Thursday, October 30, 2014

From THE PROCESS to Praxis: Inside M.O.D. Technologies

Checking out a release by the New York-based label M.O.D. Technologies is like going to musicology class. Without fail, the credits offer a previously unfamiliar name (or five) of an artist with a history worth exploring. The label is not set out to build a discography based on genre; the goal is much bigger than that. M.O.D. is about fostering an entirely new world of sound based on experimental collaborations between unexpected (and incredibly enticing) combinations of disparate musicians. But what do you expect from a label fueled by Bill Laswell? Here is an overview of the label's most recent releases.


Take three masters of their craft, drop them in a recording studio for three days and see what happens. This was the plan behind The Process, which finds Laswell joining forces with Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and visionary pianist John Batiste. Naturally, the results are extraordinary. From the stunning bass-drum interplay on “Drop Away” (featuring Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio on vocals) to the Krautrock vibe of “Black Arc,” The Process effortlessly shows that these musicians were meant to create music together. The album's greatest strength is found in its subtlety: Instead of flashy drum solos or other outlandish displays of musical prowess, the trio goes for groove over gloss. These players serve the song, not their own spotlights. A good example of this can be heard on “Time Falls,” where all three musicians (plus Dominic James on guest guitar) are playing at their peak without getting in each other's way. The Process is not just a great listen; it's an intense study of how musicians can instinctively (perhaps telepathically) communicate with each other to create magic.

M.O.D. Digital: The Incunabula Series
Below is an overview of the first six releases in The Incunabula Series by M.O.D. Digital. Many of these recordings were culled from Laswell's residency at The Stone in April.

Praxis & Rammellzee: In Times Of Horror

Along with PainKiller and Bladerunner, the mighty Praxis is Laswell's escape into unadulterated noise. Featuring late NYC performance artist Rammallzee, “In Times Of Horror” is an amped-up version of the already-insane 1991 track “Stronghold” (from the Sacrifist album) made even more menacing than the original thanks to horror-monster vocals and the paint-peeling saxophone onslaught of the incomparable John Zorn.

Bill Laswell & DJ Krush: Shuen

The perfect antidote to the Praxis acid bath, “Shuen” pairs Laswell and Japanese Hip Hop producer DJ Krush for a sedate, 10-minute chill soundtrack that manages to keep the waters calm even as crazed drums kick in along the way.

Method Of Defiance: Phantom Sound Clash Cut-Up Method: One

While it would be impossible for M.O.D. Technologies to put together a label sampler in the course of one song, Method of Defiance's 38-minute “Nebuchadnezzar” certainly comes close. The track's stunning list of contributors speaks for itself: Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrell, Dr. Israel, Garrison Hawk, Gambian musician/composer Foday Musa Suso, percussionist Adam Rudolph, trumpeter Graham Haynes, Peter Apfelbaum, absolutely stellar drummer Guy Licata...need I say more?

Bernie Worrell: Phantom Sound Clash Cut-Up Method: Two

As discussed elsewhere on this site, Bernie Worrell is America's greatest living musician. Described by the label as “classic sound/mush up,” the 49–minute “Purple World” finds Worrell beginning and ending with a quiet piano – with a galaxy's worth of spaced-out Funk and percussion in between. Recorded at The Stone, “Purple World” features Laswell, Rudolph, Dr. Israel and Grandmaster DXT. A Bernie Worrell live experience is a journey; you never quite know where he's going to take you, but you know the trip will be unlike anything else you've ever experienced. “Purple World” is no exception. Beyond essential.

Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: The Stone (Back in No Time)

Another recording culled from Laswell's Stone residency, “Back In No Time” features the bassist and drummer Milford Graves taking a free-form musical conversation to the 40–minute mark. Although the song's unstructured nature (imagine a sax-less PainKiller) might be too much for some ears, those who stick around for the ride will be rewarded with a recording that offers new things to uncover with every listen.

Wadada Leo Smith & Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation)

Pairing Laswell with the brilliant Wadada Leo Smith, the 38-minute “Akashic Meditation” offers the kind of mellow sonic noir one might hear playing in the background in a David Lynch film. When it gets noisy, the track delivers shades of Throbbing Gristle's Heathen Earth. The perfect soundtrack for a midnight stroll in a cold, mysterious city.

Happy listening – and be sure to Google those names listed in the credits.

Al of these releases are available to purchase HERE.  


