Tag Archives: Creem

Blast From The Past: Sylvain Sylvain


Syl Sylvain
is one cool cat.
 

The Keef to David Johansen‘s Mick in the New York Dolls, Syl is the one who makes the engine hum. And as there are but the two sole surviving Dolls, that’s more important in 2010 than it was two decades ago when they first blasted upon the scene. 

I was playing some of his solo work today and flashed back to a review I wrote in November 1998 for Consumable Online; his albums had just been released on CD. At the time I surmised that the Dolls would never reform (I am very happy to have been proven wrong!) and hoped that he would resume his own career since Johansen obviously intended to do the same. 

The live Dolls reunion a few years ago and the subsequent album One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This both blew me away with a sound both classic and fresh. I wasn’t a big fan of the next Dolls album Cause I Sez So, and their recent live shows seem to use the same set list that they’ve been doing for a while. But I also believe that when good bands satisfy their outside urges they can bring some great stuff back to the table. 

The always-busy Steve Conte is doing that right now with The Crazy Truth. Syl is doing the same thing in Batusis with Cheetah Chrome of The Dead Boys. Maybe that will make the Dolls stronger. Maybe not. 

But no matter what happens, these Sylvain Sylvain albums rule. 

I'm Dickens, He's Fenster

After leaving the New York Dolls, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain released a couple of very good pop records that somehow got lost in the shuffle. When no third record materialized, it was a disappointment but not a big surprise – after all, post-punk pop was finding no welcome mat in the synth-happy 1980s, and even David Johansen had to whore himself out as Buster Poindexter just to put food on the table. 

Imagine my delight when Fishhead Records not only released some of Sylvain’s previous songs on one CD (Sylvain Sylvain…..In Teenage News), but a brand new collection of twelve songs! Adding to the good news was the announcement that Sylvain was hitting the club circuit again, band in tow. 

He’s still a pop guy with 50’s doo-wop roots glowing through his songs. The title track, an ode to his lost bandmates, is reminiscent of Little Anthony and The Imperials, while “Another Heart Needs Mending” mines the same sock-hop vocal territory. But grit abounds too, thanks to a crack band of backup musicians, among them Frankie Infante and Fuzztones Rudy Protrudi and John Carlucci. “Oh Honey” is pure Bo Diddley, and “I’m Your Man” is a finger-poppin’ rework that jumps out of the speakers. 

Although proud of his Dolls roots, reading Sylvain interviews gives a strong clue that a reunion will never happen, mostly due to a fractured relationship with Johansen. Still, Sylvain has no qualms with the great songs they wrote; three are included here, among them a spirited rendition of “Trash” (a song also recently covered by soulmate Gilby Clarke). And only a former Doll could write a “Sleepwalk” style instrumental and call it “Forgotten Panties”! Hopefully this signals the beginning of the second half of Sylvain Sylvain’s career

Syl’s MySpace site 

A good Creem interview from 2005 

Yet another  from 2006, courtesy Brooklyn Vegan

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Chilton Classics

Not in sales, no - but in impact? Oh, yes.

“Thinking ’bout what to say / and I can’t find the lines…”   

Alex Chilton died the other day, and so did a piece of me. I first heard Alex when his booming gravel voice launched out of my transistor radio with “The Letter”, the brilliant Box Tops single that didn’t waste a second of it’s not quite two minutes. I was still buying singles then, and follow-ups like “Cry Like A Baby” and “Soul Deep” made it all the way from Memphis to my ears. 

From The Box Tops to Big Star

But most singles bands from the 60s had their moment and hit the wall when music turned towards FM radio and longer, more sophisticated album cuts. And although I was getting into progressive rock and glam and the beginnings of heavy metal with Black Sabbath, I retained my passion for short sharp pop songs. I wouldn’t realize until years later that the Box Tops weren’t a group of friends hanging out and writing songs like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were, but rather they were a staunchly controlled vehicle for a group of writers and producers and that a disillusioned sixteen year old was in fact that singer who sounded like he had already lived a hard life. I was half right. 

