Monthly Archives: April 2007

New Wave Covers of Mid-’60s Hits

(Ed. note: Jeff and I go back to our days of sweating alongside each other for funk records. Now he proudly maintains Houston’s tradition of damaged art punk and smoldering equipment with Black Snakes and Kangaroo and the Baroque Millionaires. And I listen to folk music. So go figure.

Knowing Jeff’s reputation for inhaling whole lost sub-genres at a time and drawing fine, obsessive distinctions amongst the same, I’ve been pestering him over the months to post on Office Naps. After enough breakfast tacos and the promise of drunken Schlitterbahn escapades, he set aside some of his valuable time as CEO of Wonk Records and relented. – Little Danny)


There seem to have been a disproportionate number of covers of mid-‘60s popular rock tunes in New Wave.

One of the most popular covers was Devo’s version of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” But they weren’t alone. Two years prior to the Devo version, The Residents released their own version of “Satisfaction.” Although it originally went unnoticed thanks in part to a pressing of 200 copies, it eventually became an underground hit in the U.S. in the late ‘70s, and received play throughout the college radio scene. Upon its re-release, the Residents’ cover of “Satisfaction” sold 30,000 copies, helping to solidify their growing reputation. So it seemed that New Wave bands loved satirically covering this tune. Or was it not satire at all, and they were simply not satisfied?

To me it seems ironic that a band that was part of the scene referred to as “New Wave” would be covering old songs. I imagine that’s why I like the concept so much. But time has passed and there is no longer anything “New” about “New Wave” and we’re only left with the records and bad reunion shows. Though I’ve heard Devo is still really great.

(It should be noted that The Residents where a little extreme in regards to ‘60s cover songs. In 1976, prior to their release of “Satisfaction,” they released an album filled completely with noisy, deconstructed ‘60s covers in the form of two side-long audio collages that consisted of no less than thirty “covers.” Listening to it is very much a “name that tune” experience, although they do they damnedest to keep it challenging.)

1. Modern Art Studio, Satisfaccion (Mid America Sound)
The mid- to late ‘70s was a very fertile time for Ohio music. The most notable bands to come from the state were Devo and Pere Ubu, but there were many other wonderful art punk and New Wave bands from Ohio and throughout the Midwest. The Midwest bands were quite different than bands from the West Coast, the East Coast or the South. I might even consider Midwest bands artier than the East Coast scene, which usually has a reputation for being the artiest. Or perhaps I just mean Midwest bands were the “quirkiest.”

To me, this is the most interesting cover of “Satisfaction.” Devo and The Resident did a fine job and sold a lot of records as a result, but Modern Art Studio really makes the track their own. It’s barely recognizable as a cover until the riff at the very end. With a song like “Satisfaction,” it’s important to do something interesting with it since everybody’s heard it a few thousand times. Modern Art Studio chose to make it unrecognizable by changing the lyrics and avoiding the main guitar riff. Singing half of the lyrics in Spanish is a great touch. Too someone like me who doesn’t know Spanish, it changes the song completely. But since I don’t know Spanish, the lyrics might not be in Spanish. As far as I know, the words are in no language at all.

Modern Art Studio is a trio from Cleveland, Ohio. They released two 7″s before vanishing into obscurity. I assume they went to college, and studied Art.

2. Tidal Waves, Fun, Fun, Fun (What?)
While the Midwest was quirky and arty, the West Coast was just plain weird, and California in the late 70s was the center of this creative, sheer-weirdness. But the Tidal Waves seem to be pretty unique in that they fall somewhere between the West Coast weirdoes, the LA Punk scene, and England’s DIY scene of the late 70s. They’re unlike anything else I’ve heard from LA in the late 70s and, because of that, I love them.

“Fun, Fun, Fun” was, of course, a hit by The Beach Boys in 1964. Perhaps an ironic choice for a cover song, the Tidal Waves do a great job of updating the original to fit into the context of early 80s LA punk, borrowing punk rock’s chugging bass lines and driving drums. Although I hesitate to call this song “punk.” The feel is fun and playful, which aren’t two words usually associated with the punk, and the song is too complex. There are too many chord changes, a vocal melody, a melodic hook, and a combo organ – none of which are punk. But that’s the reason I like this.

