Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cindy on the Late Seventies Denver/Boulder Music Scene

I didn't live there, I never went there, and I was just a spunky pre-teen sprog at the time. But I still feel nostalgic about the late seventies Denver/Boulder underground music scene probably because of its connections to San Francisco where I grew up. Well I guess I should start by mentioning Jello Biafra, who is originally from Boulder. But the real bridge and the only reason I know anything at all about this scene comes from the Varve, who are one of San Francisco's own. But not really. They have Boulder roots. Denver too. Another young sprog in the late 1970s, Dalton Rasmussen, and another San Francisco transplant, Joseph Pope, have compiled a vinyl/CD/booklet release called Rocky Mountain Low that documents this period of the Colorado music underground. Included are the Varve's roots, and some cool bands like the Jonny III and the Front. And oh yeah, Jello.

Jo Ann Gogue of the VarveFor me Denver's Guys and Boulder's Profalactics rule the Rocky Mountain Low compilation. The Guys were the Shangri-Las mated with the Ramones minus the Queens accents. All crazy energy and fun. I wish I had been there. The Profalactics are hard to describe. Kinda scratchy. In late 1979 both groups exploded and a Varve was formed. Jo Ann from the Guys and Sue and Carolyn from the Profalactics grabbed LA transplant and super cool blond Kelli Kozak (my true sister), and proceeded to quirk up Boulder. And then they moved to San Francisco. I was way underage, but I was able to sneak into two Varve shows in the early eighties. I remember sweating. I remember squawks of color.

Leroy Smith of the Jonny III
It was Jo Ann Varve, with her cool pink cowboy boots, who told me about the Denver/Boulder scene. She kept talking about this band called the Jonny III. She was president of their fan club. Aleta from the Guys wrote "God of Rock and Roll" about the band's singer and guitarist, Kenny Vaughan. The Jonny III never made a record, but they have two songs on the Rocky Mountain Low compilation, the punky "Cardboard Bachs" (oh such clever spelling) and the poppy "Hey Baby." But these tracks barely hint at the band's legend. Jo Ann played me stuff, showed me pictures, described the endless late night dance parties in Denver and Littleton. It was the energy of Eddie Cochran and the Ramones combined. Plus they had a string of classic songs written by Kenny Vaughan and the band's drummer, Leroy X. And stinging guitar work from Kenny, who now lives in Nashville where he's a highly regarded studio and live musician. I want to be there.

Kenny Vaughan and Kristine Oliver, Sweethearts of the Rodeo
Beyond the Jonny III and roots of the Varve, I'm really liking two other bands on Rocky Mountain Low, Boulder's Transistors and Denver's Front. The Transistors had groovy Asian goddess Karen Nakai (called Karen Sony here) on bass, who Autumn just adores. ("She's my long lost Japanese sister. I have their single." -Autumn). Later Karen would sing in Boulder's China Breaks and then she ran away to Southern California where she disappeared in the LA haze.

Karen Nakai
I'd never heard of the Front before, but their one track here, a Stooges cover, has the right spirit, all punk tension and teen nerves. More of this please. Lead singer Steve Knutson now works for Rough Trade, who used to have a store here in North Beach that later moved to Haight Street. But, like the kind of music on this compilation, it's gone now.

Get yourself a copy of Rocky Mountain Low at: Rocky Mountain Low - the Front, Jonny III, Roots of the Varve, and Jello!

Get it now. You'll wish you had been there.

Photographs by Joe Beine
top to bottom:
Jo Ann Gogue (Varve), Mercury Cafe, Denver, 1982
Leroy X Smith (in a post-Jonny III band with Kenny), Mercury Cafe, Denver, 1982
Kenny Vaughan and Kristine Arnold (Sweethearts of the Rodeo), Auraria Campus, Denver, 1987
Karen Nakai (China Breaks), Blue Note, Boulder, 1981

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Autumn's Guide to Cool Girl Drummers: Witch Baby

"'Witch Baby, come out and play drums for me,' Cherokee said. 'You are the most slinkster-jamming drummer girl and I want to dance.'"

Dangerous Angels Weetzie Bat BooksI first discovered Witch Baby in Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat books in the nineties. She was a bit like a wilder version of me. The dark haired tomboy. Always hiding and snail-curling. Covering herself in protective mud. I never played the drums, but I could have. Maybe. Witch Baby teaches herself, playing with her hands. Later she joins the Goat Guys, her step sister Cherokee's band, and finds a rhythmic partner in her childhood crush, Angel Juan, who plays bass. He calls her Niña Bruja and they forge an alliance that's never severed even when Angel Juan goes away.

"She imagined that her drums were planets and the music was all the voices of growth and light and life joined together and traveling into the universe."

