Archive for the ‘pop’ Category

Hundred Word Reviews for August 2014, Part 3

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Five new releases are the focus of this clutch of hundred-word reviews.


Analog Son – Analog Son
The name might conjure mental visions of a synthesizer outfit, but the sounds that this duo-plus-friends (guitarist Jordan Linit and Josh Fairman on bass) produces is some fresh and uptempo funk. Seven of the ten tracks are instrumentals that satisfy on multiple levels: there’s plenty of hot soloing and musical interplay, but both groove and melody are deftly woven into the mix. The studio guest list includes members of The New Mastersounds and Dumpstaphunk among others, but Analog Son never sounds like a jam. Linit wrote or co-wrote all the tunes, and was involved in the horn arrangements as well.


Wishone Ash – Blue Horizon
Wishbone Ash are one of those hard-working second-string bands who never quite hit the big time. Enjoying some chart success in the early 1970s, the band has gone through myriad lineups – both John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia, UK) and Trevor Bolder (David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars) have passed through the band’s ranks. Today only Andy Powell (guitarist on the group’s more than two dozen albums) remains. The group’s sound is radio-ready, making their lack of high profile success more perplexing. Fans of melodic meat’n'potatoes rock with hooks, appealing vocals and twin lead guitars shouldn’t let Blue Horizon go unheard.


Focus – Golden Oldies
On one hand, it’s mystifying that a band that’s been around forever would record new versions of their best material: aren’t the originals still available? (Yes.) Do the arrangements differ wildly from those originals? (No.) But considering that the 2014 lineup of Focus features only two members of the classic lineup – leader and multi-instrumentalist Thijs van Leer and drummer Pierre van der Linden – it makes some sense to show that a band now fitted with a pair of young axemen can still play the intricate, jazzy, loopy prog that has always been the band’s trademark. Surprisingly, refreshingly fun.


The Bamboo Trading Company – From Kitty Hawk to Surf City
A breezy, laid back and highly polished sound reminiscent of early 70s Beach Boys is the chosen style of this aggregation. And in fact Beach Boys connections abound on this song cycle about a cross-country biplane journey: Matt Jardine (son of Al) is one of the vocalists; Mark Linett mastered the recording; Randell Kirsch and Gary Griffin used to back Jan & Dean. And Dean Torrence himself guests on the so-odd-you-gotta-hear “Shrewd Awakening.” The production and arrangements are intricate but not overly fussy, reminiscent of that other former Beach Boy, the one who had a sandbox in his living room.


Marshall Crenshaw – Red Wine
The fourth in Crenshaw’s excellent series of EP releases follows the same format as the previous three. As his website succinctly describes it, Red Wine “features a new song (‘Red Wine’), a cover (James McMurtry’s ‘Right Here Now’), and a new take on an old Marshall classic (‘Hey Delilah’).” The title track features a spare arrangement in support of Crenshaw’s characteristically evocative vocals. The reverb on those vocals here and there will transport listeners back to Crenshaw’s self-titled 1982 debut. Electric sitar on “Right Here Now” is a delight; the stripped-down reading of early 90s “Hey Delilah” is ace too.

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Hundred Word Reviews for August 2014, Part 2

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Today’s set of five 100-word capsule reviews looks at recently-reissued, previously-unreleased, and/or compilation albums.


How to Stuff a Wild Bikini: Original Stereo Soundtrack
What we have here, in my estimation, is a fascinating and extremely well-written essay that happens to include a CD. How to Stuff a Wild Bikini is not anyone’s idea of great cinema, but the 1965 American International Pictures release has its period charms. This record – originally released on The Kingsmen‘s Wand label – is the only soundtrack LP from the string of Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello vehicles. Tom Pickles‘ liner notes put the soundtrack into perspective and context, explaining the musical contributions of The Kingsmen, Lu Ann Sims, Harvey Lembeck(!) and Mickey Rooney(!!). Skip the film, dig the soundtrack.


Spanky and Our Gang – The Complete Mercury Singles
Often thought of in the same category as The Mama’s and The Papa’s, this group, fronted by vocalist Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane, had deeper roots in a sort of Tin Pan Alley style. This collection presents 21 songs in their original punchier-than-stereo monaural mixes. The group’s hit “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” – a tune that rivals any single of the era for its transcendent mix of melodrama and shimmering vocal arrangement – is here, but many of the other tunes are nearly as good. Of special note is the group’s cover of The Beatles‘ “And Your Bird Can Sing.”


Billy Thermal – Billy Thermal
This band, led by Billy Steinberg, cut an LP in 1980 full of uptempo, nominally new-wave tunes. For various reasons, the disc went unreleased at the time, but the tapes served their purposes as songwriter’s demos: Steinberg’s “How Do I Make You” would be a hit for Pat Benatar Linda Ronstadt, and brought the man’s talents to the attention of The Bangles, Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Houston, Madonna, etc., all of whom would score hits with his songs. This collection includes bonus tracks, but the whole package – now rescued from obscurity by Omnivore Recordings – can be thought of as a bonus.


