Author Archives: Josh Lewellen

Scott Morgan,
The TVD Interview

Though every bit the equal of any figure in Motor City music lore, Scott Morgan’s name has yet to reach the status of sanctity outside of the most cultish of rock-soul circles. Given his fifty-year resume, that fact constitutes an oversight of the highest order.

It was the voice of Morgan that powered the soul-soaked garage tunes of his first band, the Rationals, on their near-definitive versions of Otis Redding’s “Respect” and Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” the startling abandon of the latter being matched only by the honeyed restraint shown on a Carole King number, “I Need You.”

Soon after, he linked up with Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 to form what is either the greatest rock and roll band you’ve never heard of, or the greatest rock and roll band you’ve ever heard: Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. A union of the finest working musicians in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band placed the established concept of high-energy rock as laid down by the MC5 and the Stooges into an incinerator. The dual guitar onslaught of Smith and Morgan, who emerged as a first-rate rhythm player, careened the band into territories uncharted, while the rhythm section of Stooges’ former skin-splitter extraordinaire Scott Asheton and Up bassist Gary Rasmussen counteracted fire with thunder.

And they released just one song.

The Morgan-sung “Electrophonic Tonic,” an absolute whirling dervish of a song from the word go, was purposed as the B-side to the earth-imploding masterpiece that is “City Slang,” only to be pulled from its slot after internal dispute. Considering the pull of “City Slang” barely made it past Ann Arbor city limits, this misfire likely did minimal damage to any theoretical mass audience the band might have reached. Besides, the thought of tacking both songs, each individually powerful enough to provide heating for every building in the Great Lakes region, onto a seven-inch piece of black plastic is as farcical as it is hazardous.  

After about five years, SRB dissolved and Morgan pushed forward by fronting the Scott Morgan Band, whose 1988 album Rock Action featured former Rendezvous bandmates Asheton and Rasmussen for much of the eighties, then continuing into the nineties and next century with a number of different groups, playing alongside Hellacopters frontman Nick Royale in both the Hydromatics and the Solution as well as working with fellow Detroit legend Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman fame in a couple one-off projects like Dodge Main and a collaborative album called 3 Assassins.

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Little Steven,
The TVD Interview

Between his work with Springsteen and the E Street Band, his championing of both old and new music through a one-in-a-million satellite radio station known as the Underground Garage, and, more recently, his return to fronting a band of his own, Little Steven has as much right to James Brown’s old title as anyone else in show business.

After roughly eighteen years of being occupied with two-thirds of the above items (to say nothing of his lauded turn on The Sopranos or his actor-writer-director capacities on Lilyhammer), Van Zandt reemerged onto the solo circuit this past May with Soulfire. With the Disciples of Soul on backing duties, the record is a veritable genre smorgasbord that runs the gamut from doo-wop and Chess blues to country and Tamla soul. In other words, Little Steven provided a strikingly thorough showcase of the rich traditions that led him to the altar of rock and roll in the first place. No small feat for the most famous practitioner of rock-as-religion.

We were able to catch up with Little Steven amid the final weeks of his US tour to talk his return to being a bandleader, the importance of rock and roll education as exemplified by both the Underground Garage and his foundation, Rock and Roll Forever, and his dream compilation record.

So Soulfire was your first solo LP in eighteen years. With that in mind, did you notice any discernible difference in your approach to the recording process itself, whether that be compared to your previous solo albums or your work with Bruce and the Asbury Dukes?

Interesting question. Not really, I’ve always done things kind of live and analog, and I still am, but it’s a little bigger now. I really have fallen in love with the jigsaw puzzle of arranging horns, strings, and background vocals. Basically what I got into with Darlene Love’s album last year, and I continued that with this album. I used to do more with the strings but I added the background vocal this time around. Other than that, no real difference in the recording.

I think the only other difference may be that I can’t use streetwise rock musicians anymore. You start off using rock musicians in a rock band. Now, the stuff has become a little sophisticated to the point where I really need session guys to be more precise, and then finding sessions guys who can also go on the road and actually perform has been the biggest challenge. There’s only a handful of guys who can handle stuff like this, I mean, I’m playing ten different genres of music during these live shows. They have to play with authenticity and have a sense of history, and there’s not a whole lot of folks who can do that, so they’re in great demand.

On this tour, which is only about eighteen weeks long, I’ve changed personnel several times, so different people are coming and going even on a four-month tour. It’s been an adjustment with that but I’m a bandleader so it’s always going to be a great band. In the old days, I think people were just less busy.

