Sunday, March 30, 2014

Music Weird interviews Barry De Vorzon about Johnny Burnette's "Dreamin'"

Barry De Vorzon

Barry De Vorzon is one of those guys who did a lot of behind-the-scenes work for other stars but had star talent himself. 


He founded Valiant Records, which was known for the Association and Shelby Flint, among many others. He wrote the hits "Hey Little One" for Glen Campbell and "Just Married" for Marty Robbins, among many others. 

And he had some hits of his own. As Barry and the Tamerlanes, he had a hit with "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight?" in 1963. Under his own name, he had a Top 10 hit with "Nadia's Theme" (from The Young and the Restless) in 1976. 

Today he's the president of MasterWriter, a company that creates software tools for songwriters. 

I talked to De Vorzon about Johnny Burnette's 1960 hit "Dreamin'" when I was working on the liner notes for Hard to Find 45s on CD, Volume 7: More Sixties Classics. That compilation includes "Dreamin'," which De Vorzon wrote. The song was a #11 hit for Burnette in the US and a Top 5 hit in the UK. 

(Incidentally, Barry and the Tamerlanes' "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" is included on a compilation that I recently worked on, Hard to Find Jukebox Classics 1963: Rock, Rhythm & Pop, which will be released on April 15, 2014.) 

Here's my interview with Barry De Vorzen from August 15, 2001.


You have an interesting story about Johnny Burnette's "Dreamin'"?

Yeah. At the time, we [De Vorzon and Billy Sherman] were managing Johnny's brother Dorsey Burnette, and Johnny had been signed by Liberty Records. Snuff Garrett was the producer. And I had written this song, "Dreamin'," and I really liked it, and I was going to to try to place it with an important artist. I was playing it in my office when Johnny walked in, and he had just been signed, so he had never had a release. 

He heard it and he went crazy for it, and he said, "Barry—oh, man! You gotta let me have it! You gotta let me have that song!" 

I didn't want to. He was a new artist, he hadn't had a release yet, and I wanted to run it past some of the more established artists. But I was in an uncomfortable situation because I managed his brother, and it was hard to say, "No, I'm not going to let you have this, because you're nobody." 

So he got so excited, he called Snuffy Garrett and said, "Snuffy, I found a hit! I love it!" and Snuffy said, "Okay, Johnny" and I was trapped. I wasn't real happy about it. They went in to record it and nothing happened, and they had it in the can for about six months.

Then Snuffy called me and my partner up and said, "Barry, listen to this," and he plays me "Cincinatti Fireball." And he said, "If that isn't a hit, I will eat my...hat. Isn't that great?" And I said, "Wow, Snuff, that is terrific." 

He said, "Because you and Bill have been so patient, I'm going to put you on the back of a giant hit."  I said, "Well, gosh, thanks Snuff." 

Obviously, the label was going to go with "Cincinnati Fireball," and he—because we hadn't complained about being in the can for six months—was going to put us on the back of it. And as we walked out my partner said, "What do you think?" and I said, "I think we're on the back of a hit." And of course "Dreamin'" turned right around and was the hit.

[Merv Benton talked about his recording of "Cincinnati Fireball" for the Australian market in this earlier Music Weird post.]



So "Dreamin'" was the B-side but DJs flipped it?

Yeah. I mean, the company was definitely full-out on "Cincinatti Fireball." And at the time, the DJs said, no, man, you guys are wrong, this is the hit. When KFWB made it their pick of the week, I couldn't believe it. I thought, my God, I can't believe they're making "Dreamin'" the pick of the week. And of course it turned out to be a huge hit.

So, Johnny was a great guy and a good friend.


And died too young.

Yeah, he did. And I was just thrilled for both of us that it turned out to be his first big hit. So that was nice, when you can share a hit with friends.




I love your early recordings, by the way. 

My first hit was "Just Married," for Marty Robbins. Number one in the country on the charts. Then I had a kind of regional hit with "Barbara Jean," which I was the artist on. I don't know where "Hey Little One" came in. I recorded for RCA and for Columbia. I said, for RCA, that "Barbara Jean" was a small hit—what they call a regional hit. With Barry & the Tamerlanes I probably had my biggest hit, "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight."



Billboard, Dec. 23, 1957


De Vorzon's "Honey Bunny," from 1958, is my favorite! (Blogger won't let me embed it for some reason, so click on the link to hear it.)








Saturday, March 29, 2014

Music Weird interviews Andrew Churchman of CUFFS and Pants Yell!






CUFFS is the current band of Andrew Churchman, the former singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Pants Yell! 


Pants Yell! was an intensely loved indiepop band—especially by me!—and I went on about them at some length a couple of months ago.


A lot of fans were heartbroken when the band broke up, but CUFFS is a clear continuation of Pants Yell! in many ways. CUFFS tends to rock harder and louder, but three of the four members played in Pants Yell! at various times, and Churchman's songwriting sensibility remains the same.

CUFFS debuted in 2010 with a free three-song EP, 4-Track Demos, and has released two singles since then: "Privilege," which can be heard in the video above, and "Private View." 

Music Weird talked to Andrew on March 28, 2014:


Where did the name CUFFS come from, and what's up with the capital letters?

I wanted to have a one-word band name, and I liked the way the name looked when written down. It has a nice composition, particularly when capitalized. 



CUFFS' debut album is almost finished? 

If we assume it will be a 10-song record, then we are 60% finished. We recorded and mixed six songs during a quick burst of inspiration, but it has been over a year since we were in the studio. I have been too picky about the last batch of songs, but it is my New Year's Resolution to finish the record. I have nine more months to get my act together! None of the songs from our two 7-inches will reappear on the album.



