Tag Archives: Ellen Foley

R.I.P. Steve Popovich

In the 70s and 8os, when record companies warred against each other like lumbering dinosaurs, there were some real unsavory characters in the business. I’ve met and worked with quite a few of them, and to say I counted my fingers after a handshake is putting it mildly.

But among the stories of the ridiculously rich and powerful were the occasional feel-good stories of when David beat Goliath. Of course these days, that happens daily – the major label stranglehold on music is all but dead.

But when little Cleveland International Records started up, they could have never imagined that they would stumble across one of the most monumental albums of the rock era, especially after most of the supposedly smarter majors passed on it.

Steve Popovich had the career I thought I wanted a the time, a VP of a major label in his twenties with the ability to sign artists and help share them with the world. Any of us who are fans of music have our truckload of underappreciated musicians and writers and singers who would surely be megastars if only given the break. Working under Clive Davis at Columbia Records and then A&R with Ron Alexexburg at their sister label Epic, he was able to help launch or maximize the careers of artists like Cheap Trick, Brice Springsteen, Mott The Hoople, Johnny Winter, Southside Johnny and many of my favorites.

When he struck out to form Cleveland International Records, he used his old school local promotion skills to work an odd and obtuse album called Bat Out Of Hell month after month, slowly building an expanding regional base until radio finally fanned the spark into a flame. I was working in a record store at the time, and I remember how often labels would get all excited about a new record only to ignore it three months later if it didn’t catch on. Popovich believed in the record, believed in Meat Loaf, believed in Jim Steinman. He followed his gut instincts, and the rest is history.

He also gave us Ellen Foley’s majestic Night Out, and when Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson wanted assistance post-Mott, it was Steve they turned to for direction. He had the reputation as a man who would invest in the artist in ways far beyond financial.

Steve Popovich passed away today at the age of 69.

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Blast From The Past: Mick Ronson

God damn, he was great.

Always been a Ronno fan; loved his tone on all the Bowie albums and thought his collaboration with Ian Hunter was the perfect dynamic for both men. And while his first two solo albums (Slaughter On Tenth Avenue and Play Don’t Worry) didn’t hit those heights, they were enjoyable nevertheless. In later years I marvelled at how his magic touch would lend a spark to artists as diverse as Ellen Foley, John Mellencamp and Morrissey. I have plenty of great Ronson memories but thought of this one the other day when I came across an old review.

When I moved in June of 1981 I didn’t know a soul in my new town, but found out that Ronno’s band The New York Yanquis was playing a beach club about an hour from my apartment. I swear I was the only one in that club who was aware of the magician on stage, despite his more conventional appearance. Everyone else seemed to be getting hammered and ignoring the legend on stage, who simply went about his business blowing my mind.

It was the first gig of that tour, and the band had just gotten a cease and desist order from the Yankees baseball team, but even that introductory story didn’t make a ripple in this crowd of Budweiser swilling drunks. So he just played a myriad of rock and reggae and soul, backed by Shane Fontayne (guitar), Frank Cambell (bass), Tommy Gun (keyboards), and Wells Kelly (drums), with Ann Langte and Dede Washburn on vocals. I even got to talk to him for a while that night; he was exhausted and probably a little depressed but seemed relieved to know that at least someone recognized him and was excited about the band. It was the last time I’d see him.

His death hit me hard in 1993, and I assumed that there would never be another album since the others never sold that well and glam was the furthest thing from the current grunge on the radio. How delighted I was to come across Showtime in 2000, let alone the wonderful collections that followed.

Here is my review from Amplifier Magazine in 2000…

The first officially released live collection dedicated to Mick Ronson’s solo work is yet another stunning testament to the late guitarist’s versatility and passion. Showtime culls tracks from a 1976 performance of The Mick Ronson Band alongside excerpts from the 1990 Hunter/Ronson band tour. Lesser known tracks like “Takin’ A Train” and “I’d Give Anything To See You” shine while the cover of “White Light, White Heat” explodes with energetic fretwork. Extended versions of the instrumentals “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” and “FBI” are highlights, but “Sweet Dreamer”, as always, is the emotional showstopping performance that will leave you with heart in mouth.

