Tag Archives: Paul Armstrong

Screen Test

As more and more obscure pop bands from the 70s and 80s resurface and issue CD anthologies, I’ve started to realize that it wasn’t just a few or us who watched a couple of great local bands wither and die in our area code while corporate rock radio kept belching out the same overhyped crap. Sure, there were a slew of one and two hit wonders in the post-punk and new wave eras, but that was when labels still had a gazillion dollars to toss around. Soon, when things got tighter, labels would just descend on a city with a buzz (i.e. Seattle) and milk it dry; a precision military attack as opposed to the carpet bombing they were used to.

The Flashcubes fell victim to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when guitarist Paul Armstrong left to form The Most and 1.4.5, the three remaining members carried on as Screen Test. While more of an overt pop band that the ‘Cubes, they were still a powerful presence. Drummer Tommy Allen – as good as there is then or now – locked in with Gary Frenay’s flavorful bass playing to free Arty Lenin to be an absolute alchemist on guitar. Bolstered by two strong songwriters, Screen Test seemed even more primed for success than the Flashcubes and even landed a video on MTV’s Basement Tapes, but alas, it was not to be. After a few years Allen moved to Manhattan and found success as a producer and a touring drummer; Frenay and Lenin remained in Syracuse where they still perform together (in groups and as a duo) to this day.

But a Japanese market hungry for the lost magic found The Flashcubes a decade ago, and the reunited band got to live out what should have happened the first time – screaming crowds, a performance at Budokan and eventually the album they never got to make. So if the incredible three-set gauntlet that Screen Test threw down last weekend – their first performance in six years – maybe fate will smile kindly upon them as well and give them the exposure and respect beyond their local following and cassette EPs.

Obviously words don’t conjure sound, but the band had a treasure trove of should-been hit singles that still sound fresh and vital today. “Anytime”, “Nothing Really Matters When You’re Young”, “Sound of The Radio”, “Restless”, “Suellen”, “Make Something Happen”, “It’s No Secret“…any of these and more should have been blasting out of radios in the early 80s. I still feel the same way after hearing them launched from the stage of a neighborhood bar over a quarter century later. If YouTube was around in the early 80s, I wouldn’t have to tell you about the band because you would already have their albums.

Like The Flashcubes, Screen Test’s first full-length was an anthology of singles and EP tracks, an instant collector’s item. So perhaps the band will follow suit, feed off the energy of that Friday night in August and decide to record again. After three long sets of originals and choice powerpop chestnuts, I know I wasn’t the only one who saw a band far too vital to limit itself to reunions. aybe you know a band like this, too. Maybe your band already took the plunge.

Here’s hoping Screen Test gets that long-overdue callback.

Video: “Anytime

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Paying Tribute: Men In Plaid

Someone tagged a comment on an old post of mine chastising me for mentioning that Kyle Vincent sang lead forThe Bay City Rollers – insisting that there were only two lead singers and he wasn’t one of them. After correcting my non-fan (and posting a video link to prove my point) I was reminded of how back in their day, fans of The Rollers were constantly scorned but very resilient. Nothing has changed.

I was not a fan of the band at the time; for I (1) was not a teenager anymore, (2) wasn’t female (still not one) and (3) thought Tartan plaid looked bad enough on Rod Stewart, who at least had the songwriting and performance chops to overcome the ridiculous look. (Then again, I didn’t expect his brilliant early 70s run to be followed up by thirty-five years of underwhelming records. But I digress…)

As you might know, I have a weakness for tribute albums. For every gem there are ten clunkers, although there are usually one or two tracks worth excising and preserving. If you want to do it right, you need access to a group of good bands, a smart label, a certain sense of levity and material that is at least recognizable if not worthwhile. One rule of thumb is that great bands can often overcome lackluster material. Case in point – Men In Plaid. Bullseye Records, a Canadian pop label, had previously succeeded with a Klaatu tribute and did another nice job on this Rollers collection. Of course, having first-rate pop artists like The Flashcubes, Anton Barbeau and The Squires of the Subterrain doesn’t hurt, either.

