Saturday, March 17, 2018

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Barrence Whitfield & The Savages and The Electric Mess

OnceA version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
March 16, 2018

Once again, Barrence Whitfield and his savage band, The Savages, have hit another one out of the park. His new album, Soul Flowers of Titan, hits — seemingly effortlessly — that sweet spot between garage rock, R&B, soul, blues, and who-cares-what-you-call-it.

This is his fourth album since Whitfield reunited with original Savages Peter Greenberg (a New Mexico resident for nearly a decade) and Phil Lenker. And, even though the frontman is pushing sixty-three, there doesn’t seem to be any sign he’s slowing down. And, most important: This sound never gets old.

For those unfamiliar, the Florida-born Whitfield was working in a Boston record store in the early ’80s when he met up with guitarist Greenberg, a veteran of garage-punk bands like Lyres and DMZ. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages’ self-titled album was released in 1984. After a second record, the band broke up.

BARRENCE WHITFIELD & THE SAVAGES Whitfield kept recording until the mid-’90s (including a couple of country-folk flavored albums with Tom Russell). Then came the reunion with Greenberg and Lenker circa 2010 (the first reunion concerts were in Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque). And the rest is — ongoing — history.

Hardcore Whitfield fans will notice some tweaks to the basic Savages sound — the band’s added a keyboard player, Brian Olive. And a couple of tracks feature a trumpet alongside regular sax man Tom Quartulli. But the additions seem natural. And the sound is still savage.

The album kicks off with a strong rocker called “Slowly Losing My Mind,” originally done by an obscure R&B group called Willie Wright & His Sparklers, who recorded it for the Federal label in 1960. I bet if Eric Burdon heard this, he’d say, “Damn, The Animals should have done this!” And there’s another Sparklers song on Soul Flowers, the nearly-as-raucous “I’m Going to Leave You.”

I liked the carefree “Let’s Go to Mars” when I first heard it. But I liked it about 10 times more after seeing the goofy, almost surreal video the group did for the song, which was written by Greenberg and Lenker. I won’t describe the whole thing, but I’ll just say the best part is when Greenberg performs a guitar solo inside Whitfield’s mouth. (You’d think it would be dark in there, but Greenberg’s wearing his sunglasses.)

Other highlights on Soul Flowers include “Adorable” (“I’m gonna get a gun/Just to shoot it at the sky”); “I Can’t Get No Ride,” originally done by Memphis soulman Finley Brown (and originally recorded by Whitfield on his 2009 solo album Raw, Raw, Rough); and “I’ll Be Home Someday,” an intense minor-key blues that was co-written by Hank Ballard of The Midnighters. (Speaking of whom, I’d love to hear Whitfield sing “Work With Me Annie.”)

But ask me on another day, and I might tell you the highlights of this album are “Sunshine Don’t Make the Sun” or “Tall, Black and Bitter” or “Edie Please” or the slow-burner called “Tingling.” Like just about all of Whitfield’s releases, Soul Flowers of Titan is a consistent work — consistently excellent. If I were going to Mars, I’d want to take my Whitfield albums with me for the trip.

Also recommended:

* The Beast Is You by The Electric Mess. Four years ago, when I reviewed House on Fire, the previous album by this Brooklyn band, I said, “Next time I review an Electric Mess album, I don’t want to talk about how undeservedly obscure this band is.”

So I won’t talk about that. Even though …

It took them nearly four years, but the Mess is back with another electrifying collection of 13 fast-and-furious neo-garage/quasi-psychedelic pounders.

With her raspy voice and audible sneer, singer Esther Crow (she’s apparently dropped her “Chip Fontaine” persona) sounds like she’s either perpetually outraged by or perhaps sardonically bemused by the world around her. On “I’m Gone,” she snarls, “Got no use for all your spiritual talk/All your positive vibes are really such a crock.”

And a few songs later, a tune called “You Can’t Hide” — my favorite cut on the album, at least so far — features a spoken-word segment where she says, “Like a wild dog in the night/I’m gonna sniff you out, baby.”

But while she sounds like the aggressor there, just a few seconds later, she’s saying, “Get off of me, you get off of me! Get off of me!” (That’s an especially surprising turn in a song that starts out, “Let me be your sloppy seconds, baby.”) [Author's Note: In a Facebook post yesterday Esther Crow herself said, "... the lyrics he refers to: "you get off of me!" Are really: "you can't hide from me!" So I remain the creepy aggressor after all!"]

