Monday, August 1, 2011

Trying to stay cool...

If you haven't checked it out, go to the Ardent site and get a copy of the new EP from the Big Star tribute in Memphis last year with John Davis from Superdrag. John's performances came early in the show but they set the bar high and were never topped despite the strong talent that followed. My good friend and esteemed critic Parke Puterbaugh was with me at the show and agreed with that opinion. Shortly after the weekend I emailed John Fry and suggested that John Davis , Jody, Ken, and Jon do some recording with the legendary Fry behind the board. Probably will never happen but this will give you a taste of what could be...

I recently "discovered" Dom Mariani (DM3), an power pop titan from Australia. These are some of the things you miss when you're raising a kid, working, and looking after aging parents. His song "Just Like Nancy" is absolutely killer and the original version would be worthy of Radio City if only he'd taken the time to write a great bridge for the song. Regardless, it's been at the very top of my playlist this summer.

Next week I'm going to see Bob Dylan and Leon Russell. In the latter half of 1971, that would probably have been my dream concert (along with a double bill of The Who and Jethro Tull). I was (and have remained) a huge Dylan fan but had no hope at the time of ever seeing him live (have since seen him many many times). On the other hand, I'd just seen Leon Russell in a converted bowling alley in Buffalo NY with Freddie King opening. It was about a week after the Concert for Bangladesh and Leon just killed the place. I remember walking out of this low-ceilinged sweat box with my Levi's soaked through. So 40 years later I get my wish. From what I've been able to tell, the return of Charlie Sexton has given Bob a much needed jolt (the band after Charlie and Larry Campbell left was mundane to say the least) and there's some new dimensions to his performance (more singing at the mike with no instrument). Regardless, I regard seeing Dylan as I did seeing Miles Davis. You should feel fortunate just to be in the same space with him for a few hours.

A reader inquired about my reference to Austrian economics giant Ludwig Von Mises in a recent post. Yes, in October of 1970 (I was a freshman in college) I attended a conference where I got to hear Von Mises speak in a small conference room to about 30 people. It made a huge impression. He talked about the need to have a national currency maintain a consistent value i.e no inflation of deflation. As I recall, he held up a ruler and essentially said that if a foot didn't maintain a consistent value of distance, every building would eventually collapse. And if a dollar (pound / mark / whatever) didn't maintain a consistent value, it too would eventually collapse. Not exactly rock and roll, but heavy none the less...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I'm sure that most of you are FB friends with Ardent Studios (a must for Big Star fans). But in case you missed it...Ardent is now offering official Big Star t-shirts at their site. If you're like me, you've looked at those bootleg shirts on eBay and held off thinking that the only thing worse than having no Big Star shirt is to have a cheezy knockoff. But now you can get the real deal. Mine hasn't arrived in the mail yet, but I can tell you that any t-shirt I've gotten from Ardent, going back to A Man Called Destruction, has been super quality. Father's Day is right around the corner and what would be better for the Fourth than a shirt with a big star. Order today!

Who doesn't love a good Brian Wilson story ? Here's one I heard last week from a friend of mine...
In the late 80s a friend of my friend – a veteran writer of network television comedy – was over at Brian Wilson's house when the phone rang. Brian answered and talked for a bit in the next room. When he came back he explained, "That was folk music's Bob Dylan."

How great is that? That he thought that he needed additional info to identify Dylan, as if the name wasn't enough, and then chose folk the late 1980s! I can almost see Brian saying it with that sort of talk out the side of his mouth thing he does. Well, "That's surf music's Brian Wilson."

I think that Alex C. would have gotten a kick out of that story....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan's 70th Birthday....

I usually ignore these sort of supposed "milestones" but all the Bob talk got me thinking a bit.

For starters, I've been a huge fan of Dylan since 1965. The first time I saw him (1974) was almost a quasi-religious experience (I never thought he would tour again). Since then I've seen him at least a few dozen times if not more. I've been backstage at a number of Dylan shows since 2001 (have never even sighted him except the time he drove by on a motorycycle) but have a few good stories out of it all. I firmly believe he's one of the great artists of our time. Right at the top.

While pondering how lucky I've been to be in the same room with Bob Dylan and witness him creating in the moment (a few years ago it was from ten feet away in a small club in Toronto), I started to think about who else I've been in the same room with that could truly be deemed to be a giant...someone who changed the course of history in their field and will be remembered for generations.

So here's my list...Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, and Ludwig Von Mises. I've left out a lot from that category, including the Stones, Who, Springsteen and many many more. All sorts of jazz musicians (Sonny Rollins for starters) and rock (sorry Clash). And yes, Alex Chilton.

And what about Ludwig Von Mises? Look him up...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Here's a brief snippet of Pete LaBonne playing solo piano recently. Although he started out playing keyboards in soul bands around Buffalo in the late 60s / early 70s, he switched over to guitar and in about six months had pretty much mastered the instrument and created his own unique style. But he can still play the keys for sure...

I hope to be posting some rare mp3s related to Alex Chilton over the next week. But only if I can find some inexpensive and easy way to host them on a third-party site and then link them to Blogger so that when visitors click on them, they play immediately without going to the third-party site. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. If I can work this out, you'll hear some cool stuff...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Below are four never-before-seen photos of Alex in action at McVan's in Buffalo in June of 1979. I didn't even know these photos existed until a few weeks ago. They were taken by the late Lynn Adams, a photographer and part of the Buffalo music scene back then. She passed away several years ago and right before this past Christmas her mother called a friend of mine and told her that she was going through Lynn's archives and came across some photos that might be of interest. Included were photos of Buffalo appearances by Patti Smith, Blondie, and Iggy Pop along with these photos of Alex.

I find these photos to be really captivating and not because I was standing a few feet to Alex's right. These shots were taken very early in our set...probably in the first song. It was really hot that night and within a few songs we had taken off everything but our t-shirts (see photos in the book). I love how Alex has a pencil behind his ear. Combined with the sport jacket, he looks like he's about to settle in for an afternoon of reading and taking notes. Here we were, playing twenty-plus songs with no rehearsal at a time when Alex had a reputation for chaos and yet there's an analytical look to him that lets you know that there was a lot of method behind his purported musical madness. In the book I describe how Alex and Peter LaBonne started to trade solos in the first song (Bourgeois Blues) and things really started to click. You can almost see Alex start to listen to what Peter was doing and say to himself..."This is going to be a pretty interesting evening..."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A few random notes... If you haven't been to Chris Stamey's site for his Big Star Third project, head on over right now. A must read (and follow). Thanks, Chris ! (One of the little sidebars I left out of the book was that in October of 1977 I was in NYC for a month and went to Chris's apartment twice to interview him for Big Star magazine. He was playing with Alex at the time. The interview never ran because Bernie Kugel ran out of money for the magazine. Less than two years later I would get to play with Alex because Chris had walked away from a semi-chaotic gig in Austin with Alex, leaving the opportunity for my friend Peter LaBonne to jump onstage and start the wheels rolling. And many years later, Chris's then girlfriend, who remembered me coming to the apartment, married a really good friend of mine, Erroll. Erroll worked at the New York Public Library with a woman I'd gone to college with. One day he mentioned that he had a friend (me) who had this friend named Peter who made all this wild music. His co-worker flipped out because Peter was her cousin. You got all that? A lot of strange intersections of lives going on...)

On Grammy day, I'd like to say that I wish producers like T-Bone Burnett would take five years off. I'm sick of these guys who have a sound (which gets the critical seal of approval for supposedly being "retro") which they then impose on the artist or at the very least surround them with. Sort of like setting a gemstone in jewelry you create. The recent Gregg Allman album sent me over the edge on this. I respect Greg mightily. Love the ABB. His first solo album (Laid Back) is a classic. But I want to hear Greg's band (killer) with Greg picking the songs and then the producer bringing out the best from the band, not the producer calling all the shots with his pet legend of the month subjected to a predictable smooshy swampy sound of cool vintage instruments and amps. It's like a great looking meal that in the end doesn't satisfy. Which I guess is why I like producers / engineers like Jimmy Miller, Andy Johns, Glyn Johns, Bill Szymczyk, George Martin, and John Fry. The guys who made the band sound great on their own terms.

