Saturday, June 26, 2010

They Passed This Way: Glen Campbell

 Glen Campbell arrived in Albuquerque in 1957, the twenty year old had been lured west from his home in Arkansas by his uncle Dick Bills, a local celebrity who was well established in the Duke City. Bills fronted his own music group "The Sandia Mountain Boys," Glen with his extraordinary musical skills was quickly incorporated into the act.  Dick Bills had a radio show that aired five days a week, a weekly television show and a regular gig as the house band at the Chesterfield Club on East Central.  By 1958 Campbell had grown tired of taking orders from his uncle, he broke away to form his own band "The Western Wranglers."  At first Campbell's new  group performed mostly in the Albuquerque area, before branching out to tour around the southwest. By now Glen had his sights set on a much larger audience, towards the end of 1960 he and his wife left Albuquerque for California.  In Los Angeles he would find himself in demand as a session musician, eventually becoming part of the clique of studio musicians known as  The Wrecking Crew. During 1964 and 1965 he toured with the Beach Boys as a stand in for Brian Wilson, he would also play guitar on the group's classic album "Pet Sounds." In 1962  he signed as a solo artist with Capitol Records,  his first single "Turn Around, Look at Me" was a minor regional hit. He recorded two instrumental albums and several singles, including songs written by Brian Wilson (Guess I'm Dumb) and Buffy Sainte Marie (Universal Soldier). However he failed to make an impact on the charts, until 1967 when on the verge of being dropped by Capitol, Glen finally had his first big hit with John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind".

Friday, June 25, 2010

Blast From The Past: The Philisteens

The Philisteens started out as Deco in 1977 with a lineup of Steve LaRue, Mike Glover and Scott Anderson. In 1979 they changed their name to The Philisteens, while also adding guitarist Larry Otis.  La Rue, Glover and Anderson would leave in 1981, replaced by Roger Neil and Mike Harlan, as the band continued as a trio.  Soon after the band signed with an indie label, Larry Otis quit with Steve LaRue then reuniting with his old band mates in 1982. The Philisteens flirted with success at the national level, but somehow never managed to break through (that could apply to almost every good band from Albuquerque) In 1982 they recorded a single with producer Craig Leon at the helm. (He had produced hit albums for Blondie and The Ramones)  That single was well received, making it onto the play list at LA rock station KROQ.  They parlayed that good fortune into a three year stint of touring as an opening act. The band then moved to Los Angeles, recorded tracks for an album that would never see the light of day and then with a record deal on MCA Records seemingly on the horizon, they broke up.  Since 1990 Mike Glover has teamed up with Robyn Rosenkrantz to form Bright Blue Gorilla.  Together they have traveled around the world performing their music and making movies, including a performance in Germany with Burton Jespersen the former lead singer for The Refrigerators. (that video can be found on You Tube)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cheap and Sunny in Austin,Tx.


On the sidewalk in Albuquerque


Lessons in Decay

On this day I recalled a radio interview James Mercer  once did, when  asked  what  living in Albuquerque was like, he replied “It is a rough and hostile place to live”.  On my last visit to the Dirt City,  I was struck by how seedy and rundown most of the city looks.  However not just the physical appearance has changed.  Hollow eyed vagrants wearing hoodies and baggy pants (the uniform of  the desperate) populate most corners, strip malls, fast food places and parking lots.  Like hyenas they stand ready to pick off the weak, at least on this day they weren’t hunting in packs.  The downturn in the economy has taken it’s toll on Albuquerque.  Angry  young men have fallen by the wayside, now they stand ready to wreck havoc.  What were once “good neighborhoods” are now just part of this relentless predator’s hunting grounds. James Mercer had it right but he had no idea just how bad it would become.   There are people in Albuquerque who are still  angry that  The Shins ditched the Dirt City for Portland. Can you really blame them for leaving?.  Getting out of Albuquerque is the way for some really good bands and musicians to advance their careers.  Just because a band leaves town does not mean that all ties with their home community are cut off.  The Shins will be still be associated with Albuquerque and so will James Mercer, whether it suits him or not.  The latest news from The Shins is not good new for Dirt City music fans. James Mercer has dropped both Marty Crandall and Jesse Sandoval from the band. This became apparent when they took the stage for a concert at Western Washington University. The newcomers are bass player  Ron Lewis (Fruit Bats) and drummer Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse).  Another new face, Eric Johnson (Fruit Bats) signed on just before the "Wincing The Night Away" tour. This leaves Mercer and Dave Hernandez (Scared of Chaka) as the only members with ties to Albuquerque.  We should have seen this coming, it’s not the first time that James has moved on without his band mates.  This follows the same pattern that led to The Shins being formed. Rumor has it that Marty’s  recent legal troubles were the last straw.  Crandall and his supermodel girlfriend Elyse Sewell  were both arrested after a boozy domestic spat at a Sacramento motel.  James later commented that Marty’s problems had nothing to do with his dismissal.   As for Jesse,  no reason has been given as to why he no longer fit into the group's plans. Marty and Jesse's abrupt dismissal from the band, is puzzling. They had been an important part of Flake, Flake Music and The Shins.  Their musical skills and personalities helped make the band  what it is today. James Mercer has an uncanny knack for making the right moves at the right time, so now we'll see how this plays out.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Fast Heart Mart- The Red Record