Limited editions of this release include a bonus disc featuring four tracks recorded in Sweden in 1991, later versions of which appeared n the posthumous release Heaven and Hull. The label is reportedly assembling more Ronson releases including a CD spotlighting his instrumental work. Keep it coming folks, this is magic!

Listen to clips here.

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Blast From The Past: Ellen Foley

 

What a voice! The fact that she was smoking hot didn't hurt either.

What a voice! The fact that she was smoking hot didn't hurt either.

Ellen Foley may have come to your attention thirty-two years ago without you realizing it. It was her breathless, bombastic vocals opposite Meat Loaf‘s horny high-school Romeo on “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. Along with the rest of Bat Out Of Hell, the song dominated radio for years and launched Meat Loaf’s career; the album has sold over thirty-four million copies to date. But if you’ve seen the famous music video for the track, you’re watching Karla DeVito lip-sync to Ellen’s vocals. Ellen didn’t film any of the videos or go out on the worldwide tours, but two years later she came back with a vengeance with Night Out.

Being part of the Cleveland International family, on this debut album she was supported by Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson and members of their band including keyboard player Tommy Mandel and a man who would drop a couple of great albums soon himself, drummer Hilly Michaels. Hunter and Ronson produced and arranged the album as a hybrid of Mott The Hoople glam, 60’s girl group histironics and Jim Steinman’s orchestral bombast. It turned out to be the perfect synergy of forces, and thirty years later it still knocks me sideways.

Night Out opens with the Steinman-esque “We Belong To The Night“, a five-and-a-half minute showcase that sounds like a Meat Loaf song sung by The Ronettes. Foley’s powerful pipes blast through the pomp like a laser, and around the four minute mark it’s as if she let another rocket booster kick in… how the hell did a voice this huge and strong come out of a woman that small? And before I even had a chance to process it, “What’s A Matter Baby” took that baton and raised the bar, another sneering Phil Spector-meets-powerpop killer that Foley throws on her back and carries home; when she hits the key change at the halfway point the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Is it possible to pout and purr and preen at the same time? The spoken outro owes as much to “Walking in the Sand” as it does “Paraside by the Dashboard Light”

Cheesey Music Video: medley of “What’s A Matter, Baby” and “Stupid Girl” from Night Out.

And to complete the opening trifecta, you’ll never hear a harder version of the Rolling Stones’ “Stupid Girl”, Ronson’s rhythm guitar a wallop of distorted filth, and Foley almost yelping the vocals over a thundercrack of bass and drums. Only the saxophone dates the track as a 70s album cut, but it’s still ferocious. The title track, and especially the closer “Don’t Let Go” give her an opportunity to shine with more midtempo material, and her turn on Graham Parker‘s “Thunder and Rain” is well done. The throbbing “Young Lust” was one of the more popular cuts off the record, but the other cut that blew me away was the amphetemine-tempoed “Hideaway”, with Michaels’ machine gun pace and Ronson’s soaring guitar in a footrace with Foley’s 100 watt breathy vocal to the end (thankfully, it was a tie). After that , the naked delicacy of “Don’t Let Go” is almost a whisper.

Nine tracks of magic, and thanks to Wonded Bird records, available on CD again. Foley followed up two years later with Spirit of St. Louis (produced by then-boyfriend Mick Jones of The Clash, with a few Strummer/Jones songs) and again in 1983 with Another Breath, and while each have their moments, the first will always be the best for me. Ellen subsequently turned her focus to acting, joining the cast of Night Court for a year (as Public Defender Billie Young) and performing on and off Broadway. Although she made occasional guset shots on other’s albums, there were no more records of her own.

But great news – Ellen Foley is singing again! Playing out around New York City as Ellen Foley and the Dirty Old Men, she still looks and sounds great! And if Jane Lynch ever needs a stunt double… 

Nothing's the matter, baby...

Nothing's the matter, baby...

Give Ellen Foley a listen at her page on MySpace

Thirty years later, singing that classic song that Karla DeVito lip synched, with tribute  band Anything But Loaf.

And what the hell – this clip features Ellen with Meatloaf, Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, Karla DeVito and The Boyzz. Yes, kids, it’s true…Cleveland Rocked. But what the hell was Meat doing with a guitar?

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