Friday, October 15, 2021

Cassie-The Light Shines On


Cassie were one of the first-rate bands in the second-run Blondie business. The quartet first emerged in 1979 from the Isle of Wight under the name Flirt. The distinctive lead vocals of Debbie Barker place these previously unreleased recordings apart. Further, had these songs been set free in the early ‘80s, they could have given the Photos a run for the money in the UK Blondie sweepstakes. With the audio restoration help of Tim Warren, we can now hear the sounds of what could have been. Blondie (Eat to the Beat-era in particular) does indeed inform the main direction of their sound which radiates the expected strong sense of melody conveying similar themes of image, inspiration and intuition. Blazing guitars, skip-along drums, beguiling vocals and dashing jackrabbit tempos are framed and brought into focus by an overall tautness. The opening title track “The Light Shines On” recalls Katrina and the Waves with its bounciness and jauntiness, while also anticipating the Primitives and their spirials of chiming guitars. When it reaches the sing-along chorus, “Falling” drops into a gliding melody that could have been etched into fuzzy memories of listening to Rock Over London.  Skirting the edges of a show tune in the best way possible with its indelible melody, “Boys Will Be Boys” is the band's showstopper. This straightforward song (not an Undertones cover) could have easily fitted on Ace’s recent Girls Go Power Pop! compilation or slotted on Rhino’s Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave HIts of the '80s. 
  
“She’s a Flirt” is guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll at its most bracing-serrated with a West Coast raw edge slicing along the Pacific Coast from the Avengers to Agent Orange before returning back across the Atlantic to Bow Wow Wow and X-Ray Spex.
  
Another highlight is the ringing “Find A Way” that would have felt instantly at home on a Hyped To Death or Shake Some Action compilation. 
The dub influence which was so pervasive in UK music of the time appears in digital bonus cut “Driven by the Tide.”  The dub components reappear and are perfectly integrated in the group’s searing & soaring “Will You?” which was the b-side of their lone "Change My Image" single from 1982.
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In retrospect, they had affinity with the mini-movement comprised of female-fronted groups spanning the globe and have gone on to achieve belated recognition like Holly and the Italians, Nikki & the Corvettes, the Mn'Ms, the Shivvers and even the Go-Go’s. The high tide of the new wave movement did raise all ships and thankfully began to open opportunities for groups led by women. It could also be stated, the quartet foreshadowed the later punky power-pop-ish sounds of Fastbacks, Supersnazz, Helen Love and Baby Shakes. It's undeniably exciting to hear these female-fronted treasures, sparked by the spirit of ‘77 and carried along by the changing currents of the new wave, resurface 40 years later to shine in the light of now.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Turning the Tide Review-Lightning Strking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll by Lenny Kaye

Lightning Striking brings together Lenny Kaye's considerable talents as a music historian and writer. Kaye’s words flow forth and lead readers through ten times & places that have been inextricably linked in the minds of listeners wishing they could have been part of these fleeting golden musical moments. The highly attuned scribe & musician witnessed many of the 10 scenes firsthand as they were unraveling in real time. Further, Kaye often played the role of a cultural catalyst helping to set off a ripple effect that often had a direct influence on the development of these scenes.  As a compiler, Kaye introduced Nuggets to the world in 1972, was the lead guitarist for the Patti Smith Group from 1975 to 1979 and even co-produced the widely-heard music of Suzanne Vega in the late ‘80s. Throughout Lightning Striking, Kaye expresses rock ‘n’ roll’s unbridled energy, while throwing in some well-placed stylistic flourishes and compelling accounts from his fieldwork. This one-two punch of reinforcing his research and writing chops with direct experiences sharpens the focus on the historical details-leading to a heightened awareness of the panoramic rock ‘n’ roll picture. In short, Kaye supports the traditional historical record at moments and then flips it at other times to provide readers vantage points from both sides of the record, the retail counter and the stage. Ultimately, Kaye is an adherent of the notion of letting the sparks fly where they may and possibly creating something new in the process or what Jonathan Richman called “Fly into the Mystery.”

