Saturday, December 29, 2007


And boy do I mean it! No, I'm not talking about any post-holiday depression around here...far from it!!! What I'm talking about are the blues as is music, a subject that doesn't too often pop up in any musical conversations that I usually have but, for the sake of being different, will expound about on today's post even if it is going to be within the context of a coupla items that've hit the ol' mailbox as of the past few deliveries and I'm kinda short on fodder of a different nature as of this writing!

As many of you longtime readers of my bile already know, I'm not really that much of a fan, follower of just plain ol' aficionado of the blues. Not exactly by choice, but due to a maybe not-so-strange sense of taste on my part. Oh sure, I can consider 15-60-75's JIMMY BELL'S STILL IN TOWN one of my all-time top faves and I'm smart enough to know that the Paul Butterfield Band's EAST/WEST ranks amongst the tops in late-sixties audio delights extant (plus don't forget that I actually reviewed a tape of Muddy Waters live at Max's Kansas City in the pages of my very own fanzine), but frankly for every image of the Numbers Band or Butterfield or Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs out there I gotta say that at least twenty boring visions of ineffectual white blues being played by half-withit hippies in the seventies come along to ooze all over the place into one big massive messy lump of drool. Y'know, like the old SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE band backing up the Blues Brothers not to mention that whole phony early-eighties Robert Cray-led movement that of course gave us that whole "House of Blues"-dominated chic geekdom way more attuned to aging hipsters and whites who wanna slum with the lower-class black minions who don't even listen to the blues anymore because it reminds 'em of times they'd just as soon like to forget!

But hey, as any astute pigeon out there would know there sure is a lot more to the blues than dullsville white men performing it...there's also rather astute white men who perform the stuff as well (and like I said these postwar blues thrills just ain't a black music anymore especially with all these whites "borrowing" from it to the point where it might as well be urban white ethno soundspew!). But it still has enough of an interest quotient to appeal to the average BLOG TO COMM reader on some esoteric level, and even I tend to take the horse-blinders off once in awhile and drink from the fonts of other'n rockism proper which is why I thought, just for a lark, to give these two blues of a white persuasion discs a try and see what all the hoopla is about. And for a guy who thought the Allman Brothers were just a load of hooey and who couldn't hack a lotta this stuff when it was being presented sans any stain or fly specs via FM rock radio all I gotta say is...boy I guess I'm pretty hard up for new thrills if I have to resort to the blues (just kidding, all you serious and humorless tightasses out there!!!).

The first offering on today's schedule may not seem like your standard white blooze offering and in fact, for years I didn't know what to expect of this particular album which frankly I never even saw for sale! But I just hadda get the Jeff Simmons' LUCILLE HAS MESSED MY MIND UP/NAKED ANGELS SOUNDTRACK twofa (World In Sound) because I missed out on it during my initial Frank Zappa days-of-midteenaged-fandom and I always was kinda curious as to what this once-solo star/future Mother was up to and why he rated a solo album which even Ian Underwood or Motorhead Sherwood didn't! Yeah, strange inklings in the back of my mind bug me even this far down the line which is why I'm sure glad that even these quickie cutouts are being reissued years later, and besides with all of the hoopla about the NAKED ANGELS SOUNDTRACK that's been buzzing about (the subject of a posthumous CREEM "Rock-A-Rama" review courtesy Joe Fernbacher as well as a top ten of all time fave of none other than BABOON DOOLEY creator John Crawford!) you can't say that this scribe wasn't just a little bit curious...he was more or less OBSESSIVE/COMPULSIVE about it!!! And since this is the closest that I've ever come to hearing Simmons outside of my copy of ZAPPED not to mention an almost-renting of the aforementioned flick around 1990 (was short on cash) perhaps I can rest a little easier at night knowing that I have finally experienced the solo Jeff Simmons en toto and have found out that the guy was way better'n Judy Henske and Jerry Yester but next to Tim Buckley and Alice!