Stick Against Stone – Live: The Oregon Bootleg Tapes
At first hearing, this Pittsburgh group sounds like they’re from a provincial city (perhaps Leeds?) in working class, Thatcher-era England. Truth is, the era is the only detail that’s correct: this 1985 live set – long thought lost but recently discovered – sounds like a cross between Gang of Four, the two-tone ska movement, and Living Colour. Any written description of their complex sound will fall short, but I hear angular funk with plenty of assured polyrhythmic percussion, rubbery bass, and saxophone backing the Lene Lovich-sounding vocals of Sari Morninghawk. A modified lineup of the band (SASO) still performs today.


Buddy Rich – The Solos
The idea of a compilation of live concert drum solos might strike some as a surefire way to a headache, or at least folly. But when the drummer in question is the legendary Buddy Rich, the idea makes some kind of sense. Endlessly inventive and always swinging, the man with a bad haircut and a worse temper may have been sixty years old when these tapes were made, but what you’ll hear sounds like a man half his age. Power, finesse and humor can all be found in Rich’s solos. Background music for a cocktail party? Perhaps not. Essential? Indeed.

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Hundred Word Reviews for August 2014, Part 1

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Some familiar names and some true obscurities are highlighted in this, the first of five sets of five capsule reviews. This week I’ll review 25 albums, arbitrarily limiting myself to exactly one hundred words each.


Gene Rains – Far Away Lands: The Exotic Music of Gene Rains
Exotica – that early 60s genre featuring wide-panned stereo, vibes, “jungle” percussion and all manner of whoops, bird calls and such – was a big seller; the genre’s two primary exponents were Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. The lesser-known Gene Rains cut three albums that are in the same league; all are long out of print and rare. This new compilation from Real Gone Music collects the best from those LPs, and adds an excellent new liner note essay from Randy Poe (and a lovely cheesecake cover featuring MeduSirena). This disc should be considered essential for fans of the genre.


Pete Seeger – Sing Out America! The Best of Pete Seeger
There seem to have been at least sixty compilations that have attempted to provide some sort of overview to the musical legacy of folk master and American treasure Pete Seeger. Some are long out of print; other remain available. Well, here’s another one. Sing Out America! features fifty tracks, variously credited to The Almanac Singers (an aggregation that also included Woody Guthrie), The Weavers, and Seeger solo. One can’t assail the quality of the music herein, but lack of liner notes and/or discographical info (recording date?) means that this set is a great listen, but unsatisfying as a historical document.


Peggy Lipton – The Complete Ode Recordings
Those of a certain age remember Peggy Lipton as a star of TV’s The Mod Squad (“One black, one white…one blonde!”). But they may well be surprised to learn Lipton had a recording career. And unlike some artists-turned-singers (see: Clint Eastwood), the recordings Lipton released on her self-titled 1968 LP and a handful of later singles show her to be a commanding vocalist. The nineteen tasteful Lou Adler-produced sides (including four previously-unreleased songs) owe a lot to the Laura Nyro school. Lipton composed a number of the tunes, and they hold up nicely alongside readings of classics like “Stoney End.”


Eric Clapton – Behind the Sun
Some insist that Eric Clapton should have hung up his guitar after 1970′s Layla and Assorted Other Love Songs. Clapton didn’t often rock very hard after that (the brief Cream reunion notwithstanding). This 1985 album – newly reissued on SACD – has its rocking moments, though it more often veers toward breezy, easy listening. Behind the Sun is easily identified as a product of its era: Simmons drum sounds abound; prominent synthesizer sounds are equally dated. In places it’s reminiscent of Roger Waters‘ 1984 The Pro and Cons of Hitchhiking (on which Clapton played). Not bad, but definitely not great.


Various Artists – Chicago Bound: Chess Blues, R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll
England-based Fantastic Voyage has carved an excellent niche in the world of compilation albums. Their thoughtful collections have provided tidy surveys of long-lost music, more often than not from the USA. The legendary Chess label was home to a staggering list of classic artists, and this 3CD set brings together some of the best sides from artists including Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters. It also highlights the work of lesser-known acts including J. B. Lenoir (“Eisenhower Blues”) and Bobby Saxton (“Trying to Make a Living”). Chicago Bound is up to Fantastic Voyage’s typical high level of quality.

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Album Review: NRBQ — Brass Tacks

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

NRBQ are one of America’s great musical treasures. Though they’ve never enjoyed the sort of commercial success of, say, a Creedence Clearwater Revival or The Band, the catalog of this band formed in 1967 is filled with riches that draw from all manner of musical forms. Listeners are as likely to hear shades of cajun swamp pop as they are hints of pianist Terry Adams‘ hero Sun Ra. And though the lineup of NRBQ has changed significantly from the old days (only leader Adams remains from the original lineup), the group’s signature approach to music remains intact.

Wry lyrics are the highlight of many NRBQ tunes, and “Greetings From Delaware” on Brass Tacks, the group’s latest, continues that tradition. Like all the tunes on the disc, “Greetings” sounds as if it was recorded live in the studio. There’s a loose-limbed feel that never feels about to fall apart; it’s the kind of aesthetic that results from a band touring and playing together for a long time, road-testing the tunes and honing them to sharpness before ever setting foot in a studio.

