Album Review: Caleb Hawley

October 16th, 2014

While it might come off a bit melodramatic to say so, sometimes I experience some emotional rollercoasterism when receiving new music in my mailbox. Case in point: not long ago I went outside to collect the mail, only to find a box leaned up against my front door (it wouldn’t fit in the mailbox). The familiar cardboard dimensions – a bit over 12” x 12” – made all but certain that it was vinyl.

I love vinyl.

The return address indicated that said package was shipped to me from a publicist in whom I trust, one with whom I share similar musical tastes; further, she”gets” my specific likes and dislikes, and tends to steer toward me music that is likely to get a fair listen. She turned me on to The Explorers Club, in fact. In short, a professional.

I took the package inside and opened it. What I found was a record with cover art as you see above. A guy who looks a bit like Noah Wyle, the actor who rose to fame on ER. My first thought was, “Oh. A singer songwriter.”

My heart sank.

But knowing the publicist as I do, I was more than willing to give the record a spin. How bad could it be? So I removed the shrink wrap and put the vinyl platter on the turntable. The first track, “Would You Even Try,” blasted out of the speakers.

I was thrilled.

And so it goes. One can’t always judge an LP by its cover. The self-titled debut from Minneapolis-born Caleb Hawley has much more in common with, say, Mayer Hawthorne – another white guy who creates authentic, heartfelt soul music – than any navel-gazing, overly precious singer-songwriter.

“Would You Even Try” has slinky, soulful guitar riffs and thundering bass as its foundation, but Hawley’s strong voice – supported by hot Latin-flavored percussion, bright horn charts and subtle Motown-styled strings – is the focus here. It’s undeniably retro, and it’s also exciting as hell.

“Sometimes a Good Feeling (Just Can’t Last)” is another pop delight. It’s as strong as any soul/r&b 45 from the early 70s. The sax work and female vocal chorus are standout elements, but it’s a deftly executed tune all around.

Hawley slows things waaay down for “I Just Want You,” heading for a gospel-flavored Wilson Pickett style. The thrill quotient is lower, but that’s clearly by design. Hawley’s neo-soul approach here is reminiscent of James Morrison‘s debut (let’s hope Hawley can maintain the quality of his music, a feat Morrison hasn’t quite been able to master).

While “When My Baby’s Gone” is a fine tune, here Hawley oversteps the boundaries just a bit: the tune is a too-direct lift of The Supremes‘ “You Can’t Hurry Love.” The not-exactly-original lyric “just my imagination running wild” doesn’t help things, either. Still, let’s give Hawley a one-time pass on this one: Mayer Hawthrone gave us a similar product with A Strange Arrangement‘s “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’,” and he’s done okay for himself since.

Some tasty Memphis-styled guitar funk forms the basis of “Crying Wolf.” On “Let a Little Love In,” Hawley and his players build the song around some lovely piano work; the resullt feels like Tapestry-era Carole King, and that’s never, ever a bad thing.

The vocal chorus fades slowly in on “My Hell,” a tune much more upbeat than its title might suggest. Hawley’s impassioned delivery is heightened by massed handclaps moving the tune along. The drum corps intro of “Little Miss Sunshine” is fascinating, and it leads into a slinky dim-the-lights-baby jam.

“Bada Boom, Bada Bling” puts the focus more on the instrumentation. Wahwah guitars and a super-funky beat make the tune; the melody isn’t as strong as most of what’s on Caleb Hawley, but perhaps as a dance floor number it works.

A few odd production choices mar “Long Life,” and the seemingly autobiographical lyrics detract from the fun a bit. Too gimmicky by half, it’s the album’s weakest track, and sticks out like a sore thumb ion an otherwise fine disc.

Hawley gets back on solid footing with the Earth, Wind & Fire-styled “Give it Away.” His command of falsetto is impressive; it’s a testament to his (or someone’s) restraint that the vocal technique isn’t splashed all over the album. Leaving ‘em wanting more is always a good strategy for a performer new to the scene. Musically, it feels not unlike something Michael Jackson might’ve done in the mid 1980s.

Caleb Hawley wraps up with “Find It,” a number that starts out understated, only to unfold halfway through as a pull-out-all-the-stops big finish. Vocals and instruments go all-in here, and “Find It” sounds to these ears like the perfect live set closer. It fulfills that role equally well on this album.

Perhaps a bit oddly, Hawley initially released an EP called Side 1; his latest short-form release is – wait for it – Side 2. The first focused on 60s styles, while the second has a more (but not too) contemporary feel. His self-titled vinyl LP includes both sides, and it’s the way to go.

In the future, when and if I receive a package indicting Caleb Hawley’s involvement, I’ll be expecting good things.

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Album Review: Orgone Box — Centaur

October 15th, 2014

Looking backward for one’s musical inspiration (and/or sound) is not a new approach. Countless bands and solo artists have built careers out of recreating a style that has come and gone, and quite a few of them have won critical and even commercial success for their efforts. But more often than not, when this approach is employed, the results manifest themselves as overly studied: they may impress aficionados of the style, but they fail to offer much in the way of anything new or exciting.

