Sunday, 31 January 2010

Scenes from London life

Royal Albert Hall acoustic baffling disks

What is Truth?

"And the lonely voice of youth cries, what is truth?" Johnny, honestly, if I had any idea, I'd be happy to help. Not really sure what the show's directors were up to with the rambling spoken intro, but what a song.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Dead End Street

I've always loved this song, and it seems to tread a fine line between the tongue-in-cheek Noel Coward-esque satire which Ray Davies' work frequently adopted and an overt political statement of the sort which was relatively rare for him. This strange promo film seems to come from the same place - amid the cross-dressing and predictably wacky "British Invasion"-era antics, there is some menacing, almost demented, behavior from the band (I love the door being slammed in our face by Pete Quaife) and grim still photos of people on the wrong end of the social ladder in what must have been an unrelentingly drab and bleak post-war Britain. I don't know how widely seen this film might have been at the time, but it must have been a fairly unsettling contrast to the prevalent images of "Swinging London."

Memories of The Cove

The Cove

Friday, 29 January 2010

You are there!

The set list

American readers of roughly my age will no doubt remember the brief 1970s revival of the "You Are There" show hosted by Walter Cronkite, an attempt to bring history to life for young viewers via fairly wooden, low budget re-enactments of important moments in history. I don't know why it's taken me a month to get around to producing my own twist on this approach in documenting the Memphis experience, but it is what it is. And it was what it was, which was mostly amazing.

It's always a pleasure to go back and see the family and friends, delve into nostalgia and history, and attempt to process the changes which have taken place in my absence. My children enjoy seeing their grandparents and cousins, and experiencing a different way of life, as well as the food. I had a chance to reconnect with people I haven't seen in far too many years, and I had some wonderful experiences as a result. And for all its laid-back charm, there is a certain undercurrent of energy running through Memphis, or at least through Midtown, the part most worth spending time/living in. As I tell anyone here who will listen, Memphis' music scene seems to me to be incredibly vibrant and diverse, especially considering the city's size. To have the number of independent labels and venues it is able to support speaks volumes about the enthusiasm of the locals to make their own entertainment, which I think is the way of the future.

However, I can never escape the vague feeling that I have entered a parallel universe of some sort. Simply stated, there are few places where daily life could be more different from what I experience in London. Population density is low, land use is generally wasteful, streets are wide, houses and their yards are generously proportioned. There's a profound sense of space, but also of emptiness, which are different things. Zoning, a fairly uniquely American concept, keeps residential and commercial activities pretty rigidly separate, except in older or poorer neighborhoods. As a result, everyone is effectively enslaved to the automobile, and people seem to be eternally launching out on car journeys to accomplish relatively simple tasks, which I would normally do by walking around the corner. I think I saw maybe five cyclists during my week there, and four of them were classifiable as "poor people with no alternative."

Anyway, the focal point of the trip for me was the New Year's Day reunion of Linda Heck and The Train Wreck, with whom I had not played since 1993 or so. I hadn't played with drummer Kurt Ruleman since 1984, if I'm not mistaken. There was huge anticipation on my part, but also some anxiety, so I spent the weeks before in London getting to grips with the electric guitar again. I had no expectations other than having fun and being in the moment, but we did much better than that I think, despite having only one three-hour rehearsal all together, and a couple of smaller break-out sessions in twos and threes.

On New Year's Day we returned to the venue on Broad Street formerly known as Fred's Hideout, where so much good music took place in 1987/88. This in itself was strange for me, because the room itself brought back its own set of memories, in some cases different from, and in some cases overlapping, my memories of the people who turned up to see us. I have to confess that this contingent was nowhere near the number I thought it might be. As someone pointed out to me later, New Year's Day is a funny time for a gig, and I agree, but I guess I felt that, given that we are a rare surviving remnant of a scene which ultimately laid the groundwork for what is happening today, there might have been more people there, if only out of historical curiosity. Sixteen years is a long time.

Never mind, the friends who did turn up were a wonderful audience, and I saw, if only too briefly, a lot of people I wish I could see more often. On the whole, I think we collectively (band and audience) were not a bad-looking bunch, the ravages of time kept at bay by clean living and low lighting. However, the material, particularly Linda's newer songs "Rescue," "How About You?" and "All Things Fall Away" revealed the marks of age and experience on the heart, and maybe I'm just imagining it, but it felt like people were listening a lot more intently during these. A heartfelt thanks to everyone who came out, to Clayton Rogers for shooting the video, to Jim Duckworth for his generous loan of amplifier and the most beautiful guitar I have ever played, and most of all to Linda, John, Kurt, and Jim. It was an honor and a pleasure to share the stage with you again, and I enjoyed it more than you can possibly imagine.