     This is a concept album, in the sense that everything Martin Stamper does is with purpose and forethought.  The recurring theme that ties this album together is the pursuit of personal freedom. Mart's  "Richman"  finds freedom by "having enough money to last him till he dies" while  living up on the hill looking down at the slums. Yes, he is free but not from his own anguish and demons.   Martin's protagonist in "Whiteman Stole This Land" yearns for the freedom of flight but finds himself  betrayed by his fears as he hopefully "dreams that his arms would not tire" yet he  realizes that he will always be earthbound.   In "Limbo" Martin describes the perfect world; an island, populated by himself, a woman and his dog.  In his paradise there are no cops, laws, work or jobs, "there is nobody to drive him crazy" as he sings this, you can't help but feel that same need to be free and alone (or at least in good company).  With this song Martin reveals his direct lineage to Woody Guthrie and Jimmy Rodgers, classic American troubadours, who searched in vain for the promised land and that big rock candy mountain of folk legend. If we could live our lives "flowing forever down the river" as Martin sings, the assumption would be that life like that river would never reach it's end.
Just how much Fast Heart Mart is influenced by Beck Hansen becomes apparent with "The Stripper Song", As he awakens to find  that his stripper girlfriend has left him, Martin's sad lament begins with "My heart is broken, I will never love again" but then he sings  "I will not cook breakfast for my next victim" as soon as he utters that one line you understand why she left him. The poor sap was at odds with his feelings of empathy towards her and empowerment over her, thus becoming a pain to live with.  The Beck influences keep popping up in most of Martin's work, however where Beck  sings about cultural vampires, Martin zeros in on corporate vampires, gas guzzlers, movie theaters and greed, all suffer his wrath.  Rage against the machine, unless the machine happens to be fueled by reclaimed vegetable oil, as Mart's VW touring van is.  Martin is a man of many and varied influences, he tunes his guitar so that it sounds like a sitar, but at the same time his vocals harken back to the Appalachian hills of his origins.  Martin has never sounded better than he does on this album, the production is superb, the sound is clear and clean, his guitar playing is precise and sparse.  He uses his trademark twin neck guitar in place of a back up singer, letting it carry the chorus while it serves as a counter point to his often strident vocals.

Fast Heart Mart

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dennis Hopper

With church bells ringing and motorcycle engines roaring, Dennis Hopper, actor, director and cultural icon was laid to rest in the community and state that he made his second home. Hopper lived in Taos, N.M. for twelve years and still owned a home in that area at the time of his death.  As a young actor Hopper landed roles alongside James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant".  Before he achieved fame and notoriety in Easy Rider, he appeared in a number of movies and television shows, the majority of them westerns, in which he was usually shot dead.  

In 1968 he combined with Peter Fonda and Terry Southern to write, direct and produce the movie that would rocket him, Fonda and Jack Nicholson to fame, the iconic  "Easy Rider".  Flush with success he then nearly killed off his  promising directorial career with that ironically titled stinker "The Last Movie."  Hopper had isolated himself in Rancho de Taos for a year to edit the movie for release, it's overwhelming failure would send him into a downward spiral , that would result in an eight day marriage to singer Michelle Phillips ("The first seven days were pretty good" Hopper would later comment) followed by an arrest in Los Alamos, where Hopper was found raving, naked and doped up while running around town.  In a touch of irony the scenes in "Easy Rider" most associated with the state of New Mexico, those that depict a struggling hippie commune were actually shot near Santa Monica Ca.  The New Buffalo commune in Arroyo Hondo did not allow any shooting to take place there. The commune was then recreated  in California using photographs. From cowboys to madmen, Dennis Hopper played them all, adios amigo.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Answer Lies

The Dust City Chronicles

Given the similarities between latin music and ska, it’s easy to see why this style has caught on in the border region. While ska is the foundation that Liquid Cheese uses to build its sound, this El Paso/Las Cruces outfit is more of a throwback to the frat house party bands of the 60’s. By bringing the party to the people and giving them what they want, Liquid Cheese has become the best known and most successful of all Las Cruces bands.
After iconic Las Cruces punk band The Answer Lies broke up, their lead singer Chris Mason resurfaced with Shang-A-Lang.  This new band follows the same punk formula with a hint of radio friendly pop, "Someday We'll Get There" could slot right into most rock station's playlists. But don’t worry, Shang-A-Lang stays true to its punk roots.  Where Mason seems satisfied, to carry on the good fight for punk fanatics everywhere, self professed musician, business man, recording engineer and producer" Travis Manning has set his sights just a little bit higher. This homespun rock entrepreneur founded Nasty Cactus Music, a Las Cruces based indie record label. He then stocked it with bands he sings or plays guitar in, like New Mexican Erection, The Dirty Clydes and his most recent band, Worm Hole.  The label's impressive catalog also includes hard rocking local bands, Space Truckers, Delgado and El Paso's Third Edge.  Travis Manning has cast a large shadow on the Las Cruces rock scene, and if anyone can say "We Built this City" Nasty Cactus Music & Travis Manning sure can.!

Las Cruces based solo artists My Genuine Find and Forever, In The End follow a distasteful new trend of marginal solo musicians giving themselves band names. While up to their ears in angst, these whiny poseurs are devoid of talent. It’s just fluff, no feelings or substance, derivative and trendy musings from guys who spend too much alone.  Like a hamburger without any meat, it has no flavor, unless you just love the taste of catsup and mustard. It's the condiment of musical genres with the shelf life of a jar of mayo left out in the sun on a hot day.  By comparison when Chance Coates of the Moonshiners sings about tracking down his cheating girl and killing her, you can picture him with a bottle of Jack and a pistol in his hand. When Carlos Trujillo lead singer for Janos sings about kissing a dead girl and writing his name on her eyelids, you start thinking that he may have done just that.  I know that songs about killing your girlfriend and burying her in the backyard are acceptable (Guns 'n Roses comes to mind) But Carlos seems determined to turn it into art. I get the dark humor, I really do, however with the memory of David Parker Ray and the mass burials on Albuquerque's West Mesa still fresh on the minds of most New Mexicans, Carlos is walking a fine line between being on the cutting edge and perversity.