Thursday, January 29, 2015

An EXCLUSIVE interview with GEORGE CLINTON!



We Got That Doo Doo: 

The Return of FUNKADELIC



An EXCLUSIVE interview 

with 

GEORGE CLINTON

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee



   George Clinton is a legend. He changed the course of R&B and Rock music with a string of mind-boggling, rump-shaking albums by his bands Funkadelic and Parliament – amongst others – between 1970 and 1981. His musical vision, which became known as P-Funk, introduced the world to numerous talents including Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel and dozens more. Though his career reaches as far back as 1955 when he formed a Doo-Wop group called The Parliaments, George didn’t really make his mark until 1970 when the first Funkadelic album was released. For anyone who followed his career, Clinton may be Funk maestro #1, but he never stuck to a formula and he always allowed his music to go places nobody else ever considered. James Brown is often cited as the originator of the Funk sound but George Clinton took the musical template into outer space. Imagine a glorious mix of Sly Stone, Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix, and the Cantina Band from Star Wars and then add lyrics that addressed all issues – love, race, and war – and throw it all into a Looney Tunes blender and push the ‘stun’ button. While other artists chose to move from genre to genre slowly and gracefully, Clinton did it all at once. Who else would release a mostly instrumental 10+ minute track called “Maggot Brain” – from the album of the same name – that features one of the most haunting, sad and strangely joyful guitar solos in Rock/Soul music history? Prince may have tried to replicate what Clinton did, but he was never ‘weird’ enough to go full-throttle strange. George Clinton, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to push everything to its limits.
   When the Funkadelic/Parliament bubble burst in ’81, George took many of his P-Funk cohorts along with him on his solo career. His 1982 solo album Computer Games was a huge success, garnering more interest than anything his old bands had released towards the end of the original P-Funk era. The album featured the hugely influential single “Atomic Dog,” and laid out a new set of R&B/Funk rules for the ‘80s. Over the next three decades, Rock, R&B, and Hip Hop artists would use Clinton’s musical template, carrying his legacy to generations of new fans. Despite legal and personal issues, George was still creating new music – much of it misunderstood or under-appreciated. His influence continued to reverberate through the years, handed down and shaped into new, exciting sounds by artists who weren’t even born when Funkadelic first made their mark.
   Just when you thought George Clinton had taken a backseat to the new breed of Funk/R&B kids, out comes First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, the first Funkadelic album in thirty three years! This sprawling three CD set contains 33 previously unreleased tracks – one for each year since their last album – that brings the Funkadelic sound up to date while still sounding both classic and futuristic. Many of the tracks are recordings that George has been sitting on over the last three decades, just waiting for the right time to release them. Over the years, Clinton has retooled these recordings, always keeping them sounding fresh and contemporary. The tracks feature Funkadelic members old and new (plus guest appearances from the likes of Sly Stone, Del The Funky Homosapien and others) and are comprised of performances spanning decades. Because of this, the album celebrates the past in the present but forges ahead towards the future. Songs like “Snot ‘n’ Booger,” “The Naz,” “Jolene,” “Fucked Up,” “If I Didn’t Love You,” and the title track are quite stunning, proving that George has not lost his touch. Not in the slightest.
   Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with George Clinton about the album, his new autobiography (Brothas Be Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kind Of Hard On You?) and other funky-delic things…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate has just been released. How are you feeling about the album?
GEORGE CLINTON: Well, you want it to be successful, but it’s not a situation where we try to put records on the Top 40 on the radio because we’re not of that generation that’s happening. If it’s happening, you’re lucky, you know what I’m saying? I don’t look for success. When I’m finished with it, I don’t look back. Almost every record we put out were not hits, but over the years, people understood them more. “Oh yeah, this is the shit!” Our records are like the Jazz records. I just make ‘em cause I like the music. What keeps me excited is making the next one. You’ll have something else to look forward to in another three, four, five months. I’m gonna go in the studio now. There are some good friends of mine, Fred Wesley from the JBs... him and Pee Wee Ellis are in town and I’m doing a Parliament album now. I have to track Maceo down. We’re having a ball.

SPAZ: On the new Funkadelic album, there are some amazing moments where my jaw dropped.
GEORGE: I had a lot of good people to choose from over the years and playing songs I’ve loved a long time, but I couldn’t put ‘em out. I didn’t feel like there was enough concept around a Funkadelic record so I just saved ‘em all up ‘til I got to this point and said I’ll give ‘em a shot. I’ve got the book and I’ll give ‘em 33 songs. I’ll make it all worth the concept. The whole thing is a concept.

SPAZ: The question obviously on people’s minds: how come it took 33 years for a new Funkadelic album?
GEORGE: You know, you can split your time up between the business and being fucked up. So if you’re fucked up, you’re fucking up everything you’re doing. And that’s what was happening. That’s why you get a record like “Fucked Up,” you know? Ain’t no sense in me crying now. I was fucked up, but I can straighten it out by cleaning up, and so that’s what I made the mission to be. It took 33 years to figure that shit out.  Maybe it’s because I’m just 73-years-old and none of that shit ain’t gonna work anyway. I get high off of making the music and that won’t let me down.

