Tag Archives: Terry Bozzio

I Got The Knack

R.I.P. Doug Fieger

R.I.P. Doug Fieger of The Knack.

The best-selling album of 1978 was Saturday Night Fever, the zenith of popularity for guys in satin shirts (open to the waist so that the gold medallions could bounce within the prominent clump of chest hair, of course). Women were no better, focused upon inane dances with said hairy men, hopefully rendered impotent after bathing in strobe lights under satanic mirror balls and shaking what booty they thought they had to beat-pulsing stage lamps flashing primary colors like an amoral heartbeat. Surely the world had gone to Hell in a handbasket, although that handbasket now had a designer name and cost more than a week’s wages.

Sadly, 1979 was no better. Those of us buying Blondie and Ramones and Sex Pistols records could not help but wonder what the hell happened to rock’n’roll, since all the attention and the money and the shelf-rack space in the record stores – our record stores, dammit! – were being glommed by Donna Summer and Chic and Andy Gibb. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, this simplest of rock songs, this most basic beat, blasted its way to the top of the charts like a lung full of oxygen in a coal mine…”My Sharona“.

Video: “My Sharona

No, it wasn’t the best pop song ever written and The Knack were certainly not The Beatles despite the great pains the Capitol Records marketing department went through (the black and white cover photo and the Meet The Beatles cadence of the title Get The Knack). Nor did the bizarre decision to not do any interviews play out well; what initially inspired mystery in a band holding the Number One Single hostage for six weeks soon turned into resentment and an attitude of animosity towards four guys who were just trying to sell pop music.

But “My Sharona” did serve notice to the industry that despite disco and punk and prog and that god-awful corporate rock that Columbia Records kept spewing out its sewage pipe, there was an audience for what we refer to as powerpop music. Good melody. Great hook. Big beat. Maybe it wouldn’t dominate the charts like it did in the 60s, but when given a chance, people respond to it. Sure, you might gloss a sheen of hair metal over it, maybe even countrify it, but at its core a great pop song is a great pop song.

Of course The Knack didn’t last long; maybe these things aren’t supposed to, although their next couple of albums weren’t bad. One knock on the group was that the girls being sung about might be a tad on the younger side, which could explain the occasional leering expressions from the band members. (I’m not certain where these prudential critics were when Gary Puckett and The Union Gap were prowling school yards in the 60’s in military gear, but so be it.) In subsequnet years The Knack would occasionally reform sans retired drummer Bruce Gary (who passed in 2006) with ringers like Terry Bozzio standing in alongside Fieger, guitarist Berton Averre and bassist Prescott Niles.

The Knack will never have the cred that Big Star or Badfinger or even The Romantics have earned, but “My Sharona“, the biggest pop single of 1979, was the right song at the right time. Thanks, Doug (and co-writer Averre), for that lifeboat you dropped into The Sea of Disco. Rest in peace.

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And R.I.P.  Dale Hawkins, the rock and roll tornado

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Blast From The Past: Frank Zappa

I’m an unabashed Frank Zappa fan; I probably own more albums of his than of any other artist, a fact that owes as much to his prolific artistry as it does to my love of his music. And I certainly don’t suggest that anyone should skip over the majesty of his catalogue to settle for a greatest hits collection.

But I have to remind myself that it’s been over fifteen years since his passing and there’s a generation of listeners who probably have no first-hand observation of the man’s genius. Where does one start? Of course, I always will recommend that one start at the beginning and work forward to be richly rewarded by one great album after another.

But times are tough and money is tight. So if you’re looking to get a mere snapshot, one suggestion is a collection of songs that finds Frank flipping the audio bird at some not-so-sacred cows, entitled Have I Offended Someone. Rykodisc’s fifteen track CD was released posthumously in 1997. Here’s my review, originally published in May of that year…

Thankfully...yes, you have!

Thankfully...yes, you have!

To say that Zappa pushed the envelope would be an understatement. Before it was in vogue to do so, Frank thrilled audiences with theatrical rock shows in residence and issued concept albums. His perfectionist nature led him to discover, nurture, and support talented musicians like Lowell George, Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio. His music encompassed orchestral movements, rock, jazz, and featured everything from classical strings to funky horn sections. When label support would be unavailable (as it usually was from Warner Brothers) Zappa would finance his own tours, usually at a loss, to present his music in a form he felt it deserved. And politically he suffered no fools, as evidenced by his long time campaign against the PMRC and their proposed rating system – again, at his own expense and for the issue, not the glory.

