Saturday, May 18, 2019


I have so long wanted to do this post, the bassline, or is it the baseline, of the Stranglers being such a glorious sound. For about 10 years, 1977 - 1987, they were avowedly my favourite band, in no small part due to the bass guitar of Jean-Jacques Burnel. OK, as a only ever a pretend punk: ex-public schoolboy at medical school perhaps not being core demographic, they hit all my buttons, being slightly older and keyboard based, with no small nod to the Doors and a guitarist at school with and in his first band with Richard Thompson. (I have covered this ground before.)

It was only later I learnt the unique bass timbre was anything but, with yet another frisson of joy when I heard this, by another even earlier favourite band, the Move. Roy Wood, leader of the band, decided he disliked the bass parts on 1971's 'Message to the Country' so much as to remove them and do them himself. Title track below.

But this post is to celebrate J.J., from the unmistakable dum der dum of 'Peaches' to the later more melodic gallic noodling of 'La Folie'. My favourite bit of Burnel is actually from their first release, the last track from 'Rattus  Norvegicus', 'Down in the Sewer', with, at about 6min.30, a beautiful countermelody within the instrumental finale to the song. Listen to it, above. But what about his other stuff? Always a more complicated figure than the lampoon of he being the inchoate muscle to Cornwell's lofty intellect, he has been de facto leader of the band since Cornwell left, dismissing his erstwhile bandmates, as so did many, as a spent force. It may have taken many of the subsequent near 30 years, but it is arguable that they now have a bigger fanbase than at their 80's peak, and can put out material to critical assent, touring near constantly, way, way more than merely as a greatest hits machine. (Perversely, this is arguably what Cornwell has become, albeit in his way, satisfying the undoubted hunger to hear all  those songs in his voice.) Here's an enlightening interview with Burnel from not so long ago.

Burnel has also produced 3 albums of his own, together with one alongside keyboard Strangler Dave Greenfield. These underline his avowedly franco-european heritage, the first, in 1979, 'The Euroman Cometh', addressing a future wherein a president of the united states of Europe is necessary to see off the dual threats of a american values and soviet subversion. Just, perhaps, the sort of thing the potentially  disintegrating Europe of today, fuelled by my country's dismal performance, needs? I somehow doubt JJ is a Brexiteer. The lyrics start by commenting on any modern european having to contend with the shared lineage of Charlemagne, Oliver Cromwell and Hitler, so not exactly moon in june. Not entirely successful in the intent to fuse electronica with rock, it makes for interesting, if dated, listening.

Perhaps less portentous, and more accessible came 'Un Jour Parfait', echoing very much the sound his day-job was beginning to investigate at around the same time, possibly why, give or take a later soundtrack album (for a japanese anime version, set in the future, of the Count of Monte Cristo, 'Gunkutsuou'), solo work became superfluous. He had a band to keep on the road. So, what better, given it his basslines we are here to celebrate, than a track from the Stranglers, 21st century style:

'Time Was Once on My Side', 2012, with it's near lead bass motifs, has a clear back reference to their original style. Maybe I, like so many who lapsed, should give them a go again and I feel I might.

Having said....

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Base/Bass/Basic: Run Through the Jungle

purchase [ Creedence Run Through the Jungle ]

I have generally worked with the assumption that most basic (pop) songs are based on the the I-IV-V progression. And it's true: songs such as She Loves You, Twistin' the Night Away and If You're Happy and You Know It are all essentially variations of the I-IV-V standard.

And then, just the other night, I watched a performance from a group of exceptionally talented vocalists, who maintained a I-I-I progression (if progression it can be called) for minutes on end.
That's essentially a "drone" - and what became apparent to me- in terms of viability/interest - was what the musician overlays the "static" backup with - for example, a soaring solo in the same key - is what really makes the song.

There would seem to be a major element of jazz/experiment behind this: classic pop, it's not.
Unless the song becomes a (popular) hit.

So ... How to work in the role of a basic bass line that moves around, but is limited to a single note/<chord> and is part of a major hit?
A bit of a quandary. But it's been done. More than once. Aretha's "Chain of Fools" is one such.

Here's another: kind of the epitome of making the most of what (little) you got: a single chord.
But it works perfectly well. Makes me wonder if the Doors didn't do something similar?

Creedence Clearwater/Run Through the Jungle

Monday, May 13, 2019

Base/Bass: Overusing "The Base"

When I read the theme announcement the other day, I thought, how about writing something that discusses how overused the phrase "the base" is in political discussions.  You know, how commentators are always saying that "Trump is playing to his base" or "The Democrats are pandering to their base."

And then I remembered that I already wrote that, back in February, at my personal blog, Another Old Guy.  Yes, I'm not afraid to shamelessly cross-promote.  And if you click on this link, you can read the piece there, and also find out what J. David's real name is.

I promise to write something original at some point during the run of this theme, and I promise that it won't be about bass fishing, Lance Bass, or BASE jumping.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Well I made a right pig's ear of that, didn't I? Did all my jiggery-pokery and pressed send, only to realise buddies KKafa and J.David had already put out on that day. So I pulled back in for an edit/revision, aka delaying tactics.  48 hours grace and re-press send. And it's in the same bloody place........... More complicated than it looks, this blogging, innit?

So, mis amigos, amends necessitates (yet) another toothsome foursome for your delectations.

The late, great Gregg Allman probably needs little introduction here. Indeed, it wasn't so long I was bemoaning his passing, and I still find myself reaching back into his back catalogue, and that of the he and his sibling entitled band, when in need of spiritual succour. Like me, do you find there is little more uplifting than a slice of melancholia? Strange but true. This song, 'Rolling Stone', is from his later days, having put the band on another temporary hold, and finding himself back in the critical good books, the days of his "disgrace" long distant. (Did you see where I pulled that link from, btw. Hold that thought.) The voice still as searching a beacon as when I first encountered him, back in ages ago, this LP, 'Low Country', as memorable as 1973's 'Laid Back'. The song a plaintive lament, most of his are, to the plight of a man, left by a woman, for a change she being the rolling stone. Obligatory THE Rolling Stones reference, erstwhile alumnus in the Allman Brothers Band, Chuck Leavell has been main keyboards man for the Stones since 1982.

Well, that thought from above didn't need holding that long, did it? I am surprised this theme hasn't yet overtly picked up on the onetime de rigeur bible of the counter-culture, but time to remedy that. It is funny to think that Dr Hook, later doyens of a smooth cocktail cowboy kitsch, were, at the time of this song, about as raggedy-assed hippie country redneck longhairs as you could find. I don't think they ever actually did make, as the song is called, 'The Cover of the Rolling Stone'. But, OMG, I loved them and their songs, often penned, as was this, by the 'Playboy' cartoonist Shel Silverstein. Here's a BBC TV appearance they did at their dumbest. And that's good dumbest. Dennis LaCorriere, their more usual singer, is still on the road, billed often as Dr Hook, his eye-patched side-kick Ray Sawyer and he having fallen out aeons ago, and whom is, anyway, now deceased, with a tour this summer to celebrate 50 years since 'Sylvia's Mother'. I am thinking of going. (Or was: get well soon, Dennis.) RS reference: How many times were the Rolling Stones on the cover of Rolling Stone? Who better to tell?

