Friday, August 26, 2016

VAXXED: An EXCLUSIVE interview with producer DEL BIGTREE


An EXCLUSIVE interview 
VAXXED producer 

     First things first: regardless of what you may have read elsewhere, VAXXED: FROM COVER-UP TO CATASTROPHE is not an anti-vaccination film. However, it is a very important documentary that does raise some interesting and often alarming facts about the relationship between the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine and autism. While this subject may not be new to older readers, there is a new generation of young parents who are completely unaware that this was even an issue in the recent past. And why don’t they know? The answer to that question can be found in VAXXED, one of the most controversial and misunderstood documentaries in recent memory.
     Before discussing the focus of VAXXED, let’s go back a few years. In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, was falsely accused of starting the anti-vax movement when he – and eleven other authors – published an article in UK medical journal The Lancet. The article, which linked autism with the MMR vaccine (and not ALL vaccines), caused outrage and panic in equal measures. For reasons more complicated than I can go into (Google it!), The Lancet eventually retracted the feature, ten of the twelve authors retracted their support of the article, and Wakefield was eventually barred from practicing medicine in the UK. Flash forward to 2013 when biologist Dr. Brian Hooker received a call from Dr. William Thompson, a Senior Scientist at the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC). Thompson, as it turns out, led the CDC’s 2004 study on the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. According to Thompson, the CDC omitted crucial data in their final report that revealed a “causal relationship” between the vaccine and autism. Hooker then reached out to Andrew Wakefield and the seeds of VAXXED were planted.
     VAXXED: FROM COVER-UP TO CATASTROPHE is a fascinating film from beginning to end. Directed by Wakefield and produced by Emmy-winning producer (THE DOCTORS) and medical journalist Del Bigtree, the film focuses on William Thompson’s astonishing revelations about the truth behind the CDC’s findings. Thompson does not appear in the film, although his voice and the documents he turned over as evidence do, and these documents are quite startling.
     The passion, belief, concern and love that went into making VAXXED is evident in every frame. However, writing about this film doesn’t do it justice. Although a documentary, VAXXED plays out like a political thriller and the viewer is left with many questions by the time the film ends. That may leave an audience angry and confused after watching a film of fiction, but for a documentary like VAXXED, it leaves the viewer with a different perspective…and the desire to see changes made. For Bigtree, Wakefield and all of those involved with this film, that is the type of reaction they are looking for. Intrigued now? Well, you SHOULD be.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with the film’s producer, Del Bigtree, and discuss the film’s goals, the controversy surrounding it and more…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: I was quite surprised that almost every bit of press that I read about this film was completely inaccurate. It was not an anti-vaccination film whatsoever. How are you feeling about this journey to finally bring the film into homes around the world?
DEL BIGTREE: The journey so far is scary. I’m nervous about the future of this country and I’m nervous about the future of journalism. I got involved with the movie because I saw a clear representation that the health of children in this country is at risk and we have a government agency that has covered up a dangerous vaccine and I don’t know why exactly. I made the movie because I was worried about the future and the health of children. The media has, in my mind, lied about what our film is about. When I talk to people who haven’t seen the movie, they think I’m a Conspiracy Theorist. Yet I have doctors who say they came to this film kicking and screaming… and then say that this movie changed their minds. Today, out of all of the cities that we’ve done Q&As in, I have not had a single doctor come up to me after a screening and say, “I just saw your film and you’re a liar!” Not one! And yet, I read review upon review that mention that a fraudulent doctor directed it, therefore nobody needs to see it. The reviews rarely ever mention the fact that the film is about Dr. William Thompson, a very real scientist at the Center for Disease Control that is making extremely alarming statements. He has achieved whistle blower status – he is still at the CDC. Beyond four hours of recorded statements, he’s provided 10,000 documents which people get to see in my film. So, you tell me: what has happened to journalism? As a medical journalist, you couldn’t pay me to make an inaccurate statement about anybody, so what is happening? Are they seeing the movie? Or are they writing reviews based on something sent to them by their sponsors? People are calling themselves journalists and cutting and pasting somebody else’s headlines and not doing their job. Journalism and science share the same principle at heart which is, “We should never stop questioning.” We are going down a dangerous road that looks very much like Nazi Germany to me – a propaganda that our media is involved with now that is perpetuating that anybody that asks a question is a crazy person.

SPAZ: How is it that people can so easily believe that UFOs and Bigfoot exist but scoff at the fact that autism might be linked to the MMR vaccine?
DEL: What’s more alarming is the amount of people that believe GMOs are bad for them, that Monsanto is not working in the interest of health, but in the interest of the bottom dollar. They believe that our government body – when talking about food – are lying to them. But they do not believe that there is any chance that a government body could be lying to them about Merck or vaccines. That, to me, is a finer line than what you described. What is it about Monsanto that drives people crazy but Merck (the company that developed the MMR vaccine) is their best friend?