During his 1988 tour – a phenomenal series of performances that has still not been fully documented – he made arrangements with the League Of Women Voters in each city to set up a booth to register voters. For all his idiosyncrasies (and truth be known, they were mostly perceived), Zappa was a brilliant and prolific musician and orator with a biting wit and a generous heart. He never told people what to think – he merely asked them to think for themselves.

Yet to many, Zappa was a man feeding toilet humor to the masses in place of music, a crass and disgusting artist who made fun of gays, blacks, Jews, Catholics…oh hell, everybody. Crass? Well…maybe. Zappa used his satire to pop the balloons of many targets, but never with hatred. What Frank did so well was to take matters like homophobia, racism, sexual prohibition and especially intellectual repression, and let them bask in their own hypocritical bright light.

Have I Offended Someone brings together most of the songs that got under the skin of the politically correct set, those who unfortunately missed the humor and sarcasm. Of course, you also have the closet hypocrites, too. (You can spot them in a second – they’re the ones who laughed at “Jewish Princess” but got pissed when “Catholic Girls” came out a couple of years later.) Zappa was offended too, but by phony televangelists, slimy record executives, two-faced politicians, drug-addled air heads, and especially apathetic whiners. But rather than sit back and complain – or worse, do nothing – Zappa stood up for what he believed in, in song, and in deed.

These witticisms were only a small fragment of a recording career which comprises hundreds of hours of music that spanned the full spectrum of music. But for those new to the Zappa world looking to get a clue to his satirical side, this is as good a place to start as any. Although each of the fifteen pieces on Offended is available in some form on previous releases, eight are remixed or reconstructed and two are previously unavailable live versions – “Tinsel Town Rebellion” and “Dumb All Over”, the latter featuring some stunning guitar work. Other highlights include the driving “Disco Boy” and the hilarious “We’re Turning Again”, Frank’s dead on shot at aging hippies: ‘Now I see ’em tightnin’ up their headbands / On the weekend and they get loaded when they came to town / They walk around in Greenwich Village buying posters they can hang up / In those smelly little secret black light bedrooms on Long Island / Singing JIMI COME BACK!…’

There are enough extras here to please even the Zappa completists, and Rykodisc has done their usual stellar job with sound quality and packaging. Fittingly, the cover art is from outlaw artist Ralph Steadman and the liner notes from ex-Fug honcho Ed Sanders, both of whom know something about artistic repression. Frank Zappa was the Curt Flood of rock and roll, the man who took one for the team and said out loud what many others did not have the courage to voice. When he took on the Senate Committee and the PMRC equipped with only wit, intellect and the Bill Of Rights, it was a slaughter. The suits never stood a chance.

Have I Offended Someone? God, I hope so.

And since Robert Novak has left this mortal coil…here’s Frank on Crossfire.

zappa moustache

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They Weren’t Only In It For The Money…

...but lack of money did them in.

...but lack of money did them in.

Although Frank Zappa enoyed an extremely long and prolific career and is revered by most as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, the real Mothers of Invention was a very short-lived group. And while Zappa would go on to play with some of the most technically proficient musicians in rock (like guitarists Adrian Belew and Steve Vai and drummer Terry Bozzio), many believe he never had a better band than the original Mothers.

While sloppy and unkempt – okay, borderline filthy – in their personal appearance; the Mothers combined comedic chops with an incredible versatilty in rock, blues, soul, swing and jazz, even though half of them were classically trained and the other half couldn’t read music at all. They started to take off after a residency at the Garrick Theatre in New York City, where every show was a unique performance involving a revolving set of music, improvisational comedy and audience interaction. Their recordings seemed out of place for the times (AM radio pop and emerging hippie rock) and their label (Verve, a jazz imprint), but have stood the test of time as stone cold classics.

There are a lot of great books about Frank Zappa, but I really enjoyed Necessity Is by Billy James because it focused upon the early Mothers and let them speak for themselves. That’s also why I really enjoy the latest DVD documentary about the band, because I got to see and hear about it from Jimmy Carl Black and Don Preston and Bunk Gardner directly. If you’re a fan, you need to grab this now.

The Mothers of Invention this week are...

The Mothers of Invention this week are...

Read my review of the In the 1960’s DVD in Blurt.

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