Sunday, June 29, 2014
KY 102 FM was a long standing AOR station in Kansas City. When I first moved to the KC area as a teenager, they were still functioning as a local station on the dial at 102. However, they fell victim to the hostile radio takeover, but did continue on under different call letters and new ownership. I think, after a few years, that station finally folded and ended up going top 40 or Country. Don't quote me on that, though, I don't pay a lot of attention to AOR radio.
When I moved to Kansas in the 90's the station was an odd mix of classic rock and newer music. They weren't close minded to newer stuff, but if it was new it was going to sit in well next to all the Boston and Rush. Piecing things together, it appears that back in the 80's the station may have been half-way cool. I've picked up on local album sleeves. The station is thanked on the first Rainmakers LP (Balls by Steve, Bob, & Rich), there's this LP, and a few other things I've seen referencing KY 102. So, it would seem back in the day, KY 102 supported the local rock scene. Can't imagine they were showing support for the Lawrence scene in those days, but I'm guessing the bar bands got a few spins at the station... and I bet they fucking LOVED Kansas.
Honestly, even with a nod from the Rainmakers, I've seen this album around town and never gave it much thought. However, a a good friend offered this up and all I had to do was find a copy of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison, easily done and he sent a sealed copy of this. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been so pretentious about the comp. Looking it over, it's got the Secrets* who were featured on the hyper-obscure Kansas City power pop label, Titan!. Further, "Homegrown" comps were put out nationally, a few have some real gems (especially some of the ones from Hawaii). KC's version can't be much different. Below is a run down of everything the good and mostly bad.
Pedestrian - Ain't Got the Time - Some hard rockin' KC guys that use laser production effects in the recording. Sure the lasers are really synths, but pretty cheesy all the same.
The Secrets* - Uniform - This is the reason I got excited about this release, this a solid Titan! power pop band out of KC. Song isn't fast paced, they sent their wussy material to KY, obviously. It is a great little power pop tune with piano and bubbly AM sounds.
The Clocks - She Looks Lot Like You - Kansas City band full of confusion. Man, these guys don't know what they're shooting for. All sorts of crazy prog keyboard breaks with an 80's skinny-tie chorus and power pop aspects. It's kind of amusing, but just a bit too scatterbrained to be considered a gem.
The Moffet-Beers Band - It Could Be Raining - What a bunch of sappy crap. It'd be tolerable if it had some some twang, but this is just teenage roller-rink, sad-bastard music. The name of the song and the band say everything you need to know about this Lenexa band.
David Hale - Opus X - This Kansas City dude's song title sounds pretty sci-fi and he's credited for all instruments. It's got a killer drum intro, for sure. It tops it off with some prog guitar work over the top. From there, it doesn't go much further, TONS of guitar are added. It's instrumental with a break that takes a turn from the hard rocking prog feel to a jazz and blues feel. It really just ends up being a guy showing off and stalls there.
Rudy Passonno - Dead Boys - Outside of the Secrets* I had my hopes up for this...Not for any other of the reason but the name of the track. This Kansas City dude starts off all creepy, like a Halloween novelty song. Then it becomes kind of clear, the best case scenario for the song would actually be a novelty Halloween song. It's just gets goofy and the subject matter is an awful attempt at telling a story about child death and murder. It's friggin' weird.
Chaser - Anyone Will Do - This band is from Raytown, MO. They nail the bar band thing, just a rolling rhythm and hard driving guitars, a little twang for good measure. Nothing outstanding and the production is a little too slick for the sound the band is attempting.
US Steal - Crazy Things - Kansas City band and from looking at the band name and track, I just expected more standard MOR bar band stuff. A little harder edged than I expected. Bordering on metal. I imagine they toned things down for their KY 102 demo submission, but pretty similar to first wave pop-metal.
Fields - I'll Be Gone - This Parkville, MO band is trying to be blues-based rock band. Except, their keyboards go all prog and sound out of place, I think they're set them to the fiddle setting, too. Takes away from a song that's already pretty middle of the road.
Alchemy - Sparks - If your name is Alchemy and you're from Topeka, KS you better sound like the band Kansas' little cousin. The band certainly tries, they have two keyboardist and make an attempt at progressive rock. The theatrics are there, the singer is a little weak, but of all the tracks I've shit on throughout this review, this band showed the most promise even though it's nowhere near the level of Kansas, just had a sound that could have been explored further.
