Tag Archives: Hamell On Trial

Blast From The Past – Bobby Gaylor

My mind often plays connect-the-dots.

I was reading emails from friends about the recent Alejandro Escovedo concert with Hamell On Trial as an opener – a perfect pairing that I sadly missed – and the reviewer mentioned how he had met Escovedo in Austin while both were clerks ar Waterloo Records. Hamell, a native of upstate New York, eventually migrated there when starting his solo career, a decision that led to his explosion onto the alternative scene and his initial major label deal.

Ed Hamell is a literate and wordy guy, so I found myself referring to him when I’d come across similar artists, or at least those who would issue combinations of spoken word and music. And while dwelling on that memory, I remembered Bobby Gaylor‘s song “Suicide“, which caused quite a stir upon its release…although many people misinterpreted the point of the song in their “Born In The USA” kinda way.

Video: “Suicide

So thanks to my random and erratic brain synapses, here’s my ten-year old review of Gaylor’s Fuzzatonic Scream album, which originally ran in Consumable Online

If you have had a radio on these past couple of months, you’ve probably heard “Suicide”, the arresting spoken-word track that has polarized the listening audience. No, it’s not a pro-suicide song, although it wouldn’t be the first time that dimwitted people have rallied against a song or poem without comprehending it. But it does cleverly begin with an off-the-cuff attitude that hooks your sick sense of humor, before spinning on a dime midway through to head towards its very anti-suicide coda — “Hey, you were born – finish what you started!” Whether it’s the overwhelming majority of people who are moved by the track or the 10% or so who are offended, the phone lights up whenever the track airs.

Bobby Gaylor’s phrasing and Boston accent will remind you of Denis Leary, although his comic story style owes more to performers like Ed Hamell and monologists like Eric Bogosian than any stand-up comic (well, this side of Chris Rush, anyway.) His skewed reality is not so different from ours, but few people have the ability to tell as colorful of a story while still remaining believable. If you have that one friend who can make any situation or story sound funny, or scary, or important, well, that’s Bobby Gaylor in a nutshell.

What is unusual is the musical accompaniment; one is more used to hearing laughter or silence rather than music.  Occasionally it works wonders;  “Suicide” plays like an alternative folk song, “Animals” would play well on The Discovery Channel, and “Tommy The Frog Killer” has a pulsing Euro-sound rolling underneath like an independent film. Which makes sense of course, since soundtrack composer and musician/engineer Marc Bonilla provide the “score” to Gaylor’s tales. Not all stories are funny – although “Hit A Guy With My Car” is morbidly hilarious – but they’re all compelling with or without the music. Masturbation, families, animals, violence, and the artlessness of smelt fishing all get a turn under his microscope.

“Suicide” will no doubt grab your attention, and may indeed change your life, but Gaylor is no one-trick pony. And for those who can’t handle the truth, yes, the radio-edit version of “Suicide” is included as well as the full-blown rant.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

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The Meeting

I told him to do this years ago.

“Ed”, I said, “None of these songs are going to get on the radio. People who get to your shows understand what’s going on, but the newbies need to get the whole package. Even the ones loving the albums don’t know they’re missing half the fun because the live show is the whole package. You have to get a DVD together or have your manager harass HBO or Comedy Central until they cave. It’s like nothing anyone else is doing!”

But nooooo, Ed decided to just record one incredible album after another, put about a billion miles on his odometer, play anywhere from your living room to a stadium and win over the whole goddamned world one mind at a time. And then just for shits and giggles, to create a one man show (The Terrorism of Everyday Life) that’s won awards around the world and then start recording a new song every day just because he can.

Ed isn’t Big As Life, he’s bigger. And the fastest right hand in rock.

He did throw me a bone a couple of years back with Rant & Roll.

But now, finally, 2010 will see a formal documentary called The Meeting hit the streets. Filming continues (there’s a four-camera shoot this weekend at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia!) but you can get a little taste of it here:

Watch the trailer for The Meeting.

So I guess my work is done – Ed finally “gets it”. (You’re welcome, people.) I now breathlessly await its completion and my certain to be meaningless Executive Producer credit.

But I’ll settle for a face solo.

Visit Ed’s website and MySpace site

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Blast From The Past – Jack Green!

Life is like a bowl of tangents.

