Thursday, 27 August 2020

The Unclaimed: Shelley Ganz Talks About The "Primordial Ooze Flavored" EP, Fizzies & His Devotion To Garage Rock

Originally published in Rave-Up #8 (1984)
By Devorah Ostrov

"Primordial Ooze Flavored"
(Hysteria Records - 1983)
Ask Shelley Ganz, lead singer for the Unclaimed, what he wants to be when he grows up and he'll state: "Wanna be a farmer all year round!"

This is relevant. Because for Shelley, the '60s never ended. The bands he favors are the Seeds (the above quote came from their song, "The Farmer"), Count Five, the Syndicate of Sound, the Standells, and numerous other even more obscure '60s garage-rock groups. And with his band's recently released six-song EP, "Primordial Ooze Flavored" (Hysteria Records), Shelley says he hopes to bring back the feeling and the fun of that era!

Formed in April 1979 when guitarist Sid Griffin (late of punk band Death Wish) responded to Shelley's "musicians wanted" ad in The Recycler, the LA-based Unclaimed were at the forefront of the current garage rock revival. Shortly after the release of their 1980 four-song EP (Moxie Records), Griffin left the group (along with bassist Barry Shank) and eventually formed the Long Ryders. But by then, the Unclaimed were playing to packed local clubs and they'd progressed from covering little-known mid-'60s gems to being one of the few bands on the scene writing their own material — all of which could easily be mistaken for the genuine article.

We began the interview by gathering some background information on our fave rave.

The Unclaimed - early publicity photo with
Shelley Ganz and Sid Griffin.
Q: Were you born in Southern California?

Shelley: I was born in Hollywood, at the southern edge of Hollywood.

Q: As a kid, were you a big fan of '60s garage rock when it was happening?

Shelley: No, I was too young at the time it was happening. I only became aware of pop music a couple of years later, during the bubblegum era. Garage hit me when I was in boarding school in New York — which is too horrid an episode to get into. Luckily, I had a transistor radio so I could tune in to WCBS-FM, an "oldies" radio station. They played everything from Doo-Wop through surf and British Invasion to garage and bubblegum. It was literally the only thing that kept me from jumping out of a window.

Q: What it was that appealed to you so strongly about garage rock?

Shelley: It just hit me on an internal level. You get it or you don't. It talks to you or it doesn't. You hear something and it instantly grabs you. I remember very clearly hearing the intro to "Liar Liar" by the legendary Castaways on WCBS. I just froze. It was just... fantastic is not a strong enough word. I thought, "Oh my god, this is just the greatest!"

Poster for a 2015 show with the Outta Sites, the
Unclaimed & the Ogres at the Elbo Room in SF.
Q: Growing up, were you a Beatles fan or a Stones fan?

Shelley: I'm very tempted to laugh uproariously! You know the Stones covered "I Wanna Be Your Man," and you know the Beatles wrote it. Now, the Beatles' version is a very likable pop tune. But the Stones' version is this wicked cool, kick-ass, demonic death ray! And that's the difference between the two bands. A writer friend of mine put it this way: "The Beatles were more romantic; the Stones were more sexual." It's a profound statement. I don't profess to being that clever, I would just say that the Stones are more visceral.

Q: So, you're listening to oldies on WCBS-FM... Were you already thinking about forming your own band?

Shelley: No, not at that point. I loved the music, and I was very heavily into the Stones, but I was still quite young. So, when that school uhmm... thought I should be elsewhere, to put it mildly, I came back to LA and finished high school and started college. And that's when I became super garaged-out! One day, I was listening to KRTH, they were almost identical to WCBS; they played everything that WCBS played. So, I was listening to "Time Won't Let Me" by the Outsiders on KRTH... and BANG! I wanted to be the Outsiders. My thought was, I'm never gonna see the Outsiders, so I felt I had to become them. That's how passionate I was about garage rock. That's when I thought, I'm gonna have to put a band together that's devoted to garage. And that's when I started putting ads in The Recycler looking for like-minded people. And it slowly came together, but it was very slow.

The Unclaimed at the time of this interview
(publicity photo)
Q: How hard was it for you to find like-minded musicians to join the band?

Shelley: Well, it did take a few years to find the right group.

Q: Was it because no one understood what you were trying to do?

Shelley: That's one way to put it. It was tough because it's really a pigeonhole. The original garage scene only lasted for a couple of years.

Q: What kind of people responded to your advert?

Shelley onstage in 2013 at the Ugly Things 
30th-anniversary party. 
Shelley: A lot of hippies and ex-hippies... And y'know, God love 'em! But they were too far down the road, so to speak. They were beyond '65/'66. They were already up to '69. Somebody who'd played in Blue Cheer came down for a rehearsal...

Q: Which guy from Blue Cheer?

Shelley: Oh, I don't know. He played drums and he was a hippie. We played "Bad Girl" [by Zakary Thaks] but he couldn't quite get it. And we played "Dinah Wants Religion" [by the Fabs] but he couldn't quite get that, either. He wanted to go into a drum solo for five minutes. Haha!

Q: Were you called the Unclaimed from the beginning?

