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Sparks, Christian girls, drugs & lemon meringue pie: Meet obscure new wavers Gleaming Spires
11.24.2014
06:10 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sparks
Gleaming Spires

Re-Dux album art work for
 
As much as the mainstream clamors for something truly unique and edgy, the minute they get it is the minute that they typically do not want it. It’s this cultural miasma where cult artists are born and a perfect example of this is the early 1980’s band, Gleaming Spires. The seeds of the Spires were first planted in a Los Angeles new wave rock band called Bates Motel, but it took the fertile ground of joining Sparks in 1981 to help sprout one of the better—albeit obscure—cult bands to have emerged out of the post-punk musical landscape.

While they were together for only handful of years, ending with 1985’s Welcoming a New Ice Age, new label Futurismo have been working with the two brilliant minds behind Gleaming Spires, vocalist and bassist Les Bohem and drummer David Kendrick on a re-release and remastering of their first album originally released on the legendary Posh Boy label, Songs of the Spires. Available as both a digital download, as well as 180 gram vinyl album (colored either lemon meringue or blue movie, depending on your preference), Songs of the Spires has never looked or sounded this good. It’s a pitch-perfect debut album with that mix of quirky humor, emotional angst and sonic layers that could have only come from the dynamic duo of Bohem and Kendrick.

So in honor of this release, here is an exclusive interview with the Spires themselves, the first since their final album in 1985.

What was the big inspiration early on to get into music? Was it anything encouraged or discouraged by your family?

Les Bohem: Well, I took guitar lessons when I was a kid – my mom’s family was deep into Pete Seeger and I saw him at a Unitarian church when I was maybe seven. I had a subscription to Sing Out and an older cousin who was very cool and knew about Bob Dylan. In fact, I can remember that we thought it was lame that Peter, Paul and Mary covered “Blowin In the Wind.” My first performance was said “Wind” at my grammar school graduation. Aldous Huxley was in the audience. He told my Mom I had a nice voice. This either means he was old and deaf, not paying attention, or was on Psilocybin.

The Beatles during my first year of Junior High and that was it. The Kinks, Them, the Stones, the Who – We did “Substitute” in my first band at the 8th grade talent show – American lyrics ‘cause we didn’t know any better. Then my folkie roots began to show and I wore striped T-shirts and a vest and glasses, which I didn’t need, so I could look like the Lovin’ Spoonful.

My mom was always forgiving and she tried hard to like what I was doing. My dad never really got it. I broke his heart a bit when I left college to become a rock star. Having both worked as writers in the movie business, they had a healthy suspicion of any career in the arts.

David Kendrick: Both of us had artistic families. My father was a sculptor. I won’t say I was “forced into music” but was definitely encouraged. I mean, I had a very loud drum set in my bedroom. I was in bands outside of school.

How did you two meet? What events led to the formation of Bates Motel?

Les Bohem: I formed Bates Motel with Bob Haag and Alan Slater somewhere around 77-78, and we added Bob Beland somewhere right after that. We had a drummer who was a friend of Alan and Bob Haag’s. He left to join another band and then Bob Beland left. We were playing around L.A. and I don’t remember how we put the word out for drummers. I feel like I’d met David once at the Troubadour before that. He wore funny shoes. He was the first really good drummer and still far and away the best that I have ever played with. I remember how good the songs sounded the first time we practiced with him. Alan was gone by now, by the way, since he formed another band, and we had added another guitar player, Dave “the Rave” Draves. He and Bob Haag were from Lancaster, a town about 60 miles into the desert from L.A. We practiced there in a studio space that was in an arcade, which had been owned by Judy Garland’s father. On the long drives up and back, David and I become friends quickly. We’d bring tapes of favorite songs. We’d talk about books, music. We were still young. We’d get heavy.

David Kendrick: Bates already existed. I joined after they fell for my lamppost drummer propaganda. I liked the film reference name too
 
Les Bohem playing behind the Mael Brothers. Note Ron's smile.
 
