ADVENTURES WITH ROXY MUSIC, SPARKS, AND MILK ‘N’ COOKIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH SAL MAIDA

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By Valerie Simadis

Originally published on ‘pleasekillme.com’, December 11, 2018

Hearing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan launched Sal Maida on a journey – to London in the Swinging Sixties, tenures with Roxy Music, Milk ’N’ Cookies, and Sparks and a long trek (with our very own Legs McNeil!) to the last Sex Pistols gig in San Francisco. The bassist covers these events with good humor in a new memoir.

 

Standing at six foot five (in sneakers!), Sal Maida is a force to be reckoned with. Looking fashionable in his black suit and converse high tops, it’s no surprise that this New York City born bassist aced his audition with one of the most stylish bands around – Roxy Music.

Maida’s journey is a remarkable one. Born in 1948, he spent his childhood and teenage years living in an apartment on Mott and Broome in Little Italy. While New York sounds like an exciting city to grow up in, it was evident that Sal had other plans. “As soon as the Beatles hit on Ed Sullivan, all I wanted to do was get to England.” recalled Maida “It took me five years before my parents would let me go.”

In the meantime, Maida joined up with a group called The Ouija, and after running the gig circuit around New York City for a few years, decided it was time to branch out. “[I was] auditioning, trying to get in to open for somebody. It was all kind of frustrating situations like that, jumping from band to band, until I decided “Maybe I’ll get out of here and go to England, bring my bass, and try to lock down something and get serious about it.” said Maida.

I sat down with Sal to discuss his book Four Strings, Phony Proof, and 300 45s, his long awaited journey to swinging sixties London, his tenure with Roxy Music, Milk ’N’ Cookies, and Sparks, and his long trek (with our very own Legs McNeil!) to the last Sex Pistols gig in San Francisco.

PKM: When did you first begin working on this book?

Sal Maida: Let’s see…I started working on it seriously about three years ago when I came off the road. I put myself on a nine to five schedule every day to get it done. That’s when I seriously went for it instead of scribbling here and scribbling there.

PKM: Did you start out with a certain format in mind? Did you know what time period you would be starting out with?

Sal Maida: I started in Los Angeles in 1976 when I got there with Sparks to play a New Year’s Eve show at The Forum. For some reason, I wanted to start there, and I got into my Los Angeles endeavors, which became the beginning of the book. Then I went back to the first time I went to London, so I jumped around, and was encouraged to jump around and keep the book out of sequence when I read Neil Young and Elvis Costello’s autobiographies. It just appealed to me, to have a book that wasn’t in chronological order.

I also wanted to incorporate where I grew up, all the bands I saw, the bands I played with, and the auditions. I got the idea to end the book with my favorite 45’s after reading Questlove’s book. It had records incorporated in his timeline, and I thought it was a cool idea, but the 45s are listed in the last three chapters.

PKM: You have some great shots of Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger in your book. What camera did you shoot those photos with?

Sal Maida: I’m gonna say a Polaroid. A real old school Polaroid, where you would then bring the film to a developer. I had them in binders with the old plastic over it, and the bottom stuck to a gluey kind of texture, so they really needed a lot of work. I had a couple of friends who did some great work for me. They helped retouch and restore the photographs.

PKM: Did McCartney and Jagger realize you were sneaking photos of them?

Sal Maida: I think Paul…amiable as he is, since it was just my friend and I at his house and it wasn’t a mob of people, he was chatty as could be and friendly. At one point Linda was just tugging at him ‘cause as you could see in the photos, she’s about close to giving birth. She wanted to get to the doctor and it’s like ten o’clock in the morning, so it’s obvious they have an appointment for her, and she’s kind of tugging at him and he’s being Paul McCartney, being really friendly, signing autographs, and I’m asking him questions.

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Sal outside of Paul McCartney’s house in St John’s Wood, 1969.

Later on in the afternoon I see him again at Apple, and at that point he kind of did a double take when he saw me. He probably thought “There’s that really tall kid from New York that was at my house this morning.” So when I got up to him, at Apple (there was a long line), I said “I’m not a stalker. I know you saw me at your house but I’m from New York and I want to get another autograph for somebody and a couple of photos.” He was really friendly and just a terrific person. Then I saw Jagger because the Apple Scruffs were hanging around. The Apple Scruffs were a group of girls that hung around Apple all day long every day and would wait for the Beatles to come out. They knew everyone’s business, and they befriended us. After McCartney, I got George Harrison’s autograph, and they said “There’s a surprise. Why don’t you hang around?” We couldn’t imagine what it was, but we hung around, and the next thing we know, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor come out of Apple. It turned out that the Stones were rehearsing in the basement of Apple because the Stones and The Beatles were close, and they never timed their records to be released at the same time. They always coordinated record releases, and they were rehearsing for what would become their first U.S. tour since I think ‘66, and the first one without Brian Jones and with Mick Taylor, which wasn’t to take place until November of that year, and this was late July.

So when I spoke to Mick I said “What are you guys rehearsing for?” and he said “Well, we’re going on tour in America. We’re going to play Madison Square Garden.” I got a big scoop from Mick about touring with Mick Taylor. Again, Mick Jagger couldn’t be friendlier or chattier. Bill I couldn’t get to. He kind of came out and went into a car. Mick Taylor had just joined the band, and we didn’t even try to bother him. He was the new guy, an overwhelmed twenty-year-old and no one really knew who he was.

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Maida meets Jagger, 1969

PKM: You must have been in disbelief that you got to meet your heroes.

Sal Maida: Not only that, Jagger was friendly enough to ask me what we were doing and I said “Well, We’re traveling. It’s our first time in London and then we’re going to Paris.” He goes “Have you ever been to Paris?” And I said “No, it’s the first time.” And he said (laughs) don’t stay near the Champs Elysees, you’ll get ripped off. The hotels are too expensive.”

PKM: Ever the businessman.

Sal Maida: Ever the businessman! Getting travel tips from Mick.

PKM: Just a bit of biographical info. for fans who haven’t read the book, where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Sal Maida: Well, I was born in Manhattan General which isn’t there anymore, around 16th street and 1st Avenue. We lived in Brooklyn for the first four, five years of my life…Bensonhurst I think. Then we moved to Mott and Broome in Little Italy when I was about five years old. I went to St. Patricks in Little Italy. Same grammar school that Martin Scorsese went to. I lived there my whole life until I started going to England, and traveling and touring.

PKM: And once you got a taste of England, did you want to go back home?

Sal Maida: No. (laughs)

PKM: I don’t blame you.

“As soon as the Beatles hit on Ed Sullivan, all I wanted to do was get to England. It took me five years before my parents would let me go. I tried to go in ’68, but they were gonna lock me up…”

Sal Maida: As soon as the Beatles hit on Ed Sullivan, all I wanted to do was get to England. It took me five years before my parents would let me go. I tried to go in ’68, but they were gonna lock me up, and then in ’69 I finally convinced them to let me go, because I was going there with a guy who was studying to be a pharmacist, which to them was a respectable occupation. That’s the only reason why they finally let me go.

PKM: Did anyone in your family come from a musical background?

Sal Maida: Not in my immediate family. I have a cousin on my father’s side that was apparently an amazing jazz pianist that used to play a lot upstate in the Saratoga area. He had a jazz trio. On my mother’s side I have a cousin that’s a drummer named Frank Steo, who grew up with Tony Visconti.

PKM: So somewhat of a musical background, but not-

Sal Maida: Not directly.

PKM:  What was your earliest music memory?

Sal Maida: Well, when my sister and I were really young we talked my mother into taking us to a rock and roll show in Brooklyn. I think the idea was to see Frankie Avalon…well, my sister wanted to see Frankie Avalon, and I’m pretty sure that was the first one. Either way, nothing that stoked my flame like seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan or hearing The Stones for the first time. That was the memory that exploded my world totally, and made me wanna get into music and eventually play music.

PKM: What was the first band that you were in?

Sal Maida: I was attempting to be in bands when I was sixteen, seventeen. I had a band called The Ouija after a Ouija board. We did all originals, believe it or not, and we did some covers. We covered Love, some Byrds, the Beau Brummels…you know, the hip groups of the day. Then I went to another band called The Five Toes.

PKM: Not exactly the best name for a band.

Sal Maida: Talk about two horrible names for bands! The Ouija and The Five Toes. They were more like garage bands. They were cool, man! They looked cool. I actually left The Ouija for them because…I don’t know who hooked me up with them, but I went down and saw them play. They had the long hair, Cuban heels and flowered shirts, and they were playin’ the Stones. All raunchy garage rock and roll. I said “I’ve gotta jump ship into this band.”

PKM: Into the toes.

Sal Maida: (laughs) Become the fifth toe. So that’s what I did. Really nothing of note until I went to England. Just bangin’ around in New York, playing in different clubs.

PKM: Which clubs did you play at?

“…I decided “Maybe I’ll get out of here and go to England, bring my bass, and try to lock down something and get serious about it.”

Sal Maida: I’m tryna think. Well, prior to the whole CBGB / Max’s scene, there were just kind of New York rock clubs, none of which were memorable. There was a club called The Rolling Stone in Midtown that I played at. I did play The Scene club, but that was an audition type situation. I played the Cafe Au Go Go on Bleecker Street, again, auditioning, trying to get in to open for somebody. It was all kind of frustrating situations like that, jumping from band to band, until I decided “Maybe I’ll get out of here and go to England, bring my bass, and try to lock down something and get serious about it.”

PKM: So you were tired of the New York scene.

Sal Maida: Well, I had it in my mind that I had to go to England, which was an easy thing to convince myself. I probably could have eventually made something happen here, but I just thought “I have to go over there, test the waters, see what’s going on, try it, bring my bass. Instead of staying for two weeks, like a holiday situation, stay for an extended period of time and give it a show.” So that became an obsession.

PKM: You mention in your book that you would frequent the Night Owl Cafe and The Cafe Au Go Go. Which bands sounded the best live?

Sal Maida: Wow. I mean, at the Night Owl I saw a band called The Magicians and another band called The Middle Class. The Magicians have a song on the Nuggets box called Invitation to Cry. Two songwriters (from The Magicians) eventually went on to write Happy Together and a bunch of hits. They were fantastic. They were folk rock, but the singer was kind of a Doo-wop singer. It was an odd combination, but it worked. They were brilliant. The Middle Class were hooked up with Carole King. Their bass player eventually married Carole King. Charles Larkey. He played on “Tapestry” and I think their singer was on the first Steely Dan record as well. They were a terrific band, and very obscure. On a club level, I would say those two bands were really impressive.

PKM: I was surprised when you mentioned that The Lovin’ Spoonful were not a good live band.

Sal Maida: They were awful. It pains me to say that because I’m in a Lovin’ Spoonful tribute band, as you know. The sound was bad, they played sloppy, the harmonies were ragged…they just weren’t good. It was just one of those things. I wish I could say that that wasn’t the case, because I’m a Lovin’ Spoonful fanatic, they’re one of my favorite bands. As I said, we now have a Lovin Spoonful’ tribute band that I started with Tom Clark about three years ago. That’s how much I love them. Another band that was horrible live (that I loved) were The Byrds. I saw them twice and both times they were horrible. I saw them with Gene Clark and then I saw them without Gene Clark, and they were even worse the second time. But they had a reputation for not being a good live band.

PKM: You mention in your book that you saw The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. That must have been amazing! What did you think of them?

Sal Maida: I did! They were absolutely hilarious. Musically, they were more complicated than I thought. I didn’t think they would be able to pull off a lot of the recorded productions that they had at that point, but they managed to do it all and be hilarious, and be visually entertaining. Viv was hysterical. Roger Ruskin Spear, Legs Larry, all of them, they were amazing. I think they opened for The Kinks and Spirit. That’s the show I saw. Vivian had the big glasses and the whole bit. It was amazing. I think Roger Ruskin Spear had the exploding guitar on Trouser Press. It was great.

PKM: What songs did they play?

Sal Maida: I remember Trouser Press, Humanoid Boogie, Canyons of Your Mind, Viv did, and Urban Spaceman.

PKM: Going back to your trip to England. Apart from seeing Macca and Mick, what did you do when you were over there? Did you look for work?

“Every night we’d go to The Marquee or The Speakeasy or travel half an hour to Friar’s Club in Aylesbury, buy records in the day time, and shop for a lot of the singles that are mentioned in my book.”

Sal Maida: No, not at all. First time I went was a full out vacation for two weeks. I checked out Carnaby Street, stayed at a bed and breakfast (when it was affordable). I managed to talk my way into The Speakeasy and I saw every band imaginable: The Hollies, Caravan, Free, Blossom Toes, Taste, The Idle Race with Jeff Lynne at the Royal Albert Hall playing with The Nice, Keith Emerson. Every night we’d go to The Marquee or The Speakeasy or travel half an hour to Friar’s Club in Aylesbury, buy records in the day time, and shop for a lot of the singles that are mentioned in my book.

PKM: Coming from Little Italy, what did you think of the food in England?

Sal Maida: Horrible. Absolutely horrible. But, here’s the good thing – The Speakeasy had great food. Luckily.

PKM: Great food? Did they serve pub grub?

Sal Maida: No, they had an Italian chef! They had a guy named Luigi who was hilarious. You see, at The Speakeasy, you’d go in and the bar was on the left and then you’d walk straight on and the restaurant was enclosed. So you’d walk up a slight hump in the ground, open the door, and it was soundproofed and enclosed. As I said, the chef’s name was Luigi, he was Italian, so he was runnin’ the place. He made great spaghetti bolognaise, chicken kiev, and dessert was bananas and whipped cream. I think I had that every night for two weeks straight.

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Sal in Little Italy with his first bass, 1969

PKM: Leave it to you to find the Italian guy.

Sal Maida: Exactly. I’m not one for blood pudding and all that kinda stuff. I remember someone invited me for tea, and I thought it was literally tea, but in England tea means lunch. We had eggs and beans with spaghetti, all kinda scrunched on top of one another. And I was like “Oh, I thought this was tea, so I ate before I came.” I made some kind of lame excuse so I wouldn’t have to it eat it. I didn’t even make the attempt.

PKM: You mentioned that you saw The Hollies play a prom when you were in England. What was the story behind that? How did you get in?

Sal Maida: Well, oddly enough, they’re playing a private prom, but it’s advertised in Melody Maker, so my friend and I see the ad, and we figure out how to get to this venue. We travel on the train for an hour, and we get there and realize we can’t get in. It’s a private prom. So why are you advertising it in Melody Maker as a public gig?! To this day, I will never understand that.

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The Hollies play a prom in England, 1969

Anyway, we’re in this situation now and we’re there, but opening the show is a band called The Edgar Broughton Band. The contrast would be like Jimi Hendrix and The Monkees or The Who and Herman’s Hermits. The Hollies are The Hollies, you know, straight up, brilliant pop group, and The Edgar Broughton Band…they’re really hairy, sort of Captain Beefheart like, political lyrics, abrasive, that kinda thing. Anyway, we see The Edgar Broughton Band and we say to them “Listen, we traveled all this way to see this gig and we can’t get in. We’re from New York.” The Edgar Broughton guys say “Grab an amp and come in with us as roadies.”

PKM: That’s so cool!

Sal Maida: That’s what we did. (laughs) So The Edgar Broughton Band saved our hides, and we got in and saw the show.

PKM: That’s so weird that they would advertise in Melody Maker, though. Maybe they thought some famous musicians might look at it and show up.

Sal Maida: Either that or somewhere in fine print it said ‘Private Prom’ on the bottom and we just didn’t see it.

PKM: P.S. No Yanks allowed.

Sal Maida: (laughs) Yeah. You two guys from New York, stay at home.

PKM: You mentioned that you’re a big anglophile. Did you first meet the members of Roxy Music in London, and what year did you meet them?

“I went in and the audition was just Paul (Thompson) and I playing together, while the whole band and Chris Thomas, the producer, looked in on us.”

Sal Maida: I did a session with Paul Thompson, the drummer, in 1971 before he was in Roxy. I met someone and they gave me a number of a guy in Denmark Street, and he was a producer. He said to me “I’m doing a session in a couple of days and it’s with a band called Smokestack Crumble from Newcastle, but they need a bass player on the session.” So I said “Okay”. I went in, and we’re cuttin’ the track and I have the headphones on. I remember distinctly thinking to myself “Man, that drummer is great.” I exchanged numbers with him. I can’t say that I kept in touch with him because I went back to New York. I’m not really gonna call some drummer that I met on a session in Newcastle where he lived. Then when I was working in a record store in London, he came into the store, just coincidentally. I said “Hey Paul, we did that session a couple of years ago. I see you’re in Roxy now. You guys looking for a bass player?” I was really direct. He said “Not really. The guy that played on the record, Johnny Gustafson is goin’ on the road with us.” So I said “Okay, damn.”

Anyway, a couple of days later, everything changed. He came back into the record store and said “Johnny can’t go on the road. We’re auditioning people. Come to the audition.” I went three times to Air Studios before I finally auditioned. I went once, they were mixing and they were kind of drunk, I went another time, and I don’t know what got in the way. Finally, the third time, I went in and the audition was just Paul and I playing together, while the whole band and Chris Thomas, the producer, looked in on us.

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Sal Maida during his tenure in Roxy Music, 1973

PKM: That must have been awkward.

Sal Maida: It was awkward and nerve wracking. But, I got the gig and they said “Go to the office tomorrow, work out everything with management, and get some clothes. So I was in. In the mean time I had no idea about anything, totally green. I knew the idea is to ‘glam down a little bit’ as they told me, but glamming down a bit…I still wanna look sharp and striking. So I’m on my own to find clothes. I’m on my own to figure out how much to ask in salary. I don’t’ know anything about per diems. I don’t know anything about anything, basically. I had never done anything anywhere near that level let alone…probably the biggest band in England at that point? So I’m improvising and I’m working it out as I go. I wind up goin’ to Granny Takes a Trip, and I meet this guy Gene Krell who happens to be from Brooklyn, and he says “I’ll make you somethin’ I’ll make you an outfit.” So he made me the outfit that I wore on tour (Maida points to the front cover of his book) He made me that with the choker.

PKM: That’s a groovy jacket. Is it black with a bit of silver lamé?

Sal Maida: Exactly. I already had the velvet trousers and the boots, so he just made me the jacket and the choker to go with it. After that, I was just figuring things out as I went along.

PKM: You said that you were working in a record store. What year did you move to London?

Sal Maida: I seriously moved in the Summer of ’73. By September of ’73 I had the gig.

PKM: Was it an Edith Grove situation, or did you have better digs than that?

Sal Maida: Well that’s another odd story. At first I was living in bed and breakfasts, and then in the record store I worked with a guy who was looking for someone to move in ‘cause a tenant had moved out. The guy that moved out was Rik Kenton who was Roxy’s second bass player. Is that weird? So Rik kind of moved out of Roxy Music and that flat, and I moved in. That living situation was much improved, even though it wasn’t my place, it was a gorgeous flat in Victoria, around the corner from Buckingham Palace. Very posh.

PKM: Did you see much of Brian Eno when you were auditioning for Roxy?

Sal Maida: No, I worked with Brian on a separate project. Robert Calvert of Hawkwind was doing a solo album and I was doing a record with a band called Milk ‘N’ Cookies. Rhett Davies was the engineer and he said “I’m doin’ a record with Eno across the hall. Why don’t you come and play bass on it?” And I said “Great.” So they invited me to play his album. It was, I believe, Eno’s first production after he left Roxy.

PKM: What is your favorite Roxy studio album?

Sal Maida: I’d have to say, For Your Pleasure.

PKM: Why did your tenure with Roxy Music come to an end?

Sal Maida: Well, I was contracted to tour Europe and then America, and that was up. I was also having Visa problems. Not that they kicked me out of England, but I was having a really hard time getting back in. While I was back in New York I got offered the job with Milk ‘N’ Cookies, and those three factors led me to the point where it was pretty much done. Roxy had the policy of a floating bass player, and they kept changing them every tour or every album. He (Bryan) got into it and liked it after a while.

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Roxy Music on AVRO’s TopPop (Dutch television show) in 1973. Sal is pictured second from right, rocking his lamé suit jacket. (AVRO CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

PKM: Not a lot of bands were doing that back then.

Sal Maida: I had never seen anything like it. In their career, they might have had thirteen bass players, which I’m happy to be one of.

PKM: You mentioned in the book that you ended up playing on Big Beat with Sparks. How did that come about?

Sal Maida: Well, my career arc is kinda crazy. I went from Roxy, to a totally unknown New York band called Milk ‘N’ Cookies, and Milk ‘N’ Cookies had the same manager and the same producer as Sparks. I was becoming frustrated with the Milk ‘N’ Cookies situation, so it was just a natural evolution. Sparks were doing a record in New York and it was supposed to be with Mick Ronson initially. Ron and Russell, Mick Ronson, Me, and this guys Hilly Michaels. We started doing pre-production and Ronson dropped out. I brought in a guy named Jeff Salen from a New York band called the Tuff Darts. So that’s who wound up recording this record, Big Beat. We record it in Manhattan in Midtown with Rupert Holmes producing, and that’s kind of how that happened.

PKM: You said that Mick Ronson bailed on the project. Did he give you a reason?

Sal Maida: You know, to this day I don’t one hundred percent know. I’m theorizing that maybe wanted to concentrate on his solo career, or he wanted to produce the record. I never got to the bottom of it. All I know was one day he just didn’t want to do it, and Ron and Russell were thinking about going back to Los Angeles and pulling the plug on the idea of recording it in New York, and I talked him out of it. I said “I’ll get you a guy” and I got Jeff Salen and it worked out, he was great.

“They hated us so much that on the last song they tossed a beer bottle presumably at Russell, and it missed him by about ten feet. It went straight over his head, right at the drummer Hilly Michaels, and hit Hilly right in the head.”

PKM: Tell me about your tenure in Sparks. You guys headlined The Patti Smith Group on the Radio Ethiopia Tour? How did that go down?

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Milk ‘N’ Cookies ‘Little Lost and Innocent’ single, 1975.

Sal Maida: That was when I first met Lenny. (Laughs) Mostly, it was great, except for Detroit where The Patti Smith Group headlined and we opened for them. We got booed and got beer bottles thrown at us. Those were the days when they allowed you to drink a glass of beer at a venue, and when you were finished drinkin’ if you didn’t like the band, you start tossing it. They hated us so much that on the last song they tossed a beer bottle presumably at Russell, and it missed him by about ten feet. It went straight over his head, right at the drummer Hilly Michaels, and hit Hilly right in the head.

PKM: Damn!

Sal Maida: Now it’s the last song, and Hilly is bleeding but he finishes the song. He goes upstairs to the dressing room and he’s flat on his back…they’re calling the paramedics and everything and Patti Smith comes running up. I’ll never forget this. She comes running up and she says “Hilly, Hilly, are you okay? Everything’s gonna be okay. My boyfriend is in Blue Öyster Cult and he gets hit with beer bottles every night.” She was really sweet about that.

PKM: What is your standard gear that you take along with you on tour?

Sal Maida: I usually use an Ampeg SVT. That’s usually what everyone has, but I’m not picky at all. I have my Jerry Jones Longhorn bass which I love and take with me everywhere.

PKM: Are you fussy about strings and picks?

Sal Maida: Yes, very fussy about picks. They have to be large and heavy. Strings, I like them  old and worn in. I’m not crazy about new strings unless I have to change ‘em, or obviously if they break, which they never do. They’re just too twangy, and I don’t like twangy.

PKM: Who are your musical influences as far as bassists go?

Sal Maida: McCartney number one, Chris Hillman from The Byrds is a close second. After that it can go from New York session guys like Chuck Rainey and Jerry Jemmott to Jah Wobble from PIL, who I love. Then I could swing back to Pete Quaife from The Kinks. I’m all over the place. James Jamerson from all the Motown records, Carol Kaye from The Wrecking Crew who played on the Beach Boys albums. I like really accomplished session bassists who were part of a creative era, and I love guys in bands like Barry Adamson from Magazine or Colin Moulding from XTC, Paul Samwell-Smith from the Yardbirds. I could dig a punk guy like Mike Watt or I could love the most accomplished studio guy as well. As long as they’re in a creative situation and what they’re doing is appealing to my ear.

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Sal in his room in little Italy

PKM: By the mid seventies, you said you were hanging at CBGBS and Max’s. While you weren’t playing ‘punk’ music with Milk N Cookies, but you said you befriended groups like Blondie, The Ramones, Talking Heads. How did the live gig circuit differ from that of the late sixties?

Sal Maida: Well, we were all pretty friendly with one another initially. The Ramones, Blondie…I didn’t really get to know the members of Television. Richard Lloyd a little bit. The Dolls, especially Johnny, we were friendly with. Then lesser known bands like The Mumps, The Marbles, bands like that. From The Talking Heads, we got to know Chris and Tina very well. We opened for almost everyone back then, and there was a comradery at first. Then everyone started to get signed and it started to scatter and people stopped playing at CB’s and Max’s as much as they did initially. But it was a great scene. For all the great music that there was in the sixties, I don’t ever remember the New York scene the way that it was with the CBGB Max’s scene. Like, I don’t ever remember the Velvet Underground, as far as I know, hanging out with four other bands in New York and having that comradery.

PKM: So it was more of a “Finish your set and head out” train of thought.

Sal Maida: Yeah. The Velvets were playing The Dom and The Electric Circus, The Spoonful came out of the Night Owl Scene, Blues Magoos came out of the Night Owl Scene, Blues Project played the Cafe Au Go Go in the Village…but I don’t ever remember hearing that The Velvet Underground, The Rascals, The Blues Project, The Blues Magoos, and the Lovin’ Spoonful ever hung out.

At CBGB’s, everyone was friendly with one another. It didn’t last long, but it was a cool scene for about a year.

PKM: Speaking of the punk scene, you wrote in your book about heading to the last Sex Pistols gig in San Francisco with Legs, I think you said Belinda Carlisle, and your pals from Milk ‘N’ Cookies. That must have been an interesting trip.

Sal Maida: It was Belinda Carlisle…there might have been another future Go-Go in there. Legs, me, Mike, Luke who was in the LA version of Milk ‘N’ Cookies and Justin, the singer. Who else was in there? A guy named Brett Smiley. He unfortunately passed away a few years ago. Brett Smiley was kind of a Bowie-esque character who got a big record deal in the mid seventies and was dubbed ‘the prettiest star’. I mean, he was on The Russell Harty Show, and he made a record with Andrew Loog Oldham. He had a big deal going, and it all just crashed down on him…and he was young. So he was on the excursion, and I think his sister. Oh, Gary Stuart and Bill Inglot who went on to create the Rhino Records empire, all the reissues. Bill Inglot was the reissue engineer and Gary Stuart was one of the executives that started Rhino Records. It was a pretty illustrious group.

PKM: So you guys were all packed into a van together?

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Little Lost and Innocent promo poster, 1975

Sal Maida: We were all packed into a van. I can’t remember whose van it was. But we all drove from LA, we made the excursion to see specifically what turned out to be the Sex Pistols’ last show ever.

PKM: Was it apparent to you that it was going to be the last show? Could you see the deterioration within the band?

Sal Maida: I was a big fan of the records. When they came out, Sid was absolutely useless on the bass. It wasn’t even plugged in, so he was just…he was wielding the bass almost like a weapon, you know, a punk stance, and he cut a punk figure. So that part was covered, but it was really the other three guys that were doing all the heavy lifting. Those other three guys were absolutely dynamic. Fabulous. I mean, Jones and Cook, the drummer and the guitar player, Brilliant. Johnny Rotten is probably one of the best front men I’ve ever seen. He was charismatic, he was hilarious, and he was scary. He was everything you would hope for and more. I mean, he was getting hit with everything under the sun, and he just let it bounce off him, and he didn’t flinch. He was gettin’ spit on, gettin’ hit in the head with shit, and he was so intense delivering those songs. It was great. So, that part was great. At the end he kinda seemed to hint that this was gonna be it. He said “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” And that was it, apparently. They scattered. They were done.

PKM: Do you have plans to release a new book?

Sal Maida: I am working on a second book. I wouldn’t say it’s completely different, but it’s with another writer. It’s a collaboration.

PKM: Is it autobiographical?

Sal Maida: No, not at all.

PKM: What do you have planned in the upcoming months? Are you going to be on tour?

Sal Maida: I just toured in September and October with a band called The Brandos. We also played in Germany and Holland for five and a half weeks. Other than that, I play in A Spoonful of Lovin’ and I still play in Milk ‘N’ Cookies. I play with a guy named Ed Rogers, I play with Annie Golden who’s in Orange is the New Black. Yeah, I’m in like six or seven different bands. It keeps me busy. I have a radio show…we’re on hiatus right now, but you can still hear re streams every Monday from 2 to 4. As a matter of fact, I’m re streaming a summer show I did last year that’s really good. It’s called Spin Cycle and it’s on Little Water Radio every Monday from 2-4. Littlewaterradio.org

PKM: For fans who have yet to read your book, where can they purchase it?

Sal Maida: It’s available on Amazon. You can also purchase it through Hozac, the publisher, or you can just PM me on Facebook and buy it directly from me.

https://www.amazon.com/Four-Strings-Phony-Proof-300/dp/B07BMGZTYW

Sal’s book, Four Strings, Phony Proof, and 300 45s available for purchase on Amazon.com

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PETER ASHER: ONWARD FROM BEATLEMANIA

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Photo: Michael Borkson via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published on ‘pleasekillme.com’, August 23, 2018

By Valerie Simadis

Renowned producer, manager and musician Peter Asher discusses the early days of Peter and Gordon, his career as a producer, touring with Jeremy Clyde, and what made him a believer in James Taylor.

Audiences first came to know Peter Asher in the early 1960s, as one half of the duo Peter and Gordon. The duo quickly became a part of the British Invasion phenomenon and topped the charts in both the U.S. and U.K. with their hit single “World Without Love.” Shortly after the duo’s split in 1968, Asher went on to become head of A&R for Apple Records, and it was during this period that he met James Taylor through a mutual friend. After moving from England to the West Coast to act as James Taylor’s manager and producer, Asher went on to manage and produce several other artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Cher, 10,000 Maniacs and Diana Ross.

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James Taylor, Sweet Baby James. Released 1970

In 2005-2006, Peter and Gordon briefly reunited at a benefit concert for Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five, who had been paralyzed by a fall at his home. After performing at the benefit concert, Peter and Gordon began to play a series of concerts at the Fest for Beatles Fans. After Gordon Waller’s death in 2009, Asher questioned whether he would ever be able to play their chart-topping hits on stage – not an easy decision to make.

Said Asher, “I gradually developed this idea of putting together a show that would be some stories and some bits of video and some songs that would include the Gordon songs. Then I worked on this idea where I could do one or two songs with Gordon actually on tape, because we had some recordings that would enable us to do that, so I put the show together experimentally and it seemed to work.”

Asher refers to these performances as his Memoir shows, in which he transports his audience to the 1960s with his informative stories about cultural icons of that era. Currently, Asher is performing with R&B and country guitarist Albert Lee in addition to touring with Jeremy Clyde of the duo Chad & Jeremy. In 2017, Asher became a radio host on the Sirius XM Beatles Channel. His hour-long show, entitled Peter Asher: From Me to You, is broadcasted four times a week. On it, Asher shares memories and anecdotes about his friends The Beatles and their music.

PKM: What is your earliest music memory, and what music were you exposed to as a child?

Peter Asher: Classical music. My mother, as you may know, was a classical oboe player and teacher, so early in my life she was playing in various orchestras. Indeed, I spent some time as a baby on the road when my father was off working in the hospital, and that’s when the orchestras all had women in them for the first time because the men were all off at war. So I spent, evidently, some baby years…several of the women in the orchestra had babies who were looked after by some army person while the orchestra was on stage. I don’t remember that, but that was the case, and then certainly I remember hearing classical music all the time being played in our house. My father was an amateur pianist as well and played classical music.

PKM: Your mother was a professor at the Guildhall School of Music?

Peter Asher: Actually, she was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music and I think she was a guest professor at the Guildhall, which is where she taught George Martin, which is why that’s spoken of more often, but her actual full-time position was at the Royal Academy of Music. Two parallel institutions.

PKM: Do you feel that she influenced you in terms of pursuing a career in music?

Peter Asher: Not particularly, no. I mean, she certainly influenced my love of music, but I don’t think my career in music had much to do with that.

PKM: Can you remember where you played your first gig?

Peter Asher: Well, I guess before Gordon, I had a skiffle group. I played bass in a jazz band as well, sort a traditional Dixieland jazz band. I played bass rather badly…quite badly. We did a few gigs every now and then but they tended to be parties and stuff. You know, we would play for free food and drink or something. But yeah, playing in jazz groups, playing in a skiffle group (skiffle was a whole British phenomenon), that kind of stuff, and then when Gordon and I met at school, we followed the same kind of pattern. We started off playing parties and eventually you’d end up with some actual paid gigs. Those might have been our first paid gigs when Gordon and I started playing coffee shops and pubs and actually getting paid to do so.

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PKM: What was the turning point for you and Gordon in terms of when you felt that you’d made it?

Peter Asher: That all happened after we got spotted by Norman Newell the A&R guy from EMI records. He spotted us at the Pickwick Club in London and signed us up to EMI records, in that sense, that would be the turning point, certainly.

PKM: In 1964, Brian Jones played harmonica on several of your songs (including “A Mess of the Blues” and “Love Me, Baby”). How did that collaboration come about?

Peter Asher: We toured with the Stones, you know? We became friends. Gordon and Brian were particularly close friends. They’d go out pub crawling together and have fun. I liked Brian very much and I also became friendly with Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman who are still good friends. Yeah, I miss Brian. He was a very cool guy and a brilliant harmonica player.

PKM: One of your earliest shows in the U.S. was at the New York World’s Fair of 1964. That must have been an exciting time for you.

Peter Asher: It was! I mean, just getting to New York for the first time was very exciting. I had always dreamed of going to New York, I had posters of the New York City skyline and Malibu beaches and stuff on my wall. I always wanted to go to America and it was very hard to get to and distant and expensive at that time, so when our record was a hit, we knew that they were going to bring us to America. That was a big deal, landing in New York for the first time, and then of course being chased around the city by screaming girls was fabulous.

By Capitol Records (Billboard, page 1, 5 March 1966) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.png
By Capitol Records via Wikimedia Commons
PKM: So there was an element of Beatlemania present?

Peter Asher: Oh yes, that’s when it all began, starting with The Beatles, that whole ‘British Invasion’ thing all fell into the same general group, so yes, the girls knew their role which was to scream and chase British bands, which they did!

PKM: Do you remember the other bands that shared the bill with you at the World’s Fair?

Peter Asher: No, I’m not sure if there were other acts. There may have been, but I don’t remember. We played with a lot of different bands. I remember we did the Atlantic City Steel Pier around the same time, and that was with Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs. I remember we did some gigs with Sgt. Barry Sadler, he had a number one record, “Ballad of the Green Berets,” with whom we found we had very little in common except for poker, so we all played poker together.

PKM: You served as the head of the A&R department at Apple. How did you discover new artists and determine which ones would make the cut?

Peter Asher: I had weekly A&R meetings with The Beatles. We got sent a vast number of tapes because we took out ads asking people to send us music, but we never really found anything good that came through all the sent in stuff. If there was anything vaguely promising, I had four or five people working for me listening to stuff and I would listen to anything that seemed vaguely good. Then we’d play some of it at the A&R meetings with as many Beatles that showed up that week. Really, the people we signed came through contacts. Mal Evans, The Beatles’ roadie, found The Iveys, Paul McCartney spotted Mary Hopkin on a TV show, Jackie Lomax was a friend of George Harrison’s, and I found James Taylor by being introduced to him by a mutual friend. So that’s how we found people, actually. It turned out to be through people we knew or people who we were introduced to.

“…when our record was a hit, we knew that they were gonna bring us to America. That was a big deal, landing in New York for the first time, and then of course being chased around the city by screaming girls was fabulous.”


PKM
: Speaking of James Taylor, his first album was not what you would call a ‘commercial success’ but you were still determined to stick with it. What made you believe in him?

Peter Asher: Everything about him. His singing, his guitar playing, his songs, his remarkable intellect. I found everything about him admirable. I thought his songs were unlike everybody else. He had this beautiful voice, plus he had the phrasing of a soul singer, you know, he sounded like Sam Cooke or Ray Charles but with a folky voice. I thought he was amazing.

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Peter, JT and Linda Ronstadt on the cover of Rolling Stone

PKM: What was the first record you ever produced?

Peter Asher: It was a song called “And the Sun Will Shine” by Paul Jones. He used to be the lead singer of Manfred Mann. That was a single that…Paul Jones had seen some of the Peter and Gordon stuff that I was not officially producing, but was getting involved with, and he asked me if I would produce some tracks for him. So I owe him gratitude for that. It had a remarkably good band that I had put together for the occasion. I had Nicky Hopkins on piano, Jeff Beck on guitar, and Paul McCartney playing drums.

PKM: What is a favorite production of your own?

Peter Asher: I tend to think of the hits because they were important, you know, “Fire and Rain” was important, Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good”.  When we finished that record, I thought it was really good. It did have that “If this isn’t a hit record, I don’t know what is” kind of feeling. Sweet Baby James as a whole album, same with Heart Like a Wheel as a whole album. Those were two early albums that were very important in my career.

PKM: Speaking of Linda Ronstadt, you are the first manager to ever grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. What was the story behind that photo shoot with Linda and James?

Peter Asher: Well, they said they were going to do a big story on me and my managing and producing, which was unusual at the time to do both, and they asked if I would go to New York the following week to do a photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz. I said “Sure”, but they did say that they were actually contemplating making it a cover story but it only had a chance to be a cover story if I took James and Linda with me to the photo shoot with Annie. And I admit, I called them up and said “Please, please, we have to go. I want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone!” So we all went to New York and did the photo shoot together.

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Linda Ronstadt, ‘Heart Like a Wheel’ album

PKM: In 2005-2006, you reformed with Gordon [Waller] to play occasional concerts. What prompted you to join together after all those years?

Peter Asher: Paul Shaffer. I don’t know if you know the story, but it was a benefit that Paul Shaffer, the keyboard player on the Letterman show was putting together for a friend of his, Mike Smith from the Dave Clark Five, and he said “I want to do a British Invasion benefit. What would it take to get you and Gordon back together?” I realized that given that Paul would do a great job putting it all together and the fact that Mike Smith was a great friend of Gordon’s, this might be the one we had to try and do, so after a 37-year gap, we got back together and we worked out a few songs we could do with Paul and his band.

PKM: When Gordon passed away in 2009, was there a part of you that thought you would never be able to play Peter and Gordon songs again?

By Peter Grad (BB King's New York, City, NY) [GFDL (http- www.gnu.org copyleft fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https- creativecommons.org licenses by-sa 4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Peter & Gordon 2005 benefit for Mike Smith. By Peter Grad via Wikimedia Commons
Peter Asher: Yes. I wondered…I mean, it was a very conscious decision on my part. I kind of went “Does that mean I’m never going to play them again?”, and then I gradually developed this idea of putting together a show that would be some stories and some bits of video and some songs that would include the Gordon songs. Then I worked on this idea where I could do one or two songs with Gordon actually on tape, because we had some recordings that would enable us to do that, so I put the show together experimentally and it seemed to work, so that was the beginning of my going out on the road by myself.

“I thought his songs were unlike everybody else. He had this beautiful voice, plus he had the phrasing of a soul singer…he sounded like Sam Cooke or Ray Charles but with a folky voice. I thought he was amazing.” – Peter Asher (on James Taylor)


PKM
: Speaking of going out on the road, you’ve recently played a few shows with Albert Lee. How did you begin touring together?

Peter Asher: We’ve known each other a long time, and we’ve done some benefits together. We both love the Everlys and so we would sing some of the Everly Brothers’ songs together, and it was actually somebody else’s idea. They said “Since you both have a lot of interesting memories and you both like a lot of the same songs, why don’t you try putting a show together, just acoustically, just the two of you. No band, no video, no nothing. So we did, and that seemed to work, so we do that from time to time. Currently I’m doing these shows with Jeremy Clyde which is a whole other thing.

PKM: Tell me about your shows with Jeremy.

Peter Asher: We play all the Peter and Gordon hits and all the Chad & Jeremy hits, as you’d expect. I mean, that’s the advantage of being the leftovers from two duos, because Gordon being no longer with us, and Chad having retired, we just thought “What the hell? Let’s start a new duo, Peter & Jeremy’.” I get to sing their hits for the first time like “A Summer Song” and “Yesterday’s Gone,” and Jeremy gets to sing “World Without Love” and our other hits. It’s fun and we have a lot of stories between us. Jeremy, of course, is a successful actor as well, so we both have fun being on stage together.

PKM: Tell me about your radio show on Sirius XM.

Peter Asher: They approached me about a year or so ago, I guess it’s been a year and half now. They said they had this idea and was I interested. They were starting a Beatles channel. I checked with Apple and with The Beatles themselves to make sure this request was coming from them and not just from the radio station. I mean, I obviously wouldn’t do it if they weren’t on board with it, but they were. They said “Yes, yes, we think it would be good and we hope you do it!” So I did it, and you have to listen to it to know what it is. I tell stories and fill in bits of history and play Beatle records and other stuff that’s Beatle related.

PKM: What music are you listening to these days?

Peter Asher: Let’s see…yesterday I was listening to some Iris DeMent because somebody was talking about her and I realized she had a new record out. She’s great. I listen to Pop Radio, I listen to the bluegrass station I listen to the jazz station on XM, I listen to the Beatles station sometimes, so it’s a pretty broad spectrum. A lot of the time I listen to BBC World Service and that’s not music at all, but I do listen in the car pretty much all the time. I just bounce around between different stations.

PKM: What is your take on analog versus digital?

Peter Asher: I think there’s very little difference these days. When digital was first introduced, it had some real deficiencies. To my mind it sounds just fine. I mean, I understand the affection for vinyl records. Does it really make a big difference sonically? No. And it only makes a difference if you really look after your vinyl records anyway, and I was never one of those people who did that…the people who carefully wiped them down and put them back in the sleeves and all that. I was more of the ‘let them all lie on the floor in a mess’ school of thought, which didn’t make them sound very good. So I’m entirely happy in the digital world. As far as recording goes, I don’t use tape at all. I get people who say “Oh you’re so lucky, you made all your records in the tape age” I don’t see it that way at all. I think I’m lucky now that I’m making them in the digital age.

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In Touch with Peter and Gordon album.

Check out Peter’s radio show Peter Asher: From Me To You on the Sirius XM Beatles Channel:

https://www.siriusxm.com/thebeatleschannel

For more tour dates, visit:

http://peterashermusic.com/

IVAN JULIAN: WORKING WITHOUT A NET

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Originally published on ‘pleasekillme.com’, August 9, 2018

By Valerie Simadis 

After surviving his bout with cancer, Ivan Julian – Voidoids guitarist, producer, studio owner and all-around good guy – is making as much music as he can

In 2015, legendary Voidoids guitarist and producer Ivan Julian was diagnosed with stage III gastrointestinal cancer. Upon hearing about his diagnosis, a two-day benefit concert was held for him at City Winery in New York City. The musicians involved included Debbie Harry, Richard Hell, Thurston Moore & Lee Ranaldo, Ian Hunter, Lenny Kaye & Tony Shanahan, Matthew Sweet, Al Maddy, The Dictators NYC, Garland Jeffreys, Willie Nile, The Bush Tetras and various special guests. Thanks to his friends, these sold out shows raised enough money to provide Ivan with the proper funds to receive cancer treatments.

Since his doctor declared him cancer-free in 2016, Ivan has set up in his new recording studio Super Giraffe Sound and is back in his element, producing albums and working on records of his own.

I sat down with Ivan in his studio where he discussed his early music endeavors, his transient lifestyle, and how being in a dark place has affected the way he now approaches music.

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Super Giraffe Sound Studios

PKM: A lot of us know that you’ve gone through a bad patch. How are you feeling?

Ivan Julian: Graphically, I’m feeling fine. All the tests say that I’m totally fine, I’m good. There’s no disease in me or anything like that. Energy-wise, I’m almost back there, but I’m feeling better, that’s the thing, and now that it’s warmer, I’m feeling even better.

PKM: That’s great! So are you going to the hospital monthly for checkups?

Ivan Julian: It’s every ninety days, and in between that they send me into some horrible tube MRI scanning machine that makes really loud noises.

PKM: That sounds freaky.

Ivan Julian: It’s just annoying. It’s freaky and annoying because you’re totally enclosed in this tube and it makes this really loud buzzing sound, and your abdomen gets really hot. It’s really weird.

PKM: I’m sorry you have to go through that.

Ivan Julian: Well, you know, it’s better than the alternative, isn’t it? It really is.

PKM: Has being sick and coming out of it affected the way you approach music now?

Ivan Julian: Yes, because I must admit I went through some kind of portal. It was a really dark place and I’m trying to document that in my music. Also, be honest enough, and by honest I mean I’ve always admired really brave honest writers like Howlin’ Wolf, for instance, like [Charles] Bukowski. People who are just brave and honest. So I’m trying to incorporate that into the music, and also I realize that that’s my prime directive, it’s why I’m here. You tend to get distracted living in a city especially like New York when you have to, you know, you just get distracted and you have to do all these dances to make money and things, and it made me realize that the priority is to make music, and as much as I can while I’m here.

PKM: Tell me how your career in music began?

Ivan Julian: It was 1964/65. I had just arrived, so to speak, back in this country from living on a naval base in Cuba, and all of a sudden I started to hear all this wild music on the radio after having been basically locked on this naval base where there was one radio station. I always remember they played Burl Ives’ “On Top of Old Smoky,” which is a folk song, over and over again. I don’t remember much popular music coming in. Then when we went to the States, I heard all this great music coming out of Detroit, Motown, and all this great stuff coming out of England, and what really started it for me was I heard “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and I heard the sound of the snare drum, and it just went completely right through me and made me an addict of rock & roll and then I started to research back and go, “Well, who do the Stones listen to? And who does Bukka White listen to? And who does Howlin’ Wolf listen to?”, and you discover this whole world, this whole history, this whole path of what created the music that was current. So I was really into that and I was debating “Am I really gonna make my life as a musician?” Am I really gonna just take that path and go “No I’m not gonna become a lawyer, no I’m not gonna become a fighter pilot like my father wanted. I’m gonna pick up a guitar and start playing or singing or something.”

Along the way I was being taught classical music and I was playing the bassoon and the saxophone, and I was being lured into these boys’ orchestras and being groomed that way. Then my friend’s brother, when I was 12, took me to see Jimi Hendrix at the Baltimore Civic Center and that did it for me, because here was this guy on stage wearing every color under the sun playing this wild unimaginable guitar, just being free and creative. It was inspiring…it was alien. It was like being visited from another source or another planet, and that was what really made me decide. I can’t help it, it’s got me, like I’m not making a conscious decision, it’s taking me to this place, and every decision I’ve made since then, regarding where I lived and what I would do to travel evolved from that.

PKM: You mentioned Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. What was your gateway band?

Ivan Julian: The Rolling Stones…Keith Richards, I should say. He’s the one who really inspired me. People sometimes make comparisons between me and Hendrix. I mean, I’m flattered but it’s just not that way, because there already is a Jimi Hendrix, and I realized that back then. I was inspired by Keith because Keith wrote songs. He could take a simple chord pattern and turn it into an idea, and based on Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, he was into Chuck Berry as well. People think that’s very simple music but it’s not when you actually try to play it right. As Keith once said himself “What we did was we took your culture that you abandoned and sold it back to you.” You know, that’s basically what they did. So that was the one band, I have to admit, that really opened up everything else.

 

I must admit I went through some kind of portal. It was a really dark place and I’m trying to document that in my music. Also, be honest enough, and by honest I mean I’ve always admired really brave honest writers like Howlin’ Wolf for instance, like Bukowski. People who are just brave and honest. So I’m trying to incorporate that into the music, and also I realize that that’s my prime directive, it’s why I’m here.

 

PKM: At the age of 19 you toured the U.K., Switzerland and Yugoslavia as a member of the Foundations. How did that come to be?

Ivan Julian: I was in Washington D.C. and I didn’t see any future there for me because there were no places where you could be an original band. All the bands were cover bands and you had to fit in based on who you looked like and what you could play, and I just didn’t fit into any of that, and I thought, “Well, I’ve got to play music somewhere” so I saved my money from working at this law firm. At one point I had no place to live because I was saving money. I stayed at this guy’s house who had a long ‘70s shag carpet and he smoked so much pot that pot plants were growing out of it, but I thought “Okay, it doesn’t matter, I’ve got to save this money” and then I moved to England. I sold all of my gear in D.C. except for my guitar, and I moved there with the intention of finding some kind of band. I stayed in this youth hostel for a while, and my job every day was to go out to the clubs and find out what was going on, find out who was playing where, just kind of feel the scene out. Whether I felt like it or not, this was what I did every day. I went to this one pub called Town and Country and these women were there and we started talking and they said “Well, what are you doing here?” and I said “Well, I’m trying to find a band.” So they honestly said this, they said “Okay, we’re gonna take you home, we’ll find out where you live” which was 46 Hestercombe Avenue. I don’t know why I remember that.

PKM: That was a rough neighborhood back then.

Ivan Julian: The roughest thing I remember was it was on the route to the soccer pitch, so whenever there was a soccer game there would be riots in the street and people throwing bottles and stuff like that, but it was rough now that I think about it. I didn’t think it then, that’s the first time I’ve ever even given it some thought. New York was rough too but I didn’t consider it that, but it was rough, come to think of it. Whenever we rehearsed, even with The Foundations, we would go to Shepherd’s Bush or somewhere around there because there were empty vacant buildings and lots. It was pretty rough, especially if you went out to the pubs and stuff like that.

PKM: So the ladies took you in…

Ivan Julian: They took me home, came back the next morning at ten o’clock, took me to this place called Manny’s Rehearsal Studio at the end of King’s Road on World’s End. This was basically a rehearsal studio in the middle of London. They introduced me to Manny. Manny sat at the desk and they said “This is Ivan, he’s looking for a band.” And he said, “Okay, well, just sit here and hang out and some band will come through and they’ll need a guitar player.” I said “Okay”, I’ve got nothing else to lose, let’s try that. I was there for one…two…three days, I would go get them scones, just to try and pay my rent there. I couldn’t do much else at that point. So then one night The Foundations came in, and they put their head out and they said “Manny, we need a guitar player,” so Manny said “Go in there, go do it! Go do it!” I didn’t have a guitar with me at the time, actually. I had a saxophone. So I went in and played saxophone with them, and they’re playing me these songs and they go, “We need a guitar player.” I said, “I am a guitar player!” and they said “Well, come back tomorrow with a guitar.” I came back the next day with a guitar and they’re showing me “Build Me Up, Buttercup”. I still have a cassette of this. They’re showing me “Baby Now That I’ve Found You”, all these songs they had. I said “Wait a minute, I thought you guys were from Detroit!” They go “No man, from Barbados, man, Barbados, Jamaica, no Detroit!” I’m like “Wow, really?!” It was wild.

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They said, “You have two days to learn 15 songs.” I had a little cassette player with me and made a cassette of us rehearsing and wrote down the chords, stayed up for two nights, and there was no last rehearsal, we just got in a van and we went up the M1 and we just started touring England. It was definitely ‘Musician 101’ because they played a lot. Sometimes they would have it so we would play for three weeks, seven days a week, and then sometimes they would have it so that they’d play two cities in one day where they’d play one city in the afternoon and at night they’d play another city. They’d play everything from small bog clubs, like clubs that were next to a moat. I remember once I was wearing gloves and I had a clear guitar, and it was so cold that the guitar kinda fogged over.

They’d do everything from that to small theatres and supper clubs, but they just worked, and worked, and worked. We used to play union halls which is basically somewhere outside of Manchester, I think, up North, and it’s like a coal town where everybody works at the factory and on Friday night they’d come out and see the band and then they’d all go nuts and start beating the shit out of each other. We had the chicken wire thing that you hear about in legend, they had that up in front. I had read about that from the 1950s and from the Hank Williams days, and I’m thinking “Here it is in real life” and it’s like BOOM! Bottles are coming. It wasn’t so much hostility towards the band, it was just that everyone had to let out their aggression and started fighting. Women were fighting each other; they were kind of the worst, actually. We’d watch them rolling around the floor, and I’m trying to remember the chords and keep my eyes on things.

The Foundations on TV circa 1968:

PKM: So were you kind of relieved when the ‘Punk’ era came around and people only spat at you? It’s better than beer bottles.

Ivan Julian: We’ll get to that, but no. That was a whole different level, ‘cause that’s when the D.C. came out in me, it’s like “You can do lots of things to me, but you don’t spit on me.” I didn’t understand whatever guise was behind it. It was basically just guys being morons. Allegedly it was some kind of political thing. What it was supposed to mean…you know the story, right? To bring the band down to the level of the people so that everyone was equal. So if you spat on them, that meant that you weren’t some rock star, you were on the same level as other people. I don’t think anyone that I saw spitting had this whole algorithm thought out as they were gobbing on us (laughs); that was brutal.

Getting back to this whole thing chronologically, we played Yugoslavia, when Yugoslavia was Yugoslavia, and I think we may have done Switzerland too, as a stopover. I loved it, it was great. It reassured my feeling. It sounds kind of corny, but I would hang out with these guys and we couldn’t speak a word of each other’s language, like not one, and yet we could play together. I would jam with the opening band and they’d show me these songs like “Oh, I know that song” and we could actually communicate that way. It was really great.

PKM: Do you remember the first gig you had with The Foundations?

Ivan Julian: This would have been sometime in late fall, like November / December of 1974. I really can’t remember where it was. I might have it in a diary somewhere. Surprisingly I did write diaries back then before I got distracted by other crap. I know I did for Voidoids tours. I want to say Leeds. It was a supper club, I remember because I was 19 and I wasn’t used to drinking. I remember getting a drink and then going “Whoah! Enough of that until I’m done playing!” So that would have been where it was.

PKM: Earlier on you mentioned growing up on a naval base in Cuba. Where are you from originally?

Ivan Julian: I don’t know. I mean, I was born in Washington D.C., and when I was four years old we left there and moved to Guantanamo. Actually, when I was three we lived in Boston, but I don’t remember any of that, really. When I was four, we moved to Guantanamo and stayed there until I was ten years old. So my formative years were on this military base except for the time we got evacuated during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then we came back to the Washington area and I saw how disturbing America was, to be quite honest. I thought, “There’s no sun, there’s no clear water, and everybody’s killing each other.” My whole time in Washington, it seemed like a rest stop. I don’t have roots there. I have more roots in New York than I have anywhere else, and even in New York I have more roots in Europe and places like that, so I’m just kind of a transient person. All these things have influenced me, living in Washington, of course, influenced me to some degree, especially with what’s happening in the country now, because their international or national news is more like local news. It’s like “The guy down the street is doing this” and you’re like “What?!”

PKM: So your dad was in the Navy? What did he do?

Ivan Julian: He was a cook. Actually, interesting story, he was, I think 14 when he joined during World War II because he grew up in rural Maryland, St. Mary’s County, and he wanted to get out of there really bad, so he lied about his age to get into the Navy. At the time, unless he had some kind of formal education, especially being a minority, all he was going to do was cook. I mean, when there was a ‘gunner’s run,’ as they’d say, he would grab some gun and start shooting it on the ship, but other than that, that was your gig.

PKM: You said he wanted you to follow in his footsteps at one point?

Ivan Julian: Yeah. Maybe when I was very young I considered it, you know, the pomp of the uniform and all that. It’s really ironic and strange actually, because I always said, “No, I don’t want to be in the Navy, I don’t want to do that because I don’t want a job where someone always tells you where to go.” And that’s exactly what kind of job I have (laughs): get on the bus, play the guitar, go here, go here, go there. You also have to consider this was the 1960s. There was a huge cultural revolution going on then, with my generation and the generation that was slightly older than me. Had it been the 1950s, I very well could have ended up in the Navy or something, but there was so much questioning of status quo and all that going on. It didn’t seem right to go over and kill people in Vietnam.

PKM: Before learning to play guitar, you said that you first began playing the bassoon. What drew you to that instrument, or was it a requirement in school?

Ivan Julian: No. What happened was, when I was in junior high school, it was a rough suburban neighborhood. All of D.C. is kind of violent, or at least it was then. The county where I grew up is even more violent now than it was then. Anyway, the school was borderline on this kind of iffy neighborhood and someone broke into the school…which could happen anywhere, actually, and stole a bunch of instruments out of the closet. One of the things they stole was my saxophone. I was devastated, but my instructor, Dr. Shrout, I’ll never forget, without missing a beat, he hands me this case and goes, “You can learn to play this” and he handed me the bassoon. I’m like, “What the fuck is this thing?” You know, it’s like a little tiny pipe and then you’ve got to sit on the strap to hold it, and it plays in a completely different clef, it’s in the bass clef, not the treble clef, which was great, because then I learned the bass clef. But that’s how I started playing the bassoon, and I liked it! I was considering the other day getting one again, but then again, I’ve got to stop buying junk.

PKM: Do you think you’d be able to pick it up and play it, or would you have to brush up on it?

Ivan Julian: Well, it’s the same with the saxophone. It’s weird, because you learn by reading and not so much improvising, you can start reading the music again, and it all comes back to you. But like with anything else, yes, I’d have to brush up. Piano is the one instrument that you really have to practice all the time every day in order to keep yourself at a certain level. Other things like guitar, at least for me, you can go a little while without doing it, but I’d have to brush up on the bassoon. And if you would hear me on saxophone, you would say I’d have to brush up on the saxophone too. (laughs)

PKM: Aside from bassoon, guitar and sax, what other instruments can you play?

Ivan Julian: Piano.

PKM: Did you learn how to play when you were a kid?

Ivan Julian: No, I learned that 20 years ago. Well, first of all, I moved to Brooklyn from the East Village, and I finally had enough space to have things because in the East Village I didn’t have enough space to have anything, and I thought, “You know, I’ve always heard that you can get pianos really cheap.” I was looking around and someone I know worked for Taylor Dayne’s manager, I don’t know if you know who that is…this singer in the 1980s. Her manager had a piano and said “Get it out of here and it’s yours”. So I moved it to my house and I started practicing. I knew music theory from playing classical music, and then I read in an interview with Pete Townshend that he always loved the way Aretha Franklin played the piano, the way she always accompanied herself. I started listening to those records, and it’s really kind of easy to sing and play, and I thought, “That’s the kind of piano player I want to be.” I want to be able to sing and accompany myself on the piano, play simple chords and stuff like that…until 9/11 came along, and then I thought, “You know, fuck it. This could all go down, any day this could all be over, so I’m gonna learn the Moonlight Sonata. It took me two months, but I did it.
 

I remember walking to CB’s one day and going “This place is going to be really famous. It’s going to be this landmark in the music scene. Just like Birdland was for the jazz crowd in the 1950s, this is gonna be amazing”, and strangely enough it was.


PKM
: You studied music theory in high school. Do you feel the training helped shape your style as a guitar player?

Ivan Julian: It has nothing to do with my style as a guitar player, because that’s more training by ear. It’s helped me to be able to figure out things and explain things to other people better because I know the circle of fifths and chords and so forth, and if I’m trying to learn someone else’s music, I know the variables, I know the options, but in terms of my own playing, I’m more of a sonic person, whereas I’ll play a note and the note tells me where it should go next, and if I’m lucky I’ll land my finger and then go “Where do we go next?”, and if I can put all that together, it becomes a guitar part. The theory has nothing to do with my guitar playing. But once again, going back to Keith Richards, the rhythm does. (Robert) Quine and I used to say, “You can teach a chimpanzee to play fast, any chimpanzee you give them a guitar and you give them six months and they go (makes guitar noises) but to play a song, to really play rhythm well is a challenge”, and to really lock it in so it works with the drums and everything.

PKM: In 1976, you became a founding member of Richard Hell and the Voidoids. How did the band come to be? I remember reading something about you or Richard running an ad in the paper.

Ivan Julian: We both did. I had come back from Yugoslavia…I left The Foundations because they were just gonna play all the time, they weren’t gonna make any records. I was young, I was 20 by that point and I wanted to make records. It’s strange when I tell people this, and looking back on it, but I really thought it was going to be the end of the world if I didn’t have a record out by the time I was 21. I couldn’t bear even thinking about it. So in order to do that, I had to leave The Foundations. I was in Yugoslavia and I said, “Hey guys, I’m not going back to England, I’m gonna stay here and try to figure out what to do.” I looked in all the music papers, Melody Maker, the NME, all those papers, Rolling Stone, any paper I could get my hands on, because you could get Rolling Stone there. They were all talking about New York City and the stuff that was going on in New York, and what was happening at Max’s.

CB’s wasn’t so much on the map then, but there was this buzz. David Bowie was hanging out in New York City, everybody was coming here to get some kind of influence, and I thought, “I’m gonna go there.” So, I wrote my friend who lived on 83rd Street and Central Park West (he and I worked at the law firm together in D.C. and he told me “If you ever need a place to stay, let me know”), so I wrote to him from Yugoslavia “Dear Nick, ummm…I need to come to New York and I need a place to stay.” He wrote me back, “Yeah, sure come on.” So I packed my bags, went there. Then I found out what music papers were around, and there was a paper called Musician Classifieds. They had an office on 30th Street where all the other music places were. I put an ad in the paper saying ‘Guitarist: have gear, will travel” and a phone number. Wait…did I even have a phone number?

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PKM: The guy’s phone number?

Ivan Julian: It was the guy’s phone number on the Upper West Side, it must have been! So I put that in the paper and I went down to D.C. and I saw my parents for two or three weeks, I hadn’t seen them in almost a year. Then I came back to New York, because I knew the paper took 30 days to come out, and I looked at the paper, and on the front of the paper was a picture of this guy with some weird bass with some weird glasses, and weird everything. Then I go to the back of the paper and my ad’s there. It turns out Anya Phillips, an entrepreneur, scene shaker and all that, she did an article on Richard and I believe took the photo as well, about him being a downtown poet, and forming a band, how different and well-read he was, and in that same issue was my ad. So, they were looking for a guitar player. Richard, Bob and Mark had already formed, and they were auditioning guitar players. Quine was the one who called me and said, “Okay, well we have this band, we’d like you to come down to this rehearsal studio and just play.” So I said “Sure”, and brought my clear guitar down to the rehearsal studio. They had three songs, “Blank Generation” and “Love Comes in Spurts”, and part of “Another World”. “Another World” hadn’t been written yet. I started playing with them and thought that was that, and I went to put my guitar in my case and Bob goes, “Well, how would you like to join the band?” I go “Well, what are you guys doing?” and he said “Well, we have this production deal, we have a salary, the idea is to make a single, and after that we start touring, and then we make an LP. I thought that was a good plan, especially the regular money bit. It wasn’t much, mind you, about 15 dollars a week or something? It must have been more than that, but not much, but it was still money. I had come from Europe with some savings, because I made pretty good money with The Foundations, but I had to make money here somehow. So that’s how the whole thing came about.

PKM: When you left The Foundations, did they understand why you wanted to leave? Were they cool with it?

Ivan Julian: They were cool with it because how I met them was a similar situation. They had just worn one guitar player out, and people in the band were changing. I mean, they had two bass players in the time I was there. Actually, one of the bass players if you want to get into history, his name was Dado Topić and he was actually Yugoslavian and why we went to Yugoslavia, because there he was a national folk hero. He was the first person that defied the Yugoslavian government and said, “I’m not going to war. I’m not gonna join the army.” They tried to lock him up but the people rallied around him and he ended up not going to jail. When we played there, people would gather around our hotel room, hundreds of people and chant his name all night long. Seriously, from the night we got in and were done playing at eleven or whatever until early morning.

PKM: During your time in the Voidoids, what sort of gear were you using? You mentioned your clear guitar, what brand was it?

Ivan Julian: That was a Dan Armstrong Plexiglas and it was clear. Keith (Richards) had one, and I had to have it. I kept it as long as I could, but it was made of this really heavy acrylic fiberglass and the neck was wood so if you turned around, the wood couldn’t handle the weight. It wasn’t really made for playing live. Richard got one too eventually, but so we wouldn’t be twins, he put black tape all over his. With that we had Ampeg V4 cabinets, both Quine and I. V4 Cabinets are cabinets about the size of that 2-inch tape machine, about the size of a washing machine, with four 200-watt speakers in it. So, this is kind of like sticking your ear up against a jet engine, and we had two of them. I don’t know how people would put up with it, but they would just sit in the front row and go “Yeeaaaahhh!” In the beginning we had big amplifiers, everyone used bigger amps back then. We weren’t a Marshall type band, that’s the other thing we could have had, but we ended up having V4s.

PKM: So you had your Dan Armstrong throughout your time in the Voidoids?

Ivan Julian: I had a Gibson SG as well, but the Dan Armstrong was more for the Voidoids sound. Then somehow I got my hands on the ’63 Strat, and I think I may have traded that for the Dan Armstrong. So I would use the Strat and the Gibson SG. That was basically my sound throughout the Voidoids, until I got a Gibson Les Paul Jr. Quine would always play Strats. I used a lot of different kinds of guitars on Blank Generation, I used Teles and everything else, but Quine would always play Strats, so I had to find something that would counter that, otherwise we’d sound really whiny, like this two-Stratocaster band which is kinda hard to do, especially with the kind of music we were playing. That’s why I got the Gibson Les Paul Jr. I sold that to Nick Lowe after an English tour because I was over it. It was a reissue. Les Paul Jr.’s can be great, and this was the one with a single cutaway like a Les Paul, but with one P-90 pickup in it, so those were my guitars in the Voidoids.

PKM: You were living and playing in New York City during the peak of what historians would deem ‘Punk Rock’. For those of us who weren’t there, what was the music scene like?

Ivan Julian: It was truly amazing. It was like everything I dreamed of because one of my motivations and inspirations for leaving D.C. and coming to a place like New York was this movie Nashville by Robert Altman. It’s all about these people in the Nashville scene, it’s like any other scene, like bebop and jazz in the 1950s, and they’d go out every night and they’d see each other play, they’d go to this show, that show, and that’s what CB’s was like. Every night of the week there was someone different and some different type of music playing.

So like you said, the per se ‘punk scene’, questionably in attitude and things like that, that’s what it was deemed, and that’s how it was documented by Punk magazine as well. They kind of defined the whole thing for the rest of the country and people who were not in New York. People all dressed differently, there was no ‘uniform’ so to speak. The Ramones became the antithesis of what a ‘Punk’ band looks like, you know, leather jackets, ripped jeans and sneakers, but there were bands like Tuff Darts with Robert Gordon, who was a rockabilly guy and dressed like a Rockabilly guy and there was another guy in the band with aviator shades that looked like some kind of 1970s rock guy.

There was the Erasers…everybody had a different thing, and that’s what made it so great. This was kind of a milestone in American music history because so many places in America, if you were a young band, you could not play your own music. No one would hire you, and no one would come see you. And this was a whole scene were people were doing that, so it was really great. Like I did in England, my job was to go out and just hear what other people were doing, to be inspired by it. You would hear The Voidoids, Blondie, Patti [Smith], of course, Television. Those were the main bands in the beginning. Hilly wouldn’t let the Talking Heads play there. You would play Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, two sets a night.

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PKM: Why didn’t he want the Talking Heads to play there?

Ivan Julian: There was this line, this border, Houston Street, where bands played places like the Ocean Club. They were all art bands. Hilly’s decisions were erratic sometimes, and they wouldn’t make any sense. At first they tried to play there, and, If I’m not mistaken, he gave them a Tuesday afternoon or something because so many people pressured him to see this band because they were really great. I think it was Anya who took me down to the Ocean Club on Chambers Street, and it was like, people in the art world, the Andy Warhol scene and all that, that’s where they played. So she took me down there and I saw them and I said “They’re really good. They’re great!” So that’s why he wouldn’t let them play at CB’s at first. He eventually caved, I think he gave them one night and eventually they started playing weekends because finally they came to define the CBGB’s scene that way. It was an exciting time and I knew…and this might sound a bit pompous, I remember walking to CB’s one day and going “This place is going to be really famous. It’s going to be this landmark in the music scene. Just like Birdland was for the jazz crowd in the 1950s, this is gonna be amazing”, and strangely enough it was. Like I said, so many different kinds of music were happening there, and it was great.

PKM: Do you think other artists felt the same about CB’s? That it was going to become an institution?

Ivan Julian: No, I basically kept that to myself. I didn’t go around telling people – they would have thought I was out of my mind!

PKM: They would have said “What? This dump?!”

Ivan Julian: Exactly. It wasn’t like I thought it was amazing, I just knew it was going to be legendary. It was a dump. I mean Hilly once asked me, “What can I do to improve this place?” and I said “Buy a broom, Hilly!” (laughs) and he kind of walked away from me. But yeah, it was truly legendary, because of what was happening there, and how it started from kind of nothing. When the Voidoids first played there, there wasn’t the big stage—that came along in later years. It was a tiny…I guess maybe a twelve-inch stage if that, and it was right next to a pool table, so you’re playing and people are playing pool right over there.

PKM: That’s annoying.

Ivan Julian: They were annoyed at us too! They would give us these looks like “Watcha doin’?” It was an old biker bar, and if knowledge serves me right, it’s what I’ve been told because I wasn’t there then, people like Patti and Richard were looking for a place to perform because they started out at St. Mark’s Church doing poetry. They wanted a club to do music in, and Hilly wouldn’t allow that either at first, and then eventually he caved in.

PKM: You were talking about groups like the Ramones who wore leather jackets and skinny jeans. Did the Voidoids have a ‘dress code’ or did you wear whatever you wanted?

Ivan Julian: We tried to stay in synch with each other. Only once did Richard decide that we should all have black corduroy suits. We went to this place called Hudson’s on 3rd Avenue and 12th Street which was kind of a men’s workshop for clothes where you would get Dickies and brands like that. He had us go there so we could get fitted, and I think they were gray and then he dyed them black. So we wore those for a month or so, and then summertime came and it was like “No, man, no corduroy in the summer time.”

The name ‘Voidoids’ Richard told me (and I was opposed to the name when I first heard it), means ‘nothing’. ‘Void’ means ‘nothing’ and ‘oid’ means ‘like’, ‘nothing like’. That’s what it’s supposed to mean. So we were not like each other either. We just kind of wore what we wore.

By the way, remember when I told you I met the Foundations at Manny’s Rehearsal Studio? So, a year and a half goes by, and we (The Voidoids) get flown to England to open for the Clash. When we’re doing pre-production in London, this guy drives up and it’s Manny and his gig is now supplying tour support, and supplying bands with amps and drum sets and stuff like that. Also, at the studio while I was waiting to meet a band, which would have been the Foundations, there was this guy there who was playing with this Canadian guitar player Gary Moore, and his name was Topper. So Topper and I met in Manny’s rehearsal studio before he was in the Clash, and before I was in the Voidoids.

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PKM: Speaking of the Clash, how did you begin working on Sandinista?

Ivan Julian: They basically came into town and set up shop at Electric Lady Studios, and they would park there for a month or two. They called me up and said “Just come by and say hello” so I said, “Yeah sure, I’d love to see you guys.” So I came in, we were talking, and then they start playing the groove from “The Call Up”. I said, “Somebody give me a guitar, now!” So Joe gives me his Tele, and I start playing that, he starts playing this grand piano, and we just start jamming on it and then going to the other part, and with “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe,” it was the same thing, ‘cause that was when I told him the story about Studio 54. So I thought “That was a jam, it was really great to see you guys, see you later” and then six months later the record comes out. Mick calls me up and he goes, “You know, we’ve got a check for you, for playing on the single.” And I’m like “That’s nice” so that’s really how it happened.
 

The name ‘Voidoids’ Richard told me (and I was opposed to the name when I first heard it), means ‘nothing’. ‘Void’ means ‘nothing’ and ‘oid’ means ‘like’, ‘nothing like’. That’s what it’s supposed to mean. So we were not like each other either.


PKM
: You credit Nick Lowe as being a sort of mentor to you. Was it Lowe who influenced you in terms of engineering and producing?

Ivan Julian: Yes, the way he conducts himself in the studio. I think he’s a great songwriter as well, but I would watch the way he would work with a band and mold a band into getting what he wanted by doing virtually nothing but doing everything, and getting a certain sound. For this one single, “Kid with the Replaceable Head,” he did the impossible and turned the Voidoids into a pop band. I just watched him do it by saying “Get the drum beat…okay, Ivan you do that, Ivan, you do that again” and he just built the song without ruffling anybody’s feathers, and did an amazing job at it. I like the sounds he gets, too. The overall sound, the atmosphere he creates within a song is great.

PKM: When did you get into recording and engineering?

Ivan Julian: I had always done it at home, I even had a hand in some of the recording aspects of Blank Generation. I love, like I said the snare drum in “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. I love the idea of going into a studio and making this atmosphere…not just the playing, but the sound of it. So I’ve always recorded at home, I had a 4-track. I used to have two cassette players and I would play one into the other to get them to do sound on sound to overdub. I’ve always loved it. Eventually, people started coming to me in the eighties to produce them. The real answer to your questions is this: working with the Voidoids and working with other bands since then, and when I started doing my own albums, I would say “Well why can’t we do this?” And the engineer would say “We can’t do that” and I’d say “Well, why can’t we do that?” he’d say “Well, we just can’t do it.” So I said “Okay, I’m gonna learn everything, so that if I want something to happen in the studio, it’s gonna happen. So what really motivated me was being told “No”.

“I said “Okay, I’m gonna learn everything, so that if I want something to happen in the studio, it’s gonna happen. So what really motivated me was being told “No”.”

PKM: What is a favorite production of your own? Or at least one of your top five?

Ivan Julian: I think the Fleshtones’ “Take a Good Look” is my favorite so far. I got a great crispy drum sound and the band was well rehearsed. The song is compelling and well written. Andrew Loog Oldham even sent me an e-mail commending me on the job. That meant a lot to me.

I also like the Hunx and His Punx record Too Young to Be in Love; that one comes to mind because I love how I kind of visited the Shangri-Las and that whole period and I had this gay guy who was the lead singer and a bunch of women who were behind him playing the instruments and singing backup amazingly. I loved that period of records, that whole Tin Pan Alley period of making a single and then having it out on the streets by five o’clock that afternoon.

PKM: You had mentioned earlier that you like classical music. Who are some of your favorite classical composers?

Ivan Julian: I love Bartók, Chopin’s sonatas. I think Chopin is like Jimi Hendrix, if you listen to some of his sonatas; he’s just wailing and having fun, you can feel this surge in his playing, it’s so incredibly great. Beethoven, of course, undeniably he’s great, Rachmaninoff, I love his sonatas as well. I must admit, who I go to when I’m listening to classical music is generally Chopin.

PKM: How would you describe the process in which you compose a song?

Ivan Julian: Usually it involves hearing a sound, or imagining a sound in my head. And then the words come to the sound. A sound will make me imagine a certain scenario to write words to, that’s usually how it is. A good example is there’s a song on Blank Generation called “Liars Beware” and that came to me that (hums a few bars of the song) because I was very new to New York and I was coming up the subway at 8th Street and Broadway where the pizza place is, it was summertime and it was just chaos on the street, like 1970s chaos. Cops chasing guys down the street, more cop cars here, fire engines there, and it was just this cacophony of all these sounds that just hit me. I almost ran home and started playing the guitar. Richard asked me, “Well, what do you want the song to be about?” and I said, “Well…Fuck you, fuck it, fuck this, fuck them.”

PKM: And he was like “Okay, we’ll get that down.”

Ivan Julian: Oh yeah, that’s not a problem. (laughs)

PKM: Your most recent album, The Naked Flame, was released in 2009. What are a few of your favorite tracks?

Ivan Julian: I like the funky beat in “Siamese”, “The Naked Flame,” I like “Constricted,” I like them all for different reasons. “The Naked Flame,” I like how it’s really a funk song, but it’s played like a rock song. It’s really constricted, it’s a halted groove, you know? “Constricted” I like because it’s just so stupid, just blurring out chords, not trying to prove anything.

PKM: What are your plans for the upcoming year? Are you working on an album?

Ivan Julian: I’m working on two albums right now, actually. I’m writing songs and recording them and seeing where they fall. One is going to be kind of a funk record, cause I’ve never really done that, and the other one’s gonna be an acoustic record. Some songs might be on both records, and two different versions depending on how they are, because you can take any song and depending on how you mix it and what’s prevalent make it into this or that.

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PKM: Are they still in the early stages of production?

Ivan Julian: They’re in the late stages of production and writing. Put it this way, I’m at the point right now where I’m putting vocals on everything, which is always the test for me, like “Can I live with this?” Sometimes, surprisingly, I can and sometimes I can’t. So that’s where I am right now.

PKM: Have you considered writing a book, or is that not your thing?

Ivan Julian: I have, especially when I was sick because when I thought my life was over I realized that I had lived a pretty fascinating life, and when I tell people about it, about living in Cuba, going to Yugoslavia, living in New York and growing up in D.C., it’s a story. I even have a title for it, it’s called Working Without a Net. I think it’s a famous movie about the Flying Wallenda brothers. It’s a black and white movie, and at one point he goes “He’s working without a net!” and I think he falls. I have to see this movie again at some point. Because that is kind of what I’ve done, kind of working without a net.

PKM: Readers would definitely be interested in your journey, and how you got back on track after your illness.

Ivan Julian: It’s just a matter of finding time to do it. At first I thought, “As soon as I get better I’m gonna fucking write this fucking book” but I just haven’t been able to do it. It’s not very wise to put it off, but I plan to, I really do.
 

Usually it involves hearing a sound, or imagining a sound in my head. And then the words come to the sound. A sound will make me imagine a certain scenario to write words to, that’s usually how it is.


PKM
: Have you been touring at all?

Ivan Julian: In Spring of 2017, I did an acoustic tour with Tommy Keene. He’s also from D.C. We kind of knew each other vaguely back in the day before I left. After I got better, he goes “Okay, I want you to come out on tour with me” because he goes out on tour all the time, and I said “Tommy I can’t leap around right now. I need some time” he goes “No, just acoustic. Just you and I, no band, I’ll play songs, you’ll play songs” and we did it. We did part of the East Coast and the Midwest. It was fun actually, because I’d played acoustic guitar and sang in front of people before, but never a whole set. I did Voidoids songs, I did all kinds of songs, I mean new songs, unheard songs. Someone came up to me and said “You can write lyrics!” I’m like “Yeah…” he said “Well we’ve never heard them before!” (laughs) it’s true. [Editor’s note: Sadly, Tommy Keene died at age 59 on Nov. 22, 2017].

Here are Tommy Keene and Ivan Julian doing a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper”:

PKM: How long were you guys on the road for?

Ivan Julian: About a month. We also did a one off out in LA as well, we played McCabe’s guitar store.

PKM: I love that place. The last question I have for you is, what bands are you listening to these days?

Ivan Julian: Not enough, I can tell you that much, ‘cause I’ve been too busy in the studio. I’ve always loved Lucinda Williams. I listen to Sediment Club, my son’s band. I’m not just pitching, because they are really great.

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BEAUTIFUL FREAK: MARK EVERETT AND THE EELS

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BEAUTIFUL FREAK: MARK EVERETT AND THE EELS

Originally published on ‘pleasekillme.com’, June 4, 2018

By Valerie Simadis

The eels recently released their first studio album in four years, The Deconstruction, featuring electro-synth sounds, delicate piano intros, and a hint of Beatles influence. It’s safe to say, it was well worth the wait. 

After the death of his mother and suicide of his sister in the 1990s, it is no wonder that Mark Oliver Everett had many grievances to nurse. Rather than lamenting his past, however, the front man for the eels continued to sing about overcoming and accepting the pain. Now, recently divorced, with a ten-month old son, Everett stresses that “life is in constant motion,” and in order to record his band’s most recent album, The Deconstruction (released last month, the band’s first album in four years), he had to tear down his defenses.

Everett (also known as ‘E’) recorded Deconstruction with bandmates Koool G Murder, P-Boo and the Deconstruction Orchestra & Choir and co-produced it with Mickey Petralia, the first time the latter twirled the knobs on an eels album since Electro-shock Blues in 1998. The Deconstruction is a mix of acoustic numbers, distorted guitar and delicate piano intros that provide a trippy but contemporary listening experience.

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My two personal favorite tracks from the album are “The Deconstruction” and “Rusty Pipes,” the latter featuring a powerful introduction by the Deconstruction Orchestra & Choir. The eels began the North American leg of their current tour earlier this month and will move on to tour in Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and France. You can check out their tour schedule below.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Everett or the history of the band, it all began with Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush.

Everett was born in Virginia on April 9, 1963 to Dr. Hugh Everett III, Ph.D, a quantum physicist, and Nancy Everett. At the age of eight, Everett showed an interest in his sister Elizabeth’s record collection, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush was one of his favorites. Upon listening to the album, he was determined to record an album of his own someday.

“The one (song) that probably set me on that path very early on was, for some reason when I was 10 years old, I think, my favorite record was Plastic Ono Band, the first John Lennon solo album. And I didn’t have any perspective for it at the time, but it’s unusual looking back on it — for a 10-year-old kid to be so into that record — because it’s an extremely raw, personal record. It’s the one that’s got him howling for his mother that abandoned him.” – Mark Oliver Everett (in an interview with NPR)

Growing up, Everett led a complicated life, and in his early teens (perhaps in order to cope with his troubles), he took up playing the drums. Within a few years, he learned to play the piano, as well as his sister’s guitar. By the time he reached his early twenties, Everett began recording his own demos and went by the first initial of his last name, ‘E’. It was only a matter of time before he left his native Virginia and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. Once E was settled in Los Angeles, he began to write and record his own songs, and shortly after, was signed to Polydor Records.

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Mark Everett – Photo by Alexander Frick

His first album, A Man Called (E), was released in 1992, followed by Broken Toy Shop, which was released in 1993. Despite E’s busy tour schedule, the albums did not sell particularly well. Shortly after the release of his second album, E left Polydor to form the band eels (typeset in all lower case or all upper case letters). Why the peculiar name? E figured if he named the band ‘eels’ their recordings would be filed next to his solo albums, since albums are filed alphabetically. When the first eels album was released, he discovered that ‘E’ and ‘eels’ were separated by the Eagles and Earth, Wind & Fire. What a bummer! The original lineup consisted of E (vocals / guitar), Tommy Walter (bass), and Butch Norton (drums).

In 1996, the band signed with Dreamworks and released a debut album, Beautiful Freak, from which the track “Novocain for the Soul” received several MTV nominations and became a hit in England. (In 1998, the eels received the ‘Best International Newcomer Award’ at the Brit Awards, which was presented to them by the faux metal band Spinal Tap.)

 “For a long time, I didn’t ever consider writing songs about what was going on with these tragedies in my family because it just felt too personal and I was just so immersed in it. And then one day when I was back there visiting my mom while she was sick, I was laying on my childhood bed, laying there just sad and depressed over the whole situation and in my imagination. I was laying there looking up at the ceiling, I saw a blue sky, and that was this big moment where I suddenly realized, ‘Oh, I can write about this stuff and make it something that can help me and help people, I think.’ And that’s why I did it.” – Mark Oliver Everett (in an interview with NPR)

Not long after the release of the eels’ first Dreamworks album, E’s sister Elizabeth committed suicide. By 1998, his mother was terminally ill with lung cancer. Since his father had died in 1982, this meant that E was the only surviving member of his family. This, without a doubt, depressed him to no end, and the eels were a perfect outlet to express the emotional state that he was in. Within the upcoming months, Tommy Walter had left the group, but E was adamant about recording another album. In September of 1998, eels released the Electroshock Blues LP, which largely focused on the death of his mother and sister. The title itself refers to the electroshock therapy that his sister received when she was institutionalized, and the title track “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor” is his description of a journal entry his sister wrote after her first suicide attempt. With Walker no longer in the band, E enlisted several musicians to contribute to his album, including T-Bone Burnett, Lisa Germano, Grant Lee Phillips, and John Brion. Upon the release of the new album, the eels toured with new bassist Adam Siegal and made plans to record another album the following year.

“And I walk myself down Sycamore Street
The sun beats down, no shoes on my feet
And I stumble on a daisy through concrete”
– eels ‘A Daisy Through Concrete’

In early 2000, the eels released their third studio album Daisies of the Galaxy, on which E appears to have come to terms with the death of his family and is trying to rise above it. Despite R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck’s contributions to the recording sessions, Daisies of the Galaxy sales were minimal, as was the radio airplay. Nonetheless, E decided to embark on an international tour as the ‘eels orchestra’ to promote the new album. Upon the completion of their tour, a live album of eels orchestra was issued, followed by their album Oh What a Beautiful Morning, a live compilation album, featuring concerts in Los Angeles and Glasgow and a few of E’s solo performances.

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The following year, the eels’ fourth studio album Souljacker was released, featuring the musicians Parish and Koool G Murder. After releasing another live album Electro-Shock Blues Show, the band was ready to go on tour to promote Souljacker.

In 2002, a mysterious hip-hop single “I am the Messiah” was released under the pseudonym ‘MC Honky’. The eels touted him on their website as “a reclusive remix wizard who cares little for the show business and its trappings. Unwilling to let the public know much, the puzzle pieces are as such: he is a shy, native Los Angeleno in his mid-fifties who began his love affair with sound as a teenaged janitor at the Capitol Records studio in 1959.” Despite the eels’ attempt to obscure Honky’s identity, sources claim that the middle-aged DJ is, in fact, E himself.

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Over the next decade, eels released Shootenanny! (2003), Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005), Eels with Strings: Live at Town Hall (2005), Hombre Lobo (2009) and Transmissions Sessions (2009), Tomorrow Morning (2010), End Times (2010), Wonderful, Glorious (2013), The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett (2014), and Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2015). The new album, The Deconstruction, has received favorable reviews in Spin and the German edition of Rolling Stone magazine.

For eels’ full tour schedule, click here

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eels: Official Band Website

SECOND GRACE: REMEMBERING NICK DRAKE

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SECOND GRACE: REMEMBERING NICK DRAKE


Originally published on ‘pleasekillme.com’, April 4, 2018

By Valerie Simadis

Painfully shy, with an aesthetic that seemed to be from another time, Nick Drake’s stunning music was an inspiration to many, including John Cale, Paul Weller, Kate Bush and Robert Smith. Although Drake sold very few albums during his short life, he was able to create a small but startling musical legacy.

“A black eyed dog he called at my door. A black eyed dog he called for more. A black eyed dog he knew my name.”

“Black Eyed Dog,” one of the last songs that Nick Drake (1948-1974) recorded before his passing, almost seems to be written by a person who is slowly dying – and, in a manner of speaking, he was.

The somber-toned folksinger who sang of black-eyed dogs and loved ones buried under sand would have been seventy years old this year, though it’s rather difficult to picture Drake recording music in the new millennium. A true lost romantic, he seemed to be living in the wrong century. Had he been around in the days of Keats and Shelley, he would have been right at home, composing romantic ballads for his friends and admirers. Upon listening to his albums, it becomes apparent that Drake is a walking contradiction. He sings of lost loves and relationships, yet according to his friends, never experienced an intimate relationship in his short life. Perhaps that’s why there is a recurring element of romanticism within his music – he simply couldn’t express his feelings in real life.

 “Fame is but a fruit tree so very unsound. It can never flourish ‘til it’s stock is in the ground. So men of fame can never find a way ‘til time has flown far from their dying day.” –Nick Drake, Fruit Tree

Nicholas Rodney Drake was born on June 19, 1948 in Burma (now Myanmar). His father, Rodney Drake, was an engineer who worked for the Burma-India Trading Company, and his mother, Molly, was an amateur pianist. According to Nick’s sister, actress Gabrielle Drake, both parents were accomplished musicians, and Molly would often write songs at the piano while Rodney would record them on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. As a child, Gabrielle Drake remembers her father taking Molly’s tapes to Birmingham to have a record made.

In a 2014 interview, Drake recalled, “My dad was wonderful at the piano. He had beautiful hands. Long, long fingers that were nearly always stained with engine oil from gadgets in the garden that he was trying to put right.” According to Drake, Molly proved to be a musical influence on their son, and if you’ve heard any of Molly’s recordings (many are available on Youtube), it’s evident that her harmonies are prevalent in Nick’s recordings.

Joe Boyd, who produced some of Nick Drake’s recordings, recalled in his memoir, White Bicycles,“Many years after Nick’s and Molly’s deaths, Gabrielle gave me a tape of her mother’s songs. There, in her piano chorus’ are the roots of Nick’s harmonies. His reinvention of the standard guitar tuning was the only way to match the music he heard as he was growing up.”

“…when John Cale heard a few of the tracks that he and Drake were working on, he exclaimed “Who the fuck is this guy? I have to meet him, where is he? I mean, where is he right now?”

When Nick Drake was three, his father accepted a job as managing director of a Birmingham engineer company, and the family moved from Burma to the English village of Tanworth-in-Arden. Hailing from a middle-class family, at the age of eight, Nick was sent away to the Eagle House prep-school in Surrey. During his time at the boarding school, he learned to play the clarinet and saxophone, and would often play the piano in the school orchestra. In 1962, he attended Marlborough College where he developed an interest in athletics and rugby, though athletics would not hold his interest for long.

The following year, Drake began to fail his courses, which baffled his teachers, as he had done so well at his previous school. Unbeknownst to the staff, this was largely attributed to the fact that he was focusing on music instead of his studies. Rather than hitting the books, Drake was immersing himself in a diverse range of artists, from Bob Dylan to Brownie McGee, to the works of John Keats. At the age of sixteen, he bought his first guitar and within a few years began to write his own songs. Perhaps it was because of his affinity for English poetry that Drake’s songs were so dark and somber, though this was soon to become his signature style.

In 1966, Drake was given a scholarship to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he was to major in English literature. Much to his parents’ surprise, he took a year off and traveled to Morocco before moving to London. During his time there, Drake moved in with his sister, Gabrielle, who was by then an up and coming actress, and befriended high society college kids – namely relatives of the Astors and Ormsby-Gores.

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His first year at Fitzwilliam College proved to be a huge disappointment. According to his friends, the school was completely different to what he had envisioned. Sitting in his claustrophobic dorm room, Drake became disillusioned. Still, during his time at university, he left quite an impression on his fellow students. Classmate and friend Brian Wells recalled, “[he was] a slightly isolated figure who lived in his own head a lot. He was the guy who would just get up in the middle of an evening and leave, and everybody would say, ‘where’s Nick going?’ He was probably just going back to his room, but it made him mysterious to people.”

By 1968, it would have been an understatement to say Drake was no longer fond of his studies. Rather than studying and cramming for exams, he was writing songs and performing in cafés around London. That year he performed at a benefit concert at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, where he supported the American psychedelic rock band Country Joe and the Fish. During his performance, he was spotted by Ashley Hutchings of the folk-rock group Fairport Convention, who referred him to the band’s producer, Joe Boyd. Shortly after meeting Boyd and giving him his demo recordings, Drake was asked to sign a recording contract with Island Records.

Boyd said, “The clarity and strength of the talent were striking. It was like the moment I heard Robin Williamson’s ‘October Song’ or Richard Thompson’s solo at UFO, but there was something uniquely arresting in Nick’s composure. The music stayed within itself, not trying to attract the listener’s attention, just making itself available. His guitar technique was so clean it took a while to realize how complex it was.”

In the following months, Drake traveled, between lectures, from Cambridge to London in order to record his first album Five Leaves Left. The title of the album is a reference to the slip found near the bottom of a packet of Rizla rolling papers, a marijuana reference that listeners were quick to pick up on. The album included various backing musicians, like guitarist Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention and bassist Danny Thompson of Pentangle. After Robert Hewson failed to deliver the string arrangements that Boyd and Drake were looking for, Drake insisted his friend, music student Robert Kirby, be given the job of scoring the album.

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Upon the album’s release in 1969, the press gave Five Leaves Left favorable reviews, the critics picking up on Drake’s poetic style. After hearing his songs on the hip radio stations around London, and reading the album reviews, Drake felt confident enough to abandon his schooling at Fitzwilliam College so he could focus on his music career. In 1970, Drake made his first major concert appearance supporting Fairport Convention at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Shortly after, Joe Boyd booked Drake on his first British tour, but less than twenty dates in, Boyd received a call from Drake telling him that he couldn’t complete the tour.

In his 2006 memoir White Bicycles, Boyd wrote, “I spoke to the promoter of one of the shows. He said people talked a lot and when Nick started tuning between songs they talked more and bought more beer. The noises of glasses clinking and conversation became louder than Nick’s music. He never said anything on stage, just tuned and sang, and when the noise became too much, looked at his shoes for a minute then got up and walked off the stage. I felt briefly angry with Nick. ‘Why can’t he just say something? Why can’t he be more professional?’”

Although Drake was unprofessional during his performances, it was evident that he longed for the comforts of home. Without any friends or familiar faces to boost his morale on the road, he was beginning to slip into a deep depression. However, Drake was not about to give up. Yet.

In 1970, Drake began to write and record songs for a new album titled Bryter Layter. The title was a jibe at the British weather forecasters, who would often remark that the weather was “cloudy now, but brighter later.” According to Joe Boyd, when John Cale heard a few of the tracks that he and Drake were working on, he exclaimed “Who the fuck is this guy? I have to meet him, where is he? I mean, where is he right now?”

It wasn’t long before Cale began to contribute to the album, recording tracks with Chris McGregor, Richard Thompson and P.P. Arnold. The end result was an album that contrasted greatly with Five Leaves Left, featuring upbeat and jazzy tracks (“At the Chime of the City Clock,” “One of These Things First”) as well as stunningly emotional performances in“Northern Sky” and “Fly,” which opens with the plaintive lyric, “Please give me a second grace / Please give me a second face”.

However, due to Drake’s lack of touring and promotion, the album received good reviews but didn’t generate much in the way of sales.

During this time, French yé-yé singer Françoise Hardy had expressed interest in Drake writing songs for her latest album. In an attempt to help Drake out of his depression, Boyd traveled to Paris with him, hoping that he and Hardy would agree to a collaboration. Once again, Drake’s shyness seemed to hold him back from conversing with Hardy. According to Boyd, “It was excruciating. Nick sat there, head down, drinking his tea and didn’t say a word the whole time; and I had to fill in the awkward silences. Nonetheless, the meeting ended with a resolution for Drake to write some songs. But somehow he never got round to it.”

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Concerning his personal relationships, Drake was very much an enigma. Throughout the years, fans and biographers have questioned his sexuality, many wondering if indeed he was a virgin when he died. “There were girls at Cambridge who were crazy about him…” recalled schoolmate Brian Wells. “But nothing ever happened as far as I know.” When Drake left school to pursue a career in music, he was still just as shy around women as he was at university. It seemed none of his friends or fellow musicians remembered him behaving in a sexual way with anyone, though they never questioned him about it.

“Linda Thompson tried to seduce Nick once,” remembers Joe Boyd. “But he just sat at the end of the bed, fully clothed, looking at his hands.”

According to Thompson, Drake was “a detached character. But lovely, too, and absolutely ravishing. He would come over to my place in Notting Hill and stay the whole day, or overnight. Not saying much, but playing records and songs.” It seemed the only way Drake could communicate with people was not through talking, but through music.

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By 1971, Drake began to distance himself from his friends and family. He retreated to his home in London, and with the exception of the odd gig or two around London, had given up on live performances. Friends speculated that his change in behavior may have occurred due to low album sales, and the fact that his mentor Joe Boyd had sold his record company, Witchseason, to Island Records in order to focus on producing soundtracks in Los Angeles. Whatever the case, Drake was worse for wear, and the amounts of cannabis that he smoked daily failed to ease his troubled mind.

In an article for The Guardian, Robert Kirby shed some light on the state that Drake was in. “I think there was a great deal of embarrassment around his peer group that what he- and we- thought was going to happen hadn’t really happened,” he recalled. “Having made the break before completing his degree, I feel that maybe [he felt] he was letting his father down. I mean, it must have knocked his self-confidence if nothing else.”

During this time, Drake’s parents grew more and more concerned about their son’s well-being. At their insistence, he visited a doctor whose ‘remedy’ was to prescribe him the antidepressant Tryptizol. Sadly, it was this drug that would eventually lead to his death. Shortly after Drake’s doctor’s visit, Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, invited him to stay at his villa in Spain. It was evident that the troubled singer needed some ‘alone time’, and Blackwell hoped the trip would lift his spirits.

It seemed that Blackwell had the right idea. Drake, for the time being, returned to England motivated and ready to record a new album. The album, Pink Moon, was recorded within two evenings, and at his insistence was a solo acoustic album, featuring just Drake and his guitar. “Nick told me he wanted to make his next record alone,” recalled Boyd. “No arrangements, no sidemen, nothing.” Without any session musicians to back him up, the end result was a bare folk-oriented album that, despite selling fewer copies than his previous albums, would prove to be his masterpiece.

Shortly after the album’s release in early 1972, Drake moved out of London and back to his family home in Tanworth-in-Arden. Since he refused to tour and would not attend most events to promote his new album, the sales were staggeringly low, which meant that he was living on a weekly £25 retainer from Island Records. It wasn’t long before Drake began to sink into a deeper depression, eventually checking himself into a psychiatric hospital for several weeks.

By 1974, Drake was to have his last meeting with Joe Boyd, in which he demanded to know why he wasn’t rich and famous. He simply couldn’t understand that by being withdrawn and refusing to tour, the sales of his albums had suffered. Boyd recalled, “He looked far worse than I had ever seen him: his hair was greasy, his hands dirty, his clothes rumpled. More unnervingly, he was angry. I had told him he was a genius and others had concurred. So, he demanded, why wasn’t he famous and rich? This rage must have festered beneath that inexpressive exterior for years. I confessed my own disillusionment – I had thought a great record would open all doors. Some good reviews, a few plays on John Peel – with no live shows, it hadn’t been enough.”

“The noises of glasses clinking and conversation became louder than Nick’s music. He never said anything on stage, just tuned and sang, and when the noise became too much, looked at his shoes for a minute then got up and walked off the stage.”

Shortly after this incident, Boyd, perhaps to appease Drake, booked some studio time for him. To his concern, he was in a terrible state and was unable to record guitar and vocals at the same time. By the end of the recording session, he was only able to complete four songs and no album ever came to fruition.

In a 2014 interview with Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian, Gabrielle Drake said, “I suppose that the thing you sort of dread and fear most in your life…well, you sort of know it’s going to happen. And I always knew, to some degree, that it was on the cards with Nick. And yet, at the same time, I was totally unprepared for it.”

On November 25, 1974, Drake’s mother entered her son’s room to find his body sprawled across the bed, a recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos  left on his turntable. According to the coroner’s report, 30 Trypitzol tablets (the antidepressant medication that Drake was prescribed months earlier), had been found in his system, and the death was ruled a suicide. This verdict was ruled out by many of his friends, including Boyd, who believes that Drake wouldn’t have succumbed to death.

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Bottelho CC BY SA – 3.0 via Wiki 750

 “The noises of glasses clinking and conversation became louder than Nick’s music. He never said anything on stage, just tuned and sang, and when the noise became too much, looked at his shoes for a minute then got up and walked off the stage.”

“The coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of suicide…” stated Boyd “…but I wasn’t convinced. The anti-depressants Nick had been taking were different from modern drugs; doses were far stronger and the side effects only beginning to be understood. Nick’s parents said he was very positive in the weeks before his death, planning a move back to London and starting to play guitar again. But the drugs have been known to cause patients to ‘rollercoaster’.”

Whatever the case may be, Drake’s music would live on. Although his albums never sold while he was living, in the mid-1980s the sales of his records began to increase each year. Throughout the years, musicians Robert Smith, Kate Bush and Paul Weller have cited Drake as a musical influence, and have played tribute concerts in his memory.

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Nick Drake burial site (where his ashes are interred) at Parish Church in Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire England.  – George Littleboy [CC BY-SA 2.0]
By the time Volkswagen aired their commercial featuring Drake’s song “Pink Moon” in 1999, viewers who owned computers were able to download his music. That year, the sales of Drake’s albums soared, and for the first time, Pink Moon made it to the Billboard Top 100. While it had taken more than twenty years for listeners to appreciate his music, Drake has since developed a cult following. In 2003, Rolling Stone included all three of his albums on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. With Five Leaves Left ranking in at 280, Bryter Layter at 245 and Pink Moon at 320, it’s safe to say that the fragile virtuoso is having the last laugh.

Boyd noted, in his memoir, “His refusal to include my favorite – “Things Behind the Sun” – and his insistence on including those three instrumentals were his way of stamping his foot. His ghost is having the last laugh: the stark Pink Moon is his biggest selling album while Bryter Layter trails in third place after Five Leaves Left.”

STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE: JERRY NOLAN’S WILD RIDE

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My latest read ‘Stranded in the Jungle: Jerry Nolan’s Wild Ride’ is an excellent biography on New York Dolls (and later, Heartbreakers) drummer Jerry Nolan. The book, written by Curt Weiss (formerly Lewis King, drummer for Beat Rodeo and the Rockats), provides an in-depth account of Nolan’s life, from his early days as an army brat, to playing drums in Wayne (Jayne) County’s band “Queen Elizabeth”, and eventually in 1972, replacing Billy Murcia as drummer for the New York Dolls. With reminiscent stories told by a cast of characters, the book gives us a glimpse into the life of the ill-fated drummer, and in doing so, captures the essence of the New York City glam scene in the early seventies.

“According to Syl, another deciding factor was what Billy told him: “If anything happens to me, Jerry should be the guy.” So I took that into consideration and shared that with the rest of the boys and they said, “Okay, let’s get Jerry.” I called him up…and I said, “Jerry, welcome to the New York Dolls.” I could tell his tits got hard.” (Excerpt from ‘Stranded in the Jungle: Jerry Nolan’s Wild Ride’’ by Curt Weiss)

Check out Curt’s book on Amazon.com!

 

 

THE MACDOUGAL STREET BLUES

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**Originally published on ‘pleasekillme.com’, March 13, 2018

By Valerie Simadis 

MacDougal Street, once a cultural ground zero for the Village – the place where Hemingway and Pound drank, the Beats hung out, and where Dylan played his first gig, has lost another historic gem, with the closing of Monk Thrift

Vanishing Greenwich Village. It gets worse every year. In early December, I stopped by Monk Thrift at 175 MacDougal. The moment I stepped inside, I knew something was up. Red 50-percent-off tags hung from every rack, fixture and bookcase in sight – even the floor was plastered with large red stickers announcing the major ‘sale’. Although it was obvious that the store was going out of business, I asked the kid behind the register if he knew what would become of Monk Thrift. While I was at it, I asked him the price of the Dylan poster (which has been in the window for over a year).

“Become of the store?” the kid repeated, looking as if he were tired of life, taking a quick glance at his iPhone. “We’re not going out of business, if that’s what you mean. And the poster isn’t for sale.” At that moment, I became a nostalgic old lady who harbored negative feelings toward today’s youth. Had he any idea about the history of this store? Did he even care to know? Or worse, did he even know who Bob Dylan was? I was having an existential crisis. (Say it with me: “Snob!”).

It’s fitting here that I should provide some background to this beloved street, as many modern-day tourists have no knowledge of its history, let alone where it is located. MacDougal Street was named after seaman and Sons of Liberty leader Alexander McDougall [two l’s]. For reasons unknown, his surname was spelled differently from his father’s, who spelled his name MacDougal. McDougall, who hailed from the Isle of Islay in Scotland, was quite the rebel. In 1770, he was jailed for writing an anti-British pamphlet, and served as a major general in the Revolutionary War. In later years, McDougall represented New York in the Continental Congress, and became the first president of the Bank of New York.

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These particular ‘apartments’ at 127-131 MacDougal Street were originally built for Aaron Burr in 1829, and are referred to as Federal-era row houses. Luckily, these row houses did not undergo much renovation, and in 2003, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s ’s proposal to “ensure their continued survival” was accepted, making them landmarks.

In her book, Classic New York (1964), the architectural historian Ada Louise Huxtable wrote: “Few New Yorkers realize that the comfortable, charming, and historically important small house c. 1800-30 still exists. It is too well hidden, too efficiently defaced, and – above all – too fast disappearing. Those accidental and anonymous survivors of the city’s early years may be gone before this guide ever reaches the reader’s hands. Some can, and should, be saved. Some are beyond saving. All are a special problem in preservation, for they are not monuments or masterpieces, but a more modest part of the city’s original fabric….Their value is contrast, character, visual and emotional change of pace, a sudden sense of intimacy, scale, all evocative qualities of another century and way of life. They provide the impression of a city ‘in depth,’ the richness of past and present side by side. But these buildings are not profitable, because they are small and old, and their greatest value seems to be cheapness of acquisition, so that developers and speculators…can tear them down to put up more high-return, faceless new construction…. What follows, therefore, may be here today and gone tomorrow, and my selections are presented with a small prayer that they may still be around to be seen when this is read.”
The deeper one digs, the more rich history for this street you will find. In the late 1800s, MacDougal Street was home to Stock Pharmacy (later Avignone Chemists), which is listed as the oldest apothecary in the United States. By the 1950’s the San Remo Café (unfortunately, no longer with us) was frequented by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Frank O’Hara, to name just a few. Years earlier, the Minetta Tavern was also notable for its literary customers, including Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound. Lest we forget the Caffé Reggio an institution since 1927. Rumor had it that the owner brought the first espresso machine over from Italy, and it was here that Americans were introduced to the cappuccino.

In addition to the quaint cafés and notable authors who frequented them, MacDougal Street also serves as the home of the Café Wha?, where Bob Dylan played his first gig (and later, Jimi Hendrix performed), The Gaslight Café, where Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and numerous beat poets performed, and the famous Gerde’s Folk City, which has since been replaced by the Kettle of Fish.

Jack Kerouac recited his “MacDougal Street Blues” with some jazz accompaniment:

As for Monk Thrift, older generations remember the shop as “Reminiscence”, which opened in 1975. It was the place for army surplus attire, mini dresses, and work overalls designed by store owner Stewart Richer. For someone like me, who missed out on the 1970s, Monk was about as close to Reminiscence as it got. I happened upon the store accidentally when I was 12, after walking back from Bleecker Bob’s. I remember being amazed by the jam-packed store that boasted a wide range of vintage clothing, records, cassettes, books….dorm furniture. Anything else you could conjure up, it was there.
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Twenty-five years after Monk’s grand opening, it was evident that the place had gone to pot. The ceilings were moldy and water damaged, show tune records having been shoved under the ceiling tiles to hide the water stains that were visible throughout the store. Although the owner gave no fucks when it came to maintaining the store, there was something special about the peeling walls and record-covered ceilings. Monk was a place where I met up with my friends when it was too cold to hang around Washington Square Park, where you could buy outfits from the 1960s and rifle through record bins until you found something good.
By January of this year, the shop was locked up, little cards and stickers strewn about which implied the owner left in a hurry. Remaining at the back of the store were two abandoned bookshelves, looking out of place without the jam-packed racks of clothing. I don’t know what will become of the storefront. Perhaps it will be reincarnated into some high-end coffee shop or another sushi house, though I hope this isn’t the case.
As I walked past Monk towards Café Reggio, one thought remained in my mind: “If St. Marks is dead, then MacDougal Street is dying.”

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The trouble is: What can we do about it? Unfortunately, we live in a world where antiquated buildings are hailed as ‘undesirable’ and new, poorly-made constructions are considered appealing due to the modern façade. As Ada Louise Huxtable said in 1964, these old buildings are by no means monuments or masterpieces, but they are a representation of the city’s history. These buildings that developers so desperately want to get their hands on….they are storytellers.

Will they be around to tell their stories to the next generation of bohemians, or the generation after that, or the one after that?