Ever wonder what punks, metal heads, and grind freaks listen to other than their preferred genre? I asked some musicians about their top five favorite albums. Their answers might surprise you. Here is part 1 of the list:
I turned forty recently and realized something that I found intriguing. When I was 15 in 1992, the legendary music year of 1967 was just as many years in the past as 1992 is for me now. Maybe it’s the perspective of having lived in it, but the musical landscape of the early 90’s do not seem as entrenched and gilded to me now as the Summer of Love, Acid Tests and Monterey Pop festival did to me when I was 15. Growing up in the Bay Area, there were plenty landmarks of the 1960’s counterculture, but Portland music history seems to jump from the Kingsmen of “Louie Louie” fame to the dire post punk of The Wipers.
There is a wealth of amazing information online about the Portland music scene in the late sixties. Blogs documenting when the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin or The Doors hit town and there is even an excellent scholarly essay about local bands at the time. Using these sources and TheOregonian archives, I came up with a live music itinerary for the first week of December, 1967 in Portland.
I don’t read the Oregonian to check out music, so maybe it’s coverage hasn’t changed in fifty years, but it was pretty much show tunes, classical and big band jazz. I was intrigued by Cindy Layne and Don Palmer at the Keyhole on NE 102nd and Halsey. From the small amount I could find online, it seems like they were a husband and wife musical comedy act where the gag was that she was a 6 foot tall blond and he wasn’t. Being signed by Joey Bishop means that they were sponsored by the least known member of the “Rat Pack” at its nadir. Not really my thing, but I bet the drinks were stiff at the Keyhole.
Frat Boy Garage Rock
The Longhorn at NE 94th and Sandy had a house band called Prince Charles and the Crusaders. They were a legitimate group at the time whose members also played as The Ultimate and The Dart. Drummer and vocalist Gary Nieland appears to have been playing shows throughout Oregon until at least the early 2000’s. Based upon their R&B sound and kitschy medieval garb, they were part of a Northwest garage rock trend that Steve Bradley of the Portland blues rock group U.S. Cadenza described as follows:
“It was all that act, those uniforms, the three-cornered hat deal . . . Papa Oo Mau Mau, Jolly Green Giant, Long Tall Texan, Louie Louie, Twist & Shout, white frat boy R&B kind of things . . . I mean, it’s cool that the Raiders and the Kingsmen are doing it because they invented that sound, but there’s 100 other bands that are like carbon copies. It was just appalling. Get out of here with it.”
But hey, if they were playing every night at the Longhorn, Prince Charles and the Crusaders had to be a tight band, right? Their 45 “Mr. Love” / “Lights of the Town” is listed at a steep price on Discogs, but you can listen to the A side on an archived WFMU setlist here. It sounds good and if you were comfortable drinking some Blitz-Weinhard beer with the crew-cut set, this could be a fun night.
If You Remember It, You Weren’t Really There
Portland was a stop for the big west coast acid rock acts, with Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape all visiting in 1967. The Crystal Ballroom was an important venue for Portland hippies when it reopened that January. The first major out of town act was Bay Area group Sopwith Camel, who supposedly did not get paid, which was sometimes an issue at the Crystal back then. A lesser known venue was The Masonic Temple at 1119 SW Park, now the home of the Portland Art Museum. The Grateful Dead played their first advertised Portland show at the Masonic in July, although there are rumors of an “acid test” performance a few months earlier in Old Town. 1967 was the breakout year for the counterculture nationally and Portland was no exception. That December there were two great options for seeing heavy hitters of the era with the Doors at Memorial Coliseum on the 2nd and B.B. King at the Crystal the next night.
