Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Frisco Blues" (John Lee Hooker)

“I left my heart in San Francisco/I left my heart, people, in San Francisco/High on the hill, at the Golden Gate, 'cross the bay/In San Francisco, on the hill, the mornin' fog/And the cool, cool night/That's where I wanna be, San Francisco/That's where my heart/Been to New York City/I've been to Chicago/But found no place, like San Francisco/With the cable car, high, high, on the hill/In the mornin' fog/The evening breeze/The cool, cool night/Is where I wanna be/Oh yeah.../That's where I wanna be, people/My heart is there, my heart is there, in San Francisco...”

And the fogies and squarejohns-and-janes who witnessed the outset of Rock and Roll thought it bad enough that it was all three chords: imagine the conniptions they had when they heard someone using only one. Yes, the music of John Lee Hooker could be so simple and single-minded in its dedication to The Boogie, both eternal and (yes) endless.

Yet it was a simplicity, like that of the Ramones, one could emulate but never hope to duplicate. And equally as infectious and grooveable in its way as the Forest Hills Fabs.

Although, to give fair play, many did try: his 'Boom Boom' was fantastically souped up and unleashed by The Animals and, later, Dr. Feelgood (although Wilko's mob's take was closer to the original, while Eric and co. essayed more of a jazzy swing, no doubt the handiwork of Alan Price). 

The sultry juke joint pulse of RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and other Mississippi Hill Country dwellers also clearly and deeply drank from the well of the Hook. Not to ignore the widely assumed Mod speedfreak stutter of The Who's “My Generation” being, as later revealed, Pete Townshend's hat tip to a Hooker side called “Stuttering Blues”.

A rarely acknowledged element of his biography is that John Lee Hooker, in the latter part of his life, maintained a steady presence in the Greater Bay Area. He was a regular feature act in jazz and blues clubs around San Francisco, including Sugar Hill on Broadway in North Beach, owned and operated by folk singer Barbara Dane during the early-mid Sixties. 

It was in the Bay Area where, during the late Sixties, Hooker encountered and struck up a friendship with a certain admirer named Van Morrison that endured the rest of his life and career. (The video of Hooker sitting in with Van during the latter's concert in the fall of 1989 at New York's Beacon Theater – captured on the video Van Morrison In Concert – is a must see.)

Then there was, most notably, the venerable blues dive across the street from the original San Francisco Fillmore once known as Jack's Tavern (1601 Fillmore at Geary), scene of many an after hours gig patronized by players having just finished a Fillmore set. When taken over by new management in the early Nineties, Hooker, a regular patron of Jack's, gave his blessing for them to rename it The Boom Boom Room. Until his passing in June 2001 at his home in Los Altos (some 40 miles south of The City), Hooker's name even reigned above the title on the neon sign hanging outside the club.

Back in 1963, however, Hooker would enter a Detroit studio, assisted by, among others, a troupe of female singers from the Motown Records session pool that included Mary Wilson of the Supremes. He then proceeded to transform Tony Bennett's recently minted chestnut into a typically down-home yet simultaneously uptown tribute to his soon to be adopted homebase.  (It was later redone on Hooker's 1997 album Don't Look Back.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Save Me San Francisco" (Train)

I used to love the tenderloin until I made some tender coin
/Then I met some ladies from Marin/
We took the highway to the one up the coast to catch some sun/
That left me with these blisters on my skin/

Don't know what I was on but I think it grows in Oregon/
So I kept on going, going on right through/
I drove into Seattle rain, fell in love then missed the train/
That could have took me right back home to you/ 

(chorus as such)
I've been high, I've been low
I've been yes and I've been oh, hell no
I've been rock 'n' roll and disco
Won't you save me San Francisco?

Every day so caffeinated, I wish they were Golden Gated
Fillmore couldn't feel more miles away
So wrap me up return to sender, let's forget this five year bender
Take me to my city by the bay

I never knew all that I had, now Alcatraz don't sound so bad
At least they have a hell of a fine Merlot
If I could wish upon a star I would hitch a cable car
To the place that I can always call my own

I've been high, I've been low
I've been up, I've been down
I've been so damn lost since you're not around
I've been reggae and calypso
Won't you save me San Francisco?

