Archive for the 'Culture' Category

Reggae Reminiscences: 20 Years Gone

July 28th, 2012 by Edward, Filed under: Culture

A post on someone’s Facebook page  made me suddenly realize that it has been 20 years since my stint as a Reggae DJ at a small Reggae Club in Boca Raton, FL.  Yep, 20 years…..    Many people are quite surprised when I tell then that I was once a Reggae DJ, but  there is A Time ‘N Place for everything.

This was a truly memorable experience because  the co-owner/manager  and head DJ was a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge about Reggae music and was heavily involved in the Jamaican Reggae scene. He encouraged me not only to play crowd favorites like Bob (of course), Peter Tosh, etc. but artists such as Mutabaruka,  Black Uhuru,  Augustus Pablo, and Linton Kwesi Johnson.   No one minded if I threw The Clash in there, as well.     There was none of this “we have to keep the dancefloor packed” crap like in the South Florida Goth scene.  As long as people enjoyed the music, that’s all that mattered.  I didn’t care if only two people were on the dancefloor.  When I looked across the room and saw heads nodding, bodies swaying,  and feet tapping along to the music I knew it was all good. I was  paid with free drinks and admission to all the shows.   I wasn’t much of a drinker, though I was fond of an occasional Red Stripe.  (To this day, Red Stripe beings back memories of the awesome Reggae Sunsplash festival and  Jamaican meat pies too.  I was not yet a vegetarian.)

We used our playlists as an educational tool to make people aware of the enormous scope of Reggae music.  He focused on Dancehall, and I focused on Roots.  We alternated sets.    Though this was a small club, the owners brought in authentic Jamaican Reggae artists to perform, not watered down “tourist” Reggae like most establishments in South Florida.   I met some fantastic Reggae performers such as Bigga.  Tough looking in their dreads, with their new boots and contracts,  the bands were actually quite  friendly from the first handshake.

I also learned how to set up the stage equipment and run the board, which was a fabulous experience. The dreaded Snake was a challenge sometimes.    Clamps wouldn’t work right.  The drums would rattle.   Cables  had to be taped down exactly right to keep the band from tripping over them, yet still allow them freedom of movement.   My mentor  told me that the bands  almost always would insist that there was not enough monitor an they would motion for me to increase the volume, before their ears became acclimated to the sound.   He told me to acknowledge their wave, give an exaggerated movement that looked like I was sliding the volume, and then make a questioning gesture to the band.   Usually the led singer  would give an enthusiastic thumbs up.  I was skeptical, but the first time I was behind the board, it happened exactly as he said!

I just happened to be spinning one night when the owner of  the Caribbean radio station in Miami stopped by to talk to the club owners.   About halfway through my set, I noticed the radio station owner sitting at a table intently listening to the music.  I had a sudden feeling of trepidation.   “Oh man, he’s going to rip my set apart“, I thought. “What do I know about reggae?  I was stupid to think I could come in here and spin…“   The club was busy that night, so I ended up doing more than my usual two sets.  As we were closing, the head DJ  walked over and said “Did you see the guy in dreads and sunglasses?  He was the guy who owned the station in Miami.”  Oh hell, here it comes, I thought.  How bad was my set?

“He loved your set“, the manager said. “He told me to tell you that you played some good stuff.

This was one of the finest compliments I have ever received.

Unfortunately, within the year the club was gone. The owners apparently had very different visions about what they wished the club to be.  There was  strange and awful drama that I was fortunately not party to.    The last few times I spun, I would walk in before opening, and there would be two distinct camps sitting on opposite sides of the club.  No one speaking.  No one would look at anyone else.   I sat in the middle, since I didn’t have a dawg in that fight,  and was given the cold shoulder by both sides.  The atmosphere of hostility and weirdness was palpable.  It was time to call it quits.   One night I walked away and never looked back.  Not long afterwards, I heard from mutual friends that the club was no more.  Then there were strange rumors of people absconding with  something-or-other, others trying to track them down, threatening phone calls in the night, and jailtime.  I was entreated “if anyone asks, don’t tell them anything“.   But  whatever was happening, I didn’t know anything anyway, and well,  I didn’t want to know.

