Saturday, November 27, 2010

Better late than never. Been saying that a lot lately. Still, I'm mighty glad that, 26 years after its initial publication, I've finally gotten around to reading Nick Tosches' god-like tome. It's worth all the hype and then some. Then again, a book like this isn't one which lends itself to hype. It might've made a bit of a splash in its day, but I see its influence as more of a creeping, slow-burn effect. If we're lucky, generations upon generations of youngsters will read this book and clutch it to their hearts like a sacred scroll, espousing the genius of Wynonie Harris and Stick McGhee to all those around them. That's not likely to happen, though if I was a music teacher, I'd make it a mandatory read for all students and I'd rate it up there w/ Joe Carducci's Rock & The Pop Narcotic as the best book there be on the subject of rock music.

However, there is a basic difference between the two: Tosches' book is not about "rock" music. "Rock Music" began sometime... when? When the Beatles sold a zillion records? When supergroup Cream started boring the piss out of us for eternity? Once Woodstock ruined music for an entire generation? "Rock Music" happened when it became a culture, a mighty big business, a corrupted shell of its once innocent self. All of the above, none of the above and more. But let's not discuss Rock Music; instead we'll discuss this thing called rock & roll and the way it's covered in Tosches' book.

Standard thinking has it that rock & roll hit somewhere 'round 1954-'55 when several forces combined to give the world Elvis' Sun recordings, the beginning of Little Richard's most inspired material, Jerry Lee Lewis et al. The music as such was caught at a nexus of amped-up white hillbilly music (you can even call it rockabilly, if you will) and black rhythm & blues. Apparently the two forms mutated and out came rock & roll. I have no real contention w/ that basic idea, and I don't think Tosches necessarily does either (in the sense of the music being given a name), as he remains a great fan of many of the artists who then made a name for themselves post '54, but I guess the point of this book is to show that rock & roll, as a music form before it was birthed as such by the mainstream media, had been kickin' & stickin' since roughly 1945, and Tosches' book is all about giving this crew of ne'er-do-wells (though a couple of them did do mighty well for themselves) of the 1945-'54 period their due as musical pioneers. It's not so much the history of pre-rock & roll: this stuff is, was and forever shall be rock & roll. A wild and untamed beast whose sole motivation was to rock a beat which would get one laid, drunk and rich. Many artists featured succeeded at the former two.

I must embarrassingly admit that this is the first Tosches book I've read. His name is uttered in the same hallowed tones as Bangs and Meltzer by all those in the know, and his name has popped up in my radar for two decades now, but it's 2010, I'm 38 and, until just recently, a Tosches virgin. I'll be back for more. He's funny as shit, foul-mouthed, humourous, disdainful of just about anything not seen as the real deal and can pen a sentence which is capable of blowing my piddley mind. Unsung Heroes... is made up of a collection of what were originally small articles he wrote for Creem magazine strung together as chapters detailing individual artists who fit the bill as unsung heroes. Some are slightly less unsung in the year 2010 than they were in 1984, but few are household names. The introduction spills the dirt on what he sees as the subsequent 30-year corruption of rock & roll into a dull parade of thoroughly unexciting pre-manufactured "bad boy" twaddle designed for the masses, and then it heads for the goods. Of course, being published in 1984, and then revised again in the '90s, the prefaces/introductions throw in a few thoroughly dated jabs at the likes of MTV, Billy Idol, Guns 'n' Roses and The Boss, but it's all about setting the scene and establishing what the book isn't about. The individual chapters are the meat you gotta chew on.

Some of these folks you likely know: Bill Haley (a guy whom, until a few years ago, I'd somewhat dismissed as a bandwagon-jumping hillbilly hack. That is, until I actually heard how good his late '40s/early '50s hillbilly music was), Big Joe Turner, Wanda Jackson (who got a rep in the '80s through the Cramps association and still tours down here to packed houses), Louis Prima, Nat King Cole (whose earlier material, before it was smoothed out for a mass white audience, apparently follows a more hopped-up R & B line of thinking), Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Jackie Brenston (and all due credit oughta go to Ike Turner for that), etc. There's some artists you oughta know about, coz their music moves heaven and earth: Louis Jordan, Amos Milburn, Stick McGhee, Wynonie Harris, Hank Ballard and The Treniers. And there's a bunch more I feel like I should've known about, such as Jesse Stone (who was instrumental in the beginnings of the Atlantic label), Ming & Ling (incredibly obscure Chinese hillbilly duo), Jimmy Logsdon, Skeets McDonald and more.

