Author Archives: Jude Warne

Donald Fagen and The Nightflyers, The TVD Interview

“I wish I had a heart like ice,” Donald Fagen—or rather his character, uber-hip yet lovelorn jazz DJ Lester—yearns in “The Nightfly.” The track is a high point on an autobiography-infused nostalgiAlbum of high points. The Nightfly, Fagen’s debut solo recording—which also featured classics “I.G.Y.” and “New Frontier”—was nominated for seven Grammy awards and released in 1982.

Fagen’s latest solo venture comes in the form of a touring band appropriately dubbed The Nightflyers. From July through September, the bunch will play in a myriad of venues across the US, as well as the Yokohama Blue Note Jazz Fest for a tour closer. The Nightflyers are new for Donald, more or less; he first ran into the twenty-somethings bunch—Connor Kennedy (guitar, vocals), Lee Falco (drums, vocals), Brandon Morrison (bass, vocals), and Will Bryant (keyboards, vocals)—on the Woodstock-area music circuit. Stepdaughter and musician Amy Helm, also based in the Woodstock area, had worked with them in the past. Donald Fagen and the Nightflyers’ current setlist mainly borrows from Donald’s four stellar solo albums—The Nightfly (1982), Kamakiriad (1993), Morph the Cat (2006), and Sunken Condos (2012)—with some innovative covers and Steely Dan classics, too.

Fagen first formed a reputation as vocalist-pianist and songwriter, along with his musical partner Walter Becker, creating the Steely Dan nucleus. Influenced by literature and jazz, science fiction and noir, and all things Beatnik, Fagen and Becker created one of the most cerebrally complex yet often-mass-marketable song catalogues in the American popular music of the 1970s. Consider for a moment the miraculous and sometimes twisted perfection of the band’s lyrics—no topic seemed off-limits for songs, and many dealt in the murky nether regions of human relationships—which can sometimes get creepy. Steely Dan’s characters, however dastardly or morally questionable their intentions were, always possessed a layer of relatable loneliness.

As a solo artist, Donald Fagen is perhaps under-recognized for the romantic view of life expressed in his music. Frequently and rightfully lauded for his impressive cerebral prowess, he is sometimes snubbed for the more emotional side of his unique aural persona—one that is ridden, however coolly, with noble feeling, steadfast mensch-ness, and a lushly detectable yet fittingly understated sex appeal. A persona that’s the sonic equivalent of Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, decked out in a white dinner jacket—solitary, strong, sarcastic, and unavoidably ardent when it came to the gal he loved. Like Lester the Nightfly, Rick insisted he’d “stick his neck out for nobody.” He yearned for “a heart like ice”—but couldn’t swing it.

In conversation with Donald Fagen, and Connor Kennedy of the Nightflyers, we learn more about the current Nightflyers tour, their musical and lifestyle influences and inspirations, and Connor’s recently released solo album, Somewhere.

Donald, a great deal of your solo material features seemingly cynical characters who also possess an undertone of a romantic worldview, a worldview that I’ve found to be pretty popular in the great noir protagonists of literature and cinema—like Philip Marlowe.

That’s fair, that’s fair.

Do you envision yourself in this way too, as the protagonist of your own life experience, having a soft spot for what you love, despite your intellect’s best intentions?

I think that’s a very fair way to describe the music. It’s hard to say. I think it’s sort of egotistical to put myself in a position of having the same kind of bigger-than-life personality as, you know, some of the people in noir literature, like say, Philip Marlowe, something like that. But I am attracted to that sort of thing, and I always think that the best of noir literature—you know, “noir” is actually a word that is fairly recent. They didn’t call it that when it was written. But there’s something about that vision of life to me that seems true to real life, I think. I think you’re right—there’s a romance to it. There’s a cynicism to it, skepticism, and humor, also. So I think that’s become part of my style.

Yes. I was watching the film version of Chandler’s The Big Sleep again recently and Philip Marlowe seems like this knight in shining armor that’s trying to work his way through this muck of all these crazy and corrupt characters, even though he seems that he’s a bit cynical.

Right.

He does stand out as being the one guy who’s doing the right thing.

Yeah, it’s like Al Franken, you know.