No, Forrest Gump didn’t say that. But it’s true! After writing about the Pretty Things I saw that they were now playing dates with other musicians filling in around Taylor and May. That started me thinking about bands who eventually have other players come through their ranks  in later years, from Bad Company to Foghat to Steppenwolf, so I decided to look up everyone who had been a Pretty Thing. And although I knew that Jack Green was in the band for a bit, I had totally forgotten it.

I didn’t discover Green from his tenure in the Pretties (even though I played Silk Torpedo and Savage Eye a lot) or as a member of T.Rex, either. My first conscious exposure to him came on an album that came out thirty years ago called Humanesque. Released at the cusp of the post-punk, corporate rock days, this fell into a group of refreshing albums with catchy songs, great guitar and a bit of a New Wave edge that this new channel called MTV would soon try to jump all over. But Jack Green wasn’t about posing and synthesisers and bullshit – he had crafted an album equal parts powerpop and Ziggy Stardust.

At the time I was both managing a small club and writing for an arts weekly called The National Rag, so I was fortunate enough to get pitched on bands from both angles, but his label never mentioned Jack Green. I was struck by the album cover – any veteran bin-browser has discovered many a favorite this way – and I think I remember reading a small clip comparing his voice to Bowie’s. I saw, I bought, and was conquered.

Green was a great guitar player but didn’t flash out just to show off; his solos (“Babe” is a great example) were tasty without wanking. He sounded as comfortable with pop-reggae (“Life on The Line”, “So Much”) as with more raspy rocking (the Bryan Adams-ish “I Call, No Answer”, featuring some Ritchie Blackmore axe work). “Thought It Was Easy” is a very pretty slow-tempo rocker that showcases his knack for a hook and his very appealing voice; ditto “Valentina” which features some nice tempo changes. And  “Murder” should have been as big a hit as Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded”.

Video: “Babe

“Factory Girl” starts out is a pretty straightforward pop rocker – fat chords, short sharp chorus – but morphs into a nice guitar workout. And the hypnotic closer, “This is Japan”, cleverly integrated Oriental arpeggios with a churning rock beat. (When I moved to Rochester a local band making good named Duke Jupiter covered it on their album; I’m pretty sure someone else had a minor hit with it as well). Frankly, there’s really not a duff track to be found here.

My favorite was the three-minute killer “Bout That Girl”, which did indeed sound like a Ziggy outtake. Great vocal, punchy guitar and a chorus that I found myself humming immediately. I played that song over and over; I thought it might be the greatest hook I had heard in years. The cassette player in my old Pontiac got quite a workout in those days, and anytime I had anyone in the car I would play it for them and blast the chorus…and to a person I’d get that nod of agreement: indeed, this is a hit record!

That was until the day I was giving Ed Hamell (yep, Hamell on Trial) a ride home. The first time through he stared intently at the tape deck (why do people stare at radios and tape players?) before breaking into a wicked grin. When the chorus came around the second time he sang loudly, and in perfect rhythm…the first line of the chorus from The Byrds‘ “Chestnut Mare”. 

Damn. “Somebody should have told me about that girl“…”I’m gonna catch that horse if I can“…that was a perfect fit.

Reeling, I let buzzkill Ed out of the car, probably as amazed that he nailed the reference so easily as I was that I missed it in a hundred listens. No wonder that one line struck me so immediately – it had been in my brain for years! But lest you think I’m accusing Mr. Green of deliberately swiping a hook, I’m not. The rest of the chorus, let alone the rest of the entire songs, are as different as night and day. The Byrds never said anything, and I never heard anyone else but Ed make the connection. Just another happy accident in rock and roll.

But that anecdote is as fresh in my head as if it happened yesterday, and whenever I think of that song I think of Ed and that Pontiac and that time of my life. It’s just one more occasion where a song and a time and an experience are linked together and burned in my memory. And those are the things that will continue to put a smile on my face as long as I live.

Video: “This Is Japan

Copies of this album are going for ridiculous prices on Amazon; I have no idea what the situation is regarding ownership of the masters or whether anyone even cares enough to try to re-release them again. Lord knows there can’t be a ton of money in that. But I’ve got a rack full of albums from that 3-4 year period surrounding 1980, and it’s a gold mine of greatness. Gary Myrick, The Sinceros, Phil Seymour, The Photos, The Fabulous Poodles, Pearl Harbor and The Explosions…trust me, it’s a long list of people who mostly had two albums before having the plug pulled.

