When Edwin Letcher asked if I'd be interested in helping him interview Phil Sloan, I was delighted to accept. We're both big fans of his work as a songwriter and artist, but conveniently Edwin's interests skew more towards his early career and mine towards the later part. We made two visits to Phil's sylvan estate in the heart of West L.A., the first a social call that gave him a chance to check us out (and tell some amazing off-the-record stories about rock and roll and his fascinating spiritual practice), the second a formal interview. Once that was on tape, it was easy to split it down the middle, with part one running in issue #10 of Garage & Beat and the conclusion appearing here. If you want to get the full experience, including a mystical audience with Elvis Presley The Sun King and how Phil discovered the Beatles (and the Stones), visit www.garageandbeat.com for ordering info. Or just dive in below. It's 1964 and Phil is working as staff songwriter and underpaid A&R man at Screen Gems and recording groovy genre-rock under a slew of fake band names, including Willie & the Wheels, the Trash Cleaners, the Wildcats and the Fantastic Baggys. Soon he'll form the Grass Roots, write "Secret Agent Man" and release great Dylan-inspired protest pop under his own name. But for now, he's still a sideman... -Kim Cooper
Kim: And where do Jan & Dean fit into the picture?
Phil: Jan & Dean were already in the picture. Jan & Dean were like major stars for me. They would come into Screen Gems to talk to [Lou] Adler, who was their producer. Of course we never got to talk to them or see them. When they came in they were pushed in another room. And eventually what happened was when Jan & Dean had done "Surf City," the Matadors had fallen apart, they had their own record deals, and they were sold under different names. So the Matadors decided to go out on their own, because Jan never paid any money. I don't mean to give Jan a bad rap, 'cause to be honest with you it was a privilege to work with him, but, y'know, you still needed some money! Apparently, whatever the reason for the break up, the Matadors broke up, and (sighs) Phil and Steve [Barri] were there to take their place. And we became Jan & Dean's back up group. And eventually I became Dean, I took on Dean's part, and then singing all the background parts, and then eventually Jan wanted me to do his part! So on some records I'm singing Dean and doubling Jan and doing the middle parts.
Kim: Where did you do all that?
Phil: "Little Old Lady," "New Girl in School," all the hits right after "Surf City," I'm on "Drag City"--”
Edwin: What about "One Piece Topless Bathing Suit"?
Phil: I'm on that.
Kim: Did you write that?
Phil: Yeah. (laughter)
Edwin: That was one of my favorite songs when I was a kid.
Kim: I assume you were inspired by all the kerfuffle about--”
Phil: Chuck Berry.
Kim: --”Rudy Gernreich--”
Phil: It was Chuck Berry and it was the hoopla at the time.
Kim: He was designing down on Melrose.
Edwin: I've seen pictures, but I think it was probably just a model wearing it in the studio. It could be that it was worn in France, I don't know. There are plenty of beaches where the folks are a lot less uptight about that sort of thing. I didn't think it was very flattering.
Kim: No, the only girls who looked good in it are really flat-chested. (Phil cracks up over all the attention we're giving the roots of his tune's title)
Kim: Did you go out on the road with Jan & Dean?
Phil: Yeah, one time they let me out of the office. I went to Hawaii. The Baggys had a Top Ten record. I went over there with the Beach Boys. Jan & Dean, Bruce Terry, Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine and me were the backup band. Someone didn't tell me that Glen Campbell was going to be playing guitar, so I wound up playing bass. They just stuck a bass in my hands and said, "Here." I had to play bass for forty bands. Grateful.
Edwin: That was probably quite an education.
Phil: I had never been on stage. I had been waiting to get on stage and there I was. Playing in this backup band for me was getting to see the musicians up close. I was really into seeing all these guys and girls up close. Why, I don't know.
Edwin: It seems to me we are just about up to the point of the Grass Roots. Did the Grass Roots seem demonstrably different than all the Willie & the Wheels, Baggys and others, or was it just another studio band?
Phil: Well, it started out to be. That's the reason I had to leave Dunhill. At that time Dunhill had connections with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Barry McGuire... and P. F. Sloan? This was a joke with them. They wanted to promote P.F. Sloan, but not really, because if P.F. Sloan happens to leave the office and go out on tour, they felt they didn't have a company anymore.
Kim: You were their hit man.
Phil: I was producing, doing A & R, writing, arranging, doing all the records. They wanted me there, and yet they wanted to make some money.
Kim: Were they the ones pushing you to do stuff on your own?
Phil: The first album they did because Steve Barri was begging them to do an independent project. They said, "Okay, then produce Phil." So I was doing "Eve of Destruction" and Steve was in there with Chuck Britz, the Beach Boys producer [editrix' note: Britz was an engineer who worked with the Beach Boys from 1962-66], and they weren't even listening to the songs. They were talking about things like Brian's new recording and they'd turn around and say, "So are you done with that song?" I'd say, "I guess so. Can I listen back to it?" "No, we haven't got time. Let's go on to the next one. What's the name of this next one?" "Take Me For What I'm Worth." "Okay, so Chuck, how did you get that Beach Boys thing?" I was doing the whole album by doing a guitar track and overdubbing another. And I talked them into letting me put drums on a couple of them. Basically they put it out as P.F. Sloan and "Sins of the Family" took off. Like "Eve of Destruction," it escaped. They didn't want P.F. Sloan; they wanted a kid that they could sell to all the different markets. They didn't want something to all of a sudden stick to this kid. If something stuck to this kid, they were stuck with it. They didn't like "Eve of Destruction." They said they wouldn't publish it. They didn't like "What's Exactly the Matter With Me." They didn't like "Sins of the Family." They didn't like "Take Me For What I'm Worth." They didn't like all the songs I had written. They wouldn't publish them. They said, "These are not songs that are up to the standard of this publishing company."
Kim: Were they troubled by the topical nature? What do you think the problem was?
Phil: The head of the company said, "This is communistic crap. We can't publish a song which has the words 'prostitute,' 'liquor' and 'schizophrenia' in it." These were real life experiences, unfortunately. But anyway, they released it and I'm on billboards all over town. People would call the office and ask if they could get P.F. Sloan to play, and they would say, "No, there is no P.F. Sloan." They'd say, "Well who is that?" and the office would say, "That's just a made-up person."
Kim: There's the problem. You were doing everything else; you should have been the receptionist too.
Phil: I was in love with the receptionist.
Kim: We'll get to that.
Phil: I think that's how I became successful... because I was in love with the receptionist. Make that a note to any of your readers who want to go into the music business: if you happen to fall in love with the receptionist at the record label, you are guaranteed success. Those people run the business. They are the only ones that the head of the label would come out to and say, "Hey, do you know this group called the Kinks?" "Yeah, they're fantastic." "Okay, I guess we'll sign them then."
Edwin: How did the Grass Roots enter the picture?
Phil: Well, we have to talk about Bob Dylan a little bit before that. The Grass Roots started because of Bob Dylan. Basically, Bob Dylan called Dunhill records and said, "I want to talk to P.F. Sloan." The receptionist, who I was in love with, was used to me calling up and doing imitations, saying I was Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson and what have you. "Hello, this is Elvis. I want to talk to P.F. Sloan, please." "Oh Phil, get off the friggin' phone. Call me later." "Hi, this is Rick Nelson--”" "Get off the phone, Phil!" So she hung up on Dylan five or six times. Finally he got through to the head of the label and they said, "Bob, we'd love to have you come up, but you'll have to leave Columbia Records and sign with Dunhill if you want to have a conversation with Phil." Then they called me into the office and said, "If Bob Dylan calls you and you have a meeting with him, we will take you to court, strip you of your royalties, keep you under contract and you will never record ever again. We'll keep extending your contract, but we will never record you. If you try to sue us, good luck. Don't talk to Bob Dylan." So Bob Dylan comes in to see Phil Spector one afternoon. This is another example of seeds of the beginning of the end. Bob comes in to Phil's and they write out a two million-dollar check. They went to Dunhill and said, "Here's a check; we want to buy Dunhill Records. Now, where's P.F. Sloan?" The guy ripped up the check for two million dollars and says, "You'll never talk to P.F. Sloan."
Kim: What were they afraid of? What were you going to say to them?
Phil: Bob Dylan was the biggest entity in the world. Even greater than Beatles or at least equally on that level. For that level of person to want to talk to me, the kid in the little tiny room with a piano, working for forty dollars a week now, for him to want to talk to me tells them: "Oh shit... "
Edwin: You're going to find out that you're getting screwed.
Phil: Exactly. He's going to find out that getting forty dollars a week is not the end all to beat all. They wanted to keep that where that was at. So Dylan calls me up at home and I go and see him. We meet and he plays me his new album, Highway 61 Revisited. We're both sitting on the floor, listening to his little tiny masterworks, and he puts on "Mr. Jones." I fall over on the floor laughing and Bob falls over on the floor laughing. He's so happy that someone got it. He said, "Columbia is trying to kick me off the label because of 'Mr. Jones.' They don't know what it's about. They think it's a communist song. Obviously you get it. No one who's heard it understands it, not even my producer. They don't want it on the album. Is there something wrong with me? Have I lost it? No one understands any of these songs." Then he plays me "Highway 61" and I'm rolling on the floor laughing. These are like the best jokes I have ever heard. And he's rolling on the floor laughing because he's so happy that someone has finally got it. Then in comes David Crosby. Let me back up. I had worked with Terry Melcher on "Summer Means Fun" and the Rip Chords. Terry was given a new group called the Byrds, but he only had one more month to go on his Columbia contract and they wanted him out. They considered him Doris Day's boy and they figured he came into Columbia because of Doris Day and Marty Melcher. They didn't think he was a viable music person, so they gave him this unknown group that no other producer wanted. Terry calls me up at twelve o'clock at night and said, "I've submitted a song called 'Mr. Tambourine Man' to Columbia and they rejected it. I want you to come over to Columbia and tell me what's wrong with the record." I go over. He's only got five hours and then they're going to lock him out. We listen to "Mr. Tambourine Man" and there's no echo on the record at all. It doesn't sound very good, to be honest with you. Terry and I started talking about "Summer Means Fun" and how we put the guitar ending in triple echo and I said, "Let's do that with 'Mr. Tambourine Man.'" He plugged into all the echo chambers in Columbia and by four o'clock in the morning, we had mastered "Mr. Tambourine Man" with all the echo on it. They locked him out at five and that was supposed to be it; Terry was supposed to have been gone from Columbia Records. But he submitted the record and for some reason they put it out. They didn't expect it to be a hit. Neither did Dylan. Terry told me the Byrds had gotten a gig at El Monte Legion Stadium following Don & Dewey.
Kim: That was a big gig out that way.
Phil: Yeah, but it's all Don & Dewey fans, fifties people. Up come the Byrds on stage. Terry had asked me to go to El Monte and keep an eye on the guys and help them because it was their first gig. There's McGuinn and his glasses and Crosby with a purple cape. Michael had an actual set of drums. He didn't own his own drums and was playing on orange crates up until then. And there was Chris Hillman and they're on stage and they're doing everything except "Mr. Tambourine Man" and the crowd is booing and booing. The manager comes up and asks if these are my boys. I tell him yeah and he tells me to tell them to get off the stage right now. I jump on stage and whisper into David Crosby's ear, "The manager said get off the stage, but fuck him! Do 'Mr. Tambourine Man' now or you're going to get kicked out." They went into "Mr. Tambourine Man" and it was like the song, "Whiter Shade of Pale," where the roof completely disappeared. It left these poor people, stuck in 1959, it left them homeless, forever. The universe and all the planets and all the rays of light were there in the Byrds. Crosby never forgot and he said to me, "If you ever interrupt my set again, I will have you killed." So here I am with Bob Dylan and David Crosby walks into the room and yells at the top of his lungs, "Why do you have this piece of shit here?" Dylan excuses himself, walks over, grabs Crosby and takes him in the other room and I can hear him slapping him around. At that point I'm sitting on the couch in this hotel room on the fourteenth floor of the Sunset Plaza by myself. The door opens and in walk two topless girls wearing pink pantaloons with bells and rings on their toes. They're twins, blondes, and they sit down on both sides of the couch. I'm there with these girls on either side, waiting for Bob and I hear him slapping Crosby around. Crosby's going, "Jeez, I didn't know. I'm so sorry. Bob, how would I know?" And from out on the balcony flies a man on a rope. He is also topless and is wearing a Zorro mask, a Zorro hat and black silk pantaloons. He signals to the girls and he takes them by the hand and they do a little dance in the middle of the floor and then they go out the door. Crosby walks in and says, "Jeez, I didn't know" and he walks out. Then Bob comes in and says, "Jeez, I don't understand these people" and we go back to listening and he says, "Y'know, I'm so glad you get it. Nobody gets it, but you get it. Maybe you can help me out here." He said, "I really like your sense of melody, man. You're a better melody writer than me, man. I really wish that you'd help me with some of my melodies, man." I said, "Yeah, like maybe 'Girl From the North Country'? Where the melody is just like one of the greatest melodies ever written?" I said, "Maybe I could help you learn how to screw up a couple of your B minors." He said, "You really think I can write good melodies?" I said, "Bob, you're the absolute best." "Naw, you're a much better melody writer than me, man. I could learn a lot from you, man." Then I started naming off five or six of the greatest melodies that he had written. Even some of his throwaways. He said, "You really think I have good melodies?" "Yeah, they're timeless, fantastic." He gives me "Mr. Jones" and I go over to the record label, after they had fired me and rehired me, and they said, "Okay, why don't we get a group and do 'Mr. Jones'?" I flew to San Francisco and I meet the Grateful Dead and the budding Jefferson Airplane and I get to hear Jerry Garcia's vision of the future, which expands into the year 2050. He knows what the world's going to be like up to the year 2050. I've been told what the world's going to be like. From writing "Eve of Destruction" until the year 2020. I was told that communism was going to fall and this whole thing has been prewritten. Here's Jerry Garcia telling me about the Internet and how people are going to be putting music out for free and that people will send them a penny or a nickel or a dime and that will keep them going and this way there will be no record labels. This was back in like 1965. They turned me on to a blues group called the Bedouins. I go to the Bedouins and say, "Hey, I've got this song that Bob Dylan wrote, nobody's got it, how would you like to come down to L.A... ?" They do, the song's a hit, they go to the record label and say how about some money? The label says no. "But we got a hit." "No." "But we're on tour." "No." "But our manager... " "He'll be dead in a week." They show them pictures of bombs and people without arms. Any manager that came into Dunhill Records and said, "We need some money' they get shown pictures of dead people. They left. They ran. I ended up being the Grass Roots. I wound up doing all the follow-ups and filling in the albums and stuff like that.
