Monday, April 30, 2012

The Taos Home Companion

Burton Jespersen has long been a part of the New Mexico musical landscape.   He first surfaced as the lead singer for  The Refrigerators, a band out of Taos, N.M. that made a big splash in the small pond of Albuquerque, N.M.

As an early follower of the Elvis Costello/Joe Jackson school of spastic nerd cool, Burton helped introduce new wave to Albuquerque.  The Refrigerators  were edgy enough to turn heads, but not so weird that people were turned off. That was important in a town where most revelers preferred cover bands to anything original or unfamiliar. 

I've always credited The Refrigerators (and The Philisteens) with kick starting the current Duke City music scene.  Local bands hellbent on playing original music were unheard of  then. So, when The Refrigerators put out an album of original material in 1981, it was almost revolutionary.

By avoiding the bar band boogie and showcasing their self penned tunes, they gave the local folks a reason to kick up some dust.  However, once the dust settled The Refrigerators' (Burton, Dennis Dillon, Rick Thompson, Billy Platt and Mox Montoya) cooled off  and broke up in 1982.

I did get to see them play one last time at some dingy club (the name escapes me) I recall getting hammered on rum & coke while yelling at the band to play Elephant Head. A good time was had by me. The band later resurfaced as The Magnetixs, while Burton moved on to The Victims.

In those days Graham Central Station was just about the only Albuquerque venue showcasing national touring acts and The Victims (Burton-vocals, Greg Martin-guitar, Karl Halpert-guitar, Tom Russell-bass & Greg Vinella-drums) opened for many of them. (including a memorable gig opening for The Ramones at the Pan Am Center in Las Cruces.) The Victims recorded some original  material at studios in El Paso and Albuquerque, before calling it quits after a year.

That was followed by a succession of other bands and a solo career that took Burton around the world. The culmination of travel and adventure resulted in Burton's first solo album "The Ride."  Which, CD Baby described as "Rockin'Rhythm and Bluezeee Americana" and here at Dirt City Chronicles we called it "the perfect accompaniment for life on the proverbial lonesome highway." 

The 2003 release features two of Burton's  strongest compositions (Tomorrow and The Ride) along with some well chosen cover songs. I love Burton's taste in music, as a musical interpreter he educates and entertains. The songs of Keb Moe, Bob Dylan, Darden Smith, John Hiatt, Johnny Horton and even Brooks & Dunn grace the grooves of "The Ride" If you knew nothing about American music, this would serve as an excellent introduction. 

Wherein "The Ride" centered around being "out there following a song."  "Any  Road" looks at life from the vantage point of a man who's dropped anchor in a place he knows and loves.  New Mexico is situated, geographically so that most any road will lead you there. If you call this place your home, then you're always near  a road that will bring you back.

Burton Jespersen has his feet firmly planted in Taos, "this old dirt road is in my blood, you can taste the wood smoke, the earth and mud. With New Mexico as a backdrop, Burton brings each song home.  His plaintive voice paints  pictures of "a big river carving out the land" His lyrical imagery  takes us to a space and place that he calls home "smell the wood smoke in the air, chamisas  blooming everywhere."

The cover songs on "Any Road" are not as predominant, but they do fit in nicely with the   concept and flow of the album.  Calman Hart's "Barrel of Rain" is set in the Kansas plains,"I'll build you a barrel to catch the rain"  it could just as easily be about Eastern or Southern New Mexico. "If you give me this Lord, I'll never ask for nothing again."
The same could be said about Drew Nelson's "Farmer's Lament"  "this is my home, this is a place where seeds, sweat, tears and love are sown" Burton's voice wavers as if he's choking back tears as he sings.  The dry sandy soil sifts through  calloused fingers, as he sings  " the family farm is a dying thing"

"Gone Again", written by Kenny Edwards (Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt) "I went  to the store to get some apple pie, told my little darling, I'd be back by five", "Gravity" by Robert Lee Castleman, "I left home when I was seventeen, just grew tired of falling down." and Earl Thomas Conley's "You must not be drinkin' enough", could have been written about Burton Jespersen, which is probably why he chose them.

Like on his previous album, Burton has surrounded himself with skilled, musicians.  The line-up reads like a who's who of Taos music, Jimmy Stadler- electric guitar, piano Mike Hearn- acoustic lead guitar, Don Richmond- electric guitar, pedal steel and an assortment of stringed instruments.  The band adds subtle shades and tones to each track, throughout the album they remind me of The Band's work backing Bob Dylan. That's high praise, but it's well earned.

The song cycle is autobiographical. Burton's originals cover a wide range of topics and are are joyous statements of fact.  The music tells the story of a land, it's people and of one person in particular, Burton.  "Made my home by the Rio Grande, my mom and dad didn't understand"  They revolve around a common theme... the need to feel comfortable in one's own skin. 

The message is loud and clear, find your place in the sun and you find yourself. "Any Road" is the perfect home companion, the polar opposite of "The Ride" Burton has an uncanny knack for empathy  and storytelling.  He can draw a tear from your eyes, or  make you smile with an easy turn of phrase. 

I don't want to give the impression that these are sad songs for sad times.   "Any Road" is a celebration of music and the little things... be they good or bad.  When it comes to Burton's music, inevitably ... the pleasure is all ours.

Five Easy Questions w/ Burton Jespersen

DCC:  "The Ride" introduced me to the music of Keb Moe and Darden Smith. "Any Road" does the same with Calman Hart and Drew Nelson. Are the songs you cover a reflection of your own personal taste in music?

Burton:  Yes, I look for songs that I can play and that sit  well with me, like favorite cloths that suit your style and you know you wanna wear for years.    I have been doing shows and retreats with lots of other songwriters for quite a few years. I love finding people like Drew Nelson and Calman Hart.  Those are really great songs . The troubadour tradition is not about who wrote the song. It is about telling the story. We relate to these stories because we understand the imagery. It is part of our culture and part of us.

DCC:  As the son of a farmer, your rendition of Drew Nelson's "Farmers Lament" really tugged at my heartstrings, brings back a flood of memories and emotions

Burton:  There are tons of great songs out there that are not famous, and more being written all the time.  Just like there are tons of great, devoted songwriters out there too. For me, it is a great thrill to be around other writers and see what gems they come up with. Farmers Lament,  a great song. Not the only really good stuff that Drew Nelson has done and is doing.

DCC:  You have a knack for finding songs that fit you like a glove, (for instance Calman Hart's "Barrel of Rain") Have you considered an album of nothing but cover songs?

Burton:  If  I am lucky enough to do another recording project I don't know what it will be at this point. It will probably not be all covers. Maybe someday. I would love to just keep recording. That is not the case right now for me. I need a studio and a lot of help. I do not record anything myself at home.

DCC:  The overall theme of "Any Road"  (to me) appears to be that no matter how far you roam, it's always good to have a place you call home.

Burton:  You are right about the theme of any road.  It is about just that.  I love my house in Taos. I have my workshop here and I do all my living here, except when I am gone.

DCC:  What is next on the horizon for Burton Jespersen?

Burton:   I still like and kinda need to travel with the music.  I am going to California in July and flying to Denmark in Aug.  I'm playing at the Copenhagen Songwriter Festival Aug 17th 18th, 19th.  I hope to play around a few places in Europe and come back the middle of Sept. I am just starting to work on a schedule for this summer now

At the rate of an album every ten years, we may yet get another album or two out of Burton Jespersen before it's all said and done.  That's not a problem, here in New Mexico we understand long gaps, seemingly endless stretches of nothing and prolonged absences.  "The land of mañana" will always refer to old Mexico, but New Mexico still remains the land of "maybe mañana."

Burton Jespersen approached me to write album notes for "Any Road" which was the genesis of this feature. They didn't use them, but I promised if he didn't, I'd post them on Dirt City Chronicles. Fortunately, almost everything I write finds a home at Dirt City Chronicles. The need of which (home) is the overlying theme of Burton's new album.

"Any Road" belatedly follows on the heels of his first solo album "The Ride"  The combination of the two,  gives us all the evidence we need to declare Burton a New Mexican original, a true blue musical heirloom. I've been a fan of Burton's music since 1980, I rediscovered his music in 2010, maybe it's time that you follow suit.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

El Vez: Con Safos!

