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Provostian Moments Vol. XII: Raji’s

16 May

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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Raji’s on Hollywood Blvd.

hroughout the history of Los Angeles rock, there have been voids that were screaming to be filled. Usually the major labels catch wind of upcoming trends, and hire high dollar marketing firms; the Hair Metal scene is a particularly ugly but classic case study of this.

In the early 90s, there was a new breed of songwriters who had been through the major label mill, but had survived to see the afterlife. Many of these songwriters were just starting to perfect their craft after years of slugging it out on concert stages all over the world. Rather than going the time tested route, this new breed chose to keep things organic, and took up a one night a week residency at the same venue every week. Club Largo on Fairfax had one stable hosted by the incredible talent of Aimee Mann, and her partners in crime: Michael Penn, and my favorite contemporary film score composer Jon Brion.

The even more organic scene was in the deepest bowels of sleazy old Hollywood. Raji’s was the very definition of dive. The huge lobby at the front entrance was where the bar area was located, and it looked like a creepy convalescent home for shell shock victims. The black spray painted back room was where the artists would play on a bandstand that stood two feet tall. Raji’s was sometimes referred to as “The Hole With The Pole” because of the load bearing support pole that blocked the view of the stage for many in the audience. Who would believe that earthquake retrofitting could ever be so cool? The sound of the room was perfect, very much like New York’s CBGB had years earlier.

Three artists held court at Raji’s every Tuesday evening: The Continental Drifters, Steve Wynn, and Holly Beth Vincent. The shows also had a slot for special guests like Jonathan Richman, Chris Cacavas, Tom Waits, Syd Straw, country guitar legend John Jorgensen, and Freedy Johnson. Alice Bag’s lounge act the Swing Set were fun. Leonard Cohen’s duet partner Julie Christensen turned in the classiest appearance in Raji’s history. Susan Cowsill, and Vicki Peterson became a duo known as the Psycho Sisters, and they sang their lush harmonies behind the Continental Drifters and Holly and the Italians.

The Continental Drifters had been playing around town for some time. the group was originally made up of transplants from New Orleans. Drummer/vocalist Carlo Nuccio was also a member of the riveting punk/blues band know as Red River. When the Db’s leader Peter Holsapple took over as frontman, they became a contender for the throne once held by the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, though the original lineup was more Meters inspired.

Steve Wynn stepped up to the plate, and hit it out of the park, with a tight new band that sounded nothing like the Dream Syndicate. Gone were the extended free form jams, and there was an optimistic ray of hope in his economic new lyrics. Saying more, with less words, is the highest achievement in songwriting. Steve was no longer tipping his hat to other artists. He had found his own voice, and when he would on occasion play a Syndicate tune, it would be almost unrecognizable. I really liked the adult version of this once cocky young man. His new band featured guitarist Robert Mache, bassist Mark Walton, pianist Robert Lloyd and drummer Kevin Jarvis.

Holly Beth Vincent

Holly & the Italians utilized the Tuesday Raji’s scene to test run songs for our new LP America that was subsequently released on the Indigo Girl’s Daemon record label.  At that same time Transvision Vamp were burning up the charts with a cover of Holly’s pop classic “Tell That Girl To Shut Up”, but Holly Beth Vincent wasn’t complacent to rest on her laurels as a punk diva. Her Ronnie Spector like vocals and relentless guitar attack challenged me to play with a new found fury, and Holy’s devastating lyrics made me melt. I’ve never enjoyed playing with anyone as much. We had a stellar line up that also featured guitarist Jimmy Ripp, and alternating drummers Nick Vincent and Jay Dee Daugherty.

There was something enigmatic about that dilapidated Hollywood watering hole that brought out uninhibited creativity, and a true sense of musical community. Don’t go looking for Raji’s, you won’t find it.  Raji’s only really ever existed in the drunken stupor of us oddballs that called it home.

– Dave Provost

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Provostian Moments Vol. VII: The Dream Syndicate

21 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.

_____________________________________________________

The Dream Syndicate - Medicine Show

would love to see the early Dream Syndicate band leaders Steve Wynn and Karl Precoda get back together. Their oil and water polarization was a caustic explosion of tension and release. Karl’s feedback drenched guitar bombast was the ultimate foil for Steve’s world weary voice. Steve played the guitar like someone was holding a Mack 10 to his head. And when you add the man-machine force of Dennis Duck’s drumming into the mix . . . Holy Cow!!!

I was the luckiest guy on my block when I got the gig in that band. Kendra Smith’s shoes were hard to fill – the shouts of “where’s Kendra?” didn’t go unnoticed. But having played in rock bands for fifteen years prior to joining the group made me both journeyman and sturdy foundation for the musical drama. My minimalist rhythm n blues bass parts helped to map out the new direction that the Dream Syndicate were to navigate. We’d played the new songs live, and had everything in place to make the under-budget Medicine Show LP in less than a week, but that wasn’t in the cards.

I do accept some of the responsibility for the flack that we took from the upset Days of Wine and Roses fans, but I wasn’t working alone. I was in love with that album too. The tours that we did to promote Wine and Roses were the best days of my life; opening the U2 War tour was also an incredible experience.