Another View

Kaye begins by unboxing a stockpile of creation tales and origin myths, spurring the question: “How many times can one re-write this mega history and in how many ways?”  Bob Stanley attempted to do something similar with Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé in 2014 and received mixed reactions. By approaching rock ‘n’ roll history through mostly manageable bursts of 10 times and places, Kaye is able to present the scenes which had arguably the most impact on the direction of rock 'n' roll in the last half of the 20th century. Lenny does not strive to be comprehensive or exhaustive, just insightful, true to the music and wide-ranging. He is so conversant with this history, inside and out, that he can play it how he feels on a multitude of levels without forgetting to have “some kinda fun” with it, which should be the self-evident point of rock ‘n’ roll? Overall, his extraordinary versatility is on clear display as he has a vast repertoire and deep reservoir to draw upon.  Knowing his way around guitars, bands, recording sessions, mixing boards, record stores and live performances informs his perspectives and illuminates his writing.


Bringing out the Beach Boys singles-photo by Allan Tannenbaum

Trace Elements

For the better, Kaye frequently ventures off the conventional routes and explores the mean streets, street corners, the suburbs and subterranean stratums as he’s a believer in rock ‘n’ roll’s immediacy, infinite nature and enduring presence. As a musician, he also does not shy away from the music’s redemptive qualities as he frequently covers “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry & the Pacemakers along with the spiritual dimensions which may be encountered in his work accompanying Patti Smith and Jessi Colter. While some of Kaye’s intriguing accounts have appeared in Ugly Things interviews and profiles over the years, his individual recollections are a welcomed companion-coinciding and bolstering his particular approach to the history. Readers get the opportunity to see it through Kaye’s watchful ears, street smarts, and vast experiences of seemingly being everywhere at once. It is in these accounts, wherein lies the book’s distinctive treasures. The scenes may be over and done with, but they are still reverberating and arguably as influential as the current times. 

Jessi Colter with Lenny Kaye-photo by David McClister

New York 1975

Kaye writes of his good fortune to be both at the epicenter and periphery of the New York street rock scene. I enjoyed encountering the fact that Sandy Bull once opened for Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye at Max’s Kansas City in 1974. Lenny recently expanded upon this experience in his appreciative piece on Sandy entitled “Sandy Bull: In a China Store” which appeared in Ugly Things #57. Would we expect anything less from a guy who assisted Waylon Jennings with his autobiography and included the fact that Waylon surprisingly played at Max’s Kansas City in 1973? He also mentions the sagacious roles played by streetwise label executives like Terry Ork (Ork Records) and Seymour Stein (Sire) on the industry side of things. All along, Kaye’s ethos has always been hovering somewhere between street level, the garage and those atmospheric nocturnal Bowery images offered by photographer David Godlis.


Photo by David Godlis


Kay offers plenty of other opportunities for readers to stumble upon the previously unknown details. He mentions the fact of Mickey Ruskin’s unsuccessful attempt to expand his Max’s Kansas City nightclub & restaurant enterprise when he opened Max’s Terre Haute. The second location did not catch on and quickly fizzled out, proving that the chickpeas were not magic beans. Interestingly, only about half of these scenes generated a high proportion of hits, but all of them went on to arguably change the course of history.  Musical acts emerging from Memphis 1955, Philadelphia 1962, Los Angeles 1984 and Seattle 1991 did top the charts of the times. In addition, Jefferson Airplane was able to briefly bridge the newly emerging AM & FM divide in San Francisco 1967. The Beatles (Liverpool 1962) and Blondie (New York 1975) would obviously go on to break through to mega-success on a global scale a few years later after putting in their Gladwellian 10,000 hours and Warholian 15 minutes of fame. The Ramones soldiered on to become highly influential and fondly remembered in the process, while Talking Heads didn’t breakthrough until the ‘80s music video-era when they were able to utilize their design school-influenced visual component.


Memphis 1954

Like the seemingly extemporaneous explosion of graffiti on a railcar that has already been sketched out on cardstock, Kaye gives credence to the notion that Sam Phillips was working along similar lines at the Sun Studio in Memphis.  Kaye conveys that Phillips knew enough to be dangerous and in the process helped rock ‘n’ roll blast off the Tennessee ground and become all the rage. Kaye details, “Where Les (Paul) is precise, pinpointed, Sam wants it pinwheeled; a blurrier sound, live and spontaneous as if it’s being made up right in front of the speaker.” (p. 22)


He also encapsulates the long green, quick cash, cut-rate schemes of R&B economics and logistics or the business of suspending platters:


“R&B is now a sales hierarchy with its own star system, rewarding the ability to get a record on the streets as soon as possible, before the next disc ships and the returns start to come in.  No room for error, it’s cash in motion, like the title of that other music trade magazine, Cashbox, which gets the flow of capital right. Nickel and dimes into the slot. You have to make them want what you're hawking before the next record plays.”  (p. 29)


I can picture a wide-eyed Seymour Stein, working as an apprentice for Syd Nathan of King Records, learning the tricks of the trade mentioned above.