What's the collaboration like in CUFFS?

For CUFFS, the songs still begin with me writing, demoing, and arranging the songs on my own before bringing them to the band. From there, it sometimes stays close to what I created by myself, and sometimes it evolves with the band's input. It just depends on how attached I am to my original arrangement. I very much enjoy the happy accidents and inspirations that come when other people interpret my songs, and—overall—it is an easy and fun process to share songwriting duties with bandmates.


Can you talk about the other guys in the band and what they bring? 

Casey Keenan plays drums. He was the drummer of Pants Yell! and also plays in Major Stars and has toured in the Six Organs of Admittance band. That's where our avant-rock inspiration comes from. [Guitarist] Martin Pavlinic is our Nels Cline. He fronts the band Reports and also played bass with Pants Yell! for a few shows in California. Joe Mahoney plays bass and is the most talented musician out of the bunch.


You were really active with Pants Yell!, it seemed. Are you working CUFFS as hard?

No, it's the opposite—I have been taking it very easy with CUFFS. I just don't have the energy to keep up. I'm getting old and jaded, but, of course, I still love writing and playing music, just not playing the game.


As you know, I was a huge Pants Yell! fan. Pants Yell! was one of a few bands, like the Go-Betweens, that I just really fixated on, and I know I wasn't alone in that. What's it like having people get so strongly attached to your music?

It's very flattering and humbling. I love rock music and can relate to that significant connection a person can have with a band. I hope fans of Pants Yell! will also enjoy CUFFS. 


You told thephoenix.com: "I didn't want to do Pants Yell! again. In the back of my mind now, if a song is too poppy, I'm like, 'Guys, we've got to fuck it up somehow.'" That's the most horrifying thing I've ever read. What's too poppy?

You know, it really depends on what day of the week you ask me. Sometimes I'm in a pop mood and other times, not so much. It is pretty hard for me to stray from the melodic side of things, so I don't really see myself being able to go out on too far of a limb.


What are your hopes for CUFFS? Are they different from what you wanted for Pants Yell? 

Yes. Pants Yell was my first real band and I was young and motivated and we gave it as much as we could at the time. With CUFFS I just want to write songs and play music with my friends and release music in a low-pressure way. I wouldn't be surprised if the CUFFS full length takes the form of a free download on Bandcamp.





Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Music Weird interviews Glenn Yarbrough



Here We Go, Baby was also issued as Glenn Yarbrough


Glenn Yarbrough was a pioneer of commercial folk music, although he wouldn't necessarily admit it. He gives all the credit to the Weavers

Yarbrough released his first album in 1957, a year earlier than the Kingston Trio, and then led the folk trio the Limeliters through its most successful period. As a solo artist, he scored a major solo hit with "Baby the Rain Must Fall" in 1965 and has continued to perform for decades. 

One of Elektra Records' first artists, Yarbrough recorded a single for the label in 1951 and then an album in 1957. I interviewed Yarbrough when I was working on a reissue of that first Elektra album, Here We Go, Baby. The interview is from November 19, 2001. 






How did you end up on Elektra Records?

Jac Holzman, who owned Elektra Records, was my roommate in college [St. John's in Annapolis, Maryland], and as a matter of fact, when we were in college, his dream was always to own a record company.  

One time I was playing my guitar and singing a couple of songs, and he wanted to record them. We went down to the commons room and he recorded them and they were released as my first single.  We didn't have a name for the record company yet. He wanted to call it Elektra-Stratford Records, and I suggested Elektra Records because it was a little shorter, and that's what we went with: Elektra Records.  

And that's how Elektra Records was formed, right there in the common room of St. John's College. I went off to war—to Korea—and in the meantime, he started the company up in earnest in New York City, and my wife was his secretary while I was gone in the war. When I got back, he wanted me to do another album, and that turned out to be Here We Go, Baby.  



The earlier albums on Elektra had been very traditional—world music, folk by Jean Ritchie, blues by Josh White—but Here We Go, Baby is more commercial. The liner notes even mentioned what a departure the album was for the label.

That was [Holzman's] first try at a commercial folk album. 

Strangely enough, I was performing in Chicago at the time, and when it was released, that song "Here We Go, Baby" was a hit in Chicago. 

It became a big hit in Chicago. It was the only place, but it was there. And it was kind of odd, even for me, because I always prided myself in singing songs with lyrics that meant something, and all this says, as I remember, is "here we go baby down the road, here we go baby down the road, here we go baby down the road, side by side...."  



How did Fred Hellerman get involved with the record?

Freddy was one of the Weavers. That was a period, of course, when the Weavers were blacklisted, all of them individually. It was the McCarthy era. When we in to record, Freddy was the arranger, and he was doing the album under a pseudonym, because he didn't want my record to be affected by his situation. 

During the making of the album, he came to me and asked me if it would be all right if I would let Pete Seeger do the banjo work on the album, and he said [Seeger] would do it under a pseudonym himself. I said, "Why would he do this?" and he said because of McCarthy, because of the blacklist.  

That was the first time I really faced that problem. And I kinda went home that night and thought, that's not right to have them do something but not with their own name. It was kind of a large decision for me, because it was my first record, and I was a kid, and I was hoping for success. But I thought I had learned a few things at that time, and one was: If I don't do what I think is right, I can't live with myself. So I just said, Freddy, he can do the banjo and I would expect that you should do the whole thing under your own name.

