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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Stone Age Electronica (1968-1971)

One of the most fascinating periods in the history of pop music was the electronic revolution in the late Sixties, most notably the inauguration of the Moog synthesizer in pop music. Very few revolutions in music disturb the record buying public: punk rock, for example, rap when it really mattered, but arguably the synthesizer might have been the most radical.

Just when rock music was getting set in its ways in 1968 with Cream and Jimi Hendrix-influenced long guitar solos, drum solos and rock operas a bizarre classical album by Walter Carlos and Benjamin Folkman called “Switched On Bach” was released and proceeded to sell half a million copies. Robert Moog’s delightful instrument had arrived to the mainstream public and they responded in alternate shades of delight and horror.

Horror because the synthesizer wasn’t considered a warm instrument by many seasoned musicians, who seriously believed at the time that it was a cold computer set out to replace real musicians. To a certain degree this has actually happened, but at the same time we’ve heard the synth long enough to understand that it can also enhance what real instruments do, and beautifully.

Prior to Bob Moog’s invention there were several electronic keyboard predecessors that made their way in pop music, most notably; (i) the mellotron, all the rage in prog music with bands like King Crimson and The Moody Blues, and; (ii) the ondioline, invented in France by Georges Jenny in the late Forties which could emulate the tone and pitch of any conventional musical instrument.

But it was the Moog that created the biggest splash and controversy when it hit the scene. The emergence of the synthesizer almost appeared to be a logical response to the ubiquitous psychedelia that was all over pop music at the time. Finally, here was a keyboard that sounded so psychedelic it would put any fuzz guitar sound to shame. It couldn’t have come at a more auspicious time in musical history.

Once the synthesizer became employed heavily in rock music it was utilized in either one of two ways: (i) as a legitimate keyboard playing conventional melodies, as Emerson, Lake & Palmer did in 1971, or (ii) as a wallpaper of musique concrete, as The Monkees did with “Daily Nightly” in 1968, or Eno’s work with Roxy Music in 1972.

To synth or not to synth, that is the question: some musicians even bypassed the super expensive keyboard altogether and created their own brilliant electronic keyboards. Some of the bands that featured their own electronic keyboard inventions were The Silver Apples and Fifty Foot Hose.

The Silver Apples were a two-piece band from New York featuring a guy named Simeon (pictured above) playing his invention named, what else, The Simeon, and a drummer who played a 13-piece kit (!) with five cymbals – this is pre-heavy metal, remember. Diagrams of both the Simeon and Dan Taylor’s drum set up were both printed on their great CD set.

Silver Apples sound not unlike another New York band, Suicide, with droney oscillations playing repetitive hypnotic melodies while Simeon sings in that dreamy voice Alan Vega made popular. Just to keep things down to Earth there’s an occasional banjo plunking in the background and it sounds just as exotic as The Simeon.

Fifty Foot Hose came around the time of the San Francisco explosion (1966-1968) and featured a great singer named Nancy Blossom. What made them stand out from the rest was a unique electronic instrument invented by band member Cork Marcheschi made up from combination of elements like the theremin, several fuzzboxes, a cardboard tube, and a speaker from a World War II bomber. To the average listener it sounds like a synthesizer.

Fifty Foot Hose released one album, “Caludron” on Limelight Records which also released “The Minotaur” by Dick Hyman, which I wrote about several years ago. The most popular track from Cauldron is the slow dirge rocker “If Not This Time”, which did well on FM radio back in the day.

While Fifty Foot Hose and Silver Apples came off as serious and dramatic there was also the more playful bunch like White Noise from England. In June 1969 White Noise, fronted by David Vorhaus released the groundbreaking album “An Electric Storm” on Island Records. The album was created using a variety of tape manipulation techniques, and used the first British synthesizer, the EMS Synthi VCS3.

Tracks from the album like the FM radio favorite “Here Come The Fleas” have a funny cartoonish vibe featuring member Delia Derbyshire’s zany vocals enhancing the surrealism. Vorhaus adds a beautiful, melodic poignancy to tracks like “Firebird” and “Your Hidden Dreams” which recall Van Dyke Parks’ album “Song Cycle”.

