Thursday, September 1, 2016

Finding Strength through Eclecticism with Bell Stray



Cover art by Rema Ghuloum


If you like watching David Lynch films at 2am, you’ll love listening to Bell Stray.

On August 26, the Los Angeles-based songwriter and performer issued Scribble the Pink, a five-song cassette on the ultra-hip Wiener Records. Stray’s third release overall, Scribble the Pink serves as an excellent introduction to her beautifully odd sonic world. Check out this live video of one of the EP’s tracks, “Roses Shade:”




Before her ever-growing fanbase knew her as Bell Stray, her friends and family knew the girl in the video as Dina Ghuloum, an avid music lover who chose her public moniker more out of necessity than creative expression.  

“It’s kind of a funny story,” she says during a recent call. “I started making demos and putting them out online, but before I did that, I had just gotten out of a bad relationship and was kind of trying to avoid this guy I dated… I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t want to put this stuff out under my own name.’ When I was thinking about what name to use, I [remembered] had read a short story in college called The Man Who Knew Belle Starr. That title just popped in my head…I didn’t really like the ‘star’ part because I thought that was sort of played out. The word ‘stray’ just came to mind. I just started using that name and kind of went with it.”

Raised in Orange County, Stray first started toying with writing lyrics and poetry as a pre-teen.

“I had this cousin who moved in with us, and she had this Jim Morrison book with several of his poems. I was really inspired by it, so I just started wanting to write poetry.”

By 15, she was strumming a guitar.

“Before I could actually totally play, I started writing songs with it. I kind of just became obsessed with the whole process.”

Around this time, she also left home and hit the streets – where her true awakening took place.

“I had a crazy home life and I just wanted to get away. When I first left, I met all kinds of people – hippies and punks – and all they did was travel. It was a lifestyle, and I ended up living that life – ending up in hippie vans or squatting or staying in motel rooms or camping. It was pretty crazy, and there was so much music around, too. All these different subcultures were all pretty much informed by music, whether it was the gutter punks or the hippies. The gutter punks were listening to bands like Conflict and stuff like that, and the hippies were listening to the Grateful Dead. I’d hang out with skater kids who’d listen to Wu-Tang…I was around it all. Musically, that totally impacted me.”


Photo by Rema Ghuloum

The maelstrom of eclectic music in Stray’s universe had an inevitable influence on what eventually became her trademark sound.

“When I first started writing songs, I started experimenting with my voice. I was just kind of learning how to do it. It just kind of developed into what it is, I guess. I started singing in a Punk band when I was 19; that was just a lot of screaming, and I listened to a lot of that kind of music. I was listening to a lot of other kinds of music, too, like Bjork and Portishead and bands like Bikini Kill. I think all of that somehow influenced the way I sing…I didn’t really think too much about it; I wasn’t trying to sound any particular way. I just think all the things that have influenced me have probably manifested in my voice in that way, but it was never intentional.”

Not surprisingly, live audiences have been equally enthralled and puzzled by her performances.

“I think sometimes they don’t know how to react! Sometimes people say, ’Well…that was very different’ and things like that. (laughs) But I don’t never really know how people are actually reacting; I get the sense that maybe they thought it was unusual.” (laughs)

Considering the decidedly unconventional direction of Stray’s life and art, it should come as little surprise that Scribble the Pink is available on tape at a time when a number of independent artists are solely hawking their wares in the digital world.

“I was a kid in the ’90s; some of my first musical purchases were cassettes,” she explains. “They were always around the house. They always seemed like toys to me, especially when the tape would get tangled and you’d have to wind it back up and hope it would play. (laughs) I think I just associate it with being a kid. I think they’re fun.”

With an intriguing new release causing a stir and shows planned for the fall, Bell Stray is poised to close 2016 on a fruitful and high-profile note. But in her mind, her work has only just begun.

“I do have a lot of songs that I’ve written, and I want to see them come to fruition the way I’ve envisioned them. I’d like to get them out there and just keep creating. Hopefully, I can get closer to what it is I really want to create, because there’s something I always want to convey, but it’s like I’m still reaching for it. Whatever that thing is, [I want] to keep reaching for it.”


Photo by Rema Ghuloum

Order Scribble the Pink

Official Bell Stray Website

Bell Stray on Facebook



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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Twenty Years Ago: The Misfits Terrorize Action Park


It's amazing how quickly time flies. 

Today is the 20th anniversary of The Misfits' "homecoming" show at Action Park in Vernon, NJ. The show marked the conclusion of the band's "Resurrection" tour, which saw them hit the road for the first time since 1983. I was the promoter for this show and worked with Jerry Only for nearly a year to put it together. 

To mark the occasion, I've assembled some rarities from the show and time period - many of which have never been seen before. In digging around for stuff, I uncovered an old notebook filled with production notes dating back months before the gig. I'm glad I kept it, as I had completely forgotten that we had considered Life Of Agony, Anthrax and Type O Negative for the bill at one point. I can't recall what happened there (too many years in the rearview), but it was interesting to go back and see that kind of stuff written down.

