Saturday, August 6, 2016

Wall of Voodoo

Twisted Pop Music

Well, I'd say it now sounds like background music for vast urban barbeques, metropolitan rodeos, something along those lines. I've always called our music twisted pop music” Bruce Moreland

Wall of Voodoo came together at Acme Soundtracks, Stanard Ridgway's film score company. Located across the street from The Masque (Hollywood's infamous punk club) Acme Soundtracks became a magnet for aspiring local punk musicians. Marc Moreland, guitarist for The Skulls, was drawn in and from that collaboration came Wall of Voodoo. Bruce Moreland joined on bass, Chas T. Gray, also from The Skulls was enlisted as keyboardist and veteran drummer Joe Nanini rounded out the original line up. The band's name was derived from a comment made by Joe Berardi, a fellow musician whom upon listening to some of Ridgway's Acme Soundtrack recordings, declared “Phil Spector has his Wall of Sound, but you've got a Wall of Voodoo. The name stuck. It's an L.A. thing, I suppose.

Question: which of the following genre tags best describes Wall of Voodoo.... new wave, post punk, alternative rock, dark wave, cowpunk? It's a trick question, they all apply, unequivocally. How many times did you try and play Wall of Voodoo at a party only to be met by belligerent bellows of “Take that punk shit off!” Lead singer, Stanard “Stan” Ridgway drawled with jaded detachment.... a flowing river of abstract pronouncements, delivered with an unmistakably American west coast accent that echoed western movie heroes and any number of their nasalized sidekicks. “Cause I can tell at a glance you're not from 'round these parts, Got a green look about ya And that's a gringo for starts” Stan had the necessary tools: a shitload of confidence combined with an endless reservoir of arrogance.

After parting ways with Wall of Voodoo, Ridgway launched his solo career. He's recorded eight solo albums (“Big Heat” his solo debut still remains his most successful) Delving more and more into movie soundtracks while cultivating a narrative vocal delivery that  blurs the line between spoken word and singing, it's not for everyone. Stan's split with Wall of Voodoo wasn't all that amicable. Bruce Moreland still holds a grudge (Stan was instrumental in his being booted from the band prior to “Call of the West”)With Wall of Voodoo, it had a lot to do with Stan’s ego getting a little too big. People assume that the lead singer is the songwriter and leader of a band. But in Stan’s case he wasn’t. And I think it became obvious on his solo records that Stan wasn’t the creative force behind Wall of Voodoo” 

Guitarist, Marc Moreland specialized in big rich rolling tones, shamelessly lifted from Morricone spaghetti western soundtracks and spiced up with some Dick Dale inspired surf licks. Stan would introduce “Morricone Themes” by announcing: “Here's a little film music for you” Marc Moreland, one of the truly underrated guitarist from the 1980s. On stage Marc and Chas T. Gray gave off an underlying sense of hostility. Two So Cal bros ready to stomp your ass into a mud puddle at any moment. “If it's the rough stuff ya want You can point yer finger at me” Gray's encyclopedic arsenal of keyboard riffs gave Wall of Voodoo a “new wave” sound not unlike that of “Duty Now for the Future” era Devo (Can't Make Love and pretty much the entire “Call of the West” album)

Marc Moreland's roots went back to one of Los Angeles' very first punk bands, The Skulls. A band that both Marc and brother Bruce would later return to. (Bruce was asked to leave Wall of Voodoo following the release of “Dark Continent” due to his heroin addiction) Marc, Bruce and Chas T. Gray were also instrumental in keeping Wall of Voodoo afloat after Stan Ridgway and Joe Nanini left the band in 1983. Ridgway was replaced by Andy Prieboy, Nanini by Ned Leukhardt (this resulted in the “Seven Days in Sammy's Town” album) Post-Wall of Voodoo, Marc Moreland collaborated with Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde) in Pretty and Twisted. He moved to Las Vegas, Nv. and put together a new band, Dept. of Crooks, which released one album “Plan 9 from Las Vegas”

Marc also released a solo album “Take it to the Spotlight” credited to Marc Moreland's Mess. (Marc on lead vocals w/ John Parish and Jean-Marc Butty, both of whom toured with P.J. Harvey) He's rumored to be the subject of Concrete Blonde's “Joey” a song about being in love with an alcoholic. (Johnette would admit as much in later interviews) An unabashed alcoholic, Marc Moreland died in Paris, France of renal failure following a liver transplant in 2002. Prior to joining Wall of Voodoo, Bruce Moreland had played bass for The Weirdos. He put together Black Cherry with Paul Black of the L.A. Guns. He teamed up with Wall of Voodoo band mate Chas T. Gray in Nervous Gender and also worked with Johnette Napolitano and The Skulls.

Drummer Joe Nanini maintained a workman like resolve even as his band mates resorted to surly on-stage shenanigans and drunken audience baiting. A veteran of L.A.'s punk scene, Nanini had played with Black Randy & the Metrosquad, The Plugz and The Bags. Following his stint with Wall of Voodoo, Nanini helped co-found The Lonesome Strangers, in (1983 w/ Randy Weeks, Jeff Rymes & Nino Del Pesco) A country rock/roots band much ballyhooed by critics, beloved by a small core of fans and and an utter commercial failure. Nanini left the band shortly after their first album “Lonesome Pine” was recorded in 1986. An ever inventive percussionist, aptly schooled in all genres, Nanini passed away from a brain hemorrhage in 2000. 

This modern world deserves a Modern attitude”

Ultimately, it would dawn on me that Stanard Ridgway fashioned his drawling vocal mannerisms after those of flaming asshole and proto-typical So Cal white guy.... Beach Boy, Mike Love. It all makes sense....these two variables (Beach Boys and Wall of Voodoo) have a linear relationship with each other. Both sought (in their own fashion) to promote the SoCal lifestyle as the American ideal. Brian Wilson painted sunny beach side landscapes and doted endlessly on the pleasures of fast cars, nice girls and surfing, Wall of Voodoo chose to expose the darkside of SoCal life, preferring America's fast lane to sandy beaches and surf boards. The post Ridgway version of the band (w/ Andy Prieboy) actually covered The Beach Boys' “Do It Again” on their final studio album “Happy Planet”

Wall of Voodoo's lyrics could easily have come from a Jay McInerney novel. “Mexican Radio” transports us to the land of barbecued iguana and easy virtues. “I'm on a wavelength far from home” “Lost Week End” is set on Interstate 15, a satiated couple returning to L.A. after a weekend of gambling debauchery, during which Sin City lived up to its other sobriquet: Lost Wages. “You can take any exit that you happen to feel is the right one." “Tomorrow” addresses the stress brought on by sudden fame and growing expectations. “Can't understand what happened to all the plans I made” “Call of the West” draws inspiration from Sergio Leone's epic spaghetti western, Once Upon a Time in the West "Son this ain't no western movie matinee and you're a long way off from yippee yi yay”

“Long Arm” finds the boys preoccupied with menial jobs and corporate headhunters “this business needs a strong arm. some new part to clear out all the deadwood” “Factory” hits close to home “Now I know I had something to say but the problem is to say something, gotta say it” The factories of today come with piped in music. It could be a big box retailer, a fast food restaurant, a convenience store. All the same, you grind it out, then go home to take stock of your prized possessions “I got a little rubber pool in the backyard for the kids to wade in and I got a little backyard, pink mustang, fenders chrome” It's all a facade “an average joe from the grand design” caves in to the pressure and can't always hold it together “Just lately now when my wife talks back to me I slap her around”

Just like Brian Wilson in the 1960s.... Ridgway, the Moreland bros., Joe Nanini and Chas T. Gray had their fingers on the jaded pulse of 1980s Southern California. Which as it turns out, was quite a bit different from Wilson's era. They'll be wearing their Mexican poncho vests and even if they could surf, the locals wouldn't let them go near the water.... I feel a hot wind on my shoulder or maybe that's just the cholos in  that lowrider staring intently at me. I hear the talking of the Dj.... but you can bet it's not Wolfman Jack, who built his rep in the early 1960s broadcasting on XERB, just across the border in Rosarita Beach. Even though, the son of a bitch was actually working in Minnesota at the time and his shows were pre-recorded and the tapes shipped by courier from Minneapolis.

"I've never seen so many corndogs in my entire life"
Stan Ridgway scanning the crowd at US Festival, 1983