Archive for April, 2012

Jump Out the Window: The Brotherhood Story (part 6)

Monday, April 30th, 2012

A Serialized Feature in Ten Parts:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Continued from Part Five

Drake’s girlfriend at the time, Edna O’Dowd, designed the album’s distinctive sleeve art. Her painting – which lent the record its title — is perhaps the most commercially accessible thing about Joyride. The promising artist died of an apparent suicide within a year of the album’s release. Joyride’s back cover included brief explanations for each of the record’s six tracks, and detailed personnel listings gave credit to all of the “musician friends” involved in the sessions.

 

Once Joyride was concluded, both Ron Collins and Mike Smith left the group. “Smitty left because he was moving to Monterey,” says Phil. “And he was starting to feel conflicts in the lifestyle, with smoking grass and living that life. And Brotherhood was floundering; I think he got tired of me and Drake arguing so much. He would just sit there while we would lock horns and have these fights about the music, the lyrics, the production.” Phil recalls Smitty’s typical rejoinder to their arguments: “You guys are nuts. You make me sick. All this time you’ve been arguing, and we could have been playing music!” Lynnette Stevens recalls that “Smitty didn’t engage in any of it; he’d roll his eyes and walk away.”

 

Smitty would eventually re-join the Raiders in time to tour in support of their last major hit, 1971’s “Indian Reservation.” He remained with the Raiders into 1972, after which he moved to Hawaii. According to Brenda Hibbs, who married Smitty in 1978, the drummer never spoke once to her about Brotherhood. Michael “Smitty” Smith passed away in 2001, three and a half years after taking part in a Portland, Oregon one-off Raiders reunion also featuring Drake, Phil and Mark Lindsay.

 

Engineer Eirik Wangberg notes that from the beginning, Brotherhood was “[Drake and Phil’s] baby…they were the ones running the sessions.” Ron Collins describes most Brotherhood sessions as “laborious affairs” in which he had little or no say. With perhaps a hint of bitterness, he draws a comparison between the situation Drake, Phil and Smitty found themselves in with the Raiders – namely, having little say in the music, and being junior members at best and employees at worst – as being very similar to his situation in Brotherhood. “I never was even signed up on the contract Drake, Phil and Smitty had with RCA,” he points out.

 

Still, Ron says, “that’s not why I quit.” He explains that he was “bitten by a tick while climbing cliffs in the Mojave Desert in 1967,” contracting the then-unnamed, unknown Lyme disease. He recalls that his symptoms at the time included “cold sweats, rashes, headaches and whatnot,” and that problems persisted until he was properly diagnosed decades later in 1993. Ron seems to have been a mystery to anyone close to the Brotherhood story, variously described as “odd” and “left of center” yet “sweet and gentle.” Buddha recalls him as “difficult to be around because of his extreme mood swings.” Disputing some off-the-record accounts, band friend Paul Moser argues that descriptions of Ron as “some kind of loser druggie” are “a little harsh.” While many people involved with this story – including Collins — were consuming various recreational drugs in the late sixties, it’s entirely possible that some of what has been described as strange, erratic behavior on Collins’ part could be explained by these medical problems. Ron sums up his experiences in Brotherhood by offering that “it’s a long and complicated story. Things just aren’t what they seem.” As of 2011, Ron values his privacy and has closed the door on that part of his life. He goes by a different name, and – with the exception of this story – declines all requests for interviews.

On its release in spring 1969, Friend Sound’s Joyride sank without a trace. “It was the biggest military secret in the whole world,” laughs Phil. “At the time it came out, no one knew about it, no one cared about it. It was [like] a book that was written that no one bothered to read.” Not that it would have been targeted at the same audience, but RCA busied itself promoting another new release that summer, Elvis Presley’s comeback From Elvis to Memphis.

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Jump Out the Window: The Brotherhood Story (part 5)

Friday, April 27th, 2012

A Serialized Feature in Ten Parts:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Continued from Part Four

Friend Sound — Joyride The group’s next project was a wholly unexpected musical left turn. “It must have been the drugs,” Phil laughs. Not done as part of the two-album deal for RCA, it was an experiment. “We brought the tapes to Terry Melcher; he was considering releasing it on his Equinox label,” Phil recalls. “But he decided it wasn’t commercial enough.” It’s easy to hear why: credited to Friend Sound, Joyride is an excursion in musique concrète influenced by Cage, Stockhausen, Zappa…and hallucinogenic substances. “It’s a part of our body of work that I’m very proud of,” says Phil. In contrast with the year taken to record Brotherhood, “We did that album in about three weeks.”

 

“It started out as a free-for-all jam session with some friends,” Phil recalls. “But then Drake and I got a vision of where we wanted to go with it. Because of our assertiveness and our dominance over the project, the friends that we brought in started to feel, ‘Well, this is a Drake-and-Phil deal.’” That approach bore creative fruit, but it would soon lead to the band splintering. The record was cut at Valentine Recording, and the studio bill went unpaid until Drake and Phil got some cash from RCA. “Don Nelson sold Joyride to RCA for twenty-five hundred bucks,” Phil recalls.

“The client that had been at Valentine right before us was Frank Zappa,” Phil says. “Zappa’s music was a direction we were trying to take this Friend Sound album, putting our own spin on it. So Ed Valentine said, ‘You guys want to do something crazy? Let me play you what we just did with Frank Zappa.’ He played us some masters [possibly Uncle Meat], and they were almost symphonic, orchestral.”

 

“The reason Ken Dunbar and those cats were in on it,” Phil says, “is that some of those guys played with Nooney Rickett; we were always big fans. Nooney Rickett did dance steps that we incorporated into the Raiders’ choreography.” Phil describes the network of players and friends as a “boys’ club.” Other players included Davey Burke from the Standells and Chris Etheridge, later of the Flying Burrito Brothers.

The Joyride title track is a one-chord jam with spoken words floating in and out of the mix. Ron Collins’ celestial organ sounds similar to the textures Rick Wright was using on Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets around the same time.

 

Phil recalls the circumstances leading up to the “Childhood’s End” track. “I had inherited a lot of portable recording gear from my brother, who had recently died in Vietnam. And I loved to do remote recordings of things. I was building a swimming pool, and a concrete/gunite mixer was parked in front of my house.” When the machine was pumping, “it had this perfect rhythm. So I set up the recorder close to the truck, and scraped a shovel onto the sidewalk in time with the beat.” True to the vibe of the era, Phil and Smitty “jammed with the concrete truck.” An outtake snippet from one of Drake’s 1966 solo sessions is tagged onto the short track, which explains why the rhythm section of Jim Gordon and Jerry Cole is listed on the song’s credits.

