Here is the new blog:
This is something I threw together in Windows Movie Maker. I’m the lazy man’s Scorsese.
It’s time for my monthly tour of the blog. So pardon the dust as I knock the rust off everything. I have some photos to show you later, too.
Don’t let me forget.
First off I just started working at Michael’s Used Books, and It has been a blast. The store is a cultural landmark if you ask me, I say in an unsolicited personal opinion.
I don’t have any links to what we have in stock, but if you look at the header on my blog, that’s what 60% of the store looks like; shelves of obscure and well-read titles that cover every genre and style of book– from content to packaging.
I even found a ‘plush’ children’s book, complete with perverted hand-puppet action! I thought about putting it in the ‘erotica’ section, but decided wisely to slide it back into my pocket, um…uh, reshelve it.
I was thinking of self-publishing some of my stuff and selling it at the store; like my biography of Ron Jeremy: “If These Balls Could Talk,” and the new bio of Gun’s N’ Roses that I have been working on for fifeteen years: “They Shoot Horse, Don’t They?”
I am also going to be writing for The love of sports, so check it out. It is a great site if you are a fan of sports and good writing. And it is going to get even better soon…
Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me, before I leave I have some images I rendered for a graphic novel about Kurt Cobain and Tupac teaming up in the afterlife to fight crime. It’s tentatively titled “Dead Beat Dicks,” at least until my drug-addled brain comes up with something better. Let’s pray.
In my last blog I mentioned a man named Steve Schiff, who colaborated with Tonio K. (“16 Tons of Monkeys”) and also co-wrote the huge hit “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” by Simple Minds.
In addition to those notable achievements, Mr. Schiff was also, back in the late 70′s, the Lead Guitarist in a band called 1994:
That’s right, “1994:,” colon and all.
In addition to the unusual punctuation (a sideways umlaut?) the band also feature the amazing voice of one Karen Lawrence, who I just found out is still performing. Which was a revelation, as I had searched for her on the internets in the past with dismal results. The last I had heard she released a couple albums under the band name “Blue By Nature.” Recently I did a search and found out she has a MySpace page!
So let’s set the “Waybac” machine to a modest, middle-class home in Las Vegas, circa 1978…
I was pouring over a copy of some Rock n’ Roll magazine (prolly “Circus” or “Hit Parader”) and I came upon a record review of this band whose guitarist was touted as having Jimmy Page-worthy riffing skills and whose female vocalist had a Robert Plant-esque wail. As ‘uge fan of Led Zeppelin I was intrigued, to say the least. So I went down to the closest record-selling venue, the old Woolco on West Charleston, and sure enough, found a copy of the debut album by 1994:.
The album cover had LED lights printed on it and electrical schematics. It was also embossed, to give it the texture of a an old-fashioned electronic device. There was a small, blurry photo of the band inside a small monitor window on the ‘device.’ This was the sound of the future, I thought, as I plunked down my allowance for the week on this mysterious disc. I rushed home and put it on the turntable, putting my ridiculously cumbersome headphones on so that I could turn up the volume and see if this band was all that it was heralded to be.
The opening riff to the first track, “Once Again,” slammed me to the ground like a tsunami. A short time later that riff would slam the rest of the world like a tsunami. You see the riff– well, a variation of it– was later used in the chorus of the song “Crazy Train,” by Ozzy Osbourne. That the young Randy Rhodes, who wrote it, was a fledgling guitarist in the L.A. area around the same time that 1994: was starting out remains just a co-inky-dink I suppose. But the songs do bear a ‘kissin’ cousin’ kind of similarity.
The riff served as a bedrock for Karen Lawrence to launch her multi-octave voice, which soared from a Jack Daniels-soaked growl to an air-raid siren wail, until it dropped the booster rockets and climbed into the stratosphere. It was unba-Geddy Lee-vable! Robert Plant may as well have packed up his lemon and rambled on home. Steve Schiff added a nice solo, and Bill Rhodes (bass) and John Desautels (drums) gave it the appropriate ‘Hammer of the Gods’ thunder, but it was Karen’s voice that made me lift the needle of the vinyl and plunk it back at the beginning groove.
