Friday, March 30, 2012

The Dictators "Steppin' Out" (Bonus Video Friday)

Ladies & gentlemen, here’s the deal: Over the past couple of weeks there’s been a Perfect Storm of circumstances that have led me to consider taking a little break from blog-dom, or blog-icity.  (I refuse to call it "the blogosphere.")  First; I’ve started playing out again in my solo acoustic rock & roll format and have discovered that the part of my brain responsible for songwriting is ENTIRELY DIFFERENT & FOREIGN to the part responsible for producing prose pieces. (See Throwin' Red Meat To The Base, March blog entry.)  Second; my editor and I.T. Department (aka my lovely wife Debbie) is taking a little East Coast trip to serve as the I.T. Consultant for her mom and aunt as they get new laptops.  Third; my boss at my day-job is heading to Florida for his mother’s memorial service and I will be working open to close at our beloved little indie record store for the next two weeks.  None of these circumstances bode well for new blog entries being written, let alone posted.

I promise that this will be no more than a two-week hiatus.  (And who knows, if we get our Sound Cloud process together, we might start posting some Ricki C. tunes during that time along with the lyrics and the literary pieces that accompany them.)  In the immortal words of Adny Shernoff – "Steppin’ out, steppin’ out, steppin’ out for a little while….." 

Click here to see The Dictators - Steppin' Out - Winterland (San Francisco, CA) July 30, 1977

The mighty Dictators performing "Steppin’ Out" in 1977.  Great clip that would have been SO much better if those damn San Francisco hippies could’ve figured out that the lead vocals switch back & forth between drummer Richie Teeter and songwriter Adny Shernoff.  (Put down the joint, Mr. Camera Man, please put down the joint.)  inspirational verse; "Hey Lord, I’m reaching right up to ya / Touch me or I’m just another crooner / This love’s gonna be written down in history."

author’s note; First reader who writes and identifies what song the line "This love’s gonna be written down in history" is quoted from by Adny wins a prize from Growing Old With Rock & Roll.

ps. Bonus Video Friday will very likely continue uninterrupted.

© Ricki C. 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Dressing Room

The Dressing Room is installment seven of A Life Of Rock & Roll. Parts one & two – The Bathtub and The Transistor Radio – can be found in the January blog entries; parts three, four & five – The Guitar, The Band and Dave Blackburn – in February, and part six – The Apartment – earlier in March.


1975 - 1977

And then the rot truly set in.

If I thought getting a band together in 1973 was hard, nothing had prepared me for the doldrums of those dreary days just before and after The Bicentennial. By 1975 Mott The Hoople & The New York Dolls had both broken up and by '77 Elliott Murphy, though neither he nor I realized it yet, had already released his last major-label record. My earlier naively rosy view that those three were gonna be The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan of the New Era of Rock & Roll was just not about to come true. By 1976 The Ramones’ first album was out, but punk was a long way from impacting the Midwest. And truthfully I had a working-class rocker mistrust of the artier side of punk rock. I didn't go for the "Look at me, look at me!" dress-up aspect of punk. I didn't trust The Sex Pistols and, as it turned out, I was right. Those art-poser sissies barely lasted out their first American tour. Aerosmith would have laughed at them, and I’m sure, probably did.

I had bands going all through those years, but nothing really all that good. I felt like I had the songs, but I never had the right combination of people. It's sometimes hard to remember in these days of the internet, Facebook, media overkill, etc. just how hard it was to find even three like-minded music people in those long-past, dull, grey days. Shows were few and far between. It was almost impossible to get gigs in West Side bars playing original music that derived from The MC5 and The Dictators more than from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Allman Brothers, the Holy Triumvirate of low-life lunkhead rock. The ossification of rock & roll had begun. The idea that everything old was genuine & good and that everything new was scary & bad, all the precepts that engendered & defined classic rock radio, were taking hold.