Phil recalls that the sessions for the ethereal “Love Sketch” made them crazy. “It doesn’t have a beat; it started to sound like a tape loop. Guys would come in the studio and get a contact high just from hearing it.” Even after putting the track on the Friend Sound album, they weren’t quite done with it.

 

“Drake and me and Smitty took my portable recorder – a real star of this album – to two elementary schools during recess,” Phil says. They recorded kids playing together at each of the schools – Dixie Canyon Avenue School in upscale Sherman Oaks, and 95th Street School in Watts – and merged the two recordings together. “Children are children,” Phil observes, “no matter where they live.” In the studio they overdubbed celesta, wind chimes and Don Nelson’s flute recorder. The piece also incorporates an archival recording of a three-year-old Phil Volk singing The Andrews Sisters’ “You Call Everybody Darling.” Phil recalls that his mom cried when she heard the finished track which they titled “Childsong.”

“Lost Angel Proper St.” is, according to Phil, “about the dark and sinister qualities of Los Angeles.” He describes as a “tone poem, a sound picture” representing what the city meant to Brotherhood. It’s a heady sonic swirl from the four Brotherhood members and auxiliary players plus a variety of found sounds, not unlike The Beatles’ “Revolution 9.”

 

While all of the Joyride tracks up to this point included outside players, “The Empire of Light2” was just Drake, Smitty, Phil and Ron. Phil played prepared piano, while Ron played an organ. Meanwhile, Drake and Smitty were in the control room, working the console effects and faders, creating the track in real time. The spontaneous track distills the band’s influences of avant garde artists such as Karlheinz Stockhausen (who had performed his “Zyklus” at the University of Colorado when Phil was a student). “This recording,” Phil notes, “is where Ron Collins and I had our most significant musical moment together.” He describes Ron’s work on the tracks as “masterful.” The song’s title refers to the group’s feeling that it was a musical answer to the 1954 René Magritte painting L’Empire des Lumières.

 continued

Jump Out the Window: The Brotherhood Story (part 4)

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

A Serialized Feature in Ten Parts:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Continued from Part Three

The band kept changing their minds about which song to release as a single. In the end they chose “Jump Out the Window” b/w the Sopwith Camel-ish “Box Guitar.” The A-side “was a nice little groove” and featured early use of Moog modular synthesizer, but Phil was concerned the song’s lyric might lead suggestible listeners toward self-destruction. “I thought it was irresponsible,” he says. “We had a three-day argument about it.” A story cloaked in the mists of urban mythology, Art Linkletter’s daughter Diane did die after a jump (or fall) out of a window in October 1969, but there is no evidence she ever heard Brotherhood’s single. In fact, in 1968-69, very few people actually did. At a distance of forty-plus years, and viewed from a certain angle, the lyrics to “Jump Out the Window” sound more like a subtle message of liberation for a trio of ex-Raiders.

 

To Phil’s ears, the soft-shoe foxtrot of “Box Guitar” sounds “just like the Mills Brothers.” The track features tack piano from Ron Collins, and Phil’s brush percussion onto the back of an acoustic guitar. “If you want to know what the Brotherhood stood for,” Phil offers, “it’s encapsulated in the lyrics of ‘Box Guitar.’” Part of the lyrics read, “And when your days are over, what’dya think you’ll do? What will you be down or up to when your days are through?”

“Forever” (also known as “I Believe in Forever”) closes the album on a dreamy, minimalist note. Sweeping strings accentuate Drake’s vocal about timeless love. The distinctive drum sound was achieved by recording Smitty’s track with the tape running fast using a variable speed oscillator, and then slowing the tape back down before adding the other instruments. Phil praises Eirik Wangberg’s engineering talent on this track in particular, and also recalls Ron playing a strange device on the track, a machine that Robert Moog had brought in for them to try. Wangberg recalls that Sound Recorders “was considered the most modern equipped studio in Hollywood,” and says they were one of “the first, synthesizer-wise.” Phil laughs as he recalls Ron’s matter-of-fact comment on Moog’s synthesizer: “I think it has potential.”

 

The twelve tracks on Brotherhood — all originals – are credited to Smith/Volk/Levin; though organist Collins is clearly a part of the arrangements, he receives no compositional credits on the disc. Phil insists Ron was an important part of the group. “He was closer to Drake than to the rest of us,” Phil notes.

“There’s a picture of the four of us on the back of the first record,” Phil says. “Me, Drake, Smitty and Ron Collins. I’m in the middle with a baseball cap on. But that’s not my hat, and those aren’t my hands.” He explains that in the original photo, “There was a guy who was trying to choke Drake and Smitty in some late-night diner in Birmingham, Alabama. Ron couldn’t stop laughing. This guy — who was slightly drunk and a lot bigger than them — had Smitty and Drake in this neck grip.” In hope of defusing the situation, Don Nelson asked Ron to pose with all of them for a picture. “Later on,” Phil laughs, “Don liked the picture so much that he took the big guy’s face out, put mine in, and used it on the album!” The end photo result is a very large “Phil,” with black hands. He says, “It looks like we all love each other. But that was actually a dangerous moment.”

 

If RCA did much in the way of promotion for Brotherhood, little evidence of it – beyond a printed mailing piece — exists today. “I don’t remember one billboard, one magazine ad, one bit of radio promo work. It was like they were gonna let us do one more album, then write us off. That was it.” In 1968 most of RCA’s promotion went toward Jefferson Airplane; their Crown of Creation LP was released in September.

 

Phil recalls that the band did a lot of self-promotion. In August of that year, Teen Beat made brief mention of “a press party at Arthur’s in Beverly Hills” and some subsequent live dates. A November 22, 1968, issue of a Seattle newspaper mentions an All City Teen Dance to be held Wednesday, November 27, at Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center. On the bill were City Zu, the Liverpool Five and “Brotherhood, a new group consisting of three ex-Raiders.” The band also played a Rose Bowl concert with Eric Burdon and the Animals as closers, but Phil laughs that “there were only about four hundred people there! In the Rose Bowl!” He notes that most of the Brotherhood gigs were “unmemorable.” While the shows concentrated on material from the album, Phil says that they also threw in “some Raider nuggets, so people would remember who we were.” He mentions the hits “Just Like Me,” “Hungry,” “Steppin’ Out” and “Kicks,” as well as spotlight numbers “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Get it On.”

continued

Jump Out the Window: The Brotherhood Story (part 3)

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

A Serialized Feature in Ten Parts:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Continued from Part Two

The First Album “As it turned out,” Phil grimaces, “it took another eight months to finish the stinkin’ album. Brotherhood had been getting way out, into too much production. We had that Sgt. Pepper mentality. We had a hard time just scaling back and being a rock band. We sabotaged ourselves by being so eclectic.”

