Make America What, Again?

“No fun, my babe, no fun. No fun to hang around. Feelin’ that same old way. No fun to hang around. Freaked out for another day.” 

By Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, and Iggy (Stooge) Pop, from the song, “No Fun” on The Stooges first (eponymous) album, released in 1969.

Happy 2017. Really. My excitement for a “new beginning” overwhelms me. Whoopee. Happy days are here again. (yawns pessimistically) But of course, we must make America great again, right? We will do this while we make America straight again, make America fake again, make America gray…and make Americans afraid again.

But this time the fear is not from without; it is from within. Well, far be it from me to swallow up or destroy… the party. After all, it’s my party (no, it’s not), but I fear all tomorrow’s parties. Now if you close the door I never have to go to parties again. I am peaceable and faithful to the “new King”, for I am scared shitless of him. Now let me be clear that when I use the term “party” I am not thinking of a political party (lies, lies, lies). I am thinking about the kind of party where cake is served. You know, let ‘em eat cake? Ummmmm, boy!

So, readers may ask, “Popeswami, where are you going with this?”  I am going nowhere. I am nowhere, man. Can’t you see? Perhaps you should tell me what you see. I will hold out hope that you see something different. But I can see for miles and miles and miles, yet all I can see is a river of shit. And I’m getting tired of it. But enough of the cheap efforts to be clever, using snippets of songs or song titles to make a point. There is no point. Pretty dull, eh? Well, happy 2017, anyway.

Seriously, America enters 2017 with more uncertainty than ever. It is difficult to remain optimistic, but I will attempt to continue to be a Ray of light and spread any joy I can muster. So, let’s talk about music! Hell, I quoted enough lyrics and esoteric Biblical references above!

Isabel Baker – I Like God’s Style

Speaking of the Bible, let me start out with what may be the earliest American Christian rock album ever recorded, Isabel Baker’s “I Like God’s Style”. This LP (in the form of a limited issue pressing on Harkit Records in 2015) was one of my prize acquisitions of 2016. While parts of this album sound like music from a Jimmy Swaggart revival, there are excellent examples of garage-rockabilly stylings coupled with down-home, real people singing and songwriting. All songs on the album were written by the mysterious teenager, Isabel Baker, who also sings and plays rhythm guitar. Not much is known about her. The liner notes, written by a certain Naomi E. Fieldstad, reveal that she was 16 years old when she recorded the album. Her father was an evangelist named George Baker. Besides Ms. Baker, the album includes Joe Utterback on piano (adding revival tent flourishes on the ivories that would make Jimmy Swaggart proud), Bob Garvey on lead guitar, Don Nunn on bass, and Jim Kincaid on drums. Per album notes, the original album was recorded in two days, on June 18th and 19th, 1965, in Wichita, Kansas. It was issued on the Kansas-based Romco Records label, with only 100 to 500 being pressed. They were primarily sold at her father’s church and prayer gatherings as they traveled the West and Midwest. It was produced by her father’s organization “The Challenge of Calvary Ministry, Inc.,” headquartered in Garden Grove, California. The front cover shows Isabel with her Fender Jaguar guitar. Upon hearing, it is obvious that Isabel has no formal music or vocal training. An insert in the reissue package says that Joe Utterback, who provided some recollections of the recording event, later became an annual performer for the Tony Awards gala reception and has recorded several solo jazz piano albums. On the other hand, efforts to track down Isabel Baker over the years have proven futile. People have posted several songs from this album on YouTube. Here is the title track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbXz2Z5_WN0

 Michael Angelo – Michael Angelo

Another acquisition this past year was the self-titled LP by Michael Angelo. His album was issued in 1977, on the Guinn label from Kansas City, Missouri, in a limited pressing of 500. Michael Angelo Nigro was a studio musician at the Liberty Recording studio in Kansas City at the time. Late at night and at other times when the studio was not being used, he would record the songs that would become this album. Liberty was not interested in issuing it, so he did the final mastering at Big-K Studios, a smaller studio in Kansas City, that issued it on the Guinn Records label. All vocals and instruments except drums were performed by Michael Angelo; all songs were written by him. Drums were provided by Frank Gautieri. The master acetate was destroyed shortly after the album was released and the record company went out of business. Original pressings sometimes go for over a grand. There were a couple reissues in the late 90s and early 00s using the needle-drop method with lots of Cedar noise reduction, which literally ruined the sound and ambiance of the album. A South Korean label, Big Pink/Beatball, issued a CD taken from one of these reissues and should be avoided. When I communicated with Michael in 2010 he was not aware of the Beatball release. Fortunately, a pristine original Guinn LP was located and provided for an excellent reissue by Anthology/Mexican Summer in 2015, with full permission of Michael Angelo Nigro. This release was also limited to 300 copies and includes an accompanying 7” record with three songs, one of which did not appear on the LP. Later in 2015, Lion Productions issued a double CD, again with full authorization of the artist, which includes both this album and a never-officially released second LP, “A Sorcerer’s Dream,” plus a third LP, “Nuts”, which was released under the name Michael Nitro. This double-CD release of the three LPs was made possible with the assistance of the late Patrick (The Lama) Lundborg (Acid Archives editor and author of the book, Psychedelia), Aaron Milenski (contributor to The Acid Archives book), Mike Stax (Ugly Things magazine), and Vincent Tornatore (Lion Productions).

