Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The ONE THING I Never Understood About Recording Studios!


Long before the interweb and Pro Tools, recording studios were kinda like bigfoot in that you hardly ever saw one up close, but when you did, it was like walking into another world; albeit one that charged by the hour the minute the door closed behind you.

Thanks to albums like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon, Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, and, of course, that first Boston album, the studio itself was no longer seen as cold and sterile, but, rather, a shag-carpeted paradise filled with beautiful bell-bottomed babes and dudes just dying to share their weed, speed, and chest hair with the world.

It was also where musical "Davids" like Lindsey Buckingham and Boston's Tom Scholz became Goliaths who helped transform the image of the recording studio from that of a clinical, isolated environment to one where many now hoped to spend their every waking moment. What wasn't to love? To this day, the acres of outboard gear, the acoustically-treated rooms, the ginormous consoles with the flying faders, and, last but not least, THOSE HELLACIOUS SPEAKERS!!

Sorry, STUDIO MONITORS!!

Holy shit, you have not lived until you've saved up for months to finally go into the studio and, when you do, the engineer immediately starts doing shit that takes all the fun out of performing.

For starters, every microphone in the entire tri-state area is now pointed directly at your drums and, crikey, there are even shop rags draped across your tom toms, fer crying out loud!

 Also, you're completely alone.

The rest of the band are off in other rooms and, from what you can hear in your headphones, having the time of their life. After 2-3 hours of playing each drum on its own while the engineer EQ's, compresses, and pans the shit out of drums you'd never even tuned until today, you're finally ready to record.

When you and the band finally do start playing together...separately, that is...you can hardly hear yourself, or the rest of the band, and when you do get out of solitary confinement to hear the last take in the control room, the mix is ALL drums. Yikes. You didn't sign up for that, did you?

"Can't we just mix this last take and get out of here with at least some of our money?"

 Aw, that's cute, but NO!

"The U.S.S. Enterprise? Nope, that's a recording console, Billy!"

Instead of trying to capture a full band performance, you and your pals suddenly learn that standard operating procedure in the recording studio is that every instrument needs as much separation as possible, so as to be mixed back together...TO SOUND LIKE A PERFORMANCE.

On top of that, the songs were being mixed on speakers no normal person could afford IN THE HOPE that it would both SOUND GOOD ON THE RADIO (because there was never a doubt in our mind that this stuff would get some serious airplay) and, b) sound good on whatever SHITTY FUCKING SPEAKERS 9 out of 10 people still use when listening to music.

Seriously, if the best stereo speakers you've ever owned came with your Ford Escort, trust me, you're not the one exception, which brings us to...THE SHIT I NEVER UNDERSTOOD:

Why the silly expense to create an acoustically-treated environment in which to hear the most accurate representation of the stereo spectrum on studio monitors no regular person could afford when the only way to know for sure if you had a good mix was to then pile into the drummer's car and play it back on shitty car speakers?

Doesn't it make more sense to mix in a setting that mimics the ambient noise of real life on speakers that humans actually use?

The fact that recording studios went the way of the dinosaur makes total sense.

They were asking for it.

Friday, April 23, 2021

What Peter Buck -n- Slash Taught Us About Being Rock Stars!



The general consensus among music fans is that most rock stars enjoy nothing more than talking about themselves. This may be true for some, sure, but anyone who has ever interviewed rock stars for a living knows that, sometimes, the best way to get them talking is to go in the opposite direction altogether.

As proof we offer up two examples; the first being R.E.M.'s Rickenbacker-rockin' Peter Buck, whose influence as a guitarist weighs large, but pales in comparison to his influence as "taste-maker to a generation", which Buck accomplished by giving some of the absolute best interviews of the period.

Up until that point, I'd never seen a rock star of that magnitude go out of his way to share the spotlight so selflessly, which Buck did on many occasions by turning the interview into a virtual tip-sheet for obscure musical oddities and up & coming bands alike.

What made Buck so special as an interview subject was that he didn't care whether you were from Time, Rolling Stone or a high school fanzine that didn't officially exist (yet); as long as you were asking questions and rolling tape, Buck was going to deliver a master-class on humility, confidence, and, yes, rock & roll.

