Lost Ladies of Country #1: “Mistress” Mary Afton

Fans of country-rock won’t be strangers to Clarence White’s name. In addition to earning the distinction of second longest-serving member of the Byrds – just after Roger McGuinn – White’s driving guitar and mandolin graced dozens of essential ‘60s and ‘70s albums. He can be heard alongside everyone from Lee Hazlewood to Linda Ronstadt to Phil Ochs to the Everly Brothers, often wielding the Telecaster he modified with a mechanism designed to simulate the sound of a pedal steel.

But the strangest credit on his extensive discography is a 1969 private press LP called Housewife, written and recorded by unknown artist Mary Afton. Performing as “Mistress Mary,” Afton appears on the album cover in languid Old Hollywood pose, with handwritten liner notes that label her music as “country-western, some soft-soul, some whatever.” How Afton got one of the greatest session guitarists of all time to play lead on her first and only record remains a mystery – but the quality of White’s playing elevates each unconventionally sexy, often drily funny song and makes Housewife rise above other private press recordings of the era.

“And I Didn’t Want You” is the standout track, although “The Bible Says,” “Praise Me A Little Bit” and “Dirt Will Be Yer Name” hold up well and capture Afton’s wry tone and unconventional vocal stylings. It’s a debut that showcases a distinctive artistic vision, and you can easily imagine Afton evolving in a way that would have earned her a more recognized place in the LA country-folk canon. Instead, she walked away from the music industry after Housewife to teach car mechanics, self-defense and belly dance classes for women before making a successful living as a disco dance instructor.

Housewife surfaces occasionally on Discogs for $200-$300 – it’s hard to say if any of those copies are the one Afton sent Elvis personally.  For those of us on a more limited budget, Light In The Attic reissued the record in 2016 after the Numero Group included “And I Didn’t Want You” on their compilation of private press country recordings, Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music.

Afton’s liner notes identify her as a “wife – mother – civic leader – etc. – artiste” (with accompanying glamour shots), but Mistress Mary can be remembered a songwriter above all. Whether Housewife would have its cult status without Clarence White’s involvement is debatable, but fans of freak folk, Americana and Laurel Canyon will do well to give it a spin.

Rachel Good is a Portland writer, singer and DJ. As DJ Stonebunny, she can be heard on Freeform Portland every other Saturday from 6-8pm with “High Rollers in Sin City,” an exploration of weird psychedelic country and folk from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Portland Musicians Corner with DJ Sonic Szilvi – Interview with Ender Raine

Ender Raine is a local multi-instrumentalist with witty, cynical lyrics covering a broad spectrum of life as a human. Musically, he fits best into the indie piano pop side of things with a Ben Folds influence. His music can get one through various moods and emotions, often with just one song.

Sonic Szilvi: Ok I have to start with the video “Strawberry Shortcake.” I need to know how that came to be a song? What exactly prompted you to do that song? Tell me about the video shoot too, it looks like it was a lot of fun!

A: When I wrote “Strawberry Shortcake,” I was starting a new band and it was just me and my drummer, Michele. Although we had a lot of fun messing around with rhythms and grooves, we didn’t really have any fully formed songs yet, so I needed something I could lock into her style with. Michele had worked at a Tower Records growing up so she had this really rich background of sixties, seventies, and eighties music that I wanted to tap into, and I’d been listening to a lot of The B-52s, with their fun, sexy boy-girl vibe. So I took that idea, spun it a bit more noir, and out came this unstoppable call-and-response rock song that was either about blood or food or sex, depending on how the listener felt.

The video shoot took place over three weekends with the help of my incredible wife, Katelyn who carted me from place to place all over Portland to shoot the little three-second clips the video is partly comprised of. I wanted to show off Portland, the cool fabric of this place, and the art that’s woven right into the city. For the narrative segment, I had my friend Shannon Brinkley play the Strawberry Shortcake character to help portray this sexy heroine that refuses to be stuck in a relationship that was going to hell in the mind of the guy (played by myself). Shannon did an incredible job. She also helped me write the storyboard. The video was shot on a budget of about $200 including the extra large Slurpee that was poured over my head.

Continue reading →

Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo- Black Screen Images and the (e)motive Notion of Freakiness: Vaginal Davis Lectures at Time Based Art Festival 2018

Photo courtesy of PICA

PICA’s Time Based Art Festival (TBA) 2018 had the privilege to host a lecture by the multifaceted artist Vaginal Davis. Davis is a black punk feminist evocative innovator and teacher who specializes in terrorist drag. She is biracial, intersex and from South Central Los Angeles, and was raised in a matriarchal household. She does not have a license to drive; she is a performance artist, visual artist, musician, producer, director, social antagonist and author who helped pioneer and mother the homo-core punk and gender-queer arts movements. She is the writer and publisher of zines: Shrimp which focuses on licking bigger and better feet, plus Fertile Latoya Jackson with tips on makeup plus stories with scandal and gossip. Her bands include Pedro Muriel and Esther, Cholita!, Black Fag, The Afro Sisters and The Female Menudo.

Davis has labeled herself as “sexual repulsive,” refusing to conform to conservative assimilation tactics imposed by corporate gay culture. She has made her own biography within gay and black identity politics, barreling through stereotypes and challenging heteronormative and LGBTQIA+ binaries. By using punk music, self-mockery, inciting sexual revolutions in art and film, Davis rails against assumptions that inhabit heterosexual and queer culture plus her own Black and Hispanic identities. Davis is an instigator in keeping an open running narrative against propagating appeasement and appropriation by the mainstream over individuals’ rights to their own freakiness (Johnson, 2017).

