Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Get It Right' (Rhon Silva aka Fillmore Slim)

California-based record label Stones Throw has blessed fans of vintage funk, soul and hiphop with many a choice salvage effort over the years. First I was aware of was their Funky 16 Corners collection, which still sounds effortlessly danceable and groove imbued, and seeing there‘s at least one blog in Cyberspace which shares its name with this disc, I’m clearly not alone in my altogether high opinion.

ST mainmen
Egon, Peanut Butter Wolf and cohorts do have an unassailable gift for pulling some serious gems from the landfill of regional music history, be it national or worldwide; check out ST's recent Eastern European funk collections (yes, you read right).

It's been a cratedigger's delight to witness the exemplary work in the salvage field that ST and labels like the Numero Group and Light In The Attic have been doing. Now another company, Now Again, seems to be stepping up, given the evidence of their recently released California Funk anthol.

It compiles twenty-one cuts from small independent North and South Cali-based labels, primarily from the early 70’s. Local combos drawing from the wellsprings of
JB, Sly, Marvin, barrio jams, recorded mostly on the cheap, with 7-inchers hawked out of car trunks or on card tables in the back of clubs these groups frequented on the weekends. Quite the haul of superfine funky wax, Golden State variety, to be sure.

Favorite cuts change from day to day, as they do: one day it might be King Saloman’s pinpoint satire 'Politician Rag', another day John Heartsman's smooth Lou Rawls knockoff. Or maybe this almost New Wave-anticipating instrumental workout, 'Smokin’ Tidbits' by the Edwards Generation. But right now I’m especially taken with
Rhon Silva’s horndog inner city S.F. travelogue 'Get it Right'.

Raggedy, conga-driven hucklebuck/Funky Broadway propulsion powers our man’s nocturnal creep. Silva starts off in the Haight-Ashbury, making sure to load up on ‘
some sike-a-delic guitar…doin’ it hippie style, y’all’ (and it‘s true, albeit more of a BB King meets Jorma six string thing). Proceeding down hilly Hayes Street and Van Ness Avenue into the Tenderloin, in his Eldorado Biarritz, leaning on the armrest, Silva’s cruising and looking for his baby. There is no doubt, with that car, with that musical backdrop, that he'll find who he's looking for.

Further research reveals that this guy definitely knew his way around this city’s less genteel zones in his time. Rhon Silva is in fact the recording pseudonym (one of a few, in fact) taken by a gent better known as
Fillmore Slim, right around then one of the City’s most notorious pimps. He even showed up in a 1999 documentary called American Pimp.

Long out of that business after time in prison, Slim still plays music, as a regular performer in local blues joints like the formerly John Lee Hooker-approved Boom Boom Room.

Regardless of that outcome, ‘Get It Right’ is a 7” slice of Bay Area life that I’d bet both Max Julien
and Ron O’Neal would have approved of.

Friday, June 04, 2010

‘San Francisco’s Doomed’ (CRIME)

Spring to fall of 1976 was, ah um, eventful personally speaking. One of the most zeitgeistically savvy pals I was lucky enough to hang with at the time was a gent named Kim Kane.

Kim sported jet black, waist length hair and a Ming/Manchu beard atop a tubercular, mantis-like frame, and when it came to rock and roll, the real stuff, he was a true believer and avid proselytizer. Kim played guitar in the Slickee Boys, one of pitifully few bands in the Washington DC area to even acknowledge a world beyond early dinosaur arena tarpit fillers, Southern boogie and prog-rock, never mind disco.

People who were interested in the same sort of music and cultural impulse found each other, if not quickly, eventually during those days. The guys (and girl) that comprised Kim’s band did and, in the process, even connected with management: a DJ on the Georgetown University FM station feeding diverse outsider musical lifeblood to us with ears (and the gray matter between them) to listen up.

Many afternoons, and a few evenings after getting off from my wage slave gig at a local ice cream parlor, were spent over at chez Kane in Bethesda, Md., up in Kim‘s attic bedroom. There he gladly turned me on to countless sounds from a ginormous record collection: everything from rare 60's Asian garage combos and backwoods Southern rockabilly, to the newly revitalizing rock coming from Boston, New York, London and elsewhere.

One day I fell by his place and, as usual on my visits, Kim wasted no time in throwing a 45 on his battered component turntable, and its picture sleeve in my face. “You won’t believe these guys! They’re from San Francisco, one’s called Frankie Fix and another guy’s Johnny Strike!”

The room soon exploded in a sound like flick knives mating in an aluminum trashcan, with Johnny? Frankie? pouting out words that I only deciphered bit by bit. Something about tribulation and the radio; maybe a reference to that Ramones group Kim had gone to see a month before. Then Johnny and Frankie and the rest of their droogy, hoodie gang with guitars spat out the title phrase a few times, before retreating back to their highstrung mung.

We both sat there, Kim and I, listening to ‘Hot Wire My Heart’ by CRIME (for it was they), mouths agape. 'Gob smacked’, as the Brits say. Holy crap, we blurted to each other in delighted amazement, what a mess, the guitars barely sound in tune, the drums aren’t even in time till the chorus…

Play that again. No, both sides.

Revered and reviled by all strata of Bay Area music fans, CRIME were everything a rock group should be: they didn’t give a flying, dressed great, and played loud, obnoxious, unforgettable beat noise.

Theirs was a strain of sonic virulence that could only have slinked out of a San Francisco that was (and remains) convivial to Tenderloin trash and South Of Market sleaze. Definitely not a sound that could have emanated from the miniature wetlands of Mill Valley, or the hot-tub nouveau riche playground of Marin.

‘San Francisco’s Doomed’ was one of many CRIME anthems (some would say all CRIME songs were anthems of a sort). As with those few rock songs that count as truly stellar, it’s difficult to make out most of the words, which only throws into relief how the clatter and raucousness of the music expresses all that the words don’t. Utterly vile. And utterly fantastic.

Johnny Strike and CRIME are still around, as this accompanying clip of them doing the song in question ably documents. So is Kim Kane. Both gentlemen deserve to be held in the utmost contrarian cultural esteem.