Witch Baby has two books of her own, Witch Baby and Missing Angel Juan, but you should read all five of the original Weetzie Bat books (collected in Dangerous Angels). And the sixth one, Necklace of Kisses, where Weetzie has a crisis and Witch Baby shaves her head and goes to college in Berkeley. Witch Baby is the best girl drummer cause she lives inside her rhythms, expressing all her inner turmoil and desire. She's the mud-caked, cool-jamming, purple-eyed girl who fends off clutch pigs, photographs dreams and talks to ghosts.

This is part two in the series, Autumn's Guide to Cool Girl Drummers

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Scene

by Cindy Jacobson/Leather Trio Productions

Golden Gate BridgeI'm I-Beamin'. I'm Sidewalkin'. I'm Sugarcubin'. I'm just a-Ikky Boppin' on down Haight street. I go across Stanyan street and what do I see in Golden Gate Park? Hippies and punks. What a strange culture clash. They're playing Hendrix-like acid rock out of tiny battery powered amps. They're playing saxophones and singing songs. The hippies are clumped in a group. The punks are clumped in another group. They're kinda looking at each other, checking each other out. Like, are we the same thing a generation apart? Hmm... I continue walking through the park past the children's playground and get lost somewhere, just watching people, thinking about stuff.

I'm thinking about the odd mix of rock music this city has coughed up. From the Haight-Ashbury sounds of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead to the quirky Varve and the mighty Metallica. What a strange culture clash. Of course there's a load of bad mainstream bands here, but if you came to San Francisco right now you'd probably think the underground scene was pretty dead. So look closer. The metal scene still thrives and there's this weird urban folk movement going on right now with people like Barbara Manning and Penelope Houston making records and playing acoustic gigs.

It's Penelope Houston's place in all this that has me really intrigued right now. Twelve years ago she was all punk rock and short blond hair, shouting teen rebel lyrics over a high speed din of churning guitars in San Francisco's coolest punk band, the Avengers. The Avengers lasted through the brief gasp of punk's first wave, opened for the Sex Pistols at Winterland and never released an album. Which is the kind of stuff real rock and roll legends are made of. In 1983, four years after the band's demise, CD Presents issued an Avengers album consisting of their one single plus assorted demos and stuff. So you can hear what they sounded like. You can also read the interview with Penelope in the latest Flipside for more insight.

A couple of months ago, Subterranean, the label that gave us Flipper, put out Penelope's first album, Birdboys. And it's a quiet delight, a silent joy. Like a steady breeze blowing through Golden Gate Park. It has loads of pretty songs with razor sharp emotions and evocative melodies. So what happened to the nineteen year old girl who used to shout "fuck you!" over crashing guitars in 1977? Well, she's grown up. And she doesn't shout. She sings. She even has a real nice voice. Penelope may not be a rebellious punk rocker anymore, but she's got the same spirit. The same "I don't care what you think I'm going to express myself any way I want" attitude that punk rock, no, that rock and roll is really all about. So everyone go check out Penelope's sweet folk album on Subterranean. Me, I'm just sitting here in Golden Gate Park, thinking about stuff. I'm wondering why listening to the Avengers and then Penelope's new music isn't such a strange culture clash. And I'm wondering about those hippies and punks... It's all the same isn't it? Hmm...

April 7, 1989, Album Network

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Mighty Metallica by Keisha

Keisha W., Leather Trio Productions.
Autumn asked me to write about Metallica cause that's how we met. This was in 1987. I went into the Record Vault to buy Garage Days Re-Revisited (now on Garage Inc) (Amazon link), and I met Autumn there. There weren't too many girls who liked Metallica so we knew we had something in common right away. We've been friends ever since. First I have to tell you about the two cute minitapes that Elektrika has put out. They have Pushead covers and extra bonus b-sides. "Eye of the Beholder" minitape has "Breadfan," a Budgie song, and "One" minitape has "The Prince," an awfully cool Diamondhead song. You should also get the Diamondhead album from that Metal Blade label. It's called Behold the Beginning (Amazon link), and has liner notes by Lars. Diamondhead made metal music back when James and Lars were wee and had not yet made a band. The wee Lars was very much impressed with Diamondhead and the Metallica boys have now recorded three of their songs for Garage Days releases.

On my skateboard I have a sticker that says, "language of the mad." Wanna know why? Go get your ...And Justice For All CD right now and put it in your player. Oh, already in there? Where it belongs. Now go to song six, "Harvester of Sorrow." You will hear crunch c-c-crunch c-c-crunch. This is not a pretty kind of song like the kinds of songs they play on the radio. It's a real kind of song. For me Metallica music has the same rhythm as the streets. Crunch c-c-crunch. And songs with the language of the mad people I pass by. Metallica reflects my world. The rhythms, the noise. That's why it says "language of the mad" on my skateboard. That's the world I live in.

