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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Honeymoon Hundred-word Reviews, Part 4

October 2nd, 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.

Today’s three reviews look at new music from American artists.


Lucky Peterson – I’m Back Again
On his 2010 album You Can Always Turn Around, Peterson displayed his prowess on vocals and the duolian resonator guitar; this new set shows his power onstage in front of an appreciative crowd. Backed by a crack blues trio, Peterson shows this Berlin audience that he can tear things up on Hammond B3 as well. In addition to standards, he takes on Ray LaMontagne‘s “Trouble” and a few original numbers. He may sport the nickname, but listening to this CD suggests that it was the people in the audience at the 55 Arts Club who were truly the lucky ones.


Backhouse Lily – Stand the Rain
As with their previous release, the duo calling themselves Backhouse Lily creates music that seems to have more instruments than are actually present. This album is a bit more groove-oriented than their last, but the bass-and-drums configuration is no gimmick; it’s merely what they do. To classify this in a narrow genre would do it a disservice; instead I’ll note that listeners who enjoy the melodic yet adventurous side of modern rock (say, Porcupine Tree) may well enjoy Stand the Rain. The music on this instro set in turns rocks hard and grooves, and it’s never too clever for itself.


The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation
New music from Anton Newcombe‘s retro-minded Brian Jonestown Massacre is always welcome here at Musoscribe. Unlike some other modern psych bands (Black Angels, for example), BJM takes The Rolling Stones‘ oft-maligned Their Satanic Majesties Request as their jumping off point. The results are equal parts dark and catchy. There’s a garage-y, slipshod/scuzzy vibe at work on Revelation, and that’s a very, very good thing. Things kick off with the hypnotic “Van Hande Med Dem? (possibly “What Happened to Them?”) and the level of quality stays high. Some of the sax work recalls early Psychedelic Furs; lots of depth found here.

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Honeymoon Hundred-word Reviews, Part 3

October 1st, 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.

Today’s four feature music from acts based in Europe or southeast Asia.


Three Minute Tease – Bite the Hand
A few years ago, American expatriate Anton Barbeau relocated to Germany, and then he commandeered Robyn Hitchcock‘s old band mates Andy Metcalfe (bass) and Morris Windsor (drums); the resulting trio serves up some fine dark-hued powerpop. On their latest, Bite the Hand, they’re joined (on vocals) by wonderful husband-and-wife team Khoi Hunyh and Karla Kane from The Corner Laughers, and on one track, the legendary and still-active Keith Allison (Paul Revere and the Raiders) on guitar. But it’s Barbeau’s voice songs at the center of it all, from the anthemic opener of “Bravely Fade Away” right through to the end.


Dewa Budjana – Surya Namaskar
Though Budjana’s Indonesian, listeners won’t hear much in the way of “world music” on this progressive/fusion outing. Featuring former Frank Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and sought-after session bassist Jimmy Johnson, this is a melodic trip through the instrumental progjazz world. The influence of John McLaughlin is one Budjana wears on his sleeve (and, as the gatefold photo shows, on his chest as well; I have the same t-shirt). The album occasionally sounds like mid 70s Jean-Luc Ponty sans violin. Stinging guitar runs and knotty bass figures atop crackling drums makes this electric outing a delight for fans of the genre.


The Group – The Feed-back
Here’s a very strange – and until now, extremely rare – album: an avant-garde noisefest featuring Ennio Morricone (yeah, the spaghetti western soundtrack composer). But this sounds nothing like the soundtrack from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This collective of composer/players officially bore the moniker Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza, hence the shortened Il Gruppo (“The Group”). Sounding like a cross between Freak Out! Mothers, Can, and The United States of America, it’s a weird yet wonderful foray into the outer reaches. It’s also not miles away from the kind of thing you’d hear on Bitches Brew.

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Honeymoon Hundred-word Reviews, Part 2

September 30th, 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.

Today’s three feature new music from British and/or part-Australian acts.