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW - Mike Hudson & The Pagans: Hollywood High

When you get right down to it, legendary writer/Pagans frontman Mike Hudson didn't need to do a goddamn thing after releasing the “Street Where Nobody Lives / What's This Shit Called Love?” single with The Pagans in 1978. As perfect as anything off Raw Power, this two-sided gem easily secured Hudson's place in history, making everything (records, books, articles, etc.) he has blessed us with in the ensuing decades icing on the cake. Not only is Hudson still creating, but Hollywood High proves that hasn't lost the spark that made his early work so incendiary.

Backed by a supergroup including members of Detroit/Los Angeles veterans The Dogs (whose Loren Molinare produced the album), Keith Christopher of The Georgia Satellites and even former Dio/Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain, Hudson and his raspy, world-worn voice deliver an eight-song, 33-minute blast of energy that reminds listeners of what the real deal sounds like. This ain't Mall Punk, kids - this is real, filthy-barroom-at-1am-with-a-full-ashtray kinda shit. If The Dead Boys had kept their act together long enough to do a third album, it would have sounded like Hollywood High. (Appropriately enough, Hudson and Co. even kick out a cover of “Detention Home.”)

The album's many highlights include the riotous “I Just Got Up,” a harmonica-fueled cover of Son House's “Death Letter” and a new version of The Pagans' “'(Us and) All Our Friends Are So Messed Up.” The album's undeniable centerpiece, “Fame Whore,” finds Hudson delivering a spoken word piece – full of sex, blood, sweat, scratched skin and other nasty human things – over an eight-minute music jam.

Hudson says that Hollywood High was inspired by his turbulent relationship with muse Evita Corby, best known for her sexy-as-hell shot on the back cover of the Kill City album by Iggy Pop and James Williamson (and visually represented on Hollywood High courtesy of a vintage cover shot taken by the late Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy). If this album is any indication, she's one hell of a lady.

Hollywood High is out November 4 on Ruin Discos.

ALBUM REVIEW - Mike LePond's Silent Assassins

Listening to Mike LePond's Silent Assassins is a bit of a homecoming for me. As a Metal fan growing up in New Jersey in the 1990s, it was impossible to ignore Symphony X and Non-Fiction, two groups that offered powerful – if differing – examples of just how vital the Garden State was to the underground scene during that time. While Symphony X was progressive in musical focus, Non Fiction was moody and brooding. Combine the best elements of both acts, and you have the nine songs that comprise this album.

Conceived as a solo project by Symphony X member Mike LePond, Silent Assassins features the renowned bassist alongside former Non-Fiction vocalist Alan Tecchio (also known for his work in Hades, Seven Witches and Watchtower), Symphony X bandmate Michael Romeo on guitar and drum programming and fellow New Jersey six-stringer “Metal” Mike Chlasciak (Halford, Testament). If you're familiar with these musicians, you already know what to expect with Mike LePond's Silent Assassins. If this is your initiation, rest assured that this album is true Metal of the highest possible degree.

Bursting through the speakers like a modern-day version of Judas Priest's Painkiller, Mike LePond's Silent Assassins holds nothing back. From the expectedly high-caliber musicianship to the flawless production (is that really a drum machine?), every second of this album delivers. The instrumentation is showy without being arrogant, while the album's lyrics (including the King Arthur-themed “The Quest”) remain epic without surrendering to the overblown pretentiousness that often hinders the genre. And after nearly three decades in the game, Tecchio offers perhaps his strongest vocal performance yet. Take a listen to “The Progeny,” “Ragnarok” or “Silent Assassins,” and you'll hear why he still stands as one of the most durable and dependable voices in Metal.

Simply put, anyone who loves this style of music can't go wrong with this thing.

But hey, of course it's good. It's from Jersey.  


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce RIP

My morning has been shaken by the passing of the extraordinary Jack Bruce, a man responsible for several albums that have been my regular companions since childhood. Of all of his many contributions to music, my favorite remains his work on Bill Ward's 1990 solo album, Ward One: Along the Way. It was Jack's singular voice – showcasing equal parts strength and vulnerability – that so brilliantly communicated the humanity of Bill's lyrics in “Light Up The Candles (Let There Be Peace Tonight)” and “Tall Stories.” And the man's bass playing – incomparable. Naturally, I could spend days writing about his work in Cream alone...
Bill's album will be played at an appropriately high volume in my home today, as will Jack's BBM album with the Gary Moore – also departed. We must all strive to leave our mark on this world. Jack Bruce certainly left his in the form of songs that will be cherished for centuries. The man's life has been silenced, but the man's soul will be heard forever. Rest in Peace Jack Bruce.

- Joel Gausten

Bill Ward and I discuss Jack Bruce, 2005:

Joel Gausten: You had an extraordinary group of guest musicians on Ward One. How did you determine who was going to perform on a particular song? For example, did you write, say, “Tall Stories” with Jack Bruce’s voice in mind?