“RCA were very disenchanted with the fact that we went way over budget on the first album. They were thinking about $50,000 [about $310,000 in today’s dollars], and we ran it up to $80,000. And they kept asking, ‘When are you going to get this thing finished?’” Ernie Altschuler was the band’s A&R contact at RCA Victor. Phil recalls, “He’d come down and listen to something we’d finished, and he’d ask ‘Why don’t we put that out as a single?’ And we’d say, ‘No, we’ve got another song we’re going to record. It’s gonna be even better.’”

 

The Brotherhood LP – released in May 1968 — opens with “Somebody,” one of the tracks started at Sound Recorders. A bluesy number with an almost—reggae bit in the middle, the song features manic piano work from Ron Collins. Engineer Eirik “The Norwegian” Wangberg was responsible for some of the innovative sonic effects on this and other tracks. “We don’t know how he did it,” Phil says.

Written on the final Raiders tour by Drake, Phil and Smitty, “Woman Unkind” features massed vocal overdubs and bright horn fills; it was also put down at Sound Recorders. “We had Stephen Stills’ stamp of approval on that one,” Phil notes with pride.

 

“Pastel Blue” is a Drake Levin spotlight number, with a bossa nova, jazz crooner ambience. Phil recalls that this track was recorded separately (and before) the Brotherhood sessions, and features Jim Gordon (later of Derek & the Dominos) on drums. “It was stuff like that,” Phil observes, “that sabotaged our image.” With the benefit of hindsight, he notes that “We needed to establish our name and sound before we did so much experimentation.”

Heeding — at least for the moment – Altschuler’s concerns that the music being recorded was too far away from the Raiders’ pop style, the riffy “Close the Door” moved things back in a rock direction. (In one of the odd sorts of cross-fertilization unique to the late sixties, a female vocal group called The Clinger Sisters would later use the instrumental track from this recording, overdubbing their vocals; their version doesn’t seem to have ever been released, however.)

 

Phil recalls the LSD-influenced heavy waltz of “Doin’ the Right Thing (The Way)” as the band’s “protest song.” The cut features Drake’s sitar work, and Phil recalls that “it’s possible Ron Collins was missing in action on that session, because Smitty and I played Hammond organ together.” He notes that the glissando effect was achieved by playing a clumsily de-fretted Hofner Club bass guitar.

“Drake had to do the National Guard thing,” Phil recalls, “so it was just Smitty and me to finish up tracks like ‘Seasons.’ In Drake’s absence, Smitty got a chance to step up to the plate, to be a little more of a decision-maker.” Musically, Phil describes “Seasons” as representative of Brotherhood’s “core vibe,” which he characterizes as himself plus Drake and Smitty, “all playing acoustic guitars together.” The finished track features contribution from what Phil calls “a gypsy cello player” whose name has long since been forgotten. The song’s elements come together to create something that wouldn’t be completely out of place on The Velvet Underground & Nico.

 

The swirling, psychedelic “Love for Free” was cut mostly at RCA Victor, and has a feel similar to what the Zombies would create on their Odessey and Oracle LP, released around the same time. Written on Phil’s pump organ, it features a baroque string and woodwind arrangement from Kirby Johnson. The band fussed over the track endlessly before settling on a completed mix.

Brotherhood crafted some Parisian cocktail jazz in the style of Charles Aznavour or Serge Gainsbourg for “Lady Faire.” Phil wrote the lyric in English, and asked his mom, Mimi, to translate part of it into French. “We brought in a whole studio band for that track,” he recalls. “And we played with them. We had the budget for it, so why not?” He recalls that Drake didn’t like the vocals, calling them “affected,” but Phil insisted on keeping them as-is.

 

“Ice Cream” is described by Phil as “a tangled lyrical piece.” It starts out with a two-chord vibe similar to Donovan’s 1966 hit “Season of the Witch,” and develops into a heavier guitar-based arrangement as it unfolds. Drake in particular was a fan of the Scottish singer’s style, having covered his “Catch the Wind” on the Raiders’ Just Like Us! LP. “We ran into Donovan a few times,” Phil chuckles, “and probably smoked some grass together. I can’t remember.”

 continued

Jump Out the Window: The Brotherhood Story (part 2)

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

A Serialized Feature in Ten Parts:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Continued from Part One

During this period, Phil says that the unsigned band “did some session work for Terry [Melcher] to make some money.” One of those projects included writing and playing on a pair of songs that would eventually appear on Barry McGuire’s 1968 album The World’s Last Private Citizen. The March 30, 1968 issue of Billboard mentioned one of these in its “Special Merit Spotlight.” In this section “spotlighting new singles deserving special attention of programmers and dealers,” Billboard cited McGuire’s Dunhill single titled “Top o’ the Hill,” and credited the composers as “Smith-Volk-Levin.” Billboard described the track as “a wild and raucous gang sing-a-long performed with a ‘live’ audience.” Phil likens the song’s arrangement to Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” The other — and better, says Phil — tune they gave McGuire was called “The Grasshopper Song.”

 

At this stage the band was managed by Leo Makota, a tough character Phil describes as “sort of a John Wayne on acid.” In early 1967 Leo brought Donald “Buddha” Miller in from San Francisco to work for the band. “I had had to leave the Bay Area,” Buddha chuckles, without further elaboration. His new duties included serving as Drake’s driver. “Drake was a wonderfully horrible driver,” laughs Buddha, “and he had lost his license.” Living at Drake’s “Camellia House” in the San Fernando Valley, Buddha was witness to the goings-on there; the house was the site of frequent jam sessions. These involved Lee Michaels, members of The Turtles, Buddy Miles and many others. Although drugs would influence some of the band’s work, at this early stage “there were not a lot of drugs flying around the compound,” Miller stresses. Brotherhood’s newest member, Drake’s friend Ron Collins, lived there too, as did many other people, some “living in closets,” Buddha recalls. “Leo had left to go help David Crosby form CSN,” Buddha explains, and he was left behind as aide-de-camp to Drake and his bandmates.

