Friday, June 26, 2020

The Exciters-Caviar and Chitlins


While the records of the Exciters continue to reign supreme in England’s Northern Soul scene, the Jamaica Queens-based quartet is reduced in their native country to one-hit wonder status and soundtrack appearances.  Pop music doesn’t get much more catchy and dynamic than their 1963 #4 smash hit “Tell Him” featuring the commanding and consummate voice of Brenda Reid. Her voice seemingly leaps off the 45 issued by United Artists.  The dashing song, written by Bert Berns, is one of the highest peaks of the Girl Group era and borders on punk rock with its propulsive drive.  Follow-ups like “He’s Got the Power” bubbled under the Top 40, but lack of chart action is by no way indicative of the quality of their enduring songs. They went on to open for the Beatles in 1964 and recorded for Roulette, Bang and Shout Records before landing on RCA Records and working with producer Larry Banks in 1969. With soul going into every direction at that time, I was curious about the approach and orientation of this record found behind an appealing front cover. “Turn Me On” and “I Don't Have To Worry (No More)” are immediately evocative of mid-sixties soul pop in their arrangements and provide a sense of continuity with their older material. Surprisingly, a few of their songs actually seem a few months to a few years ahead of their time as they are on the cusp of what would be big once the ‘60s flipped over to the ‘70s. For instance, “Fight that Feelin’” seems to prefigure 1972’s chartbuster and current TV commercial warhorse “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, while the fuzz-driven “You Don't Know What You're Missing ('Til It's Gone)” has a stutter and swing similar to what would later appear in “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight. “Always” frequently gets maligned as being too Middle of the Road and supper club schmaltzy, but its straightforward melodic beauty works for me and would sound just right flowing effortlessly along with “Precious and Few” by Climax and Heatwave’s “Always and Forever.” The highlight of the album is the kinetic “Movin’ Too Slow” as it works both as a dance floor filler and as an early anthem of women's empowerment. Granted, there are some lackluster songs (e.g., the two numbers where Herb Rooney takes lead vocals) which results in the album being uneven. However, there is enough surging energy delivered with a sense of finesse to make Caviar and Chitlins well worth exploring.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Phil and the Frantics-Frantically Yours




Prelude

The Nuggets compilations have featured a preponderance of bands from California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Michigan and Washington and rightly so as it comes down to largely a numbers game based on population and socio-economics in the mid-sixties. Breaking Nuggets down by state also reminds me that there has never been an appearance of an Arizona group on one of the many iterations of this series. However, the case could’ve been made for the inclusion of the Grodes or the Dearly Beloved from Tucson or Phoenix’s Phil & the Frantics. In the '80s, Greg Shaw astutely amassed these mid-sixties recordings and brought this previously deeply buried Arizona music history to the surface from the Bomp!/Voxx Records offices in Burbank, CA. Shaw proceeded to introduce these regional Arizona rock 'n' roll acts to a worldwide audience by including a few tracks on his Pebbles compilation series and even giving the Grodes, the Dearly Beloved and Phil & Frantics the full album anthology treatment in the mid-'80s as part of his Rough Diamonds:The History Of Garage Band Music series.

The Sound
They could be as rousing, feral and stomping as any Pacific Northwest armory band and also etch somber, reflective, but still resolute ballads that were usually the domain of earnest beat combos who operated under the dismal and overcast skies of New England. While the mid-sixties were a time of vast musical possibilities, it is still confounding that the Zombies would cast the largest shadow on a band from Valley of the Sun. The remastering of Frantically Yours presents a bold and upfront sound with the pronounced Vox Continental keyboards rightfully placed on the forefront. The keys played by Rick Rose in the original line-up of the Frantics and Ted Harpchek in the second version of the band provide the overall characteristic of their sound while casting a moody, flickering and otherworldly atmosphere. Phil Kelsey’s idiosyncratic voice is also a major distinguishing factor. While I have a hard time placing it somewhere on the nasally continuum between Gerry Marsden of Gerry and Pacemakers and Sammy Davis Jr., it’s well suited and fittingly works in the context of their layered sound. The band was truly at a transitional phase of the mid-sixties combining the elements/sounds of the early sixties while looking around the corner to the sounds of things to come-sometimes within the space of the song itself. The closest contemporaneous comparisons would be some sort of combination of the Gestures, Butch Engle and the Styx and with an undercurrent of the Summer Sounds if we wish to go truly obscure. 

The Songs
“Theme,” “I Must Run,” “Pain,” “Where Am I Running To,” and “I’ll Do It Again” all have an entrancing, transcendent and an almost liturgical quality to them. “Theme,” the backing track to “Where Am I Running To” is top notch with its descending melody, echoing drums, and ringing guitars recorded at the cavernous sounding Audio Recorders of Arizona. Their immortal "I Must Run” is a study in contrasts being in minor key, with lamenting poetic lyrics (written by Phil Kelsey and Jim Musil) that transforms the heartbreak into a crescendoing chorus before a modulation that elevates the profound song to another better realm. In addition, the organ break rates right up with the solo in “Kind of a Drag” by the Buckinghams in the pantheon of ‘60s roller rink greatness. “Pain” is their sideways approximation of “It’s Only Love” by the Beatles and comes close to the peak glory of “I Must Run” and subsequently would go on to directly inspire Jeff Conolly’s Lyres who covered it on their 1993 Happy Now...album. With guitar accents that anticipate Jefferson Airplane’s “Today” by over a year, “Till You Get What You Want” also incorporates an incessant and hypnotic Vox Continental keyboard riff that would later become the bedrock sound of ? and the Mysterians. There is also a clear emulation of Dave Clark Five’s Mike Smith vocals in Phil’s tone and phrasing.

