Posts Tagged ‘The Long Ryders’

Buried Treasure: Native Sons

4 June 2010

[Today: Keeping the flame alive…]

It’s easy enough to connect the dots between country rock pioneers such as The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, Michael Nesmith’s post-Monkees outfit The First National Band; 70s crossovers like Poco and The Eagles; and post-punk country bands The Long Ryders, The Knitters and Jason & The Scorchers. It’s a continuum that extends through groups like The Jayhawks, Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men and Uncle Tupelo, right up to bands like Wilco and Kings Of Leon. At best this is a zig-zagging list of artists connected by an aesthetic preference and little else – at worst it’s an irrelevant and highly suspect grouping of artists with disparate ambitions, akin to making a list of athletes who’ve worn green jerseys.

One reason a simple list doesn’t do justice to the progress of country rock is that the best-sellers (some would say sellouts) of the 70s made their coin off the backs of under-appreciated artists like Michael Nesmith and Gram Parsons, and nearly sterilized the genre into a premature grave (disco went through a similar near-death experience around the same time). By the time the 80s rolled around, country rock was about as cool as the pet rock, which makes the work of Kentucky-born Sid Griffin all the more remarkable.

Drawn to Los Angeles by that city’s nascent punk scene, Griffin eventually formed The Long Ryders with guitarist Steve McCarthy, bassist Barry Shank and drummer Greg Sowders. Fusing the raw energy of Nuggets-era garage rock with the twang of The Byrds, The Long Ryders were one of the key bands in keeping the flame of country rock alive during the 80s. Their full-length debut, Native Sons, is one of the great lost albums in all of rock.

My own personal favorite moment here is ‘I Had A Dream’, a crunching, twangy rocker that draws a heretofore unknown line between Merle Haggard and The Replacements. But there isn’t a bum note or bad song to be found on Native Sons. ‘Tell It To The Judge On Sunday’ is a snarling, ill-tempered little tune, ‘Run Dusty Run’ is a galloping road song in search of Friday night lights, and ‘Ivory Tower’ slows things down without sacrificing any intensity.

Based on the resurgence of country rock over the last decade and a half, Native Sons is an album worthy of perpetual re-discovery. Its brilliance certainly overshadows nearly everything with a twang that came in its wake…

Listen: I Had A Dream

Listen: Run Dusty Run

Listen: Ivory Tower

Weekend Playlist

17 February 2009

Here’s some of the music that passed over our turntable during the long, rainy weekend that was…

Santogold | Santogold
Santogold _ Santogold

Yeasayer | All Hour Cymbals
Yeasayer _ All Hour Cymbals

New Order | Brotherhood
New Order _ Brotherhood

Radiohead | In Rainbows
Radiohead _ In Rainbows

My Morning Jacket | Evil Urges
My Morning Jacket _ Evil Urges

Primus | Sailing The Seas Of Cheese
Primus _ Sailing The Seas Of Cheese

Dr. Feelgood | Stupidity
Dr. Feelgood _ Stupidity

SRV | Texas Flood
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble _ Texas Flood

Saunders/Garcia/Kahn/Vitt | Live At Keystone
Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Bill Vitt _ Live At Keystone

Johnny Cash | The Sun Years
Johnny Cash _ The Sun Years

Long Ryders | Native Sons
The Long Ryders _ Native Sons

Skull Snaps | Skull Snaps
Skull Snaps _ Skull Snaps

Fred Locks | Black Star Liner
Fred Locks _ Black Star Liner

Duke Ellington | Blues In Orbit
Duke Ellington _ Blues In Orbit

Charles Mingus Sextet | East Coasting
Charles Mingus Sextet _ East Coasting

Blue Mitchell | Blue's Moods
Blue Mitchell _ Blue’s Moods

Chet Baker Quintet | Groovin' With The Chet Baker Quintet
The Chet Baker Quintet _ Groovin’ With The Chet Baker Quintet

The P Speaks: Songs That Reflect Late November

23 November 2008

Autumn foliage

Somehow we’ve snuck 40 odd weeks into the year and Thanksgiving is upon us, again. dk and I were recently talking about “Thanksgiving Songs” – songs that are uniquely American, like this upcoming holiday. It’s hard to disassociate this holiday from childhood memories of this time of year, like getting up before dawn for the 8 hour drive (Ford Torino wagon, fake wood paneling) to our cousins’ house in Syracuse (where the giant wood console TV was always tuned to football) and post-feast dishwashing that required drill team precision.

