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Wendy James: Previously unreleased track ‘Schneider’s Ride’ inspired by Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches’

Michael Herr’s memoir on the Vietnam War, Dispatches has provided the inspiration for a previously unreleased track by Wendy James called “Schneider’s Ride.” 

“This song was provoked in me by reading, many years ago, and then re-reading Michael Herr’s incredible account of Vietnam: Dispatches,” Wendy tells Dangerous Minds.

“Vietnam is such a flashpoint for transformation around the world, whether viewed by the Vets that served time in it, or the cultural and political shifts that were happening around them and it and the world.”

The title comes from an incident during the War, recorded in Herr’s book, when photographer John Schneider:

“...fixed a white flag to his handle-bars and took a bike from the top of Hill 881 North over to Hill 881 South during a terrible battle, in what came to be known as Schneider’s Ride.”

Herr worked as War Correspondent for Esquire, and Dispatches was hailed (by John Le Carre) as the best book written on men and war In our time. It is the personal stories of the soldiers involved in war which appealed to Herr.

War stories aren’t really anything more than stories about people anyway.

Herr’s writing on soldiers, their lives, and the horrors witnessed, also the book also inspired Wendy James’s song-writing.

“I enjoy very much that team spirit, the brotherhood that arises out of the basic ranks of the Marine Corps, the ‘Grunts’. I think I could handle that stuff… and in Michael Herr’s book, stationed as he was into different postings around the occupation/invasion, he is eye witness to philosophical revelations and frankly, downright absurdist gallows humor. The cynicism the troops feel with the so called leaders in Washington and the full realization that these guys, most often black guys, would be water-hosed back in USA or set on by Strom Thurman’s dogs, are out there serving their country, facing death, and also yukking it up with rock ‘n’ roll and drugs and booze and pictures of sweethearts and far-away pin-ups. What else are you going to do?

“But still these guys, these soldiers, they are match-fit every call of duty. I cannot claim it for myself, but in any war, I imagine, facing death and witnessing the millisecond randomness of living and dying is a soul-changing experience. The one upside is the team spirit with your fellows that you bring home, and carry for life. Maybe the discipline, too.

“Anyway… this song strikes me as a perfectly beautiful moment, not necessarily attached to anything else, but existing in its own space… and so… here it is.”

After his time in Vietnam, Michael Herr returned to the US, then went on the road with Ted Nugent, writing the experience up for Crawdaddy. Dispatches was published in 1977, and Herr then wrote the narration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), then co-wrote Full Metal Jacket (1987) with Stanley Kubrick, which contained elements of Dispatches.

Wendy James, meanwhile, is currently recording her latest album with an selection of famous and seasoned musicians.

“The line-up is Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols on Bass, Jim Sclavunos from the Bad Seeds and The Cramps on drums, for now I’m on rhythm guitar, but maybe Judah Bauer might come in after his Jon Spencer Blues Explosion dates, if not, then…TBA!  It’ll be someone fabulous!!!

“We’re recording down in the East Village so I can walk Broadway each morning, which is pretty magnificent in itself… New York City is my home-town now, no doubt, it embraces me, captures my imagination, captures my heart. I belong here.”

Wendy has also written eleven new songs (inspired by books, films and some of her favorite bands), which have been described as her best songs yet.

“My fingers are raw and calloused! My voice is pure and strong! My mind is fully charged and focused, and I am happy.”

Wendy then gives a breathless listing of what we can expect.

“Glen and Jim on rhythm section and so much more… these men are so, so talented,” Wendy begins.

“Songs ranging from down-home Howlin’ Wolf dirty blues, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins devilish raconteur-ing, heavy and bad-ass rumbles on guitar, stepchildren of the Stooges and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, a little Who-like odyssey at the top of the album, and journeying on through West Coast desolate surfer Dogtown and Z-Boys music inspired by Joan Didion’s short stories, when the waves are an act of ferocious and glorious nature and human life is tossed about at their will: No Guts, No Glory. Then comes a little Cowboy edge, out there on the high plains drifting with William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody! and my own little personal moment with a song called “Screamin’ Back Washington” which is so deep it cannot be explained… you know, an orphan child…

“Anyway… in a few weeks, it will be done, and then… I’ll be shouting from the rooftops in NYC… Eureka!!!”

And we certainly look forward to that!

Photo of Wendy James by Ricardo Gomes.

Bonus: Michael Herr explains why he went to Vietnam.

Posted by Paul Gallagher
06:24 pm
Wendy James: Exclusive interview and new tracks with James Williamson & James Sclavunos

Wendy James has been busy. Since the release of her superb album I Came Here to Blow Minds last year, Wendy has been traveling the world, writing, performing and recording across New York, London, Paris, and Los Angeles. She has also been working on her next album and single with the legendary James Williamson and James Sclavunos.

In an exclusive interview, Wendy James tells Dangerous Minds about working with Williamson and Sclavunos on her latest Double A-side single, which we premiere below.

DM: What are you working on just now?

Wendy James: ‘I’m getting this single out, which really is a Double A side speciality to be released on beautiful Vinyl and Download.