1985-Rough Diamonds: The History Of Garage Band Music-Voxx Records
On 1985’s Rough Diamonds album, Greg Shaw devoted the majority of side 1 to their R&B-infused rock & roll which made them a top live draw.  Frantically Yours places these sides right in the heart of the collection and this positioning works in contrast to their more recognized British Invasion-inspired songs that start the collection in mono and later reappear in stereo to conclude the disc.  My particular favorite from the early era is their original “Give Up” as it’s sort of their slanted take on Len Berry’s “You Can’t Sit Down.”  “New Orleans”  most associated with Gary ”U.S.” Bonds is another standout of their earlier recordings.

 1999 Bacchus Archives collection
First Line-Up of Phil and the Frantics
Bill Powell (guitar), Joe Martinez Jr. (drums), Phil Kelsey (vocals/sax) Rick Rose (keys), John Lambert (bass)
The previously unreleased “Exclusively Yours” and the buried “Whenever I’m Alone” showcase Phil Kelsey’s ability to tap into his inner Peter Noone. These two tracks flow well in the context of the overall presentation. The finest rarity in my perspective is the instrumental  “I’ll Do It Again” as it has all the classic hallmarks of “I Must Run,” “Pain,” and “Theme” that set the group apart from their fierce competitors. While it might be only a backing track, it stands on its own mesmerizing merits and would be a great lead-off track on one of those Arf! Arf! compilations of psychedelic instrumentals.

John Lambert second from left, Bill Powell third from left. 
Exclusive to this deluxe edition are “Laugh at Me” and “Happy Man” by Beethoven Soul which are slightly oblique ‘60s pop songs without all the treacle later lavished on by Dot Records for their 1967 long player (shown above). The band featured Bill Powell (guitar) and John Lambert (bass) who exited Phil & the Frantics right after a Dec. 31, 1965 flood which temporarily closed JD’s nightclub as they were supporting families and needed to keep working a stage each night. On this 45, Beethoven Soul’s sound has a continuity with the overall Phil & Frantics aesthetic sans the unmistakable voice of Phil Kelsey. The flood and the departing band members sent Phil scrambling to reconstitute a new version of the Frantics.  Phil was sagacious as he selected two musicians from the Vibratos, Steve Dodge (guitar) and Ted Harpchek (keyboards), who had just broken up, in addition to adding Tommy Miller on bass. Before disbanding, the Vibratos were Phil & the Frantics’ major rivals and also the gold standard of Phoenix-area bands due to their vast proficiency playing and recording Beatles-esque pop.

 The Second Line-Up of Phil and the Frantics
Phil Kelsey (sax), Joe Martinez Jr. (drums), Steve Dodge (harp), Ted Harpchek (keyboards), Tommy Mller (bass)
Southwestern Frontier Sound
The floorboards of the double-decker JD’s nightclub literally connected the notes of  rock ‘n’ roll to country.  Country was featured on the main floor while rock & roll took place downstairs in the Riverbottom Room that experienced that aforementioned flood on New Year’s eve 1965. One can imagine the booming sounds of Waylon Jennings and the Waylors seeping down through the ceiling as they were the house band on the main level 7-nights a week. Phil and the Frantics absorbed these country inflections and captured moments of confluence between country and rock 'n' roll in their sound. By circumstances and proximity, they could be said to be on the vanguard of country rock ‘n’ roll-a few moons before Nashville West (featuring future Byrds Clarence White and Gene Parsons) over in El Monte, California. Their most overtly country number “What’s Happening” is a jagged barn burning hoedown which anticipates ‘80s college rock cow-punk movement by 20 years! Their cover of Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally” by way of the Beatles captures an early 1965 reunification between country and rock ‘n’ roll. The fact that a majority of their songs were co-produced and co-arranged by Waylon Jennings (with Jim Musil) meant jack to me when the Bacchus Archives CD was released in 1999. (I would have then mixed up Merle Haggard with Waylon.) Now, I think of it as one of the remarkable and singular musical overlaps to occur in the Southwest during the mid-sixties! Waylon’s deft hand in shaping these songs into something mysterious and ahead of their time can also be found in the ambitious and inventive arrangements which approach those heard on the New Colony Six records. It is now a point of pride that I work in the same city, Chandler, that Waylon called home for years.

Panel featured in The Tempe Sound exhibit that ran at the Tempe History Museum during 2014 & 2015
Seismic Shifts
Phil & the Frantics were a quintessential regional band that could not quite break through to the national level due to several factors inside & outside of their control.  It could be said that Phil was seemingly mostly adept at navigating the twists, turns and exhilarating rapids of music during the mid-sixties Their backstory of near misses and lost opportunities, “could haves” and “would haves” is messy, but contains some of the common elements, music industry characters (e.g. Bob Keene of Del-Fi Records), radio stations and accelerated changes that played out on the Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas circuit during the mid-‘60s. In order to eradicate the myths and misinformation which have built up over the years, journalist Dan Nowicki turned over new sources and re-examined previous documentation on how everything went down. His detailed and comprehensive liner notes included in the 24-page booklet will get those up to speed who are familiar with a few of their songs, but not much of their captivating story which took place in the thriving and teeming Phoenix music scene with its epicenter being the unincorporated “county island” strip somewhere between Scottsdale and Tempe. 

Capturing the Vanished Past
In proverbial Arizona fashion, this lost era is now represented by a vacant strip mall structure as the former JD’s currently stands empty after years of being a mattress/furniture place. Phil & the Frantics were ultimately prevailing as their distinctive sound has stood the test of time and their best songs continue to make a considerable emotional impact.  Belated credit must be given to Greg Shaw for introducing the Arizona sound of the mid-sixties to an international audience in the ‘80s. In the late '90s “Arizona’s unofficial music historian,” John P. Dixon recaptured the lightning with his commendable and tireless efforts which resulted in a Phil & the Frantics retrospective CD released by Dionysus Records/Bacchus Archives. Dixon is the co-producer, along with Dan Nowicki, of this definitive anthology packed with 26 songs.