Brother Jack McDuff, alleluia, now there is one righteous dude we don't seem to hear enough of. Prominent in the more soulful area of bebop, with the hammond organ his instrument of choice, he would have fitted into the later acid-jazz scene of the 90s like a silk sock in an alligator-hide and cuban-heeled chelsea boot. Indeed, George Benson, who, with similar jazz leanings, arguably and eventually did, was given his first break with McDuff. I have always revelled in the sound of the hammond; Emerson, Lake and Palmer were my first love, my brother in law then tipping me off to the delights of Jimmy Smith. But McDuff seemed more effortless than either of these titans, and is one to whom I return more often. Any RS link here has proved more problematic than I thought, assuming any number of crossovers in covered material, not necessarily the whole band, but within Keith's many and varied works on the side. But, by leaving no stone unturned (groan!), here's a song done by McDuff, a Ray Charles standard also covered by Bill Wyman project, Willie & the Poor Boys.


Finally, one you most certainly may have missed, unless you traipse through the less worn corridors of niche musical combos. One might be the Alabama 3, rightly revered for this, their claim to fame with Tony Soprano and his mob. But, into near 25 years of existence, not only have they never stopped performing and putting out new material, so there has been time for the odd side-project. O'Connell and Love is one such, featuring Larry Love aka Rob Spragg aka Robert Love, their elegantly wasted frontman, in a (slightly) more laidback guise, alongside Brendan O'Connell, a longtime friend, with whom Love's nominally earlier solo album had also been written. Think beer-soaked saloons and  maudlin whisky bars, punters alternately weeping into drinks and dancing on tables.  Sharing a title with the quite different piece in the companion to this post, 'Love is Like a Rolling Stone' just says it how it is. The title's enough. A RS link? Forgive the contrivance, but, if we invoke up again the voice of Alabama, I am sure 3 of the featured stories would be enough to spike some interest.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Stone that Roll/Rock: Santana - Stone Flower

purchase [Stone Flower]

Maybe "Stones That Rock" instead of "Stones That Roll"?
I mean .. get up and dance (when the rhythm really kicks in).

I had more or less forgotten about Santana's Caravanserai album until I started digging for <Stones that Roll> songs. And then I kept mis-spelling Kervanseray as I wrote - and should have known better. Modern Turkish, my home-turf, still includes in its [govt sanctioned dictionary] kervan (travelling group) and saray (palace) in its vocab.
My loss for forgetting about Santana: this album includes so much that could be played over and over again. (The grooves of which album I wore down to their nubs back in '73 or so.) IMHO Santana, especially Santana before about 1980, could be played on auto-repeat. Even today. Caravanserai might well be the best of their work.

Although 1972 doesn't "seem like yesterday" any longer, Santana's music from '72 is no less viable today. <Stone Flower> is actually pretty standard Santana from that era: a loose jazzy progression that builds up over time and then explodes into full song.

Wikipedia notes that the album was a major departure from the band's previous style: I'm not sure I agree. Seems to me like a natural expansion from where they were: maybe a little more salsa and jazz, but that was already their apparent trajectory. But also the same era that the man was associating with Mahavishnu John... Hmm....

Then again, the intro to <Stone Flower> IS rather prolonged.

The song itself is actually an Antonio Carlos Jobim piece. And that album, from a few years before the Santana version, includes names I haven't seen in a few decades: Ron Carter, Airto Moreira. (And I once had an extensive ECM record label collection of 33RPMs, but there's reasons I haven't seen the names beyond the years between.)

Lee Ritenour's version, below, much more jazzy:

Monday, May 6, 2019

Stones that Roll: Papa Was a Rolling Stone

purchase [ Papa Was a Rolling Stone]

I guess it's no surprise that there are more versions of this song than you can shake a stick at: it first came out about 60 years ago, so that gives us a few years for cover versions to appear.

The original date is '71-'72, but I would have put it a bit earlier, mostly based on the style: it's not a major advance in musical style, like ...say .. <Songs in the Key of Life> was 4 year later. It's considered to be in the "classical" style.

Originally a Motown hit for a group called Undisputed Truth (bonus points to you if you ever heard of them), better known is the version from the Temptations, but there are many more to choose <the best> from.

The story of the lyrics is one that crops up from time to time in the news: the family without a father - or a father who rolls in and out of the picture- but left his family with little more than vague memories.

Me? I'm going to vote for the Rare Earth version, above.

But, included in the list of viable versions:

Avicii interpretation (above)

Temptations version above

Undisputed Truth version (check out how the sounds "scroll" left to right - a relatively new sound innovation at that time (CF: Jimi Hendrix)


It seems apt that in the week the new Richard Curtis/Danny Boyle film arrived, to continue this thread in the same vein. So, just as 'Yesterday' imagines a world bereft of the Beatles, Curtis himself imagining a world denied 'Goodnight Sweetheart', this post studiously attempts to ignore any band with a name referenced in the title. (It fails.) Instead I offer a toothsome foursome of songs you may not have heard, although I suspect the writer of at least one of them may be passing a sly nod toward the band of that name. (Indeed, I understand the full title of the last track, added in parentheses, was Try a Family Man Instead. Or maybe it didn't.)

Yep, a bit of scottish folk music, 'Like Another Rolling Stone', albeit by one of the finest exponents thereof, the mighty Ceolbeg, most active in the final two decades of the last century. Roughly translated from the gaelic, Ceolbeg means small music, something they never knowingly produced, the name being more to emphasise the more gentle aspects of the scottish musical lineage, with fewer full on reels and jigs, and more songs, using bagpipes for texture rather than naked assault. In this song, it is the scots lowland pipes that provide the main counterpoint to the gorgeous vocal of the late Davy Steele. (For whom, on his death, this glorious tribute was written, by Kate Rusby.) Whether the stone in the lyric was Mick seems unlikely, it seeming more in line with the Dylan song, but it is still a doozy. In Scotland a pint of Mick is what you might ask for in a pub, rhyming slang for lager, Jagger rhyming with lager if you have a glaswegian accent.

Y'know, shut your eyes and try and imagine this sung by a group of Sarf Lahndon white boys, holed up in a chateau somewhere in France and, yes? It works, doesn't it. The Pointer Sisters really had a way with rock songs, somehow making them still sound intrinsically motown, if with more attitude. This song, 'Love is Like a Rolling Stone', comes from the 2009 re-release of their breakthrough album, 1978's 'Energy', the song originally penned/played by Brian Cadd's Bootleg Band. (No, me, neither.) I am not sure I would want love to be like Charlie, would you, but, wait a minute, take stock: solid, steady, reliable. Not so shabby, actually.

