Quantcast

Heavy Mental Music

Posted by: on Sep 30, 2009 | Comments (4)

This week’s Bohemian feature is on Heavy Mental Music, a very amazing, strange record made in 1981 by David Petri and the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center in Santa Rosa. Pictured above is the “deluxe edition,” with a T-shirt, two posters, three stickers, a photocopied booklet, a notepad and two copies of the record, all housed in a hand-designed box. According to Petri, only 50 of these “kits” were made (most copies of the record were sold alone, or given out to strangers on the bus), and at one point, what you see above actually sat on the desk in the Oval Office.

What strikes me most about this record is that it’s completely ahead of its time, both in concept and presentation. Colored-vinyl 7″s, stenciled T-shirts, photocopied lyric booklets and paper Kinko’s stickers didn’t start showing up en masse until around 1991, and the acceptance of incorporating the developmentally disabled into pop culture—the Kids of Widney High, or How’s Your News?—was years away.

The heartbreaking part of the story, for me, is Petri being accused of using the mentally retarded clients of the Manual Skills Training Center to advance his own agenda. In the time I spent with Petri, he seemed like a sincere, caring person who patiently taught the clients how to play drums and keyboards and who happened to be attracted to the aesthetic of artists like Todd Rundgren and Salvador Dalí. Shades of that aesthetic color Heavy Mental Music, and something tells me that if Petri had recorded campfire folk songs like “This Land is Your Land” instead, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s “Heavy Mental Music,” written by Jim Weber and performed by the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center on Lomitas Ave. in Santa Rosa in 1981:

Click the second file above to hear the obscure but no less compelling B-side,”Tour.”

On The Stereo: ‘Ballplayers’ with Lenny Randle and Thad Bosley

Posted by: on Mar 9, 2009 | Comments (0)

Shea Stadium, July 13, 1977. 9:30pm. A 28-year-old slugger best known for punching out his former manager steps up to the plate against the Cubs. Bottom of the sixth, Mets are losing. Suddenly – POOF.

The New York City blackout of 1977 would become notorious. In the 24 hours of darkness, the city was ridden with looting, fires, arrests and a neverending din of blame. But what of Lenny Randle, the batter left at the plate?

Evidently, in 1983, Lenny Randle teamed up with fellow Major League Ballplayer Thad Bosley—they both had afros, they both loved music. They chipped off some of their pro sports salaries and went into the recording studio. They released three records, which somehow caught the ear, 25 years later, of People’s Potential Unlimited, who have just re-released four songs on Ballplayers, a 7″ EP. It sucks so bad that it doesn’t suck, if you get what I mean.

1983 was a weird time in music—the sound of electronic synthesizers, especially, was in flux, hovering between the modular analog Arp sound and the now-classic Casio sound. Funk music in 1983? Forget about it. Disco had leveled the scene. Those who tried failed in spectacularly awkward fashion, which is why now, of course, everyone wants to hear the stuff. Enter PPU, who’s been reissuing the era, and Ballplayers.

“American Worker” kicks things off with a Springsteen anthem via drunk O’Jays and terrible lyrics. If this is the theme for the American worker, then c’mon, unemployment. “Bos Music” is basically some drum machines with a poorly-played outtake from the War Games soundtrack. But things pick up on Side Two, with “Universal Language”—boogie handclaps by just one guy, hand drumming on a plastic bucket, space disco, wah-wah guitar, and the cruddiest breakdown of the early ’80s! (There’s competition.) There’s also no way, on top of it all, to resist “Jam With Us,” wherein Bosley and Randle repeat over a totally killer bassline, “Don’t you wanna jam with us?” Of course, the answer’s yes, because though they might have been intimidating ballplayers, their musicianship is on a level that just about anyone could join in, no prob.

As for that postponed game at Shea Stadium in 1977? The game was resumed—two months later. The Mets still lost.

—–

If you decide to order Ballplayers and wanna pick up some other People’s Potential Unlimited releases while you’re at it, here’s a few good ones:

 

Sir Bentley, “Sir Bentley Street Shuffle” – The sound of a slicked-out player in a polyester suit sliding down a 1976 side street, giving breathy directions. Whether they’re to the listener or himself, it’s hard to tell, and hardly matters. There’s a bitchin’ conga solo, and backup vocals that sound like they’re sung by iguanas. B-side is the extended version.