Shelley: No, there were a lot of names. I think we were called the Popes at one point. And we were the Uninvited for a little while. And from the Uninvited, we became the Unclaimed. There was a fantastic garage band called the Uncalled For. Oh, my god, they were so great! They had a song called "Do Like Me," and I was in love with that song. We used to cover it. And I kind of went, "The Uncalled For... The Unclaimed. That's it!"

Q: Where did the band make its debut?

Shelley: It was at the Nugget at Long Beach State. We opened for the Plimsouls.

Flyer for "another savage performance" by the Unclaimed
at the Troubadour in Los Angeles - January 30, 1980.
Q: That would've been a good show!

Shelley: Yeah, it was good! We played two sets. I remember the first song we played; it was "Little Girl" by the Syndicate of Sound — the greatest band of them all.

Q: What else did you play that night?

Shelley: Well, you see... I'd met Dave Gibson, who eventually produced our Moxie record, and he sold me a stack of singles for basically nothing. These were very rare and very obscure singles. So, our first set included a plethora of extremely obscure garage covers combined with some well-known '60s tunes by groups like the Chocolate Watchband.

Q: Did Peter Case give you some encouragement that night? He's very into garage rock.

Shelley: We were friends for a good two or three years prior to that. We would hang out and go to record stores. He's a very good cat, and he was very complimentary about our first set. He was very generous and kind with what he said when he saw us.

Q: This would have pre-dated the garage rock revival by quite a while.

Shelley: It pre-dated everything!

Q: What did the audience think?

The Unclaimed four-song EP (Moxie Records 1980)
Features two songs written by Sid Griffin and two written
by Shelley Ganz, including "Run from Home."
Shelley: I only have a recollection of our performance, and I just remember Peter beaming. That's all I can recall. I can't even see the audience. Presumably, they enjoyed it, but I just don't remember.

Q: In 1981, the Unclaimed track "Run from Home" was included on the Voxx Battle of the Garages LP. How did that come about?

Shelley: That was Greg Shaw's vision of what contemporary garage music was like, but half the group had left by then; that was the pivotal point. Sid was really into a more country sound, and I was into the grungier, punk sound of that period. So, we couldn't really come together on songwriting. We sort of did his songs and then we did my songs, and there was a constant battle. So, he split. But we're still pals.

Q: Wasn't "Run from Home" one of the two songs you wrote for the Unclaimed's 1980 Moxie EP?

Shelley: Yes, it was. But I thought the original version was recorded much too quickly, and in general, it's rather poor quality. We reworked it a bit for the Voxx LP. We enhanced the vocals and some of the guitars.

Q: Battle of the Garages was supposed to be a real Battle of the Bands, with write-in votes. Was an actual winner chosen from the entries?

Still rockin'! The Unclaimed in action at the Redwood - April 2019.
Photo: Boni Wolf Florian
Shelley: I don't know, it was probably the Chesterfield Kings. They did a cover of the Chocolate Watchband's tune "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)."

Q: Speaking of your East Coast rivals... The Chesterfield Kings offered 14 covers of obscure mid-'60s nuggets on their debut album. Meanwhile, you wrote five out of the six songs on "Primordial Ooze Flavored." What's your take on this difference between the two bands?

Shelley: I think the Chesterfield Kings are a great band! I think they chose superlative songs to cover and they did it brilliantly. Both our bands are very evocative of that stock mid-'60s sound. I'm pretty sure if you found their album and "Primordial Ooze Flavored" in a stack of records from 1966, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between them and the originals. Not from a production end, anyway.

Flyer for an Unclaimed gig at Club 88, with support
from the Salvation Army & the Bangs (soon to become
the Three O'Clock & the Bangles respectively).
Q: But I also think it's amazing that you're writing new songs which could easily be mistaken for the genuine article.

Shelley: Thank you! The Unclaimed's songs are strong. They may not be as great as the '60s punk hits that we all admire, but I don't think there's any loss of texture or quality in our original material. We just didn't think there was any point in recording covers because those songs are masterpieces. So, we were never really into that.

Q: How did you go about recording the "Primordial Ooze Flavored" EP? Did you try to get an "old" feeling?

Shelley: No, you see, we aren't trying to do it. We just do it. We know what we want, and we do it.

Q: So, you were able to use a regular, modern-day recording studio?

Shelley: Well, most of the studios are solid-state as opposed to tubes. But I think it's more like, if you know what you're doing and you sound how you want to, it's not really that important. A lot of the stuff was piecemeal recording, y'know, various bits and pieces here and there. We got bits of time for nothing or very, very cheaply. So, we just went up there and did as much as possible in the shortest period of time.

Q: You produced the EP yourselves?

Battle of the Garages - featuring the Unclaimed track
"Run from Home" (Voxx Records - 1981).
Shelley: Yeah! We had an engineer, but we essentially knew how to get the sounds. The problem with some bands is that they try too hard to capture "a sound." When the Seeds went to record, they didn't think: "Who are we going to emulate?" They just did it. Beatle boots and bowl haircuts are cool, but anyone can wear them. And that's not the criteria for cool anyway. A bunch of the mid-'60s garage groups look like physics students; like they'd be late for chemistry!

Q: Are you happy with how "Primordial Ooze Flavored" turned out?

Shelley: Uhmm... three-quarters happy. We learn more every time we go into the studio. We're not complete experts, and we were on a limited budget.

Q: Have you seen any reviews of "Primordial Ooze Flavored"?

