Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kenne Highland interview, Part One

I know that this blog has gained new readers due to my Gizmos’ tour diaries, but those who know me from my 80’s and 90’s bands, or from Las Vegas, most likely do not know too much about the Gizmos, other than a few vague stories I may have told over the years. As teenagers in the mid-70’s, I met Krazee Kenne Highland via his pen-pal correspondence with my then-girlfriend, and, since he then lived just a few hours away, we got together a few times and jammed, by ourselves and with my hard rock band, Cerberus. When his roommate and fanzine partner, Bob Richert, decided that Kenne’s songs should be committed to vinyl, Kenne asked me to join in the festivities and I brought along my band. Several others joined the mayhem and the Gizmos were born!

The band disintegrated after recording three EPs and playing (with various line-ups) three shows. Kenne joined the service, got married, moved to Boston and became a regular feature on the scene there, with innumerable groups and one-off projects (not unlike what I did in LA). Krazee Kenne has slowed down somewhat as we have gotten older, but is still playing, is still a human jukebox, is still a font of trivia, still has a remarkable memory and will still talk excitably to anyone who will listen. And listen you should as his tells his life story!

Kenne writes as he speaks, so I will try to leave it as close to his original scribbles as possible, but will clean up punctuation, etc.There are innumerable lyrical quotes, many from his own songs, so don’t worry if you don’t get something. Just hang on for the ride!

I'm going to make this a multi-part interview as if can be a bit wordy!

Let’s start at the beginning - where and when born, how big of a family do you have, did you move around a lot, etc.?

"KENNETH EDWARD HIGHLAND born Easter Monday 2 April 1956 Quantico Virginia to Cpl. Byron Grant Highland (USMC) and Helen Virginia Blodgett, BOTH descended from two Spencer brothers that founded Hartford,Ct.! "Incestry.com" (a Gee Julie joke;"she's my best bette"!) has now shed light that my parents were descended from THREE of the four Spencer brothers that came to New England in 1600s; "Boston,you're my home". So, as a military brat, I was southern til Sunday 5 December 64, though Dad's Knotts ancestor (yes, Deezen, Barney IS my cuzzin!) arrived at Jamestown 30 sept 1617 (a transported FELON, that's my gangsta ancestry!).

My siblings (who are my cuzzins!) is Thomas Alan Highland born 18 November 58, Camp Lejeune, North Care-lahna (ah learnt to read-n-rite at the Clyde Irwin elemen-terry school in Jacksonville). We lived in Wallace unbeknownst to ML Carr (basketball, Wikipedia fact) and whahl ah wuz a-tend-in' a four room schoolhouse in Manasass,Virgnny Julie Anne Highland born 9 September 63. Ah giss ah got a thang fer Julies...(there's a great-aunt Julia Highland, South Lyon, Michigan farm wife - South Lyon bein' where MITCH RYDER now curently livin' and I count a couple-three generations in that South Lyon cemetery next the Methudist church).

So after Ma left Dad fer his cheatin' ways/cheatin' heart (and I may have a half-brother but get a fucken DNA test, you lil bastard!) we all moved to Clarkson NY (near Rochester) in a fucken snowstorm, with my grandmother and "special needs" uncle/cuzzin, no indoor plumbin'/coal stove and an 1851 house that I had an uncle de-sert the Civil War and help out with the underground railroad...lotta stories from aunts in their 90s STILL livin', but I'm not Alex Highland and Roots, I AM Kenne Highland and there aint but one!"....

What first got you into music / first musical memory?

"first musical memory”: summer 1961 Onslo Beach, North Carolina, Del Shannon's "Runaway" blaring out of someone's transistor radio; it was a bright, sunny day, I was in kindergarten and I remember it well! Ma says me and/or my brother usedta sing nursery rhymes on the toilet plus when Elvis had "wooden shows and happy hearts", Ma said I pernounced it "hahts", so i was already JFK/Boston-bound and in the Tarheel state.

