“Hey Truckers”: Cover Your Ears

Thanks to Bill Hanke, I’ve been privileged to witness several live performances by a  Canadian band who – along with Los Straitjackets – have brought blazing guitar instrumentals into the 21st century.  Among musicians-in-the-know, word has gotten out about this musical conflagration, as evidenced by their collaborations with Neko Case, Garth Hudson (of The Band), X’s John Doe, Jon Langford (of The Mekons), Jon Spencer, and Blue Rodeo, et al.  If it weren’t for Bill, in fact, I might have missed this Thursday’s show at DC’s Hill Country BBQ.  Each appearance on this side of the national divide is a cause for celebration – don’t miss out!

I still haven’t mentioned the name of the group yet, have I?  In 1998, this (unnamed) band would collaborate with, of all people, oddball rhythm and blues vocalist, Andre Williams, whose first recordings would date to the mid-1950s and enjoy such colorful (and culinary-themed) titles as “The Greasy Chicken,” “Bacon Fat” (his lone 45 on Columbia imprint, Epic), “Pig Snoots,” and “Rib Tips.”   Pretty cheeky move for an up-and-coming band on its sophomore release, whose kick-off track would be among the most memorable truck-driving tunes yet written.  The suspense is killing you, isn’t it?

Disclaimer:  The following song is a departure from Zero to 180’s usual all-ages policy.  Salty language advisory.

“Hey Truckers”     Andre Williams & The Sadies     1998

Undergirding The Sadies‘ sound is the guitar work of siblings Dallas and Travis Good, for whom music runs in the family:  Father Bruce Good himself is an acclaimed recording artist and part of the (original) Good Brothers, who recorded for Columbia and RCA in the 1970s — and are still recording music well into the new century.

1978 Canadian 45 – not yet available for preview on YouTube

Good Brothers 45Rounding out the sound is drummer, Mike Bilitsky, and bottom-dweller, Sean Dean, whose use of a stand-up bass, notes former Guess Who guitarist, Randy Bachman, “gives an incredible gigantic bottom end sound.”

Revered psychedelic alt-country roots rockers, The Sadies

The Sadies

(L to R)  Sean Dean, Travis Good, Dallas Good, Mike Bilitsky

So, what about those blazing guitar instrumentals that I promised at the top of the piece?  Here’s a great place to start:  “Northumberland West,” the first track from 2004’s Favourite Colours, which Hanke theorizes (and Zero to 180 concurs) is a playful reference to Clarence White and Gene Parson’s pioneering country-rock recordings from 1967 that were recorded at the Nashville West Club in El Monte, California.

“Northumberland West”     The Sadies     2004

Fourteen years hence, Andre Williams and The Sadies would team up once more for a full-length release, 2012’s Night and Day.

 Collaboration #1                                        Collaboration #2

Andre Williams & The Sadies-aAndre Williams & The Sadies-b

The Sadies would be a most inspired choice of musical artist responsible for providing the soundtrack for Tales of the Rat Fink, the documentary on EdBig DaddyRoth, maverick custom designer of muscle cars – “the only uniquely American art form,” as stated at the beginning of the film (if you kindly disregard jazz, blues, hip hop, barbershop, tall tales, superhero comics & patchwork quilts, et al.)

Tales of the Rat FinkLink to The Sadies‘ official website

Brian Jonestown: Anti-Google

Once upon a time, kids – this might be hard to believe – the world’s second most valuable brand had the following naive-and-somewhat-puerile corporate ethos:  “Don’t be evil.”   Honest.  This private firm then went public and promptly went back on its word in the course of doing business with more repressive regimes around the world and responding to shareholder pressure to maximize return on investment.  Tax Justice Blog reveals all:

“In 2012 alone, Google dodged an estimated $2 billion in income taxes by shifting an estimated $9.5 billion to offshore tax havens.”

Google, no doubt, has better uses for this money and is in no way planning to keep all the money for itself.  Most fascinatingly, when you Google (ironic?) the phrase “don’t be evil,” the search results show the Wikipedia summary blurb for “Don’t be evil” in the present tense (i.e., “…is the corporate motto”), but when you click on the Wikipedia entry itself, the statement suddenly becomes past tense:   was.