'The Lord Loves a Rolling Stone' sings Spooner Oldham on this glorious Muscle Shoals production, a track from his only solo record, from 1972. And you would think he would know, even if I can't find any evidence of his having ever played with, you know, the band I can't mention, but he does play on this, on their guitarists last solo record. Present on as many classics as you could or can ever imagine, his  talents continue to grace many a more modern band seeking gravitas and credibility, like the Drive-By Truckers, who also, incidentally, play that song. Here's a great synopsis of his worth, played out in an interview I dug up.

By contrast, the wild-tonsilled erstwhile singer for Family, Roger Chapman, gives some probably sound advice, 'Never Love a Rolling Stone', advice many a mother may have given her daughters in the 60's. And 70's. And 80s etc. The lyric here, ostensibly about a carney on the fairs, suggests that advice was not neglected here, except perhaps in a purely physical way. Which, perhaps, is how he earlier came to be singing this song, after Family but before his solo years, in the Chapman-Whitney Streetwalkers. Having so far contrived references above to Mick, Keef and Charlie, all I can muster is that both Chappo and Ronnie Wood have names beginning with R.

Never. (OK, it isn't, but the link is sort of linked.....)

Stones That Roll: Rocks Off

Rolling Stones: Rocks Off

Of all of the Rolling Stones songs out there (and eventually, we had to get to them on this theme, amirite?), I chose this one for a few reasons. First, because of the title, which gives me a double dip at the theme, second, because I happened to hear it on the radio the other day, third, because it is a kick ass song, fourth, because my favorite Rolling Stones lineup included Mick Taylor, and finally, because a horn section makes any song better.

“Rocks Off” is the opening track from Exile on Main Street, an album many consider the Stones’ best work, although apparently Mick Jagger doesn’t agree. The album was recorded mostly in a villa in the south of France in 1971 (with some songs and overdubs recorded later in Los Angeles), and the recording process was notoriously chaotic, as a result of significant indulgences in bad habits and a corresponding lack of diligence on the part of all involved. Thousands of pounds of heroin reportedly made their way to the villa each week, and because of rampant absenteeism, many songs were recorded with session musicians or people playing different instruments than usual.

Whether by intention or not, “Rocks Off” is the perfect opening track for an album that was born from the Stones’ darkest behavior. It rocks like crazy, is terribly recorded, sounds murky, has vocal and instrumental parts that sort of meander in and out of the mix, is sexually suggestive, but also filled with dread and ennui, and it includes one of the great lyrics of all time—and one that seemed to exactly typify the state of mind of the band at the time: “the sunshine bores the daylights out of me.”

Most people don’t live the “rock and roll lifestyle,” and that is probably a good thing. Most of us live pretty conventional lives—we go to school, go to work, raise a family, whatever. Obviously, that’s not true about everyone, and most of us have had our periods of less than stellar behavior, but I think it is fair to say that the levels of debauchery that the Rolling Stones engaged in during the late 60s into the 70s is well beyond the levels that most people experience (or survive). And that is, probably, the reason why we mythologize the substance abusers, the hotel destroyers, the sexual experimenters, and the other outlaws of rock and roll, despite the fact that much of their behavior is, on its face, unworthy of such treatment. I find it hard to imagine, for example, any parent saying to a child, “here’s a guitar and some heroin, and if you work hard at both, someday, you might be as great as Keith Richards.” But we do lionize these performers not only because many of them create the music that we love (although some are just horrible), but also because of the vicarious thrills we get from them. Like why riding a roller coaster is so much fun—you get the excitement of danger, without the actual danger (for the most part).

Would I like to have spent months in a villa in the south of France recording an album with the Rolling Stones? Sure, although lacking any actual musical talent, I’m not sure why I’d be there. But would I have liked to spend the time drugged, debauched, frustrated and exhausted? Definitely not. But am I glad that the Stones, their sidemen, and crew did, so that I could listen to Exile on Main Street? You’re damn right I am.

Thursday, May 2, 2019


Of course I love the Stones. And I could wax lyrical about them forever, having remained, largely, a fan, through hip, happening and happened, back again into the same cycle, repeated every decade or so. But, it being not so long after Easter, and that stone having been rolled, and to celebrate that they too are still on the road, likewise down to a hardcore trio, plus latecomers, there is always room for Mott.
Ian Hunter is 80 in June, another good reason to celebrate this surprisingly long lived band. With a charismatic stage presence, he has always been one of the more memorable front men in rock music. The band possibly better thought of a series as bands as, irrespective of surprisingly few line up-changes, there were three distinct stages.

Stage 1 was a solid meat and potatoes rock band, unafraid to embrace soul and country influences, blessed with a singer adept at channeling a Dylanesque vibe and vocal to proceedings. However, being a cult underdog favourite did not make for massive sales, their 2nd and 3rd records failing to make much inroad, arguably as they became progressively less electric and more acoustic. It wasn't working, even in the never more credible Island records roster.

Luckily, one David Jones, better known as David Bowie, was a fan of their chutzpah, offering them a song, 'Suffragette City'. That I would have loved to hear, but they turned him down: 'not good enough'(!!) Undeterred he sent a second, immediately gaining them a massive, and deserved hit. And a massive change in style. From long-haired hippies, whilst keeping the hair, they became Gods of Glam, all bacofoil, feathers and tinsel. I can't say I cared for the image, preferring also the older songs, Dudes excepted, but, hell, it was just great to see one of 'my' bands on Top of the Pops. Link to the earlier muse, guitarist Mick Ralphs, jumped ship as this success took hold, leaving in 1973, although he is playing on the later released featured song of this post. The irony might be that nothing more of him was ever heard again, but the band he left to join was Bad Company, playing, arguably, a stripped down version of the Mott part 1 template, doing rather well therewith. Bizarrely, his replacement, Ariel Bender, not his real name, was of similar blues-rock stock, as Luther Grosvenor, ex of Spooky Tooth, transforming himself into and for the designated image.

The hits couldn't last forever, and didn't. In truth, Mott were unlikely popstars, and both too old and too ugly to cut the drift of glam to disco. Erstwhile Bowie guitar-slinger Mick Ronson took over briefly, as Bender/Grosvenor left, ahead of the band formally calling it quits. Ronson and Hunter took up the mantle, a pairing from heaven, Ronson producing many of Hunter's run of solo albums, playing guitar and, on the road, frequently billed as the Hunter-Ronson band.

(I never 'got' this song, 'Cleveland Rocks', above, querying why and how two lads from Oswestry and Hull, respectively, could and would be singing about a city that I still have no idea as to where the f it is. I later learnt it was written as England Rocks, the name change being to endear more with US audiences, with whom they were huge. The lyrics fit better with England, IMHO, but I would say that, wouldn't I?)