So, how does it sound? It sounds both retro and ahead of its time all at once. Keep in mind this was recorded and issued in 1977. It did not fit that period, musically, hence it went nowhere. Besides, it was very limited in its exposure with such a small pressing.  There is a Paul McCartney influence both in voice and melodicism. Perhaps this is an indirect influence, since he sounds even closer to Emitt Rhodes, who himself, was influenced by The Beatles, and McCartney in particular. However, that is where the similarity ends. Michael Angelo’s songs are more “dreamy” with references to Greek mythology and a darker, romantic, and even suicidal longing. There are flashes of the late 60s Los Angeles sound but then there are new innovations overlapping Middle Eastern scales with 60s Donovan-like psychedelia coupled with an aggressive guitar, pointing to a newer sound from which perhaps Big Star and REM in the 80s and My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and other shoegaze bands in the early 90s took their cues. Yet, the album is significantly an understatement through-and-through; beautiful, but not flamboyant, leaving a sense of longing for some form of resolution. His second album, “A Sorcerer’s Dream,” sounds like an extension of the first. His Michael Nitro album is a bit more aggressive but it certainly has his trademark sound and songwriting style. Here is “Future,” the closing track from his first album:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwnNML4uyy0

Mistress Mary – Housewife

A few years ago, I watched a cache of original copies of this LP in sealed, mint condition go for nearly a half a grand each at various online auction houses. In the meantime, Companion Records had been promising for years to obtain permission to re-release it, making it more accessible to those of us who were curious to hear what all the fuss was about. My waiting paid off. In 2016, Companion Records released the LP, along with a digital download of the album with three bonus unreleased tracks. The original album was issued on the Afton Co. Records label, from Hacienda Heights, California, in 1969. Note that Mistress Mary’s real name is Mary Afton. It is rumored that Roger McGuinn and other members of The Byrds are the backup band on the tracks “And I Didn’t Want You” and “My Country Boy”. We now know that the 5-day session was conducted at Darrel Cotton’s Ion Studio, and the session was led by Cotton and steel guitarist Carl Walden. Also, one Byrds alumni is identified as Clarence White. Early rockabilly artist, Johnny Redd, also participated in the sessions. It is said that Mary was dissatisfied with The Byrds’ treatment of her songs, making them sound more rock than country. While her singing isn’t on the level of the leading country singers of her day, it isn’t bad at all. And, her songwriting, while a bit quirky and definitely unique, is solid. Being from Southern California, her singing has a softer touch than most country artists of the era. Mistress Mary – Housewife rides the picket fence line between a real people vanity recording and a commercially viable country sound. The back cover shows her being a true “Los Angeles housewife,” sporting a black negligée while mopping the floor and preparing a meal.  The liner notes are hand-written, and Mary describes herself as “Wife – Mother – Civic Leader – etc. – Artiste,” and she refers to “the more intelligent and perceptive of her in-laws.” This should give an idea of what her lyrics are like. The original pressing was only 500 copies, with about 50 of these going to key people in the music industry, including Elvis Presley. Mary Afton’s efforts to break into the country charts were met with little interest. So, after a couple years with no “bites” she moved on to other interests, including auto mechanics instructor for women, female self-defense instructor, belly dance instructor, and disco dance instructor. She continues to live in Southern California, and she loves throwing huge pool parties for hundreds of people at a time in her back yard. Here is “And I Didn’t Want You” from her LP:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Dnd94lsrBs

Palmer Rockey – Scarlet Love/Rockey’s Style

In the “anals” of recorded music, the Palmer Rockey story is one of the most amazing and incredulous. I was amazed, and quite pleased to find that Trunk Records located a mint copy of the first version of this album, Scarlet Love, and re-issued it on both LP and CD in 2013 (but using the third release, Rockey’s Style, title). I purchased the CD version soon after it was issued. This past year I was very fortunate that the Mr. Weird and Wacky blogsite had the other music version for download, and it is a crisp, clear copy. The original pressings of this album were in 1979, 1980, and 1981, all on the AB-Rock Music label. It is unclear how many were pressed, but with the scarcity of originals, it could not have been many. There were three pressings but as far as I can tell, only two variants of the music. The first version is what was re-released on the Trunk label in 2013. This version has two songs that do not appear on the other two versions, “Sunday Love” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. The second and third versions are musically the same but the second retains the “Scarlet Love” album title while the third release is retitled “Rockey’s Style” and both have slightly different sleeves. The latter two versions have a slightly different mix of some of the songs that appear on all three versions, and have two songs that do not appear on the first release, “Love, Love Rock” and “Love Is Deep Inside,” and one song title was changed from “Rock It Nice N’ Easy” to “Rock It”. There are three variants of the sleeves but none of them match the songs and sequencing on the first release. And to further the confusion, the album sleeves provided no guarantee which version of the LP would be found inside.

The music is what would be considered Twilight Zone crooner lounge, with some lounge rock thrown in for good measure. Little is known about the sessions. According to liner notes on the CD, it is rumored that the recording “sessions were fraught with tension and madness.” The session musicians are professional. Palmer Rockey’s singing is not. It is obvious his voice is untrained, but he tries to sound hip, sometimes attempting to imitate Elvis, and at other times attempting to sound like classic crooners such as Dean Martin. His singing is unique and some lyrics sound like they are improvised. All songs were written by Palmer Rockey. The songwriting is fair to good musically, but corny and weak lyrically. Sometimes the lyrics are just weird, meaning it is right down my alley! One song, “Rock It,” sounds like it was designed to be used in aerobics classes. We don’t know if Palmer Rockey played any of the instruments during the session, but my bet is that he didn’t, otherwise he would have stated it on the album cover.