SPAZ: I think the three CD concept is great - it works as a full piece of art. But why did you choose the three CD set as opposed to three separate individual albums?
GEORGE: I had to make a statement along with the book and the history when I was telling the story - that’s why they’re tied so close together. It didn’t start out to be 33 songs. I tried to stop at 22. As I started looking at it, I knew people would question the fact that there are so many songs. They wanted me to break it up into two records. I said no. I’m 73-years-old so I ain’t gonna be making a whole lot more records, but I’m gonna make ‘em as long as I can, and I’ve got a ton of stuff that’s been waiting around to be released. All they have to do is mix it in with some new stuff from today. Then, of course I’ve got my kids and grandkids there… all very talented. So, I had to figure a way for them to get a shot out there. We’ve got all of the family here involved. I got old blood and new blood. I got some of the older members like Belita, Gary, Jessica, and Sly Stone. All of these are just my favorite people.

SPAZ: Are the album tracks things that you recorded and finished over the years and then sat on, or have you tooled with these tracks over time?
GEORGE: I tooled with them. I never would finish ‘em because if it wasn’t coming out for that era, I didn’t want to finish it… then it’d be obsolete. “Roller Rink” is over 20 years old, but knowing that I was getting ready to put it out, I went back in and put backgrounds on again and put the keyboards on them with Danny Bedrosian. You got the sounds of the 21st century on a record that is 20 years old so all it sounds like it’s a modern Hip Hop as opposed to a sample from the 70s. So, a lot of this stuff in there – you feel like you felt it or heard it. They are stems from demos and stuff when we first started “Flash Light” or something – I still got those demo tracks, I can take a guitar off of it before it was never a song. So we call those stem cells (chuckles).  

SPAZ: What I’ve noticed in your music - the foundation is Rhythm and Blues, but there doesn’t seem to be any musical boundaries on anything that you’ve ever done. Do you enjoy starting with a fresh canvas with every album or is it a fresh canvas with every song?
GEORGE: It’s every song with me. Each song for me is an album. I like the song for the song and very seldom I get in my own way when it comes to trying to get hit records. I leave that now up to remixes and the way they do the shit today ‘cause I’m old school. I don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing, but I got good taste and so when I hear somebody doing something, even if it ain’t my genre, I know when it’s good. I start with the song being important and so sometimes, I have to cut ‘em down - they’ll be too long. I get overindulgent. Like the Grateful Dead would do Rock ‘n’ Roll - they’d just have jams. I do that with the artsy fartsy R&B. Almost Jazz, almost Classical, but it’s still basically R&B. I figure if Emerson, Lake & Palmer could do Classical in Rock ‘n’ Roll, I could do Classical in Rhythm & Blues. To me, I got a lot of that from Cream, Jeff Beck, and all those groups in the ‘60s; they did Jazz and Classical music in Rock ‘n’ Roll. I said, we could do the same thing with the JBs, with Mothership Connection – that was nothing but Jazz and Motown.

SPAZ: So, the songwriting process is based out of jams and grooves as opposed to you sitting down and writing them using the typical verse-verse-chorus formula?
GEORGE: Oh yeah. On one or two songs I might do that just to throw it in there but even they are gonna be a little off-centered. I still can do songs like that, and I have to remind myself and do it every now and then because all today’s music is the ‘80s music done with an 808 drum machine. Beyoncé can do a whole opera like that and you can’t say that it ain’t the shit, because it’s totally the shit. She done perfected it so good that it’s like a Jimi Hendrix with feedback and shit and people saying that’s not music, when it became the epitome of the music. She’s doing that right now with Hip Hop or whatever they’re gonna call that music’s name. To me it’s still Rhythm & Blues.


 SPAZ: While it is not a concept album, is there actually a concept behind the album?
GEORGE: The concept is the overall promotion of the whole thing – the book, the album. I was talking about a reality show for a while ‘cause all I was thinking of doing was something important enough for me to be in the media because hit records are hard unless you get a trending YouTube thing. A hit is pretty hard to do because you don’t get that kind of radio exposure. They just don’t play old folks records like that. I don’t care who you are… unless you accidentally get one of those YouTubes, and that’s the best way. I like that because that reminds me so much of the radio stations from the ‘50s. Put a record on and try to get it going on. And you can do it on those YouTubes. You can’t do it on the big stations. There’s no place for new records.

SPAZ: Yeah, it’s really strange how talent sometimes is dictated by a viral video.
GEORGE:  That’s where most of it – the good shit – is. No way in the hell no label would’ve let me put out no 33 songs. To me, (the album) is more of a historical movement as opposed to trying to get a hit record. I wouldn’t have put ‘em that long if I thought I was going to be on the radio. But now we’re getting DJs who are remixing our tracks. “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” was remixed by Louie Vega. Believe you me, it’s gonna be one of the biggest records in the clubs. He did such a helluva job on it. Ordinarily, you would call it House, but since it’s so R&B, and he put all the vocals in it, it don’t sound like a House record – more like a fast Rhythm & Blues, P-Funk record. It is the bomb.

SPAZ: The new album is kind of a middle finger to the music industry because George Clinton is still doing what he wants to do.
GEORGE: Oh yeah. That’s how it’s turning out. I do the best I can then Funk it… I did it the way I wanted to do it and I feel good about it.