SPAZ: As a filmmaker, is it frustrating to have to explain what the movie is NOT about rather than what it is about?
DEL: The truth is that I don’t get caught in that game – I DO always say what it is about. They want me to talk about what it is not about. They want me to talk about Andy Wakefield and the LANCET paper because that is the one-trick-pony the pharmaceutical industry thinks they have…and that is unraveling before them. I tell everyone that this film is about Dr. William Thompson, a whistle blower from the Centers of Disease Control that has come forward and said that the CDC has committed scientific fraud on arguably the most important vaccine study ever done. And I say the most important because it was the last vaccine study that the United States government ever paid for looking for a connection between vaccines and autism. This fraudulent study is what the U.S. government used as a reason to never have to look at this issue again. And now we find ourselves fifteen years behind the ball. Every seven minutes, a child is being diagnosed with autism. We are destroying beautiful, healthy children. And the only thing that keeps people from knowing the truth is not seeing my film. Everybody that does see the film is realizing the truth.

SPAZ: Is it more difficult to deal with critics of the film or journalists with a definite agenda who quite possibly have not seen the film?
DEL: There are very few actual critics of the film. Most of the things I read are people who have not seen the film – I can tell by the way it’s written. I have no problem with criticism but I haven’t heard legitimate criticism of the film. When I read, “I saw the film and it’s all lies” – that’s not a criticism. What exactly are you saying is a lie? A criticism would actually be saying that William Thompson had an axe to grind with one of his bosses or that he’s trying to blackmail the CDC. Those would be criticisms. Journalists can have different perspectives. In fact, they should. But it’s scary when every news agent winds up on the same side of an argument. It’s rarely possible that everybody has exactly the same perspective on a story. So yes, it is frustrating because it is lying. I don’t have a problem with discourse. I don’t have a problem with a different perspective. But can’t we at least share the facts and say how we see them differently and why? To lie about the facts and not address the facts, then that’s just a lie. So yes, that is frustrating!

SPAZ: Have you noticed any changes for the better since you made Vaxxed?
DEL: The number one positive change has been the growing number of young parents that are coming to this film and saying to me, “I have never heard this is an issue!” There is a generation now that has never heard there was a question. The fact that I am putting a new question in them and they start asking appropriate questions of their doctors, that’s the greatest thing. I believe we are saving children every night that a theater is filled with people. That’s the number one benefit.

SPAZ: What do you want this film to achieve? What type of reaction?
DEL: I want safe, healthy effective vaccines for everybody that believes in that medical approach. More than anything in the world, I want that for them. But how do you have safe vaccines if the most important testing body is committing fraud? It’s hard for me to wrap my head around!

SPAZ: Even though it has been a tough battle, are you proud that you made this film?
DEL: There are projects you get involved in that are a heavy lift the whole way – you have to push it up, it’s difficult and you barely get it there. And then there are those things that almost make themselves – they have a life of their own and there is something they need to say. This is one of those. When we sat and watched the final version of the film, I literally had tears in my eyes. I thought, “Who made that movie?” It transcended all of us. I’m proud to have been a part of that experience. And I’m proud because this movie does cause people to think. I know that every night, people are waking up because every night, this film is being seen by more and more people. And hopefully, something good can come of that.

Thanks to Del Bigtree

Special thanks to Rick Rieger, Lauren Watt, and Dave Rayburn

From Cover-Up To Catastrophe

Available 9.13.16

Friday, August 19, 2016


Hide The Beer, THE FLESHTONES Are Here:

An exclusive Q&A 
Peter Zaremba

In 1976, a group of friends came together somewhere in New York to play primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll inspired by the sweaty, edgy underground Garage Rock scene of the ‘60s. They called themselves The Fleshtones and by 1980, they were signed to IRS Records. Their debut EP, UP-FRONT, introduced their musical mayhem to a young audience eager to feel the flames of true Rock ‘n’ Roll burning in their soul. The Fleshtones were instantly embraced by music fans and critics as the ultimate Garage Rock outfit – unpretentious, fun-loving and party-pleasing. Led by guitarist Keith Streng and vocalist Peter Zaremba, the band’s subsequent albums for IRS were the audio equivalent of the best frat parties you ever attended – sometimes unhinged but always memorable and entertaining. With their popularity rising and a few albums in their back pocket, frontman Zaremba was chosen in ‘84 to host THE CUTTING EDGE, an influential alternative music show that aired once a month on MTV until 1987. 