Vaginal Davis & Bruce LaBruce – photo courtesy of we are flagrant

At PICA, Davis presented some of her short films mentioned below. She provided commentary to enable better understanding behind the processes that inspire her art. Her films are politically, ironically and truthfully grounded in the experience of lived individual oppression/s endured by herself and gender-queer community, which protests the established institutions behind race, gender and sociocultural politics. She has inspired filmmakers Bruce LaBruce and Woody Allen; late queer theorist Jose Esteban Munoz; and had a lesbian love affair with Gwyneth Paltrow before Paltrow married that guy in Coldplay. Davis attributes her name from being inspired by activist Angela Davis and being the first person in her family to graduate college. In college, Davis studied Angela Davis and the Black Panther Party which inspired her militant counteridentification within the dominant culture. In the 1980’s she enacted her first performance with two white women with afro wigs named the Afro Sisters. The performance “We’re Taking Over” focuses on the Sexualese Liberation Front who kidnaps the white corporate leaders of America so they can assault them anally with black dildos and hold them for ransom. Many audiences in L.A who frequented the clubs where she performed were middle-class postpunk crowds and they were not privy to the camp element of Davis’ performance art. Audiences were often offended which had no effect on Davis at all.

Continue reading →

Hayao Miyazaki’s Music & Message Behind His Movies

On our radio show, Weekend Family Music Hour on Freeform Portland, we played some soundtracks from our favorite Studio Ghibli films. Many Studio Ghibli films are scored and composed by Joe Hisaishi. There are also songs by Asian singers and songs sung in Japanese. He blends many music styles including Japanese classical and electronic synthesizer. Hearing Hisaishi’s music in Miyazaki’s films is exciting, especially in scenes where there is conflict and hope.

Photo courtesy of indiewire

Hayao Miyazaki is an amazing filmmaker and producer who founded the Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki is the creator of animated films such as, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Howl’s Moving Castle and more. One common thing Miyazaki does in his films is he bases them off of real life scenarios, like mental health challenges and the destruction of the environment.

One of my favorite films is When Marnie Was There (2014). Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and animated by Studio Ghibli, the movie is about a foster child who is suffering from depression. She becomes friends with an uplifting ghost who is somehow related to her. When Marnie Was There focuses on foster children. Foster children are at risk for suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Each year 44,965 Americans die of suicide, averaging 123 suicides per day. Suicide is very common among teenagers (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Major depression is one of the most common mental illness in the U.S. Each week almost 60,000 children are reported for abuse, with nearly 900,000 confirmed victims of abuse in 2004.  About 520,000 are up in foster care each year. (ABC news).

Studio Ghibli also made a film called Pompoko (1994). Directed by Isao Takahata, the film is about shapeshifting racoons whose forest is being destroyed and replaced by buildings. There is a war between racoons and humans that shows how fragile humanity can be when humans decide to consume and abuse our natural world. The animals and earth will fight back. Pompoko makes me think humans are continuing to destroy forest to build new things, leaving animals without a home. Animals are being killed and human population is increasing rapidly, unlike animal populations, which are decreasing at high rates. Global warming is also affecting ecosystems because ecosystems have to adapt to climate change which kills animals and plants.

Another environmental film from Studio Ghibli is Ponyo (2008). Directed by Miyazaki, the film is about a fish who shapeshifts into a little girl after she tastes human blood. The ocean is being polluted by humans and Ponyo’s home is being destroyed. Thinking about Ponyo, I know most ocean pollution starts on land. Pollution is caused by factory chemicals making greenhouse gasses from cars, buses, trucks, tanks and more. Pollution such as human waste, wildfires, volcanoes and trash causes global warming and destroys ecosystems. Soon there will be more trash in the ocean than fish.

Written by Opal Lee Green (DJ Bubble Tea), Weekend Family Music Hour

Noah Fence Interviews Martin Bramah from Blue Orchids

The band, Blue Orchids, has a new album “Righteous Harmony Fistwhich will be released on October 19th on Tiny Global Productions. 

Martin Bramah, who has been fronting the band since 1982 agreed to do an interview with me via email, as it was not possible for the two of us to be in the same room together.


N.F. – Congratulations on the new album, “Righteous Harmony Fist“. I have been listening to the album for a few weeks now, and it sounds like a triumph. Can you tell me about the recording of the album, was it a simple process?

M.B. – Thank you. It was pretty straight forward, yes. I like to work fairly quickly with the band recording the backing tracks playing together live in studio with no ‘click track,’ then adding vocals and any other essentials as overdubs – classic Tony Visconti style. He remains a big influence on my approach to recording.

N.F. – A few of my favorite songs from the new album are “The Art of Falling,” “In the Acid Garden,” & “Get Bramah”. Lyrically they seem very personal, yet induced with humor and a bit of surrealism. Can you speak about your writing process? 

M.B. – My writing is very personal to me in the sense that it’s like keeping a lucid dream diary; humor and surrealism play a part, and my real life experience is scattered about throughout and reflected back in kaleidoscopic mirrors.

On the other hand, I’m writing for an audience not just for myself; so in that sense not personal.

