Sunday, October 18, 2020

"Frisco Flo" (Cab Calloway)

"Frisco Flo was just a typical gal/Frisco Flo was just a regular my-gal-Sal/Frisco Flo was just as sharp as a tack/...f
or a fellow would give the shirt right off of her back/
She knew the smallies and the biggies, the weak and the strong/
A sinner, no beginner, at kicking the gong/But with it all, she always knew the right from the wrong/'
Love Thy Neighbor' was her favorite song...
Frisco Flo is up in heaven, I know/
Here below, we love the memory of Frisco Flo/
Though she's gone, we go on/
ike a flame, we carry onward in the name of Frisco Flo!"
Although best known for the classic 'Minnie The Moocher', the late great African American jazz singer, actor and performer Cab Calloway (1907-1994) clearly had plenty of time and affection for other good time, night blooming feminine flora, as evidenced by this lesser known original. It was first performed by Calloway as part of a movie musical, The Cotton Club Parade of 1936, showcasing talent exclusive to that famed Harlem nightspot.
The equally late and great wordsmith Terry Southern, in dissecting Mick Jagger's performing style and way of 'selling a song', linked it to a "tradition (of movin' and groovin') [that] had its most modest beginning with Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club in Harlem, where he would occasionally strut or slink about in front of the bandstand by way of 'illustrating' a number. After each, he would take his bow, mopping his forehead, beaming up his gratitude for the applause as he reverted to his "normal" self for the next downbeat (and invariably a change of pace)."
Years later, Calloway would actually work on a film co-written by Southern, 1965's The Cincinnati Kid starring Steve McQueen.
Listen to 'Frisco Flo" here:

Sunday, May 31, 2020

"San Francisco Street” (Steven Lancaster)

Artificial flowers growing/in a hot and smokey breeze/Fluorescent sunshine glowing/indicating names of factories..../But don't go away/Just smile everyday/Wear love in your heart/Wear a flower in your hair and you'll see.../Anywhere can be San Francisco (2x)/Anywhere can be San Francisco Street/Come with me, and retreat/to my world and you'll see...

There may be no green grass growing/only hard black tarmac road/Where you'll see people going/Through the world that they don't really know/You don't have to roam/Just stay right at home/Wear love in your heart/Wear a flower in your hair/And you'll see...Anywhere can be San Francisco...

Sweet music playing/in the dimly lit cafe/The steamed-up windows/where the people's fingers play/writing names, playing games, writing names...Anywhere can be San Francisco Street...”

Another look at the Summer of Love's Ground Zero from across The Pond, similar to that of “Let's Go To San Francisco”, this song proposes the idea that, no matter how urban-unrenewed and depressing your home burg might be at times, you have the cheering, fantastical option at one's disposal of creating a tie-dyed, paisley and patchouli oasis.

Indeed, San Francisco is all in the mind. (And keep in mind that, by the time this song came out, the bloom was starting to fade off the actual Haight Street rose.)

Produced by Yank expat Shel Talmy, this hopeful, folky pop confection - replete with 'ba-ba-ba' vocals - was a decided departure from the usual brash soundscapes he created for the early Who and Kinks.

Steven Lancaster was the nom de rocque for one Len Moseley, who would go on to a similarly sunshiny psych-pop vocal group called Wild Silk, releasing a sole, rather charming single, "Toymaker", in 1969. Moseley also wrote the song “The Night Before” for Lee Hazlewood.

Listen to “San Francisco Street” here:

Saturday, May 09, 2020

"Sausalito (Is The Place To Go)" (The Ohio Express ...or is it?)

You might realize from the sound of my voice...that not...from San Jose. (much audience laughter) No, I come from across the water...Sausalito. (more laughter)”
-Ray Davies of The Kinks, from his one man show The Storyteller, Alcazar Theater, San Francisco, circa 1996.

Cruising 'round 'round, fell out of my boat/Swam around, swam around, started to float
/Floated 'round 'round, hanging onto the flow/There I found, there I found Sausalito/
Perfect leaf green, it's all in the view/Every shade, marmalade, every hue/Houses in stilts grow out of the sea/Everything's growing, it's growing for me.../Sunning all day, loving all night/(Write/ride?) a bit, fight a bit, got it just right/Music and flowers, the sight and the sound/Fish a bit, wish a bit, magic's all around.../You oughta go there, everything grows there/When you get high on a mountain,it snows there
/Everything's groovy, like in a movie/Sausalito is the place to go to now...”

OK, I know: as song lyrics go it's not exactly on the level of, say, 'Visions Of Johanna'...but what would you honestly expect from one of the prime movers of that celebrated and reviled sub-genre of Rock known as Bubblegum?

Released the summer of and month before the Woodstock Festival in 1969, this became one of the last singles to be released by The Ohio Express, part of the stable of the undisputed masters of Bubblegum, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz. Emerging during the Summer of Love, the Bubblegum sound was a simple, nursery-rhyme-catchy antidote to Psychedelic excess. As a result, Kasenetz-Katz produced quite the stunning run of Top 40 hits leaping from transistor radios worldwide between 1967 and '69.

As stated above, serious rock fans dismissed Bubblegum as mindless commercial trash, yet its simplicity would later be taken to heart by those who would create what became Glam (and aspects of Punk) in a similarly bright, sharp pop image. Another Kasenetz-Katz act, the 1910 Fruitgum Company's '1-2-3 Red Light' was covered by the original three-piece Talking Heads, and later hit 'Indian Giver' by The Ramones. The Kasanetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Chorus' hit 'Quick Joey Small' was allegedly the first song The Cramps ever attempted to play.

Other occupants of the Kasenetz-Katz stable of Bubblegum stars were Crazy Elephant ('Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'') and The Music Explosion ('Little Bit o' Soul', also covered by The Forest Hills Fab Four). Even the none-more-garagey Shadows Of Knight were beneficiaries of 'A Super K Production' with a remake of their hit 'Shake'.

Then there were The Ohio Express, and the almost annoyingly, adenoidal bliss of ubiquitous hits like 'Yummy Yummy Yummy', 'Chewy Chewy' and 'Down At Lulu's' (which would provide a Bay Area vintage/rocker boutique with its name in the late '90s).

After their initial run of hits, however, lead singer and co-writer Joey Levine decided to jump ship over money issues. Seeing as much of the Kasenetz-Katz roster were studio creations to begin with, other songwriters and players were sought out to carry on the Ohio Express brand.

Improbably, one of the journeymen songwriters they turned to was Graham Gouldman: already a known hit-making quantity, having penned chart-toppers like 'For Your Love' and 'Heart Full Of Soul' for The Yardbirds, 'Bus Stop' and 'Look Through Any Window' for The Hollies, and 'No Milk Today' and 'Listen People' for Herman's Hermits. Finding himself in 1969 at what he now calls 'a creative lowpoint', Gouldman accepted Super K's offer and, in tandem with fellow jobbing musician/songsters Eric Stewart, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, set about churning out the required Bubblegum.

Reaching #86 on the American Top 40 charts, 'Sausalito (Is The Place To Go)', though credited to The Ohio Express, was in fact sung and performed by the aforementioned Gouldman and co. The four would in time set out on their own, first as Hotlegs with 1970's fluke of a global smash 'Neanderthal Man', then more famously as smart-pop artisans 10cc.

('Sausalito' and other Gouldman and pre-10cc tunes, written for Kasenetz-Katz and others, can be found on the 2003 anthology Strawberry Bubblegum, released by Castle Music.)

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.