Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TVD's Record Store Day 2010 Label Showcase | Ardent Records, Music, and Studios | Alex Chilton's Years with the Panther Burns

by Tav Falco

Let us raise our glasses to a fallen comrade. And ask ourselves did we celebrate this man in life as we do now in death? Ah yes, we embraced our comrade and drew him close to our hearts and minds... as close as he would allow. Sure he touched us literally and he touched us profoundly: as an artist with lyrical intensity, as a person with camaraderie granted and camaraderie rebuffed. Such are the complexities of the artist and of the person. We realize it's not so easy to be friends with an artist, especially a gifted one. His smile often twisted into a leer, even when he was amused by your bonhomie and by your adulation. Be careful of tendencies: OK we’ve created it; now let’s deconstruct it. Godhead on the one hand, destroying angel on the other… Lord help you if you were caught in between. His tones were golden, and he knew that... better than anyone. Was he resentful because he had given so much, and had received less than the key to the temple of abiding good fortune and fame immemorial? Was he content in his rickety 18th cottage on the edge of the French Quarter surrounded by his guitars and aquatints and a cognoscenti of musicians who celebrated him as we do now? Did he draw all that he could take from his talents? Did he quaff draughts of indolence? The answers mean little, and the questions even less. What matters is that those whom he touched, were touched immutably. His legacy is of the mind, of the soul, of earthly pleasure, and of just and lost causes. He left us that redeeming spark of wit and flame to keep us going when were hovering down in the foxhole of doubt and uncertainty and dodging the adverse missives of Lady Luck... comforted in thinking that Alex would have liked that, or he would have appreciated this, or he would have been elated by this or that, or let’s do it the way Alex does it. His opinion, his taste, his love is what matters in the end. The last time I saw Alex was in Paris visiting in his posh suite at Hotel George le Cinq. He was pleased with his rooms, and we stayed up late while he merrily tutored me with the unending music lesson that had been on-going since I met him some twenty-five years before... the lesson that never seemed to quite 'take', and which I understood little better than the first time he drilled me. He would say /Tav, somebody's got to keep the rhythm/. And now I wonder, as the last grain of sand has sped through the hourglass, /who... /will keep the rhythm? Raise our glasses to console the living for the loss of a comrade fallen in the snow, which in its chill and whiteness is purifying, rather than fallen in the desert, which is barren.

TONS OF REVERB: Alex Chilton's Years with the Panther Burns
by Ross Johnson

I played drums with Alex in Tav Falco's Panther Burns off and on from 1979 until 1998 (I played my last gig with Alex in '98 in such an intoxicated state that I was too ashamed to contact him again afterward and he was clearly through with me as a drummer after I let him down for the last time at that show in New Orleans).

The Panther Burns were a noisy, irritating insult in early days and Alex delighted in punishing audiences with our blend of demented, tuneless rockabilly, blues and tango. I've said it before in print, but Alex was the only musician in the group who could actually play his instrument for the first year or two of his tenure with the "band." I had never played with a musician of his caliber before and, frankly, I know that I never will again.

Since his death a few days ago I've been reflecting on Alex both musically and personally, and I can't easily separate the two realms. His singular guitar playing style (you heard traces of Lowman Pauling, Reggie Young, Pop Staples, Steve Cropper, Teenie Hodges, and many other masters whenever he strapped on a six string) seemed such a function of his own unique personality and approach to life. As with most great artists, it was impossible to separate the person from the art; they often seemed one and the same with him. Alex always did things his own way whether that approach seemed commercially profitable or personally advisable for him or not. He knew his own mind, you might say. He was many things, Alex was, but a sellout, never.

As to the issue of his personality, well, let's just say that if you displeased him he was very clear and direct in letting you know the full and exact nature of his dissatisfaction with you. I still wince at the memory of the well deserved verbal "corrections" he handed out to me for musical and other shortcomings. Alex could be brutally honest in certain situations and dealing with that direct communication style of his was often difficult.

It was for me, I know that much. He could also be the dearest and most sympathetic of friends too, offering thoughtful and heartfelt advice if it was solicited. His occasional verbal toughness masked a rather fragile, vulnerable core, I thought. I will remember him not as a rock star or as a mythic cult figure or even as one of the world's greatest musicians (although he was most certainly the latter) but rather as a man who was always deeply interested in other people and whose own pain and suffering were transformed by his transcendent musical gift into some of the most universally affecting and haunting music ever made.

TVD's Record Store Day 2010 Label Showcase | Ardent Records & Studios | Jump Back Jake

There is a lot of nostalgia for the way in which consumers interacted with music in the past. Music writers like Greg Kot and Jim Derogatis are constantly lamenting the death of record store culture on their excellent Sound Opinions radio program. They often discuss the fact that there are fewer and fewer places where kids can walk in and chat with an older more knowledgeable clerk and leave with records they never would have found on their own and go home and be blown away.

This used to fuel the music industry, which is now defined by instant access to nearly everything you’d ever want to listen to without ever leaving your house. As a musician, there is no doubt that this is an invaluable resource that has allowed me to discover hundreds more records that I might not have found just hanging out in stores like Other Music (for the record I do still hang out there and buy things based on the recommendations of their very knowledgeable staff.) But even still, the record companies large and small cannot move as fast as the music bloggers who link us up with lost records by people like Jesse Ed Davis who played guitar with Gene Clark and Taj Mahal, in a matter of minutes at no cost. This is undeniably amazing and I am grateful for it.