N.F. – The Blue Orchids have been a going concern for some time, although there was a bit of gap there, from sometime in the 90’s, to 2008 when you released a solo album, “The Battle of twisted heel”. What were you doing when not recording and releasing music?

M.B. – First of all, don’t forget Blue Orchids 2003 album ‘Mystic Bud’ – but yes, there was a lull between the mid 1990s and my return to the stage in 2008.

Basically, I started to question why I was making music and what my relationship with the music business was. This ball had been rolling since I’d started The Fall in early ’77 and I needed to reassess my position and decided to jump off the merry go round and dive into ‘real life’. I moved to London (being from Manchester originally) and worked a series of blue collar jobs: bus driver, delivery driver, warehouse hand, record store staff, etc. I also took up training in the Japanese art of Aikido, which took up a lot of my time and eventually attained black belt. Normal stuff like that.

I never stopped playing music though – I just made it for my own pleasure.

N.F. – Following the Solo album, you formed the band “Factory Star” which I quite enjoyed. Did “Factory star” genuinely end. or did the band just somehow just become “The Blue Orchids”?

M.B. – Yes, we basically just morphed back into Blue Orchids. The marketplace demands that Blue Orchids is a stronger brand than Factory Star and will not indulge the high minded whims of artists.

Plus, Factory Star was all about my return to Manchester, and I’ve moved on again now and am living by the sea in Wales. I guess I’m just destined to be a Blue Orchid.

N.F. – It seems to my ears that all of the bands with which you have been involved, there has been a basic and very effective instrumental set up. There always seems to be guitars, complimented by keyboards, and vice versa, Does that stem from an influence of 60’s garage rock music? If so, can you tell me about a few of your favorite 60’s garage rock songs?

M.B. – Yes, I am drawn to the guitar/keyboard combo. Keyboards add color to the guitars’ edginess, which I find pleasing.

60s garage is a big influence. It all started for me with the first Stooges album ‘The Stooges’. You can take any song from that album as a classic. Also…

The Seeds – Flower Lady And Her Assistant

Pilgrimage – Bad Apple

The Calico Wall – I’m A Living Sickness

Art Guy – Where You Gonna Go

Gary Scruggs – Gentle When You Say The Word

Savages – The World Ain’t Round It’s Square

Oh boy, there are just too many to choose from. Those are a few I’ve been listening to lately.

N.F. – Obviously I have no idea when you started to play guitar, but I do know that you were the original guitarist for the Fall, starting in 1976. Being the first guitarist in The Fall, you set a blueprint for all of the guitarists that followed you. The Fall is obviously one of the greatest bands to have come out of England, and sadly with the passing of Mark E. Smith, their legacy is a closed book. Are you proud of the work you did with the Fall?

M.B. – Proud? Well pride comes before the Fall.

But yes, of the original members, I put the most thought and effort into creating the Fall sound template and I’m happy to be able to say that.

I first picked up a guitar in my early teens and taught myself a few blues standards like ‘Big Boss Man,’ ‘Don’t Start Me Talkin,’ ‘Boogie Chillen,’ and it seemed natural to write original songs from those few chords and licks – turning them on their heads and stripping them down and getting to the root of what made them tick.

N.F. – The Punk and Post-Punk era was an explosion of music, there were so many records released, and in among those records there were a number of signature musicians with great guitar sounds, for instance, John McGeoch of Magazine, Andy Gill of Gang Of Four, Rob Symmons of Subway Sect…and I would definitely rate your work with the Fall, Factory Star and The Blue Orchids as I do the work of those I mentioned. Can you speak about how you arrived at your sound, and some of the guitarists that influenced you?

M.B.- My original sound came from a Fender Stratocaster  plugged into a Selmer 50 Treble & Bass tube amp – with the bass turned all the way down and the treble turned all the way up!

Some of the guitarists that influenced me are: Buddy Holly, John Lee Hooker, Link Wray, Brian Jones, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Sterling Morrison, Johnny Thunders, James Williamson, Robert Quine, Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd, but so many others too.

N.F. –The first album by The Blue Orchids “The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)” came out in 1982, given the albums garage rock / psychedelic sound was the group lumped in the “new psychedelic” sound from Liverpool (Echo & The Bunnymen & The Teardrop Explodes) by Critics? Or how was the record received by critics and fans?

M.B. –Critics said we were new wave/retro… they couldn’t decide whether we were throwbacks to Dylan, Velvets, Doors or cutting edge neo-psych. The jury is still out on that.

To some extent we were compared to The Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes as we were all friends and playing the same clubs. The same goes for the Postcard Records bands from Scotland. We also got lumped in with the early New Romantic scene when it was still an underground thing.

N.F. –For a time after the release of the first Blue Orchids album, the band worked with Nico, who was living in Manchester at that time. Are there any recordings hidden away from that time period that see the light of day?

M.B.-Unfortunately not. There is some live bootleg stuff – but we never set foot in a recording studio with Nico. In those days making a record was expensive and you were always waiting for a label to offer you a record deal – at that point in time no one was offering Nico a record deal. Hard to believe but true.

N.F. – The band the Crystal Stilts covered a song by The Blue Orchids, “Low Profile” on their “Radiant Door” EP. Did you know in advance that they were going to cover your song? Does a band have to ask permission? And finally, what is your opinion of their rendition of your song?