What that means is that when an act that creates a pastiche of an old style comes along and does manage to be new and exciting, it’s a rare thing. And that is what has happened with Orgone Box. Another in a proud and long line of bands-that-are-mostly-one-guy (see also Karl Wallinger‘s World Party, Trent Reznor‘s Nine Inch Nails, etc.) Orgone Box is the brainchild of Rick Corcoran. Corcoran’s approach is to make music that sounds as if it were written and recorded either in 1967 England (think of The Pretty ThingsSF Sorrow and much of the music on Nuggets II: British Empire and Beyond) and/or the late 1980s (think of the so-called “Paisley Underground” groups out of Los Angeles), and/or the 1990s Britpop explosion (See: Oasis, Cast, Blur). In my estimation, one could do a lot worse than reference those musical touchstones.

Orgone Box’s new album Centaur isn’t really a new album, though: the group’s 2001 self-titled debut contained a dozen songs, and 2014′s Centaur (released on the Kool Kat Musik label) reprises seven of them, albeit with slightly altered titles (and possibly different takes/mixes/versions). (A 2005 album called My Reply may be the source for some Centaur tracks; I haven’t done an A/B comparison.) But the fact that Orgone Box failed to make any impression stateside a dozen-plus years ago more than justifies Kool Kat bringing this fine music to the attention of contemporary audiences.

The entirety of Centaur hangs together nicely, but there are true standouts among the ten tunes. The mid-tempo “Anaesthesia” is vaguely reminiscent of The Church, and features a straightforward and brief but exceedingly memorable lead guitar solo. “Mirrorball” leans on the phase shifter a bit heavily, but it delivers a hypnotic vibe.

The shimmering, folk rock of “Ticket With No Return” sounds like The La‘s fronted by Robyn Hitchcock. And that points out a quality of all Orgone Box music: Corcoran’s voice sounds a heckuva lot like the former Soft Boy. As Corcoran’s themes center more around love and other workaday concerns, he does answer the question “what would Robyn Hitchcock sound like if he didn’t sing about spiders, frogs and lightbulb heads?”

“Hello Central” adds a Help! era jangle to an 80s-style arrangement. But one of Centaur‘s two finest tunes is the earworm of “Judy Over the Rainbow.” Yes, the title alone evokes thoughts of 1967, but the hard-driving guitar riff (effectively doubled in places by the bass guitar) has more in common with Revolver. If you don’t nod along with this tune, you’re probably wasting your time with this review. The song is a delight.

But “Judy” isn’t even the best tune on “Centaur.” That honor goes to “Find the One,” a gentle, breezy We Five-styled folk rocker with impeccable production values. The volume peal work on the signature riff is reminiscent of The Beatles‘ “Yes It Is,” but the tune itself is timeless. Corcoran’s densely overdubbed vocal harmonies (full of la-da-da vocalisms) float effortlessly atop lovely acoustic guitars and softly jangling electric guitars. Some very subtle string synthesizer work adds the finishing touch. Notably, it’s the only track on Centaur that exceeds the four-minute mark.

Much was made at the time of Orgone Box’s debut about the album’s so-called lo-fi production aesthetic. That DIY spirit remains on Centaur, but there’s enough polish here to make one thin the songs were cut at Abbey Road. It’s a fully realized sonic effort.

If you like the sonic approach used on this album, you’ll love the songs. If retro-minded music isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere for your new-music fix . As for me, I’ll be hoping that Centaur sells well enough to spur the recording and release of more new Orgone Box tunes.

Centaur is available on CD from Kool Kat Musik.

UPDATE: I’ve just learned that Centaur was also released earlier (2013) on vinyl; it’s available from UK-based Sugarbush Records.

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Book Review: The Next Elvis

October 14th, 2014

There have been countless books written about Elvis Presley and/or the early years of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. But a new book by someone who was there (for a time, at least) sheds some new light on the tiny yet famous and incalculably important label. Barbara Barnes SimsThe Next Elvis: Searching for Stardom at Sun Records is a quick, episodic trip through the period 1957-1960 at Sun Records. The author (then known by her coworkers at Sun as “BB,” short for her then-unmarried name) effectively replaced legendary figure Marion Keisker and worked as assistant to Sam Phillips for more than four years.

Viewed from one point of view, it can be said that during Barnes’ time at Sun, she was firsthand witness to the steady decline of the label: Elvis’ contract had already been sold to RCA; Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison both cut material for Sun and left for greener pastures; Jerry Lee Lewis‘ promising career effectively imploded in the wake of his marriage to his “almost fourteen year old” cousin Myra; and –as Barnes recounts in vivid detail – the promising talent of Charlie Rich was overlooked as not worth nurturing.

Barnes isn’t afraid to shine a light on the shortcomings of her boss and co-workers; she never does it from the standpoint of a dirt-disher; rather, as someone who knew these people as flesh-and-blood humans rather than iconic figures of pop culture history – she merely calls ‘em like she sees ‘em.