The Britannicas – High Tea
It’s thanks to the wonders of modern technology that an act such as the Britannicas could even exist: the members are scattered across the globe (USA, Sweden, Australia). But the infectious, highly melodic result of their internet-based collaboration belies that fact. Creamy vocal harmonies, beefy bass lines and chiming electric guitars are the order of the day. The music is richly textured, not unlike a slightly more jangly (and occasionally, slightly less rocking) Smithereens. For people who believe that the best kind of music came out of A Hard Days’ Night, The Britannicas’ High Tea will be manna from heaven.


The Penguin Party – Mesherlek
Don’t let the endlessly inventive packaging distract you from the fact that Mesherlek is simply wonderful. Equal parts snotty and uncompromising pub rocker (think: Graham Parker, early Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe) and wry commenter on lives writ small (think: Fountains of Wayne or Ray Davies), Dave Milligan has a seemingly bottomless well of wry/hilarious story songs wedded to killer riffage. Topping Sex Furniture Warehouse would seem an unachievable feat; with this album, Milligan and his mates have pulled it off. From the jaunty ska of “Do You Know Who I Am? to “Token Tree Hugging Ecological Song,” it’s essential.


Cleaners from Venus – Return to Bohemia
Martin Newell‘s witty observations are always wrapped in lovely melodies. His latest one-man effort is no exception. “Cling to Me” sounds like the demo of a hit tune (and is a bit reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock‘s “Element of Light”), and the rest of the album is just as swell. Newell won’t likely win scores of new converts with this low-key affair, but those who’ve been hipped to the wonderment of his work will surely find plenty to treasure here. He has a huge catalog, but Return to Bohemia is as good a place as any for the initiated to start.

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Honeymoon Hundred-word Reviews, Part 1

September 29th, 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.

Today’s three are all new reissues of previously-released albums.


Rick Wakeman – White Rock
Another in the keyboard virtuoso’s steady stream of 70s album releases, this is Wakeman’s official soundtrack for the 1976 Winter Olympics. This one is all instrumental, featuring only Wakeman and a bit of percussion on some tracks. No mucking about with singing or guitars, and precious little choir either. With the exception of the somewhat pedestrian “blues” of the title track, it’s lovely, varied, evocative music that shows the once and future Yes keyboardist’s skills as composer, arranger and musician. Those digging this may also enjoy Real Gone Music‘s reissue of Wakeman’s 1977 Criminal Record (I wrote the liner notes).


Cass Elliot – Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore
To me, the music of The Mama’s and the Papa’s always leaned in a wide-appeal direction, the kind of thing you parents wouldn’t hate. And that’s not a bad thing. On this, Cass’ final release, she lays bare her ambition to be an all-around entertainer. Backed by a crack band including Joe Osborn and Jim Gordon, she’s the singing star of a very successful show, working her way through a nice mix of showbizzy tunes on this soundtrack from her 1973 CBS-TV special. Her delightful reading of Paul McCartney’s “My Love” is a highlight. Bonus tracks make it even better.


John Wetton and Richard Palmer-James – Jack Knife/Monkey Business
This interesting gap-filling release is a 2CD set documents the work that bassist/vocalist John Wetton did through the 1970s with musical partner (and sometime King Crimson lyricist) Richard Palmer-James. Though dated in places, it holds up well. Some of the playing is quite fiery; Palmer-James is an unexpectedly good guitarist. Some tracks are mere snippets (“Starless 1,” “Starless 2”) and as such aren’t nearly as interesting as their titles might suggest, and a couple of late 90s tracks are merely okay, but the package overall is recommended to progressive rock fans who don’t mind the more commercial side of things.

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Bonus Weekend Feature: 101 Runners

September 27th, 2014

I’m getting married today! And I’m so happy about it that I have a gift for my readers: an extra, weekend piece. This is an edited version of a feature that ran a couple of weeks ago in Asheville NC’s local altweekly, Mountain Xpress. — bk


New Orleans is rightly acclaimed as the birthplace of jazz, that most American of art forms. But the city’s rich, multi-ethnic heritage gave rise to an even earlier musical style. Though Mardi Gras Indian funk doesn’t enjoy jazz’s high profile, the lively and expressive form is kept alive through the music and performances of groups like 101 Runners. Recently in Asheville for two shows, Sep. 13 and 14, and featuring War Chief Juan Pardo, the group is an exemplar of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, renowned for pageantry and reveling at Mardi Gras carnivals in New Orleans.