Annette Peacock released an equally innovative album in 1971 on RCA Records titled “I’m The One” that deftly merged jazz, funk and electronics (from a Moog prototype given to her from Mr. Moog himself). There’s some great electronic treatments used on her voice, especially on her unique cover of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender”. Annette Peacock pretty much paved the way for artists like Tara Busch to flourish today.

What makes all these artists so special was their dedication to creating new sounds and risking commercial failure and critical disapproval – yes, even critics showed absolute contempt for electronics for years. The role of the artist is to continuously explore, discover, innovate and show us the way of the future, not follow old paths.

The artists listed above and many others not mentioned (like Perrey & Kingsley, Curved Air, Bruce Haack, etc.) were pioneers of electronics and have left behind a legacy of brilliant electronic sounds for us to enjoy forever.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Name Dropper's Symphony

A couple of years ago a friend of mine published his memoirs and it was easily the most shameless display of name dropping I've ever seen. Each and every page relentlessly referenced folks both famous and obscure with a bombing frequency that would put Operation Desert Storm to shame. I believe that the writer assumed that if enough people saw their names in print the book was a sure fire bet to sell tons of copies.

The book of course tanked miserably because the book resembled a lopsided phone book with its endless list of names. Ultimately his book (in the words of Phil Ochs) wouldn't interest anyone outside a small circle of friends.

But, zounds! What an inspiration: I have decided to write my own memoirs and hope I can drop as many high-profile names as this sagacious scribe. All of the following tales are real and star-studded, honest. I will try not to disappoint. Excelsior!


I remember when Richard Meltzer had his radio show "Hepcats From Hell" on KPFK and my friends The Human Hands, The B People and Monitor all played full-length sets broadcasting live at KPFK studios in North Hollywood. It was an all-night show on a Saturday from 12 midnight to 4 AM.

My favorite Human Hands songs were "I Got Mad" and "Trains Vs. Planes" with the late, great David Wiley delivering some very dramatic vocals while the keyboards and propulsive drumming from Dennis Duck set up the suspenseful wall of sound. They were great.

As a side note, it must be added that Dennis Duck also played in The Dream Syndicate and The Los Angeles Free Music Society, the latter which featured Ace Farren Ford, who also played six-string bass in Crowbar Salvation, the band fronted by Marty Nation, star of Richard Kern’s film “Fingered”.

The B People were equally excellent with my friend Pat Delaney on sax, who I played alongside for The Screamers and Arthur J. And The Gold Cups. Pat was also in The Deadbeats. Alex Gibson was the leader of the band and had this great sing called "Can Can't".

Where did I come in? I was asked to bring my horn and play along on a free jazz finale version of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" with Alex crooning the Paul McCartney part. All three bands played on this hoary chestnut and Pat and I got to wail or horns at 4 AM. We made enough of a row to even wake Ringo Starr (who probably lives in the Valley) up.


In 1981 I lived in New York as a guest of Arto Lindsay, who had a band called DNA at the time and were part of a compilation called "No New York". He was house-sitting John Lurie's apartment, John Lurie star of several Jim Jarmusch films. Arto was also in a band with John called The Lounge Lizards and was gracious enough to let me stay there. He promised me a gig in The Lounge Lizards Big Band, which never materialized. Oh, well.

I hit The Village Voice want ads looking for a cool band to play in. I had a very strange phone call with Rudi Protrudi of The Fuzztones, who then promoted something he called "Popodelic Wave", which to this day I still don't understand!

I did audition, however, for Jeffrey Lohn of the Theoretical Girls who was putting together a guitar orchestra much in the style of Glenn Branca and Rhys Chapman. I valiantly tried hard to sound cool with my Fender Mustang guitar but couldn't read music, which was a requirement for the band. Yes, there was sheet music on real metal music stands!

Jeff was very patient, however and said I probably wouldn't work out, but he had some friends who were looking for a second guitar player. He scribbled a phone number on a piece of paper with the names Thurston and Kim written on top. Whoa. I never called, however, because I thought any band with a guy called Thurston in it might be pretty scary. It's cool, though, I think things worked out well for them, anyway.