By the latter part of the ‘80s, The Fleshtones had left IRS but were still a popular live band. Releasing a series of indie albums over the years and constant touring kept the band busy and their fanbase happy. With a line-up that has been stable for the last twenty six years – Streng, Zaremba, drummer Bill Hilhizer (since 1980) and bassist Ken Fox (since 1990) – The Fleshtones have released a series of albums that are still rooted in Garage Rock madness. However, the quartet are not merely one-trick ponies – they’ve expanded upon their sweaty Rock ‘n’ Roll foundation and dabbled in Soul, Pop, Psyche and whatever else floats their boat. This is most evident on their 2016 platter, THE BAND DRINKS FOR FREE. Normally, a band that is celebrating their 40th Anniversary would already be on automatic pilot and putting out the same album over and over. The Fleshtones, on the other hand, are actually better songwriters now than ever – the hooks may not always snag you on first listen but by the third spin, you’ll be singing along…probably with a beer in one hand and fist pumping the air with the other. With ten originals (written by Zaremba, Streng and Fox) and two cover versions, The Fleshtones have created a hook-filled fiesta for the senses. They may not possess the drug-fueled youthful energy of yore, but that doesn’t mean that they no longer have the passion – THE BAND DRINKS FOR FREE is proof that getting older doesn’t mean your albums have to start sucking. Let the party continue on…

Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to toss a few questions over to Peter Zaremba, who graciously took time out to respond.

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: THE BAND DRINKS FOR FREE is being released and you are celebrating your 40th Anniversary as a band. How are you feeling about the reaction to this new album?
PETER ZAREMBA: The reaction is just starting to trickle in, and it's really positive. Good— we can use a break!

SPAZ: The album features a dozen killer tracks, two of which are covers. Do you usually have an abundance of material to choose from or do you prefer to write specifically for each album project? I have to say that the originals on the album – written by you, Keith or Ken – are actually better songs than those two covers!
PETER: This time around it seemed we had too much material – what a difference from the days when we recorded ROMAN GODS or HEXBREAKER and had to torture the songs out of ourselves. It really felt like the songs were finally just flowing out, so that we actually had too many tracks. So, we didn't include any of the songs from our recent 45s like 'I Surrender' or 'End Of My Neighborhood' as we had originally planned. A great feeling, and glad you like the originals. Personally I think 'Love Like A Man' is a masterpiece. Wait until you hear our Spanish version!

SPAZ: The Fleshtones may not have achieved the massive commercial success that you deserved, but you still make better records than most of your contemporaries over the years. Do you approach each album project the same as you did all those years ago?
PETER: No, we don't use all the drugs and stuff we used to. A good thing too – we're still alive and more focused than in those days. Maybe a bit of the success thing will come our way. We’re so cavalier about that sort of thing – especially in the ‘80s when success was a very real possibility. But we'll keep on no matter what. Being in the Fleshtones is more fun than being in most bands, and we get to be proud of what we've done. But approach? I think we go into recording much better prepared now. I mean we're not trying to write songs after we record the basics anymore. And we usually don't go someplace and try to record a whole album at once anymore either. We build our albums now. 

SPAZ: The great thing about Fleshtones albums is that they’ve always felt like they were created by a ‘band’ and you always seem to work well as a unit. Does everyone in the band have an input in the arrangements? And are you all open to suggestions from the other members?
PETER: We better sound like a band after 40 years! And we do work together very well. Strange, although it sounds like someone imposes an overall vision on the songs (and I'm always dying to do it!), we tend to bring our songs in knowing what we want the finished product to sound like, but we've gotten to the point where we more or less share what we think a 'Fleshtones Song' should sound like – and so it does!

SPAZ: THE BAND DRINKS FOR FREE is filled with great melodic hooks throughout the album. Does the songwriting process get easier over the years? The raw and loose Rock ‘n’ Roll energy is still there but the songwriting on your albums seems to be getting better as the years roll on…
PETER: Wow, thanks for that. Now to get a few thousand more people to realize it! Like I said, the songwriting process has gotten easier, stuff just pops into my head, like when I'm mowing the lawn. I've even dreamt up whole songs and wake up remembering them like 'Rick Wakeman's Cape'.

SPAZ: You released the title track as a single, yet it didn’t make the album. Do you enjoy that old-school approach to releasing singles that don’t make the albums? I must say that bands don’t often release a single from an album of the same name yet leave that song off the final track list.
PETER: Hahaha! Yeah that's crazy old-school, but like I said we had enough songs for the LP so 'The Band Drinks For Free' got cut along with a bunch of other tracks. Actually, I didn't think I brought that song in as prepared as my other songs, so it wound up not sitting right in the sequence, so it will remain an 'invitation' to listen to the album that’s named for it. Yes, that is unusual these days!