 

While awaiting resolution of the lawsuits, the quartet retreated to a remote location to relax and get away from the bad vibes. “We used Smitty’s credit card and took a trip to Hawaii,” laughs Phil. “We left our families, our wives behind, and we went to Hawaii with hardly any cash in hand.” Shortly after landing, they rented a pickup truck and drove to the far side of Oahu. “The four of us slept in the cab of that pickup, because we had no place to go.” The next morning, they found some coconuts, broke them open and ate from them. “That was our breakfast,” Phil says. The quartet finally “hooked up with some of Drake’s hippie friends” and crashed at their place. While in Hawaii they wrote some songs and played a few gigs. “We had some fun experiences there,” Phil says, “but we had no money. So we had to come back home.”

 

Even though the band wasn’t making much headway, these were fun and interesting times. Once the band was back in California, Buddha recalls a trip that he, Drake and “two TV execs” took to visit the infamous Sonny Barger at the Hell’s Angels clubhouse. “We went up there to pitch Sonny on an idea Drake had: to follow the Hell’s Angels, documentary style, and film a day-in-the-life piece.” Buddha says that Sonny was interested, “but the other presidents didn’t ‘grok’ the concept,” and nothing came of it. Buddha recalls other spontaneous excursions that he and Drake took, including flights to San Francisco to see Jimi Hendrix at Winterland (probably February 1968).

Leo Makota – described by Buddha as “a man for whom the ends justified the means” —would eventually return and dismiss Buddha, telling him they couldn’t afford him any longer. But, Buddha chuckles, “they hadn’t paid me a dime!” With the aid of a baseball bat, Buddha was able to collect all monies owed before leaving. At some point Leo and Drake had an altercation – the details remain shrouded in mystery – during which Makota “took Drake outside and beat the shit out of him,” says Phil. Soon the manager was gone, replaced by Don Nelson, uncle of Rick and brother of Ozzie. Phil says Don “helped us through a difficult period. He helped negotiate a record deal; he helped us focus.”

 

Not long after returning to Los Angeles, Brotherhood sorted out their lawsuits and got a deal with RCA Victor. In the “Signings” column of Billboard‘s June 1, 1968 issue, the magazine gave the band its first and only mention. Calling Brotherhood “a new West Coast group,” the brief blurb noted that “The group writes its own material and will produce its recordings for RCA.” Other notable signings that week were “the Deep Purple, a London Group” (signed to Tetragrammaton), and “the Strawbs, an English group, to A&M.”

 

Finally, more than a year after leaving the Raiders, the new group could get moving. “The record deal was our coming-out party,” Phil says. “We had been doing a lot of writing and recording at Sound Recorders in Hollywood,” he recalls. Engineer Eirik Wangberg characterizes those pre-album sessions as “highly effective…working constantly.” “We had a few songs in the can,” Phil recalls, “and we were able to present those to RCA and say ‘Here’s what we’ve got; we’d like to finish the album.’” One song from that period — a cover of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down” by way of the Beatles’ arrangement – was never released, and that tape’s whereabouts are unknown.

continued

 

Jump Out the Window: The Brotherhood Story (part 1)

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

A Serialized Feature in Ten Parts:
1  | 2  | 3  | 4  | 5  | 6  | 7  | 8  | 9  | 10

This is the first part of my serialized feature covering the post-Raiders careers of that band’s most celebrated power trio. This story originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Ugly Things Magazine — bk

April 30, 1967 On this Sunday evening, the popular group Paul Revere and the Raiders were scheduled to appear for the first time on the hit television program The Ed Sullivan Show. At the peak of their popularity, the Raiders were slated to perform their hit “Good Thing” from The Spirit of ’67. It was planned to be one of the final performances by the most celebrated lineup of the band: the power trio of guitarist Drake “the Kid” Levin, bassist Phil “Fang” Volk and drummer Mike “Smitty’ Smith had all given their notice to Revere, having made plans to form their own group. What could have been a high point of their time as members of the hit-making Raiders instead marked the abrupt end of a chapter. Shortly after the performance, Drake, Smitty and Phil were off to pursue their musical vision, one quite different from the band they had just left.

Drake, Phil and Smitty founded a group that would record three albums, perform a handful of concerts, and remain together barely two years. But while the music was heard by few at the time or since, during their brief time together, their band, Brotherhood, existed at the center of an exciting musical scene and created enduring music that deserved more success than it found.

Early Fame Phil Volk and Drake Levin had met more than seven years before in early 1960, when both were in ninth grade in Nampa, Idaho. New in town, Drake became friendly with Phil, rescuing him from an unpleasant encounter with some schoolyard toughs. “From that point forward,” Phil says, “we were best friends for life.”

 

Phil was already playing guitar. “Drake would come out and stay with me at our farm, and I would show him guitar chords. He didn’t even have his own guitar yet.” There the pair wrote a moon-june ditty “Six Stars,” their first song together. It was the birth of a collaboration that would span many years.

Soon thereafter, Drake moved with his family to Boise, thirty-five miles away. Providentially, Phil’s family relocated to Boise six months later, and the pair quickly reconnected. By 1963 they were playing together in a band called Sir Winston’s Trio, and Drake had earned a reputation as an ace guitarist.

Local bandleader/club owner Paul Revere made it his business to keep track of rising talent, and meeting them in the audience at his club Le Crazy Horse, he told them, “I saw you on TV yesterday! You guys were good.” He offered to book them at his club if they would add a drummer. They agreed, but asked if they could “borrow” Paul’s drummer in the meantime. Revere consented, and so in summer 1963 Drake Levin, Phil Volk and Mike “Smitty” Smith played together for the first time, billing themselves (with a fourth member on keyboards) as The Surfers. “But we didn’t play any surf songs,” Phil laughs. They quickly became Revere’s house band.

 

Soon, Revere would call Drake up to the big leagues. One night after a gig, Drake stayed behind and “auditioned all night for Paul,” as Phil remembers. A day or two later Revere appeared at the Levin home, and asked permission for the then-sixteen-year-old to join the Raiders. Revere followed Mrs. Levin into Drake’s bedroom, where they found Drake in bed asleep. “Hey kid,” Revere told him as he shook him awake, “Wake up. Come on. You’re going on the road.” Combining his guitar skills with his dancing ability — the latter developed with Phil at school dances — Drake quickly established himself as a critical component of the Raiders, both aurally and visually. Meanwhile, Phil finished high school and left for the University of Colorado.