It was an honor working with Jerry, and I wish him nothing but a life of happiness and success. I hope the upcoming reunion with Danzig kicks ass. 

(Go here and here if you're interested in learning more about the Action Park event.)



Show poster by artist Ed Repka




The flier that accompanied the free promo tickets and posters we mailed out to area record stores and radio stations




The check that Jerry wrote me for the deposit for the venue. Note the name of the account at the top left. Kryst the Conqueror was the late '80s band that Jerry and Doyle had with singer Jeff Scott Soto. For Jeff's recollections of the Kryst era, check out this interview



The special ticket we printed for local stores and some of the opening bands to sell. Can you spot the typo?






The following two photos are of a reel of an unaired radio ad that Jerry recorded for the Action Park show. It was recorded while the band was cutting what later became the "Mars Attacks demos." The ad was only a few seconds long and featured Jerry talking over a clip of "Horror Business." There are only six reels in existence; this is 1/6. Jerry presented this to me after the show as a thank you. (For those who don't know, "Mo" is Jerry's nickname.) The second photo also includes the cassette of the ad.











Jerry's handwritten script for the radio ad




These next two photos are of a special shirt printed up for the show's security team (basically various friends and family). My guess is there were around 25-30 of these, maybe less. 








Misfits Fiend Club sticker circa 1996



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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Under the Influence: Roger Earl on Hendrix, Simmonds & 45 Years of Foghat






“Slow Ride.” “I Just Want To Make Love To You.” “Fool For The City.” These are three of the many classic songs that come to mind when the name “Foghat” is mentioned. Formed in 1971 by three former members of British Blues Rock legends Savory Brown, Foghat were one of the 1970s’ greatest live and recording acts. Still touring and recording to this day, the band is currently comprised of lead singer/lead guitarst Charlie Huhn (whose career has included stints with Ted Nugent, Gary Moore, Humble Pie and Victory), bassist Craig MacGregor, lead/slide guitarist Bryan Bassett and drummer Roger Earl. While some bands from their era rely solely on past glories to gain attention, Foghat spent the last three years crafting a new studio album, Under The Influence.

Released in June on the band’s own Foghat Records, Under The Influence finds the band joined by a host of special guests including former Foghat bassist Nick Jameson, Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds, longtime Buddy Guy collaborator Scott Holt, singer Dana Fuchs and current Foghat touring bassist Rodney O’ Quinn. (MacGregor is on a break from the band while he fights a high-profile battle against cancer.) Last month, Under The Influence hit #17 on Billboard’s Hard Rock Albums chart – the group’s first Billboard appearance in 33 years. Highlights of the album include the AC/DC-esque rocker “Knock It Off,” the humorous “Upside Of Lonely” and a new version of “Slow Ride” recorded to celebrate the track’s 40th anniversary.

Despite experiencing considerable ups and downs over the years (including the deaths of original singer/guitarist “Lonesome Dave” Peverett and original guitarist Rod Price), Foghat soldier on into their 45th year with sole founding member Earl still leading the charge. New England-area fans can see and hear the band’s still-relevant magic for themselves this Sunday, when Foghat hit the stage for a free show at the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT.

An affable, good-humored fellow, Earl was great company when I recently phoned him for a chat regarding Foghat, reuniting with Kim Simmonds on record and his pre-Savoy Brown jam with the incomparable Jimi Hendrix. Enjoy!



The new record has been a long time coming for you guys. How does it feel to reach that finish line and actually hold this thing in your hands?

It’s great! You’re always proud of what you do and what you produce, but we all felt particularly good about this – the way it sounded and the way the songs sort of stood on their own. Not that we hadn’t done it before, but there was something special about this. I think a lot has to be said about our producer, Tom Hambridge. He really pulled it all together for us. It was really a lot of fun making this record. It wasn’t like hard work; everything was very positive. It was like Tom had joined the band. He helped with arranging and the ideas, and he also wrote and co-wrote some songs for us. It was very enjoyable.

Kim Simmonds appears on the new album. You two guys certainly go back a long way –

Yeah, we do! A long, long, long, long, way, way, way…

Have you remained in touch all this time?

Yes. Kim and I were always good friends; we stayed in touch over the years. In fact, last year we did a Rock Legends Cruise, and Kim was on there. I invited Kim to come up and play with Foghat; he played on ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ and a couple of other tunes with us. I went down and played with him at one of his shows, and I invited him to come and play on the new album. It was really cool playing with him. He lives in Upstate New York, and we finished the album down at Dark Horse Studios in Nashville. Kim left his house at about four o’clock in the morning, then got stuck in Detroit for about eight hours and didn’t get to Nashville until about 8:30, quarter to 9. I picked him up at the airport and said, ‘Do you want to get something to eat or take a nap or something?’ He said, ‘No, let’s go to the studio and play.’ We go to the studio, we got the amp that he wanted and turned everything up to 11. The first song I think he did was ‘Upside Of Lonely.’ I said, ‘You want us to play it for you?’ He said, ‘No.’ He played this song flawlessly and with great emotion the first time. He got a standing ovation; there were about 10 people in the studio at the time. He did it again, and he was smiling all the time. He plays beautifully; he probably plays better [now] than he ever did, I think.