SPAZ: Are there any high points on the album that you’d choose as singles or radio tracks? Or do you leave that to the label folks? “Rick Wakeman’s Cape” and “Living Today” are classic Fleshtones nuggets. “Stupid Ol’ Sun” is ace. “Too Many Memories” and “How To Make A
Day” are great as well.
PETER: We've made our suggestions and Yep Roc are very open to our suggestions. I really think our version of 'Love Like A Man' is wonderful – it came out perfect, just what we wanted. Keith's idea to ask Lisa Kekaula of The Bel Rays to sing the last verses of the song instead of him was brilliant – she kicks the track into outer space! 'Love My Lover', which wound up as the b-side of the 45 'The Band Drinks For Free' is a natural radio single too – especially if it's ever 1969 again. 

SPAZ: Do you still love the make-a-record/do-a-tour routine after all of these years? And do you ever have to deal with audiences that only want to hear something you released thirty years ago and nothing off the new records?
PETER: Every audience wants to hear their favorite old songs – and we've got heaps of those to play to them. But most people come to see us play, and do something new and unexpected every time, and we like to do that. It keeps playing fun for us as well as the audience. And yes, I love making records even more now, especially since it isn't an exercise in frustration the way it used to be. Records come out sounding pretty much the way we want them to now!

SPAZ: For a veteran band like The Fleshtones, has social media helped you keep in contact with your fanbase and connect you to new fans? Are you happy with technology today (streaming, especially) or would you rather just sit in a bar and plop quarters in a jukebox all night in order to hear the latest sounds?
PETER: Social media has been a huge help to us. We've reached out across the world and keep in touch with people in places like New Caledonia, and they want us to come there and play! We're going to play in China next month for the first time, and played Mexico for the first time in twenty years last June. The technology is mind-blowing. I used to spend months as a kid trying to track down some rare Yardbirds 45, just to discover it actually sucked. And being able to hear so much is great. It also makes up for the fact I had to sell off most of my prized record collection a few years ago. Now I can still hear that music!

SPAZ: You hosted MTV’s THE CUTTING EDGE many decades ago…and people STILL talk about that show all of these years later. Do you look back fondly at that gig and do you think it has helped The Fleshtones in the long run?
PETER: I'm very proud of THE CUTTING EDGE – we gave countless bands and artists their first time on national TV. Even then I used to pinch myself while we were shooting and say, 'This is really happening, remember this moment!' I was amazingly lucky to have been chosen to host the show – remember, I had no television experience and it showed. It's funny, but MTV acts as if the show never existed…just like they did then when we were on MTV!

SPAZ: What’s next for The Fleshtones?
PETER: On to China! And then back to Scandinavia, Western Europe and the USA and Canada to spread the word about THE BAND DRINKS FOR FREE (which, in reality, it does). Then Spain in early 2017. I can't wait to get back in the studio even though our latest album isn't even out yet – so many ideas and so little time!

SPAZ: What have you been spinning lately on your CD/record players?
PETER: All sorts of stuff but especially MONEY MAKER, a re-release of old Studio One instrumental versions from Jamaica – it's in the groove!

Thanks to Peter Zaremba
Special thanks to Steve Dixon, Dave Rayburn and Nick Kominitsky



LINDSEY STIRLING/Brave Enough: Available TODAY, August 19, 2016!


Available NOW

This highly anticipated release features a number of high profile collaborations including Christina Perri, Dan + Shay, ZZ Ward, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Rivers Cuomo, Grammy Award winning hip-hop artist Lecray, and critically acclaimed electronic musicians/producers Zedd and Robert DeLong.

Blending electronic music with a diverse number of musical genres that include pop, country, rap, alternative and rock, BRAVE ENOUGH displays Stirling's impressive ability to push her own musical boundaries while continuing to embrace her own unique signature sound.

Lindsey Stirling is an American violinist, dancer, performance artist, singer and composer. She presents choreographed violin performances, both live and in music videos found on her eponymous YouTube channel, which she created in 2007.

Stirling performs a variety of music styles, from classical to pop and rock to electronic dance music. Aside from original work, her discography contains covers of songs by other musicians and various soundtracks. Her music video, "Crystallize" finished as the eighth-most watched video of 2012, and her cover version of "Radioactive" with Pentatonix won Response of the Year in the first YouTube Music Awards in 2013. Stirling achieved one million singles sold worldwide by August 2014. As of July 2016, her Lindseystomp YouTube channel exceeded 8 million subscribers and over a billion total views.

Stirling has been named in Forbes magazine's 30 Under 30 In Music: The Class Of 2015. Forbes notes her quarter-finalist position on America's Got Talent season five in 2010, a No. 2 position on the Billboard 200 for her second album Shatter Me in 2014, and her 8 million subscribers on YouTube.

