Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Busker Days: Jeremy DuBois, "Before, During and After"

Jeremy DuBois came out west from Connecticut recently, following his muse, making his go at music.  "Where better to do that than San Francisco?", he added.  I happened upon him on one pleasant September day sitting down crooning at what has to be one of the all-time prime SF busking locales.  I'm talking about Powell Street BART, of course, just below the cable-car turn around. It's a sure bet for free lunchtime music (toss 'em a dollar or two though!).  Jeremy has a penchant for Lennon-crafted Beatles tunes and he did a nice version of In My Life, requested by a certain listener.  He also has some original work.  Here he is playing a beat-up 1952 Airline acoustic guitar singing his original composition, Before, During and After. Enjoy!

NPR: "You Heard It Here"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Song of the Week: "Can You Tell Me", The Milkshakes

Flip-Side's Rocky Mountain HQ is still rocking to the sounds of the 60's beat revival that arose in the 1980's. One of the earliest in this movement was a group out of Medway, England who called themselves The Milkshakes.

The Milkshakes formed when the punk band, the Pop Rivets flitted away into the atmosphere. Pop Rivets frontman, Billy Childish hooked up with his roadie, Mickey Hampshire, and the punks dived deep into their mutual love for primitive 60's garage rock and 50's rockabilly. The Milkshakes were around for but a brief blip of time, but in that three year blip the band put out a staggering nine albums and a stack of killer singles. "Wait a minute Mr. Flip," you may ask, "how can a band put out nine albums in three years?". Good question. The answer is that they didn't spend a whole lot of time monkeying around in the studio. The albums are studies in low-fi brilliance. I think the recordings went something like this:
  • Mickey: "Okay, I've got my Burns nu-sonic guitar plugged into my Vox AC30."
  • Billy: "Yeah, I'm getting a little buzz out of my Hofner Club-20 guitar through my Tru-Voice 15 amp, but I don't think it matters much."
  • Producer: "Microphones are on? Check. Going into the red, but we'll power through. Russ, I hear your Framus Star Bass fine. Bruce, just a couple of taps on your snare...great. Okay, we're ready.
  • Mickey: "1 and a 2 and a 1-2-3-4!"
  • (Milkshakes play a song for 2:41 seconds)
  • Producer: "And...perfect. Okay, next song is called what?"
On a personal note, this group had a huge influence on this writer. At a time that I was running into the wall on California Hardcore and punk, I sought out something that had that aggressive edge, but, gasp, had a melody. The Milkshakes, Naz Nomad and the Nightmares, The Chesterfield Kings and a handful of other bands pointed me in a new direction. Back in 1982, I played The Milkshakes' originals-filled 14 Rhythm & Blues Greats album so much that my momma warned me that I would break it if I wasn't more gentle. Prudence be damned, I spun that record 1,000 more times before the night was out. Mickey writing and singing the more melodic and constructed numbers. Billy screaming through absolute minimalist compositions. A perfect match. There wasn't a groove left on that record before I was done.

Today's SoTW is from that flawless album. It's called Can You Tell Me? and features both Mickey and Billy wailing away and singing with what sounds like a couple of terrible head colds.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Original Song Project: The Dirt Floor - San Joaquin

The Dirt Floor is a five piece band out of Mendocino County (Willits, to be precise) playing our own special type of acoustic electric miscellanea.  We're bluegrass...folk-country...tight minor key gypsy instrumentals or loosely-played punkgrass, from the transcendental to the irreverent.  We've been playing and writing for some five years now and we do it all with guitars, banjos, mandolins, harmonicas, bass, drums and three singer-songwriters. I'm on banjo in the picture above. Join us for our slightly insane take on music and watch us freak out, if you want.