Bill Ward: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I wanted to do it as duo with me and Jack, and I could hear Jack singing it. So I tried to write, lyrically, something that I hoped would appeal to him, and a feel and a kind of a blues thing, which I hoped would have definitely appealed to him. Jack, as you know, had been deeply affected by blues music. So I wanted to make something that was attractive and hope that he would like it. I felt that it was an incredible risk, because I have so much admiration for Jack Bruce, for the work that he’s done over the years, and for all the work that he did before Cream, with Cream and after Cream. So I knew that I was working with a very, very, very, very special person. Jack, I know, very much enjoyed the two songs that he sang on, and he complimented me immensely on my writing skills, which again bolstered that terrible self esteem that I had, when I felt that I was pretty much washed up. I’m recovering from this person that was living literally in the streets, panhandling. I’m coming from a place of no home, no house, the loss of my family, everything’s gone, no finances, no money whatsoever. So I’m coming from a place of absolute poverty and wreckage, and then I’m trying to write something for Jack Bruce (laughs). It’s a story, you know? So I was quite fearful. When I saw Jack get into the songs, then I felt that we were definitely on our way. Jack gave me a lot of validation. I sat down with Jack and I talked to him for over a week. I just spent time with Jack, period. We talked about everything. We talked about Cream. We talked about a lot of stuff. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience. Of course, I would love to work with Jack in the future, if it ever came up. He’s just such a great bass player and a wonderful singer, and he’s a very, very, very nice man. He’s a great man. He’s a wonderful artist, so I’m very privileged to have worked with him, and I tried to design something that I thought would be well-fitting for him. 



Friday, October 17, 2014

In Days to Come: The Return of Soulside

It's finally happening.

Twenty-five years after playing their last gig, the final lineup of legendary D.C. band Soulside – singer Bobby Sullivan, guitarist Scott McCloud, bassist Johnny Temple and drummer Alexis Fleisig – are set to reconvene this December for a series of east coast reunion shows. As of this writing, the moving target that is the band's upcoming performance schedule includes two shows at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn (December 17 and 18) and two hometown appearances at the Black Cat (December 20 and 21). The December 18 and 20 shows are long sold out, with tickets for the other nights at both venues likely to be gone by the time this feature greets your eyes. The D.C. shows will occur as part of a weekend-long celebration of the release of Salad Days: The Birth of Punk Rock in the Nation's Capital, director Scott Crawford's long-awaited documentary on the D.C. Punk/Hardcore scene of the 1980s. The film boasts interviews with Sullivan and McCloud as well as live footage of the band in their heyday.

Unsurprisingly, Temple is as excited about the upcoming shows as the people who purchased the advance tickets.

I'm surprised it's taken us so long to play together again,” he says. “I had been hoping for it for years, and the film and Scott Crawford definitely helped to catalyze the situation. The timing was great, of course, because we last shared space together exactly 25 years ago. It's great; it's exciting to part of helping to support the film and have the film help support us.”

Fans can prep for the upcoming shows by checking out a new 12-inch release on Dischord Records that combines Soulside's 1988 Trigger EP with the three-song 1989 single, Bass/103. Released in August on yellow vinyl, the LP serves as a stellar primer for listeners who are just now discovering the band thanks to the considerable buzz surrounding the December events.

It's incredibly exciting,” says Temple of the re-issue. “It was an honor then and an honor now to be on Dischord. The fact that Dischord does things like take some of their early recordings and re-release them in this way is just absolutely incredible and such a huge inspiration.”

Although Soulside haven't been on a stage together in decades, the band's members have remained extremely prolific over the years. In 1990, Temple, McCloud and Fleisig joined forces with bassist/singer Eli Janney to form Girls Against Boys, an MTV-embraced band that enjoyed stints on Touch and Go and Geffen. In 1996, the funds generated from the Geffen label deal allowed Temple the opportunity to launch his own publishing company, Akashic Books, with Bobby Sullivan and the singer's brother Mark. After the demands of parenthood eventually led the Sullivan brothers to depart, Temple steered the company on his own, releasing such noteworthy titles as the best-selling Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes, Ziggy Marley's I Love You Too and The Jesus Lizard: BOOK.

In addition to performing in the bands Seven League Boots, Rain Like The Sound of Trains and Sevens, Sullivan's activities in recent years include work with the Rastafarian UniverSoul Order Prison Ministry

Bobby Sullivan (photo by Shawn Scallen, courtesy of Dischord Records)

Pleased to once again perform music with Sullivan, Temple is also looking forward to revisiting Soulside with McCloud and Fleisig, who have been his musical partners for nearly three decades.

