Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Shake Some Action

Bottom line:
Five boys from San Francisco who formed a hard-rock outfit in 1965, made three records (Supersnazz, Teenage Head, and Flamingo) that nobody listened to, then switched in 1976 to power pop and made twice as many records that nobody listened to.

Flamin’ is sometimes spelled without the apostrophe.

If you combine MC5, Steppenwolf, and The Stooges as played by The Rolling Stones and force Creedence and Grand Funk Railroad to get married, you’re somewhere near the original incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies.

If you combine Cheap Trick, The Knack, The Romantics and many forgotten groupings of young white guys in skinny black ties (including Seattle favorites The Allies and The Rangehoods), then add some Byrds-style guitar, you’re talking about new-formula Groovies.

No hits. Never came close.

Vital personnel:
Roy Loney, singer, songwriter, guitarist until 1971, when he began his solo career, recording rockabilly records and working in a record store; Cyril Jordan, songwriter and guitarist forever.

Moment of glory:
Cyril Jordan: Releasing Fantastic Plastic, a well-above-average album of mostly new material in 2013, almost 50 years after the Groovies first got together, including a dynamite cover of The Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk to Strangers.”

Roy Loney: Everywhere this man plays, the local music critics rave about him.

About that name:
It’s the perfect name for a band that formed in 1965! Not to be confused with The Flaming Lips or The Groovie Ghoulies.

Their story:
Some guys have a string of ponies. The Flamin’ Groovies had a string of undercapitalized record labels. These are the kinds of places that can’t get their records into the hands of djs, that can’t get cash into the hands of djs, that will rush the band outside on a cloudy day and snap a photo in the parking lot to get something to the printer before the deadline for the album cover.

(The latter is my interpretation of what happened to the cover of Shake Some Action. If there really was a professional photographer involved with this crud, he should’ve been rewound and overexposed.)

The one album to own:
Flamingo, from the dawn of the 1970s. Some of this stuff is forgettable, but some of it rocks hard enough to shake the marmots off Mt. Rainier. (For example, “Road House,” which was a headbanger before we had headbangers.)

The essential track that’s not on this disc is “Shake Some Action,” a power pop anthem and the only Flamin’ Groovies song that ever got any airplay, though only on college radio. R.E.M. used college radio as a launching pad, but for most acts, college radio is not a transit station, it’s the junkyard.

I like junk, and I like The Flamin’ Groovies.

(Editor’s note: Our totally unbiased look at forgotten bands will continue in a week after Run-DMSteve returns from his tour of the fabled cities of the East, including Fall River, the Gateway to Taunton.)

The Byrds Gene Clark far right

Bottom line:
Our series on forgotten bands continues with folk- and country-rock pioneer Gene Clark, who wrote the best original songs on The Byrds’ first two albums, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! Exhibit A: “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.” (On Fifth Dimension, he co-wrote “Eight Miles High.”) Clark went into country-rock full-time after leaving The Byrds in 1966, with excursions into roots rock, acoustic folk, romantic duets, and dense, prog-adjacent music.

The mystery to me is why this man didn’t ascend into Crosby, Stills & Nash with his Byrds buddy David Crosby or even in place of Crosby. Clark sang beautifully, though not as beautifully as Crosby, who may have been a UFO alien. Clark was a weak guitar player in his early years, and he would have had a problem keeping up with Stephen Stills and that other fella they hired, Neil somebody. But Crosby wasn’t exactly Jimi Hendrix or even Ron Elliott from The Beau Brummels. Clark was by far the more talented composer, plus he could take or leave hippies; Crosby couldn’t get enough of them.

Moment of glory:
Being a Byrd. That should be enough for most people. That’s him on the far right of one of the most famous album covers of the 1960s.

His story:
I’m going to keep this short because Clark, while prolific on his own, never got anywhere commercially, and I suspect that embittered him and led to his death at 47 from drinking. He reminds me of another unlucky natural, his contemporary Gram Parsons, who died under that Joshua tree so that U2 might live.

