Sunday, January 17, 2016

TMC cassette memories - post 3

More from my cassette cases buried deep in a far away closet...

The Pontiac Brothers: Doll Hut and Johnson: I found The Pontiac Brothers around the same time as EIEIO (see TMC cassette memories - post 2). Frontier Records released both of EIEIO's albums and The Pontiac Brothers' Johnson. As jangly as EIEIO was, The Pontiac Brothers was just raw and raucous ... and I loved it. I later picked up Doll Hut which was released prior to Johnson.

Johnson was upgraded via a CD purchase. I also bought Doll Hut on CD though it was packaged on a re-release with another album, Fiesta En La Biblioteca. After the band dissolved, frontman and guitarist Ward Dotson formed The Liquor Giants - another short-lived but fantastic band.

Across The Yard - Self-Titled. I have zero recollection of this EP or of the last time I listened to it. Sound familiar to you? If so, please leave a comment. Maybe a memory will be stirred.

Randy Travis - Storms of Life: I grew up in a house of classic country music though I quickly found my way to the rock-n-roll scene in my pre-teen and teenage years. Plus, in my opinion, country music in the 70s blew. The pop sounds of folks like Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, Lee Greenwood, Anne Murray, Eddie Rabbit, etc. did nothing for me. My dorm mates and I rocked outlaw country such as Bocephus, Merle, Waylon, etc. Otherwise, I stayed mainly with my hard rock stuff.

Then one of my friends rolled into our apartment parking lot bumping Randy Travis' On The Other Hand from his Camaro Z-28. We were stunned by the sound, and I had to add it to my own collection. The album wasn't enough to convert me 100% to country, but it certainly led me to an eventual return to many of the country recordings of my parents.

The Coolies - Dig..?: I'm pretty sure I learned of The Coolies through db Records. db had so many great bands on their roster, and I'm guessing I was willing to take a flyer on just about whatever they had. Dig...? included punk'ish versions of several iconic Simon & Garfunkel songs. 

The Call - Reconciled: I knew little then (or now) about this band. Their album didn't hit my radar when it was released. During a couple of years of post-college, early professional life, however, Friday nights were frequently spent drinking pitchers of beer and chair dancing in a Chattanooga cover-band bar called Yesterday's.

A crowd favorite was a band named Sheba's Breakdown. The band later replaced its lead singer and renamed itself The Hammerheads. The second version of the band did an incredible cover of The Call's Everywhere I Go, and that is what led me to get the cassette (and later the CD).

The Vulgar Boatmen - You And Your Sister: As a college student at the University of Florida, Walter Salas-Humara was in a band called The Vulgar Boatmen (web | Twitter). He left the band and formed The Silos with Bob Rupe and others. The Boatmen continued with Robert Ray and Dale Lawrence as the two primary collaborators. After buying The Silos' self-titled RCA release and their previous album, Cuba, I started digging deeper to learn more info. Using the address for the Record Collect label I found on Cuba, I wrote a letter asking what else they had. I got a personal letter from Walter (which I truly wish I'd kept) and a list of what he had for sale. (I didn't realize at the time Salas-Humara owned the label.) Soon after getting Walter's letter, I sent him a check along with an order for a solo CD of his, Radaris, and the Boatmen's You and Your Sister cassette.

A few years later, I was more than happy to upgrade my oft-played tape with a CD. My inventory was enriched with the addition of the the Boatmen's second release, Please Panic.

Guadalcanal Diary - 2x4: This is one of many bands to which my college roommate introduced me. Though we didn't see eye to eye on all of his faves, I'll remain grateful for his introducing me to bands such as R.E.M., The Connells,  Jason & The Scorchers, Berlin, and others. But I digress...

As powerful as Guadalcanal Diary's music was, their live performances were off the hook. I saw them live three times on their Flip-Flop tour. The tour opened and closed in Nashville. Treat Her Right opened for them at the first show, and Government Cheese opened for them as the toured ended at Nashville's Cannery Ballroom. In the middle, I happened to catch them in Madison, Wisconsin while in town for a work trip.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

TMC cassette memories - post 2

Before MP3s and other "soft" digital formats, we had compact discs. Though loathed by many, CDs have been the premium format that most closely matched vinyl in sound quality and the durability and portability of other formats, namely tapes.