Now, we've all known a chatty Cathy or two in our days, but what set Buck apart from, say, David Lee Roth, was that he hardly ever talked about himself, choosing instead to give the most rapid-fire factual dissertations on why Velvet Underground and Wire had changed his life or how great a demo tape given to him by a fan had been and then you'd read a few months later that said band now had their own deal.

Whereas a Rick Nielsen may have mentioned that he dug Roy Wood and the Move on numerous occasions, in a single interview, Buck could make you feel something for a band you'd never heard and, in doing so, probably helped sell more Velvet Underground albums than anyone else, all things considered.

Buck's eagerness to talk about other bands beyond just his own taught this interviewer a trick that has served me well on more than one occasion; such as the time I interviewed Slash after a concert.




Since, I was already at this particular concert to take photos for a music magazine, I reached out to his management and wound up interviewing Slash after a show. Problem was, I hadn't cobbled together any questions AND a drop-dead beautiful woman just happened to be shamelessly throwing herself at the legendary GNR guitarist, making conversation difficult at best.

Feeling like a head of cattle in the photo pit, after the show, a few journos were wrangled into a "quiet" room and granted ten minutes to pepper Slash with questions about the tour (Snakepit) and, of course, GNR (no comment).

Three questions in and the interview was dying on the table. 
  
Rather than ask the next question, which mentions Axl by name, yours truly calls an audible.

"I'm a kid with a guitar sitting in a bedroom in Iowa," I says to Slash, I says. "What 5 albums do I need to hear?" 

Slash immediately ushered the woman out of the room, pulled up a drum throne, and looked me square in the eyes.

"Do you know how long I've been waiting for someone to ask me that question?" 

The next hour flew by like Christmas, interrupted only by his PR person valiantly trying to keep Slash on-schedule (to no avail), but, eventually, we both had to get back to our respective lives or else we'd still be talking, I imagine.

As if that weren't bad-ass enough, Slash emailed his manager further clarifications to his Top 5 the next day, which the manager then emailed to me. 

That, my friends, is how you do an interview.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

My Life In The Dream Kill Factory: Running Into Relics of A By-Gone Era!


The stereotype of the bald(ing), cigar-chomping, polyester suit-wearing record executive of the '60s and '70s was 100% correct, although, by the time my band started booking our own shows, these fat cats were already going the way of the dinosaur.

Most of these guys, while smarmy, had ears and took their share of chances (hell, how do you think Cheap Trick got signed?), but, by the time the '80s arrived, they took one look at a young, gap-toothed Elvis Costello and got the hell outta Dodge.


Those that remained were spending more time on their yachts than in the office so, by the time the words "Music Television" made it up to the penthouse suite, it was too late to do anything about it.

The cigar chomper that my band ran into was the then-booking agent for Shula's 31 Bowling Alley, a once-proud Midwestern live music mecca located in Niles, Michigan. It's proximity to the interstate made it a regular tour stop for Tommy James, Chicago, Styx and even Tommy Shaw's pre-Styx band MS Funk, but was now just a bowling alley with a history nobody in the joint knew or cared about.

This was evident the minute we entered the venue and met the man the owners had hired to run the nightclub in hopes of bringing it back to past glories.

Bobby Cannavale perfectly captures the smarmy essence
 of  '70s record execs in HBO's "Vinyl".

The pinky rings, neck jewelry and shirt unbuttoned to expose the maximum amount of chest hair were just part of the uniform, but the glass of bourbon and yellow-brown finger tips at 11 in the morning denoted a certain dedication to the lifestyle.

Ten bucks says this guy lives in a trailer.

Eager to impress a bunch of nobodies who'd literally just stumbled in, "Gary" soon informed us that, not only did he now book the joint, but he was also an artist manager, at which point he slid a roster of his acts across the desk.

I took a gander...

"Dilly Pardon"

"Waylon Gentry"

Yep, totally legit.

While my band mates tried and failed to keep straight faces, talk suddenly turned to a month-long tour of rural Canadian beer halls that sounded like a good way for three pretty boys like us to wind up co-starring in some low-budget Canadian version of "Deliverance" that even Ned Beatty would politely decline. 

Looooong story short, while he was still dazzling us with bullshit, we literally split in the middle of a sentence and got the fuck outta there. 