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Needle Drop: Honey West, Bad Old World

“I’m crazier than ever—I don’t wanna get better!” Ted Zurkowski sings in “Dementia,” the cleverly catchy single off Honey West’s Bad Old World album. Honey West is a band—not a woman—and they’ve released their debut record this past May via Readout Records.

As the single’s title and group’s name suggest, New York-based Honey West has a soft spot for the long-lasting. Perhaps this soft spot isn’t too surprising, given Honey West’s intimate relationship with rock and roll legacies. Vocalist-guitarist (and actor, founder of New York’s Shakespearean Co. Frog & Peach) Ted Zurkowski makes up one half of the group’s songwriting and conceptual nucleus. Multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald makes up the other half—you might know Ian too, in fact, if you’re a classic rock regular, you probably do.

McDonald is perhaps most immediately recognizable via his major roles in the foundation and subsequent super-success of rock bands King Crimson (1968-9) and Foreigner (1976-80). The versatile musicality, innovative composing, and production prowess that McDonald displayed during his stints with both bands is impossible to deny. The creative hand that he wields now with confidence and grace on Bad Old World, re-proves these same truths.

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The Yardbirds’ Jim McCarty, The TVD Interview

There are two schools of thought when it comes to band legacies. The first being—once the original lineup is disbanded, the band is dead forever, its name included. The second being—as long as a founding member or two remain involved, as long as a spark of the band’s core identity somehow remains, the band can go on living and using its name. The Yardbirds are of the second school, and for the past few decades, drummer-composer Jim McCarty has led the blues-rock group that he co-founded in a way that maintains its awe-worthy history and simultaneously insists upon a perpetual newness. The same kind of newness that accompanied the Yardbirds’ nightly rave-ups during their early ‘60s Crawdaddy Club residency, once the Rolling Stones had outgrown the role.

The Yardbirds have had several lineups since then and demonstrated a knack for choosing wow-worthy guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page all served time in the group. The latest Yardbirds features McCarty alongside several other stellar rock musicians bearing an affinity for blues-rock and the Yardbirds’ rich artistic past: Johnny A (guitar), Kenny Aaronson (bass), Myke Scavone (vocals, blues harp, percussion), and John Idan (vocals, guitar). Frequently touring, and working on new material, the group is determined to keep its sound going.

Jim McCarty has a bountiful legacy all his own. He established The Yardbirds with Paul Samwell-Smith (bass), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), Top Topham (guitar), and Keith Relf (vocals) in 1963. Though the band broke up in 1968, McCarty has reclaimed it and its sound since the early ‘90s. In addition to his Yardbirds tenure, he was part of several other groups like Renaissance (1969-70), Shoot, Illusion, Box of Frogs, Stairway, and Pilgrim. Not to mention the solo albums McCarty has released, the most recent being Sitting on the Top of Time (2009).

Since their inception in 1963, The Yardbirds’ have issued forth a mysterious sound that communicates a deep knowledge of blues music history, an ongoing dialogue with Eastern and world music, a closeness to aural psychedelia, and a penchant for penning songs that felt right at home as hit singles. The first was the stellar “For Your Love” in 1965, and it was followed by such gems as “Heart Full of Soul,” “Shapes of Things,” “Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” It was Jim McCarty’s drums and musical ideology that helped navigate the group’s quest for new sonic discoveries. Fitting then, that he would still be navigator of the band, set on propelling it into the future with confidence, while never forgetting from whence the Yardbirds came and their powerful contribution to the history of rock and roll.

In conversation with Jim McCarty, we learn more about the origins of the latest Yardbirds lineup and 2017 tour, his and the band’s musical creeds and histories, and the guitar-hero legacies left behind by greats Clapton, Beck, and Page.

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Bobby Whitlock
and CoCo Carmel,
The TVD Interview

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, All Things Must Pass, and Exile on Main St.—three rock and roll albums with several captivating commonalities. All were recorded and released in the early 1970s. All are now widely regarded as some of the most remarkable albums ever made in the history of popular music. All were included on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list, too. And all featured singer-keyboardist extraordinaire Bobby Whitlock.