Here's a tune I wrote, San Joaquin.  The music for San Joaquin came together out of an intro in one key and a main riff in another key.  Either of the components could have been played in a different key to make them work together, but in the end they were joined by extending the intro and shifting minor and major chords to resolve in the key of the body of the song.  The first verse, spontaneous and improvisational, was left in and ended up setting the tone for the song, which is about getting older and trying to deal with holding on to the ones you love in a treacherous world.  In many cases it is treacherous because of one's own deeds.  Thanks for listening. - Jeff S.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Song of the Week: The Tell-Tale Hearts -- Crawling Back To Me

For a brief blip in time, in a miniscule circle inside a small corner of the world, you would have thought 1985 was 1966. Some marketers called it the Paisley Underground. Those living it just called it "the scene". Whatever "it" was, it was a music, culture and style movement that stiff-armed the hair metal/MTV culture of the 80's and embraced -- with startling revisionist accuracy -- a mythical 60's culture.

But not in the peace, love and understanding way. In this 60's culture, there were no crappy bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers or The Union Gap. There were no flaky hippies dancing with imaginary butterflies or unseen unicorns. There was no Vietnam War or runaway inner-city crime problem or racial tensions. Nope. Instead, this culture was based on a very narrow, idealized sliver of time: 1964 to early 1967 to be exact. In this re-imagined world, bands like The Yardbirds, The Elois, The Mourning Reign and The Pretty Things won every battle of the bands. And every black eye-liner wearing, hairbangs-sporting, white patent-leather boot and polka-dot dress wearing girl, could drive a stick shift '64 Plymouth Valiant while spouting off intricate knowledge of Cuby + The Blizzards' record catalogue. Pretty ideal.

If there was a true epicenter of this imaginary world it was...wait for it...San Diego, California. Seriously. It came to be, perhaps, because of one Ron Silva and his talented cohorts who created a remarkably high quality, groundbreaking band called The Crawdaddys. But as quickly as they were created, they were disbanded. From those ashes rose many bands including one of the best bands of the worldwide 60's revision movement, The Tell-Tale Hearts. The Hearts were Dave Klowden, Eric Bacher, Ray Brandes, Mike Stax and Bill Calhoun. Stax had been a member of the Crawdaddys and published a kick-ass fanzine called Ugly Things out of a small, Grolsch Beer soaked apartment on 1st street in San Diego's Hillcrest neighborhood. (He is still publishing Ugly Things to this day!). Brandes came to the TTH from a stint in the promising band, the Mystery Machine.

In 1984 the Hearts went to Los Angeles to record their first record. Despite a production and engineering bungling that rivaled the work of Custer at the Little Bighorn, and some inappropriate album artwork by Voxx's crack staff artist, The Tell-Tale Hearts walked out with a pretty good album. The quality of their songs survived the production and in some cases thrived despite the production. The best song on that shot heard 'round the world album was the first song, Crawling Back To Me, written by the bands' singer, Ray Brandes. Brandes screams over his manic maraca work, "You've been stealing all my records and my clothes!". (This was an unforgivable infraction back then). Bacher's chop-chop effects-free guitar (I think he was playing a single pickup avocado green Gretsch Anniversary back then) comes to glorious life on his energy raising guitar lead. Calhoun's swirling Vox Continental organ work shines strongest on the time changes. Klowden's floor-tom heavy drum work and Stax's vrooming Harmony H22 bass show why this band had the best rhythm section in town. (dig on that crazy bass work under the guitar leads).

Unlike contemporaries like the Bangles, The Long Ryders or the Three O'Clock, The Tell-Tale Hearts never broke out of that miniscule circle in their small corner of the world. Truth be told the TTH were too spot-on and too doctrinaire to make it on MTV. But i think that's the way they wanted it. If they had "made it" by industry standards of the day, they would have failed. For better or worse, they were built to be big fish in a small, but cool, pond. Ultimately the water in the pond began to stagnate. Bacher left the band for personal reasons and was replaced by the extremely gifted Peter Meisner, himself a Crawdaddys alumnus. After recording just two stellar songs in this line-up, the band fractured with Meisner, Klowden and Brandes joining with bassist Tom Ward to form a Gram Parsons influenced band called the Town Criers. Stax and Calhoun continued on with a new line-up (and old, as Bacher made a small come back), but it never felt quite the same. How could it? In fact, the San Diego scene never seemed to be the same. Coincidence or not, I don't know.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The First Flip-Side Birthday!!!