Philadelphia 1959

Kaye illuminates his text with abundant local color and regional lore. The Mitch Thomas Show is mentioned as playing a groundbreaking role as well as being a direct influence on American Bandstand and later Soul Train when the discussion turns to rock & roll as presented by Philadelphia-area television stations. This treatment of early ‘60s Philadelphia, demonstrates Kaye is fair and balanced with his coverage. He does not short either or Dick Clark, Mitch Thomas or disc jockey & local Philly legend Jerry Blavat when recognizing and evaluating their notable contributions and influence on that scene. To his credit and for those who first consult the index before buying or checking out a book, Kaye stays generally neutral to positive on everyone he mentions. Kaye understands how hard it is to sustain a musical career even if your material starts to landslide after the ‘60s (e.g., Bob Seger). Overall, he demonstrates the quality to be able to step back and deliver a fair assessment with equanimity when it comes to evaluating the historical significance and influence of both overexposed and unheralded musicians.


San Francisco 1967 and the Embryonic Journey from Los Angeles

Kaye also bestows his first-person accounts of directly encountering and experiencing 1967 San Francisco when it was attempting to translate its experimental and ornate international ethos to the national stage.  Again, don’t let the chapter tiles fool you because he explores several more connected scenes and cities within. For instance, in San Francisco 1967 he also covers the gloriously sprawling Los Angeles/Sunset Strip scene 1965/66 of the Byrds, Love, Leaves, Bobby Fuller Four, Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, Doors, Turtles, etc. who emerged (boss) radio ready from Southern California’s surf, folk and R&B scenes. These leading Angeleno bands made each other better and even the average bands still had their moments in the sun because of the high standards set by the aforementioned world-turning groups. Still, the limitations of these grand sweeping accounts is that you cannot include everyone and everything due to the requirements of being selective. I wonder if there is an expanded bonus cuts version of the manuscript which might include Athens 1983, Manchester 1989 and/or Berkeley 1993?

At Village Oldies-photo by Allan Tannenbaum
                         

Detroit 1969   

It is well documented that Kaye has long been a dedicated and devoted enthusiast of vocal group harmony.  I’ve always enjoyed those his ‘n’ her (Patti Smith in Just Friends) accounts of Lenny working at Village Oldies record store on Saturday nights in the early ‘70s where he first met poet Patti who dug reading one of his pieces on the acapella revival for Jazz & Pop Magazine. Elsewhere, Kaye twice mentions the seemingly illustrious Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit as it was the setting for the afterparty, courtesy of Clive Davis of Arista Records, for the Patti Smith Group and where Patti Smith first crossed paths with future husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5.


Initially, I had a high interest in Detroit rock ‘n’ roll as mentions of the proto-punk of MC5, Stooges were prevalent in the late ‘80s, but the records of these Ann Arbor/Detroit groups were not readily available in the hinterlands.  I once met a guy along Grand River Blvd. in East Lansing who recalled people jumping up and down and walls shaking at a MC5 concert held at Michigan State University’s Student Union ballroom. I still felt the high energy emanating from this guy and his account still riveting even if it was 20 years after the fact (1990).  Another person told me he saw the 5 live and declared it was not his scene with all the American flags (upside down or otherwise). That same guy later told me the Modern Lovers was pretty much the only record he listened to in 1976.  Mileage may greatly vary when it comes to the MC5. 


My interest greatly waned with the ruse and fiasco of DKT/MC5. I recently became appreciative again after reading Wayne Kramer’s The Hard Stuff and seeing how frequently they played in their heyday through concert listings on the internet.  These listings revealed these road warriors played almost every night and most everywhere in the upper Midwest (including three of the colleges and universities that I attended). It has also been a revelation to re-realize what a hotbed the entire state was in the ‘60s by reading the outstanding history compiled on “Michigan Rock and Roll Legends.” Kaye’s writing and praise for the MC5 goes into overdrive. The spark plug collector powerfully and aptly details their rama-lama sound by bringing fitting descriptors such as “assembly plant rhythms“ out of backstock.  He’s effusive with his praise when it comes to the Detroit sound and you can see his passion for that once incendiary scene poured out on the page. Julian Cope might be the only contemporary who can match him in his enthusiasm for these motorvatin’ Detroit sounds. 


