Monday, January 31, 2011

Ballad of the Green Berets

They Passed This Way: Barry Sadler

Barry Sadler was born in Carlsbad,N.M., the son of  John Sadler and Bebe Littlefield, originally from Phoenix,Az. the family moved around quite a bit.  After her husband's death from cancer, Bebe lived a transitory lifestyle, with stops around the southwestern states including a return to New Mexico.  The family would eventually settle in Leadsville,Co. where Barry attended high school.  Sadler would drop out in the 10th grade to spent a year hitchhiking across the U.S.   At the age of 17, with his mother's permission, he enlisted in the USAF.  After his discharge from the Air Force he put his musical skills to use,  teaming up with a musician friend  they played their way across the Northwest. After a year of working menial jobs and the grinding routine of playing bars and dives, Barry decided to enlist in  the U.S. Army.  He qualified for the paratroopers and was dispatched to Jump School at Fort Benning, Ga., while there he composed what would eventually become his ticket to fame "The Ballad of The Green Berets."   Sadler would eventually earn his Green Beret as a medic and was shipped off for duty in Vietnam.  He continued to play and perform his music while serving in Vietnam.  In 1965 while on patrol, Sadler suffered a serious punji stick injury that put him out of action.  While in the hospital, Sadler's musical talents were brought to the attention of  U.S. Army Support Command, Major General Delk N. Oden's staff.  They requested that Sadler perform "The Ballad of The Green Berets" for the General. Barry obliged, not knowing at the time, that it would help rocket him up the pop music charts.   RCA snapped up the song, sending Sadler to the studio backed with a male chorus and a fifteen piece orchestra.
On December 18th,1965  Sadler recorded his entire debut album in one day. Released in January, 1966 "The Ballad of the Green Berets" sold 2 million copies in 5 weeks after it's release,  it would eventually top out at 11 million.  It was #1 on the U.S. charts for 5 weeks, bumping the Beatles and the Supremes, by the time he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show he was a household name.  However, fame is fleeting, his next single "The A-Team" barely made the Top 30 before it fizzled out, and then just like that, it was over.  Barry would try to keep his music career alive by moving to Nashville and trying his hand at country music, to no avail.  With his whirlwind music career seemingly finished, Barry Sadler re-invented himself as a writer.  He developed a fictional character, Casca Rufio Longinius, a Roman sentry  who stabs Christ during the crucifixion, and is cursed to remain a soldier eternally till the Second Coming.   The series  "Casca, The Eternal Mercenary" would reach 22 volumes, with over 2 million books sold, Sadler however only wrote the first few, different writers were hired to pen the novels under Sadler's name.  Barry Sadler would make headlines once again in 1978, when he shot and killed songwriter Lee Emerson following a dispute in front of Sadler's home.  Emerson a veteran of the Nashville music scene was best known as the author of the soulful weeper "I Thought I Heard You Callin' My Name" a hit for Porter Waggoner in 1957 (it was also recorded by Rodney Crowell and Jessi Colter)  Sadler would plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges and received a sentence of 4-5 years with all but 30 days suspended.
After that episode, Sadler, like so many old Vietnam hands, found his way to Central America. While living in Guatemala City, Barry is believed to have been involved in training Nicaraguan contras and running guns from the U.S.  On September 8th, 1988 while traveling by taxi on a highway in Guatemala, Sadler suffered a gunshot wound to the head. He was in the company of a woman, the driver having fled the scene.  When police arrived, the woman reported that Barry's wound was self inflicted. Friends speculated that he had been shot by Sandinista operatives or by bandits after his cache of weapons and money, the case was never solved.  Sadler was taken to a local hospital and then flown to a V.A. hospital in Nashville. Once back on U.S. soil, a custody battle over his body began and a comatose Sadler was kidnapped from the hospital and then returned, he remained in a coma for several months until his death. A sad ending for a man who brought a rush of patriotic fervor and pride to an entire nation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seann Scott and Hellion