Now that I’m approaching my 20th year in Northern California, Thanksgiving is a hike along the ridgeline, friendship and laughter, good pinot noir, tupperware fighting for space in the fridge, and a lovely four day break from the office. We have been blessed with friends who are excellent chefs and excellent hosts, so we rarely cook. (There was the infamous creamed onion and midnight turkey incident of 1992 at 21 Belcher Street, but we won’t go there now…) 

While I love Arlo and Alice’s Restaurant, there is other music that speaks to this time of year. Here are some candidates that might make you put a log on the fire and stare into the flames…

The Band | Twilight

Uncle Tupelo | Screen Door

Josh Ritter | Me & Jiggs

Fleet Foxes | Blue Ridge Mountains

Lucinda Williams | Big Red Sun Blues

Whiskeytown | Jacksonville Skyline

John Phillips | Malibu People

John Fahey | I Am The Resurrection

Allman Brothers | Blue Sky

M. Ward | Duet For Guitars #2

Yo La Tengo | Night Falls On Hoboken

Hank Williams | Settin’ The Woods On Fire

Dave Alvin | Dark Eyes

Fred Neil | I’ve Got A Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)

Neko Case | Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Stevie Ray Vaughan | Little Wing

My Morning Jacket | Steam Engine

Johnny Cash | Breaking Bread

The Long Ryders | Ivory Tower

Joe Ely | Gallo Del Cielo

Flying Burrito Brothers | Wheels

Willie Nelson | Moonlight In Vermont

Weekend Playlist

22 September 2008

The P and I were treated to some delightful mariachi music that came drifting across the way on Saturday evening. It was a perfect complement to a beautiful night at home. Here is some other music that scored our weekend activities…

Them | Them Featuring Van Morrison Lead Singer

Gandalf | Gandalf

The Staple Singers | Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

INXS | Shabooh Shoobah

The Long Ryders | Native Sons

The Sir Douglas Quintet | The Best Of

Willie Nelson | Stardust

Hot Tuna | Burgers

John Mayall | Blues From Laurel Canyon

Professor Longhair | Crawfish Fiesta

Lee Oskar | Lee Oskar

John Fahey | Requia

Kruder & Dorfmeister | G-Stoned

Wolf Parade | Apologies To The Queen Mary

The Kinks | Muswell Hillbillies

Little Feat | Waiting For Columbus

Eric Clapton | 461 Ocean Boulevard

Ray Charles | A 25th Anniversary In Show Business Salute To Ray Charles: His All-Time Greatest Performances

The 20 Most Overlooked Albums Of All-Time

15 April 2007

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” – Miles Davis


When a ship sinks, it can take a long time to go under. But once it starts to go, it will fall quickly and silently to the bottom of the sea, to lie undisturbed forever. There is a small chance it may be discovered by an intrepid diver who lives for the simple thrill of shining light on dark places, but far more likely, it will not.

An album can travel the same progression of futility: A lot of nothing – followed by a rapid descent to the bottom. And like a ship, it can take a lot of good people and precious cargo down with it.

There are so many forces at work that it’s impossible to say why some albums succeed where others fail (take a look at any Top 40 from the 1970’s and this mystery grows exponentially). But it is easy to see that many lousy albums do well (Mmmm Bop anyone?) and great ones don’t. Unfortunately the charts – like life – just ain’t fair.

Many of my favorite musical discoveries have been preceded by phrases like “the records on the floor in the back are all a buck” or “my brother was going to throw these out and I knew you had a turntable”. As Jacques Cousteau could tell you, the best stuff is often found where nobody is looking.

