Year In Review: October 2015
An old fashioned “battle of the bands” takes center stage on this edition of Dirt City Chronicles, the podcast. The combatants in this instance represent New Mexico's polar opposites. North vs. South. It's an imaginary rivalry for the most part, made up by the state's broadcasters in order to drum up interest whenever the Aggies and Lobos face off in athletics. Other than that, it's doubtful that the average New Mexican gives the idea much thought. The very definition of what divides Northern and Southern New Mexico is not very well defined. New Mexico doesn't always lend itself to a clean North/South division. It's far more complicated than that. For instance, Clovis is further north than Socorro, yet Clovis is solidly in the southern camp and Socorro staunchly sides with the North.
When a community was first settled and by whom, plays a big part on what side these “border” communities identify with. Belen is firmly aligned with the north, though its located just a bit further north than Clovis. Vaughn, Duran and Yeso are south of Belen, yet are culturally Hispano communities that identify with the north. Fence Lake, Pie Town & Quemado are north of Socorro and they're culturally connected to the south. If I were to draw a boundary across the state separating the north and south, I would start at the Arizona border, north of Fence Lake, continue north of Alamo, jot down to include Magdalena in the south, skirt south of Socorro and San Antonio, swing north to include Corona in the south, northeast to Ft. Sumner continuing northeast to House and then east to the Texas border.
Dirt City Chronicles podcast episode 30
Due to the success of Norm Petty Studios, West Texas got off the starting line early compared to the rest of the region. In 1957, both Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen (who had played together in The Rhythm Orchids) hit the national charts with million selling singles. Bowen's “I'm Sticking With You” and Knox's “Party Doll” coupled with Buddy Holly's #1 single, “That'll Be The Day” set off a stampede of musicians headed to Clovis, N.M. As Goldust Records founder, Emmit Brooks put it: "After Buddy Holly and the Beatles, there was a feeling out there that anyone could get a hit and make a million dollars," El Paso caught the fever and before long a burgeoning local rock & roll scene was starting to bubble up from the dusty landscape.
The arrival in 1957 of itinerant blues guitarist, Long John Hunter (who set up shop at the Lobby Club across the river in Juarez) helped to kick things off. Much like Al Hurricane in Albuquerque, Hunter was grounded in another genre, yet still played a part in helping rock & roll gain a toehold. His single “El Paso Rock” released on Calvin Boles' Yucca Records in 1961 helped spark El Paso's pre-Beatles infatuation with instrumental rock. Countless El Paso musicians made nightly treks across the border to the Lobby No. 2 Cafe and Night Club to watch Long John lay down some rattlesnake moan. A disciple of the East Texas blues guitar tradition, Hunter would often allow young musicians who could work up the nerve, to take the stage with him (including a very young and nervous Bobby Fuller) http://dirtcitychronicles.blogspot.com/2015/10/dirt-city-chronicles-podcast-episode-30.html
Star Mountain Babylon
Then in 1963 a funny thing happened... El Paso went bonkers for surf music. No easy way to explain this. The Gulf of Mexico is 700 plus miles away (though the closest beach to El Paso is actually Puerto Peñasco in Mexico...about 500 miles) Almost overnight, every band worth a lick in El Chuco, started playing like Dick Dale and The Deltones. A period well documented by Norton Records' compilation series “El Paso Rocks” Having tossed aside his aspirations towards emulating Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran. Bobby Fuller planted himself firmly at the forefront of this curious turn towards instrumental surf music in the desert. “The Bobby Fuller Instrumental Album” compiled by Rockhouse Records (a label based in the Netherlands) adds further credence to this strange turn of events.
I realize that historically, El Paso has ties to Cali, specifically Los Angeles. But this is fucking nuts. If not for the British Invasion, who knows how far this “sand surfing” craze may have gone. One thing for certain, this odd mix of borderland bands produced instrumental surf music roughly the equal of what was streaming out of SoCal at the time. Bobby Fuller's “Thunder Reef” “Our Favorite Martian” “Wolfman” and “Stringer” The Pawns “South Bay” The Sherwoods “Tickler” The Impostors' Surfaris spoof “Wipe In” Four Dimensions “Sand Surfin” The Four Frogs “Mr. Big” The Chandelles “El Gato” The dichotomy of “surf in the desert” was resurrected in 1978, when for some strange reason “Big Wednesday” John Milius' coming of age surf movie filmed several scenes in El Paso.