What follows is more or less the entire show, minus a handful of songs which weren't captured due to some battery life issues.

The first two songs "Look Away" and "Can't Change Me," two stalwart songs of early LHTW shows, are sadly missing, though the rehearsal video does survive.

When Water Burns

How About You?

I love this song, though its subject matter is distressingly familiar.


A song for/about Jim Duckworth, probably the Train Wreck's biggest fan back in the day.


As far as I can recall, this is a song about an epiphany of sorts which Linda had after an all-nighter in Memphis. Whatever the background, the lyrics are generally inspiring.

Skinny Little Thread

Another early song, a real heartbreaker.

Barrooms to Bedrooms

A tribute to The Country Rockers, who also played in this space back in the day, and whose drummer, Gaius "Ringo" Farnham, died ten years to the day before this gig. I always loved this song, and was really happy to be able to sing it to a crowd of people who knew and appreciated it.

Beer and Guitars

This song was inspired by the sign outside Fred's Hideout, which featured a frothing mug of beer and an acoustic guitar - both the promise of good times, apparently. I think Linda's lyrics really nail the sense of the place back in those days, when it was primarily filled with local alcoholics.

Lonely As Me

A song from the 1987 period, the demo version of which features some beautiful violin work from Roy Brewer (then our drummer), which I try to replicate here.

Hurdy Gurdy Man

A frequent fixture of our sets back in 1987 or thereabouts, especially at Fred's Hideout.

'Tis The Season

This was a retro-psychedelic meltdown, inspired, as I remember it, by a Sky "Sunlight" Saxon album which I had at the time, which was so ridiculous as to inspire.

Split the Earth

Beginning of the second set, this is a great song, which we would have probably played at twice the tempo in the past. Still, the slower pace reveals some new aspects to the song.


This is one of my favorites from among Linda's range of new material. I could say what it's about, but I won't.


This is one of my very favorite Linda Heck songs of all time: for/about the late Craig Shindler, but with a message of use to anyone who ever hears it.

Love is Strange

The Mickey and Sylvia classic, a feature of our shows back in the Fred's Hideout days.

Look Out For Love

Linda's jazz-vamp classic, with Johnny Mack showing why he is the man on guitar.

Professor of Love

Somewhere there is an entertaining video of this song, shot by Roy Barnes about a block from where I used to live in Midtown. Back in the day, I think this is the song people identified as being a potential single from the album which ended up never being released.

Failing Sky

Jim Duckworth played guitar on the recorded version of this, and here I am trying to reconstruct two different parts he came up with. The late Robert Palmer used to refer to this song erroneously as "Failing Star," for some reason.


I love this song, and for me it demonstrates the power of remaining silent, which is a valuable lesson for any musician to learn.

Crying is Done

One of the highlights of the evening, I think.

All Things Fall Away

I think this is one of Linda's most powerful new songs, though I may be biased. Only a short segment here before the battery dies, though I made a humble attempt at a cover recently here.


A new song. Only Linda really knows what this is about, but listening to the lyrics, it seems to be about an unreachable estranged friend. "I guess maybe lost is where you want to be." Very grown-up stuff.

House is Burning

A wonderful song about Memphis gossip and schadenfreude.


A wonderful song, lead track on the Lost Album, which has also featured on compilations and film soundtracks. Unfortunately, I had a terrible cramp in the fourth and fifth fingers of my left hand, which hopefully didn't affect the whole too much.


A song postponed from the first set to the last, written in honor of a clairvoyant once resident at Decadence Manor on Madison in Memphis.

I Found My Love in Memphis

The George Clapps "classic" revived in the neighborhood where I originally discovered it.

Serious (About Rock-n-Roll)

A song we frequently used to end shows with back in the Fred's Hideout days. There weren't that many people left by this point anyway, so it felt a bit of a non sequitur.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Feel Like Going Home

Back in the early 1980s, when I worked as a waiter at the barfadelic Steak and Ale on Summer Avenue (the building survives, and is almost certainly one of very few mock-Tudor Chinese restaurants anywhere on the planet), Charlie Rich and his stunningly beautiful wife Margaret were quasi-regular patrons. They lived in a large-ish house on Cherry, off Poplar, surrounded by a high fence and a lot of beautiful old trees, and why they chose to eat on a fairly down-at-heel stretch of Summer Avenue, I don't know. Nevertheless, they did, typically coming in early on a Saturday or Sunday evening, to avoid the crowds.

I recall hearing at the time that he was spending a lot of time playing at hotels and resorts down in Florida, and no doubt these quiet evenings out with his wife (they genuinely appeared to be totally smitten with each other) were some attempt to snatch a precious piece of a normal life for a man who was working very hard to maintain momentum in a career which had largely been consigned, unfairly, to the Nostalgia bin.