Front and Center
Sometimes in the midst of exploring unmarked trails in hopes of chasing down some of the most arcane (e.g.,Thirst) and elusive (e.g., 5d) Arizona bands, there is momentary inattention paid to the groundbreaking combos that initially plowed the low desert grounds and left a high stack of records which sound better with each passing year. Releases like Frantically Yours rectify this situation by bringing forth the mid-sixties sounds recorded by Phil & Frantics that are as evocative, overlapping, and expansive as the Sonoran Desert itself.     


Monday, June 15, 2020

The Aislers Set-live in Phoenix, AZ at Modified-Nov. 2000




After hearing their Spector-ish, Brian Wilson-esque wall of pop song "Hit the Snow," I starting searching around for more music and information about this current San Franciscan band.  While they may be a little too twee for some, they find Spector's place through the quiet neighborhood side streets.  Their first album, Terrible Things Happen is an introspective and ornate recording that seems (on the surface) far removed (and sometime sheltered) from the blunt & repetitious weekday world of work, congested freeways and forms. Their second and much stronger release, Last Match decides to "Don't Worry Baby" and go out to re-explore both the narrow & wide world. The album seems to be a restatement that beauty can be found and experienced (both from the past and now) with the acknowledgement that the dispiriting factors will always continue their tired cycles.

Their live show last night (Nov. 18, 2000) in Phoenix at the "art space venue" (Modified) was a bit incohesive, but it did contain some moments of illumination that make this band stand on the vista of Spector's vision over the "lower case" underground of indie-pop bands. The Aislers' show does not go "all out" or "break through the artificial facades" in the way that many of the riveting garage bands do, but they could get a whole room dancing (if others left their attitudes at the door). Their live sound, layering a happy Vox Contential organ, trebly and sprinting Fender guitar, beat-surf drumming, wrecking crew Fender bass and a chiming Guild 12 string, created both an atmosphere of hope and a smile. 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

P.P. Arnold-The New Adventures of...P.P. Arnold




Sometimes when doing yard work, you hear a song streaming over the phone that stops you in your tracks and makes you put down the equipment to check the playlist.  “Baby Blue” by P.P. Arnold was recently one of those halting songs. While I have previously heard this strong album upon its 2019 release, re-encountering  the uplifting, sweeping and lush “Baby Blue” spurred me to revisit this release and further explore Arnold’s back catalog and storied career. "The First Lady of Mod" was at the epicenter of ‘60s Swingin’ London working in the overlapping musical circles of Immediate Records' Andrew Loog Oldham, Mick Jagger and Steve Marriott of the Small Faces. Being an Ikette and contributing backup vocals on the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park,” Ike & Tina Turner’s "River Deep, Mountain High" and Del Shannon’s Home & Away album are just a few highlights from that heightened time within a long and legendary musical career.  The New Adventures of...P.P. Arnold is her return to the forefront and first solo album in 51 years! It’s a fitting and appropriate title as these 15 songs express new stages in an already remarkable life. With the aforementioned “Baby Blue” setting the tone, her musical momentum continues with the horn-driven “The Magic Hour” featuring her heartfelt vocals which soar in the top-tier stratosphere of Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love. Her sublime reading of “Different Drum” continues her tradition of rendering some of the ‘60s' most endearing and enduring songs (e.g., “As Tears Go By,” “Angel of the Morning.”) “Daltry Street” presents a microcosmic window into a past scene fastened to a cinematic Bacharach-ian arrangement and delivered with calm, cool and collected vocals reminiscent of Dionne Warwick. The ballad “You Got Me” is the album’s sleeper.  Originally recorded by Jaibi (aka Joan Banks) in 1967 and two years later by the Exciters, “You Got Me,” showcases Arnold’s timeless and stately elegance along with her protean abilities. After its initial splash when it was released in the rushed world of 2019, this expansive comeback album has proven to have lasting reverberations. Not that you would expect anything less than eternal from P.P. Arnold.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Been This Way and That Way: An Interview with Yea-Ming Chen of Yea-Ming and the Rumours


Photo by Eric Yang
Yea-Ming seems perennially overshadowed and unsung outside of her home base of Oakland and the overall greater Bay Area. Her songs are instantly captivating, memorable and endure over the long haul of time. Her skillful compositions are steeped in classic pop Brill Building structures and echoey atmospherics that would also be right at home in a Bakersfield honky-tonk with their distinctive steel guitar embellishments. The Rumours’ twangy guitars and amps are aligned to project a perfect timeless tone while her lovely lantern light vocals guide the way under Western skies. In their own distinctive and competent way, they have shaped and sustained an endearingly sincere and jangly folk-pop-country sound. Overall, their enchanting songs turn corners with attention paid to arrangements complete with unexpected bridges which effortlessly connect the songs to new realms. Yea-Ming has been leading her band the Rumours for almost a decade now with the time between performing and recording spent perfecting her natural acting abilities in films like Daylight Savings (2012) and I Will Make You Mine (2020). With everything up in the air, I thought this time was as good as any to check in with the multi-talented Yea-Ming and discuss her captivating music.



It must be exciting to have a movie that you star in named after one of your songs! 
How did Lynn Chen come about naming her directorial debut after one of your signature songs which is also the title of your 2016 debut album?

It’s very cool! I Will Make You Mine is the 3rd installation of a trilogy. The first two movies centered around the main character Goh played by Goh Nakamura and his 3 different love interests (Rachel, Erika and Yea-Ming played by Lynn Chen, Ayako Fujitani and yours truly) that you never really get to know.  For IWMYM, Lynn says she wanted to get to know these women and discover their humanness since they seem so cool and mysterious in the 1st two installments of the trilogy.  Since the first two movies were named after real life Goh’s real songs, Lynn thought the 3rd movie should be named after one of my songs.   She says that she went into my catalog of music and I think had her husband call out all of my song titles out loud until one sounded like a movie title.

L-R: Lynn Chen, Ayako Fujitani, Yea-Ming Chen, Goh Nakamura, Ayami Riley Tomine
Tell us about your background in music. I read on the Lilystars Records page that you studied piano for a time at UC Berkeley. (Nice to hear your waltzing piano playing on “Sign on My Window.”) How long have you been singing? Did your parents encourage (or discourage) you musically in any particular/general directions?