Saturday, June 28, 2014
The Pedaljets were part of the college scene back in the mid to late 80's. Formed in Lawrence, they released some well received Husker Du-ish albums in the late 80s. Toured with the SST crowd and played shows with just about everybody cool in those days. They were better players than most the hardcore scene and a little more accepting of taking a step towards popularity than say Husker Du (but, never willing to go full sell-out like the Replacements) and that combination actually got them on MTV for a brief period.
Despite possible big time success, the band unraveled and broke up. One member went full time with The Wilders, another to Grither, and despite the possible big time, they were done.
23 years later, they released a single and this full length. Paul Malinowski of Shiner fame got in the studio with the band and helped produce this for group's own label. The band isn't as crunchy and loud as they were back in the day, but fuck if they're aren't some great pop songs here. Honestly, they try to get tough and loud on about half the tunes, but I'm far more into the subdued stuff. I'm not talking Communion style subdued Pedaljets either, for the most part that stuff was still loud and angry, I'm talking ballad style Pedaljets. The life experience, acknowledgement of country music, and the fact they have no one to impress at this point suit them well. This LP could and should have been a total disaster, instead, it's pleasant surprise that's worth picking up. (You can get it super cheap right now at Mills Records and apparently free on the band's website, but that's got to be an error or an odd way of saying it's sold out).
Kind of a neat release, the label Charlie Parker Records was initiated by Parker's widow, Doris Parker and producer, Aubrey Mayhew. The label was founded to release the unreleased works of Charlie Parker that were being exchanged through various bootlegs.
This release is nothing spectacular and pretty easy to track down. It'd make mores sense for a completest as the tracks here are extended jams of tunes released in better format. That is to say, I'd be much better off concentrating on proper Parker albums rather than random compilation pick ups.
The sound quality is poor, but again, it's a trade off for the extended times of the tunes. 4 tracks, including a 15 minute rendition of "Scrapple from the Apple" (misspelled Appel) and 13 minutes of "Lullaby in Rhythm" which is mislabeled "I May Be Wrong." The spelling errors and miss labeled tunes alone should speak to the quality of the release, but hey, it's Charlie Parker and some moments are straight jam sessions.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Another yard sale budget Charlie Parker compilation find. It'd be cool if I had some original issues, but I don't have that kind of money or patience.
This features a great selection of tunes, some of which were recorded live. But, it all sounds like crap. The company that put this out, Everest, did tons of these types of releases. All of which nail down on some great tracks, but none of which sound that good. They first centered around releasing folk, like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, but found jazz as another quick avenue for releases. The jazz LPs get the "Jazz Series" tag.
Again, great track selections, however, most of the releases are culled from 78 RPM discs. Not the original tapes, but the actual beat to hell 78 RPM disc that were taped, then pressed onto vinyl. You get the crackle found on the source along with creepy ambient noise. As stated, some tracks used here are old live recordings. For Charlie, they just threw on recordings you can find elsewhere in better fidelity. Further, Everest "re-channeled" everything for Stereo, which usually doesn't help anyone. So, if you can deal with that, purchase the crap out of all these releases for a dollar. Another issue I have with these, nothing is said about where they got these tracks from? Outside of a "Statement of Purpose" on the back cover that explains to you it'll sound like shit, they don't notify you who played on the tunes or the original 78 disc...that's some crap archiving if you ask me.
Biggest problem I've always had though, is not the label itself, it's if you see the comps at an antique mall or a store where vinyl is not primary, the store or dealer thinks they've got something special and throw a $10 price tag on it. There's a Volume II for Charlie Parker I've spotted a number of times, never once have I seen it a price I'd feel comfortable with.
Love this LP and wish I didn't own a beat up later pressing on the Roulette Birdland Series, nice original would fit the bill, but, then again, there's a lot of records I want.
This LP was written by Benny Carter (not from Kansas City or a part of the scene, at least in the way Basie was) for Count Basie and his orchestra. Carter named his tunes around clubs and areas in Basie's old stomping grounds, Basie gave it his KC swing, and they got a solid later day jazz album.
It's a solid outing and some featured soloist give the recordings an added flourish. However, I just love it for all the Kansas City in it. The skyline photo is great. Song titles are fantastic: "Vine Street Rumble," "Miss Missouri," "Jackson County Jubilee," and the "Paseo Promenade" all still hold immediate relevance today. The other tracks apparently are centered around KCMO as well, but would likely require more research. I'm content with the obvious.
Vine Street Rumble
The What Gives almost exclusively belong to Jon Harrison. It's really his thing with the help of others.
