Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Hasil Adkins-THE WILD MAN CD (Norton)

The A-Bones-FREE BEER FOR LIFE 2-CD set (Norton)

I can still remember my first encounter with this Miriam Linna person...t'was in the pages of THE NEW YORK ROCKER about a quarter-century ago and from what I could gather she seemed like a rock & roll fan par excellence. Or at least Miriam looked cool enough since she resembled some wild rock & roll screamer you woulda seen in 1966 goin' after Brian Jones with an icepick on the prowl for a big and hairy CHUNK, which was cool in my book more or less! Then there was a piece on her band the Zantees in the pages of CLE #3-A not too soon after our initial hook-up which was interesting enough for a person like me wanting to know more about ANYTHING on the New York Scene (though from all the reports on 'em glommed from CLE and Garry Sperazza's "Crib Death" column in BOMP I had the Zantees pegged as a sixties garage-type of band in the tradition of the Fleshtones...boy was I surprised when I finally heard 'em!), then I recall talking to CLE editor Jim Ellis, him tellin' me about his trip to New York where he not only stayed with Billy and Miriam for a spell but with the Bush Tetras which was murder for him because there were all these people coming and going at their place day in and day out. (Ellis played in a band called Tender Buttons back in '77 w/future Tetra Laura Kennedy and Andrew Klimek and they, like Johny Dromette's Dromones w/Mike Weldon, played songs thirty seconds or less in length but unfortunately never tackled Hawkwind's "Master of the Universe" like the Dromones did!) I dunno, this all happened sooooo long ago so maybe I'm wrong about some of the details or even all, but I remember Miriam Linna as being one of the big names on that cool and afar New York Scene ca. 1979-81 that I was more than obsessed on at the time, and believe me, stuff like this was so exciting and energetic to me in the light of Christopher Cross!

It wasn't until 1982 that I finally got hold of a copy of KICKS, the thick and chewy fanzine that was written and edited by Linna and her partner-in-Zantee-crime Billy Miller. I remember this time as being a particularly void-filled one in my life, almost like a strange, ennui-laden dream thinking back a whole twenty-two years. The underground rock that I cherished seemed to be dying fast...oh, there were plenty of good groups playing around in New York City and elsewhere and the fact that both Manster and the 1975 version of the Planets had reformed was a good enough sign there was still some strength in the seventies-styled underground, but frankly nobody seemed to want anything to do with it (other than me, that is!). Hardcore did seem like the ultimate end result of the past ten or so years of punk development, and at that early stage I didn't realize that the form was ultimately going to burn itself out to the point of looking for the most part ridiculous once the middle portion of the decade clocked in. As for the "garage revival" bands, that seemed like an equally-healthy outpouring of rock & roll emotion, and I gotta give the form credit for holding my attention until at least the late-eighties when a lotta the groups who were involved with the movement seemed more or less too incestuous to the point of it all being like a small, private clique. But still, 1982 was like a strange, transitional year for me and for the music I was listening to with alarming regularity as well.

Anyhow, I got a copy of KICKS #2 via the old GOLDMINE BOOK SHELF and y'know what...I thought it was creepy! Not creepy in that it was brimming fulla rancid rock music I couldn't give a whit about...far from that...it's just that there seemed to be a lotta ragging on things I really held near and dear to my heart at the time! Things like "new wave" and I don't mean Billy Idol and more hair bleach than you can stand...seems that both Billy and Miriam had a big mad-on about this new rock & roll music which I couldn't understand and seemed very confusing to me because, although they were ragging on no wave and the New York groups/critics and a lotta the newer acts that made up my rockin' bread and butter, they were also devoting hefty space to the likes of the Flamin' Groovies and Dictators...and weren't those groups new wave??? Actually, according to my own point of rockism view at the time, any group that wasn't part of the "classic rock" FM stoner pimple-farm burnout jeeter music that permeated the Youngstown area was new wave...the Groovies and Dics true, as well as Motorhead and all those heavy metal groups that played CBGB and Max's Kansas City, Roky Erickson, Alex Chilton, 15-60-75 the Numbers Band, MX-80 Sound, the Zantees for that matter and the Chesterfield Kings. Considering what was happening in Soporland USA, ANYTHING that "stood against" the tide of rock & roll hard rock retardation so prevalent not only then but now WAS new wave, a music valiantly defending the spirit of rock & roll in the face of the usually horrid Chuck Eddy-inspired stuffed-crotch populist snobbery that unfortunately was "speaking for my generation" when it shoulda been Cheetah Chrome doin' all the talkin! Heck, at the time I actually woulda even called those sixties NUGGETS groups like the Seeds, Sonics and Troggs new wave...they sure sounded new to me, y'know, or at least newer than Bob Segar doing his boring croon version of hippie ballads with seventies schmalz.