The Tidal Waves recorded this 7″ with the recruited help of five of their friends. This was their only release. Chris Ashford, who plays guitar and sings on this record, also produced a handful of 12″ compilations released on What? Records in the early to mid-‘80s. The Tidal Waves must have been formed solely to record this cover of “Fun, Fun, Fun.” What other song could they have played?

3. Y Pants, Off The Hook (99)
Y Pants have always been one of my favorite bands from the late ‘70s New York scene known as “No Wave” (thanks to a compilation partially documenting the scene entitled No New York). However, Y Pants have an amazing childish charm that separates them from the rest of the scene. Behind the melodic childlike vocal harmonies, the music was mostly composed of amplified children’s equipment such as toy drums, ukulele and toy p
iano.

“Off the Hook” was originally written and recorded by the Rolling Stones. In contrast to “Satisfaction”, the Stones’ most often-covered song, this is the only cover of “Off the Hook” that I’m aware of. But the naive lyrics fit in great with the simple sounds of Y Pants. I can’t imagine them covering any other Rolling Stones song.

Y Pants released two records. “Off the Hook” was one of the songs included on the four song 7″ EP released on 99 Records in 1980. Other than this 7″, which was produced by Glenn Branca, they released an LP on Branca’s Neutral records in 1982. All of their recorded material is currently available on one CD thanks to Periodic Document.

– Jeff W.

Posted in New Wave/Punk | 10 Comments

Tram? and the changes afoot

As sure as packing boxes are teetering dangerously and there’s a cat with a feline premonition of something big afoot, I move this week.

It’s not the sort of move across town where I enlist a friend unlucky enough to own a truck, take the day from work, call the phone company, and, whoosh, I’m back to the old comforts by the next week. This is the move that upends the rituals and routines that’ve measured my past seven or eight years, a move to a part of the country that I love (deep West Texas), to a girl I love, to a town otherwise known for its Minimalist art and its Mystery Lights and its isolation in the surrounding desert.

And so it follows that last Friday was my last day at the tech job that, for well over seven years, allowed me to freely indulge a serious record habit. Now I get by with ongoing freelance writing jobs and odd DJ gigs and, frankly, whatever odd work I can hustle. As with any move, one is inevitably forced to reckon, grunting and swearing and vowing, with stuff, tons, literally, of stuff. And for once I’ll truly address these stuff issues, too, properly selling off a sizeable chunk of my record collection (any habitual collector can probably tell you how perversely exciting this prospect is).

Still, my investment in Marfa is limited; I return to Austin in December this year to pursue my graduate studies at UT’s School of Information, resuming my life in some sort of weirdly familiar, renewed-but-changed capacity as a student. I’ll also likely be continuing my radio show Soul Sauce in some form on Marfa Public Radio – and trying my damnedest to get some regular Office Naps podcast thing going. I’ll be returning occasionally to Austin, too, for Soul Happenings – and whenever the need for barbeque and old friends and record stores outweighs that daunting seven hour drive.

But Office Naps will continue as always. Next week my friend Jeff fills in with a guest post and, though it may be a bit rocky at first, I’ll be back with new posts thereafter, my bogus new “laid-back” persona in tow.

Anyway, all forthcoming developments will be noted here, but a shortened post this week in the meantime due to time constraints and general distraction levels. Wish me luck!

1. Junior Kimbell, Tram? (Philwood)
Recorded in 1968, “Tram?” was the very first commercial release from Junior Kimbell (AKA Junior Kimbrough). “You can call me country,” he sang. And people did, as Kimbrough was frequently identified as a living embodiment of the Mississippi Delta blues. Hearing this selection – his droning version of the Lowell Fulson R&B; hit “Tramp” – it’s easy to understand why Kimbrough’s rough-hewn singing and guitar conformed to blues fanatics’ ideas of “authentic” Delta blues.