Tosches gives you just the facts, ma'am, and little else, and this economic style is what makes it work. Not a single entry gets too bogged down in unnecessary detail: he tells you where and when they were born, their musical evolution, the hits and misses, the label changes and tragedies (a whole lotta them) and where they wound up in life and that's it. A lot of 'em fucked up, drank too much, pissed their money away on gambling or simply couldn't recover from, ironically, the onslaught of rock & roll in the mid '50s; some, like Screamin' Jay Hawkins, were slightly insane in the first place; and even a few, such as Big Joe Turner, Charles Brown and Wanda Jackson, managed to sustain long and relatively successful careers in music.

The Unsung Heroes Of Rock & Roll is more than just a humourous history lesson of the unjustly forgotten, it's a paean to people who made incredibly life-affirming, groundbreaking music; a snapshot of a time, as with any music form before it gels into a "movement" capable of being mass-marketed, when disparate elements throughout America were making wild and unpredictable sounds and the big wigs from the industry, at least for a few years, hadn't really cottoned onto it. It's not a tale of innocence corrupted; according to Tosches, rock & roll was always just about the money, the booze and the broads, a self-destructive animal bound for combustion. It's just that some did it better than others. I shoulda read this book 20 years ago.


Below are a few recommendations of currently-in-print CDs covering some of the artists from the book. You need to investigate...


THE TRENIERS - In The '50s: This Is It! CD (Rev-Ola/UK)
30 tracks of high-energy hoppin' swing-infused rock & roll from this small-band '40s/'50s (and beyond) combo led by identical twins Cliff and Claude Trenier. One of the outfits who helped Bill Haley grow a pair of musical balls when he heard 'em. Their stage shows were allegedly like the Bad Brains of their time, backflips 'n' all, and that energy transfers itself nicely to these recordings.

IKE TURNER & HIS KINGS OF RHYTHM - Ike's Instrumentals CD (Ace/UK)
I wrote about this a little while ago. Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88" isn't actually featured on this, but since Ike is absolutely instrumental to the formation of rock & roll as we know it, and since he's covered in the book in the Brenston chapter, I thought I'd throw it in. Unbelievably good twang 'n' treble whammy-bar action from one of the greats. Upon first listen, this CD just about blew my mind apart w/ its genius. It's a pity he's only remembered amongst the general populace as being somewhat of an asshole...

WANDA JACKSON - Queen Of Rockabilly: The Very Best of the Rock 'n' Roll Years CD (Ace/UK)
Pretty self-explanatory. Jackson later went off into a fairly sedate (but still highly listenable) country mode in the '60s as she settled down to raise a family, before giving up music entirely for a good decade or more. She still cuts it as a live act, I'm told, though anything and everything you really wanna hear - the wild-banshee rockabilly stuff - is included on this CD.
CLYDE MCPHATTER - Clyde/Rock & Roll CD (Hoodoo/Spain)
McPhatter had a voice which was as smooth as butter. His music doesn't kick your ass into next week the way Sonny Burgess' or Little Richard's does, but it's got a high-energy romp to it which makes it a crucial link in the early, formative chain of rock 'n roll. He fronted the Drifters for a few years before his domination (in terms of headlines and popularity) of the group overshadowed them to the extent that he quit to go it alone. A huge influence on a good two or three generations of soul singers, from Jackie Wilson to Curtis Mayfield and beyond, this CD combines his two best LPs from the period and a few rare bonus cuts.
LOUIS JORDAN - The Later Years 1953-1957 2CD (JSP/UK)
I guess the ironic aspect of this collection is that it puts together over 50 tracks from a point in Jordan's career when his popularity began to plummet. The guy was huge in the 1940s - dominated the charts, in fact - though by the early '50s he was considered slightly washed up. When rock & roll hit it big, he decided to make his sound a bit more contemporary, making his jump-blues rhythms heavier and more forceful and picking up the pace. In short, it sounds like rock & roll to me. Jordan's earlier material is well worth getting your hands on (there's a 5CD set on JSP documenting that era), though for my money nothing beats this 56-track collection. He's reworked some of his old songs here, but one stand-out has to be "Fire" on disc 2, with a jetting pace, screaming sax and Louis' roaring vocals over the top: it rivals Little Richard's output at the time for raging ferocity.