Thanks to someone’s insight in a rock magazine – I’ll wager that it was Creem – I was tipped that this new band was aces and I was able to grab a copy of the first Big Star album called #1 Record. What an audacious title, I thought, but dropping the needle on that album was an electrifying experience. Here was an album of impeccable chestnuts, from the rocking “Don’t Lie To Me” and “In The Street” to the sweet and fragile “Try Again” and  “Give Me Another Chance” (and when that crescendo of angelic vocals comes crashing in…oh, my God!). The fist fight between the tambourine and ringing guitar chords in “When My Baby’s Beside Me”. And that dagger-through-the-heart, “Thirteen”, which dripped with teenage angst. 

December Boys got it bad

The second album, sans Chris Bell, was almost as good, a little sloppier and esoteric with absolute standouts like “Back of A Car”, “September Gurls” and “O My Soul”. Meanwhile “What’s Going Ahn” and “Daisy Glaze” and “Morpha Too” hinted at the fragility that was to come in Third / Sister Lovers. Despite some genuinely upbeat sounding moments in “Thank You Friends” and “Jesus Christ”, it was painful to listen to “Holocaust” and “Big Black Car”, almost the soundtrack of a man falling apart. 

A perfect album title; he could have used it twice.

The post-Big Star years were a mixed bag; there were moments of pure joy and fun and others of witnessing painfully inept performances. I remember being in a club with my friend Bill waiting for a band to come onstage, and the most horrific atonal version of “The Letter” came over the sound system. As we cringed, the bartender informed us that it was a tape of a recent Alex Chilton performance; I remember thinking that he sounded like he would die mid-set. 

But in the coming years he regrouped and rebounded, issuing some solid EPs before getting talked into reforming Big Star with Jody Stephens and a pair of Posies in Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. When The Replacements blasted out the dynamic single “Alex Chilton” the legend was reborn; more indie bands started to admit the influence and at long last Chilton was getting the popular response to match the critical hurrahs. 

 

But Alex took it full circle and reunited The Box Tops, for as esoteric and varied as his playlists had been over the years – from soul to powerpop to MOR standards – the New Orleans via Memphis vibe never left. He seemed to enjoy the Box Tops shows more than the Big Star ones, and perhaps that’s why their reunion album In Space was a disappointment – his heart wasn’t in it anymore. 

But his soul and his heart and his pen and his voice came together often enough to leave behind an incredible legacy. So here are ten tunes that are a huge part of my life, songs that hit me like a ton of bricks or dovetailed with the emotions I was going through when I first heard them. They are fresh and timeless and will resonate with me no matter how old I am. I’m in love…with that song. 

And now the show for SXSW will go on as a tribute.

Icewater

 * September Gurls. December boys got it bad, I know, Alex, I know. Me too. 

* Cry Like A Baby. “Today we passed on the street/and you just walked on by/my heart just fell to my feet…” 

* The Ballad of El Goodo. “I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds” 

* Take Me Home and Make Me Like It. Is that the best pick up line ever? Hilarious and sloppy. 

* Soul Deep. Pop Soul Perfection. Neil Diamond shat himself when he heard this. 

* I’m In Love With A Girl. I can’t help but smile every time I hear this simple, fragile love song. There’s so much angst and pain in Alex’s catalogue; this is a nice exception. 

* No Sex. More for the fact that the EP signaled his return than the song itself. 

* Back of a Car. Thinking about what to say, and I can’t find the lines

* The Letter. The two minutes that started it all. 

* Thirteen Maybe the most poignant song about fumbling adolescence ever written. This one went through my heart like a spear, even though I was eighteen when I heard it. 

Rest In Peace, Alex.