Shelley: A local writer in a local paper said that it was easily the most stock sounding thing he'd heard, and why we weren't stars was beyond his imagination. Stuff like that. He liked it a lot! He was really nice. I thought about sending him some fruit.

Lost Trails #7 - Italian fanzine featuring an
Unclaimed/Vipers split single (1988).
Q: Have you had the opportunity to hear your songs on the radio?

Shelley: Yes! They played "Walk on the Water" on Rodney's [Bingenheimer] show, and they played "No Apology" a lot 'cause that's a very hot track. Rodney is always good to us.

Q: Are you hoping to get picked up by a major label?

Shelley: Y'know, that's like every kid's dream! That and a free trip to Hawaii! But yeah, it would be nice if we could make a living on what we like to do.

Q: The EP cover artwork is really interesting. How did that design come about?

Shelley: The cover is kind of hard to define. I got the idea from Fizzies. I dug some up and thought, "This wouldn't be bad." So, that's where I got it. But I dig it! The whole kinda cruddy, amusement park meets Halloween, meets B-horror movies, meets cotton candy that sticks to your shoe!

Q: Do you ever feel like you've held yourself back by locking yourself into such a specific musical timeframe?

Shelley: No! Because I love that timeframe. I worship it. I adore it. I can honestly say it's my religion. This is all I listen to. Other than bubblegum and a few notable exceptions, like the New York Dolls, the Ramones, and the Damned, I don't buy records that came out after Brian Jones died. I kinda feel like he took all the coolness with him. After '69, rock 'n' roll became big business and it became really serious. But if you just dig around there's stuff out there that is such a gas to listen to. The greatest things are songs like "Little Girl." It's utterly simple, and it really floors you!

Vintage Fizzies packages
★ ★ ★
The new Unclaimed EP
(Groovie Records)

But wait! The Unclaimed story isn't over. They've got a new self-titled, four-song EP on Groovie Records. You can listen to one of the fab tracks ("You Never Come") and find out how to order your copy here: theunclaimed.bandcamp.com

"I like to refer to our new songs as bubble-garage," says Shelley. "I've always adored bubblegum music. It followed garage chronologically, and these new songs have both qualities — garage and bubblegum forged together. And I think they're delightful!"



* Follow the Unclaimed on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheUnclaimed
* Join the Friends Who Like The Unclaimed Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups 
* Watch the video for "You Never Come" on YouTube: www.youtube.com

Saturday, 15 August 2020

The Wacky World Of Novelty Records: An Interview With The Wonderful Dr. Demento!

Originally published in Teenage Kicks #3 (Spring 1999)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Dr. Demento
(publicity photo)
Teenage Kicks: As a kid, were you always the DJ at parties?

Dr. Demento: I started doing that in high school. I started playing records for the sock hops at my high school, in the gym after the basketball games.

Teenage Kicks: How did your interest in novelty records come about?

Dr. Demento: That started when I was four, and my dad brought home a Spike Jones' record. That was one of many different things that I was interested in.

Teenage Kicks: What else did you like?

Dr. Demento: Anything on a phonograph record, any kind of music. My dad had a large collection of records which was probably 85% classical. In fact, as late as when I did my undergraduate work at college, I was majoring in classical music. Not playing it, although I took piano lessons for many years. I was into the history and theory side of it.

Teenage Kicks: Where did you get your start in radio?

Dr. Demento: At the college I went to, Reed College in Portland, Oregon. There was a campus radio station and all the students were welcome to put on programs. I quickly rose to the position of student manager of the radio station. That was by far my main extracurricular activity.

Dr. Demento's "Certificate of Dementia" dated April 1, 1982
Teenage Kicks: Did you start working in commercial radio directly after college?

Dr. Demento: When I graduated from Reed, I made a couple of attempts to get work in commercial radio. But commercial radio and I were not ready for each other yet.

Teenage Kicks: When was that?

Dr. Demento: 1963 — that was when AM radio still ruled. And most radio personalities had these big, booming, well-schooled voices. Which I didn't have. So, with considerable urging from my mother, I went on to graduate school at UCLA. That brought me to Los Angeles, where there was a tremendous amount of activity going on in the music business, and I eagerly got involved in any way I could.

Dr. Demento's 20th Anniversary Collection
Rhino Records 2-CD set (1991)
Teenage Kicks: What did you do?

Dr. Demento: I decided that I wanted to be a record producer, like Lou Adler or Phil Spector or George Martin. I couldn't play worth a damn, but I thought I knew something about records. So, I'd be the one that guided these records into reality. And I did produce some records. The only one that's of any significance was a demo for a group called Spirit.

Teenage Kicks: Randy California!

Dr. Demento: That's the group. I produced a demo for them, which was released on a CD called The Spirit Chronicles. Eventually, I realized what I could do better than most people was put together "roots of rock" reissue albums. So, I got a job with Specialty Records, and I wound up compiling 35 different albums for them between 1968-1971.

Teenage Kicks: Did you already have a large record collection yourself?

Dr. Demento: It was pretty big by that time. It wasn't up to the quarter-million or so that it is today, but it was pretty substantial.

Teenage Kicks: How did you finally get involved with commercial radio?