 

Crunch, “Cruise” b/w “Funky Beat” – Totally unbelievable analog entanglement, enjoyable at both 33 and 45 rpm. Kinda like if Liquid Liquid were more into meth. Every single fret buzz and pick sound is audible on the bass—a Hohner? a Rickenbacker?—and when the vibrato synthesizer hits near the end it’s like the arrival of the Zyklon droids. “Funky Beat” finds Crunch fucking around with the portamento switch and rapping in a horny Dracula voice about how funky the beat is, in spite of the fact that the beat is not really funky.

 

George Smallwood, “Lady Disco” b/w “Mr. Sunshine” – A man describes his plight: His girl cannot stay away from the disco floor. How can he keep up? Especially when she is the type of girl who warbles “III Liiikee Myyy Dannnncceiinngg!” after every chorus? Hence, the eternal struggle. Her man, or the disco ball? He accuses her of making “disco babies,” and the song fades with no resolution. (How many songs start with a hi-hat solo?) “Mr. Sunshine” gets a genius shuffling drum beat, at times totally rushed and wrong. But I get it. Sounds like something DFA would put out, except they’d make it slick and perfect. This isn’t even close to perfect, and it’s beautiful.

Sonoma Valley Jazz Band: Spectacular ’74

Posted by: on Feb 25, 2009 | Comments (0)

My friend Jeff over at Waxidermy has just posted some clips from a record made by the Sonoma Valley Jazz Band in 1974, and man, it’s worth a listen. There’s some seriously crazy drums on “Spinning Wheel,” and the arrangements are out of this world for a high school band. Who knew this stuff was happening in Sonoma in 1974?

In related news, the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival has announced its lineup for 2009. Count the jazz artists.

The Day Duke Ellington Came to Santa Rosa

Posted by: on Jan 20, 2009 | Comments (3)

I’ve retold this story numerous times to friends and always found it funny. Today, I look at it with deeper meaning. Duke Ellington came to Santa Rosa and no one knew who he was. This, to me, is a sad part of our history, that we denied the most famous composer in a predominantly black art form even the dignity of recognition.

Think about this story, and then think about the exemplary man recognized, elevated and inaugurated as our President this morning.

—–

From Duke Ellington’s 1973 autobiography, Music is My Mistress:

Half the time on our trips Harry Carney and I arrive at the city or town where we are going to play that night thinking the other knows the place where the gig is, or has an itinerary in his pocket. Every now and then it appears that neither of us knows nor has an itinerary with him. “No sweat, baby!” I say, and we drive into a gas station, where Harry says, “Fill it up.” After I’ve stretched my limbs, I ask the attendant, “Do you know where Duke Ellington is playing tonight?” Usually the man answers, “Oh, over at the auditorium, three blocks down this way to the red light, turn left, then first right, and straight ahead—you can’t miss it.” So we just go and follow the directions, and we’re cool, but feeling it was a good thing we picked that gas station for information. We had been doing this sort of thing with good results down though the years until one night, a couple of years ago, we arrived in, I think it was, Santa Rosa, California. We pulled into the gas station with the same routine up to, “Where’s Duke Ellington playing tonight?” The cat with the gas hose turned and said “Who? Who’s he?” When we explained, he said, “I don’t know anything about a dance or a concert here tonight.” And there we were, standing there, feathers peeling off one at a time.

“Oh, no,” Harry said, “you don’t suppose we goofed on the name of the town?”

“There’s only one way to find out,” I said. “Call Ruth or Cress Courtney.” So I went to the telephone to call my sister in New York.

All this time, cars were coming and going, and as they stopped for gas we’d ask them the same question: “Where’s Duke Ellington playing tonight?” Most of their responses were something like, “Duke Ellington? I didn’t know he was playing here tonight.” Then Ruth answered the telephone and we got the directions. So I turned to the cat at the gas station and said, “We’re playing at the Fairgrounds.” “Oh, that’s it, is it?” he said. “Right catty-corner across the street.” What a relief!

But the Fairgrounds were very dark—no lights in sight. After finally finding an entrance gate, we drove in, and around, and around, and around. Nobody, but nothing, until eventually we were about to pass another car going in the opposite direction. Both cars honked their horns, stopped, let their windows down.

“Do you know where. . . ?” Harry began.

“That’s what we want to know, Harry,” the other driver interrupted. It was Ralph Gleason, of the San Francisco Chronicle at that time. We laughed, turned around, and both cars continued their search until suddenly—there it was!