I just wrote the album off. I thought, well, that's the end of that. It'll have to be the next album. It was the time of the Army-McCarthy hearings.


How was it, working with Seeger? 

I was a little disappointed with Pete Seeger at the time. He did it because he needed money badly. That's what Freddy said. Fred said he can't get a job, he had kids, and he needed some money pretty badly. But when he got there, he didn't like the music, and he never said anything about it, but he just didn't play well. I was a little annoyed at him. I mean, I was taking a big chance having him on the album, and I felt at the time that it would have been more ethical, since he was taking the money for the project, [that] he should have done the best he could. But he didn't. So what happened was, we tuned him out. When the sessions were finished, we called in Erik Darling to redo the banjo parts. That's how it worked. Seeger did the original recordings, but when he wasn't playing well they just took him out and we replaced him with Erik Darling. I was very upset about it. Well, I wasn't upset, I was just kind of hurt.



Did you have a sense in 1957 that folk music was on the verge of breaking through in a big way?

Well, you see, folk music had meant to break through much earlier with the Weavers, but when McCarthy came through and just scotched the whole thing, it was suppressed. But it could only be supressed for so long, and then finally someone else came along. 

The Kingston Trio came along and were very successful, but it was really meant to be earlier. It was just one of those things. The Weavers should have been much more successful than they were. I mean, they were successful enough, but they should have been much bigger.  


You ended up in jail during the recording of Here We Go, Baby?

I had this beat-up old station wagon I was driving around New York and I started getting traffic tickets, because I'd park my car and the next morning I'd have another ticket on it. I meant to pay them, but it just got overwhelming. I had, like, 20 or 30. I was kind of a scofflaw.  

One morning—the morning of the recording of this material—I lived down in that tenement on the Lower East Side, and I went to get in my car and there was a cop there and he grabbed me and put me in handcuffs and took me over to the Delancey Street station, and I was caught. I was standing up in front of the sargeant at the big desk, and he's way up high, and he said, "How many of these tickets have you gotten?" and I said, "Uh, two or three." 

As I said that, this cop came in from my car and in the glove compartment were all of the tickets—there was a stack about maybe six inches deep! So they kind of kept me. You know, I wasn't a bad guy or anything. They kind of kept me there, and then Jac Holzman—I made my first and only call to Jac Holzman—I said, "Jac, I'm in jail."  

He was furious with me. He started calling up everyone he knew, some state senators and you know, all kinds of stuff, and the sargeant at the desk kept getting these telephone calls from big shots, and he wasn't for that at all. That just made him even more belligerent. He called all the cops in the building around him and they all had a conference. By this time I was getting to know everyone in the place, and they voted whether to let me go or not, and I guess I charmed them, because they let me go. 



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Music Weird interviews Jonathan Edwards






Jonathan Edwards scored a million-selling hit in 1971 with "Sunshine" from his self-titled debut album. It was the era of genre-straddling singer-songwriters whose eclecticism added to their broad appeal but made them hard to classify. 

"During the early '70s," I wrote years ago, "many singer-songwriters were creating their own characteristic blends of folk, rock, and country music that did not fit into neat categories. Walk into your local music retailer today [if you have one!], and you may find Jonathan Edwards filed under Folk, James Taylor in Pop/Rock, John Denver in Easy Listening, and Jerry Jeff Walker in Country—distinctions that say more about the way these artists were marketed than how they actually sound." 

The success of "Sunshine" drove Edwards into an intense, three-year-long tour schedule that took such a toll on him that he retired from music for a couple of years. Emmylou Harris coaxed him out of retirement, and he has been active ever since. He still continues to perform regularly, especially around New England. 

I interviewed Edwards on July 27, 2001, when I was working on a reissue of his second album, Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy, which spent almost two months on the Billboard album chart when it was originally released in 1972. Many of my questions are about that album. 







"Sunshine" had been a million-selling single. Did you feel a lot of pressure to create another hit?

No, I felt no pressure at all. My only drive was then—and is now—to make good music and play music with my friends. That's how I started and that's what I'm still doing. Whatever else is happening on the success-o-meter, I'm very proud of that concept and that fact.



How did you end up on Atco?

I was with Capricorn. The first album was with Capricorn, and Capricorn went to Warner Bros. in some sort of a trade, some sort of a deal. My contract stated that if Capricorn ever went anywhere but Atlantic, that I would stay with the parent company Atlantic. In retrospect—I don't know if you want to print that or not—it was probably a big mistake, because Atco really had no idea what to do with a sort of folk-country album. No concept at all.  



Stardust Cowboy seems a little lighter in tone than the first album. Was the songwriting or recording process any different?

We had learned a lot from the first album and we were progressing on to the next step of my development as a writer, as an artist. And certainly the recording techniques we learned a lot about, so I think it was a development process. I was enthralled and excited with the world of country music at the time—you know, the Merle Haggards, the George Joneses. I was living in the country. I didn't resonate too well with urban life. I was more of a country guy, riding horses, growing a garden, and I wanted my music to reflect the things that were going on in my life. So I kind of went a little more country than the first record.



Did you see yourself at the time as moving toward straight country? [Note: Edwards went on to have a few country hits in the late 1980s.]

Not really. I just did what I did, what I loved. I had grown up on acoustic music from Appalachia, and I'd grown up with bluegrass sensibities, and I wanted to use those instruments because I knew them, I loved them, and I understood them.



Lefty Frizzell had recorded "Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy" in 1971.