The album is supposed to be a soundtrack to his second movie, “Scarlet Love.” It is suggested that this movie evolved from his first, “It Happened on Sunday,” also titled in some sources “It Happened One Weekend,” from 1974. He was working on edits to the second movie for years, even after the last release of the LP. On his Lysergia Website, the late Patrick Lundborg provided many hilarious and interesting details about the making of the movie. It seems Mr. Rockey swindled many wealthy, elderly Dallas, Texas women to obtain the money for his endeavors. He maintained a post office box where he was known to read “mail from Hollywood” out loud for those passing by. When approached in the 90s about the album and movie, he informed the inquirer to never contact him about this again. He passed away in 1996. He was married to Mary Ann “Cookie” Carson in 1968 when she was just 21 and he was 47. They were divorced in 1977, prior to the release of the movie and soundtrack. Cookie Ann Rockey recently wrote a book about her life with him, “The Rock: The Life and Crimes of Palmer Rockey.” Here is the song “Scarlet Warning” from the LP:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdsJ1greKh8

Frunk – If at First…

Another rarity that sells for a grand today is an album that could possibly be the first karaoke album ever produced. It contains the music of five young women in their 20s singing along to some popular songs of their era. It was recorded in the private studio (Vampire Studio, Haddonfield, NJ) of Peter Graulich, who was the brother-in-law to one of the singers.  It was pressed in a limited quantity of 25 on the RPC label. This would have been beyond all possibility of being heard let alone being owned by this Popeswami if it had not been for Peter Graulich discovering that he had 8 original Frunk LPs stashed away. He came to my attention when I saw him selling them on eBay for around $600 each. He used the funds to reissue the LP, again in limited quantity. It is one of these re-pressings that I was able to obtain. In his own words, here is how the recording came about:

“The album was released in the Summer of 1972. There are 8 copies available and we believe the initial pressing was 25 records, not 100. We have also located the original Master as received from Frankford-Wayne Recording Labs at 212 N. 12th St. in Philadelphia PA. I have also located the original master tape on which I recorded all of the sessions, then mixed them down via a TEAC 4 channel mixer, to the final set. The record was recorded on a Teac 3340 10 1/2″ reel 4 track recorder. The tape is exactly as it was when it was delivered to the pressing company. If you would like details of how the record was created and the group formed: Back in 1971 I was just getting into serious electronics and high end audio was my current compulsion. I was living in Haddonfield and I build a recording studio in my basement. One day my sister in law and her friends were visiting and I was playing “500 miles”, Peter, Paul & Mary in the studio and they came in and started singing. It sounded interesting, so I suggested we record. Over the next few weeks we recorded many takes on my Teac 3340 4 channel recorder. As there was no karaoke in those days, I dubbed the girls voices over the original music from the turntable. Eventually we got “acceptable” material. I mixed it all down and created a 10” reel with the master on it (which I still have) and took it to Frankfort Recording Labs and had 25 copies made. We created covers, pasted them up and poof! We had a record. I gave the girls each a 3 copies and asked if they could sell them (for $5 each to help off set the cost of the project. I think my Mom bought the only copy sold, but I felt sorry for her and gave her a refund)…”

The five singers were Dee Graulich, Mary Anderson, Kathleen Anderson, Mary Anna Baptiste, and Terry Wadlinger. Peter Graulich was audio engineer and producer. Larry Viarengo was responsible for the cover design. The music sounds a bit eerie to me, hearing the original music with different singers. But there are a few giveaways such as hearing Paul Simon singing in the background on “El Condor Pasa”. Their singing is not always synchronized with the recording, but it really was never intended to be a commercial release. It was definitely for themselves, their friends and family. Here is Frunk singing along with Karen Carpenter on “Close to You”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXMHSJjUrDY

In Closing

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I did not discuss any local outings in this post. But believe me, I have been seeing some great stuff in San Diego. I will write about it later. This will be my final post before the presidential inebriation. In the meantime, stay safe and warm.

Moon in June

20160620_070112921_iOS“On a dilemma between what I need and what I just want…

… She sees you in her place, just as if it’s a race

And you’re winning, and you’re winning

She just can’t understand that for me everything’s just beginning…

… So before this feeling dies, remember how distance tells us lies”

By Robert Wyatt, “Moon in June” from the Soft Machine LP “Third”, 1970

Is there really anything that is truly merely coincidence? This month is June, 2016. And earlier this week we experienced something that had not occurred since the Summer of Love, 1967: the full moon appearing on the northern hemisphere’s Summer solstice. And I awoke the morning after with Soft Machine’s, “Moon in June”, becoming that day’s earworm. This 19-minute song has reverberated in my mind since the night before Thanksgiving, 1971, when it ran constantly in my head while tripping at a party. And it has been quite relevant “in my life now and then”; or now as well as then. It is a strange thing, this interplay between self and sound. And we can learn from these experiences. Perhaps earworms provide a means for our subconscious to elucidate something that we need to learn. After all, if we look around us we can see that everything and everyone are potential teachers – people, animals, plants (especially plants), inanimate objects, chemicals, coacervate molecules, music, aleatoric sounds, time, space, dreams, free range thoughts.

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Now, I am not going to expound upon “Moon In June” although it is tempting to do so. It is not the only song that has grabbed my attention during an altered state, or has become an earworm.

There have been evenings,

and a few days,

where somehow

out of the bewildering haze,

I associated altered moments

with specific waves,

of songs,

whether it be “Do You Believe in Magic” by The Lovin’ Spoonful, “The Rain, The Park, and Everything” by The Cowsills, “Dark Star” by The Grateful Dead, the Quicksilver Messenger Service album “Happy Trails,” or even more recently the album “Hello Nasty” by The Beastie Boys. This raises an issue that used to be discussed among my college buddies back in the early 70s:

“What is psychedelic music?”

The late Paul Kantner once said psychedelic music is simply any music listened to while tripping. Although I respect Kantner as an artist and political catalyst, I am not so sure that I agree with his definition. For me, there is music that takes me outside the realm of the time and space packet I exist within (typically called reality), and this is what I would call psychedelic. It is something that takes me out of this reality and into other realities, or non-realities. And the same song may do this on one occasion and not on another, depending upon the ambiance, my approach, and the conditions existing at that moment. So, for me, no one music genre or style is psychedelic but any can be. Yet, there are some compositions that when I hear them, I know they are psychedelic, hands down. It is sort of like the definition of pornography offered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 in Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.”