“Tram?” is a personal favorite. And, after several slow, hypnotic revolutions of “Tram?” I think you’ll understand why it was chosen to stand alone this week, too: Kimbrough, who had a penchant for Eastern-like modes, sounded like nobody else on Earth.

Posted in Blues, Personal natter | 11 Comments

Girls

Rare was the girl group that played their own instruments in the mid-1960s. The prevailing attitude amongst both major and independent record labels seemed to be that the distaff could handle singing and frontwoman duties, and separate backing musicians (and their producer) would take care of whatever instrumentation was needed. Prevailing decorum and gender roles outside the record industry subtly discouraged girls from playing rock ‘n’ roll instruments on their own terms – lest they come across too masculine, too debauched, or (most likely) as merely a novelty.

Aside from Britain’s excellent Liverbirds (who achieved some chart success in Germany with a ‘65 version of “Diddley Daddy”), there wasn’t really a popular prototype for an all-female band when it came to ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll. Things started to change in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s as society became more accustomed to the idea of women rockers, but it took the D.I.Y. and anti-commercial impulse of ‘70s punk rock to incontrovertibly land rock ‘n’ roll instruments in female hands – and to relieve them in a real way from musical obligations to female propriety.

There were notable exceptions all along, though, even during the British Invasion years. The Vejtables’ Jan Errico, the Honeycombs’ Honey Lantree, and the fabulous Maureen Tucker (whose deliberately primal technique is such an underappreciated part of the Velvet Underground’s sound) were all female drummers in what were at least nominally successful male bands. These were musicians who weren’t trying to make any grand political statements – they just loved rock ‘n’ roll. But they wound up filling roles that were radical in their own quiet way.

Then there were the bands which were not only comprised entirely of females, but which were deadly earnest about rocking. A fairly rare phenomenon, the ‘60s all-girl bands operated completely independently of each other; still, though, the Heart Beats, the Bittersweets, and the Luv’d Ones were breaking new ground – whether they were trying to or not.

All of this week’s groups are tucked away on different volumes of the out-of-print Girls in the Garage compilations – a series which stretches the definition of “garage band,” but it’s a fine introduction nonetheless for anyone interested in obscure ‘60s femme rock ‘n’ roll.

Thanks to Vernon Joynson’s indispensable Fuzz Acid and Flowers for much of the information on this week’s selections.

1.
Luv’d Ones, Up Down Sue (White Oak)
If the girl group that played their own instruments was rare in the mid-‘60s, then even rarer was the girl group that chose to fill out their sound with dark bass lines and fuzztone distortion, and that chose to write, sing, and play their own songs. That chose, in other words, to ply their talents strictly in the male domain of the ‘60s garage bands. Led by Charlotte Vinnedge and her sister Chris, Chicago’s Luv’d Ones were all that, plus mascara. Their tough “Up Down Sue,” their finest moment, was recorded while in Florida in 1966.

Truth Gotta Stand, an excellent compilation of the Luv’d Ones’ 45 singles (of which there were four), demos, and unissued songs, was released by Sundazed Records several years ago.

2. The Bittersweets, Hurtin Kind (Tema)
This 45 was produced, arranged, and released by James Testa and Don White around 1966, but little else is known about the Bittersweets themselves. Testa and White also recorded a rowdier version of “Hurtin’ Kind” (on the Tema label again) by the popular Cleveland band the Tulu Babies. The Tulu Babies’ was a local hit, but due to an arcane label-sequencing strategy at Tema headquarters, it’s unclear whether the Bittersweets’ or Tulu Babies’ version came first: I suspect that since the Tulu Babies’ keyboardist Doug McCutcheon wrote “Hurtin’ Kind,” it was latter, however. (Incidentally, the Tulu Babies later achieved some national fame as the Baskerville Hounds.)

Either way, the Bittersweets handled the emotional breakdown of “Hurtin Kind” with chiming guitars, angelic harmonies, and a deadpan, faux-English sexiness that must have forever endeared them to the sensitive young men of the greater Cleveland area. Listerine would be gargled and poetry scribblings heard throughout Shaker Heights that summer.