A year and a half later – February 1965 — Phil was at college when he got a call from Drake: “Have you been playing any bass guitar?” Phil said no. “Well, start practicing bass,” Drake laughed. “I talked Paul Revere into hiring you.” Phil joined just in time for the group to explode onto the national scene, thanks to their featured status on the Dick Clark-produced daily TV show Where the Action Is. Suddenly a whole generation of youngsters got hip to the Raiders sound.

 

While the group had previously drawn on outside songwriters, the group’s lead singer Mark Lindsay started writing songs, including the smash hit (and garage-punk classic) “Steppin’ Out.” Drake, Phil and drummer Smitty got lead vocal spots on the January 1966 Just Like Us! LP, but their original compositions were not wanted.

That changed a bit on Midnight Ride, released three months later. Smitty’s “There’s Always Tomorrow” (co-written with Drake), Drake’s spotlight “Ballad of a Useless Man” and Phil’s solo turn “Get it On” (also a cowrite with Drake) hold their own alongside the LP’s more well-known tracks, “Kicks” and the pre-Monkees “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone.” But more than half of the album’s cuts were Mark Lindsay songs. Both Drake and Phil were frustrated with the band’s commercial direction. “We didn’t want to do things that were teeny-bop or bubblegum anymore,” says Phil. What’s more, the musicians bristled at the suggestion – mostly from producer Terry Melcher and Lindsay – that studio musicians be enlisted on some recordings.

 

Leaving the Raiders Drake was drafted in 1966, and while he would still be available for recording sessions (he was in the National Guard) he was temporarily replaced on TV and onstage by Jim Valley. In an interview with Flip Magazine late in 1966, Drake said, “I’m out of the Army, not re-joining the Raiders, and will have something [new] soon.” That something new was a single on Parrot (credited to dRAKE), “On the Road to Mexico” b/w “Glory Train.” These tracks featured the deft keyboard work of Ron Collins; Drake would soon call on Ron to join him in another musical project. Clearly, according to Lynnette Stevens (his wife during the late sixties), Drake “was very talented…and couldn’t express that within the ‘box’ of the Raiders.”

Jim Valley had been in the relatively successful group Don & the Goodtimes prior to filling in for Drake. “I was promised a song,” he says. “Terry Melcher listened to my stuff and said, ‘Okay, one of those two we’ll do.’” That was not to be: while Smitty’s “Our Candidate” and a pair of Phil’s tunes (notably the top-notch “In My Community” featuring a Van Dyke Parks organ lick) were included on the November 1966 album The Spirit of ’67, Jim got no spotlight numbers. His frustration boiled over. Jim quit, and although Valley notes that “there were some personality situations between Drake and Paul,” Drake returned to the group. “I said I would [return] for awhile,” Drake told a teen magazine in ’67, “mainly as a favor to Phil.”

 

Yet Drake and Phil had a sense – correct, as it turned out — that musical tastes were changing, that the Raiders’ pop style would fall out of favor as heavier, more “meaningful” fare took its place. As Phil told one of the teen magazines in a ’67 interview, “We were enjoying great success and loved what we were doing…[but] a little of our old spirit was missing.” Elsewhere, Drake recalled how the decision to leave came about. “[Phil] came to me…and said, ‘I’m definitely going to do it, and you and Smitty do what you feel is right.’” Raiders manager Roger Hart recalls “that evening in Baltimore when Phil and Smitty decided to leave. It was an emotional evening, so upsetting to Paul Revere because they were [like] family.” Roger understood their reasons for leaving, but notes that doing so was “probably not the best tactical move in the world.”

In another interview (16 Magazine, September 1967), Drake recalled that “We went to Paul and explained to him how we felt and what we wanted.” With Smitty, they decided early in 1967 to leave the Raiders. Unhappy with what he saw as a mutiny, at the last moment before the Sullivan performance, Revere replaced Drake with new guitarist Freddy Weller. The veteran guitarist was left to watch the performance from the wings. The Ed Sullivan Show – an appearance that would, for most acts, serve as a high-water mark for their careers – instead signaled the end of the most popular lineup of the Raiders. In fall 1967 Where the Action Is would be cancelled.

 

A Slow Start and Lawsuits Songwriters Phil and Drake hoped that their new group – originally to be called “Phil, Drake and Smitty” — would allow them to create music that reflected their concerns. But the band would face some serious challenges getting off the ground. First, there was their past: most of the fans who would recognize the names Drake Levin or Phil Volk would be the sorts of youngster more likely to know them as “the Kid” or “Fang” from their days on Where the Action Is. Despite the group’s ambitious, mature-minded goals, it was the teen magazines that gave the nascent Brotherhood most of its (scant) early press. Though the Raiders had been ubiquitous within the pages of the fan magazines, when it came to the new group, “Gloria Stavers [editor in chief of 16 Magazine] gave us some token space at the back of the magazine,” Phil shrugs. “Nothing really major.” In a short interview with 16 in summer 1967, Phil explained Brotherhood’s ambitions: “Smitty, Drake and I are interested in more complicated music…we are interested in lyrics of real poetry and, perhaps, with a deeper message for today’s youth.”

Behind the scenes, things were getting complicated. Paul Revere sued his former players for breach of contract, and dealing with lawsuits from him and Columbia/CBS took their focus away from making music. Interviewed by a reporter from Teen Beat at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, Phil hinted at the problems. “Future plans? Everything’s kind of like smoke right now…up in the air. We have things like contracts and other things going with the record label. But we should be on our way as soon as we can get in the studio. We’ll be all right.”

 

The truth was grimmer than Phil was letting on. “We were frozen in time because of the lawsuits,” he recalls today. “Once we left the Raiders, the shit hit the fan. We had an injunction filed against us. Our money from the last [Raiders] tour was frozen, and we didn’t have anything to live on.” The ex-Raiders were even sued by the notorious Allen Klein. “We – me, Drake and Smitty – went to Klein during that last tour to talk about us leaving the band. And instead of honoring a fiduciary relationship, he went to 16’s Gloria Stavers and told her, ‘Three guys from The Raiders — your golden boys – just came to my office; they’re getting ready to leave the group.’” Then Klein sued the trio for fees supposedly not paid.

The new group couldn’t even pursue a record deal. “Columbia Records had [each of] us under contract. And they wouldn’t release us and allow us to sign somewhere else until we were old news.” Phil suggests this was a deliberate move, done to punish the trio for leaving Revere’s group. It took over a year to sort out the legal mess. “We hired our own lawyer, a Marvin Kahn. His secretary was Lynnette, Drake’s wife at that time,” Phil says. Still, in the end, he sighs that, “to settle things, we had to give up a lot of rights.”