But that is a personal definition. In the attempt to find a definition that would be workable for anyone, I believe psychedelic music can be described in different categories:

  • Overt psychedelia: this music is either created under the influence of psychedelics, or is an attempt to describe within a musical context the composer’s or performer’s psychedelic experience. A good example of overt psychedelia would be the album, “Electric Music for the Mind and Body” by Country Joe and The Fish, from 1967. The highlight and most exemplary selection from this album would be the song “Bass Strings”, with the lyrics “Just one more trip now, you know I’ll stay high all the time.” What is interesting about this song is that it ends with Country Joe McDonald whispering repeatedly “L-S-D” over very trippy music. This leaves no doubt as to what the band was attempting to convey. Sometimes it is not the words, but the musical sounds that directly convey that what you are hearing is a re-creation of a psychedelic experience, such as in Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive”. These are just two examples, but I am sure the reader can come up with many more.

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  • Discreet or subtle psychedelia: here neither the music nor the lyrics can be interpreted just one way, but one of the ways would be to describe a psychedelic experience. Examples can be found going back as far as 1830 with Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique,” or perhaps even earlier. Berlioz may have been writing to describe his passion for a particular woman, or he could have been describing his experiences under the influence of opiates, or both. In the 1960s, The Byrds recorded “Eight Miles High” which generally describes the band’s first Atlantic flight to and arrival in the United Kingdom to perform for their British fans. Upon its release in 1965 the song was banned by several US radio stations because it sounded like the “trip” described in the song was actually a chemically induced trip. The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” may have been an intentional reference to LSD, or it could simply be what John Lennon said it represented: a drawing by his then four-year-old son, Julian, and tapping into “Alice in Wonderland” imagery. Of course, Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), the author of “Alice in Wonderland,” has often been associated with psychedelics, but there is no indication he ever indulged in any mind-altering substances, while there is evidence that he suffered with a form of epilepsy.

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  • Inferred (or designated) psychedelia: could be considered a cop-out definition, I suppose. Basically it is any music that an individual considers psychedelic. In this sense, Paul Kantner’s definition works, since a person could be listening to anything while tripping and from that point onward associate the composition with a psychedelic experience. I could also apply this to my experience with “Moon In June”. I have found Jim DeRogatis’ book, “Turn On Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock” to be quite an enlightening guide on modern psychedelic rock. At first, I questioned some of his choices, but then I realized that psychedelia “is in the eye of the beholder.” In other ways, I think he limited himself too much, for there are recordings that fall under the genres of classical, country, folk, exotica, and jazz that I consider to have psychedelic elements. In classical, I consider Richard thIBUU3PSYWagner’s “Tannhauser Overture and Venusberg Music” as well as the electronic composition “Time’s Encomium” by Charles Wuorinen, to be very psychedelic. Under country, I would say David Allan Coe’s album, “Requiem for a Harlequin,” is a fine example. In folk, Dylan’s song, “Visions of Johanna,” would qualify as well as Jake Holmes’ “Dazed and Confused.” As for jazz, Herbie Hancock’s album “Sextant” as well as Miles Davis’ “Bitches’ Brew” have psychedelic elements. Ethel Azama’s “Exotic Dreams” LP would be an example of exotic psychedelia. I could cite many more examples in all genres.

 

  • There would also be a category I would call “pseudo-psychedelia”, which masquerades as overt psychedelia but is simply a fake. Pseudo-psychedelic music often has similar characteristics but instead of reflecting an authentic psychedelic The-First-Edition-Just-Dropped-Inexperience, it often overstates sounds and lyrics, since it is not based on real experience. An example, from 1967, would be the song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” written by Mickey Newbury and popularized by The First Edition. Interestingly, Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version of this song prior to the more popular version. While the intention of this song was to describe a scary trip in order to discourage the use of LSD, it ended up being derided as phony and treated as a humorous parody. A sub-category of pseudo-psychedelic music that found its way to the late 60s bargain bins and grocery store check-out stands would be exploito-psychedelic albums such as The Animated Egg’s untitled album from 1967. This recording was created by a collection of studio musicians under the leadership of surf guitar ace, Jerry Cole. In fact, it is suspected that many releases on the Alshire, Somerset, Custom, and related labels with various animatedegg“band” names contained Jerry Cole compositions, and often the same recordings appeared on different albums under different titles, including on albums by The Id, “The Inner Sounds of The Id”; The Generation Gap, “Up Up and Away”; and The Projection Company, “Give Me Some Lovin’.” There are several others. Even Muzak specialists, 101 Strings, got in the game with their album “Astro-Sounds”. None of these supposed bands ever performed anywhere except in the studio to create fake psychedelic music.
  • But in some instances, pseudo-psychedelia can be psychedelic, but not based upon the innate characteristics of the music, but based upon environment and other variables. Those that come to mind include Fire & Ice, Ltd. “The Happening”, from 1966, excerpts of which appear on the 1966 documentary LP “LSD” on Capitol Records. Two more with similar names include The Fire Escape’s LP, “Psychotic Reaction”, and The Firebirds’ LP, “Light My Fire”. The latter has a sister release, “Hair,” by the band, The 31 Flavors but it really sounds like additional music from the th2PMT1QGKsame recording sessions. One of the most humorous of such recordings is from a band named The Unfolding, with an outrageous LP title, “How To Blow Your Mind & Have A Freak-Out Party” complete with printed instructions for your very own freak-out party. The California Poppy Pickers (another outrageous band name) actually released four country rock LPs, all in 1969. While they never performed publicly and were merely a collective of studio musicians, the label hired an actual performing band to record their last album “Honky Tonk Women”. The band was in reality an early Christian rock band, Wilson McKinley, that used the proceeds from this album to fund their Christian music endeavors.