Keep It Local
Boasting a strong downtown music scene of it’s own, Portland was more than a destination for big rock acts in 1967. In her illuminating essay, Music on the Cusp: From Folk to Acid Rock in Portland Coffeehouses 1967-69, author Valerie Brown documents the bands and venues of the time. Due to Oregon’s byzantine liquor laws, only a handful of establishments could sell alcohol and allow live music (or even dancing) at the time, opening the door for so-called coffeehouses to be the destination for local bands. In a strange twist, the Greater Portland Council of Churches (GPCC), were one of the most important forces in the coffeehouse scene, operating The Catacombs in the basement of the First Congregational Church at 1126 SW Park and The Charix at the Unitarian Church on SW 12th and Salmon. The GPCC got involved in order to provide social service outreach to the significant amount of teenage runaways and homeless young adults living downtown. Local bands with a blues or acid rock style such as the Portland Zoo Electric Band, U.S. Cadenza and Nazzare Blues Band were the lure to bring the kids in, and it worked too well. City officials singled out the coffeehouses as the root of an out of control hippie scene growing in Portland. By 1968 most of the coffeehouses were closed, including the commercially operated Cafe Espresso, which was owned by Walter Cole who would go on to fame as the proprietor and personality behind female impersonator cabaret Darcelle’s XV.
In early December of 1967, the coffeehouse scene was still in full swing, so who better to see than the Charix’s house band Portland Zoo? According to a spread in Portland State’s Vanguard they were playing every Wednesday and Saturday to what must have been packed houses of hippie kids at the time. Based upon interviews in Valerie Brown’s essay, the goal for Portland bands in the coffeehouse scene was to keep it local and not try to get big. Portland Zoo member Sharyle Patton said,
“We looked at the bands that were really trying hard to make it professionally and being on the road to make money and make the records, and I think Peter (Langston) and I had a kind of funny idea that we wanted to play the best possible music . . . but we weren’t really interested in being rock stars. . . . We didn’t want to be on the road being pasty-faced and not getting enough sleep and having to deal with all the pressures of that.”
“In those days it wasn’t competitive. . . . It was so much about the music and so little about commerce, that never got to become part of the equation. It was friendship dead-on right from the start. We were united in a musical adventure.”
It is safe to say that the outlook of these bands have been a major aspect of the Portland music scene since then. Whether it be early 90’s bands like Hazel and Crackerbash who turned their scene inward in the face of the grunge explosion, Dead Moon’s long bond with their hometown or the countless small local groups who have been in it for the music and the fun as opposed to stardom.
Early December of 1967 provided plenty of options to rock out in Portland. Even though our city has become a hip destination spot recently, there is a long music history worth looking into. If you’re interested in learning more check out the below sources that I used for this post.
Blog Rock Prosopography 101 documents mostly West Coast concerts from the sixties and seventies in detail and images of concert posters.
Valerie Brown’s essay on the Portland coffeehouse scene is a treasure trove of local music history. You can read it for free by registering on JSTOR at https://www.jstor.org.
Music on the Cusp: From Folk to Acid Rock in Portland Coffeehouses 1967-69, by Valerie Brown, Oregon Historical Quarterly Vol. 108, No. 2 (Summer 2007)
The Oregonian issues December 1, 1967 to December 7, 1967
Richard Hell is widely acknowledged as one of the prime movers of punk rock. Born Richard Meyers of Lexington, KY in 1949, he moved to New York City in 1966 after a few years of troublemaking to pursue a career as a poet. He was soon joined by his friend and fellow poet, Tom Miller (who took on the name “Tom Verlaine”).
Hell and Verlaine have been characterized as inseparable and were often mistaken for brothers. They worked in bookstores and printed their own poetry magazines. This period of time is most notoriously remembered for their combined invention of the fictitious poet “Theresa Stern” whose book of poetry Wanna Go Out was published in 1973. The cover of the book featured a picture of “Theresa Stern”, which was actually a superimposition of Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell in wig and makeup.
The pursuit of poetry soon gave way to a more in your face form of art, rock ‘n’ roll. The two young men formed a band called the Neon Boys, whose garage rock feel and literate, clever lyrics full of puns and double entendres hinted at what the future might hold.
Hell and Verlaine recruited a second guitarist named Richard Lloyd, brought back Neon Boys drummer Billy Ficca and formed the band for which they would both be known for the rest of their lives, Television. Hell has often been credited with ideas behind the band’s image: short cropped hair and ordinary street clothes, often torn or with holes, which was a rebellious stance for a band of that era. This stood in contrast to most rock bands of the time, who were glamming it up in fancy shiny clothes and hair that cascaded past their shoulders. “We wanted to be stark and hard and torn up,” Hell wrote, “the way the world was.”