Band leader Chris Jones characterizes Mardi Gras Indian funk as the musical product of “a magic, mystical, spiritual and ancestral tradition” dating back to the late 1800s, a time during which “local Indian tribes and formerly enslaved African Americans had commonality.” These ethnic groups had common problems, and helped each other in many different ways. Centered around New Orleans’ Congo Market, they interacted freely and often, trading goods and mingling bloodlines. Jones points out that the oral tradition of singing, chanting and drumming that developed among the combined cultures is “relatively undocumented,” though some recordings by artists such as Jelly Roll Morton showcased the developing style. The first tribe debuted in the 1880s, calling itself The Creole Wild West; they remain active today. Jones considers the Mardi Gras Indian tradition “one of the most incredible subculture phenomena” in America: “two of the most oppressed peoples of the time were able – through craft and song – to form a bond that helped them weather the storm.” And that strength has helped the tradition continue to this day. “There’s a lot of mystery” to that tradition, Jones says. “A lot of things, they keep close to their vest.”

Asheville’s Goombay festival, then, is an ideal showcase for 101 Runners. The deep connection between Native Americans and African Americans is explored in the group’s percussion-centric music.

Perhaps the most well-known major group exploring the style was The Wild Tchoupitoulas; produced by Allen Toussaint, their 1976 album brought the style to national prominence. They added “a foundation of funk organization” to traditional tribal drumming. 101 Runners build on that style, further exploring the music’s African percussion roots. “A lot of the music starts with the chants and percussion, then the music comes in,” Jones explains. “Then we go on the musical journey together.” He laughs and sums it up as “organized chaos.”

The band’s pair of Asheville dates – an “official Goombay after party” at New Mountain, and a parade and show to close out Goombay on Saturday night – featured African dancers and the flamboyantly dressed Mardi Gras Indians. 101 Runners widened their musical vision further to include a number of local Appalachian musicians who joined in. Jones has experience in this area: he conceived and produced the BlueBrass Project, a series of recordings that paired New Orleans and Appalachian musical styles. Asheville-based musicians Jay Sanders and Woody Wood are veteran members of the loosely-knit 101 Runners collective. Asheville concertgoers experienced a unique mashup of cultures and roots music styles. By focusing on that – plus the African elements highlighted in the Goombay festival – the group could “cross-pollinate.”

“They originally wanted us to play 45 minutes” at Goombay, Jones says. “That’s like two tunes for us!” 101 Runners negotiated to play longer. But Jones stresses that the dance-oriented, partying Mardi Gras Indian funk is about fun; it’s not “deep and trippy and jammy.”

Jones says that War Chief Juan Pardo “spends countless hours” creating his outfit; the result is full of beads, feathers, rhinestones and other colorful ornamentation. There’s nothing like a 101 Runners performance, promises Jones. Onstage, 101 Runners are “never the same thing twice. In ten years, we’ve had two rehearsals. And one of them was terrible!” Jones observes that the ancestral nature of the music – paying tribute to so many American traditions – can often “wake up some of the ones who came before. One thing I learned really early was not to put any confines on it. We let the music take us where it goes; it’s moving artistic expression.”

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Album Review: Bombadil — Tarpits and Canyonlands

September 26th, 2014

With a slightly more arty take on the approach favored by bands like Fleet Foxes, on Tarpits and Canyondlands, Durham NC-based Bombadil crafts a music that feels like equal parts Americana, baroque art-pop, and quirky Van Dyke Parks-styled worldAmericana. Metallic-sounding tack piano forms the centerpiece of many of the disc’s arrangements, but out-front vocal harmonies figure largely in the group’s sound, too.

But before you start thinking that Tarpits and Canyonlands is some sort of bandwagon-jumping exercise designed to glom on to the success of Fleet Foxes and their ilk, consider this: the album was originally released back in 2009, upon which it sank with nary a trace. A number of serious setbacks contributed to the album’s failure-to-launch, but the most serious setback occurred when band member Daniel Michalak (“considered the band’s driving force,” sayeth the press kit) was waylaid with a serious – and incapacitating – medical condition called neural tension. So despite some early positive reviews, Bombadil disappeared from sight, taking the promise of Tarpits and Canyonlands with them.

