Tag Archives: Everly Brothers

Songs Of America

Simon and Garfunkel’s 1969 television special, Songs Of America, was not quite what original sponsor Bell telephone hoped it would be. The scene where trains carrying the bodies of assassinated leaders JFK, RFK and MLK were a bit much for them; ditto the look at “real America” that Paul and Artie wanted to discuss. The conglomerate wanted a concert. The artists wanted a message.

Bell pulled out. Alberto Culver stepped in, and after some haggling CBS aired the program once. It was stomped in the ratings by a Peggy Fleming ice skating special and never re-broadcast. Go figure.

The recently re-issued Bridge Over Troubled Water package includes the original special, plus a new documentary about the making of the film, and they are both fascinating. The documentary (The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water) features Paul and Artie looking back at the times along with some of the critical participants in the film. I hadn’t even realized that comic actor Charles Grodin was the behind the project; he is interviewed along with musicians Hal Blaine and Joe Osborn and engineer Roy Halee, among others.

I mentioned that I have learned to appreciate well made documentaries, and this certainly qualifies. Beyond being an entertaining look at the making of one of the most seminal albums of its era, it’s also an opportunity for Paul and Art to re-evaluate their own history. Friends since childhood, their split seemed partially acrimonious, and perhaps it was. I couldn’t understand it at the time; it seemed like a terrible move for both. But one of Simon’s comments put it all into perspective. They were transitioning from the Everly Brothers – inseparable parts of a whole – into The Beatles, where each personality had its space. And like The Beatles, whatever rose no longer converged.

It was heartwarming to see Paul pay genuine tribute to Art’s majestic voice, while Art seems as ethereal and cosmic as ever. Seeing the members of The Wrecking Crew also reminded me that Simon followed that same path in his solo career when he surrounded himself with Steve Gadd, Richard Tee and other skilled New York session players; an East Coast equivalent of the old days.

Bridge Over Troubled Water remains as timeless and majestic as it was forty years ago. The reissue, combined with the films, is a must-own.

A steal at under fifteen bucks.

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Blast From The Past – The BoDeans

The BoDeans released Mr. Sad Clown this year, and for all I know it fell on deaf ears like most of their work. But the fact that they’re still out there plugging and making great music after thirty years is a welcome piece of news.

I remember seeing them play a local club just after the crest of an early hit, and I thought we must have just missed a fire drill. Surely a band who even got plaudits from Rolling Stone and MTV could draw a decent crowd, but this one was so tiny that my friends and I barely outnumbered the band. No matter – they played a great set. Great bands always do.

As you can tell from this thirteen year old review of Blend, they were getting the same underwhelming response then that they are now. I’m not pretending they’re the second coming, but they are a good band that is well worth delving into if you’re looking for music that is atmospheric, straightforward, rocking, laid back, lyrical and guttural.

Yep, those are contradictions. Life is contradictions. Enjoy.

They’re still here, ten years later, creating solid, soulful records that should be making AAA radio programmers do cartwheels. So why is it that their only glimpse of the “big time” has come from the use of their song “Closer To Free” as the anthem from the television show Party Of Five? And unlike The Rembrandts, they can’t even maximize their opportunity – after all, the show is on FOX, not NBC.

No matter – despite lackluster sales, club tours and sporadic praise, Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann have forged ahead, mining the vein they know best. Somehow two vocalists who individually would be unspectacular twist their voices into a well-oiled and irresistible harmony; Llanas’ rasp smoothed out by Neuman’s silk. Think Everly Brothers with a Jason And The Scorchers edge, or a Springsteen lead with a Little Steven who can hang with him all the way through.

Blend incorporates New Orleans rhythms and instrumentation to fill out its sound. “Heart Of A Miracle” could have been plucked off a Willy DeVille record (speaking of under-appreciated artists), and “Red Roses” is that slow dance with a lover on a second floor balcony. When they rock, like “Count On Me”, it’s more akin to the sound of the Long Ryders or Mellencamp than 1-4-5 rock (again thanks to brushes and toms for a backbeat instead of the Big Drum Sound). Other standouts include “Hurt By Love” and “Hey Pretty Girl”, a song that Springsteen would have killed to record for The River.

Someone must like them – they still have a record deal in an age where record execs are preaching corporate liposuction. And they’re still making very good music, despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a radio format ready to embrace them. Fans will be pleased to have another release that stays true to the course. Those new to the BoDeans will find yet another quality band toiling in the shadows. Looks like a win-win situation.

The BoDeans website

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Blast From The Past: Walter Clevenger

Revered in powerpop and roots rock circles but unfortunately not a household name, Walter Clevenger and his band play an appealing blend of those musical styles and are as strong as a live act as they are tight on record. I had the pleasure of seeing them play a couple of times many years ago, and each time they grabbed the crowd from the opening song and never let go.