STICK MCGHEE - New York Blues and R & B 1947-1951 4CD (JSP/UK)
Granville "Stick" McGhee was given his nickname due to his habit of pushing his polio-ravaged older brother, the famed folk-blues guitarist/singer Brownie McGhee, around with a stick on a cart when he was young. He didn't follow his brother's path onto the big time possibly for one good reason: he died in 1961 from cancer. And unlike his brother, his music was a booze-soaked rendition of rhythm & blues given to odes to nasty women, gambling losses and sucking juice. He scored a hit w/ his own "Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee" in 1951, a song which has since been covered by just about everyone (including useless dickhead, Kid Rock, of all people), and for a decade cut a whole series of sides whose musical style and subject matter didn't stray too far from a well-worn formula, but hey, what a formula it is! This 4CD collection has 40 cuts from Stick, some good rhythm & blues from Brownie (which is different in style to his more famous material) and even some Sonny Terry. A good family-tree-oriented comp, but you want it for Stick. You gotta love Stick.
AMOS MILBURN - Let's Have A Party CD (Rev-Ola/UK)
Speaking of formulas, Amos Milburn certainly had one: sing about booze over a rollicking brand of brassy jump-blues. Seriously, "Bad, Bad Whiskey" is exactly the same as "Vicious, Vicious Vodka", which is exactly the same as "Juice, Juice, Juice". And so on. Sorry, do I sound like I'm complaining? Not on your life! A formula this good and this well executed deserves a repeat performance. This one's got 29 sides - all of them at least good, many of them great - and features his most hard-arsed of numbers, the awesome "Chicken Shack Boogie". A young hillbilly by the name of Elvis Aaron Presley was quite the devoted fan.

WYNONIE HARRIS - Rock, Mr. Blues! CD (Rev-Ola/UK)
By halfway through this 30-song CD, I'm usually on the verge of cracking up. Wynonie does that to me. He was such a bad-ass, a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing bear of a man, always getting into scrapes w/ jealous boyfriends and boozed-up punch-ons down at the local watering hole, that his constant bragaducio routine in his songs, accompanied w/ a real dick-swinging swagger and raging jump-blues backbeat, well, it just makes me laugh. He was one of the leanest, meanest, ludest and crudest of them all. His songs are filled w/ double entendres and a fisting-pumping rock & roll delivery, his voice booms over the music like a bellowing giant and there ain't a dud track here. You need it, you need Wynonie in your life.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

