Saturday, December 27, 2008


Frankly I made it through Christmas Day with flying colors...actually it was like just another day off, only around noontime Jillery came over and we all exchanged gifts that were nice yet nothing along the lines of the stuff I used to get when I was nine. Fortunately there were no Charlie Brown shampoo or Hai Karate aftershave bottles in the batch. Then I went back into my cubby hole of a room and messed around with the computer for the rest of the day. I also spun a real Holiday Classic on the Dee-Vee-Dee, none other than GLEN OR GLENDA which came as part of the Ed Wood Box Set that Lou Rone sent me for Christmas (I gave him a box set consisting of the entire television run of STINGRAY, a show I don't particularly care to watch because that one big fish in it with the mean face is rather scary looking and will probably induce four-year-old nightmare reruns inside my fragile brain!). I also eyeballed some old Warner Brothers cartoons on youtube as well as ordered myself a Christmas gift that I really wanted for some time, none other than the first three volumes of THE SPIRIT DC Archives reprints which are rather enticing yet cost-prohibitive. I should correct myself...actually I want THE ENTIRE RUN of THE SPIRIT, but this is all I can afford to dish out for at the time so rather bit-by-bit now rather than the whole kahuna when I'm aged but could afford it! Didja know that a movie based on this infamous character has just been released and is probably playing in some concrete bunker near you? Only hope it bombs so his legend (and that of creator Will Eisner) can rest in peace...I mean look at all the bum jobs they've done on everyone from Superman to the X-Men these past twennysome years making these once-admirable characters out to look more or less like super-putzes!

OK so it wasn't exactly a good ol' top notch Christmas where the floor of the entire parlor was awash with presents, but it was nice enough for this old pooperoo. And besides, if the folks were to dish out the money for all of those toys that I wish I could have had back in the day (in mint condition just like they came straight off the shelf!) it'd cost 'em millions so it wasn't like I was expecting that Kenner's Give-A-Show Projector, Dick Tracy Detective Game or Vac-U-Form to be nicely snuggled under the tree this year. But it sure woulda been a fun Christmas if they were. (Howzat for my annual dribble-on remembrance of commercialized Christmases past anyway???)

Glad to see that a number of you "allegedly" avid BLOG TO COMM readers are voting in my fanzine poll that I posted on the left. Hmmmm, some of you have better taste than I would have ever admitted when it comes to the Golden Age of Rock Fanzines, or the eighties period that immediately followed for that matter. However, I must apologize to the editors of both KICKS and FUTURE, two fanzines that were on the original draft but inadvertently got axed by the time the poll was published, for my error in not including 'em amongst the vast array of fanzine classics. Since both of them (as well as a few others who I should have remembered but didn't) were what I would call "important" and "essential" fanzines of the day such an omission is inexcusable. Tell ya what, if you readers wanna vote for either one of these mags howzbout you vote for 'em in the "other" category and then tell us all about it in the comments section below while smugly and defiantly berating me all the more!

As you probably gotten the gist of already, this post ain't gonna be one of the usual reviews of the latest items to grace my eyes/ears/nose/throat, but more or less of a plain ol' ramble on akin to some of my more obtuse rambles seen here and elsewhere o'er the past twennysome years. Not that there's exactly that much new and exciting for me to clue you readers in I said a few posts back the proto-punk offerings I really dig just haven't been coming out as fast as I would like 'em to, and it really is getting hard to score those classic early/mid-seventies fanzines like I had been for awhile. However, with the recent Titfield Thunderbolt and ARTIFACTS dig-ups I probably heard more than my fill of pre-punk avant musings for a good long time and for that perhaps I should be thankful. But if only someone would unearth a tape of Man Ray or perhaps even more Umela Hmota 3 live tracks then and only then would I be the complete human being.

Anyway, thanks to those aforementioned TT/ARTIFACTS reviews which I guess woke up more than a few brain cells, I've received a couple of rare Richmond Scene snaps thanks to ex-Big Napter member Bill Altice that I thought I'd share with you, and if these don't win BLOG TO COMM some sorta humanitarian award for enlightening you lumpen proles regarding the true state of local rock scenes in the early (and surly) seventies, then nothing will! This first snap is of none other than that of the original two-piece version of the Titfield Thunderbolt with Key Ring Torch on the left and Stymie the Hermit on the right. If you're wondering why Torch looks like he's getting ready for a high school yearbook photo session it's because he's on his way to a court hearing after being arrested during a post-Allen Ginsberg lecture which led to a riot at Virginia Commonwealth University! Yes, that's a short-hair wig he's wearing, just like the kind those reservists who wanted to keep their long-locks in the early-seventies would wear through muck and mire in 100-degree heat! The next snap is that of half of Richmond's Big Naptar, yet another band that snapped my crainium via the ARTIFACTS album, taken in 1971. L to R, Michael Garrett (sax 1), Bill Altice and Frank Daniel. Garrett and Daniel went on to play in the group Single Bullet Theory whom I remember as being some new wave-y alternative grouping of the time (mid-eighties), but I might be wrong (then again, I might be right!).