M.B. – No, I didn’t know in advance. I found out like everybody else when the record came out. I was thrilled as I was already a big Crystal Stilts fan by then and it sounded great. I really like their nod to Nico’s Indian pump organ sound that they used in the intro. And so no, they obviously didn’t ask my permission – I don’t think you need to – and I never have anyway.

N.F. – I noticed that the label that has released your album, Tiny Global Productions, is being distributed in the U.S. by Forced Exposure. How important or effective is distribution like that, in light of the fact that bands and label have access to the internet and sites such as Bandcamp to promote direct sales?

M.B. – It all helps to get the albums out there. Some people like to order from their local record store or just walk in and browse the racks. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to find our music in the most convenient way for them.

N.F.  – With the release of the new album, The Blue Orchids seem to fairly busy touring in the U.K. Any chance the band will ever visit the United States? I have never seen the band and would love to do so.

M.B. – We would love to play in the USA. However, current US policy on aliens obtaining a work permit makes it prohibitive; the cost of a work permit for the band means we would have to sell a lot of records in America before we could take the financial chance of touring. But no one knows what the future holds.

N.F. – Finally, I have read a rumor that the band is already hard at work on new songs with plans for a new album coming soon, perhaps next year. Any truth to these rumors?

M.B. –  Yes, we are halfway through recording a new collection of songs; something of a tribute: ‘Ut Americae Septentrionalis’ you might say.

And that is all I will say at the moment. 

Noah Fence hosts It’s a Nice World To Visit – Punk, Post-Punk, Garage Rock, Psych…A mix of new tracks and old favorites. On Freeform Portland Radio.

Oh Aimee, Oh Tracey! – An appreciation of my favorite sad albums by ‘Til Tuesday and Everything But the Girl

It’s kind of heartbreaking to get a love letter returned to you. Even worse if it’s been set on fire and placed under the windshield wiper of your car. I received such a present once. I was nineteen and living in a trailer park in Kennewick, Washington. My friend Chuck and I lived in a small mobile home that his dad owned. I had a room in back that barely fit a bed. A tiny bathroom with a shower stall was right next to my door. I think my rent was $100 a month, $150 tops.

One late February morning, I went outside to try to start my frozen Chevette and found the charred remains of a Valentine that I’d given to Andrea, my on-again off-again flame that lived a half-hour south in Hermiston, Oregon. Apparently, she wasn’t happy about me spending time with Elvia, one of the prettiest girls in our little Podunk region. They even worked together at a burger and shake joint called Arctic Circle. I had picked up Elvia there a few days before, not knowing that Andrea was also on duty. I always liked the chipper, retro style of their paper hats and light blue polyester uniforms. But on this particular day, Elvia was panicked and sweaty and Andrea looked pissed!

It was a complicated love triangle that wasn’t really a triangle. There were other people around—a couple dozen small town new wave/punk rock outcasts wearing stretch pants and safety pinned jackets, thumbing through the UK imports at the record store, drinking coffee (loads of cream and sugar) at the Shari’s restaurant and planning road trips across the state to Seattle (AKA: the city with actual dance clubs). People in my hometown dated, broke up, swapped partners, had one night stands, moved away, came back, and sometimes dumped their lovers to hook up with their younger siblings. So any love triangle in this scene was more like a hexagon.

Continue reading →

Interview with Frank Izuora of Question Mark

The following interview was transcribed from a broadcast on July, 21st 8-10am Freeform Portland, Weekend Family Music Hour. We had the privilege to interview organist, singer and solo artist Frank Izuora, a founding member of the legendary Nigerian psych-pop band Question Mark. Other members included his brother, bassist Amehl (Joe) Izuora; Chyke Okafor on drums; Uzoh Agulefo on percussion, and Victor Egbe on lead guitar. Their infamous and only LP release, Be Nice to the People, was recorded in Lagos, Nigeria in the mid 70s and is now considered a masterwork of intersectional sounds and influences. Released by EMI’s Nigerian subsidiary in 1977, it was produced by the creative mastermind Odion Iruoje, the man behind the board on Ofege’s Try and Love and The Last of the Origins, C.S. Crew’s Funky Pack, Butley Emeka Moore’s Kiss & Smile, Apples’ Mind Twister, and countless other Nigerian recordings that today inspire music aficionados around the globe.

Original copies of Be Nice to the People are highly coveted, surfacing only on rare occasions and garnering thousands of dollars when they do. Shadocks in Germany reissued a limited vinyl release in 2007, now out-of-print and itself pricey on the used market. A CD reissue came out in 2010. Similar to Ofege, Be Nice to the People is known for its driving fuzz guitar passages and pounding rhythmic grooves, which seem equally influenced by funk and early UK metal. Lots of Nigerian bands could bring the funk but none sounded like Question Mark. They had a progressive pop lyricism, an ability to craft ballads about the goodness of love and the importance of compassion and humanism, songs that, rather than being breathers between big guitar jams, are ones you would actually put the record on for. Through mimicking the styles they loved, they created something original and extraordinary in the process, a hybrid of Lagos and London. At the forefront of this unique sound was the voice, organ, and songwriting of Frank Izuora.

Izuora currently resides in Houston, TX, where he is still writing and composing music. He has a current recording available on Amazon called, Cruise Out. He is also counselor who specializes in working with couples, families and children. Frank is a warm soul and multi-faceted human being whom we adore, and we are deeply thankful to him for granting us this opportunity for an interview.

