The Heartbreakers: The Yonkers demos (1976)

early-heartbreakers

Early Heartbreakers (1975)

HBO’s Vinyl is one of the most exaltating  – and as accurate as a mass product could be – r’n’r tv show ever. On its epic, Martin Scorsese directed pilot, a New York Dolls show in 1973 caused the collapse of the Mercer Art Street Center as well as the enlightment of the main character Richie Finestra.

Well, after 43 years some great bands (The New York Dolls, Iggy and The Stooges, Television) will get the recognition they deserved from a general public that for the very first time will get exposed to them. Too little, too late…

Let’s jump forward: The Dolls acrimously split up in a trailer camp in Florida in Spring 1975. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan came back to NYC to their smack suppliers. In the meantime, Yom Verlaine has given Richard Hell the boot from Television. Enter Walter Lure and it’s the birth of the first supergroup of New York punk rock.

johnny-thunders-heartbreakers-nyc-1977

Early Heartbreakers (1976)

The early Heartbreakers were a case study of “too many cocks in a roster”. Without Richard Hell, the Heartbreakers  were a far better band (and The Television, I have to say, a much better one…). Mr. Myers was a good poet, a great scenemaker, hardly a distinguished musician and/or a songwriter.

It’s too bad we hadn’t  had the chance to hear anything professionally recorded from this ill-fated yet powerful line-up. Until now. For the very first time here a demo session recorded by Bobby Orlando at the SBS Studios in Yonkers, NY in January 1976 with killer early versions of such r’n’r classics as Chines Rocks, Born to Lose, Love Comes in Spurts, Blank Generation (both later in The Voidoids first LP).

01. Love Comes In Spurts 0:00
02. I Wanna Be Loved By You 2:47
03. Blank Generation 5:20
04. Chinese Rocks 8:10
05. Pirate Love 11:07
06. Can’t Keep My Eyes On You 14:35
07. Flight 17:53
08. Hurt Me 21:35
09. You Gotta Lose 25:39
10. Goin’ Steady 28:47

 

The last San Francisco r’n’r band: an eulogy for The Nuns

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San Francisco was the hometown for some of my favourite r’n’r bands: Jefferson Airplane, The Flamin’ Groovies, SVT, Crime, The Avengers, just to name a few. But after the heyday of punk the flow of r’n’r bands from the Bay Area suddenly stopped. Since then nothing exciting has crossed the Golden Gate.

Well, The Nuns were the last to surrender. They relocated to New York. Fact. They lost their edge since the first reunion in 1980. Fact. They became an ugly goth/SM band. Fact. Alejandro Escovedo turned out a quite boring “americana” songwriter from the manic guitarist he once was. Fact. They dilapidated in true r’n’r style a huge collective talent when they were on the brink to sign with Columbia-CBS and to be managed by Bill Graham, one of the most powerful man in the show-biz. Fact.

Nuns #17

Richie Detrick, Jeff Oleaner and Alejandro Escovedo. Nuns

But for a tiny window in space and time, in the few blocks separating the Mabuhay Garden restaurant to the Winterland Ballroom and in the few months from December 1976 to December 1978, they were one of most incendiary  band in the world.  And Jennifer Miro was an icy queen cast from Nico-V.U. era mold… The two concerts you can see here are a true testimonial.

The first one is recorded at the Winterland Ballroom the 30th of July 1977.

 

The second one is the infamous triple bill supporting the Sex Pistols on their last concert ever: same location, 14th of January 1978, with The Avengers on the second slot and the Negative Trend tricked by Bill Graham to play after The Pistols when the hall was emptied.

And for the very first time ever you can download’em here in all their ragged glory…

 

You do not believe we’re for real: The Sex Pistols Complete Studio Recordings

The Sex Pistols (1976) © Bob Gruen / www.bobgruen.com Please contact Bob Gruen's studio to purchase a print or license this photo. email: websitemail01@aol.com phone: 212-691-0391

The Sex Pistols (1976) © Bob Gruen / 

The Pistols discography is a nightmarish, messy affair. Although They released onlY four singles and one album in their lifespan, for a mere total of 16 tracks officially put out until they acrimoniously split after the infamous concert at the Winterland, S.F. on January 31st 1978. 

