THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tom Warner's Journals, Part 1

I love journals and notebooks. With an ADD-addled mind like mine, I'm constantly jotting down thoughts, observations, quotes, lists and reminders that I promise myself I will update to the cerebellum later. Problem is, I have as many journals/notebooks as thoughts, online passwords and clutter. In other words, things get lost!

Today, I needed to write something down and I grabbed a notebook from a pile of them laying in the windowsill. It was from 2008. Here are some sundry selections from nine years ago that I found amusing.


"Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing towards death. To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving." - Jean Cocteau ("Opium: The Diary of a Cure")

Quote from Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau (aka The Raven, France, 1943). In the Mass scene, Dr. Germain asks the cuckolded psychiatrist Dr. Vorzet if he's religious: "Religious? No, just cautious. I like to take out insurance. It doesn't cost much."

Notes from the 2008 Maryland Film Festival, which I worked as a volunteer, videotaping director Q & A's with the audience:

  • Alex Gibney intro'ed his film Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson with a Thompson quote: "You bought the ticket, enjoy the ride!"
  • I sat next to the most annoying woman. Middle-aged. I noticed she wouldn't turn her cell phone off. Hid it under a shawl the first 15 minutes of movie. Then she systematically chewed her fingernails - all 10 of 'em! - throughout the movie! (Thank God it was only two hours, any more and she'd probably move on to her toenails!) Then she would transfer her remnants to her left hand and delicately rub the detritus off, like she was rubbing away the salt from pistachios or chips onto the floor near my camera bag. TOTALLY DISGUSTING, She saw me staring at her - I was hoping to shame her, but she was well beyond shame, and I had to cup my head with my right hand, like blinders, so I could escape from her wretched, and most unfortunate, presence in the last good seat in the house in the front row.
  • Q&A: A woman asked why Hunter S. Thompson always wore shorts. "Do you know why he always wore shorts?" Laughter. Long pause from Gibney, after repeating the question, then a simple reply: "No." The mystery continues.
  • Dumbest question of the night, as usual from Charles Theater fixture Charles Johnson: "Where did Dr. Thompson get his doctorate?" Gibney explained that Thompson bought his title from the Universal Life Church sometime in the '60s, adding that he himself has a "doctorate" from the Universal Life Church. As do I!
"Is there a Doctor in the house?"

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Music Coach

"The Music Show" with Andy "The Coach" Moloney, WKHS 90.5 FM
Saturdays 10 a.m.-Noon, Sundays 8 p.m.-Midnight

One of my favorite commutes is driving down to Dundalk with my wife Amy on Saturday mornings to have brunch with her parents. That's because Amy and I beat the Beltway Blues by listening to one of our favorite weekend radio programs, "The Music Show" on WKHS (90.5 FM), which is hosted by "The Coach," Andy Moloney, from 10 a.m. until Noon. (The Coach also hosts a "Music Show" on Sunday nights from 8 p.m. until Midnight. See full WKHS schedule here.)

WKHS broadcasts out of Kent County High School in Worton, Maryland, and on weekdays is staffed by the school's budding student DJs. But at night and on weekends, WKHS is staffed by local "community volunteers" like Andy Moloney, who at one time coached the school's basketball team; he may still be a coach at the school - there's hardly any information on the web about Moloney as either a coach or DJ - but he's definitely a jock at heart because he provides play-by-play of Kent County H.S. Trojans basketball games on WKHS with "Little C" Joey Cichoki and also reads sports scores as host of "The Scoreboard" on Saturday mornings from 9-10 a.m. (He even cancelled one Sunday night broadcast so he could concentrate on his Fantasy Football League draft!)

(When the students and community members aren't there - summers, weekends, late nights - WKHS simulcasts WXPN radio from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.)

As a broadcaster, The Coach is far from slick, but his taste is Eclectic Old School, with an emphasis on obscure '70s hard rock, Psychedelia in all shapes and forms, and unapologetic Prog (a four-letter word that dare not speak its name these days, unless "ironically"). Moloney reminds us that the 1970s ushered in the era of album-oriented FM radio, when "deep cuts"replaced the singles hit parade and "heavy rotation" playlists. Many bands during this era released a single record and disappeared without a trace, but Coach proves there's still a glut of undiscovered treasures to be unearthed on all those long-players. (As a child of the post-Beatles '70s, I had always ignored most of the music scene that existed before Punk and New Wave, erroneously believing it to be landfill fodder; now I'm retrospectively atoning for my audio ignorance.)

Sure, he loves classic mainstream hard rock like Bad Company, Mott the Hoople, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Grand Funk Railroad and Loverboy ("Working for the Weekend" opened a recent show), but Amy and I discover bands and tunes here that we never hear anywhere else - songs that challenge my Shazam app's "name that tune" recall abilities. Bands with names like Aardvark (an organ-heavy UK Psych group featuring guitarist Paul Kossof and drummer Simon Kirke before they joined Free), Agnes StrangeBang, Black Sheep (featuring the pre-Foreigner Lou Gramm), Home, Omega (the Hungarian rockers whose '69 international hit "Gyongyhaju Iany" - roughly "Pearl-haired Girl" - was later cover by Scorpions and sampled by Kanye West), Pipe Dream, Ram Jam (see video below) and Pulsar - the latter an amazing French prog band whose Pink Floyd- and King Crimson-influenced 1975 debut Pollen album is well worth picking up. (How I wish WKHS posted its playlists - can't those students teach the volunteers some basic HTML?)

On a recent Saturday, for example, we heard such obscure groups as Dutch rockers Drama, Earth Quake, Elmer City Rambling Dogs, the Chico Magnetic Band (from France, like the Coneheads!) and - wait for it - Gong! Not Pierre Moerlin's Gong, but the original Teapot Pixie himself, Daevid Allen's Gong! Yes, the pioneering Anglo-Franco Psychedelic Hippie Space-Rock band formed by Daevid Allen (previously a founding member of UK prog-rockers Soft Machine) and his muse Gilli Smyth in 1968. (Allen died from cancer in 2015; Smyth followed, succumbing to pulmonary pneumonia, in August 2016.) The Coach - after reading all those mind-numbingly dull sports results from 9 to 10 and then opening his music show with Loverboy - played Gong's "Magick Brother"!