I just got a batch of previously unseen photos of Alex performing at McVan's. Will scan and put up a few soon. There's a great photo of Alex performing with a pencil behind his ear. The photos were taken during the first song we played (Bourgeois Blues) as he still has on his sport coat and sweater. It was really hot and we were soon down to t-shirts. You can almost sense Alex looking over at Peter during one of his first solos and thinking "hmmm....this is going to be a fun night."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Well, for those of you who have inquired about where they might hear a bit of Peter LaBonne, this one's for you:

23 CDs worth of material. Gigunda! For the curious, I would start with the first disc and then move through the first handful if so inclined. (I think that disc two has some of his best material so you'll hit paydirt right away.) Pete lives way up in the Adirondack Mountains and doesn't have a phone. I found out about this yesterday via a short, cryptic email. Frankly, I think the price is way too high. I'd sell the whole wad for $20 and get people buzzing. But bit by bit, listeners are in for quite a ride. Read the reviews and listen to the samples and you'll get a taste. Keep in mind that after hearing the first five or six discs on this tape, Alex Chilton told me that if he ever recorded an album of Pete's material (he spent some time in the Hodge Podge Lodge where this was recorded), he'd have his first million selling album. But I'm not sure anyone could really play this stuff except for Peter.

Peter plays virtually all the instruments and recorded all this on funky equipment under pretty primitive conditions - we're talking about a dirt floor shack. His standard M.O. was to get an idea over morning coffee, write the song, and then record it that day. He did a bunch of studio work in New Orleans and his cohorts would always try to back him up in the studio on his own material but all the attempts at capturing his sound came up flat. He's sort of like a one-man Magic Band.

I've known Peter since 1966. What's sort of amazing is that there are people like this still out there. Barely on the radar. Making music that sounds like nothing else out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I promised in a recent post to address why Alex didn't approve of the book and just to set the record straight will offer a brief summary of what went down.

Throughout the interview process there was an understanding (I believe) that if my tape recorder was on, comments were on the record unless otherwise specified. Alex made a few comments that he then requested not go in the book and those requests were respected.

After the book had been out a few months I heard about Alex's dissatisfaction and called him. He was unhappy that I had delved into his family history. What was somewhat puzzling about this was that he had brought it up when we first got together to discuss the project as a key to understanding the Big Star story from his perspective. When I returned to do the formal interviews, I started off with his references to the family history and he immediately, and with a great deal of enthusiasm, started right in. A lot of his narrative is in the book. At no time did I feel that the commentary was off the record.

We verbally jousted for a bit. When I didn't budge from my belief that I hadn't done anything wrong, he moved onto complaining that he didn't realize that I was going to talk about "a gig we did years ago." I explained how the description of the gig at McVan's was a way for me to explain and defend his post-Big Star work. It was a device to capture the reader's attention. After we went round and around for nearly an hour I told him "Alex, the next time you and I see each other, we're going to shake hands and still be friends." He replied in his inimitable soft drawl, "You really think so? Well okay then...I guess" That was the last time we spoke. I had tickets to see him with the Box Tops a few months later but it was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I was tired from a few days of house guests. I gave my tickets away and stayed home. If not for comments by Alex that were reported in print, I wouldn't have ever have felt compelled to comment on the matter.

It bothered me that Alex didn't like parts of the book (the actual coverage of Radio City passed his test) but after I spoke with him I called a friend of mine, Parke Puterbaugh, who had written a big article for Rolling Stone back in 1993. Parke had had a similar experience as mine. We speculated as to why Alex felt compelled to focus on the negative – or imagine it – in situations where people genuinely had his best interests at heart. The reason might lie in this exchange from an interview in Bernie Kugel's Big Star fanzine back in 1977

Interviewer: What would you like written on your grave?
Alex Chilton: "A Self-Made Man" sounds best to me.

Translation: if you see yourself as a self-made man, you may have a more difficult time accepting the well-intentioned help and support of others. But who really knows? If I were writing a biography, I might delve into these matters more. But I'll leave that to someone else. As for me, whether or not Alex liked the book, I stand by it and wouldn't change a thing. Except all those annoying typos. And they're being fixed in the next print run.

As far as Alex's family history goes, it took me a while but I finally realized why it was important to the Big Star story from his perspective. His roots may have stretched back to England, but were firmly planted in New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. His dad was a jazz musician who developed his sound in Mississippi and refined it in Memphis. Alex telling his family story was, perhaps, his way of letting us know that he wasn't a privileged Memphis teen who lucked into teen stardom. He was an outsider with a rich family musical and cultural background playing his way back home.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A brief detour...

