Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Was a Punk Before You Were a Punk 

In a 3/13 gush-piece in the online Mic, "With one amazing quote, Pussy Riot sums up what every punk fan feels," staff writer Tom Barnes lauds the Russian group. (Though, joining trendy identity bloc disjuncture with sharism sensibility, he pronounces them a "feminist punk rock collective." To quote Chris Farley, "Well, la-di-frickin'-da!") 

Barnes notes that the band lectured to Pitchfork, in February: "A punk is someone who knows how to ask the world uncomfortable questions, and does everything possible to make sure the world can't cop out of answering those questions. A punk is a person who lives and breathes astonishment. Astonishing other people and yourself, as well -- that's what art is for us, and without art life can't exist. It would be too boring."

I lived through the 1970s punk blast, though as a long-distance fan, not an on-scene, onstage participant. Perhaps that accounts for my being here, when, sadly, so many others aren't.  I know CBGB's-era adherents sometimes held up differing definitions of punk. But the ones that have always rung truest to me are those that place the actual music, kicks, and humor before all else - before cultivated provocativeness, fashion-consciousness, Euro political stances, etc.

So, for a better definition of punk than the pretentious bannering spouted by Pussy Riot, let's consult an authority. 

The late and legendary Joey Ramone once declared to, "For me, punk is about real feelings. It's not about, 'Yeah, I am a punk, and I am angry.' That's a lot of crap. It's about loving the things that really matter: Passion, heart, and soul."

You may have noticed that Joey said nothing about challenging the world to answer uncomfortable questions, expressive arty musings, or astonishing anyone. 

See, Joey was a punk.

- DC Larson

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Richie Ramone
"Entitled" (DC-JAM)
CJ Ramone
Last Chance To Dance" (Fat Wreck Chords)

DC Larson

I first glimpsed the Ramones in a b/w cheap paper Rock Scene magazine photo essay. 1975. It chronicled the filming (in what I later learned was Arturo Vega's loft) of their pre-Sire video audition tape. 

The music was jarringly monochromatic. So were they - stark in black leather before a draped bedsheet.  1-2-3-4, and the world was made a cool place for misfits, outsiders, and assorted irregular psyches. 

Drummer/singer Richie and bassist/singer CJ would pass through the punk juggernaut in its later years -- Richie replacing Marky for three albums (Marky returned), and CJ taking up the bass after Dee Dee's 1989 departure. 

The two never did appear together on a Ramones LP, but each added something distinctive to the group. 

And they offer distinctly individual solo works. Therin lies the key to appreciating these new CDs. Not comparing their Ramones-consistent traits to the originals (a competition no one could win), but rather listening for what might distinguish them from their august predecessors.

Richie's Entitled tends to be the angrier and more aggressive. Its militant guitars are set on 11, Surly riffs stalk amongst the chunky power chording fury, and a rhythm section probably wanted by authorities for disrupting global peace rages ever forward.

Ah, the songs. Direct progressions are layered with intriguing melodic additives, and invigorating instrumental ambition jumps up from the chaos, only to duck back into shadows to plot new attacks.

Atop the whole is Richie himself, his unique sneered vocals alive with attention-riveting attitude. Loud. Defiant. Detonative. A whipsmart presence in black leather. 

Back in the day, he penned several notable tracks for the Ramones proper. Three are reinterpreted here (closer to the author's own vision, one assumes).

Of these, "I Know Better Now" and "I'm Not Jesus" are in the familiar headlong-dive style. But they incorporate novel twists and 
newly minted textures. ("I Know Better Now" benefits from a gang-yelled "Nobody can tell me!")

As the youngest Ramone, CJ brought a freshness and energy to their presentation. Last Chance For a Dance is welcome for the same reason. Its athletic energies speed through cut after cut of ebullient flame. Arrangements, even those tending toward the elementary, surprise with unexpected curb jumps into head-spinning change territory. 

Keeping all percolating above the storm is an infectious optimism. Not as in happy-go-sappy, smiley faced obliviousness. But rather a lopsided grin-through-untoward experience that refuses to cede the battle.   

As demanded by CJ's top-drawer original material, the playing here is uniformly strident and declarative. It surges, true, but with winning amiability, The pounding comes with a hearty handshake.

Variety is served with the inclusion of pensive balladeering, For these, CJ's otherwise muscular singing settles back into an agreeable introspectiveness. 
My advice? Buy both.

Recommended Richie "Criminal," "Entitled," "Smash You," "I Know Better Now," "Into the Fire"

Recommended CJ "Understand Me," "Til the End," "Long Way To Go," "You Own Me," "Last Chance To Dance"
VIDEO "Entitled"
VIDEO "Last Chance To Dance"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Seconds Out..." (Bluelight)

DC Larson

UK neo-rockabillies loose 80s energies with vibrant style. Few were their equals back in the day: such remains the case. Clever songcraft, whipsaw dispatch, arresting vocal presence. Fresh expression with experience as concrete-solid foundation.

Recommended "Black Kane," "Abracadabea," "There I Was                                      Gone," "She Used To Love Me,""She Was My 
                          Baby, He Was My Friend," "I'm Going Home"


VIDEO "Black Kane"

Clint Bradley
"Riding After Midnight" (Bluelight)

DC Larson

Gentle-voiced Clint knows well his way around winsome western airs of the sort that Marty Robbins rode to the trail's high end. And that he ambles good-naturedly, an occasional bounce in his giddy-up, allows the appropriately mainly acoustic players to stretch and interpret at hand-tooled leisure. A relaxful satisfaction.  

Recommended "Riding After Midnight," "Six Strings," "Call of the                          Far Away Hills," "A Fine Horse," "We Are Shane,"                          "My Rifle My Pony and Me"

VIDEO "Riding After Midnight"
Brian Setzer
"Rockabilly Riot! All Originals!" (Surfdog)

DC Larson

Some thirty years since the Stray Cats declared themselves "Runaway Boys," and still the wildest party in town rages on. His twangy Gretsch unholstered, host Brian raises his voice in bacchanalliac ebullience while the rest of us -- veterans and initiates, alike -- hoist our sudsy glasses in celebration of relevance everlasting.

Recommended "Let's Shake," "Lemme Slide," "Rockabilly Blues," 
                           "Vinyl Records," "Stiletto Cool," "Blue Lights, Big City"

VIDEO "Let's Shake"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vote for Jinx
one man's rockabilly election selection


DC Larson

In February, new peer acclaim may well be extended to Jinx Jones. The California-based singer/guitarist, a popular fixture at Viva Las Vegas, has been nominated for Rockabilly, Male in the 2015 Ameripolitan Awards.

Competition will be stern. Also nominated in that category are Paul Pigat, Eddie Clendening, James Intveld, and Jason D. Williams.

"I’m feeling very honored to be nominated," Jinx recently said. "I also have to say that I really appreciate the work that they do in supporting an important America art form, which celebrates a place in the musical landscape that may not receive a lot of attention from the mainstream media."

(Nominees for other distinctions include Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Kim Lenz, the Derailers, Marti Brom, Miss Ruby Ann, and Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics. Though voting begins on December 6, the Awards themselves will be held on February 17, in Austin.

Consider this both my vote for Jinx and effort to sway you to his cause.

To date, he has four crucial CDs to his credit. But Jinx's road began long before them, and was marked by impressive sideman turns. Beginning in 1976, he backed legend Solomon Burke, as well as Howard Bomar. From 1979 through much of the 80s, he worked in one of Chuck Berry's regional touring bands. During the mid-80s, Jinx backed Roy Buchanan in concert.

Undertaking studio player work, he appeared on various recordings. This ultimately led to his playing both studio guitar and bass on the 1992 En Vogue hit, "Free Your Mind."

He developed a musical voice at once inclusive of the finest of Americana past and his own novel articulation. Abandoning work as an auxillary man, he set out to carve his name in the sun.  

With seeming ease, he divines the blood fraternity of rockabilly, western swing, blues, jazz, and honky tonk, dazzling with furious note-bursts one moment, and in the next spinning glorious, intriguing strands of wondrous and untethered imaginings.

Imagine an advanced guitar textbook on 10. Listeners all will doubtless be thunderstruck by Jinx's authoritative command of labrythinian note aggregates, lightning-fleet navigations, and esoteric chordal modes. One intuits they are in the twang-upholstered, jazzy Court of a flat-gone Monarch, one for whom fair Aoede is a favored midnight-hour ship.

2000's License To Twang (Red Rogue) introduced the virtuosic Jinx by name to countless listeners who might already have dug his side and studio work. From the opening, a rapidly descending flurry of treble notes, it was apparent that he deserved remark in the same six-string pantheon already home to Danny Gatton. Honky tonk twanged expressiveness and riotous rockabilly exhortations are colorfully integrated with ebullient bursts of jazz-inflected phrasings. Recommended: "License To Twang," "Big Daddy Bop," "I Need a Good Girl Bad," "Tailor Made Woman."

A follow-up appeared in 2007. On Rumble & Twang (Home Braend), Jinx continued the hardwood-trippin' genre-bending he'd unveiled on "License."  Undeniable now was his status as fretboard royalty. Ecstatic notes were bent, jabbed, and fired off at rocketship velocity. While there was plenty of fierce and wooly barn-dancin' bop on hand, gentler moments, too, enjoyed audience. Jinx's every-string-aflame evocation of old boss Roy Buchanan's "The Messiah Will Come Again" alternately ached, pummeled and seared. Recommended: "Flat Gettin' It," "Swedish Pastry," "Either Way I Lose," "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White."

The next year saw Jinx's Live In Finland (Home Braend) turn up on shelves. Originals "Mr Right Now," and "Honky Tonk Playgirl" pointed up spring-heeled bop's reeling country accent. Further rousing the crowd were three commanding Rock'n'Roll Trio covers --"Honey Hush," "Tear It Up," and "Rock Billy Boogie." Insofar as he was that night representing America abroad, Jinx did it with appropriate swagger in the type of international incident that leaves all drained. In fact, this on-the-scene document may well have been more frenetic and happily freight-paced than its studio predecessors.

On his latest release, 2010's Rip & Run, Jinx ascended still o'er previous successes. By this time globally famed as a breath-stealing, advnturous picker both encyclopedic and devastating, he led new band the KingTones to bop nonpareil. Whereas others might take broadening capacities to assay styles more sanctified by clef-note gray-beards, Jinx stayed put in the rockabilly/country mileau -- though he unburdened himself of serrated jazz thunderbolts. Recommended: "Redneck Barbie," "On Parole and Out of Control," "Never Live It Down," "Hot Rod Heartbreaker," "Rip and Run."

Such impressive wax to one side, Jinx may be the hardest working man in rockabilly.

"I do a lot of performing here in California, (like four to five nights a week)," he told me recently. "But I also have been playing the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend for the past several years, and do an annual Christmas show in Denver, Colorado.

"This coming year." he continues, "I do have some festivals lined up such as the Vintage Torque Fest in Dubuque, Iowa, and the Ink and Iron Festival in Nashville, Tennessee (which are confirmed as of this writing). I have other events in the works as well.

"I’m in the process of recording another studio record, which will be nearly all original material."

But first will come the Ameripolitan Awards. As Andy Griffith would say, 'Let's think about this thing.'

Appreciating great sounds bring great responsibility. Fractured night spot revelers and disc-hoarding adherents are obliged to defy boardroom-choreographed pop culture and support those true-believing musicians who preserve vintage stylings and embroider upon them.

 Jinx Jones looms to fight the good fight. Our fight.

We all need to have his back.

VIDEO "Redneck Barbie"
VIDEO "Rip & Run"

(Parts of this essay appeared previously in the now-defunct Rockabilly magazine, and on my own website,

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Popa Chubby
"I'm Feelin' Lucky - The Blues According 
To Popa Chubby" (Cleopatra)
DC Larson

There are two ways Popa Chubby can loose the demons that have hounded his every day. One is through the poignant bio he's offered: Abandoned as a child to raise himself, he headed to NYC in hopes of finding something better. All that waited for him, though, was heroin addiction and desperate street living. Blues salvation ultimately lifted him out of wretched bondage.

The other way is to plug in his road-battered Strat and voice tongues-of-flame blues orating,
the sort uttered credibly only by those who've survived.  Popa speaks it fluently.

Recommended "One Leg At a Time," "I'm Feelin' Lucky," "The Way It Is," "Save Your Own Life"

VIDEO "I'm Feelin' Lucky"