Anyway, I devoured that issue of KICKS so much (mostly because of the sixties garage coverage...like I said, I thought that the sixties punks were a direct antecedent to the seventies batch and y'know, I still believe that!) and got to like it enough that I eagerly bought the third issue when it was hot off the presses and all subsequent ones at that(and paid a hefty price for the first ish directly from the source...I still remember the note that Billy Miller sent with an issue that went something like "So what's with all this Von Lmo crap!"). 'n yeah, though it took me awhile to get completely into what Billy, Miriam and their writers were tryin' to say, I sure dug their rather Gorcey-esque altitude...the sly raggings on the music and musical acts they hated, the reverse-snobbery (fifties/sixties primitive fun over eighties "hip-to-be-square" nerdism) and best of all the tweaking of the alternative/chic noses that never get tweaked or don't get tweaked enough. Y'know, like waving Ol' Glory while the competition was getting all hippie-hot over how much they hated Ameriga and all that...and hey, even onetime VILLAGE VOICE scribe R. J. Smith said something (in a positive mention if you can believe it!) about how KICKS was a "proudly conservative" fanzine, though I kinda get the idea that anyone who wipes their butt would be a conservative according to the heart-bleeding Smith! It might have taken me awhile, but I eventually knew where KICKS was coming from, and after their 1992 issue proved to be their last my fanzine reading has been a lot worse for wear if you ask me. I mean, if it weren't for KICKS and their very own record label Norton I would have been left in the dark with regards to a lotta really wild, primitive, garage and (dare I say?) punky things that are so satisfying in that hits-you-in-the-right-way that I didn't mind at all that a good portion of it was recorded even before I was born! And that's a long time ago...

So let's flash-forward to the present day where we find these two new items that have been freshly released by both Billy and Miriam's boss Norton label. Yes, the fanzine may be dead but the label lives on, and boy does it live with such stellar offerings the likes of Hasil Adkins and the A-Bones. It's kinda funny seeing these releases (and more) on CD especially since KICKS made such a well-conceived hubbub about these new tea-coaster monstrosities back inna eighties when such items were strictly in the confines of the yuppie squares, but it's nice that they're out and since I'm still using a cheap Westinghouse turntable borrowed from my brother-in-law which I only operate on occasion since I don't wanna ruin my vinyl more than I have to, I'm not complainin'!

First let's talk about Hasil Adkins. He's that one-man band rockabilly obscurity from the sainted fifties who wasn't known that much outside the pages of the old Ron Weiser ROLLIN' ROCK fanzine back in the seventies who sorta got a big PUSH thanks to B&M and some powerful KICKS-space devoted to him...well anyway, this is Adkins' first ever "modern day" recording or at least the first one since the seventies and frankly it's a winner just like the Norton debut LP featuring classic Adkins sides entitled OUT TO HUNCH was...if you can, imagine a Jerry Lee imitator doing the big beat on a guitar and drum set that sounds like it's the same kind Stymie played in the International Silver Screen Submarine Band with a pretty hard primal high-protein meat diet OOMPH! that comes off even more primal than those late-fifties garage bands who used to make records in their living room complete with the parlor upright piano way outta tune. I have the feeling that most of you already know what this sounds like and have been familiar with Adkins and the legend ever since B&M thrust him upon an IRS-records minded public way back when, but if you don't, and you're somehow under the impression that rockabilly is nothing but a buncha guys playing punk rock (talking the moderne variation of punk as punque for all the bad that may imply) with upright basses and Stray Cat hair, then listen to this and be in for a SURPRISE.

Liner notes included in the pull out booklet are wunnerful as well, and though you'll probably be familiar with the saga of Adkins' New York romp and subsequent tour if you've read KICKS since at least the fourth issue you'll wanna read it again and again. I particularly dug the stories about the time Adkins consumed a can of Campbell's chicken noodle soup that Miriam had autographed by Andy Warhol totally oblivious as to who this guy was (I dunno if that empty can is now worth more because Warhol signed it or Adkins ate from it!), not to mention the hissy-fit of a letter that rock star Sting wrote to the VOICE after a critic there gave Adkins a rave and Sting the boot in the same review! Hmmm, considering all of the good VOICE press Norton got you kinda wonder why there's all the animosity anyway...other than due to the existence of Robert Christgau, that is!

But enough of Adkins, now onto the A-Bones. They were the group that Billy and Miriam formed out of the ashes of their previous wonder the Zantees (I always wondered if there was any bad blood between B&M and the Statile twins at the time of the split because I never saw any mention of them anywhere after that, which is a shame because they were great guitarists). Anyway, this 2-CD set's a collection of mostly odds and sods and non-album wonders with a few newies thrown in just so's the reg'lar fellas who've been in on the game since the beginning will pick it up. (And they will, mostly because there's also a neat booklet with the band history and rare snaps these maniacs will want as well.) Anyway, this collection does show off the varied side of the A-Bones...naw, they ain't about to do their twenty-minute tribute to Iron Butterfly or rock opera ELROY DIETZEL SUPERSTAR any minute now, but they do show us just how much they could do with music just like they could show up just how much they could write about the music that inspired this interesting slice of rockandrollus noninterruptus in the first place.

Naturally the A-Bones work wonders with the rockabilly genre since that's what the proto-A-Bone Zantees have done so perfectly, but they also take nice treks into equally KICKS-condoned forms like frat rock and of course the mid-sixties punk/garage genre. Moments I particularly dug include their version of Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Louie Louie" sequel "Louie Go Home," not just the original 1964 "Alley Oop"-ish take and not just the 1966 raga-Yardbirds-inspired 'un either, but BOTH of 'em crunched into one wonderful take which is the next best things to playing the Raiders' punkified pair back-to-back deciding which one's the better. It takes a manic mind to conceive of such anarcho-splatter, and if you thought that B&M weren't of such a higher-plane mindset then you've been burying your head into way too many issues of RELIX, brothers and sisters! Also tops w/me is their instrumental take of the Velvet Underground's "Guess I'm Falling In Love" which sounds about as dog-gone New York gutter meets knotty-pine basement as all those garage bands covering Velvets-spew back in 1967!

Besides being able to switch from rockabilly to garage to rhythm and blues with seemingly relative ease, the A-Bones were pretty good at getting various rockin' legends to record with 'em. Not only do the Rudy Grayzell single sides appear here but the Great Gaylord, Johnny Powers and Roy Loney ones (as well as a live take of "Teenage Head"!) which does give the proceedings a more, rockified edge. (Japanese missies the 5-6-7-8's also chime in some backing vocals on "We're Gonna Get Married," so I guess all of the Japanese-baiting in the pages of KICKS was just a har-har puton like some of the things another writer I know would sometimes slip into his scribing in order to shock a PC-fied world!) It was a particular pleasure hearing Loney and the A-Bones tackle the PEBBLES "chestnut" "Stop It Baby" again since it was not only such a good song to begin with, but because hearing Loney sing it would have only been a mad fever dream to most garage band aficionados back in 1978 and you would have to leave it to B&M to have pulled off such a wild stunt to begin with, without looking ridiculous or anything like that. But then again, wouldn't you think that the entire publishing and recording career of our dynamic duo is more or less a fever dream come true for them??? After all, would you have thought that either of 'em in 1972 or 1975 or 1978 for that matter would have even imagined that not only would they be playing/living rock & roll but relatively well-known writers/fans with their own fanzine and record label, rubbing shoulders with people they undoubtedly admired for afar at one time but who they now know on a first name basis?!?!?! If you told the two of 'em back in 1976 that they would have been releasing Pretty Things albums in the not-so-distant future I'll bet the two of 'em woulda laughed at ya, thinking that dreams are dreams, but let's be real! Believe me, Billy and Miriam have done more living and fulfilling their rock & roll dreams in their to-date lifespans than the whole lot of us could ever imagine, and I'm sure their little toes have had a more exciting, fruitful and meaningful time than I could even if I were to live to be a few thousand years old!

Hopefully the new Norton catalog will be coming out shortly in time for Christmas cheers, and if I were you I'd save up yer shekels for a hugeoid order from 'em which should include both these stellar platters (which may still be available on vinyl, or at least the Adkins one probably is). Whatever, this is one "alternative" outfit that deserves to be supported in the face of about a thousand other "indie" labels vying for your hard-earned capital, and the best part of it is that every item you buy from Norton is like a spiritual sock in the jaw to Robert Christgau and his thirty-five years of published idiocy. Buy up, gang (POW!).

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