Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Isasa-Los días


Isasa plays and composes in the American Primitive tradition or what could be flipped as Primitivista España as the musician is based in Madrid. Besides the requisite acoustic guitar as the foundation, he also incorporates a Weissenborn lap slide guitar and banjo into the frameworks found on his second solo album released in late 2016. With the fretwork infrastructure in place, he shapes his sonic sandcastles in the air.  In these realms, he plays in the ethereal open spaces between the finger-picked notes and the rounded off slide notes, while allowing ample room for listeners’ imaginations.  The musician admits that he needs the tangible instrument in his hands when he is composing and is not one of those artists where melodies hit like a flash of lightning and later the instrument is utilized to decipher, translate and express the inspiration. With this background knowledge, he knows that deliberate practice (aka focused work) can make momentum and sometimes summon the muse that won’t instantly beckon him to compose off the top of his head. Being a creator of all-instrumental music, he’s already working in the realms of the implicit, with the music‘s inherent ability to express and evoke feelings that are beyond the capacity of words.  In translated interviews, he emphasizes the importance for others to bring in their own set of unique experiences in order to make their own interpretations of his music. These fluid sounds bring listeners to the point of reflecting on the subtle and mostly forgotten experiences which stack up to change us (hopefully for the better) as individuals. The lone banjo number, Gorrión (i.e., Sparrow), is actually the standout song on the album and could have fit in on the seminal The Banjo Story-Vol.I compilation from 1963.  Hopefully, he will continue these banjo explorations on future recordings.  Later, “Rondo de Segovia” unfolds to reveal Middle Eastern motifs & Indian ragas running alongside the Spanish accents and flair. The quixotic spirit is imbued in the notes, heard from the strings and felt in air on Las días.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Tak Shindo-Far East Goes Western

While his foray into African sounds and instruments on 1958’s Mganga! is justifiably his most recognized work as it bears all the elements of Grade A exotica including some remarkable  Afro-Cuban percussion, this one might be his most representative of his East-West experience as a Nisei. Takeshi "Tak"  Shindo was born in Sacramento in 1922 and had the severely conflicting experience of being interned at Manzanar for two years and then serving in the U.S. Army starting in 1944.  He exhibited the Japanese way of ganbaru with his determination to make it through those times of extreme adversity and hardship.  After the war, he was a renaissance man in that he led his own Latin-Jazz band, studied at USC under Miklós Rózsa, collected Japanese instruments and acted as an advisor and content provider for Hollywood when it came to Japanese music.  1962’s Far East Goes Western (produced by Quincy Jones) displays Shindo’s ability to take a concept beyond the novelty factor and lay down some enduring tracks. His main approach was to incorporate Japanese instruments to complement and convey the Western melodies.  In this case, Western is specifically the campfire and soundtrack songs of America’s Old West. This was actually not too much of a stretch for Shindo, as he composed music for famous television Westerns like Gunsmoke and Wagon Wheel throughout their '50s heyday.  In several of these textured songs, the shamisen outright replaces the banjo and gongs provides the punctuation points between measures.  In other moments, the koto accents such famous numbers as “The Ballad of High Noon” (aka “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin’”). "Deep in the Heart of Texas" even has a vibraphone run that would not sound out of place on an Emil Richards record.  By overlaying these Japanese elements and jazz embellishments over the recognizable Old West melodies, he created enchanting new sonic realms while adding commendable contributions to the overall exotica/ lounge/mood music movement of the mid-century. Fittingly, Shino would later go on to compose the music for the Japanese Pavilion at the EPCOT Center when it opened at the Disney World Resort in 1982.  During the exotica revival of the mid-nineties, the adventurous music of Tak Shino would finally receive its due recognition.  What is more remarkable is his own life as a Nisei, which required sacrifice for his own individual survival and the arduous task of working in the interstitial spaces in order to improve relations one song at a time.

The Flight 13: Make a Hit Record

Rising out from the unpredictable crosscurrents of the old pueblo of Tucson and bordertown of Nogales, the Flight 13 are ready to begin their ascent.  Like the now shuttered Western Plaza,  they play straight up rock 'n' roll which is actually an out of left field rarity in these seemingly protracted yet repetitive times.  Standing out from the glut of slapdash "We Don't Give a Hit" pretenders, this one lifts off with another top flight mid-fi production from Matt Rendon.  Leading off is the potential big hit, "Cast the Night Out" which is like the Resonars and the Chocolate Watchband making their mark at the love-in. "The World that Makes You Mad" features prominent flute flourishes along with a guitar riff that reminds me of getting a haircut and hearing "Lovefool" by the Cardigans overhead at Great Clips.  Things get back-to-basics with the stripped down rip cord rock 'n' roll of  "Catch a Move On" which recalls the Real Kids and "You Make it Move" by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (and later covered by the Insomniacs).  Adorned with organ and horns, "No Disappearing" addresses the "The Singer Not the Song" shadows once cast by Rolling Stones and Alex Chilton.  The wham-bam highlights continue with the pelting at the windows and spiraling forever changes of  "Rain and Love." A guitar tone reminiscent of Duran Duran can be heard in "Venomous Planet." "Ancient Dust" is all ratcheted up with Jaggerisms in the verses until it breaks wide open to a welcomed Chocolate Watchband overlook chorus. "Urchin Mind" percolates up with an electric piano between tremoloed Alice Cooper-ish vocals and considerable David Axelrod beats. The stomping Get Hip sound - that is the '80s garage revival recordings of the Cynics and the Town Cryers, along with their Nuggets & Pebbles bedrock predecessors can be heard in "What They Want." (The band's name is actually a direct reference to the song "Flight Thirteen" by the legendary Tucson '60s combo the Dearly Beloved.) Meanwhile, "The Easiest Thing" veers off in the direction of the desert mirage psych of the Mystic Braves. The Back in the USA  shuffling and quavering street rock of "Hassle" laments being forestalled at every turn and connects the dots between the MC5 and CCR.  Rock 'n' roll like this has been pretty pushed off the radar and regulated to corners of the internet here in Century 21, however this fringe contains the musical essence of the past and a departing point for take-off. For now, the Flight 13 are ready to breakthrough the everyday holding patterns and take listeners to exciting new destinations.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Palomar- II