I majored in music at UC Berkeley but the Lilystars Records page is a little bit of an exaggeration in that I didn’t focus my studies on piano performing per se. If I had, I’d be a much better player haha.  But I did have to play the piano to get through a lot of those classes…

I took piano lessons from the age of 7 and through high school.  My parents were not particularly encouraging in me playing music but they did purchase a brand new KAWAII piano and pay for weekly lessons for 11 years which I now realize is not small change.  I believe that my mom allowed me to play piano because she read that prestigious universities required extra-curricular activities and piano would work.  For her, the purpose of piano lessons I think was so I would get into college, not to become a musician.  She was stoked when I got into Berkeley, but NOT stoked when I changed my major from biology to music.

I didn’t really start singing until I got into punk and indie music circa 1997-98.  I always loved singing but never thought I was a good singer and I even got rejected from the University choir at Berkeley when I tried out which was obviously very discouraging.  But when I started listening to punk and indie music, I began to realize the beauty and nuances of imperfect and unconventional voices. That encouraged me to start writings songs and make me feel like it was okay for me to sing them.

On a similar note it sounds like not a lot of music was played at home when you were growing up- let alone Fleetwood Mac! ( I finally now get the meta Fleetwood Mac Rumours reference.)

There was not!  You could probably count the music my parents owned on 2 hands, the most memorable of which was the soundtrack to Dr. Zhivago on vinyl.  Haha. So random!

I also read that you became enamored by Lookout! Records bands like the Queers, MTX etc.  Were you allowed to attend all-ages shows? If so, were you going to Gilman at the time? ( I can only imagine you harmonizing with Joe Queer/King like Lisa Marr has done so well over the years.)  Did you gravitate from the punkier sounds towards the softer Sacramento/SF (e.g., Go Sailor/Tiger Trap/the Softies) and Vancouver (e.g., cub) pop sounds or vice versa or did you embrace it all during the same time? (I also detect a trace of Dear Nora’s “ We'll Have a Time” and a wonderful Velvet Underground influence in your sounds.)  

I discovered the Queers and MTX in the college dorms my freshman year.  That was the first place I lived where I had access to ethernet and I was able to do music searches online. I ran across Lookout! Records and was able to download music videos off the internet with that “fast” internet connection. So by that time I was already 18 and was so ashamed of my limited knowledge of my hometown venue Gilman and hometown record label Lookout! that I caught up as quickly as I could.  Though, if I had known about Gilman while still underage, I wouldn’t have been able to do much about it since my parents were very strict and rarely let me go out.

So though I was late in the game, that fateful day in my college dorm room changed my life.  That exploration of pop punk and later on working at Rasputin Music in Berkeley led me deep into indie music, lo-fi recordings, classic rock and pop melodies in general.  I think I gravitated towards lo-fi recordings and unconventional voices because I myself knew I could never be the polished person that I felt was expected from me (from my parents and from the conservative music program at Berkeley). 

Were you in any bands prior to Dreamdate?

Before Dreamdate, I was in a band called Hawaiian Getaway which is where I met Anna Hillburg.  Anna “auditioned” to be the bass player for HG and killed it because she’s got such a natural knack for music so of course she joined the band.  And quickly became my best friend, songwriting partner and collaborator in Dreamdate and beyond.  I was in one other band prior to Dreamdate, but it was short-lived and never recorded and never named.

So what brought about your explorations into the echoey and forlorn country & western sounds? (which I love by the way)

I’m not sure exactly but it felt like my songs just started coming out a little country sounding around 2004. Of course, I know I didn’t invent those sounds.  I do however remember gravitating heavily to Appalachian bluegrass that I heard in an American music class at Berkeley.  I also remember being very attracted to the country twang in certain indie bands like Beachwood Sparks, Wilco and Yo La Tengo.  So I think it just seeped in to my work subconsciously.



How did you meet up with Eoin Galvin? His apt lap steel guitar playing (e.g., “You Took Me By the Hand”) is one of the things that sets the Rumours apart in the crowded and somewhat temporal indie-pop scene.  Another distinguishing factor is the group’s competence to shape a simultaneously amicable, yearning, strummy, plaintive and entrancing sound that does not fall into over-precious twee traps or self-absorbed folk.

Eoin Galvin was in a band called Readyville in the early 2000s, the same time Hawaiian Getaway was around. We played some shows together at that time and I always loved his nuanced and sensitive accompaniment.  He’s the kind of musician that knows how to play the song not the instrument.  I asked him to play with me when I first “went solo” and wasn’t even sure what I wanted him to do. At first, I thought maybe he could play keyboard.  But at our first meeting, he brought like 5 instruments to try and as soon as he started playing the lap steel, everything felt like magic and I knew that would become a huge component of our songs.

In the country music tradition, would you like to briefly introduce the band at this time?

I would love to!  On my left is the brilliant and beautiful Anna Hillburg on bass and vocals. Over here on my right we have Eoin Galvin (almost always on my right because he is left handed and otherwise our guitar necks would get tangled) making those sweet sounds on the lap steel and guitar. And of course we have Sonia Hayden holding us all together on the drums.

L-R: Eoin Galvin, Yea-Ming Chen, Anna Hillburg, Sonia Hayden
Photo by Adam Thorman
I’m curious how your Fender Stratocaster frequently sounds more like a Fender Telecaster or perhaps there are Telecasters used on the studio recordings?

Wow, that is a very interesting observation and to be honest I'm not sure.  I’m constantly being lured by studio guitars that I end up using when I show up to a session but I don’t actually remember what they are because I don’t have that kind of gear brain and I also have a terrible memory.   I do own a fake (Squire) Telecaster (my first guitar that cost $100 at guitar center in 1997) so it is possible that I have used that on some recordings.  But it’s also very possible that I have used my Fender Strat and played it cleanly to retain a bright-ish sound because that’s what I like. So I guess my answer is, I don’t know and you’d have to ask my music producers if they remember.