WFMH: How did Question Mark form as a band?

FI: We formed our band through our social networks. Much like a domino effect, the one person I knew very well was my brother who was a bass player. I went to the same school my father went to, Dennis Memorial Grammar School. There was a young guy who played soccer there named Chyke, and his last name was Okafor. His nickname was Chykzilly. He knew I played guitar and the keyboards. He in turn knew Ekelaw Uzoh — I know it’s hard for Americans to pronounce African names because it can be jaw breaking! — so from there we formed a band. We knew an engineer in Enugu, his name was Goddy, sort of like Godwin. We went to his studio and recorded some sample tracks, and while we were there, we met Victor and he played lead guitar for Question Mark. So I played keyboard for the band. From there we got together: Joey, myself, Chykzilly, Victor, and Uzoh, and we formed the band Question Mark.

WFMH: How did you get signed by EMI?

FI: It’s interesting because I knew Chykzilly who knew Uzoh, and Uzoh was a congo player and percussionist. He had contact with EMI recording studios, so through Uzoh we met this guy and we started talking about our songs. He said we sound good enough and we did some recordings, so that’s exactly what we did.

Odion Iruoje

WFMH: Was it Odion Iruoje? I think he was the talent guy for EMI, and also the producer for Ofege.

FI: Yes!

WFMH: Did you spend some time in the U.K growing up?

FI: Yeah, we have an in interesting family background. My father went to London and took the whole family, including my mother, myself, my only sister and my two brothers. We sailed on an ocean liner. Back in those days it was quite popular and flying in an airplane was quite expensive. So we went on an ocean liner which took us about a month to get there from Nigeria. Along the way we stopped in various countries. In 1960 we got to London and spent 6 years there. I went to school there. I just got back from London recently, and I went to my old elementary school. We were there from 1960-1966 and returned back to Nigeria. When I was in London I was exposed to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles at an early age. I was tuned into all the stars that were around, like Elvis Presley. We returned back to Nigeria in 1966, and 4 years later, I seriously started to learn how to play the guitar. From there I met other musicians and played in garage bands and honed my skills, and then met Question Mark band members much later.

WFMH: If I could pick a time to be in the U.K, I think ‘60-66 in terms of music would be it.

FI: Yes! I remember a competition between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and I believe in my mind, The Beatles won. When I hear my music I think of old girlfriends or analogies like that.

WFMH: Have people tried to contact you prior to us about your music, or asking if Question Mark would get back together?

FI: I was talking about that to my brother; you know, that’s 30 years ago and the drummer is dead, and it’s like getting the Beatles back together again: you can’t. Chykzilly passed away a number of years ago. The percussionist Uzoh is actually here. He’s the guy sitting on the extreme right of the album cover with afro hair. Uzoh is a professor in Dallas at a university. Who knew he would end up being a professor?…but the track “Hey Hey Girl” was one of the few tracks we wanted to remix. We were all living on school campus and we decided to go to EMI studios in Lagos to record these songs. We all got into a car and drove 8 miles to Lagos to record Be Nice to the People. We were supposed to have spent 3 days recording the album but we just spent a day and a half. We were rushed and a lot of things we wanted to remix, such as the drums, some guitar parts and vocals. We had to rush back to high school, coming back on a Sunday so we had no time. It’s like when you hear on recordings, certain areas need tweaking, so when I’m relistening to my music I say, here it comes. Oh it’s that part needs changing! Where with today’s artists, their perfectionists who spend 2-3 days. We spent a day and a half on ten songs.

Elizabeth Izuora (R), original bassist for The Questions; Mother (L)

WFMH: The lyrics are so great on Be Nice to the People and Didn’t Want to Lose You

FI: Interesting because in the song “Love,” the lyrics were not my lyrics, they were written by my sister. She was a child prodigy who passed away. She spoke 3 languages, she was a bass player, she played classical music like Mozart and Handel. When you listen to the lyrics of “Love,” it has a lot of substance, and so she wrote that and I didn’t sing it. My younger brother Joe sang it. As I said, I just visited Joe in London and we were listening to Question Mark because Karen wanted to interview me. So we were listening to the entire album in the car on CD and like most musicians they are very critical of their own work, more so than listeners. So when Joey sang the words, “Love was really out to hurt me,” I wasn’t really a lyricist. I’m a very spontaneous person, where if I see something right away, I will write words about it. My sister Elizabeth would put a lot of thought into how to write a song. I admired her for that. Now that I’m a therapist, I put a lot of thought into my words, like when I see my clients or play with other musicians, I am not trying to overpower them, I’m trying to blend with them. It’s all about harmony and the give-and-take and relationships and everything you do in life. I was supposed to have sung that song, and it was really late at night in the studio. We convinced my brother Joe to sing that song. He said “I’m not a vocalist” and I told him he would go down in history. He was tired, so tired.

WFMH: Did you guys tour very much as a band apart from recording?

FI: We did. We played at parties, we opened for BLO and we played on TV. My mother was a director at a TV station in Enugu, in the eastern part of Nigeria before the Biafran war. She was in charge of a TV show called Curtis Club, which featured young people who could sing, dance, play the piano or tell stories. We went on that talent show and performed for the first time. That was the first time we played live. We thought we can go in there and tear the place down. As soon as we saw the camera rolling and hear the producer say “you’re on,” the nervousness sets in. It’s a lot different performing live than being in a recording studio.

