Alex Chilton goes solo

A rare outtake of "Bangkok" single cover shot

A rare outtake of “Bangkok” single cover shot. Alex in NYC in 1977.

Four years are already passed since the untimely death of the great alex chilton (1950-2010). teenage idol with the box tops, power popper turned freaked songwriter with big star. by 1975 the latter band split for good, a disenchanted alex tried various daily jobs (dishwater in a restaurant, cab driver)

until he left memphis for new york city in early 1977. in the last days of big star he bonded with cris stamey and peter holsapple (later founders of dB’s) who travelled to memphis to meet their heroes alex chilton and chris bell just to find that big star was ready to implode. He teamed up with stamey and with richard Lloyd (television) as part-time guitarist and under the name Alex Chilton and the cossacks played several times at CBGB’s. Ork records (the same label who has issued “little Johnny Jewel”, the first Television single) released a great Ep: The Singer not the song, containing the Jagger-Richards penned title-track, “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran and three great, rocking originals.

After seeing the Cramps at the forementioned venue, he cut a inspirational, almost perfect single “Bangkok”, backed by a cover of the Seeds classic “I can’T seem to make you mine”, as narrated to the late epic soundtracks in this wonderful interview.

In late 1977 with Jim Dickinson at the controls cut the ragged, lo-fi classic Like Flies on Sherbert, an exercise in fucked-up tempos, microphone pops, out of tune guitars, frenzied vocals and… beautiful tunes, as someone stated, the stubborn deconstruction of the big star myth. It was released by the tiny Peabody records in 1979 and then by aura records in 1980 with a little different tracklist.

But just before entering the phillips and ardent studio to record Like Flies on Sherbert, alex recorded a bunch of demos for elektra. They are most sedated, polished versions of several songs that would appear on the Flies on Sherbert lp, the missing links between big star and following patchy chilton’s solo career. you can find it here.

Annunci

Big Star heyday

Big Star Third Master Box. On the spine is just labeled "Alex and Jody"

Big Star Third Master Box. On the spine is just labeled “Alex and Jody”

Big star’s third is a ragged, deranged masterpiece that everyone of you should love and know note for note. it’s still debatable whether it is the last big star output or the first alex chilton lp. Even its exact title is uncertain: beale st? third? sister lovers? the fact is that the sessions were erratic at their best and jody stephen’s effort in the recordings is minimal at last. producer jim dickinson (rolling stones, bob Dylan, Flamin’ groovies, mudhoney, ry cooder among others) was a master in creating a chaotic but creative atmosphere even when working on a layered, multitracked song. alex chilton, disenchanted for the commercial flop of both Number 1 Record and Radio City, stressed by the implosion of stax recors (distributor for ardent records, the label that signed big star back in 1971), fueled by alcohol and drugs, entangled in a stormy relationship with the enigmatic, very young memphis scenester lesa aldredge, delivered a bunch of masterful songs of love and despair, laced in feedback noise as well as in lush orchestrations. The sessions burdened by chilton’s temperemental ups and downs were stopped by ardent mogul john fry. a tentative master version was mixed by larry nix on 13th february 1974.

Rare promo sheet of Third. The setlis is still to be finalized

Rare promo sheet of Third. The setlis is still to be finalized

All the efforts to market it failed: mayors execs literally refused to touch it, until pvc in 1978 and then aura records acquired the tapes. too late to save the big star as a band… during the 80’s indie darlings supergroup This mortal coil covered “holocaust” and “Kang roo”, the latter covered in the 90’s by the late jeff buckley. Since then Third has exited the cult status and has reached that of undebatable masterpiece it deserves. it has been reprinted several times, the ryko disc cd encompasses almost all the songs recorded in 1974. A couple of years ago, omnivore records released for the record store day a test pressing edition on transparent vinyl in a lavish box with a precisely annotated booklet (don’t try: it’s sold out…).

A rare photo by Bill Eggleton of Chilton's muse Lesa Aldredge. The other girl should have been Holliday Aldredge, Lesa's sister who dated the Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, hence the working title "Sister Lovers" for the record.

A rare photo by Bill Eggleton of Chilton’s muse Lesa Aldredge. The other girl should have been Holliday Aldredge, Lesa’s sister who dated the Big Star drummer Jody Stephens at the time, hence the working title “Sister Lovers” for the record.

Another rare shot of Lesa, taken at Friday's, the bar where the pics for the cover of Radio City were taken.