By chance, are you of Taiwanese descent?  I’m basing this on your hyphenated first name.

Yes!

How do you think your experience of growing up and living in California has obviously shaped your sound?   

I’m not sure how living in California has shaped my sound. Is it really obvious?  I never realized that. That’s kind of cool!  The truth is I have never lived anywhere outside of the Bay Area (besides Georgia and Taiwan briefly as an infant) so I don’t think I have an outside perspective on this.

Your songs contain bittersweet lyrics frequently expressing the intangibles of the human condition and experience.  You seem to take the coal and pressure of life and turn it into pop diamonds.  Would you like to elaborate on your “stubborn” lyrical writing process?

Thank you! I guess I do try to make lemonade out of lemons.  I always felt like lyrics should be personal, partially because I grew up naively thinking all art in general was personal, but also because I found writing about my pains and sorrows was very cathartic and therapeutic.  Maybe it’s cliche but it’s my way of getting together my difficult feelings and putting them in a neat package so I can lay them to rest but also revisit and be grateful for that difficult time by seeing it in this different light. I suppose I’m stubborn writing songs because they are so personal - they are like extensions of a diary - and therefore I prefer to work on them alone until I have a pretty set structure before I present them for collaboration.



You demonstrate an innate knack for super-catchy melodies. Do you compose and develop your melodies with guitar and/or on piano or do they just come across like bolts of lighting?

Ooh, I wish it was like bolts of lightning!  It’s been guitar for most of the time, but I’ve started exploring writing melodies on the piano in the last year.

Since you pretty much stick to playing in the greater Bay Area, are there any cover songs in your live repertoire either solo and/or with the Rumours besides "Anyway" by Dreamdate?

Are you thinking of "Go Fish" by cub?  Dreamdate also used to do a rad cover of "Monster Mash" that Anna sang lead whenever Halloween came around.  But lately, I actually don't have any cover songs in my live repertoire.  Don't know why.  Covers are fun.  I'll consider bringing them back.

 Design by Chris Appelgren
How do you decide which shows are solo and which are for the full group? I imagine work schedules must play a huge role in aligning the stars.

Really it’s just scheduling. And sometimes it's just what is requested

What factors do you attribute to the fact that the Rumours have been going strong and steady and blazing their own distinct path for almost 10-years now? A stable musical line-up in the transient Bay Area (where everything is subject to change without notice) is not something that listeners should not take for granted.

Honestly,  I think that it’s just that we like hanging out with each other.  We’ve never gotten huge, so there’s not much to stress out about and therefore not much to fight about. We just get together when we have shows or when I have an idea I want to explore. Hanging out with my band is super fun.  We spend a good 30%-50% of our practices gossiping and talking about TV, movies and books.

Are you the driving force or guiding force in the band as far as direction? 

Haha. Well if I have to pick one, I think I’m more of a guide. I’m not very aggressive and I’m not optimistic enough to be a driving force.

Any sneak preview words you can provide on the new album?  Will “Eskimo Eyes,” the closing song on the “I Will Make You Mine” soundtrack be included on it?

It's in the works!  Half of it is recorded.  The other half might have to be quarantined recorded.  I think "Eskimo Eyes" will make the cut but you never know.


What’s on the horizon for the band? Any particular directions do you foresee your music going?


I don’t know honestly. I’ve been doing this so long that I try not to foresee anything or else I get bummed.  The only thing I know is that I want to keep writing and recording because that's the part that makes me happy. Which also means I want to keep being inspired. So I foresee myself looking for inspiration wherever I can find it.


      "Let Me Stand Close to the Water"-video filmed by Claude Cardenas

What are some concepts that you have learned from being in a band that you are able to apply to work and/or life?


Teamwork, patience and empathy and (oh my god this is so cheesy but) finding a groove with other people.

Any book/author recommendations from your vast library?


One of my favorite books of all time is A Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. I think it’s super underrated.  It chronicles the recovery of a neurologist from a stroke on the left side of her brain.  Essentially, it’s a self-help book, but from the perspective of a scientist who’s learned to distinguish between her left brain from her right brain because of this stroke. I won’t go into it but it’s an amazing read for anybody neurotic, analytical but also creative and emotional which I guess is how I would describe myself.

Final thoughts/closing comments?

Thank you for listening to the music!

          Photo by Antares Meketa (@ameketa) 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Etc. is the Name of the Band!


Sounds like the type of record that Jon Baker of CHiPs would put on in his apartment after a long day patrolling the freeways of Los Angeles. Etc. were based out of Westchester, CA (near LAX) and initially formed their band in 1973 while students at Westchester High School (also the alma mater of the Turtles). This 1976 album is somewhat of an anomaly for its time as it contains all original compositions, while looking back to ‘60s pop (namely the Beach Boys) for some of its direction. Still, it’s far from a proverbial lost classic as there are too many mediocre moments due to its time of release during the early tide of what is now retroactively called yacht rock.  (If the record was issued just two years later, it would have been interesting to see if the new wave/power pop movement would have had any influence on the band.)  Both “Rose for Sister Georgia” and “Left Me Blue” veer a little too far into Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers sheen pop territory to wishy-washy effect. Things get better with “Sazonar,“ a slightly spacey jazzy instrumental, that lifts off somewhere between Wes Montgomery and El Chicano before adding some “Shafty” chakka-chakka guitar that fills the air between the pet rocks, wood beams and skylights. “My Thought are of You” is their solid attempt for a pop rock commercial breakthrough that doesn’t quite make it. Still, the straightforward number does place a slight smile on one's face-reminding listeners of those contemporaneous big hits from Orleans.