Duke Ellington? Who’s he? Duke who?

Top 20 Jazz Discoveries of 2008

Posted by: on Dec 21, 2008 | Comments (4)


1. Pygmy Unit – Signals From Earth (Private, 1974)
An amazing free-jazz recording on par with Sun Ra’s Strange Strings; just totally otherwordly. Features Darrell DeVore. Recorded in San Francisco and self-released.


2. Mary Lou Williams – Zoning (Mary, 1974)
Takes the piano and reimagines it as a power tool. Like nothing else Mary Lou Williams ever recorded. A pure product of the times, and also self-released.


3. Bill Barron – Modern Windows (Savoy, 1962)
Such an original voice on the tenor saxophone; also, Kenny Barron’s brother. I heard this and I was transfixed immediately. Nothing else on Savoy sounds like this.


4. Terumasa Hino – Taro’s Mood (Enja, 1973)
Whether sparse or pummeling, this record is in the moment from beginning to end. The total highlight of a batch of Japanese jazz LPs I came across earlier this year.


5. Leon’s Creation – This is the Beginning (Studio 10, 1970)
San Francisco group that could have given Sly Stone a run for his money. Absolutely kills from beginning to end. Unbelievable grooves. Found in a 25-cent bin!


6. Boogaloo Joe Jones – No Way! (Prestige, 1971)
Funky jazz guitar that never goes out of style. For some reason I never liked Grant Green all that much, but this is incredible. Like a wild pet escaped from its cage.


7. Donna Brooks – I’ll Take Romance (Dawn, 1956)
Basically a totally unknown singer who only made this one album. She captivates me.


8. Peter Brötzmann & Walter Perkins – The Ink is Gone (BRO, 2002)
Horns and drums skipping over the fires of hell. Wild sounds and intrinsic interplay. A more focused continuation of Machine Gun and Nipples.


9. Krczysztof Komeda – Cul-de-Sac (Harkit, 1966)
While digging around for Knife in the Water, I found this. It has its own sound. It grew on me, and it’s completely unique. He died young.


10. Takehiro Honda – Jõdo (Trio, 1970)
Piano player from Japan who weirdly appears nude on the back cover. The title track alone is as suspenseful as a Hitchcock classic.


11. Lucy Ann Polk – With the Dave Pell Octet (Trend, 1954)
My favorite obscure female singer of the last two years. Wore out her LP on Mode, and finally got a copy of this session; it’s breathtaking.


12. Mel Graves – Three Worlds (Arch, 1980)
Two days after he died, I came across this in the dollar bin. Had no idea it existed. Pretty out-there spiritual stuff, with George Marsh and Andy Narell.


13. Bennie Green – Soul Stirrin’ (Blue Note, 1958)
There once was a time when people partied in the studio and called it an album.


14. Don Pullen – Solo Piano Album (Sackville, 1975)
“Unique” doesn’t begin to describe this solo outing. Sadly overlooked. His playing always takes me on a mental journey.


15. Cecil Taylor – Love For Sale (United Artists, 1959)
Just an lesser-known LP from his late-’50s period that I hadn’t heard of until this year. Half Cole Porter songs; half originals. Straddles reality and non-reality, respectively.


16. Jaki Byard – There’ll Be Some Changes Made (Muse, 1972)
When I die I want Jaki Byard to come back to life and play at my funeral.


17. June Christy – The Cool School (Capitol, 1960)
I avoided this for years, thinking it was a soulless children’s record. Instead, it swings like nothing else and fast became one of my favorites. The kids are alright.


18. Billy Butler – Guitar Soul! (Prestige, 1969)
More guitar jazz that actually creeps under the skin. “Blow for the Crossing” is a backbeat nightmare that belongs on every mixtape.


19. Paul Bley – Ballads (ECM, 1967)
I have a Paul Bley record on ESP which is blessed by heaven. Most everything else is okay, but I found this last week and it’s in the clouds. Piano brilliance.


20. Melvin Jackson – Funky Skull (Limelight, 1969)
Standup bass, run through a fuzz box. Eddie Harris’ right-hand man. A fun one.