Stirling's debut album was nominated for the 2014 Billboard Music Awards for Top Dance/Electronic Albums. Stirling's second album Shatter Me won the 2015 Billboard Music Awards for Top Dance/Electronic Album. Both albums are now certified GOLD.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016



This is a photo of THE LEGAL MATTERS. 

That is CHRIS RICHARDS on the left, KEITH KLINGENSMITH in the middle and ANDY REED on the right.

They like to drink beer and play music. Not necessarily in that order.  

The music they play is quite tasty. A delicious blend of pop smarts, heavenly harmonies and melodic hooks.

Some people call them Power Pop. Others call them Pure Pop.  However, generalizing their music and placing it in a box is not fair.  They are whatever you want them to be. And they are f***ing great at whatever it is that they do.

Their self-titled debut album was one of the finest albums released in the last decade.

And guess what?

They have a new album coming in October on Omnivore.  I've heard it.  It made me cry because it was so good.

The album is called Conrad.  I don't know why. They didn't tell me... but, to be fair, I didn't ask them either.

And now, you can click on the link below and download four LEGAL MATTERS songs for free.  "Anything" is from their forthcoming album - you know, the one they call Conrad. "We Were Enemies" and "The Legend Of Walter Wright" are from their self-titled debut album. "Don't Look Back" is a cover of a song by Teenage Fanclub.  You can only get "Don't Look Back" here. For free.  The other songs are free, too.  That is why it is called a free download.

I highly recommend you download these songs now because the world might end soon and you'll totally miss the opportunity to get these great tunes for free.  Seriously.

Your friend,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

THE TURTLES - Spaz reviews the fab new reissues on Manifesto Records!

The Turtles scored a handful of hits in the ‘60s – songs that are still played on oldies stations nearly fifty years later – yet they seldom receive the credit they deserve. As I prepared to write this review, I just could not figure out why they aren’t held in higher esteem by the public at large. Sure, us music guys love them to death but why do they get overlooked when people talk about the great bands from the ‘60s? I mean, come on, folks! “Happy Together” is an absolute classic and now that you’ve read that two word song title, that song’s chorus is bouncing around inside your head, isn’t it? If not, you need to stop what you’re doing and allow that song to careen down your cranial caverns and make you feel good all over before you continue reading…

No, really.  Go ahead and listen to it.  I'll wait....

OK, now back to our regularly scheduled program:

To be fair, The Turtles do get a fair share of recognition but just not as much as they deserve. There seems to be two different tiers when people think about the most influential ‘60s Rock bands – the first is the Beatles/Beach Boys/Rolling Stones/Kinks/Who tier while the second tier consists of ‘everybody else’. And as you know, that second tier is definitely crowded: The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and many others are up on top of that level, enjoying constant reappraisal and critical attention. However, buried amongst those fighting for a chance to breathe are The Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, Dave Clark Five, The Four Seasons and especially The Turtles.
Looking back at The Turtles’ career, perhaps their oversight is down to a few different reasons:

  • Their lack of a cohesive image – they were Carnaby Street and a carnival at the same time.
  • Their need to constantly challenge themselves and try new musical avenues - The Turtles borrowed so liberally from many genres over the course of their career meant that they just confused the public, who just wanted to hear endless variations on “Happy Together” rather than original, thought-provoking music.
  • Their inability to take themselves too seriously -  they pretty much pushed the envelope so often that people didn’t know whether to accept them as Pop/Rock saviors like The Byrds or dismiss them as disposable Pop playthings like Freddie & The Dreamers.
  • The Turtles had a tendency to be too weird for Top 40 radio on occasion. But I mean that in a groovy, far-out weird kind of way.  

Lastly, it certainly didn't help that their back catalog had been in and (mostly) out of print over the years with only hits compilations available at any given point. But guess what? Thanks to Manifesto Records, that has all changed. This great label that gave us – among many other cool releases – the Lee Michaels box set (which is still on my list of things to buy) has resurrected The Turtles in style with two sets that will more than satisfy longtime fans and introduce a new generation to their gloriously irreverent hit-making ways!  

ALL THE SINGLES is a two CD set that features all of the band’s A-sides and B-sides along with some other gems, such as tracks prepared for single release but abandoned at the time. For the most part, this set features the crunchy, direct mono mixes that we all loved to hear blasting out of AM radios all those years ago. I myself have never preferred mono mixes over stereo versions but I’ll have to admit that lately, I’m understanding just why there are many folks that do – these songs come out swinging in mono and they seriously rattle your cage for three minutes (approximately) .  Just listen to “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Your Maw Said You Cried,” “You Baby,” “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “The Story Of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “You Showed Me,” “You Don’t Have To Walk In The Rain,” “Elenore” and “Happy Together” in mono and you’ll know what I mean. In stereo they are fantastic, but in mono, they have more attitude and hit harder. Those wanting to sample The Turtles before diving head first into their deliciousness should start here: forty-eight tracks that will tickle your fancy! Thankfully, the other set – see below - doesn’t necessarily make this collection redundant, so you can snuggle with both at night if you’d like. I know I do!

THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL ALBUM COLLECTION is really the one you need to fork over your hard-earned dollars for if you are trying to choose between the two (although I still say go for both!). This box features six CDs, all jam packed with Turtle-y goodness. The discs for the first three Turtles albums – It Ain’t Me Babe, You Baby and Happy Together – feature the stereo and mono versions of each album, which is great for guys like me who prefer stereo mixes for headphone listening but love to blast the mono versions out of the speakers and shake up some cojones in the process! The next three discs – The Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands (their finest full length, by the way), Turtle Soup and the odds ‘n’ ends compilation Wooden Head – feature the stereo versions of the albums plus a plethora of rarities. These discs are jam-packed with goodness, man. If you love the singles, then you really need to dig deeper and enjoy the heart of what made The Turtles an amazing band – their diversity. The first three albums are filled with gooey greatness. However, 1968’s Battle Of The Bands, which finds The Turtles portraying a different ‘band’ on each track, is a stunning tour-de-force. It is almost equaled by the follow-up, Turtle Soup, which is the only album Kinks leader Ray Davies produced for another band. Pretty impressive, indeed. And let’s face it, folks: in Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (later known as Flo & Eddie), The Turtles had two great front men in one band. With exquisite vocals, stunning arrangements and top tunes (some written by the band, some written by others), The Turtles created a body of work that deserves critical reappraisal. Like, right now, man.

P.S. And if all the above isn’t cool enough, Kaylan and Volman went on to work on loads of other people’s records including a stint with Frank Zappa and brilliant backing vocal work on a few classic T. Rex albums (including Electric Warrior). And there’s tons of info and thoughts about The Turtles that I haven’t even mentioned here! Knowing all of this, you really need to get yourself caught up on all things Turtles. You won’t regret it!

Peace, love and all that whatnot,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

Wednesday, July 27, 2016



John Watts

    John Watts is one of those rare gems in the music business – a singer/songwriter who continues to reinvent himself with each release and yet manages to retain his unique musical vision. Like any good art, his past releases still ‘feel’ contemporary even though they were created at another moment in time. Best of all, his musical output has continued to reach new heights with each album – he’s never released a bad full-length in a nearly forty year career. Whether he is operating under his own name or the Fischer-Z moniker, John Watts is undeniably the most under-rated artist to emerge from the Post-Punk/New Wave era of the late ‘70s.

    Watts first came to the attention of the music-buying public when his band Fischer-Z released their debut album, Word Salad, in 1979. While distinctly British, Fischer-Z were unlike any of their contemporaries –intelligent, witty, well-written songs played by a band fueled by the energy of the Punk movement. However, their arty quirkiness was more in line with U.S. bands like Talking Heads. When they released their second album, Going Deaf For A Living, the following year, the band scored a hit with “So Long,” which even earned them plenty of airplay in the U.S. By the time they released their beloved third album, Red Skies Over Paradise, in ’81, they’d lost their keyboardist, Steve Skolnick, and the support of their U.S. label, who decided not to release the album in the States. Though the album did extremely well in Europe – the single “Marliese” remains one of their most popular tracks – the band split up and John Watts pursued a solo career.

    Here is where things get a little confusing, so please follow along: after two brilliant solo albums – One More Twist (1982) and The Iceberg Model (1983) – Watts formed The Cry with former FZ bassist David Graham. After one album, Quick Quick Slow (1984), The Cry split. John resurfaced three years later with a new FZ line-up and a slickly-produced hit album, Reveal (1987). From this point on, FZ became a vehicle for John Watts and a talented cast of supporting characters. Fish’s Head was released in ’89 and marked the end of the brief but wonderful ‘modern’ FZ sound. Beginning with 1992’s Destination Paradise – their best album yet – Watts stripped the songs down to their basics and didn’t focus on production or technology to carry the songs. While he has continued to dabble in the latest production techniques since then, the focus of every release has been the ‘feel’ and message of his incredibly emotional songwriting. Kamikaze Shirt (1993) and Stream (1995) were his final two releases as Fischer-Z…for the time being.  

    Thirteen Stories High was released in 1997 under the name J.M. Watts. Bigbeatpoetry (1999) and Spiritual Headcase (2000) were released under the name Watts. Briefly returning to the FZ moniker, Ether hit the shelves in 2002. Confusingly, more solo releases followed: Real Life Is Good Enough (2005), It Has To Be (2006) and Morethanmusic (2009). In 2011, he released the album Fischer-Z 2011, which found him re-inventing some of the band’s most beloved songs. And during all of this time, John has toured Europe and elsewhere numerous times, playing to diehard fans and touching a new generation of fans.

