Sunday, June 16, 2013


THE BLOG TO COMM INTERVIEW: COLEMAN SPRINGER!

Dunno if the name Cole(man) Springer means anything to you, but since the name Ethan Fromme doesn't mean anything to me I guess we're even! All kidding aside, you may remember Cole as a fairly prolific rockscreeder during the seventies, a man whose writings were featured not only in the pages of Greg Prevost's tres-hotcha FUTURE but in John Holmstrom's PUNK and Ira Robbins' TROUSER PRESS among others which never did get their chance to make their way to my door. And, as you would obviously have guessed by now, Cole's a guy who is just jam-packed fulla stories dealing with alla the greats of the seventies that are just waiting to make themselves known to mental midgets like yourself, so w/o any further ado I present this interview which I know is bound to shed light on a few interesting things that I don't think anyone who doesn't read this blog would care about, but then again at this point in time should any of us really care??? 

BLOG TO COMM-To start things off, how did you and Greg Prevost meet up? Do you have any hot information on him that nobody else in the world knows about???

COLE SPRINGER-My last year in college I worked in a record store, so when I returned to Rochester I got a job at Midtown Records, which was fairly big chain based in Buffalo. I worked downtown in their flagship store in Midtown Plaza. In the fall of 1973, Greg Prevost was a college freshman at St. John Fisher, which was in a suburb south of the city. Since he lived in Charlotte, the northernmost part of Roch (any further north would put you in Lake Ontario), he had to go thru downtown to get home and he would stop into the store.  We just hit it off, both of us being really into music, and became good friends pretty quickly.



Greg is a super-nice guy, really down to earth, just a regular guy, and yet at the same time he is the most unusual guy I've ever known.  It's hard to explain it further...he knows everything about every kind of music, as well as TV. He's funny as hell, and has a great sense of humor. When I lived in NYC, I would go backstage at the Chesterfield Kings' gigs and Greg was always the same good guy...he's never changed in all the years I've known him.


He was working at the House of Guitars in 73, and he got me a job there, so I left Midtown in 74 and worked at HOG for a few months...it was too chaotic for me.  They used to shoot TV commercials in the store, that were terribly shot and edited, but they did stand out on TV because they were so bad. The camera would be flying around the store, and the employees would be jumping around. Greg did appear in some of the early ones but then he refused to appear in any more and he never did again. He knew they were lame.


BTC-Tell us about those experimental recordings you and Greg made in his basement.

CS-I went over to Greg's house on several occasions...usually we'd just stay in his room, which was jam-packed with records, books and magazines, and listen to music.  I remember one visit because we went down in the basement, where he had a brand-new Roland Space Echo...I figured this to be in mid-1974, after I had quit the House of Guitars.  The RE-201 (aka the Space Echo)  was introduced in '74, so this checks out.......I don't think Greg had bought his; I'm pretty sure he just borrowed one from the House Of Guitars as it was the latest cool gear.


I had brought my bass ( which actually belonged to Gary Frenay; he had lent it to me. This was years before he moved back to Syracuse and formed the Flashcubes). Greg ran his guitar and my bass thru the Roland and we just jammed free-form.  My bass chops were rudimentary then but Greg didn't mind, and our musical madness was captured on tape. When we finished Greg said he wanted to send the tape to  Brian Eno. This stuck in my mind because up till then I only knew Eno by his last name, that's how he was credited on the two Roxy albums.   Greg was in the vanguard, as usual! 

BTC-So, when did you start writing about rock music...was FUTURE your first published endeavor?

CS-No, Future was not where I was first published. I started to write about music in 1968, as a freshman in college. This was at MCC in Rochester, and I reviewed record albums for the student newspaper. When I went to U of Miami for my junior year, I wrote on music and on films.


Funny thing about FUTURE, I honestly can't remember writing anything for Greg!  I asked him about it recently, and all he can remember is that I reviewed the first Dwight Twilley album.  My vague memory of that LP is only liking one or two songs,  so I'm not sure why I reviewed it, unless he asked me to.


