The New Mini-Mutations Record Is Now Available For You To Enjoy!

You Can Meme Like This. Or You Can Meme Like That.

$10 From WTBC Records. Not Available Digitally! Limited Quantities On Physical Media Items! Act Fast! 

There is so much in this world this is constantly vying for our attention. New TV shows. Social Media. That person in the street yelling about the Venusians who are about to invade our planet. And let’s not forget that string of local pets and animals that all want you to rescue some kid who is stuck in a rusting tractor out in Old Man Thornton’s corn field. Are you really the only one home at this hour of the day? Isn’t there a volunteer fireman nearby, somewhere?

With all of that going on, sometimes you just want to get away from it all. Maybe, for example, you want to disappear with that book of Nancy comics that you enjoy so much, and sit in a graveyard for while to read it, without the prying eyes of your neighbors trying to figure our which of the two of you prints their own money. But even in the most remote graveyards, with the world sufficiently blotted out by the sounds of nature, it would be wonderful if someone made the perfect soundtrack that you could listen to. Not too loud, of course. But just loud enough to really make the cops wonder what you’re up to.

Now, of course, there are many albums that would be perfect for this kind of listening experience, and Columbia House now has a section for this genre in their 12-CDs-For-A-Penny club this year. But, while it might not be a new, or even unique, idea to make an album meant for just such listening condition, Mini-Mutations might as well throw their hat into the ring, with their newest musical offering on CD, and not available in other formats! (Yet!)

 

“Reading Nancy Comics & Listening To Irv Teibel” is the CD you need To Guide You On The Best Possible Path During Your Journey Into the 21st Century.

While some albums offer only one use in your daily life, this collection of live performances and unique-to-this-disc recordings will actually serve many functions for you, and is the perfect multi-tool for these troubled times. The circular nature of the disc allows for replacement in any circumstance where a coaster, frisbee or improvised wheel is needed. In conjunction with the cover, it can also act as a windshield scraper, or as a visor in particularly sunny conditions. There are ample blank white spaces on the cover and interior, which enables you to use those surfaces for taking quick notes if you write very, very small. Fortunately, the cover is recyclable, too.

The entertainment within, however, can be used in a multitude of ways, too. Either as a guided meditation, or turn by turn instructions for that trip to visit your relatives, this disc can fulfill the essential functions of any listened audio that you might find you need to hear out in the built world. Weather it is the audio descriptions of the art at a local museum, the commentary track by a director that you know and love, or even as a new soundtrack to accompany a viewing of The Wizard of Oz, you will find that our new album can meet almost any need that you might have in this modern, bustling world.

Certainly, we also recommend that you consume the media in a traditional manner at some point, too, but when it comes to the value proposition of this material item, it is important to note that we have designed it with flexibility in mind, even if the disc itself is not actually so.

 

Critics Might, Someday, Consider Raving About Some Project Tangental To This One, So You Get In On The Ground Floor, While You Still Can.

Your average album might come with some digital files that are easily lost or misplaced in the flotsam and jetsam that is the average computer interface. And, knowing you, you have a very particular way you like your meta-data to be encoded, anyway. This is why this album is not available digitally, to prevent this kind of problem. When you rip this disc in the comfort of your own home, you will know that we had nothing to do with the way you choose to misplace your files afterwards. And that’s a promise you can count on!

Instead of those hopelessly old-fashioned files, as if you are an .mp3 hoarder from the late 20th century, your purchase includes the following 21st Century items that you can keep as long as you remember that they are important in this fast-paced world of one century later:

YOUR PURCHASE INCLUDES:

An audio Compact Disc, which contains the audio of the brand new album by Mini-Mutations, for you to play at your neighbors when they are fighting or making love!

One New Composition, Unique To This Disc, Never Before Heard by Mortal Humans! Plus four live performances, not available to enjoy elsewhere anymore! This music is not for download. To get it, you need to own this disc!

One Black And White Cover, containing images and information that DIRECTLY RELATE to the audio on the disc!*

An information card that you can fill out, so you can join Professor Schwartzwelder’s “Mini-Mutations Civil Disobedience 101” Club!

One piece of Mutated Money, which is not legal or valid tender in the United States, but apes some of the elements thereof, including unique serial numbers so I can track your international movements at airport checkpoints!

Each album is numbered, and was Inspected by #34, the most trustworthy inspector that money can buy, ensuring the the product you have just purchased is of the highest possible quality, when it comes to experimental music from Salem, Oregon.

 

* We actually coordinated those elements together, in some fashion, if you can believe it.

 

Supplies Are Limited! Offer Void In Wisconsin & South Carolina!

On average, Mini-Mutations puts out no less than 12 releases a year, which makes the first one of 2021 to be an absolutely essential part of any respectable person’s record collection, if they like being respectable, that is. So why not avoid the rush after everyone has read about this on vice.com, and order your copy of this album today, before the sands of time disappear like the days of our lives…

Reading Nancy Comics & Listening To Irv Teibel.

Can you think of a better way to spend the afternoon?

Introducing… Shot Reverse Shot!

Available Now: The Debut Split 7″, and The Debut CD, from the New Space Grunge combo, Shot Reverse Shot!

Blasting out of the garage in a space-faring vehicle knocked up over the weekend by some old friends, the Space Grunge sounds of Shot Reverse Shot are now ready for you to enjoy! This is not experimental music, nor is it loud ‘n’ fast punk rock, avant jazz, or, really, like anything else WTBC Records has released. This collection of electronic rock music, programmed by the Master Control Unit and performed by a loose collection of clones, cyborgs and androids, offers a unique look at the musical story of the future we have often been denied. Now, you can pick up these new sounds from deep, deep space.

 

Half Eye Limited Edition Split 7″ From WTBC Records and Gorbie Lathe Cuts!

Hand-made, lathe cut 7″ record by Gorbie Lathe Cuts, available in stunning white, offering the first music on 7″ by either Half Eye or Shot Reverse Shot! Covers printed by Salem Printing & Blueprint company. This package was hand-cut, folded, glued and assembled in Salem, OR, and contains an assortment of wonderful goodies, including: a download code for the B-Side to the Half Eye tune, a thrilling number called “Sex Bender”; a limited-edition mini-zine only available here, titled “Mirrors,” created by Matt Orefice & Austin Rich; and, the “Seven Bound Beacon EP,” a short digital release by Shot Reverse Shot that can only be accessed through this record. There’s only a handful of these that were made, so get yours today!

$12, Shipping Included in the USNot available digitally! Limited quantity! Order today!

 

Dimension X… Minus One! The Debut Album from Shot Reverse Shot.

Are you ready to bring Old Time Radio to your 21st Century Stereo? This album contains 15 tunes by the newly assembled rock ensemble, Shot Reverse Shot! Futuristic Electronic Space Grunge for you to enjoy, today! But this isn’t just a simple musical album that you put on to enjoy while washing the dishes in your native pod or craft. This professionally duplicated disc is a 50 minute journey with the crew of the Starship Hyperion, as they travel beyond The Furthest Stars, into emotions and places that people have never had to visit before!

Produced by Austin Rich in Quarantine, this album is not available digitally! If you want to hear these songs, they are only available on these CDs, provided by kunaki.com, and in limited quantities, too! Packaged with the album is a code for access to the, “Don’t Count The Suns EP,” exclusively available with this release.

$12, Shipping Included in the USDon’t miss out on this unique musical release! Not available digitally!

 

Limited Edition CD / 7″ Set!

While preparing the 7″ and CD releases for Shot Reverse Shot, we discovered that our supply chain could offer unique items from other timelines. While we could only get a few, we managed to procure a very small number of the 7″ on clear lathes, with different labels! This 7″ comes with a re-packaged version of the debut CD, professionally duplicated, and is the perfect starter pack for the person who is interested in booking first-class tickets with Shot Reverse Shot. These are very handsome looking records and discs, so they will go fast.

$20, Shipping Included in the USSupplies are Limited!

 

SHOT REVERSE SHOT, from WTBC Records.

WE NOW LIVE IN THE FUTURE!

An Interview With LEZET mentions… Mini-Mutations?

This is something very pleasant, and unexpected, that I only just heard about, and that I find very exciting.

I was recently name checked in an interview by Cian Orbe Netlabel (a Netlabel from Rancagua, Chile), with Serbian experimental artist LEZET. What a wonderfully strange, international confluence of events. And, fortunately, you can read the entire interview, in English, here: Interview with LEZET (6 December 2020).

So, dig this big crux: one of the strange up-shots of the pandemic has been the simultaneous isolation of a number of artists, all over the world. So through mutual friends we each have in Hal McGee (and his “Electronic Cottage” group online), we were both recruited to work on a compilation produced by {AN} EeL, which featured a wide range of artists being paired off to create work together. The results are “Two Halves Vol. 7,” which features 18 tracks by 36 different artists, all producing collaborative tracks. For this project, {AN} EeL paired myself and LEZET, who I was unfamiliar with at the time. But, in working on this track, and then through being more aware of their work through {AN} EeL and Hal, I’ve become quite fond of LEZET’s work.

The track we produced together is called, “Riverside Hop Scotch Game,” and you can hear it here:

It was incredibly easy working with LEZET. They mailed me some recordings, without much conversation about what to do with them, or how we wanted to work. We had initially discussed the possibility of LEZET following the muse, and having me coming in to flesh out the track afterwards, but it’s hard to recall that conversation exactly. What I do remember is that when I received the tracks, I immediately heard where my accompaniment would fit in, and very quickly we had a finished tune.

We submitted the track, and I didn’t think much more about that specific song until the comp came out. And it was very cool, not only to find that our track was very early in the running order, but that the entire collection was very, very cool. (I’ve included the entire thing below.

I would have thought that would be the end of it. We both had other projects, and while I was following LEZET’s work with interest, I didn’t imagine I’d get mentioned in an interview like this.

In the question, “Which are your favorite music projects who inspire your work?” Mini-Mutations gets a mention, along with a whole mess of other great artists, too. I feel like I’m in very good company on that list, and I’m sort of nervous about having to live up to the quality of the other artists on this list.

I did a lot of collaborations this year, and in a way, the album I did sort of got lots in the shuffle, as it was packaged with a zine. Between that and other non-musical projects, this has been a very a-typical year for both myself and Mini-Mutations. But it is very inspiring to know that people like LEZET are enjoying the journey, as we both feel out what to do in the coming year.

2020 has been wild, yo.

Review: EC Split 4 by Michael A Cosma & Mini-Mutations (by Jerry Kranitz)

Michael Cosma & I received a very sweet review from Jerry Kranitz, an author of the book, “Cassette Culture: Homemade Music and the Creative Spirit in the Pre-Internet-Age.” Jerry is also a member of the Electronic Cottage community, and actively supports independent artists of all kinds. Here’s his review of our release, which you can still get from Hal McGee’s Electronic Cottage website for both a CD or Digital version. (You can also get a CD from the WTBC Store.) Thank you so much, Jerry! What a cool review.

* * * * * *

EC Split 4 by Michael A Cosma & Mini-Mutations

I’ve been enjoying the EC Split 4 CD I received, which features Michael Cosma’s electronica and collage work and Mini-Mutation’s spoken word.
Michael Cosma’s ‘side’ of the split features an excellent morphing and mixing of contrasts. ‘Death By Death,’ opens with spacey soundscapes, quirky electronica and fun efx’d voices… “Death By Death… Kick Ass!!”. I like the strange blend of edgy ambience and video game soundtrack intensity. ‘House Of Hell,’ is similar, but with the sensation of being on some isolated beach with waves washing on the shore, as electronic pulsating crickets whiz by, and colored by weird robot voices and jarring blasts of electronica. I love the way ‘Skull’ swivels between and blends dreamy ambience with more quirky electronica, with an acid rock injection from guitar, and bits of tension from a periodic, brief heartbeat rhythmic throb. ‘Demented’ is like an off-kilter, high octane, drum centered free-jazz jam for the electronica set. ‘Terror Eyes’ highlights an electronica enhanced dreamworld, with a delirious blend of ripping guitar leads, misty atmosphere, flying saucer effects, and lost souls singing. ‘Black Widow’ is a similarly wigged out glom of psychedelic electronica and creatively mixed collage fun. And ‘Inside Out’ is a lightly musical style of sci-fi and meteorological ambience and effects. Good stuff, I really enjoyed this.
Next up is Austin ‘Mini-Mutations’ Rich’s spoken word story, titled ‘May The Circle Be Unbroken.’ Austin tells the tale — reading aloud — with himself as narrator, and all the character parts. And what is it? A murder haunted house sci-fi mystery! There were occasional light sound effects up at first, but once the body is found things get interesting, as Austin adds a cool musical soundtrack, and fun, creepy effects. Now it’s more of a one-man radio play. Some of my favorite soundtrack music is on the ‘The Cellar’ chapter, with its eerily deep space melodic electronica. I wasn’t expecting a ‘play’, so this was a refreshing twist!

Another New Release! A Brand New Act! Our First 7”!

 

Half Eye is Seattle artist that began in the early 90’s, combining home recordings, indie rock riffs, and odes to Udo Kier, issuing a number of albums that are dark, murky explorations of longing and loss, with a sense of humor that is as much a puzzle as it evokes a guffaw. Over the last 30 years, Half Eye has cultivated a unique sonic pallet that is immediately recognizaable, and yet only implies influences without directly pointing fingers. 

Shot Reverse Shot materialized in the summer of 2020, when a sufficiently futuristic-sounding date had finally been achieved. This quintet of rock & roll androids, clones and cyborgs, have been locked in the server room this year, plugging into the Master Control Unit, so they can lock down the algorithms that will render their first tunes into sound recordings, in an audio range that you can hear! The first of these songs have been pushed to the server, and with Austin Rich producing these tracks, they are sounding pretty excellent. 

WTBC is very excited to be releasing their first 7”, and with the help of these two artists, we think this record, made by Gorbie Lathe Cuts, will be something very special. These songs are not available online, and comes with beautiful covers and a collaborative mini-zine, all designed by Half Eye & Shot Reverse Shot. Bonus digital materials will give you plenty to enjoy while you spin this 45, and people who purchase this record will get a special discount when purchasing the forthcoming Shot Reverse Shot album coming in December. 

Limited Quantities, on White, Lathe Cut Discs.

This is Rock Music! Not exactly an “experimental” release! 

Available in November. Pre-Order NOW!

$12 includes shipping. (A little more for outside the US.) 