Kim: I wanted to ask you about the Grass Roots' name. The band Love was using that name before.
Phil: Originally, yeah.
Kim: Was that just a coincidence?
Phil: Yeah, it was. Jagger had called me up and he said, "I want you to give a message to Jim Morrison for me." I said, "What's the message?" He said, "Tell Jim that he's a turn on and that the Rolling Stones dig him, but..." [Jagger's comments on Love are deleted at Phil's request] I went to see Jim and he was already drinking very hard. I gave him the message from Jagger. You have to understand that the Doors were considered third-rate Rolling Stones. Even though they were having hits, they were not considered artists. Jagger considered them to be artists and he wanted me to tell Jim for fear that he'd kill himself. That the Stones, who they were imitating, considered them to be artists. I gave the message and then I went to see Love, who were playing at Pandora's Box on the night of the Sunset riots. I was there with Steven Stills.
Kim: They were still having shows at Pandora's Box? They had instituted the curfews and the kids had to be off the streets by ten.
Phil: The night that Steven wrote "For What It's Worth" we were together at Pandora's Box. I was delivering a message to Arthur Lee. The riot happened outside. Steven and I were walking outside as they turned over a bus and they drew a line out there. Steven says, "Look, they're drawing a line. There's something happening here, Phil. Look, there's a man with a gun over there." He was just speaking the lines which became the song. At the time I was living with Richie Furay. He needed a roommate when I was trying to get out of my house.
Kim: Where did you guys live?
Phil: Near Turner's [liquor store].
Kim: Around Hillsdale and Clark?
Phil: Yeah. Every night I was at the Whiskey Au Go-Go watching the Buffalo Springfield. They had been turned down by every record label in town. Finally Neil Young says to me, "Phil, I'm leaving the band. I've given it a year and nothing's happening." I say, "You guys are going to be as big as the Byrds." He says, "Yeah, Phil, right." I say, "Look, I was right with the Beatles. I was right with the Stones. I worked on the Byrds' records. You guys are going to be as big as the Byrds." He says, "Well, here's our demos. Take them over to Dunhill." I took them and played them to the head. He listened to "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" and "Mr. Soul" and tells me that if I think that is music, I don't belong on Dunhill Records. They fired me for bringing in Buffalo Springfield. I took them over to Sonny and Cher. I had a friend who worked at the office there. I gave him the demos and he gave them to Sonny. Sonny doesn't like them, but he sent them to Atco as a favor. The head of Atco turned them down until some kid listening outside the door said, "Hey if you let me remix this, I think you have a winner." The word gets back, I get the tapes from Neil, they go to Sonny, they go to Atco, they go to the kid who mixes it and boom, they're signed to Atco. I was then reinstated after their first hit. The Grass Roots. A new group comes in to take their place. Warren Entner, who had gone to Fairfax High, where I had gone--”
Kim: Who were the Thirteenth Floor, right?
Phil: Yeah, they were working in town. I was at Gazarri's, the Au Go-Go, the Trip and that's how the Roots got signed. The point where it was getting close for me to be leaving was when the group had had a number of hits, but still had no money. They were on tour calling me in the middle of the night, saying, "Phil, we don't have any money for food or for getting anywhere." I'd go into the big man and say, "Hey look, these guys are out there working their asses off. Their instruments are breaking and they don't have food." He'd simply say, "They're a dime a dozen. We can get the next group at Gazarri's for nothing and send them off with nothing. What do you care? Why are you attached to them? I thought you were with us. Why do you care about these people?" That's how I wound up leaving the Grass Roots. I wanted the group to have integrity. I was forcing them to write their own songs. I wanted to, eventually, not write any songs for the group. I wanted them to be their own musicians and the company was fighting me tooth and nail. "How dare you let their drummer play on their record." But "Where Were You When I Needed You" was recorded by Bones Howe, not Hal Blaine, the professional hit drummer. Bones Howe was an engineer, who was a hobbyist drummer, but I wanted a drum sound from a guy who loves to play drums and Hal likes to play drums sometimes and loves to play drums sometimes, but he's a professional and he can't get the feeling of a passionate person who will play drums for nothing. Hal plays drums extremely well, but I wanted somebody who would make a mistake. I grew up listening to "Angel Baby." Remember that song?
Edwin: Oh yeah.
Phil: "What key, what key?" The piano player actually says, "What key?" because he didn't know what key to play and you can hear that, and the record went to number one. And Jerry Lee Lewis, if you remember "Great Balls of Fire," the drum riff, he plays a double drum riff. Instead of playing a typical drum riff, the drummer was so passionate about what he was doing that he made a mistake. The song went to number one and that mistake inspired Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac. It's mistakes that turn people on if they're passionate and real. He said he became a drummer because of listening to the mistake that was made by the drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis. I wanted a drummer that wouldn't be afraid to make mistakes. It was just the opposite of what Capital wanted for Brian Wilson. They wouldn't let Dennis play because they said he made mistakes. I was telling Brian he's the best, he's up there with Ringo or anyone you could think of, because he makes mistakes. There's something about a teenager who listens to music that is passionate because he's supposed to take risks. He learned to do that instead of being perfect. It's like yeah, that's perfect, but I've got zits.
Edwin: It makes all the sense in the world. Without taking the risks, you aren't going to expand the art form.
Phil: They're not interested in the art. They're only interested in the perfection of sales. That's all they ever care about.
Kim: So you must have really dug punk rock when it came out.
Phil: Yeah, they dissed punk rock.
Kim: What about you? How did you feel about it?
Phil: My uncle had called me a punk when I was fourteen.
Kim: But it had a different meaning back then.
Phil: No, it was the same thing. It means anti-establishment. It means a person who is out to destroy society in their minds. The difference between destroying society and changing society and building society is that you first have to take down what needs to be repaired and build it up and that was a punk. Corporate rock had already taken over when punk came in. One of the first songs I ever did, "That's Cool, That's Trash," was a garage band record that they sold...
Edwin: Was that the Kingsmen?
Phil: We did the record and then the Kingsmen covered it for their album.
Edwin: That's a great song!
Phil: If you listen to it, it's three chords punk. I liked punk because they knew what they were doing. They were trying to destroy the corporate message of rock, saying, "It belongs to me. It doesn't belong to you. Rock and roll is what I feel, not what you can sell. It's what I think, what I feel." Corporate doesn't like the fact that music belongs to the artist. It should be able to be cloned, manufactured and sold. They don't like the idea of someone saying, "Music is this. It's one chord with a broken string."
Edwin: One of the biggest changes that the Beatles brought to music was the idea that this group of musicians would write the songs and perform them and do the whole thing.
Phil: The Beatles were never accepted in Los Angeles. The record labels never accepted them. As a matter of fact, they tried to sell the Beatles to Dunhill.
Edwin: They didn't get the concept.
Phil: They got the concept. They were out to destroy it. They didn't want the concept. They were biding their time. They tried to get rid of the Beatles after their fourth number one. Columbia turned them down for $50,000 because they said they never had a group that made more than two number ones. Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Capital. They didn't know number ones. They thought the group was over at three number ones and tried to sell them for $50,000. Nobody would buy them. It was in Variety. "Beatles Are Through." Fourth number one. There was nowhere to go but down.
Kim: I want to ask you about the song that Jim Webb wrote about you.
Phil: What about it?
Kim: Were you acquainted with him? Was he a fan of yours?
Phil: Jimmy Webb was turned down by every publisher in L.A. He was a kid from Oklahoma and Los Angeles doesn't like people from Oklahoma. Los Angeles doesn't like people from England. Los Angeles doesn't like brown skinned people. They don't like Japanese people.
Kim: Who do they like here?
Phil: They don't like anybody here except L.A. people. He's from Oklahoma so he was turned down. He met a woman who ran a recording studio called Harmony, where I had recorded when I was fifteen. She told him that he should talk to me. Jimmy was staying with this woman in the Hollywood Hills. I went in to see Jimmy and he played me "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Up Up and Away." He was working on "MacArthur Park" and he said, "I have to cut down the instrumental section. It's way too long right now." I asked him to play me the whole thing and he did and said he could cut it down and I said, "No, keep it in." Tears were rolling out of my eyes while I was hearing these songs. He says, "So Phil, what do you think?" I said, "Every one of those are #1 records." He just breaks down and cries and I'm crying and he said, "You're the only person in the world that can hear this."
Kim: When was this?
Phil: I was gone [to New York] by '68 so it must have been '67. It was at the time of the 5th Dimension that Jimmy got signed, I guess, by Johnny Rivers. They put out "Go Where You Wanna Go," which was not a hit by the Mamas and Papas. At this time Barry McGuire's next single after "Eve of Destruction" was going to be "California Dreamin'" with the Mamas and Papas singing background. The head of the company claimed that when he first heard the Mamas and Papas that he knew they were going to be as big as the Beatles. He didn't like them and he said to me, "Phil, you produce them." Barry had brought them in and so they became Barry's backup group. John had written a song called "California Dreamin.'" I said to John, "Do you know 'Walk, Don't Run'?" He said, "No. I don't." I said, "I think that's the way 'California Dreamin' should go." We rewrote the song for Barry McGuire. It was supposed to be Barry's next record. "Go Where You Wanna Go" stiffed so Dunhill didn't think the Mamas and Papas were anything important.
Edwin: Did "Go Where You Wanna Go" become a hit later, like a second time around sort of thing?
Phil: Fourth time around. First the 5th Dimension did it and they hired Jimmy Webb to do the arrangements even though he was still an unknown songwriter. He called me up and said, "I'm working for the 5th Dimension. Why don't you write a song for them?" I wrote "Another Day, Another Heartache" for them. He produced it on that session. After "Go Where You Wanna Go" stiffed came "Up Up and Away." Then, boom, it was one thing after another. Glen Campbell and hit after hit after hit. Like I had said, all of these were #1 records. Jimmy had gotten to be a major mega-star, but he always wanted to be P.F. Sloan. In other words, for some reason or other, in his mind he associated me with the singer/songwriter that doesn't get listened to. He considered himself a singer/songwriter, but no one was listening to him sing.
Kim: He's a terrific singer too. I love his stuff.
Phil: He kept saying, "If P.F. Sloan can do it, I can do it." In '67 I left Dunhill and that was the end of a big part of the universe. Jimmy's star was rising and mine was falling. I had come back from New York feeling broken spirited, working in the Village doing shows there.
Kim: Was that the pink loft?
Phil: Yeah, pink piano, pink loft and a beautiful blues singer girl. I came back to L.A. and had to recover and he invited me up to his house. He owns this huge house and I have no money. All of my money had been taken away by Dunhill under threat of death and suit. I'm living at home and Jimmy's living in a mansion with the most beautiful woman in the world and he's got an entourage of beautiful people. I open the door and they're all sitting on the floor. Some guy jumps up and says, "Who are you?" I said, "I'm P.F. Sloan and Jimmy wanted to see me." "You can't just walk in. Get out of here. Who do you think you are? Hey Jimmy some guy just walked in." Jimmy comes walking in like Marlene Dietrich, down the banister and he's like, "Holy shit! Don't you people know who this is?" and they're like, "No, we don't give a damn who this guy is. You're the king." Jimmy starts to cry and takes me over to a corner and says, "Jeez, what am I doing? I've got all these people and they don't even recognize you. I thought these people loved me. If they love me then they love you." They basically didn't care. They just wanted to be around the money and Jimmy. This is a great movie story. I'm walking on Hollywood Boulevard, I don't have two quarters to rub together, I just love it. I'm at this little hot dog stand at Vine and I'm having a cup of coffee for 25Â¢ and the Association are singing, "Looking For P.F. Sloan." I don't have the money for the cup of coffee and I'm wondering if I should tell this guy I don't have the money for the coffee but I'm the guy in the song. No, it wouldn't change anything. It's like that and a quarter will get you on the bus. I thought, jeez, my day had come back. So I go and see Jimmy at the Troubadour to ask if he could help me, because I was going nowhere. Jimmy says, "Sure, just follow me and my car back to my place and we'll talk about reestablishing your career." Then I get lost. It's like twelve o'clock at night and I never showed up and Jimmy was like, "Jeez, whatever happened to P.F. Sloan? He was supposed to be here." And that's where the song came from!
