Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Keeping the lamp lit - music is the light in the darkness!

Original artwork by John - who I'll always remember as one cool dude
Many years ago, when I was a young lad in Queens, it wasn’t unusual to be playing outside with friends all day while the parents were inside. As long as you checked in when you were told to – all was good. New York City – like a lot of places I guess – just isn’t the same. Maybe some places weren’t too safe, but my old neighborhood was. Or so it seemed to me then. I have lots of great memories of those years I lived in the city. A good number of them involved music, of course. Like one day when an older kid I knew from the neighborhood was walking toward me with his portable 8 track player – he always seemed to be carrying that thing around playing his favorite music (mostly what we call classic rock today). He was on his way to his best friend’s house down the street, but he stopped to talk to me. Even though he was older he knew I liked music and probably thought my Dad was cool since he rode a motorcycle so I was okay to talk to. That day, he had a tape in the 8 track player – it looked like this:
I knew it was cool music because my friend was cool. So I tucked that image away in my mental file cabinet and eventually knew enough to pick up my own copy, on record. All I needed to remember was the prism image – no need to think about the band name or whatever:
I don’t know how many 7 year old kids had a copy of Dark Side of the Moon, but I did! Thanks to my friend Johnny for showing me what was cool. When my family moved away from the city I lost contact, naturally. Even when I reconnected with other childhood friends from those days I never quite knew what became of Johnny from the neighborhood. Yet, I was saddened to find out he died last month. He was still living in the area and I was happy to see pictures of him with a motorcycle and some riding pals. He left behind a lot of people who cared about him. It’s funny the kind of impact older kids can have on younger kids when a little kindness is extended. I don’t know what his demons were, but I hope and pray he’s at peace – where there’s nothing but open roads, bikes and great music…………ride on Johnny………
I’d been thinking about a much older John from the music realm lately. Papa John Creach may have been one of oldest psychedelic rockers of the late 60s scene, though his roots were in jazz and r&b of previous decades. Yet, his career flourished in the 1970s and remained active into the 1990s. So not too long ago I re-discovered this Papa John Creach album in my archives.
Yeah – I went looking at one point and eventually found it a few months later. I’d filed it in the Jefferson Airplane section as I sometimes do with “solo” records from an Airplane member, even if a latter-day one. In fact, as I’d be reminded via some internet research, Papa John was brought into the Airplane first by drummer Joey Covington (who replaced Spencer Dryden in 1970). A bit later Papa John would also join Hot Tuna which I think is the act most folks associate him with – maybe? Well, unlike Jorma and Jack, Papa John was part of the first few Jefferson Starship lineups too – at least through the Red Octopus album. Yet, the first I knew of Mr. Creach was on the truly wonderful Hot Tuna album BURGERS.
This is one of my desert island discs – a classic for all seasons. I can’t tell how excited I was to get a copy of Burgers on QUAD 8 track a bunch of years ago. And, how equally pissed off I was that my 8 track machine ATE the friggin’ tape……ugh! I still have the guts of that cart with the determination of putting it back together someday. (I really need to update my 8 track tape repair skills one of these days….) At any rate I did find a “free” version of BURGERS in quad so I’m all good there – heh! I just love this record in whatever format you serve it up – always a tasty treat!

So when I saw this Papa John solo album at a flea market for a dollar – heck yeah! And I was pleasantly surprised at the overall quality – wow! A great album! Interestingly enough, Papa John’s guitar player in this band was Kevin Moore – who in the 1990s would launch his own renowned solo career as KEB MO’. Far out! Anyway – I thought this was Papa John’s only solo record. Of course – WRONG! A few years ago I bumped into this one:
Also pretty darned good! So, that had to be all of them right? Nope – there were records that came out before and after both of the ones I’d found. Now I want to scoop them all up. Especially since I can say I had the pleasure to see Papa John in the early 90s with Hot Tuna and he darn near stole the show! So glad I had the chance to see him perform before he left the planet. So I was happy to re-connect with the “Playing My Music For You” record and I decided to feature Papa John Creach here. He was a good, entertaining musician who obviously loved performing.

Did any of Papa John’s albums ever get issued on CD? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know his first LP got reissued recently along with some other Grunt / RCA albums. Actually saw a copy in a record store recently, though I didn’t snap it up quite yet. I may hold out for an original which is not unlike my way of thinking, generally.

But I’m no snob when it comes to reissues. In many cases I’ve been easily satisfied with reissues, as long as they’re done with care. And sometimes the reissues are more cost effective as in the case of Sun Ra. If a person has a hangup when it comes to finding only original pressings of Sun Ra albums, that person better be a hedge fund manager! A cursory glance at the prices original Sun Ra albums command on ebay and elsewhere is all a person needs to know – ASTRO-nomical prices for the original Astro Black and Cosmo Dark records, people!!
Thankfully, there is a cool and cost-friendly Sun Ra reissue program underway over at Bandcamp.com. I scooped up the above LP from this series and it’s a winner! Of course, the downloads are cheaper and more plentiful. In spite of the digital-centric nature of the overall enterprise (of the Enterplanetary Enterplan?) I have a funny feeling I’m going to be cherry picking some of those downloads over time. If I can get vinyl pressings – well and good, but the new reissue series looks to be done with care generally and that’s where it’s at as far as I’m concerned. See the official Bandcamp site here: https://sunramusic.bandcamp.com/

Now, in another instance – a pending reissue may be the best option as well, yet the nature of the release has raised a few eyebrows along with the well-deserved interest. Only last week the announcement came from the Frank Zappa Family Trust and Third-Man Records that a new reissue deluxe version of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica was due to drop – though only available as part of a subscription to a Third-Man “Record of the Moment” program.

