Monday, February 21, 2011

Hymn For Her Live!, The Beatles For Boneheads and Instant Replay.....

I've seen a number of bands over the years and it is probably true that a lot of those performances caused a regurgitation of the dreaded "best show I ever saw" line, but I swear on a stack of Cargoe albums (I can never pass up a chance to plug one of my all-time favorites) that I've just seen one (actually, three) by a band I'd thought I would never see---  Philadelphia's Hymn For Her.  They passed through Oregon a little over a week ago, playing first at Diablo's Lounge in Eugene, a semi-downtown bar of reputable disrepute.  Typical dive in the daytime, it transforms itself into party central at night and, hell, it was Friday night and I had driven miles so I figured to get my money's worth (Have you seen the price of gas these days?).  I showed up close to show time and was pleased to see a good handful of people milling about and the crowd got bigger the closer it got.  Lucy and Wayne (formerly Maggi and Pierce of amazing trio Maggi, Pierce & EJ--- boy, don't get me started on them) were still setting up equipment, running plunks and grunks through the sound system to make sure everything was plugged in, after which Pierce exited, stage left, to track down the sound man and Maggi took to her computer to answer emails.  It was an odd setup--- two acoustic guitars, banjo, a strange looking square-bodied contraption which turned out to be a two-stringed cigar box guitar, percussion toys everywhere and a bass drum and hi-hat setup right in front of the chair which would ground Pierce.  Two people.  I mean, how much damage can two people do?

Well, one hell of a lot, it turns out.  That two-stringed cigar box guitar began the night by cranking out some of the damndest and fullest slide licks this side of the Pecos, Lucy strutting her stuff a la Jimmy Page (and, ahem, they did play a Led Zeppelin piece, slide cigar box and banjo trading licks, which was something else).  Wayne was strapped to the bass drum, working percussion with both feet while playing banjo/guitar, singing and, at times, spewing forth with mouth harp worthy of The Yardbirds during freakout time.  You heard me.  Freakout.  Psychotic ReactionTrain Kept A-Rollin'.  No, they didn't play them.  They didn't have to.  They came armed with their own arsenal of musical fodder and when they laid into it, they really laid into it!  Hell, here's a small inkling-----

Not bad, right?  Well, take out the Farfisa organ and crank the cigar box up a few million decibels and you are closer than you have any right to be.  Lucy is a monster on that damned thing and Pierce spends a lot energy pounding the beat into you whether you like it or not and when they get going, it is true freakout and not the controlled storm it is in the studio.

Friday night at Diablo's was maybe 45 minutes of really good and then it turned into Sunday at the Music Millennium in Portland and an hour of a sedated music for an instore.  Only a handful turned up but to be honest, it was scheduled quickly and off the cuff and the ones who showed were not disappointed.  First time I set foot in Music Millennium was the summer of '71 when I returned to Eugene after the Army, started hanging out at The House of Records there and caravaned to Portland and Music Millennium once a month with the HoR guys to buy imports.  Been a customer ever since.  Seeing Hymn For Her hitting the instore stage was a dream come true.

The real treat was the next night--- Monday.  Valentine's Day.  The Calapooia Brewing Company.  Albany.  It was a special night.  A special night, indeed.  The place was packed.  Hymn For Her and a special chef's offering made for one hell of a night for a lot of people.  When I walked in, I thought--- oh, no!  H4H will clear the room.  The average age was maybe 40 and most seemed to be there for the food (which received raves from the consumer, my friends) and you know how it is when you can't speak to your honey or the guy bumping into you at the next table and spilling ale on your pants.  I shouldn't have worried.  The crowd was primed and the food and brew worked itself right into the evening's entertainment and the more H4H played, the more the people wanted (even the Led Zeppelin slice, which brought the house down) and if it wasn't for the fact that I was sicker than shit (I really have to find out just how sick that is, I use the phrase that often), it would have been a night of nights.  Hell, it was a night of nights and I can't wait for next year.

I know few of you have heard of Maggi, Pierce & EJ, but mark the name in your heads because I can feel an MPE storm a-brewin'.  They released over ten albums.  I have them all.  I treasure each and every one.  They are the Gruppo Sportivo of the 21st Century.  What?!  Never heard of Gruppo Sportivo?!  Storm just got bigger.  Stay tuned.  And if you see Hymn For Her's name out there, check them out.  You won't regret it.


Seems like they handed out some kind of degree at some institution of higher learning, which drops their rating to merely an institution of learning. No doubt, The Beatles have had a huge impact on the boomers and if you believe the media, there are more boomers than anything on this sinking spaceship, but a degree in Beatles Studies?  Knee jerk?  No way.  Then again.....

I can think of no other group, musical or otherwise, which has created more untruths and altered realities.  If Beatles Studies is actually Beatles Studies and not just idolatry in textbook form, there is more than enough.  You could create an auditorium of classes---  Beatles 101:  A general overview of The Beatles and their music. Beatles 301:  Statistical studies which prove or disprove John Lennon's contention that The Beatles were, at the time of his statement, more popular than Jesus.  Beatles 210:  The films of The Beatles.  Beatles 401:  The media and The Beatles--- a study of how The Beatles changed media and vice-versa.  You could go on forever.