3. The Heart Beats, Choo Choo Train (The Heart Beats)
The Heart Beats hailed from an unlikely musical hub of the Southwest. A lot of fine musicians and songwriters have grown up in Lubbock, Texas, its bedrock conservatism and dusty desolation inspiring love, hate, and songs, even whole albums – Terry Allen’s Lubbock (On Everything), for instance – in the city’s name. It’s a city that musicians get the hell away from (the Dixie Chicks’ “Lubbock or Leave It”), or get the hell away from, and then return to (Mac Davis’s “Texas in My Rear View Mirror”).

The Heartbeats were reputed to range from ages twelve to fifteen at the time of this recording. I love when the girls sing, “My baby’s waiting / at the station / so give me just a little more acceleration.” Scandalous, I know.

“Choo Choo Train” was recorded in 1968.

With God as my witness, I will some day own a less scratchy copy of this record.

Posted in Garage Bands | 10 Comments

Spoken weird

As long as there have been phonograph records, there have been spoken word records (poet Robert Browning in 1888, for example). Speeches, inspirational lectures, sermons, poetry, plays, books, short stories, travelogues, oral histories, memoirs, random thoughts and confidences, comedy routines – the list goes on forever. If someone were there to say, recite, or emote it, then somewhere there would be a record of it.

Records coupling the spoken word with music have been around for a while, too, but it took the combination of two currents of post-War American urban subculture – bebop jazz and Beat poetry – to really fire the American romantic imagination. What could be more urbane, more hiply American, more Beat (at least to the ’50s American mind) than waxing freely over a walking bassline?

Of course, there were in reality very few poetry-with-jazz records made by “real” bohemians, and for every Jack Kerouac, Bob Dorough, Eden Ahbez, or Kenneth Rexroth there were dozens who were there to capitalize on the phenomenon. Whether it’s cartoonish hipster-jive Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins, the watered-down product of Rod McKuen, or the beatnik satire of Del Close or Henry Jacobs (see below), though, I happily make room for all of them here on Office Naps.

1. An Interview of Our Times Conducted by S. Petterstein, A History of Jazz (World Pacific)
Shorty Petterstein was the beatnik persona of Bay Area institution Henry Jacobs, who in real life managed to be both more normal and far hipper than his satirical creation.

After late ‘40s broadcasting stints on the Mexican border and in Chicago (where he crossed paths with Ken Nordine), Henry Jacobs alighted in the San Francisco; he’d henceforth be associated with the city and its experimental ethos. Jacobs was fascinated with sound. More specifically, he was fascinated by the possibilities of manipulating taped recordings of sound. Accordingly, it’s Jacobs’ early audio projects (some of which were released on Folkways Records in the ‘50s) as well as his Vortex collaborations with filmmaker Jordan Belson for which he’s probably best remembered today.

The Vortex experiments alone should have earned Jacobs the key to the city. A series of audio/visual happenings organized by Jacobs and Belson at San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium, the Vortex experiments (properly known as the Vortex Experiments in Sound and Light, also represented on Folkways) featured Jacobs’ collages and audio manipulations in addition to compositions by John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Toru Takemitsu, and Luciano Berio.

Read more about the guy and you get the feeling that if someone in San Francisco was dropping a television into the trash in 1959, then Jacobs would be there to collaborate. Jacobs was involved with everyone and everything. He was the force behind comedian Lenny Bruce’s first record (Interviews of Our Times). He rubbed shoulders with Afro-Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria and Beats like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Allen Ginsberg. He was a disc jockey at Berkeley’s groundbreaking KPFA, where he mixed ethnic field recordings with his penchant for radio satire.

Which brings us finally to 1958’s “A History of Jazz.” Taken from The Wide Weird World of Shorty Petterstein: More Interviews of Our Time, “A History of Jazz,” is characteristic of both the album’s twisted style as well as the Shorty Petterstein alter ego (which Jacobs had been cultivating during his radio broadcasts).