Phase three for Mott was reunion time, of which there have been a few, 2009, 2013 and 2018 onward.  The first two of these concentrated on the original line up, as in their 1972 song, 'Ballad of Mott the Hoople'. Therefore not necessarily the more successful glam rock model, but certainly of more appeal to the die-hard fans. Partly in recognition of the tolls of time and age on that quintet, not to say their fanbase, the more recent line-ups have been more a reprise of the later years, more keyboard focussed, courtesy the dapper charms of Morgan Fisher, and bringing back Bender. Billed as Mott the Hoople 74, they have just recently been to a town near you. Including, yes, Cleveland. (OK, the clip below isn't Ohio, but looks to be Hunter, Bender, Fisher.)

Happy birthday, Ian. And it might be time to dig out again his epistle to the life on the road lifestyle of nearly half a century ago, 'Diary of a Rock 'n' Roll Star'. Well worth a read.

Get stoned!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Stones That Roll: Landslide

Fleetwood Mac: Landslide

What has gotten into you, J. David, you may be asking. When we see your name on a SMM post, we can usually expect an alt-country song, maybe some old prog, or a new wave/power pop tune. Or something about TV or the Mets. But lately, we’ve had Miles Davis, William DeVaughn, and a couple of fake pop bands.

And now, Fleetwood Mac.

And not even the cool, bluesy Fleetwood Mac that never gets played on the radio (except, occasionally for “Oh Well” and maybe the original “Black Magic Woman” or “Sentimental Lady,” if the DJ is showing off).

Not even the experimental Fleetwood Mac that recorded “Tusk” (which I love).

But instead,“Landslide,” the Stevie Nicks tune that was a moderate hit from the band’s first album with Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.  Who are you, and what have you done to J. David?

Look, I chose the song because it fits the theme, and avoids the obvious (although I expect to get to those guys next), but it is actually one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. I’ll admit that the Fleetwood Mac album, and Rumours, are great albums (and I love the song “Tusk,” if not the album so much), but I don’t go out of my way to listen to them. To me, they exist in a world of good music that has just been overplayed, and usually, I’d just rather listen to something else.

Not surprisingly, the song is rooted in Nicks and Buckingham’s relationship, at a time when their professional and personal lives were not going well, she was living in the Rockies, and the landslide metaphor related to everything that was crashing down on her. A month or so ago, Angela Hughey wrote an excellent “Five Good Covers” piece about the song at Cover Me, and she is a fine writer, so just go here and read it after you finish my piece, if you want to learn more about the song, and hear five good covers of it. There’s also a “Best Fleetwood Mac Covers Ever” piece over there from a year ago, in which I wrote about covers of other Mac songs, but Seuras Og (who, like me writes both here and there), acknowledged his own attraction to “Landslide,” and posted yet another cover. So read that, too.

Monday, April 29, 2019

What?! What Is It About Men

purchase [ Frank]

A last minute entry for the What?! theme from Amy Winehouse ... It was set for scheduling but didnt work as planned.

Where, who & what ... Winehouse could have been in another life?

The song is - she once said-  about her parents' breakup when she was ~ 10. It's worth considering the longer term effects, n'est-ce pas? ...

Compare the lyrics of my previous [ Beatles] post --- and they're miles apart. The '60 Beatles repeat and repeat. Winehouse evolves a story.

You might learn some Spanish in the clip above by following along below:
[updated edit: my bad - that's not Spanish is it?!?  I ought to know better - Portuguese]

Understand, once he was a family man
So surely I would never, ever go through it first hand
Emulate all the shit my mother hated
I can't help but demonstrate my Freudian fate
My alibi for taking your guy
History repeats itself, it fails to die
And animal aggression is my downfall
I don't care 'bout what you got, I want it all
It's bricked up in my head, it's shoved under my bed
And I question myself again, "What is it about men?"
My destructive side has grown a mile wide
And I question myself again, "What is it about men? What is it about men?"
I'm nurturing, I just wanna do my thing
And I'll take the wrong man as naturally as I sing
And I'll save my tears for uncovering my fears
Our behavioral patters that stick over the years
 I beg you to look at how Winehouse wraps the lyrics around the music in a way that few ever could. You wouldn't think that words and notes would roll that way, but she makes it possible through her emotionally timed pauses/delays.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

What?! What Goes On

purchase [What Goes On ... ]

Aaah .. the Beatles. Or is it Ahhh ... the Beatles (How does one convey the proper inflection online?)
I confess: I will be a Beatles fan forever. Older stuff, later stuff ... they had the magic.
Sure ... their music is kind of basic, but basic/less can be more (if you get it right)
The lyrics for this ditty (a lot of their early stuff was one-step-removed from ditties) are typically repetitive:

What goes on in your heart?
What goes on in your mind?
You are tearing me apart
When you treat me so unkind
What goes on in your mind?

I think they were the first "band" I ever heard. Rather innocently. Probably hard not to have heard of them at that point in time - but I was maybe 10, so it didn't mean an awful lot. Certainly not as much as it means now with a deeper perspective.

And then, about 15-20 years ago, I happened across the freely distributed Beatles Ukelele project. Which sadly turned not-so-free after a few years. And which I have brought up here before.
I think I also recently brought up the fact that I once appeared on stage with a short-lived ensemble called the Beatless. (Sorry: those were VHS days - me, far left in shorts)

Monday, April 22, 2019

What?!: So What

Miles Davis: So What

I’m pretty sure that I’ve lamented here at some point that I’m not a musician, and don’t really have the knowledge or vocabulary to analyze music, which is why most of my writing about music is some combination of historical discussion, memories tied to the music and personal opinions about what I like and what I don’t like. For someone who purports to opine about music for an audience, it is a real flaw, but as you can see, from the nearly 100 pieces that I’ve written here, plus the ones elsewhere, I haven’t let this stop me.

So, when I read that Miles Davis’ album, 1959’s Kind of Blue was important because it showed Davis was moving from hard bop to a modal approach, I’m really not sure what that means. But, I know what I like, and the music on Kind of Blue is incredible, even if I can’t really explain why. The fact that it is, by many accounts, the greatest selling jazz album of all time, and to some, the greatest jazz album of all time, tells me that I’m not the only one who likes it. Plus, I’m willing to bet that most of the purchasers couldn’t explain the difference between hard bop and modal.

The first song on the album, “So What,” may well be Davis’ most well-known song (although there appears to be some thinking that Gil Evans wrote the introduction). The title reportedly came from actor Dennis Hopper’s response to Davis’ intellectual musings.

The playing by Davis and the other members of his sextet, a veritable Jazz Hall of Fame consisting of saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, is amazing. But let me quote someone who knows what he is talking about, Richard Cook, author of It’s About That Time: Miles Davis On and Off Record and former editor of Jazz Review:

The mystery of the piece is its air of elusive, almost secretive possibility. One feels that the solos could go anywhere, could follow any path, could drift on without stopping, and not feel ‘wrong’. It is a definition piece of jazz, if one identifies that music as something played by intuition and living on its instincts. For once, there seems to be no contrast in the solos played by Davis, Coltrane and Adderley: they move seamlessly together, as if each man were playing his part in a predetermined plan. Evans’s accompaniments are handsomely shaded, although one has to strain to follow him: the ear is drawn irresistibly to the horns and what they are saying. On his own solo, which features some surprisingly dissonant voicings that he plays on the bridge, the horns riff behind him. In the end, the music drifts back towards Chambers and his ostinato melody, Jimmy Cobb ticking impassively at his ride cymbal, Evans playing the so-what tag, and the entire piece fading away into silence.