That's right. And I heard that driving down the road in Boston of all places. I'd heard his version of that song, and I pulled over to listen to it. Pulled right over and listened to it and thought, wow—this is allegorical to my life in a lot of ways, and I'd sure like to hear that again and see about recording it. I got a copy by a couple different artists and went on my own way with it.



So why did you choose that as the title track?

Again, because I think it kind of reflected the development my life was taking at the time, the things I was interested in and engaged with. I think it spoke to a lot of the feelings that I was having, having had a major hit on the pop charts, and just kind of negotiating my way around where to go from here.



You recorded "Paper Doll" live on the radio. What was the story behind that?

Along with my roots in bluegrass and acoustic and country music, I also listened to a lot of black artists of the '50s that, strangely enough, my father had around, like the Mills Brothers. I loved that song from the Mills Brothers. One night we just decided to do it, Stuart [Schulman] and I, just for fun, and it stuck in the show. We learned the harmony, and we did it in the show as sort of a tongue-in-cheek encore. We did it on WLIR, I believe, on Long Island, in a live radio concert, and we ended up using that particular version because it was already done, and it had that live feel to it.



What about your remake of the Jesse Colin Young song, "Sugar Babe"?

I was a huge fan of the Youngbloods from the beginning, and we'd done many shows with them on Harvard Square in the Cambridge Common when there were free concerts in '68 and '69. I loved Jesse and the whole band, and I wanted to do something funky and fast.


Joe Dolce was a friend of yours?

Yeah, Joe Dolce was in my band [Sugar Creek] that came from Ohio. He was part of the band that traveled from Ohio to Boston to try and make it and instead ended up breaking up and ended up with a solo career. But Joe was always a friend and wrote great songs and was a great character. He wrote that song ["Shaddap You Face."] You remember that? Awful! So don't make fun of me for having "Sunshine" as a hit!



How did Bill Keith wind up onboard?

Bill was in my band.



Right, but he had had quite a history as a performer. He was one of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys in the early 1960s. 

He was in a band called Great Speckled Bird and with Maria and Jeff Mulduar. Bill was amazing and still is an amazing player and an amazing personality to have in your band and to travel with. I went up to Woodstock and had a meeting with him and asked him if he'd like to be in my band and he said, "Well, it isn't a band."


A lot of the guys in your band played with Martin Mull too. What's the connection there?

That's right! You must be an ardent record cover reader! Martin Mull and I had the same manager and we worked out of the same stable of musicians in Boston. Marty was a friend of all of ours and we borrowed from each other ruthlessly. We had a lot of common friends.


Did you enjoy a lot of freedom at Atco?

Yeah, there was total artistic freedom, but, again, the promotional machine had no idea what to do with the kind of music I was making. I should have definitely been in L.A. I should have definitely been with Arista or Warner Bros., one of those L.A./country/Eagles-sounding labels.  


What happened after Stardust Cowboy was released? How did you promote it, and how was it received?

As I recall there was absolutely no promotion of any kind, and so I did a third album with more of the same, called Have a Good Time for Me, and used the same personnel and brought in a few other hired guns, but mostly it was my friends, which, again, is what I've known and loved my whole career.  


Billboard, December 2, 1972



Looking back, how do you rate Stardust Cowboy?

It's one of the best records I ever did, in my estimation, and a lot of my friends and fans agree that that's one of the nicest records I ever did. And there have been some 15 of them. I love the spontaneity of it. I love the fact that you can almost hear the friendship that was going on amongst us all: "Hey, one of us finally sprung loose to make some noise in the music business. One of us finally got out, so let's help him play, let's help him do this thing."  That's the feeling we had.



I don't suppose you ever talked to Darrell Statler, who wrote "Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy?"

I did, actually.


Do you know if that title was inspired by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy?

I do not know. But again, that song spoke to me. It's been a mainstay in my show ever since, and it's been a highly requested song in my concerts ever since.


Is there anything else you'd like to say?

I appreciate the fact that whoever, in their wisdom, decided that this album was worth revisiting. I sure have always thought so, but I don't have any power along those lines. It doesn't belong to me. I'm sure glad that people are going to have a chance to hear it again.






Saturday, March 15, 2014

Music Weird interviews LMP (La Musique Populaire)





LMP (La Musique Populaire) can rightly be described as "legendary," because popular myths have sprang up about them. 

Originally based in Champaign and Evanston, Illinois, LMP attracted particular attention for the 2004 release A Century of Song—a 6-disc box set on which they recorded a song from each year of the 20th century. Many of the songs that represented each year were unlikely choices, to say the least. The song that cemented my resolve to purchase the set was their choice of Hayley Mills' "Cranberry Bog" for 1962.  

Even though the box set was released in a hand-numbered limited edition of only 100, the scope and craziness of the set captured the imagination of millions. Or of more than 100 people, in any case. I'm the proud owner of #84. I bought it because Jeff Weiss, the former owner of Muncie's celebrated punk club, No Bar & Grill, recommended it to me.  

In addition to LMPs engrossing and inexplicable Century of Song project, the group has released two albums of original material: Aunt Canada and Love Conquers Alda. The latter, in particular, is a wildly entertaining synthesis of pop music clich├ęs, pop music references, and radio-friendly melodies.  




There are so many bands that I love for various reasons and love to obsess over in one way or another, or that I want to see live or whatever. But LMP is a band that I want to be in. Guys, seriously—if you need a bass player or second guitarist....

LMP is Ryan Bassler and Eric Haugen. Music Weird interviewed LMP on March 13, 2014. 


The most pressing question on everyone's mind is: What's going on with the new album? What can you tell us about it? 