I love playing with those guys,” he says. “While I'm busy running Akashic Books, Scott and Alexis are doing a lot of music internationally and all sorts of things. We have a great time playing together and we speak the same musical language. We like to do stuff together, and we've lucky to be able to keep doing so.”

As the gatherings slated to occur during the third week of December will surely demonstrate, the D.C. Punk/Hardcore scene is as vibrant now as it was when elders like the Bad Brains and Minor Threat first hit the stage. Why does Temple feel this region has remained so culturally relevant to the point where a film like Salad Days – and sold-out shows by a band that hasn't played in a generation – would even exist?

I think there's a real challenge among people in bands in D.C. to create their own voice and do something new,” he replies. “It wasn't appreciated in D.C. if a band was just sort of derivative of another band. If you weren't trying for something unique in a band, then there wasn't really a need for existence. That was something that a lot of musicians shared that was perhaps a hallmark. Also, the aggressive activism led by Positive Force, in particular with Mark Andersen, helped to give music a sense of mission. Even if a band wasn't particularly political or singing about injustice, a lot of bands supported playing shows for free and raising money regardless of the content of their lyrics. I think those were two special attributes of the D.C. music community and the era and vein that I was witness to, which is the same as what is in the movie.”

Johnny Temple and Bobby Sullivan (photo by Shawn Scallen, courtesy of Dischord Records)


Monday, October 13, 2014

A Life Time Ago: Henry Rollins on Ian MacKaye, New Jersey and the Birth of the Rollins Band

Image courtesy of Henry Rollins

By the time 26-year-old Henry Rollins began rehearsing with guitarist Chris Haskett, bassist Andrew Weiss and drummer Sim Cain in the spring of 1987, he was already a hardened veteran of the international underground music scene. The previous year, his five-year run as the frontman of the legendary Black Flag came to an abrupt end with the departure of founding guitarist Greg Ginn. Wasting no time, Rollins hooked up with longtime friend Haskett (formerly of worth-seeking-out late '70s DC No Wave/Hardcore band The Enzymes), bassist Bernie Wandel and drummer Mick Green to record a solo album, Hot Animal Machine, and an EP of cover songs and parody tunes (credited to “Henrietta Collins & The Wifebeating Childhaters”) called Drive by Shooting. With the arrival of Cain and Weiss (previously of Greg Ginn's instrumental side project Gone and the brilliant New Jersey bands Regressive Aid and Scornflakes), the first incarnation of the Rollins Band was born. By April, the band was performing live; by November, they were in a studio in Leeds, England (with former Minor Threat/future Fugazi member Ian MacKaye serving as producer) recording their debut album, Life Time.

Although the Rollins Band (who would later include a full-time sound engineer, Theo Van Rock, and bassist Melvin Gibbs) would gain mainstream recognition years later with albums like 1992's The End Of Silence and 1994's Weight (and Rollins would later find considerable success as a TV show host, actor and 30-plus-year spoken word performer), Life Time remains perhaps their strongest and most incendiary studio release.

Now, Life Time is set to receive a much-deserved new life with a vinyl reissue on Rollins' 2.13.61 label (in association with MacKaye's Dischord Records). Due out on November 18, this revamped edition of Life Time has been remastered for vinyl by TJ Lipple and will include updated artwork by Jason Farrell. The record will also contain a complimentary digital download coupon for the nine original album songs plus four tracks recorded live in Kortrijk, Belgium on October 16, 1987. (This is not the first time Dischord put out a Rollins-related title this year: In March, the label released the 1980 demo by his first band, S.O.A, as a seven-inch EP.)

With the upcoming Life Time re-release sure to introduce newer fans of Rollins' work to this important chapter in his musical history, I recently touched base with him to gain insight into the album's creation and the earliest days of the Rollins Band.  

What led to the decision to put Life Time back out on vinyl, and how is Dischord assisting in this process?

Ian MacKaye asked if Dischord could do it. I knew he and Dischord would do a good job and so I said yes. They are manufacturing and distributing the record.

Although Life Time was the first Rollins Band album, you released a solo album (Hot Animal Machine) under your name shortly after leaving Black Flag. Why did you decide to move forward in a band environment rather than embark on a strictly “solo” career?

I thought it would be better to be in a cohesive unit, rather than on my own. I think I made the right decision. I did not leave Black Flag; Greg Ginn called me and said he quit. It was a strange phone call. When he quit his own band, I figured it was over with and got to work on the Hot Animal Machine record that day.

