Tag Archives: The Romantics

Under The Radar: The Forty-Fives

Hate, hate, hate it when a great band starts to make their mark and then just fades away because of money issues, lack of recognition or some other game-changer. After getting progressively better from Get It Together to Fight Dirty, The Forty Fives looked like they hit paydirt with High Life High Volume. The Atlanta band went to Detroit to soak up the vibe and lay down tracks at Ghetto Recorders with producer Jim Diamond; the results were great! But somehow, not long after that, my expectations – and theirs, apparently – were dashed.

Looking back and giving this one another spin, I remembered why I get so excited when a band like this comes down the pike. At least they did get to tour the world, play gigs with their heroes and even showcase at Little Steven’s Underground Garage Festival at Randall’s Island. Maybe they’ll do me a favor and make another record?

Diamond continues to find and work with great acts (The Charms and The Love Me Nots among the more recent stunners) as does the label Yep Roc, and bands like this do continue to pop up and take their shot. I just have to keep looking since with few exceptions, the radio and the press isn’t much help. And when you find one…ahhhh, bliss.

Here are my words from 2004 as they originally ran in Pop Culture Press

Hip-shakin’, roof-raisin’, ass-kickin’ rock and roll as Atlanta’s finest quartet hooks up with a producer who “gets it” (Jim Diamond behind the knobs) for a jukebox full of dynamite. Echoing every great British Invasion band (with a special nod to the Small Faces), Bryan Malone’s stirring vocals and electrifying guitar chops lead the way, but this is a rock solid band effort.

They’re too cool for school, rocking with abandon, dipping their toe in a cow pie (the countrified “Bicycle Thief”) and even daring an instrumental (“Backstage At Juanita’s” soulful Hammond – kudos Trey Tidwell – is worth the price of the record by itself). Killer cover (“Daddy Rolling Stone”) segues into a Dolls-like glam rocker (“Junkfood Heaven”), before the horns and blues of “Too Many Miles”. And if you’re still wavering, the blazing “Superpill” features the best handclaps since The Romantics ruled the earth.

Did some jackass say rock and roll is dead? No way – it’s right here, baby, on one of 2004’s best records.

Give them a listen on MySpace or at their website.

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PPC Tributes Strikes Back

Oh my god, he’s done it again.

Earlier this month Power Pop Criminal$ assembled yet another volume of their incredible tribute series, their first in fifteen months. Powerpop artists covering other powerpop artists. A Whitman’s Sampler of ear candy. (The three earlier compilations are available here).

Covers of  legends like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, T Rex, Nilsson, Elvis Costello, Badfinger, The Replacements and many more. Covers by esteeemed genre arttists including Superdrag, Dwight Twilley, Matthew Sweet, The Romantics, Teenage Fanclub and Cheap Trick – to name but a few.

Angelo and crew do incredible work putting these things together. Despite their site name, they are crystal clear that if any out-of-print albums they post become commecially available, they will pull them from the site (and I’ve seen them do it).

December alert: Pay attention to their site for the 2009 PPC Advent Wall of Sound. It works just like an Advent calendar where you open a compartment each day from December 1-24 to find a picture or treat. In this case we’re talking treat – a new powerpop rarity appears daily and only for one day. There are also some twisted holiday comps on the PPC site.

Hope you discover some new artists in the process, and if/when you do, please support them by purchasing their CDs and merch. It’s tough to survive in this business, and every dollar counts.

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He Put The BOMP…

No statue? This will have to do.

No statue? This will have to do.

I’m often asked what makes Bomp different. One answer is that where most labels concentrate on a small roster, I’ve always preferred to give a lot of bands the chance to be heard…I guess I’d most like Bomp to be remembered as a label utterly dedicated to the people who care most about music: the fans and collectors.”

Five years ago we lost one of our greatest soldiers, Greg Shaw. Most pop music writers have read him if not been influenced by him; many saw an opportunity to take the leap from fan to participant because of his magazine and his labels. Shaw began by writing fan letters to magazines and was soon writing reviews for everyone from Rolling Stone to Creem.  Along the way his journey led to managing bands, working at major labels (assembling compilations, of course) and running a record shop, but legions of powerpop fans point to a 1978 issue of Bomp Magazine as the rallying cry that launched a movement.