Another rare shot of Lesa, taken at Friday’s, the bar where the pics for the cover of Radio City were taken.

Alex Chilton, Steve Cropper (who played guitar on the cover of Velvet’s “Femme Fatale” on the record), Jim dickinson, chris bell, andy hummel are all long gone. But the fragile, aching beauty of third is still intact. And the world still need it.

So a vast and ever changing group of musician decided to tour the big star masterpiece around the world. It has included among them: michael stipe and mike mills (r.e.m.), jeff tweedy (wilco), chris stamey and peter holsapple (db’s), ken stringfellow (posies, r.e.m. and big star touring bands), mitch easter (let’s active), robyn hitchcock, sharon van etten and the great jody stephens himself. Here some highlights.

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimate Feedback: The Velvet Underground as the most underrated band ever and Lou Reed as guitarist

reedin the last days among the many obituaries commemorating lou’s passing two comments stuck out as a sore thumb. they are just the top of the iceberg of a revisionistic theory more common than you would believe. the first, coming via FB from the controversial max stefani, editor of countless italian music magazines, is that the velvet underground were the most overrated band ever. The second, ailed as a gossip by an other famous italian rock critic, giancarlo trombetti, is that lou was such as inept as guitar player that he had someone to teach his own songs. Well, you can answer to that nonsense in two ways. First, using the same verbal abuse they’re infamous for. SECOND, you can show them they do not actually know what they are talking about, and that’s what TODAY i am here for.

The velvet underground have patently BEEN  the most underrated band ever. still today, 43 years after they disbanded. Largely ignored from the estabilished music press (rolling stone made a point of panning them everytime they could), pratically banned in their own hometurf, new york city, they drew consistent crowds only in the 2-3 strongholds they had on the east coast. they were pariahs, they were punks. no one wanted to touch them, commercially speaking. and this is proved by a vast literature. if you think things went differently, well, write it down, show your documentation and get it peer reviewed.

Lou reed, along with jimi hendrix, jim mcguinn and bo diddley, is the most influential rock guitarist ever. period. here an account of lou as guitarist hosted by the arch-druid julian cope on his wonderful website head heritage:

I don’t consider myself a guitarist, but since I really like to play guitar, I can consider myself a guitar player, someone who plays with the guitar, I like its sound, I like it to sound awkward, not like your typical guitar sounds, that’s why people like Keith Rowe, Sonny Sharrock, Keiji Haino and Derek Bailey are so important to me, because they saw guitar technique as just the beginning of how far the guitar sound could be taken.
Let me add one more name, Lou Reed, Lou in his time with the legendary Velvet Underground did more for changing the face of rock guitar than many others, Lou´s sound was so revolutionary, I read in an interview that Lou wanted to sound like Ornette Coleman, he wanted his guitar to sound like a free jazz sax, he overloaded the sound with volume and effects in order to make it sound like a sax, I Heard Her Call My Name is an instant classic of guitar fire, few rock n roll moments have that intensity on guitar, Lou was nearly reaching free jazz heaven from a rock n roll base.
But the Velvet underground, was more than Lou´s guitar, there was Sterling Morrison’s distinctive guitar playing, a righteous cross between jangle guitar and krautish monotony, Sterling guitar playing was nearly metronomic in the Velvets dynamics, minimal in its pyrotechnics, but vital in its propulsive rhythms, and talking about rhythms you had Maureen Tucker, known for her minimal kick-snare beats, so influential to future garage rockers, punks and hardcore crowds.
On top of that you had Lou and John Cale´s fiery duos, or duels, either way they set any place on fire, or emptied the rooms, Cale was a sound terrorist either on bass, keyboards or his insanely played viola, Cale knew exactly what he was doing, setting noise on a pop context, giving his raspy viola sound to the VU´s tender ballads or their galloping rockers.
But The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes makes little justice to the Velvet as a group, it was made by putting a recording device inside Lou´s amp, so what we got basically here is the sound of Lou´s incendiary leads, accompanied backed very far by the rest of the group, don´t dismay, as the songs sound just as you know them, except vocals and certain details are left behind (you can use it as the VU´s karaoke-tape), here you have the unique chance to listen to a guitar player who stood ahead of its time, who applied free jazz improvisational techniques on a rock format, a player who wasn’t afraid of going all the way and applied Ornette Coleman harmolodics to his guitar technique.
Lou´s guitar style was so unique, with the rock n roll fire of Chuck Berry, the perception of the guitar as a universal sound tool of Roger McGuinn and the eternal influence of the aforementioned Coleman, little understood in his own time, “noise” and “incompetent” tags added by contemporaries were simply crushed when Lou´s influence grew enormous with the passing of time, as the punks adopted the VU´s as sonic fathers in the 70s, the new wavers even adopted the Velvets as ideology source (and even The Cars´ Rick Ocasek stole Lou´s image), and the “alternative” rockers of the 90s and 00´s adopted the band as icons (just ask the Strokes or The Killers, who simply are redoing the VU´s old tight avant pop)