Dirt City Chronicles podcast episode 31
Frogdeath Records definitely reflected the personality of Steve Crosno. From the label imprint which depicted a bullfrog listening to a phonograph (ala RCA's Little Nipper listening to his master voice) with a heavy boot looming overhead, to the puns and mispronunciations printed on the label. It all added up to the work of a smart ass genius. Frogdeath had a limited run, probably no more than a dozen known releases. Working on the fly (and on the cheap) with Crosno wasn't easy as Danny Parra (Danny & the Counts) recalls: “ We recorded “For Your Love” b/w “It’s All Over” in a single live take in Steve’s home without a drummer! Unbelievable! The recordings were meant to be a dry run but Crosno decided to put them on vinyl since he could promote them on KELP”
After that initial haphazard session, Danny & The Counts butted heads with Steve over the direction their music was taking. “We ultimately made it clear to him, that we wanted to pursue the English music trends as a group and abandon R&B. He wasn’t happy about this because his whole market niche was R&B …. so we had an eventual parting of the ways.” said Parra. Crosno's radio show and “Crosno Hops” a mobile sock hop that hit every podunk burg within driving distance of El Paso, revolved around r&b/soul numbers. Fuzzy, hyper, garage be bop don't cut it on the dance floor when you're looking to rub up on a gal. The homies in Segundo Barrio pined for Tex Mex Soul, James Brown and golden oldies... Steve Crosno delivered the goods and in their eyes he could do no wrong.
The Plural of Aggies
In the early 1970s, bags in hand and tongue firmly planted in cheek. Calvin Boles closed up shop in Alamogordo and took off to Nashville with the idea of recording and promoting country artists. He already had one client... his son-in-law, Robyn Young (Faron Young's son) To mark his arrival in the Mecca of country music, Boles released a novelty single that will forever rank as one of the rankest, musical endeavors of all time. First a little background info. Break-in records, were made popular by Dickie Goodman with his hit recordings of “The Flying Saucer, Pts. 1 & 2. The basic premise has an official sounding interviewer (Goodman) asking questions, which are answered by brief snippets of POPULAR songs (note the emphasis on popular) Even at its best, it's pure cornball.
For “Calvin Boles in Nashville” b/w “Calvin on Stage” Boles hired Johny (Single N) Caraway, who Paul Pearson of Dead Horse Radio points out “was no Dickie Goodman” Caraway in a serious “radio voice” asks a series of questions to which Calvin answers with break-ins from his own vast repertoire of “unknown to the world” songs. It's cringe worthy right up until Ernest Tubbs breaks in at the end with “Go on home, you don't belong here with me” followed by a round of canned laughter. Paul Pearson: “A break-in comedy record featuring nothing but Calvin Boles tunes as break-ins....probably wasn't the most effective strategy” Calvin's Nashville venture flamed out quicker than Kingsford Match Light briquets. A thousand guitar pickers in Nashville and Calvin wasn't meant to be one of them. http://dirtcitychronicles.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-plural-of-aggies.html
Year in Review: November 2015
Throughout the Mustang recording sessions Bobby Fuller agonized over what was becoming of his music. Accustomed to calling the shots, he found himself butting heads with Bob Keane. This ate away at Bobby's self confidence. The egocentric Fuller had always plotted his own course, now it dawned on him that by signing with Bob Keane, he had conceded that right. The most glaring example of this was the band's new name “The Bobby Fuller Four” changed at Keane's insistence. “Let Her Dance” the band's near breakout single was also a source of friction. Bobby felt that Keane had taken liberties with his original composition “Keep on Dancing” when in fact Bob Keane had transformed Fuller's clunky original into a pulsating, bass propelled radio friendly ditty.
Next, Keane's A&R man, session musician, arranger, producer Barry White (the make-out music maestro) was brought in to work the sessions for “The Magic Touch” and “I'm A Lucky Guy”, John Barbata (of The Turtles) sat in on drums, replacing DeWayne Quirico who had been unceremoniously shit canned. Bob Keane felt that lacking a strong follow-up to “Let Her Dance” song mills such as The Brill Building were his only viable option. Written by Brill Building veteran Ted Daryll, “The Magic Touch” was an Motown-esque number that should have been a big hit. It failed to launch. Bobby was unhappy with the final mix, which he deemed as “too thin, with not enough oomph” He bitterly vented to his brother Randy "It doesn't even sound like one of our songs"
Your Ever Loving Punks_The Standells
Though touted as the “Godfathers of 60s punk” The Standells lineage stretches well beyond the “garage rock” era. For starters, though The Standells helped launch a thousand garage bands, they weren't a “garage band” at all. By the time “Dirty Water” hit the charts and made them the standard bearers for U.S. 60s punks, The Standells had put in work and were in fact, accomplished professional musicians who knew their way around a studio. The band clearly went through two phases during their prime, the pre-Dirty Water period and the post Dirty Water, 60s punk period. Almost overnight, The Standells went from being a talented plug 'n' play rock & roll combo to snarly trend setting raconteurs. Though in truth, their punk persona was as fake as the hippies & beatniks on “Far Out Munsters”
Larry Tamblyn, co-founder of the band is the younger brother of actor Russ Tamblyn. Russ had worked in movies since 1948, he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1957 for his work in “Peyton Place” He's the father of actress Amber Tamblyn and is still active, having appeared in relatively recent movies, “Drive” and “Django Unchained” Larry had been active in music since 1958, having released a string of doo wop singles on Faro and Linda records. In 1962 he formed The Standels along with Tony Valentino (Emilio Bellissimo, who had arrived in the US from Italy in 1958) bass player Jody Rich and drummer Benny King (aka Hernandez) Larry came up with the name “Standels” as a tongue in cheek take on the long hours spent standing around waiting for auditions at record companies.