WE NOW LIVE IN THE FUTRE. 

Formaldehydra Split w/ Mini-Mutations

Over a year in the planning, this new split record was made by Gorbie Lathe Cuts, and is available for pre-order, as we speak. The record itself won’t ship until November*.

New material by Florida artist Formaldehydra & Oregon artist Mini-Mutations, recorded during the recent fires we suffered from in September. This music isn’t online, and while sold through Bandcamp, cannot be streamed there. If you want to hear these songs, they only exist on these discs.

These records are hand-made in every way; the covers / inserts were printed on free paper with used ink cartridges, cut by Austin in The Lava Lamp Lounge. QR Codes activate unique bonus materials not available elsewhere. And, only available in limited quantities. Once they are gone, they are gone. Just like our dwindling forests.

$12 includes shipping. (More outside the US… Let’s talk.)

The forests need our help. Maybe this will be The Summoning Call?

* Possibly sooner, but hope for the best / expect the worst, yes?

Final NoiseFest 2020 Roundup Post

What an incredible weekend. I’ve attended a few live events online, and they are usually fairly lackluster, without a lot of engagement (or, really, people even showing up). So it was so impressed to find that we had about 100 viewers for most of the three days of NoiseFest, and it really did feel like a weekend gathering, rather than a digital show that we all watched from our homes. The chat was lively and fun, and I think everyone involved had a great time.

I don’t’ have a lot to say that I haven’t said before, so I will merely say: I’m still recovering. For some reason, even though I was at home, it felt like I was with this crew of folks for the entire weekend, and it was nice to know that I could re-create that with something like this.

Anyway, I had fun.

Here’s a couple links I think you’ll appreciate:

Austin At NorCalNoiseFest 2020

This playlist contains all of my contributions to NorCal NoiseFest this year, including my 20 minutes performance, a pair of commercials I made for the Sacramento Audio Waffle, my ad for the WTBC Store (at wtbc.bandcamp.com), both NOYZ STALLYNS performances (the SAW performance, which sets up our NoiseFest Performance), and the five minute film that I made that got shown on Day Three. The ads were sprinkled throughout the three day broadcast, so here’s the condensed playlist, that contains all the pertinent stuff. I even managed to capture to the Real Time Chat window that was going during my performance, which you can watch with the audio of my set to accompany it.

* * * * * *

NF 2020 (In All Its Glory!)

This playlist contains the three, uncut, livestreams from the entire weekend. It is a total of 19 Hours of Programming, from a crazy wide-range of musical artists, from all over the spectrum of Experimental and Noise. In fact, this year is a fairly reflective, introspective year, with a lot of sets that include long, thoughtful pieces. It would advise watching it with the live chat turned on; there’s some pretty excellent moments from the participants in there, too.

 

Day 2 Live Stream Is Up, Too!

The NorCal NoiseFest Live Stream continues to be excellent, and yesterday was no exception! Over 6 1/2 hours of experimental music and video programming, some of it streamed live from our respective studios, some of it pre-recorded, for everyone’s sanity.

There’s more to come! Today’s stream starts at 2 PM, and I have a few bits and bobs in the show that you might enjoy, including a five minute short movie that hans’t really been seen since it was shows to an audience in Corvallis earlier this year (which you can see around 5 PM.)The line-up today is silly good, so hopefully I’ll see you in the chat! Enjoy!

 

Even A Pandemic Can’t Keep Us Quiet: The NoiseFest 2020 Compilation

For the last four years in a row, I’ve participated in the NorCal NoiseFest, the longest running festival of its kind. So much goes on at this fest, in terms of meeting people, swapping cool music and gear, discussing our particular audio landscape, and everything in-between, that the idea of skipping a year was really hard on all of us. But it didn’t take long to figure out how to move the whole thing online, and soon enough, all the usual things associated with the fest needed to get sorted out: t-shirts, the schedule, etc. And, of course, the compilation.

For the last three years I’ve contributed a track to the comp, and it has been wild to be on a disc with some of these incredible artists. Some real heavy-hitters come out for the fest, and the comp usually captures an excellent cross-section of performers, and a view into the world of experimental music that is pretty varied and excellent, even for those who have never experienced this kind of music before. It seems like more and more people attend the fest each year, and more and more  people get involved in the comp, too. The number of tracks per disc on the three I have only increases with each year.

The new comp is out; you can get it (and other merch) over at the Square Site, or you can pick up the stuff that you don’t find there on the BandCamp Page. And, here’s a little factoid that you might enjoy: the more stuff we sell through the merch stores, the more the artists get paid this year. Since no one can pay the cover at the venues this time, and since there’s fewer opportunities for artists to make sales in person, this is going to help all the performers involved make a little scratch.

So please, consider getting some cool schwag, and support people like me with your generosity!

Some of the artists that appear this year’s disc: Kompripiotr, Juice Machine, Don Haugen & John Frank, Human Fluid Rot, +DOG+, Skrunt Skrunt, Instagon, Chopstick and so much more. 33 Artists in all! At that rate, you are enjoying over three performers for every entertainment dollar you spend on this collection. A bargain during almost any calamity.

If you are interested in making a deal directly with me, I have physical copies ONLY, on CD, of the last three compilations. I am selling them for $10 apiece, or any two for $18, or all three for $24. I don’t have an official link, but if you message me, we can work out the details. After the fest, I’ll be re-designing the online store, where some stuff that has not been up previously will be available for purchase, including two new lathe cut records! But if you want to support the fest as a whole, I would use the links above.

I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on these comps. And, for an added bonus, the track on the 2018 disc is a collaboration with Mini-Mutation & Red Panda Death March. What more could you ask for in your musical entertainment? You should pick one of these up, today!

 

NorCal NoiseFest 2020 Performer Profile

Holiday Special is one of the hardest working people involved with the NorCal NoiseFest every year, and the is mostly because AV is a totally essential part of the fest, and they handle all the photography and Performer Profiles, as well as tons of other stuff. So I was flattered to be asked to be in one of the profiles this year.

Here’s the best thing I’ve seen all day: someone else cutting down my rambling conversation by 1/10th and improving the way I sound by 100 fold. If you’ve ever been curious about what I do, and wanted a three minute summary, this is it:

NorCal NoiseFest YouTube Channel:

youtube.com/NorcalNoisefest

See ya this weekend!

Sorting Through The Timeline

Sometimes it’s difficult to make sense of the past. Things happen quickly, you do a little of this, a little of that, and then, before long, it’s been almost 30 years and you have to rely on old journals, the memories of close friends and collaborators, and at times, strange information that you end up Googling online, to fill in the gaps.

The funny part about archaeology, in whatever form it takes, is that the things you do find are often as surprising and unexpected as the things you set out to find in the first place. Sure, you might think you found the remains of an excellent village that you can then now try and make sense of, very quickly you discover that the only section of the village that is yielding anything worth looking at is the dump, and even those finds are mixed with… let’s just say, garbage.

Digging through old files, boxes of fliers and documents, and my own “source documents” from various events and experiences, has (more or less) yielded a near-complete list of the musical endeavors that I have participated in, going back to my first efforts in 1994. I have excluded anything that never made it past the “idea” phase; we had to have played out at least once, either live or on the radio. This immediately controlled for some of the more odd and ambitious groups I was involved with, but also brought the idea down to earth in a way that was manageable. This list is the stuff that there is enough evidence to occasionally raise the odd question about this one or that one, every so often.

Obviously this is in progress, and obviously, there’s probably some obvious bits I have strangely omitted, for some strange reason. I hope to improve this list as new evidence is uncovered, and as The Archive is massaged into some sort of shape that makes sorting through documents and files much, much easier. Until then, if you help remind me of something that I clearly forgot and / or omitted, I would be happy to hear from you.

Three-Way Split!

It’s a new release for the spring, with new music from all your favorite Experimental Artists.

Three new tunes by Bast Awakening! (Ellen & Chris)

A new jam by DEATH MUTATIONS. (Chris & Myself)

…and…?

Over an hour of new music, and it can only be yours, easily, if you want it. Not available for download (yet), if you must have this, you’ll also need a CD Player.

Hand made music! Discs assembled and duplicated, with covers cut / folded / stapled by hand! Limited to 50 copies! Reversible covers allow you too present this disc in four different ways!

It’s the WTBC Three-Way Split! Get yours today!

Settle Your Debts

The Ides of March was upon us, and rather than cower in fear – which seems to have been what we should have done – The Olsen Twins Ghostlight Ensemble convened for a Sunday morning recording session that just so happened to tickle our fancy. Hopefully, you enjoy this one, too.

This arrangement includes: Scott Eave (Guitar, Woodwinds), Kevin Van Walk (Drums) & Austin Rich (Ronald’s Luggage / Electronics / Synths).

The Lava Lamp Lounge has been a nice room to host a number of folks, and this particular arrangement is very nice. It sounds good, and I think we play well in this space. And this might be the primary way you hear us from now on, so we’ll continue to iron on the way we present these to you. Maybe we can improve the camera stuff in the future? Hard to say.

Perhaps you can pick up this recording, and help keep us in new strings and cables? It’s really our primary expense, and we want to keep bringing this to you, somehow.

Mental Health Improvement Diary

I did some backing up.

And something thinking.

I watched a movie with Marla that we both knew pretty well. On the whole, it was pretty casual.

I spent the day making merch. It’s looking good. You want one?  Message me. There’s a limited quantity, and I want the people who will like this to get it. It’s a three-way split CD, Bast Awakening (Ellen & Chirs), DEATH MUTATIONS (Chris & Myself) and Mini-Mutations. All the primary work is done. All that was left was the printing, disc duplicating, folding, and assembling.

And, of course, thinking about how I want things to look, and where I want things to be, in the future.

 

T-Shirts Are Now Available For A Limited Time Only!

T-Shirts Are Now Available For A Limited Time Only!

Mini-Mutations Shirts

(Limited Quantities! S, M, L, XL or 3XL Still Available!)

The Olsen Twins Ghostlight Ensemble Shirts

(Limited Quantities! S, M, L, XL, 2XL or 3XL Still Available!)

100% Cotton. $20 Each. Until they are gone.

* * * * * *

In the 27 Years that I’ve been making ’zines and playing in bands, there have been painfully few t-shirts that were ever available to the public. So, it is with no small amount of fanfare that we are offering, for a limited time, a selection of copy- and trademark infringing shirts by Mini-Mutations and The Olsen Twins Ghostlight Ensemble, for the low-low price of $20 apiece. ($25 shipped.)


When these are sold out, there won’t be anymore. If we make more shirts in the future, they will not look like this. And who knows if that will happen again, to be honest? I’ve never sold shirts, so this is a bit of a gamble. And, there’s a limited quantity, too, to add another wrinkle to this puzzle.

These shirts are screen printed by hand, by our lovely friend Sarah Kindl, on 100% Cotton black shirts, in a fetching monochromatic arrangement that looks good on anyone, and shows your support for the kind of music you would like to discuss at parties. (And, in the case of the Twins shirts, will ensure a long conversation about the reference that will be lost on many in this day and age; the perfect gift for the aging hipster with a strange sense of humor!)

These will be available to buy at the end of February / Beginning of March. HOWEVER, for fans who cannot live without, you can pre-order these NOW, to ensure that you will have the shirt you want. 

I’ll be straight up: these shirts look great, I think you are gonna like them too, but there aren’t that many. If this is a success, then there might be more in the future… but not like these. Right now, this is a test. I believe in these. I think they are in the spirit of both projects, and I want these to get into the hands of people who like that stuff I do, like these designs, and: like t-shirts. 

Considering all of those factors, I am recommending you should reserve your shirt today. It’ll secure your shirt when they arrive, and it’ll help me weigh the possibilities of doing this again at some point in the future.

To make a reservation: e-mail austinrich@gmail.com with the subject line, “RESERVE MY T-SHIRT.” In the body of your e-mail, please specify the shirt you want; which project, and which size.

ACRONYM, Inc. T-Shirts, Now Available. 

Until They Are Gone.

Four Dimensional Nightmare – 4DN 2020

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Four Dimensional Nightmare – 4DN 2020 (Kill Pop Tarts)*

Reviewing the last decade of Four Dimensional Nightmare releases offers a wonderful glimpse, and incredible insight, into what they have accomplished on this most recent release, 4DN 2020. And even that narrow window into the career or this artist probably omits some of the more impressive, and compelling, work. But that does us no good if we are looking for an entry point into this album. To suggest that we should examine the scope and sweep of their career to fully understand what this album is about is akin to saying, “You need to see 23 movies before this one will make sense.” ­

Consider it this way: if you’ve been following their carrer for any length of time, then this album continues themes and tropes that you’ve been picking up on for a while, and certainly is rewarding in that respect.

But that doesn’t do a new listener much good, does it? To say that 4DN is continuing to explore places they hinted at in previous releases is not a decent map for someone about to enter into the kind of darkness predicted by track 5, a beat-driven track almost unlike anything else you’ve heard on a Nightmarish release like this. Layered over the industrial rhythms and strange dance jams are these synth explorations that beg for scrutiny and consideration, and that doesn’t even address the ebb-and-flow soundscape that eerily weaves through the various performances, almost hinting at a Haunted House. This is a dense track, not exactly a great entry point if you were hoping to be eased into this artist, but is perfect for getting to know the mind of Four Dimensional Nightmare.

“Beta Tonic” shakes with a low-end pulse that really caused my head to turn, another track I love, but I’m not sure if it is the way “into” the oeuvre of this artist. Certainly, you are better off trying to catch one of their rare performances, as that, I think, better lets you get a sense of where this stuff is coming from, and perhaps, how you can get in synch. But “Beta Tonic” builds in a way that feels like something new, and I was excited to let it have it’s way with me.

It’s with repeated listens that this album really shines. The hallmark of any Four Dimensional Nightmare album is certainly density. There are layers and layers on any given song on any given album, and there is a weight to a 4DN track that seems heavy with multiple, nuanced performances. You need to re-listen to really get a sense of what’s going on.

What feels new this time around is there is a clarity to the layering, either through careful production or higher quality facilities, that gives you a chance to focus on the different synth lines as they dance around each other. This is a great record for leaving in your car, so you have to return to it over and over again, without needing to change anything. Each time through, something else sticks out, and these bits that catch your attention give you something new to dig into.

The production seems unmistakably first class, and to my ear, this is a major evolution. It’s no wonder Four Dimensional Nightmare makes regular appearances on Mike Watt’s program, as this album illustrates the strengths and boons that are the hidden gems on every 4DN release.