Charlie Huhn’s been with you now about 10 years –

About 16 years, actually. He has some big shoes to fill, but he’s a great singer and a great guitar player. I don’t think Ted really realized how good he really was…Then of course, he took over in Humble Pie from Stevie Marriott. Those are other big shoes to fill. We did a show [with them] when Dave was still alive somewhere in the Midwest. They went on first, [and] the band sounded off. I didn’t think they were very good; the music didn’t sound right. Then Charlie started singing, and we both looked at each other and went, ‘Whoa!’ I remembered that after Dave had passed and we were looking for a new singer. At first, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it or what I was going to do, but Charlie was the only choice at the time. We had a lot of people send in tapes and CDs, but Charlie was the only one who had the pipes to cover it all. He’s a great guitar player as well.


Photo credit: Vintage Rock Magazine

You’re the only person I’ll ever talk to in my career who has an answer to this question: What was your experience playing with Jimi Hendrix?

I was a commercial artist in London at the time…Chas Chandler, the bass player from The Animals and Jimi’s manager, called me up at work and [asked] if I’d be interested in auditioning for Jimi Hendrix. In England, many people had heard about him. People who had been to the states – like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend – were all raving about this guy, Jimi Hendrix. So I said to Chas, ‘Yeah, I’d love to!’ I went to a club just off of Piccadilly Circus; I think it was called Birdland. Of course, it was raining as usual… I brought my drums in; my older brother gave me a hand taking the drums down. I’m sitting outside in the rain, and Jimi jumped up and started talking to me about some songs he’d written the night before. He was a really friendly guy.

It came to my turn to play with him, and he was very generous with his time. But he started playing and I didn’t have a clue as to what he has doing! It was music that I’d never heard. It seemed a while, but it was probably only 10 minutes. Then, he started playing like slow Blues, and then he played a Chuck Berry tune, then played ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and did some more stuff. It was really cool. I actually got a chance to jam with him a couple of times in the States after I joined Savoy Brown. I jammed with him in a club in New York and also at a club in LA, I think. He was a really, really cool guy and a fantastic musician. He re-wrote the whole book on guitar playing… Jimi was really exciting once I got a handle on what he was doing. He had some great drummers auditioning. I think the drummer he ended up with, Mitch Mitchell, was just absolutely incredible for him. It was a new approach to music that Mitch Mitchell had with Jimi.

I also understand your auditioned for Arthur Brown as well during that period.

Where are you hearing all this from? I did! I didn’t get that job either. (laughs)

Going back to Foghat, you guys are known for many songs in your repertoire, but surely “Slow Ride” is the best-known one. There are bands all over this planet praying for one song that stands the test of time. What do you think it was about that particular number that continues to be THE song for Foghat?

It’s kind of what Foghat is all about. It’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll band steeped in the Blues. We still play a slow Blues or whatever, but that’s from a different era. Actually, the riff to ‘Slow Ride’ was basically like a John Lee Hooker riff, but instead of playing it like a shuffle, we played it like a 4/4. It came from a jam. Rod Price and I had a house out here on Long Island at the time, and we’d jam in the basement. Nick Jameson had just joined us on bass – this is 1974, I think – and we just started jamming. The whole arrangement was done that night. We recorded it on cassettes back then. Dave said, ‘I think I’ve got some words for that.’ And that was how it started. In fact, a lot of Foghat’s music comes jamming. The way we play [Willie Dixon's] ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ on Foghat’s first album was something we would play at soundchecks when we were in Savory Brown. We would just sort of play that kind of groove and then upstroke on the guitar – which was like a Blues thing, but of course we fucked around with it a little bit. I think Dave said it once: ‘Foghat’s a Blues band. We just turn it up to 11!’ (laughs)   


Photo: Steve Reinis 


Foghat has been through a lot throughout their history, but obviously the band is still here in 2016. For you, what has been the key to keeping this band going for 45 years?

I love my work! (laughs) Be careful what you wish for. All I ever wanted to do since I took up drums at 12 or 13 was to play in a Rock ‘n’ Roll band. I’ve been real fortunate, and I enjoy it even today. I usually spend an hour or more on the practice pads, and I have a drum room outside the house. I love doing it. I’ve been really fortunate to play with great musicians over the years. Dave was a gas to play with; he would always be giving it 100 percent. Rod was a brilliant guitar player. Bryan Bassett is an incredible slide lead guitar player. He’s also a brilliant engineer who’s produced, mixed and mastered our last two or three albums and our live releases. Charlie Huhn is a great singer and guitar player, and Craig MacGregor is a great bass player, as is our current bass player, Rodney O’Quinn. If you play with really good musicians, I think it helps raise your game and keeps you interested in what you’re doing. 

*Portions of this interview were edited for length and clarity. 

Foghat plays a free show this Sunday at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. Go HERE for more info. 





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