Seann Scott is a heavy metal drummer from Albuquerque,N.M. Although he is a contemporary of the musicians (Femme Fatale, Durtie Blonde, Billy Miles Brooke, Randy Castillo) who sprang from the Duke City's 1980's heavy metal circuit, he is not a product of that scene. Scott left Albuquerque for San Diego in the late 1980's, there he got his start playing with local bands. By 1990 he had moved to Los Angeles where he would eventually hook up with Hollywood metal band, Mother Mercy.  After two self-released albums plus an appearance on the Motley Crue tribute album "Kickstart my Heart"  he left Mother Mercy to join Suicide Alley, his stint with that band was brief.  A big fan of Motley Crue and their music, Seann then joined Children of the Beast, a Motley Crue tribute band, playing the part of Tommy Lee.  Unfortunately for Seann the role did not come with a Pam Anderson look-a-like.  Seann Scott then became involved with the two bands that he still plays with, Hollywood glam metal band, Revlon Red and Hellion, a much darker heavy metal band.
Hellion has been around since 1982, lead singer Ann Boleyn, a dedicated follower of the occult, calls the shots, thus her beliefs are reflected in the groups's music. At times this has led to problems between Boleyn and fellow band members.  Original bassist Peyton Tuthill quit the band over Ann's dabbling in the mystic arts. Sensing that her path led to a dead end, in 1985, the entire group quit enmasse to form their own band, forcing Boleyn to assemble a new line-up.  However within a year this new group of metal heads revolted against Ann, citing her musical direction, her preoccupation with the occult and her anti-social song lyrics, as the reason for the band's inability to secure a recording contract. Although Hellion was successful in Europe and the UK, stateside they remained unsigned. Ronnie James Dio, who would become Ann's mentor, stepped in and worked behind the scenes to get the band signed. Hellion would eventually sign with Enigma Records, but that company folded before they could release an album. They were then shuffled off to Restless Records, sadly for the band, that label was also in financial trouble. This forced them to scuttle Ann's plans for "Postcards from the Asylum" a concept album that was to include a full length novel.  "Postcards from the Asylum" was released, but it was a scaled down version of Ann's grandiose vision.  Restless Records would also release her dark manifesto, "The Black Book."  So by the time Seann Scott joined the group in 2002, they had quite a history behind them, their better days were behind them too.  Not that anything the band has recorded jumps out at you.  Hellion's legacy is one of pedestrian riffing, half baked lyrical nonsense and some of the lamest metal you will ever hear.  Since 2001 the band has managed to record just one album (it was released only in Germany.) However, the group is still active and Ann Boleyn is still going strong, she's an avid runner, having competed in the Los Angeles and Boston marathons, thus giving a whole new meaning to that old adage "Running with the Devil"  Seann Scott, beside doing double duty with Revlon Red and Hellion, now has a new project called Kill Your Generation that keeps him feeling young and alive.  