Certainly, the nerdiness is worn on the sleeve of this group, and that is probably never more apparent than on the opening track, “Pi,” which contains some of the first lyrics I’ve heard on a release is years. This comes with the territory; someone playing around with this many synths for this long is bound to get wrapped up in some of the more science-informed subjects, as time goes on. But there are also moments of pure joy and frenzy, like on “Beta BonZyard,” where the ferocity of the Nightmare comes into sharp focus, only to have moments of almost beautiful sounds come forward out of the burbling chaos.

If anything, this is the work of someone who has been at it for a while, and this release not only highlights the expertise with which Four Dimensional Nightmare produces new work, but the repeated listenability of a record that is as experimental as the genre actually suggests.

* When I firsts reviewed this album, it was self-released. Now, Four Dimensional Nightmare has moved to Kill Pop Tarts.

Sufian Abdullah

a1071247913_16Komodo Fried Chicken Blues * Sufian Abdullah * Music To Break Out of Jail By

From Peru we move to Ipoh, Malaysia, and the work of instrumentalist Sufian Abdullah.  While the location may change, the story of a lone musician honing his craft for years is universal, and Sufian spent his spare time in Ipoh playing guitar, over and over again, practicing riffs endlessly, perfecting chord changes, mastering solos.  Sufian’s story could have happened in any city in the world.  The only difference is that modern technology allows us to discover artists like this when, even 10 years ago, we would have never heard of a rock musician from Malaysia.  And, in a way, he is merely a voice in a sea of digital albums available across the web, one of hundreds that are all vying for attention and your appreciation.  Without having a friend clue me into this record, I probably would never have found it.  

Fortunately for me, I did.  

Music To Break Out of Jail By is a collection of tunes that are all born out of blues-based rock music.  Everything is in that Black Sabbath style vein, with a trace of eastern musicality and form.  This western influence on the guitar playing of Sufian is clearly his attempt to break out of the expectation that someone from Malaysia would carry in their musical work.  Stuff like the Nirvana cover, “School,” – a droney, extended jam on the riff that veers into doomy territory – illustrates that Sufian is not only skilled, but a connoisseur of guitar, and that includes music from home as well as from all over the world, too.  For western audiences, an album like this embodies a similar kind of transition: I recognize the blues progressions, but the format is helping me see this music in a new way that I would have never imagined.  

As the story goes, Sufian Abdullah practiced guitar for years at home, playing along to all his favorite punk and metal records.  This was mostly a hobby to him, and he took to it like some kids take to video games, relentlessly practicing until he had a huge repertoire of songs he could play upon request.  However, it wasn’t until home recording was as easy as getting a laptop with GarageBand on it that Sufian even considered making an album.  Made almost entirely by himself, this is a fantastic first effort, and even if this is Abdullah’s only release, it’s a great statement about music in general.  

I also enjoy the fact that “Komodo Fried Chicken Blues” contains every imaginable rock and roll cliche in a new and intimidating form, and thus, is perfectly suited for Chickenman.     

Bait & Switch 78s

12.) The Down Home Boys / Original Stack O’ Lee Blues * Little Harvey Hull / Long “Cleve” Reed * The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

hull1Along with lone mavericks like Lee de Forest and his friends were collectors, people who spent their time reading about and purchasing rare records.  For these folks, a unknown 78 was just as important as the legendary statue that Bogart was talking about when he uttered the phrase that became title of this compilation. But there’s an irony to its use in the movie that the people behind this compilation probably shouldn’t have allowed to be associated with their album: the falcon, of course, was a fake, and Sam Spade delivered the line ironically when a cop asked what the fake statue was all about.

The plot thickens, as The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of claims to contain “previously unissued” recordings of music from the 20s and 30s, an allegation that ironically didn’t pan out too well for Yazoo Records in the long run, though in the wake of O Brother Where Art Thou? becoming a global phenomenon, netted them a few dollars. While the pairing of R. Crumb artwork with Richard Nevins liner notes is supposed to drive home the authenticity of these songs, among collectors it is clear that a few of these cuts have made their way to the public before, and perhaps only a handful were “unissued” in any meaningful sense of that word. The claim that some are mastered from unheard test pressings seems, at this late date, to be incredibly unlikely, but nonetheless, The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of persists as a collection for beginners.

Keep in mind, this was 2006, and the Inter-Web-A-Tron wasn’t as comprehensive as it has become. Old Timey Music was starting to become incredibly popular among the NPR crowd, no longer the realm of people who lived and breathed these recordings. But for new fans, you couldn’t just Lycos “Little Harvey Hull” any easier than you can now, and even still, the information is spotty. Without the deep knowledge of these collectors helping guide you in this largely forgotten world, it is easy enough to end up like Kasper Gutman and Wilmer, tricked by something that looks and sounds like the original, but is not. This does not mean that the fake has no value; in the case of The Maltese Falcon, prop collectors now shell out insane amounts of cash to own a replica that was meant to represent a fake. In the case of this collection, at least there is some great music on it, and the value of a good song – even one you’ve heard before – cannot be underestimated.

Starting here I begin my run of Lee de Forest songs, one of the bit-players in the story of Radio. This original tune has origins that lie in the deep forgotten past, but the “Stack ‘o’ Lee Blues” has taken a number of forms, contemporaneously to the release of this recording, as well as in the misheard forms of “Stagger Lee” in the years since. The beauty of these tunes is that they are reinterpreted by artists endlessly, creating a sort of ‘Song For Any Occasion.’ Considering that both the Lee of this song and Lee de Forest himself shared some of the same qualities, it not only seemed appropriate, but essential.

Electricity Runs Through It

tumblr_my4w4oi4w51qbggpuo2_128002.) Tremens * Sonic Youth * SYR 1

The incidental music for this episode is “Tremens.”  Not only are Sonic Youth the musical heirs to the Captain’s throne of art-rock aspirations, they heartily acknowledge this indebtedness in their own rendition of “Electricity” on a fantastic Beefheart tribute record.  “Tremens” holds quite a bit of significance for me, personally.  I began my stint on radio when the SYR series began, and I listened to them as I was learning the ropes.  This track is featured in an early episode of my program, too.  But the title gets at the thesis statement problem too: in order to get us to a place where we can understand the transformative effects electricity has had on music, we may suffer the the aural DTs as we travel back to the acoustic era of recording.   

41RTQQZQ8VL03.) Two Golden Microphones * Nurse With Wound * Second Pirate Session

I also use a chunk of “Two Golden Microphones” not only because microphones themselves are such a large part of the narrative, and were the innovation that allowed music to evolve out of the acoustic era of recording, and into the electric era of recordings, but to further acknowledge that Nurse With Wound are the true pioneers of the cut-and-paste music aesthetic.  In fact, between them and Negativland – the DNA of which should be apparently audible in nearly everything I’ve done – I would have no other schtick to stand on.  So for that, thank you.

Annex - Crosby, Bing_0804.) The Very Thought Of You * Bing Crosby & Georgie Stoll

From here on the musical selections are slightly less symbolic and much more literal, though I do hope that these can work on at least two levels as well.  Bing Crosby was chosen only because he is a perfect example of the kind of artist that could only have a career post-microphone.  His voice is very well suited for an intimate performance, where we is really singing at a quiet and personal way, something that couldn’t be done in the era of acoustic recording.

amberol05.) Menuett G flat major & Valse bleat * Beethoven (Kathllen Parlow – violin; George Falkensten – piano) * Edison Amberol 4M-28026 (1912)

There is something incredibly charming about being able to listen to Beethoven while you wash dishes, but for this I decided that I should find an actual Edison Cylinder recording, because I knew I could actually take the extra step.  As this song is in mono, it adds another level of simplicity to the program.  There are a number of places online that you can find wax cylinders, and I do very much love listening to these .mp3 transfers of a 100+ year old record for the disjoinedness of it.  Therefore, I encourage you to go to The Thomas Edison section of The National Parks website, and download some archived recordings of Edison Cylinders.  It’s a lot of fun, and they are all really weird.

9757348_106.) Aria from Massanet’s “Le Cid”: O Souverain, O Juge, O Pere * Enrico Caruso * 1916

Something that is lost on audiences 100 years later is the absolute star power of an artist with a name of which you have never heard.  Enrico Caruso released more records in his lifetime than most tenors could ever imagine being featured on, and was the opera singer of his time.  He packed houses across two continents, and critics have spoken so passionately about the sound of his voice that there are some schools who have annual competitions by students who eager to take a shot at describing Caruso’s vocal performances.  If you don’t go that deep into opera, then there’s no reason you would be able to recognize the caliber of his performances, and since the last time Caruso was popular in the US was 100 years ago (and I’m not kidding, it has been that long, precisely), I’m not surprised you don’t know who he is.  I only came across his music when I started listening to The Ragged Antique Phonograph Music Program, and even then I can only really say I know of him.

Plus, opera ain’t really my bag.  But, as a key player in the early days of recording music, Caruso is a perfect example – unlike Bing – of being able to perform for the acoustic era.  It is said that his voice loved the horn, and he could belt out a tune the way no one else could.  It is no wonder he recorded over 250 times in his career; the dude could sing.

top-pic207.) After Dinner Toast at Little Menlo * Arthur Sullivan * ENHS E-2439-7 (5 October 1888)
08.) The Lost Chord * (performers unknown) / composted by Arthur Sulivan * ENHS E-2440-3 (August 1888)

Various corners of the Inter-Web-A-Tron can reveal some incredible things, so here’s something fun I turned up as I was researching this episode: a recording of Arthur Sullivan from 1888 talking about being “thrilled and terrified” by Edison’s invention.  Hopefully you have the kind of ear that can dig through the grooves on this one and really “grok” what he’s saying, but the gist of it is something that I think is at the heart of the central conversation about recorded music: the old generation is excited and annoyed by the next generation all at once.  It was just too perfect, not only as an artifact, but as a way of framing how long this generation to generation conversation has been going since the beginning.  Edison’s later resistance to electric recording technology, then finally giving in and embracing it far too late, is entirely foreshadowed, symbolically.

images-artists-Billy_Murray_-_2009113014512480.w_290.h_290.m_crop.a_center.v_top09.) Alexander’s Ragtime Band * Billy Murray * EDIS 36065 (1911)

Caruso might have been the opera equivalent of a rock star, but Billy Murray has often been referred to as the Elvis of his time, mostly in the sense that Murray was known by everyone.  Unfortunately, he was considered a novelty for most of his career, which spanned almost 45 years across two centuries.  Unquestioningly the biggest household name of the 1900s and 1910s, he sang vaudevillian ballads and novelty songs, and for nearly 20 years made a living touring and singing to people all across the country.  His singing style is considered “conversational,” and people really connected with his everyman style, unconventional compared to other artists working the similar circuit.  While he continued to get work into the early ’40s, as electric recording techniques and jazz began to dominate the record industry, Murray had less and less star power.  In the acoustic era of recording, Billy was the biggest star America had ever known in popular music, and it wasn’t until Louis Armstrong or Frank Sinatra that someone as huge grabbed the American consciousness.  While his name is largely forgotten today, this is a sample of American Popular music at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Hopefully, as we continue with more History Lessons, we can see this style and format evolve.

 

The Lighthouse Beacon

electridonations beefheart01.) Electricity * Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band * Safe As Milk

For a story like this, how can you NOT pick Beefheart’s “Electricity” to kick-start this mother, huh?  If the thesis statement runs along the lines of: electricity is to music as punk rock is to pop — then you really have to put your cards on the table up front, dig? And truly, “Electricity” was the lighthouse beacon straight ahead across black seas, a song that laid bare a new path that rock and roll could forge through the saccharine formula that was prevalent across the musical landscape in 1967.

Already in the years between the early and late 1950s the world has seen an incredible revolution in the form of rock ‘n’ roll, and the ’60s see a massive array of miniature musical revolutions to match, each setting the course for a wide number of new interpretations.  For Beefheart, it was the dirtiness of rock ‘n’ roll, it was the strangeness of The Blues (with a capital T & B) all mixed with this country shuffle, that really turned him on.  But Beefheart wanted to distort both the recording of his vocals specifically and the artform as a whole intellectually, to return the music to its raunchy & rebellious origins.  Ambitious?  Absolutely.  No small feat for any band of any era.  Beefheart’s deconstruction of the blues/rock jam is so perverted it just oozes with the grime that is unmistakably punk in spirit and form.  “Oh, they do it that way?  Well, we do it this way.”  There’s a sort of Troggs-y quality to the forward momentum and chord-progressions, true, but even that comparison only highlights the weirdness of the bass-line, a direct ancestor of the first Clash album, or some Ramones tunes.  This, in many ways, is the source of the infection, patient zero, at least of this particular strain.

The myths surrounding this number are, themselves, larger than life, and the most appropriate pieces of foreshadowing if ever there were any.  As it goes, Jerry Moss (the co-owner of Beefheart’s label) claimed the song was “too negative” for him to allow his daughter to hear it, leading to A&M Records dropping Beefheart.  It is also said that in an effort to get the gritty vocals, The Captain shattered a microphone during one take.  But the strangest legend of “Electricity” comes from one account of a legendary performance on 11 June 1967.  The Magic Band was slated to play on Day Two of The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, by all accounts the first true rock festival as they exist in the modern form.

By way of an all too appropriate tangent within a tangent within an annotation, it is interesting to note that the promoters (Tom Rounds and the staff at KFRC 610) were inspired by the success of The Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California, who were putting together these multi-stage, two-day events with music and artists and food and drinks, packaged together as a weekend of renaissance style fun.  They wanted to do a rock & roll / freeform radio version of their event, and out of this was born The Fantasy Fair, a less documented affair that happened a full week previous to The Monterey Pop Festival, and really kicked off The Summer of Love.

The Fantasy Fair was, for lack of a glamours way of putting it, trying to capitalize on the rise of Psychedelic Rock.  Sgt. Peppers had just come out, and everybody was talking about the San Francisco scene, which was already a few years old by then, and was was already being considered old news by the hipsters who were moving on to the slightly “harder” stuff that was happening in the underground “garage rock” scene of the late ’60’s.  KFRC figured they could squeeze a few dollars from these hippies and make a mark in a big way for freeform AM radio by covering the event.  Everybody wins.

