• warning: array_map(): Argument #2 should be an array in /home/scramadmin/scram/modules/system/system.module on line 1050.
  • warning: array_keys() expects parameter 1 to be array, null given in /home/scramadmin/scram/includes/theme.inc on line 1845.
  • warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/scramadmin/scram/includes/theme.inc on line 1845.

Side by Side 75: A 7-Eleven Musical reviewed by Kim Cooper

There are those who look askance at people who buy records from the Salvation Army quarter bin. These are the same folks who buy Primus CDs new, so I don't really feel any need to be embarrassed over my grubby vinyl rooting fingers. They can look down their noses all they like, because they're stupid and would never understand.

But you do. You know that the best records are the most fucked up records. That Black Oak Arkansas says more to you than Guns ‘N Roses ever could. That Word Records of Waco, Texas (feature story forthcoming) outshines Dischord for sheer consistence of creative vision. And that Andy Williams' version of "God Only Knows" carries a cringe factor so high that root canal would almost be preferable to a second listen.

But these are common discoveries; delightful, but not rare. There are also records so incredible that when you find one it's like you've unearthed a ruby in a dung-hill. One such album was bought by Mister Grady Runyan in the Pacific Northwest. The name of that record is "Side by Side 75."

The year was indeed 1975, and the Southland Corporation had just had the best year in its history. President Jere W. Thompson called his managers together for a gigantic blow-out convention. He wanted to thank them, and their families, for the fine jobs they were doing upholding the 7-Eleven standard of quality. As an extra special treat, Thompson commissioned The Stanford Agency to compose a live musical as the climax of the convention. The Stanford Agency gave Larry Muhoberac, a genius, the task of writing this musical.

Even if you've never crawled naked down Sunset Blvd. for a Coca-Cola Slurpee, this record will touch you in a special place. It elegantly spells out the unique attributes of America's favorite convenience store with an insider's perception that is probably new to you. So not only is the music great, but the record is also a learning experience. Admit it: you never gave much thought to what it was like behind the counter of a mini-mart. Or even if you did pull the midnight-to-six shift a few times in high school, you failed to get into the head-space of the store's owner-manager. But maybe you should have, because to judge by the frantic overcompensation on "Side By Side 75," the owner-managers--at least at this stage in Southland's development--were ready to go on a mass killing spree at the corporate headquarters. The convention and musical were clearly meant to unruffle some seriously disordered tail feathers and to spread a corporate message of love and togetherness.

Did it work? Let's examine the evidence. "Oh Thank Heaven," the first number, is described in the liner notes as "a musical happening!" (Remember, this is 1975, not 1966.) And it really is a happening of sorts, with its oscillating electronic waves and inspired chants of "Everybody's doing it," "Save on everything," "If it's not around the house it's just around the corner," "Hot to go,","Oh thank heaven for 7-Eleven," and the ever popular "Drink cups, drink cups." Sort of a nightmarish melange of all the advertising slogans you thought you'd forgotten, as performed by K-Tel's version of Kraftwerk. If I had a reel-to-reel player I'd examine this song for subliminal messages: "You will sit quietly in your seat and not launch yourself at Jere's throat..."

"What Would We Do Without You/Side By Side" purports to be "an exciting medley of two great musical numbers [that] sets the pace of the show as well as the theme for our 1975 Convention. The two song titles along with the lyrics really do say what we all feel... that we're all in this together. What would we do without each other?" Probably have much lower blood pressure. A terrible, off-key male voice intones, "If we have a dis-a-GREE-ment/ You bring the CEE-ment/ I'll bring the glue." Because while "we're gonna gripe/ And maybe complain/ Believing in each other/ That is our aim." There follows a spoken litany of managerial complaints: "You know, sometimes these corporate guys do have some pretty nifty ideas... some times;" "For years I thought our merchandizing manager knew what he was doing." "Where'd you get that idea?" "Beats me."; "Talk about corporate ideas--the only thing good about Hot To Go is the name... but who's gonna eat the name?" And yet all gripes are just so much dryer lint in the wind as a cheery chorus pipes in with Southland's credo: "Togetherness is what we're after/ From now on we'll just hear laughter/ Side by side by side." The tap dance percussion is an especially welcome touch. Snork...yeah, this number always breaks me up.

"Ring Them Bells" is, simply, "a story about a guy who looked all over the world for his niche, a place to do his thing. And after all that searching he found it in the form of a little 7-Eleven store right back in his home town." The young man's adventures are rattled off at breakneck speed, with my favorite being the quite incomprehensible statement (with appropriate sound effects) that, "then he ran a cafe up in Washington state/ But then the blue plate special broke and so he broke the blue plate." After failing in Washington he tries Alaska, and it's there that he has a near epiphany upon seeing a bright red and green 7-Eleven sign looming over the tundra. Touching, ain't it?

If there's a hit single on "Side By Side 75," it must be "I'm Not Getting Married." Imagine, if you dare, the most shrill, irritating female voice you've ever heard. Something like Kate Smith's bellow mixed with Phyllis Diller's "wacky" enunciation and Charles Nelson Reilly's staccato phrasing. Can you hear it? Is your spine twitching? Good. Now multiply that feeling tenfold and you have the effect of the singer of "I'm Not Getting Married," who is either Lette Rehnolds or Nancy Meyers. The song alternates between saccharine sweet evocations of the holy bond between an owner-manageress and her store, and the cold-footed bride's frantic attempts to talk herself out of the "marriage." The male counterpoint effuses, "Bless this day woman joins the store/ Benefits galore." But Lette-Nancy is having none of it, and spouts her distaste in no uncertain way. Since she doesn't want to open a 7-Eleven, she is of course just another hysterical female, "Bless this girl totally insane/ Slipping down the drain/ And bless this swain in whose heart/ She has caused such pain." Lette-Nancy spits back, "Go, won't you go? Look you know I adore you all but why must I try for a wholesale ratio?... I don't like ice cream, I hate cottage cheese, I don't like kids, I hate green peas. Thank you all for the training school, thanks a lot but I'm no fool... I'M NOT GONNA DO IT!" But when the wedding bells chime in Lette-Nancy's sentiment gets the best of her, "Well, I guess I'm gonna do it." And a heavenly choir looks up from their chili dogs to bless the union..."Amen."

Of course "SBS 75" wouldn't be complete without an interminable rock opera. "Another Hundred People Just Came into the Store" is "a ‘today' statement about our stores and our company's history." It is also funky as an old pair of shorts, and sung to the tune of "Ode to Billy Joe." The chain's history is spelled out in verse: from Jody Thompson's Texas ice dock of 1927 through the mass birth of identical 7-Eleven stores along the East coast and all across America. The best lyrics are in the "interesting business" section; let me share some with you. "A half a dozen kids who collected the cups/ They just happened by/ So they moseyed around/ Making that Slurpee sound/ Really slurping it down." "It's an interesting business/ Some come to leave some to stay/ And everyday/ The ones who stay are frolicking (?!) in the split pea soup and the dairy vault/ Selling hot to go with a pretty smile/ ‘Hey lady, where's the salt?'/ The slurp machine's broken and the bread's not here/ It's not my fault!" And, "I'm coming and going when I change the shift we meet at the door/ Then I hired a guy who was born to drift, left with half the store... /But I love the business anyway, now isn't that great?"

The last two numbers are pretty disposable. An exceptionally irritating song called "It's You" ("It's not Judy Garland or Spanky McFarland/ It's you!") sounds like the kind of music they play in Farrell's ice cream parlors, and the performance closes with that old campfire favorite "We've (?) Got the Whole World in Our Hands."

It doesn't matter. The first five songs are enough to earn "SBS 75" the title of thrift store find of the decade. "Side By Side 75" is insidiously catchy. If you ever hear it you'll soon be singing its verses to the horror of anyone unfortunate enough to be near you. And yet, as connoisseurs of bad taste we feel compelled to make this offer: if you really want to hear this unbelievable artifact, send us a blank cassette (a C60 is fine) and return postage and we'll make you a copy. But don't say we didn't warn you about the brain damage that will result. If you've ever needed Tampax and a cream soda at 3 a.m., this record speaks to you. Indeed, it speaks to us all. (this appreciation originally appeared in Scram #1, Summer 1992. Free tape offer no longer available-- god knows where the damn thing is today!)

Love Stories: Kevin Delaney interviewed by Kim Cooper and Margaret Griffis

Arthur Lee’s Love was one of finest bands of the sixties, but for a variety of reasons they’ve been neglected by the oldies/ nostalgia industry. The rock section of your local book emporium holds a half-dozen tomes celebrating the dubious poetics of Jim Morrison, but so far there’s no book on the far-superior Love. That seemed about to change some months back, when news reports began circulating about a young journalist named Kevin Delaney who’d moved to L.A. to track down Love and their associates. I was curious to learn what he’d found, so I wrote to ask for an interview. Kevin replied that he’d be happy to sit down and talk, but that a Love book was no longer in the works. The institutional racism that hobbled Love in their lifetime seems still to be at work: no major publisher is willing to give Kevin an advance to complete his research. Margaret Griffis and I met Kevin for bagels and juice in Hollywood’s Fairfax District one Sunday in April. This is a story of obsession and thirty-year-old mysteries. Free Arthur Lee.

Scram: So, how did you get into Love?
Kevin Delaney: (Opening a folder and showing us a color xerox) I got into it through this illustration, the cover of Forever Changes. I saw it in a book when I was around seventeen, when I was just getting into rock and roll. This was around 1990, so my experience prior to that was the eighties; eighties Top 40 radio. I had no interest in pop music at all! But once I started to find this sort of stuff, it was like a whole new world was opened to me. They had polled a bunch of rock critics on the best albums. There was Sgt. Pepper and Revolver, and even I knew those. And then there was this. I think it was #17.

Scram: A lot of critics pick it.
Kevin Delaney: But I’d never heard of it before. Love. And just to see the logo, it just looked so weird and trippy, and this illustration I just thought was out of this world. It was reproduced real small and black and white, and I wanted to get the record so I could have the illustration. I found it on CD, which I couldn’t believe. It was actually really neat, because they still had the cardboard longboxes at the time, and this image was right on the longbox. It was kind of a bonus that the music was pretty good, too. So I got really interested in this mysterious band that nobody knew about, and yet they put out such great music.

Scram: So after Forever Changes you picked up the other records.
Kevin Delaney: Yeah, I just fell in love with this album, and obviously then I wanted to get the others. I didn’t know that anybody else even knew of this group. It was totally my own little thing. At that time I don’t think many people cared about them. In the years since then there’s been a resurgence of interest, with the box set, and Bryan’s solo CD that came out. So I was just a little fan, basically.
Scram: And at some point you decided you wanted to be more than that, you wanted to document the group.
Kevin Delaney: I said (overly dramatic voice) “I want to be more than a fan! I wanna have a real relationship!” (laughter)

Scram: So what did you do?
Kevin Delaney: I was sitting on my futon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I’m from, and — well, two things really made me wanna do more with the group. I wanted to do something. I’m the kind of person, I’m not content to just observe things, I always wanna be a part of it. That’s gotten me into a lot of trouble, I might add. Actually, it was Bryan’s CD — have you heard If You Believe In?

Scram: Yeah.
Kevin Delaney: That really intrigued me, because again it was this person who I only knew through a few songs on the records, and then to hear all of this other stuff that he had done that had been hidden away for so many years! That really fascinated me. I love that these tapes were found in his mother’s garage. Then what actually started me working on this book project was, Arthur did an album in 1974 called Reel to Real, which is a very funky, kinda soul-influenced record. There were some songs on there that had an amazing bass player. I thought, “Who is this guy? He’s incredible!” I looked at the credits, and the songs that I really liked — he used two different bass players, but the songs I really liked used this guy Robert Rozelle on bass. So I started checking on the internet. I’m a researcher; I love to find obscure things. I’d never heard of this guy before, and as far as I could tell he never played on anything of any real note. It’s not like he went on to something great, or I should say he didn’t go on to be really famous. But lo and behold, I found someone with that name on the internet. I emailed him and asked “Are you the guy who played bass on this album?” And he wrote me back and said “Yeah, that’s me. How’d you find me?!” Because I had found him, I thought I’d like to do something with him, I didn’t know what. Maybe I can write an article and interview him. And he was very agreeable to it. There’s a Love fanzine called The Castle, and I said I’d like to do an interview for it with him. So we did that, and again I was in Pittsburgh at the time. I had no intention of moving out here, but Robert and I had several phone conversations—

Scram: He lives out here?
Kevin Delaney: Yeah. And we were talking about a lot of stuff. He was surprised at how knowledgeable I was about this record. He’d played with Arthur Lee for a long time, but as far as that record was concerned it was just one thing that he did, and he was really surprised that I knew so much about it. Robert really started telling me a lot of stories. There was some amazing stuff — and remember this is all from the seventies, this wasn’t even the sixties!

Scram: I don’t think Arthur ever slowed down, though. The stories go all the way up until he went to jail.
Kevin Delaney: Oh god, the seventies got really crazy! Libel lawsuit material crazy. (laughter)

Scram: But you’re gonna tell us all those stories later, right?
Kevin Delaney: Maybe...

