Author Archives: Roger Catlin

Record Store Day’s Michael Kurtz,
The TVD Interview

It was Free Comic Day that inspired Record Store Day, the annual celebration for vinyl fans that began in 2007. And what started as a promotion among 100 stores in the US has grown into an international event that not only survived the pandemic but had its biggest year ever last year by splitting its annual Record Store Day drops into three separate days to keep the crowds smaller and distanced.

At a time when the vinyl version of Taylor Swift’s six month old Evermore album took her back to No. 1 (from No. 74) this month, we talked to event co-creator Michael Kurtz in the lull between this summer’s two events, June 12 and July 17.

What have you heard about the success of this year’s first Record Store Day June 12?

The reports I’ve seen is that, with the second one, it should actually surpass the success of last year’s event.

How do you measure that?

Breaking all records for selling the most vinyl at independent retail. And the only barometer for that is MRC Data for Billboard, which we know is not perfect, but it definitely gives you a clear indication and we heard from the store owners themselves that the data supports.

How did last year become such a big year despite the pandemic?

We did a lot of work in advance for the three drops we did last year—Zoom calls with record store owners, lots of email discussions about how to morph and allow stores to operate. If they had no restrictions they could sell as normal, but if there was a lot of restrictions, and mandates for mask wearing and social distancing, then they would benefit by splitting all the release over three days, so we didn’t overwhelm the store with too many people and then we allowed the stores to online at 1 PM eastern time on their store websites to take care of people who were not comfortable shopping. All three of those things enabled it to be just a huge success.

And that’s why this year’s was broken into two dates as well?

Yeah, it’s the same thing.

Do you hope things will be back to normal by Black Friday or next year?

Yeah, we hope so.

What’s the reason there has been an increase in vinyl sales for 15 consecutive years?

I think it’s because the vinyl format has been adopted by whatever the youngest two generations talk about in marketing terms. For people that are less than 38 years old, vinyl is their format. They completely adopted it. The majority of people who shop in record stores now are female and the average age is 28. So they’ve taken it over. That’s why you also see the top sellers are Lady Gaga, Haim, Ariana Grande, that kind of thing, because it’s that next generation.

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TVD Live: Laurie Anderson at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, 6/15

On a splendid summer’s night in the shadow of Rodin’s greatest work, Laurie Anderson sat with her electric CR violin before a laptop before two invited audiences of a couple dozen each last week to tell some stories that cast their usual spell. Live performance in any form is still a rarity as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides; the joy of gathering as we once did to share in artistic expression is something that felt as rare and lovely as the summer night’s breeze.

Anderson’s own plans were altered during the lockdowns as well; a major exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum was bumped now until September 24. The museum itself, closed for 15 months, won’t reopen until August 20. Anderson’s appearance in the splendor of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden beneath the famous curved Brutalist building, now covered with scaffolding, was being filmed for its use in conjunction with the upcoming “The Weather,” billed as the largest ever U.S. exhibition of her artwork.

Anderson was there now, she said, to share some of her stories, inspired by the stories of Balzac, whom she credited with piercing observation and powers of description of ordinary events made extraordinary. She told one of his stories, or what she could recall of it, of a wind that blows into a town, under its door jambs and under dresses.

This connected with her own aim for the exhibit, inspired by John Cage’s famous “Lecture on the Weather,” commissioned in Canada and read by US war resisters there. With her own work on “Weather “devised in the Trump years,” the pandemic-caused delay means “some of the imagery has different meanings to it, to say the least.” But her tales, so strange but not entirely unbelievable, touched on the oddity of modern life with the artist as a kind of sociological spy into different corners of American life.

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Artistry ascendant:
1971: The Year
That Music Changed Everything

Picking an epochal year in music can be tricky. While 1954 or 1977 may be easy choices for turning points in rock, I was always partial to 1966. Ronald Brownstein’s new book Rock Me on the Water zeroes in on 1974. And an inviting new eight-part series on Apple TV+ picks 1971.

At first sight, the tight focus on that 12-month period in 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything seems almost arbitrary—except that we’re in the golden anniversary of it.

Fifty years ago was two years after Woodstock, a year after The Beatles broke up and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died, but years before punk or hip-hop would fully emerge. Other than the historical symmetry of being exactly 50 years ago, did it stand out? Sure, there was a lot of great music that year, the series makes clear, but did it actually change everything?