Chris was there with you at the very beginning, having played on Hot Animal Machine and the Drive by Shooting EP before the Rollins Band came together. How important was Chris in shaping the Rollins Band's sound and direction in the early days?

Chris was a good writing partner and was very enthusiastic. You need someone who is really into it to keep you into it. He really made the thing go. Sound-wise, I don’t know if we had a sound; we just wrote and recorded those songs very fast. It was all we could afford. The multi-track tapes were recorded over the day after we left the studio with the mixdowns.

How did you end up with Gone's rhythm section in the Rollins Band, and how did Greg feel about that?

Gone had been broken up for months. I asked them if they were sure they were done. Andrew and Sim said they never wanted to see Greg Ginn ever again. So, I asked them if they wanted to be in a band with me. That was February 1987, I believe. By April, we were practicing. April 26, 1987 was the first show.

Image courtesy of Boogie Buzzard (

Rollins Band at City Gardens, Trenton, NJ, 4/26/87 (Photo by Boogie Buzzard:

While Black Flag played musical chairs with their rhythm sections over the years, Sim and Andrew were already a well-oiled, stable duo by the time they became part of the Rollins Band. Considering they had already been together in Gone and Regressive Aid when you started working with them, how would you say their experience and abilities impacted and drove the Rollins Band in the beginning? How did their sound affect the songwriting?

They learned the Hot Animal Machine album in one day. We had new songs within a few days of practicing for the first time. Andrew was the magic. One riff after another, it seemed effortless for him. Together, Andrew and Sim were an unbelievable unit. Incredible. Chris and I just hung on.

The Rollins Band spent a lot of time in New Jersey in those days. What were some bands and venues from the Garden State at that time that still stand out in your memory?

Ween is the one that sticks out the most. I can’t remember other bands that were nearby. I remember City Gardens and the Court Tavern.

The great Randy Ellis a.k.a. Randy Now (legendary promoter of Trenton's City Gardens) was an important figure for the Rollins Band in those days. How did he help the band back then?

He helped book our first tour. He was very helpful. We were just figuring things out and he was there for us.

When I played a show for Randy years ago, he immediately struck me as this super-enthusiastic, over-the-top guy who was really into bands and the music they created. I think this came through in this recent Riot on the Dance Floor documentary about him and City Gardens. What are your thoughts on the film? How would you best sum up Randy?

I never saw the film, but your description of him works. He really loves the music. For him, it’s real. That’s what you want.

How did Ian MacKaye become involved in the recording of Life Time? What was his greatest impact on the creation of that album?

I called Ian on a payphone from England and said I needed help with the record. He flew out immediately and took charge. He made a clear, hard-hitting album in no time, which was all we could afford. Almost everyone in the band had a lot of respect for him and that made things go pretty smoothly. Ian is a very good producer. I don’t think a lot of people know the amazing amount of records he has produced. It’s crazy.

I've always loved how Life Time sounds. As great as the later Black Flag albums are, the production – especially on the drums – always sounded a little foggy to me, whereas things on Life Time are very crisp and coherent. Was this the result of Ian's production, the studio you used, or both?

It was a combination of Sim’s excellent playing [and] recording the reality of it clearly on tape. Ian didn’t mess around. We put up the mics and rolled tape. I think we were done with the whole thing in about a week. It’s all I could afford. Some Black Flag albums were mixed by someone who medicates with marijuana. They sounded a little foggy to me as well.

Rollins and Weiss at City Gardens, Trenton, NJ, 4/26/87 (photo by Boogie Buzzard:

Since Life Time was the Rollins Band's first album, what was the greatest thing you learned about working together in the studio for the first time that helped shape the band's working relationship on subsequent recordings?

That Andrew would always be an asshole. That never changed and proved to be the “thing” about every recording we ever made. A distinctly unenjoyable experience every single time.

I've always felt that the studio tracks on Life Time were the closest the Rollins Band came to capturing your live energy on record. Would you agree? If not, which Rollins Band studio recording do you feel best represents what the group was able to do in front of an audience?

I think Life Time and the End Of Silence Demos come closest to the live sound.

What kind of feedback on Life Time, if any, did you receive from former members of Black Flag?

I cannot recall any at all. I am not aware that any of them have ever heard any of those records.

After Come in and Burn (1997), you formed a new version of the Rollins Band with the guys from Mother Superior. What changed in your working/creative relationship with the original band – especially Chris and Sim – that necessitated moving forward with new musicians after spending so many years together?