Scram: As long as you say “allegedly,” it’s all right.
Kevin Delaney: Right, “he allegedly—”

Scram: “I’ve heard rumors...”
Kevin Delaney: “Supposedly, I don’t know this is true—” (laughter) Robert knew some people, and he was saying, “You gotta call this woman, because she was a part of the whole thing too, you gotta call this guy, you gotta call Melvin, who played guitar on the album. And so as with a lot of things — and I’ve since learned how to keep this in check — I’ll think “Oh, I wanna do an article for a little fanzine—” and next thing I know I’m working on the screenplay, I’m doin’ the novel—

Scram: You were sucked in! It’s like you opened the tap, with these people who haven’t talked about this in years.
Kevin Delaney: That was what was so exciting about it! So I decided to move to L.A. for a couple different reasons. Some people have made it seem like I only came here to do the book, which was a big part of it, but mostly I just wanted a change. I wanted to get out of Pittsburgh and live somewhere else. I really like L.A. I’d been here before.
Scram: Listening to all that Love couldn’t have hurt. It’s a very seductive image.
Kevin Delaney: Yeah, it was somewhat. So I came out here, and I didn’t know anybody.

Scram: When did you come?
Kevin Delaney: I came in December of ‘97, a few days before Christmas. I mean, I didn’t have any friends here, but I knew Robert. And I just started working like a maniac on finding these people. I guess the big one was Bryan MacLean. I got to know him. I spent a lot of time working on it, and it was really neat, as a fan, to get to know him.

Scram: Were you basically doing this full-time, or were you doing other things?
Kevin Delaney: Well, I was an actor in Pittsburgh, and I worked it out that I did some TV commercials that would be running after I moved, so I had residuals! (laughter) I was like the alcoholic on welfare, with just no responsibilities at all! And the only problem with residuals is that they eventually run out, and then you’re kind of left, like, “Oh my god, what am I gonna do? I have no job, I have nothing!”

Scram: But you have a lot of tapes, of the people you’d talked to, right?
Kevin Delaney: Right, I have a lot of tapes and a whole bunch of friends, but not too much money in the pocket. It was an interesting learning experience. It was one of the most rewarding ways to get yourself totally financially devastated! Some other people blow it all on the lottery, or drinking or drugs — I got to meet all my heroes! That was good enough for me.

Scram: How did you meet Bryan MacLean?
Kevin Delaney: I got in touch with a writer who had interviewed him, Matthew Greenwald, because he was doing what little bit of press Sundazed was arranging for the If You Believe In CD. Matthew gave me Bryan’s phone number. So I called Bryan on the phone. This was not long after I had arrived. I was living in this little dump of an apartment up on Laurel Canyon Blvd. in North Hollywood, and I didn’t even have a sheet on my bed, and I thought “I don’t believe this; I’m talking to Bryan MacLean on the phone!” How much better could my trip to L.A. be? This guy I totally admire and and love and never thought I’d ever be talking with. The thing with all of these people is that they’ve been so out of the spotlight for years, there’s something almost unreal about it, like these are characters from a novel or something. You don’t think these people exist today. And here I was talking to Bryan on the phone, and he was totally, completely against any kind of book!

Scram: Why is that?
Kevin Delaney: Well, I don’t know, really. And I don’t even know if he really was totally against it. He was acting that way, but I can say now, now that I know he’ll never read this, that he was totally obnoxious. (laughter) And I just kept on. He was trying to convince me that nobody cared about Love. Why would he talk about this? He had no interest in opening up this old part of his life.

Scram: But he had just allowed his old tapes to be released.
Kevin Delaney: Right, but I think that was different, because that was his music, his songs. He was against the idea of going into the whole story.

Scram: Do you think that was his religious convictions, just being offended by the decadence of Love?
Kevin Delaney: No, I think he was testing me, basically. Because about eight months later, after a lot of hounding and begging and crying— (laughter)

Scram: You just wouldn’t give up!
Kevin Delaney: He finally just said, “Man, I gotta get this kid off my case!” (laughter) “This kid’s gonna kill me!” He wanted to make sure it was gonna be really good. And we also became friends, and I think he wanted me to get to know him. Maybe it had to do with him doing the press for If You Believe In, when everyone was asking him all about the sixties. It’s like, “Hello — I’m a human being — I’m alive now.” And yet all anybody cared about was the Bryan MacLean from Love in the sixties. So we became friends, and that gave me the opportunity to get to know him as a person, which is what I think he really wanted. He made it clear that he didn’t want to delve into this right away. He always kind of left the door open, that was it. When I say he was against it, he was seemingly against it but he let me know that there was maybe a possibility of it happening. (laughs)

Scram: If you really wanted it. Do you think if he had been totally opposed, without suggesting that there was an opening, that you would have backed off and left him alone?
Kevin Delaney: Oh yeah. I wouldn’t pressure anyone into doing something they didn’t want to do. He was more trying to convince me that this was ridiculous and I was wasting my time, and most of the other guys were probably dead anyway. One time, after we’d started doing the interviews, he called me up. I’d been talking about Johnny Echols, the guitar player, who has not been heard from in years. I mean the guy has vanished! All kinds of writers have been trying to find him. And Bryan calls me up for some reason, and he says, “I think Echols is dead.” I said, “Why?” “I dunno, I just think he is.” I said, “Well, that’s not that much to go by, y’know?!”

Scram: You can check the social security index—
Kevin Delaney: Well, actually we did! That’s a whole ‘nother story. I hired a private investigator. It was the only time I’ve ever done that. For everybody else, I just busted my behind to find them. Echols was a guy I just could not find. I didn’t know if he was dead; I didn’t know anything about him. I did get his social security number, though, off a session sheet. (Laughing) And I hired this private investigator.

Scram: How’d you find a P.I.? The phone book?
Kevin Delaney: Oh yeah, you know, it’s a fairly routine thing. They find people, deadbeat dads who don’t pay their child support and whatnot. And this guy is saying to me — it was comical! — he was saying, “I’ve been in business for thirty years, I have never failed once. I will guarantee—” I said, “But what if you don’t find him? Do I get my money back?” “Don’t worry about that. I will find him. I have never failed once in thirty years!” I said, “All right, fine, whatever.” He said, “What information do you have?” I have a social security number—” “That’s all I need! If we have a social security number, we’re in!” So I gave him the social security number, and he calls me back about a half hour later, and he says, “Uh... do you have any more information on this guy.” “Why?” He says, “Well, uh, I checked a couple databases here—” “What, wasn’t the social security number good?” “The social security number is good, but he’s not using it! The last time it’s been used is 1978.” So I gave him some more information, and he called me back and forth, and he ended up trying to convince me that Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols were the same person! (Laughter) I said, “You gotta be out of your mind. Are you kidding me?’’ He asked me “Well what can you tell me about this guy?” I said, “All I really know is he was a guitar player in a band called Love, and he was in Los Angeles in the sixties. I don’t know where he is today.” “Who else was in this band?” “Well, the leader was a guy named Arthur Lee.” He asks “Is Johnny Echols white?” I said, “No, he’s bi-racial, he’s part black and part white.” “Uh huh. And is Arthur Lee white?” “Arthur Lee is also mulatto.” And he goes, “Ah ha!” (Laughter) I said, “No no no no no!” He goes, “What instrument did Arthur Lee play?’’ “He played guitar.” “And what instrument did Johnny Echols play?” I was like, I don’t believe this, he’s trying to convince me that they’re the same person. He’s like, “But how do you know?!” I said, “Oh my god!” Needless to say, he was not able to find Johnny Echols!

Scram: Did you get your money back?
Kevin Delaney: I didn’t pay him anything. When he delivers the information you send him a check. But the story has a happy ending. About three weeks ago, real early one Sunday morning, I’m lying in bed, the phone rings, and I think, “Oh, I’ll just let it go.” And I got up a little bit later, checked my phone messages — and Johnny Echols called me up! He had read in Rolling Stone about Bryan MacLean’s death, wanted to find out about it, saw my name in there and just looked me up in the phone book.

Scram: Where is he?
Kevin Delaney: [gives an off-the-record response; sorry fans. But at least we now know that Johnny Echols has not yet joined the choir invisible.] He seemed to really trust me, I think maybe because of the relationship I had with Bryan, and he was interested, too, in doing an interview, which I’m really excited about. We haven’t done that yet. Even though I’m not doing the book anymore, I thought—

Scram: Oh, you might as well.
Kevin Delaney: Oh, yeah! Why not? Just as a fan. After we’d talked about Bryan, I said “Johnny, I got to tell you, there’s a million questions I’ve got to ask you!” He’s really been kind of like the mystery man. It was neat to have heard from him. So actually, I’ve talked to all the guys — except for Ken Forssi, who died — from the original band now.

Scram: How did you talk to Arthur?
Kevin Delaney: He called me up, too.

Scram: Collect?
Kevin Delaney: Yeah, of course. From prison. And it’s a total hassle, because there’s a beep going throughout, and he’s in a room where there’s fifteen other guys waiting to use the phone. And we can only talk fifteen minutes at a time, and every two minutes this voice breaks in (mock officious): “This is a collect call from the California State Correctional Facility.” It’s not exactly prime interviewing atmosphere...

Scram: Can you go up to talk to him?
Kevin Delaney: He doesn’t want visitors. He was another one that had no interest in it at all until maybe about two months ago, and all of a sudden he was totally gung ho, and wanted to be part of it. What he wanted to do was to write out his parts. The book was an oral history, so it’s stories from people, arranged in chronological order, and he wanted to write out all his stuff himself. I thought that was great. I was thrilled to have him be a part of it. Of course I had no way of calling him, so it was mostly whenever he decided to call me that we’d talk.

Scram: Does he still want to write that out for you, now that the book’s on hold?
Kevin Delaney: I don’t know. I’d been in touch with a former girlfriend of his, and I’d made the decision that I wasn’t gonna do the book anymore. I mean, I can’t, I physically can’t do this book anymore, and I told her and she told him about it. It was impossible to talk, so he says “Just write me a letter and tell me what’s going on.” So I wrote that I’m not doing the book anymore, and I haven’t heard from him since.

Scram: When’s he due out? Was it an eight year sentence?
Kevin Delaney: Who knows? He was sentenced to twelve years; he’s already done two or three. They said he has to serve at least 80% of that, but who knows? Killers get out after a ride on a merry-go-round. I don’t know.

Scram: Do you anticipate holding on to your material and doing the book at some future date?
Kevin Delaney: Oh yeah. Oh, it’ll get done, don’t worry.

Scram: Great!
Kevin Delaney: The main thing was, I wanted to get the word out about the book being on hold. A lot of people were really excited about it, waiting for it. Although this is probably gonna piss a lot of fans off, I’m really intrigued by the idea of holding onto this stuff for twenty or thirty years, and locking it away. It’s the untouched stuff. I mean, I’ve got all kinds of information nobody else has!

Scram: So you have to interview everybody who wants to be interviewed for the book now, because they might die.
Kevin Delaney: Well, I’ve pretty much already done that! I’ve interviewed over fifty people, everyone from band members to fans to groupies. My rule for interviewing was you either had to have seen the original band live or you had to know one of the members. If you fit either of those criteria I wanted to interview you. And I really got hooked up big time with the internet — still, I’ve got eyes and ears all over the world. I got some amazing interviews with peripheral people who had great stories to tell.

Scram: What are some of the more interesting interviews that you did?
Kevin Delaney: Well, I’d have to respond on a totally personal level. Definitely all the guys in the band. Finally, after eight months of getting to know Bryan MacLean, when he finally said that he wanted to be part of it. And then to come to the realization — wow! this is Bryan MacLean from Love, I totally forgot! (laughter) This guy has a million amazing stories to tell! He told me things he’d never told anybody before, new insights, new perspectives on things. And one thing I was really shocked at was how many times he would mention Arthur and his current situation. He would wonder what he did to contribute to it. In other words, Arthur being the kind of person who would do things to get himself in trouble, things that are so anti-social, things that are just not right. And Bryan, I think, was really kind of tormented by how he had very abruptly left the band, and maybe he thought that Arthur felt abandoned. And so that was incredible. Actually, they were all — I was just amazed at how even people who said they had nothing to tell me had amazing things to contribute. There was one woman — this was really weird — I was looking through a book of photography from the sixties, by a guy named Baron Wolman. Great photos. There was a section in there of groupies, and there was a picture of a woman named Catherine James, a picture of her and her little baby. And I don’t know why, but I looked at this picture and I just thought, “That woman has a story to tell me!” I had no idea who she was, even if she was alive, but I said, “That woman has a story to tell me.” And I thought, well, I’ll put her on my list of people to find. So, Pamela Des Barres called me up one night — I’d interviewed Pamela for the book — and she says, “I want you to come over for dinner at my house. Just a little thing, me, someone else, and my friend Catherine.” And I said, “What’s Catherine’s last name?” She said, “James.” I said, “I’ll be right over!” (laughs) Catherine came late, we were in the middle of eating dinner, but sure enough, it’s her. And when she walked in I almost fell out of my chair! After dinner everyone was clearing plates, and I just scooched up next to her, and said, “So, Catherine, y’know I’m doing this book about Love and the guys in the band; did you have any involvement with them?” She says, “No. I lived in L.A. for a while, but I moved to New York in ‘66, so I wasn’t even in town by the time the band was together.” And I thought, “Oh, well, that’s pretty weird. Those cosmic forces, what the hell?” “You didn’t have any involvement with the band at all?” She says, “No... I mean, other than Bryan, before he was in the band. He was just a little kid then, playing at this coffee house.” I said, “Tell me more!” Turns out, she knew Bryan when he was just starting out. So, needless to say, the tape recorder was whipped out, the interview was had on the spot, and I got about fifteen minutes of stuff I’d never heard of before, and it was pretty amazing! So that was a neat one. And Bob Pepper was incredible — and again, this is all personal for me, because I love his work so much. I was collecting his artwork. And he was one of those people, too, everyone was saying he was dead! I accepted that, I never questioned it, until one day I was walking along and thought “What if he’s alive?” And I found him in New York. I was so thrilled when I got him on the phone, it was like logic went out the window! I literally hung up the phone and started packing my bag. [holds up the Forever Changes art] I just was fascinated, because he told me how he did this, how they sent him photos of the band members and he blew them up on a Lucite machine and was arranging them, and he was torn between making it a white or a black background — and I love that kind of stuff, because I think, “Wow, what if it was a black background?” The album would have such a different look to it. And also David Angel, who did all the horn arrangements, was another really rewarding interview. He had never been interviewed, and yet his name is on the albums. He orchestrated this album, which is one of the first records with strings and horns on it, and I’m thinking why hasn’t anyone talked to this guy before?! It’s a totally revolutionary thing that he did.