This interview with Linda Perhacs, conducted on New Years Day 2004, was the first time she spoke at any length about her brief musical career, creative processes, personal life and esoteric beliefs. The interview was conducted by Kim Cooper and Ron Garmon, and this appeared in Scram #19.
Linda Perhacs made just one album, 1970's Parallelograms. It sold sparingly, despite FM airplay in sophisticated rural markets where its dreamy evocation of nature and sexuality resonated most strongly. Linda recorded the album over a long period while working days as a dental hygienist. When MCA didn't ask for a follow up, she put all her energy back into her work. Years went by. Michael Piper, a dealer and reissue producer, decided to put out a CD of the record, a favorite of his since soon after its release. The project generated a nice little buzz among the international psychedelic collectors scene, and Michael sent a stack of copies and a letter to an address he found for one "Linda Perhacs."
As it happened, it was the right house-and in it, Linda was recovering from a serious medical crisis. Discovering that Parallelograms had taken on a life of its own and was treasured by young people all over the world helped Linda fight her way back to health. She shared her original dupes of the master tapes with Michael, explaining that the vinyl pressing was a disaster. Michael and his colleagues took the deteriorating old tapes back to New York and baked them, and after several years his label The Wild Places released the first edition of Parallelograms that sounded as Linda and producer Leonard Rosenman intended. The new mix was a revelation...what had always been an amazingly beautiful record now seemed positively otherworldly. This time the media paid heed too, with Mojo naming it one of the great lost records everyone should have and Rolling Stone giving it 4 1/2 stars. But the reviews were odd. Without any evidence beyond the text itself, the critics made assumptions about Linda, painting her as a dippy hippie sprite who somehow channeled these vast ideas unknowingly.
On New Years Day, Ron Garmon and I sat down with Linda in an empty business park to fill in the many gaps between the woman and her art. Unsurprisingly, she proved to be much more intelligent and complex than the two-dimensional fantasy that had been spun. What follows is the first in-depth interview ever granted by Linda Perhacs, a true artist who did nothing by accident. --Kim Cooper
Kim: What was your childhood like?
Linda: Straight. Very a-spiritual. I have a stepfather, and I lived in that household through high school. That was a very pedestrian life. We mostly watched Bonanza. I was very involved with school. Light touches of music, but they were important, and I would give a child much more support if I had seen any of those cues. I went into U.S.C., followed very straight, classic lines, biologically trained, had another whole career. And about age 27 I just made a complete pivot and went into another dimension of thought and creativity. There was very little support of that at home. Music just exploded in nine months. I absolutely started to wake up to where love was real. On that album people have said, "Why are there touches where it's green and touches where you wonder why the whole thing wasn't that exquisitely put together?" Because it came at me overnight, like a wave. I had no real prior training. The parts that are good are pure soul speaking to you. The parts that are green are because this was a person studying other things all her life.
Kim: Which song came first?
Linda: "Dolphin." But the point I'm trying to make here--and I say this for the sake of any child--I was creating complex choreography and song and lyrics at age five, and no adult picked up that it was important. In fact I was told to stop doing it. But if a little child shows that kind of ability and it's purely spontaneous and it's complex and fully developed...they were full productions!...any parent ought to push that.
Kim: Do you remember this?
Linda: I remember it. I was disciplined in schools to stop; it was in the way of the curriculum.
Ron: It was an effort to stomp the art out of you.
Linda: They just didn't understand. That's the most important part of any child, whether they like taking apart clocks, or doing music, or directing other children. You're looking at what their real gift is and it should be supported, 'cause then it'll come out earlier. But eventually that real part of them is going to come out, even if it's at age forty. It has to come out.
Ron: So this whole thing was like a return of the oppressed, age 27...
Linda: No, it was more like something was already there, fully developed, but it was dormant. For it to start from zero and go to a full album in nine months means somewhere I already had that gift developed. It couldn't have come out of nowhere. I remember standing in front of seventy people at Universal Studios, some of the best musicians in the world, including Shelly Mann, and Laurindo Almeida on guitar, and they're all milling around after take six, and can't get the feel they're after. It was for a TV show. The producer and director were scratching their heads, saying, "That's not right yet, try it again." And finally in exasperation they asked, " Is there anybody here who knows what's wrong?" I was just called in as the lyricist and to sing on that one, and I said, "I know what's wrong." They gave me free reign, and I'm standing there telling 'em what to do and I had the distinct feeling: I've done this before. That's the best answer I can give you. It was the strongest feeling that I've ever had in music, that I'd already been there, already paid dues, and it wasn't a new realm to me. But it was new to do it in this life.
Ron: So, you went to U.S.C. and studied--?
Linda: I had a scholarship. I didn't want to file files all my life; I knew college was important, so I was taking it very seriously. And I chose dental hygiene...it was like nursing, but it allowed you the privilege to work one or seven days a week, to work four or twelve hours a day.
Drawing by Tom Neely from the book "Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed."
Ron: Did you pursue music in any way at U.S.C.?
Ron: After you got out?
Linda: I think the thing that probably helped the most in terms of music, poetry, spiritual development was meeting the man I married. I stayed married to him for seven years, I still carry his last name, and he was highly developed as a sculptor, a painter, a photographer, engineer. Multi-talented person with a reverent, deep love for nature. He took me out of the pedestrian environment, took me out in the wilderness. We never went to a park. We would go (laughing) to the wildest country you could find, or skin-diving, but it had to be pristine, pure and wild. He just opened my eyes to the universe. It was sort of like having your companion be a combination of da Vinci and Michelangelo, and I owe him a lot for that. He still sculpts, using natural forms, dolphins, etc., for airports and things like that. He would say, "It doesn't matter what you look at. If it's man-made and you look at it with a microscope, you're gonna be looking at mush the minute you go this far. If it's made by nature, it doesn't matter how far you go, you're never gonna run out of wonder, order, precision, depth and incredible beauty." That's the kind of person that wakes you up.
Ron: His last name was Perhacs? What was your maiden name?
Ron: After Arnold, Perhacs must have seemed wonderful.
Linda: I kept it because it was so unique. It's a Hungarian name.
Ron: So you rediscovered your gift for music that had been repressed...
Linda: Actually, Ron, a lot of this centers around the seventies. There were many, many people meditating at that time. One night a friend of mine came to the door, said, "Here!" and put a piece of paper in my hand. He said, "It's really for the person you're going with. I was trying to meditate last night and I couldn't get my own things taken care of because this kept coming through so strongly. It's a description of the things he needs to take care of in his life. Here, I've done it, I'm done, I'm leaving. I wanna go on and take care of my own things!" So I open the paper and it was a perfect description of the other person's problems, and at the very end it said, "Linda will be helpful to you, but there's something in her that's dormant and hasn't awakened yet." I'm thinking, maybe it means I'll be a better healer, maybe it's in medicine...I had no idea what it was! But it was probably less than a year later that this music started to evolve. And I wasn't young at the time...I was maybe 25, 26.
Kim: How did it first manifest, when you felt it coming back?
Linda: I felt that the world, the sphere with which my reality was existing, was too small. I felt the need to explore a bigger perimeter, and I noticed these funny people all around, dressed kinda funny, and I wanted to know what they were up to! (laughter) So I began to talk to them and ask questions. I started to read. I started to question. I started to buy different music...and it just exploded within me. But if all of a sudden you grow that fast, it's already in there.
Ron: Yeah, I don't think anything ever comes out of nowhere.
Linda: Sometimes these things happen to people in their lives...they were meant to paint, and just discover it late in life.
Ron: I started writing in my thirties. I was always loquacious, a bullshitter, and just discovered I could write.
Linda: It connects you more with the real part of you. This world is just too shallow unless you probe deeper than that. It's like getting out of a boat and getting in the water.
Ron: Do you have a spiritual explanation for this, or is it just a product of a materialist society that prizes one dimensionality because it's easy to mass-produce?
Linda: I have a lot of ideas on that subject, Ron. Can we save that question? 'Cause I brought a thing that I wanted to present to both of you, and it's in that realm. [Linda is referring to a fascinating book of turn-of-the-century spiritualist drawings representing visionary manifestations of music and emotion that she shares with us after the interview.]
Ron: Sure. Who were you listening to at this time?
Linda: Well, each time there's a review of this record of mine, it mentions Joni Mitchell, and I would like to give her a lot of credit. That was an era when women did not have a lot of doors open to them. She was one of the first to write her own music, to express an intimate and a personal life, and it was unique and it caught a lot of attention. Judy Collins, Joan Baez were singing other peoples' music. I don't remember another person who was writing as much as Joni Mitchell was.
Kim: Maybe Carole King, but a lot of her songs were being done by other people.
Ron: Same thing with Laura Nyro, she would put out these low-selling records that other people would do covers of.
Linda: Yeah. It gave you an idea, "Hey, maybe I have something I'd like to express too, instead of singing somebody else's stuff." But it was a new idea, and people putting up funds for albums wouldn't have thought of it until they saw her do it. When MCA came to me, they said, "Look, we need some competition. She's on Warner Brothers." And I'll be very honest with you...I was honest with them. I said, "You don't want me: I'm green." And they said, "We do want you, because we like what we've heard. This is an era when it matters more to us that we have the spirit of what's coming up from the streets, that it be fresh and capture the spirit of the young people than that it be from Julliard." And I said, "Okay, if that's what you're really looking for."
Ron: So this came about when you had recorded demos and sent them around, right?
Linda: No, here's how it happened. You want the truth?
Linda: Leonard Rosenman was my dental patient in a very upscale Beverly Hills periodontal office. His wife Kay, also. And we hit it off. They needed like ten appointments each, and we were friends by the end. One day Leonard said, "Linda, I can't believe this is all you do." And I said, "Well, I write little songs and I travel a lot; I have a very creative husband." And he said, "Would you let us hear the songs? Because we need inspiration from the younger people. We have more assignments than we can take, to do movie scores and TV scores. Theme songs especially are not my fortÃ©. I can do the score, but a love song, the tender touches, Kay helps me with those because she has a big heart and a good sense of poetry." So I said sure, and I gave him this little homemade tape...I thought it was good enough for campfires. They called me the next day, at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning, and said, "How soon can you get here? Those are beautiful." They thought of it in terms of ghost writing, that I would inspire them. Their home was like something out of Rome. Pianos everywhere, homemade Italian food, people coming in and out, all kinds of musicians. It was just electrical excitement, and beautiful to look at. I would just be over there sharing ideas with them. I brought the idea of "Parallelograms" to Leonard, and he looked at me in dead seriousness and said, "Linda, do you realize you could live a lifetime and get one idea like that if you're lucky? On this idea alone I'm going to produce this album." That's how it started.
Kim: And what was it, as an idea?
Linda: Can we get back to that?
Linda: Because I think that's a very important question.
Ron: Now what year was this?
Linda: Has to be early seventies, maybe 1972.
Kim: I think the record came out in '70.
Linda: Some of them were published in 1970, but I believe the record came out in '72.
Ron: It's widely assumed to be 1970 product.
Linda: It's seventy-ish. In my memory it's the year of my divorce, and that's '72.
Kim: We can check the other records that Kapp put out, this one is number 3636, we can see what 3635 was. [Parallelograms slots precisely between El Chicano's 1970 and 1971 albums. -editrix]
Ron: Kapp was not a big rock 'n' roll label.
Linda: Well, the big parent company was MCA, and they wanted to start a new label. I'm not sure how well it did. Remember, I was pretty busy with the other career, too. And this took all my concentration. We were in the studio for about a year. It was when Leonard and I could get away; we were both working on other things.
Kim: Would you always bring the same session musicians in?
Linda: The person who chose these musicians, with all love and respect, was always Leonard. He knew the best, and all he had to say was, "This is Leonard, can you come?" But the two lead guitarists, I worked with them intimately in private apartments for hours, note by note, because I knew what I wanted, I just couldn't play it like an expert. One of them even had a joke, he said, "Here comes Linda, I gotta put on my pink underwear and play dainty!" (laughter) It was hard for them to do that...they were gutsier. In fact Shelly Mann was playing during that session with the seventy people, he was playing like Shelly Mann, and again with all due respect, he's the one I had to tell, "You've got to tone the drums down. I know who you are and I know how good you are, but this is not a drum song." He finally ended up playing the sand ashtray! (laughter) And that's the one that ended up on TV for a series for many years, and that's "Hey, Who Really Cares?"
Kim: Oh, what show was that?
Linda: It was first called-- I remember the words "Matt Lincoln" and then it had another name, too, Hotline...
Ron: Matt Lincoln? It was a cop show!
Linda: Yes. They called me and said, "We need delicate lyrics." They were inspired by M*A*S*H...
Ron: "Suicide is Painless."
Linda: Yeah, that delicate song on top of hard action. They said, now get this, "This is one of the first TV shows where we're going to have (laughing) an explosion of cars running into each other"...all the things now that are passÃ©, but that was the first time. They said, "It'll be for young people, there'll be ambulances, sirens, car crashes, police, arrests on the street. We show the hard action, but we want a delicate song on top." So I was called in, and I don't think they gave me but a night to write those lyrics. It had to be done the following morning at nine o'clock.
Kim: Is this version on the album?
