Gig Notes And Reviews
Tonight, the situation is the same -- a year to the day, in fact -- amid hints that this occasion might mark the last dance...at least, going by the wording on the posters ("The Final Tour"). The feeling is reinforced, naturally, by the song that takes us out of the last set break..."The Final Countdown," as it happens. More on that momentarily.
In another sense, though, tonight feels like business as usual, with bassist Randy Brown back on board -- grounding the bottom with simple, undorned lines, as he usually does -- as Schrader rolls off a succession of paint-peeling solos, and Watkins pushes the beat and works the crowd. When the mood strikes him, Watkins defers the percussive duties to his son, Adam -- who plays in an equally crisp, no-nonsense style -- or Rick Ory, who climbs aboard the kit near the end.
It all feels pretty relaxed and natural. At a time when many bands feel as spontaneous as the Manhattan Project, it's easy to forget how White Summer built up its reputation -- being able to master other people's material, yet inject its own personality into them -- a quality that led to a war chest of some 1,000 songs, providing ample fodder for "stump the band" nights, as its road show rolled on throughout its Midwestern and Southern strongholds.
Those qualities are present and correct in unexpected places. White Summer shows are celebrated for their one-off surprises, and tonight is no exception -- last year's pick was "Main Street," and this year, it's the Rolling Stones's "Street Fighting Man." However, there's none of the clipped-off, boom-tick, boom-tick restraint of Charlie Watts's original patterns.
Instead, Watkins opts for a tetchy, impatient style that fits the song's key lyric ("Well, what can a poor boy do, but play in a rock 'n' roll band?") -- one that carries an ironic twist, given White Summer's many near-misses with the fame and fortune that could have taken them out of their original Berrien County confines.
That same thought is hard to shake when Watkins and Brown temporarily vacate the stage to Schrader alone -- and he responds with an extended trip through "Voodoo Child," which segues right into "The Star-Spangled Banner," and provides the launching pad for "Purple Haze"...just as Jimi Hendrix did so long ago, in the muddy fields of Woodstock. Only tonight, we're seeing it happen in a local venue, delivered by a player who could have found bigger outlets, along with his cohorts, if only the dice had rolled up a little differently.
However, that's all water under the proverbial dam, as tonight is about what's happening onstage now...not what might have been, or should have happened. That ability to live for the moment is the essence of White Summer's approach, and it's the reason why technical problems -- such as the temporary silencing of Schrader's amp -- don't slow the proceedings down for a moment.
As Watkins cheerfully tells the crowd, "We don't rehearse" -- which is why he calls out for "Crossroads," a song that the band hasn't played in nearly 40-odd years, he explains. But the intent rings through, loud and clear, and it's played with rafter-shaking authority. The night winds down with Watkins taking the mike again -- this time, for Bad Company's "Shooting Star," a three-minute summary of one rock star's rise and fall, long before "Behind The Music" took an hour to say the same thing -- followed by a cameo from Dale Parsons for a gritty ride through ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses" (which quite a few people seem to be wearing tonight, funnily enough).
Watkins steps up to the mike for one more number -- "Pride And Joy," an early signature song by Stevie Ray Vaughan -- after commenting, "It's midnight, and I'm almost turning into a pumpkin." The cameras, cell phones and fingers shaking back in his direction from the crowd suggest otherwise; if they had any say in the matter, we might be here until 1:30, or 2 a..m, who knows?
Before we know it, however, the song ends in a flurry of ringing guitar, climbing basslines, and a raspy-throated goodnight or two from Watkins. For a moment or two, the screams of "Encore!" and "One more song" hang in the air, until the house PA kicks into gear...and only then do we know it's truly over.
Time will tell what happens around the bend, but if tonight really did mark the last stand...it'll be one that nobody here forgets, including me.
A FEW WORDS WITH JAMES WATKINS (11/21/15)
As always, when you interview anyone, there's plenty more quotes than the cutting room floor can accommodate...so here are some of the choice bits that didn't make it into the paper. Certainly, we didn't have any lack of subjects to talk about -- including the reissue of White Summer's self-titled debut LP of 1976, and whether tonight's show really did mark the band's final bow.
THE FINAL TOUR?
JAMES WATKINS (JW): When we played in June of 2013 at Chief's (Bar, in Coloma), we announced that as our last show ever, and we meant it. And then, it went so well there -- the place was so packed, and the applause was deafening -- and it just went so well, we said the next day, 'Man, let's do this again -- like, next week!'"
Well, we couldn't do that, because the (other guys) live in Florida, and it's hard to put this together...so, now, the last show is something we say every time, like a joke. I mean, the Who did nine farewell tours, so we don't feel bad yet.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): Funny you should say that...did you ever read the bio of Keith Moon?
JW: No, I don't think I have! I'd like to.
CR: You should, it's a wonderful book...but when they get to '78, there was all that speculation that the Who had hung up their touring shoes. And Keith was asked about this, and his response was simple, and to the point: "Let's not count it out, let's put it too high on the agenda." And I guess that'd be a fair summary of your position, wouldn't it?
JW: Yes. Yes. We have no plans to play anymore after this, but I would not say it's an impossibility.
THE FIRST ALBUM
CR: Indeed. And on another exciting note, your first album (WHITE SUMMER, 1976) is being reissued by a record label in Spain (Guerssen).
JW: Yes, it is! That was a real surprise. That came out of left field. Well, a man in Greece somehow got ahold of our first album, and just loved it. He's got a Youtube channel (check it out: ArtManiac53), where he apparently discovers old, obscure, psychedelic artists.
That's what they call it -- I never called ourselves psychedelic -- and he posted about three of our songs on Youtube. They've had three, four, five 6,000 hits, I think, nothing big -- but nonetheless, I think this record company heard some of that, and got ahold of me.
They wanted to take the music, work on it, and digitize it, and clean it up a little bit. It's going to be released, coincidentally, about the same day of this concert -- although they were not aware of the concert, it's just how it turned out.
Matter of fact, one of our songs has over 11,000 (views) -- what did he say? "Obscure, hard psychedelic rock band from Michigan, USA, an epic, very nice song with strong vocals and great guitars. Written by Jimmy Watkins, the group leader." Well, I didn't even know this was here!
CR: Until he contacted you?
JW: Oh, this guy never did contact me! I ended up writing him and thanking him...but someone wrote to me a couple years ago, and said, "Hey, you know, I just listened to you guys on Youtube!" And I was like, "We're not actually on Youtube, so what do you mean?" "Hey, your first album's on there...a few of the songs, anyway." He has over 3,700 subscribers, who are apparently interested in whatever he comes up with, you know?
CR: So I imagine that you just about fell off your chair when you heard that.
JW: Well, I was very surprised, particularly (since) it was that older first stuff. We, of course, thought our stuff got better (laughs).
Someone else put the whole album on here, in March. I found this just now, while we were on the phone. Someone named Black Widow, who has 1,559 subscribers, put the whole album on here. I don't know who this person is, but they've got our whole album on here...it just popped up on my Youtube page.
"WE'RE NOT DANCERS"
CR: Do you feel like that's a vindication, even if it comes 40 years later, of that material?
JW: Well, somewhat, I suppose, yes. The complaint at the time was, that the music was not danceable...I remember a rock critic from a magazine in Detroit...it might have been called CREEM, in fact.
Her name was Trish -- I don't know much about her anymore, it's been a long, long time ago -- but it always stuck with me that she said, "You guys can really play your instruments, but it's not gonna go over, because no one could possibly dance to it."
That was the farthest thing from our minds. We never sat down and thought, "Hey, let's play music so people can dance to it." That never even crossed our minds at all (laughs)...we're not dancers.
CR: Right. And you certainly were never concerned about what was cool, or what fashionable, at that time.
JW: No! We just wanted to create some art, you know. We wanted to create something that was not there before, in this world that we're in, an expression of ourselves. We were not interested in precision, necessarily, although we were a very tight band, 'cause we rehearsed so much. When you're young, rehearsal's fun. When you're older, it's like work (laughs)...but when you're young, you can't wait: "Hey, let's practice all day Saturday!"
CR: Well, I can't count how many musicians have told me, "They call it 'play', but it's really a lot of work to get it (music) to sound how you want it to sound."
"IT'S THE FEEL"
JW: Yes. Yes. You know, the thing was -- we had a philosophy from the beginning, though, that what it was about was heart and soul. Feeling. It's about "the feel", is actually what I used to call it. What it's about it is the feel, as opposed to classical music, where...
CR: Everything is right in its place...
JW: It's so much about precision, where everybody comes in at their exact moment, and they've all got a chart in front of them, and so on, so forth. So we had a lot of improvisation when we played live back then...still have a little now...not as much.
CR: Might you play any of those songs from that album?
JW: No...you know, Jimmy and Randy weren't on the album. I met Jimmy the year after the album came out, and I never played any of those songs again. I never have. We started new songs that we wrote together.
CR: And so, that was your focus, the new material...
JW: Jimmy and Randy and I started writing songs together, and they, of course, preferred to play those. They were involved in the creative process from the get go. So we never did circle back and play these songs again.
RECALLING UNCLE DIRTY
CR: Where was that album actually recorded?
JW: It was recorded in Kalamazoo, at Uncle Dirty's Sound Machine.
CR: What a name!
JW: Yeah. Uncle Dirty, his name was really Bryce Roberson. He kind of had some fame as an engineer for Chess Records during their heyday, which was like the '60s, I guess, and he wanted to start his own studio. He chose Kalamazoo, I'm not sure why -- I think it was because it was right by the Gibson Guitar Factory.
CR: Yeah, which was still active at the time...
JW: Yes. He had some friends there, and they said, "You should come to Kalamazoo." He was actually right above an enormous music store (The Sound Factory) that was there at the time. The music store morphed into Proco Sound, which is still there. Charlie Wicks was the owner of it, I know he's deceased now -- he was a giant man, like, 400 pounds, or something.
I knew Charlie very well...he used to help bands so much. He would loan people amps, and stuff. This guy was just a fantastic guy that loved rock music. You could be in some kind of jam, and not even have any money, and he'd say, "Well, come on by, and I'll give you a Marshall stack till next week." People just don't do that sort of thing. It was a gigantic music store...people came from miles around. Everybody loved this place.
"WE HAD FAITH"
CR: And now, of course, since you were producing and selling your own albums, long before this became the cool and current thing to do -- how did you go about trying to do that?
JW: Well, we went around and found about 10 record stores, slash "head shops," as they were in those days...let's see now, the one in Fairplain Plaza, was it called Boogie Records? No, Boogie Records was in Kalamazoo. Boogie Records was famous at the time. And we found some in South Bend, and Mishawaka, and South Haven, and Kalamazoo...what is that, maybe a 50-mile radius?
CR: Something like that, yeah.
JW: So that's all we did. We, of course, hoped that someone would hear it, and take off on it somehow, or whatever...we hoped something good would happen. At the time, we were young, and dumb, and naive.
Of course, if I had to do it all over again, I would have taken the band, probably, and have moved us en masse to New York City, and played for free, and starved...and worked as waiters, and all that thing that people do.
But we actually believed we could be discovered in Benton Harbor (much laughter)! You know -- what do we know? We're just kids. But we liked to play music, and we had faith. We did -- we had faith.
CR: What is that keeps the band alive after all this period of time?
JW: You know, there's been some research done on how people, when they get older -- they still like to hear the songs when they were in their quote-quote, heyday, or halcyon days. It seems that an attachment forms with people with the music they experienced during a certain period of their lives, before real adulthood with children set in. In our case, we know that our generation had kind of an extended adolescence. I think, in many ways, it's still going on (laughs).
CR: In many ways, it is, yeah.
JW: When people see we're playing, it reminds them of some great times they had, when they were young, and strong, and felt immortal. And I think that's part of it.
But I think probably the major thing now is that it's a real social event for them. Because they know if they come out, they're gonna probably see at least 10 or 20 people they haven't seen in 10 or 20 years that they'd like to see. They've lost touch, they've moved away, whatever. It's a chance to reconnect.
And, of course, I don't wanna discount the fact that a lot of 'em just wanna hear the band...'cause, of course, they do.
CR: Of course.
JW: A lot of 'em just love the band. And I think it's a little bit amazing, in that we haven't really been a band in 24 years now, so to speak -- a working band. But, yeah, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for it this year.
12/07/15 (Re-post of original comment):
David Wheeler/White Summer
Cool interview, maybe I’ll make it to one on these concerts one day ;-)
Let's face it: Kinks fandom isn't a faint-hearted pursuit. I learned as much in the spring of 1997, when I interviewed founding guitarist Dave Davies for an extended cover story in DISCoveries magazine -- which focused on Kink, his autobiography of the time, but also covered what he'd done lately with the band.
The catch? He was only available on my lunch hour. Not only that, I had to cover for someone else -- so there I sat at my desk, talking on the phone with the man whose riff launched so many other bands (altogether now: 1-2-3-4, "You Really Got Me" starts something like this: DAH-DA-DA-DA-DAH, DAH-DA-DA-DA-DAH), while the other resident Kinks fan in our office literally hovered near my ear, trying to hear the discussion.
Needless to say, all concerned had a grand time. It also helped that my bosses were on vacation.
Few outfits in rock are so influential, or so underrated, yet command such a dedicated fanbase. The band has remained on hiatus since 1996, following its final show in Oslo, Norway. However, the absence of any official breakup announcement hasn't slowed the interest, let alone the never-ending stream of will-they-or-won't-they reform stories that continue to pop up lately (mostly in the UK, but we've seen a fair amount of them Stateside, as well).