And on another favorite, “Plastic Jack,” Crow confesses, “I’m a charlatan to the highest degree ... I’m a fraud, a phony ... a quack, a swindler, a deceiver, imposter, a backslider.”

While Ms. Crow is the undisputed star, she couldn’t do it without the rest of the band. The musical interplay between guitarist Dan Crow (Esther’s husband) and keyboardist Oweinama Biu continues to amaze and mystify, while the rhythm section of bass man Derek Davidson (who also writes a large share of the songs) and drummer Alan Camlet provide a solid, if frantic, foundation.

Though the group is a self-proclaimed “mess,” there is nothing slapdash about this tight little unit.

Video time!

Here's that Barrence Whitfield video I mentioned above

And here's the title song of the new album by The Electric Mess


Austin March 2018
Those wascally Waco Brothers with some Waco sisters
I've been going to see The Waco Brothers play the annual Bloodshot Records Party at the Yard Dog Gallery during South by Southwest for more than 20 years now. Not every year. When I started covering the state Legislature back in 2001 I had to start skipping every other year because the last week of the 60-day session always falls during SXSW. And I had to miss SXSW 2010. And there was one year, 2004 I believe, that The Wacos didn't play, though Jon Langford was there with The Mekons and with various other bands he plays in.

Austin March 2018
A rare fiddle solo from Tracy Dear
(the world's greatest living Englishman)
But I've been going to see The Waco Brothers at the Yard Dog for more than 20 years now. I guess you could call it a ritual -- a  Dionysian ritual where the frenzy becomes enlightenment.

Or something like that.

all these times I've seen The Wacos play, no show has ever been the same. They've all been high-energy, irreverent, frequently chaotic and almost always inspiring. But they've never been the same.They never get old and almost always they are one of my favorite SXSW shows.

That's certainty the case this year at the Yard Dog on Friday.

For those not acquainted, The Waco Brothers started off as a country-rock side project for Mekons conspirator Jon Langford back in the mid '90s after he moved to Chicago. The group quickly took on a life of its own, hooking up with Bloodshot, an upstart independent record company in Chicago. They've done 11 albums for Bloodshot. (The only non-Bloodshot record the Wacos did was 2004's Nine Slices of My Midlife Crisis, which was done under the name of  Uncle Dave & The Waco Brothers. Uncle Dave was Dave Herndon, a former editor of New Mexico Magazine.)

Besides Langford, the group have two other lead singers -- Dean Schlabowske and Tracey Dear -- which means you don't get sick of the same voice over and over again. While membership has changed over the year -- and for the record I miss steel guitarist Mark Durante -- Langford, Schlabowske and Dear have been there from the start. And bassist Alan Doughty has been there almost as long.

On Friday, the band stormed through their classic songs -- "See Willy Fly By," "Red Brick Wall," "Plenty Tough Union Made," including some of their most inspired covers like George Jones' "White Lightnin' ," Johnny Cash's "Big River," and Neil Young's "Revolution Blues."

My favorite moment in today's show came after their performance of "Walking on Hell's Roof." In the middle of the song Langford announced a fiddle solo from Jean Cook. However, her microphone wasn't working, so the solo was unheard. You could tell this irked Langford. So, after the mike problem was solved, the band decided to play that part again so Cook could have her solo. It was short but amazing.

I just hope I'm able to go to Waco Brothers shows at the Yard Dog for another 20 years.

Austin March 2018
* Another great show Friday was Shinyribs' set at a West 6th Street bar called the Dogwood.

I was a huge fan of The Gourds, perhaps the greatest alt-country group to come out of Austin during the great alt-country scare of the late '90s. I'm not sure what happened to them.

But Gourd singer Kevin Russell has carried on with a new band, Shinyribs and done quite well.

Last year they released a fine New Orleans flavored album called I Got Your Medicine. And just recently the band was named band of the year by the Austin Chronicle.

The band includes a horn section (sax and trumpet), two female backup singers, piano and bass, with Russell on guitar.

Dressed in a loud yellow suit he did songs including a medley of ”Hey Pocky Way,” “Shotgun Willie” and at least one other song. At other points in the show he started singing "Helter Skelter" during an unrelated song. And at least a couple of times he made incongruous references to Roky Erikson's "Cold Night for Alligators."

I do miss The Gourds, but Shinyribs is fantastic in its own right.

