Thursday, April 23, 2015

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Screaming Testimonials

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
April 24, 2015

It’s so easy to get cynical about rock ’n’ roll in the 21st century. Insert your biggest complaints: Nobody pays for music these days, and we get what we pay for; all our favorite bands are broke while brainless pop tarts cash in; blah-blah-blah.

But at the risk of sounding like Little Mary Sunshine, let me tell you something, pal: These are the good old days. How could anyone be down about the state of rock when, in the past few weeks, two mighty bands have released powerful albums?

I’m talking about the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s latest assault, Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015, and This Is the Sonics, a brand-new record from a band that’s a living blast from the past.

Both of these works are screaming testimonials to the rejuvenating power of the music — and should (but won’t) put to rest the old truism about rock ’n’ roll being some kind of youth-culture curio.

As Spencer shouts in the middle of “Bellevue Baby,” “Don’t it feel good to be alive!”

Maybe I’m prejudiced here because my ears are still ringing from seeing Spencer and his cosmic combo live in Washington, D.C., just a couple of weeks ago. Though all three band members have to be pushing fifty (Spencer first rose to glory fronting the band Pussy Galore in the ’80s), if anything, they were wilder and more energetic than they were the first time I saw JSBX live 21 years ago (at the old Sweeney Center, opening for the Breeders).

By the early part of this century, I thought the Blues Explosion was basically cooked. After its 2004 album, Damage, the group took a lengthy break. Spencer partnered up with Matt Verta-Ray and formed the rootsier Heavy Trash, which recorded three decent, if not earthshaking, albums.

Then, in late 2012, the Blues Explosion — rounded out by guitarist Judah Bauer and relentless drummer Russell Simins — reunited, as the good lord intended it to, releasing an excellent comeback album, Meat + Bone.

If anything, Freedom Tower is even stronger. “Come on, fellas, we got to pay respect!” Spencer bellows at the outset of the first song, “Funeral.” I’m not sure what corpse this funeral is for, unless it’s death itself.

Russell Simins and Spencer in DC a couple of weeks ago
The new album is a loving song cycle about the Blues Explosion’s hometown, New York City. In some tunes, such as “Betty vs. the NYPD” and “Tales of Old New York: The Rock Box” (where Spencer talks about sneaking into CBGB through the back alley), the band indulges in a little well-earned nostalgia about the sleazy, crime-ridden era of the ’70s and ’80s, those gritty days when punk rock, hip-hop, and, yes, “No Wave” were born.

Ah, good old No Wave. I heard echoes of that during JSBX’s live show, and you can hear traces of it on this album as well. For the uninitiated, No Wave is a post-punk, anti-commercial blending of loud punk, avant-garde noise, free-form jazz, performance art, and more. No Wave “stars” included bands like Suicide, James Chance & the Contortions, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Sonic Youth rose from New York’s No Wave scene. And Spencer’s Pussy Galore was inspired by the craziness of it all, though, as I’ve said before, that band was more fartsy than artsy — and that goes triple for the Blues Explosion.

As Spencer proclaims in “Down and Out” on the new album, “This is America, baby: We ain’t got no class!”

The subtitle of Spencer’s new album is spot on. Spencer’s real genius is bringing the No Wave noise — but with the Blues Explosion’s distorted blues/soul/garage guitar riff to make it funky and even danceable, in a goony tribal-stomp kind of way.

It’s a trademark of JSBX for Spencer to shout “Blues Explosion!” for no apparent reason, and he does so intermittently on this album. It’s as if just the thought of playing again with Bauer and Simins fills him with uncontrollable joy. And, in fact, fans of the Blues Explosion will feel the same way when they listen to Freedom Tower.

Here’s yet more good news for New Mexico fans: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is scheduled to play Launchpad in Albuquerque on May 21. Tickets are a mere $15 — which is $5 less than what I paid in D.C. Sorry, kids, you have to be twenty-one.


As for the Sonics, the new album by that crazy little group from Tacoma is a true marvel. The core members — keyboardist Gerry Roslie, guitarist Larry Parypa, and sax player Rob Lind — are pushing seventy.