Somewhere in all of that I got married. My wife never stood a chance against rock & roll. You will never hear me say one bad word about that girl. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was ultimately horrible to her. We started out great at 18 or 19 years old, the world was set out in front of us. It was ours to conquer. By our mid-20's all of her friends were settling down, getting married and having kids. She wanted a house and a baby. I wanted dark, loud bars and guitars. It couldn't end well and it didn't. Still, we're friendly to this day, 30 years later, so I guess it wasn't all bad. Time heals all wounds, or wounds all heels, one or the other, or perhaps both.

The nadir of my rock band existence was one night in December 1977 in the dressing room of a bar on Sullivant Avenue. The bar in earlier years had served as an airplane hangar when there was still an active West Side airport. My then-current band called, oddly enough, The Strokes, years before Julian Casablancas was even born, had played a typically dispirited first set to a scattering of equally dispirited drunks. I was sitting on a metal folding chair in the dressing room with my head in my hands, trying desperately to figure out WHY I was still playing music after all this time for so little return. That was the moment my lead singer, Cliff Phillips, chose to come in and proclaim, "Ya know, Ric, if you don't start writing me some songs where I can go out there and shake it for the ladies, we're gonna have a problem."

I raised my head out of my hands, looked up at him and said quietly, "Okay, Cliff, YOU'RE fired. Would anybody else like to join him?" The drummer tentatively raised his hand and I said, "Okay, you're also fired, but you have to finish the second set. Cliff, you get the fuck out." Cliff just looked down at me, read on my face that I was serious and slammed out of the dressing room. I sang the last set, badly, the bar owner paid us less than half the money we were due and as I drove home through the cold that night I said out loud to myself, "What about a girl lead singer? How much trouble could that be?" If Bruce Springsteen had called me up in 1984 when he hired Patti Scialfa to join the E Street Band I could have saved him a whole heaping helping of trouble. (See After The Second Set blog entry, January 2012.)

© 2012 Ricki C.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sparks (Bonus Video Friday)

I fully admit it, I was lazy this week.  Spring started, we had three 80-degree plus days in a row (many years, especially recently, there is stilll snow on the ground in Columbus, Ohio, when spring starts) and it was too nice to sit in the basement and commit memory to computer.  So when spring starts, my mind turns to power-pop and when my mind turns to power-pop I begin at Sparks' "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us."   Enjoy.  

© 2012 Ricki C.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

AC/DC - My Lunch With Angus (with apologies to Louis Malle)

In June of 1979 I was working in the warehouse of a K-Mart discount store on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio, and writing for a local rock weekly called Focus.  My one and only cover story for the magazine came when they sent me to interview Bon Scott of AC/DC at a downtown hotel and then cover their concert that night.  (Said cover story is reproduced below.)  My boss at K-Mart, Mike Mills (not the later bass player of REM), gave me an extra long lunch break to go downtown for the interview, which was scheduled for 11 am.  I thought that to be an unusually early call for a rocker like Bon Scott and I was proved correct.  A few minutes before noon Bon staggered into the Holiday Inn conference room I had been ensconced in by an Atlantic Records publicity woman.  She had run out of excuses for Bon’s tardiness about a half-hour earlier and had left me to my own devices.

Bon was great.  He was already drunk at 11:55 in the morning, introduced himself and we got right down to the business at hand.  By my third question – "Have you ever had an orgasm onstage?" – I think Scott had realized that it wasn’t going to be a pro forma interview.  He grabbed my notebook away from me and demanded, "What else you gonna ask me then, if I ever fucked me mudder?"  By 1 pm when the Atlantic Records woman came in to call a halt to the proceedings Bon and I were laughing along like old friends.  I got him to autograph my baseball glove (I was big into softball from my 20’s to my 40’s) and then had to explain the entire concept of the sport to Bon, which he claimed never ever to have been aware of. "Sounds stoopid," was his estimation of America’s pastime, "doesn’t anybody ever get punched in the mouth like in rugby?"

