ANOTHER TRIP DOWN SEVENTIES DECADENCE LANE WITH BLOG TO COMM!!
It really is a testament to something (my stubbornness, my obsessive nature, my stupidity) that after all these (thirtysome +) years I still have an undying interest in what one would call the early/mid-seventies underground (punk if you will) bands that were "proliferating" not only in New York City and its various environs but other areas including but not exclusive to Cleveland, Los Angeles, Boston and Prague. There are many reasons that I continue to have the same raw and naked lust for these groups and their music that I had way back in '79 (when that particular scene wasn't really that long gone), one of them being my never-ending search for that eternal Velvet drone that manifested itself in a wide array of musical acts that weren't exactly lighting up the charts then or now but should be honored for creating that beautiful crank long before the likes of J. Neo Marvin came along. Another's my being drawn to the dark energy that was being exuded from such places as Max's Kansas City and even CBGB, not forgetting whatever avant garage in Cleveland Harlan and the Whips might have played. Probably the most evident reason that I started to follow and continue to on some level tracing the history of Underground ne. punk rock is that I figured that the groups who were playing this racket naturally knew more about the inherent energy in rock & roll that was all but being ignored as well as about not selling out to larger, more fashionable forces like their sixties brethren did, so they must exist on some higher plateau, right? Just goes to show how altruistic (and wrong) one starry-eyed rock aficionado could get, eh?
But dig on I must, which is why I continue to pick up on whatever shard of underground rock information that I can even after three decades of hit-and-miss rock archaeology. I know that by this time in my cranial development I should have elevated myself onto some higher cultural plane and have interests more akin to people my age like retirement funds and golf but gee, I just can't help it if I like to peruse old club listings, Fred Kirby reviews and off mentions of nowheresville bands just like I did way back when I was first trying to get some occult meaning out of it all!
I guess that's just one reason I actually dished out some hard-begged dinero for a number of old mid-seventies vintage issues of THE AQUARIAN that had popped up on ebay a short while back. I've pretty much combed through the old VILLAGE VOICEs that were available at the Youngstown library on microfilm (though unfortunately their run begins with the 1/77 issues meaning I can't get hold of any earlier writeups including James Wolcott's Kongress piece) and the Kirby live reviews in VARIETY (which stop in '76 then re-up three years later cutting out a very important era in En Why Rock development), so let's just say that these few issues of THE AQUARIAN really do help out, in their own iffy seventies posthippie lowbrow niceguy VOICE way I guess.
For a rag that seemed to be in the shadow of its bigger brother across the border (comin' outta Montclair New Jersey fercryinoutloud) THE AQUARIAN had a whole lot more on the ol' cliched ball with regards to promoting local talent than the VOICE ever did. Naw, they didn't have any of the same big-name writers that their rival used to be able to boast about (the only name scribe that THE AQUARIAN published was Craig Zeller of TROUSER PRESS fame) but they sure tried a lot harder when it came to covering the up and coming groups appearing on the local underground rock scenes in both New Jersey as well as lower Manhattan. That meant prublishing a remarkable number of articles and dropping names w/regards to the young and perhaps even exciting bands that were playing around, and between Kirby's reviews in VARIETY and THE AQUARIAN's plugging of these groups there is a wealth of information just waiting to be mined and disseminated before it all somehow goes down a huge tube into the trashcan of gulcheral nothingness where many a worthy (and unworthy) act has ultimately found their sometimes unjust rewards.
The earliest of the AQUARIANs I've latched on to's dated September 24th of '75, and whaddaya know this one even sports a PUNK ROCK cover story! A good month after Wolcott did his piece on the CBGB Summer Festival for the VOICE true, but a good enough early indication as to what was going on in the New York Underground right around the time critics and collegiates began flocking to the club in droves. I do declare that the idea of a major article on underground rock certainly gets my flavorbuds roaring into overdrive, especially one with the promise of heretofore unknown (to me) information on both the famous and the obscure but---just who did THE AQUARIAN deem to be worthy of this all-important cover-spot? Was it Blondie, the Heartbreakers, Talking Heads or one of the many hotcha groups that had been getting their names publicized via the underground hubbub? No, the band that THE AQUARIAN must have thought best explained the entire punk rock concept as it should be told to bored 15-year-olds on the lookout for a new hook was...the Movies!
If you happened to have a copy of BLACK TO COMM #24 handy you can eyeball my review of this trio's sole album on Arista (reportedly the label's second signing), an iffy if not downright negative writeup of an album I expected a whole lot more from than what was ultimately begatted. Touted as "a jug band without the jug" by VARIETY's Kirby, his description made 'em sound like some goodtime rock group (upright piano, acoustic guitar and drums) that I hoped would have been a cross between Hackamore Brick, the late-seventies Modern Lovers and the Lovin' Spoonful with their reportedly upbeat show which at one spot had them marching around the audience while singing and banging away on the tables. Unfortunately this album retained very little of the Movies' stage show not only with an upgrade of instruments worthy of a Triumvrat album but material that ranged from good enough AM-pop to slushy ballads that I personally find had little to do with a "New York Sound", whatever that was supposed to mean. And besides, what can you say about a group whose singer looked like Mario from DONKEY KONG anyway???