Weeks later, we're telling our demo producer about the experience only to discover that another band he produced - an all-girl band, in fact - had taken "Gary" up on his offer and were, at that very moment, playing remote logging bars in Canada. 

The next word we heard was that only two of the band members ever came back, although that could mean any number of things, right? Right?

Upon moving to Chitown in '86, I open up a copy of IE (local-speak for "Illinois Entertainer") and see that the singer has resurfaced in the Chicago suburbs, doing goth-metal, where she remains to this day.

Due to a bet made with a friend back in 1988, I lose fifty cents every time this person's name DOESN'T appear in the suburban club listings in the back of the Illinois Entertainer that have made it the most consistently entertaining publication since Mad Magazine for well over thirty years.

When her name DOES appear, I WIN fifty cents.

Over the years, this single bet has outperformed most of my stock picks.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

You are.. The WEAKEST LINK!!



Who was the weakest link in each of the following bands?

The Monkees - Peter (yet he's my favorite)

The Who - John (but only because the other three were absolute monsters)

CSNY - Bing (just kidding)

The Band - The wrong answer here could bring down the Steve Hoffman forum.

Fleetwood Mac (Tusk era) - Oof, tough one, its a tie between the two dudes the band is named after. YET they deserve gold medals for being humble enough to give Buckingham/Nicks the freedom (and the drugs) to do their thing. Anyone who says Christine better back it up with FACTS.

Original Stones - The magic is that the weakest link always changed from album to album...Starting out, I might even say Keith was the weakest link, but then it became Brian, then Bill...and so on.

The Cars - Easy to say Greg Hawkes, but take him out of the mix and these guys are just another power pop band from Boston. Plus, he gave short, geeky guys hope of being rock stars themselves one day.

R.E.M. (original four) - Every possible answer will get you shit.

Ramones (original four) - Tommy (but he was producing, so he gets a pass)

Ramones V2.0 w/ Marky - Dee Dee most of the time.

Smashing Pumpkins (original four) - Three-way tie, but perfect for the situation. We singer-songwriters who never found our "forever accomplices" should all be so lucky.

Kiss (original four) - Peter, but, then again, no REAL drummer would have gone along with the make-up thing at the time... AND, even though the band has had "better" drummers since, their feel on those Criss-era cuts has always been so heavy-handed that you don't mind Criss's playing so much. Even so, one dreams of what Destroyer/Love Gun (the best era) would have sounded like with a dude who swings like Steven Adler.

Which brings us to

GNR (appetite line-up) - WOW...think I hear my mom calling...

Aerosmith (classic line-up) - probably whichever guy you can't name off the top of your head...in my case, bassist Tom Hamilton.

Point being, as demonstrated by MOST of the above musicians, the weakest link in a great band is usually still a bad-ass.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Columbia Records Drops New "Paul & Oates" Covers Collection 'Crossroads'!


Many strange and unexpected new partnerships came together during the pandemic; none more unexpected than the collaboration between Paul Simon and John Oates that began after the pair were both prevented from riding a beloved rollercoaster due to height restrictions.

"We obviously bonded over the fact that neither of us was tall enough to ride this coaster," says Oates from his home in upstate New York. "Out of that shared experience came the inspiration for recording one of our favorite Randy Newman songs ("Short People") and, after that turned out so well, we just looked at each other and said, 'Let's do another one!'"

"It was one of the best recording experiences I've ever had," exclaims Paul Simon from his Upper East Side apartment before poking fun at his former partner by jokingly adding, "Art who?!"

The resulting album, Crossroads, will be released April 14th on vinyl, cassette and 8-track tape, with a North American tour slated for next summer, pandemic willing.

"It'll be great to get back out there and play for people again," remarks Simon, who hints at some special surprises in the set list. "There are some Paul & Art songs I haven't played for ages because Artie wouldn't go near them, but that John really loves singing on, so...buckle up!"

Monday, March 22, 2021

Why I Should Never Be Allowed To Meet My Heroes, Sigh: Carole King & Russell Mael Edition!



CAROLE KING

In 2002, I was attending some Grammy-week music industry shindig with an open bar (why else do you think anyone was there?).  where  they hand you a goofy name-tag at the sign-in desk that you reluctantly stick to yourself once they tell you that you can't get any free drinks without it. 