Eric: It's been finished for a while, and we'll finally be releasing it on vinyl this year. Twelve new songs, our usual mix of super-catchy songs and self-indulgence. It's called You Ain't Nuttin' If You Ain't Struttin'. The cover art is really fantastic—it was done by a guy named Sandy Hoffman, who illustrated some amazing album covers back in the day, like The London Muddy Waters Sessions and a bunch of others.


After your mammoth Century of Song project, rumors circulated about other similar LMP initiatives. Like, I remember hearing that you were going to record the entire Beatles catalog in chronological order. Were any of these rumors true? Did you work on anything like that? 

Ryan: That rumor made us laugh, but honestly we had nothing to do with igniting that. Pretty sure it started on our Wikipedia page, which we were frankly surprised to discover even existed. Honestly, us recording the Beatles canon would probably be boring.

Eric: We did actually have a project like this prior to Century, but the idea was to write all-original songs using the Beatles' titles. As though a band had finally come along who could write a better "Yesterday," "Strawberry Fields Forever, "Let It Be," et cetera. We recorded a fair number of good demos for that but never ended up releasing any of it.

Ryan: Typically over-ambitious LMP idea. See also the idea of recording 100 LPs in a year. We had all sorts of ground rules laid out: only x many comedy albums, y many ambient recordings, z many live albums and compilations, etc. Not sure we have the energy for projects like that these days. 


Your last album of original material came out 10 years ago. It followed your debut by 7 or 8 years? That's a relaxed pace, so how prolific are you? Do you write a lot of material that never gets out? 

Ryan: Independently, Eric and I tend to have separate writing bursts—when one's quiet, the other's inspired, and vice-versa. Whenever we have something promising, we'll typically send stuff to each other to help flesh out or evolve. So there's a crazy amount of demos stockpiled. I also have a side project with my friend and music teacher Bill Corrough. We've recorded 15 children's education albums under the name Green Bean Music.

Eric: We have a lot of interesting unreleased stuff—everything from lo-fi improvs to fully produced albums. I probably record about 5-6 hours of demos and fragments every year, and I send Ryan only the few that seem like potential gems. We've talked about starting some kind of archive seriespotentially a podcast, or a limited physical release, possibly, just to document all the unexplored avenues. 


How often do you play, or have you played, live? Are you going to tour to support the new album? 

Eric: We were a live band for about 5 years back in the '90s. We were originally a four-piece, and grew into a rotating lineup with full string and horn sections, with, like, 18 people onstage at a time. The last gig we officially played together was a one-off in Minneapolis for a friend, and I remember it was 2001, because on the way home we heard Pink's "Get This Party Started" on the radio for the first time and it blew us both away. We'd love to tour the new album, but not sure it's going to happen.

Ryan: To me, playing live is ultimately a hassle, and almost impossible at this point since Eric's in LA and I'm in Chicago, but I guess never say never. We have some insanely talented musician friends we'd be able to corral if we got the itch, but honestly, once you've assembled an 18-piece band with strings and brass like we did back when we were in Champaign, it's all kinda downhill, expensive, and just a huge battle. 



You guys seem like gearheads. What are the most interesting instruments in your arsenal?
Ryan: Heh, tough one. We're definite gear nerds, with a pretty lucky track record of picking gear that's really uncool at the time but ends up becoming collectable, and thus unaffordable, much later on. It's hard to limit our favorite pieces to just a few…. Like, there are easily 100 pieces in the drum machine closet alone, which is admittedly ludicrous, but I guess you can't fake passion and/or OCD. The Baldwin Syntha-Sound is beloved—a super-rare, super-oddball monosynth from '73 that instantly sounds like Edd Kalehoff/"Price Is Right" incidental music. We even have a spare, just in case. A few years ago, I took a road trip up to northern Michigan to buy a 4-octave celeste, and that's probably the most special piece in the studio these days. I've slowly been writing an album of lullabies.

Eric: Ryan's the LMP gear ninja, without question. I think he has every Roland drum machine except an 808, which, to some people, is the equivalent of a master chef not having salt in the kitchen. We love oddball stuff like the MTI Auto-Orchestra, which can't really even keep a consistent tempo but just gives you these amazing happy accidents. Personally I'm more drawn to newer gear. Like, I love the Arturia Spark, Earthquaker pedals, Korg's Volca groove boxes.... Stuff that's easy to use and adds an element of unpredictablity. The middle ground between me and Ryan in terms of gear is probably Dimension C


You have self-released practically all of your stuff. You have exceptional songwriting and instrumental chops, though, so what kind of label interest have you attracted?

Eric: We've had some brushes with industry attention over the years. We had a video shown on an early Conan O'Brien episode, a Century mention in Rolling Stone, a couple of songs featured in a small indie film, but not much else, really. We've always thought that self-releasing our stuff is the only way to ensure it stays the way we want it, free from the influence of whoever's footing the bill, for better or worse.

Ryan: The last time we really ever shopped ourselves around was circa '96, the Aunt Canada period. There was virtually zero interest, so we said the hell with it, let's just keep doing it ourselves. Probably the closest thing we've gotten to major label attention was a cease-and-desist from a certain major right as the Century box was about to sell out. We responded to them by sending a demo cassette with a letter asking for a record deal. Never heard back, so apparently that's a good trick to stop the lawyerbirds in their tracks. 



Do you ever fantasize about being Brill Building-type songwriters and writing hits for current pop stars like Ke$ha and One Direction?
Ryan: Oh yeah, that's a dream gig right there. We were mildly obsessed with that writing team the Matrix for a while, just trying to determine how they even got to that level. In some ways, we've always viewed our albums as semi-polished demo sets for others to pluck from.