You'll have to excuse me, things have been a little hectic of late. The busier times get, the less attention I pay to this blog. Let me see if I can simply ramble on about a few things. That image above is taken from the front cover of PELL MELL's Flow CD from 1991 on SST. I paid zero attention to it upon release. In fact, I didn't even know of its existence until many years later. By 1990, it was my belief that SST had completely and utterly drained the well dry regarding music I would care to listen to in this lifetime. You may have a different opinion regarding that. Perhaps you think they should've never bothered releasing any music in the first place (and that means you're reading the wrong blog); or perhaps you think the cut-off point is 1986, when Joe Carducci left the stable and Ginn and co. were free to go on a wild signing spree, subsequently releasing hundreds of records in just a couple of years (it has been noted before that Carducci didn't want to sign Sonic Youth to the label, believing that record collectors don't make worthwhile music. The day he left, Ginn & Dukowski gave Thurston a call. Surely Carducci must admit that Evol and Sister are fine records, no?). For myself the cut-off point was always 1989... but I'm willing to admit there's some fine late-to-the-party stragglers the label has released over the past 20 years.
Flow is most definitely in there, along w/ releases by Slovenly, Fatso Jetson, The Sort Of Quartet and even Ginn's own recent Jambang recordings, an outfit who make music a whole lot more intriguing than their terrible name may suggest. But like I said, I didn't buy Flow at the time, as my head was elsewhere (mainly up the ass of Kramer, Jad Fair and John Zorn, if memory serves me well). I've written about Pell Mell before, and if you care, you can read it here. Along with Slovenly and The Scene Is Now - two bands whose sonic qualities they vaguely resemble - I still stand by the claim that they rank among the finest and most sorely under-valued American rock bands of the last 30 years. If you disagree, you can send your complaints to my PO box. Pell Mell only ever made instrumental music, and were lucky enough to have two recording/producing/tech geeks in their ranks w/ Steve Fisk and Greg Freeman, which means that even though the music doesn't possess a Jim Steinman-like gloss, the interweaving of the instruments is always apparent, and just like Slovenly and TSIN, Pell Mell's songs always sound like there's different, separate melodic traces dodging their way throughout their songs, making for excellent repeated listening pleasure. That means there's an almost Verlaine/Lloyd-style telepathic interaction happening, though Pell Mell never went the way of The Long Solo. The economic twang 'n' burn is pure Duane Eddy and Dick Dale with a beautiful, lilting and lyrical edge which would make 'em perfect for soundtracks. And indeed they did have some tracks on various soundtracks and TV shows, including one on possibly my fave series of them all, Six Feet Under.
In 1991, despite the "grunge explosion" (most of which sounded like a B-grade take on mid '80s SST sludge-rock), SST was about as fashionable as last month's milk, and hence Flow didn't do much business. As noted before, their old manager, ex-SST dude and as-then DGC A & R guy, "Rockin" Ray Farrell, signed 'em to Geffen for the equally excellent Interstate CD from 1995, before they were dropped from the label to release their fantastic Star City CD - possibly their finest album of them all - on Matador in 1997. All of these albums remain out of print though relatively cheap and easy to find on ebay. And I haven't even mentioned their brilliant albums from the '80s yet. That's for another time. I suspect few will leap from their computer, or leap onto their computer to go on a mad Pell Mell search after reading this, but if you do, you can thank me later.
Writer/musician Binky Philips, he being a member of the '70s/'80s CBGBs outfit The Planets, has written an interesting piece on The Damned's debut performance at CBGBs in 1977 for The Huffington Post right here. It's well worth a read and only confirms my opinion that The Damned were one of the UK's finest exports in '77 and remain greatly undervalued by those who should know better. Their debut LP is still one of the great albums of its era (as is Machine Gun Etiquette from '79), a non-stop barrage of furious and seriously rocking "punk" which also played a defining role in kickstarting the hardcore movement a few years later. Certainly, their west coast shows at the time gave the locals a boost in knowing they were on the right track. Read and bullshit that you were there.
I now have tickets in my possession for four live shows happening in Melbourne over the next four months: The Fall, Wire, Swans and Hawkwind. I suspect The Fall may be completely terrible, but it must be done. Wire I have no fears for: their show here some 5 years back in scorched in my brain as one of the finest live musical experiences of my pathetic life. Swans could go either way, but their billing w/ support band the Necks and my shameless 20-year fandom for their music makes attendance a mandatory equation. Hawkwind could be a shambles, and I don't think they're carrying much these days in regards to original membership, though their output from the '70s, and even a smattering of recordings from beyond that period, remains so definitive in my "musical development" (and perhaps lack of mental development) that I'll be there front and centre.
If you think this post is lame, then perhaps I should tell you about the number of constant and draining distractions going on about me - in my goddamn loungeroom! - as I write this. I won't.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I said below in the John Belushi post that "the story of the interesecting of punk rock and Hollywood is a relatively brief and uninteresting one". Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly disagree, and have edited this 528-page book for Fantagraphics, due on the world's doorstep within the next week, to prove me wrong. Well, perhaps most of these films hardly rate as "Hollywood" pics, but it certainly sounds like a book I need my mitts on. More on this in the future...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