Too Late!  already evil

Google = Evil [Tax Justice Blog]

Fortunately, Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre have never felt pressured by any do-gooder mandate — if anything, quite the opposite.  The guiding principle from the band’s inception has been clear and unfaltering:  “Keep music evil.”  Would you be surprised to learn that the Brian Jonestown Massacre has its own Super PAC – The Committee to Keep Music Evil?

        Evil, yes.                                               Shoegazers, too?

Keep Music Evil-aKeep Music Evil-b

Despite the overt Stones and Beatles references, Brian Jonestown Massacre represents a generational shift in modern rock where Velvet Underground-style drone – not blues (as noted in my earlier piece about DC-area modern rockers, Gist) – is the lingua franca for many of the up-and-coming beat groups here in the new century.  Anton and the boys would make explicit this musical approach in the title of their first long-player Methodrone, issued by the very visionary Greg Shaw (who left us much too early at the age of 55) on his Bomp! label.   Newcombe would write and engineer “That Girl Suicide” along with the fourteen other tracks on this album – although the comments below would strongly seem to suggest some inter-band grumbling:

“That Girl Suicide”     Brian Jonestown Massacre     1995

Anton himself would attach the following comments to the above YouTube clip :

“I picked out a matching guitar and bass for an ex-girlfriend Diana… matching because she wanted to learn. We were sitting in her bedroom, and I said play this “the bass riff” and I did the rest, then tricked the group bit by bit at the next practice. Everyone still thinks they wrote it. Whatever. Go listen to all their records of all the great songs they wrote and get back to me. I could actually care less. I’m too busy writing new songs.”

Oh, and one more thing:

“Let me add – the actual session is live at the compound with the group – one take… that’s why the vocals are not so hot… we were all in the main room… and everyone did a good job. Including Brian Glaze. Travis Thrillkel was good in these days with me on the psycho bits and Jeff was great at rhythm, we both had this country old school Chet Atkins thing in our blood that would pop up sometimes… with all the other junk.”

“That Girl Suicide” would never enjoy the experience of being singled out for 45 release, although the song, curiously enough, would be deemed important enough for inclusion on Caroline artist showcase, I Hear Ya!  Fall 1995 – Caroline Distribution CD Sampler #11.

 Not sure how I feel about this

Brian Jonestown Massacre-aLip Magazine identifies “That Girl Suicide” as one of “10 Brian Jonestown Songs You Need to Hear” and has this to say about it:

“An early track from their debut, Spacegirl and other Favorites, that revolves around a repetitive guitar riff and off-kilter vocals.  ‘That Girl Suicide’ showcases some of the band’s early shoegazing influences.  Featured in the movie DiG! and a long-time fan favourite.”

A huge tip of the hat to Joel Gion for demonstrating through deed that being “just” the tambourine player need not be the musical equivalent of being relegated to right field.  I remember coming away from a particularly inspired 9:30 Club performance convinced that Gion had just about stolen the show.  In 2014, Gion would tap into his own creative spirit by putting out his first solo effort, Apple Bonkers, with instrumental support from BJM members past and present – Matt Hollywood, Jeffrey Davies, Daniel Allaire, and Miranda Lee Richards – along with Pete Holmstrom of The Dandy Warhols, Ryan Van Kriedt (The Asteroid #4/Dead Skeletons) & JasonPluckyAnchondo (The Warlocks/Spindrift).

Of course, that was then – Anton’s music has evolved considerably, as one would expect.  The Guardian checked in with Newcombe, who relocated to Europe in 2007 and now lives in Berlin – link to this 2014 interview.  Wait – The Guardian checked back in a year later.

Brian Jonestown Massacre:  Then and/or Now
(image courtesy Lip Magazine)

Brian Jonestown Massacre-cWake up, DC!  The Brian Jonestown Massacre return to the 9:30 Club May 5th this year!

35 years of righteous food & quality sound (and low ticket fees)

930 Club-cakeZero to 180 is particularly obsessed with 2003 B-side (!) “Nailing Honey to the Bee”  — and, fancy that:  Julian Cope and I are equally fascinated with this limited-edition 7″ (although I am befuddled by Cope’s description of “Bee” as an “electronic instrumental”?).