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Paul Collins,
The 2017 TVD Interview

Judging by his recent activities, an unending stream of tour dates in particular, one would be forgiven for mistaking a certain Paul Collins’ song for reality. By any reasonable measure, the resident King of Power Pop is working as hard and often as ever.

As a member of seminal rock and roll trio the Nerves, Collins, along with bandmates Peter Case and Jack Lee, devised a framework for future acts with tastes for both tireless guitar work and compelling melodies to follow, and the resulting magnetism has held sway over acts as disparate and unlikely as Blondie and Def Leppard. More precisely, it led to power pop, and with power pop came the Beat.

Compared to the lean swagger of Nerves’ compositions, perhaps the most prominent example being Collins’ own “Working Too Hard,” his work with the Beat more closely resembles ’60s British Invasion rock at its most ecstatic, merged with hooks that just won’t quit. Equal parts sparse and unswerving, the accompanying lyrics captured the intoxicating highs and discouraging lows of teenage romance in a manner similar to the Beach Boys in their straight-ahead pop days. Songs like “Don’t Wait Up For Me” and “Rock N Roll Girl” are nothing short of quintessential in the grand, if still rather unheralded, canon of power pop.

These days, whether it be a new live record which he pressed himself or the recently announced Go West California Tour, Collins is still going wherever the wind(s), not least of which being the Beat Army and all its young denizens, takes him (e.g. a weekend of short-notice gigs in Spain just hours following our chat).

So it’s back to California for you. How long has it been?

It’s been about two years but let me backtrack a second. I’ve been doing this thing forever, and when I moved back to the States, I started out regionally doing DIY tours and basically what I did was I would hook up with a band and we would travel together like a band that wanted to tour. They’d have the transportation and we would all go together, and it was really cool. I was always working with young, up-and-coming bands, and it was a win-win situation. It was great for them and it was great for me, and I got to watch them grow out on the road. There’s nothing like touring to turn a band into a band.

The first time I did it was when I met this band from Atlanta called Gentleman Jesse and His Men at SXSW. This was back in 2008. So I ran into Jesse at SXSW, and I was playing with my Spanish band at the time. He came up to me and said, “Listen, man, if you ever want to tour in America, we’re your band.” I eventually took them up on it and that was my first DIY tour back in the States after living abroad for many years. And he just opened my eyes. We did a massive tour. It was hugely successful. We sold out a bunch of shows so the money was really good, and it was all handshake deals, y’know, the whole DIY thing. So I saw it firsthand and said, “Alright, this is the way I want to go.”

When I moved back to the States in 2008 to New York, I started touring like that and became a master at it. I started doing regional tours of the Midwest, the South, the West Coast, the East Coast, and then I said, “Hell, I’m just gonna connect the dots.” Then, I went from booking regional tours to national tours, and we would go out for three or four weeks and tour the entire country. We’d hook up with all these different bands, and it was really fun. It was also my way of reconnecting with my audience, and the audience now for what I do is a lot of young kids who are second and third generation power pop fans. Every now and then I would do bigger shows and I saw how the real rock and roll experience is at the club. That’s the real rock and roll experience. You can’t get it anywhere else.

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TVD Video Premiere: David Messier, “Keeping Up With Fashion”

“The theme of the video is ‘The Fun of Fashion and The Diversity of Beauty’—that’s what I kept saying as we were working it all out. I wanted the fun of a fashion show but not the homogeneity. I wanted EVERYONE to have their runway moment. It’s easy to hit your news feed right now and think that we’ve become somehow less inclusive. I just won’t believe that’s true and I wanted to show the other side—the world how I see it. Teresa Jolie, the director, has such a great eye and I trusted her to bring that vision to life. She nailed it. I think everyone looks glorious, even the musicians.”David Messier

With his solo career now off and running, David Messier appears to be busier than ever. Apart from formerly fronting Boston band Papermoon, Messier also acts as the owner of Austin recording studio Same Sky Productions as well as the President of the Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy. In other words, it becomes quite plain to see that Messier possesses a well-rounded ardor for his craft, one that is focused on a broader sense of the term creation.

With his first full-fledged LP, Waiting for Eldridge, released back in February of 2016, Messier now turns to the visual side of things with multiple music video releases. Critically acclaimed by local Austin radio station KUTX, Waiting for Eldridge presents an eclectic mix of Americana and rock ’n’ roll with some welcome folkie fixings, a combination that is rather apparent on the following tune: “Keeping Up With Fashion.”

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Record Store Day’s
Michael Kurtz and
Carrie Colliton,
The TVD Interview

An event that is now all but ubiquitous, the annual celebration-cum-gathering that is Record Store Day has, in its decade-long existence, proven to be the great watershed for the vinyl revival of the twenty-first century.