The minute I heard Gilli Smyth's erotic "space whisper" on "Magick Brother," I knew it was my college faves and had to pull over to listen. Amy loves anything weird, so she was entranced as well!

Listen to Gong's "Magick Brother" LP.

As if hearing one Gong song wasn't cool enough, Coach followed "Magick Brother" with perhaps Gong's signature sing-along, "Pot Head Pixies"! "I am...you are...we are...CRAZEE!" (Parenthetical thought: This would make an excellent segue into P. Frog's "We Are Crazy." Just a suggestion, Coach!)

Listen to Gong's "Pot Head Pixies."

You see, back in the late '70s, I was a fan of all things Gong - be it Chuck Barris' The Gong Show or Daevid Allen's trippy-hippy-dippy musical troupe - during my "progressive" phase. Gong were definitely Prog (incorporating Allen's spacey "glissando" guitar with elements of jazz, rock and psychedelia), but were never overly serious or pretentious about it. They were fun and silly, dabbling in Far Eastern mysticism while creating a stoner mythology on vinyl about Zero the Hero and his pothead pixie pals zooming around the cosmos in their flying teapots (aka, The Radio Gnome Trilogy: Flying Teapot, Angel Egg and You). Richard Branson signed the group to his new Virgin Records label in 1973 and the original members were soon augmented by guitarist Steve Hillage, synth player Tim Blake, bassist Mike Howlett, and drummer Pierre Moerlen.

A Pot Head Pixie in his Flying Teapot

Back in 1978, a bunch of us Prog-heads (Tom Lehrer, John Lorch, Carlos?) drove up to New York to see Daevid Allen and various manifestations of Gong (Mother Gong, New York Gong) at the avant-rock-experimental Zu Manifestival...

...and in 1979 I saw Gong perform a midnight show at Johns Hopkins University, a gig at which my old bandmate Adolf Kowalski promoted our group by canvasing the campus with Thee Katatonix graffitti - promptly getting us banned from JHU! After the show, my ex-wife Katie and I even got our photo taken with Allen and his missus, Gilli Smyth (aka Shakti Yoni).

Tom, Daevid & Katie at Gong's 1979 JHU show

Chanteuse Gilli Smyth space whispering at Gong's 1979 JHU concert

I remember Gong were big on Lunar Lunacy, preferring to perform their sets under a full moon - and the Hopkins concert was no exception (and probably why Adolf killed time waiting for the midnight curtain call by roaming the halls and defacing the walls of Shriver Hall).

Before that, the Coach had introduced us to the crazy sounds of the Lyon-based Chico Magnetic Band, dropping something called "Explosion" onto our curious ears.

Listen to Chico Magnetic Band play "Explosion."

I think Coach was sampling their album for the first time, because he admitted afterwards, "I really wasn't sure what I was getting into with these guys!" He was probably as gobsmacked as we were by the crazy sounds he unleashed from their lone LP, for hearing these French acid-rockers truly is a shock to the system. Here's how reviewer Seth Man described Chico's album for Julian Cope's Head Heritage web site:

“Explosion” begins the album not with a whimper nor even a bang but Chico’s entire reason for existence all laid out in one glorious collision after another with Chico yammering, barking, guffawing and channeling consonants in a way irrespective of enunciation and rarely with a literal clue as to what he is freaking out so badly over as his ever-heaving, pulsating soul forces out a welter of incomprehensible sounds in such a riveting and demonstrative manner they almost make even [Can's] Damo Suzuki’s English/Japanese/neither dreamtime-to-Samurai-rage vocals seem like the Queen’s English by comparison...He’s dropping consonants and vowels left, right and centre and I can only make out “My sweat tastes like a river!” until it’s directed into a 4-lane highway of vocal gibber along the lines of: “Nuuuaaarrgugug!,” “Nene waundah orf zarebbb!” and even “Anmyne cloth iss fallin dawn!!...The entire album could just be this first track, and it would STILL be a killer. Ooh-la-fucking-la.

Seth Man goes on to call Chico's self-titled album "chock full o’ balls and amazing riffs that consistently make all the right moves at the right times...Put simply, this freakin’ album has EVERYTHING. And by that I mean it draws from elements of approaches set down by “Phallus Dei”-era Amon Düül Zwei, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Silberbart, Straight-era Alice Cooper, Can, Guru Guru, Groundhogs, Speed Glue & Shinki, Led Zeppelin, Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, Tiger B. Smith and “Free Your Mind”-period Funkadelic (so help me Eddie) and are seamlessly wedged into one album." Seth Man concludes that "Chico IS...The Man."

And speaking of Hendrix, I note that the band are three white guys and black dude whose Afro makes him looks a lot like Jimi. That would be singer Mahmoud "Chico" Ayara. His bandmates are guitarist Bernard Lloret, bassist Alain Fabreque and drummer Patrick Gael. Chico Magnetic Band continue the Hendrix comparisons by choosing to cover "Cross Town Traffic" (though you'd hardly recognize it) and "If 6 Was 9" (an early single).

"Chico IS...The Man"

More prog followed with a Dutch quartet called Drama, comprised of Polle Eduard (ex-Tee Set, on bass and vocals), Uly Grun (guitar, keyboards and vocals), Frank van der Kloot (guitar and vocals), and Shell Shellekens (drums). I don't remember much beyond them sounding equal parts dreamy prog and blues-rock . They released a bunch of singles and one album called, appropriately enough, Melodrama.

Listen  to three songs ("Dreamed I Was the President," "No Doctor," "Melodrama") by Drama.

Coach then got a little grittier by spinning "Little Floozy" by Elmer City Rambling Dogs. This harp-driven blues-boogie number sounds like an early Doors workout, especially given the singer's Jim Morrison imitation.