Their original heyday was in the mid-1960s, when they shook the Pacific Northwest with songs like “Psycho,” “The Witch,” “Strychnine,” and “He’s Waitin’ ” — a song about Satan.

During their first incarnation, they didn’t really gain fame beyond their native region. But through the years, the Sonics sound inspired new generations of punks and garage rockers.

I always liked the Sonics, but I never really drank the strychnine until I saw them live in New Orleans at a quasi-annual music gathering called the Ponderosa Stomp.

The Sonics, rompin' at the Stomp
New Orleans 2013
This Is the Sonics shows that the band’s amazing live show is no fluke. Produced by Jim Diamond, a Detroit native who used to be a member of the Dirtbombs, the album can stand proudly by the Sonics’ old material.

There are a handful of original tunes, the best being “Bad Betty” and “Livin’ in Chaos,” sung by “new” member Freddie Dennis, a Sonic since 2009 who was with the Kingsmen in the ’70s and ’80s.

Even their “ecology” song, “Save the Planet,” avoids most tree-hugger clich├ęs. “We’ve got to save the planet! It’s the only one with beer.”

And, like the Sonics albums of yore, there’s a plethora of supercharged cover songs, including “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (famously recorded by Ray Charles), Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” and, my favorite in the lineup, “Leaving Here,” an early Motown song with lyrics by Eddie Holland. Though all these tunes are recognizable, they nonetheless bear the stamp of the Sonics.

I just hope they keep going into their eighties.

 Enjoy some videos:



Here's another cool video of a song from Freedom Tower. This one features comedian/singer Bridget Everett.



I think The Blues Explosion had nearly as much with these videos as they did the music on Freedom Tower,



Here's The Sonics'  "Bad Betty"!



Here's that Bo Diddley song I mentioned



And this footage is from that Ponderosa Stomp show feature a bunch of  classic Sonics tunes

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Riding on the Orphan Train

Once I rode an orphan train
And my brother did the same
They split us up in Missouri
James was five and I was three

There is a sad and strange chapter in American history that has inspired a number of haunting songs in the past 15-20 years.

The orphan train.

It was a part of history that they didn't teach us in high school. In fact I wasn't aware of the phenomenon until I heard a song, quoted above, sung by Tom Russell on his 1999 album, The Man from God Knows Where. (My curiosity about certain songs frequently has helped me to fill little gaps in my education.)

This tune was called "Riding on the Orphan Train," and it was written by a New York folksinger named David Massengil. It's a heartbreaking story of two orphan brothers who were separated. The younger one was haunted all his life by the memory of his brother and the hope to be reunited.

A couple of years later I heard another song -- "Eddie Rode the Orphan Train" by a singer named Jim Roll. (That song would later be covered by Jason (of The Scorchers) Ringenberg on one of his solo albums.

So what was the orphan train?

According to The Children's Aid Society, the charity that began the orphan train program:

"... an estimated 30,000 children were homeless in New York City in the 1850s. Charles Loring Brace, the founder of The Children's Aid Society, believed that there was a way to change the futures of these children. By removing youngsters from the poverty and debauchery of the city streets and placing them in morally upright farm families, he thought they would have a chance of escaping a lifetime of suffering."

This 2007 article by Dan Scheuerman in Humanities, a publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities, explains more:

Between 1854 and 1929, a quarter million abandoned babies and “street rats” (as the older children were referred to by police) left slums in New York, Boston, and other coastal cities aboard trains, headed for new lives in the country. ...

Children would board a westbound train in groups of up to forty, accompanied by two agents from the society, and preceded by circulars advertising, said Holt, “their ‘little laborers,’ as they were called.”

When the trains stopped, the children were paraded from the depot into a local playhouse, where they were put up on stage, thus the origin of the term “up for adoption.” Here, “they took turns giving their names, singing a little ditty, or ‘saying a piece,’” according to an exhibit panel from the National Orphan Train Complex. Less cute scenarios, said Richter, resembled slave auctions. “People came along and prodded them, and looked, and felt, and saw how many teeth they had.”