They were, of course, 100% right.  While there were absolutely financial motivations, KFRC was also looking to reclaim rock and roll from the awful version that America was living with in those days.  The early ’60’s had seen the rise of the disdainfully named “bubble gum” craze, called such not only for the association that the music was for children, but for the added insult that the music was also quickly flavorless, and ultimately disposable.  The Pat Boone-ification of these baby-faced teen idols led to a very bland format, which at the time was parading as “rock and roll.”  A lot of people remembered how exciting it was to hear Little Richard on the radio, and were not getting the same vibe from Paul Anka.  At least with the scene at The Fillmore, it could be said to be about, and for, adults who liked to rock, and who remembered that rock and roll used to be fierce and seedy, and fun.  The Rock Festival, as an artistic statement, was to draw a line in the sand and say, “over here, we try to expand our minds like real adults.”

Were we ever so naive?

The line-up at The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Festival is a veritable who’s who of late ’60’s rock bands: The Doors, Canned Heat, Chocolate Watch Band, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, Tim Buckley, The Fifth Dimension.  It is in this insane time and place where Captain Beefheart performed his greatest version of “Electricity.”  Here’s the scoop: The Seeds has just laid waist to the audience, themselves already declaring so-called “psychedelic” rock to be bullshit they produced their own hard-driving sound that was pretty formidable for audiences who were there to see Tim Buckley, or had heard that, “Mr. Tambourine Man” cover and thought it was “pretty.”  The Doors had already begun to walk the darker side of rock music, and there was a small but dedicated group of folks who were exploring things that were new and different.  The Magic Band sets up, trying to find a way to follow the propulsive set The Seeds had just offered.  The crowd is ravenous.  They are ready to rock.  Time freezes.  You can hear the sound of a pin dropping amplified through stage speakers.

The Magic Band winds up, rears back, and lurches forward.  “Electricity” issues forth to a slightly perplexed crowd.  They don’t know what to make of it.  A few are just loaded, so they start to dance.  Others just watch.  Several wander off.  One person is turned away slightly, eating.  But most are trying to get into it, trying to figure it out.  This whole weekend has been about something new, and they are eager.  This song is a little shaky on the landing.  Perhaps not the best song to open with, but Beefheart insisted.  If they could just get to their next tune, “Diddy Wah Diddy,” which has been a bit of a hit when it came out and got a ton of radio play, perhaps they could win–

Beefheart signals, and the band lurches to a halt.  They’re confused.  What happened?  The audience is stunned.  They really don’t know what to make of the situation.  Beefheart silently straightened his tie, and pointed to a girl in the crowd.  Off mic he says, “she has turned into a goldfish.”  Silence, quieter than before.  Beefheart walks toward the girl, right off the front of the stage, pitching up face first in the mud and grass below.  “That’s it!” yells Ry Cooder.  “I have had it with your pretentious unpredictable bullshit, Don!”  Cooder walks off stage, and out of The Magic Band forever.  As Cooder leaves The Captain – still face down – signals again, and the band picks up the song (as best they could, sans one guitar), as if nothing had happened.  As the show went on, you could see Beefheart smiling through the grass stains on his face.

The Seeds claimed it was the best performance they had every seen anywhere, and they should know, as they caught the whole thing from the side as they shared a joint.

Fuck the Summer of Love.  This festival was the beginning of Punk Rock.

The Spirit of The Radio

History Lesson Part I$T2eC16NHJIQE9qUHsFi4BR,J(PNk!!--60_35

The incredible thing about living in the 21st Century is that we have access to information and media of which our early 20th Century counterparts could never dream.  Not only taking into account monoliths like Apple who entirely changed how everyone consumes information in the modern era, but just the access to factoids that would be difficult to source even 10 years ago.  We now live in the future, as difficult as that may be to fully process.  Case in point: at any given moment I can listen to digital transfers of Edison Wax Cylinders, watch The Avengers on a massive screen, text a friend of mine in Istanbul, and take 1000 pictures of a cat sitting next to me, all through devices that are middle class mundanities in this modern world.  The future, indeed.

As a media junkie, I’m always looking for new things to absorb, and with my mind on the very problem of and created by modernity, I stumbled across a CBC Radio broadcast of a program called “The Wire,” and the seeds of this show were first sewn.  Our relationship with music today is entirely born out of music’s relationship with electricity, something that goes back to the end of the 1800s.  As early pioneers discovered ways to capture music – an experience that, previously, required the listener to be in the same room with the performer – music entered a new kind of simulacrum, where mechanical objects were standing in for the real performance and “playing back” these sounds.  Obviously, Edison is one of the movers and shakers in this revolution, but that is not to say that he was the only person fixing sounds to some object in space.  However, his work set the template for the record industry that was to come, and in that sense, he is very relevant. Electricity is now married to music in a way that seems inseparable to the modern ear, and yet is in no way apparent when you are turning on a streaming service to help pass the time.

The idea for my particular punny spin goes back to 2011, when I first began to flirt with the “History Lesson” concept.  I had done a number of shows where I was getting more and more experimental with the editing thanks to my interest in Negativland and Over The Edge, and in some ways my show from the very beginning was about de-contextualizing recordings against music and other forms of audio, but with a “radio” sensibility to the presentation.  (I was, of course, still on the air.)

In 2011 I expanded the scope of these audio essays to a four-hour, two-part broadcast called “Before ’75,” briefly covering as much material as I could about the earliest days of the pre-punk music scene.  However, I always felt as if that show was not enough.  Four hours covered a ton of music, a number of artists, and included a lot of really good interviews and samples that drove the point home.  But the beginning felt lacking.  I always thought that, if you logically extend the story back further, punk rock only really has context if you tell the story that came before it.  Act I of punk rock is the merger of electricity with music; distorted guitars and DIY cassette releases need the first 70+ years of music history to make their revolution son incredible.  I immediately envisioned a new, bigger and grander idea for “History Lesson.”  Let’s really take the listeners back to the beginning.

As we roll back the tape to the end of the 19th Century, the state of music was merely that of being in the same room as a music source: a performer.  From there, we move forward through acoustic recording techniques with Edison, the major difference microphones had on the sounds you could record, and along the way present music that complements the story while driving the narrative from time to time.  Later, we discuss the impact recorded music had on the film industry, and enter a discussion about how these factors lead to the birth of radio itself, a pastime so near and dear to my heart.

At this stage in the program we switch our audio samples over to another very different documentary, “The Empire of The Air.”  This Ken Burns documentary of PBS covers the story of Radio through three men, interestingly enough glossing over Marconi, and omitting Tesla entirely.  (For shame.)  However, it does a good job of drawing a parallel to Edison and his relationship with recorded music: not only do the pioneers of radio develop amazing technology, they are setting the course for how radio would act in the public for generations to come.

And, along the way, there is music to help tell the story.  And what a story it is.

 

On & On & WAY UP.

01.) Turn It On * The Flaming Lips * Transmissions From The Satellite Heart
02.) Excerpt Part I * Ben Brooks * The First 50 Years of Radio Part One
03.) Edited Excerpts * Mike Staff * How To Become A Radio DJ

flaming-lipsIt’s easy to defend The Flaming Lips when they put out a great album, and have a hit song like, “Do You Realize?” and everyone is excited about festival concerts and the extreme production value they bring to their shows. But the cruel eye of hindsight is not so kind to them at times.  While their output is treasured by hardcore fans, they become increasingly panned as the flops start to add up.  This particular era of the band – we’ll call it the “Don’t Use Jelly” years – was not their strongest, to be perfectly frank. They had not yet written Clouds Taste Metallic, and where quite a long way off from The Soft Bulletin. In many ways they have become a bit of a cut-out-bin band, a novelty act that puts out Zaireeka (an album where you listen to all four discs simultaneously), or their absurd “7 Skies H3” (a 24 Hour Long Song), not to mention the song-for-song cover of Dark Side of The Moon, and “Christmas On Mars,” a holiday movie that is as inscrutable as it is terrifying. I can see why some people find them a problematic start to any story.

I don’t want to argue about their relevance or importance; I don’t want to claim that they are essential or a must for any smart psychedelic music fan; I don’t even want to convince you that you need to own or listen to anything else by them.

I just want to ask: have you ever heard anything as uplifting and strangely funny as “Turn It On” with these Mike Staff samples?

I gotta say, it’s better than it should be.

Now that you’re reconsidering The Flaming Lips, let’s get into it for a bit. I can’t change your mind, but they began to click for me when I had a better understanding when I considered the time and place.  Mid-West in the early ’80’s, where the rules of punk rock were trying to set fire to the entire pre-history before The Ramones. Punk insisted that the bullshit excess of rock music from the ’60’s was completely valueless, and that only when we get loud and fast do we break out of the norms that had become “standard practice”. The past had nothing to teach us, and in the name of punk, we could only look forward to getting drunk and fucking shit up. The loudfastfuckyounow of punk awoke in their fans a rigidity of thought and uniform, behavior and musical ethos. Its narrowmindedness is often better summarized as a rejection of everything else rather than an articulate analysis of what they didn’t like about… well, anything.

The Flaming Lips understood that punk rock was due for an infusion of something new to save it: psychedelic rock. The story of punk had, ironically, been paved when rock & roll discovered psychedelia, spinning out of it a million permutations on a similar three-chord idea. Punk was a revolution, to be sure, but was insular and defined by negation, following a narrow aesthetic ideology. It had stagnated without anything new to expand it, and the fascistic denouement of all other things became a hinderance. The Flaming Lips never planned to create psychedelic punk per se, and even still, The Butthole Surfers beat them to the punch. But the Lips were such students of psychedelic rock and punk that their ideology was equally in those two worlds. In essence, the heart of the Flaming Lips is their curiosity about music in these varied forms and structures, and they have dedicated their lives to it.

Their early work borders on avant guarde, as the band is clearly still learning how to be a band. But after a handful of albums like this, a thread starts to emerge, and they get good at playing and writing songs. As the ’80’s closed, The Lips were a fairly strong band that could get a crowd, keep ’em, and put on a fun show the whole time. As the ’90’s began, they released records when everyone was watching for the next big alternative act. In the wake of this, Transmissions From The Satellite Heart hit stores, an album that not only summarized their sci-fi / earnest aesthetic in a nutshell, but wove a radio metaphor into the very fabric of their music, specifically the album opener, “Turn It On.”

If a mainstream band wore their heart on their sleeve more in the ’90s than The Lips, I’m hard pressed to name them at this time. “Put your life into a bubble / we can pick you up on radar / hit a satellite with feeling / Give the people what they paid for.” They have chosen this life, have dedicated themselves to being artists on display for us. We, as listeners, have a chance to pick up the signal they are sending, and fortunately for us they are the kind of band who will “hit” us with a feeling that is as real as possible. For the Lips, there is no better experience than that of celebration, or raising your voice to sing along to a song you hear on the radio, to Turn It On and On and WAY UP, and share that moment across the country at the same time and moment connecting us all in a positive expression of loving a simple rock and roll song.

How cool is that?

You can see that thread throughout all their work: this idea of sharing a celebratory feeling with a large number of people to create a magical moment, even a sad one, or a mundane one, and share that feeling through these transmissions, these records and songs The Lips have been making for almost 40 years now. Their perspective is so much a radio metaphor that, while it might seem crazy at first, they are the perfect band to kick off any story about radio.

This particular mix – with the Mike Staff Samples – comes from another audio essay I made in 2009, “A Sound Salvation.” I was rummaging through the library and came across this self-help tape by a NuRock style DJ, Mike Staff, who was going to reveal his tips for those who wanted to become successful professional DJs. This tape was perfect to mix with songs about radio and DJs, and the show wrote itself. While I don’t usually like to listen to individual songs from a show like this one (as I think the show works great as a whole), there is something about the way the mix during “Turn It On” worked that really sounds good to me. Mike Staff is over the top and full of himself, but his voice has that tone that makes you want to believe what he’s saying. And, for all his cheese, he makes a good point: Your Dream is Important to you, and can guide you if you will let it.

Yma Súmac

enlargementChicken Talk * Yma Súmac * Mambo!

After a while, all the stories people tell about the music world start to sound the same.  This white guy started working at this studio and the artists they found were great.  This guy started writing songs with his friends and they became famous.  It’s all so formulaic that it starts to get a little boring, and you start to mix all those white guys into one amorphous nerd who is hunched over some guitar or studio for way too long.  So even the existence of Yma Súmac, the Peruvian Princess descended from the last sovereign ruler of the Incan Empire, Atahualpa, is a joy to discover in a world of white sameness.  

Born in 1922, when she was 20, Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo took the name Yma Súmac, and began performing with her incredible five octave range to stunned audiences.  Recording a grip of songs in Argentina at a radio station in 1942, she parlayed these recordings into a deal with a local label, which garnered her popularity locally, making her the most in-demand act around.  But Yma had bigger plans: America.  

She married a composer, and together they set out for NYC in 1946, performing around town in local clubs as a trio, with her cousin rounding out the group.  Four years of gigging started to build their reputation, and the reputation of her incredible range was enough to make Yma an important act to be seen in the early ’50’s for anyone hip.  Capitol Records finally came calling and signed her, thinking that she would make a good pair with this other kook they had, Les Baxter.  And, in a rare turn of events, someone at a Record Label was right.  Together they made her first album, Voice of the Xtabay, which not only introduced America to a new form of music, referred to as Exotica, but introduced the World to her incredible talents.  

yma-460_1106885aHer fame was instantaneous.  She performed at incredible venues: The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The Royal Albert Hall, The Roxy Theater, Las Vegas nightclubs, The Mikado Theater in Japan.  She landed roles in film and on broadway.  She toured South America, Europe and Africa, performed for The Queen of England, and did shows with Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and Marlene Dietrich, where they opened for her.  

She was, after all, an Incan Princess, a fact that was supported by the Peruvian government in press releases, no less!  Her record contract was immediately lengthened, and she continued to belt out records that spoke to the Tiki zeitgeist that was moving through the country at the time, during the golden age of velvet paintings and mixology.  She was the perfect combination of sex and chanteuse, a beautiful and delicate bird that would sing songs that were so fantastic that it would send chills down your spine, and make you couldn’t help but dance.  

While her husband was always there for her, initially Capital didn’t want him composing the work Yma released, which was a pity because when he was finally given that chance in 1954, it was clear that the resulting record – Mambo! – was one of the high water marks of her career.  It was the perfect balance of traditional music with a US perspective, and embraced the current fads of mambo and exotica in a way other, whiter artists were unable to grasp.  “Chicken Talk,” while not being particularly about chickens, is like much of the music on that album: Yma sings using her incredible range, with incredibly hip and danceable music backing her along the way.  

