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Defaced.

An album I suddenly, randomly wish I’d held onto a bunch of years ago rather than unloading: Utopia’s Deface the Music.

Sometimes the music that seems least suited to be repeatedly heard, chewed on and thought over actually deserves that attention in the end.

Sorry, girls, he’s raising Steven Tyler’s kid:

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A bard beyond description.

News item: Cattle rancher, Grateful Dead lyricist, writer and Internet theoretician John Perry Barlow is dead at 70.

Never having been much interested in other people’s thoughts and theories about the Internet, I always thought of John Barlow as the guy who co-wrote “Mexicali Blues.”

(Perhaps I would have remembered him differently if I’d met his cattle.)

For all his subsequent tech-related fame, Barlow the lyricist kept an even lower public profile than the Dead’s senior lyricist, Robert Hunter.

Unlike Hunter, Barlow never pursued a performing career. In fact, I’m not even sure he played an instrument.

(Barlow’s link to the Dead came through his boarding-school roommate and friend, Bob Weir. Weir grew up to be the Dead’s rhythm guitarist, Barlow to be an aspiring writer; when Weir needed lyrics, the two connected.)

Nor did the songs Barlow co-wrote with Weir or keyboardist Brent Mydland attain the radio play granted to the most successful of Hunter’s tunes (like “Truckin’,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Alabama Getaway,” and, of course, “Touch of Grey.”)

But, in fits and spots, Barlow’s work as a lyricist filtered out beyond the four walls of Deadland every once in a while.

If you happened to be digging Nashville’s WKDA-FM around Halloween of 1975, you would have heard “The Music Never Stopped,” a Barlow-Weir tune from the Blues for Allah album.

One line from the song — “They’re a band beyond description / Like Jehovah’s favorite choir” — went on to become one of Deadheads’ favorite labels for their heroes.

The Harvard University radio station chose “A Band Beyond Description” for the name of its Grateful Dead “orgy” in 1992, a near-uninterrupted spree of continuous Dead for something like six days that filled my ears with a lot of stuff I hadn’t heard before and haven’t stopped hearing since.

(Barlow was apparently an advocate for the concept of “pronoia.” Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia: It’s the belief that strangers and/or cosmic forces are working to make your life better. Being unexpectedly gifted with six straight radio-days of unlimited Grateful Dead is a pretty good argument for pronoia, in my book.)

Barlow also benefited from the massive 1987 popularity of the Dead’s In The Dark album. While his co-writes “Throwing Stones” and “Hell in a Bucket” didn’t follow “Touch of Grey” into the Top 40, they gained a fair amount of play on album-oriented rock stations and placed high on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. (WBCN in Boston, in particular, was all over “Hell in a Bucket” for a little while.)

“Hell in a Bucket,” in particular, stands out as a song I remember hearing a lot — to the point where it seems just as representative of the Dead’s Eighties resurgence as “Touch of Grey,” and just as much of a mental ticket back to that moment in time.

Speaking of the Eighties, there’s a video. It’s deeply unfortunate.

Finally, exercising the blogger’s tendency to deal with things that end in zeroes and fives: It was just about exactly 40 years ago that Barlow and Weir’s music had one of its biggest chances to break through.

Weir spent the Dead’s summer 1977 hiatus recording a slick solo album, Heaven Help the Fool, backed by L.A. heavies like Waddy Wachtel, Bill Champlin, David Foster and Tom Scott. Six of the album’s eight tunes were Barlow-Weir co-writes, including the single “Bombs Away.”

The Dead, at the time, were making a conscious bid to clean up their act and follow peers like Steve Miller and Jefferson Starship into the pop charts. Heaven Help the Fool was airplay-friendlier and easier to digest than even the Dead’s efforts in that direction.

Heaven Help the Fool came out in January of ’78, and the following month, it started poking into a few airplay charts — including a Top Ten placement in Davenport, Iowa. But then it stalled, peaking at No. 69 on the Billboard charts in mid-April.

Bombs Away” fared similarly, showing up on a few local charts but not troubling the Brothers Gibb. It peaked at No. 70 in the same week the album hit its top position. It was probably clear by Memorial Day ’78 that Weir wasn’t going to turn into the next Boz Scaggs, and Barlow’s stature as junior Dead lyricist wasn’t changing either.