This is the story of a lad named El Vez

It's early in the evening and  El Vez is standing in front of the big picture window facing the front drive at Graciasland. He's flanked by the Elvettes ( Priscilita, Gladysita, Lisa Maria, and Que Linda Thompson)  They are all mesmerized by the sight of Jerry Li Luis repeatedly ramming the gates with his car, while El's Akal rent-a-cops cower nearby.  A frantic El Vez  yells into the intercom "Pendejos you better do something, he's bending my wrought iron guitars!"

Jerry Li slings open the door to his six four chevy impala (metallic silver with a drop top) and leans on the gates to balance himself, he yells "Ya llego el matador!" He produces a Glock 9 from his waistband, crowing "Chinga tu madre, El Vez... you think that you're first when you're really just second" The police sirens slowly work their way up Rio Grande Blvd. Jerry Li ignores their approaching wail and fires off a hail of bullets into the air and towards the monolithic mansion.

"You can't miss him, he's the puto standing at my gates with a gun... babosos!" El Vez yells into the phone "911 is a joke we don't want 'em" the Elvettes chime in on cue. "Qieto chicas" El Vez says "I'll flick you off like fleas, este cabron me quiere romper la madre" Jerry Li has stopped to reload, as APD swarms around him he pauses in amusement. For an instant he thinks they've come to help him ferret out the culero that has caused him so much grief.

The first bullet hits Jerry Li Luis right between the eyes, but he doesn't drop, because the next 100 rounds that strike hold him up. He finally hits the ground with a cow pattie plop. "Ala verga!" screams El Vez "Lock the fucking door and draw the curtains" he yells at the Elvettes "that crazy chilipino has more holes in him than Johnny Thunder's arms." The Elvettes coo in unison, "Papi, you better wake up and smell the real flavor, 'Burque cops shoot and ask questions later."

Ray bans, ice cube underwear and urban sombreros won't spare you from burning fires of hell, and no small number of Shakespearos could ever explain what the fuck Jerry Li was thinking. El Vez glared out the window as police cordoned off the crime scene. The Elvettes had gone outside to schmooze with Dan Mayfield and Marty Chavez. "In life, you ain't nothing but a Chihuahua and in death you ain't nothing but dead meat" El Vez said to nobody in particular.

If I told you that El Vez grew up in a housing project on the wrong side of the tracks on Tupelo Ave. in East Los Angeles,  it wouldn't be that far fetched. Many a great man has been born into poverty, greatness being the quality that ultimately allows him to rise above the circumstances. When  Lil' El was but a boy, he would search for an escape from lonely street by pointing a clock radio to the east and slowly turning the dial.

One night a disembodied voice softly oozed out of the speaker from the great beyond (KOMA in Oklahoma City) "Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own" mesmerized by the clippity clop beat Lil' El fell to his knees, "Dios Mio!" he exclaimed "It's the sound of heaven" suddenly he had a vision, an Americano appeared before him, it was Elvis "Ain't you a funny lookin' lil' beaner!" the King snorted in disbelief.

"Lookee here, I don't decide these things, I just deliver the message" King Elvis declared with his trademark sneer, "I here by anoint you as my successor, shit!... don't ask me why, but better you than P.J. Proby" Elvis glanced around the modest abode "Ya'll got any of them hot tamales?"  Lil' El closed his eyes, "Blue Moon, you knew just what I was there for, you heard me saying a prayer for, someone I really could care for." when he opened them Elvis was gone.

The river rolled slowly, each wave ringing like a Scotty Moore guitar lick. Jesusito's reflection beckoned off the sheen of muddy water, his skin was blue... almost black "I couldn't draw a breath inside my mama" he sadly stated "It weren't her fault, my brother's head was pushed up against my chest." From within the waters a sound rose, "that's alright mamacita, that's alright with yoo....." Jesusito cried out "that's my carnal!" just as the tow from a passing barge pulled him under.

The soul of Jesusito Garon, denied life in a two room, shotgun shack, had traveled the astral plane alongside Ritchie Valens and his flying guitar. That night on Tupelo Ave. Jesusito re-claimed his rightful spot alongside Elvis and La Virgen de Guadalupe. "Ding-a-ding-a-dang-a-dong, Jerry Li Luis was the devil" I got to get back to the trailer park, so I can jot down my thoughts. I always knew that both Jesus Christ and Elvis Presley were Chicanos, now I could prove it! 

The Value of Zero is Nothing (and to me you're just nothing, anyway)
The Zeros are often referred to as the first Mexican/Chicano punk band (that honor really belongs to Question Mark and the Mysterians) Although, they were clean cut and downright ordinary, make no mistakes, The Zeros were punk and there was nothing punk ass about them. At a time when punk meant razor blades and safety pin appendages, they cast off all those stereotypical trappings and played it straight. They proved their worth and by not imitating the Brit punk ethos. 

Hailing from Chula Vista, Ca. The Zeros came together in 1976. Originally the band revolved around Chula Vista Hs. classmates, Javier  Escovedo (vocals,guitar) and Ray Wise (drums) they then recruited another classmate, Robert Lopez (vocals,guitar) to join them. In a few months the trio, now known as The Main St. Brats, evolved from playing in a trailer behind Javier's house to playing at parties and gatherings. 

Then the surging Brats were dealt a sudden setback, when Wise quit to join the Navy. Robert Lopez would come to the rescue, suggesting that they add his cousin Baba Chenelle on drums and Baba's best friend Hector Peñalosa on bass. It was decided that a name change was in order, and after a quick brainstorming session they settled on The Zeros (inspired by something Lester Bangs once wrote about "I don't wanna be a hero, I just wanna be a zero.)

In 1977, The Zeros were now ready to dive bomb the nascent Cali punk scene. They landed their first major gig at The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles (masquerading as the Punk Palace) The show was promoted by Peter Case (The Nerves, Plimsouls) and included The Germs (making their debut) and The Weirdos (who had top billing) The Zeros were added through the efforts of Phast Phreddie (editor of the fanzine, Back Door Man) and a well placed demo tape.

The Zeros would follow up with the release of their first single Wimp / Don't Push me Around,  released later that year by Greg Shaw on Bomp! Records. In 1978 they went into the studio with producer Craig Leon (Ramones, Blondie) but the band was not happy with the results (made us sound like Phil Spector, Escovedo would remark) they would record different versions without Craig Leon and Bomp! released Beat on my Heart / Wild Weekend as their next single.

Not all was peachy keen with The Zeros. Hector Peñalosa (who had a beef with Javier Escovedo) quit the band. Guy Lopez (Robert's brother) was quickly brought in to take his place. Within a few months both Lopez brothers quit the band and the group prepared to disband. At the last second, they received a call from Ken Friedman offering them a paying tour that would cover the length of the West Coast. The Zeros lured Hector Peñalosa back into the fold and continued on as a trio.

As a result of the tour, The Zeros relocated to San Francisco (Javier's brother Alejandro played with the Nuns) They became regulars at The Mabuhay Gardens, The Deaf Club and The Temple Beautiful. Along the way they played with The Dils, The Avengers, The Nuns and even had Patti Smith join them on stage for a song.  The highlight of their stay in San Francisco was opening for The Clash at a benefit for New Youth in 1979.

On March 17th, 1979 they returned to Los Angeles for a show at The Elks Lodge Hall. The bill included The Zeros, X, The Alleycats, The Go-Go's, The Plugz & The Wipers. The St. Patrick's Day Massacre as it came to be called started when the LAPD waded into crowd while The Plugz were playing and proceeded to bust heads.  The Zeros had followed The Wipers, while X and The Alleycats were waiting backstage to play.

Escovedo described the action "It was cops randomly hitting people with billy clubs, I mean little punk rock girls, what threat do they pose to a 280 lb. police officer?" The blood did flow and the sirens did wail, L.A. had itself a genuine punk rock riot. The Zeros retreated to their hotel across the street  to watch the mayhem. It was then that some armed men came in and robbed the place, since the police were occupied...  they got away.