It’s been written that the Mael Brothers discovered you after becoming familiar with Bates Motel. Where you fans of Sparks beforehand?

Les Bohem: It all begins with a screenwriter named Bill Kerby. I liked their album covers but had only heard a few songs. David, I believe, was the bigger fan. In those days, there was no place to get espresso in Los Angeles and the thing that David and I really bonded over was espresso. I had been going to the Belgian Waffle stand at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax for years to have coffee with Bill, a writer who I’d met through my friend Miranda when they were dating. So this actually all begins with Miranda. Anyways, I would meet Bill for coffee mornings. Then, in the Bates days, a whole bunch of us would go in the afternoons and we would see Ron and Russell, who hung out there most afternoons. It was a celebrity sighting. “Look, it’s those guys from Sparks.” After a while, we developed one of those nodding relationships. One day, I went over to their table. We were trying everything to get signed and I thought that maybe they’d produce us. I said, “You guys are supposed to be the fathers of New Wave, how about you come see your kids,” or something equally lame and gave them a flyer to a show we were doing at Blackies, a club in Santa Monica. They came. They did not want to produce us. They asked us to be their band.
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
New boxed set reveals John Coltrane created ‘terror’ during final tour with Miles Davis, 1960
11.20.2014
08:05 am

Topics:
History
Music

Tags:
Miles Davis
jazz
John Coltrane

All of You: The Final Tour, 1960
 
In 1955, Miles Davis hired an up-and-coming musician named John Coltrane to play in his group. Over the next couple of years, the team-up produced some incredible music, but the personal relationship between the trumpeter/leader and the saxophonist was never steady. Backstage at a gig in the spring of 1957, Miles slapped Coltrane and then punched him in the stomach; Trane’s only response was to quit the band.

Coltrane returned to join Davis’ sextet later in the year, but during that short time away he had continued to make a name for himself as a group member, bandleader and recording artist in his own right. Trane played on Miles’ Kind of Blue (1959), now considered one of the cornerstones of the jazz genre, and accompanied Davis on a European tour in 1960, but mentally he was focused on his own music. Miles later admitted Coltrane “was ready to move out before we left.”
 
Kind of Blue
 
The spring 1960 European tour was spread out over twenty cities in nine countries. The new boxed set, All of You: The Last Tour, 1960 includes recordings from eight of those performances. Though the Quintet sounds fantastic as a unit, Coltrane’s solos are so unusual they caused quite a stir at the time. Kind of Blue is a lovely record that is also easy on the ears, but Trane was doing his best to make this music sound ugly.

Journalist Frank Tenot witnessed the first show of the tour in Paris: “People were very surprised why there was no John Coltrane like on Kind of Blue. So, part of the audience thinks that Coltrane doesn’t play too well, that he was playing the wrong notes, involuntarily.” Tenot went backstage after the show to tell the saxophonist, “You’re too new for the people… you go too far.” Coltrane just smiled and said, “I don’t go far enough.”

Other critics who witnessed the shows wished that Trane had held back. One reporter called his solos “scandalous,” and wrote that they “bore no relationship whatsoever with playing the saxophone.” Another writer was so horrified he equated Coltrane’s solos with the very concept of “terror.”
 
Trane in pain
 
As the leader, Davis takes the first solo during every song on these recordings, and as much as I dig Miles—his solo turns are as interesting and as exquisite as ever—after a couple of tracks, I found myself waiting for Coltrane to step up and blow me away. And he would do just that. Every time. It’s fascinating to hear him push the material—and thus, the band—especially as this was Miles’ group, not his. The fact that we now know he had mentally moved on from his role with Davis, as well as facing negative reactions to his output, only makes listening to these tracks all the more absorbing.
 
John Coltrane and Miles Davis
 
The Miles Davis Quintet returned to the states on April 11th, and it wouldn’t be long before Coltrane would make his exit. By then, Trane had made a name for himself and was well on his to becoming one of the titans of jazz.
 