This version of Television would last for about a year or so, with vocal duties being split fairly evenly at first (about 60/40) with Richard Hell singing early punk rock classic “Fuck Rock ‘n’ Roll (Read a Book)” and an early version of the song that became a misunderstood anthem, “Blank Generation”.
After splitting with Television, Hell formed a nascent version of The Heartbreakers with Johnny Thunders, formerly of the New York Dolls. They recorded some demos, famously including another version of the track “Blank Generation” and performed live, but Hell soon quit to form a band he could lead.
Richard Hell formed the band the Voidoids in 1976, with Robert Quine and Ivan Julian on guitars and Marc Bell on drums, musicians who had floated around the NYC punk scene. Quine had already seen Hell perform with the Heartbreakers on a night that Hell had been chewing gum while playing. At some point during the performance Hell aggressively spat out the wad of gum. Quine later told him that was the moment he knew Richard Hell was a star.
In his autobiography I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, Hell states “I think Quine was the best rock and roll guitar soloist ever. He found a way to mix art with emotion that put him ahead of everyone.” He also speaks of Ivan Julian as “…a pro, was young and sharp, and he liked the same kind of slashing, swinging rhythm guitar that we did. He ended up playing some of the most popular and frenzied solos on our records as well.”
With his two guitarists in place the group rehearsed songs for a demo record, which was subsequently released by Ork Records as an EP. The world at large could now hear the sound they had imagined when reading articles published in the Village Voice and NY Rocker about punk rock, CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. The EP consisted of three songs: “Blank Generation”, “You Gotta Lose” and Another World”.
The U.K. release of the EP by Stiff Records boasts a fantastic cover: a picture of Hell standing shirtless in his apartment, pants unbuttoned, a picture of his own face pinned to the wall behind him, his name is spelled out with a font made of razor blades. I’ve got to admit that I didn’t realize those were razor blades for years, only noticing when I casually looked at the cover after it had been in my possession and played hundreds of times.
The EP did the job, showcasing Hell as an architect and instigator of the New York punk scene and lead to a contract with Sire Records. The ink barely dry on their contract, the band hit the recording studio to record their debut album, one of the most highly regarded debut albums in rock history. It wasn’t an simple process, however. The band finished their recording and submitted the tracks to Sire, which was undergoing negotiations for a change of distributor. This delayed the release of the record, leading Hell to overthink the process and re-record some of the tracks prior to the final mastering and release of the album. Despite it’s well regarded reception and continual praise since its release, the album Blank Generation is in truth a bit of a cut and paste job, a fact revealed with subsequent reissues of the album.
Flashback to 1977.
At the time I lived in a slightly rural area outside of Monterey, CA. I didn’t read the Village Voice or NY Rocker. I had no knowledge of bands such as New York Dolls or Television. It wasn’t until October of 1978 when my little brain was punk rockified by seeing Devo on Saturday Night Live.
My taste in music began to shift. Commercial radio held little interest for me. I sought music at the left of the dial, on smaller non-commercial radio stations and began the hunt for punk and new wave records. Not every purchase was a Blank Generation or Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo, but I visited both of the records stores in my area week after week, searching for new excitement, seeking sounds that would raise the hair on the back of my neck.
My first memory of the cover of Blank Generation was seeing it on a record store wall being used as a dartboard. There was Richard Hell, holding open a trashy jacket with his left arm, inviting your gaze. He is shirtless underneath the coat, poverty or junkie slim, hair and face non-committal, as though he just woke up at 2 in the afternoon. Across his chest, written in felt pen, “You Make Me_____” . I was compelled to buy the record and fill in the blank.
The picture is intentionally misleading. He wrote of being interviewed by pioneering rock journalist Lester Bangs who asked him to come up with definitive meanings for the songs on the album. In his frustration he stated “To me, ‘Blank’ is a line where you can fill in anything. It’s positive.” He later explained, “Would I really write ‘I belong to the Blank Generation’ without knowing that it would be understood as describing us as being numb and apathetic?”