Publicity woman said, "We’ve got to go now, Bon, lunch is ready."  We shook hands as I stood up to leave and Bon said, "Where do ya go now?"  I told him I had to go back to the store where I worked.  "’Ave you had lunch, then?" he asked.  "No, I’ll have something at work," I replied.  "Well, stay and ‘ave lunch with us," Bon said.  "He’s not having lunch with us, Bon," the Atlantic Records lady cut in.  "Do you wanna stay and ‘ave lunch?" Bon reiterated.  "Yeah, I’d love to," I said.  Ms. Atlantic was now staring daggers at me, she was totally pissed at my lack of professionalism, but my only thought was that I was going to get a much better lunch out of this deal than the K-Mart cafeteria had to offer.

At lunch I was seated across from Angus and Malcolm Young, all the way at the other end of the table from Bon.  I think that was my punishment from the publicity woman for cadging my way into a free meal.  They had cordoned off a corner of the dining room for the band because back in the day you had to have a coat & tie to eat in the dining room of the Downtown Holiday Inn.  (The hotel is still there, it’s the one right across the street from the Greyhound Bus Station.  I’d be willing to bet that you don’t have to have a coat & tie to eat there anymore.  And I also bet that nowadays you just might be able to get crack from room service, or at least from a bellhop.)

Angus and Malcolm never said a word to me.  And I soon discovered that Angus couldn’t order his own meal.  I just sat and stared as he perused the large, leather-bound Holiday Inn menu, then turned to his older brother Malcolm and slurred, "WhasshouldI’ave, Malcolm?"  "Have whatever you want, Angus." came the curt reply.  Malcolm didn’t even look from his own menu to answer his little brother.

Angus returned to looking intently at his menu, narrowing his eyes and hunkering down to make it abundantly clear he was really giving it his utmost consideration. "ShouldI’avebreakfussorlunch, Malcolm?"  It was a plaintive question from the notoriously fierce little lead guitarist.  "Have whatever you want, Angus!" was the testy, shot-back reply from Elder Sibling.

In the end, of course, Malcolm wound up ordering Angus’ meal for him.  Just as inevitably, when the food arrived, Angus took one quick look at his plate, one longing look at his brother’s dish, and asked sheepishly, "Can I have some of your food, Malcolm?"  Malcolm never replied, completely ignored his little brother, and the two never exchanged another word for the rest of the meal.  There would be no sharing.  It was genuinely sad to watch Angus pick at his food in that swank hotel dining room.  He couldn’t have eaten more than four bites.

That was my first glimpse ever into the bubble that rock stars exist inside of on big-time rock & roll tours.  To this day I don’t know whether Angus Young just couldn’t decide what he wanted to eat that afternoon or if he literally COULD NOT READ the menu.  At any rate, the editors at Focus took out virtually all of my lunch story, as they thought it would piss off Atlantic Records if I implied in print that Angus Young was illiterate.  (I had already caused RCA Records to pull all of their advertising for two entire issues when I suggested that Canadian metal-clowns Triumph "wouldn’t know rock & roll if it fucked them in a closet," in a derogatory live review earlier that year.)  They also changed Bon Scott from already drunk at noon to hung-over.

Eight months later, February 19th, 1980, Bon Scott was dead from some combination of alcohol poisoning, aspiration of vomit or hypothermia, depending on which magazine you read and who you believe.  At any rate, massive amounts of alcohol were involved.  When I heard about it I thought back to that June afternoon.  Bon Scott was the happiest pre-noon drunk guy I had ever or have yet encountered.  Some rock stars just are not supposed to get old.  Would I enjoy watching a 65 year old Keith Moon embarrass himself on some endless Who-reunion tour in 2012?  Nope.  Do I wish Pete Townshend had lived up to his hope and died before he got old?  Sometimes.

Bon Scott, salut.

© 2012 Ricki C.

editor's note: If the text in the reprint is too small for you, go to VIEW on your browser menu, select ZOOM, then select a number greater than 100%.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Alejandro Escovedo (Bonus Video Friday)

Occasionally in my job as road manager for Hamell On Trial there were perks; genuine perks, once-in-a-lifetime perks.  One of those took place in the summer of 2008 when I got to meet and hang out with Alejandro Escovedo.