Debt of gratitude to Bill Hanke, who is blessed with an uncanny set of musical antennae  and who first insisted that I check out Brian Jonestown Massacre when they played DC’s Black Cat in the late 1990s (Backstage, of course) with The Greenhornes as warm-up act.

Bill Hanke:  true sports rocker

Bill Hanke

Los Straitjackets: ¡Viva La Instrumental!

Bless those masked marauders, Los Straitjackets, whose first two albums – 1995’s The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound and 1996’s ¡Viva Los Straitjackets! – would give the instrumental an outsized and much needed shot in the arm.

debut 45 – “Gate Crasher” b/w “Lonely Apache” – 1995

Straitjackets 45

Utterly FantasticViva

The B-side of the band’s first single was a spare arrangement of an original western theme – “Lonely Apache” – for indie garage/punk label, Sympathy for the Record Industry, that was issued February 1995, one month before their debut full-length release.  The group would record a suitably more elaborate arrangement of “Lonely Apache” for their second album:

“Lonely Apache”     Los Straitjackets     1996

Eddie Angel – noted rockabilly guitarist with Tex Rubinowitz and the Bad Boys, and later, the Planet Rockers, Neanderthals & Eddie Angel’s Dinosaurs – and Danny Amis – guitarist for (Twin/Tone’s) Overtones and The Raybeats, and later, engineer for the Grand Old Opry and Hee Haw – would link up with Nashville session drummer, Jimmy Lester, to form an (unmasked) aggregation as The Straitjackets in 1988 that played locally for a few shows.

                 1981 Eddie Angel 45                      1982 Mitch Easter-produced 12-inch 45

Eddie Angel 7-inchDanny Amis maxi-45

In 1994 when the trio reassembled, Danny Amis would introduce the wrestling masks – and thus, Los Straitjackets.  Conan O’Brien, an early fan, would have the group perform fairly regularly on his Late Night show, one appearance each for the first two albums.  By the late 1990s, Conan would have Los Straitjackets perform Christmas songs during the holidays.  2003 would find Los Straitjackets as Grammy-nominated artists for their collaboration with Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater on Rock ‘n’ Roll City.

Hard to believe that Los Straitjackets are over 20 albums into their career.  More recently, Los Straitjackets would join forces with Southern Culture on the Skids and The Fleshtones in 2013 for Halloween stocking-stuffer, Mondo Zombie Boogaloo.  The Straitjackets would also reveal themselves to be surprisingly nimble breakdancers in their video for 2012’s “Brooklyn Slide” – from standout album, Jet Set.

Los Straitjackets – DC’s 9:30 Club – May 15, 2009 (playing DI PINTO GUITARS)

Los Straitjackets-2009a

Eddie Angel (L)  & Danny Amis (R)Los Straitjackets-2009b

This instrumental band, it bears noting, is not afraid to collaborate with vocalists, and has worked in the past with such singers as Big Sandy, Freddy Cannon, Mark Lindsay, Exene Cervenka, Dave Alvin, and Deke Dickerson, most recently, who teamed up with Los Straitjackets in 2014 to record an album of famous instrumental songs with lost or rewritten lyrics – such as “Apache,” “Sleepwalk,” “Popcorn,” and even “Hawaii Five-O” (see Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1976 vocal A-side).

Los Straitjackets & Deke Dickerson Link to Eddie Angel interview from the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website — Eddie Angel’s own discography available here.  Also, Danny Amis tells the LA Weekly that the Mexican surf scene is “by far bigger than anyone else’s in the world.”  Amis – or, “The Godfather of Mexican Surf” as he is also known – reports in his bio that over 50,000 fans attended each performance at Mexico City’s Foro Sol.  Check out the band’s back catalog at Yep Roc.

Eddie Angel - 9 30 Club-2009Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions:  Zero to 180 Q&A with Eddie Angel

Q:   Is there a back story behind the inspiration to “Lonely Apache” (e.g., did the song come to you in a dream)?
A:  i was listening to a lot of duane eddy at the time and really liked his version of the song “high noon”

Q:  Curious to know why “Lonely Apache” was not included on your first album even though I recall hearing it at some of your earliest shows (if I’m not mistaken)?
A:  i can’t recall…i think i didn’t play it for the other guys until after we had recorded our first CD.