John Coltrane
 
Some of the recordings on the boxed set are taken from radio broadcasts, while others were captured privately by audience members. Initially, my expectations were somewhat low as far as the fidelity of these live tapes—which date from over a half century ago—but aside from a couple of muddy sounding tracks and occasional issues with how the musicians were mic’d, the sound quality ranges from very good to surprisingly great. Hear for yourself, as we have an exclusive preview track, an up tempo version of “So What,” recorded in Stockholm, Sweden on March 22nd, 1960. The faster beat and Trane’s dissonant solo result in something excitingly different than the subdued mood created for the familiar Kind of Blue version. Enjoy.

All of You: The Last Tour, 1960 will be released on December 2nd.
 

 
Here’s a 1959 TV clip of “So What” played at a pace that more closely resembles the one found on Kind of Blue, but with Coltrane beginning to stretch, feeling his way towards the type of solos he would play on his final tour with Miles:
 

 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
He’s gonna booglarize you, baby: Hear an amazing unreleased Captain Beefheart song
11.11.2014
09:27 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Captain Beefheart


 

“Art is rearranging and grouping mistakes.”
—Don Van Vliet, a/k/a Captain Beefheart

It’s been said many times before, but Captain Beefheart was truly one of the great musical minds. Don Van Vliet mixed rock, jazz and blues to create his own brand of music that was a kind of avant rock. The Captain’s songs might’ve sounded chaotic, but they were actually painstakingly precise. Some of them were even catchy!
 
Sun Zoom Spark
 
Rhino’s new Beefheart boxed set, Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972, comes out November 17th, and includes the three albums that followed his groundbreaking double LP, Trout Mask Replica (1969), as well as a disc of previously unreleased outtakes. The CD of outtakes is enough to excite any Captain Beefheart fan, but the album that immediately followed Trout Mask Replica, Lick My Decals Off, Baby (1970) has been out-of-print for years, and is just as essential as Trout Mask—even more so, dare I say.
 

 
Both Lick My Decals Off, Baby and the Captain himself nearly passed me by. The first Beefheart album I bought was a vinyl reissue of Trout Mask Replica—a legendary and revered release, and one of the strangest records to ever be labeled “rock.” But I just didn’t get it. I was a big fan of Frank Zappa (Don’s friend, closest musical comparison, and producer of TMR), but I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. I set it aside, figuring I would give it another chance down the road.
 
Zappa and the Captain
Zappa and the Captain

A couple of years later, I though I’d give a different CB record a try, and picked up the reissue of Lick My Decals Off, Baby—and I couldn’t get enough of it. I would blast those tunes on my drive to the retail gig I had at the time, and it was comforting to listen to something so wonderfully stupefying before I had to re-join the world of normal people. For years, this was the only Beefheart album I felt I needed, and it would be a decade before I got into (and fell for) his late period records, Doc at the Radar Station (1980) and Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (1978). I wouldn’t fully grasp Trout Mask Replica until after Don passed in 2010. I still prefer Decals. As it turns out, I’m not the only one:

You put on Lick My Decals Off, Baby, and at first it’s what the fuck…Then there are songs you would immediately dig, like ‘I Love You, You Big Dummy.’ Crazy, abstract, but still friendly, you know. Trout Mask would be hard to listen to for someone who didn’t know his music, but Decals, you find out it’s not quite as spooky…Once you get it, that connection, you feel closer to him. You feel this good-hearted, caring human being.
—David Hidalgo of Los Lobos

 

 
For his next album, The Spotlight Kid (1972), Van Vliet made a conscious effort to make his music more appealing to the masses. The record is a bluesy affair, and while it’s consistent, it doesn’t seem to find the Captain particularly inspired. Having said that, there are a few stellar tracks, including “Blabber ‘n Smoke,” a fantastic song that contains the Captain’s most humane lyric ever (“Clean up the air and treat the animals fair.”). Ultimately, the album wasn’t commercially successful. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, and a big Beefheart fan, sums up The Spotlight Kid: “You can’t call it conventional, but it certainly was friendlier.”
 
