Archive for October, 2008

“Raise Yer Ukes For Obama!”

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2008 by pulmyears

I recently made the acquaintance of rock writer Sylvie Simmons, who writes for Mojo Magazine among others, and we discussed how we backed Obama but, as foreign nationals (she English, me Canadian), we couldn’t vote in this election. She mentioned that she had written an Obama fight song on her ukulele and that was starting up a uke based web movement called the Million Ukulele March.

I told her that I play uke as well, so she invited me to join the march. Next day I went over to her place and helped her to record her song, kitchen style, on my MacBook. It’s a simple lo-fi thing,  just her singing and strumming and an overdubbed uke solo, by me, just for texture. The site is up now. And if you link right through to the Myspace page she made for it, you’ll hear her song, as well as a bubblegum pop song I wrote and recorded at home (on uke of course) called “Obama – A-A- Yah” featuring a massed chorus of a million overdubbed Pauls (just 8 actually). That song is also on my own Myspace page.

Today, I noticed that she had gotten the support of Steve Earle, Howe Gelb, Ronny Elliott, Ralph Carney, Eric Drew Feldman and Sid Griffin (and more). You should go and check it out, add your name and uke to the growing list of supporters. Let’s get out the UKE vote on November 4th.

Do it for Don Hobama…


Better late….Four Stars in Mojo!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2008 by pulmyears

Better late than never? I’ll take it. The November edition of MOJO MAGAZINE (the one with the Clash on the cover)


Here’s the clipping:

The review was written by the excellent Sid Griffin, who wrote one of last years best books MILLION DOLLAR BASH: BOB DYLAN THE BAND AND THE BASEMENT TAPES (Jawbone).

Thanks to Sid, Mojo and to you dear readers.

Frankie Venom – Canadian Punk Legend

Posted in Uncategorized on October 18, 2008 by pulmyears

This week saw the passing of one of Canada’s finest and earliest punk rock front men, Frank Kerr of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, better known as Frankie Venom, lead singer of Teenage Head.

TEENAGE HEAD (Frankie with short hair, striped shirt).

He died from compications of throat cancer, and had been in a coma for a time before succumbing completely. He was 51.

I got the word a few days ago from my friend Blair in Toronto, who rightly sensed that it wouldn’t likely make the mainstream news down here in California, and who rightly knew that I would appreciate Frankie’s passing as a milestone in music history, or at least Canadian music history. But in the nation of Punkdom, which has no man made borders and spans the world — from Brixton to the Bowery, Kings Road to Queen St West (toronto) from New York’s Lower East Side to Vancouver’s West Side, and from the East Bay to Huntington Beach – Frankie Venom was a name. And in a music world which often uses the term too liberally, Frankie was an actual LEGEND. Born in Scotland, it was in his adoptive home of Hamilton, Ontario that Frank Kerr first adopted the name Frankie Venom and became one of a handful of early punk bands performing in the Southern Ontario area, particularly in nearby Toronto, which had also shared a kind of underground railroad link to the New York scene (the Ramones made quite a few early appearances there and Johnny Ramone had been like Johnny Appleseed to the punk rockers of the so-called “Golden Horseshoe” region of Lake Ontario.

Here’s some footage of Frankie and Teenage Head with J.D. Roberts (John Roberts now of CNN) on the New Music TV series.

I never knew Frankie, but when I heard about his death, I immediately thought of a few of my friends who did.

One is Ralph Alfonso, the original manager of the Diodes and their seminal home club, the Crash n Burn in Toronto.  When I emailed him, I found him in Paris (he travels a lot for his great indie label Bongo Beat Records) and as luck would have it (as it were) he was with both my friend Dave “Rave” DesRoches, from Hamilton, who had briefly replaced Frankie in Teenage Head for a time, and the Diodes singer Paul Robinson who had shared many a night at the Crash n Burn with Frankie.

“It’s a sad loss,” said Dave Rave, obviously at a loss for words before adding,”it was an honour to be in a band with him.

The Diodes singer Robinson was kind enough to prepare this e-mail statement, from London:

“Frankie was a great spark in the fire that fueled the Canadian punk scene. He was a great communicator  on stage with an uncanny ability to make the  audience feel like they were one with the band. All of the other bands on the scene watched  him and learned from his cool and original stagecraft. This wasn’t just in the provinces but also in New York City.

I had the honor to play at CBGB’S with Teenage Head and The Viletones in the summer of 1977. Most of the seminal NYC punk bands were in the audience. That night. Frankie was on stage around 3 am; watched by a small audience who included The Ramones, Debbie Harry, The Dead Boys and The Cramps.

If I had to pinpoint his moment of greatness this was definitely the best performance of his career.
Cheers Frankie – may your contribution live on and on.”

Paul Robinson
The Diodes
London UK

Finally, whenever I think of Hamilton, I think of the great Tom Wilson, whose basso profundo voice is the salt of the earthy embodiment of the Hammer. I emailed him for a capsule comment and his reply said it all.

“I’m in a hotel room in Kamloops cryin’,” Tom told me via Facebook, “and if i still drank booze i’d be loaded. There was Frankie and all the rest of us who wished we were as good as him. That includes Gord Downie, Hugh Dillon, myself and every other kid who got close to his fire.”