I could tell they were private people and was always careful not to show any sign of recognition, or treat them any differently from anyone else, which seemed to suit Charlie just fine. Margaret was very personable, but he was a bit more business-like, and I remember one occasion where another customer appeared at their table to ask for an autograph, and he firmly, but politely, said something to the effect of "I don't want to be rude, but I'm trying to enjoy some time with my wife and you're disturbing us," to which the fan had no real comeback and skulked away.

At the time, I, like probably most people even today, thought of him as a country artist, for his string of early '70s hits, which seemed like ancient history to me. Being a young and irreverent smart-ass, on one occasion when a colleague was waiting on the Riches, I waited until Charlie was at the salad bar (next to the waiters' station, just outside the kitchen entrance) before bursting into (from the safety of the kitchen, but undoubtedly audible) "Kiss an Angel Good Morning." Charlie was either too cool, or just oblivious, to respond to my feeble and unkind attempt at "where are they now?" humor, to his eternal credit.

What I didn't appreciate at the time, and not for many years to come, was just what a visionary and versatile musician he was. Sam Phillips apparently said that he regarded Charlie Rich as the most talented musician he ever worked with, and I think he was probably one of the first genuine and credible genre-hoppers (check out "Love is After Me" as an example - if you didn't know it was him, you'd never guess it, so complete is the transformation in his voice and delivery to suit the material). Perhaps this is what made his career more difficult than that of the average Sun alumnus - he embraced all flavors of music at a time when artists had to be firmly pigeonholed. At least he got to demonstrate what he was really made of on his final album, Pictures and Paintings, which contained a version of this song, though I think this demo version is incredibly powerful and moving.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Lorraine Motel, by Eva

Photo by Eva Enck

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Por mais distante o errante navegante

Sometimes, in a quiet moment, when my mind is wandering freely, I think that, if I should ever gain control of a Tardis, I might fly back in time and propose to Rita Lee. It's seeing and hearing gems such as this which inspire these feelings. Contrast the free, joyous delivery of the band (Rita in particular) with the menacing presence of the moderator, alone in his inquisitor's chair in the center, and the largely impassive responses of the audience - at times probably variously inspired, incensed, or just baffled, but all apparently too paranoid to react one way or another. Such is life in a dictatorship. I really wish that this film, seemingly unrealized, had come out.

The lyrics, according to this site, translate as follows:

Today I will run away from home
I will take luggage full of illusions
I will leave something old
To scatter on the ground
I will drive a huge, powerful car
Luck and death await
Faces above and below
Scare me with a glance

Where I go, ah
Where I go, you come along
Where I go, you come along
Where I go.

High and low beams photograph me
Looking for me
Two mercury eyes illuminate my steps,
Spying on me
The light is red and the cars go passing by
And I walk, walk, walk
My clothes cross and take me by the hand
For the ground, the ground, the ground

Friday, 15 January 2010

Appetite for dereliction

Golden City

I have a weakness for derelict places. They often inspire bafflement, as in this corner takeaway restaurant in a relatively attractive location in my neighborhood of East Dulwich, which, judging from the prices on display inside, must have been closed since the 1980s. Looking through the windows, it appears that the owners just shut up shop one day and moved on. They didn't even bother to take the plants with them.

Derelict places reveal a lot of common elements of life: good intentions gone awry, aspirations abandoned or defeated, obsolescence, social change, migration, neglect, profligacy, stupidity. For the active imagination, derelict places can be like an infinite playground. So it's only natural that I would be drawn to the excellent Derelict London site. The page featuring defunct musical venues is particularly interesting, and I recommend it highly if you share my interest in places which no longer exist.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Rockin' the (Social) House

What do you do for fun in your spare time when you live in a country committed to social welfare and equity? Instead of worrying about how to afford healthcare or avoid being murdered, perhaps you turn to more creative endeavors.

R.I.P. Jay Reatard

Hat tip to Linda Heck for pointing me to this. Jay Reatard would have been 14 or 15 when I left Memphis, so our paths never crossed, as far as I am aware. Condolences to his friends and family. Such a shame to lose someone so young with such passion, energy and promise.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Poor Elvis

I love you, big man. We all love you. You changed the world, forever, and for the better. If you hadn't, someone else would have, but it wouldn't have been the same. Sorry it all went so terribly wrong for you. Happy Birthday, for what it's worth.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Bonus track: I Found My Love in Memphis

At our New Year's Day show at The Cove, we played precisely four covers: Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," Micky and Sylvia's "Love is Strange," a David Wills song called "Barrooms to Bedrooms" which The Country Rockers used to do a beautiful version of, and this oddity.

