“Dick Clark”: Well-Engineered 45

Memory is a funny thing.  I can still picture myself standing at the checkout counter at School Kids Records in Columbus, Ohio having a chuckle with Curt Schieber over something – but was it a Great Plains 45 that had just been recorded?  Or was it over the delicious roasted Japanese-style peanuts* that I could only find at School Kids and would nourish me through college, where spending money was always in such limited supply?

Mark Wyatt of Great Plains rightly takes Zero to 180 to task for concocting a fanciful tale and then selling it as fact.  Yes, there was a Dutch benefactor – but hardly a wealthy one.  As Wyatt points out:

“Maarten Schiethart and Fred and Hans from the (now defunct I believe) Waaghals record store would be surprised to learn they were wealthy, let alone the producers of the one GPs single they put out, “Dick Clark”, the mix of which is identical with what’s on Naked at the Buy, Sell, and Trade.  Shadowline was a short-lived label that kicked the bucket for the same reasons many indie labels did…they got boned by their distributors.  Anyway, that ‘unplayable’ single sounds plenty fine to me, but then again I’m pretty happy with the way we molested the two cover tunes on the B side.”

Manufactured in the Netherlands but recorded in Columbus, you know

Great Plains 45Yikes, I really botched that one!  Not surprisingly, my blogging license is under suspension, although I was able to get the suspension lifted on the condition that I hire a fact checker.  Wyatt, in fact, is my probation officer, and I couldn’t have found a more patient and forgiving one.  Zero to 180 looks forward to buying Wyatt and the boys a beer or three when they venture east to place a show in the Nation’s Capital – another town noted worldwide for its homegrown punk and harDCore scene.

Great Plains might not consider themselves a “singles band,” but you could’ve fooled me with this cracking 45 that is also rather well-engineered, one cannot help noticing:

“Dick Clark”     Great Plains     1987

Paul Nini:  Bass
Dave Green:  Drums
Matt Wyatt:  Guitar & Backing Vocals
Mark Wyatt:  Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Ron House:  Vocals & Guitar
Doug Edwards:  Engineer
Great Plains:  Producer

Wyatt would also point out to a clueless Zero to 180 that the engineer on this 45 is none other than Doug Edwards, who would also spin the dials for Boys from Nowhere!  Boys’ Bassist Ted Nagel and I would hail from the same Cincinnati high school — the world just keeps getting smaller.  But wait, an actual Boy from Nowhere – Mick Divvens – would engineer (as “Donovan’s Brain“) Great Plains’ final 45, as Officer Wyatt observes with quiet exasperation in the comments below.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Great Plains without a healthy dose of humor, as evidenced by the double B-side (as noted by Wyatt above) — spirited covers of Pomus & Shuman’s “This Magic Moment,” as well as Grand Funk Railroad’s “Bad Time.”

Released on Homestead Records – home of Big Black, Naked Raygun, et al

Digital StillCamera

How wonderful to see my original Great Plains piece, if Facebook “likes” are a reliable indicator, starting to gain some traction.  Hopefully my nephew Jake in Minnesota – another music enthusiast with wide-ranging tastes – will continue to spread the word in the Heartland about these musical innovators who are ripe for rediscovery.

Breaking News!   Great Plains’ Facebook page reveals that the mighty Great Plains will reunite (first time since 2008) for “Sick Weekend” — March 24-26, 2016 — at Columbus music venue, Ace of Cups, who wants it be known:

“The only way to guarantee entry is to buy the weekend wristband.  We’re selling 250 of those and once they’re gone, they’re gone.  Each night of the fest we will release approximately 50 tickets at the door for $15 that are first come, first served. We will not be selling single night tickets in advance.”

Jake, forget your studies and grab your buddies – sounds like a road trip is in the cards.