Listening to “Bombs Away” now, I’m at a loss to explain why it didn’t do better. It’s slick and bouncy and kinda cheesy, but so were a lot of other songs back then, and there seems nothing wrong with it that a few edits to single-length wouldn’t fix.

Slimed.

Discovered these guys on one of my Bandcamp raids, and was so instantly charmed by their album cover that I decided to write about them:

Just a pair of hard-workin’, jeans-wearin’, arms-foldin’, garage-shakin’, Les Paul-totin’, Vistalite-bashin’, frill-eschewin’ brothers from one of America’s northern edges. (Here’s a view of what their hometown looks like.)

How are the tunes? Heavy; reasonably tuneful; a little samey after a while, what with only two people hammering away and very little tonal variation; but enjoyable enough if you like it loud.

I encourage every one of my three readers to go check them out, because honest enterprise should not be its own reward.

After the Buffalo Party.

From time to time I toy with the idea of starting a blog focused on the day I was born.

Two or three times a week I’d find some scraplet of information from the day, and comment on it at length. Could be a newspaper article, a baseball boxscore, the weather report, the records on the charts, the day’s obituaries, the cost of a new Pontiac, or the cost of a six-pack of Falstaff Beer. And like that.

I could go on and on with that idea — if I felt like it, which I never quite have all the way.

(I should probably also know better than to publicize my birthday. Someday, some intrepid scammer will make me regret I was born — and that I ever let slip, in a public setting, when it took place.)

In the absence of that unborn blog, the following story will just have to live here. It’s obscure, and kinda sad, and a little bit rock n’ roll. And, really, what more could you ask than that?

# # # # #

Untitled

The night editor of the Lewiston, Idaho, Morning Tribune, assembling the next day’s paper on the Fourth of July 1973, saw fit to pick up an Associated Press story about an unidentified-but-not-forgotten young man.

Maybe (s)he found it touching. Or maybe there just wasn’t much on the AP wire on the national holiday (s)he’d been scheduled to work, and you can’t put a newspaper out with blank spots, now, can you?

At any rate, the people of Lewiston found themselves acquainted with a mystery that originated July 3, 1970, on a hippie-choked farm in a small town about an hour away from Seattle.

A local rancher named Buffalo Don Murphy had arranged a multi-day music festival, which he passed off as a political convention — “the Buffalo Party National Convention and Pig Roast” — to sidestep regulations against rock festivals.

The festival happened, though it’s not clear how many people attended (10,000? 30,000?) or who performed. Names like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape were bandied about, but the one semi-big name anyone’s ever confirmed is journeyman blues-harpist James Cotton.

Buffalo Don’s farm happened to abut Little Mashel Falls, a picturesque 92-foot drop. With all the hippies milling about, it was inevitable that some of them would find their way there to dig the scenery and enjoy the water.

And on the first day of the Buffalo Party Convention, a slim young man clad only in blue jeans fell from the top of the waterfall to his death.

No one police spoke to seemed to know his name; nor did his fingerprints match any in police files. It appears that no one came forward in search of a missing son, brother or boyfriend, either.

Eventually, as the AP story recounted, he was buried on the state’s dime in a cemetery in Puyallup, Wash., under a gravestone that recounted the mysterious circumstances of his passing.

On some national holidays — particularly the Fourth of July, the more-or-less anniversary of his death — some anonymous visitor bedecked the young man’s grave with an artificial flower.

This quiet act of good karma somehow reached the AP, which made a couple of calls to relevant local officials and wrote a story about it.

And so it was that the people of Lewiston woke up to a Page Two mystery with their morning cornflakes, that Thursday after the Fourth of July.

# # # # #

The Internet being what it is, and nostalgia being what it is, the Buffalo Party National Convention has not been forgotten.

There’s a website laden with recollections about it, which is the source of a fair amount of the info in this post. The webmaster was at one point planning a documentary movie, though I don’t know its current status. (Cotton, the one confirmed performer at the Buffalo Party, died in March 2017.)