BTC-Yeah, I remember reading your name in the first issue which is probably where it registered in my mind after seeing it elsewhere. Were you inspired by the new rock journalism at this time or the gonzo rock critics, or both for that matter?

CS-Honestly, when I started in '68 my main inspiration was just the music itself. My parents dug Sinatra, so I heard all the Capitol albums he did with Nelson Riddle when I was growing up. At the same time, I would watch ROUTE 66 every Friday night with my parents, and Riddle did the music for that. It's still my all-time fave TV show, closely followed by NAKED CITY (both created by Stirling Silliphant, the greatest writer to ever work in television).



Then I got into the Beach Boys, followed by Dylan, the Byrds, the Beatles and the Stones. I bought "Freak Out" when it came out in '66 because I had read about Zappa somewhere. In the days before ROLLING STONE started, national magazines would cover subjects like Zappa and the San Francisco bands BEFORE they even had record deals.......amazing!

There was just so much good music throughout the Sixties and I was so tuned into it, that it just seemed natural to start writing about it. By the early Seventies I was quite aware of rock writers like Meltzer and Bangs. I sent some stuff to Lester, and later to Billy Altman, both at CREEM, but I could never crack that mag. It was way cool to meet Bangs in Dec of  '76 at the PUNK offices; he was a low-key guy.  About 5 years later, I saw him when I was working at King Karol on 42nd St...he came in, looking for some record. I recall that he said, "I always thought that it would be fun to work in a record shop, but then I realized that people would come in and ask for something like Crosby Stills and Nash, and that would not be fun at all!

BTC-Wow! So like, what acts were you reviewing during your early journalistic days?

CS-At first I just reviewed current albums that I liked, by the beatles, Stones...I think I wrote a piece in early 1970 on the Beatles breaking up.  Hard to remember that far back, and I don't have any of my college work saved. In the mid-Seventies, I did review Petrus, an electric piano jazz trio that formed at the Eastman School of Music.Saw them a few times around town, and wrote them up for some small indie paper. Soon after it was published, I heard from a keyboardist named Marshall Styler who asked me to check out his new band.  They were named Duke Jupiter, and I saw them at the Coronet Theatre on Thurston Rd, which was an old neighborhood movie house. They played on the floor in front of the screen. I remember the second set was just a long jam on a bass riff from Miles Davis' great album In A Silent Way. This was in 1974, most likely. Duke Jupiter later signed with Mercury and put out their first LP in '78.  I guess they did alright, they did release a few albums...just MOR rock, nothing like the spacier, slightly jazzy band I saw that night. 



Things definitely got a lot more interesting when I moved to NYC in December 1976.



BTC-Were you writing for any professional magazines before your big move to New York?

CS-No, I never wrote for any pro publications prior to living in NYC.  The most professional mag I ever wrote for was TROUSER PRESS; the layout, typesetting and offset printing were all pro-caliber.  I'm not sure how well they were distributed on the newsstands...I really can't recall.  I do know they sold it at the House Of Guitars when I still lived in Rochester, and you could get it in record shops in NYC, and around the country.

BTC-Well, TROUSER PRESS did become a well-distributed pro magazine. Were you writing for 'em during their early days when they were pretty much solely concentrating on British rock acts? And what pieces did you contribute to them anyway?

CS-I did not write for TROUSER PRESS in their early day, but I was certainly aware of their British rock slant, and  I was able to play into that slant with my first piece for them. It was a review of the debut album of Foreigner in 1977.  I wasn't wild about this new band, but the woman at Atlantic Records who sent me the promo was really pushing them, and I DID know about Lou Gramm, who is a Rochesterian. So at least half of my review was about Gramm's previous band Black Sheep. They sounded like Free, since Gramm sounded like Paul Rodgers, and they had one album on Chrysalis. It pretty much sank without a trace, but the fact that I knew his history as an Angliophile rocker really added to my review, and the editors seemed to like it.


I later reviewed the first DEVO album, since nobody else on the TROUSER PRESS staff liked them!  I thought they were the hottest new band on the scene, and loved their deconstruction of "Satisfaction" which I had on their first self-produced 45.  The first album was great, with punkish guitars and cool synths, funny lyrics; actually their de-evolution theory, while clearly satirical,  did make sense in a way and it was just wild that they had this outlook, a philosophy, and they really rocked!! Their originality inspired me to write my review in a different way:  I used bullet points, one-line descriptions, and short paragraphs to describe the band and their music.  A couple of months later I interviewed co-leader Gerald Casale for a TP cover story, and he told me he really liked my review. He said, "You're one of the only people I've read that actually understands what we're trying to do."   Hearing that from an artist I admired was a true high point for me.


The other high point was meeting and interviewing Don Van Vliet, whom I've always regarded as the premiere genius of rock music.

BTC-Going back a bit, I was reading the first issue of FUTURE last night and I spotted a review you did of the Beckies album. Kinda thought your comment about Michael Brown attempting to win over the Kiss Army was funny! You also reviewed Judas Priest and Widowmaker. Does any of this ring a bell?

CS-It is a bit mind-blowing to hear about these reviews. The only one I remember is the Beckies, which was on Sire, I think (ed. note-yes it was). The Kiss Army comment I do not recall but I'm glad you liked it. Judas Priest I vaguely recall. What I'm realizing is that these were promo albums I had gotten from a college friend in Miami. I went to UM, and a good pal there was Lee Zimmerman, who also reviewed records. He still does free-lance pro reviewing, but in the mid-70s, when I was back in Roch, he worked for an independent distributor and he used to mail me batches of promo LPs so that's how I got JP and Widowmaker.  One of the labels he handled was Sire (this was years before they were connected with WEA), and he sent me the first Ramones, which I was glad to get!!!



I mentioned that Lee Zimmerman, better known to all as Train, did promotion for small independent labels and he sent me Ramones soon after its release in April '76.  But I had already heard it at Greg's house....he was the first to play it for me. I had recently returned from CA, and went over to visit him, still at his folks' house. I knew about the band, but had yet to hear them. Of course Greg had it, he was probably the first guy in town to get it!  I dug it immediately and was struck by how they had stripped down rock to something really new. The arrangements were minimal, the songs super-short and the lyrics crazy funny.  I've always remembered what Greg said : "The kids won't really understand how important this record is."



I guess he was talking about the great unwashed masses out there, and I think he was mostly right. Which brings me to what Train told me on the phone after I had gotten the promo he sent:  "I've taken that record to every rock station in town, and nobody will touch it. They take one listen and look at me like I'm insane. They think it's some kind of put-on."

BTC-I didn't mention Lydia Lunch yet. I hear you were a friend of hers.


CS-We were friendly, I used to see her around NY...even bumped into her on a city bus once!
I first used to see her at Midtown Records when I worked there. She was a teen who came in looking for the latest by Bowie or Sparks. Then it turned out that I knew her cousins. Tony and Jim Furfferi were identical twins who owned Empire Comics, the first comic book store in Rochester. I had known them since the early 70s.


The first time I ever went to CBGB, in July of '76, Lydia happened to be there. Talking Heads were topping the bill; they were still a trio and had no records out yet. Russell Mael, the singer from Sparks, was there and he was trying to hit on Tina Weymouth.  I remember at some point Lydia said in a loud, sarcastic voice, "Ooooooooooooo, Sparks is here!" After the show, we were hanging on the sidewalk in front of the club. There was a guy sitting with an acoustic guitar, in the back of an empty truck......he was probably a roadie. Lydia told him to start playing his guitar, so he banged out a few chords and she started improvising poetry......it was instant art from a future No Wave star!

Cole preparing to enter the CBGB restroom.

In early 77, after I'd been living in NY a few weeks, I walked into CBGB and Lydia was sitting at the bar with a guy I'd never seen before.  I said hello and she said, "This is James, my new sax player."  It was, of course, James Chance...he played in Teenage Jesus for a while, but it wasn't long before he started the Contortions. (What an amazing band...saw them live a few times and they were phenomenal.) Funny, but that night he was real quiet, he said hello and that was about it.  I was telling Lydia that my job at PUNK Magazine was not proving to be too lucrative, and that I needed to find a more solid gig. She told me to go to Colony Records, on Broadway in Times Square. She said a couple of her pals worked there and she was sure I could get hired.  So I went there the next day, and she was right. I ended up working there full-time for 4 years. Good old Lydia !!!!!

