Saturday, May 12, 2012

Eateries and Watering Holes: The Horseshoe

The Sadies: The Horseshoe


In 2006 Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann asked The Sadies to score his latest documentary about Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, a custom car builder and leader of the hot rod movement of the late 1950's/early 1960s. Tales of the Rat Fink was described by many critics as Mann's masterpiece. The film uses non-traditional documentary techniques such as animation and first person narration (Roth was voiced by John Goodman) to tell the story of Roth's car creations and hot rod life in Southern California. The Sadies scored the movie by bridging animation and photo segments with stylized surf-rock; Dick Dale is alive and well in this film.

All of the songs in this film score are intentionally short, as per the fast pace of the film. Many people/fans were disappointed that the songs on this album were not like full-length songs on The Sadies previous studio albums. But with 26 different surf-rock tunes in the context of a film score, I don't think that one can complain.

The Sadies weren't sure what to name the songs in the score, so they decided to name them after their favorite bars and music venues throughout North America. Track 9 "The Crocodile" is the name of a music venue in Seattle. Track 15 is "The Mohawk" in Austin, Texas. Track 23 "The 400" is in Minneapolis, etc.

The second track on the album is named for The Horseshoe Tavern, in The Sadies hometown of Toronto. The Sadies can almost be described as the "house band" for the Horseshoe as they play there several times a year, sometimes as the backing band for legendary performers, and have served as the New Years entertainment for the last 11 or 12 years. The Horseshoe itself has quite a legendary history, which you can read about on their website. Mostly importantly though, I spent many, many, many nights at the Horseshoe where I not only saw The Sadies live six or seven times (easily securing themselves as my favorite Canadian live band), but dozens of other killer local and nationally touring bands and artists. Not to mention drinking more than my share of Keith's. I miss that place.

I moved from Toronto to Boston in 2010. I notice that the Tales of the Rat Fink soundtrack has no songs named after a Boston venue. Feel bad for me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Eateries and Watering Holes: Diner

Martin Sexton: Diner

I have to believe that most of us who write or read music blogs like this have a list of favorites who never succeeded to the level that we believe they deserve. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few—all of whom have had some commercial success, but in my mind, should have more: Richard Thompson, The Roches, Alejandro Escovedo and the subject of this quick post, Martin Sexton, to name just a few. I’ve already posted about Thompson and The Roches, so I guess Escovedo has to get his turn at some point.

Let’s get it right out there—I think that Martin Sexton is an incredible songwriter, an amazing guitarist and frighteningly talented singer. He is one of the best live performers I have ever seen. And yet, despite that, and rave critical reviews from The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Billboard and others, it seems like Sexton will never be a huge star. He was getting close to stardom when he released two albums, The American and Wonder Bar on a major label in 1998 and 2000, but his next release was a holiday CD on his own label, 5 years later, followed by sporadic independent releases, all of which have been worth listening to, but which have had limited impact. Of course, it is possible that Sexton is happy with the way his career has gone, and I hope so.

“Diner” is from his first full release, Black Sheep, from 1996, and it is a hoot—a tribute to those diners that look like train cars, and serve up delicious, hearty food to travelers all over the country. Even if you haven’t been to the exact diners that Sexton describes, you know exactly what he is talking about.

And he sings so fast.

Eateries and Watering Holes: Tom's Diner

Suzanne Vega: Tom’s Diner

Sitting at the counter unnoticed even by the man who pours her coffee, she watches the people with whom she is briefly sharing space.  The rain outside is pathetic fallacy writ large, but she's trying not to notice because to notice is to remember and if she wanted to do that she would not be distracting herself by watching the people as they come and go.  The lovers she pretends not to see aren't helping, but those who are unattached either die unremembered or are too wrapped-up in themselves to connect to anyone.  Cathedral bells make an announcement - a wedding perhaps, or just the march of time - and the floodgates open, if only for a moment.  Life, of course, continues on unabated and it's time to catch the train.

Forget the DNA remix: it missed the point.  A song this lonely can only truly be delivered sparse and unadorned.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Eateries and Watering Holes: The House of Blue Lights

Ella Mae Morse with Freddie Slack and his Orchestra: House of Blue Lights


"The House of Blue Lights" is a knocked-out shack at the edge of town, serving fryers, broilers, Detroit BBQ ribs and fine egg beats. I always assumed the House of Blue Lights was in Michigan. (Does anyone outside of Detroit boast about that city's brand of barbecue?) But, I can't find any evidence to suggest it was a real place, located anywhere in particular. If there is a House of Blue Lights, you'll want to spend the rest of your brights there. But, before you do, take a moment to think about the talents that created this rock/R&B/country-swing classic.

"Blue Lights" was first recorded by Ella Mae Morse with the Freddie Slack Orchestra. Slack, who wrote the tune with collaborator Don Raye (the lyricist of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"), rose to fame playing in a number of big bands in the '30s and '40s. In the late 1930s, during a stint with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Slack met Ella Mae Morse. She briefly sang with the Dorsey outfit, until Dorsey discovered she had exaggerated her age by several years. (Morse told him she was 19.)