This lifestyle worked perfectly for Yma, and straight through to 1961 she toured extensively, and released seven fantastic records.  The years were not great to her career in the end.  As the sixties began to be dominated by rock music, exotica lost sway among music fans, and she spent much of the rest of her life in and out of vogue, depending on the trend of the moment.  She would perform here and there, and even put out a couple of albums when nostalgia began to grip the culture, but it was clear that The Princess was ready to retire, letting new divas take the stage and the throne, for better or for worse.  

In a way, she had conquered the world for a brief period of time, had traveled through most of it and had surveyed her people and their customs, and having ruled it as well as she could, it was time for her to retire to her mansion in LA, always a princess, and to this day, the woman with the biggest range in history.  

When’s THAT movie coming out? 

Chicken Grabber

scan0002Chicken Grabber * Nite Hawks * Lost Treasures! Rarities From the Vaults of Del-Fi Records.

Upon first listen, it is easy to say that this song is only known for its appearance in the 1997 cut of Pink Flamingos, and leave it at that, but the nature of the “rarities” on this collection is that these were songs that fell between the cracks of popular music in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s.  Each of the singles featured hear are prized among collectors for their weirdness, the performances, and the incredibly precise recording techniques, something that few studios in LA were able to achieve as bands became more sophisticated.  The glue that holds this compilation together is the exotica and surf undertones, and Bob Keane knew that when he assembled the disc.  

Getting “Chicken Grabber” in the new cut of a John Waters flic sent that message from the get-go, and while the disc does not contain a single song by any of the artists on Del-Fi that did have hits, that is the genius of the collection.  Most of the hits Del-Fi had were over-comped even contemporaneously.  But these tunes are rarely heard, not only because the discs retail for $150 on the open market, but because the bands were never popular enough to demand their inclusion on previous compilations.  Like Del-Fi records itself, this compilation was trying to bring other bands to the masses, and not just the Ritchie Valens‘ of the world.  

A-481455-1264705750.jpegDel-Fi Records got its start in 1958, but the man behind Del-Fi – Bob Keane – was an entertainment business figure going back to the late ’30’s, when he put together a big band that he led via the clarinet at the age of 16.  In yet another example of radio playing a major roll, when KFWB in Los Angeles broadcast one of his band’s performances, he got an offer from MCA, the first of many deals that would never seem to last for very long.  MCA promoted him as “The World’s Youngest Bandleader” for exactly three years, when the dropped him out of fear that he would get drafted for the war.  

Bob took this in stride, and decided to beat fate to the punch, and offered his services to the Army Air Force.  I like to imagine that, in some obscure way, Bob and Vyacheslav somehow crossed paths, and where completely unaware.   Bob was eventually let go from the Air Force due to a lung infection, so he returned to LA to heal.  When he was well enough, he returned to music, and worked as a clarinet for hire until 1955.  Occasionally he got work in radio, but they asked him to change his last name – Kuhn – out of fear that audiences would think that Bob was black when he was introduced as Bob Coon.  From 1950 on, he used the name Bob Keane.  


There are several versions of how Bob Keane & John Siamas met, but one thing is absolutely clear: in 1955 they discussed the idea of getting all the talent that they run into on the club circuit, and putting out their records.  They would each tell the other that they see people who are 100 times better than the records you could buy in stores.  If only the people they played with had a record label where they could come and cut a session, they would be in business.  Sometime after these conversations, they shook hands, pooled their resources with Siamas’ brother, Alex, and decided that they would release a record by an artist that mattered.  They immediately turned to an artist that Bob had been raving about, in spite of the Siamas brothers having never heard of him: Sam Cooke

R-2409978-1282484799.jpegThe first release on Keen Records was “Summertime” b/w “You Send Me” in 1957, part of Sam’s three-year contract with Keen.  It got decent enough airplay, but when DJs discovered the b-side, the single began to really move in stores, and on 25 November 1957, the record hit #1 on The Billboard.  Keen Records was raking in the dough.  

Like any smart businessman, Bob when to John and asked how he wanted to structure the business of Keen Records.  John pretended he had no idea what Bob was talking about.  John offered a session musician’s paycheck for finding Sam, and countered with another offer to let Bob buy into Keen Records with a $5K investment, which Bob could not afford.  The label was named after him, but Bob walked away, and before John was done laughing with his brother, founded had Del-Fi Records later  that same month.  

While Bob was litigating the Siamas’ over their assholedness, he turned to the next artist he hand gotten to know on the club circuit, Henri Rose, and rushed a recording of “Caravan” b/w “September Song” on 45 under the Del-Fi label in early 1958.  Bob had intentionally picked Henri because they were friends, and gave Henri the most flexible contract he could devise, on purpose.  He knew that someone would come calling in an effort to buy-out Henri Rose once anyone with half-a-brain heard what Henri could do, and Bob only had to wait for the call to come in.  

By Spring, Warner Brother’s Records waved an $8000 check in front of Bob for Henri, just as a settlement check was already deposited into his account.  Bob considered that revenge enough and moved on to his next trick: Making Del-Fi the epicenter of LA cool.  

200px-Del_Fi_4110There are two distinct periods in Del-Fi’s catalog: the early rock ‘n’ roll period, and the later surf period, but in the roughly 10 years Del-Fi existed, they alway managed to have a very agreeable policy when it came to checking out new bands.  Bob knew from experience that the guys that were best on the club circuit worked hard every day, no matter how little money was on the line, and often those were the best artists.  But it would often take a little while to find this out about these incredible artists, and it was better to let everyone have a chance rather than hold out for a guarantee.  

With that philosophy at his disposal, Bob Keane did the unthinkable and assembled an incredible line-up of artists that he discovered in that 10 years: Ritchie Valens, Chan Romero, Little Ceasar and the Romans, Ron Holden, Johnny Crawford, Brenda Holloway, Frank Zappa (in his Doo Wop phase), The Bobby Fuller Four, The Surfarias, The Lively Ones, The Centurions and, Barry White.  (Barry was actually made the A&R / Producer for a subsidiary of Del-Fi, and Barry handled all the artists on the Bronco label, under Bob’s Guidance.  In fact, Bob was one of the few people who instantly got both surf music and R&B, and would listen to virtually any band that came through his office.  

Around 1967 things began to fall apart for the music industry.  It was clear that 45s were now “singles” off of LPs, which was the real product, and with psychedelic starting to really take over, Bob’s “dinosaur” perspective on the music industry didn’t seem to gel with modern bands.  When The Bobby Fuller Four broke up, Bob knew that Del-Fi was over.  He banked what he could, and decided to merely manage his own songs as The Keane Brothers, while selling burglar alarms to the people of LA.  

257400_oriThe story would probably end there, but curiously enough the time between 1967 and 1987 did wonders for Bob’s status as a legend.  Since he couldn’t afford to release any new records, the collectability of Del-Fi releases went through the roof, and artists in his roster began to get relegated to the “classic oldies” status.  While this had no way of affecting Bob’s income, when the La Bamba film came out in 1987, it was clear that interest in what Bob had done was back in the public consciousness.  

Bob began to assemble collections and compilations of Del-Fi classics, repackaged for public consumption.  This was only helped by the success of Pulp Fiction, which not only came at a time when surf was coming back as a genre, but when interest in the original bands of Keane’s era was in high demand.  Keane released collections of his records (with a few new bits here and there) for several more years, but in 2003 he realized that he could not sustain the work on his own.  Again, Warner Brothers came to his aid, and in a very cool turn of events, they relegated the work of managing Del-Fi’s catalog to Rhino Records, who has the rights to “Lost Treasures,” along with everything else Bob Keane did in his career.  

The Night Hawks were also a group that Bob met on the touring circuit, and their story is also fascinating.  The group was let by Nesbert Hooper Jr., also known as “Stix” Hooper, and The Night Hawks evolved quite a bit, into the Jazz Crusaders, and the just The Crusaders, taking the exotica / R&B sound of this tune and becoming a very accomplished Jazz group that lasted until 2003.  They did not last long as The Night Hawks, but there is something very cool and Del-Fi about this recording.  

tiki-11-1024x768The thing that Bob Keane was, perhaps, best at was finding artists that complimented the Tiki culture of the late ’50’s, and Del-Fi is, in many ways, a document of that early music scene in LA.  in addition to all of that, Bob Keane best represents the kind of producer that they do not make anymore.  His openness to artists, desire to be honest in all his business dealings, and his focus on fostering an environment where the music came first was rare in the music industry, and almost everyone he worked with spoke highly of him as a person.  As the digital age creates new kinds of hassles that artists and businesses are constantly negotiating, reading about Bob Keane reminds us of an earlier time, where people made records because they, too, loved listening to them.  

Side 2: The Microphone & The Radio Tube

MTE5NTU2MzE2MzkzNDczNTQ310.) Paradise * Bing Crosby
11.) You Outta Be In Pictures * Rudy Vallee (1934)

Two major forces were also at work in this early era of American history.  Film and, later, radio, were on the rise in the US, and as this fledgling music industry worked to develop it’s structure and form, the relationship film and radio had with one another was immediately parasitic.  As sound pictures began to develop, they were immediately married with songs, and radio could not only play records on the air, but promote film stars as well with drama and comedy.  These three media forms grew to become dependent on each other, and while film will undoubtedly get left out of this story (to be saved for some future series), the story of music and art in the 20th Century cannot be told without covering the subject of wireless telegraphy.

231574212.) When The Radio’s On * Jimmy Vigtone * Teenline Vol. 5

As the program moves into it’s back end, I decided to pull out a handful of songs that were not only about radio, but embrace the real center of this argument: the story of music is also the story of radio.  The Spirit of Radio could, in fact, be music.  There is something spellbinding about good radio, something I’ve been obsessed with for my entire adult life.  As soon as radio was self aware enough to do so, it started playing music for audiences, and I love exploring the subject of radio in a radio format.  It just seems fitting.

I’m not really that familiar with Jimmy Vigtone, and it’s possible that there was only the one 45 ever released.  However, I do know the Hyped To Death Compilations, which are all full of incredible gems of punk, post-punk, power pop, and other oddball records released all over the place.  I went through a phase around 2005 where I became obsessed with these collections, and every now and then I can find a song that is just perfect.  This one in particular gets stuck in my head all the time, and it really feel on the nose to me.

v99INab13.) Shikaku Maru Ten (Radio Waves) * CAN * Cannibalism 2

This track also works very well as something that runs behind vocal samples, obviously, but comes from a CD I found in a Goodwill here in Salem, and was singular in the kind of band it was, and for the kind of women that worked in the place.  I was very happy to pick it up for 50 cents, and it has entertained me well ever since.  At times listening to CAN feels like radio waves, rolling in.

Original_1968_Rush_Lineup14.) Spirit Of The Radio * Rush * Permanent Waves

To be fair, I am not the Rush fan I probably should have been.  I am the right age, and they were absolutely popular (and even played in my home by my parents).  You couldn’t avoid them.  But I never really was interested in them the way I liked Pink Floyd and The Doors.  But in time I would feel the power of what they were getting at, and while I can appreciate certain aspects of them, I’m not bound by any nostalgia or early childhood memory to enjoy them in spite of their other musical crimes.

However, this song (and a handful of others) are just incredible, and The Spirit of The Radio is really where all of this was leading.  Perhaps in an exploration of the form I will find new meaning in it all?  It is possible.  There are plenty of subjects I have not been able to cover in a radio form, and I feel as if Audio Essays are only beginning to be understood as a way of telling a story, but at a slower pace.  Like Rush, maybe I’m entering territory that no one else has.  But to me, making radio like this makes me happier than I ever have been happy before, and as I work on this series, I hope that some of that excitement can rub off on the show, on the listener, and the world around us.

Elvis-Costello_bw15.) Radio, Radio * Elvis Costello * This Year’s Model

After all, its a Sound Salvation.

Negativland

MI0000194744Chicken Diction * Negativland * Happy Heroes

The mid-’90’s was an interesting time for Negativland.  With the U2 debacle leaving them financially drained but in the eye of the public, they were now revered underground heroes, and poised to pull a media prank worthy of their previous efforts.  The tour they undertook after Free in 1993 was probably their biggest one yet for a band that had largely avoided them in the past.  (Some of the members are agoraphobic.)  

They had just done a documentary with Craig Baldwin that introduced the public to the creative philosophy of the group, along with other’s who are using music for both activism and artistic expression.  Having built their career on manipulating media – and manipulating the way media is used to talk about art – they had already taken a number of pot shots at their favorite targets, from Guns to drunk drivers, suburban sprawl, religion, government, and they were making some noise outside of the art world, too.  

A-24120-001.jpgTheir collective – a group of suburban weirdos with a passion for home-brewed electronic music meets post-modern folk – had accomplished some pretty crazy stuff since they started fooling around with recorded work in 1979.  Really, after closing their last album with a deconstruction of the National Anthem, with samples that explain which drinking song the tune was stolen from, where do you go next?  

Pepsi?  

Previous albums had remained somewhat brief with regard to subject matter, and unless it was an EP, they rarely let a project take over an entire record.  But Don had found all of this incredible audio about Pepsi, and the concept was not just to do an album, but make a pop album.  With all the attention they were generating because of U2, it seemed reasonable that they could try and make a release what was their twisted version of a pop record, which was sure to get radio play around the time of its release. 

MI0000149204Dispepsi, the album in question, was proceeded by a 7″, which contained a track from the record and two new cuts by Negativland.  Initially concerned that they couldn’t be so bold with the title of the forthcoming album, they developed a promotional campaign where the CDs were not released with the letters in any particular order, resulting in a “call this number, hear this message” strategy to hearing a sample of the album, and The Weatherman telling us the real name of the record.  

The album spun off a single – “Happy Hero” – which was included on a follow-up EP, with even more new Don Joyce edits (some from his radio show), and “The Remedia Megamix” of the single.  As if that weren’t enough, they used this creative juice to release a re-mix record with Chumbawamba shortly thereafter, where they re-interpreted their huge hit “Tubthumper” in a typically Negativland-esque manner.  

This was all done to put attention back on the band and the world that they do, and to draw attention away from the SST release, Live on Tour, a disc that completed Negativland’s contract with their former label, in spite of the fact that the band members did not get any say in the way the release was packaged (or what was included on the disc).  Negativland was hoping that, if there was enough new material on the market that they had actually created, the SST Release would be conveniently forgotten, and rightfully so (The SST Release sounds terrible, from an audio perspective).  Fan’s at the time made stickers that explained the travesty, and would go into stores selling the SST Release and put the stickers on the discs.  It pretty quickly languished in the cut-out bin, where fans picked it up for a much more reasonable price a few months much later.  