In case you still think Lou is and old guy irrelevant to rock today, this is the place for you to start, but if you think Lou is irrelevant, you shouldn´t be here in the first place”

Lou-Reed guitar

but judge by yourself downloading the great legendary guitar amp tapes and crackin’ it real loud….

Tonight I Said Goodbye to a Friend

lou

Still shocked for the news of lou reed’s passing, it’s time for me to commemorate the pure genius of The last of the true innovators of the 20th century as well as picasso, le corbusier, miles davis and few others. 

I CAN’T SUM UP HOW HIS MUSIC INFLUENCED MY LIFE AND MY WORK: HIS SONGS EXPLORED ALL THE SHADES OF HUMAN LIFE, SHOWING COMPASSION AND COMPREHENSION EVEN FOR ITS LOWEST ASPECTS.

I saw him many times live, even in the cross-starred reunion of the velvet underground. The last time was in 2006 in naples: in a bold move he didn’t played the hits but boy he did play guitar in his fierce, “take no prisoners”, uncompromissory style…Wow, what a musician!

here it is an acetate version of one of his masterpiece, Berlin: different mix, different songlist, different takes.

Thank you, Lou.

The Last Flight of The Yardbirds

yardbirds

By late 1966 The Yardbirds were almost gone. Jeff Beck was kicked off for his unexcusable unprofessional behavior during the American Tour (non-apparences in many concerts). But the ebullient british guitar axe, who shared the six string duties with the musician-for-musicians, the most-in-demand-session man Jimmy Page, was the main arranger and the band driving force in the studio. Also gone was their former manager Simon Napier-Bell. His substitute was the mighty Peter Grant… 

the band decided to carry on as a four piece even if the studio material was fairly inconsistent, as testified by the projected next single You Stole My Heart. When they didn’t finalized the sessions, the producer Paul Samwell-Smith quit too. The recording sessions for the new single (Little Games/Puzzles) and the new album was scheduled with Mickie Most.

After a successfull U.S. Tour, the band stormed Europe through March and April, 1967. Their sound began to mutate: by then is a powerful heavy  blues with overtly psYchedelic and experimental tones, the songs became longer and longer with conspicous instrumental jam with jimmy page setting the direction, as in I’m a Man with Relf creating lyrics on the spot in front of Jimmy Page’s bowed guitar, a tip off to the tecnique invented by the great Eddie Philips of The Creation. You can clearly see the new drive of the band in those clips broadcasted from offenbach for the german tv show “beat beat beat”.

The album Little games was a mixed effort, with a very experimental side that didn’t run smoothly in the basic r’n’b thing of the yardbirds. The album fell flat and didn’t chart but the band began to gell around the superheavy and textured guitar style of Jimmy Page. It’s a new, reinvigoreted band the one you can see playing on a french tv show recorded on March 9, 1968. In the band repertoire just entered a slow blues number named Dazed and Confused, based on a jake holmes’ song…

On march 30, The Yardbirds arrived at nyc to play a show at the anderson theater. Epic Records, that is already planning the demise of the band, decided to record the concert to fulfill the contractual obligations. Despite the so and so recording, the concert is spectacular: experimental but loose, heavy but neat with great renditions of all the hits. Here it comes the Will Shade’s review on the #19 of the great great fanzine “ugly things“:

“from the anphetamine charged version of Train kept a-rollin’ that kicks open the proceedings to a delirious cover of i’m a man that finishes it off, Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page is an aural inferno parading as a pop concert. The album’s high point might be the radically rearranged Mister you’re a better man than i, which segues straight into a toxic shocked Heart full of Soul. Mister sticks close to the original version until page issues a greasy solo that dissolves into an orgasmic wah wah run. Singer Keith Relf’s percussive vocals during the segment are highly evocative of Time of the Season. Strangely, the Zombies wouldn’t issue that single until several weeks after the Yardbirds performed said show. Many listeners will buy the album solely to hear the yardbirds take on a song that Led Zeppelin later made famous. They won’t be disappointed. Dazed and Confused reeks of sweat and nightmare. The aforementioned audience recording was used to edit in an extra verse at the beginning of the song. Epic apparently dropped this from the original release because the band had timing problems. note, too, that The Yardbirds never called the song I’m Confused. Their record company gave it that erroneous title on the original release in 1971. Regardless, Relf’s harmonica yelps replicate paranoia in a way that plant’s faux-woman squeals never could. jim mccarty’s drumming is far more fluids than bonham’s, goosing the song along until chris dreja’s surging basslines punch it into thermal meltdown. Further, page’s violin bow doesn’t come across as schtick as it usually wont do. Instead, it is a necessary element in the psychedelic alchemy, heightening the dramatic tension. His riffing, of course, is brutal. the song is the apex of phantasmagoria, equally anything they had previously done. The album also boasts an inciderary take on Shapes of Thing, as jimmy page covers jeff beck’s original solo with diabolical ferocity. the guitarist’s elegant showpiece, white summer, is a middle eastern marvel. Dinamically speaking, Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page is the best recording the band ever made”.

But, after an aborted recording sessions at the columbia studios in early April 1968, the band called it quits in july.

In 1971 columbia records issued the recording of the show with the title LIVE yardbirds! featuring Jimmy Page to cash in with the new page’s band, with liner notes written by a young rock critic named lenny kaye… Page halted it immediately and had it stopped every time it was re-released, so the record is quite rare in its official release even if it was often bootleged. You can download it here, with bonus material from a stockholm concert in 1967.

The band was scheduled to tour sweden in autumn, but the band who walked in those nordic stages was called new yardbirds and had a very different line-up: Jimmy Page, john Bonham, Robert Plant, john paul jones. in few days the new yardbirds took off under a heavier sky as led zeppelin.

 

PS i’ve just heard the devasting news about lou reed’s death. in their last days the yardbirds played several times lou’s hymn to manhattan lowlife waiting for my man. As many of you, my life was saved by rock’n’roll… and it was alright… thank you, lou

 

 

David Johansen Group in Germany (early ’80s)

FunkyPicSleeve

The Dolls split up in an orgy of heroin, acrimony and poor management (Malcom Mc Laren was a situationist genius, but pretty incompetent business side…). Nolan and Thunders left Florida (where the dolls decamped in 1974) and went back to NYC to form the Heartbreakers with Richard Hell just ousted from Television.

johansen

David Johansen and Sylvian tried to revive the Dolls but gave up after a while. David Johansen formed the David Johansen Group starting an interesting solo career. His first three studio albums –David Johansen (1978), In Style (1979) and Here Comes the Night (1981)- are pretty solid. The two live albums –The David Johansen Group Live (1978) and Live it Up (1982) are the real thing…

Here it comes half an hour of never seen footage of the David Johansen Group in its most rocking hour…

 

The New York Dolls in Germany 1973

new-york-dolls-01a

They outstoned The Stones. They outglamed Bowie. They outpunked punks. And they failed…

Well the story of the New York Dolls is a typical r’n’r tale. Five lads enamoured of ’50s and ’60’s r’n’r, r’n’B and girls dresses.

NY is a lonely town if you’re the one rock’n’roller around… and those years (early seventies) were miserable times for hi-nrg r’n’r: the velvet underground had disbanded, the stooges were on a hiatus, the mc5 were relocated in europe, as well as the flamin’ groovies, and ready to split. real R’n’R in america was pratically banned, it was played only by few bands in very local and parochial scenes. Patti Smith Group, Suicide, The Dictators, The Ramones, The Runaways, The Real Kids, The DMZ were still to come…

The new york Dolls played hyperhyped and oversexed r’n’r: bo diddley and chuck berry submerged in a decadent Bowery sleaze. In the Fall of 1973 they flew to europe for a promotional blietzkrieg. They played in the posh restaurant “Biba” in london, then for a radio session in paris, and then went to Germany to record a short set for the nationwide music program “MusiK laden”. At the time only a couple of songs were broadcasted, but recently all the tracks recorded have surfaced. It’s one of the few document of the New York Dolls at the top of their game…

gallery_nydolls

In the last issue of the excellent fanzine “Ugly Things” there is a brilliant essay about the NY dolls discography edited by Greg Prevost (Yes, the front man of the garage Gods Chesterfield Kings). Obviously it’s worth reading.

This goes out to Olivia e Sophia, new dolls in town…