"Stay Demented!"
Dr. Demento sticker
Dr. Demento: While I was working for Specialty, the so-called "underground" FM-radio scene came into being at KMPX up here, and KPPC in Los Angeles. And I became attracted to it. I was invited to bring some of my rare, early rock records to a couple of shows on KPPC — and I'd always mix in a few novelty records along with the other rock rarities.
   It was at one of those appearances that I played the song "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus: "Transfusion transfusion/I'm just a solid mess of contusions/ Never, never, never gonna speed again/Slip the blood to me, Bud..." It's a rock 'n' roll novelty song with a slight hipster/beatnik overtone. It was a hit in 1956!
   The station manager's secretary heard it and said, "You've got to be demented to play that shit on the radio!" That was the exact quote. The disc jockey who had invited me to guest on his show overheard the remark and started calling me Dr. Demento. So, that's where the name came from.

Teenage Kicks: What's your real name?

Dr. Demento: Barret Hansen.

Teenage Kicks: I used to listen to your show on KSAN in the late '70s. It was the best thing on the radio! Were you being syndicated by that time?

Artwork from Dementia 2000 - Dr. Demento's 30th Anniversary Collection
Courtesy of Hugh Brown
Dr. Demento: My show had started getting real nice ratings on KMET [Southern California's equivalent to KSAN] as early as 1973, which led to syndicators thinking, "If it's that popular in LA, they might like it in Peoria, too." I was eventually syndicated to over 100 stations!

Teenage Kicks: If I remember correctly, your show on KSAN sounded as if it was just for us. Did you record different versions of your show for different markets?

Dr. Demento: From 1979-'80, the last year that KSAN was on the air as a rock station, they carried a show that I recorded especially for the Bay Area. I had the local show in LA, the network show, and then I recorded a separate show for KSAN only. They had someone manning the phone lines up here, taking requests, so I would be playing a song for "Joey, in Pleasanton." And I would sneak in a few San Francisco-specific records, like "The Cable Car Concerto" — it was made back in the '40s, and it's in the voice of the cable car motorman: "Ring the bell/There's the Fairmont Hotel..."

Advert for The Dr. Demento Show
Produced by Zack Wolk
Directed by Thomas Hurley III
Teenage Kicks: Is there one decade that produced more novelty records than any other?

Dr. Demento: In terms of them being on the charts, it would be the decade from 1955-'65. In the first ten years of the rock 'n' roll era, there were lots of novelty 45s that hit the charts. In terms of them being produced overall... Heck, there are still a lot of them being made! Although most of them have trouble getting played — except on my show!

Teenage Kicks: Has anyone been offended because you played their record and they didn't think it was a funny song?

Dr. Demento: There was one band called the Fools that objected, but then they changed their mind and put out a whole album of novelty songs. They were trying to be this straight-ahead rock band, but they did a song called "Psycho Chicken," which was a parody of "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads. I wanted to put it on an album I was putting together, but they said, "No! We're not a novelty band." But a couple of years later, having not had much success as a straight-ahead rock band, they put out two whole albums of funny songs.

Teenage Kicks: If you were stranded on a desert island, what records would you take?

Dr. Demento: I'd take a couple of my Rhino Records compilations; the 20th Anniversary Collection is kind of my "Greatest Hits," so I'd take that. And I'd take a Robert Johnson album, some classical music, and some early jazz.

Find out more about Dr. Demento here: www.drdemento.com

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Ace Frehley: The Man! The Myth! The Legend! And The Former Guitarist Of Kiss, In Case You Were Wondering.

Originally published in Rave-Up #18 (1990)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Ace Frehley and his band, including Richie Scarlet
Photo: Ron Akiyama
Ace Frehley: The Man! The Myth! The Legend!

For some ridiculous reason, the advert for Frehley's recent show at the Omni thought it was necessary to point out he was also: "The former guitarist of Kiss." Like you're gonna say, "Oh, that Ace Frehley!"

Before my chat with Frehley about his new album, Trouble Walkin', the folks at Megaforce Records kindly sent me a package containing five pounds of press clippings, which covered almost every question I could think of a dozen or so times.

As it happened, I had lots of spare time to read everything and cross-reference his answers. Because when the appointed interview hour arrived and passed, and four more hours went by — the phone finally rang! Frehley had just checked into his Atlanta, Georgia, hotel room. It seemed the trip from wherever to Atlanta had been hell, and he sounded exhausted.

Ace Frehley
Megaforce Records publicity photo
So, I decided to skip the amusing quip I'd been rehearsing for the past couple of hours ("Were you having trouble walkin' to the telephone?") and instead, opened with something a little more (possibly) contentious.

Why is Tod Howarth, the singer, guitarist and songwriter on Ace's two previous solo albums, Frehley's Comet and Second Sighting, nowhere to be found on Trouble Walkin'?

"I don't think my fans were happy with Tod's musical direction," states Frehley, choosing his words carefully.

Is he referring to the lackluster response to Second Sighting, which many critics dismissed as, at best, nothing to get excited about?

"We had just come off the road when we recorded that album," he says. "I didn't have much new material, but Tod had written a lot of songs. We were working under a limited time frame, so I just let him sing half the songs. Plus, I was sick with bronchitis during the recording sessions, so I wasn't involved with it as much as I should have been. Basically, it didn't come out like an Ace Frehley record. It came out like an Ace and Tod record. Unfortunately, a lot of my fans weren't too thrilled with it."