Listen to the interplay between Morse and Raye at the start of "Blue Lights," and you'll hear why Morse was often mistakenly assumed to be black. "People used to tell me, 'I hope you don't take this the wrong way but you sing like a black girl,'" she said in an interview. "I'd wonder, what other way is there to take that than a great compliment?" Legend has it that, upon meeting Morse, Sammy Davis Jr. enthused, "Ella, baby, I thought you were one of us." Morse's views on race were remarkable given the time and place she came from. (Born in 1924, she grew up around Paris and Dallas, Texas.) Both her parents were musicians. The book All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music includes a typical Morse quote on race: "My parents didn't understand racism. They wanted no part of that, and I was brought up to believe in equality and acceptance of others."

Slack and Morse first teamed in 1942 and immediately scored a major hit, "Cow Cow Boogie," the first gold record on the fledgling Capitol label. Morse and Slack continued to work together throughout the 1940s, releasing a series of charting records. Morse briefly retired to raise her kids, while Slack struggled to stay afloat in the music business. He died at age 55 in 1965. Morse returned to recording in 1953, focusing on a wide range of jazz, pop and country material (including a memorable duet with Tennessee Ernie Ford, "I'm Hog-Tied Over You"). She continued to perform around the L.A. area, including frequent appearances at Disneyland, until retiring for good in 1987. She passed away in 1999; her son posted a touching page memorializing his absentee mother.

It's a shame Slack and Morse's collaboration didn't last longer. But, don't let sad thoughts keep you from enjoying your time down at the house, the House of Blue Lights.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eateries And Watering Holes : Art School Canteen

Godley And Creme : Art School Canteen


Kevin Godley and Lol Creme were the satirical music geniuses behind 10cc. After 10cc's 1976 album How Dare You! they busted out on their own.

    "We left because we no longer liked what (Graham) Gouldman and (Eric) Stewart were writing." Godley told ProGGnosis—Progressive Rock & Fusion website in 2007. "We left because 10cc was becoming safe and predictable and we felt trapped."

   There's nothing safe about Godley and Creme's early work as a duo. Their second album  L, released the same year as 10cc's Bloody Tourists , is the real gem. "Art School Canteen" is just one of the memorable, highly polished tracks. ( A canteen is a more British way of saying "cafeteria"). It appears to be sung by a high strung art school student who asks a question I have yet to answer for myself:

Does getting into Zappa /
Mean getting out of Zen

Monday, May 7, 2012

Eateries and Watering Holes: Gay Bar

Electric Six: Gay Bar


Electric Six are a Detroit garage-rock-punk-disco band, even though they sound deliberately RP British in this tune. Well, British over a killer punk riff, I mean. Wikipedia tells us that the lead singer claims the song arose from a mondegreen of Devo's "Girl U Want" that he heard as "just a girl, just a girl at a gay bar" while the song was playing in a very loud nightclub. (The actual lyric is "She's just the girl, she's just the girl, the girl you want".)

Oddly enough, the lyrics "Let's start a war…start a nuclear war…" were censored in 2003 since the Iraq war had just begin, whereas the ultra-suggestive "I've got something to put in you" was left alone. Hey, I happen to think war is more obscene than sex, too.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Eateries and Watering Holes: Alice's Restaurant

Jeff Fiorentino: Alice's Restaurant

[download other Fiorentino tracks]

More or less immediately, Arlo Guthrie's (1967) Alice's Restaurant came to mind. I'm not sure why: maybe it's because I worked as a chef in a restaurant for a few years after graduating from college.

I want to assume that any information I can provide here about the original/Arlo Guthrie is superfluous to anything you can find online. (start here?)

While you can check out Arlo's original here, I wanted to send you a different and considerably shorter (Arlo's original is 18 minutes+) version with a different slant. I have been into Berlin-based SoundCloud for nigh on a year now, and continue - almost daily - to find something new and worth my time there.

This post features Jeff Fiorentino's SoundCloud version. This is the first time I have come across his name, but it appears that he offers online guitar tutorials. This cover is a considerably "harder" version  of Arlo's song, but it retains the essence of the original.

Eateries and Watering Holes: Rock Bottom

White House: Rock Bottom


Wouldn’t “Rock Bottom” be a great name for your local watering hole where you can disappear for days? The important thing to remember is it “ain’t very far away,” especially after your woman has packed up and headed back to momma.

White House billed itself as “Bluegrass's New Supergroup” when they released their debut album back in 2003. The five string wizards (who all lived in White House, Tn., a suburb north of Nashville) included Jason Carter, Missy Raines, Larry Stephenson, Charlie Cushman, and David Parmley. Carter has been fiddling with Del McCoury Band's for a couple decades. Bassist Raines was IBMA's Bass Player of the Year from 1998-2001. A regular Grand Ole Opry guest, mandolinist Larry Stephenson has fronted his own band for 30 years. Cushman started playing (at age 14) with Carl Tipton and has appeared regularly on the Opry with the Mike Snider Band. Finally, guitarist (and former Bluegrass Cardinal) David Parmley also has his own band, Continental Divide, and has won several awards over the years.