Eric: We both have a huge respect for pop songcraft, and while it's not fashionable to say so, we're not snobs about Top 40 music at all. Top 40 pop is our shared musical DNA. But we also always bring this self-aware "meta" mentality that quickly becomes "Archies-like duet between Katy Perry and Ron Dante." In which case, if that's what you're after, we're your guys.


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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Diskettes: An interview and retrospective




Emily, David, and Maggie: The Diskettes


A lot of twee and indiepop groups had that naive, ramshackle sound that I love, but few of them could write melodies like the Diskettes did. 

If Beat Happening had existed in 1960, they might have sounded like the Diskettes. The Diskettes were cute and sweet but also wrote really durable songs with sophisticated melodies and vocal arrangements. I never tire of listening to their songs. 

Formed in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Diskettes seemed to suddenly explode in the mid 2000s across indie CD-R and cassette compilations with their twee/folk/punk confections that, for me, were a perfect amalgam of my musical tastes. Sometimes when I listened to the Diskettes I felt like they were making this music just for me!

For the sake of being needlessly provocative, I'll rank the Diskettes far above their fellow Canadian artists Ian & Sylvia and Wilf Carter, somewhat above Gordon Lightfoot and Bobby Curtola, and neck-and-neck with Hank Snow. I know that seems extreme, especially in view of Carter and Snow's decades-long recording careers, but I have to go with my heart. If we go by my iPod, then the Diskettes win by a mile. 

Music Weird interviewed former Diskette David Barclay on March 11, 2014. 



Can you help to untangle the chronology of some of your other projects and their relationship to the Diskettes?

The Diskettes were actually started in 2000, when Emily and I still lived in Victoria. We played one show—and therefore were a legit band by even the most demanding industry standard—opening for the Riff Randells at a community center with an audience that was mainly comprised of some sort of daycare and two of Emily's friends. 

By some amazing coincidence, both Emily and I moved to Montreal in September 2000 to attend different universities. During that time we played no music and put most of our efforts into adapting to university and adult life. Parka 3 started around then and played our first show in March, opening for Picastro and Tiger Saw, two bands that continue to this day!

The Diskettes started playing again after I wrote a song for a "bad teen poetry" night hosted by Olivia's 'zine Funtage at the Yellow Door. Leonard Cohen once played there. 

There is a rule that every time you mention the Yellow Door—Leonard Cohen used to play there—you must also mention that Leonard Cohen played there back in the day. 

I played the new song along with a song I wrote in high school for my solo band, the Yatchsmen [sic], about sailing, and a cover of the Halo Benders' "I Can't Believe It's True." I might have also covered Built to Spill's "Car."

After the resounding reception, I decided that the Diskettes should play and write a bunch of songs, which we did. The Diskettes and Parka 3 coexisted for a few years until John, the keyboardist and 98% of the group's musical talent, graduated a year early thanks to his International Baccalaureate transfer credits. 

At this point, New Jersey Greg joined, and the Parka 3 slowly morphed into La Guerre des Tuques (English translation: The Dog who Stopped the War) as Tim eventually graduated and moved back to his mom's house in Massachusetts. 

This group involved many friends, including Emily, and was a very pure expression of DIY and punk. At the same time, Maggie joined the Diskettes on the advice of JR from Ditch records in Victoria, BC, who said, "People like drums." 

We recorded a second album and toured and were pretty much as real as a band can be.

All of this stopped in 2005 when I decided to move to San Diego, California, to pursue a career studying noise. 


The Diskettes played twice more, when Emily visited, but we never managed to seriously continue the band, mostly due to geography and our growing accumulation of age, graduate degrees, and in Maggie's case, two beautiful children. 

I started La Guerre des Mitaines with my partner at the time and played a few poorly received shows. The main idea behind this band was that I would play keyboard instead of guitar, as I did in the Diskettes. Thanks to a horrible, inhumane, armageddon breakup, I changed the name of the band to the Endless Bummer. This was a dark time.

Thankfully, in 2012, I moved to St. John's, Newfoundland, where Coach Longlegs began, followed by the unfortunate news that I had a compelling professional reason to move again, this time to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 


Cape Cod turned out to be intensely boring, so I finally carried out the long-running joke idea to start Tool Time—a power trio of Tim Allen on guitar, Al Boreland on bass, and Wilson on drums that play songs about Home Improvement over backing tracks that are constructed solely of samples from the Tool discography. 

Thanks to my enduring connection to St. John's, Coach Longlegs continues to play. Emily and I still hang out. I spend lots of time with Tim from Parka 3 who lives in Massachusetts, although not at his mom's house.


The Diskettes appeared on quite a few compilations. Did you feel like part of an international scene? Which other bands did you see as your kindred spirits back then?

I never felt part of an international scene, but always felt very invested in the Montreal scene and to some extent the wider Canadian music scene. I felt kindred spirits with bands who expressed their view of how and why to play music, more than anything. 


Playing with the Unicorns in Montreal; the Port City All Stars in St. John, New Brunswick, and the Barcelona Pavilion in Toronto; Collapsing Opposites in Vancouver; My Two Toms in Bristol, UK; all felt like meeting long-lost step-siblings to me.


Can you talk about your interest in '50s and early '60s pop? That seemed to figure pretty heavily into the Diskettes.


The Diskettes songs were always reaching for simplicity and minimalism, inspired by doo-wop, vocal music, and R&B. 


On the same note, my favorite album by my favorite band was the reissue of the yellow album by Beat Happening. 