For the uninitiated, I consider Alejandro Escovedo one of the five best singer-songwriters currently criss-crossing this great land of ours, trying to spread the gospel of rock & roll.  (The other four, for those of you scoring at home are, alphabetically; The Avett Brothers, Hamell On Trial, Richard Thompson, and Jack White.  Elliott Murphy would be listed here but he is normally found crisscrossing the European continent.)  I further consider Escovedo America’s answer to Ian Hunter, in that he combines the same superior intellect with a passion for rock & roll power and the ability to simultaneously break your heart with a ballad and pummel you with an all-out rock onslaught, sometimes within the same song.  (Regular readers of this blog will realize I do not throw comparisons to Mott The Hoople’s former frontman around lightly.)

That summer Hamell was playing an arts & music festival in Bowling Green, Ohio, at which Escovedo was also booked.  Ed and Alejandro were friends from way back.  When Ed first moved to Austin, Texas, in the 90’s he sought out Escovedo for advice, counsel and gigs, all three of which Alejandro was happy to provide.  A genuine friendship ensued.  Ed’s introduction of me to Alejandro backstage was, "This is my road manager, Ricki C., he saw The Stooges and The MC5 live when he was still in high school."  Alejandro fixed me with a gaze, shook my hand, and said, "We have to talk later."

And so it was that I wound up sitting at a picnic table at The Black Swamp Arts Festival in Bowling Green, Ohio, talking rock & roll with Alejandro Escovedo.

Now you’ve gotta understand – Alejandro Escovedo is one of my big rock & roll heroes, one of my favorite songwriters of the past 15 years.  Sitting and talking with him put me right back into my shy, quiet, 13-year old, eighth grade self (see The Transistor Radio blog entry, January 2012).  As we sat and talked on that warm evening I found myself really wanting to shout to the other performers and crew members who were eating & hanging out in the backstage canteen area, "HEY, LOOK YOU GUYS, I’M TALKING TO ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO!!!"  Luckily for any sense of rock & roll cool or decorum I had managed to acquire as Hamell’s road manager, I didn’t shout.  (Out loud.)

We talked about Mott The Hoople and how the perfect mixture of deep feeling and loud guitars met right in the blood flowing through Ian Hunter’s heart.  We talked about The Kinks and the battles between brothers in rock & roll bands, including Alejandro’s and big brother Javier’s fights in their 1980’s band, The True Believers.  We talked about the aforementioned Stooges and MC5.  I told Alejandro about pissing next to a smacked-out & wasted Johnny Thunders in the bathroom of the Second Chance club in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1979 during a weekend road trip to see Fred Smith’s mighty Sonic’s Rendezvous Band.  Alejandro told me about offering a wasted Iggy Pop a ride in his car during one of Iggy’s down & out late 1970’s Los Angeles nights.  (Strange how often rock & roll conversations turn to the wasted.)  We talked about heroes for life, we talked about wins and losses, we talked about shared sonic love affairs.

I fully realize that there’s very little chance Alejandro would recall that late summer rock & roll conversation.  I also fully realize that I’ll never forget it.

Alejandro Escovedo and band on Austin City Limits, 2009.  This and a Leonard Cohen show from the 1980’s that I have on a VHS tape in my collection are two of the best hours of music from Austin City Limits ever.

© 2012 Ricki C.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Apartment (Bonus Video Friday)

The Apartment is installment six of A Life Of Rock & Roll. Refer to The Bathtub, The Transistor Radio, and the three-in-one The Guitar, The Band & Dave Blackburn earlier in this blog for installments one through five…..


I joined my bandmate and best friend Dave Blackburn for awhile in Boston, our band couldn't make a go of it, I didn’t like starving, so I came back home broke to Columbus and got my first apartment.  My total earthly possessions at that time consisted of a borrowed sleeping bag, a Sears & Roebuck record player, and my sacred books & records.  It was the greatest time of my life.  I got a job at a parking lot at Doctor's North Hospital making $60 a week.  My rent was $120 a month.  There was a 24-hour-a-day donut shop on the corner and, for atmosphere, an active train track running barely fifty feet from my bedroom window.  I was in heaven.  I was underage to sign a lease and was in no way making enough money to qualify for the apartment.  God bless the landlady who took a chance and rented to me, I thank her to this day.