Q:  Do you get any particularly strong reaction to that song [which, by the way, is Eddie’s mother-in-law’s favorite] when you play it live?
A:  hmm, i don’t think so, but we don’t play it often…i guess we should tho, huh.

Q:  Where are some of the more far-flung (or “surprisingly distant”) places that the Straitjackets have played?
A:  australia, moscow, helsinki ….moscow was the by far the weirdest. we had a 2 week residency at a club called chesterfields and we lived in an apartment a block from red square, it was in 1998 and it felt like the wild west there.

Q:  How much support were you getting from Upstart/Rounder during those early years?   Is Yep Roc treating you guys well?
A:  upstart was great, they really helped us get going on those early tours and they got our songs in movies and tv, one of the upstart guys is now our manager jake guralnick…yep roc is a really good label and they’re friends of ours, the owners used to work for rounder (upstart was part of rounder).

Q: I get the sense that being a band that primarily plays instrumentals (when not touring with a vocalist like Big Sandy) means that your music is able to transcend language barriers that might inhibit the reach of more traditional bands that sing vocal tunes – is this in any way true?
A:  i think its true in mexico, that’s where we have our largest audience by far. in mexico we’re credited with starting a new genre of music, “surf mexicano”…surf instros with mexican wrestling masks and one big difference is young kids are into it, its almost like punk rock there.

Did the Straitjackets Unknowingly Back Bruce Channel in 1962?

When I playfully inquired whether the Straitjackets – as it clearly says on the 45 – backed Bruce Channel in 1962 on “Number One Man,” follow-up to #1 hit, “Hey Baby,” Eddie Angel wryly responded —

Bruce Channel lived across the street from me for 16 yrs, we just moved but still own the house across from him….he never mentioned the straitjackets ; )

Bruce Channel 45Bruce Channel … and Straitjackets?!

Belated tip of the hat to Bill Hanke for putting this band on my radar from the earliest.

“Right By My Side”: (Curt) Boettcher & (Bobby) Jameson

I couldn’t help noticing that Bobby Jameson wrote the kick-off song on Michele O’Malley’s Saturn Rings album.  Curt Boettcher, interestingly, would be picked to produce Jameson’s second album (although the first “proper” album under his own name) – Color Him In.  “Right By My Side” is the A-side of the album’s second single issued by Verve (while his first single had been released, curiously enough, as simply by “Jameson” – no first name):

Bobby Jameson — “Right By My Side” — August, 1967

Jameson’s outstanding first album, as it turns out, had been recorded under a pseudonym (Chris Lucey), and its cover, bizarrely, featured a photo of Brian Jones, face down, playing the mouth harp and doing a rudely abstract gesture with his middle finger, I kid you not.

Cubist cover for Jameson’s 1967 verve album

Bobby Jameson LP coverFor those not familiar with this stranger-than-fictional tale, Bobby Jameson’s first album – Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest – is a set of songs that Jameson wrote to order based upon a supplied set of song titles!   As Jameson himself reveals on his website, his artistically successful UK tour of 1964-65, where he appeared on Ready Steady Go and recorded with The Rolling Stones, nevertheless did little for his finances.  Thus, broke and hungry, Jameson was vulnerable when he agreed to take on the character of “Chris Lucey” and write new songs to substitute for those whose titles had already been printed on the album jacket for (the real-life) Chris Ducey, who fled to another label, where he was under contract.  The songs, written over two weeks’ time and recorded with Marshall Lieb (Phil Spector’s bandmate in The Teddy Bears) are amazingly – given the circumstances – excellent and worthy of a world audience.

Obliquely Impolite Hand Gestures in the Annals of Pop – ‘Chris Lucey’ & Moby Grape

Chris Lucey LPMoby Grape LP

Artist as Musicologist:  check out Bobby Jameson’s annotated chronological listing of his own vinyl releases from 1963-1977.