[we move into a sunnier spot, gathering up all our papers and machinery]
Ron: It's the facts we are piling up today. Gotta get the history right.
Linda: Well, I want to be honest with you and give you all the facts you're asking for, but I have some other stuff that's much more magical, and I think will give you more dimension. Because that's the part nobody has reviewed on it.
Ron: What we're doing now is going behind and correcting everyone's facts. We're open to anything...this is your interview, it's about you.
Linda: I have something that has a lot more heart, so we'll get there later.
Ron: You can tell by what we wrote, we're just so touched every time we hear this.
Linda: Ron, I'm surprised by the number of people that have been touched by something that was truly done by...in this life...an amateur. I hope I'll have another life where I can refine the instrumental and composition skills.
Kim: Maybe that's what punk has allowed, that there's no such thing as an amateur musician anymore.
Linda: If you're coming from pure spirit...
Kim: If you've got inspiration you don't need the technique...
Ron: Or coming from pure anger. (laughter)
Linda: There you go. I think that's what they're relating to. They're hearing something that they also have, which is that inner spirit.
Ron: Or a cherished dream, or at least for me...Kim keeps saying my magazine [Worldly Remains] is all about my sexual awakening, but it's...
Linda: It was a very sexual time in history, with our young people. But it was very spiritual, too.
Ron: Like a leaf pressed in a scrapbook.
Linda: It was a time when everybody was encouraged to go there, and right now they're encouraged to maybe be a little hard on the edges like steel. That was not what was being encouraged in that era, no matter what career you had. Doctors, lawyers, technicians.
Kim: I just read a terrific book by a woman who went out to Esalen as a journalist.
Linda: I've been there.
Kim: She hung around for about six weeks, watched different groups of people come in, participated in some of the seminars, and she also just hung out with the Gypsy kids who were living on the land. It's an amazing analysis of the different kinds of people coming in and the ways that they were changing, the ways that they were rigid.
Linda: It was not uncommon for me to be in an office building and to hear the executives say, "I'm going to Esalen. It's helping my marriage. It's helping me wake up. I don't want to be so stiff, so cold. I don't want to be so shallow."
Kim: And they didn't feel a need to be discrete or secretive about going up there?
Linda: It was okay to say those things then. Now probably people might say, "What are you, a flower child?" and laugh a little.
Ron: So, the recording process took about a year. You collaborated with these two guitarists, who put on their pink clothes.
Linda: Yes. And they were experts, they were really, really good. The main percussionist on "Moons and Cattails" was Milt Holland.
Ron: Oh! That's a name to conjure with. Wow.
Linda: Shelly Mann didn't do that one. Leonard called Milt and he arrived with a moving van full of drums from all over the world! He'd say, "What kind of sound do you need?" and bring in another drum. (laughter) The guy was incredible. But also, the Parallelograms score was not musical notation. It was a scroll. We didn't have computers and electronic pianos to do those beautiful drones, those wonderful deep sounds that are all over The Lord of the Rings. But that's the sound I wanted! I might have even used a bagpipe, but I was afraid people would say, "That's too folksy." So how am I gonna create this sound that feels like the universe humming, that supports the rest of the action on top? I created it in parallel voices. But today I wouldn't have done that, I would have created the sound I heard in Lord of the Rings, that "mmmmmmmmmm." I love that. You put a light, beautiful voice on top and it's pure magic.
Ron: It's like a very small boat in a very large sea that's swelling up.
Kim: Overlapping voices are very powerful because it makes it so intimate. Did you have a sibling that you sang with, because it almost sounds like you grew up...
Linda: No, every voice is mine. But I showed it to Leonard in drawings, parallel lines, and I said, "I need something like a drone, and on top of that we want to create a sound-painting." So when Milt Holland came in he said, "This is great! I don't have to read sheet music for once! This allows me to create more!" And they loved it; they had a great time.
Kim: Well, it's funny, because things on scrolls can often be extremely pivotal, influential artistic objects...and I'm not even gonna go back to the Torah. But, On the Road was written on a scroll, did you know that?
Kim: Yes, Jack Kerouac had rolls of paper that he was gluing together, and he put it in the typewriter and did the whole thing on a single sheet.
Linda: Well, you can see the whole spectrum...this is supposed to be this many minutes long. I saw Leonard do the movies to a stopwatch, so I gave it to him in time increments.
Ron: The intimacy of a good film, a good record album, are unmatched. It helps pull the listener in.
Linda: Right, and I think that's what we've lost in this era. They're too concerned with a hit!...a hit!...a hit! Artists then were allowed to goof once in a while, and that's where you get your real evolution and changes that are more life-giving to everybody's creativity.
Ron: You can't sell evolution when everyone's interested in selling steaks.
Linda: They want a hit right now, and that's not how you get life out of people. It's how you kill an industry, demanding a hit every time. And that's what we've done.
Ron: Who's the Paper Mountain Man?
Linda: (chuckles) The one that received that note saying "here are your faults!"
Kim: Is that a real description of how to get to his house?
Linda: I described him accurately, yeah. He was a triple Virgo, and I loved him very, very much. But the pain he caused me when he decided on other ladies was excruciating. I never felt such pain, but I always say thank you to him, because that pain was so awful that I knew that either I was gonna die...and I say that with sincerity...or I was gonna aim upward. And that was the beginning of my spiritual climb, the pain from that relationship. And never again have I lost my balance to that degree.
Ron: You've got to know what out-of-control love is at least once in your life! You gotta be crazy. Any emotion strong enough is worth surrendering to. You have to be able to trust it to one degree or another because you can't control everything in the world. No one can.
Kim: You keep telling me that.
Linda: What came out of that was understanding that there's only one thing that can give that kind of love, which is really really that deep and forever, and that's God. No person can be there for you to that degree. It takes a development beyond us. And I no longer ask that of a man...I had to learn not to. Now they're my brothers, but I have to be okay with their faults and let them grow. And observe it but not get so disturbed by it, y'know?
Kim: Well, it's not too much to ask that someone you're with not go out with other women.
Linda: I figured I needed some development too, to even be worthy of that. I will say this: from the moment that I made that decision, that I wasn't going to ask that of a man again, I've never had one leave me again. So there might be an important clue there. (laughter)
Kim: You loosened the reigns!
Ron: A lot of it's about what your record is, because you go from very simple, homey things...it's the literal clichÃ© of finding the cosmos in your kitchen sink, or looking at a lover's face with the sunlight coming down, looking at the lines in the face and having some brief, shattering glimpse of the structure of the universe.
Ron: Where did the song "Parallelograms" come from? Because I hear in it hints of your methods of composition and even the way you experience the world.
Linda: Okay, let me give you a real honest answer. In the music world at the time, we were studying people like Joni Mitchell or...I love the Eagles, when did they come in?
Ron: Oh, they did their records in '70, '71, but they were a solid act with a big following in '69.
Linda: And Crosby, Stills and Nash, I loved them. There was so many, other names I can't even think of, Seals and Crofts did beautiful music.
Ron: They put out some nice records, with the harmonies, great production job. They get dissed a lot.
Linda: And I'm not mentioning some of the greats. All I remember is just this flood of creativity, from everywhere.
Kim: Yeah, the L.A. scene was very vibrant.
Linda: Oh, vibrant isn't even a strong enough word. It was wonderful.
Kim: Were you hip to what Tim Buckley was doing?
Linda: Yes, I tuned in there, and I tuned in to other names. I mean, they were all neat.
Ron: My fantasy about you is you should have fronted Kaleidoscope.
Linda: Oh, I would have loved to. I never did any live entertaining. I was mostly in the studio because I was doing (laughs) my straight job at the same time. I'd go at night and work on it.
Kim: Wait! You mean that day-time record was all recorded at night?
Linda: Well, I think sometimes I'd go over during the days, but a lot of the interaction and meetings and talking and stuff was, yeah, after work. You asked about "Parallelograms." If you can imagine the era and the creative people, they are dimensions of parallelograms that were Leonard's inspiration. Because he was doing atonal music in a very classical context...
Linda: Nobody ever heard it. They only knew him for his movie scores. But when I'd visit, Leonard and Kay would play those private compositions on large speakers, and you would explode with creativity. I'd get out of there and my mind was just going bluah-bluah-bluah! And "Parallelograms" was written on the Ventura Freeway at three in the morning. (laughter) After a day with Leonard and Kay, where the music of my age bracket was flooding me, and their inspiration was flooding me, and the two of them came together. "Parallelograms" came...bam!...like that. I probably was half-asleep, driving on an empty freeway, and I just saw it all at one time, where you put light through a prism and you get many color choices, all representing a different frequency. I had already seen music do that. You play a high flute, it has a high vibrational wave, a gold-yellow tone. Color, corresponding with that high note. You play a bass guitar, it's got a slower wavelength, and it's got a green-blue tone.
Kim: That's synesthesia. You actually see these colors?
Linda: There were times when I was meditating enough to see them naturally...we're not talking drugs now.
Kim: No, it's a brain thing...
Ron: It took me drugs to do it.
Kim: There are people who can taste smells, there are lots of ways that these things overlap, and they're very consistent.
Linda: Absolutely. And I saw, okay, if I want to paint with sound, then the higher things are gonna have a different wavelength, so I literally drew it on a scroll with the understanding that I wanted three dimensional shapes. But yes, it was a concept that came quickly, like a light bulb going on. And I saw it all at once, as a full composition where you're painting with sound, the words are coming out as sound creating those shapes. And the only way I could see to do it correctly today would be to use surround sound, maybe a rock group that does Celtic sound, and computer graphics on a video or a DVD creating the shapes that that sound was meant to create.
Kim: Or even projectors doing a three dimensional...
Linda: It should be done that way. It shouldn't be a one dimensional CD.
Kim: So you heard the second part of the song...
Linda: I heard the whole thing.
Kim: It's sort of like a vine that goes into a huge flower.
Linda: Yeah. The intro and the exit are traditional twelve-string guitars, and multi-layered harmonies, and I think some percussion. In those days I didn't want to go to traditional Irish sounds, 'cause then they put you in the folk world, and I didn't wanna go there. So I tried to create it a little differently, but my soul was hearing what you hear in Riverdance and Lord of the Rings. Those were the textures I really wanted. But that took electronic and computer equipment.
Kim: Do you still have your scroll?
Linda: I believe so.
Kim: I would like to see that.
Linda: It was pretty rudimentary. I think I made a few different copies, but the one I took into the studio was probably as long as this table [about 3' long].
Kim: For each individual song?
Linda: Just for "Parallelograms." The other songs were more linear, more traditional. I made a tape first and we studied from the tape.
Kim: So the only one with an actual scroll was "Parallelograms."
Linda: Because the music had to become pictures, and move. That song hasn't been done right to this day. It still needs some of the equipment we have now. When I think computer graphics...I've even asked about pricing...I've been told that animation would be too expensive. I know Leonard would love to see this realized, too, because we only had one piece of equipment in the studio to do that song, and it was called a voice modulator. He was using it in his classical music.
Kim: Is that the same as a ring modulator?
Linda: Yeah. It modulates the voice. That's the only thing we had in those days, but now you can do it with anything. It's an idea before its time which hasn't been done fully yet.
Ron: Now, would Rock Critic A be correct in assuming that some of your songs were influenced by direct experience with hallucinogens?
Linda: No, not me. My blood sugar can't take it. I can't even handle a teaspoon of wine. I go almost into a coma. I'm out.
Kim: But you were talking to people who were having these experiences.
Linda: All around me, are you kidding me?
Ron: You got a contact high. (laughter)
Linda: Oh, yeah.
Kim: Less of a hangover that way.
Linda: I'm sure that's true, because when I touch patients, if they're on some kind of medicine that's strong, I feel it. If they've taken something to tranquilize them. I'm calmer just by touching them. If they're highly agitated, my own heart beats faster. And if they're angry, I get shocks, like needle pricks, in my ankles.
Ron: My lord, you're a natural empath. It must be difficult.
Linda: They say in medical journals that nurses, doctors, dentists and chiropractors develop that ability after about thirty years of touching people. You're really trying to protect them, but you develop this awareness of their distress signals. These are sensors we all have, but to do that kind of work you begin to develop them more. So contact high is real, absolutely.
Ron: This is gonna hit people the same way that hearing Frank Zappa never did drugs other than coffee and cigarettes! (laughter) It's such an acid-head record.
Linda: I was surrounded with it. Well, let me take you a little further. My real father, in World War II, was able to tell people, "Don't walk there. There are mines." He could feel the evil. They used to put him on the bow of the boat and the front of a jeep to tell them where the danger was, and which kind of people were involved, whether it was Turks or Japanese or Italians that were hiding. He trained troops in the Alps in mountain survival, in climbing, in feeling nature so much that you could survive under dire conditions. His sensory perceptions to danger were pretty famous, and he saved a lot of lives. So I may come by this naturally. Even in the business world, if somebody has a contract for me that's not good, I'll feel a dark cloud a day or so before, if they're intending to do something that's not right, and I'll check it out with a lawyer.
Ron: More musicians should be like that. Most of these guys are walking around blind without a cane!
Linda: The point I'm trying to make is that these things that people think are all drug related, we have these abilities in us naturally, to hear music and see those colors. I mean the Eastern yogis have talked about this for 5,000 years. These things are a natural part of our make up, if we would just develop them.
Kim: And just use the drugs as a sort of expressway to that sort of experience.