Interestingly, when they played the song live, they played it faster, which I think detracts from some of that mystery, but does show off the musicians’ chops.

By the time I saw Miles Davis, in 1985, he had long passed the point that his music had the kind of influence that it had back when Kind of Blue was released, and for some time after. But he was playing to large crowds, including at the Pier on Manhattan’s West Side where I saw him (with Stanley Jordan, just a few years out of college at that point, opening). What I remember most about that concert (other than being amazed that Stanley was opening for Miles Davis), was that Davis’ band was incredible, that he spent much of the show playing with his back to the audience, and that occasionally, his playing was pretty remarkable.

Saturday, April 20, 2019


And so I move, seamlessly, from one Soft Machine alumnus to another, from Robert Wyatt to Kevin Ayers, together the rhythm section in the original line-up. Kevin is no longer with us, my buddy J.David penning some words at the time of his demise, but he is a fella that gave me great teenaged pleasure, with his uber-cool image, his prog credentials, so important to me at that time, but mainly, through his gloriously quirky and quixotic songs, often exhilaratingly bonkers, as indeed is this. Duck call percussion?

I came to Ayers a little behind the loop, via the teenage prodigy he had earlier hired on bass for his band, The Whole Wide World, one Mike Oldfield. Soft Machine were too clever and a bit old for me, but Tubular Bells was a sensation for me, upon its 1973 release, introducing me to any number of connections, as I perused the back story and looked at the names of his address book, mustered together for the live performances. Whilst I don't think Ayers was involved in the latter, I was particularly taken with his peculiarly english style of singing, espousing the usual transatlantic twang, then and now still so prevalent. It reminded me of another very english vocalist, early Pink Floyd focal piece and front man, Syd Barrett, exemplarised in this later solo track.

What I didn't know was that 'O Wot a Dream' was actually about Barrett, and that, after Barrett's lysergic exit from Pink Floyd, the two actually performed together on the above clip, 'Singing a Song in the Morning (Religious Experience)', the compelling guitar calisthenic being performed by Barrett, I have to say somewhat against the myth around his having entirely lost it. Still, the record company still saw fit to cut the end coda from the original cut, it taking until a re-release for it to see light of day. In this brief interview, a looking seriously out of it Ayers mentions the relationship at the very end of the clip, about 5.25.

As arguably an ill-fitting tribute to both, here is a poor quality recording of a less than 100% Ayers performing 'O Wot a Dream' at a 2007 Syd Barrett memorial concert. I think I probably prefer the duck call on the studio version to the jaw's harp. Finally, in case any might wonder, why the spelling, wy the wot, if you will? Personally I think this just adds to the overall anglocentricism of the song, but, who knows, maybe it was to avoid any confusion with this.

Wy not?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What?!: What Are Their Names

purchase [If Only I Could Remember My Name]

Wikipedia tells us that Crosby's 1971 first solo album <If Only I Could Remember My Name> was selected for the Vatican's top pop 10 albums of all time list. What? David Crosby? The Vatican?
Said Crosby: It baffles me as much as it baffles you, man.

If Only I Could Remember My Name came on the heels of Deja Vu and was Crosby's solo album that coincided with the solo albums from each of the rest of CSNY.

The album seems rather raw to me. Others have labeled it as experimental. That is certainly true of this piece: the lyrics don't even kick in until the song is more or less finished, and up until that point, we listen to what I would call a rather wandering guitar. Very much <a la Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead>. No surprise then to learn that Garcia helped to arrange and produce the album.

A news article in a recent Guardian noted that 1 percent of Brits own virtually all the land in the country. Although Crosby was probably more focused on the US, this song rifs on that theme.
What are their names? What do they care about you? About the state of the world beyond their wealth?  What does their "charity" mean for the future of the planet (like rebuilding Notre Dame)?

The entire lyrics aren't long and the "choir" singing it includes most of the Airplane, the Dead, Joni Mitchell and CSNY

I wonder who they are
The men who really run this land
And I wonder why they run it
With such a thoughtless hand
What are their names
And on what streets do they live
I'd like to ride right over
This afternoon and give
Them a piece of my mind
About peace for mankind
Peace is not an awful lot to ask

What?!: Be Thankful For What You Got

William DeVaughn: Be Thankful For What You Got

Sometimes, when there’s a theme with almost limitless possibilities, the best course is to jump on the first song that jumps into your head. If that were the case here, I’d be writing about The Buzzcocks’ “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life.” But I’m not (yet, at least). My second thought was “(What’s So Funny) ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding,” since I heard Nick Lowe sing that live the other day. But I have already written about that song in detail at Cover Me. (Did you know that Cover Me has a Patreon site? Check it out!)

Scrolling through the official J. David iTunes library (yes, I still have one. And an email address. Proves I’m an early adopter), I came across a bunch of possibilities, but stopped cold when I came to “Be Thankful For What You Got.” You know, that great, smooth, 1970s soul song, with the memorable line, “Diamond in the back / sunroof top / digging the scene with a gangster lean," sung by….by….Curtis Mayfield? Nope. The singer is William DeVaughn, who wrote the song, originally as “A Cadillac Don’t Come Easy,” while working full-time as a government draftsman.  Luckily, he changed the title, or I couldn’t be writing about it here.

DeVaughn took the song to Omega Sound in Philadelphia, maybe a step above a vanity studio, and paid $900 of his own hard-earned money to record it. Omega Sound, however, had connections with members of the MFSB group of studio musicians, who backed up many great acts, including Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the O’Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners, Wilson Pickett, and Billy Paul, and had hits on their own, notably “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia).” MFSB sax player John Davis liked the song, suggested a jazzy, smooth, soulful arrangement, booked Sigma Sound Studios and enlisted some of his fellow MFSB members to play on the track.

What they created was something truly special, a song that became a huge crossover hit, and which has been covered, referenced and sampled by artists as diverse as Parliament-Funkadelic, N.W.A., Rumer, Gabor Szabo, Arthur Lee and Love, Rihanna and Massive Attack.