Of course, many more finds have come the old-fashioned way: by word of mouth. And for that I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow subversives who are willing to look beneath the surface (or buy an outdated format) to find something unusual and worthwhile in a world full of too much shiny, pre-packaged junk.

In the spirit of passing it on, here are the albums and artists that I feel were most unfairly left to sink. The names may be unfamiliar, and the songs aren’t the soundtracks to anyone’s youth or commercials, but each of these records shine, like pearls hidden on the floor of a deep black ocean.

Paul K & The Weathermen | Love Is A Gas
Paul K & The Weathermen – Love Is A Gas (1997)

• Paul Kopasz has spent time in jail for heroin possession, and has drawn upon this checkered history to create a string of excellent and cynical albums. He has enjoyed marginal success in Europe, but his albums continue to be ignored in the States in spite of critical acclaim. Love Is A Gas contains no two songs remotely alike, but the whole thing works like a mad jigsaw puzzle, including lights-out covers of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Jesus Children Of America’ and Queen’s ‘You’re My Best Friend’.

Long Ryders | Native Sons
The Long Ryders – Native Sons (1984)

Native Sons has the unique ability to sound like a familiar favorite upon first listen. That’s because the seeds of all that would become alt-country are planted right here, and the list of bands influenced include R.E.M., Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt, Whiskeytown, and dozens of others. In fact, the list of those drafting off The Long Ryders’ sound reads like a who’s who of 90’s rock, marking them as a hidden influencer on par with the Velvet Underground.

Dr. Feelgood | Down By The Jetty
Dr. Feelgood – Down By The Jetty (1974)

• This – their 1974 debut – put Dr. Feelgood at the forefront of the English pub rock bands that were later swept away by the rising tide of punk. As evidenced here, they brought raw energy and tight riffs to every one of their albums and live shows, and were one of the few bands outside of punk to actually earn the widespread respect and attention of punk artists.

The Stairs | Mexican R 'n' B
The Stairs – Mexican R ‘n’ B (1992)

• The classic case of the right sound at the wrong time, The Stairs’ raw, garage rock-meets-blues sound could have been (and eventually would become) the Next Big Thing. But Mexican R ‘n’ B was released at the height of grunge, and made no impact on any chart. This offbeat masterpiece has been out of print since shortly after going into print, which explains why you could fit everyone who knows it into a large elevator – a crying shame.

Radio Birdman | Radios Appear
Radio Birdman – Radios Appear

• Radio Birdman blasted onto the Aussie punk scene with their debut Radios Appear. Founder Deniz Tek hailed from Ann Arbor, MI (home to The Stooges and MC5), which helps partly explain the ahead-of-its- time velocity and swagger of this album. They waited a critical three years before following it up and dozens of bands rushed in to fill the punk product void. Birdman broke up after their second album was poorly received, and found themselves relegated to the ‘often cited but rarely heard’ bin. Tek would later form bands featuring ex-members of the Stooges & MC5, but never again approached this pure blue flame.

Wipers | Youth Of America
Wipers – Youth Of America (1981)

• Wipers – led by mastermind Greg Sage – have toiled away in self-imposed D.I.Y. obscurity for more than two decades. Their relentless, hard-driving sound is neither punk nor metal, but matches either for sheer determination and menace. Youth Of America’s 10-minutes-plus title track is a dark journey through barren wasteland, over a highway of broken glass. Wipers have pointedly avoided the mainstream, but their influence has seeped through nonetheless: a young Kurt Cobain was a big fan, and partly modeled the sound of his band (and consequently, his generation) on this.

Monks | Black Monk Time
Monks – Black Monk Time (1966)

• Henry Rollins likes Monks, and you should too. In the mid-sixties, these proto-proto-proto-punks decided to vent their spleen at being stationed as GIs in Germany by dressing in robes and shaving their heads like monks (imagine a flattop with a reverse Mohawk) and playing the most blistering music they could. The results are so undeniably punk that it’s hard to see why these guys don’t ever get mentioned in the same breath as other forefathers of that genre.