Listen to Elmer City Rambling Dogs play "Little Floozy."

Elmer City Rambling Dogs

"Jam It" (1975) LP by Elmer City Rambling Dogs

Coach even plays some more uptempo Powerpop on occasion, surprising us with cuts from San Francisco's Earth Quake (the Beserkley Records quartet that at one time backed Jonathan Richman on an early recording of "Roadrunner") and Glen Matlock's post-Pistols Rich Kids.

Listen to the Earth Quake single "Tickler."

Listen to Rich Kids play "Cheap Emotions."

Coach is also big on Philadelphia's '70s proto-Heavy Metal Bang, who obviously like Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Pentagram and their ilk - but also the Beatles, so their heavy rock is not adverse to pop melody. They had a minor hit with "Questions." Coach has played quite a few tracks from their back catalog.

Listen to Bang play "Questions."

Bang are still banging around (check them out on Facebook and Twitter @bangtheband, or read about them in the just-released biography "The Bang Story") and are still the power trio of Frank Ferrara (bass & vocals), Frank Gilcken (guitar & harmonies) and Tony Diorio (drums, lyrics, graphics, videos).

So there you have it, sports fans: a sampling of just one day's partial playlist from The Coach. When it comes to sampling the eclectic platters of 1970s album-oriented rock, there's no baloney with Andy Moloney - just choice cuts.

Related Links:
90.5 WKHS (www.wkhsradio.org)
90.5 WKHS (Facebook)
WKHS Celebrates 42 Years on the Air (ChesaDel Crier)
I Belong To the Blank Generation: WKHS' Martin Q. Blank (Accelerated Decrepitude)
WKHS' Disc Jockeys Harken Back To Radio's Golden Age (Baltimore or Less)
Listen to Aardvark's lone self-titled album (1970)
Listen to Pulsar's "Pollen" (1975) LP
Listen to Pulsar's "The Strands of Future" (1976) LP
Listen To Bang's "Bang" (1971) LP
Listen to Bang's "Bow To the King" (1972) LP

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Mad Habits

Mad Habits cassette

1. Monkey On His Back
2. No News
3.I Don't Like You
4. Too Selfish
5. When Will I Learn
6. Career Girl

Mad Habits was a Chuck Gross synthpop band from the 1980s. I don't know much about the band because Chuck keeps such a low profile that he's virtually subterranean. I assumed it was just Chuck playing everything until I learned just recently that journeyman local keyboardist Mark O'Connor was also in Mad Habits; apparently, they even played the Marble Bar back in the day. All I know is, Chuck gave me a six-song cassette tape many years ago that I never really listened to all the way through until quite recently, when his name came up in casual conversation at The Peanut Shoppe. I had just seen Chuck at Baltimore Soundstage for The Specials show and, in the course of gabbing about the concert, my Peanut Shoppe gal pal Stacey asked if I knew how to contact him. She was a fan of his days playing with Rupert Wondolowski in Little Gruntpack, whereas I knew Chuck mainly from his days playing with Mark O'Connor in The Toys and The Beaters. I went home after this conversation and dug out the Mad Habits tape and...it's great!

My wife Amy heard me playing it and said it reminded her of Henry Badowski's similarly light-hearted electronic pop. Or, I would add, like Patrick D. Martin (remember his hilarious 1981 single "Computer Datin'"; most people first heard it on the IRS Greatest Hits Vols 2 & 3 compilation). "No News" is her fave ditty ("No news is always good news to me...I don't want to know if it rains or snows/Or if Russia invades Tokyo" - and boy is it ever topical today, what with the 24/7 news - both real and "fake" - cycle), while my pick has to be the dating nightmare "Career Girl," about a Material Girl on the prowl for a guy with a fast car and lots of money ("She is counting, 1-2-3"). But all the tunes are throwback-to-the-80s synthpop classics.

Click here to listen to the "Mad Habits" tape in its entirety.

Amy was sold the minute she heard the zany electronic squonks and and squeals on the first track, "Monkey On His Back," that made her blurt "Wow, that's sooo DEVO!" So Devo and so like the best practitioners of '80s synthpop - but always with a sense of humor (more Devo and Silicone Teens than, say Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark); any of these songs would be at home on the 4AD or Mute Records labels. Now we can't stop singing along to this six-pack of unknown songs on an unknown tape by an unknown musical genius. The instrumentation is mostly synths and electronic drums, though I definitely hear snatches of real electric bass (especially that great bass line on "Monkey On His Back") and guitar (the Exacto knife-sharp Gang of Four riffs on "Career Girl"). According to Mark O'Connor, who provided the ARP Odyssey synthesizer sounds, Chuck wrote all the songs and played everything else: "That's him on bass, guitar and drum machine."

"Monkey On His Back" opens with an ominous-sounding undercurrent, as befitting the subject matter: a drug addict's best friend, the monkey hunched on his back. Monk keeps his BFF dressed in sunglasses and long-sleeve shirts even when it's 110 degrees in the shade. "He insists he'll never bother you, just as long as he gets what he needs/But then again he says he'll do most anything/He'll always keep the friend that he feeds." So true, dat.

"No News" describes the folly of following the world's foibles and failings, no doubt one reason Gross has dropped off the social media grid. He'd rather being making music than listening, reading or watching the world go by. "I could care less why they are on strike, or why workers need a fat payday hike/No news is good news that I am always looking for/And I don't need my paper all wet, left by my front door/Please don't you tell me that the end is drawing near/No news is good news, that's what I always want to hear - I don't like the...NEWS!"

The remaining four songs all deal with dating and relationships, with tones ranging from serious ("I Don't Like You") to self-reflective ("Too Selfish"), but mostly just humorous ("When Will I Learn," "Career Girls").

"I Don't Like You" peels away a failed romance to its core: "Sometimes we don't realize, that we just keep on living lies/We don't seem to realize the feelings in our hearts/We dance around and smile at each other, underneath the nightclub cover/We gave it all we had, it was a nice start." Chuck sings "It's hard to come to terms with the way we feel" but admits "I don't like you, you don't like me anymore, there's nothing left to do or say/Please don't teach me, try to reach me anymore/And then we'll both be on our way." Love isn't always meant to be and, once gone, is only legacy.

In "Too Selfish," Chuck laments that "you want me all to yourself, but I'm afraid that's impossible my dear," confessing that he's "too selfish to love only you." Amy and I refer to this as the "Skynth" song because it lays a guitar-driven Ska beat over a synthesizer base; the playful rhythm takes the edge off the "It's not you, it's me" romantic drama.

Being stood up is only one of Chuck's complaints in "When Will I Learn." "When will I learn/I'm really getting tired of being burned by you - yeah you!" He's "really glad that I met you, but I soon found out I'd rather forget you/I didn't know what I was getting into." Now he's looking for an escape clause...

"Career Girl" chronicles the plight of a single man fighting off women with their eyes on the prize: a sugar daddy who brings home the bacon."This girl pursues a man, she'll never take a rest/Don't care what they look like, his money makes him best/ Avoiding these girls seems to be the only key/Or you could wind up losing all your best friends, most of your hair and your sanity." I like the interlude where Chuck has two "Career Girls" talking shop about their prey: "What's his name, how's he dress?" "Name is Dion, Barclay James...a rising exec, I gave him the test."

And while Chuck documents his romantic setbacks, it's never dire. "Mad Habits" is consistently entertaining and enjoyable and full of infectious hooks and memorable lines that Amy and I can't stop singing!

But as far as contacting Chuck Gross, Stacey...well, he is totally off the grid and n'exist pas as far as the Internets are concerned. You can't find one picture of him: nada. So, for the purposes of this review, I'm going to substitute this picture of Peanuts character Pigpen playing bass to represent him (the real Chuck Gross would be wearing a hat, of course, and he'd be very clean):

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Peanut: Chuck Gross

Yet he has a storied musical history, especially with "GOHOG Revue"-related bands - that collection of performing and recording musical pseudonyms whose ranks included members of OHO, Food For Worms, Dark Side, Trixy & the Testones, Razor, The Toys, Unyflow, BLAMMO and the Beaters. And Chuck Gross references abound throughout Joe Vaccarino's local music tome Baltimore Sounds (2nd Edition, 2012), where you can find listings for Chuck's former bands Laff Clinic (circa 1984-1985; they released one single, "Pariah" b/w "Action Figure Knickknacks"), Little Gruntpack, the Toys, and (my personal fave) the Beaters.

Mark O'Connor of The Beaters (and countless GOHOG bands)

The Beaters were a short-lived local New Wave supergroup, a 1980 "Marble Bar All-Stars" ensemble comprised of O'Connor (keyboards, guitar & vocals) and Gross (bass) from the Toys, drummer Joe Manfre and guitarist Mikel Gehl from Neige, and Cindy "Bobby Sox" Borchardt (later of The Monuments) on vocals. The Beaters billed themselves as "the fastest band in town," and they mixed clever originals ("I Wanna Be Like a Woman," "Fun In Nicaragua" - the latter an O'Connor song from his days in Dark Side with a great shout-out to Orioles pitcher "Dennis Martinez, your home is where the heat is!") with a diverse selection of covers (Beatles, Blondie, The Fugs/Holy Modal Rounders' "Boobs A Lot," The Vibrators' "I Need a Slave," The Eyes' "TAQN" (Take A Quaalude Now), and The Curse's "Killer Bees," the latter a showcase for the insouciant vocal stylings of Cindy Borchardt).

The Killer B: Cindy Borchardt

Of course, any band with O'Connor and Gross in it is also going to be funny, and the Beaters were no exception. I recall them being heckled at one Marble Bar gig by Thee Katatonix frontman Adolf Kowalski and O'Connor responded by dedicating a song about unwanted pregnancies with the bon mots, "This one's for you Adolf!"

Before that, Chuck and Mark O'Connor were in the Parkville-based Toys, whose original name was Concert (allegedly in response to hearing there was a local band called Audience). Concert/Toys were a Top 40 rock band that played at high school dances and area clubs from 1974-1980. According to Baltimore Sounds, they were the weekend house band at the Red Balloon on Belair Road and would also don Sgt. Pepper's costumes to double as a Beatles cover band. Their highest profile gig was headlining a New Year's Eve show at (the now long-gone) Painter's Mill Concert Hall. O'Connor replaced original keyboardist Tim Kilgore and was himself later replaced by Ed Weber (ex-Seed, Shane); the other members were Gross (bass), Randy Hammond (vocals), and Bruce Crawford (guitar).

Chuck Gross is probably most associated with Little Gruntpack, the Captain Beefhearty Blues-Boogie Art-rock band whose other members included leader Rupert Wondolowski (guitar & vocals), his Normals Books & Music cohort Alfred "Angus" Merchlinsky (guitar), Chuck (bass), Chris "Batworth" Ciattei (drums), Scott "Swede" Larson (accordion), and Ralph Stewart (harmonica), with contributions from journeyman horn player John Dierker (sax). The band reflected the literary and avant-garde influence of the Normals-Shattered Wig-Red Room "poets-'n-painters-with-guitars" mindset, as many members and contributors were published authors and artists. Gruntpack released a single and two albums: 1997's Slipping Off the Map and 1999's Lurking.

