Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Featuring one of the first Birdman singles!!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New John "Piano Red" Williams Recordings Found

Piano Red with Sleepy John Estes

The Late Great Bengt Olsson passed away last month, and with him goes the treasure of stories he collected by roaming and recording the blues in the late 60s south. While the Rolling Stones and their English contemporaries rediscovered the great Muddy Waters, Mississippi Fred MacDowell, Sun House, et al, Olsson traveled from his native land of Sweden to record the obscure artists that would otherwise have been completely forgotten. Birdman purchased all of Bengt's recordings a few years back and recently released those by the great Bishop Perry Tillis. More recently. the folks at Birdman discovered a vast amount of John "Piano Red" Williams tracks as well, an artist who was never on a label and has little-to-no known recordings. With plans of a release this year, Birdman has decided to leak a signature instrumental track, "Red's Boogie." You can buy it by pushing the button below:

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

To Be A Modern Lover

I am sitting here on this otherwise quiet night listening to the Bomp 1981 release of the "72" "Original" Modern Lovers sessions that Kim Fowley oversaw. Primitive, haphazard...like a kinder, gentler White Light/White Heat (Velvet Underground)...with keyboards sticking out above everything else and guitar fuzz as out of place and awkward as Jonathan's vocals...but damn if it does sound great and essential. Roadrunner (both versions) is fantastic and true to its classic rock n roll nature. But the never-officially released WALK UP THE STREET might be the shimmering gem here. A dark, driving monosyllabic riff, that could go on forever as far as I care, about the empowerment of acknowledged idleness: feelin' the romance of a boredom that is lost in this work-a-day world. Dig it. It is no wonder that once-fellow Boston-walkers THE CHEATERSLICKS found the wanting to cover the song years and years later on In The Red Records (their thicker version is sensational, as are they).

The back of the album has a letter from Jonathan himself discussing how the liner notes to the record are wrong in most every sense (mostly that this recording did not boast the original Modern Lovers since the band had very early on gone through a member change, and that the claim is wrong that these are the 72 sessions--the tracks were recorded a year later). He ends by saying that while he is embarrassed of some of what is heard, he admits that the band rocks and that some of the versions have great Jonathan banter that still makes him laugh. The fact that the Bompsters reprinted the letter without changing the "incorrect" liner notes or the "misleading" album title is nothing less than brilliant.

I got this record in a lucky way back over a decade ago when Geoffrey Weiss helped me get entrance to Greg Shaw's Bomp warehouse. I walked around the cluttered space like a detective, picking out amazing punk and psych singles that were still around from the time they were originally distributed. Then I espied the treasure I was after...and that treasure sounds fantastic right now.

RIP Greg Shaw, a true visionary...Greg, sorry I never let you explain to me my future path that you saw in a dream (the concept at the time freaked me out).

Listening to this record tonight incited an on-line crawl about the band. The brilliance of the internet: I had no idea a teenage Jonathan opened up for the Velvets. No idea that they played with a young Arrowsmith, NY Dolls, and Wayne County or that Jonathan went to New York and hung out at Warhol's factory. I had no idea that Danny Fields and the jerky Marty Thou were as close to him as they were (Danny Fields being one of the biggest heroes this industry has ever seen). No idea that while in Berkeley, Jonathan fell into being the original drummer for The Patti Smith Group and no idea he recorded I'M STICKING WITH YOU with Mo Tucker! I had no idea that the original Modern Lovers (okay, the close-to-the-original Modern Lovers) broke up the month that VU did, and a month before the Ramones began. Amazing story. If Joanthan was not so awkward to talk to, I would love to ask him about all of this stuff when I see him walking around San Francisco.

Ah, as I write, the second side just finished for the second time. I think I am going to have to start going through all the Modern Lovers records now (and dig out some other demos I found in a closet while at Warner Bros.). It is going to be a rocking rocking night here in the Outer Richmond.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Master Of The Suave

My Uncle Mike loved Jazz and was a collector of Jazz records. For some reason, we never got a chance for a good, long listening session together, but I grew up looking at the spines of the Impulse records he had collected in his den, right next to an ancient solid state wall mount stereo system and turntable. I also remember him telling me about his long talks with Billie Holiday, as she sat in the waiting room of her psychiatrist in San Francisco (my uncle was a doctor in the nearby office). He was very much into early swing near the end of his life, annotating his collection, hoping to eventually record his 78s onto cassette so he could listen to them more easily. We both looked for a needle that would fit his player to accomplish said task, but it was not to be.

Upon my Uncle’s death, I inherited that part of his record collection that his kids did not want and as much of his tape collection as I could carry out the door. His tapes he stored in homemade wood holders. At least 100 homemade cassettes of various artists (the Artie Shaw one holds an amazing collection). I took the choicest case-full and they are in the car. His records: wow, a true treasure. Coltrane, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins. Cal Tjader and Lois Armstrong.