Sometimes the ends do justify the means. Until recently, I had never listened to the Medicine Show album. Steve mailed me a reissue after we reconnected at his Baseball Project show in Portland, and I literally trembled as I played it. I was overtaken by the memory of the six month long recording session, and by the undeniable masterpiece that the Dream Syndicate had created. Steve Wynn’s American Gothic vision had held up superbly, and had taken on even more relevance. “Burn” is still my favorite song of the collection.

Sandy Pearlman, the record’s producer, is a textbook definition of eccentric, but he certainly has made some great records with artists such as the Clash, the Dictators, and the Blue Oyster Cult. And yes, Sandy did ask for “more cowbell” once.

Steve is the only person that’s really qualified to fully chronicle the making of that album, and knowing what I know, it’ll be one hell of a book. The only thing that I request of music historians is that Medicine Show be represented as a San Francisco album. It could not have been recorded anywhere else in the world.

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I like to remember the lighter moments, and there was no shortage of them. Karl Precoda was a mere twenty one years old when I first started rooming with him at the Iroquois Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The hotel was our extended stay base-of-operation on the East Coast. We shared the room that James Dean had once lived in. Karl and I became pals right from the start. His maturity, and my lack of it, was a good match.

Precoda had an obsession with fishing. He always maintained that the only thing that he got from touring was the opportunity to fish the rivers and lakes of our great nation. I had spent a good chunk of my childhood fishing with my Southern relatives, and Karl and I would spend many a night out on the water. Just the two of us in the moonlight, with Judas Priest blasting from a boombox. More often than not we would go back to the hotel empty handed. It might have been the bait, or maybe fish don’t like Judas Priest.

I stayed behind when Karl went to visit his friend Bebe. It was a long train ride for him, but she lived on a lake. That’s the kind of guy he is. If I was hanging with one of the world’s most beautiful women, I wouldn’t show up dressed like a lumber jack, carrying a years supply of bait, and beef jerky.

I was hungover from a night on the town when Karl walked in with the biggest fresh water fish I’d ever seen. Our rockstar was proud, and after I retrieved the Polaroid camera from under my bed he posed with his catch. Steve, on the other hand, was not as impressed by Karl’s magnificent fete, and when he came to our room three days later to fetch us for an afternoon photo shoot, the fish had grown very ripe in the kitchen sink. Steve simply opened our 8th floor window, and tossed the big guy out to the street below.

When the band met up in the lobby, a New York City construction worker was complaining to the hotel manager about being struck to the ground. He was wearing a hard hat, an orange vest, and holding a very large fish.

– Dave Provost

Provostian Moments Vol. V: Wednesday Week

14 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.

_____________________________________________________

Wednesday Week

teve Wynn was the college kid that worked behind the counter at my favorite record store. We shared a love of the same music: Television, The Fall, John Cale, Stockhausen, and Johnny Cash. He had a lot of chutzpah asking me to jam with his band Goat Diety.

When I arrived at the suburban tract home where they rehearsed, I was welcomed by chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven and a dog that I think played Lassie in the later films. It was the family residence of Kristi and Kelly Callan. I had met the sisters at a Textones show in San Francisco, and had seen them at LA shows hanging out with The Plugz and The Last. Their home-spun good looks set them apart from all the leather jacket punk chicks.

I had never experienced a functional family before. Their mother K. was a familiar face that I’d seen on TV playing the role of a supportive, nurturing mom. However I had never met one in real life, until now. She was a California casual version of Loretta Young. This might not seem important in a pop band story, but it’s a critical element of everything Wednesday Week.

The rehearsal was ragged at best. Steve was a commanding singer/guitarist, but the girls were just learning to play. There was a certain inexplicable charm in their songs however, and I saw potential. It would be a year before my next session with Kristi and Kelly. During that time the Callan sisters recorded a song under the name Narrow Adventure, with Kjehl Johansen of The Urinals on bass.

Goat Diety had auditioned a young guitarist named Karl Precoda. Steve and Karl hit it off and started their own band, The Dream Syndicate, with ex-Human Hands drummer Dennis Duck and bassist Kendra Smith from Steve’s childhood band The Suspects.  But the name Goat Diety was often mistaken for Go Dee Dee, very much the same way that Australians misunderstood James Brown as singing “get down with your bat’s elf.” So Wednesday Week was now the name of the group, taken from an Undertones song title.

The Callan girls would stare at me blankly as I spoke of diminished 7th chords, roadies, and backstage deli platters. I lived vicariously through their innocence. Song like “I Hate Lying To Mom” and “Sad Little Dog” could have been outtakes from the Wiggin family girl group from New Hampshire that I’ve vowed never to mention.  I rehearsed with them every day for a while, and they got really good. My analysis of Kelly’s drum parts made me rethink my whole approach to playing the bass. Kristi played guitar, and sang like a sexy city cousin of the Von Trapp family. They were a good kind of different.

I was used to playing venues with electricity and running water, but the sisters were fearless. We played Valley dives with heavy metal bands, and a few showcase clubs with The Last and Sylvia Juncosa. Every show was better attended than the show before. We recorded an EP entitled Betsy’s House at Radio Tokyo studios, with former Blue Cheer bassist Ethan James at the board.

I really had fun witnessing the birth of an indie band. Other commitments were requiring more of my time, and I stepped down. Soon afterwards, Wednesday Week had a popular video on MTV and major label distribution. But we are still friends to this day. Kristi and Kelly are beautiful women. Their mom is still acting, and still making cookies.

– Dave Provost