Tag Archives: Gadfly Records

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 Wishes for 2010 Comebacks

 

Happy New Year! Many of us look upon January 1st as a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new plan. For others, it’s an opportunity and a challenge to make a mark in life, to have a sense of purpose and accomplish a goal. And for pop culture freaks, it’s a chance to wonder what the year ahead has in store, as every year brings us some wonderful surprises, whether a great album or a new TV show. Who will occupy our thoughts in 2010? Certainly there will be some new breakout artists, but as always, some blasts from the past will knock us for a loop as well. 

All too often we take our cultural heroes for granted, expecting them to continually churn out yet another book or album or screenplay at the same pinnacle of quality. If they hibernate or quit, we pine that they walked away too early. Yet if they start to slip, we pounce upon them for overstaying their welcome and selling out. But our culture seems preoccupied with success and redemption, so we seem to be especially cognizant of those who recapture some past glory, especially if the road since then was paved with difficulty. 

I used to be among the camp that wanted to leave well enough alone – don’t tarnish a reputation with a comeback, but walk off on top and disappear into legend. With very few exceptions, no one does that voluntarily; it’s usually an untimely death that cements a legend. James Dean might have made as many horrible film choices as Robert DeNiro had he lived into his sixties. Had Elvis died while in the service, he’d still be larger than life, only not literally. But instead we usually witness a fall from grace – Willie Mays playing center for the Mets, Dick Clark still counting down New Year’s Eve. 

But after seeing Mott The Hoople reform in 2009, after watching Jim McCarty and Johnny Badanjek rocking like they were teenagers again, after having Dana Gould and Steven Wright release hilarious new albums years after I thought they were done with it all, I’ve jumped ship. Life is short – give me all I can handle. Not everyone will succeed, but I can swallow the moments of ineptitude for a calculated risk that there will be moments of pure magic that otherwise never would have happened. 

So with that caveat in mind, here are ten reunions, revivals and/or comebacks I’d like to see this year…a few of which might actually happen! 

Risk and Reward

The Faces – A test run happened late this year where Ian McLagan, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones finally gave up on Rod Stewart‘s false promises and played a gig without him. If only they would have done this while Ronnie Lane was still alive, but throw in Glen Matlock on bass and someone like Sulo of The Diamond Dogs on vocals and this could be magic. 

Arrested Development – Maybe line-for-line the funniest television comedy ever, and it’s a crime that something that great couldn’t find a strong audience let alone a network exec with a spine who would have kept it on the air for the sake of art. (Yeah, right) Rumors about a movie continue to swirl – please get it done before it’s too late! 

RockpileBilly Bremner is playing music in Europe, Nick Lowe is still great but sedate, and…well, where the hell is Dave Edmunds, anyway? Technically they only made one album although all those Lowe and Edmunds records were really Rockpile albums in disguise. Seconds of Pleasure turns thirty this year – how about a sequel? 

Eric RobertsMickey Rourke was right – if someone would just give Eric Roberts a chance, I think he’d knock the ball out of the park. After all these years tolerating his sister’s horrible movies, I think Hollywood owes me a film where Roberts has a great role to sink his teeth into. Tarantino, you listening? 

The Kinks – Come on, guys, even The Zombies have managed to get back together. Dave is recovering but back out on the stage, and Ray’s work over the past couple of years has been among his best. There’s an entire generation who hasn’t seen the band live on stage. Please guys…one for the road

Mel Brooks – I know he’s having great success reviving old hits on Broadway, and I know he’s in his eighties. But he’s still one of the quickest, sharpest wits around and perhaps five years after losing the great Anne Bancroft he will dig deep for one more devastating comedy film. 

The J. Geils Band – Peter Wolf still has the chops, and lord knows we need a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. A kickass band with a guy who knew what being a front man was all about, their party atmosphere the antithesis to indie shoegazing. 

David Simon – The man gave us two of the finest television shows in history – Homicide and The Wire. Both scripted dramas were far more real than any of that reality TV crap that we drown in today. Save us, David. 

Tonio K. – I think I wish this every year. Not sure if he’s flying well under my radar or just involved in other projects (like assembling a blues compilation) but it’s been over a decade since Gadfly Records released his reissues and almost twenty since an album of new material. America needs all the cynics it can get.

Robert KleinGeorge Carlin might have been the one to make the most of the opportunity, but it was Robert Klein who helped put HBO on the map with his comedy specials. Whip-smart and multi-talented, I can’t believe that the events of the past several years haven’t inspired him to create a new hour of material. We need you, sir. 

"You start something this time, we all get a half-life, go figure it out on your own..."

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Blast From The Past: Don Dixon

Don Dixon

No, no...thank YOU, sir.

Don Dixon has been a favorite of mine as long as I can remember. I first discovered him after he stepped out from behind his producer’s chair with R.E.M. and Tommy Keene to cut an album of his own, and every release since has been a gleeful pleasure. I love his sandpaper vocals and knack for melody;  “Praying Mantis”, “Southside Girl” and “Your Sister Told Me” are just some of the tunes that became a staple of my mixtapes during the ’80s. And every release since then has been a treasure.

He continued to engineer and produce a who’s who of jangle-pop songwriters and bands, quickly becoming the go-to guy (along with Mitch Easter) for artists like Marshall Crenshaw, Guadalcanal Diary and Matthew Sweet. And his partnership with wife Marti Jones not only elevated her albums to a greater height but their live collaborations (i.e. Chi-Town Budget Show) were magic. But somewhere along the late ’90s, with grunge and hip-hop and teenybop-pop milking what was left of radio, he drifted out of the limelight.

When he “came back” a few years later on Gadfly Records with Invisible Man, I was thrilled. He’s recorded sporadically snce then (his latest releases are available digitally) and continues to be a favorite. Those of you unfamiliar with him are in for a treat (check out his early band Arrogance as well!). Here’s what I penned about Invisible Man for Consumable Online back in 2002…

Invisible Man

Thankfully you can hear him

 Invisible Man would be a good nickname for someone whose recording career seemed to slam on the brakes in 1995, but Don Dixon’s production and session work for some of music’s brighter lights has kept him very busy. And it’s not like radio is screaming for a literate, funny writer with a knack for hooks and a raspy but soulful voice. The Invisible Man certainly won’t qualify him for stadium tour status, but it’s a solid collection of songs presented through the guise of a song cycle, albeit a scattered one. Usually thematic pieces are presented in order; but Dixon’s life observations are ordered more by musical structure. What do you want from a producer?

The first three songs are presented from the viewpoint of a man in the prime of his life, and the music is appropriately confident and upbeat. “Invisible & Free” (which you will think is called “Kara” until you look at the track list) is an upbeat song that plays with the lyrics effectively, a typical Dixon maneuver. “Do So Well” is probably the closest to his prior solo work — soulful Southern rock and R&B — while the lively “Tax The Churches” could best be described as Memphis surf music, a kissing cousin to “Praying Mantis.” But two songs later, the stark and frail “All I Wanted” is narrated by an 85 year old man recounting a life of wasted opportunity. The vocal is a drop dead Elvis Costello intonation as a single, rhythmic acoustic guitar ticks away what little time remains.

“Digging A Grave” and “Then I Woke Up” are sung as the ruminations of a man in late middle age, and despite the characters’ mortality questions, are also strong musically. The oddest piece, “High Night For The Tide,” juxtaposes island rhythms and a sound not unlike Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells. The somber island percussion reappears on the closing song “Why Do Children Have To Die?,” whose placement on the record is as odd as its title. I know Dixon is not going for a hit record here, but I’m not sure that’s the taste he wanted to leave in my ear as I depart, either.

Dixon fans may dive into this redemptive opera wholeheartedly, or they may opt to dip in only for the songs that tickle their fancy. If anyone on Americana or (gasp!) pop radio ever hears these tunes, they’ll be one at a time, so buying into the concept won’t be as critical. And that’s vintage Dixon — putting his wares out on that table and letting you find the gems for yourself. Welcome back!

The Gadfly Records website

Don Dixon’s wonderful catalogue here

Visit Don Dixon online here.

(And don’t forget Marti Jones!)

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Blast From The Past: Andy Breckman

I've got the pen in my hand!

I've got the pen in my hand!

Many of you might recognize Andy Breckman as the creator of the long-running series Monk, a show that puts a unique twist on the standard detective formula. Perhaps you also know his work as a staff writer for Saturday Night Live and David Letterman, where his offbeat skits included Eddie Murphy’s “White Like Me”. He’s obviously a brilliant writer, a little twisted and someone unafraid to push the boundaries of comedy. But before Letterman and SNL and Monk, Andy Breckman was a funny stand-up and singer-songwriter, and the latter is whenI first discovered him.

I don’t even remember who the headliner was that night I saw him in the late 70s. Back in my Syracuse days, if a label act was coming through town, I was going to be there, and that night was no exception. I remember a slightly unkempt guy climbed the stage in a club packed with bottle blondes and guys in satin band jackets. In an effort to get our attention, he leaned into the microphone and announced that he had just signed a contract with Columbia Records that very afternoon. As people cheered and whistled in genuine appreciation, he added “yep, I get any twelve albums I want for a penny, as long as I buy just five more later on…

Cheap laugh, sure. But before that chuckle subsided, he launched into a song with such an animated spirit that the crowd remained zoned in on him. He was halfway through it before I really started listening to the lyrics…and in an instant I was doubled over in laughter..then another song and another, each more absurd than the one before. They were oddball, they were really well written and best of all they were fucking hilarious.

I could lie and pretend I recall the set list song for song, but I have trouble remembering the decade. But I do remember he had the  place rolling with the call-and-response to “I Had A Good Day” – I won’t spoil it for you – and then he pulled out “Railroad Bill”, where he goes mano-a-mano with one of the characters in his song for control over the storyline. If I typed out the lyrics you’d laugh out loud, but his delivery and performance make it even better.

See for yourself – here’s Andy Breckman live.

There was nothing for sale that night, but thankfully a small boutique label called Gadfly Records issued Don’t Get Killed in 1990, and it’s been a staple at my house ever since. An amnesiac tries to salvage a meeting with a potential soulmante in “The Hello Hello Song” ; a tale of how his parents met ends with a twist in “How I Met Your Mother”, and he mocks his own (then) inability to get famous in “Here Comes My Career”. A congregation turns to “Rabbi Finkleman” for salvation only to find out he’s just as clueless as they are; a long-running feud with Don MacLean is spirited in “The Cheese Stands Alone”, and a game of tag goes postal in “I’m It”.

Like Loudon Wainwright, Breckman enhances his funny material with a comic’s timing and in-the-moment rapport with the audience. They’re in the palm of his hand from start to finish, and that trust allows him to connect with pathos as well as humor. Wainwright can spin tales about his dysfunctional family life right alonsgide something as goofy as “Dead Skunk”; likewise Breckman can offer something as truly heartbreaking and poignant as “The Cancer Song” in the middle of his set and pull the crowd right back in one song later.

As far as I know, Breckman only released two comedy-folk albums, Dont Get Killed and Proud Dad, both on Gadfly Records. (A third release is a collection of radio pieces from Seven Second Delay on WFMU). His career exploded after that, and today he remains a very successful writer and producer.

The final season of Monk started earlier this month, and it must be a bittersweet time for everone associated with the program. So Andy, I thank you for eight years of great television, but as you dwell on the finality of the situation I hope you channel some of that pleasure and pain into song. Maybe…I dunno…put out an album? You could even buy one yourself, Andy. Just think – that would mean only four more albums to go to get out of that contract!

monk

Andy’s film and television work.

Andy Breckman wiki.

Seven Second Delay on WFMU

Gadfly Records has releases from great artists like Billy Bremner, Tonio K and Black 47 amng others. Mitch Cantor puts his money where his heart is, so check out his catalogue.

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