The series by Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees, who worked their magic in the Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse documentary Amy, makes its case thematically, with historical turning points saturated with the music of the day—songs that were not just influenced by the events surrounding them, but actually influenced the events as well.

Based on its own book, 1971 – Never a Dull Moment: Rock’s Greatest Year, by David Hepworth, the filmmakers rely solely on archival material, news clips, TV performances, home movies and still shots, stitched together to create a visually captivating portrait of an unsettled era not unlike our own. They match it to the voices from interviews both contemporary and archival, lending it an immediacy that doesn’t take one out of the era by actually seeing those who are speaking from today’s vantage point (so we dwell on how old they of course may look 50 years later).

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Emilio Castillo of
Tower of Power,
The TVD Interview

A year in quarantine lockdown can be overwhelming, especially for a band that is so used to being on the road as Tower of Power, the mighty soul outfit from out of Oakland, California. “I’ve toured 200 days a year for the last 53 years, so yeah, it’s difficult,” band co-founder Emilio Castillo says.

But they’ve used their time wisely to put finishing touches on their new release 50 Years of Funk & Soul: Live at the Fox Theater, Oakland, CA – June 2018, a three-LP set due out March 26 from Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group that includes versions of its biggest hits from “What is Hip” and “Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of a Stream)” to “So Very Hard to Go” and “You’re Still a Young Man.”

The Vinyl District caught up with Castillo in his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he’s lived for 26 years but never so much as in the last 12 months.

Has Tower of Power played at all in the past year?

We did one gig in September where it was a drive-in gig. We did two shows with Los Lobos and it was very successful.

How does a drive-in concert even work? Do people have to stay in their cars?

No, they could get out and be in front of their car, and the mix was broadcast on an FM frequency so it went to the radio. We played in Ventura [at the Ventura County Fairgrounds], and got a lot of lowriders up in there so they came in with those big sound systems in their trucks and in their cars, It was sort of like a tailgate party. They’d be in front of their vehicles, booming it really loud, and we were on a stage, and there was an LED [screen] on all four sides of the stage, and they were all around us in a circle, spread out.

It sold out, and it was a huge parking lot, because it was a fairground. The turnout was successful. They were pleased, and two more gigs were booked immediately. It was like, all right! But then as it got closer, three days before the gig they canceled because the pandemic was spiking.

Do you have things on the calendar for this year?

Yeah we do, and then we got all these dates that we’ve got to make up. Every time we have a Zoom meeting with the band, our new manager Ivory Daniel, says, “To start the meeting right off, I want you to know: You’re booked completely all over the world. So as soon as this thing opens up, get ready to go.” So yeah, we’re booked.

There’s people that had gigs on the books that just cancelled, they’re like “We want you.” They’re opening Jazz Alley in Seattle. I’m sure we’re going to be one of the first ones back there. People in Japan, they want it. Europe. It’s going to fly.

It’s hard to know how it’s going to play out. But I know this: People are jonesin’ to get to concerts, man. They’re dying, dying to get out there and go to venues again. I hope it all just opens up completely and we let all this stuff go.

After they hear the live album they’re going to want it more.

I believe so!

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Chris Frantz,
The TVD Interview

Drummer Chris Frantz has already gotten acclaim for his 2020 memoir Remain in Love, chronicling his life with Tina Weymouth in Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club. But now he’s planning a second book, using the skills he honed at the art school where Talking Heads sprang.

“I just got a shipment of art supplies,” Frantz announced at a recent online chat sponsored by the Mark Twain House in Hartford. “I’m going to start a new book, which I’m going to illustrate. I’m giving you the exclusive. I’ve never illustrated a book before. I didn’t study illustration or anything, but I’m going to give it a go.”

Frantz’ event was part of his Covid-era book tour chat that I was lucky enough to host. What was his connection to the Mark Twain House? Well, he and Tina Weymouth have lived in Connecticut for years, as Twain did.

And there’s more: Weymouth’s great-grandfather, the French poet Anatole Le Braz, “the Bard of Brittany” was a contemporary and friend of Sam Clemens. And Twain’s celebrated Hartford neighbor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, witnessed a Kentucky slave auction that led to Uncle Tom’s Cabin during a time when she was  staying at the house where Frantz’s grandfather was raised.