DeVaughn, a Jehovah’s Witness, had a couple of minor hits after “Be Thankful,” but appears to have not fully committed to a music career. Which is a shame, because he has a great voice, and could really write a song.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


I absolutely loathe this song. Or at least in the iteration it is best known, the version that ruined weeks and weeks and weeks of my childhood, spoiling my Top of the Pops viewing by being number one forever, or seeming to be. Louis bloody Armstrong, gurning away to the camera, all grimaces and duff notes, perpetually mopping his brow. How could anyone sweat that much? And as for the "woahhhhh yeaaaaaah" at the end. Dreadful, and still able to bring me out in hives. Now, don't get me wrong, I was probably about 10 years old, how was I to know that this buffoon was one of the seminal voices of jazz, albeit via a trumpet than his frayed vocal cords? I know all that now and respect the dude but still cannot allow myself much to like him. (And don't get me started on 'Hello Dolly'........)

But you know, it isn't actually a bad song. Or at least is capable of being made into quite a good song. There have been very many covers, many of which are clearly tributes to the original and, broadly, unnecessary. Then there are the standard make-overs in the idiom of the day. And others that are just downright odd. As in, what were they thinking? (I think a look in the eyes of the performers might just answer that question.)

But here are trio that, I believe, pass muster.

You could say this is just another idiom of the day offering, but you will have to understand the amount of love I have for this venerable performer, the sadly late Rico Rodriguez. This pillar of reggae trombone delighted me for many of his decades of activity in music. I probably first came across him on, again, Top of the Pops, he always present, alongside sidekick Dick Cuthell, on flugelhorn, whenever the Specials had a song in the chart. I later understood he had been an original in the early days of ska and reggae, in Jamaica, associated with the Skatalites, ahead of becoming an occasional member of Georgie Fame's Blue Flames in the 60s. His latter days were spent as a focal member of Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, his solo spots always getting fond applause, even if eventually did little other than hold his trombone and sing a little. (Come to think of it, were I to witness, as a 10 year old, these performances, him as a grey bearded ancient, I wonder too whether I would have a similar opinion as I do now of Satchmo?)

Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John is a serious fan of Armstrong and his legacy, producing a whole album in tribute to him. And it is a corker, start to finish, all tempered with the loose N'Awlins swing for which Rebennack is rightly lauded. This version also featured the Blind Boys of Alabama, vocal staples of a gospel and r'n'b sensibility since the cusp of the 40s. Having started off as a session man, a member of the fabled Wrecking Crew, Dr John invented himself as voodoo shaman, the Night Tripper, in 1968. However, he has perhaps become now more associated as a custodian and standard bearer for the musical pot-pourri that is his home city, often working with other vintage names from the heritage of New Orleans. His live shows remain a thing of wonder.

Finally I offer the majesty that is the vocal of Robert Wyatt. I apologise for each of my three choices having grey and grizzled beards; such now is the territory of musical iconography. Wyatt is another with a long lineage harking back into the 60s, initially as the drummer for proto-jazz-proggers Soft Machine and then his own band, Matching Mole. Following a terrible accident, in which he broke his back, he has become an elder statesman of a politically-hued brand of often unclassifiable blends of jazz, latin and all else available, both on his own and in any number of collaborations. And the odd hit single. This version of the song is the closing track on a wonderful 3 hander, alongside saxman, Gilad Atzmon and violinist Ros Stephen. This distils all the kitsch out of Armstrong's version, leaving a lighter sweetness that doesn't cloy on repeated. I love it.


Monday, April 8, 2019

Fake Bands: Ming Tea


I’m not exactly sure why KKafa took offense at my characterization that The Monkees were a fake band—in fact, as I wrote, some would argue that they turned into a real band. And argue he did. It isn’t a bad argument—although initially The Monkees didn’t, for the most part, write their own music or play their own instruments, as time went on, they did do more of both.

But I’m writing about a band that sort of evolved in the opposite way—starting out as sort of a real band, then gaining fame because they were in a movie. When Mike Myers left Saturday Night Live he formed a band with Matthew Sweet and ex-Bangle Susanna Hoffs to play 60s style music, which they called Ming Tea, after a fake company from the 1965 Ursula Andress movie, The 10th Victim. They decided to perform under pseudonyms: Sweet as Sid Belvedere, Hoffs as Jillian Shagwell and Myers as Austin Powers. I think you can see where this is going.

Myers’ wife at that time was Robin Ruzan (whose mother, Linda Richman, was the inspiration for Myers’ “Coffee TalkSNL sketches, suggested that Myers write a film based on this new “Austin Powers” character. And thus was born Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Keeping things in the family, Myers asked Hoffs’ husband, Jay Roach (who had directed one movie at that point) to direct the film. This launched Roach’s career, as well as vaulting Myers’ into movie stardom.

Ming Tea appeared throughout the film, augmented by actor Stuart Johnson as Manny Stixman (on drums, of course) and songwriter Christopher Ward as Trevor Aigburth, the lead guitarist. And they played “BBC” over the closing credits. The band performed on some talk shows to promote the film, and in the second sequel, Austin Powers in Goldmember, they performed “Daddy Wasn’t There.”

There appears to be some evidence on the interwebs of some later gigs, but no video. Sweet and Hoffs went on to do a series of cover albums together, among other things, and there are rumors of another Austin Powers sequel, so we may get another serving of Ming Tea. And that would certainly be groovy.

Saturday, April 6, 2019


It is becoming clear to me that there is a Roxy Music connection to all fake bands. Or at least the ones I am choosing. See if you can guess what it is with this band, who despite being made of felt, foam and cloth, sustained a number of hits through the 1970s, and a brief comeback in the late 90's, from which time the above clip is from.

At the time, of course, I thought it all tawdry nonsense, coming latterly, only now, to a sort of grudging respect. OK, the lyric will never win a Nobel prize and the tune, well, the less said the better. To this day, the writer and musical arranger, Mike Batt, has had to live with the derision this work has brought him, despite a long and illustrious career with songs and artists you will know. And some that will surprise. Did you know, for instance, that he signed grizzled blues-rockers The Groundhogs, producing also their first LP?

With skills mainly in the arrangements, of brass and strings, added to embellish more simplistic fare, he became an in demand name by the shrewd move of writing the theme tune to the TV series based about the mythical litter cleaning Wombles, who lived underground at Wimbledon Common, based upon the childrens books of Elizabeth Beresford. Instead of a flat fee, he asked instead for the musical rights to the characters, with the subsequent ker-ching of 8 hit singles and four gold albums.

Producing venerable folk-rockers Steeleye Span came next, arguably making their name with his retexturing of their sound, a move which appalled their die-hard fans, yet gave a huge boost to their finances, with a top ten hit record. I still loathe it, the arrangement seemingly one and the same as used for the Wombles.

As I write I realise upon quite how shaky the ground my 'respect' for Batt might be, but a soft spot does remain for his next project, the Art Garfunkel sung 'Bright Eyes', from the original animated version of 'Watership Down'. Thank goodness this wasn't ruined by tacky ching-kaching guitar riffing, but I bet there is somewhere a version in the vaults.....

Space (hooray) forbids me a further blow by blow, of how he discovered Katie Melua, how he orchestrated Justin Hayward, how he wrote innumerable projects with and for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and so on. But it is to space I return, as, astonishingly, last year saw a most unexpected coupling, an album and tour with Hawkwind, as they orchestrated their back catalogue to celebrate 50 years of their being space-rock gypsies of the counter-culture.