Little Gruntpack 45 - "Slipping Off the Map" b/w "New year's With Guns"

Little Gruntpack 45 back cover

Little Gruntpack - Slipping Off the Map (1997)

Little Gruntpack - Lurking (1999)

Lurking was the only Gruntpack album I ever owned (curiously, I picked it up from a "Free Music" pile at a Govans yoga studio on Bellona Avenue that I suspect was left there by nearby resident Batworth or his wife Jenny Keith!), and it's pretty good. My fave songs are "B-Side Shenanigans" and the two instros, "Caution Your Head Samba" and "My New Pants," which are guitar-bass-drums workouts highlighting the technical skills of Rupert, Angus, Gross and Batworth. And the closing "Lonely Motel 6" lets John Dierker release his inner Ornette Coleman, as he honks, squonks, squeals and blows with wild abandon over a steady Gruntpack groove that would not be out of place at a Red Room jam. At times, Dierker's sax even sounds like Chris Wood flavoring an extended Traffic tune. After about 30 seconds, this final song is followed by a gem of a "hidden track," as Rupert turns into Choo Choo Charlie, singing a folk paen to a "freight train, freight train" rolling down the tracks. Propelled by Batworth's locomotive beat and "Swede" Larson's accordion, Rupert pleads "Don't tell them what car I'm on, so no one will know where I've gone."

In 1997, "Chuckie" teamed up with Little Gruntpack mates "Batworth" (drums) and Ralph "Stoo" Stewart (guitar) to form the surf instrumental trio The Soul Gamblers; they disbanded to go back to Gruntpack before reforming in 2000 to record their lone album, Souled OutThe Reverb That Wouldn't Die web site described them thusly: "Inspired by the traditional surf music of the 60's, B-movie schlock, and the garage/neo-surf sounds coming out of the Pacific Northwest via Estrus Records, The Soul Gamblers put together a sound that has been described by noted film/music critic Rudolph Carresso as 'the aural by-product of a three-way collision between a Woody Wagon, a '65 Pontiac Hearse, and Dracula's record collection.'"

The Soul Gamblers album features a 50/50 split between classic surf covers and Ralph Stewart originals. They were a worthy addition to Baltimore's resurgent garage/instro-surf-rock scene, which at high tide included Garage Sale, The Diamondheads, The Tridents (another Batworth band!), the Delmarvas, and countless others.

As you can see, Chuck Gross has a varied - and very interesting - musical C.V. Let's hope he revisits his electronic phase sometime in the future because his "Mad Habits" are habit forming!

Coda: The last time I saw Mark O'Connor (sometime around October 2017), I asked him if he knew how to contact Chuck Gross. "Of course - we're actually playing in a band together," he said. Some things never change!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Poets with Guitars: Markman & McQuade

Howard Markman & Acoustic Palookaville at Village Square cafe
After a recent social media post about Club Charles closing and attendant lamentations over other Charm City institutions that have bitten the dust over the years, I dug out Howard Markman’s Palookaville ditty "Between Glasphalt and the Stars," which name checks several Baltimore cultural landmarks. Like Rafael Alvarez and Tommy DiVenti, Howard is a deft chronicler of the many charms of Balti-lore, and I am glad I got to see his recent gig with Acoustic Palookaville (aka Howard, bassist Thom Huntington, and guitarist Andy Thurston - with backing vocals by Celeste Thurston) at Cross Keys' Village Square Cafe. (Non-acoustic Palookaville is Howard, bassist Chas Marsh, drummer Jim Hannah, and keyboardist Glenn Workman.) In songs like "Glasphalt," "Welcome To Smalltimore," “Baltimore To Bethlehem” and "Anna," he recalls bygone haunts like the Marble Bar, Martick's, and No Fish Today, images that still evoke what Howard would call "half smiles" and "blue skies." In his song "If I Were a Poet," Howard sings "Poems are forests and words are trees"; if so, Howard's songs are like splinters that get under one's skin and stay there, embedded as ear-worms
The Dharma Bums at the Village Square Cafe

Village Square Cafe's live music series is great (and so is the food - featuring the town's best Black Bean Burger!) and at Howard's show we sat with Helene Cooper and Brian McQuade of The Dharma Bums. The Dharma Bums had played there just two weeks before and I got to thinking how similar Brian McQuade and Howard Markman are. In the musical equivalent of Ancestry.com, both are descendants of Dylan, poets with guitars, oral story tellers who make us want to turn the page with them. They're part of the great American singer-songwriter tradition, one in which peers Dylan, Newman and Nilsson would look down on their graying heads with approval and give them a hearty thumbs up. And what great stories they tell! Both Howard and Brian can rock out (viz Howard's "Big Hair" and "Pennies On the Floor," Brian's "Johnny Says" and the Swingin' '60s spy spoof "Black Russian"), but at their core they're introspective, sensitive souls whose most intimate songs are tinged with melancholy and self-reflection - like all great artists (see: Chilton, Cohen, Keene, Lennon, Reed, Pete Ham). Howard even manages to half-smile at his blues in songs like "Glasphalt," "Sashimi To Go," and "Carla Bley."

And both do interesting takes on other artists' songs, Howard slowing down Prince's "Little Red Corvette" to cruising speed while Brian deconstructs Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" to its gnarly roots in Americana folk-blues. The Dharma Bums are also big time Stevie Nicks fans, so it's a given that they would utilize Brian's guitar prowess to back Helene's heartfelt vocals on Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." Brian also covers or pays homage to Dylan (obviously), The Beatles ("Norwegian Wood" and his Lennon tribute "Johnny Says"), Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, and his guitar idol Richard Thompson. Howard gives props to his tie-dyed past (yes, before he had his eyes opened wide by the Punk and New Wave movements, he was a member of the late '70s jam band Milton Freewater/Freewater) on the Grateful Dead's "Brown-Eyed Women" (on 2010's Welcome To Smalltimore album).

Howard has released four albums, as shown below, all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Three of them are even available at Baltimore city's central library (I wonder how that happened?).