Adams’ assured and stylistically varied piano playing is often the centerpiece of the musical arrangements, but the rest of the band (guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Casey McDonough, and Conrad Choucron on drums) all shine. Adams’ “Sit in My Lap” feels like a distant cousin to John Lennon‘s “(Just Like”) Starting Over,” minus the retro trappings. McDonald’s “Fightin’ Back” has a pop-country vibe (the good kind), and this lineup of NRBQ gains strength from its drawing upon the songwriting talents of three members.

NRBQ’s approach has always been modest and unassuming; the band’s music doesn’t reach out and grab listeners; instead the tunes are warm, welcoming and inviting: it’s up to to the listener whether to come in or not. The song titles alone give a tidy overview of the concerns dealt with on Brass Tacks: “It’ll Be Alight,” “Love This Love We Got,” and a knowing reading of the Great American Songbook classic “Getting to Know You.” Adams’ harmonica on “I’d Like to Know” sounds and feels like an accordion, and his piano on “Places Far Away” – the disc’s most outré number – sounds as if it’s informed equally by Randy Newman and Sun Ra. “Can’t Wait to Kiss” You” is a delightful singalong in a classic pop vein, and features a brief, ear-candy guitar solo.

Brass Tacks isn’t likely to catapult the band into mega-stardom, but for fans of the band’s friendly and intimate aesthetic, it’s a joy to hear that the band is busy and as vital as ever.

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Hundred-word Reviews July 2014, Part Five

Friday, July 25th, 2014

All this week, I’ve been working to reduce the contents of my in-box to manageable levels; these are the last five of 25 albums in that effort, each review adhering to a 100-word limit. Don’t mistake brevity for a negative review; these are all worthwhile releases.

Today’s five – all reissues – are all over the map stylewise.

Mike Keneally & Beer for Dolphins – Sluggo!
Mike Keneally shares a rather unique quality with fellow Frank Zappa alum with Adrian Belew: the ability to straddle two camps: angular, progressive rock and catchy, hook-filled rock. Nowhere is that ability more on display than on Keneally’s 1997 album Sluggo! Reissued after being out of print for more than a decade, Sluggo! is perhaps the one album that prog fans can play for their ostensibly prog-hating friends. This reissue offers an improved, Keneally-approved remix, plus a second (DVD) disc featuring the album in all sorts of hi-res formats, plus yet another DVD with a bunch of related audiovisual goodies.

The Bats – Volume 1
There was a time when (cough) some people thought that Kiwi rock was going to be the Next big Thing™. Despite the fact that few New Zealand bands wormed their way into global pop consciousness, they left behind some lovely music that drew from the tuneful end of rock’s spectrum. And one of the most enduring of all the acts in that category is Christchurch-based quintet The Bats. Their 1987 debut Daddy’s Highway has been compiled with 1990′s The Law of Things and Compiletely Bats (itself a compilation of the band’s first three EPs), yielding this splendid tidy 3CD set.

Gary Windo – Steam Radio Tapes
I had seen Windo’s name on albums by The Psychedelic Furs and Todd Rundgren, but I had never heard any of the music released under his own name. Playing tenor sax, alto sax and bass clarinet, Windo’s solo material bears a passing resemblance to the sole album made by one of his associates, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. On the posthumous compilation, he’s joined by a long list of heavy friends including Julie Tippets (neé Driscoll), Soft Machine‘s Hugh Hopper, 801‘s Bill MacCormick, and Mason himself. Those artists are a good signpost indicating what this delightfully eclectic set sounds like.

Gary Windo – Dogface
Along with the above title, a reissue of this 1982 album has been part of Gonzo Multimedia’s campaign of interesting, previously-overlooked releases. This is an (instrumental) concept album: each track features a different lineup with its own fanciful moniker (Gary and the Woofs, Gary and the K9s…you get the idea) playing primarily instrumental tunes with related titles (“Guard Duty,” “The Husky”). The guys from the then-current lineup of NRBQ back up Windo on three tunes. Some tracks are one-chord workouts laying the groundwork for Windo’s impressive soloing (“Puppy Kisses”). The trebly, lo-fi production values detract from an otherwise splendid album.

Ned Doheny – Separate Oceans
Numero Group has a well-deserved reputation for digging deeper than your average cratedigger in search of material for release. Ned Doheny isn’t a name you’re likely to recognize, despite the fact that he recorded and released a half dozen albums between 1973 and 1993. Part of the California singer/songwriter mafia (The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt et. al.), Doheny never achieved success on a par with any of his mega-famous pals. This new collection draws from his catalog, imbued with a sort of discofied cocaine cowboy vibe that calls to mind a hybrid of Stephen Bishop and “Lowdown”-era Boz Scaggs.

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Hundred-word Reviews July 2014, Part One

Monday, July 21st, 2014

I’m bound and determined to reduce the contents of my in-box to manageable levels, so this week I’ll be covering 25 albums, each adhering to a 100-word limit. Don’t mistake brevity for a negative review; these are all worthwhile releases.

Today’s five – all new releases – are all more or less pop (in its classical definition) releases.