Having their own sound could be considered an understatement when describing this indie-pop band consisting of three females on the front-line and a guy on drums that play with an incandescent energy that could light up every streetlamp in all five boroughs. These creative songs burst out of the starting gates with a brisk pop and then dash down the straightaways before turning some unexpected corners with lyrical dexterity and finesse to some never explored cool parts of town—illuminated by ambitious and actualized idealism. Hard to describe, but very easy to like this band that remembers the concept of playing and living up to potential!

Various-The Gene Pitney Story Retold

From the day I heard my dad’s 45 of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance/ “Take it Like a Man” on a Fisher-Price record player when I was in single digits, I immediately liked Gene Pitney.  The liner notes also revealed that instant attraction was also the reaction of several of the musicians gathered on this tribute. Maybe his ability to simultaneously whirlpool boldness with an authentic fragility is the reason his voice and enduring records can pull you in at any age.  To M’Lou Music has followed the lead and spirit of eggBERT Records and their solid “Melody Fair: Bee Gees Tribute” and “Sing Hollies in Reverse” releases and have rounded-up a collection of like-minded contemporary pop musicians who merge care for their craft with a deep respect for a vital and transitional musician. The dichotomies of Pitney’s lyrics and universal nature of his songs come through loud and clear on almost every one of these interpretations.  I totally overlooked the so-true line of “I Die a Little Bit to be in Love” until of heard Randell Kirsch & Billy Cowsill’s version of “It Hurts to be in Love.”  Also behind the cool front cover, standouts are rendered by the Now People, the Retros, the See Saw, It’s My Party and Lynchpin who sound like Barry McGuire-lite plugged into the better moments of Warner-era R.E.M. (The only glaring omission from the line-up is not including Outrageous Cherry’s remarkable cover of “Lips are Redder on You.”)  This tribute is a triumphant testament of the musicians’ ability to funnel Pitney’s contradictory sentiments embedded in his verse, chorus, lines, words and range into their own sounds and appeal like Gene Pitney himself-to so many ages and on so many levels.

The Beards-Funtown

OK, add the Muffs to cub and Blondie, divide by the Beat and then compound to the power of Buck. Ah forget the formulas because it’s summer and it all arrives out of speakers fitting together like sparkling grocery carts or something.  “Make it in America” should be considered the anthem of this summer if there were a “Funtown” where officially-licensed Beards beach towels and colored-billed visors are sold next to the Panama Jack stuff and a radio station that plays “I Wanna Call in Sick Today” by the Excessories.  I would love to hear “Make it in America” really making it and blasting out of ’76-motif GE transistor radios, shower radios and bikes radio all over this land. “Sidewalks” takes a break from the sun and is cool daydream believer pop for air-conditioned weekend afternoons.  Oh yeah…if you buy the real thing you will be greeted and treated by 11 videos.  Unlike most side projects, the band went all out for this release and the download excuse simply does not hold sway anymore.  I think my favorite video is for their cover of Frank Black’s “Thalassocracy.”   It’s all moving footage of the congested freeways of auto-centric Los Angeles.  Makes me feel like I’m there stuck in traffic and I only want to hear classical on KUSC-FM for some reason.  Well, I don’t live in Los Angeles (any longer), so the already classic “Funtown” has been parked and playing in the car and home stereo all Arizona summer long. 