No!  we don't play The Devil Went Down to Georgia

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


"When I grew up, I was a daydreamer. I didn’t like what I knew. I liked what I didn’t have."
Zach Condon, is following the time honored tradition of taking diverse musical influences (such as  Marching Bands, Indie Rock, French Chanson and Balkan brass) to forge a new style.  It takes a brave young soul to think outside the box and develop something totally different in this day and age.  Given the dominance of the airwaves by the technology enhanced spawns of American Idol. Condon's instrument of change is Beirut, a cast of musicians, mostly from Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  Upon listening to Beirut, you might think that the young Mr. Condon grew up listening to Eastern Bloc or French radio stations under the covers at night. However that's not the case, Zach was quoted in an interview: "I grew up on the Beatles and the Beach Boys and Van Morrison and even Bruce Springsteen. They’re part of my musical vocabulary." Condon's music defies definition, it's a combination of band geek cool, Stephin Merritt-style vocals and Balkan folk music.
Zach Condon was born in Albuquerque, raised in Virginia and went to Santa Fe High School. In 2003 he dropped out to travel around Europe with his older brother, Ross, also a musician (he's the drummer for Brooklyn trio, Total Slacker)  It was then that he was first exposed to Balkan folk music.  Upon his return to New Mexico, he started composing the music that would eventually make up Beirut's debut album "Gulag Orkestar."  Zach enrolled at Santa Fe Community College and then Albuquerque TV-I,  he would drop out of both schools. In the meantime he continued working on the tracks with most of the recording taking place in his bedroom. Condon then enlisted Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Heather Trost (Foma) to assist him in the final stages of the recording process.  Barnes and Trost would also become early members of Beirut, before pursuing a similar euro-influenced style as A Hawk and A Hacksaw.  Zach by now enrolled at The University of New Mexico, would literally stop in his tracks and walk out of school when he received word that Bada-Bing records was signing him to a recording contract.  "Gulag Orkestar" was released in May of 2006,  Condon recruited musicians from New Mexico for a series of concert appearances in New York City, thus Beirut was launched.  His NYC debut at The Knitting Factory in front of 200 plus music bloggers got off to a shaky start, but the group made it through that ordeal with their confidence unshaken.  Zach described the album's success: "It's doing well; it's totally taking off," adding "I even quit my day job."  The album's release led to a heavy tour schedule and another trip to Europe.  In January of 2007, Beirut released a limited edition ep "Lon Gisland"  it included five songs, including a reworking of `Scenic World.' Beirut continued to tour on both sides of the Atlantic, having grown into a large collective, the core of which consists of; Zach Condon - trumpet/flugelhorn/ukulele, Perrin Cloutier - accordion/cello, Nick Petree - drums/percussion, Paul Collins - electric bass/upright bass, Kelly Pratt trumpet/ french horn/glockenspiel, Ben Lanz - trombone/tuba, Jared van Fleet - piano,  Jason Poranski- string instruments. 
The follow up album would reflect Condon's time in Paris and his interest in singers Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and Yves Montand, as well as his interest in French film.   "The Flying Club Cup"  was recorded at an Albuquerque dance studio previously owned by Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost.  The recordings were then finished at Arcade Fire's studio in Montreal,Canada.  The album was released in 2007 to near unanimous critical acclaim.  The release was followed by another round of intense touring, which led to Zach being hospitalized for exhaustion in April of 2008.  He would describe the experience during an interview with Pitchfork:  "It’s super, super intense on the body and mind to be on tour — you get to the point where you lose track of time and space, You lose track of reality."  This would lead to the cancellation of the European leg of the "Flying Club Cup" tour.  Zach reflected on the down time: "I can change some things, reinvent some others, and come back at some point with a fresh perspective and batch of songs."  What followed in 2009, was the double EP "March of the Zapotec/Holland"  One ep "March of the Zapotec was recorded in Oaxaca, Mexico with a seventeen piece brass band, that was actually a funeral band sponsored by a local church. Condon incorporated music he recorded at home with that recorded in Mexico in the final mix.  The other ep "Holland" was credited to RealPeople, Zach's pre-Beirut, pre-Balkan music, electronic project.  Although it resulted that the tracks on the ep were new compositions and not from the "The Joy of Losing Weight" his highly sought after bedroom recordings.
Zach Condon has done well for one so young, he who was influenced by so many, is now an influence himself.  When I first read about "Beirutando" I assumed someone had hacked Beirut's Wikipedia page and planted this preposterous story. However once I delved further into the subject (checked out some YouTube videos) I discovered that it's true.  The inclusion of Beirut's song "Elephant Gun" as the theme music for a Brazilian television mini-series apparently inspired musicians across Brazil and Lima,Peru to cover Condon's songs.  This culminated in an event called  "Beirutando na Praca" on August 30th 2009, when bands in Brazil and Lima took to the streets and performed their own version of Beirut's songs.  It sounds crazy, it's almost surreal, Zach Condon is just as dumbfounded as everyone else: “It’s pretty intense. South America was the last place I ever thought of it becoming popular. It’s weird that it caught on and I’m trying to figure out why. What spoke to them that I didn’t realize would?”  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Made You This Mix Tape