After a couple complimentary Harvey Wallbangers, I turned to my left and, BOOM, there was Carole King smiling at me. My heart rate went from a resting, booze-filled 75 bpm to well over a thousand and then the dream got even weirder when she said, "I loved your version of 'I'm Into Something Good'!"

But how did she know who I was? Oh, right, the name tag.

In my head, I was screaming "I can die now!" just before the imaginary, but oh-so-believable voice of my dad interjected, "Tell her who did most of the work."

And so I did.

"You know, I've gotta give all the credit to Rob Newhouse on that one," I replied to the living legend standing before me. "He played all the instruments AND sang all of the amazing backing vocals."

"OK..." Ms. King replied..."'Thank you' would have worked, too."

And, yes, the whole room winced just like you did just now.



RUSSELL MAEL (SPARKS)

So there I was doing my usual late, late, LATE night grocery shopping at the Studio City, CA "Ralphs" supermarket when I kept noticing this attractive redhead in an ornate mini dress woman with an oddly alluring tiki-wood purse walking around with a noticeably older dude in a vertical striped shirt the type new wave musicians wear.

We crossed paths numerous times as we made our way through the aisles and I never once paid any attention to the dude.

As luck would have it, my girlfriend and I wound up in the checkout line behind this couple, at which point I could overhear them talking about music industry bullshit. That's what was so unusual about the whole thing; you could be in line with one of the top Disney brass and never know it because they never talked shop in line at a grocery store.

Suddenly, like a fucking shot, it dawns on me that I was in the 10 Items Or Less lane with fookin' Russell Mael from Sparks, easily my second-favorite vocalist of all-time. Can you say "adrenaline spike"?

What happened next was, well...typical.

Imagine, if you will, a grocery checkout lane at 3AM...disinterested checkout lady scanning items without even looking at them, THE SINGER FROM SPARKS and his girlfriend are talking quietly about who-knows-what when I catch a snippet of them talking about some new UK buzz band or something, which makes me take my first real look at the dude.

"HOLY SHIT! ARE YOU RUSSELL MAEL FROM SPARKS?!" 

Oh no, I quickly realize, I am now saying exactly what I am thinking without any delay or buffer whatsoever.

"Why, yes I am," replies Mael, extending his hand, at which point, I squeeze past my girlfriend to shake his hand and I tell him what a huge fan of his music I have been. Then I just clam up. Total silence. 

It isn't that I can't think of anything else to say, but, rather, I have said all I ever needed to, yet the silence is unbearable as Russell and his lady finish their transaction and then just stand there, expectantly, before Russell asks, honest to God..."Is that it?"

My reply: "Yep."

It is a scene I have replayed in my mind a million times. We weren't at a gig surrounded by other adoring fans, but at a completely empty grocery store, neither couple in any hurry to get anywhere. Plus, I also had a stash of Sparks CD's in my glove box. I could have peppered him with all those nagging questions I had been accumulating since 1979. but, like a fucking idiot...

"Yep."


Friday, March 19, 2021

Overthinking Adam & The Ants!


For all that he accomplished during the '80s as a member of MTV's first wave of music video mega-stars, Adam Ant was perhaps the most prolific of them all, both musically and visually'.

Who else, in five years, Ant gave us just as many albums and, with each one, a stark visual transformation; from bondage den pin-up to Native American chic to swashbuckling rake and so on, until the only role left to play was ...(checks notes)..."space cowboy"? 

By the time Bob Geldof's mammoth concert endeavor Live-Aid took place in the summer of 1985, Ant's star was still perched high atop pop's Mt. Rushmore, yet the man was permitted only enough stage time to perform one song.

(As an aside, the Hooters got more songs than that despite Geldof' openly wondering how the Philly band even got on the Philly bill in the first place.)

Adam Ant couldn't very well tweet his displeasure, now, could he? No, he had to swallow his pride and gladly accept this opportunity to reach one BILLION people, 


We've all seen our fair share of exhausted musicians, but Ant was the first performer to ever look so desperate in that moment that, if he'd had the chance to pull the string on the bus, this writer is 100% sure Ant would have gotten off his Rock & Roll Rocket Ride at the very next stop.

After all, this was a man, who, in five short years, had already delivered a career's worth of music, lavish outfits (for not just himself, but the entire band), music videos, and extravagant live shows.  

