Friday, February 27, 2015

FEATURE - The Real Thing Never Dies: The Pagans Are Back

The Pagans, 2015. Left to right: Ben Reagan, Tony Matteucci, Mike Hudson, Mike D'Amico, Loren Molinare. Photo by Julie Molinare

Author's Note: Shortly after conducting this interview, Mike Hudson was involved in a near-fatal car accident in Los Angeles. To aid in his lengthy recovery, a number of his closest friends are gathering for a special benefit concert on March 6 at Loaded Hollywood. More information (including the full lineup) is available here. Additionally, The Pagans have released their new track, “NoWhere Girl,” as a benefit single. My best wishes to Mike for a speedy recovery.

Four years ago, it looked like notorious writer and Cleveland Punk legend Mike Hudson was finally calming down. After a lifetime of hedonistic ups and horrendous downs, the incendiary scribe and Pagans frontman found himself living comfortably in Niagara Falls. Earning a living as the owner of a popular newspaper (The Niagara Falls Reporter) and years removed from the dirty stages he called home during his music days, Hudson - a man as well known for his self-destructive ways as he was for his creativity - had arrived at middle age with a day-to-day life that actually resembled stability.

But that all changed with a trip to California.

In the fall of 2011, Hudson received a call from Loren Molinare, longtime frontman of legendary LA/Detroit band The Dogs, inviting the singer to appear in the video for the band's cover of The Pagans classic, “Her Name Was Jane.” Happy to oblige, Hudson flew out to Los Angeles – and into the arms of a powerful new muse.

No stranger to the world of Rock 'N' Roll, the stunning Evita Corby was the former wife of Babys guitarist Michael Corby and the lady whose derriere graced the back cover of the Kill City album by Iggy Pop and James Williamson. Appearing as the female lead in the “Jane” video at the behest of photographer and longtime Dogs associate Heather Harris, she soon found herself the recipient of Hudson's amorous gaze.

“I fell like a ton of bricks,” he recalls.

Molinare will never forget how easily the two connected.

“It was kind of like being a onlooker to Richard Burton and Liz Taylor filming Cleopatra,” he says. “There was this intensity and electricity on the shoot.”

Before long, Hudson was selling his newspaper and heading to the Golden State to be with her.

(Crazy, right? You betcha, but you'll have to read the book to get the details on just how crazy.) 

Once unpacked and settled into the Land of Insecurity – oops, I mean Opportunity – known as Los Angeles, Hudson soon discovered that the city's deceptively sunny environs were perfect for a writer/musician with a penchant for chronicling – and living – the less savory aspects of the human condition.

“When I first lived here, I had an apartment in the hills that was right across the alley from a movie studio,” he recalls. “Out of my window, you could see a billboard that advertised a hotel; the billboard said, 'We're so Hollywood, our pool should be shallow at both ends.' It's a very shallow place, but I love it.”

Not surprisingly, Hudson's new locale soon inspired the creation of new music. The lyrics to the first song he wrote in Los Angeles, “Hollywood High,” were written after hearing some music Molinare (who also plays with LA Hard Rock veterans Little Caesar) had been developing at home.

“Mike came over on Christmas day,” Molinare recalls. “He came up to my music room and I said, 'Listen to this.' He goes, 'Lay it down for me,' The next day, he calls me up and he had the lyrics, and we wrote it. It was just instantly written.”

After “Hollywood High” provided the initial jolt of inspiration, the songs kept coming. Hudson would come up with the lyrical concept, and Molinare would take it from there.

“With Mike being a writer, it's easy to give him imagery, like, 'You're standing in the hallway. Sing what you might feel like if you're in the detention home watching these kids come in,'” explains the guitarist. “It was quick and fast. We didn't think about or analyze anything. It's probably the most spontaneous project I've ever played on. Rock 'N' Roll is an untamed beast; we just jumped on her back and let her take us where she went.”

Naturally, Hudson has a similarly high opinion of his co-writer.

“I think he's the best guitar player walking around today, and that's because he never stopped playing,” he says.

The collaboration between Hudson and Molinare has greater significance than simply putting together a killer collection of songs. Molinare's wife, Julie, was married to Hudson's brother and original Pagans drummer, Brian, who was killed in a car accident in 1991. Already a close friend of the family, Molinare later fell in love with and married Julie, helping to raise Brian and Julie's son, Marlon. (“He turned out really well for being of Hudson blood!” offers his uncle with a chuckle.)

“It was a relationship built through family for 20-some years,” Molinare says. “It was just coincidental that Mike was in The Pagans, a Cleveland street rock band, and I had my background with The Dogs being from Michigan. Being Midwest guys, we're not like LA or New York guys. On a musical level, it was real easy to relate to each other.”

Along the way, the two (along with one-time Pagans drummer David Liston) ended up in Nashville on the dime of an unnamed producer who offered Hudson some money to record a Country album.

“Every once in a while, we would cut a really bad version of one of these really bad Country and Western songs and send them back east just to make the guy think we were working on what he wanted us to work on,” Hudson says. “But really what we were doing was recording Hollywood High.”

