Saturday, August 22, 2009

Doctor Horse and the Coasters: Tales of Sartorial Splendor...And Sorrow

As inseparable as the two masks of classical Greek thee-ater, so are the highs and lows of the Dandy. One day Beau Brummell's polishing his boots with Champipple, the next he's takin' it on the lam to avoid the debtor's prison.

So it goes, High and Low, with the following two records.

First, former elevator operator made good as one of Doc Sausage's Five Porkchops, Al "Dr. Horse" Pittman tells us about the good life, about a man named Bobo and his fine-as-wine thousand dollar vines in "Jack, That Cat Was Clean," a solo outing recorded in 1958 for Bobby Robinson's Fire label.

Then, in the Coasters' "Shoppin' For Clothes," from 1960, you get more insight into the sorrows of the poor boy surrounded by unattainable luxury than you would from 500 sociology dissertations. Mm-mm, my heart's in pain.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Print Ephemera #1: Sirk Comics

The following images come from early "picture books" created by Frank Santoro, who's now well-known for Storeyville and Cold Head Comics. These, however, date from an earlier period (early 90s), when Santoro nursed a fixation with the imagery and lingo of Douglas Sirk films and Mezz Mezzrow's great book Really the Blues. The loose look of Sirk comics owes much to the old two-color copiers they were printed on. The machine's inaccurate registration caused a cool randomness, and the multiple passes required to achieve layered color create an effect not unlike that of silk screen printing. The drawings themselves recall the work of Raymond Pettibon and Gary Panter.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Economic Downturns, Garbage Trucks, and the Cheater Slicks

Despite the economic slump and the dog days of August, I’m really enjoying New York City since my recent relocation. Mind you, it’s no picnic tho. I’m still hunting for a job in a rough market, money’s still tight, and today I got a dizzying noseful of what might have been the rankest, ripest, drippiest garbage truck in the entire city. Still, for these past few days the place seems to be alive with sweat and rank smells and overheated people, just as it should this time of year.

As a consequence of the currently shitty job market, I’ve resorted to trimming a little fat from the record collection. One recently auctioned item was the fairly rare first Cheater Slicks LP On Your Knees. Not everyone’s cup ‘o tea, the Cheater Slicks are known for “reinventing” 60’s punk with their relentlessly brutal, feedback-drenched takes on obscure old nuggets from that era, and for their odes to losers and rejects. Now, the Slicks have long since established themselves as a bassless band, with brothers Tom and Dave Shannon leading the twin guitar attack, and Dana Hatch on drums and caterwauling vocals. However, On Your Knees⎯released in 1989, the year I bounced the last time I lived in NY⎯captures an earlier, more formative phase, with Murder Junkie Merle Allin playing bass. Merle wasn’t even the Slicks’ first bass player, either. Prior to him, they got a little help from the late great Allen “Alpo” Paulino, formerly of the Real Kids.

Before shipping the record to its buyer, I ripped a couple of my favorite tracks, "Bruno's Night Out," and, in honor of my glamorous new life in the big city, "Weirdo on a Train."

The Skidmarks collection of rarities, released by Crypt, also contains much of this first LP. The Slicks released a slew of great singles through the 90s, and really came into their own on the 1993 LP Whiskey, on the In the Red label, particularly on the track "Thinkin' Some More," a 26-minute freakout à la “Sister Ray.” The Cheater Slicks continue to make records and occasionally still play live.

Finally, here's a live clip, circa '88, Middle East Cafe, Cambridge, MA.

Artwork by Dave Shannon

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jim Dickinson: The Cadillac Man Has Driven Away

James Luther Dickinson⎯Dixie Flyer, Cadillac Man, ivory tinkler on the Stones’ “Wild Horses” (see him in the doc Gimme Shelter listening to the playback at Muscle Shoals), Big Star producer, one of the masterminds behind Alex Chilton’s genius/stoned-out record Like Flies on Sherbert, Replacements producer⎯on and on his credits roll⎯died today after several months of illness. He was 67.

I got to see him play once, in 1996, at Barrister’s in Memphis, a back alley club once owned by Jerry Lee Lewis. His kids, the North Mississippi All Stars opened the show, this back when their set consisted almost entirely of Fred McDowell covers. Once finished, Pops joined ‘em onstage, along with Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns, to play guitar and sing and rip through a set of Memphis obscurities served up raw & shambling. My impression was that Dickinson seemed a bit stiff and gruff at first, but loosened up as he played, to become visibly transformed by the music. The songs got more and more raunchy, so much that eventually Love bailed, packing his horn and fleeing the stage. I put it up there with one of the best Rock ‘n’ Roll shows I’ve ever seen.

Check out Robert Gordon’s great book It Came From Memphis (1995, Simon & Schuster) to read more about Jim Dickinson, and how, as a kid, hearing jug bands play raunchy in Memphis back alleys inspired him to start playing music himself. Also be sure to check out the Sepia Tone CD reissue of Dixie Fried, Dickinson’s 1972 solo album for Atlantic, vinyl copies of which are pretty hard to find. The title cut is Dickinson's reading of the Carl Perkins rocker. Among other greats, the LP also includes a version of the Nite Caps' "Wine."