The next couple songs slowed down the pace a bit, and then things really mellowed on “Heleana”– a beautiful power-ballad. I flipped the record over, impressed with the band and their chops. Side two began with “Bring It On Home” another showcase for Karen to display the dizzying scale of her voice. The next track, “Radio Zone” was a sizzling slice of punk aggression and rapid-fire singing, a vitriolic diatribe against commercial “Middle-of-the-Road” radio programming which probably did them no favors in getting airplay with some of their more ‘MOR’ tunes. The record held a few more well-crafted song, such as the bouncy “Read Up,” but the final track, “Anastasia” was a rare gem– opening with a gypsy-motif on mandolin, the tale of the woman who claimed to be Czar Nicholas’ ill-fated daughter alternated between a thrashy, hard rock chorus and the aformentioned mandolin melody. Definately not geared for the Top 40, it was a cut above most of the tired music being served up on the radio at the time. And I am not too proud to admit having a huge crush on Miss Lawrence. It weren’t her fault she was hotter than July. Weren’t my fault I noticed.
I loved the record, and slipped it on the turntable for all my friends. They dug it, as well. But I didn’t ever show them the pictures of Karen, though. My generousity of spirit only went so far. The next year the band released “Please Stand By,” and despite the winning cover of Garland Jeffrey’s “Wild In The Streets” and the awesome “Keep Raving On” it was soon lost in the wake of the success generated by Pat Benatar and her sexy, operatic take on Hard Rock– the same thing 1994: was doing. Petite Pat went on to being the next big thing, while, sadly, 1994:, was largely ignored.
The band broke up and while my allegience to Karen never wavered, even though the ever-present “Heartbreaker” lured me like a siren’s call. I went out and bought Mark Farner’s “No Frills” album just to hear the former Grand Funkster duet with my Karen on the old 60′s classic “Just One Look.” Around this time Karen was doing session work, singing on Aerosmith’s “Get It Up” from the “Draw The Line” album.
A few years later I was at Underground Records in Las Vegas and I came across a bright Pink n’ Black album cover for “Karen Lawrence and the Pinz.” I bought it immediately, even though it was a little New Wavey for my tastes. Upon playing it I was slighlty aghast, and a little turned on, by Karen’s throaty takes on the old 60′s chestnust “Sealed With A Kiss” anf the original “I Won’t Stop.” There was also a cover of “Rebel,” which had been a minor hit for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.
I didn’t get it then, but after hearing “I Won’t Stop” on Karen’s MySpace page recently I have to admit I was out of touch back then. Its loopy charm is intoxicating. At this point in her career she sang backup on an album by Graham Parker called “Another Grey Area,” which escaped me. However, when Jeff Beck made a comeback in the 80′s, teaming with Rod Stewart on their version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” I was astute enough to pass on buying the “Flash” album and go for the 12″ single, which had a song called “Back On The Streets” as a flipside. The song featured Karen on vocals and was a balls-out rocker, with Jeff showing the world that he had forgotten twice as much about Hard Rock as Eddie Van Halen was ever going to learn; namely, try making that guitar sound like a freight train with a singer who can actually wail right back.
Unfortunately, as steaming as that pairing was, it was the end of the line for that diesel.
I held out hope that the world would discover the amazing talent that Karen Lawrence possessed, and her former bandmates as well. Simple Minds was of no importance to me, so Steve Schiff’s moment of glory eluded me. I have no idea what happened to Bill Rhodes and Jim Desautels over the years, but I held out hope for Karen.
I was browsing though a used record store up in Salt Lake City a few years back and happened upon a promo copy of the first 1994: album. It was priced to sell ($3) and I bought it, even though I owned no turntable. I just had to have it, and still do– somewhere up in Salt Lake City with all the stuff I left up there when I moved to Vegas.
Now I have discovered, though the power of the Internets that you can now purchase the record in a CD format. I am flat broke right now, but I will have to finance myself a copy. I was hoping Karen had one of the songs on her MySpace page, but alas that would be to easy. Some of the songs she has on there are available to download, which I did immediately, but the best of held for ransom– like all great treasures upon this earth. Anyway, if you like good music, and I know you do, go here and listen for yourself:
And turn up your headphones real loud. The Waybac is warmed up and has room for one more…
Recently my sister Lisa sent me a box of CD’s I had left up in Salt Lake City. Some of the CD’s had songs I had been dying to listen to again, and some of the CD’s I had, quite frankly, forgotten I owned. Yea! New music to listen to!
Score one for early Alzheimer’s.