Released November 4 on Ruin Discos, Hollywood High delivers an eight-song, 33-minute blast of energy that reminds listeners of what the real deal sounds like. Of course, the album's power isn't a surprise when considering that Hudson's been putting out records since the '70s and Molinare has been rocking with The Dogs in one way or another since the late '60s. Simply put, Hollywood High is worthy of the Pagans name. (Read a full review of the album here.)

“As I got into this project, I thought, 'This is as good as anything I ever did [with The Pagans],” Hudson remembers. “I called [original Pagans guitarist] Mike Metoff back in Cleveland and sent him the songs, and he was like, 'Go for it.' He and I are still very close. With his blessing, I thought it was cool. Even though it doesn't sound like 1978-era Pagans, it still has that edge. It's like The Pagans grew up.”

“It was a heavy statement from Mike to call it Mike Hudson and The Pagans,” adds Molinare. “Pagans fans could hear this album and go, 'Well, it's not like the Pagans I remember,' but those Pagans fans from 35 years ago have grown up and probably could relate to what is on [the album] now. A lot of the reviews validate what we were trying to do with the record.”

With a great new record to promote, Hudson and Molinare assembled a new Pagans lineup with Dogs drummer Tony Matteucci and White Murder bassist Mike D'Amico. On December 6, the new quartet performed a set at the Hollywood High record release party at Blue Bag Records in Silver Lake. It was the first time Hudson performed a full live set in over a decade. Not surprisingly, the band easily won over the uber-hip crowd of Los Angeles rockers and tastemakers.

“The response was really cool,” Molinare says, “Mike came out and read from one of his books, so we had some spoken word before we launched into the set.”

“Most of the people in the audience weren't civilians; they were musicians and writers,” adds Hudson. “The fact that it was well-received by that audience meant a lot to me.”

Later that month, The Pagans (who by then also included former Feederz/current Richie Ramone guitarist Ben Reagan) recorded a new song, “NoWhere Girl.” Then came the launch of an official Facebook page

There wasn't anyone familiar with The Pagans who expected any of this to be happening nearly 40 years after the band's first single. And that includes Mike Hudson, a man pushing 60 whose entire life has been a series of unexpected twists and turns.

“Coming out here has made all the difference in the world,” he says. “It's almost like I planned it (laughs).”

Photo by Julie Molinare


Sunday, February 22, 2015

LIVE REVIEW - Midge Ure, Johnny D's (Somerville, MA) 2/21/15

“This is about as low-key as you can get!” joked Midge Ure shortly after taking the stage at Johnny D's in Somerville, MA on a snowy February evening. As previously discussed on this site, Ure is currently traveling through North America on his “Fragile Troubadour Tour,” a jaunt that sees the longtime musician (Ultravox/Thin Lizzy/Visage/Rich Kids) driving from club to club with only his guitar and a modest selection of merchandise. This is quite a tall order for a 61-year-old man who performed in front of millions as part of Live Aid three decades ago. But for nearly two hours, the music he delivered at this small venue across from the Davis Square Station earned enough love and admiration to fill an arena.

Stripped down to only his voice and six strings, Ure effortlessly carried the 105-minute show by delivering classic after classic from both his solo career (including stellar versions of “If I Was,” “Cold Cold Heart,” “Guns And Arrows,” the new track “Become” and the Berlin Wall-inspired “Tumbling Down”) and his time with the legendary Ultravox (”Hymn,” “Vienna,” “The Voice,” “Brilliant,” “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes,” an extraordinary “Lament”). The recently departed Steve Strange was honored with a soaring rendition of Visage's “Fade to Grey,” while the encore included covers of Tom Rush's “No Regrets” (Ure's first solo hit from 1982) and David Bowie's “Lady Stardust.” Ure's trademark voice remained strong throughout the set, reaching its apex during a stunning “Vienna.” Simply put, the man still has it.

(By the way, full marks go to the vast majority of the audience, who actually refrained from talking throughout the show and simply took in the music coming from the stage. What a novelty in 2015!)

Ure punctuated his 21-song set with a self-deprecating sense of humor that covered everything from his sometimes-shaky solo career (he responded to the applause given to “Breathe” with “...and you didn't buy it!”) to his thick Scottish accent (which he compared to Groundskeeper Willie's). He also took a dig at the “kara-fucking-oki” artists currently dominating the charts, questioning why a show like America's Got Talent is even necessary in the country that invented Rock 'N' Roll. Of course, the best way for an artist to swim against the tide of today's music business is to keep true artistry alive, and that is exactly what Ure is doing on this current tour.