Amongst other personnel changes, Trouble Walkin' sees the return of vocalist/guitarist Richie Scarlet, who was part of Ace's original solo lineup during his first post-Kiss tour circa 1984/1985. And the difference is dramatic. 

Trouble Walkin' (Megaforce/Atlantic 1989)
"I think people are a lot happier with Richie's direction," observes Frehley. "His direction is the same as my old roots." I don't actually need to ask what those old roots might be because numerous articles in the stack address that very topic — they include the Who, the Jeff Beck Group, and Cream.

Reviews for Trouble Walkin' are indeed much more positive, with nearly everybody hailing it as a major triumph and a return to form. "I haven't read a bad review of it yet," remarks Frehley. "If it keeps going the way it is, it's going to be my most successful album!"

Peter Criss and various members of Skid Row make guest appearances on the record, adding backing vocals on several tunes including "2 Young 2 Die," "Back to School," and the LP's title track. "You can really hear Peter's voice on the title track," notes Frehley and I choose to believe he means that as a good thing.

Although Frehley's former bandmate joined him onstage in LA a couple of years ago (for an encore of "Deuce"), this was the first time the two had recorded together since the drummer's brief appearance on Kiss' 1979 Dynasty album. So, what was it like?

Trouble Walkin' promo poster autographed by Ace Frehley
"It was great working with him!" enthuses Frehley. "After ten years apart, the magic was still there."

How did Skid Row get involved?

"I met Skid Row on MTV when we were co-hosting Headbanger's Ball. After that, they invited me to jam with them onstage when they were opening for Bon Jovi. When Sebastian [Bach, Skid Row frontman] found out I was going into the studio to record my new album, he offered his services as a background vocalist and he brought Snake [guitarist] and Rachel [Bolan, bassist] with him."

Ace Frehley posing for a music magazine
 poster at the height of his Kiss glory.
Frehley co-wrote seven of the ten songs on Trouble Walkin', and he sings lead on almost everything. But "2 Young 2 Die" — a Frehley/Scarlet collaboration, with Scarlet handling the vocals — really stands out. Even more so, as I distinctly detect a nod to Thin Lizzy's "Bad Reputation."

"You think '2 Young 2 Die' sounds like Thin Lizzy?!" Frehley's voice rises alarmingly, and I worry I've made a terrible mistake. However, it turns out he's rather pleased with my comparison.

"I consider that a compliment!" he gushes. "I was a big fan of those guys. It was tragic the way Phil Lynott [Thin Lizzy vocalist] died. It was such a waste."

Ironically, for a while, it looked like Frehley was in danger of having the same thing said about himself. But apparently (according to what I've read), he's recently cleaned up his drug and alcohol problems.

"It's nice to be off all that nonsense," he declares. "I think the difference really shows in my new album. I was playing well and singing well. I'm taking care of business and thinking with a clear head."

Awesome poster for Ace's
November 2013 Chicago dates.
He's also somewhat thinner. "I've lost 15 pounds!" Frehley proudly announces.

How? I demand to know (probably a bit too emphatically).

"Ultra Slim Fast!"

A promo video for "Do Ya," one of two cover tunes on the LP, is being shown in regular rotation on MTV, and Top 40 radio stations are starting to play the single. Surprisingly, Frehley initially had some doubts about recording the song.

Written by the Move's Jeff Lynne just as that outfit morphed into ELO, "Do Ya" was first issued in 1972 as the B-side to "California Man." Frehley's version doesn't stray far from the original's riff-oriented power-pop arrangement, and he thanks me when I tell him his delivery is perfect.

But he admits, "I just couldn't see myself singing it. I practiced a lot trying to get the vocals right." He emits one of his signature chuckles before adding, "I would never write anything like that!"

"Hide Your Heart," the LP's other cover song, is also more suited to Frehley than the three other artists who have (more or less) simultaneously released it. Penned by the team of Desmond Child, Holly Knight, and Kiss' Paul Stanley, so far this year it's been included on albums by Molly Hatchet, Robin Beck, and Kiss — who put it on Hot in the Shade which came out alongside Trouble Walkin' in October.

A Trouble Walkin' temporary tattoo 
Yet "Hide Your Heart" originally showed up last year on Bonnie Tyler's Notes from America, which also coincidently featured Frehley's bassist John Regan. "That's how I got turned onto the song," explains Ace. "I had no idea that Kiss was going to do it. Gene [Simmons] asked me, in a nice way, if I would consider taking it off the record. But my record company was thrilled with my version and refused to take it off."

I have to ask, how does he think Kiss' version compares to his own?

"I think theirs is different..." he muses, and there's another chuckle as he trails off. "I think it's just as good. I must be diplomatic these days."

There's a question I've been saving for the end of this interview. There's (shockingly) nothing about it in the press kit, but it's something I'm sure readers of this fanzine have been wondering about for the last twelve years...

What does Frehley really think about Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park?"

"It was a good comedy."

Listing for Ace's (former guitarist 
of Kiss) show at the Omni in Oakland
 April 7, 1990 
Was it actually scripted? Or did you guys just make it up as you went along?

"Of course, it was scripted! [You're correct if you sense some indignation in his answer.] But I didn't have any lines to start with. The original script just had me saying 'Awwck.' [I've used the phonetic spelling.] I told my manager that it was unacceptable. I wanted some lines like everyone else in the film."