In hindsight, however, the path to Ray and Dave's separate creative lives began 35 years ago. In July 1980, Dave stepped away from the group with his first solo album, AFLI-3603 -- so named, apparently, because he couldn't think of a proper title -- on which he played all the instruments (except four tracks that feature Nick Trevisick and Ron Lawrence on bass and drums, respectively).
I'd just gotten into the Kinks via Misfits (on the strength of a thumbs-up from People magazine, of all places), so how could I miss this one? I naturally went out and got my hands on AFLI-3603 right away, and -- like just about everyone else who did -- wasn't disappointed. Then and now, it's one of my all-time favorite records.
The silver-and-black futuristic sleeve art set the right tone, as did the cover -- which featured a bar code replacing its reluctant star's face.(Rolling Stone undoubtedly had this bit of social commentary in mind in reviewing the album as "howling anarchic couplets that rail against big government, 'science and money,' and other instruments of oppression.") And that's before we got to the contents. This record has it all, from thunderous heavy rock blasts ("Where Do You Come From," "In You I Believe," "Move Over"), to pointed commentary ("Doing The Best For You"), glistening pop-rock ("Imaginations Real"), and affecting ballads ("Run," "Visionary Dreamer"). Honestly, I can't think of a single track that I dislike: for anyone who listened, AFLI-3603 made an eloquent case for Dave Davies as the rock 'n' roll heart of the Kinks.
Those same qualities have characterized subsequent efforts, like Bug (2002) and I Will Be Me (2014), though Dave's stroke in the summer of 2004 naturally left his creative future open to speculation. By the summer of 2008, however, he'd recovered sufficiently to walk, talk and play guitar -- so, naturally, when Dave's latest solo tour called at City WInery (Chicago, IL, 11/13/14), I had to drop everything and make my way down there.
The tour coincided with the Kinks' 50th anniversary, which passed without a flicker of movement on those will-they-or-won't-they-reunite stories -- and, naturally, set much of the night's agenda. Of course, we got standards like "All Day (And All Of The Night)," "Dead End Street," "The Death Of A Clown," "Tired Of Waiting," and "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" -- could any Kink, past or present, leave a venue alive without playing those songs?, I asked myself -- delivered with the scrappy, take-no-prisoners authority, as only someone like Dave Davies can dish out.
Mind you, there are limits. A couple times, Dave asked if we had any requests, which prompted a woman sitting near Don and I to shout for "Come Dancing"...even to the point of humming the opening riff. "I don't think we're gonna get that one," I laughed to myself.
Overall, Dave's playing seemed robust and self-assured; I've been asked numerous times about that issue, but he's definitely back up to par...on the same level, certainly, from the last time I saw him (House Of Blues, Chicago, 1997). His voice sounded darker, huskier -- and a bit strangled, at times -- which is only to be expected, after his health struggles of 2004, but also suits the world-weariness of many Kinks songs, as well.
For me, the highlights came from hearing such lesser-aired prizes as "Creeping Jean," "Suzannah's Still Alive" -- an athem to a lost love, which Dave explains at greater length in his book -- and "Strangers," whose distinctive opening and closing drum intro/outro emerged after an extended keyboard solo. It's a haunting song that, once you hear it, isn't easily forgotten ("Where you going to, I don't mind/I've killed my world, and I've killed my time").
"Strangers" is also one of two Dave contributions to the clunkily-titled Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part I (1970) -- the album that gave us "Lola," and kicked off the Koncept Era, as it's often called.
Dave and company also treated the Winery crowd to an extended take on "See My Friends," which he dedicated to those no longer among us: "This song is for all absent friends, dear, departed loved ones, and those that may be in the spirit world." It's a song that also preceded the raga-rock boom that swept the decade, even if the Kinks don't necessarily reap the credit...but still sounds as fresh and relevant as it did at the time.
Now and then, Dave sneaked in the odd later-period song -- including "Living On A Thin Line," whose blast against the 1 percent is as timely as ever, sadly -- and "The King Of Karaoke," from I Wll Be Me, which gave his partner, Rebecca Wilson, a chance to strut her stuff onstage.
He did play "Little Green Amp," which I missed, unfortunately (having consulted setlist.fm to check that inclusion) -- but it's one of I Will Be Me's major highlights. The lyrics recall Dave's combustive start as a musician, over a riff that reworks "You Really Got Me" to cunning effect -- I laughed at the audacity, myself, when I first heard it. Presumably, we'll hearmore of these newer songs when Dave makes it back to town.
Fittingly enough, the show closed with the one-two punch of "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," and "You Really Got Me." Like many of those classic early songs, they've been covered by countless outfits -- even posi-core bands like Seven Seconds, if I recall correctly, have taken a stab at "Everybody Else," which summarizes Dave's artistic posture as well as any interview: "Do everything that you want me to/There's just one thing I will say to you..."
Thirty-five years ago, the notion of dueling Davies albums and tours would have sounded far-fetched. The Kinks roadshow seemed ready to roll indefinitely, for as long as audiences seemed willing to hear it, while Dave -- apart from a handful of singles, and the odd burst of songwriting contributions to the group's output -- seemed reluctant to go beyond those confines.
Indeed, as Ray himself once noted in Hit Parader magazine, Dave seemed more focused on capturing the technical side of the group's music at Konk than putting himself forward as a songwriter: "He's started recording, but I might even have to get a contract with him and says he's got to deliver a [solo] album. It may be the only way he's going to record is at gunpoint."
Judging by the guitar blasts that powered those last two songs across the finish line, Dave isn't feeling all that tentative or reluctant anymore...and he's all the better for it. So are we.
"Turning point" is such an overused rock 'n' roll phrase, especially in White Summer's case - with Jimmy Schrader (guitar) and Jimmy Watkins (founder, drummer, vocalist) being the only original members who've stayed the course since this legendary Berrien County band began n 1973. (Schrader joined in 1976, while two other former members - Jeff Aldrich and Ron Rutkowski - have since passed away.)
Having had more members than any chronicler cares to count, and more comebacks than Richard Nixon - the first annual reunion shows began only a couple of years after the band hung up its rock 'n' roll shoes in 1991 - it's fair to assume that the White Summer story hasn't followed a predictable, clock-punching order. Who knows, maybe some smart patron saint of cult movie causes will put White Summer's story on the arthouse screen some day - how many local heroes have rubbed shoulders with Eric Clapton, and Neil Young? (See my previous entry on the 2011 reunions for further reference.)
Along the way, White Summer found time to record and put out five albums of original material - long before such gestures became hip, or commonplace - but that isn't the focus of tonight's little soiree, whose set tilts firmly toward the blues/boogie/classic rock end of the equation - and one that Schrader lifts to a decidedly higher level through his tasty, but fiery, playing style. When I arrive, he's wowing the Hidden Pointe faithful by kicking the wah-wah - then taking the strumming out of the picture entirely, while leaving his left hand to wiggle the fretboard...without racing up and down its confines like some kind of aimless greyhound.
Trust me, as often as you've heard some of these songs - whether it's the umpteenth time on the radio, or some other local hero exhuming them for the umpteenth-umpteenth time - you haven't truly heard them until you see the Schrader-Watkins axis put its own rugged no-frills stamp on the proceedings. And that's the acid test for anybody doing someone else's song - as the Clash demonstrated with "Police And Thieves," or Jimi Hendrix proved with "Wild Thing," at Monterey Pop, before that can of lighter fluid reared its fortuitous little head - and White Summer is no exception.
They have a knack for making the well-worn likes of "Gimme Three Steps" - ably sung by bassist Paul Stuckey, standing in for Randy Brown - like it's a song of theirs, which is no mean feat, and one reason why the faithful still come and pack the place out. What's even more amazing is how firmly that interplay holds, while assorted special guests jump in and out of the picture, during the final set...there's Dawn Dee, holding down the Ronnie Spector-style fort on "Two Tickets To Paradise" (but not "Take Me Home Tonight" - maybe we'll get that one next time around, who knows)...followed by Rick Ory, playing some crisp, galloping drums on "Shooting Star," and "Born To Be Wild"...while Jimmy's son, Adam, darts in and out for his own series of percussive cameos.
In some ways, we might bill this night as the White Summer Revue A-Go Go, but - as I've already mentioned - the center holds firm throughout, just the way you remember it...only colored with splotches of Schrader's own blazing guitar work, while his partners in crime don't let the beat bog down into a ham-fisted display of pyrotechnics. That's apparent on lower-key numbers where Schrader takes a backseat, like "Down On Main Street" - while I've never been much of a Bob Seger fan, I confess to having a soft spot for this song, which the band reels off with gusto, as Schrader makes those between-verse leads ring louder, longer, and with more wtisfulness than the radio version.
He also expertly fills in the orchestral passages during "Comfortably Numb" - though it's s strange to hear such a downbeat song ending a seat, especially when the crowd seems to want the White Summer High Energy Meter For All Occasions to keep on burning the grid down. However, the encore puts things right fast enough, as Dale Parsons gets up to sing two back-to-back ZZ Top numbers ("Tube Snake Boogie," "Cheap Sunglasses")...before handing off the mike to yet another special guest in Freddy Brecht...who wastes little time channeling his inner lemon squeezer with Led Zeppelin's "Rock 'N' Roll, one of those heads-down, no-nonsense basic rockers that crowds - then, and now - don't ever seem to stop expecting, or demanding.
However, the song serves its purpose - putting yet another exclamation point on the latest snapshot of White Summer's long and winding road (sorry, pun fully intended - it's been another late night at the computer, only this time, it's one that I'm blazing for the sake of my own amusement)....and a satisfying night for yours triuly, who missed the last reunion get-together at Chief's Bar (Coloma, MI), due to an earlier than anticipated starting time imposed by the venue in question...which meant that I got there just in time to see Watkins and his cohorts breaking down their equipment! I can laugh about this one now, but did my face burn ever so red with embarrassment then...at any rate, it's good to see the White Summer banner flying again, surrounded by so many of the familiar faces who patiently wait for the next turning point in the story - so here's looking at 2015, and beyond.
--Prime Minister JC Carroll
Rock 'n' roll thrives in these kinds of places: neighborhood bars that time forgot, passed over by the professional brigade in its never-ending quest to airbrush the hell out of whatever it touches.
No such fate has befallen the Red Line Tap, located just down the block from the Heartland Cafe. There's not a whiff of pretense about its soft red neon facade and basic-beyond-basic interior.
You've got a raised deck in the back -- for easy observation -- plus a boxlike main floor for the tribe to gather, in front of a small stage that reminds me of many that I've seen in Britain (where many bands tread the boards in postage-stamp-sized territory, it seems).
But that's where the Members are plying their trade on this particular night in Chicago (9/06/14), as part of their first USA tour in 31 years -- a lifetime ago from the band's brief rotation on MTV, when "Working Girl" gave them a new lease on life here.
BACK IN THE USSA...MEMBERS-STYLE
Of course, show biz has its share of hiccups, as singer-guitarist Jean Marie ("JC") Carroll explains by phone from California -- where we first touched base near the end of August, about a week after the "Operation Overground" tour kicked off in California (8/22). (Note: The tour officially wrapped up this week on 10/04 after returning to several cities in the West/Southwest, including Midland, TX; Phoenix, AZ, and Las Vegas, NV.)
With four days to go before the kickoff date, longtime singer-bassist Chris Payne broke two bones in his hand -- so the Members reverted to a trio, with JC getting reacquainted with the bass, flanked by Nigel Bennett and Nick Cash on lead guitar and drums, respectively.
And that's how -- on this particular night in Chicago -- JC winds up holding down the fort on six-string bass, which “was definitely a 'show must go on' moment,” he says, laughing. “It's just another chapter.”
Mishaps aside, Carroll looks forward at getting reacquainted with the band's American fanbase.
“I started working with the band seriously again in 2006, doing shows in England – we started going all over Europe. It's just a natural progression, really,” Carroll observes. “I also went to Australia and New Zealand last year, and there's still quite a strong demand for what we do.”
"THERE'S SOMETHING HAPPENING HERE"
For those who haven't kept score, the Members formed in 1976 as part of the British punk explosion that produced the Clash, the Damned, the Jam, and the Sex Pistols, and numerous other bands.
Carroll became aware of the punk revolution's impact when ordinary-looking youth – not “hip inner city guys,” as he calls them – started coming to Members gigs.
“I said, 'There's something happening here – they want this,' so I came up with 'The Sound Of The Suburbs,'” Carroll recalls. “In a funny way, punk rock is a suburban kid thing now, still – it's a way of escaping what might be your drab surroundings, and rebelling. We were very lucky with that song.”
With Carroll leading the songwriting, the Members gained attention for a fiery mix of punk and reggae – and topics that ranged from corporate greed (“Offshore Banking Business”), to social isolation (“Solitary Confinement”), and ordinary peoples' lives (“The Sound Of The Suburbs”).
All of these songs get an airing at the Red Line Tap, and they sound as vital and powerful as ever. On the flipside, that means all of the nasty and noxious evils that punk rock aimed to slay during its certified Year Zero moment (1976) -- corporatized pop music, ever-rocketing costs of living, and unresponsive bureaucracies, to name three -- seem stronger and more vigorous than ever. But we'll get to that shortly...
"IT WAS JUST TOO MUCH"
Although only thee guys are onstage, the sound is muscular and crisp tonight -- much of that factor comes down to Bennett, who plays enough for two people by himself.