 Well, being a long time fan of this (in?)famous album – I had to at least peruse the merch…. aaaaannnnd…….  ** sigh **. On the one hand – I get it. Why not celebrate this amazing piece of art with a deluxe release? Okay, so maybe the Sgt. Pepper-esque “Trout Mask” cutout might be a bit “jumping the trout” for my taste, but it IS the title of the LP, right? Yet, I think I’m going to sit this one out…….here’s why:

First of all – I have this on LP and CD already. So I don’t need it. Another reason for me is – once again, the players who contributed to the music are not being compensated for the work. The tapes are owned by the ZFT and somehow even the original negatives for the cover pictures are in their possession as well. So, in a legal sense, the ZFT has every right to license all of this to Third-Man Records for manufacture and whatever. Yet, it’s STILL a deal made in “Frownland”. So much suffering went into this album – as detailed in several accounts from those who were there – it really is heartbreaking that some folks will continue to make money on music they had no hand in creating while those that DID will continue to get bupkiss.

Now, for the average consumer, the new Trout Mask Replica reissue may be a welcome alternative since even crappy, grey-market reissue vinyl copies have been going for big bucks on the used market recently. That, too, is a total travesty. So, here’s my advice: if you really want this album in its newly reissued form because you want the best available new copy – dig in. Then, while you’re at it – take a few more steps:

Seek out some very worthwhile product from current living members of the Magic Band and BUY SOME GREAT STUFF from them. Here are some links to what is offered from the folks who made Trout Mask Replica. They are still here and active and their work will delight you to pieces – if you are a Beefheart fan. Click away and get some more good stuff from the source(s):

Seriously! Buy their stuff! They have to put food on the table. The good Captain himself has moved to the great beyond and isn’t worried about feeding a family or paying the bills.

 Ya dig Zoot Horn Rollo?
Buy his album if you haven’t already. It kicks ass. Buy his book too – it’s a treat! Go here:    https://www.zoothornrollo.com/

Ya dig Drumbo?
 Buy his book – and CDs and DVDs. Do it. Don’t wait. Click below:

How ‘bout Rockette Morton?
 You can buy original artwork from him along with original music too! Go here:  https://www.facebook.com/beefheartbassistrockettemortonart/ 

You’re shelling out for the deluxe Trout Mask? You can spend some extra bucks for good stuff from the ACTUAL PLAYERS. And while you’re at it – head over to Cal Schenkel’s website and get a personalized piece of art from the ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPHER (and Zappa cover designer) of the Trout Mask album cover we all love so much from the GUY HIMSELF!


How cool is that? At least as cool as Jack White (I think cooler, really).

Not to down Jack White, since he is obviously a Beefheart fan and a music fan. I’ve even given his music a chance too (though I was kinda suckered in by the gimmicky LP he put out a few years ago – that Lazaretto album with the backwards-etched grooves and so forth).
 Jack White is a good artist, musically. Yet, I think his contribution will be seen more in terms of his business savvy, which is not a bad thing, but it isn’t an ARTISTIC thing – first and foremost – either. Here’s what I mean…….

Trout Mask Replica is – what I like to call – the most high-profile piece of true avant garde music ever unleashed on a semi-unsuspecting public by a major music outlet (Warner/Reprise). Even though the original release was via Zappa’s Bizarre / Straight imprints – these were just designer labels for the Reprise parent company that was owned by FRANK SINATRA. Let that sink in for a minute………

Trout Mask would be reissued with regular Reprise labels in 1977 as part of the severance agreement between Zappa and Herb Cohen (former manager who had rights to some Bizarre / Straight stuff). Since Beefheart was back as a currently-contracted artist to Warner Brothers by 1977, it was probably considered good business to strike whatever deal was struck to re-affirm Reprise’s rights to Trout Mask in that time period –which extended well beyond the 1970s into the 1990s and the CD era. Truly – I wish I still had the CD longbox that came with the CD copy I bought all those years ago – DUH! Can you imagine what that thing would be worth today??? Ugh……..Anyway – consider that part of Trout Mask’s “magic” was being released by a major record company –WORLDWIDE! Right alongside of Frank Sinatra records and Sammy Davis Jr. records. I don’t care what obscure platter you can dredge up from the same time period – 1969/ 1970 – there is nothing close to Trout Mask.