If you don't know Jon Harrison, all you have to do is listen to this. He's into records; worked for years as the primary in-store buyer and pricer at Love Garden Sounds in Lawrence, KS. He's into power pop and 60's Anglophilia; one time webmaster for the short lived Little Hits.com and if you get onto big time Power Pop webboards, he's among the most respected voices. He's pure Lawrence; he moved there in college never left. He's also incredibly tall, you'd think his tie to Lawrence would have been basketball he's so tall, but it was the music scene and school.
The What Gives songs are pure Jon. Sweet, sappy, power-pop gems with a ton of 60's influenced harmonies, chiming guitars, and almost exclusively about heartbreak. The tunes also got a nice bedroom pop appeal about them, very homespun and natural production. It's a smattering and scattering of just a million different obscure pop influences. You could say you hear a lot of the Byrds in his music and you'd be right. You'd also be right about saying you hear the Beach Boys or the Beatles...Or the Bongos, or Let's Active or the Nerves, it's all there. The songs were produced by local producing extradonaire, Ed Rose. The songs feature a plethora of great Lawrence talent, mainly because Jon's a pretty awesome guy. I don't think there was ever a hope of this 10" becoming a massive success, Jon just had some tunes and everybody agreed to put down some tracks. Can't imagine a whole lot of money exchanged hands on this project.
Harrison still plays locally, usually under the moniker, The Harrisonics. He sometimes spins his amazing record collection at fantastic Lawrence establishments. He no longer works full time at the Love Garden, but friends told me he sometimes works a day or two out of the week to price and grade some records. He's actually a teacher now at Lawrence High, which makes you think, it's time for a Robert Pollard transformation, could use another guy like that and Harrison has the tunes stored up.
I Can Stay Up All Night
The Numero Group is pretty awesome. They put out an amazing Kansas City soul comp documenting the Forte label, but it was not all encompassing. This Titan! boxset, though, it's everything and features additional tracks recorded for the label that were never released.
The Titan! story is fascinating. At the height of the power pop scene, this small Kansas City label put out a number of quality singles and a compilation that no one noticed despite some rave reviews in the right zines. And, when I say no one, that includes Kansas City. Groups like the Embarrassment were extremely obscure, but well regarded locals, but despite a radio-friendly sound, the Titan! artists couldn't even garner local attention, let alone national. Most these singles set collecting dust for years until a collectors market got turned on. It would take years for Titan! to trickle it's way into the pantheon of underground Power Pop circles. Even today, it's rumored that the label founders have stock left including a good amount of the It's All Pop compilation album.
Eventually, the label did find it's niche (or maybe the niche found Titan!). The Internet and constant trading of mix tapes put some of the label's singles on the map. Now-a-days, some enthusiasts are willing to table Titan! singles next to the likes of LA's Bomp! label. The 45s are scarce and command a fair amount world wide. But, even with the later day appreciation, it's still a small market. Very cool that the Numero Group decided to put this out (it's also reasonably priced, less than $50 for 4 LPS, box, and booklet).
Below is my half ass attempt at a breakdown of all that is here:
The Boys - This band is provided two full sides on the box set. Likely because they are one of the most sought after Titan bands. Further, probably the only band on the rooster able to fill a full two sides. They're from Nebraska, so not local. But, sugary power pop nonetheless, didn't ever get too rowdy. They have their moments.
Gary Charlson- Got a pretty big soft spot for Charlson. When I was in college I went through a huge power pop kick and was always on the hunt for Titan! 45s. Something I had come across was a bootleg compilation CD that featured Charlson's tunes. I had found the CD from Wascal's Wecords and Stuff when it was located inside the Olathe Gee Coffee on Sante Fe. Wascals no longer exists, but Greg (aka Wascal) explained to me that prior to me buying the CD, Charlson had just popped in. He was an Olathe guy, ran a heating and air conditioning business, just made some solid pop gems as a musician back in the day. Personally, of all the Titan! artists, I think Charlson deserves the most praise. He's not too AM and he's not over the top in a way that just screams, "We are overcompensating because we're from the Midwest." His stuff would fit in fine in the LA scene or New York, just sounds natural and soaked in skinny tie coolness. He's also still active today, occasionally even drops in on guitar with other locals like the Rainmakers.
The Gems - More KC power pop. The Gems were first JP McClain and the Intruders, but that band ceased to exist despite some of the early tracks found here on the boxset. They're on the British side of the fence with their power-pop, very much in line with Stiff Records and Elvis Costello.
The Secrets* - Seems to me that this band had the most commercial appeal locally. They landed a track on a local radio station compilation album and their sound is a bit more commercial ready. Bar band style, but not hung up on a specific coolness factor, just bashing out some pop tunes without a lot of muscle.
Arilis - Arlis is another Nebraska, dude the Titan! guys tracked down. He's decent, power pop for sure, got some teeth to it.
Millionaire at Midnight - This was a Lawrence, Kansas based band who had been taking their working class pop all over the Midwest prior to an attempted release with Titan (never came out). You hear a good bar band, tons of guitar solos, very workingman's Foreigner, had they been given the tools, they would have took it to the studio rock level in all likelihood.
JP McClain & the Intruders - This band barely existed, while it did it featured Gary Charlson on guitar. Highlight is the song featured here, "Just Another Pop Song," which would later be used and paraphrased, 'It's All Pop,' for the label sampler and mantra.
Scott McCarl - Decent, sugary, bubble gum pop. Nebraska dude, so he's regional.
Bobby Sky - Okay, this is the coolest discovery I made after purchasing the box set. Bobby Sky was a moniker for artist, Dean Klevatt, who was a local kid. He discovered Bowie in the 70's and ran off to England. Even cut an obscure 7" for Decca. The single failed, but in England, he met up with Kim Fowley and came back to the States. Fowley used him as a studio musician, in fact, his keyboard is heard on the first Runaways. Fowley also convinced him to take up the name Bobby Sky. When the Titan guys heard about him they got a hold of the three tracks featured on this set. The song, "The Water," was co-written by Kim Fowley. Sky's pop is filled with anglophile nods to the British Invasion with a healthy dose of AM pop. Especially enjoyed the track, "What's the Name of that Song." Having no single on the Titan! label, Sky left town again, finally finding a gig as the keyboardist for Lene Lovich of all people.
Charlson's cover of Dwight Twilley's Shark and a few others
Monday, June 16, 2014
Big Miller was born Clarence Horatio Miller in Sioux City, Iowa. He spent his formative years in Iowa and later, Topeka, Kansas. Like many others singers in KC, he found his break as a shouter for Jay McShann's.
For the most part, his body of work is overlooked in favor of Big Joe Turner. While Turner's work is superior, it's not fair to just dismiss Big Miller. The dude could shout. This album represents his first of several LPs the singer cut for Columbia in the 1960's. Prior to this debut, Miller was in a R&B vocal group called the Five Pennies and gained Columbia's attention by performing the Newport Jazz Festival with Bob Brookmeyer in 1958, the Brookmeyer album, The Kansas City Sound, was from the festival. Columbia picked him up and sent him to Hollywood to record. He actually soaked in the LA life style and wound up acting in several movies in addition to his music career.
At times, this album just kills, swings hard and Miller belts out his tunes. He's credited for most the work here and Columbia provided him a solid backing jazz band. Where it gets discredited is the MOR of it all. The album wasn't rock n' roll or straight blues, it's much more set in jazz. Truthfully, jazz is probably the best route for Miller, as stated, he's no Joe Turner, so the jazzier, laid back blues is probably best for him. It still has great moments that up tempo moments that swing and Miller does have a powerful voice. The album does suffer when Miller attempts to go straight jazz, namely the first track, "About my Baby." Overall all though, worthwhile album that shouldn't be thrown aside.
Wanna See My Baby
Jimmy Witherspoon was a blues shouter from Arkansas-Jay McShann a piano player from Oklahoma. McShann settled in Kansas City and founded a band featuring a young Charlie Parker. In 1944, Witherspoon was hired as the singer for McShann's band (several years post-Parker) and from there, his career blossomed. After a four years with McShann, Witherspoon left and found brief success as a solo artist. However, by the 50's, the shouter style had run it's course and Witherspoon was thin on material and interest in his music.
Witherspoon cut this album in 1957 with McShann as somewhat of a reunion and somewhat as an attempt to comeback for both artists. It's a pretty mellow affair and despite that Witherspoon's shouting was well placed in jazz circles, he tones it down here. That's not to say it's not a good album or that he doesn't still belt it out (see "Blue Monday Blues"), but just a relaxed feel to the album. There are some great tunes written by Parker and McShann way back when. There's also 5 1/2 minute rendition of Joe Turner's Piney Brown Blues which is phenomenal and pays tribute to Witherspoon's idol Joe Turner, as well as making a solid tribute to Kansas City.
Further, you got to love this cover, right? The Union Station was still a working train depot. Just a lot to look over and find what's still there and what's changed.
