Sunday, 30 January 2011

Vic Godard by David Swift

“...even when we had got big and had support groups, we had to get the supports to tune up for us because we couldn't!”

Vic Godard

In the mid to late '80's and early '90's, New Zealander David Swift was a regular writer for the New Musical Express as well as a valued contributor to our magazine. It was he who introduced me to the bands on New Zealand's Flying Nun Records most particularly The Chills, The DoubleHappys and The Sneaky Feelings – the latter two of whom appeared on the LP that accompanied issue 6. As well as writing for us an excellent introduction to New Zealand music, he also interviewed the very wonderful Vic Godard and wrote it up for issue 6 of WANWTTS back in 1986.

"Vic Godard is back, but only just.

The Absent-Minded Tuxedo has, so far this year, given us an LP, and even performed live. And for all we know, he's now gone back within himself for the rest of the decade. He's like that, is Vic.

“T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” was issued on Rough Trade a few months ago, a release that went by almost unheralded. The short version of the long story behind the album – a collection of swingin' Vic, including some of his oldest material “updated” - is that he recorded it two years ago for Blanco y Negro, but Warners' (Blanco's parent) weren't happy with it. It took a fair old time for the tapes to come into the possession of someone who could handle the record. Not that it's controversial, anything but, but we guess that no-one really wanted to know in 1986 (except Rough Trade, who made a critical killing out of the Subway Sect retrospective LP last year.)

Subway Sect (Vic on the right)

Vic, who's spent the four years since the demise of the Subway Sect Mk. IV (or thereabouts) either dish washing, playing jazz (unannounced in Richmond pubs) or working in a bookies – depends what you read – wanted to promote “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.”. The current story is, and we risk litigation here, that Vic went to Rough Trade and asked the label for some money, to compensate for time away from his job at a Barnes bookies', said time to be spent playing to promote the record. Rough Trade handed over the cash and then, by chance, discovered some time later that Vic had been sacked from the bookmakers for incompetence a month previously! Maybe his relationship with Rough Trade will be temporary. His audience might also be temporary judging by the one show he's managed so far. At Bay 63 in Ladbroke Grove, London, Vic stood in front of his pick-up band of incompetent student jazzers and doled out sub-standard standards to a rapidly dwindling audience who'd been eager for their first sighting of him in years. He pulled out a packet of cigarettes fro one tux pocket, box of matches from the other, and lit up in his best Las Vegas manner; his manner was so absent, so disinterested, that it seemed to suggest that he, Vic, believed that he was in fact addressing the audience at Caesar's Palace. Make me sad, Vic.

A year previous I'd tracked him down to his mother's place in Barnes, south-west London. I'd brought along a copy of the Subway Sect retro to show him, for he claimed over the 'phone that he's not seen it. And sure enough, once he'd put me in the living room and produced the inevitable tea-pot (Vic's appetite for tea is well-known), he ran into the kitchen to show the LP to his mum. He seemed quite pleased that he was still remembered. The collection of essential rock'n'roll on the LP is of less consequence to him these days.

“I hate that” or “Can't listen to that now” are his usual verdicts on the prime cuts from the original Subway Sect. He doesn't rate “Ambition” at all, although he's not so glum as to refuse to praise “Stop That Girl” - “Easily the best thing I've ever done”.

After “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” was recorded, Vic once again found himself in the hands of Bernie Rhodes, one time Sect and Clash manager. Rhodes decided to employ Godard as a full time song writer, to utilise those talents while the LP was shelved by Blanco y Negro.

“I was writing some really good songs, but nothing was happening to them. I found out that Bernie wanted me to be in a band again, an electronic band that he'd got together. It was really useless, a big joke. He got really annoyed with me for not taking it seriously, but, I mean, I HATE synthesisers. They even had a machine to work out bass lines!”

Bernie nicked his guitar when they parted company, said Vic. Nevertheless he's still got a big backlog of songs, although Vic is not the most “together” artist, so whether he is ever organised enough to record them is a matter of conjecture.

How does he rate the latest release compared to “Songs For Sale”, the 1982 set by the last Subway Sect?

“It's a jazz album by a jazz group, where “Songs For Sale” was a jazz album by a rock'n'roll group. There's some classy pop too; it's what “Songs For Sale” should have been. Most of the musicians were got together by studio where I recorded it....they're all professionals, they've done jingles and things. The accordion player was a Radio 2 regular."

Vic is particularly pleased with “Chain Smoking” on “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” From the expert thrash of the original (see “Retrospective”), it's been stretched into a slow cig-holder drawl with back piano. Unrecognisable actually, and very neat. He's not afraid to re-do his oldest songs.

“Yeah, but a lot of it is by accident. Simon Booth (of Working Week, who produced the LP) said he'd always wanted to hear “Stop That Girl” done with a Latin backing, so we did.”

And that works too, although it's obviously a league or two behind the perfect ache of the original. Is he happy with his refinement of the crooning style he turned to in 1981?

“Yeah, I'm pleased, because doing jazz is a real progression after starting with punk. Like, the Clash were still churning out the same stuff they did years ago – I can't see the point in that. I don't hang around with anyone who's into modern music. The only people I know are those who like the things I like, Radio 2 and Frank Sinatra.”

At that recent show, however, Vic was alert enough to spot Douglas Hart of the Jesus And Mary Chain, and he made enquiries as to royalties from the Mary Chain's recent cover of “Ambition” on the flip of the “Never Understand” 12”.

