“The Supertramp Story”
“Did Dougie Thompson Ever Get Laid?”
Rick Davies was on the dole on that fateful, dreary November day back in 1969 when he happened to stumble into Roger Hodgeson at the Sociable Plover Pub and Eatery in Stalybridge, England.
He’d been drinking heavily and was in no mood for company.
But Roger was in a particularly cheeky, self destructive mood that evening and, pulling up a stool next to Rick whom he‘s never met before thrusts his hand out and brazenly introduces himself.
The two struck up a conversation and found out that they had more than just hair in common: they both loved soft rock, and, in particular, the band the Nickerbockers. A stateside band that never got their due, they will forever be remembered for their sole chart-topper, “Rational Anthem (Fable Of A Fredfish And Hope You Feel OK).” The subsequent full length LP from the afore stated band was entitled “Jazz Hands and Crazy Legs” was a cult success that strongly influenced the Velvet Undergrounds White Light White Heat, and the bands unique use of the Aeolian Wind Harp and Bubble Organ were revolutionary for their time (although by 1978 every band would own at least one or the other), and was integral in the early sounds of Supertramp, then as yet unnamed.
The two started jamming (at this time, they only had organs; Roger a Lumberhorn Deluxe and Rick, a Stoessel-laute with Theremin attachment), but the fruits of these sessions were bizarre to say the least. The two would jam for hours, often simply mimicking each other’s keyboard ’riffs’ like two hairy demented mimes.
The unholy sounds emanating from the small flat did attract the attention of a young Dutch Millionaire by the name of Stanley August Miesegaes, who happened to be passing by one day. Curious, repulsed and more than a little bit turned on, he followed his ears and knocked on their door. Introducing himself as “A Dutch Millionaire” who wanted to “finance their future“, he invited himself in. He was a sight to behold, dressed in forest green pantaloons, a red and white furled ’blouse’ of sorts and polished wooden shoes, he certainly seemed an unlikely benefactor.
After the initial aesthetic shock of Mr. Miesagaes attire, the two budding musicians agreed to let him help.
Stanley had an American Jewish friend who played the drums by the name of Bob Siebenburg, who quickly changed his name to Bob C. Benberg after hearing of Roger’s ties to the Nazi youth group Mein Fruke (Little Ladies).
After auditioning approximately 2198 potential lead guitarists they settled on a lad named Richard Palmer, who also fortuitously played the Balalaika.
Their first album, Supertramp, sold a paltry 75 copies (all purchased by immediate family members); their second, Indelibly Stamped, which featured a lovely photo of Roger’s chest on the cover didn’t fare much better (137 copies to date).
After the disappointing first two albums their benefactor abandoned them. He later changed his name to Pierre Moerlen and became a member of the freak-folk band GONG!
Broke and heartbroken, Rick, Roger and Bob abruptly and impulsively fired Richard Palmer due to his inability to grow a beard. Roger pawned some of his infamous costume jewelry collection to buy a guitar, a Schecter electric hollow-body, and finance some lessons. Once Roger felt he was good enough, the trio went back to rehearsing.
These sessions would yield some of Supertramps best known ‘oeuvre’; songs such as Crime Of The Century, Dreamer, Asylum and, of course, the unreleased “Titan’s Curse” and “Percy Jackson And The Olympians”, which would later become fan favorites and concert staples. But there was something missing, their sound needed…something… but none knew what it was.
1973, FALL: ENTER ONE JOHN HELLIWELL AND ONE DOUGIE THOMPSON
Friends since they were six, John and Dougie (pronounced DOO-GIE) were currently gigging at an Acid-Jazz club called Urban Nerd in their band Bhangra Swings when Rick was fortuitously in attendance. He was so taken by Dougie’s bass “explorations” and John’s “wanderings” on the saxophone that he invited them over for a listen of the Crime Of The Century demos at his flat. The rest of the band were there and after introductions Dougie plugged in, John pursed his lips and Rick rolled the tape. IMMEDIATELY before the beginning of the track School, John improvised a sinister sounding sax lick which made everyone’s massive hair stand on end. And when Dougie’s bass slithered it’s way about 1:20 into the track they all knew this was to be their final line-up. At the conclusion of the audition, Bob C. Benberg remembers Roger exclaiming, “Man, John, you really BLOW!!”
The album Crime of The Century was a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Fans loved the heady mix of piano driven prog (or PEE-PROG, as it has come to be known) and abstract yet somehow totally accessible fantasy based lyrics. The album sold over 1,000,000 copies and is considered by many fans to be their masterpiece. They toured for an exhausting 6 weeks before getting back in the studio to record the follow-up to the Billboard chart behemoth that was Crime Of The Century.
Crisis? What Crisis? was largely panned by the critical elite but adored by the fans, and it begat a bewitching single for the masses in the form of Lady. On the surface, it’s lyrics seemed pretty straightforward, but the band knew better. Roger and Rick had begun fighting over control of the group, and in particular the musical direction. A sample from the song:
“Mister, you better get a move on/ You better get a fix on/ Mmm-you better walk straight.