Freddy & the Four-Gone Conclusions Wigged Out Sounds

Action-packed with fuzz, folk-rock, beat and R&B, “The Wigged Out Sounds” present Freddy and Co. back on the forefront of the middle-sixties garage scene they helped re-open and restore so many years ago.  Freddy’s bands and songs have always stood out from the pack because of their ability to demonstrate a Riot on Sunset Strip sense of urgency underneath Gold Star Studios harmonies and melodies.   The band’s essential element is Freddy’s versatile and veritable voice--that can scorch and sneer like a post-baseball/pre-metal Jim Sohns and then curve into the sweetest ‘60s pop. A live favorite from the ol’ Gold Dollar in Detroit to the Gold Coast in Las Vegas, the single "Today" opens up the album with its striking folk-rock jangle and valiant harmonies that rivals anything on Renaissance by the Association. (The only thing missing is a shrink-wrap sticker demanding that Ben Franklin and Woolco record shoppers, “Tune-In TODAY to the Wigged Out Sounds!”) The piercing, snarling and Tax-ing "Fell from Grace" hooks and lifts the band over the their competitors and the corrosive Detroit river a la the front cover of the first Outsiders album.  "I Can't See You" surges like a live-wire charged with uncoiling freakbeat as seen through the unraveled vision of Arthur Lee.  Halting and haunting are the first two words that tumble down on the keyboard to describe their centerpiece cover of Del Shannon’s "Stand Up." Max Crook and his Musitron organ even appears on this stunning rendering that puts an instant smile on the face and leaves its indelible melody in the head for days.   Like a mid-sixties top 40 boss radio station, the hits keep a coming (each with their own singular and distinct nature) like the forlorn folk-beat of “Cry in Shame” and the fierce fuzz storm of “(Come on Over) To My Side.”  An Ian & the Zodiacs song “Why Can’t It be Me?” is given an American garage overhaul to pleadingly express the stinging sentiment which waylays in the hallways, sidewalks and teardrop driveways of life. With their instantly captivating and built to endure “Wigged Out Sounds,” Freddy & the Four-Gone Conclusions have fulfilled the tall orders and high expectations of listeners around the world.  Moreover, they have continued the big legacy already set by “Little Girl,” “Little Black Egg,” and “Little Annie Lou” with their own “Little Bit O’ Soul.”

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Jon Rauhouse-Jon Rauhouse’s Steel Guitar Air Show

Don’t you just love it when none of the local record stores carry the works of a hometown musician and you have to send away for and/or cross the state lines to get the goods?  This Tempe-born (who remembers watching Reggie Jackson play baseball at Arizona State University) and current Phoenix homesteader/musician plays a pedal-steel guitar in a signature style as timeless as Route 66 and as cool as a dewdrop inn.  Best known for backing city & western musicians like Neko Case, Sally Timms and the Calexico stable, the tables are tuned on this record with the pedal-steel coming to forefront while special guests amble in and out through the swinging saloon doors. Inside the album, it’s the cover songs where Rauhouse and his pedal-steel guitar really glow.  He puts a cool new shade on  “The Lonely Bull” “Perfidia” (with a brief, but welcomed  “Pet Sounds” quote) and “Summer Samba” while reminding listeners how enduring and wonderful those aforementioned songs really are. JR reaches this comfortable fruition by knowing when to illuminate his renditions with single spare candle or when to adorn with the multi-colored glowing patio lights.  His originals have a homespun quality that would be great to hear beyond indieworld and between segments on Nation Public Radio or even on the front porch of an Indiana Crackle Barrel.  Don’t be expecting the grand  sweep of the Friends of Dean Martinez, just be ready for some twangy pedal-steel guitar that sometimes swings like that pirate ship at the fair and other times stretches out like the vast desert itself.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys “Listen” and “New Directions”

While these two albums will probably not be featured in Mojo anytime soon, they are very good unsung sixties soft-pop albums with that unmistakable and straightforward Gary Lewis voice (that you either enjoy or makes you cringe) encased in some vibrant and lush embellishments--resulting in the most listenable long players of his career. The visionary arrangement of Jack Nitzsche takes these songs into depths and realms beyond the standard pop buoys to make “Listen” Gary’s "Save for a Rainy Day."  Case in point, “Listen,” arguably offers his most ambitious song “Jill,” which still floats up like a yellow balloon with its climbing vocals--long after his records have been dumped overboard by the ex-teeny boppers under the misguided concept of relevancy and rolled off the gang plank by most critics. “New Directions” includes songs from Tim Hardin and Bonner/Gordon (songwriters for the Turtles, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mojo Men and Gandalf), which contribute to widening Gary’s breadth and scope. Never really promoted because of thee son’s tour of duty in Vietnam, New Directions is teeming with should have been hits like the bass-anchored “New in Town” and “Let’s Be More Than Friends” which sunbursts so optimistically during such a dark and tumultuous time in his life and this country.   

The Autumn Leaves-The Twilight Hours of the Autumn Leaves

Almost five years after their sparkling debut “Treats and Treasures,” it was great to hear (through the Radio Rumpus Room archives) that the Minneapolis band had not fallen to the forest floor. During those five (deceivingly dormant) years the band has branched off into new and natural sonic directions--while still thankfully rooted in the ‘60s sounds and aesthetics. This album opens up with the ominous and departing “Night of the UFO” which evokes the feeling of being in an iced-over airplane cutting through the blackness over the tundra and frozen lakes of Minnesota.  By the second song, the flickering cabin lights and flangers are squelched and direction is found landing the plane in the ba, la, la sunny West Coast dawn.  Jeaneen Gauthier’s yin backing harmonies arrive and swirl with the yang lead vocals of David Beckey—instantly making this one warm and inviting record.