Negativland’s Seeland Records, on the contrary, faired pretty well for themselves during this period.  The new album charted at college stations, and Pepsi make it public that they had no intention of any legal action against the band, which allowed the band to reveal the album name publicly, and garnered even more press.  (Even “Entertainment Weekly” plugged the record, and the head of Pepsi commented, “It’s no Odelay [by Beck], but it’s a good listen.”)  

Negativland was hoping they could “cancel a tour” and spend the time documenting a new lawsuit with Pepsi, but instead, they played a few shows here and there as they were able to, and used this creative spurt to push on into several new projects thoughout the next 20 years, including released by their heroes Plunderphonics, as well and championing a new generation of oddballs who all grew up on Negativland records, like Wobbly and People Like Us.  

NegativlandFor many bands, the kind of punishment they took over the creative use of sampling would destroy any future they might have had.  But Negativland’s deft navigation of their financial devastation has not only led to their status as elder statesmen of the experimental music scene, but as the fathers of DIY collage art in the modern age.  Many artists owe their careers to their pioneering records, and they are worth exploration if for no other reason than to experience audio art that is unlike “music” that you might be familiar with elsewhere.    

In many ways a cornerstone of their career will always be the U2 lawsuit, born largely over the use of some Casey Casam blooper tapes in a deconstructed “cover” of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.  While the band themselves were very clearly influenced by (and fans of) blooper tapes, their own fans got into the habit of sending the band any number of rare and influential tapes that were making the rounds among collectors and aficionados, born out of this fiasco.  

young-donDon Joyce was particularly interested in material like this, as his interest in audio splicing and editing had enormous potential with some of their more famous creations.  As Dispepsi was largely about the soft drink, this Happy Heroes EP could be the perfect place to include a track dedicated to a similar institution, Kentucky Friend Chicken.  The blooper tape of “The Colonel” not being able to nail his own line had been floating around for years, and even Mr. Bungle had used it on their self-titled debut.  But using the same Dispepsi approach to integrating jingles into a sort of musical refrain, “Chicken Diction” illustrated the kind of hypnotic editing that Don was particularly great at.  

While it is clear that Negativland will continue without Don, his contribution to the band with tracks like this were completely unique and excellent additions to their aesthetic, and it will absolutely be missed.   

A Bird Metaphor, Improvised

15.) Relaxing With Lee * Buddy Rich / Charlie Parker / Curley Russell / Dizzy Gillespie / Thelonious Monk * Bird: Complete Charlie Parker

Bird_The_Complete_Charlie_Parker_on_VerveAs we get comfortable with the details of Lee de Forest’s life, we continue to explore other realms new to this author’s ear. One project on the shelf in my office has been learning jazz, something I chip away at as the years go on, but feel like I make such minor progress when I assess it each time. The first thing that was really hard to wrap my head around was to realize that all these great jazz dudes all played with each other. I mean, I got that they all crossed paths, and that they might even play the same gig. But when it clicked that no, really, they all played with each other – in each other’s groups – and they each had their own groups, as well. I’ve given up long ago trying to draft a family tree, and instead try to focus on absorbing the songs. I still marvel at tracks like this, when you have five highly skilled performers all grooving to the same scene and were co-stars in each other’s movie about incredible artists.

Jazz really started to open up for me in big way when I heard bebop.

Charlie Parker was, in a lot of ways, the father of bebop, but his own demons and faults were his inevitable downfall. Bebop was a new permutation that was seen by the old fashioned jazz cats as an upraised middle finger to the sanctity of form, a sort of – ahem – flipping the bird.

Charlie didn’t give a fuck. He blazed his own trail, fueled by drugs and determination, and mastered his craft at a young age. Bird recorded with some of the greatest artists bebop, but spent most of those years hooked on smack, with occasional bouts of alcoholism. Parker’s crime was, of course, timing; because of the Musician’s Union recording ban between 1942 & 1944, Bird’s initial performances were never recorded. When he started to make a name for himself, the previous generation found him to be over the top, subverting jazz in a way that the moldy figs would never understand.

As time went on his reputation and virtuosity spoke volumes about who was right or wrong. No matter where Charlie found himself, trouble followed, and over the 18 years of his formal career, he drove his body to death, which finally gave up one night in 1955, on the cusp of Rock & Roll beginning to take hold of the country. It was clear that his boozy records were much worse than his heroine laced tracks, but most of that 18 years was spent trying to hold himself together long enough to produce some of the greatest music ever recorded.

The story of Parker differs in that his is a cautionary tale, a nerdy pioneer who flew too close to the sun. Bird was well know for his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, but dig: he worked with Miles Davis, in addition to becoming the supreme icon of the beat generation, who managed to combine base passions and desires with unparalleled intellectual curiosity, and set a template for what “cool” was for the rest of the 20th Century. His relentless pursuit of the chromatic scale was not only an ultra-hip means of expressing his own identity at a time when that was rarely possible for any artists, and more pointedly, any well-dressed black man in post-WWII America. Like most mavericks, his interest in his ideas isolated him from like-minded folks, and much of his life was spent wrestling with his music and his chemical interests. What was left of him when he passed could be described in many ways, but I like to imagine it was spontaneous human combusion; his work consumed him.

Suburban Signals & Rock ‘n’ Roll Curios

07.) Morse Code * Don Woody * MCA Rockabillies

don woodyDon Woody is not anyone about which you should necessarily know, and even his place in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame is more as a footnote than as a true heavy hitter in the story Rock & Roll. But his song “Morse Code” is not only entirely relevant to the conversation at hand, but is a good example of how many lesser known figures are also movers and shakers behind the scenes. Don was a support act for Red Foley, and Brenda Lee recorded a version of one of this tunes. Don’s backing band was none other than the Slewfoot Five, known for working with country legend Grady Martin (who popularized “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” among other things). But outside of his six or so songs released on Decca & Arco Records as cheap 45s, Don Woody’s career never broke into the national consciousness, and even in these MCA Rockabillies collections, he’s still more footnote than star.

People like this are often forgotten entirely if it weren’t for hardcore fans preserving music for future generations, and this series on Norton Records (picking up where Big Tone Records left off) deals with those forgotten gems and lost treasures that are not talked about much by modern fans. Music, like mythology, is dependent on the stories the culture is telling at any given moment, and while Don Woody’s tale – if there was ever much of one to tell – probably mirrors that of 100s of has-been artists who have put their hair up with pomade and tried to write a love song or two. The big difference here is that Don’s music, like all the artists featured on the MCA Rockabillies series, is as good, if not better, than anything that qualifies as well known from the same era.

A travesty? Maybe. If we knew enough about Don we could speculate more about what might have led to this minor god never gaining a reputation to make that of Hercules. Don’s career flamed out before the ’60’s really began, and maybe it was better that he took a shot and retreated to a simple down-home life, rather than become front page news when there’s nothing much worth reporting. His is certainly a more common story, and one that everyone can relate to to better than that of Carl Perkins, or Johnny Cash.

Don fell in love. Don wrote some songs about it. He made a small name for himself, and then went home to BE in love, on his own terms, and not just for his own sake.

How many of us can say that?

San Francisco’s First & Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Band

09.) Hot Wire My Heart * Crime * Once Upon A Time Vol. 2: USA 1976

Crime07The B-Side to Crime’s “Hot Wire My Heart” is “Baby You’re So Repulsive.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

1975 was on the cusp of punk’s big debut, where a sea of rock bands that were stewing in the proto-punk beginnings were coming to a head in the big explosions happening in the UK, LA & New York, when Punk, capital P, legendarily “started.” But to say even that is a pretension that ignores the very, very obvious: it wasn’t in a vacuum. It wasn’t like there were no rock bands before Television first took the stage. The stage was there already, and other bands in the years between had climbed on it before them. The world was stewing in weridness that was as perverse as it was diverse: The Flaming Groovies, MX-80 Sound, Debris, Simply Saucer, The Gizmos, Zolar-X, The Memphis Goons, The Count Five, The Seeds. The list goes on and on. And during those in-between years, guys were growing up in the suburbs who were learning to play from copying Ventures records, filtering The New York Dolls through their own peculiar perspective. Those very guys turned into something that more or less approximates San Francisco’s First & Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, Crime.

Their story is as improbable as it is absolutely fascinating. The members of Crime all met hanging out at bars in San Francisco, all united by this strange mix of glam rock tastes that quickly led to photo shoots before they even had a name. After getting into a rigorous three times a week practice ethic, they burst into a studio one day and recorded a handful of tracks in front of a befuddled hippy engineer who was told outright he was cutting “the first west coast punk record.” (This same engineer stormed off after the band told him they wanted to record it live, without mixing anything.) Those tracks would make up their first two 7″s, which they self-released at a time when very few bands imagined such a thing was possible. Their records always sold poorly, in spite of the fact that the band thought it would be clever to market material as “punk” to jump on a trend that was up and coming, despite the fact that they saw it as a fad with no real substance. It was only when Crime decided to start playing for audiences that they dropped the punk label and insisted on being called the first and only Rock ‘n’ Roll band from San Francisco (at the time, a pointed dig at the way Jefferson Airplane used to promote themselves).

Their debut performance for an audience was on Halloween, 1976. It was a “GayPolitical fundraiser” (their words), where they played to movers and shakers in the activist community, and for a few friends that came with the band. Their willingness to play in unusual venues became as much a staple of their shows, as did the S&M Police Uniforms they wore on stage: a Tuesday night at a gay club on Market, San Quentin Prison (dressed in guard uniforms), and occasionally at the Mabuhay Gardens to befuddled audiences who never seemed impressed. When no where else would give them a gig, they rented their own venues and financed the shows themselves, DIY before there was even a name for it.

Their flyers featured war criminals and serial killers (including Hitler), all designed to send a very specific message that was confrontational in every way imaginable. When you experienced the band Crime, it was on their terms, period. It was the antithesis of everything that was hip and cool at the time, but a completely unsustainable way to conduct a band. After three obscure seven inches and six years worth of shows that almost all lost money, they packed it in before it was possible to consider selling out as an option (though some claim that they did so on the third record, where they were paid largely in drugs, and the songs on it sound different than the rest of their stuff). What they had left in the very end was a pile of glam-tinted stories to last the next 40 years, and an astounding gauntlet to be thrown down at a time when punk had barely even begun to start in earnest.

Crime were, by all accounts, drugged out, drunk, on too much coffee, all of the above, and argumentative, with each other and anyone who would engage them. This never really won them over a devoted fan base, but they had a circle of friends who came to the shows mostly so they could all get fucked up together. They did score some opening spots for touring acts, but their performances were mostly controlled violence, where the band played mid-tempo “rock” songs at a time when people wanted fast and loud. It seemed that they were a band without a home: outside of close friends, scensters active in pre-punk San Francisico ran in very tight circles.  Crime did not play their bullshit games, in a complete rejection of all things cool. Crime took the Suicide approach to performances: loud, plodding, and in your face. Crime took a fascist approach to their imagery, and made such a reputation for themselves that they were rejected by the scene itself.

Crime insist that they are too wild for radio, but the problem is that there’s a dirty, filthy pop song at the center of “Hot Wire My Heart,” a song with drugs and prostitutes, improbable bedroom talk in the form of a Velvet Turner Group reference, and this car radio metaphor as the narrative frame. “Got your eye on the main control / turn it on and let’s go.” Not the most subtle analogy, true, but neither is having to create a short in your own circuitry to get you to feel anything – sex, drugs, ANYTHING – at this jaded stage in your bored life. Through the sneering and slop they pour into the tune, the story of a stereo blasting to life after you finish twisting the wires to get the motor running, the band playing couldn’t be anyone but Crime, could it? The radio blasts to life, and its like a spike in your arm, a mean installation of dominating rhythm.

Crime is probably better known now than when they were initially around, and their reputation is easier to digest when they are old and on a reunion tour, rather than the drunken spitting hot mess they once were. But in their first release they admit that they don’t have a place on modern radio, in spite of their contrary belief that rock music needed, desperately, to be saved from itself, by any means necessary. They knew going in that their vision did not fit the format of their time, but now, in a post-Crime universe, radio is more than ready to Hot Wire the Hearts of people who missed this incredible band the first time.

In Lust With You

17.) Blue Spark * X * Beyond & Back: The X Anthology

X-Beyond_and_Back-_The_X_AnthologyAside from the loosest connection to Spark-gap broadcasting, I take every opportunity I can to include an X tune in a show, so I can again remind people that I got to meet Exene Cervenka, and interview her form my 12th Anniversary broadcast. It was one of the coolest moments in my career, and she was game to hang out and chat and make my night.

As a huge fan of X ever since I was introduced to them via The Decline of Western Civilization, I’ve seen them several times now, and I find their songs an endless well of inspiration and perfect rock music structure. In many ways X distilled the entire history of rock and roll into a hopped up unit of cool, painting these perfect and harrowing images in song form. There’s a reason I ended the program with “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” for so long, and I will find any reason to play X. They’re just one of those bands.

But like I was at 20 when my friend Lyra Cyst forced me to watch Decline, there was a point when I didn’t have most of their albums, and when I was completely new to their stuff. For someone in that theoretical position, who wasn’t sure about a new band as they were generally skeptical about all things new, the Beyond & Back two-disc set would have been a great entry point.  It not only gives you a very good overview of the band and their history, but offers treasures, unreleased tracks, all the hits, live bits, and other mixes of well known tunes.

What is genius about this collection is that it rocks all the way through – essential for hooking new accolades – and rewards long-term fans with treats you didn’t know you needed to own. A lot of collections like this tend to fall short of being anything other than a greatest hits shtick, or a contractual obligation release. To make it a two disc set that complements and introduces all at once is pretty fantastic, and a rarity for most artists.

“Blue Spark” has a sort of stop-start structure to it that you can imagine acting as an SOS Signal, sending out bum-bump message to someone across the bar. There is always an undercurrent of smoldering sexuality running beneath most X songs, a sort of pulse that vibrates in time with the rest of the tune. When X is firing on all cylinders they are sex, strutting around the stage with beers in hand and cocaine eyes that want to have their way in spite of the terrifying world that exists outside the club door. They’re looking to create a spark in the listener’s mind, to turn them on and make them dance and celebrate in this secret corner of the city, away from the pain and misery and violence and horror that the rest of city pummels them with each day. They just want to look you in the eye as they sway in ecstasy and know that you are feeling it too, in that moment. They paint a picture of a horny dude waiting for his famous wife to finally fuck him after a long day, but they do it in the most sexually propulsive way imaginable, ignoring the subtext of the loneliness and isolation both characters feel in their lives, separate and together in spite of their orgasms.

