Monday, February 23, 2009

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Eric Burdon

This autobiography tells the tale of Burdon from his time with the original Animals and their initial huge hit "House of the Rising Sun" (for which Burdon didn't get any publishing for the arrangement of this traditional tune), through the "New Animals" with several more Top Forty tunes, his band War, who struck gold with "Spill the Wine" before moving on to their own career and many years of solo spots.
He talks of time spent with blues greats, the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix (who he was especially close to) and many others. He tells of good times and bad, sickness and health, friends' passings, business deals gone sour, fortunes won and lost and yes, plenty of sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Written in an informal style, you get the feel that this is what Burdon would sound like if he were telling you his life story when having a drink and passing a joint. He is a little bitter, but tries to make the best of things and appreciate what he has, which is still so much more than most people in the music biz.
I haven't seen or heard anything that he has done in years, but the man was an immense talent with a dozen of so amazing hit singles and this is a nice telling of his times.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Gun Club

While Jeffrey Lee Pierce may not have been the most friendly or likable person on the LA scene, I have to admit that his concept of merging punk and blues was pretty genius. Two genres based on passion more than virtuosity, both with anti-establishment leanings, truly worked when joined and many bands have since built upon this idea. The first album, Fire of Love, is a classic of this sound, with punk energy fused with blues covers, slide guitar and wailing voices.

Bursting out right from the start with classic blues concepts stated bluntly and without subtlety, “Sex Beat” is a 4 chord punker filled with energy and cool, leering lyrics. Summoning the ghost of Robert Johnson for a wild re-working of his “Preaching the Blues”, this puts dynamics to good use as they leave plenty of open space in the verses with Ward’s sparse slide guitar lines and then builds into a whoopin’ frenzy for the choruses.

The band quiets down considerably for the slow, dark “Promise Me” with added emotional flavoring from Tito Larriva’s violin. Tito also produced about half of the numbers on this release with the Flesheaters’ Chris D. taking the production role for the others.

Back to the high energy for “She’s Like Heroin to Me” – a great title for a great song about sexual and emotional addiction. As with most of the songs, this relies on a simple chord progression but even with his off-key vocals, Jeffrey’s words and melodies really makes this work.

Co-written by later Cramps member Kid Congo Powers, “For the Love of Ivy” is a haunting tune filled with voodoo and blues concepts dedicated to the lovely mistress of the reverbed guitar, Poison Ivy Rorschach (with more than a nod to Lux in the line “all dressed up like an Elvis from hell”). Again, this has plenty of quiet sections alternating with loud chords, culminating is a wild rave-up of slide madness, yelps and screams.

Probably my favorite tune is “Fire Spirit”, a three chorder with nods to “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, with tougher backing and more “spirited” vocals. This is far more frantic than any of the other songs and Pierce sounds at times as if he were on fire! Just proves that r’n’r is meant to be simple and emotional!

While the song does not sound spooky at all, “Ghost on the Highway” tells a tale a lust and murder backed by a frantic beat and a cool chord progression which I dug enough to steal for a song of mine at one time! Another hypnotically repetitive number is “Jack on Fire”, based on a single chord with references to Mardi Gras, death and sex (common themes for Jeffrey, voodoo and the blues).

For me, “Black Train” is fairly forgettable compared to the others here – just not a stand-out for either the music or words. Tommy Johnson’s “Cool Drink of Water” is another slow tune and actually drags a little. There are some cool sections, such as the noisy slide instrumental break, but this continues the low point of the record. Truthfully, the closer, “Goodbye Johnny”, is so similar to these previous two songs that it all blends together – and not in the best manner.

As a whole, this is a terrific release, with more quality tunes that most bands accomplish in a lifetime, but it certainly has its weaknesses, as well. Overall, a good concept and a fine record.

I personally think that Jeffrey came into his own on Miami. His singing is vastly improved – whether by practice or by finding the right song keys, I’m not sure – and the band really works together on some great tunes. The sound is much more polished and professional, as well, with production by Chris Stein and some backing vocals by Debbie Harry (presumably because Pierce was the LA head of the Blondie fan club).

Opening with “Carry Home”, the change is immediately apparent. The songwriting is more advanced, though the old elements, such as Ward Dotson’s slide guitar, are still evident. Jeffrey’s voice is a little thin, but he really emotes here and creates an original sound and feel. A little more bluesy in feel is the riff-oriented “Like Calling Up Thunder”, that also has some early American influences in the melody and some lyrics.

Another well written and more progressive tune is “Brothers and Sisters” that includes some nice words and builds to a powerful chorus. Although previously done by Lydia Lunch, the band performs a strong take on CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” and it really fits in this setting. Jeffrey even plays lead guitar on this track and proves to be a reasonably accomplished player (and he does even more guitar work in future records).

Closer in sound and feel to the first album is “Devil in the Woods” – sorta like “For the Love of Ivy” in a way. The verse is hypnotically repetitious but the chorus has some interesting changes. I dig the chuggin’ rhythm and the insistent slide guitar. Pierce tells the tale of murder and neighbor’s reactions in “Texas Serrenade”, propelled by big power chords and augmented by Ward’s guitar lines. Again, a creatively written tune and extremely memorable with a sound fitting the subject matter.

A slow, voodoo-influenced piece is “Watermelon Man”, with plenty of full, moody, wailing backing vocals, jungle rhythms, sound effects and ethereal slide guitar. Haunting and open, but quite effective. Much more upbeat and again reminiscent of Fire of Love, “Bad Indian” is a simpler, punkier tune. They take the traditional “John Hardy” and punk it up, as well, and Pierce gets another chance to show off on lead guitar.

Since I first heard the MC5 cover the song “Fire of Love” in the 70’s, this Jody Reynolds’ tune has been one of my all-time faves! I was skeptical that anyone else could do it the r’n’r justice that the 5 did, but the Gun Club do a great version! Powerful, riffin' and even Pierce’s vocals are dead-on! From here they move onto “Sleeping in Blood City”, an upbeat number again in the style of FoL tunes, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an older song.