‘It’s a speciality as I don’t usually do cover versions and of course, because of the line up of the players. It’s the first and only time James Williamson from The Stooges has recorded anything other than a Stooges or Iggy record. And I got ‘Big’ Jim Sclavunos from the Bad Seeds and Grinderman on drums. Steve Mackay, the famed Baritone Sax player from the Stooges, does a great part too. Between us we hand in a pretty powerful sound I think!! We started off thinking ‘Why not go into the studio and make a Single?’ Well the Bob Dylan track “It’s Alright Ma” is 7 minutes long so instead of it being a 45” single we have put it onto 10”. Literally there are not enough grooves on a 45” to allow for that length of song!

‘The other song “You’re So Great” is a cover of Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s number from his band Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. The more space the better on a 12” or 10” vinyl so you can make great artwork, read the credits etc… It’s all very tactile once you’re on Vinyl. You master differently, you mix differently, you actually strip away a lot of the artifice of an overly-compressed digital sound, you really get bass end, you really get depth of field. It’s very, very exciting in the studio to as you literally the hear the compositions coming together.’

DM: How did you decide to cover Dylan’s ‘I’m Alright Ma’?

Wendy James: ‘I have a whole new album of original numbers, plus my choice of one cover: “You’re So Great” by Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. I was talking through the whole thing with James and he looked at his Stooges touring diary at that time (June) and he figured he could carve out a number of days for us to work, not enough time to make a whole album then, but enough to make a single. It seemed obvious to me that James should play “You’re So Great” which is tailor made Detroit attitude from Fred Smith and even to the point that Scott Asheton from The Stooges played in that line-up, so, we agreed to do that song and then just through conversation, James asked me what my favorite Bob Dylan number was, and I said “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”. You know the clarity and purpose of those lyrics have never been bettered and never will be. They are finite. They are IT. So… just like that, we decided to do both these covers and make it a special, and of course put the numbers onto my album later, and to deal with recording the whole album a few weeks later.

‘So that is how it came together, in a series of babbling enthusiastic sentences propelled by both of us that resulted in us then blocking time in a recording studio and saying ‘Ok, see you in 3 weeks.’ Believe me we took on more than seemed apparent at first! To tongue twist your voice around all Dylans’ words and then at the speed at which James plays guitar, and for 7 minutes, and make it flow naturally and mean it! In the end, I understood every breath, every intention of Dylans’ phrasing and choice of words, but for a good week or so, I was the crazy lady in Washington Square Park walking around the periphery of the park muttering lyrics to myself, learning them!! (But… it’s not unusual in Washington Square Park to see muttering bums! So I generally went un-noticed!)’

And Fred ‘Sonic’ Smiths You’re So Great’ - why’d you choose that?

Wendy James: “You’re So Great” is just perfect pop. Three minutes of power and attitude. I love it, it’s always been a favorite of mine. I love Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, largely un-championed, except for us musicians and fans that revel in all things Detroit and Ann Arbor! They never recorded this in a studio so I had to rely on myriad live recordings and it was impossible to understand all the lyrics, so… James asked Scott Asheton and Patti Smith if Fred ever wrote them down, but he didn’t, and Patti said ‘Go ahead and fill in the blanks’. I think we got pretty damn close! And James just plays it so good! It’s his kind of thing, and mine too… So, it worked out very well, you know jumping around the studio saying ‘This is it, This is it’.

‘My friend in NYC has DJ’d it out in New York now to 1000 + people and he said the dance floor was slamming… I got texts through the night saying ‘Your Track Rules’! Very encouraging!’
DM: How did you become involved with Williamson and Sclavunous?

Wendy James: ‘James Sclavunos and I know each other socially from NYC and West London. James Williamson and I met around December last year. My friendships with both men just naturally evolved based on music and the tentative early discussions of doing something together. I share with both of them, and especially with James W, a very similar kind of look at things and taste in music, even humor, literature, you know, those typical conversations about ‘What’s your favorite movie?’ What book are you reading?’ etc etc… so. There was plenty of friendship there between all three of us when we finally walked into Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California.’

DM: Tell me about working with them on ‘It’s Alright Ma’ and ‘You’re So Great’?

Wendy James: Well, we’re all pretty fluid musicians, so… it’s literally what it sounds like. Jim played Drums and Percussion, James played Guitar and Bass, I sang and played keyboards… and between the three of us, playing live together and Jesse Nichols at the helm behind the mixing desk moving as quickly and as frenetically as we did! Keeping tabs on all the stuff that was going down, we really did just play both songs live until we reached a peak. Then you know, go back in the control room, listen back, identify any improvements and overdubs, and… yeah… musicians working. That’s what you do, That’s how you do it.

DM: What are you working on with them?

Wendy James: ‘Now it’s my whole album. The songs are nearly complete, I definitely have two left to write. Then it comes down to scheduling: Whether we have to grab time in pieces, or block book for a period of weeks, I expect to be underway in a matter of weeks and delivered by beginning 2013. Released Spring 2013. In the meantime this single will come out.’

DM: When will ‘I’m Alright Ma’ / ‘You’re So Great’ be released?

Wendy James:  ‘October/November. The company people are debating the best time for them now, it’s got little to do with me, but it’s coming up quick! So, in preparation, I’m doing a couple of photo sessions, finishing up my song writing, and finalizing artwork choices. You know six weeks go by very quickly when you’re planning an album or a single release, and so, with something like this, there hasn’t been any let-up since James Williamson and I decided to do it!’

We look forward to hearing more from the always welcome Wendy James.

Thanks to Ricardo Gomes for the fab photograph of Wendy James.


Previously on Dangerous Minds

Wendy James wants to blow your mind


Posted by Paul Gallagher
07:22 pm