Symptom Recital (2002)

Half Smiles Blue Skies (2006)

Half Smiles Blue Skies is my favorite Markman release, a solid long player of poignant love - and l'amour perdue - songs ("Anna," "I See the Rain") and uptempo rockers, with "Stuck In the Middle" standing out as arguably the best tune Howard has ever penned. It's a perfect mid-tempo pop song, packed with memorable images and clever wordplay. Flawless. "Anna" would fit nicely on a John Prine record (that's high praise in my book!), "Almost Home"'s fluid guitar lines would be at home on a Dire Straits album, and the snarly "Big Hair" ("Big hair, no brains/After sex, nothing remains...Big chest, no heart/Is this where the trouble starts?") is a total buzz-cut with a downright nasty guitar solo. "Almost Home" and "Iowa Skies" are intriguing on-the-road stories, while "Sashimi To Go" shows that even when life gets you down, there's always something worth living for. Who can argue with raw fish as salvation?

Welcome To Smalltimore (2010)

Another Day (2016)

Brian recently gave me his 2002 solo album, Lone Wolf (which I hope was NOT inspired by the 1983 Chuck Norris movie Lone Wolf McQuade - though both men appear bare-chested on their respective covers)...

Lone Wolf (2002)

...and I think he should either re-release it or upload it to the Cloud, because it's one of Baltimore's great undiscovered albums, as is Howard's 2006 magnum opus Half Smiles, Blue Skies (which gets bonus points for the back cover picture of Howard reading a book - a book with words! - outside Club Pussycat on The Block!).

"There's no one like McQuade" - except Chuck Norris!

Brian - the other "Lone Wolf" McQuade

Howard likes to read

Brian donned his Todd Rundgren Something/Anything hat for Lone Wolf (which he co-produced with Mac Walter), playing most of the instruments - guitars, drums and percussion, piano, organ, harmonica, accordion, even digeridoo (!) - with a little help from his friends Ralph Reinoldi (bass, mandolin), Bill Phelan (playing majestic electric 12-string guitar on "Givin' Up On Love"), Mac Walter (classical guitar on "Sky Is Bleeding," violin on "Children of the Wind," bass), Chris Weaver (drums on "Lone Wolf"), and Helene Cooper and Jim O'Hara (harmony vocals on "Sky Is Bleeding").

The snarky "17 Syllable Blues" is the album's highlight, a clever mesh of words and music that the Bard (the one from Hibbing, Minnesota, that is) probably wishes he had written, while "Sky Is Bleeding" and "Givin' Up On Love" (fave lines: "Well I got a good car with a stereo and the tunes I can't forget/I can walk around naked in my living room just like Alanis Morissette") are also standout tracks. "Givin' Up On Love" is a really upbeat breakup song, with Brian looking forward from the past ("I'm gonna let this go through me, I won't hold on, I'll forget what she said/I'll just let the wind blow through me, but I'll still hold on just like the spider's web") and even name-checking Dylan: "Well I got the new Dylan and some bongo drums and a good six-string/I'm writing these words in the woods, so no one can hear me sing."

There's a nice variety to the album, with instrumentals ("Blue Walkabout," the sparse piano and guitar interlude of "Dreamtime"), the topical ecological concerns of "Green Planet Blues" ("No ozone, the layer is blown/I better own some sun screen 30"), Middle Eastern-flavored worldbeat on "Children of the Wind," straight-up blues on "Medicine Girl," a philosophical acceptance that "All Things Must Pass Away" ("All things must pass away/to the sun, the darkness must give way"), and a celebration of the things that make Brian happy - nature and the joys it affords those who seek solitude far from the madding crowds ("Lone Wolf," "Wolfsong," "On the Beach"). Or, as he sums up in "Waltzing in the Snow": "The world's a cake and the frosting's all there." The only song I recognize from the Dharma Bums' set list is "La Vie Boheme," which makes sense because Brian and Howard are both, at heart, modern day Boho's, marching to the beat of a different drum. I hope one day others will join their parade and that their songs will be appreciated for the little gems they are.

Related Videos:
Howard Markman - "Welcome To Smalltimore"
Dharma Bums - "Black Russian" (Live at Village Square Cafe)
Dharma Bums - "A Brand New Song" (Live at Village Square Cafe)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lost & Found: The Cabal/Null Set EP

(Awf-Trak, 1984)

Cabal EP (Awf-Trak, 1984)

On two successive weekends, my wife Amy has spotted Cabal's self-titled six-song EP in two different record stores in Frederick, Maryland. Amy now has multiple copies of this album (as do I), leading her friends to joke that she must leave some in the record bins for future fans to discover!

Amy scores "Cabal" at Rock & Roll Graveyard on E. Patrick Street, Frederick

Amy spots "Cabal" at Record Exchange on N. Market Street, Frederick

Cabal was basically a continuation of Null Set, the early '80s Baltimore band formed by her ex-husband, the dearly departed guitar whiz "Mark Harp" (Mark Linthicum, 1957-2004) and singer Bill Dawson, minus bassist John Chriest and drummer Louis Frisino (who was replaced by Rich Dickson). Null Set had to change their name because there was a New Jersey group, the synth-pop Nullset, recording under that name in 1983. (Ironically, there are now countless bands listed on Discogs.com using both the Null Set and Cabal monikers.) Though only Harp, Dawson and Dickson are credited on the record, Cabal the live band was augmented by a rotating cast of sidemen, including: bassists Les Hendrix, Dave Zidek, and Dick Hertz; second guitarist Mark King; keyboardist Danny Brown; and Steve Palmieri, a sound engineer who played synths.

Null Set debuts at Baltimore's Marble Bar (October 30, 1982)

Cabal: Mark King, Rich Dickson, Bill Dawson, Les Hendrix, Mark Harp

Bill Dawson steps to the mic

Bill Dawson's Napoleon impression

Bill Dawson, smoking live!

Null Set frontman Bill Dawson rocks the plaid

Null Set singer Bill Dawson contemplates Nordic Ennui in Dundalk, Wintertime 1980s

Mark Harp, Null Set

Mark Harp (in his "Choose Death" tee) with Cabal

Cabal: Les Hendrix, Mark Harp, and Mark King

"It's a sign from Mark," Amy remarked when she spotted a copy of the record in an E. Patrick Street store called (appropriately enough) "Rock & Roll Graveyard." If so, Cabal has taken up residence in this DC Bedroom community of Frederick County, for she sighted yet another copy the very next week around the corner at Record Exchange on N. Market Street.