There’s a Mad Man-esque quality to Barnes’ reminiscences of her trips to the big (New York) and comparatively bad (Chicago) cities to take part in the old-boys networks of record company execs, mobbed-up jukebox companies, and the like; the sense of wonder experienced by the young Barnes (then in her mid-twenties) is palpable. Clear, too, is the impression that she was nobody’s fool, no pushover, no shrinking violet.

If you’ve ever read the (relatively brief) liner notes on the back of such treasured LPs as Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! or Dance Album of Carl Perkins, you’ve read Barnes’ prose already. Her writing in The Next Elvis is every bit as clear and concise, but the book’s pace – a slightly choppy series of one- to three-page vignettes (the one-page “Sam Tells Me His Life Story” is an illustrative example) – feels a bit more like a manuscript than a finished book. Also – and, one supposes, befitting a Southern woman now in her late seventies or beyond – The Next Elvis has the feeling of a book that has left out some of the juicier bits.

A few characters from Barnes’ story leap off the pages, characterized by the author as in possession of more talent than their overall success might suggest. Billy Riley (aka Billy Lee Riley) is one; Jack Clement is another. And some of the characters – people you might think of as somewhat lovable – come off as just the opposite (Orbison is one, painted by Barnes as a deeply depressed figure). Of course Jerry Lee is every bit as volatile as one might expect. And The Next Elvis tells the reader more about the overlooked Jud Phillips (Sam’s brother) and his role in the label’s operations than any other book of which I’m aware.

Still, the author’s depiction of the man at the center of it all feels a bit too circumspect: Barnes seems to be trying mightily to walk the fine line between sketching a full and accurate portrait of Sam Phillips and honoring his memory by not going too far into the dark corners. To be fair, her characterization of Phillips (whose family cooperated to a great extent in providing images for the book) does suggest a divided, flawed man capable of greatness and its opposite, just like everybody.

The author’s work at Sun – or, more accurately, for Phillips International, an associated label – included the key responsibility of writing and laying out an industry tip sheet of sorts called Scandal Sheet. In this periodical, Barnes not only highlighted current Sun and Phillips International releases, but weighed in on worthy material put out by – gasp! – Phillips’ competitors. Such a broad-minded vision is all but unthinkable in the modern marketplace, but Barnes was a pioneer of this even-handed approach. It’s the sort of thing only a true fan of the music (and a gifted writer) could think of pulling off.

While it’s a worthy gambit to draw interested readers, the book’s title is ever-so-misleading as well: there’s little in Barnes’ written history that suggests anything along the lines of a talent search. More representative is the throwaway line about Sun staffers making an enemy of the postal carrier by refusing any and all unsolicited “audition tapes” sent in the mail. And though Barnes’ own tastes in those days often ran toward the harder rhythm and blues stuff, she makes it clear that Phillips’ failure to appreciate the importance of country music (not to mention his failure to anticipate its commercial rise) helped lead to the demise of the label’s best years.

The Next Elvis tells one person’s story of her experiences at Sun during an important period, and so for anyone with even the mildest interest in the history of rock’n'roll, it’s a worthwhile read.

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DVD Review: Money for Nothing

October 13th, 2014

I approached this DVD with more than a bit of trepidation: would the filmmakers attempt to bestow great and weighty cultural importance upon the music video format? Or would they take a History Channel sort of approach to it, adding melodrama where little actually existed?

I was delightfully surprised when I viewed Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video. The whole affair is aimed squarely at the sort of viewer who’s closely familiar with music videos in general. The 78-minute DVD is paced for the ADD generation(s), with the narrative broken into a long menu of bite-sized pieces, none lasting much longer than two minutes.

Money for Nothing charts the history of the music video via two timelines, two points of view. First, the form itself. After tossing a red herring or three the viewer’s way – suggesting that music videos began with MTV’s broadcast of The Buggles‘ “Video Killed the Radio Star” – the film tells us, hey, wait a minute. The BeatlesA Hard Day’s Night, right? But no: Money for Nothing rightly (if in exceedingly brief fashion) points to Scopitones (from the 1960s) “Soundies” (from the mid ’40s) and finally Walt Disney‘s Fantasia (1940), and even to early animated color films out of Germany in 1933.

But Money for Nothing never goes all academic on the viewer; like the subject it’s chronicling, the film keeps moving, never lingering on any image of idea for more than a brief second. Certainly the arc of MTV’s rise and fall is followed, since the Viacom cable channel was the embodiment of the medium for many years.

Money for Nothing isn’t afraid to chart the downfall of the form, and even makes its own suggestions as to why music videos became moribund on television (and why they still exist, albeit in a different form). The film rightly categorizes music videos as “advertisements,” but concedes that quite often it wasn’t clear what exactly was being sold.

Well, except when it was: fantasy and sex (and often both) are unsurprisingly the top items being pushed by music videos. Music videos have rarely been a means of delivering subtlety, and the film concedes that as well. But neither does Money for Nothing ridicule the form: it seems to suggest that music videos are a bit like a painter’s canvas, or a blank piece of paper: what is done with them depends largely on the artist.