The goal was to find good Christian homes for the transplanted street rats. And in many cases, that happened. But some of the "morally upright farm families" turned out to fall short of that ideal. Many of the children would be treated as indentured servants. There were cases of abuse, sexual and psychological. Many ran away. Some were kicked out of their new homes by their foster parents.

Scheuerman quotes Roberta Lowrey, a genealogist and the great-granddaughter of an orphan  train rider.

“They were so much better off than if they had been left on the streets of New York. . . . They were just not going to survive, or if they had, their fate would surely have been awful.”

Below are songs of the orphan train.

David Massengil, introducing this live version of  "Riders on an Orphan Train,"  talks of how he was inspired to write it after he received a letter from a man who thought Massengil might be his brother.



Jim Roll sings another sad one, "Eddie Rode the Orphan Train."



A bluegrass band called "Dry Branch Fire Squad" covers Utah Phillips'  "Orphan Train"



This song by Julie Miller uses the orphan train as a metaphor for loneliness and redemption in this song titled "Orphan Train."



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

WACKY WEDNESDAY: The Musical World of Mohammed Ali

The Beatles couldn't lay a glove on him
"Ali is still champ." That's what Patti Smith declared in the liner notes of her 1976 album (and my favorite Patti Smith album) Radio Ethiopia.

Indeed, the boxer, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky in 1943 is considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight fighter in boxing. Not only is he known for his accomplishments in the ring, he's known for being a champion of civil rights and one of the best known opponents of the Vietnam War. That opposition cost him his title when he refused induction into the Army 48 years ago this month.

A true man of his times, Ali had an infinity for rock and soul musicians. He posed for pictures with Elvis Presley and The Beatles. He palled around with Sam Cooke.

And, yes, he tried his hand at recording.

According to an article in Songfacts.com, back in 1963, even before he beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship, he recorded an album on Columbia Records (under his birth name) called I Am the Greatest., featuring some spoken-word as well as music. (It's still available on Amazon. with bonus tracks)

After he won the belt in 1964 Columbia released the title song as a single.



And here's the flip side.



This song was produced by Sam Cooke, who also sang on it.



Of course there were tribute songs to Ali. Here's one by a Jamaican toaster named Dennis Alcapone.



And this one by British singer Johnny Wakelin



On the other hand there was this weird satirical look at Ali's resistance to the draft by the  inimitable T. Valentine.



By the mid '70s, Ali wanted to turn his musical talents to serious social issues. Like dental health.



If you can make it much past the opening theme, you're a better man than me. Apparently this Youtube includes the entire first side of this LP. Apparently ALi's "gang" included Frank Sinatra, Ossie Davis and Richie Havens!

But as far as I'm concerned, Ali is still champ.

Even Elvis' karate was no match for Ali

Monday, April 20, 2015

Willie's Reserve



OK, I normally don't blog about the commercial endeavors by music stars, not even the ones I like.

But I had to laugh when I got the following press release this morning (April 20, 4-20, get it? Get it?):

Music legend Willie Nelson is pleased to announce a unique American enterprise: Willie's Reserve, a cannabis brand reflecting Nelson's own longstanding experience and his commitment to regulated, natural, and high quality strains of marijuana in U.S. legal markets. As one journalist has already noted, "The marijuana world is about to get its first connoisseur brand, edging it farther from an illegal substance and closer to the realm of fine wines."

Willie's Reserve is an extension of Willie's passion and appreciation for the many varieties and range of the plant's qualities. Some of the best master growers in America will collaborate, along with Willie, to define quality standards so that fans can expect clean and consistent products.

Willie's Reserve will be grown, distributed and sold by local businesses in Colorado and Washington, and will become available in other markets when state regulations allow.

Somewhat controversially, Willie has spent a lifetime as an outspoken supporter of cannabis for personal use and for industrial hemp production.

Building on Willie's community of friends and experts who share his values, Willie's Reserve will seek ways to further support and celebrate aspects of the singer-songwriter's journey with cannabis. Willie and his family, and a few close friends developed the brand with emphasis on environmental and social issues, to lend support to the gradual end to marijuana prohibition across America.

"I am looking forward to working with the best growers in Colorado and Washington to make sure our product is the best on the market," stated Willie Nelson.