“I called Dick Clark because we needed help,” he says. “We were so stupid, so green, that we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t do things in the right sequence.” They called Clark, asking to appear on American Bandstand, but they hadn’t released an album or single yet. Clark would eventually agree to have them on, but only once a record was on the shelves. Their 1968 mimed performance of “Jump out the Window” is impossibly rare; it’s not available officially or on YouTube, and Phil has never seen a copy. He’s not even sure the clip ever actually aired.

The band ran into another former associate, Raiders manager Roger Hart. He had driven past the group when their car was broken down and offered them a lift. During their time in the car, Phil and Roger talked nonstop; Hart apologized for all the legal wrangling, insisting that he had “no control over what Paul’s lawyers [were] doing.” To this day Roger and his wife Beverly remain close friends with Phil and his wife, the former Tina Mason (singer and Raiders co-star on Where the Action Is).

 continued

 

Album Review: Humble Pie – On to Victory / Go For the Throat

Friday, April 20th, 2012

The title of Humble Pie‘s first single – 1969′s “Natural Born Boogie” quickly telegraphed the group’s musical mission: straight-ahead, riffy rock of the sort that would fill arenas with fist-pumping fans. Never the most subtle of bands, Humble Pie was built around the guitars, vocals and personality of ex-Small Faces frontman Steve Marriott. (Peter Frampton was an early member of Humble Pie as well, leaving for a solo career in 1972.) Kindred spirits with fellow boogie bands Status Quo, Bad Company and Foghat, Humble Pie was not primarily a band that delivered musical nuance or deep lyrics. But for a rocking good time, they could be counted on to deliver the goods.

After the commercial high water mark of 1971′s Performance/Rockin’ the Fillmore, subsequent releases yielded diminishing returns, and by 1975 the band had broken up. Marriott maintained the highest profile in the ensuing years, fronting an all-star group and briefly rejoining a resuscitated Small Faces lineup. But by 1980, Marriott had revived the Humble Pie brand name. The new lineup saw drummer Jerry Shirley return; the group was rounded out by Anthony Jones on bass, plus second guitarist Bobby Tench (formerly of the Jeff Beck Group, and most notable for his vocals on “Goin’ Down”). This lineup would yield a pair of albums – 1980′s On to Victory and 1981′s Go for the Throat – and a tour before Humble Pie broke up for good.

A new 2CD set from Deadline Music pairs those two studio albums on one disc, and adds a live concert recording from the 1981 tour for the second disc. The sort of meat-n-potatoes hard rock in which Humble Pie had traded was largely out of fashion by 1980, but that didn’t stop the foursome from cranking it out within the grooves of On to Victory. “Fool for a Pretty Face” was, according to the liner notes, released as a single, but it underperformed. Uncredited sax solos (“Infatuation”), horn charts and rough-and-ready backing vocal choruses add some texture to the songs – as do Marriott’s occasional organ fills – but the approach grows a bit repetitive across ten songs. The On to Victory sound is very much that of an opening band: solid but less-than-inspired riffs wedded to hard rock melodies. Marriott’s lead work is tasty on “Take it From Here” and other numbers, but the relatively slight compositions don’t leave a lasting impression.

“Savin’ It” does represent a bit of a departure: an ever-so-slightly funky reggae-flavored arrangement – aided in that goal by a Tench lead vocal turn – but in the end, most of the track’s distinctive qualities come from the backing vocals and sax, neither of which are part of the core Humble Pie aesthetic. Tellingly, the album’s strongest track is a cover of the Holland/Dozier/Holland nugget “Baby Don’t You Do It.” Here the Pie’s best side is shown; it’s a safe bet that this would have been among the more rousing numbers onstage during this period. (Or not: the bonus disc, recorded at a May 1981 Los Angeles gig, does not include a live version of the song.) A histrionic gospel-tinged reading of Otis Redding‘s “My Lover’s Prayer” does add some variety, but here Marriott’s vocal mannerisms tend toward over-the-top-ness.

Some dual lead guitar riffage brightens “Further Down the Road,” on which Humble Pie sound a bit like Robin Trower. But beyond the riff, the song comes up a bit short in terms of musical ideas. Some nice wailing blues harp is a plus, though. On to Victory closes with a tasty electric-piano-led cover of Allen Toussaint‘s “Over You,” highlighting the fact that – once again – Humble Pie circa 1980 are at their best interpreting the work of others, not writing their own material.

Apparently they realized this: for the following year’s Go For the Throat, Humble Pie opened the record with a rock’n'roll classic, “All Shook Up.” Shamelessly stealing a signature riff from master thieves Led Zeppelin, this reading sounds not at all like the original. A tasty boogie piano-and-lead-guitar break moves the song back into recognizable territory. “Teenage Anxiety” is another thing altogether: featuring voice and solo piano reminiscent of Bad Company’s more contemplative moments, it’s a stronger original than anything on the previous disc.

But then the band seems to run out of ideas: a well-played cover of “Tin Soldier” from Marriott’s old band the Small Faces seems to admit to listeners – a mere three songs in – “we got nuthin’.” The best thing about “Keep It on the Island” is some searing guitar work, but it doesn’t appear – and then only as some fills – until the song’s final minute or so. “Driver” rips off ZZ Top, and that’s rarely a good idea. A by-the-numbers boogie, “Restless Blood” sounds like a cross between AC/DC and Bad Company.

Some Leslie’d guitar anchors Go For the Throat‘s title track, but – ominously – another Led Zeppelin riff crops up. On the album closer “Chip Away (The Stone),” Humble Pie decides to sound like Mountain. Or Cactus. Or West, Bruce & Laing (but without Jack Bruce‘s redeeming vocal work). You get the idea. Some compelling organ work from Marriott is, sadly, a case of too little too late.

The 1981 live set as presented on the second disc offers up a mere three songs from the pair of 80s albums. The emcees’ intro and the crowd reaction do show that onstage Humble Pie were well-received. The band opens with a ten-minute version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” originally a highlight of Performance/Rockin’ the Fillmore. In 1981, cowbell-rock wasn’t yet recognized as the cliché it would eventually be; here, the crowd eats it up. The band is on fire, and plays with more intensity than evidenced anywhere on the pair of studio albums of the era.