Austin March 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018


Sxsw 3-15-18
Count Vaseline preaches to the sinners

When I was a younger man going to South by Southwest back in the 1990s, I'd frequently zig-zag across downtown Austin walking great lengths to see the next act. From the old Austin Music Hall to Emo's, then back to Antone's then over to Stubbs' ... I'm getting exhausted just writing about it.

In recent years though I've tried to stay in one area in a night. And Thursday night I managed to stay in one venue -- Hotel Vegas on East 6th Street the whole night (except one short excursion a couple of blocks up the street to a bar where I didn't find any notable music.) Guess I'm getting old and lazy but sometimes that works.
Beware of Puppy

Here's who I heard Thursday night:

* Bubble Puppy. This is the band that brought to Hotel Vegas. They're a Texas psychedelic band from the late '60s known mostly for their one hit "Hot Smoke and Sassafras."

Unfortunately the Puppy disappointed.

No, it's not because they're old guys. I'm way too old to be an ageist. Besides, two of the greatest rock 'n' roll shows I've seen in recent years -- The Sonics, who I saw in New Orleans in 2013 and Question Mark & The Mysterians, who I saw in New York in 2010 - were old guys by the time I saw them. But both of these bands play with the same abandon and energy that propelled them as youngsters, sticking to their unique original visions.

Bubble Puppy, which features three lead guitarists, are competent musicians. But instead of the crazy energy that I remember from "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" the group seems to have settled into a style I'll describe as "Dad Metal." They seem to have embraced that moment when psychedelic music drifted away from t.he spirit of proto-punk garage music and music became "heavy."

I admit I got to the show late and I assume I missed "Hot Smoke and Sassafras." Perhaps my opinion would have been softened had I heard that.

I did, however, get to Bubble Puppy's set in plenty of time for the drum solo ...

* Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. This was my major music discovery Thursday. It's an avant-garde experimental noise group from Canada that calls its style "Noh-Wave" -- a sly reference to Noh theater, a Japanese musical theater that's been around since the 14th Century.

The band has two female singers, one of whom plays guitar, the other playing percussion instruments, including a large round drum and cymbals.

Yamantaka did one number with serious Native American overtones. My first thought was that it sounded like Yoko Ono had produced a pow wow record.

I've got to hear more of this band.

* Holy Wave. This definitely is my favorite psychedelic band from El Paso. They're about to release their latest album Adult Fear.

The sickly sweet aroma of illegal and dangerous marijuana permeated the area in front of he stage as the band started out slow and dreamy.

Slowly and methodically, the music builds. Drums slowly come in and the beat builds slowly. Before you know it, the buzzing guitars build up to the point it seems like they're going to explode. A listener finds himself engulfed.

Damn, it IS like a wave!

* Count Vaseline. I didn't even realize the Count was playing tonight. But he turned out to be my favorite act of the evening.

Sxsw 3-15-18
Born Stefan Murphy, Vaseline is an Irish guy with a Beatle Bob hairdo who on stage adopts the persona of a deranged man standing on a soapbox (he actually was standing on a plastic box for much of his set) demanding his crackpot warnings be heard. His band includes a guitarist and drummer, though I also saw Vaseline fooling with some kind of music software on a tablet.

Like Holy Wave, who were still playing outside when Count Vaseline began his indoors performance, Vaseline started off slow. A growling guitar and ominous drums created the atmosphere as the Count went into a Jim Morrison-like vamp like some beatnik shaman. There is more than a little Mark E. Smith from the latter-day Fall in this heady stew.

He sounded like he was trying to stave off Doomsday by prodding the audience to dance.  Occasionally Vaseline would pick up an electric guitar. At one point, he had a tambourine around his neck.

I've gotta say this performance is much different than Vaseline's recent EP Tales From The Megaplex, which is far poppier. While I like that record, especially a Velvetesque song called "John Cale" ("Lou Reed wishes he could be John Cale ...") I like Thursday's version of the Count even more.

Damn, it's already Friday ...

Sxsw 3-15-18
Holy Wave, getting holy

Thursday, March 15, 2018


SXSW 2018
The Ghost Wolves at the 720 Club Austin
Barely a year ago I had never heard of the duo known as The Ghost Wolves.

But after seeing them tear up the Red River Street dive known as the 720 Club Wednesday night with their unique brand of punk/blues/garage sounds, I feel like an over-zealous cult member bent on spreading the word.