Duran Duran were in much the same boat, with the added bonus of being sick of the sight of each other after a grueling five-year schedule of their own, but, for Ant, things had all begun so innocently:

1979: Bondage-obsessed punk band cutting tracks for a no-name indie label only to have Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren steal your whole band. What will become of young Adam Ant now?

1980: Lone copies of Kings of The Wild Frontier begin popping up in Kmart and Montgomery Ward record bins right next to AC/DC's Back In Black, yet somehow finding their way into the hot little hands of savvy suburban teenagers looking for fresh kicks.

What we savvy kids in the sticks heard was obviously punk-adjacent, but with a lyrical and rhythmic slant that no other band had gong on at the time. On that basis alone, Kings of The Wild Frontier proved be, for many, the perfect gateway to the wonderful world of punk rock, whereby dozens of other bands, both past and present, benefitted greatly from the association.

Let's be honest, why else would anyone own a Monochrome Set record?


Simply by re-tracing the many branches of Adam's musical "Family Tree" (info gathered and hand-written by the legendary Pete Frame), anyone could quickly find their way from Adam's Ants to Siouxsie's Banshees, Billy's Gen X, those dastardly devils in Bow Wow Wow, and ultimately to the Sex Pistols themselves.

Kings Of The Wild Frontier not only provided the gateway to punk that we rust belt rebels were seeking, but also introduced an entire generation of new wave kids to African Burundi drum rhythms - pretty heady stuff to be conversant about in eight-grade Algebra, if we do say so ourselves.

You see, beneath the period-specific Native American garb stood a preening, attention-grabbing singer/songwriter/bandleader with ambitions of absolute chart domination, but also a preconceived desire to attain such rare heights "his way" and with a flair for the unexpected.

Little did we know that, while we were devouring our first serving of "Ant Music for Ant People", Adam had already moved on to an entirely different musical phase first introduced via the music video for the UK-only single "Stand And Deliver", which was suddenly popping up daily on the brand-new MTV cable network.

While Kings had been just the album for the times - a mix of lo-fi angst and kink-based lyrics for the punk crowd and bubblegum hooks for the pop kids, nobody could have expected that the band's follow-up would be such an absolute work of art.

Revisiting Prince Charming all these years later only heightens the impact of the material, which marches to nobody's drum but its own from start to finish. Thankfully, the band's drummer was a crack producer as well, but, when forced to choose between the Ants and his burgeoning production career, Hughes (Merrick) found himself producing Tears for Fears' The Hurting and Songs From The Big Chair, among others.



Fortunately for us, the Prince Charming sessions occurred just as all involved were hitting their stride and, with the eyes and the expectations of the world upon them, actually surpassed all expectations.

Whereas the band could only reference Clint Eastwood on Kings, on Prince Charming, they were giving Herb Alpert a run for his money on the album opener "Scorpios" and, moments later, adding Ennio Morricone to the mix on the album's title cut and a song this writer suspects Wall of Voodoo wishes they'd written: "5 Guns West".

If there was any misstep on the album, one would have to argue that it was Ants' foray into rap on the aptly named "Ant Rap", which inexplicably became a Top 5 hit in the UK.

What such songs reveal now is just how driven Ant was to jump on any bandwagon that wasn't already crowded with poseurs and, in 1981, rap was still very much underground. While it remains the album's least essential track, its existence proves just how willing Ant was to experiment rather than deliver exactly what the fans or label execs wanted from him.

In that sense, there are very few superstar albums of the time as brave as Prince Charming. Even braver was Ant's decision to break up the Ants while at the top of their game.

Looking back, Ant's solo career was little more than a Cliff Notes version of the Ants for the millions of new fans whose full attention he had as MTV infiltrated more and more living rooms across America.

Friend Or Foe's cover art even sought to imitate the "captured video still" aesthetic of Kings while songs like "Goody Two Shoes" and "Desperate But Serious" seemed oddly familiar on first listen to Ant fans. In a way, it was almost as if Ant was trying to break the news of the break up to fans as gently as he could by proving that their absence would be almost undetectable.

This was made easier by Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni continuing to write, play, and co-produce while drummer Merrick would co-produce "Goody Two Shoes" before leaving the Ant family to produce the first two Tears for Fears albums (and co-writing "Everybody Wants To Rule The World").