All Music Guide tribute from Steven Thomas Erlewine 

Memphis Commercial Appeal says goodbye 

Some thoughts from pop critic Mike Bennett

Alex Chilton wiki with links to multiple discographies

The tribute at Popdose

Auditeer and music columnist John Micek remembers

Ed Ward from NPR chimes in

Anthony Lombardi talked to John Fry about Alex.

Others pay tribute from SXSW.

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Blast From The Past: Kenny Howes

Kickenbacker

When friends ask me how I can continue to get excited about finding new bands and artists to enjoy – as if a finite set of albums should be enough – I will mention someone like Kenny Howes. That’s usually followed by a statement (“Who??”) and an action (insert disc in player…turn up loud). Kenny is an example of a supremely talented artist who would be much better known if we only had a realistic process to get music to the masses. We’ve gone from freeform FM to playlists to formatted channels to American Idol, and still it takes two ears and a shitload of persistence to weed through the chaff and find the gems. 

When the powerpop movement started gelling in the 90s, there were a few magazines that centered on the movement and were critically informative to fans of the genre. Maybe not quite the lifeblood that Creem was to a disaffected suburban teenager back in the 70s, but certainly a hotbed of new names and sounds. It was there that I read about Kenny Howes and Rickenbackers and kick-ass covers and big fat power chords, and I was on that like flies on sherbert. The fact that Kenny was also a nice guy and funny as hell was just a bonus. 

I don’t want to make it seem like he’s that obscure; certainly his series of albums over the years and appearances at Poptopia, IPO and other festivals has garnered him a good following, albeit on the scale of an independent pop musician. But fame has nothing to do with quality, and I’ll stand Kenny’s albums up against anyone’s from that era. Hooks galore and a boatload of charm, and a great intersection between the delicate melodies of a McCartney and the power of The Who. If that sounds like familiar territory, all I can say is there’s a reason a bonus track on one of his albums is titled “Gonna See Cheap Trick” – and finding a more effervescent song about heading to the big rock show is a tall order. 

But enough about me

Here’s a review of Back To You Today I wrote for Consumable Online twelve years ago… 

 

Rickenbacker-wielding pop star Kenny Howes is back with his third record, yet another collection of ringing hooks and earnest vocals. The lo-fi production has its charms and drawbacks, sometimes framing songs in just the right minimalist setting but occasionally losing something in the fog bank. Overall, however, it’s another solid effort that sees Howes depart from his past formula and take a few chances. 

The title track is certainly an example of his strong suit – bouncy chorus, solid hook and quick guitar break. This formula reaches its zenith on “Exactly Like You”, a sing-along track that could lift a band out of the garage and onto a jukebox – even if it winds up being their only hit. The simple, fuzzy guitar break is perfect and you can almost see the audience swaying and hand-clapping along to the “Cathy’s Clown” beat. And underneath it all, Kenny’s trying to land a new girl by shredding all those losers he’s hit on before – like THAT will work. 

Sometimes the stretches don’t synch – “Something Really Great” sounds like Dylan doing the Monkees’ “Randy Scouse Git”, for example, and “Save You” is muddled angst. But “Never Left” sounds like the bonus track on the Pet Sounds box set, and the epic closer “Free Tattoo” sounds like Moon and Townsend sat in on the session. 

Cohesive it’s not – I think Kenny had a lot of snippets of ideas when he hit the studio and went for broke. Although you might find yourself skipping a tune here and there, there is enough immediate gratification to bring you back again, which is when you’ll discover the chestnuts that appeal to you. Howes played everything but drums (kudos to Kelly Shane) and wrote all the songs, and is a talent deserving your ear time

And he still is. Looks like we’ll be blessed with a DVD this year. 

Read up a bit on Kenny at Wikipedia and check his music out on MySpace

Kenny’s albums available at CD BABY

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He Put The BOMP…

No statue? This will have to do.

No statue? This will have to do.

