Ode to a Mensch: Charlie Robert Watts

by admin  25th Aug 2021 Comments [0]

By Harvey Robert Kubernik 

This is not the platform or forum for me to display photos of myself with Charlie Watts or a post card he sent me from the road. However, I feel encouraged by musicians and poets who are offering phone shiva and compelled to write this appreciation.

Charlie was a friend of mine since the early nineties. We never talked about the Rolling Stones. Just jazz.

“One of the great things about recording in Hollywood at RCA was after a session you’d walk into the car port and literally on the other side of the building was [jazz club] Shelly’s Manne-Hole,” Charlie revealed to me at a 2016 Stones’ Coachella Desert Trip tour rehearsal at Third Encore studios in Burbank, California.

In my 2014 book Turn Up The Radio! Pop, Rock, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972 published by Santa Monica Press, I asked Charlie about a Stones’ 1964 or ’65 recording session at RCA.

“While we were recording in Hollywood, I went to Shelly’s Manne-Hole twice—once to see Charles Lloyd, Albert Stinson [with Gabor Szabo and Pete LaRoca], and the Bill Evans Trio with Paul Motian on drums [and Chuck Israels]. I saw Shelly at his club.”

Charlie was always thankful I introduced him to drummer Stan Levey, who he saw in 1960 with Stan Kenton at Wembley. Earlier this century we had lunch at the Levey house in Sherman Oaks and Charlie arrived in a cab from The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, wearing perfectly pressed blue jeans, to join Jim Keltner and I.

He relished the Chico Hamilton autograph I personally got for him, and was delighted by the gift I gave him of a Shelley Manne coffee table limited edition book. I fondly recall how Charlie described the thin drum sticks that Shelley used on the bandstand and in the studio. I was a Ludwig 7a wood tip guy.

Charlie supplied a testimonial quote for the back cover for a Buddy Collette album I produced and invited myself, brother Kenneth and Buddy to his big band concert at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood.

Jim Keltner and I later connected Charlie with met drummer Freddie Gruber. Lots of marvelous Buddy Rich and Max Roach tales.

On one Stones’ tour this century, we had a pre-show chat with the legendary drummer Earl Palmer. He had finally met Earl years earlier at The Palace in Hollywood. In the sixties Charlie visited a Phil Spector recording session at Gold Star studio in Hollywood invited by arranger/keyboardist Jack Nitzsche. He loved the Crystals’ record “Da Doo Ron Ron.” Earl or Hal Blaine played drums on the track.

On occasion he referenced his drum set up at Olympic studio in Barnes London, and Sunset Sound and Ocean Way in Hollywood.  During 1997 he invited me to a slew of recording sessions at Ocean Way by the Stones during their Bridges to Babylon studio bookings.

There is one memorable Charlie Watts sighting at The Jazz Bakery venue in Culver City when he went to see Elvin Jones. Charlie, in a dashing custom-made suit was greeted and embraced after the show by the drummer drenched in stage sweat. Witnesses knew Charlie wasn’t concerned at all about going to the dry cleaner the next morning.
In 2016 Charlie and Jim Keltner invited me to a Rolling Stones’ rehearsal in North Hollywood. I carried some cymbals into the room with Jim’s lead tech and cartage man that were put on Charlie’s kit. He handed me a tambourine from one cymbal stand that I briefly shook for twenty seconds as the band jammed.

Ronnie Wood saw it and said, “Hey. You’re big time. At our rehearsal. It’s your dream gig? Right?” And I replied, “Yes. But it is not lost on me and just as important is that you were the bass player on Jeff Beck’s Truth LP.”

That blew him away. Keith Richard heard our exchange and laughed out loud. Ronnie hugged me. Then they both handed me their guitar picks.

Charlie smiled…

A couple of years ago I saw Charlie at Don Randi’s Baked Potato club in Studio City. It was an event honoring Hal Blaine on his 90th birthday party. Charlie contributed some autographed drum sticks to a charity auction being held in the room.

Over the last few decades my brother and I would send and give Charlie rare jazz videos. He really dug them. In my last conversation with him, after he visited the Motown Museum in Detroit, Charlie indicated he was building a collection of rare drum items.

May his beat go on and on…



I talked to Andrew Loog Oldham in 2014 about Peter Whitehead’s Rolling Stones documentary, Charlie Is My Darling, filmed during the band’s 1965 tour of Ireland.


HK: In 2012 your well-earned original producing credit was officially distributed in the retail and commercial universe by way of Charlie Is My Darling. Can you talk about the genesis of the project? You’ve shown it over the years in related charity functions but now you’ve endorsed and promoted it while it’s achieved stellar notices.


