Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hal Blaine

Hal Blaine
The Record Plant, Sausalito '94

While preparing for our upcoming move, I've been re-boxing all my cds in the garage and amongst them, I found Hal Blaine's 'Drums! Drums! A Go Go' album. I thought the station could use a little more Hal and brought the cd indoors for uploading. Upon opening the cd, a note fell out. It reminded me of the fun we all had at the Record Plant in Sausalito when Angel Corpus Christi recorded her 6th album, 'White Courtesy Phone'. Angel and I both think Suicide's debut album is the best, so we selected its producer, Craig Leon (who also has Blondie and Pavarotti in his credits), to supervise. Both he and I had long dreamed of using Hal on a session so here was the perfect opportunity. Hal's credits are legendary. As a member of the 'Wrecking Crew' - a group of session musicians - he drummed on a huge number of hits, and here are just a few of his #1's: He's A Rebel, I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda, Barbara Ann, Another Saturday Night, Eve Of Destruction, Strangers In The Night, Monday Monday, Mrs. Robinson, Bridge Over Troubles Water. Add to those most of the Phil Spector hits, including Be My Baby, Da Doo Ron Ron, And Then He Kissed Me and you can see why we wanted him on Angel's record. The two days it took for him to write, rehearse and lay down his parts (mostly in one or two takes) were two of the most enjoyable I've ever spent in a studio. He brought a tremendous vibe to the sessions and his incessant joke-telling had us all in hysterics throughout. I sent him an email just to say 'hello' and he wrote back to let me know a documentary about 'The Wrecking Crew' has just been completed and is showing at film festivals around the country. (Hal Blaine slideshow)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Radio Radio

This past Thursday, I had lunch with my good friends Bill Levinson, his wife Bonnie and Denis McNamara at The Sitar, an Indian restaurant in Huntington. Until recently, Bill worked at Polygram/Universal combing through their huge vaults and releasing beautifully researched and lovingly annotated boxed sets by The Velvet Underground, James Brown, Rod Stewart, The Sir Douglas Quintet, Cream and Thin Lizzy. Furthermore, fabulous anthologies by JJ Cale, Marianne Faithfull, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, New York Dolls, Nico, T. Rex and Bob Marley came out under his watchful ears, along with many more. All of the above artists feature in regular rotation here on North Fork Sound. Bill lives for music, and always did right by the artist, so it is sad to see him leave after 28 years there. NoFoSo wishes him all the best in his future endeavors and if they ever call him back to consult on an Eddie & The Hot Rods box set, he knows who he should call, ha!
Denis is well-known for steering WLIR through the 80's and making it such a popular station amongst listeners and musicians. It was probably the first 'alternative' radio station in the US with any kind of meaningful signal and when I worked for CBS in the UK, I used to mail singles by the bands I worked with to LIR, hoping that I'd see them reported as 'imports' in tip-sheets like Walrus. These days, Denis is consulting for
an amazing little company company called vTuner, based in Northport on Long Island. vTuner 'organizes' internet radio and tv content, and has developed a method whereby a 'chip' can be incorporated into a radio which can pick up thousands of (pre-chosen) internet stations, via wi-fi. After our lunch, Denis gave me one of these radios, the Noxon iRadio pictured above. After simply plugging it into a wall socket in my kitchen, I've been listening to Radio Caroline, the BBC's 6Music, Mojo Radio, Metro Radio (hi Helen!), Resonance FM, NYC Police Department's radio scanner, Roots Rock Reggae (out of Jamaica), WXPN, and a whole mess of stations from all over the world. You want local radio from Poland? You've got 78 stations to choose from! How about South Korea? 44!! You get all genres of music, and talk, from practically every country in the world. Hopefully, vTuner will sort out a deal soon with the Live365 network, allowing North Fork Sound to be heard without the need for a computer. Many major manufacturers - Bose, Nokia, Denon, Yamaha, Terratec, Philips, Pioneer, for instance - are already incorporating vTuner's technology into their products right now, so say hello to the past, present and future of radio.

Sinéad O'Connor, Einar Örn Benediktsson, Denis McNamara
Sugarcubes' after-party, NYC, 1988

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Psychedelic Furs

Tim Butler, Richard Butler, Howard Kaylan & John Ashton
'Forever Now' sessions, Mink Hollow, '82