And the “artist” is the focus of the second timeline the film follows: not the music artist, but rather the filmmaker. As the hundreds (literally hundreds) of film clips flicker across the screen, the bottom corner info lists the artist, album, director and year, just like good ol’ MTV did back when it broadcast music videos. And the second timeline explores the work of notable filmmakers. After giving props to the music video heavweights (Godley and Creme chief among them), I was surprised to see the names of so many well known motion picture directors among the credits: Julien Temple and Jonathan Demme, sure. But Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese? Their participation helped legitimize the form. Or did it just help them pay some bills in a lean era? Money for Nothing leaves that call to the viewer.

The DVD isn’t without its flaws. While mentioning The Monkees as a key component in the early history of the music video, no mention is made of Mike Nesmith, the man who pretty much invented the idea of a channel that showed music videos all the time (he sold that idea to Viacom). And no mention is made of Paul Revere and the Raiders, even though they appeared on television mugging and miming to their songs more often than any other musical artist before or since. And while I’m not a particular fan of the videos, not a single clip (nor mention thereof) of the 1980s’ most ubiquitous music video trio, ZZ Top, shows up in Money for Nothing. (They also missed mentioning Todd Rundgren‘s important and pioneering work in music videos, but I’ll give ‘em a pass on that one since he’s not the household name he deserves to be.)

Near its end, Money for Nothing largely concedes that the era of the music video has long since ended, but it makes the case that some interesting work is still being done in the form. (It manages to do so without mentioning YouTube; neat trick, that.) Like the ephemeral and ultimately fun if insubstantial form it chronicles, Money for Nothing isn’t a wholly satisfying film, but it’s the best look at the history of the music video that’s been done so far. Recommended.

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Concert Review: J Mascis, Asheville NC, Septermber 28 2014

October 10th, 2014

A Guest Feature by Annelise Kopp

J Mascis is the loudest acoustic show I’ve ever seen. During his September 28, 2014 show at Asheville NC’s Grey Eagle, J was seated onstage with two guitars nearby, and surrounded by three large guitar amplifiers. By his side were two large bottles of coconut water. For nearly the entirety of the show, Mascis sang and played with his eyes closed, occasionally opening them to turn a page in his song binder, switch guitars, or on rarer occasions look down at the stage, or – rarer yet – into the crowd.

Mascis is most famous for being a founding member of Dinosaur Jr, the influential band who have been playing since the 80s. I had the pleasure of seeing Dinosaur Jr play at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse in 2009. It was the loudest show of any kind that I’ve seen to date. Seeing J Mascis play in the intimate context of the Grey Eagle offered a new, and welcome, perspective.

Watch “Freak Scene” (Dinosaur Jr, 1988)

Mascis has steadily maintained his solo career alongside his involvement in Dinosaur Jr; his solo dates began as a string of one-man acoustic shows. Dates on his 1995 tour were recorded, and yielded his first album, Martin + Me, which was released in 1996. Though he’s considered a guitar virtuoso, Mascis’ solo work has been more subtle in its musical expression.

Watch “Listen to Me” (J Mascis, 2011)

Though he’s taken on an acoustic, folky sound in much of his solo work, what J is doing to a guitar can be classified as shredding. His raspy vocals layered over fuzzy – albeit more delicate – guitar melodies illuminate not only what J has contributed to Dinosaur Jr and the role he has played in the development and growth of their sound, but also the parts of his expression that just don’t fit into that vessel. When one listens to J’s solo work, it’s easy to think, “this is Dinosaur Jr!”

In 2011, Henry Rollins (once Black Flag frontman and now public speaker, actor, activist, musician (and the list goes on), opened for Dinosaur Jr on their Bug tour, revisiting their 1988 album in its entirety. For Rollins’ opening set, he broke from the spoken-word format he’s toured with in recent years, instead choosing to interview Dinosaur Jr, one of his favorite bands. Rollins, in a related radio interview for Seattle’s KEXP, queried the band: “You guys have been touring consistently throughout the 80s the 90s, and bravely and triumphantly through this new century as well. What does touring and playing as often as you all do mean to you? Still enthusiastic about playing every night? Is it still fun?”

Mascis, infamous for his elusiveness and brevity in interviews, came out with, “More than ever, yeah. I like it a lot better now then when I was a kid. I was… I dunno… more ungrateful I guess… and just kinda depressed or something.”

And you’d almost have to feel that way. Mascis has hardly taken a break from playing shows since playing in hardcore band Deep Wound with Lou Barlow (with whom he founded Dinosaur Jr just a few years later). That was in the early 1980s. Some twenty years later, Dinosaur Jr and J Mascis are still touring. Amidst this, Mascis has continued to release new albums with Dinosaur Jr, release solo material, and be involved in innumerable other projects.

Mascis has recorded with Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene; played banjo on one of The Hold Steady’s albums; played guitar on GG Allin’s Hated in the Nation; and provided lead guitar tracks on Thurston Moore’s Trees Outside the Academy (which was also recorded in Mascis’ home studio).

It’s through his music that J connects with his fans. In spite of his insular stage presence and disinterest in exposing himself to interviewers, J communicates volumes of meaning through his work. His most recent solo albums, Several Shades of Why and Tied to a Star are accessible to Dinosaur Jr fans and new listeners alike. Still, like an intimate conversation with old friend, the experiences are different and illuminate interesting, sometimes profound, parts of who J Mascis is. Apart from J’s solo work in the context of Dinosaur Jr exists a catalog of work that speaks for itself through its different stages of maturity.