In 1980 following a stint as the opening act for John Cale on his West Coast swing, The Zeros returned to the studio for the first time since the Craig Leon sessions. They then embarked on a series of tours that took them across the country ( Austin,Tx., New York City's CBGB's, Max's Kansas City) before returning to San Francisco. The first punk rock wave was receding, the music was changing, the time was right for The Zeros to hang it up.

Of course, you can't talk about Robert Lopez without talking about Javier Escovedo and you can't talk about Javier without mentioning his extended family. The Escovedos are to music what the Wayons once were to television, movies and cheap laughs. After The Zeros, Javier would join Alejandro in Austin, Tx. to form the True Believers. Their debut album produced by Jim Dickinson and recorded in Memphis was a critically acclaimed masterpiece. 

Pete Escovedo is a well known percussionist, as was Coke (Joseph) Escovedo, who played with Carlos Santana during his initial period of fame. Pete and Coke (both were born almost 20 years before Alejandro and Javier) played together in Azteca, a popular Latin fusion band in the late 1970's. One of Pete's daughters is Sheila E., who is best known for her work with Prince (Glamorous Life) Pete's son Peter is a television music producer and Nicole Richie's biological father.

After the True Believers, Alejandro stayed in Austin and has since become one of America's premier singer/songwriters. Javier moved to New York City and played guitar for The Lost. He would continue his work with The Zeros (Hector Peñalosa still has a beef with him)  Mario Escovedo, a younger brother is best known as front man for indie rock combo, The Dragons. All of which would make for some interesting holiday gatherings and one hell of mix tape.

EL VEZ- The Mexican Elvis- The Latin Sensation that is sweeping the Nation...and the world!

Elvis Presley crapped out on the crapper at Graceland, thus opening the flood gates to a host of impersonators. The usurpers tried to fill the void, but to no avail. In my opinion one of the best was pro wrestler The Honky Tonk Man, who took great pleasure in bustin' his opponents over the head with a cheap guitar. Andy Kaufman was also known to mix elements of pro-rasslin' into his act that included an Elvis impersonation that Presley himself endorsed as his favorite.

But, nobody does it better, with more panache and devotion than the man who embodies everything that is and was, Elvis. I'm talking 'bout El Vez, "The Mexican Elvis", "The Chicano Elvis" The Thin Brown Duke who suffers no fools and accepts no imitations other than himself.  Most of what Robert Lopez has done gets tagged as Mexican, the Mexican Elvis, the Mexican David Bowie etc. It's only fitting that he got his start in a SoCal punk band that came to be known as the Mexican Ramones.

El Vez sez: "And when I was a kid in the '60s, I had uncles with continental slacks and slight pompadours in that Elvis style. I thought Elvis looked like my uncles. He looked Latin, the whole trip to El Vez-ness was a search for identity, how brown can I be? What are my roots?" 

Who is this El Vez and why is he the chosen one? Volumes have been written about him, he's been queried and prodded by the best and worst of journalists. All of which makes my job easier and harder in equal turns. What can I say, that hasn't already been said? While my mind flickers with the infinite possibilities, I've already made up enough shit. Like Albert Goldman and Nick Tosches my only remaining option is to tell the truth.

Robert Lopez left The Zeros in 1978 and the following year turned up in Catholic Discipline, a band better known for the musicians that were in the band than for its music. Most notably (beside El Vez)  Phranc, "the world's best Lesbian Jewish folk singer" and Claude Bessy (Kickboy Face) editor of Slash Fanzine. The band's only other claim to fame was an appearance in Penelope Spheeris rockumentary film "The Decline of Western Civilization"
El Vez sez:  "The nice thing was when I started, it was all on a dare to myself. In going to Memphis, I figured, 'If I make a fool of myself, it'll be in Memphis, where they won't know who this fool is.' I started off with a real what-the-heck attitude. That's what made it fun, because I was taking chances and didn't care."  "I had only planned on doing it once, but it's become a full-time job." 

Lopez introduced El Vez during Elvis Week which commemorates the anniversary of his death each August. "In Memphis there was a place called Bob's Bad Vapors," he says. "From 3 in the afternoon until 3 in the morning you could see an Elvis every 20 minutes." For his initial show, El Vez would have to run through the gauntlet of diehard Memphis locals, scores of Elvis Presley impersonators and the Memphis media circus that surrounds the event.

If Elvis fans were fearful that he would take the piss out of it, that is to say.... mock the King. They had no reason to be concerned.  As Lopez explained, "If you see the shows, you'll know I do love Elvis, My whole house is full of Elvis stuff. I don't think you can do this unless you love and admire Elvis. This isn't some fat-man-on-pills Elvis parody."  Although, the kitsch factor was high, the rabid Elvis fans liked him and El Vez became an instant celebrity.

El Vez sez:  "I'm really lucky that I can nod in any direction I want to . . . The neat thing about being El Vez is people at first think, 'Oh, you can only do this,' but when you're Mexican and you're Elvis, combining the two kind of nullifies everything, and your artistic range is free to go wherever you want."

"Mexican-American meets East L.A. in a Tijuana taxi while wearing a sequined jumpsuit." That in part, is the slogan for "El Vez" a Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia that is restaurateur, Stephen Starr's vision of "Tijuana-on-the-Schuylkill"  El Vez endorses his namesake beanery and their vomitous guacamole and stale chips. Starr a big fan of the man, regularly books El Vez, with his Cinco de Mayo shows already approaching legendary status

The  Memphis Mariachis  play as the cleverly named Elvettes sway (Priscillita, Lisa Maria, Que Linda Thompson and Gladysita) Robert Lopez doesn't shy away from pushing the line between campy and social commentary. El Vez is a multicultural hybrid, a post modern twist on the Chicano experience through skewed remakes of Elvis songs. Lopez expresses his political activism through the satire and humor in his songs, without alienating his non-Hispanic audience.

El Vez sez: "I love Philadelphia because they make me feel at home, and because of the El Vez restaurant, it's my home too,"  "We have a business deal. I was paid nicely. We do things together sometimes, like Cinco de Mayo block parties for the restaurant. I was shown layouts and design before they were starting.... [Starr] liked the name and was a fan."

Robert Lopez, "has often been called the most intelligent of the Elvis impersonators" a thinking man's Elvis. It's praise that he deflects by stating "Yeah, in the company I'm in, that's not saying much."  I don't think Elvis Presley would have liked the El Vez act or understood it.  He was a product of the old south, he didn't stray far from those roots. He sang Sinatra's "My Way" but he didn't live that way. Elvis was manipulated by others in some form or the other his entire life.

El Vez sez:  "Aztlan, the idea of California, Texas, Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona all being one big area before the Mexican-American war. It was all occupied by Mexicans and governed by Mexicans. It's the idea of a Chicano space, what was ours, a self-governing, self-supporting land. It's about the Chicano trying to find one's identity."

 *all apologies go out to James Reich (I, Judas) Nick Tosches (Hellfire) and Public Enemy (911 is a Joke) but none to Albert Goldman.... never to Albert Goldman!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Death By Misadventure: El Duce

Eldon Hoke shouldn't be remembered for anything, much less as an integral piece  to the Kurt Cobain murder conspiracy puzzle.  If not for an interview British film maker Nick Broomfield conducted with Eldon Hoke in 1997, the entire Courtney Love  murdered Kurt Cobain theory  would have died a well deserved death. That without a doubt, would have pleased Courtney to no end. Broomfield's interview and documentary ignited an eternal flame  forever fueled by nutcase conspiracy theorists.

Eldon Hoke is best remembered as El Duce, a low rent version of GG Allin (which is quite low by any standard) Although, compared to El Duce, GG Allin almost had some redeemable qualities. El Duce was the axis that his schlock rock band The Mentors swirled around. Born and raised in Seattle, Hoke was involved in that city's punk rock music scene from the start (1975) as a member of The Screamers (then known as The Tupperwares)

The Screamers' front men Tomata du Plenty (David Harrigan) and Tommy Gear  relocated to Los Angeles (over threats of a lawsuit from container manufacturer Tupperware, they had changed their name) while the rest of the band members stayed behind in Seattle. In 1978 Eldon Hoke teamed up with guitarist, Sickie Wifebeater (not his real name) and Dr. Heathen Scum (not a real doctor) to form The Mentors. 