Fluid, yet unfussy, he puts all the right notes in all the right places, while Cash whacks out the beat behind him -- stretching out, naturally, on the reggae sections, where a percussive comment or two isn't out of place -- and Carroll keeps the proceedings moving on his newly adopted instrument.
Just behind Don and myself, two color TVs beam "Saturday Night Live" out over the main floor, but nobody cares a whit -- all the action's down on the main floor, where plenty of cameras are popping (cellphone-related or not).
In particular, I notice a blonde woman click-click-clicking away. At first, I think she's some kind of pro shutterbug...one dressed to kill in knee-high boots and black hose, kitted out with some top of the line pro camera.
Eventually. I muster the gumption to ask er, between songs: "Excuse me, are you the band's official photographer?"
She smiles, and laughs, "No -- no, darling, I'm a friend of Nigel's."
"Oh, OK -- right, I got it now!"
The band rip-roars through "Working Girl," which gave them new life commercially, after the original punk scene had tapered off -- giving the Members a big American hit when they needed one most. Thanks to the fruits of those labors, the band expanded to a seven-piece entity with a three-piece horn section.
However, that new lease on life came with a price, as JC explains: “We were literally touring around America for four months at a time – it was just too much. We burned ourselves out, basically."
There's no smell of burnout hanging over the proceedings here, though, as the band powers through "Baby Baby" -- the signature number of the Vibrators, with whom Bennett toured many times in America -- and "The Sound Of The Suburbs," which closes the show on triumphant note.
"IT JUST SOUNDED GREAT"
Funnily enough, Nigel's friend isn't the only person slinging a camera tonight. In fact, it's been awhile since I've seen so many flash bulbs pop-pop-popping...although, as JC recounts afterwards, he's played some gigs where the front row is literally nothing but iPad and iPhone City, where he can't see the faces of the people concerned.
It's a strange phenomenon that only today's techie-driven times could produce, he notes, "though you look at what they post on Youtube, and you say, 'Christ, no, please take it down'..." He smiles, knowing that no such occurrence is likely.
A generation ago, people swapped color pics to stick into yellowing photo albums; nowadays, they're saving them on their phones. Call it a sign of the times, if you like.
After the band's breakup, Bennett, Carroll and Payne focused on raising families and various solo projects.
JC decided to re-form the Members after celebrating his fiftieth birthday, “and I tried to get all the bands I'd ever been in together – and it just sounded great,” he said.
Since then, the Members have steadily built on that momentum, by virtue of steady gigging -- "It's not unusual to get Scotland on a weekend," as JC notes -- although, unlike the old days, it's not strung together as a steady drumbeat of one-nighters.
Unlike many contemporary pundits, though, JC doesn't mourn the record industry's demise, especially when he considers the alternative. "Back then," he observes at the merchandise table, "you really couldn't make any money -- because there were so many other people ahead of you."
"IT'S TIME FOR SOME MORE RADICAL MUSIC"
The Members return to Britain in October, after which Carroll expects to start on the band's fifth album – for which he's already worked up four or five songs.
“It's got the Members' (types of lyrical) themes. We're going to make little videos for them, or big videos – and we'll be touring in Europe, doing what we do,” he says.
As Carroll notes, today's headlines seem perilously close to the world on which he and his bandmates cast such a critical eye back in 1976 – though he believes that it could stand a better soundtrack.
“We're very much in a manufactured pop music world – nobody's really speaking about how they live. It's definitely time for some more radical music, I think,” he says.
YOUTUBE VIDEO LINKS FROM THE GIG (JUST CUT 'N' PASTE INTO YER BROWSER):
"Offshore Banking Business":
"New English Blues, Part 2":
"The Sound Of The Suburbs":
MEMBERS BIO, INFO+LINKS
2013 was a Fantastic Year For The Band taking us to lots of exciting places, Ireland, Ukraine, Holland, New Zealand, Scotland and Australia, where we were re-united with Rudi Thomson, our old Sax Player. We made lots of new friends in the UK also.
Original Member Nigel Bennett has rejoined the Band, along with Drummer Nick Cash. Nigel spent many years touring and recording with Punk Legends The Vibrators and released and toured a solo Album (TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES) in 2013.
Little known Facts: Nigel played Bass with Julian Lennon and Guitar with Tom Robinson in the '80s.
Nick Cash is no stranger to the Members, having Played on 3 of JC's Solo Albums as well as performing with The Members from 2007 to 2009. Nick is Famous for opening the World's first Ever Punk Punk Clothes shop and playing with Fad Gadget, Prag Vec and The Lines as well as auditioning for an early version of the Sex Pistols.
Rat Scabies Stepped down from the Members Drum seat after three great years at the end of a Hugely successful Australian and New Zealand Tour. We wish Rat lots of luck with his exciting new recording projects.
JC's Record Label, AngloCentric Records, is up and Running Now with Releases by Members Producer David M. Allen, and Brentford Mad West London Band, The Magic Sponge...check out the Tracks here:
Also due is a Compilation album Featuring Billy ShinBone, The Brompton Mix, Cheyne Pride, The Fab Mods and The Indicators, as well as deep Cuts from the Archives.
If you want information on booking the The Members it can all be found on this Document:
Please keep in touch with the band by visiting the official Website:
...or join the Facebook Fan Pages:
That's exactly what we get with this inspired pairing of Matlock and New York Dolls guitarist, Syl Sylvain – up close and personal, armed with nothing more than their acoustic guitars, a few stories and a generous dipping through their bands' respective back pages (hence, the Sex Dolls billing).
Sylvain emerges as the more outwardly animated performer, but his wit and showmanship make tonight's under-attended mid-week outing – there can't be more than 40 people here tonight, give or take – feel like an outing at Radio City Music Hall (which the Dolls played, incidentally, supporting Mott the Hoople).
When it comes to the art of crowd response, Sylvain doesn't miss a trick. “It was a long way from fuckin' Cleveland – c'mon, Lansing,” he cracks after his opening one-two punch (“Teenage News,” “I'm Sorry”), which earns a bigger response. For a slow-burning “Femme Fatale,” he calls on the help of Hattie Danby (drummer for tonight's opener, the Plurals), and leads a girls-against-boys singalong battle on the chorus.
While introducing the Bo Dilddley song, “Pills” – which the Dolls covered – Sylvain recalls the night that he and his cohorts got booted from My Father's Place, where the song's author was performing. “We're yelling for 'Pills,' Bo Diddley's onstage – he's getting really fuckin' pissed off, right? He calls the security guys, and has us thrown out of the fuckin' place for selling drugs!” Sylvain recalls, amid roars of amusement. “You can't make this shit up.”
The same thing happens on the Dolls classic “Trash,” which Sylvain pauses to deconstruct via Eddie Cochran – because that's where its central riff originates, he asserts. “Mark my words, we wouldn't have a fuckin' punk revolution without that fuckin' riff – I'll show you why,” Sylvain says, before playing snippets of “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” and “God Save The Queen” that sound a bit familiar. “I just wanted to tell you, I fuckin' ripped it off first, OK?”
All jokes apart, Sylvain's approach shows why the other Dolls/Thunders songs that he whips out (“Great Big Kiss,” “Jet Boy,” “You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory”) still stand up today. Often dismissed during their heyday as undisciplined noise merchants, the Dolls' influences actually owed a great deal to their '50s and '60s heroes – only cranked up to ten, with grittier overtones than the glossy nostalgia of, say, “Happy Days.” You get the idea.
Sylvain ends his set with a flourish by reprising his 2012 single (“Leaving New York”) as he walks strumming through the crowd – there he goes, right past our table! – having gotten the evening off to a rousing start, indeed. By contrast, Glen doesn't talk quite as much – eternal English reserve, eh? – but showcases an equally biting wit.
For example, when he's introducing “Ambition” – a slow-burning ballad that Iggy Pop recorded on his 1980 album, “Soldier,” and one of Matlock's best-known post-Pistols tracks – he recalls feeling thrilled, until he heard the end results.
“He (Iggy) said, 'You got any songs?', and I played him a few ideas...I was lucky enough that he chose one of my songs to do,” Glen explains. “But he didn't make the best job of it.” Amid a few nervous laughs, Glen repeats the point: “Well, he didn't. I'm gonna kind of try and improve on it now.” And he does, with a self-assured delivery that helps him make his case.
Like Sylvain, Glen's not above the odd crowdbaiting trick or two himself – such as on the Sex Pistols' standard, “God Save The Queen,” when he seeks to incite a mass clapalong: “I ain't got a drummer at the moment, but I got all of you guys, so it'd help me out if you do this...” He pauses to demonstrate. “It keeps your hands warm!”
And, also like Sylvain, Glen's songwriting bears the '50s and '60s imprint – not only in music, but also in sentiment, whether he hails the era's anything-goes spirit (“A Different World”), voicing his disdain for the bullshit quotient of modern life (“On Something” -- as in, "Wish that I was..."), or giving a two-fingered salute to self-indulgent figures shucking and shimmying into the public's good graces (“Yeah Right”).
As these tunes suggest, Glen's an accomplished songwriter – the bar's got to be high, indeed, when you're responsible for classics like “Pretty Vacant” and “Ghosts Of Princes In Towers,” which also get an airing tonight. He deserves more than being seen as the product of a glorious revolutionary past – which is probably why he seems genuinely surprised that John and I express delight at his announcement of the Rich Kids' song, “Burning Sounds.”
However, it's one of the highlights of Glen's set, which finds him dipping into the Kinks (“Dead End Street”), and a couple standbys from the Pistols days – “Pretty Vacant,” and “Stepping Stone,” which he dryly introduces as a song “by one of the first boy bands in existence”. Perhaps he's feeling a bit weary of that whole subject, though the song actually hails from the Monkees – an original '60s boy band (so to speak) Hopefully, experiences like this tour will show audiences the greater depth to Glen's back story.
The evening ends on a triumphantly casual note, as Sylvain, Glen and Hattie join forces for some loose, extended romps through“Bang A Gong” (T. Rex), “Money” (Barrett Strong), and “Personality Crisis” (New York Dolls) – three non-originals that provide an appropriate snapshot of the spirit on display. Or, as Glen explains before he unleashes “Burning Sounds”:
“To me, when you're 15 and 16 years old, and you start checking out rock bands, you hear something that makes you think, 'There's got to be a bit more to it than what they tell you.' I like the Kinks, and the Beatles, and stuff like that – and they made the burning sounds for me.” Let's hope these guys team up again, and treat us to a few more burning sounds like we heard tonight – because, if you didn't make it to this outing, you definitely missed something special.
But that perception only tells half the story. The Yardbirds boasted one of the '60s' deepest talemt benches, with bassist Paul Samwell-Smith carving out a successful production career, while late vocalist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty launched several folk and progressive bands (Renaissance, Illusion) to varying degrees of success.
Fewer still know that McCarty co-authored a good many of the lyrics – not a talent that's often associated with the band's chief beat-keeper. Then again, he probably never foresaw himself as the last original member standing, after the stroke last year that (sadly) has curtailed bassist/rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja's playing days for good. (Frontman Keith Relf died in 1976, from an accidental electric shock; his spirit is celebrated in fine style on “An Original Man,” off the band's last album, Birdland.)
Going into this show – one of three dates on this year's blink-and-miss-it US excursion – it's natural to question how this lot could carry the Yardbirds flag, especially in light of its illustrious alumni's absence...not to worry, however, as Anthony “Top” Topham has returned to the fold, after a mere five decades of downtime! What a coup, indeed, since it's not commonly known that Topham preceded Clapton, only to exit due to circumstances beyond his control...as he makes clear in a brief Q&A session with McCarty, before the show.
And, though he takes some time to warm up – it's only his third gig, after all, as McCarty points out – Topham quickly shows that he's not there just to take up space...as he and his impossibly youngish-looking guitar sparring partner, Ben E. King, swap licks on the slower blues numbers (“Five Long Years”), and the more urgent showcases (“Smokestack Lightning”), to appreciative roars from the crowd. Clapton may have been the more advanced player (as Topham notes below), but he has a distinctive style, in his own right. Vocalist Andy Mitchell acquits himself quite well, too – even when his harp fights for air in the mix, at times – while bassist Dave Smale keeps the proceedings at a brisk, no-nonsense clip.
Naturally, “The Traain Kept A-Rollin'” opens the night's proceedings in fine style, and the Yardbirds bench doesn't waste much time asserting itself; while not as flashy as some of the era's better-known beat-keepers, McCarty's touch proves deft as ever, with no fuss, and no muss, just the way that we're used to hearing it, thank you very much.. (His high harmonies are pretty noteowrthy, as well.)
Of course, this being a '60s legend in action, you get all the hits, present and correct (“Heart Full O'Soul,” “Over, Under, Sideways, Down,” “Shapes Of Things”), the odd obscurity (“The Nazz Are Blue,” featuring a rare vocal by Beck), and faves that the masses might not know, but the diehards definitely understand (“Back Where I Started,” which featured on McCarty's mid-'80s project, Box Of Frogs, and also, the closest that we came to a proper reunion at the time).
From my perspective, the real payoff comes near the end, with a medley of “For Your Love,” “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” and – lastly, to close the circle – “Dazed And Confused,” whose reworking (shall we say) by Page for Led Zeppelin has remained the source of great controversy, then and now (which McCarty slyly references as “that other band”; ironically, the opening act is Kashmir, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, who get a resounding thumbs-up from the patrons sitting in front of me.)