Dirt City Chronicles Cassette to MP3: Best of The Standells
Larry Tambyln especially had a bone to pick with Harold Bronson, who researched and composed the liner notes. Stating that Bronson never met with him or any members of the band to verify any biographical info. Bronson noted that “The band included one guy who spoke with a very unhip broken Italian accent” That would be Tony Valentino, fresh off a pasta boat and as evidenced by Dick Clark's interview after The Standells performed “Help Yourself” Valentino spoke in a monosyllabic manner that brought Balki Bartokomous, Bronson Pinchot's immigrant character on the television sitcom, Perfect Strangers to mind. Harold Bronson also pokes at them for having “a Mouseketeer in the band... that's Dick Dodd, though Dick was cool, upping the band's “cool” quotation by a 100%
Year In Review: December 2015
“May we never part” was the rallying cry. The search for one true love, the crusade for which all were destined. In Southern New Mexico nobody wrenched a heart like the goosestepping maestro of teener heartache, Frank Thayer. A Senior at NMSU, Thayer in collaboration with homespun producer and music engineer, Dennis Adams recorded a series of teener pop ballads that distilled sadness in the same manner that a bootlegger distills spirits from sugar and corn grain. Standing atop the burning pyre of unrequited love, Thayer pined for the women that he obviously scared off with his moody and obsessive nature. Frank is fascinating “partly truth and partly fiction” a man ahead of his time and yet hopelessly stuck in the past. Which is why, in my opinion Frank Thayer defines teener pop so well.
Teener pop was a conscious attempt by the record industry to turn back the clock. To white wash the negroid influences of mid-1950s rock & roll with a sparkling double coat of copacetic conformity. Teener was so chock full of loneliness and despair that it's a miracle American teenagers didn't hang themselves en-mass. La douleur exquise. “I miss someone who isn't mine to miss. I dream about someone who isn't mine to dream about. I love someone, who isn't mine to love” Turn off the water works baby, that don't move me no more. U.S. teeny boppers had to grow the fuck up and two forces were combining to drag them kicking and screaming into adulthood, Vietnam and Beatlemania. The words of love fade like darkness itself at the coming day. “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dirt City Chronicles podcast episode 33
Being the inquisitive type, I like to compare the regional scenes to one another. At the time most of this music came out (1959-63) Albuquerque's local scene didn't amount to much other than The Knights and Al Hurricane. By comparison, El Paso was blowing up. A couple of factors were in play. With Ft. Bliss shuttling in draft era troops by the thousands for basic training, there was always a demand for entertainment and literally speaking, the music would never stop. (Long John Hunter was working 13 hour shifts at the Lobby Club) As far as the number of venues available to local musicians, El Paso, had the Duke City beat by a country mile. El Paso also fostered a long reputation as a rough and tumble “bordertown” while Albuquerque in the early 1960s was basically Des Moines, Iowa with Mexicans.
Ooh! I meant to say Hispanos, my bad. The rocking side of the border gets the Dirt City royal treatment on this go-round. This episode comes fully loaded with both the familiar and the obscure. The fifth installment in a six part series covering the local scene in El Paso, Las Cruces and beyond.... but no further north than Clovis N.M. Call me provincial, call me archaic, I don't really care. Let's see what the cat drug in: It's a shame that Lloyd Nash's “The Quiver” didn't start a national dance craze, sounds much sexier than the Twist or The Mashed Potato. I did manage to sneak one Albuquerque band in,The Knights' “Cut Out” made the cut, mainly because I couldn't fit it into any of my other playlists. It's a rocking little number that I want my jockey to play...
Dirt City Chronicles podcast episode 34
Chuco got soul..... that sweet soul music, enunciated by the disciples of James Brown, powered by horns sections that washed away the gloom. Beautiful friend, this is the end.... of a six part series covering the El Paso/Las Cruces, borderlands music scene in the 1960s. I feel like a time traveler, having been deeply immersed in 60s culture for weeks on end.... Farfisa organs rattling 'round my brain. I thought that I knew 60s rock and soul music, but I knew nothing. “Can't see a thing till you open your eyes... clear my eyes, make me wise” and a tip-of-the hat to YouTube, our great, infinite smorgasbord of musical gluttony. Nothing expands your musical knowledge like knowing where music has been. “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”
For reasons lost to time, El Paso Mayor Judson Williams declared July 9th 1967 “Steve Crosno Day” A high honor for a young man at the very pinnacle of a career that would span six decades. Indisputable evidence that Steve ruled the local airwaves, broadcasting on KELP, El Chuco's Top 40 juggernaut. Local entrepreneur, Bernard Tanchester, perhaps sensing an opportunity to make a quick buck, lured 4,000 loyal Crosno fans and “the seven hottest R&B bands in the area together under one roof” to a steamy El Paso Coliseum for the landmark event. The evening's proceedings were recorded for posterity and resulted in an iconic album “Steve Crosno Day, July 9th 1967” a veritable time capsule of a time and place, long ago, but not so far away. “The best thing I can do is shut up and play music”