Conceived of in 2007, this worldwide get-together is an all-encompassing shindig for both independent record stores and the record-crazed themselves, with shops across the globe participating in special releases and a plethora of in-store performances, which is to say nothing of the music titans who have carried the torch for Record Store Day as ambassadors over the years, such as Iggy Pop, Chuck D, and Dave Grohl.

Hot on the heels of RSD’s tenth anniversary event this April 22nd, we talked with co-founders Carrie Colliton and Michael Kurtz about the day’s history, their favorite releases, and some plans for the future.

So, since you guys got this up and running in 2007, this is the big tenth anniversary, isn’t it?

CARRIE: It is. Our first one was in April of 2008, but we had this idea in September of 2007. Having done it ten times now, I can tell you that the idea that we thought of it in September and did it in April is astounding to me. It’s a year-round process now.

I would assume there’s going a little something extra thrown into the mix for the event this year?

CARRIE: We try to do that every year, throw something extra into the mix. There are great releases and in-store performances. Everything is kind of amped up a tiny little bit.

Could you give me a sense of where the numbers were at in terms of vinyl sales at that time? Vinyl was really on its last legs, was it not?

MICHAEL: I think it was in the hundreds of thousands of releases. It was less than a million dollars a year. I think we’re up to a billion a year now.

Would you say the effects were rather immediate?

MICHAEL: Well the first year, there were only about ten releases. There were almost no independent labels involved because nobody had the confidence to produce records because it’s so expensive, and I think that’s been the side effect of Record Store Day. This residual buildup of confidence over the years has led to everyone producing records with the expectation that they will sell.

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Lenny Kaye,
The TVD Interview

Of all the names contained within the storied history of rock and roll, few have contributed more to the tradition, and done so in a greater number of ways, than Lenny Kaye.

Alongside the inimitable rock and roll poetess Patti Smith, Kaye has taken up lead guitar duties for over four decades now, infusing sanctified albums such as Horses and Radio Ethiopia with driving riffs and licks to go around. As a producer, Kaye has manned the helm for a great deal of his recordings with Smith, even producing their debut single of “Hey Joe / Piss Factory” on his very own Mer Records, as well as worked with underground folkie Suzanne Vega on a number of albums.

Through his writing, Kaye ups the ante for all so-called dual threats. Though he has contributed to many of the Patti Smith Group’s most enduring songs, such as the reggae slab “Redondo Beach” and the experimental title track to Radio Ethiopia, his writing as a music historian and critic is every bit as vital and essential.

Rising to initial prominence as one of the original rock writers, Kaye contributed to every music publication imaginable over the course of the 1970s, from Rolling Stone and Creem to Melody Maker and Crawdaddy. Unlike some of the more self-aggrandizing members (who shall remain nameless) of the early intelligentsia, Kaye maintained a quality to his writing that was just as pithy as it was lyrical. Whether he was attempting to summate the rise and fall of Hendrix or waxing poetic on the latest and greatest Stooges LP, he always made certain to place the music front and center. Plus, he remains one of the select few critics from the period to not completely execrate Zeppelin, but more on that later.

There’s also this little thing called Nuggets. Perhaps the most influential collection of music ever assembled, Kaye’s 1972 compilation of eclectic gems from the mid-to-late ’60s rock and roll renaissance presented the raw energy of the period at its finest and boldest, providing the blueprint for countless bands to follow, including a great many of the acts to emerge from the New York City punk circuit in the latter half of 1970s.

The Patti Smith Group is currently at work in the land down under, and we caught up with Kaye just before the southbound journey to talk the usual suspects: Nuggets lingo, 45 fairs, free jazz, and music journalism.

You’re more than likely aware of this, but I feel obligated to mention that the Aussies were putting out some absurdly great rock and roll back in the ’70s with groups like Radio Birdman and the Scientists, so it’s no surprise that you’ve got a nice little following down there.

Totally, and I’m going to do a couple DJ nights there playing what they call obscure ’60s garage rock, even though I don’t think it’s probably as obscure as some of the collector fiends would like. But yeah, I’m going to DJ and they seem very receptive to the sounds of classic, high-energy rock and roll.

I think it’s absolutely dumbfounding how the songs you had on that collection were so overlooked to the point where they needed reviving in the first place.

Oh, it’s amazing, but the music was changing so quickly then. It came out in ’72 and the latest song on there, by the Nazz (“Open My Eyes”), was from ’68. Things were changing very rapidly, where something that just came out a few years ago seemed like a part of ancient history. It was great to put it together. I didn’t have the long distance hindsight that probably would’ve made the record less interesting. I would’ve made it more “garage rock” as opposed to these kind of weirder things, like Sagittarius or even the Blues Project. A lot of it falls outside the parameters of what we’ve come to define as garage rock.