New Orleans 1957-The Missing Links

Throughout his interviews and writings, Kaye has consistently acknowledged and championed the forgotten forebears who created the Urtext like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters (“The Twist”) and the Gladiolas (“Little Darlin’”). The rough edges of these ramshackle records were later rounded off and taken up the charts into glory by the acolytes who became the recipients of the recognition.  I’m still surprised at myself that I didn’t know “Land of 1000 Dances” was written and first recorded by New Orleans’ Chris Kenner.  I’ve long assumed that the song originated somewhere along Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles.  


London 1977

The Sex Pistols are given abundant space on the page to the point where these derelicts seem to overstay their welcome. While it was a good refresher on the filth and the fury previously documented and unleashed in England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage, I veer towards the line of thought that the Sex Pistols were an off-the-rails rock and roll circus that quickly descended into orthodoxy in no small part to Malcolm McLaren’s Anarchy straightjacket and schtick.  When it comes to UK Punk, the Clash, Buzzcocks, the Jam and the Undertones should be commended for their balance of purpose, passion and pop-art (along with intelligence, design sense and melodic ‘50s and ‘60s sensibilities). These bands were said to be largely influenced by Kaye’s Nuggets.  In fact, the Undertones covered “Let’s Talk About Girls” by the Chocolate Watchband, which was originally recorded by Tucson’s Tongues of Truth (aka the Grodes). Shifting readers away the current vantage point, Kaye reminds us that punk as rendered by the Sex Pistols was truly up against the wall by the time ‘77 ended.  Steve Jones did go on to have a brilliant Los Angeles radio show, Jonesy's Jukebox, in the first decade of this century. 


Los Angeles MCMLXXXIV

It scared me how much metal I knew simply by osmosis from growing in a place where this particular music reigned supreme over the flatlands-filling the buses, gyms and corridors. Holding a hegemony over the heartland, this music was the sound and order of the day. I had to laugh when Kaye gets out his metal detector and describes Mötley Crüe’s drums recorded “As if in Carlsbad Caverns.” 


Seattle 1991

The final chapter contains too much Nirvana and their grunge brethren for my taste, but we live in a pop culture age where the trio has been regulated to a logoed “lifestyle accouterment” t-shirt to be bought at Target (next to ones for NASA, Ghostbusters, Polaroid and Thrasher).  Maybe the grunge overload is to reflect the excessive nature/orientation of the music? However, I was happy to see my all-time Seattle favorites the Fastbacks along with the Young Fresh Fellows receiving honorable mentions along with acknowledgment of the Pacific Northwest region’s progenitors: the Ventures, the Wailers, the Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Sonics.  


“Do You Believe in Magic?”

Ultimately, rock ‘n’ roll is about a feeling and sound that cannot be contained. Kaye is able to present the sound and spirit with astonishing clarity as the cross-cultural-currents sweep over the sound. In no small measure, Kaye also gently reminds readers not to neglect those equally important and mostly invisible influences of the underlying collective unconscious. The musician’s calling of tapping in and articulating the intangible and expressing elusive feelings affixed to an uplifting or descending melody for the ages are arguably the ultimate artistic peaks to work towards.  


Photo from SiriusXM 
Bubbling Under the Surge of Creativity

Kaye understands that records emanate from vibrant scenes and cultural capitals  These scenes cannot be forced to happen as with MGM Records’ disastrous promotional/marketing campaign of the Bosstown/Boston sound in the late ‘60s being a perfect example. On the other hand, Columbia Records greatly benefited from having a recording studio on the teeming 52nd Street jazz/bebop scene in Manhattan during the late ‘40s and early 50s. Kaye reveals a common denominator beneath all these scenes is the elusive something (aka lightning striking) entering the mix along with musicians and an audience allowing things to unravel in order distinguish it from what has become before. All share the collective desire to make something happen and in the process elevate art & life to a realm that is more inspiring, illuminating and more engaging than the necessary, but repetitive work-a-day version. Factors stack upon factors, facet upon facet and events begin to take on a momentum of their own and add up to more than the constitutive parts to become a movement.  Things groundswell on the local and then the regional levels and in the charged air many remarkable events happen in a compressed amount of time. The emerging scene ultimately defines a new sound or vice-versa and then achieves musical lift-off into unexpected realms and anything seems possible-even transcendence.