Linda: I think they maybe sensitize the nervous system to be more perceptive, but they can get you in a cul de sac and you're trapped, too. I know that nature has given us these abilities; we need to develop them naturally. It's already there for us. Once I was working in a dental office and...you may not believe me, but I literally saw a swirling, like a little tornado of black and brown in the room. I'm working on a patient and I'm looking at this little thing in the corner that I knew was in the spirit world, but I could see it! And I'm thinking, "Somebody's mad at me." I studied it and I said, "Now, Linda, don't be scared, just figure out what this is." And I caught the personality attached to it as the dentist. I thought, "Well, my boss is mad at me. I don't know what he's angry about, but he's angry." So I finished two or three days of work, and the boss came back into town, and sure enough he marched down the hall and was furious with me! And that's what that anger was in the corner. And what it was was that I had dismissed a world-famous V.I.P. fifteen minutes early on a Saturday when he wasn't there. It was someone in the Shah of Iran's family, and I sent him away early because my blood sugar had given out and my hands were shaking, and the man knew it. He said, "We need to stop, you need to eat something, you need to rest." So I cut his appointment fifteen minutes short, and my boss was furious, and that anger was that. But I learned from it that thoughts are a projection. A thought doesn't just stay here. It can go where your anger is, or it can go where your love is, or it can go where your desire to protect is. But these are natural things, it didn't take drugs to do that. He didn't take any drugs! (laughter) And I wasn't taking any, I was working on a patient. These are natural parts of our being if we just learn to use them. And we can sense danger, we can sense love.
Ron: Wonderful trips through interstellar space like "Parallelograms" are followed on the record by this plaintive loneliness of "Who Really Cares?" Did you hope to accomplish something by the sequencing?
Linda: The sequencing was done by MCA. I was too green to know that I should have been there at the pressing to know that it was pressed right, that I could make those choices. When I recreated my own little cassette that I would show people years later, I had the sequencing in an entirely different order, and it had much clearer sound.
Kim: And that was from the tapes that Michael used for the reissue?
Linda: Yeah. So essentially, Ron, some of what people hear in that era as being drug-related, there were a lot of souls that came into the world that were meant to be there at that time, and because what was going to happen was an arena where they could awaken and express more. They were meant to be there at that time, just like some of our young people now are very high-tech, they've come here because that's the era that's best for them. There's a lot of people who weren't necessarily taking drugs, who were very intuitive and very capable in a higher part of their being, and they were in an era that would allow them to express that.
Ron: One thinks that about Zappa...
Linda: Oh, Leonard loved him. I didn't know that music very well.
Ron: And he did it all on coffee and cigarettes!
Linda: I think maybe I did most of it on coffee!
Kim: Coffee's pretty powerful stuff for a sensitive type.
Linda: You're right. I do use coffee. I run slow, so I have to.
Ron: I have these notes-- "Little girl lost with her feelings in a world of odd shapes and sudden discoveries."
Linda: I was pretty young at the time, in my development. I still had a lot of growing to do. I feel a better sense of balance now, especially with men. There were some painful times, and it is expressed in the songs. But that's part of being 26, 27, 30 years old.
Ron: Having some past, but not a lot, everything is still new. Not knowing yet the sameness of what love is like, and how the sameness is what really surprises you at the end.
Linda: I love this line from Paramahansa Yogananda. He said, "Human love is meaningless until it's anchored in the divine." And I think what that means is that...don't count on anyone else to be as fully developed as you hope they are. Be sure you're anchored someplace that is really solid, and then you can enjoy them more.
Ron: "Morning Colors," a song like that can be heard as a domestic lament to a man...or it can be heard as a song about a cat!
Linda: Oh, no. It was a man! (laughter)
Ron: Any man in particular?
Linda: It wasn't an important man, but I think the song turned out really good. (laughter) The reason the song became so beautiful was in the studio, Leonard brought in his young nephew [John Neufeld], who was a very accomplished-- with flutes. I know they say "flautist," but I don't like that word. This man could play the flutes very well.
Ron: It looks like "flatulence!"
Linda: Yeah, right! Anyway, he played an improvisation on top of the recording we'd already done, that we thought was a little bit naked, and it was quite lovely. And then we asked him, "Just in case the first take wasn't the best, why don't you do it again?" And he played a second improvisation. And then the engineer, Brian Ingoldsby, who was really creative, played it all simultaneously. And it was perfect. Some of this was evolution rather than pre-thought, and the reason that one came out so beautiful was that it just happened.
Ron: Porcelain Baked Cast Iron Wedding" is rather stark portrait of a captured hippie chick princess. You get feelings of oppression and bourgeois atmosphere. Is this about an actual event?
Linda: I was working in Beverly Hills, and I remember I was pretty disgusted with the cost of the weddings of the young girls around me, the sacrifices they were making, the shallowness of the love, and the whole atmosphere. Daddy was paying for these things that were just displays of grandeur rather than concentrating on the vows that should have been the central concentration. And it disgusted me. I kept wanting to say, "Where's the love?"
Ron: It's the material versus the spiritual. That's the cast iron part of it.
Linda: Yeah, and one girl spent a year planning her wedding, at the office, in front of me, and I never heard her talk about the guy! (laughter)
Ron: He was a prop! A necessary prop, but--
Linda: I knew the cost was breaking her whole family, and I just wrote the song because it was disturbing me. I had compassion for the father and for the girl that were trying to put up these funds, and I had concern, is this marriage going to last? What are we doing here? So it was just a commentary on our society.
Kim: When my grandparents were married, my grandmother's dad paid for it, and she said she wasn't allowed to invite anybody. It was all for his friends, it was purely a status thing, and that was in the thirties!
Linda: There you go. They still do it. Whether it's a funeral or a marriage, keep it simple. There's only a few things that really need to be a part of that moment. The time I almost died, I got a real reminder of what's important, and I think the people in 9/11, what did they have, forty minutes to remember what's important? And they got on the cell phone and called the people they loved. There are times in your life when that essence should be there. And I don't think you need a five-day wedding and astronomical sums of money and everybody coming in from all over the world that just want to show off. That's a time for intimacy, it's a sacred vow. But some people want it to be a bash.
Kim: What sort of promotion did MCA do for the album?
Linda: Zero. (laughter)
Kim: Did it actually come out as a legitimate release? My copy's promo.
Linda: Yeah. There was so much music in that day that they had many opportunities for hits. They realized this was gonna be a slow mover, a sleeper. The FM people took it over, embraced it, played it a lot, but not Top 40. If you're an MCA distributor and your income depends on big numbers...they had to put their time into Top 40 type sounds, to stay alive.
Kim: Did you get any feedback from the people who were hearing it at the time?
Linda: What they told me is that it was playing and selling the most...and this is predictable...not L.A....Washington State, Portland, Hawaii, Canada, Colorado, Northern California.
Linda: Yeah, people who understood those things. But Los Angeles was more acid-rock, I guess, harder, noisier sounds.
Ron: The psychedelic experience coming into contact or conflict with urban reality.
Linda: This album does best with earphones, with the little ones that sit inside your ear. There's delicacies that...it doesn't do well on a radio in a car.
Ron: Which is where I first heard it, and I was taken by it.
Kim: What went wrong between the recording studio and the pressing plant?
Linda: They told me, "It's going to be shipped to New York, and it'll be pressed." I said, "What does 'pressed' mean?" "Put onto vinyl." "Oh, okay." And I took off for Northern California to be with my friends and forgot about it! I didn't push it, didn't do TV shows. I didn't know I was supposed to sign autographs. I thought, "We did it...it's done!" The fact that it's still moving, I've only now begun to adjust to it, but I've had four years of being told that now. I thought it was on a shelf, forgotten. I had no idea that it was in Japan, Korea and the Netherlands, the British Isles and Canada...except that BMI would send me these little things saying it was on Ironside [the show used songs from Parallelograms on several episodes], so it was played in Portugal. But that's just TV shows.
Kim: Do you know how many copies have been sold, of the CDs or the original album?
Linda: I think if we could trace the pirating of it...and I say that in a kind way...people who just made their own copies, to have it, that that would be more complimentary, 'cause that's where I've started to get the feedback now. And the wonderful people who have contacted me, it's one of the best things that's ever happened in my life. I mean, these are really neat people, and they're in all kinds of countries. And they have all kinds of musical tastes and all kinds of careers and all age brackets. The fact that under-30 is still talking to me about this...wouldn't you be surprised?
Linda: If you did a piece of work that was long forgotten?
Ron: I've always amazed when any reader of my magazine tells me about it.
Linda: Well, that's the way I felt. And it's given me a kick in the bottom...this is a responsibility. There's some nice people out there that deserve to be answered, deserve to be communicated with, deserve to be told "You're a brother, and you're a sister, and let's keep that kind of thing alive, because that's really powerful." And that's far more genuine than just buying hit singles. There's something, well, we were saying infinite light goes into finite life, there's something about that to it, and I feel very responsible.
Ron: Why didn't you make another record?
Linda: I didn't know I was wanted. I thought it was shelved. And I went into my other career and gave it full concentration. And people have needed my help. It's a money-making career, and you do well, and you can look five years ahead and say, "I can help this much." You can project. With music you can't project, so if I was total music I wouldn't have been able to help in ways that I have. I'm a practical lady, I'm a generous lady. I would always want to be able to do that. Music, it can't always be counted on, so I would always make music the balancer but not the only thing.
Kim: How did you first become aware of the underground following that your record had? Was it when you got the CD in the mail?
Linda: Yes! Michael Piper...
Ron: (chuckles) What a great way to find out.
Linda: It's a beautiful story. I was dying in the hospital, and they said, "You're probably not gonna live, and if you live you won't work again." It was pretty dire. And I came home on a walker, had to re-learn climbing stairs. Two days after I got home, in the mailbox was a package from a Michael Piper. I didn't know who it was. Family members said, "Linda, you better open this, it looks important." When I opened it there were the CDs! I had only seen this album years ago as a vinyl, and here were these CDs and this beautiful letter saying, "I've been looking for you for about 27 years, and if this is the right Linda Perhacs, I have taken the liberty to turn this into a CD, because there are a lot of people who still want this. I don't know if you know that you have a following." I had no idea.
Kim: You must have been flabbergasted.
Linda: I was. And that was about four years ago, so this is still all new to me. (laughs) And he said, "I'll come out and see you, and I'll give you the emails, and I'll let you know the activity on the internet, and who's actually been the most interested, I'll put you in contact with them." That's where it started. Then he did that laborious work about a year ago, taking the original masters and turning them in to the better sound that we now have.
Kim: These were copies you had kept?
Linda: For some reason, when I was working in the studio I understood that the best sound was always your original, second best was the second tape, so I saved them all those years. And when Michael first introduced himself, I said, "Why don't you listen to the tapes and see if you can hear anything." Well, they were stuck together! And he had to go through heating them...
Ron: Baked them, yeah.
Kim: That happens with almost everything from that era. Very unstable.
Linda: So the fact that he pulled this off was a lot of work for him. I think there were about three people working on it.
Kim: It's worth it, though, because the sound quality is so different.
Linda: It's incredible, isn't it? (laughs) Well, I knew that all along. The first pressing made me so mad I just went, "ugh!" Put it away. I wouldn't show it to anybody. It embarrassed me, because I knew the richness that was lost.
Kim: The demos at the end are pretty sophisticated. How were you recording? Were you using multiple tape recorders?
Linda: Oh, I didn't have sophisticated equipment. (pauses) Loreena McKennitt , I don't know if you know who she is, but I was charmed to hear that some of her original work she did in her kitchen. I'm gonna humbly admit those were made in my kitchen.
Kim: Good sound in a kitchen. Kitchen or a bathroom. Off the tiles.
Linda: Yeah, yeah. Late at night, when things were quiet and nobody would disturb me, I would put up a rather unsophisticated piece of equipment...in its day it was okay, but right now you'd laugh. But I'd learned if you put the speakers like this and you sang into them, you would get an echo. And so when I recorded it I was capturing that echo, that was kind of like watercolors, blurring and softening things, and gave it a nice texture. And in the studio they were not able to duplicate that same sound. It gave sort of a watery, rainy texture to those songs.
Kim: So including those in this new edition sort of shows another facet of the work.
Linda: Yeah. And then anything that was homemade by me was made that way, singing into the speaker to capture the echo.
Ron: I'm going to blush redder than hell asking this question. It was easy to write, but it's going to be difficult to say. (laughs) There's so much sexual desire and satiation in your songs. Despite much of what's said about this era, this pure sexuality is rare in music, especially when it's done by women. And I just wondered if you could account for this.
Linda: I'll try to, Ron. We were all expressing our love for one another, whether friendship or experimenting with man/woman type love. It wasn't an era when you just were with one marriage. And it was a youthful time for me, so naturally I was thinking along those lines. But let me also say that nature was a great focus for me, and it's not nature in a "let's go camping and stay shallow way," but a reverent, deep, penetrating love for the whole universe. And when you walk...well, visualize a three or a four year old, and you're taking a walk with them, whether it's a beach or a mountain, or through leaves that are blowing, or water trickling somewhere, or rain falling, what does a natural child do? They wanna taste it, feel it, smell it, jump into it, run with it, feel it. And that was an era when everyone was being reminded to do that. Now they'll laugh at you, but that's how an artist senses things. That's how you create! You draw it all in. And the biggest inspiration for what people have noticed in that album as being sensual touches really more honestly came from my deep love of nature. Yes, it was a time to relate to men, because I was young, and it was that hormonal time in my life. I guess essentially you're looking for love and for that partnership that will be forever, which for me (laughs) didn't occur yet. I believe that I've transferred that love to God. I can always trust him as being forever. Those sensual touches are a very deep expressive penetration into water, trees, leaves, air, sand, wind, sound, with the depth of an artist, a poet, an author, a musician, you go there, you go deeper. And a prayerful, meditative expression.