SPAZ: I feel that despite its title, “Snot n’ Booger” is an enormously powerful song.
GEORGE: That’s one of my favorites that I saved the longest. That one goes all the way back to like ’87, ’88. That one and “Yesterdéjàvu.” I had those forever, but they were so Funkadelic, I didn’t want to put them on the compilation records that I put out before because I found that they were really Funkadelic records. They don’t get old. They’ll be around like the Blues of Muddy Waters and shit like that. I wasn’t worried about those two getting old.

SPAZ: “Jolene” is a great song that only shares a title with Dolly Parton.
GEORGE: (Chuckles) Yeah, “Jolene” is like Funkadelic jam for me. We’re doing the “We Are The World” type of background vocals. Picture a hundred people like “We Are The World” singing a Funkadelic jam. That’s the kind of vibe, you know. We do this. This is that doo doo. Back in the ‘70s we said, “Make my Funk the P-Funk.” This year we say “We got that doo doo”…’cause this is the shit!

SPAZ: “Fucked Up” is another great song. 
GEORGE: That one was me scolding myself. You know, you can’t be wishing you hadn’t of done it… you did… you fucked up. You paid a lot of money to be fucked up so you might as well go and enjoy it and don’t do it again.


SPAZ: The core of Funkadelic is Rhythm & Blues but why do you think that you have garnered so much attention from the Rock community that other Funk bands have basically been unable to do?
GEORGE: Because the guitar is loud. I let ‘em drown us out sometimes on the stage – just like Rock & Roll. But it is still R&B. To me, Rock & Roll wasn’t but Blues loud, you know? So it’s just the same. We play R&B loud. We played Motown loud, and we were able to get away with it. Our fan base are like the Deadheads. They stay with you forever. They grow old with you, and their kids grow old with you. So, we’re able to do pretty much anything we want. I said I’d never let myself get put in a bag where I have to be chasing a single every time I put a record out. So I did songs that are so far out of the norm, like “Let Me Be” on Chocolate City or “I Just Got Back” on Up for the Downstroke. I did songs with bagpipes and things. You couldn’t guess what Funkadelic might do next. So when we do those things, people have accepted that Funkadelic, they might do any fuckin’ thing.

SPAZ: Does it amaze you just how influential your music has been over the last four decades? Even if someone can’t name a Funkadelic or Parliament song or a George Clinton song, they know who you are and they know what you’ve done.
GEORGE:  Yeah. I mean, that amazes me and that’s really why I got this second wind. I got to make people respect all of the hard work everybody went through to do this, and not just let the vultures just take it ‘cause I was too high. So, I’m on that mission, you know.

Thanks to George Clinton

Special thanks to Barry Epperson, Cory Vick, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky



FUNKADELIC

FIRST YA GOTTA SHAKE THE GATE




Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SPAZ reviews THE LAMBRETTAS' Beat Boys In The Jet Age!



THE LAMBRETTAS

BEAT BOYS IN THE JET AGE


(Deluxe 2CD Edition)


Review by Stephen SPAZ Schnee



"Tomorrow's sounds from yesterday!"

First things first: Beat Boys In The Jet Age, the 1980 debut album by The Lambrettas, is one of my favorite albums of all time.  It is right up there with numerous albums by The Beatles, Badfinger, Squeeze, Elvis Presley, Shoes, Split Enz,etc.  It is right up there with semi-obscure platters from bands like Blanket Of Secrecy, Fingerprintz, The Records, Four Out Of Five Doctors, The Laughing Dogs, et al.  It is an album that brings a feeling of euphoria to my soul, a smile to my face and hope to my heart. I even have the LP cover framed up in my bedroom – it isn’t autographed or rare, but it is an album that meant so much to me 35 years ago and means much more to me today. It is an album that reminds me of my last gasp of youth (I was 16 when it was released). To say I love this album would be an understatement.

Here is what I wrote about the album for All Music Guide many years ago:

“One of the most exciting British musical movements of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was the short-lived mod revival. While the Jam may be credited with kick-starting the movement, it's bands like Secret Affair, the Chords, Squire, and the Lambrettas that are most closely associated with all things mod. The closest musical equivalent to mod was the power pop scene that was sweeping the U.S. at the same time (the Knack, 20/20, Paul Collins' Beat, the Plimsouls, etc). Of all the mod bands that emerged from the U.K., the Lambrettas were easily the most commercially accessible and should have easily transcended and outlived the mod revival tag, but it was not to be. With more hooks than a fisherman's warehouse, their 1981 debut album, Beat Boys in the Jet Age, was an amazing collection of great songs and remains one of the most underappreciated albums of the ‘80s. While Peter Collins' polished production may not have showcased the grit and grime of their live sound, it is the infectious energy and classic British songwriting that make this album a real treat. From start to finish, top to bottom, Beat Boys in the Jet Age is every bit the "classic" album and deserves to be heard by anyone with a passion for power pop, jangle pop, mod, and new wave.
The album's opener, "Da-a-ance," is perhaps the band's finest two minutes, but nearly everything on this album runs a close second, including top tunes like "Cortina Mk. II," "London Calling," "Living for Today," "Another Day, Another Girl (Page 3)," and the title track. Their ska-infused cover of "Poison Ivy" was enormously successful and remains their biggest hit, yet it was certainly not representative of the band's straight-ahead guitar pop sound. Each of the tracks on the original album clocks in between two and three minutes, making it a short but sweet ride that never outstays its welcome. In fact, the album begs for repeated listenings.”


