Twisted Steel & Sex Appeal

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 2:17 pm by George Smith

A lot of people are not even aware of the Runaways,” Jett said of the all-girl teenage band. “This will introduce them. They can go back to the music and hear for themselves.” — UPI

Fair enough.

About ten people were in Pasadena’s Laemmle 7 on Firday afternoon when DD went to see the first showing of “The Runaways.”

Almost everyone was younger than your host but none seemed disappointed by the pic.

The Runaways were always obscure. The only reason most big city newspaper pop writers know of them now is because they’ve seen Joan Jett.

Surprisingly, writer Sia Michel couldn’t even get the punch line in Creem’s infamous review of the band’s ’76 debut into a recent New York Times feature on the movie:

“These bitches suck,” courtesy of Rick Johnson. “Their vocals recapitulate the history of minor mouth pain …” it was added.

In 1976 The Runaways was a raw and underproduced record at a time when many hard rock LPs were rapidly escalating in terms of overproduction and bloat.

It was virtually perfect, tonally, for what was delivered. By modern standards of sex appeal, and what’s delivered in The Runaways movie trailer, 1976 photos of the girls in the band on the back cover were even gamey looking.

One of my favorite parts of the original record is “Dead End Justice” — a short skit which has appeal if you like a bare parable about bad girls breaking out of SoCal juvie and one of ’em going down on the jailbreak. The extended ‘act’ part of it is cut out of the version of the movie although the re-enactment keeps the grimace-worthy lyric: “He beat me with a board, it felt just like a sword.”

Everyone scream!

“Cherry Bomb,” “American Nights,” “You Drive Me Wild” and “Is It Day or Night” are other stellar tunes on it. They work off good hooky riffs and and have a brutality that wasn’t on a lot of hard rock records that year.

If you want an acting experience from The Runaways movie, only Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley, the band’s artistic director, producer and manager, delivers one. He’s the movie’s villain, a piece of shouting and gesticulating twisted steel, overbearing show business and glam rock fashion.

At one point, the actress playing Cherie Currie’s twin sister, Marie, comments on his sleazy character: “I heard he even has a jacket made of dog fur.”

That made me laugh.

By any standard, Fowley must be delighted with the way he is portrayed. Near the end of the movie, Shannon plays him in gay pinkish suit and lipstick, crossing his legs suddenly as an exasperated elegant woman might while making a point. He steals whatever scene he’s in.

As executive producer, Joan Jett did Fowley a solid favor.

In the mid-Seventies Fowley indeed was a colorfully arch and oily side presence in rock magazines, when either pushing the Runaways or aggressively promoting related nobodies like the Hollywood Stars or Venus & the Razorblades. (Inspirational lyric: “Let ’em eat cake, I’ll eat dog food!” from, logically, a song called “Dog Food.”)

The movie writes out bassist Jackie Fox for on legal CYA-ism, omits Kari Krome and pre-Bangles Micki Steele and pretty much skips the entire US experience outside of one introductory tour in favor of going to Japan, where the band was met with hysteria.

It’s worth noting this was around the initial discovery of the curious fact that all American hard rock bands were met with Beatles-like hysteria in the land of the rising sun — something which was cannily employed as a morale builder for major label acts down on their luck.

From start to finish, the music in The Runaways is great. Although there’s nothing really new on the CD except for a couple Runaways tunes sung by Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, it will — by default — be one of my favorites this year. And that’s because nobody performs hard rock like it anymore.

Except Joan Jett, which doesn’t really count for the purposes of this post.

How does Dakota Fanning do as Cherie Currie?

She pulls off what’s required but she’s not Currie. Too delicate and willowy to be very convincing. Instead of looking bigger than life, astonishingly unnerving and a bit sweaty in the infamous corset, as did Currie, Fanning looks like a second-tier lingerie model.

Many will still recall Currie as the glammy and loose but doomed girl in Foxes, which still runs semi-regularly on cable. One always had the feeling she wasn’t acting, except for the part at the end where she died by misadventure.

Since ample footage of Fanning and Currie are on YouTube, don’t take my word for it.

After Queens of Noise, their second album, the Runaways were basically dead in the US market. Much poorer hard rock bands were routinely better treated.

Currie would leave and two more records would be delivered in a bit of extended going through the motions. A live album, recorded in Japan, which was quite good, wasn’t even released domestically. Which only showed the record label was interested in cutting losses.

“Cherry Bomb” from the movie.

Note big difference between Fanning and archival footage of Currie in Japan, singing “California Paradise.” The Runaways stomp and boogie as good as the guys. And like any truly decent hard rock band, they weren’t afraid to risk being taken for fools.

Kim Fowley’s “International Heroes” from 1973, the poor man’s “All The Young Dudes.”


Brit Idiosyncracy Always Waives the Rules

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 2:53 pm by George Smith

Over the weekend DD ‘discovered’ Kevin Coyne, an old British rocker/singer/songwriter/poet who passed away in 2002.

A colleague on the I Love Music chat board piqued my interest:

Anybody care about Kevin Coyne? Eccentric British guy, early ’80s. The one album I have, In Living Black And White from 1973, is a live one; his guitarist plays pretty loud rock, though his band doesn’t much — come closest in “Eastbourne Ladies” and “Mummy,” maybe. He has a Joe Cocker growl that occasionally sounds a little Ian Hunter, but he doesn’t seem to have much in the way of tunes. (Maybe the studio albums are more tuneful, I dunno.) Sings about insane asylums (used to work in one according the liner notes), suicidal fat girls, burning down the world with turpentine, America being a land of disease, and British class stuff I don’t understand much. Don’t know what to make of the guy.

It immediately sent me off in search of Coyne records from the late Sixties to the mid-Seventies.

Much of his material has been posted to the Internet, so it certainly wasn’t hard.

There are a couple old videos of Coyne at a festival and a Rainbow appearance broadcast on the Beeb, now available on YouTube.

“Strange Locomotion,” from a ’75 Rainbow show shows a young Andy Summers (later famous in the Police) on guitar.

It’s stomping Brit rhythm & boogie. And since embedding is disabled it is here.

“Eastbourne Ladies,” from the 1974 album, Marjory Razorblade, is similar.

Performed in front of a festival audience in the Seventies, it’s boogie with the guys and gals bopping in a polite hippies we’re-having-a-party-in-Blighty
way. The camera pans back to show it’s next to a pasture, the cows grazing unperturbed. Coyne has a pair of Walter Brennan ‘real McCoy’ farm pants on and humps a pole a little. He asks if even the big black cow would give him some money.

This was back when you could look real crappy and the crowd loved you for it.

Another great tune is “House On the Hill,” a compelling country folk whine about what a local insane asylum was like. Coyne was a social worker in the mental illness system and his songs about it capture this bleak part of English life.

“Eastbourne Ladies” is one his career hight points. His gruff voice, occasionally spitting out a Wolfman Jack howl, is backed by a “Highway 61 Revisited” rhythm thing, except the song is about snobby high class dames who look nice.

Coyne wonders if they go to bed wearing crowns.

“Holiday in Spain” — another tune from the same album, is a spoof on Brit package holidays to the title country set to a flamenco beat.

The Spaniard waiting on the table frightens and offends the British tourists, looking to make their white skin turn a little brown on vacation. The vacationers think the man looks like a gangster from an evil side of town. Yes, there’s certainly risk to the sensibilities when holidaying in places where everyone doesn’t look like you.

Marjory Razorblade is a very good album with a unique taste of its own. Coyne gets his country folk blues complaints and japes going but always follows after awhile with a thumping piece of R&B pub rock — like “Chicken Wing.”

Coyne is a master of of these tones and styles, using his idiosyncratic voice and lyrics so well within the spare arrangements that he always sounds natural bending them to to completely odd purposes.

Speaking of idiosyncracy, it would be a hard person who wouldn’t break out laughing at Coyne’s “Karate King” with lyrics like this:

His white and muscled flexing at all the passing girls, smashing his way through the window frame, ripping apart his mother’s pearls — they’re lieing on the dressing table … Chop! Chop!

If you see the Karate King: Help him! Help him! Comment on his pommaded hair, tell him he would have been an excellent kamikaze pilot in the Second World War! That’s what the Karate King wants to hear … in the gymnasium.

Priceless in the context of rock ‘protest’ music, really.

Which brings us, dear readers, to Coyne’s “Good Boy.”

If there’s a theme song that’s better for this blog, I can’t imagine it.

The song delivers sarcasm and class resentment in ways that are beyond 99 percent of American pop music artists. While Frank Zappa comes to mind, it was rare that he was so musically direct. Since it’s a cut off the original Marjory Razorblade record, it probably won’t last long on the video channel.

Closing out, here’s some Coyne fast boogie. Obviously, the older and uglier you are the better you get at it. I’m serious.


That Sure Was a Long Time Ago

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 12:03 pm by George Smith

From the magic of Google Books: SPIN magazine, the June 1987 issue.

“Given half a chance, Dick and the Kings might indeed have a rendezvous with destiny,” it read.

Umm, no.

Also reviewed on the page — Gut Bank — a Jersey band I once saw open for the Died Pretty at CBGB’s.


Rock n Roll Friday

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 10:19 am by George Smith

After twenty five years I decided to see if I could still play one of the old signature tunes from the DD & the Highway Kings’ first album.

“Roadkill” was the choice, an instrumental played at every gig. Originally, recorded on a 4-track tape machine, all the analog equipment I used to do it is long gone.

But — yup, I can. Dementia hasn’t set in yet.

Here it is.

Back in ’84 or ’85 I started a set in front of a group of hardcore punks with “Roadkill.”

This was a serious mistake.

You have to understand many hardcore punk kids had adopted a set of odd moral standards stringently adhered to. Beating up girls, for instance, was OK. But doing anything perceived to be mean to animals was verboten.

“Roadkill” starts out with a maniacal laugh and shout of its title.

You can imagine how this went over. The punks stood there with backs turned and arms folded for the rest of the set. And that was the last time DD ever played for a crowd of them.

Believe me, drunks were way better.


More Rock n Roll

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies, Stumble and Fail at 11:48 am by George Smith

“Why Dontcha Do Me Right” — here.

The above is a song dating from around the time of Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention Absolutely Free album.

And — “Walkin’ for Bumwine in Pasadena Blues,” an instrumental as virtual B-side — here.

Inspired by the two bum wine selling markets on Villa.

From an earlier post here:

Most people think Pasadena is very upscale, a place where it’s hard to find bum wine.

Not true!

In at least one spot, made up of two small markets at the intersection of North Wilson and Villa, Thunderbird and Night Train Express are in stock.

These beverages served and serve a purpose. They’re for when you’ve really hit the skids. And because they are fortified with about 18 percent alcohol by volume, they’re bona fide painkillers.

Yes, it’s been a very bad year here in Pasadena and it looks to only get worse.

Gear: Roger Linn Adrenalinn III


Funky Rock n Roll: Hooray for the Salvation Army Band

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 11:24 am by George Smith

Well before Bill Cosby’s enshrinement as a TV star in the Huxtable family, DD thought he was hilarious.

If you were a smartypants kid living in Pennsylvania within easy travel of Philadelphia in the mid-Sixties, Cosby was the homegrown comic for you.

The most played Cosby vinyl in the Smith household, between my brother and I, was “Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow Right!” — a live recording of him doing his thing at the Bitter End in NYC.

But there was one Bill Cosby record that was off style.

“Bill Cosby Sings Hooray for the Salvation Army Band!” was an album of Cosby singing — or yelling and chanting if you prefer — old favorites, many with his own lyrics tacked on, while backed by a funk band.

Viewed with a fishy eye by some regular fans, it was at first perceived to be a joke album by a jokester putting one over on the same fans.

It wasn’t.

DD was introduced to it by fellow Pine Grove Area School District student Dave Berger. Berger showed up in class one day reciting the lyrics to the title track. Even without music, they were a laugh riot if you were in our state of mind.

As we were easily entertained, Berger’s description of Bill Cosby singing about “stealing tires” and getting ready to “have a little sin” set to an unusual interpretation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Purple Haze” sounded top shelf — not a piece of eye-rolling junk to try your patience.

After that, it was about a week before I had convinced my grandfather to drive me to Pomeroy’s in Pottsville to secure a copy.

In the Eighties in Bethlehem I always wanted to perform “Hooray for the Salvation Army Band” but the Highway Kings would have never went for it.

The song was recorded using Roger Linn’s Adrenalinn III magic box. The Adrenalinn III is a guitar amp emulator and drummer coupled to beat-synchronized multi-effects. What that means is you can play a guitar through its digital selection of vintage pieces of equipment, like amplifiers chosen for their rock and roll history and tone. Through the software and processing power in the Adrenalinn III’s chips, your playing is lashed to the beat of any song you would like to record or perform.

The Adrenalinn has been around for years, upgraded intermittently but very effectively by its designers. It is the embodiment of sophisticated music machine fun and it’s hard to imagine making a recording or writing a new tune without employing it.

So the Adrenalinn III was the perfect tool for “Hooray for the Salvation Army Band” as it provides settings and sound ideal for something loosely based on “Purple Haze” — the original’s basic drum track, plus the old Marshall amplifier and octave fuzztone used by Jimi Hendrix.

Everything on the track (with the exception of the “Bringing In the Sheaves” punchline) was sent through the Adrenalinn III.

If you have Cosby’s original album — it is back in print — you know the tune was interpreted as garage-style funk rock. DD has altered it slightly, toward a more psychedelic hard rock flavor.

Hooray for the Salvation Army Band MP3.

A variety of endorsements of the Adrenalinn III — including mine.

No, you’re not seeing double. This is an old post migrated from DD’s old Blogger-administered site. In advance of Blogger’s shutdown of FTP publishing.


Funky Rock n Roll: Needle and Spoon

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 5:25 pm by George Smith

Dick Destiny plays Needle and Spoon


“Needle and Spoon” first appeared on Savoy Brown’s Raw Sienna album from 1970. Penned by Chris Youlden, the band’s gruff but soulful blues shouter, it has always been one of my favorite blues rock tunes.

I’ve kept the fast shuffling beat, added a bit more thumping acoustic guitar, plus a short fuzz solo tossed in behind a vocal imprecation. For just that old-timey feel.

No one in this edition of Savoy Brown was a heroin user so rack it up to bumping into other rock ‘n’ rollers in 1970 Blighty who were. There was no shortage.

For extra fun, consider the single to have a virtual B-side, “Internal Revenue Boogie,” here.

Jolly good!

Gear: Roger Linn Design Adrenalinn III, lotsa guitars — at least three.

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