Archive for the ‘pop’ Category

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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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part One)

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Calling singer-songwriter-actor-musician Keith Allison a Zelig of rock music is a bit wide of the mark, but the Texas-born Allison does seem to have shown up at key points in the pop music scene of the 1960s. Originally a member of the post-Buddy Holly lineup of The Crickets, he went on to fame as a cast member of Where the Action Is, co-starring with Paul Revere and the Raiders. He’d play on a number of Raiders studio sessions, and would eventually become a key member of that group, while still doing plenty of session work for others. After his long tenure with The Raiders (1968-1975) ended, he went on to do more music work, and did more film and television acting. Recently he’s appeared on albums by his pal Ringo Starr, and he’s part of a regular gig with Waddy Wachtel in Los Angeles. One of his most notable recent appearances was joining the band at the Wild Honey benefit for autism; he did a cover of The Beatles‘ “Got to Get You Into My Life” with former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber.

Allison released one album back in his Where the Action Is days, the now-rare In Action. Real Gone Music recently reissued that eleven-song album on CD, appending it with a dozen bonus rare and/or unreleased cuts.

I had spoken to Allison before, a few years ago, in connection with a cover story I did on The Raiders for UK magazine Shindig! Then as now, I found him to have an amazing memory for details of the long-distant past, and he was open and engaging about it all. I proudly present this five-part conversation with Keith Allison – bk

Bill Kopp: Several of the cuts on the In Action album – “Louise” and “Good Thing,” in particular) feature the same backing tracks as The Raiders‘ versions, and I have a couple of questions about that. First, did you play on those sessions?

Keith Allison: On “Good Thing,” I put piano on that. A driving thing, a rhythm piano part. You can hear it. With a bunch of glisses [glassandi]. And I sang it. On “Louise…I might have put an electric rhythm guitar part on it. But basically, I didn’t change them much. They didn’t need much; perfect like they were. They’re a little different mix. I liked both the songs at that time, so I went with those. “Louise” was a single for me.

BK: Do you know if your versions or the Raiders ones were released first?

KA: The Raiders’ were. “Good Thing” had already been a hit, and “Louise” was an album cut. I was looking for something to pay homage to The Raiders; we were so close anyway. I talked to [Paul] Revere, and I said, “Look, we’re finishing up this album. Instead of me cutting these tracks from scratch, taking all the time and money to do that, why don’t I just use your tracks, and change ‘em a little bit?” Revere said, “Let me think about it a little bit.” And he called me back and said, “Go ahead.”

Terry Melcher had produced The Raiders tracks. We were on the same label, in the same studio. So they gave us access to those tracks. So we took the masters, ran off duplicate copies of them, and pulled Mark [Lindsay]‘s vocal off.

BK: Not long ago there was a thread on an internet discussion board, about the Raiders playing live. One commenter says he saw the band in the mid 60s before you were a member, but in the period when you would tour and do a set with them backing you. He insists he saw you in the wings with a guitar, playing second guitar behind Drake Levin (or possibly Jim “Harpo” Valley). Can you confirm, deny or otherwise comment on that?

KA: Right after Harpo left the group, Drake came back in. And Phil Volk was on bass. I was on the tour anyway. And there had been a bunch of songs recorded after Drake had gone into the Army [National Guard] and came back out. So he hadn’t been working as a member of the group, but since he was familiar with the early tunes and so forth, he put on the costume and did it. He and Phil knew all the steps. So it was just like the group before Harpo.

But the songs had gotten more complicated guitar-wise. So I said, “Why don’t I play with you guys, but not onstage?” A couple of times, though, I played from behind the Super Beatle amps, next to the drum riser! But it didn’t work out, because I couldn’t hear what I was playing. And then you tend to play too loud. Someone said, “Yeah, it was good, but God! Keith was loud.” So we quit doing that. But yes, I did that a few times. Only to fill in. But only until Drake became more familiar with the songs. That’s my memory of it, anyway.