At the end of the show, Mascis exited stage right, eyes mostly to the floor as he stepped just outside the door, lingering briefly before returning to the stage. True to everything we’ve ever known of Mascis, the charade of the ever-standardized-encore was performed listlessly. He returned to play one final song and killed it. The crowd cheered, respectfully, because seeing J Mascis play live is seeing a modern legend.

Watch the full KEXP interview with Henry Rollins & Dinosaur Jr

Watch J Mascis’s 1993 interview with kennedy on Alternative Nation

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In Memoriam: Paul Revere (Part Two)

October 9th, 2014

Continued from Part One

All that said, Paul Revere‘s understanding of his band’s place in history was informed by that attitude. He was often willing to be interviewed, but would quickly tire of questions about “the old days.” By all accounts, he simply wasn’t interested in “preserving the legacy” of the band he started more than a half century ago. Thus, one never got much in the way of a quote from him to the effect that Paul Revere and the Raiders occupied an important place in music and/or pop culture history. He left others to make that argument, and he did little or nothing to back them up in their efforts. He was too busy lining up another show to just plain entertain the audiences.

What that meant in practical terms for this writer became clearer and clearer as time wore on: even before his illness, Revere wasn’t all that interested in sitting down for a series of career-spanning interviews designed to form the basis of a Raiders history. Even though I had (directly or indirectly) secured commitments from a long list of people in or around the band’s orbit, the whole proposed project hinged on Revere’s cooperation.

While his estranged co-bandleader Mark Lindsay had turned down my request for interviews connected with a planned book (“I’m writing my own book,” he says, which is, frankly, what they all say), I had a plan for dealing with that: once I had concluded my interviews with Revere, other band members past and present, roadies, friends and, er, former groupies, I planned to reconnect with him (I’ve interviewed him a few times in recent years) and give him the opportunity to help clarify a few things.

I had hoped that my 2010 trip to Branson would include a face-to-face interview with Revere, hopefully the first of several; many months earlier when I was researching for the Raiders cover story I wrote for Shindig! Magazine, I had endeavored to set up a phone interview. At the time Revere’s wife was dealing with some health issues of her own, so Paul was busy looking after her, and unavailable for comment. And in the end, I got only a few up-close-and-personal moments with Revere; we spoke briefly about the cover story and the group’s upcoming cruise gigs. The interview never happened.

I persisted through my intermediary for a long time thereafter; in fact I prepared a “Ten Reasons” sheet for Revere just three weeks before his passing. While there were others in recent years who had gone down a similar path, I was arguably unique in that I didn’t have a secondary agenda. Unlike another party who pitched Revere on a (different) project, I had no interest in engineering a rapprochement between him and Lindsay to serve as a tidy “wrapup” for my telling of the story. Thanks to unwelcome experiences like that, Revere was quite wary of people pitching him on books, films and the like.

As best as I can tell, Paul Revere never saw that “Ten Reasons” document; now I understand and appreciate why that was the case.

It was only the day before Revere’s death that a trollish woman posted on the band’s official Facebook page that “they were no good after Mark Lindsey (sic) left.” Revere wasn’t ever active online, but I’m certain he would have rolled his eyes at that statement, having heard it many times before. The point for him was never looking back. It’s a bit like telling a fifty year old, “You looked better when you were twenty.” Sure, maybe I did, but I’m here now and so are you: take me or leave me. And the heavy performing schedule that Paul Revere and the Raiders maintained up through the end of 2013 proved that plenty of people liked the current lineup just fine, thanks.

With Revere gone, the band has tweaked its branding a bit: they’re now Paul Revere’s Raiders. Paul’s son Jamie Revere has rejoined the group, and concert dates are scheduled well into 2015. To those who would argue that the band won’t be the same without “Uncle Paul,” I’d agree. It can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t. But neither was it the same without Mike “Doc” Holladay. Or certainly without the celebrated “power trio” of Phil Volk, Drake Levin and Michael “Smitty” Smith. Or Keith Allison. Or Mark Lindsay. Or Omar Martinez, for that matter. It’s about the music and the show, full stop.

And the show will go on. Paul Revere’s Raiders have a new single coming out very soon, issued on red 45rpm vinyl, a cut called “Still Hungry.” The title is an overt reference, of course, to one of the band’s biggest hit singles, 1966′s top-tenner “Hungry.” I’ve heard an advance of it, and while it has almost nothing musically in common with anything the Raiders did in the 60s, it’s a sturdy, rocking tune. As with pretty much every Raiders recording of note from ’65 onward, Paul Revere isn’t audibly present, but his (so to speak) spirit informs the performance, just like it did all the others. I’m certain he was proud of it, though he likely thought of the impending release more as either a show souvenir or a means to get more people interested to buy a ticket to one of his shows.