After five years(!) of treatment of most ever kind, Michalak started to get better. But things went slowly…very slowly. In 2012 Bombadil finally took to the road for a tour, which went well.

Well, now it’s 2014. Earlier this year the band – rightly convinced of the quality of their largely overlooked 2009 album – reissued Tarpits and Canyonlands. But they didn’t simply burn up a stack of CDs. Oh, no: Tarpits and Canyonlands has been given the most lavish reissue/repackage one can imagine. A sprawling 2LP vinyl set comes housed in the sturdiest gatefold sleeve I’ve ever seen, complete with artwork and extra goodies that border on the precious. But for a standout album of its quality, the lavish treatment makes sense.

The band’s baroque Americana somehow feels warmer and less stilted than (gotta mention ‘em again) Fleet Foxes; there’s something up close and personal about the production values that makes the whole affair seem, well, friendlier. Yawning cellos lean up against gently picked acoustic guitars; odd bits of distorted guitar rub uncomfortably against martial snare drum blasts; the net effect is difficult to classify, but worth the time spent unwrapping its charms.

In connection with the reissue, Bombadil returned to the road; the next several weeks will see the band take a southern swing, with October dates in Ohio, then Virginia, two dates in their home state of North Carolina, two in Georgia (Atlanta and Athens, natch), and three in Tennessee (Gatlinburg, Nashville, and Knoxville.

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Album Review: John and Yoko w/ Harry Smith: I’m Not the Beatles

September 25th, 2014

Way back in 1990, author John Robertson published a provocative book called The Art & Music of John Lennon. The title might lead one to think it’s a coffee table book or somesuch; in fact it’s something much more weighty (metaphorically speaking, that is). Robertson’s central thesis – consistent with a largely unspoken viewpoint espoused by John Lennon and wife/partner/collaborator Yoko Ono – is that everything John and Yoko did was essentially part of one big work of art. Yes: not only music, but written pieces (such as Yoko’s Grapefruit), public appearances (like the 1969 Amsterdam and Toronto bed-ins), films (Apotheosis, Erection, and so on) and interviews.

If one buys that argument (and I do), it points out John and Yoko’s commonality with Frank Zappa: Zappa’s entire body of work somehow fits together, puzzle-like, into something aficionados call the Project-Object.

Robertson doesn’t make explicit mention of the series of interviews the couple held with Village Voice journalist Howard Smith, but passing mention is made to those interviews in the larger context of the bed-ins and other milestones in their timeline. As it happens, John and Yoko sat (occasionally over the phone, more often in person) with Smith for no less than a half dozen interviews between May 1969 an January 1972. Totaling more than four hours of audio, these previously unreleased conversations have now been released as an eight-CD set called I’m Not the Beatles.

Of course the Lennons gave many interviews in that period; before John’s self-imposed retirement (1975-79), he was one of the most accessible artists in the pop world. And as the couple lent their high profiles to a dazzlingly varied assortment of causes, there was nearly always a timely and relevant reason to sit down with them for a chat.

A few things are especially remarkable about these interviews. One, John and Yoko are nearly always patient and respectful of their interviewer. One must realize that they had answered these very same questions – or slight variations on them — dozens of other times; especially in the case of the bed-ins: how many ways are there to respectfully respond to a question that basically asks, “What the hell is it you’re doing?” the flip-side remarkable quality of the interviews is that Smith seems unafraid to ask tough questions. He pushes Lennon hard (and repeatedly) on the efficacy of sitting in bed, planting acorns, posting billboards and the like, all “for peace.” And when he doesn’t get an answer that satisfies him, he asks again, from a slightly different angle.

All of the big events that John and Yoko were involved with in the period get discussed in these interviews. The Toronto Peace Festival and the couple’s involvement with Greenwich Village leftists are explored in some detail.

The booklet enclosed with the CDs sketches the arc of Smith’s getting to know the couple, and places the series of interviews into historical context. Liner notes writer (and Beatles expert) Chip Madinger credits Smith with introducing John and Yoko to the nearly talentless John Peel, but listeners shouldn’t hold that sin against Smith; just appreciate his skills as an interviewer and delight in this fascinating box set of conversations wit John and Yoko.

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