So then..
I include this because it has lyrics very specific to the Bay Area, and the tone of said lyrics is quite amusing, to me anyway.

That said, as ROLLING STONE Magazine said so trenchantly when doing a profile of the Stooges in ‘69:
The following article does not constitute an endorsement of current phonographic products.
– Editor (ie Jann Wenner).

These lyrics are specific and joyful and the tune itself is pretty OK. That said, Train is one of the most brown lipsticked combos I have ever had the unfortunate circumstance to experience.

Pat Monahan, who writ and sang the words up there, is the most showboating hambone of a frontman I have ever seen in my life, up there with fellow discredit to Bay Area music S. Hagar.

And what is most annoying about him, is besides his very existence, is that there are so many of these folk. Eddie Vedder is the worst parts of  Morrison, and somewhere DL Roth ends up in that equation, if you think about it. Somehow maybe the least ‘honest’ performers turn out to be the most honest.

For th’ rekkid: My two favorite live performers who punctured the arena rock barrier were Bowie on the STATION TO STATION tour in 76, and Neil Young on the RUST NEVER SLEEPS tour (only ever seen by me on film, dammit).

Anyway, to sum up: a fun tune, great lyrics. Don’t buy TRAIN Wine.
And I hope, in the midst of Google glassholeness, carpetbaggers and stupefied locals, that San Francisco saves me too before I die and/or lose my freakin marbles.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

‘San Francisco’ (Foxygen)

“Up in San Francisco where the forest meets the bridge/I thought I saw you standing there/and then you fell into the world…

But that was many years ago/and I am so much older now/My brother is a soldier now/I can't see them anyhow, I moved up, in the wind/And you, swimming uptide/ or just tuning in radio stations…

And we're restating on this hill/That Jesus came from Israel/Isaac followed the sacred cow/So not to wake a sparrow splashing mud…

But that was many years from now/And I hope from here on now/That I always seem to want to shout/‘Your eyes are like a cup of tea/you're sending to the sun with me’…/You swimming upstream, or just tune into new sensations/I was broken, you were broken…

I left my love in San Francisco (That's okay, I was bored anyway)/I left my love in the room (That's okay, I was born in L.A.)/I left my love in San Francisco (That's okay, I was bored anyway)/ left my love in a field (That's okay, I was born in L.A.)…”

So it’s too long we have tarried, obviously; at least a year since the last SFNS post, in fact.  Apologies.

A lot can and has happened here in town with the passing of such time, both in the City itself and to your humble blogster.  Things in both instances which have a tendency to shake one’s confidence and belief in both to their respective foundations.  So it transpires one seeks out those articles of faith that restore self-confidence as well as confidence to not give up, and stay and strive to maintain what the heck it is that attracted one to such a place as this City That Knows How (Even If It Sometimes Doesn’t Know Why).

So it is with this tune.  I know next to nothing about this group except they are, like the lyric says, from L.A.  Also that their singer, one Sam France, has such a beguilingly androgynous voice - equal bits the dispassion of Nico, the wistfulness of any number of UK female folkrockers (St John, McDonald, Bunyan) with the effortless guile of early Rundgren - that, the first few times I heard it, I was convinced that it was some winsome South Cali nubile. 

And yes, the lyrics are maybe a little too elliptical and imagistic for their own good…yet there’s a real uplift to the music and the tune. Dreamy and hopeful and affirmative.

I’m listening to it as I type this on a gloomy rainy Sunday in the City and it’s like a stream of sunlight break in the clouds, all the better to help one along and through the sometimes ominous changes we locals have to contend with, and confront, on an all too daily basis as of late.

(I also recommend a tune off Foxygen’s latest, ‘How Can You Really’: another melodic pop bouquet that favorably compares to nothing less than classic early Todd Rundgren. And in this clip?  Sam France and band: VERY much informed by the Runt. Check out TR's 'Waiting Game' Letterman performance for comparison and contrast.)

Saturday, April 06, 2013

"Small Jean Genie snuck into the City..." (or, D.B. in S.F.)