So, were the Wombles his serial high point or his low water mark? Arguably both. Or neither. But, far more important, what's the Roxy link? Right then, scroll back up to the top clip, the Wombles,  wombling free on Top of the Pops. See the one, Wellington, that is, with the flying V guitar? That's Chris Spedding, guitar for hire and session man extraordinaire, a latter day guitarist with the 2001 reformed version of Roxy Music, staying on to be the current guitar foil for Bryan Ferry. And still with the same guitar.

Remember you're a Womble!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Fake Bands: The Monkees

purchase [I'm a Believer ]

Despite what J. David says about the Monkees (or maybe in spite of what he says), they appeared to me as a real band. I had at least one of their albums. Actually, I had to do some searching to recall which one it was that I spent my allowance on, and it appears to have been not just one, but the first two albums! Aw, come one now- one hit from each: <Last Train to Clarksville> and <I'm a Believer>. Great Pop. For those days.

It must have been PR/chart appearances that did it for me. At that time, my musical selection was "guided" by AM radio hits - and that they had. I didn't have no older brother to set me straight, and - I confess - it appealed to some part of my adolescent psyche. We are talking late-mid 60s here and I was all of about 12 year old. The ideal demographic for their output.

It wasn't until a few years later, when someone more informed than myself shared Crawdaddy magazine with me, and I began to get a sense of the music industry's perfidies. The Monkees were a joke. That made money off of pre-teen dupes like myself. And they weren't the only industry that followed this curve by any means.

That said, we need to expose the fake-ness:
The Monkees were very real to me in 1967:  hey ... top of the charts is real enough. Seems it wasn't as real underneath- what was presented to the public:
Time magazine said> The Monkees are about as real as a fake band can get.

Fact is, it blew up: they really wanted to be real.

Again, as Time says > it’s hard to tell where the actors ended and the real band began.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


So it is just me then. Again. Rock Follies? TV show, in the 70s? It was shown stateside, I gather, possibly late at night, probably on PBS, but that wasn't, obviously, where I saw it. I was in my mid to late teens when this first appeared, a series set in the somewhat seamy setting of 70s London, following the aspirations of 3 women and their vainglorious journey towards rock stardom. Or not. Catnip to me, of course, embarking on my infatuation with music and the inkies, and featuring slinky and sultry women, together with the talents of Roxy Music sax and oboe meister, Andy Mackay.

If I am honest it was a better idea than a reality, the storyline somewhat predictable, the songs never quite good enough, maybe too broadly based for a true believer, pitched perhaps a bit lower to sustain the more casual viewer and to not frighten their possibly more civilian musical tastes. But it was there, and there wasn't much else of this ilk around. There was even a second series, rather more surreal and exotic, albeit no little kiboshed by a TV strike that took most shows off air for a while, the momentum lost as it returned. I also seem to recall some parental criticism as to it being 'unsuitable' viewing, missing entirely the exact reasons I may have been tuning in, but that's another tale.

What of the cast and after? The three leads, Rula Lenska, Charlotte Cornwell and Julie Covington, had mixed success. Despite the LPs from each series doing very well, an instant UK number one album for the first, only Covington was ever really much of a singer. Indeed, some may call the controversy later, when having provided the singing for the original recordings of 'Evita', by the time it opened in London on stage, she had been replaced by Elaine Paige, itself clearly long before Madge took the part in the film. This was not through her being in any way the worse singer, much, much better to my ears, but, in my suspicion, that she was a somewhat spiky figure, as compared to the altogether mumsier persona of Paige, who was, by coincidence, I am sure, the long time mistress of lyricist Tim Rice. (I should point out I have learnt subsequently that Covington actually turned down the stage role.) As well as continuing an acting career, Covington also made a fabulous LP, helmed by and featuring Richard Thompson, with the Island records folk-rock mafia of the day producing most of the backing musicianship. As well as an exemplary version of Thompson's '(I Want to See the) Bright Lights Tonight', this also included the UK hit single version of 'Only Women Bleed', surely the oddest and most atypical song written by Alice Cooper.

Cornwell never really seemed to make much headway thereafter, now more famous for being the half-sibling of spy author, John LeCarre. Meanwhile, Lenska, aside from shampoo adverts, settled into a career of providing exotic eastern european eye-candy into any number of british TV shows, arguably fitting as a descendant of Polish royalty.

I hesitate toward pointing toward either of the records, one from each series, but, nonetheless, if you are feeling brave, look further below...... Far better you come right up to date with Andy Mackay, a man seemingly never finding a niche outwith his time within the two periods of Roxy Music. In fact, he has produced a fair body of music aside and apart from that band, if none making any huge impact. But last year saw an ambitious project, '3 Psalms', come to fruition, an amalgam of his many influences, but notably drawing on his classical training and religious leanings; in 1991 he graduated as a Bachelor in Divinity. A setting of three biblical psalms, and an interlude, featuring orchestration, choirs, electronica and rock instrumentation, one track (one psalm) with erstwhile Roxy buddy Phil Manzanera on distinctive guitar, I can recommend it.

If you must.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Fake Bands: The Wonders

The Wonders: That Thing You Do
[purchase the film’s extended cut in which it seems that Hanks’ character might be gay]
[purchase the soundtrack]

I’ve written about, or at least mentioned, a bunch of fake bands, including The Archies, The Monkees (which some would argue turned into a real band), The Commitments, Spinal Tap, The Blues Brothers, and The Rutles. But never The Wonders.

In 1996, Tom Hanks was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He had recently done A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump (a move that I found to be overrated and uncomfortable to watch), and Apollo 13. And many of these roles won him Oscars, Golden Globes and other awards. But Hanks, like many actors, it seems, wanted to write and direct a film. While doing the lengthy publicity tour for Forrest Gump, Hanks became tired of talking about himself, and banged out a screenplay in 30 days, which 20th Century Fox agreed to produce it as long as Hanks agreed to star in it (which he did, as a record company executive).

Hanks, who had a love for early 60s music (particularly the Dave Clark Five, who he inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame That is Missing Many Great Acts and Includes Some Terrible Ones), wrote a story about a 60s band’s rise and fall, and even wrote much of the music for the soundtrack. The film, That Thing You Do! was filled with then-unknown actors, many of whom later became stars, including, in rough order of future fame, Charlize Theron, Liv Tyler, Tom Everett Scott, Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry and Johnathon Schaech (and many of Hanks’ family and friends in smaller roles or cameos). And it was a charming, fun movie that was well received by both critics and the general public.