I’m trying to get away from the concept of guilty pleasures, which infers a level of secrecy and/or embarrassment. Either you like something or you don’t, and if you don’t have the courage of your convictions for some things, then your opinion on anything else is worthless. I didn’t like the band much in their heyday and I wouldn’t have worn those asinine plaid clamdiggers at gunpoint. But is “Saturday Night” a great pop song? Hell yes, it is.

My original review ran in Comsumable Online ten years ago. Looks like an extended version of the CD came out a few years later.

Bullseye follows up last year’s excellent Klaatu tribute with another winner, once again featuring a Who’s Who of Contemporary Pop Bands. Rollermaniacs, having seen their heroes suffer the torture of VH-1’s Behind The Music, can now revel in a newly issued Greatest Hits collection and this enthusiastic homage. But even if you hated the Rollers – and I just know many of you did – you’ll be surprised at how many great songs are buried beneath the plaid exterior. Maybe “S-S-S-Saturday Night” doesn’t carry the same cultural weight as “My G-G-G-Generation” to you, but for millions of fans across the world, The Bay City Rollers were their Beatles.

To say that The Flashcubes launch this record like a rocket would be an understatement; Paul Armstrong and Arty Lenin rip into “Wouldn’t You Like It” like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor circa “Brown Sugar”. Although no one else blows the roof off quite like that opening track, there are several other solid contributions. Gary “Pig” Gold sounds like he’s been a closet Grip Weed for years; this “Rock And Roll Love Letter” can stand proudly alongside The Records’ version. There are two versions of “Saturday Night”; Anton Barbeau adds his trademark left-of-the-dial approach while The Dipsomaniacs attack the song with a fever pitch. Tom Davis and Jeremy handle the mellower cuts equally well, while the appropriately named Squires Of The Subterrain dial in from the basement.

Other highlights include Ed James’ one-man-band take on “You Make Me Believe In Magic”; this performance will have people running to the store for his record. And both Reptopia and Fudge chose to take some liberties with the bubblegum pop songs, and their arrangements result in two of the standout cuts. Of course, not every cut bears repeated listening – for me, The Bobbies‘ version of “Let’s Go” was devoid of energy – but beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

Men In Plaid features a solid collection of bands who treat the songs with some reverence, but also have a lot of fun with them. That’s the way music used to be in the Rollers days. Some of these bands are old enough to remember, but the others probably had to be told. And the little girls still understand.

The Original Wardrobe Malfunction

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The Record Archive is the Place To Go

Record Archive 33.3

Back in April I wrote an essay about National Record Store Day. As I was spilling my brain into the keyboard, my thoughts were targeted towards a business I’ve frequented for as long as I’ve been in my town, which is a frighteningly long period of time – almost three decades of squatterdom.

There have always been cool indie stores in this town, like The Bop Shop and the Lakeshore Record Exchange. House of Guitars is even a legendary pit stop for every musician coming through upstate New York. And despite a crappy economy, some great clubs and pubs still survive. When I used to travel frequently, I was always in search of the cool record store, along with the clubs that had great bands and the best draft beer pub in town. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a ton of great record stores, from Amoeba to Newbury Comics to Waterloo, but I firmly believe that Record Archive is one of the best shops in the country. They…well, they just have everything.

Today, as they celebrated their “33 1/3 Anniversary“, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a presentation by the Mayor and several local dignitaries…and a few popping corks, of course. Recently moved to a huge warehouse emporium, The Record Archive is the place to go for area residents, but also boasts a thriving international business spearheaded by their massive collection of vinyl. What was once a great local treasure is now a click away to buyers from around the globe.

But it goes beyond all that.

Richard Storms was the first Rochesterian I met when I first came to town. A friend (ex-Flashcube Paul Armstrong) and his band were recording an album in the wee hours of the morning for Storm’s label. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I seem to remember four of us going out for Chinese food and talking shop for hours. Little did I know that our paths would continue to intersect so often, or the thousands of hours I would spend in his stores poring through albums, watching incredible bands play in-store concerts, and just plain hanging out.

