|Oil of Dog
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| Here is a fun little rule of life: What you don’t need, you get.
Bands that can afford to pay $100,000 for equipment are approached by companies with free product, while broken down starving bands are dying for the bread to replace blown fuses. Commercial AM radio programmers are given dozens of copies of records they will never play in a million years, while non-commercial FM programmers who provide exclusive airplay for most records can’t beat them out of the record companies. I never made good grades until I decided to give up academics. My friend Stu Shapiro, a wonderful comedian and folk singer, was never able to find gigs until he sold his instruments and went to law school. (Now he’s performing four nights a week.) Lonely people frighten others away, while popular people have to fend off creepy friends.
Well alright. So I don’t want to be cool. I don’t want to be a rock’n’roll star. I don’t want to be a famous disc jockey. I don’t. I really don’t. I actually really do not want to be cool. Honest. I’ve forgotten about rock’n’roll. I’m no longer interested in any of these things. Absolutely not. Never again. Forget it. No. I mean it. I do not want to be cool. Really. I’m not going to try any more. Really. Honest.
MX-80 SOUND is one of the most important unrecognized groups in the USA. I am slamming you over the head with “Train To Loveland.” Like nothing else. They originated in Bloomington, Indiana, and are now trying to make it in L.A. One forgotten EP, one forgotten album on Island, a brief appearance on a Ralph Record sampler, and now two albums on Ralph. They are crazy, funny, pounding and ripping like a rabid rocket. Incredibly complex rhythms, unsingable melodies, ranting shouted vocals. A literal explosion of ain’t-nothin’-else-like-it.
|I am standing toward the front of a swarm of 50,000 people in Rich Stadium. The naked sun wrings the sweat from us all and my neighbors rub their skin on my skin. That’s why I came here. We are waiting to be bored to death by the Eagles. I talk to the people in my little community. A guy and a girl are smoking dope, then they snort some “T.” I tell them, No thanks, I don’t do chemicals or smoke dope. The guy can’t believe it. You have never done chemicals???? AND YOU ACTUALLY GET INTO THE MUSIC I MEAN YOU ARE ENJOYING IT !!!!!!!!???????||Image under construction.|
| Most people do not understand my appreciation of Frank Zappa.
They say he is trivial, he scorns his the general public, he panders to
his audience’s demand for potty humor, he is too obsessed with
his own dreary view of the world, he is stultified by his own
anger. It is true that when I met him I felt I was before one of
the bitterest and most unsentimental people alive.
And although he is far from objective he says exactly what he feels and it is not always beautiful. But I tell people that I think Frank Zappa will be remembered in history, not as a rock star, but as one of the greatest composers of our time. His place in the stars will not be with Lennon and McCartney and the BeeGees, and although he is one of the greatest rock guitarists who ever lived, he will not endure in the same way as Hendrix and Clapton. Rather I think people will group him with George Crumb, Penderetsky, William Bolcomb, Alvo Part.
One of Zappa’s first heroes was Edgar Varese and I think one of the most important things he learned was that the American composer is doomed to obscurity and possibly starvation in his own lifetime. Varese never had any of his music recorded until he was in his sixties. And why should one compose if no one will hear your music? Zappa, in choosing to be a composer, has his back against the wall. If he were to depend on the sludgeheads who control the concert music world he would starve and never be heard again. But I think he chose to renounce the “serious” music world entirely and decided to make his music available through popular media. (Of course, he loves rock’n’roll (including a strange infatuation with doo-wop) and he would write music that rocked even if he were working under a fellowship from Julliard.) But this choice threw him from a world of dullards into a world of evil and corruption. He now has notoriety but he must deal with a music industry that will steal from him everything it can. And he has learned that if he writes stupid dirty words more people will hear his music. He has said many times he isn’t interested in words, he doesn’t read books, and that the words to his songs are of secondary importance. But this claim rings hollow. No one would ever dismiss as trivial the words on We’re Only in it for the Money and Absolutely Free. But his critics are right to a certain point. Clearly his discovery that potty music makes money could cause him to scorn his audience greatly. But those of us who were never the same after Freak Out keep hoping his bitterness will not eat him alive and trivialize his genius. It is, of course, up to Zappa. He always says with a sneer, “I don’t care what other people think. I do whatever the fuck I feel like doing.”
| This letter, addressed to the station manager, came from a physician at the Lung Center:
Dear Mr. Granger:
. . . . I feel obligated to write to you concerning the quality of two of your program moderators . . . .
I have always looked at WBFO as a refreshing and unique approach to the broadcasting that serves the Buffalo area. I think the general quality of both the programming and the moderators is of the highest calibre. This is precisely why I feel strongly enough about this to write to you. The two moderators in question are Gary Storm and H-. Although both provide entertaining music, they seem to be incapable of expressing themselves in an articulate manner. Stylistic license notwithstanding, Mr. Storm uses enough “like” and “you know” to make anyone turn the dial . . . . I certainly do not expect all moderators to be as polished as yourself, John Hunt, or Dick Judelsohn. Nevertheless, I maintain that, in order to appeal (and not infuriate) an audience of average or above average intelligence, the program moderators must present intelligent discussion between musical selections . . . .
When H- saw this letter, he said, “Man that really hurts me, y’know Storm. That really hurts.” I, on the other hand, was delighted. The very next day I concluded my show with five solid minutes of nothing but ”like” and “you know.” I am always receptive to constructive criticism.
But what makes this story remarkable was that not a week had gone by when I actually met the doctor who wrote this letter entirely by chance at the Tralfamador Cafe. He was young, not much older than me, mustache and spectacles, kind of a groovy guy actually. He laughed, “You can’t imagine how foolish I felt when you did all those ‘likes’ and ‘you knows’ the other morning.” We bade farewell with a few well-intentioned “you knows.”
F(3)I remember the strange magic of this song “Mongoloid” when we first heard it on DEVO’s own Boogie Boy record label. This group told the truth with wry humor. It was a group for the 80’s; just what we had been waiting years for, and it had gestated in Akron, Ohio. But with the release of their first album, something happened to the magic. Surprisingly, under Brian Eno’s production they were not as alien, not as creepy, not as dangerous. Yes, the songs are great, but someone who did not know would mistake them for a slightly quirky electronic band. Commercial rock’n’roll does not mix well with any type of epistemology and, in the hands of a major record label, Devo’s bitter theory of de-evolution was somehow dissipated and defanged.
But what a visionary work of art was that first self-released 45 rpm single, sounding like muffled transmissions from a sweetly murderous race of people who were not of this world:
Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid
Happier than you and me
Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid
And it determined what he could see
And he wore a hat
And he had a job
And he brought home the bacon
So that no one knew . . . . *
* © 1977, Man-ray, Inc. from 45 rpm single De-evolution, Booji Boy Records, 7033-4.
is one of the most important stations in the country. If they add
a record, hundreds of other stations will do the same. One day I
interviewed Norm Schrutt, the General Manager of “KB Radio” (as it is called) and Sandy Beach, who was then Program Director. At that time, the ratings declared KB number one over all other stations in Buffalo.
Top 40 radio does not anger me in the same way as other formats because it seems less pretentious. AOR stations purport to be carrying on the principles of progressive radio – playing a wider range of music and exposing more new acts than Top 40 – but they are really just stereo Top 40 stations. Public Radio pretends to be an exciting alternative to the restrictions of commercial radio, but it is just timid and dull. Classical stations pretend to play classical music but they rarely depart from the well-worn favorites, they are just muzak stations in disguise. All-news stations rarely do more than read the latest teletype; very little of what they do is community-oriented and you can be sure they will never tell the Horrible Truth.
But Top 40 has only one real goal: to be number one by having the slickest brightest best DJ’s play music with the broadest-most-mass-as-is-humanly-possible appeal. This is a rather interesting project. And when a station like WKBW succeeds year after year in a cutthroat market like Buffalo, it is not a success that can be lightly dismissed. Every second of programming must be in control, everyone who works there must be the best. It was this same cutthroat competition that more recently led to the dismissal of Sandy Beach when the ratings dropped to number four. I guess someone had to be held responsible though the slip was probably due to the rising prominence of FM radio. Sandy is now working in San Francisco. A man of his calibre can find instant employment in ten dozen markets. Although I do not enjoy listening to KB, I must respect its long illustrious history.