WHY BE SOMETHING THAT YOU'RE NOT: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985 book (Revelation Publishing)
The midwestern hardcore revival starts... now. Or a few months ago and I'm already slow out of the gate. It's 2010 and things are coming full circle. 30 years ago, the midwestern hardcore punk scene consisted of Tesco Vee and Dave Sims publishing Touch & Go fanzine for all 100 or so people who'd read it, embryonic outfits such as The Fix and the Necros, Chicago's Effigies and a few others scattered throughout the region. In its infant stages, 1979/'80, the participants probably figured their music would barely ever make a reach beyond state lines, let alone be immortalised by such a book as this, not to mention the CD/vinyl reissues which have taken place the last decade or more, as well as the countless blogs dedicated to this area of sound. Am I complaining? Not on your sweet life, honey. The midwestern scene managed to spit out some of the coolest bands of the day - I'll certainly vouch for Die Kreuzen and Negative Approach being some of the finest bands of the original HC era (and in the former, I'd say that their post-HC works are their greatest, though I may be in the minority regarding that opinion) - and it's nice to know that such outfits are getting the concrete documentation they deserve. More than that, it also confirms at least in my mind that I haven't been completely wasting the last 25 or so years of my life obsessing over this kind of stuff; after all, now it's legitimate.
Writer Tony Rettman has put this book together - I've heard his name bandied about over the years through the fanzine/blog circuit, though I couldn't give you his full CV right here and now - and it's essentially a collection of interviews w/ all the main players, interspersed w/ his own narration. A simple format, and it works. My main grippe w/ the book, and really it's the only grippe, is that it simply isn't long enough. It reads more like an extended fanzine article and could've been twice its length - there's only 158 pages of text here [broken up w/ photos and assorted graphics], as well as an additional 80+ pages of discographies, flyers et al - without outstaying its welcome. In short, it could've been fleshed out a lot more than it has been, at the very least going deeper into the individuals' respective backgrounds, their upbringing, education, politics, whatever. The book essentially starts at the birth of the HC "scene" (that'd be 1979), briefly introduces the likes of Tesco Vee and Barry Hennsler, but gives the reader very little idea of what really made them tick, or their motivation to create a faster, louder brand of punk rock. It's not like the reader is left clueless, as such things are given a glance, but not the kind of analysis warranted.
And all that possibly sounds like I wanted an over-analysis of the whole topic, or that I'm trying to intellectualise it beyond what is required, but it's not too much to ask. Perhaps Jon Savage's England's Dreaming or the Lexicon Devil book on Darby Crash just set the bar too high for many others to follow: the anaylsis given to the topic at hand being so thorough, scholarly and so well written/editied that Rettman's book seems like a toilet read in comparison. But what a toilet read it is! I demolished the book in an afternoon last week when I was struck down w/ a nasty bout (there's no other kind of bout) of gastro and enjoyed every minute of it. The book, that is. Oh, the irony: a toilet read on a day that I was virtually glued to the thing.
The birth of Touch & Go, the fanzine, is given major props in the first half of the book (I wrote about the recently issued T & G compendium here, if you care), and it puts the lens on possibly the two most important bands of the scene, The Fix and the Necros, in mostly the detail they deserve. And they do deserve such detail, not only because you could argue the point that both bands essentially kickstarted midwestern HC as we know it, but also because previously there has been so little written about both bands.
The Fix finally have their scant discography reissued for the masses via the Touch & Go LP/CD released a few years back, though the Necros still remain a mystery for most (including me), both because of the little aural/literal documentation of the group (I sense that Barry Hennsler doesn't like dwelling in the past and talking about it too much) and also because their discography has remained out of print for longer than most young HC kids around and active today have been alive. I've never owned a piece of Necros vinyl in my life; other than cut-out copies of their Tangled Up LP - their failed post-HC foray into mid-tempo metallic rock - cluttering up sale bins in the late '80s, I've never even seen any Necros records. I've had their first two 7"s, both released in miniscule quantities at the time on the infant T & G imprint, on cassette the last 20 years (taped for me by a dedicated Perth-based collector at the time who actually owned them), but that's it. Google "Necros IQ 32 blogspot" and you'll find 'em in an instant, but downloads just ain't the same as something you can hold in your hands. Don't expect a legit reissue any time soon, either: the masters are lost.