ALO: Yes, it was a Julie Christie world but that is not the origin of the title. It’s the Irish use of it, more soil, more turf, sod of the earth, nothing really sixties about it. The credit is only well earned because I made the movie in the first place. Allen Klein and I had discussed doing it on many occasions, but thankfully nothing happened. There are no accidents—and the timing on this was immaculate.

That end of the sixties is slipping away, soon there will be no more reliable witnesses and this film is a reliable witness. Dylan’s Dont Look Back is a reliable witness. A Hard Day’s Night is not—somebody wrote, constructed and directed that. Charlie Is My Darling is the real deal, the end of the innocence, the last hurrah before what the Beatles had started when they appeared in February of ‘ 64 on The Ed Sullivan Show turned the game into business.


HK: You told me in 2012, “The film was done as an audition to see which one of the Rolling Stones the camera actually loved off stage. We knew who the focus was on stage. The concept was to see who was telegenic off stage. Like an MGM screen test or how studio heads would view talent at RKO. It was Charlie that the camera loved. Ironically, Harvey, is it not the same camera that loved Ringo? There you go.”

My only complaint is that some of the interview footage of Charlie Watts from the original print did not make the new cut of the DVD and new movie. And Charlie is terrific on screen.


ALO: I agree. Charlie was pissed about that as well—or let’s say he noticed it when he was shown the new edit. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how much he really cared.  It was indeed a screen test, done in Ireland so as to be away from journalists, girlfriends and the London life. I just wanted to see whom, off stage, the camera loved. The drummer’s rule, I guess! I thought Charlie looked and sounded terrific. He had the look, he had the voice. I thought he could have a big future in French noir films, but for that to happen somebody else has to agree with you, and they have to be in the French film business.

Charlie Watts (right) with the Rolling Stones at Peter Tork’s house in Los Angeles. October 20, 1969. (Photo by Henry Diltz)

The Rolling Stones at the Forum in Los Angeles, 1973. (Photo by Henry Diltz)

Sylvain Sylvain, 1951-2021: The Teenage News Checks Out

by admin  7th Apr 2021 Comments [0]



The current issue of Ugly Things contains a heartfelt tribute from Tim Stegall to New York Dolls guitarist Syl Sylvain, written in January after his passing. It unfortunately contained a factual error that could not be verified at the time of writing, pertaining to his birth name. The family and their representatives have confirmed his full name was Sylvain Sylvain Mizrahi. We apologize for any emotional distress and inconvenience this has caused the family. Here is the full obituary, corrected.


PARDON ME if I’m sentimental when we say goodbye. Don’t be angry with me should I cry. It ain’t often the likes of a Sylvain Sylvain—born Sylvain Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo, Egypt, Valentine’s Day 1951—comes along. Which means when someone like Syl exits—as he did January 13 this year, following two years battling cancer—this big boppin’ world feels a whole lot emptier.

Of course, you can’t write about Syl without writing about the New York Dolls.

In 1980, Lester Bangs—the one rock critic (then) alive who wrote verbal rock ‘n’ roll—spent a benzadrine’d weekend pounding out Blondie, a quickie bio of New York punk’s first superstars. Published by Simon & Schuster’s rock division, Delilah, the thin book likely paid Lester’s rent for a couple of months. As with even Lester’s most crass efforts (as this surely was), there were flashes of genius. Such as the chapter “In Which Yet Another Pompous Blowhard Purports to Possess the True Meaning of Punk Rock,” the best three page summary yet written of punk—musically, culturally, aesthetically.

Which meant at least three or four of those paragraphs were some of the best writing ever about the New York Dolls.

“They might have taken some cues from the Stooges,” noted the pride of El Cajon, California, “but who they really wanted to be was an American garage band Rolling Stones. And that’s exactly what they were. Everything about them was pure outrage. And too live for the time — ‘72-3-4 mostly. They set New York on fire, but the rest of the country wasn’t ready for it.

“I was talking to a guitarist friend, and the subject of the Dolls came up.

“‘God,’ she said, ‘the first time they were on TV, we just couldn’t believe it, that anybody that shitty would be allowed to do that! How did they get away with it?’

“I felt like throwing her out of my house. They didn’t ‘get away’ with anything. They did what they could and what they wanted to do and out of the chaos emerged something magnificent, something that was so literally explosive with energy and joy and madness that it could not be held down by all your RULES of how this is supposed to be done! Because none of them are valid! Rock ‘n’ roll is about BREAKING the form, not ‘working within it.’ GIVE US SOME EQUAL TIME! Let the kid behind the wheel.”