We are sitting in a production studio in the opulent home of KB Radio. Both Norm and Sandy are large affable men with beautiful ringing voices. Though they make many jokes about being fat, their appearance is more of god-fatherly largeness. They do not wear suits but rather bright casual shirts and slacks. My scrawny 135-pound body and dingy Wranglers and scraggly shoulder-length hair are from another planet. These men are total professionals. You can just feel the professionalism – it is so different from being around the turkeys who run the other stations in town. Norm and Sandy at this time are Number One, they thrive on the vicious competition that keeps them there, they are in control of a very powerful force, and they love to keep everyone else scrambling behind. Both these men knew of me before I ever met them, they know the kind of radio I do, they know I am highly critical of commercial radio. I think they rise to my critical presence in the same way they rise to any competition in the marketplace. Despite the polarity between the WKBW World and the Public Radio WBFO World, our conversation is wonderful. I really like Norm and Sandy, I cannot but admire them.
Gary: Well now I’m-I’m-I’m from a public radio station and-and this is of course commercial territory and-and as such in a sense um, well in one sense it’s hard for me to believe that we’re in the same business. Because the differences between this station and my station are just, just boggle my mind. They boggle my mind.
Sandy Beach: We serve different purposes, for one thing.
Norm Schrutt: Why are we that much different? We’re both communicating. I-I think that, y’know obviously we don’t, you don’t run any commercials and we do but ah . . . . why are we different? I mean we’re both serving a community need I think.
G: Yes it’s, OK well lemme let me start this way. I-I describe WBFO’s intention – we are a public radio station – that’s what we’re called – and-and our WBFO has chosen as its public service urn music, mostly art, and our objective is to present music that-that people don’t hear on other stations. How would you characterize W ah KBW’s ah.
S: Our services, because of the staff and things we have, go into ah all different areas. For instance, during the notorious Buffalo winters which aren’t really as bad as they’re cracked up to be . . . .
G: That’s true.
S: . . . . we offer a great deal of ah safety-oriented service. For instance, road conditions, school and plant closings, things like that. In fact, on the little tour we-ah-we took before this broadcast, I showed you how ah we invested considerable amounts of money to get into a-ah computerized program to make it even more efficient. So that’s one area of-of service with ah safety-type service. And of course we have ah our public affairs shows, which run on Sunday evening, run the gamut to ah from ah Bunny Ross’s show which deals with the aging to Art Griffith’s inner-city show, we-we cover the whole spectrum of public affairs broadcasting. Ahh, that’s another area that we get into. The whole structure of radio, of public radio, umm as the other side of the coin would be um-ah commercial radio, they are structured totally differently and they have to be run in ah-in different fashions. But the point is that we each serve in our own way.
G: Mm hmm.
S: And that I think as we discussed a little bit earlier, each station serves the community in a different manner, in which they overlap. And hopefully within the radio spectrum in Buffalo you can get just about what you want. Ahh if you want classical music it’s there, you want country music it’s there, you want information it’s there, you want all-news it’s there, you want middle of the road music it’s there, you want contemporary it’s there, you want ah AOR it’s there, you want public radio it’s there. So that if you have a radio in front of you, hopefully no matter what you’re looking for on the radio you can find in Buffalo, which is what it’s all about.
N: And th-that in itself serves the community.
N: And I-I think ah I think before (W)EBR went into their all-news format, you know they went to public radio and their all-news format, we didn’t have an all-news station and was really very delighted that they had it.
G: Mm hmm.
N: This radio station cannot get 100% of the audience. Obviously. And your radio station cannot get 100% of the audience either. And we’re all serving those, those people that like what we’re presenting.
G: Mm hmm.
N: And it’s very simple to press the button. Y’know some people may like Danny (Neavereth), some people may not like Danny, some people might like contemporary music, some people – I happen to be hahaha and Sandy knows it – I happen to be a-a-ah closet acid rock fan. I . . . .
G: Oh yeah? Hahaha
N: I mean I really love it and y’know if I go to a Jethro Tull concert or even go a little deeper than that – but ah y’know I kind of ah raise the median age a little. Haha. But I-I y’know that happens to be my kind of likes and dislikes ahh and that’s why Sandy does the music and I don’t.
G: I see. Umm but of course there’s more to it than-than that, I mean service is part of radio.
S: Sure, sure.
G: But the other distinction is that we’re non-commercial and you’re commercial. So part of your business is making money.
S: Well, we all have our drawbacks! Hahahahahaha!
S: For instance . . . . for instance, I’ll be very honest with you. And this-is this-is one of my things. I’ll be blatantly honest with you. I watch say public television about four times a year there’s something on there that interests me. I-ah-I confess I’m Just Folks, just like the average guy on the street. Now when I watch it . . . .
N: The fat average guy on the street.
S: Hahaha. Two average guys on the street, that’s what I am.
S: When I watch it and I see the appeal for funding, during the membership drives on Channel 17 . . . .
G: Mm hmm.
S: . . . . to me, to me a man brought up and raised in commercial radio, I find that far more offensive than a commercial for a product that I may use, tha-that may even turn out to be a service. So it’s a matter of-of your perspective on how you look at it. Now we have, we meet the same ends through different paths. In other words, you’re a public fund – you’re a public broadcasting and public funded, we’re privately funded. The one real advantage is that in private funding the competition is extremely tough.
G: Mm hmm.
S: It has to be because we’re competing for commercial dollars. We don’t have the advantage of being able to put ah a half hour of ah of whistling on the air. We just can’t do that, there just wouldn’t be enough of an audience for it, it-it wouldn’t be attractive enough to most of the people in Buffalo. So you have the advantage of being able to do things like that and you can serve a-a smaller segment of the community because you’re not dependent on rating numbers as the rest of us are. And that’s great. We love it. We wouldn’t change it. Because that gives us something for everyone.
THE HOLY ADVENT OF PUNK
was way back in January or February of 1977 when I hit the airwaves with a
bunch of singles loaned by Dmitri Popodopoulus, a New Yorker who was writing
rock criticism for the University of Buffalo arts rag The Prodigal Sun. The records were weird. There was this guy Nick Lowe on Skydog Records
from Holland, Richard Hell (corny name!) doing an anthem called “Blank
Generation” on Ork Records, an EP on the Carnivore label by a pop group called
The Sneakers (great name!), the vicious Damned on Stiff Records (“The world’s
most flexible label”), the pub rockin’ Count Bishops on the Chiswick label. There was something going on here and I didn’t
know what it was, but me and Mr. Jones were about to enter a new life cycle.
the same time we received an album on Atlantic Records called Live at CBGB’s
featuring shattering performances by groups with strange names like The Tuff
Darts, The Shirts, Mink DeVille, and The Laughing Dogs. As I learned later CBGB’s was a tiny club in
the Bowery of Manhattan that – along with Max’s Kansas City – was the
birthplace of punk. (A year earlier The
Ramones had released their first album, but their company – ABC Sire – didn’t
think Public Radio WBFO important enough to receive a copy, even though no
commercial stations played it. Don’t get
me started.) Scott Field – probably one
of the first DJ’s ever to play Iggy and The Stooges on the radio – showed me a
number of new rock’n’roll fanzines that were to take the place in my heart left
empty years ago by Rolling Stone. I was
soon a regular subscriber to Punk Magazine drawn by an incredible cartoonist
John Holmstrom; the wonderfully erudite Bomp, an historically geared
rock’n’roll mag; Trouser Press (named after a song by the Bonzo Dog Band, how
could it miss!) which at that time specialized in exceptional articles about
little known and forgotten British rockers.