He was Eric Clapton’s right-hand man during their membership in Derek and the Dominoes, the outfit responsible for Layla (1970). At a time when Clapton sought to distance himself from the powerful rock trio format established with Cream, Memphis-born Whitlock served as the ideal partner with whom to co-create a warmer and bluesier sound. Derek and the Dominoes, with Eric as frontman, was born. Whitlock produced, co-wrote, sang, and played keyboards on the Layla record; “Thorn Tree in the Garden,” the exquisitely heartbreaking album-closer, was Whitlock’s own. He was an essential player in the collaborative All Things Must Pass (1970) sessions, providing George Harrison’s post-Beatles masterwork with plenty of organ, vocals, tubular bells, and even a whistle. He was the main source of “I Just Want to See His Face,” an otherworldly standout track on what many consider to be the Rolling Stones’ finest record, Exile on Main St. (1972). To note, Jagger and Richards have yet to properly credit Whitlock for his contribution.

Bobby played crucial supporting roles on these seminal rock records, but he’s also accrued a slew of session creds and released several solo records since then. Of late—over the past sixteen years—he has worked and played with multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer, and ladylove CoCo Carmel. Saxophonist, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, CoCo’s struck with a plethora of musicality of her own. Dr. John, Jon Bon Jovi, and her ex-husband Delaney Bramlett (who wielded a hand on her 2003 solo release First Fruit) are just a few of the sonic giants she’s worked with. Possessing a shared passion for blues rock music—and each other—Bobby and CoCo combine their rich artistic pasts to create raw, emotional, and spiritually-charged music of the present. Carnival, their stellar live-in-Austin album, was released in 2013, and there’s another record in the works too.

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America’s Gerry Beckley, The TVD Interview

“Days, where’d you go so fast?” Gerry Beckley asks in “Bell Tree,” his bittersweet beauty-soaked song on America’s Hearts album. The band’s fifth studio recording, which also featured Beckley’s chart-toppers “Sister Golden Hair” and “Daisy Jane,” was produced by George Martin and released in 1975.

Beckley’s latest solo record Carousel is due in stores next month (September 9th) via indie label Blue Élan Records. Over the course of the album’s nine original tracks and three cover songs, Beckley offers up more seasoned articulations of his “Bell Tree” question. The irresistibly-catchy “Tokyo,” the Beatles-ish “Lifeline,” and the poetic “Once a Distant Heart,” all deal directly with our mortal inability to transcend the weight and power of time passed, passing, and soon-to-be-passed.

Other artists who have come to the same philosophical conclusions that Beckley has on Carousel might have been tempted toward anger, regret, fear, or perhaps worst of all, to wear Cynicism’s Crown of Superiority. Consider what its tracks titled “Minutes Count” and “Serious” may imply.

But Beckley seems to have taken the other road, the one on which happiness and personal power reside. His McCartney-esque gift for melody still reigns supreme on Carousel and his lyrics showcase a healthy dose of realism and inventiveness, at one point even daring to utilize the logistical word “Zihuatanejo,” a move worthy of Warren Zevon himself. Beckley’s thoughtful renditions of Spirit’s “Nature’s Way,” Gerry Rafferty’s “To Each and Everyone,” and Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” jive well with the rest of Carousel’s thematic content and allow the listener to reconsider the familiar songs in a newly visioned light.

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The Storyteller’s Story: Testimony: A Memoir by Robbie Robertson

“At the age of nine I told my mother that I wanted to be a storyteller when I grew up. She smiled and said, ‘I think you will.’”
Robbie Robertson

“He got what he wanted but he lost what he had.” Rock writer Greil Marcus, aficionado-scholar of American music, cultural history, and of The Band, uses this Little Richard quote as a jumping off point to tell the story of American rock ‘n’ roll music in his 1975 work Mystery Train.

Little Richard’s line is the quintessential punishment that often seems to accompany American success stories, like those of Jay Gatsby or Charles Foster Kane. It doesn’t seem to apply to that of Robbie Robertson however, co-founder, main songwriter, and lead guitarist of The Band. (Robertson is Canadian after all.) From a reading of his recently released autobiographical work Testimony: A Memoir, one can conclude that Robertson got a great deal of what he worked for and managed to not lose everything that he began with.

Instead of sacrificing or wasting, he gathered, accumulated, and expanded. As an individual and as a writer, Robertson seems to be acutely aware of his vast past and how it shaped him, presenting it in Testimony with all the detail and vitality of yesterday’s events.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “storyteller”—and rather obnoxiously so—as “someone who tells or writes stories.” Sure, but what makes a good storyteller? Perception, awareness, insight, objectivity, passion, respect for truth, concern for communication, and an allegiance to an authentic representation of self experience.