And then, there were the Don Shirley records. I had never heard of the Jamaican-born Don Shirley…this ultra-suave and sweet pianist from the fifties and sixties brought to fame by Arthur Fiedler and Duke Ellington. Mostly playing as a duo, with a bass accompanyment, his record covers looked very stylish and intriguing, but upon first listen they seemed too light and lethargic. They went to my one-away-from-get-rid-of-pile, and stayed there like an inmate on death row.

Then one evening, about a year ago during a time of slight heaviness, I caught myself staring at ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD. The haunting painting showing-off on the cover looked like a Magnasco, and then I realized Shirley had done it himself. The record was an improvised take on the Orpheus legend, and its somber, beautiful coloring carried me through the evening and onto the next day. The other two records of my uncles are just below equal stellar footing and paint a picture through an an ethereal region of Jazz much as Josh White painted his Blues sound-aqua during the same time period. Shirley's piano playing flows like organized ocean waves, weaving wonderful melodies through the tides of ethereal tonal movements.

As I write on this misty Outer Richmond night, the air inside my apartment is fog-fuzzy and the dimmed light from the moon is bouncing warmly off the molecules surrounding it. I am listening to Shirley's Improvisations With Duo on Cadence, and he is as silly smooth as ever. But groovy, and pacifying, like a candle, as the room fills with warmth.

I recently found his e-mail on his home page and chatted with a student of his. Mr. Shirley has been in and out of good health recently, but he is most definitely still around and still plays (at least in his New York apartment). The painting of Orpheus In The Underworld is on his wall. He loves getting messages from fans.

Thank you Uncle Mike for such a wonderful gift. The best sort of gift: a new appreciation for an artist I had never known…and many of his great records, that I never have need to search for!

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

While The Many Were Away...

With the Bay Bridge closed-up (pretty much) and the Burning Man generation out of town doing their yearly pilgrimage, San Francisco had a wonderful, vacuous, airy and easy feel to it. Reminded me of the mid-eighties, when there seemed to be no one real scene…but instead a quilt of randoms hitting various clubs and checking out different pallets of live music. Easygoing and mellow.

And yes, being offered this weekend was great live performances that electrified comfortably filled clubs. For me, it started after an aborted attempt to reach Mississippi for the annual Turner Family Goat Picnic. 17 hours in a bunch of airports and a fear of being stuck in a Chicago Airport Hotel for the night was all I needed to hit it back home. But if I had landed in Senatobia, I would never have experienced the amaizing musical Sunday night presented.

Greg Ashley started it at The Make-Out room playing solo and showing off his ever-impressive finger picking/strumming/hard-made-easy guitar playing. His set featured songs from the solo record he is currently recording, including a favorite that I THINK is called Life In Prison. The psychadelic wonderboy entranced the crowd and then got up and jumpped out, going to play with the Colossal Yes at the Rite Spot. The headliner of the evening, Tarnation, was at least an hour away. So, I caught a couple of middle-band Winter Flower’s set and then jetted off to catch Greg one more time.

The Colossal Yes were in the middle of their set when I got there. Utrillo Kushner from Comets On Fire is the main man of this trio, playing piano and singing songs he has supposedly been recording in the crevice of his apartment for years (I have to get a hold of the new record). With drummer Garrett Goddard from The Cuts juxtaposing Kushner's gentle but driving playing with valiumed Keith Moon bashes of his own, the songs sounded seventies-sweet and alive (especially huddled around a lone tumbler of whisky, making pretend it was my world being sung about).

Fifteen minutes after their set, Greg took the "stage" and, with Kushner and Goddard, went through a swell version of Apple Pie And Genocide (from the record MEDICINE FUCK DREAM, released finally on vinyl this month). And while I would have loved to see the rest of the set, it was Tarnation time...so I hit it on back to the Make Out. Their new record is coming out on Birdman in February (it is a mighty one, to be sure) , and the set was plum-full of ripe, new songs of sadness. Paula's voice sounded beautiful (how many ways can one describe its signature angelic quality?), and her constant stage compainion Patrick Main (keyboards/background vox/Oranger) filled the room with fragrent garnishes rich. Totally lulling and euphric with a hint country twang amist the dark mirror-ball slowdances. Special note: the killer classic Voxx guitar employed by Frazer to set the tone.