The album closer is one that I think is one of their best, “Mother Earth”. This is a mid-paced country-esque, 3 chord tune that is highlighted by cool riffs and a good melody. They have a guest steel guitar player, Mark Torneo, on this one, giving the song an un-earthly feel. Pierce sings in a low voice, which really works here, without the strain and whine that he would get when trying for higher notes. This all works together for a final atmospheric piece.

The Las Vegas Story continued the evolution of the band with a vastly different lineup. Ward and bassist Rob Ritter had left the band to be replaced by original member Kid Congo Powers (returning from his stint in the Cramps) and Patricia Morrison who had previously played with the Bags and Legal Weapon and before she joined Sisters of Mercy. Drummer Terry Graham remained and kept the Gun Club’s “sex beat” intact. Jeffrey plays guitar on most of the record, as well.

Beginning with a soundscape and Jeffrey’s spoken intro, the band comes in on “Walkin’ With the Beast” with an open sounding, almost off-kilter rhythm but with walls of guitar from Powers. The sound is somewhat different and Congo gets to let loose with some of his feedback wailing while Jeffrey continued to improve as a vocalist. Definitely a new step in the band’s sound as they moved even farther from their punk roots.

The oddly titled “Eternally Is Here” has a feel similar to X’s later works – such as “See How We Are” and even has Blasters/Knitters guitars Dave Alvin sitting in. Pierce is shrieking a bit more off key here – kinda like in the early days. Alvin also plays on the dark and foreboding “The Stranger in Our Town” that winds through a few musical changes while sounding menacing throughout. The ranting ending is wonderfully maddening!

“My Dreams” is a tight, minimalistic 2 chord piece that almost sounds like Wire at the beginning, but moves into a more complex landscape while it keeps its insistent beat. I definitely see similarities with X’s mid-80’s characteristics, but this keeps a unique Gun Club stamp on it, as well.

Pharoah Sanders’ “The Master Plan” is a loose, guitar jazz-jam that moves directly into George Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now”. Jeffrey always wanted to be an androgynous chanteuse but didn’t really have the looks, the figure or the voice for it, though he does his best here on this slow ballad. This is a stark departure from anything else the band had done to this point, though is has plenty of spooky noise to keep it from being too jarring.

I would have thought they would have offset that with a rocker, but “Bad America” is still slow-to-mid-tempo with a very basic slide backing. More upbeat (but certainly not frantic) is “Moonlight Motel”, with a rockin’ 4/4 beat and interesting melody. “Give Up the Sun” fluctuates from a slow, bluesy tune to an energetic rocker for the choruses and builds into a nice, powerful rant for Jeffrey and the band.

While this still had some great moments, I think that Pierce was floundering a little here and not sure what direction to take as the group changed and evolved. It is certainly healthy to not remain stagnant and this is still above average, but lacking in a clear vision.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

RIP Estelle Bennett

Estelle Bennett, member of The Ronettes, dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Estelle Bennett, one of the Ronettes, the singing trio whose 1963 hit Be My Baby epitomized the famed "wall of sound" technique of its producer, Phil Spector, has died at her home in Englewood, New Jersey. She was 67.

Bennett's brother-in-law, Jonathan Greenfield, said police found her dead in her apartment on Wednesday after relatives had been unable to contact her. The time and cause of death have not yet been determined. Greenfield is the manager and husband of Bennett's sister, Ronettes lead singer Ronnie Spector.

The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007; its website hails the group as "the premier act of the girl group era." Among their admirers were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; their exotic hairstyles and makeup are aped by Amy Winehouse.

The Ronettes — sisters Veronica "Ronnie" and Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley — signed with Spector's Philles Records in 1963.

Their recording of Be My Baby hit No. 2 on Billboard magazine's pop music chart that year. Among their other hits were Walkin' in the Rain and Baby I Love You.


These girls were one of the sexiest, sassiest, best-dressed and greatest girl groups of the 60's.

And they wewre terrific dancers!

Friday, February 13, 2009

that makes two of us! (at least!)

Mickey Rourke Denies Courtney Love Relationship, Would Prefer A Gorilla (VIDEO)
(Huffington Post)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sister Double Happiness

I’m always surprised by the bands that I have not yet talked about on this blog. Sister Double Happiness blew me away when I first saw them in the late 80’s/early 90’s in LA and this record is a great document of this band. Formed by ex-Dicks members Gary Floyd (vocals) and Lynn Perko (drummer extraordinaire), this SF-based power-blues group fused politics and humor with hard rock, blues & punk to make a unique and wonderful combination.

Opening with Floyd’s terrific, melodic, soulful voice, the band smashes into their theme song, a politic polemic about communist Chinese workers that is frantic and furious and includes several changes, showing just how tight this group could be. Following this is the intense, hi-energy blues-rock of “Freight Train”, telling of the rejection of someone diagnosed with AIDs. Guitarist Ben Cohen shines here, as well – a wild and amazing player.

Pulling back just slightly for “Let Me In”, a slower but no less fierce bluesy number with plenty of great playing from the entire band. More modern blues in “Cry Like a Baby” that alternates slower sections with massive power-chord infused wildness, again highlighting their use of dynamics.

Adding another dimension to their sound, a cello contributes to the emotionalism of “On the Beach”, one of their most ferocious and potent tunes. Cohen again soars with his feedback-laden solo and Floyd is unimaginably fervent as he screams “why is this happening to me”.

They needed to lighten things up a little after that, and so they cover the blues tune “Poodle Dog” (“I want to play with your poodle”). Opening with just Cohen and Floyd, they are fun and funny and when the rest of the band blasts in, the power is overwhelming. But they return to politics for “It’s Our Life”, a tough rocker with more excellent guitar work and a memorable chorus.