On the Stereo: Anita O’Day’s Golden Era

Posted by: on Nov 20, 2008 | Comments (0)

Anita O’Day was at the very top of the most thrilling jazz singers to ever walk the face of the earth, and I’m glad to see that she’s finally gotten her due with a documentary, Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer. Though I love her singing, all I really know about Anita O’Day’s personal life is that she once claimed while drunk that her dog was her manager, usually barked condescending orders at whatever band with which she appeared, and had her uvula accidentally cut out of her throat in a tonsillectomy accident when she was a child, resulting in her characteristically husky voice. Oh, and that she was a heroin addict. But everyone knows that.

The definitive live footage of Anita O’Day remains her performances of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Tea for Two” from the great film Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a beautifully artistic documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. (She admits to being high on heroin during the concert.) But this documentary sounds pretty good, and in anticipation of the film opening at the Rialto in Santa Rosa this Friday, I’ve been throwing her records on the turntable every night this week. Here are her best, and yes, they’re all on Verve.

 

Anita Sings The Most (1957): This is O’Day in great style with a supremely great backing band of Oscar Peterson’s quartet with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis. A wonderful song selection and fantastic performances. The whole album is loose with plenty of interplay, and O’Day is especially inventive on songs like “’S Wonderful”—and rips it up on “Them There Eyes.” A too-slowed-down version of “I’ve Got the World on a String” is the album’s only misstep, especially coming just before the perfect closer, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.”

 

This is Anita (1955): Anita O’Day’s stellar first album for Verve Records—and in fact, the very first album released by Norman Granz’s then then-brand-new Verve Records. Contains O’Day’s incredible version of “Honeysuckle Rose”—it saunters like syrup—and a buoyant take on “You’re the Top” revised with jazz references to Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Art Tatum. A delicate “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is the quintessential wintertime song, with wonderfully drawn-out consonants and vowels. If you don’t have any Anita O’Day records, this is a damn good place to start.

 

Pick Yourself Up With Anita O’Day (1956): Still one of my favorites, after all these years, not the least because it contains her well-known version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” from the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Make sure to hit up the lesser-known tunes on this fantastic session: “I Never Had a Chance,” “I Used to be Color Blind,” and the bouncy “Let’s Begin.” Buddy Bregman is the arranger, adding a Latin feel to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (and Ellington interpolations here and there), and overall, O’Day rides along smoothly with skill and frivolity. Yes, it looks like she’s shoplifting a toaster on the cover.

 

Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May (1959): As close a pop album as O’Day ever came to, combining the widely recognized songwriter with one of the brawniest arrangers of the day. The results work remarkably well, and May’s creative arrangements keep the jazz spirit alive and well. “Just One Of Those Things” kicks the album off like a horse out of the gate, and it rarely lets up from there as O’Day dominates Porter classics like “”I Get a Kick Out of You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and the wink-wink “All of You.”

 

Anita O’Day and The Three Sounds (1963): Sounds crazy but after all these years of listening to Anita O’Day, I reach for this album most frequently. In 1962, O’Day was saddled with drug problems and just about through with her Verve contract. She only sings on about half of the songs here, with the Three Sounds providing instrumentals for the rest. There’s something addictive about O’Day’s detachment on this record; it’s the very rare sound of her “phoning it in,” which of course sounds better than most singers when they’re trying. I consider it Anita O’Day’s equivalent of Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, providing the most beautiful wrinkles in a wasted fabric. I’ve talked to other O’Day fanatics who have the same feeling of affinity for it. Worth seeking out.

 

Anita O’Day at Mister Kelly’s (1958): Recorded in her hometown of Chicago and opening with the rarely-heard verse of “But Not For Me,” this nice nightclub date is notable for containing three tunes by Joe and Eileen Albany: “I Have a Reason For Living,” “My Love For You,” and the poignant “Loneliness is a Well.” O’Day goes out of her way to introduce the composers on each of these songs, causing one to wonder exactly what kind of backroom deal she struck with the Albanys. The person who previously owned this LP wrote an exclamation point on the track listing after “The Song Is You,” but it’s actually kind of a wack closer. Still, a good live record.

 

An Evening With Anita O’Day (1956): Hell yes, a very great nightclub recording from early on in her Verve contract. Stellar guitar work by Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel runs a close second to O’Day’s own impeccable singing on songs like “From This Moment On” and “Let’s Fall In Love.” The recording quality is outstanding, the songs are well-chosen, and O’Day even chimes in with an original—“Anita’s Blues.” It’s amazing how perfect O’Day’s voice could be in concert.