I hunkered down in my little one bedroom rock & roll bunker and began the arduous task of teaching myself to write music for my lyrics, something Dave had always handled in the past.  I had no idea how to even start that process.  I was a decent guitarist & lyricist, but had never written a note of music.  The breakthrough came when I found a German import double-record set of the best of The Velvet Underground in a campus record store’s secondhand bin.  As "Waiting For The Man" boomed out of my cheap speakers, all the light bulbs in the universe came on at once, the heavens opened and the angels spoke unto me, saying, "Ric, you don't have to be King Crimson, Pink Floyd, or even Rod Stewart.  You can just bash out two or three chords, fine-tune the lyrics to a laser pinpoint and come up with little twists & turns to serve as hooks."  Lou Reed became my teacher, my mentor, my savior.

The songs didn't come quickly, but since there was barely enough money for even food and guitar strings, my little apartment at 68 North Sylvan Avenue became a songwriting womb.  I set out to write a ten-song set from scratch, with a definitive set-opener (like Lou's "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together") and a dedicated set-ender (a la "After Hours").  As I was writing those first songs, three 1973 releases became my touchstones: the Mott album by Mott The Hoople, the first New York Dolls record and, pivotally, Elliott Murphy's masterpiece debut album Aquashow.  The first verse of the opening song on that record contains the lines, "I've got a feeling on my back like an old brown jacket / I'd like to stay in school but I just can't hack it."  Finances being what they were, college and I were never to cross paths again.  I was now enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks and Rock & Roll University.

My next course after Songwriting 101 was Becoming a Band Leader 203.  Finding musicians to play with proved to be a nightmare.  When I emerged from my six-string laboratory with my killer set of new songs I discovered that nobody wanted to play them.  Musicians I had known since I was 16 in 1968 were now 21 to 23 years old and were either selling insurance or playing James Taylor covers and were aghast at the idea of playing originals.  "You wanna play original songs?" I was asked more times than I care to remember, by former friends now sporting shag haircuts and spangled bell-bottoms.  "Why do you wanna play originals when we could do covers at the Ramada Inn and make some really cool cash?"  The younger kids that had come up after me seemed more interested in the pharmaceutical aspects of rock & roll than in the actual playing of music.  Everybody I auditioned seemed too drugged out to master even ten new songs.

A lead singer was the most immediate problem.  Until punk hit later in the decade and rendered the concept of pitch moot, I just was not a good enough or strong enough singer to put my own songs across.  And since all of my standards of rock & roll professionalism were (and still are) based on the 1969 Who, I needed to find a Roger Daltrey to complement my Pete Townshend stylings.  Danny Summers was my first thought and best bet.  He had been the 14-year-old freshman wunderkind of my old high school drama department when Dave and I were in our first year at Ohio State.  He sang great and had unbelievable stage presence.  You couldn't take your eyes off him, he had genuine charisma.  He was David Bowie on a Midwest level.  The fact that Danny's best friend in high school, Greg, was a bass player also added to his allure.  I had already lined up a solid drummer, if I could get Danny and Greg to come in I could complete my dream band in one fell swoop.

It took me more than a month to track Danny down.  My thought that I would have to talk him and Greg out of whatever big-money band they were currently involved in, that I would have to dazzle them with the obviously superior quality of my new material, was immediately dashed.  I found that Danny was mopping floors at a West Side hospital and hadn't played music in more than two years.  The person I talked to in that hospital corridor was literally a pale shadow of the golden-boy rock star that I had watched blaze across stages just four years earlier.  I'll never forget the wistful look in his eyes as I made my pitch for rock stardom for him and Greg.  "Uh, Greg doesn't play anymore," Danny said quietly, leaning on his mop, "he got really heavy into drugs and became just a really sad guy."  I'm not sure he was talking only about Greg.