Jamie & Steve – Circling
This duo (half of The Spongetones) have maintained a regular schedule of EP releases of late. On Circling, the pair sound decidedly liberated from The Spongetones’ trademark sound, though the hooks, power and vocal harmonies are happily present in abundance. All six tracks on this disc are delightful, but the edge goes to the title track, with its breathtaking vocal arrangement and detailed (though never fussy) arrangement. Steve Stoeckel and Jamie Hoover have quite a way with a melody, and the vaguely Merseybeat-ish “You” and the closer “Wonder Girl” will leave listeners waiting for the next EP. Shouldn’t be long.

Neil Finn – Dizzy Heights
From Split Enz through Crowded House and his string of solo albums, Neil Finn has demonstrated an uncanny ability to craft enduring melodies. But his solo work – while excellent – somehow sounds less immediate than his other music; the songs often require multiple spins to sink in. That’s truer than ever on Dizzy Heights; the soft-focus arrangements bury the melodies a bit deep. On first listen, I was wholly disappointed in the album, but on subsequent spins I appreciated the groove on tracks like “Flying in the Face of Love.” Finn remains in a league with Lennon and McCartney.

Dan Wilson – Love Without Fear
As a key member of the grievously under-appreciated Trip Shakespeare and the more successful Semisonic, Dan Wilson proved the skill with which he could sing, play and compose. And if that weren’t enough, he penned three tracks on Adele‘s massively popular 21 album. On Love Without Fear, Wilson heads in quite the low-key direction. His radio-ready voice soars above arrangements that owe more to pop-country production values than anything he’s done previously. Fans of his earlier music may have to adjust their thinking a bit, but this collection might just bridge the gap between critical success and unit-shifting commercial triumph.

Various – I Saved Latin! A Tribute to Wes Anderson
Now, Wes Anderson isn’t a songwriter. What he is – besides a successful and idiosyncratic filmmaker – is a keen fan of great music. His films unfailingly make effective use of great, left-field tunes, working them into the narrative. This 2CD collection includes knowing covers of classic (but not overexposed) tunes by twenty-three hip/current artists. The originals all figured in Anderson’s films, and I Saved Latin!‘s bouquet of song originally recorded by The Who, Love, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bobby Fuller and others is a delight; the tracks manage to sound fresh and new. This album is highly recommended.

Rotary Downs – Traces
This New Orleans outfit creates music that is hypnotic, catchy and alluring. They prefer to be thought of as “psychedelic art-pop,” but putting them in that bag might chase away listeners who would appreciate their strong and hooky songwriting. Their driving yet generally midtempo tunes make extensive use of synthesizers, but they do so in a way that never feels “synthy” or over-processed. You’ll find plenty of real guitar, bass and drums, too. For once, I don’t hear any clear antecedent in a band’s music, but Rotary Downs’ feel (though not their actual sound) isn’t miles away from The Church.

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part Five / conclusion)

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Continued from Part Four

Bill Kopp: You first rose to fame as a cast member on Where the Action Is. Can you tell me how you got that gig?

Keith Allison: At the time, I was playing with The Crickets, as their guitarist. But when in town, I did all the Boyce and Hart demos at Screen Gems. Sometimes they’d go in at ten in the morning, and they’d cut Joe Osborne on guitars, and various people on drums. And they switched around: sometimes James Burton and myself on guitars. They’d get whoever they could, for whatever the song needed. And Bobby Hart would often play keyboards.

Back then, we’d make ten dollars a song. Three songs was thirty bucks. But thirty was the difference between finishing paying your rent and buying some groceries. So they owed me, like, forty dollars, as I had done four songs the week before. This was April or May of 1965. And I needed to pay my damn rent, or I was gonna get evicted. So I went to Screen Gems, and told Lester Sill – the director of Screen Gems on the west coast – that I needed him to cut me a check. And he said, “ I can’t sign a check unless Boyce or Hart sign a voucher, approving it.” And I asked, “Well, where are they?” “Some television taping. A new show. They’re down at the Whisky-a-Go-Go.” He said, “Take this, go get it signed, bring it back, and I’ll cut you a check.”

So I went down to the Whisky and I saw all these film trucks. I walk in, and I look up. I see Dick Clark. The first time I’ve seen him in person. Dancers and such, too. I saw The Raiders on the staircase, and I said, “Hey, guys!” I already knew them. I had done a show with them in Honolulu, and I had run into them a time or two. I had known them for about a year. Not well, but kind of hi-how-are-you-guys.

Tommy Roe was about to sing “Everybody” onstage. And a stage manager said, “We need butts in seats!” So I sat down. One of the dancers, Joy [Ciro], saw me; I was wearing Levi’s and a Levi’s jacket, a yellow turtleneck, and I had a black leather cap on. And boots. A very sixties British-looking outfit. So Joy knew when the cameras would be on her. I was just clapping along and smiling. The camera did several shots of me, about four or five seconds each.

So after that I went off to Las Vegas with The Crickets, to Texas, playing at the Thunderbird Hotel for a month. Two or three shows a night. And I got this telegram from Dick Clark Productions. They needed me to come in on my day off; they had a prepaid ticket for me at the airport. They gave me the address to meet with the Executive Producer. I thought, “What the heck is this about?”

What had happened was, they got bags of fan mail after that show aired, with this kid with one of the dancers. “Who is that?” And they pulled in everybody they could, asking them who it was. Finally they pulled in the girls from the front office: receptionists, young girls. And one of them said, “Ah! That’s Keith Allison. He plays with The Crickets. They’re supposed to be in Las Vegas right now.” So that’s how they found me.