In any event, this 15-minute, three-song mini-epic finds King truly rising to the occasion here. Anybody should feel nervous about following Those Other Three Guitar Gods, but King doesn't show a trace of hesitation. He sticks to the overall blueprint, but isn't shy about adding his own distinctive coloration on “Happenings” – and then cuts loose with some gloriously unhinged leads, as the band navigates the inner angst of “Dazed And Confused.”
The song shakes and shudders with a primal voodoo that's bubbling under the surface of Jake Holmes's original, but often got smothered in Zeppelin's half-hour-plus marathon versions (oh, well, it was the '70s, eh?). It's pretty heady stuff, indeed – urgent and unyielding, pulsing with the peaks and valleys that made the original band a can't-miss proposition during its '60s heyday.
Had the night ended here, we'd have gone home happy, but naturally, there's a brief encore to round out the proceedings – it's “I'm A Man,” which the band reworked to such brash effect so long ago, and sounds no less taut tonight, with Mitchell sounding every inch the swashbuckling blues rooster referenced in the original lyrics.
Like much of the sounds dished out tonight, this last number's raw energy is a reminder of what made the Yardbirds so potent – even if their 1968 breakup reflected more slings and arrows than Shakespeare's outrageous fortune. In many ways, though, that doesn't really matter. They didn't always collect the rewards that they hoped to see coming, and their pioneering spirit frequently fought for air, amid the demands of producers – but, long after the tinkerers' names are forgotten, this music still lives and breathes...which is all we need, on this night, or any other.
YARDBIRDS (SLIGHT RETURN: ARCADA THEATER, 6/27/14)
Fast forward a year later, and those "five live Yardies" are sharing the bill with ex-Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson...ensuring a double-barreled night of blues-rock for true believers. That term only scrapes the surface of what both acts in question do, given all their various stylistic diversions...but as a shorthand description, it works well enough.
In the Yardbirds' case, tonight's set showcased the band's bluesier side -- as demonstrated by a churning 10-minute-plus version of "Smokestack Lightning," and an equally extended "Five Long Years," which frontman Andy Mitchell belted out with gusto. His gutsy harmonica work also shone through, loud and clear -- unlike last time around, when it struggled to make itself felt through a murky sound mix.
Top Topham also sounded more fully integrated into the band, too, as he peppered the bluesier songs with robust slide guitar lines -- and dove right in to swap licks with Ben King when the song required it. For the poppier hits, like "Heart Full O'Soul," he naturally stuck closely to the original imprint, though his rootsier approach is unmistakable.
McCarty, as ever, drove the bus without fanfare. His emphatic, chugging style doesn't always land him on those endless "'X' Number Of Greatest This 'N' That" lists that music mags churn out with tick-tock regularity -- but it's impossible to imagine these songs without them. His style is truly the heartbeat of the Yardbirds, without a doubt.
As in 2013, we got the same closing medley ("For Your Love"/"Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"/"Dazed And Confused"), which reached a frenzied peak on the last song's extended psychedelic section. This is a band, after all, that built a reputation for not playing the same song twice, which makes it fun to compare the nuances involved.
Chris Robinson's approach is equally rootsy, and unapologetically jam-oriented. Not being familiar with his solo material, I didn't know what to expect, but the opening chunk-a-chunk-a-chunk of "I Know You" made the drift quickly apparent. Robinson played with aplomb throughout the night, electing to mostly fingerpick his leads -- amid many, many guitar changes.
Some major highlights of his set included a 15-minute medley of "From A Buick 6," "I Cylinder" and the Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion," on which the band eagerly -- and continually -- circled back to its "Do it again!" refrain like a shark eyeballing its target.
The one-two encore punch of Humble Pie ("The Sad Saga Of Shaky Jake") and another lesser-known Velvet track ("Oh! Sweet Nothing") proved equally delightful to hear, as well. I'd definitely investigate his work in more detail to see what other gems might be happening there.
All in all, tonight's pairing provided an illuminating reminder of what both acts do so well -- it was a shame to see a third full house, though there's no doubt that everyone left well satisfied with the proceedings. Turnouts vary for lots of reasons, although in the Yardbirds' case, it'd be nice to hear a new album with Topham abooard.
As one listen to the recently-departed Chris Dreja's "My Blind Life" will suggest, there's plenty of vitality left, and new musical ground to explore, so let's cross our fingers and see what happens...if nothing else, the Yardbirds always had a trick or two tucked away up their sleeve.
Q&A WITH RON ONESTI, JIM McCARTY & TOP TOPHAM:
ARCADA THEATER, ST. CHARLES, IL (9/13/13)
RON ONESTI (RO): Welcome! Gentlemen, this is so cool, I can't believe it – gentlemen, welcome to the Chicago area...It's amazing how the roots of the Yardbirds, and the Stones, and so much of the British Invasion that came here had their roots in Chicago blues. Where'd it start for you?
JIM McCARTY (JM): Where'd it start? Well, it was Paul Samwell-Smith, who was at school with me – and we bumped into each other, and he played this record, [from] Jimmy Reed...and then, we learned from there. And I heard more and more of this sort of music, and really loved it.
RO: You know, Top – it's 1963, you are 15 years old...
TOP TOPHAM (TT): That's correct.
RO: Fifteen years old – and, again, you have this passion for blues. And not just blues – and I'm lovin' it, because it's Chicago blues. Where does your passion come from?
TT: I think it actually, probably and originally came from my father – who was in America during the war, in Mobile, Alabama, and bought records, and took them home. In the latter part of the '50s, we actually got an electric record player [laughter], and started buying some of the very few British records that were available in those days.
But a lot of those records were starting to come over [from America]: Big Boy Arnold, Snooky Prior, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed...and I think the bands of that time were really people that had a passion for that music, and wanted to learn to play it, and do it together. And that's how it started.
RO: The Yardbirds, obviously, kicked off the careers of [Eric] Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck. How did that transition happen, and what was the feeling of the Yardbirds, as the [Led] Zeppelin experience began to happen?
JM: By the time we broke the Yardbirds up, we'd sort of had enough of it, this whole thing of touring. We'd done five years, full on, and people were really tired – we were all sort of fairly dead, more or less [crowd laughs heartily]. We had to start over. That was the only way we could survive. I think, at that particular time, we'd had enough, and we all were quite happy to leave.
But, of course, they were all fresh [in Led Zeppelin] – Jimmy had been with us about a year or so, and the rest of the guys were very fresh. And they didn't have to...The whole market changed between single records, and albums, and Zeppelin didn't have to record a single – 'cause we were always trying to get the next hit single, all the time, in the '60s. And everything changed at the end of the '60s, and the '70s, and [bands] made albums, before you know it.
RO: Now, Top, you had left in '63. Again, you're 15, 16 years old – why did you actually leave the Yardbirds at the time?
TT: Why did I leave? Well, I think were probably a number of reasons – Jim might have a different version. From my point of view, I had studied art, and was fortunate enough to be very talented. I got into an art school when I was 15, and had no qualifications, which was just what my parents wanted.
The idea of playing music in those days was just an unknown thing for them – it was something that they couldn't really comprehend, and they didn't agree with it, and they actually made life quite difficult for me...so I really had to. Plus, Eric – who we all knew, and I went to school with – I think he was a more advanced player, at that time, than I was. And, for that time, he was the right guy for the job.
RO: Clapton was actually at that school?
TT: Yes, Chris Dreja, Eric and myself were all at school together. Eric used to come round on Saturday mornings, and bring records – the latest Robert Johnson, or Blind Boy Fuller, or something – 'cause we were listening to country blues a lot in those days. And, when we had the new record, we had to listen to it, over and again [to learn the songs].
JM: Well, Eric was more ambitious than you, wasn't he?
TT: He was.
JM: He really wanted to make it big...
TT: That is true.
RO: Now, Jim, you were very, very involved in these other bands – what was the driving force with all these bands?
JM: Well, Keith and I formed Renaissance [strong applause from the audience]. The keyboard player was John Hawken, who's down in New Jersey now. He's a fantastic rock 'n' roll pianist, started in the Nashville Teens, and then, went on to Renaissance. He played with the Strawbs, as well, which was a great band – and then, we had another band called Illusion, and then, of course, Box Of Frogs, which was like another Yardbirds.
RO: Now, 1992: very big year for the Yardbirds, right? Tell me about that experience – that had to be something. Tell me about the phone call first – how'd you find out you were being inducted [into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame]?
JM: I think we'd been put out before, you know, suggested – I think it was the third time we'd been nominated, and then, finally, we got in there, and it was great, you know.
RO: What was the night like for you?
JM: Well, it was good fun. We met all these people that were our heroes, you know, Johnny Cash, and B.B. King – Jimi Hendrix, obviously, wasn't there, but his father was there...and Sam and Dave. It was great fun.
RO: What's the chance – everybody wants to know, what's the chance of Jeff Beck coming [and sitting in] tonight, or Jimmy Page, or Eric...
RM: I don't think he's here tonight [laughter from the audience]!
RO: You never know – you never know! [Introduces Byrd, from WDRV 97.1: The Drive, to ask the last question.]
BYRD: Oh, yeah, good to see you – well, I actually have one and a half questions...the real question is, you did a great album just a few years ago – does anybody have it, it's called BIRDLAND? [Some notable claps in response] Are there any projects that are coming up, maybe some new material, or maybe some re-releases of some of the classics, that you'd like to tell anybody about?
JM: Well, there's a fiftieth anniversary this year, round about now – I think there might be something happening this year, in terms of a big boxed set coming out – and we're actually doing a UK tour with the Animals, and the Zombies [NOTE: This outing begins in January 2014].
YARDBIRDS OFFICIAL SITE:
JIM McCARTY INTERVIEW ON SONGWRITING:
ABOUT THE ARCADA THEATRE:
As any musician can tell you, that's the beauty – and curse – of being seen as a one-hit wonder. On one hand, you're guaranteed an eternal residency in the pop cultural memory bank; on the other, you struggle to convince people that there's more to the story. Like many '80s-era bands, Big County benefited greatly from the rise of MTV. However, once the bloom fell off that rose, Big Country's Stateside profile shrank accordingly – though the band made plenty of music that was as good, or better, than their breakout LP, THE CROSSING (1983).
So what to make of the notion that Big Country are returning for their first extended American tour in 20-odd years? Well, there's no shortage of excited people; as one fan named Patricia informs me afterward, she missed the 1993 US shows, “so some of us have actually been waiting for 30 years.” On this night, the occasion is a free concert at the Hard Rock Cafe – at the Four Winds Casino – surrounded by the standard issue sea of autographed rock star guitars, picks, drum heads, and things of that nature. (The row of oversized Kiss pinball machines lined up outside is a nice touch, though – but we'll return to the setting shortly.) `
However, nothing about this night proves ordinary, as we quickly surmise from Mike Peters's surprise cameo to sing a duet (“We Are The Light”) with the opening act, Ruffin, (a Chicago-based folk-pop singer-songwriter whose own fare is well-crafted). We're then left to wait on the darkened main floor, as the ritually lengthy equipment changeover proceeds – then, gradually, a martial fife-and-guitar intro rings out for several minutes.
Bit by bit, however, a series of guitar arpeggios make themselves heard in the mix, and before you get to react, BANG! The band seamlessly launch lift off into a new song, “Return,” driven by the guitar tag team partnership of Bruce Watson, and his son, Jaime – and a punchy chorus whose sentiment (“I'll be there, I'll be there, I'll be there when you return”) is well in keeping with the Big Country ethos of faith, hope and commitment.
What's remarkable here is how revitalized the band sounds; who could have imagined a way forward, after founder-frontman Stuart Adamson's suicide in 2001? Yet that's what's happening onstage, as the Watsons effortlessly switch off lead and rhythm roles – sometimes, in the same song – without missing a beat, while the kilt-clad Derek Forbes (ex-Simple Minds) proves a more than capable successor for his departed predecessor, Tony Butler. (He even gets his own “muso-ey” interlude – in this case, a flanged bass solo that leads into “Home Of The Brave,” another notable entry from the new album, THE JOURNEY.) Drummer Mark Brzezicki, as always, pushes the proceedings along at a brisk pace.
Singer-guitarist Mike Peters is the linchpin in this effort, of course. To some degree, his band, The Alarm, trod similar territory to Big Country during the '80s, so when his name surfaced as the new frontman, the choice shouldn't have surprised anyone. His voice and stage presence suit the wide-screen imagery of songs like “Harvest Home,” or “Inwards,” which sound big and grand in this small space, as well. When not inciting massed singalongs – such as on “Look Away,” Big Country's biggest UK hit – Peters periodically bounds offstage, and sings directly to whoever's facing him. The enthusiasm that he displays is contagious, and never lets up for a moment.
On first hearing, the other new songs (“Another Country,” “Broken Promise Land,” “Last Ship Sails,” “The Journey”) seem to be harking back toward the epic era – big songs about big things – aired to such powerful effect on THE CROSSING, STEELTOWN, and WONDERLAND They fit in seamlessly alongside warhorses like “Chance,” and the hard-hitting pairing of “Wonderland”/”Fields Of Fire.” Of course, “In A Big Country” is the last song to send everybody home happily across the finish line, driven home by Brzezicki's martial thunder. (One-hit wonder or not, ignoring the song started it all is a definite in-concert no-no.)