Several people who have left comments on the website remember the young man’s death, and two even provide a name for him. He was a high school classmate, they say; his name was apparently Don Christiansen or Christianson, and they say he came from Lakewood, Wash.

I’d like to assume that these folks have shared that info with his family, if any remain, and that the mysterious young man of Puyallup has been named and claimed.

It seems doubtful, 45 years on, that the anonymous flower-giver of 1973 is still at it … so if anyone were to remember this young man, it would have to be his family.

But, some bursts of Googling have not confirmed that. I’ve not found an article (from Lewiston or anywhere else) about a rock-festival mystery solved and a long-lost young man identified.

Maybe the Unknown Festivalgoer has been posthumously embraced; maybe he’s been totally forgotten.

I’d be interested to know which.

Ugly rumors on the border.

I’m familiarizing myself a little bit with the music of the late fusion guitarist Larry Coryell … and that side trip has brought me to another of those great local airplay charts from the ARSA database.

What we have here is the survey from WKCO 91.9 FM, at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, for the fortnight ending Oct. 18, 1974.

What makes this one so awesome? Oh, all sorts of stuff:

– First off, it’s handwritten, in a friendly font that’s just the right side of legible. You don’t come across that many handwritten airplay charts, but once in a while you find one, and it’s a warm-casual touch, like a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies with a joint on the side.

– Second, for people like me who like to consider the time and place when the music came pouring out of the radio: If you’re going to college and it’s early to mid-October, you’ve gotten past the stumbling points of the first week or so, and you’re in the groove. Plus, the weather is starting to mellow. So, the survey’s from a good place at a good time of year.

The Dead at Number One! Don’t see that a whole lot, do you? A quick glance through ARSA suggests this is one of only two surveys in the database to show a Grateful Dead album in the top spot. (The other came from St. Louis progressive station KADI in December 1970.)

Whoever annotated the Kenyon College survey was anal-retentive enough to affix the “Ugly Rumors” prefix to the album title. It must have been fun for ten seconds, in the summer and fall of ’74, to flip the album cover upside-down and squint at the stylized writing.

Further attention to detail: The cover of I’ve Got My Own Album To Do gives the artist’s name as “Ron Woods” with the S scratched out, and the Kenyon College radio survey duplicates this inside joke. Somebody cared enough to pay attention.

Further detail-points to the annotator for correctly transcribing Tim Buckley’s record label not as Discreet but DiscReet. While Wiki doesn’t specify this, I always thought the capitalized “Reet” was a nod to the old hipsters’ slang term of approbation.

The mix: The records on this list, bought in one lot, would make a pretty nice Seventies starter set, with everything from funk to hard rock to progressive rock to singer-songwriters represented.

It’s also a nice mix of well-known warhorses (461 Ocean Boulevard, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, the first BadCo album) and less-traveled side roads (Buckley! John Sebastian! Taj Mahal! Ry Cooder!) They’re not all great records, but the time you took to work through the whole pile would be well-spent, if that makes any sense.

And any station that was willing to play Neil Young records during the Ditch Trilogy era has a friend in me — particularly the On The Beach album, which is fantastic.

So, yeah, I dig this playlist.

Indeed, having listened to Larry Coryell the entire time I’ve been writing this, it may be fair to say I like this playlist more than I like the music of Larry Coryell.

Killer Queen.

For all those people yearning to hear me sing again … all those people who think there just aren’t enough albums on Bandcamp … and all those people longing to hear John “T-Bone” Shelby immortalized in song:

Your moment has come.

OntarioDarkLakeWText

Today marks the release of Ontario Queen of the Lakes, the latest Kurt Blumenau Bandcamp album.

It’s a collection of 14 songs, some songier than others, more or less inspired by the Rochester, N.Y., I grew up in. (Some of it may leave you wondering if, indeed, I grew up at all.)

Mark Knapp, the drummer from my high school garage band Fried Pig (you’ve read about him at least once here), lends his presence to a bunch of the songs. It’s not quite Planet Waves, as reunions go, but I’m happy it happened anyway, and I hope to do more with him.