Sometimes, I would flick through Time Out (London) and go and see a band who I thought had an interesting name. Rock writer Giovanni Dadomo had mentioned The Psychedelic Furs to me once, so both those reasons were good enough to check them out at West Kensington's Nashville Rooms, a pub run by Dai Davies and Derek Savage, managers of The Stranglers. I'd signed Eddie & The Hot Rods out of 'the Nashville' (much to their co-headliner, 101-er Joe Strummer's huge disappointment) and had seen The Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Dire Straights, Hector Lavoe, Country Gazette, Graham Parker, The Jam, AC/DC, The Damned, The Cramps and many others all play there. The place held roughly 200 people and served Fuller's beer. Richard Butler came out in 'whiteface' and halfway through the show a fight erupted in the audience whereby Duncan Kilburn, Tim Butler and another member of the band (maybe Roger 'Dog' Morris) jumped off the stage to help a friend who was involved. Once the problem had been 'sorted' they jumped back on stage and continued, as if nothing had happened. I liked elements of their set and saw them a few more times so I could get a better handle on their material which had, initially, sounded all over the place. Songs like 'Sister Europe' and 'Imitation Of Christ' sounded odd in a set that included 'Blacks/Chaos/Radio', 'Flowers' and 'Pulse', but over a few weeks, I grew to appreciate the band as a dynamic live act and Richard as a distinctive vocalist who wrote beautiful, melodic songs and wrapped them in a Velvets-y frame. John Peel had commissioned a session for his show at the BBC and word was beginning to spread, so it was now time to get the head of A&R, Muff Winwood, to see them at the Music Machine in Camden Town. Somewhere on the tape of the show I was recording on my portable cassette machine, Muff leans over to me and says "we should sign them". I put them into Basing Street studios with Ed Hollis producing, to demo some of their tracks (Sister Europe, Fall, Pulse & We Love You) and shortly afterwards, Muff and I were having our photos taken backstage at the Nag's Head, in High Wycombe with the band and Les Mills & Tracey Collier (management) celebrating their new recording contract. Next, I started soliciting producers for the first single, as the band didn't want to work with Ed anymore. They gave me a long list of contenders that included Eno and David Bowie but nobody wanted to do it so, in the end, I got the job. At this point (1979), despite having worked at Trident Studios for 3 years ('71 - '74), I'd only 'produced' one single - New Math's 'Die Trying' - so to cover for my inexperience, Ian Taylor was enlisted to do it with me. Ian was a recording engineer at Phonogram Studios, looking to break into production. We selected live favourites 'We Love You' for the A side and 'Pulse' for its flip. The band was well rehearsed, so they bashed through 'Flowers', too, just for the hell of it. The whole thing was done in two 12 hour sessions; tracking, overdubs, vocals, mixing. Richard insisted on having NO effects, whatsoever, on his vocal. The single came out on CBS's Epic label in the UK and managed to scrape its way up to #4 on Sounds magazine's 'Alternative Chart', a new chart they'd created so they could, uh, 'legitimize' some of the records by the newer bands they were writing about, none of which were hitting the 'official' charts (including this one). Still, the Furs started to get taken a little more seriously and Steve Lillywhite, who'd been sitting on the fence, agreed to produce the band and went on to do a terrific job on their first 2 albums, 'The Psychedelic Furs' and 'Talk Talk Talk'. Here's a Slideshow

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson
at home, Del Valle, TX, (mid-90s)