Scram: Did you find that anyone had ever been to see most of these people before?
Kevin Delaney: No! I was shocked at talking to writers who couldn’t believe how many people I had found. They’d say, “You talked to that guy? I’ve been looking for him for years!” Well, I did put a lot of effort into finding these people, but—

Scram: The internet makes a huge difference, if people tried to find them in the early nineties and gave up—
Kevin Delaney: It wasn’t even so much through the internet. A lot of people did not want to be found, which was an interesting situation I’d be in, because after I’d found them I’d have to convince them to be part of this. It was mostly through personal contacts, finding a lot of these peripheral people, and then those people helped me get in touch with the people who were in the band.

Scram: You must find it hard to let go, after this being the center of your life for years.
Kevin Delaney: (laughs) No, I’m thrilled to get rid of it, really! It was like this 8000 pound spider that was weaving a web around me! I got totally sucked into it. This started out with some guy — I liked his bass playing — I’ll do a little article, right? Next thing I know I’m—

Scram: It’s because you’re an enthusiast! You have to watch out what you like.
Kevin Delaney: Well, I’m not as enthusiastic as I used to be! (laughter) I’m finally at the point where I can listen to the music again, it’s not a traumatic experience. (laughter) I’d listen to the records and I’d just see these credit card bills!

Scram: And that’s the story of the Love biography up to the present. So, Kevin, what’s next for you?
Kevin Delaney: Hyping myself as an actor, voice-over artist — basically whoring myself in any way I possibly can.

Scram: You’re in the right town.
Kevin Delaney: Oh, yeah. It’s Whoresville USA. I did a lot of really wacky shit back east, and so I’m giving it a go here. I do a lot of writing — I write for Rolling Stone Online, Launch Online — actually I’m trying to get out of the music aspect of things, because I’ve been totally branded as this sixties nut, and I’m not at all.

Scram: Is Love the only sixties band you like?
Kevin Delaney: No. I like good music, and I do like a lot of bands from the sixties, but I’m not a collector. Some people are really ridiculous about it. I just like the music. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t talk about the future anymore.

Steve Earle interviewed by Ron Garmon

Since 9/11, the real nature of “political correctness” in American media and culture has been on full, obscene display. This is not to say it isn’t still a term of abuse hurled by bigots at the tolerant. However, the guardians of mainstream political discourse have appropriated PC’s rancorous essence to serve the right-wing’s ancient purpose of determining who gets to speak and who is invited to shut the hell up. Artists, journalists, talk-show hosts and teachers have been fired, castigated, marginalized for inconvenient remarks or even showing less than the pre-measured amount grief and resolve. This is truly a new America.

That means, of course, examples are made of those determined to live in the old America. Roots-rock giant Steve Earle’s turn in the media meat-grinder came late last summer with release of his new album Jerusalem, and the song “John Walker’s Blues.” On his trip inside the head of an American misfit worthy of Randy Newman or Warren Zevon, Earle went well beyond either’s patented mischief-making shtick by refusing to undercut his subject with irony or distance. Like the wife-killers or half-repentant badasses that populate the blues, John Walker, the American Taliban soldier, gets the dignity of his monumental fuck-up. As if that weren’t bad enough, Earle filled the album with songs about migrant workers, class oppression, failed radicalism, the insanity of capital punishment and the Daniel-like vision of an American Empire dissolved to ash.

Scram editrix Kim Cooper and I met up with Mr. Earle at one of West Hollywood’s more fussy hotels. The interview was filmed by famed documentarian Amos Poe, and monitored by a clockwatching media rep. Earle was understandably a little wary of any political discussion, but we dove in regardless.

Scram: I spent much of yesterday with your music and the balance of the time with the controversy surrounding your new album, Jerusalem. “John Walker’s Blues” in particular.

Steve: Yeah, well, I mean, the only controversy on Jerusalem besides “John Walker’s Blues” is that I did get a one-star review in the New York Post, which will probably be the hallmark of my career, saying that the rest of the songs prove I have something else in common with John Walker Lindh, that I hated America.

Scram: They say that about everybody. They’re a right-wing paper.

Steve: It’s not really right-wing journalism. It’s just appealing to people’s worst instincts at a time when that’s really, really easy to do, because everybody’s really scared. The reason you see artists being slow to react to this, it isn’t because they’re afraid they’re not going to sell records. Not real artists. They’re genuinely afraid of offending the families of all those people who died, and that’s a very real thing. I deal with it around the death penalty all the time. You have to take victim’s family members’ feelings into consideration when you be working against the death penalty. I was absolutely ineffective as an activist against the death penalty until I realized that. The whole movement has started to realize that and it has finally started to get somewhere and I think that’s why. There’s been so many lost lives and everybody was scared by it and everybody was hurt by it. The way mourning is supposed to be anger as far as violent deaths are concerned, for a while. The question becomes ‘What are you going to do after that?’ And the whole system around the death penalty is whether institutionalized retribution, you know, helps people heal or does it make things worse. I think it makes things worse.

Scram: That dread word “closure.”…

Steve: Yeah, well, they sell the word “closure.” Prosecutors need for victim’s family members to get on the stand and cry or they’re not going to get a death penalty. They can get a conviction without that, but most people; we’re not really that willing to kill, and, because the capital process takes so long, and the appeals, well, there are less avenues for appeals than there ever have been, but there’s a lot that can’t be removed. When you’re dealing with somebody’s life, then they’re necessary. There’s not enough room Constitutionally, to shorten that process anymore. People have tried, but the wiggle room’s not there. So that means every single appeal, the family gets dragged back into it again, goes back on the stands. The prosecutor, who's supposed to be their friend and on their side, just sets them up to cry. Every single time. And we’re dealing with that around September 11th. But, there are groups of people who lost people on September 11th who are starting to speak out against the curtailment of civil liberties and a war with Iraq that this administration fully intended go through with before September 11th, and the racism inherent in making Al Queda, the Taliban and Iraq the same thing. Right there, you are fighting a war with Islam and that’s not a war we can win. Going to the entire Arab and Islamic world and drawing a line in the sand. That’s World War III. It’ll be jihad on a global basis. That won’t be go in, drop a couple of bombs, and come home. It will not be that type of war. I don’t know what they’re thinking about.

Scram: Well, obviously they’re thinking about gigantic defense budgets to infinity, about whipping up a panic so they can have Lockdown America.

Steve: Some people do, and some people want… trying to define this administration by any one agenda is, I think, a mistake. That’s one of the things… it makes them ineffective in some ways, but its also one of the reasons they’re kinda dangerous right now. I don’t think every faction of the administration knows what the other faction is doing, because they are the most fragmented administration we’ve probably ever had.

Scram: I’d like to set the next bit up with a few quotes I dug up from the barking spiders of the national press. You’ve been called “a tedious left-winger…”

Steve: Uh-huh.

Scram: “In the same category as Jane Fonda and others who hate America…"

Steve: Right.

Scram: “Politically insane…”


Scram: “A cocktail party rebel striking poses.”

Steve: I don’t drink and haven’t had a drink in over eight years.

Scram: The question is: what do you think of the American media these days?

Steve: A lot of those things came from definitely right-wing sources, one from a local radio talk-show host in Nashville. Those guys don’t even have a political agenda. They’re about ratings. The answer to stuff like that is “I’m not a liberal. I’m a real, live radical.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being liberal. I’m not morally opposed to somebody with really, really right-wing views that I don’t agree with. That’s what democracy is. There’s probably somebody on the right that balances me out and I’m comfortable with that process. It takes our Constitution a while to work sometimes, but it’s a pretty incredible document. I don’t think the people who wrote it knew how hip it was. I think it turned out to be something much hipper than they intended it to be. We’re not a nation that was formed by a revolution of people. We’re a nation formed by a revolution of rich farmers who didn’t want to pay taxes. We’re still basically a lot of rich farmers who don’t want to pay their taxes. That document is what will be remembered. We’re not going to be the richest, most powerful country in the world forever. History tells us that. We’re not going to even exist forever, and when they start shifting through our ashes, we’ll be remembered for, well, maybe rock 'n’ roll, maybe jazz, and our Constitution. The Constitution was brought to bear to end three separate witch-hunts centered around Communism. The Constitution was brought to bear to end slavery in the first place and it’ll be the Constitution which is brought to bear when—I believe the death penalty, left to its own devices, would die of natural causes like it did the first time if no activist anywhere in the country ever did another single thing. And this particular issue people don’t want to discuss, and we get more and more blood on our hands, which is what I object to with the death penalty. What I object to is, there’s no bad guy, it’s us. This is a democracy. I take responsibility for every death, because I have a voice in this democracy. So when they kill people, I’m killing people, and I object to what that does to my spirit. That’s what my poor objection to the death penalty is. And when the death penalty goes away again it will be the Constitution that’s actually brought to bear, and I firmly believe that.

Scram: Most people don’t know that Southerners had a strong role in writing the Constitution.

Steve: I think a lot differently than some people from the South do. I’m not a big state’s rights guy because if you don’t give Southern politicians the money, they’ll steal it. I don’t believe that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, I think that it was fought over slavery. Some people fought over state’s right but it was all about money. And some people fought it as a class war—I mean on a rank and file basis, people—there were thousands of them—Europeans, people from Ireland, people from France came—and fought in the Union Army because they saw what was going on in the South. It was the feudal system and the industrial revolution was in the North at that time. They saw it as a place where a tiny part of the population still owned all the land and poor people were going to be poor forever. But I do believe in the Constitution. My patriotism is centered around the Constitution. I think it’s the best part of America.

Scram: There’s not all that much difference between Islamic fundamentalism and that of the American Christian variety…

Steve: Exactly. I mean, Islamic fundamentalists strap a bomb on themselves, walk into a shopping area crowded with people and—and Christian fundamentalists have been known to sit in vehicles with high-powered rifles and shoot at doctors who provide abortions. You know? That’s terrorism any way you look at it.

Scram: Yeah.

Steve: I felt John Walker was already searching for something outside of his own culture when he was twelve and thirteen years old, and that is how he came to Islam. And that is how he saw Malcolm X. By the end of it, here was Malcolm’s revelation that there were blonde, blue-eyes Muslims and all of a sudden—bongo! He could relate to that. And he went to Yemen. And Yemen is for a lot of reasons—he went to Yemen because he heard that the Arabic that was spoken in Yemen was what the Koran was written in. And it’s true—but it’s also been a hotbed for fundamentalism for a long time and he was a very, very radical Muslim… I learned more about Islam than I learned about anything else this year. And I think everybody needs to know more before we go to war. I didn’t even know that Muslims worshipped the same God as Christians. It’s not a similar God. It’s the same God. And you know, our news media and our government don’t want to know all of that. CNN is CNN because of the Gulf War. They were the first people to say, “war” and the first people to say, “we are at war.” Just like they were the first people to say three different times who was president of the United States and then Fox News said something and all of a sudden we have a different winner! (Laughs) So we get on the bus, and now normally I get on the bus and I go to sleep because I’ve got a show to do the next night. But this time we were up all night because they just kept changing their minds! (Laughs) Now when I go to airports, I may be randomly chosen by the computer for an extra check at the gate. I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is that every single Islamic looking, or dark skinned person with an accent will be checked. They will be racially profiled. And the reason I have a problem with that is that I don’t think you can do a random check on some people and then profile others. Those people should be in there with everybody else. They don’t single the people out to protect us. They single them out because they believe them to be acceptable to single out and that particular screening in public, where we see the dark skin and hear the accent—and it’s to make light skinned Christians and light skinned Jewish people feel safer—it doesn’t really make anybody safer. It’s done for show.

Scram: Public relations.

Steve: Yeah! That’s it! Public relations. About making us feel safe in a world where we’ve become scared to walk to our cars. That’s what it’s all about.

Scram: Jerusalem will probably go down as the essential album of the past year. Why is it musicians don’t tell the news, like Woody Guthrie and the old folk troubadours?

Steve: Well, I think it’s too early to think that I’m the only one who’s gonna do this. There are other people with different viewpoints, and that’s okay. And you’re gonna see other people with my viewpoint. It’s just very early. I mean, I just think people are getting very worried about disarming all those people and to the point—and the administration wants to disarm Iraq and then the other part of the administration—John Ashcroft’s agenda doesn’t have anything to do with the “War on Terror,” it has to do with abortion, it has to do with Fundamental Christians and it has to do with his inhibitions. John Ashcroft is the same thing that Osama Bin Laden is. He’s a fundamentalist. And he’s dangerous. I don’t think he’s as dangerous as some other people in the administration because he’s kind of a clown, you know? I think Dick Cheney is much more dangerous. He’s the guy I think that’s probably really calling the shots. He’s a true hawk and right now, Bush for some reason started listening to Colin Powell and gave the reins to Colin Powell. But it’s still based on, “we need to get our ducks in line internationally.” They’re still gonna go. They were gonna go before and they’re still gonna go. I hate to say that, but right now I don’t see much hope. They don’t seem to care, you know? I mean Tony Blair had—a really substantial majority of the citizens in his country are opposed to Britain being involved in a war in Iraq and he doesn’t care, for whatever reason. The Bush administration has its own power over Tony Blair and I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s something there and he’s absolutely ignoring the people of his country. And he’ll pay for it.

Scram: And he doesn’t care about being publicly humiliated either. I mean, he tried to get negotiations going in the UN for Bush.

Steve: Yeah! It’ll be interesting to see how they’re gonna—the way they treated the Labor Party is the way they treated the Democratic Party here. Liberal became a dirty word, the party shifted further and further toward what they consider the center and what I consider the right. But I am much more comfortable in England where I can pick up The Guardian and The Times of London and I can sort it out for myself than I am with news that has no other agenda than what goes snap, crackle and pop! And this is—I mean CNN and most of the networks—I think the only exception, and they’re not really an exception but they’re run more like the networks were run—ABC, still sort of hanging in. Ted Koppel and a few other people. They’ve actually done some really good work. But CNN—they’re looking for a “Showdown With Saddam.” It’s bumper stickers.

Scram: Robert Christgau affected surprise that you’d include Aaron Burr in your list of Revolutionary heroes. Why did you?

Steve: I like Aaron Burr because he was one of the first people that sort of came from that Revolutionary War pedigree. Boy, he shot Alexander Hamilton’s ass, boy. (Scram laughs) But Aaron Burr was a really fascinating character and I think he’s a really American character. I’m not looking for everyone to link their agenda with mine. I believe I’m a pretty hardcore liberal. I believe everything Karl Marx said about economics. All those two big books say is that capitalism depends on a surplus of work force in order to flourish. In other words, you have to have a work force over here that’s out of work and disenfranchised to replace the workforce over here that has too much power. It is fundamentally oppressive.

Scram: The threat of poverty.

Steve: Absolutely. And rather than an approach where just realizing that there is enough for everybody in this world. There’s no reason for anybody to go hungry or go without a roof over their heads or go without medical care. I believe this! I live in a country where people don’t believe that. I also don’t believe that our democracy is—I hate the fact that we teach our children that we practice the only true form of democracy. I consider our form of democracy to be really, fatally flawed by the two-party system. England has a two-party system as well. There’s nothing in the Constitution about a two-party system. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s just the players wired it that way and they’ve kept it that way for long enough that they’re hoping nobody will notice that it’s not in the Constitution. (Scram laughs) I’m much more comfortable with a government like Sweden’s or France’s where there’s a lot of parties. They’re diverse. Even the European Parliament itself. And the European Union is becoming a force much earlier than people thought it would. That kind of globalization—the European Union is a product of corporate globalization because it’s the European Union dealing with the fact that all these individual countries on their own didn’t have a chance in that process. And already—they basically stood their ground on steel. They stopped the last attempt at a big entertainment conglomerate merger, you know? We have five major labels instead of only four now ‘cause the European Union’s setting up now, no matter what happens in the United States. So, they’ve become a force. And I’m more comfortable with democracy where we have diverse political parties and they all have a shot at gaining seats. And then the coalitions have seats. And that’s much more democratic to me. People in Europe think it’s funny that we think there’s a difference between Democrats and Republicans.

Scram: That joke’s beginning to catch on here too.

Steve: Yeah. But some of that is Europeans not understanding this whole deal of American politics. There is a difference. Bobby Muller, the President of Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, came up with this great definition of the difference between Democrats and Republicans. I couldn’t ever put my finger on it especially in the last few years. (Laughs) Then he said something: the Republican Party runs on ideology and the Democratic Party runs on the issues. It sorta hatches a much bigger, messier party and much more diverse. So you have to try to find some sort of consensus to build a platform based on the individual relations. The friends of the Republican Party for instance, will hold a dinner. They’re pretty consistent and they have been for a long time. And because of that they’re much more organized. They move much faster and much more effectively. And so they’ve been dominant for a long time. It took that long for the New Deal to wear off. We had socialism born of necessity in this country beginning with the Depression and World War II. Even though World War II yanked us out of the Depression, it took a long time for the idea—for one thing, we still have a Federal Income Tax, which was an emergency measure to help pay for World War II. It was supposed to temporary but it’s still there. Now I don’t have a problem with paying taxes, as long as somebody does something with the money—I’m perfectly willing to pay taxes to get medical care and—you know, people will hear—if you hold up Sweden as an example. Sweden is a very conservative country by current-day standards. They are. The joke in Denmark is that Swedes are Germans without the umlauts. And they are much more conservative than the Danes are. The Norwegians are just kinda rednecks. They’re not in the European Union for one reason. They got all that oil and they didn’t need to be so they just kinda said fuck you and they’ll pay for it. Oil doesn’t last forever as we’re finding out. But if you hold the Swedes up as an example to people in this country, the propaganda that they’ve absorbed is: “Well, they pay over half their income in taxes.” Sure. But their kids go to school for free, including a university education if they qualify for it. And if they don’t pass those tests, they can get vocational credits. For free. And in certain areas, very, very low cost loans. Now, they also get all their medical care for free. I’ve got kids and I promise you, most of my income goes for either educating my kids or paying for healthcare. That’s what most of us are gonna spend. That’s what the big expenditures in our life are gonna be. You know, what difference does it make? But people who don’t want to have that discussion have done a very good job over a long period of time of convincing Americans that they’re going to be taxed into non-existence if they try to just provide the basic medical care for people.

Scram: Of course, Americans are told Sweden is this socialist hell where the inhabitants all commit suicide…

Steve: For one thing it’s a myth. Norwegians earn a lot more than the Swedish do. When I play—I do really well in Scandinavia and the reason is that music is about language. So my strongest markets in Europe are where people can understand what I’m saying. So, obviously England and Ireland, but I do great in Holland, I do great in Sweden, I do great in Denmark and I do great in Norway. I can play Malmö in Sweden, which is right across the spit there from Copenhagen in Denmark. If a bunch of people misbehave at the gig or are rowdy, I’ll come off the stage and they say, “Oh, it’s the Danes. They came over on the boat.” (Scram laughs) The next night it’s Copenhagen and it’s, “Oh, it’s the Swedes.” (both laugh)

Scram: “Ashes to Ashes” is almost like biblical prophecy. A little like Dr. King’s final sermons.

Steve: It’s biblical language. It certainly is.

Scram: Using scripture to warn America that it can be pulled down.

Steve: Well it’s using pseudo scripture. It’s Old Testament language. And it’s poetic language that I don’t think I ever would have tackled if I hadn’t written outside of songwriting for a few years, you know? It never would have occurred to me to write that way if I hadn’t written some fiction and written some poetry. But, it’s about that. We’re not going to be the richest and the most powerful country in the world forever. And everybody else who’s been top dog has gone around acting like they’re gonna be top dog forever too. But we certainly don’t have any reason to think that. It’s just like oil. You know, oil is so important, and people are getting killed over oil—and this is in a time when people are—admittedly, oil companies are just one step behind the tobacco companies for continuing to provide a product and we continue to use a product—every machine that we use, directly or indirectly—is linked to oil. You know?

Scram: Yeah.

Steve: We’re so dependent on it. And it’s not because there isn’t technology available to replace it. It’s because there are very powerful people who have made a lot of money, which makes them even more powerful, who sell oil. And they know how to sell oil. And a lot of other things are dependent on oil. I mean this whole economy is based on oil. So they’re not gonna let it go. They’re not gonna worry about any sort of hydrogen or any other form of energy, until there’s no fucking oil left in the ground. It is strictly greed. (Scram laughs) Why would we go and develop that and spend all this money on research and development? That would make all this oil—and we know where it is—worthless. And the very powerful people spend the money in Washington, and this administration is the most unashamedly completely and totally bought and sold. It’s pretty scary.

Scram: So you meant the album as…

Steve: I meant it as—I didn’t even want to make the record. I was gonna try to take the year off. But I found myself making it. And then, making a record this year created deadlines. Some of them just had to do with where I sit in the hierarchy. I can’t release a record in November or December because I don’t sell enough records to complete with the record stores for space. September is the latest I can release them. And some of this is real perishable. I want it to be heard now. So I did rush it trying to get it out so I could make that deadline.

Scram: Of the response so far, is there anything that offends you?

Steve: No. I don’t really have it in me to regret. It’s not that I don’t think about what I did. I’ve fucked up some stuff in my life. It wasn’t like I wasn’t being careful. I’m also not too careful. I think the other danger is being too careful. It’s just the way I reacted to September 11th. It’s sad to think that there might be somebody else out there that has something else to contribute to this discussion and who has been hanging back and now they’ll see that it’s okay to talk about this. It’s okay and it’s important.

Scram: At this point, is there any way for America to wash away the blood from its hands?

Steve: Sure, but—it’s gonna take a long time. And we’re gonna really want to change. We can do anything. But we have to decide that—we’re a long way away from it. We’ve got to admit there’s a problem first. And we’re not there yet. But there are some of us that are there, and this is a democracy. And I think anybody really can—if they bother to do it—be heard. I’m very respectful of my audience and most of my audience doesn’t agree with everything I do—even about the death penalty. But they do respect how I feel and they realize that it’s a discussion and they want to be involved in it. And as long as it’s like that I feel pretty much all right.

It's 1975 and in LA's sleepy South Bay, Back Door Man magazine is defining a proto-punk attitude… Don Waller talks to Ron Garmon

Intro by Kim Cooper, editrix:

When I was a kid in Hollywood in the '80s, the folks who worked at record stores were much cooler than they are today. The city was still cheap enough that a clerk's wages could finance a civilized life, so hep cats with insatiable appetites for new vinyl could spend years behind the counter at Rhino, Aron's, or my uncle David's Record Connection, dispensing snarky opinions on your purchases or just leaning on the counters digging the latest sounds.

I'm not sure when I became aware that Rhino perennial Phast Phreddie Patterson had once been a principle in a mag called Back Door Man--possibly from Danielle Faye, the exquisitely laid back Record Connection staffer whose sister D.D. was also a BDM alum. I didn't see a copy until the mid-'90s, and when I finally did I was intrigued by the writers' passion and their efforts to locate and interpret worthy cultural excrescences in an era where bloated excess was too infrequently punctured by real, raw art. During the magazine's short life, punk rock exploded, making it much easier for weirdoes to find good stuff. Magazines like BDM had a small but undeniable influence on the emerging underground, and it's fun to go back and watch them grasping at the straws that would eventually form a movement.

I've seen BDM's Don Waller around for years, but first got talking with him while promoting the Scramarama festival. I called to see if he might want to write about the show for the L.A. Times, and ended up spending a couple hours enjoying his tales of SoCal childhood and thirty years as a rock and roll writer. When Dave Laing (whose Dog Meat Records in Australia released a posthumous LP by Don's Imperial Dogs) suggested we interview Don for Scram, I thought immediately of putting him together with Ron Garmon of Worldly Remains mag, since Don and Ron are two of the most verbally adept, opinionated and well-dressed writers on the LA scene. Sure enough, they hit it off famously…

(note: the conversation is punctuated with much coughing and gargling; Waller’s nasal rasp is funny and confiding, as is his feline moan over terminal vowels like “y’kno-ow”)

Scram: Great, the commentators now interview each other…

Don: Oh, I’ve interviewed writers before. I understand why Studs Terkel didn’t include writers in his book, Working. We think too much about stuff. (cigarettes are lit)

Scram: As background, what L.A. radio stations were you listening to back in the early '70s?

Don: In the very, very early ‘70s, way before we started Back Door Man, KDAY was still pretty cool, because Bob Wilson was programming it. He ran it like a Top 40 version of an FM station, where you had three songs in a row, then spots and promos, then three songs in a row, and he’d play a lot of weird stuff. You’d get things like “Rattlesnake Shake” or “Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac, and odd things. It was kind of the free-form era. When that went off the air, KROQ was around for a while and went away for a while. Look, the standard AM/FM stations were just, by ’74, they were just hopeless. I mean, you heard what you heard.

Scram: To quote the biographical statement you gave Brendan Mullen for the We Got the Neutron Bomb LA punk book: “FM radio sucked. Everything was either paid-by-the-note prog shite, downer-fueled heavy metal or kozmik kowboys Eagles krap. This was 1975.”

Don: That’s pretty much the way it was.

Scram: At about what time did free-form FM radio begin to die in this town?

Don: (long pause, Waller’s face contorts into baroque angles suggestive of thought) About 1972, for sure it was dead. You started with B. Mitchell Reid and Tom Donahue doing KPPC out of that church in Pasadena. That was where it started and that was just it. They did six hours, three hours of each, before it became a full-time station. I was still in high school, so this hadda be about ’68, ‘69. There was a great poster I wish I had, which said, “What kind of person listens to KPPC?” and had a picture of Jimi Hendrix. I think they did a couple like that, but that one was the best. Then there was KLOS and KMET as yer big FM powerhouses, but they gradually got corporatized, and there were strikes and stuff like that. Occasionally you could listen to weird shit on the radio. I remember the Credibility Gap on KRLA, and I can also remember Radio Free Oz, with the Firesign Theatre guys on KPPC. Johnny Otis’s show used to be on Sunday night on one of the FM stations. He used to have Shuggie [Otis] on, and they’d play with people. KUSC, before it went Classical, used to have student bloc programming, and there was this guy named "Memory" Lane Quigley who played nothing but '50s-type oldies, which was kinda cool. This was before American Graffiti came out. I remember listening to that in college. Rock 'n’ roll wasn’t that old, so, like in the mid-'60s when the Beatles came out, on Memorial Day weekend they’d have these Million Dollar Weekends where they’d play the library of gold hits. You’d hear the Five Satins doing “In the Still of the Night,” or the Flamingos' “I Only Have Eyes For You” and go, “What the fuck was that? That was a great record.” There was also the Wolfman. I just discovered him one night. Really early on, he was playing Lightnin’ Hopkins and Big Mama Thornton. Later, he got into more contemporary R&B, but it was still great. And his act was just fuckin’ great. By ’74, this shit has all but vanished.

Scram: Tell us about the founding of Back Door Man. Who were the people involved?

Don: Okay, Phreddie called me up one day and said, "I wanna start a magazine and I wanna call it Back Door Man.” I was living in Carson at the time, and I said, “Yeah. Good. Let’s get D.D. Faye to write for it.” She was my girlfriend, and she could write. “Let’s get Bob Meyers”—‘cause he lived around the corner from me when I was a kid, and I still knew him and I knew he could write. We both wanted our pal Tom Gardner and the Underwoods, too. That was the original hard-core staff. We’d met the Underwoods when Phreddie and I taught an extension class at UCLA. Liz had a bunch of vintage photos and fancied herself a photographer. Don was just a funny, cool guy. In retrospect, I miss Don Underwood’s voice in the later issues. He was a big champion of Roxy Music and Eno and weird stuff like that. There was a whole horrible falling-out early on with all that.

Scram: Was it over the direction of the magazine?

Don: No, it was more of a personality conflict. There were issues of responsibility and who’s doing what, etc, etc. Certain people weren’t happy with Liz, and they were a package. Stones were thrown and stones were thrown back. But that was the original crew and that’s how it came together. Phreddie typed it over at El Camino College and that’s why those first issues were just rife with fuckin’ errors! Spelling errors, grammar, all that stuff. It was very much a learn-by-doing kind of experience for us. I mean, none of us were journalism majors; none of us had worked for newspapers. Or anything.

Scram: What kind of local rock press did L.A. have in those days?

Don: I think the L.A. Free Press had just about folded. There really wasn’t any. The Times didn’t do much with the local scene. There wasn’t much happening. Let’s review: At the time, the Whisky was closed for a coupla years. The Roxy was running this “El Grande de Coca Cola” musical thing in there. The only way you could get into the Starwood doing originals was if you had a record deal. Most of the time, it was Quiet Riot doing their Slade act or something like that. There was no club to play per se. If you were doing original material, there weren’t a lot of places to play. Local radio wasn’t giving anything out.

Scram: There wasn’t any local scene for the magazine to support.

Don: There wasn’t much of anything. You could rent a union hall, say Mr. and Mrs. Joe Blow are gonna get married and you bring in a band. (pauses to consider)… Yeah. Yeah. It was a wasteland.

Scram: What was to be the point of the magazine, then?

Don: Well, we just thought the other magazines all sucked. We got really tired of ‘em all. Our goal was to write about music we cared about in a way we wanted to write about it. Nobody was saying anything about anything we cared about, so we thought we should do this ourselves. It was just frustration, I think.

Scram: I’ve had problems with printers over content. Did BDM?

Don: Yeah! We switched printers a coupla times, partly over rates, partly over who would do it. Most people didn’t want to bother with something that small. I remember that, after the last issue, the printer didn’t want to do it, and I think it was ‘cause of that shot in the back where all the one-liners are, where the girl's clutching that latex dress. We took that out of a magazine called The Lure of Latex or something like that. We did that as a center spread. It’s nothing revealing really, just suggestive. They said, “We don’t want this. We don’t like this. We don’t want the language.” I remember going down there in a suit to talk to people, saying, “C’mon, man, this is a money deal. We’re willing to pay. You can increase the price from what the previous printer was charging.” The manager of this place said, “No, we don’t wanna do it.” What can you say? The last two issues had foldouts in ‘em, for God’s sake. What good is that? The Johnny Rotten foldout is really good, and the flip of that, where D.D. does the reportage from the Winterland show with the Sex Pistols was the best thing we ever did. It’s a really good piece. I also liked the way that, when we got it in from D.D., we said, “Why typeset it? Let’s just shoot these pages with the editorial notes in the margins and all across." I thought that was the best piece of art direction I did. I’m very happy with that.

Scram: What was the record company gravy train like in those days?

Don: Probably richer than it’s been in the last three months. There were things like, say, when Ram Jam played the Starwood on the strength of “Black Betty.” Nobody wanted to go see ‘em, so Pat Siciliano, the publicist, ordered buckets and buckets and buckets of Pioneer Chicken. There were unlimited tabs, if you can believe that. We were never as abusive as some people were. Maybe there were some nights when Phreddie or somebody might’ve abused a tab. We would ask for multiple tickets, like all six of us needed to get in. Or eight, or whatever the fuck. Nobody gave a shit. There was certainly a lot of largesse back then, but we were so naïve! If I knew then what I know now! We didn’t loot ‘em. The people and companies who took out ads really liked, or pretended to like, what we were doing for their acts. It was all good publicity and all good. We actually did refuse certain advertising for acts we didn’t like, which was really dumb as shit. When Casablanca was running that ad for Angel [Punky Meadows’ cutie-pie '70s metal act whose White Hot (1975) was a stoner favorite and critic’s despair], we told them we hate that fuckin’ band. What the fuck were we thinking?

Scram: Probably of all the “sell-out” letters you’d get.

Don: At the end, we didn’t get a lot of letters because we started making fun of everybody in the letters so viciously that they’d never write in. Which was stupid! We’d take the hate mail and trash it. And if you didn’t hate us, we’d make fun of you, too.

Scram: What was performer access like in those days?

Don: Pretty good. When Patti Smith played the Whisky that was the first time we went backstage there. She played for a bunch of people who didn’t give a fuck. She was the opening act for some fucking band I can’t remember. There weren’t a lot of people there, but we went every night. It was amazing. We went back and hung out with her and Lenny Kaye. She emboldened us and encouraged us a great deal. We were The Press. We were always on the list at the Starwood, for example, and they made their money because we drank like fools. Part of that was because Eddie Nash owned it. Y’know who I’m talking about?

Scram: Tell me.

Don: Eddie Nash was the guy who was implicated in those Wonderland Murders [A particularly sordid affair involving racketeering, drug dealing and the 1981 beating deaths of four people in a “highly secured” house in Laurel Canyon; the bloody handprint of porn star John Holmes was found at the scene, but he was acquitted and the case remains unsolved.] He owned the Starwood, the Odyssey, the Seven Seas and a few other clubs in town. It was fucking organized crime, mostly a front for drug dealing. We’re talking Tony Soprano now.

Remember, things were a lot cheaper then. Tickets were a lot cheaper. There was no restricted parking. You could park for free in West Hollywood and walk up to the Whisky. Even if you got hosed for the ticket and hosed for drinks, you still could do it. We were big Iggy Pop fans and would hang out on the fuckin’ street for two hours waiting for the Whisky’s doors to open. We ate copious amounts of marijuana brownies and lots of white crosses too. Lids were ten bucks.

Scram: How was distribution?

Don: Of the publication? Well, originally we just sold it in local record stores, then we did a lot of mail order to stores across America. The last several issues, I think we were distributed by Jem, the import retailer that also handled Bomp! and that kind of stuff. Everything with a $1 cover price was distributed by Jem. A lot of people wrote in for subs. Remember, there was no MTV, no Internet, no way to get this stuff around, so it was all word of mouth. We tried to get into all the big record stores like Tower, or certain record stores in Cleveland, Boston or wherever.

Scram: Did you initially design it as a local magazine?

Don: No. We wanted to cover the local scene, because somebody should. The local scene shifted from the kind of bands playing hall parties in the South Bay to the Runaways, the glitter scene, stuff up here in the city. I covered Kim Fowley’s “New Wave Night” or whatever the fuck it was called at the Whisky, which was just (puckers) horrible. Kim just let whoever showed up first get up on stage. Don’t tell me that the Germs were a great band. They were horrible.

Scram: There’s still a rather silly personality cult around Darby Crash.

Don: Yeah… I’ll just say that that was a load of shite. The music was shite; Darby was a load of shite. I’ve talked about this before. I can remember where I was when Darby died. I was sitting in our apartment over in West L.A. and we’d eaten all these mushrooms and we were waiting for Charlotte Caffey to get there. It was a rainy Sunday night and Charlotte comes in and says, “Darby’s dead” and we just all started laughing.

Scram: At what point did you start putting out records?

Don: We did two singles by the Pop, one single by the Zippers and the one Imperial Dogs single that came out after the band had already broken up. Back Door Man Records was a joint venture of me, Tom Gardner and Gregg Turner. We did those four singles and then dissolved it. Twelve fuckin’ years later or something like that, Dave Laing in Australia calls Ken Barnes, who’s like this real avid record collector, and says he really likes the Imperial Dogs single, and Ken tells him the guy who made it is sitting in the next office! Dave talked to me and I said I had a bunch of other shit on tape. I picked the stuff I liked and sent it down there and we put that record out.

Scram: From a pure vibe standpoint, compare the L.A. scene then to that of today.

Don: Well, it’s different. Certainly there’s a lot more media out there. There’s the Internet. Fanzines, lots of ‘em. The clubs are kind of weird, because L.A.’s in kind of a downward spiral right now. Look at all the fuckin’ tribute bands and shit. There’s not one band that’s broken out of L.A. recently. Back in the '80s, you had Van Halen, X, the Go-Gos, the Bangles, the Blasters, the Minutemen. All different kinds of music and the clubs were hoppin’. How can Silver Lake be so happening when there’s only two fuckin’ places to play? And you can’t put twenty-one decent bands on in a week? To me, the scene is very fragmented here in L.A. They don’t like this, won’t go see that. And the dance music scene has been bad, ‘cause it’s really cheap to hire a DJ. That was a problem back in the '70s too, y’know, when the whole disco thing came in. It’s gotta be healthier overall, because of the support systems. But I go out a lot and there’s nobody for whom I’d say “You just gotta see these people or set yourself on fire.” Maybe I’m just too far from the street, but I don’t see it.

Scram: I get around quite a lot and can say that there’s no there out there. Nobody’s talking about anything going on.

Don: Certainly it’s easier to make a record nowadays. We never had rehearsal spaces. If things would’ve happened a little later, because I walked away from music at a certain point, I didn’t play anymore. If I knew that a punk revolution was gonna come in two years and change the world, I would have stayed at it. By then, people were paying me more money to write about music than to play it.

Scram: That’s still the same.

Don: And I wouldn’t have to split it up four ways at the end of the night. I had a career at that point. Phreddie is a club DJ and does liner notes and obits, and he worked at Warner-Chappell music publishing in New York and ran record stores and stuff like that. D.D. is teaching ESL classes at Santa Monica College and Glendale. She’s got a Master’s in Linguistics. Tom sells food to restaurants and plays guitar with Paul Therrio from the Imperial Dogs in a band called the Wig Titans. They’re good. Gregg formed the Angry Samoans and wrote for Creem, but he teaches math these days. Oh yeah, he makes records with the Bloodrained Cows. But I’m the one person who really became a pro writer out of the whole thing.

Scram: How much did Lester Bangs wind up influencing the style and editorial direction of BDM?

Don: Oh, well, Lester was a great influence. I’d stand up on the bar and shout that. Also people like John Mendelsohn, y’know, whose work was really good. Personally, the biggest single influence on my writing was Nik Cohn. His Rock from the Beginning, I read in 1969. I got it out of the library; I was a poor kid. I never read anything I agreed with so much. I loved the way he told the stories. He’s the person that I stole the most from. Everyone else is secondary, tertiary or worse. Lester and the whole Creem thing was a big influence on us. Other people were more influenced by R. Meltzer than I was. Maybe Gregg Turner. We were also influenced by Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor.

Scram: What was the origin of the inside back cover ad in issue # 3 that has Kim Fowley soliciting a girlfriend?

Don: He paid for it.

Scram: Was he serious?

Don: I can only guess at his motivation. I think it’s obvious. (laughter). I’ve always thought of Kim as an eccentric uncle. He’s very funny when he’s not talking about his own projects. When he’s talking about his own stuff, its just bullshit on bullshit. I would watch him work the phones and come up with weird slang and say things like “Gram Parsons is just a guy who knew a lot of George Jones B-sides.” He’s a pig. I really must say that. A lot of women find him disgusting.

Scram: So I keep hearing. Quite. There was some controversy about racial jokes in BDM.

Don: That’s more later as people looked back on it. I think that was Chris Stigliano, who has that fanzine out of Pittsburgh, Black To Comm. He did a piece on BDM a few years ago and didn’t talk to anyone involved. He just did what Chris does, which is spin his own interpretation of events, which I suppose is what any writer does. Somehow this came to my attention and I wrote him back a long letter, trying to clear up errors and misconceptions. The remark “David Bowie, I hope you O.D. on Afro Sheen” is a reaction to Young Americans. It was a joke. I mean, Bowie’s face was pasted onto Sly Stone’s body on that picture. There were a lot of bad things happening in black music then. I’ll say this. Me and Bob Meyers went to see P-Funk play the Forum on the Mothership Connection tour. Bootsy Collins was the opening act. There were 18,000 people at the Forum, and sixteen other people besides me and Bob were white. I know. I counted us. If you’re lookin’ at James Brown or P-Funk, you think, “What the fuck is Donna Summer?” A lot of that stuff was pretty bad. Why listen to the Bee Gees when you can listen to Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding or P-Funk? The jokes we made were sex jokes or homosexual jokes or racist jokes. It wasn’t like we weren’t going to make fun of David Cassidy just because his dad got burnt to a crisp. We made fun of Johnny Winter (“Albino more of his records after hearing this.”) and the Eagles (“Pissing and moaning about the good life is uncalled for.”)—all classic stuff. Just take it in context. Nowadays, in my own stuff, I don’t do that kind of stuff unless it’s put in the mouth of a very stupid character. I love The Boondocks comic strip. Aaron McGruder’s very good, but he’s in the community. He’s a black person writing about black people for black people, so he can get away with saying all kinds of stuff. If I were to go on Comedy Central with that stuff, I don’t know if I’d get away with it. I’d have to prove my bona fides first. I just don’t feel like having to explain the jokes. (sighs, very tired) I think it was somewhat of a different time.

Scram: How did you get contributors?

Don: People came to us. Lisa Fancher. Bangs and Meltzer might’ve been solicited. The only person we paid was Meltzer, who asked for thirty-five bucks. It says so in the piece. Lester did it for free, ‘cause he was prolific and he liked us. We never really reached out to anyone.

Scram: At what point did BDM begin to get noticed nationally?

Don: Pretty quickly. Around about the time we did the Runaways stuff, we started getting new orders. We were written up in Bomp! and some of the other fanzines. I’ve got some of those.

Scram: What ended the magazine?

Don: The aforementioned printer problems, also we were only getting 50% from distributors. We didn’t make as much money when we went national as we got when we self-distributed. Also, people had kind of gotten into their own thing. D.D. was busy managing the Zippers. Phreddie was busy being Phreddie. I was working at Radio & Records back then, a day job that was pretty time-consuming. A sense of frustration set in. Slash came along and was very popular. It was all new and had no history. Slash was like the biggest little small-town newspaper. It was this small community that all had their pictures and records in there and all wrote about each other and was one big clusterfuck. We were kind of scrupulous about avoiding that kind of conflict of interest. We thought we were a national magazine and not a fanzine (laughs). We thought, “We’re dreaming if we think this is gonna change the world.” Of course it did, twenty years later, but that’s another story. But it was pretty hard to compete with what was going on. Today, the standard rap goes: “First there was the Ramones, then the Sex Pistols, then Nirvana!” There was like fourteen fuckin’ years or somethin’ between the Sex Pistols and Nirvana! The Pixies, the Minutemen, Camper Van Beethoven didn’t happen? No indie rock, no punk rock, no Sonic Youth, no Black Flag? Nothin’ happened?

Scram: One can almost understand ignorance of textbook history, given the shitty state of education, but ignorance of history you’ve lived through?

Don: Not all of them have lived through it, but basically that’s the thing. There’s Punk Rock Mach I, which is what you find on the Nuggets box, which is kids in garages wanting to be the Yardbirds and the Stones. Punk Rock Mach II is pretty much what the Ramones produced. A different style of punk rock, which is still around in a weird form nowadays. Half of it is the come-join-our-gang shit, which is all just done to sell skateboard wear. Then there’s a segment of it that’s a little more committed. Punk rock is like suburban blues, it’s a little like Muddy Waters, the same themes rehashed with little differences. Suburban frustration. I don’t have a problem with it, and I can’t tell some thirteen-year-old kid who’s getting drunk for the first time or losing their virginity that this is not a valid aesthetic experience. Sit there and say music hasn’t been any good since Buddy Holly died? Fuck you! Music is better than ever now because there’s more new shit to listen to and there’s always the old shit to listen to and any old shit you haven’t heard is new to you.

The Turtles' Double Yummy Blow Your Mind Strawberry Shortcake Recipe revealed by Kelly Kuvo

Many moons ago I found the courage to go public with my Strawberry Shortcake & Friends record collection and knick-knack fetish. Once I was out, flocks of secret Strawberry fans came out of their own closets to share rare specks of information about the series. I was thrilled to learn that Flo & Eddie (AKA Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, late of the Turtles) were responsible for my favorite Strawberry Shortcake albums.

It was an honor to get the chance to speak with Mark Volman about his experiences producing the Strawberry Shortcake & Friends records between 1980-83, and how he and Howard got involved in writing music for children.

Scram: Hello Mr. Volman. Thanks for talking with me! Just a few questions for you, if you don’t mind? Who started Kid Stuff Records? How did you and Howard get involved with them to make music for Strawberry Shortcake & Friends records? And where are the Kid Stuff record people now?

Mark Volman: The animators for the Frank Zappa film 200 Motels that we were involved with were doing the animation for the television shows The World of Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City. They asked us to audition for the job of creating the soundtrack music via the company creating the Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, which was American Greetings. A production company out of Florida called Those Characters From Cleveland was producing records on the Kid Stuff Records label at the time. We pitched them our ideas and they bought them. We have no idea what is up with the label now. You know, you should make a good CD copy of all of those Strawberry Shortcake vinyl records you have, because who knows where the master tapes are?! We don’t own any of that stuff.

Scram: Your Strawberry Shortcake records are far superior to the other Strawberry Shortcake record productions. I want to know... why?

MV: Howard and I took on the Strawberry Shortcake & Friends job because our career has never been about inroads or about just one project, but about a series of various accomplishments. We wanted to go deeper than with just “ Happy Together,” and that’s why we used our real names on the credits of each Strawberry Shortcake record we made. Back then, children’s records weren’t really a respected medium and companies weren’t used to paying people for producing something slick for kids. We wanted to do something different with children’s records and provide positive messages. At the same time, we didn’t try to save money in our TV Show soundtrack recordings. We brought in the original voice of Strawberry Shortcake from the TV show and tried to keep all the other actors, and we charged Kid Stuff a lot of money to do that. Strawberry Shortcake was so popular in 1980-81 that a huge balloon of her led the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And they used our song on the float, the Strawberry Shortcake theme song from the TV show that goes “Who sleeps all night in a cake made of strawberry?” all the way down 5th Avenue! Making those records wasn’t easy; it was a challenge. We were confined by what the TV Shows had to give us. However, it opened up other opportunities. We sold five or six million copies of those Strawberry Shortcake records, and at a time when children’s music wasn’t fashionable! We wanted to try to make songs that kids would recognize, rhythms that would be familiar to kids even listening to them for the first time. We wanted to make songs that also just plain stood alone as good songs, regardless of if they were for kids or not—songs that a Turtles fan would love, yet always dealing with the age group we were creating for. Oh, and everyone has got to understand that nothing would have gotten accomplished on those Strawberry Shortcake records without John Hoier. He was our partner that owned Sun Swept Studios in Studio City, CA. That was the studio where we made all of our Strawberry Shortcake records. Everything was written, played, and sung by John, Howard and myself on those records.

Scram: I'm interested in your involvement with the cartoon TV show Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City. Did you guys write the soundtrack and the script for that?

MV: We had nothing to do with the scripts. They were all pre-written and we wrote songs to accompany the story. Howard acted as the voice of the Purple Pie Man on the records, but not on the TV show. We all acted as the Care Bears characters on the Care Bears records we produced, too.

Scram: Do you remember a particularly favorite song from any of the Strawberry Shortcake recordings? I really love the heavy Pink Floyd-ish "Big Apple City" song when Strawberry Shortcake is flying on the butterfly from Strawberryland to the city for the first time!

MV: All of the songs and records were fun to do, but I would have to say that “I Was Born To Disco” on Let’s Dance With Strawberry Shortcake is one of my favorites. Howard sang on that as the Purple Pie Man. That was a fun novelty disco record to do.

Scram: I thought the theremin you all used as the sound effect for the butterfly on The World Of Strawberry Shortcake soundtrack record was very innovative and cool! Was there a Strawberryland character that you took a shine to? The Southern belle Lemon Meringue? The little cat friend, Custard?

MV: Lemon Meringue, now, she was a cutie. But I really appreciated Strawberry Shortcake’s leadership skills. She is a real Pollyanna who sees the best through the worst of things. She’s like John Lennon. Strawberry Shortcake saw goodness in the Purple Pie Man. She’s a religious figure who understands the importance of Love Thy Neighbor. You either love that kind of person, or you hate them. Like John Denver. It’s all about positivity. Strawberryland couldn’t have existed without her. She was the center of the universe, a very enduring person to write music for. The Purple Pie Man was a real cad. Not bad, just unloved. He was misunderstood and raised badly. Strawberry Shortcake and The Purple Pie Man are the Yin/ Yang of their universe. Strawberry Shortcake music is very Rubber Soul for kids.

Scram: Okay, so what is your favorite flavor anyway? If you lived in Strawberryland, what flavor would you be? How about Howard?

MV: Anything having to do with lemons, that would be me. I’m “lemon flavored.” Howard is the Purple Pie Man. That’s who he is. The flavor of Purple Pie Man. You should know that we also made about four or five 7-inch G.I. Joe records for Kid Stuff. On those we wrote the story and script and came up with the characters. Deep war stories. The Sergeant Pepper of the genre out of all those Kid Stuff records was the G.I. Joe 7-inches. They were all full feature story-type records, not song based. John, Howard and I played all the characters.

Scram: Oh, man, I’m gonna comb the thrifts for GI Joe stuff now! Thanks for the tip. And thanks for your time. Good-bye!

MV: You can call me anytime. Bye!

Discography of Flo & Eddie Strawberry Shortcake Productions on Kid Stuff Records

… 1980 – The World Of Strawberry Shortcake
… 1981 – Strawberry Shortcake In Big Apple City
… 1982 – Strawberry Shortcake's Pet Parade
… 1983 – Let's Dance With Strawberry Shortcake

Postscript: I thought I had stockpiled every important Strawberry Shortcake recording when I wrote about the series for Roctober #24, but it seems there are always new treats to be found. Here’s the scoop on a couple of Flo and Eddie soundtrack gems that I’ve recently discovered. You can find these in any ol’ video store with a large children’s section. If you get the bug and need to acquire other Strawberry Shortcake products, look for those that star Russi Taylor as Strawberry Shortcake. Russi is the berry best, so you’ll be glad you did. All other Shortcakes are inferior hacks who pale by comparison. You have been warned!

Strawberry Shortcake’s Pet Parade
note: Flo and Eddie wrote and performed the music, and sang the songs, but did not write the lyrics for this show.

The story of this animated TV show is not as cool as Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City, but Pet Parade has its shining moments—for all Purple Pie Man fans, that is! The evil Purple Pie Man of Porcupine Peak, and his nemesis, the luscious madam Sour Grapes, steal the show… literally!

The story begins with Mr. Sun’s announcement that the 2nd Annual Grand Old Pettable Pet Show and Parade is about to begin. First Prize is a brand new tricycle with a special seat for pets. For some bizarro reason the prize bike is at Strawberry Shortcake’s house, and since Strawberry Shortcake and her cat Custard are going to be judges in the Pet Show, she rides the bike on a dirt trail all the way through Strawberryland to the contest. By then, the bike is used and worthless as a prize, as far as I’m concerned. Phooey!

Strawberry sings a cute Nilsson-esque song along the way that goes, “The world’s a four-leaf clover, a rainbow built for two, I’d love to give today to you. Yesterday is gone and done for, tomorrow’s still a pack of dreams. Now is the time to have some fun, for it’s later than it seems!”