But mostly we talked about what also filled his memoir—life with Weymouth in Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club. And how it all came out of art school—a common place for UK bands to form, maybe, but not so much in the states. In their case, it was the Rhode Island School of Design, circa 1973, and they were out for fun.

“It was called the Artistics,” Frantz said of the band they formed at the Providence school. “It was David Byrne and myself and another guy named David Anderson who is a friend of mine from Washington, Kentucky, and Hank Stahler on bass. People came and went. We had friends coming and going in the band all the time. But that’s where we wrote our first songs.”

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TVD Video Premiere:
Eric Bazilian, “Sarah When She’s Sleeping”

Awaking from a nap to someone staring at you can be a little creepy. But it’s all benevolence and love in Eric Bazilian’s jangly new single “Sarah When She’s Sleeping,” getting its video premiere today at The Vinyl District.

The co-founder of The Hooters, whose songwriting has included Joan Osborne’s enduring “One of Us,” Bazilian says the new song is meant to be “a shameless declaration of love and redemption, for and by a good and kind woman. He says he’s trying to convey “the sense of home that I get when I see my partner peacefully at rest and hear the sweet sounds she makes when she’s there.”

That explains the bit of soft snoring at the beginning and end of the succinct single, but it’s all catchy power pop in-between, with Bazilian on guitars, bass, keyboards, and the mandolin-adjacent mandola. Drums are from Roman Ratej, recorded in Slovenia by Martin Stibernik.

It’s the fourth in a series of singles that precede Bazilian’s new solo album expected later this hear—his first since 2002’s A Very Dull Boy. (He released What Shall Become of the Baby with Swedish collaborator Mats Wester in 2012.)

Bazilian still lives in Pennsylvania, where the Hooters once sprang and notably played Live Aid in 1985. But he often records in Sweden, where he has a basement studio. It’s been in Stockholm where he’s been riding out the pandemic while working with developing artists like Slovenia’s Manu and Philly’s Alexis and the Medicine.

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Mark Farner,
The TVD Interview

Mark Farner, the long-haired, bare-chested frontman of Grand Funk Railroad, keeps chugging along at 72, releasing a new DVD From Chile with Love this month with the band he fronts, which takes the name of one of Grand Funk’s most popular songs, Mark Farner’s American Band.

He’s also among the Michigan rockers asked to join in on Alice Cooper’s current album, Detroit Stories. And in a Covid-era that has otherwise wiped out touring schedules, Farner was one of the performers at the partisan, largely maskless New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago.

Farner still remembers the vinyl that has most inspired him, back when he was in The Pack, the Michigan-based, pre-Grand Funk group that had broken off from regional rockers Terry Knight and the Pack. “We were coming back from Nashville, Tennessee,” he tells The Vinyl District. “We had just recorded a record in this guy’s garage.” They were excited about their cover version of Bob & Earl’s “The Harlem Shuffle” and wanted to get it into the hands of Flint disc jockey Bob Dell at WTAC as soon as possible.

“We were driving fast, breaking the speed limit, trying to get to WTAC before Bob Dell went off the air, so we could hand him this acetate and see if he could play it,” Farner says. “So we come screaming into the parking lot, we all jump out and run inside the station. We say, ‘Bob, we just recorded this record, man, will you spin it?’ And he put it on the spindle and he spun our record. That’s how things got done back then.”

But as they were leaving, the disc jockey pointed to a pile of LPs by the door. “If there’s anything you want, take it, because all that stuff is going in the dumpster today,” Dell told them. Farner was taken by the striking turquoise and purple cover of Get It While You Can by someone he didn’t know, Howard Tate. “Out of all that vinyl that he was going to pitch out, that’s the only one that really caught my attention, I don’t know why. I thought, this one looks cool. I took it. And when I got home, holy crap, dude, I found out why.

“This is the guy I tried to pattern my vocals after: Howard Tate. And if you listen to that album Get it While You Can, that influenced so many people. Janis Joplin, it influenced her. It influenced Aretha Franklin. It influenced Little Stevie Wonder. The people, after years had gone by, and I had been developing my style you hear all this people in different articles, they would mention Howard Tate.

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TVD Premiere:
Jon Klages, “1133 Ave.
of the Americas
(For Enoch Light)”

Let us now praise Enoch Light.