I became an obsessive collector of this new music and I suspect I was one of the first disc jockeys anywhere to play that punk newwave powerpop whatever-ya-wanna-call-it rock on the radio. Unfortunately, by that time in 1977 the New York City punk scene had aged. But for us Buffalonians it was all newness and light. Even so, I don’t believe more than a handful of radio stations in the world were playing this music. It was so real compared to the album swill and the Top 40 drek, it was – well, it was real rock’n’roll!It must be emphasized that one of the most iimportant and transformative impacts of the punk movement was the rise – indeed the predominance – of independent record labels. Prior to the late 1970's the recording industry was completely controled by a handful major record corporations like Warner, CBS, and RSO. These giant conglomorates held a stranglehold on what music was produced and what music you were alowed to hear. As my rigorously objective analysis of the record companies elsewhere in this book demonstrates, the fucking idiots who ran the record companies just about murdered popular music.
But around 1976 the musicians themselves realized Hey! I can record my own songs and produce them myself! It doesn't cost very much. I can pay a record printer to make a bunch of copies of my music on vinyl! It won't cost very much. And I can distribute it myself with ads in Bomp and Trouser Press! It isn't that expensive. And I can manage my own tours and play in little clubs! It might even earn a few bucks. Fuck the big record companies! They can't have a piece of my action! One of the reason the advent of punk is so holy is that it brought forth such a surge of independent music that even the monolithic record corporations took notice. They began signing the punks, buying independent labels, and entering distribution deals with tiny music comanies. The punks paved the way.
At the beginning of every show for a year and a half, I presented my New Wave Record of the Night. Hundreds of groups no one had ever heard before on tiny record labels with crazy names: The Buzzcocks on New Hormones Records; The Adverts on Bright; Chelsea, Sham 69, The Cortinas on Step Forward Records; Novak on the Dumb Label; Johnny Moped, The Radiators from Space, Amazorblades, Whirlwind (real rockabilly!) on the prolific Chiswick label; Slaughter and the Dogs on Rabid Records; The Droogs (reviving the sound of the psychedelic Seeds) on Plug’n’Socket Records; The Bomp label from Bomp Magazine with Venus and The Razorblades, the girl group Snatch, The Mumps, Jook, The Zeroes (from the USA, there was also a British Zeroes on Small Wonder Records), incredible Earl Mankay (formerly of Sparks); Thundertrain on Jelly Records; The Residents on Ralph Records; from Bloomington, Indiana on the Gulcher label The Gizmos and MX-8O Sound; The Heartbreakers (New York Dolls offshoot) on Track; Clone Records out of Akron, Ohio gave us The Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey, The Bizarros, and Harvey Gold; Count Viglione on his Varulven Records; Mark Thor on Indy, The Pork Dukes on Wood; the leather-jacketed Smokey on S&M Records; Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, Greg Kihn, and The Rubinoos on Beserkely Records (really one of the very first new wave labels, they appeared in 1976 with a humorous style of promotion that was later imitated by Stiff and others); Pere Ubu on Hearthan; Willie Alexander and The Boom Boom Band on Garage; the amazing Ork Label with Television, Richard Hell, Link Cromwell (who is now called Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group); The Twinkeyz on Grok; Johnny Barnes on Night Crawler; The Power Play label with the John Byrd Band; Stiff Records of course, which released an anthology album that changed my life, this was the world’s first taste of The Damned, Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric; and Stiff continued to release the best of the New Wave with Ian Dury, Mick Farren, Ernie Graham, Tyla Gang, Larry Wallis, and our old friend Nick Lowe from Brinsley Schwartz; The Chain Gang on Kapitalist Records; White Boy on Doodley Squat Records; Patrick Fitzgerald (punk folk) on the wonderful Small Wonder label; The Nerves on The Nerves Record Company; Vengeance Records with The Cramps; Plummet Airlines on State; The Furys on Double R; Devo on Boogie Boy; The Pop! on Back Door Man Records; the French punkers Metal Urbane on Cobra Records; X-Ray Spex on the X-Ray Spex label; Killer Kane Band (another New York Dolls member) on Death Records; a group called Destroy All Monsters on Idbi Records; Jools Holland on the Deptford Run City label; the mysterious Skydog label with Asphalt Jungle, Motorhead, Rocky Sharpe and The Razors, Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets; Do It Records with the group Roogalator; The Only Ones on Only Ones Records; the great group Eater whose label was called The Label; The Desperate Bicycles on Refill Records; Don Kriss on Carrot; The Human Switchboard on Rug Records; the delightful Rhino label with The Winos and our old friend Wildman Fischer; The Nails on Screwball Records; The Valves on Zoom; the completely insane Half Japanese on the 50,000,000,000,000,000,000 Watt record label; Just Water on their Branded label; Klark Kent on Krypton Records; The Gorillas on Raw Records; the inimitable Wazmo Nariz on Fiction Records; Dangerhouse Records who released many groups from California, including The Deadbeats and The Avengers; Page Croft on Alien Records and dozens more, more than anyone could ever know. I am quite certain practically all these groups received their first Western New York airplay on Oil of Dog. Hell, they probably released their first, and sometimes only, airplay anywhere.
It was a time of great excitement. There was a New Wave band playing around town called Lip Service and there were the first to open the way for the fine Buffalo bands that followed like The Jumpers, Billy Pirana and the Enemies, The Elements, and The Third Floor Strangers.
traveled to New York City in January of 1978 and visited CBGB’s and Max’s
Kansas City. I met Ira Robbins of
Trouser Press and he seemed very bored with me. It was at this time I had my famous adventure
in the offices of Punk Magazine, meeting Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom and
became something of a cause for me and circle of other people in Buffalo. All the other radio stations oozed disco and
Styx and the dullest Fleetwood Mac tunes and the faceless music of Olivia
Newton-John. Monday nothing Tuesday
nothing Wednesday nothing every single goddamned minute of the day nothing nothing
nothing. WBUF, the progressive commercial station
in town had diluted beyond recall their already cowardly programming. But it was clear to a few of us that the most
exciting popular music – THE NEXT BIG THING – was to be found in this
underground of little labels and punky sounds.
But it never happened. Something went wrong.
One morning about 7:30 AM, I broadcast a short
radio play about a woman who has wasted 30 years of her life doing
nothing but care for her mother. No doctor has ever diagnosed the
mother’s ailment, and she takes brutal advantage of her
daughter’s guilt. In the end of the play, the mother dies
and the daughter cries “Oh my God!;” the very meaning of
her own life is now gone too.
I receive a phone call from the woman who loved Schubert’s “Great.” She tells me her situation is similar, caring for her invalid husband, he has a speech impediment and he is so thankless sometimes, it is such a burden. “God bless you Gary Storm, God bless you, when things get rough I will remember this, it is so hard for me sometimes and I need to know that I am not the only one, you have shown me that I am not the only one. God bless you Gary Storm. I think you are a wonderful young man. God bless you Gary Storm.”
“Splash” by THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS. Roky Erickson, the lead singer, is now an avatar, a saint, a martyr of all the madness and passion that erupted during the psychedelic age. It is, I guess, just a corny old psychedelic love song by my favorite favorite favorite acid psychedelic punky band of all time, just a little cosmic fluff, an astral ditty, a mind-expanding snippet.
I’ve seen your face before
I’ve known you all my life
And though it’s new
Your image cuts me like a knife
And I’m home
And I’m home
And I’m home
To stay *
But this song, this song, long ago, dark rooms, exploding mind, smoky rooms. It is still so real to me.
* © 1966, Tapier Music Corp. (BMI), from The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, International Artist, IA LP1.