Findlay, Ohio’s Wolfies Nuts:  they want your money

Wolfies Nuts* “Kakawateez” roasted nuts, I want to say, came in tall thin packages with some kind of totem pole-themed art and could only be purchased at School Kids Records due to the owner’s family business connection.  But the stupid internet cannot validate these claims, and I can feel my probation officer breathing down my neck, so let me have Wolfie’s Nuts take the story from here via their Facebook page.

Hey Mark, did I botch the above postscript by relying on my memory’s jazz impressions?

Great Plains’ Presidential Punk

Remember Tom Newbold?  Before he became manager of The Ferns, Tom and I once had quite the shouting match over Birthday Party’s “Release the Bats” (as previously recounted in the Zero to 180 piece, “Winged Mammal Theme“).  At the time of the incident, I was convinced that ‘Newbs’ was merely trying to provoke.  The song’s humor eluded me, it pains me to say, nor did my musical range of vision recognize the validity of “shouty” vocals or alternative approaches to melodicism.  Only years later did it occur to me that Newbold’s enthusiasm for “Release the Bats” was, indeed, genuine.

I also remember Tom playing Gang of Four’s Entertainment, which I found rather amusing, but not for the right reasons.  Newbold’s embrace of punk and hardcore was a minor sticking point, as I had yet to be liberated musically, while my political consciousness was still in a state of deep slumber.  But it was impossible not to be swept up in the intensity of Tom’s belief in the power of music as a transcendent force, so when Newbold insisted that we check out Great Plains – led by songwriter and vocalist, Ron House – who could say no?

(L to R) Dave “Manic” Green, Mark Wyatt, Ron House, Paul Nini, Matt Wyatt

Great PlainsI’d be lying if I said that Great Plains instantly swept me off my feet.  It took at least a handful of shows before I started to understand why Newbold championed the songs of House, who I just now learned was co-owner of Used Kids Records, one of my favorite Columbus hangouts on High Street, along with (the recently-departed) Bernie’s Bagels, where I got to see The Royal Crescent Mob in the mid-80s playing their ferocious brand of funked-up rock, with a rhythm section that rivaled, if not surpassed, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, it is in no way an exaggeration to say.

House’s less-than-tuneful singing voice and the band’s more shambling moments would distract some of us initially from seeing the wit and originality of Great Plains’ music.  A turning point for me came, though, when record store owner, Curt Schieber, told me one day at School Kids (upstairs from Used Kids) that a wealthy Dutch benefactor** and passionate Great Plains fan had just underwritten the entire cost for one of the band’s 45s.  The deal, unfortunately, was conditional upon the Dutchman also engineering the session, so when Schieber informed me that the recording levels were so ridiculously high as to make the single virtually unplayable, we both had a good chuckle.

1984 Great Plains LP that was, literally, born in a barn

Great Plains LP“Pretty” is an adjective I would not use to describe the band’s sound, and yet Great Plains prove they can be melodic when they want to be on this absurdist slagging of Ohio presidential notable, Rutherford B. Hayes – a song that shows the band at their ‘poppiest’:

“Rutherford B. Hayes”     Great Plains     1984

Rutherford B. Hayes” (Zero to 180’s choice for an A-side) would remain an album track, sadly enough, that was originally released on 1984’s Born in a Barn, as well as live album, Slaves to Rock and Roll and 1989 UK release, Colorized! (not to mention 2008’s Live at WFMU).

Photo of Ron House by tinnitus photography – courtesy of Big Takeover

Ron HouseWorth noting that the “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau, would see fit to review Great Plains’ recordings, while Ron House would prove to be a worthy subject for a number of publications, including The American Prospect, The Columbus Free Press, Noisey, and Rubberneck, among others.  Would you be surprised to learn that Dr. Demento himself would write and record an intro for Great Plains compilation, Length of Growth 1981-1989, released in 2000?

Today’s piece was inspired by a delightfully nutty smart phone app, Presidents vs. Aliens, that my daughter loves to play.