“I Tried” is a slow, minor key number, well written and powerfully played. Back to the high energy for the almost punk/funk of “Sweet Talker”, accented with cool backing vocals over the sing-along chorus and heavy slide playing. Pure blues with strong guitar and pounding rhythm come together for the excellently titled “Get Drunk and Die”.

An album highlight that they had enough faith in to re-record it on at least one other record is the group-vocal dominated “You Don’t Know Me”. A simple, repetitive chord progression is the basis for a great melody, a superb guitar solo, plenty of dynamic work, a chorus that demands that you join in, and a wild rave up guitar/vocal ending.

This record is highly recommended to anyone who digs hi-energy blues/rock/punk’n’roll!

The Litter - Emerge

This 1969 album by Minneapolis garage rockers (their Pebbles classic “Action Woman” has been covered innumerable times) turned hard-rockers is a masterpiece of intensity and guitar-centric wildness! Drummer Tom Murray has a great sound and his attack drives the group right from the start. Lead guitarist Ray Melina lets riffs fly right and left with plenty of noise and feedback while rhythm guitarist Dan Rinaldi and bassist Jim Kane hold down the fort, letting vocalist Mark Gallagher cut loose on top of it all.

Starting, appropriately enough, with “Journeys”, a wall of feedback builds as Murray does his best Keith Moon imitation and Melina blasts out licks while the band churns with a hi-energy toughness. More perfect guitar and drumming opens up “Feeling” and never lets up as Gallagher does his best to scream and shout over the madness. This is a showcase for Melina and he practically can’t stop himself from throwing out more cool lines throughout the entire song.

Giving us moment to breath, they slow down for the quiet, melodic, jazzy blues of “Silly People”. This has several sections and was certainly influenced by jazz-pop such as Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”. But, they can’t hold back for long and soon enough, Ray explodes again with a wild solo before they bring it all down again. Back with a powerful incessant beat in “Blue Ice”, they add some menacing sounding minor chords which allows Gallagher to sing out like Arthur Brown and shriek to introduce more terrific guitar playing.

Showing their originality in their covers, “For What It’s Worth” moves from slow, quiet verses to almost out-of-control chugging choruses. Everyone gets to show off on this one, from more distorted, sustained guitar work to nice vocals harmonies to a perfect Ian Gillian-like scream! Side two of the album begins with an equally unique “Little Red Book” that removes the identifying riff and adds huge power chords. Cool and different!

A melodic piece of psych-pop, “Breakfast at Gardenson’s” is a fine example of this style – not quite as crazed as their other numbers, but far from wimpy with nice singing and playing.

Their musical odyssey, “Future of the Past” closes the album with a multi-sectioned number which moves from quiet to insanely loud and then allows drum-master Murray to perform a solo. Yes, drum solos are always a bad idea and generally boring as hell, but Tom is just so damn good that it keeps your interest and doesn’t make you jump up and eject the record!

This is another link between garage, psych, hard rock and heavy metal, but a damn fuckin’ great example of it all with an almost Detroit-styled intensity to the playing. If you’re not a stick-in-the-mud revisionist who has to fit everything into a neat, little category and you wanna hear another example of the beginning of punk’n’roll not dissimilar to Blue Cheer, this is a classic!

Sir Lord Baltimore - Kingdom Come

Sir Lord Baltimore was a New York heavy metal power trio led by singing drummer John Garner and including guitarist Louis Dambra and bassist Gary Justin. Formed in 1968, their debut album, Kingdom Come, was engineered by the legendary Eddie Kramer (Hendrix,Kiss,etc) and released in early 1970, garnering critical acclaim and plenty of live action. Unfortunately, the band was short lived, though they have reformed for new gigs recently.

With a grungey sound reminiscent of early Grand Funk Railroad, the band opens with the riff-rocker, “Master Heartache”. Dambra riffs non-stop throughout this one and shows off a cool, original style. Garner has a deep, soulful voice and is not afraid of shrieking to get his point across! Justin locks in and gives a solid footing to the rest of the semi-chaos!

Moving even faster in “Hard Rain Fallin’”, this sounds almost like Ted Nugent in his early 70’s glory days (before he became an ultra-right-wing shill). This is downright manic, with the guitar and drums playing off of each other and John producing plenty of heavy metal screams. Staccato chords and mind-number guitar flurries highlight “Lady of Fire”, which moves at light speed and doesn’t let up for a second!

For a change of pace, they break out a harpsichord for “Lake Isle of Innersfree” which sounds almost like a heavy metal ballad parody. A little too self-consciously serious and not as successful as the other tunes. Dambra sounds like he can’t wait to be let loose again on “Pumped Up” and he again goes crazy right from the start. Apparently, he doesn’t want to be constrained by simple chords and is so frantic that at one point the band just stops and lets him go before pouncing back in!

The title track is a little more of a mid-tempo rocker, with plenty of licks working around the melody and a deep vocal style and lyrics that sounds almost worthy of Spinal Tap or Judas Priest. But, isn’t heavy metal supposed to be overly-serious? Another pounding riffer, again similar to GFRR in sound and feel, is “I Got a Woman”.

Taking a cue from Robert Johnson, they declare that their woman is a “Hell Hound” with some funky, Robin Trower-esque rhythms and tones and tons of shrieking solos. Again, the vocal stylings remind me of vintage Nugent, as well. I have no idea what the title “Helium Head (I Got a Love)” is supposed to mean, but this follows suit in their band idiom, though I swear the progression is stolen from something that is slipping my mind at this time. Garner gets to thrash his drums wildly in this one, as well.

Finishing with “Ain’t Got Hung on You” (I guess grammar wasn’t their strong point!), a super fast and slightly funky rocker that sounds like the band is moving in double time for the whole song! This is one of their most concise numbers and a great ending!

This might be a little excessive for some – yes, the lead guitar is constant and the vocals are a little over the top – but this is still quite rockin’ and a good example of the cross over from 60’s garage to heavy metal to punk. Not for everyone but if you’re not afraid of a little excess, check it out!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Blood on the Saddle - Blood on the Sadlle and Poison Love

Another one of my favorite L.A. bands from the 80’s (who are still around in some configuration) is Blood on the Saddle. These cats mixed bluegrass, country and punk into a wild hybrid that I have never heard before or since.