I still have fond memories of listening to the few 8-tracks that I had - even though they were a rotten format. But I was front and center with cassettes. CDs have always had advantages over cassettes. But as compact as a CD is, they've never been as compact as a cassette that be easily slipped into a shirt or jeans pocket.

With tapes, man oh man the options of recording and sharing were fantastic. I was mainly a TDK SA-90 guy though I often bought and used my share of Maxwell XLII blanks as well.

But I bought my share of pre-recorded tapes too. Here are a few more that brought back memories.

Night Ranger - Dawn Patrol: I remember seeing Night Ranger's video for Don't Tell Me You Love Me on MTV. I bought their cassette at the Record Bar store in Nashville's Hickory Hollow Mall. Then I got to see them in 1983 as the opener for KISS on the Creatures Of The Night tour.

Triumph - Just A Game: I became a Rush fan in high school, and I continue to listen to the band to this day. Another Canadian power trio that hit my radar shortly thereafter was Triumph. I was fired up when I learned they scheduled a tour date in Nashville. I bought a pair of tickets at the counter in the long-gone Castner Knott retail store in the still-struggling Donelson Plaza. Sadly, the show was canceled because of "unforeseen circumstances". I knew even then it was code for low ticket sales.

The Royal Court of China - Self-titled: Midway through my college years, one of my roommates began to clue me in to much more of Nashville's rock music. One band he'd heard of but not actually heard was The Royal Court of China. I remember buying this cassette as a complete flyer at Tower Records in Nashville. Incredible sound. I later replaced it with the CD, and it's a disc I still listen to some 30 years later. Joe Blanton fronted the band. Today, he partners occasionally with Warner Hodges (Jason & The Scorchers) and Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites) to perform as The Bluefields.

American Music Club - California: I'm pretty sure Tower Records' Pulse magazine led me to this one as well. No samples, no radio play. Just a biased pitch in a record store-owned magazine. But I'm so glad I bought it (and replaced it with a regularly played CD). The album is chockful of great songs - all of which have stood the test of time in my opinion. Many are dark and haunting but yet so captivating. Faves to this day include Firefly, Now I'm Defeated, Blue & Grey Shirt, and Western Sky. This cassette led me to buy many future AMC releases and Mark Eitzel solo albums - all on CD. The full California album is on YouTube. If you've never heard it, take the time to do so. Highly recommended.

EIEIO - Land of Opportunity and That Love Thang: As contemplative as AMC could be, EIEIO was just the opposite. This band's music was just flat fun listening.

Though I don't remember how I learned of the band (probably Pulse or Rolling Stone), I do remember the name of the song from That Love Thang that hooked me: Andy Warhol's Dead But I'm Not. While a great song with a catchy title, I'm not sure it's even the best one on the album.
Hey Cecille, the lead track on That Love Thang, throat punches you from the jump. It sets the listener up for song after song with driving beats, nasal vocals, a horn section, solid harmonies, jangly guitars, etc.

After buying Love Thang, I backtracked to get the band's solid debut, Land Of Opportunity... and later bought CDs to replace them both. EIEIO was a truly underrated band that lasted just the two releases - or so I thought. I learned recently the band reunited for a third, self-titled album released in 2007 - almost 15 years after Love Thang.

Mike Hoffman from the band later joined with others to form Semi-Twang, another fave of mine from near the same era.

Wild Seeds - Brave, Clean + Reverent: I bought the Wild Seeds second and final album, Mud, Lies and Shame, on CD at Turtle Records. After playing it constantly in the late 1980s, I picked up the Brave, Clean + Reverent debut on cassette after I couldn't find it on CD. Though I prefer MLS over BCR, I did upgrade my cassette with a digital download a few years ago.

After parting ways around 1990, frontman Michael Hall released a series of solo albums - most of which I have as well as an underrated album with alt-country legends Alejandro Escovedo and Walter Salas-Humara of The Silos under the band name The Setters. Hall has also been a long-time writer and senior editor for Texas Monthly magazine and is on Twitter at @mikehalltexas.

To be continued...


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sharing A Six Pack With Nick Dittmeier And The Sawdusters

About a a year and a half ago, Louisville-based songwriter Nick Dittmeier (web | Twitter) hit my radar with his EP, Light of Day. He and his now-named band, The Sawdusters, are back with a full-length album to be released on January 15, 2016: Midwest Heart Southern Blues. And from what I can tell, there is no "and" or comma between the two phrases. So remember that as you rave about this 'un going forward.