With Eldon Hoke playing drums and singing (that's a liberal description of what he did) The Mentors belched and drank their way to relative notoriety around Seattle.  The Mentors worked with political incorrectness the way Siegfried and Roy worked with lions and tigers. In both cases, the only thing that kept the animals at bay, was bravado and bluster. To this end Hoke proudly proclaimed that the music they played was "rape rock"

This unchecked stupidity couldn't go unnoticed.  Once The Mentors took their act to the big city (Los Angeles) all the sleaziest of television producers started calling.  El Duce made a controversial appearance on Hot Seat with Wally George during which he claimed  that "The Mentors and their fans  want rape rock!" This was followed by a totally staged "outrageous" appearance on Jerry Springer's show.

 El Duce became a regular on Hot Seat, during which he would espouse his worldly views such as "I can tell when women want to get raped by the look in their eyes", invariably this would lead to Wally George calling for security to forcibly remove El Duce from the set, which was usually accompanied by hissing and booing from the studio audience.  Bad publicity is better than no publicity and  The Mentors took whatever they could get.
As musicians The Mentors were an abysmal failure. Eldon beat on the drums while croaking out the "lyrics" Eric Carlson (Sickie Wifebeater) played slash and burn guitar and Steve Broy (Dr. Heathen Scum) thumped along on bass. Eventually, Hoke moved out from behind his drum kit. The move was necessitated by the his worsening alcoholism, which made it hard for him to sing and drum at the same time. (it's hard to drum and hold a beer bottle) Moosedick took over the battery, to ease the load on El Duce.

 As performance artists they fared a little better, their trademark black KKK hoods quickly drew plenty of attention. One clueless journalist even went so far as to summarize that the band's provocative lyrics made hiding their real identities necessary. While the band's songs ran the lyrical gamut from violence  to anal sex, it was all sophomoric bullshit. Probably no worse than what you would hear in a typical frat house on a Saturday night.  

In 1985 the U.S. Senate famously decided to hold hearings on the proliferation of "obscene" lyrics in rock and rap music.  This led to the surreal scene of the Rev. Jeff Ling reciting the lyrics to The Mentors song, "Golden Shower", "Bend up and smell my anal vapor/Your face is my toilet paper" (probably not the first time that was uttered on the Senate floor) An angry Frank Zappa (to whom Ling had recited the lyrics) promptly declared the hearings a farce.
The U.S. Senate reached a new level of bizarre when Tipper Gore quoted the same song, "Listen, you little slut, do as you are told, come with daddy for me to pour the gold." If you wish to have your sensitive sensibilities assailed, just stick around. "All through my excrement you shall roam" Tipper continued "On your face I leave a shit tower, golden shower."  The Mentors operated under one basic principal: If you wish to be offended, we will offend you.

The joke was on Congress, the music by itself did not matter. Much like the ropes around a wrestling ring, it was just another prop. Band members came and went (Jack Shit, El Rapo etc.) and even legendary guitarist Scott "Wino"  Weinrich (The Obsessed) played bass for the band (anonymously) After El Duce's untimely demise he was replaced by Mad Dog Duce  (Marc Deleon) However,  that's enough of this crap! let's get to the meat of the story.

Like I said previously, these assholes would be lost in the ozone along with scores of dead brain cells, if not for the now infamous Nick Broomfield interview. The gist of this sordid episode begins with El Duce being approached by Courtney Love outside The Rock Shop (a Hollywood record store) in December of 1993.  the following conversation is alleged to have taken place:

C Love: "El, I need a favor of you. My old man's been a real asshole lately, I need you to blow his fucking head off."
El Duce: "Are you serious"?
C Love: "Yeah, I'll give you $50,000 to blow his fucking head off."
El Duce: "I'm serious if you are".
CLove: "Where can I reach you"?
El Duce: "You can reach me here".

They then went inside to discuss the matter in a more private setting.  Shop owner Karush Sepedjian said he overheard Love saying, "Can you handle doing this? Can you get this done? What do you want for it"? Hoke would later tell Sepedjian that Courtney  offered him $50,000 and a blow job on the spot, which he turned down.  Hoke gave Love a business card and she left.  For his part, Eldon brushed it off as just some crazy shit from a crazy bitch.

In March of 1994, Sepedjian received a call from Love asking for El Duce. The band was on tour and when he informed Courtney, she started screaming ""That son of a bitch, we made an agreement. What am I going to do"? Karush told her " "I don't know, I've got a business to run. Goodbye."  he would later describe her state of mind as frantic.  Love did not call back and Sepedjian did not relay the message to Eldon Hoke. 

Ten days later Kurt Cobain did indeed blow his head off... allegedly? Sepedjian: "I was like Whoa! I wonder if she actually did pay some sucker to blow off his head"? El Duce would add: "Maybe she got somebody else. I think Kurt was getting ready to divorce her for adultery charges. She had to have him whacked right away so she could get the money."  Three years would pass, before El Duce's interview with Broomfield.

After the interview, Eldon agreed to take a polygraph test. When asked "Did Courtney Love ask you to kill Kurt Cobain?" his respond fell into the category of "beyond possibility of deception" when asked "Were you offered $50k by Courtney Love to kill Kurt Cobain?" the result was nearly the same. Hoke stated that although  he wasn't interested in the offer,  he had passed the information on to an associate named Alan.

The reliability of polygraph tests ranks right up there with bullshit detectors, so it all has to be taken with a grain salt. On April 17th, 1997, Eldon Hoke showed up at the home of Drew Gallagher, he asked how he could get a fake driver's license. When queried by Gallagher, Hoke responded "People get buried in cornfields, people get lost in swamps"  when Gallagher asked what he meant by that, Hoke hinted that he may have killed Kurt Cobain.

After his final performance on  April 18, 1997 at Al's Bar in Los Angeles.  El Duce proceeded on one of his customary drinking binges.  The following evening he showed up in the company of a man he claimed to have met that day.  Just one week had passed since his interview with Broomfield and Eldon Hoke was exhibiting signs of extreme paranoia. The two men shuffled off into the night to continue their debauchery.

The following day, Hoke's mangled body was discovered on the railroad tracks in Riverside, Ca.  I won't dwell on the irony of a man called El Duce being killed by a train that ran on time. Hoke had either  fallen asleep on the tracks, drunkenly stumbled or been pushed in front of an oncoming train by the mysterious stranger. The conclusion you draw depends on whether you subscribe to the Cobain murder conspiracy theories or not.

What do I think happened? Sure as Elvis is dead, Kurt Cobain blew his head off and there's nobody that could ever convince me that Courtney Love or El Duce could have written Cobain's masterful suicide letter. This case is closed and all the asshole conspiracy buffs can move on to Tupac  or Michael Jackson. The coroner's office declared that Eldon Hoke's death was due to "misadventure" thus earning him a spot in my hall of shame.

Scene, Broomfield is taken to meet El Duce at his abode in Riverside, L.A. by Divine Brown's pimp, who is a close personal friend of El Duce.

Pimp: "There he is, El Duce."
Broomfield: "Where? Oh yes."
Pimp: "There he is right there. This is him, El Duce."
El Duce: "Yaaargh. Where's the booze?"
Pimp: "He's just perverted!"
El Duce: "Yeah, a warped er, intoxicator, most of the time."
Broomfield: "So you er, did some deal with Courtney right?"
El Duce: "Yes."
Here Broomfield interjects the interview explaining that under British Libel Laws he was forced to cut these allegations. It was impossible to substantiate any of El Duce's allegations.
Broomfield: "That's a fact is it?"
El Duce: (laughs.)
Broomfield: "People might think that you are not the most reliable witness."
El Duce: "Well, that's too bad. You may not be the reliable witness your own self, now think about that!" (laughs.)

Broomfield again interjects with: "El Duce, I found out was well known in the L.A. music scene. A wild man with a strong following. He claims to have known Courtney over the years and that she came to the Rock Shop and made him an offer. Unfortunately it is this offer we were unable to substantiate. An offer that El Duce claims was very extreme. And that there was no way that it could be reproduced without having hard evidence that it was true. And under British libel laws as they stand today, that would be impossible."