Figure 11: I still regret that I forgot to include Lou Reed's Berlin on my list as one of the best albums of 1977. It is, to this day, one of the greatest albums of all time. (Photo of Article by Zowie)
|THE CRITICS' POLL
I contribute to Dale Anderson’s "Critics' Poll" in the Buffalo Evening News. The critics are various album-oriented radio programmers, independent promoters, local reviewers, concert directors, and buyers for record store. One recent poll turned out like this:
CRITICS' TOP 10
1. Captain Beefheart, Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)
2. George Thorogood and The Destroyers, Move it on Over
3. Weather Report, Mr. Gone
4. Joan Armatrading, To the Limit
5. Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Hearts of Stone
6. Eric Clapton, Backless
7. FM, Black Noise
8. Dire Straits, Dire Straits
9. 10 CC, Bloody Tourists
10. Bryan Ferry, The Bride Stipped Bare
CRITICS' BOTTOM 5
1. Elton John, A Single Man
2. Stephen Stills, Thoroughfare Gap
3. DEVO, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO
4. Steve Martin, A Wild and Crazy Guy
5. Village People, Cruisin' *
On the same page are listed the top ten selling albums in the Buffalo area. They have been top sellers for several weeks. All of these records, except The Who and The Stones appeared in the “Critics' Bottom 5” when they were first released:
1. Billy Joel, 52nd Street
2. Donna Summer, Live and More
3. Foreigner, Double Vision
4. Linda Ronstadt, Living in the USA
5. Grease Soundtrack
6. Steve Martin, A Wild and Crazy Guy
7. Styx, Pieces of Eight
8. The Who, Who Are You
9. Rolling Stones, Some Girls
10. Yes, Tormato
Clearly, the taste makers of the city are not the critics, promoters, record stores, or album-oriented stations. The top selling albums owe their success to Top 40 radio and television. Stations like WKBW and WBEN are still The Force. It can be argued that the public is uninformed, that there is no free flow of information: at the time this list appeared, the only radio station playing half the top ten critic’s choices was little ol’ public radio WBFO between the hours of 3:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.
My list for this particular critic’s poll was meant to bring attention to albums others might overlook:
1. The Muffins, Manna Mirage on Random Radar Records
2. Lou Reed, Live, Take No Prisoners
3. George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Move it on Over
4. Joan Armatrading, To the Limit
5. Blondie, Parallel Lines
6. Sweet Honey in the Rock, B’lieve I’ll Run On . . . See What the End’s Gonna Be on Redwood Records
with honorable mention to the Akron Compilation on Stiff Records, and a local record by Armand Schaubroeck called Ratfucker. (I would have included DEVO and Captain Beefheart as winners but the Warner rep did not give me the records until long after they were released even though I am the only DJ in the city who will play them. I will never forget this humiliation.)
Why is there such a disparity between the records loved by those who hear almost all the records released, and the records bought by the public at large? Does the public consist of music lovers as ardent and obsessive about their opinions as those of us who live and earn money over music? I can’t say. I don’t have a single friend who owns the soundtrack to Grease.
I constantly battle a strange deductive reasoning which I can’t accept. I am not even sure it goes:
Radio station plays the music – public buys the music – the radio stations and record companies conclude: This is what the public wants.
Record companies promote the music – radio stations play the music – the public buys the music – radio stations and record companies conclude: This is what the public wants.
Record companies promote the music – public buys the music – radio stations play the music – radio stations and record companies conclude: This is what the public wants.
Public buys the music – radio stations play the music – record companies promote the music – radio stations and record companies conclude: This is what the public wants.
Whatever combination of chicken and egg – or disc and dollar – can be deduced, the fact remains that record companies and radio stations have hundreds of millions of dollars to back their policies. There is no reason for them to question, there are no quantifiable counterarguments. THIS IS WHAT THE PUBLIC WANTS. THEY ACT OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL. THEY ARE UNMANIPULATED AND ARE FULLY AWARE OF ALL THE CHOICES AVAILABLE. THE RADIO STATIONS AND RECORD COMPANIES HAVE NOT FAILED IN THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES.
All night long I say otherwise. Even my own station does not think my point of view is worth the money. Ah!
* Dale Anderson. “Critic’s Poll,” Buffalo Evening News Gusto, Vol. CXCVII, No. 311, Nov. 10, 1978, pages 36 ff.
|WHAT WERE THEY THINKING OF?
The Chief is under great pressure to look tough. “Ya gotta be macho, Chief,” his lackies tell him, “All this peace-keeping stuff isn’t impressing anybody.”
“I need a crisis of some sort,” he tells his lackies, “or I might as well bag the whole election.”
“Why don’t you invite the Shah into the country, Chief?” suggests a lackey.
“Perfect,” says another. “Those loony brained Persians are sure to try something. They’ve been nuts for centuries, especially after what that murdering sonofabitch did to them.”
“Good thinking, “says the Chief. “Then I can respond with a ‘Tough Stance’ and maybe even some ‘Increased Military Spending’ without appearing to contradict my election promises. Even the right-wing shills who choose the news will eat it up.”
“And if that isn’t enough,” says a lackey, “you can always give the Reddies the go-ahead for a ‘Threat to World Peace.’”
“Yeah! We haven’t had one of them in a long time. They’ve wanted to get some action on those Moslems for a long time anyway. Besides, the old Comrade needs a tougher image as bad as I do, what with his diseases and all. He and I could do each other a good turn. Yes, sir! If this works, the poorsiobs out there won’t think twice about the gas lines or inflation.”
“Chief, if this works, you would be a shoo-in next November.”
“Yeah,” says the Chief, “and it’ll only cost a few billion dollars and a few thousand of our kids’ lives at the most. Praise the Lord!”
It is 1975. This kid calls me. “I’m in a group. We’re playing at my high school this Friday night. We’d dig it if you’d see us.” So I’m really flattered. I’ve only been doing my show for a few months.
These kids, all high schoolers, all ego and energy. They called themselves PEGASUS. It was their first gig ever.
Five years later they became the only group in Buffalo that can survive doing their own material, a quasi-progressive sound, like Genesis. They flourish, they become stars, they become fine musicians, their audience grows tired and goes away, they flounder. Now they appear occasionally, always working on new projects, always making another “final appearance,” pursuing elusive success.
The leader of the group, this kid who called me, Mark Freeland, is a full-blown genius, frenetic manic compulsion. In 1979, Pegasus releases an exceptional single, recorded in a home studio, drummer in a bedroom, bass in the living room, synthesizer in another room, guitarist in the other bedroom, singer with the engineers in the bathroom.
Welcome to the city of the strange ones
I picked up the waste that’s scattered on the shore
Swimming from a civilization
They just couldn’t handle anymore
The flotsam and jetsam of the human race . . . . *
For the next three decades Mark Freeland put out some of the most amazing music ever heard anywhere. And for the most part, he sequestered it all in Buffalo.
* Pegasus. “City of the Strange Ones,” © no date, Public Affairs Music Pub. (BMI), from 45 rpm single, Buffalo College of Musical Knowledge, BCMK 63.
|I wonder if I’m the only disc jockey ever to broadcast in its entirety Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. It was produced in 1969 by Frank Zappa and for those who listened, it was one of those life-was-never-the-same-after-that experiences, because it opened the province of rock’n’roll to include ANYTHING!||Image under construction.|
| A few years back there were two progressive all night DJ’s in Buffalo at the same time. John Farrell on WBUF,
and me. John turned me on to more wonderful music than anyone I
ever met. Now I am the solitary bastion of all night freedom
because he lost his job when his station was bought by a fool who does
not care about music.
Once, both John and I were recipients of remarkable poems created by L. P. Lundy, who is one of the artists associated with the cutting edge experimental art-space known as Hallwalls. Mine was beautifully scrawled on a large lacquered sheet made from pieces of paper with lines and marks all glued together:
I can tell you this much; it’s past midnight
and I feel the presence or lack of presence
of the new moon or the absence of a visual
image. I am frankly bemused when this Lunar
phase comes into play as I always (so far) find my-
self in a very productive phase and also relaxed
and simultaneously alert (mentally and physically). I
am also very active during the full moon although
I cannot apply that Lunar influence as directly to my own
good. It is also a warm spring night of April 1977 in Buffalo,
New York. The time right now is 3 am exactly, and I
am sitting in front of this on the floor listening to jazz
on the radio on WBFO 88.7 FM. I feel quite pleased.