Melcher brought me in the studio…we started tracking “Hungry,” and then Phil got all bent out of shape. Drake wasn’t there; he was someplace else. Phil got upset because it wasn’t “the group” playing on all the tracks. I don’t think Smitty [drummer Michael Smith] was there either. But we spent several hours working on “Hungry,” and Phil got really despondent about it. There was a version of the song with me, but I think they re-cut it later on. That was one of the first times I played on a Raiders track. And then I played on “Ups and Downs,” and I played on “Him Or Me: What’s it Gonna Be?”

BK: It’s probably one of those things where, at this late date, nobody’s totally sure who’s on the released version…

KA: Yeah. They’d cut something, and then they’d go out of town. And Terry would go through the tapes, pull stuff off, put stuff on. That was a common thing. I think at one point – it might have even been “Hungry” – they pulled Smitty’s drums off and put Hal Blaine on. Which brightened it up and changed it and all that. Melcher would say, “I cannot wait for you guys to be in the studio.” He wanted to be cutting tracks while they were out of town. And that really upset some of ‘em, because they really wanted to play on everything. Which I can understand.

But by the same token, when you cut such good tracks with The Wrecking Crew, who cares?

BK: Good point. I think of the example of Brian Wilson around the time of Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys were on tour – briefly even with Glen Campbell in Brian’s place – and they would show up in the studio and just overdub their vocal parts onto the tracks Brian had cut without them.

KA: They did that way before Pet Sounds. Glen’s playing on “Little Deuce Coupe” and “I Get Around.” He’s playing on “Fun Fun Fun.” He’s playing the twelve-string on “Dance Dance Dance.” Brian knew what he liked, and the people that he wanted. He used Carol Kaye on bass, and Glen on guitar, and Hal on drums. That was the rhythm section. And then he would build and stack it all. In fact, he would often start all the background vocals before they [Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love etc.] got there.

I went into the studio at Columbia one time. Columbia had eight-track machines – most of the studios did not – and I was walking through Studio A, and Brian was stacking vocals. I guess he was working on “Heroes and Villains.”

BK: Oh, wow

KA: I said to him, “Man! Are you doing this all?” He said, “You wanna sing on it?” I said yeah, so I did “oohs and ahhs” with him for about two hours. He would go on and on and on; he would record two or three tracks, combine them to one, erase all those, and then build up more. But I got to sing with him just because I happened to be walking through the studio. Anybody who came through, they got put to work. Usually.

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DVD Review: Morrissey — 25Live

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

In pop culture, certain truths evolve into long-running inside jokes. For example, if you booked Sly Stone for a gig, you could count on him (a) not showing up, (b) showing up right around the time the gig is supposed to end, or (c) walking out the stage door mid-act to “take a pee” and then not returning. And with former Smiths vocalist Morrissey, buying an advance ticket to a date on one of his tours is akin to buying a Powerball lottery ticket: your odds of getting an return on your investment are one in a million.

Well, okay, it’s not quite that bad. But just last week Moz announced the suspension of yet another tour, this time due to him ostensibly catching a bug of some sort from his opening act. Yeah, whatever. Terminally precious, Morrissey has a long history of this sort of behavior, and his long-suffering fans continue to buy tickets. They’re the music fan version of Charlie Brown, and Morrissey is Lucy van Pelt with the football. Aaaargh!

But the elusive fact remains: the man does occasionally put on a show. And when he does, it’s often very, very good. While there’s no documentation letting us know just how long the film crew had to follow him around to actually catch a show, the new DVD 25Live is a full concert performance. Morrissey and band appeared onstage at Hollywood High School in March 2013, and the entire show was filmed and recorded.

The DVD opens to the strains of The New York Dolls‘ 1971 classic “Looking for a Kiss” (superfan Moz was instrumental in getting the Dolls to reunite a few years back). Black and white backstage footage is shown, with brief fan interviews letting us know just how hardcore Morrissey’s fans really are. (This fact will be hammered home as the concert gets underway.)