Ron: You anticipated my next question, which is about so much nature imagery, and a definitely vibe of personal renewal through the senses, even that the senses are themselves God, or you can touch God, or God can grow through you, through your skin, your eyes and ears--
Linda: Mmm-hmm. There's a wonderful Hebrew scripture that I found recently, which says that infinite light came down and kissed finite world, and poured into the finite. And that to me is why nature is so awe-inspiring. Because when you look at a sunset, you do sense something beyond the finite.
Ron: It's a common way for people to think about God.
Linda: You know there's more there than just gross material, and you begin to say, "Well, what the heck is there?" And then you start asking more questions and penetrating further.
Scram #19 reviews (all by the editrix unless otherwise noted)
AI Phoenix The Driver is Dead CD (Autonomy) Somnambulant Norwegian dream pop, all white vistas, nasal female crooning and restrained precision. Sounds like music made by people without metabolisms.
The Apparitions Oxygen Think Tank CD (www.wearetheapparitions.com) A variety of influences bubble up through this, direct and indirect: indie rock, '80s new American folk, Meat Puppets, Flaming Lips, Red Krayola. Sometimes sounding like the Beatles filtered through Guided by Voices. One vocalist sounds like an even-more-blasé, twangy version of David Byrne, the other a nasal, rocking manifestation of Nick Drake. Give it a couple of spins to start getting a feel for the subtly complicated music. It's worth the trouble. Occasionally dark and melancholy or poppy and bright. This release will probably end up on the shelves of many a collegiate, intellectual type if the Apparitions ever break out of Ole Kentucke. Very good. (Margaret Griffis)
Ben Atkins Mabelle CD (Hightone): It's a good story: a small-town Texas kid who still lives at home, works a day job at the veterinary clinic, really, really likes the old stuff (Bob Wills, et al) and reveres the modern greats like Townes and S. Earle. So I ignore the Jesus-thanking in the liner notes and listen. He's got a nice, tight voice and a way with a simple lyric that makes it sound pretty fresh, but there are a couple of cuts here, like "Mabelle" and "The Same," which exist in that mid-tempo country rock slot that seems like both sincere flattery and sniping. There's a good songwriter somewhere in here, but the record betrays him by continually shifting tone, the low points being the several full bore rock songs which are so utterly unconvincing that you start to wonder if Atkins gets out much. But then he comes right back with a pretty little thing like "Ask Me Why", which is very much in the mode of Earle's great "Goodbye", and your first instinct comes back--we're just going to have to be patient with this guy. (Ken Rudman)
Beam S/T CD (Antenna Farm)
Led by French import Hélène Renault, this Bay Area combo's gentle, sixties-inflected pop is sweetly cinematic and slightly skewed.
Bonnie Prince Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music CD (Drag City)
The former Will Oldham, lady thrushes and many of the original players revisit the early Palace catalog, giving those shambling, weird ballads more of a trad country setting, though they're still beautifully odd.
Boss Martians The Set-Up CD (Musick) Each new Boss Martians disc comes on like a Jocelyn Wildenstein facelift: how have they remade themselves this time? For 2003, the Martians (last seen performing a credible Small Faces act) have set the wayback machine to 1979, internalizing Leonard Graves Phillips' manic whine and Elvis C's screw-you energy. Several of these swell tunes could've topped Rodney's chart back in the day.
Brother JT3 Hang In There, Baby CD (Drag City)
Pretty sleepy set from the king of bedroom stoner rock, though Shine Like Me kicks in like a wild party happening halfway down the block. Pick hit: top-heavy manifesto Head Business, as in what I do with my ____/ is my own damn ________.
Dick Campbell Blue Winds Only Know CD (Rev-ola) Dick Campbell is best known in record geek circles for Sings Where It's At, a high-concept faux Dylan disc previously lauded in these pages by Gene Sculatti. Übergeeks know he later worked behind the scenes at Gary Usher's Together Records, and this posthumous collection compiles demos of gossamer-light Campbell/Usher tunes in the sunshine pop idiom. It's all sweet as penny candy, with nary a Zimmy sneer in the joint. Does this utterly gentle music represent the real Dick Campbell? Unlikely, but it's a charming exercise sure to appeal to Millennium heads (though how didn't a bunch of Byrds associates notice that Maybe was basically I'll Set You Free This Time?).
The Canterbury Music Festival Rain & Shine CD (Rev-ola)
How'd a 1967 Queens soft-pop band get a name evoking the UK prog-folk scene? Well, it seemed like a good idea to their producers, the Tokens, who wisely loathed We Ugly Dogs. Their sole album, pressed in microscopic quantities, is revived now as part of Rev-ola's assault on the B.T. Puppy label vaults. Recording a mix of originals, tunes by the Tokens and Brute Force, and a somewhat aquatic instro take on Son of a Preacher Man, CMF's low-key, harmony-rich Associationesque pop is sugary and tasteful, if not especially memorable. Includes an alternate version of Mr. Snail, also recorded by the Tokens and comped on Night Time Music.
Neko Case Canadian Amp LP (Lance Rock)
Vinyl issue of Neko's self-released, home recorded solo set proves she's one of the finest interpreters we've got. Her own songs blend seamlessly with prime selections from Lisa Marr, Neil Young and Hank Sr., to mournful, shimmery, intimate effect.
The Checkers Make A Move CD (Teenacide)
Robotic new wave revivalists with a dash of guitar snot, led by Ms. Julie Vox, a walking, squealing vision in checker and leopard print. Instant 1982, just add you.
The Creatures of the Golden Dawn Blood from a Stone +3 45 (Butterfly)
New tracks from a respected nineties garage revival act whose smart, moody sounds make me wanna peruse their back catalog.
The Del-monas Do the Uncle Willy CD (Get Hip)
Re-ish of the mid-'80s grungy girl group gem featuring the three lasses who backed up Billy Childish's Milkshakes. It basically anticipates the Headcoatees' shtick: moody, primitive rock and roll with enthusiastic, somewhat wandering multitracked female vocals. Dumb and fun, this edition includes several previously unreleased demos. I used to play their Stooges cover on my radio show.
The Destroyed Outta Control CD (www.bertswitzer.com)
After Boston punk/noise drummer Bert Switzer self-released his career survey Bert Switzer 1977-2002, former seventies bandmates J.D. Jackson and Henry Kaiser got in touch and separately joined Bert in the studio. The stripped down Switzer/Jackson Destroyed offer six servings of instant punk, newly written and barely rehearsed expressions of old school angst delivered with a nasty leer. The Kaiser Switzer sessions are free jazz freakouts, Kaiser's limber, rubbery guitar twining around Switzer's dense, meaty rhythms. The package is filled out with a vintage '77-'79 Destroyed practice tape, a raw document of their ugly Stoogey swagger.
The Evaporators Ripple Rock CD (Alternative Tentacles / Nardwuar)
Chief Evap is the incomparable Nardwuar, mad interviewer and bane of humorless pop stars. His band plays catchy, nutty high concept punk that's not scared to slot in heavy metal, polka, girl group or new wave gimmicks when they serve the songs-the prettiest of which is called Shittin' Party. Utterly silly.
Felt Stains on a Decade (a singles compilation) CD (Cherry Red)
Felt-songs lope and shimmer around Lawrence's unmistakable, ritualistic phrasing, neat and tidy as the stitches on a sampler. Over the eight years documented here they take a style already startlingly refined and hone it ever finer, until by the end they've birthed Pulp. I quite like Felt, while finding their material essentially interchangeable. These singles are slightly more varied than the LPs, which might not be the point.
The Flash Express Introducing the dynamite sound of... CD (Hit It Now)
A simmering self-referential punk-soul stew from the kids who were too frenetic to properly back Andre Williams. There was just too much personality on that stage. The shtick works much better as a trio, thanks in large part to the jaw cracking rhythm section of Tommy Branch and Lance Porter. Add Brian Waters' constipated howl, mugging and power chords and you've got an act that would be as welcome in Detroit circa '68 as it is right now, as they rewrite Doin' the Banana Split, wanna know who stole the soul, grunt a lot and cover Grandmaster Flash.
Judson Fountain Completely in the Dark! Tales of Mystery & Suspense CD (Innova)
Wow. These utterly retarded (yet compelling) homemade spooky radio drammers were apparently actually aired by regional east coast stations in the late sixties and early seventies. While the experience of stumbling onto such lunacy on the airwaves can't be approximated by finding it compiled on CD, this screwball vision is a delight in any context. Every tale on the comp is a reductive morality play scripted around young Fountain's specialty voices-an incredibly irritating old woman/witch, a mush-mouthed and seemingly senile gang boss, a tough-as-nails gun moll obsessed with her own name, and old guys with varying (horrible) Irish and Scotch accents. The simplistic, repetitive plotting, recurring snatches of dialogue, casual xenophobia and broad exposition have a weirdly rhythmic quality that will infect your brain and leave you thinking like Fountain. No one blows the whistle on Pop Serriano!
The Fuse! Fisherman's Wife CD (In The Red)
Punkity rock heavily indebted to late '70s, especially Pere Ubu and Buzzcocks with nods to Neil Hagerty's squawky guitar work. Would be totally perfect for the current renaissance except it's too good and skronky for MTV audiences. Songs are memorable and catchy, though. Really good stuff. (Margaret Griffis)
The Gentlekin S/T CD (International Tape Association)
Bay Area duo channeling a delicately psychedelic pop/country hybrid, with nice harmonies and jangle, though the songwriting doesn't always hit the mark.
The Goldstars Gotta Get Out! CD (Pravda)
Fun, Farfisa-soaked retro-moderne garage punk featuring players (from New Duncan Imperials, Krinkles, Poi Dog Pondering) who've clearly slept with the Nuggets box under their collective pillows so long that their skulls are misshapen, with a surf-tinged cover of the Gestures' Run Run Run and some mid-period Clash-isms to keep things unpredictable.
The Guilloteens For My Own: Complete Singles Collection LP (Misty Lane)
Elvis' favorite rock band, signed to the connected Hanna-Barbera label (though admittedly Yogi didn't have much pull down at KFI), Memphis' Guilloteens' failure to connect with the charts is inexplicable. Maybe it was a spelling/pronunciation issue? Sounding like a sloppier Knickerbockers with a dash of Kinks aggression, these lost 'teens tracks (and one by the posthumous Buddy Delaney & the Candy Soupe) are eminently fruggable and (in the case of Dear Mrs. Applebee) almost poignant.
Wayne Hancock Swing Time CD (Bloodshot): A live album is not usually a great place to discover an artist you've ignored for too long. The songs never sound as good as they did on the original record, the jokes are not funny, the crowd just sounds like a bunch of lame drunks. But this is a great goddam live album, and I feel like a dope for not having any of this guy's records in my collection. First of all, there just isn't anybody playing music like this anymore, certainly not with this kind of conviction. I never thought I would actually compare somebody to Hank Williams, but that's sure what his voice sounds like. Not an impersonation, just that whiny nasal lonesome sound with a razor's edge. The band sounds like something between that classic country swing sound and Bill Haley and the Comets. Which should by all rights suck worse than Andy Williams fronting Sha Na Na, but it doesn't. Because Hancock takes that voice and imbues it with the kind of I-don't-give-a-fuck edge that pushes each and every one of these "old fashioned" songs right up into your face. And as they rip through Hancock originals and classics like "Route 66" and "Summertime" something comes over me--it's jealousy: Those lame-ass drunks in the audience have known about this guy longer than me. (Ken Rudman)
Wynonie Harris Good Rockin' Tonight: The Very Best Of... CD (Collectables)
These twenty-five sides from Harris' King Records years (1947-57, running well past his charting sell-by date, though the quality remains strong throughout) are a crash course in rock's origins-a sleazy, horn-drenched r&b using barnyard metaphor and a sly wit to sell an alternate America of misbehaving gals, liquor parties, churning butter and orgasm machines. Harris sounds a bit like Louis Prima, but with a midwestern raunch that seems somehow dirtier than the N'Awlins variety. Delish.
Penny Ikinger Electra CD (Career)
Stunning debut from Australian singer-guitarist who's played with Kim Salmon, Wet Taxis and Louis Tillett, but only recently started writing her own songs. With eerie whispery vocals, hypnotic hooks and delicate guitar parts that give way to monstrous feedback, Ikinger's songs are haunting, seductive and marvelously feminine.
Jade Fly On Strangewings CD (Lightning Tree)
The strongest tunes on this lost 1970 folk-rock disc play like a more naïve version of Denny-era Fairport, Marian Segal's warm voice conjuring up a dreamy, innocent England of ghosts, childhood friends, and the poor mayfly, who lives only a day. Jade was essentially a trio, Segal with David Waite and Rod Edwards, and you can hear the bare trad structures of their sweet songs beneath glistening augmentation courtesy various members of Pentangle, Fleur de Lys, Ivy League and Colosseum who dropped in on the sessions. The rockers don't quite make it, but Jade's softer side is lovely.