Of course, Dickinson's playing, production, and all-around southern genius figures prominently in Axl Chitlin's great Like Flies on Sherbert, as well as most of the Panther Burns records.

here's "Cut Me at 7 1/2," a sort of jazz-poem thing, from a mid-nineties EP titled Hambone's Meditations, released on Andria Lisle's great Sugar Ditch Records.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Girl Can't Help It, She was Born to Please

The Life & Times of Little Richard (Harmony Books, 1984) much like the more artfully written Hellfire, the Jerry Lee Lewis Story, drives home a good point about the 60s, namely, what an unkind bitch that decade was to a handful of 50s rockers. Blame personal scandal, bad career moves, Jesus, and Beatlemania, but Little Richard, like Jerry Lee Lewis, suffered through a long stretch of relative exile after the initial splash created by his early, immortal singles. What got Richard through to the safer side, i.e. the end, of the 60s, and a much-welcomed, cushy gig at the Aladdin in Las Vegas, was his relentless refusal, played out on the road, night after night, year after year, to be upstaged by anyone with whom he shared a bill, whether Sam Cooke or the Rolling Stones. However, unlike Jerry Lee Lewis, who found fortune once more on the Country charts, Richard would never regain the momentum and wealth he knew in the early years.

The book's a real page-turner, despite making at least one glaring foray into plagiarism⎯for his description of the post-war R&B scene on Atlanta's Auburn Ave, author Charles White lifts material straight from Jonas Bernholm's liner notes to the Billy Wright reissue LP Stacked Deck. Still, it makes for good reading essentially because it's an oral history, merely glued together by White, told mostly by the Originator himself, with additional input by a slew of associates including, among others, his Mama, Bumps Blackwell, Art Rupe, members of the original Upsetters, Billy Preston, Mick & Keith, and my favorite, Richard’s one-time girlfriend Lee Angel, pictured below, va-va-voom!

For all his identification here as a gay person, the Pretty One also waxes informative about some of the real bombshells he dated back in the day. Besides Lee Angel, he hints at a pretty close friendship with Jayne Mansfield⎯at least he’s able to offer fairly exact anatomatomical specifications. To learn these specs you'll just have to read for yourself, lest Gemini Spacecraft be reduced to some kinda spec spoiler. As consolation, however, I offer a clip of the world's most notorious JM impersonator:

No amount of camp, cartoonish self-parody, or freakish hair and make-up⎯all by-products of Little Richard’s spectacular live show⎯seems to diminish the raw power and utter brilliance of the Specialty singles. Here are a few tracks from the amazing Specialty Sessions LP box, released in 1989 , "Directly from My Heart" (basically a slowed-down version of “Lucille”), "Slippin' & Slidin'" (with a little extra Earl Palmer on this alternate take), "The Girl Can't Help It", & "Gene Noble's Royal Crown Hair Dressing Commercial". The Specialty Sessions is still available on CD, I believe.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ground Control to Gemini Spacecraft: We've Moved!

While the Gemini Spacecraft will likely maintain the usual orbital patterns you’ve come to know and love so well, ground control has recently relocated. That’s right, it’s goodbye Boston, Hello Brooklyn, USA. Not that the geographical change will mean much to GS readers (all both of you). Physical location of the blogger matters little in the Bloggo Sphere, except to say that the shift in location inspires me to say this: WOOO!! Adios Beantown! I won’t miss that place. Yiz can keep it. Tho I did have a lot of fun catching the Lyres’ monthly “rent gig” at the Kirkland Café (until it closed), and sometimes at the Abbey Lounge (before it closed), and then in the dank basement of the Cantab Lounge, in Central Square, Cambridge. Mono & Co were recently on a roll there for a couple of years, and I heard them play some mind-blowingly great shows, which, no shit, kinda restored my love for rock ‘n’ roll. And it was also fun to catch the Real Kids (or what’s left of ‘em) here and there a few times too.

With all this change happening, it's important to keep our eyes on the proverbial ball. Therefore, like some rabid chihuahua, the GS hereby sinks every lb per-square-inch of mighty jaw pressure right into the meat of its original editorial vision. What better way to do this than to post the Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s "I Took a Ride In a Gemini Spacecraft"? (See embedded streaming playlist) B-side to “Down in the Wreckin’ Yard,” it was released in 1969, on Mercury Records, and, after 40 years, still sounds like some kinda futuristic hillbilly sound poem. "Everything is Getting Bigger But Our Love", another favorite, sets the sentimental mood on a subsequent Mercury release, b/w the shmaltzy “Kiss and Run,” also from 1969.

The following shots of the Ledge were snapped at this year's Ponderosa Stomp, sent by my Austin pal Trey Robles, former drummer in John Schooley’s now defunct Hard Feelings (heard above playing their version of Roy Buchanan's "Mule Train Stomp"). No doubt the following pictorial will help to rocket the Gemini Spacecraft to the top of People Magazine’s list of this year's sexiest blogs. Thanks Angie!

B&W portrait of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy by Stephanie Chernikowski.