I expect now that longtime efforts to see Paul Revere and the Raiders inducted into the so-called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may finally bear fruit. And while they deserve the accolade previously given to such noteworthy “rock and roll” acts as Randy Newman, Public Enemy, ABBA, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Cliff, James Taylor and Donna Summer, I honestly don’t think Revere would have cared beyond the award’s potential short-term effect on ticket sales.

Now, the central figure in the Raiders story — the only one there from beginning to end — has gone silent, and done so without leaving a first-hand document behind to tell that story. Of the “original” band (in other words, mostly guy whose names most wouldn’t recognize), only Mark Lindsay remains. Of the most popular Where the Action Is era and later 60s lineups, several survive, and many are still active in music. If I can come up with a way to tell the story as it should be told with the help of several of them, the book idea might somehow get off the ground, but for now it’s on indefinite hold.

I’m sure too that in the meanwhile, various players in and around Revere’s orbit will come out with their own stories. And as is human nature, some of them will portray themselves as the protagonist, the one who gallantly slayed the dragons, stood up to the formidable opposition, and kept the flame burning. And while they all have merit, don’t you be misled: as Revere told Ed Osborne in 2009, “It was my band, and I ran that son-of-a-bitch like a sergeant.”

And he did it dressed like Captain Crunch, laughing all the while. Again, quoting from the Osborne interview (which forms the basis of the liner notes for the 3CD set of the band’s Columbia singles),

“Looking back, we really had an incredible run. We owe so much to Roger Hart and Dick Clark and all the people that worked so hard…overall I can’t complain because we had an unbelievable amount of success that most groups never get to have. Any mistakes that were made along the way don’t mean shit after it’s all said and done. Everything turned out for the best.”

Paul is survived by his third wife, Syd; his adult children; his bandmates current and former; and the legion of Paul Revere and the Raiders fans. A funeral service this coming weekend will be open to the public; after that, a private burial will have him interred in his home state of Idaho.

Read more of my Raider-related writing here.

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In Memoriam: Paul Revere (Part One)

October 8th, 2014

As you have likely heard, Paul Revere passed away on Saturday. Age 76, he had been diagnosed about a year ago with brain cancer; despite that challenge, he remained active and onstage with his band Paul Revere and the Raiders until a few months ago.

As some readers will know, I have written extensively about the man and his band. I’ve also found myself right on the periphery of the inner circle, in regular contact with members of what one might call “the Revere organization,” some of those closest to the man himself. So while I don’t claim any special degree of access, I was perhaps a bit more clued into the situation than the average fan.

The reason for my contact was pretty simple: through intermediaries, I had – for quite some time now – been attempting to convince Revere to cooperate with me on a planned book that would chronicle his fifty-plus years in music. The book would have charted the history of Paul Revere and the Raiders from their earliest days as The Downbeats; through the period when they were one of the hottest bands on the Pacific Northwest scene (when they cut “Louie, Louie”); on through the most well-known period when they signed with Columbia and racked up more television appearances than any other musical artist before, then or since; through the lean years in the early 1970s, by which time the band had fallen out of popular favor and lost charismatic lead vocalist Mark Lindsay; and – and this is important – from then until now, when, save for a brief year or so – Revere continued to lead the band through a revue/nostalgia phase that brought joy to countless baby boomers (and their kids and grandkids).

That last part really is important, because knowing what I do know of the man, this post-record-deal period (lasting some thirty years now!) would have been every bit as important to Paul Revere as the hit-making 1960s era. Some (and if they have any self-awareness at all, they know who they are) go on endlessly about the so-called “Raiders legacy,” but at the risk of projecting a point of view onto someone who has passed on, I strongly suspect Revere would have shook his head and laughed at that. Paul Revere was that rarest of creatures, the likes of which one doesn’t stumble across much these days: an entertainer. His brief, as he saw it, was to entertain. He was largely untroubled by such ambitions as “artistic self-expression” and such.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the man could play some mean piano. Perversely, many of the obituaries now appearing in print and online credit Revere as “leader and organist” of his band. While it’s true that on many of the group’s biggest hits, the Vox Continental organ is the keyboard of choice – and Revere was often seen mime-playing the organ in video clips and on episodes of Where the Action Is – he’s on record as saying he truly disliked the organ. On record, the parts were often played, uncredited, by others: Glen D. Hardin, Van Dyke Parks, sometimes even bassist Phil “Fang” Volk. Revere was a boogie-woogie piano man of the highest order, and he could still wow ‘em when he wanted to. When I saw him onstage in 2010, he did a show-stopping solo number, and (cough, cough) there’s a private audio recording of that performance to prove just how amazing it was.

But onstage and in other idioms, Paul Revere sought to entertain, not make artistic statements. That’s why his revue band (circa 1975 onward) ran through somewhat perfunctory versions of the hit singles; the live versions were smashed together in an all-killer-no-filler medley that gave each hit something like thirty seconds to a minute. Revere rarely composed songs for the band, and as such his approach to the catalog might seem irreverent: give ‘em a few seconds and move on, he would have thought. His well-worn stage banter included a bit about successfully rewriting one of the band’s biggest hits “backward” so they could earn another hit. Coming from anyone else, such sentiments would have sounded cynical and antagonistic; from Revere, it was all good fun, all done in the same spirit of serving more of that elusive quality we call entertainment.