And much in the same way, Clevenger’s albuns have held up very well – I still play them loud and often. Frankly, in a world where Tom Petty has achieved rock royalty status, I’m stunned when artists who are as good as Clevenger don’t find mass appeal from the same audience. If you’re one of them, I implore you to click the links at the bottom of this essay and listen to some song clips.

Could that commercial apathy be part of the reason that it has been seven years since Walter Clevenger and The Dairy Kings last blessed us with an album? I do know that it’s been thirteen years since my review of The Man With The X-Ray Eyes ran in Consumable Online

“Love can make you happy/or it can spit right in your face…”

Therein lie the two moods of one Walter Clevenger, whose yang and yin theories of love and relationships pack an impressive debut record. And if the “yang” is the “my life is so blissful with you” half of that couplet, this album is chock full of yin. Thank God for that!

The first thing the listener will zero in on is that Clevenger sounds uncannily like Nick Lowe. In fact, I’ll wager that I could play “Love You Like A King” , “Love (A Misunderstood Thing)” and “Angels” to friends who are fans of Nick Lowe and they’d swear it was their boy. Although Nick is one of Walter’s heroes, I don’t consider this record a rip-off or even a homage to Jesus Of Cool; rather it’s a case of someone who grew up loving a certain type of music naturally emanating it in his own. That said, however, the converse is certainly true – if you do like Nick Lowe, you’ll love Walter Clevenger.

His lyrics are witty and biting, as anyone who has been on the wrong end of a romantic crash can attest. Sometimes it’s utter dejection (“I used to make the hit parade/Now I only line the cage“) and sometimes bitterness (“You say you’re sorry/I don’t believe you/’Cause sorry couldn’t cover/half of what you’re doing“). Even when he is singing about a happy relationship, it turns out that it’s one that slipped through his fingers. If you’re despondent about love, this is the soundtrack for your life, and it will either pick up your spirits or hit you deep. Either way, it leaves a mark.

Musically, Clevenger nails the pop bulls eye by wrapping up pathos in three-minute nuggets. There are a few different sounds to the record, which may be a result of it having been recorded over a longer period of time. Most are 70s/90s classic pop (“Yesterday’s News Now” could be a Rockpile outtake) and some, like “Cries Of Desperation”, suggest folk and country-pop influences like the Everly Brothers. Only the closer, “I Don’t Like Your Face (Just Git)”, sounds out-of-place. But hey, rednecks gotta cry at the jukebox too, so why not to this one?

Clevenger recorded most of the record at his home and issued it under the title PoPgOeStHeMuSiC in 1995. (The cassette-only release quickly sold out through word of mouth and is now a collector’s item.) I was delighted to see that Walter’s recording was picked up by a label for distribution, and not just any label, either. Permanent Press Recordings is headed by Ray Paul (Klimek), a popster himself, who has also released records by deserving artists like Bob Segarini and Klaatu.

The Man With The X-Ray Eyes is proof positive that sometimes the best music around is being made in someone’s bedroom or garage.

After The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, he went on to record more albums that were as good or better (Love Songs To Myself in 1999 and Full Tilt And Swing in 2003) as well as contributing tracks to tribute albums like the Bobby Fuller song (below) and his own homage project, Lowe Profile.

Video: “Only When I Dream

And while he has been preoccupied with production and his own label (Brewery Records), the band does still perform. I noticed a couple of slots at the upcoming IPO Festival in Los Angeles next month. But I sure could use a new Walter Clevenger album, and I know I’m not alone in that thought.

How about it, Walter?

Walter Clevenger website and MySpace site.

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Blast From The Past – The Raves

Really, really fab!

Your collection, if like mine, contains several hidden gems that even you forget about over time. But when you stumble across them years later, you immediately know why you were hooked in the first place. With so many bands springing up in the post-Beatle era and beyond, how could you know about them all? Some incredibly talented ones never got too far outside of their zip code for one reason or another, but we all know there are diamonds in that rough…

One such band was The Raves, from Atlanta. Years after its release. their album Past Perfect Tense is still a sixteen-track breath of fresh air. Here’s what I wrote for TransAction a dozen years ago…

My God, two of them even *look* like John and Paul! This collection of Beatle-esque pop from the 1980s proves that along with The Flashcubes and The Toms there were many other great bands that didn’t get their due. Chuck, John and Jim Yoakum handled the guitar-bass-drums axis while Ken Kennedy added some flash lead guitar. Although the production immediately screams “local band”, the songs don’t – they’re pure New Wave pop.

 “Any Way You Can”, “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “Make Up Your Mind” are just three of the sixteen tracks that you can play in tandem with bands like Artful Dodger, The Jags and The Sinceros. “Tonight It’s Going To Be Great” is The Records via Buddy Holly and you’ll like the Elvis Costello nod on the intro to “Chastity”. Four guys weaned on classic pop rock who decided to make some of their own.

Go ahead – drop a few more names. The Rubinoos. Dwight Twilley. Sloan. Everly Brothers. Name any melodic or powerpop band you want…if you like them, you’ll like this. I have no idea what happened to the band after this – a very common tale – although Chuck did work with the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python.

But do try and track down this hard to find little gem – you will be richly rewarded.

The Raves at AllMusic.com

A couple of YouTube videos courtesy The Yoakum Channel.

An old interview at Bubblegum The Punk

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Happy Birthday, Dave Edmunds

I *still* hear you rockin'...

I *still* hear you rockin'...

How can one be famous and critically underrated at the same time? Although Dave Edmunds has had hits with his band Love Sculpture, as a member of super-group (to the smart ones among us, anyway) Rockpile and as a solo artist, he rarely gets mentioned on lists of the greatest guitar players ever to sling an axe over their shoulder. If you doubt me, may I suggest a run through his catalogue?

I was first floored by his manic playing on “Sabre Dance” and the template for drunken sing-alongs, “I Hear You Knockin“, but the magic ran much deeper on his albums. Always a great cover artist (his take on “Girls Talk” trumps Elvis Costello,  hands down), he breathed new life into songs from both influences and contemporaries. A skilled writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist, Edmunds combined his love of Phil Spector’s production techniques, classic pop song structure, doo-wop harmonies, rockabilly and country twang to forge infectious and irresistible music. His version of “Let It Be Me” was so heartfelt and beautiful that I asked a pair of Flashcubes to perform it at my wedding (thanks Gary and Artie), their equally powerful version had people openly weeping. (At least I think that’s why the attendees were crying…). Check out “Baby I Love You” and “Born To Be With You” , two tracks that recall the positive side of the Phil Spector story.

Axe Murderer

Axe Murderer

Later in the 70s, he and Nick Lowe eventually formed Rockpile with Billy Bremner and Terry Williams, but before, during and after they alternated backing each other on solo albums. Although Seconds of Pleasure is the only official Rockpile release, there’s really an entire catalogue of albums featuring most of the same musicians. Nick and Dave brought the best out in each other, and although they supposedly fought like cats and dogs, the sum of the parts was as good as the individual pieces. If you’re not familiar with that era, correct that mistake soon.

Rockpile plays “Sweet Little Lisa“.

Dave’s solo records were strong and featured the occasional hit, but he still wasn’t on that A-list in sales of popularity (although critically, he was doing just fine). When he signed a management contract with a powerful East Coast promoter in the mid-80s, I thought he would finally get the huge push he needed to become the household name he deserved to be. Instead, it was as if he went on a sabbatical, as his live appearances and recorded output slowed to a crawl. Thankfully he shared his talents with others behind the scenes.

Edmunds found a kindred spirit in Brian Setzer and produced The Stray Cats, who instantly became a phenomenon. Once again he leaned upon his early organic influences and was able to showcase the band in their best light – crisp and clear. A similar effort led to great success for The Fabulous Thunderbirds. It still mystifies me why he later leaned upon Jeff Lynne to produce his own work (well, not completely mystified – I’m sure the label told him they needed a hit record) since tracks from that era sound as dated as…well…as Jeff Lynne. (If Lynne really wanted to do Edmunds a favor, he would have declined the spot in the Traveling Wilburys and let Dave play like James Burton and Scotty Moore.)

Almost invisibly, Edmunds released a couple of great albums late in his career. In the mid-90s, Plugged In returned him to his all-by-myself early days and proved he had lost nothing, even showcasing one of the best Beach Boy homages ever recorded. Then in 2001, he hooked up with The Refreshments – the Swedish band, not the Arizona guys who want to “divvy up there“) – and released A Pile of Rock Live. Word to the curious –  The Refreshments are the closest thing you will find to vintage Rockpile and in this incarnation featured Billy Bremner and Geraint Watkins. The album is stunning, and any Edmunds/Bremner/Rockpile fan should check out their entire catalogue. (And pick up those Billy Bremner albums while you’re at it…speaking of underrated artists!).

Lately Dave has only been making spot appearances, and his newest album is another collection rather than new material. Hopefully he will get the itch again soon and grace us with more magic. But even if he never recorded another note, his musical legacy is firmly established as one of the greats.

Dave and The Refreshments play “I Knew The Bride“.

Dave and Graham Parker go “Crawling Through The Wreckage

Visit the official Dave Edmunds website.

Happy Birthday, Dave!!!

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