About a year later, for no particular reason, I drove by the strip mall where “A Time and Place” used to be.  Still vacant, the windows windows were empty and forlorn.     It was truly sad that this club which had so much promise was no more.  Good memories and bad ones washed over me.

20 years later, it is the good ones I remember most.  Of the college kids chanting to hear “Bob…Bob….” but then coming up to ask “Who did you just play? That was great!”     Of the bands looking righteous and ferocious as they stepped on the stage, but always smiling as they thanked me at  the end of the night.

Whenever I listen to Reggae, I think not only of those nights behind the booth, but of the timelessness and strength of Reggae music.

There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air;
If you listen carefully now you will hear….

– Bob Marley

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Exes With Axes, Nightlight, Chapel Hill NC

June 16th, 2012 by Edward, Filed under: Culture

Exes with Axes: A Night of Female Singer Songwriters with Emily Frantz, Billie Feather, Young Liz Moudy, Katie DeConto, and Sarah Shook” was held at Nightlight, in downtown Chapel Hill on June 1, 2012.    I nearly missed this extraordinary event because I was going to cover another show that night. But that show was cancelled, and since I was on the road I decided to head over to Chapel Hill.  I was very glad that I did.  “Exes With Axes” was one of the finest musical events I have attended since my return to NC four years ago.   I knew Billie Feather from her fine work with the Bo-Stevens; the Darnell Woodies; P-90;s and John Howie, Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff.  I had heard of Sarah Shook and the The Devils (and I believe I may have even heard her perform by happenstance while  I was wandering through Pittsboro on one cold, strange winter night.)  But since many of the bands I cover are somewhat genre specific, I did not know of Emily Frantz; Young Liz Moudy; or Shannon Morgan.  But after this exhilarating night, I certainly do now!

Sarah Shook was the driving force behind this phenomenal night.     ” First of all, I have to give credit to Steph Stewart (of Steph Stewart & The Boyfriends) for planting the seed,” Sarah told me.  ” I ran into her a few months back at the Station.  We chatted briefly about the scene and she mentioned the idea to me: “Let’s do an all girl singer/songwriter night”.   I emailed Lauren (Nightlight’s booking aficionado) straightaway and she jumped into it with equal  enthusiasm.   …It was an instant flurry of excitement and out of nothing there was suddenly this enormous and wonderful… something!  There was much to be done and we embraced the challenge con gusto.  I hit up my contacts, she hit up her contacts and we wound up with this astonishing one-of-a-kind lineup.   The title for the show popped into my head from god-knows-where.  I figure almost everyone is someone’s ex.  That is a sentence to ponder… The most appealing thing to me about the set up was that all performers were presented as equals… in a sort of round robin if you will.  There were no comparisons made as to the individual artists’ experience or lack thereof.  Each offered their holy bit and you could have heard a pin drop in the room for every performer, except at the end of each song when the applause thundered forth from a small, awestruck crowd.   I had no idea that half our singers that night had not performed solo or performed as a front person.  As an audience member I felt humbled by the songs that came forth with such complete fearlessness and abandon.  There was nothing else but that room and that moment in time.  The entire world was at a standstill and there were only Exes With Axes.”

Yes, indeed!  First to perform was Katie DeConto, of The Pinkerton Raid:   “I was asked to play at Exes with Axes by Lauren Reynolds who also does booking for the Nightlight. We work together in Durham. Because The Pinkerton Raid had just released our first album, I thought it would be a good opportunity to play a couple of songs acoustically, to promote the record. I also really enjoy playing covers. I chose songs written and/or performed by Lisa Hannigan, Joni Mitchell, Adele, and Ingrid Michaelson. I appreciate different things about all of these women’s vocal styles. I like to think that my style is a bit of a hybrid. Someone called it “sweet soul” once, and I like that.”   The renowned  John Howie, Jr. accompanied her on a song or two with percussion.      Clear and forceful, yet wistful at the same time, Katie was simply astounding.   Listening to her sing was like hearing some of the great women songwriters of the ’60′s for the first time,  before they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.  She gave a superb performance of “Live of the Party”  which is on The Pinkerton Raid’s debut album.  After hearing her sing, I immediately went over and purchased a copy of this CD, which I will be reviewing soon.