A violinist and dance band leader from the 1920s to the ’40s, his name became associated with an avalanche of instrumental albums in the late ’50s and ’60s, hit sound effects records that demonstrated the possibilities of stereo, and a string of albums of light, jazzy vocalese groups that became influential. Altogether, Light released 25 albums from 1959 to 1971, with two reaching Number 1; he held the record for having the most charting LPs without a single Top 40 single.

But to his grandson, Jon Light Klages, it mostly meant a whole lot of work, hauling boxes of records from the main offices of the label Project 3 to the post office, a moment of time he encapsulates in a new track “1133 Ave. of the Americas (For Enoch Light)” that’s getting its premiere today at The Vinyl District.

“Every day, I would grab as many packaged LPs as my scrawny teenaged arms could carry and head to the post office on 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues,” Klages recalls. He’d grow from those teen years to become a founding member in the influential Hoboken outfit The Individuals with Glenn Morrow, Doug and Janet Wygal, and would later record his own solo album for Hoboken’s Coyote Records that included the recording debut of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo. After touring with Richard Lloyd of Television, Klages moved to Los Angeles, where he’s worked with various bands of its Paisley Underground.

The blissed-out bossa nova of his new album Fabulous Twilight might seem incongruous with his past, unless one begins digging back into the Enoch Light history. In addition to canny symphonic versions of popular music and a Number 1 album, Persuasive Percussion, Light helped introduce the harmony groups like The Free Design, whose work has gone on to influence Stereolab, Beck, and the High Llamas.

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Sergio Mendes: Bringing ‘Joy’ to Screens and Vinyl

Celebrating Sergio Mendes on his 80th birthday with a look back at our conversation from last year with the boss nova superstar.Ed.

Six decades after the rise of bossa nova, and more than a half century since the heyday of Brasil ’66, the music of Sergio Mendes is poised for another serge in popularity with the release of a new documentary and album.

John Scheinfeld’s new documentary Sergio Mendes: In the Key of Joy premieres Saturday, January 18 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Next month it will be accompanied by a new album of the same name, In the Key of Joy on Concord Records, with a slate of new songs with guests stars that include Common, Hermeto Pascoal, and Joe Pizzulo among others.

“One aspect of Sergio’s long and impressive career that has impressed me is how he has successfully navigated the career peaks and valleys encountered by most artists,” says Scheinfeld, whose previous films include The U.S. vs. John Lennon, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? and Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary. “Amazingly, he has found a way to push the envelope and transform his sound from decade to decade while always remaining relevant and staying true to his musical roots.”

A three-time Grammy winner, Mendes has released dozens of albums over the years, had some top 10 singles with remakes of “The Look of Love” and “The Fool on the Hill” in 1968, and returned with a hit 15 years later with another Top 5 hit, “Never Gonna Let You Go.” He remade his “Mas Que Nada” with Black Eyed Peas in 2006 and earned an Oscar nomination for a song in the 2012 animated Rio. We caught up with Mendes, 78, this week over the phone in a call from his home in Woodland Hills, California.

How long did it take to put the documentary together?

Two years. John Scheinfeld did the John Coltrane documentary and Harry Nilsson. He’s a great guy, very musical. We went to Brazil, we interviewed a lot of people down there, we got a lot of old, great footage. And it’s just great. I’m very, very happy about it.

And you recorded a new album to come about the same time?

Yes, It’s got a lot of young artists—newcomers—and a lot of new songs, no covers. And of course vinyl, which I love. I have a 26-year-old, he buys two records a week. And his deck, you know, the turntables…the other day I had dinner with my friend, the great engineer Bernie Grundman, and he was talking all about the resurgence of vinyl. We are all very happy about it.

It’s part of your legacy too, with those great albums of the ’60s and their great artwork. You don’t get that impact in smaller formats.

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Or streaming—you hear one thing and throw it away. It’s kind of weird for me.

You’ve never taken a break, have you? You’ve been performing pretty consistently for six decades?

As long as God allows me to do it and gives me the health, I’m there and ready.

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TVD Video Premiere: Spizzenergi,
“Valentine’s Day”

Save the flowers and candy hearts. The new video from Spizzenergi, a crunching cover of David Bowie’s “Valentine’s Day,” addresses much darker concerns.

The hard-charging adaptation of the rocker from Bowie’s 2013 album The Next Day gets its premiere here on The Vinyl District today with the growling vocals of the frontman and band mainstay Spizz. At 62, Spizz looks like a better aged Johnny Rotten, backed by the guitars of Luca Comencini and Phil Ross with bassist Ben Lawson and drummer Alan Galaxy.

