Sunday, October 30, 2011

Andy Shernoff

Andy's latest: Are You Ready To Rapture.

1974: Rare inner sleeve for the Dictators Go Girl Crazy, Andy on right.

Andy Shernoff has had a longer recording career than Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters. That in itself is not so remarkable, there are plenty of pediatric rockstars out there who have been around longer. What is remarkable is that he's still great. When was the last time Ray Davies or Pete Townshend wrote a good song? (If you ask me, and you shouldn't cuz I ain't gonna argue about it, I'd say 1970 and '67 receptively).
Andy's last great song was released a couple of weeks ago (Are You Ready To Rapture, see video above, I assume you can order the 45 rpm from his website).
 Shernoff, who's career began with might be the greatest (and definitely the funniest) ever fanzine-- Teenage Wasteland Gazette (a never published final issue of which has resided in Handsome Dick Manitoba's closet for forty something years), is best known as full time songwriter, bassist and sometimes lead singer for NYC rock'n'roll institution the Dictators, whose 1974 debut The Dictators Go Girl Crazy (Epic) remains one of the greatest and most perfect punk rock records ever released. He shepherded the Dictators through three more fine LP's-- Manifest Destiny (Asylum,1977), Blood Brothers (Asylum,1978) and D.F.F. D. (Dictators Multi-Media, 2002), and don't forget Norton Records' 2009 release Everyday's Saturday that features their original demo tape and many incredible studio outtakes including lost tunes like Fireman's Friend and Backseat Boogie (a project I think I instigated when I lent Billy Miller two CD's worth of un-issued Dictators stuff, still in the vault are tunes like Too Much Fun and Tits To You as well as a killer Interstellar Overdrive).  Andy was also the guiding light behind Dictators spin-off Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, fronted the Bel-airs and the Master Plan (with the Fleshtones' Keith Streng), co-wrote tunes with Joey Ramone (for both the Ramones and Joey's solo album), produced a bunch of bands,  and was involved in dozens of other projects that slip my mind at the moment (including a second career as a punk sommelier).
I bring this up to you because I happened to wander into my own bar (Lakeside Lounge, 162 Ave B., NYC) two Wednesdays in a row (a rare occurrence these days, I assure you) where Andy currently holds court at 7 PM with his acoustic review, and I have to say, it's the best hour of live entertainment I've seen in eons.  The set changes weekly, and Shernoff has an incredibly deep catalog of great tunes to pick from, but I think last week's show which opened with an acoustic reading of Master Race Rock and included Dictators classics' Baby Let's Twist, and Hey Boys, and a beautiful version of Joey Ramone's Don't Think About It was as perfect a set as I've ever seen.  In between tunes Shernoff talks about his life and times in rock'n'roll, some of these stories are hilarious (the first Dictators shows), some are touching (the final days of Joey Ramone), some are both (the David Roter story). With free admission and half priced drinks, you really can't possibly go wrong. Andy will also be appearing at the Norton Records 25th Anniversary shindig in November, I'm not sure which night but all four are sold out, so you're either all ready going or you ain't.
Andy Shernoff may actually outlive rock'n'roll (or did that already happen?), but he's one of the last of the breed, and there are too few left to ignore him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Son House

Son House: 1965.

Howlin'Wolf berates a drunken Son House, Newport, '66.

Son House greets his "discoverers", he hadn't known he that he was lost.