Presidents vs. AliensBefore you go, though, Zero to 180 is compelled to ask:  How many of you learned the US presidents while drinking milk in your elementary school cafeteria?

US presidents on milk cartons

All you need to know about Rutherford B. Hayes in just 60 seconds – courtesy of PBS

** Don’t believe everything you read, kids.  This bit about the wealthy Dutch benefactor and the too-hot recording levels is yet another example of good intentions running roughshod over the truth.  Click here for a postscript that attempts to set the record straight.

Godfrey Daniel: Punk Doowop Revivalists

I discovered Godfrey Daniel’s one and only album at the local library bookstore that sells donated materials, including record albums and 45s.  I was struck first by the label – Atlantic – and secondarily by the following somewhat cryptic text on the back cover:

“Godfrey Daniel fans are a tough bunch to please.  They know what they want, and they won’t be disappointed with this, their first recording on Atlantic Records.

Now you can thrill at home to the group that’s been knocking them dead coast to coast with the sound of today.  Their honest, throaty vocals, their steady driving beat, makes you want to get up and dance.”

As it turns out, Godfrey Daniel is kind of a “punk” Sha Na Na who specialize in skewed doowop-era takes on what some would consider hoary hard rock “standards” of the late 60s and early 70s, such as “Purple Haze” and “Honky Tonk Woman” — or Led Zeppelin’s uncredited bombastic take on Muddy Waters’s “You Need Love” (i.e., “Whole Lotta Love”):

“Whole Lotta Love”     Godfrey Daniel     1972

Atlantic, surprisingly perhaps, would issue the group’s irreverent version of Woodstock highlight – Sly & the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” – as the A-side of the group’s lone single released in 1972.

Godfrey Daniel20 years later Tiny Tim would team up with Brave Combo to take a sad song – “Hey Jude” – and transform it into a marvelously daffy and danceable mambo number, but remember: Godfrey Daniel helped pioneer this type of rock parody.

Take a Sad Song was finally reissued on compact disc in 2005 — Jason Gross of the Minneapolis City Pages, in his review, declared “this lost nugget is up there with the best mashups.”

Godfrey Daniel LP

Neil Innes Sings “Godfrey Daniel”

Neil Innes (of Rutles and Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band fame) conjures unforgettable images in this outsized Elton John spoof from Rutland Weekend Television in which the glam rocker straight-facedly sings at the chorus, “Godfrey Daniel, he ain’t done nothing wrong.  Let him go back to Ohio – or wherever he belongs.”

“City Slang”: Lost Supergroup’s Swansong

Paul Trynka‘s well-researched and highly-readable biography of Iggy Pop includes this related story about Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – an all-star assemblage of musicians from revered ’60s & ’70s Detroit rock groups:

“Formed by the MC5’s guitarist, FredSonicSmith, and the Rationals’ singer, Scott Morgan, with Dum Dum Boy [and former Stooge] Scottie Ashton on drums and Gary Rasmussen – who’d played with The Up – on bass, SRB [Sonic’s Rendezvous Band] would become Detroit’s lost supergroup, issuing just one legendary single, ‘City Slang,’ in their brief history.”

Sleeve credits for the original 45 (that actually plays at 33 rpm) indicate the single to have been “a special preview edition limited to 1000 copies.”  Released in November, 1978

Iggy, who had jammed with these musicians in Detroit during his 1977 tour, would later asked them to accompany him on his TV Eye Live promotional tour of Europe.  But alas, the personality clash between Iggy and Fred Smith would would make an artistic partnership prove to be unworkable.  When Iggy asked the SRB to then back him on successive dates in the US, the band would decline the offer – much to Scott Ashton’s and Iggy’s collective chagrin  As Trynka observes, “it would be twenty years before Iggy would again play with the man he frequently mentioned as his favorite drummer.”

SRBIggy Pop:  A Product of His Time?