Marina Pop
Soft rocking “Freedom” is noteworthy for its quixotic bid to reach the stars in a light polluted sky.  Its prominent harmonies and fluent guitar would not sound out of place on a Bread or David Gates solo album of time.  “Like a Star” and later “Freeway Driver” are as clunky, predictable and pedestrian as those Beach Boys bar band-ish blues shuffles that frequently filled their late ‘70s albums. Perhaps these hokey numbers sounded better live inside a rollicking lounge of a Century Blvd. Ramada Inn. “Red Eyed Sara” is a little better in its attempts to approximate the country rock sides of the Rolling Stones or Poco as it gains some momentum with some unexpected twist and turns. With some brief keyboard nods to the Today!-era Beach Boys, “The Beating of My Heart” takes things back to soft rock mode before stretching out to a sunset horizon filled with warm percussion and guitars. Lastly, “Julie’s Song” is another foray into the sunlit and soulful Bruce Johnston/Beach Boys-esque harmony pop rock. The band truly shines on these Beach Boys-inspired songs and could be said to be a lost link between the boys from Hawthorne and later acts like the Explorers Club who emerged in the wake of the Brian Wilson revival. Overall, this 1976 lone album by this semi-pro band is a worthwhile listen to discover the momentary traces of the ‘60s California Dream that had not completely faded deep into the ‘70s. 

Friday, May 08, 2020

West-Bridges

West-Bridges 1969
For a country rock band from Crockett, CA (East Bay Area), Bridges seems to be an apt title album. The straightforward album cover art depicting those landmark bridges spanning the Carquinez Strait provide a further sense of orientation. On sonic levels, the music itself literally crosses and connects several musical styles with a somewhat natural ease. Bridges is their 1969 follow-up album to their competent and congenial 1968 eponymous debut that has been somewhat unfairly derided over the years for its over-reliance on cover songs.  Both of their albums were recorded and produced in Nashville by the legendary Bob Johnston (whose production credits include industry giants like Dylan, Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel and Marty Robbins). Johnston builds keenly and clearly upon the band's already established strong musical foundation. Overall, Bridges is not truly rock nor country, but leans towards a folksy twangy pop direction with subtle jazz undercurrents and is definitely stronger for it. While their sound could have benefited from some dusty steel guitar sparks, at least the gloppy Hearts & Flowers strings were not applied.  Some of these rustic and jazzy inclinations can be attributed to both the source material and the musicians involved. If there seems to be a thoughtful John Stewart (of the Kingston Trio) feel to the album, it is not coincidental, as John Stewart contributed two songs (“July, You're A Woman,” “Looking Back Johanna”) and the band also featured John’s brother and multi-instrumentalist Mike Stewart (formerly of the We Five). 

West 1968
The Byrds-ian “Peaceful Times” exemplifies the group's economical approach while showcasing their warm, yet striking guitar tones intertwined with harmonic vocals that build to the sky. This song stalled out as a single in 1969 as it probably seemed too countervailing during the burn out of the decade. It’s the later half of the album where West actually finds their firmest footing and true direction. “General Mojo's Well Laid Plan” is a well-executed jazzy country-ish instrumental that was contributed by jazz bass stalwart Steve Swallow (of the Gary Burton Quartet). Surprisingly, another fine instrumental “Funeral on the Beach” subsequently follows. This group composition places their proficiency and telepathy on the forefront. The hushed “Sad About the Times” is a low-key gem that echoes the Byrds’ “Everybody's Been Burned" in theme, but without the acidic burnishing. This soft pop song seems to encapsulate the unraveling present, while lamenting the end of the idealistic era and expressing reservations about the impending ‘70s. (“Sad About the Times” would also go on to later inspire the title of a 2019 compilation from Mexican Summer.) While generally too understated to move mountains or units for Epic Records, the seemingly good-natured and earnest group left a transitional album filled with bittersweet songs that continue to glow with the promise of the West


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Melenas-s/t


Imagine if the Feelies’ matter of fact Lou Reed-ish vocals were replaced by female harmonies and they sang entirely in Spanish. Well, you can stop imagining things as this sound actually exists! Arising from Northern Spain, Pamplona to be exact, this foursome has only been together since summer 2016, but they are already making international waves.  Melenas (which translates to Mop of Hair) released this stunning self-titled debut in November 2017. “Cartel de neón” sets the tone for the rest of the album with its churning and clanging guitars signaling the charge while being propelled forward by a pulsating Krautrock rhythm via Stereolab.


They proceed to downshift on “Menitras” by employing taunt harmonies and atmospheric keyboards, evoking the melodic “Lovelife” moments of Lush. "Gira" has them deftly interlacing their Fender Jazzmaster guitar, Fender Mustang bass, stripped-down drums and Nord keyboard into a satisfying whole. “Sales” bursts forth with onrushing sound waves which lift and carry listeners to shore and leaves them with smiles on their faces. Entering with a bucking bronco kickbeat, “Volaremos” exemplifies their innate knack of being immediate, while also being competent and in command. At this point, their storming sound falls somewhere between the garage growl of Lyres and echoes of the late great Louie Louie (from Philadelphia). “¿Dónde estás?” reveals not only their finely tuned attention to harmonies, but also melodies, arrangements and overall sound. This musical finesse could be attributed to guitarist and vocalist Oihana, who was classically trained on the violin, but they truly flourish as a dexterous and dynamic unit as seen from their daytime slot at Primavera Sound 2019.