And both of these records are good even if they are confusing. And no doubt about it, Simmons uses the blues within a Zappa context the same ways that Buckley used avant garde jazz and Alice Cooper garage band rock. Only that specter of Zappa-goo has to infiltrate everything to the point where you don't know and can't discern where the original artist leaves off and Zappa picks up. It's the same thing that made PRETTIES FOR YOU confusing if still a nice late-sixties garage band artyfact (fortunately Buckley survived the Zappa aura perhaps because he was already an established act) but let's just say that if you like that weird confusing Zappa-style which mooshed together a whole slew of late-sixties mainstream sounds with a "bizarre" attempt at modern experimental sounds you might like LUCILLE HAS MESSED MY MIND UP. I guess Zappa liked it enough to have covered two songs from this on two of his late-seventies albums, and only the stodgiest of Zappa-haters wouldn't 'fess up that his lead work as "La Marr Bruister" on the title track is good enough just like all that stuff on UNCLE MEAT. And naturally you gotta wonder what kinda screw Zappa gave to Simmons that would make the guy wanna quit the Mothers of Invention right in the middle of 200 MOTELS and go back to the safety of Northwest Rock obscurity where he remains as of this very writing.

But LUCILLE is good inside and outta the white blooze spectrum, with some bizarroid psychedelia on LP opener "Appian Way" plus some general laet-sixties production moves and aural vinegar to keep you at least slightly interested between the whiteboy blooze chooze and patented hard rock movements that can be easily found here.

I actually prefer NAKED ANGELS since it's mostly straight ahead blues rock instrumental, maybe not that different from the same Dave Lewis Trio stuff that Simmons teethed his rockism on during the early-sixties Northwest days. Add a whole lotta Dave Allen and the Arrows to the mix and you got a pretty hot soundtrack disc that of course has a few softie duds, but those probably fit in with the visuals which we don't get to see here and whatever it sounds like it's sure to be a great film because the r&b and the organ screech seem to work their ways into whatever visuals may be playing in your mind and that may even be without the use of extracurricular stimuli turning your nervous system into a giant mass of frazzled wire! I wouldn't exactly call it the soundtrack to Altamont like Fernbacher did, but it's still a whole lot better blues stew than way too many professional blues workouts that we all get to hear whether we want to or not!

Given how we're technically still in the holiday season it's still right and natural to think back to those great Christmastimes of old not only of all of the Christmas morning fun unwrapping our presents and wanting moremoreMORE!!!!, but of all of the extracurricular fun and games that one would have for a good ten or so days before we hadda get back to the ol' grind of even more humiliation via teachers, students and parents (once they got an eyefulla our report cards!) come January!

For me the Christmas of 1975 was a time to remember...not only for the actual Christmas day festivities but for the whole mass of unbridled excitement that I experienced, not only spending gift moolah on records and the like especially after telling the folks I was gonna put it all in the bank but the sights and sounds of all of the other kiddies going through the shopping malls and plazas also spending their X-mas booty! I still recall the joy I had reading at the National Record Mart newssatand that issue of ARCADE with Crumb's high-larious "Frosty the Snowman and his Pals" story along with Bill Griffith's powerful saga about Jocko the ventriloquist's dummy walking through that seamy 1930s carnival world all beat up after being violently discarded by some frustrated kidnappers, pondering whether I should buy it and try to sneak the thing past the parental censors in my midst. (Also big in my 12/75 memory bank was reading all those great CREEMs with the ripped-up covers that John Stanton gave me...def. a big highlight in my listening makeup and a whole lot better'n those CIRCUS rags I had previously obtained!) And I remember seeing the cover of the recent NATIONAL LAMPOON at the newsstands as well, the one with some nice old SATURDAY EVENING POST-styled front cover painting of a boy whizzing into an open manhole as some elderly couple look on with bemusement! Funny how such things as that automatically stick into one's mind, though frankly I didn't think that would would make it into the house alive either!

But if you were in En Why See at the time probably the biggest thing to hit you upsides the head was the weeks-long CBGB Christmas Rock Festival that was going on at that sadly-gone gypjoint from the middle of December until Television closed things out on New Year's Eve. The followup to Hilly Kristel's very successful Summer Fest which brought in the reporters and gave initial exposure to the likes of not only Television but the Ramones and all those infamous "save the world" bands, the CBGB Christmas Festival lasted longer, had many more groups on the bill and unlike the first fest managed to get some outta-town talent into the place including Utica New York's Zobo Funn Band (whom I've actually heard...they kinda remind me of Tin Huey without the zip), Boston's Bonjour Aviators (another garage band Aerosmith and that's meant as a compliment!) and Connecticut's Jasper Wrath whose 1972 album is supposed to be a psycho/prog classic even though I understand that by this time they'd devolved into some pretty boring jamz. Anyway, this winterfest once again presented a nice cross section of just exactly where underground rock was heading here in the states, from the punk rock of the Ramones to the avant garde of a pre-Crozier Kongress and of course the usual heavy metal and general garage stylings that were going down at the time. Of course there were also the blues being played on the stage of CBGB at this time (and at this festival) which is where these Kane Brothers fit into this strange saga that I'm sure most of you readers have tuned out of this early in the story!