Collaboration is at the center of plans for Willie's Reserve. Willie has been an outspoken supporter of the front line efforts of store owners, growers, and citizens who have been pioneers and advocates of cannabis policy improvements. The company will work with businesses that are making smart and sustainable choices for the environment, have demonstrated leadership in their markets, and are committed to encouraging safe, legal use.

Seeing the power of legalization, regulation and taxation to impact how Americans view cannabis is a life's work realized for Willie. As many have noted, his involvement is no surprise, and in the end, it's no surprise that Willie's Reserve will reflect his life.

And, according to an article in Forbes a couple of months ago:

From what he shared, it looks like Willie’s Reserve is going to be much more than just marijuana. The brand is looking to open brick and mortar locations, though obviously only in states where the substance has been legalized—Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Washington DC, and Oregon later in 2015. Those working at the fledgling company want their firm to be the “anti-Walmart”, as they want to treat all those that they work with fairly, from employees to partners. No word just yet on when the stores will open, but the plans are in motion.

A warning to my readers here in New Mexico and other states in which the sale of recreational marijuana isn't legal: Don't expect to see Willie's Reserve sold here anytime soon.

But it is legal here to listen to some of the "4-20" songs I blogged about last week. CLICK HERE

UPDATE:Here's a new song by Willie and Merle Haggard, "It's All Going to Pot."

As my frinds Rob just said, Merle's a long way from Muskogee!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

TERRELL'S SOUND WORLD PLAYLIST


Terrell's Sound World Facebook Banner

Sunday, April , 2015 
KSFR, Santa Fe, N.M. 
10 p.m. to midnight Sundays Mountain Time 
Host: Steve Terrell
Webcasting!
101.1 FM
email me during the show! terrell(at)ksfr.org

Here's the playlist below
Like the Terrell's Sound World Facebook page

Subscribe to The Big Enchilada Podcast! CLICK HERE

Friday, April 17, 2015

THE SANTA FE OPRY PLAYLIST


Santa Fe Opry Facebook Banner

Friday, April 17, 2015 
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM 
Webcasting! 
10 p.m. to midnight Fridays Mountain Time 
Host: Steve Terrell 
101.1 FM
email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org

Here's my playlist below:


Like the Santa Fe Opry Facebook page 

Subscribe to The Big Enchilada Podcast! CLICK HERE
Steve Terrell is proud to report to the monthly Freeform American Roots Radio list
ksfr.org

Mekons to Record New Album, Langford Says

The Giant Skype Head of Jon Langford

I caught the sneak-preview of The Revenge of The Mekons last night at the Center for Contemporary Arts here in Santa Fe. And, as promised, after the film was a Skype session with The Mekons' Jon Langford and director Joe Angio.

And I actually got a little news out of this. Langford, answering my question, said The Mekons will be recording a new album -- their first since 2011's Ancient & Modern -- this summer. It will be a live album, he said, recorded in New York at the end of what Langford said will be a short tour of the American Midwest. (Langford was booed when he said that tour wouldn't be coming to Santa Fe.)

Asked what songs would be on the album, Langford said he didn't know They haven't been written yet.

So that's something to look forward to.

The Revenge of The Mekons is showing at the CCA today and Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 pm. in case you missed my review of the documentary CLICK HERE.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Getting Ready for 4-20

Next Monday is April 20, or "4-20" as the youngsters say.

I'm not exactly sure how those magic numbers came to be associated with marijuana. And I don't really care. All I know is decades before that happened some of the most respected names in the world of jazz were celebrating the joys of the weed in song.

And that didn't escape the notice of the drug warriors of that era. The infamous Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for more than 30 years, pursued the menace of reefer-smoking jazzbos with the same grim determination with which J. Edgar Hoover hounded John Lennon years later.

Larry "Ratso" Sloman, in his book Reefer Madness: A History of Marijuana (1979) quotes Anslinger's testimony before a Congressional committee in 1949.

"We have been running into a lot of traffic among these jazz musicians, and I am not speaking about the good musicians, but the jazz type, " he said. "In North Carolina we arrested a whole orchestra, everybody in the orchestra."