Gauthier’s bobbing harmonies echo somewhere between the daybreak rays of Wendy & Bonnie and the dusky ones of  Stereolab.  “Maria’s Hat” is told with Davies detachment strung and stung at moments by Electric Prunes guitars and effects.  An autoharp opens up the gate to “Morning” with Beckey playing Lee Hazlewood while guest vocalist Lori Wray wears the boots of Nancy Sinatra and comes off sounding like Sandy Denny. Before the autoharp closes off the song, a slanting bridge connects the number to an exquisite baroque guitar solo.  A Hammond organ makes “Seaside Symphony” bounce and bump like the silver ball off the rubber bumpers of a pinball machine while the abundant harmonies suspend the song like an air hockey puck. Next, a cascading and circular guitar riff introduces “The Light Brigade of Fireflies” like it’s from the same distant shores as the Del-Fi rarity “Things Will Work Out Fine” by Beauregard Ajax.

Lastly, the elusive perfect day (that Lou Reed has even experienced) begins to fade into evening as “Stars in the Snow” begin to appear. Musically, “Stars in the Snow” holds onto some Notorious Byrd Brothers railings before reaching a starburst overlook of harmonies and the conclusion that life can be grand sometimes.  What can be played in the background as a short album echoing moments of the Paisley underground, the Church, R.E.M., Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, Brasil ’66, Stereolab, the Feelies, Yo La Tengo, High Llamas and Beachwood Sparks takes on a different glow when played front and center.  In the clearing, this is one sophisticated song-cycle naturally extending to where they have not gone before—all while still proudly displaying its sixties-tinged vibrant hues!


The Resonars-Lunar Kit

After four years, the Resonars have emerged from their Coma Cave Studios, burrowed somewhere in the cacti-strewn mountains surrounding Tucson, with an album that shines like a molten gold star on the Arizona state flag.  Like on their previous album “Bright and Dark,” “Lunar Kit” starts down the previous trails blazed by the Hollies, the Byrds and Love before veering off into a foothill neighborhood somewhere between the charming pop neighbors of the Blow Pops, Rock Four and Zumpano and out-of-their-heads hoods like the Loons, the Lears and Outrageous Cherry.  “Why Does it Have to be so Hard” proclaims some Electric Prunes albums have been playing up in the their mountain hideaway.  “She’s in Love with Her,” and “Flood Lamp Eyes,” could be beaming from radio ridge atop Mt. Lemmon—if the radio conglomerates ever looked back to history or beyond their shortsighted restrained formats and playlists (or if Little Steven replaces his batteries in his garage door opener).  The band really takes flight when they fasten their jet stream harmonies to the coiling and circling jangling guitars a la the Byrds on “Lunar Kit” and “Way Way Way Way Out.” The only wrong turn the band takes is “Little Spoiled Baby” which sounds like the band accidentally wandered into an overtly bad college bar and had to play some late-night wank blues before being allowed back out with their lives and instruments intact.   Before taking a cosmic rough ride back to the mountains, the Resonars address such earthly concerns as making it through the day and uncertain relationships with some sage-like lyrics submerged in a warm tube glow production.  The Resonars on “Lunar Kit” have once again bridged the summits of the mid-sixties sounds to an elevated place in the now.  Moreover, this still climbing band has opened up additional backcountry routes and magic hallows for listeners to discover and explore on & off their musical maps.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Maria Andersson-Succession

Whatever became of the Swedish musical invasion which was constructed and purported to be the next big thing around 2002?  Part of the answer can be found in hearing this release from Maria Andersson.  She was previously the lead singer of Sahara Hotnights, a Swedish female foursome who were on the verge of a mainstream American breakthrough a decade or so ago. This mature and elegiac solo effort is something entirely different from Sahara Hotnights’ Joan Jett takeoffs and emulations of the Eyeliners.  It’s imbued with that Scandinavian sleekness, spareness and streamlined elegance that is both familiar and foreign.  The rousing and sweeping opener “Lift Me Up” would not sound out of place on the “The Official Music of the 1984 Olympics” record and would have aged better than the actual Loverboy inclusion.  The standout “Birches” expresses the “Life in a Northern Town” desire to return to a time when things were seemingly less impeded, but also acknowledges a pragmatic take-it-as-it-comes acceptance of the forces pushing in particular directions. This bend-with-the-wind theme would not be out of place on a Jens Lekman recording. Echoing the airy, but grounded dance & retail floor vibes cast by New Order, “End of Conversation” was selected as the lead-off single of this album. The closing two songs, “Wild Thing” and "The Girl who Loved Islands" are somewhat hushed under blankets of sound and layers of snow swept up by those relentless Nordic winters winds. Andersson’s voice frequently expresses the persevering determination to slice through life's noise and nonsense and get to the elusive essence-which frequently, surprisingly and paradoxically shows up in the noise and nonsense. Succession presents eight variations on the theme of the attuned adjustments that are necessary for heightened awareness of the ongoing moment, branching out and growing towards the light.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Brazilian Octopus

