Maximum Schlock & Roll

Drummer Keith Bortz of The Max – formerly Max and the Bluegills – was instrumental (so to speak) in getting permission to stage a concert in the group’s high school auditorium on a Friday afternoon in April, 1981.  Students were gouged at the door — one-dollar admission!  Cannot recall whether band members received a cut of the gate (not to mention whether the boys even divvied up the proceeds with pre-headliner, Trilogy).

The Max – WHHS Auditorium – Cincinnati, Ohio – April 24, 1981
[photos courtesy of Chatterbox Photographer, Doug May]

Max & the Bluegills (live)-a

The previous year, the group secured its first paid gig as entertainment for the bar mitzvah party of our high school counselor’s son (again, entirely due to Keith Bortz’s negotiations).  $225 divided by three players — never again would The Max even come close to earning that much money in a single engagement.  Although it wasn’t for lack of trying:  the band once placed an ad in The American Israelite as a bar mitzvah rock band – only to discover their name misspelled as Max and the Gluegills!

Newest Bluegill, Rick Mosher, at left — 1981 High School Concert

Max & the Bluegills (live)-bNo doubt about it, The Max (as the school paper’s arts critic would note) would suffer from “intonation” problems, the group’s vocals would be “mediocre,” and tightness, indeed, “did not abound when outstanding rhythms were attempted.”  Fortunately, the audience managed to enjoy itself (i.e., inmates running the asylum) despite the band’s failings.

Local press yawns:  Concert review in school newspaper

Max & Bluegills @ WHHS-1Max & Bluegills @ WHHS-2

And yet one magical evening, the original power trio would channel the spirits and rise above their youthful inexperience for an extended moment in time.  The three musicians would exult in triumph later when they played back their home-spun recording, assured that (for once) the band had something fairly worthwhile on tape … only to discover that the tape had run out prematurely!  The boombox, alas, would only capture 2 minutes 20 seconds of an especially inspired Max & the Bluegills performance:

[Pssst:  Click on triangle to play “Unnamed Instrumental” by Max and the Bluegills]

This unnamed instrumental would be used by the group as a yardstick against which all future endeavors would be measured.

Photo of The Max in Color – one of few in existence

Max & the Bluegills - Chez MosherInterestingly enough, “I Think I Love You” — the Max & the Bluegills song featured in the previous post — had already been recorded the year prior at the (no-frills) sound facility inside classical radio’s WGUC-FM, located on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. The 2-hour recording session had been a birthday present from the station’s public relations director and mother of Zero to 180 founder, Chris Richardson.

Shh!  Carol Richardson at University of Cincinnati’s WGUC-FM —
historic site of Max and the Bluegills’ 1st recording session

Carol Richardson @ WGUC FMLink to the next chapter in the Max and the Bluegills saga.

Early 80s Cincinnati Power Ballad

If it’s true that Aerosmith invented the “power ballad” in 1973 with their prom-rock classic, “Dream On,” then let history take note that Cincinnati teen rockers – Max & the Bluegills – would enter a sound studio 8 years later to record their own aching power ballad about unrequited love’s endless torment.

Birthday cakeZero to 180 would thus like to celebrate its 3rd birthday in nepotistic (and bittersweet) fashion with what proved to be the swansong of its founder’s high school rock group:

Pssst!  Click on the link above to play “I Think I Love You” by Max & the Bluegills from 1981

Guitar & vocals:  Michael Andrew Frank
2nd guitar & piano:  Rick Mosher
Drums:  Keith Bortz
Bass:  Chris Richardson

I Think I Love You” is a personal plea written just a couple short years before the singer’s departure to Boston’s Berklee School of Music, where his art would explode into a dazzling multitude of vectors (as celebrated in this Zero to 180 piece from July, 2015).

Michael (left) Sharing Vocals with David Stallings

Art shot of Michael & DavidBy this point, the band (whose name had been shortened to simply The Max to save time) would find its original power trio – Michael Frank, Keith Bortz & Chris Richardson – augmented by second guitarist, Rick Mosher.  But alas, 1981 would see Bortz and Mosher take their final high school.exam — and the band their final bow by year’s end.