I said Lady, oh take me if you want me/ oh, take me as you find me/ Oh, I'm needing your love so bad”
Some saw this as a plea from Roger to Rick to ‘work it out’, Rick being the “lady”, in this instance. Others saw it as a blunt ultimatum to Rick, as evidenced by the line “Mmm-you better walk straight.”
The growing discord in the group is well documented within the grooves of their next album, Even In The Quietest Moments. The song, Fools Overture, has been described by it’s scribe thusly: “The lyrics for (Fools) are a metaphor for the growing chaos we were experiencing at the time. Most of our fans have taken them literally as the fall of Atlantis and the inhabitants eventual morphing back into their alien forms (their true self), escaping earth and fleeing back to their home planet of Overture…but it’s really about Rick and Dougie becoming more and more tyrannical during that phase in the bands history.”
History recalls how great the fall can be/ While everybody's sleeping, the boats put out to sea/ Borne on the wings of time/
It seemed the answers were so easy to find/ "Too late," the prophets cry/ The island's sinking, let's take to the sky
Even though the band was in a terrible state of mind, they once more put their differences aside and recorded yet another album. Featuring Rick’s younger brother on the cover ￼, Breakfast In America would be the bands biggest success, selling over 15,000,000 copies worldwide, with over 14,000,000 being sold in France alone! But success affects people in different ways, and not always in a positive way. Roger, always the frugal one, put his royalties in Guinness stock while Rick pissed his away on male enhancement medications and elephant steroids, ending up alone in a hotel near a Taco Bell on the Hollywood strip, as evidenced by the lyrics to his masterful song Just Another Nervous Wreck:
“I'm feeling so alone now/ They cut the telephone uh huh/ Yeah my life is just a mess…I threw it all away now/ I could have made a fortune/ I lost the craving for success”. and, “Don't, give a damn, Fight, while you can, Kill, shoot 'em up, They'll run amuck, Shout, Judas, Loud, they'll hear us, Soldier, sailor, New York Tailor, They'll run for cover when they discover, I’m a freakin’ nervous wreck now!!”
In the summer of 1980, Rick tried to rob a travel agency on Wilshire Blvd in LA, not aware until it was too late that the business didn’t conduct many cash transactions. He was arrested at the scene and released on $30,000 bail the following evening.
After Rick’s trial and eventual release from prison (he received only 6 months due to a ‘stupidity’ clause his lawyer leveraged), the band, exhausted and bitter, plodded back into the studio to make yet another album. Famous Last Words was to be their epitaph, at least for the classic line-up. Yielding the uplifting “It’s Raining Again” as it’s only hit, the band soon went its different ways.
Roger became a successful solo artist in his own right and joined Ringo Star’s All Star Band for a stint in the late 1990’s and is still performing to this day. He was also asked to mentor Canadian Idol’s Top 7 contestants, alongside Dennis De Young, a founding member of the group STYX, which he promptly declined.
Rick carried on along with the rest of the original lineup for two more albums, Free As A Bird (a NOT so obscure dig at Roger), and Brother Where You Bound?, Rolling Stone giving them ½ star apiece.
The famed critic David Fricke wrote a simple, five word review for Brother Where You Bound?, that said:
“The bargain bin, that‘s where.”
Dougie left the band soon after and eventually won an Oscar for his portrayal of Augustine Bastard in the critically acclaimed BBC production of “Carry On: Other Analogous Documents Preserved in the Public Record Office” and eventually married Jane Seymour, of which they have 7 children.
Bob C Benberg went on to become a public servant in his home town of Weakerthin, Alabama (pop. 234), becoming Mayor for 4 years before being forced out and sent to the Formosa Nervous Hospital where he remains to this day.
John Helliwell is currently the stand-in for Clarence Clemens of E Street Band fame and is waiting for his next “Big Break”.
Friday, November 30, 2007
I used to love the Sex Pistols. Man, I really did! When I was about 16 years old, my friend Paul Crowe (a true visionary; was reading Hunter S. Thompson before anybody), introduced me to their one and only album, Never Mind The Bollocks (Here's the Sex Pistols), and it quite simply blew me away. I had never heard anything so raw, so hard, so different, so angry, so REAL in all my life! After that, I was hooked on PUNK rock, MAAAANNN!!! It changed the way I heard music, and for a long while I couldn't listen to any other type. It was an important album for me.
And then along came the Filthy Lucre Tour, the Pistols reunion back in 1996. Ok, so I can handle that. The boys really never got their due, money wise, and according to some of the reviews their performances were amazingly energetic and heartfelt.
Fast forward to 2007. They goddamed do it again! And they're horrible. Steve Jones is a fat wad that can hardly get his sausage like fingers to form a cord, and Johnny Rotten (Lydon) is prancing onstage, going through the motions, pretending to 'bait' the audience with taunts like "I'm back, and I'm here to kick some bottom!" Some BOTTOM?!?!?! SOME BOTTOM!???!!!