I told my old pal Pat that I'd review a book he sent me in the mail- Daniel Beaumont's Preachin' The Blues: The Life & Times Of Son House (Oxford, 2011). This was many months ago and I'm just getting around to it because to be perfectly honest I do not have much to say about Son House. Which does not mean it is not an excellent book, which it is. Although I must admit, I find the most interesting parts of the book are those that deal with Son House's relationship to his "discoverers" and the white blues audience of the 1960's that had expectations of him that he could barely fathom never mind live up to.
For those who are unfamiliar-- Eddie "Son" House Jr (born March 21, 1902, probably in Lyon, Mississippi), was a great Delta blues singer and guitarist who recorded one session for Paramount Records in 1930, and was recorded again in 1941 for the Library of Congress by traveling folklorist Alan Lomax.
He was not heard from again until 1964 when Dick Waterman (who became his manager), Nick Pearls ( a collector who would go on to found Yazoo Records) and Phil Spiro found him living in Rochester, N.Y.,  this "rediscovery" happening after they had searched the Delta looking for clues.
To backtrack, House grew up in the Delta and began his career as an entertainer preaching the gospel.
As a young man he fell under the spell of the great Charley Patton, got himself a guitar and began playing the blues. He soon struck up a partnership with Patton's sometime accompanist Willie Brown, and it was through Patton's patronage he recorded for Paramount in 1930. Paramount issued four 78 RPM records:  My Black Mama pt 1 b/w pt 2, Dry Spell Blues pt 1 b/w pt 2, Preachin' The Blues pt 1 b/w pt 2 and Clarksdale Moan b/w Mississippi County Farm Blues. The latter two discs are so rare that only one known copy of each exist (and the latter didn't surface until the 21st Century), the other two are
considered more common with four known copies of each. A single copy of a test pressing of Walking Blues was found in someones garbage in the 1980's. In forty years of collecting I've never seen a Son House 78, have you? These are the discs that House's reputation is based on, and they are among the finest examples of the type of blues played in the Mississippi Delta in the late 20's and early 30's ever recorded. That said, they are a bit hard to listen to since the copies that survived are so worn out (and Paramounts never sound that great anyway) as there is more  surface noise than  music left in the discs and to listen to them is like hearing someone playing down the block while someone else holds a pan of frying bacon next to your ear. Although in recent years the sonic quality of the tranfers has improved dramatically.  Personally I've always preferred the 1941 Library of Congress recordings because you can actually hear the music, not to mention the version of  Walking Blues cut with a rocking little string band that remains the best example of what a Saturday night frolic might have sounded like full swing.  Since House had a limited repertoire all the same tunes appear on the 41 sessions, albeit with different titles, I especially like the version of Levee Camp Blues.
House has been criticised, most notably by the late Stephen Calt in his biography of Charley Patton for playing out of tune, but I tend to agree with Jim Dickinson that tuning is a "European and decadent concept", out of tune didn't hurt Chuck Berry.
After leaving the Delta, House lived in Detroit and Rochester, worked outside of music, and eventually disappeared into the woodwork until he was found and coaxed back into playing in 1964, and here lies the meat of Beaumont's book. He digs up much new info, including a self defense killing in Long Island in the 50's, and a new source of House information in the guise of Mississippi born, Rochester blues singer Joe Beard who was close to House and who had a very different take on who House was than his new found white keepers. There's lots of interesting asides, including that House was in the audience when the Rolling Stones brought Howlin' Wolf out on an episode of the Shindig TV show in '65, and House's manager being told by fellow human archaeologist Tom Hoskins (who found Mississippi John Hurt)-"What you have on your hands is a nigger".  That House would confound all their expectations by not giving a fuck, about the blues, or his white audience, may seem natural from our vantage point, but to his keepers he remained an enigma. And that's what makes this book such a fun read.
Son House is probably best remembered for being a key musical inspiration to Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, (the latter connection even led to him being signed by Columbia). I wonder how many people who sight his name have even heard the Paramount and L.O.C. sides?  Myself, I hadn't given him a listen in years, my own tastes in such things leaning more towards Leroy Carr, Geechie Wiley & Elvie Thomas (about whom nothing is known), and Charley Patton, but digging out his discs for this posting, I must say, they sure sound good. This music is nearly a century old, so it's quite amazing not just that it survived, but that it is more popular and accessible than it ever was. And that, Pat, is the best I can do for your book review.

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra

Let's Hear It For The Orchestra
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