I'm sure Anslinger would have loved to have collared Cab Calloway, who sang several reefer tunes in his time, including this 1932 ode to a favorite purveyor known as "The Man from Harlem."



Meanwhile, Fats Waller was dreaming of reefer five feet long. He recorded the song commonly known as "If You's a Viper" in 1943 (That was seven years after the original recording by a jazz violinist named Stuff Smith.). Waller made this for Armed Forces radio, and, according to Sloman, he basically took the opportunity to thumb his nose at Anslinger, who only 16 days before had pledged to make mass arrests of "swing bands" who indulged in reefer smoking.



Don Redman wasn't as famous as Cab or The Ink Spots. But he was a member of McKinney's Cotton Pickers and played with the likes of  Fletcher Henderson, Pearl Bailey and Eubie Blake. And he was well acquainted with that reefer man.



To be honest, I'm not really familiar with Jazz Gillum. But I do like his song "Reefer Head Woman."



But wait a minute ... WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE ARE WE SENDING TO THE CHILDREN????

In the spirit of equal time, here's some messages from the other side.

First, an informative little botany lesson from a country singer who called himself "Mr. Sunshine." (Mr. Sunshine? Was this some kind of weird drug code?) This video uses footage from a classic docu-drama called Reefer Madness that tried to set the record straight.



Next is a song with the same title by someone named "Johnny Price." The true message of this song is that an obsession with marijuana can lead to crime ... at least the crime of plagiarism. This funky dude stole the title from Mr. Sunshine and the tune from Johnny Cash's "San Quentin."



And here's "The Story of Susie," a sad tale about a young girl for whom marijuana was a gateway drug: The gateway to doom!



I wonder if Susie was a friend of Jeannie in the next song, "A Box of Grass." The two girls met the same tragic fate and it's all because of the Devil's Flower.



So kids, stay away from gangs and drugs. But have a safe and happy 4-20 however you celebrate.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

THE ROCK 'N' ROLL TOURIST: Watching the Blues Explode in Washington, D.C.

Instead of Wacky Wednesday this week, here's the latest installment of The Rock 'n' Roll Tourist.
Wacky Wednesday will return next week.

Jon Spencer uses his head

Two thirds of an Explosion
As much as politicians love to bash Washington, D.C. -- even a lot of those cynical ones who spend millions of bucks to get there and stay there -- it can be an inspiring place to visit. I was there last week during a short vacation, And several of the Capitol's beautiful shrines -- the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial -- were truly uplifting. Even the modest World War One Memorial had its own quiet power. Walking by it reminded me of that heartbreaking line, as sung by The Pogues, in "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" about "the forgotten heroes of a forgotten war." I couldn't get it out of my head.

And yes, I saw some inspiring music too, music that makes me proud to be an American.

That's the sound of The Blues Explosion!

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, touring behind their rollicking new album Freedom Tower: No-Wave Dance Party 2015,  played The Black Cat Club last Saturday night.

Judah Bauer
They roared, they thundered, they rolled, they tumbled. Spencer and fellow guitarist Judah Bauer made their guitars scream while drummer Russell Simins was, well, explosive.

And Spencer sweats more than any singer I've ever seen with the possible exception of James Brown.

I'd seen this group live twice before. Once here in Santa Fe back in 1994 when they opened for The Breeders at the old Sweeney Convention Center. The next time was 1997 when I was playing Rock 'n' Roll Tourist in New York and JSBX was playing at the Freedom Tibet festival.

Making the theremin holler
But 21 years after I saw them for the first time, I have to say The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was louder, wilder, more distorted, more screechy than they were back in the day.

It sometimes seemed they were emphasizing the "No-Wave" aspect of the album title on Friday night. Yet still, it was a "Dance Party." The music always is more fun than artsy -- even when it's artsy, Through the wall of noise, distorted blues, soul and funk riffs provided a framework for the sonic madness. And though sometimes the vocals were buried beneath the chaos, Spencer's charisma, his sly grin and his unabashed enthusiastic showmanship carried the night.

And the boy plays a mean theremin!