BTC-Do you have any recollections of any really interesting New York groups that never did get the fame 'n fortune they deserved, perhaps because they didn't fit into anybody's idea of what "New York Rock" was supposed to be?

CS- don't think any of the really great bands had much success, at least in a "fame and fortune" sense. It took decades for the Ramones to be recognized and appreciated, but were they ever really hugely successful?

The finest band was Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and I base that almost solely on their Blank Generation album. He was a great songwriter and the band was just killer: Marc Bell on drums and the guitar genius of Bob Quine and Ivan Julian. Just brilliant, break-neck stuff.

There is one band that never recorded, and only played a few gigs...Jack Ruby.  If I hadn't worked with Chris Gray and George Scott at Colony Records, I most likely would never have known about their trio. Chris was the guitarist and mastermind; he actually taught George how to play bass. Chris's songs were just a framework for the real meat of Jack Ruby: the whirlwind sonic assaults of his guitar. It was the the most astounding free-form rock I had ever heard up to that time. This was before the No Wave bands hit. Chris told me once, "Most rock bands play it safe...everything is in time and in tune. I want to play as out of time and as out of tune as I possibly can."  But it wasn't just noise; he was an excellent player. Lydia knew Chris and George, and mentions Jack Ruby in Byron Coley's book on No Wave.

George Scott played in 8-Eyed Spy, and later with John Cale.  Chris Gray just kinda disappeared...

(Cole was unaware that there was a Jack Ruby CD [now download] available and flipped out when I told him about not only that but a planned album featuring even more material. He's in the process of tracking it down and seems like a very happy camper over the knowledge that the band is not forgotten.)

BTC-Anyway, what was it like working for the guys at PUNK mag?

CS-To tell you how I came to work at Punk Magazine, I need to back up a bit. In November 1975 I was living in San Diego. I got the 1st Patti Smith album when it came out that month, and I really got into it. In January or Feb of '76, the PS Group played 2 nights at the student union of USD...I went both nights, and they were incredibly good. It was a small room with no stage, and I was right up front. Lenny Kaye and the band just knocked me out. John Cale was there, and played bass on the encore, which was "My Generation."


I went back to Rochester a month or so later, and in July '76 I went to the big comic collectors convention in Manhattan. I was helping a dealer pal of mine, Dave Belmont, who was set up there. Lydia was there with her cousins Jim and Tony of Empire Comics (I had met them through Dave a few years earlier).  I met Lenny Kaye there, and he was a super-nice guy. We talked for several minutes, and I told him I thought the PSG played with a jazz-like flow. He said, "Well, we do play jazz-rock. Not that fusion crap that they call jazz-rock......"



And I met John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil at that con. I was already a subscriber to PUNK, so I knew who they were. We hung out a bit, and two or three months later I got a letter from Holmstrom offering me a job as a production assistant. So at the very beginning of Dec '76 I moved to NY and started working there. The Punk Dump (that's what they called it) was on 10th Ave in a really shaky, desolate area. I did everything from running errands, to inking the penciled pages. I also contributed some short record reviews.  It was a really loose, sometimes chaotic atmosphere, but fun. A lot of people came by; within my first month I met Lester Bangs there, Danny Fields, Marc Bell, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, among others.



The first issue I worked on was the Sex Pistols cover. Mary Harron had interviewed Rotten over in England. We were the first American publication to run an interview with him.  Holmstrom was trying to come up with a title for the piece, I said "How about....Johnny Rotten - To the Core"  as it was the first thing that popped into my mind. To my surprise, he liked it and that's how he ran it.

BTC-Hey, you have any interesting stories regarding Danny Fields?

CS-Sorry, but I really can't think of anything. Fields was around the Dump and CBGB a lot but I can't remember anything specific other than he was, at that time, an editor at 16 Magazine which seemed really odd to me, that this guy who managed the Stooges, and then Ramones, would have a day job at a mag aimed at teenage girls. He was pretty friendly, but mainly with Holmstrom and Legs.