For some reason, Brazilian music awash in bossa nova seems to really beckon when the daytime temperatures start to climb into triple digits.  The summer winds have blown this reissue north of equator and offers an overall fresh, playful and effervescent listening experience.  Upon initial listens, I was most struck by flights of flute which are evocative of the music that would accompany film strips in ‘70s classrooms or Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to Room 222 (an ABC-TV series that ran from 1969-1974). Subsequent listens revealed the details like a "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” (from Cinderella) organ quote in “Canção Latina” and a switched-on moog in “As Borboletas.” The backstory on this ensemble is that a well-heeled São Paulo businessman gave the musicians the impetus to band together in order to play sophisticated affairs and soirées for his fashion company. The same businessman also commissioned this 1969 album for the large outfit.  Their multiple instruments converge together to make for a well balanced and proportional amalgamation of sound somewhere between Sérgio Mendes & Brasil '66 and Quarteto Novo.  “Momento B-8” is a go-go number that could be retroactively said to be the entire circuit board that the mid-nineties Shibuya-kei acts (Pizzicato 5 and Cornelius) fused their sound upon. The breezy and lush “Summerhill” features that aforementioned fluttery flute which evokes soft-focused memories of Roselyn Bakery commercials from childhood. This zingy album exerts a playful push and a lighter gravitational pull, but is not lightweight due to strong compositions and inventive arrangements.  It's melodically propelled by the trinity of organ/guitar/vibes and rounded off by a teeming number of other instruments. This is definitely a rewarding and refreshing half-hour for those who like bossa nova bubbling in their jazz or for those who enjoy their jazz percolating in their bossa nova with no Portuguese required.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Dull Brights: Chandler's Walker Brothers

Garage Band, AZ, U.S.A.
While they shared many of the same experiences, common denominators and influences of countless garage bands across the United States, there is a major departure here from the standard narrative. As with so many other mid-sixties combos of the time, an affinity for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones was the main catalyst in spurring them to pick up instruments and making a go at it. They also had the proverbial close encounter where they were one break away from having their name distorted and submerged somewhere on a psychedelic San Francisco ballroom poster. While it was certainly a distinguishing characteristic to have three related brothers in a band, it was still not anomalous as the Beach Boys, the Bobby Fuller Four, CCR, the Everly Brothers, the Chambers Brothers and the Isley Brothers spring immediately to mind as examples of national acts of the era featuring true brothers.
Between Ranges, Stages & Sidelines
This is where their story veers from the usual garage band experience as these brothers adeptly straddled and balanced different worlds in a time of turmoil and transition on local, national and global levels. They were from Sacaton, the capital of the Gila River Indian Community and birthplace of Ira Hayes which runs along the south border of the Sun Lakes/Chandler city limits. At that time, Chandler was a Future Farmers of America town patched together between cotton fields and cattle barns. The band was comprised of Ronald Walker on bass (Fender Precision/class of '70), Rudy Walker on rhythm guitar (Fender Stratocaster/class of '69) and oldest brother Fernando Walker on drums (class of '68).  Armando Cordova rounded out the configuration with his lead guitar and vocals. In addition to their involvement in music, the Walker brothers were all standout athletes for Chandler High.  While it wasn’t uncommon for the young in the mid-sixties to overlap both music and sports, the brothers played football and baseball at such high levels that the school records they set stood until this century.  In fact, Fernando was the starting quarterback for the Chandler High Wolves and went on to play in the 1968 Arizona State High School North-South All-Star game that took place up in Flagstaff. His brothers Ronald (wide receiver/later quarterback himself) and Rudy (split end) were the recipient of many of Fernando's passes “I had it easy, all I had to do is drop back and fling the ball, while my brothers had to run around and catch it.” recalls Fernando. “Music and sports kept us out of trouble. We would play a football game and then have to be back to play the dance in the gym following the game.” Any attempt to achieve greatness involves sacrifice and this was the certainly involved in the Walker family “Our dad worked 10-12 hour days/ 7 days a week and we had to wait hours after practice ended for him to pick us up in his truck from the Emmick's Drive Inn across from Chandler High,” adds Fernando.
Fernando Walker wearing the Chandler Wolves helmet
Desert Proving Grounds & Doors of Perception
From the start, the brothers were supported by their family. “Our parents always found time for us and actually managed the band.” says Fernando. In the charged atmosphere of Beatlemania and the Sunset Strip bands just starting to cross state lines, the brothers became inspired to teach themselves to play their instruments. "One time we were in a club in the Scottsdale area, and we look up to hear a man announcing that the Doors would be taking the stage. We thought, 'What kind of name is that?', recounts Rudy. "They proceeded to play "Light My Fire" just before going back to California to record it."  The brothers' intrepid efforts were bolstered by the addition of  Armando Cordova who had the ear to dissect the sounds which surrounded them. They were first known as the We Four, before settling on the apt band name of the Dull Brights for this area where the abundance of the sunlight frequently diminishes contrast and dimensions in a summer that stretches into November. For years, it seems like Chandler's music has been perennially overshadowed by the the sounds and stories of the Scottsdale, Tempe and Phoenix groups--when the legacy and lore of the local big beat sound is documented and discussed. Nevertheless, it was in Tempe, that the Dull Brights had their moment in the sun. "We had a gig at an Arizona State University fraternity house and had to go upstairs in their motel-like building," recalls Fernando. "There was already a band set up with extensive equipment, but they were simply playing from music stands while the crowd just stood around listlessly and listened. We set up our minimalist gear in a corner and had everyone dancing within seconds." Their R&B/soul orientation aided the cause while their boundless energy, led the charge. Correspondingly, their set list included numbers from Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb."
Fernando Walker (Class of '68), Rudy Walker (Class of '69), Ron Walker (Class of '70)
1967 Battle of the Bands-Arizona State Finals 
In June of 1967, with instruments furnished from Chandler Music Center, they were runner-ups in the state-wide Battle of the Bands which transpired at Chandler High School. The local winning band from Mesa supposedly went on to compete at the National Finals of the Jaycees Battle Of The Bands competition held in Braintree, Mass. in August 1967. A 2 LP set of live recordings was issued at the time to commemorate the national event and now commands high prices in collectors circles. Besides playing dances, parties and other gatherings, they had to be versatile enough to pull off the country numbers in order to play the numerous country bars which once dotted the local area. They also played a Mexican set (that was popular on the reservation) with Armando handling the Spanish lyrics. As 1967 transformed into 1968, the band incorporated the heavier rock sounds that were starting to become predominant. Fernando, who would usually harmonize with Armando, belted out the lead vocals on their version of the Doors' "Love Me Two Times." To reflect the rapidly shifting cultural landscape, the band's name changed to Inner Blues Feeling. Also around this stretch, they opened for the Spiders/Nazz up in Phoenix who would go on to shock the world as Alice Cooper. In 1968, they were hired to play a dance at a high school in Carson City, NV. They got up there a few days early and they were able to secure a gig at the Golden Nugget Casino. "There was a scout for the Fillmore West and he made an offer to our father, explains Fernando, "but it was not in cards as we had to get back to school and our lives in Chandler."