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America’s Gerry Beckley, The TVD Interview

“Days, where’d you go so fast?” Gerry Beckley asks in “Bell Tree,” his bittersweet beauty-soaked song on America’s Hearts album. The band’s fifth studio recording, which also featured Beckley’s chart-toppers “Sister Golden Hair” and “Daisy Jane,” was produced by George Martin and released in 1975.

Beckley’s latest solo record Carousel is due in stores next month (September 9th) via indie label Blue Élan Records. Over the course of the album’s nine original tracks and three cover songs, Beckley offers up more seasoned articulations of his “Bell Tree” question. The irresistibly-catchy “Tokyo,” the Beatles-ish “Lifeline,” and the poetic “Once a Distant Heart,” all deal directly with our mortal inability to transcend the weight and power of time passed, passing, and soon-to-be-passed.

Other artists who have come to the same philosophical conclusions that Beckley has on Carousel might have been tempted toward anger, regret, fear, or perhaps worst of all, to wear Cynicism’s Crown of Superiority. Consider what its tracks titled “Minutes Count” and “Serious” may imply.

But Beckley seems to have taken the other road, the one on which happiness and personal power reside. His McCartney-esque gift for melody still reigns supreme on Carousel and his lyrics showcase a healthy dose of realism and inventiveness, at one point even daring to utilize the logistical word “Zihuatanejo,” a move worthy of Warren Zevon himself. Beckley’s thoughtful renditions of Spirit’s “Nature’s Way,” Gerry Rafferty’s “To Each and Everyone,” and Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” jive well with the rest of Carousel’s thematic content and allow the listener to reconsider the familiar songs in a newly visioned light.

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A jaunt around NYC’s Other Music with The Ludlow Thieves’ Dan Teicher

A short while back I went record-shopping with Dan Teicher, guitarist-producer-founder of pop-rock-plus-strings band The Ludlow Thieves. We decided to hit up Other Music, a high-end music store in Manhattan’s NoHo area.

The store takes vinyl seriously, selling brand-new records (amongst other items) of masterwork albums from yesteryear and yesterday, at exorbitant prices. Well, exorbitant for us vinyl enthusiasts whose sense of pricing halted its modernization when our musical taste did—i.e. 1994. Still, Other Music deserves kudos for matching lofty price tags with lofty musical principles, offering up a vinyl selection that Rob of High Fidelity could, theoretically, be proud of.

Teicher is quite into vinyl and quite into music history, which is evident in both his solo visual media scoring and the collective musical journey of his burgeoning band The Ludlow Thieves. He is the guitar guy and producer for the group—a band that has headlined the major venues in New York City.

The Thieves, an ensemble-first band that counts two vocalists and a violinist amongst its members, recently released their EP “Skyline” and will be celebrating yet another EP release entitled “Sing Me Back” this Friday with a performance at Webster Hall.

But there is more too—much more!—on the way. Teicher, like many of us, sees both the upsides and downsides of the digital age and its effects on musical consumption. Amidst our jaunt around Other Music, these up and downsides were discussed, as were the Thieves’ main influences, why modern-day listeners prefer intro-less songs, and what to do when your parents neglect to properly care for their own vinyl collections—the bastards.

Dan Teicher: I assume you must be a vinyl nut.

Well yes, but I don’t buy as many new records as I would like to—only because, look at these prices. Thirty dollars for one album? Like, what?!

It’s so cool to have vinyl. But—it’s hard to justify getting a new album unless you’re trying to seriously support a new band. My record player’s a shitty little record player too. It’s like a classic old-school player, and I’m trying to figure out a way to involve it in my studio set-up to get a better sound quality out of it. I’d almost rather listen to a CD if I’m going to support a band because for me and my audio set-up, a CD would have better sound quality. However, I’m all about raiding the racks for one-dollar used records. But it doesn’t look like they have too many of those here…

Yeah, this is pretty high-end. Which in theory is super cool—taking vinyl seriously. How did your band, The Ludlow Thieves, get started?