The upcoming episode (#11) of That Dirt City Sound features several early 1990's bands. All the music on this episode has been converted from analog cassette tape to mp3 files.  When I first started collecting music by Albuquerque bands and artists, the most common medium was the cassette.  By sorting for hours at local music stores, I managed to build up a modest collection. The better music shops (Bow Wow Records) would separate the local stuff, making it easier to browse the racks. Some stores were into local music, others were not.  However like panning for gold, every once in a while you stumbled upon a nugget. As I made my regular rounds, what I didn't know then, is how much the world of music collecting would change in the upcoming years.   In the 1970's I collected vinyl lp's by the hundreds, they were cumbersome and after having to move in and out of several apartments (sometimes in a hurried fashion) I jettisoned the vinyl and converted to cassette tapes.  I recall an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, where Raymond tries to get his dad to ditch his scratchy old records by buying him a cd player.  The change doesn't go over well, as Raymond's dad really prefers his music with the skips and pops of vinyl.  I never cared for those defects, not to mention that putting mix tapes together using vinyl records was a chore (although dubbing from cassette to cassette was even more tedious.) And of course, both the needle and the record would degrade with each play.  Many argue the higher sound quality of vinyl compared to newer formats, maybe so, right up until the moment you hear that first disturbing scratch or skip. 
The endless loop tape cartridge was first designed in 1952, entrepreneur, Earl Muntz found a way to incorporate this technology into automobile music systems.  In 1962 he developed a four track cartridge stereo system that he called "CARtridges."  He licensed music from major record companies and duplicated them on these cartridges. In doing so he revolutionized the way we listened to music in our cars.  8-tracks had such a short life span, mostly because of the phenomenon of having the player "eat" the tape. This was due to the extreme environment found in cars and the misalignment of the tape heads. One remedy involved shaking the tapes or wedging a piece of cardboard into the slot.  While recordable 8-tracks were available, putting together  mix tapes on 8-tracks, never caught on.  Compact Cassette tapes were a god send, convenient and affordable (You could buy them by the dozen). Invented by Philips in 1962 as a medium for audio storage, they quickly caught on and by the early 1970's were quite common. Compact Cassettes held up much better than 8-tracks, if they broke, you could open them up and take a stab at fixing them. I became a decent cassette surgeon over the years, transplanting and splicing with confidence. The compact cassette also gave birth to that great American social tool; the mix tape.  Millions of mix tapes were fashioned, with their creators honestly believing each one to be the greatest collection of songs ever.   Anyone who traveled on American roads in 80's and 90's remembers seeing magnetic recording tape decorating the roadsides. How many of those were mix tapes, tossed out of car windows after break ups?
The Compact Disc or CD is an optical disc originally developed as a storage medium. Sony demonstrated the first compact disc in 1976, but it wasn't until 1979 when Philips introduced the compact disc audio player that the medium became commercially viable. After a period of hand wringing, the major record companies finally gave in and the first cd albums were released in the early 1980's. Compact discs would change music forever, getting rid of the annoying pops, hiss and extraneous noise associated with other mediums.  The advent of recordable cd's allowed music buffs to take the art of mixing and copying to a new level. The first compact disc recorders were expensive and had limited features.   However the marriage of cd burning technology and the computer revolutionized home recording and collecting.  Looking back fondly at the early days of music downloading on the net, it was a free-for-all, no restrictions, no fees and no guilt.  Today with flash drives, memory cards & external drives, building a huge collection of music is easier than it ever was, if you're willing to pay subscription fees or buy by the download.  I love hi-tech, I love computers, I love change when it makes my life easier. I'm grateful for it, otherwise I'd be pounding this out on a Smith-Corona, while flipping vinyl on my turntable.