Sunday, October 18, 2009

On the Road with Redd Kross

Quite a few months ago, I talked about my first ever United States tour with a band called Choir Invisible. That tour had many moments of fun, but it was also extremely frustrating and exhausting, so when we called it off and came home, I promised I would never tour again.

Several years later, I was temporarily living in New York City and trying to decide if I wanted to stay there or return to LA. I was missing Skip terribly, but I loved New York and had a great job there. That was when music manager, John Silva, called me and asked if I would like to work with the Three O’clock, a band he was managing at the time. I had promised myself that I would never tour again, but I loved to travel and I really wanted to get to Europe and the rest of the world. I never had much money and the only way I could see going overseas was with a band. The Three O’clock were fairly popular and had just signed to Prince’s label, Paisley Park, through Warner Brothers Records. Getting back to Skip and possibly being able to travel the world made up my mind and I took John up on his offer.

I’ve also talked about my tours with the Three O’clock. I did several tours with them, but never got out of California, with the exception of one show in Reno, Nevada. Then the band split up. Silva was also working with another LA band with the name of Redd Kross. At the time I knew the band pretty well, or at least I knew the two brothers, Jeff and Steve McDonald. I had met them very early on at the Hong Kong CafĂ©. They were very young and embodied everything that I thought a great punk rock band should have. They were extremely fun, had great songs, and expressed a snotty attitude that tied it all together. I had them out as guests on my radio show in Riverside and would see them play live as often as I could.

They eventually morphed into a loving parody of extremely long-haired heavy metal and garage rock, but they were still loads of fun and they still had those great songs. So, when Silva asked me if I wanted to manage their first ever USA tour in 1987, I jumped at the chance. Both John and I figured that we already knew each other and got along well. I was a fan of the band, so the tour should work out well for all of us. We were all wrong.

I should stop here to say that I’ve shut a good amount of this tour out of my mind. I was miserable from almost the first moment we left on the tour, and was almost suicidal by the time the tour ended two weeks later. So there’s a lot I can not remember about this tour. But there are some basics and a couple of shows that stick out which should give you a feel of how this tour went.

At this time, along with the two McDonald Brothers, the band also consisted of Robert Hecker on guitar and Roy McDonald (no relation) on drums. As soon as we took off, I begin to find out things about these guys that I wasn’t thrilled about. They claimed to be vegetarians. By that they meant that they loved Dairy Queen, where they would eat french fries and milk shakes. And let me tell you, that was all they wanted to eat each and every day. And only at Dairy Queen. Every time we saw one on the road, they would get all excited and we would stop for a meal of fried potatoes and ice cream. As a lover of food, that began to grate on me badly after only one day.

Another big problem was that the two brothers did not get along at all. They were always bickering and many times it would get violent with lots of loud yelling and fists flying. In a small crowded van, that became a big problem and I found myself having to pull over the van many times to try to keep the two siblings from killing each other so the tour could continue. (I’ve come to discover that this is standard reality for bands that have brothers in them, although I realize that not every brother band is like that. But it sure seems like a good many of them are and I quickly resolved to never work with a band again if any of the members were brothers. Of course, several years later I would start working with the Poster Children, who had two brothers on guitars, so another promise went out the window. Those two brothers got along very well though. In fact, except for some musical stubbornness, which they were well within their rights to have despite the business frustrations it caused, they were a pleasure to work with.)

On tour in 1987, we also had a problem with the band’s public image. That was something that couldn’t be helped though, and we all just had to deal with it. I can remember at least two incidences, one in Wyoming and the other in Mississippi, where the appearance at a gas station/rest stop of four guys with tight jeans, shiny shirts and hair down to their waists brought cat calls and close confrontations with bigoted locals. In North Carolina, we had a day off and I decided to stay in the hotel and read, knowing the band was going to spend the day at Heritage USA, the Christian theme park that Jim & Tammy Faye Baker had built several hours away in South Carolina. I kind of wanted to go, but badly needed some time away from the band. When they returned hours later with stories about confrontations with Jesus Freaks and just the whole strange nature of the place, I was really disappointed that I had stayed in, but it was probably all for the best.

The biggest problem of all was the band’s utter cluelessness about how to conduct themselves on and off stage. They were young and they had never toured before. I was also fairly young and still a novice at this touring thing or I probably would have had more patience with them. (Professionally, I really should have had more patience with them.) But it was hard.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the club owner was so excited that the band was playing his club, that he threw a big surprise party for the band. He had invited lots of locals and had stocked his club with barbecues and lots of locally made sausages and beer. He didn’t know the band were “vegetarians” though and that they didn’t drink alcohol at all and since he threw it as a surprise, neither Silva nor I were able to tell him about it. The band weren’t happy, but I finally convinced them that he had his heart in the right place and he wasn’t trying to insult the band purposely. But that evening, they only played a 20 minute set and then walked off the stage. They also refused to come back on for an encore. The club owner went crazy. He was screaming at me that the band was contracted for at least an hour long set and he expected them to get their asses onstage and fulfill that contract. When I tried to talk to the band, they claimed it had nothing to do with the club owner’s party. They had just decided that if they only do 20 minutes and leave the audience wanting for more, that the next time they came back to this city, the audience would be even more excited to see them again. I was flabbergasted! In the end, I had to call Silva and somehow, by threat or sweet talk, he managed to talk the band into getting back onstage and finishing their complete set. All this took about 30 minutes and the audience stuck around the whole time, so I guess they did want more. Unfortunately, this incident left the band mad at me for ratting them out to Silva, but I didn’t see any other option.

Outside of New Orleans, we were staying at a Motel Six and since there were no Dairy Queens around, we all decided to walk across the street to a truck stop to find something to eat. Robert wasn’t hungry and wanted to stay in the room. So off the rest of us went, where I remember a pretty satisfying meal, for me at least. Several hours later, we returned to the room to find it was full of horror.

Now, while the other three guys in the band were long-haired rockers, Robert was just an out-and-out Hippie. He was completely into the peace-and-love thing and because of that, had helped break up the brother’s fights a number of times. He also loved communing with nature, and that’s exactly what he was doing when we returned to the room. He had opened all the doors and windows, claiming he needed the fresh air. The problem was that this was summer in the swampish, deep South. The room was full of insects. There wasn’t an inch in the room that wasn’t crawling with some sort of beetle or flying creature. Some of them were huge! They were embedded in the bedding. They were snuggling in our clothes. They were everywhere, buzzing and chirping and looking for flesh to bite. We were all horrified, but Robert didn’t see the problem. They were just natural. It took us hours to finally clear the room of all those creatures so we could comfortably go to bed.

In Austin, Texas, we played a show with Dinosaur Jr opening. I had met the Dinosaur guys before at Richard Kern’s apartment in New York. I had never heard of them at that time, but they seemed nice enough, although really quiet and reserved. It was during this show that I realized that Dinosaur was almost as clueless as Redd Kross and listening to the two bands talked just boggled my mind. All-in-all though, it was a fun show and I don’t remember any major problems.

I can also remember bits and pieces of a few other shows. I recall a great show in Ann Arbor, and I also remember being disappointed that we weren’t going into Detroit, although we were so close. (I still have never been to Detroit, one of the few major cities in the USA I haven’t been to.) Cleveland was a fun show. We arrived at a club along the river and were horrified to see people swimming and rafting amongst all the garbage and crap floating in the water. (I believe a few years later, that river caught on fire, finally prompting the city to clean it up.) That was also the show where I met the band Death of Samantha, who quickly became a favorite band and good friends. That friendship is still going today with some of the band members, who went on to form Cobra Verde and join Guided By Voices. And another good show was in Dallas, when a few of the Butthole Surfers showed up, bringing with them a load of chaotic fun and craziness in the dressing room.

The last thing I remember of the tour was the drive back home to LA. We were driving through the Mojave Desert and were really all on each other’s nerves. I don’t remember what it was, but something got said and Jeff and I started arguing. It escalated and escalated and before long I finally had had enough and pulled the van over. Both Jeff and I piled out of the van and we just started screaming at each other. I think there was some light pushing and maybe even a few punches that didn’t connect were thrown. It was close to really getting ugly. I believe it was Robert who waded in and calmed us both down, but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We climbed back into the van and finished the trip without saying a word to each other.

When I saw Silva the next day, I immediately told him that there was no way I could ever work with that band again. He told me that that was okay because they didn’t want to work with me either. In fact, that was the last time I ever worked for Silva again. A few months later, I re-met with Thin White Rope and started working for them exclusively for a number of years. I also finally got to Europe with them. That was a job I loved.

For their next American tour, Redd Kross got local journalist/scenester/great guy, Phast Phreddie to be their tour manager. He was a whole lot mellower than I was and just took everything in stride. I heard that during one fight between the brothers in the van, one tried to kick the other and missed. Instead, he kicked out the side window of the van. I would have probably melted down over that. Phred just got the van fixed and continued on with the tour. More power to him. Everyone was happier.

