Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Let's Close Out January With Two Tracks From The Unexplained's "Rough"

As promised, here are the first two tracks from cassette(!) my high school band sold.  It's all here:  buzz saw guitar noises, dive bombing guitar noises, yelling, super fast drumming, and indecipherable lyrics.  Read more about it here.  I'm sure I'll be reminiscing more as I post more tracks; but for now, enjoy these archival gems of suburban punk rock greatness.
The Unexplained are:
Jim Zink - guitar
Matt Dixon - guitar (the dive bomby, whammy bar crap and metal sounding scales)
Joseph Dixon - drums (no relation to Matt Dixon)
Dan Smith - yelling
Me - bass

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: Scott LeFaro On "CTA"

I am by no means an expert on any genre of music, especially jazz.  However, if I were to recommend a starting point for someone interested in jazz, I'd point them to bebop's sub genre of West Coast jazz.  To me, as a general rule, West Coast jazz is very palatable in that it's not typically discordant like hard bop can be.  It tends to value nimble, precise, sophisticated playing.  I think that if nothing else, this describes Scott LeFaro's playing.  To me, his playing on this track is precise, aggressive, and confident.  I love his solo on this piece. There's no missed notes, even at the blistering pace at which he is playing.  I think haters would say that this playing is too mechanical with not much in the way of interpretation.  But to tell you the truth, when I grow up, I want to play just like Scott LeFaro.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Osmonds Shred

This is what the Osmonds' "Crazy Horses" sounds like when it's slowed down.  You have to admit, this is pretty damn good. Perfect for the biker bar near you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Whoops I Did It Backwards

Here's a little blurb about some of those "great" Americana bands from the 1980s at my other blog (which isn't organized thematically like this one).  There were a lot of bands I didn't mention but could have - the Hickoids, Snatches of Pink, Tex and the Horseheads, Green On Red, Dave Alvin, the Blasters, etc. but my point was more or less made.  Enjoy the walk down memory lane - I haven't heard some of these bands since middle school.

Kind of a tangent here - I would like to go on record and say that Maria McKee is one of the best vocalists out there.  She blows the doors off your standard issue "American Idol" wannabes.  I know - that's not much of an endorsement.  So click here and listen for yourself.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Audio Scratch Pad: Fire In The Fire Place

We woke up to a sheet of ice on everything this morning.  It could've been much worse; still, we opted to stay off the roads since we heard numerous ambulance runs going by our street.  We cleaned the basement and when that was done, rewarded ourselves with a nice fire.  If you don't have a fire place, slip on some headphones and see if this warms you up a bit.

Fireplace - Fire Waning by mattzink
If that doesn't work, maybe this or this will. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: Jon Taylor Of Duran Duran On "Rio"

At the height of Duran Duran's popularity (mid-1980s), if you would've told me that Jon Taylor is kind of a bad ass on bass, I would've dismissed you so quickly that it would've seemed like a reflex-flex-flex-flex-flex-flex.  But you know what?  He is pretty damn good based on the little bit that I know by him.  Check out "Hungry Like The Wolf" and "Girls On Film" if you don't believe me.  I think "Rio" is probably my favorite bass line by ol' J.T.  For you haters and skeptics out there, may I present to you the isolated bass track?

I should add that Duran Duran seemed to figure out the whole video thing long before most bands.  I think the song/bass line go beautifully with the video.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Prison Radio

I've always had this idea that at some point I'm going to start a writing group in the local jail.  I've gone so far as to inquire about this with a local group, and they've even offered to help me get started.  But alas, for various reasons I've not yet acted upon this calling.

I heard the story about "Prison Radio" on "All Things Considered" tonight.  Man, I really wish I would've thought of this.  Go listen to the story - it's great.  Hell, I'll even say it:  it's uplifting!  I wonder if I could get away with something like that program here.  Who knows?  If I do, I'll post the episodes here.

Off Topic: Why MLK Day Was Kind Of A Drag

Without going into too much detail, I had an incident at work that involved a racial slur that bugged the shit out of me. I ended up emailing the guy about it - carbon copying HR of course - telling him firmly to keep that crap to himself. I kept emailing* him until he confirmed that he knew where I stood on the issue. He apologized, which was nice but not really even what I was looking for. I don't give a crap if the dude is racist or not, I just wanted him to keep that nonsense to himself.