I’m often asked what makes Bomp different. One answer is that where most labels concentrate on a small roster, I’ve always preferred to give a lot of bands the chance to be heard…I guess I’d most like Bomp to be remembered as a label utterly dedicated to the people who care most about music: the fans and collectors.”

Five years ago we lost one of our greatest soldiers, Greg Shaw. Most pop music writers have read him if not been influenced by him; many saw an opportunity to take the leap from fan to participant because of his magazine and his labels. Shaw began by writing fan letters to magazines and was soon writing reviews for everyone from Rolling Stone to Creem.  Along the way his journey led to managing bands, working at major labels (assembling compilations, of course) and running a record shop, but legions of powerpop fans point to a 1978 issue of Bomp Magazine as the rallying cry that launched a movement.

“Punk had already had its day by 1978, when Bomp Magazine ran a cover story proposing Powerpop: a hybrid style with the power and guts of punk, but drawing on a pop song tradition with wider popular appeal. I had in mind bands like The Who and The Easybeats, (hell, even The Sex Pistols fit my definition!) but much to my chagrin, the term was snapped up by legions of limp, second-rate bands hoping the majors would see them as a safe alternative to punk. I took a lot of heat for starting the whole business…”

Bomp Powerpop cover

But he should also get credit for what did go right. Many great bands rose from the masses of skinny tie wannabes, and some (including Shoes, 20/20, Paul Collins, The Plimsouls, and The Romantics) started at Bomp before landing at major labels. Writers including Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Mike Saunders and R. Meltzer passed through his masthead. That Bomp didn’t become a haven for great bands like Sire Records is a shame, but Shaw was unwilling to compromise his vision just to play on a bigger stage.

In the ’80s retro-garage was bursting out thanks to bands like The Fuzztones, The Lyres and The Chesterfield Kings; Shaw’s Voxx label attracted a ton of groups. He launched a series of compilations called Pebbles (inspired by Nuggets) featuring some of the rarest original ’60s punk records from his personal collection. He picked up Iggy Pop’s first solo album, Kill City (“when nobody else would touch it”) and issued a series of Stooges outtakes under the title of The Iguana Chronicles. In the ’90s he aligned with Alive Naturalsound Records which brought great bands like Black Keys, Bloody Hollies and Soledad Brothers into the fold, and he continued to discover and nurture new bands that tweaked his antennae until his death from heart failure. He was only 55.

I think the essence of Greg Shaw can be found in this quote:

“I think it comes down to the fact that Bomp is an outgrowth of my love for music. Where many would view it as a marginal business that barely breaks even, I prefer to see it as a hobby that’s profitable enough to allow me to build my life around it.

Contemplating the impact Greg Shaw had upon the industry, it just makes me sadder when I think about politics and greed making charlatans wealthy and famous, while true visionaries are sometimes just cult heroes. But fame is cheap commodity and wealth dissipates. Legacy is the coin that matters, and Shaw’s legacy continues to inspire. 

The BOMP website

Tributes from other writers

The bookSaving The World One Record at a Time

The date of October 19th also claimed guitarist Glen Buxton of the original Alice Cooper Band, who died in 1997; he was only 49.

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September, Gurls!

I Wanna witness...I wanna testify.

I wanna witness...I wanna testify.

We all know the joke…if  everyone who claimed to be a Big Star fan during their original run actually bought an album, they would have literally been big stars and not a cult band that has repeatedly risen from the ashes. Fortunately the bands who now claim them as an influence aren’t just trying to sound cool; the release of their material in digital form has allowed another generation and then some to see what all the fuss was about.

I believe I can thank Creem Magazine for tipping me back in the day, although the 70s is one of my foggydecades. I was as much into prog, glam, hard rock and twang as the next impressionable youth, and it was as likely that I was spacing out to an entire side of Close To The Edge as I was insisting to anyone who would listen that The Faces and The Kinks were way better than Wings would ever be, Macca be damned. But when albums like Something/Anything and #1 Record came along, these were eye-opening moments to musical genius that stood out from the pack.