So, to conclude this discussion of psychedelic music, perhaps we should simply leave it to each person to decide the definition that works best for them. Then again, how many really think about such things when they listen to music? Probably a fewer number than those who think about the moon in June.

In Other News

Well now, let me come back from the world of LSD to the present and what I have been seeing in San Diego. The month began with the Art Around Adams 2016 music and art walk. There seemed to be more stages and more artists packed into this one-day event (Saturday, June 4) than I can recall in previous years. I probably saw less than a tenth of the artists performing. But what I did see was very impressive. All were excellent, and all very different.

I started at the Kensington Library Park stage, enjoying the music of singer/songwriter Kimm Rogers, who was accompanied by Beezie Gerber. Many of the songs were from her excellent recent album “Where the Pavement Grows” but some dipped back to her two albums on Island Records from the early 90s, “Soundtrack of My Life” and “Two Sides.” It was a great way to begin the day.

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Kimm Rogers with Beezie Gerber

Next, I moved to the Blindspot Records stage by Smitty’s Garage to see The Elements, a new four-member band started by Bart Mendoza with another familiar face on keyboards, David Fleminger. These guys were tight, and on fire with excellent self-penned modern pop-rock as well as 60s standards. You would think all of them had been playing together for years.

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The Elements

I then paid a visit to Rosie O’Grady’s to hear Zach Cole with Eric Freeman performing some basic country blues with Eric on acoustic guitar and Zachary on blues harp. This reminded me of Tomcat Courtney’s performances I enjoy from time-to-time on Thursdays at Proud Mary’s.

Left photo: Zach Cole with Eric Freeman  Right photo: NST

At the Integrative Health Stage I caught part of the performance by jazz group, NST, reading poetry accompanied by drums, sax and bass. Quite interesting, but it was super-hot with no shade available. So, I moved on to DeMille’s to have lunch, rehydrate, and prepare for harpO, followed by Alvino & The Dwells at the DeMille’s Beer Garden stage. This was the first time seeing harpO, a tight blues-rock band. I would not mind seeing them again. When Alvino & The Dwells plugged-in, they blew the sky open with cosmic surf music that was at once fresh and new, as well as taking me back to the 60s. They always provide a great show.

Left: harpO      Right: Alvino & The Dwells

I then moved back to the Blindspot Records stage to see The Cherry Bluestorms, followed by The Schizophonics, then Jason Hanna and The Bullfighters, and finally Hills Like Elephants. These four bands are so different from one another that it is quite surprising they were performing on the same stage. And yet the audience stayed for most of it. The Cherry Bluestorms were very mod/pop-rock with original tunes, and quite accomplished playing. They piqued my interest enough to pick up their latest CD, “Bad Penny Opera,” which by-the-way, is excellent.

Left: Jason Hanna and The Bullfighters

Top Right: The Cherry Bluestorms   Bottom Right: Hills Like Elephants

Schizophonics were, well, schizoid. My gawd! Guitarist Pat Beers is simply unbelievable to watch. I actually was hoping he had a spare guitar waiting in the wings because I was certain the one he was playing was going to be destroyed when he jumped, fell, sprung-back, and rolled-over, while never missing a note. Wait, were they notes? It was all such a blur. He is explosive! Guitar sounds of Jimi Hendrix, visuals a mix of Pete Townshend and Iggy Pop, and a band sound similar to MC5 from their live “Kick Out the Jams” album. I do want to know if Lety Beers took drum lessons from Mitch Mitchell. Sure sounded like it. I did not catch the bass player’s name but God bless him, he kept up with it all and successfully improvised when Pat experienced audio problems with the equipment. Their performance was the highlight of the day for me.

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Schizophonics

Next came a huge band, Jason Hanna and The Bullfighters; I mean like, a 10-piece unit, including two go-go dancers. We were suddenly transported to 1964 and the reign of the Tijuana Brass on pop radio. With backing sax, trombone, and trumpet plus bass, guitar, drums, marimba, and a lead singer/trumpeter, they went through a repertoire that would make Herb Alpert proud, including the TJB hit, “Spanish Flea”. What a fun bunch!

What followed was modern alternative jangle rock by Hills Like Elephants with expressive lyrics and fine playing – but it was getting late and so I left before the end of their set. It was another great Adams Avenue event put to rest.

Thursday night, June 16, found us at Riviera Supper Club’s Turquoise Room in La Mesa. Performing was Liz Grace and the Swing Thing. That evening the band consisted of Liz Grace on vocals and Jon Garner on guitar. Jon is an excellent jazz player and is always fun to watch – things I never learned to do he can make look so easy. Listening to Liz sing is pure joy as she performed popular songs from the 40s through the 60s. Liz’ other band, Three Chord Justice, does all country, yet she seems comfortable in both genres. I do think she is one of the most versatile and accomplished local singers I’ve heard in San Diego. Later Liz’ husband, Mark Markowitz, stopped in and visited with us as we listened to the band. It was an enjoyable evening.

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Liz Grace and The Swing Thing

On Friday, June 17, I began the weekend at Java Joe’s. Performers that evening included Dave Humphries with Mike Alvarez, followed by Sara Petite, and ending with Jacques Mees. This was an evening of varied styles that seemed to fit nicely side-by-side. With Dave Humphries on guitar and lead vocals, and Mike Alvarez on cello and backing vocals we were treated to a collection of 60s British invasion pop/rock standards as well as recent songs penned by Dave Humphries and The Hollywood Project. I never get tired of his performances.

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Top: Dave Humphries with Mike Alvarez   Middle: Sara Petite   Bottom: Jacques Mees

I had heard a lot about Sara Petite but had never heard her perform. What a pleasant surprise! With a beautiful voice straight out of Nashville, she performed all originals providing stories of personal experiences leading into her songs. I could tell I was witnessing a truly old soul inhabiting a younger body. Sara pulled no punches with her honest and revealing stories. Beautiful.