WFMH: Did you guys attend a music school like Ofege?

FI: No, my sister and I had an Italian music teacher strictly for the piano who was hired by my parents. Unfortunately I think I had ADHD or something because while she was teaching us I could hear my friends kicking the soccer ball so I went to join them instead. My sister learned to read music and play piano. I never really gave myself the opportunity to read and write music. I learned strictly by ear. I learned how to play the guitar for all the wrong reasons after seeing how my friend attracted girls when he played music. So I had my friend show me a few chords, I started to listen to Beatles songs again and rehearsed guitar parts and then used my own creativity to produce something similar. You can hear some of that in “Oh My Girl.” I didn’t play guitar on that track but I showed the guitarist what to play. There was no one who could play the piano so I took that instrument.

WFMH: How did your solo record come to be?

Didn’t Want To Lose You, 1982

FI: I left Nigeria and came to the States in 1977 and went to Buffalo State College in Buffalo, NY. I returned to Nigeria in 1982 and recorded a solo album. I played all the instruments and did it myself, I decided to quickly write songs and practice. The producers at the TV station where my mother worked on the talent show heard me playing so he started helping me out in recording my solo album. I wanted to record my album before I headed back to Buffalo, so the producer helped me. I went to meet a guy, Goddy Okew–Okew in Nigeria means fire or light in English. He had a band called the Hykkers who were known in eastern Nigeria. So I went to Okew’s recording studio with them and it took quite some time recording my album and got it all done before going back to college.

WFMH: Didn’t Want to Lose You was also pressed at Wilfilms too, which was William Onyeabor’s studio, so you’re giving us an incredible history lesson…

FI: I can tell you a whole lot more. It’s very interesting history, do you guys know about the history of the Nigerian Biafran War? Well my mother knew the head of state Ojukwu, so when Nigeria broke away, he was aware of our band. He purchased instruments for us and at the time we were not Question Mark, we were The Questions. In The Questions my sister was playing the bass guitar, and my cousins, who were my mother’s half sister’s daughters, were on vocals. So through Ojukwu, after buying us instruments, he flew us to Gabon during the Biafran War to perform for the president of Gabon. I think his name was Bongo something, he was a really short guy, he was sitting on a couch and his feet barely touched the ground. And I was telling myself, he’s the president of a country…We performed to raise money for the troops, and we were flying there on a relief plane, and they were shooting at us in the plane we were flying in. We actually raised money for the troops. We evolved from Question to Question Mark and then we performed for the first time on TV on the talent show.

WFMH: There was another band called The Wings who also performed for the military….

FI: My mother knew them as well. My mother knew quite a few bands that helped us. We knew bands who rehearsed and played through the war. We rehearsed in a garage with a band called The Fractions.

WFMH: Have labels contacted you about reissuing Question Mark?

FI: I think I could have done things differently, at that time about 9 years ago they had us sign papers and they reissued that. I still own the rights to my own solo record.

The song “Freaking Out” and the story behind that song. My father’s brother who was a doctor and musician in the Army returned from Germany, he played music for the fun of it. He returned with a bass guitar and my brother Joey played guitar and he had an amplifier. He gave us his bass as a gift and I looked at my brother and he looked at me and I said, hey let’s freak out!

And so we wrote and titled the song Freaking Out.

WFMH: Now Again reissued “Freaking Out” and “Scram Out” on their compilation Wake Up! Is it strange to hear your original record is worth quite a lot now?

FI: Yeah! Remember that old phrase, one man’s trash…when we recorded these songs I wasn’t thinking of business. We were having fun. I think sometimes when you feel what you do isn’t really all that valuable. I think as human beings we don’t stay put and life is a journey. You improve who you are as a person, and as a musician, you work on your style and keep on making progress. It fills my heart with pleasure/appreciation to hear that people appreciate the music I have made many years ago. If the whole world could appreciate each other it would be a better world.

WFMH: Through your music and lyric writing I hear how much positivity you have…

FI: Music is my first love and I am a musician first. I am also a LMFT (Licensed Marriage Family Therapist). I’ve run into people who have so much emotional stress, and through my profession and my personal life, I’ve come to realize that when a person loses a sense of self and purpose, I try to come in and show them who they are and bring that out, and gain self esteem. When I was young I was extremely shy and when I tried to talk to girls, I would write down things to talk about. I would call them on the phone and then drop the phone because I was so nervous. I’ve realized it takes two to make a relationship. It inspired me to write songs to appeal to both sexes and inspire people.

WFMH: What are your musical projects now?

FI: I’m working on some new material. I have a new instrumental album called Cruise Out. I am also working on a new vocal album that will have some lyrics that reflect the same philosophies I have. My songs are going to make people appreciate life and have a really good time. When I get through with my new songs, I’ll let you guys know.

Didn’t Want To Lose You (back)

WFMH: Would you ever tour Didn’t Want to Lose You?

FI: I would tour in Portland, OR, if I can get back up musicians. I’ll think about it and figure out a possibility to have people play old and new stuff. I left London and I was talking to Joey about people wanting to interview me. I ran into musicians on the plane, people who played with Heart and Bad Company. It was a coincidence and I think there is some positive karma going on right now. Hopefully one of these days I get to meet up with you guys, as we say in Nigeria, eyeball to eyeball.