The production values – both onstage and in the DVD – matter-of-factly put forth the idea (accurate or not) that Morrisey is the world’s biggest star. Everything about the DVD is top-notch and professional. The band – all dressed in matching jeans and t-shirts – perform flawlessly, yet with the fire and passion that Morrissey’s emotional (though generally not “emo”) songs require. And the man himself is on-key throughout, and is seemingly having the time of his life in front of the capacity crowd of young fans.

The band charges through a pleasing survey of Morrissey’s solo material, sprinkling the set with plenty of Smiths classics. Morrissey’s lead guitarist (and musical director) Boz Boorer does a fine job of conjuring Johnny Marr‘s original licks, and his own personality shines on the newer material. Morrissey’s curious blend of upbeat music wedded to somber, melancholy lyrics (the crowd happily sings along: “You have killed me, you have killed me”) is well served by the performance, the venue, and the audience.

The editing of the DVD leans in the direction of warts-and-all, though there really aren’t any warts. Morrissey’s cryptic in-between-songs banter is included, as are the count-ins. The 21st century ADD technique of endless quick-cutting is in full flower here: rarely does any one camera angle linger onscreen for more than two or three seconds.

At one point, the singer hands the mic over to some front-row fans, affording them the chance to preserve in high definition audiovisual their fawning spoken tributes (Example: “Thank you for the life lessons you’ve taught us”). Though one suspects — hopes? — such words would make a performer squirm just a bit, for his part Moz doesn’t seem to mind. And during the encore, when Moz carries around a little boy — handed up from the crowd while wearing his Smiths t-shirt — one can clearly see the beefy security personnel manhandling the front-row crowd to keep them offstage. At that moment I couldn’t help recall the “Sally Simpson” scene from The Who‘s Tommy, such is the near-messianic stature Morrissey seems to have among his fans.

The DVD’s title 25Live refers to the number of years in Morrissey’s career to date; the video includes nearly as many songs. And considering the disc’s relatively modest price – about twelve bucks for the Blu-Ray, a bit less for the DVD – it represents a sure-fire way to enjoy an evening with Morrissey. (There’s no truth to the rumor that every other copy of the disc features footage of a silent, empty stage.)

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Capsule Reviews: Three from Real Gone Music

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Because there’s so much of a backlog here at Musoscribe’s palatial new World HQ ( I moved recently), here’s the first of at least three collections of short reviews. These are all reissues or compilations on the Real Gone Music label, renowned (along with Rock Beat, Omnivore, Numero and a select few others) for their thoughtful archiving/crate-digging approach to music releases.

Samuel Jonathan Johnson – My Music
The second you see the cover art and typography, you know that this is a late-seventies major-label r&b release. And when the needle drops (or the disc spins) and you hear those smooth string machines and funk-poppin’ bass lines – not to mention the female chorus’ intro of “Music…music” – there’s no doubt you’re in smoove r&b land. But as the style goes, this lone release (the reissue’s liner notes, penned by Johnson’s daughter Yolanda Johnson explain why there was never a follow-up) is pretty fine.

Lots of interesting keyboard textures throughout, too. Nine of the ten tracks are originals, and the sole cover (a highly orchestrated reading of Bacharach/David‘s “What the World Needs Now is Love”) is super-slow in an Isaac Hayes mode. “Sweet Love” – more or less an extended coda to that cover – ups the funk factor.

Bettye Swann – The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Another in the line of where’d-they-go recording artists, Swann began the process of dropping off the pop culture radar screen after signing with Atlantic Records. She had previously scored some hits on Money and then Capitol – releasing three albums – but for whatever reason, once she went with the mighty Atlantic, the hits stopped coming. The quality of her music certainly flies in the face of her lack of chart success: the Atlantic tracks are strong, and typical of the tastefully arranged, Supremes-influenced soul of the era. Five singles reached the lower rungs of the r&b charts, but beyond those, most of the music as collected here went largely unheard on its initial release.

Swann subsequently left the music business and became a Jehovah’s Witness (when the latter occurs, the former often accompanies, as Witnesses are encouraged not to call attention to themselves…except when…y’know). Five tracks cut in Nashville in the mid 70s that never got released are included, and they’re as good as anything else on this fine collection of previously overlooked music. Especially recommended is Swann’s funked-up reading of Elvis‘ hit “Suspicious Minds.” Charles Waring‘s excellent liners tell Swann’s story in engaging detail.