I'm not gonna ramble on too much more about this, as I'm fearful I may deficate myself. But I will say that, in my opinion, Punk is truly D.E.A.D.! A bunch of 50 something ex-punk rockers going through the motions for money is about as non-punk as you can get. Thank GOD Jello Biafra & Henry Rollins are still around. SHEESH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Monday, November 26, 2007
My brother, Rob, suggested the topic of Worst Lyrics Ever. Great idea, plenty of material out there, but I think we better narrow that down a bit. How about the Worst Lyrics Of The Last 40 Years? That way it'll still cover the psychedelic era right through today. I'll start things off with just two (*sigh* so much crap, so little time).
As it has been said on South Park many times, "The Canadian government has apologized for Bryan Adams on many occasions", but they really should've deported him after he penned the horrid lyrics to "Black Pearl": "She’s black coffee, little bit of cream/Sweet brown sugar, my midnight dream/Black pearl, my kinda girl/Just the kind of thing to rock my world”
...and Carley Simon's vomit inducing "You're So Vain", which included the lines,
"You walked into the party/Like you were walking onto a yacht/Your hat strategically dipped below one eye/Your scarf it was apricot/You had one eye in the mirror/As you watched yourself gavotte".
I mean, come on! What the HELL is a GAVOTTE, anyway!?!?
(UPDATE: According to Britanica Online, "Gavotte" is a lively peasants' kissing dance that became fashionable at the 17th- and 18th-century courts of France and England.)
Actually knowing this makes it somehow even worse, don't you think?
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Guilty pleasures. We all have ‘em. Albums that we listen to that may veer far away from what we know to be “good” music. Those cd’s that we keep hidden under the seats of our cars and only listen to when we’re sure no one else is within earshot. Like some tacky porn mag we’re horrified that somebody will discover under our bed, musical guilty pleasures are something no self respecting music snob is willing to admit to owning.
But we do.
We own LOTS of them! And we probably listen to them more than we would like to admit. Are Hall and Oats, STYX, and Creed on constant rotation in your car stereo? How about the Counting Crows, Def Leppard and America. Do they have their own “special” place on your ipod, perhaps it’s own play list folder entitled ‘TOP SECRET‘?
Admitting that you have this affliction is half the battle. There can be no growth without full disclosure, people. Admit it, roll in it, be PROUD of it and feel the shame just wash away. I’ll be the first to offer my personal list for you to sneer and thumb your nose at. Have at it, brothers and sisters. I can take it!
#1. The Car Wash OST, by Rose Royce. Sure, the movie was awful but Rose Royce, with the help of producer/ arranger/ master songwriter Norman Whitfield (of Papa Was A Rolling Stone, fame), made some funky-ass music that, for the most part, still holds up today!
#2. Anything by Queen. Except ‘Jesus’ from their first album. That just may be the worst song in the history of recorded music!
#3. Supertramp, Breakfast In America. Sappy, insipid stuff, I know I know. But the music itself ended up being pretty influential. Try to listen to the great Moon Safari from AIR and not hear the homage to the ‘Tramp!
#4. T-REX. Sure Marc Bolan was a pretentious twat-gnome with a penchant for unicorns and rainbows, but some of his stuff was pretty cool!
#5. Kula Shaker, K. You probably do not know them, but I used to listen to this album a lot! The son of British actress Hayley Mills, Crispin Mills and co. specialized in making unabashed 60’s psychedelia based around mysticism and eastern spirituality. Sound like a pretentious stew not fit for your dog? To most people it is, but to me it’s just plain fun!
OK, that’s all I’m willing to admit for now. I feel better already.
"A musical snob, guilty of snobbery, is a person who adopts the world-view that some people's musical tastes are inherently inferior to others for any one of a variety of reasons including real or supposed knowledge (how long has one been listening/ collecting music), wealth (the number of albums in one's collection), education, ancestry, etc. Often, the form of snobbery reflects the offending individual's socio-musical background. For example, a common snobbery of the musically adept is the affectation that one's place in the rock snob heirarchy is either the cause or result of superior aural abilities. However, a form of snobbery can be adopted by someone not a part of that group; Pseudo-rock snob is a type of snob. Such a snob imitates the manners, adopts many of the tastes of true rock snobs and attempts to pass themselves off as a true connesseur of great music. It affects their world-view and affects the lifestyle of a social class of people to which he or she aspires, but does not yet belong, and to which he or she may never belong."
Wikipedia (and E, to a much lesser extent)
“Veeble festeraahht bloot. Wamp blatt borfft, bizzt Chakunkding: CRUGAZUNCH! Faroolana Frugga dugga dugga Gashklitz jugarumm.
Baraam spa da blunkum, kitoon splukaw gazoont blam blam. Paff toong et shnorkle zzzzt snorreh--snorry--sssor--eh, ssoorry, sorry.
Ok, I apologize, I did not have my translator on, please forgive me. If you are receiving this transmission your beloved earth is now 67% uninhabitable and I am currently en route back to my home planet of Beetlegeuse.
You know me as Jeff Lynne, lead singer and prime architect of the wildly successful orchestral rock and pop band ELO, or Electric Light Orchestra. But my true identity has been hidden from you earthlings for over 50 years. My real name is inconsequential and unpronounceable, but loosely translated to your primitive earth-language it means, ‘Fuzzy Explorer’.