I can remember one of those moments the Dolls were “lookin’ fine on television.” September 13, 1973, the day after my seventh birthday. Mom and Dad were at the Friday night kicker dance at the local VFW hall, in the tiny town where I grew up, Bishop, Texas. My teenage babysitter let me stay up with her to watch The Midnight Special, NBC’s popular televisual rock showcase of the age. It was always fun, especially when glitter rockers like Alice Cooper might appear, or old Fifties dudes like Little Richard.

I can’t remember who else appeared that night. But I remember the New York Dolls. I remembered them seven years later, when I picked up bargain bin copies of their Mercury albums after reading Sex Pistols interviews where the only bands they praised were the Dolls and the Stooges. I got it, the moment I heard “Personality Crisis.” There was the delinquent energy and the snot and venom I heard in the Pistols. And Johnny Thunders’ grimy guitar roar was clearly the square root of Steve Jones.

Then I realized this was that band that got me in trouble the day after that Midnight Special episode. I wandered into the kitchen as Mom washed dishes, wondering about this word my babysitter snarled at the TV screen as this band played.

“Mommy, what’s a faggot?”

I don’t think I’ve forgotten how nasty Palmolive tastes since.

Nor, as stated above, have I forgotten what I saw that night with my babysitter. (Mind you, the clip is easily viewable on YouTube.) Maybe two minutes prior to the opening credits, Thunders ignited the opening guitar riff to “Personality Crisis” with a baby doll strapped to his back, all swagger, stacked heels and ultra-teased hair. David Johansen strutted like a Max Factor-ed Mick Jagger. Syl Sylvain and his Flying V guitar pirouetted in matching leopard trousers and oversized bow tie. The kids in the front row appeared shell shocked, save for two girls bopping at the stage’s lip.

Those cross legged James Taylor fans would never get it. The New York Dolls reinvented the ‘70s in that moment. What those boys on the floor didn’t know, those little girls did understand….

What nobody got then was how there’d have never been a New York Dolls without that bopping imp in the leopard spandex, with the corkscrew curls and that Flying V. Yeah, Johnny Thunders had the star power, charisma and raunchy guitar ethic that every future punk guitarist copied wholesale. But it was Sylvain Sylvain who taught Johnny how to do it.

“Basically, what we wanted out of music was something simple, powerful and sexy, topped with a hook that would just drive you crazy,” Sylvain told me in 1997, in an interview that ran in New York Dolls oral history “Doll Parts” for Guitar World magazine eight years later, as the band first reunited. “The Dolls’ music was mostly derived from ripping off the Rolling Stones and Eddie Cochran. We didn’t invent [the power chord], but we perfected it, and it became the punk sound. Instead of holding all six strings, you’re holding only two. But when you hit it hard and you’ve got your amp up loud, that’s what gives you the power. I showed that to Johnny, and I swear to God, he took that to the hilt. And that’s how we came up with every other song. ‘Chatterbox’ and the beginning of ‘Human Being’ were all power chords. It gave Johnny a brand-new invention. Of course, Marc Bolan [of T. Rex] used it and so did James Williamson from the Stooges.”

Syl Sylvain taught the Dolls all their dirty tricks. The name was his, derived from a walk past the New York Doll Hospital at 787 Lexington Ave while on lunch break at late Sixties Manhattan clothing shop Different Drum. Upon returning from a European business trip on behalf of his and original Dolls drummer Billy Murcia’s Truth & Soul clothing business, he found Thunders, Murcia, and bassist Arthur Kane rehearsing under the name that was his brainchild. Singing: Someone Syl’s pal Rodrigo Solomon introduced to him, David Johansen.

Management and Mercury seized upon Johansen and Thunders as the Dolls’ power duo. Producers were instructed to pay attention to them, downplaying crucial Sylvain compositions like “Trash” or the second album’s “Puss ‘n’ Boots.” But can you imagine either New York Dolls or Too Much Too Soon without them? And few get that Syl shared lead duties with Thunders on things like “Vietnamese Baby” and “Jet Boy.” He was a little bluesier, a little cleaner than his flashier friend. Later Sylvain classics like “Teenage News” became critical to the band’s Red Patent Leather endgame, before getting disseminated between David Johansen’s and Sylvain’s own solo records.

Now listen to Syl’s records. The Dolls’ mix of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, girl groups, and Stonesy raunch? That remained the core of solo Syl. He was the Dolls’ heart and soul.