Hearing this jive-talk ringing through the land, the Purple Pie Man freaks out and decides to enter his pet crow, Captain Cackle, into the pet show just to be a pest. Then, Sour Grapes and her pet snake Drags arrive in town on a trolley, and they almost run over the Pie Man. Sour Grapes and the Pie Man start to argue over which one of them is the baddest baddie in town. The fight turns into a great duet: “I’m much lower than you are. You can’t get lower than I. In a low down show down, your lawns I’d mow down. To me you’re always a pie! For I’m despicably evil. No, I’m as bad as they come. Oooh, I’m not perky when I play dirty! But, I’m the crummiest crumb. We’re both deplorable stinkers, but who is lower than whom?” All the while, Sour Grapes emits a banshee yodel that is amazing! The music is really heavy, and there's even a free jazz clarinet solo. Imagine if Alice Cooper and Ornette Coleman wrote a song together for an Addams Family episode, and you'll be close. Cool, huh? Okay, back to the story… The Purple Pie Man and Sour Grapes decide to join their evil forces to try to win the Pet Show contest together. They come up with a plan to “destroy Strawberry Shortcake with her own phonograph!” (So symbolic from a time when the CD was about to knock vinyl off the charts).

A marching tune introduces all of the characters and their pets as they file up and off the stage: Huckleberry Pie and his dog Pupcake, etc. Not too impressive. But then the bad guys sneak the phonograph under the stage. Their pets, Drags and Captain Cackle, sing a really crazy duet that impresses the audience so much that she calls for an encore. (See, the audience consists of one character, Angel Cake. She’s the only kid in town without a pet. A sub-plot explains all that and I’ll spare you the details). Drags sings in a high operatic voice, “Oh sweet strawberry of life at last I’ve found you!” and the tune immediately changes to a marching song that Cackles belts out, “Give me ten grapes to a sour hearted grape!” Then Drags sings, “I’ll be calling you, berry blue, berry blue!" And together they both sing, “I love you!” But before Angel Cake can crown the winners the record starts to skip, revealing that a Milli Vanilli-style hoax was in the works! Marvelous! Five strawberry red stars.

Let’s Dance With Strawberry Shortcake original soundtrack LP

"It’s a berry special wonderful day in Strawberryland. The day of the big dance. They’ve put up a big stage right in the town square for the big show and the star of the show is our berry own Strawberry Shortcake. Strawberryland has never been a more wonderful place to be. Everybody’s dancing as Strawberry Shortcake herself leads you through ten berry wonderful new dances. Just like Strawberry Shortcake says, “Let’s Dance.”

That’s the claim on the cover of the LP. Are you convinced? Got on your boogie shoes? Well, you’re in for a treat, because this record lives up to the hype. The first two songs, "Let’s Dance" and "The Strawberry Twist" build up momentum, but the highlight comes with "One, Two, Cha-Cha-Cha." To put it mildly, this song is genius! Strawberry Shortcake and the Cha-Cha-Cha beat even seduce and hypnotize the Purple Pie Man of Porcupine Peak. Spin this song at a party and it’ll turn your guests into dancing fools; I've seen it happen with my own eyes! As you shimmy through "The Limbo Dance," "Do The Strawberry Stomp," "The Strawberry Waltz," and "Huckleberry’s Polka," the dance floor is slowing thinning. But by the last song on Side 2, the Pie Man has become a regular Saturday Night Samurai. Like a slave to the techno siren, he makes his declaration of devotion in "I Was Born To Disco." He’s all alone on the dance floor with this one. The club has closed and everyone has gone home, but him… and Disco. Stellar.

Scramarama - November 2-3, 2001

It started with a traffic jam. Young literary ladies of leisure like your editrix are rarely trapped by these workaday traumas, but in this case an afternoon visit with the grandfolks in Ventura County left me pointed back to L.A. during the worst of the afternoon commute. Trying to amuse myself through the stop 'n' go tedium, I opened my mind up to various fancies, and among them found this one:

Scram is almost ten years old. I should really throw a party.

Palace Theatre marquee, Scramarama Festival, November 2001

From that humble impulse came the Scramarama, two nights of ridiculously ambitious rock and roll, light projections, found educational films, psychic cats, hauntings, and assorted magic. Before it was done I'd enlisted dozens of lovely folks to share my delusions, secured the use of a 90-year-old theatre and its delightful 22-year-old manageress, obtained a temporary liquor license, lured several heroes out of retirement, and even got the L.A. Times to play along. Wish you coulda been there.

The acts presented were chosen for their association with the magazine, their nearness to my heart, or both. Just as the magazine is a slice of culture filtered through the kaleidoscope of my passions and biases, Scramarama too was a manifestation of things that I think matter. Booking ten moderately obscure performers into a huge theatre in downtown Los Angeles was a risk, but once I saw the final line up, I realized that it was insignificant how many tickets were sold. It was going to be a great show, whether 50 or 500 people came.

We kicked off the festivities on Friday night with a set from Bangers & Mash, those Gallbladderpuddlian mocktops led by the irrepressible Mash Letchingsworth III. The band's American debut was at the release party for Scram #11, and their tour diary enlivened issue #14. This early set time had nothing at all to do with Mash's supposed resemblance to his American cousin Edwin Letcher, who ably managed the stage over the course of the festival. No, the band simply needed to go on first because they were jetlagged. Bangers & Mash made an especially big hit with the under-twelves, my brothers among them.


Red Planet

Then came Red Planet (interviewed in Scram #13), who drove down from San Francisco to delight the assembly with an absurdly energetic set of tunes catchier than the industrial rat traps tucked discretely throughout the venue. Scads of fun was had onstage and off.

Scott Miller

Convincing Scott Miller (contributor, Scram #9) to appear was one of those hopeless tasks that I just kept picking away at. I'd ask and he'd remind me that he'd retired from music. I'd put it out of my mind for a while and then wake up thinking "How can we possibly do this show without Scott?!" Then I'd ask again, he'd say no, etc. Finally must have worn him down or caught him in a generous mood, because he surprised me by saying okay. We couldn't afford the expense of a Loud Family reunion, but no one was complaining that the alternative was Scott playing solo with electric guitar. And he was exquisite, sending those brilliant shards of song out into the wings like some stagebound angel to a room gone utterly silent. Scott's set was a highlight of the weekend, with many people coming up to tell me how moved they'd been by it.

The Loons

Next up were the Loons, those mysterious psychedelic shamen from points south. They were interviewed for Scram #6, when their line-up was very different and their sound more Q65 than Love. For them we lowered the house lights and fired up the Secret Weapon. A band this atmospheric deserved a something unusual. Perched up in the first balcony before a frighteningly complex bank of digital, analog and gelatinous technology were Mari Kono, Lisa Sutton and Andy Zax, collaborating on live projections for the latter part of both evenings. Mari had prepared a series of geometric patterned slides that faded in and out like an op art daydream. Andy brought a box of weird 16mm educational films that he'd been running between bands, and now overlaid silently where appropriate. Lisa was up to her elbows in glycerin and food coloring, creating hallucinogenic washes of pulsating goo. With this backdrop, the Loons looked and sounded amazing, as they set the stage for the most anticipated performance of the festival.

The Music Machine

The Music Machine have never been covered in Scram, because Loons frontman Mike Stax had already done such excellent work on them in Ugly Things. Sean Bonniwell's brilliant lyrics and innovative arrangements have captivated me since I stumbled onto "Talk Talk" and (especially) "Masculine Intuition" as a teenybopper. A solo appearance in San Diego last summer indicated that Sean might be ready to return to performing, and indeed he immediately expressed enthusiasm when asked to play Scramarama. He assembled a passionate group of talented San Diegans, who learned Sean's songs in his absence, gearing up for an intensive set of October rehearsals. It was quietly suggested that it might also be possible to lure Music Machine drummer Ron Edgar out to join Sean, and delightfully, this happened. If you weren't there I can't possibly convey in mere words the power and beauty of hearing those songs played at full-bore by Sean, Ron and their new Music Machine 2000. It was simply astonishing, and there was nothing at all that could have followed them, so we called it a night.


Harvey Sid Fisher

Harvey Sid Fisher (interviewed in Scram #12) turned up with his full band and charming background singers to transform his celebrated Astrology Songs into a folk-rock extravaganza. I've never heard him sound as in command as he did tonight. It made for a perfect introduction to the evening's proceedings. 

Lovely Leo, keeper of the psychic cats, with Cassandra

As Harvey left the stage, Leo Vaisman was setting up his booth in the lobby, where his well-trained psychic cats Nostradamus and Cassandra offered fortune telling and atmosphere for a small donation. Are the cats really psychic? You tell me. Here are the partial contents of the scroll Nostradamus selected for me: "You'll have a delightful time with good friends at mutually liked amusements." Eerie, eh?

Brute Force

Brute Force (celebrated in Scram #3 and again in this issue) was the most unlikely Scramarama performer, more so than even the Music Machine. Who would believe it would be possible to lure this mysterious sixties auteur out to California, or that when we did he would deliver a performance powerful enough to captivate every soul in attendance? I tracked down Stephen Friedland early in the planning stages of the fest, meeting with him and daughter Lilah in a NYC jazz bar. My pal Keith Bearden came along for moral support, because I was frankly intimidated and somewhat starstruck by Brute! He quickly put us at ease with his charming conversation, and demonstrated his people skills when a drunken East Indian joined our party and shared a lifetime of pain and resentment. Brute patiently drew this troubled person out, calmed his outbursts, and sent him on his way. A couple days later I met again with Brute and journalist Dawn Eden, and tentatively asked if he'd be interested in playing Scramarama. To my delight, he immediately agreed. While financial concerns and the events of September 11 inserted some snags in the works, this was one artist that I didn't want to let get away. Special thanks go out to Andy Zax, for all his encouragement when it seemed least likely to fly. I knew it was all worth it from the moment Brute sat down at the electric piano and started playing those weird and wonderful songs. His performance, encompassing music, prop comedy and audience participation, was incredibly moving and hilarious. We didn’t want him to leave, and now we all want him to come back.

Nikki Corvette with the Pinkz

Nikki Corvette (interviewed in Scram #14) had recently made a triumphant return to performing at the Bubblegum Ball, a wild evening of roller skating and rock and roll that doubled as the release party for David Smay's and my Feral House book Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth. Once again backed up by the fabulous Pinkz, Highland Park's favorite girl band, Nikki showed that she remains the undisputed queen of teenage pop. Britney and Christina wish they had an eighth of her sass.

Deniz Tek

Deniz Tek--contributor to Scram #12 and #14, and subject of the first interview I ever conducted--should need no introduction to readers of this magazine. The one-time Radio Birdman leader remains a vital performer who continues to tour and record while maintaining his career as an emergency physician. Tonight he appeared with the West Coast Deniz Tek Group, featuring twins Art and Steve Godoy. They immediately settled into a glorious groove, enhanced by the inspired imagery projected from the balconies. This set was another highlight in a weekend of astonishingly good music. Deniz was also one of two artists harassed by the theatre ghosts, when he tried to take a nap in the spooky understage area (Brute Force claims to have seen a spectral child near the gents).

The Cynics

The Cynics have never appeared in Scram, in part because their long hiatus has kept them off the road during most of the magazine's existence. (They did play on my college radio show in 1990, though.) The times I've seen them have been almost unbearably exciting, and I was thrilled to secure the band for the festival's closing slot. It was really late by the time they went on, but from their performance you'd think the night was just beginning. Singer Michael Kastelic, who'd been dancing up a storm all weekend, somehow managed to summon even more energy as he led the band through a blistering set of savage nuggets. Although I was nearly comatose by this point, they sent a jolt of pure adrenaline into my veins that had me dancing like a goon up in the balcony. The Cynics sent Scramarama out with a beautiful bang, and then suddenly it was time to go home. Sniff.

Heartfelt thanks go out to all the swell folks who helped, especially MC Michael Lucas and the rest of the San Francisco contingent, who paid their own way south only to work like little doggies all weekend long. It really meant a lot to have my founding co-editor Steve Watson in attendance. My dad, stepmother and grandparents tirelessly looked after the box office and merch table, and charmed everyone. P. Edwin Letcher kept things moving on stage. Dawn Garcia from the Palace was always available to fix problems and fire up the scarily antiquated lights. Doug Miller not only tended bar, he negotiated the whole set-up with the surprisingly nice folks from Ace Beverage. Paul du Gré's sympathetic sound mix made the best of the peculiarities of a Vaudeville-era theatre. 

Chinta Cooper takes tickets, father Jan assists, at Scramarama

It was great to have old Scramsters, family and friends together for this celebration. I know there's no way this could ever have happened without all the amazingly generous people who contributed their time, energies and expertise in helping me realize a dream. In my exhausted state around 4 o'clock on Sunday morning I found myself saying, "I am the luckiest girl in the world!"--thank you to everyone who helped me form such a notion.

I'm going to try get stuck in traffic more often. And yeah, I'm pretty sure this won’t be the last Scramarama. See you next time?

--Kim Cooper

For more Scramarama photos, see this link.


Neil Hamburger Live in Los Angeles (September 15-16, 2000)

{CLICK HERE for Neil Hamburger - The Best!}

The news of comic Neil Hamburger’s recent national tour caused a wave of excitement to sweep the states. It’s been a long time since he left the Motel 6 circuit to play larger clubs in big cities, and his fans have missed him. Strangely, in Los Angeles Neil was not appearing at the Comedy Store, Laugh Factory or Igby’s, but at the rock club Spaceland and at Over Hear, some kind of avant garde gallery space in Echo Park.