Clear Spot shirt
 
Clear Spot followed later that same year. The album is a schizophrenic mix of material, as if Don wasn’t sure which road he wanted to head down next. Some songs are similar in feel to the ones found on The Spotlight Kid, yet have more of the Captain’s distinctive sonic stamp. Lots of significant stuff here, including the absolutely transcendent “Big Eyed Beans From Venus,” but there are a couple of songs (“Crazy Little Thing” and “Long Neck Bottles”) that are so dumbed-down you can hardly believe this is the same artist. Fans may have accused Beefheart of attempting to cash-in during this period, but if “Too Much Time” is a sell-out, then it’s the greatest sell-out song of ALL TIME. It’s an awesome soul number that shoulda been hit.

The outtakes disc covers material recorded during The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot eras. It’s a fascinating compilation, as it includes early versions of tracks that would turn up on later albums, and it also features songs that are otherwise unavailable. A few are instrumentals, so the focus is on the gargantuan talents of the Magic Band, the rotating group of incredible musicians the Captain assembled. Okay, I’m going to cut to the chase here: This collection has to be one of the best outtakes discs ever assembled. This shit just (blabbers and) smokes, and the sound quality is top-notch. You can hear what I mean for yourself, as we have an exclusive preview of one of the oh-so-sweet previously unreleased tunes, “Two Rips in a Haystack”/“Kiss Me My Love.”
 

 
“I am my own artist,” Van Vliet once stated. “I like to listen to music, but I won’t trace.” Perhaps that’s the rationale for why Captain Beefheart wasn’t commercially successful, but it’s also just happens to be the reason fans continue to love his work. There was truly no one else like him.

Below, the television commercial for Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Yes, there was a TV commercial!

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
David Johansen and Johnny Thunders talk Sex Pistols and Tom Petty in front of CBGB’s, 1976

Johnny Thunders and David Johansen
 
The New York Dolls essentially came to an end while touring Florida in 1975. A few months prior, the band was on their last legs when future Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren stepped into the picture. McLaren had some insane ideas, such as re-imagining the androgynous Dolls as tongue-in-check Maoists. Drummer Jerry Nolan later recalled McLaren’s vision of “dressing us up in matching red leather suits and playing in front of a giant communist flag. It was so stupid!”
 

New York Dolls: Better red than dead? (photo by Bob Gruen)
 
Nolan and guitarist Johnny Thunders quit the band and headed back to New York, forming the Heartbreakers. Their earliest gigs, with original bassist Richard Hell, were at the club that would eventually be known as the ground zero of punk: CBGB’s. As for the Dolls, vocalist David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain recruited various musicians over the next couple of years, soldiering on until 1977 when they finally called it a day.
 
CBGB's
 
In the footage featured here, Johansen is seen conducting a mock-interview of sorts with Thunders in front of CBGB’s. Likely recorded in the fall of 1976, the two cover a lot of ground in the brief clip. Johansen asks about the Heartbreakers upcoming overseas tour, which turns out to be the ill-fated “Anarchy in the U.K.” tour with the Sex Pistols.
 
Anarchy tour poster
 
At the time, Thunders has no idea of the ultimate fate of the outing, in which nineteen shows are scheduled, though all but three are cancelled due to a backlash after the Pistols infamous appearance on Bill Grundy’s television program. Malcolm McLaren organized the tour, and when his name comes up the two have a few sardonic yucks aimed at their former manager (Thunders says he’s “the neatest”). They also talk about how the Heartbreakers might have to change their name, as there’s a new band making the rounds with a similar moniker: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
 
The Heartbreakers
The Heartbreakers, with Richard Hell, at CBGB’s, 1975 (photo by Chris Stein)
 
The former band-mates are seen smoking and joking like the old friends they already were at that point. To be honest, I had no idea the pair were even on speaking terms during this period, so it’s nice to see them getting along so well (it’s worth noting that the reconstituted New York Dolls is one subject they don’t broach).