The next performer was Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange.  Emily’s repertoire included ‘Mountains of the Moon”, “Yearlings”, and “Harlan”.   Emily’s evocative voice immediately brought Gillian Welch to mind.  Emily has the same visceral impact that inspires visions of the Southern highlands and a bygone age.  Her rendition of “Harlan”  was so moving that I nearly wept.  I was also fascinated by “Yearlings”.  I believe this song to have originated in the South or Southwest right after the Civil War, but so far I have been unable to uncover anything definitive.

Billie Feather took the stage next, ably accompanied by John Howie, Jr. on percussion.   Whether she is playing standup bass, bass, guitar, or singing, Billie is simply an awesome performer.   She puts the power back into Punk; the rawk back into Rock n Roll, and the kick back into Country!   During her set, Billie  sang two of my favorite P-90′s songs, “My Roommate Took Away my Date)” and “Business 40″.   Rough and ready, not for the faint-hearted, Billie brought a bit of sarcasm and candor to the floor. “Too Bad, so sad, I’m sorry she f**ked you over..”

Sarah Shook sang with was dark and low, yet alternately  high and lonesome.   Her  shivery voice brought to mind  whiskey fueled phantoms hitching rides with the unwary along haunted back roads with merciless Fate lurking in the rearview mirror.

Shannon Morgan, from the band Gasoline Stove, sang next, accompaniment by guitar and accordion.  Her voice was strident and sharp, as dangerous as a Louisiana cabaret on a Friday night.  Versatile and a little bit vampish,  her songs were redolent of hidden speakeasy’s  and deals gone bad.

Young Liz Moudy was a joy to behold with her sheer exuberance.  Her performance was amazing!     ” Sarah Shook asked me to be involved”, said Liz, ” and of course I was more than happy to participate with all the lovely ladies! I am just starting to play out, looking to do some recording, and play mostly original songs (other than the last two I played that night, the rest were mine).   I play at some local events in Pittsboro for Piedmont Biofuels, First Sunday, etc. I’d love to get out more! It was awesome to have a chance to play in the “big city”!

“Exes With Axes” was a milestone in the local  music scene, with a stunning amount of talent held in a single room.   This event was living proof of the vitality and excellence that exists outside of mainstream music.  I look forward to a return engagement of ‘Exes With Axes” and hope to see more of these exceptionally talented musicians.

Thanks Sarah, for making this event happen!

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The Matt Brown Memorial Concert, Haw River Ballroom.

June 06th, 2012 by Edward, Filed under: Culture

The NC music community and the music world lost a fine musician on April 2th, 2012 with the death of Matt Brown, drummer for the award winning band John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff.   Bands that Matt played with over the years constitute a veritable whos who of the local music scene, including The Venables, The Independents, Stratocruiser, Baron Von Rumblebuss, Randy Whitt, Pagan Hellcats, The Kinksmen, The Jaybirds, The High & Mighties, 40 Oz., Brian Hill and Project Mastana.   Musicians Billie Feather and Phil Venable organized a memorial concert and benefit which took place on June 3, 2012 at the magnificent Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC.  All proceeds went to the family of Matt Brown.     From 4Pm to midnight, the Haw Ballroom was filled with the sounds of bands who came to pay tribute to Matt  Brown’s life and memory.   The lineup consisted off  Project Mastana; Baron Von Rumblebuss; Brian Hill; 40 oz; High and Mighties; Jaybirds; Pagan Hellcats; Randy Whitt; Kinksmen; Stratocruiser; Independents; Venables; Grant Hart (f0rmerly of Husker Du); a reunited Two Dollar Pistols; and John Howie Jr & The Rosewood Bluff.   Many bands had cancelled previously scheduled shows to attend in honor of their friend and fellow musician.  His influence on local music and the lives of his many friends will never be forgotten.