I described the song and my discovery of it, and also put the lyrics and chord progression in this earlier post on The Grundies, for whom this was something of a signature tune. The one detail I left out of that post was the name of the producer responsible for the cache of weird records I found along with "I Found My Love in Memphis," mainly because I couldn't remember. My friend Doug Easley, with whom I had the pleasure of spending time before the gig, reminded me that it was one Style Wooten, who had a studio on Park Avenue in Memphis, and whom Doug had once met. (Doug also reminded me that the flipside of this George Clappes single was a terrible song called "The Sound of Wedding Bells," and that Memphis blues standard-bearer Don McMinn is rumored to have played on some of Style Wooten's records.) It seems as though not a lot else is known about Style Wooten, or what happened to him. Jim Spake, who played some wonderful sax with us, and whose voice can be heard off-camera here at the end, said he found a similar cache of Style Wooten records somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas - maybe he retired there.

We played this in our truncated third set on New Year's Day (truncated because almost everyone had gone home), and I forgot at the time to dedicate it to our friends Jack and Amy, who say this is their song. In this video, I am showing everyone else how this very peculiar song goes, or at least the way the Grundies played it. We were never that sure from listening to the record because the bass player seemed to be playing it for the first time when they cut it. All very strange, but oddly appealing.

Goodbye, Willie Mitchell

I never met Willie Mitchell, in fact I don't recall ever even seeing him. There were numerous occasions when I stood in line at the old Squash Blossom health food store/restaurant behind Isaac Hayes, who frequented it during the fallow period before "South Park." I used to see Rufus Thomas at a drug store near my parents' house. I used to see Sam Phillips out mowing his grass. I met Estelle Axton, co-founder of Stax Records, at Cordell Jackson's house. But I don't recall ever seeing Willie Mitchell, despite the fact that his house was only about a mile down the road from my family home, on Mendenhall near Shady Grove. It had a low wall around the yard with some tasteful little wrought iron musical notes in it. Otherwise, there was nothing to indicate that inside dwelt a musical genius who influenced generations.

That I never saw him is really irrelevant, because so much of his work was a part of the "soundtrack of my youth" that I feel I carry a small part of him around inside me, which I guess is the musician's greatest gift - to touch another forever. He was responsible for so much great music that it's really impossible to pick a definitive piece, but for me, this song is pretty much what the art of Memphis Soul was all about. I never get tired of hearing this - it's like taking a beautiful journey of discovery every single time. This is Al Green performing a live vocal over the studio track, which is probably about as close to perfection as it comes. In it, Willie Mitchell walks a musical tightrope between potentially treacherous elements like horns, backup singers and strings, all of which have been so badly misused by so many, to deliver something elegant and deceptively simple. I recall hearing somewhere that he invited some local men in off the street to sit on the studio floor during the recording, to inspire the musicians and make the mood more intimate. It never sounds crowded. There is nothing superfluous. Everything belongs and is exactly as it should be. Thank you, Willie Mitchell, may you rest in peace.

My ship has come in

I knew 2010 was shaping up to be my year, and this email received this morning proves it. With luck like this, how can I go wrong?:

My associate has helped me to send your first payment of US$7,500 to you
as instructed by Mr. James Gordon Brown the British prime minister after
the last G20 meeting that was held on April 2nd in London, making you
one of the beneficaries. Here is the information below:

Last name:DANEIL.Q
AMOUNT: US$7,500

I told him to keep sending you US$7,500 twice a week until the FULL
payment of (US $360,000.00 Dollars) is completed within 6 (six)
Months.For track, send your

Full Names via Email to:

Mr Garry Moore

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Out of the dark and into the groove

Here's a good illustration of why I've been a charter member of the Kurt Ruleman Appreciation Society since 1982. After less than 60 seconds of sketchy explanation, he is right on the money first time. (The angle here is very peculiar, I know. I had set the Flip Mino on a window ledge and switched it on, believing I had a good shot of all of us, but it turns out Linda is off-screen all the time and I am only fractionally visible. I was having such a good time I forgot it was on and never checked it until we took a break.)

Monday, 4 January 2010

It really happened

Despite all my anxieties about travel disruption and the technical complications of playing my first live gig in 15 or so years, it really happened, and we were, individually and collectively, better than I ever recall us being in the past. Rehearsal time was limited, but we jelled almost effortlessly. I can't really describe how happy all this made me, but no doubt I will try once I get over the effects of 24 hours in transit. This is one of Linda's great new songs, called "Onward," as good a title for a new decade as I can think of.

Getting off on the good foot

Linda Heck and the Train Wreck, New Year's Day at The Cove, Memphis, TN. Photo courtesy of Alisa Botto. (Left to right: Linda Heck, Kurt Ruleman, James Enck, John McClure)

Train Wreck Cove 1