After that Glitterbest (Malcom Mc Laren’s management company) and Virgin, still shocked by the death of their golden eggs chicken, flooded the market with: singles of the late incarnations of the Pistols with Ronnie Biggs or Tenpole Tudor filling in for Johnny Rotten, greatest hits, Sid’s songs, soundtracks of “The Great r’n’r Swindle” on 1 or 2 Lp’s, with different covers and various permutations of tracks and other barrel scraping items.sexpistols1

But, ladies and gentlemen, that’s not what we are here for. We mean it, man… So we’ll discuss only prime Sex Pistols stuff: their true legacy recorded when they were still a working unit, more or less until Malcom and Johnny fired Glen and hired the almost inept Sid Vicious on late December 1977.

The Pistols at work in 1976

The Pistols at work in 1976

Since then they were highly unproductive. In their last year not a single new song was penned, being the sensitively titled “Belsen was a gas” an old Sid’s song, most likely written for the Flowers of Romance and “Religion” (later recorded for P.I.L.) only rehearsed during the ill-fated North-American tour of early 1978 and so never properly recorded. “E.M.I.”, their final joke on Sir John Read’s major label, and “New York”, a blatant insult to David Johansen and Sylvian Sylvian (the latter should have been Pistols guitarist and leader, had he followed Mc Laren when the New York Dolls splitted in Florida in 1975), were already ready and fully developed when a couple of weeks after Glen’s sacking the band regrouped and entered at the Gooseberry and Wessex studios to cut six tracks with their soundman Dave Goodman in the second half of January 1977.

The Pistols with Dave Goodman

The Pistols with Dave Goodman

The following month began the painstakingly process of recording “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”, under the supervision of Chris Thomas. After the 1992, 1996 and 2012 rerelease of the album as well as the “Suck This” and “Sexbox” sets, we have different mixes, demos and alternative versions of the 12 songs of the album, but up now no proper outtakes are emerged. CreativelY the Pistols were over. Mc Laren’s attempt to had it produced by Syd Barrett and the scene of him and the Pistols mob banging at the door of the Chelsea Cloyster reclusive host is Spinal Tap at its funniest.

On September 1977, weeks before “Never Mind The Bollocks” was officially released, the famous bootleg “Spunk” (then officially printed many times since 1996), was largely available in London, acting as a proper Sex Pistols first album. It contains raw versions of many Pistols classics from the Dave Goodman (the usual suspect for this illegit release) sessions.

The Pistols at Wessex Studios cutting "Anarchy in the UK"

The Pistols at Wessex Studios cutting “Anarchy in the UK”

In a way they were better, especially on the vocal department, lacking the mannerism that a more and more frustrated johnny rotten shows in the virgin album. But they were also deprived of the punch and the power reached by the production work by Chris Thomas, who along Steve Jones layered tons of guitars on one of the most -quite ironically, isn’i it?- overproduced r’n’r album ever. Otherwise “Spunk” is an awesome snapshot of the band: The Sex Pistols thrashing their way in full glory.

A more accurate glimpse at the 1976-early 1977 sessions shows a band pumped by Cook’s Moonesque drumming, by a guitar that is pure Chuck Berry via Johnny Thunders, by Glen Matlock’s melodic basslines and fronted by an incestuos mix of a Shakesperean wicked Richard III and a spastic reject from Dicken’s London. Add to the receipe a manager-svengali coming as countercultural agit-prop and prime mover soaked in early r’n’r imagery crossed with Carnaby Street Mod etiquette and post 1968 Situationism. They were misfits, thugs and cockney hooligans deeply rooted in Hi-NRG r’n’r:

They pulverize mod classics as “Substitute” by The Who and the Small Faces’ “Watcha Gonna Do About It“; Freakbeat hits as their take on The Creation’s “Through My Eyes“; garage pop Ditties as The Monkees’ “(I’m not Your) Stepping Stone” and Dave Berry’s “Don’t Give Me No Lip Child“. And they were strongly connected with late Sixties-early Seventies american r’n’r bands: the New York Dolls (via Malcom), The Stooges (Lydon was among the 150ish who attended their unique London concert back in 1973) and the Modern Lovers, hommaged respectively with a fantastic cover of “No Fun” and a so-and-so take of “Roadrunner”.

Here’s a timeline. And Here‘s the Real Sex Pistols!

 

 

Be True: Power Pop Bruce

stefanko 1

Photo by Frank Stefanko

In last months i’m currently grooving on power pop. it’s the definitive r’n’r sub-genre for me: jangly guitars chiming from the first three byrds records, melodic hooks dating from pre-psychedelic english beat, a steady songcraftmanship rooted on the unbeatable verse-chorus structure, swoony teenybopper lyrics, the hard drive of great american bands like big star, the raspberries, cheap trick.