But, y’know, I was just feeling my way and not really sure that Elektra would even put out this album, so I was just having some fun and putting a lot of my favorite songs that seemed to fit together in a concept called Nuggets, which was kind of an open-ended concept the way Jac Holzman gave it to me. I was there and I had an opportunity. I didn’t invent this music, I just appreciated it, and it continues to live on, amazingly enough.

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Richard Thompson,
The TVD Interview

Tracing the steps of a career along the lines of Richard Thompson’s is a fool’s errand any which way you cut it.

Between his eccentric mode of guitar phrasing, which bears an inimitable precision that has made for an uncountable number of acoustic flourishes and electric demolitions over the years, and a penchant for lyrics that can be described as anything from spiritual and acerbic to despondent and crazed (“Roll Over Vaughan Williams” might as well be called “Live in Fear”), Thompson’s singularity is twofold.

Through his time in Fairport Convention, Thompson, alongside many of England’s heavy hitting musicians such as Sandy Denny, Dave Mattacks, and Simon Nicol, helped to reenergize the country’s folk scene into a fusion-based hotbed, suffusing traditional British and Celtic ballads with rock and roll in a profoundly novel manner. Between works like their self-titled debut album and what is perhaps the outright nexus of late ’60s folk, Liege and Lief, Fairport played an integral role in carving out a place for both acoustic and electric folk music as art.

This theme would be taken to perhaps its greatest lengths in the 1970s, and into the early ’80s, by the Island Records triad of Thompson, John Martyn, and (however briefly) Nick Drake. Thompson and then-wife Linda Thompson embarked on a masterful, decade-long string of albums which included I Want to See the Brights Lights Tonight, Pour Down Like Silver, and their final effort Shoot Out the Lights in 1982. From here, Thompson went solo and has managed a balancing act of the acoustic and the electric ever since, releasing some of his most beloved compositions along the way, such as “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Beeswing.”

Regarding prolificacy, the longest spell between solo albums is a matter of four years, and that’s dating back to his 1972 LP Henry the Human Fly, whose continued obscurity is nothing if not criminal. In other words, Thompson has never been one for considerable time off, and we’re all the luckier for it.

His latest acoustic tour of America is just about underway, and we managed to get ahold of Thompson for a quick chat about, you guessed it, the old Sound Techniques studio in Chelsea and seminal ’60s baroque poppers, the Left Banke.

Did you know that “Calvary Cross” was just used back in November on an American TV drama called This is Us? To hear it on a primetime show was jarring to say the least.

I didn’t know that, but I’ll actually earn money from it so that’s a good thing [laughs]. Yeah, they’ve always got certain shows like Crossing Jordan where they really like to find interesting soundtracks, but for the most part it’s kind of bland and cheap.

Speaking of soundtracks, what was it that convinced you to get on board with doing the one for Grizzly Man?

I’ve always been a big Werner Herzog fan, so the chance to work with him was very exciting. Because I knew Werner’s producer, I got kind of the in to do the soundtrack. It was a very interesting project.

How involved was Werner with the recording process?

He likes to be fully involved in the music for his films. He was always either on the studio floor or in the control room so he was there for pretty much the whole of the soundtrack.

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TVD Video Premiere: Tree Machines,
“Waiting On the Sun”

The brainchild of two Kansans now out and about in LA, Tree Machines are on the verge of a follow-up album to their inaugural 2015 EP, a collection of songs highlighting the ennui of small-town Midwest living, something that Lawrence natives Douglas Wooldridge and Patrick Aubry, the duo in question, may have grown accustomed to over the years, but have since hitched a ride to the City of Angels, trading in Mass Street for a Canoga Park garage.

Their upcoming debut album Up for Air arrives this year, and if the first single off the LP is any indication, Wooldridge and Aubry are seeking to cast a wide net. Driven by visions of Los Angeles, which is made even more apparent in the accompanying lyric video dominated by drone-captured, colorless images of the cityscape and shoreline, “Waiting On the Sun” amounts to an extended vocal-synth crescendo of hope and illumination at the prospects of a new day.

Though the lyrics are quick to remind that darkness looms here just as in any other place, the song retains a musical brightness which never forsakes the inevitability of that titular light rising again.