Jacques Mees’ performance was the highlight of the evening, which is really saying something. Again performing several personally penned songs, as well as tapping into such modern folk venerables as Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Susanna Clark. He is another storyteller who shared his wisdom in song. When it was over I walked back to the car with a contact high.

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Well that does it. If I am to get this out I have to end it here. I do want to dedicate this to jazz singer Shelley Moore, who lost her battle with cancer this week. She was the mother of my good friend, the late Bryna Golden, founding member of goth-psych band Babylonian Tiles. I got to know Shelley through Bryna. She was a warm and giving person, and thanks to Bryna I had the great fortune of seeing her perform in Santa Ana a few times about 10 years ago. R.I.P. Shelley.

 

What Does Love Have To Do With It?

“I think love lyrics have contributed to the general aura of bad mental health in America. Love lyrics create expectations which can never be met in real life, and so the kid who hears these tunes doesn’t realize that that kind of love doesn’t exist. If he goes out looking for it, he’s going to be a kind of love loser all his life…The singer-songwriters who write these lyrics earn their living by pretending to reveal their innermost personal turmoil over the way love has hurt them, which creates a false standard that people use as a guideline on how to behave in interpersonal relationships.”
Frank Zappa, interviewed by John Winokur, 1992

Whether you agree or disagree with Zappa’s take on the love song, you have to admit that love songs have had a significant impact on interpersonal relationships and vice versa, and this has been true probably going back to before the first written lyrics ever existed. Now, let me clarify here. I am talking about, and it is obvious that Zappa was referring to, romantic love.

For the sake of not getting too dense in describing the concept of love, let me just state that we all know there are various types of love; the ancient Greeks divided it into four basic types – Eros, Philia, Storge, and Agape. And to me there seem to be shades and blendings of these types to create a huge quilt of love varieties. Romance falls primarily into the domain of Eros, but there are still so many mixes. Now we could go deeper with distinctions between the noun “love”, and the verb “love”. But, let’s not. Suffice it to say that several concepts can be thrown into the mix involving romantic love for good measure: eroticism, sexuality, sensuality, spirituality, intimacy, physical attraction, truth, Platonism, affection…why don’t I just use a Thesaurus?

I am stating the obvious when I say there are few topics not covered by music and lyrics, but when it comes to selling music as a product in a capitalist society, sex and romance sell the best. Right? They are powerful driving forces in human relationships and people can go from extreme highs to extreme lows when expressing their feelings about them – and this is always great material for the songwriter. But because of the millions of songs about this topic, it would become rather bland to just write about the love song. Rather, I am interested in the more unique observations, stand-out lyrics that reflect real emotions and situations people experience, or the mixing of unlikely ideas with the idea of love. So here are some stand-outs that I have had the pleasure of meeting.

Animal Collective – Applesauce For the past 30 years, music has taken advantage of the video to get a point across, and this music video stands out for me in a quasi-erotic and yet philosophical way. As with many other Animal Collective compositions, lyrics are vague yet clear enough to take them on several different trips. This music video features a silhouette of a woman eating some type of fruit – a peach, maybe, but definitely not an apple – with lyrics that make reference to people going away. The erotic aspect of the video is that she eats the fruit very s-l-o-w-l-y, getting it all over her face. All you see is her face around her mouth and nose along with the disappearing fruit. To me, this perhaps portrays a lover that is leaving; or perhaps that the singer is being consumed by his lover until his own identity disappears. Or could it be that the song is about people dying or otherwise leaving our lives just like rotting or eaten fruit? Could it really be that simple? It is a very thoughtful composition, and lyrically intriguing, but for me, musically, it falls flat without the video. The video is exquisite in my book. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIbtYzjLuMo

Joni Mitchell – A Case of You Few artists are as gifted as Joni Mitchell in writing about real human relationships, usually drawn from her own experiences. Taylor Swift has a long way to go to get to this level. Few love songs have captured passion in such a simplistic way as how Joni does here. The Appalachian dulcimer and solo voice balance the intensity of the lyrics in describing her declarations of ambivalence, surrender, and devotion to her lover. Frank Zappa be damned, this is a hot song! From the Joni Mitchell album, “Blue”. The link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YuaZcylk_o

Gary Numan – Cars; Queen – I’m In Love With My Car; Steve Miller Band – Mercury Blues; The Dead Milkmen – Bitchin’ Camaro; Autosalvage – Auto Salvage There is a certain fascination with cars in Western culture. In my choices here I try to remain familiar to the reader but there are literally hundreds of songs that could replace these. Gary Numan’s song could be considered a Zen-like experience of becoming one with his car. I can identify with his sentiments when I drive long distances by myself. My mind races with a variety of thoughts while another part of my brain is on autopilot, almost one with the car in that sense. Could it be a form of love? On the other hand, this song could be using the car as a metaphor for isolation, where he is asking if you will visit him if he opens his door so that he does not feel so isolated. In this sense, there seems to be a longing for a loving, trustful relationship where he can avoid the eventual demise that isolation brings. It has been said that Numan suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and knowing this makes it more likely that this is about isolation, but for me it could work either way. Queen takes it a step further as the writer openly declares his love for his car. Or is it all double entendre? It could be, or it could be that Roger Taylor was expressing his carsexual tendencies. Objects, such as cars, do not talk back, so it could be he was expressing his preference for a powerful four-wheeled machine over a human love relationship. Or it could simply be a healthy enjoyment of vehicles and driving fast. Steve Miller was not the first person to record “Mercury Blues” but he may be the first to bring it to the general public. It was written by K.C. Douglas and Robert Geddins in the late 40s, originally known as “Mercury Boogie”. Several major artists have recorded and popularized the song since the Steve Miller Band’s 1976 release. The song expresses a love for Mercury vehicles as a means to “getting the girl”. It also expresses a love for cruising but let’s not get too deep here. This song means just exactly what it says. I used to love my Saturn vehicles. Still have one. I was very sad when that line was terminated by GM. The Dead Milkmen get even further away from the concept of love with their comedic song, “Bitchin’ Camaro”. But it is not that far off from “Mercury Blues” so I included it here. There is a reference to The Doors’ “Love Me Two Times” in the song, but then they get silly with sick humor, associating it with AIDS. Again, there is no intended deep meaning here; just fun in a mock-adolescent, braggadocios manner. Autosalvage is the only obscure group I mention here. They had only one LP, issued in 1968, but it did not go anywhere and the band folded a year later. The band name actually came after the song. Zappa heard them rehearsing and suggested they name their band after their song, “Auto Salvage”. They took his advice. The song pays homage to all the variety of vehicles on the road at that time, but it goes further. No matter which one you think is the best, they are all equal in the auto salvage yard. Could this be a reference to life? Such a variety of people and personalities but in death we have the ultimate equalizer. So, whoever you love or admire, we all come to the same end, and all that love and admiration is done at that point. And I am done discussing love and cars. Links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6YMAvfwTFo ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaEM4JYFPfw ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJJvyPXPssg ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v3CzvQ9e_w ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY6KVmx4E8U