In your earth year of 1946 a team of Russian government scientists sent a ‘satellite’ (dubbed ‘Leonid) into space, a few years before Sputnik started the space race to the moon with the United States. You’ll please forgive me, but I find this funny every time I speak of it. *snort snort*
The REAL story is that the Russian government sent Leonid into deep space, forty thousand light years PAST the moon, where it landed fortuitously on my home planet of Beetlegeuse. One other fact that needs to be addressed is that the satellite was manned. Yes, this so called Leonid pod contained 4 Russian explorers. Their names were Boris, Olga, Vladimir and Jakkoff. As they landed, the occupants of Leonid huddled before the massive Astro-View-Screen and watched, fascinated, as the camera panned the horizon of my home. Beetlegeuse remains a lush and abundant landscape, but not by your standards. Our landscape is aural, not visual. Beetleguesians are blind, you see. We have two sets of “ears” to compensate; two on the sides of our brain shell (similar to earthlings) and two where your visual globes are located. The two located in front are used to navigate our surroundings, using sound waves as a guide.
We are not unlike you humans in our physical form, however. As a matter of fact, other than the two sets of ears we are extremely similar.
Anyway, back to the astronauts. I observed from a distance as a shapeless mass of dough like protoplasm we call “dglefrtsqq” approached the explorers, devouring everything in it’s path. After years of co-existence with these creatures we have learned that the only way we can repel them is to emit a high pitched squeal of sorts, a sound only our vocal cords can create. These creatures move very fast, and thusly the Russians did not have a chance and were devoured within a matter of seconds.
Our elders, who were observing this scene as it was occurring from their underground lairs, called me and one other to them. This “other” was named Vootle Dst, but you may know him by his earth name of Phil Spector.
The elders debated for hours, finally deciding that it would be a wonderful opportunity for us to observe a pre-historic alien world and perhaps learn a thing or two about ourselves, and decided to send myself and Phil to earth using the Russian space pod so as to avoid arousing suspicion.
We landed in the summer of 1947 in the area known as 51, in the Nevada desert, where we were picked up by the American government who had a military base nearby.
They took us deep into the base, down an elevator underneath Hanger 18 (see above) where we finally arrived at a door labeled “Interrogation Room 187”. Knowing what was coming Phil, who was always a violent sort, pulled out his weapon and killed all seven of the soldiers. We quickly donned our invisibility cloaks, made our way back to the surface and escaped. I thought it would be a good idea for us to separate at this point, and so we did; Phil deciding to stay in America and me going to the United Kingdom to complete our observation terms of duty.
Our superior aural abilities made it a natural for us to enter earth society through the burgeoning rock music scene. Phil had more initial success than I with his “Wall Of Sound” production techniques, but his tendency towards violence would eventually prove to be his downfall. But that is another story.
I met a man named Bev Bevan in 1965 and we formed the rock band The Move, which found moderate success with the British people. Musically speaking it was a very primitive style of music by my own design, as to not arouse suspicion. If I was to utilize my futuristic and alien sounds capes in a public forum I might have been exposed! My hubris would soon get the better of me though, as I saw musicians with far inferior talents getting the recognition and accolades I so richly deserved.
I succumbed to my ego in the fall of 1970. I informed Bev of my intent to create a much more sophisticated brand of Rock and Roll utilizing elements of classical music. Although Bev was a little reticent, he agreed to step back and let me ’orchestrate’*snort snort* our future. I christened our new band E.L.O., or the Electric Light Orchestra.
10538 Overture (side note: 10538 is the calendar year Phil and I left Beetleguise) was a rousing success. ELO performed at the 1972 Reading Festival and 'stole the show' thanks to the innovation of the Barcus Berry pickups now sported by our bands string playing trio, allowing them to dance on stage with their instruments not unlike the bards of King Arthur‘s day.
Our second album, ELO II, was another success with the single Roll Over Beethoven as it’s centerpiece. It’s success led to me hiring a 30 piece orchestra I dubbed the
Neo-Pagens. The success was massive, but I craved more. I was succumbing to the human emotion greed, and I liked it!
From our album Face The Music, the instrumental “Fire On High” with its mix of strings elegantly played by the Neo-Pagens and blazing acoustic guitars, saw heavy exposure as background music on CBS Sports Spectacular montages in The United States, though most viewers had no idea of our song's origins, the fact that the song features a deliberate backward message, where a mysterious deep voice reverses to 'The music is reversible, but time is not, turn back! Turn back! Turn back!' — ostensibly our sardonic response at answering the hysteria following completely unfounded allegations of satanic messages which were leveled against our song “Eldorado” by the fundamentalist Christian collective called The Lucians Of Samosata.