Bruce Springsteen in Concert

Photo by Frank Stefanko

There was a moment, between 1979 and 1982, when bruce springsteen flirted with the power pop sound that was going big (well, almost…) on the american A.M: the knack, greg kihn band, the beat, etc… For a reason or another all the springsteen’s songs that could have been labelled as “power pop” didn’t made the cut, for eternal disdain of Little Steven, who has always championed those little hard pop nuggets.

But what if bruce springsteen – in the morning of 3rd january 1982, instead closing down in the frightening isolation of his bedroom to cut the manic depressioned Nebraska– still buzzing for a great new year’s eve party would have gathered the e street band in a proper nyc studio to record a hardened but funny, rocking, 41 min. power pop masterpiece?

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Photo by Frank Stefanko

so I have collected and sequenced just 3/4 min. jingle-jangle, 60’s pop glazed songs composed between 1978 and 1982, in the mold of (then) contemporary bands that bruce knew and loved. So forget the hunting talking-blues via Suicide of Nebraska, or the folk rock and sub par rockabilly of the river or the bombastic stuff that forms the backbone of Born in the u.S.A.  here’s what Bruce does best: great pop songs, crafted by a songwriter deeply rooted in 60’s r’n’r and delivered with the fiercy power of the E Street Band in full force.

SIDE 1

REndezvous: (yet a power pop classic for the greg Kihn band in 1979).

Be True: the titletrack of my compilation it’s a classy jangling pop gem. The Lovin’ Spoonful should have die for it.

Don’t Look Back: aptly doned to The Knack.

Bring on the Night: a rocker incredibly left out of The River (for what? “Cadillac Ranch”… C’mon Brucie!)

From Small Things: A Rockpile style number rightly given to the great Dave Edmunds.

Where the Bands Are: One of the Greatest r’n’r song in Springsteen’s canon. It could have been a great single back in the days.

Side 2

MY LOVE will not let you down: A song from the Born in the U.S.A. sessions. In a perfect world it would have been the first single out from that mammouth dance-rock album instead of the lame studio version of “Dancing in the Dark”.

Dollhouse: here’s the boss is on the verge of punk rock, hands down. More power than pop.

Cindy: a little romantic ditty in marshall crenshaw/Elvis Costello style. it’s still officially unreleased.

Take’em as They Come: great song. It should have been in ANY Bruce record.

I Wanna be with You: the title and the general feel was clearly ispired by The Raspberries. Springsteen tried to rewrite it as the 2007 hit “Radio Nowhere” that was on its own a rip off from Tommy Tutone 1981 hit “8675309”.

Loose Ends: a 12 string guitars helluva! It could have been on the first two (and better) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers albums.

Listen to the greatest Power Pop Album that never was HERE.

 

Power Pop PPPPPPPerfection: The Scruffs (1977)

The Scruffs live in 1978

The Scruffs live in 1978

Power Pop is easily my favourite r’n’r sub-genre. Chiming guitars, killer vocal harmonies, the hard punch of the rythm section aiming at fast-and-forward 3-minutes-3 tunes with great hooks. The late great Greg Shaw thought the foundations of power pop rested in that majestic batch of singles The Beatles, The Who, The Creation delivered in 1965-66, just before they turned “psichedelic”. Power pop is the anti-americana: neat, anglo-centric melodic pop songs vs. elongated jams (kick’em out…) inspired by country and/or blues roots.

The first wave of Power Pop band was made by r’n’r giants as The Badfinger, Big Star, The Raspberries, the second incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies during the 1971-1975. The second wave appeared in 1978, just after the punk rock explosion and was mainly an all-american affair: sharp, catchy tunes played hard’n’fast by bands as The Shoes, The Knack, The RuBinoos, Dwight Twilley Band, The Nerves… (You can find a well-done compendium here).

… And The Scruffs, fiercely devoted to The Beatles and The Kinks in the bluesest and soulest town in the Usa (Memphis), they really didn’t come out of the blue. Friends and cognoscenti of Power Pop luminaries as Alex Chilton and Tommy Hoehn, they recorded their pristine, fabulous debut album at the Ardent Studios under the supervision of John Fry: the same location and team that helped forge the Big Star masterpiece no. 1 record.