Adding to its authenticity is the mix by longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti, who played bass on Bowie’s original. “The reason for covering ‘Valentine’s Day’ was initially for a Bowie festival we were booked to appear at,” Spizz says. He had gotten tickets for his birthday to see Bowie’s acclaimed Lazarus at Kings Cross Theatre in 2017 and went with Comencini, and says they “were both knocked out by ‘Valentine’s Day,’ which featured prominently in the performance.”

The song may have been overlooked, Spizz says. “At the time I checked on YouTube and couldn’t recall finding any [cover] versions so that was another good reason” to do it. They added it to their roster for BowieCon and it stood out, he says. “As a performer you get a feel from an audience and when we performed it live we felt their surprise and afterwards their applause which indicated we’d made a good choice.”

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Richard Hell,
The TVD Interview

PHOTO: ROBERTA BAYLEY | First released in 1982, Destiny Street was the second of only two albums ever issued by Richard Hell and the Voidoids. After starting the Neon Boys with Tom Verlaine and helping form Television, Hell helped define punk by being one of the first with spiky hair, ripped tight clothes and safety pins—fashion trends quickly picked up by England’s forming punk scene. But mostly he influenced through his music and the anthemic 1977 Blank Generation that helped define the moment.

Voidoids Ivan Julien and Marc Bell left the band after British tours with The Clash and Elvis Costello. Only guitarist Robert Quine remained for the second album, alongside drummer Fred Maher (who, like Quine, would go on to famously work with Lou Reed). Also added to the band was guitarist Juan Maciel, whose stage name was Naux.

While Destiny Street had the material Hell wanted, he was never happy with the production, and having been told that the master tapes were lost, he gave up the idea of a remix, until he ran across a cassette for with the basic rhythm tracks in the early 2000s. He was about to have Julian and Quine come in to re-record their parts when the guitarist died in 2004 at 61. Faux died soon after. So Hell brought in two other acclaimed guitarists with original styles, Marc Ribot and Bill Frissell to join Julian for a remade album called Destiny Street Repaired in 2009.

A decade later, the original 24-track master tapes were found after all, so he embarked on a remix of the original with Nick Zinner, the producer and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist. Rather than decide which was best, Omnivore Recordings is releasing all three—plus some leftover live tracks and demos—in a two CD deluxe set, Destiny Street Complete on January 22. (A stand-alone vinyl edition of Destiny Street Remixed is also on its way.)

We talked to Hell, who has been a writer the past few decades, about the project, the pandemic and his poetry. He assesses his future in music (dim), names the three records that formed him, and dismisses a longstanding myth about his punk legacy.

How are you handling the pandemic?

I was about mentally prepared for it to be winding down by now, so it is dreadful, literally. It fills one with dread to picture the coming months. It’s a good thing about the vaccinations.

But the thing is, for me, as it turned out, I kind of thrived on the isolation. The outside things I was doing, the assignments that I was accepting, the journalism and that kind of thing that I had been doing pretty regularly over the last 20 years or so just kind of dried-up, and I didn’t make any attempt to solicit that kind of work, so I literally had nothing to do all day except what I had my own initiative to do. I’ve been doing a lot of writing in a way that I hadn’t really since my teens and early 20s, so even though It’s been a really anxiety-filled and horror-filled period, for me it’s also been productive. So I have mixed feelings about it.

The thing I was describing kind of got interrupted by the big push for this music release. For the past couple of months, that’s been a full time job. And I’m kind of glad that I can go back to what it was before, where I just get up and have nothing in particular to do, so I start writing in a way that has no other purpose except to meet my needs instead of anybody else’s needs. So, yeah. It’s been mixed.

Is it poetry?

It’s funny you say that because people are always asking me about poetry. I have to remind them I’m not a poet. As a young man I had that ambition for a few years, and then it kind of got replaced by music. Then I started doing other kind of writing—fiction and journalism, non-fiction. Just because I had that couple of three years in my late teens, people focus on that and I always try to correct them about that, because it’s not really accurate. But all that being said, you’re right. It is poetry. And that’s what’s been fun. And it’s weird to call it fun because the writing itself is very work-intensive and takes a lot of focus.