The quartet ace the perfect pop quiz with the dashing and ultra-catchy “Tú me haces lo mismo.” on top-tier Heavenly levels. From an U.S. standpoint, they also seemingly share sonic sensibilities with some of Spain’s Elefant bands like Juniper Moon, Nosoträsh, and Vacaciones who were active in late ‘90s and early 2000s. Their music videos further elicit some of disparate parts which comprise their vast milieu ranging from kiddie Nerf blasters to Etta James. Displaying their affinity for Slumber Party, “Alfajarín” generates a surging sound that ensnares the listening audience right back under with their hypnotic undertow and the reverb up at Matthew Smith levels!  In Spanish interviews, they have expressed their dreams of playing live in Austin, TX. This record continues to hold on to that dream, while creating anticipation for additional guitar-driven pop songs to arrive from this blazing group.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

5d: Another Dimension of the Scottsdale-Tempe Sound

L to R: Scott Nicholson, Mike Perikly, Mike Janes, Jim McLellan, Mike DeVirgilio
From the Garage to Greece

5d: 1966-1968 Coronado High School, Scottsdale, Arizona

Scott Nicholson (12-string guitar, rhythm guitar) 
Mike Perikly (drums)
Mike Janes (bass guitar)
Jim McLellan (singer, tambourine man) 
Mike DeVirgilio (lead guitar) Tempe High

From Here to There
While several Arizona groups from the ‘60s have been thoroughly documented or at least  briefly profiled over the years through anthologies, compilations and reissues of their recordings, there is another unsung substrata where the only scant evidence of their existence can be found in yearbooks, newspaper microfilm, or the hidden treasures found in private photo collections. Finding members of these bands can be tricky, even with all this ubiquitous technology, as commonly these musicians have been completely out-of-touch with each other for over a half-century.  5d has been a band that has eluded me for about 5 years.  I happened upon a photo of this group that was included on a panel featured in The Tempe Sound exhibit that ran at the Tempe History Museum during 2014 & 2015. The photo intrigued me as a 12-string Rickenbacker 360 guitar was present and the band’s name seemed possibly inspired by the Byrds’ groundbreaking 1966 album Fifth Dimension.  However, there were no details beyond the caption “The band 5d performing at the Tempe VFW hall about 1967” on the panel. The museum’s helpful and knowledgeable curators, Joshua Roffler and Jared Smith, had scant provenance information beyond the fact that the photo was contributed by a classmate from that accelerated era. After hitting many walls with my investigation, John Hesterman, keyboardist of the Grapes of Wrath and host of the internet radio station program Looking Back At Arizona's Top 40 cracked open the deeply buried universe of 5d when he came across a Linkedin profile of Mike Perikly.  Mike’s responsiveness and love for music enabled me to construct a basic framework around the enigmatic group and eventually a fuller understanding of their role in the compelling and transitional Arizona mid-sixties music scene.


The Coronado Expedition
Four of the five were students at Coronado High School in Scottsdale with Mike DeVirgilio being the outlier from Tempe High School.  Mike DeVirgilio said he was introduced to these Scottsdale musicians through his girlfriend (and now wife) who hailed from South Scottsdale.  A newly issued driver license allowed DeVirgilio to make the short trip up to Scottsdale for band practice.  “I remembered that we practiced at Mike Perikly’s parents house as they were in full support,” recalled DeVirgilio. The band purchased much of their equipment and instruments, including Perikly’s drum set, from still operating Milano Music Center in Mesa. The band went through the typical stages of selecting a name and making up business cards. “It might have been a dream, but I seem to recall that we had a marbled business card where our name was embossed as Thee Fifth Dimension,” added DeVirgilio. “We started to get wind of the soon-to-be-famous harmony soul-pop group the 5th Dimension on the West Coast and we shortened it to 5d.”

Coronado High School in Scottsdale, AZ

The Gold Standard
The band’s sound was initially inspired by both the local action and a then renegade British Invasion group that made their way to Phoenix. “We got to see the Rolling Stones at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in November 1965.  Place wasn't even sold out, we had cheap seats but were able to move closer since so many were empty,” fondly recalled Perikly. “I think I got interested in the drums from listening to “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.  Just loved the way the drums sounded.  I believe I was about twelve at the time.  Soon after starting,  two older guys who were friends of my girlfriend’s older sister (both guitarists) asked me to play with them on the weekends.  They would pick me up and we would head over to downtown, south Phoenix (nothing like it is now) and ask the bar owners if they wanted live music.  Often we were playing behind chain link as the crowds got pretty rowdy.  I'll never forget when a guy from the audience came up to sit in with us.  He played the guitar left handed but looked and sounded just like Chuck Berry.” Mike DeVirgilio played up the local angle: “The Hearsemen were the gold standard at that time in Tempe.  My first band in junior high was actually named the Koachmen in response and recognition of the Hearsemen who were a few years older than me.  Max Keener, guitarist of the Hearsemen, would later become a great roommate for years.”

Unadulterated Alice
The band proceeded to make some waves on the local level and had a proverbial brush with future greatness.  The band’s repertoire consisted mainly of Rolling Stones songs with some Yardbirds numbers mixed in. “We did several Rolling Stones songs as lead singer Jim McLellan could do a good Mick Jagger” noted Perikly.  “We probably were not accomplished enough as musicians to pull off the Beatles.” While the band did not open up for any of the more recognized Phoenix-area acts like Phil & the Frantics, P-Nut Butter, Floyd & Jerry, they did have one especially memorable experience. “The following was not a dream: Alice Cooper (aka Vincent Furnier of the Spiders) did get up and sing with us one time!” remembered DeVirgilio. 5d did not really have grand aspirations and were just happy to play at their school. “Playing for our friends at a (Scottsdale’s Coronado High) dance was the highlight musical moment for me at that time,” conveyed Perikly. “We also played at Arcadia High School.”  The intrepid and gritty combo might have been as common as the citrus trees which once blanketed the area, but they did it with a distinctive Arizona subdivision slant as the act was also known to play patio parties over the hard-packed low desert floor.

Mike Perikly-1967-5d drums
Continual Changes
Somewhat reflective of the group’s name, the exact time frame of the band is indefinite, but it can be surmised that it was circa ‘66 to ‘68.  When asked about the duration of 5d, Perikly replied:  “Yes, that sounds about right as we started as sophomores,” Devirgilio offered a more amorphous take on the linear time. “It could have been two months or it could have been two years,” added DeVirgilio. Since all this was a half-century ago, the paucity of information is expected and the fuzzy memories understandable. 5d went their separate ways after graduation. Scott Nicholson later gained greater fame as a free-form disc jockey on KCAC & KDKB. Mike DeVirgilio went on to an extensive career at the Tempe Fire Department as lead paramedic and then later Deputy Chief of Organizational Development at the Gilbert Fire Department. “I still play, never quit, even though my professional career was quite different,”' asserted DeVirgilio. “With a few short breaks over the years, I’ve continued on. I played in various cover bands, gigged on an off, and still as enthusiastic as ever to play and continue to develop my craft.  I’ve got a few friends that I get together with just to scratch the collaboration itch, and would love to play in a group that fits my style and interests - and it’s relatively healthy to leave my house. That gets tougher as the years go by, I’m still a rocker.”  The other members are said to be scattered to places otherwise unknown, but hopefully the appearance of this piece will provide the impetus for them to share their perspectives and recollections. 

