Tag Archives: Del Lords

Not Even Almost Famous

I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the past two days about the Todd Snider piece, some from long time fans glad to high-five another, some from people who hadn’t heard anything of his later stuff and were thankful for the kick in the ass (you’re welcome!).

Emails like that always put a smile on my face. Although I’ve been writing for years I’m not delusional enough to think that my words set off beacons across the globe. I’m not even almost famous. But I do know that a lot of people are followers and loyal readers; some comment publicly while others drop a private message. And I do it not for the money or the fame, but because this is just another format in which I get to discuss music and film and comedy that I like, just like I’ve done all my life with my friends.

And it’s a passion I will most likely take to my grave. I still participate in mixtape swaps and share tips about new discoveries. Emailing a link to a great video in 2011 is almost as much fun as showing up at Brian’s house with the first Black Sabbath album, or the day Phil, Larry and I sat around the living room at Bristol Place getting our minds blown by My Aim Is True.

I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of artists over the years, and with the better ones – the ones who have conversations, not just talk to plug product – the subject often turns to collecting music and favorite artists that are underappreciated. I’ve found that in almost every case, that spirit of discovery still looms large in their heart, and the child-like enthusiasm for sharing the passion has never left them.

I thought this exchange from a 2002 interview with Peter Wolf captures it about as well as it can be. Despite worldwide game, Pete still loves to have friends over and spin records in an effort to turn someone on to a new song or artist. He lives for it. Me too.

Peter: The thing is, I don’t consider myself a historian or a record collector. I just consider myself a fan. There are people who will expound on this or that, but I just consider myself a fan. I still go see bands do this or that, grab the new Beck record, keeping up and seeing what’s coming down the pike, be it The White Stripes or The Hives, or going to see James Cotton. I’m interested in all of it.

Me: Well, that’s like why I started writing. I had this need…it wasn’t so much that “I know more about music than you do and I’m going to write about it to prove it.” More that I dig music so much and I love to write about it in hopes that someone reads it and gets the charge that I’m getting. Maybe they’ve never heard of who I’m writing about but the way I describe it gets them interested, and they play a record that they wouldn’t have played, and they get that same…bolt that I did when I first heard it. And then they turn somebody else onto it, and it goes on from there. That’s the big thing. I don’t get that immediate feedback that an artist gets through applause, or the validation that might be measured in sales, sometimes it’s just out there in the void. Did anyone read that? Did anyone give a shit? Or did somebody’s life change because they picked up a John Hiatt record or a Del Lords record after I wrote about it and say “Oh my God…

Peter: Did you like the movie Almost Famous?

Me: I thought that was about my life.

Peter: Yeah, yeah…I was surprised that it wasn’t more popular than it was. I thought it really kind of focused in, for somebody who would be fifteen now, on a mythic era. Or for someone who’d be thirty-five now, or fifty-five! I thought it really captured…it was a sort of valentine to the whole love of music and the records and the sacredness of it, and the innocence of it. And the exploitation of it! I thought it was a really well put-together movie.

There’s a lot of people who bitch about the current state of music and how there aren’t any good bands anymore. I don’t think that’s true, but I do agree that the shifts in popular culture mean that many bands don’t have the outlet that they once did. There are probably some great bands trying to get a foothold, and the radio doesn’t care about them nor does the record industry. But somewhere, a bunch of people are groovin’ to them every Friday night.

So you have two choices. Bitch about the past and do nothing about it…and sound like your parents when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came out. Or follow Peter Wolf’s example, and share your knowledge and your passion and your information as much as you can. Have an old school record party. Write a blog. Make some mixtapes.

Pay it forward.

2 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Music

Scott Kempner Rides Again

Scott Kempner is the genuine article.

I’ve already pimped how excited I am that The Del Lords have new music on the way, and I’ve reviewed Scott Kempner’s solo albums when they came out, doing what I could to pass the word. I know some of you got on board a bit too late for Tenement Angels. But now that’s rectified with a reissue, complete with bonus track, released this week.