I came to understand this as I got to know him the last 30-some-odd years of his life. I first met him and classic Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan on my first trip to NYC in 1988. They’d reunited under the name the Ugly Americans, playing a weekly residency at East Village raunch ‘n’ roll palace the Continental Club on Friday nights. It was the closest you’d get to seeing a Dolls reunion in those days. Years later, he was generous with his time, memories, and wisdom when I worked on that Guitar World piece. You could hear his pain at how the Dolls dissolved—that was his baby. You had to laugh at some of his DIY scams, like recording albums on a four-track, then dumping the mixes on cassettes, designing homemade covers, then sneaking them into the cassette sections of various New York record stores!

Mind you, I’d kill to hear some of those lost solo albums now. Bet you would too.

A few times, my bands the Hormones and Napalm Stars were privileged to open his shows. Those were always a master class in showmanship and raw rock ‘n’ roll. The main lesson I learned was that, for all the anger in punk’s DNA, the core of Syl Sylvain’s art was joy. He had his anger, certainly, especially when recounting how the New York Dolls broke up. But Syl Sylvain mostly wrote happy tunes, three chord celebrations. Onstage, he was overjoyed at playing this wild, primitive, yet deceptively well-crafted rock ‘n’ roll. This was a party.

And you never saw anyone happier when the New York Dolls finally reformed in 2004. The best tunes on those reunion albums? Syl Sylvain compositions like “Dance Like A Monkey.” He’d been the guardian of the Dolls’ spirit and legacy in those wilderness years in between, and he was ecstatic at being at the heart of their new lineup with Johansen and Kane, for the brief moment the latter could enjoy it before he died from leukemia. And no one was more heartbroken when the band dissolved for many of the same reasons that killed it off in 1975: Egos. The death of every great band. Of every great relationship, really.

So, it was back to Syl Sylvain to keep the band’s spirit alive again. David Johansen had returned to his Buster Poindexter alter ego. In 2017, Syl came to Austin to play a weekly residency at hipster garage room Hotel Vegas, backed by a local punk supergroup calling themselves the Sylvains. The Hormones were overjoyed to be handpicked to open one of the shows, of course.

The afternoon of our gig, I called my old friend, who had become my “Uncle Syl” by this point. “You’re family now, Tim,” he told me after I’d worked as the Dolls’ guitar tech one SXSW weekend. “Listen to what your Uncle Syl tells you, now!” And now I was calling him where he was staying.

“Syl,” I began, “y’know that since the Dolls broke up, we’ve been playing ‘Personality Crisis,’ we’ve been playing your song ‘Teenage News,’ we’ve been playing some of Johnny’s songs. We don’t want the Dolls to die. Would you like us to lay off those songs in deference to you tonight?”

“Are you kidding?!” he roared. “I am so fucking proud of you for playing those songs! You are keeping the spirit and music alive! I want you to play every one of those fucking songs tonight!”

We did. The crowd went apeshit. Then he came on and showed us the right way to play them. With all the joy of having invented everything we all love about punk rock. Now it’s up to all of us still standing to carry it on. Uncle Syl, I weep as I finish typing these lines. We have lost a lot with your passing. That will never be replaced or equalled. Thank you for the rock ‘n’ roll. Thank you for punk rock. Thank you for the New York Dolls.

Thank you for having been Sylvain Sylvain. Sleep, Baby Doll. Sleep.


Johnny Cash: Live at San Quentin returns and a 1975 interview

by admin  17th Feb 2021 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik


Amazon Prime and the Coda Collection are launching a new company programming rare concerts and music documentaries, along with exclusive premieres for films and music documentaries. The Prime Video channel debuts February 18, 2021 and during 2021 Amazon Prime members will be able to access dozens of their library acquisitions exclusively streamed in the US. Some of their first titles announced for broadcast are the streaming premieres of The Rolling Stones On The Air, Music, Money, Madness…Jimi Hendrix in Maui, and Johnny Cash at San Quentin.

I thought it was appropriate to examine the Johnny Cash Live At San Quentin album that celebrates its 52nd retail anniversary on February 24. Johnny and I share a February 26 birthday.

In 1965 I saw a Cash Shindig! taping on Prospect Avenue in Los Angeles at ABC-TV studios, and in 1968 when he guested on The Summer Smothers Brothers Show at CBS Television City. I later caught Johnny and June Cash at The Anaheim Convention Center, The Troubadour and The House of Blues in Hollywood. I must have seen their act over a dozen times in 25 years.

“A Boy Named Sue,” written by humorist, poet, and singer/songwriter Shel Silverstein became a popular hit record during 1969 by Johnny Cash. On February 24, 1969, two days before he turned 37, Cash recorded the song live in concert at California’s San Quentin State Prison for his Johnny Cash At San Quentin album produced by Bob Johnston, issued on Columbia Records June 26, 1969.