“Vinyl to me is like caviar, the Taj Mahal of the musical experience. A fully formed love affair, beautiful and elegant. It’s the full sensory experience.”
“I suppose my first memories of vinyl records are from visiting my aunt and uncle when I was very young. They had an old wooden milk crate full of the classics. I was in love with Diana Ross’s voice from the second I heard it at 3 or 4 years old and all those old Motown tunes were the soundtrack of my early childhood.
The thing that sticks out the most to me from that period was the covers of the albums in relation to the music. You got this huge picture of a person and that was who was coming out of the speakers. It really leaves a lasting impression on a young mind when it’s presented like that. I remember rocking a bandana everywhere I went when I was a little guy just because Willie Nelson had one on in his album cover and Willie was my main man when I was a toddler.
Vietnam: a war fought against ghosts, amidst the phantom voices in the mist rising above the rice paddies, involving ambushes sudden and lethal followed by air strikes that lit up the jungle like a carnival ground gone mad. No rhyme, reason, or rationale, a conflict fought by children who neither knew nor cared about the hows and whys, an endless scrimmage against wizards and demons waged by means of counter-magic and amulets, a string of human ears worn around the neck.
It was a war carried to an invisible enemy in hot LZs and during night patrols, a war of slow attrition that finally broke America’s young men down, and led them to unleash their impotent rage against innocent women and children, leaving mutilated bodies piled and bloated in a ditch in a village called My Lai. It was the first war with its own drugs and soundtrack, and one day it just vanished, poof, like a magic trick where the man sawed in half really gets sawed in half, but somehow manages to make it home, with his bright burden of unspeakable memories, shadowed by his own cast of unshakable ghosts, bathed in the night sweats brought on by secrets never to be divulged.
I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call the Black Angels’ Passover a Vietnam War concept album, but it sure sounds like one to me. Listening to it, I can almost see the phantom shadows of Charlie hiding in the high grass, hear the mortar rounds, see the Huey gunships swooping in low over the rice paddies, 2.75 inch rockets obliterating everything—water buffalo, ancient farmers in pajama pants with wispy beards and primitive hoes—in sight. It’s a dark LP, phantasmagoric and psychedelic and dirge-like, and it evokes the feel of paranoia and dread—the prevailing emotional realities of Vietnam—as well as anything I’ve ever heard. It’s also beautiful, as beautiful as the deadly jungles the grunts patrolled so long ago, and it’s that beauty that keeps me coming back to Passover, like a guy who signs on for a second tour of duty without having the slightest notion why.
At the turn of the seventies, Steppenwolf were the shit. They produced a handful of classic songs—biker anthems and dope cautionary tales and tunes that captured the confused mood of the times—and then broke up, and the loss was ours. But what I like the most about them is the way they lost members. Original bassist Rushton Moreve was fired in 1968 after he refused to set foot in California, convinced by his hippie girlfriend who received portents that it was going to slide into the sea. Meanwhile, guitarist Michael Monarch was sacked after showing up for a gig wearing only bunny ears and a jock strap and playing his guitar loudly and out of tune. He got fired, in other words, for being the un-Butthole Surfer.
Kay, who was born in Prussia and whose real name was Joachim Fritz Krauledat, formed Steppenwolf in Toronto in 1967. Their rise to the top was not one long and slow slog through the merciless rock swamp—by 1968 they were famous, thanks to the success of “Born to Be Wild.” The band’s profile was increased by the inclusion of “Born to Be Wild” and their cover of Hoyt Axton’s “The Pusher” on the Easy Rider soundtrack. After that, hit followed hit until the usual creative difficulties led the band to break up on Valentine’s Day, 1972.
Steppenwolf have kinda been forgotten, with the exception of “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride.” And both songs, while great, have an antiquated feel to them. That said, songs like “The Pusher”—one of the most furious anti-hard-drugs songs ever written—sound like they could have been recorded yesterday. Kay never sounds so strident as he does on “The Pusher,” threatening, “I’d cut him if he stands/And shoot him if he’d run/Yes I’d kill him with my razor/And my Bible and my gun.” The guitarist plays cool riffs throughout, giving the song an ominous vibe, all coiled menace like a poisonous snake about to strike.