Athens-Arizona
On the surface, Mike Perikly took a hard left hand turn into traditional Greek music.  However, for a musician with Greek heritage, a fondness for folk-rock groups like the Beau Brummels and the Lovin’ Spoonful and a steadfast desire for continual learning, this was the next natural step. The demands and expectations of Mike’s father, who is 100% Greek, are what prompted  Mike in this new Grecian and life-changing direction.  He was “asked/told” by his father to play drums with a local accordion and violin player at a Greek event.  While Mike was not initially crazy about the music, it was girls his age who were impressed with the Hellenic sounds that spurred him to further explore Greek music and culture.  He then started to listen to the music at a closer level and found the unusual time signatures (many are 7/8, 3/4 or 9/8) to be a worthy challenge. He decided he wanted to learn to play the bouzouki, the string instrument featured in most Greek songs. “Most of the lead is done by the bouzouki and usually it's fairly intricate,” explained Perikly.  “I started recording records onto my reel-to-reel recorder so I could slow things down and figure them out.  Everything I learned at the beginning was by ear.” Mike was eventually awarded a scholarship sponsored by AHEPA that allowed him a two month, all-expenses paid trip to Greece right after graduating from Coronado High.  On this trip, he met John Papachristos who was a guitar player from Los Angeles. Mike who had brought along his bouzouki and John with his guitar were able to frequently entertain their peers.

The Phoencians 1972 at the Andros Restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ
L to R: Harry Bafaloukos (drums), John Papachristos (guitar), Mike Perikly (bouzouki)
Later, Papachristos moved to Tempe to attend Arizona State University with Mike which led to the formation of the traditional group, the Phoenicians. “After we graduated from ASU we returned to Greece (Athens) and spent almost a year there, working on our music and having a great time, enthused Mike.  “I've been back there 3 or 4 times since but nothing beats those first two trips.” Today, Mike plays a Gretch Jr. guitar in the Grecian Express. They are one of the signature acts for the Greek-American festivals held at St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Chandler, AZ. Mike is able to place his previous musical efforts into inspiring perspective: “I believe the main concept or lesson I learned about being in a band is that if there is something important that you want (whether to learn or do or understand), it may take a lot of work (practice) and it may seem like progress is not being made, but if you stick with it, if your desire is great enough, you can eventually achieve your dream.”

New Realms
Now that 5d has emerged from the deeply buried layers of subterranean history via the inclusion of the captivating photo in the Tempe Sound exhibit, their legacy and lore can be more carefully accessed. 5d were emblematic of the many exciting groups pushing things to the edge during the era where garage slammed into psychedelia.  Opportunities for live acts adounded during this flourishing mid-sixties youthquake era and they were right in the East Valley epicenter of something happening. In this context, they epitomized the many of the unsung, unrecorded and sometimes unseen East Valley bands with wonderfully intriguing names like the Anti-Smog Protest Group and the Raspberry Lampshades.  In addition, for these resolute teens, music was not just a cool passing phase like slot cars or skateboarding, but something enduring that has remained an integral part of their lives. This formative experience also opened them to wider spears of influences. Lastly, they were able to transition their courage, determination, and passions into successful careers on the always shifting stages of life.

Acknowledgements: John Hesterman, Joshua Roffler & Jared Smith of the Tempe History Museum, Sam (classmate at Coronado High School)

Friday, February 14, 2020

Gene McDaniels-Natural Juices


While most recognized for his 1961’s #3 hit record “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” Gene McDaniels had a long and extensive career as a singer, songwriter, performer and producer.  His 1975’s Natural Juices long player for Lou Adler’s Ode label arrived a year after Roberta Flack took his composition “Feel Like Makin’ Love” all the way to #1.  The song is now considered a perennial pop standard and has been covered by George Benson, Marlena Shaw, Susan Wong and over 400 others. This songwriting success furnished McDaniels the collateral in the industry to release an album entirely of his own compositions.  So what does a self-produced Gene McDaniels album from 1975 sound like? While a significant portion meets the presuppositions of a mid-career recording made in the gap between funk and the domination of disco, it largely exceeds expectations due to his reassuring voice and resolute presence. The album begins in sparkling fashion with his own indelible "Feel Like Makin' Love" that features a pronounced piano break by Bob James. Interestingly, his voice veers at moments into that delightful Sammy Davis Jr. croon.  Decorated with baroque touches, "Lady Fair" sounds like what you would expect of a mid-70s single with said title released in the late Aquarian age. He hits his stride with "Can't Get Enough of You" where his soothing vocals shimmer in a whirlpool of warm and lush tones.  On the whole, it would have been preferable to have his four-octave voice up in the mix and on the forefront like his early '60s hits or his two overlooked mid-sixties singles for Columbia, but his leanings towards an egalitarian ensemble approach and the industry standards of the times are certainly understandable. Meanwhile, he goes in balladeering direction on the dreamy "Waterfall" which evokes the shades and sensibilities of Scott Walker. This comparison is not so much a stretch as in 1966 the Walker Brothers covered "Another Tears Falls" that McDaniels previously performed in Richard Lester's first film "It's Trad, Dad!." The dusky "Perfect Dream" draws the curtains on this album and recalls Sinatra at his most understated and reserved. It's both a smooth landing for McDaniels and a return to transporting listeners to previously unexplored realms of soulful sounds.