Monthly Archives: June 2009

New Album! The Wigs

Play loud and often.

Play loud and often.

Back in the caveman days (pre-Internet), a band had to break out the old-fashioned way. Play. Play a lot. Play well. Build a fanbase, build some momentum, attract some attention, swim against a tidal wave of opposition and – if you didn’t succumb to the temptations of ego, drugs and alcohol – maybe you’d be lucky enough to make it to the next rung. After all, if the local radio station would get behind you, maybe the next town’s key jock would want to make certain he got on board before it was too late, and then if you could find a similar band in the next town, maybe you could trade gigs and start to expand.

Although just about every pop fan swore up and down that we were sitting on rock’s greatest secret at the time (mine was The Flashcubes), we now see that there were dozens of really, really good bands that could have stood toe-to-toe with most of the ones the labels were grabbing and trying to shove down our throats. But without the MySpaces and Facebooks (let alone the ability to mass produce your record on the cheap and/or on demand) some bands couldn’t get off the ground financially, while others are still sitting on a basement full of unsold vinyl to this day. And even if you did get that single out, now MTV was the hot item, and oh yeah…your DJ doesn’t make his own playlist anymore.

Which is just my roundabout way of saying that I wish I had known about The Wigs back in the day, but I’m thankful that they decided to remaster these tracks and reissue them. Because File Under: Pop Vocal is an amazing record – in either time period. The music is clean, crisp and rocking, running the gamut from Merseybeat and early Beatles (“180 Degrees”, “What I Got”, “Tell It All”) to post-punk (“You Say Ono”) along with the skinny-tie pop of their era. Given the chance – and according to the bio they were snakebit in that area – this record would have probably eclipsed bands like The Vapors, The Jags, and others and at least gotten into territory where The Romantics and The Beat were dwelling. Unfortunately they were not to be, and like The Wonders, it was one and done. (“A very common tale”, says Mr. White.)

So what made them the shoulda-coulda of their time in Milwaukee? You mean besides great songs and musicianship much more adept than many of their pop peers? Well, The Wigs combined the pop smarts and vocal harmonies of The Rubinoos with a harder rocking edge; a formula that works best on my favorite tracks, “Susie’s Got A Problem” and “Tijuana”. They had a killer leadoff track in “I Can See It Now” (complete with requisite jukebox quarter-drop sound byte) propelled by Bobby Tews‘ drums, an inventive cover (“Mony Mony”) and a prom grinder of a slow song (“Popular Girl”) that really showed off the vocal harmony between Marty Ross and Jim Cushinery. This reissue of the original album also includes a couple of tracks that didn’t make the cut the first time, although this sequence of tracks sounds perfect to me.

File Under Pop Vocal is a no-brainer must-have for any fan of the genre; a solid fourteen-track effort that would rank with the best of 2009 if it were a new release. Hard to believe this was recorded twenty-seven years ago, but it’s like finding money in your pants pocket. Lots of money.

The Wigs on MySpace.

The Wigs at CD Baby: check out some clips.

Yes, Marty Ross was in the New Monkees.

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Stand Up Wit…Jon Reep

...but lock the screen door.

...but lock the screen door.

Comedian  Jon Reep won the fifth season of Last Comic Standing, but like me, you probably know him better as the redneck hillbilly in a recent series of Dodge commercials. I was amazed that a caricature that deep featured a guy who  (1) had more than three teeth, (2) was able to navigate to another vehicle in traffic to check out the engine, and (3) had the vocabulary skills to pronounce the word “hemi”. (Face it, this could have been the banjo playing kid from Deliverance all grown up and edjumicated except that the actor in the commercial exuded a trailer full of charm. Welcome to our radar, Jon Reep!

Fast-forward a couple of years, and the genial, likeable guy parlayed that Andy Warhol moment into a nice career, a Comedy Central special and his first album, Bless His Heart. Basically an extended series of self-depricating jokes and cracks at Southerers, what saves Reep from falling into that tired genre is that same likeability and charm, which thankfully comes across on record as well. Although he’s playing a character, it’s more of an angle than a full blown persona like Dan Whitney’s Larry The Cable Guy or Andrew Clay’s Dice. He doesn’t play dumb; it’s closer to incredulous, as if he’s as weirded out as you are. (Rule Number One…make the audience like you.)

