Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Yabba Dabba Doo Time is Over (Last of the Trios)

One of my favorite releases from 2005 was the Swervedriver compilation. It’s amazing how a band could be so popular just a decade ago, and now all its CD's are out of print. These thoughts remind me of the Screaming Blue Messiahs, another great British guitar band (and like Swervedriver, obsessed with American car and gun culture) whose music is now neglected.

If my mention of the Messiahs has inspired you to start singing “I Wanna Be a Flintstone”, please don't! That song was a novelty record, and it led the Messiahs to appear on children’s television. But it was a fluke, and it shouldn't be the only song they are remembered by.

Messiahs’ leader Bill Carter looked like Yul Brenner, sang like Joe Strummer, and played in the slashing, feedback-laden style of Andy Gill and Wilko Johnson. He covered the same lyrical territory as Jeffrey Lee Pierce: swampland murders, deserted highways, and heretical visions. He was also obsessed with American cars and airplanes. The Screaming Blue Messiahs’ first vinyl release was a 1984 Peel Sessions EP. I’m posting the track “Let’s Go Down to the Woods and Pray” from this session, because it differs significantly from the version on the Gun Shy LP. The other track is from their brilliant Good and Gone EP.

After three studio albums and a live CD, the Messiahs were good and gone by 1990. Bill Carter played with the Butthole Surfers on Electriclarryland, and collaborated with Gibby and Johnny Depp in the band “P”. More recently, he has produced a band called Striplight, featuring Mekons’ bassist Sarah Corina and Alex Mitchell from Curve. Allmusic says Bill Carter had a solo album called Stomping Ground and that he wrote the song “Willie the Wimp and his Cadillac Coffin”, later covered by Stevie Ray Vaughn. Apparently WEA isn’t interested in re-releasing the Messiahs music. I have compiled my own Messiahs best of; e-mail me if you’re interested.

Screaming Blue Messiahs: “Let’s Go Down to the Woods and Pray”
Screaming Blue Messiahs: “Happy Home” (big as life, and twice as happy!)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Heard anything new lately?

I don't intend this to be strictly an 80's blog. Having said that, I think the early 1980's was an incredibly fertile period in underground music, and worthy of the attention it now receives from the new dance punk bands paying tribute to the Gang of Four and 99 Records' New York groove, as well as the reissues of great records by ESG, the Fire Engines, Orange Juice, Josef K, Essential Logic, Kleenex/Liliput, the Delta 5, Swell Maps, Ludus, the Beakers, the Blackouts, Factrix, and so on...

Plenty of music blogs are looking for the next big thing. I try to keep up, but it's hard to get excited about singing grandmothers, songs about states, freak folk pedophiles, or the return of PROG (of all things). Leave that to the bloggers who want to clap their hands and say "Fire!" in a crowded arcade. I'm still trying to catch up on great bands I missed in the 90's, like Bailter Space, the Grifters, Thin White Rope, and Prolapse.

I did hear some great new records in 2005 by 50 Foot Wave, the Detroit Cobras, dEUS, the Fall, the Hold Steady, Human Eye, the Knitters, Maximo Park, the Pernice Brothers, and Super Furry Animals. I also really liked the new records by these Atlanta bands: Luigi and the Tom Collins. Luigi is led by Michelle Dubois, who was one of the singer/guitarists in Ultrababyfat. She has a great voice and is a terrific writer of Pixies-ish pop songs. The Tom Collins' last album sounded like Houses of the Holy era Led Zeppelin with less histrionic vocals. They are tremendous musicians, and their new record suggests that they've been spending some time at the Hollywood Town Hall. (Good bands are always more than the sum of their influences; those are just reference points.) Both Luigi and the Tom Collins have mp3's available on their websites and their Myspace pages, as well as on eMusic, and I highly recommend their CD's.

Visit Luigi
Visit The Tom Collins

More about Trios

Morphine was not the first sax/bass/drum trio. Anyone knows who read Sub Pop fanzine, or went to clubs in the early 80's in Milwaukee, Madison, or Chicago: the Oil Tasters were first. I moved from Wisconsin to Georgia when I was 17, and I only got to see the Oil Tasters live once. They were on PBS in Milwaukee once too; I wonder if anyone has the footage of them performing "My Girlfriend's Ghost". The Oil Tasters also covered Hot Chocolate's "Emma" years before Urge Overkill.

Dave Lang righted a wrong in 2005 when his Lexicon Devil label reissued the Oil Tasters LP (first released on San Francisco’s Thermidor label in 1982). Apparently Henry Rollins was going to release the CD on his label before it went under.

Bassist/singer Richard LaValliere was originally a member of Milwaukee band the Haskells, who get a lot of attention from Killed by Death and Collector Scum types. After the Oil Tasters, Richard moved to NY and started a band (called the Brooklyn Cowboys, I think). Sax player Caleb Alexander assisted in the CD reissue, but I don’t know what he’s up to musically. The Oil Tasters’ drummer, Guy Hoffman, joined the BoDeans, around the same time that the Embarrassment’s drummer joined the similarly inferior Del Fuegos. Hoffman went on to play with the Violent Femmes.

This track isn’t on the Lexicon Devil CD. It was originally on a compilation cassette released through my fanzine. You should buy the Oil Tasters’ CD (from Midheaven or Forced Exposure). If you were a fan of the Milwaukee music scene, check out the compilation History in Three Chords. There you can hear Kevn Kinney’s first band, the Prosecutors, plus lots of other good stuff.

Oil Tasters: Chinese Vacation

Thursday, January 26, 2006

From Duos to Trios

I was recently browsing through Thurston Moore’s book about mixtapes. It really took me back. I’m not sure what was so special about making a mixtape versus burning a CD-R for someone these days. I guess it had to do with the effort involved. You had to cue up each piece of vinyl or cassette, and record it in real time; and there was always the worry about the tape running out at the end of each side before the song ended. Getting a mixtape in the mail from a friend was a special joy. However, anyone who wants to trade CD-R mixes with me will be appreciated!

I had a few friends who liked to trade mixtapes, and they were a great part of my musical education. I learned about 60's garage rock and psychedelia from Lars Kvam, and Joe Piecuch taught me about industrial music. Today’s song was on a mixtape I got from Paula, who turned me on to a lot of the music I still listen to today. Big Trouble House was a trio formed by ex-Breaking Circus guitarist Phil Harder in 1989. The band was named after a punk crash pad in Minneapolis. Big Trouble House made three albums before splitting up in 1996. Phil Harder is now a video director (look up Harder/Fuller Films).

The Big Trouble House discography includes their debut, Afghanistan, most of which reappears on their full length Mouthful of Violence. A final LP called Killing and Drinking Songs was poorly distributed, but a single from it called “Bullet for Bad Man” is still available from Scat Records. Big Trouble House also contributed a cover of “Turn on the News” to a Twin Cities tribute to the Zen Arcade album.

“Union Feed Grain Mill” leads of the Mouthful of Violence LP. The video for this song got some play on 120 Minutes. The rest of the LP leans toward Double Nickels on the Dime, with some jazzy guitar leads and political-surreal lyrics, but this amped-up rocker is in full Husker Du mode. I'm sending a shout out to Ann, a native Floridian turned Minneapolitan.

Big Trouble House: Union Feed Grain Mill

More about Duos

I have a terrible urge to point it out when a "new" idea was originated years ago. F'rinstance, decades before South Park, there was a book called Liverpool Jarge in which the titular character was killed in each chapter, only to return to life (without explanation) in the next. The White Stripes got a lot of attention for being a guitar/drums duo, from music fans who may not remember that there were a lot of guitar/drum duos in the 1980's, including the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and the Flat Duo Jets (who reportedly inspired Jack White), the Furors from Connecticut (who have been performing for almost three decades), and one of the original bands on the Athens scene, the Method Actors.

Vic Varney (vocals, guitar, bass) and David Gamble (drums) released their first single (“The Method”/”Can’t Act”/”Bleeding”) in 1980. They followed it with a 10" EP entitled Rhythms of You, and the album Little Figures (which was available in single and double LP versions). All of these were released on the defunct Armageddon label, and none of them have been compiled on CD, which is a shame. Little Figures got great reviews in the British music press.

Vic Varney also brought the sax and drums duo Blurt to the attention of Armageddon Records. I wish I still had my copy of Blurt in Berlin, but I gave it to Jon Ludwig a long time ago, because I wanted him to hear “Puppeteers of the World Unite”.

Vic Varney still makes music, and teaches at UGA. Dunno what happened to David Gamble. You can visit Vic online, as well as the Method Actors’ Myspace page.

“Halloween” is another song that I have loved for over 20 years, and a favorite of Mrs. Manyjars. It’s not specifically about Halloween, more about the changing of the seasons and how (especially here in Georgia) you can get outside a little more when autumn arrives. “Summer’s over/Here comes the weather.” “Halloween” makes beautiful use of steel drums (as does another Method Actors’ classic, “Rang a Tang”). I can’t think of many other rock songs that use steel drums, except for the Super Furry Animals’ “Northern Lites”.

Bret posted the Method Actors' Luxury EP a couple months ago at Post-Punk Junk. Bret's blog gave me the kick in the pants to start my own, because I was afraid he'd post all the good stuff I wanted to write about!

Method Actors: Halloween

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Notes from Underneathica

I did a fanzine as a teenager in the early 1980's, and was privileged to receive a number of records to review from the Subterranean label in San Francisco. This single has been a lasting favorite: for over 20 years, I have enjoyed its unique sound. I know very little about it, except that the music was performed by the duo of Johnny Glenn and David Herbert, and was produced by Tommy Tadlock (who worked with Tuxedomoon, and released a single of his own on Subterranean). A Google search for these names reveals nothing except a new band called The Ballad of Johnny Glenn. This 1981 single (Subterranean SUB 19, b/w "Ectomorphine") was the only release from Pre Fix.

The Subterranean compilation album Red Spot (SUB 15) was also released in 1981. The Woundz were the most rock-oriented of the bands included on this compilation. The singer sounds a bit like the singer for Pre Fix. I wonder if there is any connection between Pre Fix and any of the bands on Red Spot.

(This mp3 is a poor quality vinyl rip. I will try to improve the sound quality in the future. Sorry, smart boy wanted...) This first post is dedicated to my wife, who has put up with me and my record collection for 18 years.

Pre Fix: Underneathica

Woundz: Grey