As I said, I was pretty good friends with the band before the tour, but in the years after, the McDonald’s and I have rarely spoken to each other, even ignoring each other when we were at the same events together. It’s too bad that it worked out this way because I was truly a fan of the band and I really did like those guys when I didn’t have to work with them. In recent years, the tension has broken a bit and I’ve talked to both Steve and Jeff when we’ve seen each other around town. I wouldn’t call the conversations extremely friendly, but I’m glad we can acknowledge each other again after all these years. We were all young and new at the game at the time. I look back on the tour and laugh now. If I was working with them now, I would have done things a lot different. You live and learn.


I really am trying to get this blog back on a regular schedule. I would like to do this blog every two weeks, with my food blog on alternate weeks, meaning I would have a new blog entry every week, just like the old days. I’m working towards that, but right now, I’m overwhelmed with trying to raise money so we don’t end up homeless and broke. Most of my time is spent listing items for sale on Amazon, Gemm and EBay. I’m trying to get that into a schedule as well, so I will have certain days for listing, writing and time away from home for movies and such. (I’m so far behind on movies now. I haven’t had time to see one in several months.) This will also help me find the time to work on these stories a bit more so I don’t feel I’m rushing them out, as I feel I did with this new entry. So please be patient with me and I promise that I’ll get all this together. I still have so many stories I want to tell. Keep with me and you’ll hear them all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Creedence Summer

Back in the 1960’s, when I was a young teenager, I had my favorite bands. There was lots of music that I liked, but a few bands were special to me. The Doors were the first band to ever attract my attention. I was just 13 when I first heard them and their raw sexuality was a siren’s call I couldn’t resist. Spirit was another band that I just loved to death. I actually bought their first album in 1968 when it came out. I had seen a billboard on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood one day while traveling with my mother. The band’s look shocked me. For some reason, I thought having an older, bald guy in the band (drummer Ed Cassidy) was the height of non-conformity. So I bought the album unheard and found an atmospheric collection of psychedelic, jazzy songs the likes I had never heard before. I was hooked. And, of course, there was the Beatles, who I never got seriously into until the “Sgt. Pepper” album came out in 1967.

Then there was Creedence Clearwater Revival. I first heard CCR when the edited single “Suzie Q” became a hit in 1968. I loved the song, but I didn’t pick up a CCR album until 1969 and the release of their second collection called “Bayou Country”. “Proud Mary” was a huge hit and I just couldn’t resist the old time country/blues feel of the music mixed with the overt psychedelic sounds of the time. I was surprised when I brought the album home and put it on the tiny turntable I had in my bedroom. Usually, the first thing that happened when I put a record on was that my parents would start yelling at me to turn it down. But this time my mother knocked on the door and asked what it was. She actually liked it. She was into country music and the influence it had on CCR’s music was enough to attract her attention to it.

Over the years, CCR had quite an impact on me. Their music brought me around to country and blues. They broadened my mind at the time in ways few bands had been able to. I spent my teenage years going to school in Southern California’s Orange County, and spent the summers in Northern California at my grandparent’s house in Marysville. I would usually work for my grandfather in his grocery store in Yuba City. (One of his best customers was notorious serial killer Juan Corona, whose car I packed with groceries several times.) Most of the time my whole family would make the trip, but there were a few times when I was packed onto a Greyhound bus and sent through the Central Valley overnight to be met by my grandparents at the bus depot. I was always in amazement as we passed the city of Lodi. CCR did a song about it, so to me it was an exotic, unknown place that I longed to visit. I would stare out the bus window at the Lodi city sign and wonder what mysteries laid beyond it. (Of course, in reality the place was a dump and I was probably very lucky that I never saw it in the real light of day. I actually have visited the city many times now in the last decade as it’s quickly becoming one of California’s best up-and-coming wine regions.)

One of the biggest disappointments of my teenage years is that I never managed to see any of my favorite bands live. My father would periodically take me to the Anaheim Convention Center and drop me off to see whatever band happened to be playing there that evening. I can remember seeing such bands as Iron Butterfly, Blood Sweat & Tears, the Bee Gees (in 1968 when they were still a pop/rock band), Vanilla Fudge, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Donovan, and being amazed by them all. Remember, I wasn’t even 16 years old yet and all these bands seemed new and fascinating to me. But I never managed to see my favorites, although they all played the Convention Center at one time or another. The reasons for this are lost in time, but I regret missing those bands to this day.

Over the last several decades, I’ve been able to catch various members of my favorite bands in the live setting. I saw Paul McCartney in the 70s during his first big Wings tour. I caught Ringo Starr with his All-Star Band only a few years ago. I saw Spirit in one of their Randy California led later incarnations, as well as singer Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes’ later band, Jo Jo Gunne. And I’ve seen various Doors in solo settings as well as all three surviving members backing up Iggy Pop on stage. But I had never seen any of the CCR members play live.

Until this summer, that is.

I’ve talked before about how much I love the summer seasons at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a great place to see someone perform and I always look forward to seeing what musical legends are going to play there when they announce the summer schedule each March. I also like the fact that you can still attend the Bowl for a rather cheap price ($5 to $15 depending on the show) if you don’t mind sitting a quarter mile away from the stage. There are giant screens so you can watch the action on stage close up. They also allow you to bring your own food and wine or beer to the Bowl. So it can be a very inexpensive evening out under the LA summer sky if you choose to do it that way. Skip and I usually end up going to at least a dozen shows there every summer, usually in the cheap seats, but sometimes spending more if the headlining act calls for it.

This summer was opened by a three day 4th of July stint by CCR leader John Fogerty. When it was first announced, we were torn about it. There was no question that we were going to go. After all, it was a Creedence legend we had never seen. But it was also well known that he hated playing the old CCR songs live and most of his solo material just didn’t interest us all that much. But we bought tickets. $25 each, about half way down to the stage. We brought a couple of bottles of nice wine and relaxed, hoping for the best.

And the best is what we got. He opened his set with “Green River” and I was pretty ecstatic. I thought he didn’t do CCR songs and here he was opening with one. His voice was strong and the band sounded good. His set turned out to be almost 2/3 Creedence, with the rest filled out by his solo material. He played a good many of the hits and even pulled out a few surprises, like “Run Through the Jungle”, “Keep On Chooglin’”, “Fortunate Son” and a country version of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”. He also did a four song set backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra that included a beautiful “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and an incredibly rocking “Proud Mary”. We left that night in very high spirits. It was a great set by one of rock and roll’s great talents and we were glad that we had been there to see and hear it.

A few weeks ago, Skip and I were at the LA County Fair. We were looking at the list of upcoming bands playing there and we saw that Creedence Clearwater Revisited was coming soon. This CCR was formed 15 years or so ago to allow original Creedence bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford to capitalize on the music that they were so much a part of. The two guys, rounded out with several other musicians, had toured the world playing the hits they had originally recorded with John Fogerty. Creedence had ended on a sour note at the beginning of the 70s, with Forgerty going one way and the other three members (including the late Tom Fogerty, John’s estranged brother) going the other. Over the years, the relationship between the two camps has remained strained. This led to the incident during the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 where John Fogerty refused to let Stu and Doug play with him on stage. I found this to be petty, childish and extremely embarrassing. To me, John Fogerty may be a major talent, but he’s seems to be kind of a giant asshole as well. (I did meet Forgerty once. He was on his way out of Warner Bros Records as I was on my way in. A mutual friend introduced us and we talked briefly. He seemed nice enough, but his actions towards the other guys in the band are still inexcusable.)

Anyways, Skip remembered that his niece, Shannon, had once told him that she knew the son of one of the guys in the band. So, he gave her a call and before we knew it, we were on the guest list to see them play at the County Fair. (We’ve since found out that Shannon more than knows the guy. She’s living with him. And he’s the son of drummer Doug Clifford. I look forward to actually meeting him some day soon.)

We arrived at the Fair to find stage-side tickets and back-stage passes waiting for us. Those seats cost $125 each, so we were pretty thankful. (Lesser seats cost $25 each, but most of those were way in back and off to the sides.) The place was packed, which I found amazing. I had no idea that a band like this would bring in such a crowd consisting of so many people of all ages. We bought a couple of giant Fair margaritas and settled into our seats directly in front of the stage. We had no idea what to expect.

Now, I should break here to explain that I usually really have a problem with bands that continue on after their lead singer has left. It usually doesn’t work and I have bad memories of seeing the James Gang without Joe Walsh or hearing those horrible albums the Doors made after the death of Jim Morrison. I also have a problem with bands getting back together as a tribute to their old selves. Or I should say, I did have a problem. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of those types of bands, from X to the Human League to the Zombies, and I’ve found myself enjoying them tremendously, despite the lack of new songs. Sometimes, like in the case of the Human League, they’re even better than they were when I first saw them in their original form. Then, last year, I saw From The Jam, which is the original drummer and bassist of the Jam with a new singer, touring by playing the old songs. They were tremendous; as good as they were with their original singer/guitarist, Paul Weller. (Some people even thought they were better, although I won’t go that far out on the limb. The new material the band is working on may decide that for me.) It may just be nostalgia, but there’s room for that these days and I realized that I couldn’t condemn a band for falling back on that.