Wooldridge and Aubry certainly bring a bit of Kansas to LA, and they possess a keen understanding of their new whereabouts, but it’s never in question that the two are aiming for a clarion call of universal intent, one to curb the loneliness that hangs over most every soul in high and low places

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Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek, The TVD Interview

To be sure, it’s a rare occasion when entire music scenes are ignited by an individual, and it’s even rarer when said artist just so happens to be an expat from Michigan immersed in medical studies nearly ten thousand miles across the planet, which is a roundabout way of saying Deniz Tek ranks among the most transformative figures in the history of Australian music.

Hailing from the rock ’n’ roll capital of the world, Ann Arbor, Tek was groomed on the frenzied sounds and performances of local pioneering groups such as the Stooges and the Rationals before making the permanent move to Sydney in 1972. It was here that Tek set out to create a band so uncompromising in both power and energy that the mainstream contingent of the country would be utterly confounded and, just maybe, incensed. The result was Radio Birdman.

Formed in ’74 by Tek and fellow outcast Rob Younger, Radio Birdman quickly emerged as the preeminent rock ’n’ roll band in Australia, and it’s only fitting that the name itself is the product of a misheard Stooges’ lyric. With Tek as the chief songwriter and lead guitarist, the band seamlessly coalesced the essential components of Motor City rock with the equally feverish speed and style of surf music to establish a sound that remains completely unique and nonpareil. Following releases of the EP “Burn My Eye” in ’76 and the absolute blitz-of-an-album Radios Appear the following year, the band ended up label-less and financially abandoned, extinguishing their future plans and leading to a wealth of different projects for all involved.

Tek would soon form the Visitors and then, alongside Younger and Birdman bassist Warwick Gilbert, the Sydney-Ann Arbor supergroup known as New Race, which included two pivotal names (and heroes to Radio Birdman) in rock history: Ron Asheton of the Stooges and Dennis Thompson of the MC5. Egregiously, though intentionally, short-lived, New Race put out just a single live record documenting a month-long tour in 1981 before its members opted to pursue other endeavors.

Between his return to the medical world as a US Navy flight surgeon and continued music projects with Deep Reduction, the Deniz Tek Group, and the lost experimental group Glass Insects, Tek maintained a tight schedule to say the least.

In 2006, Radio Birdman reunited to record for the first time in almost thirty years, creating Zeno Beach, and, after a solo hiatus in the latter half of the 2000s, Tek returned to the studio with Career Records, producing two solo albums, Detroit in 2013 and Mean Old Twister just this past year. Moreover, his recent collaboration with the Stooges’ James Williamson, Acoustic K.O., is due out in just a couple of weeks. Paired with some nonstop performing in Europe, as well as an Australian tour with Radio Birdman in June, Tek is still doing more than his share to keep the flame alive.

We recently caught up with him to discuss everything from vinyl lathes and the Sydney scene that Birdman revolutionized to the fabled history of his Epiphone Crestwood and a late ’60s Detroit radio station with a penchant for Captain Beefheart.

It’s definitely tricky to keep everything straight considering just how diverse your activities have been over the years. I’ve always been curious as to when you actually started serving as a flight surgeon in the Navy. Was it just after your time with New Race?

It was, yes. The New Race tour was in April and May of 1981, and I started flight surgeon school on the first of July, so it really was right after that.

I know you were in medical studies at New South Wales right before Radio Birdman got going, so was it always on your radar to go into a related line of work at some point or another?

Well I never expected to be able to earn a living playing music. I realized early on that the kind of stuff we were doing was never going to be commercial, and I had no desire to conform my songwriting or playing to anybody’s idea of a marketing plan. I was always going to need another job, let’s put it that way.

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TVD Video Premiere: Brahm, “Midnight Wolf”

It’s been close to ten years since the ASR-10 keyboard maestro Brahm has released a full-length album, but judging by his latest sci-fi concoction, Ratimis, the decade has been put to just the right use. Released on Swedish Columbia this past February (2/24), the concept album revolves a future defined by an overwhelming absence of media, with just a single enigmatic broadcast station remaining intact.

Easily the most ‘80s-esque song off the LP, “Midnight Wolf” is an electronic slab of nocturnal energy. Pairing a lurking synth line with the far-off call of a guitar, the intro gives way to a steady progression of slow-pulse drum machine and moody sax work that wouldn’t be out of place in a Badalamenti score, which is quite fitting when taking the tone of its music video into consideration.

For this visual piece, Brahm joins forces with the underground experimental horror savant that is Damon Packard, and the results are nothing less than a pitch-perfect collaboration through and through. Containing anomalous, perplexing imagery of Lynchian proportions, driven by the shadows and whirled lights of late-night Los Angeles, the footage seamlessly accompanies the brooding dynamism of “Midnight Wolf,” as the faces of wayward souls, doused in purple and smoke, linger for just long enough to implant themselves within the mind.

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