The encounter was shot with photographer Bob Gruen’s video camera and included on the New York Dolls DVD of Gruen footage, Lookin’ Fine On Television.
 
New York Dolls
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
Salad Days: A talk with the former fanzine kids behind the new 80s DC punk documentary
11.04.2014
06:43 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Punks
Washington DC

Salad Days
 
During the ten-year timespan that encapsulated the Reagan presidency and the emergence of Washington, D.C. as the nation’s murder capital, the1980s DC punk underground became a hotbed of incendiary youth activism. The 1980s saw the birth of Dischord Records and DC bands like Minor Threat, Beefeater, Fire Party, Soulside, Rites of Spring, and Fugazi as the harDCore scene matured around community action groups like Positive Force that advocated for punk rock to take direct action against societal injustice.

The early scene was not without its critics, and was sometimes derided by music reviewers like Robert Christgau who, according to Positive Force founder, Mark Anderson, in his seminal history of DC punk, Dance of Days, once called the emerging aggressive breed of young punks “muscleheads.” As a counterpoint, according to Anderson, the comment lead to the title of Flex Your Head, a compilation of DC punk released on Dischord Records in 1982.

The DC underground’s fiercely D.I.Y and, often, cerebral take on traditional punk rock continues to resonate. 

A new documentary about the era called Salad Days: The DC Punk Revolution, is set to make its debut in a few weeks. Created by Director Scott Crawford, a then very youthful fanzine chronicler of the 1980’s DC punk scene and Jim Saah (Director of Photography and Editor), a now professional photographer who taught himself the art in large part by shooting DC punk performances, the Kickstarter-funded film will begin seeing the light of day in November after being in the works for nearly four years. Salad Days features interviews with DC punk and post-punk luminaries Ian MacKaye, J. Robbins, Brian Baker, Kenny Inouye, Dante Ferrando and many others. DC post-punk outfit Soulside, three members of which went on to form Girls Against Boys, will reunite for a handful of shows in conjunction with the NYC and DC premiers.
 
Soul Side St. Vitus
 
I sent both Crawford and Saah a few questions via email recently and asked them to discuss the upcoming release of the film, their backgrounds as young fanzine creators, and what the 1980s DC hardcore scene meant to them.

DM: Scott, tell me about your years of making underground publications and what drew you to the Salad Days project.

Crawford: My love of magazines started as a kid when I published a fanzine called Metrozine that was focused on the DC punk scene. I did that for almost three years until I started playing in a band. Years later, I started two other zines that focused on the indie rock world at the time and I worked with some amazing writers and photographers (including Jim Saah). In 2001, I started another consumer music magazine out of my basement called HARP that was eventually bought by another publishing company. I worked as the Editor and Creative Director for seven years—and the focus was independent music and culture. Unfortunately once the economy bottomed out, so did the magazine industry and we were a casualty.

I’d been wanting to document the DC punk scene in the 1980s somehow and just thought a documentary film was the best way to tell the story. Speaking with a lot of the people that I’d spoken to almost 30 years ago (as a fanzine kid) provides a type of perspective that I think offers a unique take on the story. Honestly, after the magazine went under, I was floundering a bit personally and professionally. While the film took almost four years to complete, it’s been therapeutic, humbling and incredibly satisfying.

DM: This music was literally life changing for so many young people, but there have always been haters out there about it from critics to other punks who thought the scene was overly earnest and self-righteous. As you pointed out in your Kickstarter campaign, so much is misunderstood about DC punk in the 80’s. What’s the biggest misunderstanding?

Crawford: The DC punk scene in the 1980s was polarizing. Whether it was straight edge, socio-political issues or “emo”, they all provoke a reaction of some sort—which speaks volumes for the impact that this city has had not just on independent music but the culture at large. My eight-year-old daughter has never heard an Embrace song, but she uses the word “emo” on a daily basis. But as the film explores, not everyone was straight edge, humorless and pious. It was a diverse community and while it had its share of disfunction, it was made up of incredibly creative, hard-working people that created a thriving music scene at a time when there was no real local radio support or music industry infrastructure to help support it. That’s no small feat.
 