In some ways, however, the real highlight occurs after the encore (“Last Ship Sails”/”In A Big Country”), when the band unexpectedly troops back onstage, and take turns thanking the crowd for its support. Fittingly, it's Bruce Watson who makes the most memorable comments – which focus on a certain guitar that he holds briefly aloft, for everyone to see. Then, he gives the rundown:
“Imagine my surprise – I've traveled thousands of miles, and I came to this venue, and I found this guitar. This guitar belonged to us. Stuart had it made in 1985, and used this guitar exclusively on the 'Seer' album. You may have heard this guitar on a song called 'The Teacher.' It just reminds me of happy times, and I've had a great time tonight, thank you so much.”
Time will tell how the band's chemistry progresses in the studio, but if this show is indicative of the overall tour, they're off to a flying start; hopefully, Patricia and company won't have to wait another 20 years for the next U.S. tour. Not everyone gets it, of course, for voices like Popshifter, the burning question seems to be: “But is there still a market for big, fat, meaningful rock?” Based on this outing, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes.”
In Metallica's case, my attraction focused on their down-to-earth dress sense. Cliff Burton's ensemble of choice – those perennially ripped jeans and worn punk T-shirts that he's sporting in nearly every photo session made a powerful statement during the early to mid-'80s, when bands were encouraged to think of themselves as gods from another planet.
Either way, the minute I saw those images – typically, while leafing through the pages of Kerrang!, which covered Metallica extensively during its earlier days – I figured, “We're gonna get along beautifully...now it's time to buy the record.” Burton's tragic death in 1986 signaled another game-changing quest – which his successor, Jason Newsted, ably carried off over a 15-year tenure. Now, he's back with a band named after himself, aw the primary songwriter, and frontman; suffice to say, Mr. Newsted is in charge.
So, on this night, it's only appropriate that Newsted's Battle Creek hoecoming takes place at Planet Rock – whose stated capacity (335) puts the “mini” back in mini-bar! All jokes apart, however, it's an ideal setting to see someone of Newsted's stature...sweaty, thunderous 'n' unrelenting , and only a matter of inches from your face.
Jason and his merry men – Jesse Farnsworth (guitar), Mike Mushok (guitar, formerly of Staind) and Jesus Mendez Jr. (drums) – respond with 75 minutes of meat-and-potatoes old school metal of the kind that doesn't get airplay, but never fails to inspire frenetic air guitar flourishes. The sounds being cranked out here may not be trendy, but if you're not whipping your head around like everybody else, you're the odd one out here, got that?
A good snapshot of this approach makes itself felt on the night's third song, “Soldierhead,” a graphic account of warfare from the soldier's point of view (“ Never quite ready/It just becomes your turn/Every time steady/No more light to burn”), and one of the standouts from the METAL EP. It's fast, brutal and to the point, driven home by Mushok's peerless lead work, and Mendez's churning double bass drums (as Newsted notes, later in the show: “You can't go wrong without Jesus on the drums back here!”)
If you're thinking, “Black Sabbath and Judas Priest pick up all your favorite obscure New Wave of Heavy Metal combos for a drink, and take 'em for a chat,” you'll know what's happening musically on METAL, and Newsted's debut album, HEAVY METAL – to which the bulk of tonight's show is dedicated.
As far as the newer material goes, the standouts include “As The Crow Flies” – a midtempo cruncher that wouldn't sound out of place on MASTER OF PUPPETS, or AND JUSTICE FOR ALL – and “Long Time Dead,” whose punchy chorus recalls the tragedy that propelled Newsted towards his destiny (“Live while you're living. because you're a long time dead!”). Other new songs, such as “Godsnake,” and “Nocturnus,” carry more of a slow-burning doom metal vibe.
Like many smart musicians, Newsted knows that intensity doesn't come from tempo alone, but any number of contributing factors, such as the overall vibe of the song. The latter quality rings loud and clear on “Skyscraper” – whose martial tempo offers a thrash metal summary of the human condition (“As the giant chokes in the mud/Ashen street soaks up the blood/Disappears, it never was/Wheel spinning, just as it does”).
For all the seriousness of the subject matter, and the dark, churning drive of his band, Newsted is a surprisingly casual. As a frontman, he seems relaxed, happy, and in his element, whether he's recalling former triumphs (“last time I played in Battle Creek, we set the attendance record in Kellogg Arena...it's just good to come home”), or dedicating “King Of The Underdogs” to his sister (“ it's a lot to ask of you, to come and listen to a lot of new music, and enjoy it with us like this, give us positive vibes back...I really appreciate that, I really fuckin' do!”).
One measure of Newsted's confidence is the lack of reference to his former band. Other than a brief foray through “Creeping Death,” the only nod to the past comes late in the show, when Newsted slyly introduces “Whiplash” by saying, “I didn't write this one, but I did bring it some life over its life.” The crowd's clearly caught off guard, at first (“Wow, dude, he played somethin' from KILL 'EM ALL? No way!”), but the hammerhead tempo quickly gets arms and heads flailing in unison.
The casual mood continues with the first encore of “Spider Biter,” and “Skyscraper,” which finds Newsted switching to guitar. “This one's got a couple extra strings on it – don't worry, I only use the little ones, anyway,” Newted cracks. However, not even the crisp, no-nonsense aura of this song is enough to satisfy everyone, so the band comes back out again, to deliver “one more for my good friends,” as Newsted puts it – “We Are The Road Crew,” Motorhead's classic ode to the touring life.
“I've been playing this song for a lot of years, man...I used to do it in every band, I think,” Newsted notes, but however many times he's done it, there's no denying the ferocity on display, as the band barrels through a clenched-fist delivery that leaves nothing to the imagination. By the fall, Newsted should have 70-80 shows under its belt; with a band this strong, it's tempting to think how much sharper – and tighter – they'll sound.
As Newsted has acknowledged, he wouldn't have gained the freedom to explore his current path without his Metallica experience – but, unlike many former members of big league bands, he already seems to have worked out how to establish his own identity, without the “ex-this/that” suffix dogging his name. Like the old saying goes...here's looking at you, kid.
“I don't know,” I shrugged. “It's almost eight minutes long, and there's plenty of lyrics involved...we'll just have to see, I guess.”
As it happened, we didn't get “Boy,” but it wasn't an issue – when you're Ian Hunter, your box of tricks doesn't know any limits. With seven albums from his former band (Mott The Hoople) to consider, plus 20 solo efforts, there's definitely plenty of room to do some cherry-picking.
Then again, being spoiled for choice is a nice problem to have. Unlike many artists from his era, Hunter never got the chance to gather moss on classic rock radio – the odd chart-topper aside, like “All The Good Ones Are Taken” – and, therefore, doomed to having his career reduced to those Handfuls of Hits that they'll never stop hammering through the ground.
While many of his peers are struggling to plug the nostalgia gap – as the wiseguy line goes, new albums are just souvenirs for the inevitable comeback tour – Hunter feels confident enough to air eight of the 11 songs from his latest album, When I'm President, sprinkling them evenly among the obvious (“Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” “All The Way From Memphis”) and less obvious (“The Moon Upstairs”) touchstones that have defined his career.
The opening one-two punch of “Comfortable (Flying Scotsman)” and “Once Bitten” set the tone for what was to follow – two hours of unapologetic, no-frills rock 'n' roll, ably driven home by his long-standing all-star combo, the Rant Band. Guitarist Mark Bosch played with economy and flair, providing the right textures that each song required, while multi-instrumentalist James Mastro bounded from guitar, to mandolin and back again – and Steve Holley, the former Wings drummer, rode shotgun on the backbeat. (The whole band worked together quite well, actually; these were just the folks who stood out, to these ears.)
With such distinctive players, it's hard to put a foot wrong, but there'd be something missing without the unflinching emotional directness of Hunter's lyrics – which is one reason why those of us who've followed the man for this long continue to revisit them. One of the most obvious examples came about halfway through the show, with “Michael Picasso,” Hunter's tribute to his late guitar partner, Mick Ronson, who died in April 1994.
The song's opening lines (“How can I put into words, what my heart feels/It's the deepest thing/When somebody you love dies”) cut to the heart of what it's like to experience such sorrow and loss. As “Michael Picasso” wound down, scattered voices in the crowd shouted about how much they missed Ronson – to which Hunter responded, simply:“We still do.” Those who saw him – as I did in early '90, at London's then-Hammersmith Odeon – have never forgotten the man's impact.
But that was just one high point among many. The show rocketed up a notch when Hunter moved to the piano, which he pounded as his life depended on it through rousing back-to-back versions of “All The Way From Memphis,” and “All-American Alien Boy,” plus a searing, slow-burning romp through “Isolation” (John Lennon) – one of two covers on this occasion, besides the ever-statutory “Sweet Jane,” but a welcome surprise, all the same, and a good showcase for Hunter's raw, world-weary vocal style.
“When I'm President” sounded punchy and self-assured, propelled by a bristling, Stone-ish guitar attack, and a chugging keyboard figure that owes a little debt to the Who's “Won't Get Fooled Again” (at least, to these ears – ask me again in a couple of months). Given the paralysis that's gripped Capitol Hill in recent years, the lyrics may remain true to life for some time to come, but we'll stay tuned (“You hold those truths to be self-evident/When you become president/'Cause something happens to you up on the hill/It's business as usual/How do you want to buck the system?/Welcome to the Pit and the Pendulum”)/.
The show ended with a roughly 15-minute medley that wound through the lesser-heard pastures of Mottdom (“Roll Away The Stone,” “Saturday Gigs”), followed by “Life,” a gem that closes the new album (“Hope your time was as good as mine, you're such a beautiful sight/I can't believe, after all of these years, you're still here and I'm still here/Laugh because it's only life”), and then, the band sprinted across the finish line, with “All The Young Dudes” (as often as this number turns up, does he sing it in the shower?).
Not one for resting on his laurels, Hunter never sounded more relaxed and confident than he did here, hammering his guitar for dear life on this summit of the old and the new, as the crowd sang along with gusto. All in all, a perfect ending to a perfect night, one that passed fast and furious with nary a word from the man – except for a sly joke, just before he launched the encore: “That's the trouble with being good...you've got to come back.”
By all means, Ian, please do – with outings like these, you're welcome any time.
The Sixth Generation's members busy themselves with the routine of tearing down – rolling amplifiers, keyboards and miscellaneous equipment to a truck and trailer that waits nearby, on Port Street. Fans stand in clusters, waiting for some face time with this legendary Berrien County band – who reunited in 2010, after 40 years apart.
The band have just finished a rousing, hour-long set for a packed crowd that mixes well-known '60s nuggets (“I Saw Her Standing There,” “Proud Mary,” “You Really Got Me”) less obvious fare (“Expressway,” “Love Potion No. 9”), and a handful of originals (“Glad I Didn't Die Before I Got Old,” “Rock 'N' Roll Me,” “That Was The Time”) that suggest another chapter waiting to be written.
From keyboardist Ken Hamrick's perspective, the new CD, THAT WAS, THIS IS – which will be released locally on October 13, at the band's CD release party at Orchard Hills Country Club, in Niles – offers the ideal chance to tell a different story. “We've had a lot of articles about our history, the whole 40-year hiatus – but we haven't really had anything from the perspective of our music,” Hamrick says. “Obviously, we have a lot of Baby Boomers, but also notice that the music is also enjoyed by teens, young adults, twenty something and little kids. We had some folks up here in their eighties.”
Singer Fred (“J.J.” or, “Jumpin' Jack Flash”) Bachman – who still lives in Michigan, with bassist Paul “General” Davies, and keyboardist Fred Hulce – seconds that emotion with quiet confidence, saying, “We have a lot to write about, because we have all these life experiences.” (Hamrick, drummer Dave Walenga and guitarist-saxophonist Steve Blevins live in Maryland and Virginia.)
A hallmark of that approach is “That Was The Time,” which Hamrick sees as the beginning of an untapped genre in “Boomer Music.” The title is a direct nod to “This Is The Time,” which Hamrick and Bachman co-wrote in 1967 – and, until now, remained the band's sole recorded original. “When we got back together a couple years ago, I decided it would be really nice to have a song about us,” Hamrick says. “It's basically autobiographical, but I didn't want it to be just about us. Any Baby Boomer can identify with the lyrics.”
For Bachman, his former band's return puts an exclamation mark on a story interrupted in 1970 – when real life just couldn't be fended off any longer, and everyone had to go their separate ways, after coming close to breaking out nationally. “We're probably one in a million bands out there, but we are not one in a million '60s bands. There aren't many people who are gonna write in our style, or the words that we write – so that takes us a little bit out of the crowd,” he says.
Guitarist-saxophonist Steve Blevins agrees. He replaced original founder John Dale, who retired last fall, after the initial reunion activities. “In a way, it's a good time for this sort of band,” Blevins observes. “People can look at it ['60s music] again, see it in a different perspective, or be nostalgic about it, if they like. We're getting a lot of response from younger kids, too.”
There were numerous signs of that phenemonon on this particular night, which unfolded to a packed crowd stretched as far as the eye could see in the curved, bowl-like area of the Bandshell.
At certain points -- such as during "Rock 'N' Roll With Me" -- an all-ages conga line broke out, with no other agenda beyond surrendering to the beat, and losing themselves in the sound as they clapped their enthusiasm aloud.
“What We Been Waiting For?”
Once they separated, the Sixth Generation's members kept music in their lives to varying degrees. Davies, who still lives in Niles, would periodically take out the bass – minus the amplifier that he didn't have anymore – to see what kinds of sounds he wanted to make.
Bachman – who grew up in Niles, the home of yet another '60s favorite son, in Tommy James – manage to blend music and teaching without missing the proverbial beat. “In fact, always played the guitar for the kids,” he recalls, laughing. “We had our own songs that we wrote. Music's always been a part of my life. It's in me. I can't not do this.”