The conditions outside were treacherous, the crowd inside was modest and the environs were far from glitzy. But every single person who braved the lousy weather to be at Johnny D's last night felt every single note this singer/guitarist offered from that stage. That's the mark of a genuine performer. After a 45-year career of intense ups and downs, Midge Ure has clearly won the game.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

INTERVIEW - What Happens NOW: Andy Gill on Gang of Four's Troubled Past & Hopeful Future

L to R: John "Gaoler" Sterry, Andy Gill and Thomas McNeice of Gang of Four (photo courtesy of Metropolis Records)

As discussed at length in my review of their new album, What Happens Next, U.K. Post-Punk legends Gang of Four have been through some pretty heavy changes in recent times. With guitarist and sole original member Andy Gill keeping the flame burning, the current version of the band is about to start a North American tour that hits the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on March 6. I recently phoned the ever-busy Gill to chat about (among other things) the new album, the departure of longtime singer Jon King, working with Germany's biggest music superstar and the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest records you've never heard.

The last time we all saw you guys, you were touring with the Content album. Jon was involved, and then he wasn't involved. What happened?

If you look back over the decades with Gang of Four, I think it's always been a bit of a stop-start affair, hasn't it? I've always had this kind of parallel job of producing other bands, so when Gang of Four wasn't doing anything, I'd be off producing other people. I think that Jon could never make his mind up about being involved or not. We did a bunch of dates – two or three weeks in North America – when Content came out, and then we did a couple of weeks in Australia. After that, Jon signaled that he wasn't going to be doing any more, which was disappointing to the extent that we had intended to do an awful lot of live work after Content. That was a bit of a change in plan, but I was very, very committed to doing more songwriting and recording with Gang of Four. I just went straight ahead and threw myself into doing the new record. I think it was a case of reimagining the whole thing at that point.

Of course, you have the new John – John Sterry – who does a fantastic job on the new record. How did he enter the picture?

The whole thing was so weird, really. When I kind of launched into doing the new record, it was like sort of stepping out into space – not quite knowing where you're going and how you're going to do it. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to do a bunch of collaborations. Incidentally, I had thought about that for a very long time, but it wasn't an idea that flew with Jon King. I knew I wanted to do some collaborations. The other thing I thought was, 'There's no rules here. Do what the hell you want and don't look back.' That was kind of my motto at the beginning of the record.

I had been writing a few songs, and I had my weird vocals doing the tune and the lyrics. I was asking around if anybody knew a good singer who could come in and do some really good, better guide vocals for me so that I could hear what the songs really sounded like. John Sterry, or 'Gaoler' as I call him, popped in the studio one day and sang. I thought, 'That sounds great!' For months, he was coming down three times a week...He was like a session singer for me, and I was kind of paying him like a session singer. Then after a few months and we had done a few songs together, I thought, 'This guy's really good. He's a nice guy, and I get on with him and I love his voice.' So I just said to him, 'Should we do a gig together?' We did a semi-secret, little gig in London at the Lexington, a little club above a pub. It all felt very natural and felt right, so he was in. In my mind, I thought, 'I suppose I'm going to have to do hundreds of auditions in London and maybe in New York or whatever,' but it just felt right, so I got on with it. It's been quite gratifying to hear people give 'Gaoler” props for how he's done so well on this record.

Jonny [Finnegan] is now your current full-time drummer, correct?

Jonny, yeah.

That was an addition since the last album as well. How did that change come to be?

Mark Heaney, who was the old drummer...can be a little volatile, and he had a series of fallings out with the management - not with me. It seemed to be a personality thing as far as I could tell. He drummed on two or three tracks on the record, and then Jonny came in. [Bassist] Thomas [McNeice] is very much my right-hand man, and we checked out a bunch of drummers, and Jonny kind of won the day by a considerable margin.

In terms of some of the guests you have on the album, Alison Mosshart stands out to me because I know she's done a lot of really great work in recent times with the James Williamson album and her own projects. From your perspective, what did she bring to the proceedings that really elevated things to where they wouldn't have otherwise been? What made her contributions special?

I think it's great having women involved, and I've always felt that. When [former bassist] Sara Lee joined he band in the early '80s, it was very much like, 'Let's get a woman in; let's not have this all-male thing.' I think [Alison] brings her incredible vocal style, that powerfulness. She is quite extraordinary, I think. She's a workaholic; she really brings an incredible dynamism and energy. I think the whole record massively benefits from having these different personalities involved. I think in the early days of the record, when I started to see all the different people involved, I did slightly worry that it was going to sound disjointed or disparate. But as I continued to work on the record, I stopped worrying about that because it felt like everything was coming from the same place.

When you were going through the process of making this album, did you know all along that this would end up being Gang of Four versus another project under a different name? I would imagine with all the changes, there might have been a temptation to not use Gang of Four as a moniker.

To me, it very much felt like, 'Okay, so we got Gang of Four. We're doing Content, Jon decides to go his own way, so it's Gang of Four less Jon King.' Now, you might be of the mind to believe that means that Jon King is so integral to Gang of Four that it's no longer Gang of Four without Jon. But in my experience, nobody's really said that. I think most people feel that I've always been the producer, musical director, writer of the music and half the lyrics, so it's Gang of Four. I think the question would be, '[When] you listen to this album, do you hear the DNA of Gang of Four, or not?”