Guitarist Greg Davis is one of the finest players I have ever heard. He is a supersonic, bluegrass-driven madman – insanely fast, clever, melodic, and with a fine tone. He is just jaw-droppingly good. Accompanied by terrific drummer, Herman Senac, and cool stand-up bassist, Ron Botelho (both super nice guys), and former Bangs-bassist (she sings, plays harp and guitar in this line-up), Annette Zilinskas, this quartet blasted through the 80’s LA scene.

Their first album opened up with their theme song “Blood on the Saddle”, sounding like a punked-up soundtrack from a spaghetti western, which plenty of “yee-haws” and “ki-yi-yays”! Davis shows off his mastery of the slide guitar on here with a perfect sound and melodic playing.

Annette comes in with her lovely voice on “Single Girl”, a frantic piece of country-ish rock with Ron wildly slapping his bass as she sings about the mistake she made in getting married. Davis is impossibly fast in “Car Mechanic’s Blues”, but maintains a melody as he compares his girl to his car. “It Hurts Me” sounds almost like you’ve gone to a square dance on speed, with more fine slide playing and a memorable chorus.

To me, “Banks of the Ohio” sounds like an early Americana/Native American story-song. Really melodic and heart-felt as Greg tells the sad tale of murdering his lover! When they were moody, they could be downright scary, but they could be joyous as hell, as well, as in “Do You Wanna Dance”, a duet between Greg & Annette. They mix their two voices to great effect in the chuggin’ “Freight Train” that just pulls you along as it speeds past the station!

A song that most punk rockers could relate to is “Landlord”, a plea to not be kicked out into the street with more crazed bluegrass pickin’ from Davis. Similar in feel is “Ghost on my Heart” and then Greg adds an acoustic classical interlude before “I’ve Never Been Married”, a more mid-tempo, sad song, chronicling the loneliness of the single life.

Their second album highlights Annette a little more, and has a more polished and varied sound, as in the opening track “One Step Away”. This is truly beautiful with chiming guitars and terrific melodies. Greg’s playing is restrained here, leaving Annette to lead and giving the group a whole different and, dare I say it, commercial sound! It’s a crime that this didn’t get massive airplay!

Greg comes back on vocals on “Police Siren”, most likely an autobiographical tune, with Annette on very basic harmonica effects. Ringing chords start out the fun-lovin’ country of “Steal You Away”, an upbeat duet between Greg & Annette about the joys of young love with cool guitar riffing. A more bluesy, mid-tempo groove is the basis for the title track, another Annette tune with a cool, melodic chorus. Really nice and memorable.

More of Greg’s moodiness is evident in “I Thought I Heard Some Thunder”. This is also a little less frantic (though far from slow) with Ron’s slappin’ bass and Herman’s in-the-pocket drumming. The guitar middle is almost Spanish sounding, showing another aspect of Greg’s playing.

Backed by a slow Native American drum beat, Zilinskas sings a tale of “Johnny at the Fair”, as she learns of her man’s cheating ways. This is another exceptional number – pretty and emotional. But she has a whooping good time in “Bed of Roses”, a bouncin’ upbeat song. Davis’ ode to alcohol is “Colt 45”, a fast punker that is funny and has some wild riffin’ but is otherwise not a stand-out. Far from bad, just not as exceptional as some of the others.

Romantic as ever, Annette is back for “Promise Your Heart to Me”, an upbeat tale of love with good harmonies from Greg. The band is fast and furious in “Down and Out” with powerful playing and intense singing from Davis. The closer is a slow minor key masterpiece titled “In the Pines” with lovely, melancholy vocals and odd double-time sections that jar you out of the misery. A great piece of songwriting!

These people really knew how to tell a story and to keep your interest as they did, with real melodies and excellent playing. Definitely one of the highlights of 80’s LA!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

RIP Dewey Martin

Buffalo Springfield drummer Dewey Martin dies

LOS ANGELES – Dewey Martin, the muscular, gregarious drummer and singer who helped found the pioneering country rock band Buffalo Springfield with Neil Young and Stephen Stills, has died. He was 68.

Martin was found dead Sunday by a roommate in his Van Nuys apartment, longtime friend Lisa Lenes said. She said Martin had health problems in recent years and she believed he died of natural causes.

Martin, along with Young, Stills, singer-songwriter-guitarist Richie Furay and bassist Bruce Palmer, formed Buffalo Springfield in Los Angeles in 1966 and quickly became one of the hottest live acts on the West Coast, helped in part by the grinning, blond Martin.

Their self-titled debut album included the hit "For What It's Worth," a solemn observation of 1960s turmoil. They would later produce such classics as "Bluebird" and "Rock & Roll Woman" and Martin's husky vocals were featured at the start of another Springfield favorite, Young's "Broken Arrow."

The band broke up in 1968 amid tension between Young and Stills, but several members went on to even greater success and Buffalo Springfield's stature grew over the years, with Young often expressing regret they didn't stay together longer.

Young has had a highly successful solo career and also joined with Stills in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Furay formed Poco, another early country rock band. Jim Messina, who replaced Palmer on bass, teamed with Kenny Loggins and had several hits as Loggins and Messina.

Martin continued performing under various incarnations of the band. He and Palmer toured as Buffalo Springfield Revisited in the mid-1980s, and for a time in the 1990s he played shows as Buffalo Springfield Again. (Palmer died in 2004.)

Martin also formed other groups, including Medicine Ball, which released one album.

Born Walter Milton Dwayne Midkiff in Chesterfield, Canada, he began playing drums as a teenager and settled in Nashville in his early 20s, playing for Patsy Cline, Charlie Rich and other country artists. He then moved West and joined the influential bluegrass band, the Dillards, before Young helped bring him into Buffalo Springfield.