So I flew in on my day off, and went over to Rosalind Ross‘ house; she lived right behind the Dick Clark offices on Sunset Boulevard. I knocked on her door. She opened it, looked at me and said, “Oh my god! Can you start today? And you play guitar?” I said yes. “Can you dance?” I said, “A little.” She said, “Come on in! We have a guitar here. Would you play something?” So I played “Maybe Baby” and “Not Fade Away,” some Crickets songs.

She said, “Do you mind if we cut your hair?” I said, “What!?” My hair was kinda long and unruly; it wasn’t a proper haircut. They had a hairdresser already there, so they trimmed my hair. Then she said, “We need you at Will Rogers State Beach at seven o’clock tomorrow morning.” I said, “I have to fly back to Vegas tomorrow!” “We know what time your plane is; you’ll be out by noon.” So I started Where the Action Is that morning.

BK: That’s a Cinderella story!

KA: It’s like Lana Turner at Schwab’s Drugstore. So I showed up that day wearing the same outfit: the yellow turtleneck and all. They’d show The Raiders playing, and then they’d cut to me, running down the beach with about 50 to 75 girls screaming and chasing me. They did those teaser shots for weeks, so people would say, “Who is that?” They’d build this thing up; that’s how they presented me.

BK: That’s pretty shrewd marketing.

KA: Then finally one day they’d say, “Well, you’ve been seeing this guy, and now he’s joining our Where the Action Is family. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Keith Allison!” and I said, “Thank you, Dick.” The first song I sang on camera was “When Will I Be Loved” by the Everly Brothers.

But after that first episode, I flew back to Vegas to The Crickets. And my cousin Jerry Allison asked me, “So what happened?” Because he already knew about Rosalind Ross. He knew her from back in the Buddy Holly days when she was an agent with Premier Talent in New York.

“They asked me to join this television show,” I told him. He said, “Really!” So I went back to Los Angeles, and was working on Where the Action Is full time. And then [DCP] didn’t want me playing with The Crickets any more. I kinda felt bad about that. Because I liked playing with them, and my leaving left them hung up, briefly.

BK: I almost didn’t ask you that question. And I am so glad that I did.

Keith Allison’s In Action: The Complete Columbia Side Plus! is available on Real Gone Music.

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part Four)

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

continued from Part Three

Bill Kopp: A guy I vaguely know put together some unauthorized DVDs of It’s Happening episodes. He sent me copies and I reviewed them. The next day he got a cease-and-desist order from Dick Clark Productions!

Keith Allison: I just talked to the archivist over there [at DCP]. They contacted me; they’re talking about putting together a bunch of Where the Action Is stuff, and putting it out on DVD.

BK: They are finally thinking of doing that?

KA: Well, they contacted me a couple of years ago, and they came back and said it would cost so much money. But [this time] they said, “What if we didn’t use any of the stuff from the record company, but used the stuff that you guys recorded [at Armand Steiner's Sound Recorders]. Who owns that stuff?” I said, “Dick Clark Productions!” We were work-for-hire, and it was cut at Steiner’s or wherever. So all they’d need to do is get song clearances from the publishers.

BK: and that’s the stuff that all us hardcore fans really want! Because those tracks are the whole band – including Revere – playing live in the studio.

KA: Yeah. It’s The Raiders, and me. On guitar and/or piano. And Steve Alaimo and Linda Scott, the whole cast doing the “family numbers,” y’know.

Someone sent me a bunch of DVDs of kinescopes of Where the Action Is. And I was surprised that Steve and I did so many duets. We did medleys of Little Richard songs, and medleys of something else. One of the greatest cuts of all was all of us doing [the doowop arrangement of] “Blue Moon.” [sings the bom-ditty-bom part] We each took part of that part and drew it out; it was the funniest thing you ever heard.

When I joined the show, The Raiders – before they got so busy – would cut fourteen, sixteen songs in an afternoon. And there were no overdubs; it was two-track.

BK: that material is the Holy Grail for Raiders fans…

KA: Do you know that I had the tapes for all those tracks? In a storage place. And I lost it all. Every one of the damn quarter-inch playback tapes. I had every one of ‘em. It was a big box full of ‘em.

BK: When you say “lost…”

KA: The place was robbed, or flooded, or something. All my memorabilia. Amplifiers. Multi-track masters of Ringo and me at Tittenhurst. All kinds of stuff. But the biggest loss was every one of those tracks we cut for Where the Action Is. Evidently, whoever got all that stuff kept the stuff that looked like it was worth money: armoires and stuff. They probably looked at the box of tapes and thought, “Throw this shit out.” They probably had no idea what they had.

BK: One of your original tunes – in fact, the only original on the first release of In Action album – “Freeborn Man” went on to become something of a standard. I don’t know how many versions of it have been recorded…

KA: I don’t either. I’ll tell you, one time – I don’t know what year this would have been…must have been around 1970 – Johnny Cash had the TV show in Nashville. It was very successful. It was eclectic, and a highly watched show. Well, he went on tour with that, and he had The Oak Ridge Boys, Carl Perkins. Anyway, one might my sister called me from San Antonio: “Keith! You won’t believe this, but we went to see the Johnny Cash show. And Carl Perkins opened the show with ‘Freeborn Man’!” And then I found out that all the great bluegrass guys started cutting it.