The real truth is that I find it a bit disconcerting.  The public attitude toward The Beatles moved way beyond reality before they even officially broke up. There is something about the fanatic loyalty that people have toward the band (and they were just a band, after all) that I find a bit creepy.  People get in fights over The Beatles, for chrissake, and yes, Led Zeppelin and The Who and a whole slew of other bands, but mostly The Beatles.  It seems a bit absurd and certainly extreme, but it happens.

Maybe what I find most disconcerting is the way The Beatles have gone public.  You want to experience political correctness, go into a yuppie tavern and tell everyone that The Beatles suck.  You'll become a social pariah in a matter of minutes and maybe even seconds.

No, sir.  Beatles Studies?  I don't like it.  I don't like it at all.  Then again. maybe it's time we opened the whole matter up for discussion.  Maybe we have reached that point at which it becomes a necessity to stop pretending and actually back our attitudes up with something beyond blind faith.  Maybe.  Yes, sir.  I like it.  I like it a lot.

What?  Me?  Listen to The Beatles?  No sense in it.  There are few Beatles' songs which are not genetically implanted in my brain at this point.  All it takes is a click in my left brain (or is it my right brain) and I can hear the music as if it was actually being played on the stereo.  That's right.  I said, stereo.  I have one.  And not one Beatles album to play on it.  Like I said, I don't even need it anymore.


It wasn't that long ago that I was handed an album by Ruth Moody titled The Garden.    I was so taken by the lyrical beauty and the clear, clean vocals that I became an instant fan.  Much to my surprise, although it shouldn't have been, I found that Moody recorded that album while on hiatus from her regular group, The Wailin' Jennys, a group I knew of but had yet to hear.  Well, the new Wailin' Jennys is finally here and I am happy to report that Bright Morning Stars is as good as expected.  Moody is joined by bandmates Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse and the three have come up with another (though I have yet to hear another) gem.  Time to listen in retrospect (read: go back to the earlier albums) and in the meantime, I leave you with this--- the official video of the making of the new album.  I love this kind of stuff.  Call it rockumentary or documentary or whatever you want, I seldom walk away from them without having gotten something good out of it.

Ever hear of Ken Carter, the daredevil?   The guy was crazier than Evil Knievel, but you can't say he wasn't goal-oriented.  Carter wanted to rocket across the St. Lawrence River--- that's right--- rocket!  Ever hear of Mark Haney?  He's almost as crazy as was Carter except his media are music and theater.  He dug up the Ken Carter story and pieced together a story (with music) which is as eerie as anything I've ever heard.  In Carter's own words, Haney recreates the buildup to the jump and tells the stories behind the story---  how things did not always go as planned, how Carter thought and felt, how the pressure built until he had isolated himself right out of reality.  It is fascinating and gripping even without the production, but Haney puts it together in a combination form of funeral and Twilight Zone.  It's called Aim For the Roses for a reason and Haney is crazy enough to have asked a medium to contact the now departed Ken Carter on the other side--- thus, the video.  This is a bizarre story presented in a very unique way.  Haney, by the way, is a member of Rick Maddocks' excellent band The Beige who completely knocked me off my chair with their excellent 2010 release, El Angel Exterminador.

Arborea's Buck Curran comes from the camp of the acoustic purists of old--- Robbie Basho, John Renbourn and the like--- and is one of a small handful keeping that music alive.  He and wife Shanti have just finished an album that has been long in the making and all the better for it.  Red Planet will be distributed by Strange Attractors Audio House and will be available on vinyl as well as CD, but in limited quantities.  This video will pretty much tell you all you need to know about them, to start.  If you're like me, you will want to delve a little deeper.  They inhabit a surreal world when it comes to their music.  Very surreal and downright beautiful.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Band That Would Be Sojac..... and Instant Replays

Notary Sojac.  Never heard of them?  Get in line.  I could throw another few hundred band names and few would stick on most people's walls, but none were more obscure to the world nor as adventurous nor better than Notary Sojac.  They were a landmark band, one which defined an era for myself and a handful of others--- others lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest in the late sixties and early seventies and lucky enough to have crossed paths with them.  They were something else.  They were special.

They became Sojac, the name used by everyone who knew them and their music, and please don't confuse it with the later version of the band actually named Sojac.  You saw them once, you called them Notary Sojac.  Twice, Notary Sojac.  By the third time, they became Sojac out of necessity or maybe laziness because after the second time, they became an automatic topic of conversation.  It was a show of respect, I guess.  It was a rite of passage.  The Rolling Stones became The StonesLed Zeppelin became ZeppelinNotary Sojac became Sojac.  Simple as that. 