BTC-Well then, how about Marc Bell?

CS-Sorry, but all I recall about Marc Bell was meeting him at the Punk Christmas party in 76.  Met a lot of people there but no real details I can give you.

The coolest thing that happened then involved Stein and Debbie Harry. It took place over New Years Eve, 76/77......and I can only give it to you in sections that live in my memory because it was a long and wild night!  It started around 6 or 7 PM...I was in the Dump with John and Legs, finishing work. Guess none of us  had any plans for that night, so we left and maybe got some dinner. I then recall we ran into Debbie and Chris on the street. Don't remember exactly where, except that it wasn't near the Dump. They reminded us that they were playing that night in Central Park, and they were gonna get us in for free, but the show was still three or four hours away so we arranged to see them there later.

Then at some point we landed at a loft party that John or Legs knew about...the thing that sticks in my mind is that John didn't like whatever LP was on the turntable. He sees the first Ramones (album) and puts that on the turntable instead. Don't forget, on Dec 31, 1976 that was the only Ramones LP that existed. Well, we're digging the sounds when all of a sudden this woman, who looked like a throwback to the Fifties, like a fifties JD with a beehive hairdo, this woman starts freaking out. "Who put this shit on???? I'm not listening to this shit in my house !!!!!!"  She was really mad and yelling, and she took it off the turntable. So we left. Now a few months later I'm working at Colony when this same woman walks in with Willy DeVille. His band Mink DeVille had an LP on Capitol, and it was 50ish, pre-Beatles rock & roll.  The woman, whose name I forgot, was his wife !!! So then I understood why she hated the Ramones so much.

Around 11 PM we got to Central Park and there was a stage, and like a trailer where the sound guys were. I recall being in there.  Then we got let up on the stage, and we sat off to the left of the band so the audience couldn't see us but we had the greatest view of Blondie. There were these machines like cannons that were blasting heat onto the stage because it was New Years Eve and it was cold out !! The only thing I remember about the show is that they did the theme song from Goldfinger, and Debbie sounded great on it! And at one point, she asked Legs to come out onto the stage. Now he was smashed drunk, and he grabbed me in a headlock and pulled me out like that in front of the band, then ran back without saying anything, leaving me there, so I grabbed the mic and said something like,  "Come on folks, let's hear it for Legs, let's get him back out here."

And that's all I can recall of how I rang in 1977!!!

BTC-Haw! Were you writing for any other publications at this time?

CS-To answer your question,  no, I was not. I'd only been in NYC one month at that point.

BTC-But eventually you were contributing to TROUSER PRESS and a few others, weren't you?

CS-Yes, I started contributing to TROUSER PRESS in mid-1977 and that was my main mag, except for a couple of film-related features for a New Jersey paper, THE AQUARIAN and an interview with Greg Prevost (done backstage at a Kings gig in NYC) that saw print in JD King's STOP! Magazine.
Cole in a pensive mood.

BTC-Any interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits of information you can tell us about TROUSER PRESS that won't get you sued or anything?

CS-Not really. It was a really cool office, just two rooms, and a very relaxed atmosphere. Ira Robbins and Dave Schulps were both really good guys, and it was a pleasure to work with them.

BTC-I gotta admit that I'm not too familiar with your work for TROUSER PRESS, so what articles and reviews for that mag were credited to you?

CS-I've already mentioned some of them: the reviews of Foreigner and the first Devo album. I also reviewed BUY THE CONTORTIONS, their great first LP.  Did two features that I can recall: an interview with Captain Beefheart, and one with Gerald V Casale, for their Devo cover issue.  Some of the lesser stuff I have forgotten, and my TROUSER PRESS issues are buried away now.

BTC-How long did the TROUSER PRESS gig last anyway?

CS-Well, without going to their website and checking for sure, I'd say I wrote for them two to three years......and it was all free-lance, of course.

BTC-Were you still writing in to the eighties by any chance?