The explanation for the Movies getting their fifteen minutes via a local alternative rag seem rather evident, at least on the surface. Y'see, the author (and photog) of this piece, a chap by the name of Charles Frick, while aware of all of the groups that were popping out of the punk "phenomenon"*, just happened to do his main pic snapping during a September gig @ CB's that featured the aforementioned Movies along with a group called Antenna opening for none other than Quacky Duck and His Barnyard Friends. You might remember them as a down-homey country rock group that featured two of Tony Bennett's sons who already had a year-old album out on Warner Brothers and by this time were on their last legs. Not exactly what I'm sure most people who had been following this grog were thinking about when the term "punk rock" came up at the time. That's probably one reason why this doesn't quite seem like the kind of in-depth excavation of a new and energetic sound that Wolcott's VOICE piece was in comparison.
(For one thing, I wish that Frick had concentrated more on Antenna, an act who weren't the Otto von Ruggins/Von Lmo side-project that appeared during the no wave era but a trio of Puerto Rican descent featuring vocalist/guitarist Jaime Canabis, his sister Nilda on drums and Guille Torre on bass. There's a nice snap of Jaime singing on-stage looking more like the typical mid-seventies CBGB denizen with his long curly hair than the leader of a hard art-rock group [which is how Antenna were described to me] while Torre surprisingly enough comes off like a punk of the early-eighties Black Flag stratum with his close-cropped cut being a harbinger of things to come. From what I understand, Antenna went into hibernation by the time '76 rolled around, only to re-emerge three years later as the Ants who were a popular enough I guess group on the same scene though unfortunately left nada in the way of any recorded legacy. Hey Antenna, if you happen to be reading this here's one guy who'd buy a compilation of your best tracks!)
But although Frick's article leaves one wanting to know much more, at least it does give us a taste of what CBGB '74-'76 was like before '77 became the year when the underground got punked out in a more Anglican direction. One thing that I had noticed regarding these early days is that the women pictured throughout this article had yet to succumb to the anti-sexy trend that seemed to overtake the entire gender to the point where you know why homosexuality has been on the rise these past few decades. Mid-seventies snazzy-styled dresses are still the norm, and it seems as if many of the rules regarding masculinity and femininity had yet to be taken over by the unisex craze that crept into the fashion scene only a few short years earlier. (Perhaps their stylish looks were a healthy reaction.) I mean, look at this photo of future Contortions manager Anya Phillips who was snapped in front of CBGB cavorting with members of the Fast. Note the typically teenage dress, the mod striped shirt and the leather boots which signify a more healthy approach to young womanhood than the leather skirts and multiple piercings/tattoos that seem to typify slutsville 2010. Also note the happy, healthy smile and Phillips' cute Taiwanese knees exposing just enough to please yet not to tease. Too bad more women aren't as fashion savvy as this...Lisa Robinson and Charlotte Pressler would be proud. It's a big wonder how she got to be such a big-time dominatrix given how little lost and innocent she looks here!
Maybe this is one of those pieces which I'll have to read five times before it really sinks in, but I can't hate the author for not writing about the groups I for one would like to know more about. After all Frick said that he could not do justice to write about each of the forty or so bands he caught over the past few months even if a group guide would have been the best thing for us history buffs. At least some nice surprises were included, like the snaps of some mid-seventies-esque sexoid mizz who appeared onstage during the Movies' set not only to sing "Happy Birthday" to the drummer but to shove a birthday cake in his face. And we better not forget Frick's description of Hilly Kristal as the true Father Figure for the hundreds of lost loonies permeating his club. Frick did a decent enough job even if he spent most of his precious space talking about the irrelevancy of mid-seventies mainstream rock (should we forgive him for using the soon-to-be overworn term "new wave" for perhaps the first time ever?), and I'm positive positive positive in an ABBOT AND COSTELLO sense that this piece enlightened perhaps a few more people as to something that was new and high-energy that was happening within their midst, and at a time when rock & roll certainly needed that additional oomph! Besides, I gotta give credit to the author for showing up at CBGB wearing an Electric Light Orchestra shirt and not getting the living daylights punched outta him!