And, if that isn't enough, the following is a repro of the insert notes to the ARTIFACTS sampler (missing from my copy) that should give you some added information as to what the whole early-seventies Richmond Scene was about (click to enlarge unless you want to suffer from even more eyestrain than reading an early issue of my fanzine!):I know you do want more information regarding the Thunderbolt and the rest of the Richmond-area early-seventies underground scene therein, so may I present this note that Altice wrote to me regarding the goings on during those long-gone days of rage which should help fill in a few gaps while creating perhaps even more questions?!?!?:

Thanks again for all your belated coverage, but before you get too far astray, I feel compelled to remind you that, as the Artifacts sampler well illustrates, the Titfield Thunderbolt was only a part of a larger off-beat music scene here in the Capital of the Confederacy in the late sixties/early seventies; a scene that in turn, metastasized into a still larger nexus of inspired and eccentric artists over the following ten years. Isolated as we were from the larger centers of alt-culture in those days, from the beginning, we felt like we differed from other regional scenes because of our abiding interest in and exposure to outside jazz, experimental music and ethnic folk musics.

When I first arrived in Richmond in late 1966, the city was full of folk singers and beatnik jug bands (Duck Baker and Bryan Bowers, who both have gone on to bigger careers, were already performing regularly). The initial British Invasion was over and instead of succumbing to the influences of West Coast Flower Power pop, pasteurized folk-rock, or white-boy blues, most of us were already living in a parallel universe influenced by the Velvet Underground, Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, Sun Ra, (yes) the AACM, Ornette Coleman, Captain Beefheart, Albert Ayler (hell, everything ESP released), the entire BYG/Actuel catalog, Pierre Henry, Harry Partch, Lothar and the Hand People, Moondog, Insect Trust, Edgar Varese, Tony Williams Lifetime, Third Stream Music, Silver Apples, the Nonesuch LP of the Balinese Kecak, the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Iannis Xenakis, Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers and on and on and on.

If nothing else, we were record collectors and we were even competitive in our constant search for the "edge." Here, in this sleepy jerkwater hamlet, we were defining our own "culture" and we worked hard at flavoring it with every possible kind of esoterica. Was there, for instance, another place in America so influenced by Gunter Hampel's "The 8th of July 1969" (Flying Dutchman FDS-126) LP?

That said however, almost all of us were artists, not musicians. And no one among us was a virtuoso of any stripe, though most of us were not absolute beginners either.

By 1968, Bruce Springsteen's early bands Child and Steel Mill were playing here on regular excursions from New Jersey. The "big" local rock bands were called Mercy Flight, Morning Disaster and the Bosom Blues Band, but they all played note-for-note covers, almost exclusively -- something we never considered attempting.

Our thing was seriously "tribal" and was usually based on group improvisation. My band, Big Naptar, was the only song-structured lineup in the Artifacts crowd and in those days I was hellbent on creating rock music with avant-garde sax players -- something like, say, Count's Rock Band or the Free Spirits.

We were, in fact, sometimes trending towards what the Lounge Lizards, ten years later, would call "Fake Jazz", but we didn't call it anything -- and not one of us ever used the word "psychedelic" seriously.

Imagine then, how we felt nearly a decade later when the No Wave craze surfaced in the Lower East Side and was suddenly a big deal in the the NY music press?

While collectors in cities all across America are still uncovering and re-releasing lost, self-produced 45s and LPs from that era, we were all too poor to ever even consider actually going into a recording studio. Everything we did was recorded on cassette tapes, all the way through the two Bomis Prendin flexi discs.

The Titfield Thunderbolt single was pressed somewhere out of town from selected cassette recordings in order to fulfill a Commercial Art class assignment and was the only piece of real vinyl produced here until the following generation's Single Bullet Theory and Orthotonics records were made later in the seventies.

In late 1972, restless and ready to see the world, I abandoned the band and my job laying underground power cable and and left for Europe with my girlfriend. Stymie the Hermit had by then already moved to D.C. to work and I would join him there seven years later in the experiments that led to the creation of Bomis Prendin.

The first generation of bands gave way to the Tom and Marty Band, Idio-Savant, the Orthotonics and other shape-shifting exploratory ensembles and X-Breed morphed into skinny-tie New Wavers, the Single Bullet Theory.

J.W. Burke, Jr. (Key Ring Torch, Montserrat, Muskrat) remained in Richmond, in a room over Mrs. Morton's Tea Room, where he slowly immersed himself in alcohol, guns and conspiracy theories.
Well, I think that's a good start for you budding rock entomologists out there. Hopefully more will come sooner than later, though would a Five-CD box set with hardcover book be asking for too much?