“The only people who know me are the punk types” sighed Vic. He'd much rather see Vic Damone, or Perry Como, or Sinatra, attempt one of his songs than the Mary Chain.

“The songs I think would be good for covers on”Songs For Sale”, well, a couple of them, and a lot on this new album. I could just imagine Perry Como doing “Swing Gently” or Tony Bennett doing “Be Your Age” - Sara Vaughan too...but these people don't know me. If (sic) the album came out, maybe someone could go round and do some promotion, asking these people if they'd like to do the songs.”

While Sade goes multi-plat all over the world, Vic sits back and watches the world go by, happy enough it seems. He wasn't even aware of the recent dead-dog “jazz revival”, let alone sharp enough to cash in on it – a move which would have seemed just.

“I haven't heard much of that stuff. Sade sounds more like reggae to me. I like what she does, but I wouldn't call it jazz.”

He has deemed Working Week a little “way out”(!)

“I don't listen to modern music at all. The only time I hear it is when it comes on Radio 2. But judging by the TV, it definitely seems to be ten years ago. God, some of that Dewran Dewran bloke, his voice is just so awful. Dunno how he got anywhere, the songs are just pathetic.”

Vic fondly remembers the days of the first Subway Sect on the White Riot tour;

“Fantastic. It was any idiot picking up a guitar; even when we got big and had support groups, we had to get the supports to tune up for us because we couldn't!”

June 1986. The album has dropped out of the indie charts. Vic hasn't been seen since the Bay 63 show. Right now, his mum's probably making his tea. A great talent, sitting at home, fluttering on the horses and listening to Radio 2. If anyone sees Vic Damone, tell him about Vic please."

David Swift

The occasionally reliable Wikipedia reports that Vic worked for a while too as a postman. He certainly got a bit busier in the 90's not least with his great "The End Of The Surrey People" album on Postcard which included the very wonderful "Johnny Thunders".

In 2007, as Subway Sect, Godard recorded the songs that were intended for the debut LP back in 1978, and released them as 1978 Now. The line-up includes original drummer Mark Laff and original bass player Paul Myers also features on some of the tracks.

2010 saw the release of the "We Come as Aliens" album under the name of Vic Godard & Subway Sect.

Finally, a track from issue 6 of the magazine, the aforementioned Sneaky Feelings from New Zealand with "Not To Take Sides".

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Nikki Sudden - "I Belong To You" (promo video)

....during the same sorting that unearthed Epic Soundtrack's US TV performance, I came across this video too. Back in 1991, Nikki Sudden recorded "The Jewel Thief" album for UFO Records (featuring, among others, all of REM, bar Michael Stipe) and the lead track "I Belong To You" was chosen as the single. UFO commissioned a video and this is it.

Epic Soundtracks & Evan Dando - "C'mon Daddy"

Sorting through a stack of stuff for the blog, came across a few videos, one of which was this, Epic Soundtracks & Evan Dando appearing on Conan O'Brien's NBC talk show on 14.11.94, performing "C'mon Daddy", a song they'd just written (about Liv Tyler) but actually not yet finished.

(As YouTube seem determined to put a stop on it I've stuck it here and on my Facebook page. It'll probably get taken down, but for now, enjoy this brief but sweet little song.)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

David Johansen by Karen Schoemer

Karen Schoemer later wrote for Newsweek, New York Times and Rolling Stone, and in 2006, her book “Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With '50's Pop Music” was published by Simon & Schuster.

Back in 1987 though, she interviewed David Johansen, in his Buster Poindexter persona, for issue 7 of WANWTTS. His version of Arrow's “Hot Hot Hot” reached #45 in the US Charts in 1987 and he released four albums in total under the pseudonym, the last in 1997.

He's obviously better known to "our readers" as lead singer in the New York Dolls, so the good news is that Karen does get to ask him some stuff about the NYDs. Fair to say that his responses regarding the Dolls lack a degree of enthusiasm and certainly do not point to the likelihood of a future reformation.

An Interview With Buster Poindexter by Karen Schoemer

“Call him chameleon, conceptualist or dirty old punk, David Johansen by any other name can still shake more action than any other would-be queen from the Staten Island school of braggartology. Thirteen years after the Dolls' demise and almost five years since the last Johansen solo LP, the name's changed to Buster Poindexter, and the music's become a brandied retro fusion of soul, swing, R & B and R & R. Buster and his Banshees Of Blue have been the toast of the New York City neo-cabaret circuit since their inception a few years ago; now with a hot hot hot self-titled album on the charts, overtly goofy videos plastered all over MTV (including the hap-hazard lip-synced Yuletide Yammer “Zat You, Santa Claus?”), several film appearances in the works (“Candy Mountain” due out this Spring and an updated version of “Scrooge” with Bill Murray for Xmas '88, in which Buster plays the Ghost Of Christmas Past) and guest appearances on Saturday Night Live, Buster and his Banshees' lounge-styled hoe down has truly become a phenomenon. But don't be fooled by the natty duds and scooped hair-do. Underneath this tuxedo-clad, martini-sipping dude skulks a gritty humorist and sanguine street philosopher, surprisingly similar to the personas he left behind. After all, it's the late '80's , and he's still turning tricks on an unsuspecting music public."

KS – When you were growing up on Staten Island, did you have a big collection of '45s?