Well, I started performing under the name Ludlow Thieves by myself. I recorded something which will never see the light of day that I sang on. About two weeks after I recorded it, I listened to it with fresh ears and was like “Oh, I should not be singing at all.”

I tend to like guitarists’ voices though, even when they’re not typical singers, like when Keith Richards sings.

You like when Keith sings? Well, you know what—when we get to that Rolling Stones point, when we all go do our solo albums, maybe I’ll reconsider.

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Mellow Obsessions: The Record Store of the Mind by Josh Rosenthal

So nice, we read it twice. —Ed.

Genre-wise, Josh Rosenthal’s new book is a medley of memoir, music criticism, and a how-to guide on music listening.

Entitled The Record Store of the Mind, it loosely tells the story of Rosenthal’s musical life from his origins as a PolyGram intern right up until his recent-ish (2005) founding of Tompkins Square Records. Along that route, he had stints at larger operations—Columbia and Sony.

Rosenthal’s releases through Tompkins Square over the past ten years have largely consisted of reissued and long-forgotten musical material (i.e. Roland White’s 1976 album I Wasn’t Born to Rock’n Roll) and never-before-released-but-should-have-been-long-ago material (i.e. Tim Buckley’s Live at the Folklore Center, NYC – March 6, 1967). This chosen focus stays true to Rosenthal’s record collector character—forever seeking out a classic bit of vinyl that people have forgotten about and need to hear again right away.

This kind of mindset places worth upon history, it places worth upon the effects of passed time on a work of art. It places worth upon the voice of a narrow perspective that spoke directly from a given year, a year during which a myriad of events occurred, a year that was defined by statistics which determined its color and taste, statistics that could never be reproduced in that same way ever again.

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Pete Donnelly,
The TVD Interview

Pete Donnelly’s musical resume is pretty damn impressive. He’s the bass player firmly associated with legendary rock band NRBQ. He’s the singer-songwriter with several solo releases to his name. He’s the co-writer of “I Can’t Imagine,” the title track of Shelby Lynne’s recently released album. And of course, he’s the founding member of phenomenal rock band The Figgs, having worked with The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, as well as the great Graham Parker.

Along with Mike Gent, Donnelly founded The Figgs in 1987 and they are still going strong, with a recent album release that just might be their best yet. Other Planes of Here is an eight-track wonder of a record, a record that sets forth free-sounding tunes at once loyal to aurally stimulating melodies and compositionally new. While staying true to their rock-heavy roots, The Figgs have allowed their musicality to grow and their sound to evolve into one that incorporates and is influenced by a variety of instruments and genres. The result, manifested this year in Other Planes, is thoroughly, thoroughly good.

In conversation with Pete Donnelly, we learn more about The Figgs’ story and the making of Other Planes, as well as Donnelly’s numerous artistic influences and his warranted and well-articulated thoughts on the current state of the music industry.

First of all, congratulations on the new Figgs album Other Planes of Here, it’s really great. How did you devise its overall aural aesthetic? Because it seems to be a newer sound for you guys, incorporating more experimental musical components, more computerized effects.

Yeah, the Figgs certainly have an organic process. I think that we usually edit down quite a bit and focus on being sort of a pop band versus an experimental band. We tend to be tight and to the point, but we do have another side of us which is very experimental. I think in this case we decided to let it go and to not edit the process. We sort of wanted to take the audience into the process of recording, and I think the experimental side sort of opened a doorway into what gets our songs together. Often times we would edit that out of the final picture, but here we decided to leave it in.

How would you describe the band’s typical compositional process? Do you guys usually write together?

We do all kinds of things. I’d say that traditionally, Mike (Gent) and I write songs and come together in the studio or a rehearsal space, blast through a number of them and just see what clicks. As we’ve gotten older over the years, we’ve tried certain things where we’d write in the studio, come up with a theme or musical idea, just sort of experiment with it and write a song to it. It’s generally a more modern technique, making tracks and then writing to them. Sometimes we’ll have an unfinished song that one of us will come and finish. So it’s kind of anything goes. But because Mike and I write so much and come to the table with many songs, I think it’s the collaboration that makes it. Songwriting on paper is writing down a title, music, and lyrics, but the band contributes so much to, as you said, the aural picture. And I think on the new record, you can expect a lot more of that.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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