So I have been using all this new music as a backgroud for when I write, with good results. I also had an idea for this blog; I shoud write about the CD’s- most of which are by talented, but unheard of artists- to keep up my reviewing chops. For starters I am going to profile one of my favorite songwriters, and a huge influence on my writing: Tonio K. I’ll skip the usual bio, except to say that when asked for a bio from his first record labe, Mr. K submitted a verbatum copy of Louis Armstrong’s bio.
I had read an article on Tonio in Circus Magazine back in 1978. It was accompanied a photo of the man standing in a drained pool wearing a gas mask. He was funny and smart, and vitriolic. I felt like a bobby-soxer.
I searched out his record, “Life In The Foodchain,” at the local stores but to no avail. He was not a ‘commercial entity’ yet. So one day I asked my sister Lisa (who was, damn her, old enough to drive) to take me over to the Underground, a convenient name for an underground record store specializing in obscure aural delights. They had a promo copy of “Life…” that had a sticker affixed to the front with blurbs from those wonderously anonymous industry types that got paid to write blurbs. One of them went along the lines of “If Bob Dylan met the Clash…”
The song titles leap out at me; the second track was something called “The Funky Western Civilization,” “How Come I Can’t See You In My Mirror?” The next to last track was called “A Lover’s Plea.” Sounds pretty mainstream, right? The last track was titled “H-A-T-R-E-D.” It’s one of the funniest love songs I have ever heard.
I brought the record home and put it on the old stereo. I had to use headphones, on account of no one else in the family interested in ‘Rockin’ the fuck out!,” and it was a fortunate occurance. Stereo Review called it ”The greatest album ever recorded!”*
It is, and It’s not. But we’ll get to that later. Right now I’m getting to the act of putting the stylus down in the groove and having Tonio and his comrades slam into “Life In The Foodchain,” Tonio’s dolefull delivery of the first verse setting up a punchy chorus of rousing guitars and sing-along lyrics. Underneath the city block-sized hook was a deft layer of insanity: lyrics such as “It’s kind of like carving the turkey/kind of like mowing the lawn/everything gets to a certain dimension/winds up on a customer’s plate and then gone…”, backed with football chant vocals, barks, and a screaming sax.
Then after the songs over there are these weird, sped-up voices that sound like an old, familiar cartoon I can’t place. Then the next song comes bursting through the headphones like a tidal wave. It was the like Ted Nugent on Quaaludes and…Acid. The sing features a guitar riff so wide you could drive a Mac truck down the middle. “They put Jesus on the cross/they put a hole in JFK/they put Hitler in the driver’s seat/and looked the other way”
Then comes the guest appearance by Joan of Arc, who delivers a rather important message about, well..how Tonio K. (Steve Krikorian by birth) was the original Armenian Heavy Metal absurdist. Sorry, System Of A Down.**
The liner notes, which are the lengthiest, and funniest, I have ever read don’t list the individual performers on each track. However, I am guessing that So by the time the song wind up its frenzied, horn-fueled, stacks upon stacks of Marshall Amps take on modern culture, I couldn’t figure out if I needed to stop smoking pot, or to smoke some more pot.
The third track, “Wille and the Pigman,” is great to listen to if you are stoned. It has almost a spoken-word poetry by way of East L.A. circa 1977- vibe. “American Love Affair” does the rock-country ’70′s thing while mocking it behind it’s fringed back. One of the songs, the rockabilly-inspired “Better Late Than Never,” was an more orthodox composition, and Tanya Tucker’s cover of it hit the Billboard Country charts.
So far his was a great album when I first heard it, and the songs for the most part still hold up, but the last song wasthe one that sealed the deal for me. “H-A-T-R-E-D” starts off as a John Denver-ish finger-picking ballad for about a minute until Tonio goes from Romeo to Rambo. Literally, there is an explosion and some scattered gunshots in the song. I picked the needle up and placed it back in the groove right before “H-A-T-R-E-D” several more times, soon joining in on the chorus;
“I’m so full of h-a-t-r-e-d
I’m bitter and maligned
you’ve got me
I’m angry most of the time
why don’t you
g-o t-o h-e-double”l”
you philandering bitch
I’m going to
k-i-l-l one of us baby
when I’m sober I’ll decide on which“
Of course, it is all tongue-in-cheek. Tonio ends the song with the aside, “but then again, maybe with the proper counseling, we can work this out..” as the sound of smashed guitars wails over a discordant organ pumping out the riff to “Louie, Louie.” That Tonio K- he’s a born romantic.