Some of Frehley's hard-fought-for lines are:

• "And they've got guns!"
• "Insufficient data at the moment, Star Child."
• "Beethoven's Fifth!"
• "Leave it to me, Star Child. I'll bend these beams with my mind."

Summing up the made-for-TV movie as "pretty stupid," Frehley reveals the strained dynamics that led to his departure from Kiss in 1982: "The big problem was that I didn't take Kiss seriously, but Gene did. Did you see us on the Tom Snyder show? Try to get ahold of the video. It's pretty hilarious. Gene's totally serious and I'm laughing hysterically! I never took it seriously — the make-up or anything. I just thought it was a goof."

* * *

The infamous Tomorrow Show episode, first broadcast on October 31, 1979 (where Ace laughs and jokes while Gene looks annoyed), is now on YouTube! Here's a link...

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

The Damned: British Punk Sensations Reveal Their Fave Colors, Loves, Hates & More!

The Damned circa 1982: Roman Jugg, Captain Sensible,
Paul Gray, Rat Scabies & Dave Vanian (photo from the I Had
Too Much To Drink Last Night bootleg)

Meet The Damned!

In 1982, four members of the Damned agreed to fill in this silly questionnaire for 
Rave-Up issue number 3. Dave Vanian wisely declined to participate and clearly some
of the guys took the task more seriously than others (hello, Roman!).

* You can read my 1998 interview with Captain Sensible here:  devorahostrov.blogspot.com/2016/12/captian-sensible-interview
* You can also read my 1985 interview with Dave Vanian & Roman Jugg here: devorahostrov.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-damned-rendezvous-at-alice-in-wonderland



Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Young Fresh Fellows: I Run Up My Phone Bill While Discussing "It's Low Beat Time" With Scott McCaughey

Originally published in American Music Press (October 1992)
By Devorah Ostrov

The Young Fresh Fellows (L-R): Kurt Bloch, Scott McCaughey,
Tad Hutchison & Jim Sangster (photographer unknown)
Interviewing Young Fresh Fellows vocalist/guitarist Scott McCaughey was an entertaining way to run up my phone bill! We were supposed to discuss the band's new Frontier Records release, It's Low Beat Time, which we did... 

But we also talked about YFF's psych-fest version of Sony Bono's "I Just Sit There," which they recorded for last year's tribute album Bonograph. "Sonny's wife [not Cher!] called up the label and ordered 20 copies," gushes Scott. "They wanted to give them to people for Christmas presents."

Other topics of conversation included his thoughts about the group's 1987 hit single "Amy Grant" ("It's the stupidest song ever"), audience requests ("We've been known to try and play songs we don't know if somebody asks us nicely"), the Dictators (the Fellows are "super into" the Dictators), ex-Flamin' Groovies vocalist/Phantom Movers leader Roy Loney ("He's so rocking!"), and the vinyl vs. CD argument (of course, he prefers vinyl).

It's Low Beat Time (Frontier Records 1992)
Seattle-based for more than a decade, Scott and former Fellows guitarist Chuck Carroll originally hailed from the Bay Area. The move north was made with the intention of starting a BAM-type music 'zine for the Northwest. But as Scott explains, "In the three months since Chuck had checked out the scene, The Rocket had started and filled the void."

The pair stayed because they liked the city's atmosphere, and they even fell in with The Rocket's staff. In fact, Scott still writes a column on alternative music for the magazine.

Forming an idiosyncratic pop group of their own wasn't part of the agenda; it just sort of happened. "We just recorded a record," offers Scott ambivalently about the launch of a respected career which now spans almost nine years.

When I push him for more information, he adds, "Chuck and I had recorded a lot of junk on a four-track. We'd always sent tapes to our friends and after we moved to Seattle we thought, they're gonna be expecting a cassette come Christmas, and wouldn't it be really funny if we sent them an album. Like, they'd be totally blown away!"

Flyer for the Replacements & Young
Fresh Fellows at the Gift Center in SF - 1992
In 1983, with Chuck's cousin Tad Hutchison on drums and Scott (credited as "Sled") temporarily on bass, the Fellows recorded their whimsical debut, The Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest, on the exceptionally obscure PopLlama label.

"They'd never really put out any records," notes Scott of PopLlama. "They'd sort of put out a couple of cassettes. But when we came up with the idea to do this record, Conrad [Uno, label owner and producer] said, 'I'll record it and we'll put it out on my little label' — which didn't really exist."

Scott picks up the story a few months later: "When the record came out, much to our amazement people heard it and liked it. We started getting letters from radio stations around the country that had it at #1! We thought, Wow! This is really weird. We weren't taking it at all seriously."

Before their second PopLlama release (1985's Topsy Turvy), Jim Sangster took over as the group's bassist and Scott switched to guitar. "I'm too retarded to play bass and sing at the same time," he states. A couple of years later, the Fellows moved to the bigger indie label Frontier Records where they've since issued a string of eagerly received quirky LPs, including 1988's Totally Lost — after which Fastbacks' guitarist Kurt Bloch replaced Chuck Carroll.  