Back of 6-song Cabal EP

The tracks on this rare EP are:

1. Null Theme
2. In Touch
3. Future In Pain
4. Blissful Trust
5. Fall Flat
6. New Horizon

The CD reissue of the 6-song EP featured 10 remixes and bonus songs from the Cabal/Null Set era 1981-1985, including two Cabal tracks recorded live at the Marble Bar in 1983 and three Null Set demos (including "Perception," arguably their best and most commercial song) recorded in 1981 and produced by Sam Prager at Eastern Studios in Glen Burnie, MD. It's available for downloading from the web site 24 Hours with Mark Harp, where Mark himself described the Cabal record as "Dark post-punk." That's an understatement. Whereas humor was always part-and-parcel of Mark Harp's musical output, Null Set/Cabal was dead serious business. As Bill Dawson sang in Null Set's signature "Theme" song, "Paint it black/You know where we're at!" Performing live, Bill sometimes even bit down on fake blood capsules for added dramatic visual effect. The music may have been all Mark, but the lyrical narrative was all Bill, and the songs that resulted from their collaboration reflect the influence of the UK post-punk bands they were listening to at the time: Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Joy Division, Gang of Four, PiL, and John Foxx's Ultravox, to name but a few. The synth-heavy "Open Up" (originally available only on cassette) even channels a Devo vibe, while the radio-friendly "New Horizon"'s danceable beat suggests Cabal could be a pop band when they wanted to be.

The Cabal record was recorded in Spring 1984 at Studio North in Fallston, MD,  with Buck Awf (Bucky Baum) credited as the executive producer, though Mark Harp produced and mixed the music with engineer Steve Palmieri. The EP came with a picture sleeve insert, designed by Bill Dawson with original artwork by Andrew Goldys, caligraphy by Paul Yu Rek, and photographs of the musicians by Mark King.

Cabal EP insert, sleeve design by Bill Dawson

At the very top it said, "This record is dedicated to the memory of Roger Anderson." Roger Anderson, owner of Baltimore's legendary rock club The Marble Bar, had just passed away from a heart attack in April 1984. At the time, the Marble Bar was the reigning home of alternative rock music, a place that - in the words of City Paper music critic Michael Yockel - provided "spiky-haired punks/punkettes and skinny-tied new wavers a sanctuary to play/dance/hang out." Early on, Roger Anderson committed to providing an outlet for groups like Null Set/Cabal as opposed to the cover bands and mainstream rock ensembles appearing in clubs around the Beltway circuit.

The insert listed the band as Bill Dawson (vocals, backing vocals), Rich Dickson (drums, percussion), and Mark Harp (guitars, basses, Casio, Oberheim, percussion, backing vocals, and drum programming). (I admit that I had to look up "Oberheim" - it's a synthesizer, named after its inventor Tom Oberheim; Oberheim Electronics also manufactured the DMX drum machine, which was a staple of early hip-hop records.)

Mark Harp (photo by Mark King)

Bill Dawson (photo by Mark King)

Rich Dickson (photo by Mark King)

Thanks were given to "a cast of thousands," including Bill's girlfriend Michelle, Mark's sweetie Amy, LesLee (Anderson, who continued to operate the Marble Bar following her husband Roger Anderson's death in 1984), Pam (City Paper writer Pamela Purdy), Lizard (Ed Rosen), Louie (Louis Frisino, original Null Set drummer) and, of course, "Bob" (Church of the Subgenius avatar J.R. "Bob" Dobbs).

Cabal says "Thanks!"

Watch Bill Dawson sing "Null Theme" and "Fall Flat" with the Mark Harp All-Stars at the May 26, 2013 SoWeBohemian Festival in Baltimore:

Ceil Strakna and Bill Dawson with the Mark Harp All-Stars, SoWeBohemian Festival (May 26, 2013)

One of the best and most detailed reviews of the Cabal record can be found at "Fantod Under Glass" which, for convenience, I've inserted below:

*************** CABAL/NULL SET REVIEW ***************

Cabal 6-song EP (Awf-Trak, 1984)
By some accounts Baltimore's first and greatest postpunk band, Null Set was the brainchild of singer Bill Dawson (previously seen here with Black Pete) and guitarist Mark Harp. Null Set's highest-profile gig was opening for the Ramones at Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall, and they were semi-regulars at the Marble Bar and DC's 9:30 Club in the early 80s. Their Bauhaus fandom shows pretty clearly in their early recordings; "An Evening In Town" is their "Bela Lugosi's Dead". Null Set came to an abrupt end when an identically-named band from another city put out a record; Baltimore's Null Set ended up changing their name to Cabal. In 1984 they released their only record, a self-titled 6-song EP on Buck Awf's ad-hoc Awf-Trak label; on it they started to come out from under the Bauhaus influence and expand their sound, even approaching synth-pop on "New Horizon." Commercial success did not ensue, however, and the band drifted apart. Mark Harp went on to record hundreds of hours of music in a myriad of different projects; he eventually divided them into 24 hour-long thematic sections and posted them on his website (and at the Internet Archive) as 24 Hours with Mark Harp. Mark died in December 2004, but his website is still there. What I am presenting here is the 12:00 AM hour of 24 Hours, containing all the Null Set and Cabal recordings; I have renamed the files and added ID3 tags for better playback display, and put them into a single zip file for easy downloading. The tracks are:
  1. Cabal - Null Theme (Tracks 1-6 are from the Cabal EP)
  2. Cabal - In Touch
  3. Cabal - Future In Pain
  4. Cabal - Blissful Trust
  5. Cabal - Fall Flat
  6. Cabal - New Horizon
  7. Cabal - Open Up (Cassette only track from the Cabal EP release)
  8. Cabal - Assistance (Live at The Marble Bar Baltimore 1983)
  9. Cabal - Brash Finale (Also live at The Marble Bar 1983)
  10. Cabal - Check This Out (Recorded live in Bill's basement 1984)
  11. Cabal - No Way Out (Recorded live in Bill's basement 1984)
  12. Null Set - Null Theme (Tracks 12-14 from Null Set's demo recorded 1981 at Eastern Studios in Glen Burnie, MD, produced by Sam Prager)
  13. Null Set – Perception
  14. Null Set - Go!
  15. Null Set - An Evening In Town (synth thanks to Jack Heinicke)
CABAL - Bill Dawson - Vocals, Mark Harp - Guitars and stuff, Rich Dickson - Drums, Dave Zidek - Bass, Dick Hertz - Bass, Danny Brown - Keys, Steve Palmieri - Synth and sound, Les Hendrix - Bass, Mark King - Guitar & keys
NULL SET - Bill Dawson - Vocals, Mark Harp - Guitars & Stuff, John Chriest - Bass, Louis Frisino - Drums
Get the zip file here or here. (New links)