Alayna Hill-Alderman, who now co-owns the shop, is a key member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores and a driving force for all things right in the industry. She’s smart as a whip and manages a wonderful staff who make customers feel like guests and regulars feel like family. Like Richard, she’s worked diligently to keep Record Archive alive and vibrant at a time when businesses struggle mightily, and any artist coming through town has a sharp and savvy ally in Alayna.

So I was honored to be able to witness this honor today…and what a special treat to see that our Mayor is a fan and a customer as well as a politician thankful to have a great business thrive in his city:

Record Archive long view

Mayor Robert J. Duffy and Neighborhood and Business Development Commissioner R. Carlos Carballada joined partners Richard F. Storms and Alayna Hill Alderman at the 33⅓-year anniversary celebration for Record Archive. The store, located at 33⅓ Rockwood St., specializes in new and used CD, DVD and vinyl record inventories, as well as a wide variety of unusual items including incense, vintage clothing and furniture, t-shirts, toys, cards, magazines, gifts and used VHS videos. In addition, the new location features an art gallery space which is affiliated with Rochester’s First Friday art openings and a full performance stage complete with lights, sound and recording capabilities for hosting local, regional and national musical acts.

Record Archive, Inc. was started in 1975 by Richard Storms. The store’s original location was 1394 Mt. Hope Avenue. In 1994, a second location was opened at 1880 East Ave. – which became the sole location after the Mt. Hope store closed in 2005. In 2008, Richard decided to move to 33⅓ Rockwood St., which is substantially larger than the company’s previous East Avenue space. The expansion has accommodated the company’s growing Internet business for both CD’s and vinyl records. The space was originally an industrial facility and needed to be re-purposed to accommodate Record Archive’s walk-in retail and Internet business.

Record Archive is the largest vintage record store in the northeast and is a member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS). CIMS, founded in 1995, is a group of some of the best independent music stores in America. Its current membership is made up of 29 accounts that handle 59 stores in 21 states. Many of the accounts have been recognized by the music industry and their local communities for their outstanding dedication to customer service and developing artist support. Each member is bound by its shared love of music, a reputation for great selection and customer service in the community, yet each CIMS account is as unique as the market it represents. Most importantly, CIMS member stores continually seek to challenge the jaded, color-by-numbers advertising and marketing of other retailers.

The store has 11 employees, of which seven are city residents. More than $100,000 was invested in developing the expanded space at 33⅓ Rockwood. The City of Rochester assisted with a grant from the Building Renovation Program.

Visit Record Archive on MySpace or the Website.

Website for the Coalition of Independent Music Stores

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New Album! The Flashcubes

We want YOU...to want US!

We want YOU...to want US!

Let me get the caveat out of the way right up front. I know all four of the guys in the band, I watched their career happen right before my eyes, I wrote about them at the time, and I even booked them to play at a couple of clubs I was managing. So I’m not exactly impartial.

That said, I’d recuse myself in a heartbeat if I had written the liner notes, recorded the music, remastered the tracks or was any way involved with the release of their material. My only advantage coming in to A Cellar Full Of Boys is the anticipation based upon knowing the material. But if you aren’t familiar with The Flashcubes, I’m not feeling superior – I’m feeling a bit envious. Because you get to hear one of the great lost pop bands of the 70s fresh and new.

In brief, The Flashcubes were a punk and power pop band from Syracuse, New York who almost grabbed the brass ring. Despite wowing the local community, opening shows for virtually every famous name who came through town and having heavyweights like Greg Shaw and The Ramones among their advocates, it just didn’t happen. Well…until twenty-five years later when half a planet away, the Japanese pop community determined that a band this good deserved better. What had been a couple of reunions and the occasional tribute album track exploded into a full-blown renaissance.

Gary was always taping, thankfully. Now these Basement Tapes breathe new fire into the Flashcube legend. You can read my full review of the new album at BLURT.

Flashcube button

The Flashcube Story in 3 1/2 minutes.

Listen for yourself at their MySpace site.

Bright Lights (the anthology)

Brilliant (the new material)

Air Mail Recordings.

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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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