Even so, nobody could have seen reforming on the back of a conversation between Davies and Walenga.
“Dave and I kept close over the years, because he still had family in Niles, and he was there fairly often,” Davies recalls. “One day, we were shooting the breeze about the good old days, and my daughter said: 'Well, why don't you guys get the band back together?' Whoever heard of such a thing?”
Once the word went out, nobody waited to answer the call. “I said, 'What we been waiting for?' Literally, that was the first words out of my mouth,” Hamrick says. “All of us, to the man, were in it all the way.”
Bachman looked forward to finding a new creative outlet – having written numerous songs over the years, “and sending them to different people,” he recalls. “I had a decent amount of attention, but never got a hit to anybody that was able to do it.”
“That's the thing that I'm actually having the most fun with, discovering that I'm a songwriter,” agrees Hulce, who has already co-written five tunes with Bachman. “I'd always noodled around on the piano. Part of that is just that the technology is so much better now. If I get an idea, I can just hit a button on the synthesizer, and it's not lost. Back in the day, we were hauling around a 450-pound Hammond organ.”
“Still – There Was Something There”
Since their return, the Sixth Generation have gotten plenty of reminders – as if they needed them – that other people are interested, too. For this particular night – which closed out St. Joseph Today's summer concert series – a circle of longtime fans made the trip out from Marcellus, and Niles.
Another sign came at the first full band rehearsal, in South Bend, as Davies remembers. “Nobody was supposed to be there, 'cause it was our first time getting together – there were about 25 people!” he laughs. “I don't know how they found out about it, but they were there. They said, 'Well, you guys are not bad...' Obviously, it was rusty, but still – there was something there.”
Blevins joined after reading a Craigslist ad entitled, “'60s Music,” and figured his ship had finally come in. Four years ago, Blevins moved from New York to Maryland, but had only played in three bands. “I wrote and said, 'I think the '60s was the most creative decade in pop music.' They were inventing it as they went along, really,” he says.
The first rehearsals with Hamrick and Walenga proved “a little frightening, because I stood out a lot more, and made a hell a lot of mistakes,” Blevins smiles. “But we practiced in Ron's house, in Virginia, and they said, 'Yeah, why don't you come back?' I said, 'What?' I wasn't expecting that.”
After a few full band rehearsals, Blevins felt surer about his contributions, and the potential that lies ahead. “They're some of the best musicians I've ever played with, maybe the best, as a group,” Blevins declares. “The original tunes that I've heard are damn good. Ron, Dave, J.J. and Fred Hulce are writing all the time. I'm hoping that I can get a tune or two of mine in. We'll see how it goes.”
“This Is A Golden Opportunity”
Walenga, who's focused himself until now on packing away the remains of his drumkit, stops to interject with a joke: “I don't know if he told you about the practices, but they're insane! We'll start at 10 in the morning, and get done by six o'clock at night.”
Blevins returns the punchline. “That's one that bugs me – these guys like to get up real early: 'What the hell is this?'” he laughs.
“Dave and I are up in the morning,” Hamrick nods. “We're probably texting by seven, seven-thirty in the morning – [having] had five cups of coffee by then.”
“People hate morning people, because we're just as good at night as in the morning,” Walenga jokes. “We just keep on a roll, we're like the Energizer bunnies.”
As far as what happens next, nobody's getting into the Muhammad Ali-style prediction business tonight – but, suffice to say, the creative energy has been buzzing sufficiently to generate material for a second CD. What started as a chance to reignite the old camaraderie has grown into a determination not to rest on any laurels – why think about coasting now, when there's so many more worlds left to conquer?
By Walenga's reckoning, the band hadn't even seen St. Joseph's confines in almost 45 years, after faring well in a “Battle Of The Bands” competition at the old Shadowland Ballroom – which now lives and breathes again, only a stone's throw from Silver Beach County Park, in an impressively refurbished white building of its own.
Obviously, with band members living in two major regions, some logistical compromises are necessary, but anything else is fair game, to Hamrick: “We want to take this thing as far as we can take it. I am a CEO of a corporation, so I have a lot of background in how to run a business. We are promoting ourselves everywhere we can.”
“Of course, we'd like to play to more and more people, have people enjoy our music,” Bachman agrees. “But, you know, money isn't the object. It never was. It was the people. Do we enjoy it? Are they enjoying it? That's as good as it gets, because the money means absolutely nothing.”
As far as Hulce is concerned, the strength of those long-standing ties helped the band pick up from where it last left off, so long ago – and why he's eager to see what happens next.
“We really came to conclude afterwards that we'd all been waiting for that phone call for 40 years,” he laughs.
“I think we all had pretty much the same idea: 'This is a golden opportunity we've been handed. Let's not squander it,'” Davies agrees. “Things haven't changed in 40 years...it's been very enjoyable.”
The Sixth Generation celebrated its new CD on October 13 with a release party at Orchard Hills Country Club, in Niles, MI. For further details (and future shows), visit: www.thesixthgeneration.com.
Ever so often, an event rolls around that crosses so many boundaries -- and pools together so much talent -- that it'd be criminal to miss, because it makes hash of all the obvious categories.
For three years, that's been true of the Artpost Gallery's Poetry Marathon -- where all comers read in 15-minute slots around the clock, Friday through Saturday, for 24 hours. Overseen by Kay Westhues and Jake Webster, the event is intended to honor National Poetry Month.
In reality, however, all categories go out the window, depending on who's performing. For myself, I covered all the bases -- which is why I open with "Satisfied" (The Dogs), whose lyrics are excerpted on this website. It's my tip of the punk rock brick --so to speak -- to those who blazed the trail, and the sentiments ("Let me do what I please/Let me what do I like") resonate strongly with me.
Next up, another non-original from my wife, "America Can't Keep The Lights On Anymore," which does what its title says ("Wake up, it's morning: The living room is trashed/The dream is over/America is out of cash"), and -- once I get rolling -- inspires me to add an improv ending ("like Lou Reed's Sally, drenched in methedrine,she can't get herself up off the floor anymore...she doesn't know what to do, because there's no way out, to get out beyond that particular door")that draws a suitably strong response.
Alas, the same can't be said for my politically-charged haikus: a couple of lines draw some laughs -- particularly ones that touch on age discrimination -- but not a massive reaction. That's OK, though...you have to do the difficult stuff, I believe...instead of just recycling old favorites, night after night, to earn a passing grade from your audience.
Fair enough: I move on to "Sister Ray Reflects," which I hadn't done since last summer. This one draws its inspiration from the Velvet Underground, which were part of my high school soundtrack...and reflects on how Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame," plus the culture that it inspired, would play out nowadays ("First drag queen sent home signs their name & likeness away for 25 bucks a pop, just like they did in '68!").
My other inspiration came from "Sister Ray" itself, that sprawling, 17-and-a-half-minute epic: "What if Sister Ray were a real person, and had survived the madness of being associated with Warhol's camp? What would he say now?" Between lines, I periodically hum that famous pounding riff, built off the holy trinity of G-F-C, while Lori Caskey-Sigety pounds out a rhythm to match on her tambourine("bum-BA-bum-bum, bah-BUM, BAH-BAH-bum")...
...which helps us to build a truly churning groove over five minutes into a suitably frenetic ending, just like on the original! The whole business leaves my mouth feeling completely cotton dry, but: I've got just enough time for one or two songs on the Yamaha acoustic, a tradition that I've upheld at every Artpost marathon.
This year, it's "What's In A Name (From Santiago With Love)." The song's inspiration came from an NPR story on Chile's Ministry of Education, which ordered the deletion of references to Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in its textbooks...and refer to him as a military leader ("What's in a name, what's the difference anyway?/'Airbrush or whitewash,' that's our critics may say/In a generation or two, it won't even matter").
I couldn't pass up the chance to comment on this phenomenon of Chile not dealing with its dark, post-1973 coup past...so I wrote the song at home, in a frantic 90-minute burst, with a chorus that deliberately recalls some of George Orwell's feelings along those lines ("Who controls the past, controls the future/Who controls the future, controls the present").
I ended up with a Latin punk number that travels a similar road to the Clash's "Washington Bullets"...only one that's more succinct, clocking in around two-and-a-half minutes. Since it's the first performance, a few flubs naturally pop up...but I manage to pull it off, and the resulting appreciation puts a big exclamation point on what's been an eclectic set from yours truly (to say the least!).
That proves equally true of the folks that I see during my three-hour visit -- considering how often the "P"-word (as in, poet) is mocked and left for dead in our culture, I'm amazed at how many people seem driven to express themselves that way, trends be damned...from Matthew Heckaman's rapid-fire delivery ("Wonder what happened to the peace dove? It was devoured by a war hawk, and all we heard was 'squawk, squawk, squawk!'...we ask questions, and are told not to talk")), to Zorina Jerome's declamatory retorts to detractors far and wide, to Pam Blair's a capella interludes when she's not actually reading ("...'cause you are the colors in my rainbow?")...there's no the end to the diversity and talent on display.
And, better yet, this event leapfrogs every genre, from spoken word, to rap, original music and back again -- whether it's done purely with vocals, or accompanied by backing tracks and musical instruments, as I chose to do -- making it one of the best area talent showcases around. Long may it run, and here's to next year!
THAT (DATED) GATED DRUM SOUND
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): You guys actually did record original albums...from what I could pick up on [through the press release], a lot of that stuff was almost done against the odds, wasn't it? Because you never really had much support, in the way of major labels, management companies, or anything like that...
JIMMY WATKINS (JW): You're about right on that, yes. One album was on Whalesville Records, which was started by a couple of executives that had just left Atlantic. But they really kind of ruined the record, I thought, because they came in and told us everything we had to do. I won't bore you with all the details – they said, “OK, every song has to be 110 beats per meter.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
They said, “Well, we've done scientific research...that is the exact beat that sells the most records. Every song has to start with the main melody of the chorus, but instrumentally, and then, in 10 seconds, the vocal has to come in. And you can't do any drum rolls or guitar licks that people don't expect, because people don't like to be surprised.” Every neat little thing we did, that was really ours, that we really felt good about – they took all that, totally homogenized it. It wasn't just us. If you think about it, they homogenized all the music at that point.
CR: Well, just that horrible gated drum sound that has dated pretty badly – to name one obvious example, I guess...
JW: Exactly, the gated drum sound, sure.
FAME IS A HARSH MISTRESS (PT. I: THE '80S)
JW: We were tentatively hired for a record contract by United Artists, and we had to go to Miami to meet some bigwig, sign these papers. This was right at the height of the Bon Jovi, Ratt, Poison [era]...all the bands that were young, skinny, long-haired, good-looking.
The guy told me, and I'm not kidding you: “Look, we'll let you guys record the album. I couldn't put you on the cover, 'cause nowadays, the only bands I'm signing are bands that I could find on a teenage girl's wall, on a poster. Now, what I might do is have you guys give us your songs, record them in the studio, with our producers – and we'll send a band of young, skinny, long-haired guys out to do live appearances.”
CR: And you basically said, “Get lost”... [JW laughs] So, after the fourth album comes out in 1990, that's when things wind down, isn't it?
JW: We started hearing people yelling for MC Hammer while we were onstage,“Funky Cold Medina” started to come up on request lists, things like that. I mean, we did the other trends – we did disco when we had to, for maybe a year – but we said, “You know, we're not about to start talking into the microphone with sampled music behind us.” So I, at least, decided to quit.
Frankly, my guitar player and I had been touring together for 16 years. He and his family, even more than himself, depended on me to always take care of him. A couple of years before I quit playing, he met a woman and got married, a wonderful woman he's still with today. And I could see that if I quit, he would still be well taken care of. He's still into playing music today. In fact, he's in a very good band, from what I recall: Bad Mannerz.
FAME IS A HARSH MISTRESS PT. II (THE '90S)
CR: When you look back, what was the best album that you did, and why?
JW: Our last album was the best. Number one, that was the best band we ever had, the best songs we ever wrote, and the best studio we ever recorded in, the Platinum Post. On the schedule board up there, it said, “Al DiMeola, White Summer, and Judas Priest.” I thought, “Oh, boy, this is pretty good company to be in!”
CR: Yeah, I wouldn't argue with that [much laughter at this point]!
JW: Yeah, if anything, the stars seemed really aligned, just perfectly. Before we started recording, editing and mixing that album, I told myself, “If this doesn't work, I'm going to have to quit, and do something else.” Plus, rock 'n' roll was fading a bit, with all this rap, and sampling, and all that...
CR: So, then, you put this album out, and it doesn't work...
JW: Well, it worked, you know, for awhile. It looked like, “Wow, this thing will really take off!” It went like gangbusters, it seemed, for a month or two, and then it just fizzled right out. It was over.
CR: That had to be a kick in the teeth for you, I'm sure...
JW: The whole thing was a really emotional ride, I tell you. The whole thing. But nonetheless, I decided to hang it up. Everybody else but me kept on playing. They just went out and found themselves bands to play with.
WILL THE REAL WHITE SUMMER (...PLEASE STAND UP?)
CR: You mentioned a couple people using the same name, and they've caused you a little bit of a headache, I guess.
JW: I'm not a real big Youtube guy, but somebody called one day – a good friend, he's kind of laughing: “Boy, you guys really sucked when you were young!” I was like, “Well, what do you mean?” He goes, “Yeah, I saw you on Youtube, playing...” He named some Led Zeppelin song.