Fall 1964, Ma was a-takin' Uncle Tom Highland (my brother AND cuzzin!) to kind-e-garden in northern Virginny and it was "wow! we heard this great band called the Beatles!" Tom sez it was "She Loves You".  I was still enthralled by the Civil War (and still am! people on BOTH sides!), so after moving "up north" (Clarkson, NY, Sunday 5 December 64), I kinda remember "Ticket to Ride" on AM radio. My cuzzin Janet (best gurl on the planet!) babysat us Highlands coz Ma went to WORK after her divorce; too much Puritan work ethic to be a-settin' round collecting welfare! (I still hear the guilt, oy: "I coulda been on welfare, but I have too much pride; if I hadn’t gotten remarried, we'd be on Skid Row, but Kenneth, you'd probably like that!") (cue up AC/DC's "problem child"!).

Oh, yeah, Janet had the transistor tooned to WBBF-AM, Rochester NY and the Top 40 in 1965; "My God" and I hadn’t even heard Jethro Tull! My Dee-troit grandmother gave us Highland boys lil transistor radio, so age 9, 1965 hearin' Jeff Beck do "Heart Full of Soul" intro....watchin' James Brown do "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" on Where the Action Is coz Janet MADE us watch them teen shows....Lloyd Thaxton; no Upbeat coz I wasn’t in Cleveland...so (Reader's digest version): British invasion and "oldies" were early first musical memories, I didn’t get a guitar in 1964 Beatlemania (too busy pretending it was 1864!) but by Christmas 1970, did have my legendary $9 Sears acoustic and back them days that was a lotta money for a single Mom! Cue up Merle Haggard's "Mama tried" coz we're both Aries"....

What was your first guitar / how did you start playing? Did someone teach you or are you self-taught? What was your first band and bands before the Gizmos?

"first guitar,first bands....it's a good thing my mother (who IS my cuzzin!) was el presidente of the Clarkson NY historical society (her great-great-great Elijah Blodgett was a Green Mountain Boy and bought the SECOND piece of property in Clarkson NY). SO Giz-storically: 9th grade XMAS,1970; Ma buys me a $9 Sears acoustic and I try to be the Freewheeling Ken Highland complete with harmonica rack made of a coat hanger (western NY winters are VERY long and VERY boring) plus even borrowed Ma's lipstick holder to play slide ala "In My Tyme of Dyin'"! (My mother as Suzi Rotolo; HOPELESSLY Obscure!) Matthew J. Sabo, whom was in my class (Brockport High '74) worked with me, so, like the ole blues guys he showed me barre chords off Sabbath Paranoid, Grand Funk Red Album plus some Zeppelin II: MY intro to "da blooze". Matty still playin' in Rochester, look up THE PARTY DOGS and other bands. Matty talked me, summer '71, into buying a Chuck Berry-lookin' $98 hollow body electric and first amp bought at House of Guitars! So 10th grade ='71-'72, early '72,s ome Gizmos songs were written! Fall of '73, Matty's buddy, William Aloyius MacLaughlin (BHS '73 and him and Matty called me "Gizmo") sold me a $35 solid-body Japanese axe and tried teaching me the Johnny Winter intro of "Johnny B. Goode". Jammin' with some Brockport stoners in this tyme, classic rock BUT Sunday 3 June 73, got to play Yardbirds/Alice Cooper toons with the Gruberger Brothers (O. Rex!) Bill MacLaughlin's $35 electric is on the O. Rex "gimme shelter" (Gulcher). otherwise, I think I just jammed along with classic rock ALBUMS (VINYL!) and 8-tracks, but I was a "bedroom" guitarist til Bob Richert "discovered" me ("it was the trousers").....

How did you start fanzine writing - what zines did you do?

