Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of the Naughts: Opposites that attract

Tinhorn and Sullen are opposites from the beginning of the last decade. Tinhorn was a group of grown men at the top of their game, adept and with poetry bursting from every well-groomed pore. Sullen was a group of very young punks who put everything they were right out there raw as dirty diapers. Tinhorn crafted pop masterpieces, Sullen slopped out noisy rock. They were both among the best at what they did.

Tinhorn put out a very fine CD called Stereowide that I admire unrestrainedly. Sullen put out a little home-made CD that I admire guardedly, yet with equal fervor. Tinhorn had the stink of advertising agencies and art directors all over them, Sullen had the faint odor of crayons and spray paint.

I never got to know the Tinhorn people, though I suspect they ran in the same advertising agency circles I once knew. A fellow named Sean Garcia seemed to run this band, and he did the very excellent art direction of the CD, and another fellow named Mike Martin did the production and musical work. If I were a normal guy we would have been friends, since I aspire to do work like them. But I never made any effort to get to know them for whatever reason, perhaps familiarity of my own type.

I got to know Jason and Shanna, the two kids who fronted Sullen a little bit, hanging around the Way Out Club, watching them play various gigs. Shanna was especially nice, and would hang out with Bob Reuter and I. Part of my love for Sullen was my love for punk; the DIY thing, the carelessness, the expression of truth at all costs, the disdain of calculation and pomp.

Bob Reuter also knew Mike Martin from Tinhorn, since he recorded and played on his CD Down In America. Bob knows everybody, I guess, since he is out there playing, night after night, year after year, wherever somebody wants to hear him.

Here are a couple of my favorites of their songs. Stars was also on a couple of local compilations. The Sullen song is just a personal favorite of mine. Shanna told me she wrote it by herself, and the lyrics always got to me. They made me think of Bob.
I gotta boyfriend
I gotta girlfriend
I gotta grandpa
I'll tear your heart out!

No Sleep by Sullen

Stars by Tinhorn

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best of the Naughts: Larissa Dalle & Getaway Car

Around the same time as Bob Reuter's big CD release I was watching an awful lot of local bands. One of them was Getaway Car, a band with my old friend John Taylor and this genius named Don Williams as the leader. John Taylor was the bass player for the Unconscious, a band I managed to miss almost completely because I was living in Italy during the height of their fame.

Don put out a short CD in 2001 called "First Gear" that this cut, Deep Down, is taken from, and it's a really good collection of songs with great beats and lyrics. Since Don was a bass player himself, John Taylor isn't on the CD. They were a great live band, too. At the time I was impressed by the way they merged beats with a house music sound, though that particular style seems to have passed.

In the early naughts there was a lot of action around a recording studio run by Jason Rook and Chris Deckard called Penny Studios. Jason was a serious, very talented guitarist and Chris was an avant-garde electronics guy who also wrote songs. Hanging around the outskirts of this scene was the beautiful Larissa Dalle, who has one of the most heart-stopping and beautiful voices I have ever heard live.

Larissa would sing and the world would stop. It wasn't just me. I saw her sing at Frederick's Music Lounge one night, and the crowd, normally a drunken, rowdy bunch prone to talking and laughing and clowning around during bands, was dead silent. It was miraculous. Her voice did it. There's really no explanation for it, and I don't know if she ever realized it only happened when she sang; that other people didn't have this same gift.

She seemed to think her songs were simple little things that weren't deserving of any serious consideration, but I always thought some magic touch she had elevated them far beyond the ordinary. So here is one she sang often, Diva, which used to shush the crowds of drunken punks and grunge kids in the early years of the last decade.

I saw Larissa play an outdoor RFT gig in the early naughts with James of Julia Sets (who will be coming up in one of my next posts) and she managed to still an entire street full of people with her voice. Then this siren came up out of nowhere in perfect timing with some silent moment in one of her songs and everyone on the street, including Larissa, stopped in wonder for a second.

Larissa grew up a little, fell in love with Jason Rook, and married him. She now plays with Wormwood Scrubs, and they have toured the world in a small way. The last time I saw them play in 2009, they were doing some very cool acid rock long-form blues jams that were outstanding.

A streaming file of Diva:

A streaming file of Deep Down:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Best of the Naughts: Bob Reuter

The last ten years in St. Louis music came in with a bang and out with a whimper as far as I'm concerned. When thinking over my favorite St. Louis CDs of the past ten years, I have to start with the 2000 release of Bob Reuter's masterpiece, Down in America.

I'd known Bob a little since I saw him at the first punk rock show I ever saw at a house on Forest Park with the Retros and The Camaros. I was there to see his band, The Dinosaurs, and was not disappointed, since they played both sides of their single, (It Might Be) Rose and Rock'n'Roll Moron.

But when Bob released this CD - or whoever released it for him - I was knocked out. The songwriting on the disc was incredible. The band ferocious, on fire, all-consuming. It was country-ish, but it was pure rock. I'm linking to just two songs from this CD below for those who have never heard it, because I think it's sad that everyone in the world who loves rock and roll doesn't have a copy and I'm pretty damned sure it's been out of print since forever. I'm sharing two songs, but, damn, there's so many more.

I'll be posting a few more of my favorite St. Louis CD releases of the past decade in the upcoming week or two, so stay tuned if you like that sort of thing.