I left Danny with tapes of the music and lyrics to the songs and made him promise we'd get together to work on them.  I tried my hardest to make my case for rock stardom, I really did.  We rehearsed a couple of times but never even came close to getting that band to a stage.  I've since read in my high school alumni newsletters that Danny died young, I don't even want to know from what.  Today in 2012 I have a song in my set dedicated to him.  Danny, I miss you. We should have been great.

Possibly the greatest lesson I learned from my teachers - Lou Reed, Elliott Murphy & Ian Hunter - was to take a memory and make it into poetry, as Hunter does here in "Irene Wilde."  inspirational verse; "In my mother's Sunday room / I composed so many tunes / They was all the same, just a frame / For her name, and just the same / I'm gonna be somebody someday."  - Ian Hunter, 1976

© 2012 Ricki C.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Throwin’ Red Meat To The Base

I wrote this song over the weekend; partly inspired by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band on Jimmy Fallon's show Friday night and partly by Jack White tearing it up on Saturday Night Live the next night.  I realize it's kinda obvious and broad but something about it brought out the Woody Guthrie in me and I thought, "What's the use of having a blog if you can't use it sometimes for a little Instant Connection, Communication and Dissemination?"

In an odd bit of timing and because the Board Of Elections needs an equal number of Democratic and Republican poll workers, I'm working at a polling station for tomorrow's Super Tuesday primaries.  This is odd because normally I try not to think about Republicans very much.  For a party that ostensibly wants less government intrusion in our day-to-day lives and seems awfully interested in less regulation of rich white men, they seem terribly preoccupied with regulating what women can and can't do with their bodies; especially in the areas of contraception and abortion.

At any rate, one thing seems clear; Republicans wouldn't know freedom if it fucked 'em in a closet.....

Throwin' Red Meat To The Base

A co-ed from Georgetown, she’s takin’ the pill
Then I hear from Rush Limbaugh; he’s makin’ me ill
I can’t stand to look at his corpulent face
Spewin’ his venom, throwin’ red meat to the base

     Red meat to the base
     Red meat to the base
     In matters of contraception
     Rush is on the case
     Red meat to the base
     Red meat to the base
     Please join us here, Rush, in the human race

A co-ed from Georgetown, he called her a slut
We’re all whores to Rush; no ifs, ands or buts
These guys like their women in crinoline and lace
Barefoot and pregnant, while the boys throw red meat to the base

     Red meat to the base
     Red meat to the base
     You can ask for some compassion
     They’ll respond with mace
     Red meat to the base
     Red meat to the base
     It’s basic women’s rights they’re tryin’ to erase

A co-ed from Georgetown, and you and you and you
We’re all in this together or we’re all Limbaugh stew
If you’re lookin’ for some goodness, some class or some grace
Don’t look to Fox News, busy throwin’ red meat to the base

     Red meat to the base
     Red meat to the base
     You can pray for evolution
     But they’re well off the pace
     Red meat to the base
     Red meat to the base
     Basic common decency, they don’t show a trace

          Sometimes just as sure as Paul McCartney plays bass
          G.O.P. stands for Government's Own Patsies, ace
          When those guys are throwin' red meat to the base

                                                                                                   - © 2012 Ricki C.

postscript; I wish I could've presented you with the tune, but I didn't sign up with Sound Cloud soon enough.

© 2012 Ricki C.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Neighborhoods part 3 (Bonus Video Friday)

"Welcome stranger, to the humble Neighborhoods."  Thus sang Joe Strummer on the song "Bhindi Bhagee" from The Mescaleros' Global A Go-Go CD, in tribute to Boston, Massachusetts’ favorite sons, The Neighborhoods.  And while I know full well that this isn’t true – Strummer was singing about his London Notting Hill neighborhood in the tune – I still choose to believe it.  I believe a number of things that I know aren't true: that Rush Limbaugh is not a member of the human race, but a representative of a devolved, degraded, doomed alien species; that the Catholic Church, of which I am a member in good standing, will someday enter the 18th, 19th, 20th, or even possibly the 21st century; that sometime in my future I will get to appear on either The Colbert Report or David Letterman's T.V. show.

One thing I believe that is true: The Neighborhoods are one of the five best live bands I've ever seen.

© 2012 Ricki C.