BP – Oh yeah! I came from a pretty big family – there were six kids in my family. The collective record collection was pretty impressive. My older brother, he would listen to more '50s style stuff – he probably thought Bobby Rydell was really where it's at. My older sister would bring home Bob Dylan and the Beatles stuff. Also, I had an aunt, and still do, who had a great record collection from the '40s and early '50s, so we used to listen to a lot of her records, like jazz, Louis Armstrong. There were a lot of influences there.

KS – Did you always want to be in a band?

BP – Probably from about the time I was 13 or 14. Before that I didn't really have a clue, but I didn't care. When it got to the time when you gotta start thinking about what you're gonna do, I just decided I was gonna be in a band, be in show business. So I never had to get acne or anything, 'cause I knew what I was gonna do.

KS – When was your first band?

BP – When I was about 14, I guess. We'd play Wilson Pickett, “Midnight Hour”, “Boogaloo Down Broadway” by Fantastic Johnny C

and “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells. It was a big band, we had about seven guys. More like a gang than a band. A social club. We were called the Vagabond Missionaries. Then I was in another band with some of the same guys, called Fast Eddie & The Electric Japs, 'cause we played all Japanese equipment, real crummy equipment. We used to pride ourselves on that - it was part of our shtick. We did a lot of R & B in that band, too, but we would also start experimenting with some psychedelic music at that time. We used to play solos; we played at the Hotel Diplomat with a band called The Group Image who were like the Jefferson Airplane of New York.

KS – I recognise a couple of songs on the new album, but a lot of them I'm not familiar with. “House Of The Rising Sun” I know from the Animals....

BP – That's a traditional song. Leadbelly used to sing that, Libby Homan used to sing it. I don't think they knew who wrote that song. It's probably the oldest song on the record. I wrote two of the songs. “Cannibal” I wrote with Joe Dileo who's my piano player, and “Heart Of Gold”.

KS – Where did you find “Screwy Music”?

BP – That's an old Jimmy Lunsford Orchestra song. It's a Sonny Coleman arrangement.

KS – Did you find most of these songs on the records you'd collected?

BP – Yeah, mostly, or somebody'd steer me in the right direction.

KS – How much does your show change from week to week?

BP – It all depends on where we're playing and what band we're using. Sometimes we use a rhythm section; we have another act that we do that is just guitar, bass, drums and piano. I guess eventually we'll just go out with the bigger band, it's more fun....I don't know if it's more fun, it's more massive. I like having a big entourage around me.

KS – You like people to call you Buster?

BP – Oh, I don't care. I mean, y'know, that's an old nickname I've had for years, so people have called me Buster for ages, my friends and stuff. I answer to it very readily.

KS – Where did you get it?

BP – It's just a nickname I've had since I was a kid, like the kind of name you write on the subway and stuff, like a nom de guerre. A nom de subway.

KS – How old were you when the Dolls got together?

BP – Oh, I don't know. I guess about 20.

KS – And they were together for....

BP – Three or four years maybe. I don't know.

KS – Do you not like to talk about that?

BP – No, it's a very long time ago. I don't really recall specifics. I have a general picture of what went on, but it was kind of like my college days. I'm pretty well adjusted.

KS - I remember when Buster Poindexter started to play, you wouldn't say they (Johansen & Poindexter) were the same people. Is that right?

BP – Yeah, I guess so. I don't think I did too many interviews. Maybe. Probably it was just something I was having fun with. Because you know, when I started Buster Poindexter, I didn't want people to say it was David Johansen as I didn't want people to come expecting a Johansen show. So I used a different name for a different kind of music. I didn't care who came, I just didn't want people expecting to hear “Funky But Chic”. I think the name's more suitable for the kind of music I'm playing. So I just think of myself as Buster Poindexter.

KS – Period?

BP – Yeah. My mother doesn't call me Buster. Old ladies on the street do. They say (wags a finger) “Listen here, Buster!”

KS – So when you changed, did you want a style of music that would appeal to more people?

BP – Yeah. First of all, I like this music very much. When I decided to do it, I guess I thought it would be good because I wanted to be entertaining people who are around my own age. I wanted to make music for people who'd already been through that whole rock'n'roll....the punk thing.

KS – You think you're through that stage? Do you think it's a limited format?

BP – I think it's wonderful.,it's a wonderful part of the rites of growing up. But it's not so much for me any more because I'm older. I'm trying to do something that's more's rough when you're doing something and you're not having fun at it, for me. It's written all over my face. I like to do something I can throw myself into, body and soul.

KS – When I saw you at the Bottom Line, you told this story about lying in a motel room, and suddenly realising you didn't want to do rock'n'roll any more. You called your friend....

BP – (laughs) Eeek-a-Mouse.

KS – But was there really one moment?

BP – What happened was, I started doing a Buster Poindexter show Monday nights at Tramps, which is an off-night for musicians, so I was performing for a lot of musicians and a lot of people who knew what this thing was about, 'cause we didn't publicise it. Lisa Robinson picked up on it and started putting it in the Post; but basically, in the beginning, I was just playing for the cognoscenti. Then we started playing weekends, and I started doing the other thing less and less, and at one point I just didn't do it any more. So it was a gradual withdrawal. I would be out doing my rock'n'roll show – I mean, what I'm doing now is rock and roll, it's just a lot more sophisticated than basic three-chord rock'n'roll – I would be up there singing, and the kids would be up there with their Hitler youth moves, and I would be getting older and they'd be getting younger every year. It got to the point where I didn't think they really understand what I was doing. I've always done things in a tongue-in-cheek, multi-level way.