By the way, I was lucky enough to be at that near-capacity Johns Hopkins University Shriver Hall show (March 1, 1982) mentioned above where Null Set opened for The Ramones (Mark wouldn't allow Amy to go, for some reason - a missed opportunity she's always regretted), and it wasn't just their highest-profile performance, it was perhaps their best.

I recall that it was very dramatic, opening in pitch blackness with the "Null Theme." The four-piece band came onstage one at a time, timed to match their musical contribution to the song. Mark came on first playing the guitar riff and illuminated only by his lit cigarette glowing in the darkness; next, Louis Frisino took a seat behind his drum kit as the percussion kicked in; he was followed by John Chriest laying down the bass; finally, the lights came up as Bill Dawson stepped to the microphone to sing "We are null, there is nothing/Nothing clapping, no one dancing/We are the preset, mental incest/Paint it black, you know where we're a-a-a-at...Null Set, Null Set, always gray/Null Set, Null Set, nowhere today, Null Set, Null Set, floating bodies/Null Set Null Set, a new something now!"

It was electrifying and all the locals gathered there that night were convinced that this might be the one rock band to break out of Baltimore and make it nationally. (Ha! How were we to know it would be The Ravyns, albeit briefly, with their '82 hit "Raised On the Radio," as featured in the Fast Times At Ridgemont High soundtrack? Foo!) Well, maybe everybody except Johns Hopkins University News-letter writers Hunt Salisbury and (future City Paper scribe) Granville Greene. In their "Gabba Gabba Ramones" review (March 5, 1982, Volume 86, Number 19), they described Null Set as follows:

 "Embodying some kind of nihilistic, conceptually-obnoxious philosophy (the band wore only black), Null Set, its lead singer resembling both Gary Numan and Herman Munster, played a loud and strident set concerned with (what else?) alienation and the decline of society...Null Set opened up with a few hot trendies and blasted our poor little ears. Their first couple of songs were pretty good, but they went steadily downhill from there, ending their last song with the words 'it's just not funny anymore,' defining themselves in a nutshell."
Null Set blurb from JHU News-letter review

"Gaba Gabba Ramones" full review, page 1

"Gabba Gabba Ramones" full review, page 2

Ouch! I totally disagree, but then the reviewers seemed to have a New Wave chip on their shoulders, given headlines like "Drugged Punks Pogo Between Seats" and this description of Null Set's fans:

"On the left aisle were bopping boppers, Gabba-Gabba Heying to their hearts content, while on the right, trendy Null Set fans continued to strut their stuff. When the Ramones came on, this group of people bashed and crashed in the aisle, while simultaneously being given probable permanent ear damage by the ridiculously loud speakers. The game was to push and be pushed, slam and be slammed. How punk. I got hit in the balls twice. What fun."

Null Set fans at Shriver Hall (photo by Michael Fitzgerald)

Admittedly, there was a rather dour, downbeat feel to most Null Set/Cabal songs, and I'm sure they were one of the bands indirectly referenced in Food For Worms' clever send-up of Goth/Industrial music, "Gloom Club" (available on 2001's The Ultimate Diet).

By the way, "Null Theme" is structured musically like a pop palindrome. The song begins and ends the same way: opening with solo guitar, guitar + drums, guitar + drums + bass, guitar + drums + bass + voice, and then subtracting each element  one at a time (first voice, then drums, then bass) until returning to the solo guitar riff that started it all.

In accordance with musical catch-and-release principles, Amy has now vowed to return any subsequent Cabal records she finds to their respective record bins so that they may be discovered by future generations of discerning post-punk rock cognoscenti.

Finally, reflecting on that pic of Amy outside Frederick's Rock & Roll Graveyard record store, I realized that the store's sidewalk sign depicted the cover of Mountain's Climbing! LP, the album whose lead track was Leslie West's cowbell-propelled hit "Mississippi Queen."

Mountain - "Climbing!" (Windfall Records, 1970)

How curious that after Cabal broke up, Bill Dawson teamed up with George Hagegeorge to form Black Pete and play guitar-driven industrial music in the vein of Ministry and Skinny Puppy - and release a 12-inch single cover of "Mississippi Queen" (Calvert Street Records, 1989)!

Black Pete - "Mississippi Queen" b/w "Vicious" & "Ablaze" (Calvert Street Records, 1989)

According to Hagegeorge's wife Cherly Fair, the lyrics were modified to make the song's character a vampire. Cheryl adds that Black Pete was strictly a studio project. The 12-inch received some airplay and appeared on several compilations. Though they were interviewed on the radio and were popular with club DJs, they never played live or made a music video (though you can listen to "Mississippi Queen" and the B-sides "Vicious" and "Ablaze" on her YouTube channel).

And as blogger Burl Veneer (former WJHU DJ Bill Barnett, who now broadcasts at WVUD 93.1 FM) points out, Ministry later followed Black Pete's lead, covering "Mississippi Queen" on their 2008 collection of classic rock covers, Cover Up!