure as hell found their way into their bedrooms. The TWINS not only worked up a bunch of instrumental MINUTEMEN tunage, but they also tried their hand at BLACK FLAG, GONE, and frickin’ PAINTED WILLIE songs too. Nuts! The bassist goes for it like only a teen who’d recently fallen under the gargantuan spell of Watt’s Thud Staff could’ve. And all in gloriously muddy, lo-fi cassette deck fidelity – though this kinda microsubcultural homage couldn’t possibly exist any other way. Download their entire Dudes Jammin’ ’86 spiel tape here.

Blasting Minds

19 Jul

So you wanna talk about redefining rock LPs of the 1980’s? Ya just gotta include THE BLASTING CONCEPT VOLUME II in there, chief. Anyone who hoped those “difficult” mid-period BLACK FLAG and SACCHARINE TRUST records were just a fluke couldn’t deny that, by 1985, SST Records had undergone a complete and total aesthetic overhaul. The HC punk had become heavy, found hippie, turned jazzy, gone fishin’ and then . . . well, kids everywhere were shaking their heads in utter disbelief. This just wasn’t what they wanted their oh-so precious punk rock to sound like. Ever.

THE BLASTING CONCEPT VOLUME II encapsulated those revelatory changes, and suggested a dozen more. It was a bold, powerful, collective artistic statement that directly challenged unexamined musical prejudices throughout punk & underground scenes at the time. While the first BLASTING compilation merely corralled previously released material on a handy 12″, most of this stuff never turned up anywhere else, making it primary SST documentation. Yes it’s got the most boring cover in SST’s early annals; but do check out the original, unused Pettibon artwork in the backpages of Joe Carducci’s Rock & the Pop Narcotic – a very different graphic representation to ponder when cracking an ear to this aural wonder. Blow by blow, it’s

SAINT VITUS: “Look Behind You” – One of my fave early VITUS cuts. Carducci makes mention of a creeping paranoia floating around SST back then, and VITUS pins it here with a singularly leaden, dull blade. Ouch. This version beats the slightly later, Wino-led version what with more inspired vocals by Scott Reagers and superior drumming from Armando.

DC3: “Theme From an Imaginary Western” – Dez the crooner, won’t you take the mic? Oh my god, how I love this. It’s hard, heavy, and poignant – brings tears to my eyes. And these eyes don’t cry easily.

SWA: “Mystery Girl” – Not my fave SWA song, as it’s got one of them distended, disjointed riffs that clutter up their early LPs. But Merrill sounds E. Bloomin’ hot and raring to go-go-go, like he’s about to whip his dick out in front of whatever loser audience ain’t gonna be able to handle SWA this week. You might, but me? I don’t ever fast-forward past this one.

BLACK FLAG: “I Can See You” – One of the more off-kilter melodies Ginn came up with in FLAG, and when he solos I start feeling a bit woozy. But lyrically it fits the rec perfectly, as if Ginn’s responding to the VITUS track above. Who says he didn’t grow eyes in the back of his head?

GONE: “Watch the ‘Tractor” – One of GONE’s defining moments: pure metallic punk/prog mayhem bliss. A buddy of mine always maintained GONE was responsible for the very best in-store performance ever in the greater Washington DC area, which is totally believable if they sounded anything like this.

WÜRM: “Death Ride” – I am one yahoo who actually digs Simon Smallwood’s vocals and the BLUE CHEER bronco these guys saddled on their Feast LP. WÜRM were far too early in the scheme of Heavy Revival to be considered anything more than a joke. But like VOX POP, they helped reintroduce OTT metal to punkers in LA, back when you were still making excuses for owning Haysi Fantayzee records.

OVERKILL: “Over the Edge” – OVERKILL put out the best SST LP most of you never bothered with, and this singularly-great MÖTÖRHEAD bomb is an outtake from that crucial rec. Merrill’s vocals are buried which makes him sound even more feral, and drummer Kurt Markham positively murders. I can’t not bang my head hard when this one comes on.

SACCHARINE TRUST: “Emotions and Anatomy” – A short outtake from their Worldbroken live record, so it’s got Mike Watt playing bass. At the time, this kinda deep searching, exploratory sound got me thinking there were absolutely no more limits to just how far out underground rock could be taken. You younger free-rock types oughta all come pay your respects.

PAINTED WILLIE: “The Big Time” – Not a bad bit of REDD KROSS-like sneer from guys who struggled to find their voice after the brilliance of their initial Ragged Army 7″ 45. Most of their records suffer from shitty production, but as I always empathized with punkers who tried rocking it hard and heavy, no doubt I’d have paid to see em do it live if I could.

ANGST: “Just Me” – Depressive folk rock that nicely illustrates the strengths of this Bay-area band. Again I’ll maintain that this is entirely in keeping with the vibe (if not the sound) of primo SLEEPERS/NEGATIVE TREND material.

MEAT PUPPETS: “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” – I prefer the PUPS covers of “Child of the Moon” and “No Quarter” but they’re all zigzagging stripes off the very same three-legged zebra. I always laugh when Curt maintains she don’t love you anymore/ she likes my love better.

MINUTEMEN: “Ain’t Talkin’ About Love” – Here you probably figured Merrill Ward or Henry Rollins would be the first to come out of the closet with a love for VAN HALEN. Nope: it was Boon who was the real Diamond Dave aficionado all along. I love that, in true MINUTEMEN fashion, they’ve parred this back to only the 3rd verse and the hey hey heys.

HÜSKER DÜ: “Erase Today” – a great New Day Rising-era outtake. This doesn’t actually sound like much else here, but that just illustrates how distinctive these guys’ sound actually was. I’m not a huge HD fan, but this is a classic midwestern barnburner anyway you wanna cut it.

OCTOBER FACTION: “I Was Grotesque” – Lifted from the their less-than successful second LP, wherein Dukowski, Ginn, Baiza, Stevenson et al tried to FACTIONalize within the unnatural confines of the studio. They couldn’t pull it off and I admit it: I sometimes skip past this one. But I’ll always admire their impulse to take the music one step beyond.

TOM TROCCOLI’S DOG: “Todo Para Mi” – A far from ideal cut to end things on, given the quality of all that came before. Me I woulda chose Tom’s cover of ANDY & THE RATTLESNAKES “Patience” which ended his own DOG LP from this same year. But really, what better man to bring down these BLASTING curtains than the hippiest, deadheadiest SST roadie of them all? Anybody who couldn’t deal would’ve given up loooong before this track; those who stayed to appreciate it no doubt went on to form all my favorite bands over the next couple decades.

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Paging Greg Ginn: re-release this lost treasure! It’s one that’ll blow minds, forevermore.