I loved the Box Tops and could not believe that the same guttural voice behind “The Letter” and “Cry Like A Baby” was now warbling the fragile “Thirteen”, but how many Alex Chiltons could there be? I still argue (politely) with others whether the debut was better than the follow-up Radio City, but I’ve always held both in higher esteem than Third/Sister Lovers (which sounded like the historical documentation of a nervous breakdown). But like all fast burning candles, Big Star was soon gone and relegated to “you should have been there” status until the rediscovery and rebirth many years later. And now this, the public validation, in the form of a (long overdue) box set.

Whether or not this will awaken a new group of fans is up for debate, but at least Rhino is smart enough not to alienate those among us who already own pretty much everything available. Keep an Eye on the Sky is thankfully loaded with live cuts, outtakes and sidebars from related projects like Icewater and Rock City. There’s certain to be a boatload of great information in the liner notes as Jody Stephens is deeply involved with the project; he’ll bring both the band’s perspective as well as a good look at Ardent Records and the Memphis scene.

Of course, Big Star still exists in the 21st century. There was a new record (the disappointingly uneven In Space) and the band even plays occasionally with  Stephens and Chilton now backed by Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. But the current configuration will never capture the juxtaposition of innocence and magic that happened the first time around. But in fairness, what band can?

Whether you are new to the band or a lifelong fan excitedly awaiting the rarities, this box set is certain to be a classic retrospective. Rhino will release Keep An Eye On The Sky on September 15th as well as an expanded edition of Chris Bell’s solo album I Am The Cosmos. Here’s the complete track list for the skeptical, or those too lazy to link to Rhino! (But do follow that link to hear one of the previously unreleased songs.)

Tracklist:

Disc 1
1. Chris Bell: “Psychedelic Stuff”
2. Icewater: “All I See Is You”
3. Alex Chilton: “Every Day as We Grow Closer” (Original Mix)
4. Rock City: “Try Again” (Early Version)
5. Rock City: “The Preacher”
6. Feel
7. The Ballad of El Goodo (Alternate Mix) *
8. In the Street
9. Thirteen (Alternate Mix) *
10. The India Song
11. When My Baby’s Beside Me (Alternate Mix) *
12. My Life Is Right (Alternate Mix) *
13. Give Me Another Chance (Alternate Mix) *
14. Try Again
15. Chris Bell: “Gone With the Light” *
16. Watch the Sunrise
17. ST 100/6 (Alternate Mix) *
18. In the Street (Second Recorded Version)
19. Feel (Early Mix) *
20. The Ballad of El Goodo (Alternate Lyrics)
21. The India Song (Alternate Version) *
22. Country Morn
23. I Got Kinda Lost (Demo)
24. Motel Blues (Demo) *

Disc 2
1. There Was a Light (Demo) *
2. Life Is White (Demo) *
3. What’s Going Ahn (Demo) *
4. O My Soul
5. Life Is White
6. Way Out West (Alternate Mix) *
7. What’s Going Ahn
8. You Get What You Deserve (Alternate Mix) *
9. Mod Lang (Alternate Mix)
10. Back of a Car (Alternate Mix) *
11. Daisy Glaze
12. She’s A Mover
13. September Gurls
14. Morpha Too (Alternate Mix) *
15. I’m in Love With a Girl
16. O My Soul (Alternate Version) *
17. Back of a Car (Demo)
18. Daisy Glaze (Alternate Take) *
19. She’s a Mover (Alternate Version)
20. Chris Bell: “I Am the Cosmos”
21. Chris Bell: “You and Your Sister”
22. Alex Chilton: “Blue Moon” (Demo) *
23. Alex Chilton: “Femme Fatale” (Demo) *
24. Alex Chilton: Thank You Friends” (Demo) *
25. Alex Chilton: “You Get What You Deserve” (Demo) *