Out Of The Blue, an “in-joke” of a title to be sure, was to be my Magnum Opus. It contained many of my now classic compositions such as Turn To Stone, Sweet Talkin’ Woman, Mr. Blue Sky, among many others. It was at this point in our story that I reconnected with my fellow Beetlegeusian Phil Spector, who had developed a benign version of his laser weapon as a visual aid for the shows. I was cocky in my belief that I was now fully accepted as a human born of your earth, and I started using iconography from my native world as a backdrop for my shows, album artwork and various paraphernalia.
But, alas, all good things must come to an end.
In 1980 I was asked to write the soundtrack to a film entitled Xanadu, which stared the Australian songbird Olivia Newton John. Even though it performed well, yielding hit singles in the title track and Magic, it would eventually put in effect a series of events that would eventually lead to the partial destruction of earth as I alluded to earlier in my story.
The premise of the story, which deals with the rise and fall of Kublai Khan’s Mongol empire, incensed the Muslim faithful and they decided to retaliate. After over two decades of planning, they attacked the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001 as well as the Pentagon. The newly elected President Of The United States decided that this would be a good excuse to start a “war for oil” in the guise of a “war on terrorism”, and he subsequently launched a strike on the east that would last over four decades, leading to the financial and moral bankruptcy of the USA.
In early March of 2041, Bill Gates (who had recently purchased Pakistan) launched an all out nuclear assault on North America. Canada, whose “loonie” had risen to almost 400% over the US dollar by that time and who had a formidable arsenal
(home base: Newfoundland) as well, launched their own strike. But someone miscalculated and sent the rockets straight up in the air, sending them hurtling down and annihilating their own country. I decided that my time on earth was at an end, so I busted Phil out of jail and we headed for Stonehenge, where we hid our spacecraft in the guise of one of the Trilithons.
So, as I leave this place in our spacecraft and I glance through the viewer at the smoldering globe that was once earth I cannot help feeling a little responsible, and if I had eyes I would sob at the sight. The lessons I learned will help my planet in ways I can not as of yet calculate.
So, if you are hearing this transmission and are one of the few left alive, do not think poorly of me. Let my musical legacy be my epitaph.
(to be continued…)
Sitting here at my computer, listening to Bootsauce’s ‘Everyone’s a Winner’ and ‘Scratching the Hole’ I come to an absurd realization: this is some pretty funky shit! I know I shouldn’t be enjoying it as much as I am, but I can’t help it! I mean, come on! Titles such as ‘Sex Marine’, ‘Catastrophe Seas’ (say it fast and you’ll get the scatological reference) and ‘Catcher In The Raw’ are puerile at best, and the music isn’t much better, really. Sophomoric, white Canadian boy jock rock, rapped/ sung in a guttural ‘GRRRR’ that reminds me of a caveman. But is it purely the nostalgia that is making the experience so enjoyable, or is it something else? Is there something in the music that redeems the piece as a work of art? After all, I am sure there is someone, somewhere (probably in Saskatoon) who thinks ‘THE BROWN ALBUM’ is right up there in terms of artistic merit with Sgt. Pepper. Right?
Bottom line is, some of the songs (not all; I can’t bear to listen to ￼‘Play With Me’) still make me want to shake my boo-tay! In 15 years time I might think that some current favorites are just as wankish. Maybe the Beta Band, Aquaduct, , Wilco, the Flaming Lips and Neutral Milk Hotel will all sound so horribly dated that I won’t be able to even look at the covers. (Actually, I am POSITIVE that Aqueduct WILL sound dated, but I am enjoying the hell out of them right now.)
The question I have for you is, “is it possible to predict which of your current favorites are going to be the Bootsauce’s of the future? GOD knows how I loved the Farm. And The Soup Dragons. And China Crisis (who I still think were pretty underrated, actually--delete from this list!). Fad Gadget. Yello. The list is endless, and I suppose that each band had some redeeming quality that helped me grow and led me to where I am today, to what I am listening to today.
So it‘s kind of like an ongoing self-education, I guess. Here’s proof:
AGE 6: The Monkee’s ‘Last Train To Clarksville’. ￼The snare drum sound and the opening notes change the way I hear music. Before, all I knew about music was what my parents had on their stereo, stuff like Patsy Cline, Woody Guthrie and, in my Dad’s case, Gilbert and Sullivan musicals and John Phillip Sousa marches. No Elvis, no Golden Age Of Rock and Roll stuff. Being older parents they missed out on all that. Thank god I had some pretty cool cousins…
AGE 8: Take a 3 hour drive to see my cousin’s and my Aunt and Uncle. Uncle Peter, the MOST square ex Marine D.I. you’ll ever meet, absolutely hates R&R. Thankfully, my teenage cousin Shane has a great record collection. I remember being fascinated by the cover for Elton John’s
Capt. Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, ￼studying it for hours, and when I heard ‘Bitter Fingers’ I was transported into Elton’s world. This was not as benign as the Monkees, this was subversive stuff! Artistic and a little bit obscene. Much better…
AGE 12: Living in Milton, Ontario now. Went to Oakville to buy some comics while my Mom shopped, and stumbled upon a record store and bought my first three albums of my own with my very own money (from a summer job of picking zucchini) and I am proud to say I still own them (albeit in a different format). They are Double Fantasy (John Lennon), Back In Black (AC/DC) ￼and News Of The World (QUEEN). Now, I have to admit (somewhat begrudgingly) that I was also somewhat enthralled by Styx, Trooper, Aldo Nova and a host of other somewhat cheesy bands, including RUSH and Supertramp (who are still guilty pleasures. Just listen to AIR to see the far reaching influence of Supertramp, and the influence RUSH had on bands like NOMEANSNO and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, my friends!)