The song on the new album that struck me the most was “The Dying Rays.” That really is an achievement - a brilliant piece of music. Lyrically, where were you coming from and what inspired you to create those words? Was it a personal experience or was it something you had seen elsewhere?

I think it's both. It's very much written from the heart...It's not a young man's song, let's put it that way. I think with a little bit of experience and a certain amount of looking in the rearview mirror, you have some ideas about time, wasted time and things like that. I hesitate to over-explain because I think Gang of Four, over the decades, has sometimes been guilty of trying to be our own reviewers and trying to really spell out what we think it's supposed to say. I think sometimes, you can take away some of the magic in things by over-talking them. But the crucial thing about that song was Herbert Grönemeyer talking to me and saying, 'How's it going, Andy?' I explained that Alison had sung on a couple of tracks, and I was excited about it. He said, 'Do you want me to sing on something?' I thought, 'Yeah!' It was an interesting idea, and a lot of people in Germany have recently expressed quite a lot of surprise at that collaboration. I thought, 'I've got a few songs kicking around here; I've got some demos. Maybe Herbert can do this one or maybe that one.' Then I thought, 'Hold on a second. Let's not waste this opportunity.' I went and kind of really listened to Herbert's work and the things he's done. The thing that he does that most affects me and most moves me are the mid-tempo, angst-filled ballads. He has a very emotional and moving voice. He did a great track with Antony of Antony and the Johnsons guesting on it. It's quite a sad song, and Herbert really inhabits the track with his voice and his emotions; he seems to be in the track. So I thought, 'I'm not just going to give him any old thing; I'm going to have to really try to make a track for Herbert to sing.' It was hard work; I went down a lot of blind alleys and went in circles. I was really kind of getting getting frustrated; I was getting in different musicians I knew to come in to try to help me co-write this thing.

I didn't know where I was going, but eventually something clicked. I was just playing around with a little drum loop, and then the guitar seemed to work and then it started to fall into place. It took a long time. And then the words...I was in this Elizabethan house, [a] hotel in England. The sun was going down, and I was sitting in the chair and doing nothing, staring off in the middle distance. I just saw this speck of dust coming down in front of my eyes. It mesmerized me; I was hypnotized like a cat. [Those were] the first words...the 'speck of dust' thing. Everything came from that.

It's been 20 years since one of my all-time favorite records, Shrinkwrapped, came out -

It's not 20 years, is it surely? My God! I thought that was like last week!

Looking at the album now, what are your thoughts on the end product and its place in the history of Gang of Four?

It's one of my favorites. I'm very pleased with Shrinkwrapped, and I'm proud of it. I think at the time, nobody paid much attention. I think that the label...We didn't do any interviews; we didn't do anything. It kind of came out unnoticed. I've noticed that more and more people mention Shrinkwrapped these days, but at the time nobody seemed to notice it was there. But I am proud of it.

I saw the reunion of the original Gang of Four at Coachella [in 2005]. We're almost 10 years away from that event now. Clearly, there were a lot of expectations when the original band got back together, but the band didn't last and go the distance. Ultimately, why didn't the original band continue the second time around?

From the other three's position, I think they were looking at basically a quick-buck opportunity. I think for them, it was never intended to be more than doing a couple of tours and getting some money. I don't want to sound too cynical, but I think that's basically what it was about. I don't think [original bassist] Dave Allen ever really belonged in the band. He seemed to be causing a lot of problems; he kept trying to stir things up between [original drummer] Hugo [Burnham] and myself, which is a shame, really. Hugo and I are very, very different people, but we've always got on with each other, and we do to this day. But during that brief period, Hugo seemed to have been turned very much against me by Dave. You just don't need that kind of backstabbing going on in your life...You just don't need it. I think that was part of it.

Actually, now that you mention [the reunion], I think for Jon King, he thought this was a temporary thing. So maybe in the light of that, it makes more sense of why he bowed out after Content. Despite it being slightly inconvenient timing, it does kind of have some logic to it.

You're 38 years into this with Gang of Four, on and off, and you have a body of work that represents that period of time. When Gang of Four does cease, what would you like to see the band remembered for? What do you think will be Gang of Four's greatest legacy?

I think there will be songs that stick out to people. Obviously, they'll probably be the better-known ones. It would be nice if some of the songs on Shrinkwrapped were remembered, but it never quite captured the public's imagination at that point in time. I think the guitar stuff will be remembered. It seems that many musicians have been influenced by Gang of Four, and I think that's how the band kind of lives on in a way.

Pre-order What Happens Next 

What Happens Next review

Gang of Four Website 

Gang of Four on Facebook

Gang of Four on Twitter 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Words for Pajo

The cover of Slint's Spiderland (David Pajo far right)

I'm posting the music below in support of David Pajo of Slint, who is currently recovering from a recent suicide attempt. This Misfits tribute album he released in '99 is just one of the many innovative things he's done over the years. (Slint's Spiderland album is a must-own). David's Bandcamp page features music going back to the mid '80s (when he toured with Samhain as a member of the pre-Kinghorse/Slint band, Maurice.) It's all worth a listen and a purchase. He's also worked with Interpol and Zwan, among others. Brilliant guy. I've never met the man, but his work has moved me for years. Sorry to hear this news, and I truly wish him peace and strength.