For me, what is lost in this process of discovery is the period between when you read about something and when you actually hear it. When someone writes about a piece of music on a prominent music blog like Pitchfork, there is either an audio player or a link that can deliver the music in question immediately, and for me, as much as I enjoy this, it might prevent me from liking things as much as I could were there space for me to process what I’ve read before approaching the record.

When I was a teenager I remember the process going something like this:
1.) Someone older and trustworthy tells you about a band in one form or another; this was often a record store clerk.
2.) Through books, magazines and friends you begin collecting information about the band over a period of time to the point that absolutely have to hear what it sounds like.
3.) You end up in a cool record store and see the album on the shelf you've been thinking about and buy it.

This could all take anywhere from a week to a year, depending on the artist. Between when my Mother’s high school friend’s 30-year-old musician son told me at 17 to listen to Big Star’s 'Third', and when I actually found a copy of it was a year and a half. At 16, I read an article about the Faces and the next day while searching for them in my local record store, a Warner exec happened to be there and had extra promos of the new compilation they had put out in his car. He gave me one for free.

Something happens between the moment when you hear about something and when you actually hear it and in my case, I would develop a fantasy about what the music sounded like based on what I had read. When I heard the actual music, my fantasy of what it sounded like and the music itself would engage in a dialog that heightened the music listening experience. More importantly, this allowed me to write my own music based not only on the records themselves, but what I believed they might sound like. This dialog between my own vision of the music that inspires me, and the vision of the artist who created it is perhaps the most integral force in my aesthetic decisions as a songwriter and musician.

Just as there is a difference between the music composed by hearing something in your head and writing it down and music composed with a synthesizer with which you can hear the arrangement right away, modern technology has changed the way we interact with music and as a result, the way we create it. I don’t know if we can put this paradigm shift in a dichotomy of “good or bad” but I do think that some imagination has been lost with the absence of a period of gestation between hearing the rumble of the train, and then watching it go by. Even if we are disappointed by the drab freight cars that all look the same, without the announcement of its existence, we never would have imagined the magnificent silver stream-line in our minds.

That said, although there maybe fewer kids hanging around record stores hoping to discover "Smile" bootlegs or hearing the Gun Club for the first time, I can say with confidence that record store culture is not dead. Yesterday I spent my afternoon at the listening station of 3 different stores. I listened to some new music that had just come out as well as to some old records I had been searching out for a while. And on a Wednesday afternoon, I was not alone.

Perhaps there will be a difference between musicians who experience the journey from word of mouth to listening station - if for no other reason than the music they are looking for is even too obscure for the internet and perhaps this will have an influence on the future sounds of tomorrow. I'm sure it will fit nicely along side the aesthetic choices of those who are listening to anything and everything all at once on shuffle on their ipods.

Jump Back Jake - Terrible Mistakes (Mp3)

Enter to win Jump Back Jake's 'Brooklyn Hustle / Memphis Muscle' on vinyl by telling us your favorite 'process of musical discovery' story in the comments to this post. Please remember to leave a contact email address. The winner will be notified next Monday, 4/5/2010.

TVD's Record Store Day 2010 Label Showcase | Ardent Records & Studios |Jake Rabinbach Interviews John Fry

When I was 19 and a freshman at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, I heard a record by Big Star known as "3rd" or "Sister Lovers." Memphis may as well have been in another country, and Memphis in the 70s seemed to only exist as a mythic place in my mind.

At first, the music sounded like secret messages coming from a distant radio frequency in the middle of the night, and then it got closer and closer until it began to do what any great record can do and define my day to day reality. Back then, I could not have known that 8 years later I'd be recording in the same rooms where Big Star recorded and signing a contract with John Fry, engineer on all three Big Star albums, to release a full length lp on Big Star's label, Ardent.

I met John Fry in the summer of 2004 when I was conducting archival interviews for the Stax Museum of American Soul music in Memphis. I went and sat in the studio A lounge while he recounted stories of early home studios, Dewey Phillips groundbreaking radio show "Red, Hot and Blue," the heyday of Stax Records, and the birth of one of my all time my favorite bands, Big Star.

He described the way Steve Cropper mixed Sam and Dave's 'Soul Man' and how he had to signal to Isaac Hayes when the tape was running out on some of the long takes that eventually made up the "Hot Buttered Soul' Sessions. That day I got to listen to stories from a man that has not only run an amazing recording facility for 40 years, but someone who had a hand in some of the most important cultural contributions of the 20th century. But I also felt I was talking to a man who had very forward thinking about the future of an industry in trouble. It was for this reason that I felt confident about working with him as a label president.

So when I was asked recently to sit down and conduct another interview with John Fry, I didn't hesitate. I am thrilled to share this interview that covers everything from the drum sounds on an obscure early Ardent records single to the tumultuous and ling standing relationship between Rock and Roll and Christianity.

—"Jump Back" Jake Rabinbach
Memphis, TN 3-2010

Jake Interviews John | The TVD Podcast [39.5Mg] (Mp3)