Live Review: Section M Reunion at Daredevils & Queens

Posted by: on Sep 20, 2008 | Comments (0)

Right from the start, I suppose I should admit, I hated Section M magazine. I didn’t want anything to do with it, I didn’t think it was helping the music scene, I wrote irritated letters to the editor, and I talked shit about it as much as I could.

Mainly, though, I was jealous, both of the writers—because I wasn’t writing about music at the time—and of the bands covered, because I wasn’t playing music at the time either. When Section M hit the stands in 1998, I was coming off a four-year spree of constant touring, and I was in a weird space. I was fueled by Tanqueray, mid-20s cynicism, and avant-garde jazz. I talked a lot, but I wasn’t doing much of anything, really.

Also, at the time I was convinced, and not entirely erroneously so, that there were no good bands in Sonoma County whatsoever. Section M came along and seemed convinced otherwise. It proclaimed: Bands are great! We like all these bands! Bands, bands, bands!

Now, looking back with more clarity, I have a lot of respect for what the many volunteers at Section M pulled off. I marvel at how Section M ever could have been produced in the first place, let alone lasted as long as it did—from 1998 to 2003.

After all, this was the magazine that would hire basically anybody. When you’ve got an open-door policy, you open yourself up to flakes, crazies, egomaniacs, and just plain unqualified hopefuls. Put all those people in an room together, and they’ll either start screaming obscenities at each other or having sex in the bathroom—both of which happened, in fact, at Section M’s offices.

The inside workings of Section M often found their way into the pages, and staffers hooking up together wasn’t rare. What was rare was them staying together. After torrential, reckless flings came to a crashing halt, work at the magazine could be painfully uncomfortable until one or the other quit. (To add to the tension, hookers prowled outside the office at all hours of the night.)

Phone calls to the magazine were either weird or very weird, culminating in the members of Derge leaving repeated, insane messages on the machine revealing their obsession with gay sex and racial epithets. On a similarly bizarre note, the band Bungworm once sent Section M a bag full of actual shit, which totally confused everyone at the magazine until an astute reader wrote in to point out that they’d been running an ad for months which read “Send Us Your Band’s Shit.”

Accompanied by this rare gift was a letter that demanded the magazine never write about the band ever again; in what amounts to the best example of Section M’s attitude that I can conjure, the next issue was filled with as many references to Bungworm as possible. Yes, for all of its faults, this was Section M’s greatness: it blatantly did not give a fuck about bands that took themselves too seriously, and instead devoted lots of column space to absolutely unserious bands like the H.B.’s or Rhino Rape.

Section M petered away in 2003 without fanfare—no official final issue, no grand goodbye. One could argue that it didn’t really go away, living instead in the human form of Michael Houghton, the magazine’s founder, who continued in social situations to casually remind people years afterwards of the many thousands of dollars of credit card debt he was still saddled with from running the magazine. It was hard to tell if these repeated references to the magazine’s legacy of debt were subtle pleas for financial help, or if they pointed to something deeper—indicators, perhaps, of how hard it is to say goodbye to something that never got the chance to truly die.

Last weekend, Michael got that chance, as did about 400 other people who crammed through the doors of Daredevils & Queens for a night that was a reunion, a nostalgia fest and a damn good time rolled up into one. Over a dozen bands from the late 1990s got back together to perform. Michael, ever the dapper stylist, even got gussied up for the occasion—in a pair of jeans with a hole in the crotch, and a “F*ck Section M” T-shirt.

I showed up a little bit late, but immediately the “reunion” aspect was made clear. I ran into people, now married and pregnant, who I once stayed up drinking gallons of gin with until 3am. I ran into people who asked, “So, how’s it going?” who didn’t bother to explain if they were asking how it’s been going for the last 10 years or the last 10 minutes. And I ran into people who referenced incredibly esoteric jokes I’d made back in 1999 with pinpoint precision—and this was all before I could make it out back to watch some bands.

Thus, the night was a blur, but in the best possible way. I played bass with the Blockheads, who hadn’t played in a decade and whose bassist Mark Aver has since moved to the East Coast. It was the most satisfying 35 minutes of fun I’ve had in a while. To Dave Fichera, Paul Fichera, and Steve Choi, the Blockheads, the only local band I truly loved besides Cropduster in the late 1990s—thanks, bros.