Getting back to the show, on walks Creedence Clearwater Revisited to thunderous applause. Stu Cook looked chipper and happy, and Doug Clifford looked fit and trim and not much older than he did 40 years ago. They were rounded out by three other musicians; Steve Gunner on keyboards, Tal Morris on guitar, and John Tristao on vocals and guitar. They immediately broke into “Born On the Bayou” and the crowd went wild. Their hour and a half long set included most of the band’s hits, including the biggest and a few of the smaller ones like “Travelin’ Band”, “Hey Tonight”, and “Lodi” which I found to be a delight.

I had a few problems with the set. There was a bit too much guitar pyrotechnics at times, which I don’t think was needed, although the crowd seemed to respond excitedly to those moments. And although singer John Tristao has the voice down, in person he’s kind of a solidly built, bald, biker guy and I just couldn’t place the face with the voice. I found that I was watching the set without watching him and I was enjoying it more because if that. Both of these problems were small ones though and the vast, crazy audience didn’t seem to mind them at all. I guess it’s just me.

But, Oh, that rhythm section!!! Those two guys are beautiful to watch and listen to. Fogerty owes those guys a lot more than he’s given them. He could never have pulled off what he was doing without those guys there to anchor him down. I watched and listened to them in amazement. I found myself wishing that we could have found a rhythm section like that for Thin White Rope. It would have been a beautiful thing. (These days I look back and think that we may have had that rhythm section in John and Joe if we just would have been a bit more patient.)

So once again I found myself glad to be where I was. I enjoyed the show tremendously and if I put the two parts together, I can convince myself that I’ve sort of seen Creedence Clearwater Revival play live now.

Afterwards, we went back stage and Doug, or Cosmo, a nickname he seems to prefer, came out to talk. He was friendly and talkative. There were a few times when I thought we were taking up too much of his time and would start to make our goodbyes when he would suddenly change topics to another subject that we would spend a good amount of time discussing. It’s been quite a while since I’ve felt so comfortable talking to someone I respect so much but don’t know. Topics went from family matters to John Fogerty to old memories of CCR to Lodi to Dolly Parton and on and on. It was really a pleasure. (And the thought that if all works out, he may become a distant relative boggles my mind.)

So there you have it. My Creedence Summer. I fell in love with the band 40 years ago and this summer reinforced the fact that I’m still in love with them now. And I know that if by some chance I live another 40 years, I’ll still be in love with them then.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fun at the Hollywood Bowl and Other Musical Musings

Once again I’m going to ignore the rapid descent into pure insanity that we are watching this country’s right wing fall into. Instead you’re getting several music oriented tales.


The other day Skip and I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see a concert. This isn’t unusual in the summer. We usually end up at the Bowl to see a dozen or more shows every summer season. And there was certainly nothing unusual about the show. It was jazz artists Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, three of the four members of the 70s jazz fusion band Return to Forever. I was a big fan of the band and wanted to catch them live again after three and a half decades to see what they had been up to lately. So it should have only been a nice evening out featuring some great jazz music. Instead we got one of the most bizarre, chaotic, and ultimately rewarding shows I’ve seen all year.

We started the evening by deciding to park up on Cahuenga Blvd, which is right around the corner from the Hollywood Bowl. We usually go to North Hollywood and park at the Red Line station and then take the subway to Hollywood Blvd, where we walk up the hill to the Bowl. That way we can avoid the traffic and the long lines of cars after the show due to the Bowl’s insane policy of stack parking. But we had decided to eat at the Loteria Grill on Hollywood Blvd before the show, so we were early enough to find parking on Cahuenga, which is the only legal place you can park near the Bowl. It fills up fast, but if you’re there early, you can usually find a space. We left the wine and water we had brought for the Bowl show in the car and walked down the hill to Loteria, about half a mile walk.

Now, keep in mind that Southern California was experiencing a really bad heat wave at that time and also has one of the worst fires in recent history burning nearby, so the air was hot, muggy and full of smoke. We ate a delicious dinner and walked back up the hill to our car to get our packs full of ice, wine and water. After swinging the packs onto our backs, we walked part way back down the hill to the entrance to the Bowl, then walked all the way up this huge hill to get to our seats in the second to the last section up. By the time we got there, we were red-faced and out of breath, and we had probably worked off most of the calories we had ingested at dinner.

I knew we were in trouble when we first arrived. Sitting right next to us were a very enthusiastic Latino mother with her adult son. They were already drunk and I think quite a bit stoned and were very loud and friendly. “Hey!” “Sit Down.” “Take a load off.” “Here, have a beer.” And it wasn’t long until we were asked, “Hey, are you guys significant others?” “It’s cool, man,” “Sure you don’t want a beer?” We thanked them every time they offered us a beer and explained that we really weren’t beer guys and that we had brought our own wine and we preferred that, which was probably why they figured out we were significant others.

Everyone was distracted though when an older black man arrived along with three middle-aged black women and they sat right behind us. They were all very excited about the show and started devouring a large basket full of fried chicken, ham and booze to prove it, all the while talking about how excited they were about the show.

It was about this time that the opener, guitarist John Scofield hit the stage. Dear God, I hated him. He played a set of what he described as “New Orleans Gospel” except there was absolutely no soul involved. It was just four musicians sounding like studio hacks and they weren’t even that good of musicians. But the audience loved it. The young Latino guy next to us started “WOOing” immediately and it wasn’t long until he pulled out a tambourine to beat along with his WOOs. I looked behind us and the whole audience was on their feet, swinging their hips and dropping wine glasses and bottles, and probably themselves, onto the aisles with loud crashes. I have never seen an audience so set on partying.

Forty minutes later, the torturous music stopped and the lights went up. The young Latino guy looked at us and screamed, “I MEAN, HOW CAN YOU FOLLOW THAT?” We just grimaced back at him. I certainly hoped that Chick Corea, et al, would be able to follow that quite easily, but I was really worried that perhaps we had made a big mistake by coming to this show.

The young Latino guy got a phone call and announced he had to leave. His mother seemed upset and asked if it was “that girl” and he affirmed her suspicions. He told her that “that girl” was down in Section F and he was going to join her and with that, he was off and I was relieved as I had just told Skip that if he was going to keep up that WOOing and tambourine pounding through the rest of the evening, we were going to have to move.

Mom just sat there drinking beers and talking to us about past shows she and we had seen at the Bowl that summer. The people behind us were still eating and drinking and seemed pretty oblivious to anything else going on around them. It was about then that I noticed the crickets. They were all around us and they were damned loud. We couldn’t see them, but they could be heard all over. I was sure those crickets had to be the size of small dogs to make a sound that loud. They didn’t seem to mind all the people around them and kept up their gleeful chirping without pause. I mentioned to Skip that we should have brought a couple hundred hamsters to let loose to eat the crickets (hamsters LOVE crickets) and the thought of that sent him into insane giggles, so I wasn’t sure if I was happy I had brought it up.

Then the lights went down and Corea, Clarke and White walked out, promised a night of “illegal melodies and illegal chords”, and broke into a pretty great acoustic version of “500 Miles High” from the first Return To Forever album. Immediately, one of the middle-aged black women behind us started screaming, “I LOVE YOU, STANLEY CLARKE!”, like he could hear her a quarter of a mile back and over the music he was playing on stage. By this time, all I could do was laugh. But she quieted down after a couple of minutes and I relaxed and enjoyed the music.

The trio did a couple more acoustic numbers and then brought on violinist Jean Luc Ponty, starting into a beautiful version of Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba”, and then into a soaring version of Ponty’s “Renaissance”. (He announced the song by claiming that he pronounces the song title as “ren-e-sance”, while us American’s pronounce it “ren-a-sance”, which Skip and I found hilarious for some unknown reason.)

Then guitarist Bill Connors joined the group and it all started going south. They started playing “Senor Mouse”, but the only guitar the audience could hear was a crunchy feedback sort of thing that took any energy out of the music the band were trying to perform. The band didn’t seem to notice the sound problems and just kept at it and after 5 minutes or so; roadies started scurrying around the guitar amp, trying to solve the problem. They eventually got it sorted out, but by the time they did, the song had been ruined. Halfway through the song, the young Latino guy came back. I guess he hadn’t scored well with “that girl”. But he got right back into it by screaming “JEAN LUC PONTY” over and over again, obviously hoping that would get the band through their sound problems and back into the groove of things.

Then things really started to get weird. Chaka Khan was introduced and out she bounced. Skip and I had seen Chaka perform at the Bowl earlier this summer and thought she was pretty good. But she wasn’t cut out for this performance. I know she has sung with Corea, et al, on the album “Echoes of an Era” in 1982, and by all accounts, it’s a good album. But she’s no Ella Fitzgerald, and I found her attempts at scat singing and jazz in general to be sorely lacking and just downright irritating.

She announced that they were going to perform a song from the first ever black opera and the old black guy behind me yelled out, “CARMAN”. I turned around and yelled back, “NO, PORGY AND BESS”, and he just stared at me before yelling out, “SUMMERTIME”. I turned to Skip and said that they were probably going to do “I Loves You, Porgy” just as Chaka announced they were going to do just that. I didn’t hear another word from the old black man that night.

But it was just at that time that Chaka Kahn decided to talk about how much she loves working with that band and ran over and started hugging Stanley Clarke. The middle aged black woman behind me screamed, “I WANT TO HUG STANLEY”. Chaka said, “I love you, Stanley” and the woman behind me screamed, “I LOVE STANLEY”. Then Chaka saw Lenny White sitting behind his drums and said, “I love you too, Lenny”. And the woman behind me screamed, “NO. I LOVE STANLEY.” Then she continued to scream “STANLEY” over and over for the next five minutes or so until she lost her voice or passed out or something.

The band started into “I Loves You, Porgy” which is a beautiful song that wasn’t quite jelling, when a stir went through the audience. Over at the side of the stage a man was being led on stage and in moments the whole audience could see that it was a black-clad Stevie Wonder. This brought the audience to its feet as Stevie pulled out his harmonica and played a perfect solo over the band. Then he joined Chaka on vocals and the song suddenly seemed to soar. Stevie sang and the crowd went wild. I have to say, it was a pretty beautiful moment. (My favorite part was when Stevie finished singing his lines and tried to hand the microphone to Chaka. But she was excited and running all over the place. Stevie just kind of waved the mic around in a confused manner, then shrugged his shoulders and started singing again. Always a professional, that Stevie.)

The young Latino guy was screaming, “STEVIE, OH, STEVIE” over and over through all this and his mother turned to us and screamed, “NOW ALL WE NEED IS AL JARREAU”, the thought of which sent shivers of terror down my spine.

Then the song ended and Stevie sat down at the electric piano across from Chick at the acoustic piano. “OH MY GOD! WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO PLAY? CHOPSTICKS?” screamed the young Latino guy and Skip told him it was going to be the best damned version of “Chopsticks” any of us had ever heard. He just looked back confused.

They started playing while the audience was still going wild. The Mom turned and screamed “IT’S SPAIN” and “THIS IS SPAIN ISN’T IT?” and “SPAIN IS MY FAVORITE SONG” before screaming again, “THIS IS SPAIN, ISN’T IT?” I assured her it was. In fact, I think a couple other people behind us also assured her it was, hoping she would shut up and listen to her favorite song.

It was a beautiful version and I was surprised at how well Stevie held his own playing jazz chops. Chick Corea threw in a bit of Stevie’s own “Ribbon in the Sky”. The audience was going crazy. And then it was over. Corea thanked the audience and Stevie was led off the stage and everyone in the audience turned to each other to talk about how amazing it had all been. I was happy. It wasn’t a perfect set, but it was full of its own fireworks and I found it to be extremely beautiful when the band was one and at least fun when they weren’t, possibly due to the company around us.

As we were leaving, the young Latino guy and his Mom told us that they enjoyed spending time with us. “Hope to see you again soon”, they said. We nodded and walked away down the hill. I was glad we had come to this show, but if I ever see those people again, I’ll run screaming in the opposite direction.


This year’s FYF Fest was a whole different affair than past years’ have been. First, there was a name change. They used to be the Fuck Yeah Fest before becoming the F Yeah Fest. Now they’re just the FYF Fest. The organizers also took the Fest away from the Echo Park clubs, The Echo and the Echoplex, and moved it to the Downtown area’s LA State Historic Park. This enabled the Fest to be more of a legitimate, commercial-type Festival and it paid off as there were hundreds more people attending than I saw at last year’s Fest.

But the basic premise of a festival featuring up-and-coming to unknown indie rock bands is still in place and that’s a good thing. I usually go to this yearly Fest as a way to check out bands I might not have heard yet and there were a number I discovered this year.

My favorites included Woods (, the Thermals (, Eat Skull (, and Times New Viking (

I also quite liked Dios (, Darker My Love (, Crystal Antlers (, Wavves (, and the Strange Boys (

I was rather ambivalent about the typical punk rock of the Carbonas ( and the faceless electro-pop of Cold Cave (

And I absolutely hated the chaotic noise of Lightening Bolt (, which surprised me since so many people seemed to be into them.

I really wanted to see, but missed Kurt Vile (, Nobunny (, Avi Buffalo (, Telepathe (, and Glass Candy (

Dan Deacon ( cancelled due to illness or I would have seen him.

I’ve seen both Mika Miko ( and Peanut Butter Wolf ( before. I loved Mika Miko. I’ve seen Peanut Butter Wolf do much better, but his travels through 90s hip-hop was fun and had the audience going apeshit.

We left before No Age ( and Black Lips ( played. I love both bands, but have also seen both of them recently and just decided to get home at a decent hour.

All-in-all, I had a great time and certainly got my $20 worth. I’m already looking forward to next year.


Finally, I just want to make a couple of movie recommendations.

“It Might Get Loud” was one of the best rock music documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a conversation between Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (White Strips, Raconteurs, the Dead Weather). During this conversation, the three guitarists touch on their early years and what brought them into music in the first place. There is some absolutely amazing footage of the guys as youngsters just getting started. There is also footage of all three talking about their influences and the best footage comes out of that. The look on Page’s face as he plays and talks about Link Wray’s “The Rumble” is just priceless. More than any other movie I’ve seen, this one shows the pure joy and excitement in the love and creation of music. See it.

“Taking Woodstock” isn’t even close to being the best movie that Ang Lee has made, but it’s still a very likable and enjoyable film. It’s the story of how the Woodstock Festival came to be. Some people have complained that it didn’t include a lot of the music and performances, but that’s not what the movie is about. It’s about how some people with big dreams made them come true. There are some problems. Some of the characters aren’t properly fleshed out and at times the story seems to meander a bit. But I still enjoyed the movie quite a lot and so I’ll recommend it. You can wait for this to come out on DVD, but some of the cinematography is beautiful and is better suited for the big screen. Either way, try to see it eventually. I think you’ll enjoy it as well.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thin White Rope in the United Kingdom

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a blog here and I apologize for it. All the usual excuses apply. Not enough time while trying to make money; various minor medical problems; lack of motivation and pure laziness; etc, etc. I was tempted several times to write a political rant about all these ignorant anti-healthcare asswipes, but as bothersome as they are, I just can’t get myself all that worked up any more. These people will get the government and the healthcare they deserve, and both will hasten the downslide this country has been in for decades now. I’m going to spend my anger time looking for a way out instead. (If there’s any of you non-Americans out there who need a manservant or cook, let me know. I’d be glad to dust, wash your dishes and/or cook your meals, and I’m a damned good cook, in exchange for getting out of this hellhole and having a place to live.)

So, lacking a rant, I’m going to give you all what you really want and present a new Thin White Rope road story. In fact, I’ll give you a whole bunch of them. So, I present to you: Thin White Rope in the United Kingdom!

Please keep in mind that I still can’t find my journal that had all the TWR tour dates and information in it. It’s around somewhere and when I do finally find it, I will make all corrections that need to be made. But until then, I have to trust my memory, and that means that some of what follows is a bit sketchy. In the case of this report, I have called in help from the members of the band as well as the always accountable Andy Bean, who provided me with his data base of TWR dates he was at, which was a good many of them. But even with all that help, I know some of the dates and events will be a bit off. (And if any of you have additional information, please send it to me so I can make corrections.) One of these days, when I can find all the information I need, I’m going to take all these tour stories and upgrade them, but until then, this is what you get, which I think is better than nothing.

This is a long one, so get that cup of coffee, or whatever beverage you prefer, and whatever snack you’re partial to and sit back and enjoy.


After playing several tours in Italy, our booking agent, Paulo, decided that the time was right for us to start making inroads throughout the rest of Europe. He hired a driver for us, a dapper guy named Pino, who’s various adventures and idiosyncrasies I’ve documented in an earlier blog, and we headed out on our first great European adventure.

One of the shows we were really looking forward to was our first in London. The UK was very much responsible for a good amount of the reason the band was where they were at the time. The English magazine, “Bucket Full of Brains” wrote one of the first articles on the band, an article that led to their signing to Frontier Records and the attention that enabled the group to tour Europe in the first place. So we were pretty excited about this show. The only problem was that we didn’t have any work permits and that’s a big problem when playing in the UK.