Carley of The Ghost Wolves
"Nobody like a cry baby!"
Faithful readers should know I already was a fan. Their most recent album Texa$ Platinum was high in my Top 10 list for 2017

As I wrote in my review of that record:

The Austin couple of singer/guitarist Carley Wolf and her husband, drummer Jonathan Wolf, rock hard and wild with lyrics and song titles (“Attitude Problem,” “Whettin’ My Knife,” “Strychnine in My Lemonade”) that seem to seethe with vexation. And yet somehow listening to them only makes me grin.

Indeed. I was grinning plenty last night.

But the cool thing was Carley was grinning even more. The lady has an infectious smile that serves to fortify her monster guitar playing.

And she doesn't even need all six strings to make her magic. On the last several songs, Carley played an electric guitar with only one string -- the low E string I think, though it might have been the A. I couldn't help but be reminded of Eddie "One-String" Jones, the mysterious Skid Row bluesman discovered in Los Angeles in 1960 whose amazing primitive music was documented on the album One-String Blues.

But like I said, this is a duo and The Ghost Wolves wouldn't be the Ghost Wolves with the sturdy drumming of Johnny Wolf. He keeps the relentless energy going.

Speaking of energy, I'm about out mine. Stay tuned for tomorrow!

SXSW 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

It's SXSW Music Festival Week!

Thee Oh Sees at SXSW 2016

Once again I'm heading to Austin, Texas this week for South by Southwest.

Starting Wednesday -- (meaning early Thursday) I'll be posting here about the music I see. It looks like great year for punk and garage-punk. Among the bands I hope to be seeing are The Dwarves, The Ghost Wolves, The Sloths, Bubble Puppy (!), local Austin favorites The Ugly Beats, etc. Plus, as usual, Bloodshot Records has a great line-up, including my old favorites The Waco Brothers and a new favorite, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers.
Jon Langford and Bill Kirchen Reenact the Battle of Waco
Bill Kirchen with The Waco Brothers during SXSW 2012

Because of SXSW there will be no Wacky Wednesday or Throwback Thursday this week. (And no radio playlists because Tom Adler's covering The Santa Fe Opry for me and Steve Tibbs is doing Terrell's Sound World.)

Last time I went to SXSW, two years ago, I had to crap out on my blogging because I was trying to do it on my iPad and the blogging program I had sucked the warts. Hopefully you won't have to put up with my sniveling excuses this year.

Be sure to follow my Instagram feed for cool bitchen iPhone shots of rock 'n' roll in action. (Of course there you'll have to endure cute snapshots of my grandsons, who live in Austin.)

I posted this memory on this blog exactly four years. Hope it's not too early to recycle.

The Grannies, during SXSW 2014
I've got a long history with SXSW. The first time I attended was in 1995. It basically was a spur of the moment decision following a conversation with the late Alex Magosci, a coworker who had a band called Junk, which he fondly referred to as "Santa Fe's most dysfunctional band." He convinced me to travel with junk, which at that point was just a duo, Alex and his girlfriend Virginia Plain (but everyone knew her as "Sandy"), in their convertred school bus, lovingly dubbed The Junk Heap.

No, they didn't have an actual slot at the festival, but Alex thought he had lined up a few non-affiliated gigs. So I got my press credentials (which was so much easier back then) and talked my editor into giving me time off to go to Austin for a big Sunday spread. She even got me a little walking around money for the trip. (That was so much easier back then too.)

It was a wild trip. The Junk Heap, which we all thought was parked safely, started rolling unmanned and nearly hit a gas pump in Santa Rosa. The the damned thing broke down in Clovis. It was obvious the bus would never get to Austin. My editor was expecting a big feature on the festival, so I ditched Alex and Sandy and took a plane from Lubbock.

I felt bad for them, but a couple of days later, who did I run into but Alex and Sandy. The Junk Heap had come through. Of course, all the gigs Alex thought he had lined up fizzled one by one. They tried to set up in various spots along Sixth Street only to get get thwarted one by one. 
Junk rocks the Littlefield Mall, 1995

Finally Alex found a friendly shopkeep on Brazos who let him plug into the store's electrical outlet. They started playing right after an Irma Thomas outdoor show about a block away, so they got an instant crowd. They played an inspired handful of songs, which was cut short once again by the Austin police. But they sold about $200 worth of their cassette tapes.