Denise James it's not enough to love CD (Rainbow Quartz)
Convincingly retro jangle-pop girl stylings from this French-born Detroit lass who's got the sixties romantic ice queen thing down, and plenty of help from the usual local suspects. Understated and mood-drenched.
July Fourth Toilet Something For Everyone CD (Pro-Am)
Vancouver branch of the musical genre spearheaded by Thinking Fellers and Caroliner. You know, straddling the line between "serious" musicianship and songwriting and pretending they don't care about anything except being weird and quirky in a trippy sort of way. It's a hard fence to keep your balance on, but JFT do an excellent job. The result is a fairly interesting mix of songs that tend to sound like a 1970's children's album, but clearly for hipsters. There really is something for everyone, too! A couple of tunes sound a bit "folksy" in a Lou Reed sort of way and another pair remind me of John Entwistle's brand of kookiness. Charmingly fun. Of note is participation by one or more members of Canned Hamm. (Margaret Griffis)
Jupiter Affect The Restoration of Culture After Genghis Khan CD (Dionysus)
These guys have a well earned following and managed to get the attention of "real world" music media. The songwriting is great and the playing is tight, which you would expect from veteran Michael Quercio, but it just falls short of being really great. It's as if they devoted too much attention to getting everything just right instead of capturing the very soul of the music. Admittedly, these songs sound like they would be better served in a live show environment--maybe a live album would do them justice?--but the release is still worthy of a listen, especially if you dig pop psychedelic/rock, like an old Beatles or Kinks "theme" album. Heavy touring should make these guys superstars. (Margaret Griffis)
The Kelpies Television CD (Head Miles)
The Kelpies were an Australian postpunk band with a rabid, ill-behaved following that frequently got them banned from venues, and too many personal chemical problems to put much effort into getting their stuff released. This retrospective kicks off with thirteen edgy, clever songs recorded live on cassette in their practice space in 1981. You can sense an exciting group through the mud, and what lyrics you can make out are unusually introspective. Stay tuned, because tracks 14-21 are many of the same songs recorded in a proper studio, a little too tidily. Somewhere between the sheen and the crud lay the Kelpies, an intriguing voice from the depths.
Kid Icarus Maps of the Saints CD (Summersteps)
Originally issued in 1999 on cassette and CD-R, Kid Icarus' debut is a nervous DIY pop mood piece, walls of fizzy guitar framing cracked harmonies, muttering ghost voices and a somewhat terrifying version of the Bee Gees' Holiday.
Albert King Live '69 CD (Tomato)
Even in 1969, the blues was no longer a living growing genre, having been passed on by blacks in favor of R&B, soul and funk and co-opted by honky college kids looking for a safe way to mask their own tighty whiteness. Since then it's only gotten worse, as every frat boy and balding ponytail and beer-gutted NPR type continues to embrace the modern minstrel show known as electric blues. Even dago movie directors have TV specials about the blues, presuming themselves somehow connected to the music that slaves invented to reduce the tedium of their workday and keep threaded to their West African roots. If it is possible to hear this previously unreleased recording out of that sad, sorry, societal context, it would stand as an excellent set. The backing band is not as stellar as on King's studio LPs of the period, but the spotlight is on his vocals and hugely influential lead guitar, which are both uniformly great. But it's hard not to imagine fat white guys screaming WOOOO! next to me as I listen to this. (Keith Bearden)
Les Baton Rouge my body - the pistol CD (Elevator Music)
This Portuguese combo, now based in Berlin, plays old school femme postpunk, as influenced by Nina Hagen's frenzy as Siouxsie's austerity.
Little Bare Big Bear Little Man b/w Dr. Morgan's Panacea (Butterfly)
Hard-edged poppy freakbeat from Jon Mojo Mills & company, with a delightfully daffy spoken passage worked into the flip. I didn't know Toe Rag could turn out stuff that sounds this crisp. Comes in a nifty collaged sleeve.
The Little Killers S/T CD (Crypt)
The idea of white folks cooking up another garage punk blues hybrid is enough to make my lunch head north, but amazingly, The Little Killers pull it off. What's the difference between them and Jon Spencer I hang out with poor old black guys poseurdom and White Stripes academia? Head Killer Andy Maltz has developed into a fine mutant Chucky Berry geetar slinger over his 15-plus years slugging it out in NYC combos like the Sea Monkeys and the Spitoons, and he has soaked up enough different forms of classic trash, twang and howl where the influences actually merge into something fresh (God forbid). First time banders Kari and Sara keep things chugging along in lean classic punk style. The Little Killers deliver the goods with spit, spirit and skill. Put 'em on the Warped Tour and teach the kiddies what it really feels like to rock. (Keith Bearden)
Lost Sounds Rat's Brains & Microchips CD (Empty)
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. There was never enough punk rock to go around in the old days, I think. That's why its popular appeal had to be limited: we couldn't afford to share it with normals. Although there's been an outbreak on MTV lately, there's also been a lot of great punk/new wave that hasn't quite made its way up the ranks to the televised wasteland. Something special just for us losers. Lost Sounds is one of the better bands. They remind me of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Avengers and Los Angeles' Screamers (for a band literally no one has ever heard, their influence sure has gotten around). Rat's Brains is one of the more interesting releases in the last couple of years. Yes, the goofy synths that scream nu wave are there and so is the dark gothic atmosphere, but so are some industrial embellishments and a touch of quasi prog rock à la Rush. It's a supercool balance of specific trends that were boiling in the late '70s, come together once again in a nice sophisticated (thanks to twenty years of hindsight) package. (Margaret Griffis)
Joe Mannix White Flag CD (Bongobeat)
Although he's got the name of a TV detective, this cat sings like a Go-Between. Sweet, thoughtful singer-songwriter stuff, with some unexpected production frills.
Manta Ray Esratexa CD (FILMguerrero)
Aggressive Spanish trance-cum-rock outfit with a warm, organic energy like the inside of a beehive. Impressive and unpredictable stuff, with lots of tasty rough edges.
Dom Mariani and the Majestic Kelp Underwater Casino CD (Head)
Don't expect power pop like DM3's Rippled Soul. Mariani shows off his instrumental chops here. But this is soundtrack stuff, not Dick Dale surf. Knowing it's hard to keep such tunes separate, each song has distinctive touches: sitar, Hammond organ, 12-string, percussion. Sergio Leone conjures the Spaghetti Western Territories. Indian Ocean is where Perth surfers shoot the curl. Cherry Red and Let It Hang, are scorchers. Starline has ocean effects and Acetone organ. Roulette, is a punchy, tough rocker, and the standout is Tijuanna Dreamin'. (P.J. Lozito)
Mink DeVille Le Chat Bleu CD (Raven)
On paper, Mink DeVille main man Willy DeVille has it all--a great voice, a moody junkie continental vibe, and a passion for early '60s pop melodrama ala Ben E. King and the Drifters. When he hits it, it's stellar (I'll be damned if Spanish Stroll isn't the best song Lou Reed never wrote), but all too often on this reissue of his 1980 LP, it gets contaminated by a common ailment of '70s NYC rock--Springsteenitis. The help of legendary songwriter Doc Pomus certainly helps on tracks like This Must Be The Night and Just To Walk That Little Girl Home, but the working class New Yawk tough guy thing comes off as authentic as the soundtrack to Grease comes to real '50s rock. His take on the Jive Bombers' Bad Boy soars like a falcon, but the real meat here is the looser live bonus tracks, where the songs come to fore and the party really begins. (Keith Bearden)
Minor Threat At DC Space, Buff Hall, 9:30 Club DVD / First Demo Tape CD (Dischord)
Ha ha ha! This is great. They look like babies!!!! At the time, I thought they were "old men" but, dammit, I guess they were practically kids themselves. The quality is about as good as can be expected and we're lucky there are any video documents available from the era. A definite must-have for any Minor Threat fan, but of interest to the general musicologist for the accurate portrayal of a typical "hardcore show." This is the real thing that unfolded in countless rec halls across the country during the early '80s. There's also a screwy interview with Ian MacKaye. Because of the stupidity of the interviewer they felt it necessary to separate the answers out from the questions. Funny, I guess. Also released is an "official" version of their first demo tape. Bootleg versions have been available, but it's nice to have a copy that hasn't been duped 30 times previous to yours. (Margaret Griffis)
Modey Lemon Thunder + Lightning CD (Birdman)
This rough 'n' raw Pittsburgh trio sounds like a tight little mod combo that got dosed on animal tranqs and woke up sore and confused, three states away. Then they started screaming.
Thelonious Monk Monk in Paris: Live at the Olympia CD (Hyena/Thelonious Records)
While this previously unreleased 1965 live set from jazz's premier
nutcase/genius/clown adds little to expand his legacy, it's great listening throughout (though the unraveling dissonance of the 10-plus minute Well You Needn't is for far goner minds than mine). Makes you wonder what other wonders lie in the family vaults. The bonus DVD (a perk usually reserved for bogus NuMetal moneymakers) is the real treat. It's a pert near perfect go at three classics filmed (in glorious black & white) in Oslo with the same band a year later. Watch Monk peck and slap his piano like a disobedient pet, and then hide from the camera during Larry Gale's bass solo. Delightful, essential stuff. (Keith Bearden)
The Monsters Youth Against Nature CD (Voodoo Rhythm)
Originally issued on vinyl in '97, this Toe Rag-recorded trash-punk horror is delightfully retarded.
Mr. Airplane Man C'Mon DJ CD (Sympathy)
Tara and Margaret moan their sweet and sultry blues like Radio Ethiopia-era Patti, aggression and dreamy sweetness fused into a tasty little dumpling.
Angie Pepper Res Ipsa Loquitor CD (Career)
After too long away, Aussie songstress Pepper returns with her first true solo album (though I treasure a tape of the unreleased 1981 Angie Pepper Band sessions), recorded with husband Deniz Tek, Donovan's Brain and various US and Australian players. Pepper's voice remains a marvel of husky, moody eroticism, and the eclectic material (psych, girl group pop, Exotica, Lipstick Killers and Link Wray covers, even some rap!) shows more facets of her art than we've previously seen. Doesn't Seem Right sounds like a lost Passengers track, the perfect blend of surfy-cum-Searchers guitar and sad girl pop longing. RIL is cool, but scattered--I'll be curious to see if the next Angie disc will have more of a unified sound.
Radio CPR Begin Live Transmission compilation CD (Dischord) Mostly typical compilation featuring Dischord family/friendly bands with the twist of it being a benefit for a DC-area pirate radio station. The tracks run into each like you would expect to hear on a live radio show, but considering this is supposed to represent "community" radio, it falls short of the diversity found scanning big city commercial radio stations (maybe having lived in Los Angeles and Miami just makes me lucky?). With the earnest ranting about "white supremacist and corporate-centrist mass media" on the insert I'd have expected more than a clichéd mariachi version of "Cielito Lindo." The audience for this is rather slanted towards Dischord-friendly consumers and several of the tracks are quite good irrespective of that. I can forgive them since they are trying to make a little scratch for community radio. (Margaret Griffis)
Kimberley Rew Great Central Revisited CD (Bongobeat)
The dead walk on this eclectic solo disc from the erstwhile Soft Boy / Wave, which juxtaposes an achingly sad memory song for Screaming Lord Sutch with a hepped up blues for Eddie Cochran among other examples of sweet, playful, thoughtful pop.
The Riverboat Gamblers Something To Crow About CD (Gearhead)
RAWKUS in the grand tradition of driving garage punk. Upbeat, melodic, passionate about R'n'R-- something sorely lacking in the '90s which were crunched from both ends by lukewarm irony and ice-cold emo. "Last To Know" and "Ice Water" are two of the finest songs released in the last few years. Double A-Sides. "Lottie Mae" would've been a great ballad for the Replacements to have released. I only wish I could listen to all the songs at the same time. (Margaret Griffis)
Roll Cage A Whole Summer of Pussy LP (Head Miles)
Kelpies / Brother Brick / Panadolls drummer Ashley Thomson takes a break from the skins to lead this loose 'n' trashy party band through a set of tasty Stonesy morsels calculated to horrify the squares. The titles alone will tell if this is for you, and if you're not down with an obviously heartfelt expression like God Bless Hookers, well
shame, that. You gotta be pretty smart to make such fine dumb stuff. Limited to 500 copies.
The Screaming Tribesmen All Hail the Tribesmen Anthology 1982-1993 CD (Raven)
Like post-Birdman peers the Lime Spiders, the Screaming Tribesmen specialized in penning high concept, b-movie garage-pop anthems. But the Tribesmen had a way of making their absurd themes pulse with a convincing romanticism, giving songs like Date With a Vampire and Igloo (Well I live in an Igloo at the polar zone/ And at night I dream of a red telephone
) unexpected emotional power. Nasal leader Mick Medew played host to various Fun Things, Birdmen, Lipstick Killers and Died Pretties over his band's life, with the highest points coming when Chris Masuak added his wild guitar to the mix. I checked out around '87's wimpier, hook-deficient Bones + Flowers, but the first 9 tracks here (of 22, arranged mostly chronologically) are prime, and while they couldn't keep it up, the late Ayla and Got You On My Mind singles are swank returns to form. A useful tribute to
a momentarily great band.
