Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Gilberto with Turrentine

For years I have enjoyed The Astrud Gilberto Album ever since finding it for a buck in dusty Quartzsite, AZ. Last fall, I gave Stanley Turrentine’s laudable Salt Sea a new home after coming across it at a neighborhood garage sale in a moving box of ‘70s common stock.  I recently learned that their musical paths converged and they collaborated together on this 1971 album that was later reissued on compact disc in 1988 and 2003.  This 2003 remastered version from Sony Legacy is augmented with three bonus tracks. The lush, sweeping and textured production makes Creed Taylor’s presence immediately felt and heard, while Eumir Deodato’s adept, curvilinear and elastic arrangements gives the recording an ahead of its time feel.  Not only does the album come across as a precursor to the schematics of Stereolab and the High Llamas, but vibrant songs like “Traveling Light” and “Just Like You” sound like they could have even sprung forward onto a Stereolab album from 1996 or a Laetitia Sadier album from 2012.

Pinball Bumper Basslines
Overall, the album is not a strict showcase of Gilberto and Turrentine, but a diversified collection held together by a top-flight combination of American and Brazilian musicians. They present a panoramic sound by overlapping jazz and samba and successfully stretching their possibilities. Furthermore, their first-rate musicianship provides a solid foundation to counterbalance Astrud’s airy vocals. Her delicate voice slides over the pinball bumper basslines of Ron Carter and glides over Eumir Deodato’s Fender Rhodes piano. (BTW-Eumir Deodato is currently Justin Bieber’s grandfather-in-law.) On the opening and closing songs, both composed by Bacharach-David, Astrud’s soothing voice breezes over the warm guitar tones of Gene Bertoncini (Notre Dame class of ‘59). On adventurous songs like “Ponteio,” Turrentine’s tenor saxophone arrives on the forefront and then recedes to accompany Astrud’s vocals delivered in her rhythmic Portuguese.  Turrentine is later given the limelight on the instrumental “Vera Cruz" and the original "Mr. T" releases a sound imbued with poise and dexterity.

Poly High
The bonus track “Polytechnical High” sounds like one of those mechanical songs that the warped Brian Wilson wrote in the ‘70s in exchange for a brown bag of unhealthy substances.  Upon further exploration, the quirky song was first released by Harpers Bizarre in 1970 with writing credits going to Nilsson. Gilberto with Turrentine has the crossover appeal and variety to where far-flung listeners of easy listening, bossa nova/samba, Latin jazz, sunshine/soft pop, Shibuya-kei, soundtracks or jet set pop all could easily find something to suit their individual musical needs, while also being a captivating listen in its entirety.

Monday, May 06, 2019

The Resonars-No Exit

Things keep coming and going, but the Resonars remain a constant pop force within Tucson's somewhat submerged and unvarnished music scene. The last five years have seen some of my favorite bands (Freezing Hands, Sea Wren, Harsh Mistress) of this decade emerge from Midtown Island with the Resonars at the epicenter and Matt Rendon as the prime mover.  While these bands have overlapping members, they are not side projects, joke bands or offshoots, but full-fledged groups that all share a love of the melodic guitar-driven pop of the '60s and select moments of the '70s & '80s (that mostly reflect the '60s).  However they don't stop there, as they push forward their original sounds while further differentiating it by using the mid-fi recording equipment and production techniques inspired by the '60s masters (e.g., Martin, Wilson (both Brian & Tom), Talmy, Hassinger, Usher). When I first encountered the mundane front cover standing in stark contrast to the color explosions of the previous albums, I entered No Exit with some trepidation that this might be a wrong turn towards dispiriting dishwater indie-rock. My preconceptions were instantly replaced with the instant reaction that the album hits all expected markers and much more. In other words, the front cover is not truly indicative of the catchy and vibrant sounds found within its doors. For instance, the enthralling "Gone is the Road" scampers along paths first cut in those Nerves demos (namely "Too/Many Roads to Follow") that were later fully resurrected on some of the more recent Paul Collins solo albums.



While it might be hard to fathom, "Who's Going Believe You Now" successfully nicks the guitar riff off Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold." The rustic "Days Fade Away" manages to reflect the mutual admiration society of the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face and "Have You Seen Her Face" by the Byrds for a true baroque hoedown. "Before You're Gone" closes out side A and evinces a strong affinity for '70s power pop stalwarts (Flamin' Groovies, the Poppees, the Rubinoos and the Raspberries) with the sweet harmonies and guitars sharpened to the peak of perfection.  This solid pop is made possible by a well-honed sense of songcraft modeled on and inspired by the brilliance of the mid-sixties (when commercial success briefly coincided with artistic aspirations). This also serves as an example how the sounds of the Resonars have withstood the test of time by not being made in a pure pop snapcase, but created amidst the competing priorities, entanglements and the friction of workaday life.

Side B takes off like a rip-cord funny car with "Tucson Drag/All These Hats." This doubleheader features a Turtles-like "Buzzsaw" slicing through it before barreling down Speedway in search of an elusive Frozen Sun 45 or a stockpile of Midnight Cowboy soundtracks. The album goes from strength to strength with "Dull Today" and "Fell Into a World" as they are both finely crafted and flawlessly executed in classic Resonars mode. There is a subtle, but effective ringing buzz underlying "Dull Today," that provides welcomed contrast in the signal to noise ratio, while one almost expects to hear Peter Noone's bouncy vocals to appear after the guitar intro of "Fell Into a World." For a challenge, try discerning the source material for the pre-chorus of "Gotta Get Out" amidst the obvious nods to Big Star and the climbing and crescendoing Beach Boys vocal harmonies. This elusive pre-chorus seems to be an intriguing graft of the Clash's "Train in Vain" and "Cruel to Be Kind" by Nick Lowe, but still avoids being traced down. At the end of the day, it casts a radiant glow with its sundown harmonies.  If "Gotta Get Out" has a little different feel beyond the atypical arrangement, there is an additional reason as the lead vocals are handled here by Travis Spillers of the aforementioned Freezing Hands.



"Attention Here" skips along to deliver a barbed précis on the pitfalls of the more temporal trends in both the underground and mainstream of the last three decades, while also serving as an allegory to life itself.  No Exit not only contains their expected elevating harmonies and uncanny hooks, but also present the group at their most melodic, proficient and varied. Moreover, the compelling album captures the Resonars at a musical summit, reached by tapping into an extra sense of urgency and placing excitement into the Arizona air.


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Los Holiday's-The Sounds of the Holiday's

Here is the sound of the British Invasion cascading down to Caracas, Venezuela circa 1966. While there is the expected, inescapable and delightful influence of the lads from Liverpool, there is a much stronger affinity for those beat merchants from Manchester-the Hollies. Upon initial listens, I could also detect what I thought was an undercurrent of Nederbeat. This Dutch tilt turned out not to be merely coincidental as I learned that the group's lead singer, Franklin VanSplunteren, was originally from the Netherlands and immigrated with his family to Venezuela in 1964.  Los Holiday's affection for the Hollies is clearly evident as they include five of their songs: “When I Not There," “What Kind of Love,” “Baby Don’t Cry,” “Little Lover” and “Come on Back."  Even their take on Doris Troy's "What'cha Gonna Do About It" was initially covered by the Hollies.  On lado/side 2, they branch out with the Searchers' "Till I Met You" where their early incarnation as an instrumental band can be heard in the guitar twang. While their spare original songs like "I've Had My Dose" and "You'll Learn this Way" are not as upfront or staggering as those from leading South American big beat combos like Uruguay's Los Shakers or Los Datsun's from Peru, their earnest harmonies and delicate melodies are endearingly expressed. The Dutch-accented English vocals and their immersion into the Hollies spill over into the Venezuela air-resulting in some well-crafted, plaintive and truly distinctive minor-key beat. Overall, it's a traversing South American sound on the threshold of something still striking and seeking.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Rejoice! -s/t


Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of this 1968 album beyond its bold period charm quasi-religious front cover is that this co-ed folk duo is backed and bolstered by three heavy hitters of the Wrecking Crew including legendary drummer Hal Blaine who passed away at age 90 in March 2019.  While none of the subsequent tracks are as immediately transporting as the banjo-flecked lead-off track “Sausalito Sunrise,” the album is an intriguing late entry in the ampersand co-ed folk duo movement that spanned across the entire decade of the ‘60s.  The proficient musical bed tilled by the Wrecking Crew musicians on lilting, albeit fleeting songs "Spring Flew in Today" and "Even Through" makes it sounds like that Tom & Nancy Brown are layering their flowering vocals over a sweeping '60s motion picture soundtrack.  In other spots, you can hear the underlying tension of a ramshackle Bay Area couple bereft of their familiar Marin Couny-based accompanying band and not quite coalescing with the professional approach of the top flight L.A. studio musicians (Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano & organ, besides the aforementioned Blaine). "Establishment Blues" might have brought down the communal house in '68 with its barbed jabs and then trenchant commentary, but the resistance sounds futile today.  In contrast, it’s the more gleaming commercial AM transistor radio material which remains in focus to this day. "Golden Gate Park” is a bubbly psychedelic lite pop chronicle of being momentarily footloose and fancy-free on a turn down day.  It was appropriately chosen as the first single as it's an audio equivalent of Peter Max’s "UnCola" advertising art for 7Up. While Rejoice! lacked the crystalline harmonic interplay of Blackburn & Snow or the turn up the AM radio factor of Friend & Lover, their opportunity to combine forces and record with members of the Wrecking Crew is beyond compare.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Hats off to Larry Finnegan

"One-hit wonder from the early sixties" is the usual reductionist treatment that Larry Finnegan receives in his home country when it comes to his 1962 #11 hit record.  However, “Dear One” continues to evoke responses of "I love this song," and "You don't hear this song that often,” whenever it is played on oldies radio or heard streaming over a computer.  When it comes to attribution, "Dear One" is frequently mistaken to be an early Del Shannon song. While Finnegan did not have the same level of consistent commercial success in America as Del Shannon, Larry certainly made his own distinctive mark in terms of international hits, songwriting and producing records for a host of others.   Thanks to the internet, it is now easier to hear a reservoir of his recordings beneath the lightning strike moment of "Dear One." Equally important are the opportunity for others, outside of Sweden, to discover more about the underrated musician, composer, and producer behind a substantial stack of sweeping sixties sounds. 

The Inside Track
Larry was actually a student in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame when he had his worldwide hit in early 1962. When he arrived at Notre Dame in 1959 from Jamaica Estates, Queens, NY., he was already a versatile musician who was said to be competent on guitar, piano and drums. "Larry never took any music lessons," reveals his wife Sharon Finneran.  "He had an ear for music and was self-taught."  Larry came from a family of 9 children with 7 boys and 2 girls.  Both of his parents were born in Ireland and his father worked as a security guard for the New York Daily News.  Prior to Notre Dame, Larry attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn and ran for their track team.


Woodshedding, WLS & Courting Sudden Fame at Notre Dame
The legend at Notre Dame begins atop a creaky wooden floor of a dorm room in a collegiate Gothic-styled residence hall. "Larry Finneran was an extremely nice, unassuming guy. Our rooms were a few doors apart on the fourth floor of Morrissey Hall," recalls author Rich Wolfe. "He was also very quiet and often could be heard in his room playing his guitar. The big radio station in those days for ND students was WLS-Chicago. “Dear One” by Larry Finnegan started getting a lot of air time on WLS, particularly by Dick Biondi, their star DJ. Also, Arnie “Woo Woo" Ginsberg was playing it a ton in Boston." The dichotomous experience of being a recording star and student was just beginning for Larry.   Rich Wolfe elaborates: "One day I jokingly said to Larry, 'This guy Larry Finnegan is trying to live off your name.' He replied, 'That’s me.'  I laughed...a few days later found out it was true. It was so incongruous. He was the total opposite of what you would expect.  When the song later would come on WLS many rooms on the fourth floor would turn the volume on high."  Probably to the surprise of his Notre Dame classmates and many others, "Dear One" was not Larry's first record.  In 1959, Decca released "I'll Be Back Jack" a solid first effort, but it came nowhere close to the charts.  The song was later re-released on their Coral imprint in 1962 after the smashing success of “Dear One," but it sputtered again. Its commendable flipside "Ain't Nothing in this World" ambles easily along with its integration of a fluid banjo.



Old Town in New York
Another seemingly improbable aspect was that Larry's pop hit was released on Hy Weiss' Old Town Records which was a New York City label deeply devoted to R&B and doo wop. Hy Weiss was one of those colorful record industry characters who recorded and released the street corner sound as an owner of a step-ahead independent. (Interestingly, Weiss even has a co-writing credit for the Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion" to his name.)  Larry co-wrote "Dear One" with older brother Vincent Finneran who at the time was in his senior year at Boston College.  In typical show-biz fashion, Hy Weiss changed Larry's surname of Finneran to the stage name of Finnegan. Being mistaken for a Del Shannon song factored in early on "Dear One."  This misidentification certainly helped to propel the song up the charts and eventual classic status. Still, Vincent was looking out for his brother. "A story I recall is that Larry said his brother shopped “Dear One” around NYC," conveys writer Cappy Gagnon. "One record label loved the song and felt it would be a good one for Del Shannon, Larry’s brother insisted that the song must be sung by Larry."  In addition, ace studio musicians like Gary Chester on drums and Dick Pitassy (Notre Dame class of 1965) on piano helped the recording breakthrough and stand out from the competition of the time.  "There was supposed to be a guitar solo on "Dear One," reveals musician Dick Pitassy. "Little did I know in the recording session that my piano playing would become the song's solo in the finished take." Hy Weiss was refreshingly true to his word when it came to supporting Larry and his family.  "Hy kept in touch with me even after Larry died, sending me money off and on," states Sharon Finneran. A well executed cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" is one of the highlights of his follow-up attempts on Old Town Records.  1963 saw the release of “Pick up the Pieces” and features a suitable arrangement by space-age guitar whiz Billy Mure.  Despite the lack of another hit in America, there is no denying that  "Dear One" made waves around the world and launched his professional career which would first take Larry to the recording meccas of Nashville and New York City.


RIC (Recording Industries Corp.) Records
After graduating from Notre Dame in spring of 1963 and completing his stint on Old Town Records, Finnegan next stop was RIC Records, a label, helmed by Joe Csida, with operations in both Nashville and New York City. The label's two bases seemed to perfectly coincide with Larry's affinity for pop country. The label’s initial offerings were the one-two punch of Rosie Grier, then a professional football star for the Los Angeles Rams, and Larry Finnegan.  Bobby Darin actually produced Grier's Soul City album in 1964. (Darin bought the Trinity Publishing company in 1963 from Joe Csida, who was formerly Bobby’s manager.)  For Finnegan, RIC went the sequel route with "Dear One, Part Two," but it failed to connect. The flip featured "Baton Rouge" which continues to stand the test of time. This lively and rollicking number was written by his brother Vincent and casts a celebratory mood.  Larry's next effort was a derivative novelty number "A Tribute to Ringo Starr -The Other Ringo" which spins off the 1964 Lorne Green's hit "Ringo," but ultimately tries too hard in its attempt to cash in on some of the Beatlemania.  While there was no chart success during his tenure, Larry gained invaluable experience in several facets of the music industry.



At RIC, he worked on the composition and production sides for a wide array of then peak-period pop styles (surf, soul and girl groups). These rare releases are aural testaments to his professional adaptability and skillfulness. 1964's "Surfin' in Bermuda" by the Cannon Brothers is a low-fidelity surf vocal number coated with the landlocked grit of  the Riverias and the Trashmen while West Coast harmonies and melodies can be detected under the haze.  Larry also composed and produced the soulful girl group rarity "Coolie" for Venita and The Cheries.  One of his most intriguing productions is "I'll Take You Back Back Again" from the Pittsburgh singer Florraine Darlin.  In its initial incarnation the song started as keyboard instrumental with an organ lead by the aforementioned Dick Pitassy.  Later the vocals of Florraine Darlin were added along with several additional layers of instrumentation-resulting in a catchy mid-tempo summer 1964 pop song that anticipates folk-rock while simultaneously echoing the Everly Brothers. Operating without a hit, momentum slipped away for the singles-oriented RIC Records by the mid-sixties. With the British Invasion in full effect, Larry saw the writing on the wall for heartland American acts.


One of his most intriguing endeavors during his time in New York was a 1964 girl group gem “Don’t Let it Happen Again” by the Kittens.  It actually featured two of Larry’s sisters (Mary & Christina) and is credited as a Finneran/Csida production and arranged by Dick Pitassy. It is also an example of the vast musical talent running in the Finneran family.  In addition, brother Vincent wrote the flipside “Nothin'." These days, this 45 exchanges hands in the amount of three figures.



The Tivoli Circuit-Summers ‘63 & ’64 in Sweden 
While his subsequent releases failed to return him to American charts, he was able to proceed forward with a successful career-extending move to Sweden.  Old Town releases like "Pretty Suzy Sunshine" raced up the charts in Sweden.  Sonet Records, lead by Gunnar Bergström, invited Larry to tour Sweden in summer 1963 and later signed him as a singer and songwriter. Dick Pitassy was part of Larry's backing band which included the Hi-Grades from England.  "We mainly played at what are known in Sweden as tivoli or fairgrounds," recalls Dick Pitassy. "Our musical performances were held in conjunction with other fair attractions and stage acts-even a beauty pageant one time." While Sonet Records gave Finnegan the initial incentive to break away from the rapidly changing American scene, his courageous and fortuitous move to Stockholm in 1965 quickly propelled him to stardom in Scandinavia and later in Germany. For Larry, Sweden was not totally foreign territory.  Finnegan's first exposure to Swedish sensibilities actually occurred at Notre Dame as a Communications Arts student. Finnegan, according to Claes-Hakean Olofsson, "Developed an interest in the Swedish welfare system (healthcare, disability pension, child allowance etc.) and as early as 1960 was describing Sweden as a leading country in these areas."   While he would have been on the periphery in the U.S., Larry could be on vanguard with his celebrity status in Sweden. "When I had my first child, Larry, Jr., Larry had me come to Sweden as we were living in more affordable Switzerland and presented me with a mink coat that had belonged to Princess Christina Magnuson," fondly remembers Sharon Finneran.  "A big picture of us was published on the back of one of their Expressen newspapers"  Larry's adventurous, ambitious and daring spirit propelled him beyond preordained domestic expectations and into seemingly uncharted worldwide realms.



Compounding his star status with his initiative, resolve and recording skills allowed Larry to become a major player in the Swedish music industry.  In Stockholm, he partnered with Swedish musician Rune Wallebom (a singer for the Violents) and established the record label Svensk American.  He also resurrected his publishing company Seven Brothers Music which was aptly named after his brothers of the same number.  In addition to producing and releasing several hits from Swedish acts like Sven-Ingvars, the label became home to several of Larry's own successful singles along with fittingly titled "My Type of Country." album.


Everyday, Everybody and Everytime
Besides refining his production skills during these years, Larry reached the peak of his own musical powers by straddling pop and country in Sweden. Along the way, he continued to develop his own distinctive guitar style which formed the back bone of "Everytime."  Obviously inspired by Buddy Holly's chiming and charming "Everyday" and Tommy Roe's inclusive "Everybody," Larry reeled off the lovely little "Everytime." This understated number is accented by a springing guitar tone where Finnegan is mostly likely utilizing the whammy bar in the best way. "Notice how it's in perfect sync rhythmically. It sounds pretty organic too, not to mention that it would be a pain to do that with a pedal or an amplifier effect," explains musician and writer Mike Fornatale. "As far a gear, I'll guess it's a Gretsch with a Bigsby vibrato." Overall, Larry's durable sounds satisfies listeners affinity for straightforwardness, sincerity and the plain-spoken, while convincingly expressing Larry's commitment to what he stood for and believed in.




The Crossroads of the Sixties in Sweden
Things truly did come into focus for Larry in Sweden. Stylistically, his records are at crossroads of pop, country and rock 'n'roll. Unquestionably, it’s the sound of middle and southern America played out in on Scandinavian stages during the mid-sixties.  It took a transatlantic crossing to have success with a sound that had the strongest distilled American elements.  It could be said that many of these Swedish releases were his most innately American thematically and stylistically.  These records continued to reflect the deeply rooted influences of Marty Robbins, Don Gibson, Johnny Horton and even Elvis. Larry could most authentically be himself playing this down home vernacular sound in foreign lands. While, 1966’s "Bound for Houston" will easily draws comparisons to Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," it stands on its own with a chugging rhythm, requisite twangy and coiled guitars and a dollop of doo wop.



Somewhat hidden as a flipside, there is one intriguing musical departure with "Song for an Unknown Soldier." This could be said to be Larry’s Pet Sounds moment as it was released in 1966 and it addresses not only the sad plight of the solider, but also the senseless destruction of mother nature and human life itself through a series of striking vignettes. Musically it is reminiscent of the Beach Boys' "I'm Waiting for the Day" with its sectioned orchestration between the elucidating vocals. His unrivaled star status in both Sweden and later Germany allowed Larry to simultaneously retain his roots, while branching out in striking new directions.


Suzie  (and the Sunny Girls)
While Larry achieved Gold Record status in the States and celebrity status in Sweden as a recording act and singer, his arrangement, composition and production accomplishments tend to get overlooked both here and abroad. In Sweden and later in Germany, Finnegan continued to make strides in both the creative and technical sides of the recording process. For instance, he wrote and produced for the Dutch/Swedish singer Suzie (born Maria Pereboom in Holland) including her biggest Euro-hit "Johnny Loves Me" (not the "Johnny Angel" follow-up  by Shelley Fabares.)  Astoundingly, in October 1963, the Beatles opened for Suzie in Stockholm, Sweden!  In 1965, she married Mike Watson the bass player for the aforementioned backing group the Hi-Grades, the Lee Kings and later on intermittently for ABBA. Larry Finnegan was said to be fastidious in the studio and would require take after take.  Larry’s professional relationship with Suzie could be compared to Quincy Jones’ mentoring role and exacting production work with Lesley Gore.  Larry’s studio skills helped Suzie become one of the biggest stars in Sweden and in several other European countries.  Suzie’s “Johnny Loves Me” was even released in United States on the APT label in 1965. “Don’t Let it Happen Again” was the flipside.  Yes, that’s the aforementioned song previously recorded by the Kittens that featured two of Larry’s sisters almost a year earlier. Suzie also recorded "Don't Let it Happen Again" in German and Swedish. For a brief time 1967, Suzie led the Sunny Girls who have become international cult favorites over the years with the P.F. Sloan song "From a Distance." Larry & Suzie's musical relationship ended on a strong note in 1969 with an enthralling German-English cover of  "Da Doo Ron Ron," This record perfectly encapsulates Larry's production ability to capture that flash feeling of heart-lifting excitement.