To listen to the full broadcast of this show, which includes songs, go to Mixcloud version here.

Robert Poss – Frozen Flowers Curse The Day – A Review

Frozen Flowers Curse The Day” is the title of a new album by Robert Poss released on his own label, Trace Elements, on August 3rd, 2018.

The name Robert Poss may not be readily familiar, but as a composer of guitar music, I have always held him to be a peer or equal to Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca.

He previously was the leader of the group, Band Of Susans, so-named because when the group first formed, they counted among their members three women with the first name Susan. The band was renowned for the dense wall of sound, featuring interlocking guitar parts, utilizing drone, feedback, noise, and frequency to dazzle with near orchestrated precision.

Sound recordist extraordinaire and front man of bands such as Big Black & Shellac, Steve Albini said that Robert Poss …”is an enormously underrated guitar theorist. A lot of his approaches to the density of guitar are completely overlooked in any discussion about guitar. The way he structures the song around the drone instead of finding a drone to fit into the song I think is wholly unique.”

This assessment holds true on this new album, which contains songs that Robert Poss created for modern dance companies with which he has worked for nearly a decade. The lead track “More Frozen Flowers,” is a beautiful piece of music, seemingly centered on a tape loop or dizzy inciting locked groove. With hints of acoustic guitar and keyboard flourishes buried in the mix.

“The Sixth sense betrayed” builds on a nice melody and would have easily have fitted in well on a Band Of Susans album. Listening to it for this review I hear layers of guitar and a purring guitar solo that makes me want to start the song over and over again, to ensure I did not miss anything.

On “Time Frames Marking Time” The main guitar figure that carries the melody seems to float, and one can well imagine modern dancers moving on stage as though they were characters in a Samuel Beckett play.

“I’ve got a secret list” is a restrained rocker, that again would have fit nicely on a Band Of Susans album. The main guitar figure cut loose and and held back in the same repeating riff. The repetition being the compelling nature and interest of this song, as well as for other songs on the album.

“Sketch 72” bangs out over what might well have a been a riff of a Rolling Stones song, complete with slide guitar and other bits of noise guitar. An instant classic.

The album concludes with the song “You’ll curse the day”. A song that starts with the main riff already engaged, and has layers of guitars that make it sound like a song that Robert Poss may have had laying around since 1986, when Band Of Susans initially formed.

It is a wonderful album, and should be of equal interest to the casual listener, and gearhead guitar mavens alike.

Noah Fence hosts It’s a Nice World To Visit – Punk, Post-Punk, Garage Rock, Psych…A mix of new tracks and old favorites. On Freeform Portland Radio.

5 Gifted Child Musicians and Their Bands


The pedagogy of musical literacy is important to childhood development. Music incorporates sensations including hearing, movement and emotionality. Music is an interactive medium that is discovered and experienced individually where supportive environments can foster musical genius at young ages. One may postulate, rhythm is instilled in utero through mother’s heartbeat, similar to a drum or other rhythmic percussion. Melodies may also be heard in utero through mother and baby physiological states via gurgles, groans, moans, voices and outside sounds, adding to the symphonic physiological symphony. The auditory cortex develops for babies at 18 weeks gestation. At 24 weeks, babies are more sensitive to sounds. At 25-26 weeks, babies respond to noise and mother’s voice. Studies have shown newborns can be calmed by playing recorded sounds from the womb.

Early Italian childhood educator Maria Montessori knew the importance of linguistic education and exposing children to modulations in sound, including the sounds of words and the human voice. Through hearing sounds and words, children learn to compare and differentiate noise. Through audible education, children learn personal aesthetics and tastes which can be applied in practical and disciplined ways (The Montessori Method, 1964).

Early music education has been researched to encode sound to enable processing through aural skills development. Active engagement produces neurological changes which correlate to process sound. These changes can develop quickly within a short period of time if aural skillbuilding is nurtured by caregivers and the child’s environment (Hallam, 2016). Here are 5 kids and their bands who were/are musically gifted and influenced by their caregivers and/or environments.

The Jackson 5/Michael Jackson (Aug 29, 1958-June 25, 2009)

Born to Joseph and Katherine Jackson in Gary, IN, Michael (MJ) was one of nine brothers, including Tito, Jermaine, Jackie and Marlon. MJ joined the Jackson 5 when he was 5 years old and became the group’s lead singer. Joseph Jackson was also the Jackson 5’s manager and physically abused his children, disciplining them in detrimental ways to enable popular music success. “Big Boy” was MJ’s first song, sung at the age of nine with the Jackson 5 and recorded on Steel Town. He continues to be remembered as the “King of Pop” who changed music history.

Foster Sylvers

Foster Emerson Sylvers was born in Los Angeles on Feb 25, 1952. Sylvers is often mistaken for MJ because of his high soulful falsetto combined with mastery of mid-tempo funk beats. Sylvers was 11 years old when he recorded his hit “Misdemeanor”, written by his brother, Leon Sylvers III in 1973. Leon and Foster later formed a band with their brothers and sisters, The Sylvers (Wikipedia). “Misdemeanor” flew to number 7 on the Billboard charts that summer, and the song would later be sampled by Big Daddy Kane.