Onward and upward...lessee, right now I must admit that I'm dwelling on obsessions past which is probably why I bought the first four Black Sabbath albums on CD, and in Japanese mini-sleeve editions complete with the bonus lyrics sheets and even innersleeves just like the real things only without the plastic insides just like you used to get in imports! They're so nice too, kinda making me wish that I could shrink myself down in order to enjoy the things at the proper scale! I naturally dig these little platters to the utmost because first off, these Sabbath disques were released on the original Vertigo label which I must say I do prefer to the domestic Warner Brothers issue because I like the Vertigo logo a lot more than I do Warner's which looked better on celluloid than on album covers. Vertigo's logo is certainly very late-sixties/early-seventies austere, kinda like the Mitsubishi three-diamond design (which dates back to at least 1917 even though it looks seventies-derived!) or the RCA block-lettering style that I must say was pleasing to the eye at the time. Of course the music is no slouch either, and discussing this stuff any further would just be more lip-flapping in the wind unless I'm really hard up for new material to write about. Besides, I already reviewed the first two Sabbath albums either in print or fact, counting both formats, I've reviewed PARANOID a grand total of three times in my career which really is belaboring a point! However, in order to satisfy some sort of hidden musical desire deep within my soul (as well as somehow put the money spent on these disques to good use) I will give short, concise mention to each of these Sabbath platters which you can take as you will: BLACK SABBATH: taut and tense with heavy references to various late-sixties punk points mixed with post-Cream degeneration; PARANOID: metallic electricity raging into dark chasms to even more unbelievable heights than the first; MASTER OF REALITY: a continuation on the path started by first two with the slow encroaching of acoustic twaddle and progressive inclinations probably learned while on tour with Yes and VOL 4: a bit of a return to earlier aesthetics although featuring one sappy ballad with piano and mellotron backing (!) and two aimless proggy instrumentals. Sure doesn't sound as loud and nerve-bending as it did when I first heard it age 13!

Lessee what else is on tap for this informal edition of BLOG TO COMM hmmmmm? Well, I gotta admit that I've been digging through a number of old items and playing the bejabbers outta 'em including the Cee-Dee reissue of the first Fleshtones album on ROIR which I gotta say remains their bestest of the best! Funny, a group like the Fleshtones shouldn't've lasted as long as they did and if so shouldn't've been as prolific in their output as they were, but I kinda like to think of the idea of an ongoing and working Fleshtones to be a rough equivalent to as if some other boss seventies band like, say, Hackamore Brick, was continually functioning this late in the game as well! Be thankful these 'tones are still here, and I gotta admit that yes, I do feel some remorse for all of the bad stuff I said about 'em back in the eighties when Peter Zaremba was hosting that alternative rock show on MTV and I believed they were selling out their inherent punkitude for the big break!

Also getting hefty spins here at BTC central is the Sandy Bull RE-INVENTIONS disque from 1999 which collects some of the best from the guy's Vanguard years and puts it all on a shiny pancake for your listening pleasure. Not to be confused with a later Bull collection which is also available for peanuts on eBay, this 'un is undoubtedly the beat bargain of the two if only for the appearance of his 1963 version of "Blend" with Ornette drummer Billy Higgins in tow playing a music that you'd swear you wouldn't have heard being played until many years later. Y'see, the newer collection substitutes this for the "Electric Blend" take offa 1965's also wondrous INVENTIONS (also with Higgins) which is already available en toto on Cee-Dee while debut FANTASIAS remains to this day unavailable in the here and now unless you wanna dish out double digits (first digit beginning with at least a "2") for an original, so let's just say that having a good hunk of that debut on this disque does help out a little. DEMOLITION DERBY from '72 also remains unavailable and is deserving of a reissue as well but at least one track, "Carnival Jump", shows up right at the very end and is a fitting close to an important rock/folk/whaddeva musician's stay at a pretty fruity label (I mean, JOAN BAEZ????). Funny, when Richard Meltzer mentioned watching James Taylor on SNL and wrote that he looked just like Sandy Bull and how hard it was to tell these sensitive junkies apart, I kinda shook my head in disbelief. At least Bull put his opium usage to good use while Taylor was born withered, if you know what I mean!

Speaking of Meltzer, one item that's continuing to get me all hot and bothered is the relatively recent arrival of some xeroxes of Meltzer and Meltzer-related material that I happened to latch off some guy in Canada who was auctioning 'em off on eBay. A good selection of stuff too including a ton of things that have somehow missed my own radarscope (as well as that of the crucial Meltzer collection from awhile back entitled A WHORE JUST LIKE THE REST), many of them concentrating on Meltzer's mid-seventies stay in Montreal covering the budding Frenchie music scene that was getting ample rock press space at the time. In fact, Meltzer's presence was so well known there that he even warranted a fairly lengthy newspaper article on his stay, that's how much people, especially Quebecois types, thought of him! Besides various scribed remnants of his Montreal jaunt there are examples of Meltzer's work from the long-gone ZOO WORLD which must've been a lot cooler than I thought since I hear they even published Eddie Flowers once, and other things that I might have seen before in CREEM but I'm not complainin' one bit! A day without Meltzer is like a day without severe weather, and considering that there's so much Golden Age of Rock-era Meltzer out there that I haven't been able to read I only hope that before I clock out of this existence I get to eyeball at least a hefty portion of the stuff or else I won't be the complete man.

If I get near my turntable within the next few days you might see another post more sooner than later. If not, see you Wednesday for the year-end wrapup.

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