No werewolves out there…” he declared after looking up and down the corridor, and with that, the former lead singer for the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Roky Erickson, re-entered the room, shut the door, sat in his seat right behind me and continued to speak all the dialog to 'The Creature With The Atom Brain' into my left ear. I was in a room at the St. Francis Hotel in SF, along with managers Bruce Young and Craig Luckin, and we were watching a video of the 50's horror classic and Roky’s recitation, delivered 2 seconds before the actors spoke their lines, just gave everything a queasy edge. Prior to this, Bruce and Craig had been in London meeting with record companies and Liberty/UA's Andrew Lauder had given them my name as someone who might be interested. I was familiar with Roky through the Elevators' 'You're Gonna Miss Me' and some of the solo singles Hot Rods’ manager Ed Hollis had played me - Doug Sahm’s production of ‘Starry Eyes’/‘Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)’ on Mars Records, an E.P. on the French Sponge label featuring 'Mine Mine Mind', 'Click Your Fingers Applauding The Play', 'Two Headed Dog' and 'I Have Always Been Here Before' and ‘The Interpreter’/‘Bermuda', an early Rhino Records' 45. Roky's history interested me. After he was busted for a single joint in ‘69, rather than do prison time, Roky copped an insanity plea and spent 3½ years getting electroshock therapy at the Rusk State Hospital For The Criminally Insane. The word was that he came out thinking he was “not of this earth”. Of course, this alone is a perfect reason to sign him but I had Muff Winwood to report to, so I took a meeting. Once Bruce and Craig played me ‘Creature With The Atom Brain’, ‘Bloody Hammer’ and ‘The Wind And More’, I had to make the deal. Fortunately, I’d got lucky by bringing Adam & The Ants to the label and they were doing pretty well, so getting the green light was a formality. Roky turned out to be charming and polite, and although it was difficult to hold a ‘normal’ conversation with him, he was always cheerful, respectful and highly entertaining. Just before we released ‘Roky Erickson And The Aliens’, I brought him to the UK to do some promo and the first interviewer, Tom Hibbert, gave him a gift - a foot-long, eloborate knife in a fancy scabbard. Roky’s constant playing with it, sheathing and un-sheathing, rather unnerved the second interviewer, Sounds magazine's Sandy Robertson, to the point that he cut the interview short after about 10 minutes and left the room, perspiring.
I, too, did an interview with him to be used as a promotional tool for radio stations with the hope that Roky’s music and his personality might be better explained but I think it only confused people more. I asked him what the most noticeable changes in rock & roll were during last 15 years and he told me with a straight face, “The piano parts…(pause)...the razor-blade in the keys” and mimed someone running their fingers along the length of the keyboard in a Jerry Lee Lewis flourish while watching in horror as the fingers got sliced off by blades that only became visible when the keys were depressed. Asked what “TEO” on the insert for his CBS album stood for, he replied, “…Uh…the system”. I asked why he put that on the lyric sheet and he said, “Because there’s this creature, who wears glasses and he’s got a bald head…and he beats people up all the time….and he signed it for me”. Later, the (slightly different) American version of the album was released on Howie Klein's 415 Records. It was called ‘The Evil One’.
One afternoon when colleague, Bob Bortnick and I were at SXSW, Austin writer/journalist and good pal, Rob Patterson took us to Roky’s house in Del Valle near Austin, TX. It consisted of a few rooms, filled to the ceiling with 'stuff'. Stuff, I was told, that he ordered from catalogs, mainly because he enjoyed receiving mail. All the rooms in the house had multiple radios, tvs or tape machines,
some just making a hissing, static-y 'white' noise but all tuned in to different, and loud, sound sources and this was (apparently) what made him feel most ‘at home’. He posed for a couple of 3-D photographs, gave us visitors a gift (a retractable ball-point pen that had Roger R Kynard Erickson Myself S.B. inscribed along its shaft) and then said that he “had to go to sleep now”, signaling it was time for us to leave. He didn’t recognize me, but he sort of remembered ‘the guy from CBS’. These days, he’s in much better shape and enjoying something of a resurgence. Recently, he taped an Austin City Limits PBS tv show and there's a ton of recent stuff online.

Here’s a couple of verses and a chorus from 'Two Headed Dog' -

Peace brought back brought back
relaxed be nyet brought back

did you dry her out,
wind her out like jerky

to me she’s healed don’t tack

Winds quiet in the night

her body just blows messiah
sickening sweet sight left or right

is all right does not please my appetite

Two headed dog two headed dog

I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two headed dog.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Last week, Kevin P and I went to pay our respects at Joey Ramone's grave in East Rutherford, NJ. As we were leaving, The Ramones' version of 'Time Has Come Today' came on the (satellite) radio. Reminded me of the day Joey called me at Almo Sounds. We talked about the MC5 film that I was trying to help get made at the time. I wanted to show him a trailer and we fixed a time for me to come over to his apt on 9th St. He told me he was writing a new song called 'Maria Bartiromo' and asked if I wanted to help him out with it. I said 'sure', but never followed through. There aren't many things I regret about my career in the music business. Not having the guts to sign the Sex Pistols is one. Not writing a song with Joey Ramone is another. What the hell was I thinking? I should have cabbed it to his place immediately. In the end, he didn't need me. The song appeared on his solo album 'Don't Worry About Me', and is one of his best.
Eventually, Kevin and I came back to the city, had a couple of drinks and went to see 'Shine A Light' at the IMAX theater on Broadway at 68th St. Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera steal the show. Jeez.

Coney Island High, NYC, '98

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dr. George Butler 10/1/1936 - 4/9/2008

How sad to read earlier today of George's passing after a long bout of Alzheimer's. I met him when I transferred to Columbia Records from CBS (UK). He was an exceedingly well-spoken, dapper and charming man with great musical taste. One day, I was walking along the corridors and I saw him strolling towards me, talking to someone, who was staring at the floor deep in thought. "Howard", he said as they got near, "I'd like you to meet Miles Davis". "It's a pleasure, Mr. Davis", I said. He lifted his head, took one look at me, and muttered "Nice shirt". George smiled, they carried on walking. I stood there for a moment. Miles Davis liked my shirt, I felt good.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Heart Of The City"