Speaking as someone who is talented but not talented enough, Clark’s story makes me uneasy. Good thing I keep my drinking (Manischewitz) under control (as in, only at Dad’s house*).

* Run-DMIrving once poured two colors of Manischewitz into one bottle because he was tired of two half-full bottles of the stuff taking up so much room in the fridge three months after he bought them for Passover.

The one album to own:
You already own them: Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! His solo work is interesting one track, not so interesting the next, but if you prefer country, try Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers (“So You Say You Lost Your Baby”). If you prefer artsy rock, No Other (the title track). Something more Byrds-like? FireByrd (his joyful cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”). Frankly, you could sample the first three tracks on any Gene Clark album and probably hit something you like.

He was a complicated man. I wonder if anyone understood him.

That’s it for the sad forgotten bands. From here on it’s the upbeat, dynamic, eccentric, under-the-radar, gotta-dance, women-are-doing-it-for-themselves (and, in one case, deservedly forgotten) forgotten bands.


Introducing the Beau Brummels cropped

Bottom line:
Five guys from the folk-rock scene in San Francisco who developed a taste for country. Three Top 40 hits, including one in the Top 10 (“Just a Little”), and two more that broke the Top 100. How can a band that placed five songs in the Top 100 be forgotten? The answer is, they’re not forgotten, they’ve been immobilized in our minds, encased in one song: “Laugh, Laugh.”

Vital personnel:
Sid Valentino, lead vocals; Ron Elliott, guitar and main songwriter.

Moment of glory:
Thirty years before Smashing Pumpkins guest-starred on The Simpsons, The Beau Brummels guest-starred on The Flintstones.


Beau Brummelstones

About that name:
Why would five young Americans name themselves after an English fop who loved to play dress-up? The Brummels claimed they liked it, the way Ringo liked it when they painted him red again in Help. Cynics assumed that the boys chose the name to confuse shoppers with the English association and because record shops would file them immediately after The Beatles. All I know is, there’s no point in reopening an old family argument unless you’re one of my relatives.

Their story:
When Introducing the Beau Brumels debuted in April 1965, this band was the hottest band in the United States that was from the United States. For two months they stood alone against a horde of Beatles, Stones, Animals, Hermits, Hollies, Clarks, Playboys, and Zombies. The album was inconsistent, but with moments of excellence and an air of maturity not often found in records of that era.

Introducing the Beau Brummels (produced by Sylvester Stewart, who became Sly Stone the following year) gave us two hits: “Laugh, Laugh,” their ticket to Golden Oldies immortality, and the somber “Just a Little.” The guitar riff in “Just a Little” was ripped off from Link Wray’s “Rumble”; it serves well in this new setting.

The majority of the Brummels’ work is somber, even “Laugh, Laugh,” which is about being dumped. The critic Justin Farrar wrote of them, “The one quality that stands out when digging this stuff is just how sad and weathered the Brummels sounded for such a young band.”

The Brummels’ luck ran out in June 1965 when they collided with the debut from another folk-rock quintet, The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man. It’s difficult to compete with a record that will – even cynics agree – live forever. Each band released another album before the year finished, but by then it was obvious that the Brummels were finished as well. They wrote more original material than The Byrds, but The Byrds played better, sang better, and had a flood of catchy ideas in their interpretations. Also, Roger McGuin, David Crosby, and Gene Clark (I’ll return to him) were soon writing better, too.

The rest of their story sounds like a fairy tale without the witch or the wolf.

The five little Brummels were no longer a force in pop music. Ron Elliott suffered complications from diabetes; he could record but he could no longer tour. One of the Brummels left the band, to play somewhere else or possibly from despair. For their third outing, in 1966, the four little Brummels landed at a much better record company, which was good, but the new company made them do covers like The Byrds, which turned out to be bad.

Then in 1967 the government drafted one of the four little Brummels for the army. The three little Brummels tried their luck with Triangle, an album of psychedelia, which was of the approximate quality as The Zombies’ attempt at psychedelia, Odyssey & Oracle, by which I mean it substantially sucked.