Smith – A Group Called Smith / Minus-Plus
This band’s reading of the classic “Baby It’s You” was a monster hit in 1969, and big things were predicted for the future of the group fronted by powerful, expressive vocalist Gayle McCormick. The group’s first album included that single (arranged by Del Shannon) and featured nine other cuts that showcased the instrumental prowess of the band as well as McCormick’s Janis Joplin-styled pipes. She wasn’t the only lead vocalist in the group, though: when Rich Cliburn or Jerry Carter took the lead, Smith sounded in places a bit like The Band fronted by Three Dog Night, and in other places like Jefferson Airplane.

Inspired covers (“Tell Him No” [sic], “Who Do You Love?” I Just Wanna Make Love to You,” “The Last Time,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together”) completely reinvent familiar songs as the band makes them their own. For the group’s second album (both are included on RGM’s single-disc reissue) the band relied more upon original compositions, and both of the first album’s male singers had left. Greater reliance on horn charts makes Minus-Plus a little less special than the debut, and the record has more of a session-musician feel to it, but it’s still quite enjoyable. Richie Unterberger‘s brief liner notes provide some history and context.

More capsule reviews in the next installment.

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Concert Review: World Party, Asheville NC 3 June 2014

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

One of the many joys of taking in a live show in Asheville is intimacy: arrive early, and it’s as likely as not that the artist you’ve paid to see will be enjoying his or her dinner (and/or a pint) at the table next to you. So it was last night at The Grey Eagle, an excellent music venue that has only gotten better of late. With a dramatically improved sound system (not to mention addition of HVAC), it’s one of the best places in the region to enjoy live music, up close and personal.

Karl Wallinger is the prime mover of World Party; at various points in the group’s nearly thirty-year history WP has been Wallinger and/or one to several additional players. The one constant throughout (five albums of original material, a couple of compilations, and Arkeology, a five-disc set of previously unreleased odds and sods that plays as well as a new album) has been Wallinger and his highly melodic, hook-laden songs plus the man’s winning, engaging persona.

For World Party’s current US tour – the second or third since Wallinger’s recovery from an aneurysm that left him needing to re-learn how to play guitar – the group is a trio: Wallinger on (amplified) acoustic guitar and piano, plus longtime associates David Duffy (violin) and Tristan Powell John Turnbull (Gibson Les Paul). All three sing beautifully.

Right out of the gate, the trio sought to please the audience (well-attended but not a capacity crowd). Over the course of a couple of hours, they bounced back and forth through World Party’s back catalog, picking and choosing the best from among a vast array of gems. Arguably the group’s finest effort (but sadly the one that fared the poorest in the marketplace, owing to circumstances beyond Wallinger’s control: the label went under), Egyptology provided four tunes for this night’s set.

And though the trio has no rhythm section (bass and drums), surprisingly, that instrumentation wasn’t missed. While Wallinger provided expressive rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Duffy and Powell managed to deliver every signature lick and hook of the original studio arrangements. While Powell recreated his leads (that’s him on a lot of the studio cuts, especially the later material) Duffy in particular did a great job of evoking the feel of the original arrangements with his fiddle, while helping to give the songs an even more warm and intimate vibe.

And those adjectives – warm and intimate – truly were the order of the evening. When Wallinger shifted to the Nord Stage keyboard, he led the group through a suite of piano-based numbers, including the elegiac “She’s the One.” And on that number as with many others, the audience pitched in to help, singing along, seemingly knowing most or all of the lyrics. A delight from start to finish, the show ended with rousing applause, leafing Wallinger to suggest that the band “avoid a whole lot of bother” and get right to the encore, dispensing with the play-acting of leaving the stage, waiting for the applause to swell further, and rushing back out. By the set’s end, Wallinger was visibly exhausted, having given his all. I hope he brings World Party back to Asheville soon for another set of timeless music.

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