Elvis, Nick & Robyn,
Manhattan Center, April 9th '08

Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock played contrasting sets in the Manhattan Center's Grand Ballroom, this past Wednesday night. Robyn's was bent, cerebral and had moments of righteous clarity while Nick's was brilliant, uncluttered pop with the occasional pervy twinge. They each backed themselves with just an acoustic guitar and both their voices get purer and better with age. Highlights of Robyn's set were Full Moon In My Soul, Daisy Bomb, Glass Hotel and a new commission called (I think) 'I Declare', honouring the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. Apparently, David Crosby was invited to supply a song to be sung at a festival in Holland but couldn't get it together.
Nick's set focused mainly on his YepRoc years and included I Trained Her To Love Me, Shelley My Love, Soulful Wind, The Beast In Me, Has She Got A Friend, When I Write The Book, Man That I've Become, Lately I've Let Things Slide, People Change, Long Limbed Girl,
Cruel To Be Kind, (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding and I Knew The Bride. He debuted a tune called 'I Read A Lot' and for his encore brought out Robyn to assist him on a spin through Johnny Kidd & The Pirates' 'Hungry For Love'. Next, he brought out Elvis Costello for Indoor Fireworks and then they all did The Beatles' 'If I Fell' and Elvis Presley's 'Mystery Train'. A very successful, satisfying show and the audience left happy.
Robyn wasn't finished though, and after a change of shirt, a glass of wine and some handshakes, he sped off downtown to the Knitting Factory where Gary Lucas was curating 'A Celebration of the Music, Poetry and Art of Don Van Vliet', who is known to most as Captain Beefheart. A surprise guest, Robyn joined Gary and his National Steel on-stage to perform 'China Pig', 'Sure Nuff 'N' Yes I Do' and 'Click Clack' to the delight of the punters that were still there after a long night of Beefheartian artistry. Sadly, we missed Alan Vega reciting 'Orange Claw Hammer' but Gary said he done it good, Brooklyn-style.
Gary Lucas
23rd Street, 2000

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Ian McLagan

David Greenberger, Ian McLagan, ht & Robyn Hitchcock
Kennedy's, NYC, April '02

Got a new cd - Never Say Never - from Ian McLagan in the mail, yesterday. The album features his usual crew, The Bump Band and this time, Patti Griffin guests on a righteous tearjerker called 'When The Crying is Over', no doubt about his wife Kim, tragically taken in a car crash last year. Glyn Johns does the honours on faders 'n' knobs and if you need more McLagan, he's all over Billy Bragg's new one, 'Mr. Love & Justice', too.

Mac, of course, first came to prominence as a member of the Small Faces. I became aware of them in 1965 when the band performed on 'Crackerjack', a
noisy and chaotic kids' tv program the BBC broadcast from The Shepherd's Bush Empire. "It's Friday, it's five to five - and it's Crackerjack!" The show featured skits and competitions (where a Crackerjack pencil was a most coveted prize!) but, for me, the best thing about it was getting to see performers like Adam Faith, Billy Fury, The Who and The Spencer Davis Group in the early stages of their careers. When The Small Faces appeared, front-man Steve Marriott made a huge impression. I was 12, he was probably just 17. No one (in my tiny world-view at the time) had dressed sharper or looked cooler, and his voice - like Van Morrison's - cut through to the bone. He clearly loved what he was doing and, instantly, The Small Faces became one of my favourite groups, alongside Them and The Rolling Stones. Thank god my uncle worked at Decca! Back in 1988, the Georgia Satellites had Mac play some fierce Jerry Lee-style piano on their second album, 'Open All Night' and had raved about what great guy he'd been on the sessions (full of stories etc.), so I was always looking forward to the day when our paths would cross. 10 years later, when Billy Bragg came to New York's Irving Plaza with his Blokes, I finally got to meet Mac. Since then, I've run into him in Austin, TX a few times, caught him at ASCAP where he read from, and talked about his terrific book, 'All The Rage' to an invited audience, hung out at Kennedy's (a bar on 57th Street in Manhattan) and invited him to guest on The Star Spangles' 'Dirty Bomb' album. He's an immensely talented player, a gifted song-writer, remarkably funny, has stories for miles and can out-drink everyone I know (Guinness) without embarrassing himself. Diamond geezer.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Changing All Those Changes

(photo taken from the internet)

I had hoped to be able to re-name and re-launch the radio station, and announce the blog today but (as Bob Dylan says) things have changed. As some of you know, the reason for all the changes is I'm simply trying to steer more folks towards the radio station. However, as a week spent in the UK during the New Year demonstrated, if I'm not on top of this day-in/day-out (importing, selecting, topping and tailing, uploading and marking up the tunes for Amazon), my audience dwindles and soon the station is back to lesser numbers (stats, not content). Once I have taken care of all the personal stuff that's going on - don't worry, it's all good - I'll send out one last mailing to the CAKE list and from then on, this is where my stories and station info will be found. You're invited to stop by whenever you want, tell a friend, send cds/mp3s (if you're a record company), exclusive tracks/ID's (if you're an artist), art if you think you can do a logo, give feedback in the "comments" section or just tune in, lay back, close your eyes and drift downstream...