In high school I played in a garage band and really liked '60s Pacific Northwest stuff as well as non-MGM/Boston-sound orchestral pop, so that really just made me learn to play the guitar and write songs in that certain way.


If you could choose someone from that era to record some of the Diskettes songs, who would it be?

I would have the Left Banke record "Museum" or the Wailers record one of the instrumental tracks.


What do you think about "twee" as a label?

I think I found it embarrassing more than anything. We had a Christmas song on a comp called Cwistmas Twee and I had a hard time putting it out on the merch table at shows. I wanted the Diskettes to be a punk band.


Did the Diskettes perform much outside of Canada? What do you remember as the peaks and valleys of the Diskettes experience?

We toured a bit in the US and did one European tour, which was definitely a peak of the band. 


Mostly the peaks were all the fun we had playing shows and recording. The valleys were probably the tiny fights about where to eat or when to stop to go to the bathroom or if we should do another vocal take or whatever dumb shit we thought mattered at the time. 

For me, getting asked if we wanted to put out an album with Blocks was a huge peak. My personal valley was when we showed up for a show in Winnipeg, touring east to west, and found out that there was an early show across the street featuring this band from Vancouver that I had been hearing so much about called P:ano, touring west to east. We went and saw them and they were as great as everyone told me, so after the show I told them that we were playing across the street and that they should come. They didn't come, hence feeding the monstrous musical and "coolness" insecurity that threatened to consume me. Also, getting a speeding ticket in North Dakota was a pretty big low.


Coach Longlegs is your current group. What's your approach with that band?

The component of the band that extends the most from the Diskettes is that Coach Longlegs is about being in a band. We want to be a band that inspires other people to feel like they can do what they want to do, try new things, not be afraid to do things because others might think they are bad at it. We want other people to start bands, build community, and have the fulfilling musical experience of loving some song by a friend's band instead of the hollow feeling that comes from clicking on the latest track by whoever from wherever on whatever label reviewed by whatever website.


Are the Diskettes gone forever? Any chance of more recordings or a reunion?

There has been a long-standing idea of doing a Diskettes album of lieder, but we've seriously been talking about it for 10 years, so don't hold your breath.






Discography

Albums


Weeknights at Island View Beach (Blocks Recording Club, 2005)
  • Get! Together! / Museum / 12345 / End Points / Jump Up / Party Girl / As It Happens / Elk Island Tundra / Cowichan Knit / Ss Dd / Ashcroft Deliver / Cabin by the Sea / Close Friends Go / Coastal Recordings



Split Tape with Port City All Stars (Pink Triforce/Yellow Mica, 2005)
  • Best Song on This Tape / Do What You Need to Do / Second Best Track on This Tape / Ride On / Another Non Music Part / My Chinchilla (Live on CKUT) / Baby's Fire / Sample Heaven / Suicide Is Painless / THE END



The Diskettes (Humblebee/Asaurus, 2007)
  • Come on Over / Art / Gossip / Bossa Nova Love / Pop Pop Beat / ABC's of Love / Gymnasium / Cardinals / Mr. Lee / Tradewinds / Girl with Sunglasses



Compilations


Finally Something to Replace Bowling (Asaurus ASA013, 2002)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Art"

Zip-Locked and Loaded, Vol. 4 (Popgun 050, 2003) 
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Come on Over"

Cwistmas Twee (Total Gaylord TGR007, 2004)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Noel"

Hey! Where'd the Summer Go? (Humblebee HBR003, 2004)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Pop Pop Beat"

Good Grooming for Girls (Permafrost FROST 009, 2004)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Come on Over"

Our Hearts Beat Out of Tune (Yellow Mica YMR 021, 2005)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Museum"

How Bizarre: A Tribute to the 90's by Various Artists (Blod-Zine BLD005, 2005)
  • Includes the Diskettes' cover of "How Bizarre" by OMC

You Already Have Way Too Many CDRs (Asaurus, 200?)
  • Includes the Diskettes' cover of "How Bizarre" by OMC

Yay 4 Cuteness (Valiant Death VD-045, 2006)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Do What You Need to Do"

Starting Anew (WeePOP! POP!026, 2009)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Do What You Need to Do"



Saturday, March 1, 2014

Music Weird interviews Frank Gari, teen idol and TV theme composer


Frank Gari's "Utopia" is one of those great, early '60s teen idol hits that should have been even more successful than it was. A Top 30 hit in 1960, "Utopia" is a beautifully arranged pop song that is similar in tone to Frankie Avalon's "Venus." 




Gari had a couple of minor follow-up hits—"Lullaby of Love" and "Princess"—but went on to much greater success as a composer and producer of television themes, including the themes of Good Morning, America and The Oprah Show. 

I interviewed Gari in 2001 when I was working on Hard to Find 45s on CD, Volume 7: More Sixties Classics for Eric Records. I was able to use only a snippet in the booklet, so here is the full interview. 




Different sources give your birth year as 1942 or 1944. Which one's correct? 

1944. On April Fool's Day. 

Did your parents have any ties to the entertainment industry? 

My mother was a classical pianist, not professionally. My father was a guitar player, not professionally. My sister was a prima ballerina, professionally. So I had music and dancing going on around me through all my early years. It rubbed off. 

How did you break into music? 

It was very interesting. I had been singing in school, and I had a local band of my own. I was determined to become a rock 'n' roll star, so I put on my white buck shoes, I wore a white sweater, I had my pompadour hairdo, and I stood out in front of 1619 Broadway, which is the Brill Building in New York, which was the music capitol. I was just sending out vibrations to anyone who was walking in that building in hopes that maybe someone would recognize me and think that I had the right look. 