All the recent hoohah about David Bowie's (not unenjoyable) return to the pop culture arena made me think of a chance remark a friend once made, pertaining to a Bowie song from his Ziggy Stardust '70s heyday.  Quite a primo example of a mondegreen, in fact. 

You all know what a mondegreen is, right?  'Excuse me while I kiss this guy.'  'There's a bathroom on the right.'  That sort of thing.  

This particular one, however, had more than a bit of perhaps unintentional local historical truth. It's from the Aladdin Sane track 'Cracked Actor'

Musically, it's one of those souped-up Yardbirds/British R&B knockoffs Bowie was fond of back then.  The lyric, however, with its seedy recounting of a liaison between an aging Hollywood film star and his male hustler/junkie booty call of the night, led it to being banned by my then favorite Washington DC 'free-form rock' radio station upon Aladdin Sane's release.

In any case, this friend misheard part of the lyric being "You've caught yourself a trick down on Sunset and Vine/but since he pinned you, baby, you're on Polk and Pine..." The actual lyric being ..."since he pinned're a porcupine".

Unintentional or not, my friend - having lived in San Francisco since back when Bowie/Ziggy was making such a big noise -  can be forgiven for making such a mistake.   

Long before the neighborhood of The Castro - formerly known as Eureka Valley - became international shorthand for 'gay Mecca', the main energy center for San Francisco's homosexual demimonde was the area known as Polk Gulch.  Roughly the stretch of downtown's Polk Street between Geary Boulevard and Sacramento Street, there could be found any number of clubs, bars and restaurants catering to and frequented by a gay clientele during the 1970's.

The intersection of Polk and Pine alone was well known for three gay-specific businesses.   The Palms Cafe was a relatively classy restaurant and live music club, at one point hiring a young artist and aspiring musician named Michael Cotten to paint murals on its walls - he later became an original member of The Tubes 

Kimo's (1351 Polk Street), which opened in 1978, consisted of a small downstairs dive bar and an equally intimate upstairs area which hosted drag shows.  Kimo's later became known as a showcase venue for countless fledgling Punk and Metal bands. Metallica  played a secret show there (under the name Spun) in 2002. 

Your blogger also witnessed a fantastic gig there in 2000 by The Triple Gang, performing the entire This Nation's Saving Grace album by Mark E. Smith and The (Mighty) Fall.  Strictly a one-off assemblage, Triple Gang included drummer Jon Weiss (then of local rockers Horsey, later with Ween) and Billy Gould, bassist of Faith No More (who more recently collaborated with This Heat drummer Charles Hayward, among others, to create a most stunning, potent instrumental disc, City of Quartz, under the name House of Hayduk.)

Kimo's unfortunately closed in 2012 after years of dealing with noise complaints from neighbors, and is now a more gentrified establishment known as Playland.  

Right around the corner and still going strong after all these years, though, is the Grubstake diner (1525 Pine Street), well entrenched as a favored after-hours destination for late night revelers, layabout street rats and tweakers to get their nosh on.

Bringing things back to Bowie, some significant events occurred for him here in San Francisco. Bowie and the Spiders from Mars debuted over two nights in October 1972, at the famed Winterland Ballroom/Arena (corner of Post and Steiner Streets, in the Fillmore/Japantown district). Also on the bill were Flo and Eddie, and local sensation Sylvester with his Hot Band.  

Despite the serious buzz Ziggy Stardust was creating, Bowie was only able to draw around 500 spectators to the 5,400-capacity Winterland.  He reportedly shrugged it off afterwards - telling confidants that "San Francisco doesn't need me when they've got Sylvester" - but was clearly stung by the low turnout, enough to exclude the Bay Area as a U.S. tour stop until his Station To Station tour in 1976. 

More successful in terms of furthering Ziggy's name was Bowie's decision to shoot a promotional film while in town for his upcoming single, 'The Jean Genie'.  Directed by iconic photographer Mick Rock and made in one day for allegedly $350, the clip featured performance footage of Bowie and the Spiders shot during both the Winterland engagement and in an actual photo studio.  

Of more local interest, however, were the brief bits Rock and Bowie also shot outside the South of Market flophouse known as the Mars Hotel.  Bowie, in full Ziggy finery, is seen lounging and smoking against a corner of the hotel building, as a young blonde chickadee struts and vamps along the sidewalk before him.  

The blonde in question was part of Bowie's Mainman entourage, one Cyrinda Foxe, soon to become notorious as the girlfriend of David Johansen and subsequently Steven Tyler.  'Jean Genie' was released as a single in November 1972, ultimately reaching #2 on the UK charts and #71 in America.

The Mars Hotel, located at 192 4th Street at the corner of 4th and Howard in the SOMA (South of Market) area of downtown San Francisco, is of course also legendary as having provided the cover and name for the Grateful Dead disc From The Mars Hotel, released in June of 1974.  The hotel was demolished in the 1980's, during the redevelopment that made possible the construction of such buildings as the George Moscone Convention Center, the Metreon Center shopping complex, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Monday, August 20, 2012

In Memoriam..

Though this goes against the tenets of this blogsite, I could not let go the chance to represent for Scott McKenzie, who passed a few days ago.

This is a typically fine overview of his most famous song by one of the great music writers out there, Jon Savage, in the London Guardian. Godspeed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"San Francisco" (Van Dyke Parks/Brian Wilson)

“San Francisco, San Francisco/Her lovers' arms were open wide/With a gate so golden/Waits with charms unfoldin’/Hold that cable car up there with pride/I gotta ride; giddy-up down to…/San Francisco, San Francisco/Where love is true as time and tide/She was seventeen though/when I left from Reno/Like some Valentino with his bride/There by my side…/I panned gold from ‘Cisco down to Frisco/How I'm missin these days of yore…Eldorado/Miss those Irisky women and raw rye whiskey/With each kiss we would explore…Eldorado/For this desperado was gold in the dust/Like many a man in God do I trust/Gave up on Eldorado, so lost in my lust/Where love is not for sale/Out at the end of the trail…”

Been on a bit of a Beach Boys jag as of late. What with the improbable detente struck between Brian Wilson and Mike Love, resulting in their current and, from some reports, quite brilliantly performed 50th anniversary tour.

Then there’s that new LP. I’ve only heard the title track, which is, this far along, an equally improbable beaut: “That’s Why God Made The Radio” may carry tinges of everything from ‘Kiss Me Baby’ to doowop chestnut 'Silhouettes' (on the authority of current BW/BB cohort Probyn Gregory) and, jeez, even John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy theme, but it's still unmistakably as sweet as anything drawn from the fragile but fruitful creative mind of Brian Wilson.

So it felt like the time was right to unearth a song with BW involvement and a theme that strays for once well afar of those mythic Southern Cali shores. It actually comes from a ‘90s collaboration with one of Brian’s most compatibly imaginative musical partners, Van Dyke Parks: the album Orange Crate Art.

To be more specific, it’s an album of VDP’s songs with Brian as its featured vocalist. As with many songs in their respective CV’s, the album has its fans and deriders. As for me, at its best VDP’s richly genteel melodies, multilayered and playfully imagistic lyrics, and the topping of (thanks to studio magic) the BW Chorale make for fine listening indeed.

Many of the songs on OCA, as stated above, are inspired by Northern California of the past -  the world of Steinbeck, London and temporary resident Kerouac.  The title track even references the vineyards and agriculture of Sonoma.

As a recent transplant from the East Coast at the time of OCA's release - one who never traveled far without a little Brian Wilson, in addition to Big Star - the song ‘San Francisco’ became an immediate personal anthem to my new hometown.

Albeit one rather more fancifully articulated than Tony Bennett might (I didn’t quote a typically punny VDP allusion to Candlestick Park - by way of Stephen Crane - in a later part of the song).

In any case, for any faults one might dig for, OCA was Brian and Van Dyke together again, which perhaps therapeutically aided and encouraged Brian’s eventual, post-Millennial re-emergence…for which some of us in this sick old world are most thankful.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

'Lazy' (The Nuns, featuring Jennifer Miro)

August 1977: Through a succession of events too boring and personal to explain here, Your Blogmaster found himself in Southern California during the last handful of weeks of summer, 1977. Over the last few years I’ve been cobbling together notes towards writing a memoir of that time, provisionally titled Midsummer Punk; for now, however, I’ll concentrate on one specific occurrence.

The L.A. Punk/Wave community was beginning to make itself known and heard at that time. Not being so clued in as a relative outsider to know about places like the Masque, I was content to check out the few groups I was aware of at that Sunset Strip mainstay, the Whisky A Go Go.
But what shows they were! Using my minimal leverage as an out of town fanzine writer, I managed to finagle a free ticket out of The Ramones’ record company to see them at the Whisky, my first time experiencing them live. I saw two sets in one night; my ears rang for the next thirty-six hours.

My first Whisky gig, though, was The Dictators, supported by a group from up North, San Francisco’s own Nuns. Handsome Dick and his mob were pimping their ‘comeback’ lp, Manifest Destiny, uneasily caught between the juvenile, ‘teengenerate’ in-crowd humor of their now-classic debut, and wholehearted courting of the Stadium-Rock consuming majority.

For me, the new Dictators songs - rockers like ‘Steppin’ Out’ and ‘Science Gone Too Far!’, the surprising ‘Hey Boys’ (a Power Ballad before the term existed!) – appealed, and yet...
Mostly, it seemed like they were trying way too hard; that they also cranked their amps far louder than the confines of the Whisky deserved only added to the alienation of Go Girl Crazy! fans like me.

The Nuns were another, far more intriguing ball game altogether. Their lineup was quite the mismatch at first glance. There was Jeff Olener, a loud, foul-mouthed, leather-jacketed post-teenage delinquent. He didn’t so much sing as bellow and bark: in other words, the perfect front man.
Actually, and unusually, there were two front men throwing the songs in the mugs of the assembled L.A. mooks, expectant if unfamiliar with them and their foggy urban spawning ground. Olener’s cohort was one Ritchie Detrick, who was from NYC and (according to the Punk jungle telegraph) had been a roommate of Dee Dee Ramone's.
But wait, there was a third presence vying for the punkers’ attention: this blonde, model-thin-and-gorgeous creature, wrapped in a black (silk? vinyl? rubber?) trench coat, a Veronica Lake sweep of hair cascading down her face. Her name was Jennifer Miro, and she sat at stage left, playing electric piano and regarding the audience with a glacial gaze that was equal parts contempt and obliviousness.
Not to say that the rest of the Nuns’ lineup wasn’t as formidable. There was baby-faced Alejandro (back then known just as 'Al') Escovedo on guitar, who has created quite the impressive solo career for himself since those days. There was also Mike Varney on bass: he never really fit in, and in the following decade went on to be a major player and promoter on the Bay Area’s Metal scene.
Anyway, the Nuns’ set came suitably hard, loud and confrontational, with songs like 'Decadent Jew' and 'Suicide Child' (all together now: ‘you shot my dog, you *effing* hog, you're a suicide child...’).
The opening song, though, provided a serious and most un-Punkish contrast. It was called ‘Lazy’, performed by Jennifer alone on stage; a languid, quarter-to-two saloon closer that one could romantically describe as ‘decadent’.
I am including a later recording of ‘Lazy’, from the Nuns’ only fitfully successful 1980 debut disc for BOMP. Besides obviously being from here, another San Francisco angle could be found in the song’s original lyrics, in which found Miro asserting that the reason for her romantic malaise was due to all the local guys being more interested in each other! (A demo of the original ‘Lazy’ was regularly played, back in the day, on a local FM radio show hosted by out gay DJ, rock writer - and future president of Sire Records - Howie Klein.)
Jennifer Miro, phone home if you overcame your laziness.

And a sad Postscript: Jennifer Miro passed a few weeks ago in New York, of cancer. Here is video of her with the Nuns, playing at Winterland in summer '77, doing 'Lazy' (solo) and 'Savage'. Remember her this way: that walk, that voice, that mien. Wow.