El Duce: "I just didn't think she was serious. (laughing.)
Broomfield jumps in with: "Unfortunately he was just a bit too wild and brilliant for the English libel laws.But she didn't say anything about making."
El Duce: cuts him off with, "Make it look like a suicide."
Broomfield: "Well, yeah, but if you just blew his brains out like you said, it wouldn't look like a suicide, it would look like you blew his brains out."
El Duce: "Right, but er, I told Alan, (looks up sheepishly towards Divine Brown's pimp)- I mean er, my friend who (starts laughing) aah, I'll let the FBI catch him, but er, (laughs, that's just the way it's done. End of Story (laughs again). Hey 50 grand does a lot of talking. You buy me a beer I might do some more talking, (laughs, looks into the camera, and after a short pause) Yaaaaargh!"
Broomfield: "and that seemed to be the end of the interview. I didn't know quite what to think. El Duce had passed a polygraph test, even though his main witness (Sepedjian,) had nodded off before its completion."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Graphic

As of  April 18th, Dirt City Chronicles will have been up and running for two years. What a difference a year makes! at this point in 2011, DCC had 8,000 views, today the ticker sits at 48,000. The only real difference I've seen is that I keep getting these prompts from Blogger "You're really racking up those page views, have you considered signing up for AdServe?" The overall numbers are modest, but the feedback from both musicians and readers has been positive and encouraging.

My plan one year ago was to give this silly endeavor twelve more months and then move on to something else. I was fooling myself of course, there is nothing else. My goal from the start has been to publish a blog that emulates the great fanzines of the 1970's. Goldmine, Bomp, Trouser Press (before they went glossy) and even Creem & Crawdaddy (who began as fanzines) On the pages of those 'zines, the most obscure of bands came to life, thanks to detailed bios, reviews and discography's. 

It's debatable whether I've accomplished that goal or not. With an IBM Selectric or a daisy wheel Smith-Corona, I pounded out reviews and stories that I would then mail off in hope of having them published. (your only real option before the internet) It never happened, although a couple of my letters to the editor were published in Creem. I like to think that Lester Bangs, Air Wreck Weisenheimer or even Barry Kramer, approved them, but it was probably just some intern.

What drove me to start up Dirt City Chronicles (I called it Dirt City Radio, until I discovered that a local band was already using that name) was the dearth of information available on local bands. There was The Weekly Alibi's archives, the Journal archives and  Wig Wam Bam (plus Capt. America's numerous abandoned MySpace pages) Let's not forget Mitch's New Mexico bands website.  Mitch had a great idea, the only problem was that he updated at a snail's pace and relied on musicians to provide the biographical information.

If there's one thing I've learned over the past two years, it's that most rock musicians don't want to rehash the past. Those funky little downtown bands that they played in, while near and dear to our hearts were just youthful follies. Now with college degrees in hand, they'd rather not be reminded of their musical missteps. My e-mail requests for band info and interviews went unanswered, so I quit sending them. How do you write about a band if all you have is a jewel case insert to go by?

My solution to the problem was simple, "take whatever scraps of information I could dig up on the internet, add local color (while staying within the lines as much as possible) stir in enough cynical, smart ass bullshit to keep readers riveted... and publish." On a side note, if you quote a musician and he calls you on it, they're bluffing. Nobody remembers what they said ten years ago, that's wishful fucking thinking. The truth is that nobody out there knows any more or any less than I do.

Dirt City Chronicles is a labor of love and nothing else. It's a time capsule stuffed full of useless information, supposed to drive your imagination. It'll linger on the web long after I'm gone and that in fact is what drives my efforts. The one thing that still bothers me is the Albuquerque angle. I focus on Albuquerque music, but it's been ten years since I relocated to Southern New Mexico. This charade can only continue for so long.

Over the past few months, I've tried to re-direct the focus of Dirt City Chronicles more towards the SoCal and national music scenes. The reason is quite simple, I have far more readers outside of New Mexico than I do within the state. I can write about iconic local bands like The Ant Farmers, Saddlesores, Oh, Ranger!, The Raggies etc. and get fewer than 100 views or I can write about Layne Staley decaying on a living room couch and get over a thousand views.

As attention spans diminish, writers start to realize that they have far more time to write then their readers have to read. While it's not fame and fortune that I seek, I'm also not some social outcast with furrowed brow firing off missives into a dark void. "I'm no schoolboy but you know what I like" Cynicism has set in, I'm a grown ass man writing about rock music. I am your Legs McNeil, older, balder, paunchier but no less devoted to keeping rock and roll alive.

The myth is debunked, the most important thing for me to remember while writing this blog (and for the reader to keep in mind) is that it's only rock and roll. You can't take this shit serious and if you do, then you're missing the point. I start with a blank page and I fill in the blank spaces. That was Ring Lardner's formula for sanity & success, I've adopted it as my own. Lardner drank himself to death, burdened by his genius, I'm determined not to do the same.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sleaze Rock

This sleaze rock special "I love you so" by Cassius (the French electronica duo comprised of Philippe Zdar and Hubert Blanc-Francart. pitches an app for iPhone. It's a crappy fan video,  the highlight of which is a random girl placing a talking phone between her legs. Ooh-la-la!   Top YouTube comment: "The main message of this vid is 'every idiot is havin an iphone nowadays" SirGuettaX182

This sleaze rock special is "These Boots are made for Walkin" from Belgium's Hellsonics, who are menacing in way that Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra never imagined. Part of the new wave of  Euro trash hellbilly bands.  Top YouTube comment: "Sorry =P ... No need to get aggressive but it just didn't enchant me as much as you."  luciaramirezbernal

This sleaze rock special is Drain S.T.H., (Sweden's all-female answer to Silver Chair) "Crack the Liar's Smile" Maria Sjöholm, the lead singer is now married to Tony Iommi. With those helicopters blades whirling around, I kept waiting for a Vic Morrow moment. Top YouTube comment: "The lead singer is my grandmother, Yes! i swear she is my grandmother... for me its hard to believe." dannybabe 7519

This sleaze rock special is "Waiting for the Big One" from Femme Fatale, fronted by raspy voiced Lorraine Lewis.  This cheesy crapola reeks of sexual innuendo. Lorraine would soon realize that this bunch didn't have the big one in them and she dumped the  chumps. Top YouTube comment:  "I got the big one your looking for baby." Menyhard1

Thursday, April 12, 2012

That Dirt City Sound Episode 26

This is you Albuquerque, twenty... count 'em, twenty bands from the Dirt City. What does this say about Albuquerque's music scene?  It says that there's a lot of bands out there and a large percentage of them are playing metal.

Episode 26 of That Dirt City Sound starts when you click on play:



Podcast Powered By Podbean


104.1 The Edge is holding a cattle call, the local band that gets the most votes will open on the main stage at Edgefest, while five others will play the local stage.  Besides the usual suspects fresh from whatever Northeast Heights garage they spawned from, there's some well known bands in the mix. Battle tested groups with an album or two under their belts (Lousy Robot, Vertigo Venus, SuperGiant, Red Light Cameras, Anesthesia, Indemnified) are joined by some unlikely entries (The Noms, The Glass Menageries, Next 2 the Tracks,  Bat Wings for Lab Rats,, The Harlow Defense, La Junta, Gusher)

 For the record I'm voting for  Lousy Robot, The Echoing Green,Tom Nevers Field, The Glass Menageries & The Sawmill Dandies.  Actively campaigning for votes is encouraged because just like American Idol, this isn't about talent it's about who gets the most peeps to vote for them. Episode 26 of That Dirt City Sound podcast will give you a preview of the top twenty bands vying for the six slots (by my estimation) and if you're so inclined, log on to 104.1 The Edge's website and cast your vote.

 While it's referred to as  "Edgefest" there's nothing cutting edge about it.  Incubus (from the mean streets of Calabasas) is headlining, they'll be joined by  Bowling Green's Cage the Elephant and the wildmen of Winter Haven,  Anberlin.  There's no shortage of gruntcore metal amongst the entrants,  which proves once again that no matter how much locals try to guzzy up the old señorita with trendy dives and hipster boutiques, at heart 'Burque is just an uncouth, mullet wearing  ingrate.