KS – Even now?

BP – Especially. I think it's more obvious now.

KS – I don't know if this could be more tongue-in-cheek than the Dolls....

BP – (pause) It was a lot of fun, the Dolls. People had a lot of fun at the shows. There weren't too many bands around then, either. Not like today, there's a lot of stuff going on today. In those days we had to create to make things happen. There was no place to play for one thing. We'd have to invent places to play, practically, like a bar or something. We'd have to talk them into renting a PA and talk 'em into letting us play there. And then we'd try to convince them that we could bring in a crowd. So these places started opening up.

KS – A lot of the bands I listen to now say the Dolls were a big influence. That must be a pretty good feeling.

BP – Yeah....I've always been pretty positive. That's how we got the band going – nobody was really a virtuoso or anything, we just decided we wanted to have a rock'n'roll band. And I think, besides musically, that attitude was inspiring to a lot of people. Because people used to revere rock stars, like the rock stars would be up in a gilded cage, singing about some kind of nonsense. And we wanted to change that, to bring it to the streets, so to speak. And then that became a very popular movement, which is probably what is happening today. I mean, you still have your pont seat rock stars, but there's a lot more people involved in making music, instead of saying “Well, I could never do that” Also, we wrote great songs.

KS – Do you think what you're doing now is rebellious?

BP – Intellectually, yeah.

KS – What do you think it's rebelling against?

BP – Mediocrity. You turn on the radio, and so much of it sounds the same. I think that's always been the inspiration to me, mediocrity. It's nice to get people to think a little bit. Most people just accept things, they come into this world and this is just the way it is, they just accept it. But you don't really have to do that, you can shape it and mould it as you go along.

KS – The Dolls did something new, and it seems like musically what you're doing now is almost going backwards.

BP – The Dolls were doing something new? What do you mean? Because they were playing classic rock'n'roll really badly? The Dolls were basically a rhythm'n'blues based rock and roll band, which is kind of an old contraption when you think about it. It was just the way we did it, and the chemistry of the band. Arthur Kane's bass playing is probably a root point in what made that band sound so peculiar. He didn't play bass like anyone had played bass before. He could not breathe and play bass at the same time, so he used to take deep breaths and go (takes a huge breath and mimics playing bass) and then he would play, then he'd take another breath. I think that has a lot to do with it. I think, the last time I thought about it, that was the conclusion I came to.

KS – Then you think, musically, you're going back to the same roots?

BP – Yeah. Well it's just songs that amuse me, basically. It's as simple as that. It doesn't matter whether it's a blues song, a calypso song, or whatever....

KS – Do you come up with stories when you're on stage?

BP – They kind of evolve. I've always been a raconteur of sorts; even in the Dolls I used to tell stories on stage. Probably not in the same language I use now, probably in a more halting, abrupt language; (hoarsely) “You kids, listen to this! The other day I was walking down the street!” It was more like that in those days. Now I can sit there, have a smoke, take my time with it.

KS – Is it weird for you to see people like Mick Jagger still doing the rock'n'roll thing after so long?

BP – You mean, there but for the grace of God go I? No comment!

KS – No, I just mean.....

BP – I think this; when you're making a lot of dough, it's much harder to make a change. I was in a position when I changed my....path.....that it wasn't like any great shakes in the financial department, you know what I mean? I mean, that song “Hot Hot Hot” made a difference in my life and hopefully it will make a difference in other people's lives.

KS – How did it make a difference?

BP – You know like when you're a kid, and you first get in to rock'n'roll, how it first turns you on, because of the opportunities that present themselves to you? Life doesn't seem like such drudgery after all, there's some hope at the end of the tunnel kind of thing, you know? And then you go along with that for a while, and it kind of becomes common place, and you get into something like blues. All of a sudden you find this goldmine – it brightens your life up again and you can sink into that whole-heartedly. And then, okay, you assimilate that. Maybe reggae comes along, and you get into reggae, and it's a whole new ball game, and you're really happy about it. That happened to me, and then I got into soca and the same thing happened to me again. It brings me happiness basically, is what I'm trying to say. The fact is I'm making a living doing exactly what I want. I have made records before that I tried to fit into a certain system like AOR. When you try doing something that maybe you're not wholeheartedly into, and you don't succeed, it's much worse than if you do something you really believe in and don't succeed. If you do something you believe in and then are successful, it's the best of all possible worlds.

(It wasn't long before “Hot Hot Hot” was being described by Johansen as “the bane of my existence”......)

The New York Dolls (DJ, Sylvain Sylvain and others) release a new album in March 2011 - "Dancing Backward In High Heels"

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Robert Johnson by Nikki Sudden

Robert Leroy Johnson 1911-1938

Nikki was more than just a contributor to the magazine - assistant editor it seemed at times and always an inspirational figure. A lot of what we did would not have got done without his constant chiding and encouragement and of course, it provided a virtually unrestricted platform for Nikki's many musical musings. This particular piece never appeared - it was lined up for issue 7 - and there are sections which, in light of his own unexpected and early demise, seem to have significantly added meaning.