"fanzine writing: Davey "Roscoe" Medlock has the late '71 circus where a bored Ken Highland age 15 looks for penpals; now I do facebook! 1971 penpals: Solomon Gruberger (RIP), Kevin Allin (Junenberg, VT, ,my cuzzin and RIP), Frank J. Lima, THE biggest Kinks fan,l iving and on Facebook and Albion NY Kinks fan Tom Taber. he showed me December '71 a Bomp with Kinks article; Big Al Baase (known since age 10,Brockport NY, RIP) declared we were gonna do a fanzine called Rock On. That and buying Stooges Funhouse for $3.49 at Vince's Record Shoppe, Brockport NY got me out of classic rock, kinda. I wrote for a shitload of 'zines that ONLY Eddie Flowers can remember, currently write for Boston Groupie News or whoever wants to lissen to my long, rambling bullshit and i basically did NOT do my homework, but spent high school writing for fanzines, though email is SO much easier; typing was a bitch back then!"....

How did you initially get in touch with Lynn and me?

"getting in touch with Lynn Riechers and Rich Coffee: maybe the fall of '74, Cary Baker mentioned my fanzine possibly in the Illinois Entertainer and I got midwestern penpal subscribers (c'mon man it HAS been 40 years! holy shit!) so Lynn Riechers, Highland High '76, maybe and I are pen pals between Highland, Indiana (no relation) and Blodgett-port NY (actually Brockport but there are SO damn many Blodgetts, trust me)...so, from my stoned-out look from the crowds, rolling doobies on the Paranoid gatefold, I maybe first told Lynn I was moving to Bloomington, Indiana (May '75), so it was "hey come up and visit" and "my boyfriend plays guitar".

OK, we all finally meet October '75, so in some park in Highland, Indiana, Coffee meets Highland who's wearing torn blue jeans with a smiley-face sew on! (hey, $5 in Bloomington; aye, lads, I LOOOVE a barrrrr-ginnn!) jam at Sulak's basement, me on bass and as I write this on my Facebook friend Pat Daughtery's birthday, I light into a Jay Biancucci version of "When Electricity Comes to Arkansas"! Then the Brownsville Station version of "Roadrunner", maybe me on guitar, Rich on bass...I think "damn this guy's good!" AND "hey man you sound like (my Facebook friend!) Leigh Stephens"! "who's Leigh Stephens?" Once i got back to Bloomington, $1 copy of Outside/Inside mailed to Highland, Indiana and it's a Rich Coffee desert island disc!

But that's the initial meeting and Cary Baker maybe subscribe to my rock on fanzine, me high school, him college, friends on Facebook and Greg Shaw (!) mentioned my fanzine in an early '73 Crawdaddy and I still have living Facebook friends through that! (too many friends; i need a few enemies! hahahahhahahha)"....

Tell how the Gizmos came about - how it started and how did all of the Gizmos get involved and why? How did you meet/what made you invite Eddie, Davey, Ted, etc?

" how the Gizmos came about..it equals Richard Nixon's second term PLUS Gerald Ford! Eddie and I became penpals through Boogie fanzine (John Bialas alive and on Facebook!) about September '72; I met all my fanzine buddies summer '74 after high school, so hung with Eddie July '74; we're in Chicago lissenin' to T. Rex, decide to be "the rockabilly yobs". Jam a couple tymes with Rich Coffee october '75 and 31 Jan 75; meet Ted Niemeic Friday 5 Dec 75 coz Mr. Bear had a spare Tubes ticket (?); anyway Ted and I jam on Kiss toons and Mr. Malcolm MacBear-Lair-en; "you and Ted should form a band called the Gizmos"(my high school nickname). Then Bear wants to do a record! So I guess i started recruiting people; Rich writes "not without my band", so "Cerberus joined them, that's Rich, Rick, Dave and Jim" as you slow-dance to "ballade of ye Gizmos" after slam-dancin' in Cleveland. Eddie Flowers sez Davey Medlock added coz we all met at Patti Smith/MX-80, Bloomington Sunday 14 march 76. And the original Lynyrd Skynyrd had Ricky Medlocke, so all good bands have 3 guitars and a Medlocke! ("Gizmo, keep tokin' and keep on playin' the guitar"; my 1974 yearbook, Bran T. MacLAUGHLIN). SO that octet went into the studio Saturday 20 March 76, Paul Kosoff of Free had died day before and Alice Cooper got married in Hawaii that day!".....