But one song that Hanks did not write was the title track, “That Thing You Do” (without the exclamation point). It was written by Adam Schlesinger, who wrote it at roughly the same time as his band, Fountains of Wayne, was working on its great debut album. Schlesinger (who I just found out is a cousin of Jon Bernthal, TV’s “The Punisher”) had just gotten his first publishing deal, and someone from the company told him that there was a call out for a song that would sound like something that an American band in 1964 would write, after being blown away by the Beatles. Schlesinger, who considered it a writing exercise, wrote a bouncy pop song, and recorded a demo, with Mike Viola, of The Candy Butchers, singing lead vocals because, as Schlesinger later stated, “He’s just a much better singer than me.” He got the gig.

In the film, “That Thing You Do” is originally a ballad, but when the band’s new drummer joins, he plays the song faster, and it becomes a hit. In the movie, the song hits #7, and the liner notes to the soundtrack album state that it peaked at #2. But, spoiler alert, the band breaks up before any more of their songs become hits. The real world also liked “That Thing You Do.” It had moderate chart success in the United States and overseas. Schlesinger was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe for the song, losing out to a tear-jerker from Evita sung by Madonna.

The version of the song that appeared in the film was not played by the actors, who nevertheless learned to play their instruments so that it looked convincing, but instead was a re-recorded version of the demo. In 2017 three of the four actors got together and performed the song live—missing was Steve Zahn, who was the lead guitarist and who was replaced by someone else wearing a Zahn mask.  Ethan Embry, who played the bass player, and in a running gag, was never named (and whose character was listed in the credits as "T.B. Player), did perform.

Remarkably, the song has been covered a number of times, including by another Beatles’ influenced band, The Knack (although it failed to make my piece on their covers), and by ‘NSYNC.

Friday, March 29, 2019


So another non-australian, eh? Well, at least I'm consistent and, asked to bet on it, most familiar with the name will assume his nationality as australian, predominantly as his most active service has been with long-running Oz jangle-meisters, the Church. But he has had a long and varied outside his tenure with this still active band. (Indeed, I had toyed with they being the theme for this piece, but I felt some variety might be of wider interest, plus I had recently had to kick myself for missing a rare recent low-key solo gig by the man himself.)

The Church would be the place to start, by now a near Sydney, NSW, institution, since their formation in 1980. Briefly a 3-piece, Willson-Piper chanced upon them playing in a bar, he having recently arrived in the country, promptly inviting himself/being invited aboard, remaining a constant for 33 years. An unashamed guitar band, riding the crest of new-wave, but with a host of other influences bursting through, evolving constantly. I always saw them as a cross between the Byrds and Television, nothing shabby about either band, with gradual neo-psychedelic shades creeping in, echoes of Paisley Park both stylistically and sonically.

                                                   'Under the Milky Way'/The Church

There were always tensions within the band, notably between W-P and the other guitarist, main singer and songwriter, de-facto leader, Steve Kilbey, with minor flounces and prolonged hiatuses from and of  the band regularly taking place, during which other projects were avidly pursued. With getting on for 20 records released in the years he was with the band, it is difficult which best to commend, it possibly being best to start with any of several greatest hits packages. However, a different approach might be to pick up 2005s 'El Momento Descuidado', billed as an acoustic album,  mix of new and re-visited. His guitar play is  electric therein, even minus the electricity. In 2007 he left the band, relocating to Sweden, where he still resides.

During a couple of prolonged lay-offs from the Church, W-P became involved with UK folk-goths, 'All About Eve', as a replacement for their original guitarist, staying for their 3rd and 4th records, and al later re-union tour.

                                                        'Hide Child'/All About Eve

Solo work has often been in collaboration with long-term associate Andy 'Dare' Mason, as Noctorum, 4 albums appearing under that name. No transformation here into techno or C&W, the ambience is still of well-structured guitar based songs, emphasising the full use of the capabilities of a guitar, from melodic leads to high in the mix picking and strumming.

                                                  'Picadilly Circus in the Rain'/Noctorum

In between all of this, he has popped up in all manner of guises, often as a cameo role or even uncredited. This has included work with Aimee Mann, Tom Verlaine, 'Wedding Present'-er Dave Gedge and, a compulsory mention, given this fortnight's theme, aussie punk veterans, the Saints. Currently he is involved with swedish prog band, Anekdoten, still finding time to tour with his wife, the show I missed. Apparently it was a corker. Here's some footage from the actual gig, playing an old Church number, his wife, Olivia, on violin.

For further background, here is a fabulous recent interview. I also felt some readers may be interested in his crate-digging enthusiasm, he, as well as playing on all manner of records, collects the damn things to.......


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Australia: Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons/Hit and Run

Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons: Hit and Run

When I saw the album, Screaming Targets by Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons described by the WPRB reviewer as being from the “Australian Graham Parker,” I was certainly intrigued. I had become a huge Parker fan after the release of Squeezing Out Sparks, and used my access to the record library in the basement of Holder Hall to investigate his back catalogue. And the reviewer wasn’t wrong—there was a definite Parkeresque feel to Screaming Targets, whose songs included the rock, blues, soul and reggae influences that were all included in Parker’s work. “Hit and Run,” is a fun tune with a reggae feel, and my other favorite from the album, “Only The Lonely Heart,” is more of a straightforward rocker.

Of course, calling someone the Australian Graham Parker is unfair both to Joe Camilleri and Parker—both are unique artists with individual sounds. I remember how much fun David Letterman (him, again) had bringing performers on his show that were, say, the Elvis Presley of Uruguay, or the Frank Sinatra of Hungary (I’m making those up—I can’t find the real ones online), and while they certainly were reminiscent of whoever they were supposed to sound like, it did sort of diminish their own talent.

But Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons was a fine band in their own right. Formed in 1975 in Melbourne as Jo Jo Zep and His Little Helpers to record a cover of the Chuck Berry holiday classic, “Run Rudolph Run,” it took its name from Camilleri’s Maltese-derived nickname. The band began gigging, cycled through members and renamed itself before releasing their first single in 1976, sung not by Camilleri, but by then-guitarist Wayne Burt. After releasing their debut, Burt left, and the band focused more on R&B and blues music. By their third album, released in 1978, they had achieved popularity in Australia, as well as fans overseas, such as Parker and Elvis Costello, who covered the band’s “So Young.”

Screaming Targets, the band’s first U.S. release, spawned a world tour, but apparently, it led to tensions among the members. After another album, which was pretty good, but not as good as Screaming Targets, was unsuccessful, the band began to break up, and the “Falcons” name was jettisoned. A move to include salsa music in Jo Jo Zep’s sound led to “Taxi Mary,” a hit in Australia, a few more releases, and the end, before a reformation in 2003 and the occasional one-off performance.

Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2007. Were they a great band? I don’t really know, because my familiarity with them is really limited to two albums, one of which was excellent, but I don’t really think so. But as Camilleri stated in an interview before the induction, "I'm chuffed. I think the Falcons did play a part in the Australian music explosion ... I'm happy it's been acknowledged. The Falcons were a band out of time. What we played wasn't what was being played. It was an R&B/reggae sound in the time of flares and funk and pop music. Somehow we slotted in."