I joined them for the drive back. The Junk Heap broke down again, this time in Fort Stockton, Texas. I barely made it to work Monday afternoon.

Austin Banjo Band
Perhaps the Austin Banjo Club is playing this week

Sunday, March 11, 2018



Sunday, March 11, 2018
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM
10 p.m. to midnight Sundays Mountain Time
Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)

Here's my playlist :

OPENING THEME: Let It Out (Let it All Hang Out) by The Hombres
You Got Good Taste by The Cramps
Lust by The Sloths
I Was Wrong by The Ghost Wolves
Bad She Gone Voodoo by Chief Fuzzer
Ride That Train by Oblivians
Play Money by Ricky Hell & The Voidboys
Hash House Pallor by Ross Johnson & Young Seniors
It Happens All the Time by The Electric Mess
Jettisoned by Thee Oh Sees
(Background Music: Big Irv the Meatman by Vinnie Santino)

Standing on the Corner by Mal Thursday Quintet
Hey Hey We're the Gories by The Gories
Voodoo Got Me by The Goon Mat & Lord Bernardo
Dagger Moon by Dead Moon
Comb Your Hair by Lovestruck
Transylvanian Night by Rattanson
Harbor Lights by Jerry Lee Lewis
Why Pick on Me by The Standells
Frybread Queen by Red Fever

Bukë E Kripë Në Vatër Tonë / Kalaxhojnë by 3 Mustaphas 3
Gdy nie ma dzieci (When the Kids Are Away) by Kult
Wait for Me by Roger Damawuzan
Do the Watusi by Cat
Don't Be Angry by Ros Serey Sothea
Walking on the Burning Coal by Gogol Bordello
We're Laughing by The Psychedelic Aliens
Mad Queen by Zuvuki Mu
Summertime Blues by Lolita No. 18

Bull in the Heather by Sonic Youth
Dreams Don't Cost a Thing by Flat Duo Jets
Say What You Want by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages
From Here to Acuna by De Los Muertos
Lucky Day by Tom Waits
CLOSING THEME: Over the Rainbow by Jerry Lee Lewis

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Go to The Big Enchilada Podcast which has hours and hours of music like this.

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Friday, March 09, 2018


Friday, March 9, 2018
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM
10 p.m. to midnight Fridays Mountain Time
Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)

Here's my playlist :

OPENING THEME: Buckaroo by Buck Owens
The Wheels Fell Off the Wagon Again by Johnny Dollar
Goodnight Little Rock by Chris Shiflett
Kick in the Head by New Riders of the Purple Sage
All You Fascists Bound to Lose by The Tillers
California Stars by Billy Bragg & Wilco
The Winding Stair Mountain Blues by Turnpike Troubadours
Hey Sheriff by Josie Kreuzer
Shake a Leg by Kim Lenz
Hillbilly Blues by Ronnie Dawson
Hard Luck by Pearls Mahone
(Background Music: Cincinnati Rag by Hardrock Gunter)

Country Home by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Need Somebody Bad Tonight by Rhonda Vincent
Lesson by Sarah Shook & The Disarmers
Another Pretty Country Song by The Blues Against Youth
It's Hard to Be a White Christian Man by Ramblin' Deano
Ants on the Melon by The Gourds
(Background Music: Banjoreno by Dixieland Jug Blowers)

Honky Tonk Flame by Tyler Childers
A Man Like Me by Roger Miller
I'm Not Looking for an Angel by Tommy Collins
Her Hair is a Mess by Big Sandy & His Flyright Boys
I Dreamed I Heard Buddy Bolden Play by Tex Rubinowitz & Bob Newscaster
And a Bang on the Ear by The Waterboys
Johnny Come Lately by Steve Earle & The Pogues
(Background Music: Bile 'em Cabbage Down by Buck Owens)

I Know You Are There by The Handsome Family
The Day The World Stood Still by Charlie Pride
Miller's Cave by Bobby Bare
I Still Can't Believe You're Gone by Willie Nelson
He'll Have to Go by Jim Reeves
Always Lift Him Up / Kanaka Wai Wai by Ry Cooder
CLOSING THEME: Comin' Down by The Meat Puppets

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Check out The Big Enchilada Podcast Hillbilly Episode Archive where there are hours of shows where I play music like you hear on the SF Opry.

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TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Barrence Whitfield & The Savages and The Electric Mess

Once A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican   March 16, 2018 Once again, Barrence Whitfield and his savage band, The...