Friday, February 13, 2015

'Black Sabbath' at 45: An Appreciation

February 13, 1970. With heavy rain and a crack of thunder, everything changed.

On this day 45 years ago, four young men from the post-war streets of Birmingham, England released their debut album and created a new genre in only 38 minutes. Every band, every album, every note that has ever been called “Metal” can be traced back to the sounds on this album. This is an indisputable fact. Career paths were decided, lives were dramatically altered (and perhaps even saved) and a new style of music was unleashed on the world because of this thing. 

What Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill built on this album - and on the seven records that followed - will never be bettered by anyone else. Why? Because these four people put their very souls into the grooves on those records. From crying out against the horrors of battle and the atrocities committed against our beleaguered veterans (“War Pigs” off Paranoid) to shining a light on the often-ignored struggles of the working class (“Killing Yourself To Live” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath), Sabbath gave a voice to those who needed it most. They stood on some of the biggest stages in the world, but these four men always stayed close to the streets - where humanity's heart beats the loudest. Black Sabbath showed many that genuine strength and growth could come from facing - and overcoming - the dark side. They offered catharsis through distortion, an escape through intense songs that were cries for peace in a world gone mad. And it all started when a young man first responded to this chaos with one question: “What is this that stands before me?” 

Bill Ward – A man whose heartfelt devotion to Heavy Metal is matched only by his generosity and kindness. Love and thanks to you, sir.

Ozzy Osbourne – An incomparable frontman who did it better than anyone else for longer than anyone else. 

Geezer Butler – A man whose many talents turned pain into poetry, impacting millions in the process.

Tony Iommi – An unwavering engine who recently pushed through the hardships of severe illness to perform for crowds all over the world. A true inspiration and working class hero.

Although the four original members of Sabbath are entitled to more praise than the world could possibly give them, appreciation must also be shown to the many fine musicians who kept the band alive between 1979 and 1996. As always, I tip my hat to Bob Daisley and Eric Singer, true gentlemen in an ever-savage industry. At the same time, I honor Ronnie James Dio, Cozy Powell and Ray Gillen, departed comrades in Metal whose contributions to the music of Sabbath and other bands secured their immortality. I also send my thoughts to one-time Sabbath bassist Craig Gruber, a vastly accomplished player who is currently battling Stage 4 cancer. (More info on Craig's condition – and how you can help – is available here.)

All hail Black Sabbath, forever the greatest Heavy Metal band in the world.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW - Sardonica: Follow Me

If you're an avid follower of the Garden State's underground music scene - or are even remotely knowledgable of the extended family of musicians surrounding Lodi, NJ's legendary Misfits - you know the name “Sal Bee.” An active musician for decades now, Sal first gained notoriety as the frontman of Slaughtered Grace, a late '80s Hardcore/Metal act that released a 1990 EP (Call This Planet...Slaughtered Grace) on the Misfits' Cyclopean Music label. A few years later, he helped out his lifelong friends Jerry Only and Doyle by filling in on vocals in the early days of the band's reformation. Before long, Dr. Chud - Sal's former drummer from his then-current band, Sardonica - got the gig as The Misfits' new timekeeper. And when The Misfits performed their first European and US dates in early '96 after announcing new vocalist Michale Graves, Sardonica served as the opening act. Onstage, Sal struck an intense visual with his shaved head and muscular build; offstage, he endeared himself to fans by being one of the nicest, most approachable guys they could ever hope to meet.

Fast-forward to now, and the ever-charismatic singer/bassist is reaching new audiences all the time thanks to his must-see online show, Rock 'N' Roll Cooking with Sal Bee. He also continues to play live in the NJ/NY area with both Sardonica and a reunited Slaughtered Grace. His latest album under the Sardonica moniker, Follow Me, finds him backed by a who's who of Lodi Punk legends for a selection of covers, new Sardonica compositions and a handful of recent recordings of older Slaughtered Grace tunes. On drums, we have The Murp, best known to Fiends as a member of Jerry and Doyle's late '80s band, Kryst The Conqueror. On guitar, the powerhouse Pete Murder. The one and only Steve Zing (Samhain/Danzig/Mourning Noise/The Undead) turns up to sing a cover of “Runaround Sue,” while Michale Graves fronts the band on a rendition of The Doors' “Touch Me.” Although he's not the most famous musician to add his talents to Follow Me, guitarist Ron Paci's amazing lead playing on “Black Sheep,” “Six Feet Below,” “Terror Unleashed” and the epic “Tragic End” is the record's crowning achievement. As far as what the music on Follow Me actually sounds like...Well, if you know Sal Bee, you know what to expect. If this is your first time, just imagine the Cro-Mags (if they had a sense of humor) jamming with Manowar (if they ditched the goofy ultra-masculine posing). Fans of fellow Jersey bands like Overkill (especially their Punky early stuff) and Whiplash will find a lot to love here. With its excellent production and solid performances, Follow Me serves as the perfect introduction to the music of two of New Jersey's finest bands. Sal's as great now as he was 20 years ago. Respect.