    Five years on, Watts has resurrected the Fischer-Z name and released one of the best albums of his career – This Is My Universe. To say that he remains a brilliant, thoughtful songwriter nearly forty years after he formed FZ is an understatement. Remarkably fresh and contemporary, John Watts has served up an album that features the same mixture of emotion and melody that he has never deviated from. While many artists have come and gone since he first formed FZ in 1977, Watts is at his best on This Is My Universe. He doesn’t create throw-away Pop that is forgotten once you listen to it – it stays with you long after the final notes have faded into the ether. And you say you’ve never heard of John Watts and Fischer Z? Time to catch up on four decades of excellence! Start with This Is My Universe and work your way backwards…

    Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to send off a few questions to John Watts as he tours for the album and prepares to celebrate the band’s 40th Anniversary in 2017…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: This Is My Universe has just been released. How are you feeling about the journey to get this album made and the reaction to it so far?
JOHN WATTS: It took a long time administratively to put it out, but the reactions to it have been extremely favorable.

SPAZ: This Is My Universe seems to be a rebirth of sorts for Fischer-Z. Do you feel that all the paths that you’ve taken over the years have led to this new album?
JOHN: Yes, but that’s true of all new work.

SPAZ: The album is yet another amazing release in a catalog filled with amazing releases. What keeps you inspired and passionate nearly forty years into an outstanding career?
JOHN: Thank you. Most artists are driven to express their view of the world via their art form. My main one is writing songs and putting out recordings. I still have as great a desire as ever to write about all the things in the world that move me.

SPAZ: For This Is My Universe, did you have a preconceived idea on how you wanted the album to sound or did it evolve organically?
JOHN: It evolved as the way that Nick Brine and I work together, but as always I had certain references to measure up to.

SPAZ: As a songwriter, your words and music always seem to work so well together. Do you think of lyrical ideas first and work the melodies and chord changes around those? Or are the lyrics inspired by the music? Has your method of songwriting changed over the years? Or do you stick with a tried and true formula?
JOHN: I’m inspired to write words, sometimes about an event or feeling or something that evolve from words themselves.

SPAZ: You’ve managed to change and grow with the times while also maintaining your own distinct style and sound. Do you stay on top of what is happening in the charts or do you tend to avoid those kinds of influences when creating your own music?
JOHN: I have always listened to as much new music as possible. All things historic are stored away in my brain. Overall I probably listen to less music than most people!

SPAZ: Are you more concerned now with moving and inspiring the listener than having hit singles? There are very few songwriters out there who have been recording for 36+ years and still sound as relevant and vital as John Watts…In fact, there are very few NEW songwriters out there with your passion.
JOHN: Thank you. My biggest interest is in having as many people as possible listen to my work. I think all artists hope for a degree of universality.

SPAZ: You’ve been an internet presence for many years. You’ve embraced many different types of media to enhance your art (music, film, etc). However, streaming music has become a hot topic as of late. How do you feel about the state of music and technology today?
JOHN: I embrace all new technologies. All artists have great difficulty in getting their heads above the internet parapet – There’s so much ‘stuff’ out there!

SPAZ: You’ve released albums under a variety of names including Fischer-Z, John Watts, The Cry, JM Watts, and Watts. Do you think that this may have been a bit confusing to the average record buyer who tried to follow your career in the days before social media made it easier to keep up?
JOHN: Yes! But especially with the pulling together of all things FZ next year for the 40th anniversary will hopefully demonstrate the clear line of evolution.

SPAZ: The new album is obviously very near and dear to your heart, but do you have any personal favorite albums/songs over the years that you feel may have been underappreciated?
JOHN: Yes. Thirteen Stories High!

SPAZ: What’s next for John Watts and Fischer-Z?
JOHN: A big 40th anniversary year including another new FZ album and a number of other releases.

SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD/record/DVD/Blu-Ray players?
JOHN: The new Iggy record, The Last Shadow Puppets, Pretty Vicious, Kendrick Lamarr, The Tall Ships and Tame Impala.

Thanks to John Watts
Special thanks to Eric Watts and Nick Kominitsky


Available NOW!

(PLEASE NOTE: This Spotify playlist is provided in order for you to sample some of JOHN WATTS' music.  We encourage you to purchase all of this artist's music. Thank you.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Gather ‘round, my friends and let me introduce you to the absolute best cure for your blues: sugar. Well, “Sugar Sugar” to be more precise.

Yes, one spin of The Archies’ mega-hit “Sugar Sugar” can wipe away any negative vibe that is inhabiting your universe. Even if you aren’t a fan of ‘60s Bubblegum, you’ve probably heard this gloriously happy tune many times since it was released in 1969. Figuratively (and perhaps literally) the missing link between The Monkees and The Partridge Family, this slice of Pop love has been played millions of times all around the world, used in advertising and has been both praised and ridiculed by music fans everywhere. The fact that you still remember it today – regardless of your personal feelings – is testament to the power that “Sugar Sugar” has had on the listener.