Nikki Sudden 1956 - 2006
(in Warwick for the "Robespierre's Velvet Basement" photo session)

"The legend was there all the time. It was there long before we were born. The kid died at the crossroads – arms outstretched – poisoned by some lousy woman – some dead man – only 21 years old. You know how it was; a few good years, then go. Bury his body in a shallow grave. An unmarked grave. No tombstone, not even a black cross. Let him go back to the dust. Let his soul go down.

Everyone knew the rumours. Y'know, a few years ago that kid couldn't hardly play. He used to come along and watch the old guys swapping their licks, singing their tortured stories. Singing the blues. Once in a while he tried something himself, but he could never pull it off. He just hadn't got it.

Then he disappeared for a while. No one saw him. No one knew where he went. Then, when he came back, he knew more that all those old blues men – there was nothing he couldn't play, no depth of despair he couldn't plunge to.

And there was only one way that this boy could have done this. Everyone was agreed. He must have done this deal, crucified himself.

Sold his soul to the devil.

Yes, so maybe that's rubbish – but it's a good story. It's the story that the whole mythology of rock and roll is based on. Y'know, this music, the Devil's music. And who's going to prove otherwise?
It seems like the only way you're ever going to do anything worth doing these days (or any days), you're going to be cursed forever. You can put it down to jealousy, you can put it down to misunderstanding, you can put it down to fear (probably the strongest), but whatever you do, someone's going to resent it. And this is the web we all have to bear.

So what is it that equates a six string guitar with the Devil? And what, even, is this Devil? Some figment of life's tortured and tormented mind? It seems that everybody believes in some kind of devil, but this is natural, judging on the way things are. As night follows day, so evil must follow good. And as the blues and rock and roll came from the black man, they must be from the wrong side of the fence. All things evil, be they whiskey, heroin or sex, they all echo the sound of rock and roll. Do I believe this? Do I care...?

I don't believe you can equate these things so easily. It's a drab covenant of sorts, this life. Respect the government, respect the church, respect this, respect that, but don't think about it too much. Stay silent and you will be blessed. Rebel, and you'll find yourself first pushed up against the wall, then through it. Knocked down. Soon even taxis won't stop for you. You'll end up dead. Ah, but you'll end up dead anyway. It's probably not worth really worrying about. And this is what I'm sure Robert Johnson knew about. It's sure as hell what Mozart knew about. It's what all the ghost heroes of your past knew. There's something hidden behind that door and you won't necessarily find it by being good. Pity, really...

Nikki Sudden by DAV

So, it's back we go. Back to the coast of Ghana. Back to the Gold Coast. Back to the Mississippi Delta. Back to the Dartford Delta. Back to wherever you came from. This little kid only just born and already learning to cry. Learning that life's not what it's cracked up to be. Learning that there's only one way out of this purgatory, and that's to lie and to cheat, and to sweat and to burn. And least that's what it says in the Bible. In the Old Testament. And it's in the Old testament that everything that is the blues seems to come from. All those tales of redemption and sorrow. The trouble is you can't really believe in all that. Not all the time anyway. Still, that's what is drummed and drummed into our heads from as soon as we take that first breath. And I guess Robert Johnson was no different.

The kid from the Mississippi Delta – hitching his way round the southern states, playing for money, for a place to sleep, for a drink, for a woman. And whatever he had and however he got it, everyone knew he hadn't learned it. He knew too much. Yeah, everyone knew that boy had evil. You cold see it in his eyes. You could hear it in every smashed and broken chord he played, in every mutated syllable he uttered. And no, he wasn't shy, he was just afraid of letting people see too much of him in case they could tell what he'd done.

This Robert Johnson. This son of the parched and starved cotton soil. He'd sold his soul. It had to be that way. No other explanation of how he got to be that good. And his songs. His blues. He wrote about him and the Devil walking side by side. Only once place he'd end up. And soon. You could tell he had it coming to him. Hell hound on his trail – that boy shouldn't have messed around. He should have stayed home on the Robinsonville Plantation where he belonged. But, as Keith Richards once said, “...when people start telling you you're evil, it makes you start thinking about evil. It's just what you feel. Whether you've gotten that good and evil thing together. Left hand path, right hand path, how far do you want to go down?Once you start, there's no going back. Where they lead is another thing....”

So where does all this lead? Nowhere really. It takes you to the graveyard in the end, everyone goes there one day. And who wants to die with poison in their glass? With poison creeping through their body. Oh yes, maybe it's so romantic – hey, what's romantic about death? It's this dumb, stupid mythology that spreads itself like some corrupt, languid courtesan, all over rock and roll – all over the tombstones of our inheritance. Be it Cleopatra or Brian Jones, James Dean or Edie Sedgwick, Jimi Hendrix or Marie Antoinette – they probably didn't want it. “Woke up this mornin' and found myself dead...” Yeah, how romantic. How dumb. This is what we are brought up to believe though – and the trouble is, maybe it's inevitable.

But then Muddy Waters was still playing when he was 70, and he maybe saw Robert Johnson play once – or at least glimpsed him from the end of some jitterbug Clarksdale avenue – through the sawdust filled lamplight of a half derelict juke joint. And whatever he saw, whatever he heard, some of it rubbed off on Muddy. Some of it rubbed off on Chuck Berry, who'd hitched to Chicago just to see Muddy Waters play. And I guess Chuck Berry inspired a kid or two to dig a bit deeper. Maybe it is all true. Maybe you do have to sell yourself. But one day you're gonna have to pay the price. When the Devil comes knocking, ringing your front door bell...."