The diaspora of bands really happened in the summer of 1981. By that time, all the main players had made their connections: bands like the Necros and Negative Approach were playing to packed halls, Black Flag had swung through town several times already, making a link to the west coast, and just as importantly, if not more so, Tesco, Barry, John Brannon and co. had made a strong connection w/ the DC scene via fanzines, tours and their respective labels (I'd forgotten that Ian MacKaye actually produced the Necros' second EP and that it was a split Dischord/T & G release). The older punk scene in Detroit had been pushed out by The Kids, and judging by the low opinion held of such bands by the likes of Tesco and co., it sounds like they only required a nudge to move on and be forgotten. The hardcore scene itself, or at least what I would consider to be the definitive hardcore scene before it began running out of ideas and recycling itself, came and went pretty quick. Steven Blush in the flawed American Hardcore book is slightly generous and extends it to 1986 (and on a good day I'll grant that timeline, 1986 being the year both Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys split up and Dischord released a distinctly post-HC LP by Embrace), though Why Be Something... shows the rot had set in heavily by 1983/'84, when bands were splitting up or taking musical routes inspired by everything from the Birthday Party to REM to rock/metal. More than that, Tesco Vee even got the hell out of dodge and relocated to Washington DC. You probably know the story, and if you don't, you should...
John Brannon and Negative Approach figure prominently in the second half of the book, as the Necros passed the mantle of HC kings and spent most of the time touring for a few years before becoming completely disillusioned w/ the HC scene, in the meantime returning to their pre-punk hard-rock roots and shocking old fans w/ a more Black Sabbath/Aerosmith/MC5-inspired approach. Brannon's wildman lifestyle is the stuff of legend, and it's given a good rundown here, and there's a mountain of worthwhile anecdotes, stories and information for the dedicated, such as Brannon, Vee and co. all being in attendance at the infamous Fear performance on Saturday Night Live (John Belushi even shaved Brannon a mohawk for the occasion); the brilliant Crucifucks and their abilities to annoy all those around them; the rifts between The Fix and the Necros (the former being slightly older and figuring the Necros to be a bunch of clueless, bratty suburbanites; the latter figuring The Fix to be a bunch of old burnouts down on The Kids); Vee cutting school (where he taught: Vee was a good decade older than most of the participants and cut a pretty cool John Sinclair-style figure)) on the last day of semester so he could attend a Circle Jerks show in NY; the Necros' (and T & G label owner once Vee gave him the reins) Corey Rusk and his admirable determination to make the label more than just a fly-by-night venture by setting up a mini-recording studio; the pivotal show by the Pagans which inspired the Necros, etc. There's also a bunch of flyer reprints, discographies, gig dates and more. The band known as Blight, a Throbbing Gristle-inspired noise outfit featuring Tesco Vee and members of The Fix, were completely unknown to me prior to reading this, and I see there's a Complete Discography CD available on T & G, and thus it's educational even for know-it-alls who think there's nothing left to be said.
Hardcore punk rock is like a form of folk music now, a retro folk music at that. Just as krautrock, bebop and western swing are. I don't listen to any contemporary HC as I prefer to go to the original source for audio pleasures, just as I'd rather listen to a Charlie Parker record than a contemporary band apeing his sound. I can't and don't begrudge anyone for playing and/or listening to bands still imitating this stuff today, as my ears aren't blocked to the possibilities, but a book like Why Be Something That You're Not really does bring it on home as to why the original stuff still sounds so good: it was music w/ a purpose.
Another punk rock book for the library...
And just for kicks, below are a few clips from the Crucifucks, Meatmen and Negative Approach.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A lazy man's stop-gap bloggin' this time: a YouTube clip. Though of course when it's this good, I have no shame in simply posting it and hoping at least someone will get something from having viewed it. It's the classic early '60s Charles Mingus quintet w/ the great Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet and flute, and when he breaks out into the raucous solo at about the 2:15 mark, it sounds like the heavens have opened. That's assuming the heavens consist of an avant-garde reed solo. The performance, sound and picture quality are impeccable, and it only serves to remind me that the man known as Charles Mingus remains one of America's finest contributors to post-war culture.