We got around this by packing all the equipment, including the guitars, in the van and as we approached the Belgium ferry that would take us over the English Channel, we all got out and walked into the building and onto the ferry, while Pino drove the van onto the ship. Once we arrived at Dover, we walked off the ship, claiming we were all on vacation and were going to catch a bus to London. Once cleared, we walked a ways down the main road until Pino met us with the van. We climbed aboard and headed straight to London, where we played our show with the British government none the wiser. (The customs people did question Pino about all the band equipment, but he didn’t speak any English and after several long minutes of babel-confusion, the customs agents grew impatient and waved him through, since he had all the correct paperwork allowing him to possess all the stuff.)

We arrived in London in early afternoon and had the rest of the day off. We were met by a member of our European record label, Demon. I believe his name was Spike. He asked if we wanted to go to a club called Dingwalls to see the band playing that night, a band called Spaceman Three. The band created a deafening drone using guitars and old analog synthesizers. They were extremely loud and we thought they were great.

The next day our show was at a hole-in-the-wall bar by the name of the Sir George Robey. We were the middle band, opening for the great British punk-poet John Cooper Clarke. The opening band was some forgotten band from Canada who was terrible and had the distinction of having one of the slimiest managers I had ever met. (Andy has this date as being in March of 1988, but I believe it was in the fall of 1987. I think we put out the “Bottom Feeders” EP in Europe only so we would have a record to tour on, and that record came out in ’87.) I remember the show as going very well for us and John Cooper Clarke was amazing and extremely nice, which thrilled me to no end, as I had a lot of respect for the man.

This show started a particular thing that puzzled me, but I found was par-for-the course in England. One of the three weekly music newspapers in England, Melody Maker, took a strong liking to us, but because of that, the other two, Sounds and New Musical Express, decided that we weren’t to be bothered with. This was highly frustrating to me and to the people at Demon. During the run of the band, MM gave us the cover once and always had a major article about the band for every new record and tour, even sending journalists on tour with us in the UK, throughout Europe, and in one instance, directly to LA to cover the recording of the “The Ruby Sea” album. We managed to get a few small articles out of Sounds, most notably a short interview that took place at Stonehenge and Hampton Court Palace, but NMN never acknowledged us at all, as far as I can remember. This was an attitude I never really understood. I also had problems with the nation’s foremost disc jockey, John Peel. He would bring bands into his studio and record them for broadcast. Those recordings always received a lot of attention, but I was never able to get any interest out of him for TWR. The people at Demon simply told me that he didn’t like the band, but I was never able to talk to the man myself, not due to lack of trying, so I never got any real reason that I could understand. Because of this, I don’t have the respect for Peel that most people in the music business have for him. I understand that he made many careers, but he didn’t help me out and didn’t even give me the courtesy of an answer when I tried to contact him.

Things get a little sketchy for the next year or so. We met Andy and Duncan during a spring 1988 Dutch tour with Nikki Sudden and the French Revolution. They were playing drums and bass in the band and they became great friends and an even greater help to us during our UK tours and with the European tours in general. We started splitting up in London, with some of us staying with Andy, Duncan, or their friend, Chim, in order to save money. When we could afford it, we would give them a break by staying at the Columbia Hotel near Hyde Park, which was the rock and roll hotel in the city and always provided a good time. But we always ended up back at Andy, Duncan and Chim’s, since we preferred staying with friends and they would always feed us with great English breakfasts.

(I remember one tour when we stayed at a hotel near the British Museum. There was absolutely no place to park the van. It wouldn’t fit in any of the parking structures and the posted hours on the street meant we would be towed. I asked a street cop what we should do. He simply told me to find a parking space where the meter was broken. If I found one of those, I could stay in that space as long as I wanted. So, we got back from our show that night and found an empty space. We then pulled out our tool box and proceeded to completely dismantle the parking meter for that space. We were making a horrible racket, but only one person, who was staying in the hotel room near where we were parked, asked what we were doing. We just told him to shut his window and go back to bed. The meter was in pieces all over the sidewalk and we just collected it up and threw it away. The next morning I woke up and went out to check on the van. There was already a brand new meter placed on the spot, but our van was un-ticketed and left alone. I saw the same cop I had talked to the day before walking towards me. He said, “I see you found a broken meter.” Then he winked at me and walked away. I always look back in amazement on that moment.)

I don’t think we did a UK show during that early 1988 tour. There were two shows in London in late 1988. One was at Dingwalls and the other was a week later at the Sir George Robey, but for the life of me, I can’t recall anything about those shows.

Then, in July of 1989, we came back to do a show at the Marquee Club. We were using a new English booking agent at the time. I believe his name was Mike Hink and he was supposed to be a big deal, booking Morrissey and many of the more popular British bands. We were starting our tour in the UK this time, which meant picking up a van that would drive from the right side of the car (left side of the road). We would have to get used to this, as we were taking it over to Europe with us. We also found that we didn’t have as much room as we wanted for us and all our equipment, so we took all the rental amps out of their cases and left the cases in Andy’s house, which took up quite a lot of space in his flat. Let me tell you, that man was a saint to put up with all the stuff we put him through. (He can tell you of all our increasingly crazy favors asked of him, as well as nightmare tales of broken down vehicles, fried equipment, and drunken escapades throughout the countryside.)

We had a few days before our first official show at the Marquee, so we hastily arrange a surprise show that would be attended by word-of-mouth. That show was at the Camden Falcon and became one of the most infamous shows the band ever played. The place was packed and the band was spot on that evening. But it was hot as hell in that club. Sweat was evaporating, rising to the ceiling and then condensing and raining down on the band and the audience. And there was no air in the place. Our drummer, Matt, passed out part way through the show due to lack of oxygen. We got him back behind his drums eventually, but it wasn’t long until everyone finally just gave in to the heat exhaustion and depletion of H2O. It was a wonderful show; one that people still talk about to this day. In contrast, I can’t remember the official show at the Marquee at all.

I think this is when we did our first official English tour. As I mentioned above, we were happy because we had a real booking agent and the tour should have been a great one. It was anything but great. We arrived in Birmingham to find that we had been booked into a black soul/reggae club. Once they took a look at us, they didn’t really want us to play and told us that there was no PA. I was insistent though and along with our genius soundman, Elliot Dicks (another saint in the history of the band), we dug up enough equipment around the club to put together a PA and play the show. It actually did okay, with enough people coming out to see the band that the club was relatively happy. I fell in love, or I should say in lust, with one fan and kept the band waiting long after the end of the gig while we chatted. But we finally got on the road and realizing we were starving, found an Indian restaurant that was open late and indulged in some of the tastiest and spicy-hottest food we’ve ever eaten. That unfortunately led to a late night farting contest in the hotel that found me hiding in a closet and trying to sleep through the hideous stench.

We were met on the road by a Melody Maker journalist, who went with us to the next gig in a town called Morecombe, which is one of those seaside tourist towns that seem to be planted in several places along the English coast. But the next day we discovered that the club was a new one that hadn’t even opened yet and because of that, there was no show to do no matter how bad we wanted to do it. So we spent the day walking along the seaside attractions with the journalist and his photographer. I remember getting my fortune told and the fortune teller telling me that I would realize that my choice to be a band manager would eventually be proven to be a correct one. (I’m still waiting on that.) And we bought a bunch of candy nougat, which was supposedly the one claim to fame of this town, to find it inedible. So we threw it to the seagulls, who would swallow it and then spit it out in disgust. That kept us amused for quite awhile. You know something’s horrible when the gulls won’t even eat it.

In Glasgow, Scotland, we arrived to find that our gig was being advertised for a week later. The first person we met at the club was impossible to understand, his brogue was so strong. But we finally found the club owner and through all sorts of apologies, let us know he still wanted us to play. We went out to dinner and met a group of fans at the local Wimpey’s Burger. When they found out we were in town at that time, they rushed around and told people about it. We ended up with a small, but very rowdy group of fans and the show turned out to be quite fun. At one point, a group of fans were in the balcony above the stage and Guy handed his guitar to them, which they strummed and made all sorts of unholy racket with. It all fit into the set very well though.

We had a day off the next day and I wanted to drive up to Loch Ness, but the band rebelled at that idea. They didn’t want to be in the van any more than they had to, so we took the train to Edinburgh and toured the castle there, marveling at Mon’s Meg, the big cannon they have in the museum. (I eventually made it to Loch Ness during a vacation with Skip years later. It was wonderful, but so was the castle. Glasgow is one of my favorite cities anywhere in the world.)

There were other English shows that weren’t as bad as these. Some of them were part of this tour and some weren’t, although I can’t remember where they fit in. By the way, we never used Mike Hink to book any date ever again.

On that same tour, we showed up for a show in Hull to a panicked club owner. It seemed that he had accidentally booked two headlining bands on the same night. The first was us. The second was a band that was beginning to make waves all over England, My Bloody Valentine. I hadn’t heard MBV at this time, but I knew they were on the cover of the Melody Maker that week. (We had been on the cover the week before.) It was decided that we would both play, but it couldn’t be decided who was the headliner. Since they were on the magazine cover that week, I thought they should headline, but they didn’t want to follow us. We finally decided by flipping a coin. We lost and had to headline. I walked out to watch their set and upon the first note, my jaw hit the ground. They were amazing. One of the best live groups I’d ever seen. I have to say, I was rather nervous about the band following them, but in pure TWR style, they rose to the challenge and played an amazing set that had the audience going wild. To this day, that was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen thousands of them. And it turned out that Hull had the best fish and chips I have ever eaten, making it a double-good place.

We did a show early on in Milton Keynes, which at the time was known for having fake cows in their meadows for whatever reason people have fake cows in meadows. Paul Weller and Style Council even did a song making fun of the town. It had been described to us as a leisure town, whatever that means, and we were worried it would be a horrible show. But we showed up at some community center there and ended up having a really pleasant show after all.

I was always disappointed we didn’t make it to Liverpool, but we did do a show in Warrington, which was between Liverpool and Manchester. Opening for us was the Charlatans. This was before they were well known. They had a different lead singer, but their sound was developing towards the one that gave them hit singles. I remember them as being very nice guys, but I don’t remember the show at all. We also did a show in Manchester and I was very excited to be playing there, it being the home of the Fall and Joy Division, but I really remember nothing about that show except some frustration in finding a place to park our van when we arrived at the club.

We did several shows in Leeds and they were always fun, except the one time we played a university community center where the Who recorded “Live at Leeds”. I was excited about being there, but the show has left an unpleasant taste in my memories, and I can’t remember why. I know Guy has the same memories, so something didn’t work with that show. (I do remember being lightly hassled for being gay at that show, which was the only show in Europe or America I was ever hassled at.) Much better memories of Leeds come from the three shows we did at the Duchess of York. Those shows always did great. One of them was a Halloween themed show (the club’s idea) that turned out to be a whole lot of fun. We eventually met some of the Mekons, a great Leeds punk/country band, on the road in Germany and that gave us a place to stay the last show we did there. I always looked forward to Leeds.

In 1990, we arrived in London to do a show at a club called the Subterrainia. We arrived at the club and I immediately got excited when I realized it was the same club I had seen Joy Division in during my first trip to London in 1979, except it was called the Acklam Hall back then. That show went great and led into a very drunken party at the Columbia Hotel that included our visiting German booking agent, Christof, as well as the head of our label, Lisa. That party wound down after guy mistook an occupied phone booth for a urinal and peed all over it and the poor guy inside. The next day we headed off for a month long tour of continental Europe, before returning to London for another show at a big venue called the Astoria. At the last moment though, the Astoria got cancelled for reasons I don’t remember and we hastily put together a show back at the Subterrania. For whatever reasons, that show did terrible though and Roger cracked the neck of his guitar in frustration. We left London feeling rather blue. But before we left England, we did another great show in Leeds, that show in Manchester and a show in Doncaster at a club called the Jug.

In 1991, we had three shows in London. Two of those shows were busts for us. The first was at the Marquee in June. Unfortunately, there was a tube strike that day, so attendance for the show was terrible. That was too bad, because it could have been great. It was followed the next day by a free in-store concert at the HMV Record Store on Oxford Street that went well and saved the day for us. In late August, we were back to play the Reading Festival and then played again at the Subterrainia, this time with two great bands, the God Machine and Whipped Cream. (The same line-up played the next night at the Joiner’s Arms in Southampton.) That same tour took us to shows in Sheffield, Wendover, Leeds (again), Leicester (where there was a great jukebox on which I played Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine”, impressing the band so much it later became a cover in their set), and Nottingham.

The Nottingham show is notable for a number of reasons. The promoters were a couple named Anton and Linda who were huge fans of the band. They were so excited about TWR playing their club it was almost frightening. (They showed up for the last show ever in Gent, Belgium a year later and cried over the band breaking up.) I recall that it was a great show that night.

I also recall the day before. We had a day off and decided to visit the Sherwood Forest. As usual, we all drank a little too much. I bought a Robin Hood outfit, put it on, and then we proceeded to rage about the forest in mock battle, with me being Robin and Andy being the Sheriff of Nottingham. Before long, we stumbled across a couple of standard-size poodles someone was walking, and started shooting rubber-tipped arrows at them, which didn’t please either the dogs or their masters. I think it all ended out of pure exhaustion. And yes, there are pictures of the battles. I recall one of Andy and me trying to clock each other with tree branches. Oh, the fun we had.

The Reading Festival was great fun and I felt very proud having the band there, since I had been trying to get them into a European Festival for some time. (The next year they played Roskilde in Denmark.) We were only playing the small tent to the side, but I was just happy to have the band there on any stage. We ran into some old friends (Babes in Toyland, American Music Club), made some new friends (meeting the guys who would go on to form Swervedriver), and generally had a great old time despite the rain that turned the ground into a giant mud pit.

Our last show in England was on October 17th, 1991. It was at a big place in London called the Venue New Cross. We were playing with a band made up of TWR fans called the Gorgeous Space Virus, I believe. I remember having all sorts of anxieties about playing there, but being told by the label and booking agents not to worry. I also remember that it did terrible and that few people showed up. I never got a logical reason for that.

The band played their last ever European tour June of 1992. They didn’t have time to schedule a London date in there. A lot of English fans came over to Belgium for that last show and it was great to see them there, but I’ve always regretted not having a show in London for the last tour. Everything kind of started there and it would have been nice to put a formal finish to it all there. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

(By the way, the English tours always turned out to be a great place for me to check out and discover bands. While on tour there, I became fans of Spaceman Three, Cornershop, Blur, My Bloody Valentine and the Young Gods (thanks to That Petrol Emotion, who insisted we show up to their show on time to see the opening band),. I also saw the Fall play one their shows with dancer Michael Clarke, including guitarist Brix riding around on a giant hamburger. And I was able to experience the Velvet Underground reunion, which was pretty damned exciting for me. This doesn’t even include all the local and visiting bands that we played with, some deservedly going on to greater things.)


And that’s all I have for now. As I said, I’ll eventually find my logs and this will all get updated with correct dates and events. Sometimes memories work out just fine, so I hope you enjoyed these stories. So, until next time, which I hope will be more sooner than later, take care and be sure to have fun. It’s about all we have left in this world. -ML

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Punk Rock Stories – The Furys

To say I was inspired by the 70s punk rock explosion is to put it mildly. It was exactly what I was looking for in my life. I lived through the late 60s/early 70s in a schizophrenic haze. I had long hair and loved much of the heavy metal (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin) and prog-rock (Yes, King Crimson, Genesis) of the time. But I was also attracted to the garage rock scene and loved the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the New York Dolls just as much. (And for your information, I still love all these bands.)

Somewhere around late 1973 or early 1974, I got fed up with the peace/love, drugged-out Hippie culture and in an inspired moment, I cut off all my hair and visited several thrift shops, buying a couple of ill-fitting suits, 60s-style skinny ties and a beat-up fedora hat. I wore this outfit until the end of the decade. But for those first couple of years, wearing such items made me a real outcast. The people I worked with, the crew and customers at the Licorice Pizza record store in Santa Ana, California, were puzzled and bemused. But elsewhere, I was met with suspicion and anger. I remember taking my sister to a Black Sabbath concert at the Long Beach Arena for her birthday and having one stoned, young hippie walking up to me and asking loudly, “What’s a redneck like you doing at a show like this?” I answered by picking him up and dumping him in a trash dumpster. My sister was horrified and spent the rest of the concert mad at me for embarrassing her.

So, I was really excited when in 1975, I saw a picture of New York poetess Patti Smith in a music magazine wearing a black suit over a white shirt and a skinny tie. The article was talking about her upcoming album “Horses”, but said that she had already released a 7’ single, “Hey Joe”/”Piss Factory”. I tried to get the single through Licorice Pizza, but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. That started a day long journey, where I finally found the single at Wallach’s Music City in Costa Mesa. I ran home, put it on my turntable, and was immediately lost in a sound I hadn’t heard before. It was just guitar and vocals, but it packed more power than most four-piece bands of the time. I was sold!

It was then that I started reading about this new music scene out of New York, which the music writers were calling “punk”. Patti Smith was joined by bands like the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Voidoids and so many more. It wasn’t much longer until the British groups, influenced by those New York groups, started up and stories about them were dominating the music rags.

During all this, one of my best friends was a fellow named Jeff Wolfe. He was the brother of the manager, Scott, at the Licorice Pizza I worked at. We would hang out at his parent’s house or at the house I was renting in Orange and listen to music and talk about all the new bands breaking into the scene. Both of us were taking trips up to Los Angeles to see bands like the Motels, Pop, the Dogs, and then, after the Damned played at the Starwood, a whole slew of new bands at the Masque in Hollywood. We both liked the idea that there were hardcore punk bands like the Weirdos and the Zeros existing in the same scene as energetic “power pop” bands like the Nerves and 20/20. (This wouldn’t last for long though, as those pop bands eventually were labeled as “new wave” and a whole different scene sprung up around them.)

Jeff had been writing songs with a musician named Gregg Embrey and after a short discussion it was decided to form a band and get ourselves up to Hollywood to join this new scene. Jeff was the singer and Gregg played keyboards and guitar. I didn’t play anything, so I became the manager. The first thing we decided on was to get a record out. Bands all over were now ignoring the major label system and recording and releasing records on their own through independent distribution. We corralled Gregg’s brother, Gary, in to play drums and the band went into Inland Studios to record a couple of songs.

In the meantime, I was looking into what we had to do to press up records, print covers and get distribution. We all pooled our money together with some help from various parents and such and before we knew it, we had our own 7” record ready for release. It was mid-1977. We named the record company Double R Records. The single had two songs, “Hey Ma” and “Jim Stark Dark”. The sleeve was black ink printed on a white envelope. We cut the top off the envelopes so the top would be open like a regular record sleeve. For the next few weeks, Jeff and I spent all our time taking the single around to record stores, talking small distributors into selling it and sending copies off to local clubs so we could try to book shows for the band. In no time, we had sold out of our initial pressing and took the single back to press. For the second pressing, we decided we didn’t like the cheapness of the original cover, so we raised a few more dollars and got a proper sleeve on glossy stock printed with brand new photos.

We started getting interest from clubs so we needed to get a full live band together. On that front, we brought in Charlie (Chaz) Maley on guitars and a friend of Gregg’s, Doug Martin, on bass. So the band started doing some live shows and started attracting a small, but loyal following. Now it was 1978 and we knew we needed to get another single out. We decided on one of the live favorites, “Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep” and backed it with a new song, “Suburbia Suburbia”. The cover of the single was taken by our friend, Donna Santisi, in the living room of my rented house. Behind the band, I had taken the sleeves off of my punk singles and pinned them on the wall. I still think it’s a great photo. (Just for the record, all three Furys singles sleeves were designed by our friend, Matt Powers, who also worked with me at Licorice Pizza.)

“Say Goodbye” was received even better than the first single and the band began playing a lot. They were the first band to play at Madame Wong’s in Chinatown, opening for Gary Valentine and the Know. They played the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa, usually opening for some up-and-coming English band. There were shows at the Starwood and the Whiskey. As usual with these memoirs, I don’t remember much about any of the shows. A few still stick out in my mind though.

The very first show the band played was at the Surf Theatre in Hunting Beach. They were sandwiched between two prog-metal bands and the audience didn’t know what to make of them. Around the same time, they also played at Huntington Beach High School at a noon-time assembly, and again the audience didn’t know what to make of them. One kid even threw an egg, hitting Charlie’s black Rickenbacker 12-string guitar. Charlie screamed “This is sacrilege,” and left the stage. The kid got expelled from school. Of course, it wasn’t long until most of the kids were dressing the same way as the band and listening to the same kind of music.

My favorite show was at the Troubadour. The Furys were opening for the Knack. From the minute we walked into the club, things were tense. The Knack were taking forever on their soundcheck and we had no choice but to sit around and listen to them screw around. About an hour after we arrived, someone from the club approached us and said that the Knack had accused us of stealing some equipment out of their dressing room. The accusation was complete bullshit and we said so. Since there was no proof, the club took no action, but the tension in the air was stifling. We all proceeded to get very drunk. My family was coming to the show, so it was decided that I was going to sing a song with the band. (I’m a frustrated lead singer, although I really can’t sing. I sang with the band several times. My favorite time was singing “I Can See For Miles” at Blackies.) By the time I got on stage towards the end of the set, I was completely blottoed. Singing “Hound Dog”, I walked out on the tables in front of the stage, knocking over drinks and finally losing my balance and falling to the floor, where I writhed around and finished the song in the middle of an irritated audience. The set ended sloppy and drunk.

(My family thought it was a lot of fun, or so they told me. They didn’t seem to realize that I was drunk at all.)

We all headed upstairs to our dressing room. Charlie looked out the window and saw Knack leader, Doug Feiger, standing in the alley right under the window. Before any of us knew what was happening, Charlie unzipped and sent a torrent of urine out the window and all over Feiger. We were rolling all over the floor in laughter. The Knack probably still hates us to this day. Hopefully they learned their lesson and never accused another band of false charges. We were expecting to get in a lot of trouble, but the club seemed unfazed by the whole thing. We didn’t hear a word from them. At the end of the evening, I walked up to Doug Weston’s office, where he paid me in full while a young, blonde boy sat on his lap. Those were the days.

It came time to do a third single, but I was broke and didn’t want to put any more money into it. There was also some friction between me and Gregg. I really had no idea what I was doing. I worshiped outspoken managers like Jake Riviera (Elvis Costello) and Miles Copeland (Squeeze, the Police), both of whom I had met and had given me advice. But Gregg thought I was being too much of an asshole and that was hurting the band. I was also living up in Los Angeles by this time, and we were feeling a bit of disconnect between each other. By the time the third single, produced by Danny Holloway, came out on Steve Zepeda’s Beat Records in 1979, I had gone my own way (which eventually lead me to BPeople, which is a whole other story). I was still very good friends with Jeff, though, and a big fan of the band.

This third single was “Moving Target”/ “We Talk, We Dance”. The band had also parted company with Doug, as he was really a metal-kind-of-guy and never really understood where the band was coming from. They brought in Joe Conti to play keyboards and Gregg switched to bass. I believe Steve Zepeda became their acting manager, at least for a short time.

The band continued off and on for quite awhile. They released one more record, this time a 12” EP called “Indoor/Outdoor”, in 1986. I think there was some friction between Jeff and Gregg and the band split up for good shortly after that.

These days, I still hear fond remembrances about the band from old fans. Rhino Records licensed and released “Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep” on one of their Los Angeles compilations in the 90s. I hear the original singles are going for good money on EBay. And, although we’ve lost contact a few times for long periods over the years, I’m still friends with Jeff Wolfe and a fan of his newest band, the Horse Soldiers.

One more story. Shortly after leaving the Furys, Charlie was working at Rickenbacker. I was asking him about guitars because I was thinking of forming a band of my own, which eventually became Jes Grew. He sent me a brand new Rickenbacker guitar as a gift. It was beautiful, but I had no idea how to play it, so I eventually gave it to a friend of mine who wanted to learn how to play. That friend was one Brian Tristan, who would become Kid Congo Powers in a just a few years. I saw him playing that guitar in the early Gun Club. I think Kid is a great talent and I’m proud to have been able to help him along. I lost track of Charlie shortly after that, so I was never able to tell him about it, but I’m sure he would be proud as well.

And that’s it for this journey. Keep in mind that these memoirs are as I remember them, which doesn’t always mean that it was the way it happened. I’m sure various members of the Furys would have completely different views on what happened when, but they’re not writing this, are they?

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back here with something completely different soon, I’m sure. And don’t forget my brand new food blog, “The Order of the Omnivores”, which you can find here:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This and That

I’m still working on the stories of my days with the Furys, so that will be another week or two away. That was really a long time ago, so trying to get everything together is taking some thinking and talking. I hope it will be worth the wait.

This week, I want to get a bunch of stuff off my chest, so I thought I would do so this way. First I’m going to talk about some things that I really dislike at the moment. That will be followed by a few things that I’m enjoying.

It would be easy for me to fall into another rant about my dislike of Barack Obama and almost the whole of the Democratic Party. Or I could easily fall into screaming about that insane asylum known as the Republican Party. But I’ll keep away from politics this time around and just say that next election I’ll be voting for a third party candidate. And if that means we have to endure more Republican years, then that’s the price we have to pay to get the fool Democrats to start acting like real Democrats again. And that’s enough of that for this week.


The hysteria over Michael Jackson is really getting on my nerves. I thought this would all be over after his overblown memorial, but every time I turn on the news, it’s still full of un-newsworthy stories about Jackson and his creepy family.

Look, I know that Michael Jackson changed the face of music as we knew it. He helped make it possible for black music to make it into the mainstream. A lot of good music would have been ignored if not for his groundbreaking. But the last good music Jackson made was two decades ago. About the time his hair caught on fire during a video shoot, he fell apart, both personally and artistically. As far as I’m concerned, he died way back then and I had already come to terms with it. That Michael Jackson was replaced by some freak-of-nature, child-obsessed doppelganger who just kept pumping out the same unoriginal dreck over and over again until the world was bored by the repetition. The only attention he was able to get was when he pulled some crazy stunt, usually involving a child or two. He had become a laughing stock to the world. So then he dies in a suitable fashion and suddenly the whole world forgets history and becomes lunatic fans of his again.