Jr. and His Soulettes

Jr. and His Soulettes were a young group lead by Harold Moore Jr. (10), with his sisters Denise Marshall (7), Jacquelin Carol (6) and Vinta Marie (9). Originally from Oklahoma, they released their LP Psychodelic Sounds on private press in 1971 (Swan Fungus). The album is the truest form of kids soul, written, played and mixed by Jr. and His Soulettes. Moore released five 45s and one LP before experiencing puberty and breaking up the band in the late 70s (Numero). The album is gloriously low-fi, wah-wah, psychedelic funky soul and portrays the musical genius of truly gifted children.

Dina Mariana

Dina Mariana is an Indonesian pop/jazz singer and actor who began her career as a child. Mariana is often referred to as a former little singer in Jakarta because she quickly segued into teen stardom. She has released a total of 35 albums, appeared in 21 movies, and has starred in numerous soap operas and television episodes. In Sept. 2007, she released a children’s album commemorating Ramadhan.

Francis Mbarga

Also known as Francis the Great, Mbarga was 7 years old when he recorded his first album, Francis the Great. Originally from Cameroon, Mbarga resided in Paris in the 1970s with his mother and father. On his debut LP Ravissante Baby, Mbarga was backed by a team that included Michel Morose on psychedelic synth, Toto Guillaume on guitar, and the renowned Vicky Edimo arranging and playing bass, with lyrics and singing by Mbarga. His first LP has been reissued, with Mbarga’s consent, by the Hot Casa label, which includes an extensive interview with Francis the Great who is now a computer programmer.

By Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour)


Portland Musicians Corner With Sonic Szilvi – Henery “Henn XL” Johnson

Henn XL is a talented singer/songwriter who gets his inspiration from the reality of the daily life. Real, passionate, provoking, loving. His music is a blend of soulful alternative rock with Hip-Hop, blues, jazz and gospel inflections with tough message.

Sonic Sz: Thank you for doing this interview for the Freeform Portland Blog readers! When you messaged me you mentioned you were new to Portland and excited to be part of the Portland music scene. Where did you move from and what were your experiences there as a musician? 

A: I want to thank you for this opportunity. I truly appreciate it. I am originally from Chicago. Brought up in Child Services. Where I was fortunate to be around different walks of life and musical tastes. Music has always been a place I can go inside of my mind for peace, reflection, and spiritual rejuvenation. I have had the honor of performing in subways and streets, connecting with the “invisible people”. I chose Portland to begin a new chapter in my musical journey. I am a proud member of the Rainbow Family Of Living Light and I use the ideology of love & light in the music that is made. Portland is a great music city and I am looking forward to being a contributing member of the culture here musically and beyond.

Sonic Sz: When did you first find yourself interested in making music? Was there anyone special who inspired you?

A: the first time I heard my uncle sing with his group I had goosebumps from the emotions that were being displayed. The passion and execution in which was presented. He is one of the reasons why I will never stop. My aunt Irene is also a big inspiration. I remember sitting at her feet listening to her sing to some mysterious individual on the other end of the phone and seeing the joy that it brought her even though she had lost everything. Donny Hathaway is my oxygen.

Sonic Sz: You are currently working on a solo album “Rhythm & Blood ”. Can you tell me a little about this project? What can we expect?

A: Rhythm & Blood will be a 12 track testimonial of the direction that my life has taken after extreme adversity. It will be an experience that will cross genre lines. I believe that we have to put our all in what we love, hence the name Rhythm & Blood. I am looking to collab, so please, hit me up.

Sonic Sz: What is your favorite place to play music? A music venue? Open air? Private house party? Street festival?...

A: I enjoy them all because of the constant energy that is given and received. The opportunity to be face to face and in the same space while the spirit of creativity surrounds and elevates us.

Sonic Sz: So far we’ve read about Henn XL the singer/songwriter/musician. But who is Henery Johnson? What are your interests besides music?

A: Henery Johnson is a survivor, and I am interested in the plight of the “Invisible People,” homeless, mentally ill, physically disabled, at risk youth, the elderly, ex offenders. I am a professional mover and hauler and the company I work with, Supportive Services, deal with a lot of these cases. I am very proud to be a part of this. I am also working on a non-profit program titled H.E.I. (Homeless Entrepreneurs Initiative) and I am a strong advocate against domestic violence. I recorded a song called “Enjoy Yourself” that is aimed towards this perplexity. So, if there is any organization out there that I can volunteer my abilities for, please get in contact with me.

Sonic Sz: Summer heat. Yay or nay?

A: Spring and fall are my favorite seasons. It’s a combination of both and that’s pleasant to me. But, I also believe that we should not let the weather be an excuse for not trying to improve our situations in whatever capacity that may be. Some of my best ideas and motivation has come from being out in the rain.

Sonic Sz : Now a fun fantasy question. You find a treasure map inside a bottle that a wave just washed out on the beach. You are intrigued. You decide to follow the instructions on the map and finally find the hidden treasure. What did you find?

A: I found a recording studio where all of the deceased musicians are working on new music.

This concludes this interview, again, thank you for introducing yourself to us and welcome to Portland!

Follow Henn XL on Facebook

DJ Sonic Szilvi, a European native, joined the Portland music scene a few years ago, currently playing bass for two active bands and one on hiatus. She recently joined the Freeform Portland family as a DJ. Sonic Szilvi hosts the weekly show Dark Noise Radio