CS-Maybe into the very early eighties, but I'd say by 1982 I had stopped. Not sure why, really.

Oh, the interview I did with Greg Prevost for STOP! was done in '83, I'm almost positive. That was the last thing I had published in New York.   In the late eighties or early nineties I had two features on jazz published in THE ROCHESTER TIMES-UNION, a Gannett newspaper. One was an interview with McCoy Tyner!  I got that because I knew a T-U writer named Steve Dollar, he passed it to me because he said he didn't know anything about jazz.  Now he's writing for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
.

BTC-So like, what have you been doing in the past thirty or so years anyway???

CS-The past 30 years?  Whew...starting in '85, I worked at the Record Archive for twelve years. Worked alongside Vic Tabinsky, who was the Chesterfield Kings road manager.  Edited two issues of the RAG (Rec Arc Gleaner) with crack art direction by Beth Brown.


For the past fourteen years, I have been a "doorman"  in a hi-rise apartment building.........forty hours in 3.5 days, a pretty good gig and not as easy as it sounds. I'm the only worker there on the weekends, and a lotta  crazy stuff happens that I gotta handle.



Basically, I try to relax when I get the chance. Rochester is low-key but is a nice, friendly town. The coolest thing here is the George Eastman House, which has one of the world's greatest film archives. I have been going there since the early Sixties, when I was kid. Have seen a ton of rare films there,Lon Chaney silents, obscure film noirs... Just hundreds, in the decades before cable and DVDs, when it was hard to see old movies!  But if you live here, it's just a short drive!



Also have been a longtime collector, and occasional dealer, of vintage comics and paperbacks (pre-1960, man!) and pulp magazines. Have a killer collection of authentic Hollywood star portraits and scene stills, many of them on the rare side.



So I manage to stay quite busy, and even have some fun now and then.........like doing this interview, which has been a real blast!  Thanks, Chris.

BTC-Gawrsh!



7 comments:

Anonymous said...


This is GREAT stuff!

Christopher Stigliano said...

Dunno if you're spam or not, but I'm so hard up to get any feedback (+ or -) on this blog I'll print just about anything!

Anonymous said...

I'm a real life human being, honest. The Jack Ruby digression was particularly fascinating. If you ever manage to track down any of the former members for an interview... well, that would be something to behold!

Christopher Stigliano said...

I should have known you weren't spam since you didn't include a plug for some canine foreskin retraction blog with your comment!

Anonymous said...

I meant to say - if you ever wangle a Jack Ruby interview, I would simply LOVE to run it on my canine foreskin retraction blog.

Anonymous said...

Err, this is an AWESOME interview!! I throw bullshit around with Cole all the time as I live in the building where he works. As a mere coincidence, I also know of all of what he's talking about here. My cousins (who were all 10+ years older) were very much into the New Wave music scene, and got me into it as well. My cousin Tim Zeppieri was the drummer for a local band - New Johnny 5. They were from New London and had a couple of singles that were fairly successful - "Push To Shove" and "Listen To My Rhythm" - an EP and an album. As a result, they were chosen as an opening act for many of the bigger acts coming through the area.. It's a long story -- not so complicated -- just that as a kid I thought it was cool digging through their (Tim and his two brothers, Fred and Thom) record collections (which included Bowie/Roxy Music/B-52's/Buzzcocks/X-Ray Spex/etc.. between the three of them they had it all) and making mix tapes whenever I got the chance while visiting. It hasn't stopped since 1980. I don't want to go on and on here - but yes, they also had magazines.. and NJ5 was mentioned once in the local music half-page blurb. I was hooked, and picked it up whenever I saw it, subscribed for a year or two.. and a very long list of stories and shows going on and on.. All very good stuff mentioned here!! Thanks! John Chrissos, Rochester, New York (born and raised - Enfield, CT)

Dennis Kelley said...

I knew Cole Springer at the University of Miami, and later when he lived in NYC. He played me DEVO's first self-produced 45 (with headphones, bless 'im) - would love to hear from him! Contact me through Facebook - I'm now in Cranford, NJ, running DK Studio.