It was great working with people who were into it, ready to go, were happy to travel, didn’t whine and didn’t talk about money all the time. Playing with the Mother Superior guys is probably the only time I was in a positive environment making music. It was great to be in a band without drama or cliche adult rockstar problems and just play really hard every night.

With the exception of Andrew, the original Rollins Band lineup reunited for a tour with X in 2006. Why didn't this incarnation of the band continue beyond that point?

Because it was a bad idea of Chris Haskett’s that I said yes to. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to fall back in with those people. That’s a summer I’ll never get back. It should have never happened. The playing was good, but the experience was awful. I blame myself only.

In addition to the Life Time re-issue providing newer fans a look into your past, Dischord put out a seven-inch EP of the 1980 S.O.A. demo earlier this year. How do you feel about walking into a record store and seeing an S.O.A. record in the “new releases” section in 2014?

I have no feeling about it. I have never played the record and have not heard those recordings since 1981. If it brings someone some joy, that’s good to go. I think one needs to be careful with the past. If you’re going to release something old, it better be solid. I was very careful with the End of Silence Demos. I listened to them over and over after mixing them to make sure they were good enough to release. I don’t want anyone thinking that their wallets are being raided. If Ian says the S.O.A. demos are good to go, I trust him. Personally, I don’t want to hear the record.

With the Rollins Band now in the rearview mirror, what do you think was the group's greatest accomplishment?

We gave it all we had.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Because He Can: David Bergman Explores Bon Jovi's WORK Ethic

"David is not only one of the finest photographers we've ever worked with, but he's the kind of guy you can be comfortable hanging around with in any environment. At the end of the day, the work speaks for itself. His photos are a work of art.” — Jon Bon Jovi

What's it like to spend every day with the world's biggest touring act? As official Bon Jovi photographer David Bergman has learned, staying on top in a very difficult business comes down to hard WORK.

Featuring some of the most breathtaking images you'll ever see in a music-related book, Bon Jovi: WORK (available on Bon Jovi's official website) offers an inside look into the highs, lows and private moments that defined the band from 2010 to 2013. Weighing nearly five pounds, this oversized, 210-page hardcover art book features images culled from two record-breaking world tours. Unlike most Rock-related books, Bon Jovi: WORK is the result of one man's ability to get up close and very personal with his subject.

This band has given me access that you would never think they would anymore,” Bergman says. “Bands just really don't do this, [but] Jon's one of those guys who really gets it...It wasn't that hard to get him to let me tag along and really go behind the scenes and document them in a way that they haven't really even been documented [in the past].”

Music has always been a major part of Bergman's life. A Berklee School of Music veteran, he eventually sold his drums to buy camera lenses and began his professional career in the early '90s at the Miami Herald. An assignment covering Gloria Estefan on the road made him realize his passion for immortalizing live music performances. After stints on tour with the likes of Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne and Sarah McLachlan, he set his sights on getting the definitive tour photographer gig.

I went after [Bon Jovi] pretty hard,” he recalls. “It took me a couple of years; it really is not easy to get into that inner circle. Eventually, I was able to get a meeting with the right person. They let me shoot a couple of gigs in the beginning, and I would just do a handful of shows. Over the course of early 2010 and into that summer and by the fall for sure, they put me on a tour bus and I became the official tour photographer. By the end of the year and into 2011, Jon got to know me and my work really well and wanted me really embedded with the band. I was doing so much of the behind-the-scenes stuff that it made logistical sense at that point to bring me into the inner inner circle. The next thing I know, I'm traveling on the private plane with the band every day instead of on the tour buses with the crew...It was just a slow and steady progression, and I always kind of had my eye on the prize and eventually got there.”

Over the course of four years, Bergman shot approximately 800,000 frames of the band on the road. Along the way, he launched, a site that offered prints of Bon Jovi performances for fans to purchase. Fans could go online after the show they attended, look at images of the show they were at and buy prints of various sizes. The right shots were selected from a pool of around 4,000 a night, with Bergman editing down the number before passing them along to Jon Bon Jovi for review and approval. While some major Rock stars might hand off such a task to an underling, Bergman says that Jon was deeply involved in everything regarding his band.

I thought when I came in that I would deal with a publicist or an assistant publicist and I wouldn't have any contact with the band,” Bergan says. “But I found out real quickly that Jon Bon Jovi was actually doing the approvals of my images every step along the way.”

Considering Jon's personal involvement in the WORK project, it's admirable that he approved the inclusion of visuals that don't always present him in the most flattering light. For example, one of the book's most striking series of photos is of the frontman writhing in pain backstage in Helsinki after experiencing a meniscus tear in his knee. The man's agony is palpable.