I thought back, “We've never played that song. What are you talking about?” He told me how to get there, the exact link – these are young kids, 19 years old maybe, [from] Alberta [Canada], or some place. As I looked further, I found one in Australia that was almost the same – young kids. I mean, they weren't bad for their age, but I sure didn't want them representing me, my band, and my band name, you know?
So I wrote to both [bands], asked if they'd please stop using the name – or at least, change it a little bit – and neither one of them even responded.. I talked to a lawyer friend – I don't have money for lawyers, these days – and he said, “If they're in other countries, you have to have an international copyright on the name. Do you have that?” I said, “Well, heck, I don't even know if we do. As far as I know, I've never heard anything about international in relation to our coyprights, which were done nearly 40 years ago.” So, anyway, it's too bad.
LIFE AFTER WHITE SUMMER
CR: What do you actually do for a living?
JW: I write Internet magazine articles for HubPages. I've got 249 articles on HubPages right now, and three books in the pot. One of them is a history of the United States during my lifetime, which is 1955 till today – I'm really into history. That's my favorite subject.
I'm furthest along on a history of the Christian faith, from the time of Jesus, till today. That one has been sent to an editor, so it may end up being first. It wasn't supposed to be, but it looks like it's just further along. The other one is primarily about interrracial dating and marriage, but it also hits on themes of race in America. The problem, in all three cases, is whittling it down, because I don't want to put out a book of over 200 pages, being a first-time author.
CR: I'm surprised you've never thought of writing about your experiences with White Summer...I think that'd be almost a natural thing.
JW: Well, I actually did write that whole story, from day one, all the way through – and a lot of it's really funny. I've got a lot of really funny things that happened over the years with the band, that I wouldn't put in any family newspaper. But I have written the book you're talking about, and I finally shelved it. I thought maybe people wouldn't be that interested. If I get a book out there that enjoys a modicum of success, I'll probably go back to that, once I have some readers.
WHITE SUMMER'S RETURN
JW: We decided, before very long, that every year we'd do a one-night only concert – in Michigan, or Florida – so that in one week, we'd get together and jam, and also, so our good friends and fans can enjoy a night with us, and us with them. I's worked out to about every other year. I think this is the tenth one [reunion show] we've done in 20 years.
We were up here in, I guess it was, '08. Jimmy and I were I in Benton Harbor for Thanksgiving at the same time. We went to Czar's, and jammed with the band that was there. They recognized us and asked if we'd come up and play. So we played a few of their songs.
[Czar's owner] Tom Jennings came right over and said, “Who are you guys? What's the deal here?” We told him , and he'd heard of us. We told him that we still get together, and he said, “Well, if you do any reunion things, I want you to do 'em here.” So we [first] did it [at Czar's] in June '09.
LOOKING BACK: “IT WAS A REAL MOMENT”
CR: What do you think the highlight [of White Summer's career] was, that sums it all up for you?
JW: I'm not sure I can pick a clear winner. Playing for 40,000 people at Indian River Music Festival could easily be the highlight. You dream about playing for a crowd that size; that's a lot of people. Jimmy Schrader played the Jimi Hendrix version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That was right in the middle of [Operation] Desert Storm. And when he did, all those people stood up – it was a Sunday afternoon, so they were sitting in the grass. They stood up and put their hands on their hearts, virtually all of them. It was a real moment.
But other than that, when our fourth album got airplay on about 100 radio stations – that was pretty big, too, because we heard it lots of times. And boy, that's an exciting thing, when you're riding in your car, turning on your radio, and it's you! I don't know if I can pick between those two – they're different experiences. One's live, and one's on the radio, but those would probably have to be my two highlights.
original writeup of the reunion show, here's a glimpse of what else we talked about during those 45 minutes...in this installment, we look at White Summer's beginnings and philosophy as it roared through the '70s. For additional information, please scroll down further below to James's press release.
THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS
JAMES WATKINS (JW): We've got a band, in certain circles, that is very well-known in this area for a long, long time. There's only three of us. We have a terrific bass player [in Randy Brown] from Saginaw, MI, who toured with the band for about five years – and then myself, and Jimmy Schrader. We're both from Benton Harbor originally, although we don't live there now.
There's no question that the blind guitar player [Schrader] is the star of the show. There's no doubt about that. It's not that the whole band is not good, but the guy is just jaw-droppingly fantastic on the guitar. The thing was, he couldn't find a band – because everybody was like, “Well, I'd have to lead the guy around to the bathroom, or on the road...”
But when I heard that boy play in his basement, within less a minute, I said, “You know what? I'll lead you anywhere you need to go, buddy.” And I'm telling you, I've seen all the greats live – Jeff Beck, [Eric] Clapton, Al DiMeloa – and this guy is every bit as good any of 'em. He never made it to the big time, that's true, but a lot of that's luck, as I'm sure you know.
CR: Or, as I like to joke: if you're making a Sweet/glam rock [style] album at the height of disco, don't expect as many people to return your calls.
JW [laughs]: That's exactly it, that's what I'm saying – we had an ugly band during the pretty band days, and a pretty band during the ugly band days! We never could quite get the timing right.
PLAYING LIVE: “HE LIVED IN A WORLD OF SOUND”
CR: At the time you started, what was your original goal, once you found that synchronicity with Jimmy onstage?
JW: Since he was blind, he lived in a world of sound. And I started closing my eyes when I played, which I hadn't done before I met him. But I started closing my eyes when I played, and strictly go into a world of sound only, the world he's in – and we eventually developed such a communication. We did a lot of ad libs, a lot of improvisation. But I always knew what he was gonna do, and he always knew what I was gonna do, after a couple years. This really is a magical thing, when that develops.
CR: Very much so. Well, one of the things I've been listening to a lot lately, is LIVE AT LEEDS – and, of course, that's what that album's all about. So I imagine you were getting pretty much to that level, every night.
JW: Yeah, sure! Well, we wanted to make music. We wanted to write songs, wanted to be artists, and – of course – wanted to make a living doing it, so we wouldn't have to do anything else. That's what our goal was, right there.
CR: In the grand scheme of things, we didn't quite get there – and yet, you succeeded, because we do still talk about you guys, after all this time.
JW: It's strange, 'cause if you look at it from one side of the coin, we were a huge flop. But on the other side of the coin, we were pretty successful, more successful than any other band from around my area, Southwestern Michigan. It's really kind to figure what to make of it, even today.
BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS (...AT THE HOUSE OF DAVID)
CR: I imagine that [playing at the House of David Beer Garden] was an interesting time for you, too.
JW: There was no music at the House of David for a long time. I don't know how many years, but it was quite awhile. And I met a friend, one of my best friends, actually. A friend of his cousin was an ascendant of the House of David, and he took me over there to meet a guy who'd been a bandleader.
He was, like, ninetysomething years old, a real nice old fella...sat down and played the piano for me. And I got to telling him, “We'd like to have some rock 'n' roll shows at the House of David” – because I'd only loved the place since I was a little boy. My dad used to take me there. Anyway, he said, “Well, you know, I like you. You can do anything you want there.”
We put on Blood, Sweat & Tears there, September 2, 1977, and we were the warmup act. I think they played one of their hits first, “Spinning Wheel,” and [for] their second song, they played a 20-minute, slow, jazzy tune. They were great musicians, but it seemed like an odd choice, you know? We just warmed them up with some pretty hard-driving rock 'n' roll – not heavy metal, but pretty hard-driving rock 'n' roll – and the crowd started chanting, “White Summer, White Summer!”
I'll tell you, I was embarrassed by it. I had nothing to do with it, but he [Blood, Sweat & Tears lead singer David Clayton-Thomas] got mad, stomped off, and went down to the dressing rooms – which, if I remember right, were below the stage – and it was heck coaxing him back out there. But he finally did get back out, and resume the show. It took awhile. He was really mad about that, because we were nobody, we were just a local act. So it was an insult to him, with three platinum albums on the wall. I could understand his feelings about it, but...
CR: Hey, that's showbiz, right?
JW [laughs]: Yeah, I guess!
E.C. WAS HERE (...AND SO WAS NEIL)
CR: So, how come, when Eric Clapton said, “This is the best band I've ever seen in a bar”...did any of you ever start clearing your throat: “Hey, Eric, we've got some [open dates]...”
JW [laughs]: Well, you know, I'll tell you what happened: he was surrounded by about 50 people, I think. All I know is, I got offstage, and I saw a mob of people in a circle, or a semi-circle, over near the bar – and I asked somebody, “What's going on over there?”
They said, “Eric Clapton's over there!” I said, “No, he's not!” They said, “Yes, he is! He's sitting over there at the bar.” So I waded my way through all the people, pushed 'em aside, got there to him – and he said, “Oh, you're the drummer?” I said, “Yeah.” And that's when he said what he said [“This is the best band I have ever seen in a bar!”]. Then he said, “Can I come back tomorrow night, and jam with you guys?” “Geez, of course!”
CR: Wow! “Oh, I think we can manage that...”
JW: So that night, I called my mom, my brother, my sisters, my aunts, my uncles, my nieces, nephews, cousins, friends, acquaintances, and probably even a few strangers, to say: “Tomorrow night, Eric Clapton's coming down to sit in with us!” And he didn't show up [much laughter at this point].
CR: What was the encounter with Neil Young like, by contrast?
JW: Well, that was a lot different, and I'll tell you why. Neil Young's mother lived in New Smyrna Beach [FL], and she was on her deathbed. So he came to New Smyrna Beach, which is 15 miles south of Daytona. Not much of a tourist area – it's kind of an area for locals. Very nice, though, beautiful, on the ocean.
Anyway, his mom's dying, and he's here for that – so he's not in the greatest of moods – and the place wasn't that big, either. He was sitting right in front of me, about 15 feet away. This time, I didn't have to ask what was going on, 'cause he was right there, and no one was bothering him. So he was just like another dude sitting at the club, and I sat the whole break with him.
He told me what was going on, and by golly, he sat through whole 'nother set! He got up to leave, right as we finished the second set – and that's when he said, “You know, I gotta tell you, I've never sat and listened to another band play this long.” And I was like, “Wow! That's a great thing to say.”
CR: That almost made you feel like a made guy, didn't it? High praise, indeed.
JW [laughs}: Yeah, it was. It really was, yeah.
OUT OF THE '70s (INTO THE '80s)
CR: And then, of course, you end up having to leave Southwest Michigan, because the drinking age goes up, disco comes in – you're kind of getting hit from all directions, basically...
JW: Of course, Michigan was part of the Rust Belt. It was really slowing down, and Florida was just starting its real boom time, particularly Orlando. Orlando went from a town of 40,000 people to what it is today, two million people. So it's booming, this place is dying, and the drinking age is still 18 down there. We had instantaneous gigs, where we'd just pack up and go. So we did.
THE WHITE SUMMER REUNION CONCERT AT CZAR'S (By James Watkins)
The White Summer band will come together to perform a reunion concert at Czar's, downtown St Joseph, Michigan, November 25 at 10:00pm. White Summer has produced five albums of original material, but they are most famous for their thousands of live appearances that never fail to generate tremendous excitement and large crowds. The many hardcore fans of the band are affectionately called "Whiteheads," and some have been known to travel 1,000 miles to see White Summer.
The story of the White Summer band begins in 1973. The group was formed as a power trio of eighteen-year-olds from Benton Harbor: Jim Watkins (drums and vocals); Rick Lowe (guitar and vocals); and David Wheeler (bass guitar). The boys had been close friends since the sixth grade, when they attended Pearl School together. Early influences included The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and home-state favorites Grand Funk Railroad. The name of the band comes from a Mayan Indian term, the White Summer plateau, which means the highest level of human consciousness.
The band's first bar gig was at Babe's Lounge. They also put on many shows at high school dances, outdoor festivals, and nightclubs. White Summer performed many times at the old Shadowland Ballroom, and were one of the last bands to play that hallowed venue.
White Summer released their first album in January, 1976 -- the White Album. WIRX played the record in its entirety several times. Les Paul was in the control room during one of the recording sessions at Sound Machine Studios in Kalamazoo and praised the boys' sound.
White Summer was the last band to ever play the House of David Beer Gardens. In 1977, the band performed on that fabled stage in front of 5,000 fans as the opening act for Blood, Sweat and Tears. When the crowd began chanting "White Summer" during a long instrumental song by BS&T, singer David Clayton Thomas marched off the stage in anger. It would be twenty minutes before he could be coaxed into continuing the concert.
In the mid-1970s, there were perhaps fifty clubs that featured live rock bands in Berrien County. But the drinking age in Michigan was raised from 18 to 21, and that combined with the Disco fad killed the live music scene. In 1979, White Summer moved to Ann Arbor before relocating to Florida one year later.
White Summer went on to become one of the top rock acts in Florida. The group traveled around in its signature big white bus and by the end of the 1980s became famous for its classic rock shows, especially in Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and in the Florida Keys. By the end of that decade, White Summer featured a repertoire of 1,000 songs and was known as the "All Request Band," meaning the audience was challenged to try to "stump the band."
White Summer opened for many top rock acts, from the Buckinghams to Black Oak Arkansas. The band developed a reputation as a "Musician's Band"—more musicians would come to see them perform than any other group. Eric Clapton caught a set at Sloppy Joe's in Key West and exclaimed, "This is the best band I have ever seen in a bar!" Neil Young saw two sets in New Smyrna Beach and said, "This is the longest I ever sat and listened to a band."
White Summer performed at Walt Disney World and played for two months at the Hard Rock Cafe in Cancun, Mexico. In 1990, White Summer won a Jammy Award as "Best Classic Rock Band," while Jim Watkins won the award for "Best Classic Rock Vocalist." In 1991, White Summer appeared in front of its biggest crowd ever—25,000 souls—at the Indian River Music festival with Don Henley, Michael McDonald, and Arlo Guthrie. A major music magazine called White Summer's set "the highlight of the day."
White Summer never neglected its Michigan roots. The band did a two year tour of its home state in the 1980s that covered a Michigan map with pins for the cities they had played. Three times the group returned to Southwest Michigan. One of their most memorable performances came at the 1988 Venetian Festival when they played in front of 5,000 people directly on Silver Beach.
In 1984 White Summer returned to play at Chief's Bar in Millburg. That gig started out as a joke as the drummer's sister lived in Millburg and used to dare him to bring White Summer to Millburg. Chief's built an addition for White Summer to accommodate its fans. The group became the house band at the Ramada Inn in Benton Harbor for six months in 1987, during which time it occupied one entire floor of the hotel—24 rooms. In 1989, White Summer lived and played at the Sweet Cherry Resort for six months.
The 1982 White Summer Red Album drew the attention of Warner Brothers. During negotiations for a record contract, one of the three band members—Danny Misch from Chesterton, Indiana—suddenly left the band for personal reasons. That was the end of that.
In 1984, White Summer recorded the Dreams Come True album in Detroit at the old Motown Studios. That record received airplay on over 100 radio stations. The band was nearly signed by United Artists, but the deal was squelched at the last minute by a top executive who didn't like the way the band looked. He said, "If I close my eyes, White Summer sounds as good as any band in the world." This was during the big-hair-band days. Video killed the radio star.
The last White Summer album was recorded in 1990 at the Platinum Post Studios in Orlando, in between sessions by Al Di Meola and Judas Priest. There are many videos of White Summer's music on YouTube but one has to be careful as two other groups are on YouTube that have stolen the name. Both are young kids, one group from Canada and one from Australia. They have been asked to cease and desist using the name "White Summer" but have ignored these requests.
White Summer has featured many different lineups over the years. The constants have been drummer/singer Jim Watkins (since 1973) and virtuoso guitarist Jimmy Schrader (since 1976). Two former members, Jeff Aldrich and Ron Rutkowski, are deceased.
Jimmy Schrader was born sightless in Benton Harbor and attended the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing. Jim Watkins needed a guitar player in 1976 and a fellow musician told him about Schrader. He said, "I know a fantastic guitar player but he is having a hard time finding a band. He was born blind, and refuses to use a cane or a guide dog. So, if you hire him, you will have to lead him around everywhere you want to go and everywhere he needs to go." Watkins went to hear Schrader play his 1957 Fender Stratocaster by himself in his basement through a double-stacked 200 watt Marshall—turned wide open (on 10). It was as loud as a freight train. Within one minute Watkins knew that Schrader was his man.
For a long time, Jimmy Schrader was simply called "the blind man" by rock music fans, and White Summer "the band with the blind guitar player." But by the mid-1980s, Schrader had been given a new appellation: The King -- as in the king of guitar. He is truly the star of the show and a world-class guitarist.
For five years in the 1980s, bass player Randy Brown from Saginaw toured with White Summer. He is such a powerful player that his nickname is "The Jimmy Schrader of Bass Players." No higher compliment could be given. Brown had previously toured the world as a trumpet player in a jazz-rock group.
White Summer disbanded after 1991. Jim Watkins retired from the music business and got a real job. Today he writes internet magazine articles on HubPages. Jimmy Schrader never stopped playing and today is in a top-notch Florida band called Bad Mannerz. Randy Brown lives in Vero Beach, Florida, and plays in his church and occasionally in other venues.
Since 1991, the White Summer band has come together every other year to do a one-night-only Reunion Concert, either in Florida or in Michigan. The lineup for these shows is always Jim Watkins, Jimmy Schrader, and Randy Brown. Adam Watkins—Jim's son—plays a set on the drums while Jim goes out front to sing. The last such show enthralled a jam-packed house at Czar's in June, 2009. The "Whiteheads" are getting ready for the sets that will be all classic rock—Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top, Robin Trower, Montrose, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Ted Nugent, and Stevie Ray Vaughn (and others). A White Summer show is always a party. Be there!
Thankfully, local bands have a different dynamic, one that's focused around the joys of playing those favorite songs one more time – 'cause there sure as hell isn't any big money changing hands, right? Still, had luck and timing run their course just a little differently, many of these outfits could have crossed the finish line to everlasting fame 'n' fortune.
At least, that's how things panned out for White Summer, who roared out of Benton Harbor in 1973, and built a formidable live following – built around the pyrotechnics of blind guitarist Jimmy Schrader, and the deft drumming of Jimmy Watkins – who remained the band's mainstays during its original run. Along the way, White Summer recorded four platters of original material – beginning with WHITE ALBUM (1976) – and garnered praise from the likes of Eric Clapton, and Neil Young.
In many ways, White Summer's story reads like a movie, but not one that attracted support from management companies and major labels. Weary of that same-old, same-old phenomenon, White Summer called it quits in 1991. Inevitably, though, the boys couldn't stay away forever, and began to regroup with bassist Randy Brown, who toured for five years with the band during the 1980s.
The shows happen in Michigan, or Florida – which Brown and Schrader now call home – and have typically gone off about every other year, which is how I found myself catching White Summer's latest get-together at Czar's 505, in downtown St. Joseph.
Due to various boring tasks that invariably commandeer my attention, I don't make it down until the second set – but it's not too hard to figure out what's happening, as Dave Carlock makes clear to me outside, on the sidewalk: “Do you hear that? Jimmy Schrader's just killing it!”
Indeed, he is: I can hear those gut-wrenching strains of feedback and sustain floating off the main floor, up the stairs and outside, just long enough to hang in the air, and ring out into the night. On the main floor, the traffic is packed, as Watkins fronts the band – while his son, Adam, deputizes on the drumkit, something that he'll periodically do throughout the night.
The song happens to be a Doors classic, “Roadhouse Blues,” and the elder Watkins doesn't miss the opportunity to lead the crowd through a tradeoff on those telling lines in the last verse, the snapshot that Jim Morrison saw fit to offer his fans back in 1970: “Wellll, I woke up this morning, and I...”
Back comes the answer: “GOT MYSELF A BEER-AH!”
“Well, I woke up this morning, and I...”
“GOT MYSELF A BEER-AH!”
One, two, three, four: “Well, the future's uncertain, and...”
“...THE END IS ALWAYS NEAR-AH!”
All in all, not a bad start for my night, although my ears are taking a real old- fashioned mauling – because I've staked out a spot on stage right, under one of the speakers. However, when you've got a standing room only crowd, you hug that particular corner... because it may not be there when you get back.
I pray that the Feedback Gods will be kind on this occasion, and concentrate on click-click-clickin' away, as the band winds through its second, then third set, which focuses heavily on Hendrix territory. Schrader naturally gets lots of room to stretch out on well-worn showcases as “Red House” (for which the crowd sits down, because it's not a danceable number, per se), “The Star-Spangled Banner” – segueing into “Purple Haze,” Woodstock-style, of course – and “Fire,” with Randy Brown's fingers running nimbly underneath all the fretboard fireworks.
But that's half the fun, naturally: however much these songs got pounded into the ground via too many Classic Rock stations, whose formats carry the stink of mothballs and long-ago-discarded Rolodexes left by the umpteen different program directors who passed through their portals...
...White Summer brings them alive with a conviction that's impressive, as if they'd written these well-known numbers themselves. That's half the battle of interpretation, right? Close your eyes, and you can hear what kept the folks coming back to all those countless holes-in-the-walls, fourscore and so many nights ago.
We also get one-off raids of nuggets from ZZ Top, and Stevie Ray Vaughan (“Cold Shot”), and – to round out the night – Billy Idol's 1982 mega-smash, “White Wedding...y'know, the song that effectively punched his ticket out to Beverly Hills, generatin' oodles of cash 'n' cover versions that seemed a long way off to a certain W. Broad, back in certifiably fallin' apart late '70s-punk-era Swinging London...
...only tonight, the song is provisionally re-dubbed “White Summer,” as in: “It's a nice day for, a...WHITE SUMMER!” The bodies are back in force on the floor, roaring their full-throated approval, especially when they get to the punchline: “Well, it's a nice day to...STAAAAART AGAINNNNN!”
Last call is creeping around the bend as usual, but everybody seems bound 'n' determined to wring one last chord or two out of the boys onstage before the night slips out the back door..as it should be, eh? Here's hoping that we don't wait long till the next time, and that the Feedback Gods are kind to me once more. Time will tell.
“OK, so Bernard and Peter won't exchange Christmas cards for awhile? I still hang my bass near my knees, just like Hooky did in 19-eighty-somethin', when I saw 'im at Par For The Course, or was it the Dog 'N' Duck? Eh, I just wanna hear the tyooons, man, the tunes...”
THE UNCHARITABLE VIEW
“God, he's still overdriving that Clone Pedal, twanging those high strings, dragging that back catalog on his back? He's charging...how much? He's gonna sing all the songs? He couldn't carry a tune in a basket! Eh, think I'll pass on this one...”}
Mind you, I'm only paraphrasing, but I suspect the above-named comments constitute a fair representation of the dueling thoughts on Peter Hook's latest venture – in this case, returning to America and playing Joy Division's second album (CLOSER) in its entirety, plus selected nuggets from the band's back catalog.
One person's nostalgia is someone els's golden opportunity. Gary “Mani” Mounfield evidently forgot this principle in abusing his Twitter account last fall to swear off hanging with “talentless nostalgia fuckwit whores” – such as one P. Hook, whom he accused of “dragging his mates cadaver round the world getting himself paid.”
In fairness, Mani eventually apologized, but even those testy pronouncements didn't prevent him from rejoining his former cohorts, the Stone Roses, for a series of shows that should presumably pay a bit more than minimum wage. The moral of the story? Never believe what musicians say publicly, because business is business, and rock 'n' roll has no pension plan.
Going into this gig, however, I had few qualms. Hook was one-quarter of Joy Division, so he has as much right to play those songs as anyone (including old cohorts Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, whose latest band, Bad Lieutenant, also played Joy Division and New Order songs live). I mainly wondered...how's he going to pull off the vocal bit, since he's not exactly known for that sort of thing?
The answer came quickly, after the surprise opening blast of “Incubation,” a rare Joy Division instrumental – followed by the darker pastures of “Dead Souls,” where Hook effectively channeled Ian Curtis's angry-young-man-vocal persona. This trend held up well through a pair of obscure Warsaw nuggets (“Autosuggestion,” “From Safety To Where?”), and the CLOSER set, where drummer Tom Kehoe really came to the fore – surging across the tom-toms during “Atrocity Exhibition,” cracking the snare for “Isolation,” and deftly steering the churning tempo changes in “24 Hours.”
Hook and his bass-playing son, Jack Bates, meshed well together as a duo – it was impossible to tell where one began and the other left off (even if dear old Dad doesn't sing and play at the same time – which strikes some observers as annoying, but is charming to me, having dealt with the issue as a novice low-ender). Keyboardist Andy Poole fought to be heard at times, but stuck all the atmospheric flourishes in all the right places (notably on “The Eternal,” one of my favorite later-era Joy Division songs). Guitarist Nat Watson channeled his inner Sumner on “Colony” and “Disorder,” which bristled with a ferocity only hinted on their original recorded incarnations.
As promised, former Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan came out to lend his trademark nasal sneer for powerful surges through “Transmission,” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”; had the night ended there, the crowd would have gone home with a smile. However, Hook and company trotted out for one more encore (“Atmosphere”/”Ceremony”), that closed the gig on a high note, since the latter song bridged the transition from Joy Division to New Order. (Hook couldn't resist poking fun at his colleagues on that score, telling Bates: “You'd better get your shit together, mate, or you might have to take that bass playing job in New Order.”)
While the band stuck to the recorded versions, they brought enough of their personalities to the proceedings – enabling songs like “Isolation,” “A Means To An End” and “Decades” to sound larger than life in this smallish setting. This wasn't some paint-by-numbers set, but one with enough nuance to make it memorable on its own terms. For the punters who plunked down their money, this night was about as close as they'll ever get to seeing the original Joy Division, whose 1980 American tour – as Hook reminded us – was due to begin in Chicago.
This night also marked the band's final American gig, which added an edge (as opposed to the “mushy middle” of a tour, when that sense of collective energy sometimes seems to flag). Where Hook and his crew go from here remains to be seen – even if that means eventually moving on from the past, since Joy Division's career was so brief. This lineup is definitely tight and proficient enough for the task, so we'll just have to see what they end up doing. (Hook has spoken of doing other album shows, such as New Order's first effort, MOVEMENT, which suffered from a half-baked Martin Hannett production; I'd like to hear what he does with that!)
On this night, however, everything seemed to fall together in the right place, but I couldn't leave without having the man sign my copy of Monaco's first CD – my favorite Hook side project, hands down – and his memoir of the Hacienda, HOW NOT TO RUN A CLUB. I couldn't help but tell him: “You know, I was involved in something like that – we made every fuckin' mistake that you guys did, and then some!” As you can imagine, we shared a good laugh about that one.
Incubation/Dead Souls/Autosuggestion/From Safety To Where/The Atrocity Exhibition/Isolation/Passover/Colony/A Means To An End/HeartOn & Soul/The Eternal/24 Hours/Decades/Digital/Disorder/Shadowplay/Transmisson/Love Will Tear Us Apart/Atmosphere/Ceremony