I know plenty of people who have met Jackson and claim he was one of the nicest people they’ve ever met. Interestingly enough, almost all those meetings took place way back when he was an actual artist. I ran into him a few years ago while I was shopping at a local comic book store called Meltdown. I was the only customer in the store at the time, when a giant black limo pulled up. A large black man got out and walked into the store. After talking to the owner, Gaston, for a few minutes, Gaston called me over and asked me to leave. He told me that Michael Jackson was outside and wanted to come in to shop, so he didn’t want anyone else in the store. I told Gaston that if I left under those circumstances, I would never come back in again. Well, I was one of their best customers at the time, so after some talking with the large black man, who would run out to the car periodically to let the occupant know what was going on, we came to an agreement that I would stay on one side of the store (the comics side), while Jackson shopped on the other side (the toy side, which I didn’t care about). Once I left, he could come over to the side I was on and shop some more.

The large black man ran out to the car and after a few minutes, two small white boys stepped out of the car, followed by Jackson, who was wearing a surgical mask over his face. They entered the toy side of the store and the kids went wild, running around picking up toys and oohing and aahing over them. Jackson just stood there and glared at me for about 15 minutes until I finally decided to buy my comics and leave, getting away from that freak show. So all I remember of my encounter with Jackson is a creepy asshole.

I always find it interesting that when a famous person dies, thousands come out of the woodwork wanting to buy music, movies or books by that person. They always claim that they were the biggest fan of such person. But if they were, why didn’t they already own the objects they were now buying? It all actually gives me the creeps.

So enough of it already. Most of you didn’t care about Jackson for the last two decades. He died years ago. He was no longer important and it’s time to get over it.


I loved the movie, “Borat”. I thought it was one of the ten best pictures of 2006. It was a pitch perfect skewing of American bigotry and ignorance. I laughed so hard I had to see the movie twice so I catch the parts I missed through all the noise.

So I was very excited when I found out Sacha Baron Cohen was doing a movie about his gay fashion “expert”, “Bruno”. I always liked the character on his TV show and I was looking forward to a deeper comic examination of American bigotry, considering that homosexuals are the only minority these days that it’s still okay to be bigoted against.

Well, the movie’s been open for only a week now and I’m already sick of hearing about it. He really struck out on this one. Yes, there were a few funny parts that worked, but most of it is just forced and silly. It just wasn’t funny except to stereotypical straight audiences that want to laugh at the funny queer guy. I mean, come on, the guy goes camping with some Southern good-ol’-boys who are trying their best to tolerate him. Then, late at night, he shows up in one of their tents completely naked and when the guy goes berserk, that’s supposed to show the homophobia of the mass American public? I’ve got news for you; I would have gone berserk if that asshole would have shown up naked in my tent, and I’m gay. It’s quite a presumption to think you can enter anyone’s tent naked without an invitation.

This type of thing was almost throughout the whole movie and I found myself feeling sorry for the poor heterosexuals who found themselves punked in this way. I even felt sorry for Conservative chowderhead Ron Paul, and I thought that would never happen. Face it folks, Sacha Baron Cohen was shooting blanks this time. It wasn’t funny and anyone who thinks it is needs to take a good look at their mind frame and maturity level.

But then, maybe that’s exactly the message he wanted to make through this waste of celluloid.


On the other hand, I saw a movie the other day that I loved. It’s called “The Hurt Locker” and it’s just amazing. It’s directed by Kathryn Bigalow (Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days) and is about an elite Army bomb squad unit in Iraq. It’s easily the best summer action movie playing right now. And yes, that includes the new Terminator and Transformers movies. Unlike those two dumb films, this is a thinking man’s action picture. I don’t want to say too much about it, but through most of it, you can cut the tension in the theatre with a knife. I think it stands a great chance of getting Oscar nods for best picture, director and actor. Jeremy Renner (Dahmer) puts in an amazing performance as a bomb expert with a devil-may-care attitude. Although the story takes place in Iraq, and people don’t like seeing movies about Iraq, don’t make the mistake of skipping over this because of that. It just happens to be set there. The story could take place anywhere. There is no political agenda to this movie. It’s just a superior human story that deserves a really wide and appreciative audience. This is the best movie of the year so far and I suspect it will be one of the best at the end of the year as well.

(Among other recent movies I’ve seen, I thought “Up” was brilliant; “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince” was the perfect set-up to the final chapter of the story, “Drag Me To Hell” was stupid and fun; “Iced Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” was also quite fun and deserved better than it got from the critics; “Public Enemies” was good, but got more than it deserved from the critics; “Moon” was a promising debut from director Duncan Jones; “Surveillance” was the second dull strike out for David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer; and “An Englishman in New York” had a great performance from John Hurt as Quentin Crisp, but overall felt like a rushed TV movie.)

And while were on film, I’m quite enjoying the summer TV season this year. I heartily recommend “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List”, “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations”, “Nurse Jackie”, “Rescue Me”, “Warehouse 13”, “Top Chef Masters”, “Burn Notice”, “Royal Pains”, “Eureka”, “Primeval”, “Merlin”, “True Blood”, “Hung”, and “In Plain Sight”. They all make for some great and fun television watching.

(I’m also watching “Big Brother 11” but I don’t know how long I can last with this dysfunctional group of bigoted asswipes. I think maybe its time for this show to be retired.)


I’ve had several people ask me about my cat, so I’ll take this time for a quick cat update.

As most of you know, I’ve lost two of my cats over the last two years. First my beloved Frankie, the first pet I could truly call a soul-mate, died of liver disease two summers ago. That was a traumatic death that I still haven’t completely gotten over even after all this time. Then, earlier this year, quiet and sweet little Squeek lost her life to feline hepatitis.

That left us with one cat. His name is Chuck and he was the unfriendly, skittish one of the bunch. We rarely saw him around the house (all our cats are always indoor cats) and just never saw him if anyone but us was visiting.

Well, that’s all changed now. Chuck still hides when people come over, but he tends to come out sooner than he ever did before to check visitors out. He never hides from us anymore. In fact, he wants more attention than I can sometimes give him. Fortunately, like Frankie, he’s learned what “lay down” means and when I say it he immediately lays on his pillow on the floor and leaves us alone, at least for awhile. He also sleeps curled up next to me every night, something he never did when we had all three cats. And he loves his “kitty goodies”, which I give him every other day and he goes apeshit for. He still won’t eat canned food, preferring to chomp away on dry stuff I leave down for him 24-7.

In short, he’s become quite a sweet and loving pet and I find myself growing closer to him each day. I think he’s made this turn around because he’s suddenly found himself to be the only cat in the house. I think that he’s actually lonely and misses the other cats. I know he doesn’t like it at all when we go away for any length of time. I feel bad about that, but I can’t get another cat at this time with the financial situation were in. He’s just going to have to cope and I pet him and play with him as much as I can to help. He’s getting up there in years as well, so I know I’m really going to miss him when his time comes. But I’ll enjoy his loving company until then.


I want to mention a few other things I’m enjoying at the moment.

I’ve been in contact with a folk singer named Trent Miller for a while now. He’s from Italy, but now lives in London, where he hopes it will be easier to get noticed. He’s been sending me demos on and off for a few years, but now he finally has his first real album out, credited to Trent Miller & the Skeleton Jive ( The album is called “Cerebus” and is really something quite enjoyable. Of course, the first thing that attracted me to Trent’s music was the obvious influence of Thin White Rope on him. Not so much in the music, but his singing voice is very reminiscent of TWR’s Guy Kyser. That gives his songs a wonderful blues/folk feeling. His lyrics are haunting and wonderful and I find myself slipping his CD into my computer and listening to it over and over again while I work here. Give him a listen, especially you Thin White Rope fans. I think you’ll like what you hear.

My friend, Paula Yoo, has just published her second children’s picture book. Her first was “Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story”, which told the story of the first Asian American to win a gold medal in the Olympics. This new one is “Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story”, which tells of the Chinese American’s rise as a movie star during the 1930’s. Since these are books that aim to tell a story in simple ways for children to understand, they are easy to read and illustrated with beautiful pictures, in this case by artist Lin Wang. I really feel these types of books are important for kids to read. Asian American kids will find much to inspire them in these stories, and other kids will learn that the history of America wasn’t just made by white men. Despite their simplicity, both books make for a very interesting read. If you have kids, you can do a lot worse than get them these colorful, interesting and educational books. Paula also has a young adult novel out called “Good Enough”. Despite the heroine of this book being a teenage Korean American girl, I found I really related to her story, especially her search for understanding through music. You can find out more about Paula here: There’s lots of great writing information and entertaining stories there. Check it out, especially if you’re an aspiring writer.

I think that’s as good a place as any to end this. Hopefully I’ll have something a little more structured for you next time. As always, thanks for reading.

Oh, by the way, I’m thinking about starting another blog. This one would focus on food & wine. Lots of people seemed to enjoy my short reviews of restaurants and food events. If you get the time, let me know what you think of that idea and any suggestions you may have.