The Gun Club | Fire Of Love
Gun Club – Fire Of Love (1981)

• Gun Club rode a hybrid, slide-guitar blues-meets-punk sound straight into obscurity. This Los Angeles quartet, fronted by troubled singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce, counted many musicians and critics among their fans, but their tweener sound and Pierce’s struggles with drugs and alcohol were too much to overcome. Pierce launched an equally fruitless solo career in ’85, passed away in ’96, and Gun Club’s harrowing, ghost-out-of-hell albums – including this excellent debut – have slipped into the shadows.

ESG | A South Bronx Story
ESG – A South Bronx Story (1983)

• The Scroggins sisters – Deborah (bass, vocals), Marie (congas, vocals), Renee (vocals, guitar), and Valerie (drums) – formed ESG when their mother bought them instruments to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. In short order they went from a rough group of untalented musicians (alas, Ma Scroggins couldn’t afford lessons to go with the instruments) to a unique, female-driven funk act. They reportedly started writing their own songs so that audiences wouldn’t know when they messed up covers. And while ESG’s reputation grew during the 90’s because they were endlessly sampled, their own music was so generally ignored that they named a 1993 release Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills.

Cymande - album
Cymande – Cymande (1973)

• Cymande was a highly influential but ultimately short-lived group featuring musicians from several Caribbean and African countries. Their self-titled debut is a perfect snapshot of its era, combining African rhythms with abundant percussion, sultry funk and quasi-politically aware lyrics. They barely cracked the Top 40, made just two more albums and called it quits. In recent years, Cymande has enjoyed critical re-appraisal, and many of their tracks have been sampled, but this nine-member funk dynamo should be known by more than just critics and beat-grafters.

IBB - album
Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock (1973)

• The Incredible Bongo Band was formed to make a single track for the soundtrack to an early 70’s horror film. When that track went to #1 in Canada, the label (undoubtedly smelling money) asked for a full-length follow up. From there it should have been a short hop to obscurity, but a funny thing happened on the way to the dustbin; a house party DJ in the South Bronx named Kool Herc used 2 copies of the record as a way to keep his crowds moving – making it the first breakbeat album ever. The music from those parties is now considered to be the cornerstone of the hip-hop culture and sample-based music. Mojo calls it – no joke – “possibly the most influential album in the history of post-60’s popular music.”

Mutiny | Mutiny On The Mamaship
Mutiny – Mutiny On The Mamaship (1979)

• After Jerome ‘Bigfoot’ Brailey split from the Parliament/Funkadelic camp (he was the funky drummer on Mothership Connection and others) because of money disputes, he formed Mutiny and released this blistering indictment of former boss George Clinton that reaches the same highs as the P-Funk mob at their best. After this and a second album both tanked, Mutiny was suddenly without a record contract (a fate that would also befall Clinton around the same time) and disbanded in the early 80’s. This is the rarest of commodities – an overlooked funk diamond.

James Luther Dickinson | Dixie Fried
James Luther Dickinson – Dixie Fried (1972)

• Name-checked as a mentor by Dylan in Chronicles, Vol. 1, Jim Dickinson is the ultimate musician’s musician. In addition to playing as a sideman on countless classic albums, he’s produced artists as diverse as Primal Scream, Ry Cooder, and Mudhoney. Featuring an uncredited Eric Clapton on guitar, Dixie Fried is the very definition of hidden gem. Every track crackles with wit and energy, and Dickinson portrays myriad characters with a humorous tongue and sympathetic ear. This was his lone album until 2003’s Free Beer Tomorrow – which was 30 years in the making, equally brilliant and well worth the wait.

ZZ Top - album
ZZ Top – ZZ Top’s First Album (1970)

• Before the Santa beards, pimpin’ rides, sexy ladies, MTV videos and multi-platinum success of Eliminator, ZZ Top were once an honest to goodness – and damned impressive – Blues band with a capital B. The proof is right here on an album that’s as laid back and true as its title.