I caught 20 Minute Loop, Cropduster, Brian Moss, and the Paranoids, but I think the greatest slice of reunion nostalgia for the night was the Reliables, who were all, like, 13 years old when they formed and maybe 17 when they broke up. It was just like an old Reliables show—equipment failures, not knowing how to use a tuner, confusion over which song was being played, the microphone stand falling over—except that instead of standing around dumbfounded, as most people did in 2001, the large crowd showered them with love.

The Reliables’ set list canvassed the trajectory of adolescence, from early songs about suburban angst like “Sad Man” (“My mom just won’t let me be / I know that I’m kind of a loser / Masturbation is only for Godzilla”) to the totally awesome and bittersweet “Another Shitty Day” to the very last song the band ever wrote, “Houses Without Windows,” a depressing, existential rumination on life at midnight as seen from an airplane window which asks the question: “Don’t you wish sometimes you’re dead?”

Not many people cared about the Reliables when they were around, but at the Section M reunion, bolstered by guest drummer Caitlin Love, they were basically superstars. “I think this is the most people we’ve ever played to,” noted Jeremy, and he was right.

Piles upon piles of old Section M magazines were being given away at the front door (Worst cover ever? Issue #10: Halou, Cohesion, Kabala, and Skitzo) and I even saw a very dazed but very validated Michael Houghton for a second. “Can you believe this?” he asked, motioning to the incredibly packed Daredevils & Queens. “Look at all these people!” It’s true. It was pretty amazing.

One final note: in honor of the 10-Year Anniversary of the magazine, Michael has allowed me to finally spill the beans about the “Scene & Heard” column in Section M, the gossipy, newsy column written by the elusive “Jane Sez.” No one ever knew who Jane Sez was, and since “Scene & Heard” was easily the most popular column in every issue, there were many, many guesses over the years.

Now it can be told: Jane Sez was Michael Houghton. Well, for some issues, at least. The first few were written by Christine Alexander from Little Tin Frog, after which it turned over to Michael and then became a communal effort by Michael and the rest of the upper staff of the magazine, including Sara Bir. Keeping the Jane Sez identity a secret was almost as fun as writing the column itself, Michael says. “The best part about it is that so many dudes came up to me at shows, when I was doing most of the ‘Scene and Heard’ writing,” he recalled the other night, “and they’d say to me, ‘I’m so in love with Jane Sez. I totally wanna fuck her.’”

——

There’s an excellent photoset from the night, taken by Caitlin Childs, over here.

Sara Bir, who worked for Section M as a writer and managing editor, takes a good hard look at the magazine both here, and elucidates even further here.

A few members of the staff from the magazine share their thoughts and opinions here.

Section M’s official website, still up and running, is here.

I Wanna Get Married: Nellie McKay vs. Gertrude Niesen

Posted by: on Aug 13, 2008 | Comments (11)

One of the reasons, I’ve finally discovered, why I love Nellie McKay’s “I Wanna Get Married” so much is that while it operates as a satire, it doesn’t operate as a blatant, overt satire. It’s just a 19-year-old girl reacting to the idea of the 1950s housewife, that’s all—nothing more, nothing less. Young precociousness has a long tradition of successfully regurgitating the world’s own ideas back in its face without trying to color or polarize them with extemporaneous messages. The regurgitation itself is the message.

Here’s Nellie McKay, on The View, singing “I Wanna Get Married”:

I can think of no way Nellie McKay could have written “I Wanna Get Married” without having first heard Gertrude Niesen’s trademark of the same name, although considering McKay is such a dizzying creative force, well, hell, anything’s possible. Niesen’s “I Wanna Get Married” follows a similar meter, and it, too, is vaguely satirical. It comes from her smash role as the stripper Bubbles LaMarr in “Follow the Girls,” opposite Jackie Gleason, among others.

It took me forever to find this record, but click on the cover below to hear Gertrude Niesen, in 1944, singing “I Wanna Get Married”:

The liner notes of the Gertrude Niesen record tell of Niesen’s side career in flipping houses, a story that brings to mind the housing boom of 2002 as much as it recalls 1944: “Gertrude has been successfully dabbling in real estate for a number of years, buying a piece of property here and selling one there—at a substantial profit. People joked about her “white elephant” when Gertrude picked up a 50-room $2,000,000 Newport, RI mansion for $21,000 a few years ago. They laughed even more when the water pipes froze and burst. But Miss Niesen had the last laugh when she sold the estate a short time later for considerably more than she had paid for it.”