Fillmore Southwest
From the sun-cracked parking lots of Chandler to almost ascending the stage at the Fillmore West, the Dull Brights had the quintessential mid-sixties band trajectory and so much more. During this era of upheaval, they had a role in connecting the city and reservation through the common ground of their athletic and musical efforts.  On the reservation, brothers Marlin and Randy Johnson used to be around during their band practices. They went on to form their own band which is now the Gila River Coyotes. "We actually lived in a mudhouse back then,” recalls Fernando. “Kids from the city actually preferred to hang out on the reservation.”   Later on, the Walker family would have a street named after them, near where the mudhouse once stood. Today, the cycles continue, as Fernando looks after his parents, participates in master Native rodeos across the Southwest and is involved with the Chandler Special Olympics. Despite their illuminating musical trailblazing in Chandler and beyond, "The biggest honor of all is still being recognized by our tribal elders," summarizes Fernando.

Acknowledgements: Fernando Walker for his recollections, Rudy Walker for calling in when visiting from Oklahoma, Nate Meyers, Curator of Collections for the Chandler Museum, for the yearbook scans, Dan Nowicki for background on the 1967 Doors in Arizona, Billy Allen for sharing his Gila River Indian Community history and knowledge.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Traces of Tinsel Mecca: The Thomas, Garvin & Thomas Story


My Two/Three Sons
When I found out about a 1968 record from a band named Tinsel Mecca with a W. Tulsa St. Chandler address listed on its Toad Records label, I initially thought it was a social end product of a hippie house, not a 45 from the humble ranch of a former ex-major of Chandler (1976-1979).  Like the band’s evocative name, this elusive record and group took on a tinge of mystique and mystery when absolutely no information surfaced on the internet.  After reading through Jean Reynolds’ Chandler Mayor Stories interview with Ken Thomas, I surmised that possibly a few of his sons would have been teenagers in the ‘60s and possibly into music based on the family history that stated Ken Thomas’ mother was a contralto.  The same Jean Reynolds acted as a bridge to connect me with the two musical brothers behind the shrouded sounds.


On the Arizona Air
Keith mentioned with pride that the record was placed into rotation on Phoenix/Glendale's KRUX-AM by "Good Guy" DJ Al McCoy who went on to become the voice of the Phoenix Suns of the NBA.  “One time another student and I were returning back to Chandler from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and we heard KRUX play the Tinsel Mecca record on the car radio,” recalled Keith.  Keith (Chandler High class of ’65) said he was busy with school up in Flagstaff during this time and the record was actually recorded at the famous Audio Recorders in Phoenix on one of the university intersessions.  He deferred to his younger brother Rick (Chandler High class of ’68) for more information on what was going on musically in Chandler at the time.  At first, Rick seemed embarrassed about the band’s name as it could be construed to be taken as insensitive to the current political climate in the world. “I still don’t recall how we came up with the name of the group as we were headed into the studio and quickly needed a name,” said Rick. “The song, “Life’s in Vain,” in particular reflects when one is 19-20 years old, with limited life perspective resulting from living only for one’s self and without notions of the grander picture.”
There’s a Place
Still there was a war raging on and growing disillusionment with the direction of the country was going. It was also an accelerated decade where each year contained a decade worth of changes starting around 1963.  Like countless others, Rick quickly became enamored with the Beatles. “It all pretty much started with the Beatles.  Sure there was Elvis, but the Beatles were the real deal because of their writing legacy and they influenced the world and still do,” reflected Rick.  “They directly inspired me because my background is of a writer when it comes to music.”  With all the seismic shifts, it was truly a charged time because no one knew how it was going to turn out.