***Thumbing through the rest of the AQUARIANs that I received do elicit the few surprises and "gee I didn't know that"'s that I sure wish I did know about a good quarter-plus century back when I first began doing my seventies underground rock research in earnest. It sure is nice to read the little asides and mentions of some of the lesser knowns on the CBGB scene, sometimes complete with photos so that I now know what DeWaves looked like (they were all beardos just like most of the other groups during the punk before pUnK days at CBGB) as well as get another eyefull of Stuart's Hammer who made their mark on the double-set CBGB album even if most people seem to dismiss their track in a typically out of hand fashion. And if it weren't for that one Max's supplement (with a bunch of Planets photos I sure wish I had when I was doing my article on 'em in #22---just take a look to your left for but one example!) how else would I know that the Best (probably "best" known to me as the band that Cross were billed w/@ CBGB when they got banned) had none other than ex-Koala/Magic Tramp/future Joe Perry Project vocalist Jay Mala in their ranks!
One of the AQUARIANs I got did contain a review of an "up-and-coming" act that I wanted to know more about, nothing really that special only this group seemed like it would be eccentric enough to surpass a lotta pratfalls and dead ends many bands run up against and come out stellar despite themselves. Anyway, when I first discovered there was a group called Gan playing the clubs I thought these New Joiseyites were perhaps ripping off the name of those venerable German rockers Can which seemed like a good sign. A google search led me to a site of a new group called Boomerang which features one of the group's ex-members and mentions Gan being a fusion jazz/rock group that appeared at Max's and CBGB not forgetting other local venues, and that after they broke up said member went disco for awhile and now he's up and front just begging to entertain YOU as well as other hotcha showbiz generalities I haven't heard in quite some time. Not quite all of the information that I was hoping for true, but a nice lead that might dredge up some more tasty information on yet another one of those forgotten underground acts that didn't deserve to remain underground and perhaps will have "their day" sometime or another even if it is years after they ceased to be.
So whaddya know, outta nowhere an article on these guys pops up unexpectedly in the pages of THE AQUARIAN and although it just gives enough information to whet your whistle it sure makes me wanna beg for more. According to this review of the group's En Why debut at Max's Kansas City, Gan were pretty much an electronic jazz-rock group, technically proficient enough with not only a Mini-Moog in their ranks but a guitar synthesizer needing nine batteries which have to be replaced after every set so you can tell they were certainly up on their technology. Not only that but Gan had two vocalists singing amidst the electronic futuristic music being played, both bedecked in these seventies leisure suits with exposed chests looking like they're trying out for the Barth Gimble Lookalike Contest. (The reviewer mentions that the duo also did a few "Temptations-like" dance moves which didn't settle well with him.) The guitarist wore a gold lame suit perhaps signifying that he is the leader of the group the same way Paul Revere's tri-corner hat had the fur fringe, and oddly enough the rest of Gan dressed in their street clothes which might have signified either a lesser stature in the group or perhaps a smaller budget that could only afford the three more "important" members to be decked out like this.
But still, from the description Gan looked as if they might have been one of those interesting off-the-wall concept groups that actually worked. Electronic Sci-Fi rock might conjure memories of Gary Wright and Alan Parsons but when a buncha NJ chooches do it the results might very well be something strikingly different. From what I could decipher from the review, Gan seemed like a cross between Manster's freaked-out jazz riffage, MX-80 Sound and Gary Wilson's electronic lounge madness and in a scene that was begging for all different forms of expression it looks like they probably succeeded hands down. Perhaps some recordings will surface, but until then Gan will remain just one of the many wannabes who've crossed the En Why stages that just "might have", and maybe we are the worse because they flubbed up and Debbie Harry didn't.
Before we split I felt that it was my civic doody to present for you the above Max's Kansas City listing (apologies that I couldn't get it bigger...click it for a better view) if only for historical purposes. Dating from March/April of '76 this reproduction does serve a purpose for those of us who were pretty curious about the goings on at Max's during the mid-seventies era of gestation. Oddly enough the club was still devoting its weekends to disco (a genre that would eventually be dumped along with the lighted dance floor after the infamous Easter Festival a few weeks later kinda enlightened owner Tommy Dean which way the prevailing winds were blowin') and acts outside of the standard underground/punk concerns of the day were plentiful as one would gather by the appearances of not only Luther Allison but Tiny Tim (w/former Stiletto Rosie Ross as the opening act) and Monti Rock III, here just going by the moniker Monte Rock! Of course the standard New York rockers were playing Max's in full force, but if CBGB stood for "We'll let anyone play here" as one wonk said then Max's stood for loads of coastal blues, oddly enough one of the original goals of ol' Hilly Kristal when he opened his dive up! But hey, can anyone out there tell me what a group with the name 300 Years was supposed to be all about???
*According to Frick: "Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers, the Ramones, Quacky Duck and His Barnyard Friends, The Planets, The Fast, Television, The Patti Smith Experience with Special Guest Lenny Kay, The Harlots, The Movies, The Gladys Bailey Band, Wayne County and His Backstreet Boys, The Talking Heads, the Shirts, the Liberation Army, The Lords, The Vacant Lot, the Billy Gorcica Quintet, Tough Darts, Space Bandits, etc." Add your own "sic"'s.