Tag Archives: IPO

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: Kenny Howes

Kickenbacker

When friends ask me how I can continue to get excited about finding new bands and artists to enjoy – as if a finite set of albums should be enough – I will mention someone like Kenny Howes. That’s usually followed by a statement (“Who??”) and an action (insert disc in player…turn up loud). Kenny is an example of a supremely talented artist who would be much better known if we only had a realistic process to get music to the masses. We’ve gone from freeform FM to playlists to formatted channels to American Idol, and still it takes two ears and a shitload of persistence to weed through the chaff and find the gems. 

When the powerpop movement started gelling in the 90s, there were a few magazines that centered on the movement and were critically informative to fans of the genre. Maybe not quite the lifeblood that Creem was to a disaffected suburban teenager back in the 70s, but certainly a hotbed of new names and sounds. It was there that I read about Kenny Howes and Rickenbackers and kick-ass covers and big fat power chords, and I was on that like flies on sherbert. The fact that Kenny was also a nice guy and funny as hell was just a bonus. 

I don’t want to make it seem like he’s that obscure; certainly his series of albums over the years and appearances at Poptopia, IPO and other festivals has garnered him a good following, albeit on the scale of an independent pop musician. But fame has nothing to do with quality, and I’ll stand Kenny’s albums up against anyone’s from that era. Hooks galore and a boatload of charm, and a great intersection between the delicate melodies of a McCartney and the power of The Who. If that sounds like familiar territory, all I can say is there’s a reason a bonus track on one of his albums is titled “Gonna See Cheap Trick” – and finding a more effervescent song about heading to the big rock show is a tall order. 

But enough about me

Here’s a review of Back To You Today I wrote for Consumable Online twelve years ago… 

 

Rickenbacker-wielding pop star Kenny Howes is back with his third record, yet another collection of ringing hooks and earnest vocals. The lo-fi production has its charms and drawbacks, sometimes framing songs in just the right minimalist setting but occasionally losing something in the fog bank. Overall, however, it’s another solid effort that sees Howes depart from his past formula and take a few chances. 

The title track is certainly an example of his strong suit – bouncy chorus, solid hook and quick guitar break. This formula reaches its zenith on “Exactly Like You”, a sing-along track that could lift a band out of the garage and onto a jukebox – even if it winds up being their only hit. The simple, fuzzy guitar break is perfect and you can almost see the audience swaying and hand-clapping along to the “Cathy’s Clown” beat. And underneath it all, Kenny’s trying to land a new girl by shredding all those losers he’s hit on before – like THAT will work. 

Sometimes the stretches don’t synch – “Something Really Great” sounds like Dylan doing the Monkees’ “Randy Scouse Git”, for example, and “Save You” is muddled angst. But “Never Left” sounds like the bonus track on the Pet Sounds box set, and the epic closer “Free Tattoo” sounds like Moon and Townsend sat in on the session. 

Cohesive it’s not – I think Kenny had a lot of snippets of ideas when he hit the studio and went for broke. Although you might find yourself skipping a tune here and there, there is enough immediate gratification to bring you back again, which is when you’ll discover the chestnuts that appeal to you. Howes played everything but drums (kudos to Kelly Shane) and wrote all the songs, and is a talent deserving your ear time

And he still is. Looks like we’ll be blessed with a DVD this year. 

Read up a bit on Kenny at Wikipedia and check his music out on MySpace

Kenny’s albums available at CD BABY

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Blast From The Past: Martin Luther Lennon

Sure, Martin Luther Lennon is an odd name, but if your real name is Tony Perkins, that’s not really going to work, is it? But he didn’t invent that moniker –  Paul McCartney did. “I heard him use the term in an interview referring to what he considered to be the overdone canonization of John Lennon after he was killed as opposed to how he was treated before that.”

But whether you call him Tony or Martin, know that he is one of the true unsung heroes of the powerpop scene over the last couple of decades. He was instrumental in the launch and success of Poptopia, the LA-based pop festival which promoted hundreds of bands and inspired three decade-themed collections on Rhino Records. Although the festival no longer exists, its spirit lives in within International Pop Overthrow and it spawned countless regional festivals like Sparklefest/Shindig , Dewey Beach and Wild Weekend.

As Martin Luther Lennon, Tony appeared on a couple of pop compilations and also issued two very good powerpop albums.  Escape To Paradox Island I liked, but Music For A World Without Limitations remains one of my favorite chestnuts to pull out at any time. With Tony on vocals and bass, Robbie Rist on drums and Steve Refling on guitar – Adam Marsland of Cockeyed Ghost added some guitar and vocals as well – it’s a stripped down rave-up of odd and quirky songs that haven’t crawled out of my head yet. Tony’s voice is a little thin, but I think it perfectly suits the songs, and the band is strong. Rist – who can play anything – is a powerhouse, while Refling adds tasty licks and fills everywhere. It’s pop, it’s punk, it’s rawk, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Not for everyone, but what is?

My favorite song is “No Junkies In West Hills” which flat out rocks; it could also have something to do with the fact that my kids used to sing along with it in the car at the top of their lungs. (Caveat – they thought the song was called “No Chuckies in Wegmans“, which I guess referred to both a character on a popular Nickelodeon show and the name of a regional grocery chain. Fine by me – like I was going to tell pre-school girls the truth?)

Here, in Tony’s own words, are the background to the songs. Go grab a copy and enjoy it now and ever after.

No limitations to how much I love this album

No limitations to how much I love this album

Kill Kill Kill
Written of the course of summer 93 during a time when I was really sick. No real conscious explanation other than the fact that I thought that it would be really funny to write a pop song called “Kill Kill Kill”.

Nobody I know
Actually a much older recording that was made around the same time that the Sympophony songs (89-90) written even earlier at a time when I was really unhappy about living in Los Angeles. (Pop geek note, monster rhythm guitar sound was achieved by double tracked 12 string Rickenbacker that used to belong to Paula Pierce of the Pandoras (RIP)).

Brenda Revisited
Initially inspired by Brenda Spencer, (the girl that “I don’t like Mondays” was written about) a girl two decades ahead of her time as it turns out) and the realization that when I was that age that I was in the same logistical position to do what she did (I grew up across the street from an elementary school and my Dad’s a gun nut).

Gun Heaven
In the tradition of the old spirituals and classic “folk” tunes. Basically “Big Rock Candy Mountain” with guns. Kind of a rip actually

Hologram Sam
Fun with light verse. Check out the big Attractions style jam at the end. I played the guitar lead on this, I rule.

Happygirl
Original title “The adventures of happygirl”. Is not about anyone in particular. Partial attempt to rewrite “I wish I was you mother” by Mott the Hoople.

No Waiting
Original title “Bored in Heaven” which makes it clear as to what it is about (did not want to have more than one song on the record with heaven in the title). I swear I came up with the “all you can eat” food concept before Albert Brooks, But so it goes.

Dr Nu
Only song based on a real life event I was sick with an undiagnosed Epstein Barr type thing that left me barely able to get out of bed and caused chronic chest pains for about five months. The title refers to an amalgam of conventional docs who would not prescribe me painkillers because they thought that I was making it up (got some anyway, Fuck them).

Elephant
People hear this and think that I should make a children’s record. Too bad I don’t like kids.

No Junkies in West Hills
One of a few San Fernando Valley” songs that I have written dealing with it’s reputation as a safe, sterile, white on white suburb with the actual strange reality of the place. How did I manage to spend almost my entire life here? WHY?

Wonderful Us
It’s a HAPPY song. Which seems only fair considering the basic tone of the record. So there you go. Adam arranged and sang all the backups in the out-chorus.

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