AGE 13: On a swim team with one Paul Crowe, and he introduces me to the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Things would never be the same….￼
AGE 14-17: The flood gates open and I am introduced to an amazing array (a veritable cornucopia, if you will!) of artists such as the CURE, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Gang of Four, Psychedelic Furs, New Order, ￼Joy Division, the Smiths, The THE, Talk Talk, Talking Heads, Prefab Sprout, Squeeze, Jazz Butcher, Love and Rockets, XTC, Simple Minds, etc etc. Post punk, new wave, whatever you wanted to call it, these were bands that sounded very different than what came before, although now I can hear the influences on post punk by the likes of the Stooges, MC5, Suicide, Television, The Modern Lovers and the Velvet Underground.
AGE 18-24: At college and my education continues. My new friend Dave introduces me to the funky side. Pump up the Volume by MARRS, the Art Of Noise (one of the most groundbreaking bands EVER!), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (masterfully produced by Trevor Horn, who pretty much ruled the late 80’s), The Pet Shop Boys, Pop Will Eat Itself, Stone Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, ￼Primal Scream, the Beastie Boys, and , er, Jesus Jones. It was music that combined the experimentalism of the post bands with a dance beat. AND Parliament/ Funkadelic and the incomparable James Brown, which was the first time I really started to delve backwards to move forward…
AGE 25-30: More guitar based stuff for this five year stint, but still experimental. Pixies, Primus, Radiohead, Spiritualized, Ben Folds Five, Cracker, American Music Club, Suede, Pulp, Pavement, Super Furry Animals, the Waterboys, and a dalliance into Gansta rap, specifically Ice-T’s OG and anything by
AGE 30-35: A musical hiatus. My private and professional life took a front seat while my music education was relegated to the trunk. I got married, had a kid, moved from Southern California to Northern California, was promoted up the ranks at the newspaper I work at and, perhaps most importantly, I hadn’t the funds to support my music habit anymore. I didn’t even have a CD player in my car, so I was forced to listen to talk radio, which is ok if you’re in a decent size city, but I wasn’t.
AGE 35-PRESENT: A renaissance period for me. First, got a CD player in my car and second , found out how to burn CD’s. And third, ITUNES. Was re-introduced to the 60’s and 70’s (thanks to a wacked out Zen cartoonist named Philbert!), re-discovered my beloved 8o’s and 90’s and have discovered a host of new stuff that has re-kindled my love to find new, exciting music. Some recent treasures which have become just as loved as those from the past are, but are not limited to, The Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket, Grandaddy, Mercury Rev, ￼LCD Soundsystem, Gomez, A3, Yo La Tengo.
XTC, an old favorite from the early days, is on constant rotation on my Ipod. I’m back to being a music junkie and loving every minute of it!
So as you can see, even though I made many mistakes, listened to a lot of trash, it was MY trash, and it is a part of me. I don’t go around bragging that I owned a Farm album, or bought the single ‘Shaddup-a-Your-Face’ by Joe Dolce, but I am not embarrassed by it.
Oh, alright, maybe just a little bit…
Saturday, November 24, 2007
REMEMBER Jack Black's character from the movie ‘High Fidelity’? You know, the one who threw the new Belle and Sebastian cassette across the room and who berated the father who was looking for the new Lionel Ritchie song for his teenage daughter? Yeah, you know the guy. Perhaps you are that guy. I am sometimes that guy and I know many others who are too. We are music aficionados and/ or rock snobs who have an opinion on everything and anything related to music and feel an undying desire to force feed the world our beliefs. Of course taste is subjective and you may think that I am full of shit, that the Boo Radley's masterpiece Giant Steps is the most bloated, self indulgent record ever made. That is fine, that is good. Make it known on this blog, that's what it's all about! A good musical debate is like crack cocaine to us musos. We love it! Keep it comin' and keep it angst-ridden! The livlier and more opinionated the better.
At this point I feel it neccessary to offer a word of warning: I am not a journalist or a professional writer, just a guy who loves good music and has a really strange viewpoint on a lot of things. I consider music therapy, and sustinance. Without music I would surely shrivel up and die.
And so, here I go. The following is the first in a series of Bogus Band Bio's entitled "Blue Coller Men", the REALLY unauthorized (and totally fictional) biography on everyone's favorite 70's hitmakers, STYX.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here...
BLUE COLLAR MEN
The REALLY Unauthorized Biography Of STYX
The name, STYX, derived from a river from Greek mythology that cuts through the very bowels of the underworld, set the stage. One syllable, 4 letters, and it contains an “X”. It would look marvelous on those concert tee-shirts with the black torso and the white sleeves, and it was just mysterious and evil sounding enough to piss off your parents, which earned the band extra bonus points with the kids.