In 1974 my brother Peter had a classmate from school named Shelly Ganz who used to come around the house regularly. Shelly asked me if he should get the new Emerson, Lake & Palmer album or the latest from Genesis. After briefly choking, I told him that if he really wanted to blow his mind he should check out Iggy & The Stooges or The New York Dolls.

He followed my advice, loved both bands and then asked me if there was anything else like them. I said, “Nobody’s like them, but I think I know something close enough you’ll dig”, and took him to Moxieland, a garage rock record store down the street from my home on Pico & Robertson. I introduced him to Dave Gibson, owner of the store.

Well, one thing led to another and Shelly Ganz started his own garage rock band The Unclaimed, which at one point or another included Rich Coffee of Thee Fourgiven and The Tommyknockers. The Unclaimed played a great version of The Sonics’ “The Witch” that knocked me totally flat on my ass.

Shelly used to rehearse at The Masque, owned by Brendan Mullen, and probably accounts for how he met Paula Pierce, future leader of The Pandoras and Masque hanger-on. She dated Bruce Moreland of The Skulls prior to hooking up with Shelly. The last time I saw Paula play with The Pandoras was when they opened up for Nina Hagen at The Greek Theater.


I was jealous when my wife Rebecca, formerly of Frightwig, told me about the time she shoved Axl Rose of Guns 'N Roses at the dance floor of English Acid, or maybe it was White Trash A Go Go. Then I relaxed after recalling the story about how in 1984 I crossed Sunset Boulevard in my hand-painted Chelsea high-heeled boots after seeing Gun Club (okay, so sue me) and hearing a very familiar voice coming from a devil red limousine, "DUDE THOSE ARE SOME SWEET KICKS! WHY DON"T YOU CRUISE OVER!" Yes, it was David Lee Roth from Van Halen.

No, like Hell was I going to sell my hand-painted boots, besides, I heard he's notoriously cheap like Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, but that's another story. There are many stories and even more names I can drop, forever and ever.

To tell you the truth this name dropping business is pretty tiresome. I don't know how this boring cunt did it, I'm already exhausted about bragging about people I haven't even thought about in years. I guess it takes a certain gumption to brag endlessly about people all the time. And no, I never dated Courtney Love!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hail To The Cheese (The Hip Chicks No. 5)

Ellie and Millie, the Skooby Dooby Sisters, planned to celebrate President’s Day in the most presidential place in the USA, Washington DC. They boarded a squaresville Greyhound Bus from their Bohemian digs in Manhattan, Greenwich Village to be exactarooni, and headed to the Nation’s capitol.

Playing chess using a standard sized board on the bus proved to be quite a challenge. Every time the bus driver cut a wide turn the chess pieces would slide across the board, some even rolling across the aisle under people’s feet.

“Man!” Ellie tossed her blonde hair. “Who goofed?”
"My rook just split the scene! Crazy, baby”, Millie scratched her auburn rat’s nest of hair.
"How long will it take for us to get to President land?"
"Another four and a half hours, sister".
"But, baby, we've already been cooling out in this sled for half an hour. Man! Can't this bus make like a rocket and blast off?"

They both banged their moccasins impatiently against the floor, in addition to rating disapproving stares for their velvet trousers and floral tunic blouses. The snooty riders were worn-out women in dull house dresses and pipe smoking men in moldy suits with porkpie hats. How bland they looked against the colorful highway seen beyond the bus window. One day color would win the war against black and white, but not during the sensible Fifties.

Ellie opened up her tiny [paperback edition of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" while Millie threw open her oversized library book "Famous Presidents of the United States - Illustrated Edition". She thrilled at the large oil painted portraits of Millard Fillmore, John Tyler and Rutherford B. Hayes.

"Millard Fillmore, the last Whig President...groovy, check out his silver feathers!"
"Whig prez...is he wearing a wig?"
"I don't know, keed..."
"Rutherford B. Hayes! Check out the crazy face bush!"
"He looks like Mad Man Zack! You know, that real gone poet who doesn't write poetry!"
"Shazzzzz yeah!"

"What state would you like to be born in?"
"Ohio, of course. There have been more presidents from Ohio than from any other state in the country".
"Ohio is never square. It's round on the sides and high in the middle".
"I dig, baby, I dig".