For acolytes of fingerpicking it simply doesn’t get much better than Bert Jansch. Starting in the mid-‘60s the late guitar master issued a series of killer platters that extensively impacted Great Britain’s subsequent musical direction; by extension he altered events Stateside and around the globe, though Jansch was less well-known in the USA. Like numerous vets he struggled through some hard times, but 1995 was a productive year marked by a studio album and a series of gigs, one of which was captured on Live at the 12 Bar. On August 7 it’s available on vinyl for the first time via Earth Recordings.
Akin to many humans wielding acoustic guitars while traversing the highways and byways of the 1960s, the Scottish-born Bert Jansch’s listening habits included Woodrow Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, Brownie McGhee, and a mess of traditional material, but all it took was a listen to his string of LPs for the Transatlantic label to grasp him as far from a garden variety folkie.
Commencing with a self-titled effort and It Don’t Bother Me in ’65, his nimble fingers, utterly fresh compositions and tough warmth of voice resulted in influence spreading to Donovan, Paul Simon, Nick Drake, Neil Young, and Jimmy Page, who in recognizing the greatness in Jansch’s arrangement of “Blackwaterside” from ‘66’s Jack Orion, promptly stole it as “Black Mountain Side” on Led Zep’s first album.
Jansch also recorded Bert and John in ’66 with his fellow picker John Renbourn, the pair additionally collaborating in the highly regarded folk-jazz-baroque-rock outfit The Pentangle. A five-piece of no small popularity, they cut six slabs between ’68 and ’72 and reportedly embarked on five world tours as Jansch’s own discography grew to eight LPs; he eventually took a sensible break and tended a farm for a couple years.
Our own Doug Seymour attended the Pennsylvania Blues Festival on July 25th at the Split Rock Resort in Lake Harmony, PA to capture the day’s events.
Blues singer Shemekia Copeland, daughter of the late great Johnny Copeland, headlined the festival.
There was also a late night showcase featuring the original members of Johnny Copeland’s band. This was the first time the group had performed together since Johnny’s passing in 1997. Shemekia Copeland joined the band for this historic moment.
The full day’s events are captured on the flip.
It’s not exactly a state secret, but plenty of people don’t know (and need to know) the horrifying truth; before he turned into the pop superstar who gave us such classics as “Piano Man” and “Uptown Girl,” Billy Joel was in a heavy metal duo called Attila. They released one LP, 1970’s self-titled Attila, and you will frequently find it on lists of the worst albums ever recorded. And small wonder. Attila kinda sound like a retarded Deep Purple. Lots of organ noodling by Joel, you know? And the cover! Billy looks like a New Jersey medieval knight, with hair way down to here and a mustache that is frankly offensive. Oh, and he’s surrounded by dead meat hanging from hooks. I don’t even have to listen to the album when I want a laugh; I just look at the cover.
We all make youthful mistakes, but this one is a doozy. Attila featured Joel on organ and Jon Small on drums, and Joel himself has written it off as “psychedelic bullshit.” But that’s nothing compared to the review written by one AllMusic critic, who opined, “Attila is undoubtedly is the worst album released in the history of rock’n’roll—hell, the history of recorded music itself.” No one, he adds, has ever matched “the colossal stupidity of Attila.” Me, I don’t think it’s that much stupider than most of the works of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and it’s a tad less pretentious, so I’m inclined to give Attila a break. But make no mistake about it. This is an album so dumb it transcends dumb and almost becomes genius, that is if you look upon it as satire, which unfortunately Joel and Small didn’t. They were serious as a heart attack-ack-ack-ack, which seems impossible when you listen to songs like “Brain Invasion.”
