Saturday, February 20, 2010


Back in the early-nineties when I was (more-or-less) in touch with noted Max's Kansas City "musical director" Peter Crowley, the noted entrepreneur casually mentioned to me the unadulterated FACT that out of all the acts that played his famous dive during his 1975-1981 stay the one that he was most proud of booking was blues vocalist Victoria Spivey. I clearly remember Crowley regaling me with the story behind getting her into Max's and how she was pleased as punch to play there because despite being considered a leader in the "country blues" field she was strangely enough having trouble getting gigs. Ironically, Spivey's June '76 appearance was probably one of if not her last performance since the "Queen of the Blues" wouldn't even make it out of the Bicentennial Year alive, dying of a cerebral hemorrhage a good three-and-a-half-months later.

Now I must admit that at the time I was told this such a revelation really didn't hit me that hard up the noggin. Y'see, for some maybe not-so-hidden reason or another I had developed what some might call a relatively neutral opinion regarding the blues, perhaps due to the over-rambunctious handling of the genre by whites who discovered it via the Rolling Stones and suddenly thought they knew all about it hook line and plagiarism. Maybe the memories of hippies churning out fuzzed-out powerchords to Willie Dixon numbers just didn't settle too well with my constitution. But it's not like I disavowed the genre...I remember once watching a film of the James Cotton Blues Band (which believe-it-or-not was being aired between the afternoon classroom instructional programming on PBS and the SESAME STREET/MISTER ROGERS block!) that I thought was "cool", but that was obviously an anomaly since what do doofus kidz know anyway. Overall, my opinion of the blues was similar to those I had about early country music and's there and if people like it wunderbar, but this stuff just doesn't ZONE me the way the Velvet Underground or a good portion of the acts that were playing Max's at the time would, had I the opportunity to hear 'em that is.

Now (in order to stave off any vicious attacks from the blues purists amongst you readers), I must admit that I do own a couple Howlin' Wolf recordings that get the spin every-so-often when they float to the top of the pile and that I have enjoyed a wide variety of bluesy white groups from 15-60-75 on up (and although I am not as well versed in Bo Diddley as I'm sure many of you are I am willing to learn!). Heck I even dug all of those blues tracks that Bill Shute sent me back in '83 that were recorded in the rear of Joe Van Battles' body shop back in the late-forties so it's not like I'm 100% blues-handicapped. But for the most part the blues are just about as alien to me as I'm sure personal hygiene is to many of your regular readers, and actually going out and absorbing the stuff seems like just a bug hunkerin' waste o' time that could be put to better use like hunting down each and every rock & roll fanzine of pure carnal energy released between 1967 and 1976. As they say, that's my problem.

Well, perhaps I'd better do some realigning w/regards to my listening parameters if only to broaden my horizons since I don't know how many more of these sixties/seventies hard-edged outta-nowhere rockism recordings I'm going to have the luck to latch onto before I vamoose outta here. And what a better place to (re)acquaint myself with da blooze'n with the very platter that was released via Smithsonian Folkways and not Victoria Spivey's very own Spivey label, recorded right around the time she made her grand Max's debut and probably represents just exactly what the woman was laying down on that famous stage that held quite a bit of hot raw talent along with the dudsters who continue to pollute the "classic rock" genre with their paens to middling sameness.

It sure is a credit to the audience at Max's that they gave Spivey the same rousing roar of approval that they gave the Ramones, for THE BLUES IS LIFE contains primitive blues of a "country" variety, played like it was back when Spivey was just starting to crank out the 78s for labels like Okeh and Vocalion a good eightysome years back. Done in that Authentic Style t' say the least (so authentic you'd think that each album would come with a swig of White Lightning [pardon that unabashed Dave Marsh-ian comment]), this does bear the fact that it was recorded in a state-of-the-art (I assume) studio and in the jaded seventies t'boot.

Don't let that scare you off...Spivey sounds as young as ever as she strums her ukulele to a steady drum accompaniment (hmmm, an interesting combination for you budding alternative rockers huh?) with occasional rollicking piano and kazoos tossed in here and there to add a little spice to the proceedings. If by some chance you think this stuff is "monotonous" then you're an even bigger jerk than I believed you to be in the first place! True, a number of these blues have the exact same chord patterns/changes to the point where you might be under the delusion that the Cee-Dee box is set on "replay", but then again if you think these songs "all sound the same" then you could probably say the same about the Ramones and Amon Duul I. A big "SO WHAT!" to you and yours for that!

Not only that, but Spivey sure had a way with words singing about everything from hangovers, getting whooped by yer lover 'til the welts show and cooking "sissages", and let's face it you loved it when Petti Smith and Janis Joplin were doing Bessie Smith and here's more of the real deal 'stead of some homelies to give you the blues taste!