Neil’s fans didn’t let the offbeat locations keep them from seeing their fave funnyman, and the room was filled to capacity for the first performance at Spaceland. In fact, there wasn’t a parking place to be found within eight blocks, and your editrix had to avail herself of the valet if she was to make it inside before the show began. Apparently some people were there to see a rock group called Trans Am, but the front couple of rows were all Neil-o-maniacs—including movie star and comedian Jack Black, taking mental notes to improve his own act.

The excitement in the air was palpable, as people craned their necks looking for the man who had brought them so many laughs (and tears) with his recorded works. Because Neil has never sat for a proper photo session, no one was quite sure what he looked like. Had he grown haggard since his recent divorce? Would we find him at the bar?

Finally, the stage door opened and Neil himself was standing, drink in hand, surveying his crowd. He was smaller than I expected, with greasy hair in what might have been a comb-over, big thick glasses like my English uncle Dennis wears, and a mismatched dark suit with dusty loafers. Any doubts as to his identity were dispelled as soon as he opened his mouth, and that whining delivery wafted like sour magnolias over the mic.

Coughing sporadically (Neil explained “I have cancer”), he began a series of new and familiar jokes and stories that soon had the audience reacting quite violently. A blonde woman off to the right interjected regularly with comments and catcalls (more about her later), and two young men right in front of Neil yelled something that sounded like “my choice!” repeatedly. Some people were laughing, others wincing, as Neil ran through a relaxed set that touched on such subjects as Teletubby penis grafts, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ love of heroin, Mormons and anal sex, and of course Princess Diana.

At one point Neil refused to finish a joke as a punishment for one heckler—”I’m not going to tell you the punchline, loudmouth!”—and he didn’t. When the audience pelted him with dimes, he pocketed them happily. The “my choice!” guys were getting more and more rowdy, and one of them finally moved to climb onto to short stage and accost Neil. With an athlete’s grace, Neil emptied his drink in the kid’s face and called for a refill, and his antagonist immediately backed down.

The night ended on a high note with the celebrated Zipper Shtick, leaving at least one audience member red-faced yet proud at being singled out for Neil’s unique brand of comic humiliation. Then Trans Am came out, and they didn’t have any jokes, so I didn’t see any reason to hang around. Besides, I needed my rest if I was going to be fresh for the second night of Neil Magic!

The Spaceland show was fun, but Neil was in looser form the following night at Over Hear, and of the two this show was my favorite. Apparently his appearance was preceded by a mariachi band (who I missed) and some young rappers who jumped around in the manner of gibbons. The place was an art gallery, all righty—you could tell by the white walls, concrete floor, and all the pretty kids from Art Center milling around in their polyester finery. Professor Mayo Thompson was also spotted (with some difficulty, since he was all in white and blended into the room), as was comedy fan Don Bolles. The show ran late, and by the time Neil stepped onto the stage from the small door leading back to the beer garden, there were at least a hundred people who had that “make me laugh, goddamit” look on their faces.

Maybe Neil underestimated his own popularity, because quite a bit of his set was repeated from the night before. Unfortunately, the blonde blabbermouth from Spaceland had come to the second show—with his act memorized! As soon as the repeat jokes started coming, she began yelling out the punchlines during Neil’s pauses. He tried to ignore her for as long as he could, then finally snarled “Why don’t you come up and introduce yourself, you little bitch?” Rumor was that she was a friend of Neil’s wife. It is conceivable that the Culver City resident might have sent a friend to interfere with her ex-husband’s local performances. Neil was onto her, though, and started changing his punchlines to make her look dumb. While this did make the jokes less amusing, it successfully shut up his heckler.

When the audience yelled “How’s your wife?” Neil admitted he had agreed not to talk about her in exchange for all his Raw Hamburger royalties and a guarantee that she wouldn’t sue him for slander—but since Jesus hasn’t sued him yet, he could say anything he liked about that guy. I wouldn’t want to repeat any of the foul things Neil said about some folks’ Lord and Savior, so let’s just say that true believers might want to think twice before attending one of his performances.

An effort to make a joke at Elian Gonzalez’ expense fell flat when Neil, who’s spent most of the last year in Australia, mispronounced the kid’s name. He quickly reclaimed the room by intoning his celebrated “That’s my life!” catchphrase a few times, and riffing on Princess Diana. Who doesn’t love a good Diana joke?

Neil wrapped things up with a long, relatively hilarious story about Anthony Kiedis’ repeated visits to a local bar in search of heroin. The punchline when it finally came had the audience clutching their sides, which were aching with convulsive laughter. Neil Hamburger slipped out the door before anyone realized he was gone, and we all returned to our workaday lives, each one a little changed from having spent some special time in the company of America’s Funnyman, Neeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiillllll Haaaaaammmmmmmburger! (Kim Cooper)
{CLICK HERE for Neil Hamburger - The Best!}

Shocking Blue by Brian Green

It's been said about so many of rock's giants that they were “ahead of their time” that the expression has ceased to mean much. So how about a great band that was behind their time? That would be Shocking Blue.

It was 1969 when the best version of this Dutch act gelled, and while most of the bands the Blue emulated were by then turning away from groovy and towards heavy—prog rock, early metal and pre-punk taking over the scene—Shocking Blue still sounded like they might have come out of London or San Francisco, circa ‘66/‘67.

Shocking Blue

Jefferson Airplane is be the band that Shocking Blue mostly invites comparisons to, and it was the Airplane that veteran Dutch rocker Robbie van Leeuwen had in mind when he decided he wanted a female vocalist for his group. But while van Leeuwen may have started out emulating the Jefferson Airplane, his band quickly and permanently outclassed their predecessors. Where the Airplane's lyrics were usually cliché-addled and verging on ridiculous, van Leeuwen offered fresh and innocent boy/girl tales and existential laments; while JA’s music often had that messy, jazzy, “let me do a solo” element weighing it down, Shocking Blue stuck to stripped-down, energy-packed Beat Club grooves; and Mariska Veres was simply a better singer than Grace Slick, more genuinely soulful, more naturally melodious.

Veres was actually not Shocking Blue’s original singer. When guitarist van Leeuwen dropped out of local hitmakers the Motions to form his own band in ‘67, he did so with another Dutch scenester, Fred de Wilde, at the mic. The all-boy Blue recorded one album and some singles (a few of these minor hits in Holland, most notably the decidedly West Coast-influenced “Lucy Brown is Back in Town”). But before things could go too far for this version of the act, and just when van Leeuwen was thinking that he wanted a chick to sing his songs, de Wilde was called off to do military service. Robbie wasted no time in finding Veres, who looked like a model and sang like a soul sister. De Wilde managed to get out of his military duty after just a few months, but by that time the new Blue had already scored hits with “Send Me a Postcard” and “Long and Lonesome Road.” Fred had to understand.

Shocking Blue

With musical acts things tend to either never quite happen or to happen very quickly, but they rarely happen as fast as they did for the new Shocking Blue. Before the end of their first year together, they had a number one hit in the U.S. “Venus,” their third single and the one and only song everybody remembers them for now, topped the American charts in December of ‘69.

But it's one of the great injustices of rock history that Shocking Blue should be thought of (by the few who even recognize their name) as a one-hit wonder. “Venus” is only one of several classic tracks on the Blue's At Home LP, a collection that should be near the top of critics' All-Time-Best polls, instead of remaining in the basement of super-obscurity where it currently exists. “California Here I Come” and the already-mentioned “Long and Lonesome Road” are just as catchy, just as cool, just as memorable as “Venus,” as is a song called “Love Buzz,” which Nirvana eventually covered (not too well, but they get points for having the cool to pay the tribute) on Bleach. There’s also a raga-rock instrumental, a couple more upbeat tunes just barely lagging behind “Venus” and the others, and “Boll Weevil,” the R&B-fueled album opener, which sounds like the Dead with more real spirit.

The next two Shocking Blue albums, while not as strong or consistent as At Home, were still as good as anything being put out in the first years of the ‘70s, and both contained standout tracks. Scorpio’s Dance has “Sally was a Good Old Girl,” a rockin’ version of a C&W standard, plus “Little Cooling Planet” and “Seven is a Number in Magic,” two more swanky, riff-heavy grooves that sound like California ‘67. Next was 3rd Album, which has an overall folksy feel that was new for the band. “I Saw Your Face,” the lead vocal taken by van Leeuwen, is like the Mamas & the Papas with a banjo, and “Serenade” is one of SB’s many slow-tempo'd, melancholic tracks, it being one of their prettiest ballads. But the two strongest songs on this album are both rockers: the ‘60s dance party-sounding “Bird of Paradise,” and the autobiographical anthem “Shocking You,” on which the Blue seemed to be heading to Glamsville.

Shocking Blue

Throughout these years the band, while touring over great distances at break-neck speed, also found time to record a few non-album singles, and one of these, “Never Marry a Railroad Man,” may be their best song altogether. A number one in Holland and a gold record in Germany and Japan, this mid-tempo track, with its staccato guitar riff and stays-in-your-head vocal melody, somehow didn't make any noise in America, where the best the Blue had done since “Venus” was hit the lower reaches of the Top 100, or England, where they were, amazingly, never terribly popular.

Records kept coming. A live-in-Japan set appeared shortly after 3rd Album, and in the year 1972 Shocking Blue released three long-players: Inkpot, Attila and Dream on Dreamer. Sadly, the quality-level was diminishing slightly with each new LP; but with van Leeuwen continuing to write all the original material, there was still the occasional stellar track, and nothing as embarrassing as, say, Jefferson Starship (that would come later, after Robbie left). While the albums contained too much filler to be considered even minor classics, they all had excellent singles, the best of these “Inkpot,” “Rock in the Sea,” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.”

Things fell apart starting in ‘73. First, the band suffered their first flop single—“Let Me Carry Your Bag” went nowhere at home or abroad, and didn't deserve to. Van Leeuwen was tired from five years of worldwide touring, non-stop recording, and songwriting responsibility, and his fatigue showed on this weak record. Things were not going well with their label Pink Elephant, and soon enough they lost a member, original bassist Klassje Van Der Wal. The band's creator, mastermind and sole songwriter to that point, Robbie van Leeuwen, gave it up shortly after that.

This should have been the end of Shocking Blue, but people need to have things to do, and in doing them often threaten to permanently tarnish something that was once precious. The absence of van Leeuwen's pen was all too apparent on the ‘74 Shocking Blue singles “This America” and “Gonna Sing My Song” and the album Good Times. While the new players were competent musicians, and while Veres' voice sounded strong as ever, the riffs weren't quite there and the lyrics were atrocious (particularly in the case of “This America,” a song on which Veres foolishly sings the praises of the country that had only recently pulled out of Vietnam).

Mercifully, the band went on hiatus after those singles failed to bust the charts. But this was still not to be the last of Shocking Blue. In 1986, the same year that Bananarama trivialized them (although thickening van Leeuwen's royalty checks) with their hit version of “Venus,” a new—and newly-schlocky—SB came out with “The Jury and the Judge,” on which they went back and proved that, yes, they actually could be as tacky and dinosaur-sounding as the Starship. This piece of soulless, formulaic glitz could've easily been the B-side of “We Built This City.”

And that ain't all. There was another single, equally bad, in ‘94, and word is that a band called Shocking Blue, with fronted by Mariska Veres, is still haunting European concert halls. Van Leeuwen is quoted as saying that this new SB “sounds good for sure,” but one has to wonder what time has done to the ears of this once classic songwriter and unsung hero of rock; Robbie hasn't played his guitar for quite some time, apparently having become more interested in the art world than that of contemporary pop music.

Shocking Blue

Recommended Listening: Singles A’s & B’s, the 2-CD collection of Shocking Blue's 45's, front and back, ‘67-‘94, contains some of SB’s best songs, and can serve as an excellent introduction to all those who think “Venus” was the only thing the band ever did. But true enthusiasts should use this only as a starting point, and go to the same label (Repertoire of Germany) that put this out for their reissues of the first three SB albums with Mariska Veres. Those totally hooked can then go on and get the three ‘72 albums, also carried by Repertoire.

Scram #03

Scram #3 was our first mass-produced issue, with a cover by John Connell. It features the Poppy Family, Jackie and the Cedrics, Disneyland, Brute Force, psychedelic Wizard of Oz concept records, Nancy and Lee and Sonny and Cher, Burt Reynolds' LP, teenage vandalism, early Bee Gees and more. Postpaid price below is for US or Canadian customers only. If you live elsewhere, cost is higher, please email to arrange payment.

Scram #01

Very, very, very, very rare. Our first, photocopied issue is a time capsule of the 1992 San Francisco scene, with a Psycho Ceramic cover by Andrice Arp. Scram #1 features 8 Ball Scratch (with a pre-Trashwomen Elka Zolot) interview, The Muffs interview, Scott Walker, Shonen Knife, S.F. Seals, Dictators, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Dwarves, Cosmic Psychos, Zip Code Rapists, The Loud Family, Icky Boyfriends, Urge Overkill, Sandra Berhard and more. Postpaid price below is for US or Canadian customers only. If you live elsewhere, cost is higher, please email to arrange payment.

Syndicate content