Figure 12: Gary Storm with The Ramones: "Here is some guy who interviewed us when Tommy was still in the band. I think I remember him. The asshole didn't know anything about us." (Photo by Zowie)
Some of my most humiliating moments in radio have
been interviews with rock’n’roll stars. Even when the
conversation goes well, I always leave feeling like an ass. My
final question always goes to me: Why in hell do I do this?
Usually for a non-commercial programmer at a small FM station, setting up an interview is a series of totally degrading events. First, I call the promotion department of the rock star’s record company; they in turn always switch me to the publicity department. Publicity in turn tells me the name and number of the star’s agent. I call the agency and the secretary promises to get right back to me. They never do. I call again, they still don’t know the itinerary for Buffalo, they will call as soon as they know. They do not call. Finally, it’s the day of the concert and I still don’t know if the interview will be in the hotel, or at the radio station, or backstage after the show. I call the agency once more. They give me the hotel and room number where the road manager is staying. After a number of calls, I finally get a hold of the road manager. If he tells me to come to the hotel at a certain time, we can be assured of a long wait in the lobby and a very rushed interview. If they promise to come to the radio station, we wait for hours leaping at every phone call until they call to say they are lost or are delayed at one of the big important commercial stations and can’t make it. If, as is usually the case, I am to interview them backstage after the show, I get the pleasure of being treated like a pig by all kinds of goons who have been hired just for that purpose. The ticket takers tell me I can’t bring that tape machine in here, I yell at them, I want to speak to the record promoter immediately. After a prolonged bad vibe session, the promoter convinces them I have permission to exist. Next, in trying to get backstage, I have to convince some cretinous security thug to send a message to the road manager that I have arrived. After tossing a number of messages into the void, they finally lead me back with a sneer. Backstage, I stand around being yelled at by roadies to get out of the way and not to lean on that, until finally I am permitted to perform my rite of supplication before the god or goddess after whom I have quested.
Once a young nurse whispered to me, “Oh I’d give anything to go backstage.” Backstage. It has such a magic sound. The dreams of our day are rock. Backstage, where they keep the dreams, carefully guarded. Only the chosen can come near. Backstage, up in the sky, close to the stars, the goals of our lives twinkling, cool laughing partying roaring rich lusty sinful bright careless holy, in heaven backstage with the stars. That is why I do this. I am just another groupie but I do not take the easy route of giving blowjobs. And I always leave foolish with the same old words on tape and a few cold cuts and hunks of cheese I snitched from the hospitality table.
In my interviews, I try always to prove these stars are human. I attempt informality, regular conversation; boring chit chat is important. I want the personalities of these people to come across but I never find what I am looking for. I hate the stars. I hate them because I am not their equal, because they won’t be human with me. And I hate them because they are human, because after the brutal vulgar rude cold managers and roadies and promoters and bouncers, these humiliating obstacles at every turn, after all the begging and yelling and wasted energy, I find myself confronted with just another person. When I am close, the stars do not shine.
Once, in 1977, I interviewed The Ramones, perhaps the most important new rock’n’ roll band of the ‘70’s. This time the interview was, for a change, rather easy to set up. Linda Stein, their manager, had been very cooperative. This was nevertheless one of my most humiliating interviews because as I sat close, the stars kept razzing me. At the time, I did not know much about punk rock or The Ramones. I was simply very fond of their music and possessed a vague sense of its importance. I blush now because I didn’t know of their resentment for the Sex Pistols. Johnny Rotten was just a gawgling kid in the audience when The Ramones first toured England; they were a great inspiration to the forming of the Sex Pistols. The Pistols roared onto the scene as the punk group depriving The Ramones of much deserved glory. Moreover, they were terrible musicians while The Ramones are one of the tightest most careful of all rock bands. Me and my tape machine sitting in the basement of He & She’s close to the stars – Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny – with managers, agents, promoters, roadies, everyone talking at once. I went to pieces. In exasperation, I tried word associations since I was unable to elicit any answers to my questions at all, much less long serious answers packed with information. I yelled out words like Fizzies, High School, Fireball XL-Five. All the voices get mixed up and I could not distinguish one Ramone from another in transcribing the tape:
Gary: . . . . ah, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
The Ramones: Dungies, haha.
G: Huh? Oh, bunk! Is . . . . bunk is, bunk is different, bunk is ah . . . .
R: Different than punk, it’s different than punk, it’s . . . electronic punk.
G: Electronic punk. Turds!
R: Sex Pistols! (Everyone laughs.)
G: Yer really down on the Sex Pistols! For real?
R: No! No! We like them.
They’re our friends. (Lots of laughter.)
G: They are your friends????
R: Yeah sure.
G: Well it seems to me . . . . I don-
R: They’re our only friends.
G: Well I . . . . I’d be friends with them if I ever saw them. It seems to me that they learned a lo- . . . . a few things from you.
R: Yes. Yes.
Linda Stein, their manager: How to talk, how to walk, how to breathe . . . .
R: Dee Dee taught ah Sid Vicious how to play bass, over in England there.
G: Yeah? Same way that ah . . . . John Entwistle taught Jimi Hendrix I guess, Right?
R: Did he?
G: That’s what I heard, I heard that John Entwistle taught Jimi Hendrix how to set up his ah amplifiers.
| From Rolling Stone Magazine, November 30, 1978: “Stan Cornyn: Rock’s Moralist” by Mikal Gilmore:
One morning last summer, Stan Cornyn, the erudite executive vice-president of Warner Bros. Records, stood before a Billboard convention of radio programmers, administrators and disc jockeys, and told them that they were headed for trouble. In their scramble for net audience and revenues, said Cornyn, these radio personnel were forging a style of programming that was predictable, homogenous, and artistically stultifying. And, he lamented, record companies were only too happy to help. “Inside any record company, costs are running away,” said Cornyn, “and if everyone’s piece of the action continues to get bigger, the result is inevitable: record companies will lower their risk taking (and) music will become more stereotyped.” *
Wow, here’s a guy who might understand my struggle to get music on the airwaves.
* Mikal Gilmore. “Stan Cornyn: Rock’s Moralist.” Rolling Stone, November 30, 1978, Issue 279, page unavailable.
|May 20, 1979
Warner Brothers Records
3300 Warner Boulevard
Burbank, California 91510
I am the popular-music director at WBFO, a small public radio station here in Buffalo. My local Warner representative refuses to keep me updated on the latest releases. This is very frustrating and I do not know to whom I should turn in your large organization.
I am writing to you because I read the article about you in the November 30, 1978 Rolling Stone. I do not know if you are “rock’s moralist” but your business philosophy seems to recognize the importance of small alternative stations like mine.
My local Warner representative, O--, does not seem to realize the value of WBFO. We broadcast a very eclectic selection of music including rock, jazz, folk, blues, old-timey, R&B, country & western, classical, and ethnic genres. My playlist (examples of which are enclosed) is respected among many of its recipients as a sort of newsletter on lesser-known quality releases. (In fact, Robert Christgau of the Village Voice chose as his pick-hit-of-the-week an album by the Bizarros on Clone Records, after reading about it on my playlist. This notoriety led to the Bizarros signing with Mercury. They thank me on the back of their new album – a small but happy victory.)
I also produce a totally free-form all night show called “Oil of Dog” which has a significant cult audience among all night workers, partiers, and students. I contribute as well to the Buffalo Evening News Critic’s Poll (much like Christgau’s “Pazz and Jop” review). On several occasions, I have been humiliated by having never seen Warner releases which appear in the Critic’s Poll or which are requested by listeners. I wrote a letter to O-- about this and I later spoke to his boss S--, but little has changed. As of this writing, I have yet to see any of your latest releases including Emmylou Harris, The Roches, and Danny O’Keefe.
Please understand I do not want revenge on O--, nor do I want free dinners, junkets, DEVO suits, etc. – all I want is two copies of all new Warner releases as soon as they come out. You have one of the best A & R departments in the business and without WBFO many of your most wonderful records would receive no airplay in Buffalo. I hope you understand and can help us.