Surprisingly enough, I love the album more today than I ever have in my life. It is an album that not only fills me with memories of being young, it fills me with a joy for life. Yes, mighty big words for a Pop album, eh? There is just something about the songs that really hit home for me. Is it the chord changes? The production?  The lyrics?  The performances?  It is actually all of those combined… and then some! I can’t explain what it is, though. There is joy and energy there, but there is also a slight twinge of melancholy, too. 

Thankfully, you will all have the opportunity to buy this album for yourselves because those fine folks over at Salvo Music have released Beat Boys In The Jet Age in a Deluxe 2CD Expanded Edition! Disc One features the album in its entirety – all 32 glorious minutes of it! Disc Two contains their second album, Ambience, as well as 10 non-album bonus tracks spanning their entire career. To my knowledge, this is pretty much their entire recorded output.

(NOTE: This reissue uses a quote from the above review that I wrote for All Music Guide, which thrills me to no end! Very proud of that. Please have my family bury a copy with me when I die.)



As for the second album, when I listen to Ambience today, I consider it a decent album, but here is what I had to say about it in that All Music Guide review:

“Their second album, Ambience, was a major disappointment. The band's attempt to move away from the mod scene was not a total failure, but the less than stellar production hides the melodies and makes the whole thing sound cheap and unfocused. It's still worth listening to, but don't expect anything close to being as inspiring as Beat Boys in the Jet Age.”

I stand by those words, but there are some great songs on the album including “Decent Town” and “Good Times.” Of the bonus tracks, most of them are ace including their final b-side, “Nobody’s Watching Me,” which had the Pop smarts of their debut album but the somewhat damp production of their second. All in all, Disc Two is very much worth your time but don’t expect more of what came on Disc One (apart from some of the early b-sides).


The Jam may have started the mod movement, but I’m quite sure that Beat Boys… is my favorite album of the mod movement and of 1980. It stands the test of time… and this two CD set should be purchased as soon as possible.

Oh, look!  I’ve made buying this release easy by providing links below!  

Commence purchasing in 3…2…1….


THE LAMBRETTAS

BEAT BOYS IN THE JET AGE
(Deluxe 2CD Edition)

2.2.15




RIP Jez Bird

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SPAZ vs. PSYCHOBILLY: That 'billy be a bit psycho, baaaaaby!




SPAZ 
yaps about 
psychobilly 
and new box sets from 
THE METEORS 
and
GUANA BATZ!


What is psychobilly?

Wikipedia says: “Psychobilly is a fusion genre of rock music that mixes elements of punk rock, rockabilly, and other genres. It is one of several subgenres of rockabilly which also include thrashabilly, punkabilly, surfabilly and gothabilly.”

SPAZ says: “The rockabilly cats were the cool dudes surrounded by hot chicks, drinking brews and playing pool. The psychobilly guys were in the parking lot sniffing glue while stripping the rockabilly cats’ hot rods and chasing prostitutes down the alley.”

Psychobilly is a lot more frightening than rough and raw rockabilly, but is certainly not as threatening as hardcore punk. Then again, if your idea of real rockabilly is The Stray Cats, then perhaps psychobilly might actually scare you just a wee bit – and make your bits wee in the process! If psychobilly was around in the ‘50s, it would have made Elvis seem as threatening as Beaver Cleaver.

 (The Meteors)


Psychobilly is dark, but not gothic. It is loud, but not deafening.  It is mean, but not cruel. It is rock ‘n’ roll, but it rocks more than it rolls. While many psychobilly bands like to play up the ‘psycho’ part of the genre’s name, it is essentially garage rock-influenced rockabilly - a style with no set rules, which has allowed many bands to add lyrics that lean towards horror, sci-fi and absurdity.  In essence, they are bullies with a sense of humor.

Psychobilly became a prominent movement in the UK in the early part of the ‘80s.  While The Stray Cats brought rockabilly to the upper reaches of the charts, punk kids embraced the rockabilly scene, turning the heat up a bit and giving birth to a dirtier version of ‘billy music. Informed by the wild swing of rock and the aggression of punk, psychobilly swept the underground, eventually spreading into the rest of Europe. There may have been mini scenes in America and elsewhere, but it never took hold beyond a handful of big cities. But at least we had The Cramps, right?  They are the closest thing that America had to psychobilly.

Two of the finest British psychobilly bands dating back to the genre’s dominance in the ‘80s were The Meteors and Guana Batz. The Meteors are now referred to as the leaders of the psychobilly movement and rightfully so.  Guana Batz are held in equal high-esteem and would surely snatch the crown from The Meteors’ head if given half the chance. Both bands personify the spirit of the genre, filling their albums with energetic, sweaty performances that were unmatched by their contemporaries.  To this day, when someone talks about the genre, both bands are always mentioned. Thankfully, anyone that missed their albums 30 years ago now has an opportunity to play catch up with two excellent box sets from Cherry Red Records.