Nothing too subversive here, and while not wall-to-wall funny he does have some great bits on phrases we take for granted (“Ever try to shoot fish in a barrel? They’re fast!”) and wondering why Jimmy would smoke that crack corn, anyway. Sure, he might circle back to the catchphrase “Bless His Heart” a little too often (“always followed by something terrible”, he says), and picking on West Virginia and Louisiana is an interesting approach for a guy from North Carolina.

But somehow he pulls it off, like pointing out that Louisiana turned down Federal money for two years so they could keep the drinking age at a minimum (If you get pulled over in Louisiana and your blood-alcohol level is lower than the cop who pulls you over, you’re free to go!”). Or that his illiterate relative couldn’t spell I.Q. but could build an engine out of a tin can and a chicken heart. Crap jobs, bad movies, weird parents, messing with strangers, mascots and referees, restaurant pepper pimps…everyday material, but elevated by Jon’s energy and personality. (And yes, he does make fun of the absurdity of the whole “Hemi” situation, from the agent’s pitch to the auditions to pulling up alongside a Dodge Ram in traffic.)

If you like the Foxworthy/Larry genre, check out Jon’s Comedy Central clips and you’ll get a good read on what the album is like. (And keep an eye on your Hemi.)

Buy the CD at Jon’s official website

Jon Reep sampler.

The Hemi commercial that started it all. Or was it this one? Or maybe this?

Reep tells a Jeff Foxworthy joke without using words.

Reep on Mad TV

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Taking It To Detroit, Part 2

Day Two of the manic weekend found me heading downtown to the Alley Deck in the Majestic Theatre complex to catch a set by one of my rock’n’roll heroes, Greg Cartwright. Having missed the Oblivians concert the night before (cloning is not one of my abilities) I knew I could not leave town without catching his solo set…even with a seven hour drive and two border crossings staring me down. I crawled in the door after midnight, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

An American Original

An American Original

Greg apologized for being of raw throat and said he’d sing as long as he was able, then smiled and added “…but I will further fuck my voice up by smoking this cigarette“. The warning was all for naught;  he wound up playing two sets to an appreciative crowd of fans and fellow musicians… and I lost count at thirty-six songs.

Besdies a catalogue rich in great material, Cartwright had the crowd in stitches between songs – his story about Jack Oblivian selling his guitar to Jack White was classic. But he also paid genuine props to his peers, pointing out a friend who introduced him to an early Detroit single that’s now a live favorite, or how he learned how to better sing his own song “Bad Man” after hearing Rachael Nagy’s interpretation with The Detroit Cobras.

While there were some planned songs in his set, he also frequently took requests with the caveat that he might not remember all the words. Fumbles were rare, but when he hit the wall during “Two Thieves” he simply stopped and said “when I am beaten by my own brain, I will stand down“.  Then, laughing, he fired up the next tune. I’m not certain who had more fun, Greg or the audience. He’s an approachable guy who is the antithesis of the rock star persona, which is probably why so many other musicians are almost reverential when his name comes up in conversation.  

The set list touched upon all his band associations like The Oblivians and The Compulsive Gamblers but mostly drew upon The Reigning Sound, with at least one new track (“Pocket Full of Broken Things“) from their upcoming album Love & Curses. Hard to pick highlights, but “Reptile Style”, “We Repel Each Other”, “Time Bomb High School” and “Stop And Think It Over” each lit the place up like a rocket.

The Reigning Sound is now headed for Europe, but will return Stateside by mid-August to prepare for a tour to support the new album. Do not miss the opportunity to see not only one of America’s finest bands, but a true icon of independent music. I’ll hopefully interview Greg later this summer as part of a feature article about the band.