“Punk had already had its day by 1978, when Bomp Magazine ran a cover story proposing Powerpop: a hybrid style with the power and guts of punk, but drawing on a pop song tradition with wider popular appeal. I had in mind bands like The Who and The Easybeats, (hell, even The Sex Pistols fit my definition!) but much to my chagrin, the term was snapped up by legions of limp, second-rate bands hoping the majors would see them as a safe alternative to punk. I took a lot of heat for starting the whole business…”

Bomp Powerpop cover

But he should also get credit for what did go right. Many great bands rose from the masses of skinny tie wannabes, and some (including Shoes, 20/20, Paul Collins, The Plimsouls, and The Romantics) started at Bomp before landing at major labels. Writers including Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Mike Saunders and R. Meltzer passed through his masthead. That Bomp didn’t become a haven for great bands like Sire Records is a shame, but Shaw was unwilling to compromise his vision just to play on a bigger stage.

In the ’80s retro-garage was bursting out thanks to bands like The Fuzztones, The Lyres and The Chesterfield Kings; Shaw’s Voxx label attracted a ton of groups. He launched a series of compilations called Pebbles (inspired by Nuggets) featuring some of the rarest original ’60s punk records from his personal collection. He picked up Iggy Pop’s first solo album, Kill City (“when nobody else would touch it”) and issued a series of Stooges outtakes under the title of The Iguana Chronicles. In the ’90s he aligned with Alive Naturalsound Records which brought great bands like Black Keys, Bloody Hollies and Soledad Brothers into the fold, and he continued to discover and nurture new bands that tweaked his antennae until his death from heart failure. He was only 55.

I think the essence of Greg Shaw can be found in this quote:

“I think it comes down to the fact that Bomp is an outgrowth of my love for music. Where many would view it as a marginal business that barely breaks even, I prefer to see it as a hobby that’s profitable enough to allow me to build my life around it.

Contemplating the impact Greg Shaw had upon the industry, it just makes me sadder when I think about politics and greed making charlatans wealthy and famous, while true visionaries are sometimes just cult heroes. But fame is cheap commodity and wealth dissipates. Legacy is the coin that matters, and Shaw’s legacy continues to inspire. 

The BOMP website

Tributes from other writers

The bookSaving The World One Record at a Time

The date of October 19th also claimed guitarist Glen Buxton of the original Alice Cooper Band, who died in 1997; he was only 49.

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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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New Album! The Wigs

Play loud and often.

Play loud and often.

Back in the caveman days (pre-Internet), a band had to break out the old-fashioned way. Play. Play a lot. Play well. Build a fanbase, build some momentum, attract some attention, swim against a tidal wave of opposition and – if you didn’t succumb to the temptations of ego, drugs and alcohol – maybe you’d be lucky enough to make it to the next rung. After all, if the local radio station would get behind you, maybe the next town’s key jock would want to make certain he got on board before it was too late, and then if you could find a similar band in the next town, maybe you could trade gigs and start to expand.

Although just about every pop fan swore up and down that we were sitting on rock’s greatest secret at the time (mine was The Flashcubes), we now see that there were dozens of really, really good bands that could have stood toe-to-toe with most of the ones the labels were grabbing and trying to shove down our throats. But without the MySpaces and Facebooks (let alone the ability to mass produce your record on the cheap and/or on demand) some bands couldn’t get off the ground financially, while others are still sitting on a basement full of unsold vinyl to this day. And even if you did get that single out, now MTV was the hot item, and oh yeah…your DJ doesn’t make his own playlist anymore.

Which is just my roundabout way of saying that I wish I had known about The Wigs back in the day, but I’m thankful that they decided to remaster these tracks and reissue them. Because File Under: Pop Vocal is an amazing record – in either time period. The music is clean, crisp and rocking, running the gamut from Merseybeat and early Beatles (“180 Degrees”, “What I Got”, “Tell It All”) to post-punk (“You Say Ono”) along with the skinny-tie pop of their era. Given the chance – and according to the bio they were snakebit in that area – this record would have probably eclipsed bands like The Vapors, The Jags, and others and at least gotten into territory where The Romantics and The Beat were dwelling. Unfortunately they were not to be, and like The Wonders, it was one and done. (“A very common tale”, says Mr. White.)

So what made them the shoulda-coulda of their time in Milwaukee? You mean besides great songs and musicianship much more adept than many of their pop peers? Well, The Wigs combined the pop smarts and vocal harmonies of The Rubinoos with a harder rocking edge; a formula that works best on my favorite tracks, “Susie’s Got A Problem” and “Tijuana”. They had a killer leadoff track in “I Can See It Now” (complete with requisite jukebox quarter-drop sound byte) propelled by Bobby Tews‘ drums, an inventive cover (“Mony Mony”) and a prom grinder of a slow song (“Popular Girl”) that really showed off the vocal harmony between Marty Ross and Jim Cushinery. This reissue of the original album also includes a couple of tracks that didn’t make the cut the first time, although this sequence of tracks sounds perfect to me.

File Under Pop Vocal is a no-brainer must-have for any fan of the genre; a solid fourteen-track effort that would rank with the best of 2009 if it were a new release. Hard to believe this was recorded twenty-seven years ago, but it’s like finding money in your pants pocket. Lots of money.

The Wigs on MySpace.

The Wigs at CD Baby: check out some clips.

Yes, Marty Ross was in the New Monkees.

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Taking It To Detroit, Part 1

Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind, gas up the puppy and haul yourself elsewhere to get that great rock and roll fix. Consider caution thrown; this weekend is an absolute-must road trip. (And speaking of throwing caution to the wind, it dawned on me that I not only drove a Honda into Detroit but also had an Astros cap on my rear deck window, which probably didn’t make anyone happy that day, either.)

It’s always a bit depressing to hit a city like Detroit and see a smorgasbord of great gigs happening daily. When you live in a smaller city that doesn’t attract a myriad of artists, you learn to keep your eyes and ears open elsewhere. And when I saw this show coming up, I knew I had to go see the legends in their natural habitat.

The Holy Grail of Rock'n'Roll

The Holy Grail of Rock'n'Roll

I’ve already waxed poetic about Jim McCarty and Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, so no need to rehash what you can read here. But sitting ten feet away, watching living legends play with the fire of a garage band getting their first break, was a life-affirming experience. The show was littered with rock classics with Detroit lineage – most of it from first-hand experience (an announcer stated that “if you’re gonna call them a cover band, remember that they’re covering their own material!“). One of the best examples of rock magic ever recorded is Detroit’s cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll”…so when The Hell Drivers opened the show with that bomb blast, I knew it was time to strap myself in for the balance.

Callahan’s Music Hall is a great place to see a show – tremendous sound, great sight lines and good people. I shared a table with an area guitarist and two lovely ladies (who shall remain nameless in case their alibi for the evening has them elsewhere). The house was packed and the band was electric, despite already playing a hot set at a festival earlier in the day. The set list was a veritable primer for why Detroit is the epicenter of rock’n’roll – The Rationals, Iggy, Seger, The Romantics, and of course The Rockets. They even slipped in Alice Cooper‘s “I’m Eighteen” as a tribute to Jim Edwards’ wife’s birthday. (Note to authorities – she’s young, but not that young.) The dance floor was filled with several Detroit ladies led by the Motor City Rah Rahs (and at the risk of sounding misogynistic, I absolutely did not mind having my view obscured on occasion.)

I flew to New York City a couple of years ago to watch Jim McCarty play with Cactus at their reunion show, and he was stellar. But onstage with this band, McCarty looks re-energized, ripping solos like a man half his age and looking like he’s having a blast in the process. And maybe that’s the key ingredient here – four musicians who appear to really like and respect each other, playing their asses off for the love of the music.

Jim Edwards is an excellent front man (a lost art), whether wielding the air guitar mike stand or hanging himself with a cord during “No Pills”. He’s got a great voice and belts out vocals truly worthy of the classic material. Marvin Conrad is deceptively quiet, but much like Bill Wyman and John Entwistle he saves his energy for what matters, laying down a rock solid bottom with subtle flashes of brilliance. And I don’t know even where to start with “Bee“, who gets more mileage out of a small standard drum kit than most arena rockers with their Starship Enterprise configurations. McCartyjust wailed all night, the highlight might have been the all-out assault on “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, complete with string pulling antics and using the mike stand for a slide – it was absolutely Stooge-esque. His intro to “Oh Well” is a Detroit crowd favorite, and my jaw wasn’t the only one on the floor when he put on that clinic.

I could go on and on – the Rationals arrangement of “Respect”, the blistering version of “Takin’ It Back” – twenty-one songs and not a clunker in the bunch. What the future will hold in store for the band remains to be seen, but they mentioned an upcoming live release as well as a show with Alice Cooper for starters. Hopefully someone will wake up and smell the rock’n’roll and get these guys onto stages around the country like they deserve.  Until then, I heartily recommend that you follow their activities here, and if you need to jump in your car to go see them…then dammit, you need to do it.

Assuming you have the Desire, of course.

Huron target.

Huron target.