Can it really be? Yep, it's true. One year ago today the brain trust at Flip-Side International posted it's very first Song of the Week. It was the song that drove us to create On The Flip-Side. A song so beautiful, delicate and rare that we couldn't help but climb to the virtual roof top and scream out loud: "you've got to hear this song!" That song was the 13th Floor Elevators' sublime recording of their own composition I Had To Tell You, from their second album, Easter Everywhere. As first postings tend to go, that song was largely overlooked. We're still so in love with that song (and always will be!), that we urge you to go back and listen to it again. Click here to revisit that very first post.

In this first year of On The Flip-Side we have had quite a bit of action. More than we had ever hoped for to be honest. For instance...
  • We've never missed a week's submission of Song Of The Week. How cool are we! Thinking back on the 52 Song of the Week submissions we've done, we think we are most fond of this one from January 3, 2009. It's about the Irish band, The Undertones and their kick ass song of false bravado and lust. It's of course Teenage Kicks. Clicky here for a look/listen back to that SoTW posting.
  • And we've also had ten never before heard songs presented by four different unsigned artists as part of On The Flip-Side's Original Song Project. Songs that can't be heard anywhere else (unless you happen to live in the basement with one of these artists...and if you do, be very careful if they start fattening you up and taking measurements. It's not a good sign). We're smitten with all of the songs but we would like to draw your attention to two in particular. The first is the first song ever submitted. It's by the Street Preachers and the song is called Last Dance At Ipatiev. The second is by River Jack and it is a beautifully finger-picked number he calls Olivia Is Here.
  • And we've also had specials, like our Seven Days of Summertime which featured a distinct take on the George Gershwin classic. You can revisit that here.
Lastly, we would like to complete the circle of our anniversary by giving you the option to hear another song from the artist and album that started the entire idea of us giving you the gift of music. So, without further pause, we present the 13th Floor Elevators performing their original number, (I've Got) Levitation. Enjoy and thank you for taking a look, a listen, and most of all for taking time to join the conversation and leave a comment.

See you on the flip-side.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Song of the Week: "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", Blind Willie Johnson

Words can't describe the sublime nature of this song from itinerant busker, Blind Willie Johnson. So we'll let his humming and strumming on the late 1920's recording of Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground do all the talking. If you like it you can put a coin in his cup (tied to the head of his guitar) and leave a comment here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Song of the Week: "Silly Girl", Television Personalities

Sometime around 1980, an off-key whimper of an album hit the record bins in the UK. A simple white album cover with a picture of the boob-tube characters, The Avengers was accompanied by the black and white words: Television Personalities. The backside of the album had photos of cops, hands, cats, Syd Barrett, "Alex" from A Clockwork Orange, Pete Townshend, The Creation and a pudgy kid holding a monkey. It looked much like the wall of most teenagers of the day (with the exception of the tilt towards 60's mod pop/psychedelia). The album is entitled And Don't The Kids Just Love It. It's the first output from the do-it-yourself band, Television Personalities, a band centered around the work of singer and songwriter Dan Treacy.

Television Personalities were amateurish (at best). But that was the intrigue of the band. Treacy played warbly, poorly tuned guitar and, at times, sang so far out of key in his thick British accent that you had to wonder if he was doing it on purpose. Despite, or because of, his musical limitations, Treacy made an impact in Britain. Here was a kid and his friends who wanted to make music. So they did it. They wrote songs, recorded those songs themselves, designed the album cover themselves and released it on their own label. No more A&R suits swilling gin and tonics telling you how unmarketable you are. Go straight to the record stores yourself and sell the record yourself.

Today's SoTW, is one of those songs off of that first album. It's one of their more accessible songs and it is entitled, Silly Girl. It features Treacy strumming frantically on guitar as the bass plays an overly complicated run. Ghostly noises fill out the aura of the song.

Television Personalities never broke the charts, but they did influence deconstructionists bands like Scotland's the Jesus and Mary Chain and Stockton, California's Pavement.