Thundering, entertaining, sad, and moving at the same time, tears intermingled with joy as  friends and bandmates remembered Matt Brown.  From the impromptu drum circle outside to the throngs of children playing in front of the stage,  the evening was as much a celebration of Matt Brown’s life as a mourning for his passing.  As John Howie, Jr. said, that’s just the way Matt would want it.

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All Punked Up at The Cave, Chapel Hill NC.

February 17th, 2012 by Edward, Filed under: Culture

Friday February 10th, 2012 was a stellar night at The Cave, one of Chapel Hill’s premier musical venues.  In my well worn painted biker jacket I trudged though the chilly night along with another photographer, and I am very glad that we did. On the way we were hailed by  a UNC Sorority who were hosting a bake sale, and while my first instinct was to flee, I bought a large cookie that turned out to be invaluable rations the next morning.

The Cave featured  not just one, but two great local Punk bands.   First up was Raging Nipple, a fireball of Punkmania hailing from Statesville.   With the energy of an out-of-control nuclear warhead, their searing music soon had the audience spontaneously erupting into a frenzied mosh pit.  Their amazing performance ended all too soon. Then the awesome P-90′s took the stage.  Well known from their other musical projects, the P-90′s delivered a blazing salvo of steady Punk that simply obliterated the senses.   And just when I thought I had weathered their sonic storm, I was amazed to hear them play my favorite Ramones song, “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg”!   Gabba, Gabba Hey, all right!  This night was living proof that Punk is alive and well in NC.  My hearing did not return for nearly 24 hours, but it was well worth it.

CD reviews for both Raging Nipple’s demo and the P-90′s “Limited Supply” will be forthcoming soon!

Raging Nipple

The P-90′s

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Outlaws Forever: Remembering Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings

November 10th, 2011 by Edward, Filed under: Culture

The original article I wrote about Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash appeared in 2002 in an ezine called “Changes In Time” based in South Florida, commemorating the death of Waylon and the 70th birthday of Johnny Cash.  Some readers of CIT were upset that an article about Country singers was appearing in a Goth ezine, but the Editor graciously stood by the article.    When the death of Johnny Cash followed a year later,  it seemed like an era was over.    Nearly a decade after their deaths, Cash and Jennings still cast a giant shadow over the music world.

I certainly don’t fall into the common trap of calling something “Goth” just because  I feel some affinity with it, but I do  believe that the same principles  that led to the creation of the Goth Culture are shared by other people, too, and this makes us all sort of comrades-in-arms.   I first discovered the music of Outlaw Country when I was a teen.   A good friend of mine named Farley Howard introduced me to singers like Waylon, Willie, and David Allen Coe. I’ll probably lose what few Goth points I have left, but the first concert I ever attended was when Farley and I went to see Willie and Emmylou Harris perform at the Greensboro Coliseum.   (Farley later got a full scholarship from Harvard.   I got a bus ticket to basic training at Fort Sill, OK.)

The Outlaws gave me the first intimation that there were alternatives to the pop mainstream.   This was probably why going even further was easier when I discovered Punk and, later, Goth.     You will seldom hear singers like Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash on today’s watered down, pop-country radio.    Yet they packed venues to the very last, and their album sales roll on today, regardless.

Jennings played bass for his childhood friend Buddy Holly during 1958-59.  Jennings had a close brush with fate in 1959, when he was scheduled to be on a plane chartered by Buddy Holly.   J.P. ‘The Big Bopper” Richardson was ill, and Jennings willingly let Richardson have his seat.   The plane crashed, taking the lives of all aboard.  Later, he roomed with fellow nonconformist Johnny cash.  Refusing to change his style from Country to Pop as the owner wished, Jennings left A&M records for RCA.  In the 1970′s, Jennings finally broke completely with traditional country music. Instead of the usual boring, weepy strings, Jennings added the electric bass with blues and rock rhythms, creating a sound that later became known as country-rock, embodied by performers such as the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Steve Earl.  Kicking a cocaine habit in the eighties, Jennings founded the Waylon G.D. Jennings Production Company.