Yay Philanthropy! My weekend with Nick, Ry, Elvis and Emmylou

Posted in Uncategorized on October 9, 2008 by pulmyears

Thank God, or whomever you wish to thank, for Philanthropy.

More specifically, thank rich guys like Warren Hellman, who every year bankrolls Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free festival in Golden Gate park and a magnet for world-class roots and rootsy artistes. For these past eight years, the festival has gone on, rain or shine, during the first weekend of October, routinely attracting folks like Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, T-Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello and vintage acts like Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson.

This year, Elvis Costello played on the Sunday, and I’ll talk about that later in this post. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss headlined Friday night, with T-Bone Burnett joining them but I wasn’t there because I was lucky enough to be attending another philanthropic event over at the Great American Music Hall.

Ry, Nick and Jim – Guitar, Bass and Drums.

The show was put together by legendary Marin keyboard player Austin de Lone (a former member of Elvis Costello’s Confederates) and his wife Lesley, as a benefit to help run a Housing Project for Prader-Willi syndrome sufferers like their son Richard. Read about Prader-Willi here. Last year, de Lone invited Elvis Costello who came and reunited with Clover, the band who backed him on My Aim Is True, for a track-by-track recreation of that landmark debut album. It was an amazing event that I will never forget.

It takes a village to raise a child with special needs, and this year, it took a Little Village, as in Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner (without John Hiatt) appearing under the moniker: Guitar Bass and Drums.

To open the show, Juliette Commagere (who is, as I later read in Joel Selvin’s column, Cooder’s daughter-in-law) brought up a huge group of players, which included drummer Joachim Cooder, a guitarist, a bass player, two synthesizer players, and a four piece horn and string section. Next, in stark contrast, Elvis Costello, popped onstage with “Audie” de Lone on accordion to do a short set in which including his current live staple, a T-Bone Burnett co-write called “Sulphur To Sugar Cane” and what he announced was the inaugural performance of a song called “Doctor Watson, I Presume.”

It was simply astoundingly brilliant and its miraculous how Elvis just gets better and better with age.

Then came the headliners. Nick Lowe on bass (mainly) Jim Keltner on drums (naturally) and Ry Cooder on electric guitar (impressively).  These guys, of course, have played a lot together – notably with John Hiatt on Bring the Family and the aforementioned Little Village, and Keltner and Cooder backed Nick on his landmark Party of One album (still one of my all time faves). In fact, Nick opened up with one from that album, “Gai Gin Man.”  Nick and Ry traded lead vocals, but the lion’s share went to Nick, who sometimes put down the bass to play acoustic guitar.  I was thrilled that he did a laid back version of “What So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love And Understanding” and a jaw dropping rendition of his song “The Beast In Me” which was recorded by Johnny Cash. Elvis came up for a duet with Nick and I didn’t recognize the name of it. These guys know so many songs; some of them deliberately obscure picks.

I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this before, but Ry Cooder is one of the best slide guitarists in the world. And since he’s literally been around that world, I think

it must be common knowledge. Such a warm tone, just the right amount of grit to it, playing such fluid and organic lines. The word “tasty” doesn’t do it justice. And Jim Keltner, a drummer’s drummer, was so open and groovy that, and this is a compliment, you could sometimes forget he was there. His grooves were so economical and “just right” and he didn’t grandstand or try to steal the spotlight from Nick or Ry. It’s an inspiring thing to see the best of the best, loose and under rehearsed having a good time on stage.

Thanks to Colin Nairne, who working with Elvis and Ry, I

was sitting in a VIP balcony with Colin’s wife, the excellent singer Wendy Bird. Wendy pointed out Steve Earle standing over to the side of the stage. I was sure he was going to come up and join them, but he never did.
I ended up going backstage after the show, thanks again Colin, and found myself in a conversation with Elvis, Nick and Steve Earle, about Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and other names I probably shouldn’t mention.  When I say “in a conversation”, I should point out that I was largely laying out – only chiming in to either ask for elaboration (like Wallace Shawn in My Dinner With Andre) or to meekly add my two cents about Smile or Pet Sounds.
At the risk of exposing my inner nerd even more than usual, I had to laugh to myself at being allowed into the proximic bubble of three great songwriters, all of whom I’ve admired. It was like superimposing my head on Mt. Rushmore. I was happy to be involved but boy did I feel like the odd man out.

Then on Sunday, we went down to see Elvis play his Hardly Strictly set.

It took us a while to get into the city (traffic was bad on the Bay Bridge) so by the time we got near the Star Stage, EC was already into his set but a convivial festival vibe was evident. The festival later announced that 40,000 people had attended the whole weekend, but it felt like the whole lot was there for Elvis’s set.

He leaned toward rootsier material like the aforementioned “Sulphur To Sugar Cane” (although I expected Burnett to join him, he never did) and George Jones’ “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” with guest Jim Lauderdale before inviting special guest Emmylou Harris to do a duet on “Love Hurts”. Elvis was clearly having fun, dedicating “My Three Sons” to his sons Frank and Dexter, who were at the side of the stage, also pulling off a rollicking take on Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” and even “Uncomplicated” from Blood and Chocolate.

Overall, a great weekend, and all of it came about because of philanthropy.

Yay, philanthropy.

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