So who makes the playlist of That Dirt City Sound Episode 26?  Knucklez Deep is some real knuckle dragger metal, but get this! they champion the environment... ecogruntcore? Blazin' guitars, a drummer that sounds like he's beating on five gallon paint buckets and a singer that you wouldn't want to fuck with, so i WON'T.  The next entry, Atlas is all grunting aggro vocals backed by  tightly synchronized numetal. It's top notch and if these guys can stay out of jails & institutions we may hear from them again.  15 Polk St. delivers a wicked Ian Anderson meets Capt. Beefheart tune, "can a creepy motherfucker be the scariest man i've ever met"

Scream Machine channels White Zombie, solid fucking guitars with nifty pigfucker vocals. The song cuts off abruptly just as the singer starts to say "fuck" which is a crying shame. That heavy handed attempt at self censorship is a total fucking buzzkill. SuperGiant has refined sludge rock down to a science, while a little diversity would be nice (everything they record sounds like it was produced by Fred Flintstone) it works just fine for this crowd.  While we're on the subject of muddy vocals and bottom heavy sludge metal, Supercabra is either a SuperGiant tribute band or SuperGiant sneaking in a second entry.

Gusher comes through with their Ritalin fueled take on the Archers of Loaf, user friendly noise rock without the nasty aftertaste. Bat Wings for Lab Rats, have their own peculiar sound, they put the fart in art and the ass in class. The Glass Menageries, The Echoing Green & Tom Nevers Field blow everybody else away, but they won't get many votes. Lousy Robot does what Lousy Robot always does, they rock you in a quiet passive aggressive manner. The Sawmill Dandies are too good to hang out with most of this rabble. This is a fine group of accomplished musicians, if I didn't know better I would say it was from Frogville.

The Noms take the proceedings to a higher level, with their track "Rest in me" which is from a live show at L.A.'s Viper Room.  Anesthesia, still groggy from the surgery brings a heavy dose of the heavy. Indemnified's brand of metal is cerebral and progressive, especially when compared to the tub thumpers that they're up against.  Five Minute Sin gives us that rarest of songs, the  showstopper, the curtain dropper...  the hard rock opus.  Red Light Cameras, Next 2 the Tracks and La Junta showcase some cool uptempo tunes but they  have to be considered longshots at best.

To subject most of the novice bands that submitted entries, to the same standard of review as professional bands would suggest that they're not the pink slime of rock music. But, let's not forget that at one point the Beatles were just a local Liverpool band.  Whoot there it is!, log on to 104.1 The Edge, vote now and vote often, or as SuperGiant suggested, if you live outside of New Mexico just use an Albuquerque zip code, 87104.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Barb Wire Dolls: Hellas Good!

Hey, Hey! My, My! with bands like the Barb Wire Dolls around rock & roll will never die. Most of the time I have to go dig up my stories, but every once in a while, the story comes to me.  Just as the future of rock music was starting to look mighty bleak, the Barb Wire Dolls, fronted by Debbie Harry  doppelgänger, Isis Queen landed  in my hometown. This punk rock foursome from Greece, has touched down in America with all the subtleness of wayward Soviet space junk. They've hit the ground running, and the luv 'em or hate 'em bandwagon is gathering momentum with astonishing speed.

What is it about the Dolls that has polarized American punk fans? Are they the greatest thing since sliced honey wheat bread?, you can decide that for yourself.  They are however, fresh and  that always seems to draw a crowd.  As for the YouTube haters who deride them for not being punk enough for their taste, fuck them. The definition of punk continues to change, as it has since the glory days of garage punk back in the mid 1960's. One man's punk is another man's Green Day, ideals carved into stone have a way of being erased as age and maturity creep up on us. 

The Barb Wire Dolls have several things going in their favor that have allowed them to jump to the head of the line. (something that seems to have rubbed some U.S. punk fanatics the wrong way) Fair enough... I guess, but the total package presented by the Dolls is hard to beat. 1. Having a charismatic blonde bombshell as your lead vocalist, makes all the difference in the world.  2. They are the first commercially viable punk rock band to come along in some time 3. they're enthusiastic without being boorish 4. they play with the same "fuck you" abandon of the first wave punk bands. 

All of which has made their mantra of  "the revolution has begun, so what the hell are you gonna do?!" believable. The Barb Wire Dolls have stared down the naysayers before, beginning with a brutal run through "Ellada exeis Talento" or "Greece has Talent" where round after round they had to deal with a total bitch of a judge who would make Simon Cowell's nuts pull up inside. In America they've stood up to the haters and doubters, their resolve is steadfast and hard, so put away your slings and arrows, this ain't the Dolls' first rodeo.

Lead, follow or get the fuck out of the way. Originating from a country teetering on financial collapse, where their fellow countrymen face an uncertain future, the Dolls are forged in fire. The social circumstances surrounding the Barb Wire Dolls are not much different from those facing British punks in 1977. Given the current state of affairs here in the States and the general atmosphere of malaise and dissatisfaction that permeates over the land. The time seems right for another wave of strident and committed punk rock bands.

The Barb Wire Dolls first formed at the Ikarus Artist Commune in Avdou, Crete in 2008. They relocated to Athens due to a lack of local venues. Along the way, they've had to overcome a bias in their homeland against bands that sing in English. On "Ellada exeis Talento" that seemed to stick in the judges' craw the most. After Rodney Bingenheimer (KROQ-Los Angeles, legendary DJ) started playing some of their tracks on his show, they packed up and relocated to California. Already having conquered Greece, the Dolls set out to do the same in America. 

As Moly from the Holy Moly Doughnut Shop would say "You ask too many questions, buddy!" The Barb Wire Dolls recently took time from their busy schedule to answer a multitude of questions from yours truly. I thank them for their honesty, candor and patience. 

DCC:  I watched the Ellada Exeis Talento videos, I don't understand Greek but the female judge did not like your music. During "So Hot", she dropped the hammer on you with a vengeance, what was her problem?

Dolls:  All shows like that are rigged and we spoke up against the system but they deleted our responses of course. All we wished to do at that point was to be one of the first bands to let the Greek public know that there are actually many underground rock bands in Greece that sing in English and that we were fed up with only Pop bands that sing in Greek be given any real opportunities there.  We kinda changed that now and many rock bands sing now in English on TV.  As for the uptight female judge, who cares about what she thinks.

DCC:  SoCal is ground zero for U.S. punk music, is that what attracted you to Los Angeles?

Dolls:  We watched the punk documentary on LA’s first punk movement “Decline Of Western Civilization” and we really like The Germs, Black Flag, The Bags, X, and so on, so LA was in our minds when we got the call from Rodney Bingenheimer the legendary DJ of KROQ who first played almost every new Punk band back then, from The Ramones, Sex Pistols, to Blondie and he invited us to play a show there. We would have gone to London or New York City at that point if someone else had called first since those cities also were known to us as original Punk movements. LA also fit right because we all surf and skate and so we moved to Dogtown, otherwise known as Venice. We were familiar with the Z-Boys of Dogtown and were friends with many of them before we moved to LA so it all just seemed right at the moment and we went for it.

DCC:  The Roxy, The Viper Room, The Doll Hut... those are tough crowds, how has your band been received?

Dolls:  Great. Never a bad crowd or response.

DCC:  Your music has had a polarizing effect on some people, they either love you or they hate you. Any comments?

Dolls:   As Kurt from Nirvana said “it’s better to be hated for what you love, than to be loved for something you hate” or something like that.  There will always be “haters” and we just don’t care about that aspect of ego. We just feel good when a crowd goes nuts with us and that’s all that matters. Haters are usually the ones that have not been to a show of ours, so they just don’t know. Videos on youtube are not a live show experience and it’s easy to write a comment from your safe lil’ bedroom desk rather than make the effort to go to a show and make your mind up from something real and tangible.

DCC:   The Sunset Strip is known more for metal than punk, some people don't agree that what you play is punk rock.