When I did it, when we put on the vocals, Mark had come in to sing on it with me. After I was finished with that, I was moving on to background vocals for the album with Gary Usher and Glen Campbell. We did that on the all the songs I cut, with the exclusion of The Raiders things. Glen had shown up when we were still working on “Freeborn Man.” And he was in the control room. He said, “That’s a great song! Who wrote that?” I said, “We did.” He asked, “Would you guys send a tape over to Capitol?” So we ran off a quarter-inch tape of it. Then he cut it, and it was going to be his next single.

And then his producer said, “Y’know, I got this other song in. I want to cut this other song before we release ‘Freeborn Man,’ and see how it turns out.” and then they cut “Gentle on My Mind.”

BK: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, huh?

KA: Yeah! How many times can I tell you this kind of story? And every one of ‘em is true.

So he had it in the can. It wasn’t the single, but it ended up on an album. And then he had “By the time I Get to Phoenix.” But it’s on an album called A New Place in the Sun. It sold well over a million copies. And then The Outlaws cut it down in Georgia, and they sold well over a million copies.

BK: Junior Brown did a great version of it…

KA: Bill Monroe cut it. Jerry Lee Lewis cut it. Jimmy Martin cut the definitive bluegrass version of it. Dan Tyminski of Union Station does it; it’s fabulous. One night I was watching TV in bed in New York. I was channel surfing because my wife was already asleep. I ran across some show, a Pine Knob Theatre thing out of Lexington Kentucky. This song starts, and it’s the Rounder Records All-stars. It was Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, and Tony Rice. And they’re into the second verse before I realize. I was half asleep. I bolted straight up in bed and yelled, “Holy shit!” And I turned it way up. It blew me away.

BK: So I guess when you wrote it, you had absolutely no idea it was going to be a hit.

KA: It was well into a life of its own before I even heard about it. It’s kind of like Mike Stoller coming back from Europe, getting off the boat, and Jerry Leiber saying to him, “We’ve got to get to work. We’ve got a hit with ‘Hound Dog.’” And Stoller says, “’Hound Dog’ with Big Mama Thornton?” “No. It’s this kid, Elvis Presley!” “Who the hell is that?” “I don’t know. But the damn thing’s taking off!”

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part Three)

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: I ought to know the answer to this, but did any of your solo singles or the In Action album make a dent on the charts?

Keith Allison: They didn’t do much of anything. “Action Action” was what you’d call a turntable hit. The show [Where the Action Is] was on national television five days a week. So it got a lot of coverage. And I went out and did a tour right when it first came out, at the end of the summer of 1966. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and myself co-headlined a tour on the east coast. Lou Christie was on it, The Critters, Tony and the Tigers…several other acts. Lou was pretty popular at the time, and the Detroit Wheels had those two big hits in a row: “Jenny Take a Ride” and “Devil with a Blue Dress.”

Oh…and The Trashmen! Of “Surfin’ Bird” fame. They were the backup band. They backed me up. They had a trash can onstage, came out in overalls. I’d come onstage in my little stage outfit, and there’d be these garbage guys behind me! [laughs] The first day of the tour, we played Nassau Coliseum.

BK: The addition of bonus tracks on this new Real Gone Music collection (“Glitter and Gold,” “I Ain’t Blamin’ You,” “Look at Me,” “Who Do You Love,” “I Don’t Want Nobody But You,” “Birds of a Feather,” “To Know Her Is To Love Her,” “Johnny B. Goode/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Toad Jam Blues,” “Everybody,” and “Wednesday’s Child”) more than double the album’s run time. What’s the story behind these? Are some of them previously unreleased? And if so, when were they recorded in relation to the In Action tracks? And what was their original intended use?

KA: A couple of ‘em were unreleased. One of them has the wrong title [on the new CD]. It should be called “Shakin’ Johnny.” I told Mark [Lindsay], “ I want to cut two songs together like Mitch Ryder does. I love that stuff, and I want something really rockin’.” So we came up with “Johnny B. Goode” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” together. So we went and cut it; it was going to be my next single on Columbia. We were on the road; if I’m not mistaken, we were flying from Boston to Chicago. We got on the plane – Freddy [Weller] was sitting next to me – and Mark came and said to Freddy, “Can you change seats with me? I need to talk to Keith.” He had a long look on his face, and I went, “Uh-oh.”

He said, “I’m sorry. I’ve got some bad news. Before I left the hotel, I was talking to Columbia in New York. They’re not going to release your single.” I said, “What!?” I really liked the thing, and I thought it had a shot at the time. But they had just signed this kid from Texas called Johnny Winter, and he recorded “Johnny B. Goode.” And since they had paid $700,000 for him, Clive [Davis] wanted to get some of his money back. So I said, “Sonofabitch!” [laughs]

That kind of thing happened to me several times. I cut “To Know Her is To Love Her,” and was going to release it. Bobby Vinton cuts it and releases it, and he’s coming off of a number one record, “I Love How You Love Me.” So what can you do? I said, “Well, at least I know I can pick a hit song! It’s just that someone gets them out before I do.” I was so pissed…not at Bobby Vinton, but at the situation. And with Johnny Winter, the same thing. I mean, I like Johnny Winter. I’m really good friends with his brother, Edgar Winter. We go to dinner together; he doesn’t live too far from me.