Susan Christie – I Love Onions A novelty song from 1966 in a vaudeville/jug band style, this was Susan Christie’s only charting release. The song speaks for itself. And I love onions, too. Just a side note – in 1969 Susan recorded a rather dark album of songs for Columbia but they did not release it due to a lacking of commercial potential, so they thought. It is now available on CD. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM-lEhhsLQw

The Captain & Tennille – Muskrat Love Introducing Susie and Sam; two fornicating muskrats. This was written and recorded by Willis Alan Ramsey as “Muskrat Candlelight” but then America changed the title and had a hit with it. The Captain & Tennille took it to # 30 in 1976. No-one knows why. Later a parody was created entitled “Hamster Love” by Big Daddy, where the little critters frizzled and sizzled on the stove and a boy is heard to exclaim that the hamster sandwiches are delicious. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjqeNoi6EmM ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSt2RoZ8Ek4

So let’s deviate some more by looking at some deviations to the concept of sexual/mental love.

The Velvet Underground – Venus in Furs Most people reading this are familiar with this song, composed by Lou Reed. Recorded in 1966 by VU, it has been covered by many artists. But few are familiar with the cover of this ode to sadomasochism by Prydwyn recorded on solo acoustic guitar with male/female voices in a very dark medieval complexion. I like both versions, depending on my mood. The concept of the song was inspired by a novella of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch as part of his “Love” series. The references to a character named Severin in the song come directly from the novel’s character, Severin von Kusiemski. Alternative sexual themes are common in the music of The Velvet Underground, but this was one of their first and most striking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfN1-YeBnA8

Jefferson Airplane – Triad This is a David Crosby composition, and was recorded and performed by The Byrds in 1967, but was left off “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” LP because Roger McGuinn thought it was too risqué for public release. The in-fighting regarding release of the song was one of the things that led to Crosby being fired from The Byrds in late 1967. But Crosby found an outlet with the Jefferson Airplane, who included it on their “Crown of Creation” LP in 1968. Sung beautifully by Grace Slick, with a lush chord progression, it is a story of a ménage à trois. This is not an uncommon theme in today’s music, but in the 60’s it was unheard of. Decades later, The Byrds’ version was released on compilation albums and as a bonus track on The Notorious Byrd Brothers CD. There are also cover versions, most recently by Tina Dico in 2008. Here is the link to Jefferson Airplane’s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKV9WFxDSfg

King Crimson – Cadence and Cascade The song is an allegory regarding dualism, cleverly cloaked in sensual innuendo on the surface. This was released on the King Crimson “In the Wake of Poseidon” LP in 1970 with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. The song is an essential piece to the album’s theme of Eros and strife. The characters of the song are Cadence, Cascade, and Jade. Cadence represents the formal structure of Logos, thinking, consciousness, ordered rhythm, or the Yang. Cascade represents uncontrolled energy, chaos, Eros, and Yin. Jade is balancing, grounding, and strengthening. The words are breathtakingly exquisite, hitting on both a sensual and spiritual level. The music is gentle and melodic, yet pensive. Highly recommended. Sinfield proves himself to be an erudite masterful lyricist here.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpZqSg6U53E

The Fugs – The Garden Is Open This is a cleverly disguised mating ritual with lyrics by Tuli Kupferberg. The Fugs pushed the envelope in the 1960’s, even further than Frank Zappa, regarding sex and profanity in music, thus staying vastly unpopular commercially, but revered in the underground music scene. From the Tenderness Junction LP of 1967, this song is one of their best with regard to musical and lyrical aesthetics, and it has a menacing electric violin solo reminiscent of John Cale’s viola on Velvet Underground’s recordings. There is a very experimental cover of this song by Valinger/ZeBB/Runolf floating around on the Internet.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C9omgNzAAU

There are many songs about loving dogs or being loved like a dog. Salty Dog Blues first comes to mind. This song has been recorded by several country and bluegrass artists over the years (I first heard it performed by Buck Owens & The Buckaroos) and has become quite sanitized from its original sexually suggestive beginnings in the early 1900’s. Cat Stevens – I Love My Dog is a harmless song about a man’s affection for his dog. But Patti Page – How Much Is That Doggie In The Window smacks of dog prostitution if you ask me. Is Lobo – Me and You and a Dog Named Boo about a bestial ménage à trois? The Beatles – Martha My Dear sounds even more to the point. Who would have known McCartney was having a yiffing good time with his dog, Martha? For me I will stick with The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog which at least keeps things on the human level; perhaps a bit furrie, but still human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U9mdVn0jSQ ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qcqk_SEsLPU ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=safoNysTrbE ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TFQeJ-pQJ4 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pK5jy5rYeYg ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJIqnXTqg8I