The Archies’ animated TV show was based on the popular comic book series that originated in the 1940s. Their clean-cut image may have come from a different era, but in the late ‘60s, that was precisely what the children needed to see. The Vietnam War, drug culture and racial inequality were just some of the subjects that were dealt with on a daily basis on the news, and the world was becoming a scary place for kids. The Archies offered wholesome entertainment that made them laugh and sing along. Under the eyes of music supervisor Don Kirschner, The Archies was destined to be a hit across the board. From toddlers to teens, The Archies’ music had a built-in audience when the cartoon debuted in ’68. For the show’s producers and Kirschner, there were no kooky counter-culture shenanigans like they experienced with The Monkees just a year or two before. In fact, Kirschner had been booted from his position as music supervisor for The Monkees, and was more than happy to take the same position when The Archies’ TV show was conceived – no meddling kids to interfere with his Pop plans. With “Sugar Sugar,” The Archies became the most successful non-existent garage rock band in Pop history that had their own animated series on Saturday mornings. Maybe. I might have to do some fact-checking to back up that claim, but I’m fairly certain it is true.

But what about their OTHER songs? You know, the ones not called “Sugar Sugar”? While they may not have seen the same amount of chart success as “Sugar Sugar,” there is plenty to love about their five original studio albums. Yes, five Archies albums! And you thought they only had one song, huh?

(Oh, and for the record, Ron Dante – he of The Cuff Links – sang almost all of the male lead vocals on The Archies’ recordings and Archie Andrews would lip sync them on the animated TV series. Maybe.)

Here we are, nearly fifty years since “Sugar Sugar” hit the charts and we’re finally getting something more than just a half-heartedly thrown together Archies compilation. In fact, Sugar Sugar: The Complete Albums Collection (Cleopatra) takes The Archies seriously and serves them up in style with five mini-LP reproductions of each of their albums, all housed in a clamshell box with a booklet featuring liner notes, info, pictures and all the fun things you’d want in a box set devoted to these groovy kids. For a Pop music lover like myself, it is fascinating to hear these recordings again while revisiting “Sugar Sugar” within the original context of their oeuvre. Strange to think that that hit was on their SECOND album, Everything’s Archie, but I suppose The Archies certainly avoided the dreaded sophomore slump that so many bands became a victim of over the years.

So, how is the rest of the music? Let’s put it this way: make an appointment with your dentist before giving this box set a spin because it is so sugary sweet that you’ll certainly walk away with a few extra cavities! And that, my friends, is a wonderful thing. Take the optimistic vibe of the first two Monkees albums, add in some childlike wonder, squeeze in a dash of the first two Partridge Family albums (if you’re a purist, you can substitute The Cowsills), toss in some real back-to-basics rock ‘n’ roll and then turn it up loud! “Don’t Touch My Guitar,” “Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y. D.O.O),” “Carousel Man,” “La Dee Doo Down Down,” and so many other songs are nearly as wonderful. You see, the problem people may have with this material is that it will sound dated, cheesy and super gooey sweet…but that pretty much describes “Sugar Sugar” as well! If we had heard these songs hundreds if not thousands of times over the past five decades, they too would be classic Pop nuggets. Maybe.

“Hide And Seek” is a heavy garage rocker (well, compared to “Sugar Sugar”). “Justine” is pretty close to classic Baroque Pop. “Together We Two” is a delightful mix of hippie love and Bubblegum Pop. “Comes The Sun” is a late period Archies track that still sounds as sweet as their earlier tracks but also has the same free-spirited charm as the AM Pop that occupied the charts in ’71. I was planning to namecheck at least a dozen more great songs – “Jingle Jangle” was next – but I think you get the idea.

Sugar Sugar: The Complete Albums Collection is as delicious as Bubblegum Pop gets and while The Archies may not be considered ‘hip’ and ‘cool,’ they are probably hipper and cooler than anyone you have spinning on your turntable right now! Maybe.

A must-have for those who love Pop music and have fond memories of chasing the ice cream truck down their street in order to plop their money down for a delicious treat.  This is just as fun with only half the calories!

And yes, there is quite a history behind The Archies that I have not touched on here.  You can catch up on their history in the booklet included in this box.  But I will tell you that "Sugar Sugar" was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim.  Jeff worked with The Monkees and many others before writing for The Archies.  Andy Kim is now best known for his 1974 solo it "Rock Me Gently" (you know, that song that you could have sworn was by Neil Diamond).

Peace, love and The Archies,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee