Walking out to the parking lot after work today I looked up to the sky and saw the clouds. But, being from New Mexico, I realized it probably wasn't really going to rain.
And then this song popped into my head:
Though April showers may come your way, they bring the flowers that bloom in May ...
It's one of those songs folks my age and older have just known all our lives. I probably first heard it on a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
But the song, written by written by Louis Silvers and lyricist B. G. De Sylva, goes back to a 1921 Broadway musical called Bombo, starring a young Al Jolson.
"April Showers" became one of Jolson's signature songs -- though it wasn't identified with him nearly as much as "My Mammy" or "Swanee."
So let's start with the Jolson original. This YouTube version features a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon as a backdrop. I don't think it has anything to do with the song, but hey. it's a Betty Boop cartoon!
I'm not exactly sure when Mel Torme shot this version with the Page Cavanaugh Trio. But it's pretty snazzy.
Santo & Johnny, best known for their spooky classic "Sleep Walk," turned "April Showers" into a rock 'n' roll instrumental.
But, about 14 years after Jolson first sang this tune, there was another song that had "April Showers" in its title, "March Winds and April Showers," written by Walter G. Samuels, Leonard Whitcup and Teddy Powell. Here's a 1935 recording by Abe Lyman & His California Orchestra, with vocals by crooner Louis Rapp.
And somehow, decades later, that song evolved into this, thanks to ProleteR, a French guy who loves remixing and modernizing old jazz, R&B and soul tunes. (He does a great "Melancholy Baby")
Welcome to the latest Big Enchilada Podcast now on Radio Mutation, formerly known as GaragePunk Pirate radio. In honor of the new name change, I'm dedicating this show to rock 'n' roll mutants every where. Let's mutate together!
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican April 22, 2016
Andy Warhol was half-right: In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. But he left out one important part. In the future, everyone will star in their own documentary. Seems like every time you turn around these days, there’s a new movie about some band — some famous, some less so.
The northeast Los Angeles “punk surfabilly” band called The Gears got theirs with a fun new rock doc called Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo, which is playing next week at the Jean Cocteau Cinema.
I’ve never pretended to be an expert on the L.A. punk scene, though I’m a longtime fan of bands like X, The Germs, and Angry Samoans (even before founding member Gregg Turner moved to Santa Fe). I loved the movie The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) as well as Repo Man (1984), which had a soundtrack featuring Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and The Plugz.
But I have to confess, until I recently saw Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo, I’d never heard of The Gears. But now I’m a fan.
Like any decent band documentary, this one, directed by Gears manager Chris Ashford, is crammed full of interviews with band members past and present, others from the L.A. punk world, live footage both ancient and recent, photos, and all sorts of Gear lore. Which Gear got kicked out of the band for breaking a beer bottle across a roadie’s face? Why is singer Axxel G. Reese obsessed with pirates? What was The Gears’ connection with early-’60s rocker Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, Chicano artist Richard Duardo, and Santa Fe photographer Ronn Spencer? You not only get to know the band, but the whole milieu from which the group sprang.
The origin of The Gears goes back to when Reese and drummer Dave Drive (real names Terry Davis and Dave Fernandez) went to elementary school together in the largely Hispanic Glassell Park neighborhood. They knocked around in various bands for years, finally coming back together as The Gears in the late ’70s.
Current Gears bassist Mike Manifold (real name Mike Villalobos), was just a kid when The Gears started out. But living near Dave Drive’s house, he was familiar with the group. He’d watch the musicians load and unload their equipment and often smell marijuana smoke wafting out of the house as he walked home from school. His grandmother, he said, warned him to “stay away from those kids.”
Apparently a secret nexus of L.A. punk rock was the Budget Rent-a-Car office in Glendale. That’s where Kidd Spike (Jeff Austin) and Brian “Redz” Anderson met before they joined The Gears. Marc Moreland of Wall of Voodoo and Johnny Stingray of The Controllers worked there, too. Spike originally played with The Controllers, but The Gears managed to steal him. Spike, who learned to play guitar from listening to a Ramones record, is credited for bringing the rockabilly influence to the band.
Miss Mercy of the infamous GTOs — a collective of groupies that Frank Zappa fashioned into an a cappella singing group — took The Gears under her wing, becoming known as their “fashion consultant.” She’d find seersucker suits, leopard-skin jackets, and cowboy boots for the band and do their hair, which in those days involved exaggerated rockabilly greaser styles. “They always smelled like Tres Flores [hair pomade],” the singer from Mad Society, another early L.A. punk group, says.
The documentary tells the stories behind some of The Gears’ songs. Their first single was “Let’s Go to the Beach.” Reese explains that living in northeast Los Angeles, the beach was “a trek for us. We weren’t really beach kids by any stretch of the imagination.” “Hard Rock” was written by original guitarist “Crazy Ruben” Urbina, inspired, he says, by the death of Elvis Presley. “Trudie Trudie” was an ode to a scenester and early Gears fan from South Bay. The real Trudie appears in the documentary.
“Elks Lodge Riot” is about the notorious “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre,” which occurred on March 17, 1979, at a big punk show (with an all-star bill including X, The Go-Gos, The Plugz and others) in an actual Elks Lodge near MacArthur Park. That night, Los Angeles police in riot gear raided the joint right in the middle of The Plugz’s set. A bunch of kids got beat up, and the reason is still pretty hazy.
And naturally they talk about the song that became the title for this movie, “Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo.” Crazy Ruben explains that he was self-conscious about diving head-on into punk culture, so the song was basically written as a message to himself.
Of course, as a dance craze, the pogo was much tamer than the crazy moshing at punk shows that soon followed. And as the ’80s progressed, the L.A. punk scene grew a lot more aggressive. The violence and fury of the hardcore scene was off-putting to members of The Gears. “There was a transition in L.A. punk that I didn’t like,” Spike says. By that point, he was getting pretty burned out anyway, he says.
So after Spike split, The Gears broke up in the mid-’80s and hived off into various other groups. But they’ve regrouped at least a couple of times through the years. And judging from their more recent album, When Things Get Ugly (2014), as well as the live footage from the movie, they’re still in fine form.
So check out this flick, and if the spirit moves you, don’t be afraid to pogo.
Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo is showing on one night only, at 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 28. Director Chris Ashford and some members of the band will be on hand for the showing.
I’ll be doing a live interview with Axxel and Spike from The Gears this week on my radio show, Terrell’s Sound World. The show starts at 10 p.m. on KSFR, 101.1 FM.
Here's the promo for the doc
Let's Go to the Beach
Freddy Cannon teams up with The Gears for a crazed take on "Tallahassee Lassie."
It looks like Andy Jackson is moving to the back of the buck.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced Wednesday a redesign of the nation's $5, $10 and $20 bills. On the $20, President Andrew Jackson is being moved to the backside of the bill while Harriet Tubman will replace him on the front.
For those who don't their history, Tubman was born a slave in 1822. But she escaped to her freedom and went on to become an abolitionist, a spy for the Union during the Civil War and a major player in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape to non-slave states.
Most the folks I talked to Wednesday were glad to see Jackson go. After all, he was a slaveholder and dedicated advocate of removing Indians from their homelands in the southeastern U.S. The Trail of Tears? That was his. He signed the Indian Removal Act which forced many Southern tribes to Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma.)
And I agree, Tubman's a better choice. But still, somewhere inside me I hear the voice of Johnny Horton and feel some bittersweet nostalgia for Old Hickoy.
Here's what I'm talking about:
I've known this song since I was a little kid. But I didn't realize until recently that it's a descendant of a song, written in 1821 by one Samuel Woodworth.
It's called "The Hunters of Kentucky," though it's also known as "The Battle of New Orleans" "Jackson and Kentucky" and "Half Horse or Half Alligator." Jackson himself used the song as his campaign theme both times he ran for president (1824 and 1828.)
While searching for Andrew Jackson songs last night (somehow I thought there would be more) I found a group from Arizona called the Andrew Jackson Jihad. They're pretty cool, but they're demoting Andrew Jackson too. A couple of months ago they shortened their name to simply AJJ. "Interesting historical figure as he was, he was an odious person and our fascination with him has grown stale," the band said.
Just a quick note to let New Mexico folks know that there is Record Store Day events in Santa Fe The Guy In The Groove (inside A Sound Look) today at 502 Cerillos Road (at Manhattan Ave.) and -- at least according to the Record Day site -- at The Good Stuff Cafe, 401 W. San Francisco St.
Guy in the Groove owner Dick Rosemont tells me there will be Record Store Day releases for sale, snacks and he will be spinning vinyl.
Things I learned in hobo jungle / Were things they never taught me in a class room
Now Hag wasn't really a hobo. But he was born in a boxcar in Oildale, Calif., which served as his family home. And, of course, some of his best songs were those from the perspective of the downtrodden. If anyone could sing about hoboes, it was Haggard.
But he definitely wasn't the first to sing about them. Songs about the rail-riders spread across this great land throughout the early part of the 20th Century. Hoboes popped up in blues songs and hillbilly records.
Some of these tunes were full of pity for the wayward and impoverished lives of these men. Some were cautionary tales, warning others to stay away from that life.
But many romanticized the hobo, expressing envy for their freedom. And today, the classic train-hopping hobo is seen as a mythological character
Perhaps the first hobo hit was "Hallelujah. I'm a Bum," in which a tramp with attitude has witty comebacks for proper people who question the way he lives.
There were several recordings of it around 1928 including versions by Hobo Jack Turner, Vernon Dalhart, John Bennett, Arthur Fields and Harry McClintock, who is best known for his song "Big Rock Candy Mountain," another important contribution to the Hobo Hit Parade. Later, Al Jolson starred in a movie called Hallelujah. I'm a Bum.
Carl Sandburg in The American Songbag, wrote "This old song heard at the water tanks of railroads in Kansas in 1897 and from harvest hands who worked in the wheat fields of Pawnee County, was picked up later by the [International Workers of the World] who made verses of their own for it, and gave it a wide fame."
McClintock, a member of the I.W.W., claimed he wrote "Hallelujah. I'm a Bum" years before he recorded it. I can't say if that's true, but he's the only one I know who's claimed authorship.
Here's a McClintock version:
Louis Armstrong had his own hobo song:
A classic hillbilly hobo song, "Rambling Reckless Hobo" by Dick Burnett & Leonard Rutherford
Here's a rockin' tune from the year I was born: "Hobo" by J.D. Edwards
And in case you haven't heard enough, here's a whole Mulligan stew pot of Hobo songs
That's right, the traditional three-day celebration starts Wednesday, April 13.
I don't actually know much about Khmer traditions. But I'm a huge fan of Cambodian rock 'n' roll from the 1960s and '70s. I've written several times about how the evil Khmer Rouge basically wiped out that music. Follow that link if you need to catch up on that history. Or better yet, watch the documentary Don't Think I've Forgotten.
But today is Cambodian New Year -- not to mention Wacky Wednesday -- so let's not dwell on the horrors of the past.
Let's welcome the New Year angel and honor the Khmer people with some crazy rock 'n' roll.
Here's "Shave Your Beard" by Ros Sereysothea, a song I first heard done by Dengue Fever. (Not sure who this lovely lip syncher is.)
Here's a little psychedelia by Pan Ron
Some Cambodian surf music with Baksey Cham Krong (from the Don't Think I've Forgotten soundtrack.)
Finally, here's Dengue Fever, a contemporary California group with a Cambodia-born singer, Chhom Nimol, Just like The Animals led me (and countless others) to John Lee Hooker in the '60s, Dengue Fever lured me to Cambodian rock. And I'll always love them for it, This song's called "Mr. Orange"
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican April 8, 2016
Back in 1986, decades before he became an international playboy and record-industry titan (he’s supreme commander and president for life of Switzerland’s Voodoo Rhythm Records), young “Beat-Man” Zeller was just a hopped-up young punk rocker who got together with some like-minded cronies and formed a fierce little band of Swiss miscreants called The Monsters, which had a deep affinity for classic American garage rock and loud grating noise.
Hard to believe, but Beat-Man and his Monsters are still around, older (Beat-Man’s pushing fifty!) but just as dangerous. And to celebrate 30 monstrous years, Voodoo Rhythm is releasing not one but two records.
One will be a new album, coming later this year. The first is a rerelease — with added bonus tracks — of one of their long out-of-print early albums, The Jungle Noise Recordings, originally released on a German label called Jungle Noise.
Although Voodoo Rhythm’s press release proclaims, “This is where primitive rock ’n’ roll chainsaw massacre trash garage began,” Jungle Noise, recorded in 1994, was not the first Monsters album. There were at least a couple of proper (I use that word in a relative sense) studio records, including their previous album The Hunch (the title being a tribute to West Virginia wild man Hasil Adkins), which was basically a psychobilly effort full of songs about movie monsters.
Beat-Man today contemplating the Universe
But by this point, Zeller wanted a rawer sound for his band, which was now a trio. Instead of going to a studio, the musicians rented some recording equipment and did the album at home. They replaced their stand-up bass, a staple of their early recordings, with an electric bass. And Zeller let his guitar go crazy with the fuzz and feedback. As the title of the opening track suggests, the result was a joyful invitation to “Psych Out With Me.”
The Monsters at this point were still fond of horror material, as evidenced by their uptempo cover of Kip Tyler’s 1958 spookabilly tune “She’s My Witch,” and songs like “Rock Around the Tombstone,” “Skeleton Stomp,” “Plan 9,” (an ode to Ed Wood’s outer space vampire movie), and 'Mummy Fucker Blues," in which Beat-Man’s trademark gravel voice sounds like a bizarre blend of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Tuvan throat-singing, and Popeye.
There’s a marijuana song here called “The Pot” in which the music is a mutant grandchild of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” And there are spirited covers of The Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire” and Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town,” though I actually prefer The Monsters’ live version on their 20th anniversary album The Worst of Garage Punk Vol. 1, in which Beat-Man comically weeps hysterically during the instrumental.
All in all, The Jungle Noise Recordings is a pinnacle of trash rock. And it whets my appetite for the upcoming new Monsters album.
* Tumbling Heights by The Come N’ Go. Here’s another Swiss band that cut its proverbial teeth in
the crazed world of garage-punk. On this, The Come N’ Go’s fourth album for Voodoo Rhythm, the musicians prove they can play it fast, furious, and trashy like their labelmates The Monsters. But they also go psychedelic on us. This album shows the band still working hard to get our butts shaking. But they also seem interested in getting our minds expanding.
The album starts out with a tasty rocker called “Château Phoquoeupe” as well as an intense lo-fi cover of Bad Brains’ “Attitude.” Even more impressive is the six-minute song called “Lemmy,” a good rockin’ tribute to the late Mr. Kilmister. But “Lemmy” showcases the intriguing dichotomy of this album. The first three or four minutes are basic and catchy, then evolve seamlessly into a lengthy feedback/noise-skronk roar.
The short-but-surreal “Borderland” is even more crazy. It starts out with some discordant ambient noise joined later by a female vocalist. And on some songs, such as “Yona’s Blues,” they can actually be melodic as well as spacey.
On “I’ll Sing You a Song,” the melody sounds like some folk song right on the tip of your memory. It’s colored by feedback and what sounds like a distant harmonica. And speaking of folkish sounds, “What Is It?” (which could have been an apt title for the whole album) features acoustic guitar and what might or might not be a flute embellished by electronic feedback that almost seems to be in harmony.
While Tumbling Heights has lots of different dimensions to ponder, and while I do enjoy the psychedelic touches, the songs I like best are the ones in which The Come ‘N Go don’t forget they’re a rock ’n’ roll band.
* Who Sold My Generation by The Night Beats. Now here’s another band that’s often described as psychedelic. Indeed, this Seattle trio draws from the better bands of the Summer of Love.
The song “Shangri Lah,” for instance, owes a debt to The Electric Prunes. The Night Beats are frequently compared to psychedelic rangers like The Black Angels, though with singer Danny Lee Blackwell often singing in falsetto, a better comparison might be The Oh Sees.
But this group has a lot going on, including a subtle influence of soul and funk if you listen close enough (and you should).
With a title that’s a sweet nod to Pete Townsend’s old group, Who Sold My Generation is a solid selection of songs. Blackwell knows the power of the riff. Virtually every one of these songs has hooks that stick to your brain.
Among the highlights are “Bad Love,” which features a sax section; “Porque Mañana,” which is sung in Spanish, “Egypt Berry,” which features a faux-Middle Eastern guitar riff and a melody that reminds me of “Endless Sleep,” and “No Cops,” which ain’t country but sounds as if Blackwell’s been listening to Waylon Jennings’ cover of “Ain’t Living Long Like This.”
I hesitated to slap the "Throwback Thursday" label on this. Most the musicians I celebrate in this feature are those who left us years ago, Merle died yesterday.
But his music has been an important part of American culture for the past 50 years or so. It's important historical stuff deserving of respect and veneration, And yet Hag's music still is a living force, still moving people, and still serving as a soundtrack for good times and lonesome times, still a soundtrack getting drunk and getting laid, for deep thought and deep forgetting. Like Hank Williams' songs that never get old, Merle Haggard's music will outlive us all.
Hag as a youth
Singer Dave Alvin probably expressed it most eloquently on his Facebook page Wednesday:
Merle Haggard meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people but to me he was THE songwriter of California. Not the California of Malibu, Silicon Valley or Beverly Hills but the California of Highway 99, migrant workers and the struggle to survive in the promised land. All the political ambiguity and one dimensional stereotypes aside, Mr Haggard was one of the giants of modern American Music (not just Country) along with Ray Charles, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan. Merle was a brilliant balladeer, soulful bluesman, guitar wrangler, musical trailblazer and one of our greatest songwriters/poets in the Roots tradition. In his way he was also a true, fearless rock and roll rebel. Rest easy from the long highway, Mr Haggard. It's been a hell of a ride.
I got to see Merle in concert twice.
The first time was in the early '80s at the old Albuquerque Civic Auditorium. I was covering the show for The New Mexico Sun, a bi-weekly paper in Albuquerque that didn't last very long. The main thing I remember about that performance was being impressed with what a great bandleader he was. He was emphasizing his western-swing influence that night and his band, The Strangers was one tight unit under Hag's command. Bob Wills would have been proud.
The other time I saw him was in the mid '90s at Tingley Coliseum. That was the last concert I ever saw with my mom. The band was no match for the one I saw in the '80s, but they were good, Haggard started singing "Okie from Muskogee" and the crowd roared in approval. But after singong the very first line, he stopped the band and said, "Now who the Hell gives a damn whether or not they smoke marijuana in Muskogee?"
The crowd roared louder.
So today let's celebrate the songs Merle Haggard gave us. Today's that someday we look back and say it was fun.
Here are some Haggard performance that I love:
Here he is on the Porter Wagoner Show, in the late '60s, I think, singing "That Little Old Winedrinker, Me " and one of his greatest tunes, "Today I Started Loving You Again"
Hag with The Texas Playboys in 1976
In 2011, Willie Nelson joined Merle on stage to help him preach against the evils of marijuana in Muskogee.
"Someday We'll Look Back" is one of Merle's most soulful tunes.
And here's a fairly recent version one of his earliest hits, "Sing Me Back Home."
Tune into The Santa Fe Opry Friday night (KSFR, 10 p.m. to midnight) for the mother of all Merle Haggard tributes.
I was out of town last month when singer-songwriter Steve Young died, so I didn't get to pay him proper tribute on the radio until last week's Santa Fe Opry.
There I played a couple of songs from Steve's appearance on the show back in October 2005. They sounded so good to me I thought maybe I should put last week's show up on Mixcloud.
Then I thought, Hell! I should post his whole live appearance.
And so I did and here it is.
Unfortunately, the first moments of the conversation didn't make it onto the recording . But all the songs he played are there, Steve sang a few originals, a couple of covers of songs best known by Hank and Elvis and talked with me about his life and career.
Thanks again to Jim Terr, a longtime friend of Steve Young's, for arranging him to come on the show.