On a personal note, listening to Follow Me brought me back to when I first met Sal Bee during my days hanging out with The Misfits in the mid '90s. I had the good fortune of keeping the beat for quite a few of their rehearsals back then, and I got to jam with Sal on many occasions. (As it happens, I first made noise with him 20 years ago this month.) I still remember when Michale Graves first started working with the band in the spring of '95, and the first time I met Steve Zing (backstage after a Misfits show at Action Park in Vernon, NJ that I put on in '96). And I'll never forget when Sardonica played a benefit show I put on at my high school in support of D.A.R.E.! Sal Bee and Steve Zing have never once said no to me in all the years I've known them, and Graves has earned my eternal respect for his well-earned place in Misfits history and work on behalf of the West Memphis Three. Simply put, some of the best people I've ever met in my travels are on this record, and hearing it makes me feel like I'm 18 again and back in Jersey. Thanks for that, fellas!

Follow Me is available at


Monday, February 9, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW - The Joykiller: Music For Break-Ups

As previously discussed on this site, legendary Punk singer Jack Grisham has consistently delivered the goods for nearly 40 years. Although he has fronted a number of memorable outfits over the years (Vicious Circle, Cathedral of Tears, Mens Club, The Manic Low, the tragically overlooked Tender Fury), he is perhaps best known for his ongoing work in the great T.S.O.L. (a spot he originally held from 1979 to 1983). Before rejoining that band on a full-time basis in 1999, he led the Southern California-based group The Joykiller through three studio albums (The Joykiller, Static and Three) from 1995 to 1997. (A compilation called Ready Sexed Go! surfaced in 2003.) While preparing for a move last summer, he unexpectedly came across a box of cassettes with demo recordings of various Joykiller songs from back in the day that never materialized on a proper album. Inspired by what he heard, Grisham launched a successful Indiegogo campaign to give this music the home it deserves in the form of an all-new Joykiller album, Music For Break-Ups. Not only did he raise the funds, but he also ended up with one of the most amazing casts of musicians ever assembled for a recording project.

In addition to Grisham and original Joykiller bassist Billy Persons (Gun Club/Weirdos) and keyboardist/organist Ronnie King (whose ludicrously accomplished career includes work with everyone from Tupac Shakur to The Offspring), Music For Break-Ups features guitarists Rikk Agnew (The Adolescents/Christian Death) and Steven Hufsteter (The Quick/The Plugz/Cruzados), current T.S.O.L. drummer Matthew Rainwater and backing vocalist Steve Soto (The Adolescents/Agent Orange/22 Jacks). To make the package even more jaw-dropping, the whole shebang is produced by former Screamers/45 Grave/Twisted Roots member Paul Roessler, a musical genius (no bullshit) responsible for the best album of 2013.

So...what do you get when you put all those musicians on one record? An album that falls somewhere between The Manic Low's flawless 2012 effort, Songs For An Up Day, and T.S.O.L.'s brilliant (and insanely underrated) 1983 masterpiece, Beneath The Shadows. Sure, Grisham made a name for himself in the early '80s singing about corpse fucking (T.S.O.L.'s “Code Blue”), but there's more New Wave than necrophilia on Music For Break-Ups. Instead of experiencing a bastard offspring of Dance With Me and Only Theatre of Pain, listeners instead receive the best California Punk-into-Pop crossover record since Redd Kross' Third Eye. Of course, anyone who has followed Grisham's output knows that he's really a soul crooner at heart (a fact made obvious when listening to the title track off 1982's Weathered Statues or even those old Vicious Circle recordings), and Music For Break-Ups showcases some of the strongest vocal performances of his career.

Music For Break-Ups' many highlights include the Motown-flavored “That Girl,” the inescapably catchy “Lipstick On The Radio” and “Hey Yeah (I Don't Believe It),” the Broadway-hit-in-waiting “Best Friend's Girl” and the stellar musicianship that kicks in at the 0:59 point in “She's Not There.”

Motown...Broadway...This is a record by a bunch of Punk guys, right? Yes, but it's record by the right bunch of Punk guys. Name a classically trained composer from the original Masque scene other than Paul Roessler. Can you think of another frontman who went from a song like “Abolish Government” (from the first T.S.O.L. EP in 1981) to something as developed as “Forever Old” (from Beneath The Shadows) in the span of two years? And who else on this planet plays guitar like Rikk Agnew or Steven Hufsteter? These people are innovators, which is why the decidedly unPunk-sounding Music For Break-Ups makes absolute sense. If you think Punk is a state of mind and not just a genre of music, then this is the record for you.