Daddy Long Legs
I'd purchased my tickets for this show weeks ago. But I was surprised to learn just a couple of hours before the concert that Spencer's opening act was going to be none other than Daddy Long Legs, a dapper trio from Brooklyn (by way of St. Louis) of whom a wise critic once said "is the most exciting blues/punk group, this side of Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, on the scene today."

Led by the tall gawky red-headed singer and harmonica honker (who also goes by the name Daddy Long Legs) the group ripped through tunes from their Norton Records albums Blood from a Stone and Evil Eye on You.

I've been wanting to see this band for a couple of years. To be able to see them on the same bill as The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was a special joy.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx



But by far the weirdest show I saw in Washington, D.C. was by one of my favorite cowpunk groups, Jason & The Scorchers, who provided the music for a modern dance performance at The Kennedy Center.

You read that correctly. Jason & The Scorchers. Kennedy Center. Modern dance performance. Cowpunk.

The idea for the performance, titled Victory Road  (from an old Scorchers tune) came from  Lucy Bowen McCauley, artistic director and choreographer of the dance company bearing her name.

 “It’s a journey,” McCauley told The Washington City Paper. “There’s a reason there’s one song after the other. It’s not like Broadway; there’s no talking among the dancers and the dancers don’t sing. But there is a storyline, a riff on [The Scorchers] history.”

Last Friday night was the world premier of Victory Road.

Basically, singer Jason Ringenberg stood at one end of the stage while lead guitarist Warner Hodges was at the other end. The rest of the Scorchers were below in the orchestra pit. In the middle of the stage, the dancers did their thing.

Look, I'm a complete rube when it comes to dance performances, modern or otherwise. I'm a rock 'n' roll guy, not a dance guy. So I won't pretend to review that aspect of the show. I was there for Jason and the boys -- though I suspect most of the audience there were modern-dance fans.

Scorchers '97
And they sounded good, tromping through some of my favorite rocking Scorchers hits like "Gospel Plow," "White Lies," "Shop It Around" "Self Sabotage," and the Dylan-penned "Absolutely Sweet Marie." Several of the tunes in the show -- including "Getting Nowhere Fast," "Days of Wine and Roses" -- were from their most recent (2010) album, Halcyon Times.

However, probably due to the elite setting of the Kennedy Center and the whole dance thing, the Scorchers were more subdued than the wild men I saw tear up the Liberty Lunch in Austin at South by Southwest in 1997. They never turned it up to 11 at the Kennedy Center. Kept it about 8 and a half, even for their encore songs they played following the regular Victory Road program.

Still, it was great to see them again. I have to respect their willingness to try something like this.

Come to think of it, Jason & The Scorchers doing music for a modern dance troupe makes me proud to be an American also.

Final Bow.
Photo by Chuck McCutcheon

Friday, April 10, 2015

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Sweet Revenge for The Mekons

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
April 10, 2015

Ed Roche, the former head of Touch and Go Records, summed up the appeal of the longest surviving punk band in the world: “The joke around the label is that every critic loves The Mekons. Unfortunately, they get free records.”

Roche made those remarks in the documentary Revenge of The Mekons, which is playing at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe next week. And the underlying truth of Roche’s joke can be seen at the Metacritic page for the movie. There are 10 reviews of critics listed (and only one bad review). And no “users” (non-professional critic) reviews.

Devout Mekons fans probably will become devout fans of this movie, directed by Joe Angio, (whose previous film was a documentary about  actor/director Melvin Van Peebles called How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It).)

Revenge tells the story of how The Mekons came together as students in Leeds in 1977 and how they’ve they’ve kept going through the years -- with an amazingly stable roster for the last 20 or 25 years -- remaining true to their vision and consistently producing inspiring work.

“We were a bunch of art students when we formed, and it was an at project bascaly,” singer/guitarist Jon Langford says on camera. “We weren’t musicians. We were just seeing how far we could take it.”

As faithful readers of this column can attest, I’m one of those critics who loves the damned Mekons. I’ve seen them live twice (both during South by Southwest festivals in Austin) and I think I’ve reviewed every album the band has released in the past 20 years, plus many of the offshoot projects like The Waco Brothers and various Langford and Sally Timms solo records.