“I buried your heart at the crossroads
Where the milestones mark the way
And the dew fell across the stones
And marked the way to your grave.”

Nikki Sudden December 1986/January 1987

Recommended listening –
King Of The Delta Blues Singers
Vol 1 (above)
Vol 2 (right)
by Robert Johnson
(CBS Records)

(It's gotta be vinyl, I mean, blues on CD....
come on.....)

And from the sublime to the ridiculous.....

It's been a while since we had a musical addition to the blog. When you've listened to this (if you listen to it...) you may well feel you're still waiting for a musical addition.......

So, we called the magazine What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen after a song by the Crystals, and then King Frog And His Frog Kings write (and record) a song called What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen named after the magazine. A little ungraciously perhaps, we'd love to say we were proud of the tribute. Make up your own mind.

We can assure you there will be better musical offerings to come. We promise.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Part Two: Alex Chilton by Epic Soundtracks

Mr Epic Soundtracks

As described, the second part of the exhaustive Alex Chilton interview by Epic Soundtracks as included in issue six of What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen. Let's get straight into it.

The cover of What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen Issue Six's magazine

The next record to come out would've been “The Singer Not The Song” EP. There was an album that came out after that from all those sessions, “Bach's Bottom”. Did you have anything to do with the release of that?

No, Jon Tiven had the rights to those tracks.

How about the Chris Stamey single (“Summer Sun”)? Was there anything cut at the same time as that?

Well we did four tracks of mine, but Ork Records could never pay for the tapes.

Did the whole punk thing going on in the UK in '76/'77 mean much to you?

Well, I think it's difficult to understand the English mentality that bred the Sex Pistols, because the social conditions must not exist in America. I always thought that Americans who dressed up as British punk rockers were really posin' at somethin' that they really didn't have any understandin' of. That sort of frustration, I guess a kinda sexual frustration, does exist in America, where you go to extreme measures 'n have holes in your hair and stuff like that...but the social sorts of things you were experiencing in Britain, we certainly weren't experiencing in America. I never really understood it that much, especially from Americans....that sort of pained frustration and rage. And resentment of authority...authority is bad in America, but it's different than here.

Would you say that Memphis was, or is, a particularly dangerous place to live?

Well, in the '50s 'n early '60s, it sorta was. But in the middle 60s, all across America under the Johnson administration, the inner city slums were all cleared out for new buildings. I mean, Memphis has about as much of its pre-war past left, as maybe Hamburg or Rotterdam...there's nothin' left. There were all the poor blacks on the south side 'n all the poor whites on the north side. If they hadn't have pulled all the inner city stuff down, there'd have been a terrible situation in the late '60s in Memphis, what with all the riotin' goin' on all the time.

That must be real red-neck territory down there.

It is...but when I was young, I guess it was probably not much different to South Africa now. But it's a movin' thing, and it's amazin' how far it's come in the last twenty years.

Your music went through a big change when you did “Bangkok”. These must have been influences you'd had all along, like a rock'n'roll sort of thing?

Yeah, well “Bangkok”, I guess, was cut after I'd seen the Cramps you know, an' they made a big impression on' everybody, y'know...I saw them play in New York, an' became a devoted fan of theirs, an' after a month or two, ran into them at a friend's apartment, an' I said, “say, you guys are the greatest band I've ever seen! We oughta work together in the studio”' we did.

What do you consider your favourites from working with them?

Well, “The Way I Walk”, and “Domino” are the two really good ones. “Human Fly”? Well that was only a rough mix really. All the things from the first session we did are good. “Surfin' Bird” we mixed in London in '77 along with “The Way I Walk” and “Domino”, but it was the third thing we mixed that day, an' it wasn't really the right mix, y'know...

So The Camps influenced you to play a much trashier style of music compared with Big Star?

Yeah, and Jim Dickinson too. I mean he'd shown me how to get really trashy...

James Luther Dickinson

How old is he now?

I guess he's 9 years older than me...he must be 43 or 44. He's done a lotta producin' and session playin'. He's played with Ry Cooder, The Flamin' Groovies, “Wild Horses” by the Stones....a whole lotta things.

When you recorded “Like Flies On Sherbert” you started doing a lot of covers.

Yeah, I'd started writin' a lot less an' I've always enjoyed doin' a lotta different material.

I really love the way “LFOS” is so ramshackled and shambolic. I feel like it's done on purpose to bring something out in the I right?

Actually, when I conceived of doing the record, I thought maybe Jim and I and maybe one or two other people would record, and when I turned up for the session, Jim had his whole band there! Like Lee Baker and Mike Ladd on guitars and me on guitar too, and Ross Johnson on drums, and a bass player too a few other people. I thought....”hmmm, well this isn't what I had in mind really!”...but I didn't say anything. I just thought we should try it an' see how it goes. We started recordin' an' I thought “Man, these guys don't know the songs...” an' I was trying to teach them to them, an' they'd go “Yeah, we know the songs” and then just go and play the first thing they thought of. So we were rollin' the tape an' we were doin' all this outrageous soundin' stuff. I didn't know it 'cause I was out there playin' it. I wasn't in the control room listenin' to it. An' I thought “Man that must sound terrible”. But when I went in and heard what we'd been doin' man, it was just this incredible soundin' stuff. I like that album a lot still.