Scott – or “Top Ten” as many Dictator fans know him – is a man who bleeds rock’n’roll. With influences from early doo-wop (Bronx Soul, he calls it) through the early rock masters, Kempner has been a prime force in Americana and roots rock for a long time. His songs are honest; they penetrate on first listen and then continue to resonate over time.

But rather than rant like a maniac (I’m looking at you, Kathie – you’re even a bigger Scott fan than me), why don’t I let Scott tell you in his own words what his mindset was at the time?

I’ve said this before: I’ve been very fortunate in my career to make music with friends. In the case of both the Dictators and the Del-Lords, there was a family feeling, a brotherhood, and it was a source of not just comfort and companionship, but inspiration, as well. It just makes me wanna do better than my best. The period in which this album was made was a scary time. After eight years together the Del-Lords had called it a day. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was gonna do except that I knew I would keep writing, playing and singing. But, I was still pretty lost.

So, I took an offer from a label to make a record and called Lou Whitney, which set the ball rolling, and within a few months I was down in Springfield, MO with Manny Caiati, and we were making this here record. Not a lot of pre-conception, other than that getting-Donnie-to-play-through-a-Marshall thing, picked a couple of covers, dove into my notebook, and well, here it is. Check it out, as it is a quite rockin’ little affair, and the chances of you diggin’ it, I think, are pretty damn good…

Read the rest of the essay at Scott’s website and check out his other blog posts.

Tenement Angels is available at CD Baby and Amazon and scores of other fine places. And pick up a copy of Saving Grace while you’re at it.

1 Comment

Filed under Music, Reviews

T.G.I.F. – Ten More Bridesmaids

You’ve seen the Top Ten for 2010, and the full list is still being whipped into shape, but there’s no harm tipping the cap to ten more albums that didn’t make the top of the list but were great purchases during the year. Some finished high on other lists – including one that straddled the top on many of them – while others can claim a handful of people like me in their fan club.

Huge followings don’t affect my barometer, nor does a lack of a visible fanbase make me think less of the artist. I like what I like; there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Guilty pleasures are for cowards.

So here, in no particular order, are Ten More Bridesmaids to check out. Hopefully a few of these are already spinning repeatedly at your place too.

01) Manic Street Preachers – Postcards From A Young ManSome say they went commercial with their tenth album; I say they have one of their most irresistible collections of songs in years. Why are they not huge in the US?

02) Paul Collins – King of Power Pop. Maybe a slew of living room concerts inspired him to revisit his more energetic power pop side, and revisit his Beat days. The Flamin’ Groovies and Box Tops covers are icing on the pop cake.

03) Dwight Twilley – Green Blimp. The Man of A Thousand Comebacks makes yet another one, but Green Blimp is very much a return to form. You can almost hear him ripping himself off on these tracks, but in-house sampling is fine when it’s this good.

04) The Parting Gifts – Strychnine Dandelions. Greg Cartwright from Reigning Sound collaborating with Coco Hames of The Ettes, and I would have bounced it higher if Greg sang everything. Great guests including Dave Amels and Dan Auerbach, and the songs are stellar – of course.

05) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs. I like this album quite a bit, but not with the overwhelming fawning that it is getting across the board; I suspect it will finish atop this year’s Village Voice Poll (nah, they’ll cop out for Kanye West…). More of a consistent album than usual and it is growing on me.

06) Jason and the Scorchers – Halcyon Times. Dare I say it? The Scorchers are back. New rhythm section, but Jason Ringenberg sounds young and refreshed, and Warner Hodges is once again a guitar slinger to be bowed down to. Your move, Del Lords!.

07) Stereophonics – Keep Calm And Carry On. Another band that inexplicably doesn’t find success in America, and I’m dumfounded. Kelly Jones and crew just keep getting better and better; maybe one day we’ll catch up with the rest of the globe?

08) Locksley – Be In Love. Maybe it’s the reputation as a band for teens? Their second album is a big leap forward, stuffed with energetic, bouncy, dance-worthy pop songs and great vocals. Remember – no guilty pleasures!