And it was Revere’s general disinterest in “artistic” statements that factored into his mid 1970s break with Mark Lindsay. (Yes, yes, hardcore fans: I know well and good that there are other reasons, but it’s not ours to speculate, and I’d argue that most of those issues flow originally from the two men’s basic lack of meeting-of-the-minds.) By the time of a fateful gig at Knott’s Berry Farm, Lindsay had decided he had had enough: he had aspirations (realized to an impressive degree) of a solo career, and had tired of cranking out the hits to amusement park and county fair audiences, so he split. With his focus on entertainment, Revere had no compunction about replacing Lindsay (and anyone else before or after who needed replacing) and soldiering on, so to speak. Long-time Raiders manager and confidante Roger Hart succinctly characterized Revere’s attitude toward his band: “a well-oiled machine, with occasional spare parts.”

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A Chat With The Turtles’ Mark Volman, Part 2

October 7th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: I was ten when the film came out, and even though Dirty Duck was a cartoon, I wasn’t allowed to see that one. It got an X rating…

Mark Volman: Right! “Livin’ in the Jungle” came from that, and several others. “Get Away,” “This Could Be the Day,” an unreleased version of “Goodbye Surprise,” and “(You’re Nothing But a) Good Duck.” And another song we did called “Rollin’ in the Hay.” “Youth in Asia,” “Mystic Martha,” and “The Big Showdown.” Some of those were some sort of [Bruce] Springsteen stuff that we were messing around with. Those are all unheard material that we thought maybe we could add to make a Battle of the Bands reissue even more special. It would have a little more volume to it, instead of just being a 34-minute record. So we’ll see how that comes out.

It’s fun to dig into the archives. We haven’t really unearthed our old unreleased stuff the way that other artists have, because we didn’t feel that there was really that big of an audience for it.

Bill: I’m a big fan of the Flo & Eddie albums.

Mark: All of it is available. If you go onto The Turtles‘ site, you can buy albums one and two (The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie from 1972, and 1974′s Flo & Eddie) and albums three and four (1975′s Illegal, Immoral and Fattening and Moving Targets from 1976). We packaged the two Warner Brothers albums together, and the two Columbia ones together on CD. And online you can actually download the reggae album (1981′s Rock Steady with Flo & Eddie).

Bill: That one’s very, very hard to find on vinyl…

Mark: And it would be a hard one to pull together for a CD or vinyl release, because of all the song ownerships. But it hasn’t escaped us as a potential vinyl reissue. As well as The Crossfires! We did a CD reissue [of the pre-Turtles surf group], and one of our hopes is to do a vinyl reissue. Ultimately, the plan would be to do vinyl reissues of all of those, and then put them in a box set for sale in Europe. Because the fan base over there knows our history, because our connection to Frank Zappa.

The music of Flo & Eddie never, unfortunately, broke in America the way it did in Europe and internationally.

Bill: I was at a garage sale last summer, and I stumbled across a copy of the 1982 Checkpoint Charlie EP. The one where the record plays from the inside out.

Mark: What a fun record that was! You know what’s so funny, that record – as crazy as it was to do – we did it in an afternoon. We sold Rhino on the whole idea; not just spinning it backwards, but doing it using only kids’ toys. All the recorded instruments are just toys, stuff that a kid could own at the time. It was a hidden project for years. When Rhino finally put it out, it became kind of an underground thing. And listening to it today, we were really way ahead of what the curve was at that time, in terms of the whole electronic thing; it hadn’t really happened yet. We just did it as a one-time thing and then moved on to something else.

Same with the reggae album: we were just messing around with that, and then we found somebody to finance us going down there [to Jamaica]. Because we didn’t want ot do it with a bunch of musicians from California!

Bill: Howard has been quite bust the last several years, what with the My Dinner with Jimi film and his book with Jeff Tamarkin. Besides touring with Flo and Eddie and the Turtles, and teaching at Belmont University, what do you have going on these days?

Mark: I’m a full time professor. So I don’t really have a lot of extra time. This new box set has been about a twenty-four month consideration. Right now our Happy Together tours fill up summertime, so we really don’t have to do a whole lot of extra touring. This last year we did a show up in Bearsville NY, at the Performing Arts Center, with Dweezil Zappa. So we’re talking about maybe playing the music if his dad, and taking that overseas. So there’s all that, and we’re pushing these vinyl reissues now – we did the Happy Together and It Ain’t Me, Babe albums on vinyl just last year. And besides Battle of the Bands, we’re also looking at reissuing Turtle Soup on vinyl. And otherwise we’ll kind of lay low.

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A Chat with The Turtles’ Mark Volman, Part 1

October 6th, 2014

The TurtlesMark Volman and Howard Kaylan, aka Flo & Eddie – have worked tirelessly to regain the rights and control over their catalog; the latest fruit of their labor is a new 7-record box set containing 45rpm records. I spoke to Mark about that set, their larger plans of a vinyl reissue program, and a few of their lesser-known works. – bk

Bill Kopp: There’s something special about having Turtles music on vinyl. Just last year, FloEdCo reissued the Happy Together and It Ain’t Me, Babe albums on vinyl, and now there’s this set of 45s. After years of not having control over reissues, and seeing haphazard collections of your music coming out, how does it feel to be able to, shall we say, set things right?