How long did “LFOS” take to record?

Well, most of it was recorded in three nights. “Hey! Little Child” was written and recorded right before the final album mix-down. I re-recorded “”Girl After Girl” then too, because I didn't feel I had a sufficient take of it from before. Most of it though is from those three nights.

Apparently the US version of the LP is different to the UK release....

Yeah, “No More The Moon Shines On Lorena” (B-side to “Hey! Little Child” single in the UK) is on it, and also a thing that Ross Johnson, Panther Burns' drummer does, called “Baron Of Love” which is a kind of introduction to the album. It's just guitar, drums 'n vocals. Ross just kinda raps off the top of his head about all kinda's a drunken thing, kinda like the Legendary Stardust Cowboy without the rebel yells. “Boogie Shoes” wasn't on the American release because KC & The Sunshine Band all of a sudden had a big hit with it through being in the Saturday Night Fever film. I mean, when we recorded it, it'd been a really obscure B-side, but by the time the LP was finished....well I decided it wouldn't be such a cool thing to use it.

These differences between “LFOS” and the third Big Star LP...did you have any choice over which tracks were picked?

No, the tapes were sold out from under me, and people used whatever they wanted. I would've put them together in a different way, but the American version of “LFOS”, of which there are only 500 copies, is pretty much the way I would've wanted.

Would the “LFOS” approach be one you'd consider using again?

Yes. You see musicians play a whole different way...the first time you throw a song at them that they've never heard, the way they play it that time will be completely different to the way they play it the second time, 'cause they've gotten smug about where it's gonna go. It's definitely a good way to record and you get some good things.

Would you say the Panther Burns records operate along the same lines?

Yeah, I mean,'s always difficult to know where he's gonna go next. You try to follow him, an' it gets pretty screwy!

Quite a lot of your songs, like “What's Goin' Ahn” and “You Get What You Deserve” seem to be about relationships and confusion and things like that. Would that be a true impression?

Yeah, exactly...that was sorta like 1973, pre-drugs...when I was getting' really intense, wonderin' just why I was so unhappy, y'know, an' I'd learned to write all these confused nonsensical lyrics from Chris 'n Andy.

I think the feeling of being confused with love or whatever really comes across in those songs.

Yeah, it does...for whatever good confusion is worth. But I think it's more important to tell people that they don't have to be confused rather than to console them in their is possible.

Epic's review for Sounds magazine of "Alex Chilton's Lost Decade"

Was the song “Jesus Christ” meant as a serious religious song, or was it totally tongue in cheek?

Well, it was fairly diabolically planned out. I just thought that at some point in my life I'd like to do a Christmas song and really I just copied the lyrics out of several different hymns. I went through a hymn book and picked out several phrases I liked an' threw all those into the verses an' then I couldn't think of anythin' cleverer to say for the hook line than what it says...

Did you have any kind of religious upbringing?

Not really.

I just thought that coming from that area...

I guess there is a lotta religion around, but in my family it wasn't stressed at all.

Coming back to the lyrics, those to “Rock Hard” are pretty humorous, all sexual innuendo...

There's an interestin' story behind that one. Like some of my other best songs, it was originally another song an' it was recorded as that other song, which was really bland.

What was the other song?

Oh, I don't wanna get into that, it was so bad...I mean, I wouldn't have changed if I'd wanted anyone to hear it that way. But almost until the final mix-down of “LFOS”, the song was pretty much left the way it was. But I knew I wanted to re-write it, so, under pressure as I often do, I wrote a really good lyric for it, an' overdubbed it, an' I still like the song a whole lot. “In The Street” by Big Star is another example of one of the best songs I've ever written, an' it was done the same way.

Was that song a collaboration with Chris Bell?

Well Chris supplied just one line of melody, that's all, but he sang it on the record.

How soon after that album (#1 Record) did he die?

Chris died either in 1976 or 1978...I'm not sure which.

And why did he leave the band?

Well, he was havin' difficulties with the label, an' there were some personal bad feelings between him an' some people there, an' because he was takin' some drugs...downers...around then, which make some people a little paranoid, it seems. Anyway, somehow he got it into his head that we an' all these other people were sorta against him, which wasn't really true at all. But it didn't take the form of getting' upset at us, he really got upset with the people at the label, an' only marginally with us because we were still there. We didn't storm out the way he did.

So when he left the band, did you feel that maybe Big Star had ended?

Alex's hand-written set list for 1985 tour

Oh we certainly did, yeah.

Apparently you played a gig as a three piece, and got such a great reaction that you decided to carry on.

Yeah, Ardent were sayin' “Look, we're getting' a lotta good response from this album...we just didn't sell any, but you gotta do another one. Just look at all those critics, they love you.” So we had a bunch of material, a lot of it actually written with Chris, but he was kinda excluded from havin' any credit for it, because for some reason we got together an' divided up his material. Chris took what he wanted that we'd collaborated on as his own.

Was his solo single “I Am The Cosmos” one of those songs? It's a great record.

No, I had nothin' to do with that one...but yeah, it is a great song. On “Radio City” though, he wrote parts of “O My Soul”; most of the lyrics after the first bit are his, but I don't care for those words. I mean, “You're really a nice girl...”, fuck! I would never say that! (Laughs)...I'd be more inclined to say “You're really a rotten person....but I like you anyway!” If there were some words in there that were good, I'd be doin' that song now, but I cannot stomach it the way it is. I'd have to re-write the song before I'd play it live. I guess I was just too lazy to write some new lyrics for it when we recorded it. “Back Of A Car” is another song Chris had a hand in writing. I think the words were mostly Andy's, and my chord changes. Chris kinda came up with the opening bit of melody, but the rest of it is mine.