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Jimmy Mac and Johnny Bee

Living Legends Still Kicking Ass After 40 Years

Living Legends Still Kicking Ass After 40 Years

The rock music industry is a young person’s game, and when you get older you get relegated to revival tours because the audience you’ll draw wants to relive their youth through you. If you’re not a giant (Dylan, Neil, Springsteen) who can continue to command attention and create new music, you’re either getting by on reputation (Stones) or you’re off the radar. If you’re lucky, you’ve developed a strong core audience that can help sustain your career. But most of the time, fate isn’t that kind. Not all the greats get the accolades they deserve, and although they may continue to create magic, they do so in relative obscurity while far lesser talents get propped up as the cash cows of the moment.

That’s why I’m here today to remind you about Jim McCarty and John Badanjek, two bonafide living legends of rock’n’roll who have been knocking me out for forty years. And I am absolutely geeked that they are playing together once again, lighting Detroit on fire as The Hell Drivers, and hopefully cutting an album. Yes, I know that every generation swears by the music they grew up with, usually at the expense of most of what came before and after. I’m no exception to my own Wonder Years, although I probably have a wider bandwidth of tolerance than most people I know, and I still voraciously seek out new music every day. I’ve learned to go backwards and appreciate the geniuses who predated my birth, and many of the bands kicking my ass today are young pups with their best days ahead of them.

But I did grow up in a dynamic time, when Britpop and Motown and psychedlia and garage and folk and rock’n’roll all burst out of the speakers and raced up the charts together. The greatest musicians and pop songwriting geniuses of the later twentieth century all seemed to be peaking at once and the result was a few years of the most amazing creativity in music history. If you wanted to stand out during the late 60s, you really had to bring it. And for me, the best rock and roll song from that era is “Devil With A Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. That song doesn’t just rock, it explodes –  the drums and guitar solo bursting from the speakers to stand toe-to-toe with Ryder’s supercharged vocal. Forty years later the track still sends chills up my spine and makes me drop whatever I’m doing to split time between air guitar and drumming madly on whatever is within arm’s reach.

The Detroit Wheels were composed of the best Detroit musicians at the time, including drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek and a guitar whiz named Jim McCarty. Even more amazing, both were teenagers when the band topped the charts! It would be the first of several professional collaborations over the years, and their friendship remains intact to this day.

They socked it to me, baby.

They socked it to me, baby.

Jim McCarty is one of the most underrated guitar players in rock’n’roll history and has the lineage to back that up. At the beginning of his career he was good enough to hang out at Electric Ladyland in NYC trading licks with Jimi Hendrix. He smoked the strings with Buddy Miles, ripped it up with Bob Seger on his Seven album, but really busted out with Cactus. McCarty made the guitar wail, weep and blister for three albums, but when Rusty Day was booted Jim left also, surfacing a few years later in The Rockets along with Johnny Bee. After their nice run, very little was heard from Jim; he started playing in blues bands like Mystery Train in clubs around Detroit. Then, amazingly, Cactus reformed for some gigs and a new album in 2005, and he proved that thirty-plus years later, that brilliant signature tone hadn’t lost a thing.

Stone Cold Classic

Stone Cold Classic

Johnny Bee moved along with Ryder to form Detroit – talk about your legendary killer rock albums – then later saddled up with The Rockets, where his songwriting skills also got a chance to shine; the band had several hits across five albums. But Bee’s calendar has always been jampacked; the legendary drummer has also played with Alice Cooper, Edgar WinterNils Lofgren, Ronnie Montrose and many others. He reuinted with Mitch on a few of the latter’s more recent solo albums and lately has been working most often with The Howling Diablos. He still plays drums like his pants are on fire and propels any band he plays with to greater heights.

Now it looks like Jimmy Mac and Johnny Bee are joining forces once again in The Hell Drivers, covering their own past hits from Mitch Ryder, The Rockets and Cactus along with other Detroit legends like Scott Morgan, The Rationals, Iggy and the Stooges, The Romantics. With Marvin Conrad on bass and Jim Edwards on vocals, it’s true Detroit rock royalty.

The Hell Drivers with the Detroit arrangement of Lou’s “Rock’N’Roll“.

The Hell Drivers breathing new life into “Desire” by The Rockets.

The Hell Drivers tackle The Torpedoes “No Pills” – take that, Sex Pistols!

mccarty-bee-2009-02-28_flyer

And Mitch Ryder? He’s been making great records in Germany for the last thirty years. He can still rock it and he can still sing sweet soul music. I cannot wait to hear The Promise – the record he’s making with Don Was – but ‘ll be writing a full piece on the man and his career another day.

Live cut of Mitch performing “Devil With A Blue Dress” from a while back featuring that classic Johnny Bee drum break.

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