Then there was the band itself. Chuck and John Panozzo, brothers who played the bass and drums respectively, were a powerhouse of a rhythm section, their pounding beats able to wake mighty Zeus himself, especially live.
And James “JY” Young (“JY”, short for “Just Yodeling”, a childhood nickname due to his Swedish ancestry), who became the trickster of the group in the mold of LOKI, the mischievous and off times evil sibling to Helbindi and Byleist, who eventually befriended the Norse God Odin, becoming his blood brother before he murdered Baldr.
But I digress.
Then there is Dennis De Young, no relation to “JY”. The son of famous French Canadian Vaudeville act members Siebel and Francesco De Young, who were integral in making Veronique’s Montreal Minstrel Show a household name during the late 1930’s and 1940’s, little Denier De Young (as he was known in those days) showed an early interest in performing.
Dennis’ first solo minstrel shows involved a unique structure and stock characters, with three distinct parts. The "first part", as it was known (you could buy cylinder recordings of 'an original minstrel first part, if you were so inclined) began with an instrumental processional. The entire company marched in, took their places onstage in a semicircle facing the audience, always playing with broad gestures and choreographed flourishes. "The Interlocutor" (the master of ceremonies, dressed as a dandy) would bark, "Gentlemen, be seated" and the company would play an overture with even broader gestures. Then the Interlocutor, (played wonderfully by Denier) backed up by the 'end men' or 'corner men' (sitting on the two ends of the semicircle), "Mister Tambo" (playing tambourine) and "Mister Bones" (playing the bones--a VERY young John Panozzo) would engage in question-and-answer jokes ("Mister Bones, why did Farmer Jones build his pigpen under the kitchen window?" - "I don't know, why DID he build his pigpen under the kitchen window?" - "To keep his pigs in!") and a few comic and sentimental songs, all brought to a rousing finish with a "cakewalk" or "walk-around". This was followed by a musical promenade by the company, led by Denier of course, with each member stepping forward in turn to do a brief specialty bit, ostensibly trying to outdo each other.
But it was Denier who really shone during these engagements, his friend and fellow thespian John, although wonderful on the bones, was relegated to the background.
They were revered throughout the Quebec countryside and adored by the critics, especially Jacques Verdouche, who said in one review, “Denier De Young, although only four years old, is a wonder to behold. His proficiency at leading his merry pranksters in their quest to enlighten and entertain (and yes, sometimes educate!), is a real treat! Young Denier De Young is one to watch.”
Jacques quickly befriended Denier and the two formed a partnership of sorts. Denier was able, after much debate, to convince Jacques to let John Panozzo and his technical prowess on the bones, tag along.
In 1965, after much critical and commercial success on the traveling minstrel circuit, the two boys won a long playing record at a carnival game at the Boucher County Fair. It was a record by Robert Goulet entitled, ’On Broadway’, and it would change their direction, and yes their lives, forever.
In particular, the song ‘If I Ruled The World’, had a dramatic effect on Denier. Robert Goulet, being a fellow Canadian (Alberta), penned the immortal lines, “If I ruled the world, I would get meself a girl, traipse around in furls, and let all the damsels be free of their babes”. This particular lyric would have a monstrous effect on the success of STYX in the future, and would ultimately lead to their undoing and eventual downfall.
But I digress again.
Jacques, a kind of French Canadian Tom Parker, was also taken by the Goulet LP. It had a more modern sound, probably influenced by the rock and roll bands that were so popular around that time. The concept of rock and roll mixed together with Broadway tunes intrigued Jacques and he immediately called an emergency meeting with Denier and Chuck. They decided to take Robert Goulet’s concept a step further; they would form a Rock and Roll band, and create a heavier Broadway-progressive sound, or BROAD-PROG, as it would come to be known. But they needed a guitarist, and a bassist. John’s brother, Chuck, had played bass guitar in a number of folk bands, most notably the band Snorry Mouth, which was loosely translated for English consumption from Nez Bouche, so he was a natural. But they needed a guitarist, preferably two, for that showy, big sound Denier was looking for.
Enter one James Young and one Tommy Shaw. Lovers since college (they both attended the famous Abraham Lincoln Music Conservatory College for Young Boys in Boston, Massachusetts), and they both played the electric guitar. James Young (heretofore known as “JY”) was more of a journeyman of a guitar player, lacking technical prowess but making up for that with a pure, almost naïve ham handed style of guitar playing. If JY’s style was primitive, then Tommy’s was simply futuristic. Always fascinated by science fiction novels, especially those involving alien abductions and, in particular those involving probing, his style echoed the 'out there' sounds of the Mellotron and would fit perfectly with the bands vision. The two young men were immediatly brought on board.
It was Jacques who suggested that Denier change his name to appeal to a much broader fan base, and thus DENNIS De Young was born!