With Low Beat Time, the band Rolling Stone once described as "the Lovin' Spoonful at Buzzcocks' speed" still isn't taking it seriously. The 16 mostly snappy tunes (with the usual bits of oddness YFF is known for) shift and collide dramatically in style and mood, with tracks that careen from bopping beats to garage-punk wallops to organ-driven romps.

The Young Fresh Fellows in their snazzy Electric Bird Digest outfits
"Tad wanted this whole record to be a super-happy, up-beat dance kind of thing," observes Scott. "But we couldn't all agree to do the whole record that way, so we just haphazardly recorded a bunch of stuff."

He might be using the word "haphazardly" in a literal sense, as five studios in three different cities were employed in making the album. According to Scott, the plan was to "just go back to the basement, take a month and get really out there." But their regular studio was booked by someone else and the guys were impatient to get going. "We wanted to get a record out this year," he comments, "for no particular reason. But Frontier thought it would be a good idea."

PopLlama publicity photo featuring guitarist Chuck Carroll
Two of the studios they used required a cross-country trip to Memphis.

One was Easley Recording, where Alex Chilton can often be found. If you listen closely, you can sometimes hear Chilton's hollow-body Gretsch on It's Low Beat Time.

"We didn't know it was his until we'd used it on a bunch of songs," swears Scott.

The other was Royal Studios, where they worked with the great Willie Mitchell. The producer of soul superstars like Al Green and Ann Peebles oversaw the album's title track as well as the Fellows' cover of the Young Rascals' "Love Is a Beautiful Thing."

Scott confirms that everything turned out to be "really cool" with Mitchell, although he admits to having some initial jitters. "Here's this sixty-year-old black guy who's been recording really talented soul singers for the last thirty years, and here's four jaded punk rock losers from Seattle, coming in and stomping around. We didn't know if it would work out at all."

The Young Fresh Fellows on the cover 
of Seattle's The Rocket - June 1984
YFF's punky treatment of the customarily earnest trad-folk tune "Green Green" took shape at Easley. It's a highlight of the album and features legendary bluesman Rufus "Walking the Dog" Thomas on guest vocals. How did this unlikely but perfect collaboration come about?

"We knew he was in Memphis," says Scott, "and we tracked him down. He said, 'Sure, I'll come over.' He'd never heard the song before, but he instantly got into it. He's like 75-years-old and still super-psyched about music." Apparently, it was Thomas' idea to do the song's intro as a solo, and he added some improvised scat vocals as well. "It was great!" enthuses Scott.

Back on home turf, the band hooked up with Kearney Barton, engineer of 1965's proto-punk classic Here Are the Sonics, which Scott rates as one of the 10 best rock 'n' roll records ever made (YFF cover "High Time" on the tribute album Here Ain't the Sonics).

Barton got them the authentically primitive garage sound they wanted for two tracks — "99 Girls" and "She Won't Budge" — both of which stand out for being so overtly lo-fi. However, at one point, Scott was slightly worried they'd gone too far. "I was wondering if people would think there was something wrong with their CD when it got to those songs," he chuckles. "We tried to make those two songs sound like the Sonics as much as possible. We didn't overdub anything. Kearney would record the songs every time we played but he wouldn't erase anything. So, we just picked the versions we liked the best."

Fabulous Peter Bagge-designed poster for
recent YFF shows in Seattle and Portland
So, it seems like they've had a jolly good time. But wasn't all that traveling and studio expense a bit of a strain on Frontier's finances? 

"Yeah, I was kind of wondering how that would go over," muses Scott. "We definitely spent more money on this record than we have on any other one, but they were like 'Okay.'"

In case you haven't caught one of their shows yet, the Fellows are just as weird and eclectic live as they are on record, and twice as much fun! "You could see us two or three nights in a row and not hear any of the same songs," remarks Scott. "Or you might hear 'Amy Grant' all three nights."

On occasion, their setlists include "76 Trombones" and "The Girl from Ipanema," and their performances are frequently compared to the crash-and-burn days of the Replacements. Actually, the only words I could decipher in the liner notes to a Spanish YFF release were "Sonics" and "Replacements."

Scott's happy with the comparison. "I think we're a lot more punk rock than people realize, people who have only heard one of our records. We totally charge live! We love to play super-loud and super-fast. Our shows are pretty much free-for-alls!"

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Backstage With Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction: Idle Chitchat And Fun Photo Ops With Fanzine Journalists

Originally published in Rave-Up #14 (1988)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov & Sara Brinker

Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction
Back cover photo - Tattooed Beat Messiah (Mercury/Phonogram Records) 
Lovable British hooligans Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction recently roared into town in promotion of their new album Tattooed Beat Messiah. Following their boisterous show at the Stone, Mr. Mindwarp (a.k.a. Mark Manning, former art editor at Flexipop! magazine) had some time to kill and we had a tape recorder. So, we engaged in a bit of idle chitchat while Sara posed for an impromptu photo op in her custom-made jacket...

Rave-Up: When did you get your first tattoo?

Sara Brinker poses with Zodiac Mindwarp
Jacket and photo by: Vicki Berndt
https://vickiberndt.com
Zodiac: I was 14 years old. It was a skull and dagger tattoo, and it cost me about 20p. I had it covered up about four or five years ago.

Rave-Up: How did you like tonight's show?

Zodiac: The audience tonight was good. It reminded me of a London audience. London, and England, are crazy!