Dissolution & Disintegration

Conversely, there is the inevitable downward slide and eventual fallout of the scene into apathy, factionalism, or absorption into a larger subculture or the mainstream culture. Internecine clashes, conflict and missed opportunities are also all part of the aggregate story.  I still have to accept the fact that Kim Fowley was indeed a prime mover and shaker in the Los Angeles scene of ‘63 to ‘70. Would we have ever heard the wonders of “Popsicles and Icicles” by the Murmaids without Fowley?


Sifting through for Gold Nuggets & Eureka Moments Many times, when I was much younger I subscribed to the face value notion that art just happened like a bolt of lightning without understanding all the work, commitment, and unseen efforts leading up to the gestalt moment. Kay provides ample evidence of both the optimal conditions and sense of possibility (or in some social milieus, the sense of desperation) required to set things in motion on a collective level. Kaye has certainly expanded and enriched the world as he has provided the monumental Nuggets, Waylon Jennings' autobiography, doo wop dissertations, documentary appearances on the glories of the Fort Worth ‘60s garage scene, and the foreword to the definitive book on Fortune Records. He also sets an inspiring example to keep searching, exploring, listening and bringing things to fruition. Like rock ‘n’ roll itself, one never knows the direction in which Kaye will go. Charged particles of creativity surge through Lightning Striking as it has throughout the work of Lenny Kaye. There is a bit of whirlwind cyclone in Kaye as he seems centered and calm at the eye of the storm, but his artistic expressions can be as unpredictable, flashing and boundless as the remarkable music he collects, documents and plays.



Sunday, September 05, 2021

Travel in the Rainbow: An Interview with Kiyo Ogami of the Fabchicks

                              

The Fabchicks were one of the most distinct Japanese “Girls with Guitars'' groups of this century.  In sensibility and sound, they rate up with the Pebbles and Mama Guitar when it comes to all-female ‘60s inspired garage-pop-beat bands. If they had recorded more and their releases were not so obscure, they could have had the international acclaim achieved by the aforementioned bands. Still, if a Japanese band wished for American recognition and releases on U.S. labels like Get Hip, Norton, Estrus, Dionysus, Spinout, Sub Pop or SFTRI, they had to tour the entire country like Shonen Knife or the coasts like the Neatbeats from Osaka or Supersnazz and Jackie & the Cedrics from Tokyo.  Being included in a Tarantino movie like the 5.6.7.8's also does not hurt. The Fabchicks had an impeccable and strong sense of style and also well defined and refined tastes in music. Most of all, they had some of the sunniest harmonies rising from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Their sole release Travel in the Rainbow is so extremely rare that I could not even find it at the epicenter for all things Japanese garage-Time Bomb Records in the Fabchicks’ home city of Osaka. Finding out more about the Fabchicks had been on my wish list for some time. Guitarist and vocalist Kiyo Ogami was the prime mover behind the band. She recently took the time to fill us in on her past music experiences, current endeavors and possible future explorations. 
And away we go! Growing up, tell us about your early musical experiences.  I believe you studied piano as a youngster? 

As a child, I studied electric organ for 7 years. When did you start getting into ‘60s sounds?

When I was a little girl, I used to play songs by the Beatles and the Carpenters on the electric organ. Playing these songs gave me a fondness for the hits, but I also listened to a lot of oldies. After that, I started listening to '60s garage punk music in earnest after I started playing the electric guitar in a college club.
When did you decide you wanted to form a band?
I think I was about 25 years old.  The first band I joined after my college graduation was a '70s punk style girl band. The leader of the band was into punk music, but I liked garage punk along with '70s punk, but due to little differences in musical tastes, I left the band and formed a '60s style girl band.
How did the Fabchicks form?

I scouted the drummer when she was playing in my friend's band. Except for the drummer, we met through a seeking band members flyer.

Where did the Fabchicks practice?  I imagine bands in Osaka have to rent out rehearsal rooms/practice space?

Yes, almost all bands in Osaka have to rent out rehearsal rooms. We used to practice there after work once a week.

Which type of electric guitar did you play for the Fabchicks?
My main guitar was a vintage Fender Mustang ‘68, looks cool, doesn't it?