I own both Humanesque and Reverse Logic; I never saw the other two or I would have snapped them up in a heartbeat. His later efforts provided a hit for Roger Daltrey and an association with John Mellencamp, and he’s enjoyed a successful artistic career in and out of music.

Some of the CBS artists have been lucky enough to have their work re-issued as 2-fers, giving a new generation an opportunity to discover albums that didn’t get their due. It would be really great if whatever conglomerate owns these RCA albums would do the same for him to remind the world how special these Jack Green albums are.

The Jack Green Appreciation Society

Don’t confuse him with this guy.

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30 Songs in 30 Days

30 Days in the hole

30 Days in the hole

Ed Hamella/k/a Hamell On Trial – has blazed a phenomenal trail after a typical cover-band incubation period in sleepy Syracuse, New York. After assembling a dynamic rock/r&b band called The Works, he toured up and down the Eastern seaboard, baited pompous MTVeeJay Mark Goodman into a verbal fight (there’s no such thing as bad publicity, folks) and finally decided that as a solo act all the band members would show up at the same time and get along. Traveling from Albany to Austin to New York City, he’s gone from building a following from club residencies to walking away from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with it’s highest award.

I’ve waxed poetic on Ed before in the pages of Pop Culture Press and reviewed several his CDs over the years in various magazines. There’s no need for me to recant Ed’s history here because there’s enough ink about this one man dynamo all over Al Gore’s Internet. What I will tell you is that in any phase of his career, Ed has been all about perseverance and confidence. So it came as no surprise to me that Ed was challenging himself to write thirty songs in thirty days, and do it publicly, so you’d know he didn’t slack off like a wuss.

Therefore, my apologies to you for not posting this on Day One. Better late than never – how does Day Twenty sound? Songs with videos, very intimate, all over the map so far. I’m not sure if I like #19 best because it’s fresh in my mind, or because of the guest vocalist at the end of the song. But I’m sure you’ll have your own favorites!

Here are the first dozen.

And here are songs 11-20.

You can subscribe for the feed, or just check back daily if you’re a Luddite .

But either way, join in!

Hamell on Trial logo

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Syracuse Summers

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place...

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place...

As a follow-up to yesterday’s reminiscent jourmey, I want to use this week’s TGIF entry to clue you in to just ten of the many great artists and bands that came out of that smowy little hellhole known as Syracuse, NY. This list is by no means complete – none of my TGIF entries are – but this is but my small way to pay respect to The Little Town That Could…and Did.

So keep your eyes and ears open. Like my very good friend Dave always says, sometimes the best music is right in your own backyard.

Not the puffy shirt

The Flashcubes – If they had only been in a bigger market, their records would sit in every collection next to The Romantics and The Ramones and Cheap Trick. They were lightning in a bottle and dominated the pop scene but somehow didn’t make the jump. Ironically, a career resurgence over the past decade finds them more popular than ever, and the albums they should have been able to release then are available now. Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin still play as The Neverly Brothers (and in other configurations), Tommy Allen enjoys a great career as producer and drummer and Paul Armstrong still kicks ass (see below)

Screen TestGary Frenay, Artie Lenin and Tommy Allen mining a more melodic pop sound after the demise of The Flashcubes. Equally laden with hooks (Frenay is a vastly underrated songwriter) they have also seen a career resurgence and an anthology is being released in a few weeks. Like with the ‘Cubes material, I am still gobsmacked that songs like “Nothing Really Matters Whan You’re Young” did not become massive hits. Maybe now?

1.4.5. – When Gary, Artie and Tommy formed Screen Test, Paul Armstrong hooked up with Ducky Carlisle and Dave DeVoe to form this trio and spearhead a Pink Invasion (don’t ask). Both Dave (Rochester NY) and Ducky (Boston) are successful producers; Ducky has been popping up on scads of albums (Bleu, Mike Viola, Mandy Moore, etc.) and Paul still rocks out with his…oh, you know what I mean.

Masters of Reality – Although the original band split in two, with guitar whiz Tim Harrington going on to The Bogeymen (with another great Syracuse musician, George Rossi) and Creepjoint , Chris Goss is still kicking ass both as an artist and a producer. It’s a long way from sitting on the curbs sharing beers and war stories at 4am, Chris.

Hamell On Trial Ed Hamell, like most, started out playing in cover bands until he realized that he’d be playing in local bars forever unless he started writing his own music. The Works were one of the hardest working rock bands trolling the East Coast, but it wasn’t until Greg Spencer and Blue Wave Records allowed him to record his solo vision that things really clicked. Fans around the globe are thankful.

Elf – (OK…technically Cortland, but that’s almost a suburb.) So you want to know what Ronnie James Dio was doing before he became a heavy metal legend in his own time? The rest of the band was the embryo of Blackmore’s Rainbow (no one played piano like Mickey Lee Soule) and you might also want to check guitarist Dave Feinstein’s other band, The Rods.

The Kingsnakes – From the ashes of The Sandy Bigtree Band (a Firebarn mainstay) came one of the great blues and boogie bands that featured great musicians over the years like axeman Terry Mulhauser and Pete McMahon (later of Savoy Brown) on vocals and harp. Another Blue Wave artist.

The Penetrators – Self-proclaimed Kings of Basement Rock, they took a lot of shit for being sloppy, loud and abrasive, traits that played well for straight punk bands…so since when do garage bands sound perfect in their embryonic years? I am one of those who didn’t get it at first listen but have come to appreciate some of the great nuggets over time.

Joe Whiting – Still one of the greatest vocalists the Salt City has ever produced. Jukin’ Bone, his first band with Mark Doyle, got to release albums on Epic and the Doyle-Whiting Band shows are legend. Joe can sing anything with soul, fire and passion.

Mark Doyle – If it looks like a rock star and plays like a rock star, it is a rock star. Doyle is one of the most in-demand guitarists around and – like Jeff Beck – looks remarkably the same today as he did in his youth. Carrot juice or a deal with Satan? I’m not telling.

Oh, for a video of The Machine and Hummerwho had the man/beatbox thing down cold a decade before anyone scratched a turntable – or a CD release from The Ohms (“Teenage Alcoholic” remains my favorite single from that era). And the list of great bands who burned brightly but too early for an Internet footnote – Dress Code, Steve Neat and The Chances, Midnight Oil, Boss Tweed, The Natives… – could go on for days. Ditto volumes about those who were just as important off the stage (Dave Frisina, Mike Greenstein, Chuck Chao and Dave Rezak, just to name a few) in making this scene work. More tales for another day.

I guess you had to be there. Glad I was.

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Under The Radar: Jack Lipton

Jack Lipton is holding fast to his original gameplan, and it looks like the rest of the planet might be coming around full circle. You might remember Jack from The Penetrators, a Syracuse-area garage band that struggled to make its mark in a market more focused on the seedlings of hair metal. Of course, karma is a bitch – none of those spandexy preeners lasted while The Flashcubes, Hamell On Trial and Masters Of Reality are still writing and recording music thirty years later for a global audience. (Oh, Syracuse…”you coulda been a contender“).

Although The Pentetrators took a bit of abuse at the time – count me among the original naysayers – garage fans around the country thought otherwise and treasured their worn tapes of “Scandalizer” and “Drive Me Crazy”. And while they might not have hit the level of The Chesterfield Kings or The Oblivians, their recorded legacy is available for your own ears to judge.

Lipton’s most recent appearance is with Mark Doyle as part of his latest project Mark Doyle and the Maniacs  (more on that soon). But you can be certain that wherever Jack is, there will be rocking.

Cult of personality

Cult of personality

(Here’s the review of Bad Boy that ran on Pop Culture Press not long ago – the EP was later expanded into Bad Woman)

Bad boy Jack Lipton first warped ears with his classic garage band The Penetrators while trying to claw his was out of dead-end Syracuse New York. Not much has changed in Jack’s attitude – older, yes, mellower, never. Instead, garage rock has come full circle and pulled up to Jack’s stop once again. Passionate but straightforward rocking covers of “Search And Destroy” and “Dirty Water” feature fellow Syracusans turned Beantowners Ducky Carlisle, Paul Armstrong and Mark Doyle.

More impressive are the other two tracks, collaborations with producer and multi-instrumentalist John Fannon. “Get Off That Corner” is Lipton’s take on urban gospel, while “Trouble” boasts a great hook, melody and harp-driven chorus – great, gritty pop soul by way of latter-day Ian Hunter. Dare I say a commercial garage sound? Too few tracks to proclaim the second coming, but interesting enough to hope for a full length. 

Visit Jack’s website.

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