Tee the thing up and hold on for a fast country-influenced but rockin' ride. Dittmeier and company don't give you much time to catch your breath as the album starts with a quick-paced opening pair of My True Love...

... and Centralia.

I had the opportunity recently to share a six pack (of questions) with Dittmeier and Sawdusters' guitarist Zane Hilton.

TMC: The band has played a bunch of gigs over the last year and a half or so since the EP was released. What kinds of big lessons did y'all learn about songwriting for the full album after playing in support of it? Or maybe just lessons about road life in general? Ha.
ND: It just allowed us a lot of time to be together and have opportunities to work on new music, have it in the front of our mind so much, maybe talk about it too. Through touring, outside of having opportunities to work things into the sets, we did things like video blogs that served as pre-production opportunities too. Lessons about the road - pack more socks than you think you're gonna need.
ZH: I think one big thing we learned was how to connect to each other personally on the road. You spend days on end with these guys and learn how to adapt to everyone's distinct personalities. You don't want to piss anyone off or go crazy yourself having very little privacy, so you learn how to act as a team. And I think that's a direct reflection of the construction for the record. We all have our own individualistic styles of playing. We each put our own individual pieces in to create this sound, our sound, and not step on each others toes. In the end you have this cohesive raw sound.  
TMC: How would you describe your approach to songwriting? Are you one to carry around random couplets, hooks and refrains for a while? Or perhaps prefer dedicated songwriting sessions?
ND: I'm always writing songs and trying to develop new ideas. It's always best to stay a few steps ahead of what you're going to be doing next. When I feel I have a solid outline of a song, then the whole band will start working on it. I write constantly when things come to me so I always have a few things going.
TMC: Were the songs for Midwest Blues Southern Blues written specifically for the album? Or did you have some of them on the shelf for a while as you looked for the right time to put them on an album?
ND: No, we knew we were going to have to put a full-length out so we just introduced new songs piece by piece. I just kept introducing what I felt was my best material to the band. There were songs I liked but didn't make the cut. One song in particular Rhythm of the Train was a complete rewrite as far as the melody went. The original was a New Orleans, second-line type song, but we just didn't feel like it meshed. 
TMC: One thing that caught my ear going back to the EP and continuing with the new release is the guitar work by you and Zane. Kind of a "deliberate picking" style that reminds me a bit of old school country and Southern rock feel - but with a contemporary quick pace. Tell me a bit about pickers or bands that have influenced y'all and what kind of experimenting you've done with string gauges and picks to nail your sound.
ND: Guitar players that influenced me would be Pete Anderson on all the Dwight Yoakam albums up until the early 2000s, Lowell George of Little Feat, and Willie Nelson. Just the way Willie adds a lot of chromatic notes and plays behind the beat. Also Vince Gill and Eric Clapton. As far as equipment goes, I keep the most basic set-up you can have - an American Telecaster and a Fender DeVille tube amp. After we got off stage in Cincinnati one time, a guy asked what kind of pedals I use and I just said "a tuner". 
ZH: For me,  Don Rich and Waylon Jennings. Sturgill Simpson on those early Sunday Valley records were monstrous. Nick and I really dug the Turnpike Troubadours also. The fiddle and guitar both play lead, but they do a fantastic job of playing off each other. For us, it just goes back to playing together so much and being individuals working as a team to build a cohesive song. Basic Stuff - Fender Teles through Fender tube amps. Gold. 
Pills, Jesus And War (TMC fave track)