Sure enough, a gentleman by the name of Jimmy Crane came up and said, "Who are you?" and I told him, and he said, "Can you sing?" I said yes, and he said, "Well, I have a record label called Ribbon Records, and my record company is upstairs in the Brill Building. Come on up and let's hear what you sound like, and maybe we'll cut a record with you." To make a long story short, that's exactly what I did.

He had a producer working for him by the name of Gerry Granahan, who produced my first record, which was entitled "Lil' Girl." It wasn't a hit, but I did a lot of record hops. 

Down the hall was a gentleman by the name of Sy Muskin, and Sy Muskin had a record company called Crusade Records and this track entitled "Utopia." He said, "Boy, I love the way you sing, I wish you could record this for me, but you're tied up with Ribbon Records." 

Anyway, I was released from the contract with Ribbon and quickly signed with Sy Muskin and Crusade Records and recorded "Utopia." It took six months to a year of doing record hops and promoting the record to start to get it to really make some noise. Sure enough, it started catching on, and hit the charts on Cash Box

The owner of the record company, Sy Muskin, was also my manager, and he got me with the William Morris Agency, who got me quickly booked on some very big shows: The Steve Allen Show, The Merv Griffin Show. American Bandstand with Dick Clark, I did many times. The old American Bandstand show in Philadelphia. 

My second record came out, called "Lullaby of Love," and I followed up with a third hit record, called "Princess." 

That's kind of how it went. I got married, had two wonderful children, decided to quit being on the road and singing and fall behind the scenes as a writer and producer. I worked for Bobby Darin's publishing company, TM, which stands for Trinity Music, and worked for Bobby for a while. 

My wife was originally from Cleveland, Ohio. We went to Cleveland on a vacation, and I fell in love with the countryside. Having the two kids, and feeling that New York City was no place to bring up children, we decided to move to Cleveland, which we did. I formed a jingle company in Cleveland, and we soon became the largest jingle company in the Midwest. We did about 3,000 jingles for phone companies, fast food companies, car dealers. 

What were some of your best-known jingles? 

We did Smuckers jams and jellies: "With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good." We did McDonalds: "You deserve a break today." Just lots of things. 

That led me into a television station in Cleveland, channel five, WEWS. They said, "Boy, you do some great jingles. Will you write a song to promote our television station?" We wrote a song called "Catch Five," and "Catch Five" became a huge success in Cleveland. 

(Here's the WEWS "Catch Five" spot)



Channel eight across the street, a CBS station, said, "You wrote such a great song for channel five, could you write one for us?" And they started to do very well in the ratings. And then the NBC station, channel three, called up and said, "You did such a great job for channel five and channel eight, can you write one for us?" And we did, and that was a success, and I found myself producing music for television stations, and now we are the leaders in news music. We write and produce music for some 300-and-something television stations in this country alone. 

We do the theme music for Good Morning, America; for CBS This Morning; for all the ABC news, eyewitness news; the Oprah Winfrey theme. We do all the Fox News, a lot of NBC news, many programs on HBO and Discovery Channel. We just finished doing music for the National Geographic channel. So I'm still deeply involved in music. 

My son, Christian Gari, and my daughter, Kimberly Gari, are basically the head of the creative department and run what is known as Gari Communications. They've been with me for 17 years. 

That led me to California, where I now reside with my family, and my company is here, and we also have studios and an affiliate office in Atlanta. And that's the story. Married 40 years. 


You haven't done any commercial recordings since the '60s?

No, no more recording. But I'm in the studio every day producing theme music. 


Any other anecdotes about "Utopia"? 

Yeah, when I was still on Ribbon Records and I was still under contract, and I became friendly with Sy Muskin, Sy said, "Gosh, I'd sure like to have you sing this song." And I said I was still under contract to Ribbon Records but I'd really love to. He said, "Do you have any friends that sing as well as you do?" So I sent all of my buddies from Paramus High School [in Paramus, New Jersey] to audition, and he auditioned about a half-dozen of my friends. In the meantime, I ended up getting out of my contract with Ribbon. 


So none of your friends went on to greater fame? 

I don't know [laughing]. I lost track. I don't know. Not with "Utopia." 


You compose theme music now, but you didn't compose any of your Crusade sides [Note—Gari is credited as a cowriter of the "Lullaby of Love" b-side, "Tonight Is Our Last Night"]. Were you writing songs back then? 

Yeah—not polished enough to turn into a record, but I honed my skills through the years. 


Talk about some of the package tours you did. 

I did the Alan Freed, Brooklyn Paramount theater; the Murray the K, Brooklyn Paramount; and Brooklyn Fox. I worked with Frankie Avalon and Fabian and Etta James and James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis and Jackie Wilson and Tony Orlando and the Capris, the Shirelles. 


Did you become friends with any of them? 

Yeah, Tony Orlando became a very good friend of mine. And we were on the road together quite often. That was long before Dawn. 


Gari's Crusade and Ribbon discography

Lil' Girl b/w Your Only Love (Ribbon 6903, 1959)

Utopia b/w I Ain't Got a Girl (Crusade CR-1020, 1960)

Lullaby of Love b/w Tonight Is Our Last Night (Crusade CR-1021, 1961)

Princess b/w The Last Bus Left at Midnight (Crusade CR-1022, 1961)

There's Lots More Where That Came From b/w You Better Keep Runnin' (Crusade CR-1024, 1962)