Why do I bring them up now?  Well, lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about the importance of indie music--- real indie music and not that called indie by the monied structure of the music business.  I well remember the days when if you wanted to record and press an album, you overpaid (no quantity discounts for the little guy) and consigned (no distribution and few record stores would pay up front for a local or regional act which might not sell at all).  The few bands going that far ended up selling more off the stage at gigs than in any store anyway, if they sold to anyone at all beyond family and friends.  Bands were hogtied, and the few which weren't ended up calling in favors they could never repay.  Just ask the members of Portland's Sand, who after a long ride down a bumpy road with Andy Williams' Barnaby label pressed their second by themselves (Head In the Sand, Ostrich 0001, 1976) and ended up making their way around stacks of boxes for the next few months to years until Jack Meussdorffer decided he'd had enough and just trashed them.  Lack of sales had nothing to do with the quality of the record (I personally loved it) but the problem of how to sell it.

Well, even real fans of Notary Sojac might be surprised to hear that they had also recorded an album.  Toward the end of their existence as that band and just before a few of the members moved on to a more jazzy and arty lineup they labeled Sojac, they headed down to Tioga Studios (outside of Coos Bay somewhere on the Oregon Coast) and laid down a number of tracks.  The classics.  Feel It (In Your Heart) and Willy Nilly and Bumpy Road  and maybe even their signature tune, Carolina.  They put ads of sorts in their little newsletter (Point of View), an early version of having your fans pay your way through the process, and I bought more than a handful hoping for the best.  Of course, it didn't happen.  Or should I say it hasn't happened yet.

Amazingly enough, the members of NS reconnected a handful of years ago and  sonofagun if they didn't piece together an album of live tracks culled from raw recordings they had made in the clubs in the early seventies.  It is raw, yes (many of the recordings were from nothing but a basic tape deck and two mics hung from the ceiling of The Roman Forum, their old tavern haunt), and the quality is relatively poor (they did a great job of cleaning the tapes up for this release, though), but it is Notary Sojac in the buff and man, oh man, is it worth it for the fan!  Titled Live 1972-1973, it captures not only the loose structure of the band on the whole (they had the looseness of the Dead) but the moments when it all came together--- the Maxell Man moments when the band was all on the same page, in unison, and the audience hair was blowing. 

Ah, but my point.  Steve Koski and cohorts have decided that if the double live CD sells well enough, they will work on releasing the Tioga tracks--- the only real in-studio tracks ever recorded by the band.  Am I pumped?  Better believe it.

So why call this The Band That Would Be Sojac, you ask?  In my quest for the story that is the band's, I have run across a gold mine of information about the guys, their friends and followers and families and their journey toward Sojacdom.  I have been handed information I did not know existed and sometime soon want to share it.  If you want to know about Notary Sojac, you also have to know about The Wild Wild Weeds who morphed into The Weeds and then Weeden.  You have to know about The Quirks and Faith and a whole list of people and bands whose paths led to Portland and the forming of one of the best bands I've ever heard, live.  

So help me out here.  I have a lot of info about the band and about the times, but I need more.  There are holes to be filled--- from fans and friends and hopefully even extended family members.  Email me if you have a story, no matter how trivial you might think it.  My email address is and I guarantee I will read and maybe even use your memories to tell the story of this almost forgotten and just short of legendary band.  And by the way, if you are at all interested in bits and pieces of this story, I posted a number of pages a few years ago which should pique your interest.  Click here.

Instant Replay.....

Did I mention that I was listening a lot to Elephantom lately?  This East Coast conglomeration crept into my tomb through some unusual quirk of fate and got under my skin.  What do they play?  I'm not really sure.  Rock Opera?  Art Rock?  Prog Rock?  Jazz?  Classical?  Pick any two or three minute (or ten or twenty second) movement and you might be able to lock them down for that short period, but they'll leave you in the dust on the next.  Adventurous?  Absolutely.  Maybe that's why I like them so much.  They recently  released an album titled Swim Toward the Sun and are over halfway done with their next and, man, this is what I live for.  Swim is all over the place and yet musically cohesive.  Hard to explain.  If you want to take a listen, they are streaming their album here.  But let me toss in a live performance for the open-minded, whom I do not have to forewarn about video and audio quality.  They'll hear it and they won't care.  For those who want professional quality, there are plenty of Taylor Swift and Katie Perry videos out there for you to watch.

Steve Young..... 

Still Lonesome Orn'ry & Mean.  I've been working on my version of the Steve Young story (with help from Steve himself) for a few years now and am amazed at my procrastination toward completion.   His life mirrors a lot of the frustration and anger which I have held toward the music industry for decades.  The man should have been a star.  I mean a star.  It pains me to see lesser talents reap the benefits while Young labors in obscurity.  Consider this a video promise to complete the story and get it posted for all to read.  In the meantime, sit back and enjoy.  Posted by Carolina Girl on Youtube.  Thanks, Carolina.  You captured what music festivals are all about.

Psych Lives!!!!!

I've been dragged back into the world of psych once again, courtesy of  The Grip Weeds and Neil DelParto of Planting Seeds Records.  Last year saw three substantial releases (The Grip Weeds' Strange Change Machine, The Young Sinclairs' We Spoke Our Minds and The Lovetones' Lost, though I'm not sure that Lost has made it to the States).

Damn!  Life is good!