Painting Trees: Damo Suzuki on Being Content at Home

by admin  10th May 2022 Comments [0]

By Bill Furbee

Paintings and the outdoors have taken the place of a tour van and stages for improvisational icon Damo Suzuki. Spring is here and, today, Damo can probably be found in a nearby park, painting trees.

Or perhaps, he could be found in his backyard garden, spending his time extravagantly in the warmth of trees and plants. However, if he is not even there, one might try to look for him in his sunroom. Yes, you heard it right! A beautiful sunroom (which was perhaps constructed by firms similar to FSBD – https://fsbd.co/services/sunrooms/) is where he believes his soul blooms.

Anyway, Damo and I first spoke in February of 2020-an interview to promote a scheduled performance at Chicago’s Empty Bottle. Shortly after, however, venues around the world shuttered their doors in response to the spread of COVID-19. With his schedule suddenly silent, Damo happily agreed to a follow-up call just a month later. Thankfully, his amiable nature was still on tap.

“I don’t have a job at the moment,” he told me, then. “It’s not possible to do anything. I canceled my US tour, I canceled my Italian tour … I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he reported from his home in Cologne, Germany.

He paused to pour himself a Kölsch beer.

“But it’s okay,” he told me. “Maybe (this is) an opportunity to make something else.” He reflected for a moment, then beamed a wide smile. “Cheers!” he said, lifting a frothy glass of beer to the camera on his computer monitor.

And now, we’ve spoken for the third time. Damo’s still at home, and in no hurry to get back on the road. If it was a decade ago, Damo might have been looking for picnic blankets and hiking gear. But, times have changed. There is a pandemic at large. Vaccine requirements and contract tracing-measures that are helping to bring the virus under control, allowing concerts to take place again-aren’t exactly conditions that Damo can get behind.

“At the moment, it’s so much difficulty traveling,” he says. “I don’t like to make a test at the airport; I don’t like to make anything that the system wants to have. Every country has its own directions-like if you eat or drink in a cafe, you sometimes have to have a vaccine passport, you must be vaccinated or you must have a test,” he says.

“For me, it’s a good time to have a break. So I treat it as my vacation, at the moment-for three years,” Damo admits, with a chuckle.

“It’s okay,” he reasons. “I’ve traveled quite a lot already before.”

Damo also has a lot of books at home-nearly 10,000, in fact. He’s eager to share titles and authors that he’s preoccupied with, while admitting, “fiction I can make with myself … my life is sometimes like fiction! Nonfiction is much more interesting at the moment.”

Meanwhile, a number of his recorded performances are still being issued. While Damo would much rather perform than release recordings, he acknowledges that many of his collaborators are interested in releasing those performances. So, he mostly leaves that decision to them.

“I’m not so particular about making an LP or album,” he stresses. “It’s not (been my job) for a long time. I just like the live concert, and not always documenting. But some people who have performed with me, they like to release it. It’s okay, they can make it. I don’t say many things. Because they also have the right to make something as documentation. So I cannot say, ‘oh it was not very good’ or anything-it’s not my task, it’s not freedom. They just ask me, (and) 99% of the time I say ‘okay.’ But, if they have something like on the front cover I wouldn’t like, if it’s demonic or satanic, or something like that, then I really don’t like to have it.”

Worth noting that Damo’s most celebrated band-psych-rock progenitors Can-has also been issuing a steady stream of reissues and rediscovered concert recordings of late. Damo, however, assures me that he’s had no communication with management or any surviving members.

“No, no (input) at all, I don’t have any contact with them,” he says. “That was already a half century before, you know? So it’s not that much things to talk about. I don’t take too much time to think about things, past.”

He adds: “I like to make music for the people who like this kind of music; I have never been interested in having a huge audience. It’s not my thing.”

Where does this leave Damo?

“I feel good!” Damo laughs, quick to point out that he now has time to exercise and observe nature. “If you’re outside, you can get vitamin D, the sun,” he says, “and it’s not been so cold this winter.”

As spring heralds in a season of new beginnings, Damo is happy to stay where he’s at for the time being.

“I like to go outside with a sketchbook,” he says, as our call wraps up. “And I like to paint trees. Spring,” he says with a beaming smile, “is always good!”


The Sounds of East LA and the Chicano Movement: Upcoming Grammy Museum In-Person Event

by admin  5th Apr 2022 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik

 

On Wednesday, April 13, 2022 at 7:00 PM, the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles will be presenting “The Sounds of East LA and the Chicano Movement” in conjunction with the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

Musicians Mark Guerrero and Little Willie G of Thee Midniters, UCLA’s Dr. Veronica Terriquez, and moderator Dr. Melissa Hidalgo will discuss the history of the Chicano Movement as it relates to the GRAMMY Museum’s Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom exhibition.

For over a half a century I have collected, touted and supported the hidden bio-regional sonic achievements birthed from East Los Angeles and the Boyle Heights area in numerous publications and examined at length in my 2014 book, Turn Up The Radio: Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972 as well as interviewing musician, archivist/scholar Mark Guerrero, and lead singer of Thee Midniters, Little Willie G (Garcia).

The East Los Angeles and the Boyle Heights community, east of downtown LA, has given the musical world Top 40 hitmakers, Verve Records’ founder Norman Granz, Herb Alpert, Lou Adler, HB Barnum, Mike Stoller, musician/deejay Lionel “Chico” Sesma, author Gene Aguilera, along with actor and TV producer, Jack Webb, who was an active jazz collector.

During 2022 I’ve also been working on a music documentary, both Guerrero and Garcia were among the many subjects lensed for the cinematic endeavor.

(more…)


Remembering Michael Nesmith

by admin  11th Mar 2022 Comments [0]

By Michael Lynch

 

“The one with the hat… “the one whose mother invented liquid paper”… “the one who didn’t do the reunion tours with the others”… “The one who pioneered country rock”… “the one who sowed the seeds for what became MTV”… “the one who led the fight for musical creative control for his band” are some of the ways he’ll be remembered. Or simply as the one directly responsible for a good-sized chunk of the Monkees’ musical pleasures and treasures.

The Monkees’ multi-talented singer songwriter and guitarist Michael Nesmith died of heart complications on December 10, 2021, a few weeks shy of his 79th birthday. Fellow Monkees Davy Jones and Peter Tork passed in 2012 and 2019 respectively. Only Micky Dolenz now survives.
All four Monkees had their unique traits, but right from the beginning, Nez stood out, both onscreen, with his signature wool hat, and cool collected demeanor displayed on their popular 1966 to 1968 TV series establishing him as the foursome’s leader, the smart one, and the one to take charge when the situation required, and offscreen, for Mike, who (like Davy) had already released a few singles released on Colpix Records, a branch of the Columbia and Screen Gems family tree, was writing and producing songs for the band’s records as early as the very first album, at the same time seeing his compositions recorded by other artists, notably “Mary Mary” being tackled by the Butterfield Blues Band and later “Different Drum” bringing Linda Ronstadt, by way of the Stone Poneys, her first visit to the upper regions of the charts.

The Monkees’ records sold millions, but Mike, horrified by some of the songs chosen by their musical supervisor Don Kirshner and resentful of the use of studio musicians providing the instrumentation instead of the Monkees (and smarting from the outcry and scorn once this became known to the public) sought to turn things around. He led his three bandmates in a bumpy, contentious but ultimately successful coup against the powers that be to give the Monkees musical control and have Kirshner dismissed. Fans can (and do) debate whether the Monkees were wise to rock the boat, but Nesmith followed his heart and creative instincts.
Traces of country influence could be detected as early as Mike’s songs on the Monkees’ first album, and as the years went on, Mike worked harder at balancing country with rock, improving as he went, by decade’s end all but providing the blueprint for ‘70s bands like Poco and Eagles (while Mike’s post-Monkees combo the First National Band continued down said course).

For decades Mike appeared reluctant to embrace his Monkee past, more keen on moving. Micky, Peter and Davy reunited in 1986 but Mike only appeared with them sporadically. He rejoined them to work as a foursome in 1996 for an album and a European tour the following year, but immediately jumped ship at that tour’s completion. The four never worked together again. Following Davy’s 2012 passing, Mike teamed up with Peter and Micky for a series of tours, and from then on right up to one month before his death, Mike was more often than not an active Monkee once again.