In “My Rival” you wrote “My rival, I'm gonna stab him on arrival, shoot him dead with my rifle...”. Does that kind of extreme situation actually exist in the South, where somebody would shoot someone else for messing with their girl?

I think that kinda thing happens every day with teenagers in America. There's always all kinda outrageous, usually drug related suicides an' murders. I just managed to stay a teenager long past the numbers. But I mean, in my case, I was certainly getting to the point of bein' obsessed with things like guns and phallic symbols like that, y'know...any kinda power I could feel, I was really tryin' to feel it as strongly as I could. But “My Rival” is really more of an emotional outburst than a serious statement of anything. I've never used a gun...I felt like it for years though.

Do you think that a lot of your best songs have been written when you've been depressed or on the edge somewhere?

Well, I don't me, my best songs are more positive sorts of things. The really maudlin things I don't think are my best songs, just 'cause I don't see any reason to play music that makes people feel bad, y'know.

How do you feel about a song like “Holocaust”?

Oh well, yeah, I mean I think that is a really great song. The lyrics, I don't hardly lay an egg anywhere in the whole bunch of words and I think it's well done, but it's not what I'm tryin' to do. I don't remember writin' it. I guess I musta just sat down at the piano, and these words came to is a good song.

So how has your writing changed?

Well, ever since '76 or '75 or sometime, I think I realised how to go about writin' some lyrics and writin' a tune, and actually bein' able to put down succinctly what I wanted to say, in the most economical terms. I began to realize how to do that, and as soon as I did, then I said to myself “Well, okay, what kind of a song do I wanna write?” I realised that I didn't wanna write about things like I had been writin' about, sufferin' and what have you. I wanted to write about positive things to send out into the world, not things that really just coddled people's maudlin sensibilities. Even now though, I guess I still write in a kinda negative way. There's two new songs I'm doin' now, “No Sex” and “I Will Have No Mercy Upon You”. They're both positive in certain ways, but there's still that negative thing in there too.

Alex's hand-written gig crib sheet with lyrics for "No Sex"

There are a number of your songs that I find particularly interesting, “Stroke It Noel” from “Sister Lovers”...

Oh yeah, that's another of my gropin' nowhere pieces...

You don't like it at all?

No...well...maybe it is kinda good. It's another re-write. I don't know...I was takin' a lot of drugs an' I just kinda scribbled somethin' down and said to Jim Dickinson “Is this good?” and he said “Yeah, go and do it...” (laughs)

The words are particularly strange. There's one line and then the next line seems to have nothing to do with the one before. I actually like the way that some of your songs from that period are like that. Would you sit down and write all the words in one go?

Oh, I'll bet I did...I was getting' very disassociated. I don't know if that's the right word to use, but anyway, I could say one thing an' then say somethin' else that didn't seem to follow on from it...but it followed for me I guess.

You play The Beach Boys “Honkin' Down The Highway” in your set at the moment, and you used to do “Wouldn't It Be Nice”. Did you ever know Brian Wilson?

Oh yeah. In The Boxtops we did a lotta tourin' with the Beach Boys. We must have played about 100 nights with them over a couple of years. This was after Brian had quit goin' on the road with them of course. Anyway, they'd all been big fans of “The Letter”, and they recorded it too. Once, I went out to California and stayed with Dennis Wilson, and it was there that I met Brian. This was 1968.

And how was he then?

Well he seemed alright to me, but...well...come to think of it, actually, I guess he was acting a little weird. The two of us went out to The Whisky, and everyone was tellin' me it was the first time Brian had been out in years. He was doin' funny things I he started doin' push-ups right there when we were sittin' in the club. Some time later, he was doin' some recordings, under what circumstances I don't know, but I gotta whole lotta telephone calls from him in the middle of the night and stuff. He wanted to record me singin' on this thing: I was all for it, but it never came about.

Did he want you to sign to The Beach Boys' label, Brother?

Yeah, there was talk of that but it never happened. Really, I spent a coupla days hangin' around with him in the sixties and then there was this telephone business in the early a couple of other times. I last saw him around 1982 at a concert in Memphis. He still had his keepers with was pretty strange. But I like Brian a lot...he looks great now, really young.

How do you feel about the business these days?'s difficult to get paid! It's difficult getting' money for records. I mean, I talked to the guy from Aura Records today, for the first time since 1981, and he told me, gee, I only owed him about £1500!! (laughs)

Did you have anything to do with “Live In London” coming out?

No. Before I left town, I knew he had this tape an' I said “You're not gonna use that are you?” and he said “No”. So it was a big surprise when it did come out. But the surprises are getting' smaller all the time I guess!

What do you think of that record? To me, most of it just plods along...the band seems to hold you back.

Well, we only rehearsed a few times y'know. I've only listened to the album a few times, but the times I did, I thought half of it was really good, and half of it was almost good.

Seeing you seem to really love to be on stage, singing for people.

Well, it beats workin' you know! That's what we're doin'...travellin' around and playin' and makin' records. I just hope one catches on, an' sells pretty well, an' we make some money, an' then retire! (laughs)

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