My ship sailed (the show over), I was blasted tired, so I scooted on home to watch Phantom Ship on ARCHIVE.ORG. No playa dust, but with the crisp air of the outer richmond swirlling around.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Magic Carpet: A Tasty Trip

For the listener who craves the deep, warm, dark green and forest brown, fog-drenched Indian influenced psychedelia that chartered its way out of San Francisco in the late sixties/early seventies, this reissue of the Magic Carpet’s debut record (on Magic Carpet Records) will ring a true chord. The band hailed from the UK…no where near the flower children of the Haight, but their brand of “Eastern Psych Folk” is close kin to After Bathing At Baxter’s era Jefferson Airplane and calls to order the Bay Area folk revival scene going on today: in a time of Devendra Banhart’s elfin freakiness, Joanna Newsom’s evil-angel resurrections, and the resurgence of interest in Vashti Bunyan, the Magic Carpet’s 1972 lost classic could not sound fresher. Alisha Sufit is a charmed chanteuse whose dark voice is crystal clear and mesmerizing; Clem Alford’s sitar playing is top notch and truly psychedelic. The songs come as old friends (favorite: “Father Time”) and hang in the air as mysteries leading to the sweet 20+ minute instrumental raga not found on the original issue of the record. Top notch rainy day fun, a perfect bong stuffer for the holidays.
(this post originally appeared on The Aquarius Records List)


Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Last Of The West Side Groovers

On August 2nd, Texas tenor great Rocky Morales lost his long battle with cancer. He was 65. I was first introduced to Rocky by longtime friend and band mate Doug Sahm when recording the Texas Tornados record FOUR ACES. Rocky entered the control room with his famous stagger-but-not-fall stride, looked up through his beat-era specs and smiled a mouth of teeth bent into a welcoming matt for his sax's mouthpiece.

Rocky was a driving force of the San Antonio R&B sound, which was a mixture of classic 50's R&B/Doo-Wap with a tejano twist (becoming more prominent with his band The Westside Horn Section, also featuring Al Gomez, Louie Bustos and Spot Barnet). He was fronting the Markays in 1959, when he first played with genre-defying Sahm, recording the song "Why Why Why" for Harlem records. For the rest of Sahm's life the two would collaborate, and much of what I know about Rocky came from Doug. Doug credited his tenor sax man for being the secret weapon between his genius style meshings, and talked of Rocky as a modern day hard-living beatnic who would quietly iterate deep philosophical musings of music and survival in between sips of his ever present can of beer.

Rocky played with a sweet, cascading style: part Lester Young, part Herb Hardesty (Imperial R&B king blower), part nameless troubadour in a nameless club in New York in the mid-seventies. The band would be chorusing a number by T-Bone Walker or Johnny Ace and Sahm would shout the famous call to arms: "ROCCCKKKKYYYYYYYY" signaling Morales to step up and show his wings.

He was one of those people who treated you like a trusted brother, and I will miss him I will also miss the signature tejano-R&B fused sound that he helped create that will never be heard again. Truly one of the great contributors to American music. Great places to hear Rocky's art: FOUR ACES by the Texas Tornados, EL MOLINO--the debut record by Joe King Carrasco, and THE BEST OF DOUG SAHM AND THE SIR DOUGLASS QUINTET. Thank you Bill Bentley for introducing me to all of this.

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You Tube, Classic TV, and Music

Ah, Television...or as the Touch Me Not's yell: HEY, TELEVISION...my brother calls it the idiot box and I have all but wiped it out of my life since getting back to SF a few years ago. Props to free TV that I get from my little bnw: KMTP (Ch. 32) with the greatest news programming around, and Ch. 2 with Dennis Richmond and Giants Baseball.

But ain't it just grand when a fad gets big enough to be represented on a big time comedy or drama? How about Mike Patton's name check on a recent soap? Nice. Or how about Dragnet's LSD episode in the 60s? Too bad the tripper had to die...too bad for us all.

I started geeking out on You Tube recently, trying to find some of my favorite music genre infusions into big time television. Here are 5 fun ones for your viewing pleasure:

1. Quincy Punk Rock Episode : My former WB A&R associate Barry Squire plays the drums in this obnoxious punk outfit. Oh, if the scene was ever this scene-ish.
2. SCUM on WKRP in Cincinatti (band plays 18 minutes into it): Act punk, play like Styx. WKRP never really got the punk thing, but managed to put together a humorous if not painful salute.
3. CHIPS Punk Rock Episode (Pt. 1 and Pt. 2): I DIG PAIN. Probably the classic amongst classic of punk-goes-to-television (besides the Donahue Punk episode with real punk rockers talking about real punk problems)
4. Flatt & Scruggs on Beverly Hillbillies : They wrote the theme, and they perform wonderfully on the show...
5. JAZZ on Kung Fu: The favorite piece that I found. Grasshopper on flute, accompanied by Cannonball Adderly and Jose Feliciano. Unbelievable.

More to come, and feel free to post with your own findings.