And it never fails to frustrate me that no matter how I’ve tried to spread the word about this wonderful musical collective of visionaries, rebels and oddballs – and how writers far more talented and influential than I have tried to do the same -- The Mekons’ audience never seems to rise beyond the level of small-but-rabid cult.

In an interview at a Minnesota radio station shown in the film, the host notes the longevity of the group – their first incarnation was in 1977 – and asks the band, “What’s the key to your success?” Members look around at each other, grinning, possibly suppressing laughter.

Singer Timms, a Mekon since the mid 80s, answers: “Success is the thing that usually kills bands in the end. So we haven’t had any success. We’ve had none of the attendant problems. It’s easier than fighting over huge sums of money. We fight over $10 or $15.”

The Mekons in the 80s
So what’s the key to their lack of success? Probably it’s because of the band’s uncompromising nature – and their precarious relationship with the music industry.

Kevin Lycett, a founding Mekon who was with the band until 1989, summed it up in the movie while talking about their brief association with Virgin Records, which released their first album:

“We wanted total control. They couldn’t say what was released; they couldn’t put anything out without our say-so. Couldn’t do posters without our say-so. Couldn’t package it without our say-so. We removed every possible incentive for Virgin to be interested in us. It was a masterpiece of flushing ourselves down the loo.”

Likewise, longtime Mekons drummer Steve Goulding says, “I don’t think it’s anti-capitalist so much as just having an ideal that you want to stay with … It’s not really a political stance. It’s an artistic stance.”

Fans will appreciate these interviews with various members past and present. Listing to Langford and the equally witty Timms talk is always a pleasure. But I came away with new appreciation for Susie Honeyman, the band’s fiddler for more than 30 years, who day job is running a London art gallery with her husband. Honeyman talks about how she was terrified of Timms at first (“… she was extremely rude and vicious. She’s toned down the viciousness.”)
Langford with The Waco Brothers

And while other Mekons laugh off their bad luck in the music biz, Honeyman tells a story of attending a party thrown by A&M Records, the band’s label for a couple of albums in the late ‘80s. The new management was announcing all the artists signed with the label but didn’t mention The Mekons. The group knew their time with A&M was over and you can see the heartbreak in Honeyman’s eyes.

Also excellent is the live footage of The Mekons on stage through the decades including some extremely rare clips of early shows. You’ll see Timms forgetting the lyrics to “Ghosts of American Astronauts” and Langford doing a hilariously obnoxious rock-star dance as the rest of the band sits in an “unplugged” set.

So go see Revenge of The Mekons. And bring a friend or two to try to expand the cult just a little.

There will be a sneak preview of Revenge of The Mekons at the Center for Contemporary Arts at 6:30pm  Thursday, April 16 at 6:30pm, followed by a Skype Q&A with Langford. Regular showings begin Friday, April 17.

Kenny Delgado as I remember him
Canutofest!  Friends and family of the late Kenny “Canuto” Delgado are organizing a fitting tribute to the man that many have described as Santa Fe’s number one music fan. Delgado died last Thanksgiving  after struggling many years with cardiac problems.

Delgado was a longtime member of the Santa Fe Bandstand Committee, which is responsible for the free music program on the Plaza every summer. And was a constant presence at concerts from rock 'n' roll to mariachi.

Canutofest will take place Saturday, April 18 at 4 pm – 10 pm at El Museo Cultural De Santa Fe, 555 Camino De La Familia in Santa Fe. Musical acts playing,  playing, according to a preliminary list, include Sean Healen,  Ramon Bermudez, The Mikey Baker Trio, The Chris Abeyta Quartet Strings Attached  and Sweet Sister Gospel Band withTerry Diers.

There is no charge, but those attending are asked to bring supplies for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter – high end dog and cat food (the shelter refers Purina), non-clumping kitty litter etc.

Video treats: Here's a whole lotta Mekons, starting with the trailer for Revenge of The Mekons












I'm not sure why, but since watching Revenge of The Mekons, "Beaten and Broken" has become my favorite Mekons song. Here's a version from last summer with Robbie Fulks. (Unfortunately the sound isn't great but the performance is great fun. I'm not sure what cracked up Sally and the others. Maybe it was Lu's strange saz solo.