Honestly, I went immediately into journalist mode,” says Bergman of capturing the event. “Even though I worked for the band, I still want to document everything. We can decide later what's going to be important and what's not, but I'm going to shoot everything. I have these conversations with Jon; I'm like, 'Look, it's always better to shoot it and then decide not to use it or not put it out publicly then to not shoot it, because then you have no options.'”

The incident in Helsinki points to perhaps the greatest secret behind Bon Jovi's enduring success: Not only did he stay onstage for another 70 minutes to finish the show after suffering the injury, Jon also refused to cancel a single show for two weeks. He only paused to have doctors operate on his leg once he had some time off. Bergman went on to photograph Jon's subsequent acupuncture treatment and surgery. (“I was wearing the scrubs and the whole thing!” he says.) When it came time to construct WORK, Jon didn't hold back on sharing the ordeal with fans.

As Bergman remembers, “As we started talking about this and putting it in the book, he said, 'Look, if this inspires one kid who sees this to work through the pain and push through an injury and come back on the other side better, stronger and faster, then it's worth it.'

Jon is really one of the best frontmen in the business,” he adds. “Whether it's the person in the front row or the person at the very top of the back row of the stadium, they all feel like he's singing right to them. That's a unique skill that not many people have.”

Easily one of the most intense visuals in WORK is the shot Bergman took from the roof of the sold-out Soldier Field in Chicago, with the city's skyline in tow.

One of the advantages of working for the biggest Rock band in the world is that I have literally all access,” he says. “I've worked with other bands, and when they go into an arena or a theatre, the local people still have a lot of power – which is the way it should be. You come in and say, 'Oh, I wish I could go here to make a picture,' and they say, 'I don't know; it's an insurance issue' or whatever. Well, when you work for Bon Jovi and you've got that All Access Pass and Bon Jovi management has given you the seal of approval to do whatever you need to do, I could do whatever I wanted to do.”

In addition to showcasing Bergman's skills, WORK offers a series of personal photos taken by Jon himself. These intimate shots range from family vacation pics to stunning glimpses of a safari trip in South Africa.

He's really into it,” Bergman says of Jon's explorations in camera work. “He's really got a good eye.”

Above all, WORK celebrates the strengths of a band that is still achieving remarkable heights three decades after their debut. While many of their '80s hit-making contemporaries ultimately fell by the wayside, Bon Jovi's “Because We Can” world tour grossed $259.5 million last year. Clearly, this group – and the man who documents their triumphs – won't be slowing down any time soon.

These guys still give 110 percent every single night,” Bergman says. “Jon not canceling shows just because he was badly injured says a lot about their character; that's why they're still going. A lot of other bands would have postponed the tour if there was an injury like that. The tour would have been canceled, and they would make [the dates] up in six months. Those guys won't do that...If those guys are physically able to perform, they're going to do it – and do it for two and a half, three hours. I've seen plenty of their shows that just gone on and on. I think the crowds respect and appreciate that. The band has not rested on its laurels. Certainly, when they kick into 'Livin' On A Prayer' and 'Wanted Dead Or Alive,' everybody goes crazy, but they're still putting out new music. The last album [2013's What About Now] debuted at Number One. How many bands 30 years on are still putting out Number One albums?”

Photo by David Bergman (courtesy of Randex PR)

More information on David Bergman is available at and Samples of images from WORK can be viewed HERE.


Monday, October 6, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW - James Williamson: Re-Licked

If I'm going to review this album the right way, I need to talk to you, dear reader, in the first person. Receiving a promo copy of James Williamson's Re-Licked last week ended months of feverish anticipation for me. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of interviewing James shortly before the release of the album's first single, “Open Up And Bleed”/”Gimme Some Skin.” At the time, I was made aware that one of my all-time favorite singers, the great Lisa Kekaula from The BellRays, would be one of the guest vocalists on the project. That was enough to sell me; Re-Licked was already gearing up to be the Album of the Year.  

Williamson developed Re-Licked as way to finally record a number of post-Raw Power tracks that he wrote with Iggy Pop in 1973-74. Although these numbers have existed for years on a number of bootleg releases of varying audio quality, Re-Licked represents the first time these songs were given a chance to grow in a legitimate studio setting. How could this not be amazing?

The seven months that followed my chat with James saw Re-Licked – and the Stooges legacy it celebrates – experience considerable highs and lows. First came a press statement from Iggy Pop that seemed to paint a shaky portrait of current relations within the Stooges camp, followed a few short days later by the unexpected death of Stooges drummer Scott Asheton. On a much-needed positive note, the spring and summer brought news of even more amazing performers jumping on board for the album. The list included Gary Floyd (The Dicks/Sister Double Happiness) and J.G. Thirlwell (Foetus) – two people whose onstage brilliance forever elevated my expectations with other live performers.