Close associates of Mike claim that in his final years Mike had achieved a fuller appreciation of what an impact the Monkees had made on so many. Perhaps in his mind he echoed his 1968 sentiments: “Here I stand, happy man.”

 

NOTABLE NEZ: TEN OF MIKE’S MEMORABLE MONKEE-SHINES

 

Everybody knows “Mary Mary,” “Listen to the Band” and “You Just May Be the One,” but Nez had plenty more delights up his hat. Here are ten other examples of Mike’s Monkees-era. Not necessarily his ten finest, but ten that taken together provide a decent summary of what, stylistically, Mike brought to the table:

 

SUNNY GIRLFRIEND (from Headquarters, 1967)

Dip the Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now” in sunshine and add a touch of their unfinished early 1967 versions of “She’s So Far Out She’s In” (an early live favorite) and you have this upbeat gem that represents one third of Mike’s (wool) hat-trick of Headquarters highlights.

 

DON’T CALL ON ME (from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd, 1967)

Pisces had a higher percentage of Nesmith-related tracks than any other Monkees album, with many songs spotlighting him as either lead vocalist or songwriter. “Don’t Call On Me” was the album’s only song on which he was both. The song dated back to Mike’s earlier days as a folk singer, and tasteful recordings exist of his trio Mike, John & Bill doing the song in a gentle acoustic manner. For the Monkees’ version, the song is slightly amped up with increased instrumentation, but still kept gentle.

 

DAILY NIGHTLY (from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd, 1967)

Although Micky stars on this trippy track as lead vocalist and Moog player (one of the very first on a rock record,) the song itself came from Mike’s pen. His reflections of late 1960s Sunset Strip stand as some of his most poetic lyrics. Phantasmagoric splendor indeed.

 

CARLISLE WHEELING (recorded 1967, unreleased until Missing Links, 1987)

Mike recorded this song several times in his career. Attempts in 1967 and 1968 for the Monkees, once for his ambitious 1968 instrumental album The Wichita Train Whistle Sings, and then as “Conversations” for his 1970 post-Monkees album Loose Salute. To the ears of this writer, he captured it best the first time.

 

MAGNOLIA SIMMS (from The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees, 1968)
The same month Moby Grape Wow’d us with a simulated old-timey 78, so did the Monkees. “Magnolia Simms,” thanks to built-in surface noise, intentional scratches, and monaural sound panned to one channel (all explained in a back cover disclaimer) succeeds in, as Mike intended, capturing “the sound of the 1920-30 yippies.”

 

TAPIOCA TUNDRA (from The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees, 1968)

Originally found on the flip of “Valleri” before eventually finding its album home was what ultimately became the highest-charting Monkees song of his authorship, peaking at #34. A breezy charming mix of melody, whimsy and psychedelia…imagine “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” slightly faster, on acid.

 

SAINT MATTHEW (recorded 1968, unreleased until Missing Links Volume 2, 1990)

Do country and psychedelia blend well? They sure do on this originally-shelved track. The fiddles and twangy guitar combine fabulously with the organ and Leslie’d vocal of trippy lyrics, as if someone dosed the punchbowl at a hoedown.

 

NAKED PERSIMMON (from TV special 33 &1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, taped late 1968)

Nothing demonstrated the two sides of Michael Nesmith better than his (sort of) solo spotlight scene of the Monkees’ infamous 1969 TV special. In an amusing split screen performance, hip electric guitar-toting Nesmith performs alongside a cowboy version of himself on a song that takes turns alternating between both musical styles. In addition to being one of the special’s more entertaining moments, it also accurately summed up where Nez was musically at.

 

WHILE I CRY (from Instant Replay, 1969)

Monkees fans long held this gorgeous tearjerker close to their hearts and were delighted when Nez revived it in 2021. The performances proved the earnestness of his delivery had not diminished over the 52-year gap.

 

GOOD CLEAN FUN (from The Monkees Present, 1969)

The final Monkees single while Mike was aboard was this country-drenched toe-tapper which lived up to its title. With health issues of Mike’s forcing an abrupt halt of his and Micky’s 2018 tour and causing great concern from fans, subsequent live performances of this song proved particularly poignant when Mike reached the thrice-sung final line “I told you I’d come back…here I am.”