Wearing a black cowboy hand and leather vest, Jennings looked and sounded like no one else.   Fiercely independent, Jennings steadfastly battled the record companies for control of his music.  He refused to record with the usual session musicians, and was highly critical of the Country Music Association.   A champion for lesser known song writers, Jennings embraced the Outlaw movement created by people  like Willie Nelson, who had fled Nashville for the freedom of Austin, Texas.

Typically, Jennings was the first to call fellow performers to task when the scene got out of hand, condemning their excesses and posturing in songs like “Luckenback, Texas”, and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”  Jennings felt  a strong sense of community, refusing to attend award ceremonies because he felt that country musicians should not compete with other.   True to form,  when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame,  Jennings sent his son to pick up the award, joking that the audience wouldn’t want to hear what he had to say anyway.

Johnny Cash was known as “The Man in Black”, and there has been no one else quite like him.  Like Jennings, Cash was a maverick who openly disdained the conventions of Nashville music.   Along with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley, Cash signed on with Sun Records, home of the original Rockabilly sound.  In the early ’60′s, Cash collaborated with Bob Dylan and even appeared on Dylan’s album “Nashville Skyline”.    He wore a long black coat, in stark contrast to the gaudiness of most Country performers.   In 1979-80, Rockabilly emerged again from the ranks of Punk, eventually spawning Psychobilly.  Punks were trekking down to stores like Rock On Records in Camden Town to snap up records by Lewis, Perkins, Presley (especially the  “Sun Sessions” LP), and of course, Johnny Cash.  “Brand New Cadillac” from the Clash’s “London Calling” LP, was nothing less than classic Rockabilly.  From there it was a straight line of descent down to the Cramps’  “Sheena’s in a Goth Gang” of 1997.

In 1985,  Cash and Jennings formed The Highwaymen along with fellow Outlaws Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.   From 1985-1995, they released three albums: Highwayman, Highwayman 2, and The Road Goes on Forever.    Cash’s “American Recordings”, released in 1994, has a cover that is more “gothic” in a purely American way than any other album cover.   Accompanied by only his guitar, Cash’s voice rolls out of the darkness like the approaching Apocalypse, not the special-effects laden razzle-dazzle Apocalypse of today’s cyber world, but the Apocalypse of old-time preachers, mountain bards, and nightmares of our childhood.  Scorned by  country radio,  “American Recordings” impressed fans old and new, as did the follow-up album “Unchained” in 1996.  Cash’s albums included covers of songs by such diverse artists as Soundgarden and U2. In 2000, Cash included an impressive rendition of Nick Cave’s “Mercy Seat” on the album “Solitary Man”.    Later, he evocatively covered Nine Inch Nails “The Hurt”.

I’ll never forget standing on a street corner in Camden Town in 2002, listening to Cash’s rendition of “The Hurt” coming from a nearby store.   When I was in High School, I was in a very short-lived band and sang “Folsom Prison Blues” in the school talent show and later during an appearance on the local radio station.   Never in my wildest, most demented  dreams did I ever imagine that nearly thirty years later I would be in the UK, dressed in black, listening to Johnny Cash.   But somehow it was fitting.

According to Cash, his dark clothes and stark music were symbolic of the poor, the dispossessed, and the unfortunate.  Over 50 years after the release of his first single, the enigmatic Cash remains an original who has never been copied.  Musically, he has influenced scores of artists across a broad spectrum of musical styles.   On the liner notes for ‘The Essential Johnny Cash”, Cash is praised by such diverse figures as Leonard Cohen and   Goth-poet Nick Cave.

To paraphrase David Allen Coe, if that ain’t Goth, you can kiss my….

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