The Meteors’ Five Classic Studio Albums set contains five CDs packaged in mini LP sleeves, all housed in a cool clamshell box with a booklet. The albums featured are Stampede (+ 4 bonus tracks), Monkey’s Breath (+ three bonus tracks), Sewertime Blues (+ one bonus track), Don’t Touch The Bang Bang Fruit (+ four bonus tracks) and The Mutant Monkey And The Surfers From Zorch (+ bonus track). This is marvelous stuff from the band that really started it all.

The Guana Batz box, Original Albums And Peel Sessions Collection, contain four CDs, again in mini LP sleeves housed in a clamshell box plus booklet. Each of the three albums included – Held Down To Vinyl…At Last, Loan Sharks and Rough Edges – all include bonus Peel Sessions.  The fourth disc -  Electra Glide In Blue – is devoted entirely to a Peel Session from 1985. For a band this good, it’s hard to fathom why some folks refer to them as the second best psychobilly band behind The Meteors. However, that IS quite the compliment!


So, if those don’t get your motor runnin’, your blood boilin’, and the veins in your head poppin’ through the skin, then you’re probably a fully functioning corpse. Hmmm. I can think of a few psychobilly bands that might want to turn that last sentence into a song…


THE METEORS
Five Classic Studio Albums 
(5CD)



GUANA BATZ
Original Albums And Peel Sessions Collection
(4CD)




Sunday, January 18, 2015

SPAZ reviews SUZI QUATRO's 4CD anthology THE GIRL FROM DETROIT CITY!



SUZI QUATRO

THE GIRL FROM DETROIT CITY
(4CD)




     Suzi Quatro is much more than the sum of her musical parts. To most folks here in the U.S. of A., she is best known for playing Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days and for the massive hit single “Stumblin’ In,” a duet with Chris Norman (of the band Smokie, who barely registered on the radar here in the states).  Unfortunately, there are those that think she faded from view in the late ‘70s, never to be heard from again.  Well, I’m here to tell you that that is the furthest thing from the truth.  Suzi was not only rocking a decade before she showed up on Happy Days, she’s been kicking up a storm since her final appearance on the show 35 years ago! With the release of the 4CD anthology The Girl From Detroit City, you now have an opportunity to take a a trip through her career and to listen to what you’ve been missing all of these years!  For those of you who are already familiar with Suzi’s 50 years in music, you will find rarities and great packaging filled with information, insight, archive photos, single/LP sleeves and more. More than just a selection of ‘hits’, The Girl From Detroit City is a stroll through a five decade old career that has often surprised but never disappointed her massive fanbase.

     From her ‘60s recordings with The Pleasure Seekers (“Light Of Love” is especially wonderful) up through her fab new single, “The Girl From Detroit City” (one of my personal favorite Suzi songs ever!), this is a collection that reminds the listener of just how versatile she has been throughout her career. From the Glam stomp of her early ‘70s singles, the unexpected excursion into Funk, her glowing performance in Annie Get Your Gun, and her shimmering slices of AOR/Melodic Rock, this is an artist never afraid to try something new and always making it sound so easy. Tracks like “Can The Can,” “Devil Gate Drive,” “48 Crash,” and “Daytona Demon” may have kick-started her ride into Rock’s history books, it is the lesser known tracks that prove she never lost a beat even when swimming against – but occasionally with – the stream. “Heart Of Stone,” “I’ll Walk Through The Fire With You,” “Main Attraction,” “Lipstick”, “American Lady,” “If You Can’t Give Me Love,” “Mama’s Boy,” and a cover of Abba’s “Does Your Mother Know” with Sweet’s Andy Scott are just the tip of the Quatro iceberg.  And we can’t forget the brilliant “Stumblin’ In.” It was her biggest hit here in the U.S. and still sounds utterly fantastic.  And, again, the autobiographical title track, written for this set by long-time collaborator Mike Chapman, is not only one of her finest moments, but also one of the best singles of 2014.

     Time to plop your money down on the counter and demand The Girl From Detroit City as soon as possible.  But let this serve as a gateway into the world of Suzi Quatro… then start buying each of her original releases because there’s so much more to love! 

     P.S. There are loads of rarities here, too - in fact, Disc Four is made up entirely of them - so even fans are going to find much to love on this set!








Thursday, January 15, 2015

An EXCLUSIVE interview with THE MOODY BLUES' Ray Thomas!


True Story:
The Magnificent Moodies turns 50!