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Another yard sale find, another cheap Charlie Parker compilation album. Actually, these Verve volumes are fairly well regarded, however, this version is a repress of the original that's been "electronically re-recorded to simulate stereo" and collectors know, that's a bad thing. So, it likely holds true that the original owner purchased it at a bargain price long after the original release. Further, while the Verve volumes do seem to garner respect, they are at times, very commercially selective. This is your introduction to Parker, with some good cuts, but not the deep cuts.
Like any other genre changing musician, there is a legend about Parker. He was a KC jazz musician, just an everyday player that no one paid much attention to. In interviews, he stated to get where he wanted to be, he took himself out for a while, claimed he was "woodsheding" in a family members Kansas City home/shed for months on end. He just locked himself up and practiced. Developed his rapid pace and progressions over the course of months. He knew how to play before, but what he came up with in a small Kansas City shed was about to surprise everybody.
The players that witnessed his new style where obviously floored. For them, here was a guy that months ago was decent at best, all the sudden he comes up on them just laying down impossible progressions. That started the legend, similar to Robert Johnson's story, that Parker struck a deal...because there's no way someone can be that good.
Friday, June 6, 2014
Rodd Rivers and the Big Action Sound Sing a Happy Song B/W Any Way You Want It Jay Bird Records (Unknown Year)
Rodd Rivers is not from Kansas, in fact, this guy's name isn't even Rodd Rivers. His given name was Rodney Keith Eskelin who primarily performed under the name Rodd Keith. He was born in California and spent most of his musical career recording song poems for various labels.
A few years back, PBS put out a documentary entitled, Off the Charts: The Song Poem Story, which tells the story better than I could. But, to paraphrase, song poems were a scheme. These small labels would place adds in the back of comic books, catalogs, and magazines, telling you to send in your songs or poems to be recorded. The ads indicated talented song writers may earn royalties or find entry into the music business. People sent their lyrics then the label would send a response indicating the song had been "chosen" and all the author had to do was send back some money to cover recording costs.
In the 60's and 70's the label would put out a 7" or a compilation LP and send the author back a copy of the hastily put together song or songs. Later, and even today, tapes and CDs. Obviously, to remain lucrative the label put out a very small amount of a physical copy. To also save costs, the recordings were done hastily. Sometimes using the same tracks to records several different songs, it's usually very amateurish and dull, but that is what makes these songs interesting to collectors who seek it out, occasionally, something blows minds.
That's where Rodd Rivers comes in, as a multi-instrumentalist, the label only need hire him to the cut the tracks, he'd pump out a tune and play all instruments, sing the lyrics and collect a check. Most these song poem labels existed in Nashville and Hollywood, yet, here's this Jay Bird Records from Parsons, Kansas. Checking the discography and listed ad, it appears many of the tunes were credited to an Al Monday, the same that's credited here. So, I'm not sure what to make of the label or it's existence as it didn't put out a substantial amount of records. The music here is on par with the genre, though, just slapped together and hastily recorded. The B-Side is kind of loose and creepy, the harmonies are bizarre. Placed it below and apologize about the sound quality, not trying to blow minds here and the record is pretty beat up.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
I've got way too many Charlie Parker compilation LPs. Most of them are budget comps, at the time of thier original purchase, these were likely several dollars cheaper than reissues of Bird & Diz or April in Paris that surrounded it. I find these LPs almost every summer at garage sales in the greater Kansas City metro area.
While I can't brag or say I'm proud about my Charlie Parker compilation collection, I would say finding this type of album is one of my favorite parts of Parker's legacy in Kansas City. I like the fact that years ago, when everybody had a stereo system in their living with at least a modest collection of LPs, the people of Kansas City, Overland Park, Shawnee, Lees Summit, etc, felt the need to have a Charlie Parker album.
I enjoy the idea that something they read or heard about Charlie Parker struck them or gave them some sense of pride. They realized that this guy from Kansas City reinvented jazz and it made them think, "I should own some of his music." So, they went to the record store, Montgomery Ward or Sears and found themselves in the Jazz section sifting through Charlie Parker albums. Not having a clue about jazz or bebop, they opted for a safe purchase, a cheap, likely marked down compilation of his claimed best works.
When they got the LP home, they likely spun it and hoped to understand it. I'm a sure a few did. However, as evidenced by the amount of these of these compilations found all by their lonesome sitting next to a collection of easy listening and pop albums, most people didn't. Still, they kept it. They thought enough of Charlie Parker and their city to hold onto it...at least until they sold all their albums at a yard sale.