 Dolls:   Well to us, The Sunset Strip is punk because that’s where LA punk started. After the Strip blackballed punk it became something else but when we play there, it’s all about punk. The street becomes full of punks and it’s exiting once again to feel that urgent vibe that only punks can create. We play rock and roll the way we like it, and we are constantly changing. No need for a label, but punk suits us just fine right now.

DCC:    There's been some questions whether Rodney Bingenheimer invited you over and paid for your ticket or not?

Dolls:    He invited us, so we came. Rodney never bought our tickets and we never said he did. I don’t know where you got that info, maybe from a hater out there in la-la land. He played us for about four months straight on the radio and announced us at our first US appearance at The Roxy and at a KROQ show.

DCC:     I would think that's not true, because you've stated that you sold everything you owned to make the trip to the U.S.

Dolls:   Yes, that’s correct.

DCC:     Nonetheless, you did get Rodney's enthusiastic endorsement and ample airplay on KROQ.

Dolls:    Yes, and we are grateful for this and honored that he liked our band and had the inspiration to help us out the way he did. He is a living legend in our book. Always will be.

DCC:     Isis has been compared to Debbie Harry and Gwen Stefani,  Isis' vocals remind me of Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano. Your thoughts?

Dolls:    Comparisons always come up when something is new.  Music is a bullet. Not God.

DCC:     Having seen Penelope Houston and The Avengers during the first punk wave in 1977-78, I see a strong resemblance (with your band).

Dolls:     They are one of our inspirations for being in this band. They were amazing and they have influenced us a lot as has many others from that first era. The first wave of Punk from London with the Sex Pistols, Clash, and Slits, New York’s Ramones, Blondie, and New York Dolls, to LA’ Germs, X, and the Bags were many of the originals and what came next was also amazing with Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and Flipper, etc. It’s funny, but all the living members of a lot of these bands are just now getting back together and having a re-birth in their careers and touring the world where they never have gone before.  Still the question is why has it taken so fucking long for something new to finally come about?! 

DCC:    Fuck the Pussycat Dolls, why them? (besides the obvious reasons)

Dolls:   Just because millions each year are spent by the four major labels (who seem to control all music on the radio, tv,  movies, television, and in print - pretty much the whole media outlets of the world) on creating groups like theirs, which is fine IF even one little dime was spent on signing any new punk band. Do you realize that The Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Slits, Social Distortion, The Germs, X, and on and on were all on major labels? And do you know that the major labels have not signed a new punk band in over a decade? Yet they keep investing millions upon millions in other areas of music.  Where are the options for the youth and public? Is punk ever going to get a shot again?  The climate of the world is ready for a punk band to shake things up because the global music scene is dead and no one cares about the fake shit anymore. People have woken up and that’s why we have Occupy and riots and it is only gonna get worse. So, we say “Fuck the Pussycat Dolls and listen to more New York Dolls!”  Shake things up and tell it like you see it. Mean it when you say it. Say what you mean. Fuck the pussies and long live the street generation.

DCC:    Iggy Pop thinks that the artists who are making music today lack authenticity. What are your thoughts?

Dolls:    Not much other than he probably doesn’t have the time to go check out new underground bands and that’s probably why he said that. Or he maybe hasn’t checked out Flipper lately to see what they are up to. There are so many bands out there that are authentic, but everyone is different and we’re glad that not all bands are the same. Or all authentic. It takes all to bring out the best in everyone. It’s good to have a choice and The Stooges may have influenced us in many ways, but so did a lot of other bands that I am sure Iggy would think differently than us. We put Iggy up there in the highest of highest.  He is truly a unique and pure punk pioneer in every aspect. He is punk. But we have a say in this matter and we feel there are shit loads of authentic bands out there right now making vital and urgent music in a mundane world ready for serious chaos to come. Iggy, stay young and keep a TV Eye out for new shit and don’t live in the past lest you become unauthentic in your next new album.

DCC:    I saw you in downtown Deming last weekend, I thought you might be stranded and I was going to offer you some gas money. They do close all the roads when the dust storms kick up, it's like being stranded on an island. Does Deming, N.M. know what it's getting into?

Dolls:    They will soon find out. Curious to see what these people are made of. So far everyone has been way cool and hospitable to us, bringing us authentic Mexican food and opening their doors for us to live in their houses and rehearse in their shops. Gabe Dominguez and Carlos and Garilee have gone beyond being hospitable and have been treating us like family here.

DCC:    How did the shows in Deming come about?

Dolls:   We needed a place to write our new album and Deming just seemed like the perfect place. Quiet, good people, good food, good weather, and in the magical New Mexico desert just off the 10 freeway. Who could ask for anything better?! So we are going to try out some of the new songs in Deming at The Starmax and see what happens!

DCC:    I assume you were traveling from Austin, Tx. to California. You were at SXSW, How did that go for you?

Dolls:    SXSW was epic for us. We played three shows and we had music industry people fly in from all over the world to see us and they pretty much all offered us deals right after the shows. Our manager is dealing with all the business side of things and maybe soon we will sign with one of them.  First we are going to record our debut album at Sonic Ranch recording studio in El Paso, Texas and then see what transpires next. We also were amazed at how weird and wild Austin is. Reminded us of Greece with all the people partying in the streets at night except in Greece there is almost no rock and roll and all you hear is dance music with no soul at clubs.

DCC:   Sugarbuzz Magazine thinks you'll be the next Nirvana, is that just crazy talk?

Dolls:   There can never be another Nirvana, or another Sex Pistols, or another anything. It is time for a new scene with new ideals and new ways to destroy and throw out the real truth about what is going on and giving a kick ass soundtrack to it.  Comparisons are boring but they work for the people that don’t know you yet. Sugarbuzz gave us a great quote we could use to open up some doors and we are stoked that they think of us that way.

DCC:   Has the revolution officially begun?

Dolls:   Yes. It has always been there. Inside yourself. You are all rebels and revolting is what you wanna do when you are stomped on and thrust down into the ground by an all powerful controlling identity. The time is now and the revolution is on full force.  The street generation has woken up and we are not taking it anymore. Don’t look over your shoulders, cause here we come guitars blaring and guns blazing.

Barb Wire Dolls are: Isis Queen (singer), Pyn Doll (guitarist), Voodoo Doll (bassist), Krash Doll (drummer) they are now based in Venice, Ca., The Dolls recently appeared at SXSW and are now hunkered down in New Mexico's boot heel country while they prepare to record their next album at the world class Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Tx. They are scheduled to play three New Mexico shows, all in Deming. They will rock  the Starmax Theater on April 8th and then, if  they haven't scared the locals away, they'll play two more shows on April 22nd. and 29th.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

That Dirt City Sound Episode 25

Oh My God! some more Oh, Ranger!  I present the third and final installment  of my Oh, Ranger! trilogy. I feel a sadness wrapping up this project, these guys have kinda grown on me.  Actually I'm not quite done with them yet! I'm planning a feature on Noelan Ramirez and the many bands and musical projects he's been involved in over the years. That's for later and this is for now, Episode 25 of That Dirt City Sound (dedicated to the late great Oh, Ranger!)



Podcast Powered By Podbean

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh, Ranger! for America

Music should move you to dance, or to hang yourself off a rafter in the garage, it should elicit some kind of emotion or reaction.  What we have now is a failure of communication, the musicians want to be artistic, but the common man wants beats. While the idea of creating music that will sell seems repulsive, that is what drives the music industry.

The days of bands made up of chums (The Beatles being the model) striving to get along and overcome long odds, are numbered.  Seeing how bands are at the heart of rock music, one has to surmise that rock music is fucked. What was once a vibrant and somewhat cohesive local scene has now been compressed into a coterie of noise aficionados.

'Burque is not Cambridge on the Rio Grande. Let's drop the cliquish infatuation with noise and learn to play guitar. Real music with real instruments, what a novel concept!  Music by its very design is driven by purpose, a man feels sad, he sings the blues. Somehow, when a man (or woman) feels sad and starts manipulating knobs and switches, it just doesn't have the same feel.

Gone is the golden age of shoegaze splendor, gone is the studious bearing of garage dwelling geeks. Till with warbling voices-- far, far off the guitar's call, how loud and clear I hear them, the fuzztones come-a-charging. I mourn and yet exult, swift to the snares, swift to the toms ~sigh~   Oh, Ranger! where art thou?