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A friend alerted me to the YouTube clip above just the other day, and it damn near knocked my head clean off. It's that good. It's The Coloured Balls live in the studio in 1973, pummelling their way through "The Devil's Disciple", a track whose origin remains a mystery to me, in the sense that I can't locate it on any of the Aztec reissues. Whatever the case, it's one of their best songs, and showcases Lobby Lloyde - I like to call him "The Lobster", even if no one else does - and co. ripping it up in a fashion not unlike a Groundhogs/Pink Fairies hybrid. That description certainly suits the music, even though the band weren't really an "underground" phenomenon in Australia. That's not to say they packed out arenas or sold records in any great quantity - they didn't - it's just that the band were more akin to their buddies (and gig partners) Rose Tattoo and AC/DC than any kind of "rad" concept a la the MC5. But now we're just talking context: musically, none of any of the bands I just mentioned are that radically different from each other, sonically speaking. The only thing is, their buddies in Rose Tattoo and AC/DC stuck around longer, garnering bigger and bigger audiences throughout the latter half of the 1970s, and at least for one of them, the hard work paid off in spades. Lobby was too restless, his mind and music darting in a thousand different directions to stay still for too long. The Coloured Balls called it quits in 1975, after having released two excellent albums such as Ball Power and Heavy Metal Kid (are there more?). The Ball Power LP earned a certain hip cache down here in the late '80s after Bored! covered "Human Being" on their debut 12" mini LP, though Lobby had already earned a rep as a r 'n' r lifer after having produced X's epochal X-Aspirations in 1979 (an LP which definitely rates as a Top Fiver for Aussie platters from moi), along w/ an eclectic mix of artists which range from the Sunnyboys to Painters & Dockers to Depression(!). Ball Power has a more bluesy yet high-energy hard-rock approach which lifts it far beyond what most of what passed as "blues-rock" was doing in 1972; from what I can gather, most of the UK blues-rockers were intent on terminal instrumental masturbation by that stage, whilst the Coloured Balls kept it tight and punchy. Sure, they could drag a tune out for 10 minutes, if need be, such as on "GOD", but that's an exception, and it don't drag.
1974's Heavy Metal Kid has a different sound: shorter songs, less blues damage, and an almost '50s/rocker/boot-stomping feel not unlike Slade (who made a huge splash out here in the early '70s when they toured, especially w/ the sharpies [foreigners are going to have to Google that one, life's too short to explain], who were the Coloured Balls' core audience). It features possibly Lobby's worst ever song, "See What I mean", an insipid ballad not unlike the clunkers featured on 'Sabbath albums from the same period, though it's balanced out by some proto-punk rockers like the title track, "Private Eye" (an excellent, sneering twelve-bar rant), and "Back To You", probably the best song on the album, and one which drones in an almost cosmic, Hawkwind-ish manner. You need it.
Lobby's music then went in all manner of directions: Obsecration was released in 1975 and veers towards a psychedelic roots-rock direction, rollicking jams interspersed w/ Lloyd's spikey guitar jabs. 1976's Beyond Morgia: the Labyrinths of Klimster remains the strangest in his discography; unreleased until 2007, it's an instrumental album based on a sci-fi novel (and hopefully film) which Lloyde had written and then destroyed in a fit of rage before he split for the UK at the time, and it sounds little like any records being recorded in 1976, let alone in Australia. It's more along the lines of Saucerful Of Secrets-period 'Floyd, w/ perhaps some first-LP Hawkwind thrown in. More than just a curio item, if you're going to spring for Lobby's more well-known discs, you should definitely throw this one on the pile, too. Last of all is Live With Dubs, recorded live to air for 2JJ in 1979 and later overdubbed w/ vocals by Mandu (singer in Lloyde's Southern Electric on Obsecration) and Rose Tattoo's Angry Anderson. Released in 1980 in a miniscule pressing, it disappeared from sight quick, though its no-BS loose, punk-ish hard rock still sounds hot to these ears in 2010. Informed of and inspired by punk, but not a part of it, Live With Dubs, much like the other Lobby Lloyde albums mentioned, can't be easily compared to bands from overseas. Sometimes the music can pile a wall of guitar aggro on top of the blues just like the Groundhogs, sometimes it can reach the astro-boogie stratosphere like Hawkwind, and sometimes their war-against-the-jive punk-ish tone gets me thinking of the '5, but ultimately everything sounds so Australian that trying to measure up what Lobby did during this period to what was happening overseas at the time does it no justice, and doesn't really illuminate its appeal. Lobby's now dead - passed away in 2007 - though his music is still alive and well catered for by the folks at Aztec, and you oughta be happy about that.

Friday, November 05, 2010


Here's one of the stranger moments of my childhood: when I was in primary school in the late 1970s, every once in a while the class, and sometimes the entire school, would pack into the "assembly room" and watch a film on a rickety old projector. Don't worry, I'm not about to get all Stigliano on you and reminisce about days gone by whilst begrudging the last 30 years of life on earth as some kind of cultural vacuum ruined by liberals/homos/me/indie-rock/do-gooders/Michael J. Fox/Roseanne Barr/etc. No, what I'm about to say is that one of the stranger choices made by the teaching staff was to show the children Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout from 1971.

Englishman Roeg had made a bit of a name for himself for having co-directed Performance, starring Mick Jagger, in 1970, and would go onto make other cult favourites such as David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, and Don't Look Now, Bad Timing, Eureka and Insignificance (the last three of which Jim O'Rourke was so impressed by, he named three successive solo albums after them). Walkabout was filmed in Australia and stars UK sexpot Jenny Agutter in the lead role. You may remember her for getting her gear off in An American Werewolf In London. Or perhaps not. You may just know her for the fact that she seemed to be fond of stripping naked in just about every film she made in the '70s/'80s.

She was but 18 years of age when she filmed Walkabout, and she's playing (convincingly) an under-aged English schoolgirl; again, one who gets the kit off on screen. I shouldn't harp on the subject, lest I sound like a creep, though I can only assume that the version I was shown in primary school was an edited version, one which cut out the nudity and the rather brutal early scene in the film where Agutter's father, played by veteran Australian actor John Meillon, tries to shoot her and her younger brother before killing himself. At the very least, I do recall being slightly traumatised by the film's central concept of two young schoolchildren being lost and seemingly dying of hunger and thirst in the middle of Australia's unforgiving outback. I'm not quite sure why the teachers thought impressionable young minds should witness such cruelties, but in retrospect I'm glad they decided to torment us with their choice of cinema.

In the mid/late '90s I was belatedly made aware of Kenneth Cook's 1961 novel, Wake In Fright, by my good buddy Mark Harwood. It, too, was made into a film in 1971, this time by Ted Kotcheff (First Blood). The storyline is vastly different to that of Walkabout, though its central theme, one which portrays Australia's barren outback and sense of isolation as its main prop, is similar. Wake In Fright, one of this country's finest books and films - if you've neither read nor seen either, then I'm demanding you do both, pronto - was also studied widely in Australian schools in the 1970s. Veteran noise/avant/punk musician John Murphy, a man a good decade or more older than me, yet one who coincidentally also attended the very same state primary and private high school as myself, once told me that he was shown the film of Wake In Fright in high school at the time. If you're familiar with the film, some of its shocking scenes and the fact that the movie itself was considered almost extinct until it was very recently unearthed, remastered and reissued onto DVD, you might think that's kind of odd, perhaps even stranger than showing a room full of primary-age children scenes of two kids practically starving in the desert just after their father has tried to kill them.

So why am I writing this? Because Walkabout is a brilliant film. If I could be bothered making some sort of a list of my favourites, it'd be in there somewhere. It's got an excellent score by John Barry and even a brief electro-acoustic/cut-up track by Stockhausen on the soundtrack (taken from his meisterwerk, Hymnen), and despite a strange lapse into art-damaged cinema halfway through (there's a mighty peculiar scene in the middle involving scientists in the outback which looks like it belongs in a French New Wave film), the dreamlike film itself plays the storyline quite straight, as the two protagonists are helped to white civilisation by an aboriginal adolescent on his "walkabout" (a native tradition of self-discovery and -reliance males make at the onset of puberty), played by David Gulpilil. However, this ain't no white guilt trip; "Black Boy", as he's known, shares a similar sense of alienation as his white friends, and the result of this alienation isn't pretty. I'm beginning to wonder if that scene, too, was edited out for my fragile brain all those years ago as well.

The film itself has such a beautiful look to it (Roeg had extensive experience in cinematography), and yet the subject matter can be so depressing, with the seemingly happy adventures of the three adolescents obviously doomed to some tragedy down the track. As in Wake In Fright, white civilisation (I could've used inverted commas there, but come on!!...) is portrayed as just as brutal and merciless as that of the natives and the landscape, and since I'm of the belief that Australian mainstream culture barely scraped into the 20th century before Gough Whitlam was swept into power in 1972, I won't hold this portrayal as merely a cinematic conceit. Walkabout is just about the best there is, and that's not just nostalgia doing the talking.