Michael Nesmith & The First National Band | Magnetic South
Michael Nesmith & The First National Band – Magnetic South (1970)

• Yes indeed, it’s true: Michael Nesmith of the Monkees was actually a pretty talented musician. His three albums with The First National Band mark him as a forefather of country-rock, quite possibly on par with Gram Parsons (your call whether this is a positive or negative mark). Nesmith kept the FNB together for just a few years before moving on to tend his business interests, which included helping to found MTV. But you have to wonder what might have been had he not been packing around the Monkees stigma way back when.

No Other - album
Gene Clark – No Other (1974)

• For an album allegedly made on transcontinental rails of cocaine, No Other sounds surprisingly focused and is bathed in an almost spiritual glow. The entire breadth of this ex-Byrd’s solo career is overlooked, but this is the album that should have made him a star in his own right. The fact that it didn’t was reportedly a blow (no pun intended) that he never recovered from.

Wolfking - album
John Phillips – John Wolfking Of LA (1970)

• Phillips panned this solo album in his autobiography Papa John, saying “The lead singer seemed groggy.” While the raw, ragged sound was the antithesis of The Mamas & Papas’ California sunshine, Wolfking is a fascinating and bracing journey through the dark side of the Laurel Canyon star scene of the early ‘70’s. Papa John explains its quick demise: “It was DOA in the record stores.”

Terry Reid | River
Terry Reid – River (1973)

• Reid is most well known for turning down the lead singer’s spot in a new band Jimmy Page was forming that would become Led Zeppelin (Reid also graciously recommended an unknown young frontman named Robert Plant). His soaring and beautiful River should have overshadowed that anecdote, but the album never found its audience. Though re-issued to raves on disc a few years back, it’s too little recognition far too late for this talented guitarist and top-flight, multi-octave singer.

Rodriguez | Cold Fact
Rodriguez – Cold Fact (1970)

• Sixto Rodriguez should have been huge. Blessed with a gritty yet warm voice, an acoustic guitar, and a whole mess of lyrics about how fucked up the world was, he had everything one could have wanted in a 70’s singer/songwriter. But his lone album – 1970’s Cold Fact – went nowhere, and he disappeared. He gained a strong cult following in Australia during the 80’s that enabled him to tour that country and somewhat revive his music career, but really, this guy should have been huge.

Dennis Wilson | Pacific Ocean Blue
Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)

• Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson was generally thought of as a skirt-chasing, boneheaded surfer and longtime rider of older brother Brian’s coattails. When he made this overlooked masterpiece, he promptly changed the mind of anyone fortunate enough to hear these mini-symphonies that are as inventive as anything his prodigy bro’ conjured up. Then he died in 1983, and left us with a lot of what-ifs and enough odds and sods for another, equally unrecognized gem, Bamboo.

Alexander 'Skip' Spence | Oar
Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence – Oar (1969)

Oar begs the question: can an album be called underrated so many times that it starts to become overrated? Ex-Moby Grape drummer Spence was in the midst of losing his mind when he recorded this rambling, epic, and sparsely beautiful ode to all and nothing. At times the songs lose their structure and way, but the net effect is nothing short of mesmerizing. It is reportedly the worst-selling album in the long history of Columbia records.

Fred Neil | Fred Neil
Fred Neil – Fred Neil (1967)

• Never quite emerging from the Greenwich Village folk scene that spawned Dylan and others, Fred Neil released just three proper albums in a four-year career. By the early 70’s he had dropped out of the music industry to live out his life in seclusion in South Florida, where he passed away in 2001. The fact that this incredible singer/songwriter and unique voice isn’t a household name (and is best known for Harry Nilsson’s cover of ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ for the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack) is a cultural travesty. If anyone’s music deserves a Volkswagen-ad boost yielding widespread rediscovery and overdue respect, it’s Fred Neil.