The Toads Emerge from the Mire
Fittingly, for an incipient band known as the Toads they forged their sound in one of the area’s rare murky basements (an anomaly due to the local rock-hard soil) and on the outskirts of town. “The Toads practiced in a basement in Higley at one of the band member’s house at the time. His name was Danny Slocum. We'd also practice at Bobby Ryan's family ranch by Ryan Rd. & Arizona Ave.”  While they are still spoken with a sense of reverence by locals, Rick adamantly downplays any notions of being local legends. “The Toads never made a record or played anywhere but the Williams Air Force Base and the old gym at the high school,” laughed Rick. In fact, it was in the Chandler High old gym, that the Toads participated in the 1967 Arizona State Battle of the Bands, in which the Dull Brights (comprised of the three Walker Brothers and Armando Cordova) placed second in the state. “Growing up, we played ball with the Walker Brothers,” remembered Rick.  “They were from the Gila River Indian Community.”

Towards Tensel Mecca 
Rick was effusive when speaking of his brother Keith’s musical contributions. “We could pull off a cover of the Associations’ “Six Man Band” because we could do the harmonies and my brother Keith’s extensive singing experience and operatic training,” explained Rick. “He started taking voice lesson from an ASU professor when he was in junior high. He was in All-State choir throughout his years at Chandler High. He went on to major in music at NAU and sang one of the leads in a campus production of Madame Butterfly.”  However, when asked about his own musical background, Rick was succinct on his formative years: “I actually took lessons from Randy Garvin (Chandler High class of ’66) who was one of the best guitar players in town during the ‘60s, but other than that I was pretty much self-taught.”
Keith Thomas, Randy Garvin & Rick Thomas
From Audio Recorders to the Capitol Tower
Tinsel Mecca’s “Life’s in Vain b/w “Things That Do Exist” was recorded at the legendary Audio Recorders in Phoenix and released in late 1968 on Toad Records (#777), but supposedly did not include any Toads beyond the two Thomas brothers. As the ‘70s approached, the band was comprised of Rick Thomas, the aforementioned Randy Garvin and Keith Thomas and operated under the CSN&Y-like moniker of Thomas, Garvin & Thomas.  Rick was able to clear up some of confusion regarding band names and recording line-ups.  “The recordings we did were always with Thomas, Garvin, & Thomas, even when we used the names like Fencepost or  Tinsel Mecca on the Toad Record Label, clarified Rick. “Our first record together as Thomas, Garvin & Thomas was “Someday” (later “Love's Day”) in 1969. Sadly, the engineer didn't have the right levels and messed up the sound,” added Rick. “Audio Recorders was a nice facility, but we got a sound engineer who didn't know what he was doing.”


“When I told him the recording sounded distorted he said it was because of our bad amps. We were just kids, what did we know? When I went to California to try and push the record, someone at Capitol Records told me that the sound levels were all wrong and had nothing to do with us.”

Brother Records
The group later re-recorded on “Love’s Day” as the B-side of “I’m With You Jesus” on their own Brother Records imprint and featuring a W. Butler St, Chandler address. This time they were happy with the results. “I'm With You Jesus/Love's Day" had the backing of the ASU Jazz Band and ironically was recorded at a studio in Tucson, which would be hard to duplicate even today,” said Rick.  With Keith’s lead vocals “Love’s Day” naturally unfolds with its pull of undercurrent verses giving way to the sweep of the chorus waves.  The depth, layers and accomplished musicianship can be best heard on the 45 pressing.  This gem is reminiscent of the later New Colony Six and “Here, There and Everywhere” if composed and sung by George Harrison.


Musical Crossroads
In 1978, Thomas, Garvin & Thomas were based out of Seattle and the group committed to a gospel music direction which they continue to this day. “I went on to graduate from Arizona State University and then studied at a small bible college in Seattle where TG &T played in church, and then got my masters at NAU. Garvin also graduated from ASU as an art major. Some of the good musicians that I remember around Chandler were John Clapper, Tommy West, Steve Brown and the Cortwright Brothers who worked with us on the session of “I'm With You Jesus”/”Love’s Day.”  For the past 25 years, Rick has been instrumental in the lives of students in the Phoenix school districts as a music teacher. 
Randy Garvin, Rick Thomas & Keith Thomas
Photo taken by Ken Thomas at the San Marcos Hotel in Chandler, AZ
Shifting Sands of Time
This Chandler music history seems so elusive and vanishing as we sweep by the half-century mark. While the pieces are now closer together and patterns have emerged, sometimes the sought answers are not answers.  After all, it’s about appreciation in hearing the previously unheard sounds, encountering differing perspectives and keeping a sense of enigmatic mystery intact.

Acknowledgements: Jean Reynolds for aligning the stars, John P. Dixon who initially made me aware of the Tinsel Mecca record and provided the label information,  Keith Thomas for his recollections and connecting me to brother Rick.  Rick Thomas for sharing his memories and music, Lita Jo Thomas for all the photos and hand delivering a “I’m With You Jesus”/“Love’s Day” single.  Nate Meyers, Curator of Collections for the Chandler Museum, for the yearbook scans.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Louie Louie-Friend of a Stranger