09) Marah – Life Is A Problem. The sound of a band falling apart and being glued back together at the same time. Organic, loopy, rough, heartfelt, strange and exciting, it’s by turns depressing and magical; listening to it is like eavesdropping. I see light at the end of this tunnel.

10) Pernice Brothers – Goodbye Killer. Really, have these guys ever made anything less than a compelling album? Joe Pernice has to be one of the most under-appreciated songwriters around; here his gems echo everything from 60’s singles to late 20th century indie angst. Meant to be listened to cover to cover.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Reviews

Blast From The Past: The Dictators

Milder title, but the music is still molten lava

An old, live Dictators album? On a Sunday? 

Yeah, I was probably thinking about New York New York because I was writing about Scott Kempner yesterday. Not that I don’t pull this fireball of an album out with regularity, along with all my Dictators albums. But I mention this one again because it was first issued only on cassette with a much better title (Fuck ’em If They Can’t Take A Joke) before finally making it to CD. 

This April 1999 review (below) was one of the first things I wrote about The Dictators since I picked up the pen keyboard again in the mid-90s. Damned if I’m not still fighting the uphill battle eleven years later. Those who know, know, but there are still far too many non-converts. 

Well, fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke

Daddy...what's a cassette tape?

ROIR (Reachout International Records) was founded by former club owner and talent agent Neil Cooper in 1979 to provide a home for the bands that were dominating the New York scene at the time. His roster was incredible – Television, the New York Dolls, Bad Brains, Suicide and The Fleshtones among them. Amazingly, the label was cassette-only releases in an era still dominated by vinyl (the Sony Walkman had not yet debuted, but its arrival soon afterwards saved the label). Perhaps even more amazingly, this man with his finger on the pulse of the imminent musical explosion was 49 years old at the time. 

Now 68, Cooper and his label have been digitally transferring titles to CD for the past four years, and one of the newest re-releases might be the one that put ROIR on the map in the first place. Fuck Em If They Can’t Take A Joke was ROIR’s third release, a sonic atomic bomb from a five-headed street monster that was the perfect bridge between the urban glam of the New York Dolls and the punk edge of the Ramones. The Dictators kicked ass and took names, a dynamic blend of white heat and solid songwriting. 

They were loud and obnoxious, but if you looked closely you could see that tongue planted firmly in cheek. Not too closely, though…Former roadie turned lead vocalist “Handsome Dick” Manitoba prowled the stage like a rabid rhino, keeping time with Richie Teeter’s thunder drums. Ross “The Boss” Funicello played blistering lead guitar while Scott “Top Ten” Kempner held the fort on rhythm and Andy/Adny Shernoff handled bass. A Dictators show was a party and a war zone at the same time, and this night was no exception. 

The show was recorded live to two track in 1981 and contains many of the classic songs – “Two Tub Man”, “Next Big Thing”, “Loyola” and “Rock And Roll Made A Man Out Of Me” among them. The band smokes, but Funicello was especially hot – his solo on “Science Gone Too Far” is a classic that players seventeen years later have a hard time matching. Naturally, there’s a version of the set staple – Iggy‘s “Search And Destroy” (with a hilarious introduction by Manitoba) as well as covers of Mott and Lou Reed (“What Goes On”). Shernoff is a solid songwriter who leans toward the melodic, and “Weekend” is a great example of a pop song turned inside out. 

New York New York expands the original track list by adding three bonus cuts from a show at the Ritz. The soundboard recordings of “Master Race Rock”, “Baby Let’s Twist” and “Faster And Louder” catch the band on another solid night and were mastered by Shernoff last year for inclusion here. Ironically, as the recording date is listed as “the early 80’s”, these could have been from a show after the band’s official demise. 

The Dictators went their separate ways – Funicello to the heavy metal Man O War, Kempner to the late, great Del-Lords, Manitoba to his Wild Kingdom, but through it all they remained Dictators at heart. Always New York legends, recent years have seen them become gods in Spain (where even a tribute record was released) and add to their legend with new singles on Norton. In 1999, the band has finally acquired the rights to their final album Bloodbrothers and have released it on their own, later this year the classic Manifest Destiny may join it. But the best news of all is that there will be a new release in the coming months, so we can all ride their coattails as we face the New Millennium the way it should be – faster and louder. 