It’s not confessional but I try not to hold anything back. So it’s intense. The actual act of doing it can be really exhausting. But it is fun in the sense that it’s very fulfilling for me. It’s weird, for the last eight months, up until I had to work on the Destiny Street Complete thing, I feel like it is the first time I’ve actually been a poet. At the age of 71, I hit this situation where it’s my identity, it’s what I was doing. It’d be, like, a poem or two a week, which is a big output—way larger than I’ve ever done before. So yeah, as long as you ask, that is what I’ve been doing for the first time since I was 19.

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Making Vinyl Conference Ready to Go Online

A year that began with a devastating fire at a California manufacturing plant and then moved into a pandemic looked like it would be a bleak one for the vinyl industry. But though Covid-19 caused a slowdown of production, and threw Record Store Day into initial disarray, the cursed year 2020 also became one of the biggest for vinyl sales in decades. Even so, continued travel restrictions and mass gathering shutdowns requires that gatherings like the 4th annual Making Vinyl conference December 8-9 is an online event.

“It’s definitely not what we intended to do at the beginning of this year,” says conference president and co-founder Bryan Ekus. Still there are hundreds signed up for the event which will take place on a snazzy, custom designed platform designed in the Netherlands. And plenty to talk about.

“In looking for the correct platform to host the event virtually, I tried to find something that could replicate the experience of what we had physically,” Ekus says. In the past, there has been a main conference center, spaces for workshops, and places to meet with suppliers in the industry.

“On the virtual side, there will be those virtual booths that people can meet with the people that are providing the actual services or products and set appointments, and even meet with them directly on the spot,” he says. “So it’s as close as you can get to a physical event.”

Though not set in Detroit, Hollywood, or Berlin as past conferences have been, the fourth Making Vinyl will again gather experts from the industry in a business-to-business conference “dedicated to the rebirth of the global vinyl manufacturing business.”

Among the panelists will be Duncan Stewart of Deloitte Global who in 2017, during the first Making Vinyl event, called the return of vinyl a billion dollar business. “That has come to pass,” says conference director and co-founder Larry Jaffee. “It’s probably greater than a billion dollars right now in terms of all the associated activities surrounding vinyl. I think we surprised them all in terms of how it’s grown. I think he was thinking it was a bit of a fad and the traction I think has flabbergasted him.”

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TVD Premiere: Kelly Finnigan, “Santa’s Watching You”

Kelly Finnigan has always added classic soul to his sound and does so in his original new Christmas release next month, A Joyful Sound on Colemine Records. But he brings a whole new menace to the holiday with his second single from the set, which amplifies the familiar warning, “You better watch out, you better not cry” into the sizzling “Santa’s Watching You,” which we’re happy to premiere today at The Vinyl District.

“This song came to me like all good ideas, by accident,” Finnigan tells us. “I was deep in making this record and thinking a lot about Christmas music pretty consistently. I was sitting around, hanging out listening to some different records. A great gospel tune by The Sacred Four came on called ‘Somebody’s Watching You.’ In that instant, I realized that somebody else watches people too.” So the jolly North Pole denizen turns into somewhat of an NSA super spy in the hands of the soulful Bay Area singer, producer and songwriter.

If the funky feel of “Santa’s Watching You” has the easy camaraderie of an office Christmas party, it’s because he’s enlisted musicians from the esteemed Ohio label, headquartered upstairs from the Plaid Room Records in downtown Loveland, a shop definitely worth a stop to vinyl lovers in the Cincinnati area.

Backing Finnigan alongside label head Terry Cole is Plaid Room Records employee Henry Allen. It also features Jimmy James, guitarist for the Delvon Lamar Organ Trio, and no less than the Harlem Gospel Travelers on backing vocals. That meant some widespread geographic contributions to the album, Finnigan says, with “drums and bass in Ohio, guitar in Seattle, organ, percussion and vocals at my place with some additional background vocals by the Harlem Gospel Travelers in New York.”

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Rat Scabies,
The TVD Interview

PHOTO: JASON BRIDGES | One of the best-named drummers of the original punk wave, Rat Scabies remains busy with a handful of projects these days, including the new one from The Professor and the Madman, Séance, due out November 13 on Fullertone Records. The band combines Alfie Agnew of the Adolescents and Sean Elliott of Mind Over Four (who was also in D.I. with Agnew), with Scabies and a bandmate he had in The Damned on a series of albums, bassist Paul Gray. Scabies, who is also in the instrumental duo The Sinclairs and plays with the psychobilly band 69 Cats and the goth Nosferatu, also makes the occasional solo album.