An EXCLUSIVE interview 
with 
The Moody Blues’ 
RAY THOMAS


By Stephen SPAZ Schnee


                In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, The Moody Blues helped usher in a new era of music. The lush production and sophisticated arrangements of their recordings during this period have led some to call them the pioneers of Progressive Rock. Others have stated that their haunting melodies and soaring string arrangements were precursors to Classical crossover recordings that would infiltrate the charts decades later. However, The Moody Blues were, and have always been, one of the greatest British Rock bands of their generation and should be mentioned in the same breath as The Kinks, The Who, The Dave Clark Five, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Tracks like “Nights In White Satin,” "For My Lady", “Tuesday Afternoon,” "Legend Of A Mind," “Ride My See-Saw,” "Simple Game," and “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)” helped define the Classic Rock era, but they didn’t fade away like many of their contemporaries – the band has existed in one form or another for 50 years and is embarking on a tour in 2015, which celebrates their long and storied career.
                Every story has a beginning, and the recording career of The Moody Blues began two years before “Nights In White Satin” made them superstars. At the time, The Moody Blues was an edgy, R&B band from Birmingham that consisted of members of other bands from the short-lived Brumbeat music scene – guitarist/vocalist Denny Laine, bassist Clint Warwick, keyboardist Mike Pinder, flautist–percussionist Ray Thomas, and drummer Graeme Edge. Denny provided the majority of the lead vocals, while Clint, Mike and Ray were no slouches in that department, adding a dense layer of backing vocals that was unique for a British R&B band (each of these members also provided the occasional lead vocal as well). The Moody Blues released the single, “Go Now” – a cover of a track written by Larry Banks & Milton Bennett and originally recorded by Bessie Banks – in November of 1964. By January 1965, it was #1 in the British charts. Though they had enough original material (chiefly by Laine and Pinder) and covers to match the quality of “Go Now,” the band’s next few singles reached the Top 40, but did not achieve the same amount of success. Their debut album, The Magnificent Moodies, was released in July of ’65 and showcased a hard-working band filled with grit, grind and grease. With a sound informed by Rock and Rhythm & Blues, The Moodies were sorely under-appreciated at the time. The following year, both Denny and Clint left the band. Losing two main forces would have meant the end of any other band, but The Moodies regrouped with guitarist/vocalist Justin Hayward and bassist/vocalist John Lodge and the rest is history… (NOTE: Denny Laine would later join Paul McCartney in Wings in 1971 and was the only other constant member – apart from Paul and Linda – until their dissolution a decade later.)
Though the band’s official website barely acknowledges their debut album, The Magnificent Moodies is a pure delight, especially the expanded edition available now through Esoteric/Cherry Red. The single disc edition contains an amazing selection of bonus non-album material, but the double disc edition is a goldmine for fans. This deluxe version contains rare BBC sessions, unreleased recordings originally intended for their second proper album and much more. Anyone with a passing interest in British Rock and R&B will find a plethora of gems on this release. Not only does the album come to life in this remastered mono edition, but all the extras offer even more insight and understanding into this early line-up of the band.
   Stephen SPAZ Schnee had the opportunity to chat with former Moody Blues member Ray Thomas about this period in the band’s career and their transition into the ground-breaking recordings that made them legends…



STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The Magnificent Moodies has been reissued numerous times, but this is really the definitive version. How are you feeling about this release and the reaction you’ve been receiving so far?
RAY THOMAS: Oh, I’m absolutely over the moon, as we say. We found all of this stuff. Don’t forget – it’s been half a century. It’s a long time and there’s a lot of music gone under the bridge since then. For instance, we found “23rd Psalm.” My wife Lee has been doing an awful lot of work on this… And I said, “Well, I can’t remember recording the 23rd Psalm,” and so we get in touch with Denny, and he says, “I can’t remember ever recording the 23rd Psalm,” and the same went for Mike. I can’t ever remember doing that and there are several other songs… “How Can We Hang On To A Dream,” I thought was absolutely great. What’s been knocking me out, to put it bluntly, I thought the band was bloody good! You know, I’m talking about the original band and some of the vocal backings, I think are great! I don’t want to shoot my own trumpet too loud, but….
SPAZ: Or your own flute….
RAY: (Chuckles) There’s loads of stuff, but I found a way to listen to the whole damn thing.

SPAZ: So you were surprised by just the sheer amount of material that was found?
RAY: Yeah. We did an awful lot of television shows and radio shows in France because “Go Now” was a big hit in France and so was “Bye Bye Bird,” and we did a hell of a lot of television shows and so we were trying to get all of them to put on this box set. But the French, being the French, they wanted so much money to release these things. Simply, it just isn’t worth it and so we had to ditch that idea, which is a bit of a drag, you know.

SPAZ: The band at this time was a lot edgier than you eventually became - more Blues-based. What was the music scene like in Birmingham at the time?
RAY: Everybody was saying that Brumbeat from Birmingham was going to be the next thing. Well, of course, it didn’t happen. And there was something like about 250 bands working around the Midlands, and they were so disillusioned. Bands were breaking up left, right, and center – bands that had been together for quite a few years, you know? And so Mike and I said, “Let’s put together what essentially would be a Birmingham super group.” And, so we approached Denny Laine who had a band that was very popular in Birmingham called The Diplomats and Denny was living at Graeme Edge’s at the time because he had had some blowup with his mom and dad and so Graeme’s parents put him up for a while. And so, Denny said, “If I join the band, I want Graeme to join the band.” And so we said fine. I mean, we knew Graeme from when he was in The Avengers. Then there was four of us and I got in touch with John Lodge because I wanted him on bass. John’s a year younger than me, and we’d been through college. By trade I’m a toolmaker and so is John, but I’d finished my apprenticeship. John’s dad said to him exactly what my dad said to me. “This is a hit or miss sort of business,” he said, “so finish your apprenticeship, and then you’ve got something if it doesn’t work out.” I mean, after being in a Rock and Roll band, the last thing you want to do is go work in a factory in any industry! John’s dad said the same, word for word and so John had got another year to go on his apprenticeship and he was going to college one day a week, and so John took his advice, which was good advice. So, John couldn’t join the band. We got in touch with Clint Warwick, and he became the bass player. From starting the band ‘til “Go Now” being #1 was a relatively short time. So, Clint carried on with the band quite loyally. A lot of hard work getting us to that stage. It wasn’t until he left and Denny left that we started the new band, and I got John in.