Friend of a Stranger is like descending into a sacred miracle cave, however this is not a tourist trap or a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. allusion.  This is a sonic exploration to where it’s always 66 degrees with these cave dwellers of subterranean Philadelphia. After the gathering call of "Come Over," the directness of the Troggs and the Seeds branches off through passages illuminated by girl group gems to the foggy notions of  the Velvet Underground. Within the song “I Want to Dance with You” sense of time recedes as its soaring harmonies climb to forefront and fill the majestic cavern while a swelling organ cast flickering shadows upon the wall. These troglodytes lead you down some unexpected turns and tunnels where roped-off grottoes to the Feminine Complex, the Luv’d Ones and Slumber Party glow out of the darkness.  Their dashing cover of “You Still Want Me,” is one of the best covers of a Kinks song since the Pretenders presented “Stop Your Sobbing” as their first single.  Emily Robb’s voice actually takes on a Belinda Carlisle inflection that works within the context. "Do It (In Your Mind) " and "Miles Around" finds them marching in cadence down the angular steps of some herky-jerky new wave.   They quickly find their footing upon the Danceteria vibe of the early-Talking Heads, the B52-s, Double Fantasy-era Yoko Ono and even Julian Cope.  The watery and floating Asiatic organ of "Will to Find" taps into their underlying hypnotic pull, while transporting visitors to fuzzy new realms.  Hidden gold is found with "What a Man Can Do" which evokes the Bangles before they applied the super high gloss production.  The :35 minute tour fittingly winds up with “Keep on Dancing” which is not the Gentrys song, but an unearthed Ronettes number which manifests their ability to integrate their voices into an unified whole. Explorers of timeless sounds will resurface in exaltation and head out knowing that groundbreaking sounds are still echoing strong.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Pen Friend Club-Wonderful World of

"We find only the world we look for."-Henry David Thoreau

Due to the elaborate complexity and the competency required to produce the multiple layers of melodic sounds, it’s understandable that there are only a handful of bands around the world that attempt to carry the torch of the Wrecking Crew into century 21.  Since their 2014 debut album, Japan’s Pen Friend Club have been the worthy heirs of the studio group behind some of the biggest and lasting hits of the sixties (e.g. “California Dreamin',” “Good Vibrations,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Up, Up and Away”).  For a contemporary group, they have been quite prolific as this is their 4th album in as many years.  While the band's lineup has fluctuated at times, the group’s main catalyst, Yuichi Hirakawa, has been the stabilizing element in emanating his particular sunburst pop visions.  His distinctive “yellow & orange” approach consists of “building castles in the air,” over a detailed foundation of Japanese-accented girl group vocals, vibraphone embellishments, and stacked harmonies.  While covers of the most enduring, yet not overdone songs associated with Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, Jimmy Webb are the towering spires, by writing, arranging and producing his own incandescent originals, which stand on their own, he makes sure the outfit is far removed from any reenactment acts.
With each successive album, the number of originals have gradually become balanced against the amount of covers.  This year’s release evenly splits the difference with five well-chosen covers and five uplifting originals.  It’s interesting that a few of the originals are now being sung in their native Japanese, which is a good thing.  As the group has gained more experience and momentum, they have obtained the smoothness and slight swank necessary to be in contention for a possible J-pop hit and/or television & movie placement in their native market.  (It appears from Google translate that Hirakawa did indeed write a song for RYUTist, an idol pop group.)  The standout cover this time around is the 5th Dimension’s wonderfully byzantine “Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes” which the now defunct KOY-AM would play from time to time.  While this has introspective mellow metaphysical 1971 written all over it, other sweeping and ebullient songs recall the sunlit days when Hallmark stores played Bread & the Carpenters softly in the background, American Spring records were in the racks and floral prints were all the rage. These jet stream California sunshine sounds soar out of this current harsh world--to a better place suspended between Japan, the United States, winter, summer, the ‘60s, and now.

"...and the emergence of spring is merely the outward manifestation of a process which has never seen any lapses in its motion." - Ben Edmonds

Friday, January 20, 2017

Khyber Mail by Sohail Rana

Get on board to discover some adventurous, vibrant, and bending music from Pakistan. At first, this reminded me of the watery organ music that I used to hear playing at the Hawaii Supermarket in San Gabriel, CA circa 2005-07. Subsequent listens of this 1970 album, revealed an unpredictable, yet accessible instrumental set that was written to capture and express both the overlooked details and the expansive vistas of  a train ride departing coastal Karachi and traveling 32 hours inland to Peshawar. With his breadth, depth and panoramic wide-scope, composer Rana could be conveniently compared to the grand Italian Ennio Morricone.  However common their final destination of producing state of the art soundtracks, they take their own singular initial approaches towards conducting sounds. While Morricone rides (South)West and constructs the colossal, Rana veers Eastward--slanting towards a deconstructive “Cubist” angle.  On Kyhber Mail, he first fractures the canvas of sound.  He then proceeds to recombines his main musical elements (organ, swirling sitar, vibes) and seemingly disparate shards (click-clack percussion, guitar twang, Doppler effects) into a cohesive whole. It all converges into a layered, propulsive and ultimately sweeping sound collage.  To place into a Western pop framework, it’s sort of a song cycle on the playful periphery of the pocket symphonies of Brian Wilson’s “Smile,” the exploitative and enduring sounds of the Nirvana Sitar and String Group, the lush villages of Martin Denny and Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade’s theme “Baroque Hoedown.” With these tracks, it’s possible to explore unexpected sonic realms while rearranging your train of thought somewhere between the East and the West.