In this clip from Salad Days, Ian MacKaye talks about still addressing the straight edge issue.
 
DM: Talk about the Soulside reunion shows that are coming up in conjunction with the film’s release.

Crawford: I’d been talking to the band for a while about doing a reunion show when the film was ready to come out. They haven’t played on a stage in over 25 years so I really wasn’t sure if it’d actually come together, but I think the timing just worked for them. Personally speaking, they were always a favorite of mine, so it’s particularly meaningful to have them onboard. It’s going to be a really special weekend.

DM: Is there still a movement mentality in the D.C. underground?

Crawford: I think that’s part of the DNA of folks living in DC and active in the underground music community. I think having organizations like Positive Force in the city helps keep the activism alive.

DM: Jim, How long have you known Scott Crawford and how have you guys worked together over the years?  How’d you get involved in the Salad Days film?

Saah: I’ve known Scott since he was twelve years old. He called me and asked if he could use my photos in his fanzine. Then later on I would shoot photos for the various music magazines he would do over the years, Noise Works, Bent and Harp. I did fanzines of my own that Scott wrote for as well. In the 80’s I did Zone V which was a photo/fanzine, then in the 90s I did about a dozen issues of Uno Mas, which was more of a culture fanzine. I’ve thought about doing a book from time to time about DC punk rock but not a film. Scott came to me with the idea to make a film. He actually had to talk me into it a bit because I thought it was a daunting task. And it was! But since we have a long friendship and have collaborated on many things over the years it was very easy falling into a good workflow for the film.

DM: You shot everybody from the DC underground in the early 80’s including Faith, Government Issue, Scream, Black Market Baby, Iron Cross, and Minor Threat (including their last show at Landsburgh Center in 1983) to name just a few. How old were you in 1983? Did you feel like these bands were making history?

Saah: I turned eighteen in March of 1983. I didn’t have a sense of history being made at the time, but there was a sense that we found something special, something that spoke to us and wasn’t what everyone else at school was into. It was special. I was incredibly excited by the whole thing. I discovered older punk rock first; NY and British stuff from the late 70’s. But then I quickly found out that people were making incredible punk rock right now in my backyard! So we went to every show and drank it all in. I didn’t start a band but I did start a fanzine and took photos at all the shows and loved the community and camaraderie. It was a beautiful thing to be accepted by like-minded people.

(I asked both Crawford and Saah the following) What’s the underlying message of Salad Days and what do hope for young musicians and artists to take away from it?

Saah: For me the underlying message is that this music scene and community taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to, that I didn’t need anyone’s permission to be a photographer. I just needed to do it. It set me on a path that I’m still on. I took pictures of bands for my fanzine, then for the City Paper then for the Washington Post. The punk ethos taught me to believe in myself, and also taught me how to not settle for what’s put in front of me in regards to art and culture. It taught me that it may take a little work to find a band or book or movie that’s not easily found on the radio or in the library or at the Cineplex at the mall, but people are making incredible, moving and inspiring art that’s off the mainstream radar and it’s extremely rewarding to go find it. I’m still on the hunt to this day. And now my kids turn me on to cool shit that I didn’t know existed.

Crawford: Salad Days isn’t about nostalgia for me. It’s about looking at that period in my life and applying the things I learned then to my life now. In other words, my best days aren’t behind me—they’re ahead of me. Hell, they’re right now.

DM: How can people get their hands (or at least eyes) on the film once it’s released?

Crawford: We’re premiering the film over the November 14, 2014 weekend at DOC NYC Film Festival in NYC, and in the Midwest (the same night) at the Sound Unseen Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN and on Sunday, November 16 at the Olympia Film Festival in Olympia, WA. Then our Washington, DC premier begins on December 19 at the AFI Theater and runs through December 22. After that, we’ll be doing a few more film festivals followed by a theatrical run and DVD/VOD.

Look for updates on the film’s Facebook page and check out the trailer for Salad Days below:
 

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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