I have been a big fan of his ever since, and wound up buying everything he ever put out, albums such as the New Wavey “Romeo Unchained,” with its shoulda been a hit “Impressed” (later a minor hit for Charlie Sexton) and the rollicking look at a certain Pentacostal ritual: “I Handle Snakes” (“One man lays down 10%/Another man trembles and shakes/ I save my money/I handle snakes, y’all..).
Eventually Tonio’s more mainstream songs started to find their way to artist like Bonnie Raitt (“You”), The Runaways (“Saturday Night Special”), and others. What better testament to his writing ability that the fact that Tonio co-wrote “God In Louisiana” for former Sex Pistol guitarist Steve Jones, and “Love Is” by Vanessa Williams & Brian McNight.***
Tonio released records sporadically, mostly due to record label indifference. His vocal style was more Frank Zappa than Frank Sinatra and the songwriting thing was paying the bills. However he did release a couple of great records along the way; “Yugoslavia (Love Songs of the Heart)” and “Ole” feature more of Tonio’s acerbic humor and unbridles passion. His work is that of someone searching for a light in these “New Dark Ages,” which happens to be a title from his collection of rarities “Rodent Weekend.” Remember the movie “Summer School” with Kirstie Alley and Mark Harmon? I don’t admit to it, either, but suffice to say Tonio’s “I’m Supposed To Have Sex With You” was the funniest part of it- even though it is barely audible in the movie.
Tonio K has, as I mentioned, been an inspiration to me for a long time. Receiving his CD’s sparked me to get this blog done. However, I had to stop to add a coda to it. Recently I was told that my friends in Sparkler Dims are going to be playing a benefit for Brent Engles, who recently underwent surgery and cannot pay his mounting medical bills. Brent is a long-time fixture on the local music scene, and at one time owned Underground Records. There are no accidents in Art. I had to write this blog, not to get my chops back, but to urge you to help out a great friend of Music.
The benefit is being held at the Beauty Bar on Fremont Street on April 23rd. Show starts at 7:00. Bring your dancin’ shoes and wear your heart on your sleeve.
*Stereo Review, 1978
** And Danzig. Hail!
***One of Tonio’s collaborators was Steve Schiff, who also wrote “Don’t You Forget About Me” and was once a member of the band 1994: (who I will profile next).
I am a registered Non-Partisan voter. I used to be a member of one of the ‘Big 2′ political parties, but I jumped off that sinking liner a while back.
Even when I was a member of a party I had a tendency to vote for 3rd party/Outsider candidates every chance I had. So scratching my name off the party rolls wasn’t going to tip the scales of Democracy much.
And leads me to one of the things about politics in America that is out of whack: when I was a member of the party they didn’t give a rat’s ass what I thought. And neither did the other side. But now that I am in the Non-Partisan middle, they both desire me. I can smell their lust (for power) a mile away.
Usually I would feel flattered to be fought over, but I have seen both these mugs without their make-up on and it is a pretty gruesome sight. And if you are a member of either of these two big-political-parties-that-get-to-make-up-the-rules-to-this-tea-party-we-call-a-Democracy, you have to see them for the grotesque beasties that they are, too.
Because right now your party cares more about me than they do you.
That’s a problem in the way our country is run.
The two parties that have their boot-heels on the neck of the voting public have trotted out 2-and-a-quarter* new models from the “Lesser-of-two-evils” line of Presidential candidates, and me and my sick-of-it-all brethren and sistren are going to be the ones stuck with the onus of choosing the next Leader of the Free World from that oh-so shallow pool.
The pool is so shallow, as a matter of fact, that none of the candidates will dare to dive into an opinion on most subjects. And I get to play ‘eenie-meenie-miny-moe” in November to decide whether we go to Hell in A) a hand basket B) a hand basket with no new taxes.
Thanks for the options, America. Oh, what…..there is a movement to elect Christopher Walken president?
Oh, thank you lady Liberty!
I have seen the glory…
Finally, a candidate that combines the best of all out recent Presidents: He’s an actor, a womanizer, he has probably inhaled or even done better, worse drugs…what, Walken’s not running?
Who, then, has the attributes of the men we have put in office in the last generation. Which actor has had the sexual scandals, the rampant drug use, the last name that is also a euphamism for genitalia?
Ladies and gentlemen, the next President of the United States…Andy Dick!
Now that’s pretty fucked up.
Now, do you see why your vote counts? Don’t let this happen America!
* In a spirit of generousity I am giving Hitlery a fraction of a shot at winning the nomination.
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The people have spoken. More Danzig it is…