Some of you have requested sound samples of the Blue Reimondos, my band that backed up Alex at the gigs mentioned in the book. I've resolved to figure out how to do that but in the meantime you can hear a few songs at the Rhapsody link above.

Our track on this comp. (lead track) is actually two separate recordings spliced together and cover the beginning and end of the band until we reunited in altered form to back up Alex. The first part is "Kryptonite Tonight" – a Ramones-like concoction of a buzz-saw riff and off-the-wall comic book lyrics. Except this was 1975 and we'd never heard of the Ramones. This was recorded at a high school dance with a five-piece line-up that was still attempting to be a successful cover band on the Buffalo bar circuit. We'd start off the evening with covers and once the crowd got hopping, we'd slip in Peter LaBonne's songs. It was just way more fun to get a gym full of kids jumping around to a song like "Kryptonite Tonight" than playing "Layla." Eventually two of our members – we were all high school friends – decided that their heart's desire was to play note-for-note versions of Eagles songs and bailed. That left Peter on guitar and keys and John B. King on bass. I switched from guitar to drums because...we needed a drummer.

The second song "Tarzan, Jane Hungry" features Peter on the Farfisa and was recorded in August of 1977 in a barn. More thought went into the recording but the technology was limited to several mics and a reel to reel. We ran through a chunk of our set just to get it on tape. By now we were established as the first new wave /original / whatever band in Western New York and a buzz was growing about Peter (one of the most uniquely talented musicians on the planet). I was going away on business for a few months and our plan was to reconvene in October and make some headway on a scene that was far more receptive to original material than when we started out. But right when I returned, Peter abruptly left town for good and that was basically "all she wrote" for the Blue Reimondos proper. "Tarzan" was yet another singular song by Peter. When we played clubs, this usually came later in the evening and would inspire demented conga lines for some reason. (Both of these recordings are in truncated form.)

John B. King just uncovered some reel to reels of the Reimondos that we are going to transfer. The first is a live gig at Hobart College from October '76. We couldn't find a job in the Buffalo area so this was our first public performance, 100 miles down the Thruway. A lot of the students were from New York and we went over really well. The second is a rehearsal tape where we went through a longer version of our setlist. I'm hoping that the tapes held up all these years and the recordings are strong enough to merit sharing with listeners. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, find a copy of Peter LaBonne's "Meditation Garden" on the Sonic Trout label and get a relatively more recent peek into his creative world. (He can also be heard playing some great leads on Richard Hell's sessions from the 80s in New Orleans with Zig Modeliste. Check out the solo on "The Hunter Was Drowned."

You can buy a used copy of "Meditation Garden" at for under a buck. Check it out...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year everyone! I've resolved to post more frequently this year. I must admit the loss of Alex and Andy and my little dust-up with Bob Lefsetz just sort of wore me down. After spending three intense years with Big Star I needed a bit of a break from the subject. So of late I've been immersed in Delaney and Bonnie (saw them open for Blind Faith and became an instant huge fan), Family, Spirit, Ben Sidran, Jaki Byard, and 70s Hall and Oates. For starters. Now on to the latest news...

My book is going to go to a second printing. This is giving us the chance to correct all those annoying typos and errors that somehow got past a team of seasoned professionals (if you ask me, I think that someone hit the wrong button and printed an early proof of the book). One reader has provided me with a detailed list of possible corrections but if you spotted something that really bugged you, feel free to send it along.

There's a biography of Alex Chilton in the works for Viking Press. The author is Holly George-Warren. I don't know Holly (we're going to talk this month) but she's a friend and former co-worker with my good friend and fellow Big Star fan Parke Puterbaugh. Parke tells me that she'll do a great job. She was a friend of Alex's, wrote some articles on him, and even spent time in the recording studio with him working on an album. Can't wait to read it.

Several of you have commented on negative remarks Alex made about my book that were quoted in several European publications. The truth is that he didn't like something about the book and we didn't have the opportunity to resolve it. My last words to him (at the end of a sometimes contentious long phone conversation) were, "Well, Alex. You may disagree with me but the next time we meet we're going to shake hands and still be friends." His response, "You really think so? Well I guess okay then..." I passed on a chance to see the Box Tops when they came to a nearby casino in November 2009 (Thanksgiving fatigue) and then we lost him. But given that his opinion is out there, I'll set the record straight from my perspective in my next post.