For now we’ll content ourselves with this: Ontario Queen of the Lakes, featuring pick hits such as “In Canada They Do Remark’ble Things,” “Winter Track,” and “I Found Love (at the McQuaid Invitational),” this last being surely the finest song ever written about growing up in western New York.

It’s a free download, which means you don’t have to pay anything to possess your very own copy, or even five of your very own copies.

And, as always, I will extend great personal goodwill and bonhomie to anyone who sends me a photo or screenshot of a Queen of the Lakes song being played on their iTunes, phone, or other media device. (I keep making this offer and no one ever sends me any; I guess I’m gonna have to put up cash, one of these years.)

Go. Listen. Enjoy. Walk in peace.

Hidin’ from the wind and the rain.

Posted on

Len O’Kelly at 45 Ruminations per Megabyte reminded me that Jan. 5 marked the 45th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s first album release.

Which reminded me that the first Aerosmith album, according to most sources, came out the same day and has also recently hit the big four-five.

There was a time when I would have told you with a straight face that the first Aerosmith album was their best. That was before I became acquainted with the flamethrowing genius that is Rocks.

If you’re of the right mindset, though, there’s still a lot to like about Aerosmith:

– It’s bare-bones. Like, band-playing-its-live-set-in-the-studio bare-bones. And that’s always good, because even if you don’t like the material (or even the band), you know you’re getting the core of what they have to give.

There’s no producer putting the music in a dress, nor outside song-doctors shining up the tunes. What you hear is what these five guys (and one unobtrusive guest) have to offer.

– It sounds all trebly and crappy like good garage-rock should.

Everybody always said Aero was trying to copy the Stones, and no doubt that’s correct. But when I listen to their first two albums, the suburban trashiness of Nuggets is more what I hear — it sounds like they’re ripping off that Troggsian basementy goodness that Lester Bangs waxed so eloquent about.

I find that positive because it bespeaks humility (would you rather be in a room with a band that wants to be jaded limo-riding royal fops like the Stones, or with a band that has Count Five in its heart?) and perhaps even that rarest of rock n’ roll qualities, a sense of humor.

(The truth is nowhere near so positive, I have to admit. Joe Perry has written that the band knew they sounded flat and crappy on their first album, but they lacked the cojones and experience to say anything about it. I’m sure they would have sounded all Zep II steamroller if they’d had a choice. I know what I hear on the finished vinyl, though, and it’s something closer to the Chocolate Watch Band.)

– It’s an authentic slice of rock history. My perception is that every good-sized U.S. city had, in the early ’70s, at least one hard-rock/boogie band (and probably a couple) grinding it out at bars, high schools, colleges, and wherever else they could gather a crowd. They stole riffs to churn out their own “originals,” augmented them with a ragbag of familiar covers like “Walkin’ The Dog,” and spent as much free time as possible getting lit up on pot and cheap beer.

I further suspect that Aerosmith, at this stage, was really no better than most of their American peer bands. They later lucked into a good producer, and had the eternal good fortune to cough out a few really good riffs just when they were needed. But in 1973, you could probably find a band like Aerosmith – give or take some charisma – in hundreds of venues across America on any given Friday night.

So what we have here ain’t just an album. It’s documentary evidence of an American cultural movement. How ’bout that?

– It was big in Boston. The ARSA database shows only two stations outside of Boston picking up on the album before 1976, when Aero’s rise to fame drew renewed attention to their debut record. (Since you asked, those stations were WYSL in Buffalo and WDRQ in Detroit.)

But in Boston, the first Aero album was in the Top Ten on WRKO and WMEX from mid-July 1973 all the way through early December. (It also shows up a few times on the old WBZ in Boston, as well.)

That’s kinda a remarkable run. Brings to mind the days when Bob Seger owned Detroit but couldn’t get arrested anywhere else. He did OK for himself in the end too.

Anyway, enough yacking. Here’s one of the rhinestones that makes Aerosmith a pleasure to listen to. It’s a simple, totally unsurprising boogie number, originally drafted under the working title “Bite Me,” and featuring a primitive-to-the-point-of-moronic Steven Tyler harmonica solo.

What’s not to love?