After releasing her stunning debut album, Get Away From Me, Nellie McKay, as this week’s Bohemian interview by Joy Lazendorfer points out, soon felt Sony’s enthusiasm for her brazenly inventive tin-pan-alley songwriting dwindle. She got dumped quickly. She’s put out a couple of not-as-good albums since, and she’s been appearing on and writing songs for Broadway. I’ve seen her live twice, and she’s fucking incredible. Go see her when she comes to town on Monday, August 18 at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma.

Japanese Jazz

Posted by: on Apr 23, 2008 | Comments (4)

I’d never really given much thought to jazz from Japan before, but I recently came into a few records that’ve instigated a full-blown obsession whose duration has yet to be determined. This stuff kicks ass! Here’s a few of my favorites lately.

Takehiko Honda – Jodo - The title track alone, a chilling 11-minute dirge, is out of this world and is the reason everyone should track down this record. Reggie Workman bows his bass maniacally, sliding all over the fretboard, while Honda plays these terrifying chords up and down the piano. The whole tune is either one big fit of tension or one big release; I still can’t tell which, but it’s great. It just goes on and on! I love it.

 

Terumasa Hino – Tera’s Mood - Everything I’ve heard from Hino’s group in the early ’70s—with Mikio Masuda, Yoshio Ikeda, and Motohiko Hino—has been top-notch, and this live record, from 1973, is my favorite. “Alone, Alone and Alone” lives up to its name as a sparse invocation, then “Taro’s Mood” rips into an ultrafast pace with Masuda killing it, and “Predawn” has everybody shredding, especially Motohiko Hino on drums.

 

Kosuke Mine – Mine - Yet again, the sense of discovery here is overwhelming. Like, who the hell is Kosuke Mine, right? But dude, it’s great! This seems to be the first record released on the Three Blind Mice label, which released a lot of jazz from Japan in its day. This one’s from 1970, and features a fine take on Joe Henderson’s “Isotope” with some out-there originals augmented by Fender rhodes and Hine’s angular saxophone.

 

Takao Uematsu – Debut - “Inside Parts” is your standard blues and “Sleep, My Love” actually contains direct quotes from “A Love Supreme,” but when Uematsu’s playing solos he’s his own man. A mostly mid-tempo record, Uematsu nonetheless blows the hell out of his tenor, even on ballads. A trombonist named Takashi Imai comes correct with some inventive playing, too. Nice version of “Stella by Starlight,” but wait. . .

 

Terumasa Hino – Live! - Hino takes the cake again with a way better version of “Stella by Starlight,” and you guessed it—it’s the same early ’70s group. “Sweet Lullaby” is a good example of Hino’s forte; it fills empty spaces with just the right jabs, and Side Two is one long jam called “Be and Know” that even gets into some boogie rock with Hino wailing in the upper register. It’s 30 minutes long, all on one side! Such a great band, this one.

Bikini Kill in Santa Rosa, 1993

Bikini Kill in Santa Rosa, 1993

Posted by: on Apr 16, 2008 | Comments (2)

Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite shows in Santa Rosa was the night in 1993 when Bikini Kill, illuminated by a semicircle of car headlights, played in someone’s backyard in Roseland.

I’ve stopped trying to tell the story, partly because the eventual ascension of Bikini Kill to indie icons in the general consciousness taints any kind of retelling with the risk of a coattail-riding smarminess—especially, y’know, coming from a dude—but mostly because I really just can’t do it any sort of justice.

Luckily for us all, Leilani Clark hits the thing out of the park in this post about the show, with all the wide-eyed awe that just about everyone in the backyard experienced that night. Read it here.

In the year or so before the show happened—advertised only by hastily photocopied handbills a couple days ahead of time—me and all my friends had all played the hell out of Bikini Kill’s first EP, marveling at its economy of purpose. They used simple statements and actions to convey what a lot of Bay Area bands had been trying to say in words, words, and more words. I know it sounds like a cliché, but they changed my ideas about what a band could be—even when, in 1993, I was of the age where I’d prided myself (falsely, it would turn out) on seeing it all.

The Bikini Kill show in the backyard was inspiring, thrilling, and confusing, all at the same time, and it took me a few years to figure out just what the hell had happened. (The only thing that I can add to Leilani’s account is that my friend Andy went up to one of the band members afterwards, and said, “Hey, you guys were really good,” to which she shot back, “We’re not guys.”)

Last night I dug through some boxes and found some pictures that I took at the show:

I found the flyer too:

…and the setlist.