Sadly, Martin Luther King Day was the occasion of a similar, more offensive incident in college. It's not really worth repeating the terminology or details of either story. We'll probably always have racist idiots with us - I can deal with that. What is depressing is none of his coworkers told him to fuck off and keep it to himself. In fact, truth to be told, they baited the guy and he did not disappoint. Our HR department's lack of response/leadership (at least so far) on this is kind of a drag too. I found myself wondering about the myriad of reasons why people can shrug off overt expressions of racism from co-workers and family members.

Somehow, I arrived at how history is taught in schools. Lots and lots of well meaning teachers continue to portray the struggle for equality as something that happened in the past. Yes, racism flares up today now and again, but history is the long line of progress through time, inevitably leading us to the foregone conclusion of universal equality. We explore Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fifteenth Amendment in our classrooms and our students are (rightfully) shocked and appalled at the conditions and events that led up to those laws. But I think on some subconscious level, we teach our students that our government will legislate inequality out of our lives - that the government bestows equality, that government protects and nurtures equality. Any struggle for equality - be it Native Americans, women, those with disabilities, homosexuals - is portrayed the same way, often as side bars in our textbooks. (Okay - I know that the average American classroom isn't ready to talk about equality for homosexuals.  Another depressing fact.) 

I'm kind of fucking sick of it. There are a million reasons why someone might not speak out against hate speech from someone they know. But underlying those reasons is this false belief that the struggle for equality is past tense, that someone else will right the ship, that "I'm not Martin Luther King". Sadly, complacency on such issues often begins in history classes across the country. It's not that any teacher has any "agenda" (man, how I hate that word), they're often just perpetuating history as it was taught to them.

There is some hope that the struggle for equality is still alive, that non-violent, sophisticated, modern activism is peculating around us. It remains to be seen if movements such as the "Occupy Wall Street" and the Arab Spring will result in any long term, meaningful change. But on Martin Luther King Day 2012, it's a little glimmer of hope that I'll take.

* - Ideally, I'd've said all this stuff to his face. But my training as a teacher taught me a valuable lesson: document, document, document. I always make sure I have a record of stuff like this; I always make sure that the folks that have the power to hire and fire are in the loop.


Pretty much everyone except Hollywood, the music industry and their know-nothing lackeys in Congress agree:  SOPA and it's Senate version PIPA are bad news.  There is some momentum starting to gather for killing off these bills.  However, don't rest - do your small part to stop this.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Guest Post/Fat Friday Feature: Bill On Trevor Bolder

Bill sent along some thoughts on Trevor Bolder's work on the David Bowie song "John, I'm Only Dancing". It's good stuff - check it, yo.

Trevor Bolder was involved in such 70's Brit-prog-heavy-rock geek legends as Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash (replacing slightly more famous Brit-prog-heavy-rock bass icon John Wetton in both bands), but before that, he was one of Ziggy Stardust's Spiders from Mars.  Bowie's "John, I'm Only Dancing" has a colorful history primarily because of its overtly gay themes, and became an underground hit of sorts in the US when it saw its first release in 1976 on the insanely popular ChangesOneBowie greatest hits collection (it had already been a hit in England, where the pop crowds were a bit more tolerant . . . but only a bit: the BBC banned this video).

Bolder, for his part, was an adept, if workmanlike, hard rock bassist.  I've heard plenty of Uriah Heep (can't manage to stagger through much Wishbone Ash), and there's nothing that really sticks in my mind about his work with them.  On this song, however, he rides a white-hot David Bowie songwriting streak straight to bottom-end gold.  Nothing against Bolder, but the real star here is the arrangement that pushes guitars than snarl and bark like leashed German shepherds against a bassline that walks itself into the twilight zone before dissolving into stuttering funk.

There are several versions of "John, I'm Only Dancing" floating around.  The version Americans are most familiar with is the one from this video.  Bowie's UK record company very confusingly released two versions of this single with the same catalog number: this one, and one that has become popularly known as the "Sax Version" of the song.  The "sax version" differs by adding an r -n- b flavored sax to the rhythm section (natch), the addition of reverb to give it that "big room" sound, and the addition of a guitarist who sounds a whole lot like Robert Fripp going completely apeshit in the back of the mix.  Now, lord knows I'm not one to complain about guitar noise in any song; but with the reverb, the sax, and the extra guitar, the song becomes much more lush and full, and loses a lot of that angular angst and rawness that make it a classic of twisting sexuality.  Bolder's bassline, too, while still there and intact, gets relegated to a much less interesting role.  The other versions I've heard of this song reinforce the same thing: 1) "John I'm Only Dancing" is a legitimately great (and vastly under appreciated) song that is almost impossible to foul up, no matter what the arrangement; and 2) a good arrangement (and yes, Trevor, Mick, and the rest of the boys, a good performance) can take a great song and make it immortal.