The title track leads off side two of the album with rhythm guitar and a solid bass thump, the kind that kicks you right in the chest. It only took the opening line, “I was saying let me out of here before I was even born…” before I was hooked. “Triangles were falling out the window as the doctored cursed…” punctuated by a couple of the most jarring, slashing guitar breaks I had ever heard! I had no knowledge of jazz guitar or up from the gutter New York rock like the Velvet Underground, so this was all new to me.
Side one opens with a songs that would make any teenage boy giggle, “Love Comes in Spurts”. The song starts with everything already in motion, which forces the listener is to chase after the band, and yes, laugh a little at the chorus: “Love comes in spurts (oh no, it hurts!),” yelped by Hell, his voice breaking like the teenage boy that was listening to the record.
The album is playful and rocking, filled with ideas I had never considered. It opened me up to new things, like a well written book. It was and is still everything a record album should be.
When the album was first reissued on CD the cover was different, showing Hell in a shirt, torn at the left shoulder with sunglasses on. The cover has a light purple, almost pink border, which was not very punk rock. On the original album, the recording of “Down at the Rock and Roll Club” has Hell squealing out the line “Scotch & soda” as though he had been struck by a cattle prod. For some unfathomable reason they replaced it with a slighter longer, tamer version. They also unnecessarily added a couple of bonus tracks, “I’m Your Man” and “All the Way”. As a rule I am in favor of bonus tracks (I’m a completist), but in this case these additions and choices weaken the album.
Thankfully today we have the newly issued 40th anniversary edition which restores the album to its original state, including the original LP version of “Down at the Rock and Roll Club”. Both the CD & LP versions of this latest reissue also include a wealth of bonus tracks (this time appropriately), including some alternate recordings of some of the songs that appear on the album proper. This gives the listener some idea of the LP that might have been, if not for Hell’s tinkering during the delay in the album’s release. Some early live recordings of the band at CBGB give us a glimpse of what it must have been like in the mid-seventies. It also includes a radio advertisement made for the album which clearly shows that label was out of their depth and had little or no idea how to promote the band.
The original LP has been a favorite of mine from the very first time I listened, so much so that when I had an opportunity to have my own radio show on a local public radio station in Pacific Grove, CA on KAZU 90.3 FM, I named the show Blank Generation. It ran for close to eight years before I decided to leave California and move to Oregon.
Portland was a smart move on my part. In addition to the opportunity to continue hosting a radio show (It’s a Nice World to Visit on Freeform Portland), 2014 Richard Hell visited Powell’s Books in 2014 to promote his autobiography I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. He read from his book, was heckled by a seemingly drunk woman (whom he fended off with clever verbal barbs), and signed copies of his book afterwards. He was a distinct pleasure to meet. I treasure that day.
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Chris Phillips and Jenny Farrell (The Helicopter Spies)
Founded in 1992 by Gail O’Hara and Pam Berry, Chickfactor is a stalwart of the indie pop scene, publishing one of the longest running and consistently readable zines, put on numerous awesome shows and events, and inspired a Belle & Sebastian song. Currently based in Portland, but with a past that takes in Washington DC, New York, and London, we sat down with Gail to talk about Chickfactor’s history, the upcoming 25th anniversary celebrations, and her Magnetic Fields documentary.
So how did Chickfactor get started?
Pam and I were already very good friends. We were living in DC and both working for The Washington City Paper. We were both kind of playing around with Quark Xpress on the Macintosh. Mostly I was just learning by making things. I moved to NY in February 1992 and I was working for Spin Magazine and I had an opportunity to interview the Wedding Present. It ended up being like a half page story with a few quotes, but I had interviewed him so thoroughly that I had this really long interview. Pam had written a lot of the questions. I think that was the catalyst for us deciding to start a zine. It was like “we’ve got this interview!” With these bands we liked on the east coast, like Small Factory and Honeybunch, it was a really vibrant time in indie pop. Slumberland Records were our friends as were Velocity Girl, and we knew Unrest, so it was a cool time.