SPAZ: When you really listen, the harmonies are unique for an R & B-based band. Was that intentional or was it a natural, organic thing?
RAY: Well, it was quite natural. Clint sang, and I was the lead singer in another band – Mike sang as well – so we had four vocalists in the band. There was a lot of R & B stuff where they’ve got vocal backing and so we just took a leaf off that book. In both versions of the band, we’ve always had very strong vocal backing.

SPAZ: The repertoire seems to be split between covers and songs by Denny and Mike. Was the intention to focus on originals or were you pretty happy to mix the two?
RAY: Well, the thing was, a lot of Magnificent Moodies was the stage act. And then as Mike and Denny wrote stuff, we just introduced it, and that’s how that sort of came about. There’s one song that Denny wrote, I think Mike was involved as well, called “Stop” and that I think, for the time, it was quite unique. That’s what we liked about it. There was a lot of stuff that didn’t get released, which is going to be on this. I didn’t realize just how much stuff we recorded.

SPAZ: Later on, people were going to focus on Justin and John, but from the outside, the dynamic of this version of the band didn’t really seem to have a leader.  
RAY: Neither band did really. There was no leader in the band. We always used to joke it’s a communist band with capitalistic overtones (chuckles). We used to put everything to the vote. Although, sometimes when you got voted down, you went along with it because that’s what most of the people in the band wanted to do, that’s what we did.  And you normally got talked into it anyway.

SPAZ: How were you introduced to the song “Go Now”?
RAY: It was a DJ in the states and he was a friend of one of the guys for our management company. And, they (management) said, “If you come across material, can you send it out?” That’s how we came across James Brown. We were doing things like “I Go Crazy” and all that stuff. By then, we’d moved to London and all that stuff hadn’t been heard over here. And so, The Marquee was THE gig to play in London. Manfred Mann had a night of their own. Paul Jones (Manfred Mann vocalist) came down with laryngitis and we were a working band all the time, and we just happened to have a night off. So, the Marquee people got in touch with our management and said, “Do you think your band will step in and do these nights at The Marquee to cover for Manfred Mann?” So we said yeah, because we just wanted to get our foot in the door. We were playing “I Go Crazy” and a lot of Rhythm and Blues, which really hadn’t been heard, you know? And we went down an absolute storm. They loved us and so they offered us our own night. And I remember being in The Marquee and this box of singles turned up. We were rehearsing in there during the afternoon of our show, which was great because now we’ve got somewhere to rehearse, as well. We were going through these singles, there were all sorts, and we came across “Go Now.”  It had Bessie Banks singing on it, which was a lot slower, a lot lighter, but we thought it was the right song. The Marquee was just starting to build their studio in the back of the club, and we said, “Can we go in and record it?” and they said, “The studio is not finished, the control room is, but the builders are still in there.” There were bags of plaster, there was ladders, spades, shovels, picks, scaffolding… you name it. So we said, “Oh, we’ll go in after the workmen are finished for the day.” And so we went in at night and recorded it. If you saw us climbing out of the bloody building material to get to the microphone and all this… but you know, it worked out. It was a huge hit.

SPAZ: Was the poppier material on the album the direction that the band wanted to go in? “Go Now” obviously was a huge hit, and I notice some other great post-album tracks that seemed to be going in a less R&B-based direction.
RAY: Yeah, that’s basically where Denny and Mike were going and it sort of progressed from there right through to the new band. You know, I think if Denny hadn’t have left, we’d have gone in the general direction as we did with the new band anyway. When Denny left, he got a string quartet together as a backing band. We all were going in that direction.


SPAZ: Do you think that this incarnation of the band – if maybe Denny had stuck around, that perhaps you would have achieved a little more success than you had at that point?
RAY: No, I don’t think so. I mean, Denny really wanted to go solo and Clint left. His wife didn’t want him on the road because he was married with a couple of kids. And so when Denny left, so did Clint, which just left me, Mike, and Graeme. And then John and Justin came in. Justin is a good ballad singer. I don’t think we would have had the success that we ended up having if we hadn’t changed.