The build-up and release form does, when you squint at it, mirror the morse code that radio took before voices were seamlessly integrated into wireless broadcasts, and the penetrative power of radio itself could take the sex metaphor to other places, if I wanted to make that case. But I think X handles those with a little more deft that is not only the perfect rock song, but is more suggestive upon repeated listenings.

Cold War Composer

mescherin106.) No Kolhoznoi Ptitsaferme (On The Kolkhoz Poultry Farm) * Orkestar Vyacheslav Mescherin * Easy USSR

Vyacheslav was 16 at the onset of WWII, when he immediately joined and fought for the Red Army, and was decorated for his service, twice: the Order of the Red Star and the “For Courage” Medals.  Growing up on a soviet farm, he was happy to serve his country, and came out of the war a few years older & wiser, a well respected member of his community.  

orchestraUsing skills he picked up in the military, he became a radio and electronics repairman back home, where he would tinker and futz with the equipment he would pick up in his town, and help everyone make sure they could tune in to the Farm Report.  Vyacheslav had an interest in compositional music and modern composers, but western pop and dance music began to catch his interest, in spite of his dedication to his home country.  This eventually led to him getting a job as an engineer for the music department of the State Radio in early 1957.  He would help with the equipment, record music for broadcast with the gear and performers available, and create the radio ecosystem that the Russian people would experience through his work.  Their budget was huge in spite of their non-existent “pay,” but his studio was top of the line, with new electronic keyboards and gear that would put American studios to shame. 

sputnik-1__1Vyacheslav loved his new job, but it wasn’t until 4 October 1957, when he became obsessed with the radio reports about Sputnik (the first satellite launched into space) that inspiration struck.  Vyacheslav began to see things in a very new way, understanding that the modern man would live in a world with technology & leisure.  Somewhere in all of this, music – Vyacheslav’s music – would have to evolve with the man who was listening.  

The Orchestra of Electronic Instruments, largely using  MOOG-like keyboard and theremins, was largely Vyacheslav himself, with occasional studio engineers helping out with his compositions.  With an ear for turning a well known folk or western hit into a space-age lounge performance that was unlike anything in the USSR, Vyacheslav began to score the radio that was heard around the USSR.  

hqdefaultFrom the onset it was not well regarded.  While the state was not apposed to the music he made outright – and more pointedly was never in any danger of being asked to stop performing his “clothes irons” playing classical in public – the reviews were not kind up front.  It wasn’t even the idea that Vyacheslav was performing western music; rock & roll had caught on in the USSR as it had anywhere else in the world, and there were already state-sanctioned acts performing all over the country.  But on the whole no one believed, in 1958, that electronic music was anything more than a goof, or a novelty, if anything.  It worked well for these “space” reports, but not for the average citizen.  These synthesizers couldn’t possibly do anything more than a cute parody of what real instruments could provide.  

Nebo_Zovyot_film_poster_1959The following year, Vyacheslav recorded the soundtrack for the russian sci-fi classic, Nebo Zovyot.  The success of that film led to him recording more electronic music outside of the work he did for radio, and the response was positive to those releases, too.  

Over the next 10 years the music began to catch on all over the USSR.  Yuri Gagarin was said to have considered him his favorite artist.  Vyacheslav’s music went into the national archive, and was used by any number of broadcasters throughout his career.  The makers of the Russian Television used many of his songs in their shows, and made his songs favorites of kids and adults everywhere.  

Vyacheslav was given the title of “The People’s Artist”, and recorded over 700 songs in the 30+ years of his career.  When he retired in 1990, the music of Russian radio and television was of a much lower quality afterward.  For many, entertainment in the USSR was very obviously pre and post Vyacheslav.  It’s no wonder that the following year the Soviet Union disolved.  Vyacheslav’s music was holding it together.  

nu_pogodi_have_a_smoke_by_waylonsmithers“No Kolhoznoi Ptitsaferme” was the theme music to the very popular series “Rabbit and Wolf,” (“Nu, Pogodi!”) which ran from the late ’60’s through the ’70’s, and it’s likely most Russian citizens could hum the tune if you asked them.  This song is fairly emblematic of the sound Vyacheslav mastered in his career.  His rendition of “Pop Corn” was a huge hit, and his insistence on using all electronic gear to compose pre-figured the current climate of recording music using GarageBand.  

More importantly, it is embarrassing how unknown he is in the west, as he is not only the most well known early pioneer of electronic music in Russia, but is very well known by most artists outside of the US.  He was performing and composing in 1958 in ways that our western counterparts didn’t master until the ’70’s, and yet the Cold War has forever relegated his work to the “world music” section of most music fans collection.  

There is a fantastic two disc set – Easy USSR1366746978_cd-front-sm600 – that attempts to rectify this error, but the substantial body of his work is unknown to people outside of Russian Radio nerds, and is almost inaccessible in the US.  Hopefully I will live to see the day when we can hear his work mentioned along with Bruce Haack and Silver Apples.  Given the Cold War undertones in Chickenman (however muted they might be), I liked the juxtaposition (and perfect complement) these two pieces of art have when played together.  

Pacific Northwest Static

21.) The Message * The Estranged * Static Thoughts

0004312394_10Sometimes when you are building stories like this one, you start with a specific ending in mind. I knew I wanted to close with We The People, but I needed a lead in that offered the proper climax to its denouement. As I was flipping through different discs and records and digital albums, I accidentally fell down a rabbit hole that led to The Estranged, as is often the case. I put the album on and turned it up, and the end of the show revealed itself to me. Of course. Sometimes, you let rock and roll be your lodestone, and everything will work itself out; even though static thoughts, they were still able to get through.

In the wake of a new millennium, rock and roll was entering a dangerous period of synthesizers, Bumford & Lames, and laptop DJs that was threatening the future of guitars. Every party bleeped and blooped with a steady sonic pulse of un-ironic Erasure re-mix 12″s, and more and more kids were trying to ignore the work done by garage rock bands and punk-inspired retro acts, in favor of a future that was shiny and plastic. It was easy to get discouraged as math rock failed to hit it big, and while indie made a polished and tiny foothold in CW dramas, it felt as if someone had walked over Keith Moon’s grave. Where were the three-chord wonders? Who was gonna save the world from itself?

Like their heroes The Wipers, The Estranged came out of Portland, where Pierced Arrows and a few others were trying to save the scene from itself. The gimmick was simple: rock songs, well played, well written, and polished by guys who practiced relentlessly. Their movement from the garage to the studio was a tactical progression, and as they each became skilled performers, they worked out the tunes for Static Thoughts as their version of Is This Real? – a mission statement of influences – that was to become the blueprint for the rest of their output. The most strategic move was to get Jason Powers to engineer, who had made a name for producing great work with Scout Niblett, Holy Sons, The Decemberists, Grails & The Swords Project. The Estranged believed if they could get the kind of Indie Rock polish on a straight rock record, they could capture a new audience and bring them into the dirty sonic landscape that was punk.

“The Message” returns us to the beginning of our thematic story: broadcasting to an audience, trying to make yourself be heard. Many of us spend our days in a barrage of Static Thoughts, a swarm of ideas and notions that overwhelm us with a constant din of binge-watched TV, 100s of gigs of new .mp3s, computers inserted into every flat surface imaginable, and 10 layers of management each telling us what to do. This largely mirrors the relationship Monkeyface & Marconi had with each other, competing so hard to become well known that when they try to demonstrate their own technologies, their signals jam each other, so much static that neither could pick out a signal.  Sometimes, it is all we can to do send out one message, anything, and make ourselves be heard. “The Message” uses a propulsive bassline to anchor the tune, a bouncy guitar riff, and Joy Division meets Television-esque vocals to cut to the heart of the matter. How can I get through? What can I say that will reach you? It feels like the message is not clear, and not getting through, no matter how hard you want to say what you mean. In the end, all we have are these awkward attempts, these moments where we work and craft and make ourselves as articulate as possible, and leave The Message behind for others to interpre

Wanna Make You Move!

0004128273_1004.) Chicken Little Lied * Tight Bros. From Way Back When * “Take You Higher!” EP

If you lived in the pacific northwest in the late ’90’s, it seemed as if the music scene was going to be ruled by KARP with an iron fist.  So, when they broke up suddenly in 1998, we were all a little heartbroken.  Their final record destroyed , and they were a unique band making records that reflected their own sensibility that was unlike a lot of music you heard among the too-cool-for-school indie rock stuff that Washington was popular for in the post-grunge days.

So the sudden announcement of an Olympia super-group – adding Jared and members of Behead The Prophet No Lord Shall Live to form The Tight Bros., seemed incredible.  Even more-so was the release of their first 7″, Take You Higher!, with four songs that were not only a mission statement, but a perfect synthesis of the 70’s party metal ideas into a faster, high-energy form, brilliantly cribbing their name from a classic line from The Derek Tape.  The genius was in having Jared sing, and Quitty‘s natural inclination to play like a triple-timed AC/DC only cemented their sound.  In Eugene, THE record of summer ’98 was this piece of Tight Bros. juvenilia, undoubtedly.

“Chicken Little maxresdefaultLied” seems like a typical answer song, a sort of hopped-up version of a “girl done me wrong” quip.  But what “she” lied about is unclear, and his babe is saying it all over town.  In the social media drama reality of the modern era, Chicken Little could be our childish friend who likes to stir the pot online.  Still, I like to see a sort of “take a chill pill” angle to the way we respond to the world at large.  Look, babe, the sky ain’t falling, and don’t freak out over something that isn’t true when there’s plenty of other ways to spend your time.  I think that advice scales up in a lot of ways.  Don’t tell me the world is going to end unless I repent.  I am autonomous, and the sky will not fall, no matter how loud you get.

A song like this so completely relates to Chickenman it is almost too on the nose.  Like Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, we’re all tilting at windmills most of the time, watching the world around us go about their day as they scream incoherently about how things aught to be in some sort of parody of a Marx Brothers routine.  There are a few of us who are willing to square off in whatever deluded manor we choose to say that the sky, really, truly, is not falling.

For now, anyway.  Just shut the fuck up and rock out, okay?

The Spirit, Not The Letter

link-wray102.) Run Chicken Run * Link Wray * Law of The Jungle

Born in 1929 to a Shawnee family, Link Wray is an unlikely heir to the Punk Rock throne.  Wray had few opportunities growing up, and it was Link’s older brother, Vernon, who was the guitar wizard.  Vernon was a clever kid, and lied about his age to get a job with a cab company so he would have access to a car to use for other jobs, including gigging as a Country Swing group.  But, keep in mind, in spite of the name on the label, this is also Vernon’s story.

Vernon invited his brothers into the group when they were interested, and it quickly became a family affair, each member of the family performing as well as the others.  Link had a great voice, and would often sing for the group, but picked up a few instruments just through performing with his family.  Vernon would change the name of the group (and the line-up), and relied on their indian heritage and certain unspoken by prevalent racial prejudices to increase the number of gigs he could book with easily-duped club-managers.  The band learned a large number of songs so they could perform as other kinds of groups, as needed.  Vernon had a natural aptitude for equipment and management, a skill that he honed over the years of playing and loving the music he was making.  It made all the cabbing worth it.

However, for Link, there are few other options available for an 18 year old native american, and as fun as playing hillbilly music for honkys in some bar might have been, Link felt the call of adventure, and the Army offered more opportunities than anything else around him.  Link loved the traveling and the camaraderie with his army buddies, and thought he was going to do well for himself in this enviornment.  A case of Tuberculosis not only cut short his tour of duty, but cost him a lung while fighting the disease.  When he got back home he was weak and poor, and spent a lot of time at home with a radio, just in time to discover rock ‘n’ roll in it’s nascent form in the early ’50’s.  Wray suddenly saw his experience with his brother’s group the training ground for something that he could only just now see.  Link picked up a guitar and, until 2005, didn’t bother to put it down again.

It link-danelectro1took Wray a few years still to become the player he would evolve into, but his lack of formal education and a desire to FEEL the guitar propel itself out of the amplifier led to Link straining equipment and gear to the point of distortion, and was intensified when he used what he called “cheater chords” (barre chords), which caused his guitar to send out massive swaths of reverberation in the middle of a tune.  Once he landed a hit single with his first release, “Rumble,” he secured for himself a signature sound and style that was prescient of the impending Garage & Punk movements of the years to come.

For nine years he worked in a three-track studio he build in a chicken shack with Vernon, and together they churned out singles and albums of instrumental rock.  Vernon had an intuitive understanding of how to record Link’s unique guitar playing and fit it into a sound and format that would move 45s, with both DJs and kids in record stores.  Unfortunately, Link’s singing voice never recovered from his military illness, but this only ignited within him an attempt to express himself with his guitar.  While he did try to write new material after his initial “retirement” in the late ’60’s, he was never able to match the fierceness captured in those early records.  He performed his entire life, and at age 76, had become an icon in rock music in a way few artists of his age had every achieved previously.

In the ’60’s Link Wray had fallen into a routine: he would write and record music with a permutation of the same band from the country days, and his brother – having moved to the management / production side of things – helped make sure Link’s records got into stores, and Link got to the shows.

It was durinLinkWrayLawOfTheJungg this period that he was on Swan Records.  He cut quite a few records for them, but in 1964 the band cut a very loose and loud session to tape, with some old favorites and some new tunes, in the hopes that they could work out a couple new songs, and maybe – just maybe – get a single out of some of it.

While there was plenty around that was pointing in this direction, Link was laying on the distortion so thick that they band had an amplifier-rattling attack that synthesized the Link Wray sound he’d been developing since “Rumble,” only louder.  Listening to Law of The Jungle, you can almost hear Punk Rock being invented in his riffs.

And then… silence.

For decades these recordings were shelved, and no one is entirely sure why.  Hits weren’t a guarantee with this weird and new sound, and it was possible that Link listened back to the sessions and was nervous about releasing the record, which would mean a financial hit for him and his label.  Wray was a fairly profitable artist when it came to 45s, and he was able to keep a steady fan base and a string of gigs, built on the foundation of these hot recordings.  It would be hard to imagine anyone in the Wray family not seeing the financial side of this equation, and I’m sure you can sense Vernon’s hand in this decision.  Shelving those tapes might have made sense.  Even when this kind of thing was fashionable, they probably had moved on to other things.