Then in 1968 the government drafted one of the three little Brummels for the army. Why did Lyndon Johnson hate our freedoms? The two little Brummels regrouped in Nashville, where they recorded a country-rock album in a barn owned by a man named Bradley. They called this album Bradley’s Barn. It was only the second country-rock album ever recorded (this time The Byrds beat them by two months, with Sweetheart of the Rodeo). I like this record despite the fact that “country” is one of the words in “country-rock.” Sadly, nobody at the time noticed it.

There are more ignored albums in their catalog, but enough is enough.

The one album to own:
The Beau Brummels, Vol. 2. It doesn’t have “Laugh, Laugh” and “Just a Little,” but it’s the strongest overall and it includes “Don’t Talk to Strangers” (their attempt at beating The Byrds at their own game), “Can It Be” (the best Everly Brothers song not penned and performed by an Everly), and the endearingly somber “You Tell Me Why” and “Sad Little Girl.”

Though The Beau Brummels, Vol. 2 proves that they were not one of the best bands of the 1960s, it does prove they were the best forgotten band of the 1960s.

By this point of my life, I expected to be famous, with a house shaped like a rook, five ex-wives, an agent who bathes her StairMastered curves in champagne, and an attorney named Bernie. I’ve fallen short of these goals, but I remain undaunted. Certain people I am married to remain skeptical.

Meanwhile, I’ve taken a lot of notes on life here in obscurity. Most of us puny humans live here. Ninety percent of all writers, for example. When I read Robert Calder’s Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham, I realized that not only is Maugham (author of The Razor’s Edge, Of Human Bondage, and The Moon and Sixpence) disappearing from our consciousness, so are almost all of the writers he entertained around his dining-room table in the middle of the century. I wrote in this blog,Authors of 20, 40, even 60 books regularly enter these pages – names that have left barely a ripple in the fabric of space-time.”

Most jazz musicians are born in obscurity and stay that way. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Marsalis, and the horror that is Kenny G are known outside the jazz ghetto, but the list thins out fast after them.

On that happy note….It’s time to look at worthy bands (and artists) that have silently slid beneath the waves.

Not bands with cult followings, such as The Velvet Underground, Big Star, and Hüsker Dü. Not one-hit wonders that inflicted “Kung Fu Fighting,” “99 Luftballons,” or “Because I Got High” on us before being deported to some shithole country. No, I’m talking about bands that, for one reason or another, deserved better than the limbo in which they will probably forever reside.

Here’s my list – you probably have your own – with their approximate heyday:

The Beau Brummels
Gene Clark
Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson

The Flamin’ Groovies
The Beat

The Call
Fiction Factory
Bonnie Hayes & The Wild Combo

Diesel Park West

Some of these acts had hits. Most never rose above a few weeks of spins on college radio. One is no good. But they all have a story, at least to me, which I’ll tell as best I can over the next few days.

Random Pick of the Day
Art Blakey Quartet, A Jazz Message (1963)

Another jazz masterpiece from the year that ended with The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. One of the amazing things about this platter is that drummer Art Blakey, tenor and alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt, pianist McCoy Tyner, and bassist Art Davis were together for just one day, July 16, 1963.

The veterans, Blakey and Stitt, had last played together in 1950. The kids, Tyner and Davis, had barely started playing. On July 17, they went back to their own lives: Blakey to his leadership role in The Jazz Messengers, Stitt to one of the most prolific careers in jazz, Davis to his work with John Coltrane, and Tyner to the Valhalla of piano players.

These four men were like meteors briefly caught in Earth’s gravity well – yet the shortness of the hours doesn’t undermine the music by a single note. Nothing on this disc is a classic, yet everything is cool, everything is relaxed, and everyone plays like they invented their instruments. If you heard this set at a club, especially “Blues Back,” you’d still be raving about the show 10 years later.

Though it’s Blakey’s name on the album, he never soloes. He’s content instead to announce each horn part with an impeccably timed roll. Buddy Rich would’ve hammered his way to the front row on every cut.

Dan Morgenstern, in 1963 the editor of Jazz magazine, wrote in the liner notes: “Art Blakey’s Jazz Message, if put into words, would spell ‘Keep Swinging’ – and a worthwhile message for today it surely is.”

Random Pan of the Day
Weird Al, Mandatory Fun (2014)

This is Weird Al’s sharpest record since he destroyed the ’90s back in the ’90s. “Word Crimes” outperforms his brilliant Lady Gaga parody, “Perform This Way.” The videos of the songs are amazing.

But without the videos, Mandatory Fun doesn’t work. If this were a video review blog I’d give Mandatory Fun an enthusiastic, 100% impressed, four paws up. But this is a music review blog and all those paws are down. Sorry, Al.

I am now within 18 months of retiring. I know how to go to work every day. But how do you go to work every day when you know there aren’t many more days?

“The only dedication for us is art and life. And this office has nothing to do with either of them.”
Friend, co-worker, Beat poet, and musician Andy in 1978 at the Boston Garden.

As the days dwindle down to a precious few and the Boomers become an answer blowing in the wind (of the 68 people I currently work with, only six of us were born between 1946 and 1964, and at least one of us is in the closet), I intend to share my irreplaceable worklore with you rookies who are still figuring out how to commute/in a three-button suit/with that weary executive smile.

My favorite things about working

  1. Getting paid
  2. Free food
  3. Sleeping under my desk
  4. All those color copiers
  5. Three-day weekends

(My favorite thing about working at the Boston Garden was skating on the rink at lunchtime if they were set up for a hockey game that evening.)

My least favorite things about working

  1. Arriving, sitting for eight hours, leaving
  2. Meetings
  3. Emergencies caused by morons
  4. Corporate America’s love affair with jargon
  5. Knife fights

More bulletins to come from this undiscovered country. Here’s an old bulletin from a job I don’t even have anymore.

“Don’t count the days. Make the days count.” (Muhammad Ali)

And now:

Index to Year 8 of Run-DMSteve!


Ursula K. Le Guin

Aretha Franklin

Donald Hall

Uncle Eddie

Antique Parent Land

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Money (that’s what I want)



The annual gift card


Singing drummers

CDs they dumped on me

What I don’t listen to

Why I don’t listen to what I don’t listen to

Lounge against the machine (chapter 1)

Record store rampage


The most boring world chess championship ever begins

The most boring world chess championship ever ends


I want to be a Supreme


Random Pick of the Day
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Fellow liberals! It’s our duty to go to Washington, D.C., and dance outside AOC’s office!

Random Pan of the Day
Pirate Radio (2009)
An above-average cast walks the plank in a below-average movie. In 1966, unlicensed radio stations aboard hulks in the North Sea provided citizens of Great Britain with their regular daily dose of rock ’and’ roll. Aboard the good ship Radio Rock, there are 10 men (and one woman) who live and breathe their music. They play rock 24 hours a day. But they never talk about it. They never mention a band or a song or a quote from a song. There are no disagreements about music. There aren’t even any agreements.

Richard Curtis, who wrote Pirate Radio, forgot that his characters are living in the middle of the most tumultuous decade in the history of pop. In 1966, every song these DJs played was a small miracle, but to Curtis, the music is just background noise. It’s Classic Rock.

If the cast had not been so appealing, I never would’ve stayed till the end when the ship sank and the DJs were rescued but the crew disappeared and no one thought to ask about them. How stupid do these moviemakers think we are? Really stupid – after all, we elected Trump.

With Sir Kenneth Branagh as the Monty Python bureaucrat, Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the character he played in Almost Famous, Bill Nighy as something, Gemma Arterton as The Girl, January Jones as The Girl, a boatload of girls as The Girls, Emma Thompson as The Girl of a Certain Age, and Ike Hamilton as the Black Man Who Is Not Permitted to Speak. Two hours. Not subtitled, but should be.