Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Sunday, October 19, 2014
I’m still a little fried from the longest trip away that I've taken in years. The fact you're reading this means I survived. Madrid > El Escorial > Madrid > Castellon > Barcelona. in case you wonder, It does often occur to me that I'm too fucking old to be doing this but the necessity shows no sign of abating. This missive is shorter than it might have been for the reason that will become apparent in due course.
Arrived in Madrid early doors on September 25th. Good move because it allowed me to settle rather than dump the bag and head for the show as is usually the case. Hostal Aguilar is a great spot if you ever get to the city. Perfect location and I'm certain that my nocturnal movements cause amusement to the reception folks that have to buzz me in the wee small hours.
First up was the 8th Annual Wurlitzer Ballroom birthday smorgasbord and The Tripwires closed Thursday night. Flat out the best pub rock band in America or maybe anywhere at this point. Maybe we need to adapt the genre to gastropub rock? Much imbibing took place afterward resulting in a wee small hours leaving time that meant I was up about 26 hours. Friday was The Mockers, that Robbie Rist can sure blaze.
Saturday was relatively sedate compared to the two previous nights. I saw the excellent PeaWees and a bit of Belgian stalwarts, The Kids before taking a wee wander up to Weirdo. The idea at the back of my mind was that it might be an early night as I was heading for El Escorial - an hour or so north in the mountains - by train fairly early on Sunday. Quality hanging time was had in a beautiful part of the world that allows the gears to drop a bit.
Back to town on Tuesday for more socialising and Wednesday over ran due to some late arrivals at Wurli before the 100+ years of rock'n'roll circus hit El Sol. The expected after show carnage took place and it was 4 hours between getting back to the Agui and having to meet for the train. What I saw of the journey was cracking. Trouble was I just slipped in and out of consciousness. I was a bit more alert at the changeover in Valencia. Maybe.
Hotel room was very fancy by my standards with a terrace. A couple more days to scope it out would have been good. The venue called The Four Seasons is another of those places that are scattered throughout Spain. The Teenarama Powerpop kids visited from Murcia and it was nice to meet these hallowed tipsters. That’s tipsters not hipsters, if these folks flag something up then you should take notice. Next day was Barcelona and everything started off swimmingly until we got there and some arse left his cell phone in the taxi. I prefer to look at it like this, had it been my passport things would have been way worse.
It did curtail the BCN action a tad but the show was nothing short of miraculous. Good as the other two were this was on steroids with a very active dance formation troupe down front at all times. The Quattros, my first time seeing them with young Curly Q on drums, flew straight out of the traps. I never fail to be proud of them and I never forget that it is entirely their doing that my love affair with Spain even happened. The Yum Yums played a blinding set of wall to wall hits and of course I miss Vibeke and Andre but they’re hitting a stride now that I could never have expected. The Surfin’ Lungs were even bigger and brighter this evening too and well, what can anyone say about The Rubinoos. There wasn’t a dry seat left in the house. The maxxed out the energy level and then some. Circumstances dictated that the big end of the triple wasn't celebrated en mass but some mighty fun was had over the week or so.
And of course the best bit is to see my extended family and to meet new amigos and amigettes, my deepest appreciation to all for taking time out to provide such primo company. Such a visit always humbles me and I look forward now to seeing those Nomads this weekend and taking in a new Spanish destination at the end of this month.
As I type my notes for this, there's a party going on at Barbara Ann bar that will be every bit as splendiferous as the Apolo 2 but reality beckoned. Temporary reality though. The fun is set to resume soon. That's what I need to repeat as a mantra to abate any tendency to whine.
It’s the sixth anniversary of my obsession with España this very weekend (October 19th). Hoping that they're not glad to see me go because I’m less than happy with being gone in the proximity sense.
Less than a week later I’m down “the London” for The Nomads and Sator and it’s all kicking into place again. Well worth the 12 hour train round trip to experience another evening of what life is largely all about. A key figure or two might have been unable to make it but those folks were there in spirit alright. I’m pretty sure all of this happened because there’s a recording of it and I sure felt like I’d been through the mill when I had to get up for work the next day.
I had some crew from Finland and Spain here this past week and there are another few shows locally over the next wee while but next up is my first Funtastic Dracula Festival where I will be reunited with the one and only Girl Trouble after what seems like a lifetime.
Bring it the bloody fuck on.
Links, etc. will follow... he typed optimistically...
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
It’s been a rollicking week or two and I know I haven’t logged the Spanish adventure yet but there hasn’t been time.
Since I got back, Lou Whitney left us and that is way more important than any of my blah could ever be. Still can’t quite get my head around the notion that I’ll never see him again.
Then just Saturday/Sunday there was The Nomads/Sator double header. Quite a few rock’n’roll miles on the clock and I’m fighting against the all-enveloping lurghi. The amount of coughing, spluttering, sneezing and worse that I’ve come into contact with in past days has made me consider getting a flu jab. This time next week we’ll be looking forward to the clocks going back on the 26th.
I do like me that extra hour.
Thursday, October 09, 2014
In the winter of 1981, I was living a life of quiet desperation as a freelance paste-up artist in South Jersey. I was divorced with a five-year-old son and at the wise old age of twenty-five decided I would never have a career as a musician or songwriter. I liked a zillion styles of music and I was writing songs in those styles but most of the people I played music with were convinced that the only way to make it was to choose one genre and adhere to it right down to the appropriate wardrobe and musical gear. I must have believed it too because I ultimately chose to opt out altogether. To say I was discouraged would be an understatement. I wasn't even showing my songs to anybody anymore. In my mind it was over. The dream was dead. Then I met Lou Whitney...
Lou's band the Symptoms were performing in New York at the old Peppermint Lounge on 45th Street, opening for a popular new wave band. I'd driven two hours to catch their show because Lou wanted to meet me. A friend of mine had released a 45 of the Symptoms’ recording of “Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)” and I cobbled together a picture sleeve for it that Lou really liked. It wasn't much more than a photo of the Viscounts' sax player playing a car transmission instead of a horn but Lou loved it and sent word that I would be on the guest list. Their version of the Swingin' Medallions’ tune sounded great and I had never been on a guest list before so I hopped in my heat-challenged '65 Rambler and made my way up the New Jersey Turnpike.
The place was packed with new wave hipsters. You could feel the electricity. The New York club scene was really happening in the early '80s. After a long wait, the stage lights came on and the most normal band in the world came walking out. They looked like they had just finished working on their cars. There wasn't one single trendy thing about them. These days it's hard to believe how unusual that was but back then it was astounding. Lou kicked off the first song and they were off and running. And run they did.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing. It was a revelation. They played country, blues, rockabilly, swing, garage rock, girl group stuff, surf instrumentals, you name it. And they were smiling! They were (dare I say it?) being themselves.
When I found Lou and introduced myself he shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, "Subaru, right?" It took me aback until I realized he was talking about the car transmission on the record sleeve. "Yep," I replied. "I knew it!" he said, and laughed out loud. I told him how much I loved their show and began rattling off my favorite moments until he stopped me and asked if I was a musician. "Actually, I'm more of a songwriter." "Really?" he said. "Send us a tape. We need songs. We're too lazy to write our own. Right, Donnie?" I looked behind him and D. Clinton Thompson nodded in the affirmative. Just as I was leaving Lou handed me a piece of paper with his address scribbled on it: "I'm serious. Send us your stuff." Wow. I had no trouble staying awake on my drive back down the turnpike that night. The next day I put together a cassette of song demos and mailed it to the address in Springfield, MO.
About a week later I got a phone call from Lou. "We just worked up five of your tunes and the audiences love them. Send more!" To say "and the rest is history" is hackneyed for sure but in my case it's true. I had touched the hem of the garment. Lou had anointed me. Everything changed for me after that. Lou told everyone he knew that I was good and because Lou told them they were ready to hear my songs -- which has led to a long career of doing exactly what I want musically. And it all started that night in 1981 when I met Lou Whitney.
Thanks, Lou, and good night. Wherever you are.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
I think it was 1980 that I first heard The Skeletons. In those days, it was customary to write to an act that floored you and I duly ordered a box of 45s to spread around people that I figured would like them. This was the first time I came into contact with the force of nature that was Lou Whitney. Recipients of these 45s included Lux and Ivy who subsequently name checked the band in ZigZag as a result.
When it came to the point of getting the chance to start a label, the band was the obvious choice. To my mind they should have been bigger than something like The Eagles. A+R people loved them but they didn’t know what to do with something so pure. So somehow, Lou granted me the wish of compiling the singles plus other tracks for “Rockin’ Bones” which was later followed by their debut “proper” album, “In The Flesh”.
In August 1992 I made the pilgrimage to Column One in Springfield, Mo. I clearly recall Randy and Donna dropping me off for the adventure that would entail travelling with them to shows in the Chicago area including a memorable night in DeKalb, Illinois. I stayed with Lou and Kay during those days and enjoyed their wonderful hospitality.
The Heartbreak Hotel in Malmo played host to the Dave Alvin/Scott Kempner/Skeletons ensemble during the Skeledanavia 1992 was like a dream come true. The guys from Uncle Tupelo were there that night also and somewhere I have a tape.
We kept in touch over the years and I always hoped I’d get out to see him again. Never imagining that there would come a day when that wouldn’t be possible. Last time I spoke to Lou was when Mary McBride made a pit stop in Glasgow with the Rt. Hon Joe Terry and she graciously called him.
Then there’s the music that he and the guys made. They should have been a household name. Their chemistry made them utterly unique and that’s why other great artists gravitated toward the buckle on the bible belt. Listening to Ben Vaughn’s “I’m Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” the other day, it was if he was channelling the big guy and it made me plotz.
To tell the truth, I’m finding it difficult to process the fact that he’s taken the final taxi. The music he made with the band and with others will live for all eternity. Lou’s alt-Wrecking Crew was always ready to work up their magic when the need arose.
They broke the mould after this one popped out and we’ll never see his like again. Hey may not have been rich in monetary terms but the guy was a veritable gazillionaire in terms of being a wonderful human being. It was impossible not to love Lou Whitney. Lou inspired everyone that he ever came into contact, being the archetypal gentlemen in every sense of the word.
The big fella never compromised his integrity for one second over the years and it is an utter privilege to have been able to call him my friend. A world without Lou in it is a daunting prospect. His wisdom and forthright manner gave him a quality that made him a natural leader. He was someone you could believe in and someone you could believe. He made his mark alright.
My condolences to Kay and his immediate family, to his compadres - Lloyd, Joe, Donnie, Dave, Andy, Scott, Eric, Amy, Ben, Robbie and Syd and everyone else that will miss the hell out of the guy.