But I like to imagine Vernon & Link, in the chicken-coup studio, listening back to the “Law of The Jungle” recordings.  Cigarettes lit, the sound as loud as it can go.  Vernon just going mental over the sound he was able to get, Link air-strumming to the tracks.

They each had to know, looking at each other, smiles on their faces.  This was… something.

This was something new.

The Birth of The Octochord

23.) In The Past * We The People * “In The Past” b/w “St. John’s Shop” (Challenge, 1966)

wethepeopleAnd, while we’re at it, one more for the road:

In the wake of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s initial explosion at the end of the 1950s, American kids got the message very quickly: pick up a guitar, grab some friends, and start a band. This compulsion was so prevalent in the US that an entire genre of music – Garage Rock – developed, and kids from Tacoma Washington to the wilds of Florida found common ground when they all tried to learn “Louie Louie” and play at their friend’s backyard party. Now that the children of post-WWII families were starting to come of age, and the Viet Nam war was only just getting started, the combination of better education, more leisure time created a demand for entertainment to fill both leisure and radio air time. It also helped that rock and roll was, compared to the music of their parents, fairly easy to play. You could figure out how to strum a song from a record with a little patience and some beer, unlike the popular music of their parent’s generation, which required practice and study. Rock and Roll was closer to the metal, and the distance between you and a song was developing a good Pete Townsend windmill and being able to play “Psychotic Reaction” on demand.

The Garage Rock movement was unique in that it was fractured.  The majority of Garage Bands never recorded, and even fewer played regular gigs. The scene was spread across the country, but due to the newness of rock journalism, the slim number of outlets that were interested in Rock Music, and the fact that the touring circuit was not yet carved in stone, each region had their own unique take on Garage that was largely unaware of what was happening elsewhere. The scene in Texas wasn’t grooving on records from Massachusetts, and vice versa. Garage Bands were only seeing releases on regional labels, often in small runs of 100 or less, if a recording was even possible. These bands didn’t always write original tunes, making their bread and butter in covers and playing local dances or shows at a VFW hall. After the Pat Boone-ification of rock music, garage became the line that was drawn across generations. The period between 1960 and 1965 saw an unbelievable uptick in these kinds of bands, all united by a love of Music and a belief that jamming on a riff with your buddies was the only sensible way to spend an afternoon.

By 1965 a number of changes – culturally and musically – were beginning to take hold. Music was beginning to mutate again, political and social tension was coming to a head, and in a post-Kennedy Assassination world, it as difficult to imagine the naiveté of the early ’60s continuing for much longer. The beginnings of a musical political consciousness was starting to awaken, and you could no longer play a sort of primitive frat rock and be taken seriously.

Enter Ron Dillman, a newspaper writer covering the music beat for the Orlando Sentinel. Ron knew the score, and followed the local scene pretty closely, in spite of his square dress and stupid hat.  Ron was at all the shows, and was always supportive of new acts. Ron was noticing the changes, how the bubble gum of the last few years wasn’t sticking anymore. It was the perfect name – We The People – a populist slogan that communicated you were a dove, but in a strange in a psychedelic way, like The United States of America. Ron was on the cusp of a modal shift, and he knew that the right gimmick could bag him a few hit records. He just needed a band.

It was serendipity when Ron showed up at a Trademarks show to hear that it was their last show with Ralphie, their drummer, an account that he didn’t own his own set, and was never available to do road gigs because he couldn’t get the time off from work. Ron instantly thought of The Offbeats, who just lost their singer / songwriter to another band, and were looking to keep the act together. He realized that they were both sort of chasing the same idea, but from different angles, and that they might complement each other better than either of them thought. The Trademarks featured really fuzzy guitars and harmonicas as part of their sound, while The Offbeats had a member – Wayne Proctor – who played a thing they called “the octochord,” which sort of sounded like a sitar. This octochord was homemade by a family friend, and might just work with the sound everyone else was developing. Ron’s philosophy was: throw everything at the wall, and see what sticks.

Ron introduced the bands to each other at a local watering hole, where they all talked shop for three hours, running over gear and records. Ron went on to sell the band on his name (We The People), mentioning that he could get them a record deal (maybe) if they used it, and that it would be a hit, guaranteed (lie) if they just tried it out. The band dug what Ron had to say, and before long they were jamming out future hits like “You Burn Me Up And Down” and “Into The Past.” Ron ran into a streak of luck when he successfully managed to get someone from Hotline Records to drop by a rehearsal, who immediately agreed to put out “My Brother, the Man” in 1966. To everyone’s surprise, it was a top 10 regional hit in Florida. Ron couldn’t believe it. He was doing everything he could imagine to get We The People off the ground, and in a strange turn of events, it was starting to work.

Challenge Records caught wind the group, and struck a deal to release three 45s to follow up the success. Challenge had lucky with “Tequila” by The Champs, and with records by Jan & Dean and The Knickerbockers among their releases, it seemed a little strange to be making a foray into psychedelic garage.  But Challenge was taking a lot of chances in those days, as they were doing rather poorly, and were looking anywhere for a hit like “Tequila” to give them the money they needed to continue.  Bands like We The People benefited from Challenge’s risky behavior, and before long their follow up, “Mirror of Your Mind” was getting airplay as far north as Nashville. The band released two more singles in fairly rapid succession, and while they were generally liked, only the B-Side to their last release with Challenge hit #2 in the region, keeping them on the radio for a while but never bringing them to a national audience. Challenge stopped offering We The People deals, and soon the label folded.

Ron quickly made the calls to get the band on RCA Records for a three single deal. However, Wayne Proctor, one of the primary songwriters, suddenly quit. He was dodging the draft, using college as his “out,” but this meant he couldn’t be associated with a socialist rock band in order to make the argument fly.  In spite of the loss, their RCA Singles did okay, and hit the local airwaves, unfortunately to tepid success. When Tommy Talton left after their last 45 failed to make it big, it seemed like the end for the band.

Ron made a few last ditch efforts to course correct with the remaining members. But the writing on the wall was clear; this band now only existed “Into The Past.” Ron tried desperately to keep the band alive, and sunk every last dollar into promoting and renting a venue for a Halloween 1970 show.  After an endless number of phone calls to replace last minute members dropping out, he managed to get some form of We The People to finish playing 10 songs in capes that evening, the bare minimum needed to count as a full set and not get called out for ripping off the audience. After that night Ron realized that managing the band no longer has the spark it once did, and dissolved We The People, paying out the remaining members with his own money, leaving him in the hole for years to come.

What We The People left behind is more than some bands ever get to do. 14 songs recorded in a studio, and a story that is so set in a time and a place as to sound like a joke from my parent’s generation. But their sound was pretty mind blowing, and prefigured punk in a number of ways. But if Lee de Forest and the other mavericks that helped pioneer radio had a band manager analog, it would have to be Ron Dillman, manager of We The People. He had a vision, an idea, and the tenacity to do it, in spite having no real idea how the music industry really worked. Sure, he did not succeed; Ron wanted a hit, and Lee wanted to be The Father of Radio. What neither of their realized was that their efforts in the past have left an indelible mark on the present, and to those who want to follow the story, their reward is something that sounds like it could have happened to them if the circumstances were just a little different.

Plew’s Last Friday Experimental Music Series: The Country Mouse & The City Mouse: Austin’s 40th Shindig

Gurney Slade?
Gurney Slade?

Plew’s Last Friday Experimental Music Series: The Country Mouse & The City Mouse: Austin’s 40th Shindig (Day 1)

As hinted at previously, it was hard from the beginning to confine a simple party to one single night.  While the show at The Kenton Club was always going to be a rock show, there were a fair number of friends that wanted to perform too, but happened to be of a more experimental nature.  Since I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, I pulled a few strings, and in the end, my party has now become a two-day affair.

And this, dear friends, is Day 1:

Fortunately for us, Plew’s Brews in Historic St. John’s was tuning into our frequency, as this show is their first in a “Last Friday” series of Experimental Showcases.  Plew’s has been a long-time supporter of the scene in St. John’s, and regularly lends its stage for the annual NoFest celebration, and hosts live music featuring a wide range of local and touring acts.  I was incredibly grateful to be picked to curate the first in this series, and to that end I picked my favorite local acts.

A good party requires just the right kind of music, and to that even we’ve been fortunate enough to have Miss Rikki of Closet Radio agree to provide interstitial tunes and DJed enjoyment before and between our performers. Miss Rikki has been providing audio entertainment for listeners for quite some time, and now that her show is on XRAY.FM, her audience has only increased. Ranging from post-punk, garage, experimental and all points in-between, she is guaranteed to plug you into the vibe we’re cultivating, and we simply cannot wait.

Sound sculptor Overdose The Katatonic is next up in our cavalcade of beauty and wonder, and if you have not seen him perform before, it is a sight to behold, and unlike anything you’ve seen before. Using a suitcase full of doodads and gizmos that he’s assembled himself, OTK provides a wall of noise that is pregnant with tones that are dark, intoxicating, symphonic, abrasive, and always fascinating. I would dial up a few of his live performances to get a sense of what to expect, and then keep in mind that what you’ll actually see will be nothing like that. This Seattle-based artist always draws a crowd, and collecting performances by him is something of which I can never get enough. I think you’ll feel the same way.

We are very excited to have added to our line-up the incomparable Doug Theriault. Not only is he an accomplished performer and musician, his sound is a beautiful melange of guitar experimentalism and electronic wizardry. Doug’s performances are intense, impressive and incredibly personal, and you should start adding his music to your collection. I cannot wait to see what he manages to create for this show.

Another addition to this experimental showcase is Admiran, a member of the Battlesnakes Collective. No stranger to our events, Admiran is a one-man electronic menagerie of music for and about glitchy dancing, audio soundscapes, eccentric stagecraft, and beautiful weirdness that will fill you with joy. We’re very excited to see Admiran perform again, and we think they will make an excellent addition to our show. Enjoy.

Of course, as it is my birthday, I get to do what I want, and this time I’ve asked to perform live with The Dead Air Fresheners at this show.  While I am occasionally invited to perform live with them as a member of their mysterious group, this performance will be a sequel to our show from 2013, where they will be backing me as I deliver a spoken word piece titled “The Country Mouse & The City Mouse.” I always enjoy working with these guys, and I’m hoping that this performance will merge our aesthetics in a way that you’ll have to see to believe.

With special guest dropping by throughout the show, Day 1 has turned out to be quite excellent, and Day 2 is gonna be pretty amazing, too.  I’m really looking forward to turning 40 now, and I hope you enjoy it, too.  Let’s make this happen!

 

 

 

 

Two Sides To Every Party: Austin’s 40th Birthday Split LP

UntitledTwo Sides To Every Party: Austin’s 40th Birthday Split LP (Day 2)

Day 2:

Please join me for an evening of rock, punk & hardcore at The World Famous Kenton Club, and watch a man turn 40 and irrelevant before your very eyes.

As many of you know, I have a varied taste in music, and a number of people came to mind when I realized how anti-climatically I would be aging.  Therefore, like many of the best Split LPs of the past, I decided to Split the evening into two distinct forms, which I think will not only scratch my taste for 31 Flavors, but allowed me to build two different shows in one incredible evening, without having to go anywhere else.

First off, Tuff Gnarly will be DJing to get the crowd in the mood for fun.  A consummate DJ with an encyclopedic sense of what must be heard, he will not only tie the evening together, but bring with him a sense of dignity that is unique among DJs.  We’re excited to have him at the show, and we think he will set the tone for fun.

Come early for Side A, where you can see The Nervous, opening for The Welfare State.  Both feature musical prowess, nerdy intertextuality, and a sense of style and sophistication that few other’s bring to the stage.   Both friends and entertainers, both bands will bring out the best in our audience, and I cannot wait to shake my little tuckus to their rhythmic charms.

As if that were not enough, stay for Side B, where things get a little louder, a little more rough hewn, and where rock is absolutely necessary.  To that end, we have /root_DIR, nerd-grind from Eugene, who will leave you a husk of your formal self with 40 second blasts of extreme music enjoyment.  They are opening for Xiphoid Process, a thrash-metal force to be reckoned with that will close out our party, and not a moment too soon.

Come early for fun!  Stay late to get plowed!  No matter which side works best for you, we think you’ll have a lot of fun helping me celebrate my 40th rotation.  See you there.

 

 

Upcoming Live Performances w/ The Dead Air Fresheners

NoFest 2013
NoFest 2013
My work with the chance determinist experimental enclave The Dead Air Fresheners goes back to 2013, but I met some of the members back in 2005, and have become friends with many in the years since. While their identities are largely unknown and make for great speculation, I have always been honored to be asked to perform with them. For 2015 they have more in store for their fans, and with that in mind I will be accompanying them on a mini-tour this March.

On March 26th, join me at 8 PM in Olympia Washington at Deadbeat Olympia (226 North Division St) for a night of experimental joy. The Dead Air Fresheners will be performing with legendary Crank Sturgeon, the incomparable Derek M. Johnson, and the two piece painting sensation, Pocket Vinyl. Performing in a record store should be a lot of fun, and as I have never performed in any capacity in Olympia, let along the state of Washington, so I’m excited to find out how they do things North of The Border. You can keep track of this, and everything connected to it, by following The Event over on MyElFacester+Twinstablr.

Then, on March 27th, follow us on down the I-5 corridor to Portland, Oregon where local watering hole Plew’s Brews (8409 N Lombard) is hosting phase two of this wondrous journey. This show is sponsored by Ricardo Wang’s What’s This Called? program and the excellent folks behind NoFest, and features another stellar line-up: Crank Sturgeon again, #TITS from Seattle WA, more from The Dead Air Fresheners, Uneasy Chairs from Seattle, Fiasco! from North Portland, and the unmatched Jeremy C. Long from Linnton. This show is jam-packed full of fun and excitement, and should bring St. John’s to new states of noisy arousal during this evening of joy and wonder. You can follow The Event over on MyElFacester+Twinstablr, too.

These shows should be a lot of fun, and I’m very much looking forward to hitting the road and seeing the sights that playing in a traveling band has to offer. Hopefully, I will see one or more of you at either of these. If you have never seen shows like this, I urge you to check them out. It will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.