Despite the impressive credentials of each band member, I believe that White House was a part-time band. At the time of its release, I found White House to have a strong cohesive presence. They played like they’d been together for decades. Being friends and neighbors must have helped them achieve their clarion traditionally-rooted bluegrass sound.

With lead vocals sung by Parmley, “Rock Bottom” was written by a well-known bluegrass songwriter, the late Randall Hylton. While it’s a common message about breakup driving one to the local watering hole, Hylton once said that “Simplicity is the key…I feel that songs must touch a person’s emotions, and simplicity makes it easier to do this.” That’s why I also think that “Rock Bottom” would be the perfect name for the tavern just around the corner.

Eateries and Watering Holes: Vegetarian Restaurant

Aberfeldy: Vegetarian Restaurant


I fell head over heels in love with the brightly melodic Scottish popfolkers Aberfeldy back when their bouncy, gentle Love Is An Arrow hit the early blogs in 2004, though I seem to have missed the recurrent commercial exploitation of fellow single Summer's Gone off the same disc by Diet Coke and Traveler's Insurance; by the time the cutsey companion video for Love Is An Arrow, with its playfully animated love story of Inuit love, emerged a few months later, I would have done anything to show my love for the band.

But this was before my world was made of shuffled singles and socially-networked sharing spaces: I was pushing my mid-thirties already, it was still the tail-end of the CD era, and so - unlike the vast majority of the indie kids - I bought Young Forever, and thereby found a complete set of joy that still makes me smile when it pops up on the errant playlist. The living-room tones and and tableside love story of Vegetarian Restaurant makes an apt if belated b-side introduction to an album whose infectious levity was recorded with one microphone and no overdubbing, fitting for theme and temptation alike; dig up the disc, and you'll find that this is actually one of their slower tracks, though all are worth mention.

Eateries and Watering Holes: Anchor Grill

Descendents: Anchor Grill

Punk rock is not supposed to be about subtlety or maturity. It is not supposed to be about grownups and their problems. It is supposed to be about youth, and anger, and simplicity. But it isn’t always that easy.

Descendents started off as a more traditional punk (or pop punk) band--fast, loud and with songs that focused on simple themes, often with goofy humor, although their music was somewhat more melodic than many other “hardcore” bands of the era. But the band evolved over the years, often taking long breaks while lead singer Milo Aukerman went to college, obtained his Ph.D in biochemistry and worked as a biochemist for DuPont. Not exactly the typical resume for a punk rocker (other than maybe Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, who has a Ph.D. in zoology).

By 2004, after bands like Green Day had made it acceptable for bands to mix uptempo music with more mature themes, the band released Cool To Be You.  Their music hadn’t mellowed all that much, but they tackled issues that reflected the lives that the band members were experiencing 25 years after they started—having kids, growing up, losing parents.

“Anchor Grill” is a song written by drummer Bill Stevenson (who also played at times with Black Flag, making this the second post I have written related to that band in an attempt to balance the whole “Supper’s Ready” thing) and sung by Aukerman. It is a wistful song, despite the fast tempo, sung by a man to his wife about how complicated it is to be married with children. He sings:

Who knew the way things work in this world we've made for ourselves?
Where I work myself to death, and you raise the kids

He longs to return to the early days of their relationship, when things were easy and uncomplicated, wishing that they could pretend

that I just fell in love with you
At the Anchor Grill

He suggests dropping their kids off at her parents, and going out “where it’s never too late for breakfast.”

As a father of older kids (one about to graduate from college and one about to finish first year), I can still remember back to the early days of my relationship with my wife, and how things seemed so easy. But then came the responsibility of trying to raise children, the hardest and best thing that I believe I have ever tried. And as much as I love my kids, and really have enjoyed almost every minute of raising them, I can’t deny that there are times that I, too, look back wistfully to when life was simpler, and my responsibilities were fewer. On the other hand, I never would have heard of Descendents if my son hadn’t introduced them to me, only one small way that my kids have enriched my life beyond my wildest dreams (and I’m not only saying this because I know they will read this.)

Eateries and Watering Holes: Spanish Moon

Little Feat: Spanish Moon


This week on Star Maker Machine, we will be eating out, and following that up with a nightcap. Eating and drinking are basic human needs, and we don‘t like to do either by ourselves. So it is that the places we go out to eat and drink have been the basis for countless songs. Some songs take place in an eatery or bar, but the focus this week is on the place, not specific people there. Certainly, there will be some overlap however.

Let’s begin with a visit to the Spanish Moon. There actually is a Spanish Moon in Baton Rouge, LA, but I hasten to say that that is not the place shown above. I think the one in Baton Rouge probably takes its name from this song, but this one is a seedy-looking place in the middle of the bayou, but with great music. The picture I have chosen is of an old juke joint. It mat not look like much, but some legendary figures in blues history played there. That’s the kind of place Little Feat are talking about. The women and the men are each dangerous in different ways, but the music draws you in as soon as you hear it from out on the road. The song captures both the temptation and the danger perfectly.