 Stop And Think It Over

Bad Man

We Repel Each Other

detroit 2

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Taking It To Detroit, Part 1

Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind, gas up the puppy and haul yourself elsewhere to get that great rock and roll fix. Consider caution thrown; this weekend is an absolute-must road trip. (And speaking of throwing caution to the wind, it dawned on me that I not only drove a Honda into Detroit but also had an Astros cap on my rear deck window, which probably didn’t make anyone happy that day, either.)

It’s always a bit depressing to hit a city like Detroit and see a smorgasbord of great gigs happening daily. When you live in a smaller city that doesn’t attract a myriad of artists, you learn to keep your eyes and ears open elsewhere. And when I saw this show coming up, I knew I had to go see the legends in their natural habitat.

The Holy Grail of Rock'n'Roll

The Holy Grail of Rock'n'Roll

I’ve already waxed poetic about Jim McCarty and Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, so no need to rehash what you can read here. But sitting ten feet away, watching living legends play with the fire of a garage band getting their first break, was a life-affirming experience. The show was littered with rock classics with Detroit lineage – most of it from first-hand experience (an announcer stated that “if you’re gonna call them a cover band, remember that they’re covering their own material!“). One of the best examples of rock magic ever recorded is Detroit’s cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll”…so when The Hell Drivers opened the show with that bomb blast, I knew it was time to strap myself in for the balance.

Callahan’s Music Hall is a great place to see a show – tremendous sound, great sight lines and good people. I shared a table with an area guitarist and two lovely ladies (who shall remain nameless in case their alibi for the evening has them elsewhere). The house was packed and the band was electric, despite already playing a hot set at a festival earlier in the day. The set list was a veritable primer for why Detroit is the epicenter of rock’n’roll – The Rationals, Iggy, Seger, The Romantics, and of course The Rockets. They even slipped in Alice Cooper‘s “I’m Eighteen” as a tribute to Jim Edwards’ wife’s birthday. (Note to authorities – she’s young, but not that young.) The dance floor was filled with several Detroit ladies led by the Motor City Rah Rahs (and at the risk of sounding misogynistic, I absolutely did not mind having my view obscured on occasion.)

I flew to New York City a couple of years ago to watch Jim McCarty play with Cactus at their reunion show, and he was stellar. But onstage with this band, McCarty looks re-energized, ripping solos like a man half his age and looking like he’s having a blast in the process. And maybe that’s the key ingredient here – four musicians who appear to really like and respect each other, playing their asses off for the love of the music.

Jim Edwards is an excellent front man (a lost art), whether wielding the air guitar mike stand or hanging himself with a cord during “No Pills”. He’s got a great voice and belts out vocals truly worthy of the classic material. Marvin Conrad is deceptively quiet, but much like Bill Wyman and John Entwistle he saves his energy for what matters, laying down a rock solid bottom with subtle flashes of brilliance. And I don’t know even where to start with “Bee“, who gets more mileage out of a small standard drum kit than most arena rockers with their Starship Enterprise configurations. McCartyjust wailed all night, the highlight might have been the all-out assault on “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, complete with string pulling antics and using the mike stand for a slide – it was absolutely Stooge-esque. His intro to “Oh Well” is a Detroit crowd favorite, and my jaw wasn’t the only one on the floor when he put on that clinic.

I could go on and on – the Rationals arrangement of “Respect”, the blistering version of “Takin’ It Back” – twenty-one songs and not a clunker in the bunch. What the future will hold in store for the band remains to be seen, but they mentioned an upcoming live release as well as a show with Alice Cooper for starters. Hopefully someone will wake up and smell the rock’n’roll and get these guys onto stages around the country like they deserve.  Until then, I heartily recommend that you follow their activities here, and if you need to jump in your car to go see them…then dammit, you need to do it.

Assuming you have the Desire, of course.

Huron target.

Huron target.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Irreverent Laughs

Feeling a bit irreverent and acerbic today, and I could really go off on organized religion, and celebretards, and gullible people and mind contol and politics.

But why not leave that to the professionals?

 Life is short. Laugh every day.

comedy mask

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R.I.P. Sky, Angel…Jacko?

Bad day gets worse.

Sky Saxon left this mortal coil. Possible he was only visiting, anyway.

sky saxon

 

And Farrah Fawcett, the First Angel, now is one. Peace, at last.

farrah fawcett

These things usually happen in threes. I hope I won’t be updating this later.

I’m dreading surfing the Internet over the next few hours.

  ***

(6pm update:    uh-oh…) 

??

7pm: most news orgs confirm story.

7:30PM…People are trying to pile on by claiming Jeff GoldbumHarrison Ford and/or (insert celebrity name here) are dead. Apparently these are people who do not know who Sky Saxon was or did not count Ed McMahon from the other day, and are looking for a third death for their Dead Pool. And yes, Keith Richards is alive. Stop “tweeting”,  you idiots – you’re going to kill the Internet!

Surreal that Jacko died – I must admit my first thought was “publicity stunt”. Some will remember him as a cultural icon; I remember a likeable kid singer who turned into a circus freak. I never owned a copy of Thriller and found it sad that despite his world fame, he had to anoint himself as the King Of Pop rather than have the audience bestow an honor upon him.

But mostly I tend to pity him – by all reports he had a horrible chldhood and an abnormal, freakish adult life. And since only he, the kids and his Maker know what really happened in all those beds full of underage children, that ledger is now being settled by a far greater power than my opinion.

***

Farrah’s passing – AP story

Sky Saxon website.

Serene Dominic’s “better than Jagger” obit.

Jacko death scare – not the first time. Wiki will clear it up.

^*:*^

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Under The Radar: Supergroupies

supergroupies album cover

If I ever want to explain to someone why I think the music industry crashed like a lawn dart, I’ll play them this album and then turn on the radio. Granted, glam rock is not for everyone, and this might be a little bit too bubblegum for some, but Supergroupies are way better than any of the hair metal bands who tried the same formula. Naturally, this album is completely unknown in the States.

It’s been three years since this puppy blew my mind – I hope they’ve got something new in the pipeline and didn’t take all that apathy to heart. Here’s my original review from 2006:

Let’s cut to the chase – this is the best glam pop record in years. 

From the opening salvo of “Give It all You Got” through the closing “Come One Come All”, Supergroupies is a thirteen-track, forty-minute joy ride. Several tracks are flat out killer, immediately accessible anthems that combine the harmonies of Sweet, the flamboyance of KISS, the strut of Cheap Trick, the camp of Poison and the balls of The Who. No, not Who’s Next era Townsend but, the 60s Who, the power pop Who. Think I’m kidding? Check out the guitar and drums on “Hot In Paris” and tell me you don’t see Pete’s windmill and Moon’s unconventional flailing yet focused playing. Yeahhh…told you so. 

Vocalist Kim Simon has the bubblegum lead vocal down cold and the background harmonies are tight and high-pitched. Guitar solos are short and sweet, while the rhythm section demands dashboard double-time. There are easily six or seven singles here, one of which (“Low Blue Flame”) is as good or better than anything Redd Kross has ever recorded. Enuff Z’nuff would kill for an album this consistent. It’s flash, it’s glittery, it’s cocky, it’s got makeup and it’s hopelessly, undeniably infectious. Hand claps? Yep. Cowbell? Uh-huh. Power ballad? “Say Goodbye”, check. Up-tempo, whip-crack pop, like the innocent exuberance of the Bay City Rollers “Saturday Night” laced with a testosterone chaser. 

So of course the album isn’t available in the US or UK. Nope, these four skinny white guys from Sweden are currently lighting up Japan, whose pop audiences always seem to know something before we do. Maybe that’s why they always get the bonus tracks on their version of the albums. Well, now you know. Go get this record now. You may have to stand in line behind a gazillion teenagers if you don’t hurry. 

Glam, bam, thank you ma'am.

Glam, bam, thank you ma'am.

The Supergroupies website.

Grab this album on Amazon before it disappears forever.

The Supergroupies MySpace site features four songs.

Supergroupies video: studio track and unplugged.

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