One of the worst uses of the concept of love in music happens with what is called Contemporary Christian Music. In the past 30 years, I have heard some really bizarre songs where female and male vocalists sound like they are longing for a physical romantic relationship with Jesus. One could be forgiving of this if it was more obvious they were using a creative metaphor. However, either due to the lyrical limitations of the writers, or the shallow, sappy slobbering of the singers, this never is convincing and just leaves me feeling uncomfortable and undesirous of such a closer walk with Thee. Here are some stand-outs: Paul Baloche – Falling; Kirk Whalum – Falling In Love With Jesus. There are many more artists, and the female singers make me even more squeamish. Pick any of them on Internet sources such as Amazon and you will see what I mean.

Getting away from all that, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my all-time favorite love songs, Like a Lover, written by Alan Bergman, Dorival Caymmi, Marilyn Bergman and Nelson Motta. It was first released by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 in 1968 with Lani Hall as the lead vocalist. This is my favorite version. It captures the longing one feels when apart from a new lover. The lyrics are beautiful and the melody is a perfect fit. Check it out online. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BF4pN19mXws

The Mothers of Invention – How Could I Be Such a Fool This brings us full circle. From their 1966 “Freak Out!” LP, this is a Frank Zappa-penned…song of rejection in love! Oh my! Was Zappa trying to contribute to mental illness in society? When he said what he said in 1992, I wonder if he thought about what he wrote in the 60’s. This is actually a very well-constructed song that starts out in a ¾ waltz style, and the lyrics sound like they are grounded in experience. Unusual time changes occur to produce a sense of drama. One of his best. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpYmHNicnkQ

I hope this whets your appetite to hear some of the selections mentioned above. I stayed largely, but not totally, with the era of the late 60s to early 70s, simply because that is the era that interests me the most. This is an inexhaustible topic and one I might find myself coming back to in future blog posts.

ON THE LOCAL SCENE

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L to R: Billy Watson, Whitney Shay, Robin Henkel

I have been on the road a large portion of the past month and a half, so it has been limited pickings as far as getting out to hear what is going on in the local music scene. And sometimes when I could go out, I had too much to do at home to get out, or I was simply too jet lagged. I did get out to see Robin Henkel (guitars, vocals), Whitney Shay (vocals), and Billy Watson (harmonica, vocals) at Proud Mary’s on October 8. While hearing all three artists in the past, I had never heard the three of them together until now. It was a nice fit. Robin had just had his birthday a few days before, so Whitney surprised him with a little birthday celebration during their performance. A couple days later Robin Henkel & his Horn Band were at Lestat’s. The advertised time was an hour early, so we hung out at the coffee shop until it was time to go over. With Robin was Jodie Hill on bass, Troy Jennings on saxes, and Gary Nieves on drums. Another fun evening. I have written about all of these artists in the past. Take my word for it, if you are in San Diego, you need to see them. You will not be disappointed.

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L to R: Robin Henkel, Jodie Hill, Troy Jennings, Gary Nieves

On November 6, we attended the “Evening with Songwriters” at Java Joe’s hosted by Bart Mendoza, and also featuring Dave Humphries and Kimm Rogers. Supporting these fine songwriters and performers were Mike Alvarez, Mark DeCerbo, Samuel Martinez, Patric Petrie, and Beezie Gerber. The evening started out with Bart and Patric doing a number, followed by Bart and Samuel (of the Bassics). Then Bart and Mark did several songs, with Dave helping out on harmony on one song, and Patric joining in for a couple songs. Next up was Kimm and Beezie with several of Kimm’s songs. I had never heard Kimm Rogers before and I am now sold on her. She is not only a wonderful singer, but her lyrics are well crafted vignettes of real life situations, full of power and emotion. Finally, we had Dave Humphries and Mike Alvarez, with some 60s UK pop tunes along with many of Dave’s own songs. Dave, who hails from Durham, UK, weaves anecdotes of his time with Tony Sheridan (of Tony Sheridan and the Silver Beetles fame) and with Badfinger’s Joey Molland into his song intros, subtly letting us know he was there when it all started in the 60s. This was a fine evening of great music performed by some of the best.

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Bart Mendoza and Samuel Martinez

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L to R: Patric Petrie, Bart Mendoza, Mark DeCerbo

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Kimm Rogers and Beezie Gerber

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L to R: Bart Mendoza, Dave Humphries, Mike Alvarez

November 7, we noted that the Robin Henkel Band was appearing at Proud Mary’s. This configuration had Caleb Furgatch on string bass, Troy Jennings and David Castel de Oro on saxes, Big Al Schneider on drums, and of course, Robin on super-collider guitars and vocals. The band was exceptionally “on” with some great solo work from everyone. Wonderful Americana in the form of blues and jazz with many penned by Robin as well.

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L to R: Robin Henkel, Caleb Furgatch, Al Schneider, Troy Jennings, David Castel de Oro

November 8 is the second Sunday in the month, which means Plow is at the Urban Solace restaurant and bar for the bluegrass brunch. Since I have been flying most Sundays in the past several months, we could not miss this opportunity. They were all there: Chris Clarke, Jason Weiss, Doug Walker, Joe Pomianek, Mark Markowitz, and Dane Terry. This was their 8th anniversary playing the Bluegrass Brunch at Urban Solace. And we got to witness it.

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L to R: Jason Weiss, Mark Markowitz, Chris Clarke, Doug Walker, Dane Terry, unknown, Joe Pomianek

And so we come to the end of another entry from out of the mind of the Popeswami to the eyes and brains of all 2 or 3 readers of my blog posts. May you all sleep well tonight.