Germany and the Race to the Moon
Thanks to Bear Family Records, his German language recordings originally released on Vogue Schallplatten became readily more accessible due to their inclusion on their "Komm Doch Zu Mir" CD release from 2000. Larry's quick and strong grasp of the German language and the Schlager style is presented in stunning sonic clarity. The Youtube era revealed one of his last and most adventurous undertakings before it was removed for some reason. His production on "Race to the Moon" by Gordon Young and the California Brass has almost an otherworldly Joe Meek feel to it.  Besides both producers being deeply enamored by the sound of Buddy Holly, there are other overlapping connections and small degrees of separation.  During it time on charts, Joe Meek took notice of “Dear One” and had Tony Victor cover it with the Tornados of “Telstar” fame supplying the rhythm backing on their rendition. Joe Meek also worked with the legendary Swedish rock & roller Jerry Williams.  Jerry Williams (Sven Erik Fernström)  recorded  his 1964's "More Dynamite" album with the aforementioned Dick Pitassy who composed "Race to the Moon."

1969 Larry Finnegan production of a Dick Pitassy composition


Back Home Again in Indiana
In 1970, Larry returned to South Bend, Indiana and a drastically changed America after five years of being overseas. Larry appeared to make the disorientating transition back in his usual genial, dignified and resilient manner. "I don’t recall when I first learned that Larry was a Notre Dame guy, but I became a fan.  Five years after I graduated in 1966, I was back at ND as Assistant Director of Admissions.  I became a Big Brother.  A year later, I was the Director of Big Brothers," relates Cap Gagnon. "A year later, Larry volunteered.  I can’t recall what his job was then, but I seem to recall that he said something about having formerly been a singer………and I said something like, 'You’re THAT guy!!'"  Gagnon continues: "He was a wonderful and modest man.  I asked him what happened to him after Notre Dame.  He said that he went to Sweden.  When I asked why, he said 'After the Beatles, the music tastes changed and guys like me couldn’t get arrested'  He mentioned a long list of folks who were in Europe with him.  The only one I remember was Big Dee Clark (“Raindrops”), although I believe he also mentioned Jackie Wilson."  It could be conjectured that it was a difficult shift in situation as Larry went from doing things on pretty much his own terms as a stratospheric star in Europe to quotidian workaday life between the prevailing blue-gray skies on the flatlands of South Bend.  However, Larry once again demonstrated his adaptability and ingenuity.  "When we returned to South Bend, my home town, he went to work as an advertising manager for Wheel Horse Products," explains Sharon Finneran.  "He invented a safety lawn mower which I have the patent for."  Wheel Horse Products was a South Bend-based manufacturer of lawn and garden equipment.  The company was later acquired in 1986 by the Toro Company.  In July 1973 everything came to a halt as Larry tragically died of a brain tumor, only a week after being diagnosed, at the way too young age of 34.  He was buried in the Cedar Grove Cemetery on the Notre Dame campus.   


Going Global into Crossover Country 
His radical (at the time) relocation to Sweden allowed Larry to freely express a middle American rock-pop-country aesthetic deep in the '60s.  Meanwhile, his early '60s pop contemporaries (e.g, Terry Stafford, Curtis Lee, Johnny Tillotson, Tommy Roe, Brian Hyland) had to navigate the tricky path, with varying results, to stay viable in the post-British Invasion era of American pop music of the mid to late '60s.  All in all, he didn't need to recast himself into something he was not in order to get with the capricious cosmic times. In a sense, Larry followed the brave tradition of American roots musicians who made the bold break to Europe where they were better appreciated in many cases-while blazing his own international and independent path. Larry was also before his time as country and pop did not coalesce together in the United States in the mainstream until the breakthrough of Glen Campbell.  Photographs from his time abroad reveal a look of quiet self-determination on his face as he pushed himself into new territories both musically and culturally. In the face of numerous challenges, he found opportunities to continue as a musician while also evolving as arranger, composer and producer.  The break away from the familiar allowed him to realize his hopes, dreams and aspirations as a crossover act on international and stylistics levels.


Out of this World
Finally, Larry is remembered  as a class act, a steadfast worker and most importantly as a good person by those who were fortunately able to interact with him during his too short time on earth.  Wherever his captivating record "Dear One" is played, Larry's musical spirit is readily recognized even if he himself is not. On one level, this seems appropriate as he seemed to be one to let the music speak for itself.  However, his wide-spanning, yet unsung life story is so remarkable that it simply compels long overdue acknowledgment and "Hats off to Larry." 

Acknowledgments & Sources: Sharon Finneran, Mike Fornatale, Jörgen Johansson, Dick Pitassy, Rich Wolfe, The Spectropop Discussion Forum Archives, Bomp List Refugees, Bear Family Records, 45cat.com, Discogs.com

Special mention and thanks to Cappy Gagnon and Kathleen Herzog as their enthusiasm, responsiveness and willingness to help provided the momentum to make this project possible.


Friday, January 25, 2019

Doorbells-s/t


While the cover makes this looks like a swirling album of Japanese psychedelia, this is actually a stripped down Merseybeat record proudly revealing its skiffle roots. This duo is from Okayama-located roughly halfway between Hiroshima and Osaka. Google Translate cites George Harrison, Gene Clark, Jonathan Richman, Love, Happy End, Belle & Sebastian, Hollies as their influences, but I’m hearing Billy Bragg, the Decibels, the Dentists, the Nerves, Television Personalities and Tony Molina topped off with charming vocals that evoke Davy Jones and Peter Noone shaping their sound.  Overall, their 8 original songs, capturing and delivering the spirit of 1962-1967, are as compact and efficient as a vintage Honda Civic. This debut offers finely crafted pop like “Gimme Looks” which strums along in a guitar-driven and stately manner that recalls the best of the 1978-1980 mod revival.  The spare elegance is quickly followed by the dashing Hi-Five-ish beat of “EZ Boy.” The only deviation and misstep is the song “Stay” as it wilts towards the besotted blooze rock stylings of early ‘70s John “Lost Weekend” Lennon. While “Stay” does feature competent blues licks and provides contrast, it’s a letdown compared to all humbucklin' punch found in the surrounding succinctness. The crisp production, distinctive presentation and gnarly guitar tone allow these Doorbells to truly stand apart as there is enough grit not to be trite and more catchy hooks packed into one song than many acts deliver in their entire careers. In brief, this combo achieves that tricky balance of sounding off the cuff while simultaneously maintaining their rarefied cool. 



Friday, December 28, 2018

Favorites Recordings from 2018


Cut Worms-Hollow Ground
Harsh Mistress-All Roads Lead To This
Outrageous Cherry-Meet You In The Shadows
Paul Collins-Out of My Head
Dear Nora-Skulls Example
The Number Ones-Another Side of The Numbers Ones (ep)
Mystic Braves-The Great Unknown
Peach Kelli Pop-Gentle Leader
La Luz-Floating Features
SOLEIL-My Name is SOLEIL (Japan)
SOLEIL-SOLEIL is Alright (Japan)
Jonathan Richman-SA


Reissues & Collections
Webster's New Word-Columbia & RCA Singles
The Striders-Columbia Singles
The Wildlife-Columbia Singles
Andre Tanker Five-Afro Blossom West (Trinidad)
Lee Hazlewood's Woodchucks-Cruisin' for Surf Bunnies
Don Cole-Something's Got A Hold On Me - The Don Cole Story


Music Books read and enjoyed

The Empty Bottle Chicago: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing-John E. Dugan
White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-by-Day-Richie Unterberger
Mexican Roots, American Soil: A Quest for the American Dream-Ernie Bringas (The Rip Chords)
Beastie Boys Book-Michael Diamond/Adam Horovitz
So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-by-Day, 1965-1973-Christopher Hjort
A Spy in the House of Loud: NY Songs and Stories-Chris Stamey (The Seeds are not from TX though)
Siren Song: My Life in Music-Seymour Stein