Unlike many of Matt's "Fat Friday" features, this is less about a bassist than a specific bassline.  There's little doubt that, through the accidents of history, this line could have been played by John Wetton, Klaus Voorman, Greg Lake, Chris Squire, Andy Fraser, etc., etc., etc.  But hey - hats off to you, Trevor Bolder.  You were in the booth when one of the most memorable basslines of all time was laid down.  And you were the one playing it. 

You should definitely be reading some of Bill's other work, which can be found here and here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

From The Comic Archive: Peddling Musical Fantasies

We have a great comic shop in town, and one of my favorite things about it is the $1 rack, where you can get great old comics like Marvel Triple Action #6 from 1972.  (Sorry, no super hero on super hero on super hero action.)  Of course, the old advertisements are half the fun.  I wish I could interview someone who actually tried some of this stuff.  

This is my son's first comic - I think he really liked it despite the fact that the plot is out there for even a little guy like him.  Explaining it to him was almost embarrassing.

More scans from this comic at my Tumblr site if'n you're interested.

Let's Have A Closer Look At The Cassette Sleeve Of My High School Band

I will be blogging a little from time to time about my high school band "The Unexplained". My brother Paul digitized our one and only release for me, (Thanks Paul!) and it's pretty fun to remember back to this band. You can learn a lot about the band by reading the cassette sleeve, designed primarily by me (NOT the crappy logo) and edited by Jim, if memory serves me correctly.

Some other random notes before the actual breakdown of the sleeve notes: This cassette was recorded on a four track recorder in my parent's basement. I don't remember if they were home or not. If they were, I bet they got a pretty good laugh out of the recording process, especially when Dan put his vocals to the instrumental tracks. I have never been pleased with the bass mix on this - it should've been much louder. But then again, I probably would've complained unless the bass track had the John Entwhistle style chest cavity-rattling volume levels. The actual printing of the sleeve was one of my vocational school projects. The dogs on the cover: Sammy (the hard-to-see black dog), my sister Anne's family's dog; and Quincy, our beloved Golden Retriever. "Rough" was both a pun referring to the dogs and the quality of the mix. And so, without further adieu. . .
Click to enlarge
One Side/Other Side: Not sure where this bit of wit came from, but I'm guessing it was inspired by reading smart ass Camper Van Beethoven record credits. They'd have stuff like "David Lowry - black guitar" on their records.

One Side: I don't think I know what any of these songs are about. I could never understand what Dan was shouting. Jim pointed out in a recent email how sucky the song title "I Stand Alone" is, especially considering ". . . that Dan decided to sing about watching t.v. on that song. We simply ignored the drummer every time he opened his mouth (save, apparently, for when we decided on the name of the song)...as it should be." Jim sang on "Just Different". It is an effort worthy of a Lou Reed record. "Mary Olson" was a song I made up. It doesn't actually have anything to do with "Little House On The Prairie". I didn't have title for it, so we just named it at the time of the recording. What's remarkable about this is how the song is almost identical to the Green Day song "Warning". My song predates that song by ten years. Bastards stole my song man!

Other side: Covers galore here, including a totally thrashin' version of "Bee Sting" by The Belgian Waffles! "Surfboard From Hell" was from my first band ever, the Cavity Creeps. This was also a song I made up on bass. "There Will Come A Day" is actually called "DA Intro" by the Dandelion Abortion. "??????????" is a cover of U2's "Desire". We didn't give it a name because we didn't want the RIAA to come after us. Yeah I know - that's pretty damn funny. But I guess the RIAA does have a proven record of going after moms and teens. "Death Meat" is about a biker momma. It was initially a silly poem I wrote. I didn't like it; Dan did and changed it around to become "Death Meat". 

The "thank yous": Here they are, as best I can remember them.