Illuminating bit of wisdom from Jim Osterberg on Iggy Pop’s function in modern society – taken from Roy Wilkinson’s interview with Iggy Pop in the May 2009 edition of The Word:

Roy:  Who’s going to take over after Iggy?  Who do you most see yourself in?

Jim/Iggy:  Peaches.  She’s the closest to me.  I would say.  But I don’t know if society wants more of that stuff.  I think I was able to tap into things people secretly wanted to say and do.  But now those conditions aren’t there anymore.  Youth is after power and ease.  Stuff is what they want, material stuff.

“Bear Cage”: Orphaned Art Punk

Non-album single, “Bear Cage” reached the UK Top 40 (#36) for The Stranglers in 1980:

A 12-inch single version – the band’s first – containing extended mixes of both tracks was also released.

Once famously dismissed by John Lydon as “hippies with short hair,” The Stranglers got considerably less ink than the Pistols, Clash (et al.) and yet their first seven albums went Top 10 in the UK, while every one of their albums up through 1995’s About Time reached Top 40 or better.  In fact, up through “Bear Cage” and the 45 that followed, each and every one of the band’s singles hit the UK Top 40 except their debut, “(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)” (#44) and the “Don’t Bring Harry” medley from their 1979 live EP (#41).  Only one of their albums would chart here in the US – 1986’s Dreamtime at #172.

Mojo’s 2006 history of Punk captures the group’s distinctive chemistry:

“The group was strange and singular enough to begin with, satisfying few, if any, of the prerequisites of the punk ethos.  Keyboardist Dave Greenfield, a science-minded occultist, actually had a mustache.  Drummer Jet Black noticeably mature for a pop star, had played in ’50s jazz combos.  Burnel, of French parentage, was a classically-trained guitarist who ran with bikers.  Then there was Cornwell, a songwriter and guitarist of uncommon flair, but with a tendency to follow his demons.

“Whether or not they were really joking is what gave The Stranglers their peculiar edge… On the cover of a June ’78 Melody Maker, Burnel provocatively declared:  ‘Everyone knows Americans have smaller brains.’  Death threats from Ramones fans followed.”

“Taken from the album The Raven” says the promo – alas, not true for “Bear Cage”

Stranglers promo - Bear Cage

July 1976: Meet the Ramones

One of my mom’s friends gave me two back issues of Rolling Stone, both dated July of 1976.  One issue in particular – the July 15th edition, with The Beatles on the cover, coincidentally enough (as you’ll later see) – is a time capsule rich in details, big and small:

Rolling Stone - Fab Four 76As soon as I turned the page, right away on the inside cover I couldn’t help but notice this full-page (and somewhat provocative) ad for a 1970s ‘midnight movie’ – Tunnel Vision – that somehow escaped notice my entire life until just now..

Tunnel Vision - posterScattered throughout the issue are a number of arresting moments in popular music during a period that would be considered in the decades-to-come as “classic rock”:

  • Full-page ad for David Bowie – in his starring role in a film about an alien who fell to Earth – that features a bold image that was later used as the basis for 1977’s Low album cover.  Later in the issue, the film is panned by reviewer, Paul Nelson, under the title, “Bowie Film Falls Flat: Too Much of Nothing.”  There an outsized quote in the magazine’s Random Notes section from Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin, who declares, “Worse film I’ve ever seen, so dreadful … so arty-farty beyond.”
  • Daryl ‘The Captain’ Dragon (of The Captain & Tennille) is quoted in Random Notes remarking on “the tremendous burden” he and Toni faces in influencing young fans and goes on to say, “The Beatles misused that responsibility and turned a whole generation on to drugs.  We’re going to be very careful how we use our new fame.”
  • Neil Young – whose song “Alabama” once inspired a legendary “musical fight” with Lynyrd Skynyrd – actually ended up taking Ronnie Van Zandt’s band on tour with him in the summer of 1976.  According to Random Notes, “those Southern men who once sang they didn’t need Neil Young around anyhow will tag along with Young and Steve Stills on some July/August outdoor dates.  In real life, Skynyrd are Young are pals.  ‘They play my kind of music,’ says Neil, ‘They sound like they mean it.'”
  • Late-breaking news item about a surprise reunion of Country Joe & the Fish, who were expected to play a festival gig in Wales as one of the headlining acts.  The other headliner?  Bob Marley & the Wailers.  Barry Melton reveals what prompted the reunion:  “The festival was originally June 5th, and [Steve] Stills canceled out.  So my agent in London called and asked me how to get hold of Steve Miller – they were offering $50,000.  I found out Miller was all booked up and said, ‘Hey Phil, we’d do it for 40 thousand.’  They said ‘yes.’  Not quite for $40,000, but enough for us to make a lot of money.'”
  • Full-page advert inside the issue’s back cover for Toots & the Maytals‘ “eagerly awaited second album” – Reggae Got Soul – that is dominated by a large photo of Toots Hibbert on stage caught at a particularly transcendent moment, with his back and arms fully outstretched, and one word – Toots! – in giant letters above his head.
  • Legendary Los Angeles session player – saxophonist, Steve Douglas – had just completed one of the most unusual recording sessions ever committed to tape:  inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Cheops!  Said Douglas, “I’m a student of archaeology, and I thought the chamber would be incredible to play in.”  The chamber was so responsive, he said, that he created drum effects by simply tapping on his flute.  Douglas was shopping the album for a label at the time.
  • Frustrated plea from Dave Marsh in his “American Grandstand” column with regard to One for the Road, the “new” album by Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance.  Says Marsh, “It isn’t the most terrific record I’ve heard lately, just one of the most engaging … But record companies aren’t interested in an oddity, even a beautiful one, and One for the Road probably won’t be released in America.  The first Slim Chance album had disappointing sales, and Lane’s contract with A&M has lapsed.”
  • Austin record collector, Doug Hanners, “has unearthed a mid-60s album called Soundsville that contains cut by such biggies as The Beach Nuts and The Rough Necks, among others.  The album sold for 99 cents in grocery stores back then, but now it would fetch up to $20.  The reason:  both groups featured Lou Reed.”             I suspect the album may have increased in value over the years.  Rolling Stone then queried Reed himself, and he told the magazine that “he’d spent time as a staff writer for Pickwick Records, which specialized in the quickie, cheapie LP trade … They paid us a couple bucks a week, and we churned out these things.  Then we’d go in and record them – do it quick, like ten albums in three hours.”
  • Article by Paul Gambaccini about Patti Smith‘s recent tour of Europe & the UK in which she taped an appearance on BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test and played shows in Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam & Paris, in addition to London.   Although Smith was generally well received, the press on Patti was not by no means universally adoring, as Melody Maker “printed a parody of a review, as if to take the woman seriously would be to admit the existence of a rock & roll cancer.”  The reviewer for The Evening Standard was more succinct, “She is the only girl singer I have ever seen spit onstage.”

But what really stands out in retrospect is the full-page ad placed by former King Records employee, Seymour Stein, promoting the debut album by The Ramones, leading lights of a new American rock sound that would later be deemed ‘punk’:

Ramones 1976 adWhat’s clear in hindsight is how this point in time, July 1976, was a changing of “the guard” (i.e., The Beatles) with a new rock sound emerging out of New York City – in the form of Patti Smith, The Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Television, et al. – during a particularly vibrant period of musical innovation in that city’s storied history, enabled in part by an economic recession that resulted in affordable housing rates for artists who were aiming to move the music forward on a variety of fronts – punk, hip hop, disco, salsa, jazz, classical – as brilliantly documented by Will Hermes (in Love Goes to a Building on Fire).

The first Ramones album was most definitely a shot across the bow.  Sire would release two singles from this landmark debut album, with one track – “California Sun” – that would be included on the flip side to “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and show up on their follow-up album, Leave Home: