TOM TROCCOLI’S DOG – s/t LP
Stop your snickering, I can hear it from here. I wish to discuss this album for essentially one reason. It’s not that it’s a great LP; hell, it’s not even a good one, but it’s one with a few points of interest. Why did I dig this out? Because I was in a discussion with a local record-store owner earlier in the week, a man reputed as just about the biggest Bob Dylan nut in Melbourne, and of course we were discussing the music of Mr. Zimmerman. Is my life such a pathetic sham that I would willingly engage in such activity? In a word: yes.
So, for what ever reason, I brought up this album in question and uttered the line: “The best ever Dylan cover was actually played by Tom Troccoli’s Dog, the band featuring non-legend Tom Troccoli, Greg Ginn and Dave Claasan, sung by Troccoli and Dez Cadena of Black Flag.” He gave me a quizzical look, screwed his face and kind of ignored my comment. I reiterated my point: TTD’s rendition of “Girl From The North Country” – in which Cadena plays Johnny Cash to Troccoli’s Dylan - is not only the finest Dylan cover I’d ever heard, but it in fact surpasses the greatness of the original. We to-ed and fro-ed and then agreed that I’d bring my copy of the album into the store one day for him to make up his mind. Maybe he’s just humouring me, but come one day, I will do such a thing.
TTD was released in 1985 on – what else? – SST. Troccoli was a ‘Flag roadie, Claasan a general hanger-on amongst the SST crowd, and Ginn was and is a man who needs no introduction. I bought this for about $5 when I was 16 or 17, for obvious reasons. If you ever pay more than that, you should have “Sucker” permanently tattooed on your forehead and be exiled from humanity. It enjoys the reputation of being a deleted turkey/bargain-bin-filler which probably next to no-one on this planet could care less about. File it alongside your October Faction discs. Such platters, for many, spelt the death knell for SST aficionados: Ginn had pulled one bucketbong too many and let all concepts of quality control fly out the door. I don’t agree with such a stance, but I can see where the nay-sayers are coming from.
For one, the first sign of a lousy record is this: the only redeemable songs present on said disc are covers. That’s this album in a teacup. Forget about the rest of the LP, this album contains one fantastic song and one I’d sum up as pretty cool: the Dylan number and a version of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Play With Your Poodle”. The rest is not totally worthless – Troccoli could play a mean Kirkwood/Ginn-inspired guitar (Ginn actually plays bass here) at times – but the songwriting is fairly weak, and even when a track gets some momentum, such as on the ender, “Patience”, everything falls apart within 2 minutes, leaving another 5 minutes of aimless bong-hit jamming. The rest is not even worth discussing.
So, that brings me to “Girl From the North Country”. I never heard the Nashville Skyline version of this ‘til roughly 10 years later when I was in the midst of a Dylan obsession. It’s a great disc, one maligned and/or misunderstood in its time, though the vocals of Troccoli and Cadena leave Dylan’s constipated yodeling and Cash’s coma-like drawl for dead. For real. Cadena could bark like a monster in the ‘Flag days, though, other than here, his attempts at singing have mostly been an embarrassment. Listen (or try to listen) to any DC3 album and you’ll tell me I’m right (again, DC3 only ever played two good songs, and they were both covers: Mountain’s “Theme From An Imaginary Western” and Hawkwind’s “Psy Power”: not a good sign). But here – right here – the man sings like a goddamn angel. His husky rasp is the perfect foil for Troccoli’s keening cry, and yes, I have played this to doubting friends in fits of alcohol-induced delusional behaviour (when it’s PARTY TIME: Hey, dude, break out the Troccoli disc, it’s a smoker!), and they’ve all agreed: this is better than the original. A keeper – for that one song.
Holy shit, did I just write 5 paragraphs on a goddamn Tom Troccoli’s Dog LP?