But it had nothing to do with Johnny; it was a corporate thing, y’know? And I understand it: they did pay a lot of money for Johnny Winter.

BK: It’s almost as if The Raiders‘ curse rubbed off on you. They, of course, cut “Louie, Louie” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”

KA: But they just did “Steppin’ Stone” as an album cut…

And “Louie, Louie” they cut first, and it was number one in Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, and Honolulu. Years ago, when the radio stations in those cities did an oldies weekend, they played The Raiders’ version.

Roger Hart, their manager, took it in to Columbia. They were the very first rock act ever signed to Columbia. In those days, Columbia had Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, The Ray Conniff Singers. They didn’t know what the hell to do [with The Raiders]; the sales people, they hated that stuff. They lost the record! They could have had the hit! They’d say, “I’m not taking that stuff to the stations.” It wasn’t until The Raiders played “Steppin’ Out” at the record convention in Miami. They played for all the Columbia people, and no one knew how huge they were; kids had all watched Where the Action Is all summer long. They turned ‘em loose in that place, and the kids all started screaming and rushing the stage. After that, well hell, the salesmen and promotion people all went, “Holy shit!”

But that’s “corporate city.” They never knew what was going on. All the little independent labels, they were the ones who knew what was going on. The corporate labels would take one of their artists and cover [the indie release] and run ‘em out of business.

BK: A couple cuts (“Who Do You Love” b/w “Don’t Want Nobody But You”) were released on the Amy label in 1968. I am guessing that was right before you officially joined The Raiders, though I believe that you’ve told me before that you were playing on records during that time anyway. So why a single release on a smallish label in 1968?

KA: Amy was a subsidiary of Bell. That one was cut in Memphis; Chips Moman produced it. I hadn’t joined The Raiders yet; that was in the first part of March, 1968. Our road manager at the time was Jerry Williams, and he was from there. The Raiders had just cut Goin’ to Memphis. The r&b stuff. They used American Studios, and they used that whole band with The Memphis Horns.

BK: Except for the single off that LP, I don’t think there are any Raiders on the album, except Mark.

KA: No. They went there, though, and hung out. In fact I stayed in the same hotel.

So I was there, and Chips said, “Scoot him over.” I had left Columbia, and I had been working on a Sonny [Bono] album, a Cher album, and a Sonny and Cher album all in one year, in ’67, right after Where the Action Is went off the air. Sonny said, “You need to get off that label; they aren’t doing anything for you. I’ll get you on Atlantic.”

So [laughs] I broke my contract with Columbia, and I cut some stuff at Gold Star Studios with Sonny producing. And I listened back to those tapes and thought, “He doesn’t understand me, either! He doesn’t get it at all.” It was bizarre sounding. It never came out. It’s in the can somewhere, among the Sonny and Cher files.

So nothing happened with that, and I had left Columbia. So I was free. Then this came up. Chips said, “I think I can cut a hit with Keith.” So I spent a week in Memphis. The tunes he’d got, he had their staff writers bring. He brought ‘em in and said, “Okay, play Keith what you’ve got.” They had this song called “My Little Red Book,” and I thought, “No, that doesn’t suit me, I don’t think.” And that’s about all they had. I went, “Oh, god!”

So I went to the record store and started looking through the old records. And I came up with “Who Do You Love.” And I had written “Don’t Want Nobody But You,” that nobody had heard. So we cut those.

Then the next week after I had left town, after we had cut this stuff, B.J. Thomas goes in there and cuts “Hooked on a Feeling.” And The Boxtops cut “Cry Like a Baby.” So it was luck of the draw, what the writers had the week you came in. If I had come in a week later, they would have had those, and I would have said, “That great! I’ll take that!”

So after being in Memphis – it was cold as hell, must have snowed two feet while I was there – I flew to Detroit and started a tour with The Raiders. We played Cobo Hall, I think, and then started a 35-date early Spring tour. Then I went with Boyce and Hart to do the Seattle Teen Fair. While I was there, I got a call from Dick Clark Productions; they wanted me to come in immediately to co-host a show with Paul [Revere] and Mark [Lindsay] called It’s Happening.

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part Two)

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: You cut a couple singles with Mark Lindsay and Steve Alaimo as The Unknowns

Keith Allison: Mark and I, of course, were signed to other labels, so that’s what we had to do. We couldn’t put our names on the record. We cut those at Radio Recorders in Santa Monica.

BK: The second Unknowns single was “Tighter.” And I think that is the best version; I think it even beats the (first) official Paul Revere and the Raiders version by a bit.

KA: Y’know, we were working on an album years later; Mark said, “We need more songs! What are we gonna do?” I said, “Why don’t we re-cut ‘Gone Movin’ On’ and ‘Tighter’?” He said, “Yeah, let’s change it up.” So we did it again.