As for the rest of the cast of characters, here's a sampling: Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys/Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine), Carolyn Wonderland, Bobby Gillespie and Simone Marie Butler (Primal Scream), Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees/ Queens of the Stone Age), Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line), Petra Haden, Ariel Pink, Ron Young (Little Caesar), Mike Watt (Stooges/Minutemen), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Gregg Foreman (Cat Power), Steve Mackay (Stooges), Toby Dammit (Stooges/Iggy Pop/Swans), Mario Cuomo (The Orwells), Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters/Entombed), The Richmond Sluts, Michael Urbano (Smash Mouth) and on and on.

The presence of musical personalities this strong makes sense. During their all-too-short original late '60s/early '70s run, The Stooges set the benchmark for aggressive, real Rock 'N' Roll. Stooges songs are litmus tests: Not only do you have to be the real deal, but you also have to be on the very top of your game to perform these tunes in a convincing way.

Thankfully, there isn't a single note on Re-Licked that was phoned in. Every person involved in this momentous release clearly grasped the importance of the work being presented. Some highlights: Kekaula is her usual jaw-dropping self on “I Gotta Right” and “Heavy Liquid,” while Wonderland delivers a Joplinesque howl on “Open Up And Bleed.” Young delivers a fantastic Blues-tinged take on “Rubber Leg,” while the rhythm sections of Watt/Dammit and Butler/Urbano (both given the hefty task of honoring the late Asheton brothers) rise to the challenge with admirable aplomb.

Naturally, Floyd is incomparable on a blistering “Cock In My Pocket,” while Biafra is Biafra on “Head On The Curve.”

As far as the singers who come closest to mirroring Iggy's snarl and charm, full marks go to Thirlwell (the album's second version of ”Rubber Leg”) and Cardamone (“Pinpoint Eyes”), while Pink adds a touch of James Brown to his iguana groove on “She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills.

Finally freed of the audio crud that plagued the original Stooges versions, the songs that comprise Re-Licked prove that the Pop/Williamson songwriting team was capable of far more than just raw power. Nowhere is this more evident than on the breathtaking (and touchingly sad) “'Til The End Of The Night,” performed here with heartstring-tugging precision by Mosshart.

Of course, Williamson is the greatest star of this show. There's just something about the sound this man gets out of his guitar that....well, if you know, you know. And if you don't know yet, listen to “Wild Love,” “I'm Sick Of You” and the 3:14 mark of “'Til The End Of The Night.” Hell, listen to everything the guy plays on this thing. Few players hit your ears – and your gut – with this level of intensity.

It's fitting and beautiful that quite a few of Re-Licked's participants were either toddlers or not even alive when these songs were written. Their passionate contributions demonstrate how timeless The Stooges' material truly is. For a certain segment of the population, this is our Folk music. And for the guy who's typing this review with a still-healing Stooges tattoo on his arm, having these tunes finally presented with this level of clarity is a deeply emotional experience.

In the words of Scott Asheton, “God loves The Stooges.”

Thank you so much, James. This album means a lot.

Re-Licked will be available worldwide October 29 on CD, vinyl and digital formats worldwide via Leopard Lady Records. For more information, visit James Williamson's Official Website.

01. Head On The Curve (w/ Jello Biafra)
02. Open Up And Bleed (w/ Carolyn Wonderland)
03. Scene Of The Crime (w/ Bobby Gillespie from 
Primal Scream)
04. She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills (w/ Ariel Pink)
05. Til The End Of The Night (w/ Alison Mosshart from
The Kills, Dead Weather)
06. I Gotta Right (w/ Lisa Kekaula from The BellRays)
07. Pinpoint Eyes (w/ Joe Cardamone from 
The Icarus Line)
08. Wild Love (w/ Mark Lanegan & Alison Mosshart)
09. Rubber Leg (w/ Ron Young from Little Caesar)
10. I’m Sick Of You (w/ Mario Cuomo from The Orwells)
Bonus Tracks:
11. Gimme Some Skin (w/ Caroline Wonderland) 
12. C*ck In My Pocket (w/ Nicke Andersson from 
The Hellacopters) 
13. Heavy Liquid (w/ Lisa Kekaula) 
14. Wet My Bed (w/ The Richmond Sluts)
15. C**k In My Pocket (w/ Gary Floyd from The Dicks) 
16. Rubber Leg (w/ J.G. Thirlwell aka Clint Ruin, Foetus)