The name STYX was suggested by Chuck Panozzo, who was an ardent fan of Satan and his ilk, and who was currently reading The Divine Comedy by Dante. Dennis, always the sensitive one, was horrified by the name. He was quoted as saying that it was “a dark, demonic name” and he suggested the name Up With People”, or F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (acronym for Furry Repast In Enoch’s Nature Debutante Surprise).
He was, of course, outvoted 4-1, and the name STYX survived.
The band, bristling with ideas, literally pranced into the studio and quickly recorded STYX and the cleverly titled STYX II. Both were marvelously creative but were panned by the critics. It wasn’t until a forward thinking Boston DJ by the name of Jaunty Joe played the track Lady from STYX II 179 times in a row on his “Tides Of The Moon” radio program that things clicked for the band. Requests poured in for the ballad, and the boys were soon opening for such monster acts as Trooper, Focus and Prism.
The next four years saw the band at their most prolific, recording two albums in 1974 alone (The Serpent Is Rising-- JY and Tommy’s concept album--and Man Of Miracles (Dennis’ ode to himself).
In 1977, they recorded a record that would yield 2 massive FM hits based on the teachings of Dottie Humboldt, the spiritual and tribal leader of the Unarian Society, who believe in past lives and that our solar system was once inhabited by ancient interplanetary civilizations.
The Grand Illusion, based loosely on a shelved play Dennis had written was a masterpiece, but it was Come Sail Away that shot the band into the stratosphere. The immortal lines to this landmark song, appear below:
“A gathering of angels appeared above my head
I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise
Due to the success of The Grand Illusion, STYX began to headline shows. But as is often the case success comes with a price. Dennis formed an addiction to Juicy Fruit gum and developed an aversion to sunlight and Chuck Panozzo grew an afro, decisions that would haunt them for the rest of their lives.
But I digress, yet again.
After touring they once again leapt into the studio and started recording. These sessions, which would come to be known as the ROO SESSIONS, would bring STYX their greatest success in the song Babe.
A lovely ballad in the tradition of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, it reached the top of the charts and was played at every high school dance at least once in the night (sometimes 7, 8 times!) during the year 1979.
The next album, Pieces Of Eight, was a misstep to say the least. Jy’s sole contribution, “Queen Of Spades” received particular criticism from both fans and critics for it’s blatant racist overtones. Said JY during this time in Rolling Stone magazine,
“I was going through a weird phase. Tommy and I were fighting and I started dating this young African-American man named Sidney Washington. He was a wonderful gymnast and an even better friend, and I wanted to tell the world about him.”
Sidney Washington tragically broke his neck and died whilst attempting the “Flying Rings” at San Francisco’s 3rd annual Gay Pride Parade.
The band regrouped in the studio for what would come to be known as their Magnum Opus.
Paradise Theatre, a concept album about the roaring 20’s and the eventual decline of an imaginary theatre (a metaphor for the American experience, in general), was a massive critical and commercial success, yielding the band four massive hits with the driving and sentimental Rockin’ The Paradise, the magnificently
dance-rock oriented Too Much Time On My Hands, the maudlin but oh-so-touching The Best Of Times and the JY penned ode to cocaine Snowblind.
For Styx, its success would spell both their temporary saving grace and ultimate doom, as the creative forces which had already been tearing at the band's core finally reached unbearable levels three years later.
Being replaced by robots was always a fear of Dennis De Young’s, and at the request of his therapist he began writing a concept album, loosely based around his nightmares. He decided to set the story in Japan and called the main character Mr. Roboto. A synthesizer driven affair, JY and Tommy were relegated to the background, while John was replaced with a ZOOM SB246 STREET BOXX drum machine and Chuck was forced (at gunpoint, some eye-witnesses say) to play a LINUX SONIC VISUALIZER V 1.0 synthesized bass.
Although the track Mr. Roboto would see considerable airplay, the album Kilroy Was Here would spell the demise of the classic STYX line up. Tommy and JY broke up, Tommy joining fellow homosexual and animal rights activist Ted Nugent in his ‘Super Group’ The Damn Yankees and JY going on to sponsor Johnson and Johnson’s very popular brand of petroleum jelly, KY. The subsequent advertising campaign, with the slogan “JY’s KY”, was a flop everywhere across North America, except in Hamilton, Ontario where it became a cult success with the steel workers of Defasco and Stelco.
Dennis went on to play Pontius Pilate in a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar (and issuing an album of Broadway show tunes in 1994), and headlines Las Vegas, after dark of course, to this day at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.
Chuck Panozzo tragically died of alcoholism in 2002, but his Legacy lives on in the form of his son, Frankie Panozzo, who is currently drumming in Walt Disney’s popular attraction about the history of American music, “America Sings”.
John Panozzo is retired from the music business and is currently a gate guard at Wounded Springs retirement community in Naples, Florida.
However, the legacy of STYX remains. Their masterpiece Paradise Theatre recently topped the “Best Albums of All Time” list, surpassing the mighty SGT Pepper by the Beatles and Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys (#2 and #3, respectively), in the influential rock music magazine PUD.
We would do well to remember this band for what they were, an influential BROAD-PROG band with a mighty front man and equally interesting side-men.
In the words of the man himself,
“Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,