(Clockwise from left) Keith Bortz, Mike Frank, Rick Mosher, Chris Richardson
[image courtesy of Sheva Weeks]

Max & the Gluegills

Link to encore Max and the Bluegills piece!

Zero to 180 Milestones to Date

  • Inaugural Zero to 180 post that establishes a bona fide cross-cultural link between  Cincinnati (via James Brown’s music recorded and distributed by King Records) and Kingston, Jamaica (i.e., Prince Buster’s rocksteady salute to Soul Brother #1).
  • 1st anniversary piece that features an exclusive “Howard Dean” remix of a delightful Sesame Street song about anger management (with a special rant about how WordPress’s peculiarities made me homicidal the moment I launched this blog).
  • 2nd anniversary piece that refuses to acknowledge the milestone but instead celebrates the under-sung legacy of songwriter and session musician, Joe South – with a link to South’s first 45, a novelty tune that playfully laments Texas’s change in status as the nation’s largest state upon Alaska’s entry into the Union.

Hedges & Jordan Planted a Seed

The radical “double-tapping” guitar style pioneered by Michael Hedges and Stanley Jordan was a phenomenon I got to witness firsthand when a former musical sparring partner of mine went away to Boston’s Berklee School of Music and – like Robert Johnson and his famous pact at the crossroads – came back forever changed and, by 1988, exploding with talent in all directions, his music all-encompassing:  progressivefolkjazzrockgospelfunk.

I recall clearly how one particular composition – “Thunderfoote” – signaled a seriousness of intent that was startling to behold at the time and no less impressive today:

[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “Thunderfoote” by Michael Avraham HaLevy]

It was more than a little dismaying to realize that Michael’s interest in “non-traditional” tunings meant never again would I be able to pick up one of his guitars and strum along.

Cover Art – Unreleased Box Set – Volume 1

Michael Andrew Frank - cover(Mrs. Zero to 180 at right)

I will always have especially fond feelings for Michael’s original four-track version with the double-tracked, double-tapped guitars, even though Michael would subsequently go into a “proper” studio and record an equally excellent full-band version of the song (the Michael Andrew Frank Band, as they were known) that features the work of Anders Bostrom (flutes), Maury Rosenberg (keyboards),  Dan Foote (drums/percussion), and Rich Lamb (synth bass), along with Michael’s own guitar & keyboard work.

Michael’s “The 11th Step” is another composition that was created during this especially fertile period when Michael lived in Boston and New York City:

As late as March, 1993, Michael could be heard/seen in New York City playing at places like the Cornelia Street Cafe (the same place where David Amram would hold musical court, I would learn later in John Strausbaugh’s excellent The Village:  400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and RoguesA History of Greenwich Village).

For the last 20 years or more, however, Michael has been living in Jerusalem in the Holy Land.

Michael Avraham-1aMichael Avraham-4dMichael Avraham-5e

Q & A with the Artist

Q:  With regard to the original 4-track demo of “Thunderfoote,” did you regard that composition as a ‘breakthrough’ moment of sorts for you, artistically?
A:  No, that would mean the end of physical existence which is next to impossible while donning the earth suit.

Q:  Did the song come to you all at once – or was it something that manifested itself more slowly over time?  Somewhere in between (or neither)?
A:  Slowly, over the illusion of time.

Q:  How many guitar tracks did you lay down altogether on the original 4-track recording?
A:  2 Tracks

Q:  Any noteworthy stories associated with the studio recording of “Thunderfoote” you made with the Michael Andrew Band?
A:  Labor of love…

Q:  What do you treasure most?
A:  Jerusalem.

Favorite color?   orange

Michael Avraham-2b

Melody, Health and Healing

The life and workings of the body are governed by ten basic pulses. These in turn are vitalized by ten kinds of melody emanating from the soul. Negativity, anxiety and depression weaken the pulses, and this can cause illness. But when the melody of the soul is joyous, it strengthens the vitality of the pulses and brings health to the body.

Likutey Moharan I, 24