Rave-Up: You didn't seem too pleased with the stage divers.

Zodiac: They fucked up my microphone. Stay off my stage, fucking wild boys! I always try to give a good show, regardless of what the audience is doing. They pay their money, like everybody else. They paid to see a looney.

Rave-Up: Is that how you see yourself?

Zodiac: Yeah, I'm a dancing bear.

Rave-Up: Are you happy with the level of success that you have at the moment?

Zodiac: I actually want to follow Mötley Crüe and buy myself an island. I want to be bigger than Michael Jackson.

Rave-Up: So, who else do you listen to?
Zodiac Mindwarp on the cover of Kerrang!

Zodiac: I like Bruce Springsteen!

Rave-Up: How do feel about John Cougar Mellencamp?

Zodiac: He's alright. I prefer Bruce, though.

Rave-Up: Did you enjoy New York?

Zodiac: It was filthy and unpleasant, and everyone had a very hostile attitude. They all sound like, "What's your problem?" "You got a problem?" "You talkin' to me?"

Rave-Up: Did you ride on the subway?

Zodiac: No, I've seen Death Wish!

Rave-Up: Did you see much of the Midwest or the Mojave Desert on your way to California?

Zodiac: No, except out the window.

Rave-Up: You guys should have rented some Harleys and gone out into the desert!

Zodiac: With our luck, we probably would've run out of petrol and starved on some desert road.

Advert for the 30th-anniversary tour of
Tattooed Beat Messiah - 2018/2019

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Def Leppard: Two Punk Rock Fanzine Journalists Meet The Guitarist & Get A Peek At Joe Elliott's Naked Bottom!

Originally published in Idol Worship (September 1980)
Interview by: Devorah Ostrov

Def Leppard around the time of this interview - Pete Willis in the center
(publicity photo)
A picture of Def Leppard in an English music magazine caught my attention: they were wearing black leather jackets and sporting eyeliner. I thought they were kind of cute, and somehow convinced not only myself but also Idol Worship photographer Vicki Berndt that we should give this "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" thing a try.

Friends reacted with disdain, and in-the-know record salespeople refused to play me their album. Undeterred, Vicki and I attended the Pat Travers/Def Leppard concert at the Oakland Civic Auditorium — where we instantly encountered a solid wall of 6,000 HM diehards all dressed in jeans and Pat Travers t-shirts.

Me interviewing Pete Willis
Photo: Vicki Berndt (you can see her
in the mirror!)
As if that weren't enough, when we stumbled into the group's dressing room in search of a manager (it was surprisingly easy to get backstage passes, the nice lady at the box office just handed them to us with our tickets — probably because we looked like aliens from outer space; of course, we took it as a sign from God that an interview was preordained), we found Def Leppard's perfectly permed lead singer Joe Elliott with his spandex pants around his ankles.

With our hands over our eyes, we hurried back out to taunting yet fetchingly British-accented shouts of "I haven't got me trousers on! She saw me bare ass!"

Deciding to wait until after the show to inquire about interview possibilities, we spent a rather distressing few minutes mingling with the crowd while Def Leppard pounded out what sounded like the same song three times around. Then we hid in the bathroom until it was over.

Afterwards, I'm happy to report, we found the manager without seeing any other band member's naked bottoms. And after he made sure to tell us that Def Leppard is "hard rock" and NOT "heavy metal" (apparently, they're quite keen about that distinction although I don't imagine anyone actually cares), he introduced us to the group's adorable and polite (and most importantly, pants-wearing) guitarist Pete Willis — who looked to be about 15 years old.

* * *

Q: How would you compare the "hard rock" [notice Idol Worship staffers are quick to catch on] scene in England to that of America?

Pete: It's pretty much the same. All the same bands draw the audiences. You have your trend music, like punk rock [quick glances at me and Vicki], but what draws the crowds is AC/DC and Van Halen, like that.

Twenty-five years later, I ran into Def Leppard's
pantless lead singer again. This time, I was with my hubby Mike
and thankfully I don't think Joe Elliott remembered me!
Photo: Diane Wade
Q: Could you describe the kind of image you're trying to put across?

Pete: I don't think we're trying to put across a different image. We just try to look good to the audience.

Q: Does the audience give you any trouble because of the way you dress? Most of the bands they like just wear jeans.

Pete: What's the point of wearing jeans when you can dress nice and come off well onstage?

Q: How are you being received in America?

Pete: It's alright. We've had really good audiences. You saw it tonight?  [I nod to indicate "sort of."] That's the way it's been on the tour.

Q: What was that wine you guys were gulping between songs?

Promo poster for On Through the Night,
the debut Def Leppard album we didn't bother
to mention during this interview.
Pete: It's only Joe who drinks it. I don't drink till I'm offstage. It messes me up. I just drink Coke. [He smiles innocently and holds up an empty bottle of Blue Nun.]

Q: What do you listen to at home?

Pete: UFO, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC... I also like jazz-rock, like Stanley Clark and Styx. It's really involved, not just party-time music.

The guys gathered up their stuff and wandered off to see Eddie Money, who was playing elsewhere. Meanwhile, we raided the dressing room for remnants of cold cuts, stale bread and cheese. Fun fact: Hard rock groups eat lots more than punk bands, leaving less food for hungry fanzine journalists!