No longer the shirtless maniac of his youth, the former Christopher John Millar is a more thoughtful but no less passionate player at 65, though he speaks of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Drummer. We spoke to him via Zoom from the attic of his home in the Brentford district of London, and talked about days in The Damned, how perfection is overrated, his work with Joe Strummer and Ginger Baker, and how good things can come out of a Bad Christmas Sweater Party.

With the pandemic shutting everything down, has it been a long time since you’ve played out live?

I haven’t been on a big tour for a long time. The last tour I did was with The Members which was a lot of small bars in Europe and was pretty good. I have to say, touring Europe as opposed to England—where the band that shows up to play that evening is regarded as a pain in the ass and something that makes the stalls life a little more difficult—in Europe, France, Germany and like that, they’re actually quite pleased to see you and make you tea and chocolate when you arrive. You feel much more appreciated. But now nobody’s getting to go on the road at all.

In actual fact, it’s turned into quite a blessing because most of my work is studio-based, so during lockdown, I regard myself incredibly lucky that I can still function and work and make music without being dependent on going on the road, whereas most of my friends have absolutely been killed by the whole thing. It’s tragic. It is what it is, but I just really hope we can get some kind of recovery from it. Everything public, not just this business but football, rugby, cricket.

This album was recorded much the same way with previous albums by Professor and the Madmen. How does that work?

Well, apart from the distances and the problems with work visas, it’s one of those things where actually technology, as much as I am a Luddite—“No the old ways are by far the best!”—works well. I like being able to send the drum takes from the studio and by the time I get home by train they’ve got them in California and they’ve already emailed me to say yeah, these are OK, that’s pretty good. So I have to say I really enjoy that.

And the recording process is generally always been one of laying the drums and then everybody else kind of works around that. Dropping and overdubbing. So the process is actually for me very much the same it’s always been. I guess the thing I really miss is having a band there—people in the background making comments and farting. That kind of thing where you can tell when you walk into a room whether you’ve done a good take or not, whether people are happy.

I’m turning into my catchphrase this year: the Loneliness of the Long Distance Drummer. I’ve done a couple of albums like that this year. And it’s kind of weird, because they’re turning me into an engineer. The judgmental call of whether it sounds right, or whether it sounds good, that suddenly all gets thrown on me, when I’m used to being the drunk guy who says, “I’m going to go out for a cigarette while you listen to this and tell me if you want me to do this again.” It’s shifted the whole way I think about what I do.

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Chris Hillman,
The TVD Interview

PHOTO: LORI STOLL | The first book from Chris Hillman has the same title as the first song he wrote as a founding member of The Byrds, Time Between.

Subtitled “My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond,” the volume, due out November 17 on BMG Books, chronicles the nearly 60 years of music he’s made as a member of a handful of potent musical units that combined bluegrass and country into folk and rock, from The Byrds to The Flying Burrito Brothers to Manassas and the Desert Rose Band, not to mention a trio of amalgamations that sounded more like law firms from Souther-Hillman-Furay to McGuinn, Clark & Hillman.

His intent in writing, he says over the phone from his home in Ventura, California, is “to leave some kind of record, a story of me, for my kids,” that includes two grandkids so far. But also he adds, “ I’d read so many inaccurate stories, inaccuracies on The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers,” that it made him think, “Wait a minute, I was there! Let me clarify this a bit!”

Setting the record straight means dousing the notion that, say, The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which celebrated a 50th anniversary tour in 2018, was not in fact either the first country-rock record nor the first hint of Americana. “We were doing country stuff way before Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” says Hillman, 75. The band’s second album Turn! Turn! Turn! in 1965, with the hit title song and two Bob Dylan covers, included the track “Satisfied Mind.”

“I had heard that song by Porter Wagoner when he had the hit on it, and loved it. I loved the lyric. It was great. It was perfect for The Byrds. And I talked the guys into doing it,” Hillman says. “It was the first time we had really done a country song,” he says. But he adds, “It wasn’t a stretch for us. It never was. Because we were basically folk musicians, you know. I was more bluegrass, but we did not come from a garage rock band background. I would say we literally plugged our amps into the wall, and started to transpose, going from acoustic to electric.”’

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