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Blast From The Past: Tonio K

It's great - no bull!

I will never understand how great records can go unheard… 

I guess when it comes to Tonio K., I can almost extend that to great catalogues of records. For despite initial kudos out of the box for Life In The Foodchain and pockets of critical acclaim bordering on cult worship, the man remains a virtual unknown and is seldom mentioned when people discuss great songwriters and favorite albums. To give you an idea of the breadth of his career, he was a member of The Crickets (as in Buddy Holly, although well post-Buddy) and collaborated with Burt Bacharach on his 2005 Grammy winning effort. He turns sixty this year, which is still young pup status for someone with his pedigree. 

When Foodchain was released in 1978, it exploded off the radio, standing out even though the post-disco mid-punk era was in full chaotic bloom. The music was great, the lyrics both hysterical and deep, and it remains one of the most auspicious debut albums of the rock era. I’ll save the dissertation of his career and its impact upon me for another day; there is not enough room to discuss it in one bite. Let’s just say that the public missed the boat on this one big time, and even my hopeful plea contained in my review over a decade ago (below) fell on deaf ears. 

Had Ole’ been released when it was supposed to have been, who knows what might have happened? Maybe he would have finally gotten that well-deserved acclaim. Maybe he would have disappeared again. I haven’t heard very much about or from Tonio K. recently (even his MySpace page hasn’t been updated in almost two years)  and reportedly he’s done with performing and trying to play the artist game. But I won’t count the man out, ever. And if he is done, well…he’s laid down a hell of a gauntlet. 

Check out his entire discography. If you don’t own everything he’s ever recorded, you now have a to-do list

Here’s my review of Ole’ from Pop Culture Press 

 

Thank God! One of the more critical “oh-that-won’t-sell-let’s-shelve-it” mistakes of 1990 finally has closure, and people can get a chance to hear what die-hards with secret taped copies have been crowing about for a decade. 

Tonio K (Steve Krikorian) first burst onto the rock scene in the late 1970s with the caustic and brilliant “Life in the Foodchain,” a concept record from Hell that mixed witty and insightful social commentary with blistering rock and roll. Although “Amerika,” the followup, contained more great music, Tonio K was no longer the flavor of the month and sales dipped. He released a great EP called “La Bomba” (not yet re-released) and then later a pair of majestic records for What/A&M in the mid-1980s that were chock full of great songs but could find no home on radio. Then it seemed that he disappeared, surfacing occasionally as a collaborator with friend Charlie Sexton or supplying songs for soundtracks. Gigs were either infrequent or low profile, or probably both. 

What actually happened was a third record for A&M produced by T-Bone Burnett and featuring a hot band including organist Booker T. Jones (!!), ex-Attraction Bruce Thomas (bass) and T-Bone himself. Guests on the record included Peter Case, Warner Hodges (Jason & The Scorchers), Paul Westerberg and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. The music kicked ass, and as always, the lyrics were amazing. How could this record not get noticed? But some bean counter said “uhhno.”

But they wouldn’t release the tapes either, so this sat on a shelf and collected a mound of dust. Enter Mitch Cantor, fan and label owner, whose dogged persistence finally elicited some cooperation from saner heads, and eighteen months later you can finally hold this in your hands. 

So the big question is this÷does it hold up? Unequivocally, the answer is yes. Kicking off with the manic “Stop The Clock” (with a heart-attack guitar solo from Marc Ribot that has to be heard to be believed), the twelve cuts showcase both sides of Tonio K÷the intolerant cynic with the vocabulary to back it up, and the introspective social observer who is able to communicate about faith and hope in a valid and non-fanatical light. 

Rockers like “Time Steps Aside” and “Pardon Me For Living” are fresh and vital, and the acoustic numbers place even greater focus on his stellar lyrics. Topics of homelessness and child abuse in “Hey Lady” and “That Could Have Been Me” could have been rudimentary folk songs in the hands of a lesser artist, but here are first-rate work. And maybe it will take a lesser artist to have a hit record with “I’ll Remember You,” an absolute killer that, like most truly great songs, will never find its way onto the radio unless some hack like Celine Dion sings it. 

Video: We Walk On

Video: That Could Have Been Me

The liner notes by Tonio K are a great bonus, insightful and sometimes self-deprecating illuminations of the songs. Kudos to Gadfly Records for altruistically stepping up to the plate and re-releasing records by people like Andy Breckman and Tonio K simply because they deserve to be heard. No one thinks these are stadium-filling artists, but it’s obvious Tonio K has a lot more to say, and I don’t care whether it’s brand new or has eight years of dust on it. The man is a flat-out work of art, an essential artist, and deserving of a wider audience that he hopefully will now find. 

 Grab Ole’ from Gadfly Records or CD Baby 

Wiki up on Steve Krikorian, whydontcha? 

The unofficial homepage has tons of lyrics and information.

***

R.I.P. Allen Swift, a/k/a the voice of Simon Bar Sinister

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T.G.I.F. – Ten from 1969

"Set the Wayback Machine for 1969, Sherman..."

If the concept of how quickly time passes hadn’t already stunned me three days ago – realizing that it’s been almost thirty years since John Lennon was killed – an email from my friend Siege would have packed a bigger wallop. But looking at his list of albums that were released in 1969 made me think (1) “holy shit, that was forty years ago” and (2) “wow…that was a great year for music”. 