This selection is one of the album’s weirder and more atmospheric sketches, too. The foghorn, the bells, the distant harbor noises: it evokes an image of Jacobs (or Petterstein, rather), alone at 3 a.m. in some Grant Avenue walk-up and free associating into his portable reel-to-reel, jazz records at hand.

And that’s the history of jazz.

Jacobs would go on to collaborate with auteurs George Lucas and Walter Murch on their THX 1138 film. He’d contribute to PBS’s early ‘70s animated show The Fine Art of Goofing Off, receive a 1964 Oscar nomination for his anti-smoking short “Breaking the Habit,” and pay the bills with ads created for Japan Airlines and Bank of America. Though no longer active in the business, Jacobs is alive and well in Northern California; he presently co-curates of the Alan Watts archives.
You can hear a fairly recent NPR story on Jacobs here.

(Incidentally, I believe that the three musical snippets heard in rapid succession on “A History of Jazz” are records by Louis Armstrong, George Russell, and Miles Davis.)

2. Ken Nordine, Crimson and Olive (Dunwich)
“Crimson and Olive” is manna from the mind of Ken Nordine, a Chicago personality who’s carved out a unique niche for himself with his insomniac creativity and a richly resonant, basso profundo voice. Long involved in broadcasting and commercial voice-over work, Nordine is much like Henry Jacobs in that he’s notched successes in and out of the square, corporate world.

Nordine’s major label recording career began in the mid-‘50s with his narration for orchestra leader Billy Vaughn’s Shifting, Whispering Sands EP, a Western-themed easy-listening suite arranged for Vaughn (and based on country-pop singer Rusty Draper’s 1955 hit). Though novel, Shifting, Whispering Sands was a staid ‘50s choral affair.

The record’s success led to infinitely hipper territory, however, as Nordine was able to sell Dot Records on releasing several albums’ worth of his surreal and ruminative stories (set against the cool jazz backdrop of the Fred Katz group). An extension of Nordine’s ‘50s radio show, this was the beginning of the Word Jazz albums. While Nordine would continue these spoken word and musical experiments over the decades (including collaborations with artists as unlikely as Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, and the Grateful Dead), it’s perhaps his Colors album that represents the culmination of Nordine’s word jazz technique.

Colors started out life as a commercial campaign for Fuller Paint Company. From the familiar blue and yellow, to obscure hues like puce and ecru, the project would be expanded to thirty-four sketches of thirty-four anthropomorphized colors, and eventually edited and released on Philips Records in 1965.

“Crimson and Olive,” though one of the album’s weaker sketches musically (and not containing “Olive,” either, as promised in the title), nonetheless represents Nordine’s jazzy, oddly philosophical style of wordplay. This is also the only place I’ve seen anything from Nordine’s Colors album released on 45. The flipside of this selection is “Bachman,” a Batman parody credited to “Ken Nordine Accompanied By His Rubber Frogs.”

At age eighty-eight, Nordine is still very much active in radio and recording today. He released an album of his word jazz (Transparent Mask) in 2001, and I was delighted to hear him in fine form earlier this year on NPR, too.

(The Dunwich label seen here is far and away better known for its roster of ‘60s Chicago garage bands like the Shadows of Knight, the Del-Vetts, and Saturday’s Children.)

3. U.B.’s Group, Percussive Woman (Warner Brothers)
Not Ken Nordine, but a strange imitation of Nordine during his ‘50s Word Jazz heyday.

So, yes, this selection is every obnoxious cliché about women, passed off as paternal wisdom. “Percussive Woman” is a relic, if nothing else. But it actually sounds really good, all beat poetry percussion and misterioso bass and what not.

The “Rogers” credited as co-writer on this obscurity is Milt Rogers, a music director and staff arranger at Dot Records, obviously on temporary leave from Dot for a bit of freelance work. The “Hendler” is Herb Hendler, a long-time A&R; man, producer, and composer who’s probably best known as the lyricist behind Ralph Flanagan’s 1953 Big Band hit “Hot Toddy.”

“Percussive Woman” was recorded in 1962.