To illustrate my point, I like to call the track “Revolution 9” on The Beatles White Album the most widely-heard piece of true avant garde music / art  ever in the history of the 20th Century. Yet, Revolution 9 was the glaring exception to the otherwise accessible rule of The Beatles popular music – even in those hyper-excited times of 1968. If that baffling track reached the MOST people it was only a part of a larger, more accessible work. Trout Mask, by contrast, was a through-composed entity. Maybe not as widely heard, but certainly as AVAILABLE to the same public that would have purchased The Beatles White Album. That’s my point – is the new release on Jack White’s boutique label anywhere near the intent of the original release: to hyper-beam this uncompromising piece of total weirdness through the massive conduits of industry of the 20th century? I don’t think so. I mean, really – does Jack White occupy the same position in our current culture that Frank Sinatra held in 1969? I thought that position already belonged to BECK! Ha ha!

Okay – maybe I think too much about this stuff. Fair enough. Though, lately I’ve been feeling slightly more in tune with new music than I’ve had for a while. Taking risks on new sounds has been a rewarding experience for me the past few years. Some discoveries have been more compelling than others, but that’s to be expected. I haven’t been totally offended or let down by the new music purchases I’ve made, thankfully enough. Maybe the most critical thing I might say in some cases would be “lackluster” or “predictable”. Yet, music is such a subjective thing when it comes right down to it. Like Duke Ellington said – its either “good” or “bad” and that’s up to you.

A bunch of entries ago I was mulling over whether or not I would buy a new release from Calexico were that to appear. Well, appear it did:
And buy it I dutifully did. What I noticed about the new record -  The Thread That Keeps Us – is a strange downturn in sound quality (considerably more mushy and compressed – the sound of the vinyl is indistinguishable from the download) YET an improvement in material. The songs are better, yet the sound is compromised. Or you could say more suited to radio? I would bet (because I don’t know) Calexico gets more exposure on internet radio / streaming services than even FM college radio. There are two FM stations in my area that would probably play Calexico – maybe they do. It’s just a guess though, since I can’t pull the signals in decently enough to know.
It’s a funny thing – listening to this album again it seems that the ethnic element of the band is played down to give greater attention to the modern alternative rock sound. The identity of the band sound is retained which creates continuity at least across the three albums I’ve listened to. Within that core sound there are slight deviations from the formula that creates a bit of variation, but not too out there – just enough to be interesting, but not jarringly different. The safety zone.

What I’ve also discovered with this band is – I don’t get sucked into the songs so much as the overall sound of the music. Songs from one album could easily be from another album – and I can’t say any of the songs grab my attention and communicate something that I’ve never considered before. It’s pleasant music with little “depth”. The singer has an enjoyable – if emotionally detached – voice. Or its safe to say – there isn’t a wide RANGE of emotion. The dominant emotional vibe is – calm sadness. Even when the music picks up the tempo the vocals are mellow and calm. Not bad, just unexcited. It has a function, for sure. Sometimes that’s exactly what I want to hear. In some ways it may be the best soundtrack for the current climate of things……

Yet, I think this is where I hit the exit ramp with Calexico. I have three albums of a style I like to hear once in awhile, though no one song jumps up and says “play me again – aren’t I AWESOME?!” Nice albums, though I’d hate to be the guy with the task of picking a “single” off any given LP. If anything I’d be interested to hear the earlier albums – how consistent has their sound been and for how long? Well, aside from that level of curiosity I think I’m ready to say “Thanks amigos! Been fun following you for a few years. Best of luck to ya! Cheers!”

The record pictured above is credited to a band called WHITE DENIM. It is their most recent LP (called STIFF) from 2016. I found a sealed copy in a thrift store last year. While I was initially skeptical that this was going to be some goofy alternative pop it was nice to be proved wrong! This record ROCKS! White Denim serves up a great modern rock album here with some bluesy / rootsy influence - but in a good way. I have to admit I don't know too much about the band, but I'd go see 'em live for sure. The above record was produced by Ethan Johns - son of the well known British music producer Glynn Johns. The family legacy for excellent record production continues very much in evidence here. Way more pumped up and rockin' than Calexico if that's what you need to get up and rock out to. Highly recommended!

And saving my favorite new music for last - THE PINEAPPLES new LP "Twice on the Pipe"!
Years ago I spotted a 45 - the only 45 release - from The Pineapples in the early 1990s. This band from New York was ready to be the Next Big Thing in rock. I remember those days before Nirvana was all over MTV and the radio. Nobody was sure where music was headed for the next big style. It could have easily been The Pineapples from New York. Their first single was put out on Kokopop Records - a subsidiary of the infamous Shimmy Disk label run by New York scene-maker Kramer (of Bongwater and other projects).
I posted this record here a long time ago. Well, wonder of wonders - The Pineapples have a new LP out (above) AND two new 45s as well.........

The new singles are excellent and well worth adding to your order of the new LP. This is your chance to celebrate the return of a great band from the pre-grunge days - ready again to get your town rockin'! Go to The Pineapples website to order their great new music! http://pineapplesband.com/

And keep an eye out for their live performances - I hope to catch them soon myself! I've only waited 20 years!!

Until next time - keep that lamp trimmed and burning..............