25 More That Deserved Better…

Swamp Dogg – I’m Not Selling Out/I’m Buying In
The Peddlers – Suite London
Graham Parker – The Mona Lisa’s Sister
Bauhaus – Burning From The Inside
Barry & The Remains – The Best Of
Marah – Kids In Philly
Temple Of The Dog – Temple Of The Dog
J.K. & Co. – Suddenly One Summer
Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow
Hank Mobley – The Turnaround
Bonzo Dog Doodah Band – Gorilla
Various Artists – Wild Style Soundtrack
Josh Ritter – Golden Age Of Radio
Michelle Shocked – Short Sharp Shocked
Stereo MC’s – Supernatural
Shorty Baker/Doc Cheatham – Shorty & Doc
John Martyn – Solid Air
DJ Hurricane – The Hurrah
Gary Higgins – Red Hash
A3 – Exile On Coldharbour Lane
D.R. Hooker – The Truth
Roy Harper – Stormcock
Moby Grape – Moby Grape
Slaid Cleaves – Broke Down
Alejandro Escovedo – A Man Under The Influence

And 10 That Are Grossly Overrated…

• Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run • I’ve tried (and tried and tried…) to hear the unparalleled masterpiece the critics all rave about. Every time I read a superlative review, I get all jacked up about this, but in the end, all I ever hear is just a decent bar band taking 8 minutes to play 3 minute songs.

• Jimmy Buffett – Any album • Until somebody sits me down and explains how Jimmy Buffett is anything more than just the 70’s nautical version of Weird Al Yankovic (which, by the way, perfectly nails my beef with his music) I’ll have no clue how this guy can sell out a bar, let alone a 25,000 seat amphitheatre.

• The Eagles – Hotel California • The Eagles have always reminded me of the too-popular kids in class whose status was based 100% on style and 0% on substance (I’m guessing every school has a couple of these). Exhibit A in any prosecution of the 70’s as a bloated, soul-less, nothing of a music decade, this album has no business near a turntable, let alone any Best Of All-Time lists.

• The Who – Tommy • Easily the lamest “concept” album of all-time. Let’s see… a deaf, “dumb” and blind kid plays pinball? Bartender, make mine a double. Unless the hidden meaning here is that in the future, people will cringe and/or laugh at the thought of Rock Operas, there’s nothing terribly brilliant about any of this.

• Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness • Gish and Siamese Dream were epic slabs of 90’s rock at it’s best, but this lame follow-up reaped all the big sales (nearly 10 million) and critical acclaim. Billy Corgan whines throughout, and this sprawling double album has barely enough good songs for a single disc. You could cull it down to a listenable ep, but I won’t.

• Dave Matthews Band – Crash • Last fall I took a river tour of Chicago, and passed under the infamous spot where the DMB unloaded the contents of their tour bus bathroom on an unsuspecting boatload of people. The options are so plentiful that I’ll let you create your own metaphors for how that story relates to the music.

• Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica • Continually shows up on Best Of All-Time lists, and I can never figure out why. It’s an incomprehensible mess from start to (double-album!!) finish, and the Cap’n has a trio of other albums (Safe As Milk, Clear Spot, and The Spotlight Kid) more rocking and listener friendly. On the bright side, this album will clear your unwanted houseguests in a matter of minutes.

• Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP • Any critic that places this on their Best Of All-Time list ahead of Eric B. & Rakim (and too many have) should be stripped of their credentials – and pants. And I think Em would probably agree with the spirit of what I’m saying here (if only the pantsing the critics part).

• Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow • Contains a couple of good tracks, but overall this album sounds flat and has aged poorly. Grace Slick’s voice has always been like nails on a chalkboard to me, so maybe I’m not listening with the right set of ears.

• The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band • Greatest album of all time? It’s probably no better than the 6th (and quite possibly the 7th) best Beatles album (running behind the White Album, Abbey Road, Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Beatles For Sale – and neck-and-neck with the underrated Let It Be). Admittedly, that’s a murderer’s row of great albums, but until I can rent a time machine to experience its ‘cultural impact’ first hand, I’m calling it overrated.