Posted in Miscellaneous Flotsam | 16 Comments

Mod jazz

From the avant-garde to the mainstream, it’s easy to brood on the status of jazz in this lifetime, at least insofar as its public visibility and cultural vitality go. Jazz seems to hit low after historical low, and, likewise, it’s pretty easy to indulge the question of what this says about us as a society.

The days when an honest-to-god jazz combo like the Ramsey Lewis Trio could pack Chicago clubs with their brand of hip, accessible jazz are over, certainly. And so, too, are the days when they might turn around and have a genuine chart hit with something that they’d recorded the only night before.

I simplify, of course. The Trio’s 1965 smash hit “The In Crowd” (hear an excerpt here) really wasn’t the first of its kind. Lewis and company’s was an earthy jazz infused with traces of Latin boogaloo, gospel, and R&B; (as well as a dash of sartorial nightclub style) that trumpeter Lee Morgan had pioneered with his 1963 hit “Sidewinder.” There were others who had done – and would do – the same, but it was the Ramsey Lewis Trio that truly popularized the style that would later be identified as “mod jazz” in soul and jazz fans’ circles. Their “The In Crowd” would never set the world aflame, but its infectious brand of club-based jazz was, if nothing else, the last time that modern jazz was truly a viable form of pop music.

1. Reggie Cravens Quartet, Uptight (Jond-or)
Reggie Cravens was a pianist who played at the Arlington Hotel, a grand, storied pile in the spa town of Hot Springs, Arkansas – and apparently once a refuge for notorious mobster Al Capone
.

Recorded around 1967, Cravens’s loose-limbed version of the 1966 Stevie Wonder hit “Uptight” must have made for quite the dissipated Saturday night at Hot Springs when his quartet took the stage. I can see the bluehairs momentarily abandoning their gin rickeys and boozily swaying to the “Uptight” chorus, as verily I can smell the English Rose perfume.

Reggie Cravens is no longer with us, sadly. Thanks to a wonderful communiqué from Kimberley H., though, who provided information about Reggie Cravens as well as about his bass player Buck Powell. Powell now plays piano, and continues to stay active in jazz circles.

2. Jimmie Willis, Soul Power pt. 1 (Orr)
Jimmie Willis’s “Soul Power” leans to the funkier R&B; side of the equation, but its catchy, Latin-ish piano vamp and, moreover, its celebratory party atmosphere are pure mod jazz mojo (à la Ramsey Lewis, again). If the mid-‘60s were a send-off party for post-War America’s swinging, recreational buzz – Jimmie Willis definitely wanted you to be there.

3. Jimmie Willis, Soul Power pt. 2 (Orr)
Whether you were hearing “Soul Power” blaring from a jukebox, or whether you were hearing it live, anywhere could be good times. Provided, of course, that there was a crew of shouting, wasted partygoers.
“Soul Power” was recorded in the late ‘60s on Orr Records, an obscure Chicago label with a few other fine soul releases.

I believe that it’s Willis himself at the helm of the gurgling Hammond B-3 organ on this selection.

4. Googie Rene Combo, Smokey Joe’s La La (Class)
Los Angeles’s Googie Rene Combo recorded for the Class label in the late ‘50s and ‘60s; like so many working R&B; and jazz combos of the time, Rene had a few minor instrumental hits (“Wiggle Tail,” “The Slide”) that reflected rather than advanced their art form.

Rene would record throughout that time, however, with several LPs and numerous 45s to his name. Whether it was Googie’s serviceable musical talents on keyboards or the fact that Googie’s father Leon (a well known Los Angeles songwriter and record label honcho) owned the Class label that allowed him to record so prolifically is subject to debate. When it sounds as good as the thumpingly hip “Smokey Joe’s La La,” though, it sort of makes such debate moot.

From 1966, “Smokey’s Joe’s La La” was released near the end of Rene’s recording career. The composer credit here goes to one Jeanne Vikki, a mysterious presence at Class Records (and its subsidiary label Rendezvous) who gets a lot of the writing credits on Rene’s recordings. Who Vikki was – and what role she might have played in what is only nominally a “composition” – remain a mystery as well.

Posted in Jazz Obscura | 10 Comments