As for Joel, he wisely skedaddled with Small’s wife after the LP’s release, ending the collaboration, and went on to disprove F. Scott Fitzgerald’s adage that there are no second acts in American life. And good thing, too, because if Joel had stuck with Attila, he’d undoubtedly be working in the meat-packing plant where the cover shot was taken. Instead he became a balladeer and sometimes rock’n’roller, and is worth approximately $83 billion dollars. As for Small, he forgave Joel and went on to produce some of Joel’s LPs, as well as the greatest hits of Run-DMC and a concert film by the sad remnants of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The world can be a surprisingly lenient place.
Guitarist and singer Ezra Furman is truly compelling. Most often seen performing in a dress and cherry red lipstick, his energetic, gritty, and brutally honest songs have generated a rapidly growing fanbase. Furman is a true rock ‘n’ roller who puts on thrilling, high-energy performances that shake the house.
Formerly of four piece indie-rock band Ezra Furman and the Harpoons, he is currently backed by The Boyfriends, who feature saxophonist Tim Sandusky, producer of each of Furman’s three solo albums. The first of these, The Year of No Returning, was done without a label, instead using a Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording and release.
Now signed with Bella Union, Furman released his third solo album, Perpetual Motion People, earlier this month. Of this album’s concept, Furman said, “I’ve always viewed the idea of truth itself as something wobbly, always slipping out of our grasp. That’s what the songs are about: a head that is haunted, a society I cannot join, a lover who is perpetually in the act of leaving. A central idea is the fugitive or runaway, in a hideout built in the midst of an unfriendly or alienated world.”
“My father is a jazz musician, so music has always been a huge part of my life. I would go into summer music workshops at the college he was teaching at and hung out with older musician kids. Some of them would carry around LPs because there was a record player in the lounge. I was in middle school, so I wasn’t that into it. I was always more into CDs because carrying around a Discman seemed way cooler to me. That was my first experience with vinyl (beyond thinking it was for “old people,” as my 12-year-old self would say.)”
“When I got into my twenties, that’s when I started to appreciate vinyl records more and the value of actually owning them has. There’s something about the pops and crackles that emit from the record player as it spins the LP that is oddly comforting to listen to. It wasn’t until Stephanie, our singer, got me a record player for my birthday a few years back, that I started to actually collect records.
We live close to Amoeba on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, so I try to pop in there and find good deals. Most recently I found Tycho’s Dive LP barely used for $10.00, and also an original print of M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts for $15.00. One of my proudest achievements was a four album Christmas set for $3.00. It had all of the C-List singers of the ’40s and ’50s singing the classics. I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life.
The London-based trio BLiNDNESS formed all the way back in 2008 and seven years later their first LP has arrived. Flaunting tunefulness enveloped in rawness and volume, its songs are unabashedly idling at the crossroads of ‘90s alt-rock and indie, with detailed attention paid to shoegaze and nervy electro elements. The results fall a tad short of amazing, but through confidence and focus it serves as a promising debut; Wrapped in Plastic is out now on vinyl/CD/digital via the Saint Marie label of Ft. Worth, TX.
BLiNDNESS consists of Beth Rettig on vocals and programming, Emma Quick on bass, and Debbie Smith on guitar and feedback; all three get credited with noise. Those curious over the long period between the unit’s formation and Wrapped in Plastic’s emergence should understand that Rettig is part of The Mekano Set while Quick plays in Climbing Boys.
Smith has been busy as well, and she’s the point on BLiNDNESS’s triangle sporting the highest profile; from ’91-’94 she was a touring contributor to Curve and was also involved with Echobelly, Snowpony, Nightnurse, and Bows. A bit more casually she was/is in The Nuns, an all-female Monks cover band (!), and more recently worked alongside her former Curve mate Dean Garcia in SPC ECO.
One might be grasping a few commonalities; Snowpony was an indie supergroup featuring members of Stereolab and My Bloody Valentine, and Bows recorded for the esteemed ‘90s UK label Too Pure. BLiNDNESS’s influences are well-contained, however; amidst the rapidly observable strains of shoegaze and electro pop they strive to maintain a specific sound.