Who designed the wonderful and colorful Fabchicks' logo? It was designed by the label owner’s friend, who worked as a professional designer

On Youtube, I recall there was an in-the-studio Fabchicks video from maybe a television show, but it is no longer there. Is this my imagination or was there once something really up like this on Youtube?
Thank you for remembering the video, even though I'd forgotten it myself. Maybe it was released as a promotion video for CD sales, but I don’t know where it is now...sorry.
Your originals “Singing Bird” and “On the Rainy Day” are standouts in that they strike a wonderful balance between the now and then with hopefulness shining through.  Would you provide any background or context on these charming Fabchicks songs? 
I wanted to make evergreen girl group songs like the ones in Sequel Records' "Here Comes the Girls" compilation series. Our songs were inspired by many less-famous girl group sounds. Travel in the Rainbow features “Treat Me Like a Lady”- an uptown pop song most associated with Lesley Gore.  There is also a frantic rendition of “Heart” which was composed by Petula Clark, Tony Hatch and Georges Aber that was also covered by the Remains and 2 of Clubs.  Yes, “Treat Me Like a Lady” was also covered by the Tages ('60s Swedish beat band). The Tages continue to impress me! What were some of the other covers performed by the Fabchicks? We also played ”Da Doo Ron Ron" / the Crystals,  “Captain of your Ship" / the Paper Dolls, “Taxman" / the Beatles, “The Train / 1910 Fruitgum Company” “Mickey" / Twinkle, “I Want You to Be My Baby / Billie Davis etc. In the later years of the Fabchicks, we also played Showa Kayo (Japanese '60’s, '70s songs) like “Yasashii Akuma" / the Candies, “Koi No Sharock /Mie Nakao etc. I recall the Fabchicks opened for the Woggles. Which other memorable bands did the Fabchicks share stages with?
We opened for the Pebbles in Kobe, I so respect them. Also, I played at an event where the Collectors (Japanese mod band) were the main act, which is also a precious memory. Do you know if the record label, Hammerkin' Production, would ever consider putting Travel in the Rainbow on Bandcamp and/or Spotify? Hmm, I don't know as that label is no longer around.

I noticed you have been playing acoustically in the last few years. It appears like you have had a good experience playing a wide variety of venues in the Kansai region.  By the way, the dashing version of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” is really cool. Which venue (with all the interior wood framing) were your performing at?
That must be Unshudo. I played as the opening act for Sally Seltman (female singer-songwriter from Australia) a few years ago at Unshudo. The venue is small, but very atmospheric. Many musicians in Osaka love that space. In 2020, you revisited “On a Rainy Day” in which you re-recorded the song on acoustic guitar with subtle jazz embellishments. Are you moving towards jazz and jazz chords or is this all part of your repertoire? Since I started practicing acoustic guitar, I've been learning some jazz chords.
“Paisley Morning” features some elaborate fretwork on the acoustic guitar.  Sounds like you have been putting in plenty of practice time on the guitar. Now that my kids are a little older, I've started playing guitar every night. Now I'm taking a little break because I'm busy with work. You are most known for leading the Fabchicks, but you have extensive experiences with several other groups.  Would you like to elaborate on your involvement with any of these bands? The Spree (Guitar) the Cleabs (Drums) the Boogies (Drums) Woman Jacket, the NGI Girls (Vocals). The Spree is the aforementioned '70s punk band. I was in the band as lead guitarist. In the Cleabs, I started playing drums as a support drummer. They played '60s psych/garage punk/freakbeat-inspired original songs. I'm also currently playing drums in a band called the Boogies. I recall the Boogies is a ‘70s rock power trio and the Cleabs had the leadoff song on the Hammerkin' A Go! Go! compilation.  The NGI Girls is your trio that has the look and sound of the Supremes and the Three Degrees. How did the NGI Girls come about?  It appears like this trio is very well received by audiences! When my little girl was only two years old, I asked my friends I met at a parent-child gospel circle to help me form the NGI Girls. I've always wanted to sing in a Motown style girl group that sings without instruments. 
The NGI Girls

Are any of the other former Fabchicks members still involved with music that you know of?
The other members still have small children and are busy raising them, so they are not active in music at the moment. Where do you see your music going in the future? When the Corona disaster is over, I want to revive my guitar playing and the NGI Girls activities again! And I want to write songs like Susanna Hoffs, which are based on many shared influences. What are some concepts that you have learned from being in a band that you are able to apply to work and/or life? That's a bit tough question…being unshakable, maybe.