The Indian School ditch, bears the high water mark of our expectations. The big ditch skater cults gave us one of the best bands that Albuquerque will ever see (even if they didn't, it's still a good lead-in) "Oh, Ranger!" you say? Naw! it was The Skunks. (Lead vocalist & guitarist- Boyd Reno,  bassist- Gil Sanchez, keyboardist-Lucas Spider and drummer- Noelan Ramirez)

The Skunks, traced their roots to a teen worship band that Boyd & Noelan played in. The addition of Lucas Spider and Gil Sanchez in 1998, put the final pieces in place. Tentatively they set out to test the rock & roll waters of their hometown. The Skunks were no stinkaroos and almost from the get-go their infectious music drew a devoted fan base.   

In the time span of one year, The Skunks were regulars at various Albuquerque venues (their very first gig was at Sprockets Pub) This run of success was topped off by the inclusion of their song "Skate Ramp" on Socyermom's iconic two disc compilation "Ouch"  Which as everyone knows includes every Albuquerque band ever mentioned by Capt. America in Wig Wam Bam.

The Skunks roared over the din of indifference and the drone of mundane thought. They were the darlings of downtown pub crawlers, but the under assistant middle rio grande promotion hombres deemed the band's moniker, a determent to its impending success. The name had to go, Boyd & Lucas scratched their heads... what to do?

"People go around treating music like it's just some kind of race"

After considering Luke is Spider and The Black Cathy's, they settled on Oh, Ranger!  On the surface it would appear to be a tribute to Chuck Norris (Walker, Texas Ranger) Legend also has it, that those were the words that Tonto would silently utter every night as he and Kimo Sabe drifted off to sleep under a blanket of stars. 

Seriously! am I the only one that thinks "Brokeback Mountain" is really just a goof on The Lone Ranger & Tonto.. seriously? I would have gone with Oh, Rancher! (given New Mexico's agricultural heritage and all) but, Oh, Ranger! is a fucking epic name for a rock band. The name change also brought about a change in musical direction.

The skater friendly poppy punk of old was out, replaced by darker, introspective shoegazer tendencies. Over the course of three albums, Oh, Ranger! gave us a running commentary based on their state of mind. At times it was brooding and angry, or laced with acerbic humor and held together by a perfect sense of smart ass timing.

In 1999 it was even money as to who sounded more like Weezer: Oh, Ranger! or Starsky. Rivers Cuomo and Weezer were the force that launched a thousand imitators.  I would dare to say that Oh, Ranger! ranks with the very best of them. (though certainly not by design)  A poor man's Weezer? Fuck Yeah! I would take that any day.

"When you gonna make it and sell a million copies of your records?"

Their debut album "bitter yearnings on a lonely farm" came out in 2000, CD Baby wrote that  "Oh, Ranger! drags us through love inspired mud puddles where infatuation is the cliff from which we all jump into shaky relationships with questionable people." If that writer didn't have tongue firmly planted in cheek, then he (or she) had tongue firmly planted in a rather disagreeable orifice.

Half of the tracks on "bitter yearnings on a lonely farm" would be shoe-ins to make any list of "Best songs ever, by Albuquerque bands" The rest while flawed are still fun, the band's wry sense of humor comes through loud and clear. It's an album that could pass as a collection of Weezer demos. Therein is the rub, Weezer lite?... maybe, but in 2000 that wasn't such a bad thing. 

Over the proceeding two years, the legend of Oh, Ranger! continued to grow. In 2002 the band dropped their second album "Polyester Blues"  The maturity and growth was apparent from the opening salvo of the raucous "Take me Home", "She don't want to save me, she just wants the trophy" While the Cuomo doppelgänger still hovers about, this is pure Oh, Ranger! rage music.

"Polyester Blues" finds Boyd Reno growing weary, on "Numbers" he confesses "And I want it so bad I can taste it" the process is taking too long "I've wasted so long on this rock & roll dream" Making music was becoming tedious, a subject addressed on "Let's Start Over" "Pulling bullshit out of my head, I can't rhyme, I just try and then I cry because you never liked my style at all"  

"The party's over and I'm down, down and I'm tired.... hey hey hey"

Some more chicken nuggets of wisdom from CD Baby describing "Matching Up" (2003) the third album by Oh, Ranger!, "The metaphors and social overtones stir up the most wild of emotions and create music with purpose and direction without letting go of aspects of eccentricity and light-heartedness" that's the written equivalent of talking with your mouth full of shit.

I could take that quote and insert it into a review of 99% of all albums ever recorded. Oh, Ranger! was always a heady and intelligent band, but metaphors and social overtones, what the fuck does that even mean? Let's not get all academic, at best Oh, Ranger! was a damn good rock band determined to give us our money's worth.

Oh, Ranger! was feeling the cumulative effects of the rock & roll lifestyle. "Fregas" paints a bleak scenario "On the road we've been drinking, still reeling from the use of cocaine, feel my hands they're still shaking" songs that remind us of the good times "stealing now we ran out of money, it's just food and we're hungry"

"Matching Up" was a document from a band that was jaded and tired of the grind. The road and the drugs were wearing on them, they felt the need to get this across. In retrospect, it looks like they went into the studio knowing that this would be the end. "you're beginning to think about the future, yeah, you want money and cars" Being a starving artist is so fucking overrated. 

"I'm sick, you're dead, I'm bored, you're tired"

Oh, Ranger! called it quits in 2003 with Boyd Reno relocating to Seattle. Lucas Spider turned up with Your Name in Lights, an emocore band that had a good run in Albuquerque. Lucas would eventually rejoin Boyd in Seattle, leading to the resurrection of Boyd Reno is John Center, a project started by Boyd during 2002 in Albuquerque.

Whether Boyd Reno is John Center was meant to be Boyd's alter ego or not, is up for debate.  It seemed more like an attempt to break from the Oh, Ranger! mold, although there is no radical difference between the music of either one. Unlike Garth Brooks and his ill fated Chris Gaines persona. Boyd Reno is John Center works because John Center is actually Boyd Reno.

In New Mexico, Boyd was joined by his Red Door Studio mates ("drinking at the red door, sleeping on the floor") a collaboration that resulted in the album "Heart Positions" Reunited in Seattle, Reno & Lucas Spider were joined by Westin Glass (Mistletoe, Model Photographer,The Reformation) and a bevy of Seattle musicians resulting in a second album "Soul Explosions" (2006) 

The last we heard from Boyd Reno is John Center were some demos posted by Boyd on his MySpace music page. Here's part of his introduction, "After taking a break from music for a while, I broke up with a girl, like I always do. I wrote a few songs. Some were about the girl, and another was about the best dogs I ever knew." smart move mentioning the girl before the dogs.

"Played in some bands over the years, blah, blah, blah, etc."

The latest John Center demos (posted in 2009) were produced by Westin Glass. The tracks feature Boyd unplugged, there's no mistaking that voice, he still has it and it's still so fucking cool. He closes by stating: "I might try to get together a new John Center band, not sure. But, for now, here are some demo songs I recently recorded. Thanks for listening."

After "Soul Explosion" Boyd and Lucas transtioned into Gray Beast, a minimalist electronica project. "The Album That Killed Its Parents" was the end result and it was a veritable feast of muted whispery vocals,  lo-fi electronica and spacey effects. It's an exploration of digital sounds, that allows Lucas Spider to showcase his expertise.

True to its title, the album almost killed off its progenitors. Boyd Reno dropped out of music in the pursuit of academic achievement. Lucas in the meantime, started working with Brooklyn exiles, Say Hi to Your Mom (now know simply as Say Hi)  a band that moved to Seattle because according to Lucas Spider "they heard about some serious decoder shit going down"

Oh, Ranger! was yet another great local band that never got their just rewards. (how many does that make now?) If you have any doubts just give their catalog a listen,  make sure to start with "Skate Ramp" and then continue on in chronilogical order. All of their albums are available at CD Baby (I bagged on them enough, now I'll pitch them) The first two can be had for $5 each, Matching Up is only available as a digital download.

"Minstrels latent on the prairies!, you may sleep--- you have done your work"