We ended up having friends write things and we just threw the first issue together. Then we handed it out at a show at Maxwells in September 1992 and it was free. We gave it to everyone at the show. We had written over them in silver and gold and magic markers. It was juvenile, no it was fun. It was really good.
Among many other things, Harry Everett Smith made seminal surrealist films, overstayed his welcome at countless cheap hotels, produced the first Fugs album, attempted to synchronize painting with jazz notes and archived every paper airplane he found. Born in Portland, Oregon in 1923 his family later moved to Washington growing up in Anacortes, Bellingham and parts in between, where he documented Native American rituals on 78 rpm recording equipment Continue reading →
Isaac Rother & the Phantoms are one of the best and most entertaining bands you’re missing out on. Luckily for you they tour frequently. I became a fan about a year ago and I’ve seen them play four times, perhaps most notably opening for Guitar Wolf at the Hawthorne Theater during the summer. I think Isaac Rother & the Phantoms can best be described as an early 60s rock/campy horror band. Their Facebook page describes their influences as Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Bo Diddley, and Scooby Doo, but if you want to know what they sound like just find a picture of Isaac Rother. He is always dressed in a black suit and cape, a necklace of bones around his neck, and a large afro. He plays lead guitar and lead vocals, which he sings with a curled-lip snarl. Continue reading →
Abi: tell me about your new album. What are the juicy details?
Darin: Well there’s a lot going on with it, we have all kinds of different players. We have a bunch of new songs we are excited about. It’s really going to be our “debut LP” so we are pretty stoked. It’s gonna be rad I think.
A: I can’t wait! I have really enjoyed your live sets lately. How does your song writing process work? Does it differ from your recording process?
D: Well, for me it’s very hard to examine and explain but I’ll try. Haha. I feel my music is maybe some sort of expression where I am trying to make sense of myself, or make sense of this world, this existence, this consciousness, this ecology, this “human-ness” these emotions. A reflection of myself defined by the unknown. I like to leave the process open, happening differently, constantly changing, something new. I purposefully don’t listen to music when I’m trying to write songs. I want to be authentic and original as possible. Recording is a lot different, as the band comes together to play the song and have “the recording”. I am very neurotic and obsessive in the studio, trying get every little detail to reflect my “vision”, my vision of the song, the moment, that other world in which it exists. I’m probably pretty annoying to other musicians and recording artists, but hey, whatever. They seem to deal with me ok haha.
Abi: I think it makes sense that recording is a place where your inner control freak would come out. I’m not a musician, but I feel like I would get overwhelmed with all of the various production choices. What kind of a recorded ‘sound’ are you going for?
D: I am going for a sound that we can call our own. I know I don’t want it to sound Lo-fi. I also want it to sound better than we sound live, because to me a recording is a chance to express yourself and your music in ways that you cannot live. Some of the songs are about sorrows and heartache (in various forms), some songs are about our world, how I perceive it, certain circumstances and situations. I feel like sometimes I may be too metaphoric or……..”round about” for my true intentions and meanings to be perceived, which is of course my fault.
There is nothing inherently wrong with pop music, even modern pop. So why are the Top Ten songs so consistently terrible? I occasionally make the heroic gesture of listening to the Billboard Top Ten to report back to you, faithful reader, as to prevent your delicate ears from being sullied by the likes of the Bieb. I typically haven’t ever heard these songs, and just as often have never heard of the artists, so it’s a learning experience for us both. Continue reading →
In Part One, I briefly touched on the fact that for a time, Instrumental Rock was the pop music of the era. That era was a few brief years in the early 1960’s, before the British invasion reminded American teenagers about the rock n’ roll music they had basically invented, but for whatever reason had forgotten or abandoned. Continue reading →
Although I’m a huge fan of musicians with a gift for the poetic, I was fairly unfamiliar with Patti Smith. I had heard that she was an incredible memoirist and took a look around at Powell’s for her work. Instead of choosing the National Book Award winning, Just Kids, I turned to her latest, M Train (2015), and found a meditation in it on the French writer Jean Genet that interested me and kept on reading. Here’s some things that stood out to me in the book. Continue reading →