BK: You mention “Gone Movin’ On.” Several years ago when I interviewed Mark for the first time, I mentioned that there’s a really cool UK group version of it. The genre name didn’t exist at the time, but nowadays we’d call it freakbeat. It was by The Factory, the outfit that did “Path Through the Forest” that’s on Nuggets II: British Empire and Beyond. It’s an amazing version from 1968. Mark had never heard it; I sent him a copy.

KA: Really!? Here in Los Angeles we have a record store called Freakbeat. I bought a Raiders album there; it had Collage and Indian Reservation on one CD. An Australian import, I think. It was twenty, twenty-one bucks. I went up to the counter, and the guy looked at it, and he looked at me. And he said, “Are you on this?” I said, “Yeah. And it’s kinda sad when you gotta buy your own record.”

BK: Did he give you a discount?

KA: I don’t think so! [laughs] I also got a vinyl of Ringo‘s Y Not that I played on. I knew that they had made 10,000 units of it on vinyl; they had it in the store. I had seen it one other time; I went back and it was still there. So I thought, what the hell, and I bought it. I don’t even have a record player.

Well, a guy just gave me one recently, so I do have one. It’s one of those new ones where you can transfer to MP3, right into your phone or iPad. I was about to buy a [traditional] one, but he said, “Here! You need to have this.” I still haven’t plugged it in. I guess it works.

BK: It’s well known that you played on a number of Monkees recording dates. Are you on their version of “I Wanna Be Free,” one of the songs you cut as a solo artist? I know the Monkees recorded two very different versions of that song.

KA: No, I don’t think so. That’s Louie Sheton and Gerry McGee on that one. Y’know, some things I don’t know I played on, and some things I do know that I played on. I was surprised: they just did a reissue of The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees. I co-wrote “Annie’s Municipal Court” with Mike Nesmith. And I played guitar on it. And there were a bunch of cuts with Davy [Jones] and/or Micky [Dolenz], cuts that never were released before. And it listed me as playing guitar. “Oh my god!” I vaguely remember going to those dates in the studio with Davy, but I didn’t remember those songs at all. We cut ‘em, and they were gone; we never heard ‘em again. I was pleasantly surprised that I had played on that much of that album, though.

And I played on, uh, Circle…

BK: “Circle Sky”?! Wow…that’s one of their best tunes!

KA: Ah, good! [laughs] That was all cut around the same time as Birds. Nesmith was in the studio, and they were working on stuff, and that one ended up in the movie Head.

BK: On this new In Action collection, there’s a Columbia B-side called “Glitter and Gold.” It’s a really strong cut – unusually strong for a b-side – and I think an exemplar of what we now call “Sunshine Pop.”

KA: Terry Melcher found that one. He got Hal Blaine and, I think, Carol Kaye. I think.

BK: Well, if you’re not sure who played bass on a 60s pop track, say Carol Kaye, and you’ll probably be right.

KA: More often than not, I used Joe Osborne. I never ever hired Carol Kaye, although I did an awful lot of sessions with her. For Sonny and Cher; she was on a lot of sessions for them. Joe was a friend, and I got on with him. Not that there was anything wrong with Carol.

BK: And I believe you told me several years ago that he’s on bass on some later-period Raiders stuff as well…

KA: Yes, he is. Freddy [Weller] had moved back to Atlanta, and Smitty was up in Carmel, and so sometimes it was just Mark and me in town. Now, in the studio, when I was in the group, I nearly always played bass on everything. And guitars. But sometimes, I’d play guitar, Joe would play bass, and Jim Gordon would play drums. We got really tight as a unit. We’d set up in a circle, facing each other.

On [late-period Raiders singles] “Seaboard Line Boogie,” “Song Seller,” all that stuff. The basic tracks were cut with that trio. “Prince of Peace,” “The Shape I’m In.”

BK: The Raiders version of Laura Nyro‘s “Save the Country”?

KA: That’s me on bass. That’s on Collage, isn’t it?

BK: Yes.

KA: The way we used to record, when I joined The Raiders, we’d work on getting a drum sound. And Freddy and I would play acoustic guitars, facing each other. Close to the drums. We were playing as a trio: two guitars, drums. That’s it. We did it with headphones on. And if we needed it for reference, Mark would sing into a mic someplace just so we’d know where we were in the song.

Once that was locked in, Freddy and I would re-record the acoustics. Because they were drowned out by the drums. So then we had a real clean track of exactly the same thing: drums and acoustic guitars. And then I would put on bass. Then we would put on electric guitars. And then we would put on background vocals, and percussion.

And then Mark would put on his lead vocal at the end. So he had a full-on track to work with. He liked to do it by himself. Sometimes we would help him. But he liked singing with everything else done, so it was like doing a show.

Collage and the whole Hard and Heavy (With Marshmallow) albums were done exactly like that. It might be a bizarre-sounding way to do it, but it worked for us. Because if you’ve got it right with two acoustic guitars and drums, you have a track.

Sometimes we’d cut a track with me on bass, Freddy on guitar and Junior [Joe Corerro Jr.] on drums. I think The Raiders’ “Birds of a Feather” was cut that way. And a few others.

When I started recording, [laughs] you had to do everything live! It was mono. When I first started, it was 1959 or so. You’d be scared to death, because you had to get it right. I think Elvis did thirty-six, thirty-eight takes of “Hound Dog” before they got one they liked.

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