Wanna meet the Scruffs? it’s a great, great hilarious record, a r’n’r precious artifact of Power Pop PPPPPerfection…

 

Here are the liner notes of the japanese edition of Wanna Met the Scruffs?:”The debut album of the Memphis’ legendary, The Scruffs “Wanna’ Meet The Scruffs?” will, at long last, be released here in Japan. Most of you may rank Big Star on the top of the Memphis power pop list. Big Star had seemingly amassed a cult following nowadays, being the favorite of numerous contemporary bands, and enjoying wide popularity as diverse as old rock fans and indie kids. But hold on, they were not the only ones. At the time, Memphis had a music scene where Big Star would hang out with brilliant talents such as Tommy Hoehn, Van Duren, and also The Scruffs. Sadly enough, those fellow musicians have yet to receive the public attention they deserve.

1977 is best reminded as the year punk rock revolution exploded out in UK. The very same year, The Scruffs released their debut. However, ill-timed or what, they failed to make any splash and hurtled into oblivion, while the likes of Alex Chilton and Flamin’ Groovies gained props from the punk generation as well. When Rhino released “Come Out And Play” compilation which got the cream of American power pop, small numbers spotted The Scruffs and started digging their record, but the band still remained underground. It’s indeed a tragedy taking the title from their classic track, a great pity not only for The Scruffs but also for rock music.

A few years ago, I discovered The Scruffs among those used LPs, and the very first time I heard them, I was mighty shocked, struck, and moved, from the bottom of my heart. Then I wondered why such a great band has been passed unmarked. What are those so-called music critics and writers doing? Open your eyes wide and doubt everything you swallow, otherwise you would miss the top ranks. Especially in Japan, The Scruffs has been totally ignored. Some people might say, ‘Who cares about power pop?’, but it mattered great with my friends and I. The Scruffs became a sought-after among us power pop fans, striking out huge on their own. We kept on talking about them all the time, fancying the men and their music. This album was amazing, breathtaking, and soul-stirring to such an extent, and the first impression has never to fade.

It seems obvious that The Scruffs were influenced by their predecessors and like-minded neighbors, such as Raspberries and BigStar. Maybe one of the reason is because this album was recorded at Ardent, the same studio where Big Star recorded their ‘#1 Record’, ‘Radio City’. Though it was self-produced, we can smell the Big Star flavor and the scent of their Memphis. However, I must tell you that this classic holds distinctive originality with all. Stephen’s somewhat twangy voice is full of emotion, sometimes showing anger, and sometimes burst with heartrending sorrow. And the band, they know how to play. They adopt their style to varying rhythms from slow to the hard, with great arrangements and playability. Their sound contains the angst and pain of disillusion, and yet they’ve got the guts to fight against it. Yes, power pop do need the guts. Ecce Dwight Twilley, Ecce Eric Carmen. Even those like The Rubinoos and Gary Valentine are not as weak as they look. Behind the pop feel, their music has the ring of a tender-hearted man living the tough realities of life.

A brief listen to the opener ‘Break The Ice’ proves it. You cannot find such a rock’n’roll song so often, simple, gutsy, and quite original. Every time you play ‘My Mind’, the impression of the sound and lyrics deepens. ‘This Thursday’ has the punk rock disorder, and we can feel the overflowing passion from the sensitively restrained ‘She Say Yea’, ‘Bedtime Stories’ ―An album so rich incontent, the essence of the pre-punk era power pop crystallized within. Listening to those musical gems over and over again, it almost gushes tears from my eyes. I just can’t understand why this masterpiece has been remained unknown. Moreover, take a look at the sleeve. Don’t you think they’re cool? Just imagine this foursome playing their hot stuff―it really thrills me up. Stephen Burns (vo) wearing sunglasses and a smart jacket, the guitarist Dave Branyan dressed in uniform, handsome young Rick Branyan on bass wearing a leather jacket and a scarf, and the loose appearance of Zeph Paulson (dr) in a rock ‘n’ roll manner reminding us those 70’s rocksters such as the Rolling Stones. It flashes to my mind that perhaps Stephen Burns is hiding his tears behind the shades. Well, maybe I’m being a little too romantic. I wish I could see any video materials featuring these guys play live. I bet they are cool.

Nowadays power pop has made its way through revaluation and reissue led by those small record labels in US, and the day finally came as well for The Scruffs to see the light. The LP was originally released from the Memphis record label Power Play, but it is Stephen ‘The Main Scruff’ Burns himself who led the van for this reissue. The disk from his own label Northern Heights features the single versions of ‘Break The Ice’, ‘She Say Yea’. Especially ‘Break The Ice’ sounds so wild, performed and recorded in a rather rough manner than the album version.