Favorite current Japanese bands and/or musicians?  


After I started playing the acoustic guitar, I’ve been mainly listening to acoustic guitarists' music like Yuichi Ohata, Mari Nakamura, etc. They are great guitar players.

What are some Japanese records, from any era, that you would recommend?  I know you have previously expressed how the Pebbles were a major influence for the Fabchicksl   Actually, I don't listen to much Japanese indie music nowadays. However, I really recommend the Pebbles, as you mentioned. Each member of the band is so talented. I also listen to a lot of old Japanese music like Happy End, Eiichi Otaki, Pico and other Showa-Kayo songs and Group Sounds (GS) recordings. I bascially like foreign music, so I like Japanese songs that are based on foreign music.




The Golden Cups are one of my best recommendation in Japanese GS (Group Sounds). Take a listen to their original “This Bad Girl." Its rough fuzz guitar sound is so cool!
         

Here’s my other recommendation Happy End’s 1973 album and one of the most important bands in “City Pop,” the latest music trend in the world
What have you been listening to lately? Margo Guryan, Judee Sill, Molly Tuttle, Susanna Hoffs etc. I post them as now-playing on my instagram account.


Favorite ‘60s Girl Groups?  The Ronettes, the Supremes, Shangri-Las, Martha and the Vandellas, the Paper Dolls, the Breakaways etc.
 


Favorite Girls with Guitars groups? The Runaways, Nicki and the Corvettes, the Pleasure Seekers and other lesser-known bands found on the “Girls In The Garage" compilations.

What are the most inspiring parts of being a musician?
To be able to interact with many music lovers. On the other side, the most disappointing parts of being involved in music? Not much, but if I had to say, there will always be people who criticize other people's music. What are some of the challenges of being a musician in this 21st century? Be strong in technology lol

What makes music so important in your life? Something I can pursue through a lifetime. Did you live in Beijing at one point in your life?

Yes, after I graduated from university, I studied Chinese there for one year.

I also took my guitar with me to Beijing.




Friday, July 30, 2021

Tokyo Junkie by Robert Whiting



Tokyo Junkie: 60 Years of Bright Lights and Back Alleys...and Baseball is truth in advertising as it’s a memoir mostly of Tokyo from a bygone era-roughly the early ‘60s through the ‘80s bubble. Whiting does later enter the realm of the 21st century and provides coverage of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Covid-19 and the predicaments of hosting the 2020/1 Olympics. Early on, Whiting seems about on target with his insight “...the Japanese already have their own religion: Japan and the idea of being Japanese.” As a writer, he is most of all a journalist, and he frequently writes in broad strokes. Without the singular focus of his two most notable books which examined the Tokyo underworld and Japanese baseball, this one is more ramshackle, but certainly more heartfelt, homespun and obviously personal.


With Tokyo being so highly advanced on many levels, it’s hard to reconcile the prevailing thought during the time of his arrival in early ‘60s Tokyo that the city was sadly considered a backwater (by deployed American clergy and military factions). However, I appreciated learning more about Sophia University as Whiting fondly recounts his time studying there and connecting him to work opportunities (i.e., English teaching) in the rapidly rising, expanding and multi-layered city. Whiting writes with appreciation on how Tokyo formed him for the better after leaving the limiting environment of Eureka, CA and the regimentation of the Air Force. He also exhibits the spirit of adventure and curiosity that was embodied by the late Anthony Bourdain who he mentions as a symbolic fellow traveler. Days turn to decades in Japan and Whiting further elaborates on what he thought propelled the Japanese during the formative era of Tokyo as he cites their inspiring effort, determination, honesty and Gaman. (I was not previously aware of Japan’s women's volleyball team defeating the Soviet Union for the Gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.) He also ventures deep into the Yakuza underworld and their lucrative connections to Tokyo construction, supposedly based on planned obsolescence, and by turn corrupt and entrenched politics.

His smattering of recollections range from “had to be there” moments to the distinctive experiences regarding the overall rise of Tokyo to what many consider (including myself) as the most exciting and preeminent city in the world (with Osaka being a close runner-up). Whiting’s mention of the “abundant hydrangeas” in the early summer evoked memories for me of being in Japan for the first time. He even details the rockabillys in Shibuya’s Yoyogi Park which were featured in Wim Wenders’ documentary Tokyo-Ga. The architecture of Kenzo Tange, former New York Yankee and good guy Roy White who made the effort to learn the language and Ayumi Ishida, singer of Nippon standard “Blue Light Yokohama,” all make appearances in Whiting’s first-hand accounts.

Like most of East Asia in this century, there is a palpable excitement and optimism about the future in Tokyo which stands in marked contrast to the repetitive and perfunctory patterns found in the United States. As a dynamic megacity which challenges attempts at comprehension, Whiting understands that Tokyo needs to be ever-evolving into something it has never been before. Still, many doubted how Tokyo was going to feasibly conduct the Summer Olympics and Paralympics even before Covid-19. Without general spectators, things will be done much differently than attempts to reach the sky high standards set by Beijing in 2008. Facing another seemingly insurmountable challenge, Tokyo and the Japanese will once again characteristically rise to the occasion with Wa and go well beyond expectations.



Thursday, July 22, 2021

Minari-Original Motion Picture Soundtrack-Music by Emile Mosseri

 

Upon initial viewing of Minari, I quickly noticed the atmospheric sound that has become somewhat characteristic of A24 Films (Lady Bird, The Farewell). However there was something more musically implicit that was taking place beyond the foreground screen and speakers. In moments, the sounds swept and rose to express an impressive range, while also being emotionally evocative. Behind all this is multi-instrumentalist Emile Mosseri, who had his breakthrough with scoring The Last Black Man in San Francisco in 2019. His appealing songs, composed upon piano, are embellished with a 40-piece string orchestra outsourced from Macedonia and rounded off by wordless vocals. The soundtrack encapsulates and conveys the shifting vicissitudes of the Korean immigrant Yi family in their attempt of establishing a family farm in Arkansas during the pre-Farm Aid eighties. 


Writing the score from Lee Isaac Chung’s script allowed Mosseri to stretch out without preconceived notions. With this process, the score takes on its own unpredictable and unexpected identity, while also fitting the film. The music expresses the theme of eeking out a livelihood hinged upon the precariousness of nature against a constantly fluctuating agrarian economy-along with a sub-theme of the variegated roles of religion in both Korean-American and Southern cultures. It could even be maintained that Mosseri’s score even carries and propels the film. The soundtrack also achieves a balance of presenting an overall sound alongside standout individual pieces-thus clearing the common trapping of soundtracks becoming nondescript after the main theme (in order to serve the film). This concision and definition could be partly attributed to Mosseri’s extensive background in rock and pop.


Farm to Turntable

“Garden of Eden” has almost an exotica quality and is presented with a lushness that belies the quotidian and incessant demands of tending to the earth. Sung in Korean by lead actress Han Ye Ri, “Rain Song” is an invocation to mother nature to summon the life-giving rains. These spacious songs offer bucolic hope, while confronting the deeply entrenched economic patterns and a hardscrabble land with a sense of determination. This musical encapsulation of hardship and hope is fitting for a film which presents a countervailing take on the prevailing diaspora narrative of East Asian/Korean settlement along the coasts.

 
International Harvester

The stately “Big Country” and hushed “Jacob’s Prayer” are at times evocative of early Sufjan Stevens-if not the maestro himself Ennio Morricone. As heard on the trailer, the stirring “Birdslingers” enters with a bold marching cadence and wordless vocals which effectively conveys the dramatic elements of the film with verve before yielding to an extended piano outro. This most inherently grounded piece also presents Mosseri’s most memorable melody of the soundtrack. With ethereal echoes of “Watermark”-era Enya, Kim Jung Mi, and even Joe Meek, “The Wind Song” is sung in Korean by the aforementioned Han Ye Ri and unfolds in wide-open naturalistic fashion while being carried along by a detuned 1943 Gibson L-2 acoustic and wavering theremin-like gusts generated by a 1984 Korg Monopoly synthesizer. The soundtrack succeeds both at expressing the fuzzy, jumbled and blurred-around-the-edges impressionistic nature of childhood memories along with the shifting concepts of settlement & transience and embracing the foreign and the familiar. At times, Mosseri’s otherworldly score transcends its liminal space & time to connect the temporal and repetitive with the elusive eternal.  Overall, this recording elevates and establishes Mosseri as one of the most adept and striking film composers currently working in the field.