“Oil of Dog”
| We asked Frank Zappa about the negative reviews of his albums.
Frank Zappa: I do whatever I want, if somebody thinks it’s commercial, fine, if they think it’s ugly, fine, I don’t care.
Gary: Uh huh.
Z: If I like it, it’s fine, if I don’t like it, it’s no good.
G: And it fits in.
Z: I’m the ultimate one who decides if whether or not it’s gonna be a success or failure in terms of its composition or performance. And I said, as I said before, I do it to amuse myself and anybody else who thinks similarly to me. Yet, now always bear in mind that you will never convince another human being of your point of view – in life.
David Bloom: Mm hmm.
Z: You will never convince anybody else of anything unless they already agree with you.
G: I believe that with all my heart and soul.
Z: People refuse to have their minds changed. If anybody ever nods their head in agreement with you, it’s only because they’re predisposed to that notion and it was right there. Human beings are not logical. They’re a bunch of stinkers. They all suck.
He sings like he is about to vomit. What is he saying – I have never caught all the words.
. . . . in the haze of dawn
. . . . lost in time
. . . . underground sea
But the fear in the wicked pulse is a contagion that overwhelms me.
. . . . circles on a canopy
The buzzing guitar sounds almost like the bassoon in the Alfred Hitchcock theme.
The dark fat spires . . . .
PERE UBU, one of the most unique visions of rock music, their albums and singles are unparalleled in the shock they inspire.
No turning back on a suicide ride . . . .
The pounding is faster, killing me.
. . . . time seems like it’ll never be again
30 seconds and a one way ride . . . .
Like over a megaphone the puke voice chants:
30 seconds over Tokyo
30 seconds over Tokyo *
over and over. The needle is ripped across the grooves by the musical death ray.
* Pere Ubu. “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” © 1975, no pub., from 45 rpm, Hearthan Records, HR 101.
My heart is pound pound pounding. I am
hot. I am exhausted yet I can’t relax. Today the band
had our second recording session. It was grueling. I am
completely wired. I feel that I failed in another dream. We
did not do well. The session produced no useful tapes.
I want to play rock’n’roll. I want to be more than a radio star. On the way home we talked about the Super Bowl which was also today. Everywhere it is either rock’n’roll or sports. Each has been bloated to mythical proportions. I said In the United States we think our lives are boring and pointless, millions of us think this, that we are ugly and dumb and our lives are dull. Rock’n’roll and sports are the American dream. They are the salvation. They are the only beauty and meaning and glory to be found in American life. Anyone who is not in the Life is a pig. I want rock’n’roll because I could never be a quarterback. I hate sports anyway. All sports. I want Rock.
As I said this I felt like a pig.
Last night I did my one night stint at a commercial station, WBUF-FM. It was hell. I did not do well. I hated what they wanted me to do. I am desperate for money. The idiots who run WBFO do not think I am worthy of support. I will never forgive this. I will never forget this. I want money. I do good work.
I watched a movie on TV tonight – Black Sunday – about an evil plot by terrorists to kill everyone in the Super Bowl stadium. The two main terrorists – a crazy man and a beautiful woman – kill many people in pursuing their wicked plan. The movie was trash but I felt a strong empathy for them. As I watched I experienced an epiphany of murder. I felt the real feeling of killing someone. It was horrible. It could not be undone. My dreams crumble. I am no longer a DJ or a scholar or a rock musician. I kill. I flee.
My heart beats. I feel so warm. Now I realize my own death. That intense understanding that, yes, I too will die. When I was young I could sustain the fear of this epiphany for days. Now I can’t hold on to it, it passes, I can’t examine it.
My heart beats hard. I am hot. I am agitated. A pig. I am no pig.
Figure 13: Gary Storm sloshing about in a dream while singing in the band called Extra Cheese that he formed with Bruno Clark who is as great a rhythm guitarist as was John Lennon. (Photo by Ava Shillin)
|WOMEN, MUSIC, AND ELLEN MCILWAINE
It is 1975. Last Thursday Scott Field and I interviewed Ellen McIlwaine. It was my first interview. Ellen is a genius. She roars on her acoustic guitar the way Hendrix did on his Stratocaster, ramming the sound through a bank of distorters. She makes fun of tinkly music and says playing folk on an acoustic guitar is like driving a Porsche no more than twenty miles an hour. Her talk was straight and strong. In 1968, she released an album with the group Fear Itself. This was followed by two fine albums on Polydor, Honky Tonk Angel and We the People. Several years later an astounding privately produced album called The Real Ellen Mcllwaine was released only in Canada. There is no more earthy and aggressive and dynamic a performer anywhere. Is that a woman making those wild thrilling noises from a guitar?
My stereotypical question about female guitarists indicate that both Ellen Mcllwaine and I have been harmed by a sexist music industry. She is fifty times the performer, songwriter, singer, and musician than almost any Top 40 or AOR star and yet she languishes in obscurity. My theory is that a woman can’t make it big in this business unless she somehow combines being completely unique with being harmless and sexy and passive and unoffensive. She must be both a wallflower and a star. There is only one Linda Ronstadt, her imitators don’t even get to cut records while every few months a male vocalist is hailed as the new Bob Dylan. A woman can’t be raw and gutsy like Ellen Mcllwaine or Elizabeth Barraclough, she can’t play "male" instruments, she can’t be unattractive.
These generalizations are true for rock, jazz, soul, and country-western. People will tell you looks don’t matter in classical music but they are lying. Only in bluegrass and old-timey music – true folk music – do the barriers seem to break down a little between male and female performers though you will almost never see a woman playing a stand up bass in a bluegrass band.
My comments admittedly paint broad and imprecise strokes. They are little more than impressions. No one questions the genius of the big female stars. The problem is that after most people who listen to rock and pop have listed Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, Nancy and Ann Wilson, Debbie Harry, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Pat Benatar they are hard pressed to list more than a few more women whose music they know.
The fact is that (at the time of this writing) women stand almost no chance of being successful in the popular music business. I have proven this for myself by discovering literally hundreds of incredible albums by incredible women most of whom have utterly vanished. One propensity I have which spells disaster for writings of this sort is my passion for making epic catalogs. I want to name some of the women I play on Oil of Dog. I realize this list will do little good and will be interesting only to those who know the music. But I do not know what else I could do. Some of these women do find exposure elsewhere, but for most of them I provide the only airplay almost anywhere. My categories are very loose and the list is pretty much off the top of my head and will, of necessity, neglect dozens of geniuses.
WARNING: What follows is an Epic Catalog, otherwise known as a Long Boring Pointless List.
SINGERS AND SONGWRITERS like magical Amanda Trees (who loves dinosaurs), zany Diana Marcovitz, Bonnie Dobson (who wrote “Morning Dew” on the first Grateful Dead album), Cheryl Dilcher, Karla Bonoff (passionate lonely songs including “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”), Tracy Nelson (who started out in the group Mother Earth), Melissa Manchester, nasty bawdy Barbara Markay and her fine piano playing, Melanie (I still roller skate because of her), Laura Nyro of course, Rickie Lee Jones, Dory Previn whose albums are strange and intriguing, Judy Sill, Linda Perhacs who was lethally mellow, raw raunchy Elizabeth Barraclough, Kim Cady, Ruthanne Friedman (who wrote “Windy” and released but one album, but it is one of greatest records of all time), Linda Lewis (her Lark album!), Bonnie Koloc (who created the masterpiece "Lucky Suite"), Joan Armatrading, Barbara Keith (who did a great version of “All Along the Watchtower”), Marshal Chapman (can’t be like other girls!), Carlene Carter, Cathy Moriarity, Sandy Hurvitz (introduced to the world by Frank Zappa, once called Uncle Meat, her name is now Ezra Mohawk), Suzi, Maggie, and Terre Roche (what intricate silly harmony!), Kate Bush, Wendy Waldman (who will be immortal for "Mad Mad Me" and "Winds of New York City"), Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Sandy Denny (from Fairport Convention, now she’s dead, alas), Rosalie Sorrels (she wrote “The Baby Tree” from the first Jefferson Starship album), Judee Tzuke (so special, how she waits like a gem for the diligent to find), Toni Brown and Teri Garthwaite (absolute geniuses who first appeared with the group Joy Of Cooking, absolutely can’t be beaten), and all the others I forget.
Many beautiful records have been released on small RECORD LABELS CREATED AND CONTROLED BY WOMEN: Among my favorites are Meg Christian (classical guitar and almost classical voice), Chris Williamson (soaring voice and soaring songs), Theresa Trull (wrote “Women Loving Women”), Sue Fink (wrote a very funny song “Leaping Lesbians”), and Linda (Tui) Tillery (with one of those voices that seems capable of anything), all on Olivia Records. Holly Near (another one of the most profound of all performers) on her own Redwood Record label. The wonderful melodies of Margie Adams, the humor of Kristen Lems. Kay Gardner (composer of romantic songs for flute), Trish Nugent and the jazzy group of women called Alive! all on Wise Woman Records. Woody Simons evokes her country sound on Deep River Records, wonderful June Millington (who used to be in Fanny) has released a cassette of her songs called Heartsong, and Therese Edell sings her powerful personality on her Sea Friends Records label.
There are the ROCKERS who lead their own bands like Genya Ravan (who used to front Ten Wheel Drive), Cristine (who did a marvelous take off on “Is That All There Is” which Lieber and Stoller sued off the market), Ellen Shipley, Carolyn Mas (“Still Sane”), Siouxie Siouxe mysterious bewitching voice of Siouxie and The Banshees, Vermillion who poses undressed on motorcycles, deadly Grace Jones, Marianne Faithful who recently reappeared with one of the finest comeback albums of all time, Little Nell (from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Maggie Bell, unbelievable Nina Hagen from East Germany with her exploding eyes and enormous mouth, Rachel Sweet (Oh Baby! on Stiff Records), Ellen Foley (who sings with Ian Hunter and The Clash), Jenny Darren (who put out the original version of Pat Benetar’s “Heartbreaker” on a solid rockin’ album that few ever heard), Celia of Celia and The Mutations (her backup band is rumored to be The Stranglers), Jayne Aire and The Belvederes, Martha and her Canadian Muffins, Marion Valentine (who calls herself The Doll, singing “Cinderella With a Husky Voice”), rockin' Suzi Quatro, gutsy Kathy McDonald, Bonnie Bramlet, Robin Lane and The Chartbusters, Laurie McAllister, mystical Lene Lovich, fantastic Joan Jett, and of course deeper-than-the-ocean Patti Smith.
THE GIRL GROUPS OF THE LAST DECADE have distinctly non-feminist names like The Slits (quite experimental almost tribal sound, they pose in only loin cloths on the album cover), Fanny (rockers from the early 70’s), and Snatch (did some work with Brian Eno). The Runaways caused a sensation with some first rate heavy metal rock and Joan Jett on guitar, Birtha and Fancy (both from the early 70’s), The Orchids (a Runaways offshoot), Cake (psychedelic girl group sounds), Spring (produced by Beach Boy Brian Wilson and sounding like it), The G.T.O.’s (Girls Together Outrageously, an incredibibly disturbing album produced by Frank Zappa of the songs and fantasies of some Los Angeles groupies), more recently the primitive avant garde Raincoats, and The Modettes.
THE PROGRESSIVES who fly to the outest reaches of music like Gilly Smyth (one of the original members of Gong, married to Daevid Allen), synthesist Ruth White, uncompromising Annette Peacock, Carla Bley (a mind twisting composer who defies categorization but who is usually filed in the jazz bins), shrieking Lora Logic from the group Essential Logic, Yoko Ono (many of whose experiments were years ahead of their time, just listen to the B-52’s now), Nico (lurking in the Velvet Underground), Julie Tippets (once named Julie Driscoll sang “Season of the Witch” so it chills you to the bone), Lydia Lunch (no-wave leader from Teenage Jesus and The Jerks), Lizzy Mercier Descloux (exploring a bizarre combination of punk and disco), Ursula Dudziak (using synthesizers to make her voice do impossible sounds), Clara Rockmore (consumate virtuoso on the Theramin, you will not believe her musicianship even after you have heard her), Amanda Parsons (golden voice of the group National Health).
There are of course many groups that feature WOMEN AS MEMBERS OF THE BAND, usually as lead singers. Annie Haslam of Renaissance (one of the most beautiful voices in the world), April Lawton, lead guitarist of a group called Ramatam, Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span (the arctypal Celtic voice), Ellie Brooks of Vinegar Joe, Pauline of the new wave band Penetration, and Pauline of the Perils, Poly Styrene young rager from X-Ray Spex, the unbelievable voice of Cindi Lauper of Blue Angel, Annie Golden of The Shirts, Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics (who could belt it out along side of Aretha or Callas or anyone), does anyone remember Barbara Hudson of Ultimate Spinach?, Rose and Licorice of The Incredible String Band, Karen Lawrence of 1994 (“Please Stand By” is a great song), Wendi Kaiser of The Resurrection Band (heavy metal Christian rock), Bobbie Bonnickson of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the alluring Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, Barbara Mauritz who got her start in Lamb, Pearl E. Gates of Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, who used The Clash on her last album, Tina Weymouth, bass player of Talking Heads, Poison Ivy the glaring guitarist of the Cramps, Wendy Wu of the Photos, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson wearing their B-52 hairdos in The B-52’s, petite Lydia Pense from the group Cold Blood (who did one of the best versions of “I Just Wanna Make Love to You”), of course Grace Slick of The Great Society and Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship.
There are a million kinds of folk music and hence a million kinds of FOLK MUSICIANS young and old, and here is the edge of a scratch on the surface: Wonderful Almeda Riddle (born in 1898), Margaret MacArthur (plays dulcimer), Lucinda, Ola Belle Reed and her banjo, The Buffalo Gals (an all woman string band on Revonah Records), The Any Old Time String Band (also all women), Susie Monick (surreal banjo player), Sylvia of Sylvia and Ian, Judy Roderick (beautiful versions of blues standards), Marrie-Lynn Hamond who sings with the marvelous Canadian group Stringband, Paddie Bell and her banjo, Jean Ritchie, Claudia Schmidt (wrote a wonderful song “Drinking Buddy”), Debby McClatchy, Priscilla Herdman (who did the definitive version of the greatest of all antiwar songs, “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”), Jean Redpath and Lisa Newstadt (hovering angels who specialize in acapella versions of British Isle songs), Frankie Armstrong (one of the great British folksters), Kate Wolf, Malvina Reynolds (wrote “Little Boxes”), Peggy Seeger (has released literally dozens of albums of British Isle music), Elizabeth Cotton (immortal for her song “Freight Train” and for the incredible bass line of her upsidedown guitar playing), Mimi Farina, Sara Ogan Cunning, Miriam Makeba (from Africa who sings folk melodies from all over the world), Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and (“Follow Me” on her first solo album!), matriarch Odetta, Buffy St. Marie, Mitzie Collins (does one of the best versions of “Barbara Allen”, a song which must have been recorded a million times), Katie Laur Band (bluegrass), Vivian Williams and Marie Rhines (both virtuoso country fiddlers who know how to swing); fine guitar pickers like Gill Burns, Janet Smith, Margo Random, Wendy Grossman, Lynn Clayton, and Sandra Kerr of the Women’s Guitar Workshop (on Kicking Mule Records); Liz Carroll (Irish fiddler), Paula Lockheart (the new sweetheart of swing), and Alison McMorland from Scotland, and a thousand, thousand others.
A pause in The Epic Catalog.
The epistemology of list making reveals the uselessness of all lists. The attempt to be comprehensive and exhaustive merely reveals the prejudices and ignorance of the list maker. It is little more meaningful than saying, “I know what I know, and here it all is, and if you don’t like it, go fuck yourself.” The attempt to be selective and economical is merely a demand by the list maker that others accept his prejudices and ignorance as a meaningful depiction of reality. It is little more meaningful than saying, “This is what a think and I want it to be what you think too, and if you don’t like it, go fuck yourself.” The list above is limited mostly to the pop, rock, and folk genres. As long and boring as it is, this list does not provide even an inkling of all the fine women performers in other genres.
The Epic Catalog resumes.
Where are the great ladies of THE BLUES like Koko Taylor (truly an earth-shaker who puts Muddy Waters firmly in his place with “I’m A Woman”), Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton (who “Hound Dog” made famous by Elvis), Rosa Henderson, Anna Jones, Margaret Carter, Jenny Pope, Lena Henry, Edith Wilson, Mamie Smith (“first black singer to record a solo performance”, whatever that means), Susie Edwards who sang with her husband Joe under the name of Butterbeans and Susie, Ida Cox, Ma Rainey (bearly audible recordings from the 1920’s, they call her the Mother of the Blues), Lil Green who recorded in the 40’s, JoAnn Kelly (she’s white and looks like a college kid but what a voice!), Lucille Spann, Sippie Wallace, Memphis Minnie, sexy Lil Johnson, Lucille Bogan (whose real name was Bessie Jackson, recorded “Shave ‘em Dry”, one of the filthiest songs of all time), Ethel Waters (one of the few successful black vaudeville stars), Bessie Griffin, Ruby Smith (Bessie’s niece).
I have neglected the great R&B stars like LaVerne Baker, stratospherically voiced Minnie Ripperton, Aretha Franklin, DeNeice Williams, and the earth shaking Gladys Knight, and the immortal JAZZ singers like Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Esther Phillips, and the lesser known JAZZ instrumentalists like pianist JoAnn Brackeen, composer and keyboardist Carla Bley, and saxophonist Vi Redd. Even though no one plumbed the passions of the heart more deeply than Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, I do not touch on the women of COUNTRY AND WESTERN. Nor do the fifties and sixties GIRL GROUPS receive their due, like the Shirelles, Angels, Dixie Cups, and Chantells and I fail to mention POP (EASY LISTENING) STARS like Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand, and Kay Starr with whom I grew up, their music being my father’s music. Most of the FIDDLE AND BLUE GRASS BANDS have women performers so that listing all those women would mean little. The marketing device known as "World Music" is barely off the ground at time this was written.
Some aspects of the CLASSICAL world have been conquered by women such as the many great singers, like the immortal sopranos Maria Calas (who I saw play guitar during a rare solo performance in my home town of Los Alamos, New Mexico), Kathleen Ferrier, Kirsten Flagstad, and Leontyne Price (who I first saw on one of Leonard Bernsteins’ Young People’s Concerts); but in other classical spheres, women have been neglected. One rarely hears composers like Clara Schumann (1819-1896), (more famous probably for being married to composer Robert Schumann), Francesca Caccini (1587-1640), also a composer’s wife, and Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983); or the handful of women conductors like Antonia Brico and Judith Somogi; and there is a multitude of overlooked women instrumental virtuosi like violinist Kyung-Wha Chung, cellist Jacqueline du Pré, avant garde performer Charlotte Moorman who achieved immortality in 1967 playing cello in a composition by Nam June Paik which called for her to appear topless while wearing various masks including a gasmask, and Guiomar Novaes, the Brazilian pianist whose interpretations of Chopin are equal to any master of the keyboard.
The Epic Catalog concludes.
How many of these women have you heard? ALL OF THEM ARE WONDERFUL, MANY ARE UNDISPUTABLE GENIUSES. And yet most people will never hear even their names.
Ellen McIlwaine tells Scott and me her next album will be a total sell-out, she will not attempt to capture her musicianship or her uncompromising gutsiness. She wants commercial success at any price no matter how banal the product. A few years later a dull album on United Artists thuds on the market and into obscurity, just another country-oriented pop album. No hint of that shattering guitarwork and soulful voice. Her commercial sell-out is a flop. I would like to shake everyone and say DON’T DIE WITHOUT HEARING ELLEN McILWAINE!!!!! SHE IS TOO GREAT TO MISS!!!!! The fact that so many mediocre personalities who do not write songs or play an instrument are so famous while Ellen is so obscure is a scandal.
1981 Update: Ellen recently recorded an terrific album with Jack Bruce. She now plays an electric guitar. Maybe this will bring her genius to light.
|Image under construction.||
STAN FREBERG presents The United States of America. “Columbus Discovers America”:
Christopher Columbus: Well, I’d like to put down a little deposit on the property here.
Indian Chief: Okay.
CC: Only have a few doubloons on me, so if you’ll direct me to the nearest bank, I’ll get a check cashed.
I: You out of luck today. Banks closed.
CC: Oh? Why?
I: Columbus Day.
CC: Oh yeah. Ah hem. Are we going out on that joke?
I: No. We do reprise of song. That help.
CC & I: But not much.
(Reprise of the song “It’s a Round Round World.”) *
* No date, Stan Freberg Music, (ASCAP), from Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America, Part I, Capitol, W 1573.
| I decide Dr. Demento should receive my playlists. He sends a reply!
Looks like your show would be well worth a trip to Buffalo to hear.
My radio show might not be a whole lot like yours – I’m on commercial radio, in syndication, so I do have to watch my fuck’s and shit’s, and what I do is somewhat more family – oriented. But if I were on non-commercial radio I’m sure some similarities would emerge.
Dr. Demento’s real name is Barry Hanson. He is one of the world’s greatest vinyl junkies. They say he has 150 thousand records. Bizarre and crazy recordings are his trademark. How inspiring that someone should be able to share their vinyl habit with people over commercial radio all across the land. He has his own stationery and a Dr. Demento rubber stamp. He suggested we trade airchecks, an offer I have never followed up because I am a lazy bum.
Soviet troops cross the Polish border.
Rumors of mass arrests of Polish workers. Union leaders disappear.
United States invades Cuba in retaliation.
World is on the brink of nuclear war.
Gary feels helpless.
|It’s membership time again folks here at WBFO – OH NONONONONONO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!! NOT MEMBERSHIP WEEK. ANYTHING BUT MEMBERSHIP WEEK. THEY’RE GOING TO BEG FOR MONEY. NONONONONONO!!!! I HATE MEMBERSHIP WEEK. Well, so do I. But I’m afraid it’s the time of year when we here at WBFO go on the air and totally degrade and debase ourselves begging you for money. And it’s obvious why we do it – we can’t make it without you. We need your dough. So send us everything you’ve got. If you’re on a fixed income, you can pledge $10 and otherwise the basic membership is $24, or you can pledge $40 or $60 or $100 or even anything up to ten million dollars. We refuse to take more than ten million dollars. And if you donate during my show you will win two free records – one good one that you will love to play – and one stinky one you can smash and take out your frustrations on. So become a member and not only will you win two free records but all your problems will be solved, there will be peace on earth and your love life will improve. What more can you get for 24 dollars? So call 831-5393 and become a member. That’s 831-5393.||
The origins of the expression “Tin Pan Alley” are somewhat murky, but it refers to the publishing district where hopeful songwriters came to offer their wares in the 20’s and 30’s. It also connotes the scratchy no-fidelity adamantine recordings from that era. Take this one written by B.G. DESYLVIA and LOUIS SILVERS recorded in 1920. The singer has enough ham and corn to feed everybody on Desolation Row. He was born ASA YOELSON but oh mammy! he changed his name to . . . .
Though April ah-showers
may come your way
They bring the flowers,
that-ah bloom in-ah May *
* Al Jolson. “April Showers,” © 1921, Warner Bros., Inc., from Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby; The Golden Years of Tin Pan Alley: 1920-1929, New World Records, NW279.
|Stan Cornyn does not call or write. So I call. His office does not remember my letter even though I sent it special delivery registered mail. They transfer me downstairs to the West Coast Promotion Department. They in turn tell me to call their Cleveland branch. The people in Cleveland are out of the office for the day. The secretary asks if she can take a message. Nothing changes. No one even tries to get revenge on me.|
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