SPAZ: You didn’t write much material in these early days. When did you finally feel comfortable as a songwriter?
RAY: Actually, it was the onset of the second band – everybody was writing. Everybody was trying it. Some of the stuff got thrown in the bin by everybody… especially when you may have smoked some illicit stuff. You think, “This is fantastic!” and then you listen to it in the morning and think this is a heap of shit. In the bin. When we got the opportunity to do Days Of Future Passed, because they wouldn’t give us studio time, our intention was to do that live as just one piece of music, basically. But we got lucky there, because Decca wanted a demonstration disc made for Deramic Stereo Sound, wall to wall stereo. I mean, prior to that, a lot of people – like the Beatles with Sgt. Pepper, it’s either coming out of one speaker or it’s coming out of the other, but Deramic Stereo Sound, you could place the sound in between the speakers. It was quite a revolutionary thing. They wanted a demonstration disc made so they could sell their sound system. We had to work with Tony Clark, who was a Decca producer. He really stuck his neck out. He said the label only wanted a demonstration record. We said, “Yeah, but we’ve got this idea for a Classical Rock album,” and so Peter Knight (conductor/arranger) said that sounds interesting. We said, “They’ll still get a Rock & Roll band on there and they’ll still get the orchestra.” But, it isn’t exactly what they wanted. He said, “Well, I’ll go along with it” and Tony Clark said, “So will I.” I mean, he could’ve lost his job over it. Every Tuesday, all the producers would bring in what they’d done that week and all these old men would sit around the table and these guys would play what they’d recorded during the week and then they’d decide, “Yes, we will release that and we’ll put that amount of money into promoting that” and all that shit. And so, Tony put it on and they sat through Days of Future Passed. They sat through it and they all said, “What the hell is it? It’s not a Rock & Roll album, it’s not a classical album.” They were all well pissed off except one guy called Walt McGuire who was over, fortunately, from the States. He was from London Records, which is Decca America, and he said, “If you’re not gonna release it here, I’m going to release it in the states, no trouble.” He loved it. It took two weeks to record from top to bottom, eleven days I think. We were doing at least one track a day and sending this over to Peter Knight and telling him what the next one was, and he would write in the bridges for the orchestra. We were using the Mellotron. We didn’t actually play with the orchestra. On the last day, the orchestra came in, did the overture, the end piece, and all the bridges.  It was all just stitched together. So that’s how that came about.


 SPAZ: It’s funny how somebody can sit there and not know what it is, and it ends up being an album that changes the course of music.
RAY: Sure. We were very friendly at the time with the Beatles. I mean, this is going back to the original band… we lived in one big house all together in North Hampton, and that was fantastic. We rented this house for a year and it was just a year-long party. The Beatles used to come over and there’s all these girls hanging around outside, and they used to come across our neighbor’s back gardens, climbing the fences to get in without the fans seeing them. They came over and they played us Sgt. Pepper. They really admired our band and of course we admired them, and so they came over and said, “What do you think?” – because they wanted our opinion on it. In those days, there wasn’t any backbiting with bands. There was so much creativity going on. We used to sit down and listen to somebody else and say, “Bloody hell, that’s fantastic. Why didn’t we think of that?”…stuff like that. Anyway, Mike and I went into Abbey Road after that, and we played on “I Am The Walrus” and “Fool on the Hill.” And it was my idea to put all those harmonicas on. There was George and John, me and Mike around the microphone. Paul was in the control room at the desk, and we put these harmonicas down and did some vocal backing on “Walrus.”  

SPAZ: How does it feel looking back at this particular period of the band? Basically, the genesis of what was to come…
RAY: It was fantastic because it was all new. Everything we did was new. It was a new band playing new material and it was exciting. And especially being that young – everything was exciting. We had some breaks, but basically it’s like anything – the harder you work, the luckier you get. I firmly believe that. I’m trying to instill that in my grandsons. “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

Thanks To Ray Thomas
Special thanks to Lee Thomas, Matthew Ingham, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky





THE MOODY BLUES

THE MAGNIFICENT MOODIES

Standard Edition
IMPORTCDS     DEEPDISCOUNT

Expanded 2CD Edition
IMPORTCDS     DEEPDISCOUNT

Friday, January 9, 2015

MONARCHY/"Disintergration" video featuring DITA VON TEESE + album info!

MONARCHY

ABNOCTO

2.17.15





2015 release from the British-based/Australian-born synth pop duo. Monarchy released their debut album in 2011. They remixed such acts as Ellie Goulding, Lady Gaga, Kelis, Kylie, OMD, Jamiroquai, Fyfe Dangerfield and more. Over the last five years they have played across the globe, at festivals such as Coachella, Melt, Lovebox, The Big Chill, Low Cost, Arenal Sound, and their own headline shows and club gigs in the US, Spain, Germany, UK, France, Russia. After seeing Monarchy’s performance at Coachella in 2011, burlesque star Dita Von Teese got in touch with the band and the song ‘Disintegration’ featuring Dita was eventually born from the relationship. This marked the first time Dita had ever recorded vocals on a track. This song went on to become their first single from ABNOCTO and an internet sensation. ABNOCTO is an album that switches between moods and tempo’s but always beautifully crafted and emotive. 


KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS/The Third: Available March 31st, 2015! Watch the "Baby Bye Bye" video now!




KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS

THE THIRD



3.31.15
Having sold over a quarter of a million albums worldwide, London siblings Kitty Daisy & Lewis return with their 2014 album, KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS THE THIRD. Produced by Mick Jones of The Clash in a new 16 track analog studio in a derelict Indian restaurant in Camden Town, the band take their third album to another level, with the songwriting, instrumentation, styles, production and sound.  With three different writers and multi-instrumentalists in the band, their songs are an eclectic mix up of Pop, R'n'B & Blues, Psychedelic Rock, Soul, Country, Jazz and Ska. Embracing a spread of influences from blues to disco, but always sounding unmistakably Kitty Daisy & Lewis, the stories in this album resonate with moods and melodies that touch you in ways that are both uplifting and unnerving.