Music For Break-Ups is available now at CD Baby and iTunes


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

FEATURE- Fragile in America: Midge Ure Explores a Changing Industry

Photo Credit: Andy Siddens/

Thirty years ago this July, Ultravox frontman Midge Ure stood on stage at Wembley Stadium in front of 72,000 people (with more than 1 billion others watching on live television) during Live Aid and delivered the band's biggest hit, “Vienna.” Along with Queen's flawless performance later that day, Ure's soaring vocals on the song's chorus remains the pivotal musical moment of the entire history-making event. The same year, Ure released his first solo album, The Gift, which yielded a UK Number 1 single with the classic track, “If I Was.” These two events found the Scottish singer/guitarist at the peak of his career – a journey that began more than a decade earlier and steadily progressed through stints with Slik, Thin Lizzy, Rich Kids and Visage before he found international success as the singer in the most popular incarnation of Ultravox. Now, 30 years later, Ure has entered another defining era in his life's work.

At the time of this writing, Ure is only days away from launching the second leg of a US/Canadian solo tour that finds him traveling from city to city, venue to venue with little more than his guitar and some merchandise. Gone are the limos he rode in during his tenure with Thin Lizzy and the massive amounts of equipment that went into an Ultravox gig circa 1983. When you see Midge Ure on this jaunt, you see Midge Ure – a 61-year-old working musician with only his voice and the instrument in front of him to maintain the onstage momentum. Why would a man in the later stage of his career decide to follow a way of touring that is typically reserved for younger acts that have yet to achieve stardom? Because the music industry that birthed Ure's success is nowhere close to the industry that exists today, and Ure wants to see for himself what it means to strive for greatness in the modern age. This experiment includes everything from releasing his first solo album in more than a decade (last year's extraordinary Fragile) entirely on his own to booking his own flights, hotels and rental cars on the trip.

“That's how anyone [who is independent] going out there to do this would have to do it,” he explains. “Weirdly, on the first show in Seattle, the girl who was opening up for me, Angela Sheik, was asking me why I was doing this. I explained it, and she said, 'How ironic is that? That's exactly how I've been doing it for 10 years because I don't know any other way of doing it.'”

Not surprisingly, Ure has learned that keeping the ball in the air as a performer - and promoting a new album at the same time - is one hell of a task for a do-it-yourself artist to accomplish in 2015.

“I've got to realize there is no label here, really,” he says. “There's a distribution label, but I've heard nothing from them. I don't know anyone there, and no one's ever asked me to do an interview. The best way of getting coverage for Fragile is to come out and do some dates, get a PR person on the case and make sure I've got all the bases covered.”

Naturally, the US/Canadian tour has allowed Ure an opportunity to touch base with various up-and-coming artists in each city he visits. His takeaway from these encounters is the troubling reality that anyone starting out in the music business today is facing what he calls “a difficult transitional period” of diminished record sales and illegal downloading.

“You can't walk up to a car showroom and just drive out with whatever you fancy because it's there, but in music you can,” he says. “It's absolutely killing the industry, and nobody sees it and is doing anything about it. Without sounding too death, doom and destruction here, it's not a very rosy future right now until we get this sorted.

“There's an entire generation growing up that hasn't got aspirations of being in U2 or doing a huge Madonna- or Gaga-like show,” he adds. “They're just working musicians and they're trying to figure out how to do this. And it may not be as a permanent job; it may be something they do [that is] subsidized by doing a regular job, which is maybe how it's going [and] quite a sad thing to think of.”

But there's always the Net to promote yourself, right? Well...maybe not.

“The Internet was meant to be the savior of music, but I've not quite seen how that works yet,” Ure admits. “What it seems to be to me is a massive haystack and we're all a little needle. They'll throw a needle in the haystack and then hope that somebody else can find that. There's no real way of generating an audience and pointed an audience towards that.”

This scenario is a far cry from Ure's early years in the '70s, an era when a musician willing to pay his or her dues long enough was rewarded with a recording contract and a shot at the big leagues. These days, bands pay their dues and... keep paying them. The singer got an eyeful of this fact a few weeks ago when he was looking at the sticker-covered wall in the backstage area of the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland and it suddenly dawned on him that he didn't know any of the names displayed.

“There must have been thousands of stickers,” he recalls. “There are thousands of bands out there all trying to eke out a living. There aren't many places to play; a lot of the tribute bands have eaten up a lot of the venues that you would normally go cut your teeth in and learn how the whole thing works. It's kind of a dying side of the industry, but a really important side of the industry. Without new blood and new music coming into our world, it's going to be a pretty dull place to be, isn't it?”

Fortunately, the response to Ure's recent shows has been far from lukewarm. His current set includes a fair share of Ultravox staples (“Vienna,” “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes,” “The Voice,” “Hymn, ” etc.) alongside solo classics (“Cold Cold Heart, “If I Was”) and newer cuts (“Become,” “Fragile”). Of course, he also delivers Visage's immortal 1980 hit, “Fade To Grey.” During our conversation, Ure noted how surprised he was by the amount of album covers fans have brought with them for him to sign after the shows. Despite the negative aspects about the industry he's seen during this most recent trek, it is clear that Ure is still touching people with his music.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ure's current tour is that this is the first time fans in this part of the world will get to hear material from the new album live. The creation of Fragile was a years-long process interrupted in 2008 by an unexpected reunion of Ultravox's legendary 1979-1986 lineup for a new album (2012's Brill!ant) and live dates. Although Ultravox's activities contributed to Fragile's delay, the long wait was also due to the fact that its creator had actually considered stepping away from the spotlight for good.

“I went though a massive period of not wanting to be in the music industry and not wanting to be a part of what the industry has become,” he reveals. “This American Idol, X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent nonsense and karaoke bollocks seem to be the driving force for what's left in the music industry. You create something publicly on television, get the pubic to vote for it and sell the same thing to the public. It's not the next Kate Bush, it's not the next Led Zeppelin and it's not the next Jimi Hendrix or whatever. That side of the industry has always been there; there's always been really homogenized, manipulated, manufactured, palatable and disposal Pop nonsense. That's fine, but to balance that out there's always been the interesting and radical stuff that changes the ballgame. When it becomes successful, all of a sudden that's the next direction the industry heads off in. Everyone has to have the next Peter Gabriel or the next Sex Pistols, whatever it happens to be. But we seem to have eliminated all that now. It's still there, but it's not getting the same focus that the disposable Pop stuff is, because the disposable Pop stuff is exactly what I've just said it is. It's quick, cheap, 'get it out there, make loads of videos and sell it to the kids'...and then the thing disappears in two years' time. We're left with no longevity; there's no longterm artist who's going to develop over the next 20 years like U2 or Coldplay have. I didn't really want to be part of that, but then I realized that you can't win a war unless you have a fight and you get your hands dirty. I gave myself a clip 'round the ear and just said, 'Get on with it!' I'm in a very privileged position to be able to make music. How much of a brat would I be sitting there throwing my toys out of the pram, saying, “I don't want to be part of this anymore'? So I just got on with making what I thought was interesting.”

As Ure gears up for another round of rental cars and hotels, he knows full well that travel of this nature often leads to rough days and lonely nights. Sadly, the emotionally taxing world of touring often leads musicians down a road to addiction. Thankfully, Ure's hard-fought victory against alcoholism (an effort he details in his must-read 2004 autobiography, If I Was) has remained intact through the highs and lows.

“I try not to think about it,” he says of the temptations of the road. “There are moments that are key triggers. It used to be being in a plane. [I'd] see the drinks rolling by and think, 'Fantastic. I'm on a plane for the next 10 hours. There's nothing to do; I'll just sit and get smashed and have a laugh.' Of course, all the excitement of flying into New York or Los Angeles or wherever and just starting a tour and the twinkling lights just holds this magical appeal. You think, 'Oh, there's something out there that I can get into!' Those elements still flash up in [my] brain, even though it's been years now. They're still there; it's like a little demon in your head that kind of goes, 'Ooh, wouldn't that be fun?' But I don't, because I think the fear of going back there vastly outweighs whatever sort of appeal it may still have in the twisted logic that's flying around your brain that tells you, 'Well, maybe one will be okay.' You think, 'No'...Doing that and waking up the next morning and thinking, 'Oh, shit.'...I couldn't go there.”

In addition to completing the rest of his current tour dates, Ure is planning to put together some shows to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his Breathe album in the not-too-distant future. When this writer reminded Ure that 2015 is the 30th anniversary of The Gift – and thus the 30th anniversary of his life as an album-generating solo artist – our chat switched to how easy and enjoyable that album was for him to create all those years ago.

“The whole reason for doing The Gift was I wanted to get away from the complexity of what Ultravox was doing at the time,” he recalls. “I wasn't making a serious statement, but once I had done [The Gift], some of the subsequent albums became too serious. I don't know what I was trying to do. I'm not putting it down, but I went through a phase of not wanting to play 'If I Was.' I wouldn't do it at solo concerts. I think a lot of artists do that; they almost dismiss the vehicle that got them there. I wised up after a while and said, 'This is crazy. It's a song that a lot of people come and see you because of.' So yeah, I think it takes a while to come out of a band, bearing in mind The Gift was done during my period with Ultravox. The Answers To Nothing album [1988] was done without Ultravox, so I was desperately trying to find my feet; I didn't know where I fitted in. I supposed The Gift was exactly what it was meant to be; it's solo record in the confines and within the security structure of being in Ultravox. It's not like I was sticking my head above the parapet and saying, 'This is me. I'm a solo artist. This is what I've got to say.' It was me doing a busman's holiday, I suppose. When the band were all taking six months lying on beaches, I was in the studio making that.”

Whether hitting the high notes in “Vienna” in front of millions or performing “If I Was” to a modest crowd in the Midwest, Midge Ure is one of those truly classic performers who can win over an audience of any size. While the future of the recording industry has yet to be written, its present is alive and well in the hearts of anyone fortunate enough to catch this lone, legendary artist traveling from club to club with only his guitar and a lifetime's worth of amazing songs to sing.

Photo Credit: Andy Siddens/

Midge Ure performs at Johnny D's in Somerville, MA on February 21.