On to Victory‘s “Infatuation” is at least twice as good live as in its studio guise. Shorn of the auxiliary instrumentation, it’s now a stripped-down good-time boogie. The group’s huge hit “30 Days in the Hole” comes off equally well, and highlights some effective twin lead guitar dialogue. That double guitar approach renders the live run-through of “Tin Soldier” a bit more fiery, and (again) more effective than the Pie’s studio cover. Unsurprisingly, “Fool for a Pretty Face” is better onstage as well.

To the modern-day listener, six-plus minutes of “Route 66” (featuring at least one out-of-tune guitar) is about five minutes too much, but the 1981 crowd reacts well to the hyperactive boogie reading of the classic. “Be Bop-A-Lula” keeps things going in the same key (and arrangement). Again, it probably made sense onstage. On a live disc, it’s more prone to elicit a shrug and a touch to the fast-forward button. Eric Clapton had had a hit on 1978 with Danny Flowers‘ “Tulsa Time,” so in May 1981 Humble Pie thought it would be good to close their show with a cover of it. Well, okay, if you say so. The crowd does get involved. Despite some questionable (if only in retrospect) song choices, the show is well-recorded and performed with gusto. The live set is superior in every possible way to the studio albums On to Victory and Go For the Throat.

The new set features a four-page liner note essay by Dave Thompson; meaning to or not, it places these later-period Humble Pie releases in a context that portrays them as relatively unimportant. Spanning four pages, the potted history of Humble Pie doesn’t even mention On to Victory and Go For the Throat until the final page, and then has little to say about them. The first disc collects the final pair of Humble Pie studio outings, neither of which rank among the group’s finest work. But as a sort of bookend of Humble Pie’s live onstage power, the bonus disc nicely complements the decade-earlier recording Performance/Rockin’ the Fillmore.

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Album Review: The Squires of the Subterrain – Sandbox

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Imagine this: a Beach Boys pastiche that’s also a concept album dealing with ecological devastation. Sandbox is that and more: it’s a one-man-band affair by The Squires of the Subterrain, the nom de rock of Christopher Earl. And on Sandbox, Chris/Squires (heh) doesn’t aim his sonic recreation/re-creation talents solely at the concept-friendly style of SMiLE-era Beach Boys: While there’s a healthy doses of virtual Wrecking Crew here, many of the sounds on this album are those of surf-n-stock-era Beach Boys, right down to the twangy Fender guitar licks and Mike Love-ly nasal vocals.

Clever in-jokes abound, but they never distract form the musical good times. Chuck Berry-by-way-of-Carl Wilson guitar solo style is the order of the day on “Surfin’ Indiana.” The more expansive Pet Sounds vibe does make a brief appearance, but leave it to Earl’s twisted take on the 60s to wed a sensitive melody and arrangement to a song with a bait-and-switch title: “(I Still) Mow Your Lawn.” There’s even something that sounds like a clavioline, or Theremin, or electrotheremin, or… something.

Another little in-joke that bridges the gap between the carefree beach vibe with environmental concerns is tidily summed up in the Phil Spectorian “Endless Winter.” See what I mean? And clever lyrics are couched within the poppy tunes. To wit: “Guitar picks shaped like teardrops that I shed for you.” On “Woodrow Wilson” another sly/oblique title, Earl hops right over the late 60s, aiming his talents at 70s style Beach Boys, complete with Moogy blobs of synth augmenting a piano-based melody. The most rock-oriented track on Sandbox is “Carbon Footprint,” which bears some sonic similarities with the Blondie Chaplin/Rikki Fataar-era BB’s. It too makes deft, effective use of happily-dated synth textures. But it’s also essentially a surf instrumental, rooting its influences back in the 60s.

“Lisa’s Tower” is Beach Boys twice-removed; it’s redolent more of what Klaatu might have sounded like if the hype suggested they were instead Brian Wilson and his brothers and pals reunited. “Happy Farmers” evokes SMiLE‘s Van Dyke Parks Americana lyrical obsessions, and builds a melody around a banjo figure to hammer the point home for anyone who might have missed it.

All sorts of left-field sound effects and treated vocals make “Rising Water” a sort of Beach Boys-meet-”Revolution 9.” But for the album closer, things revert back to the lovely and conventional “For Five Minutes There,” which encapsulates much of what made the Beach Boys wonderful – “Wendy”-styled guitar, creamy vocal harmonies, and straight-ahead percussive punctuation – while still showing off the original talents of The Squires of the Subterrain.

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Album Review: Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (Experience Edition)

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Pink Floyd‘s The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the greatest albums of the 1970s – right up there with Who’s Next and a very short list of others. It has aged incredibly well, despite its futuristic and groundbreaking use of then-new technology – most notably the VCS3 synthesizer – and sounds as contemporary and relevant today as it did on its release in 1973. Readers who do not accept these incontrovertible arguments, please note: in this review I will not attempt to persuade you to my way of thinking. Nearly forty years after its release, if you don’t get The Dark Side of the Moon, well, you don’t get it.

Thematically unified, seamlessly produced and engineered with the utmost attention to detail, DSOTM set the 1970s-and-beyond standard for albums as an entity unto themselves. Certainly there were unified-concept releases before it. Some held together better as narratives, but none equaled DSOTM in terms of sonic continuity: The Dark Side of the Moon was (and remains) a movie for the ears.

At the very tail-end of 2011, EMI released yet-another-version of this classic album. First, of course, there was the original vinyl LP (and cassette, and 8-track). DSOTM got the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab treatment on vinyl at the end of the 70s, and was an early offering on the new CD format in 1984. The Shine On CD box set included DSOTM along with several other Pink Floyd albums (the selection of discs for that set long having been a point of contention for fans). A SACD version (with a 5.1 approximation of the original’s quadrophonic mix) came out in 2003. Yet another box set (Oh, By the Way) righted Shine On‘s wrongs by including DSOTM along with most (but not all) of Pink Floyd’s other albums. With so many reissues – coupled with the fact that the album remained on the Billboard charts for a staggering 1500-plus weeks – it’s perhaps one of the easiest albums to find, new or used. So why should anyone pay attention to the 2011 reissues?

The answer is both simple and complex. A new 2CD set of DSOTM dubbed Experience Edition presents on its first disc the original album, remastered by James Guthrie, a long-time associate of the band. It sounds flawless, as does every other previously-released version of The Dark Side of the Moon. But it’s the second disc that makes this package essential. While in the 21st century, the idea of a band rolling onto a concert stage and presenting one of their albums in start-to-finish format seems relatively ordinary, in the early 1970s, it most certainly was not so. The Who had done it for a few years with Tommy – and would briefly take a crack at the approach again with Quadrophenia – but for the most part, such things simply weren’t done in those days.