Take it from this decidedly non-blues fan, this is the ritz and a nice breather from listening to Can day in and day out. A rollicking winner outta nowhere that thankfully is easy enough to purchase with the touch of the correct keys on your computer...all you have to do is go to Smithsonian Folkways to latch onto a copy for yourself, which I assume some of you "more astute" readers are doing as we speak, right???.

While you're going online to order the Spivey disc you might also wanna give these two croakers a go. Remember back in '81when Lester Bangs did that "Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise" article for THE VILLAGE VOICE? I sure do, since that particular piece was being talked about in my "circle" for a good day or two afterwords and why wouldn't it be since Lester was pretty much laying it down on the line about the noisier sounds to come outta the rock idiom (and only a few short months before he was to leave the planet for an indefinite period of time)! Looking back I gotta admit that this article was one of the better ones Bangs wrote during his post-CREEM days amidst many that certainly don't hold up that well, and along with the mentions of such noise-laden offerings as the Stooges' FUNHOUSE and Blue Cheer's VINCEBUS ERUPTUM Bangs name-dropped a pair of albums that seemed so bizarre in origin that I'm sure many people considered them to be about as real as SNOWFLAKES FALLING ON THE INTERNATIONAL DATELINE. (In fact, the rumors of these albums being just another Bangs leg-yank continues to this very day re. one of the comments left on THE HOUND BLOG last autumn---check the Hound's boffo Bangs post for more info!) THE SOUNDS OF THE JUNKYARD was one of the platters in question that promised nothing but atonal scronk splendor and guess what, Bangs was not lying to us like we thought because not only did that record exist in 1964 but it exists again thanks to the magic of reissuing!

Well, I guess that if METAL MACHINE MUSIC could get re-released on CD this noise monster could as well! Thrill to such tracks as "Acetylene Torch" and "Steel Saw Cutting" then come to the realization that the real abstract geniuses in the avant garde weren't those post-Cage "new music" types working in universities but yer Uncle Ed down at the scrapyard operating the shearing machine! For fans of Industrial Music, John Cage, and alla those kids who used to get mesmerized by the sound of the washing maching churning away. Maybe he should get a government grant instead of those hate-filled effetes putting down all we hold near and dear, but then again you know that Unc'd only spend it all on bowling shoes anyway.

If you want more everyday thrills it would be smartsville to also latch onto STREET AND GANGLAND RHYTHMS, a '59 vintage release featuring "Beats and Improvisations by Six Boys in Trouble" who entertain and enthrall you with their rhythmic bongo drum and "sticks" playing. All of which underscores these kids' songs and recitations dealing with their sleazy slum existence and budding delinquency natch! The general mood of this platter kinda reminds me of that down and dank depressing style of En Why See art and emote that seemed to spring up around that time which was embedded into a whole lotta episodes of JOHNNY STACCATO (maybe even the original SHADOWS) and Shirley Clarke films, with the bad boys performing everything from "Bo Diddley" while telling us sheltered souls of street crime horror and cop dodging as the bongo beats get faster and the pace even more frantic.

Now, on one level I kinda get the feeling that these ghetto youth just might be playing "compiler" E. Richard Sorenson for a fool in order to build up some more of that ever-ragin' white guilt, but since this was '59 I don't think the kids were that "wizened" about such things yet. But we all know that fifty years later they would have been signed to some major label in a flash which sure says a lot about how far street cred'll getcha these days! But whaddeva, I must admit that these pre-pube kids really could grip me with their frightening and realistic street sagas a whole lot more than any rapper could and besides, they really know how to whip up a pulsating beat! Assuage your personal shame and sorrow the classy way with this recorded live as it happened bonanza!


Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

I remember reading about the "Street and Gangland Rhythms" in a book or article by David Toop, and maybe "The Sounds of the Junkyard" also. That "Gangland" cover looks like it could also be a Pere Ubu cover (David Thomas and Six Pale Boys in Trouble...). Did you know that they (Pere Ubu, not the Six Now-Senior Citizens who May or May Not be in Trouble) are doing a concert at the Beachland Ballroom where they play the "Modern Dance" album in its entirety. It will be like the old Pirate's Cove days, except without Peter getting drunk and pulling a gun out of his back pocket...

Barry said...

I'd like to hear that Gangland lp too; you know those kids did their fighting with their hands and not with some sissy "drive-by"; sounds alot like the JD doc short ASK ME, DON'T TELL's on youtube and well worth a look.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your comments about the lovely lady Spivey. I stumbled across her 'Blues is Life' album and thought it was just charming, and the simplicity of the ukulele and rhythm makes it all the more beautiful.

herana said...

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