  • Tom Burris - guy who recorded us, worked at A1 Records, one of our alternative music resources, all around swell guy.
  • Mark Hubbard and Flounder - ran "The Flipside" all ages club in Chesterfield, IN. While we were always grateful for a show there, we marvelled at how stingy and unoriginal these guys were. 
  • Bren Olds - must've stood on the lower level, flicking a light switch on and off. We opened for his band once, I accidentally kicked the crap out of his vintage Fender Jazz Bass. Later went on to play with Poi Dog Pondering; currently playing bass for a band that sings about Illinois state history.
  • Cavity Creeps - gave them a shout out because two of our good friends (Matt and Rob Snyder) as well as my brother Joe were my band mates. Good guys all.
  • Bill and the Belgian Waffles! - My brother Bill's band. Maybe we thought shout outs would ensure brisk cassette sales.
  • V.B.F. - Joseph Dixon's (drummer) other band. "VBF" stands for "Vaginal Blood Fart". These dudes were hilarious - they were obsessed with Gwar and Fangoria magazine. Joseph hated that they weren't more serious.
  • Our families - very uncool, but we actually liked our families.
  • Fr. Dennis Goth - associate pastor at St. Mary's Church at that time. Real nice guy. I don't think he's in the priesthood anymore.
  • M. Boles - High school classmate of Jim's.
  • M. Solid - close friend of the band who wasn't inclined to learn how to play an instrument or to be a scenester.
  • Betty Meehan - beloved junior high history teacher (for Jim, Dan, Kevin, and me) and curmudgeonly rebel.
  • Liz Broyles - girl I met in vacation in MI who lived in North Carolina. I think I had a crush on her, and she made killer mix tapes.
  • Greg Sasser, Curt Corzine - I have no idea why these jokers are on here. Sasser was a local metalhead; Corzine went to vocational school with Joseph Dixon and I.
  • Joe Zink - brother. Surf drummer. Icon.
  • Seth Kelly, Uncle Lynne, Joe Toast - not sure why these guys are on here. Kevin contributed these folks.
  • Michele Kriner - Kevin's little sister who was hip beyond her years.
  • Andrea - Kevin's serious girlfriend. 
  • Charlie Brown - ugh. No idea.
  • Nexxus Hair Products - hilarious thank you.
  • The Snyders - friends o' the band; Cavity Creeps musicians.

Equipment endorsements: I am aware how extraordinarily pretensious - and pointless - it was to have this on our sleeve. Yet there it is. There is still some humor here. I'm pretty sure the "or anything else his friends will let him borrow" was added by Jim. Dan equipment was hilarious, and the Matt Dixon equipment was a diss on his penchant for doing that dive-bomby noise with his locking tremolo bar.

Credits: Finally, the who plays what section. Nothing to say here except that I think we got the idea to type "Dan Smith - throat" from a Bad Brains record. 

Hopefully, people who were involved with or remember this band will add more/correct what I have written in the comments section.

Reel Tyme String Band Flier Gallery

I used to be in a bluegrass outfit called the Reel Tyme String Band - it was a ton of fun.  Besides playing bass, I'd do their fliers.  Below are some samples.  I always stole cool graphics from the interwebs - it felt appropriate since a huge chunk of bluegrass is just stolen and re-purposed songs anyway, with the many tunes being hard to decipher from their original source.

Besides stolen graphics, most fliers have awful, corny jokes.  I guess I did that because we were playing mostly family friendly venues, so I thought that a humorous flier might catch some folks' eyes.  At least, that's the excuse Imma use.

I should mention that the Reel Tyme String Band is still around, tighter, more amazing than ever.  You should definitely check them out if you can.  Also, email them and tell them to update their web page!

(Note:  The black fliers didn't download quite right, but I'm too lazy to fix them.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: Steve Smith Of The Vapors

Each Friday, an awesome bass player and/or bass part is showcased.  But you already knew that.

Please don't blow off the Vapors as a novelty band because of "Turning Japanese".  It seems that catchy hooks couple with lyrics about jerking off equals record chart gold.  (Example #1.  Example #2.)I actually like "Turning Japanese", but the album on which it appears is full of timely topics and great bass work from Steve Smith (and the rest of the band actually).  As cool as "Turning Japanese" is, I thought I'd feature "News At Ten"; but really, any track from this album is going to have a great bass line.

Besides the nimble, rhythmically interesting fretwork from Smith, the distinctive Rickenbacker bass sound that I love so much is front and center on the whole album.  So check it yo.  And oh hell:  you might as well enjoy the 80s tackiness that is the "Turning Japanese" video as well.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Let's Start Off The New Year Right By Watching Some High School Kids Stick It To The Man

I love this - my heart literally began to beat faster watching this.  Skip to around the 1:13 mark. Pulaski (Wisconsin) High's Marching Band stops the Rose Bowl parade to serenade Gov. Scott Walker with Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid".  I love Woody Guthrie, I love "Union Maid", and I love these kids (and whoever put them up to it) for having the sack to do this.  Tip of the hat to Bill for hipping me to this.