I'm sure that NOBODY reading this piece would know or care who the Kane Brothers were if their drummer, brother Jonathan, didn't end up in the Swans back in the early-eighties. I guess that would be a good enough reason for anyone to reform their old pre-fame group whether it be Phil Manzanara doing an album with Quiet Sun or Crocus Behemoth reliving old heavy metal thrills with Rocket From the Tombs. But hey, the Kane Brothers Blues Band getting back together and recording a self-titled CD (on the Mythco label!) in this day and age would seem about as plausible as if any of the other "third stringers" on the NYC scene woulda done the same. And although I would have loved to've heard a Manster CD or even one of those instant obscurities that sound so fun like the Master Radio Canaries also inflict their sounds on us this late in the game I'm glad that the Kane Brothers had the good sense to get back together because I'd rather hear their bleats than Debbie Harry's latest anyday.

And what I do hear here does slam anything Harry and co. have done since their second or so elpee, with a pretty good and raw blues approach that true, comes nowhere near those classic Detroit sides done in the Van Battle backroom, but blows a good portion of what continues to pass for white blues into the crapper where it shoulda been deposited ages ago. Raw recording techniques (heavy on the distort!) help plenty, as does the raw and alive performance with Anthony Kane wailin' on harmonica and vocals comin' way too close to what I believe Lee Ving himself sounded like in his own blooze days or perhaps even Iggy ca. the Prime Movers as the sound translates from early-sixties black holler to late-sixties white redo without the sappy transitional stylings that I believe were inflicted on us by way too many Britishers who tended to change things within the safety of their solid uppercrust gulcher missing out on the Amerigan grime that usually comes with the territory. That's just my opine, but I think it sure does help explain why the Kanes are good raunch while a lotta these white imitators seem to have about as much verve and stamina in their translations of black music as John Hammond had of the blues (and please don't write me...I'm no expert on Hammond but from what I've observed his white blues seemed to lose way too much in the whole collector's scum/uppercrust ridiculously-high outbid on rare auctions mentality too often seen amongst these fellers!).

The transistor radio quality makes this an even more urban 1963-sounding item than anyone forty-five years later would have ever believed! And of course the choice of covers from "Rocket 88" to "Flip Flop and Fly" is keen, and it all sounds like something more'n the usual cheap-o blues redo so popular these past few decades. This sounds like really exciting hard r&b that's so vital you can almost hear the gunshots in the parking lot! Kinda makes me wanna hear more of those white blues aggregates that played CB's throughout their three-plus decades such as the Silver Ball Blues and and even the late-eighties "house band" at the 313 Gallery, the Bosco Blues Band! (And the early-sixties pre-Bosco Pteridoctyls, who actually rated a Smithsonian Institute recording that I sure wouldn't mind lending ear to one of these days...anybody have a hint as to where I should start looking???)
And to all ye faithful readers, please remember that Monday's the BIG DAY!!! Mainly the FOURTH ANNUAL BLOG TO COMM BEST (AND WORST) OF '07 posting where I lay it on the line as to just what alla the brightest highs and the deepest lows of 2007 were just so you the discerning reader know where to take all your year-end-wrapup cues from! Be there, because your name might very well be in it, and you better know where you stand in the BTC universe lest all your friends be laughing behind your back! (True it's a lame attempt to get more people to read my vastly superior blog scribblings, but wa' th' hey, it can't hurt!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know, Chris, if you're gonna write a whole column about blues, dontcha think you should at least write about some actual blues artists? BLACK blues artists? And no, I don't mean Robert Cray or Keb Mo! I mean, yes, I hate hippie blues too, and yeah, weird avant-garde diversions like Jeff Simmons aren't bad at all, but if you're gonna write about BLUES, don't go gettin' all off-topic!

Check out Long John Hunter's EL PASO ROCK on Norton, or Hound Dog Taylor's NATURAL BOOGIE, or any of that series of STOMPIN' albums (probably still available from Crypt or Norton)...raw juke-joint music with a crude sensibility that any garage/punk fan oughta connect with. No long jams, no classic rock superstars sittin' in, none of the negatives that some people associate with the music. Great blog, been reading you ever since BLACK TO COMM (the one with the Frank Zappa rundown from '91), but you HAVE to know that there's more to the blues than Stevie Ray Yawn on the right and Captain Beefheart (who I like) on the left...