Judee Sill Judee Sill and Heart Food CDs (Rhino Handmade)
Forgotten among the slew of singer-songwriters that gushed from L.A.'s early seventies canyons like so much February mud, Judee Sill was the first artist signed to pre-mogul David Geffen's Asylum label, the most original, most difficult, and likely the best. Raised in her dad's tavern and later in a stepdad's icy alcoholic version of privilege, the valley girl grew up bright and bitter, turning early to psychological games, armed robbery, heroin and a highly personal form of mystic Christianity informed by Rosicrucianism and failed romance. Just when it seemed like she was going to O.D. or get shot, the Turtles hired her as a staff songwriter, recording the lovely lullaby Lady-O before disbanding. Over two weirdly beautiful albums that hold together like an oft-shuffled tarot deck, Sill orchestrates portraits of cryptic characters who seem to dwell between two worlds: a primal, archetypal realm of moral absolutes, and one more human, suffused with the agonies suffered when others behave badly. The musical dichotomy mirrors the lyrics. Sill sings with a casual, loping Western cadence and she drawls, the slightly dopey/hokey tone in contrast with her elegant symbolist lyrics and the occasional sustained ecstatic incantation, like The Donor with its round of kyrie eleison and visions of ancient inspirations that come unbidden during sleep. With haunting melodies and powerful language, these songs are strong medicine, leagues from the laid back image of label-mates like the Eagles (though a bad scene with J.D. Souther inspired her to write Jesus Was A Cross Maker). Both records are extraordinary, though Heart Food gets the edge for The Donor and The Pearl, songs which distill Still's unusual obsessions down to their essence. Rhino's expanded reissue includes an alternate Donor take that's the finest thing Sill ever did. Aside from some uncohesive demos, Judee Sill recorded nothing further. She injured her back and returned to heroin, overdosing in 1979.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum Live CD (Sickroom)
Darkly scenic documents of the SGM's public appearances, where singer Carla Kihlstedt's nursery rhyme prettiness rubs right up against found loops and agonized industrial scrapes and squeaks, all more delicate and evocative than most such experiments. Nightmarish, yet nice.
The Spectors Beat is Murder: Cockfights & Cakefights 1992-1996 CD (Get Hip)
Every town worth a damn should have its own pet garage band for the locals to get misty over: the Spectors were Minneapolis'. From the Monks cover to love/hate-that-girl workouts, this seven-piece approached every song as if the cops were about to pull the plug on the amps. Towards the end they of course went psychedelic, and effectively, with Rhubarb Ruby and the sticky-sounding Treacle Toffee World.
The Stems Mushroom Soup CD (Citadel)
The Stems, Australia's greatest eighties garage rock band, surveyed. Fuzzed-out guitars, skin tight drumming, cheap organ and pumping bass provide the framework for wonderful songwriting. See why She's a Monster was big in Boston, along with the groovy Under Your Mushroom. Compare the demo of Mr. Misery (Bo Diddley beat!) with the version on At First Sight Violets Are Blue. Power of Love is amazing, with a sound the band moved on from, while Lon Chaney Junior's Daughter is an instruMENTAL. This supersedes 1991's Buds comp. (P.J. Lozito)
Meic Stevens Outlander CD (Rhino Handmade)
If there's a stupider introduction by a major label for a potentially major singer/songwriter to the earhole public than the Welsh Bob Dylan, I'm sure it'll be attempted over at Interscope any minute now. Native of Solma, Pembrokeshire, Meic Stevens was certainly Welsh, played guitar and harmonica and did honk satirically Bob-nosed a few times on his 1970 Warner Bros. (UK) debut, but he dazzled a disintroduction on the very first track. Rowena comes on like another Donovan-ride through inner space, but Stevens has the hectoring magniloquence of a drunken Cardiff MP egging on a miners' strike. Soon the thing lifts into babble, mantra, transcendence, not to return to earth. It's the greatest British folk-psych song you never heard; the like of which Dylan was no more capable than the overture to HMS Pinafore. The feel of this album is much closer to a collection of sketches by Skip Spence or Roky Erickson, but with top-end production and the ineffable advantage of Meic's voice. He sounds like a great actor or con man high with language and stoned on hearing his skull hum. The sailor and madonna and Ghost Town sail over the next three decades into late-nineties alt-rock, superior at that. Dau rhosyn coch looks forward to the next thirty-plus years Stevens has spent as the most influential Welsh-language pop artist. This release apparently did well enough for Warners to offer another try, but Stevens turned them down to sing for his own people. This edition includes the original album plus nine bonus tracks. It will improve your existence in ways you can't even imagine. (Ron Garmon)
The Stupor Stars Bernadette b/w Born to Run (Honeyhole)
Hopped up lowbrow punkarama from L.A. And yes, it's the song you think it is on the flip, only reimagined as a much uglier vision.
The Sun Love & Death CD-EP (Warner Bros.)
For a moment I thought it was going to be a straight Cramps rip-off. Then hot-rod music. Then I stopped myself for a moment and turned off the major label suspicion reflex briefly. Here comes a Clash reference and, hey, weren't the Clash on a major label? (Margaret Griffis)
The Tol-Puddle Martyrs Puddle with the
7' EP (Misty Lane)
Here are both cool singles released by an Australian beat band in 1967 and '68, on Spiral and Festival respectively. The '67 tunes are driving fuzzed out rockers with a slight surf influence, but a year later they're reinvented themselves as an Antipodean Something Else Kinks-and quite convincingly! Oh, and the name? According to Mike Stax' liner notes, it was derived from nineteenth century Dorset trade unionists sentenced to transportation.
Toys That Kill Control The Sun CD (Recess)
Beholden to postpunk with a decent helping of the more interesting aspects of the Clash, Toys That Kill punch out wonderfully melodic pop tunes with enough crunch to mercilessly shake the ass of their most robotic enemies. Despite the "hair" band name, the San Pedro band reminds me of nineties Midwest acts like Thomas Jefferson Slave Apts. (Margaret Griffis)
Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players Vintage Slide Collections from Seattle, Vol. 1 CD (Bar/None)
I still haven't gotten over the irritation of seeing the Trachtenbergs' live during their much-hyped Los Angeles residency. The Silver Lake Lounge was so packed, you'd see little spinning fire marshalls when you closed your eyes. And although the band's hyperactive factotum brought a bribe of drink tickets to my moaning, notebook-scribbling sweetie, there was no way we were getting near the bar. Showtime came and went, but Mrs. T hadn't bothered to set up her slide projector, and now the room was too crowded to find sightlines. The heat and tedium were such that hipster scum (me included) were reduced to sitting on the dirty floor like a bunch of hippies-well, it was better than getting a mouth full of ponytail every time the chick in front of me turned her head. Things didn't improve once the technical problems were resolved and daddy Jason and little Rachel took the stage in their ugly matching outfits. The Trachtenbergs' shtick: take some dead person's slide collection, cobble together a loose visual narrative, and write a cloying indie rock ditty ostensibly celebrating the person's adventures-but insert mean gags whenever possible, and give off a palpable reek of self-satisfaction. Jason Trachtenberg, drunk on his own publicity, rambles interminably about imagined rivalries and the family's purchase of a new minivan. As annoying as the songs are, the patter is a hundred times worse. I start zoning out, wondering what Rachel will think when she's older and realizes that her innate kiddy cuteness was used to facilitate a musical career for her talentless old man. Will there at least be a trust account to finance plastic surgery and a new identity? Or will the slandered specters of Seattle drag the whole family down into a fiery netherworld where the fumes from their polyester stage wear finally silence this unfortunate gimmick? Some weeks later, I was sent their album.
The Trouble Dolls Sticky CD (Half A Cow)
Terrific fuzztone bubblegum obviously recorded in a haunted castle by brilliant, dangerous babies.
V/A Hey! It's a Teenacide Pajama Party! CD (Teenacide)
Jim Freek said, Let there be tomfoolery, and lo, a whole slew of goofy, glammed-out girl groups roamed across the land, and made merriment for the man in the stripy shirt, and he heard them and was glad. Featuring the Neptunas, Pinkz, Checkers, Cheap Chick and Nipper & the Seaturtles singing about a perverted turtle. F-U-N.
V/A Inside Information LP (Bubblewrap)
Ted Liebler sent me this some time back, but it got lost in review limbo till now. A one-sided, six-band ltd. ed. indie pop sampler with the instant psych caché of tracking from the inside out, it features the Morning Stars' crunchy drone, a bizarre Sweet-meets-Devo kinda sound courtesy the Fiction Four, a 1-2-5-style organ raver from the Autumn Leaves, plus songs from Basement Apartment, the Kites and the Pine Marten Group, and it plays like a fun night out in miniature.
V/A In the Garden: The White Whale Story CD (Rev-ola)
The label the Turtles built specialized in licensing great singles that mostly didn't go anywhere, but since costs were low, there was nothing to stop them from tossing more at the wall. Varese put out a comp called Happy Together five years back, but with minimal overlap, either release offers plenty of pleasure for the pop spelunker. Rev-ola's picks include Dean Laughing Gravy Torrence's reimagining of the Beach Boys' abandoned Vegetables, Gary Zekley's gorgeous production of The Shadow of Your Love by Bittersweet (which sounds like the Clique because it is), Dobie Gray's haunting Do You Really Have A Heart and Freddie Allen's kinda clunky original version of We've Only Just Begun.
V/A It Came from Uranus CD (Pro-Vel)
First release from a St. Louis label keen on spreading the word about the bands working the midwest corridor offers 21 otherwise unreleased tracks from acts as diverse as the (Hollywood) Cavern-ready Tomorrow's Cavemen, the surfy Knuckel Dragger and a whole slew of raunchmeisters plying that uniquely midwestern brand of sloppy, edgy garage-punk. A fun introduction to an unfamiliar and vibrant scene.
V/A Night Time Music: The B.T. Puppy Story CD (Rev-ola)
Intriguing label sampler for the Tokens' rarely-charting baroque soft pop imprint (1966-68). B.T. Puppy seems to have been the east coast version of White Whale, churning out delirious mini operas by a succession of unknown acts. Highlights include Pennsylvania's Sundae Train, represented here by four swell sides, Amanda Ambrose's Brute Force-composed Amanda's Man, plus a bonus, from the WB vaults, Margo, Margo, Medress & Siegel's daffy Pepperesque Mr. Snail. Elevator music with a soul.
V/A South American Teenage Garage Punk volume one 45 (Butterfly)
Four contemporary bands who follow in the scuzzy paths of Los Saicos and Shain's, including Los Peyotes' frenetic Vampiro and a version of Ain't No Friend of Mine where Elio The Mummy (of Thee Horribles) gives up on the phonetic English and just babbles in tongues.
V/A Tunesmith: The Songs of Jimmy Webb double CD (Raven)
Instant Jim Webb completist in a box: 46 covers of varying degrees of obscurity and fame, a psychedelic passage through Webb's weird world of Brooklyn Bridges and Magic Gardens, significant plane flights, philosophical failures, reincarnations and rages. Sound quality is variable and it would be helpful to have labels and dates for all the releases, but since it would be the work of years to accumulate all these oddities, Tunesmith is a real treat for the novice or intermediate Webbist.
Alan Watts This is IT CD (Locust)
F is for Freak Out. Had this primer of the intersection of Zen philosophy and California weirdo excess been released in 1968, it would be considered a groovily deranged addition to the tripster subculture, but when you consider the true date of issue (1962), this mad thing seems like a voice from another planet-assuming, that is, you buy the myth that the world was square until the Beatles arrived. Watts suggestively intones his metaphoric deconstructions of self with frequent babbling interjections from a turned on group including radio collagist Henry Jacobs and percussionist William Loughborough. IT shows the jazz path of psychedelia, absent electric guitars and tight pants, a nerd's psych that's mostly gentler, but whose rages are truly startling. Could the repeating blobbyblobbyblobby mantra have inspired British novelty artist Mr. Blobby?
Wide Right S/T CD (Poptop)
I knew Wide Right leader Leah Archibald years ago when she lived in L.A., and her husband Dave was instrumental in getting David Smay and I our book deal with Routledge for the upcoming Lost in the Grooves
none of which has any bearing on my thinking that Leah's band totally rocks! Raunchy, poppy, smart and crunchy, with a delicious fusion of aggression and sweetness, Wide Right turns on a distinctively extra-urban sensibility fueled by memories of Buffalo-bred boredom, longing and entropy. Pick hit: Another Way, a classic countryish love song for a girl's best gay buddy.
The Willowz S/T CD (Dionysus)
Love it! Sneery, fearless Voidoids-referencing punk rock in the old school weirdo tradition, energized, distinctive and scads o' fun.
Young and Sexy Light Through One Speaker CD (Mint)
File under: sweet and brainy / Vancouver Division, a frothy bowl of innocent boy-girl vocals, acoustic strums, electric piano frills and word-portraits of sensitive hipsters in mild extremis.
Warren Zevon The Wind CD (Artemis) You want me to review a man's last words? It's a good, sloppy Zevon record, with a few stunners, a few throwaways and the simultaneously tasteless/perfect choice of Knockin' on Heaven's Door as a cover. If you love the guy you've gotta hear it, and it'll be hard to listen to, and sometime in the middle of She's Too Good For Me you'll get sad about the song and forget how much sadder is the situation, but then you'll remember. Warren Zevon did good work until the end, he fought hard and stayed alive to see his grandkids born, and he still put that fucking smoking skull logo on this disc. Godspeed.