Here's Bob's great website, and here's It's Late, and here's Lauri.


It's Late

Saturday, December 05, 2009

(Don't Funk With Our) Fame

Jamchild and Rico D. Bool, at the height of their fame in Shorty Long's basement.

One of the most iconic songs of the Change Music songbook, Fame represents both our typical delusions of grandeur and the farcical absurdity that we mixed in our approach to music. Inasmuch as Jambox was a punk band before any of us had ever heard of punk, this song is completely punk in all the ways that I later found appealing in punk.

First, there's the fact that we didn't really have any kind of ear for what we were playing together, and didn't really care. I admit that it perplexed and bothered me that what I heard in my head came out as thunderous chaotic noise when we played together, but I was never the leader type and couldn't tell anyone else in the band what to play or how to play it. Then there's the idea that we were actually making fun of ourselves for playing music and trying to be famous, by pretending that we were already famous in our minds.

This jokey approach to music grew in me to become a lifelong bias towards regarding fame as something highly personal rather than monolithic and universal. After the first hollow chuckles at the stupidity of a bunch of drunken hippies caterwauling about their so-called "fame" die away, the idea behind the conception of fame as something everyone has - a very punk rock idea, to my mind - starts to grow.

The people who are famous to me include a long list of the usual celebrities and geniuses. But the most famous people I know are the ones I actually know. In my world, the local bands I love are just as famous as the Who or the Beatles to me. Fame is actually an elastic and subjective description for anything I choose to give my attention to. When you pay attention to me, I feel the tiny twinge of fame you give me, and when I pay attention to you, you feel the tiny homage of fame from me.

I hope for a day when celebrity and fame become more and more local. I see no reason why we should give the precious gift of our attention to a handful of strangers in far away places when we have so much talent and entertainment right here in our own town. This especially seems truer and truer in these days, because the sheer amount of great stuff out there is almost impossible to acknowledge. In a time of 1,000 flowers, I prefer to give my attention to the flowers closest by, because they are the easiest to see and belong to me.

Download the supremely silly Fojammathon version of Fame to see what I always wished it would sound like. I'm quite proud of my odd guitar solo in this one.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


When we were young funksters jamming to the sounds of Parliament/Funkadelic night after frantic night we worked as busboys, cooks, and dishwashers in the glamorous restaurants and nightclubs of the fabulous Central West End.

It all started with the late Kevin O'Connor, brother of Annie O'Connor, the most beautiful girl in the world, according to several of us, and disputed by others. Kevin had a beat-up old van and he liked to drive it across Forest Park to the Steak'n'Shake on Hampton to eat burgers in the middle of the night and while he did it, he listened to WESL, the greatest station in the nation for funk, soul and R&B in the 1970s.

Kevin was a slight, tall boy with elfin features and big blue eyes rimmed with thick black lashes. He was usually smiling, smirking, or laughing at some snide comment he'd just made, living life with the sidelong glances of a pigeon kicker. He had a pronounced Central West End accent, a kind of strange midwestern posh tone that I would find hard to describe any other way than by saying listen to Charlie Leonard for five minutes and you've got it. But his voice was even more languorous and slow, with a throaty rasp to it. I can still hear it.

Kevin had discovered that the WESL DJs, especially Jim Gates and the DJ who would become Dr. Jockenstein, were partying live almost every night from clubs in East St. Louis and that listening to them on the radio was almost as good, if not better, than actually being there. One of the songs they kept playing was an insanely infectious little jam that had some crazy deep voiced man repeating over and over again that we're gonna tear the roof of the sucker, tear the roof over the mother sucker, tear the roof off the sucker! Kevin was delighted with this breach of good taste and refinement in every way, and would crank it up on the car stereo whenever he heard it. Riding along with him, I fell in love with it, too.

Shortly thereafter I discovered that the name of the band was Parliament, and I was the first kid on any block south of Delmar to buy a copy of the LP Mothership Connection. I began to turn on everyone in hearing distance to the Funk, especially Slash Brannon, Geo Ramsey, Linda Fields, Dominic Shaeffer, Fo Jammi, Tracy Wynkoop, and more than I can remember, and we started buying every Parliament/Funkadelic album we could find. From 1975 until 1980 - the entire last half of the 1970s - my musical world was very different from yours, if you were around then. It was all funk. I saw Parliament/Funkadelic live more times than I've ever seen any band, starting from the KC Funk Festival in 1977 (Take it to Heaven in '77) until the tour for One Nation Under A Groove, where the magic paled when I realized George Clinton, the leader, wasn't even in the show anymore.

There can be no disputing my gilt-edged credentials as a bona-fide Maggot Brain of the First Order. So years later, in the early 1990s, I challenged Fo Jammi to create a little funk piece like we always wished we could back in the Jambox days when we thought we were just as good as Funkadelic but were actually more like chaotic noise more suitable for the Dr. Demento show.

So in one night we whipped up this tiny little fragment, Funkentelechy. I always loved the Funkadelic concept of Funkentelechy, and the lyrics didn't get much deeper than one line. We may have both done some keyboards on this, and I hear a little guitar, but you can bet it's almost totally Fo Jammi brilliance. I have a vague memory of Mark Gray playing that guitar solo, supported by the conviction that I never played that good in my life.

Download Funkentelechy.