Their banter over the Presidents went well on until the end of the ride, guaranteeing them a quick exit from the bus just to shut them up. They didn't care because the sun was out, the birds were singing and Washington was making with the crazy cherry trees all over town.

Walking through the town, Millie's eyes glazed at the canopy of pink trees that enveloped them.
"Man, it's like cotton candy antennas can you dig it?"
"I dig the scene, sister".
Their heads spun around like spinning tops with ratted hair and lipstick.

"There's the FBI Building!"
"I see the Capitol! All those square cats are probably raising taxes in there right now!"

Gray haired men in suits puffing pipes carrying briefcases were staring at our freaky hipster girls. All was fine until the girls walked along the Potomac and neared the Washington Monument, where they saw a bald man in horn-rimmed glasses wearing a striped coat and a straw hat holding a placard and screaming, "IMPEACH EISENHOWER!"

The sign he held said, "J. EDGAR HOOVER IS A COMMIE SPY!

He had cymbals attached to his legs and a harmonica holder on his shoulders. Every few seconds he'd lock his legs, smashing the cymbals. He hollered, "IMPEACH THE PRESIDENT!" a couple times and then blow a tuneless blast from his harmonica. BLEEP BLEEP BLEH!

Every time he'd blow his harmonica the lenses of his horn-rimmed glasses would fog up like a car windshield in a snow storm.
"That's one beat musician, Millie!"
"Yeah, he'd really make the scene at The Screaming Bean!"
The bum's ears perked up when he noticed the girls approaching.

"Ladies, ladies. Did you know that President Dwight David Eisenhower is really a Communist spy just like J. Edgar Hoover and they've been wire tapping my house and Mamie Van Doren's house too?"
"Wild, Daddy! Lay some more of that dingy harmonica rebop on us!"

"Girls, girls, girls! Spread the word! President Dwight David Eisenhower and J. Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are plotting and planning on kidnapping Mister Arthur Godfrey and cutting his tongue off and cutting out his brain, we must -"
"Because he knows too much!"
"Wild! I thought they'd get Steve Allen first".
"No, no, no, no he's next. And then they're going to kidnap Tennessee Ernie Ford and shoot him off in a space capsule!!"

"Dragsville!" they said together.
"Girls, call the Washington Post before it's too late. This is HIGHLY CLASSIFIED information".
"Blow some more harp, Daddy!" Ellie hopped up and down, clapping her hands.

Millie frowned. "If I knew there'd be a jam session at the Washington Monument I would've brought my finger cymbals".
"And my bongos".
"HOOVER IS A COMMIE!" the man yelled to no one in particular.

"Hey, Dad, could you tell us where we'd go to find the Grover Cleveland Women's Club, or the Ulysses S. Grant Social Hall?"
The man's body stiffened, his face became glassy eyed, and then he mechanically pointed ahead to the west.
"Go yonder. As it says in The Bible!"

"Let's go, he looks like he's on the lush".
"Or blowing Merry Wanna from Tea Wanna!"

The girls walked awhile and stopped in front of the Jefferson Memorial. There was a small group of shaggy college students marching up and down in front carrying placards screaming, "BAN THE BOMB! BAN THE BOMB!"

"Dig it baby, these hepcats are protesting and they're not blowing any mouth harps either".
"What about Steve Allen? Or Tennessee Ernie Ford? Isn't that important too?" Ellie asked.
"Where's Grover Cleveland?" Millie asked.

"Millie? Ellie? Are you girls here to protest the A Bomb, too?" a young man's voice chimed behind them. They spun around, and it was -
Yes, it was their Village crush, Scruffy, young beat stud Sterling Holloway Scarborough IV, black-haired with a neatly trimmed goatee and dressed in his black sweater and blacker chinos. "Did you girls say you wanted to hear some music?" He picked up a flute and started blowing some cool Mingus lines. Mulligan would have approved.

Ellie went into her wild interpretive dance to the flute playing. The college kids kept up their protest.

Millie walked carefully past the protesters and went inside the monument, reading the inscription about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She pulled out a bag of almonds, ate one and felt stuffed. She liked the Jefferson Memorial just fine but thought it would have been a lot better if it had a Martin Van Buren statue instead.

Presidents pictured above: Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James Buchanan. Lead illustration by Rebecca Seven.