Disc 3
1. Alex Chilton: “Lovely Day (aka Stroke It Noel)” (Demo)
2. Alex Chilton: “Downs” (Demo)
3. Alex Chilton: “Nightime” (Demo) *
4. Alex Chilton: “Jesus Christ” (Demo) *
5. Alex Chilton: “Holocaust” (Demo) *
6. Alex Chilton: “Take Care” (Demo) *
7. Alex Chilton: “Big Black Car” (Alternate Demo) *
8. Manana *
9. Jesus Christ
10. Femme Fatale
11. O, Dana
12. Kizza Me
14. You Can’t Have Me
15. Nightime
16. Dream Lover
17. Blue Moon
18. Take Care
19. Stroke It Noel
20. For You
21. Downs
22. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
23. Big Black Car
24. Holocaust
25. Kanga Roo
26. Thank You Friends
27. Till The End of the Day
28. Lovely Day *
29. Nature Boy

Disc 4 (Live at Lafayette’s Music Room, Memphis, Tenn.)
1. When My Baby’s Beside Me *
2. My Life Is Right *
3. She’s a Mover *
4. Way Out West *
5. The Ballad of El Goodo *
6. In the Street *
7. Back of a Car *
8. Thirteen *
9. The India Song *
10. Try Again *
11. Watch the Sunrise *
12. Don’t Lie to Me *
13. Hot Burrito #2 *
14. I Got Kinda Lost *
15. Baby Strange *
16. Slut *
17. There Was a Light *
18. ST 100/6 *
19. Come On Now *
20. O My Soul *

* previously unreleased

They'll get what they deserve

You get what you deserve

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Thirteen Again

Didn’t we just do this a month ago?

And do you really want to tempt fate with superstition when you are here? Many teams had their bad luck earlier this week, so what will the 13th bring? Syracuse had one of the most heartbreaking almost-buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen, but it was (rightfully) dismissed by a millisecond. Little did they know that the game of the yearmaybe the best game ever – would continue into SIX overtime periods!! Years from now, fifty thousand people will claim they were at Madison Square Garden to witness the event.

People always claim they were “there” for the seminal events, don’t they? If everyone who claims to have bought Big Star albums in the early 70s actually did, Big Star wouldn’t be a cult band.

But enough suffering…let’s put a good light on this day, shall we? How about one of the best pop songs ever written?

Maybe Friday I can / get tickets for the dance

Maybe Friday I can / get tickets for the dance

The studio version of “Thirteen” is absolute pop perfection; bottling that teenage lust/angst, the “no one understands us” mentality that we all go through at some point. Hearing this song for the first time when you’re in that zone…wow. You probably have the album(s), but if not…don’t deny yourself any longer. Just playing those clips should seal the deal if that 2-for-1 price doesn’t.

What Big Star threw out on that landscape in the early 70s was like a torch in the musical darkness. I read the review of #1 Record in Creem, hit the record store circuit until I found a copy, and I haven’t stopped playing it since. Frankly, I don’t know may people who have. Radio City is Chilton taking charge, and although bolder and different it’s about neck-and-neck with the first one. I’ve got two different CDs that combine the first two on one disc; one in order, one scrambled, and the sequencing on both seems logical. Hard to screw up two dozen great songs on a disc.

I wasn’t a big fan of the third album; I preferred the melody to the chaos. And I was pretty let down by the recent “new” album, although it had its moments. Similarly I really like the two live albums recorded in the 70s much more than the more recent one from the 90s. Although the Posies/Chilton version of the band looks great on paper, the innocent fearlessness of the original band trumps them hands down. (But let’s be fair, thirty-five years plus wears on anyone). The history of the band is a fascinating story, captured in book length by Rob Jovanovic. For those with a gnat-like McNugget attention span, this might be more your speed. (I’m sure most people landing here are well-versed on the band, but I must post that last link on the slim chance that I’m popping someone’s Big Star cherry.)

So screw you, Jason Vorhees. This Friday belongs to “Thirteen”.

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