In the meantime, whether you have worn out your original ROIR cassette (as I did) or you never had the pleasure in the first place, you are in for a real treat with New York New York. For although Blondie and The Talking Heads made more money, and The Ramones had more imitators, and Television got more credit for being important, let’s set the record straight. Nobody, but nobody, embodied New York rock better than The Dictators

White Light, White Heat...White Castle

The Dictators have done more than release their back catalogue and occasionally regroup – in the last decade they have issued a brilliant new album (D.F.F.D.), a rarities/anthology disc (Every Day is Saturday) and a new blistering live album (Viva Dictators). They formed way back in 1973, but in 2010 The Dictators are still Faster And Louder. Get the albums, hunt down their shows, and when in New York City, visit Mecca.

Stay With Me live in Spain (where they are gods).

1 Comment

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music

The Del Lords Ride Again

And the great news just keeps on coming…

The Del Lords, one of the true seminal American rock’n’roll bands, are back. Not for an oldies tour, not for money, but for passion. As Scott “Top Ten” Kempner says in his blog, it’s time. There is still work to be done. “There are still souls to stir and asses to kick. There are still songs that need to be sung.”

The Del Lords don’t sing about fluff, they sing about love and pain and hurt and fear and abandonment and rising above the bullshit. They frame the gospel of rock and soul in twangy roots-rock, take the stage as brothers and preach their message. They made their run, an oasis of wonderful music in a confused time, and then got out on top to follow their separate paths. But now, it’s time to suit up again. It’s time to join hands and minds and accept that challenge that drives all great artists. It’s time.

How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?

Well, Scott laid it all out there in his blog:

Right now, I’m watching the telethon for Haiti, and Bruce has just finished a version of WE SHALL OVERCOME that was somber but clarion, resolute but compassionate, gospel and the blues. I felt my soul stir as the song ebbed and flowed, and at the way Bruce and the band rode the moment with all this compressed emotional energy, in a way that is everything you can ask of a singer, a musician, an artist, or a song. I am immediately in touch with why I do what I do, and why The Del-Lords are making new music, sharing a stage, hell, sharing a room, for the first time in 20 years.

To actually do what I just watched Springsteen and the band do is HARD, way fuckin’ hard, damn near impossible, in fact, and, to be fair, it requires more than a fair share of magic. But, it also requires some other things. Like band chemistry, the kind born of respect, a strong work ethic, and some familial love; born of common purpose, mutual belief and shared experience. AND, we love playing Rock’n’Roll. And so we do. Again…

First Jason and The Scorchers get back together and release a new album, and now The Del Lords are back as well. Maybe 2010 isn’t going to be so bad after all.

Here’s a link to Scott’s complete essay.

Listen to one of the new songs and order your EP here.

(And thanks for the tip, Maniac, you made my day!)

When the going gets tough, so do they.

4 Comments

Filed under Music

Blast From The Past: The Del Lords

Real American Rock'n'Roll

Real American Rock'n'Roll

Twenty-five years ago, a working man’s band swam upstream against the tide of electronica, arena rock and Euro-noodling to smack America upside its head and start the rock’n’roll bandwagon rolling again. Scott Kempner (“Top Ten” from The Dictators), Eric Ambel (fresh from Joan Jett and The Blackhearts), bassist Manny Calati and drummer Frank Funaro were NYC guys who thought the segregation of music into genres was absurd. They knew that rock’n’roll came from country, blues and gospel, and so too would their sound.

Call it roots rock, cowpunk, or Americana if you want to, but The Del Lords wrote heartfelt songs about the struggles and joy of life and played them with passion and fire. The first track from this debut album is the brilliant “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live”, and if you need to define the band by a single moment, that’s as good a definition as any.

When Frontier Days announced their presence, radio didn’t get it. But those of us who were yearning for honest rock’n’roll were thrilled to climb on board for the ride, a journey that would last through five albums and a lifetime of memories. Lou Whitney‘s bright production showed off the stellar guitar work of Kempner and Ambel, and while the four vocalists didn’t quite live up to Kempner’s goal of an “East Coast Beach Boys” (and didn’t The Four Seasons already own that title?), the vocals were solid and the album filled with melodic, hooky pop songs filtered through their barroom rock sound.

While millions of teenagers were pumping their fists to Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” in arenas around the world, The Del Lords were singing about the real adult world with “Livin’ On Love” and “Double Life”. Anyone struggling to get through life, their job, or even their day could appreciate “Get Tough” and “Pledge of Love”; even the comic “I Play The Drums” deals with channeling frustration through music rather than pounding someone in the face. But don’t be fooled by that levity – these guys were as urban, gritty and streetwise in their way as The Clash were in theirs…not to mention Springsteen, Dylan, Presley and other American icons.

Kempner went on to release two excellent solo records and joins The Dictators when they get together; Ambel moved on to become an in-demand producer while continuing to make great music in bands like The Yayhoos; Funaro now plays drums for Cracker. But there’s a new buzz a quarter century later, from rumors of a reunion to the reissue of their catalogue (with bonus tracks). There are many bands whose output can be safely contained in a single greatest hits album, some even with filler. The Del Lords are not . Enjoy one of the finest American bands the way they were meant to be heard – in their entirety – and I highly recommend that you start at the beginning with Frontier Days.

The man who inspired their name.

Del Lords info at AllMusic

The Del Lords on Wikipedia

8 Comments

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music, Reviews

Under The Radar: Squad 5-0

Squad Five-O really split the faithful down the middle on this one; half the fans thought it was a logical progression towards a more commercial pop punk sound, and the other half hated it…for the very same reason. (Ah well, at least everyone was on the same page in some way.)

I loved the record – I thought it combined all the elements of classic punk and glam with modern production and an infectious energy that never seemed forced or phony. This was no preening, choreographed Fall Out Boy posturing – this band wanted to rock for all the right reasons and was able to capture that on a studio disc.

Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Poof! Adam and Dave moved along to become Marah’s guitarist and drummer, respectively, in what was probably that band’s best lineup to date. Of course Marah being Marah, the Bielankos cleared the personnel decks on the eve of the tour for their latest album, and…that was that. Adam and Dave (along with another ex-Marahite, Kirk Henderson) now have Bloodline (I’ll be linking to my review as soon as it’s published) so the odds on Squad 6-O are probably slim to none.

None of that affects just how good this record is, so whether you hold out hope for a reunion or light a candle to the past, give it a shot. Here’s my original take five years ago when I rated it my #2 album of 2004, just behind Green Day‘s American Idiot

They only gave themselves three stars

They only gave themselves three stars

LATE NEWS BREAKING (Capitol)

Matt Wallace producing your band means you get the big rawk sound made for radio and – better yet – your record will probably get a spin on the airwaves to see if it can survive. After years of grassroots punk touring, the Squad takes their shot with a major label to see if they can outrun the Rancid/Clash tag they’re been stuck with. Truth is they’re all over the map on this new release, from the Urge Overkill nod in “Always Talkin’, Never On The Run” to the country-via-Del Lords “Train Of Shame”.

Naturally there’s the requisite ska-punk dalliances and the throaty vocals of yelper Jeff Fortsun, but it’s drummer Dave Petersen who really sells every song (and what do you expect from a guy who played in a Ramones tribute band – lethargy?). Overall, some great stuff – dashes of glam and Izzy Stradlin, driving bass lines hammering my favorite track “Left Alone” – even their overlong closer “Everything” could be forgiven as being anthemic. So let’s hope the jocks see the Matt Wallace imprint, pop it in and let it ride. Regardless, you can go to the store and cast your vote monetarily. 

Buy a copy at Amazon.

Squad 5-O discography.

Visit their MySpace site for a listen.

Savor the moments.

5 Comments

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music, Reviews