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

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.

April 2019 Update!: A devoted listener now tracks The Coach's playlists and posts them on his YouTube channel: Dylan R.

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
Dylan R's "Coach" Andy Moloney Playlists

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 that later changed its name to Laff Clinic. 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!

Update (December 2017): Chuck Gross apparently saw this blog post and contacted me via email - hooray! This is what he had to say:
"Wow you have an old tape there. MAD HABITS was a recording project that consisted of Mark O'Connor and me. I wrote the songs. We recorded at Bill Pratt's 8-track recording studio. 
"Career Girls" was awarded first prize from the MID-ATLANTIC song contest. The winners performed a show at the HOLLYWOOD PALACE. The line-up included me, Rose Wampler [of Spitshine, Elements of Design, Harlan County Kings, etc.] on guitar and Mark O'Connor on keyboards, along with the drum machine. 
The project went from studio to live. The band name was changed from MAD HABITS to LAFF CLINIC. We played with OH BOY, OHO, etc., etc. I think Rod Misey [former WCVT, Towson University radio DJ] may have an interview or two archived somewhere."