It was another transitional year for me – less AM and more FM, less singles and more albums, Woodstock, etc. Several artists’ debuts made an immediate impact – CSN and The Allman Brothers along with some on my list below. Some 60’s artists were soon to depart but left great statements like Abbey Road and Turtle Soup. Credence released three albums that year, and The Monkees were already up to Instant Replay. Others like Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye and The Kinks were shifting their priorities from singles to more thematic works. Bob Dylan released Nashville Skyline

Some artists who would become lifelong favorites were just getting started – Alice Cooper and Pretties For You, Fleetwood Mac with Then Play On, debuts from Yes and Warren Zevon and Mott the Hoople (which would soon see serious turntable time over the next couple of years from this soon-to-be disc jockey). The Moody Blues released two classics; supergroups were forming…I own or owned seventy-two titles on that list, and there are very few that I wouldn’t pull out and play right now. 

Any year in music is a pretty easy topic to research, and certainly the few years on either side of 1969 would also reveal a robust list of favorites and classics. But I took a trip through Siege’s tally and picked out ten that had particular impact on me then and still resonate now. I could easily shift the list on another day – great music being a subjective decision, after all – and your mileage may vary as well. 

But you’re here, so indulge me. Break one or more of these out and savor them; maybe you will relive some great moments of your own. And if you’re young enough to not have experienced these albums, take a plunge. Hell, I gave Death Cab For Cutie a shot, you owe me

So in no particular order… 

40 Years old and still kicking ass

In The Court of the Crimson King (King Crimson) — Still kicking today although they’ve been three or four totally different groups over the years. The album cover was only a mild tipoff compared to the psychedelic prog within; I’ve long argued that Ian McDonald was the MVP of this version of the band. An aural acid trip, an album truly worthy of adjectives like majestic and classic

Blind Faith  (Blind Faith) — Two thirds of Cream adds the bass player from Family and secret weapon Steve Winwood for a one-shot effort. Short and incomplete, its high points are timeless; great songwriting from Winwood and Eric Clapton, especially “Presence of the Lord” and “Can’t Find My Way Home”. 

Let It Bleed (Rolling Stones) — As the Stones weaned their way from Brian Jones and their blues based gameplan, as drugs and Jagger’s control-freak antics started to splinter a band into The Glimmer Twins and the other guys, as the music industry tripped headlong from pop singles into stranger days, the Stones might have fired their best shot across the bow. The bookend tracks (“Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) are career-defining moments, and they didn’t even put their hit single (“Honky Tonk Women”) on it. 

Odessa (Bee Gees) — In which a pop band – already firmly established with a few hit singles – decides to experiment and challenge themselves to move on to the next step. Oh, how I wish they would have stayed this course instead of donning those ice cream suits a few years later. I expound in detail here

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Neil Young) — Consider this a club sandwich, with the opening, closing and middle tracks – three stone cold classics – the bread supporting the tasty filling. Hot on the heels of his debut, this first dalliance with Crazy Horse still resonates, soon to be followed up by After The Gold Rush to form one of the best opening trifectas any artist ever managed. Name another song where a one-note guitar solo (“Cinnamon Girl”) is even half as thrilling. 

Dusty in Memphis (Dusty Springfield) — I’ll admit it, I would have been perfectly satisfied with “Son of a Preacher Man” had I not read a review that piqued my interest and sent me in search of the album. Oozing soul (and yes, sex) this was a great marriage of voice, performers and material. (That English bird? Really? Yep.) 

Hot Rats (Frank Zappa) — Little did I know at the time that my initial Frank Zappa fascination would be even stronger forty years later and sixteen years (!) past his death. Because I was a fan of The Mothers of Invention, I was willing to open my eyes to the jazz and fusion I experienced here, although I can’t imagine anyone not loving “Peaches en Regalia”. Timeless majesty. 

The Stooges (The Stooges) — I’ll credit one of my older friends – as well as Creem Magazine, most likely – for making me give this more than one listen. Stereos were getting more sophisticated and progressive rock bands were flaunting daredevil instrumental virtuosity, but the Stooges were salmon swimming upstream. The Stooges first seemed like demonic sludge; the sound made when someone opened the gates of Hell and gave them a broken megaphone to broadcast with. Of course, after the initial shock, I was converted…and remain so. 

Tommy (The Who) — An opera about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball player. Sure Pete – have another toke. But although others (The Kinks, The Pretty Things) already had done it, The Who get credit for creating the first rock opera. Forget the semantics; this remains an incredible musical statement, from hit singles (“Pinball Wizard”) to underrated killers (“Sensation”); even the instrumental breaks and transitions are glorious. Skip the theatre and film musicals and slap on a pair of headphones for the original “Amazing Journey” 

Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin) — I know now that they ripped off old blues riffs and repurposed them; I know now that the band was really just the last version of The Yardbirds with Jimmy Page taking control, and I know that a few years later they would get so self-indulgent that I would sell the vinyl at a used store out of anger. (Ah, the folly of youth). But this first record was a kick in the nuts – this band really hit the ground running and killed on every track. (Rock perfection:  the percussive instrumental “Black Mountain Side” lulling you into a trance and then “Communication Breakdown” interrupting the haze and ripping your jugular apart. Plant’s scream before Page’s solo still makes the hair stand up on every pore in my body.) 

Rock me baby.

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