Now I would like to make note of this Japanese version. On one occasion, Alex Chilton sent a tape copy of The Scruffs songs to Shoeshine, the Glasgow record label which had released his own single. Upon hearing their stuff for the first time, the Shoeshine proprietor Francis Macdonald(also known playing with the Pastels, BMX Bandits, Radio Sweethearts) got all taken up with The Scruffs. The Japan release happened thanks to the coordination of Shoeshine(Shoeshine will not release The Scruffs so far). 4 out of 5 disks will be released under the name of The Scruffs including this one, and another is the album of Stephen Burns’ latest project Messenger 45. Besides, Stephen Burns visited Glasgow to record his own album with the likes of Francis, Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian, V-Twin members. Frankly speaking, this line-up seems far from my expectation. However, it will be sure to attract public attention and turn the eyes on Stephen, hopefully leading him to success. One thing is that I am totally against of kicking him up on a wobbly cult hero pedestal. Looking forward to hear a piece with plenty of guts.”

Sister Lovers

Alex and Jody during Third sessions

Alex and Jody during Third sessions

Big Star last hurrah was a radio session held in 1975 for WLYX in Memphis that turned in a display of alcohol and/or chemical induced debauchery. Beware, it’s a Tough listen, with just four songs from Third and a bunch of cover, from Dolly Parton to the Bonzo Dog Band, go figure… 

WLYX was a student station at Southwestern University and the band, hailed as Sister Lovers and not As Big Star, -along Alex and jody- was Pat Rainer, Randy Romano and Beth hudson. The unprofessional performance (Alex was likely on LSD that night) was the final nail in the Big Star coffin. The next day jody left disgusted. You can find that historical document here.

Lesa Aldridge (Why not?)

Lesa and Alex. Judging from their punkish haircut it could be datet in !077-78.

Lesa and Alex. Judging from their punkish haircuts it could be dated in 1977-78.

may be just a footnote in the big star myth, famously namechecked (and begged for…) in the hit-that-never-be “Kizza Me” (“Kizza Me/ Lesa, Why Not?), Lesa Aldridge (or Lisa Aldredge as she’s often spelled) was the main inspiration behind Third.

The nephew of one of the greatest american lensman, William Eggleston, who portraied the sheer, breathtaking beauty of her youth in a famous shot titled “They needed to Talk” and published in a previous post (you can read its complete story here). Lesa (Elizabeth) Aldridge was a senior in high school when she began to date Alex Chilton. That stormy, often violent relationship provided the main body of the songs that made Third one of the best record ever. 

Their first encounter is mYthologized in “Kanga Roo”, their erratic nightlife in memphis is narrated in “Nightime”, the purity and uniqueness of their romance is sung in “Dream Lover”. But Lesa wasn’t only an unlikely teenage muse, she collaborated in many ways during the recordings. As Rob Jovanovic wrote in his Big Star: The Story of Rock’s Forgotten Band: “Lesa Aldridge added the High- School-French backing vocals which Dickinson was adamant should stay on the album. ‘Lesa was a big, big part of the record,’ he said. ‘Alex reached a point in his creative process where he started to go back and erase her -there was a lot more of Lesa on the album than there is now but I stopped him. I said you can erase this, you can erase that, but this stuff is staying’. (…)”. She co-wrote “Downs” and Sung main vocals in the Kinks cover “‘Till The End of the Day”. Her vocal take was eventually erased and replaced with Alex’s.

Lesa with an unidentified girlfriend.

Lesa with an unidentified girlfriend.

But Lesa’s version ended up in a rare EP titled Barbarian Women in Rock published around 1980, along with an other Velvet Underground cover, “That’s The Story of My Life” (Lesa was credited to have introduced Alex to the VU, transforming him in a Memphis Lou Reed) and a Beatles one, a rough, ramshackle “Twist & Shout”.

The Ep cover plus insert.

The Ep cover plus insert.

After she split with Alex she played (and still does…) in the Klitz, an all female punk rock band from Memphis (check here and here), married another musician from memphis, the late Tommy Hoehn and she teaches English in a college.

The transiction from the lush, dissonant but melodic, almost avant-guarde sound of third to the low-fi, almost whimsical punkabilly of Like flies on Sherbert perhaps can be explained with the absence of Lesa. one of the most moving part of the big star documentary Nothing can Hurt me is when photographer stephanie chernikowski talks about meeting Alex in the late-’70s and asking him why he didn’t write songs like Big Star anymore, and how Alex just said “I can’t,” and then Chris Stamey says how that was because of losing Lesa. That’s how much important Lesa was. Not just a footnote…