But Pink Floyd had developed The Dark Side of the Moon as a unified work, even though its compositions were from the various members of the band. That quality, in fact, is one of DSOTM‘s strengths, and one of many reasons why it beats the hell out of the Roger Waters-dominated 1979 concept album The Wall. As early as January 1972, a near-finished performance version of the work had been developed, and in fact Pink Floyd premiered it the The Dome in Brighton and Portsmouth, England on the 20th and 21st of that month, a full fourteen months before its release as an album. To be sure, those early versions differ from the final work, most notably during some of the more abstract sections (“On the Run,” “Any Colour You Like”), yet they illustrated that Pink Floyd approached DSOTM not as a mere collection of songs, but as a suite.

Both the Brighton show and the Portsmouth performance have long circulated amongst collectors, under the unofficial titles of, respectively, The Darkside Rehearsals and Darkside Premiere. In fact there are no less than six DSOTM shows in circulation from January 1971 alone, and more than forty (yes, forty!) live concert recordings of the work that date prior to the album’s official release in March 1973. (Sections of the Brighton show have been released on the six-disc DSOTM Immersion Edition, not reviewed here).

But as one might expect, most of those forty-plus live recordings of DSOTM are from audience tapes, and the sonic quality doesn’t do justice to the aural brilliance of the music, the performance and the live production (featuring the group’s notorious “Azimuth Coordinator,” a joystick-controlled device that controlled Pink Floyd’s groundbreaking [that word again] live quadrophonic mix).

By late November of 1974, Pink Floyd could play The Dark Side of the Moon in their sleep. But a somnambulant performance is not what the audience at London’s Empire Pool (in Wembley) were treated to on the nights of the 15th and 16th. By this point, the band had already added into their stage performance large sections of what would become the albums Wish You Were Here and Animals, but DSOTM remained the centerpiece of the show. BBC’s Radio One recorded and broadcast the DSOTM portion of the November 16 show, and though it too has circulated among traders for ages, it has only now received official release.

So with all due respect to the post-Waters version of the band – and I’m one who loves the David Gilmour-led era, having seen both tours (1987, 1994) – the later live recordings of DSOTM have all been rendered wholly obsolete. The 1988 live-double Delicate Sound of Thunder (that’s DSOT as opposed to DSOTM, by the way) included three songs from The Dark Side of the Moon, and 1995′s Pulse included the whole thing. And Roger Waters covered (so to speak) about half of the album on his 2000 In the Flesh live set, and has since mounted shows that re-creates DSOTM in its entirety. Or so they say. (Gilmour’s 2008 Live in Gdansk features about ten minutes’ worth of DSOTM music, and boasts Richard Wright on keyboards. But, still.)

But the Wembley show from 1974 is the real deal. The foursome are aided and abetted onstage by three auxiliary performers. Saxophonist Dick Parry turns in solos that differ a bit from the studio versions of “Money” and “Us and Them,” but they’re tasty nonetheless. Vocalists Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams do their best to recreate the wonderful ambience provided on record by (among others) Doris Troy and Clare Torry. The band follows the sequence of the album very closely, owing in part to a reliance on tape-recorded effects (this was the 70s, after all), but they do stretch out on some numbers, most notably “Money.”

There’s lots of shade-and-light in the performances, and those who maintain that Waters (bass) and drummer Nick Mason weren’t world-class musicians had best take a close listen to this show. Mason’s roto-tom work on “Time” is every bit as subtle and explosive on the Wembley reading of “Time” as on the studio version. And while Richard Wright had to simplify his keyboard parts a bit for live performance – on the album, there’s quite often two-handed piano, two-handed-plus-pedals organ and VCS3 synthesizer all going at once – the choices he makes are always the right, most expressive ones. And David Gilmour is, as always, David Gilmour: his sonic flights on the Stratocaster and soaring vocals (often in harmony with Wright) help make what would otherwise be simply a prog-rock work instead one of the most accessible and important rock albums of the 1970s. Or any other era, for that matter.

You may also enjoy my critical essay covering the entire recorded output of Pink Floyd. — bk.

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Album Review: Wes Hollywood – Fantasy Arcade

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

In 2012, it’s an open question how many listeners are looking for new music that draws upon the best of powerpop and what in 1979 we called new wave. Well, there’s one right here, and this listener is digging the new album Fantasy Arcade from Chicago-based Wes Hollywood.

“It’s Good to See You” pleasantly recalls Crashes-era Records; the bouncy, hook-filled arrangement sounds purpose-built for use in TV commercials, and that’s meant in the best possible way. Imagine Sgt. Pepper era-style songwriting with the instrumentation pared back down to the traditional guitars-bass-drums lineup with insistent piano accompaniment.

Wes Hollywood has a sound that’s clearly influenced by The Beatles circa ’65 but not slavishly imitative. There’s a healthy late 70s/early 80s new wave vibe to many of the songs on Fantasy Arcade. Hollywood’s vocals are always out front, and the band’s overall sound is tight without being slick, uncluttered without sounding like a demo.

On “Alfie” Wes Hollywood and band strike a skinny-tie pose reminiscent of The Real Kids. With appealing and accessible hooks built upon straightforward melodies, Hollywood stakes out musical territory similar to that of Cheap Trick, but without the arena-rock mentality and approach. Subtle splashes of keyboard add texture without lessening the guitar-based impact of the songs.

Throughout Fantasy Arcade, Wes Hollywood navigates just the right balance between jangle and crunch, between assertive lead vocals and tight, upbeat harmonies, between simple guitar-based songs and subtly textured arrangements. It’s always about the song, and through out the album that focus remains laser-sharp.

On the title track, Hollywood and band lean in a glam direction, loosening the pace a bit and adorning it with splashy drums; you can easily imagine the guitarist pose for playing this one: feet spread apart, guitar slung extra-low while the power chords are hammered out.

Fantasy Arcade is eleven catchy songs that manage both to blow by quickly and still stick in the listener’s memory, begging for another spin. Actually, there are twenty-two songs, if you consider that the LP version of the album is packaged in a lovely gatefold that contains both mono and stereo records. There’s something for the moderns – a download card – and a special bonus for those who fondly remember the albums of the 1970s: a band poster with facsimile signatures! What could be cooler?

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