The Sons of Adam: Saturday’s sons of the Sunset Strip

by admin  8th Jan 2014 Comments [3967]

By Greg Prevost & Mike Stax

 

From late ’65 until early ’67, the Sons of Adam were one of the most happening bands on the Sunset Strip, playing to packed houses at clubs like Gazzarri’s, Bito Lido’s and the Whisky A Go Go. They had the right sound, the right image, and some of the most talented musicians on the scene. They even had their share of lucky breaks, including an appearance in a major Hollywood movie and a deal with Decca Records. Arthur Lee even gave them one of his songs. Yet somehow the Sons of Adam never managed to lift themselves out of the Hollywood club scene and into the major leagues. Today they’re mostly remembered as the band Michael Stuart was in before he joined Love, or the band Randy Holden was in before joining Blue Cheer. What’s too often overlooked is that the Sons have a proud legacy of their own: three enormously great 45 releases, and a story that is long overdue to be told.

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Warsaw Pakt: Rocket-fueled rock’n’roll from the bunker

by admin  3rd Jan 2014 Comments [536]

Real high-energy rock’n’roll in its most potent form is best captured live and in the moment. Maximum thrills, minimum frills.

In 1977, London’s Warsaw Pakt took that premise one step further, recording their album live, straight through, direct to the cutting lathe – no tape master, no overdubs, no mixing. The record was pressed, packed and shipped overnight and was in the record stores the following day. No procrastination. Instant gratification.

“The idea was to bypass tape and gain a very accurate recording that would be louder and clearer than any other method then available,” remembers guitarist Andy Colquhoun.

The actual process was simple. “It was play Side One, break, tune up, play Side Two,” he explains. “This was done three times. The engineers were very concerned about us destroying the cutting lathe heads, which ran about five grand each. At first the sound in their control room at the top of the building was very restrained. By the third take of the two sides it was OK, but not as good as the room sound. They used that take anyway. The master was taken directly to the factory and manufactured overnight, and we were in Virgin Records at Marble Arch the following afternoon signing copies.”

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What’s Missing in Music Bios? Often What’s Great About the Music

by admin  19th Dec 2013 Comments [1895]

By Bill Wasserzieher

The problem with many documentaries about solo artists and/or bands is that they “print the legend,” to lift that old line from John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. That is, filmmakers, being storytellers, flesh out the accepted version of their subject’s career—and that’s good for what it is, overviews being useful for the uninitiated—but rarely do they dive deep for what is at the core of the actual art.

To put it another way, is there even one among the scores of Dylan documentaries that digs into his songwriting process? I’d love for the hire-by-the-hour “talking heads” who pop up in them to focus on the creative vision that, for example, produced “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Think about those opening lines:

 When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter-time too,
And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through,
Don’t put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue,
They got some hungry women and they’ll really make a mess out of you.
 

 These are maybe the bleakest lines since T.S. Eliot was ruminating on “The Hollow Men” and “The Wasteland.” But, no, we always hear about young Bob scuffling in the Village, courting Joan Baez, going electric, retreating to Woodstock, finding/losing/finding religion, ad infinitum. Instead, tell me about those carbolic lines and how his etched-with-acid voice shoves them to the gut.

Jody Stephens, Andy Hummel and Alex Chilton. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: William Eggleston, Eggleston Artistic Trust)

Jody Stephens, Andy Hummel and Alex Chilton. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: William Eggleston, Eggleston Artistic Trust)

This problem comes to mind with the new and very competently made documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (Magnolia Pictures). The filmmakers present nearly a two-hour overview of a band whose members were young white guys from Memphis—one a former teenage hit-maker with the Box Tops—who cut an indisputably great album, #1 Record, that went unnoticed; followed by another, Radio City, nearly as good and equally ignored; and then a third, Sister Lovers, which was never actually finished, as the players drifted off to different and mostly sad, bad fates.

The filmmakers get the Big Star story from the band drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel, from friends and relatives of deceased members Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, their Ardent recording studio associates (Ardent headman John Fry is the film’s executive producer), an array of rock critics (including a funky old Lester Bangs clip), plus numerous praise-wielding musicians, among them Jim Dickinson, Chris Stamey, Mike Mills, Robyn Hitchcock and Ken Stringfellow.

No denying it’s a well-crafted overview, but what’s missing is serious analysis of the songs and the musicianship on No. 1 Record. What are those songs about? What do say about life as Chris Bell and Alex Chilton were experiencing it, their individual and sometimes at war psyches (Bell bipolar and troubled by sexual identity issues, Chilton bitter, caustic, frequently loaded), and how did their minds and voices work together and separately? These are things crucial to the Big Star story. Otherwise the band was just one of millions that arguably could have been the new Beatles but were not, though at least this one became famous after the fact and served as a fountainhead for power-pop bands that came later.

Alex Chilton. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Alex Chilton. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Plus the documentary, while keeping with the legend, plays it cautious. Nowhere is the Alex Chilton I met a few times, first in New York City during the late 1970s when he had a loose ensemble called the Cossacks. One night I asked him about the Big Star records, and he responded,  “Fuck that old shit.” Nearly 25 years later, after he and Jody Stephens reformed Big Star with members of The Posies, I cornered him after a solo show at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, where he had intentionally bummed out a capacity crowd hoping to hear a few Big Star and/or Box Tops tunes by playing instead “Volare” (“Nel blu dip into di blu”) and other songs better suited to a Dean Martin tribute. I asked him why, and he said, “I hate my fans.” Sometimes an artist is his own worst enemy, but Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me doesn’t say so.

And that brings to mind those purveyors of commercial/corporate rock, the Eagles. At least the documentary History of the Eagles manages to do more than provide the standard career recap. Glenn Frey, the film’s executive producer and primary talking head, spends three hours trashing everyone who has ever rubbed him wrong—producer Glyn Johns who got the Eagles their first hits, former bandmates Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner (whose previous stints in Dillard & Clark, the Flying Burrito Bros. and Poco gave the Eagles early credibility), original manager and label boss David Geffen, even Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh who are still contracted sidemen in the band, and especially Don Felder who is reduced to tears when interviewed on how he came to be kicked out.

Chris Bell. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Chris Bell. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

According to Frey, only he and Don Henley really matter in the grand scheme of things—and that’s why he’s proud to say they get bigger bucks than the others, money apparently his ultimate gauge for success. At no time does Frey ever seem to see beyond his own ego, coming off as vengeful, arrogant and self-absorbed. It’s fascinating and twisted, as creepy as watching footage of performance artist Chris Burden nail himself to the hood of a VW Beatle. But at least it’s more than just another example of “print the legend,” and we do learn something about his band’s songcraft, including that Frey dreamed up the title “Life in the Fast Lane” while roaring through Hollywood at 90 mph in a Corvette driven by his dope dealer on their way to a poker game.

In issue #36 of Ugly Things, Alan Bisbort has a review of a DVD titled A Band Called Death. Comprised of three African-American brothers from Detroit who played rock rather than Motown, the band was good enough for Clive Davis, then the head of Columbia Records, to offer to sign them if they would change their name to something less of a sales-killer than Death. But they wouldn’t, so he didn’t. Now that’s a legend new for the telling. Also, for a more detailed review of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, see Jon Kanis’ piece in the same new issue.