Unlikely +/- One-Off Songwriter Pairings

Thanks to Bill Hanke for one of my all-time favorite bits of Beatle trivia:

Q:   Title of the only Harrison-Lennon composition?
A:    1961’s “Cry for a Shadow”

Cry for a Shadow1964 German Beatles 45

Bobby Jameson’s late 1964 single, “All I Want Is My Baby,” was co-written by Andrew Loog Oldham (manager of The Rolling Stones) and Keith Richards – one of two such songs by this unlikely pairing (the other being “I’d Much Rather Be With the Boys“):

Fuzz guitar (maybe) by Jimmy page + backing vocals (possibly) by mick Jagger

Unwashed masses, I turn to you:  any other unlikely/one-off songwriter pairings out there?

“Lucky Stars”: Buddy Holly is Still Alive!

As DC Week heads into extra innings, Zero to 180 ponders the metaphysical with a song I always suspected to have been written with the spiritual assistance of a certain bespectacled singer-songwriter from Lubbock, Texas.   My instincts, as it turns out, were eerily prescient, for I later confirmed that Bob “Newscaster” Swenson – guitarist with Dagmar & the Seductones – did, indeed, channel the spirit of Buddy Holly in the course of composing an instant classic, “Lucky Stars”:

Lucky Stars – Dagmar & the Seductones

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Lucky Stars” by Dagmar & the Seductones.]

Bob Swenson reveals the mysterious forces at work in an exclusive interview with Zero to 180:

“In the summer of 2002, I was out of work and starting to get back into playing guitar after a long hiatus.  For no particular reason, I woke up every day with a piece of a new song in my head. I thought that I must be having a stroke.  But I went ahead and started writing down song ideas, sometimes two or three a day.  Out of the dozens of fragments came several rock and roll songs that were eventually recorded by me with Dagmar and the Seductones and others, including ‘Lucky Stars,’ with J.P. McDermott and Western Bop, on indie labels.

“One song came to me fully formed, as if I’d heard it all my life – verses, chorus, arrangement – and it was finished before I could even get out of bed. That song was ‘Lucky Stars.’  I’ve often said that it really was a Buddy Holly song, but Buddy never got the chance to write it.”

Swenson, a (second-generation) Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee who has recorded with DC artists, Tex Rubinowitz, Bob E. Rock, Billy Hancock, and Eva Cassidy, has also performed with Bo Diddley, Jack Scott, Big Sandy, Evan Johns, Eddie Angel, and Robert Gordon, among others.  Bob’s musical roots run pretty deep and can be better appreciated by clicking here for the full story.

Vocalist Andrea Dagmar-Swenson Brown, no slouch either, is a classically-trained pianist and violinist, whose grandfather was a renowned and gifted craftsman of violins (of which only three are known to exist).

DagmarDefying familial expectations, Dagmar secretly embarked upon a musical path that embraced roots rockabilly and electric blues, first with John Previti (Danny Gatton, Paul Simon, et al.) and later with the first incarnation of the Seductones, a three-woman, one-man punkabilly outfit that played regularly at beloved (and defunct) Bethesda, MD music venue,  The Psyche Delly.

The Seductones circa 1982:

Dagmar (Left) with Newscaster, Elizabeth Thompson (Drums) & Erica Hunter (Bass)

Seductones - circa 1982

Never one to stand still, Dagmar has plied her talents here and around the world as a graphic artist, photographer, television producer, video director, songwriter – and even teacher of English at the high school level.  Dagmar loves to paint – having enjoyed a residency in 2012 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art – and she and Bob have even collaborated on Cretaceous-themed comic art.

“Lucky Stars,” from 2004’s Little Bitta Love, also features bass work from Bryan Smith and drumming from Dave Elliott – one of Danny Gatton’s original “Fat Boys.”  Over the years, the Seductones have enjoyed a wide-ranging extended family, whose members have included Chris Watling of The Grandsons, multi-instrumentalist Ira Gitlin, guitarist Dave Kitchen, drummer Jeff Lodsun, and many others.

Dagmar & the SeductonesNewscaster with Dave Elliott, Bryan Smith & Dagmar (photo by Bill Hanke)

Disclaimer:  “Lucky Stars” – as with each and every song featured on this blog – is a copyrighted work of art.  Please show your support for these hardworking artists by purchasing their music, patronizing live shows, and even better – buying songs directly from the artists themselves at musical performances.  We can only enjoy the fruits of a civilized society when our artists get paid.