March 10, 1989, Album Network

Friday, April 3, 2009

Grammys 1989

Cindy J/Autumn Meredith, Leather Trio Productions.
Autumn: Cindy is in a huff.
Cindy: Yeah. My dad did not get nominated for an academy award.
A: She's talking about Clint Eastwood. (Note: this was written in 1989 and 20 years later, Clint Eastwood was again overlooked by the Academy, this time for Gran Torino. He has won Academy Awards in the last 20 years, but not for best actor.)
C: Bird was 1988's best film and it only got one academy award nomination.
A: For best sound.
C: It shoulda got best actor and best director.
A: And best use of great music in a great film.
C: Well I think Autumn is in an even bigger huff than me.
A: Cause 'tallica did not win a Grammy. And they could just crunch those wimps Jethro Tull who walked off with the award.
C: Which just goes to show if you wanna win the heavy metal Grammy you gotta prance around in leotards and play a flute.
A: Metallica do not do this. But their performance of "One" on the show just crunched all over everybody else.
C: Maybe Tracy Chapman could give them one of her extra Grammys. What do you think, Leah Simon?
A: Just as cool on the Grammy show was our Sinead O'Connor who was being all punk rock and torn jeans. And she's a mom too.
C: Way to shock the yuppies Sinead.

Album Network, March 3, 1989

Monday, February 9, 2009

Grammys 2009 - Neil Diamond Makes Us Swoon

Cindy: Here's our thoughts on last night's Grammy award bash.
Autumn: U2's set looked very Zoo TV. The song sounded like "Hold me, Thrill me..."
C: They're going backwards.
A: I read a magazine during the boring parts.
C: I fell asleep.
A: Kid Rock!!! Give the man some Grammys!!!
C: He has Lynyrd Skynyrd songs inside his songs.
A: That's Grammy worthy.
C: Miley Ray Cyrus and Taylor Swift were actually kind of ok. Ah, fifteen...
A: At least Justin Timberlake didn't jump up and start singing with them.
C: That girl who kisses girls is strangely sexy.
A: Why was Stevie Wonder singing with the Jonas Brothers?
C: Thankfully Justin Timberlake wasn't involved. Oh look. Radiohead thinks they're Fleetwood Mac.
A: What was that Gwyneth Paltrow intro all about? Shouldn't she have introduced her husband's band?
C: It was like Yoko introducing the Rolling Stones. If Gwyneth had introduced Coldplay she could have said, and they kinda sound like Radiohead only not as good. Oops.
A: And now Coldplay will probably use the USC Marching Band on their next album.
C: They can be Fleetwood Mac too!
A: Paul McCartney made cool look effortless as usual. But they didn't give him a Grammy as usual.
C: He'll probably stop showing up.
A: And then he'll win one.
C: Could it be? Yes it is... "Sweet Caroline..."
A: Neil Diamond! Swoon.
C: I almost fainted.
A: We like old guys.
C: And that girl who kisses girls.
A: Justin Timberlake could learn a lot from Neil Diamond.
C: I think I saw him taking notes.
A: I liked the Bo Diddley thing.
C: Autumn is a fifties kinda girl.
A: A cool bluegrass fiddler and the former lead singer of Led Zeppelin won album of the year and 4 other Grammys. The music business is very strange.
C: "I'd like to say I'm bewildered. In the old days we would have called this selling out, but I think it's a good way to spend a Sunday." -Robert Plant
A: Alison Krauss is adorable.
C: She looks like my sister.
A: She has 26 Grammys!
C: Look out Quincy Jones. My adorable sister has 26 Grammys.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sugar Pie Desanto - Down in the Basement

Cindy J, Leather Trio Productions:
Living right here in San Francisco there's a cool blues and jazz singer who calls herself Sugar Pie Desanto. Her real name is Umpeylia Marsema Balinton. She was born in New York 53 years ago, but she was raised in San Francisco. In the sixties she lived in Chicago where she recorded whole lots of cool songs for Checker records. She returned to San Francisco in the seventies and has remained here ever since.

Last year (1988) Chess put out an album of Sugar's best sixties stuff called Down in the Basement--The Chess Years. Everyone go out and get a copy right now. Listen to that voice. Sultry, sassy, bluesy, falling all over those R&B songs with a fiery punch. Just the way she sings the line "don'tcha know you gonna messa my mind" on "Can't Let You Go" is enough to make you wonder how a woman who did not even grow past five feet tall can sing with the voice of a giant. The title song, a duet with ultracool Etta James, is all about not having any money, and going down into the basement to do lotsa naughty bad things. Like sweat and dance and get funky.

But the sexiest song of the bunch is "Soulful Dress." Listen to the way Sugar's voice attacks the line, "with that tight fittin' waist and that low neckline." And then at the end when she says to the guitarist, "play it any way you wanna." And the guy gets all raunchy and crazed. Isn't it amazing how us girls can say the simplest thing and guys will get all raunchy and crazed? So everyone let's all go down into the basement and get real funky with Sugar Pie Desanto. "Do any dance you wanna do cause there's no one under you in the basement..." Ooh yeah.

Album Network, February 24, 1989
"Soulful Dress" and "In the Basement" on iTunes Sugar Pie DeSanto - Chess Chartbusters, Vol. 1 - Soulful Dress