Lenes said Martin will be buried in his native country.


From Crooks and Liars:

C&L's Late Nite Music Club: R.I.P. Dewey Martin of Buffalo Springfield

Friday, February 06, 2009

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Frenzy

One of the true madmen of 50’s r’n’r is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. This cat would make his entrance from a coffin, dressed in a cape, holding a skull, setting off flash paper and screamin’ (literally) that he “put a spell on you”! This man was designed to scare the most stalwart parent! Funnily enough, he started his career as more of a lounge singer and only after a drunken session produced his twisted, howling and yelping rendition of “I Put a Spell on You” and became a hit (one story goes that Hawkins didn’t even know that this had been recorded, much less released, before it broke through on the radio) did he create his famous persona. He still tried to do some more “straight” songs, but always fell back to his madness.

I had a chance to see him live once in the 80’s but unfortunately he just had a pick up band who wasn’t familiar with his songs and simply played blues licks behind him rather than the actual song riffs. I understand that he had more successful gigs after this with more sympathetic bands.

This compilation truly is some of his best and opens with the classic “Spell”. If you’ve never heard this, it is almost impossible to explain the grunts, groans, moans and psychotic laughter that permeates this! Great, pounding backing, as well, with an excellent sax solo!

A more upbeat, rockabilly-ish tune with horns (ironically!) is “Little Demon” which lets Jay show off his unique vocal talents again as he imitates the demon in the title. This has some pumpin’ piano, rockin’ guitar and a wild, dancin’ beat. Another near-perfect tune is “Alligator Wine”. Sultry and slow, but incredibly intense, the guitar lick is simple but sublime as Hawkins provides a variety of jungle sounds and walks you through the ingredients needed to produce Alligator Wine. This mixes some of the best blues tunes with new riffs and Jay’s originality to create something new and wonderful.

Another guitar-centric, bluesy tune, “Frenzy”, is up-tempo without being frantic and allows Hawkins to explore yet more new sounds! I think that he tried to be serious with the lounge-y “I Love Paris”, right down to the white-boy, almost-barber-shop harmonies at the beginning but it wasn’t long before he started in with extremely un-PC imitations of other cultures, which is pretty hilarious! More of this theme is explored in “Hong Kong”, which is basically a reworking of the music of “Spell” with some wacky ranting about Asia. He’s not quite as extreme in the semi-bluesy “Person to Person” but he can’t help but acting up a little here, as well.

Similar to “Alligator Wine” mixed with a dose of “Spell”, “There’s Something Wrong With You” lists numerous unlikely items that the woman deals with as Jay tries to rid himself of her. Of course, it was common practice to re-write hit songs in the hopes that the familiarity will create another smash, but as close as the backings can be, each of the tunes are given a different treatment and are equally great!

As odd as the title is, “Orange Colored Sky” is a fairly straight-forward standard, as is “Temptation”, a “Jezebel”-like number. Jay is a little overly dramatic at times, but overall these could fit in with other bluesy/loungey interpreters. Back to his looney side for “Yellow Coat” in which he rants over a “No Money Down” inspired backing, sounding like a psychotic Chuck Berry!

He reverts to his more serious side for “If You Are But a Dream” and, unfortunately, this is a little dull, even for what it is. He is wild as ever in “You Made Me Love You”, and though the backing isn’t quite so exciting, he keeps it entertaining. For the finale, he gives a straight reading with his powerful baritone on “Deep Purple”.

This is definitely the best compilation I have seen on this genius and it gives you a good overview of his styles. Absolutely one of the unsung (or under-sung) heroes of the original r’n’r era.

the Cramps - Bad Music for Bad People

During a time when the Cramps were in the process of changing record companies, two different compilations came out of their tracks – this one and Off the Bone. I honestly don’t know which one now was “authorized” by the group but each had some songs that otherwise were only available on singles.

This begins with “Garbageman”, the fantastic cut from Songs the Lord Taught Us. Keeping up the quality, this is followed by the utterly incredible “New Kind of Kick”. This 2 chord wonder is highlighted by Lux’s wishes for “something I ain’t had before” and excellent playing all around, with a deranged solo from Kid Congo and Ivy’s great playing and ending with Interior reading off the things he has tried and demanding “some new kinda kick”!

Another early track is their cover of 50’s mania, “Love Me”, where Lux gets so out of control that he wanders away from the mic in the studio! This number was especially dramatic in a live setting, where most girls (and some guys) truly did want to love him! Almost dirge-like is the Charlie Feathers tune, “I Can’t Hardly Stand It”, which lets Interior practice his hiccupping vocals and the band work out their rockabilly riffs.

For true dementia, check out their take on Hasil Adkins’ “She Said”. Lux had to stuff his mouth with chewed up Styrofoam cups (so the story goes) to even come close to the mush mouthed madness of Hasil’s original. This is a crazed rockabilly masterpiece and another number that was beyond belief live!

“Goo Goo Muck”, from Psychedelic Jungle is up next and then “Save It”, more 50’s psychosis with mad laughter and sexual single entendres. I think that Bryan is on this one (though I’m not sure) and his solo is a wacked-out string-bending orgy before Ivy come in with some nice, reverbed guitar lines. After this is “Human Fly” from Gravest Hits (though apparently the 12” has Ivy saying “1,2,3,4” which was cut off on this release – something for the collectors!)

The updated and improved version of “Twist and Shout” is “Drug Train”. Musically it is pretty much the same with terrific new lyrics and a chugglin’ train rhythm and the fun sing-along “drug train, whoo-ooo!” Next up is “TV Set” from Songs the Lord Taught Us before ending with the rare “Uranium Rock”, which I still don’t know exactly where that originally came from though I think it might have been an early demo. It’s cool but not an exceptional treat.

Off the Bone has these tunes plus the Gravest Hits songs (and the LP had a 3D cover!), but this is certainly good for those who don’t have the singles.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Cramps - Psychedelic Jungle

After Songs the Lord Taught Us came out, the band went through some upheavals, resulting in Bryan Gregory leaving the band and ex-Gun Club guitarist Kid Congo Powers joining. Gregory was missed by many – his stage persona was terrifyingly unique – but Congo was a great addition (and nice guy) and this record shows a move towards more 60’s sounds (though still embracing rockabilly) and is another classic.

There are quite a few covers on this record, presumably due to the time consumed by touring and changing members. Beginning with a cop from one of the Pebbles compilations, “Green Fuz” (from the band of the same name), which gives this a more 60’s garage sound right from the start. But, back to the 50’s from the mind-boggling “Goo Goo Muck”. This is pure Cramps – cool riffs, great, rockin’ beat and excellent lyrics (“I’m a night headhunter lookin’ for some head”). This is one of their best and the interaction between Ivy & Kid works perfectly.

The band had been playing “Rockin’ Bones” since early in their career and even have a previous recorded version, which I think is a little more intense and spooky. Of course, this is still great, but not quite as moody as the other take. Keeping the same feel in the original “Voodoo Idol”, Lux conjures images of voodoo doctors and ceremonies as live gigs. Brilliant! Another garage song is “Primitive” by the Groupies and, again, this is perfect for the group with its infectious guitar licks (taken from “Smokestack Lightning”) and cool words.

A new Lux/Ivy collaboration is “Caveman”, which is primitive and raw sounding as any of their and compares rock’n’rollers to Neanderthals. Following in this theme is the Novas’ tribute to the wrestler “The Crusher”, who sang lead in the original. When the Cramps would perform this, Interior would demonstrate this dance craze on some unsuspecting audience member – usually someone who deserved it!

Another early original and one of my top picks from this album is “Don’t Eat the Stuff off the Sidewalk” – what a title! The sounds on this are extraordinary! Ivy’s cool riffs backed by Congo’s wall of feedback and open drums create a truly psychedelic feel and it ends far too soon! Another simple but excellent lick is the backbone of “Can’t Find My Mind”, with more perfect Interior lyrics.

Similar in feel to “Voodoo Idol” is “Jungle Hop”, with its jungle sounds and rhythms. Again, the comparison between natives and the r’n’r audience is undeniable and that theme continues through “The Natives are Restless”. Obviously, this idea intertwines through this entire record, but each song is unique and great all on its own!

“Under the Wire” is a demented tale of a dirty phone caller (“what color panties are you wearing – and how long have you been wearing them?” and “I let my fingers do the walking, to find out to whom I am talking” are especially good couplets) which is hypnotically simple but powerful. Another fantastic, creeping, building riff leads off “Beautiful Gardens” in which Lux “lost touch with reality” and describes the visions he is having. This sounds like an acid trip gone bad!

But, as in the previous records, they close with the quieter cover, “Green Door”, telling of someone trying to gain entrance to a speakeasy. This is downright melodic and shows that the band could do a variety of styles even in their limited instrumental line-up.
These first few records are absolutely essential to anyone who cares about r'n'r. The CD issue of Psychedelic Jungle includes Gravest Hits and there are plenty of bonus tracks on the CD of Songs the Lord Taught Us. You must own these if you do not already!

The Cramps - Songs the Lord Taught Us

The band’s first full length release was the near-perfect Songs the Lord Taught Us on IRS Records. This is an incredible document of this wild group with great production from the legendary Alex Chilton and super pictures from David Arnoff, which really capture their styles.

Opening with “TV Set”, Ivy & Gregory work together to create slabs of sound while Interior channels his “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” persona with creative lyrics about using someone’s body parts for his TV, radio and midnight snack! Gregory’s first solo literally sounds like he is sawing someone into pieces! Cacophonous, jarring and wonderful!

An almost standard sounding (comparatively) rockabilly tune, “Rock on the Moon” is frantic and filled with echoed effects. This leads into one of my all-time favorites, “Garbageman”. Starting with the sound of a car pulling out of a garage, Nick kicks in with a perfect rhythm, Lux belts out auto-biographical lyrics (‘just what you need when you’re down in the dumps, one half hillbilly and one half punk, 3 long legs and one big mouth, the hottest thing from the north to come out of the south”), Bryan’s solo is pure chaos, Ivy channels Link Wray and they create one of the wonders of the modern world! They also have a mind-blowing video for this one.

Stealing from Wray as well as some others and throwing it all into a b-movie blender, out comes “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”, with more genius lyrics. I couldn’t possibly quote all of the quote-worthy words emanating from Interior’s throat unless I transcribed every line, but he was one of the best lyricists of modern times! This descends into complete dissonance and turns into “Sunglasses After Dark”. Here they actually credit a couple of the songwriters they used as a basis for this but the final product is even better than the originals. The original song was fairly silly, but in Lux’s hands (or voice) it sounds truly violent. Ivy really shines here, as well, and the down-tuning for the ending is terrifically fitting.

Another self-referencing tune ("6 foot 3 with my feet on the floor, hey baby what’re ya waitin’ for”) is the wild rockabilly of “Mad Daddy”. A more fuzz-drenched piece of 50’s r’n’r is “Mystery Plane” (“my daddy drives a UFO”), with tons of other-worldly sounds. Following this is the new dance craze “at the 'Zombie Dance', nobody moves, they tap their toes, they wiggle their wrists to get in the mood”!

Straight out of EC Comics comes the tale of “What’s Behind the Mask”, where Interior asks this musical question and comes to regret the answer! They pay homage to 60’s wildmen, the Sonics, with “Strychnine”. This is more stripped down than the original and actually not as manic, but the jungle beat works and lyrically, this is pure Cramps. A simple blues progression is the basis for the (mostly) instrumental “I’m Cramped”, which, unusually for this group, is pretty much filler.

But back to the craziness with the frenetic “Tear It Up”, the Johnny Burnette tune which gained notoriety from the insane live version in the Urgh!” movie. Closing this batch is a slinky take on “Fever”, which, while original sounding, owes more to Peggy Lee’s version that any of the more rockin’ takes.

The CD release of this classic includes different mixes/takes on “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”, “Mystery Plane”, “I’m Cramped”, “The Mad Daddy” and their “Twist and Shout”, which later evolved into “Drug Train”.

The Cramps Gravest Hits

It’s difficult for anyone who wasn’t around at the time to realize just how weird and unique the Cramps were for their time. Even with the variety of bands popping up in the punk/new wave scene, this group stood out. Sexy and sultry Poison Ivy Rorschach, mistress of the revered guitar, the stoic Nick Knox, who was kind enough to continue drumming with the band posthumously, the frightening Bryan Gregory, master of noise and feedback and in front of it all, wildman performer Lux Interior. Good looking, manic and a great vocalist, he never stood still throughout a show and could give Iggy a run for his money in the self-destructive arena. This crazed combo never made it as big as some of their contemporaries, but they continued to do exactly what they wanted to do. It’s still hard to believe that Lux is gone…man, what a loss to the world of r’n’r.

After their first single or two, the band released a 12” EP called Gravest Hits. All of their elements came together right from the starts – surf influences mixed with rockabilly and garage, with more than a healthy dose of b-movie horror/camp. Starting with a simple riff on Ivy’s tremeloed guitar, "Human Fly" comes alive when Bryan and Nick kick in with a wall of fuzz and a basic but incredibly effective drum beat. There is plenty of space here but it still has a wonderful sound. On top of this Lux hiccups through lines reflecting as much r’n’r as horror movie (“I’ve got 96 tears and 96 eyes”). What an intro to this group!

Their menacing version of “The Way I Walk” is much darker and fiercer than any other, even though Robert Gordon beat them to the recording studio. This is closer to the feel of the original, though even more savage and Gregory’s screams are hair-raising! An upbeat piece of rockabilly is Roy Orbison’s “Domino” which is as raw and primitive as you could possibly imagine.

The Ramones beat them to the punch by releasing “Surfin’ Bird” first, but again, the Cramps win the championship for most manic! This fits Lux’s vocal stylings to a “T” – even more so than Joey’s – and the band eventually turns this into a pure wall of mind-numbing noise! Beautiful!

The record closed on a quieter note with a plaintive cover of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town”, with Lux over-acting and Bryan making some sad sounds with his slide guitar. I saw them close shows with this one, which was a big change from bands who would close with their noisiest and wildest tune. But, these cats were never afraid to take chances!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

this is a tough one...RIP Lux Interior

Cramps Singer Lux Interior Dead At 62
Singer died early Wednesday of an existing heart condition.

Lux Interior, lead singer of influential garage-punk act the Cramps, died Wednesday morning (February 4) due to an existing heart condition, according to a statement from the band's publicist. He was 62.

Born Erick Lee Purkhiser, Interior started the Cramps in 1972 with guitarist Poison Ivy (born Kristy Wallace, later his wife) — whom, as legend has it, he picked up as a hitchhiker in California. By 1975, they had moved to New York, where they became an integral part of the burgeoning punk scene surrounding CBGBs.

Their music differed from most of the scene's other acts in that it was heavily steeped in camp, with Interior's lyrics frequently drawing from schlocky B-movies, sexual kink and deceptively clever puns. (J.H. Sasfy's liner notes to their debut EP memorably noted: "The Cramps don't pummel and you won't pogo. They ooze; you'll throb.") Sonically, the band drew from blues and rockabilly, and a key element of their sound was the trashy, dueling guitars of Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory (and later Kid Congo Powers), played with maximal scuzz and minimal drumming.

Because of that — not to mention Interior's deranged, Iggy Pop-inspired onstage antics and deep, sexualized singing voice (which one reviewer described as "the psychosexual werewolf/ Elvis hybrid from hell") — the Cramps are often cited as pioneers of "psychobilly" and "horror rock," and can count bands like the Black Lips, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Reverend Horton Heat, the Horrors and even the White Stripes as their musical progeny.

Over the course of more than 30 years, the Interior and Ivy surrounded themselves with an ever-changing lineup of drummers, guitarists and bassists, and released 13 studio albums (the last being 2003's Fiends of Dope Island). They also famously performed a concert for patients at the Napa State Mental Hospital in 1978 (which was recorded on grainy VHS and has since become a cult classic) and appeared on a Halloween episode of "Beverly Hills, 90210." Their video for the song "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" also drew rave reviews from Beavis and Butt-head on a memorable episode of the show.

Despite the band's long history, fans generally agree that the group's peak was in the early '80s, with the albums Songs the Lord Taught Us and Psychedelic Jungle. Many clips of the Cramps' chaotic live shows from the era can be found online; look for their version of "Tear It Up" from the 1980 film "URGH! A Music War." One memorable (and typical) show in Boston in 1986 found Interior, clad only in leopard-skin briefs, drinking red wine from an audience member's shoe, and ended with him French-kissing a woman (who wasn't his wife) for 10 full minutes with his microphone in their mouths.

Due to their imagery, obsession with kitsch and dogged dedication to touring — they wrapped up their latest jaunt across Europe and the U.S. this past November — the Cramps commanded a loyal fanbase, and even earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the form of a shattered bass drum that Interior had shoved his head through.



Fuckin' hell...I can't pretend that i was a close friend by any stretch of the imagination, but i have hung out a number of times with Lux & Ivy and, despite his crazed stage demeanor, Lux was one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. Smart, amazingly schooled in r'n'r, fun, funny, a true gentleman and a real partner to Ivy in every sense of the word. I cannot even begin to imagine what she is going through and she has my sincerest sympathies.

I saw the Cramps a couple of years ago and they were still fantastic. I've been a fan since their first single in the mid-70's, i was lucky enough to see them with Bryan Gregory at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in the late 70's, and one of my bands even got to play a terrific show with them in the 80's.

I haven't talked with them in years, but still this damn near brings tears to my eyes. He was far, far too young and still filled with life and the essence of rock'n'roll.

You will be missed....goddamit....

ok, ok, i didn't post anything on "the day the music died"

But BlondeSense did - check it out.

Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin - Copy Cats

Patti Palladin was a New Yorker who moved to London and gained some notoriety with Judy Nylon in Snatch. I’m not sure how/when she & Thunders hooked up (musically or otherwise), but this is a great record of the two of them – with some excellent backing musicians – covering some of their favorite tunes.

I have a supreme love for the madman that is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Patti actually does a respectable and demented version here of the fantastic “Alligator Wine”, one of his best! I don’t have the album in front of me and don’t remember whose song “Two Time Loser” is, but it is an emotional, forlorn ballad sung primarily by Thunders with plenty of plaintive guitar.

Speaking of the instruments, there were literally dozens of musicians who took part in these recordings, from members of the Heartbreakers (Nolan, Rath) to horn players and beyond. Makes for an interesting sound throughout and lots of variety!

The r’n’b shaker, “Treat Her Right” is up next and is a great dance number with Johnny doing his best to act like a soul singer, which doesn’t quite work (if you’re looking for slavish imitation) but is still damn cool in his r’n’r way. Keeping a danceable soul groove in “Uptown Harlem”, Johnny and Patti trade off the vocals and create a sexy mover.

I love Thunders trying to school Paladin on “Crawfish” as if he was a native of New Orleans! This is a minor key r’n’b tune, with effective call-and-answer vocals between the duo and a boppin’ rhythm.

For a change of pace, Patti does a cover of the Shirelles “Baby, It’s You” and does a fine job. I think the arrangement owes at least a partial debt to the Beatles version, as well. Thunders’ give a nod to the garage masters, the Seeds, in “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” with cool keyboards and reverbed guitars. Johnny’s love for the Shangri-las was evident in the Dolls, and here Patti does a terrific job in the epic, “He Cried”. This is an amazing song and they create their own pseudo “wall of sound” (which Shangri-las producer Shadow Morton borrowed from Phil Spector) to good effect.

Following that, aptly enough, is “I Was Born To Cry”, an upbeat, almost ska-tempoed piece that gives Johnny a chance to over-act in a 50’s kinda way. The finale is a fun, Latin styled doo-wop number, “She Wants to Mambo”. Great interaction between the two of them again here.

This is not a raw, Dolls/Heartbreakers-styled record, but is actually reasonably polished. The songs are all excellent and the renditions are perfectly done in their unique interpretations. This is a great piece of 50’s/60’s styled rock’n’roll.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Heartbreakers - Live at Max's Kansas City

Johnny Thunders’ short-lived Heartbreakers dissolved shortly after the release of their only studio album (L.A.M.F.) for many reasons, not the least being drug abuse and career abuse. But, whenever Johnny and guitar cohort Walter Lure needed some cash they performed some reunion shows to keep the money coming and the fans happy.

This Max’s show has a sit-in drummer (Ty Styx – actually a fairly clever name for a percussionist) as well as Heartbreakers’ bassist Billy Rath. This is actually quite good – quality sound and playing – kinda sloppy but nowhere near the falling-apart disasters that Johnny became known for later. The guys sound f’k’d up, but in a funny rather than pathetic kinda way.

After a noisy NYC street scene intro tape, the band kicks into the appropriately titled “Milk Me”, which was just another version of “Chatterbox”, which was already released as “Leave Me Alone” on Thunders’ So Alone album! He certainly had no qualms about milking his own music!

The Heartbreakers’ are known for their version of the Thunders/Dee Dee Ramone collaboration, “Chinese Rocks”, which is a musical autobiography of drug abuse and NY street living. I know that Dee Dee co-wrote this (some say he wrote it by himself, but i dunno...) and the Ramones eventually recorded it, but this is pure Heartbreakers – noisy and rockin’! Great stuff!

Of course, most of the tracks on this record are from their studio album, such as “Get Off the Phone” – introduced as “get off the fuckin’ phone” by Walter & Johnny simultaneously. While they weren’t exactly lyrical poets, this is another hard-rockin’ tune about the frustrations of relationships and NY living. Thunders had already recorded his fantastic solo album, So Alone, and the cut from that is the biting and hilarious “London”, his response to the Sex Pistols’ “New York”. This is sped up but still vicious with plenty of perfect Heartbreakers’ guitars!

I’ve listened to this record so many times that I didn’t realize that “Take a Chance” wasn’t from LAMF – in fact, I don’t know if/when it was recorded other than on this live album. In any case, it fits in exactly in style and performance. Lure’s pean to Thunders’ addiction, “One Track Mind” is a Dolls-ish riff-rocker and one of the band’s best! Ty screws up the intro to “All By Myself”, which just allows the guys to tune, then remind him of which song this is and then they blast off! They get a little goofy here vocally – “all by myself, goosh goosh”, for example – but the playing is solid.

They do a spot on take of “Let Go” before moving on to an actual love song, titled (with tons of originality) “I Love You”! Again, not much on lyrics, but good rock’n’roll! Thunders has a crude, and not exactly logical introduction to “Can’t Keep My Eyes on You” (“can’t keep my cock in your face”) and the song loses some of its nuances in a live setting, but nuances aren’t meant for live settings!

Ranting at the audience in a very un-PC way for being kinda lame (mumbling something about “Jerry Lewis’ paraplegics”) the band pounces into “I Wanna Be Loved” and towards the end, they quiet down enough for Johnny to encourage the audience to knock over all of the tables – to no effect – before calling it quits. But, obviously, they wanted to do one last song whether the crowd wanted it or not and came back for their ultra-fun take on “Do You Love Me”, one of their best covers. This is sloppy, hi-energy and a total blast!

When Thunders wasn’t too over-the-top wasted, he was a helluva performer and the Heartbreakers were an excellent band for him. This is one of the best live documents I have ever heard from Thunders – get the studio record first but this should be in any respectable r’n’r collection!