TMC: Among my faves from the album is Stabbed To Death in Ohio. But where in the hell did THAT title and song come from?
ND: I wrote that song two winters ago back when we had a really cold one. We just dealt with a lot of snow and ice. I had a gig to play about an hour north in Central Indiana, and I knew it was going to snow pretty much about the time I would be finishing and driving back. I kinda fibbed to her and said that it's just supposed to rain because I needed money. So the song is really about lying to the wife to go play a gig and then getting killed. The word "Indiana" just had one too many syllables in it so I changed it to Ohio.
TMC: (I'm about to render a generalization that's likely way off base but here goes anyway.) With technology, it's about as easy as ever to lay down demos, record songs, design artwork, etc. But doing the promotion, booking gigs, getting the attention of those who can make a difference, riding the road, etc. is as tough as ever. The challenge has to be even greater for a band than one individual looking to eke out an living as an artist. How have y'all managed to keep moving forward with your art and still keep food on the table, gas in the tank, and booze in your belly?
ND: We've just tried to keep an open mind about everything and keep our nose to the grindstone. Things we've done well and places we've done well in we've tried to build on that, and places we haven't we've tried to learn about what we can do to improve things.
ZH: The music business is wild. There's no set guideline saying "This is how you do it".  It's all about hard work, trial and error. Putting in the countless man hours and believing in your product as a band. We are all making personal sacrifices to make the wheels bellies included. But at the end of the day, it's all about doing what you love.   
Dittmeier's album is solid from top to bottom. It includes plenty of twang, railroad brushes on the snare, the aforementioned fancy guitar picking, and more. In addition to the songs referenced here, other winners include Ever Since You Left Town and The Poet, The Priest & Me (a true guitar showcase for Hilton).

I appreciate Nick and Zane sharing a six pack of Q&A, and I look forward to sharing a sixer of another variety at their record release show at Nashville's The Basement on January 15th.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

TMC cassette memories - post 1

January. The first month of a new year. Time for New Year's Resolutions - that last about an hour. Time to perhaps revisit things of importance. But why go outside if it's cold, rainy, dreary, etc.? Instead, I recently buried myself in a spare-room closet going through my collection of cassettes.

One of my life's regrets is that I tossed my 8-track collection back in 1996. I should have kept them - or at least just one of them. Perhaps KISS Alive 2 ... or AC/DC For Those About To Rock ... or Rush Permanent Waves. Instead, I chunked them all.

Despite their being obsolete as well, however, I have not tossed any of my cassette tapes. The better releases were replaced with CDs or downloads. Others that earned an ehhh rating at the time have been left behind. And still others had all but been forgotten until I went back through my cases.

I'll share a few in the weeks to come with what memories I can recall about them.

Velvet Elvis - Self-Titled: A band with the band name Velvet Elvis just had to snag a few impulse buyers. Right? Well, they snagged at least one. Before the wholesale changeover to CDs, Turtle Records on Lee Highway in Chattanooga, Tennessee stocked a buttload of cassettes. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent just flipping through the "Various" of each letter of the alphabet. I later did the same with new CDs at Turtles and Tower Records and with used music at Nashville's Great Escape and Grimey's.

I recall laughing a bit when I spotted Velvet Elvis - though there was something captivating about the cover art. My "well hell, why not?" decision to purchase was rewarded. I'd compare the band's music in that era to something like Mitch Easter's Let's Active. I liked the release enough that I upgraded it later with a CD.

Hunters & Collectors - Living Daylight: I don't recall how I learned about Australia's H&C. The first CD I bought of theirs was the IRS Records release, Fate. After digging it, I sought out their previous album, Human Frailty. Living Daylight was an EP released between the two, and I could only find it on cassette.

Van Halen - 5150 and OU812: These are two cassettes I regret buying. They were the last two albums I bought of a band that rocked so hard when it first hit the scene in 1978. I should have known better after the mixed bag that was 1984 - yet I bought these two anyway. They were parked soon after I got them, and I haven't missed whatever was on either of them.

Marques Bovre and the Evil Twins - Medicine: I have zero recall of this band though I would have thought it many have been an impulse purchase at a merch table after seeing them in Chattanooga. But after a quick Google search, I learned Bovre was from Madison, Wisconsin. I worked in Madison in the early 90s, but I still have zero recall of how this one hit my radar.

Radio Berlin - It Takes A Pretty Smile To Sell A Song: I don't remember much about the band except they toured regularly through Chattanooga in the late 1980s-early 1990s. After seeing them two or three times, I bought their tape. I don't recall Turtle's stocking music of local or unsigned bands. But I'm also struggling to recall other record stores we had at the time - Cat's perhaps?

Hank Williams Jr. - hodge podge: My new college friends and I had quite the rowdy time my freshman and sophomore years in the dorm. When I hit campus at age 18, I knew of Hank Jr. but wasn't familiar with specific songs. By October 1 of my freshman year, however, I had the majority of his post-Ajax Mountain-fall songs memorized. While we also mixed in plenty of Haggard, Waylon, David Allan Coe, Cash and even Merle Kilgore, our go-to music when classes ended Friday was Bocephus.

To be continued...