Mark Volman: Well, of course that’s always been on our minds. There were so many outside deals that had been negotiated. We needed to clean up everything, and it took a long time. I would guess that some of the deals had to be attacked a lot more than others; some just had to kind of run out. But ultimately, to do things right, we wanted to get everything in-house. And that took a whole lot of years.

But vinyl has always been something that we loved, because we collect; both Howard and I are fans of vinyl. I’ve collected 45s and albums since the sixties. So having the ability to pull this stuff together for vinyl collectors has been really fun. We did the Greatest Hits; the 45s that we’re putting out are another version of that, but we wanted to do something in kind of a fun way. So we created a reproduction of the original way these came out: we used the colors of the label…

Bill: The deep blue labels are very reminiscent of the White Whale labels on the 60s records…

Mark: Yeah. And we wanted to include the “Turtles on 45” spindle in case people needed it. Everything about it was nearly done, and we got to the point where it’s going to be made available internationally. We’re really excited about it, though I don’t expect it to sell more than three, four, maybe five thousand copies.

For the last two years, we took a prototype of this package out on tour with us, and sold them. And those limited edition ones were in a little different package, and they were sold on our Happy Together tours. This upcoming summer, the fifty cities that we’ll hit, we’ll take out this new version. There’s a diehard fan base that stays with us through the years, and they just love it when we put together this kind of thing.

Bill: The one thing – and this isn’t a criticism, it’s a question – is that you didn’t include a set of liner notes, a booklet or anything. I wonder if that was a missed opportunity.

Mark: I think that The Turtles history is pretty intact online. If someone wanted to go online, they could read all about it. And every greatest-hits album that we’ve put out has had a little blurb or something. What we really did here was just focus on the records coming out. We weren’t really trying to reach a new audience as much as we were providing a new version for the older audience.

We didn’t want to do a booklet; we had our choice: we could have done six 45s and a booklet, or eight 45s. We felt it was more important to put the songs in there. And so rather than treat it like it was history, we presented it like it was new.

Bill: Are there any plans to reissue other Turtles music on vinyl? Maybe my favorite of The Turtles’ albums, The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands?

Mark: Yes. In fact Howard and I entered into discussions about a couple of things. Battle of the Bands, definitely. But if we do that, we want to do it with all the visuals, and do a little bit more of a presentation. There’s also a second Battle of the Bands record that Howard and I have assembled, which includes a lot of music that was never released. That includes some of the things that Howard and I did for movies. We wrote original songs for some movies back in the 70s. And we called it Battle of the Bands just so we had a way to refer to it. So what we’re considering is repackaging Battle of the Bands on vinyl, but with a second record. There’s stuff from the motion picture The Dirty Duck

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Honeymoon Hundred-word Reviews, Part 5

October 3rd, 2014

I’m on my honeymoon this week, so I thought it would be a good time to offer up some backlog-clearing entries in my occasional series of Hundred Word Reviews. And though the musical styles are all over the map, there’s a theme of sorts this time: each of the acts reviewed has been covered previously, either via review or feature/interview.

The series wraps up – for now – with looks at new music from American artists.


Steve Wynn – Sketches in Spain
This Omnivore Recordings collection isn’t exactly a reissue: the albums from which the 19 tracks are drawn (Smack Dab and Australian Blonde) were released only in Spain. Sounding like a cross between Television and Gang of Four, Smack Dab prominently features Linda Pitmon‘s thundering bass. The even-earlier (but released later) Australian Blonde material is surprisingly poppy, shimmering ear candy that may come as a shock to those familiar with Wynn’s other work. Some unexpected and thematically linked covers (Three Dog Night‘s “Never Been to Spain,” Los Bravos‘ “Black is Black”) showcase Wynn’s latent skill at interpreting the work of others.


Alarm Clock Conspiracy – Harlequin
Back in early 2012 I championed their first album, but on Harlequin, this Asheville NC-based quartet has seriously raised the bar. Thanks in large part to the songwriting prowess of two very different composers (guitarists Chris Carter and Ian Reardon) the album is a near-perfect balance of powerpop, Southern rock and progressive-leaning rock. Reardon’s title track hints at what “modern country” could sound like if the genre didn’t, y’know, suck. The soaring yet understated harmonies on Carter’s “Thinking Of” are delightful. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this album picked up by a larger label and reissued. Buy this disc.


The Squires of the Subterrain – s/t
As on the last outing from this “group” (Christopher Earl and occasional guests), this disc – either self-titled or called Stereo – feels like a lo-fi update of The Beach Boys, SMiLE era. That said, its most modern corollary might be Olivia Tremor Control; Earl and those Elephant 6 guys share a common aesthetic vision. Ba-ba-ba vocalisms rest comfortably aside jangly guitars and intentionally gauzy production. With its chirpy horn section and chiming backing, “History” weds Sgt. Pepper stylings to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. With his deft way around a melody, Earl could be labeled America’s Martin Newell.

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